Humanis Falls: Operation Ziptie


adel_icon.gif berlin_icon.gif colette_icon.gif hana_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif noa_icon.gif vincent_icon.gif

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Scene Title Humanis Falls: Operation Ziptie
Synopsis Hana Gitelman, Vincent Lazzaro, and Strike Team Wendigo move in on Georgia Mayes.
Date July 22, 2018

Rain, dust, smoke, and the cover of deep night mean that dropping out from the hatch of the Tlanuwa requires a girding of loins and an implicit faith in the orienting technology of coordinates read on black screens in green to land them where they need to go. Silently, figures fall from the jet like thrown knives in the shadows, buffeting parachutes catching them.

From up here, the land below is blackness and fire. Distant ruins in flames show the path laid into the desert by missile strike, and south-west of their position, the staccato firework shop of gun battle manifests in flares of light and the occasional release of flame and smoke.

And beyond, all around, is the unending black landscape of an empty desert.

Weed Army Community Hospital, Fort Irwin

Mojave Desert


Boots touch concrete as Wolfhound and the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security land atop the hospital nestled within the compound. Explosions have replaced the thunder of the perpetual storm that surrounds Fort Irwin like a moat of electricity and rain, but looking east, the hazy darkness is only lit with fire rather than forks of lightning. In spite of the sound of warfare around them, the most immediately prevalent sound is simple rainfall pattering down on collected puddles on the concrete rooftop, and spattering against the tilted surfaces of inert solar panels.

The uppermost floor of the rooftop yields little else, but intelligence as to the construction of the hospital leads the group to a ten foot climb down to the second layer, and a steel door sealed close, utilitarian in contrast to all the sleek, modern glass of windows and doors on the ground level.

Above the door, the black eye of a camera angles to cover the immediate few feet in front of it, hooded against the drizzle. Information siphoned off to places unknown.


Vincent Lazzaro is yoked up tight in body armor — a bullet-proof vest buckled in stiff around his chest, added plates at his knees. There’s a first-day-of-schoolness about it — BDU blacks a little too clean and trim, the DHS lettering stenciled in white across his back as of yet unscuffed. He has the look of any other government official who’s ever strapped up for a photo op, up to about the collar.

Above it, there’s a muddy absence to the look he turns back onto them in the rain, dread burning dense under the butt of his heart. The tension Huruma picked up on him in Red Hook doesn’t hold a candle.

They’ve already talked about this — he and Colette in first to vet the entry and gut the lock. He holds his arm out to her. Ready to go.

“BRB.” This he utters to Hana, dry against the drizzle prattling off his dome. Famous last dad jokes.

There's water under her armor, inevitably, by the time Hana's boots hit the rooftop, patches of cloth gone cold and clammy against her skin. There's nothing to be done about that, unfortunately. She's carrying the Banshee, but it's not the sonic weapon that the major brings out upon their approach to the door; it's the rifle that is settled into her hands instead, that action nearly unconscious as she surveys the rooftop's lower level.

That visual sweep ends at Vincent's profile; his acronymic levity is met with the flattest of patently unamused Looks. Because it's not funny; or maybe because it is, but admitting that would be encouragement she doesn't care to give. Either way.

Moving on, Hana steps aside and takes up expectant position, her attention moving to the visible dome of watching camera. Whether anyone's watching from the other side of that device, she can't begin to evaluate. Doesn't matter now; regardless, Wendigo's here, knocking on the door.

A puddle of water on the roof erupts into a splash, and the distortion of water sliding down a physical and yet unseen shape looks decidedly phantasmal. Rain silhouettes a human form, and then bleeds into visibility in blotches of light and dark values, then color. Colette Demsky slicks her wet hair back from her face, rifle stowed over her shoulder and banshee clipped to her waist. She spools up the cords of her chute, rolling it end over end and then detaching the backpack at the quick release straps, letting it slap wetly down to the rooftop. She raises one finger to Vincent to indicate one moment, and at the same time is moving forward in the direction of the Secretary.

Reaching to the opposite hip the Banshee is holstered on, Colette depresses a button, powering on her AEGIS armor, sending an electric crackle through the chest plate and bringing the magnetic ferrofluids to life. “Ready,” Colette exhales breathlessly, affording one look back to Hana and Noa before reaching up to grab Vincent’s arm. In that union, she concentrates and begins blotting both she and the secretary out of view in monochromatic patches, and then nothingness.

The weather seemed less than appropriate for a drop, though as the team lands in succession on the target point, there’s a small reassurance. Huruma can track them as they descend, sweeping up near last with the buffeting of the chute at her shoulders. She reels its damp shape in before unhooking it from over her back; the fluid movement carries on to power up the armor, the black of helm swiveling on its axis to study the nighttime horizon. There aren’t a lot of details without the help of artificial vision, but the sounds and fire give her just enough to glean over.

She doesn’t remain in such a trance for long; as she turns her attention back fully, her ability unfurls from its careful radius in every direction, draping down into the spaces below them and around them. Numbers first, of course.

Then again, the last time she was so certain on numbers, they found themselves at odds with an overpowered ghost.

Like a slightly smaller shadow of Hana Gitelman, Noa Gitelman also takes up her rifle into her hands once she’s on firm footing. As it has been since they entered the area, her mind is busy listening for the communications within and without the building they stand on; if she were a terrier, her ears would be pricked in an apt and eager alert state. All that shows on the young woman is a focus in her expression, that most of her fellow hounds know means she’s working on the waves.

As she listens, Noa looks through the scope of the rifle — sweeping the perimeter visually not only on the roof but beyond. Her booted feet move her in a slow circle, as her dark, intense eyes study each fraction of the panoramic view for threats or witnesses to their rooftop escapades.

Berlin comes to join the others once she's on the roof. Her hair is wet, but it's also pulled back into a bun so it stays mostly contained. She draws her Banshee, ready for the response to a militaristic decent onto this facility. It may not come yet, but she's not counting on it.

She seems to get distracted by the storm, her attention turning outward for a long moment. There's something almost haunted in her expression, but she straightens it back out when she turns back to the team. She looks in time to watch Colette disappear, letting out a steadying breath. It's the waiting. It gets to her.

Usually the first one out of the plane and plummeting toward the earth, this time Adel had been near the last. Not because of fright or concern, or even worry over the weather and the numbers, but because she wanted to be above them to send any course corrections over the radio if anyone happened to be blown off by the an unaccounted for variable. Her feet hit the roof last.

While the others get ready for the infiltration, she gathers up the chutes, securing them safely and giving each person a grin and a universal hand sign of ‘good job’. The thumbs up. At least universal to everyone present. They didn’t even gave thumbs up in the future.

Stepping over to join Berlin once the chutes are all secured, she gives her a few more hand gestures and a grin. Always the optimist, especially after jumping out of a plane.

From the sound of nearby battle comes also the hum of radio. Operation Bullwhip is underway, and there is a frenetic back and forth as militia response is mustered. Second nature has the littlest Gitelman sifting through detritus of noise, of anything that might indicate they'd been spotted, of forces being redirected back to the hospital, of anything coming from the hospital, and so far, nothing twinges her senses, on high alert and sharp.

In the space where Vincent and Colette vanished, a brief churn of shadowy mass replaces that same spot, quick to thicken into shadow and creep into the darkness surrounding that steel door, easing in and out of sight.

Similarly, Huruma's awareness sinks into the crevices of the building beneath her feet. Like rushing water, her senses fill out empty corridors, foyers, examination rooms, air ducts, stairwells, and receives in return only an absence without echo. This doesn't account for more mechanical threats, of course, but the space beneath their feet might as well be a catacomb of tombs for as much empathetic energy as Huruma is able to pick up thus far, save for the familiar signatures of her Operation Ziptie colleagues.

Darkness, inside.

What Colette can sense mediated through Vincent's senses is not visual information, but shapes, shadow, sound, her mind better attuned than most to translating such things into sense. They sift into a room of darkness and emptiness, broad, with a low ceiling, and no windows. By the time she has her feet under her, solid, Colette already has a sense of the immediate space some several feet in from the door — desks, chairs, an office-space of kinds — or better identified as some kind of security hub.

The air smells stale and a little of warm dust, and almost felt rather than heard, there's a low-key hum of computers, the subtle warmth emanating from them making the space warm, and the dull glow of idled, many monitors are slate grey in black.

An interior door seals shut on the other side of the room, no light escaping through the edges.

“Feels clear.”

The ghost of Vincent reports as much from Colette’s periphery once the state of the room has had a moment to settle in around them. His voice buzzes hollow, quiet beneath the murmur of fans and hard drives and whatever other automated processes at work.

“No airflow through the next door.” There’s a pause where she can perceive the shadow of his profile turn towards her in the dark; a slow leak of vapor on breath that isn’t breath. Did you tell Tasha what we were doing because I’m told I had //several missed calls.//

He doesn’t ask.

“I’ll fetch the others.”

Back at the roof door: a block about the size of a locking plate sublimates away from the steel from the inside out, taking most of the outer handle with it. Vapor curls like smoke through the gap; ice hisses black at its edges.

A bit of disembodied handle the size of a marble clinks to the pavement outside, and sizzles in the rain. The door is unlocked, by virtue of the fact that it no longer has a lock.

Outside, Hana waits with enforced patience, anticipatory tension coiling through her frame. The tumult of radio communications impinges on the sensor that is her ability as well, but she tunes it out, having delegated that responsibility; even Tenzin is a distant thought, the brunt of her digital companion's focus turned elsewhere.

When the door's most critical component at last evanesces, its sole remnant clattering forlornly on the concrete, the major looks to Wendigo's first lieutenant and nods briefly, formally releasing the team to do their work. Not that, between Vincent and Colette, there's apt to be anything immediately through the door to 'clear' — but ensuring that is part and parcel of their role.

Hana herself will filter in with them, neither point nor tail.

With Vincent conferring with the others about the room’s status, Colette leaves the electronic devices to the professionals and moves to the door at the far side of the room. There, she takes a knee beside the door’s hinges and runs one gloves hand over them to get a feel for the construction. As she moves her hand away, Colette tilts her head to the side and considers Vincent’s silhouette behind her, directing her field of vision to her back rather than her front.

“I can probably get through this if there isn't an electronic key.” Colette calls over her shoulder in a soft voice. “It won't be subtle.”

“Either everyone is just out of my reach, or we may find more soulless creatures than we thought.” Huruma murmurs into the comms, resting in a crouch to study the space below, focusing at nothing in particular save for the floor of the roof. As the dark smoke begins to seep back through the locked door, she stands and readies herself, a pistol drawn rather than the Banshee, which does sit at her hip line. Her head tilts to follow the drop of the lock mechanism, and there’s a bit of something amused in her voice.

“What a gentleman.” She offers out in a spell of levity, sweeping in through the door once they can, the edges of her ability pushing outward in an effort to tickle at their limits.

“If it is electronic, why not burn out the sensors inside?” Huruma takes a point on the unhinged side of the wall, looking down to Colette as the others collect in her wake.

Once Hana gives the nod, Noa moves, giving the signal to the rest of the team to move inside. With Colette at the front already with Vincent, she opts to take the rear, watching and listening for any sign that they’ve been spotted, before following them in.

“If the key’s a radio frequency, I can help, but if we have to go unsubtle, the rest of us need to be ready,” comes Noa’s voice quietly over the comms, her eyes on the door. As Colette examines its hinges, she feels the lock mentally, seeking an answer to the silent queries she sends its way. “On your toes, in case there’s company on the other side.”

Berlin looks over at Adel, the gestures getting a smile out of the young Hound. She isn’t an optimist, but she can borrow Adel’s. She flashes back her own signals, nodding back toward the door. It could be something mission related, to an observer, but her smile turns crooked and impish. But that’s for Adel alone.

She turns toward the others, glancing to Huruma. “Or they have a negator.” So when the door opens, she’s still ready for a confrontation. She glances to Adel, silently volunteering the pair of them to take up the rear as the squad moves in.

“Negation’s possible. I imagine that’s one of the abilities they would try to get their hands on, if possible.” Adel had to admit quietly, thinking that Berlin’s thought has merit, even if she agrees that those they are going after are, in general, soulless bastards. The possibility of negation gas had already been discussed, but that they might get their hands on and utilize abilities— well.

If they had used any she could imagine negation being at the top of their list. How better to even the field and get rid of the one thing they seemed to hate most.

The lock by the door looks borderline old fashioned when compared to the knowledge of forty-foot tall tower robots and artificial storms — an electronic lock with stubborn round edges demanding a numerical code to be input into its hardware, or a fingerprint depressed to its biometric scanner.

Closer study shows dust gathering around each key.

Beneath their feet, no sound nor stirring.

Vincent rejoins them in the security office in an osprey strike of black vapor, one gloved hand wrapped stable through the cross of his rifle while he reaches to sweep dust off a screen with the other. The camera feed displayed there doesn’t yield any new clues — dark and still and quiet. Occasional shifts in the lighting to reflect the fighting outside suggest that it is — at least — a live image.

He tabs at the spacebar of a nearby keyboard to no avail. Presumably before Hana can slap his hand away, because he is first in the pose order.

“They’re going to figure out we’re here sooner or later,” sounds an awful lot like implicit permission to burn through the door, just shy of the word go. Affirmations of the hospital’s emptiness keep rolling in. He turns to Huruma in her crouch, and looks past her across the others, finally to Gitelman.

“Can you hack it?” Last call for subtlety.

