The Color Red, Part I


cat2_icon.gif harper_icon.gif katarina_icon.gif kelly_icon.gif ryans2_icon.gif tania_icon.gif

Scene Title The Color Red, Part I
Synopsis All hell breaks loose when two operatives seeking a prophetic painting cross paths with a Linderman Group associate trying to smuggle a young woman out of the country.
Date August 20, 2010

The skies overhead are darkened by the swirl of clouds, light rain drizzles down from the skies above, mixed with the flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder. The proverbial storm has come with the literal one, and the streets of St.Petersburg have already run wet with the color red.

Flashing blue lights and wailing sirens whip along the right side of the BMV passing up a central artery through the streets of St.Petersburg, the fifth police car to blow past Benjamin Ryans since his departure from the home of Ivan Spektor. Windshield wipers sweep from side to side, streaking wetly and blurring the glow of those lights atop the car.

At his side in the car, Catherine Chesterfield's active mind has been taking a living record of the passage of the law-enforcement vehicles, all headed in the same direction they've been traveling for nearly fifteen minutes now, going far faster than the posted speed limit. Fortunately, Assistant-Director Ryans is well aware that the direction the police are headed is nowhere near the harbor that Lashirah is taking the others.

Which, of course, only means that trouble is waiting for Ryans and Catherine at their destination. It's only natural.

Approaching on the horizon as the BMV passes a bridge crossing one of the many canals that weave through the port city, a looming building of white-trimmed stone painted a pale shade of green, the Marrinsky Theater looks somberly opulent in the drizzle of rain when cast against the slate gray skies.

It looks like something is already happening here…

St.Petersburg, Russia

The Mariinsky Theater

9:45 AM Local Time

We know no mercy and do not ask for any is the official slogan of Otryad Militsii Osobogo Naznacheniya — or OMON, as it is more commonly known — but, somewhat contrary to their reputation, the militsiya outside the Mariinsky Theatre appears to be in a polite, if curt and heated, discussion with several men in black suits and ties, drab brown raincoats pulled over their jackets to preserve their appearance… and presumably their integrity as well. Ryans knows men working with the Central Intelligence Agency when he sees them.

"«You have no authority,»" one of the soldiers is dictating, voice bristling as he snatches a cellphone from one of the suited men's hands and sends it skittering across the shiny pavement. "«Tell this to your Adrianne Lancaster and go back to your consulate.»"

Parked outside the theatre are two black vans, unmarked, and a small truck painted olive green, two more uniformed soldiers climbing out of the back with rifles slung across their backs. The driver's side door is open, front seats unoccupied.

Maybe they're better off trying to get in through one of the side doors.

"Wonderful." The word growls out softly from the company agent as he view the scene from under the brim of his fedora. With each sweep of the wipers offers a clear view of the scene. "Nothing can ever be simple." There are times Claude would be useful to have. This is one of those times, Ryans wouldn't mind the man.

Driving past with the flow of traffic, he will rely on Cat ability to watch the details, just in case he misses something. However, he doesn't miss that the CIA is there. "I'm starting to wonder what sort of people the government has under their belts." He murmurs, glancing at the woman next to him. It's all too coincidental for the old man. His eyes turn to the road ahead looking for side ally or entrance. "We'll have to go in another way."

She's still armed, having brought her two silenced .40 pistols along as well as one 9 mm handgun and the AK47 confiscated from those dead attackers, their extra ammo too if they had any in usable condition, but the weaponry are concealed from easy view within the vehicle. She counted police cars, and was confused by the direction they've been heading. "Not a one heading to the site of that battle we were in," she had remarked early in the trip to this theater. But now it's clearer what that reason may have been.

"That's the Russian version of SWAT team," Cat identifies, "which means something drew their attention. Gun battle, probably, and I don't doubt the Russians would bring out all they've got for a historic place like this."

Which leads to the critical decision upcoming: When they try to get in, will they or won't they still be armed?

Whether Benjamin Ryans and Catherine Chesterfield are armed will matter greatly, for inside of the Marrinsky Theater, there is already an armed gun battle happening right above where Ivan Spektor's coveted paintings have been secreted away.

