Operation Hercules, Part II


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Scene Title Operation Hercules, Part II
Synopsis Wolfhound's strike against the Institute runs into heavy resistance.
Date January 10, 2019

High, forested hills shadow the presence of a three story stone manor within once-immaculately kept grounds. Overgrown grass covers a sprawling valley yard littered with motion sensors blinded to the proverbial lions in the tall grass.

The midday sun burns bright overhead, leaving few shadows for infiltrators to pursue. But the exterior of Sunstone Manor isn't heavily defended, and the one gray-clad security guard in military surplus body armor laying face down in the gravel beside the house put up little resistance. Booted feet pass his probe form, a trio moving in a wedge pattern toward the weathered wooden doors of the manor’s rear entrance.

This was it.

This was the end of a long road.

One Day Earlier

The Bunker

Rochester, NY

January 9th


Epstein’s briefing has been going on for a while now.

“Team 2,” Avi steps away from the television displaying the topography of the Los Angeles foothills, “will be led by Ryans and Clendaniel with the, uh, Junior Gitelman in command.” With a click of his remote, Avi shows a colored dot on the map marked with a 2 proceeding from the forested perimeter of the compound toward the rear entrance.

“The Major will have electronic security down, you'll need to neutralize any exterior security they have and then enter the building by the rear door, your team’s objective is to sweep the three above-ground floors and secure the site for extraction.” Epstein then switches to display a floor plan of the estate.


One Day Later

Sunstone Manor Grounds

Just outside Los Angeles, CA

January 10th

1:19 pm

A pair of wooden doors open into a lavishly appointed kitchen fit to cook meals for dozens of guests to the manor. Brushed steel abuts cherry oak, copper sets hang from ceiling-mounted racks, blocks of knives by cutting boards. A half-finished meal is laid out; eggs in an open carton, partially sliced tomatoes and chopped cilantro and garlic. A loaf of bread is partly sliced. There's a sweaty slab of room-temperature, uncooked bacon on a skillet. Breakfast.

You’ll insert through the kitchen.

Glass shatters in the distance.

You’ll probably hear Team 1 headed to the basement when you're inside.

Lucille senses the presence of Rue, Robyn, and Dearing on the far edge of her senses, feels the presence of nothing else in the immediate area. It's a huge building. Noa doesn't pick up any radio chatter, outside of Wolfhound comms.

Kyla Renautas said she reported back to her brother when we hit Casper's trailer. They've likely known we’re coming.

The house is eerily silent, save for the fading noises of Team 1 heading to the basement entrance off of the family room, according to the schematics.

Be careful. We don't know what to expect here.

Silence precedes her.

The last time Lucille's footfalls touched Los Angeles were during the war and before that.. well the former model partied in houses like this. Met Tahir in a place like this. She's not the same as she was either time now. There's no beach to lie on, no margaritas and shopping on Melrose but there was a mission here. She always seemed to have one. Booted feet softly press into the floor as Lucille's amber gold eyed stare sweeps the room and the unfinished breakfast pushing her senses out around her as she crisscross walks along the far wall, trying to sense the next room over. Her face relaxed, body poised for movements that are measured.

A fingerless gloved hand is placed on the wall as Luce leans in holding her breath at the same time as she draws her biotic radar into herself before exhaling and allowing her senses to bloom out again.

A flutter of the black material of her asymmetrical blazer that sits over armor and concealing most of the weapons and tools she's brought along. Her Banshee at her hip with one hand, the thumb resting on the top ready to lift at any moment. The numerous blades she carries with her are all around her person but the glint of the two hanging at her waist, made of ebon metal. Lucille's head tilts to the side and her auburn ponytail bobs along with her. Her breathing in control, emotions in check. Mind was clear.

The muzzle of a Banshee precedes Devon into the kitchen. He holds the weapon at a slight angle, away from covering Lucille as she leads the way inside. He crosses with light steps, angling to the opposite side of his fellow Amarok, scanning the whole of the room as he prowls further inside. The half-made breakfast is regarded briefly. They may have known the Hounds were coming, but perhaps not when. The presence of food in preparation implies their targets left in a hurry.

Moving past the abandoned food, he makes a path to the far doorway. He looks over his shoulder, to Lucille and then Noa, marking their positions as he creeps toward his.

The doorway is approached at an arc from left to right, and his steps carry him slowly from one side to the other so that he can get eyes on what waits beyond while keeping as much cover as he can. His non-lethal weapon remains raised and ready to shoot, finger resting just above the trigger. It’ll take less than a second to place the digit and squeeze. His belt is free of explosives this time, but his familiar sidearm rides at his hip just in front of a sturdy, fixed blade tactical knife.

As he closes in on the doorway, Dev’s feet take him into place on the right side of the frame a strong two steps back from the opening. It should give him enough cover if anyone is hiding in, or moves into, the hallway beyond. His head turns slightly though his eyes stay slanted toward the opening. It should be just enough to signal to his teammates he’s ready to move in without giving up his line of sight. On his next exhale, he turns his head forward again.

The slight frame belonging to Noa Gitelman enters last, giving a nod to the little nook in the corner of the room before heading that way, knowing that her two fellow Hounds will know to cover her as she checks it. As she moves across the kitchen, her voice sounds on both their comms as well as those of Hounds in other parts of the house; her mouth doesn’t move — only those on their radios hear her.

“«Team 2 at entry point. Abandoned meal indicates they were present recently, probably still here.»” She doesn’t advise them to proceed with caution — everything about this mission, this job, requires both caution and an embracing of danger.

Before she nudges the door open to that small nook, she reminds Devon and Lucille their plan: “«We’ll sweep the south hallway and rooms before taking the north.»” The more open design of the southern side of the ground floor makes for fewer blind spots, quicker work. The northern side and the floors above unfortunately pose quite a few more problems.

At the door to the pantry, she glances back to make sure the other team is ready in case ambush waits in there among cereal boxes and Perrier bottles, before testing the door. Her own Banshee is held at the ready to blast anything that moves. Noa would really like this mission to have fewer surprises than the last.

Sunstone Manor is hauntingly quiet. Out the French doors in the hall Noa can see three recently-downed perimeter guards laying in the tall grass of the back yard, indicating that Rue’s team has made it into the house much as they supposed.

Everything in the house is coated in a fine layer of dust. Paintings of provincial French landscapes on the walls are left exposed, dust clinging to oil and slowly ruining once beautiful pieces. There's tracks in the dust, signs of habitation, but it's like the manor of a diminishing Victorian nobility, with all its staff gone and the parlor in ghastly disrepair. Through the hall there's a drawing room, with high-backed chairs and bookshelves, a decorative and unused gas hearth. Another painting hangs above the mantle here, but this one depicts a brunette man in a brown jacket leaping off of a roof and seemingly flying.

At the bottom of the painting is the signature: Mendez 06.

Isaac Mendez.

