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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title Sunset
Synopsis It's all coming down.
Date July 11, 2021

Smoke winds like a serpent through the blackened remains of a four-story building.

The surrounding landscape is mostly bombed flat, with collapsed tenements, demolished houses, blackened husks of cars, and bodies littering the street. It looks like a war zone, except no army caused this destruction. One man did.


Charles Deveaux’s voice is as firm as it is disappointed as he storms down the street. Arthur, dressed in a beige linen suit, turns to face his approaching comrade with a knife-like smile and arms spread wide.

“You said we needed a solution, so I provided one for you.” Arthur says with aggression in his voice. Blackened skeletons at his feet are still sizzling, the smell of cooked flesh clings to him like a cloak.

Charles gets right up in Arthur’s face, but Arthur doesn’t back down. His smile grows and he leans in toward Charles. “You wanted some dead Hajis, you got them.”

This is a fucking massacre!” Charles hisses through his teeth, waving at the bodies around them. “There were civilians! Arthur, this could start a god-damned war!

Arthur nods enthusiastically. “Actually, it will.” Charles is taken aback by that, and Arthur uses that moment to gently push Charles out of his face. “You see, now that we’ve taken care of the OSI, there’s a power vacuum. One we’re going to fill. This was already set in motion before we got here, Charles. I’m just letting the people carry out their will.” He gestures to the buildings.

“The Iraqi government’s already been pushed.” Arthur says with a shake of his head. “They’re gonna roll in here and reclaim this territory, treaty over, and they’ll beat themselves against Iran for a while. When it’s all said and done, the price of war will be repaid at the gas pump.” He shrugs, spreading his hands to the side. “Fuel production goes down, gas prices go up again, economies struggle and nations are left vulnerable.

Charles searches Arthur’s eyes, in disbelief of what he’s hearing. “You’re out of your fucking mind.”

No.” Arthur insists, striding up to Charles. “I’m taking the long view. You want a Middle-Eastern Special Superpower? We burned Mazdak down to the root today. It’ll never claw back from this, Charles. It’s our way or their way, and I for one don’t intend on dancing to anyone else’s tune.

Charles looks around at the burned bodies, bringing a hand up to his face and rubbing it over his mouth. He takes a few, weary steps away. His stomach turns.

“You know I’m right, Charles!” Arthur bellows. “It was this or they reveal us to the fucking world. You and I both know where that leads! The world isn’t ready, and they were going to drag us all kicking and screaming into the light!”

Shut up!” Charles screams, wheeling around and pointing at Arthur. “Just…” His fire and fury fades quickly. He hates how fast he’s willing to buy into Arthur’s view of this. But it’s complicated, he keeps telling himself. The whole world is so complicated.

“You don’t have the stomach for this.” Arthur says softly. “And that’s fine. You handle the things where the world needs a hero to be the good face… and you let me be the bad guy,” he says, gesturing to himself, “when somebody has to get their hands dirty.”

Charles keeps rubbing his face, looking at the bodies, hoping they’ll vanish. They don’t.

“There’s going to be consequences for this, Arthur…” Charles says with a slow shake of his head, looking up to the man he once called friend without needing to lie. “Long-term consequences.”

“And we’ll be around to face them…” Arthur says confidently.

“…We’re not going anywhere.

Forty-One Years Later

Somewhere in Iraq

Walls of mirrors provide a constant view of Rue’s deterioration. Standing mirrors, hanging mirrors, sheets of reflective metal. They do nothing except show Rue how thin she has become, how dark the circles around her eyes are, how grimy her face is, how tangled her hair has become.

She has been captive of Mazdak for four months.

But they have not left her without options. Every single mirror is, in grim ways, a door out. The final one that Ra’id had promised her. Any broken shard of glass could be her exit from this. From the knowledge of what the dark stain on the stone floor is: blood that drained out of Nick Ruskin over the course of three days that they left him to rot with her.

But Mazdak is not torturing her in the way one might expect. There have been no beatings, no physical harm. It has been months of questions both substantial and inane. Questions about her work with the Ferrymen, questions about her family, questions about her preference in music. She is bombarded with so many questions that she cannot tell which ones are the details they’re looking for and which are diversions to keep her from having a stable psychological footing.

Just ten hours of relentless questions a day. No matter how Rue answers them, she is fed a meal while shackled to a table, allowed to use the bathroom for fifteen minutes, and then returned to her mirror-lined cell.

It has been the same routine, the same maddening labyrinth from which there is no escape, for the last 105 days.

She’s contemplated it so many times. Early on, when she still had strength, she had used the chains holding her to the ceiling as a rigging to swing from, back and forth until she could smash one of the mirrors with a kick, and drag one of the shards back to her with her foot. Getting it into her hands had been difficult.

It took dislocating her wrist to get it out of the cuff. The hardest part was not screaming when she did it. It allowed her to scoop it up from the floor and put it in her good hand before slipping back into her chains. Clutching that piece of salvation, she waited until her window of opportunity.

In the end, all she’d accomplished was a superficial wound across a man’s face, rather than a potential opening to escape. After that, she stubbornly clung to responding to any and all questions with only two words (“Fuck. You.”), and the notion that she would outlast this. And here she is.


Her head is tipped back, she’s looking at the ceiling, where her reflection can’t look back at her. She’s tried counting seconds, she’s tried breathing exercises. She’s long given up her daily ballet stretches. There’s nothing normal about this. There is nothing normal to be found. Meditation always seems to lead back down the roads she’s been before. All the roads she never wants to travel again.

Rue Lancaster is going to die here, the question is just how badly.

