Hide and Seeker I


alister_icon.gif des_icon.gif eileen_icon.gif kara_icon.gif margaux_icon.gif

Scene Title Hide and Seeker I
Synopsis Alister, Odessa, and Margaux go out for a night on the town.
Date December 26, 2018

The Rookery

There is money to be made in every nook and cranny on Staten Island, whether among the stacked sardine tins colloquially known as Tin Row, packed with refugees, or down by the docks where smugglers do their business regardless of the hour or the weather.

Right now, it’s raining, although neither Alister nor Odessa would know it; it’s warm and dry inside the Triad gambling den where Margaux insisted the three of them spend their evening together, placing bets on everything from baccarat to roulette to the cock fights that happen out back under patchwork canopies fashioned from sheet metal and adorned with twinkling fairy lights.

Not that Margaux knows how to gamble, but she sure enjoys watching her brother lose his money.

“I know everybody’s still sore about the war,” she says around the rim of her glass, which is filled with some sort of sweet-smelling wine fermented from what smells like wheat, “but this is so much more interesting than anything that ever went on back in Vegas.”

She’s lounging in one of the den’s darker corners, glass in one hand and a tightly-packed joint in the other, happily soaking in the atmosphere and pungent smoke like Alice’s caterpillar — if Alice’s caterpillar wore an ocelot fur coat and a slinky black dress one size too small for her curvy frame.

The coat is a statement, if not a very nice one.

“Leo, Dessie, what do you want to play next?”

“I would like to play,” Odessa begins languidly, playing more calm than she feels at the moment, “Margaux Stops Hogging the Weed.” She holds out one hand and makes a gimme gesture. What’s a little green between girl friends?

The sky damn near tore open 24 hours ago, and Des is back on Staten Island while she wonders exactly how anything is expected to work out. She may as well get high and pretend she remembers how to enjoy herself for a few hours. The red dress she’s borrowed from Margaux’s closet is a little more eye-catching than she might otherwise like in exile, but it looks a part and likely stands out less than her usual conservative wool-skirts-and-turtlenecks look would in this place.

“How about you, Mister Black?” Margaux has permission to use true names that Desdemona lacks. Far be it from her to begrudge anyone their desire to be someone else around here.

"Black jack." Alister decides, wearing his bright white suit, a suit suitable for gambling. The shirt under his blazer is bright red today, because one needs a hint of Satan when out and about with rabble rousers. "In a musky establishment such as this, it's better to think of black jack as a means of communication with the common street filth. You lower yourself to black jack as a courtesy to your fellow man, and then you dominate them to show your lack of weakness."

"People like myself and Margaux may be, as the British say, 'posh', but surely the common folk can acknowledge our prowess in a den of sin and grime." He's, notably, wearing a pair of fancy white gloves today. He simply lacks any willingness to touch the people and things in this place directly. "Try not to look too intently at anyone here, I'm sure they'll stab you for alcohol."

“A den of sin and crime,” Margaux echoes, sotto voce, one hand cradled against her rouge-smeared cheek. “So dramatic.”

She shifts positions on her chaise lounge but seems reluctant to leave the worn silk pillows she’s been using to prop up her torso, regardless of how faded or ratty they probably look in the daylight.

“You always assume the worst of people,” she scolds Alister, “but I guess Daddy was like that too, huh?”

The question, rhetorical or not, is finished with another gulp of wine. She misses the flourish of movement on the other side of the room as a pair of curtains part and a well-dressed man in a suit that rivals Alister’s emerges into the haze. His shoulders are narrow, his build squat. A wool coat hangs over his arm at the elbow. Eyes of darkest mahogany survey the room but completely pass over the trio in the corner. If he recognizes any of them, then it does not show on his face.

“A pleasure doing business with you again,” he’s saying to someone still on the other side of the curtain. “My employer had not heard from your people in quite some time. We were beginning to worry.”

Nothing about his tone suggests that he was worried.

Des hides a smirk behind her hand at Margaux’s teasing as she lets her gaze slide back to Alister. “Are you saying I’m not posh, Mister Black?” That hand flutters to her chest. “I’m wounded.” So she doesn’t know the difference between the dinner fork and the salad fork. She knows which one is used for prying seafood out of shells, and that’s something, isn’t it?

While Alister may not consider her so, Des sees herself as the guardian of their small group. If things get uncivilized (as she expects Alister might call it), she’s prepared to do what needs to be done to ensure they return to the Trade Commission safely. Or at least Margaux. After all, she’s her companion. What this means is that the man standing at the entrance does not go unnoticed. “Oh, he looks important, doesn’t he?” she asks, tipping her head in that direction.

