Pack Your Bags


cesar_icon.gif collins_icon.gif corbin2_icon.gif geneva_icon.gif

Scene Title Pack Your Bags
Synopsis A series of mysterious deaths nation wide comes to SESA's attention and Agent Cesar Diaz is handed the case, which will require some travel.
Date September 7, 2020

Fort Jay

“Thank you for coming in so early, Agent Diaz, Junior Agent Stevenson. I’d like you to meet Agent Frank Collins, from Detroit. He’s here to brief us on a rather unique case that has just recently come to SESA’s attention. I’ve been given charge of the case, and I’ve decided to assign it to you as the field agent in charge, Agent Diaz. But it’s going to require quite a bit of— leg work.”

There’s a bunch of files laid out on the table, and it looks as if there’s not much presentation ready for this really, as the tall dark skinned man stands at the table looking across at them. Collins gives off an air of seriousness, something Diaz has seen before in many that he’s worked with— this man is pretty heavy in the business. “Nice to meet you both. We have a couple Junior Agents in Detroit as well. I look forward to working with you both.” That sternness seems to have settled a little at least, or perhaps he just has a soft spot for the younger agents.

“We’re dealing with seven simultaneous deaths that took place in different locations. Apparent spontaneous combustion.” Collins opens one of the files and pushes it forward. “Clarence Heartwell, 59. SLC-N. Burst into flames at 2:37 pm Central Time in Cedar Rapids, Michigan on September 5th while waiting at the doctor’s office. The incident was caught on an office camera.”

The file is pushed closer, “Sorry, I would have gotten these digitized, but my forte is not computers,” he apologizes, as he continues, opening the file to a younger woman, dark skinned and athletic. “Sheree Rivers, 19. SLC-E, Registered as a Superhuman Jumping. College student. She could jump 30 feet straight up. She burst into flames in Topeka, Kansas sometime between 2:30 and 2:45 pm Central Standard Time. The exact time is estimated as it wasn’t caught on camera.”

A third file is pushed forward and opened. This one, a young woman wearing a Medina for President shirt and holding up a rally sign. A big smile on her face. “Tia Hall, 27. SLC-N. Gradstudent and political activist. Very vocal supporter of Medina. She ran many grassroots student fundraisers for him, voter registration rallies and the like. Like the first two, she seemingly burst into flames around 2:35pm Central Standard Time— she was on campus in Dayton, Ohio. Based on text messages sent from people with her we can pretty much say it was almost exactly at the same time as the Heartwell incident.”

That one is pushed beside the other two. And there’s four more files left.

Corbin looks at the two with pursed lips, not liking the way this sounds at all, already, even if he had already looked at all of it himself once before they even arrived this early in the morning.

Bleary-eyed, nearly-full mug of steaming coffee gripped in one hand, Junior Agent Stevenson looks like she is wide awake with the kind of energy specifically derived from feverishly burning curiosity in spite of still waking herself up physically.

"Yup. Great to meet you," she mumbles noncommittally when Collins gives his introduction, her blue-eyed gaze already strongly fixated on the mess of files spread out across the face of the table. It lingers on each of the photographs as they are presented in turn, pausing for an extra minute on the face of Tia. Without looking away, she sips heavily from the top of her coffee and purses her lips.

"So, uhhhh. Sorry for the interruption, but do you all know yet if these things are actually connected in some way? Other than, you know. Timing, and people just going fwoosh."

With that unnecessary sound effect, there's a tiny accompanying hand gesture where her fingers spread upwards in a fan, mimicking what might— with some imagination— be someone getting swallowed by a fireball.

"As my mother says, 'Only bad babies and the Devil don't sleep'," quotes Cesar with a slow shrug. It's unclear whether he's including them all in that parental proverb, but it's clear he doesn't mean insult. Yet he, ever the cruel and punishing, is normally up at the early hours for his morning runs. Agent Diaz is also known for putting in the work, when there's work to be done. Still, appreciation echoes in his nod and expression to Geneva beside him. He can recognize her efforts to show up this early. And showing up at all, for that matter.

He frowns over the files, skimming the presented info and photos thus far. "Too many to not consider a connection," comments the agent to his junior. "Most people don't combust on their own." A wry smile goes to Geneva for that. But again, it's said in teasing jest rather than hard feelings.

But he doesn't draw more conclusions or connections when there's more yet to reveal, and more gruesome photos of charred cadavers beside government ID pictures to compare. "This must be a nightmare for the labs. They're still working on their reports? Nothing external or chemical-related found on the bodies?" asks Cesar to Corbin and Collins.