“It doesn’t matter,” her voice is a whispered rasp, it creaks like a rusted hinge, “what you create…” Blue eyes close and she hangs from her bonds, back bowed and shoulders straining. “If you have no fun.” She’s singing to herself. Her voice has been put to very little other purpose before now. It’s tuneless and broken in the ways she refuses to break. “Pretty girl, put down your pen. Come over here, I’ll show you how it’s done…”

Footsteps are how it always starts. An interrogator coming down the hall. It’s usually never the same person, and when it is he pretends to not know who Rue is, acts as if they just met. Another layer of the psychological war trying to break her, and for what?

“I can dance,” she continues, even as she notes the approach. “I can drink.”

This time, though, it isn’t some stranger or feigned-stranger coming to drag her out of her cell. This time, it’s something else entirely. A dark-skinned man with glowing blue eyes, the whites of one deep red from a burst blood vessel. He wears what was once an immaculate three-piece suit of midnight blue covered in concrete dust and blood. He has cuts on his face, bleeding red against the white of the dust caked to his skin. He looks like he just shambled out of a bombing.

The hushed singing goes on even after the door has opened. “In the dark, it’s all a trick…”

He says nothing.

Nobody comes to drag her up from the floor. Rue falls silent, rolling her head slightly to the left, then back around to the right and forward to lift it from its backward loll, like she needed the momentum to achieve this. She’s exhausted, but still ready to provide the same answer she provides every time someone comes in to speak to her.

Except she knows this man. She’s seen photographs, both official, closed-circuit captures, and surreptitious snaps. She’s seen footage of him in Detroit. So, only the first word she had prepared escapes her lips.


That’s it. It’s the complete statement.

Baruti Naidu says nothing to Rue’s profanity. He lurches forward, fumbling with keys in the torn pocket of his suit jacket, and reaches up to unshackle Rue’s wrists, then throws her the keys with a clatter to the stone floor.

Go.” Baruti’s voice is a hoarse whisper, there is blood on his lips.

This is a trick. This has to be a trick. This… She would do this, if she was a fucking psychotic monster. Her eyes are scanning back and forth across Naidu’s face, looking for the tells.

In the end, she doesn’t care if she can see them or not. She snatches the keys up off the floor herself before staggering to her feet. Her eyes are wide and full of panic, confusion. “Why?” she whispers, hesitating now. Locked in place by her own fear that she’s going to make it out the door, down a hallway, and be re-captured just when she’s seen the light of day. That she’ll be given just enough hope that it will break her when it’s snatched away.

The keys are slid between her fingers as she steels herself to run.

Baruti watches Rue with half-lidded eyes. His right hand moves inside his suit jacket, not for a gun, but to put pressure on the bleeding wound at his side.

“Because everyone deserves to be free.” He says, then just turns his back on her and limps out of the cell into the hall.

Confusion gives way to an ice water sensation in her veins that, while born from fear — just what happened? — is enough to spur her to finally move.

She doesn’t thank Baruti Naidu for his compassion. Were he not in the state he is, he likely would have been better than fine leaving her to her fate. So she bolts out of her cell, headed in the direction she’s always heard the footsteps most frequently coming and going from, hoping that deduction that it’s the way out is the correct one.

Her hands are shaking. Her legs already ache, but this is her chance. This may be her one chance. She has to make it out.

The hallway is lined with cells. Doors all wide open, chains in all of them. Rue cuts right out of her cell, the direction feet usually came from. As Rue moves as fast as she can down the hall, she's left to wonder how many people were held down here, for what reasons, under what conditions. It's one more layer of the world's blatant cruelty and one that she doesn't have time to dwell on.

Baruti is going the other way, leaving a trail of blood behind him as he does.

Her gaze doesn’t stray from straight ahead. If she looks away to one of those cells and she sees someone like her, she’s going to stop. If she stops, she’s sure that she’s dead. This is a situation in which do unto others just cannot apply. After a moment to drill that notion into her head and put on the emotional blinders, she does glance into the open doors, but not for signs of other survivors.

At some point, she’ll need to arm herself, won’t she? Still, she doesn’t break stride, and she knows it means she might miss something. Her mind is so jumbled after the last hundred days, she can’t decide where to land on the dichotomy of can’t slow down to search and but you have to search.

Her feet make that choice for her, continuing to slap down on the floor and propel her forward, even as muscles shake and lungs burn.

Rue finds herself in what amounts to a maze. Rows of open cell doors, honeycombed together in a damp subterranean passage that looks to be archaic in design. These are mortared stones, not concrete. The cells look like something out of the bronze age, not some modern-era prison. There’s no cameras, no security she can see, just a network of twisting passages.

It’s only once she’s ascended a few stairs—so far all the stairs she’s found lead up—that she notices a din of background noise. It’s hard to make out at first, but she’s fairly certain that it’s pandemonium. Pandemonium is a specific kind of noise, it’s the chaos of thousands of people all talking, yelling, or shouting at once carried over a vast distance. It’s helicopters in the air, it’s car alarms going off, it’s dogs barking. It’s Manhattan on November 8th—pick a year, it doesn’t matter.

The more Rue explores, the more she realizes she’s alone. Two floors up out of whatever pit she was locked in. Iron bars sealing off round holes in the ceiling shows her tantalizing glimpses of the sky, painted blood red with gray-black clouds. It’s impossible to tell what time of day it is.

As she makes her way, the fear rises in her. Fear that what she suspected to be true, will be. A shuddery breath carries a laugh in spite of herself. If they had wanted to break her, this would have been the way to do it. Let her get at least this far…

But Naidu was injured — probably badly — and there’s panic above. This could actually be her chance.

And it doesn’t inspire hope. It brings nightmares into stark relief inside her mind. It’s like history keeps repeating itself with her. Waiting to drown in Bannerman’s Castle. Waiting for the whole of the Ziggurat to come down upon her in Praxia. Maybe that’s what will happen here. Maybe this is the time she doesn’t escape the tomb.

