Into The Dead Zone, Part V


richard2_icon.gif iago_icon.gif nick2_icon.gif

Scene Title Into The Dead Zone, Part V
Synopsis Ray and Nick find what they're looking for.
Date April 21, 2018

Washington State, Lake Cavanaugh

The long and winding drive from Snoqualmie to Skagit Valley took the expedition team down the other side of the Cascade Mountains, through ghost towns and wooded back roads steeped in meltwater. Even the freeways are tangled spring weeds that grow in dense clusters between the gaps in the cement, making the the journey twice as long and circuitous as it need to be; the sun is making its slow descent toward the horizon when the SUV passes the sign that reads WELCOME TO SKAGIT VALLEY.

Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to say. The lettering has since been painted over by an elaborate mural of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse replete with flaming swords and snarling steeds with eyes that glow like coals, which feels entirely out of place against the valley’s scenic backdrop. If this is where Yamagato’s enemies are assembling an army, it doesn’t look like it. Situated between the mountains and the coastline, the valley is a lush and verdant oasis of reclaimed farmland and forest divided by fast-flowing creeks and milky green rivers. Farmers work their fields, harvesting what was planted the previous fall, whether they’re cornflower yellow tulips grown for the consumption of the inhabitants of Safe Zones in other states, or dewy heads of lettuce and spinach for the local population.

Dilapidated farmhouses in desperate need of repair with sagging roofs and faded paint appear to be inhabited, even at a distance, and neighboring houses in similar condition billow smoke from their chimneys.

Needless to say, there is a disconnect between the stories they were told by their military contact at the site of the ambush and what actually awaits them in the valley itself. A low-lying fog has swept in by the time they arrive at Lake Cavanaugh, roughly twenty miles outside of the borders of Sedro-Woolley, where they believe the perpetrators of the Yamagato attack are based. It seems a likely location for a secondary base of operations — or at least a satellite facility.

In other words: Less of a risk than approaching Sedro-Woolley directly.

With only an hour or so of daylight remaining, the team has split into two groups to cover more ground. While Claire Bennet and Avi Epstein comb the southern shore, Richard Ray and Nicholas Ruskin head north toward the beacon of a radio tower that pulsates red through the fog. It’s quiet out here, with only the sound of their own breathing and gravel crunching under their boots as the follow the shoreline toward the tower’s glow.

A heron sweeps low over the lake and its wingtips send ripples spreading outward across the water’s otherwise pristine surface.

A pair of old, faded green BDUs and a military jacket are what mark Richard Ray if he's seen from a distance, unremarkable given how many of both ended up all over the country during the war, his head topped with a green woolen cap. It's only closer that someone might notice that the gloves are armored, because beneath that jacket and those loose pants he's wearing his AEGIS suit, aside from the helmet (which is tucked away in the duffle bag slung over his shoulder) and the thick belt around his waist is full of power packs for the Banshee at one hip.

The steady crunch of the gravel is grinding on his nerves, as for the ten thousandth time he laments the loss of his ability; he does his best to move lightly and quietly all the same as they move towards the red, pulsing beacon.

The younger man at his side has no such armor nor has he ever had an ability to lose or grieve; he does have plenty to lament, of course. Nick’s a bit quieter when it’s just Ray and himself, without Epstein and Claire there to fill in the gaps and silences that wedge themselves into the conversation — or lack of — between acquaintances. Even two who’ve traveled across the country together.

Nick’s attire is much less military than Richard’s — his aesthetic is much more longshoreman chic, in his navy peacoat and gray tuque, jeans and boots. The gravel crunches beneath those as loudly as it does under Ray’s of course.

“So much for a stealth approach, yeah?” he says quietly, peering toward the tower, blue eyes scanning the area.

“Tell me about it,” Richard replies with a grimace, head turning to scan the trees for signs of movement, “I’m more used to the city— always have been. All this nature makes it hard to move around quiet-like. Not even traffic to mask the noise.”

They walk for a few moments, before he asks quietly, “I know you weren’t on Apollo at all. You ever run into Danko, when that asshole was running loose?”

“Me too,” agrees Nick, regarding being a city dweller. “London. New York. Not that I’m a fan of the latter. Lot of shit went down there I’d rather not remember.” Not least of all nearly dying several times.