Discovery of an original Mendez painting is undercut by a subtle creak of the floorboards overhead and a clunk of someone moving around upstairs.

There's a absent nod from Noa's words as Lucille's eyes find the painting and the name beneath. Issac Mendez.. a hand almost goes to touch the painting of the flying man before the operative stops herself hearing the movement of someone upstairs, her movements fluid as she draws closer to the door prepared to move forward. Prophetic paintings were a find in these days but Lucille saw little use for those cryptic prophecies, maybe she just hadn't encountered a seer that made her truly believe.

The debate on whether or not precognitive can be trusted is waved from Lucille's mind. Something to debate with Berlin over. For now she moves towards the south hallway and the rooms beyond, they had a job to finish.

Slow footsteps carry him down the hallway and through the drawing room. He takes in the details, the dust and disuse, but spares little time deeply examining anything until Lucille takes interest in the second painting, and he lets himself taking a longer look. “«If we can, we should recover it and turn it over to the Major.»” Devon says quietly into the comms as he picks up the name in the corner. His eyes are drawn upward, marking the sounds from the floor above.

As the suggestion is given, he pauses in his prowling to consider the sounds upstairs. There’s still several rooms yet to clear, but with movement above… “«I don’t like knowing our back is exposed.»” Anything could come down and pin them in any of those back rooms. He tips his head to look at Noa and Lucille, then backtracks for the stairs. “«I’m going to get eyes up there and report back.»

The painting is glanced at, and it has a different meaning for this girl from the future. “«I’d like to give it to Lene or Gillian,»” is a quiet response, made with mind, not mouth. “«If we have time.»” The sound upstairs draws her eyes that way, and she frowns, concentrating for any hint of communication in their vicinity, in case their prey is speaking on radios or cell phones that aren’t meant for their ears or eyes. Devon’s movement draws her dark eyes his way, and she shakes her head just slightly.

”«Don’t go up alone but keep post at the bottom. It could be a diversion for someone down here, too,» Noa counters. “«Ryans and I’ll finish the sweep of this floor, reassess then.»” It’s on to the family room and the little nook to the east, before the uninviting collection of blind rooms on the northern wing of the floor.

As Noa and Lucille start heading through the drawing room, past doors leading outside, Devon breaks off to head to the stairs to the second floor. They're visible through the doorway off of the drawing room, and Devon’s slow and careful pace allows him to silently creep up on the stairwell. There's a wheelchair there, sitting at the bottom of the stairs with no sign of it's precious occupant. A metal track in the wall winds up the wide staircase to a landing halfway between floors. Devon steps up onto the first stair to get a better look around the landing and sees a large chair attached to the metal rail at the top, one of those stair-climber accessibility chairs.

Then he hears it again, a thump and a scrape. Someone is moving around up there, and only being somewhat quiet about it. There's no visual indication of who, though, just a distant sound that echoes like it's coming down a long hall.

Across the house from Devon, Lucille and Noa make their approach to the family room. As they emerge through the doorway they get a brief glimpse into a well-appointed lounge area with hardwood floors, leather furniture and taxidermied animals on the walls. Lucille doesn't feel any signs of life in that direction and Noa doesn't pick up anything else either.

The family room, according to the blueprints, looks more like a waiting room. There's uncomfortable looking chairs and couches, landscape paintings on the walls. The door to the yard out back is nearly torn off of its hinges, doorknob split off, and the door to the closet is pulled back to reveal the brushed metal doors of an elevator. Rue’s team came in from this room and were to use that elevator to access the basement. From the looks of things, they made it through.

As Lucille checks the non-functional hearth and fireplace for any hidden compartments or panic rooms, Noa notices something on the wall by the elevator. A small picture frame, seemingly innocuous, containing a framed photograph that is eerily familiar. Adel has a similar one she keeps in her wallet. It's a cute photo of her father as a child, smiling. A photo of Magnes Varlane, age 8.

«There’s a landing between floors.»” Devon’s voice is a murmur into the comms. His eyes follow the track on its path to the second floor. “«And a chair lift going from the first to the second floor.»” Possibly the third, if he had to guess, but right now his attention is on the second floor. He places a boot on the next step up but hesitates going further when that sound comes to him again.

One by one he climbs the remaining stairs, stopping on the riser just before the second floor. He places a shoulder to the wall as he gauges the hallway and counts doors. “«Reached the next floor, nothing sighted, but there is movement up here.»

Keeping to the wall, Dev sets his foot on the floor and leaves the staircase. He covers to his right, Banshee raised and ready, as he crosses to the left. “«Moving into position at the top of the stairs,»” he continues to report as he moves quietly to a small nook where the hall narrows. With his back against the corner he waits and listens, non-lethal gun still trained to his right and an eye spared to look around the wall and watch his left side.

Eyebrows raise a tick at Noa's suggestion of bringing it to Gillian Childs and her daughter from the future but Lucille leaves her questions for another time as she and Noa sweep the rest of the floor, taking in the decorating and furniture, the number of windows… the atmosphere of the place. No signs of life around them yet and as the auburn haired woman checks the hearth and finding nothing comes to stand to her feet she stops and squints when she notices the picture that Noa's gaze has captured.

"Is that…" Before it clicks, "Magnes…" Thinking of the young man she met while working at Old Lucy's, the man that became a black hole that day in Alaska. Pete Varlane. His father had to be here. Sharing a glance with Noa as they have found nothing on this floor and hearing Devon's report.

Edging away from the hearth and that strange placed photo of Magnes she turns her attention towards the stairs and looks up to where Devon has gone. Waiting for Noa.

“Shit,” says Noa, staring at the image of Magnes, her expression turning from concentration to worry. “Is this Varlane’s place?” she says, before the report from Devon comes across, making her scowl deepen.

“«I said keep post at the bottom,» she repeats on the comms. “«Hold your position.» “ She reaches for that picture frame, perhaps to take it for Adel, perhaps to see if it’s one of the triggers for a secret passageway or nook.

If it’s not, Gitelman will nod to Lucille to continue their exploration of the northern side of the ground floor, full of its blind corners that may hold any number of things lying in wait for them, to move room by room to clear each before getting back to the stairs to the west.

The picture frame comes off the wall easily enough, kept for sentimental reasons. As they move through the doorway into the large room full of taxidermy beyond, they find a sprawling lounge divided by a low half-wall at its middle. There’s leather upholstered furniture, high-backed chairs, tall bookcases filled with old leatherbound tomes. The hardwood floor clunks under booted feet, dust particles dance in the air with languid quality, disturbed by Lucille and Noa’s passing. The sideboards along the wall are bereft of liquor, save for some empty decanters and glasses with dark stains at the bottom.

