Operation Orpheus


asi_icon.gif avi_icon.gif chess4_icon.gif devon5_icon.gif eizen_icon.gif elliot_icon.gif francis_icon.gif godfrey_icon.gif ling_icon.gif lucille3_icon.gif melody_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Operation Orpheus
Synopsis Wolfhound mobilizes with Yamagato Industries to rescue Kaydence from a rival corporation.
Date February 26, 2021

A glass table some twenty feet long splits the middle of a long, windowed conference room down the middle. As the lights in the room come on and guests begin to filter in, the window glass darkens to shut out the view of the outside world and then bloom to life with computer displays of satellite imagery and dossier photos.

Avi Epstein lingers in the doorway as members of Wolfhound step into the conference room. He crosses his arms over his chest, watching holographic displays scan to life in front of each Hound’s seat, showing three-dimensional layouts of a skyscraper in an urban environment.

Once the Hounds have seated, three additional guests to the proceedings arrive from the hall. Francesca Lang isn’t an unknown to the Hounds, but her presence here is new to the organization’s way of operating. But the other two are ciphers. Ling Chao— officially Sun Xiaolu— follows behind Chess, marking her first meeting with Wolfhound. With her walks Godfrey Wells, a tall and square-jawed man with a roguish smile and a well-coiffed presence.

The tall, dour chief of Yamagato Industries security follows them into the conference room, then turns his attention to Avi.

Avi nods and takes a step forward…

“Let’s get this started.”

Twenty-Four Hours Later

The Tlanuwa
Near the Canadian Border

February 26th
4:12 am

The whine of the Tlanuwa’s twin engines is dulled inside the crew cabin of the Tlanuwa. In the cockpit of the jet, Avi Epstein holds the controls of the aircraft with practiced confidence. Rain streaks across the cockpit window, flying dark and low to the ground below radar.

«We’re 5 out from operation.» Avi calls over his headset to the other hounds, leaning forward to toggle a few switches on the aircraft’s center console. «Lock and load. We’re going to be dropping in hot.»

Francis Harkness looks nervous, encumbered by a full suit of AEGIS armor. He reaches to his right, detaching a bullpup-stock assault rifle from the weapon rack, settling it between his knees. He snaps back the stock, clips it closed again, then pops out the magazine and checks the live rounds inside. Francis looks up and around at the other Hounds, then toward the cockpit with a growing tension in his chest.

«Remember, we are comms dark once we hit operation. No radio communication.»

Twenty-Four Hours Earlier

The Yamagato Building
Yamagato Park, NYCSZ

February 25th
6:23 pm

“This is Eizen Erizawa,” Avi introduces the tall, dark-haired man looming on their briefing, “he’s Yamagato Industries chief of security. He’s our corporate liaison for this operation and will be joining us in the Op. Eizen has been running security for Yamagato for years now, but before then he was Svenska Armén and fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq for the Swedish government. He’s no stranger to field operations like this.”

Eizen offers a nod to the Hounds from his seat, then reclines and motions back to Avi to continue.

“Our objective is a mission-critical rescue. We do not leave premises empty handed.” Avi explains, pulling up a file photo of Kaydence Lee Damaris. A three-dimensional scan of her face appears to hover over the table. “Damaris was abducted by Renautas-Weiss back in November and intelligence indicates she is being held in a sub-basement level of their Toronto, Ontario corporate facility.”

“On reviewing of Yamagato’s intelligence I agree with their assessment.” Avi makes abundantly clear. “We have reason to believe that Renautas has gained access to former Praxis Heavy Industries personnel and tech, and as of our assessment of the situation there are at least a dozen Qing drones on site. I don’t need to remind the lot of you how fucking hard they fight.”

Avi leans forward in his seat, calling up the 3D model of the building. “So, here’s the plan…”

Twenty-Four Hours Later

The Tlanuwa
Near the Canadian Border

February 26th
4:15 am

The City of Toronto is asleep as the sleek black silhouette of the Tlanuwa cuts through the rainy skies over the border between the United States and Canada.

«Lock and load, folks!» Avi’s voice comes over the comms in the cabin, «Final prep, we’ll be coming in hot in two minutes!»

Sitting with her hands calmly folded in her lap, Lucille Ryans eyes remain closed for a moment more. Savoring the last of the darkness before light floods into light blue gray eyes as they flutter open, she doesn't scowl but the look is a dull one. Exiting her meditative state and rolling her dominant wrist. She slides her helmet over her head and trails her hands over her various pieces of equipment and ammunition. Blades for people, bullets and grenades for both people and droids.

It was a simple checklist for a woman who wanted nothing more than to lean into work. It's better than thinking of anything else that she's not particularly prepared to think about. Even if it's been months of dealing and burying feelings in the Crucible, a bottle or work. As long as it involved her hands, Lucille was fine.

There is a coldness that has enveloped her, hardened her and it reminds of the time when her mother died. She doesn't just pray to one parent now though but two.

Protect us. See us through.

This feels ominously familiar to Chess — the last time she’d been in a plane and the only time she’d worn armor like this had been en route to Detroit with Adam and her sisters. She had barely known some of the people on that plane; she knows the assets of Wolfhound even less, with the exception of Asi.

Avi’s voice pulls her gaze from the floor in front of her upward, and she stows the small stone she’s been worrying with her fingertips, pocketing it in the belt that carries her own supplies and makeshift ammunition. Chess takes a breath and rubs her hands over her face as if to wake herself up after a nap, though she’s hardly sleepy — nervousness keeps any drowsiness at bay, despite the fact she did not sleep well last night, tossing and turning and regretting her decision to be here.

It’s too late for takebacks, though, so she follows Lucille’s lead and pushes the button to bring up her helmet — maybe this time she’ll keep it on, unlike Detroit. Hopefully this trip is unlike Detroit altogether.

Asi knows every single person here, as though the situation she's found herself in is some kind of purgatorial hodgepodge of overlapping motivations and social circles. Sun is the one she knows least, but even then, they both work under Kay and are at least aware of each other. The former technopath is mostly certain this isn't actually a long-running, complicated hallucination.

She was cleared for field duty with Wolfhound again only a fistful of days ago. Her pre-touchdown checks include tipping back as many ibuprofen to guard against the dull headache she endures, in the hopes of stalling it from becoming something incredibly sharp once their boots hit the ground.

If there's sides of the room, it's strangely the Yamagato side Asi sits with. She's settled between Chess and Godfrey, drawing quiet strength from them both for different reasons each. She's just as motivated to look out for them in what comes ahead, even though they can both care for themselves just fine here.

"How's your nightlight running?" she asks Godfrey, turning her head just slightly to regard him with unshielded eyes before she, too, dons her helm.

The commander’s voice in one ear cuts across Willie Nelson’s in the other, promptly returning Devon back to the present. He leans forward slightly, glances up to the front of the plane as if to reorient himself. Not that there is much to reorient to. Then, sitting back again, he pulls the single bud from his ear, silencing the track — one of a couple hundred and not the same song for 18 thank you very much — by tucking the earbud into a small pocket near a shoulder.

A pack of gum is brought out of that same pocket. He slides a stick half way out and offers it to Francis. “It's mint,” he explains. “And chewing’ll give you something to focus on instead of the clusterfuck we're about to go into.”

“Sweet,” Francis remarks, taking the stick of gum, “I can be winterfresh and riddled with bullets.” He starts picking at the wrapper. “Cool.”

Asi’s question gets a wicked grin and a flash of mirrored irises from Godfrey before the cabin around them suddenly brightens into a soft romantic glow, throwing shadows of his companions on the walls around them. “Fully-charged and ready to illuminate your way with my glowing personality, luv,” he says rather cheekily. The source being the cocky Brit, given away by the dance of a rainbow of lights across Godfrey’s armor as they swirl around him. Though he can’t help himself but add, “And potentially melt off some faces, should it be necessary,” oh so calmly.

Godfrey honestly couldn’t get enough of his ability, especially after he’d been without it for so long. Today would be a test after months of practice.

“You know, I do believe the last time I was on this boat was in handcuffs,” Godfrey comments nonchalantly, pulling on his helmet and pulling down the visor that now boasts a skull. When it clicks into place, he releases his ability and the hold darkens again. “What a difference a year makes, yeah?”

Helmeted head tilting, Godfrey looks at the rest of the group, not that anyone can really see him looking at them all. Some were vaguely familiar from his surrender. He leans a bit closer to Asi as he adds wickedly, “Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind being cuffed by some of them again.” Though who he is looking at is left a mystery by the darkened visor.

"Easy, cowboy," Asi murmurs to him quietly anyway, her head ducking down to hide the press of her smile. She has her guesses, but now's not the time.

Elliot and Wright sit across from each other in silence. They’re controlling their breathing, getting into the headspace of the largest operation they’ve undertaken since coming out of retirement. Elliot has firewalled most of the network. As the anticipation builds in different ways for different people, he lets it wash over him without adding it to his own. Wright is always calm before a battle, and she resonates with a relaxed contentment.

Of all the people linked into the network today, Elliot honestly never thought Avi would be among them. The idea was deeply unnerving, truthfully. But with liberal application of firewalls he’s not worried about the boss seeing anything Elliot doesn’t want him to. Asi’s presence is familiar to work with now. She intuited a lot of the quirks faster than most and never really needs minding. Eizen was certainly an unexpected add. Training was brief, but he took it seriously and stoically. Elliot is curious to see how much they can accomplish by overclocking Eizen’s ability.

As the others begin their preparations for deployment, Elliot and Wright do so too. “Echo echo,” Wright says, closing her helmet.

“Cluster,” Elliot replies. He tags the index as a reminder to hosts where they can go for skills, and drops the firewall on sensory sharing. “Mics hot.”

This is nothing like anything Sun Xiaolu has ever done before, in this life or in her past as Ling Chao. Yet, it feels so very familiar to her. Infiltrate, recover an objective, get out. She had made information theft and corporate espionage a part of her life before the Virus. The thing she seeks may be of a different sort this time, but it's just close enough.

Besides, she would never no-show her boss. She's smarter than that.

She's been quiet as she prepared to hit the ground running. She's not wearing the same sort of armor as those around her; it poses too many problems with her ability to even start to mess with. Convincing her to bring a firearm had been a tough sell as well for the same reason.

Pulling a mask over her face, she looks over at Eizen, and then to the others. She's ready.

By contrast Melody has been talkative, though not about anything of any note. Something to fill the time, muttered and whispered as she tries to keep her nerves settled going into the operation. "I still can't believe you're here," Melody remarks to Chess for probably the third time.

There's an amused smile on her face as she puts on her helmet, turning her attention to Elliot and Wright, and then to Lucille. She's ready to go.

Looking up from the helmet in his hands, Eizen sets it aside on the empty jumpseat beside his. “I wonder, if we turn the clocks back enough, how many people in this aircraft were criminals in the past? Or at least considered as such.” He affords a slightly crooked smile to Godfrey at that, which may be the one and only smile Eizen Erizawa has ever given. It’s likely just nerves.

“Hey, I’ve never been caught.” Francis remarks, popping the stick of gum Devon gave him into his mouth. “To be fair though I think several warrants for my arrest are now in territories no longer considered states.” His laugh turns a bit dark, then shifts into a groan.

Sitting forward, Francis crosses some of the space between he and Asi across the cabin. “Hey, Tetsuyama,” he lifts his chin up in motion toward her. “You sure you’re good? I’m not tryin’ to pry but…” He leans forward and then stands, crossing the cabin to stand in front of her, holding on to the webbing on the bulkhead for balance. “You just got out of traction. I’d hate to see you get put in the ground next time, y’know?”

«ETA One minute. Radio dark.» Avi’s voice comes over the comms, the last time it would.

Then, a moment later.

"Can you all hear this shit fine?" Avi’s voice hums through Elliot’s network. "Holy shit this feels weird."

“Loud and clear,” Elliot says. “Grab my attention if you need something.” He demonstrates with a short flurry of pulls at Avi’s perception.

Her head cants and Lucille's eyes veiled by her helmet slowly fall on Eizen, then Godfrey and finally the infamous Francesca. Watching as intently as a big cat does when assessing threats. Having read up on their capabilities and adventures, she viewed the younger woman as the most dangerous and biggest potential for a wildcard moment of the temporary assets for this assignment. That meant keeping an eye on her.

Who knows what strange shit Francesca Lang gets into.

They've obviously been vetted but Lucille's grown wary of newer faces as of late. When the radio goes dark the woman's head bows and she waits for doors.

Asi looks sidelong at Eizen over his comment, her head quirking to the side momentarily. "The more things change…" she submits her reply, then shifts to look to Francis as he addresses her.

The way he phrases his question might be considered a threat if she didn't know him to be the type to put his foot in his mouth frequently. He means well, almost certainly. "I'm good, Harkness," she states unequivocally. "I'm not first body down the shaft today, but I'm good."

The roll of her tongue into her cheek is more visible with her visor still up, as are the flick of her eyes back up to Francis. "This is personal. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."

Grabbing answers by the fistful, and rescuing back who's been stolen.

Unlike others, Godfrey doesn’t hear Avi’s voice in his head. He didn’t quite trust whatever that network was. No matter the assurances they offered. So in that respect he’ll have to rely on his teammates.

Eizen he does hear and Godfrey chuckles, acknowledging it with a nod of his head “Yes and some of us never left it when given a chance. Lesson learned,” he comments cheekily, though maybe not honestly enough. Godfrey doesn’t hide from what he did, only owns it like a giant scarlet letter. Though he’s not at all jealous of Chess’ infamy, surprisingly.

Brows lift from behind the skull mask as Francis makes his way over to Asi, blocking his view and pulling his attention. Yes, he was checking him out along with others. “Don’t worry, tiger, if there is anyone who could hold their own, it’s m’friend here.” He pats Asi’s armored leg. He would know after all since he’d seen her in action in Japan.

“So crazy,” Chess agrees with Melody for the third or fourth time. “Hopefully I don’t have to say no to your favors a second time.”

When Francis leans toward Asi sitting beside her, Chess looks up, her helmeted head tipping slightly at blunt wording. The sentiment behind the words is not so different from her own; Chess’ worries for Asi’s safety and health were expressed to her friend (and sometimes roommate) in private before boarding the craft. And the day before. And the day before that.

Sometimes you have to take a person at their word and let them make their own decisions, even if it might give Asi a lead in their bad-decision Olympics competition.

