Operation Deja Deux


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Scene Title Operation Deja Deux
Synopsis Wolfhound once again goes forth to capture former Company Agent and PISEC escapee Donna Dunlap. But this time, the outcome of the capture is far different than the first.
Date January 3, 2021

For better or worse, Cincinnati rested in an area between hotspot cities, resulting in it being lesser-impacted by the more destructive forces of war. While civil unrest took the city in waves throughout the civil war, in many ways, the skyline looks just the same as it did ten years ago.

And so do the neighborhoods within it.

Certain places have flourished; a hard push made to revitalize and outright gentrify areas nearest the river, including the historic spanse known as Over-the-Rhine. The fires and rioting are a distant memory for the downtown area, which glistens with new growth designed to make it a bustling hub city once again— blinding itself to the same issues it always has had. The further north one travels, the veneer flakes away rapidly, those newer coatings of it never applied. Clifton lives the same struggles it did a decade ago, home to a triad of institutions— University, Hospital, and Zoo— all aspiring to greater heights while centered in a city that leaves those campuses' surroundings largely unfed and untended.

The I-75 corridor is an artery that rushes past the neighborhoods the city prefers to leave unseen. On the other side of it lies a nerve center of railways, some tracks abandoned with no hope of reuse, while some still pump with the lifeblood of American recovery. It's just north of the Western Hills Viaduct that lies the only reasonably accessible entrance to the partly-constructed over, long-abandoned Cincinnati subway.

It's on the bridge of the viaduct that Asi and Elliot stand side by side. They don't have the gift of superhuman vision like their quarry does, but even they can see there's no skyscrapers or like high-vantage points save for the kind they're standing on. The buildings west of the railyards aren't situated on hills like those to the east, which are largely civilian— residential— anyway.

"It's a drugstore in Fairmount the initial sighting was at," Asi tells Elliot while they walk westward on the sidewalk in that precise direction. "They don't have months of footage to review to see if she came in earlier than they saw her. Local law enforcement is checking with other small stores in the area… She didn't ping on any of the major grocers with more cameras, but she was buying food, mostly." With a cant of her head, she mutters, "I'm not sure with how much gusto they'll be helping us chase down other sightings, though. I reached out to them to request updates on the case be forwarded to us directly, but…"

A little flatly, she admits, "I don't know how to say this aside from I don't think they cared for my accent."

She sighs, hard-stopping on the sidewalk to look through the chain-link fence of what they can see from here of the tunnel entrance. "Her way in is almost directly under that other street— Hopple. And supposedly the city has concreted the remaining entrances over, but we can check that over the next few days to make sure there's nowhere else."

Elliot paces along the bridge with his hands in his pockets. “I can try the police if you want. Or just break into the police station and fuck up the water pipes,” he offers. “Whichever.”

“I’d say we should post a drone nearby but she’s probably great at noticing changes in the environment.” He stares across the distance to the entrance as he runs through an infiltration checklist. “Traps are a big probably. Unlikely that a Company site doesn’t have a hidden entrance in a false front local business. We should window shop the area, see if there are any likelies.”

"Sounds like we'll have more than enough to keep us busy before the rest of the gang arrives," Asi remarks back with a faux ruefulness. She even smiles.

Five Days Later

Central Parkway Entrance

Abandoned Cincinnati Subway

January 3, 2021

5:16 am

The groundside entrance to the Company facility ended up belonging to a building burned and collapsed due to the war, eliminating one point of egress for the former Kill Squad agent. Elliot's meticulous checking of all supposedly concrete-filled entrances to the subway found that one of them had been cracked through and was able to be swung out like a door, however. Between that and the historical exit located in Union Terminal at the Museum Center, there were all told three potential exits remaining Dunlap could try to escape through.

In the orange light cast by highway lamps on one side and railyard overhead on the other, Asi jams a signal extender on a rod into gravel and pushes down hard for good measure to ensure it'll stay upright.

There was roughly a quarter mile of ground to cover underground until the station.

«We're heading in now. Will check in once we're further in the tunnels.»

A few like rods clipped to her person for setting out further into the enclosed space, Asi nods her readiness and sends the drone ahead first. Fixed with night-vision lenses, it's set to scout several yards ahead of them and mind for the previously-observed traps. She begins to walk in after it and behind one of the other Hounds, relying on their minding of pitfalls as they proceed forward.

Both hands and eyes are reserved now for the controls and camera view for the drone where before she could do this all while carrying the stun-round rifle that instead is slung across her back. At least multi-tasking is a skill that carries, as does occasionally streaming glimpses of their progress through the eyes of her teammates.

Devon’s eyes trace the opening to the tunnel while Asi finishes setting up a comms relay. His head stretches from side to side to stretch his neck, and then his shoulders roll to settle his armor more comfortably around his torso. As the drone is started up, he casts a look over his shoulders, to his left and right, counting the silhouettes of the other Hounds. With this team, he's hoping for a smooth operation.

His head turns to face the waiting darkness again. His weight shifts from one foot to the other in readiness to be moving in. The weight of his Banshee is settled into his hands, familiarity with the weapon obvious in the way he holds it.

He starts forward as soon as the drone takes off. Quick steps give way to a ground covering but cautious march, though he'd jog the quarter mile if asked. Devon sets himself at the center of the tunnel, eyes scanning the ground ahead for signs of traps or pitfalls.

Wright’s eyes stay on the tunnel ahead, rifle at the ready. Elliot steps ahead of the group to liberally apply reflective spray paint to the trigger areas of the traps they’d spotted during their initial drone investigation. With night vision goggles, the marks will stand out against the background like a luminescent divider line on a highway.

He leads the way, occasionally checking Asi’s drone footage while Wright maintains position to deliver covering fire while he’s distracted. They’re using a nonlethal loadout, and Wright has a smoke grenade launcher on her back to provide a wall of light-scattering particles to keep Target 1’s vision limited if needed.

Though acting more as support for this mission, Huruma is still taking up a significant role on the opposite end of the tunnels; a proper cornering is what they're here for, after all, and if warrens are any indication, it means running. It wouldn't be the first time she watched for rabbits. Certainly not the last.

That said, Huruma is out of sight and armed, listening in on the radio while she vultures near her particular entrance. Escape. A quick check of the time tells her that Asi's end has pressed on by now, prompting a set to her jaw under the plane of a gaiter.

Melody had insisted on going in with the team instead of waiting at one of the exits or playing support for this one. This was her first outing with the outfit, aside from the disaster that had been the festival in October. There is a sort of determination in her eyes, the look of someone with something to prove - yet lacking the reckless edge to her that tends to come with that.

This would be a valuable experience for her. It already felt different than work during the war. But she was ready for anything.

While the entrance they made their way through was cordoned off, there used to be tours offered of these historic and ill-begotten tunnels, all the way until last year. The Union Terminal side of things Huruma entered through offered some limited insight to any who wanted to see the subway.

A completely-collapsed chunk of concrete ceiling shattered on the ground below it paints an image as to why they've been abandoned even in a view-only capacity. At least the packed, claylike dirt revealed by the gap still appears hard and intact.

Asi pauses quickly to stake down another signal extender to the ground, tripod legs snapping down off this one to support it. A sweep of Devon's flashlight reveals more debris— both of concrete barricades and detritus left behind by previous residents. No one's here now except them, though.

«Skvader, Basilisk,—» Asi's voice chimes quietly in the team's earpieces. «Closing in now. Advise if anything on your end.»

Elliot's markings cause them to carve a wide, serpentine path across and back through the dark tunnel to avoid triggers for traps which are quicker to bypass than risk setting off. Asi sticks to Melody's shadow, minding the drone sent ahead of them. After a handful of minutes making careful, quiet progress forward, the raised station platform comes into view.

"This is us," the former technopath confirms quietly to the team. The drone in her control skims right past the platform to continue on and meet Huruma in a near-silent indication of their closeness and readiness.

The boarding platform they need to mount now is on a three-and-a-half foot rise above the ground, the station landing wider on the west side of the tunnel than on the right, owing to the would-have-been administrative offices on that side. On the far side of the platform, from the direction of the tunnel Huruma approaches from, a ticket-box guards a dark staircase that leads up to nowhere.