He turns to glance over his shoulder, to try to ensure they’re not being followed — but of course, just because he doesn’t see a tail doesn’t mean there isn’t one, especially when there may be SLC-E individuals in the area. His eyes dart back to Richard, and he shakes his head.

“I was undercover workin’ with Walsh a bit, when I first got to New York. Heard the name a couple of times. Didn’t have the displeasure of running into him myself, though,” Nick says. “Doesn’t sound like good news for anyone he’s around again.”

At that, Richard breathes out a rough snort. “Walsh. That asshole…”

A sidelong look, “You ever meet Keira Fionn, then? I know she was hanging out with that racist leprechaun at the time…” Absently he shifts the weight of the power-belt he’s wearing, not quite used to the way it sits. Or he’s gained some weight.

Nick lifts a brow, but shakes his head. “I might’ve, but I didn’t always catch everyone’s names. Especially if they weren’t on the legal side of shit, which was pretty much everyone I met through him, you know? Could’ve blocked it out subconsciously — Irish did fucking strap a bomb on me in hopes of lighting me up like a Christmas tree. If she was one of his little lackeys on that job, well, I was drugged to my eyeballs so I don’t remember. Could’ve been my own grandmother and I wouldn’t remember much,” he says, tone light, though there’s a hard and cool anger that colors the edges of his words.

“Friend of yours?” he asks, tipping his head in Ray’s direction, though he continues to watch their surroundings, rather than the man at his side.

“Crazy ex,” admits Richard, “Got in over her head; I think I scared her enough with what she was gettin’ involved with that she went running. Funny story, she showed up a month or so ago - apparently she manifested.”

A low chuckle, “There’s some fuckin’ irony for you.” He, too, is keeping an eye on their surroundings even as he converses quietly with the one man on the team he hasn’t spent a lot of time around.

“Ah, gotta love the crazy exes,” says Nick with a smirk. “I’ve had my share. Why is it we’re so wired to find crazy synonymous with hot?”

He glances back over his shoulder, sweeping their perimeter once again with those blue eyes, no sunglasses this time due to the diminishing light as the day moves toward night. “That is ironic. I sometimes wonder if all the tests that say I’m neg are wrong and that I secretly have a some sort of luck ability — whether it’s good or bad, it’s hard to say.”

There’s a small smile to punctuate the words, and to make it clear he knows he’s not actually SLC-E. He does seem to have at least nine lives, though — sometimes to his own dismay.

“I have no idea,” Richard breathes out a laugh, his head shaking, “We are, though…”

He brings one shoulder up in a shrug, adjusting the weight of the duffle on his shoulder. His head tilts back, taking note of how close that blinking red light is, and he observes quietly, “Luck’s overrated. I prefer a good plan, any day of the week.”

“Agreed on both counts,” Nick says, reaching up as if to push his hand through his hair, only to find the knit material of the cap there, so he adjusts that instead. “Which is why all of this is making me fucking nervous. Can’t plan much until we have the information, and information sharing’s a pain in the ass out here.”

He walks a few more paces, before adding, with a small smile, “So let’s hope it’s the good sort of luck today. Too bad I have no idea how to enable it. Crap ability, all told.”

“Once upon a time I’d be in and out and nobody’d know I was there, but…” Richard gives his head a slow shake, “Times change, unfortunately. Not the man I once was.” A rueful comment, head turning to consider a shadow they’re passing before he looks back up ahead, “So with no luck or— anything else— we’ll just have to wing it.”

“Fortunately, I’ve always been good at improv.”

As the pair moves within range of the radio tower, the ground beneath their feet transitions from gravel to cement, and then to rusted metal grating. A glance downwards yields only darkness; it’s impossible for either Richard or Nick to know what’s beneath them except empty space and what sounds like it might be stagnant water lapping up against the sides of the compartment below.

Someone has been here recently. A cigarette butt, stamped out, stands against the cement. It could be as old as a few hours, or a few days. What’s more important than the cigarette butt, however, is what it’s sitting in front of: a smaller, squatter building situated at the foot of the radio tower with a flat roof covered in what looks like newly-installed solar panels. A padlock guards the steel door leading inside, but could easily be dispatched with a pair of bolt-cutters, if they were so inclined.

Electricity hums low in the background.