Fuck that,” she whispers to herself. “Fuck that. Fuck that.

Was this even the right way?

The only possible way out is to keep moving.

So she runs faster.

Forty Years Earlier

Somewhere in Baghdad

Dim afternoon sun casts long shadows through a haze of smoke clinging to the sky. It makes the sun look red, turns the sky the color of pomegranate seeds. Inside a modest apartment, Ra'id Abdul-Jalil Sabbagh looks out over Baghdad, at the red sky, at the price of living.

“«He lied.»” A voice that is once silken and gravelly proclaims. Aida Baraka Sa'id steps into the crimson light of the evening sky and casts a fouled stare at Ra’id’s back. “«We led our kin to the slaughter for a lie. No one is coming for us.»”

Ra’id looks down from the window to his feet, hands gripping the window frame tightly. His throat works up and down, tense, haunted. “«We live.»” Ra’id says with certainty, reaching up to a tattered piece of cloth he wears over his shoulders like a stole. “«We live.»”

Aida wipes her tongue across her teeth. The taste of betrayal is bitter. She cannot tell if Ra’id is being forthright without being able to see the stars, and smoke has flooded the skies of Baghdad for enough days to make her question the accuracy of past readings. Fabric does not change, the position of the stars do. Ra’id is clinging on to a weaving he wants desperately to be real.

“«Did your rag tell you that?»” Aida steps to the window to challenge him. Ra’id does not give her the satisfaction of showing anger at this. Instead he continues to roll the fabric between forefinger and thumb. “«Does your skein tell you the exact moment our brothers and sisters died so that we might live another year? Does it tell you if they begged for their lives? For the lives of their children?”»

“«Enough!»” Ra’id shouts, and though he steps toward her with anger and a raised hand, she does not back down. He dares not strike her. Respects her too much. His anger is short-lived, a last dying spark of conviction, leaving behind a cooling ember of a man.

Aida looks away, guilty for having hurt him. Out the window she sees distant plumes of smoke winding up into the sky. Her heart aches for this city, and what it could have been. What it was. It aches for her homeland across the mountains, for its freedom, for the blood the Americans squeeze from it like water from a sponge.

They were supposed to unite the world, not let it burn.

Forty Years Later

Somewhere in Iraq

The last few feet are the worst. Smoke has infiltrated the complex, stinking of plastic and cloying. Rue covers her mouth with her arm and pushes through it, eyes burning as she ascends the last set of stairs. She can’t even see where she comes out at first, blinded by tears and smoke in a haze of blood red.

When she finally emerges from the billowing plume of smoke rising up from a burning SUV, she sees the bodies. Eight men in fatigues, dismembered—maybe from an explosion. But that quickly becomes background noise to what she sees beyond her feet.

She is beside a river that winds through Baghdad, she recognizes the skyline. Screams and chaos come from all across the city, but not from fighting, from panic. Her eyes follow the source of light that is causing this carnage, past the city, toward the northern horizon.

It’s an eclipse.

The moon hangs like a ripened fruit on the northern horizon, too large to be real. The moon has never looked this large. It is nothing but total darkness, ringed by a seething corona of light, and bleeding a line of white-hot fire down beyond the horizon where the red glow is coming from. It looks like the moon is weeping fire onto the earth. It looks like the end of the fucking world.

The people of Baghdad seem to be reacting as such.

Everyone deserves to be free.

To what? Die in the sun?

Rue coughs into the crook of her arm, some distantly remembered warning from a science teacher echoing in her mind about not staring at a solar eclipse directly. But it’s so hard to look away from this. Does one simply ignore the apocalypse?

Is this the moment? Is this what she was meant to avert? Has she failed?

Pulling her grimy shirt up to cover her face, Rue makes the choice to move toward the remains of the dead men, hoping to liberate from them a gun they no longer need. She swallows back bile and the horrifying notion that it may not be a mundane explosion. She looks, too, for a cell phone. A means to orient herself. To maybe communicate. But she’s heard enough about CMEs to suspect there’s not going to be any signal to be had, even if she manages to find what she’s looking for.

Oh god,” she doesn’t even hear herself crying.

The soldiers have guns, some of them look to have been sheared in half by some kind of intense heat, like from a powerful laser. The soldiers, too, now that she takes a closer look, probably shared the same fate.

But on one of them she finds a functioning handgun, two magazines of ammunition. One full magazine in the gun. She also notices that most of these soldiers are white. No nametags. Badges on their arms aren’t local, they’re from a PMC.


What the fuck were they doing here?

There’s an armored SUV parked nearby, pockmarked with bullet impacts on the body and the glass. It’s still running. It might be how Baruti got here. It’s hard to say. Overhead, helicopters cut through the sky, headed toward the—


Rue knows what direction the Tigris cuts through Baghdad. That’s not the direction the sun sets in. Turning fully around, Rue sees the afternoon sun burning in what is presumably the western horizon, then snaps her attention back to the eclipse in the north.

What the fuck is happening?

Two is adding together with two and looking like seven. The question now is whether she drives toward the burning death ball or away from it. She’s just one person. A person without an ability.

But what ability could stand up to that anyway?

If she gets out of this — and this has got to be the biggest if she’s ever stared down — she’ll need something to report. Fuck. She’ll follow the path of the helicopters. She pulls open the door to the SUV, gun raised as she does, following her instinct to make sure it’s clear before she climbs into it.

Wait!” Comes a croaking scream as Rue pulls herself into the SUV. She recognizes the raspy man’s voice.