“Don’t become a doctor. You’d have a shitty bedside manner,” is her wryly-toned advice for Francis, but before the comms cut out. Chess is out of network, as well, so will have to rely on others.

She claps a hand against Asi’s helmet in solidarity. It’s personal for Asi — and Yi-Min and Gilian and Jac and Kaylee. This makes it personal for Chess, too.

It's personal for Ling as well, though of a different sort. Their target may be her boss, but she's also more than that. Ling isn't just here for herself - she's here for Kain Zarek as well, though he'd hate it and she'd never admit it.

Her eyes flit over to Eizen at his comment, but she doesn't speak up. She wasn't as much a criminal in her past as she was extremely ruthless in her work, and it's hard to be a criminal when the entire justice system has collapsed. She chooses to ignore her time in Bright, and has made a concerted effort to avoid looking up herself in this world, so it's hard to say.

Pulling out the knife at her waist, she narrows her eyes and waits for the signal.

"Yeah! So crazy." This time, Melody lets it trail off, chewing at her lip as she turns her attention ahead. She's forgone Elliot's network this time, for worry of what may happen if she needs to heal someone on the fly.

Radio dark. There it is. Time to get serious. Melody's eyes glaze over a bit, smile fading as she steels her gaze and her nerves. Hopefully she'll get used to this soon. Hopefully.

A buzzer rings through the cabin as Avi calls contact, wordlessly indicating that the Tlanuwa is moving into an active engagement. All those in the windowless cabin can hear is the hammering of rain on the top of the aircraft as it slows its approach and moves into hover mode. The vehicle pitches to the right and begins a rapid descent. Viewing down the length of the aircraft, the only thing visible out the windscreen is the distant Toronto skyline.

The Tlanuwa doesn’t touch down when it stops, but instead locks into a floaty hovering position. “We’re locked!” Avi shouts from the cockpit, unbuckling and bolting up out of his seat while autopilot keeps the engine normalized. Francis walks down the row to the large lever by the door and flips it open, sending the loading ramp down and letting in a gust of cold rain and blustery wind.

“Remember! LZ is the soccer field across the street!” Avi yells from the doorway to the cockpit. “Paint the site when you’re ready for extraction if you can’t call in! Go!”

Francis reflexively pats his front pocket where he keeps his laser for target painting, then nods on feeling it, slaps on his helmet and drops out of the Tlanuwa’s loading ramp with a splash onto the rooftop. The wind is howling when he touches down, rain streaking across his helmet’s visor. He hurries across the roof to the elevator, slamming the call button and then resting his back up against the wall beside the doors, assault rifle cradled close to his chest.

Lucille knows personal. Their last big missions were all personal to her and she couldn't be more thankful that she was as removed from this situation that you can be.

Once the Tlanuwa touches down the matriarch of the Ryans family rises and moves out to the ground. Lucille's movements are fluid as she follows after Francis with gold eyes ablaze, peeking through the glass of her helmet while she uses her ability to scan for life in their immediate area and focusing that energy towards reading the elevator that rises to meet them on the top floor.

"Clear." Lucille all but whispers right before the elevator doors slide open to reveal there is in fact nobody inside waiting to greet the Hounds and friends. Amber colored eyes sweep up to the top of the elevator and she grips the lip of a tile on the ceiling. Sliding it over and lifting herself, the young woman spins her body and shoots upwards feet first. Landing in a crouch on top of the elevator she makes for the emergency brake and after her fingers find purchase, clamps it down. Breathing light and her eyes looking down below at the others.

"Brake is engaged. Forward."

Elliot runs for the open elevator, kneeling in the center of the space as he removes an acetylene cutting torch from a backpack and sparks it to life. He starts to work on the floor of the elevator immediately, cutting a wide circle.

Wright follows after him bearing spooled rope, which she anchors to the outside of the structure. She clips herself to the rope, hand tight on a rope ascender. Once Elliot is through the floor she pitches the remainder of the rope into the hole, following immediately after it into the dark of the elevator shaft.

Asi isn't the first down, but she's the second. She fastens herself to the rope quickly, drilled behavior from her time with the Mugai-Ryu kicking in. "Hopefully whoever heard that thinks it's thunder," she mutters about the fallen floor panel before she swings herself down after Wright.

Right behind Asi, Devon follows suit. He clips onto the rope once the former technopath is headed into the depths of the elevator shaft. Once she's been swallowed by the darkness, he drops into the hole and settles into a well practiced, controlled descent.

Grabbing her bow and tossing it over her shoulder, Chess rises to follow the others. No one can see the grimace she makes as she approaches the hole. Small and enclosed spaces make her nervous, and the operation brings up memories of the war for the veteran.

She pushes these away as she clips herself onto the rope. It’s far too late to turn back now, even if she wanted to. Even if her loyalty would allow her to. So down the rabbit hole she goes, following Devon into the dark.

Ling is close behind Chess, though to help make room for those who follow her, she does so with smoke beginning to drift off her form, maintaining a state that is for all intents and purposes smoke, but retains the shape and some of the physics of her physical form. Thankfully, it means she also doesn't have to worry about a rope.

Melody doesn't waste a second in following after, a stark contrast from the nervousness she had been exhibiting moments beforehand. Slapping her clip on to the rope, there's almost no hesitation as she moves to the hole and slips in after Ling and Chess.

Watching as each one descends, Godfrey is a bit hesitant. While it was dark for everyone, there was an extra layer of darkness for the heliokinetic. It takes everything in him not to turn on the lights, so to speak. He just flips his rifle to his back and clips on to the rope. With a soft, “Geronimo,” under his breath, before he descended after everyone else.

Francis watches from the elevator doorway as Eizen is the next down the rope, using his ascender to zip down behind the others and gradually slow his descent. When the last of the team is through the hole in the elevator floor, Francis clips his ascender into place and begins zipping down as well, disappearing into the dark of the elevator shaft.


Elsewhere in the Building


Claudius Kellar stares out a tall window at lightning flashing in distant thunderclouds. Rain streaks down the glass and distracts Claudius from his thoughts. His gold eyes focus on the split of one bead of rainwater into two and the divergent paths they take down the window. Straightening his tie, he turns his back to the window and walks over to his desk, picking up a phone and dialing a number from memory.

“Sorry to bother you at this hour,” Claudius says into the receiver, “but the second act is about to begin.” He nods to something said on the other end of the line, then exhales a sharp sigh through his nose.

“Understood. Ombi-in isaiba amar sutiya,1 Kellar says before hanging up.

Squaring his shoulders, Kellar walks to the door to his office and steps out into the hall with purpose.


Sub-Basement Level 3

Elliot is the first one to the bottom of the elevator shaft and is able to drive the mechanical vice between the elevator doors and activate the electric motor, forcing the hermetically-sealed doors open into the walls with only a soft grinding noise. The elevator door opens out into a small whitewashed lobby of tile and bare drywall. The ceiling sheds light from fluorescent panels that give everything a sterile hospital feeling.

Wright, then Asi are through next, quickly followed by the other Hounds as they move into the building. Electronic surveillance is already in play the moment they touch down in the lobby with black dome cameras likely having revealed their arrival. When Eizen comes through the forced open elevator doors, he brings one hand up to his head and closes his eyes.

Clearing.” Eizen says flatly, and Elliot can feel a tingling pulse move through the network. There is no visible cue from Eizen that something happened, save for a faint prickling sensation that spreads like bathwater warmth through the rest of the network. Nearby, the Hounds can hear people collapsing to the ground and Lucille can feel people rapidly losing consciousness through the walls around her. From the range of her ability she estimates Eizen knocked out close to a dozen people in one pulse.

Francis is through the door last, rope still in hand. There’s a visible crackle-snap of light in his palm as he teleports the anchor the rope was connected to in the elevator into his hand, along with the rest of the rope in a loose spool that he starts winding up. As little evidence left behind as possible. They won’t be coming back this way.

"All clear out here. Thunderstorm rolling in but it’s a non-issue." Avi announces through the link.


Earns the title of most dangerous to side eye after the terrifying display of his ability. Handy. As the bodies hit the floor Lucille gets closer to the wall and presses her hand against the cool surface. Tilting her head as she feels the bio signatures as familiar as when she puts someone to sleep. The instant effect makes her envious and gives her something to want to work on.

On the balls of her feet she leads the way down the milky hall.

Everything was white, bright and glaringly sterile. The reflection of the tall woman in armor is reflected in the walls that soon lead to glass that show the insides of labs and offices. Her gaze is emotionless, passing over the fallen employees disturbed from their workflow but peacefully resting. Upon taking another step the group enters a large four way hall, not too far ahead large double doors marked: Medical, seem to all but call to the Hound.

Holding up a finger and then pointing in the direction of the doors Luce slowly walks over, hand on her rifle, eyes alert and senses pushed as far forward as she can.

As Eizen incapacitates the nearby employees Elliot can’t help but marvel at the ability. So much more efficient than choking out every security guard who gets too close on an infiltration. Now he definitely wants to know how far he could push the ability.

His attention flickers through his co-host’s perspectives as they push into the building. He settles into Wright’s as she steps forward beside Lucille, rifle at the ready. Watching through each other’s eyes, Elliot and Wright fall into a comfortable rhythm of looking for signs of movement in opposite directions.

Asi follows, not near the front of the pack. Her head turns to the side, looking through the door on her right they pass just before heading into the hall. The glimpse tells little about the other side on a first blush, seeing only another hallway with darkened rooms on either side. Her rifle noses its way up as she moves past the door, her focus on the right continuing as they enter the intersection. The human bodies might be down, but security was sure to send others for them. Jaw set, she readies herself in the event the non-human sentries are already visible.

Thankfully for all of them, so far so good.

Devon unclips from the line as his boots hit the floor, and moves aside to make space for the rest of the team. As he takes up a position to cover their entry, acting as backup for Eizen should any surprises manifest, he slides his rifle from hanging against his back to resting comfortably in front. Once everyone has made it through, he falls into the prowling pace being set by the head of the group while he places himself to the side opposite of where Asi covers. Rifle and eyes work in tandem, clearing to his left side before checking behind and ahead.

Once Chess Lang steps back on to sturdy ground again, she pulls a golf-ball-sized metal ball bearing from the utility belt at her waist. The metal object in her hand rolls against the palm of her ungloved hand. As they move forward at Lucille’s lead, Chess glances around, taking in the spartan and clinical feeling of the space as they travel through it. She may be a civilian, but the veteran doesn’t move like one, despite not carrying a Banshee or rifle like the others. She stops when the others do, waiting for the signal to move forward again.

As Ling glides in behind the others, her form becomes solid again. The first thing she does isn't to immediately follow after the others. Rather, it's to glance around the corridor for vents, maintenance shafts openings, and anything else she could reasonably slip into and explore while in her smoke form. The second, once she's found any of these, is to reach as close as she can to it and wait to feel if there's any airflow - the last thing she needs is to put herself against a strong fan or cooling system.

Much to Ling’s assumption about the space, there is a preponderance of ceiling-mounted circular HVAC ducts that provide a subtle breeze when she stands under them. The ventilation systems appear to be working and for a building this size must have significant output. One false move in the vents could suck her all the way up to the roof or blow her into another part of the building. She also notices small ducted vents on the walls that look to be air-flow regulators by where currently-open security doors are recessed into the walls at the major intersection points. Those don’t look to be driven by as powerful fans and are probably to help maintain airflow during a security lockdown.

Melody, on the other hand, keeps close to the others. Passing by Ling, she dips her head around the corner before slinking out after the others. Stealth doesn't come naturally to her, but by now she seems to be getting it pretty well, eyes scanning around as she looks for any potential surprises in the walls and ceiling.

Thankful to have reached the bottom of the elevator shaft with little incident, Godfrey looks upward to see the rest descending, before he unclips and moves to follow those already clearing. Rifle at ready he steps out into the hall.

Godfrey’s quiet his gun sweeping one way and then the other, dipping the end to point at the floor as sweeps across teammates. Light flashes behind his pupils as his gazes moves over details, standing out against the near-black of his irises. Thankfully, it’s hidden behind the shades visor of his helm.

Unlike his eyes, those near him can see a small leap of a faint aurora, which plays over his armored body in short bursts before it fades away. It was the only hint that his nerves were on edge.

The door at the end of the hall that Lucille leads the Hounds to is marked with a violet diagonal stripe. The horizontally-sealing security doors are shut at the moment, though the reinforced glass windows in the doors provide a view into a spacious laboratory floor with surgical tables and ceiling-mounted mechanical arms and surgery apparatus.

The proximity card reader beside the door has a green light on and appears to be active, but odds are the facility is simply shut down for the night. Lucille can’t see anyone inside, but her view of the room is remarkably narrow. They could be holding people inside. Eizen comes up behind her, brows furrowed and head down. Neither he nor Lucille sense any living presence beyond the doors, but both have limited range.

Francis comes up in the rear, looking up to the door. He’d seen Ling checking the vents earlier, and knowing what he was told about her ability offers her a nod and motions to matching ducted vents above the security doors for the lab. “Looks like you’re up.”

Ling's gaze sweeps over to Francis, focusing him on a moment before she follows his motion. A thin, lopsided grin forms on her face as she silently nods. Eyes on the vent, she holds her hand out in front of her as smoke drifts up from her fingers and towards the ducts. Her form wavers and swirls as she turns into a smokey mist, rising up and through the vent as quickly as she can manage.

Filtering though, smoke pours out of the duct and falls straight down to the floor, pooling low in an effort to avoid tripping any fire alarms that may hide just out of sight. It's only once the smoke has all recollected that she coalesces back into solidity, hunched low until every wisp has dissipated.

Quick to turn around, Ling focuses on the keypad adjacent to the door. A scowl forms on her face as her eyes scan over it, brow furrowing as she tilts her head in a slight bit of confusion. Reaching up, she presses a pair of buttons, hearing the door engage and begin to open. It doesn't feel right that it's that easy.

Watching Ling with curiosity as she disappears into the vents, Melody turns her attention to looking back instead of forward, she vocalises what Ling is thinking. "There sure is a lot of no one here," she notes in a low voice, glancing over to Lucille and then to Asi. It's right there on her dossier, under her specialties: excels at tempting fate.

Don't do that. Lucille almost chides her comrade but the demonstration of Ling's ability leaves her silent still, so many of the abilities in this room were wondrous and so dangerous at the same time.

