Efficiency's the Name of the Game


eileen_icon.gif teo_icon.gif

Scene Title Efficiency's the Name of the Game
Synopsis Teodoro and Eileen encounter both anticipated and unanticipated difficulties on a personal mission.
Date December 23, 2010

New Jersey — Fucking New Jersey

The air feels like ice needles going into the lungs. Jersey's nice for a couple roads, pastoral, lots of green and clean sky, but then breathing it in starts to hurt without that softening balm of carcinogens and exhaust, and the buildings turn to interchangeably hideous burb houses and the street signs start to read things like. 'Brown.' 'Tree.' 'Wall.' Wall Street. It wishes.

It's in this slag of psuedo-civilized nightmare that the supply truck stops, slows. It's a six hour drive at ass o' clock down to Connecticut where the shipment needs to go, some mid-sized town where there probably aren't two mutants to rub together anyway, and maybe that's part of why the driver just pull over instead of shitting his pants for God and country. Twenty milligrams of laxative inserted into one's coffee will do that to you, and painfully, even if the guard was laughing his ass off as it happened. The MacDonalds are kind enough to open their home briefly for an officer of the law, even if it is getting rather late and the two teens upstairs are probably going to wake up to reverberating gurgles of agony, and that'll be Hell to deal with.

Still in the truck, the guard is drumming his fingers on the heater vents, bobbing his head to some dim radio feed. A moment, two, and he judiciously reaches over to turn channels to FM. He doesn't notice the lanky shadow that passes fleetingly through the side mirror, never mind that there's a blur of a small, sharp-billed bird perched on his shoulder and words passing between them.

"It looks like Frankie didn't drink enough of his fuckin' roofies to get sleepy," Teo observes, resting a shoulder gently against the back of the van. The neighborhood is quiet as death around them, bar the soundless lassitude of falling snow; the MacDonalds' home a half-block away. The lock pick scratches faint but audible against the synthetics of his glove. "Fuck. You might have to get out of the car for this one. You want to run the diversion or should I?"

The bird, a fluffy little tit with pale plumage and charcoal feet, edges closer to the collar of Teodoro's coat and the warmth radiating out from under the seam. It's cold this time of year on the east coast, and even though the birds that don't migrate to warmer climates for the winter are equipped to survive in these blustery conditions, they aren't immune to the biting chill in the air and tremble just as hard as human beings do.

Eileen isn't. Trembling. Although the car is off, the musty smell of the heater fills the stale air inside; it keeps her cheeks pink and her face flushed with a healthy glow that would alleviate concerns if someone were to come across her, dark head resting against the window and neck lax, lids drooping with long black lashes that cast shadows like moths resting in the hollow of her eyes.

I can, her whispered voice offers, and the tit gives an anticipatory flick of its wings. Do you think we ought to be nice about it?

The boy— man, really— laughs a little, lowly. "Nice?" he mutters. "Not-nice? Efficiency's the name of the fucking game. We're professionals. Aren't we?" Barbarians attacking government vehicles en route to Connecticut. One of them wearing green socks, the other a limpid girl-shaped meat-sack and a pair of downy white wings. Professionals. The thing about Evolved lately, their rise in the world, is that much like guns, abilities bring a certain equalizing power to playing fields where physical strength, hand-eye coordination, and time put into training were the building blocks of competence.

"Be as nice as you want to be," he suggests. The winter air forms clouds of condensation around his mouth. "Hana used to talk about taking only a couple from each box, making it look like it was a factory error, but fuck if those rules apply anymore." He shutters a wink at her. Bird-her. Then he swivels his chin over a little, covers her up with the scruff of his jaw and Adam's apple, the comfortable smother of his metabolism on her small, pale form for the few seconds she might use to brace herself for action. A moment, and he almost makes a joke out of squishing her, wriggling his jaw downward a quarter an inch, threateningly, before popping his head out of his coat collar again.

Lock pick flickering between his gloved fingers, and a gusted sigh. A truck's length away, the guard is drumming his fingers absently on the dash and bobbing his head to the discreet trickle of FM radio thrash metal seeping into the dry air of the cab. "At your word."

Tell him you were driving your wife to the hospital because she was complaining of chest pains, is Eileen's suggestion, and that she lost consciousness a few miles ago. He can either go into the house to call the paramedics for you, or you can direct him to me to check my vitals. It doesn't give us an infinite amount of time, but it should be enough to work with.

