On Endurance


bao-wei2_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title On Endurance
Synopsis Bella goes to find Bao-Wei with a career opportunity. It's a tough job market for ice monsters.
Date October 6, 2010

Subway - Derelict Station

Once a bustling station vibrant with life and people, this terminal has been abandoned. Not difficult to see why, as it's close to the radiation zone, and the only easy entrance to it connects to a tunnel still registering as black on radiation detectors. The area itself sits in a marginal zone of radiation, but the ceiling has collapsed in enough areas to block easy access from the safer zones. An out-of-use subway train lays dead on the tracks. The front car rests on its side off the tracks, while the second, third and fourth car are upright. The fifth has been crushed under fallen debris, either from the initial shock wave, or from later deterioration of the roof above. Any other cars in the train are buried under the rubble.

Windows have been busted open in a few places, and the side door of the middle upright car is opened. The only light in the tunnel comes from this car, a sign of electricity, as the fluorescent lights in this car have been turned on. The hum of a generator can be heard. In the terminal itself, there are doors leading to maintenance rooms and personal offices. One of the doors has a large boulder resting in front of it - a boulder that has been placed there deliberately.

The other end of the tunnel disappears into the darkness.

It has taken time, effort, and uncomfortable periods of time around the homeless - whom Bella does not so much mind the smell of, being a doctor, as she does their simple, miserable dirtiness - but Dr. Sheridan thinks she may have found what she's been looking for. As it happens, the homeless are remarkably well coordinated, their lines of communication much stronger than one might expect. And the appearance of a grim, massively tall, aloof new vagrant is something worthy of note. Never seen panhandling. Always passing through. Unknown to all, and uncommunicative. And, as those few that approached him found, cold. Not just in affect, though certainly in that as well, but in temperature.

So, finding out that Dr. Cong is out there is not so very difficult. What takes days is finding out where he is. Where this chilly shade of a drifter actually rests his head. She hands out quite a lot of money to get the answers she wants, and follows up on a lot of bad leads, pure fabrications, even the occasional half-prank (the address was an 'adult book store' - haha). Ultimately, though, she finds this place.

A derelict subway station. Part of the shattered varicose vein system that is this city's underground. Bella doesn't feel great about this. She's dressed warmly, perhaps a little too, but this is in anticipation of her meeting. She doesn't know how much Bao may let himself go when he's alone, and she remembers he froze an entire facility floor. Still, the touch of chill in the air tells her she's on the right track. She starts to play an inverted version of 'hot/cold'. Cold. Colder. Freezing cold. And there he would be.

She brought a flashlight, a preparation she only thinks of because she's been at this for a while. Bella Sheridan descends into the darkness of the ruined station, letting the air get nippy around her as her flashlight sweeps through the subterranean space.

Coordination breeds brotherhood, even if it is warped and that sense of family only comes of necessity much of the time. Band together and survive, but that does not mean you have to like one another. Doctor Cong, for more than the past month, has been doing exactly that. For a long time, he contemplated taking a shoe to Chinatown- and perhaps he still does- but whatever has come to him has never found action. Inaction breeds idleness, and the last weeks for him have blurred together into a slosh of plain existence.

He knows, vaguely, that there has been someone out looking for him. Not who, not why- someone said it was a woman- someone said it was an alien- he cannot trust what any of these people say to him. Either way, being torn between making this easy and making this hard is a sticky place.

The subway station that Bella Sheridan has been directed to is in as terrible shape as many of the other ones; the only thing that sets this one apart is the strange boulder blocking off part of the station, and the chill that breathes slowly out from the mouth of the dark, unused tunnel. It's not as cold as she remembers- but some cold that is worse than the autumnal temperatures on the streets means that finally, someone gave her that bit of information that pulled her in ever closer.

Bella knows her quarry to be as secretive as they get- so it is no wonder that she initially finds nearly nothing of note, upon first scan. There are some signs of inhabitance inside of the cars and the old rooms, but nothing out of the ordinary on the surface. Below the surface, however, if she feels so inclined to investigate harder-

-this station, it appears, has much more water damage than any others she's seen up until now. More moss, as well, worked its way into the damaged and sodden surfaces, making pores full of dank green in walls and the cars themselves.

Oh no. Is Bella really doing this? This is not a Bella thing to do. Isabella Sheridan, for all that she may work for clandestine organizations, is not a goddamn adventurer. This is not Zork, and she is not interested in being eaten by a grue. But she's been keeping the company of monsters for too long to complain. You make your bed, you sleep in it, and you deal with your bedfellows and their cold feet.