When they get close enough to the building, Nick peers at the roof, appraising the amount of dirt and dust on those solar panels with narrowed eyes, before moving forward to look more closely at the door and the lock keeping it closed, reaching out to test it in his hands.

His blue eyes move toward Richard. “Definitely not just ancient history here. You wanna improv our way inside?” he asks, brows lifting along with his voice to punctuate the question.

“Definitely not,” Richard says in low tones, gesturing with one hand towards the cigarette butt, “This is all new, and live. I wonder who they’re talking to…”

He steps slowly over the grates, crouching down in front of that door and bringing a gloved hand up to examine the padlock. The question gets a smile, and he slides the duffle bag off his shoulder, dipping a hand into a side pocket and pulling out a small roll of oiled leather - unrolling it to pick tools from within. Torsion wrench, picks, hooks, and he goes to work on the lock.

It seems that ‘improvisation’ means ‘lockpicking’ today.

The padlock poses no real challenge to the motivated lockpick, which Richard is. Nick does not have to wait more than a minute for the click that signifies his companion has gained entry to the building. The door groans open on its hinges, revealing a spiral staircase made of corroded metal that leads down a darkened shaft.

In spite of the solar panels on the building’s roof and the hum of the tower and what Richard and Nick can probably assume is an electric generator of some kind, there are no signs of light inside. A quick scan with a flashlight illuminates the words ABANDON ALL HOPE spray-painted across the back wall in vibrant white lettering.

Below that: DO NOT ENTER

“Nice,” is said with an appreciative tone, from one former criminal to another. Nick pushes through that creaking door, pulling out his sidearm just in case someone’s waiting for them on the other side. Finding the interior dark, he pulls out the flashlight to look around at the space they find themselves in.

“Well, that’s cheery,” he says wryly, before reciting, “Through me you pass into the city of woe, through me you pass into eternal pain… “

He edges a little closer to the staircase, listening for a moment and watching that darkened hole for any signs of light or life, before glancing back up toward Richard. “Gotta say, not the most inviting welcome mat. Wish we did have that ability of yours right about now, mate. Let’s take that lock with us so we don’t end up locked in here. Or maybe one of us should keep watch, yeah? You have a preference?”

“I mean, I’m a Catholic and even I find this in bad taste,” Richard quips, the lockpicks tucked back away - padlock taken off the chain - and duffle slung back over his shoulder as he steps slowly in after Nick.

The Banshee’s pulled from its holster, the weight comforting in his hand, cord trailing to his belt. “Me too,” he murmurs longingly as he looks down the shadowed staircase, “I don’t think we want to get divided. Maybe if there were more of us, but— let’s stick together. Keep a few steps back, watch for loose steps, tripwires, keep an eye out for any laser emitters that might trigger and give us away.”

Breaking and entering. It’s like old times!

The first few steps cause the stairwell to shudder under Richard and Nick’s combined weight before the structure seems to steady itself. Loose pieces of brick tinkle down, glancing off the sides of the shaft before coming to rest some fifty or sixty feet below them at the bottom.

They descend at a creep, careful not to make too much noise as they curve around the spiral, and maybe this silence is a cause for concern. Their radios have been quiet since parting ways with Claire and Avi; it seems like the other half of their expedition team should have checked in with them by now, but there’s always a chance that the Wolfhound operatives have found themselves in a similar situation where discretion is—


However that train of thought might have ended ceases to matter on the twenty-fifth step, about two thirds down the staircase. One of the bolts fastening the staircase’s sagging structure to the shaft’s walls comes loose with a sound like a contained explosion that’s amplified by the structure’s acoustics. Metal buckles like rotten wood underfoot, and both men are sent plummeting to the bottom of the shaft in a tangle of limbs and mangled steel.

It’s a twenty-foot drop but feels much longer, and although the battered remains of the staircase breaks their fall, the impact is still enough to slam the breath from their lungs.

Dust filters down from above.

“They could’ve at least put it in the Italian, class up the joint,” Nick murmurs with a crooked grin before he begins the descent, nodding his understanding to Ray and keeping that beam of light on the steps below.

It’s not what’s below but what’s above that he should have been worried about; at the loud bang, he grabs for the railing, but it too falls away. Once he lands, he’s quiet, stunned for a moment as he stares upward, blinking as he takes a breath to pull oxygen back into his lungs.

