One-Hundred Percent Fatality


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Scene Title One-Hundred Percent Fatality
Synopsis Months ago, Astor asked for a favor, and this time it's Berlin who names the price for her services as a burglar. What seems initially like a straightforward transaction of services then becomes mired in prophetic symbolism and some alarming science.
Date April 24, 2019

The Internet

Berlin is a busy woman. Wolfhound is a busy faction, even after the last of the United States of America's great villains has been captured. But Astor's request, as written on the small scrap of paper, that Nick Ruskin brought to her after their— less than amicable healing session, appears to be rather brief. That’s partly because Astor has super tiny handwriting.

But also, all it said was:

Please steal contents of RD23-002 from the Amaranth Center.
April 24, 2019 @ 10:03PM-

And it isn't until months later, after Berlin has looked into the Amaranth Center, that she gets a text. The number unknown.

what do you think?

By now, she knows that RD23-002 refers to a filing system within the facility. She knows that the facility is a site for biochemical storage and, once upon a time, for experimentation as well. These days, the scientists work regular business hours, nine to five. And they seem to be concerned with nothing more ground-breaking than fabricating high-quality substances that are of fairly common knowledge, SLC testing agents, anti-viral agents, and Zodytrin among them. In fact, a brief look into the small institution's financial records indicated that it has periodically supplied Wolfhound. But nothing in that specified locker is available to Wolfhound's databases, and the range of potential uses of the chemicals contained might be anything.

this is astor.

He even types like a punk. Not bothered to capitalize, when he obviously had to go through his phone and turn off auto-capitalization, in order specifically to present like a punk.

better question. what do you want?

Berlin has not been having the best time lately. A text from Astor is, at least, a different type of bad time. She can't deny— to herself anyway— that she's curious about this task he's set her on. If she wasn't, she wouldn't have looked into it. But still, when his texts light up her phone, there's a groan.

But she still answers.

I think it's doable.

I have a question, though. What am I stealing?

That isn't what she wants in return, though. Obviously. But the answer to the all important question seems to have a delay on it. Because what she wants is somewhat personal and also she's not even sure if he can do it.

I want to know if Joy is in my future. A woman named Joy, not the emotion.

Astor's answer is extraordinarily prompt. Somewhere in New York City, he's sitting on Delia's couch, hunched over, paying no attention at all to family television night because he is the worst.

discontinued pharmaceutical experiment
not weaponizable

It's not an unreasonable question. After all, Astor is well-aware that people in Berlin's line of work or with her qualifications might any time be asked to retrieve substances far more lethal or sinister than this. Mysterious aerosals that turn people into huge carnivorous lizards, maybe.

that's what you want in exchange
yes or no on a woman named joy

Astor wants to be sure. Business, you know. He hasn't done it in a minute, busy rolling in his own filth and a bed of needles. Not to be unflattering, but his choice of addict reclusion wasn't exactly five star.

Experiment to do what?

It's vague, his answer, and Berlin is going to be difficult about it.

And why do you want it?

Very difficult.

Her tone is flat, even through text. It doesn't take much to imagine the annoyance that is likely on her face in this moment. But she is sitting outside the center, far enough not to be seen but close enough that binoculars give her a good view.

Will I see Joy again, yes or no. That's what I want in exchange.

She answers very clearly, assuming that he isn't very clear. She's felt what he does to his system. She might have hoped that she helped, but there's nothing her ability can do about the psychological side of addiction.

It's more a condition of Astor's social skills than his Evolved ability, that he is in fact: vague.

they made it to help the evolved

The moment after Astor sends it, he knows it won't be adequate. He drums his finger absently on the screen, looking blankly across the room to where his aunt is walking through, busy with the rhythms of her life. He likes living with her, as much as he likes anything. And despite his magnificent lack of interpersonal finesse, he does know that people like Delia collect good ones— and the trust she shares with Berlin is not for nothing.

if you go you'll get the answers you want about the package i'm asking for
and when you come back i'll use it to get you the answers you want about joy

It takes Astor three whole minutes to draft these messages, meticulously editing more words in until it makes some semblance of coherent sense. He would make a terrible Wolfhound operative. He would make a terrible waiter. Explaining anything, conveying information holistically, framing data for the consumption of others is not his strong suit.

