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Scene Title Masterminds
Synopsis <summarize the scene>
Date July 19, 2009

In and around the NYPD HQ and elsewhere in the city.

No explanation given. The only thing that probably could have induced more unease in the crowd systematically draining out of police headquarters would be the actual truth: threat of bombing. Humanis First!, targeting SCOUT, though not overly concerned about casualties among the sympathizers who have agreed to toil away in cubicles, at desks, in squadcars adjacent.

It had started out discreet, mind you, precisely the plan that Detective Daubrey had based off the thready but reasonably convincing accumulation of intelligence his informant had provided and pitched to his superiors.

Keep the cause and the perp profiles on the down-low, do not confront, bomb squad at ready. However, the situation aggregating now bears little resemblence to a sting operation because it isn't one; this is an evacuation, preventive, loss of life today prioritized over what loss of life might occur tomorrow. It's perfectly by the books, as Leland so often prefers.

It probably isn't going to be good enough, as Ghost had sweetly opined to his former HomeSec ally, from half a city away.

Behind barriers delinated in yellow warning tape, people choke the Financial District's streets like carrion crows on the boughs over a still-struggling creature. Headquarters is rattling tinnily with the few qualified personnel permitted to cross. A van-load of men in hazmats awaits outside. Outside, because despite a thorough sweep of every inch of the quarters from the SCOUT Captain's office window to the mail carts, the janitorial closets, no one's found a damn thing yet.

No detonators, explosive substances, stranger objects than usual, not a glimpse of the faces provided in the photograph— or not from the suits and badges who had ultimately stormed in looking. At 8:53, there are still nine minutes on the clock.

Leland was pleased at first when his superiors took his suggestions under advisement and everything was set to go down as he said. But then he quickly realized that this was not going to be a subtle operation. Someone upstairs got twitchy. Shit.

So there's nothing left for the detective to do but follow orders and take up a spot just outside the main entrance. He's in a suit as always, gun tucked away but not drawn, eyes peeled for any of the faces that showed up in Ghost's dossier. If this is all a false alarm, the hammer's going to come down on him. He's a good cop though, so he still hopes it is.

Might come down on the homeland agent who showed up not long after, flashing her badge, inquiring where a detective Daubry was and when it turned out Daubry had the thing taken out of his hands? Well, Minea Dahl, agent Dahl that is, suss'd out who was in charge. so maybe she's not currently supposed to be flashing the badge, but it gets her what she needs. An ear. She, like Leland, doesn't like the lack of subtlety that the heads are showing in evacuating the building but at least her suggestions are being taken and followed. With a side order of attitude given right back at her.

Down through the door, brand new blazer and denim, boots, white cotton shirt beneath, Minea sticks her head out. Same as Leland, a scan for any familiar photographed faces, and to see if any of her own brothers and sisters in clandestine Law Enforcement have shown up. "How's it going Daubrey?" cup of coffee is offered.

It's some horrible plumbing accident. The crowds are massed up, the traffic's blocked off. Eyes, cameras— enough of a throng that the few undercover agents currently mingling among them, Humanis First! operatives with their faces memorized as best they can, however arguably hopeless that is.

SCOUT's lent a few of their number. A metamorph, a telepath, but fuck — there are just so many people. It's as bad for Humanis First!'s case as it is good for them; the terrorist organization is, after all, based around a rather liberal interpretation of human supremacy and the probability of violence around civilians is relatively low. The radio below Leland's dash cackles, twitters sporadically. Male voices, female. West wing's clear.

SCOUT department facilities checked backward, forward, upside-down and thrice again. Cafeteria's cabinets summarily gutted. You could picture it, all the bright wheels of unstacked food cans rolling hurled out across the floor.

It takes a moment of looking at Minea for Daubrey to clue in just where he recognizes her from. And then his lips crease into a frown. "What are you doing here?" He didn't mention her to his superiors, didn't call her himself. "Did he call you? Fuck." The cup of coffee is eyed, but it would be rude not to take it. And believe it or not, he does try to be polite. "It's a fucking gong show."

