How Hard Can It Be?


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Scene Title How Hard Can It Be?
Synopsis It turns out the intelligence of robots doesn't matter when it's human soldiers that three Ferrymen are find themselves needing to avoid patrols in their quest to deliver H5-N10 vaccines to Grand Central Terminal.
Date March 1, 2011

Ruins of Midtown

Standing in the ruins of Midtown, it's hard to believe New York is still a living city.

There's life enough around the fringes — the stubborn, who refused to rebuild somewhere else; the hopeful, who believe the radiation is gone, or that they somehow won't be affected. Businesses, apartment complexes, taxis and bicycles and subways going to and fro — life goes on. Perhaps more quietly than in other parts of the city, shadowed by the reminder that even a city can die, but it does go on.

Then there is the waste. The empty core for which the living city is only a distant memory. Though a few major thoroughfares wind through the ruins, arteries linking the surviving halves, and the forms of some truly desperate souls can occasionally be glimpsed skulking in the shadows, the loudest noise here is of the wind whistling through the mangled remnants of buildings. Twisted cords of rebar reach out from shattered concrete; piles of masonry and warped metal huddle on the ground, broken and forlorn. Short stretches of road peek out from under rubble and dust only to disappear again shortly afterwards, dotted with the mangled and contorted forms of rusting cars, their windows long since shattered into glittering dust.

There are no bodies — not even pieces, not anymore. Just the bits and pieces of destroyed lives: ragged streamers fluttering from the handlebar which juts out of a pile of debris; a flowerbox turned on its side, coated by brick dust, dry sticks still clinging to the packed dirt inside; a lawn chair, its aluminum frame twisted but still recognizable, leaning against a flight of stairs climbing to nowhere.

At the center of this broken wasteland lies nothing at all. A hollow scooped out of the earth, just over half a mile across, coated in a thick layer of dust and ash. Nothing lives here. Not a bird; not a plant. Nothing stands here. Not one concrete block atop another. There is only a scar in the earth, cauterized by atomic fire. This is Death's ground.

There's a certain quality about what remains of Midtown that's accentuated when there is snow covering everything. The quality of death present might be what it is, even though the only corpse present is that of Midtown itself. Structures blasted down to skeletons, if they survived at all, and then the heavy, crunching snow being the only sound to break the silence, and the sheer blackness of night with no street lights to show the way. If someone had woken from a coma to this view and was told that the world had ended, they'd believe it.

This is the scene that greets the trio of Ferrymen as they walk through the desolate streets. The beams from flashlights are the only sources of illumination besides the stars overhead and the barely visible crescent of the moon. The taller buildings leer down at them, and a good knowledge of the facts of the world may well be the only thing that would keep them from imagining slavering, ravenous mutants hiding behind shattered windows and twisted metal. And with things being how they are, it might be foolish to assume that there aren't mutants.

It's been a cold, quiet, and dark walk, but also an uneventful one.

The moment flashlights were required, Jaiden pulled out the 4-cell maglite from his pack and snapped a red filter over the lens, making it a little less visible from far away while allowing the people closest to have a little better chance of seeing it. He's dressed in dark clothes - grays, blacks and the like, with a knit cap perched on top of his head, easily able to be pulled down to hide his face, allowing him to blend in if he finds the right hunk of shadows somewhere. His hands are buried deep in his pockets, the military surplus backpack he often carries cinched tightly to his shoulders. Each breath sends a curl of fog from nose and mouth that just escapes the edges of the mask, his pace easy, eating up the miles without a word of complaint.

A lot has been going on with Jaiden recently. This is a way to help people - to get his mind off of things.

Somewhere in Abby's pack is a lone syringe, tucked into a first aid kit with her other personal items. A single dose of Vaccine with the blessing of Megan to give it to a certain someone. In her pack also is one of the two cases packed oh so carefully to protect the precious cargo of H5-N10 vaccinations. Her own flashlight out in one hand, cord slid around her wrist, her other hand holds the baseball bat that she brought along with her, in case that's another joint attack by robots. "If it looks like a partially covered big lump with ribs, we'll back up and find another way. They work in pairs, I wouldn't put it past them to work in three's even. Stupid robots," Abby murmurs quietly to the other pair.