The long-pried open door to the office space opposite the ticket box is long-missing. It's in the back of the office space they should find a more modern type of locked door, behind which will lie the Company's hidden, if small, facility.

From here on is uncharted territory.

Wright is the first to reach the landing. She hops up and paces softly, keeping the door on the far side of the room in the sights of her rifle. Elliot follows, standing at the edge to lend a hand up to anyone who needs it. He watches through Wright’s flickering eyes for any other obvious traps in the space lying between them and their destination.

After climbing onto the platform, Devon pauses long enough to cast a quick look around. Like Elliot and Wright, he checks for anything out of the ordinary, a cursory once-over of the way back. He trusts the others to speak up if they see anything. His eyes flick up to make note of where Melody and Asi bring up the rear, then turns his focus to moving deeper into the tunnel system.

His boots scuff lightly against the platform as he crosses the planking to the doorway. Devon’s eyes trace the opening, taking stock of how the door hangs, the scoring from abuse and use, eventually focusing on the darkness beyond. One hand motions that he’s moving ahead, keeping the radios clear for now. As he passes through the opening, he brings the Banshee up slightly, ready to be used.

Melody pauses upon hearing the code names - that's one thing she hasn't gotten used to yet, much less her code name of Caladrius. Taking Elliot's help mounting the platform, looking around to help anyone else who needs it.

"Any known security here?" This question comes with motion to the locked door ahead, eyes scanning around in an effort to answer her own question if she can. The last thing she wants to do is stumble into a security camera or something. Not that this is a video game or something, but… you never know.

Huruma can trust the clay, even if she can't entirely trust the dark. The near silence of Asi's drone is an expected hummingbird's thrum, drawing her eyes with its movements. She is confident in its presence now to step after it when it wheels ahead.

The empath keeps a psychic tab on the tunnel around them as she comes up on the platform— or at least to where she can keep it within her sights, tall frame lingering near the ticket kiosk for now, acting a sentinel.

"If there's security it may be old fashioned. The power grid here should be a shambles. Do not step on any wires or get hit with any paint cans, hm?"

The dark of the abandoned, turn of last century office is a narrow thing to pass through. Devon's sweep discovers no further traps — yet. The Hounds as they file in catch sight of the doorway at the back of the facility— a locked, metal door weathered by nearly three decades of exposure.

A metal-pin keypad is set above the sturdy lock of the door. A tiny green light indicates the lock is live.

"The facility is low-tech by current standards. 1989 construction. Once we're past this door, we're in the Company office." When Asi sets her eyes on the active lock, her eyes narrow for a moment. "If she's restored power on the inside, there will be a CCTV camera system in the facility. Apart from that, we'll want to mind for lights suddenly being turned on."

Night vision might not like that.

"Other security apart from that?" Asi airs while they close in. Her voice quiets further. "Dunlap herself. Whatever she has set up in there." Tripwires, like Huruma suggested to mind for.

But there's likely more to worry about than swinging paint cans.

When everyone is positioned, the code retrieved from the file regarding the facility is keyed in on the doorpad. The four-number string is entered exactly as it was documented.

The locking mechanism emits a negative beep, the light on the console turning red for several seconds before flicking green again.

“Let’s hope that didn’t just send her an alarm,” Elliot says quietly. He crouches to set his pack on the floor, unzipping a pocket. He withdraws a small device connected to colored wires, as well as a set of tools and picks. He then clips one wire to the frame of the keypad box and another to the door before beginning to pry away the face plate to access the lock’s internal circuitry.

“I’m going to try to jolt the electromagnet directly.” He tests the charge on several wires before splicing into two and clipping them to his handheld device. Numbers race on the device’s display panel, and he watches with unhurried concentration.

Devon takes a position to be one of the first faces seen once the doors open as Asi tries the keypad first. Banshee up, finger resting lightly against the trigger guard, his eyes fixed on the space where the door meets the frame. The negative beep is all he needs to know it hadn't worked, and he relaxes his stance for the brief moment it takes for Elliot to move in next. His feet shift once the device is in play, body bracing to surge forward as soon as the door opens.

While the majority of the team works on the entryway lock and trying to make sure not to trip anything, Huruma stays somewhat behind at the junction of the station and the threshold into the door's room; though she certainly has a more decisive backup on her hip, like the others she keeps her Banshee palmed. Her post is silent, senses open to more than her vision in the dim. Part of her expects to hear a whisper on the edge, beyond the space they're working to get into— and another part is tensed to hear one in the empty corridors.

"Right." Melody clearly appreciates the rundown, following along closely as they make their way to the door and inwards. "About the time I wish I could see in the dark," she opines as takes hold of her Banshee. "Well, there was a chance she was going to see us coming a mile away anyway," Melody remarks to Elliot, doing her best to hide a grin on her face.

Apparently she can be a bit of a talker when nervous.

But at least her joke makes it clear that she's read the dossiers and prepared adequately for this mission. Maybe. They'll see.

The quick work Elliot puts into action on the door almost assuredly helps give them an edge, should some kind of security alert have been pinged inside. It's a battle of seconds to be in and be in an advantageous position before Dunlap can maneuver into one, if that's the case.

Asi's jaw tightens momentarily, feeling the loss of her ability keenly in this moment. It would have just taken a touch of her hand and a few seconds of concentration had she had it. But… the reality of things was different.

The sour taste is momentary and private, kept from bleeding into the network. The team is left waiting less than a minute after the device is hooked up. Asi keeps toward the back of the pack, slipping her beanbag rifle its position on her back.

The door clicks, opened by Elliot, cleared first by Devon.

They're in.

The moment Devon breaches the door he knows something is very wrong. The first thing he sees is a small security checkpoint that is little more than a glass-walled enclosure and a dilapidated desk and abandoned computer hardware. But mounted to the inside of the doorway are round metal disks with a chromatic shimmer to them. He isn’t able to react before


Devon crumples to his knees almost instantly as a pair of retrofitted Banshee emitters blast him at full amplitude from either side of his head. The frequency of the Banshees is tuned so loud that the Hounds directly behind him can hear the beam emitter. But what they can also hear comes a split second later, echoing through the cubicle-walled office space beyond the security checkpoint:

The blare of a fire alarm as an early-warning system.

This entrance was trapped.

Nobody can hear Elliot’s frustrated swearing over the sound of the fire alarms as he ducks and bolts into the room after Devon. He turns and looks over two disassembled banshees jury-rigged to the door frame. Grabbing wire cutters from the kit he still has in hand he reaches up and snips through the power supply wires on one side then the other.

Wright, not wanting to catch the wail of the banshees through Elliot, has stopped streaming his senses. She keeps her eyes on the room as she grabs Devon by one ankle and stands, dragging him back into the staging room.

A portion of her was definitely prepared to be correct; perhaps not in this way, but. Huruma's frame tenses up at the shriek of the Banshee tech, her ability tracing the movements of the team at her back as the alarm comes blipping to life before she can actually get a look inside. Wright has Devon, Elliot the doorway's triggers.

«Look alive on the exit routes.» Huruma issues over the comms, stepping back once more and expanding her reach back to its fullest, the sphere hazy at the edges. Her voice in ears is remarkably unsurprised, though not unconcerned. Prep took all angles. «She rigged an alarm up.»

"Who's going in?" Huruma cranes a look over her shoulder, Banshee hand working against the handle of the gun.

Once he’s far enough from the effects of the Banshees that he can move again, Devon sluggishly slaps at his helmet in the first motions to remove it. Fingers fumble with loosening the buckle and getting the thing off his head even before he tries to sit up again. Hands press to his ears, then rub against his face and scrub at the back of his head. His forehead rests on the ground for a beat longer, with hands laced against the base of his skull, before he starts picking himself up.

One hand pushes the helmet back onto his head, the other pushes off a knee as he stands. As Dev turns slightly and turns his attention back to the doorway, he pats at his sides and gathers his Banshee again.

Melody follows close, her grip on her banshee tightening. Sure, there's a bit of nervousness, but this isn't too different from what she'd done before. Just more organised. It's that thought that keeps her centered as they press forward.

"I am," she offers to Huruma. Putting one of the medics on frontline might seem unwise, but she feels a bit more at home there, and it lets her tend to non-life threatening wounds on the fly - also how she prefers to do things. Without having time to think about it.