And getting colder. Bella's breath has started to come out in a mist, a sure sign she is getting close. Close enough, too, that she can risk speaking. She didn't want to wake some less friendly being, bringing misfortune upon her. She has a taser in her jacket pocket, but she's still not much of a shot.

"Dr. Cong?" is her phrase of summoning, as always. Delivered in a specific way, an incantation - Dok Tor Kong - with the upward lilt of question at the end.

For a short time, there is really nothing but her breath and the sound of her heartbeat in her ears. But, as monsters that have literally, no better things to do, he found some way to sit, and wait. And Wait, and wait. While her summon is no swanky Latin catchphrase, it succeeds nonetheless.

She knows all too well that scraping noise that filters out of the subway tunnel- rock on ice, ice on ice, grating and low squawking. What she is not familiar with, however, is the clanking that follows it. It is not metallic, per se- the echo is. Until it speeds up into a loud scuttling that clambors its way into her ears. Cold air comes first. Something catches her foggy lamplight up on the ceiling of the tunnel, like a dirty prism that tosses, for another moment, a scattered constellation of light across the dead cars.

Provided she takes the initiative to point her light up to follow it, the source of all the cold and the noise turns out to be the one thing she was hoping to find. He's moving like a top-heavy lizard across the arc and cornering of the ceiling, darting along, pulled ahead by that menacing pair of arms and looking like a giant spiny turtle that somehow learned to climb. Cong stops, soon enough, attached by hunched limbs to the wall, horned, elaborately detailed head cocked sidelong with his one golden eye training itself on her. Behind him, a balancing tail thumps hard into the concrete.

Oh. Wonderful. He's really let himself go. Bella cannot quite prevent a short gasp of alarm as her flashlight skips across him, the pool of light going off in a panicky zig-zag before she can regain herself enough to direct the torch properly again. There he is, in all his grotesquery. She's seen him in forms like this, and other forms as well. But she sees no certain similarity. Which raises a question in her mind. And reminds her, reassures her, that however frightening the visage it rests in, that golden eye belongs to someone with whom she has… well, she guesses she'd call it a rapport.

"That shape, did you pick it? You've been other things… why that one? Is that one… the least effort?" She imagines, perhaps, that staying in quasi-human shape is like some massive feat of tucking one's stomach in. Uncomfortable, perhaps.

The question delivered, she looks suddenly much less nervous and much less on edge. She is talking to him. Talking to someone she knows. A colleague. However strange his shape, she's amongst…

Well, whatever you'd call what he is to her.

One talon clicks against the stone, the singular motion a universal gesture of thought. The icy path he has left behind him gathers around under his feet, climbing up into his limbs. It disengages him from the attachment, and he drops, heavy, down into the floor of the station. It's a god-awful thud, but at least he has not become brittle and shattered into a billion chunks. A few pieces clatter off, as he lands half on his back and flips himself over. Not a graceful landing, by any means. He seems to know that, by the way that golden eye squints over at Bella at eye-level.

"The shape happens-" His chest makes a guttural noise, and the toothed jaw slacks open when something gets- well- belched up. Not so stainless steel tumbles across the platform, the hooked curve of a kitchen faucet devoid of porcelain toppling out into the tracks below.

"I self-decorate." As if he's talking about the color scheme of a foyer.

The clumsiness of the fall actually does worlds to further Bella's ease. It makes Bao more… human, for a moment. Not pure elemental animality, the sort of creature that is totally in tune with its form and surroundings. She doesn't laugh, by any means, but she can feel her heart rate approaching something more close to normal.

The upchucked bend of metal, however, gets a nonplussed look and steals the attention of the flashlight for a moment. What the..? She flicks the light back to Bao-Wei. Ignoring him for his abjection seems suddenly a bit rude. She gives a quick nod. "I see," and now she attempts a smile, not terribly successful, but… good effort, "you have a flair for the dramatic that I didn't expect from you. Though… it makes sense, now that I notice it."

A few steps are taken to close the gap between them. The closer she gets, the colder it gets, but it's not unbearable yet. "It's not good for a man of your intellect to be so unoccupied," she asserts, rather abruptly, "I was thinking about it, and I think it may lead to depression or self-destructive behavior. I don't want that. I think you should go back to work."

"You should see where I live." Bao-Wei sounds, daresay, proud of whatever it is. Possibly, it is much like what he had before the hospital literally came crashing down around him. He takes a half- pace back when she moves forward- though not out of wariness of her. The cold around him is terrible when he has been withdrawn- it could be much worse, right now, but turning company into popsicles is bad for business. As she goes on, the construct lifts itself onto its legs, arms dragging almost laboriously from the ground. Perhaps he is too used to it now. One eye watches Bella, hawklike.