"If they're working together, doesn't this imply that they're not stupid?" Which is in itself a stupid question. But Rue's a model, so what do you want from her, honestly? Her own flashlight is gripped tightly in one hand, her other hand wrapped around the strap of a messenger bag slung across her body. A pistol is tucked into her pants, and she doesn't feel the need to hold it as if it somehow would make her safer just to have it in her grip.

Steam from her breath doesn't show, for the layers of medical mask, meant to protect others from catching the H5-N10 from her as much as it is preventing her from catching it herself (she really isn't sure which the case is at this point), and the royal purple scarf wrapped around it to ward off the chill.

The red tint of Jaiden's light does a lot to add a less supernatural look to things, where such a look exists: Ghost don't use red lights, after all. Only robots do.

The alleys along their path have been empty save for snow, which is undeniably a nice thing. Aside from a close call where some debris looked vaguely like some sort of robotic creature, they haven't encountered anything of the sort. The air around them is dead, perhaps eerily so, filled only by the sounds of snow crunching beneath their feet, and their low speech of their voices, but that's not in any way a bad sign of anything. If that's all they hear from now until their arrival at Grand Central Terminal, nothing could be better. Just themselves and, echoing in the distance, too faint to have been heard until they were close enough, another sound that does not belong to them, but a barely audible, almost 'thumping' that sounds nothing like footsteps and, if they stop to listen, appears to be drawing at first gradually, and then rapidly closer to them.

"Whatever their programming tells them to do is what they do." Jaiden's voice is muffled by the mask, the knit cap keeping his ears clear, but warm. "If they patrol, they probably are programmed to follow a set path and to…" His voice trails off, his flashlight clicking off with the stab of his thumb, the big Australian crouching behind a burned out apartment staircase and drawing his pistol. "Wait and see, split up, or run like hell." Those are some of the options he's mulling over, and he looks to the other two for confirmation.

"Good luck outrunning one." Maybe the llama one. But the cat? She's seen it run. That's the last words out of the brunette's mouth as she clicks off her own flashlight, shifting away from the other two, moving quickly through the street to the doorway of a adjacent building, her own dark clothes providing some blending into the shadows but a direct look isn't going to protect her.

"Oh, balls," is all Rue utters when she realises they aren't alone. She takes off in another direction from the other two, skidding behind her own cover. Something that probably used to be an SUV at one point. Maybe. Only then does she switch off her flashlight, tucking it away to draw her gun instead. She presses her back to the steel carcass and holds her breath until she starts to feel lightheaded. So the sound of it in her ears won't drown out the sound of what stalks them in the night. Christ, she hopes it's just their imaginations.

Hope, for all the power it might actually, cannot change reality. They did not imagine hearing anything, and the sound is all too real, sounding less and less like something mysterious and more and more like the distinct sound of a small engine. The image of it being a small engine is perhaps heightened when the edges of the beam of a lamp appear in an alley just a bit up from them. When it finally comes into view and rolls to a stop, it is thankfully not a robot, but in fact a rugged, somewhat weatherized motorcycle with a single rider, appropriately bundled up for the weather.

It's fortunate, all the same, that Jaiden, Abby and Rue have found good hiding spots, because the rider flicks on an articulating spotlight and cast it down the street. The backscatter of this extra illumination provides just enough visibility for anyone who chances a look to see that the rider is also armed with a rifle, hardly surprising since their clothing identifies them as belonging to the U.S. Army. But at least it's not a robot?

A few moments of the spotlight sweeping across the street- and not finding anything, thankfully- and the spotlight goes out, the engine revs, and the bike starts moving further down the street in the direction they were originally moving in, coming to another stop a block up. The spotlight doesn't come on a second time: Looks like they're waiting for something.