Anyone who wants to dress like that in a place like this is looking to send a message. It’s like plumage on a bird. Alister’s message may as well be I’m rich and also too good for all of this, but here we are. All telegraphed without having to open his mouth — though he’ll do that anyway. What the message is here, Odessa is sure it’s about a certain amount of power.

"I don't assume the worst of people, I assume the natural human inclinations born from a lack of power." Alister fiddles with his tie, which has moved slightly to a less than pristine position.

Entirely unacceptable.

"I have faith in your ability to be new money. I even think you're capable of some cultural education and rudimentary etiquette." he says in a tone that suggests this is clearly supposed to be a compliment, beginning to look over at the other well-dressed man. "Probably organized crime, those types usually can afford to dress decently."

Margaux simply arches a meticulously-plucked eyebrow at her brother. When she’s sure his attention has shifted, she steers a knowing look in Odessa’s direction. Can you really believe we’re related? it seems to say.

Even though they aren’t. Not by blood.

Alister is right about one thing: Like most of the men and women here, the well-dressed stranger appears to be affiliated with the Triad in some capacity, even if his long, expensive sleeves cover whatever tattoos his skin may bear beneath them.

He peels the curtain back, making room for two women trailing behind him in his wake. The first is even smaller than he is: raven-black hair and porcelain skin that betrays her Eastern European ancestry, even if her last name is Gray. Eileen’s companion is taller, leaner, harder, sculpted like a piece of marble that refuses to be weathered by the elements.

Alister and Margaux don’t know it, but she goes by Kara Prince.

“Oh,” says Margaux, like it’s nothing. “Look. It’s your dead ex-not-girlfriend.”

Despite her best efforts, business deals like those just concluded have remained an area that Kara needs refinement in. Her expertise lies in simpler, smaller exchanges. But working with Eileen, well, brings about change. Stepping out from behind the curtain, she smiles with a crinkle of her eyes and nothing else, even that quickly fading as she sweeps the gambling den with a single look.

Her eyes catch on what stares back, blue-greens flitting between the well-dressed trio, lingering for just a moment on Odessa and her red dress …

before moving on without recognition.

"An unfortunate byproduct of the times - lapses in communication." Kara asides to their host.

Odessa's brows furrow as the two women step into the gambling den. There's a moment where something flutters in her chest as her eyes settle on Kara, who's both unfamiliar but somehow not. "Margaux?" She turns her attention to her friend if only so Eileen doesn't catch her outright staring. "I think we should leave." She flashes a smile, trying to appear casual. "Maybe we can catch Rex and have a party back at our place."

Alister gets a nudge from his companion's elbow. "Maybe you should go up and talk to her." That would make for a fabulous distraction from whatever is about to happen here.

"I agree. You pretend to be my girlfriend, you're beautiful enough to be a status symbol." Alister reaches out to take Odessa's hand, then just immediately starts walking over to Eileen. "Hello, Ruskin. I had an unfortunate experience recently that reminded me of you. How are you doing these days?"

“No” Des is pulled up and off the sofa, flashing a panicked look to Margaux. “Alister, wait

Oh, fuck.

This isn’t exactly how Eileen planned on spending her evening either. Kara to her right, her Praxis contact to her left, and Odessa and Alister directly in front of her like a pair of deer leaping into an oncoming set of headlights.

Not ideal.

Her Praxis contact, who is also, not coincidentally, her Triad contact gives Kara a thin smile that shows not even a hint of his teeth. “Perhaps I ought to send you away with a new set of satellite phones, Ms. Prince,” he says, and maybe it’s a joke. Maybe it isn’t. “That way you all can stay in touch.”

Eileen’s brow knits like she’s trying to figure out what the fuck to do in this situation, because that’s exactly what’s happening.

“Maxwell,” she starts, making an attempt at empathy that ends up sounding mostly annoyed, “I really don’t have time tonight for—”

Whatever she was about to say next is cut short by a low whirring sound that starts at the lowest range of human hearing, causing the Englishwoman and almost everyone else in the den to pause.

Margaux lowers her wine glass.

The roosters caged by the back door grow still in their mesh prison.

Eileen’s Praxis contact — Mr. Shih — instinctively reaches for the small handgun concealed inside his black silk vest.

These are all details that keen eyes like Odessa and Kara notice in the moment, but will forget later because they are ultimately irrelevant in their recollection of the seconds that immediately follow.

The gambling den’s eastern wall implodes in a cascade of pulverized brick and glass as a twelve foot tall cephalopod fashioned from red hot metal hauls all three thousand pounds of its frame inside.