"Do not leap before looking," Asi advises in a firm deadpan as she follows after Melody. "We need to make sure there's no round two of this." But together she clears the door after Elliot, and catches glimpses of the three-foot-tall office cubicles between flashes of the fire alarm light on the wall. Melody's sweeping look catches sight of a mine placed to the right of the door, her feet just shy of having knocked into it. Asi sees a tripwire on the ground straight ahead.

The moment Elliot cuts the wire and the fire alarm goes dead with it, the rest of them can hear what Huruma's senses inform her of— a panicked-awake scramble in a glass-walled office space at the other end of the cubicle bullpen. The force the office door flies open with speaks to the adrenaline of the person who shoves it out.

Not one, but two people emerge in a frantic rush to leave the space they'd been sleeping in.

"Stop where you are!" Asi commands, bean-bag rifle lifted.

Asi’s request is met by a spray of automatic weapons fire through the cubicles from a submachine gun wielded by Donna Dunlap. The brunette doesn’t even stop or look when she sprays covering fire in Asi’s direction, punching through layers of office paraphernalia, sending fragments of plastic and paper into the air.

As Donna makes a break for a distant door on the other side of the office floor, she is followed by a curly-haired blonde who stops for only an instant to look back at the Hounds with fear in her eyes—but not fear as far as Huruma can feel due to their distance from them. Adrienne Allen slips out the door into an adjoining space with Donna a moment later.

With a series of short clips from his wire cutters and careful placement on the edge of the sonic beam, Elliot is able to disarm both of the Banshees and clear the way for the full team to breach the office space.

It’s all measures of delays, Donna and Adrienne were gaining ground. But the cubicle farm is riddled with tripwires relatively low to the ground, and the automatic weapons fire has highlighted a few laser tripwires in major junctions as particle debris glints in their beam. The office had been turned into a minefield, except…

…from above.

Elliot drops to the floor at the sound of automatic weapons fire to present as small a target as possible. He comes back up to a crouch as he surveys the room, spotting the flickers of tripwires in the debris. He clears the doorway to make room for the others, eyes flickering around the immediate area for more traps.

Wright steps into the room after him, shouldering her rifle. She reaches instead for the smoke grenade launcher. She levels off and fires a single grenade, clear of where the canister itself might trip one of the lasers she can see. Hopefully the particle scatter will prevent Target 1 from sniping at them from across the enormous office space.

Melody scrambles out of the path of the small arms fire, eyes widening. She doesn't freeze, but she does tilt her eyes up toward the ceiling. "Any gaps to move forward?" This feels more familiar, firefights in cramped spaces. Poking her head around a cubicle, she scans the area. There's not much time and she knows it.

"Not particularly." Huruma mutters as she moves inward to the office space, tucking away at Donna's heedless cover fire and giving the room a once-over, expanding her invisible reach after the direction the two women took, seeking.

«Rabbits on the run.» The relay for other teams is concise; they're flushed out and mobile now. Huruma reorients on the trappings of the office, skimming the middle distance with a narrow look, helmet swiveling only once before she grabs onto the nearest cubicle wall to push herself up and away from the wired path. Now it's just a matter of picking a path across the width of the office rather than wait. If Asi calls her off, it's her op— but otherwise, the empath seems to operate on her own accord.

Current accord seems to be 'fetch'.

After giving his head a final sloshing shake, Devon follows the rest of the team through the doorway once the volley has ceased. He stays crouched at first, looking past shoulders and narrow walls. The razor fine lines of color that cut across open spaces are a problem, especially with the labyrinthine setup. “Note to self,” he murmurs, “never again make mazes for hamsters to run through.”

He straightens after a beat, pressing his back and shoulders against the wall of a cubical. His head tilts just so, for a look over the top of the structures. There must be a better way across, faster than navigating a minefield. As he rises up onto his toes to look further, Huruma’s movements just opposite him catch his attention.

Mirroring the commander’s efforts, since he's hit on the same idea as she, Devon pulls himself up onto the wall he just looked over. A hand signals to get Huruma’s attention. «Let’s see if we can pin them,» he suggests. It would give Asi and the ground team time to clear the traps and make the capture. «Keep’m busy and give ground team room to work.»

Across the office floor, Donna and Adrienne don’t have much of a head-start, scrambling as they do on debris-strewn tile. The door they exited through emptied into an L-shaped hallway, a portion of which has collapsed in on itself leaving a diagonal field of rubble consisting of ceiling tiles, I-beams, and a toilet from the floor above and several broken pipes. Roughly a thousand pounds of masonry too.

Both fleeing women scramble over the low side of the rubble to continue running down the hall. Adrienne trips, stumbles and nearly falls flat on her face were it not for Donna catching her. Adrienne yelps, pawing up at Donna, curling fingers in her shirt. “Don’t leave me,” Adrienne whisper-hisses to Donna, who pauses just long enough to cup both sides of Adrienne’s face and kiss her.

Never again, the kiss emphatically says.

With Adrienne’s hand in hers, Donna starts to run again before the Hounds can cross the minefield.

Asi knows better than to stop the more senior Hounds once they've started going, even though concern filters through her before being tightly wound back down. Donna and Adrienne on the escape, they needed to corner them as quickly as possible.

And the fact that they're running the opposite way from the exit Wolfhound was entering through could mean there's a way out of here they had not, somehow, accounted for.

The smoke-spewing grenade shoots across the office space, and so too do several rounds of fire from Asi's rifle, nonlethal rounds firing twice and going wide. Hissing belches of smoke spew haphazardly across the ground and through the air by the hall Donna and Adrienne dip through. She sees the stumble— the way the two hold to each other— through the sight of her rifle just before she can't see them at all.

Her throat tightens. «Looks like Allen is here with Dunlap,» Asi notes quietly over the comms.

From the unsteady catwalk made by the interlocking cubicle walls, oh-so-narrow in their execution, the night-vision goggles worn by Devon provide an excellent telltale view of the tripwires they need to avoid jostling. Thin stripes of color zip across the aisles, some running perfectly perpendicularly across, and some at an angle.

The clearest way across the precarious path they've chosen appears to be hugging the central wall between two aisles, slightly thicker than the freestanding border walls. It'll take them a half-dozen feet further away from where they'll be chasing their fleeing targets, but it's still faster than the more careful navigation needed by those on the ground.

The goggles Elliot and Wright wear meanwhile help highlight the path the team across the ground can take. Asi has the advantage of borrowing perspective from both of them to help step her way across the field carefully— but Melody will be left to gingerly mind her steps over the first few invisible wires.

Thanks to the smoke scattering at the end of the aisle, though, the red beams of all tripwires past the halfway point of it are made visible to the naked eye.

In a voice not meant to carry beyond the comm of their sealed helms, Asi advises the faster-moving Hounds, «Careful clearing the hall. They're rabbiting, but they might be setting up a better point for her to snipe from. Don't expose yourself unnecessarily.»

With the team in action, Elliot jogs forward, stuffing his tools into a pocket and grabbing his spray paint. He swipes at the ground in front of the first few lasers to highlight them for Melody as Wright moves in at a careful trot, crossing the room on the floor but still checking her corners for surprises.

Elliot gives Melody just the boost she needs to propel herself forward again. Feet practically dance around the lasers as she silently follows behind. «She's not going to have a lot of the telltale signs of a sniper because of her ability,» Melody adds to that - a fact she only knows because of personal research. No glint of a scope, less out of place lingering. Donna was born for sniping, to be frank.

Which is naturally worrying for Melody, though she keeps that fact to herself.

For as much as she was eager to ascend and start the venture to a safer path, Huruma seems additionally keen to let Devon direct her in what they see as a chance for a pinch. Up ahead, flickering in and out, Donna and Adrienne register on Huruma's radar as fleeting; route taken depends on the layout of traps, and Huruma allows Devon to give her the direction needed, given his sights.

What the commander doesn't relay, however, is that she doesn't think that sniping is the first thing on Dunlap's mind; second, sure. But… what she wants is something else entirely. Getting away. With Adrienne. Right?

Coming down on one of the far ends of the office, Huruma checks the lay of the land and the bracing of equipment at her midsection, palm checking the position of tools on belt, pausing to assess the path ahead. She'll take whatever route she can find to be able to squeak her way closer. Notably, hopefully, without getting caught up in wires and triggers.