What Jaiden wouldn't give for a tranquilizer dart or something right now. The worst thing that could happen is that he's waiting for a big group of whatever to show up just as they're dragging this soldier away after hitting him in the head with a big icicle.

Dull black gun in his hand, Jaiden remains crouching, watching the rider, watching the direction that he came in, listening for more…anythings…

Were they tipped off that they might be coming through? Meeting up with a retrieval team? Meeting up with the robots? Who the hell knows - Abigail doesn't - And so she stays still as death, moving just enough to crouch down and hopefully some of the snow that's piled up in the street will provide a little bit of cover. The guy's there, not moving and so she's not moving.

Rue's purple skullcap with its bushy mess of ginger hair sticking out beneath it appears over the frame of what was the passenger side window. Her blue eyes are revealed after a moment of hesitation, looking for where the rider is now that the light isn't shining in her direction. Her breath comes in quick gasps now, panic threatening to overtake her.

They don't have to wait long for something to happen. After a few seconds, a second motorcycle rolls into view to meet the first, followed by several more soldiers traveling on foot. There are perhaps ten of them altogether. They might even be part of a larger platoon, the rest of them somewhere else in Midtown. Or maybe not.

However many there are, there are another few seconds of information exchange, with the apparent MFIC gesturing a bit while issuing orders. The squad breaks, both motorcycles moving in separate directions- and both of them heading away from the trio- while the footmen pair up and head off along their own routes as well. None of them stay on the street that our heroes are on, but it's possible, even probable, that they haven't moved far off it it, either.

Jaiden listens as closely as he can, trying to pick up snippets of what they're discussing, hoping that the breezes conspire to make things work out properly so he can hear that they're on patrol, going somewhere soon, or something like that. He looks to the other two, fixing Rue with a piercing gaze, basically saying 'don't run away' without saying a word. He holds up a hand with two fingers, checks the sky for flyers or signs of anything that may be a camera, and then, moves out slowly toward the intersection, sticking to the shadows when the sounds of engines have faded.

Jaiden may be moving, but Abigail's remaining where she is. Moving as a group at this moment would be stupid. It's easier to move in one loose group, a couple yards or blocks apart from each other. There's many other ways into the terminal also, contemplating deviating from the plan with this unexpected addition of military individuals pairing off. She glances out from her corner to where she saw Rue disappear to, see if the red head is going to stay put or move.

Rue nods her head swiftly to Jaiden's unspoken command. Then she peers around for Abby, eyes wide and helpless. She has no idea what they should do. Then, she stares off after the soldiers. Her eyes shut tightly, and her gloved hands come up to her temples. This always works for Jean Grey. C'mon, limited telepathy. Time to be much less limited.

The single biggest problem with limited telepathy is right in the name: It's limited. Maybe they're too far away, or they aren't thinking loud enough, or maybe their brainwaves aren't on the right frequency (if such a thing can even be possible), but whatever the reason, Rue doesn't hear the thoughts she is hoping to. Not today.

The sky is empty, or at least appears to be empty unless the government has developed some sort of esoteric cloaking device. That's perhaps just as much information as Jaiden was able to glean from trying to listen in on the soldiers' huddle, which didn't carry any useful information his direction. But be that as it may, there is a simple fact remaining: There are perhaps only ten soldiers. If the trio can get through to a street that isn't being patrolled, they can almost certainly slip out of the area and into GCT without being noticed or followed. And there are only ten of them. As long as they don't bang pots together and take care when passing by alleys, they should be fine.

How hard or dangerous can it be?

How hard can it be?

That line was classic on the British television show Top Gear, often uttered by one of the three before starting out on some insanely dangerous mission or stunt that ended with one of them broken down on the side of the road. This is a matter, however, of life and death, not just embarrassment. Jaiden makes his way back to the group and, with a finger to lips, motions for them to come with.

