Skycastle, Part II


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Scene Title Skycastle, Part II
Synopsis On orders from the Major, Lieutenants Lancaster and Dearing travel to Detroit to perform a covert surveillance operation.
Dates February 25 — March 2, 2018

Detroit Michigan is one of the success stories of the Civil War. The crumbling infrastructure and abandoned industry of the last two decades meant that Detroit saw little activity during the hellish fighting that decimated urban America. In the aftermath, the city’s condition — which was once among the worst in the nation — was among the easiest to revitalize. A massive gentrification push swept Detroit as manufacturers looking to recoup losses and new companies looking to take advantage of America’s weakened economic footprint and cheap labor swarmed the once destitute city.

Now, Detroit looks like a new city. Gleaming partially-finished skyscrapers dot the horizon from the high vantage point of the Ambassador Bridge. The shortest route to Detroit took Wolfhound across western New York and briefly through Canada, then back out the other side. Military identification make customs passage easy. But it’s been a long, non-stop drive for the last 28 hours, working in alternating shifts. The night-time skyline of Detroit is a blur of lights and dark silhouettes to Rue Lancaster as she cuts across the bridge, passing over the Canadian border and down toward the city beyond.

In the passenger seat of their 2007 Nissan Versa, Dearing is sound asleep with his head lightly leaning against the passenger side window. Their destination lays just over the river, visible to their right in three jagged towers coming up from Detroit’s coast.

Detroit, Michigan

February 25, 2018

2:17 am

Coming off the bridge, Rue follows the signs through into the US customs stop. At 2 in the morning, the customs area is dead with only a single lane open. Dearing wakes as the bright lights of the facility come through the windshield. Blearily, he blinks eyes open and sits up, scrubbing a hand over his mouth and eyes.

The car comes to a stop at the lowered gate, a customs officer approaching the window. Dearing is already opening his door, stepping out onto the asphalt under bright overhead lights, retrieving his identification for the screening process. There’s less than a mile to go before they can finally settle in and sleep.

Rue pushes her door open and releases herself from her seatbelt, sliding out of the car so she can stretch her legs. Her arms. Her back. Her everything. After feeling a quiet pop in her lower back when she reaches down to touch her toes, she straightens up and pulls out her identification, rounding the front of the vehicle to join Dearing. A yawn is covered behind the overlong sleeve of her coat.

The bright lights do nothing to encourage her to feel more awake. She ran out of Red Bull about ten hours ago - she’ll have to remember to recycle the cans laying in the back seat - and she just wants to lay down somewhere, anywhere, and rest. Even if it’s just the cramped back of the Versa at this point.

The security screening goes quickly enough, but long enough to be a well-deserved break from the road. Dearing isn't the most talkative person, and when he does it's usually about pre-war police cases he worked when he was still a detective. Narcotics crimes, trips to Mexico, Dearing cavalierly paints a picture of himself as a somewhat corrupt cop who was on the take when it suited him. Though, regularly, he says it's behind him.

Wolfhound is a well-known quantity even in Detroit, and the border police are familiar with the organization’s reputation from the war, though not their latter exploits. Dearing makes a point to mention Wolfhound on a few occasions to the guards, assessing their reactions. He's also remarkably open about how he and Rue are doing a run down to Chicago to meet with Raytech for some new hardware. He paints a convincing picture of the events, such as they aren't happening.

Neither border guard notices the listening device planted in the building when Dearing gets permission to use the facility restroom. By the time he and Rue are back in the car, Dearing is flipping open his phone.

Nambiza: Bug in place

After that, Dearing activates a piece of surveillance hardware on his phone and puts a headphone in one ear. “I'll keep an ear, see if they chatter about us upstream. Let's get to the hotel.”

“Nice work.” If there’s any information to be gleaned from the border guards, hopefully this will give them a heads up.

It’s a relief for the pair of them when Rue pulls up to the front door of the hotel. “I’ll go check us in,” she says, putting the car in park. “You go park and unload. I’ll meet you with the keys.” He’s got the superhuman strength, after all. He can haul their bags and equipment around.