I'll contact you when it's done.

Easton, New York: The Amaranth Center

Which is to say that she is planning on going through with it, if only to find out exactly what she's gotten herself into here. She may ask herself whyyyyy a time or two, but she's settled on her choice. She turns her phone off, in case he has idea of checking in, but slides it into a zipper pocket on her jacket. Just in case.

What she doesn't bring are any weapons or armor. Bad enough to be breaking, entering, and stealing without using Wolfhound equipment to do it. What she does bring is a lock pick and jacket with a wide collar to hide a generous portion of her face. Just in case she can't disable their security cameras.

She waits until 10:03, then she heads toward the facility.

To have the fanciful, swooping archictures you might see at Yamagato Enterprises or the incipient World's Fair, you have to have Yamagato Enterprises, World's Fair levels of money. And this institution, the LLC that owns the Amaranth Center, most certainly does not. The facility is a mostly concrete rectangle, with some nice shatterproof glass windows in the front, double-paneled, an elevator system.

Security personnel that are hilariously easy to slide by, and when she slides into the security booth conveniently and sensibly located at ground level, the guardsman can be heard grunting with Herculean effort from the bathroom. The computer system doesn't even prompt her for a password, logged in still from the previous user, whose emptied plastic egg sandwich wrapper probably explains in part why he's currently Missing In Action. The system responds easily to her; she's seen the ZephyrWorks Security Suite before. Hardware access is dangerously straightforward once you get the DOS program up. Easy enough, to program a loop, two minute, exploiting the two minutes she had conveniently watched the building remain undisturbed for before she had come in here.


Afterward, she slides effortlessly into the fire escape, just seconds ahead from the bathroom door squeaking open ahead of a grumbling set of curses. Berlin is a ghost, passing onto the flight of grey concrete stairs, flourescent light bathing her pale skin in sharp, Snow White contrast to her dark hair. But then

it is immediately and problematically apparent: you need a keypass to get into any of the other levels.

And it's right then, through the door she just slid through, that she hears a cheerful ~whistling emanating from the lobby. Somebody coming for the stairs behind her.

Always the moment she feels like things are going well, they cease to go well. Berlin closes her eyes in a display of quiet frustration before the whistling gets her attention. She slides back behind the door and flattens against the wall to wait, aiming to be out of sight when the cheerful whistler makes their way into the stairs.

Durmdurmduuuurm! The whistler pushes the door open and lets it clack shut behind him. He is wearing a black coat over a white coat. From behind, Berlin can see he has the beginnings of a decent afro, although his maintenance care is a bit lacking toward the back left region of his skull, not quite brushed out properly. He is narrower of build, and she can see the hooks of his glasses over his ears as he patters toward the stairs.

There's a lunchbox in his hand. It has PHOENIX! logoed across the front of it, and some cartoon renditions of people that Berlin will have heard of, between the Albany trials, her own inscrutable gifts, Wolfhound intelligence in retrospective. Helena Dean, weather witch! A cloudburst spreads out behind her like wings. Cameron stands beside her, wreathed in flames, completing the necessary mythologicla reference. Fire birds, et cetera. They're popular figures these days, PHOENIX! Even for lab techs, who are now currently poking up the stairs…

…completely unaware of his surroundings, and his keycard already out in hand.

At first, Berlin watches the lab tech, taking in the whole picture. She very nearly feels bad for how she's about to ruin his day as she steps after him. But she is on the clock. As she steps up behind him, she brings a hand to cover his mouth first thing.

"Please don't scream," she says, only belatedly realizing that she sounds more menacing than she really intended to. The opening words of every movie murderer. "I just need to get in and out and I'll be out of your hair. Open the door." At least she doesn't have a weapon to threaten him with. Just the unsettling notion of being part of a B & E at your workplace.

Hand clamped over his mouth, lunchbox in hand, the labtech freezes for an instant.

Then he says:


A second pause, and says:

"Mm-mm." Which would be a muffled version of, Sorry.

She can't see from where she's standing behind him, but it's not hard to imagine. His eyes gigantic under his glasses, swimming left and right, trying to get a look at her, until he decides that that's probably a bad idea; it's probably better not to see her at all, so that she won't have to kill him to cover her tracks! He closes his eyes. Hesitantly, trembling, he gives her a thumbs-up. With his other hand, also shaking, he pulls up his keycard.

