North by Northwest


alia_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title North by Northwest
Synopsis The Sundered see what they can see with the Compass technology and the results are unexpected.
Date October 11, 2020

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

“That’s a hunter bot.”

One arm slung about her midsection, elbow resting against opposite wrist, the index finger is pointed at the hulking metal creature. It’s only by virtue of the setting they’re in that keeps Nicole’s blood from turning to ice in her veins. That keeps her from having flashbacks from Natazhat and throughout the war. It allows her to keep her affect flat and unimpressed.

The accusing finger is curled back in and the loose fist is settled under her chin instead. “Why the fuck is there a Hunter in your basement, Richard?” She doesn’t take her eyes off it, lest it should suddenly spring to life. Despite the logic that tells her it wouldn’t be here if that were possible.

An incredulous look is angled her husband’s way, even if her eyes won’t leave the feline machine. “Did you know about this?”

"Not with any amount of detail," is the deadpan response Zachery gives, standing at her side with his arms folded over his chest in guarded posture - but equally transfixed.

His own interest, however, skews much more toward fascination. This much is obvious from the fact that he's also leaning slightly forward, head angling slowly to one side.

It’s not, though. At least it’s not quite a hunter bot.

It’s quite a bit larger, for one thing. The skeletal structure of the original hunters has been covered with heavier armour plating painted over in a tiger-stripe design of orange and black - much of it dented, scratched, and punctured by weapons fire. Parts of it have clearly been replaced over the years due to the damage it’s taken, and not by someone with access to the same foundries that produced its original parts.

Only a handful of people would recognize what it really is, and most of them have walked the Wasteland, where these machines were common.

“It’s a generation two hunter, actually,” Richard says at the accusation, his head shaking slightly, “The only one that ever left the Ark in this timeline, I believe. We… acquired it just before the civil war. Brian had custody of it for a long time, but after the war, Alia brought the old cat in here to rest.”

He clears his throat, “Since all the weapons systems have been destroyed over time, he is technically an unarmed autonomous drone.” Yes, and certainly anyone who looked at the massive titanium claws and teeth would believe that, Richard. But then, sometimes the Rays live in loopholes.

Alia, for her part, is sitting, with a laptop next to her, on the mechanical feline's shoulder where the shoulder-mounted guns would be in a stock model. Instead, the metal there that once was ragged and torn has been smoothed over and patched as best could be done comparative to the original foundry: Which is to say, structural grade steel instead of titanium, and the curve there isn't quite right. For Shere Khan's part… his head turns to glance at those walking into his part of the basement, which causes Alia to look up. She sighs, and hops down, before walking over. "Would appreciate keeping him secret anyway. Rather not give some residents upstairs nightmares. Or worse."

When the robotic creature’s head turns, Nicole staggers back a step, eyes wide and heart pounding in her chest so hard that she can hear her blood in her ears. The world around her falls away and in its place of the field of battle. Not any one instance of it, but multiple. Her breath comes to her in shallow gasps and instinctively, her hand is thrown out in front of her with the intent of releasing an electrokinetic blast from her palm.

But nothing happens.

Nicole falls back another step, and another. It’s easy to see panic has got her fully in its grip now and she’s well on her way to a tailspin that she may not be able to pull out from on her own.

“Whoa, whoa— “ Richard steps over, reaching out to touch her back lightly as she backs away, “Easy. Easy. I know the old girl brings back some bad memories, but she’s one hundred percent under our control. No different from a gun in a friend’s hand right now, Nic.”

He keeps his voice level, calm, light. Trying to disarm that panic before it gets any worse.

By the time Zachery's torn his gaze away from the metal feline and to Nicole, some of that panic's already made it onto his face, too. It doesn't lend itself to fear as much as confusion— and then action, falling in line with Nicole and lightly grabbing that outstretched arm with both hands.

Not only to urge it back down, but to remind her that she's got not one, but two people right at her side.