With confident strides, she makes her way inside and to the front desk where she leans on her forearms, wallet in hand. She’s prepared to slip some cash to the clerk to keep their room off the housekeeping list. They don’t need any disturbances and they don’t need any questions.

Tomorrow is going to be long enough as it is.

Detroit, Michigan

February 26, 2018

Joe Lewis Arena, Roof

8:18 am

The view from the roof of the Joe Lewis Arena is less than half the height of the soaring, zig-zag shaped Riverside Towers. But from this vantage point and with long-range surveillance equipment, Rue and Dearing are able to observe the buildings primary entrances. Without knowing which of the three towers or where in them Donna may be residing, it's a waiting game.

For the past three hours, they've been propped up on the roof in cover, alternating between watching the tower with a telescopic lens digital recorded and listening to the bridge chatter. Currently, Rue sits perched by the raised edge of the roof, hidden under the cover of a large HVAC system, observing the parking lot.

“I still can't wrap my head around Dunlap.” Dearing has been brushing up on Donna’s dossier from her Primatech Paper files. “She has an unlimited maximum visual acuity, meaning she can see…” he lifts a hand and gestures to the horizon, “all the way to the curvature of the earth. This ah, Cruz guy who filed her assignment tracker says with amplification she may be able to see fine detail as far away as the fucking moon.”

Scrolling through more of the PDF scan of the dossier, Dearing clicks his tongue. “Night vision, and she can somehow fucking see through an indeterminate amount of solid matter.” He looks up from the file. “X-Ray fucking vision, Lancaster. Think of all the dresses we could see through with that.”

Dearing has shown a… marked drop in his professionalism when Hana isn't around. He's more relaxed, cruder, and unafraid to speak to Rue as a peer rather than a subordinate. “See, the file also says she has authority problems. Strong moral compass. Company was worried she was unfit for whatever the fuck the Kill Squad was.” He eyes Rue. “So why’s she here, doing this? Working for these assholes?”

The comment about looking through dresses draws a small smirk from Rue, in spite of herself. She should scold him, but establishing a better connection with him is important. More important to her, currently, than exerting her authority and reminding him that he’s her subordinate, and that his commentary is inappropriate. “You can just ask if you wanna see what’s under mine,” she jokes. She hasn’t been shy about anything with him around. It helps that she expects he’s not interested, or too smart to admit it if he is.

As to why Dunlap would be doing what she’s doing, Rue shrugs her shoulders. “Money? I find enough money skews a lot of people’s moral compasses more north-northwest than it otherwise would.” She lifts a can of Red Bull and sips it through a yellow bendy-straw. “Maybe protection, blackmail… I don’t know. A lot of people in the Institute seemed to think they were doing good work.” Most of them were led to believe that, anyway. Not anybody with any real power, though.

“Maybe she followed somebody,” Rue posits. “Some people do crazy things for love.”

Dearing’s brows raise only at that last assessment, minimizing Dunlap’s file. But as he gives his non-verbal commentary to Rue’s theory, Rue catches sight of movement in the skywalk connecting the middle tower to the parking garage. A quick zoom of her telephoto lens reveals a skinny brunette in a white double-breasted pea coat, sunglasses, dark hair. It's the same coat Dunlap was wearing in the surveillance photos.

Snapping photographs, Rue watches as Dunlap proceeds into the building. This is more than just a possible target now, this is a confirmed sighting of a high-value Institute official. This is huge. Dunlap could give up everyone all the way up to Pete Varlane himself.

There’s a shrug. She knows she isn’t wrong. After all, the whole reason Lancaster ended up with the Ferry is because she chased an old flame. Funny to think that’s how she got to this point. Not that he needs to know that. Ever.

“Got her.” Rue grins broadly as she snaps photos of Dunlap, glad for a definitive way to derail their previous conversation. “Now our asses are covered when we decide to go in.” They’ll have to celebrate later. “We just have to make sure she doesn’t get spooked.” With any luck, their target has gotten complacent after all these years of hiding in plain sight.