And misses. Because his eyes are closed. Simultaneously, he also: drops his lunchbox, which starts to careen down toward the concrete steps.

With the thumbs up, she peels her hand off his mouth, waiting for a moment to see if he is about to pull some shenanigans.

The lunchbox distracts her.

She reaches out to grab it before it makes a noisy journey down the stairs and steps forward to press it against his chest. "Seriously, dude?" she asks, but there's a certain level of amusement in her tone. She exchanges box for card, pulling it gently from his fingers. "I need to find RD23-002. It's supposed to be discontinued. Can you help me with that or are you about to pass out?" Maybe it's just in his mind, but that question seems to come with actual concern, rather than more teasing. She turns to be door, swiping the keycard herself. Getting into the right room is the first step, after all.

Labtech definitely does not pull any shenanigans. His eyes are fixed on the door in front of him so sternly that you'd think he was using a urinal and focusing with laser strength on his designated pee spot. Then he has a lunchbox smushed to his chest, and automatically, he half turns and finds out that he is being held hostage by a seemingly unarmed and extremely cute girl in a stylish jacket.

"Uhhh," he says, as she beeps the door open. It chimes, then clacks. Releases the lock, and breezes open a few inches, opening into the fluorescent lit hallway. "Uhh," he adds. Staring at her. Then ripping his gaze away to look anywhere! but at her face. "I'm not going to pass out.

"That's a misnomer," the labtech explains, "About panic attacks. It's usually only the blood-injection subtype of phobia associated with actually losing consciousness, otherwise it's a million to one chance that the physiological arousal required for heightened states of anx — sorry. Sorry," he corrects himself, hugging his lunchbox fiercely. "Yes, yep, no problem, I can help you. I know where the RD23 iteration of samples is stored." He shuffles carefully toward the doorway, extremely cautious to make no sudden movements. And thus he is moving


slowly. It gives her enough time to read his name tag, which says: Peregrine Johnson.

"Don't apologize for knowing things," Berlin says as she reaches a gloved hand toward the door to pull it open, "but if you could walk and talk at the same time, I'd appreciate it." She waits when he does start moving, watching with a single arched eyebrow for his pace.

She does her best not to be impatient. Her circle of friends and co-workers happen to be people used to high-stress situations, she has to remind herself that that isn't actually normal.

"Can you tell me about RD23, Peregrine?" she asks when she slips into the hall behind him, her hand lands between his shoulder blades, to move him along a little quicker. Her other hand holds his keycard back out to him.

Urged by his companion's hand, Peregrine starts to speed up a little, his shoulders leaned back further than his feet, like a shy toddler being introduced unwillingly to a kindergarden classroom. He is really stressed. What is happening. "R-R-RD23," he repeats blankly. He shoots wild looks all over the hallway as they go. There's quite a lot of glass everywhere, and what if his co-workers see him! Never mind that he chooses to come to the office at exactly this hour in order to forego that particular embarrassment.

"It's— research and development, early generation. I think most of those projects focused on G-protein coupled receptors and other membrane proteins. It could be a nullifier or an amplifier or something kind of uh, in between those but. But… wait."

Perry's squeaky shoes are slowing down on the tile below. He twists his fluffy head around to look at her, lunchbox hugged to his chest. "You're not going to take it, are you? I mean," suddenly he has every regret. "I uh, I uh respect your privacy, and your SLC-Expressive status is no business, no business of, um." He whips his head back around, and points at one of the sleek grey doors to the right. Less glass on that particular door.

That explanation has Berlin falling into quiet contemplation as she ushers him down the hall. "Is there an in between for those two? They seem sort of one or the other." She comes to a stop when he points out the door, but instead of going through it. She turns to look at him, her hands coming to her hips. "Take it as in administer it to myself? No. Take it as in steal it? Yes. Sorry." Her lips twist for a moment into an apologetic grimace, but still. She nods to the door, "This one? Do I need you to open it for me?"

The security around here isn't super great, but the last thing she wants to do is trigger some sort of alarm by yanking open the wrong door. Or similar. "The quicker we get in there, the quicker I'm out of here."