He glances over his shoulder, back at the building and squints up at the third story window that leads into the men's room. "Weren't all windows supposed to be secured?" He motions towards it.

"He didn't trust that the police would do something other than rote. Which, he was right. He called, left me a present, I came down." She's already drank her coffee, and so when Leland points upwards, the borrowed radio is held up to her mouth, button depressed. "Third floor… bathroom, likely the mens" She's studied the blue prints long before ghost even got his hands on them. "Window is open, please send a team up to secure and sweep. Agent Dahl out" That done, she leaves it clear for others to deal with, though keeps looking up now and then towards it. "Maybe they'll bring out the clowns soon. I needed fresh air, see how you were doing. That's why i'm out here and because so far, you're the only one not giving me attitude because of the badge and my suggestions"

Affirmitive crackles out across the comm link. A bus scratches too close to a curb down the street— much to the shouting chagrin of the traffic cop torn between conducting the flow and trying to see what the Hell is going on down there, and pigeons pass overhead, a drove flurried with a dozen wingclaps of departure. Four minutes, now. The sky is quiet, the crowd is not, particularly.

Maybe they're gone.

"«Found something. Ho—»" But that would be unprofessional to say, so the man cuts himself off. There's a rapid-fire click-click of finger across the button strip, a purl of static. "«Found a man covered in explosive ordnance, detonator taped in hand.

"«Thirties, Caucasian, janitorial uniform. Unconscious. Bringing the bomb boys in.»" Copy that. Signal, noise. The relay rattles back and forth across the air. Over Minea's shoulder, she can see the van doors pop, loose two men in bombsuits onto the pavement, faceless from the glistening of laminated plastic helmeted around their heads, heavy cases in hands.

Leland sets the coffee down. Now does not seem the time to be sipping java. He moves to his car to retrieve his own radio. He doesn't click it on, instead he just kind of rolls it around in his hand as he walks back up beside Minea.

Despite the fact that explosives were found, he doesn't look very at-ease. "Somethin's not right here." He can feel it in his gut. "How the hell did anyone get inside?"

"Daubrey…" There's a subtle nod towards the Bombsuit guys. She's not concerned with the unconscious janitor coated in explosives. Typical. Besides, guy wouldn't be unconscious. "Decoy. Red herring, whatever you want to call it. My question is. Bombsuit guys. They wouldn't be coming in this way. Real guys would be coming in the back way, and there's be warning that they were coming. Lets go" And with that, and expecting him to be following, she stops a suit who's passing by - regular guy - to double check on whether hazmats were called in and for backup. "Think our clowns just came out of the small car Daubrey"

"Shit," mutters Leland. He doesn't bother calling it in. Every time he's tried to follow the books in this operation, it's made things worse. So for once, he decides to go off the books, scribble in the margins a little bit.

He puts his hand on his weapon and follows behind Minea. "You're right. And if they're wearing those helmets, there's no way we can ID 'em. Where do you think their target is?"

"Individuals in suits of that nature have their ID's located outside their suits, or there is someone who walks in advance of them. Notice the guy directing traffic didn't know about the bus? Likely, the front of the building, or somewhere close" Minea keeps her voice low, for the benefit of Leland. She's not diverting her course, heading straight for the bombsuited individuals. "Man, boy am I glad you are here. It's about time, we were expecting you half an hour ago. Carter send you?" Minea talks loud enough for them to be heard through the suits. There is no person named carter, but she's sure acting like there is. "Some pipes burst and there's some questionable liquid oozing out. I kept telling them to call you guys sooner, but cops, they just don't listen" Sorry Daubrey.

If the bombsuit suit had a face, it would have to be modified with a Sharpie so that it put an eyebrow up, likely, before its mouth was dragged out into a grim scowl. "Carter?" the voice that penetrates the mesh of the suit's weave and filter is female, older, crisp, sharp, and somewhat annoyed. "Look for your promotion somewhere else."