Within the security office, computers offer Hana information: belonging to the hospital proper, dating to before the war, their system have no inherent defenses against technopathic intrusion. There's not much on them, anyway: just what's needed to manage the cameras and their feeds. Logs of sensor data, alarms. More minutia of detail than she has time to peruse, all of it irrelevant.

She pauses before the bank of screens, monitors flaring into vivid life as she brings up an assortment of camera feeds for others to view:

In blurred-edged grey, the curl of a barren staircase displays the immediate view from the other side of the door. Another wide angle shows an elegant space, angled to display a mezzanine and a broad, empty foyer. (A rumble of thunder quakes the building, for a moment— ) Lightning flashes from high windows in the video image.

More live images dart across the screen. Empty examination rooms. Empty corridors. Empty reception desk. Empty emergency wing.

A gurney, rolled out into the middle of the floor at an angle, unmoving.

The most important information isn't part of the camera feeds at all.

"There's a second monitoring system," the technopath reports. "This isn't actually recording, just passing on." She shakes her head slightly, implicit denial of any potential infiltration of that second system from here. The risks of following that transmission are too many for this early in the op — not to mention, the team outside would lose their remote support.

Someone else might be watching; if they are, Hana won't be interrupting it now.

"Locks are an independent system. Break it," makes explicit the consensus.

“Watch your eyes, I can't mitigate while cutting.” Colette says as she assesses the thickness of the door and comes to a clear conclusion: These aren't rusted old bars below Pollepel or a residential door in Staten Island, ambient light simply won't suffice.

Quickly, Colette retrieves a pair of red-papered flares from pockets in her vest. She cracks each flare, sending a hellish red glow into the room and then drops them at her feet. The flares billow with a small amount of smoke but a bright amount of light. Colette closes her eyes and positions herself on a knee in front of the door, fingers splayed and pointed at the bottom hinge.

Cutting,” Colette calls to the room, and suddenly each flare goes dark. The red light disappears entirely, though each continues to burn and smoke. A second later that light is redirected and concentrated in five thin rays of laser light that emit from each of Colette’s fingertips and focuses to a cutting torch point at the metal of the hinge. Steel sizzles and pops when it drops in molten globules down on the floor, orange-white with heat.

All told it takes her two minutes to cut through each hinge, slicing from bottom to top and leaving the edges glowing hot. The door, heavy as it is, remains in the frame by sheer temerity and friction, requiring only a ginger tug to haul down into the room. “Clear,” Colette calls out, snuffing each flare out by cutting the burning tip off with a flicker-snap of laser light.

The first time that she saw Colette do this, Huruma didn’t believe her when she said ‘watch your eyes’. Now, when she says this, Huruma is usually the first to look away. Only need to learn a lesson once.

The red fills the room and then focuses to its laser point, and only the sound of heated metal thunking into the floor draws Huruma’s faceplate back towards the door, her field still reaching out onward and below. Between Hana’s relays and her own study of the beyond, the stillness earns a bitter taste of disquiet. She holds her pistol at her side as Colette tugs the door in and gives the okay, angling her view around the side of the doorway and lifting the muzzle ahead of her. The reach of her ability keeps up, still pushing at her own invisible walls. There has to be something here, or else it smells like something wrong.

She has had her fill of wrong lately, and from her bold manner it seems to be showing on the outside as well. With the others just at her back or side, she angles a look to see where their personal smoke monster seems to diverge; Vincent seems to have a knack for finding just the right spaces to squeeze through. Her helm twitches towards Hana.

“I still have nothing. Do you think there is a deeper basement level?” That is one of the only other things that she can imagine, barring another psionic or a negation field. Still, she could feel the echo of the former, if there were.

Once the door’s down, Noa stands, poised, her rifle ready — there’s a brief sigh of relief when there’s no one waiting on the other side, locked and loaded and ready to hit her team. But the release of tension will be short lived. It’s coming at some point, she knows.

Her eyes scan the area in front of them, and she nods to the members of her team, her voice coming over the comms though her mouth doesn’t move.

“Looks clear. To be sure, Wendigo 2, sweep the left side of the mezzanine. Wendigo 5, take right. ” The problem with mezzanines and balconies is they give nooks and crannies below for people to hide in — Huruma’s ability should be finding them, but they’ve been surprised before.

Noa herself moves forward to stand at center, to see what she can below in the foyer from her position, before moving slowly to the stairs, with a nod of her head to the rest to follow. Adel and Berlin will cover them and follow.

Berlin doesn't reply to the orders, she simply follows them. There's a glance for Adel, a quick and short-lived smile, then she heads to the right to start her search. It's taken months with the team for her to master being both thorough and fast, but she's gotten the hang of knowing where to look and how to rattle someone out of hiding, should they be there.

When the option is there, she peeks over as well, to check below them. Mostly, to check what's under the parts she's not standing on. Much easier than trying to find an angle on her own section.

When Colette starts cutting, Adel doesn’t look, even putting a hand up to block the light that would get through on the periphery. Once it’s over, she nods to Noa’s order, checks her weapon and goes to sweep the left side of the mezzanine as ordered. She checks for shadows and obstacles that might obscure her vision, weapon ready, steps quiet. She trusts Berlin to watch the right, so she doesn’t even glance in that direction, though if the left is clear, she’ll check over the edge as well.

Shadows, and the glimmer of storms (and distant explosions) through high windows. Dark spaces swept aside under probing flashlights as Wendigo secures the safety of the main area on quiet boots.

It's hard to tell on cursory inspection whether this building was abandoned since Humanis First took Fort Irwin, or whether its emptiness is related to a hasty evacuation when the first missiles fell — or maybe even hospitals that could potentially double as evil villain lairs aren't in operation at the hours of 3 am. But as Wendigo's inspection for threats turns into the inevitable search for clues, signs of use show themselves in the form of half-tidy countertops, stockrooms still stocked rather than ransacked, the scuff marks of boots on the floor.

Finally, in the gloom, they come across a door.

It's a door of heavy steel reinforced by a seal, a bar, and a panel that shines twin points of red light. According to blue prints, this is emergency access headed towards specialised examination rooms and medical research, but a quick inspection indicates by anyone's measure that this installation is something more recent. More than just demanding a numerical combination or a thumb print, it opens itself to Hana's inspection — a hidden biometric scanner, voice recognition software, a hand-print identification panel, and another measure that requires a specific transmitted signature, like fitting an incorporeal key into a lock.

It will take a few moments, on the first try, to feed the system what it requires.

As Wendigo and Secretary wait to gain entry into whatever is hiding behind this Latest Door Obstacle, all that's left is to watch their blindspots and listen to the sounds of ongoing battle. Noa's ear out continues to draw her focus towards the main skirmish between militia forces and the United States army, and their friends in Bullwhip. She can pick out fragments of her friends' voices, reporting their positions, their observations, words of encouragement — and then she picks up something else.

Dim, at the edges of the scope of her power, a soft buzz of signal. Of signals. Before she can think to report on this, or pinpoint what exactly she's listening for—

Lights. Small, blue, glittering like fairies. On the ceiling, in the shadows, crept within the crevices of the building, those looking around see small points of soft blue illumination coming to life, at the same time as those same signals that Noa was picking up on come up in Hana's mind like a surrounding constellation. Out the corner of Adel's eye, a sudden dart of this same light zips past her ear with a zztt of insectile flutter, disappearing and spiralling off upwards.

Another whispers over Colette's shoulder, darting across her vision, coming to land on Berlin's glove. For a moment, she registers the silvery shape that lands on her armored knuckles as bug, before it goes whizzing away once more.

Mister Secretary turns his back on the retina-scalding red of Colette’s laser focus rather than fall back to smoke, until the door’s felled in, and the way ahead is cleared by Wolfhounds.

“If there is,” he tells Huruma, quietly, as the others fall in ahead: “they’ve been very busy.”

He brings up the rear, bare skull and ears under the spectrum of blue pinpoints of light, glittering like glowworms across the ceiling over them. The shift of his rifle is a subtle thing, in the semi-dark — stock to shoulder — hunkering in on himself like a dog who’s caught a whiff of something strange smeared all over the hallway.

After a long beat of this, no orders to issue, he goes ahead and vanishes where he stands, black on black. And blue.

The foyer matches what the camera displayed; that's something. Hana stalks through it with senses alert, the traditional five and more besides, though responsibility for clearing the space falls first and foremost with Wendigo. So, too, with the stockrooms and hallways and offices they pass by.

The door, now, the door is interesting. Not standard hospital make at all.

Curiously enough, the lock on it whispers back in response to her testing ping, a high-tech handshake and the interminable patience of waiting for data.

"This one's mine," the major says, taking up a position a few feet before the door, offset on the hinge side. "It'll take time to crack."

A silent request to Tenzin has it split off a few cycles to assist, its analytical nature applied to the transmission component while Hana works on convincing the other facets that they've received approved inputs.

Oh shit,” Colette softly whispers as she looks up and sees the flickering notes of blue light from the insectile machines on the ceiling. She looks left sharply, then right, and finally takes a knee beside the door and very slowly reaches for her banshee. Though Colette is uncertain about the effects of a sonic weapon on machinery, the quarters are too close for firearms to risk ricochet, and the lighting too dim for lasers.

With the banshee unclipped, Colette looks over to the others, making a small gesture up toward the ceiling in the event they hadn't seen how many there are. She's breathing heavier now, making eye contact with Vincent and then the ceiling again. It's like suddenly realizing you've walked inside a beehive.

With a touch of her thumb, Colette turns the banshee on with a soft electric whine of its emitter powering up, and keeps her finger near the trigger in tense anticipation.

Hana can have the door, of course. The security from the top down is almost absurd- - but not unexpected. Huruma moves to take a point by the wall there, only to pause as she sees the glittering of the small, glowing machines. Tension has her going rigid, limb to limb, head turning slowly to survey the number of them floating above.

Like Colette, she exchanges pistol for Banshee, palming the latter and letting her trigger finger rest against the barrel.

“I did not bring a flyswatter. Do we even have these on file…?” Hesitant at first, Huruma tracks one of them with her eyes, searching for any indication of their purpose. Like stingers, for instance. But they haven’t attacked yet- - they’ve only become alerted to the presence of the team. She can only theorize over their purpose.

“I can probably grab one.” Huruma tips her head after the Major, questioning before she gets settled into thoroughly going into the locks.

It’s just as Noa’s about to say something about the signals that their source — sources — flicker into view. Her dark eyes narrow as she studies them, turning to glance at the Major, but Hana’s attention is on the door.

“Pretty but I’m guessing they’re not friendly,” the younger Gitelman murmurs to the rest of the team, then taps her head. “I can hear them. Let me see if I can do something.”

Like Colette and Huruma, she too swaps out her firearm for her Banshee, but she simply holds it at the ready for the time being. Instead, she focuses for a moment on that distant buzz that’s wheedled its way into the multitude of sounds in her head — to find a way to block them or confuse them. One gloved hand comes up to rub at her temple; her eyes narrow in concentration.

When the thing lands on her glove, Berlin flicks her gaze that way and watches it. She knows it isn't alive before that fact registers visually, and she stands as still as she can manage until it takes off again.

"Wendigo-2?" Berlin's eyes scan the space until they land on Adel. For direction, perhaps, or to let her know she's ready to back her up. She already has her Banshee ready, but she waits for the signal from their robot-fighting time-traveling comrades before trying anything.

“Whoa,” Adel calls out when she notices the buzzing thing flying by, with little lights. Her eyes follow, until they settle on the ceiling with a surprised blink. No, she hadn’t really expected to see anything remotely like this here. When Berlin inquires with her code name, she shakes her head a little, in disbelief more than anything else. “I only ever heard of things like these, Wendigo-5.”

So these things might have existed, but they weren’t the ones she had been trained specifically to take down. The kids hadn’t really fought these kinds of things. No, they tended to face off against the larger ones. “Can you shut them down, Wendigo-1?” She doesn’t inquire for Nambiza to try because she already has her focus on something else right now. But she imagines they have lost the element of surprise. If they ever had it even with all their distractions.

A few more displace, here and there, a gradual coming closer, unit by unit, keeping still to the higher climbs of the ceiling, the upper walls, little metal legs tick-ticking against brickwork and glass. The soft metallic flutter of insectile wings, here and there.

Then, a subtle sound. A hum, almost, at such a frequency that it almost makes the air around them tingle, raises hairs on the backs of arms and necks. There's no singular direction — much like the glimmer of blue and steel, it seems to come from all around as it slowly rises in volume, if still quiet. What little Noa and Adel know of this phenomenon does not include anything more than one of the very many methods of surveillance that certain sections of society were subject to.

Under Hana's focus, the security system slowly gives way. But like she said, it would take time to crack completely.

That hum's resonance starts to shape into something else, and words form within those vibrations. At first, it's merely inhuman, but then takes on a feminine quality as it says,

"…hello, my darlings. Are… you lost?"

There's a harsh z on each consonant, a voice made of vibrating metal, a fingernail run over steel strings. The more Noa concentrates, the less sure she is that she can quite grasp what she senses within her control, as if still transmitting to one another just out of reach of her scope. Picking out one from the crowd, however, as it weaves above their heads, there's a gentle metal click when it collides into the wall where it lands with slightly less hovering grace as its fellows.

"Do you need to be… shown… the way?"