Off of the lounge is a derelict laundry room with heaps of untended clothing, moldering towels, and indication that this place was once used, but now has fallen into disrepair. Were it not for the security outside, it would be easy to assume the Institute abandoned this place a year or two ago. But there’s no sign of anyone here; an empty bathroom, dust-caked closets, no sign that anyone has been anywhere in this part of the house in a long time. Eventually, Noa and Lucille complete the circuit of their sweep of the ground floor, bringing them into the stairwell Devon has posted himself at. Though he is situated at the top of the stairs rather than the bottom.

Though Devon hears it most clearly, Noa and Lucille at the bottom of the stairs hear the sound of glass shattering somewhere on the second floor. Devon hears it coming more from the doorway to his right, one that is indicated as a master bedroom on the floor plan, but through the crack in the door he can see looks to be more of an office. He then hears a thump and a shuffle, followed by the crash of something wooden hitting the floor and a muffled voice. Whoever’s up here isn’t doing much to hide their presence now.

What Lucille wouldn't give to be able to read through these old tomes but she satisfies the bookworm inside of her by peering at the titles as she goes. It's not long before they've completed s full sweep of the first floor Lucille padding softly near Noa and giving her a signal that she heard or found nothing. It's when they come to the stairwell to meet Devon that Luce tenses up as her head snaps up trying to pinpoint the sound with amber gold eyes flaring. Not in range but she wants to move closer.

Her right hand curls and then flexes as she looks over at Devon with a raised eyebrow and giving Noa a look. // Proceed?//

Eyes snap toward the sound of glass shattering, and Devon brings his firearm up and ready. Easing away from the wall, he takes careful steps to cross to the doorway that opens into the master bedroom. He pauses at the door, listening to the sounds within the room and the sounds of his teammates making their careful approach to his position.

«Noise is coming from the master bedroom.»” He slowly reaches toward the door. “«Going in.»

Then with his offhand, he gently pushes the door to widen the gap. He follows through with the motion, slipping into the doorway while the door still offers a bit of cover. He covers the open side first, eyes searching for the source of the sound before moving deeper into the room to clear the covered side next.

With a look to the ceiling, Noa gestures Lucille to move faster to the stairwell. The sound coming from the east, there’s the problem of the rooms to the west and the south, their interiors kept secret from angles and doors and walls. She frowns as Devon moves without waiting for assent, but looks to Lucille, seeing her eyes flare and feeling the pent-up energy of the other Hound.

“«I’ll sweep these,»” her voice sounds through their coms, as she nods to the westward side of the floor for the three bedrooms west of the stairwell. “«You support Clendaniel but keep an eye on your six; south and east rooms can hide a lot of nasty.»” She’s loath to separate from the team, but the floor plan makes it necessary — sending the two Hounds with offensive abilities to the lion’s share of the floor makes sense.


“«Be careful and say in communication,»” she advises, before moving to the bedroom that borders the stairwell, weapon drawn, to clear it.

As Noa breaks off from the others to secure the other upstairs rooms, she finds them in a state of disarray. The blueprints indicated these were bedrooms, but that isn’t what they were used for. Each room is an office, with filing cabinets, computers, desks. They look executive-level, given the furnishings and style, but they’ve been ransacked. Shelves are torn open, books scatter the floor along with paper files, many of which have been torn up and thrown around. Laptops lay scattered on the floor, screens flickering but still powered. Most of this damage looks recent.

At the same time Noa is discovering what happened in the adjoining rooms, Devon and Lucille make their way to the source of the noise. Lucille can feel the presence of one living person as they draw nearer to an open door, hearing the sounds of crashing cabinet doors and crinkling paper undercut by muttering and frustrated noises. In the front, Devon is the first to see light spilling in through the tall, rounded-arch windows onto a hardwood floor scattered with loose documents. A leather chair has been flipped over behind a clawfoot, mahogany desk. The fish tank on the far side of the room is dark green with algae, no sign of life within.

Standing silhouette in front of the enormous fish tank is a gray-haired rail-thin man with an untrimmed beard. The white lab coat he wears is stained at the collar and sleeves with grime, as though it hadn’t been washed in months. He turns, looking up to the door when Devon enters, holding a paper folder full of documents in one hand. “Oh,” is his surprised greeting.

Devon has seen this scientist’s face before during the briefing, an Institute researcher named Richard Schwenkman, a theoretical physicist who once worked at MIT. A genius, and also one of the Institute’s surviving researchers. Rich holds up one hand but doesn’t drop the folder. “Please, uh, don’t— shoot. Please don’t, ok?” Lucille can feel his pulse spiking.

Following the noise and that life line Lucille comes into the room behind Devon with golden eyes narrowing as they spot the researcher and she rolls her eyes, when's the last time Wolfhound shot anyon- oh that's right.

Best to lead with a strong hand on his back so to speak and so Lucille stalks forward and launches a tether to his life line, funneling Pressure onto the man at the same time that she goes to wrench the folder out of his hands. Those amber burning eyes flare as she looks down at the folder if successful, stepping back to allow Devon to cuff him since she's holding whatever it is Rich was clinging too,"The others?" That's what she needs to know, the state of his jacket are taken in. Just what in the fuck was going on here?

"«One confirmed.»" Alerting Noa if she hadn't heard Rich's voice trailing down to her already.

«Schwenkman,» Devon announces as he gets eyes on the skinny old man. He keeps his Banshee trained, finger resting on the trigger, and falls in to keep Lucille covered as she strides forward ahead of him. As he closes the distance himself, within just a few steps, he drops his off hand from the weapon so he can pull zip-cuffs from his belt.

Keeping that weapon aimed on the scientist, Dev crosses to step in behind him. Lucille can handle asking the questions. Once in position, the Banshee is holstered so he can grab Rich’s wrist and slip the plastic loop over it. That should give him control to manipulate the limb and get the second one locked down as well.

“«Unevolved, at least according to registration,»” Noa quickly volleys back — still, there are people who have hidden abilities, so she knows her team knows to take this information with a grain of salt. She scans the ransacked rooms, looking for anything that might be urgent and making a mental note to sweep it later. The hard drives and files might have useful information — but whatever’s most important is likely no longer in that room.

She slowly moves in the direction of her team, clearing each entry point as she retakes it, in case someone has stolen in when her back was turned. There’s a feline quality to her slow, stalking steps that speaks to her Gitelman “lioness” heritage.

“«Clear»,” her voice sounds on their comms, though behind her visor, her mouth doesn’t move as she steadies her gaze on Schwenkman, adding another Banshee to the party pointing at him. She stands in the hallway, ready to move. “Who else is here? Where? Varlane?” Noa asks, not realizing Lucille’s already given him one question to answer.

Rich’s head swims and he fumbles the folder, dropping it to the floor in a crash of of stapled documents and research photographs showing brief flashes of viscera and gore as they flip through the air. Moving a hand to his head, Rich staggers back and sits on the corner of the desk, making a soft groaning sound in the back of his throat. It’s about then that this team realizes he won’t be going anywhere. His free hand had been covering a dark red spot on his side, bleeding out through a hole in his shirt.