Control over the situation will be better served if it is her that gets to them first.

In retrospect, using the cubicles to avoid the tripwires is more precarious than it first seemed. Devon balances on the balls of his feet, hands holding the top edge of the cubicle walls in a sort of bear crawl. It keeps his profile smaller than if he were standing, spreads his weight and lowers his center of gravity. From this position he scans the maze laid out ahead of them, tracks to Donna and Adrienne’s position.

With a hand he marks out a path for himself, then motions Huruma to one that would keep her parallel to his position. They can move in tandem this way, with neither stacked on the other. He adjusts the strap around his shoulders, setting the Banshee against his back. With a glance and a nod at the commander he starts forward. Hand over hand, one foot in front of the other, Dev prowls along the precarious route after Donna and Adrienne.

With a hop down after confirming the ground below is clear of detonation mechanisms, laser and otherwise, Devon and Huruma meet the end of the long row of cubicles. Smoke continues to belch from the grenade, though any second that spume will peter off and die, leaving only what's clouding the air currently. They have first dibs into the hall after Adrienne and Donna, come first upon the fallen rubble needing hopped over. They can see ahead where the hall turns.

Behind them, one by one the rest of the team navigates the minefield of lasers. Asi turns back to make sure Melody makes the last steps, considering the distance they've crossed in a much shorter time than she'd have thought. Wolfhound was resourceful and brave, though— its members determined that one way or another they'd make it.

Asi follows Wright through the smoke. «Ammut, Barghest— any sight of Elf Eyes up there?» she murmurs into her comm, adjusting her grip on her rifle. She can see Devon and Huruma down the hall, right at the corner.

Huruma can feel the pair of conscious minds on the periphery of her senses as they close the gap: love, fear, anger, regret. It’s what she expected. But there’s also tense anticipation as they’re rounding the corner, and their quarry has stopped running. Huruma only realizes what that might mean a hair’s breath too late to stop—

A high-caliber firearm rings out in the dark, not the automatic weapon that sprayed through the cubicle farm but something that in confined spaces sounds like it might as well be a howitzer. A round from whatever the gun is erupts through the wall where Devon is standing and hits him dead on in the side. He feels the impact like a mule kick, launching him off of his feet and into the opposite wall with ease.

The high-caliber round flattens against the now-rigid ferrofluid armor plating on his AEGIS breastplate but even after firing through a corner it still has enough impact to break his ribs and knock the wind out of his lungs leaving him dazed on the floor. Huruma hears the slide-click-snap of a bolt-action rifle chambering another round.

Huruma doubles back in a sidestep, one hand snatching Dev by the suit and tugging him back. Devon got quite the hit where he shouldn't have. When he shouldn't have. The ongoing study of the minds in the space beyond the office reads as something fascinating.

«"She can see us."» She relays from behind the shoulder of wall, pausing long enough to gauge the sound in her ears and the twitch of anticipation. Huruma's features rankle behind her helmet's facade before she breaks silence.

"Adrienne," Rather than Donna Dunlap and her superhuman sights— Huruma calls out to Adrienne Allen even as she is tugging Devon back behind a trap-free cubicle. "Arrêter, give up and talk to me."

As far as opportunities under fire go… this is a new one.

There aren't a lot of choices.

The impact forces a pained grunt as well as the air from Devon’s lungs. It's a sound that becomes a wheezed string of clenched jaw curses as he's hauled backward from where he'd landed. An arm wraps protectively over his chest, legs making a feeble attempt at helping Huruma get his ass back under cover. If there's even such a thing at this point.

«“Watch the walls,”» he advises around a shallow breath. Just what they need, a super sniper who can see and shoot through solid objects. Devon’s face twists with pain as he tries to pull in a deeper breath.

Elliot’s first instinct is to hit the floor as soon as he hears the gunshot. He quickly gets back up to try to make his way sideways to get a straight line of sight to the hallways door. He looks around frantically for something to use as a shield that could absorb a few bullets. His attention flickers through Wright and Asi’s to see more of the room.

Wright stays in a tactical crouch until Huruma informs them that Donna can see through walls. “Jesus Christ,” she says, standing. «“Moving up to assist Barghest.”» She holds her rifle to the side with one hand, looping the sling over the corner of a cubicle wall. Next she unslings her grenade launcher, setting it likewise to the side.

She pulls off a black patch covering a medic’s red cross affixed to her armor and walks with her hands up, stepping over laser trip wires as she crosses toward the hallway. She assumes Donna can’t hear her explanation, but hopefully the other woman sees her posture and doesn’t fire a round at her.

"What the…" Melody is more than a bit taken aback as shots rip through the corner. There's a moment of panic as she looks around for anyone who might have been caught by surprise. Besides Devon, at least. It's pretty impossible to miss that blowback.

«"Maenad, do you need an assist?"» The cubicles, of course, are poor cover, particularly with how clearly she seems to be shooting. It's hard to judge where the walls might be thick enough to stop her shots, so instead she turns her attention to the rest of her forward line. «"Is there a flanking throughline?»"

Asi doesn't flinch when she sees Devon flung across the hall from the force of the shot. Her grip on her own gun tightens, then she lowers the muzzle of it. She can't see through walls, after all.

"«Barghest is down. Dunlap can see through walls,»" she stresses for their outside parties, calm and hushed.

Her eyes flit to Huruma and her approach to the situation— her appeal to Adrienne. She hesitates only a moment before indicating what most of them have already done. "Weapons down." Asi keeps her head turned toward the team's empath.

If she's able to get them to lay down arms, by all means. For her part, Asi isn't intending on getting any of the team killed in this apprehension.

There’s something muffled around the corner, a lilting voice not loud enough to carry. But the bark of a woman growling, “Stay behind me,” is clear, as is the clack-chack of a round being chambered.

Donna, no!” A different woman—Adrienne—shouts a moment later, an instant before another thunderous gunshot rings out and a hole erupts in the wall less than a foot over Huruma’s head, showering her with drywall. The round continues up and into the other side of the hallway. There’s a struggling sound around the corner.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?!” Donna hisses, followed by more unintelligible speech drowned out by the ringing in the Hounds’ ears from the close-quarters gunfire. Wright is able to get up to Devon, sees chrome bleeding out of his body armor indicating the ferromagnetic plating on his side has been punctured by the round. The battery pack at the small of his back is hot to the touch through her gloves. No blood mixed with the ferrofluid, it didn’t get through the other side, but judging by Devon’s labored breathing he’s broken multiple ribs.

There is silence in the hallway. Then Donna’s voice, crisp and firm, demands: “Step out into the open. Slowly.

Devon fumbles at the straps that keep his helmet fastened to his head. It just needs to be loosened, not that it'll help very much. He manages a finger’s width by the time the next round cuts into the wall. It may not have been aimed at him, but he flinches bodily at the report just the same. Regret at moving is almost instant.

Pain is expressed in shallow, wheezing breaths that catch for long seconds after every extra movement. He bites off a few choice words as Wright begins checking him over. None of it is directed at her, of course, it's just a matter of circumstance. He quiets, more or less, once he's no longer being moved around.

Devon cradles an arm around his chest, lightly bounces his head off the floor twice in frustration. His head turns in Donna’s direction when she starts in with her demands. His response, any other time, would be to quote a wiser man and tell her to go fuck herself. In this moment, though, he keeps himself out of the negotiations.

Huruma listens as much as she hears; the echo of Donna putting a round into the chamber sends her sliding onto the floor, drywall and dust flaking down over her shoulders. The only thing to keep her flat is the knowing of the internal struggle happening behind the womens' cover. Paired with the whispers of infighting, she waits. Wright's assertion over Devon's state is given space, though Huruma does look up to make visually certain that he's taken care of.

Her pressuring Adrienne into talking will also give the others some time to figure something out when it comes to developments and the state of the site. Donna's wary acceptance of the offer is given an extra few seconds to settle in before Huruma slides to one knee, then up out of the shadow of the cubicle, a silent sidestep into view. She doesn't put her hands up, but she does hold them out at her sides, palms open.

