Running Out Of Luck


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Scene Title Running Out Of Luck
Synopsis The thing that Daphne fears most has already happened to her before, and the Nightmare Man knows it.
Date December 6, 2009


In Daphne's dream, the heroes lose the war.

Two more bridges are rubbled into the harbor, their arches strong but merely steel, before FRONTLINE finally comes, young military crop-framed faces bright with the pride that comes of tearing down the the trophies of that the old Rookery lords held dear, both the decadent and the grisly. Even the scandal provided by an entire institution of orphanages subsidiary to the government, for those born of or born into genetic condemnation only lasts two months before the Petrelli dynasty's adroit balance between regretful necessity and timely action is commended; after all, America never has been and never will sink to the level of those foreign barbarians whose compulsory drafts and branding practices are well-known. Isotope tracking is far more discreet, humane, and tasteful.

Phoenix does not know the end is coming nor why, but long before they do they know they want to die. They have an outpost in the Midtown, falling back with the ever-oscillating lines of radiation. Before the rolling cameras of cities around the world, they hold that line for an entire week; the government never takes them alive. The last gate of defense falls when the Trafford bitch breaks her gun on the last shot and flings herself from the tower. They say she liquefies on impact and toxic blood drops takes a dozen men down with her. Psychometer autopsists won't go within a mile of her zippered remains. Not shattered and semi-liquefied, not even post-cremation.

And the little blue world keeps spinning.

For Daphne Millbrook, business is good. More dangerous, but good; she has discovered that it sure as fuck is a small world after all, that she isn't the only one who can run seas, outrun the sun, and eat the wind as it roars down her throat, but she's still the fastest. FRONTLINE's finest can't see her for the dust. It'll take more than a satellite's whinging orbital to track her, too. She breaks up her routine. Changes her folio of contacts, her identity, says she's a team of four until a brief conversation held with her mirror's reflection makes her decide that's a little too head-crazy to be playing with. You work alone if you want to stay in business. Anonymity's your friend.

Diamond's her quarry, today. Woefully ignorant guardsmen dunder the premises, walls and walls away. The lazer field sings up ahead of her, randomized lances and arcs and crimson strobes flickering across the volcanic immensity of the blocked stone floor and every inch of air, skimming at archways and the sneering glint of stayed gates like fangs not quite concealed under a wolf's black lip. The stone is the size of a fist: caged in glass, underlit.

Child's play.

"A girl loves a challenge," she says to herself, breathing in with a smirk as she rolls her shoulders, getting ready to move.

Of course, being a dream, she's fully prepared for such a thing — with a hand-held mirror cupped carefully in her gloved fingers, she brings it to the first line of light, bounching it up carefully, watching the beam to ensure it doesn't take an odd refractory bounce; when it goes where she wishes, giving her room to maneuver she moves into the next empty space. Then she drops into a low limbo sort of position, to duck under an arcing beam. "Good thing I'm short," she tells no one in particular, as she straightens up just in time to bounce an incoming line of light away, sidestepping agilely enough.

"Halfway there," she breathes. That last one came close. A trio of beams angle toward the petite blonde next, at foot level, and she double-dutches those with the dexterity of a child in the Harlem tenements. Two more ducks, another mirror bounce, and she is through.

"Piece of cake," Daphne murmurs, striding onward.

Yes: the promised cake looms up like the high-definition render of a video game's animated cut sequence, perched comfortably on its pedestal. Latticed carbon, all iridescent facets and miniaturized rainbows, a flawless heart; hard to believe that the substance is derived from the exact same element as the sooty lumpy black stuff that bad kids get for Christmas. Easier to suppose an unsavory character had hired one of the most preternaturally effective burglars in the world to take it on the sixth of December, instead.

Behind Daphne, the diverted lasers fall back into their choreographed courses, sleeking luridly across lacquered volcanic stone and tall walls. No alarm raised, no malevolent blink of a camera's recording light, no clopping boot tread approaching at a pathetically desperate gait. Instead, gas vents in, quiet as death and far less odorous than death tends to be. Unease creeps up in the back of the blonde woman's skull like a violinning swell of soundtrack, subtle, reverberating through the fourth wall without quite breathing into character.