“Well, we've got plenty of time to lay back on this. Major said she wanted as much as we can get.” Dearing leans back, looking up at the buildings. His eyes narrow, phone tucked into his pocket. “I think I'm starting to pull an idea together.”

Then, with a crook of his mouth into a lazy smile. “And at the moment it's got nothing to do with your unprofessional advances, Lieutenant.” That smile grows, and Dearing squints at the towers. Gears are turning.

Detroit, Michigan

February 27, 2018

Ambassador Bridge

9:12 pm

Daytime surveillance has revealed Donna Dunlap is a homebody. When she arrived yesterday morning with a small suitcase there was no sign of her departure. In that time, Dearing and Rue surveilled the windows of the tower floor by floor, searching for signs of Dunlap. On the night of the 26th they uncovered Donna’s residence almost unsurprisingly the central tower penthouse. Though from the Joe Lewis Arena they weren’t able to get a good view of the interior. They needed to get higher.

Three hundred and eighty-six feet above the Detroit River, the northern span of the Ambassador Bridge soars higher than most of the Detroit skyline. Rigged with climbing gear and their surveillance equipment, Dearing and Rue scale the side of that tower, with Dearing at the fore, trailing Rue. It’s a responsible climb, with full harnesses, safety lines, and the like. Dearing may be superhumanly strong, but even he wouldn’t survive that fall.

“So, Red.” Dearing casually calls down to Rue as they’re nearing the end of their climb. “Been meaning to ask, since we’re partnered up and all. You got anyone back home? Couldn’t ever pin you down with anyone on the team. Married? You seem like the married type.” With the snapping winds, Dearing has to shout each question with a toothy grin as he hauls himself up.

“You’re joking.” Blue eyes roll behind designer sunglasses. “Me? Married? No.” Rue is quite certain he’s having fun at her expense. Surely he’s heard the jokes that she’s forever alone. But it’s something to do while they make this miserable climb. This isn’t even close to the least safe thing she’s ever done, and heights don’t bother her, fortunately.

“What about you?” Fair’s fair, after all. If he’s going to open that door, she’s going to hold it. “You seem like you probably have a string of broken hearts left in your wake.” The wind whips a strand of her hair free from the bun it’s piled in at the back of her neck.

“Just one,” Dearing admits as he pulls himself up a few more feet, swinging a leg around to hook into a cross beam. “Fiance,” he clarifies, pulling himself up a couple more rungs. “We got engaged on November 6th, 2011.” His tone is conversational, like he’s reading a bullet-point list of facts off of his wikipedia entry. There is no such entry, but there are bullet points.

“She,” Dearing pulls himself up a few more feet, “left LA with me when the fighting started. Plan was to get away from the cities. Go out to the Mojave and lay low. It didn’t go like we’d hoped,” he says as he hauls himself up again, then swings an arm out and hops to a different hand hold, boosting himself up with his feet. “We were stuck in traffic, totally mundane bullshit. Panicking people, rats fleeing a sinking ship. Three cars up,” he pulls up more, “some folks had a disagreement. One of them had a gun. Missed the guy he was shooting at, hit Jennifer in the head.”

Dearing stops, looks down at Rue. “It took a while,” he gets back to hauling himself up the metal rise. “I held her hand. Then I crushed him with his own car.” Another handhold, another haul up. “Haven’t gotten back into dating since.” Again, casually, but bitingly so. But at the end, he reaches the railing at the top of the structure and hauls himself up to the top. They’d avoided the ladders, avoided the lights. No one knows they’re up here.

So the broken heart is his own.

A few different responses run through Rue’s mind ranging from hollow to entirely inappropriate. She concentrates on the climb while she settles on one. When she hauls herself up after him, she shakes her head. For a moment, she seems like she isn’t going to say anything at all. Like she’s just going to take in the view and get back to business.

“Did it make you feel better? Killing him, I mean.” She turns her head just enough so she doesn’t have to quite look out of the corner of her eye at him, pulling off her sunglasses now that she’s not worried so much about falling debris. “It didn’t work for me.”