And if it isn't, she wears a pistol under her coat and carries a knife in her sleeve when she's in a woman's body rather than a bird's. The dip of his chin is met with a patient press of wings against his jaw that could be affectionate if she probably wasn't worried about being squished, joke or not. As a tit, she has matchsticks for legs and bones that could be snapped between his fingers or teeth without much effort. Close a fist hard enough around her and she might even pop, guts squished out from between clenched fingers.

We'll take all that we can.

"Fuckin' ingenious, little bird," the Sicilian answers, with a brightness that's laughter despite that he doesn't ha-ha-ha the syllables right out loud. "Okay. Here." He reaches up to peel his collar away from the back of his neck, giving her room to hide her tiny twig-limbed body unless she has somewhere better suited. He passes his gloved fingers briefly over his face, blinks his eyes shut for a moment. Sucks in a deep breath. It isn't quite method acting, but a different kind of steeling himself altogether, to go with the thrum of accelerating pulse.

And the next moment, his head meets the back of the truck with a clang. Enough force to rebound with a faint ringing, his eyes blinking pallid as ice in the half-darkness. There's a stagger to his step as he lurches into motion, hastening around the corner of the truck, a square fist out to hammer on the door of the truck, driver's side. "Hey," he says. "Hey, h—help."

Inside the cab, the guard startles. Looks up, his hands going to a weapon at his side without drawing it, knit-capped head swiveling to stare at the Sicilian from across the empty upholstery of the driver's seat. There's a scrabbling thump, a 'wait' gesture, and then the window comes scrolling down with a warm puff of air to prickle against the point Teo's big Mediterranean nose. "'Elp," he says. "Officer.

"My wife— she said her chest was hurting and then she just passed the fuck out while I was driving. I already called the fuckin' hospital but the nearest one's miles away and this weather's ass, I can't afford an ambulance unless we really need one— do you think you could look at her? Please. Please," his gloves grip the bottom edge of the window and he points down the street, backs up when he's asked to, enough for the officer to crane his head out at the dishevelled little Saturn waiting between dull pools of lamp light. Eileen's shape is faint; small, more like, but visible.

It's not long before the door pops, a heavy boot dropping to the snow outside. The Feeb doesn't tell the white feather on Teo's coat apart from the fragments of snow clotting on the folds already.

Out, out, brief candle! Eileen's voice teases and encourages in equal measure; her tone is gentle but firm, and maybe when this is over she can afford to let laughter accompany it. You're really quite good at this, she adds. I think even Gabriel would be jealous of your theatrical prowess.

In Teo's coat, the tit braces clawed feet against the side of his neck with nails sharp enough to prickle but incapable of drawing blood. She's not nearly as big as Pila, but if he were to stop and focus, he might be able to feel the vibrating patter of its tiny heartbeat through feathers and flesh. Let's hope I can match your performance if he decides to come over here. There's a tire iron under the front seat if it turns out I'm no Ingrid Bergman.

She doesn't leave his head just yet, but inside the Saturn there's a twitch of motion at the tips of Eileen's fingers, then stillness, either an involuntary tic or something that signifies readiness. It's impossible for her mind to be in two places at once, but like a candle flickers between light and dark, she can sometimes shiver between one and another. Waiting.

Thoughts leap and scatter like heat lightning or static in Teo's head. Maybe he wouldn't have thought of this, wouldn't be thinking like this if Francois wasn't gone, if he weren't giddy from this sudden reprieve from maddening helplessness; if he hadn't been with the Institute for a couple months, if the noose weren't tightening around the Ferry's fucking neck. Or maybe he was always going to come to this conclusion, recklessly, because he's here with Eileen and she left her body and she's huddling with her spiny feet in his coat and he's never liked that idea, you know, of Eileen Ruskin shut up in a small space and waiting for the enemy to see through her.

Reminds him of a thing.

So he's two, three steps following the man, before his irregular chatter of cold mingled with half-genuine fear-babble suddenly gives way to: "Is your partner in that house? I'll go— I can see the fucking lights on— I'm going to make the call, but please hurry, officer. Please." It isn't the plan, but it's out of him before he can say another word and the guardsman is already nodding, moving away, leaving him to cut a vague path toward the house. His heart is doing something unwontedly percussive in his chest and he doesn't feel cold anymore, flushed to his fingers, alive and technicolor like he hasn't been in weeks; people like them don't die in places that gather dust. Don't. Won't.

And as his lengthening stride starts to carve across the street, he makes a loop. Cuts back toward the truck, hisses back at the bird, even as the guard officer's shadow swivels in synch with his transition out of one street light to the next, closer and closer to the telepath in the car— "I'm gonna take the whole fucking truck," he roughs the fingers of one hand through his hair. "Wake up, I'll meet you back at the bridge we crossed, Brick Street. Twenty-five blocks over West.