In the distance, Baruti Naidu is ascending the stairs from the prison, limping, still clutching his side. But this time he’s not alone. There is a man with him, struggling as much as Baruti to walk, head hung low and shoulders slacked. Baruti drags the man toward the SUV and Rue recognizes him.

A gust of cold and a soft ring accompanies the door to the lodge opening. A lone man walks in from the wintry outside, dressed in a heavy hiking jacket with the fur-trimmed hood pulled up and a scarf wound around his face. He, like the other handful of visitors to the lodge, does not at first seem alarming. But as he turns attention toward the four sitting by the fire and unwinds his plaid scarf, the situation evolves.


Richard Ray is the only person in the room to recognize the square-jawed and blonde-haired German man approaching them with heavy footfalls. Niklaus Zimmerman is a shadow in Richard’s history, a man he once saved the life of, who has since wavered between friend and reluctant acquaintance. When they last met, two years ago, the tensions between them had not diminished. But Niklaus has been a ghost since that day at the Clocktower Building.

Guten nachmittag,” Niklaus says, stopping a few feet from the group as he draws back his hood. He seems surprised to see Richard. “Ruskin, Wright, and Lancaster?”

Wait!” Baruti shouts, he and Niklaus practically dragging each other across the windswept road to the SUV.

Rue whirls with her gun in her hands, pointed toward the sound with wide, frightened eyes. “Fuck.” She dithers, considering for a moment firing two shots, and being done with this. Because if Niklaus Zimmerman is here

Her blood is both fire and ice under her skin. She finds herself puffing out her cheeks with an exhale, but instead she pulls open the back door to the SUV as well. “C’mon!” She jogs to meet the two men and do what she can to help them move.

“What the fuck is that?” she demands. There’s no need to gesture, but she does it anyway. It’s a useless question, too, isn’t it?

The wrath of god,” Baruti answers, and Rue can feel him trembling as she helps him into the back of the SUV. He’s lost a lot of blood, it’s all over his shirt and down the side of his pants.

Niklaus looks horrible. He’s much thinner than the last time Rue saw him and he looks to have been tortured far more physically than she was. He slouches into the passenger seat, blearily staring ahead out the windshield. “What—what is happening?” He asks, exasperatedly. “I cannot see.”

Baruti does not answer, only slouches forward with a grimace. His teeth are red. He places a hand on the driver’s seat. “We must—go get my daughter. She is—she is not far. Then—then we must get as far away from here as possible.”

He cannot see. Rue’s skin feels clammy. He looks the way she expected to. She climbs into the driver’s side, but then also over the console to grab Niklaus’ hands and direct them to Baruti’s side, where he’s bleeding worst. “He needs pressure put on that. Just… Just do that. We need him alive.”

Her eyes meet Baruti’s. A favor for a favor, but they are by no means even.

Turning around, she slams the door finally and throws the car into drive.

“Just tell me where.”


Al-Salam Palace

Tibby Naidu takes long, sprinting strides up the front steps of the Al-Salam palace. Her battered car idles in the driveway behind her. There was no one at the gate house when she arrived, no guards at the front doors that were left wide open to the air.

As she steps through the doors into the foyer of the palace, a looming fountain and lush indoor garden greets her. But the clatter of shell casings at her feet implies a danger that has not yet made itself evident. The palace is quiet, save for the sound of running water.

Aida is here.


She knew her reunion with her father was too good to be true. Promises of undoing the abuse that Crito had put her through, of course it all sounded too good to be true but she didn't expect the fallout to be this. Tibby didn't fully understand what was even happening but she knew she had a task.

And she loved her father dearly.

There isn't time to panic, only for cold logical action. Dark eyes narrow a bit as she scans the area, walking around with a brisk pace. Searching for a clue in her surroundings.

Tibby angles for the first door her eyes land upon.

Dining room, absolutely sprawling. There’s bullet holes in the wall here, some chairs knocked over. Blood. Bodies of palace staff lay motionless on the floor. Ducking out of that room, she moves through the kitchen, more signs of carnage here. Blood on the tile floor, the gas stove still on, pans knocked on the floor. Three cooks are dead just outside the kitchen in a connecting hallway.

The trail of carnage is easy to follow. Down a hall, past dead members of the Republican Guard. Past kicked in doors and more summary executions. None of this makes any sense. Who could do this in the heart of Iraq?

Heading up to the second floor, Tibby can start to hear voices. Men, speaking English. They’re hard to make out at first, and as she steps over the bodies of fallen soldiers, she notices something even more unsettling. The Qing combat drones for the palace are sitting in standby mode with their heads down, like someone remotely deactivated them.

“I don’t care, we need air support to get out of here. We’ve got the package.” A man’s voice, deep, American accent region unplaceable.

«Sit your buns tight for sixteen, pally. We gotta pick up the Wizard of Oz.» Crackles a man with a slightly southern accent over a radio. In her HUD, Tibby sees a signal scanner running. The radio is long-wave, bouncing off of a communications Satellite. Military encryption, she can’t listen in.

“Fuck you, we are behind enemy lines here.” The baritone man protests.

“Fuck him. Let’s just go on foot.” A woman, this time. English-speaking but with an accent that says Spanish may be her primary language.

Her eyes narrow more before she takes a deep silent breath and relaxes her body, preparing for what was inevitable. Her two weapons and the tech in her body would have to be enough, she was enough. Her father thought so already. Tibby flexes the hand that held the taser known as Talon, fully charged with the two metallic talons screwed onto her thumb and middle finger. The young woman crouches and puts her back against the wall, tilting her head to listen in on her prey.

When she was growing up, Tibby had learned to not be discouraged by her smaller size and to work with what she's got. As her bibi always told her. In this moment she can feel her heart begin to pound just a bit harder but she steadies herself, positioned to spring like the feline companions she missed so much.