"You are more in need of your own psychiatric help than I had given you credit for." But, crazy is as crazy does. Cong's low rumble creates a thrumming sort of ambiance coming from his cavernous chest.

"Why? How? I have nothing, surely things have not changed so much as to make you able to make such decisions."

Well, Bella is not exactly anyone to judge anyone else for strange and/or atypical living spaces. At least Bao-Wei doesn't have to have a roommate. Points to him. Bella doesn't make further inquiries, however, as to where Dr. Cong has hung his slate (haha again). This rapport (is what it is, she insists) isn't built on such trivial details.

"That's very cute," Bella says, rather dryly, "the psychiatrist who is crazier than her patients. Do people still use that trope? Oh the irony." Pet peeve, maybe. "No, I am not top of the Institute pyramid. I would have to climb over a lot of dead bodies to get into that position, and I don't really think I'm qualified for the position. But I do have access to some well appointed facilities. Privately owned. Out of the government's reach. And thus, the Institute's."

Bella would like to step closer, to emphasize her next words. That not being quite an option, she instead just speaks very seriously. "You could do what you are meant to do. Hell, you'd have something to do."

There is the feeling of a smile, when she calls him out on his calling out of her. It feels like one is there, but the jaw on his face is as rigid as ever. There is no answer from him, as he stands there, a wall of sculpture, staring down across the platform to her. She's the same as she always was. He, on the other hand- when was the last time that she saw him like this? Back when Gregor was still one man with one set of arms- when he came to offer him the hydrokinetic.

"How did you come by such a rare commodity?" The question comes with a skeptical jerk of his chin, brow already lowered enough to make him look it as well. "I am not sure what I am meant to do, now."

"Perhaps, to perfect my own state- how I got it- but otherwise, there is little." He knows how much a working, non-invasive formula would throw the world for a loop. But is it ready for that…?

"I was sleeping with the man who owned them," Bella says, unabashed on this point. It is what it is. "I say owned, because he's dead now. But he left me full access. The ability to draw on his resources." Bella rubs her arms, trying to help with the circulation. Trying to keep the worst of the chill out. "And don't be stupid. Of course, yes, you can study yourself. You ought to. But when you are in the lab, ideas will occur to you. New avenues. It will happen when you're there. Consider it, Dr. Cong. We are two of the few living people who were deeply involved in Project Icarus. With private facilities, we could achieve something. And we might actually benefit from it, rather that having it taken away from us before being thrown to the wolves."

He didn't need to know all of the information. There is a fine line between unabashed and TMI. Bao-Wei rolls his spiny shoulders, joints crackling and facial features still at that craggy, grumpy looking impasse.

"I see. Yes. You are quite right." Cong does not once question her implications of 'we'. That she would also be there, albeit far less- though she was the one to say it in the first place. He breathes out, a plume of fog crawling down out of his face and over the bristly ice over his chest. One of his paws reaches up to brush at them, sending splinters of ice over the platform. Inside of him, the ice there seems to be getting darker and darker- the effect begins to reach outward, but his form seems to also shrink in on itself in the same process. His stature visibly becomes more weighted down. "Where are they? Inside the city?"

Don't be such a prude, Dr. Cong. When's the last time you got laid?

But yes, yes, let's keep this professional. Collegial, even. "I'm glad you agree," Bella says, smartly, "The whole problem is that the people with the purse strings, and even the people in charge of the research, are either politicians or pseudo-scientists. And that's being flattering." To be unflattering would risk invoking Godwin's law. "The labs are out in the boonies, generally. Outskirts of Albany, Utica. The one that's just over the Jersey border is closest. But I have access to all of them. And enough assigned status to get you clearance as well."

Really? We're gonna play that game?

Never. Suppose that says a lot.

Doctor Cong gives Bella a low grunt in response, moving himself a step closer, tail dragging behind his tilted gait. His single eye glitters for a moment, and virtually like origami, he folds in on himself bit by bit; the hulking form collapses into a more limber one, as it falls forward on talons and scrabbles over the platform like a komodo. Not as forceful as that creature he was in the bay, but similar, more serpentine, blacker, like ice the color of cold rot. The creature skitters closer and skirts Bella with one discus eye looking her over.

"I am getting better at this. But I still do not understand what happened. It will be quite enlightening…"

Bella watches this feat. Yes. Yes, it does look very uncomfortable to her. Compressing himself like that. Does he feel pain, though? Does that pain actually translate to suffering? Bao's phenomenology creates no small curiosity in Bella. But she would feel badly treating him like a test subject, some object of study. The benefit of getting him back to work is that he may answer some of her questions.