"We'll take all of it."

Silence greets Teodoro's proclamation. It's a gusty decision for him to make, but apparently not one that Eileen disagrees with; he'll feel her presence leave his head like smoke being poured from his ear, and a moment later the tit emerges from his collar and takes flight, never wondering how it came to be pressed between the dense fabric of the Sicilian's coat and the sticky heat of his skin beneath.

She stayed long enough to get the message. The first thing the guard will see upon approaching the car is a hand splayed across the glass like a bone white starfish on a beach the misty colour her breath stains the pane. Her fingers leave long streaks when they squeak to one side and the Englishwoman opens her mouth around a cry without sound.

If Teo is to take all of it, he's going to need all the time she can buy him, and that's more than he'll get if she were to just haul herself into the driver's seat and press her foot all the way down on the accelerator the moment the truck ahead of her lurches into motion.

The door is conveniently unlocked.

The guard's hands slap down like thawed fish on the edge of the door, find no purchase. A scrabbling of callused fingers, and there's a cry of shock. He looks up, realizes how entirely fucked up things have gotten just as the truck's engine sears the air with noise. A holler goes out, and then his gun comes out, two events that the Ferrymen had actually rather counted on occurring in quick succession, but Eileen doesn't stop. Not even when a fat round from a .45 buries itself in the back door of the car, which means they're going to have to switch cars before they get back into city lights, but that's okay. There are cars.

They pass by dozens of driveways' worth, even, though all of those are lights-off and at rest as snow gathers in the darkness. Truck and sedan both go speeding by. Teo seems to be doing something with his other hand, judging from the faint weave to the tires below, but he has enough strength to guide the high-performance government-issue vehicle over the mess of frozen white particulate, easily. They sweep into an avenue dense with trees, out toward the thinning parts of the suburb, and then the bridge looms out over a creek gone still with cold.

He swerves to a stop, and seems to alight in nearly the same motion. It can't possibly be very safe, but out he comes, spilling into the whiteness of the street in a thready scatter of a long-legged stride. Pick in his hand, the end of it aimed toward— oh a padlock. A long-handled set of bolt-cutters is swinging out from under his coat, the next moment, and Eileen scratches her vehicle to a halt just in time to see the steel pincers slice cleanly through the padlock's U-shaped hook.

He yanks it loose, and is fiddling the regular lock the next moment— visibly has to stop for a moment, breathe, lest the cold-brittled steel break off inside the lock. It doesn't; he's dragging the doors open, his long stride cutting off the reek of exhaust that breathes outward at Eileen.

Their cargo opens into view. Neat, whitely packaged rows of it, like bee larvae in the hive.

Breath fogs out of Eileen's nose rather than her mouth. A bare hand finds the truck's frame where the door's hinge in anchored, and the large crow that swoops down and alights on her shoulder peers inside the vehicle on her behalf. It's hooked feet snarl in the wool of her coat and wings peppered with snow fold in tight at its sides, so much leaner and sleeker than the fat old raven back at the Dispensary that used to be her constant companion before he lost the use of his wing.

"Let's be quick," she says in a voice that has actual texture and presence, her accent thick while her lips are numbed by the cold. "They've probably got it hooked into their GPS, and our friend was still standing when we took off. Someone's bound to have called it in."

The crow tilts an apologetic look in Teodoro's direction. Eileen isn't of much use when it comes to lifting things — she's very small, and frailer since the poison took its toll on her body — but she's climbing into the back of the truck regardless, perhaps to count what's there so the pair of them can make a decision about how much they can reasonably keep, and what can potentially be stashed for retrieval later.

That the trees should be bare of leaves but nonetheless seem to rustle should not perturb her. Starlings settle in the branches, glossy brown sentinels with an iridescent sheen. Among them sits a goshawk, gargoyle still, with eyes a colour somewhere between blood and gold.

"Yeah," he agrees, snow shedding off his boots as he steps into the truck, ringing faintly against the metal. He glances over his shoulder into the frozen black expanse of the sky, the birds making ragged shapes along the treeline. He believes they are all on their side, of course; what would be a terrifying murder-parliament-flock of Hitchcockian harriers to anybody else has meant good tidings and reliable intelligence for Teo, nearly as long as he can remember. Steel flashes in his hand, a knife popped out under a sure thing, fingers tightening their grip on the handle. You probably couldn't tell just by looking at him that his fingers are numb through their gloves.