She would wait for them to pass her and strike.

“Keep an eye on the Evil Queen will ya?” The big guy grumbles, and Tibby can hear his heavy footfalls moving toward the doorway. Tibby, coiled like a viper about to strike, sees just enough of a mountain of a man with a shaved head come into view before she lunges in, getting under his arm with the Talon. Her fingers press to AEGIS body armor and the electrical impulse should—

HUD Alert: Battery Low

The second her Talon contacts the enormous man there’s some sort of reactive response. She feels a surge of electricity up her arm, more than one charge of the Talon drawn out until it crackles around the huge man’s body and seeps into his skin like suntan oil. He turns, broad-faced and angry, and throws his palm out toward Tibby and hits her with a concussive blast of kinetic force that sends her tumbling back across the hall.

We got contact!


Herman Dreyer is a mountain of a man dressed in a heavy suit of AEGIS armor. While he isn’t unusually tall, he’s broad-shouldered and built like a tank. Electricity leaps around his arm, then converts to light and shimmering heat. On the chest of his armor, Tibby sees the image of a winged sword. She knows that PMC.


Tibby rolls across the ground and thanks the gods above for the implants in her bones and back. Still: ouch. Springing to her feet and glaring more so at the irritating notice of her battery now running low. Immediately she thinks of that man, the beast in a suit Luther Bellamy. She was now fighting the off brand version but he was no less dangerous and clad in armor.

The last time she went against a man like this, most of what she did was rendered moot, if she could find access to his skin… that goes out the window. The handgun in her hand wouldn't really work either. She needed something big, thinking back to the Qing, but how?

"Where is Aida?"

Lifting her gun to aim at his face.

There’s a sudden rush of air, and Tibby feels her arm move and fingers spread. The gun is gone, and she catches movement out of the corner of her eye enough to see brown hair before she’s pistol whipped. As she jerks to the side Tibby sees a brunette woman in the same kind of body armor. She moves in sudden, sporadic bursts of speed like a poorly edited film.

Dreyer snorts loudly, working his jaw from side to side. “I had her,” he says of the women who does not, in fact, think he had her.


“Hands up, kitten.” Elena Moreno seems less likely to go a round for the fun of it. “Against the wall.”

Even though her ability would pale in comparison to the two in the hall with her, Tibby really wishes for her felines as she is pistol whipped and hits the ground again.

Fucking speedsters.

The smaller woman gets to her feet slowly and gives Elena the look of someone that is bored already as she complies with putting her hands up and backing up against the wall. Naidu considers her options with the armor bearing mercenaries. No gun would work at the moment so it's best the speedy one has it for now. "Whatever your boss pays," She hated even pretending to grovel, "My father has more. I need my aunt."

Even if it was a lie, adding that Aida was "her aunt" gave a little more weight to her claims just enough of a lie. If you could get one lie in, you could stack them.

The knives on her person are thought of, one finger twitches but she doesn't move anything else. She's still, barely breathing just staring between the two with her dead eyes, the ones doing the work trying to spot a weak point in their armor.

Dreyer cracks a smile and raises his pistol at Tibby. Standing by the tall palace windows, he’s lit entirely from one side and casts an enormous shadow against the far wall, the trick of the light making him look so much larger in contrast to Tibby’s.

“Oh yeah?” Dreyer asks.


Alarms blare on the street, sirens roaring as loud as the engine of the battered SUV that Rue drives. Mounting a curb to take a sharp turn, she winds up onto the street that leads to the Al-Salam Palace. Baruti leans forward in the back between the two front seats.

There,” he gasps, “she was driving that.” Through the gates, Rue spots a sedan missing a door and a right rear tire partway parked on the stairs of the palace. Niklaus, in the passenger seat, stares ahead vacantly, then tilts his head back and looks up at the roof of the SUV, blinking blearily.

“Everything looks red,” Niklaus murmurs. He can’t see anything without his glasses.

Oh my god.” Niklaus Zimmerman is going to be useless to her. “Keep your head down. Stay out of sight.” Rue undoes her belt and twists in her seat. “If you have any other weapons, now’s a great time to arm me?” Her eyes half lid as she considers that, then just shakes her head. Baruti Naidu is a weapon. “Never mind. Stay the fuck here.”

Throwing open her door, Rue stays crouched behind it for a moment to make sure she’s not about to get fired on. Only then does she move.

This is all fucking stupid, but she’s in for the pound.

Baruti slips out of the car, clutching his side with one hand. He looks ashen, but something he saw has him moving against all good sense. “Rue,” he tries to call out to her as she’s moving, but he can barely find his voice.

There is so much blood in the back seat.

Instead, Baruti turns his attention up toward the second story windows where he sees a man training a gun down on—


“And where’s your daddy now, princess?” is the last thing Dreyer says before two beams of neon blue plasma blast through the windows, cutting across the palace wall like a chainsaw. They tear through the ceiling, dropping a steel support beam down on Dreyer, though Elena just disappears in a blur.

Glass erupts outward from the plasma blast, glittering in Tibby’s hair. Dryer is pinned by the debris, his gun sliding across the floor. He twists onto his side, trying to convert the kinetic force of the impact into something useful to lift it off of him. Sparks issue from his arms, silver fluid weeps out of tears in his armor.


Baruti Naidu collapses onto his knees beside the SUV, having pointed Rue to exactly where Tibby is. Burning and molten debris is still sliding down the wall with her mid-stride up the steps, landing as cooling slag on one side of the staircase to the front doors.

Even if she isn’t looking back, Baruti is waving Rue off to go inside.

He called, and she listened. Gun raised, prepared to fire, she finds he’s beat her to the punch. Far, far more impressively.