While working on a response that's hopefully as diplomatic as it is vague, Kara turns by instinct to address the two approaching them visually. Her reply to Eileen's contact dies before it can reach unpracticed execution thanks to Alister's quipped greeting, her jaw slowly working in an attempt to avoid speaking on Eileen's behalf immediately. After all, it was interesting that he'd called her Ruskin.

Her attempt to see what comes of that is thwarted by the rumble as it approaches, reaching for the gun holstered at the small of her back just as the wall explodes. Her eyes widen, and she's overcome with the desire to be armed with a much bigger gun than the sidearm she's now pulled free.

Kara had heard rumors through the Ferry of manhunting machines — monstrosities used in the civil war. She had never seen one herself to confirm if such things really existed, but even in the tallest of tales told of them had never one of those murderous robots been almost four meters tall.

She stands there with her gun at the ready, but doesn't fire. She's in no rush to be the first idiot to draw that thing's attention.

"I suggest leaving," Kara interjects firmly, eyes darting to the back door before returning to Eileen.

It’s been years since Odessa faced down one of these metallic monstrosities. Back then, she was playing helpless. Pretending to be human. That can’t fool one of those machines. Wrenching her arm free from Alister’s grip, her first instinct is to turn back to the other blonde she’d been spending her time with.

“Margaux!” She reaches out her hand even as she’s running back toward her. “Come on! Now!” Des isn’t sure she has the power to hold that thing back. Not with as many other people as there are here to single out and try to keep out of the hold of her ability.

Alister stares in awe at the thing, but he fought with the Ferry himself, despite Hana and Collette's rather justified dislike of him. So the first thing he does is note Odessa going to protect Margaux, and then he pulls a glock from his blazer.

Running in the opposite direction of Odessa and Margaux, away from Eileen and Kara as well, he suddenly fires his glock at the robot. "If I had my ability I'd have melted most of you down in the war, but I'll settle for shooting! I need to get it out of my system, I haven't gotten to shoot something I felt was beneath me in a very long time!"

He's being the distraction.

Like a flock of panicked birds, all it takes is one person to break cover and flush themselves into the open before the rest follow. As Odessa chooses flight over fight, so does the security stationed at both the front and the back doors — not that there’s much need for doors anymore. Others stream past the cephalopod through the gaping hole in the eastern wall, scrabbling over rubble and twisted sections of melted rebar.

Rain washes over the robot’s metal exterior and evaporates into steam on contact. It has only one visible sensor: a glowing red orb set in the center of what its designer imagined its skull should look like. Its head swivels a full three hundred sixty degrees, scoping out the room and all its fleeing inhabitants as its internal algorithms work to select a target.

Ping ping ping go Alister’s bullets as they ricochet off its exoskeleton.

Ping ping ping go Mr. Shih’s bullets. He’s shooting, too.

Margaux grasps at Odessa’s outstretched hand. “I told you we should have brought Etienne!” she’s screaming at Alister, even if he’s unable to hear her over the hundreds of other voices coming together into a cacophony.

By Etienne she means Gabriel Gray, of course. Not that Alister knows that.

Not that Odessa knows that.

“I think you’re right,” Eileen confides in Kara, keeping her voice low and her movements minimal.

A tentacle whips past them both, toward Alister and Mr. Shih, and latches onto the latter because he happens to be two feet closer. The Praxis representative lets out a strangled scream as he’s hoisted off the ground and fed head-first into the cephalopod’s maw, which resembles a wood chipper and has roughly the same effect.

A warm, wet spray of blood coats both Kara and Eileen’s faces where they still stand immobile. Unblinking, Eileen reaches up and smears it away from her eyes as though that might make a difference.

It doesn’t.

Within a matter of seconds, all that’s left of Mr. Shih is his left foot encased in a very expensive Italian loafer. It plops unceremoniously to the floor.

Even Odessa, who has plenty of wartime experience with the Institute’s machines, has never seen anything like that before.

Any thoughts about the machine's horrifying method of disposing of threats are kept to herself as Kara blinks, blood dripping from her. "Off we go, then." she breathes, sounding shaken. Her grip on Eileen's shoulder is anything but, firmly steering her toward joining the group surging past the cephalopod by taking advantage of the sudden opening in the wall. Going with the herd might just work in this case.

She tries to ignore the sight and imagined sound of the dismembered foot as it hits the ground.

Odessa clutches Margaux’s hand in a vice grip and tugs her along. The doorway is a chokepoint, bottlenecked with people attempting to flee.

As always, the only way out is through.