“Jesus,” he mutters, slowly accounting for all of limbs, to separate sore from broken. “You all in one piece?” he asks, turning his head and coughing a bit as he breathes in dust, before turning the flashlight he’s somehow managed to hold onto in Ray’s direction.

Oh no, is all that rushes through Richard’s mind as he grabs for a buckling steel support, Not again.

Silence reigns in the aftermath of the fall for about a good twenty seconds, punctuated only by the man’s ragged breathing as he tries to rein in the instinctive panic of memories of another time when metal creaked and surrendered under weight. Slowly he lifts a shaky hand, offering a thumb’s up wordlessly.

”Just—” A shaky tone of voice, too, which he silences, coughs a few times, “Just gimme a minute, Ruskin.”

Nick tries to find the top floor but the beam doesn’t quite stretch that high, and he chuckles, a low humorless thing. “Take your time. I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon. Best hope there’s another way out of here.”

With a wince, he rolls to his knees and then pushes himself up, joints and muscles aching and protesting. His hand reaches up to pull of the tuque he wears, sending a scattering of dust and debris down to the floor.

“You know how sometimes you find bruises you don’t know where they came from?” he murmurs, shoving his hand through his hair before he puts the tuque in the pocket of his peacoat. “This isn’t one of those times. Fucking hell.”

He sends the flashlight’s beam around the bottom floor, taking into account what they’ve fallen into — quite literally.

“That’s twice too many times that’s happened,” Richard mutters, slowly getting his elbows under himself and pushing himself slowly up — surprisingly unhurt, mostly because of the AEGIS armor that he’s wearing. He was rattled, but it was mostly in his head.

“Gotta be,” he says as he stands up, adjusting the fall of his jacket and checking the battery power on his armor. A grimace as he sees how much the impact drained - well, hopefully he won’t be falling again - and then he glances around, gaze following the sweep of Nick’s flashlight beam, “You alright?”

Hedging in on their hearing is the unmistakable sound of a rattling engine. A pick-up truck or something like it, with the dusty sound of metal on frame and gravel ground under wheels, chipping paint once thrown up out of it. Not a few seconds after both Nick and Ray lock onto it, it ceases. Creaking. Doors slamming.

They have company.

The sound of muttering, voices deliberately kept quiet, are only just detected on the edge of keen hearing. The meagre, fading sunlight that shafts through an open door above shifts as figures follow the same path inside that Nick and Richard walked, but they stop shy of the stairwell itself. Next, a new light source, a ray of handheld spotlight slicing downwards, rolling over the collapse of staircase, making dust motes glow.

A man's voice calls out; "Still alive?"

Familiar, enough, accent curled around the consonants, that Richard's more paranoid instincts might twinge.

“May have a cracked rib,” Nick says, reaching around with his free hand to rub his back gingerly, “Nothing to do about it. We should try-”

He stops short, tipping his head upward toward the sound of the vehicle above them, eyes glancing sharply at Ray and worry furrowing his brow. “Not Epstein,” he says quietly, as the door slams. The voice a few seconds later confirms it — Nick doesn’t try to hide the shine of his own torch as he tries to find the face above with its beam.

“Depends on who’s asking,” he calls up, his tone wry. There’s no use to playing possum, after all.

“No.” Richard stares upwards, his voice low as he looks towards the light above, “No, definitely not Epstein.” In the dim light, Nick might not - or might - notice the paler hue of his partner’s face right now.

He draws in a slow breath, and then calls up in with forced cheer in his voice, “You really should get a carpenter down here, you know. Someone could get seriously hurt on what used to be stairs.” A hand curls around the grip of his X-LRAD, and he says in low tones, “That’s Ramirez up there, Ruskin.”

“If he has been resurrected somehow, and isn’t a different Ramirez, he might remember me.” There was a lot of punching involved. Likely it won’t be a good memory.

"You should learn to read."

There was a sign, after all.

Iago's voice is not pitched at a menacing key, however; maybe at a lyrical taunt, forced cheer met with languid humour in return. He says something else, too quiet to be heard, and now that they're listening for it, they'll hear the scuff of an extra set of footsteps. The spotlight doesn't waver, so the wielder remains where he is. "Who is asking is your savior, maybe. Depends on your answers to some questions."