Instead Melody is given a look that isn't easily seen through the helmet on Lucille's face but nonetheless a cool smile crosses her lips, she hoped the other woman's admission led to more people being around.

Elliot scans the hallway as Wright keeps her rifle focused inside the opening security doors. He looks to Melody as she tempts fate, but doesn’t point out that there are plenty of people down here with them, all enjoying an on-the-clock nap. He takes a moment to check Avi’s perspective to make sure the Tlanuwa hasn’t attracted any unanticipated attention in the EZ.

Asi looks back away from the hall itself as the door snaps open. Melody's comment draws an arch of an eyebrow. She gets no such pass from Asi as Elliot and Lucille afford her. "Local time aside— Eizen cleared the floor," she murmurs, casting a glance back at the man before she follows into the newly opened door.

More serious a matter than even that: "Don't be like Jackalope." It was bad enough when Francis tempted fate. Maybe they could beat it out of Melody early.

“Stay alert,” Devon cuts in roughly. He’s keeping tabs on their surroundings, but he's definitely addressing everyone. Too many operations have been put to risk or worse with similar observations being made. The too easy, too quiet entries are the worst, and he'd prefer to go home after this one.

He presses forward as the door is opened, passing into the next space as his turn in the pack comes up. He transitions with practiced readiness, shifting from covering the way back to the way forward while everyone else files in.

One of the contractors on the mission, Chess has no reprimands or quips to contribute, lacking both the history and general ethos with Wolfhound. She hangs back, glancing over her shoulder before moving forward, making sure that there’s a full headcount of the team members — or that no one at the facility has escaped Eizen’s psychic knockout somehow and is coming up from behind to say hello.

Chess smiles a little behind her visor at Godfrey’s nervousness manifesting into that flickering aurora, but later she may curse him for putting ‘This Little Light of Mine’ in her head just as they head into the fray. Thankfully, no one else can hear it.

Or maybe they can, because there is a rather soft hum coming from Godfrey as he passes Chess. Maybe it’s those notes being sung just under his breath, that she hears as he follows everyone else. In fact, the leaps of the faint auroras tap along with the childish song.

Surprisingly… Godfrey has nothing to add to all the bits and pieces murmurs by the others.

As the security doors slide open, automatic lights come on in the spacious lab floor behind Ling. As the Hounds move in beyond the threshold, they are greeted by a spacious operating floor. Automated, mechanized surgeon machines are suspended from the ceiling, spidery arms dangling inert over glossy white tables anchored to the floor by thick pedestal columns.

Glass-walled laboratories are contained around the perimeter of this octagonal room filled with powered-down computers, low-set white desks, and wheeled office chairs. The entire space feels remarkably sterile and cold. It doesn’t appear as though anyone is in the lab and the glass walls provide very clear lines of direct visibility to the other offices and exam rooms now illuminated by the automatic lighting.

As Francis moves into the room last, he takes a knee by the doorway and checks over the counter of a small service desk at the entrance of the lab. A powered-down computer, no paperwork left out, no key cards. He vaults the counter and does a quick sweep of the room behind, checking the desk and the office.

“Nothing back here.” Francis whispers through the link. “Real fucking tidy. I don’t like all these sight-lines, we’re out in the fucking open.”

There's a distinctly smug look of satisfaction on Ling's face as she watches Francis and the others slip into the lab. Though she's obviously pleased with herself for being useful, it fades just as quickly as Francis makes his observation. Smoke begins to drift off her body, though she stays solid. When there's an implied potential ambush, she's going to stay ready for anything.

Melody shirks back a bit from the others as they make their responses and chastises. Swallowing, she only gives a nod as she turns her attention ahead and looks into the room. A quick glance is given back the way they came before she follows in after the others, trying her best not to tail too far behind.

Lucille throws a nod Francis' way in agreement, they were right in the open, no useful loose pieces of information around. The tall woman cants her head and keeps her senses up and body ready. She was surprised Francis hadn't said something like.

It's a little too quiet here.

But what he does say is Francis enough that Lucille rolls her eyes, he better not be willing anything bad into existence.

Elliot and Wright progress to the far end of the room, keeping an eye through the glass walls for any unexpected company. Elliot pays extra attention to placarding on the office doors, looking for names or roles of the people who work on this floor.

“We may want to clear the rooms adjacent to the elevator,” Elliot says. “I don’t like the fact that the only people we’ve seen so far were behind us.” He doesn’t suggest that Eizen’s ability may have missed someone, but the concentration of employees around their entrance makes him nervous.

Asi lowers her weapon, keeping it ready and keeping herself near the door they entered through. "I agree. We should split and cover both sides at once." With Eizen's ability having the human bodies down for the count, it stood to minimize the risk incurred by doing so. She doesn't waste another moment, stepping back into the hall they left and gesturing with a tilt of her head for Chess and Godfrey to follow.

Looking both ways before crossing the hall again, she heads back for the Teal-zoned entry opposite the door she'd started to peer through earlier.

Devon makes a sound that's roughly an agreement to Elliot’s observation and Asi’s volunteering. He's not too excited by the layout, although he's definitely been in worse situations. He turns, after an initial look through the open space to regard the team.

“Basilisk, Dahaka, and… Caladrius.” Devon nods to Lucille, Elliot, then Melody. “Follow Oni’s lead, clear the other room we passed. Jackalope and Maenad will split the first hallway with me. We have four ways to keep eyes on so stay alert.” He looks from one Hound to the other to register their understanding of the plan, before he moves on.

“The ghost and the shadow,” Devon motions to Eizen and then Ling in turn, “will stay on us. We hold position unless called.” He circled around to the team again, then gestures to the hallway they'd just come from. “Let's move.”

Fucking mad science labs. Chess doesn’t speak aloud, but as she looks around, eyes scanning through the clear glass walls for science of life, she can’t help but imagine the place of her own origin looking something like this.

When Asi speaks, Chess nods once, glancing at the others to see who’ll take the other side, even as she turns to follow. The bow stays on her shoulder, but her fingers curl around the silver ball bearing in her right hand, ready to charge it if she needs to. She wonders idly what power-based nickname Clendaniel’s come up for her — the bomb? — as she steps back into the hall.

Much like the others, Godfrey feels ill at ease in there… not even Yamagato’s medical halls gave him this level of heebie jeebies. Black armor stands out dramatically against the sea of stark white and reflective glass, while the faint auroras, that have been playing along his shoulders, are about downed out in the brightness.

He really didn’t like it.

Eyes placed down the sight of his rifle, Godfrey hears Asi speak up. The skull swivels towards her, catching the tilt and giving a small nod and gives a small dip of his head.

Just as Godfrey starts to move after her, another Wolfhound speaks up barking orders. A brow arches up on the other side of the skull-painted visor as he watches everyone, luckily they can’t see that or the amused smirk that pulls at the corner of his mouth. He glances at Chess when she moves to follow and join the two.

Godfrey will stick with the one that hadn’t previously arrested him, thank you very much.

Elliot and Asi propose a plan and Devon splits the difference with them. As they double back from the lab and return to the hall, Lucille, Elliot, and Melody cut left down the hall toward one of the wings adjacent to the elevator, while Godfrey and Chess split up and head right. The remainder hunker down in the four-way intersection, watching every direction from behind as much cover as they can manage.

Lucille's squad has the shortest distance to cover but the most ground to search. As they move down the sterile, white corridor Lucille is able to check left into the smaller rooms that look like management offices. There are desktop computers set up on metal racks, razor thin curved displays set beside VR headsets and gloves, but only one desk and workstation per room. There are no names on the doors, however, just directory numbers. No personal effects, photographs, anything.

Elliot leads the others across the hall through the first available door, keeping low as he sweeps into a spacious white-walled laboratory. There is instrumentation everywhere here, glass panel touch screen systems that double as partition walls, a razor-thin looking table with haptic sensors in it that looks something between a bed and an exam table with some kind of halo ring scanner on an armature at its head.

There are three red-clad people on the floor wearing clean room suits fashioned of durable polymers. One other lab technician in similar gear but without a respirator mask or protective hood lays on the floor. There are shards of a broken coffee mug scattered by him, dark coffee stains the floor. Everyone appears unconscious, no one was armed.

Down the west end of the lab there’s more rooms partitioned by partly opaque glass walls. Most of them hold rows and rows of computers and workstations. There’s no one, other than the four people on the floor, in here.

Elliot crouches by the unconscious technicians, unclipping their badges and checking them for differences in clearance. He stands to cover the ground to the end of the area, looking over the types of computer equipment in the work rooms. He takes a moment to scan between the last two southernmost rooms of the area, peeking ahead into the hallway of the western area.

Before any orders are uttered Lucille is heading towards the side indicated with the others in tow. Slowing her pace as they draw nearer and Elliot takes the lead the biokinetic flexes her hand and tilts her head. Feeling the three techs before they even are seen. Elliot's handling of the badges and the tech leaves Lucille to probe the other side of the room with her senses.

Melody joins Elliot in going around and plucking up badges, looking for a workstation that isn't locked as she does."If this is a lab, it's bound to have some information we could get some use out of," she murmurs to Elliot. Looking over at the others, she makes her way over to one workstations, and begins rooting around through any belongings or cabinets around it.

It’s quiet in the lab, remarkably quiet. As Elliot, Lucille, and Melody search the area there are no immediate signs of threat. Across the other side of the lab, however, Asi, Chess, and Godfrey arrive on a much different scene.

The area coded teal on their basement chart is a security office. Straight through the doorway is a foyer that breaks off into an armory, locker rooms, and a shower. All three of those spaces wind up clear of combatants, though the armory remains well-stocked behind locked cages containing Raytech-issue body armor and standard paramilitary gear for firearms.

To the left of that foyer, however, is the security command room. This space contains workstations and computers currently in sleep mode. The lighting in here is dim, only emergency lights running at floor level allows general visibility through the space. Asi’s team finds, through the door on the far left side of the room, a five-person tactical response team lying unconscious on the floor. None of the five people on the floor have weapons drawn, and though they are wearing standard armored vests, they weren’t prepared for an attack.

The computers in here are still active, showing video camera feed of the four-way junction, the security suite they’re in right now, even the lab that Elliot and his team is in. From here they can command all of the security cameras, change views, and get a better handle on their immediate situation. It was a jackpot.

Spotting the bodies on the floor, Godfrey trains his rifle on them as he cautiously moves closer. Last thing he needed was one of them popping up to shoot them all. “You know… all that time at Yamagato and this is truly the first time I have seen Eizen’s ability at work. It’s bloody brilliant.” His voice is soft like the unconscious guard would hear him if he talks too loud. “Would have been useful when we were taking back the arm,” he adds in an aside to Asi, who’d understand the reference.

Godfrey doesn’t stop yet, moving past the bodies long enough to clear the other rooms, only once he’s satisfied does he return to the guards.

Leaving the rifle to hang by its strap against his back, Godfrey crouches and sets about disarming them and taking anything of use. The face of his helmet tips towards Chess, knowing full well what Asi would be doing. “Do us a favor, luv? Keep an eye out for some handcuffs or something to bind them.” He’d rather not have to kill them after all, if he can help it.

Eyes on the security terminals and the downed personnel, Asi silently pulls at the attention of the others in the network, flagging them down to their success. She sidesteps, one foot over the other, gun still at the ready rather than at ease.

"Armory might have zip ties or something," she murmurs back to Chess, but as Godfrey suspects her she will, she gravitates to the system, reaching forward her bracing hand to scroll through the cameras available on the screens. Were there not active security alerts from Wolfhound's entry? Was this security only for this floor, or did they have other floors of human personnel and otherwise which would soon be responding here?

"Luck be a lady," she whispers to herself while she angles to find that information.

As they see the unconscious bodies, Chess doesn’t draw a weapon, but keeps her left hand curled around her ball bearing while the right lifts slightly at her side, ready to bring up the defensive field should any of them suddenly wake up and shoot.

“Not exactly your typical rent-a-cops, are they,” she says wryly, given the well-stocked armory and the armored guards. She nods to Godfrey’s and Asi’s suggestion, booted feet carrying her back toward the armory to the locked cages. She scans the contents behind the cages to find what she wants, then reaches out to hold the padlock in her hand for a moment, concentrating as she feels the warmth generated by her ability.

Chess then takes a few steps back and taps her fingers against her leg, counting the seconds until the detonation — it’s never precise, and she constantly has to readjust her mental math.

Thirty seconds-ish later, there’s a pop as the energy does its job — no explosive power this time, given the proximity to the weapons and ammunition.

She steps forward again, pulling the door open and stepping into the cage, grabbing the handcuffs — six sets — and a bundle of zip ties she finds within. Others might be tempted to grab a gun or more, but Chess has never liked — nor needed — them.

Quick steps bring her back into the command room and Chess kneels next to the closest of the fallen guards to handcuff him, holding out half of the supply to Godfrey to do the same.

The security team is swiftly disarmed and restrained while Asi begins to scroll through the cameras. There’s coverage on the room Lucille’s team is in, and from here Asi can see they’ve discovered a similar situation but with red-clad lab technicians. It may have been pre-dawn, but it would seem this facility was always staffed to some degree. What’s remarkable is that there’s no silent alarms going off, the intrusion into the elevator hasn’t set off any alerts yet and the team that would have noticed Wolfhound’s arrival are unconscious at Asi’s feet.

Scrolling through the other security feeds it’s everywhere. The camera security in this facility is comprehensive, oftentimes having two or more cameras in a single room. The majority of the lab is empty, and Asi is quickly able to define that this facility not only has extensive medical services, but also unoccupied rooms for patients that are reminiscent of solitary confinement cells at a low-security prison. Furnished, but isolating.

But what is most alarming is a room nearby. It is a maintenance bay housing four Qing combat drones standing in charging alcoves. Further hastening Asi’s heart rate is that there’s stations for six more that are empty.

Rapidly scrolling through the feeds Asi finds—


Kay Damaris is in the southeast corner of the facility, Yellow-Code area, which is where the cells are also located. But Kay isn’t contained in a cell, she’s in some sort of pod with a tinted glass case. Asi can see wires spooling to the side of her head where her hair has been shaved off and some sort of implant installed. Kay isn’t guarded inside the room, but Asi quickly spots a Qing drone standing guard outside of the lab she’s contained in.

One out of six.