The tension in the contained space is palpable, and Huruma's visibility comes with the unseen mist of her empathic field easing some of it back. Cooler minds typically prevail, and Huruma knows that a marksman who can see through solids is not exactly great news. For anyone, including the marksman.

Huruma's voice is careful in its tone, yet offering a moment of clarity. "You both know that this running may never end… Hounds or not."

“«Negative, Caladrius. It’s not life-threatening, I’ll bring him out.»” Wright replies to Melody as she marvels at the damage to Devon’s armor. She doesn’t flinch at the second gunshot, but she does pause to listen to Donna’s demands. As Huruma takes charge of negotiations she stays low and turns back to Devon.

“I’m not going to try to stand you up while she’s still trigger-happy, so, sorry for this.” She gets one hand under the back of Devon’s suit, bracing another against his hip to keep from contorting his torso, and drags him out of the hallway.

In the midst of the cubicle farm, Elliot holsters his Banshee and keeps his hands visible as he slowly approaches the area where Donna had been camped. He looks around amongst the debris for anything that might improve their bargaining position.

A single sleeping bag, a crank radio with the antenna popped off and spliced wires trailing from the antenna stump to a conduit on the wall. There’s foil packages of MREs torn open and discarded in an office waste bin, a couple of magazines of ammunition for whatever automatic weapon Donna had first opened fire with, and two pairs of sneakers. They were traveling light, from the looks of it. It reminds Wright of foxholes dug out by Resistance fighters during the civil war.

Melody can't contain the relieved sigh that comes with finding out that Devon's injury isn't life threatening, but that breath is almost immediately sucked back deep when Donna demands they step out into the open.

It's fine. Everything's fine. This will be fine.

There's no hesitation in Melody's compliance, holstering her weapon as she raises her hands up and follows suit in stepping out into the open. Her eyes angle up and at where Donna and Adrienne are, not taking them off her as she strides forward. "Think it's worth anything to tell her we're not here to hurt her. I mean, if she stops shooting through walls at us?"

Asi's expression hardens when Donna makes her command, posture losing none of its tension when one by one members of her team begin to comply. Her eyes roll shut hard briefly before she lowers down to a crouch by Wright and Devon's side, helping to maneuver the injured Wolfhound if needed. She takes one look behind them at the minefield they've had to avoid, starting to plan ahead mentally to their eventual exit.

She turns back to what she can see of the unfolding exchange, lifts her own voice as well. "The last thing we want here is for anyone to die, Donna."

To Huruma’s perspective, Donna Dunlap looks like a cornered animal. The rifle she’s pointing down the hallway is a Mauser M-18, a bolt-action hunting rifle. No scope, just iron-sights. Adrienne Allen is just a couple of steps behind Donna, abutting a pile of rubble from the floor above that floods the hall. There is a narrow gap in the debris behind them, a hand-dug tunnel through the collapse zone that may lead somewhere, an escape route Wolfhound couldn’t have known about. But it’s also a straw’s-width passage. They’d never have squeezed through in time.

“Take your people, turn around, and get out.” Donna lays her demands flat on the table. “I’m only going to say this once.”

Adrienne is frozen behind her with wide-eyed anxiety. The Frenchwoman swallows exasperatedly, a hand placed on Donna’s shoulder as both and anchor and an unvoiced plea. She looks between the woman she loves and Huruma, filled with a butterfly’s tremor of dread.

Huruma's first observation, aside from the rifle trained— is the comparatively miniscule passage at the women's backs. It's an absolutely despairing situation, and Adrienne's dread speaks to it. Rather than allowing that feeling to pull away, the empath avoids touching on it like an open wound. Instead, a feeling of calm comes from her, a coolness in her voice that attempts to dissipate some of that heat from Dunlap.

"And then what?" The taller woman's words are lacking confrontation, a plainly dressed question of the future, faintly laced un sympathy. She gets it. She does. Yet.

Not your fucking problem.” Donna is quick to answer. “Leave us alone, or I drop you right there. That’s the deal.”

“Don't.” Devon warns Wright about moving him as she hauls him back from the front. It fast becomes a string of chewed off words melted by the acidity of pain, with one hand trying to pry Wright’s hands from their grip. The other stays pressed against his side since it's the only thing he can brace against as he's dragged closer to possible safety. He's left with only sharp and shallow breaths forced through a clenched jaw when Asi joins to assist. And the rare mutter asking them to stop moving him.

Wright stops dragging Devon along the hallway only after getting him as far as the debris they had to hop before reaching the corner. “Sorry again,” she says as she pulls a trauma kit free from her back and unzips it. She shakes several white pills free from a bottle and holds them in her palm. “Unless Donna wants to give you a free fucking X-Ray all I can do is give you some painkillers.”

Elliot nudges through the sparse encampment with his foot, hands still visible. He stares at the sneakers for a moment, wondering how far they could get without them. “They’re barefoot,” he says quietly over the radio. He turns his attention to the far wall, looking for any access points which could lead to the other side of Donna’s barricade.

Melody frowns, inhaling deeply as she listens to the exchange happening around her. "She has to realize that this won't stop here," Melody mumbles as she comes to a stop, tensely looking around at the others while trying not to betray her movements. Eyes scan around, looking for some sort of flanking spot… though X-Ray may make that hard.

"She's just going to get her or Adrienne hurt," she offers. "That might be our only leverage, that even if we lose, someone worse will come for her."

From her spot by Devon and Wright, Asi lifts her voice again. "Who would you rather deal with, Donna— people who would try to talk to you even after you try to kill one of their own, or people who would shoot you— kill you and Adrienne without a second thought over a payday?"

"Reconsider. There's nowhere for you to run."

Huruma doesn't move forward, just a few paces back, bootheel lifted in a half-step further. See, leaving. There are still only so many ways this can go for the pair, though, and she defers to Asi taking the lead to divvy up the pressure points.

“You bring us in we’re dead. I’m dead, she’s dead, it’s over.” Donna says through her teeth. “They don’t let people like me walk.”

There is a bleak truth to what Donna is saying. The odds of either of them being executed for their high-level involvement in the Institute and the Company are high. Adrienne takes a step back from Donna, glancing at the small tunnel they’d have to crawl through barefoot, then back to Donna.

“It’s nice you fucking people get fucking pardons, but I either die here or I die there.” Donna’s grip on her rifle trembles. “What kind of fucking choice is that?!” Huruma can feel her rage boiling over again. “But when, have I ever had a fucking choice?!

An inward smile is fleeting. Donna's rage hits a ceiling, while Huruma listens. She turns her head towards Asi, deliberate in how long the look lasts. Perhaps apology, perhaps the sort of daring that one sees in a cat staring you down, one paw on a glass placed at the edge of a table.

"You're right. Donna Dunlap wouldn't walk." Huruma's gaze turns back to Donna, and her hands remain palm out at her sides. "She'd die there." A tip of her head given to the corridor beyond them, voice lowering, edging on conspiracy which doesn't leave the room. "Or she could die here." A purse of mouth is almost audible, tone sufficing as it shifts to muse, then a well-placed pout. "Mmm. Perhaps she's dead already, buried in metric tonnes of rubble and ash, just burnt to cinders. Tragic, really, what a loss. Love doesn't always win, I suppose."

Asi blinks once, her head whipping back in Huruma's direction. Her lips part, surprise robbing her of words— even challenges to what's being proposed here. Her eyes flicker back and forth over the distance between them and Donna, considerations being made. Seconds pass before she finds herself supposing, "The tunnel they dug out was small. Narrow. One of the mines they left behind went off… caused the rubble to shift."

She licks her lips before declaring slowly, "Wasn't even anything left to recover."

Wright looks at the campsite via Elliot and remembers what it was like to live like this. The times between open warfare. Scavenging, hiding, going to sleep. Waking up to worry until you can move on, or kill your way to another objective. “Donna,” she says, not shouting, just enough to make it down the hall. “This isn’t living.” It isn’t dying, but this is deep into the gray area.

Devon makes some unpleasant noises in response to it all. It's like a cross between incredulous laughter and the absolute regret of even trying to laugh. But he also isn't one to try to negotiate and it's mind blowing that that's the tactic the team is taking. He half rolls, curling at the middle with the sharp pain even though it doesn't help. Face on the ground, he nurses some dark amusement at the negotiations happening.