The broken staircase shivers a little where the weight is gently tested. It's enough to send more dust spiraling down, and for a creak to echo around the shaft.

"Why did you come?"

“Well, hey, I guess we win the hide and seek. Won’t Avi be proud,” Nick quips quietly to Ray at the revelation of who’s above. He tips his head at the sound above, mouthing “Two" when he hears that second set of footfalls join Ramirez up top. His free hand curls around his sidearm, but the odds aren’t in their favor, given their position.

Nick glances back at Ray at the question that’s tossed down to them. “Just looking for some old mates. This seemed like the kind of place they might call home,” he says — the comment could be completely sincere or utterly ironic, but he merely intends for it to be completely innocuous.

Richard shakes his head slightly. “They’re not going to buy that we just stumbled in here,” he murmurs, taking a deep breath before looking upwards, “‘Roundabout honesty might be our best bet here.” A glance around the bottom of the shaft - there have to be doors or something down here somewhere, right?

After a moment, he calls back up, “Also curious about what you all are doing up here. Made a lot of people nervous hitting that shipment. A lot of people are wondering who might be next.”

"You won't find anything," says the voice, echoing through the shaft from on high, "in the ground."

The place Richard and Nick have landed is as condemned as signs warned about. One door in the dark is padlocked, a barrier of wood and rusted metal, with soft earth in and around its seams that indicate no one's opened it in a very long time. Under their feet, under broken rotted wood and twisted steel, the earth is damp, water depressing upwards beneath their weight. As if able to track their thoughts, Iago says, in his customary, lazily blunt fashion, "You're where they kept their generators, long ago. No rabbit warren. No vault of gold. The only way out is up."

The truck engine outside picks back up, being brought nearer, someone shouting an instruction too far away for them to pick up clearly. Iago's voice picked up, clearer; "Two of them. Si, si, fifty, sixty feet."

But back to the two men in a hole, he broadcasts; "They should ask themselves — what do they have." The spotlight shifts, unable to get a good enough angle to beam directly down onto either Nick or Richard, gleaming off twisted metal and damp walls. "But if you are curious, we can oblige you."

Nick moves carefully toward that padlocked door, stepping over the crumbled heap of metal and wood. His motions are ginger, slow; he’s probably more sore from that fall than he let on — after all, he wasn’t wearing any armor, but simply a thick peacoat to stave off the Pacific Northwest’s chill.

His blue eyes lift to that bit of sunlight in the darkness above, tipping his head to listen again to the sound of the truck and conversation, before glancing at Ray and lifting his brows.

“Door might lead somewhere else, but I don’t like the odds of getting it open and away before they catch up with us — if it isn’t just a collapsed tunnel or some shit on the other side. Don’t think it’s budging anytime soon even if we blow the lock,” he says in a quiet voice. “Think he’s willing to play show and tell and not kill us?”

“Ramirez likes to play with his food,” Richard mutters in low tones, “Although if he does recognize me— “ Well, that would lead to a whole ‘nother series of issues, now, wouldn’t it? “They’re going to be curious about who sent us, though, so they won’t kill us right off regardless of their intentions.

A deep breath’s taken in, and then he calls up in forcedly casual tones, “Don’t suppose you’ve got a good rope up there?”

At first, Ray's echoed question goes ignored. The sounds of voices and growling engine and the whine of brakes drifts down inconclusively, the two left to their own devices for a span of minutes that probably feels a lot longer down there than it does on the surface. Finally, a voice, different to that of Iago's, yells, "heads' up!" before something is thrown.

It's not a grenade. Or a rope.

The clang of thick chain rings out against rock and brick and metal, thrown to avoid the tangle of cleaved stairwell. It slaps solidly against the side of the shaft, clinking and swaying in place, the end just within reach. Tugging it meets little in the way of give, clearly secured at the end of something more reliable than just a few strong hands.

Whoever goes first will have to be decided between them, for no further instructions are given. The climb is long but not impossible, boots finding as many places to stick and secure as there are slippery surfaces, and by the time the first of them are within reach, they can expect to be called hauled out by helping hands, fist over fist, to deposit them on their belly.