“I— I don’t know,” Rich mutters, looking up wide-eyed at the Wolfhound team. “Christ, you really came. I— they’re liquidating the facility. You need to go. It’s too late.” Eyes wrenched shut, Rich moves his hand back to his wound, not bothering to keep his hands up. “It’s too late for everyone.”

«This is an alert, all teams. We’ve got— »

Whatever Commander Epstein was trying to warn over the comms goes dark in a crackling blast of static. There’s no response on his end, no response from Hana, no response from anyone. Every open channel is static, and Noa can feel a high-pitched buzzing sound in the back of her head and behind her eyes. She knows the feeling, but she hasn’t felt it since the war.

Someone deployed a signal jammer.

Keeping a hand on Rich’s shoulder, fingers curled into the fabric of the old man’s coat, Devon lets Noa and Lucille take the lead on asking the questions. He keeps his gaze roaming, watching the corners and pockets within the room for anything hiding. His free hand drops to his sidearm, checking that it’s clear in its holster.

As the Commander’s voice comes over the comms, Dev angles a look back to his teammates. When the communication is cut and turns to static, he turns to cast a look toward the arched windows. Leaving the old scientist to the questioning, he walks to the windows to report on what’s on the grounds, as far as that view will allow him.

“What-” begins Noa when she quiets to listen to Epstein, her brows drawing together when his voice cuts off and her head sounds like it’s full of bees instead of words. “Signal jammer. I can probably punch through it — Depends if it’s tech or technopath,” she mutters, a glance to ‘Rich,’ with a brow lifting — a tacit query for him to fill in the answer to that question if he knows it. Tech she can usually beat, but technopath, it becomes a battle of wills.

Of course, she’s a Gitelman. Will is one of her strong points.

“Let’s get him out of here,” she tells Lucille, looking to Devon for an answer as to what’s going on outside, but nodding down the hall to the stairs. Time to move.

For now, Noa focuses on Epstein, targeting his device with her ability — The radiopath will play relay to one team at a time if she can’t get through that jammer to allow all of their Hounds to communicate at once. “«Epstein. 10-9. We’ve got a signal jammer. Schwenkman says they’re liquidating facility. We need to move.»”

Lucille's gaze follows Rich as Devon leaves him to go see what he can see out of the window. The tall woman takes a moment to churn over the word liquidation. Removing the zip ties from her back pocket, she's not gentle but she's not rough when slipping them over Rich's wrists. "Speak clearly about what happened." Allowing her fingertips to rest on his wrist, Sleep slowly seeps into his system but she doesn't lean into the effect fully, she wants him compliant and calm for the most part, she hated dragging sleeping men through hallways.

«// —eah, Ivanov and Autumn are on it!» Only Noa can receive Avi’s relay, and the relief in his voice is tempered by extreme frustration. «You’ve got a bogey inbound, carr — er aircr — ft, possibly Praxis! Less than 1 mi — ute out!//»

Unaware of their impending problem, Richard Schwenkman slouches and nearly collapses at Lucille’s touch. Between his untreated bullet wound, the resultant loss of blood, and her biokinetic touch issuing a soporific effect in his mind, it’s enough to cause his legs to give out. Lucille only recognizes what she’s done when she can feel his biological rhythm slipping. He collapses onto his knees, knocking over a stack of papers on the desk, then slouches down against the front of it, eyes rolling back in his head. He drifts in and out of consciousness, mumbling incoherently.

In the distance, there’s another and more pressing sound. A helicopter.

Another roll of her eyes but it's for herself because she had pushed him too far. If anything he's going to feel even more weird when this is all over. Grabbing onto the folder and documents that fell to the ground before she reaches forward and wraps her hand around Rich's arm to haul him up with a narrowing of her eyes. She doesn't wake him up, not wanting to send him or herself into overdrive so fast. Lucille waits for Noa to direct them as she drags the "dead weight" of Rich forward. They needed to move. Praxis. The fuck?

Coming up to the window, Devon presses a hand against the frame as he leans toward the glass for a look down at the grounds then up toward the sky. “We need to move,” he says calmly as he straightens. His eyes lift upward again as the sounds of helicopter blades cut through the air, eyebrows raising while he scans what he can see of the space above treetops. Fingers curl around the firearm holstered at his hip and he pulls it free. Practiced hands draw the slide back enough to check the round in the chamber while he turns from the window. “I’ll cover our back,” he says as he looks at Noa, following her lead now that new players have entered the scene.

“«Well, now it’s a party.»” mutters Noa to Epstein, focusing on quickly relaying his message to a device on each of the other members’ teams, before nodding to the others and gesturing for Lucille and Devon to get Schwenkman out.

“I’m going to check upstairs. Don’t fire at Praxis unless they fire first. They might be allies, at least in this,” she tells the others. “Cover them,” she adds to Devon, before moving for the stairs to take her to the last floor. This might be all the time they have left, their only chance to get whoever’s here.

As she takes the steps, Noa’s ability reaches out, looking for the signal belonging to the bogey, to listen in on any information on their waves.

«We’ve got a s — ond bird — oming in. Team 4 is busy with the first dropship, don’t know if it’s hostile. I’m going to spin the Tlanuwa up and get eyes on them. Watch yourself, kid.»

There’s a tension in Epstein’s voice when he says that to Noa, not the tension of a commander and a subordinate, but of something bordering on familial. He’d been with Noa for years, since Pollepel, practically since Wolfhound started, and as much as he’d never admit it, the Gitelmans are some of the closest — if most difficult — family he has.

Outside of Epstein’s comm frequency, Noa picks up chatter in Mandarin on military frequencies. Some of it sounds urgent, shouted, others sound more concise and controlled. From the tone alone she’s sure that one are operatives in the field and the response are more remote, possibly a command position. What’s interesting is that the frequency they’re communicating on isn’t blocked by the signal jammer.

As Noa splits from Devon and Lucille to head to the stairs to the upper-most floor, Devon doesn’t immediately see anything out the window. Though he hears Lucille hoisting Rich up and wobbling onto his feet as he drifts in and out of consciousness. There’s groans and noises in the back of his throat, eyes fluttering open again as the sound of helicopter blades becomes louder. “Nnhh…” he slurs something, a word, one hand reaching up to paw at Lucille helplessly. “Lequ… lic…” his eyes roll back in his head and lids flutter, he’s struggling to say something.

Across the building, Noa moves swiftly from room to room, checking bedrooms and conference rooms. She finds one office in a similar state of disrepair, with shelves cleared out and filing cabinets rifled through like someone was looking for something. But there’s no sign of anyone here.

Another room paints a troubling tableau, looking like a child’s playroom with brightly-painted walls featuring colorful cartoon animals. A wooden toy chest is tipped over onto the floor, a collection of vintage Transformers and superhero action figures scattered everywhere. It looks like someone ransacked this room as well, but there’s no sign of what they could have been looking for. The sound of an approaching helicopter is getting closer as Noa backs out of that room, heading into a large office with multiple desks and a curving staircase to the upper-most floor.