"Secret gun, got it, wonderful." He grates at Richard, before turning his head toward the fourth person in the room without taking his eye off of his wife. "Alia, I swear to all that is cursedly precious to me, if your pet doesn't know how to stay, I'm going to find a way of feeding you to it. Functioning mouth or not."

"Lack of faith, disturbing." Alia half-quotes and half-quips. Khan however is staying put, just… watching like a very curious feline. "Then again, should have seen Pretty Ricky's introduction to him." Alia smiles a bit at the memory… before realizing something.

"Richard, did you bring them down without telling them first?" A full sentence, and in a half worried, half scolding tone of voice. Still, she lets the boys catch Nicole as she instead just holds up both hands, which are empty at the moment, a gesture of surrender, as Khan, while not shutting off, just lays back down, tail still.

As it turns out, reaching for someone having a traumatic flashback is perhaps not the wisest course of action. Nicole whirls first on Richard, then on her own husband, lashing out at both as fight kicks in over flight, letting out a primal sort of scream as she tries to throw an elbow at Richard, but is caught by Zachery.

It’s his voice that breaks through to her.

With a distressed sound that’s somewhere between frustration and a sob, she throws off the grip on her arm and turns her back on the group of them, stomping away just to give herself some distance from the situation and memory. Her arms twitch at her sides, preemptively pushing away anyone who tries to follow or console.

Hands on her head now, tugging lightly at her hair, Nicole first struggles to get her breathing under control. Zachery’s seen her do this after her nightmares, but never witnessed it happen in the waking world before. A thin whine and a shaky breath punctuates the fact that she is very not okay.

“Erk— “ Richard stumbles back a step as she lashes out like that, both hands up in a harmless gesture.

As she steps away on her own, he draws in a slow breath, then exhales it. “Sorry,” he says quietly, then glances to Zachery and then up towards the mechanical monstrosity that’s just one of Raytech’s secrets. “Shere Khan, stay still, please. Thank you.”

There isn't much Zachery seems to know what to do but stand still, letting Nicole's trouble run its course. He watches her for a moment, jaw rolling in helpless frustration.

"Alright," he starts, with a quick dart of a look first at Richard, then at Shere Khan and Alia. "So, mistakes were made, I'm just maybe pissing myself - figure of speech - at the presence of a large deathmachine, and now there's a panic attack happening." Which he sounds none too pleased about. "Could we be swift about what we're down here for?"

"Seeing if compass took reading? Reading's logged to the laptop." Alia offers, not expanding on if it detected the pair or not. Mostly as she hasn't looked yet. One problem at a time and the data can wait over keeping people from freaking out. Khan has stayed still since being told to, interestingly enough.

"So, swift as done." She offers a way to a seating area elsewhere away from big scary bot. Before someone does something regrettable.

“Zeus,” Nicole murmurs under her breath. “Poseidon. Apollo. Hermes. Ares.” Her hands are pressed over her ears, reciting the names like a mantra. “Nemesis.” For a time, it’s all she can do to repeat the names in a barely audible whisper. “Zeus. Poseidon. Apollo. Hermes. Ares. Nemesis.”

Slowly she begins to calm, reaching out for her husband. Her hand is still trembling when she folds it around his. But she’s safe. He’s here. This isn’t the war. Nicole lets Zachery lead her along to follow the others, to discuss what the apparent findings may be.

“Yeah, just…” Richard brings a hand up, fingers rubbing over his face, “…just analyze the readings. Sorry, we can’t really remove the enhanced Compass without risking damaging it or Shere Khan, and both are the last surviving example of their technology.”

Maybe he should’ve warned them, though.

Zachery, at least, might have minded a lack of warning more if he didn't currently have Nicole to serve as a point of focus.

"So that's it? Not that 'it' isn't very impressive," though the habitual note of sarcasm on his voice as he jerks a thumb over his shoulder might imply otherwise, "but this may be teaching me a bit of a lesson about procrastination."