Iago is standing a few feet back, a rifle cradled in his arm. Coming out of the ground, though, the first thing anyone is likely to see is one dust-stained boot, and the shining steel of a prosthetic limb, the skeletal splay of metal foot set against concrete, disappearing into the rolled cuff of his pant leg.

Nick glances at Richard, a grim expression on his face. “Here goes nothing. At least they aren’t shooting us, I guess.” Ray’s right — they’ll at least survive long enough to be interrogated (or worse).

He waits a beat, before moving forward, tucking away his flashlight and pistol in belt and holster, and taking hold of the chain. He grimaces at the bite of cold metal on his ungloved palms.

Once he’s up on the ground, Nick takes a glance at the close-up view of that robotic leg. He keeps his hands in view before lifting his head to survey their rescuers. “Cheers,” he offers in his dry East-End accent.

“Yet,” Richard quips, waiting for Nick to get a body-length or two up the chain before reaching up himself; gloved hands securely grasping the metal links, feet bracing on the nearby wall to help him climb. It’s almost as if he’s done this before. There’s no art to steal at the top of the shaft, though.

No, it’s just Iago Ramirez.

“Much obliged,” he drawls out as he pulls himself up - since Nick wasn’t immediately shot, he’s assuming that’s a good sign, “You really should get a good carpenter down there. Maybe a blacksmith, too. I don’t think IKEA does rickety spiral staircases, more’s the pity…”

Once he’s on his feet, he keeps his hands away from his sidearm - for now - staring at the man standing there, cybernetic augmentations and all. He’s not sure if the man will recognize him (or if he wants him to or not) but he sure remembers Ramirez - just the sight of him has him remembering a much prettier face, burnt with a brand. Gillian.

His fingers twitch, slightly, but he keeps them away from his Banshee despite everything.

Once Ray crests the edge of the hole, he'll find Nick back on his feet, pulled aside, and with guns trained on them both. Not a huge gathering of men — four, to be precise, including Iago Ramirez himself. One holds an automatic rifle, having tracked Ray's climb up and out and remains trained on him. Another, an older man with a silvered ponytail, keeps a similar weapon trained on Nick. The youngest among them has his sidearm out, several paces back, aimed at the ground. In contrast to the other two, he seems the most nervous. Maybe that's just youth.

Iago, on the other hand, seems almost entirely at ease, studying Nick with an idle curiousity before his attention lands squarely on Richard Ray. That curiousity remains, particularly as he eyes over the armor only partially hidden beneath his BDU, the packs affixed to his belt, but Ray can sense recognition about who he is, who they both are, sink in like a metal hook.

Behind the gathered group, the chain is linked to the pick-up truck that was reversed up near the radio tower.

"Old mates," Ramirez says, echoing Nick's claim from before. "Perhaps we should be 'new friends'."

As if pitching an idea. The concept of anyone leaving this particular stand-off alive. It's very clear, from the configuration of men standing around, from the stillness of the other three, that they are finely tuned to whatever Iago's word happens to be. He tips his head aside to barely look back at the youngest of them, and whistles once, sharp, like he's calling a dog. No offense is taken, however, as the youth comes forward with quick eagerness. "Take their weapons."

Hesitation, then, before the boy holsters his own gun, and then moves to each man. As he does, the other two narrow the aim of their rifles very carefully, with all the weight and implication of heads exploding if Nick or Ray make a wrong move.

Iago keeps his attention primarily on Richard, unsmiling.

Nick’s expression is one of resignation — they’re outgunned and outmanned and neither of them have an ability that might save the day. “Hit me up on Facebook,” he quips to Iago; despite the quip, there’s no defiance when it comes to letting the youngest of the men take his weapon and anything else when he’s frisked.

His eyes move to Richard when he is pulled up as well, sharing a look that might be part apology — Nick’s the type to assume that this is somehow his fault — and a bit of worry.

On the bright side, no one’s shot either of them yet.

“You know who we are, then,” the Brit comments, eyes returning to Iago’s. It’s not a question.