As Noa is heading up the stairs, the helicopter sounds as though it’s straight overhead. Then, the moment she recognizes that fact, there’s a loud snap-clack followed by a sudden crashing sound as the ceiling of Sunstone Manor explodes inward not far from the top of the stairs she was ascending. Flinders of wood and plaster dust are thrown in Noa’s direction, pushing her back down the stairs. Whatever crashed through into the upper-most floor punched not only through the roof, but through the floor as well as she hears a crash on the floor Lucille and Devon are on.

Back in the office they’re hauling Rich out of, Lucille and Devon hear the sound of splintering wood and demolished plaster as something drops through the roof of the building. A cloud of dust and debris explodes out of a doorway down the hall just past the stairs down. Rich jolts awake at the sound, gripping Lucille’s arm with one hand. “Liquidation,” he frantically says; a warning, a plea for help.

A whirr-click-whirr sound comes from the dust-choked hallway, sending chills down Devon’s spine. It’s a sound he’d heard in nightmares, a sound he’d heard in dreams, a sound he’d heard in life and near death. Noa hears it too and it brings back not only memories of the civil war, but memories of the wasteland.

A single red light shines through the cloud of dust, followed by the sound of marching feet as a seven foot tall humanoid shape starts to approach Devon and Lucille’s position. As it comes through the billowing cloud, it reveals itself as a tall human-shaped machine covered in armored plating with a rectangular, camera-like head, carrying an assault rifle, which immediately bursts with gunfire.

Rich's ramblings finally become coherent again but it's just a repeat. It leads her to think that… Lucille doesn't get to finish her thought before there's debris raining down as well as a rather tall robot shooting at them. Luce shoves Rich down to the ground and unclips a grenade. Amarok was used to things getting a little loud and the element of surprise had been over, this was the second time Wolfhound had come in time for an in progress operation of another group or the aftermath. Flicking the pin as she lobs it towards the robot and dives to the side next to Rich stretching her long limbs to make contact and give her purchase to roll.


“«You too, big guy»” Noa says, before relaying what she can to the other teams and her own below. When her ascent upward is cut off, she takes a moment to hunker down on the stairs, lowering her center of gravity so she doesn’t end up falling to the bottom of the stairwell — of course it’s possible the entire stairwell will dislodge. Somehow it doesn’t. “«We’ve got robots in here»” she alerts Epstein, unable to see just what flavor of mech from her position on the stairs, as she begins to make her way back to the lower floors to find her team.

She swaps out the banshee for something heavier; her attention is split, though, as she pushes her thoughts to the radios of the Praxis comm systems: “«Praxis: This is Wolfhound! Be advised we are on site and stand down! We are acting with the authority of the US Government!»”

It’s a Hail Mary, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

She makes her way to peer through the doorway to see the machine, its attention focused on her friends and their captive. She aims for the joints, to try to get it to lose the weapon it holds. “Aim for the light! Blind it!” Noa calls to her teammates, before ducking back before the robot can turn to fire at her — or so she hopes.

The crashing sound is cause enough to push Lucille and Rich out ahead of him, to get them to hurry down the stairs. But the sound that follows in the sudden quiet has him stopping dead in his tracks. “It can’t…” How many times has he faced these things, in life and in dreams? It doesn’t matter right now. His eyes track Luce’s movements, the woman’s arm raising with the grenade. “No, wait — ” The warning cuts off, too late to be any good, but he follows in its wake to wait out the initial blast against the door frame.

“Head for the stairs,” he shouts, waving for Lucille to grab Rich and run while he moves into the hall ahead of them.

At a run, he takes an angle away from the stairs, toward the room across the hall, using the smoke and dust to hopefully obscure him somewhat. Not completely unnoticed, though, he wants the robot to track after him. Devon fires three shots as he moves, aimed roughly at the lights. His attack is meant more to draw attention away from his teammates, to give Noa a chance to regroup with them and Luce time to get Rich moving down. Then he can maneuver into a more offensive position.

Noa ducks back just in time, her gunshots had flattened against the robot’s hardened armor, quick shots missing the joints and only managing to carve scars in its plating. But her movement back into cover inside the office came just in time as Lucille’s grenade lands between the machine’s feet. Even with the wall between them, the proximity to the grenade is none the less worrying. In one movement, the robot in the hall kicks the grenade into the room it crashed down into, followed by a massive explosion and the sound of splintering wood and stone. Debris rains down to the ground below outside, and the machine recoils from shots fired by Devon.

«Langgou? Women de kuai dian.» Comes over the Praxis comms systems. A briefly panicked blurt of Mandarin. Then, in an accented English, «Stay where you are.» Then ominous silence.

With gunfire and explosions, Rich is wide awake and scrambles up to his feet, up and away from Lucille as he bolts for the stairs. Gunfire erupts through the smoke caused by the grenade blast, but none of it strikes Rich as he thunders down the stairs as fast as he can, trying to make a break for it.

Devon’s covering fire through the debris cloud caused by the grenade draws the war machine’s attention. The bipedal robot begins machine down the hall past Noa. Lucille can hear it approaching and Devon can feel the heavy thumps it makes in the floor with each whirring step as it draws nearer.

“«Negative, Praxis, we got a robot shooting at us.»” Usually Noa’s ‘mental’ voice is calm regardless of her mental state, but there’s an edge to it that has a bit o te Gitelman snap to it. She peers back around the corner and bites her lip, before she rises from her crouched position behind that door frame.

The lioness-like grace inherited from her mother comes into play as the younger Gitelman suddenly rushes the robot to launch herself up and onto its back, reaching for the cables that connect its helmet to its core, to rip them away — hopefully separating the processing unit from the rest of the body.

If that fails, she’ll try to break the “eye” in the center of the forehead and blind it. “Don’t wait,” she shouts at the others.

“Come on,” Devon yells as he steps halfway into the hall again. Another three rounds are fired off in quick succession, two for its center mass and the final one at its head. He steps fully into the hall after that, his gun aimed to take another three shots and keep the robot’s attention fully on him… but those rounds are held when he sees Noa trying to launch herself at the robot. “Shit,” is a whispered response. Going hand to hand with those…

Devon breaks away from the doorway, abandoning the bit of cover he’d claimed to play cat and mouse and give his teammates a chance to get down the stairs. He’d had a window at his back, the drop wouldn’t have been fun but it was a way out. “Stop being stupid,” he yells back at Noa. He drops a shoulder to counter her momentum, coming at the target from the opposite side in a tackling move. His hands fling around to hang on, and even get some maintained contact to use his ability.

Noa went flying onto the robot's back and everything seems to equally slow down and quicken for Lucille as she takes in their situation with amber-gold eyes. She spots Rich trying to escape and while Devon is occupied keeping that thing busy, she frowns over towards Noa at the mention of leaving her behind. There's the problem of the runaway scientist and in her mind they still needed that payday that was coming.