Oh. When she tells him that, Peregrine looks unmistakably


"I can open it," he says. "With my key card." He produces the keycard. It bloops! again, and with another dull chime, the door disengages, whisking open half an inch. He catches it with his hand, managing not to drop his lunchbox this time. He slides his hand against the wall and then light floods the room, in time for her to take a look around when he pushes the door open. There's a security camera watching from its bubble top-left of the door, but Berlin is safe in her knowledge that the loop is still running.

This room is full of refrigerators. Not the awkward boxy ones we find in kitchens everywhere, but massive cylindrical units standing up on heavy platforms. Through the cold-fogged glass, each generation stored within is clearly marked. R23 takes up half of one.

Peregrine says, "There are lots of in-betweens. Infinite, you might say. Amplification and nullification tend to work with specific mechanics shared by SLC-Es, but individual abilities differ greatly." He moves over to the nearest refrigerator, setting down his PHOENIX! lunchbox on the way. There's a biometric scan, which he uses his hand to open. Beeeep. That's going to leave a record somewhere, electronically, no doubt. But Perry doesn't seem concerned about that. "For example, few SLC-Expressive abilities can be activated when the host is brain-dead. And practice helps a lot of individuals gain control and even power. The building of neurological pathways.

"These pharmaceuticals are just another way to affect changes that are all rooted in biology." Perry is definitely a lot more comfortable when he's just talking about nerd shit. He studies the various canisters staring back at him. "Which one did you say you wanted?"

"So any drug that could amp or nullify someone might naturally work better on some expressives than others?" Berlin prompts him, possibly just to keep him talking about something that keeps him relaxed. When she's able to step in, she avoids looking toward the camera, even though she knows it's looping. Just in case. Instead, she looks around at the refrigerators, scanning for the right section.

"RD23-002," she says, when he asks, and she comes over to slide into place next to him. "How dangerous is it?" She looks over at him, her head tilted curiously. "You seem glad I'm not planning to drink it or whatever. I assume that worry goes for anyone and not just me," she adds the last with a crooked smile. Lighthearted. Like they're just hanging out.

Mmm. Peregrine cranes his head, focusing on the labels, definitely soothed by the nerding. Berlin is very clever. "Kind of," he says. "But the umbrella of effect of this class of pharmaceuticals was covered control and side-effects, mostly. Common example— a lot of SLC-E abilities flare up with emotions, and the mother company wanted to help with that. Other SLC-E abilities cause physical pain when they're being used. Problem is, abilities are so diverse, it's hard to design drugs that will help even two telekinetics the same way.

"But yeah, it seemed like we were breaking ground."

Peregrine finds the right canister. Then he pauses, backing away from the refrigerator in order to grab a transportation unit from the cabinet. It looks nearly like a cooler, black, but there's a small display on the side, a dial for temperature. Evidently, he is being procedural, going by the book even when he is kind of being burgled.

"I think everything in the RD class, especially those early generations, is pretty bad," Perry remarks, popping open the case. There's a foam inlay inside, two cutouts. He removes one canister from the freezer carefully. "Lot of side-effects. If they got through animal testing, they didn't get through human trials, that's for sure. Do you want me to look up 02 specifically? I can check the computer." He presses the canister into the foam, then moves to get the second one. There are only two.

It helps that Berlin is actually interested in what he says, too. She hadn't thought about how difficult it would be, this sort of medical design. "I hadn't thought about that," she doesn't mind admitting. "Is that why the center has backed off this research? Too expensive, not enough progress?" There's some amusement on her face when he goes through the procedure, but she is appreciative. She can't help but wonder now how specific Astor's ability really is, giving her such and exact time with such a person present.

"Yeah, could you? I'd like to know what I'm holding onto. My intel wasn't specific about the drug. Not on what it would do, anyway." Obviously, they were pretty specific on where to find it.

"Probably. That's the story behind most of this stuff. And sure! I can look it up." Perry is now admittedly needlessly enthusiastic about this entire burglary. Still nervous, mind you, but he's a bit like Tinkerbell, so small that his body can only experience one primary emotion at a time. Once the canisters are properly seated, he shuts the case, latches it. No code combination to open it, apparently. Undoubtedly, that would be even more expensive hardware on the verge of going missing. He steps over to pass it to Berlin, tapping the display once for her benefit. It shows the cooler battery is at a healthy 100%. "I didn't work on this one, it was before my time."