“I, for one, would absolutely love to go home and tell all the stories about the new friends that I made on my trip out here,” Richard observes with feigned cheer as he straightens up to his full height, his gloved hands spreading a bit that’s not entirely unlike holding them up as if to show he’s unarmed to all of the nice people aiming weapons on him and his compatriot, “There’s nothing like a vacation out to the coast to meet new people for the first time…”

He tips his head forward, hazel eyes regarding Iago over the silvery rim of the aviators that still haven’t fallen off his face, by some miracle of luck or technology. Maybe they’re RaytechBans™. He meets Iago’s gaze for a long moment, before finishing with a broad smile that contrasts the lack of one on Iago’s face.

“…wouldn’t you agree, Ramirez?”

These two are a lot of talk in the way that Iago is not, impervious to things like smiles and good humour as he considers them both in a heavy, room-enveloping silence. Less dour, more like he has all the time in the world, and his focus is trained more on Richard than it is Nick, an exhale funneled through nasal passages at the thought of cross-country stories. Nick was not asking a question.

Iago says, anyway, "Nicholas Ruskin. Richard Ray."

Emphasis on the name change.

The youth takes Nick's weaponry, seems to circle Ray with great uncertainty, before he darts back to the truck with a nod of Iago's head. Now, Iago smiles, the unpracticed smile of someone who doesn't, much. "Si," he says. He moves closer to Ray, now, the uneven thump of different footfall qualities as distinct as his voice, his face, even the sour-smokey tinge of his breath. If there are differences Ray could divine from the last time they met, injuries and ashy death aside, they are cosmetic alone — hair cut a little shorter, wearing the dust and dirt of this northern point of America rather than the humid grime of the South American jungle.

"But you have come so far, with so little to return with," he says. Now, the intrusion — one big hand coming to clap against Ray's shoulder, like he is testing the waters of how friendly they are. "Come."

Iago's affect doesn't have his men lowering their guard — they remain rigid and attentive and ready until Iago says, "We go home," and they start pulling back, flanking around, with the intent to shepherd Nick and Ray towards the truck.

The name, the real name, rather than any of his legends for all of his tradecraft purposes, has Nick’s brows ticking up in a little bit of surprise, for all that the statement wasn’t a question.

He’s a little bit impressed.

Which means he’s a little bit scared, though that doesn’t show as much.

“We’ll have people worried about us,” Nick says, tone matter-of-fact. It’s not a threat, but it is a warning of sorts. Of course, Iago might be hoping the rest of the team follows. “So you might need to set more plates.”

The young man that circles them is given a brief glance, before being dismissed as Richard’s gaze returns to Iago’s. “It’s alright, Nick,” he allows casually, without glancing over, “We’re all friends here, after all, right?”

The smile is briefly more of a grimace as the hand claps on his shoulder, but he pushes that aside swiftly enough, moving to walk beside his friend towards the truck, “Will Braxton be joining us for dinner, by any chance?”

Iago takes point as they move, rifle slung back up over a shoulder, gait uneven but well practiced. His men continue to keep Ray and Nick in their sights, but their manner has changed a little, adjusting to an attitude that is less like a stand-off and more like they are hustling along some hostages. The youngest of the group is the one that gathers up the chain, while another moves to take the driver's seat after exchanging a glance with Iago.

Once at the truck bed, Iago hauls himself up into it, and his prosthetic clangs against metal as he goes to stand and look back down, towards the two men. With that same crooked, unpleasant smile, he assures Nick, reaching out a hand to help haul him in, "There are plates for everyone, at the colony. Don't worry about it, amigo."

Ray is next, but he seems a little less like he got the raw end of the deal from their twenty-foot fall, so Iago lets him take care of himself. There's a shade of something behind his mostly inscrutable expression at the name of Braxton, and he huffs out a breath, the air chill enough for steam to follow. No witty riposte is forthcoming, acknowledging of some nerve located and touched upon — perhaps the loss of a friend, or at least, a really cool piece of equipment that one grows attached to over time.

Hard to say, with Iago Ramirez.

He says, "Not today."

Not a minute later, the truck engine roars to life, four men packed into the back of the truck and two more in the cab. Sitting across from Iago is a little like sharing a space with a silverback gorilla, who appears confidently relaxed with his gun and his hulking shape, almost passive, while the potential of danger and latent violence is concealed within that heavy layer of watchful, intelligent silence.

He doesn't say much to them from there, but eventually gets out a radio, and reports down the line, "Colony, this is Ramirez. We're bringing in the tourists.

"Let's make them welcome."

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License