Donna’s hand trembles, curling a finger around the trigger of her rifle. Her shoulders heave with gasping breaths, sweat beads on her brow. She isn’t this upset. Melody might have noticed it sooner, if she’d been in sight, but it took Huruma a few moments to piece it together. It’s not hot in here, this isn’t Donna’s first time in a high-threat environment, and she’s pale. The shakes, the sweat, it’s not nerves.

She’s fighting an infection.

Donna,” Adrienne whispers, trying to put a hand on Donna’s shoulder only to have the former assassin shake it off. She doesn’t once look away from Huruma.

“Didn’t you fucking people run for a living?” Donna asks Huruma in a tense exchange. “Don’t give me this turn yourself in fucking bullshit.” She says through clenched teeth. “It’s nice that you all got yours and now you’re the ones on the other side of the fence. Same shit, just round and round in fucking circles!

Were it not for Huruma steadying Donna’s serrated nerves, she would’ve fired out of frustration just then.

“Donna,” Adrienne says a little firmer this time, and Huruma sees the former assassin’s brow twitch. “They’re not asking you to turn yourself in,” she says with a shaky tone of voice and a distinctive French lilt.

Donna’s jaw tenses in response. Her brows pinch together, eyes narrow. The wordless question both women’s expressions demand: What are you asking?

The time given to Huruma has her able to read the situation behind Donna's mood and the heat of her anger; her own body language doesn't shift once the others chime in, the tension remaining yet. Adrienne's presence is doubly the blessing, soon enough. Huruma's head tilts, birdlike.

"You're right, we did run." The tilt momentarily orients to Adrienne. "Time enough has passed for one or two more. For old times sake, I think…" Huruma's empty hands lift again at her sides. Open, posture one of poise, if coiled like wire. "If you two are interested in a one-way ferry ride."

Asi's mind reels as she looks down at Devon, seeing through Elliot's eyes, and then her own again. She shakes her head to herself, pushing herself up to her feet, and stepping out into view. She looks between Adrienne and Donna, focusing on the latter.

"Just give us something to work with," she asks for with a gentle firmness. With a slow shake of her head, she goes on, "Not everyone who escaped PISEC is innocent of doing terrible things, and not just because they were forced to." Her brow begins to knit together. "What about Varlane? Redd?

"Where did they go when you escaped?"

Shifting her positioning, Melody looks out at Donna and Adrienne. Her helmet hides her frustration, fingers curling in and out as she studies Adrienne and Donna from where she is. A few more moments pass, listening to Donna, listening to the others, before Melody makes a snap decision. Hopefully, not one she'll regret. "Goin' off script."

The hydraulics of her helmet click as she disengages them, pulling it off and walking out with her hands up. Already disarmed of all her other weapons, she sets down her helmet as well as her final piece of self defence, a knife. She's either an idiot or a fool, but the hope is that her total disarmament as well as an actual face will help her in this moment.

"So, I'm not one of those people who used to run for a living," she remarks as she steps slowly forward. One step after another, hands still held up, but slowly gaining ground instead of ceding it. "But I can tell you're trying to protect someone." Her eyes flit past Donna to Ardienne. It's not just because she read their dossiers. Watching and listening to their interactions brings up keenly familiar feelings of deja vu to her.

A few more steps, and she finally stops. "You gotta believe we're here to help. Because if you don't, you luck might give out down the road, and believe me no one wants that. Particularly with your history of being roped into things against your will… we're not trying to bullshit you here. I promise."

Elliot and Wright have little to add to the ongoing bargaining. When Asi puts Pete Varlane on the table, Elliot has to stop himself from rubbing his temples in frustration. Behind a firewall in the network, he gets Wright’s attention. “Nonchalant,” he says. Wright leans out of the open door of her brand new Civis, calling out to Marthe. “We’re running out of time!”

“Capillary,” Wright replies. They’re exhausted from this battle of attrition in yet another ghost town. “We’ll just have to get to him first,” Wright says, counting her rounds and reinserting the clip into her rifle.

Elliot reopens his sensory links as Melody makes her addition to the haggle. There’s nothing to be done about it here. Wright remains calm in the standoff, though Elliot can’t keep down the background anxiety of being in such a chaotic situation.

Donna’s face is stern, jaw set, brows lowered. She looks at Melody like a target, right up until Adrienne lays a hand on the top of the rifle. Donna looks from hand to eyes, then back to the Hounds. Slowly, at Adrienne’s guidance, she lowers her weapon. Fear replaces confidence in her eyes.

“Redd’s where he always is, under Gideon d’Sarthe’s skirt.” Her voice is tight, and Donna looks to Adrienne for guidance, finding her slow nod of approval one that makes bile rise in the back of her throat. She swallows down her pride, looks to Melody, then Huruma. “Varlane was with us there, I don’t know where he’s gone since. Same with the Renautas girl. We didn’t stick around.”

Adrienne follows Donna’s eye-line. “If you want a bigger target, I can give it to you. What happened in Detroit?” Her brows rise slowly. “A smoke screen. Adam Monroe, he fights a war. One we can’t even begin to understand. Against something older than time itself.”

Donna looks at Adrienne, not surprised by any of this, but worried. She looks back to Huruma as Adrienne continues. “But I have something he never did. Something he didn’t know to ask for. And I’ll give it to you if you let us go.”

Tightening her grip on her rifle, Donna watches the Hounds, watches Adrienne in her periphery.

Any good relationship has its building blocks. Donna's pride being pushed aside in favor of listening to Adrienne, it's bound to become one of those for them. As far as leads go… they have ..something, now. Varlane is a target of a higher caliber than the pair in front of her. To Huruma, in any case. He's too much to be out there.

Them? Forgivable.

Adrienne's certainty in opening up about Detroit coaxes out a small laugh from Huruma, and the tall woman's hands move inward to mime Melody and remove the barrier on her head.

"I know what he fights against." Huruma's teeth close together as she looks the couple through, pale eyes shining. "Or…did fight." She says through the slight grit of teeth, hands remaining in sight with her helmet; her gaze remains on Adrienne, while her mind stays hovering between them all. "It would not be the first time that Adam operated without a particular insight. And you're certain of what you have?"

Announcing that she knows what's become of Adam seems pointless here, but even in keeping that information to herself, Asi's inner unease chafes against Huruma's shores. The former technopath glances to empath over what she says, then opts to leave the confirmation-seeking to the other, closer parties. She'll satisfy herself with eavesdropping.

Instead, Asi steps back again by Wright and Devon, her voice lowered. "How are we doing? Can he walk out on his own?"

“Only if you want him to hate you,” Wright says jokingly, giving Devon a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Standing up will be the hard part. We should be able to walk him out.” Since the op seems to have shifted to a good faith barter, Wright lifts her field medicine kit in one hand then sets it on the floor. She can get a new one.

Negotiations have been a blessing, even if Devon vehemently disagrees with them — he’s at least mostly kept that opinion to himself — but the time everyone else has spent chatting he’s spent in reprieve. It doesn’t hurt so much when he’s not being dragged around and he can almost ignore the insane conversation. His eyes slide when Asi closes in again, refocusing on her and Wright as they’re closest to him. It’s the only movement that shows he’s aware of what’s around him and it’s probably unseen behind the visor of his helmet.

“Don’t…” He wheezes. It’s a request more than a demand. How else Devon’s going to get out of the tunnels is not his current problem.

Except it is, in the sense it's happening one way or the other. Asi winces sympathetically and goes back to listening for now.

Seeing how Donna regards her gives Melody a slight moment of pause. What they have to offer isn't her jurisdiction in this team, and with the medic spot taken that leaves her to join the others in being a mediator. Plus, if Donna shoots her, well.

At least she'll go out like Alis did.

Donna considers Adrienne with a stern brow and a glance out of the corner of her eyes. Against her better judgment, and only because of the soothing laid on by Huruma’s ability, does she give the subtlest of nods and move her finger away from a ready position at the trigger.

“It’s bones.” Adrienne says with a look between the Hounds she can see. “Adam thought I had found them, and I didn’t know their significance, but I lied to him regardless. I told him I didn’t know where they were.” Eyes narrowing, Adrienne swallows down a lump in her throat.