Cycling through the feeds, Asi finds the others. Two more are on sentry duty on the south end of the facility by some sort of command center that looks like it is monitoring data feeds from some sort of massive computer system. There are no staff present, yet, but the Qing are still on guard.

Three out of six.

By the time Asi finds the remaining three cutting a brisk approach up through the Orange coded section of the lab it’s almost too late. They’re rapidly approaching Lucille’s team on brisk pace that implies some sort of pre-programmed patrol route.


Asi's tugs on the network swap from insistent taps on the shoulder to full-blown jumps up and down with arms waving in their urgency. She streams what she sees without so much as blinking. "Qings. Coming from Orange. Get out of the hall— duck into an office."

The order's unaddressed to anyone in particular given it affects all of them.

Then she turns slightly over her shoulder to the two she's with. "Found our girl. But things are about to get messy."

Less than a hundred feet away, three Praxis Heavy Industries Qing combat drones march in a single file line, ten feet apart, down the tiled white hallway with assault rifles held at their chests in a ready position. The drones joints move with a liquid fluidity, giving them a steady gait, but they are still remarkably heavy machines, and soon enough, Devon can hear the all-too familiar sound of their approach.

Devon’s eyes are hard on the wall that turns the hallway toward the intersection. His heart hammers a beat matching the heavy percussion of the Qing marching nearer. For an instant it's a different hallway he sees, the destroyed upper floor of a secluded manor in Southern California. A small, red light on its back flashing in a rapidly hastening pattern draws his attention. The printed text beside the blinking light reads: failsafe.

The present snaps back into place as the report is given. The whole of his body wants to tremble and panic mocks him with razor-like claws. But he draws in a steadying breath and eases his weight for mobility and focus.

“Maenad.” His rifle raises, head lowering in readiness to shoot once those things come around the corner. “I need Dahaka and Basilisk to collect the Ghost and join the Rescue Rangers in collecting the cargo. They call the shots for that maneuver.”

Fingers flex and tighten around the rifle. Devon shifts, taking a crouched step forward, then motions for Francis to flank him with Ling bringing up the rear. “We’ll pick up Caladrius. Tell Oni to try to close the doors to the hallway. We're going to play some JezzBall meets Rodent’s Revenge.”

“Understood,” Wright says. “Dahaka copies.” She settles into a combat stance, weapon hot and barrel raised. She streams Asi’s perspective on the security feed, ready to drop it as soon as she needs to turn her full attention to the fight.

Ling's lips thin at Devon's remark, unsheathing a knife from hip, another smaller one drawn from the back of her wrist as smoke begins to waft off her body once more. "English," comes out more like a command then a request. This might be one of those rare moments she wishes her ability played well with guns.

Sparing a second to glance over his shoulder, Devon gives the barest acknowledgement to Ling’s demand. “Stay with us.” His eyes turn back to the hallway. There isn't time to spell out every nuance of his plan. “Goal is to trap the robots.” Without anyone getting tagged.

“This is a shit plan,” Francis says through his teeth as he ducks out of sight from the western hall behind a corner.

Eizen regards Francis’ consideration of the plan with stoic silence. Given that he has a head start on the issue, Eizen slips through the four-way junction and heads down the east corridor and presses his back up against the wall beside where Asi and Chess are. He tucks his silhouette behind a partial wall that conceals a recessed security door, in line of sight to Devon but hopefully not the approaching security machines.

But what makes all of this work is how the team in the lab responds. For Elliot, this was not ideal timing. He can see through the streamed consciousness just how close the Qing are coming up the hall. Three of them, each one might as well be a fucking tank on legs based on field reports he’d read. Felix Ivanov and Curtis Autumn faced down some and barely walked away, and those two were some of the most physically imposing officers in Wolfhound’s history. Elliot is sandwiched between a medic and an adrenaline junkie. The odds are slightly different.

But there’s no time to think, no time to come up with another coordinated plan. It’s either Devon’s, or it’s every man for himself.

Shit, Elliot thinks. There's one more option on the way to securing the target. He keeps an eye on Asi's commandeered security system as he runs for the door.

In the hallway he lowers his rifle, steadying it with one hand as he slings his backpack down onto one arm as he passes Team Aggro. He momentarily blocks access to his sensory feed to everyone but Asi. He has a custom computer rig in hand by the time he reaches the door to security. As he rounds the corner into the room he slides the rig across the hallway floor into the command room.

He pings Asi's attention and sighs with frustration. "Crescent," he says, tagging an indexed memory to her alone. Elliot is smart enough to know there could be traces of the application that could lead back here, to Asi. “I can tell you that I don’t have an opportunity to deploy it yet,” he says. “But if the opportunity presents itself I need to be able to take it.”

It's difficult to rely on someone else to handle his off-script personal data exfiltration plan, but this chance isn't likely to come again. He raises his rifle and turns to Eizen, nodding as if that was all part of the plan and reopening his sensory link.

Lucille follows the rest, gold eyes alert.

More drones.

The Wolfhound operative hated the things, her ability couldn't perceive or affect them.

"This is a bad idea," Melody remarks under her breath as she looks to Elliot and then to Lucille. Ducking in a deep breath, she begins to move with them again. At least it's a plan is kept to herself, exchanging her Banshee for her rifle as she nods to no one in particular.

She's never had to deal with person sized drones before, just the abominations during the war. Every day is something new, it seems.

Eizen doesn’t so much as move from that nook of cover he has, instead waiting for Asi and the others to come out and follow. The sound of heavy, mechanical footsteps slowly closing in has his pulse racing. He’s read so many reports about the Qing’s capabilities, and even facing down one was enough to get his pulse racing. But three? More?

In the command room, Chess moves beside Asi and studies the monitors for a moment, then tipping her visored head at Godfrey as if to ask Ready?

As Elliot, Lucille and Eizen come to collect them, she takes a deep breath, reaching into her utility belt for another of the large silver ball bearings so she holds one in each hand, feeling them warm and then cool as she rolls them in her palms. She steps out into the hall, tense and watchful, ready to move as the others move, letting the ones with the shared eyes and ears of the network guide them forward.

Godfrey stands to Asi’s other side looking at the screen, rifle resting on his shoulder. Sensing someone looking at him, his own skull visor turns towards her and nods, though he doesn’t move right away. His attention instead turns to Asi and offers up some encouragement. “If anyone can figure out how to turn the bloody things off, it would be you.” In his mind, nothing could be that autonomous… can it?

A gloved hand grips her shoulder as Godfrey turns to follow Chess. “No pressure, luv,” is his parting comment to Asi before she’s left alone at the controls.

If Asi had her ability, she wouldn't be tethered here. She wouldn't need to stay here. She could go with them to where Kay is being held, execute the tool she and Elliot refined, and control the doors, if only she just

The fob is accepted from Elliot, and the weight of Godfrey's well-wishes and expectations rests on her shoulder. All she manages is a nod to them both. "I'll catch up," she promises. Asi turns back to the cameras, waving a hand off at those in the room. "Go, go."

As soon as they're gone, down the hall, she seals the security door behind them. "Don't forget you have one of them to deal with in the room they're holding Kay," she announces for the network's sake. "I'll try to find an off-switch here."

Elliot's data-mining tool is activated on the other computer she's stuck it into. She wishes it were against a different terminal than in here, but they'll grab what they can. Asi looks away from the other computer, gun slung back over her shoulder again and eyes reflecting the screen as she rushes to find whatever utility is used by security to issue orders to the Qing drones.

In the meantime, she hopes the group Devon is leading all keep properly clear of the Qing before it can be lured into a space they can be cordoned off.

Lucille’s team breaks away, sprinting down the corridor following the general layout of the facility as shared among those networked by Elliot’s link and Asi’s vision of the facility layout. Eizen hurries along in the middle of the group, looking left and right, still no living people in his sensory range. “I can’t indiscriminately use my ability,” Eizen states between deep, panting breaths. “Not without line of sight. We don’t know what state Kay is in, and even a mild shock could cause brain damage if she’s already compromised.”

Worse than anything else, was the unknown. And they were running right into it.

But they weren’t the only one.



Sensible heels click loudly down a flight of tiled stairs.


Jaw set and lips downturned to a frown, Erica Kravid exits the southeast stairwell with a look of frustration in her tired eyes. She looks both ways down the corridor, seeing nothing but blank white hallways lit by bright neon lights. Threading a lock of hair behind one ear, Kravis turns to her right and approaches a security door marked Cybernetics Lab. The door opens on Kravid’s proximity, and a fully-armed Qing drone just a few feet down the hall turns its boxy, camera-like head toward her with a low whirring sound.

The sight of the Qing, even if it’s supposed to be there is enough to stop Kravid in her tracks. “Stand down,” she says with a tightness in her voice, and the Qing returns to an idle state with its assault rifle held at chest level and camera eye focused ahead. Kravid never really lets the robot out of her field of view as she approaches the door the robot is guarding.

Kellar.” Kravid says in a sharp, expectant tone as she opens the door, stepping into a dimly lit lab. The soft beep of vital monitoring equipment draws her eyes around the room, along with the subtle sounds of breathing. Kravid’s shoulders square. Her eyes search the room.

Kaydence Lee Damaris lays motionless on a nearby table, head and legs elevated. Her head is shaved bare on one side, and at that point a mechanical device has been cybernetically installed in her skull. The large, cylindrical piece of hardware is covered in white plastic with a black stencil that reads SEER on the side. A rubber-coated cable extends out of the back and reaches up to computer hardware mounted on the ceiling.

Kaydence is hooked up to numerous machines that not only read her lifesigns, but regulate her biological functions. Tubes extend into her arms, a feeding tube has been inserted into her mouth. Other hoses run out from under the cloth gown she wears and connect to sockets in the floor.

Tensing, Kravid pulls out her cell phone and dials a number. Voicemail. “Claudius, if this is one of your fucking games I’m not amused. You don’t get to call me in to an emergency meeting and fucking no-show.”

A shadow of doubt dances behind her eyes. The hair on the back of Kravid’s neck stands on end.




Devon Clendaniel is standing in the middle of a four-way intersection when the first Qing drone rounds the corner at the far end of the west hall. The machine immediately recognizes the presence of another person, but doesn’t raise its rifle. Instead, it proceeds ahead at a faster pace, followed by the other two machines in a thud-thud-thud cadence.

«Halt. Proximity badge not properly detected.» The robot plays a canned audio recording. «Please speak your access code in a clear, calm voice.»

Halfway into the surgery theater, Francis’ grip on his sidearm tightens as he watches the others. He’s not sure how this is going to shake out, except he doesn’t want to be anywhere in front of the drones when the shooting starts.

“Yep,” Devon remarks of Francis’ observations. But it’s better than nothing. There aren’t many options and the layout of the floor they’re on couldn’t be worse. As the first robot comes into view, he motions with a hand to direct his team to begin moving. “Jackalope, take point,” he calls out as he backward walks after the group “Pick the path that offers the best cover.” This sort of operating on the fly is what Devon is good at though. “Maenad take center with Caladrius and our Shadow, I’ll bring up the rear.”

He raises his rifle to be ready, still moving backward but with enough glancing ahead to mark his path. “We stay two steps ahead.” Still calling out his thoughts on the matter, for the first time in his life Dev wishes he had telepathy. It would make communications so much easier. “Goal is to trap them without engaging.” Or without engaging any more than is necessary. “Maenad keep us updated as best you can on the move. If Oni gets swamped, Jackalope and the Shadow break off to assist.”

One less visible body means one less person to fall behind or get spotted, so Ling decides that rather than walk in line with the other two, to wing it a bit. Her form gives way to a cloud of smoke, which pools around the feet of Melody and Wright, giving her the ability to provide at least a smokescreen if something goes wrong.

"Oh that's weird," Melody whispers as she follows behind Wright, for a moment attempting to watch her steps until she realise that she's not going to hurt the smoke woman at her heels. "Is anyone else bothered by the fact that we have both team medics?"

Oh, that's going to get her yelled at for tempting fate.

“Jesus Christ,” Wright says, remembering the outside of the barrier at the festival with something far from fondness. She keeps her position relative to the others as they move into the surgery theatre. “Dahaka’s got my medical on tap for the Rescue Rangers.”

«Intruders in Sector-S!» Barks one of the machines as soon as its targeting sensor picks up non-compliant movement, followed by a revving noise as it moves from a slow walk into a fucking jog.

“They can run—they can run!” Francis hiss-shouts as he pops the safety off his sidearm and scrambles through the surgery theater, vaulting over an operating table and then sliding across the floor to the door to the right on the opposite side. He crouches by the door, checking to see if it’s locked and then pushes it open into a narrow hallway. With a hand sign, Francis marks all clear and then pushes ahead.

At the rear of the group, Devon can see the Qing catching up fast as he retreats into the surgery theater. «Intruders, lay down on the ground with your hands behind your head! Use of deadly force is authorized!» They bellow in canned responses, moving in sync as they ready their assault rifles at the shoulder while running ahead with a smooth enough gait that their gyroscopically-stabilized firearms do not sway so much as an inch.

The lead Qing makes it to the four-way junction as Devon’s team is crossing the surgery theater, then it pivots and starts making progress down the hall. Only one of the other Qing moves to follow. On the security feed, Asi watches one of them stand sentinel in the junction, pivoting to watch all of the corridors. On her screen, she sees other alerts pop up.


"No, that's not all right," Asi hisses at the pop-up, looking at the nearby drone on the monitor with a glance before she paws the confirmation window with a resounding no for its trouble.

She tabs rapidly, looking for options, anything to overwrite the drones' current autonomously-derived functions.

While nothing in here looks robot bulletproof, Wright still slings herself around whatever cover she can hop to as she makes her way through the room after Francis. “Should have just tried a few random words for security keys just in case,” she grumbles.

All too aware of the dangers of the Qing, Devon only motions for the team to continue after Francis. “Could’ve,” he does eventually say when Wright speaks up, “but who knows what language the robots are programmed to respond to?” He turns forward for a brief look at what’s ahead. He trusts Francis to keep them out of danger, but he can’t plan if he’s running completely blind. “When we break line of sight, run,” is his next strategy. Get as much distance between the team and the Qing, hopefully buy Asi some time. “Find some cover, maybe we can play hide and seek with these damn things.”

"Permission to distract and engage?" It might be strange to some to hear the wispy, ethereal but familiar voice raise out of the nothingness of the smoke, but Ling doesn't think twice about it. Normally she wouldn't bother to ask, but today Kay’s life is on the line.

