The Better Part of Valor


bao-wei2_icon.gif bella_icon.gif

Scene Title The Better Part of Valor
Synopsis Before her departure, Bella seeks an audience with an old colleague.
Date May 23, 2011

Defunct Subway Station

Daylight creeps closer and closer to curfew as spring swells, and when it's not raining and overcast, it's warm under the waxing sun. By the time evening descends, it's still almost balmy, and the air is humid with the trace rain fallen and the sign of rain that has yet to fall.

So what is to be made of Isabella Sheridan in a suede winter coat, fur-lined gloves held in one hand, the other clasping the handle of a high powered flashlight? Her buttons lie undone, letting the evening air alleviate the building heat of her brisk walk, and maybe it's just that she thought fifty eight degrees was colder than it actually is, but reasonable overestimation does not account for the fuzzy cream earmuffs that hang about her neck. Also- wasn't there something in there about flashlight?

Then again, who's holding standards of normalcy to a woman who is heading into one of New York's near-defunct subway stations? Step by step in her treaded winter boots, Bella snaps the flashlight on and sweeps the bright beam across the chain gate. The padlock lies, broken, surrounded by rusty nest of chain. Bella still strains to drag the gate open, the racket echoing up into the street above in a way that really doesn't set her at ease. For whatever reason, she figures safety lies inside the dark, broken-into train station.

Within, she lights her path with a pool of light, save for when she stops and, bizarrely, huffs breath into the path of the beam, a ritual she repeats with the regularity of a maze-walker checking a compass.

Seeing a woman pass by in winter garb is certainly not the strangest thing that the world above might see; she is not considered at odds with everything, but at least at odds with the weather. But, these days, many people may do what they please to. It is only as strange as those who make it so. Down under the streets, it is something else entirely. Foresight, and preparedness, rather than oddity. It serves her well, in due time. The manhandling of the rusty gate, her thickly soled boots, the light zig-zagging about while she walks, all add up to anyone that might have the instinct to stop and listen. Not that there are many other ears and eyes to set upon.

Her trek is a long one, but not for distance; it is mostly because of her pausing as if the tunnels were a far more intricate maze. There are only bisections- if she misses one and finds a dead end, it does take a few extra minutes to go back and into the other direction. There is one thing that is increasingly noticeable as she goes, and that is the chill that unbeknownst to the above world, she was more than prepared to find here. The cold is not a bone-jarring one; it is a steady decline of temperature.

Her habitual checking of her breath in the flashlight is finally rewarded, when the cool air in her lungs exhales in a puff that filters out through the beam. As Bella follows the path that the colder air offers, something else becomes painstakingly familiar-

-and that is the smearing of puddles into frost, the drips long walls half-formed into icicles tentatively allowed to melt away. When her breath becomes white, so has the tunnel. Brick lined with prickly gray on the surface, floors slick only for those that do not have the foresight to have worn the right boots. The icicles are aplenty, hanging down and offering something of a feigned innocence with their presence up on the ceiling. The flashlight glances off of some stale water collecting in cold pools, and the glittering paint of frost, meanwhile offering nothing else to tell her that what she is looking for is still here. Regardless, it is the best lead that she does have.

The moment she feels it’s necessary she pauses, clamping the flashlight between her legs in order to tug on each of her gloves, wiggling her fingers into place and negotiating where the puff of faux fur and the cuff of her coat’s sleeve meet. It is not, however, until the first sign of mist that Bella pulls the muffs into place, the insulation transforming the sound of the blood in her head into the soft rushing of some unseen subterranean river she imagines, coursing far beneath her feet.

But there is no such river, and even if there were, it would not flow freely where she wants to be. The signs of encroaching chill, some remnant of winter still clinging to a pocket of the city, catch her careful attention, causing her to stop once more and perform a thorough sweep. The rules of ‘hot or’ cold have reversed. Bella follows the frost, seeking its source, booted tread all the more careful now that sharp drops, deep darknesses and structural instabilities have recruited black ice into their alliance.