“I won’t let it hurt you,” Des shouts her promise as she pushes Margaux forward, keeping herself between her friend and the war machine. She’s lost track of Alister in the chaos and carnage and there is a part of her brain screaming that she needs to make sure he makes it out safe, too. One thing at a time, however. She only has the bandwidth to protect one person right now.

Alister suddenly leaps when the tentacle reaches out, falling on his hands and knees. About the time when the tentacle eviscerates Shih, he scrambles up and pulls a table down on its side to get behind for cover. "Get my sister out of here!" he shouts, already trying to get his phone to work so that he can try to call some sort of reinforcements, or something.

Someone needs to bring the rocket launcher.

Alister’s satellite phone — the very same model that the late Mr. Shih suggested he might leave Kara with — works insofar as it turns on, and Alister can use his fingertips to navigate its numerical pad.

“Shouldn’t we go back and help him?!” Margaux asks Odessa, voice cracking as she twists a wild look over her shoulder, searching for her brother’s silhouette through the slanting rain and fine particles of brick and dust rising out of the gambling den at their backs like smoke.

Out on the street, the Rookery’s pavement has gone black — whether by blood or by rainwater, neither Odessa nor Kara knows. The trail of destruction left in the cephalopod’s wake is more apparent. There’s the pickup truck spewing fire from its hood, cabin caved in by one of the robot’s limbs; telephone poles snapped at the middle like spring saplings; and no sign of anyone else in the open.

They’ve already fled, as the occupants of the gambling den are fleeing now.

Eileen puts one foot in front of the other at Kara’s urging, face turned toward the sky so the rain sloughs Shih’s blood off her face and hair, which is no longer fastened at the nape of her neck in a tidy, pragmatic bun. If Kara had to assign an adjective to the other woman’s mental state, it would be: numb.

“That’s not from here,” she’s mumbling, barely audible, “not from here…”

Back inside, Alister finally receives an answer on the other end of the line. “Staten Island Trade Commission,” says a voice. “Mr. Black is out at the moment, but I can take a message?”

The cephalopod swivels, turning its solitary red eye in the direction of this new electronic interference. It blinks.


Kara isn't unused to dealing with people in Eileen's state by any stretch of the imagination, but there is some disappointment that it's happening to her. Regardless, she keeps pushing them both forward, turning to look back at the machine still nested inside the former gambling den. "Yeah, but where the hell did it come from?"

The situation out here isn't good, but it would be worse if that thing were allowed to continue on its rampage. As much as she'd like to turn her back on this and forget it, she can't.

"The weapons have to be stored nearby. Where do the Triad base themselves from out here?" The question is directed toward Eileen, as she's been here before, and Kara hasn't. "We grab it. Now."

Kara has a very big gun in mind she'd like to turn on that… thing.

We definitely should not.” Odessa keeps Margaux moving forward.I definitely should.” And she will, once she’s sure she’s escorted her friend far enough to make a break for it. Once she’s sure there aren’t more of those things just around the block.

A glance around as she’s keeping tabs on the ‘bot’s movements has her catching sight of Eileen and Kara again. The fact that Eileen looks like that — difficult as it is to tell behind the mask of smeared gore — is not assuring. “Come on!” Des calls toward the two women, waving her arm for them to break off with her and Margaux.

"It is Mr. Black! Send someone to the gambling hell hole I made a note that we'd be leaving for, and by someone, I mean multiple people with rocket launchers and armor penetrating assault weapons! Bring grenades too, but not too many because we don't have the budget to just throw all of our grenades away!" Alister shouts into his phone before sliding it across the floor, hoping that if the voice on the other end says anything, it might distract the robot in some way.

“Mr. Black?” squeaks the tinny voice. “Mr. Black, I just— want— sure heard you right— did you say— rocket launcher?”

The cephalopod steers its attention across the floor and lumbers in the direction of the discarded phone. All it takes is two hefty steps and the robot smashes it under the force of the same blood-slick tentacle that fed Shih into its mouth.

Another coils around Alister’s midsection, python-like, and slowly begins to apply pressure, squeezing the air from his lungs at the same time it starts folding his rib cage into itself. Something splinters. Maybe it’s a rib.

Alister’s feet leave the floor.

“If you assume a black hole goes somewhere,” Eileen is saying, sounding very far away even though she hasn’t left Kara’s side, “own the moment you set foot— sideways—”

She blinks away rainwater. Or tears. The two are not mutually exclusive, although it’s difficult to tell the difference in the dark.

She remembers that sound.

She remembers her husband dissolving into dust in her hands.

She remembers—

“There’s a truck around the back!” she barks at Kara and Odessa, wrenching herself back to the present. “California plates! He’ll have stowed the shipment there!”