Alia fiddles with her phone a moment, pulling up a remote view of the laptop's screen and data… then just… blinks a few times. Finally she takes over the room's monitor or TV, or whatever, to display what she's found. First up is two little spikes, ontop of what looks to be a radio frequency chart, or something similar. Each is colored differently. And shows a very, very small little thing. Notably Alia labels those first two with her own picture, and Richard's picture.

Then Alia shows the same frequency table it picked up when the two stepped into the room. The frequencies are off, not by much, but noticeably so… the real note is that the peak is, comparatively speaking, almost off the screen. "The hell?" she finally says. "Close enough the automatic mode says you are Expressive." She notes then dryly adds, "You stand out like bonfires."

Somewhere along the line, Nicole started to come down properly. She’s back to herself by the time Alia’s muttering that expletive. “What? That can’t be right.” A look of confusion is given first to Zachery, then to Richard. “We’ve done every medical test and we’re not Expressive. It’s like the genetic marker doesn’t even exist.

“Huh.” Richard brings one hand up to rub at the back of his neck as he looks up to Shere Khan, frowning, “…well, it’s not checking your genetic marker, it’s examining your electromagnetic field. Which means you’re resonating like an Ev— Expressive, despite what the genetic tests are saying. We’ve only run into one other thing that does that, and it wasn’t organic.”

He steps over to squint at the monitor, “Those readings are insanely high, though. Nobody shows up that high. It looks more like some kind of false positive result, almost… what the hell?”

Though Zachery catches Nicole's look in the midst of looking utterly puzzled himself, he pointedly does not look at the monitor when the information is provided in visual format.

"Well," is all he knows to offer at first, "I knew one of us was a chronic overachiever, but— wait, so—" Now he looks at the monitor. "So we're a sandwich short of a picnic but the blanket's still there in the grass. So… what, the sandwich is in cling film? Or switched out for another sandwich entirely? I may need to drop this analogy. I wasn't precisely expecting it to see anything."

Then, counter to his own damn words just seconds ago, he says, "If we had another sandwich, we would have noticed by now." Not a question, despite one of his eyebrows popping up when he looks at Nicole as if for confirmation.

"Very false positive." Alia agrees. "And wrong… tuning?" She shrugs as she sits down. She has absolutely no idea what would cause something like this. It doesn't remotely make sense to her. But, reality doesn't need to make sense. So, here it is.

Aforementioned chronic overachiever slants a look to her husband. But she’s not annoyed, she’s amused. Especially by his analogy. “I followed along,” she provides as consolation, even if it did kind of get away from him. “We would know by now if someone…” She offers a bemused smile, suddenly distracted by the way her mind has jumped from sandwiches to buns, which leads to ovens, which leads to…

Nicole’s hands settle absently over her flat stomach in a protective gesture she doesn’t even realize she’s engaged in. Sighing, she tears her gaze away from the monitor to look back to Richard. “You said you’ve seen readings like this before, but the source wasn’t organic. So… what was it?”

“So, the Compass picks up on certain frequencies of electromagnetic fields— specifically, the ones put out by the Evolved,” Richard explains with a shake of his head, as usual forgetting the new term is ‘Expressive,’ “The only other things I’ve seen it trigger to are, well, you, and auroral ferrochromium, the only example of which we’ve ever seen is the Kensei sword.”

Dryly, “If you could get SESA to stop dragging their feet on letting me research it that’d be great, by the way.”

He looks back to them, frowning, “So we already knew there was a strong electromagnetic field around you— the MRI issue— now we know it’s emulating the Evolved signature. But why?”

Zachery's focus stays on the monitor now, but he just gives a single-shouldered shrug while saying, "To maintain… a baseline?" He muses flatly, then shakes his head, sounding no more convinced when adding, as if just to fill a bit of silence, "Or, ah- just for fun, and to fuck with us."

Probably not that, but a tired, wry smirk implies he might want to believe that, for simplicities' sake.