When she reaches for the glass, the reflection of small, fair fingers quivers in it. It's always earthquake season in Japan, of course, granted, Daphne Millbrook has traveled far and lived it up enough to know that, but—

— But nothing. She doesn't have time to hesitate — it's probably her own nerves or just the adrenaline pumping through. She needs to grab the brass ring and do the hokey pokey back through the lasered hallway, back out to safety and to the gold at the end of the rainbow. She lifts the glass dome that covers the diamond, not hesitating to grab the diamond — if alarms sound, so be it, she'll be out of here before anyone comes to catch her, out of here before the gases knock her out. It's not like she's going to be spending quality time contemplating the beauty of the carbon jewel. She's a pro. You don't count your cards at the table. Grab and run, that's her motto.

There is, Daphne observes in her speesters' split-second retrospect, a conspicuous shortage of klaxxons.

Yet the stone weighs comforting weight in her fingers, all mathematically perfect planes and cut edges, resting keenly along the fate lines of her palm. Love, health, life. Ice money's a reasonable metaphor thereof, a five-figure guarantee for genetic resonance masking technology, as many face-changes as she can bring herself to trade her mother's eyes in for, as many pack-rat bolt-holes as she can run through. There's enough dexterous surety in her other arm to wield the mirror one-handed. Step right, step left, turn a half-circle and slice her torso through between parallel lines that come keening along a lethally oblique angle.

It isn't until mid-field, point-oh-six seconds in, that her leg gives in to an involuntary twitch and lag. The left, folds forward under the slack noodle brunt of nauseatingly familiar weakness, her toes splayed wild as a clinging wet cat's inside her shoe. Jack-knifes back, the next instant, the first spasm to a steepening progression she feels going up her hackles like a cannibalistic witch walking bony fingers up her spine.

"Hey!" Fifty yards down the hall, the uniformed sentinel ghosts out of the darkness. Lifts his flashlight. "Hey, what do you think you're doing there? Don't move." Fifty yards is, should be, should have been a sneeze for her ability, almost an insult from karma but there's something all too definitive about the coming clip of his shoes against the floor and the bright golden speed draining out of hers. Her ability.

Oh, God, is he a negator… The thought slides through her mind like cold ice. Don't move, he says, but she's finding it difficult to do anything. Her knees buckling, she tries to simply balance for a moment, but those lasers are moving, coming closer; she can feel the heat as it nears her skin, and she's either going to have to try to move or be sliced by an ethereal ginsu knife like a very pale tomato.

Daphne squeezes her eyes closed for a moment, as if she herself can't stand to see what is about to happen, and wills herself to move, throwing every last iota of energy into the next dance move that will take her safely past the laser.

He is. Or God knows, the gas maybe— it stinks now, palpable and almost visible, low-lying like a dirty translucent oil film yellowing the floor. Or someone watching through a hidden camera, or God Himself with His cosmic fingers yoinking at the pull-string light switch to the next eclipse. Desperation lends strength.

Daphne bolts.

Twists, vaults. A lazer scorches the fabric then raises a welt no wider than a fingernail moon on the skin of her calf, high-frequency energy and the raw kinesis output in her wiry limbs and sinews matched nearly neck-and-neck. What should have left her slithering bloody across the floor on singed-off nubs merely scores her, superficially at first, but she's slowing down, her hands and feet giving in to the herky-jerky movements of a tangled puppet. Only, her strings are on the inside.

The security guard, idiot that he is, doesn't seem to understand.

Crashes into her, bodily, burly arms out and a hoarse shout in her ear, a rib-cracking impact: his ribs. "Stop!" He staggers her stride, even as her leg begins to hitch and corkscrew in her socket. Blood dots her shoulder with the next line of laser skims through and the floor hurdles, tilts obtuse patterns, spins, stilts; time trips over bound feet; there's a choking, the sudden scent of asphalt and exhaust. "Yamate! Lady, STOP!"

So much can go through one's mind in the moment they think their life as they know it is at an end. Whether the laser kills her, whether the guard shoots her, or whether she's simply lost her power, doomed to a life as a caged bird once more doesn't matter — the last is, in her mind, as fatal and as unacceptable as death. Perhaps more so. In that instant, she recalls her childhood, lonely and bitter, spent holed up in her room instead of playing in the cornfields or jungle gyms like her classmates could. She recalls the horrible things she said to her mother, and the tension between her and her father after her mother died in yet another cruel joke. She remembers the glory of finding her ability and the chance to take something besides pain and solitude from life for the first time in her life. She recalls the thrill of stealing and the high of power she got.