"Smoke cover, slash and run," is her main suggestion and her usual tactic. "Divide?" That one she sounds less certain of - the goal is to corral them, after all.

“Smoke screen,” Devon interjects, ignoring that it wasn't him who was asked. “If it's needed. If.” Emphasis on the second time. “We will not physically engage unless absolutely necessary.”

But Devon has other problems to contend with. As he exits the surgery lab out the southwest entrance into a narrow hall, Francis stops him with a firm slap of a palm at his chest. Then Francis motions to peek around the corner, and Devon can see two more Qing standing sentinel at the short steps leading up into some sort of command center.

Follow my lead,” Francis says to Devon and Wright, the closest Hounds to him, taking a flashbang in one hand and pulling the pin before teleporting it out of his palm. The grenade disappears in a quick flicker of light, and reappears some thirty feet away behind the Qing drones in the command center. When the flashbang goes off, the two sentinel Qing whip around and immediately move to investigate the noise.


Once more, Asi clicks N.

Now!” Francis hisses, breaking into a sprint to run in the opposite direction, leading the group on their projected path. But at the back of the group, the two Qing in hot pursuit are getting extremely close.

«Halt or this unit will fire!» The lead Qing in pursuit bellows, raising its assault rifle at the retreating Hounds, unaware that the swirling cloud of smoke is anything more than an atmospheric effect.



The north-to-south hallway cutting alongside the Surgery Lab is entirely unguarded. Lucille’s team pushes ahead with great haste, plowing through two-way doors designed to allow gurneys easy access between the Surgery Lab and the east wing of the facility. Darkened windows line the wall to their left as they run, looking into unlit offices and conference rooms. But up ahead, light spills into the hallway from a large lab.

As Lucille’s team approaches the window and slows their pace, they can see Kaydence on the table, cables plugged into ports surgically implanted in the shaved side of her head. But what none of them expected to see pacing around on the phone in the lab is Erica Kravid, a woman who died at Operation Goliath in Sunstone.

Kravid is talking to someone on the other end of the phone, but her voice does not carry through the thick, wire-reinforced window.

Eizen’s back straightens, eyes widen. It isn’t Kravid he’s reacting to, but the sight of Kay in such a state. He looks to Lucille, holding up two fingers. Two consciousnesses. Her biological radar confirms the same.

This is it.

There is a list of mad science laboratories that Francesca Lang, aka Yīngsù of the Flower Garden clones, would love to blow up. This particular laboratory wasn’t on that list until recently, but destroying at least a section of it will be an act of catharsis.

Chess murmurs to the others, “Gonna blow it,” in a low voice, glancing at each to make sure they hang back, but at the ready for whatever consequences will come from the blast and alerting those inside.

Her ungloved hand rises as she darts forward, putting her hand to the glass, fingers splayed — there’s no visual to indicate her power is working, but she can feel the energy thrum as the glass panel charges. Her lids lower as she concentrates for a few seconds, modulating the amount of energy, to make sure it’s enough to destroy the glass wall, but not kill everyone within — or without.

Chess backs up to get out of the way, in those few seconds before the charge detonates, turning away and grateful to have the visor down.

Elliot is momentarily staggered by the appearance of the woman—a woman who is supposed to be dead—who ran the department that formed the bedrock of his nightmares. He tries to get Wright’s attention in a moment of panic, but lets go. Wright has far bigger problems bearing down on her right now.

To make himself feel better, he lowers his posture and takes careful aim at Kravid, waiting for Chess to start the fireworks. It’s during this moment of tension that he starts to feel the edges of a horrible realization, but all of the pieces haven’t fallen into place by the time Chess steps away to await the detonation.

In front of the security terminal, Asi closes her eyes, reaching for calm born of having lived through so many high stress situations like this. "Mind your fire— if the SEER goes down with Kay still under, there's no telling what that'll do to her," she tells Elliot. She breathes in, breathes out evenly, focusing on that sensation while Chess's charge builds up on the glass. "You've got this." And she wishes she were right there next to him.

Godfrey’s head tips a little to one side as Chess steps forward. He knew what she could do since they worked together, but never witnessed it. While she charges up the window, he looks past her to the room beyond and his jaw clenches at what he finds there.

“What in bloody hell did they do to her?” Godfrey growls out, the aurora, that was barely visible in the harsh lighting, flares up with his anger at the treatment of a friend. The ribbons of green and pink light, leap and curl around his arms as he lifts his rifle to point at Kravid’s face. Of course, all she can see is that painted skull grinning at her down the long barrel and not the angry scowl just behind it.

Godfrey would really like to kill this one.

But he did promise to behave.

Thankfully, his focus is broken when Chess turns away and instinctively Godfrey follows suit. As he does, the rifle is released by one hand so that a ball of light can form, fed by the dancing lights. They only said she had to be alive after all.

The wall vibrates as its potential kinetic energy is charged and a moment later erupts in an ground-shaking explosion of three inch thick steel-reinforced glass. Chess’ expertise with her ability sends the shards at a downward angle to the floor, and though they ricochet up after impacting the floor, it is with significantly less force than they pulverized the floor with.

Immediately klaxon alarms begin to blare throughout the facility, followed by warnings popping up on Asi’s console about an explosion in the lab and automated systems trying to dial up to reserve security forces. It’s all she can do to reroute the calls and stop them from going through, to silence the alarms, and stay ahead of the automated responses. In another window, she can see an automated system spinning up boot operations for the four additional Qing at their recharging stations.

In the lab, Kay jostles left to right on the table in response to the gentle shockwave, head lolling slightly to the side and pulling cables taut where they plug into her skull. Kravid, however, is screaming. She is knocked onto the floor, small cuts and abrasions on her legs where the ricocheted fragments of the reinforced glass hit her.

Kravid tries to scramble back, away from the opening in the wall, but then goes rigid as if struck by a bolt of lightning with her back arching in the air and heels kicking on the floor. A moment later she collapses onto her back, eyes unfocused and staring up at the ceiling.

“She is neutralized,” Eizen says as he peeks around the shattered remainder of the wall, leading with his sidearm, “she’ll be unconscious for several minutes.” He adds, then steps over what remains of the window into the lab with a crunch of glass underfoot.

At the same moment, there is a noise from the opposite side of the room beyond the door to the lab. A whirring, heavy, mechanical sound. On the security cameras back at her post, Asi sees the Qing sentry posted outside of Kay’s room turn to the door and attempt to open it.


That’s a no.

Back in the hall, Lucille’s team can see the Qing through a narrow window in that door, repeatedly trying to call the door to open. Its boxy head swivels from side to side, viewed through a similarly thick slit of steel-reinforced glass. For now it seems unable to assist.

Kay is in a precarious situation, hooked up to machines of unidentified nature, eyes flicking left and right behind her eyelids. As if in a dream.

Chess’ dark eyes scan the equipment, darting from Kay to the machinery to Kravid, then to Eizen and Elliot. “Anyone in there know how to unhook her without fucking her up?” she asks, then adds, “more?” a little wryly. Because she looks pretty fucked up as is.

No offense, Kay.

She doesn’t move to enter the lab, staying where she is to act as sentry if any of the other Qing find their way to their location. “We taking them both?” adds, jerking her head to indicate Kravid, but her eyes return to watch the corridor.

Elliot steps through the glass rubble as quickly as he can, looking over Kay’s condition before stepping up to a terminal to access SEER. He pulls from Asi’s knowledge of the program as he does. “Don’t unplug her,” he says distractedly but loudly, “We need to get her out of this system first.”

“And yeah, Kravid’s worth a mint if you’ve got no plans for her. Hopefully they’ll reopen that bounty considering she’s fucking dead.” What version of Erica is she, he wonders, Would she know anything about Project 0?

"There's a shutdown sequence you need to run," Asi tells Elliot while she glances up to where she knows the Qing are beginning to mobilize. Doors, doors. She flips them until she finds the security door to the charging station room, triggering it to seal.

Hopefully it holds.

"Listen carefully," she says clearly, then walks him through the process, tagging memories of having done just this thing before.

Godfrey had every intention of blasting the woman, knocking her down and giving her a wicked sunburn, but when he’d turned around… it was in time to see Kravid drop to the floor. He lets out an exasperated sigh while shoulders slump and the ball of light that had been forming in the palm of his hand sputters and dies.

Fine. Just take all the bloody fun out of it,” the heliokinetic grumbles under his breath, giving Eizen some annoyed side-eye - thankfully hidden behind that visor.

Unlike Chess he doesn’t hang out in the hall, Godfrey steps through the broken window to get a better look at Kay’s situation. The warning is a good one, though he wasn’t really planning to touch those leads, he thought about it. “What ever have they done to that lovely head of yours, luv?”

Letting his rifle hang at his side, Godfrey pulls off his helmet. Last thing he wanted her to see, should she wake, was their helmets. His hair was a bit messy, but he’s not thinking about that. He watches Elliot work to wake his friend, completely oblivious to the silent conversation.

Chess's ability also earns her a tally on the dangerous motherfucker list.

Lucille's fingers twitch lightly as she senses the signatures of both Kravid and Kay. A boon, for everyone on the team. Personal and business wise. Golden eyes flick towards Eizen and then the others. "Tell me when it's time," nodding over at Kay's form.

"I'll stop any negative effects."

It unnerves her to see the woman connected to machinery, nobody deserved this. A visceral flashback of seeing Colette hooked up to a large machine looms in the back of the Wolfhound's mind.

Nobody deserved this.

Moments Earlier


With its boxy camera head focused on the rear entrance of the surgery lab, a solitary Qing moves with mechanical fluidity across the floor. Rifle trained at its shoulder, it strides through the ground-cover of smoke, unaware of its true nature.

The smoke rises slowly, mingling freely with the terrifying robot. It's always been hard for Ling to explain how she "sees" while she drifts around in her smoke form — it feels like a mix of a sixth sense with a general awareness of the immediate few feet around her. A strange, extrasensory, almost tactile like sense allows her to center where her senses lie in her ever spreading smoke form.

It also allows her "feel" around as the smoke rises up from around the Qing's feet as she searches for a weak spot, an easy spot to strike. Quick and quiet, as she ever is.

Cables, wiring, joints. Arteries, tendons, ligaments. It’s strange how human some of these vulnerabilities are. There’s a bundle of exposed cables at the back of the Qing’s head that connects to a pack on its back. The pack itself looks dangerous, the electricity symbol indicating it’s some sort of power supply. There’s wires at the knee joints too, and when the leg is fully-extended Ling can see micro-hydraulic piping, filled with pressurized hydraulic fluid.

Plenty of places for a knife to work. Just have to make sure it doesn’t get a shot off.

That's always the trick. Do what you need, but don't get caught. To her, these things are barely any more threatening than the rage zombies she used to make a habit of doing this exact thing to. And just like them, she knows exactly the approach she needs to take.

The smoke filters back down to the floor, collecting just behind the Qing. Coalescing first into a semi solid floor, hands and feet spread across the floor like a horror movie spider woman, Ling lifts one hand as smoke begins to form into her knife. As her body solidifies, she slashes out at the hydraulic piping; even if she can't pierce she can jam it. At the same time, she pulls a small knife from her wrist, eyeing the cables at the back of the neck.

It would be a tough throw, but if she could get it all done in two smooth movements, it just might work.

A carbon steel cutting edge slipped between hydraulic cable and leg actuators uses the compressing force of the machine’s leg coming up mid-stride to force the edge of the blade into the steel-threaded cord exterior with thousands of pounds of force. It breaks the knife but not only severs the hydraulic cable, but embeds jagged shards of metal in the knee actuator.

The Qing whirrs loudly, spraying red-black hydraulic fluid across the white floor as its leg goes from rigid to bent in an instant. Hundreds of pounds of weight come crashing down onto that knee, and the Qing pivots and tries to turn its torso to face the direction of the damage. Ling’s second knife slices up through the braid of optical and power cables using the machine’s own momentum against it. There is a spark-snap as those cables are cut, and by the time the Qing turns around she’s blinded it.

As if panicked the drone immediately opens fire with its assault rifle, perforating computer equipment and the wall behind Ling as bullets pass through her smoky body harmlessly. A split second later a tremendous explosion rocks the facility, sending the room into the haunting glow of red emergency lighting. An alarm begins to sound but cuts out a second later.

After one more impotent burst of gunfire the Qing slouches to the side, sparking and sputtering as its hydraulic systems are drained. The floor is coated in a sea of near-red fluid, the machine unable to move its arms and unable to target.

The second pursuing Qing by the door to the lab opens fire as well, sending a spray of gunfire across the south wall of the lab, shattering glass windows and destroying computer monitors.

Sliding her knife into her sleeve, Ling turns back into a billowing cloud of smoke and moves to rejoin the others with one Qing still in pursuit.



Not far up ahead, Francis, Devon, Melody, and Wright can hear the sentinel Qing that were standing guard at the command center spinning up to move. Francis’ distraction had only bought them a small fraction of a head start. The distant sound of an explosion means Lucille’s team is taking the direct route to Kaydence, but the pop of heavy, automatic gunfire from the surgery lab means heat is closing in.

Francis scrambles at the lead, skidding across the tiled floor as he hits the narrowest part of the hallway just wide enough for one person to walk down. A maintenance corridor connecting office wings. He bursts through a pair of ordinary doors, shoes squeaking on the tile. “Oh fuck, oh fuck this is a long hallway. Oh fuck!

Francis looks back to Devon and the others, seeing them all lined up down the hallway like a shooting gallery. Further behind them, the whirr-clack of two Qing beginning pursuit reverberates through the walls.

Meanwhile, on the security cameras, Asi can see the Qing that have spun up in the maintenance bay approaching the locked door. After a few attempts to open it, they have turned to force and are pounding on the door, trying to brute force their way through. It will only hold for so long. So far she has been unable to find any overrides for the drones, only able to shut off their requests to transmit data through the network.

Whatever remote controls they may have might not be able to be accessed from that system.

“Maenad,” Devon calls as he looks down the length of narrow hallway that stretches troublingly long and open. “Take point. Caladrius follow. Pass your grenades to Jackalope.” As he starts laying out the plan, he crowds closer to the team, urging them to stay stationary for only as long as it takes to swap places. His head turns to look the opposite direction, and he liberates his own grenades to pass off when his turn comes.