No longer holding her gloves, but wearing them, her free hand reaches out to snap a forming icicle from its row of brethren. It’s still wet to the touch, and the fragile stiletto soon breaks in the heat of her hand. She lets it fall from her fingers, where it scatters into shards on the ground, skittering out before her as she presses on.

There comes a time where she cannot snap off icicles dangling idle near her head. Where the black ice is thick in crevasses, and the puddles have been absorbed into the coolly colored slicks. Even with the cavernous shape that the ice is now making, she can tell that a station is nearby, by the rusted out signs peeking through mirrored surfaces, and by the way the path evens out smooth into the tunnel, widening like a mouth, a sheet of hanging, leg thick icicles sitting at the top like teeth. Woe be anyone that causes even one to fall down, as the rest might decide to follow suit. Bella came here not to play the penultimate level of a platformer.

When she passes this ridge of teeth above, the rest of the tunnel is as wintry and as thick with cold as she remembers that basement from Staten Island to be. The cold and the environment is too much for him not to be nearby. The ice so kindly inclines onto the platform, where the pillars have turned to jagged columns, and the stairwell has been knocked upwards into the floor above. Up here is where the light she carries glances through corners that spit lighted dots across the rest of the tunnel. There is also a pattern, that she might only see from on higher ground; the ice, seemingly randomly formed, is actually coming from the platform with a slight ripple, the point of origin apparently a spherical thing sitting bulbous under where the stairs had been long before.

The construct is an awkward sight, to say the least- like an egg sitting on a flat tabletop. It is both much taller than her, and several times wider, but the surface does not seem at all thick- just obscured by marbled frost.

It’s not fear she feels any longer, though she feared quite enough in the lower levels of that rightly demolished facility, but rather an odd kind of familiarity and this permits her to view the complexes of frost and fearsome maws of ice with a wide eyed aesthetic appreciation as the touch of the flashlight briefly fills their crystalline structure with cold fire.

Bella scouts the strange construct and its slanted approach with her torch before approaching, step careful, sensitive for sudden dips in temperature. Is he sleeping, she wonders, as a dragon would within his egg? And if he’s sleeping, will he know to keep the climate livable for the frail? Caution is not for fear of his knowledge, but for its lack. She doesn’t want to startle, though - she keeps the beam of her flashlight low, avoiding a too-intense focus upon the construct itself.

She always announces herself the same way. It’s not much of an invocation ritual, but unlike other, less lasting acquaintances of this icy court’s keeper, Bella is not inclined to address a colleague like a god.

“Dr. Cong?”

A better thing, that she does not. There are some states where consistent regard like that can prove either deadly or able to manufacture a false sense of godliness. Provided that there isn't one to begin with. In which case she has less luck, because Bao-Wei has spent possibly too much time as something that cannot feel or breathe. Sleep is a state as well as any other, however, and while it is not the same as it once was- there is still something at rest. Was, perhaps.

The woman does not point the light, but it has still been skirting around the walls long enough that sleep has been disturbed by filtered yellow and the steady drop of her thick boots. A responsive rumble comes abruptly after she speaks, as if to both warn her and acknowledge her.

A bleary gash appears across the front of the bauble, only a few inches long; it slips open, prying apart jagged edges to a dark divet in the ice. The orange-gold eye she knows still well rolls awake there, bringing with it a dazed whiteness on the surface, and lines being invisibly furrowed into the rest of the ice. Lines that go on to vaguely sketch out limbs and features that fit snugly against everything else. It is an even slower event than the eye is seeming to have coming awake- which is certainly a point of note that forms in a question: How long has he been like this, here?

Eventually, he sits his visible eye on her, vision itself a fisheyed blur that only recognizes the fire of her hair under the muffs. Cong still isn't 'awake', per se- his face seems to be prying itself loose, amidst the fine sphere the rest makes, but the jaw remains slack, and the brow unfurrowed.