She has a badge, slapped onto the front of her suit: Althea Donovan, the photographic ID of which does not match any of the profiles either Agent Dahl or Detective Daubrey were given. "Trying to get through to the civvie wired up to blow, please, thank you, Officer—" at least the woman has grace enough to refrain from adding, 'Whatever your name is' aloud, but the dismissal is distinctly there, in the brusque shove of her frame past Minea.

"Lives to save."

Her partner glances at Minea, showing the faint outline of eyes through the gleam of glass, above the black plastic of the filter. He shrugs apologetically; follows Althea down the walkway, boots scuffing.

"Hold on," says Leland. His own badge is out and visible, the shiny Detective's shield polished better than his shoes. "Remove your helmets, please. I can't let you in there with your faces obscured." A beat, "Standard procedure, you understand." He smiles his best I'm-just-showing-my-teeth-to-be-polite grin. "It will only take a second and there's officers on scene upstairs."

Minea might have been wrong, but people running in with hoods on is suspicious.

Ms. Donovan's ID is snapped up, Minea maneuvering herself back to in front of the woman, one hand on her arm, a shake of her head. "What the detective said, please. You have to understand. Besides" There's a smile. Shark tooth smile as her attention goes between Donvan and the ID. She makes ID's for the who knows how many years now? A lot. She can spot even a really really good fake. "Sounds like a dead mans switch. There's no radio trigger, or signals - How does she know that - and they'd have told us if there was a count down, two minutes to verify your identities will not risk the unconscious man in the basement" Another attempt to trip up, who said he was in the basement? something's not tweaking. Besides. Come on. they show up as the man in the bathroom was discovered? please. "Not using Babs?"

As such, Althea— if that who she says she is, is being cock-blocked by HomeSec and the NYPD. She huffs, puffs, blusters as any indignant purveyor of justice ought to, the tension of green eyes through her visor as real, unmistakably authentic to Leland's study as the ID is to Minea's flawless scrutiny. The cold clock of realization doubtless begins to set in, tick-tock, at roughly the moment the countdown ticks to zero.

"«Where the Hell is bomb disposal?»" the radio scrapes. "«Guy's coming to, and he's sweating so bad the writing on his face is going to start washing off sooner than we can get a camera up here—»"

And solifies when Althea finally barks: "Detective Connor sent me, for God's sake. Told me to wait. Dead man's switch or no, there's fifty more things that could go wrong and probably will the longer I stay out here. Can I get in?"

"In the time that you've been taking to argue with us, you coulda taken your damn helmet off and you could be on your way," says Leland, one brow raised as he examines the woman, trying to see a face behind the plastic. He glances sidelong to Minea, then back to the be-masked squad members.

Then he pulls the radio up to his mouth and hits the button. "This is Daubrey. Bomb squad is here. They're refusing to remove their helmets to confirm ID." He lets his finger flick off the button, then hits it again. "What writing on his face?"

Chirp, squeak. "«It— um, it says—»" the officer cranes his head, an almost audible oscillation of noise through space, befure he finishes: "«'Pervert.' I think it's lipstick.»"

"Detective connor sent yo.." Minea looks to Leland, waiting to hear the answer about the writing. "When did Detective connor send for you and what did he say?" Because nobody knew about the guy with the bombs on him. "Daubrey. Detective Conner" She grabs a suit milling about. "Go get Detective Conner now" The ID looks flawless. "Leland, tell them to tranq the guy. now. Keep him unconscious. Ms. Donovan, are you or your partner here evolved?"

There's intelligence evident in the face of the woman behind the PPE mask. Finally, Althea yanks the helmet off her head, with an irritable, clumsied scuff of dense-fingered gloves on the underside of the rim. Her ponytail spills out in a fray of blond, eyes blinking sharp as split glass across the harsh light from headquarters' facade. "I'm not.

"Ger isn't, either. Are we targets?! We're not— we've never done anything f— I don't even give money to Light of Change when they call.