And then he buzzes off, like a busy bee, to the nearest computer console. Sits down, logs himself in with his ubiquitous keyboard once more. There's a secondary biometric scan, once he bypasses the preliminary security, his fingers pressed to the small reader off to the side. A gauzy puff of antiseptic lands on it, theoretically cleaning it for the next user.

"You know," Perry says, his head ducked down, "part of me hopes whoever you're taking this for is really going to make it work. Like maybe if you figure out how to attach another molecule, the binding could still work without the side-effects. Or at least fewer side-eff…"

Peregrine trails off, his hands stop moving at the keyboard. He stares uncomfortably at the screen.

Honestly, Berlin mostly looks puzzled at this shift. Not that she wants him to be scared, it's just unexpected. She takes the case, glancing to the display before she looks back to him again, a smile creeping up at the corner of her lips. She didn't intend to enjoy her burglary, either.

Hopefully, she won't have to tell Astor about this part.

Following him over to the computer, she leans a hip against the desk and sets the case down, although her hand lingers on it. She watches him rather than his computer, so his next emotional shift is easily noticed. "I mean, anything is possible," she says, as far as what's going to happen to it once she's passed it on, "What's wrong?"

"Uhhhh," Perry says, rather pitchily, very slowly, very hesitantly, obviously having flashbacks to his earlier forecasts about the possibility she'll harm him for failing to perform optimally. "Well, it's just. Not the most promising chemical we've ever developed… how about, I mean. I don't want you to have to come back here again."

Hesitantly, he turns his eyes back toward her. Then he remembers, abruptly, that he's supposed to be trying never to see her face! Shit, that ship sailed. He's supposed to be trying to forget her face! His eyes snap back to the screen.

"Can you double-check they wanted RD23-002, and not maybe…" Peregrine taps panickily on his keys, and the screen flips over to other windows. Similar ones. "007? 68% of rats survived those tests at five months. That's pretty good, and when you account for the superior mass of human test subjects, however imprecise the analogues of the lymphatic system and never mind the degrading quality of our rodent test subjects, I mean thanks, economy —" She should probably interrupt him right now. That is likely to be another fifteen minutes.

"Perry," Berlin says, cutting in before he goes on too long, "They wanted this one. What are you telling me, that whoever takes this dies? Or what? Turns inside out? Becomes a gremlin?" She taps her fingers against the case, pondering her options as all the worst case scenarios play out in her mind. Turning inside out would be very bad.

And would make a bigger mess of Delia's apartment.

That's probably not a good thing.

"The chances of me coming back here are extremely slim." Never say never, though. "I'm certain they knew which number they were after. But I'll warn them that it's not safe."

Perry ruefully scrolls back to the file for 002. He goes up and down, checking his timeline reluctantly, confirming what he thought he saw at the top. No, there's no clerical error that can account for this, the documentation is accurate unless something was misfiled from the root.

"We lost one hundred percent of animal test subjects," Peregrine says, scrolling up and down a few inches at a time. "It primarily operates on opioid receptors. But not all opioid receptors are responsible for mediating analgesia. We actually know that some subtypes are responsible for mood regulation, as well as tissue growth. Historically, we've messed with zeta, and seen that it directly causes cancer." He really doesn't want to be in trouble, but he's one of those people who went into science in order very much to help people. He looks up at her slowly. "But we didn't find a marked increase in tumors in our test subjects. We did find multiple organ failure."

Perry purses his lips for a moment.

"But it has promise," he says at last, pensive, as if he isn't driving wildly outside his lane. "Hopefully your employers have money to spend on refinement."

"Well, that all sounds bad," Berlin says, to sum up in the most understated manner she can manage. But still, she picks up the case again and straightens up from the desk. "Here's hoping for those deep pockets." She knows that's not likely, but Peregrine doesn't need to know that. For the sake of his conscience. "I'm gonna get out of here now. When you decide to report this, tell them I had blonde hair or something," she says with a crooked smile. "Oh, and you can tell them I threatened you, too, if you want. But give me a head start, okay?" Her smile spreads wider and she turns to head for the door.