Not yet immune to strangeness, Bella’s own jaw loosens enough to part her lips in a subtle sign of surprise as she watches the thing that was Bao-Wei stir from whatever torpor he’d sunk into. She’s spent time, lately, imagining the world through other ways of being - her sessions with the young Miss Brooks have encouraged this kind of pondering - but she cannot even begin to conceive of the way the experiment must have changed the nature of Bao-Wei’s perception, perspective, and very sense of being. Even the hardest granite can be cleaved apart or ground away by the slow flow of a glacier.

Still, she has presence of mind enough to think not of her need to see him, but his to see her. Bella does not know what wavelength Dr. Cong ‘sees’ in any longer, but he still has an eye. She lifts the flashlight to her face, underlighting it like a campfire storyteller’s. Her eyes are very bright and very blue, and contain that terribly belying earnestness that she wears even when she is being really and truly earnest, as opposed to simply wishing to appear so.

“I’m sorry- to disturb you,” echoes in these empty chambers, and the sound of her own voice makes her hesitate, unnerved - if only briefly, “it’s been- since I brought Dr. Blite, hasn’t it?” The hesitance in her voice is not uncertainty as to the event, but rather uncertainty that she’s being heard. She doesn’t yet know if Bao is still rising from some dream of sunken cities or great antarctic mountain ranges.

Collaboration of his body with his mind is a big deal; unfortunately, it does not seem to be wanting to do the process correctly. The shifting bulb shape pauses in the middle of different movements, and as Bella stands within his sight, Cong gives no audible cues for her, much less that he knows she is there. The eye is on her, though for some moments will remain almost dazed. When she can see a glimmer of something wistful under his brow, however- that marks the moment that his mind catches up with the rest of him, heaving shoulders parallel to one another, and the local center of gravity righting itself by a lifting force.

A hiss of air comes out of where his chest should be, followed by a white plume of cold that twirls up away from him. He moves more easily after that, whatever pressure that was internalized now gone. Joints more fluid, lines forming more starkly as he literally peels himself apart on the platform. The cover of marbalized frost lingers now on a smooth carapace, eroded somehow into fine arcs and unmarked plates.

Cong has yet to say anything, technically, though the lines of his rigid features have gritted themselves into something more familiar, and his eye takes a moment to roam about the tunnel before it resumes its place peering down across the platform at her. Attention ambiguous, he peels up his rudimentary legs and feet from a crouch.

"Yes." If Bao-Wei had means to yawn, he might- instead, his jaw appears work at whatever plain hinge it is on for the sake of the gesture itself.

"What is the date?" Odd thing to ask, really- unless you are a thing that seems to have been sitting here for quite some time.


…is not how Bella greets Dr. Cong as he stirs from his slumber. That’s not to say, though, that once he reveals his chronological confusion, she doesn’t have a brief flirtation with grand pranksterism. While his eyes and mind are still sliding into focus, she could hide her face, affect a cracked, aged voice, and maybe make some reference to The Event, and that Bao-Wei has Slept Too Long.

But let’s not forget Bao-Wei’s reaction to Bella’s last little foray into joking with her colleague, a stunt that earned her a place on his shit list that it took a couple scientific breakthroughs and an experiment gone horribly wrong to remove her from. So, while she may never get such a chance again, Bella plays it straight.

“The **th of May,” Bella states, suppressing a chatter by pushing it lower, into her shoulder, which shiver slightly, “but- things have happened, an engineered viral outbreak,” another one, actually, but Bella’s not keeping track, “and I- I’m going into hiding. This may be our last chance to- to arrange a meeting. I don’t know where they’ll put me but- I don’t imagine I’ll have any reasonable means of contacting you.”

While her first bit of humor with him went so awry, she might have chanced it this time; one's sense of things as jokes happens to draw less serious as one persists in not having a human body to be offended with. It is perhaps just not something that matters as much as it once did. Cong's features rankle up as if he were squinting away from something, for long enough that it might stick that way. Thankfully, it slips away with a great grating of breath out of a hollow inside of his chest.