Knife bites into plastic, saws sideways, puckered edges of glossy synthetics opening up under the keen cutting edge like surprised flesh. Dividing the boxes first with blade then with his free hand, and he takes a quick swizz around the rest of the wrapping. The first crate comes loose in a hand. That first, plan later. Well, that first, plan hopefully being fomented concurrently. "—few syringes we can have the birds carry and drop off somewhere out of sight for us to pick up later," he suggests. "The trunk's only gonna hold two, maybe three boxes at most. These are fucking huge with padding."

There's a delay in Eileen's response this time, uncomfortable silence punctuated by the thin hiss of her breathing and the scrape of the crate grinding against the bottom of the truck as she puts her weight behind it and slides it forward. The crow hops down from the Englishwoman's shoulder to perch on its edge, feathers rumpled, and she rises to her full height inside the truck. The top of her head doesn't come anywhere close to the roof.

Plastic ripples, flutters in the breeze. Makes a sound like tearing without actually separating from itself. The crow's eyes focus past Teodoro, its gaze snagged on the goshawk in the space between two branches that have splintered apart and grown out on their own. Eileen's jaw is suddenly very tense.

"Something's wrong," she feels compelled to inform him. "We're being watched."

The big-limbed Sicilian stands there for a moment with his arms full of felony. The crate is big enough that his hands can only reach the far corners, lengthwise, holding it against his belly. His hand is sticking out between his fingers, held at an ungainly angle. He can't get to a gun from here. He can't get fucking anything.

Which has the net effect of making the gooseflesh on the back of his neck stand up like the bayonets of an army. "What the fuck?" his arms tighten and the plastic creaks; he starts to step back toward their car, his boots sliding faintly in the powdery white of the snow, leaving skewed marks, tracks rapidly backward. "Who? They— I didn't fucking think— I didn't— fuck. I should've expected more security." A hiss. His hip slams backward into the corner of the sedan, creaking the springs an instant.

Eileen joins Teodoro on the pavement, though her movements are more reminiscent of a dappled cat moving at a steady creep on featherlight paws lest it frighten away what else is in the grass. "That bird up there," she says of the goshawk, which has parted its beak around a silent warning, its tongue winking pink behind the hook. "It isn't one of mine, and I can't feel Gabriel.

"Sylar, most likely. He hasn't come after me for my ability again — possible that he picked it up since we last saw him." And maybe referring to the presence as though it isn't only a stone's throw away is a mistake, because the goshawk is mantling its wings and sending shivering undulations through the starlings around it. "It was sitting outside the window at the last council meeting. I don't think it's very pleased with us at the moment. Do you need any help with that?"

"No, you should keep your hands free. You have a gun, right?" Teo's stiff around the shoulders, grasping the door handle with a knee pitched up underneath the crate's flat bottom. He manages to foist his armful into the waiting trunk of the car, the bottom corners scraping grooves into the fuzzy base. The bolt-cutters are swing in with a haphazard flip of his arm too, and he's replacing the license plate instead of going back to the truck and its doors-ajar. "Do you think he's nearby?" His gloved palm slaps down hard on the replacement plate, flattening it out secure enough to withstand the bumpy road home.

Straightens again. By then, he has a gun, too, the cold black .45 in the clutch of his hand. "I didn't think of this when I took the job." That's lower-spoken, almost softly, sideswiped at the blind woman and her sleek-feathered seeing-companion. He isn't shooting the bird, but she probably knows he's tempted to; some residual struggle between frinkle and Ghost in his head, opposing forces, squashed and shouldered aside by the hybrid's own ('own') decisions. He doesn't say 'sorry,' although he is. Not really the time for grandstanding on words like that.

Eileen's coat flaps open, revealing the holster and pistol she wears beneath it, and it isn't long before she's easing the weapon out of it. "No," could be wishful thinking, or maybe there's logic behind it; her tone betrays very little about what's going on behind her glassy gray eyes other than the fear that touches them. The birds, the goshawk particularly, will be more aware of the terror that she's fighting to suppress, and it's just as well that she doesn't raise her gun and point it at the predator either; tremors pass through her hands on her way back to the car, and when she pops open the passenger's side door the gesture is very deliberate.

It's ultimately what sets the starlings off. The tree explodes into a cacophony of shrill avian voices and fluttering wings that builds into a thunderous crescendo, and if either Teodoro or Eileen had any notions of shooting the goshawk now, they've already lost the opportunity. The luminous shade of its eyes is swallowed up by the swarm.