“So far timing and method are the only connection. But yes, coincidence is a little too much to hope for,” Collins says with a sad smile, not minding the question, by any means. Because it’s one he no doubt asked many times himself. “There’s other small similarities. All the fires that we have footage or eye-witness reports on seemed to start at their feet and rise upwards on their body , engulfing their heads and hair last. Like a candle wick burning upside down.” It was the best way he could think to describe it, though they only had a few videos and eyewitness reports. And most of them were not standing as it continued, so upside down wasn’t perhaps the best description.

But the path of the fire seemed similar.

Method and timing.

“The fourth and fifth incidents took place in Washington, K.C. Ashton Byrne, 24, SLC-N, a city tour guide, and Julie Greene, 49, SLC-N, paralegal. Neither were anywhere near each other. Byrne was in the middle of one of his tours, so we have unfortunately a lot of video evidence of that… Julie was alone at home on her day off. We estimate time based on the response of the fire department to a fire reported by her neighbors.”

They also have reports. “We have toxicology on some of them, but not all. We’re rushing what we can…”

This is when Corbin speaks up. “The last two took place here in the Safe Zone. The only case where the two victims seemingly knew each other. A mother and her son. Naomi Chen, 56 and Michael Chen, 23. Michael was SLC-E, but his mother was not. As far as he was registered, he had enhanced memory. We have the labs working on them, but we haven’t fully examined the site they were found yet. They were at their home in WIlliamsburg. A neighbor managed to put out the fire before it spread outside their house, but was unable to put them out. This is— probably one of the more unique cases I’ve ever seen.”

And in his years, he’s seen a lot of strange cases.

At least in that, Cesar needn't have worried. Geneva might have an exaggerated list of faults to her name, but oversleeping isn't one of them: she wouldn't have missed an opportunity like this for anything. Even if she still looks politely and totally horrified at receiving the reminder of what she had once done to her senior partner, joke or not.

To distract herself, she continues listening with even greater apprehension as Collins goes on, inserting her own brand of muttered commentary only on occasion— including a stolid "oh," to the explanation of how all of the victims had been immolated. And then. "Well, uh. That's. Not great, is it."

Helpful, Gene.

Just as helpful as the even more cynical, "geez, that's about the worst fuckin’ last name ever here," when he reaches the part about Byrne.

"Locations are differing and unconsolidated. Backgrounds are variable. SLC statuses also varied. Victims' ages have a wide range, too." Cesar ticks off verbally what they can all read, and gives voice to the quickly dwindling hope that this would be an open-and-shut case. It comes out as a heavy sigh, but also an anticipatory one. "Method and timing," he echoes more softly, glancing over at Geneva briefly when she comments on the most unfortunate naming.

He grimaces. Because it's embarrassing how little of an idea he has for the how and the why of all these deaths. "What are we looking at for… burn time?" he says, pressing on grimly. "And as far as we know of the captured footage and eyewitnesses, they weren't able to stop the fires set to the people, only what was sparked outside of them normally. So, maybe it's possible that something changed about the body's chemical makeup. Caused a reaction, a fast one at that. Soon as toxicology's available we'll need to take a look."

Cesar shakes his head again, clearly disturbed as his gaze roams over the spread of files. "Stevenson, what's your take? You've got a fast acting heat generation power. Something like this, for this many people in all different areas of the country, almost simultaneously?"

Before Stevenson can impart something, though, Collins does add a little bit, “The bodies— burned much faster than they should have, according to what reports have been done so far. It only took a few minutes for it to spread to fatal levels and most of them were killed within a minute or two of the combustion starting, as far as they could tell.” It had been quick, at least, but still, much faster than it should have been without an additional— um—

“There was no accelerant that we could find, which is of course why an Expressive ability was at first suspected. We couldn’t locate anywhere near any of the scenes who had an ability that could do something like this, though,” the dark man says, voice grim and serious, but also expositive, but as soon as he’s finished he looks toward Stevenson.

Is that why she, specifically, had been chosen for this particular case, even as a Junior Agent?

With a nod, Corbin gives some wordless encouragement to the young woman. From her work with Raytech, he knows that she’s studied what her ability with heat can do, though probably not exactly what it can do to a human body. It was still an insight others would not have.

One to two minutes? Whoof.