Frozen in indecision, Lucille watches as Rich disappears down the stairs in a panic. But in the hallway, the heavy machine engaged with Wolfhound is the more immediate concern for Noa and Devon. Devon’s rounds flatten against the machine’s midsection, a heavier caliber weapon might have better results, but they weren’t anticipating this kind of resistance. The shot to the head goes wide, too worried about hitting Noa when he fires.

The robot is struggling while Noa straddles its back. It doesn’t fire, but rather smashes left and right through the hall, colliding with the walls and splintering wood and plaster as it moves. Noa scrambles along atop the machine, keeping her balance as she grips thick braided cables with both hands. She can hear the piston-whip whine of the machine’s limbs, she can feel its metallic fingers find purchase in the straps of her AEGIS armor, but it isn’t flexible enough to actually reach her. A design flaw she’s now discovered, it can’t reach it’s own back at all.

The cables aren’t coming free though. Drawing a knife from her belt, she slides the blade along the edge of one cable and slices through the fabric weave on the outside and hits a segmented steel casing inside that the knife can’t bite through. Instead, Noa goes for her plan-B. She brings up the flat butt of the knife and smashes it against the lens at the front of the machine’s head. The glass cracks and chips but doesn’t outright shatter. That assault causes the robot to flail wildly again, turning its back to the wall and crushing Noa against the wall once, twice, and then on a third smash demolishes the wall and comes crashing through into the room Devon was taking cover in.

The robot loses its balance, falls backwards but with enough time for Noa to roll out from under it before it lands on top of her. She can feel a searing ache in her ribs and a splitting pain in the back of her head, it’s stronger than the machines from her time. It’s faster, smarter. Somehow it’s worse. Somehow this is worse.

On its back, the machine struggles to stand, pawing for the assault rifle it dropped as it landed. But the situation becomes worsened by a distant crash against the roof as a second machine is dropped on the far side of the house, somewhere behind Lucille’s position. They can’t stay up here.

The flailing and grappling the robot is already dealing with keeps Devon from finding a good opening. He makes a couple of false starts, a step or two rushed forward, only to end up stopping again when a robotic arm or leg makes the path impassable and closes the opening he’d seen. His hands bring up the firearm, even if it’s useless, he can fire at it anyway. But even that becomes futile when the machine turns its back and crushes Noa against the wall. So he waits, trying to keep sights on target even with the wall partially obscuring things.

It pays off in the form of plaster cracking and wood splintering. He keeps some distance at first, turning with the rush of movement that sends his teammate and the machine sprawling. He follows in their wake, two rounds fired at the chest and head as he takes his first steps forward. His eyes track the scrabbling motion, tracing arms that reach for the assault rifle. That could level the playing field at least a little, if he can get it.

Another round is spent, aimed at the hands trying to grab the rifle. Dev takes another step as he fires the gun, then leaps off the foot he’d just planted to dive for the desired weapon. If luck is with him, maybe he can wrestle it away and buy the team some more time.

Blinking, dazed for a moment, Noa scrabbles back to her feet after a few seconds, wobbling just a little thanks to the pounding in her head compounded by the adrenaline that makes her heart pound even faster. “We have another. We need to get out of here,” she shouts. “Ryans! Get our target!”

She really doesn’t want to leave her empty handed — if they manage to leave here at all.

This time she stays away from Devon’s line of fire, angling herself away from any likely ricochets and adding to the onslaught of bullets to disable the robot while it’s down and when it won’t hit Devon — helmet, camera, hands, feets, paying special attention to anything that looks like a weak spot, joints and pistons and cables, oh my. She edges toward the stairwell, not about to abandon Devon if their efforts don’t pay off.

“We gotta run,” Noa reiterates, boots taking the first couple of steps, gloved hand beckoning her teammates to follow.

Things seem to slow down for Lucille as her teammates fend off the robot and she's left watching the retreating back of Rich whose found himself inspired by fear and the willingness to survive. His will to survive is rapidly being drawn up against Lucille's own will to put more food on her table, he'd survive anyway just won't be free.

Auburn strands of hair are plastered to her forehead but she heard the machine behind her just as she tips her back a fraction and exhales, her body rolling with sensations and the sound of a flood of water buzzes within her skull. Boost, Lucille thinks as adrenaline races through her body, eyes reigniting that golden, deep molten color. Without looking back she sprints down the stairs, throwing her biotic field in front of her to feel for Rich. Instead of taking the stairs all at once though she looks over the railing, heart pumping wildly in her chest. Her movements faster than usual as she grips the railing and swings herself over, bracing her legs as she holds firm and pushes herself off to the landing and Rich below, body twisting into a somersault before snapping out.

This feeling isn't the same as when she's full of Amp but it's similar, the feeling of being.. so full of energy. The paranoia nagging at the edges of her psyche but years at this have calmed her edge when this aspect of her ability is in use. Lucille couldn't lose their mark.

Lucille follows Rich’s flight through the kitchen her team had first entered the mansion through. She bursts through the open doorway, spotting Rich trying to round the large island in the middle of the room. Instead, she tackles him like a missile, knocking him clear off of his feet and sending him sliding on his back across the countertop. Pots and pans are knocked out of the way by their collision, rattling to the floor.

Rich winces as he twists beneath Lucille, but he’s no match for her adrenaline-charges strength. One of his hands grabs at the straps of her AEGIS vest, fingers curl into kevlar weave, and she can feel the blood on the countertop beneath her right knee. Rich’s gunshot wounds, they’re there on her biotic sense, she can feel how grievous his injuries are. Even if he’d run, he wouldn’t have gotten far, not far enough to escape Wolfhound. But the thump of heavy feet on the ceiling above her and the adrenaline jamming in her veins doesn’t allow for her to consider his plight clearly.

Lucille is like a dog with a bone, she has him, and her primal lizard-brain under the strain of the adrenaline has Rich pinned with nowhere to go. The fear in his eyes, though, is palpable.

Upstairs, gunfire has made a deafening rhythm. Noa’s retreating shots strike it in the back, flank, and the rear of its head with showers of sparks. Devon’s gunfire demolishes one of its hands, sending metal shrapnel scattering across the floor. Blinded and literally disarmed, Devon is able to clear the distance over the machine’s prone form to pick up its assault rifle. The design isn’t anything Devon is familiar with, and the triangular Praxis Heavy Industries logo stamped on the rifle indicates its make and design.

The second machine makes its way through the house, thumping footfalls making steady progress. As Noa moves across its field of vision on her withdrawl to the stairs, the robot pivots in place and follows her movement even after she leaves its line of sight. Heavy machine gun fire erupts from its gun, punching through the wall as bullets explode out the other side. The first two shots blast out of the wall ahead of Noa in a shower of plaster and drywall, the third shot hits her square on in the ribs.