"I—" You'd think that a woman trained to defuse the most physically sensitive of explosive situations would be better at schooling herself down when it comes to the possibility of being one of the victims, personal, but that inversion of principle might be precisely what the technician is struggling with now. She's stricken pale underneath her tan. "He just said to wait to go in until nine o' two. There was an anonymous tip?"

"Fuck! It's detective Conner" Minea looks to Leland. "Ms. Donovan, you pulled up just fractions of a second before we knew there was a guy with a bomb upstairs" The dark haired homeland agent reports, motioning for them to stay out here. "Which your Detective Conner told you to show up, two minutes after the alleged ordinance should have detonated. So you do the math and tell me what you come up with. Stay put" to officers waved over. "Babysitt them, till we say otherwise. Daubrey. Come on, time to find Conner and arrest his ass"

"Anonymous tip. Right," Leland snorts. "If you and your partner are Evolved, then you're targets. And next time someone asks you to take off your fuckin' helmet to make sure you are who you say you are, don't take twenty goddamn minutes with it."

He picks up his radio again and hits the button. "We have reason to believe that the bomb squad members were targetted by the terrorists. Sedate the man if you have to. We can't risk sending them up right now."

And then he's falling into step behind Minea. "He's probably way the fuck away from here if he's one of 'em."

"No. It's not the bomb squad people. They're pawns. The janitor is a distraction. Show the right hand, so you're paying attention, and don't notice the left hand. Left hand being Conner. Conner is the threat. Whoever this detective Conner is, he's Humanis First, i'll be my badge on it" Minea's gun is out, one tucked in a shoulder rig, two more on her body hidden. She's picking up the pace and jogging into the building to suss out this mysterious detective and where he was last seen going.

Althea and her cohort exchange glances, helmets under arm, their faces pinched with white worry, lips thin, bloodless, every inch of them taut with buckling self-discipline. It's different, when you become rescuee instead of rescuer. To her credit, however, the female technician is pushing past this with as much clarity and speed of thought as she can muster.

"He was about five foot nine," she grinds out. "Black hair, big nose" Everett Williams; either Agent or Detective can place the description the instant the defining feature of the man they'd seen laid out in on the dossier page, driver's license and military profiles laid out, blown up, sharpened. Former Special Forces. "Met us while we were leaving the lab. I don't he isn't here.

"I haven't seen him. I'm not Evolved. If he thought I was Evolved— I don't even know any Evolved or work with any in the lab. Ger?" There's a brusque, silent nod of wide-eyed surprise, but distracted: Gerald is yanking open their toolkits as they speak, checking that all of their electronics and tools are intact, untampered with. They are. "Why would they attack us? We have nothing to do with SCOUT, never even set foot in this building before. I—"

Leland stops in his following of Minea at Althea's description. He scowls. "One of their operatives. Jesus. We should have circulated those pictures to everyone." Now he's thinking that sneaky wasn't the way to go, neither was this semi-public approach.

"I think you two are pawns, not targets. Get up there and try to diffuse the bomb. But…" a grunt. "Dahl, you go after Connor. I'm going to escort them upstairs. There might be someone still in the building who doesn't want them to get to him."

"I'll call if I find anything" They say he's not here, but that's not saying that he wasn't earlier. The necessary picture is dug out, of Mr. Everett Williams and the brunette agent starts questioning officers as she goes in, short, to the point. "Have you seen this man, earlier today, where did he go? What did he do" There's a sense of urgency in her voice.

Didn't. Hadn't. Most of the officers inside had already been privy to the abridged essentials of the dossier— but perhaps this is no surprise: there had been at least an hour in which the police department's bigwigs, Leland's supervisors, had had time to make their presence at the headquarters known, an hour that it seems Humanis First!'s operatives had exploited in order to make their getaway.

Minea's search toils through faces of poorly-masked confusion, disorientation, suspicion in sane and reasonable permutations jockeying against somewhat less pragmatic jurisdictional territoriality. Is this your operation? I thought this was an NYPD case.'