"What do you want from me!" Daphne screams out, a mere second after crashing into the guard. It's not him she's asking — she's not even sure who she's asking — whoever gives the powers, and whoever takes them away, she supposes. "Whatever it is — whatever you want — take it, just don't take my power!" Certainly she doesn't have time for this sort of negotiating, but the laser somehow, in its surreal dance, hasn't managed to cut through her quite yet.

Michigan, Detroit — Downtown

"I want you—" There's a gurgle to the voice, a flow of liquid and herniation of membranes and broken brittle parts that takes up the empty space of the pause into which his voice shorts out. "I—

"I want you to stop running." Hiro's accent is stronger when he's in pain, a lapse or regression from years of hard-won personal conditioning and lessons learned. On first pass, the words are a curse of some kind, but the strength and breath are dropping out of it. Witch fingers loosen.

In the waking world, air opens out around the bird's bough, the closing bars of crippling and captivity peeling away and withering slow from the blurry half-focus of her mind's eye. Instead of radiating beams of heat, cold rain rakes her skin with needles that burst apart in white sparks. The skeletal quiescence of a construction site is fringed by traffic rumbles changing gears a hundred yards below. They, suspended above, on an orange steel joist beam is clammy, chalkily dry underneath her bare toes. There's a man in front of her, long black hair clinging weedy to his round face and red liquid wicking in the grooves of his wind-chapped lips.

Hiro's hands are on her shoulders, hers buried in his gut.

The H-beam ends two feet behind the tattered remains of his braced boots, and past that, it's but a street's width to the bleak concrete facade of a bank she doesn't recognize; not a tricky-windowed building a songbird would have crushed an inadvertent death into, but Daphne Millbrook would as soon be a songbird as a fucking phoenix.

She's not in Kansas anymore. Or New York City, for that matter. "What… how… oh, my God, what happened," Daphne stammers, for once speechless. She starts to recoil but somehow stays her actions; she freezes in place due to the fact she does not want to plummet to her death, nor does she want to disembowel the man she somehow has managed to get her hands on

… Or in.

"What do we do, ohmygod, what do we do…" she asks, looking down and then back up. "I'm so sorry…" Daphne whispers, skin as pale as her hair, rain mixing with the tears on her face.

"Gomenasai," Hiro creaks, companionably. "I'm all out of…" The Ghost Rider quote isn't going to go quite right, and it annoys him to think of it, and similarly annoys him that he's thinking of it. He starts a squeeze of reassurance, but the movement stops unrealized before making it past a benign twitch of his wrist, locked above the equally diminutive woman's arm. He isn't all out of mercy. He isn't sure why he was thinking of that quote. Rainwater cleans the blood from his teeth, but it replaces itself in the same guttering breath.

"Teleportation," he finishes, finally, a little lamely but in a friendly kind of way. With that, the man's eyes lap shut and his body goes slack, sloughs off Daphne's bloody hands, the long axis of his frame sending up a flare of leathery trench coat panels against storm weather.

Up here, it's hard to tell: the growing twitter of live news feed, of the supersonic disruption that had shocked through the United States, an epileptic dot-dash-dot of alarms from East Coast through the West, an unwelcome arrow through the heart, whether Evolved or technological. Up here, the air is clean and Daphne's mind— despite the throb and kaleidoscope of emotional havoc— is clear of any influence but her own. After all, few abilities ignore Hiro Nakamura's.

"Teleportation — then get us to a hospi— " Daphne exclaims, but then her hands are free as the man falls away from her. "No, don't!" she cries out, her voice ringing in echoes against the metal framework of the scaffolding, hands blurring as they fly out to grab his coat. Her scant weight wouldn't be enough to hold him, not in an average, ordinary world. But luckily, theirs is not an ordinary world. With the aid of supersonic speed, she can manage to carry him, across the beam and through the building, finally down to the ground floor.

A person can carry a very heavy thing for a few seconds before their arms give out — for Daphne, a few seconds is long enough to get her new friend to the hospital. The million dollar question is if the thief's brand of luck is enough to save Hiro.

Magazines, newspapers, and insurance forms flutter out of surprised hands as the speedster runs the wounded man into the Emergency Room. She shakes her head at the questions of doctors and nurses rushing to his aid. "I don't know what happened. Just help him… his name is Hiro Nakamura," she whispers, eyes filled with tears for the man she doesn't know. As they rush him away into an operating room, she heads to one of the blue vinyl chairs to wait to see if her luck will hold out, or if she's run out of it at last.

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