AEGIS armor hardens in an instant, turning a killing blow into something that cracks ribs and launches Noa off of her feet. She’s flung over the staircase railing by the force of the blast, wood splintering as she’s blown through and falls twelve feet onto the stairs below. The gunshot alone knocked the wind out of her, but the fall leaves her vision blurred in a blast of white from the impact.

Devon was able to see Noa struck, saw her flip over and through the railing, disappear out of sight. He can see the red glowing lens of the second machine approaching, hear the protesting whine and hiss of the first one as it writhes around on the ground, nearly disabled. But Devon can also hear something else approaching, the high-pitched whine of a jet engine.

The Tlanuwa. The Cavalry.

After being bounced around the walls of the hallway like a pinball, shot, and tossed over the railing, Noa lies stunned on the ground, unable to do more than stare up, unseeing through that white fog of vision. It takes a few seconds to clear — far too long for her liking, bringing to mind the darkness she found herself in back in November of 2010. Even a Gitelman’s determination isn’t enough to get her back on her feet in an instant — it takes time to force breath into her longs, to get limbs to listen to her brain.

Little time is allowed for studying the rifle, aside from locating the safety mechanism and the trigger, there’s little else that’s really necessary. Somewhere in the back of Devon’s mind, though, he notes the Praxis Heavy Industries stamp. That information is filed away, he’ll remember it later when he and his team are out of danger.

His head whips to the sound of gunfire echoing in the hallway in time to see Noa being shot and thrown down the stairs by the force. He slides into a position at the doorway, one knee down on the floor and a shoulder against the frame. The rifle is pressed into the meat of his shoulder and raised to fire on the new robot. He braces for the automatic recoil and squeezes the trigger…

But instead of a rapid succession of explosive force and projectiles there’s only the frustrating click-click-click of an empty chamber.

Abandoning the rifle, Dev twists himself around to the mostly disabled robot. His hands slap against the chest plate and, after a quick look at the doorway to see how near the second robot is, he turns his attention fully to the one on the ground. These things are fast, and fifteen seconds is a long time, but if he can synch with it, he’d have a better chance of avoiding those rifle rounds. His eyes narrow and he concentrates, fingers curling to find purchase on whatever crack or lip the armor provides.

Downstairs, Lucille winces as her limbs collide with pots and pans. The acrobat rights herself and ends up on top of Rich but she doesn't lock him in place any longer, he's not going anywhere. She feels the pounding of her heart and Rich's right in front of her, his wounds crying out for Lucille's biotic senses to pay attention, hurt as bad as he is the Wolfhound doesn't altogether relax. Instead she leans in close allowing the burning amber that is her eyes do further intimidation.

"What were you researching?" Lucille's tone is quiet but she leans in closer for him to hear their noses almost touching, she won't get another moment alone with him without government oversight. The woman didn't know she needed a moment alone with him until it happened. "Do you know anything about freeing someone from the Black Conduit, the life force that you saw in Nathalie Leroux and experimented on." She doesn't pull a knife out but her knee does press firmly on Rich's wounds. A low thumping begins to fill her ears but she pushes her hearing forward, she still has a firm grip on herself, for now.

"There's not much time, anything you can give me. A name even, of who could help her, I can help you." Eyes brightening as she lays a hand atop of his shoulder and squeezes.

Upstairs, Devon feels the intrinsic bond of his kinetic link synchronize into place. He turns, facing the other machine as it steps into the doorway, training its rifle on him. The moment the synchronization takes effect, Devon is able to render the disabled machine weightless, lifting it up into the air as he steps backwards. Gunfire explodes in a riotous noise, rounds impact the machine, shower sparks through the air, flake off pieces of ablative armor that clatter to the ground. The still-functional machine used as a shield twists its limbs in a pathetic attempt to free itself from Devon’s ability. A small, red light on its back flashing in a rapidly hastening pattern draws his attention.

Downstairs, Rich stares up at Lucille with wide, panicked eyes as he screams in pain as she squeezes his shoulder. “I don’t— I don’t— Nat— Nathalie LeRoux?” There’s only the foggiest look of recognition in his eyes, accompanied by a slow shake of his head and a wheezing breath. “I don’t— I didn’t work on that project. I’m a computer scientist! I didn’t work on Heisenberg or Hydra… I designed the computer systems for Gemini, I studied the Looking Glass, I— ”

Noa struggles to get up from the stairs, ears ringing, but able to feel the heavy chop of machine gun fire upstairs as vibrations. Her world swims as she tries to pull herself to her feet, legs buckling, barely registering the shell casings raining down from above as they roll off the landing overhead.

Devon sees the still-standing machine trying to circle around its suspended comrad, trying to get a bead on Devon. It doesn’t realize what Devon’s seen, and though Devon connects the red flashing light to a number of possible outcomes, it’s the one that comes without a beep or a chirp that ends the altercation.

The printed text beside the blinking light reads: failsafe.


The Tlanuwa


Trees whip by at rapid speed as Avi retains a white-knuckle grip on the Tlanuwa’s controls. In the copilot seat, Hana sits with a vacant-eyed expression, her eyes tracking left and right but her consciousness not here in this moment, but calculating innumerable other electronic defenses employed by the Institute, monitoring communications, monitoring the other battles. “C’mon, c’mon, cmon,” Avi growls through clenched teeth, hands trembling.

The Tlanuwa dips into the valley containing Sunstone manor and the vibrant orange glow that illuminates his face and reflects in his eyes horrified eyes.

Sunstone Manor

An explosion shakes the ground and sends a fireball tearing through the roof of Sunstone manor. Flinders of wood and stone are blasted high into the air, windows are blown out in a white-hot fiery blast. Noa is blown off of her feet as the blast tears down the stairs and throws her to the ground. The ceiling above her explodes downward, showering Noa with wood debris and drywall and flames. Lucille is blown clear off the island by the blast along with Rich. Glass shatters, dust fills the air, smoke and ashes are everywhere and the bloom of fire-light lightens the darkness created by smoke and soot.

Rich lays on his side behind the island, blood bright and red on a dust-caked brow, coughing wetly and curled into a fetal position. Lucille’s ears are ringing, her head throbs with pain, and she can see one of Noa’s arms sticking up out of the collapsed debris from the second floor, which is now engulfed in flames. The sky is visible where the second floor was, portions of the wall crumbling down. There’s no sign of the robots.

There’s no way anyone survived that.

There’s no sign of Devon.

A gasp of breath as Lucille sits forward with limbs shaking out as she pats herself down checking for wounds, a bruise for sure there, her head is throbbing with the mix of an explosion and the weight of the adrenaline surge. Golden eyes tracking the movement around her, flickering flames and falling debris she winces as the ringing in her ears drones on in a piercing whine. A hand goes to drag herself to a standing position and her ability sweeps over Rich, he's still alive. Noa, dragging her body forward she pushes with the spike of adrenaline that hasn't run out yet, falling against the debris with a cry and wheeling back she hurries and grabs at the debris that are easiest to move, "Come on, come on," she whispers to herself, they had met randomly and became friends back before she even knew anyone from the future was even here.