Taking his pack off of his shoulder, Dearing sets it down in the middle of the tall rise of the bridge. “No,” he confirms, “no ma’am it did not.”

Detroit, Michigan

February 28, 2018

Ambassador Bridge

8:18 pm

The first night’s surveillance went well, and from the high vantage point Dearing and Rue were able to get the general layout of Dunlap’s two bedroom suite. The large, floor-to-ceiling windows give a wide view of the pale colored apartment, with its eggshell colored rug and white furniture and gray accents. There’s a rooftop patio and pool as well, plenty of space to maneuver up there. Dunlap appeared to be alone the entire time, sitting on the couch, writing at a table, pacing around, exercising. All mundane, all alone.

The second night up on the big bridge came with a pair of beers. Just one for each of them, there’s fun and then there’s suicidal. From their vantage point, Rue can clearly see into Dunlap’s apartment and watches her pace the building like a caged tiger. Tonight she’s in a foul mood, throwing things, yelling to herself. Sitting on the couch with her head in her hands, sobbing.

Dearing is occupying his time checking his phone. “Major picked up the device Dunlap was using the day we first spotted her. Looks like it was a burner phone purchased at a gas station just outside of the city limits. Only one call made so far, Major was able to pull the phone records and get a recording. It’s a voicemail.” He has one earbud in his ear, and offers out the other. “Wanna listen?”

“Let me think about that…” Rue takes a long drink of her beer, then goes back to watching Dunlap’s movements. She almost has to remind herself that she’s watching a monster. But she’s seen that monsters have feelings, too. And it doesn’t make the things they’ve done any less terrible. “Yes, yes I would.”

Rue takes the ear bud and leans a little closer to Dearing so she can fit it into her ear without having to stretch the cord too much. “All right. Go for it.”

At the press of a button, Rue is able to hear the voice of their target. She doesn’t sound much older than herself.

«Rie. I’m sorry. I can’t talk long, but I don’t think they’re listening. I miss you. God, I miss you so much. I’m doing everything they asked me to. I’m ok. I need you to know I’m ok. Don’t… try to call me back, I’m ditching the phone. I love you. I love you so fucking much.»

The last bit, strangled with emotion, comes with the hitch of Donna Dunlap’s voice before the message goes dead. Dearing draws in a slow, deep breath and exhales a sigh. “Only call she made, phone’s likely been destroyed. Major can’t get a pin on its location anymore.”

“What did I tell you?” Rue pulls the piece out of her ear and passes it back to him. “The things we do for love.” Another drink from her beer before she mutters under her breath, “Dumb bitch.” Someone might point out that it takes one to know one. It might be Robyn Quinn.

“That explain the temper tantrum tonight, you think?” She shoots a sidelong glance to her partner. “Poor thing’s lonely.” Which she might actually have some empathy for, but only for a moment. “We should’a brought cupcakes. What the fuck was I thinking?”

“It’s a quick drop down if you want to go get us some.” Dearing points out a light in the distance. “I think that’s a Store 24, they probably have those little Hostess ones. With the brown frosting?” One corner of Dearing’s mouth creeps up into a smile as he lifts his beer and takes a swig. He’s contemplative for a moment, in spite of his suggestion that Rue leap to the river for snacks.

When he sets his beer down, Dearing’s attention is clearly focused on the building. “No security inside, probably some in the building itself. Gotta really strain to imagine this situation, locked up in a tower but can slip away long enough to buy a burner. Clearly some sort of emotional hostage situation. If we can get her out of there, it might be enough to make her flip.”

Then, with a crook of his head to the side Dearing adds. “Could… also be enough to get her lover killed.” He picks up his beer again, shrugging helplessly. “Rough.”

Detroit, Michigan

March 1, 2018

City Sewer Access

6:12 am

Fuck!” A spark of light arcs off of exposed wires, sending Dearing stumbling back and away from a tangled spaghetti mess of conduits, wires, and pipes running along a curved concrete wall. Below the streets of Detroit, specifically below the Riverfront Towers, the telephone and internet landlines are an absolute mess.