With no muscles to stretch, the extension of his digits on either arm come as a familiar and useless gesture, prying idly at the air. His eye stays on her, for now, waiting for speech. As it comes, his brow dips, and his shoulders cant forward. An expectant sort of posture that is met by some more awkward news. One set of claws lifts up, drawing blindly closer to his face and leaving marks down one side.

"Weeks…" The voice rumbles low, and if Bao-Wei heard what she said, he takes his merry time in addressing it. In fact, almost a minute passes before he seems to remember that he is only thinking words, and nothing is actually emanating into the cavern.

"Another one? How splenetic of you all…" This comes as a more finer drawl, carefully pressed in tone. "Killing yourselves, I expect. Hiding? You?" A canorus sound comes out of him next, as close to a laugh as the gurgling breath can get.

"Did you help create it? or is this some sort of other Byzantine… thing… Hiding. You, hiding." Bao-Wei seems to repeat part of this, and it comes off quite easily as a mad bit of muttering. "Who is they?"

Maybe it’s just not the right setting for jokes - at least not pranks or tricks. Not the place, in this frozen cavern, nor the time, since Bella is here to talk about plague and exodus. Since Bella is here, in effect, to say goodbye. “This- particular outbreak is the responsibility of one Calvin Rosen,” Bella says, with medical delicacy, scalpel point of her words hovering above the tumor of the topic, “from what I understand of his motives it’s- it’s just another sick headed attempt to solve the world’s problems by killing most of the people in it.”

Not that Bella hasn’t, herself, wondered if there is any other solution to some problems; is there any rallying cry left to the rational humanist beyond the hypocrisy of ‘death to all fanatics!!!’?

“I haven’t done any real work since the end of Icarus,” Bella admits, and she doesn’t sound ashamed of the fact - to the contrary, she’s almost proud, “I’m hiding because- because it’s what I’ve been doing for months anyways.” And it’s not as if Bao can fault her for desiring hermitage - what the hell has he been doing all this time besides hiding? Seeking revenge, perhaps, but Bella might consider that option as well if she, too, were a deathless elemental as opposed to an anxious little ginger.

They are the- Evolved underground. The Ferrymen- people. Whatever.” She knows what they are called, but to say the name without distanciation seems ennobling in a way that bugs her. She is already fostering her resentment in preparation for the chilly reception she imagines for herself.

With the majority of his body pried apart, he is able to balance there, only offering a drowsy sort of teeter before she speaks up again, describing the origin of said outbreak, and the man supposedly behind it. He doesn't recognize the name, tipping his chin downward and fixing his weighted gaze on her, as watchful as always. Though he cannot fault her for the lack of work, or her own hiding away, somehow he feels partly responsible for her downfall, even if it has been slow and long-coming.

But now, with that out of the way, Bella can only go up, as opposed to where he is stuck and will remain likely forever. At this point, Cong has resigned to an existence where time loses track, and nothing is there to be felt unless he subjects himself to the pain of turning back. He has gotten better at that, but it will never, ever be a remedy. The golem leans forward, expectantly, when he senses her going on to explain who is helping her. Despite being bombarded with her being there, Bao-Wei's attention is rapt. Being caught in a dudgeon is not worth it when Bella is the only non-hostile to come around as of late; making a fuss would do him no good, so instead, he must pay close attention.

"Mmm." Cong grumbles almost thoughtfully, casting a look across the icy cavern platform and into the track area. "Do they travel literally? Down …here?" One arm swings like a pendulum to gesture around them, more in the case of tunnels than caves. Eye following his own movements, it rolls back forward and glints orange in the half-dark.

"**I think I have met …some. One, two. Perhaps them, perhaps not. Armed individuals… making themselves at home down here- ….for the most part." Bao-Wei's voice segues from its grating rumble into something a little more echoed, hollowed out somewhere in his chest and coming from him in what could be the equivalent of an indoor voice.