Apparently, it's okay that he saw her face.

Oh thanks, Berlin, it's time for smol labtechs to panic again. At this sudden shift of geras, Peregrine grimaces! He looks everywhere, including his precious lunchbox, before looking at her again. Focusing. "You couldn't have worn a wig?" he says. "I'm not very good at lying!" He is probably okay at lying. He just needs to learn a technique. "I'm going to pretend you had roots." He needs to learn better techniques than the ones he is demonstrating now.

Is it okay that he saw her face? Perry still isn't sure, himself.

"I'm," he says, watching her shrink into the doorway. Tentatively, he raises a hand. "I uh. You're very — it was nice to meet you," he finally decides, calling after her into the corridor.

And right on cue, a new text dings into Berlin's cellphone. Though she doesn't get it until she's safely back in her car, pulling out of view of the parking lot and its external cameras.

NYC Safezone: The Night Owl

The Nite Owl is a survivor from ages past - one of those ancient diners with huge plate glass windows, checkerboard linoleum floor, and a neon owl over the entrance that blinks at those entering. Inside, there's an L-shaped main counter, complete with vintage soda fountain and worn steel stools. All of the cooking is done on the ranges ranked against the rear wall. The outer wall is lined with booths upholstered in cracked scarlet vinyl, tables trimmed with polished chrome. Despite its age, it's been lovingly maintained. The air is redolent with the scent of fresh coffee, vanilla, and frying food.

By now, it's 1:38AM.

Despite the great effort she put into healing him, Astor manages to look incredibly uncomfortable still, just by being. His lanky shoulders find an ungainly sit inside his coat, and he manages to rebuff the waitress' mild efforts at flirting with him by staring through her and responding too slowly, despite being fairly polite, for Astor Loukas' standards. His cup of coffee is cooling by his hand, completely neglected.

But there's a cheeseburger waiting for Berlin on the other end of her table, one patty and two squares of American cheese glistening dimly underneath the plastic cover that the waitress had agreeably placed over it to protect it from the cold.

Berlin comes in with a shiver from the cold, carrying a very strange case with her. She slides into the seat in front of the cheeseburger, regarding it with a suspicious glance. And then she regards Astor with the same look.

She had been craving a cheeseburger since this whole night started.

So she takes a bite of it.

"What do you want this for?" she eventually asks, regarding him with a flat look. "I have assurances that if you take this, you'll experience organ failure and then die. Unless you have a science lab hidden in Delia's apartment… I'm not sure what use it is. And I'm a bit worried about handing it over." She lays that out there plainly, because for all she knows, he already saw this conversation.

What if he did! What if he didn't. Astor's eyes don't glow any color when his power is active, or possibly, his power is never active. He stares at her from across the table for a long moment, then at the case. Then at her again. Don't worry, Berlin had made herself perfectly clear. If there are any difficulties with communication, they lie most certainly with Astor Loukas.

"I'm not going to die," he says. "I have a plan. And also, right now, I have you."

Astor manages somehow not to actually make a lunge for the case across the table. After all, between the two of them, she is the military operative trained in combat, hand-to-hand, with reflexes that haven't been destroyed by years of neglect and abuse. He exudes a faint sigh, folding his hands together. "I promise. And I follow through on my promises. Like I'm about to follow through and give you what you asked me for."

"Am I your plan for not dying?" Berlin doesn't seem to like this plan, but she still sets the case on the table and pushes it across to him. "There's two in there. You're gonna owe me a couple favors if I have to pull you back from the brink. That's actually really hard. Just FYI." Just so they have the terms up front. She doesn't have another favor to ask of him, but she does like having favors in her back pocket.

But a promise seems to be enough for her to take her hand off the case and let him actually have it. "Alright. There's your take," she says, setting her burger back down to rest her arms on the table and look across at him. "Okay. Whenever you… are ready, I guess."