Margaux, meanwhile, has kicked off and abandoned her stilettos. She squeezes Odessa’s hand. Hard. “Help him, Dessie, please! I’ll be okay, I promise I’ll be okay—”

Odessa's call to flee is met with only a glance, Kara looking back to Eileen as she fails to come back to the moment. "Gray! Get it together!" And thankfully, she does. There's no sign of relief for it, just a shift of focus to their next destination. Or at least her next stop.

"This way," Kara shouts as she takes off at a sprint toward the truck, regardless of who follows or how closely. In the rain, she practically skids to a halt at the back of the truck, eyes on the plates first, and then the lock securing the gate. Pistol swung around, she fires twice into the lock to destroy it before sliding the blood-slicked sidearm back into its holder. The door's handle is grabbed and thrown up with a grunt, peering into the dark to search for a particular gun. Grasping the side of the frame, she hoists herself in to help herself to the weaponry.

Shit.” Des sort of stumbles to a halt and nods her head in Margaux’s direction, nudging her to keep moving. “Go!” Then, she turns back the way they came, against the tide of fleeing people, and stares down the Hunter.

This is going to suck.

“Hey asshole! Why don’t you pick on someone a bit more expressive?” Odessa grabs a brick from the ground and throws, watching it ping off the side of the metal creature. It wasn’t meant to do damage, just to piss it off. “Hold on, Mister Black!”

Taking a deep breath, she holds one hand out in front of her and starts feeling through the air with small movements of each of her fingers, feeling for the right strings. “C’mon, ugly. Drop him and look my way.”

Alister struggles against the tentacle, nowhere near as strong as a freaking robot. "Whoever built these things, I'm revealing my identity and suing them for all they're worth!" he threatens, because that's the only way he can express himself at a time like this, when his life is completely screwed up the ass.

The railgun Kara is looking for is smaller than she perhaps imagined — and more lightweight. If you asked Mr. Shih — while he was still alive — he might argue that this is a good thing. Although not as powerful as the larger models that Kara is better acquainted with, this shoulder-mounted model one is portable.

More importantly: It’s already assembled.

It won’t take out a helicopter.

It won’t stop whatever that thing is.

But it might slow it down.

Up front, Eileen has forced the driver’s side door open and is hauling Shih’s partner out of the passenger seat by the front of her coat. “Tell your employer,” she snarls, depositing the other woman onto the pavement, “we’re very sorry.”

If this particular Praxis representative speaks English, she doesn’t have a response; she braces her hands against the cement instead, levering herself back to her feet and takes off in the same direction that Margaux and the other gamblers fled as fast as her nylon-clad legs will carry her.

Eileen climbs inside and fumbles around, searching for the truck’s keys, which she finds still in the ignition. As she reaches up to adjust the rear view mirror, her eyes seek out Kara’s reflection in the glass. The blonde recognizes that look.

“You know,” she says, and she shouts to be heard over the now-thundering rain, “I’ve given it some thought, and I’d really rather not upset the delicate ecosystem this island’s got going for it!”

Her hand drops back to the dangling key. She turns it, revving the engine. “Cover Knutson— Price— Deswhat-the-fuck-ever, will you? And hold on.”

Inside, the cephalopod seems to shrug its shoulders. All of them. It rolls itself upright, still clutching Alister, and swings around to face Odessa.

Its unoccupied limbs gather momentum as it picks itself out of the rumble and emerges from the gambling den’s ruined exterior, honing in on Odessa’s unique signature. Alister might have lost use of his ability long ago, but his DNA is unchanged; the cephalopod does will not yield. It lumbers toward Odessa instead, swinging Alister around like a college undergrad swings beads at Mardi Gras.

One tentacle smashes through a section of remaining wall. Another shoves away a dumpster and sends it hurtling through an adjacent storefront. The ground seems to shake on its approach.

Or maybe it really does.

Hefting the weapon, Kara frowns at first. While she's certainly better armed than before, her mind is racing to put together the most effective way to use it given the turn of events. Turning at the sound of the cabin door opening, she meets Eileen's eyes in the rearview for just long enough to hurry with getting acquainted fully with the shoulder-mounted railgun. "You know, I thought this Staten had a certain charm to it, as well?" she calls back as she hoists to her torso, flicking the switch that starts a buildup of charge inside the weapon's capacitors. "Glad we're on the same page."