“Jackalope, take out all Qing, starting with those not pursuing us. Use the network to set your targets.” The grenades are held in one hand so Francis can take them as he needs them. “When you’re done, I’ll close in these walls.” His empty hand touches the wall, so he can begin synchronization.

“Be ready,” he shouts loud enough for the whole team to hear easily. Devon angles his gaze to the wall, trusting the Hounds to know their roles now. “Make sure you’re locked and loaded. Things are about to get crazy!”

Wright lowers her rifle only to pull her grenades and toss them to Francis. She backs down the hallway with eyes on the nearest Qing, weapon hot and finger on the trigger. With all the armor on these things, her plan is to concentrate her fire on their rifles. She checks the positions of the other Qing through Asi as she moves.

The sensation of being streamed draws Asi momentarily from the output she's providing to Elliot, looking down at an overall map to check the locations of the Qing again. It's then that she realizes a single unit stayed behind in the intersection outside the room she herself is in— the direction the running Wolfhounds are barreling back toward, eventually. Fuck.

"Hang a left after the chokepoint and take the door on your immediate right," she tells Wright more quietly than she's been speaking. "You're going to cut through the door into orange. I'll buy you a few moments by cutting off the security door there after you make it through."

With one Qing down, Ling is quick to shift herself back into smoke before a retaliation from anything waiting in the wings can happen. Quickly, she drifts back down to the floor, moving as quick as she can to catch with with the others without using the vents - and maybe get another Qing along the way if she's lucky.



Eizen steps through the broken glass and concrete fragments to stand over Erica Kravid. He doesn’t know her, or recognize her, but he knows what she represents. Looking back at Kaydence, he watches Elliot and Lucille carefully coordinating their efforts to disconnect her from the SEER system and whatever other hardware it’s connected to.

As Asi shares the manual disconnection sequence through the link to Elliot, Lucille feels the biological impact the system has on her. She handles less technically-adept disconnections, catheter and intravenous fluid systems.

Lucille feels like she’s been here before.

Lucille unbuckles Colette’s restraints, using her grip on the straps to keep from floating off of the ground. At Lucille’s side, Aria does her best to aid, loosening the straps and holding the unconscious young woman down so as to not let her float away once she’s free. When that work is done, Lucille scoops Colette up into her arms, and Aria grabs Lucille’s free hand and helps guide her across the floor, even as Nicole is rising to her feet, watching Warren carry Elle, watching Lucille carry Colette, and Nicole carries one—no—two passengers to safety.

Realizing her hands are trembling at the memory of Mount Natazhat, Lucille steels herself and continues to assist in the disconnection. All the while the Qing on the other side of the door continues to slam its fist into the metal, leaving visible bulges in the steel.

“We… need to hurry it up.” Eizen says, the distant pop of automatic gunfire making him tense.

But Elliot—and by extension Asi—are running into hurdles. What Kaydence is connected to isn’t just the SEER system, there’s layers of some other external network bridge that she’s integrated with through the SEER as an access port. The consoles near Kaydence’s bed reference geometry, terrain, characters. Repeated references to something called Structure.

It creates a delay, but only a short one. System-by-system, Asi guides Elliot through shutting down the neural link server Kaydence’s consciousness is connected to, and then how to system-by-system disengage her consciousness from the Seer implant.

The Qing drone continues to pound its fists against the door. The steel-reinforced glass window begins to crack. “Any time now,” Eizen calls back over his shoulder with a rise in his voice.

Hand wound around the plug in Kaydence’s skull, Elliot twists the connector until it pops softly, then slides the quarter-inch long connector prongs out of the data jack in the side of her head.

Immediately, Lucille feels a spike of adrenaline jolt through Kaydence as her limbs flex and back arches. Kaydence sucks in a sharp, wheezing breath, and her eyes open.

Brown eyes search almost blindly in the space between the blonde and the canopy above her. Her mouth works around what should almost certainly be words, but no sound manages to escape, her throat dry and raw from disuse and medical apparatus. The distress settles into her features immediately, confusion and fear in equal measures. “M—”

My house.

Tears flow over the from the wells of her eyes, spilling out from the corners and into the hair at her temples. One side soaks it in readily. The other side, the one where the jack was just pulled from her skull, sees the tears bead up against the shaved fuzz over her skull before it finally absorbs. “M—”

My child.

There’s a bright light. A conference room. A suite within a prison. The smell of coffee. A laboratory. The smell of sterile spaces. Long hallways. White lights. The whirring servomechanisms of Qing drones. A cell. “M—”

My husband.

Fuel burning. Blood in her mouth. Her own scream ringing in her ears. A stubbled jaw beneath the comparative softness of her scraped palms. The hammering of her heart in her chest. Gasping for air so cold that it burns in her lungs. The gun skittering just out of reach. Slipping on the ice, landing hard. The arrest of her heart. Lifting off the pavement. The frozen metal beneath her hand. “M—“

My world.

Her throat dry and raw. The cry tearing through the night. The devastation of grief. Slipping through her fingers. White in her periphery. An aborted profession of love. Blood like ice. Pleas on deaf ears. The knife. The betrayal. The gunshot. The betrayal. Elation like flying. Years of guilt that mean nothing. That familiar face. Learning again to breathe. A heart beating again. The bridge deck. “M—“

My heart.

Kaydence Lee sucks in a deep breath. Terrified, but it announces that she’s really there again. By design of the crew there to rescue her, it’s a face well known to her that she sees first, without death’s mask. Brown eyes find focus on him despite the pounding inside her skull, and still it’s as if she’s barely comprehending. But there’s recognition. She knows him. She lunges in an attempt to sit up suddenly, like she might pull the companion she’s too long been separated from into a fierce embrace. Godfrey Wells.


Even though he is still thoroughly disgusted by the long needle that had just exited from Kay’s skull, Godfrey manages a smile for the waking woman as he leans closer as if trying to hear her.

Only to have her lunge at him with that accusation flung at him. Godfrey lets his helmet clatter to the sterile linoleum floor so that he can grab her grasping wrists, with both gloved hands. Leaning away from her, he looks just past those hands to give her a ‘Really?!?‘ look.


Technically, Kay wasn’t wrong, but Godfrey decided to take offense anyhow. “I beg your pardon?” He came all that way to save her, just to have such a horrid accusation thrown at him. “Clearly, that bloody huge spike in your head has messed with your good senses, luv. I believe you may be in need of a… - chill pill -.” Godfrey turns an expectant look at Lucille, giving a vague nod towards the clearly delirious Kaydence.

Please, before she murders me.”

“Jesus,” is all Chess has to say at the medical operations going on to extricate Kaydence from machinery. She’s watching the window where the Qing is pounding, ready to throw something at it, but her attention turns back to Kay when she lurches forward to grab for Godfrey.

One hand comes up in a defensive gesture — a halt symbol, ungloved palm forward — to send a small blast of her reserved kinetic energy toward Kay, to push her back and away from Godfrey, enough to give him some breathing room without hurting the woman they’ve come to rescue.

God knows she’s been through enough.

“Probably best to nap her, too,” Chess agrees — whether Lucille or Eizen does it. She looks to the man who recruited her for the job. “I’d offer to drag one of them, but I need my hands free to be of any other use to us.” Her attention returns to the Qing on the other side of the door. “I’ll take rear on the way out, blast this place behind us.”

Elliot barely casts a glance at the commotion unfolding in the room. He has no idea what these people get up to in their off-time. Instead he allows the others to handle their friend, brings up his rifle and starts backing toward the destroyed window. “Let’s have this conversation in the jet, shall we?” he suggests.

It's all a little jarring for the woman and Lucille almost balks as Kaydence comes too and screams bloody murder at Godfrey. As the others are looking to her or Eizen for help the former is swiftly moving to the blonde's back and placing a firm grip on her back. "Shhhh." She whispers as amber colored eyes bore into the back of Kay's skull. Tilting her head to the side as her biological feelers

The pain the other woman feels in her body is gone, no pounding headache, no aches, nothing. "Relax." Luce growls, a light sensation of drowsiness begins to settle over the woman. "Calm."

Lucille also knows what it is to not be in control, to wake up somewhere you shouldn't be and not with the people you would rather be surrounded by and so she offers more words, "You're safe."

Kay can’t help but feel sedated in Lucille’s presence. Even if the hammerfall blows of the Qing’s fist against the other side of the door say otherwise.

Eizen takes a knee and loops one of Kravid’s arms around his shoulders, then rises to stand. “You may remain hands-free, Ms. Lang,” he says with a nod over to Chess. “We should make our way back quickly.”

Then, in a more projected voice he projects his words through the telepathic link: “Which way do we go, Oni? Is the route back safe? The door is not an option.

Little did Eizen know, the way back was also about to be closed.

Meanwhile, Nearby

Qing Charging Station

On the security feed, Asi watches as the Qing gathered at the door to their charging room pulverise it out of the hinges. One door comes off of its runner while two Qing flex their considerable strength, pushing the door forward and bending the reinforced steel at its tension point enough for one of the machines to make its way through, leaving deep gouges and scrapes on its chassis.


Renautas-Weiss Toronto Headquarters
Rooftop Helipad

The emergency stairwell door bursts open onto the roof, followed by a pair of Qing drones marching ahead at a steady pace. The door, taken clear off its hinges, clatters to the ground noisily. In the same moment, flashing red lights bloom against the rain and a powerful downdraft blows a gale wind down across the roof.

Behind the pair of Qing, two men in suits emerge from the stairwell flanked by human bodyguards. Claudius Kellar and Lucien Crane make their way in the wake of the Qing, squinting against the wind and rain. Lucien’s bodyguard shields him from the rain with an umbrella, keeping Lucien’s lit cigarette dry.


Out of the dark of night a lone tilt-rotor aircraft descends from the skies, blowing a downdraft of stinging rain. The scraped and faded symbol for Praxis Heavy Industries is still painted on the side of the fuselage. As the aircraft touches down, its side bay doors slide open, revealing a mixture of heavily armored mercenaries and Qing drones.

Lucien plucks his cigarette from his lips, flicks it down onto the rooftop, and watches as the mercenaries onboard wave him in. Lucien pats Kellar on the back, indicating he should go first, then waits a beat to follow behind him. After Kellar is helped up into the aircraft, Lucien pauses and looks back at the elevator doors left propped open, his brows furrowing.

Whatever thoughts he has go unremarked, and Lucien turns back to the aircraft, taking Kellar’s hand to be helped up into the aircraft.

Meanwhile, Below

Cybertechnology Lab, West Wing

We have a problem.” Avi’s voice comes through the link. “Some kinda’ aircraft just landed on the roof of the building. Don’t know if it's security or what, but consider the roof exit blocked. We’re on fallback, exit west into the maintenance tunnels and connect to the subway system, I’ll reroute to meet you wherever the fuck you come up. Just hurry!

Some of that was lost over the sounds of multiple grenades detonating at the back of Devon’s unit as they flee down the laboratory corridors in what is increasingly becoming a clusterfuck. Francis, now hanging at the back of the group screams, “Fire in the hole!” again and teleports a grenade from his hand into a gap in the chassis of the Qing at their backs. This time the teleportation is a success and the grenade goes off with devastating precision.

The Qing is nearly split in half by the explosion, flung around on what mechanical components still tether torso to legs. It collapses to the ground, then is immediately trampled by the Qing behind it that raises its assault rifle and opens fire. Francis is struck four times in the back, sending him stumbling forward. There is a blast of smoke and sparks from his AEGIS armor’s battery pack, and as Wright catches him and drags him forward, she can see the silvery ferrofluid leaking out of the torn up back of his armor. He’s alive, but his armor can’t take another hit like that for him.

Devon’s unit banks left at the junction after the chokepoint, following Asi’s rerouting. The path takes them down a short, tiled hall and then through a standard office door that Devon takes clear off its hinges with his ability. This leads into a cramped office space filled with computers and tightly packed desks, all unlit.

As the team pushes through the office, the last Qing at their back continues to follow at a jogging sprint. Wright, trying to make sure Francis isn’t left behind, sees the gleaming red eye of the Qing as it ducks under the doorway into the office, opening fire. Muzzle flash lights up the dark, bullets tear through computers and office furniture and Wright is just on the other side of the wall in time for high-caliber rounds to rip through the wall at her back, a trail of staggered gunfire hot on her heels.

But there should’ve been more Qing. Either something went terribly right or…



With one more punch the Qing on the other side of the cybernetics lab door takes it off its hinges and steps into the room, rifle raised. Eizen sucks in a sharp, horrified breath as he turns to see the glowing red eye staring down at him. As Chess, Lucille, Godfrey, and Elliot start to swing into motion, they hear the rapid-fire blast of the Qing’s heavy machine gun before they have time to react

muzzle flash blasts in the dim light

shell casings rain down on the floor

glass shatters

not a drop of blood is spilled.

A heartbeat later, no one in the room is injured. The Qing stands in the middle of the lab, smoke rising from the muzzle of its rifle. Godfrey, closest to the blown out wall, sees another Qing that had just rounded the corner and had a clear line of sight on him collapse onto its knees and then slouch loudly against the wall. It leaves a trail of coppery hydraulic fluid in its path to the floor.

Chess can see a line of fire, diagonally through the room, straight through another window. The machine saved them.

The Qing turns its monocular eye on Kaydence, then looks up to Lucille, then starts to survey the room in silence, lowering its heavy assault rifle.

In the security office, Asi can see the status of the remaining Qing drones. Though she hasn’t been able to bypass the security protocols to shut them down, she can see that someone else has infiltrated the system.

That Qing now shows as:




At the front of his team, Devon follows Asi’s lead, janking a sharp right out of the office and barreling down the hall toward another open security door and up into the orange-coded sector.

I repeat, roof is not clear! Take backup route!” Avi shouts through the psychic link. ““Take maintenance exit! Roof not clear!

Asi pulls at Avi's attention in return as she deals with the issue of the robots on the chase by slamming the security door shut behind Devon, Wright-with-Francis, and Melody after they pass through it into the orange section. Flipped immediately after are the doors down the exit they would have taken at the end of the hall. "Understood," she says through the network. "Maenad, left out of the orange zone and go through the maintenance exit." The door to the right being sealed now, she hopes that instruction is impossible to miss.

The charging room drones broken free into the hall outside their cage, the security doors into the yellow section of the labs, and the door at the end of the hall that would grant them access to her, are also signalled shut and sealed in an attempt to stall them longer yet. Her eyes flicker over the control for the door closest to her, the one immediately between her and the drone in the hallway intersection…

And she shuts that one down, too, in the hopes of giving herself a moment longer here should she need to run shortly.