Bao’s ignorance of Calvin is taken as a small blessing. Explaining the situation of her alternate future bastard to her former-colleague-now-sewer-monster is more surreality than she’s up for at this moment. Still, her tolerance has - by force of necessity - been well augmented. Bao’s strange emergence from his egg-like state of hibernation is witnessed with more curiosity than anything else, though even her inquisitiveness has been dulled by sense of fear behind her, and the sense of uncertainty ahead.

“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they run down here,” Bella replies, “and whatever other dark nooks and crannies are left. When the army starts policing the sewers, when we can’t take a shit without the DoEA knowing-” but she’s not sure what happens when that happens, what that would mean. That things have really gone too far. Though maybe the hunter robots already mark that point.

If Bao has met Ferryfolk down in the depths, then maybe Bella won’t be so cut off as she suspected. Then again, what is she supposed to say? ‘If you bump into an ice monster on one of your liberation runs, send him my regards and bring back any messages he might have for me?’ “Next time you wake, I don’t know how long it will have been. I don’t know- what will have happened to me. But I wanted you to know, at least, who is taking me, even if I’m not sure where I’m going.”

A pause. And then a question, crazy in its incongruity in context. “Dr. Cong- are you lonely down here?” It’s just that Bella figures it’d be hard to meet a nice boy, girl, hybrid - whatever Bao needs - in the defunct subway system of NYC

"I suppose that when that happens, I must take up my mantle…" Bao-Wei coughs this out, as an aside amidst her own words. It is enough, for him, to tell her that he'd probably wreck his way through them. Probably only to run into the sea, but yet, it matters that he'd make the effort. A more tired look comes as she reminds him how long he's been 'asleep'. It is clear even without fine expressions, that he did not mean to go into such a zen mode- it just happened, at some point, weeks ago.

He doesn't have the time to say that he has appreciation for her coming down here, before she asks it; the question he hates thinking about, even though before all of this he was not exactly teeming with friends.

"It is difficult to eke out any type of connection down here." The edges of his face pull with a creak, into something akin to a grimace of icy teeth. "Lacking rakishness and mildness makes it even moreso. So to answer you- yes- I suppose that I am. Sometimes, I meet those hiding down here. Obviously my state poses an issue, no matter what false or true friendliness. They never seem to expect my verbosity, provided they do not flee first." It's a hard knocks life for a monster.

"A life of little purpose and great exodus gives me little to be cherished for."

She asked because who hasn’t wanted to nap for weeks, to block out the world entirely? It’s only our obligations to others - professional or personal - that keep some of us from curling up in our beds and wasting away. That Bao can preserve himself for what might be aeons is a difference only in degree - that he slept for so long is evidence only of those fading connections, to Bella’s mind. And, whatever the reason for her strange cathexis upon the case of Bao-Wei Cong, she doesn’t care for the idea of his sleep turning into something as good as death, a man become glacier at last, no mind or reason, just natural force, dormant until disastrous.

Poor wretch.

“You can be known for your acts,” Bella says, a strange recollection drifting up out of some long lost English class from her high school salad days, “like- well-” like Frankenstein’s monster, is what she means to say, but doesn’t, though this is her inspiration - the great monster aiding a humble family, learning their lives through a gift of small blessings, “like a benevolent spirit.”

Does that sound as corny to everyone else as it does to her, upon saying it? Bella bites back her slight embarrassment, but presses on all the same. “You can do more than just be. You can make purpose for yourself. And- conversation can happen through more than direct interaction.”

Yes, it does sound just as corny. He'd be squinting at her if his face could offer it. Bella has her moments, and then she has those moments. A fine line between cheeses, that's for sure.

"You know that I've done some things. Not a great number, no, but I am known if only as an internet conspiracy, for the time being." Bao-Wei has little wish to be setting examples for any other monsters out there; the interesting thing here, however, is that he does not discount her, as per usual. The grimace turns into a vaguely sneer-like thing, leaving Cong's teeth in a gritted set, jaw jutting out at her. His stubbornness is by no means eroded.