Vincent doesn’t have eyes to make contact with, strictly speaking — a smog golem at the rear of the group, rifle and armor hard shapes wreathed in shades of black and grey. Physically, he’s a void, vapor rolling dense in the empty air at his core. Only Huruma can really feel the tension coiling viper ready within the haze.

“We’re all fine here, actually.”

His voice filters hollow in return, molecules buzzing in a similar facsimile of spoken word. It’s gentler, milder — less alien to the human ear.

“Thank you.”

Focused on her own task, Hana isn't aware of the metallic insects as such — only that something is generating radio-spectrum noise and has captured the attention of the team around her. Confident in that group, she leaves the concern and dealing with it to them, sparing only enough attention to be alert to things that might immediately threaten herself.

Almost inevitably, Tenzin solves its digital puzzle first, despite its own divided focus. By mutual but silent accord, it goes on to assist with cracking the biometrics, recognizing that the team might need to move quickly before too much longer.

Unlike Hana, however, Colette is too consciously aware of the horrifying, buzzing voice. Back pressed into the wall and legs braced, she's slouched down as much as she can be, gripping the banshee with both hands. Her blind eyes flick with vestigial motion to the blot that is Vincent, then over to Noa and Adel with raised brows. There's a visible what the fuck do we do look on her face. She's afraid to talk back, as if that might acknowledge that this buzzing nightmare is real.

Slowly, she moves a finger closer to the trigger of the banshee and waits. Waits for a sign from Noa, from Hana, even from Vincent to take action. Swallowing tensely, Colette begins to blotch away in first black and white values, then out of the visible spectrum entirely in defensive reflex.

Hearing something that is not distinct whirring coming from the hive- - Huruma certainly does not expect it. Her eyes refocus on the mechanics ahead of her, Banshee held with a bent arm at chest level. It almost looks lazy, but they all know it isn’t. Huruma excels at that.

Hana is focused, the girls are at a loss, and Vincent seems to want nothing to do with it. Huruma lets his tension bounce against her field, examining it in passing before pushing her ability outward, skimming the insectoids with more determination than gentleness, intent on her quest for ‘life’.

“Oh, I don’t know…” Huruma murmurs in answer to Vincent’s declining, her voice a low near purr, eyes remaining on the idle swarm. “Perhaps we’ve run into this lovely creature for a reason.” It qualifies as one, doesn’t it? Her voice lilts more towards the source of the metallic speech, watchful. “I think… that it all depends on if you are here to help or hinder.”

If nothing else, they can try to keep it- - them- - occupied.

Like actual insects, these metal pests annoy Noa with their buzz and noise she can’t decipher. When the mass speaks, her eyes narrow and she shakes her head as if that will dislodge that disquieting chalkboard quality of the effect from her ears, from her nerves.

“Yeah, that’s not creepy at all,” she mutters, not into the comms, but then she addresses the group, her voice only in their radios and ears, not spoken aloud for other listeners.

“It’s just out of reach. I can’t — at least not en masse. One at a time, maybe, but we don’t have that sort of time and I’m not rechargeable. Let’s try the BANSHEE, on a small section so we don’t piss off the entire swarm. Wendigo-2, Wendigo-5, let’s have you try 3 o’clock,” she says, nodding to a section of wall, before adding, “Be prepared. I don’t know what it’ll do. Possibly nothing. One, two….

“Three.” Nothing like experimenting in live combat.

"Okay, I don't like that," Berlin states when the voice resonates through the room. She shudders as if she could shake away those vibrations in the air. "Who taught it terms of endearment?"

That's a rhetorical question. Probably.

But she nods to Noa's orders, turning that way and readying her Banshee. Experimenting is better than standing around getting creeped out, at least in her book, so when Noa counts them down, she's more than willing to fire on the right count. Whether or not she's prepared for what may follow… well, only time will tell.

Oh yeah. The voice coming through is definitely on the creepy side, with the way it uses terms of endearment and stresses those zzzs.

Adel makes a motion with her shoulders as if her skin was crawling, eyes shifting from the ceiling where her Banshee is leveled toward Noa as she explains the situation and gives the order. With just a nod, she focuses her attention back on the area and waits for the count down and will follow with enthusiasm in the 3 o’clock area.

As Noa silently issues her orders, the insects above remain littered across the ceiling and high up on the ceilings, with the occasional unit displacing, zipping through the air, landing somewhere else with subtle ticks of metal on concrete, glass, steel. That hum never dies, giving the air a borderline tactile sensation.

One insect curves near the source of Vincent's voice, a flight path that slow spirals towards the idling darkness. Another flies past Huruma's head. As she reaches for some echo of human empathy behind that voice, she finds none, miniscule wholes composed of steel and plastic projecting only vocal resonance and light.

"It depends… on what you have come to find," says that voice, slithering, unfeeling. "And what you intend to do… with it once you have… it in your hands."

More and more of the insects begin to move, an increase of activity that seems more like an inevitable restlessness since they first lit up than in response to Noa's commands being issued. More take to the air, hover several feet above, or go zipping past just out of reach and eye. "Perhaps you will allow destiny its wings…"

As the Banshee sweeps its invisible sight up towards the clusters of the swarm, there is no obvious effect. They fly, they hover, unimpeded as sonic weapon passes through them. A unit suddenly lands on Berlin's raised wrists, and a snap of electrical energy delivers a small, localised shock that numbs and stings, a burst of light from the stunner. That sound arises again, and again, one delivered to Noa's shoulder from where a unit had dropped down to rest there. Another snaps at Adel's leg.

Huruma goes ignored. Maybe flattery gets you everywhere. Hana, too, is left alone.

"…or will you strangle it in its nest?"

At once, the swarm is alive, a churn of light and humming before it descends down towards the shapes of Wendigo still visible to the human eye, abandoning pretense of wandering, insectile flight paths as instead the majority focus in on one. The unit affixed to Adel's leg is joined by another landing on her arm, and another on her back, and another at her shoulder, and another zipping intimately onto her neck, and then more, dozens, landing—

Snap. Snap-snap. Those electrical cracks begin, the flash of white electricity bursting in fits as numbing, painful shocks run up the course of Adel's form as metal insect pincers lock in and mercilessly unload their electrified bites. Her fingers go numb, her muscles contract and twitch, any attempt to wrest control of her body stolen with every zap and snap of electricity.

She falls, Banshee tumbling from loose hands.

Distaste radiates off of Vincent in waves, a tangible malignance eddying with vapor — not for the strange, but for something personal. Something he recognizes in the hum of that disembodied voice that stiffens at his sides under his vest, and tightens his grip. His profile turns to follow the dotted line of the buzz at his periphery, ears pinned, shoulders drawn back.

He flushes out of sight at the first trigger pull — structure thrown apart, atoms sundered There’ll be time to bitch about that later.

Adel falls first, but she never hits the ground. Lazzaro churns back into view just long enough to haul her up in into him and back into pitch, shearing off a glitter bomb of sizzling insectoid parts to scatter in a wide arc across the floor behind them.

The clicking and clacking and ice-encrusted-spitting of little machine leggies and pinchers and disembodied fragments of Adel’s loadout mark their reappearance at Huruma’s side. He jogs Adel up onto his shoulder, a few hardier units still attached in full, hunkered down for the ride. Straight to business — he lifts to dump the girl into Huruma’s arms. Here. Take this.

“If I cut any closer I’m risking body parts.” So get the rest of them off, please.

And more loudly, enunciation clear for buggy antennae ears:

“Georgia?” He steps away — in and out of vapor to lengthen his stride and give himself a better view of the swarm entire. To separate himself from the others, also, rifle swung down idle at his middle. “Is that you in there, your majesty?”

The palm reader surrenders first, yielding a string of code that is a key in its own way.

The buzzing, flitting insects, the metallic voice — they are distracting, as with anything that makes the skin prickle and hair stand on end. Hana expects to feel one land on her skin at any point, exposed and obviously preoccupied as she is. Yet none impinge on her own immediate proximity.

Not the time to wonder why.

The fragment of Tenzin's attention turned this way raids cell and radio data for voice samples, testing them against the recognition software, narrowing down what it considers acceptable input at a speed distinctive to the disembodied.

That leaves the biometrics for Hana.

She starts at the sharp cracks of released electricity, glancing back to where Adel crumples only to be snatched up by smoke and shadow. Jaw set in a determined line, Hana glowers darkly at the tech-locked door in front of her, only one word piercing her re-energized focus — and that tempering it all the more.

A few moments later, another, wholly different click heralds a heavy bolt thrown back. Access granted. "«Door unlocked,»" is almost an unnecessary report, sent across the team's comms as Hana steps forward to put that unlocking to practical test.

Though that doesn't mean they can simply walk on through it, as the situation stands.

When the door-bolts unlock, Colette ripples into view in the corner of the room. The insects had completely ignored her in their aggression, and that reactive violence is readily apparent in the condition of Noa, Adel, and to a lesser extent Berlin. “Vincent, door!” Colette calls out, backing her weight against it beside Hana to not just push the door open, but to prop it open with braced legs and dug-in boots. Vincent is the only one who has the likelihood of being able to handle the front lines of the unknown on the other side, and Colette knows it.

With Noa and Adel under attack by the swarm, Colette — three rungs down the ladder — tries to pull their collective weight. “Huruma, after Vincent,” she can literally carry some of that weight, “Hana help Noa, Berlin!” She's hoping the least-shocked of them all can still move, “cover!” Hana and Huruma will be burdened enough without having to watch their backs.

Lastly, both in the order through the door and of operations, Colette focuses her concentration on the room the insects swarm in and begins to draw down all ambient light, collecting photons and concentrating them behind herself to drown out visible light in the room. She has to hope that if the insects weren't susceptible to sound, that they needed to use some sort of vision to see. Her plan isn't just to deprive them of sight, but to baffle it.

Flickering,” Colette warns, as the lights start to dim.

If she were a less kind version of herself, Huruma might say that they deserved the zapping. Shooting first and questions later is not always the best case scenario. Her Banshee is held at the ready until Vincent so kindly deposits Adel into her custody; the gun is holstered back on her suit’s belt, one arm wrapping around Adel’s middle and the other making a preemptive snatch at pulling off some of the angry mechanical hornets. He doesn’t need to explain, really. They haven’t attacked her as of yet, so when she tries to wrench them off she simply goes to fling them aside.

Colette’s rung jumping isn’t argued, despite everything; there’s a reason she was Wendigo 1 in the first place. Pausing in her attempts to pluck bugs, Huruma crouches to put an arm under Adel’s legs to pick her up bodily and haul her along. Hopefully, through a door that’s open and waiting.

The crack of electrical current at her shoulder makes Noa slap at the thing, knocking it to the floor with a muttered curse, before she looks back up to see Adel shocked into paralysis by the metallic creatures. “Shit, Adel, I’m sorry!” she says, moving to help, but Vincent’s already got the other young woman, pulling her up and hoisting her off on Huruma.

Noa shakes her hand, the shock having traveled to her fingertips, though the one ‘sting’ wasn’t enough. At Colette’s words, she shakes her head, replying into her comms, “I’m all right. Just go,” quickly. She waits to make sure Berlin is all right too, before following the others in the rush to and through — hopefully — the open door.

“I’m so sorry!” she gasps out, cheeks flushed in embarrassment at the poor choice in commands.

Berlin jumps at the shock and backs away from the swarm. She holsters her Banshee and pulls out a pistol instead, small enough that she doesn't need both hands. She lets the numbed hand hang at her side and follows the others toward the door, backward so she can keep her eyes on the robots.

She's hopeful that bullets will do damage where the Banshees didn't, should they decide to follow.

"I tried to tell Avi that we needed flamethrowers, but he was all, 'Berlin, when would you ever use one of those?' Won't he be embarrassed when we all die by tiny robo swarm."

With all the zapping and moving from one person to another, Adel doesn’t really make more than a pained sound or two, and mostly that happened when they attacked her. She’s not moving much in Huruma’s arms, her slender form easily lugged around even with the armor that she’s wearing. The armor which did very little to keep her from getting zapped and rendered barely able to move.

As they make their way through the door she finally manages to say something. “Ow.” At least she feels safe being carried around, not ashamed at being attacked or anything. No, she doesn’t blame shooting first on it. “They always said to avoid glowy balls of light.” Whoever they are she leaves unsaid, but someone had said it once.

In a future that no longer will happen.

"Mister Lazzaro," comes that voice, far too many sibilant consonants in there to make hearing that name hummed through the swarm any kind of pleasant experience. "It's been… such a long… time…"

The languid vibrations of that voice seem almost at odds with the actual frenetic movement of the swarm. They lift off of Adel when she vanishes from view, becoming a seething school of light and humming wings in the air, distributing zaps at each limb and body part they careen towards, snagging on armor, pinching skin, a relentless onslaught even if the swarm is dispersed enough not to carry out the kind of full attack that brought Adel down.

For now.

The locks give beneath Hana's manipulations — both through the fine tools of system hacking and under her hands, gripping the bar across the door, hefting it, and hauling it backwards as the seal along steel hisses in protest.

Under Huruma's hands, the bugs can be wrenched off with a show of force, every second attempt coming with a game snap of electricity that forces her fingers to open before her mind can catch up with resisting the sharp, heat-numb feeling that comes which each stun bite. As she hauls Adel up into her arms, bugs turned to glitter from being sheared through by smog and shadow cascade and tumble for the ground, legs and pieces of wing and minute mechanical insides and glass dust.