The machine clambering its way into the street gives her a clearer shot on it, the weapon humming in her hand as she looks down the sight. For a moment, she considers attempting a shot at the flailing arm holding the well-dressed gambler from earlier, but opts not to given how active it is. With a frustrated exhale, the barrel is tilted toward the cephalopod's glowing eye instead. Her lips twitch back in a sneer, nudging the barrel just ahead of its path… and squeezing the trigger. In the dark, a pulse of energy can be seen coming off the barrel, ammunition discharging faster than a blink at the machine's sensor.

Feet sliding back from the sheer force the gun puts off, Kara stays flat-footed and calm, face never lifting from the sight. She refocuses her aim immediately for the arm that would like to crush Alister. Should it slow enough in its wild wave, she fires again, aiming to pierce the tentacle straight through.

Every instinct Odessa has screams at her to run. The fact that there's no canister of sickly yellow gas jettisoned in her direction – nor a needle appearing – says to her that this thing doesn't care about incapacitating its Evolved prey for capture. Like the unfortunate Mr. Shih, it seems to intend to incapacitate permanently.

Eyes wide, she stares the hulking thing down as it approaches, standing her ground. Her outstretched arm shakes in front of her and sweat forms on her brow. Prince's first shot flies by and collides with its target. Finally, she makes a fist and pulls it toward her, grasping at that invisible force and bringing it under her command.

In the next moment, Des disappears, only to be seen nearer to the arm holding Alister, where she hopes she's just out of reach. She can't simply freeze the Hunter and free Black, having no way to pry him free from that vice grip around his ribcage. She needs to convince it to drop him.

Hopefully Kara's next shot will be a powerful incentive.

Alister is going red in the face as he feels the simultaneous crushing force of the tentacle, and the sheer inertia of being swung around. "You piece of shit! I'll have you entirely dismantled and turned into a public toilet after this!!!" he shouts while continuing to push at the tentacle, very desperately wanting to avoid splattering on something.

Kara’s aim is true. Sparks arc through the air and light up the street like a blown transformer, and if the cephalopod was of this world that probably would be the end of it.

It isn’t.

The robot’s sensor dims, flickers, goes out. Alister slips from its coils and drops to the ground a few feet from where Odessa just rematerialized, alive if not unharmed — pain shoots up the left side of his body where his cracked ribs connect with the pavement and cause an involuntary sound to bubble up from the pit of his chest.

He’s experienced worse.

None of them can see it, but in the long moments of silence that follow, the cephalopod’s internal sensors calibrate as power is rerouted through the backup network that runs through its body like an independently functioning peripheral nervous system.

The tentacle that had been squeezing the life from Alister twitches.

Eileen throws the truck into reverse and presses the accelerator to the floor. She did warn Kara to hold on. Without taking her eyes off the cephalopod’s stirring silhouette in the vehicle’s rear view mirror, she swings the wheel all the way around and steers the bumper into the tentacle furthest away from Odessa and Alister, causing the robot to topple sideways and crash into the tailgate.

Shards of plastic pop and skitter across the pavement, indistinguishable from the crunch of metal as the truck’s back end collapses like an accordion and the tail lights explode. Kara is thrown to the truck bed’s floor, unhurt except for a bruised shoulder and the weight of the railgun bearing down on her chest. She can still brace her feet against the tailgate — or what’s left of it — and may need to.

The cephalopod’s tentacles flail, grasping in the dark for something to grab onto. Person or vehicle.


Odessa has only seconds to act.

Kara's eyes narrow as the robot stills after its eye is destroyed. Had the power been disrupted by the shot? Something that well-designed didn't seem like it should stop by that alone. When she hears the truck slide into gear, a hand goes out toward the railing on the side of the bed, holding on tightly. It still isn't enough to keep her from tipping back and over as the truck jolts into movement. Landing with the weight of the railgun on top of her, she's sliding around in the bed, waiting for a safer moment to come to her feet… when they crash directly into machine.

Her brow shoots up. The cephalopod falling into the back end of the vehicle causes her to let out a yelp, eyes widened. Scrambling back award from what's left of the hatch, she's relieved to find she still has feet to scramble with. Breathing heavily, she tilts her blood-covered face up toward the machine as it stirs again. Still on her back, the railgun is immediately recentered on her shoulder. At this range, she doesn't need to bother with the sight, just points the barrel.