And it’s cost him.

You dumbfuck piece of shit,” Rue curses, because it’s about the last shred of armor she’s managed to retain since her capture. “Get the fuck back in the car!” She’s not waiting to find out if he listens or not. She doesn’t wait to find out if he can get back inside the vehicle. She’s sprinting toward the building.

“Naidu, move your fucking ass!” This is called to her savior’s daughter, who looks familiar, though she can’t quite place it. This will go much more smoothly if she can count on her target to meet her in the middle for exfil.

Baruti slumps against the car, pawing red at the door handle.


Plaster falls from the ceiling and Tibby’s ears have finally stopped ringing. She can hear someone shouting for her outside, familiar in the way something out of a fever dream is; questionable in reality.

Who the fuck was that?

The two beams were easily discerned as coming from her father. That would mean he's finished his errand with Rue Lancaster. The small woman made it a point to remember operatives of Wolfhound she encounters in shady places.

Never enemies but they were surely allies in this moment. Surely. Though she could only guess as to what they were doing with said Wolfhound operative out here.

Climbing to her feet and swaying a bit before she regains her footing, she coldly looks down at the merc. Ending his life is not in her mission.

She had to get to her father. And Aida. Racing back towards the entrance but not before yanking one of the rifles off of the Qing's back. Still salty about the low level charge left in her Talon but there was nothing to be done. She hustles towards the outside, towards Baruti.

As Tibby winds her way back around through the palace, she gets a brief glimpse of that speedster woman, carrying someone who Tibby is certain is Aida over her shoulder. She and Tibby share one solid look for half a second, and then the speedster vanishes in a whip-crack blur.


As Rue reaches the top of the palace stairs, she feels a strong breeze blow by her. A split second later a hazily familiar face comes rounding into view. A woman Rue only blearily recalls from a Refrain den a while back, but here in Iraq with a rifle that Rue knows comes from a Qing drone.

Tibby can see the SUV down on the rotunda past Rue, see the blood stains on the side, see the unfamiliar man in the front seat, and with a blink she can make out the silhouette of her father slouched in the back seat. He’s hurt. He’s hurt and that speedster got away with Aida.

Rue skids to a halt when she gets sight of the fuck off gun, keeping hers held out to her side. “Easy,” she warns with a voice thick from disuse, however much she’s been using it to yell obscenities. “Your dad,” that piece of shit, “sent me.” Even though she can see Tibby’s eyes headed in that direction, she tips her head toward the SUV anyway, unruly blonde curls brushing against her shoulder. “We’ve gotta car. We gotta go.”

She steps aside, not intending to put her back to Tibby if she can help it. Not until she gets the sense they’re cool. “There’s an apocalypse of biblical fucking proportions happening out there.”

At first she appears angered at having lost the speedster and then that anger crescendos into rage once she makes out her father in the SUV but for whom she couldn't even be sure.

The smaller woman holds the extreme firearm in a way that conveys she's not trying to use it on Rue. Displacing her emotions in a ball tucked deep within herself she looks at Rue and acknowledges her properly. "Thank you for bringing him." It's the best either of them could do given the circumstances. Tibby's eyes then flick to the SUV and then the road around them. Taking the steps two at a time she beelines for the SUV and her father calling over her shoulder as she goes, "Speedy woman has Aida. We will go get."

Upon getting to the SUV Tibby takes ahold of the front door and yanks the door open. She does not know this man, "In the back. Look after my father, my eyes are needed on the road." It's as gentle as she can be, hovering on the precipice of sorrow and worry for Baruti. They had just found each other again.

Niklaus groans, fumbling for the door handle. He’s slow to find the lock and undo it, slower yet to find his seatbelt and unbuckle it.

Tibby risks a look into the back at the man who raised her and stops herself from gasping aloud though she involuntarily takes a step back. Tibby had seen many men and women in this state but never thought she would see Baruti himself like this, ever. "Jislaaik."

She wants to go off on him, she wants to rage at him for putting himself in this position in the first place, she wants to scream but that has to wait because this cause was important to him and had been becoming important to her. "Into the back!"

Hissing, Niklaus stumbles out of the SUV and then blindly paws around at the side for the rear door handle. He pulls himself into the back seat, feeling around for Baruti as he does. His hands become slick with blood from the leather seats and Baruti’s jacket. Niklaus helps him sit up straight, presses a hand to the wound at his former captor’s side.

And then Tibby can look at him properly.

"I am here, vader. Aida was taken by a mercenary. We will find her. How-" She can't even say it aloud.

“We—” Baruti’s voice is hoarse, speech slurred, “do not have time to look for her.” He swallows audibly. We have to—” he swallows those words. “You have to get out of the country. It will be hellfire here soon.”

Niklaus’ brows furrow, he stares vacantly past Baruti, then looks in Tibby’s general direction. “He has lost a significant amount of blood.”

There’s—no time.” Baruti says through his clenched teeth.

"«Who told you this cause was worth it?»"

Tibby is enraged and grips the seat as she leans over and puts a hand on his face. "«You cannot leave, we just got back to each other! Do you hear me??»" Shouting in her native tongue. Tears begin to streak down her face.

"«You fool! I was coming to save you!»" Tibby yells a couple more intelligible things before she settles on, "«What would I do without you?»"

Her words get caught in her throat and she turns her face from her father to look out of the cracked windshield. Tears glittering in her eyes, "Rue," it's a hoarse groan almost, "Drive us to the nearest medical center… I am looking."

A moment.


Baruti Naidu already knows he’s not making it out of Iraq. The fact that he isn’t sugar coating it makes it easier to swallow. No false assurances. No betrayal in death. Rue is not impassive to this display between daughter and father, but it can’t delay them much longer than it already has. While vaguely unsettled to be called by such a familiar name by such an unfamiliar person, she at least knows the weight in the simplicity of it.

