Predators and Scavengers


cardinal_icon.gif luther_icon.gif

Scene Title Predators and Scavengers
Synopsis The landing of one vulture signals the whole savannah.
Date June 15, 2010

Ruins of Midtown

Standing in the ruins of Midtown, it's hard to believe New York is still a living city.

There's life enough around the fringes — the stubborn, who refused to rebuild somewhere else; the hopeful, who believe the radiation is gone, or that they somehow won't be affected. Businesses, apartment complexes, taxis and bicycles and subways going to and fro — life goes on. Perhaps more quietly than in other parts of the city, shadowed by the reminder that even a city can die, but it does go on.

Then there is the waste. The empty core for which the living city is only a distant memory. Though a few major thoroughfares wind through the ruins, arteries linking the surviving halves, and the forms of some truly desperate souls can occasionally be glimpsed skulking in the shadows, the loudest noise here is of the wind whistling through the mangled remnants of buildings. Twisted cords of rebar reach out from shattered concrete; piles of masonry and warped metal huddle on the ground, broken and forlorn. Short stretches of road peek out from under rubble and dust only to disappear again shortly afterwards, dotted with the mangled and contorted forms of rusting cars, their windows long since shattered into glittering dust.

There are no bodies — not even pieces, not anymore. Just the bits and pieces of destroyed lives: ragged streamers fluttering from the handlebar which juts out of a pile of debris; a flowerbox turned on its side, coated by brick dust, dry sticks still clinging to the packed dirt inside; a lawn chair, its aluminum frame twisted but still recognizable, leaning against a flight of stairs climbing to nowhere.

At the center of this broken wasteland lies nothing at all. A hollow scooped out of the earth, just over half a mile across, coated in a thick layer of dust and ash. Nothing lives here. Not a bird; not a plant. Nothing stands here. Not one concrete block atop another. There is only a scar in the earth, cauterized by atomic fire. This is Death's ground.

When they say there are no bodies, they lie. There are a few shamblers around the edges and in amongst the ruins of Midtown, ghosts that linger from the past and poltergeists waiting to pounce on the future unsuspecting. Amidst this group wanders a mechanical lump, bringing its pulsing pistons into the wasteland like a limping, injured beast. The paint of the periwinkle blue and white-topped 1967 VW Vanagon has suffered long, and plasterings of pockmarked stickers for love and peace scratched out, worn out, torn away, symbolize the current age in an all too fitting method.

The slowly rolling vehicle strides stubbornly in halting turns of its wheels' circumferences, finally coming to a stop once it has woven its path around a fire-blasted taxi cab's ruin. The van parks haphazardly within the empty street, clearly uncaring of the concept of blocking nonexistent traffic. And from its shell, a warmblooded, fully formed spectre emerges…

Luther steps around the front of his carrier wagon. Boots crunch against the dusty, ash-covered street as the man pokes his way towards the once-yellow, now-grayed taxi cab. In his left hand, the crowbar sways in untimed rhythm to his pace.

It was, perhaps, the rumble of wheels over the debris-strewn and shattered streets of Midtown that drew attention to the vanagon, or perhaps instead a glimpse of periwinkle hues noticed moving along the roads and reminding someone of another vehicle they'd seen in the past. A van that led a shadow down a very strange road indeed.

A scattering of dust and brick-pieces tumbles over the edge of a nearby single-story building - what looks like it used to be a convenience store, although the signs are long since twisted to black wreckage - and Cardinal steps along to the edge. He's standing there in a flight jacket despite the warmth, worn open over a light t-shirt, hands tucked away and out of sight and a smile just-tugging up at one corner of his lips.

"How's the scavenging," his voice lifts in an easy call, seemingly out of honest curiousity rather than anything mocking or threatening.

Immediately, the would-be vulture raises his crowbar up, using his whole arm in the process of shielding his eyes from the sun. Blessed sun, perhaps, after the many weeks of snow and frost. The pose remains so for a few seconds. At first, the meeting is to the caller's advantage. Height and surprise are on his side. But, crowbar. That should be enough. "Empty today," comes the answer, tentative, lying. Waiting.

"I'm not interested in your van or taxi, man, and if you had anything worth rolling on you, you wouldn't be digging in the junk," the roof-percher offers by way of reassurance, his head canting a bit down towards the scavenger, a faint smile tugging up at the corner of his lips, "I'm out here for my own reasons, not interested in trouble."