Pain sears through an instant tardy thanks to numbness, but it'll take more than the frigid brittling of a snowy evening to stop him feeling it when a bird rips through his face. A bird just ripped through his face. Not a deep rip, but he's had enough of them — on his face — to find it a problem, and the suddenness of it is unnerving, Teo's gun doesn't go off but it's a narrow thing, the nozzle swerving a haphazard angle through the chill air as his other hand goes abruptly to his jaw. He swears, consonants roughing through bared teeth, eyes narrow and bright as shards of broken glass.

"Okay, we're fucking off now," he says abruptly, shoving the door shut with a callused hand. "Son of a bitch. This would've been—" He doesn't bother finishing the remark. Spilled milk, acquisitioned negation drugs; a whole crate is more than the Ferry's had in their possession at a time ever before, even if the fact they have it now is going to make a repeat of the stunt that much harder now on. His hand leaves a smear as wide as a coffee ring on the side of his head, the surface smudge of blood stiffening at his skin as it dries. Turning his face into the wind, Teo yanks shotgun open to drop himself in.

Inside the maelstrom, Eileen simultaneously sees everything and nothing; she is not the best candidate to be driving the car, but they also have little choice. The Saturn's key turns in the ignition, the engine barks to life and a moment later the vehicle is surging forward, plowing through the storm of starlings as she presses the accelerator all the way to the floor.

Hands grip the wheel and swing it sideways, peeling away from the trees with enough force to slam Teodoro against the glass, and it's a good thing the door boomed shut behind him for two reasons. One: he would have been thrown out onto the pavement. Two: the starlings are breaking themselves against the windows in an attempt to get at the people inside.

They can't fly faster than Eileen can drive, however. There's no need for her to twist a look over her shoulder or to raise her eyes to the rear view mirror to confirm that even the swiftest of the starlings is but a speck behind them.

"I think you'll have to take over in a few minutes," she says in a voice that's surprisingly steady in comparison to how she feels, which is a little like tapioca pudding. "I don't know how long I trust myself to do this."

"Yeah," Teo says. He may be regretting his decision to allow the blind telepath to drive right now, which makes sense, given that sentence was about allowing a blind telepath to drive right now. Still, if anybody's going to get them through a thrashing wall of psychotic birds with minimal lighting, it might as well be a telepath with mastery over them. "Sure. Couple minu—tes." Pinions and clawed feet, breast-feather down hurtling down with the keen buffeting of wind. He has no idea if the Feds can see it from out there, but if anything, they're going to see the moving castle made of ravening birds, squawking and kicking in what's either pursuit or…

"What the fuck are they doing?" Relevant question. She has other things to be focusing her attention on, however, and he understands that, declares as much with a muttered, "Never mind. Fuck. We're going to haave to go out toward the limits even if Sylar's waiting out there— he might move for the Feebs, but the Feebs aren't going to fucking back off for him." Somebody in that equation has fucked up priorities, but Teo is wont to think it wasn't the dynamic duo who decided to try and make off with the whole truck of negation drugs.

Behind them and locked out of sight, the lone crate slides to and fro in the truck, pitching the rush and turn of the vehicle but in there still. His jaw bleeds sluggishly. "…Are they fucking chasing us?"

The answer to Teodoro's question comes in the form of the speedometer's needle jumping from forty miles per hour to fifty-five, then sixty. To say that the starlings are chasing them at this point would be inaccurate; the starlings have fallen so far behind that the most they can hope for is to steal one last glimpse at the back of the car before it rounds the corner and is gone.

"Small flock," she says, keeping her responses short, and not only because she has to focus on her driving. Eileen doesn't know how to explain what just happened, or even if she can. "Twenty, maybe thirty. It can't cover ground quickly enough to keep up."

She does not tell him that it wants to. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone else about this."

The affirmitive's out of him before he remembers to query why: "'Course." Something about Sylar. Or Tavisha, the fact that there's some way, shape or form of avian telepath hunting the one who is the beating heart and standing Crown of the Ferry. It makes sense that that's on a need-to-know basis. Maybe they will talk about sorting it out later.

For now, the Sicilian reads between the lines that she speaks. Of course it wants to. That isn't normal fucking starling before, and he'd know that even without the ghost's backlog of fun bird facts preserved in the back of his memory. They just need to make enough ground, and then the switch. No sweat. By the time the choppers come out to fucking Jersey with their infrared scopes, or the men with their dogs, the interchangeable sedan will be lost in the thickening morning morass of its fellows. The road home is gray beneath inert headlights.

"But I'm gonna tell them I let you drive," he says. "Couple of the guys laid bets on it." His teeth are white in the dark, and she doesn't need a bird to practically see that, and the warm, gloved hand that squeezes briefly at her shoulder doesn't require seeing at all.

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