"** If you have a suggestion, my dear, then by all means, share it." He coughs out air again, and it leaves him like a single puff from a train's spout. "I don't think that you are able to grasp the idea of what my being is like. I have no sense of time, no more sense of passage.**" For all he knows, next time that he sits there like that, it could be years later when something stirs him.

"I cannot keep my humanity, god forbid, without being shown some. I am not stupid enough to think otherwise." And when his only experiences with it now consist of Bella Sheridan, and maybe a stray here or there- it isn't promising, all things considered.

Cynicism has a toxicity level - naivete, well titrated, can keep a bitter heart beating. These visits are for both their sakes in this regard. You can't keep your humanity without showing some yourself, as well. And she's but one woman, but at least she's someone. The trouble is that she may not be enough, certainly not in the face of the strange temporality Bao alleges to experience.

"I know- or- I don't know but-" Bella's lips purse, "when I go to them, the Ferry, they'll know me. I can preach a change of heart, I can labor to redeem myself in their eyes, but I'll be wearing the same face and - in truth - I'm the same person. Dr. Cong- no one who doesn't know of you would ever recognize you. You yourself say you have a new way of being. You are clearly a force to be reckoned with. If you offered your help, could they afford to turn it away?"

Go figure, that this is a strange kind of therapy. How do you treat someone like him? Well, she may never actually know, but at the same time she manages to so easily goad him into fits of emotion. Rather than absorb in silence, she always stands to make him figuratively stand up and huff around about something. In this case, he finds irritation in her first attempt to coax him outside. A badger quite likes his home, thank you.

For a few passing moments, his standing straighter and making him literally posture himself threatens to turn into a grumpy stamping or something of the sort; maybe he feels affronted that she show up and just jump ass-first into this particular mire. He'll get over it, a bit sooner than later. In fact, she finishes, and he shrugs his shoulders forward, head dipped so that whatever glare he was making is closer to her level, even from afar.

"I can't answer that." Bao-Wei doesn't know 'They' except by category; his eye trawls a line of vision along the walls, momentarily avoiding the woman's shape. "I don't know. Probably not, I suspect."

‘Probably not’ is concession enough, at least for Bella. Far, far more able to extend altruism and concern to people who are already pariahs and outcasts, her practice here is less therapy than just good old fashioned busy-body meddling, but Bao’s welfare is the primary object in either case. She stands straight and tall, her gaze as fixed upon the monster as the monster’s own gaze is wandering.

“However hidden you’ve been, Dr. Cong, you have to know things are coming to a head,” Bella states, emphatic as one making her point would be, “this virus is another attempt to resolve the tightening deadlock, and while I pray it will not be the successful one, it won’t be the last. When- when the time comes, you could have a real hand in what happens in this city, maybe in the world.

“If there is going to be room for people like us, we need to be ready to assume our full agency.” People like us - so this isn’t about Evolved and non-Evolved, not at this moment. It’s about mad scientists and the mob.

When Bao-Wei moves, it is slightly at an away angle- he steps back, and a half-step to the right, half back again, before starting to trawl his way in a path that curves toward the wall and back onto the floor. Joints creak and scrape together, and the smooth carapace he'd had upon waking is beginning to cover itself in a fine bristle, courtesy of absorbing moisture from the air. Though he doesn't keep an eye on her- he doesn't need to- he is still listening, now and again offering a lean of his shoulders as he warms himself up. Figuratively, of course.

"I get enough of the newspapers floating past like lilies. I know enough." His words reverberate along the path he all but waddles along, careful steps by terrapin feet making his speed less than stellar. But even she knows that it's a facade- he can move incredibly quick now. "I've taken opportunity, before. Especially in November, you know that. Those people that come through here- I can always tell- they are either avoiding something, or hiding from it…

"And those things in Midtown. Asmiov rolled in his grave when those came off of the assembly, don't you think?" A rattling noise comes out of him, a prelude to something that sounds like a rudimentary laugh. For a few passing moments, all that she can see when he speaks is the span of back which seems, at a glance, to resemble a bulging suit of armor. Enough pieces to keep his anatomy humanoid, for now. "The world is watching, and honestly, I do not think they stand impressed."