"I want some ground rules, though," Dr. Sheridan asserts, "this is a partnership. No hidden research, no secrets. We can work together or separately as the situation demands, and we can work as equals, with no hierarchy, but we must keep our files open to each other. It's about time we were allowed be scientists instead of think-tank pets and instruments."

Though only a dozen feet from head to tail, the form's slim frame lends him an aura of true breakability. If it were not for the visible weight, one might think it true. His spine curves up like a sitting cat, haunches planted and long, whip-like tail lying still and at length. The eye is bigger, proportionally, and somehow it looks comical when he decides to forgo being intimidating around her like this. Almost like she could just hook a leash on him and take it for a walk. Worst day in the park ever.

Bao-Wei sits, in this absurd sort of state, peering stoically over to her.

"Is that all?" Cong makes this sound like she could have just demanded he respect her, back in the hospital. Did she ever, before now?

Dr. Sheridan has, for all that she claims to understand him, never quite known how to handle Bao-Wei Cong. He is from another mental universe, one in which her indirect methods are made rather embarrassingly transparent. Easily parried. Fencing with panserbjørne. Direct tactics are ones that do not come all that easily for Bella, at least not without some setup. But she can learn.

"For now," Bella says, though her tone makes it clear that this agreement may be subject to renegotiation, "I want to have some little slice of independence back. Something real. Something in my work," which is to say, not just in her messed up private life, "we get passed around from organization to organization. We're assets, resources. It's bullshit. We're the ones who do things, who make things." This is, evidently, a deeper issue for Bella than just 'Bao should distract himself'. Indirection, always.

She's caught up enough in her thoughts that it takes her a moment to really register the… dares she call it cuteness… of Bao's form. Again, she doesn't laugh. That wouldn't be polite. "Can I find you here in the future? I need to make your path clear. What would you need to get there? A truck?"

With the whiskers and lizard mouth, he really does seem like all he is missing is an Eddie Murphy voiceover. That is never how it really is. His head jerks like a bird, chin up and eye rolling about in thought. "I know. I have been an asset far longer than you have been alive, Isabella."

"Here. Down there. Around." Bao-Wei clatters up and sinks himself into the wall, which he ascends like a large frostbitten gecko. "Come and call, or- I can meet you- I still have the clothes…" Admitting this fact is somewhat a chore in itself. It says, quite clearly, that he has not replaced the ones that she gave him- nor gotten other ones.

Aw, Bella's touched. He kept the duds she got him. One and half girlfriends, trading clothes.

"I'm saying we can turn this around. We could make something of ourselves. Without them. I doubt we're the only ones with such sentiments. The thinkers and scientists in our field are woefully mistreated or simply evil. And I don't mean ruthless, I mean evil, doing harm for harm's sake even when it's inefficient."

There's a vehemence to Bella's speech that, strangely, approximates passion. There is anger there. Anger is one of the clearer emotions Bella can feel. It insists itself, offering itself up as a better replacement for fear.

But she's got to calm down a little. Chill out. Bella thinks this pun. She does not voice it. Thankfully. "I'll return as soon as I can, with details. I'm glad you see you are still alive, and free."

"As free as the wind." Cong's voice approximates a smile, again, but before too long he is cracking his teeth together. "Take your time. I am not going anywhere. I shall remain when you wish to create a career with me." However odd that sounds, he has nothing else to do besides wander, wait, loll about in preparation.

"I did my best to copy out most of my work to a physical medium- it was off campus- I do not know if they retrieved it since. Unlikely, as they cut my work… Harper cut my work…" Icy hinges clack shut.

"We may yet see the imbecile dead," Bella replies, acidly; Harper is high on her shit list, a list that has gotten a little too long, lately, "we may or may not have had a hand in it. For now, he can simply not know. Smug shithead."

Dr. Sheridan pauses for a moment. She was about to leave, but she really doesn't want to end this encounter on such a sour note. "I'm looking forward to it," Bella says, "not Harper's death though… well… anyways, what I mean is the career. I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to not having to simply endure each day."

"Endurance is science's best policy."

Bao-Wei's claws curl into the wall, and he ascends further, head tilted and eye on Bella as he scales to the ceiling again. "Perhaps not a human's best policy, however, as we are impaitient creatures. That is why science eludes us. It outlasts us, as mere mortals." Heavy words, coming from a giant icicle.

"I wouldn't reify or deify science," Bella says, maybe just a bit archly, "science is a method for learning about the world. The best way, the only way to ever approach truth. Getting there… is another matter."

She can't shake his claw, and giving him a kiss on each cheek, European style, is totally out of the question if Bella wants to keep her face (which, yes, she does). So she bows, dipping down to about a forty-five degree angle.

"I hope to see you again soon, and well, Dr. Cong."

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