Black clad and severe-looking, Agent Eckford is moving through the aisles with cattish intent, gun pointed at carpeted ground as he keeps himself low. He doesn't seem intending to start reasoning with anyone, simply providing Harper some space to do it as he squats down and angles his gun over the rows of chairs, glancing towards bossman with a nod. Ready to cover, with what he deems to be the closest exit to Tania and Kelly in sight of his gun.

"Her! Her!" Harper shouts from his cover, "God damnit I need every available agent in the building on our VIP right now!" Darting up from behind the cover of the theater seats, Desmond Harper begins to sprint up between the aisles as fast as he can while remaining hunched over, pistol held in a double-handed grip and down to his side as he runs towards where Kelly and Tania are located.

On the balcony up above, the agents there scream down to the pair. "United States Federal Agent!" Their English crisp and clear, authoratative, "Drop your weapon and get down on the ground or we will use lethal force!" Now they warn, of course, after shots have been fired. But with Kelly so close to Tania, there's no opening for a clear shot. Agents filing through doorways into the theater begin to block off exits, save for the one side exit nearby to the stage that Harper had come in through. Getting out any way will likely require fancy footwork, and a little flying lead.

Kelly Reynolds may want to re-negotiate her hazard pay after this.

«Hey, boss,> Agent Prokofiev's voice crackles over Harper's radio. «OMON's trickling in thick as molasses out here. Says more militsiya's on the way. Unless you want to trigger an international incident?» And that's assuming Lancaster hasn't already with her finger-breaking threats. «//Hurry the fuck up and extract the girl. They catch you with a Russian national and you'll be so deep in shit even Kershner won't be able to fish you out.»

Down in the seats, Yustina has pried Katarina's fingers from her mouth, a bony elbow wedged between the other woman's ribs as she twists around like a cat squirming away from a bath of cold water. "«They're stealing my baby girl!»" she shrieks, and hopefully none of the OMON officers outside can make out what she's screaming, or Harper and Eckford are in for a world of hurt. "«Help! Kidnappers!»"

Hiding with Tania, the shouted warnings have Kelly rolling her eyes. "Little late there buddy. Your pal there shot his load early," she yells back. Then she's looking to Tania. "I'm gonna get you out of here safely, I swear, but I'm gonna need your help. Do you know of a back door we can use? The front door is totally out. And please, tell your mom to shut up."

She peeks out towards the agents, careful not to present too much of a target, but also careful to try to note the position of everyone else in the short time she allows herself. What she sees has her cursing softly in Hindi. She should've brought more guns. A girl can never have too many in a situation like this. But until she can start doing something to get Tania out of here…It's time to stall and give herself time to think!

"The hell do you want with a Russian girl, you Federal dick? Can't find anyone willing back in the good old U S of A? Need your buddies to help you score?" Nope, she's not intimidated by Federal agents. Not in the least.

Tania hides a bit behind Kelly, wide-eyed and shaking, but looking ready to bolt out of there at any moment. "My mother, she… is very headstrong woman. Hard to 'shut up'," the girl says to Kelly with an unsteady smile. "But this is a theatre, no? There is always… back way. For the performers. But I think we have to go around that very loud man with the gun."

As for her mother, Tania sighs a little, but her voice carries out after Kelly's. "«Mama! It's not a kidnapping, you're overreacting!»" Even though the words are in Russian, the tone of someone who's so very patient about her mother's temperament is very clear.

Outside of the Mariinsky Theater, the clash of CIA and OMON is decidedly calm, though tensions ripple thorugh the agents like raindrops striking a mirror-still pond. Cell phones are out, calls are being placed, and the flash of lights from police units have cordoned off traffic from several directions and both Ryans and Catherine can see that the entire area surrounding the Mariinsky Theater is starting to be locked down. If they don't get in and get out fast, there will be hell to pay trying to extricate themselves from the theater, especially as they're here unlawfully.

Several entrances present themselves to the assistant director and his cohort, a full row of doors blocked by OMON agents out front and front-side doors flanking it, though the back of the building is only partially secured by local law-enforcement and not all of the gray and black fatigued OMON officers have been able to seal off those sides. Keeping the crowd under control seems to be taking all of the police's effort, as well as evacuating people from the inside of the theater.