"No, you're not my plan for not dying. But I appreciate it," is as much reassurance as Astor has the social finesse to offer. He looks pleased that she gave him the case, or at least as close to pleased as Astor ever gets; slightly less dour and grim around the edges, maybe. He ends up

having a funny moment of difficulty, though, opening it up. Poking at latches, picking at them with his slightly too-long nails, before he finally gets it. After he pries up one canister, he seems to encounter a spot of trouble getting that open too. Hilarious, probably. It would appear that precognition, whatever Astor's version is, anyhow, does not always prepare him to deal with technology. But it's just a couple of scrabbles and a slight frown, one or two minutes, before he gets it open. Inside, there are vials. Quite a few of them, actually; each one no longer than an inch, the liquid inside a milky shade of white.

Astor removes just one.

Belatedly, Astor looks up to reassure himself they aren't being watched. He moves the canister down onto the seat beside him, reseals it. And then, relatively discreetly now, he extracts a hypodermic syringe from his pocket. It's not long before the contents of the vial are in the syringe, and it's going in his arm. And then, the next moment, with little ceremony or fuss, his eyes fall closed. It's almost anticlimactic.

Since it seems like that is going to take him some time, Berlin takes to watching him over her burger— she doesn't want it to get cold, after all. There's something intriguing to it, watching him try to work out unfamiliar technology. And she's curious, too, to see what's actually in the canisters. "You'll need to keep them cold," she says, nodding toward the case, "the charge in that won't last forever. They were in some refrigerators at the center."

She looks around, too, when it's obvious that he plans to use it right now, and when she turns back, her brown eyes have turned to a shocking blue. Because she's paying attention now, to whether or not he's about to die. She might not be his plan, but she's going to play back up, apparently.

She's not wrong, this seems bound to take some time. Berlin in fact, has enough space and quiet to chew through half her burger. For better or worse, she's the perfect backup. While her companion is taking drugs in a place where food is served and prepared, it's a great idea to be cruising with 1) a white lady, and 2) one who is is using the space for its intended purpose. The burger isn't half-bad.

The minutes stretch past in silence. Astor's eyes stay closed, the black fan shape of his lashes drawn low and tight over his olive-skinned cheeks. His breathing seems to grow shallow for a few long seconds, before deepening again, his shoulders finding an ordinary rhythm to rise and fall with.

"She's the Asian woman?" he asks abruptly, just as her teeth connect through her next bite, severing patty, lettuce and cheese into her mouth. Astor's voice is low but steady, no sign of agitation in it. Faraway, as if he's concentrating hard; his face hasn't changed despite the articulation of his jaw around speech. "Lots of long skirts with patterns. Like a hippie?" That was before his time, okay. He doesn't know fashion. "Doesn't wear shoes. Is that the one you mean?"

Anyone looking would see that his companion doesn't seem worried. Maybe he's just tired. It is late, after all. Berlin is worried, but she's good at hiding it. She's quiet while he is, enjoying her meal as much as she can under the circumstances.

When he speaks, she takes a moment to chew, swallow, take a drink— and also give herself a moment to collect herself. She doesn't want to ruin their appearances by seeming too excited all of a sudden. "That's her," she says, stirring her straw needlessly around her glass. "Still no shoes," she says with light chuckle. It's almost to herself, even though he's obviously able to hear.

Astor's brow knits slightly. Relaxes again, and then slowly, he reopens his eyes. They look faintly greener than they had before, but there's still brown in them. Not a power effect, but something of his changing mood, the blood vessels in his head shifting to accommodate his effort. Pupils bigger now, though not quite like he's high. He blinks hard, and his pause gives way, his voice faster now despite the same, near-blank intonation.

"She's a snake.

"She's a snake coiled around an apple, but the apple is bleeding and the blood is so thick and smooth that it makes her keeled scales look red underneath, but they aren't, are they?" Astor's gaze wanders over Berlin's face, almost past it. But its shifts back, focusing it seems with effort; his pupils don't seem to respond, but he finds her, manages to keep his eyes on hers. There's no clear challenge or test to these next questions, when he asks, but it's always hard to tell with Astor; his manners aren't the best. "Do you know what color her scales are? Is that something you picked up when you were tracing this string?"

And just like that, the burger loses is charm. Berlin sets it down in favor of furrowing her brow as she looks across the table at him. These are not the words she was expecting when he asked her what her yes or no question was. But she is listening. She knows better than to dismiss a precognitive. Even this one.