"Please… do come in…"

As Vincent funnels disembodied through the door, he comes across a metal staircase and darkness, and he knows those that come behind him will be forced to move further inside or risk a traffic jam. Having studied the internal maps of the Weed Army Community Hospital enough times to commit it to memory, the stairs folding into landing angled off into more stairs all track as known features.

The continued flight of stairs downwards, and the flicker of light he can detect coming up from beneath, the way the stairs cut into concrete and sinking down down down are not.

The strange digital rendering of Georgia Mayes' voice follows him down the stairs.

"We have so… much… catching up to do…"

As Wolfhound files through the door, Colette at the ready, the swarm nips and picks at each departing shape, the flash of electrical light here and there quickly outshined by the strobe effect of Colette's ability, painting the interior of hospital wing with shocks of white light. Over their heads, a few buzzing units dive through, disappearing into the darkness of the stairwell with urgency and showing up its concrete walls with glowing blue. But for the rest, they seem to scatter into wild spirals as they try to discern shape and meaning of a world rendered too bright, pinwheeling, crashing into the floor and the walls around Colette with shatter-glass sounds.

But not all. She feels them land on her with less grace than they'd descended onto Adel, some skittering off in impact and others managing to sink their mandibles in and deliver quick bursts of angry electrical shock. They numb skin, make muscles dance beneath flesh, tendons tighten, teeth grit, and Colette feels her shoulder connect with the edge of the door before she registers the way a temporarily deadened knee as given out beneath her weight.

The look on Vincent’s face at the words Mister Lazzaro issued forth from the plague swarm is nearly enough to sublimate bugs on its own, humor leeched black from the surface, hollows baked in hard around his eyes. Something dark in him takes a flame, hatred thumping up on all cylinders, roaring in his ears.

Demsky’s voice snips through it.

He turns sharply to the open door, Colette jammed into the gap, and strikes into vapor sure as he’d just stood there and said nothing — any immediate chance at riposte abandoned with his position. In, through, he cuts the line and delves down ahead, trusting the others to tie up the back end.

…Or otherwise shout for help, now that he’s actually listening again.

Hana steps through the door as Colette fixes it open, promptly turning around and orienting on the room she'd just left; dealing with the new one, she leaves to the drift of smoke that sweeps past. She steps aside to clear a path for the others to withdraw through, while still maintaining as much of an angle on the swarm as structural geometry permits.

Not that she's about to fire at them: rifle and Banshee alike remain at rest.

Noa seems to be in little immediate need of aid as she rushes through the opening given; so too for Berlin. Huruma has Adel in hand. Then it's only Colette who remains, nipped and stung by artificial insects, her posture crumpling in a manner Hana recognizes very well. She lunges forward to grab under the photokinetic's shoulders, dragging her bodily through the doorway and letting the door swing itself shut in their wake, lock automatically re-engaging as such systems do.

Her second order of business will be to try and stomp out any bugs that came along for the ride. Third, to take stock of where they are and what fresh sinister peculiarity this place has to offer.

“F-fu-huck,” Colette shudders as she’s hauled out of the doorway, slumping up against the nearby wall, letting her back slide down it until she’s nearly seated on the floor. Swallowing noisily, her hands still tremble and shake from the electrical overload, and while her blind eyes look to move about the room, it’s unclear where her focus really is. She closes them, tight, and makes a scrunched expression of discomfort as she tries to lever herself back up to stand again, using the wall as a brace.

Gasping an exhausted breath, Colette moves fingers on one hand, affirming a head-count as she makes her way over to stand near Huruma. “Is she— is she okay?” Though her voice is focused on Huruma, Colette’s attention is spreading elsewhere. Whatever lies beyond this door, these concrete stairs cutting deep into the ground, lead to sights unseen. Light bends and contorts, stopping and starting irregularly, then twists into a partly-visible filament of refracted light that snakes from Colette down the stairs.

Though the insects snip at her as she tries to tug them off of Adel like as many ticks, Huruma gets them free once the lot of them pile bodily through the door, setting the girl onto her boots with an arm around her. She mutters something under her breath as the last one buzzes in her hand only to be crushed against the wall.

Once they are dealt with, Huruma takes a moment to stand Adel straighter in her arm, holding her in a closer embrace while her head gets a cursory mental exam, and her pulse a check.

“She will be. Less lightning, more tazer…” Colette gets the short answer. “Adel— snap to it.” Not a pun.

Noa joins in the stomping of the hitchhiking robobugs, moving to Colette to join in the effort to pull a couple of the glittering electronic bots off and crush them under her boot heel. She’s quiet, now, apology in her dark-eyed gaze as she glances from teammate to teammate to check their status.

She looks, then, in the direction of Colette’s gaze, her own attention focused beyond as well, listening for anything she can eavesdrop on or muddle with her ability.

"Then you'd have to avoid Colette," Berlin says with a relieved smile as Adel comes around, "she's the absolute glowyest." There's a glance her way, too, to check up on her, too. But she's mobile, so Berlin takes that as a win. Ish. Mostly.

She tries to shake her arm back into action, but it takes a few long moments to work feeling back into it. Not to mention her fingers. But at least she has one stable arm. And it's that arm that comes to rest on Noa's shoulders. Support, but also to let her know that the apology isn't needed.

“I’m totally primal,” Adel mutters, even as Huruma rights her mostly. She can’t stand right away without holding onto the tall woman, but she at least can keep from falling over. Walking on her own for a few minutes might be another story, they had after all focused a lot of stings on her legs. The muscles feel weak and don’t move well, and they continue to spasm painfully. “I’ll be fine.”

She’d probably have said that if she had lost a limb, most likely, after all the screaming and stuff.

They still had a mission to finish. “Dropped my Banshee.” She flexes her hands, trying to see how good a grip she could manage, but she isn’t sure she’d be much good with a weapon right now. “I’ll probably just slow you down,” she adds on, reluctantly.

As Colette's sight reaches and bends, she sees the trace of a few robotic insects that got away, trailing almost whimsical patterns in the air as they go down, down, down, clearly not seeking to lure or mislead as they pay no mind to the team gathered at the top of the stairs. They disappear beyond her ability to see, and Vincent can note the way they vanish through to the lower levels with a soft hum of metal wings.

Because there are lower levels. Like Vincent had said to Huruma: they've been very busy.

Vincent and Colette both catch sight of the expected, the way the industrial emergency exit stairwell gives to more office-like interiors on the level below, and no sound or light emanates from this warren.

The stairwell goes deeper, however, than any plan they'd reviewed. Metal steps give way to concrete, and handrails terminate, leaving the walls smooth and bare. Beyond what Colette can see, comes light — the stutter and flicker of failing lights. What she reports back paints a picture — the switchback stairwell extended deeper beneath the ground, a new passage discovered, with no immediate threats.

What Vincent sees is a sliding door, half closed, jammed against some obscure shape — a wheelchair, on second glance — wedged between it and the concrete wall, half submerged in water.

Because — there is water, flooded up as far as knee height, black and reflecting stuttering lights in their metal cages.

Ahead of the gang, Vincent surveys the door (and the flooded span beyond) in silence, and in water up to his knees. He listens for a long moment, framed just behind the barrier of the wheelchair while he tries to give his eyes time to focus through the flickering.

“The passage is flooded,” he mutters into whatever comms device he has — something clipped to his shoulder in lieu of any fancier arrangement. “No movement. Would be a good place for an ambush.” There’s a current around the wheels of the chair in the chokepoint, barely there.

Hand over the radio, he keeps his thumb just off the switch. You want me to keep going?

“Pressing ahead,” is what he says instead. Water sizzles in to fill the space he vanishes from, chips of ice kicking like sodium around the surface.

Hana keeps a thread of attention on Colette as the Hound settles in against the wall to collect herself and recover. Another for Adel, and her protests of unfitness. "We can spare you a minute, Two," the major remarks, dry as dust.

Moving to the rail for that minute (and maybe a bit more), she leans out and looks down the stairwell, all two flights that fall into the line of her entirely ordinary sight. Colette and Vincent's reports, when they come in, suggest they've a lot of stairs yet to go. Not something Hana can say she looks forward to, at all.

Nor the water, for that matter.

"«Copy,»" she says aloud over the radio, for benefit of their scout. Letting out a breath, she pushes away from the rail. "One, Five, on point," the major dictates. "Four," she nods to Huruma, "continue assisting Two. Three, with me." That should get them down the stairs, at least, with a technopath on either end and the currently-unencumbered in the lead.

Colette levels a momentarily concerned look at the major before nodding in the affirmative. With one last, deep, breath to steady herself she pushes up from the wall and retrieves her Banshee from the clip at her hip. The gun charges again with a click and a high-pitched electrical whine, and she falls into place with Hana.

“This feels like Staten Island Hospital,” Colette exhales as she moves up with Hana. “Airdrop to the roof, tactical insertion inside, fucking horror show downstairs.” She flashes the major a briefly concerned look, then pivots her field of view to watch the stairs behind her as her legs follow a familiar and steady down-step rhythm.

It's clear Colette isn't comfortable with the similarities, and the oncoming presence of water makes it all the more forebodingly parallel. There it was Bao-Wei Cong. Here… likely something even less human.

Huruma wordlessly allows Adel to use her as a post, even tucking her arm behind the girl so that she can rest for that minute or so that Hana gives them. She keeps a watchful eye until it seems as if the worst of the shocks have dissipated, listening to the world with ears and extra senses. If she was right about sub-levels, she may have some other theories that could mean a hell of a time.

Vincent’s trail in her field moves along in a static flow, and she silently marks out each of her team before the tendrils splay outward and wheedle their way through stairwells and corridors, invasive and searching. While Huruma is not looking for anything specific, at this juncture she will take anything at all. Anything that she can register.

“Looks like you’re mine.” Huruma confirms Hana’s orders with a tip of her helm and a purr that Adel doesn’t need to see to know it is a smile. Despite the play, the tall woman’s arm stays where it is needed, her frame giving Adel a barrier as well as a crutch. “Let me know when your grip returns. I’ll lend you a weapon.” No use giving her one if she’s still having twitches.

As they wait those few moments, the younger GItelman keeps a wary eye on their surroundings and a pricked mental ear for anything that she can hear and sense in the form of radio waves around them. When Colette mentions the hospital, she huffs a small amused breath of a laugh — not quite humor, but appreciation for the commentary.

To her, it feels like her past and a future they tried to stop.

She moves forward to follow Hana’s directions, giving Berlin a nod as they begin to descend yet deeper into the ‘horror show’ — Banshee held ready, breath held.

Berlin moves up to Noa's side, returning her nod and pulling out her Banshee as well. Outwardly, she seems calm— at least at a distance, but Noa can tell that her breaths are short as they descend. Especially when the stairs change to concrete, she seems nervous. She doesn't want to go down there, and yet, there's no hesitation in doing so.

"Why do they insist on being as creepy as possible," she says at a whisper, "can't just have a normal facility, have to have a flooded murder basement." As if saying the words makes her realize that she's tense, the young Hound takes in a deep breath and lets it out again. And repeats until she's got herself under control. If there is an ambush waiting for them, she wants to be ready for it, not on the verge of freaking out.

Instead of one of her usual excited comments at the order that might have happened in a different situation, Adel just nods, feeling relieved, if still in pain and worried. Her whole body feels wobbly and she’s not sure how fast she can move still, but if anyone could carry her in full koala backpack style, it would be the one she’s assigned to. She keeps trying to flex her hands as she stays close to Huruma, but they seem to still be shaky.

And she knows her grip would suck.

They could do this without her, though, she knew that. They were all some of the best.

The flooded murder basement gives more of an impression of sunken catacombs, with long hallways of raw concrete. The stuttery flicker-flash of failing lights creates a queasy pressure on optic nerves as Ziptie make their thorough way forwards, Vincent as shadowy pointman. Noa and Berlin lead the group down the barrel of their Banshees, checking blind corners even as Huruma's ability fails to pick up on human life, as Hana's sweeps around for robotic threats and finds none. Huruma's senses spread far, an absence of human feeling giving the impression of groping around in the dark.

The pervasive presence of flickering lights accompanies the peculiar sound of running water, faint dripping, and the sound of their own legs gliding through dark water.

Which, they note immediately, is very cold.

There is something oddly bone-chillingly arctic to it, like glacial runoff, driving numbness through their boots and up as far as their knees. Adel's mobility is slow to restore, swiftly through her fingertips while her knees feel as though they ought to be audibly creaking, but bit by bit she gains back her strength.

The hallway splits into a T just as the smell of smoke prickles at the nostrils of Noa and Berlin. No firelight joins in the play of light on dark waters and barren walls, but the smell is more distinct down the right tunnel, leading to a dark open space. It smells like over hot metal, of melted plastic, of burning dust. It will recall to Hana of electronics that have violently overheated, prickling at the sense memory of someone who spends enough time around delicate machines to make a guess.

And before they can even consider the leftwards passage, Huruma feels something.

Faint, in a way that speaks just as much to distance as it finally slips into her range as it does the faintness of the source, perhaps having slid in closer without her notice for virtue of its struggle. Like something dying, or something too weak to feel the fullness of human experience. A little like fear, and a little like pleasure, all mingled together, and to get nearer to it would be to take the left-most passage.

Of course, without prompting, Vincent has already pressed forwards down the left-most passage, as the right turn led him to dark empty rooms and dead ends. As the group converges on this intersection and he spirits through the dark waters some tens of feet ahead, he comes to a wide open space, which doesn't even have the benefit of flickering lights to illuminate it. There is a lot of steel, and open countertops, and hermetically sealed doors.