Wright doesn’t really dwell on how close those bullets came to her through the wall she braced against. Instead she puts all of her energy into supporting Francis, keeping him moving as fast as possible with the bot on their heels. She keeps her eyes on the doors throughout the hallway in case she needs to push them into one rather than take fire, calling out Asi’s directions to the group.

The sound of heavy fire at their backs is rattling, the sound driving spines of anxiety into Devon’s core. He keeps his mind on running, on leading the team with him to the new extraction point. He drops back as soon as he turns into the hallway, allowing for the rest of his team to pass him. “Keep going,” he calls as he signals for Wright and Melody to continue for the exit with Francis.

His other hand slams into the wall overhead once the others are behind him, eyes lifting to the ceiling. He steps backward in a frustratingly slow but necessary pace. Devon reaches out with his ability again, hoping he's got space and time to connect with the structure, praying he can bring the ceiling down on the Qing before it through the sealed security door.

There is a screeching sound of bending metal, the lights in the hallway flicker, and the ceiling flexes like a diaphragm. Synchronized with the wall supports, Devon flexes the gravity back and forth, trying to pull something loose, trying to—



There is a moment of dread silence in the cybernetics lab as the Qing drone stands motionless, its assault rifle slowly training toward the ground as it takes a ready stance. The machine twitches for a moment, but otherwise remains motionless.

Eizen stares wide eyed at it, then looks between the others. With a look back at the machine he says, “Good timing with the drone, Tetsuyama,” across the link.

“We have to go, now.” Eizen says to the others, pointing back the way they came.

Lucille’s influence has brought clarity back to Kay, relatively speaking. The shift between her wired-in state and reality is still one that’s hard to comprehend. The Qing bursting through the door elicits little more reaction than a lift of the blonde’s head. She barely flinches from the sound of the gunfire, even though it leaves her ears ringing and makes the pounding in her head worse for only a moment before it’s overridden again by Ryans’ power. It grants her a sense of serenity.

It’s with that same blankness that she stares through the blown-out window at the other now crumpled Qing. Confusion doesn’t have much time to take hold, as Eizen credits Asi for the save. For all that she’s unbothered, she still also finds relief. Following the downed drone’s line of sight brings her back to…

I’m sorry,” Kay breathes out to Godfrey. Her friend. Now, she does embrace him, arms wrapped around his armored shoulders tight for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she repeats. They can unpack it all later. For now, they need to go. Disengaging from him, she turns on the table to touch her feet down onto the floor and push herself up to stand. Her knees buckle almost immediately and she catches herself, bewildered.

The Qing’s attention swivels in that direction, drawn by the movement of the very subject it was stationed here to guard. It takes a step forward as Kay lifts her arm to ward off any additional concern. She looks straight at its monocular eye and gives a quick shake of her head. “I’m fine, Asi,” she insists. The accent is familiar to the ears of her colleagues. Easy, unforced, with a richness evocative of honey, without being overly sugared. It’s really her.

Self-conscious at the state of herself and smooths over the front and back of her gown while color touches her pale cheeks. There’s also a good amount of glass on the floor, and her feet are very bare. Less than ideal circumstances, aren’t they? “Well, might be a little easier if someone could at least spare me from havin’ to John McClane m’way outta this room,” Kay admits in a softer voice than she used to deny her need for assistance.

There’s a glance given to the growing puddle of hydraulic fluid in the hall beyond the lab. Kay loops an arm around Godfrey for the moment, unless he decides to pass her off — a choice she wouldn’t remotely blame him for even if her first instinct hadn’t been to attack. “We should get a move on,” Kay warns. “Facility like this one is bound to have at least four more of those things waitin’ in the wings.”

The hug is a bit awkward for him, but Godfrey allows it. He even pats her back lightly with his free hand. He even supported her when her knees buckled. “Think nothing of it, luv. Water under the bridge as they say.” Though a thankful look it tossed over at Lucille.

Noticing the shards of glass glittering across the ground, Godfrey looks at the others before huffs a soft sigh in resignation. Fine. He seemed the best candidate to sweep her off her feet, it seems. Putting his ghastly looking helmet back on, he flips the rifle to his back, before scooping Kay up into his arms.

Godfrey looks at the others, though they can’t see the impatient look on his face, but they can hear it in his voice, “Well? What are you all waiting for? Go. go.” He does his best to shoo them forward without dropping Kay.

As much as Godfrey might enjoy having a lovely woman in his arms, even a friend, she wasn’t getting any lighter.

Elliot's initial reaction to the gunfire was to get around the corner for cover. He splits his attention with Eizen's for a clear view of the room, but had the angle on the destroyed robot from his own position. "What the fuck?" He says.

He turns his attention to Asi's security monitors as the others decide not to start shooting the overridden bot. "This wasn't Asi," he says to the room, backing down the hallway toward her position. "Gotta hope that one will take out the hostile in our entryway so we can get past to the maintenance exit."

“Good robot,” Chess murmurs, then shakes her head slightly. “Can’t believe I’m saying that.” She glances back at the Qing and murmurs, “No offense.”

She hangs back as the others move out of the lab, retrieving from her utility belt another makeshift bomb: this time, something small and light to ensure a small, focused explosion that won’t harm them in their retreat.

Charging a handful of metal washers, Chess places them in strategic spots around the lab, in what she knows is probably a futile attempt to destroy any personal information they’ve gleaned from Kaydence’s brain or any calculations that they could use to easily replicate whatever Frankensteinesque mad science was done here. There are sure to be backups, but she has to start somewhere. She’ll blow the control room’s equipment too, once they rendezvous with Asi.

Running, she catches up with the others in the hallway, expecting to hear any second the popping fireworks of the tiny bombs she left in her wake.

The Ryans woman dips her head in return to Godfrey and Kay before she's backing away a little. Eyes alert as the gunshots are heard. Grabbing Kaydence was only one part of this operation and now they needed to get out. The woman hated how she thought something else must be waiting for them at the exit.

"I hate robots."

Not amused at all Lucille treks forward on the balls of her feet.

Eizen is the last out of the room, carrying Kravid over his shoulder as he does. ““We need to hurry, the scientists I dazed by the entrance will start waking up soon!” He calls out, sharing his own voice through the psychic link.

The Qing moves just ahead of Eizen, its smooth and hydraulic gait allowing it to jog with its rifle readied in front of it. He can’t help but feel a pang of anxiety on watching it maneuver like that, and helplessness at the thought of it turning on the others. The thought bounces around in his head as they hurry up the hallway past a pair of sealed security doors with Qing on the other side, hammering at the door with heavy fists. Even now they’ve already managed to make a sizable dent in the door.

As the team is hurrying back into the security armory, there is a tremendous sound of an explosion at their backs. The blast back in the cybernetics lab sends a cloud of dust and debris into the hall along with a shower of sparks. A thick black smoke billows out of the lab, setting off fire-suppression sensors—ones Asi lacks the authorization to turn off.

As smoke pools out from the lab, a careful eye reveals some of the smoke moving against the rest, trailing close to the ground as it moves to follow in Eizen and his team's wake. It ebbs and flows, spiraling up higher through the falling water and into the air.

Ling seems to have made her decision to move about the complex, helping out against the Qing as needed, rather than staying chained to one team.

Fire alert klaxons blare through the facility, emergency lighting flashes on the walls, and fire block doors begin to shut on by one with resounding clangs. Squinting against the downpour of water raining from the ceiling, Eizen curses this entire night.

Through the downpour the group converges on Asi’s position as the security consoles short out one-by-one from the torrential release of water from the fire suppression systems. An inch-deep sheet of water covers the floor, and Asi sees her allies return amid the scream of alarms and flashing emergency lighting.



As Devon is trying to pull down the ceiling by flexing the supports left and right there is a sudden explosion elsewhere in the facility, eliciting an eruption of alarms blaring in his ears. Fire alarm klaxons report with persistent buzzing screams as orange lights flash on the walls. A moment later water comes down in cascading sheets from the ceiling, spraying over the Hound and his allies. Devon’s concentration on his ability is shattered, and while the ceiling is bowed some, his gravitokinesis wasn’t enough to bring it down.

But given everything else happening, it may not matter.

“Come on!” Francis shouts, grabbing Devon by the sleeve while the two watch the Qing on the other side of the door try and punch its way through the door. “We don’t have time we gotta go!” Francis’ hand slips from Devon’s shoulder as he starts to jog ahead.

With a door between them and the Qing, Wright pulls Elliot’s attention long enough for him to see they’re safe for now. “Let’s not waste this, time to get the fuck out,” she says, making a break for the exit. She keeps her gun high just in case there are any more surprises left in the day.

Twisting away from the door, Devon splashes after Francis. One hand pushes the man's back to keep him moving after Wright and Melody. "Best plan all night," he calls over his shoulder as he casts a look back the way they'd come, hearing those fists hammer against the barrier. How much abuse can those doors really take? Footsteps slow slightly and his rifle is made ready, though he knows it does little good against the robots. Then, Dev picks up his pace, closing the gap to the rest of his team.

Melody falls in line behind Francis, moving to the door that leads out into the subway system. He wedges the already partially-ajar door open revealing a set of concrete stairs that goes down five feet to a maintenance tunnel lined with metal conduits on the wall. “Way’s good to go, let’s jam!” He shouts, patting Melody on the back and sending her through first.

As the others make to pass Francis, he looks in the direction of all the sealed security gates, bouncing his heel up and down. “C’mon, ‘cmon…” he mumbles under his breath.



Asi is already on the move when she runs head-long into Lucille’s team, soaked from the sprinkler system on their way back from rescuing Kaydence with a surplus Erica Kravid slung over Eizen’s shoulder. The thundering footfalls of a Qing with their group is still alarming, but the machine waits patiently at the rear of the group, pivoting to watch Kaydence’s back, shouldering its rifle and training its sights on the door behind them.

“We have a Qing between us and the exit,” Eizen says with a motion to the door out of the security office, “we’ll have to hit it hard and together. We’ve no chance against armor like that in a protracted fight.”

Eizen looks over to the Qing behind them, then back to Asi. “Plan?”

“I could blind it as soon as the door opens…. ‘M a bit curious if I could fry it’s optics with a good flash. That way the lot of you could take that bloody thing out,” Godfrey says, lowering Kay to her feet, though he keeps an arm around her to keep her steady against his side.

Already there are two pinpoints of light shining through the visor of Godfrey’s helmet, making the grinning skull creepier, meanwhile the bright colorful aurora flares up briefly across his shoulders in anticipation, before dying down again.

Looking at the others, waiting for protests or agreement to the idea, before Godfrey looks over at Chess, knowing her capabilities.

Asi can't take her eyes off the Qing that's with them for too long a moment of silence. Eventually, she looks to Kay, an opaqueness to her expression that's not entirely the result of being in work mode at the moment.

There's one technopath in the room, and it's not her.

She'd not been able to lift up her own voice earlier through the network while she struggled with that, and time is up— time to face it.

"Can you suborn the one in the hall, to spare us the need?" she asks Kay directly. There's weight behind the question, asked slowly. "Otherwise, send it out first, have it draw fire. If we don't have to risk Godfrey, let's not." After saying as much, her eyes flit and move on to Chess as well before back to her teammates in Elliot and Lucille. They've got better shared experience with dealing with these bots overall, and she knows to trust whatever additional recommendations they make.

"I don't know how much information was pulled before the waterworks started," Asi apologizes to Elliot as an aside.

Chess’ mask angles as she looks from Godfrey to Asi and then to Kay when Asi’s question is directed to the woman they’ve come to extract.

“I can try to either cover us with the kinetic shield while we try to take it down and/or Kay brainwashes the new one, or I can blow it up, but I can’t do both at the same time,” she murmurs quickly and quietly. “I’m not sure an explosion between us and the exit is a great idea, But…”

One armored shoulder lifts and falls. “That’s what the armor’s for, right?”

Kay had been intending to cross the space between herself and Asi to reach out to her. To embrace. Something. Seeing her again is a reassurance she hadn’t realized how badly she wanted until the time that she came into view. Instead, she’s almost mid-lunge from where Godfrey’s set her down when those words hit her square in the chest.

There’s a quick shake of her head. It’s ambiguous at first. No, she doesn’t know what Asi means, or no, she can’t do that. But there’s only a beat that passes between them before Kay turns her head sharply. Her eyes close and she draws in a deep breath. It’s not entirely unlike those times where she’d sit at her desk after receiving bad news and give herself a moment to think. But it isn’t quite the same either.

Opening her eyes again, Kay nods her head. “We won’t need to fight anything. It’ll guard the junction. Make sure none of the others manage to follow us. Or at least slow ‘em down long enough for us to get where we’re goin’.” While there’s confidence in her assertion, it lacks anything resembling of pride. “But the part y’all ain’t gonna like is that I need to lead. There ain’t no other way around it if ya want this to work like I say.”

With a lift of her chin and a glance around, she further refuses the role of damsel. “Those things won’t shoot me. I know, because I’ve stared ‘em down before.” Breath hitches and fingers curl into fists as Kay explains. “They need me. I’m an asset.”

Elliot accepts his rig from Asi, quickly tucking it away in his backpack. Hopefully whatever they did manage to scrape off the network will survive the downpour. He nods in thanks to Asi, but doesn’t reference the handoff any further.

As for letting the recently unplugged kidnapping victim lead the way out, he’s skeptical. His ability isn’t going to get them anywhere, but he does still have a rifle for a last resort. He looks to Lucille and shrugs, then splits his attention with Wright’s to make sure Team Distraction is well on their way to the exit. He pulls Avi’s attention again to see the state of the jet, and to make sure the boss looks to see that they’re all about to make their departure.

“Then we go. Now.” Eizen says with a look over his shoulder, brow tensing. Even if this wasn’t the best plan, it’s the best they had.

A riot of pins and needles still dance through Kaydence’s legs as she steps in the lead out of the security booth. The Qing that seems to be subordinate to her follows without instruction, rifle trained over Kay’s shoulder due to their height difference. The machine then starts to lag behind to allow the others to part out, with Chess closing the distance to stay close to Kay’s back in case this goes awry, and the others not far behind her.