"Astor," she says as she leans on the table toward him, "I don't understand what you mean." She doesn't dismiss, but that doesn't give her insights into the hidden meanings behind what they say. "What string?" And then, with more worry in her voice, "What color?"

Astor reaches up to spread his fingers across his forehead, squeezing for a moment. Half a headache. But it's not bad, not by his standards anyway.

"The string isn't important. Sorry." This is quite possibly the first apology he has administered in Quite Some Time. "The color is black and white. The snake is black and white. But her eyes are gold. And she looks at you. The answer is yes." Astor stumbles oddly. He isn't used to saying more than he needs to. Had it been entirely up to him, no doubt, the answer to her yes-no question would have been just as monosyllabic as expected, rather than bull-rush through impressionistic symbolism. He drops his hand from his forehead and meets her stare once more. "Yes.

"You'll meet her again."

Those colors mean something to her, it's clear in the way her shoulder rolls uncomfortably. However, she doesn't explain it to him, she just gives him a sharp nod.

"Don't worry about it," she says, belatedly, to the apology. Because, really, the symbolism isn't something he need to say sorry about. Even if she doesn't quite understand it, that's not his fault really. She reaches a hand over to rest over his, a gentle pat following. "Thank you," is what she says. It's an understated reaction to a question she was willing to steal for, but it's genuine all the same. She doesn't ask him to elaborate, because she does her best to keep her promises, too, and one question is what they agreed to.

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" There's a glance to the case, like it might jump up and bite him. But that would be ridiculous, so she looks back to him again.

Astor blinks and eyes it, when she touches his shoulder, surprised. Possibly, he is the worst prophet in the history (and future) of prophets. But he also doesn't actually object, recovering from his moment quickly.

Usually, people don't want to touch him or he doesn't want them to touch him. This is incidentally, neither of those cases.

"I'm going to be fine," Astor reassures her. He grabs the unsealed canister, shutting it again rather clumsily, and stuffing it back into the foam with effort. (He did not close the container properly so it doesn't fit quite right but, close enough.) "But if you wanted to shoot a little bit of your ability my way, right now, that would also be. Fine." 'Fine.' Actual enthusiasm is not in the circumscribed limits of his personality. (There's a waitress in the back there, trying to emit rays of sympathy at Berlin, misunderstanding the situation. The boy's beautiful, but hopeless. She Tried.)

"Fine," Berlin repeats, like she doesn't quite believe him. Or maybe it's that fine isn't the same as okay. The waitress' sympathy is likely to deepen, because she has to have skin-to-skin contact for this part of her ability to work. It may send the wrong message, but her fingers curling around his hand is also the least odd-looking option.

She would rather people assume the wrong thing than guess the right thing.

Her power works quicker this time, because she's doing less, so she doesn't have to hang on for long before the effects of the drug (and possible side effects) are washed away. When she leans back, she reaches for what's left of her burger. Because she needs it right now.

She does well, of course; Berlin's a talented healer, disciplined as well as powerful. The waves of comfort crash through Astor, and he relaxes fractionally. She can feel the pull on her power isn't much, it's not like stopping cyanide from erasing the breath from a man's brain or sealing off a bullet's bloody and traumatic passage, or even fighting down at umor. But she can feel the faint strain of something there in Astor's body, even after a single dose, and that in and of itself does not bode well. Like hearing a sour note in an orchestral arrangement, or a whiff of foul air in the flowers.

Astor wipes his hands on his coat, though not because he thinks she's dirty. Between the two of them, he is the one with some shady fuckin' hygiene. Nonetheless, the waitress is tsking somewhere back there. She's going to offer Berlin a free brownie.

"I took care of the check. It was a pleasure doing business with you," says Astor, woodenly, because he isn't really all that good at talking to people. He assembles his case and stands a little slowly in order to leave.

There's something about being a healer that is ultimately depressing. Delaying the inevitable. Some people cause that feeling more sharply than others. Very few in her experience have drawn it out the way that Astor does.

She is going to take the free brownie.

"I don't know that pleasure is the right word for it," Berlin says, "but thanks for the burger." Her goodbye comes in the way of a quick wave, in contrast to his slow movement. But then she lets him go, putting her feet up in the seat he just left.

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