"That's what they all say," rumbles the skeptic. However, the crowbar lowers and shoulders are raised and dropped. Luther shoots a quick scan to their surroundings, fully expecting the speaker's posse to come popping out. Give or take a few seconds for them to get set up, when nothing comes charging out, he eases back into his original intentions for being around. The clanking of metal on metal disturbs the otherwise calm surroundings like the telltale sounds of feeding on the urban jungle floor. The cab's hood is jiggered open finally, what parts are left within looked at for viability. Steadily, methodically, sometimes forcefully, loose parts are pried away. Luther's "work day" moves on under the watch of the unknown stranger.

No posse is immediately evident, and Cardinal himself turns away from the edge of the roof and steps back out of view. A minute or two later he comes back into sight, emerging from the gaping maw of a doorway that probably once was an automatic sliding door and treading over the debris and into the open. "Probably," he admits belatedly, craning his neck to look over the Vanagon, "Shit. What's that you're driving around, a VW bus?"

Given his inattention to the other man, Luther doesn't break until he gets the driver side door open to peer within the confines of the cab. Upon spotting Cardinal coming out through the front, of the shop, though, Luther quickly withdraws to a stance. "Yeah, the wife hated it," he finds himself answering before he can stop himself. Immediately though, he winces as if struck.

Cardinal notices that wince, but although he pauses for a moment — he doesn't ask. Some things are too private and personal for even the inveterate spy to push into. "I don't know," he says instead, looking over it from a safe distance, "It's practical. A lot've storage space, I imagine."

Good thing too, that distance. Luther's not the rosiest smelling man in the world at the moment. Recovering his composure, the homeless man returns to prying away at the taxi cab's driver's seat with vigor. "It's not" — *clank* — "for" — *clunk-clunk-screek* — "sale" — *scrrrk*… "There." By then, he's torn a good portion of the seat's bindings. Brute force and stubborn will. Luther wipes off the beads of sweat, looking to his job half-done, then to other man and his manner of dress. "But if you want to spare a few bucks, I maybe got something you want inside," he offers.

"I don't need a set of wheels," admits Cardinal with a shake of his head, although the second has him cocking his head a little to one side as his interest is piqued. The filthy man's considered with a curious eye through the shades he's wearing, one brow arching, "Oh? What is it you've got for sale?"

Luther eyes the cab sidelong. It can wait. Instead, he hoists the crowbar over his shoulder and walks back to the van, opening the difficult sliding door. The reason for its difficulty comes from the multitude of junk that spills down. It is definitely not the most stable setup to travel in. Somewhere in the back, the ratty blue comforter duct-taped on for a sun shield allows enough light to just shine through the other side into the interior space. Bric-a-brac and things that all belong in or at one point were in goodwill reside here. Yet, Luther seems quite content with his miniature hoard of stuff. "Take a look if y' want. Clock radio here still works… Five bucks?"

Cardinal walks over at an unhurried pace, not wanting to see threatening at all — and not seeming to feel threatened by the scavenger either. "A clock radio, eh?" He steps over to examine the bric-a-brac, looking over the travelling flea market of junk that's piled up within in contemplation of the ruins' treasures, "Hm. Already got a clock radio… got any books crammed in there somewhere?"

Luther makes a thoughtful face, turning to the piles within. "Probably." That near-monosyllabic answer comes with another shrug. But to a more concrete answer there is, in fact, a small pile of books visibly stacked behind the driver's seat in the well. Energy Conversion by Kenneth C. Weston, Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick, and under a small bit of others, Activating Evolution by one Chandra Suresh, sans dust jacket. Oh, and a few books about corporate marketing shoved in for extra support. Heller's Catch-22. And an old 2006-07 Yellowpages. "If you're not a clock radio guy, then maybe something else? Got this ball here… rubber bands. Always good for something."

It's the books that Cardinal's gaze turns to, inevitably, and he steps over — one foot lifting up to brace on the edge of the van's door as he leans in to lift one out of the way. "Hmn. Chaos theory… hah. Suresh's book…" Gleik and Suresh's respective treatises are picked up, and he looks them over, musing, "…never actually did read this."