"Have a real hand?" Bao-Wei is turned back around now, and when he looks at her, one limb lifts up to waggle its pointed ends in front of his own face. It wasn't meant to be funny, but it appears that he is smiling- insofar as he is able, its a sketchy area. "I know it. You know that you can trust me- I cannot speak for anyone else."

It was on a long drive to Montreal that Isabella Sheridan thumbed through her father's library-plundered copy of the Rest of the Robots, but as her former colleague makes his little literary reference, she can suddenly and distinctly remember the feeling of its cloth cover - a hideous orange borne of the late 70's - and even the dusty smell of decade-yellowed pages. For a moment she stands at the cusp of memory - nostalgia, really - and it begins to prick the corner of her eyes with tears that turn bitterly cold too quickly to swell. Bella is getting sentimental.

And Bao is getting zany? She might have laughed at the Azimov crack, a little, but Bao's unintended humor is groanworthy enough to earn a blink blink. Really? Really now? Her brow furrows, though, when he speaks of trust. "I do know, and am grateful. And there really isn't much of anyone else, which is why we need to be able to count the friends we //do //have accurately."

Bella squares her shoulders, and lifts her chin slightly, "The way things stand, when the time comes, you may have to find me. I'm not sure I'll be able to reach you."

Zany might not be the best word for it- while as a man he had a morbid sense of what was entertaining, being like this has made him just a touch more self-sufficient. A certain oddness comes along with being both a hermit and an unfeeling chunk of ice. A tricky thing, really, when it comes to it. He might think he's being clever, but Bella has to put up with it.

"Your new compatriots can." If she happens to tell them about Cong, in any case. He grinds his jaw together, peering out from under his brow to her and hunching over again on an open part of the floor. "Do you know where they are taking you? You know I cannot move too freely. If you have some idea…"

Bao-Wei allows it to hang, somewhat bitterly. If he loses track of her, he may not be able to find her on his own. He'd have to either forget about her, or terrorize some of those poor souls he sees wandering down here. Neither one is promising.

No, not zany. Bella needs some time to discern the shades of Bao-Wei’s sense of humor, and some further time to learn the cues for it, to figure out what configuration of animated ice means ‘irony’, and which means ‘sardonicism’. Two levels of obscurity and - would be it be racist to say inscrutability? - cloud accurate reading.

But maybe right now that is less important, considering the topic at… hand.

“No idea,” Bella admits, defeat wilting her voice and posture a little, “it’s a secret from me as much as the rest of the world. If I can find a way to send word without making it look like I’m selling out their network, I will. Otherwise- I’ll try and send a trustworthy messenger.” This all rather relies upon Bella’s ability to create bonds of trust in the face of her reputation, and her confidence may not be matched by reality.

Breathing makes a lot of things much more fluid, much easier; not only for oneself, but for others. Bao-Wei's lack of breath enables his mildness to pulsate into irritation unchecked, and the lack also signals veritably nothing to Bella, whereas if it were there she might realize more quickly that he doesn't appreciate the end result of her coming to see him. Not by any fault of hers, thankfully. At some point, however, the usual steam of air passing through him comes out from the space between his teeth, puffing out around his face.

"I know I won't last long in their world, especially not without someone. Whether they trust you or not." He aims his gaze at her, making an intelligent guess as to the type of people these are. "So when you decide to tell them about me-" When. "You need to be fully on board. There is no taking it back once you say something about me, to them."

"Discerning what time that may be is entirely your decision to make. On the chance that they do not like what they hear…" Bao-Wei drums one set of talons against each other. "Do not feel accountable if they ignore it. Or come for me."