They're right, though. This is one area where Geneva has avidly consumed any and all relevant literature, especially for anything that can't be directly corroborated by her ever-growing body of personal experience for practical (and occasionally, ethical) reasons. Her brooding look intensifies, and she flicks a dark glance up at the men in turn, briefly brushing a thumb across her nose in thought.

"Yeah, you're not fucking kidding they burned way faster than they should've. Cremation happens at like what, 1800 degrees give or take, and then it still takes a couple hours for a corpse to incinerate completely. Even when it's morbidly obese and then it roasts brighter and faster, cause you know. Giant ass body-fat candle. But unless all these poor fucks had a BMI of like 5000… yeah, no."

By this point, the caffeine has started to seep into her system. Agent Stevenson waves a hand in a dogged but vague gesticulation. "And then, even if we're talking a really, really hot flame, like oxyacetylene torch hot, I still don't think it'd work on the human body like that. You'd need a fuckload of oxygen to sustain that kind of reaction over that body surface area, just for one thing. I'unno. Seems more like…"

Seems more like she needs to take a massive drink of more coffee, which she does just before she drives home her final, immediate point.

"Without even trying to get into the whole ‘simultaneous’ weirdness, I just gotta say it's fucking weird that it started at the feet, cause feet don't actually burn all that well— again, 'cause of the fat thing. Señor Cesar is right. You all need to get those body reports and whatever back ASAP, because human bodies shouldn’t just mega-pwoof like that. If someone fucked around with the chemical makeup of the victims first, that might explain all of that, and the lack of outside accelerants."

"Madre de Dios, fucking… Minutes." Cesar doesn't hide the swear that rolls from him for the disturbing facts laid out about the victims' deaths. Some cases are just that terrible. While his abs might be toughly muscled, his heart still bleeds in empathy.

The agent looks over as Geneva explains the physics behind the burn times and temperatures. A brow arches at Señor but amusement doesn't climb up the same way.

"How high a temperature would you say you can get to, Geneva? Expressive abilities in the pyrokinetic range are wide-ranging themselves," considers Cesar as he looks from the junior agent to the others. "I'm assuming we're already scouring the Registry at KCMO for cross-refs. If, that is, the perp is even registered. Do we even have a list of suspects yet? It's going to be a lot to go through, with all these victims spread out to different cities."

He wipes a hand over his face upon a realization. Looking over to Geneva again, he adds, "How're you with planes?"

“I can say for a fact it wasn’t a radioactive ability, at least. Didn’t even spread to the surrounding areas, either. All other burns were incidental, like scorch marks rather than what one would expect from a fire of that heat level,” Collins says, reporting what he had seen from the first crime scene, at least, but— well— The idea of only the bodies of those people burning might make the image even worse, really. “I’ll have my team rush the results and see if the others will as well. It’s definitely a puzzle.”

Corbin speaks up too, after a moment, “I’ll see if I can get some people on our side to rush the Chen’s remains as well, see if they can get anything from them or their location.” It was going to be a difficult task. And Cesar could see the biggest problem already…

It was going to require a trip.

Perhaps more than one.

"The highest I can do is 'bout 3200 Celsius; somewhere around there. That's oxy-fuel levels right there. Can't hold it there long, but I'm getting better all the time." Normally, this would be accompanied by a fairly large, self-satisfied grin from Geneva, as is nearly always the case whenever somebody probes her for details about her ability.

But this is an incredibly serious matter. Also, she had literally just finished waxing poetic on how even oxy-fuel temperatures likely wouldn’t have been enough in this case, at least in isolation. So, Cesar only gets a small version of that self-satisfied grin, and Corbin a nod of acknowledgement a moment later.

In response to the remaining issue at hand, though… Geneva has only one for that, which she delivers to the room as an expectant query.

"So, when're we leaving?"

Cesar's answer to Geneva's eager response is a satisfied nod accompanied with a glance to the other agents. "I don't want to say we're not on some kind of clock ourselves. We'll need to figure out what the hell, or who the hell, turned these people into ticking time bombs. And why. But to do that, we'll need to know how." He runs a hand over his head, turning a look down to the spread of files they have.

"We'll get the Chen results on the way," the agent decides, tapping a finger on the Safe Zone residents' files to indicate. "And work from outward in. I'd like to see the burn sites. Talk to next of kin. See where there could be a connection, if any." He turns to Geneva, brows lifting and crooks a smile at the junior agent. "I don't know if you need to, but if I heard anything about weather in the Midwest, it's that you got to pack a coat…" Then, a touch more cynically, "And nowadays, a gun."

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