Upstairs, the men's room smells of spearmint and detergent, immaculate despite that SCOUT'S better-budgeted premises are on the other side of the building.

A weedy man to begin with, the janitor resembles nothing so much as a skeleton now that he's been knocked out and discarded on the floor. He wears explosive blocks around his vest as if it's plate-armor, colorful wires running between, and down his arm to the detonator taped tightly to his hand. Sweat clots his brow, thickening, diluting the lipstick marks on his forehead. In troubled sleep, his eyes shift and twitch visibly beneath the eggshell-thin membranes of his eyelids.

Althea keeps her helmeted head over him, studious for seconds that grind past like years, tension reverberating down the curve of her spine, hair-raisingly, grimly studious, before, very abruptly, she straightens. Grips the tape flat across the back of the janitor's hand and, with all the aplomb of a sledgehammer, yanks.

The janitor jolts, half-conscious. Yowls. Wires pop, sever.

Nothing explodes.

Leland hears Gerald spit a curse, perhaps below the violent thunder that consumes his own thoughts. The male technician reaches over to steady the other man on the ground, and looks up at the Detective. "Red herring."

"The fuck is going on here?" Leland barks out in frustration. He scrubs a hand over his face and rocks back a step. He's beginning to think that there are sympathizers to Humanis within his own department, people who were in on this, wanted to set this up. People who scrambled to either modify or drop plans when they realized they'd been made. Or maybe they just wanted to test how the department would handle a threat against SCOUT.

He grabs for the radio on his belt, but before he clicks it on, he says, "Wake him up. I want words with him. Get that stuff off him first though so he doesn't shit himself." Then he hists the button on the radio. "Dahl, the bomb was a decoy. Either there's something else going on here or this was all some kinda game."

"Not my Case. But i'll make it my case if you don't tell me if you've met a Detective Conner" But she's getting nothing and so up the stairs to the appropriate floor and the bathroom in question so she can catchup with Leland and the bomb squad. She pauses when someone in the know calls over. "Agent Dahl. Janitor is Abel flannigan. He's employee file states that he's not evolved"

"Not evolved?" Why would they have done that to him then. Written pervert on his face? Why that word? Was he setting up camera's in the bathrooms or something. Her radio squawks and Leland comes over it. "Told you. Red herring. henderson here just told me. His name Is Abel Flannigan, he's unevolved. Just a janitor. See if he's HF sympathizer, ask him about his activities, ask him everything" And before Henderson can go, Minea's motioning for paper and pen. She scribbles something down. "Take this to the guys in charge. Tell them to check these out. Who called in sick today, who was absent. Today and the last few days. You have a mole" And then she's away, bounding up the stairs again.

Abel doesn't shit himself; he's dry-mouthed if anything, blinking dizzily in the half-light of the bathroom before his face screws up against the reek of smelling salts. The EMT checks over his vitals in record time, with a sharp prod of fingers, a light in his eye, then backs off with faintly unprofessional haste, shooting the bomb technicians and their armload of explosives a wary glance.

They ignore her, of course, steadfastly occupied with securing and containing the vest, though not as steadfastly as they seem. There's a bird-like degree of twist to either of their helmeted heads when Minea clatters in with her announcement, though neither glances up.

Questions assail Abel like a drove of killing wasps.

"Uuuh." The exhale pushes out of the janitor's ribs and ends in a scratchy wheeze, a cough. He takes water out of a bottle held up to his mouth by the officer who found him— a young man with yellow hair and an actual college education, and whose big doe eyes seem to get progressively larger with every second that ticks past this investigation. "I don't— I'm a perv… Humanis First?

"I— m-my— fucking" He screws his eyes shut. Reopens them. Under the slant of fluorescent light, his pupils bloom, sudden, huge with realization. "J-jesus my girlfriend. Met her here" a racking cough. "Signing on the Registry. Sh-she's Evolved oh G-God— what— I didn't— Humanis First! what do they want—?!"

Three notes, suddenly: a ring tone from the uniform's pocket on Abel's thigh.