"I've kept you as close a secret as I could," Bella says, just the tiniest bit defensive from the sounds of it - telling Flint barely counts, his reticence is as good as discretion, and while she regrets exposing Bao to Elvira Blite - whom Bella will sell up the river first chance she gets - she doubts Dr. Blite has the emotional capacity to look past her own gross spectacle, much less gossip about someone else's monstrosity.

"When I bring you up, I won't do so without confidence in your safety. If the timing is right, I think they'll figure they'd rather have you on their side than lying untapped. Anyone who saw you on the eighth would know better than to ignore you capabilities."

"As I said, I trust you have the brain to decide." Bao-Wei tries to not drawl this out, despite his not wanting to say it again. If nothing has changed, it is his unwillingness to compliment anyone else with sincerity. "But if they feel that they need me, obviously you know where to look. Though with all that is going on, I wonder if it may be wise to choose something so that if someone else comes, I know they are from you." The worst thing would be trusting the wrong person.

"If I feel myself in danger, I can …go to the sea again. Needless to say, it would be harder to find me there."

The sea is vast and deep and unless Bao intends to dedicate his life to helping stem the melt of the polar ice caps, it sounds more like a grave than a hope, a vast emptiness that will eventually erode any selfhood Dr. Cong still possesses. That, at least, is Bella's fear, and so she is visibly off put by this alternative.

"It sounds like we need a password," Bella admits, less grudgingly than she might otherwise, "or some other way to be sure that whoever comes is coming as per my instructions," she tilts her head, folding her arms in a gesture that's a reaction to the cold as much as it's a contemplative pose, "would you like to pick something distinctive?" She attributes to Bao-Wei a certain flair for the symbolic, so she's well ready to let him choose the nature of their secret sign.

If he goes into the bay these days, it is to move from place to place. Floating out to sea half dead and waking to seagulls is the least of his worries if he had to go to ground in the upper Atlantic. Trawling the ocean floor, however, he might feel right at home, but that is neither here nor there.

"Discretion is the better part of valor." Can't knock him for the dramatic, either. Shakespeare had it about right. "If you feel that is too much cheese, Isabella, have them mention 'biting the bullet'. Either one will be fine, I think." Bao-Wei picks himself up and wanders closer to the edge of the platform, where cement ends and ice below begins. There, he perches, like a wintry gargoyle.

"Existence down to a passphrase, imagine that."

"Times like these, a turn of phrase is life or death," Bella says, accepting Bao's statement with equanimity, acceptance, "what you say, who you call friend." She doesn't laugh, but Bao's humor finally brings a smile to Bella's lips. By now quite at peace with her own more or less universal cowardice, this phrase is about as fitting as one could be, coming from Bella mouth.

"You'll hear from me, Dr. Cong. I promise you that," as long as you are still around to receive the message. But Bella gives no voice to the possibility of failure. Bad enough that it remains a reality. She inclines her spine in a bow, a gesture not made out of any particular cultural presumption, it's just that shaking hands or giving him a hug doesn't really seem all that feasible. "Until then, stay safe."

Golden eye fixated across the station, it sits watching her from its hollow pit, its brother as black as always. The glimmer behind it is still, in essence, human, and the weight that comes with it still is as heavy as it always was. Emotions refuse to surface on his face naturally, but his posture and speech manage to convey a personal investment in what she says. If you'd told him last year that he would be here, he would laugh that sardonic laugh and turn his back.

In the here and now, he is not turning his back; in fact, he is doing partly the opposite, trying to look her down from where he has perched himself. "I should say the same."

"It would go without saying," Bella answers, with ironic charity, meeting that golden eye with a lack of flinch she has earned by now. Humanity rests there, though Bella has not so fulsome an opinion of home sapiens as to find this reason for unequivocal celebration. Nor has she such a rosy sense of what being human means - a social creature, needing others to live, yet pathologically incapable of managing to live with others in peace.

Her first steps are taken backwards, indicating her departure before she is the one to turn her back, though in departure rather than dismissal. Promises span the space between them in an invisible filament, fragile as the least of their shared lives, and even as she takes her leave, he is present in her thoughts.

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