Bending down to pick up the device he’d dropped into the muck, Dearing brushes it off on his pants. “Ok, that— wasn’t the right red wire.”

“You know, I’m counting today, too,” Rue says without context. She’s staring up at the ceiling and taking slow, deep breaths. “You’re okay, right?” It’s not quite an afterthought, but she maybe could have led with the concern. “I got those cupcakes when I picked up more Red Bull.”

Nope. The ceiling is way too low for her liking. And the floor? Nope. Rue shuts her eyes tight and wishes she had Avi in her ear right now. “Tell me one of your… cop stories or something.”

She does not like these kinds of spaces.

“You don't get two,” Dearing hisses, looking at his fingertips. Then, slanting a look over at Rue he brushes his hands off on his pants and approaches the wires again. Whether or not he's okay goes unspoken, and it allows him to just brush it off the table and segue to something else. “Cop stories? Fuck uh…”

Dearing draws in a breath and starts connecting the splice to the other red wires. “So my first stakeout was a clusterfuck, really. I was partnered with this dope, Officer fucking Park— ”

«Ma’am. Wolfhound came through a few days ago. Cited a trip to Chicago. They haven't come back through.»

Rue and Dearing pick up something in their earpieces filtered out from background chatter by Hana’s multifaceted ability. It's from the border customs office. Dearing stops his story, slides a sidelong look to Rue.

«No ma’am. That's all we've seen. Absolutely, I'll keep you in the loop if we pick up anything else.» It's not a radio conversation but an in-person chat that their listening device is only picking up one side of.

Finishing clipping in the phone line splice, Dearing offers a look to Rue with a brow raised. “Who the fuck are they reporting to? Dunlap’s still up top.”

“I only get the actual day every four years. I’m entitled to two every once in a while.” Her voice is shaky even as she tries to joke. Her hands are shaking as she simply breathes and focuses on Dearing’s voice as he starts to tell his story.

Work is enough to get her mind to stop tricking her into thinking the walls are closing in. “Fuck,” Rue growls. “I have a couple of ideas.” It could mean there’s a second potential target in the area, which could be even bigger - and Dunlap alone was already huge. “If they move her…”

Dirt and grit trapped between floor and rubber makes a sharp sound as Rue scrapes her boot over the ground for lack of something to kick. “We can’t go back to square fucking one.” But this is good information regardless. It confirms some suspicions, which is something. Still, Lancaster will consider this a failure if they lose their target.

“She probably has a handler,” Dearing considers, clipping in the last lead into the telephone lines. “When we put someone into protective custody they get an officer they need to report to, check in with. I’d be surprised if this was any different.” Turning the device on once it’s connected to a grounded power line, Dearing reaches to his belt and unclips his phone, plugging in one earpiece.

Flicking through two apps on his phone, Dearing finally has everything set up. “Nambiza, we’ve got the wiretap on.” A moment later, Dearing hears the static pop of the device connecting to his phone. “No incoming call traffic yet. But this’ll let us listen in.” He looks back to Rue, one brow raised slowly. He holds up a hand, and one finger.

“You get one birthday. You pick which one on either side of the leap year you celebrate it on.” Dearing is incredibly insistent about that. “It’s— not complicated. One day, not two. This,” he gestures in a circle with one finger around Rue’s silhouette. “This is a scam.”

“I didn’t ask you to give me presents.” With the tap in place, Rue starts gathering up her bag of equipment. “Don’t you want an excuse to celebrate twice? I mean, if you don’t want any cupcakes…”

A shudder runs through her slim frame. The space feels too small and every little noise from beyond or above makes her nervous. “Come on. Let’s get top side. I want eyes on Dunlap again ASAP. Maybe we can get a look at her handler, too.” She doesn’t wait to see if he’s ready to follow.