But something has happened here too. Vincent can tell, because of all the dead bodies.

Men, mainly, about six or seven. Most turned face down, some sunken solidly within that scant foot of ice cold water, scattered throughout the space. Hospital-like pyjamas clinging sodden to skin, where visibility is possible at a glance.

And on the furthest end of this dark steel cavern, the glowing red beady light of an electronic mechanism, a replica of the one Hana had contended with upstairs, is fixed into the wall next to a door of unyielding steel.

Vincent flushes into the knee-high water among the dead with less of a stir than he last left it — some weak hissing in the deeper creases of his pant legs, a sluggish trickle of vapor off the surface. The bodies bob and ebb a little with the of the water he’s displaced, creating their own chop.

“Left path opens into a larger chamber,” he dictates quietly, after the initial slosh, left hand crossed to the radio at his shoulder.

“Half a dozen dead bodies and another locked door.”

A quick click and sweep of his flashlight verifies what he’s already sensed in the darkness, narrow beam checked over the cadaver minefield. Looking for evidence of a struggle.

“Did she lay eggs in you?” he asks one of them, off comms while they’re alone. “Tell the truth.”

Well before she's reached the basement level, Hana's left ankle begins to make known its discontent with the lengthy stretch of stairs — the other half of the reason she placed herself at the rear. In that respect, the frigid water is something of a balm when she at last reaches it, saturating cloth and wicking up against her skin, indirectly soothing complaining ligaments.

As they pass through the corridor and down the left side of the 'T' in wake of Vincent and everyone else, her thoughts come back to the why of the flooding. Cold water run free in a desert basement. A mystery they may never well answer — hopefully not an important one, if so.

Vincent's report, and soon enough the sight of those selfsame dead bodies, provide the major with something else to think upon. So does the door. "I'll deal with the lock," Hana states, pausing in an out-of-the-way space and focusing on the system's electronics, feeding them the same patterns that had succeeded in breaching the previous technological barrier.

The frigid water in the basement is a familiar sensation to Colette, it evokes familiar and horrible places. It’s what makes her tense up, rather than the cold, when she steps down into the water for the first time. As she switches her banshee off, Colette changes over to her handgun and moves down the last couple of steps into the knee-deep water. Her eyes close, shutting herself off from the vestigial distraction they represent, and moves down the middle of Wendigo’s formation. This is Bannerman’s Castle, in her mind, and the freezing cold water brings her back to that horrible day. Her breathing hastens, noticeably, and Huruma can feel the pangs of suppressed panic spiking with a steady rhythm in the fore of Colette’s mind.

She swallows in what would be audible capacity were it not for all the sloshing, and moves toward the left passage while Hana focuses on the lock. “Looking ahead,” Colette says into her comm, pistol gripped in both hands and angled toward that open hallway. Her brows pinch with effort, and light twists into a fine filament in front of her and begins snaking toward the left passage, seeking and searching out to her two hundred foot range, as much as she can. The effort is a distraction, makes this moment less like the past, helps keep the anxiety and dread-heartbeat jumping in her chest steady.

The onward trek soon becomes far more alarming than just moments ago, once the Hounds reach the next space, drowned up to its hale red lock. Huruma still has her arm supporting Adel when she senses that pale glow of something still living, head swiveling around just a second before Vincent's smoky shape darts left. She remains silent as they trail behind, stony silence and tension in limbs replacing what was there; Adel may get the sensation of leaning to a steel coil, winding up with steady turns.

“There is something there.” Huruma’s voice lifts up so that the rest of them hear her quite clearly, primarily Hana— who is the one heading for the locked, possibly sealed door. “Dying. Dead. Weak. A Swan Song…?”

"Hold here." Is the Adel's only instruction as Huruma angles her to lean against a wall instead. Her voice is low, the dull red of the lock Hana goes to reflecting off of slick armor. Huruma moves to the nearest prone figure bobbing in the water, gripping the shirt and flipping them over to skim for a cause of death. She already has a suspicion, of course. She has seen a cut-and-run before.

The descent into the frigid water earns from Noa a sharp intake of breath through clenched teeth, but she’s quiet for the time being as she assesses the situation, dark eyes moving from body to body to door, and nodding silently at Hana’s claiming of the task of opening the latter. “Most likely the head implants. Wendigo-Five, can you confirm?”

She too moves to one of the bodies, to look for items of interest and cause of death, whichever she can glean. Any weapon is taken away first.

“Wendigo-Three, be prepared to take the rear once the door’s open. Wendigo-Four, at point. Keep the antenna working,” Noa’s internal voice sounds over the comms; her lips themselves are pressed into a thin line, so close to this much death. “Wendigo-Five, assist Wendigo-Two.” Once they’re done with their looting of the dead, of course.

Berlin closes her eyes, concentrating on the bodies ahead of her, shivering softly in the water. "Negative," she answers, "cannot confirm. They've been like this a long time." She opens her eyes and moves over to sling Adel's arm over her shoulder. She's quick to follow that order, because she wants Adel mobile.

"I don't think we should stay in this water," she comments, because it feels a bit like a horror movie to her. The bodies serving as a warning of what's to come. However, she helps Adel into position, ready to move forward when they can.

While everyone else examines the dead bodies, Adel just looks at them from afar. It doesn’t seem to emotionally or visually affect her much— because she’d seen a lot worse when she was a lot younger than she is now. She feels a pang of sympathy and remorse, but that doesn’t even last very long as she leans against the wall and tests her legs in the water. When Berlin approaches to compensate for her, she nods, but no longer leans as heavily on her. The more she moved, the more she feels able to move.

Even if she knows she’ll probably need a few days before she recovers fully. “I definitely won’t argue with getting out of the water,” she responds, looking down at the areas she was zapped and making sure there’s no sign of bleeding, though she can’t study her legs very well, with them under water.

The fine filaments of light cast a strange kind of illumination throughout the dark chamber, an uneven gold-ish glow that reflects off the waters made choppy by the movement of Wolfhound headed inside. White flashlights piercing through shadow, hitting the grey-ish flesh of corpses, sopping fabric gone almost translucent, the sheen of steel of the walls and countertops. There is no real way to get out of the water, save to climb up on these ledges.

Each sigh out turns their breath to a very thin plume of steam, only just cold enough to do so.

As Hana approaches the lock, keeping clear of investigations transpiring throughout the space, and the possibility of the door springing open, she'll recognise the familiar set up, the biometric and electronic requirements, but immediately realise that accessibility is tightly locked down, narrowing down the range of permissible data. Frustrating, but regardless, a quicker fix than her first encounter with the lock above as she begins running through known data to find the right key.

Under Huruma's hands, the body she's inspecting turns easily. A white male, middle aged — inasmuch as anyone can tell from the slightly waterlogged, long deceased cadavers — and dressed in flimsy hospital pyjamas of some kind. Looking for cause of death is immediately replaced by what she sees instead — which is when his chin tips stiffly backwards to reveal the way the front portion of his throat has been entire replaced by some kind of metallic tubing, slipping down under his sternum, and up under his chin.

Under Noa's hands, the body that comes up does not have its head split apart as she had guessed, but there is a heaviness to an already heavy, water-sodden body. She notes the deep surgical scarring that tracks along one arm, from shoulders to each fingertip, and some kind of metal plating set in where skin should be, high across the body's chest.

Before either woman can report in their findings — movement.

And noise, as water displaces, and Hana's focus on the lock is interrupted when something heavy and wet and cold abruptly curls around her throat from behind as the rest of the team sees the remaining four bodies abruptly stand up in the shallow water as if invisible strings had hauled them to their feet. One, grappling Hana with its arm around her neck, seems to hurl itself backwards in an attempt to struggle the Major down with it into the icy water, head snapping uselessly back on its neck as unseeing, blank eyes gain no focus, expression slack.

Scarred hand snaps upwards and grabs Noa by the throat, clamping sound and hard and stronger than a person should be, arm moving almost independently of the slack body to which it is tethered.

The body beneath handled by Huruma twists wildly, an arm flung up in a wild haymaker of a strike that brings a fist in direct course collision with her temple. But when it strikes, it's not the strike of flesh and bone — where the arm terminates low beneath the elbow, it extends as smooth metal, resembling better a silver hammer than a hand.

One of the others is moving quickly towards the struggle with Hana, eyes hollowed black, water splashing around its legs which stride forwards in jerking fits and starts, a soft and muffled mechanical whirr just audible beneath splash and chop. The remaining two pivot in unison, whole tracts of skin replaced with steel, piping, wiring, slack expressions and half-closed eyes showing only serene death.

Vincent watches the rest of his party ford down into the flooding with a critical eye, a shepherd dog at a river crossing, if that river was an underground pit full of glacier melt and corpses. The glance of reflected light doesn’t mark a turn at his head until Colette’s entered, and he watches her go — and then again for Adel.

Hana is last; he nods, as she breaks for the door. Good.

He can hear, rather than see, curious hands prying at the dead, protest caught back short behind his teeth. It’s too dark for them to see the look on his face when he turns slowly on his heel, but it’s very can you not disturb the waterlogged maggot bags while we’re marinating with them, thank you.

But they aren’t really maggot bags, are they?

At the first movement, he jolts out of his skin and into a squid ink roil of shadow, displaced by an arm’s length when he coalesces. Not quite solid — light from his dropped flashlight glows up through the water and into his knee for the tick it takes him to process. Holy shit.

One of them is plowing through to join the fray with Hana. Cast back in flesh and bone, Lazzaro lunges into it on a clothesline intercept, right elbow bit stiff around the throat.

Cartilage, metal, whatever, everything from the ribcage up corkscrews away into vapor with him, leaving a pair of staggering mechanical legs and a snarl of spine sizzling glossy black in the dark. The top half is rolled away from him into the water in a steaming heap upon his reappearance in the same beat; Vincent thrashes into a pivot, narrowing down his next target among the attackers and the attacked.

“Demsky!” his voice rings out as an order through the clusterfuck this has rapidly become: “Help Gitelman!”

Noa or Hana? The answer is yes.

It’s also very clear he didn’t study the numbering system prior to this assignment.

More than any half-attended noise, it's the prickle of hair rising on the back of her neck that disrupts Hana's contemplation of the lock: the subliminal, instinctive, bone-deep recognition of a situation about to take a sharp turn for the worse. Or maybe it's the tangential flicker of a transmitted command, there and gone again, rendered nonsensical by encryption and for passing by the periphery of her awareness.

Like most such realizations, it comes too late for her to act.

Hana gets the bar of her forearm up between encircling arm and throat: the difference between a crushed trachea and breathing. Albeit a painful difference, as its insistence bears down more strongly than ordinary flesh can explain. Hana grabs firm hold of the offending arm; feeling the force of its pull shift, she lunges sideways into the arm with all the force she can muster, attempting to torque the fall — gambling she can bring it to bear down on its own elbow or shoulder, and gambling again that there's something in either left fragile enough to yield.

Even if that works, she'll still have another arm to contend with, but Hana doesn't think about that, doesn't think about anything. There's only breathe in that moment of transition between upright and toppled, and then cold as enveloping water clashes with the spike of adrenaline heating her blood from within.

Hana makes no response to Vincent's directive, if she even heard it at all.

So focused on the extended vision of her photokinetic filaments, Colette’s first realization that something is wrong is Vincent’s call of her name. She blinks away from the distant sight, momentarily disoriented by the too-sharp cutoff of remote senses and the snap-back to a wildly changed scene. The first thing she sees is Noa’s predicament, and as she starts to pivot toward that crisis Vincent’s command rings back in her mind again.


Wheeling around her sensory field, she spies Hana’s wrestling conflict with whatever horrible abomination rose up from the water, that pallid vaguely-human technological necromancy. She considers the gun in hand, considers the proximity, and winds up dropping the firearm into the cold water with a resounding splonk. She’ll need both hands.

Turning to run to Hana, Colette pulls her last flare out from its loop at her belt, tears off the end and floods the room with a searing pink light. The flare, too, is dropped in the water as she makes loudly splashing progress toward Hana, heart racing in her chest. The flare, unconcerned with being wholly submerged, continues to burn bright and hot within the water and sheds a shimmering, mercurial light up to the ceiling. First things first though.

As she closes the distance to Hana, Colette doesn't slow down as Hana is dragged into the cold water, twisting the machineflesh nightmare with her as she goes down. Colette drops down onto knee pads with a splash of the water, adjacent to the struggle, and throws one hand into the water to find the revenant’s neck, face, anything near its head she can grasp. Her other raised hand begins to burn with light at the palm, five points meeting in the middle to form a cutting torch, waiting to bring the laser torch to bear when she finds purchase or a vulnerable opportunity.

This is precisely why Huruma learned to like the AEGIS helm, for all that it is. Her inspection of the metallic shreds peeking from the husk of a corpse is cut short by its lurch upward, the hail mary clipping against her head. The kinetic strike is harder than bone, and in her peripheral she sees that formless hand swinging the rest of its arc. The turmoil of the others turns into a frayed knot that tangles in her senses; the force of the hit has her taking a stumbling backstep, head shaking and a hiss of air through teeth, muffled by faceplate.

One hand still clenches her pistol, but it's not this she goes for first. Huruma lashes out with her free hand to grab onto the wrist of that silver hammerhead and hold it in a deathgrip; one boot lifts as she leans back, aiming a solid, bone-cracking kick to chest.