Screaming as the machine flails and she shoots, the second round explodes from the gun and tears toward the underside of a shoulder. The weapon still cycling its charge, Kara fires the third round into its center, and the railgun still kicks into her shoulder roughly despite not being at full power. "Drive! We have to get out of here NOW!" she shouts, holding tightly onto the railgun to not lose her grip on it, feet jammed down into the tailgate while she lays flat among the other weapons in the truck's bed. It wouldn't matter how difficult a target she tried to make herself if the machine picked up the entire truck, though. Wouldn't matter if it turned around with that maw of its and…



From Alister's point of view, the world suddenly goes silent. Only the pain shooting through his side seems to indicate that he hasn't suddenly died. Gravel and debris crunches under boots as Des closes the space between them. "Come on," she groans as she none too gently hauls the man to his feet. "We don't have much time." There's a note of pain in her voice and when he looks at her, she's gone very pale. Her skin feels cold and there's a sheen of sweat.

That scraping over the ground remains the only sound as the small woman half drags her employer toward the waiting truck.

From Kara and Eileen's perspective, Odessa and Alister were where they were when he fell from the tentacle's grasp. Then Alister suddenly appears strapped into the passenger seat while Odessa weakly drags herself into the truck's back with Kara. She clears the crushed gate and tumbles down into the bed with a grunt.

Her hand slaps against the floor several times, signaling that they're all in. Like Kara said: "Go!!"

Alister’s world swims in and out of focus. He hears voices, but darkness crowds the corners of his vision. The smell of fresh blood and Eileen’s musky floral perfume fills his nostrils.

It takes all his concentration to remain conscious.

At close range, the projectiles from Kara’s railgun tear through the cephalopod’s exoskeleton, pierce the more vulnerable circuits beneath, and slice clean through the hydraulic system that allows this particular limb to move as fluidly as the others. It reaches feebly for Odessa, attempting to pluck her out of the truck bed, but its claw no longer closes all the way, and it lacks the ability to exert real pressure.

Sparks hiss and pop.

The other limbs, however, remain fully functional; it isn’t long before the robot is pulling itself upright again, shaken out of its stupor.

Kara and Odessa don’t have to tell Eileen a third time. She manuevers the gearshift back into the drive position and revs the engine. The truck’s tires spin, struggling to find purchase in the rain, burning rubber, saturating the air with acrid smoke—

So Eileen throws it into reverse again.

BANG goes the truck’s bumper. THUMP THUMP goes the cephalopod, rolling end over end.

This time, when the truck accelerates forward, there’s no additional weight to pin the vehicle down — and it tears down the narrow street with a roaring scream.

Twenty feet.

Fifty feet.

Seventy five.

One hundred.

Undeterred, the cephalopod picks itself back up and, dragging its immobile limb, shambles after the truck in pursuit.

"Jesus," Kara hisses as she's suddenly not alone in the truck bed. She wants to do more than shudder at how eerie that is, but bites back a further retort, focusing on the more dangerous problem: the robot they seem to be pinned under. Instead of cursing, she lets out a slow exhale to steady herself. Kara waits for the gun to finish cycling back up before she lines up her fourth shot, aiming to destabilize another limb. She grunts as the gun kicks her down into the bed when it fires, energy hissing out around her hands as they support the barrel. Her arms are burning from that effort, shoulder stinging and sore from the fall.

She flinches as they reverse into the robot again, eyes squeezing shut in a mental brace for the worst-case scenario of it falling in on them … but the truck surges forward and free and Kara lets out a tone of relief, eyes snapping back open. As they rush down the street away from the cephalopod, Kara works on sitting herself up, on letting the railgun's weight rest on top of the crushed tailgate.

"Where…" she says it like a curse, eyes dancing over the foreign bot. "Where do I even shoot this thing at." Destabilizing it was a nice goal, but it had so many damn arms. Taking out the sensor had felt like a victory, albeit short-lived.

It was still pursuing them after all.

"Des-whatever-the-fuck, you got any ideas?" Kara asks, face pressed close to the scope of the gun as she aims back in the cephalopod's direction.

There’s a terrified cry when the truck reverses into the robot again. Des shields herself with her arms, curling up small in the bed of the truck. When nothing connects and the back end of the truck isn’t cleaved from the front, she finally dares to look again. “Just one.”

Pushing herself up to sit, Des stares at the initially shrinking form of the cephalopod with wide terrified eyes. When it rights itself and picks up its pursuit again, she throws out a hand toward it and squints her eyes shut tight. There’s an agonized scream for her efforts, but it pays off. For a few precious seconds, they continue to lose their pursuer while it stays frozen in place.

Soon after, she’s collapsing back in the truck and gasping for air. Odessa looks sick. Feels it, too. “Keep driving!”

Eileen is having difficulty envisioning a scenario in which she stops driving. Odessa has few worries there — and even less as the cephalopod grows smaller and smaller, until it is little more than a glimmer in the truck’s side mirrors.