So long as the brunette in the group doesn't turn en flambe, they should be good too. Or so that's the thought. So long as either she or Jaiden make it to the terminal, there's vaccine for folks! But the goal of course is not to get caught, get anyone caught, and so Abigail's creeping out from her hiding spot, shuffling quietly around the snow bank to catch up with Jaiden, ready at any given time to just drop and curl up while emitting mental affirmations that she is a rock. She is a rock. She is a rock and this is an elven cloak… that's not really on her shoulders.

Someday. Someday, Rue will unlock all her latent psychic potential. And she'll be awesome. Today is not that day. So after a quick glance around for her own comfort, she rejoins Abigail and Jaiden, so mindful now of the sounds of her shoes crunching on the snow more than she was before. Her companions can't see the way her lips press into a bloodless line. But they can see the way the freckles dusted on her cheekbones stand out against her face gone pale with anxiety.

What's different from before? Maybe not much: It's still cold, still not, and there's still snow everywhere. What has changed now is the odds of being caught are perhaps greater than they were. There are still no robots, but that might not make things seems much brighter.

Advancing along the street hasn't changed much, fortunately. Glancing down alleys before passing them is more important than it was previously, but doesn't add an extra element of danger. Not at first.

Finally, the trio does come to an alleyway they can't simply skip past: Stopped at the other end is one of those pairs of soldiers they'd seen earlier. A brief glance around the corner reveals that their stop appears only to be temporary. Maybe a radio or weapon problem, something that should serve only as a momentary distraction. And then, behind them comes that same sound from earlier. The not-quite-thumping of a motorcycle engine heralds its appearance from the mouth of an alley they passed a block back. Just like before, it stops and its rider, who may as well be named 'Murphey,' flicks its spotlight on, casting it down the street from the direction they came. But it's only a moment before he begins sweeping it in their direction. If they stay where they are, the light will eventually find them. If they hurry past the alley, they might be heard. Waiting is not an option any longer. There is perhaps ten seconds to come up with a brilliant plan to save the day.

Or, at least, to save themselves and the vaccine.

Snow is a little difficult for him to work with, but the water lines beneath the city streets are a different story. Ten seconds is plenty of time, and with the range he has of his powers, something has to give. Concentrating, Jaiden's power goes into effect, pressure building beneath concrete and rushing through piping that's been neglected as the ruins themselves, if not more. Water suddenly bursting from a sewer grate should hopefully be enough to get the attention of the men about to spot them, giving them a distraction to focus on, and give the three Ferrymen a chance to get away.

That's riiiight. Jaiden manipulates water, and Abigail grins as she notices what he's doing. She nudges Rue, a gesture to the sudden geyser shooting up into the air, and she waits beside the red head, hoping that the ruse will work long enough that they can get away. And when there's an opening, when military figures take off, she's moving, fast as she dares.

Rue's eyes grow wide as saucers at the display of Jaiden's ability. Behind her mask and her scarf, her jaw drops. A nudge from Abby brings her back to the here and now, however, and she's quick to break off into a run. Away from the soldiers, and toward their destination. It's a desperate scramble, one her muscles had been screaming for her to indulge since the first thrums of the engine. It actually feels good to run. Even if it's an instinct born of absolute panic.

It works. The eruption of water catches 'Murphey's' attention, and when he slams his finger against the button to activate his bike's horn and guns the engine to avoid being doused in cold water, it catches the attention of the soldiers down the alley. They don't even see the trio, hidden in the darkness of what use to be a grocer or perhaps news shop, when they come tearing around the corner to assist their comrade. The way is clear, and when they move, they can move with all the haste they feel is due. It will be several minutes yet before the soldiers fail to find who they through they were after, and by then, resuming the search won't matter.

The trio will already be at Grand Central Terminal. The vaccines, so badly needed, will also be there, and there won't be anything that can be done to stop them. For at least one more day, the Ferrymen will keep living.

For at least one more day, they will keep fighting.

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