“There’s-” begins Noa, staring at the strange surgical scars and metal plating, but that’s all she gets out before the dead man’s hand has her by the throat. The fear that widens her eyes is not from the attack itself, but instead from horror at the source — and possibly the feeling of a dead thing’s cold, clammy flesh touching her own.

Crouched above it as she is, Noa has the higher ground and physics is on her side. Reeling back and rising from her squat makes it easy enough to escape the grip, albeit strong, of a singular hand. Once she’s up, she pulls out her pistol to shoot the thing in the forehead, before grabbing at that metal plate to rip it from the chest — if she can. Kill it a second and third time, since the first time seems to have been undone by someone playing God.

When the bodies move to attack, Berlin pivots herself in front of Adel. The team seems to be handling their own well enough, so she takes aim at one of the last two. Whichever is closer to reaching her people, she aims at its head and fires. It’s loud in the enclosed space, but she still fires multiple bullets, to make sure.

“What the fuck.” Adel can’t hold back that forceful whisper as she looks on at what’s happening, unable to do anything about it personally, and trusting those with her to handle it all at the same time. It seems even in a far off future, that world still carries the force that it did in this time. That or she’s adapted to the way that certain people here speak. Still unarmed, she can’t open fire like the rest, and she’s grateful when Berlin steps in front of her and fires at the ones she’d been looking at.

“I’m pretty sure they never had that before.” And by before, she means her time, as well as what they’d researched and been briefed on based on previous engagements. And if they did in her time she never personally saw it or it had ceased use by the time she actively started helping the Ferry as a young adult.

Twisting hard and sharp against the backwards fall into a sideways clash, Hana slips beneath cold water, holding her breath tight against its invasion, darkness folding around her. Bringing her weight down around the arm hooked tight around her wrist and neck, she feels something give, a sickening judder of bone pried from decaying flesh matter even as other underlying structures strain and hold. The hand on the end of the arm that has grabbed her has gone loose and lax, and although the elbow joint is frozen in its lock, no more power or strength holds from its shoulder.

A shove upwards will have her head free, even as she feels one leg come up in an attempt to crocodile-wrestle her back beneath the water. And then—


Feeling through dark water, Colette's hand has come down on its cold face, and she can see a glimpse of it in the strange light gathered in her hovered hand as she wrenches it back. That slack, dead expression, peaceful despite the fitful struggle of its body, is interrupted by the way one of the eyes has been altered, eyelid removed to reveal some kind of ocular implant, glass and metal and a bead of glowing light within.

Several feet away, Noa escapes that clasp through a matter of sheer angles as its digging fingers rake pressure across her trachea as she rears her head backwards. She rakes her hand across the chest plate, but there is little give between flesh and metal, as if rather than the steel fixed atop the torso structure, it lays a layer beneath that flesh. Lining up a shot, the revenant gives a full bodied twitch as she blows a hole through its head, and blood mingles with the water as thick as syrup, near-black.

The corpse seizes in a fit, the water chopping around Noa's legs as it convulses at her feet.

The two remaining move in tandem, if in different directions — one is wading through the water towards where Huruma is engaged in struggle, and another crashing through the water towards Berlin and Adel. Thunder fills the cavern as Berlin takes her shots, a few misses through the stuttery darkness and light before one connects and sends skull and flesh scattering darkly into the distance, and it sinks into the water.

The one that had been cutting a course for Huruma immediately switches trajectories without halting, turning and charging for Berlin and Adel from an unexpected angle. It raises its arms, and both young women can see the way human flesh terminates beneath each elbow, merging into robotic-skeletal hands with fingers honed down into sharp points, longer and more exaggerated than human bones would be. Impervious to the churning water each stride brings up in noisy, cold splashes, it eats up distance between them, its face a mismatch of human features where its jaw is exposed steel.

Metal claws catch in AEGIS armor as its full weight slams into her, and Adel behind her.

Thump. Huruma's boot comes down on the corpse she is tangled with, and she feels the way flesh seems to tear between the arm she is gripping and the torso to which it is attached. Flesh parts but something else holds, an underlying structure stronger than snapping ligaments. She hears a sound, a mechanical straining whir, and for a moment, the shoulder coils, and the body beneath her suddenly rises with a jerk and shudder, spine stiff as a board, against the tension of the arm she is holding. The other arm brings up a more human hand that only finds armor to push against, attempting to find a grip, attempting to drag her back down.

The cleaved pieces of human and robot that Vincent had dissolved are still in the water.

The one that Berlin had disposed of is not, however, still. Water ripples around it with movement as it starts to crawl towards where Noa is standing over her current kill, and as she turns to evaluate the room, a deathgrip abruptly finds her ankle. And doesn't let go, wrenching that leg out from under her.

The sensation of joints yielding in ways they shouldn't is unsettling even when it was the desired end, the objective, the avenue by which Hana's struggle continues a little longer. She shoves herself up, away from her aggressor's no-longer-responsive limb, drawing in a fresh lungful of air when her head clears the surface; the opportunity for breath is not one to be passed by.

Before she can quite recover from that breath and respond to the next phase of its grappling, someone else enters the fray. Sensed more than seen, Colette is a looming shadow, a gleam of actinic light, and a countervailing force that perturbs the tensions and pressures Hana's attacker is trying to bring to bear. Laying hands on the animated corpse's leg, Hana wrenches it one way and herself another, splashing down into the water again in a roll calculated solely to get her clear of this immediate entanglement.

Once Hana is up, white-hot light burns in the middle of Colette’s palm as the pink light of the flares dims to near darkness underwater. The laser cutting torch boils through water without impediment, burns through bone and steel fused together with equal ease. Red, brown, and black bubbles to the surface as the laser torch slices a zig-zagging path through the thrashing revenant’s skull. Steam blasts off of the water in billowing clouds made far denser by the ambient cold in the air here.

Once the machineflesh nightmare has stopped its thrashing, Colette rises up with a curtain of water rolling off of her body, splashing down into the fog below, breathing heavily in deep, gasping breaths. She looks wide-eyes to Hana, searching for immediate signs of grievous injury in her mentor, before turning her attention elsewhere with shaking hands.

There is a mixture of anger and pity all the same for the creature under her heel; more machine than man, less man than corpse. Huruma’s breath comes out in a shallow growl as the bloated skin sloughs right off of the limb as she pulls, dangling into the water from her loosening grip. It exposes what is left of bone, and the metallic shine of replacements.

Huruma’s pistol barks with a succession of shrieks as bullets litter into the metal frame buried in water. Head, chest, plexus, multiples. At this point she will gladly expend the rounds to make sure it stays there.

Once she delivers these blows to the writhing body under her boot, Huruma lifts her pistol to trace the path of the one who lurched away from her and towards the younger women; she hones in on its skull, aims, and fires.

Noa isn’t prepared for the pull of the corpse’s hand. Her balance thrown off, she falls backward, hard, into the bone-chilling water, splash and splatter punctuating her descent. What might have been the start of a yell of surprise is swallowed up once she goes below the water — knee-level when standing, it’s above her head now that she’s dragged down.

Booted feet kick at her undead assailant as she struggles to break the surface, gasping for breath and fumbling to get her fallen rifle in both hands.

A crash of water behind Noa’s head drags bubbles beneath the surface — clumsy strides culminating in the blind wrap of a hand around her arm. Vincent dredges her up like he would a felled branch, unsure if he has heads or tails — and drops her again when the sing of a ricochet bullet snaps flat against the back of his vest.

The second time he gets hold of her it’s from behind — an arm belted in around her middle and hauled up against the anchor of undead weight dragging her down.

It’s enough for her head to break back into cold air. Enough to take a breath.

Shots are still being fired around them. Something else still has her, beneath the surface. She has a rifle to figure that out with.

Berlin sees the body change trajectory but only has time to brace herself to try to keep the brunt of the impact on her instead of Adel. She hits against her teammate then drops to a knee in the freezing water. Apparently trusting that Adel can and will put some space between herself and the struggle if she still needs to hang back.

But when Berlin hits the water, it’s only to line up a point blank shot with their attacker’s knee in an attempt to blow out the joint and hinder its movement. And then she pushes back to her feet and hurriedly backs away from it.

At times like this, Adel really hates having no ability and no banshee. All she has is a knife that she pulls out after Berlin drops to a knee to aim point blank at the creature of flesh and metal. While her friend fires, she shifts and moves, watching for an opening she can stab her knife into.

A soft spot of circuitry, anything, Something that she can cut away. She may not know how these particular horrors had been created or what makes them work, but she knew where to poke the robots that would make their way across the near Wasteland that had been her world.

She trusts Berlin to take it down, but she will risk darting in to stab once she sees an opening.

Whorling steam fills the space around both Hana and Colette, half ducked in the water, Hana freeing herself of that desperate grasp of limbs as Colette slices through vital things with searing hot light. In time for Hana to escape the gore that billows out into the water in the immediate muddle of hounds and undead, watery ichor soaking through gloves, and the water becomes choppy as the creature shudders and convulses without purpose. With a few final, abortive twitches, it seems to still, its spine curled concave, stiff as an insect.

Colette looks and sees water displaced as Vincent drags Noa up and out of churning water, and some dark shape coming up out of the water with her. She sees Huruma standing tall over some twitching thing in the water, rapid fire muzzle flare sending up short fountains of water and blood until the churning goes still.

The second of the two still animated is involved in a complicated and fast moving tangle across the laboratory as Berlin's bullet shatters the innerworkings of her assailant's leg as Huruma's sharp aim clips across the top of its skull. It collapses into the water between them, those awful clawed hands lashing wildly at air, driven back beneath water as Adel darts in and thrusts her blade downwards, sinking into flesh — and then blunting, scraping against something metal within it.

Air. Vision. Vincent's arm grappled around her — for the best, because Noa's leg has been appropriated to the revenant in the water. She looks down and sees it, its skull misshapen from gunshot, revealing metal where she might expect bone. Grasping hands lock around her thigh, and then reach up to grab at AEGIS armor, finding no purchase, fingers raking over plating, a fingernail parting from finger and flipping away like a flicked penny.

Two left.

Before those without an immediate concern have time to consider whom to help, there's a groan and creak of metal in surround sound as those remaining doors suddenly slam open. The smaller examination rooms, equally waterlogged, show darkness inside, but it's the door that Hana had been about to crack that also slides open, and in doing so, brilliant white light comes flooding from its interior. After all this darkness, it's almost jarring, bright enough to banish all shadows within the laboratory and show up the grey-fleshed, cyborgian cadavers in all their horrifying detail.

Water goes flooding through into the room in a rush, creating a current that they can all feel pull around them. The floating remains of the dispatched revenants shift a little with that sudden pull, but too weighted down by the metal in their bones — or their bones of metal — to go far.

Scrambling up to her feet, water dripping from skin and hair and the woven parts of her armor, Hana first looks back to her attacker and the Hound who has dispatched it. That seems under control. Next is a glance that takes in each of her associates, rifle settling into her hands without conscious direction, more water splashing faintly down as she tilts the weapon to drain its barrel.

Then another complication asserts itself, drawing Hana's attention abruptly away. "«#aqua|Three, clear the side doors,##»" she directs the photokinetic, while the rest of the team deals with dispatching the remaining revenants. For her part, the major moves towards the door she didn't actually open, her approach oblique against the outward rush of water, squinting into the light and stretching out technopathic senses, prepared to shoot any fresh horror that emerges from it — or at least to try.

With her adrenaline spiked and unable to feel the chill of the water on her skin or how it weighs down her soaked uniform and armor, Colette flinches like a dog expecting a ball that's never thrown. She flicks a look to Hana, first confused that the command wasn't attack, but that surprise lasts only a moment. Her concern for Hana’s well-being is shown in a silent look made as she breaks away for the side doors.

Rather than moving slowly through the water, Colette braces nearby to Hana and furrows her brows, head down and attention dividing as hair-fine filaments of light bend out and away from her in two separate directions at once. The concentration this requires makes her gnash her teeth, hands clenched into fists, and a vein pulsing at her forehead.

Though the fibers of light split up, their movement isn't synchronized. Colette has to divide her attention back and forth to move them and focus, but it's still faster than moving through the water. After a moment, she calls out into the comms: “Clear! Both sides— clear!”

Between Berlin, Adel, and Huruma, the poor, horrid creature crumples under the last strike, slapping and churning at the water. Huruma stares down the barrel of her pistol to make sure that Adel finishes it. The body under her boot shifts as the doors slide open in unison, the intake of water into the forward room pulling scraps and blood with it.

Huruma narrows her eyes against the light, only giving the flooded room’s carnage a cursory glance; making sure that the others have the last dredge under control. Colette lights up the rest of the doors to clear them, and Huruma glides after Hana towards the previously locked door. Her pistol stays in hand, and her ability lurches out in a rush of silent fingers, reaching around the edges of the frame and pushing its way inside ahead of the major.

“At your six.” are the other woman’s only words in edgewise as she follows.

The younger Gitelman, now able to breathe and see, nods a quick thank you for Vincent. This time, Noa uses her rifle not as a firearm but a blunt object, bringing it down butt first into the joints of each decomposing arm that holds onto her. First one, then the other, breaking them so that if something brings it back to life yet again, it won’t be able to hold on so tightly. The head is slammed into last, smashing the exposed metal with all her strength, before the thing gives up whatever fight is left in it — or whatever programming.