As Kay comes into view of the Qing at the junction, it immediately pivots toward her with a narrowing focus of its monocular eye. There’s a moment where everyone can see the fine detail of its finger moving over the rifle trigger, then it pauses. The machine considers Kay, and Kay considers the machine. There’s nothing between them, no conversations in the ether, no sensation that Kay can feel other than the stinging pain in her legs.

The Qing starts to make a step forward, halts with a jerky motion of a puppet caught on strings, and its monocular eye focuses down to a narrow pinpoint. Instantly, the machine’s posture changes and its back straightens, stepping aside to allow the others to pass as it becomes sentry in the hall.

In an adjacent room, where no one is there to monitor the security systems, a red dot representing a Qing changes color to green, indicating the system has been switched off of aggressive mode…

…and the green dot behind Asi’s team turns red.

Even miracles have their limits.

The sudden report of automatic gunfire at the back of the ground is startling. Eizen screams in pain as he is thrown forward by the impact at his back. Sparks shower from the battery pack on his armor and dance in the rain of the fire-suppression systems. As he lands on his stomach he drops Kravid, sending her rolling across the wet ground.

Ferromagnetic fluid and blood leaks from Eizen’s armor, it’s more than just superficial damage: He’s been hit.

As the Qing pivots to train its fire on Godfrey the vent above it explodes downward followed by a rush of gray smoke leaden by the falling water. Ling Chao erupts from within the smoke and drops down onto the Qing’s shoulders, insinuating her tactical knife between the cables at its neck and sawing upward in a spray of hydraulic fluid and a shower of sparks. The Qing fires blindly, shooting just over Godfrey’s shoulder and then up into the ceiling.

When the Qing reaches up for her, Ling discorporates into a cloud of smoke and rolls down its back and reforms behind its legs, jamming her knife between its knee joints. She bolts upright and then drives a downward kick into the pommel of the knife, forcing it deeper into the machine’s joints, locking its leg in place. She then erupts into a cloud of smoke again, envelops the Qing and appears in front of it with the robot’s assault rifle in her hands, having liberated it from the blinded machine on her way through.

Grabbing as something as complex as a rifle is always taxing on her, taking a great strain and focus to keep it converted into smoke with the rest of her. She doesn't stop firing until the automaton's red light cracks and dims, heavy breaths punctuating the minute gaps between the sounds of bullets loosing from the muzzle.

The sound of Eizen hitting the concrete draws her attention back up, and without a thought to check if the Qing is disabled she explodes into a cloud of dark smoke. It spirals and filters through the air at an alarming pace, only slowing as it comes to where Eizen and Kravid have fallen. The smoke plumes, coalesces and reforms into Ling, no hesitation as she dips down with smoke still wafting off her form. She's more vulnerable than the others, but that doesn't stop her from kneeling next to her current boss - she may be here to help Wolfhound, but her loyalty is firmly with Eizen and Kay.

"Where," she hisses, hoping Eizen knows her enough to finish the question of where were you shot himself. She can at least get him on his feet until one of Wolfhound's medics can tend to him.

“Back, back,” Eizen stammers, and Ling can see the damage to his armor below his right shoulder blade but above his kidney. It doesn’t appear as though the round fully penetrated the armor, but did enough to cause sufficient bleeding. She can see most of it flattened in a sea of ferromagnetic fluid being washed away by the sprinkler system. He’ll need to have that injury treated at a proper hospital to insure the heavy metals in the ferrofluid don’t poison him.

Kravid doesn't go unignored by Ling, though, one hand grasping at the fallen woman's collar even as she hooks her arm under one of Eizen's.

Elliot flinches at the burst of gunfire, but he hasn’t turned to face the new threat before Ling appears to handle the threat with startling efficiency. With Eizen down, his next instinct is to pull Wright’s field medicine across the network. He braces himself, then pulls Eizen’s sensory link, experiencing the pain of the man’s injury for a moment before letting the link go like a hot coal.

For the sake of the others in the network he blocks access to Eizen’s sensory link, but leaves the injured man in the network. No sense giving him a sudden spike of anxiety because the link suddenly breaks while he’s already injured.

“He’s safe to move, get him to Maenad for the trauma kit,” Elliot says. “I’ll get this one.” He crouches to grab Kravid, hauling her up into a fireman's carry. Seems only fair considering he suggested they take her.

Kay’s moment of relief is short-lived when gunfire cracks from the drone she thought was guarding their backs. “No,” she whispers desperately, staring in confusion at her new acquisition before turning to see the shower of sparks that erupts from the back of Eizen’s suit. She knows what that means. Knows there were too many bullets after it happened.

Rather than go to him, she stands in fascinated horror as the bullets fly over their heads and the woman she calls Sun does what she does best. This is why Kay sought her out and hired her in the first place. She just never thought those skills would be employed to save her ass.

The blonde staggers, catches herself against the wall, stunned in the aftermath, her ears ringing. Tears run down her face. “That wasn’t s’posed to happen,” she says in a quiet voice, thick with her southern accent and her guilt. Wiping her face with the back of her free hand, she pushes herself back up from the wall and turns to the drone left in her control.

“Wait here,” Kay tells the construct. She doesn’t have the first clue how to do what it is she can do, and she wishes she could have spared the others — spared Eizen that realization without these devastating consequences. But this is the hand she’s dealt to herself.

Her eyes narrow, harnessing anger now over her anguish. She and this machine seem to have some sort of understanding, but this will not happen again.

The Qing slaved to Kay’s will pivots as verbally requested, changing its footing. A new directive established: hold position.

The gunshot behind them, Asi doesn't immediately prescribe it to the bot until she turns and sees it for herself. Her eyes widen as she sees Eizen go down, sees who it aims for next. "Godfrey!"

But they're saved additional injury thanks to the smoke mimic, and she can breathe again.

Her eyes go to the knocked out form of Erica Kravid on the ground next to Eizen, and she hesitates with her eyes locked on the woman long enough that Elliot is able to grab her first. The memories another Asi bore against this woman feel surreal to her in all of this. Not commanding as they could be.

It still takes a double take with Erica this close to be able to tear her eyes away from her. She looks to Godfrey, to Chess, then turns back to keep to the front of the group to guide them to the maintenance door. "Cerberus," she calls out, pulling Avi's attention. "We've got injured. Any chance you can evac from a closer position?" She readies her rifle for when they clear the next room, finger on the trigger.

When the friendly turns un-friendly, Chess whirls to face it, a blast of kinetic energy coming from her splayed fingers, serving to push the Qing further away; explosives this aren’t going to do anyone any favors. But the Qing is heavy and she doesn’t have much energy stored up, so it doesn’t do as much to knock him away as she’d have liked.

When Ling recorporealizes with the rifle, she nods with approval. “Nice,” she says, before she looks to Asi and then Kay, helmeted head tipping in query. “Let me know if you want me to blow it. I can leave a few time-delayed presents behind,” she suggests, rolling one of the silver ball bearings in her palm.

Godfrey’s reaction is instant, whipping around his hand lifts and energy gathering at his palm. Just in time to see Ling corporatize in front of him. “Bloody hell.“ He yelps and shakes his hand, quickly dispeling the energy, before he glares at her in annoyance.

He doesn’t linger on Ling’s intrusion into his lane of fire when he sees Eizen badly injured. There is only a flicker of something - is that concern? - before he turns away.

“Let’s get the bloody hell out of here, shall we?” Godfrey asks plainly, ignoring the emotions that come from looking down a barrel, and shifting his attention to helping Kay again. Moving to loop her arm over his shoulder now that she was more mobile, she hears him murmur a quiet, “I, personally, could use a stiff drink.”

From behind her own mask, Lucille rolls her eyes. She really hated robots. But she did enjoy the list of new abilities they could call on in this op, making lemonade from shitty lemons. "Keep steady." Is said evenly to the ones carrying Eizen as she presses her fingertips to the exposed skin of his neck, nullifying his pain. She moves close with the trio to maintain physical contact with the injured man.

The faster Lucille could get back to Finn and out of this hellhole the better.

As Lucille’s group turns to leave, the disarmed but still very active Qing drone staggers to its footing from where Chess had pushed it. It gropes blindly in the dark until it reaches a proximity of the slaved Qing, which turns and fires three bursts directly into the opposing Qing’s chassis, tearing a hold straight through the other drone, which collapses to its knees and then just sits there like a statue, curtains of water sheathing off of it from the sprinkler system.

As Kay’s team reaches the doorway to the maintenance tunnels, they find Devon’s group waiting halfway up the concrete tunnel. There is a thunderous explosion within the lab of the Qing’s self-destruction sequence that sends a shockwave through the walls and unsettles dust from the ceiling.

«Fuck.» Avi’s voice belatedly crackles over the comms. «I’m picking up radio chatter from law-enforcement, something in their security system must’ve been tripped. Yeah, exit from the subway when you hit it and I’ll meet you there.»

Why must we try again

When we know we'll die in the end

“Let’s go!” Francis shouts, looking to Ling assisting Eizen. He ducks under Eizen’s other side and loops an arm around his shoulder, giving an affirming nod to Ling. The group rushes two-by-two down the concrete tunnel lined with power conduits. The alarm klaxon continues to blare at their backs, distorting in echo down the long tunnel.

Why must the daybreak come

When the night steals light of the sun

At the front of the group, her speed enhanced by a spike of adrenaline, Lucille bursts shoulder-first through a door and skids on wet boots across the concrete floor on the other side, then drops down a short distance from the access passage into a subway tunnel. The gravel beside the rails crunches under her boots. She turns, reaching up to help the others down one at a time, making sure no one is left behind.

What's the point of hope

If you don't believe

Meanwhile, on the roof of the Renautaus building, Lucien Crane stands in the open cabin doorway of a tilt-rotor aircraft looking out over the cityscape. His pupils flicker with a reflective coppery light and his bodyguards echo the same. Lucien looks over his shoulder at the pilot and the pilot’s pupils flicker with the same light and he reignites the engines, spinning up the rotors.

What the point of the air in your lungs

If you're afraid to breathe, afraid to breathe

Kellar steps to Lucien’s side, placing a hand on his shoulder. The two look to the city again, and Kellar says over the growing whine of the engines. “It’s in God’s hands now.”

From the shadows we will be seen

Beyond the darkness we will be free

Down below the streets, Wolfhound moves with fluid efficiency through the subway tunnel, hurrying along the outer edge of the tunnel toward the growing light of a subway platform. Francis reaches down around his neck, pulling up his cloth facemask and the other team members move to do the same. They pause on coming into close proximity of the platform, and Francis stops to pull up Eizen’s mask as well.

From the fire, from the fire, we'll build a new world

Beyond the machine

A security camera on the train platform should capture the group exiting the passage, but Kaydence’s subconscious desire to not be seen in her condition, for her rescuers to not be caught causes the camera’s power light to flicker off without her even noticing.

What's the point of hope

If you don't believe

As the Hounds vault up onto the platform, morning commuters let out shouts of surprise and back away from the armed paramilitary force as they breach the nearest street access point rather than the long and private route they had originally planned. Some pull out their phones, confused as they try and turn them on and find them unable to function. The security camera on the wall flickers back on at the same time, but by then all it records are dark shapes retreating up concrete stairs.

What's the point of the air in the sky, in the sky

If you are afraid to breathe, afraid to breath

Inside the basement of the Renautas building, the fire suppression systems kick off. Droplets of water still fall from the ceiling, off of hardware doused over several minutes. Down a winding corridor, past the demolished remains of a Qing drone torn apart by automatic gunfire, the sign for the cybernetics lab is glistening and wet. Through a hole in the wall born of Expressive might, computer equipment drips with water, though it still remains powered on.

From the shadows we will be seen

Beyond the darkness we will be free

On the street, Lucille reaches the top of the stairs from the subway. The rain is coming down harder than when they went in to the building, cars are buzzing down the street, headlights cut bright beams through the haze. She reaches down to her side, pulling out a signal light and shines a bright blue beam into the sky, flickering it in a well-known pattern.

From the fire, from the fire, we'll build a new world

Beyond the machine

Down below the street, a single drop of water rolls down the white plastic chassis of a massive computer system. It joins others in a long rivulet that works its way along a seam in the case, then intrudes within the dark interior of the system case. The droplets collect on the inner ceiling of the case, then drip down onto a collection of bundled cables. The water rolls in a bead down the inner arc of the cables as low as they can go, they begin to collect again into a larger bead.

From ashes we will rise

A fiery phoenix into the skies

Bright lights flood the sky and the downthrust of a vector-thrust jet kicks rain in a halo around Lucille and the hounds. Cars skid to a stop on the street as the Tlanuwa descends out of the rain, landing in the middle of the road, its rear door opening with a whine of hydraulics. Horns blare in the predawn darkness, headlights turn Hounds into silhouettes as they rush through the rain up into the back of the jet.

From the fire, from the fire, we'll make a new world

Kaydence Lee Damaris sits down at an oval-shaped table with a cream-colored tablecloth. Ella is already waiting for her, smiling, one of her front teeth missing. It’ll go under her pillow tonight, she’ll find a dollar there in the morning. Spencer slips around behind Kay, putting an arm at her back as he leans in and lays a casserole dish down in the middle of the table. Since he retired from the force, he’s become more domestic, more attentive. More of a husband.

Beyond the machine

Kaydence walks up the ramp into the back of the Tlanuwa, looking at the glare of the headlights at her back. She can hear Avi shouting from the front of the jet, but his words are lost in the rush of blood in her ears and the adrenaline panic coursing through her veins. Francis, a stranger, approaches her and places a hand on her shoulder that she reflexively flinches away from. Her hand moves instinctually to the port at the side of her head. Her eyes well up with tears.

Beyond the machine

A droplet of water swells on the bottom arc of bundled cables, wobbling from side to side. Below lies a waferboard studded with transistors, lit only by the glow of a small green LED on the circuit board indicating that it is still powered on.

Beyond the machine

“I was thinking, tomorrow,” Spencer says as he moves to take his seat next to Kay, “we could go upstate, there’s this little place in Yonkers I’ve been wanting to take us.” He looks at Ella. “All of us.”

Beyond the machine

Kaydence turns her back to the Tlanuwa's hatch as it shuts, her shoulders tremble from the cold rain.

From the ashes we will rise

A single drop of water is too heavy. It falls from the cable, wobbling as it descends toward towers of electricity and copper.

Beyond the machine

Kaydence smiles, looking at Spencer. “I think that’s—

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