That was going to be Lee's guess. Dating an Evolved. Now it seems Humanis First is on the 'humans mixing with Evolveds is an abomination' train. He gives a very sour look. "Sounds like they wanted to send you a message." And if he met her here, that means the department really does have a mole. Someone who would have witnessed their meeting.

He eyes the source of the ringing, gives Abel a look and then reaches for the man's phone, to check the number. "Where's your girlfriend? Where does she live? Work?"

"Fuck. Girlfriends name! Whats her ability!" The phone ringing garners Minea's attention and that can't be a co-incidence. "Someone get the fucking squad cars out, ready to go the moment we find out. Get someone to her house, get someone to his place too! folks who are nearest to them preferrably" They at least have his address, and since his file is already pulled. Who knows, she might be staying with him? "Go now!"

Melissa Phuon, Abel croaks. His accent is wrong. "Sh-she's a waitress, graveyard shift at the Night Owl." The kid officer with the notepad scrawls it right anyway, and Minea's words have a galvanizing effect like a whipcrack, jolts action down the traces of a whole hierarchy of dogs. Shouts on the radio, feet thumping tile.

In seconds, sooner than it should have taken a man relaying to secretary to keyboarded database, her home address rings in on a dozen different phones. Minea's, among them. Courtesy of one of NYPD and HomeSec's less likely benefactors.

The small display embedded on the carapace of the phone stares up at Leland, wickedly bright as a smile. It's a phonebook ID. It says— of course it says: Melissa.

Abel's whisper is wet, now, from the distilled water dripping down his chin. "Who 's it?"

"Two guesses? The start of a hostage sitaution or a moment to gloat," says Leland. Way to sugar-coat it for the traumatized guy, Daubrey. Isn't he a sweetheart? He eyes the phone for a moment, then flips up the top. "'Lo." He keeps the one syllable, so if Melissa was expecting squeegie-jockey Abel, she won't have a fit. But he doubts it's her on the other end of the line.

He eyes Minea sidelong. His expression says it all. This can't be good.

"I'll call" She's placing bets it's at Melissa's house. She's hoping it's close by. She has the decency to wait till she's out of the room, heading down the stairs. "Get me a car, now, outside the cordoned off zone like it was yesterday!" The brunette barks out, taking steps two at a time. Her gun has been put away for now. She doens't expect to get there before anything happens, but at least she can get there hopefully not long after. Across the radio a flutter of questions. "Any reports from that area? Gun shots? Loud unexplained noises? What's her ability, somebody look it up!"

There's a nearly whimpering stutter from the youth in the suit by the window, raw eyes pointed down into the tiny rectangle of his own PA's display. His voice comes out to Minea through radio alone, the ferocity of the Agent's haste long since having outstripped earshot.

"«Ae-'aerokinetic,'»" he says. Then, lamely, glancing up between Abel and Leland, he clarifies: "«She manipulates air.»"

Abel's looking at Leland as if it isn't Leland standing there, moisture reddening his eyes, bright despite the disorientation fuzzing the focus of his pupils, whatever drugs or brain trauma that had put him under— twice— still addling the clarity of his thoughts. "Baby?" he asks. "Mel, keo, I'm sorry, something happened at work and…"

Melissa can't hear him, though. Of course she can't hear him. Who answers says, instead: "This is Connor," but that's a lie as well, or arguably more perplexing if it's the truth; the voice that resonates into Leland's ear is distinctly female, husky from something that isn't as facetiously self-destructive as smoking. "May I know the name of the mastermind who foiled Humanis First!'s Operation Arc of Fire?"

"Arc of Fire? Shit. You kids read too many damn comic books," says Daubrey. He makes a gesture to Minea. It's obvious he's not speaking to Melissa. "My name's Clark Kent. What'd you do with the girl?"

He glances down at the distressed Abel, and does the man the favour of stepping away and heading out of direct earshot. Goddamn cell phones. In the good old days, they could actually trace calls. He holds his hand over the receiver and murmurs to Minea, "We need to find her, now."