If Luther's Vanagon were to be described further, it'd probably be a level for Katamari Damacy. The man steps into the van, miraculously able to move through the clutter, and shuffles through a laundry list of other random items. Poker chips of some casino in Atlantic City, throw pillows with stains (is that blood?) upon them, a ping pong paddle, holey shoes… He shoves a fish tank filled with knick knacks including an empty tape dispenser, some mixtape cassettes, a Rubik's cube and some LPs aside for added space. As Cardinal picks out the books however, the man freezes. "Heard the guy died," mumbles Luther. He reaches out to swipe for Activating Evolution from Cardinal's hand.

"Chandra's dead, yes…" As the book's swiped from Cardinal's hand, he cocks his head a bit to one side with a brow's arch over the edge of his shades, "…his son's still alive, though." Those hidden eyes consider the man for a few moments, and then a smile tugs up at the corner of his lips, the copy of Chaos waggled in his hand a bit as he asks, "Not for sale? Heavy reading for a scavenger."

With the news of the son, Luther thins his mouth into a line. The man must be pretty terrible at poker, at this rate. "Wasn't done reading it," he makes as an excuse as he sets the book in hand on the driver's seat. Cardinal gets another look for the latter comment, however. "Look, I don't need your pity, just your money. You see anything you want?" he asks, his chin tugging up.

A snort of breath answers that, and Cardinal gives the book in his hand a light toss back over to land atop the others with a hollow thump. "I save my pity for people who deserve it," he replies dryly, drawing back a bit and then reaching out to pick up the Rubik's Cube. It's tossed up in the air, and he catches it again, flashing a crooked smile, "Might as well pick up something to keep my hands busy."

Luther furrows his brow at the other man. Huh. After studying the man a little further, he names the price as, "One dollar. And you're gettin' a deal out of that." And this time, he actually smiles back.

"Five," Cardinal counters in complete refutation of the normal sequence in which haggling goes, a brow tic'ing upwards as he adds to the deal, "…and if you ever finish up with Suresh's book or find another one laying around, you leave it in that building behind me to find."

The counter offer jumps up along with Luther's brow line. "That one?" he nods towards said building. "Sure. If I get done reading, or find another." He doesn't seem like he's the type to go back on a promise, at least. But in saying so, Luther also narrows his eyes at the shades-adorned face of the other man. "What're you doing all the way out here for then, if you aren't scavenging?" he asks, this time turning the tables with /his/ honest curiosity, that really is — for a flash of a moment anyway — honest.

"Why wouldn't I be out here?" A wallet's produced from a jacket pocket; no ID visible in it, just a few bills, a rumpled lincoln of which is pulled out and offered over as he tucks the Rubik's under an arm. The ghost of a smile touches Cardinal's lips as he continues, "It's still the heart've the city, even if it's all rubble. Maybe that's the problem, eh?"

Luther accepts the fiver readily, folding the bill and slipping it into a pocket. "Guess so," ponders the man. "With all the problems going on in this town, it's still got a flow to it." Leaning with a hand on the van, he gazes around at the rubble. Then it's back to Cardinal and the man's cool demeanor. Maybe too cool. "You're gonna be here all day?"

The cube's tossed lightly in the air as Cardinal takes a step away from the van, gaze swept over the collapsed buildings and shattered roads of Midtown, shadows of ash and dust burnt into the asphalt and concrete here and there, bits of snow still lingering in the darker corners where it hasn't completely melted yet due to the shade. It's best not to think of what they were. "Here? Oh, hell no, I've got places to go, things to do, people to speak to…" A look over, "But I'll check in here now'n again. Tell you what, if you found those books interesting? Keep an eye out for anything by a Doctor Edward Ray… he was a researcher from MIT. Interesting guy."

Luther lingers at the side of the van which rests there like a dutiful, albeit beat up horse to its cowboy. "Edward Ray. Gotcha," he replies with a nod and a slip back to his van interior. Seems his work is done here, and the taxi cab will get another day without being stripped down any further. No thanks or goodbyes are said here, just a silent acknowledging nod and motions made to close up the sliding door and start up the periwinkle vanagon. The metal creature shudders and sputters back to life. Luther leans out of the window, intending to say something more to Cardinal. But the statement falls away like a crumbling corner of the skyscraper ruins. With one short salute, the scavenging man is off again, moving to the next portion of town that he'll cover in this area.

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