“I don’t know who, or what, Adam thinks he’s fighting. But whatever it is, exists in every single one of us, in our mitochondrial DNA.” Adrienne makes a small noise in the back of her throat. “Us, Evolved. Expressives.” She clarifies. “I can tell you where the bones are. What Adam wanted more than anything.”

Only to give Donna that further ease, Huruma's eyes only spend half a second notating the lay of the woman's hands and trigger finger. Better than before, though still not ideal. Adrienne's offer causes something hawklike in Huruma's expression, head tilting and eyes boring a small hole in the woman's words.

"Her bones, I imagine…" The empath whispers this to herself, expression rather grave. "And you've seen them?" Huruma knows what she wants to do here. Take the gold and not the chip. Her desire to accept is there, even as she looks up towards the others in silent question.

“I excavated them.” Adrienne says with both pride and confidence.

Shit. Asi manages to keep her silence, but it doesn't stop the chill under her skin from bleeding over into the network unexpectedly. Her eyes flicker back and forth as she reconsiders the entire plan they'd started to formulate. Donna needed medical care, after all, and should they be found ever, that could jeopardize everything for Wolfhound.

This information, though— that fucking changes things.

"The DoE have eliminated life sentences over less information than that, this last year," she says slowly, her dark gaze lifting to Huruma's pale one. "Fuck being declared dead in a pile of rubble—" Asi looks back to Adrienne and Donna directly. "You could get government protection for that kind of information. Exoneration— Donna could come work for fucking Wolfhound. Avi's done the defending-a-terrorist-turning-over-a-new-leaf dance already. He knows the steps. Hell, I do."

She ought to, given that it was her it was done for, and she was right there with him for most of the conversations. Asi gets more excited still, the thought of actual justice being done for these victims who've survived their scrapes with gold pieces to show for their suffering, each in their own way.

"We could make this fucking happen," she exclaims confidently.

Wright looks from Asi to Elliot, then back to Donna and Adrienne. “I agree, you could write your own ticket with this intel. Fuck I’ll bunk with my partner, you can have my room at the Bastion if you need somewhere to rest up first.” Elliot doesn’t add any snarky response to that. After their meeting with the director of the OEI, he’s fairly confident they could actually make this work.

For the sake of avoiding in-fighting, if only in front of two outsiders, Devon shakes his head angrily. “The fuck they will,” he mutters into his helmet. With a conscious effort, he turns himself onto his side so he can measure the insurmountable distance they'll need to travel to leave. “Inviting some Company hack to stay in the Bastion, maybe give her a job, but I'm the reckless one for getting shit done in the field.”

“The Institute said the same thing to me, right before they turned someone I loved into a fucking bargaining chip,” Donna says through clenched teeth, still teetering on the edge of resorting to violence, even if the rifle has been lowered for the moment. “Promises don’t go very far with me these days.” It sounds like she’d rather take her chances with the forgotten places of post-war America.

Adrienne doesn’t verbally counter Donna, but there is as much doubt in her eyes as there is her partner’s. “I can give you the location of the bones, last I knew where they were,” she says with a glance to Donna, “but the rest of that…”

Doubt lingers. Distrust.

Wright takes a risk and joins Melody in removing her helmet, giving Donna and Adrienne a human face to focus on rather than another intimidating mask. She gestures to the medical bag she set on the ground, not reaching for it. “I have antibiotics in this bag, you look like you could use some. Also I can have my partner bring you your shoes in case you have a way out of that rubble pile and decide to back out.” She points to Elliot.

“If you like,” Elliot offers, picking up their sneakers by the laces but not approaching as he removes his helmet as well, “I can call a DOE agent right now and pose a hypothetical question regarding what they’d give for your information.”

“This op didn’t come from them. I can keep it anonymous, just two people with outstanding warrants and a very big offer. You can listen on speaker phone to make sure I don’t say anything you wouldn’t like. If they don’t want to deal at all—an outcome that I believe would be highly unlikely—we’re left off where we are now. But as for why to trust me,” he shakes his head and sighs briefly, “I have intimate personal experience with the Institute’s history of forcing people to do things against their will. And a recent reminder that there were other people in your shoes in that hellhole.”

He can’t think of anything else to offer, so he slows himself down, concentrating to share his cognition with Asi should she decide to run the numbers and make another attempt to convince them. Wright feels the traffic on the network and does the same. Both remain alert enough to respond to acceptance of any of their various suggestions.

Huruma subscribes to the idea that this is best taken one step at a time— and seems slightly at odds with the ongoing suggestions up until Elliot legitimately offers a direct line. She hasn't taken her eyes from Adrienne in the interim, save a glance to Melody as Wright references the aid kit.

For herself, a location from Adrienne would suffice, for a blind eye. Her needs are not large. But things like this remind her that sometimes her own standards are not the same as other Hounds more inclined to sort things out in the open. "Most of us are familiar with situations such as these. Personally. " Being hunted, or used. Et cetera.

"I know the Exterior would be delighted to hear from us…" Huruma's weight shifts, shoulders rolling. "And likely both of you." She emanates calm from her low voice, both consciously and not. "If it doesn't feel appetizing, perhaps it will, eventually…"

Feeling consciousness ceded on her behalf is a new experience for Asi. She feels her thoughts slide on ice, capable of doing so much more for less, before she applies it to the situation. Her posture straightens with her clarity, her confidence.

"What you were missing before was someone on the inside fighting on your behalf, Donna. Someone who gives a shit about the human you are rather than the tool you could be. The Department of the Exterior might just be interested in the information, but they'll reward you well for it. And as for us?"

Asi glances to the Wolfhound leadership in Huruma. "Maybe it'll take time to trust us what we're saying, but consider what we're doing here. Trying to work with you instead of opening fire. Trying to give you both a path back to the light of day that includes fresh air to breathe on the way."

She shakes her head once. "When Wolfhound makes up their mind in something, they fight for it. They did the same for me when I was in a situation similar to yours— when multiple governments would have gladly locked me away rather than give me any kind of freedom. They're offering now to fight for you. Both of you."

"Myself included," Asi remarks with a lift of her brows underneath her helmet.

Donna’s shoulders square, pupils dilate wide as if taking in a vast amount of visual information, then narrow to a pinprick point. Then all that tension drains out of her and shoulders slack. She looks at Adrienne, who squeezes Donna’s shoulder in return.

Donna looks back to the Hounds, then takes in a deep breath.

She’s made up her mind.

A Short Time Later

The Department of the Exterior
Washington, K.C.

Seated at a desk in a corner office overlooking the skyline of Kansas City, a middle-aged man pinches the bridge of his nose and bows his head, slouching against the supple leather of his desk chair. There is a folder laying open in front of him with black and white photographs of a shipyard and a naval vessel, soldiers in old navy uniforms. Nearby there are photographs of a city intersection and an automobile accident more than half a century ago.


The phone on Gates’ desk rings, shaking him from his stressed slouch. He slides the folder closed, covering a blurry photo of several people running from the traffic accident. He picks up the receiver, waiting a moment before speaking.

“Gates.” He says tiredly.

«Sorry to disturb you, but there’s a call you need to take.» A woman on the other end says.

Taking a calming breath, Gates turns to look at a wall calendar hanging beside his desk, then out the window to the Kansas City skyline. “Can it wait?”

«It’s an urgent call from a member of Wolfhound, Sir.»

Gates brows pinch together and he wheels his chair closer to his desk.

“Transfer the call.”


Cincinnati, Ohio

«One moment, I’m connecting your call.»

The operations facilitator to the Department of the Exterior voice echoes over speakerphone. Slouched against the nearby wall, Donna Dunlap looks fatigued, leaning against Adrienne for support. There’s a click on the other end of the SAT-COMM communications device which, thanks to the signal extender, is receiving this far underground.

«This is Agent Gates,» a man’s voice comes over the phone. «To whom am I speaking?»

“Agent Gates,” Elliot says, “This is Officer Hitchens. I’d like to pose a hypothetical.” He’s confident the agent won’t suspect he’s wasting time with an actual hypothetical. He looks over Adrienne and Donna as he speaks, the phone held out between them.