Alia's response to the baseline thing is to… just put up the baseline reading the compass is showing right now with nobody in the room as the laptop is still hooked up in diagnostics mode. And it's networked.

Also, a baseline of non-E human (be that Evolved or Expressive, language is not Alia's strong point or worry) is put on screen as well. Alia's response, is a both shoulder shrug. Then, she finally mutters. "Wonder what someone who's waveform was a perfect cancel would be like…" She pauses. "Do not ask Warren that."

“Jesus Christ,” Nicole mutters. “Do not say word one about any of this to your brother,” she begs Richard, pinching the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. She still has to focus on her breathing to keep her earlier panic from spiking again.

“So, we’re emitting at a magnitude that far exceeds a typical Expressive and, what? Rivals only Adam Monroe’s sword?” The comment about SESA dragging their feet earns a flash of annoyance, but no rebuttal or refutation. She has similar frustrations with the speed of government at the moment, but it’s a bit like how you don’t trash someone’s sibling to their face. She’s going to have to light some fires under some collective asses before too long.

“Oh, no, these readings are *way* higher than the sword,” Richard observes as he watches the screen, looking between the baseline, standard Expressive, and Sundered, one hand coming up to rub over his jawline while Nicole mutters an expletive under her breath.

“And don’t worry, I have no intentions of letting Warren anywhere near any of you. I mean, if one of you were a complete piece of human garbage, things would get much ethically simpler, but unfortunately none of you are.” That includes Zachery, apparently.

“The question becomes, is it natural to your current state, or generated by something inside you? We still don’t know what that— brain mass is.”

"I've been near Warren enough for a lifetime, thank you," Zachery 'officially less than 100% human garbage' Miller states dryly, searching Richard's expression for a tick. His own is strained, words clipped with underlying frustration. "Clearly I have some catching up to do. As for the brain mass, well, ah- there's a month to go on that, yet."

Doing things by the book is excruciating and slow, and it's enough to visibly sour his mood even in the face of new, fascinating discoveries.

Alia says nothing. She's nothing more to add, no magical tech insights into all this. Other than a look of sympathy for the frustration.

“I’m sorry,” Nicole interjects, her hands trembling again. “I need to get far, far away from that thing.” Pointing toward the Hunter they’ve stepped away from with her left hand, shaking it three times for emphasis. “I can’t deal with all of this right now.” Fingers uncurled, she makes an axing motion to indicate just how done she is.

Turning to Richard, her hand comes up to about shoulder level, then is swept down toward her hip, hand parallel and palm facing the floor. “Get these findings to Kaylee? She’ll know what to do with them.” Reaching to wrap her hand lightly around Zachery’s forearm, she tells him, “You don’t have to come with me. I’m just going to head up to Robyn’s office.” She knows that bitch has to have some whiskey stashed there.

“That’s what I planned to do, yes. Every piece of data is one more we didn’t have before,” says Richard with a slight shake of his head, “We should have plenty now, we have two scans done and since it looks identical between the two of you - that’ll be enough. We can scan Kaylee and Jac later just to complete a data set.”

He slants an apologetic look over to Nicole, “Go ahead, you’re cleared for the office floor.”

"Are you joking?" Zachery's already stepping backwards, offering Alia and Richard both little more than a nod in farewell as he puts a hand over the one Nicole's put on his arm. "More time where Yeh doesn't know to find me? I'm walking you to that office and if I'm not entering it with you, I'm lingering for a conspicuously long amount of time at the door to pretend to check my phone, at the very least."

Or, somewhat more likely, wondering why every answer they uncover brings up twenty more questions no one seemed to have considered before.

For all her tension, anxiety, and ire, Nicole still manages to turn to Richard and offer him something other than upset. The expression is still exasperation and exhaustion, high strung and buzzing, but it isn’t anything hostile. “Thank you for this,” she tells him. “I’ll make sure I touch base with you before I leave.”

But for now, that’s exactly what the Millers are doing. Hand in hand, they head for the elevator and they’re gone.

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