Fuck. Fine.

She looks out on the horizon, the way they came before. “I don’t exactly have GP-fuckin’-S, Naidu!” Still, she’s slamming the driver’s side door and buckling her belt. “You have to guide me.” Rue throws the SUV into reverse. “Keep your limbs inside the car at all times!” One hand on the wheel, the other stretches across to grab the headrest of the passenger seat so she can look over her shoulder as she stomps down on the gas.

“I can’t keep calling you Naidu!” she tells the other woman as they race backward down the drive and back toward the road. “So what’s your name, anyway?” Sure sure doesn’t remember it from their shared experience with Zeitgeist.

"Tibby," she says and looks ahead, "I will find us one."

Some Time Later

Baghdad Governate


The last time Rue Lancaster was here, Nick Ruskin was alive. It’s ironic that the journey has come full circle in such a way. The Mahmudiyah Hospital, located on the outskirts of Baghdad surrounded by farmland and robotic crop harvesters. She and Nick had unloaded supplies here before coming into the city. Now, she stands outside of it as the city threatens to come down around them.

While the sky overhead is dark and filled with stars, in the distance to the east is a blood red color swirled with a haze of clouds and a shimmering blue-green aurora. It would be beautiful if it wasn’t so terrifying.

Niklaus Zimmerman sits on the ground with his back to the wall of the hospital’s emergency room door, an ill-fitting pair of very thick glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. He holds his hand in front of his face, then moves it away. Overhead, seven Osprey helicopters roar toward the city, running lights flashing on their wings and tail. Niklaus looks up at them, adjusting his glasses.

“We cannot go back to the US,” Niklaus says after a long time of silence. He figures they have a few minutes of free time while Tibby is inside with her father. “We cannot call our friends. We cannot…” He stops himself, leaning back to gently thump his head against the wall. “We must find somewhere to hide.”

“Yeah,” Rue responds flatly, “I kind of figured.” She’s tearing into her fourth protein bar, throwing the wrapper aside with the others without care. Her hands are shaking and it’s like she’s only now discovered how hungry she was, after the first bite.

She’s consumed half of it before she lifts her voice again. “Why the fuck were you here? This was my assignment…” It’s not concern in her voice, but a bitterness. Distrusting. “You weren’t here looking for me. So why?”

“Curiosity.” Niklaus says dryly. “I believe I am down to, how you say, the cat’s last life.”

Looking over at Rue, Niklaus furrows his brows. “You do not know me, but my mother Claudia, she rebuilt your country from the ground up…” he says in a way that sounds a lot like Once Upon a Time. “We were a part of a conspiracy to prevent the catastrophe that led to the civil war from ever happening again, and…” Niklaus exhales a ragged sigh. “We were deceived.”

Looking up at the stars, Niklaus furrows his brows. “After my mother died, Mr. Raith came to me. Stepped out into the open, revealed himself as her boss. The architect behind the conspiracy. That he was the one who helped instate Praeger as the war hero president, guided my mother and her two associates to sculpting the new political landscape. An old CIA tactic. Regime change.”

Niklaus sniffs, then turns and presses one finger to his nose, blowing a blood clot from his once-broken nose onto the asphalt. “I got curious about him. He thought I was an errand boy. I am no one’s boy.” He looks back to Rue, frowning. “I do what I did most of my life. I look for clues, answers. I find them, I wind up here.”

Rue’s content to listen while she eats, frowning the whole time. She watches him like she’s afraid he might ghost if she looks away. Or maybe that he’ll finish the job Mazdak threatened to start.

But the more he goes along, the more she starts to trust. Or at least consider trusting. “Right. So, Raith’s a piece of shit. I think we both knew this going in. What questions were you asking?” Without looking away, she rummages in the carton for the fifth bar. This one she passes his way. Maybe she’s being polite, or maybe she’s handing the good dog a biscuit.

“They did a number on you,” Rue observes the obvious. “Except for knocking me back down, they barely touched me. You must’ve been real close to something.”

“Closer than they know,” Niklaus says, swallowing idly. “Or I’d be dead right now.”

He looks back to the sky, sitting in troubled silence. Two more helicopters fly by overhead.

“I found one more person who worked for Marcus Raith,” Niklaus says quietly. “A General. From your war.” He looks up to Rue. “Timothy Moritz.”

Avi is slouched over the radio, head in his hands. He knows Rue’s there, she can see it in his posture. “We’re going to Raven Rock,” Avi says with a shaky breath. “Moritz launched the nukes. We don’t know… any more. The west coast went dark.”

General Timothy Moritz.

“It’s all been one gigantic regime change,” Niklaus says with a haunted quality to his voice. “Moritz, the nukes, the new government…” he looks away from her, can’t bear to see her expression when he says, “Mazdak.” He jaw flexes.

“By my guess, Marcus has been pitting the world against itself, to weaken it, to make it vulnerable.” Niklaus swallows, dryly. The words cloy in his mouth.

“So he can assume control.”



It’s been thirty minutes since they brought Baruti Naidu in. No one at the clinic knows who he is, what his significance is. But it doesn’t matter. He’s injured, this is a hospital, and though their resources are stretched thin they do not treat Baruti any differently as a man stumbling in without identification than they would if they knew who he truly was.

Tibby has been pacing the hall just outside of the emergency triage room her father was brought into, waiting for any sign. Standing still feels like failing, there’s no telling where that speedster could have taken Aida now, and Baruti hadn’t mentioned Ra’id once. When one of the surgeons comes out, pulling off his cloth mask, it’s impossible to tell what his eyes are saying.