What Leland doesn't know is that Minea knows who miraculously sent the message through all the phones and her own is thumbed on, but no number dialed and she starts talking into it as she's out the door and catching Lelands request. "On it" and then into the phone she starts. "Wireless. Find the source of the number please and where it's coming from. Aerokinetic's life depends on it. Know you don't like me, but it's bigger than you or me and I already know you helped once"

There's a low, monosyllable of a thinking noise across the line to Leland's ear, peculiarly like a purr, bestial and empty despite how much its owner doubtless prides herself in being human. "Killed her. It's what we do to mutants and traitors, officer. She's blue in the mouth, which is what we like to call poetic justice. You got the better end of the deal this time. One life for the two dozen we were hoping for. Well-played.

"Reevaluating was a bitch, but lucky for us— it turns out, it's a lot quicker to get three men out of a building than an entire police staff. Twenty minutes across town, if you do it before all the traffic is cordoned off because of a bomb threat. The rest of the time, we had to divide pretty evenly between tracking, cornering, and killing her. Just the one," she hastens to add, as if to reassure or to clarify.

"You win this round."

Abel's stopped talking. His nose is running, dripping onto his collar, slimy clear fluid down the groove in his lip, his expression seeping blank behind the superficial mask of congealed attention. He is expectant, but not listening; already a pall of knowing has fallen over his thin figure.

There is no phone number behind the message that chimes in on Minea's phone, which is as good as heard:


Which tells Minea Dahl something, ex-Company agent as it is, even if it was the furthest damn thing from what she wanted to hear.
Leland's teeth grit so tightly that his jaw starts to ache within second. The big man's hand closes around the cell phone. If he squeezes any harder, plastic is going to snap. He pulls in slow breaths, his left eye twitches. Nothing he wants to say will be productive, nothing will hit these people. "Do not fuck with the NYPD," says the cop.

And then, the detective snaps the phone closed. He won't give them the satisfaction of gloating further. One innocent life is still one too many.

Even if that innocent life happens to be Evolved.

"Fuck!" Even as she's hit the front door and bolting with another uniform who's going to drive. Heading to the woman's place first. Lelands phone rings as Minea punches through waiting for him to pick it up. 'Can't trace them. My technopath can't trace em. Means they're not on her phone but they are. We're heading to Melissa's place" A car door slams, tires squealing and sirens flaring to life.'

No second call follows into the phone in Leland's hand— apparently, whomever the Humanis First! operative was, she's accepted the quantity of blood the day has owed her even if she hasn't had her fill. No doubt, the big cop is going to have a hard time imagining that the scimitar smile he could hear across the line was going to take that warning to heart. Or agree on what constitutes an innocent life.

The janitor's hands close around one another, ropey with varicose. "What happened?" he asks, none too loud. "Plplease" The bomb disposal technicians click-clack their carrying cases shut. It's too quiet in here, suddenly, the Finnigan's breathing loud through his mouth, under his breath, wet air. "I don't 'nderstand— where— Melissa, I'm… she makes bubbles 'n her drinks without even using a straw, bbut it isn't rude. No one ever thinks 's rude, not like kids. It's just cute. Shshe—

"Wh-what's happening?"

It's twenty minutes before Minea pulls up. Rubber screeching up onto the curb outside the apartment's narrow, scowling brick facade.

The door gives way with a splitting crack of varnished wood splitting from the frame, slamming off the wall as the Agent and the officer at her flank blow in on a thunder of hard footfalls and shouted identification. Melissa Phuon is on the floor, black hair wadded up ghostly inside the milky transparency of a plastic bag, fingers still caught up in rigid, silent snarls against the flat of the floor, the life gone from her but organic warmth sticky and residual to the prod of Minea's fingers.

She hears it then. Sirens reverberate through the small windows on the approach, sending a dull tremor through the cavalcade of small plastic ponies on the sill. New York's finest, coming in strong, traffic parting ahead and ambulances growling in from behind. It's a crying shame that it isn't Humanis First! who's forced to run.

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