“In this hypothetical, two wanted fugitives are seeking a way out of the dark in exchange for,” he pauses for a second as he reminds himself that this line is as secure as one could possibly be in this situation, “The location of the excavated physical remains of the Entity’s original human body. Is that something the Department would be interested in trading for?”

The silence on the other end of the speakerphone is as long as it is palpable.

Donna looks at Adrienne, and the latter turns her attention from Donna to the phone with a visible crease in her brow and a subtle widening of her eyes.

«That’s… interesting. I’d have to verify the information is reliable. This isn’t something we can do overnight. But, I can get the process started. In this hypothetical, would they be willing to come in? Or is this a Briefcase Exchange?»

Adrienne looks at Donna, who clenches her jaw and shakes her head slowly as she considers. Her eyes flutter shut for a moment, fatigue setting in before she shakes her head harder and knocks out the cobwebs. Her eyes wander to the hole in the rubble, to the shoes Wright brought over while Elliot was making the call.

“You get me.” Donna says with a look to Elliot. “Adrienne goes free. Now. She relays the information to me, I relay it to your agency.”

«Who else am I talking to, hypothetically?»

“Donna Dunlap,” she answers between clenched teeth.

«I think that’s a fair split, Ms. Dunlap. My superiors should have no problem signing off on that order, but I extend an offer of amnesty to Doctor Allen provided—»

“Me. Only. If you hold your word and let me go, then you get to see her.” Donna says with a grimace, placing one hand on her side over her jacket. Adrienne looks at her worriedly, then over to Elliot’s phone.

«Hypothetically speaking, this sounds acceptable. Officer Hitchens, how would you like to manage the handoff?» Gates asks, and it’s clear from the shuffling sounds on the speakerphone he’s moving around a lot on his side.

"I could verify in part." Huruma has been watching over the ensuing exchange, the movements of both the Hounds and of the pair they've come for. She has remained in one place throughout, only speaking up when she feels needed. "This is Commander Dunsimi." Not an unfamiliar name, just an unfamiliar presence to Agent Gates.

When the empath does move, it is to turn a look to the others, gauging. For Devon, she gives him a silent study. Of course she senses what's going on inside, and the manner she is conducting herself says much about whether or not she feels it is a beneficial idea. There are few ways of recourse.

Besides… cooperation with the Department now, means similar leverage later on. Hypothetically.

“We should be able to get her to you in relatively short order,” Elliot says, looking to Huruma for permission more than confirmation, realizing with chagrin that he hasn’t done that at any point. “I’ll coordinate with your assistant to arrange landing clearance in KC.”

Wright takes the opportunity to give Donna’s health a closer inspection. She pulls a saline bag and a vial of antibiotics from her field trauma kit. She displays both to Adrienne, quietly describing her intentions as the particulars of the deal are ironed out. She’s calm, and glad this didn’t have to end in death.

If Huruma had felt the need to dissuade this particular idea… she would have by now. Elliot's search is answered with just a nod.

The effort to move was a short lived burst, abandoned as soon as Devon twisted halfway onto his side. Since then he's been still, but for the subtle rise and fall of his armor marking each shallow breath. As the negotiations continue, he drags a hand toward his head, to push his helmet off and maybe breathe easier.

Asi can sympathize with the caginess Donna displays if only because she refused herself to come in person for any of her initial interviews with the government regarding her proposed future as a Wolfhound agent. She'd been aggressively against putting herself in a position where she could be fucked over.

She supposes it's different when you have someone you're looking out for, the way she is.

She lifts a hand to her helmet instead, stepping away once more to head back to Devon and assess the minefield they'll need to pass through again. «Cerberus, we're wrapping up down here. A pick-up right at the end of the tunnel is best. Will let you know when we're three minutes out

«I’ll put a call in to clear a space at Kansas City International Airport,» Gates says over the call. «We’ll have a team prepared to receive them. Dunsimi if you want to play middle-man, we’ll take that assist.»

Donna exhales a shuddering sigh, looking over at Adrienne. The tension—the fight—has left her. With adrenaline dying, fatigue eats away at her resolve to struggle against the force of this event. Adrienne slips an arm around Donna, slowly shaking her head.

“I go with you,” Donna says quietly to her. “Ensemble ou pas du tout, mon lapin,1 she whispers, pressing her nose into Donna’s hair at her temple. Donna’s eyes close, and for a moment she relaxes before remembering herself.

«I’m going to ask this take priority on whatever else you’re doing.» Gates’ voice continues over the speakerphone, amid the occasional sounds of doors opening and closing, of distant murmuring voices. «I’m heading up to the Director’s office right now to get signoff.»

“If this is a trick,” Donna says to the air, slowly opening her eyes, “I—I will—” Adrienne places a hand on Donna’s arm, squeezing tightly. Whatever threat was going to be there dies in the back of Donna’s throat.

This isn’t how she or Adrienne expected this to go.

This isn’t how anyone expected this to go.

"Of course." Huruma's murmured assent to the man on the line comes easily, her expression softening some at the small, tender exchange between Donna and Adrienne. It's not a trick, just fortune. That it was them, more than all else.

"Gather yourselves," The empath directs the two women, looking up and across the Hounds. "A couple of you, come along with me. We'll make sure the place stays clear 'til we're to go…" They'll need to handle any lingering traps, too. Once it is clear that Gates intends to go through on his tasks, Huruma replaces her helmet and pings the Tlanuwa.

«I've got good news and bad news, which would you like first?»

Elliot hands off the phone to Wright, focusing on the way back to the door. With the smoke beginning to settle, he reaches for his spray paint can to mark the traps he hasn’t had a chance to yet. “I’m thinking this is more of a bomb squad activity,” he says. He certainly isn’t trained for this. “Or a let them all explode activity,” something he’s sure he could manage.

"Let's avoid causing a sudden sinkhole, if we can help it," Asi suggests wryly to him, watching him mark the dangerous spots with a sense of malaise despite his care, his ability to see. The thought they could all go down in this minefield is one that lingers now despite the seeming approach of an otherwise bloodless ending.

She glances back to Donna and Adrienne for a moment to take them and their states better in before looking down to Devon. She crouches to help lever him to an upright position, putting pressure only on his good side. "Are you walking out of here, or do we have to drag you?" Asi's question is quiet, needling— maybe directly trying to rouse his stubbornness.

“Don’t.” Devon’s voice is quiet when Asi moves back into view and reaches toward him, but it carries the weight of warning. Something in the motion toward him triggers a withdrawal, though he doesn't manage to move before Asi has hands on him. Fear strikes like lightning one instant and then pain floods the next.

He makes a sound when he's moved, a sort of throaty groan, and more quietly, “Please.” He breathes, a couple of short, shuddering breaths that wash out the rest of his words. With his feet scuffing against the ground, Devon grasps Asi’s forearm, making every effort to stand before he's hauled any further.

Even as she waits for a return ping from the mothership, Huruma's gaze shifts, though her body doesn't; still, Devon knows when he's being watched silently amidst everything else.

The ever-suffering noise that sighs into Asi’s earpiece should’ve been expected. Avi should’ve expected a good news, bad news end to this.

«Please tell me everyone has their fucking fingers and toes attached.»

But there’s no way he—or anyone—could have expected just how this all came to a close.

Least of all Donna Dunlap and Adrienne Allen.

Some Time Later

At an undisclosed location

A battered cell phone a decade out of fashion vibrates across a brick window sill. A gloved hand retrieves the phone, turning it on speaker.

“Nakamura,” is said aloud to the empty warehouse.


Hiro Nakamura stands in half-shadow, watching cars pass by several stories below from his grimy lookout. Pigeons coo in the rafters, wings rustle, and the voice on the other end of the line brings serious news.

«We have a lead, but you’re not going to believe it.»

Hiro paces across the floor with the phone in hand, held at waist level. “Please,” he says with a scoff. “What did you find out?” Hiro asks, pausing to watch a pigeon take flight from the rafters and land at a small pile of seed near a torn open bag of birdfeed.

«Wolfhound found Doctor Allen. She traded intelligence on the bones’ location in a trade for amnesty, just like you suspected.»

Hiro nods slowly, turning his back to the pigeon as he walks up the length of the warehouse floor again. “Where is it? Where’s the skeleton?”

«That’s just it, Hiro.» the man on the other end of the line says with some amusement.

«There’s more than one.»

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