She takes a deep breath and surveys the team and her surroundings, her dark eyes squinting when the light illuminates the corpses that have been relegated once more to their unanimated states. Knowing she was in that water isn’t pleasant, and she doesn’t look all too happy.

Vincent digs in to anchor against the ramrod crack of Noa’s rifle through metal and bone, not quite crushing the breath right back out of her. He’s more splash resistant than some of the others — less hair for spatter to take hold in — filthy water shed in streams down the side of his face, staining dark through his beard.

Blotting some of the grey out. Maybe they’re onto something.

He waits for her to find her own feet before he turns her loose, a quick once-over and an awkward pat as a sure, anytime. Anytime you need a buddy to keep you from drowning while you cave an undead abomination’s face in. With his free hand, he strips off the sidearm strapped to his side and plugs a pair of .40 rounds into the back of the revenant's head. Just to be sure.

The sound that carries through the opened door is isolated and deliberate, after the more chaotic hail of gunfire that preceded it. He vanishes, then, into a pulse of vapor that skirts off low after Hana, and seems to thin to nothing as it passes her.

Berlin pops up to her feet when the zombie falls, holding her gun ready and pointed at it just in case it keeps going. When it doesn't, she looks back over at Adel and then Huruma— her expression distant. She doesn't put her gun away, just points it toward the floor as she steps over to offer her teammate some support if she still needs it.

"Come on, let's catch up," she says, her voice also holding an odd quality to it. When she moves forward, she gives the various bodies in the water a wide berth. It leaves her behind the rest of the group heading toward Hana, but she doesn't seem to trust that they're at all safe down here. She'll watch their backs.

The flesh and gore had metal instead of bone underneath, and somehow that made cutting into it so much worse. Adel grimaces as she wipes the gore off of the knife, nodding toward Berlin’s request as she steps forward, holding a hand out to Huruma. “Still got that spare sidearm?” Cause while the knife can be useful, she doesn’t really want to get that close to one of those things again.

The Institute had done some weird ass stuff, but this… she’s not sure any of them were really prepared for this kind of thing.

She thinks all of them will be finding Avi and Rue and getting a stiff drink when this is over. After their bath, at least.

As Huruma comes up behind Hana, she feels it then — that distant bead of human feeling has all at once intensified, a disorienting moment of warped perspective, like realising some far away flicker of light on the horizon is only a candle flame twenty yards away. That echo of euphoria is gone, replaced by fear. Fear, and rage.

As Hana's extra sensory perception stretches invisibly out from where she stands knee deep in water, her senses inevitably account for the security systems she'd been about to contend with. Something has overridden it and slammed down barriers, an unknown backdoor function only visible now that it's been triggered. It would take more time than she has right now to understand the intricacies of what just transpired, and one hopes she will have the time and opportunity to do so.

No lurking technological menace awaits them in the bright open doorway. Water continues to rush through the door, and slowing, indicating a generous but finite amount of space.

Eyes adjust.

What lies before them is twenty-feet of connecting corridor, raw concrete walls and flickering lights as before, these drowned out by the vibrant white light coming from the chamber yonder, its steel door likewise slid open by whatever function opened the previous.

Vincent skims invisibly over rushing water and into a world of chrome and glass and white tile and glaring lights. The ceiling is, perhaps, thirty feet above. Desks, monitors, computer equipment all circle the main central feature: a great big glass cage, by all appearances, or a tank, where the only water is the grimy icy stuff that's flooding in with Wolfhound, tinged grey and filthy where it sloshes up against pristine glass-like curves, unable to find gaps to seep through.

Within is a great big coffin of steel and glass. Tubing and wires funnel out of where one end broadens, gathered together, twisting up into one great vine of rubber and metal, snaked through a sealed hole in the glass, disappearing into machinery. The big coffin of steel and glass is open.

Because the person that was inside it is on her feet.

Georgia Mayes has always been a petite woman, but she has somehow shrunken further since the last anyone set eyes on her. Bare legs show ropey muscle and veins disappearing up into a fluffy white robe that she's only barely pulled on, lashed loose around her waist. Her wrists are bird-thin, hands like claws on a table a few feet away from the coffin, leaning over it. The table is wrought iron, and on it is a silver tray, and on that is a porcelain tea set and a folded over cloth napkin.

Her hair, which had once been a handsome white-silver, is cloud pale, wispy, and shaven down along the side of her skull. Her arms, visible from the elbows down from terrycloth sleeves, are marked and scarred. Fresh blood is streaking down towards her wrist, as if something had been pulled out in a hurry.

With wavering balance, she lists sideways to collapse into the chair by the table, robe half-open to show withered flesh, jutting collarbone, blue veins under pale, pale skin.

She turns to look towards that open door, lips curling back from her teeth.

“Hello, Director.”

The flooding has only surged ankle deep when Vincent rolls back into tangibility mid-step, packed up in armor like a little weaponized donkey. The bare dome of his skull is streaked with gore, more of the same prickled cold in the scruff of his cheek.

He looks at Mayes through the glass as he circles it, ahead of the pack, eyes black as the stuff glistening in the creases of his neck.

Like a series of breakers being thrown, Huruma might sense unease and dislike and bridling, soul-deep dread snuff out into more calculated consideration. The deepest, darkest dredges of his sense of humor have burnt themselves off near to nothing. What’s the best way to get a snail out of its shell?

“Will someone get the door, please?”

A slight dip of Hana's head acknowledges Huruma's presence behind her; she doesn't look back. Instead, she moves forward in the wake of vaporous cloud, strides measured, senses alert, rifle at the ready. Turns out there's not much to be alert for in the corridor they traverse, but of course the room at its end is a different story.

The steel and glass and the woman in isolation are different, but in keeping with the place's theme. The tea set is terribly incongruous.

Where Vincent circles the central display, Hana moves to one side of the room, orthogonal to the entryway. She spares some attention for the computers, whether any are on and accessible to her. Meanwhile, her eyes trace the tubing and wires that feed the glassy cage; another part of the technopath's awareness prods at the machines behind them. All the while, the muzzle of her rifle remains oriented on Mayes.

If nothing else, whether glass or transparent ceramic, armor-piercing rounds will crack the chamber walls. Eventually.

Breathing heavily as she backs away from her scouting point, Colette moves in behind Hana with a watchful eye on their flank. Her sidearm is left forgotten in the shallows, Banshee clipped back on her belt — the horrors here won't bend to its scream — as a pair of dim globes of light manifest in each hand and then flatten into brighter, small discs.

Once she's through the threshold into the room, Colette looks briefly around at the walls and ceiling for more sign of those electric bugs, but cannot help but become transfixed by the sight of the metallic casket that Mayes slipped out of. Her chest tightens, jaw sets, and pulse heightens in its vaguely familiar presence. Her blind eyes flick side to side in vestigial motion showing her nerves, but her actual field of vision remains focused on the frail woman behind the glass.

What the fuck.” Is all Colette can muster.

As she passes Adel her spare weapon, Huruma remains silent. The room beyond carries a significant sensory change, and when she enters she can see precisely why.

Vincent and Hana prowling ahead, the rest just at her back, a shriveled shell ahead. The woman in the glass containment unit is changed, from the last Huruma had seen of her. The sneering font of fear and rage remains unchanged.

The pistol in her grip lowers partly to her side, angled and ready to spring back. Fine sheens of water and corpse rot are just as unfair to Huruma's giant frame as they are to Vincent's. Huruma steps forward to join that prowl like minks around a chicken coop. She studies the glass, the coffin, wires, injury, manner, exhaustion- - and remains quiet throughout- - until she isn't. The sound from her begins as an irritated growl, and within seconds it rolls into the depths of a laugh, low and cruel from the seat of her chest.

“My, what a pale imitation you are.” Huruma's voice purrs, the reflection of sleek armor curving across glass, helm featureless. There is no mistaking vindictiveness.

Noa is quiet as she moves into this strange room, dark eyes moving constantly in assessment of any threats not noticed by her colleagues. Despite her Gitelman stoicism, the dunking she’s suffered have taken a toll on her, and while she doesn’t speak much, her teeth chatter and her small frame shivers from the icy chill of the water she’d been pulled down into.

“Yeah,” is all she murmurs when Colette asks the question that’s no doubt on all their minds. What the fuck indeed.

Her weapon is held at the ready but she nods at Vincent’s question, stepping forward to find the door, a glance to the others to be sure they’re ready for whatever might happen when it’s opened.

With her newly acquired sidearm in hand, Adel checks to see how many rounds it has as she falls into line just in front of Berlin, still casting a glance backwards every so often to make sure that their back is covered. She trusts the younger member of the team, but still doesn’t trust this place. And with what they’ve seen lately, she doesn’t think anyone could blame her for looking back. Even as they come upon another door and…

Well. That’s interesting.

Raising the sidearm, she waits patiently, checking the sides and rear as well. She knows those in front to handle the woman on the other side, and she and Berlin will make sure that they don’t get any surprises. Hopefully.

Barefoot and bleeding, Georgia primly adjusts the sit of her robe around her body, untwisting the collar, smoothing the skirt as she folds one leg over the other. Certainly not ignoring Wolfhound, because they're impossible to ignore — dark, armored figures spilling into the room with this low tide of filthy water, circling her, weapons raised, and she tracks their movements with bloodshot blue eyes. Huruma's comment gets a more direct look, a little like recognition.

"Aren't we all, dear," she says, and her voice comes out hoarse from disuse, strangely echoed within the confines of her glass lair as much as its muffled. That roiling rage and fear is slowly dimming to a simmer, replaced with a darker undercurrent that feels more like hatred than anything else. Her hand creeps over that folded over napkin, idly fidgeting with the edge of soft linen. "And you were so much more flattering mere moments ago."

Curling a hand on the back of her chair, she angles around to look to Vincent.

"Mister Lazzaro. Mister Secretary." Promotions. She smiles like there is tin foil between her teeth. "You needn't have come out all this way to deliver me in person. We were bound to come face to face eventually."

The door to her den has no locking mechanism save for a crank on either side, which resists pressure before giving with an easy spin. The seal gives, and water immediately begins to spill into the circular space. Georgia grasps the object hidden in the napkin, fingers clawing around the grip of a small, silver pistol, and brings it around to fire through the space created between door and wall at the armored figure of Noa Gitelman.

A few wild bullets slam into the clear material of the door, not immediately shattering, but creating white, snowflake-like punctures.

Shots fired, Vincent falls away into shadow at her periphery, one less figure in the siege of her creepy throne.

He’s the first mink into the coop — in through the gap in the door in a viper strike of vapor that dissipates as soon as it’s through.

When he reappears, it’s behind and beside her, right hand closed firm over gun and claw to guide it up and back — force gentle as it is inexorable. Steering her off target without prying her finger off the trigger. Revenant grime squeezes through his glove to mingle with the blood running down her wrist; he keeps the heel of his left hand seated hard at her shoulder to anchor her into her sit, sidearm warm in his grip. It doesn’t quite graze her ear..

“Where would we send someone like you?”

His interest in her answer is genuine, for all that the question itself is a little strange. He looks to Hana, and Huruma through the glass, and feels nothing. Colette. Ice gnaws up under his diaphragm.

“Let go of the gun.” Polite.

Hana looks on as witch and Hounds and Secretary make their stiff-legged, raised-hackle, bared-fang introductions, her expression inscrutable. That impassivity remains as shots are fired, irrespective of their target — not least for reason of the slight distance in her gaze, that keen edge of alertness slightly blunted.

While the spider's shell is cracked, her sanctum profaned, the technopath reaches out to the computers that serve her, querying their system. She finds its protocols and architecture familiar, albeit secondhand, something the major knows from schematic and description rather than direct experience.

Modified from those records, too, she suspects. But no time to explore that now, or consider potential ramifications. Instead, even as the periphery of her awareness notes Vincent filtering his way into the chamber, addressing both their target and the gun she holds, Hana attempts to persuade the computer to accept the simplest and most absolute of commands she might give:

Shut down.

The tension following the gunshot is thick and syrupy. Like the congealed, black blood of the revenants outside, it has a cloying and unwelcome consistency. Colette is on pins and needles, eyes wide but I focused on any one point in space. She's so focused on the light of the room that the vestigial movements of her eyes have gone completely forsaken. She's watching everything, front and back, sides, up and down, swiveling her awareness in the way an owl might it's head.

The light in her hands has coalesced into a fine bundle of filaments, where once were discs. They've unspooled, bending into discrete blossoms of looping laser light, as if she had a pair of lambent chrysanthemums in her palms. They crackle and snap with moisture dripping off of her gloves, like water hitting fire or a live arc of electricity. She is the exact opposite of Hana, in this moment; both still, but one wound so much tighter than the other.

She's waiting for Vincent, Hana, someone with better impulse control.

"Flattery goes far. I would know." Huruma's answer rolls with the last fragments of her laugh. "Your stingers did nothing for you." In other words… don't. Just don't. Huruma remains at the glass when it unseals, bristling in eerie silence amidst the rush of scummy water.

Vincent is inside as quickly as ever, the smoke coalescing into solid frame within moments; between the bark of gunfire and the sparking light in her peripheral, Huruma's psionic talons latch onto Mayes, digging and puncturing holes of their own. The teeth are venomous, coating her hatred with an unshakeable fear. Helpless, isolated.