The first time he speaks, Tibby’s adrenaline is so spiked it’s interfering with her audio processing. Overloading pieces of her cyberware. The surgeon has to repeat himself. “He’s stable.”

She's been here before, with her mother.

Not this hospital but there is something about experiencing death and trauma in these places that makes them all bleed together as if they were one entity connected by the branching hallways leading to the various wards.

They all smelled the same.

Tibby doesn't want to smell or feel.

She's pacing and thinking and thinking and pacing and sweat has built on her back and brow. The surgeon's words are barely registered before she is rushing inside with, "«I'm here.»"

The other two surgeons haven’t even had time to clear out of the room when Tibby barges in. Chaos from the city hasn’t reached this far west yet. There’s been communications blackouts. Nobody knows what happened.

Baruti looks at Tibby from the table, side stretched up and covered with a latticed patch of some kind of synthetic skin. The hospital may look like a backwater chop shop, but the materials they have to work with are bleeding-edge Praxis biotech. It may be the only thing that saved Baruti Naidu’s life.

As the surgeons leave, Baruti reaches out to take Tibby’s hand in his. “You shouldn’t have stayed,” he says in a raspy whisper, though his eyes say thank you.

"And you shouldn't have ended up bleeding like a pig draining for the market," is her quick retort though she is relieved to see him conscious. Coming to his side, Tibby places a hand in his, so very small in comparison. It takes all of her not to crawl up into bed with him like she used to as a child, when his arms were enough to hold back the tortures out in the world.

"I am happy… you are alive."

Tibby is at war with herself. The pieces she's neglected to pull together that form her. She's seen no need to feel much of anything before all of this but her father deserves more than that, he deserves his daughter at this moment.

There still just isn't that much time to right all their wrongs to each other but this would have to be enough. "We aren't staying." He knows he can't travel now.

Baruti squeezes her hand and then, using the other to press down on his biopatch, swings his legs off the table. His shirt is cut to ribbons around him, split open so the surgeons could examine his wound. He sheds what is left of it, revealing a body covered in tattoos of Sumerian mythological iconography and cuneiform.

“They’ll close the borders before sunrise…” Baruti says, head swimming in pain killers. “We’ll never make it out if we don’t find a way out before then.” He grimaces, limping a few steps forward. One of the surgeons steps back into the room and when he sees Baruti walking he tries to approach and move him, but when Baruti’s eyes crackle and flash with blue light the surgeon quickly moves to the wall and out of the way, hands raised.

For a moment Tibby is stunned, but that quickly changes; of course he was coming. He knew more than all of them. She still needed him. She grabs his hand and looks over to the surgeon, "Thank you," is all that is barely whispered but her eyes say enough: do not.

"Then we must hurry."

She wasn't going to waste another moment with him.



Rue Lancaster both looks and feels like she’s going to be sick, digging the heels of both palms against her closed eyes. “Are you seriously fisting me with this shit?” That is directed toward the sky and the seemingly less than indifferent universe.

“This was all a wild goose chase then?” Her hands drop back into her lap and she looks over at Niklaus. “What the fuck?” Her voice is shaky. That revelation is so far beyond horrific, she isn’t sure a word has been conceived of that would even begin to touch that yet.

“Okay…” Breathing out heavily, she curls one hand into a fist and sort of bounces it against her knee, an outlet for her agitation. “So we can’t reach out to the CIA. If we try to travel back to the States in the normal fashion, we’re probably both dead.” She understands now that there was never a hope of coming back from this alive, and that it wasn’t just her own pessimism dictating it. The entire point was for her to die here.

“Borders are about to be fucked.” She’s going through her mind the places they can go from here that aren’t going to get them killed in an instant. “I don’t know. Jordan’s a longshot.” She shakes her head quickly. “No. It’s out of the fucking question.” They can’t use the same contacts she used to get in without likely tipping off the people who got her and Nick into the country in the first place.

“We may as well paint phosphor-fuckin’-escent targets on our backs if we go north or east. Way too many red flags and variables to control if we went south…” Rue turns to Zimmerman for ideas. “Syria? Kuwait?” Both are a hell of a distance to travel, but with a fuel tank full of spite, she’ll get them there.

Fuck!” Rue gets to her feet, snatching up what remains of her box of snacks as she does. “Get in the car!” She’ll figure it out as they go. “I’m going to go get Naidu.”

“Lancaster.” Niklaus raises a hand, not enough to reach up and grab Rue, but nevertheless she feels it. Not on her arm, but in a sliver of shrapnel in her shoulder. Just enough to get her attention, a slight pressure.

Niklaus leans to the side, finally reaching into the box, not having taken a bar when offered. He smiles, faintly, and points at her with a crinkle of the wrapper.

“Give her time.” He says softly. “One more minute won’t kill us…” his mouth twitches at the corner. “It’s already late, we lost the opportunity of daytime…”

“…and we’re well past sunset.”

Forty Years Earlier

Somewhere in Baghdad

The sound of footsteps makes Aida and Ra'id tense. Every creak of the floorboards ratchets up the beat of their hearts. Aida backs to the window and Ra'id steps in front of her, watching with wide, unblinking eyes as the doorknob to their cramped hostel turns, and the door slowly opens. Ra'id doesn't even have a gun, has a distaste for violence and bloodshed, but now regrets those convictions. The figure who walks through the door is a stranger to them, a foreigner, but not unexpected.

"You did good," she says, showing her empty hands and that she is not a threat. "The two youngest members of Mazdak, making a smart choice. A strong choice." She doesn't speak the local language, but she knows both Ra'id and Aida speak English.

"Nabu?" Ra'id asks, brows knit together.

"No," the gray-haired woman says, removing her scarf. "But I can speak for him."


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