Detroit, Michigan

March 2, 2018

Rivertown Inn & Suites

9:55 am

Morning light filters in through drawn blinds in an otherwise darkened motel room. A pair of twin beds separated by a nightstand topped with an avocado-colored lamp are covered in rumpled blankets, Hostess cupcake wrappers, and beer bottles. Seated at a round formica table by the window, Dearing listens to the phone bug with a single earbud hanging out of his right ear. Nearby, a television shows a muted broadcast of an aircraft carrier rusting away on a Florida beach being cut apart by work crews into large sections. The chyron on the bottom of the screen reads USS GEORGE WASHINGTON DISMANTLED.

“No external calls yet,” Dearing notes, reaching for a glass of water next to a bottle of Advil. “I’m starting to feel a bit like Dunlap myself. I can’t wait to get the fuck out of here tomorrow.” Finishing the glass of water, Dearing motions with his free hand over to Rue. “You hear anything from the bug at the border?”

There’s silence from Dearing’s partner for a moment. Then, Rue realizes he isn’t looking at her and doesn’t see her shake her head from where she lays sprawled on one of the bed, staring up at the ceiling with an earbud in one ear. “Nothing interesting. Just the usual chatter.”

Sitting up slowly, she tugs down on her tank top and at the hem of her shorts before reaching for a can of Red Bull on the nightstand. She tips it back at her mouth and frowns when she realizes it’s empty. She crunches the can and tosses it blindly in the direction of the trash can. She hears it hit the carpet and shrugs. Burying her fingers in her hair at the back of her head and shaking it out does nothing to loosen up the bird nest it’s tangled itself into.

“Next time, we insist on a nicer hotel. These beds are awful.” But at least they don’t encourage her to sleep all that much. Rolling off the bed and padding across the room in black ankle-sock clad feet, Rue drops herself into the chair across from Dearing, grabbing a fresh can of energy drink from the half-gone four pack on the table. With a soft groan, she stretches her arms above her head and her legs out under the table. Her foot brushes against his calf, but she doesn’t seem to notice. “Maybe if I just asked her nicely, she’d come along quiet like.”

Dearing scrunches his face up into a sarcastic oh sure yeah expression and slowly nods too many times to Rue. “She seems the type, based on absolutely no supporting anecdotal evidence.” Dearing slouches in his chair, one arm draped over his head lazily.

“So,” he looks up at the ceiling. “What's the story behind you and our second cyclops back at the base?” Dearing squints, realizing that didn't land as well as he'd hoped. “The agent. Chick.” Robyn is the name he can't remember. “I mean I get that you two banged or something, but usually that doesn't appear to make you become a cactus, I’d wager.” He'd wager.

Slanting a look down the bridge of his nose at Rue, Dearing raises one brow. “Because whatever it is, nobody will tell me.”

“You really wanna know that?” Rue cracks open the can in front of her and takes a sip. She sighs heavily. “Yeah, okay.” He told her about his past, after all. She may as well divulge hers. “Robyn Quinn and I used to date about… a decade ago? She was my first love. We both lost someone in the first bomb, so we just kind of connected.”

And then Robyn decided Rue was probably insane. Not without reason. “Then she broke up with me. Ghosted. It fucked me up for a long time, but I was a way different person then.” Narrow shoulders come up in a shrug. It’s clearly not an open wound anymore.

“Robyn’s a good person.” That’s something Rue’s been quick to remind people of whenever it sounds like someone’s suggesting otherwise. None of them may be thrilled about the oversight, and her least of all, but that doesn’t change the kind of person she believes Robyn Quinn to be. “She’s just been through a lot more than most. We all cope in our own ways, right?” Which explains the prickly exterior. “Whatever there used to be between us? Is long dead and buried. There hasn’t been anybody since her.”

Rue lets that implication hang in the air without qualifying or expanding on it.

Huh,” is literally all Dearing says to Rue’s thoughtful response to his probing question. He turns to look at the television, disinterestedly, and lets the past lay where it needs to.

Rue was right, though. Everyone copes in their own ways.

Twelve hours later Dearing and Lancaster would be back on the road, returning to Rochester with the spoils of their surveillance on Donna Dunlap and the stage set for what would come next. Wolfhound had spent years trying to track down the surviving leadership of the Institute, and now they're one key components away from breaking open everything.

And they have their newest Strike Team to thank for it.

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