Huruma can feel the tension bleeding from Colette behind her as she fixes her teeth into their quarry; a more vestigial limb reaches out with spider-like delicacy to pry a thread of her tension loose, seeking the calm she knows is underneath.

"Do not make a fool of yourself." It is not clear which of them Huruma is talking to.

The dip in frigid waters makes Noa sluggish where usually she’s all swift angles and agility, reaction time quick thanks to years of training. Luckily for her, glass and armor make up for the deficit of her body today. The door takes most of the damage meant for her; her armor takes another shot, enough to knock her off balance for a moment, boots splashing as she does a quick check to regain her stance. She manages not to fall.

Once Vincent’s past her, his own weapon held close in threat, she angles herself in the open doorway to aim the nose of her own weapon at the ghostly looking woman. «Wendigo-5, wanna put some cuffs on this bitch?» Isn’t the most professional radio command the younger Gitelman’s given, but she was just shot at by Mayes. Noa’s mouth doesn’t move as the command comes through their comms, but the tone in her mental voice matches the glower of her dark eyes as she stares down their quarry.

When the shots ring out, Berlin turns from guarding their backs, pistol lifting to point in Mayes' direction. "Wendigo-1, are you okay?" she asks, concern mixing oddly with a firm tone, but she doesn't mind their target knowing that this team cares about each other. She moves that way, as quickly as she can through the water, gun staying up. But it's not the only attention she's putting on Mayes. Her head tilts as she looks at her, and it's almost as if she knows what Huruma is up to, because she adds her own bit of expertise to that mix of fear.

"You're not well, Ms. Mayes," she says, the words mild, but her voice dark, warning with a certainty she shouldn't have by just looking. But she does.

Because she's Evolved.

"Gladly," is her reply to Noa, and she moves in front of her squad leader to step into the cage. She's cautious, weapon up, steps steady, but not hesitating to follow the order given. No matter the manner it was given in.

With almost everyone’s attentions on the— thing that must be Mayes, Adel keeps her eyes scanning just in case there happens to be some surprise that those with super sensory abilities might have missed, and a few glances toward her once future and now present mentor. She doesn’t need to be an empath to tell the woman is on edge, but then she thinks everyone else noticed it too.

Not that she can blame her.

There is little to no resistance in the arm that Vincent draws back and up, even as strain trembles through from elbow to the splay of bones along the back of her hand. Mayes's breath catches in her chest as her hand initially locks around the gun, a stubbornness borne of raw nerve than though as her other hand goes out to steady herself, knocking a porcelain cup off the table, shattering in too-shallow water still streaming through. Diminished muscles bind up tense beneath the pressure keeping her sitting, and a spike of loathing zithers through the portrait of feeling that only Huruma can see.

And change. Her next breath in comes as a gasp, the bloodshot whites of her eyes showing all around cool blue irises, almost as grey and murky as the water climbing up around their ankles.

The subtle hum of the machinery sharing the room with them suddenly dwindles into silence with almost a sigh of cooling mechanics, filling the chamber with an eerie silence, underscored with the sounds of running water, and the acoustics of Mayes's panicked breathing. She rolls her eyes towards Berlin, a fresh heart beat of hatred seeming to almost physically shudder through her. With a twitch, she opens her hand as Vincent asked, and the pistol goes tumbling loose.

She tips her head back, then, snaring Vincent in her sights. She can't quite force another horrible smile, the fine muscles bracketing her mouth twitched into more of a snarl, baring her teeth as a hoarse laugh fills her lungs, breathed out with a shudder.

"I'm already there," she says.

The silver pistol drops with a splash. Vincent does not say thank you.

“That won’t be necessary.”

Berlin is the only Hound near enough to hear him say so, Noa’s belayed order tempered carefully quiet beneath the churn of filmy water around their feet, and the dwindling hum of the machinery around them. He gives her a look, too — asserting rank in aside, steady as the gun he’s turned against Georgia Mayes’ temple in its silent prompt for her to take a step back. The muzzle follows the arch of her skull as she tips it back.

He looks down at Mayes looking up at him, and for a strange beat, that loathing is shared in force. Intertwined. Quickly, before the others can act on the shift in dynamic:

Vincent pulls the trigger. A sweeping arc of brainmatter splatters muddy against the glass away from the shot.

Feeling digital systems absorb her directive, accept it as their own, wind themselves down in orderly fashion, Hana returns her full attention to the physical present: to the confrontation within glass cradle, tense and brittle yet orderly in its way.

The sound of the shot is attenuated slightly, indirect in its reach through hatch and its reflection off walls. The spatter of gray and red across transparent surface just beyond arm's length is starkly forthright, as blunt and abrupt as the gunshot that produced it.

Hana fails to show surprise. Fails to be surprised, dark eyes retaining their focus on the woman so dispatched — as does her rifle, intervening glass or no.

The way this place has been, she wouldn't put it past Mayes to get right back up.

With Berlin approaching with the cuffs, the subtle shift in the degree of Vincent’s unadulterated hate draws Huruma’s eyes, a raptor-like tip of her head coming just a moment before the dynamic does change, and Lazzaro puts his foot down.

So to speak.

Huruma’s head tips slightly again, following the pattern of red which cuts across vision on the inside of the glass containment. Not a lick of tension in her, nor the rigidity of shock; much like Hana, she simply observes at first. It is not long before her voice comes in at a drawl, after the echoes of the gunfire have passed.

Maso ny maso.” Huruma’s breath hisses through the edges of her helm, face angling to Hana as if in inquiry.

Are we finished here?

“Armor works,” is Noa’s quick reply to Berlin, but she flashes a smile of gratitude to her teammate as she enters the glass tomb to do as Noa asked.

That it’s overridden by Vincent isn’t a surprise, not quite, but there’s a slow blink at the splatter of blood and brain and bone against the transparent wall. Her eyes go from that grisly spot to her mother, to be sure Hana isn’t shocked or upset by this turn of events. Seeing the elder Gitelman calm keeps the younger Gitelman calm.

And let’s be honest — no one here will mourn Mayes.

She keeps her weapon trained on the woman’s corpse. She isn’t about to assume dead is dead like she had a few moments ago. Her voice comes over the coms: «Checking the status of the other teams.» Hopefully they’re all about ready to get the hell out of their respective murder basements. Noa sure is.

The sound of the gunshot startles Colette. For all that everyone else might have been expecting this, Colette — especially after her talks with Vincent following everything on Liberty Island — hadn’t been anticipating an extrajudicial execution of an unarmed combatant. Her heart lurches up into her throat, distracted enough to fail to concentrate on the laser-light in her hands causing them to gutter out like windblown candles.

Colette stares at the red tracking down the glass in thin rivulets clumped with bits of hair, bone, and soft tissue. She swallows tightly, takes a sloshing step back in the water, and looks momentarily stunned. Not horrified, and certainly not offended. Instead, she just exhales a breath that feels like she’d been holding in for a decade.

Humanis First dies with Mayes. For Colette, that means a promise held to Joseph, a promise held to herself, and a promise to the people that didn’t make it out of Utah. She turns away from Mayes, looking more directly at Hana. Huruma’s look took the words right out of her mouth.

"Mister Secretary?" Berlin asks at his words, at the look. She stops, although her gun stays trained on Mayes. She, too, is surprised that Vincent pulls the trigger. Not just that it happens without arrest and trial, but also because she's tuned in to Mayes as it happens. It isn't often that she's felt someone die with her ability, and it makes her tense up and grip tighter to her weapon. Since it happens to be in her hands.

Huruma can feel it, how the young Hound cycles through surprise and shock and horror before the body even goes slack. And then— she pushes all that away. She looks at the blood and brain staining the wall, expression distant and head tilted as if she might be trying to find a hidden picture in the mess.

"Oh," she says mildly, since Vincent no longer needs to explain why the cuffs aren't necessary.

Even if Adel would never be one to mourn someone like Mayes, she still blinks in stunned surprise at what happens in front of her. The ragged exhale betrays her shock even more outloud, but she doesn’t say anything. The empath certain feels it. They had needed to do such things in the place she had come from, with no system of law available to work within. Her eyes cast briefly over each of them, the Major, the First Lieutenant, the Officers, then back to the Secretary and the body.

The smile that the cheerful Second often has doesn’t show at all, though after what they’d seen wading through she hadn’t really had much to smile at this mission, even in her usual excitement. Finally she settles her eyes on the youngest of the Hounds. They’d killed many before, often on their way to their goals. This, somehow, felt different.

The rapport of gunfire is especially loud for Vincent and Berlin both, the sharp crack bounced back from curved ceramic and leaving a subtle whine in their ears. Georgia Mayes' body snaps like a jerked puppet, lifeless even before she hits the ground with a wet smack of flesh to puddling water on tile, dark gore immediately flooding out into grey, rising waters. Her body lies still, the wound that pierced her skull through showing nothing but runed flesh and bone.

No final twitch, no last stand.

Just dead, as displaced water slowly climbs towards its final height, shallower than they'd been wading through.

Over communications, Noa both gets direct word and hears tell of successful missions. Operation Bullwhip have rerouted and destroying enemy forces and are being evacuated to a fallback position. Operation Lariat has felled and destroyed the communications tower, securing the safety of the hundreds of civilians now being shepherded and rounded up by United States military forces. Forces in the sky, the Tlanuwa included, have destroyed the last of the surface-to-air defenses and are destroying the last of the lightning field.

And all of Wolfhound has survived, the battle-wearied lieutenants of Amarok are glad to report.

Inside, the quiet is powerful, and each trickle and slosh of water amplified. Every now and then, a distant missile connecting with the desert floor at a distance rolls in as thunder they can more feel than hear. All that's left is to withdraw.


Vincent’s apology is for Berlin, specifically, although there’s not near enough spatter on the glass to drown out the way the others’ heads have turned to Hana. Mayes’ corpse has sloughed out of the chair and to the watery floor between them, blood cloudy in the current around their boots.

He stands upright, gun in hand, relief tingling after an adrenaline rush. It prickles him into a shiver, teeth shown thin while he holsters his sidearm.

A hard blink stifles it down. He has to turn to look to Hana through liquid brain gumming down the glass, his eyes blacked back into default dispassion.

“I’ll catch up.”

Summary execution before a live audience is bad enough. No reason for them stick around while he goes the extra mile to be sure this particular corpse never rises again. Any one of them is welcome to stay behind and help, of course, the inevitability of the task ahead awkward in his shoulders.

What’s a little salting of the earth among friends.

As seconds tick past and the body remains exactly that — a body — Hana slings her rifle up over her shoulder. That isn't anything like the same as being at ease, and yet in some respects, she is.

Dark eyes remain steady upon Vincent as he and nearly everyone else look her way. In the face of that scrutiny, the major offers Wendigo a sharp motion of her head in the direction of the door. "You can regroup with the others." Can, not must. Implicitly, she won't be going with them.

All the way to the end, she'd told him, and meant it.

There's something haunted in Colette’s eyes as she looks at the swirl of blood and dirty water moving beyond the glass. Recognition, strangely. Like someone who was staring at a blurry image that just came into focus. She breathes in, holds the breath and looks over to Noa, then away and to the door.

“Come on,” Colette says a bit softly before finding her voice, “let's do another sweep of the basement before we withdraw.” She pivots away from the scene of Mayes’ death, jaw set.

“There's nothing more to see here.”

As it becomes clear that there is still something to bear, Huruma's stature loosens at the joints, one hand compelled to lift and unhinge the front of her helmet before hitching it onto her belt. With the barrier gone, her eyes shine with the reflection of glass and water. A flicker of them moves from Colette to the door, then back to Vincent. She blinks slow at the cant and wire of his shoulders.

Huruma keeps the girls in her senses, but moves towards the glass prison rather than the exit. A voiceless assent and a silent offer of assist. Unknowing of Hana's words, there are other reasons to stay.

It is the least she can do for him.

Berlin's gaze flicks over to Vincent at the apology, but it's almost like she doesn't understand him, the way she studies him for a long moment. It's Hana's words that draw her away from him, from Mayes, and toward the cage's door. She pauses there, a hand on the frame, looking down at the water.

Turning her head just enough to glimpse him, but not enough to look at him, the young woman lets out a sigh.

"We were supposed to be different."

Her words are softly spoken, the still surface of a deep river, and then she steps out and moves to slide her arm around Adel again. Her friend doesn't need the support anymore, not really.

But Berlin does.

Adel stands in silence as she watches, definitely not enjoying this situation, but not sure how she feels about it either. It’s pressing her mouth together in a thin line, and it’s when she hears Berlin’s whispered sigh that she seems to nod slowly and feel at least a little better. Because she’s not alone in her worry and thoughts. The arm around her is touched, held onto. She can walk better now, no longer limping or threatening to fall over, but the touch has a comforting effect.

Not all support is physical. And they don’t want to stick around to see whatever it is the Major and the Secretary are going to do to ensure that one monster will never rise again. “You did good back there,” she offers the youngster. Even if she has a feeling most of them will never want to speak about this mission again.

The youngest of Wendigo file out, alone or together, leaving behind the configuration of three overseeing the remains of the snake head they separated from body. They file out into persistent rain to the sound of army vehicles, crackling radio, and peals of thunder as the last of the storm dissipates. Fire light is visible across the sprawl of Fort Irwin where structures burn in spite of the weather, but looking back, the hospital they left behind remains standing, even after Vincent, Hana, and Huruma eventually emerge, silent and dark as a tomb.

A final resting place.

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