Even though they’ve been going since Eileen set the vehicle into motion, Kara and Odessa can now hear the windshield wipers squelching for the first time, and can pick out the sound of rain slanting against the truck’s hood. It gathers, too, in the bed’s grooves but does not rise like bathwater, partly due to its construction… but also because the tailgate is demolished and the bumper is hanging on by a—

Nope, there it goes.

It skitters, tumbling away into the black.

“Finn,” Eileen tries over the radio, which comes alive in Kara’s earpiece, “Finn. Nathalie. Come in. Can either of you read me?”

There’s no answer.

It takes a long time for Kara to relax, even as the distance between them and the machine grows. She half-expects its whole being to open up with some kind of terrible gun to shoot back at her in return. Thankfully, they're not being chased down by rockets, lasers, frisbeed razor-plates, or anything else horrifying one could think of.

So she does eventually sink back and let the barrel of the railgun tip up, finger pulling off the trigger. Only then does she breathe out a soft swear, wondering what the hell just happened.

"You did good," she asides to Odessa, turning to look at her. As impressive as her ability was, though, it did seem to be costly. "The extra distance may have been what let us get out of its sensor range." When the truck goes over what might be a pothole, she winces, looking down at the other guns that had been stored in the truckbed along with the high-powered monstrosity she'd been using. Like she's taking stock of what loaded weapons could possibly misfire into them as well as just … taking stock.

She reaches a hand up to her earpiece, unnerved by the radio silence. "Finn," she voices into the dark, the sound of rushing rainwater necessitating she has to speak loudly. "The situation changed here. Some ten-foot-tall machine broke in and started killing people." Shared in the hopes of eliciting at least a 'what in the world' type of response back, if not for its sheer honesty.

"Tell us you're having a better night."

“Thanks,” Des offers weakly in response. For a bit, it’s all she can do to simply catch her breath. With a soft groan of protest, she pushes herself back up to sit once more, so she’s staring out the open back of the vehicle, rather than into the clouds overhead. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

A headache has settled in between her eyes. Why is this woman so familiar? Staring out at the ruins of Staten Island, Des brings a hand up to her nose and checks for signs of blood. When she comes away only with sweat and rainwater, her shoulders sag with relief. A glance is spared toward Eileen in the front of the vehicle, then back to Kara. “No luck getting in touch with your team? It could be scrambling the frequency.”

At least, if she were designing a war machine to disrupt the lives of refugee resistance, she’d want it to scramble their radio signals and leave them cut off from one another.

“Right,” Eileen says. “Kara, priority one: We deliver these two to Etienne Saint James at the Trade Commission. Two: We find Finn and the girl.” Berlin, she means, even if she’s glancing at Alister’s form slumped in the passenger’s seat at the time.

Her grip on the steering wheels tightens, knuckles gone white.

“Once everyone’s accounted for,” she continues, “we rendezvous with the others back in Providence and have ourselves a little chat with Hector Steel. He and Iago understand how these creatures work better than anyone, and we can’t afford for it to fall into the wrong hands. Not Praxis, not Yamagato.”

Assuming the cephalopod didn’t originate with Praxis or Yamagato in the first place. Eileen doesn’t sound like she’s convinced that’s even an option; her eyes are scrutinizing Odessa’s wan face in the rear view mirror instead.

“Odessa, love, what’s Richard up to these days?”

This may not be her rodeo, but Odessa can’t help but agree with Eileen’s assessment. Neither Praxis nor Yamagato should get their hands on that kind of technology. Praxis is terrifying enough from what she catches in the news.

“Last I saw? Trying to keep space and time from unraveling,” Des responds. She watched the chaos surrounding the Deveaux Building from a safe distance before fleeing back to Staten Island when the sky didn’t swallow them all whole. “The usual,” is added dryly.

The continued radio silence is far from reassuring. At the very least, Finn owed her at least a taller tale in return. Instead, nothing. If Kara hadn't heard Eileen when she'd spoke over the radio, she'd assume the device wasn't working after all of the water and blood that had rained down over her. She rolls her shoulder as she turns to both hear and be heard easier through the cabin window. "Sounds like a plan," she echoes inside.

A look is shifted back to Odessa at her quip, head tilting to the side. "Huh," she voices in reply to that, tongue in cheek. Is that so is hidden somewhere under the syllable. Perhaps she needed to get more up to date on East Coast affairs, because that sounded problematic. And also like he may not be doing a very good job, given Eileen's initial reaction to the giant machine.

The Englishwoman is quiet now, anyway. Her jaw set. Eyes back on the road opening ahead of them.

She isn’t thinking about Richard.

She’s thinking about—

“Etienne. Tell him I say hello.”

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