She was family of her niece, nephew and little sister.

Willing her emotions to stay in check she digs and throws things over her shoulders enduring the pain of touching things that are burning. "Noa." Calling out her name makes Lucille notice another thing, her Kid Brother. It was hard to see but she can't sense him, he was too far away. First things first, no. Lucille shakes her head as she pulls as Noa's arm finally but her head tips back and she calls for her other family, something isn't right here.


There’s no response.

Noa is limp when Lucille pulls her from the rubble, eyes mostly shut and blood running down in a thick, dark streak from brow to throat. She can feel Noa’s lifesigns, feel the presence of a heartbeat, circulation, everything she’s ever trained to sense. There’s nothing of the sort coming from upstairs.

As Lucille’s eyes flick in that direction, there’s a groaning creak as the floor above splits under the weight of the second floor. The explosions, the machines, everything put considerable strain on the structure. Rich is struggling up onto his hands and knees, crawling away from a burning heap of debris that had fallen through a hole in the ceiling. He’s coughing violently, in excruciating pain. Broken glass cuts into the heels of his palms as he tries to get out of the house.

In the distance, the fierce whine of a jet engine draws closer. Then, «Everybody topside, report! What the fuck is going on!? I’ve got Team 4 with me, but I just saw a massive explosion! Status!»

Another loud creak comes from overhead, accompanied by the sound of splitting stone. No one is answering. The notion drills into Lucille again, no one is answering. Not Colette, not Rue, not Berlin. Avi may have collected Felix and Curtis, but it either means that the other teams haven’t come up from below yet, or…

It takes a few moments, but Noa’s eyes flutter open and she manages to groan and roll onto her side — she doesn’t try to stand just yet, as she takes account her injuries and the status of her team.

What’s left of it.

It hurts to breathe — ribs are broken but everything hurts, especially her head. There’s the thick metallic taste of blood in her mouth, and it’s good she doesn’t need to use her voice to communicate.

“«I don’t have eyes on Clendaniel.»” The tone of her radio voice is flat, almost robotic, but there are tears streaming down her face behind a cracked visor. Devon’s location at the time of that blast — the blast she barely survived from a much more auspicious position.

“«We need extraction. We have… Ryans, grab Schwenkman again…»”

Luce lets it a sigh of relief when Noa's eyes flick r open and she sags backwards on the heels of her feet. There was still Devon, who she couldn't feel anywhere around her.

The woman bows her head and winces from a pain in her chest, shit. It wasn't supposed to go like this. Lucille's hand goes to Noa to help her steady herself before she's nodding and walking off to stand in just behind Rich and slow but firmly putting the heel of her boot on his retreating form. "You need a nap." Bending forward she moves to grab Rich and haul him to his feet bringing him in close as she holds his wrists together and stares hard into his eyes. "Project Hydra and Heisenberg, a name. Now." If her hiss could wound, Rich would be bleeding from more cuts on his body.

I need a doctor,” is Rich’s re-assessment of Lucille’s assertion about a nap. As she hauls Rich up to his feet, the building creaks and groans, structural supports splinter and crack under the weight of the burning floors above them. Outside, the whine of the Tlanuwa becomes louder. Rich looks back to Noa’s hunched figure, then back to Lucille. “Pete fucking Varlane. Those were his— projects. He’s probably on a fucking jet to wherever our financial backers are. He— fucking set all this up. The liquidation.”

Rich sneers, teeth red with blood. “You’re all too— fucking late. It’s all over. Everything’s fucking over. The fucking— ” he wheezes, coughing up blood, “fucking library of Babel is on fire. Congratulations… you fucking won.”

The creaking sounds turn into a cacophony of crashes as a portion of the floor by the stairwell collapses down not far from Noa. Burning timbers collide with the steps kicking up a shower of fiery sparks and smoke. Outside, the whine of the Tlanuwa has stabilized, and through the blown-out windows in the kitchen, Lucille and Noa can see the black jet angling down for a vertical landing, kicking up clouds of dust and debris as it does.

"You need a whole lot more than that," Gripping his arm as he speaks and unveils the name that she needs Varlane. Lucille's thoughts briefly go to Magnes. She hadn't known him all that well but Alaska runs through her mind, that black hole above her. Adel's grandfather. The connections were thickening and she didn't know what it all meant, not yet anyway. She had a lead.

She needed to talk to Pete Varlane.

Now that she got the answer she really wanted, she leans into others.

"You considers yourselves keepers of knowledge. What knowledge did you keep?" The drone of the jet is heard but Lucille doesn't relax. They aren't out yet, Devon was gone and the others were unaccounted for.

“Good,” is all Noa can manage at first, regarding to having won, to everything being on fire. She’s trying to get her feet under her, gasping for breath as she does so; her breathing is raspy, wheezy, given the broken ribs pressing on her lungs from all sides.

“What did they take with them? They didn’t leave empty handed,” she manages to make out, thinking about the ransacked rooms. She reaches out with her ability, trying to find and listen to the com systems of their enemies, to pick up any chatter or information that hints about Varlane’s whereabouts… or Devon’s.

“Get him to the jet. We can press for more intel once we’re out of here,” she says, dark eyes hard and steely when she looks from the man to Lucille. She can walk herself there, but every step is a marathon, every breath a dagger.

“I’m a computer scientist I told you,” Rich slurs, staring up at Lucille with halfway-lidded eyes. “I just wanted my research back before— before they— ” Rich’s breath flutters and his legs starts to buckle, blood loss too much for even the adrenaline Lucille has generated in his blood.

As the Tlanuwa lands, there’s a loud shriek from its hydraulics when the landing gears touch down on tall grass. The back ramp opens slowly, revealing Curtis and Felix looking both worse for wear but alive. But it’s Avi who stands in the doorway first, unarmored and hobbling down the ramp before it’s even touched down. Wide-eyed, he scans the small group approaching the vehicle; Lucille and Noa.

Where’s Dev?” Avi asks with a frantic hitch to his voice, looking up to the burning house when the crash of a partial collapse causes more of the roof to come down, kicking up embers into the air. “Fuck— fuck.”

Avi has his answer in the swirling embers and roiling flames rising up from the structure. He is paralyzed by the truth. He was right when he told Huruma that Wolfhound changed him, that time had changed him. As he reaches Lucille and Noa, hobbling on his bad leg, helping them back to the jet his eye reflects the fire in its glassy surface. Jaw unsteady.

Soldiers die, he had once coldly said to his wife when their son’s remains were returned from Afghanistan. He folded Taylor’s flag and saluted when they buried him in the ground. There’s a plot in Arlington for Avi, but what no one realizes is that he’s already buried there.

The man that served his country, the man promised that space, died in Madagascar.

The man crying for the death of a soldier is someone else entirely.

It took this moment for him to realize it.

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