Whatever's going on inside, it's serious.

"I have a sinking suspicion it has something to do with why we are here." Ryans murmurs softly, head ducking down a bit as he looks past the windshield and up to the roofs briefly looking for the familiar sight of snipers on the the roofs around them.

Somehow, Benjamin thinks he will be thankful the armaments he did bring with him on this trip… He's gonna need them. There is a touch of unease going up against the CIA… especially, when some might recognize him. Being the Assistant-Director of the Company means he's in a bit more visible position, not to mention his headbutting the Institute.

This could be tricky.

As he pulls over and shuts off the vehicle when he notices way in. He points at an unsecured door. "There." The word is tense and sharply spoken and that's all that's said, cause the next moment the Company agent is sliding out of the car. He comes around the front of it and only waits long enough for Cat to join him before moving through the rain towards the door.

His heart hammers in his chest with adrenaline, as the old man finds himself fully expecting a battle waiting him inside. The old soldier is ready to step onto the battle field again.

Out of the vehicle Cat moves, bringing weaponry with her, headed for that unsecured door and not wasting time to let it become secured. The hood of her weather protection is raised, obscuring facial features somewhat while also holding off rain. Pistols are stuck in pockets and the back of her pants, the AK is what's held in hand and ready for use.

Ducking into the rain and running across the parking lot, Benjamin Ryans looks for the most part like he may belong where he is, but Catherine's carrying of a matte-black AK-47 across the parking lot is anything but subtle. While the back lot is not yet swarming with police and OMON, the wrong security officer inside seeing that difficult to conceal weapon might get the wrong idea. Catherine is banking on finding an unobstructed path to the orchestra pit where the paintings are concealed.

Coming up to the back door, Ryans finds it propped open with a loose brick, cigarette butts littering the ground around the door and an old coffee can filled with murky, ash-grayed rainwater not far off. Fortunately for the assistant-director, the smoking staff of the Mariinsky has left an easy access inside of the building.

On slipping in thorugh that back door, the fluorescent lit backstage halls are Spartan in comparison to the building's exterior. These staff-only corridors are designed for functionality rather than form, though their gray-painted walls are still a step up from the simple concrete block design most American theaters have in their backstage.

Knowing their destination, Benjamin and Catherine are able to pass by rows of doors for dressing rooms, prop galleries, bathrooms and storage. Passing thorugh a four-way junction, the assistant director and pamnesiac pass by a pair of young Russian thespians standing shocked in the hall, watching the armed man and woman rush by. Either they hadn't heard the call to evacuate, or were considering the merits of it. After seeing what they did, the young man and woman rush out in the opposite direction of Ryans and Cat.

Up ahead, the sound of gunfire means they're getting close.

Warning shots are fires over Kelly and Tania's heads, the pop of small-caliber handgun rounds distinctive in the way they echo through the acoustics of the old theater. Covered by agent Eckford, Harper moves an aisle closer to where Kelly and Tania are, just one aisle of seats away. Popping up into view, Harper trains his weapon on both women in threatening manner, "«Get down, Tania! Sasha sent me!»" Harper screams in Russian, "«You can't trust her!»" When in an untenable situation, a spy learns quickly that the best ally is often times the enemy. Sowing dissent is part and parcel of Desmond Harper's responsibilities.

Not far away, Ryans and Catherine can hear the sound of a familiar voice barking orders in Russian. Entering thorugh the curtain-shrouded back stage area, the pair have the element of surprise on hand, concealed by the drawn curtains on the stage and given cover of haphazardly arranged ladders and partial portions of a castle set made from thick and sturdy wood. Somewhere beyond the red curtain, the orchestra pit and the paintings lie.

But what the hell is going on?

«Harper?» Prokofiev again, and the second King of Swords knows it's serious because: «Desmond? You've got maybe thirty seconds before—»

Before OMON forces their way into the theatre, presumably; Harper's radio abruptly goes dead, filling his ear with the harsh crackle and hiss of static interference. Yustina's hand closes around a velvet armrest, and she hauls herself up into a sitting position with Katarina still trying to cover her, even as the chair beside them explodes into ribbons of stuffing and bright red fabric.

Prokofiev's estimation of thirty seconds turns out to be significantly off. A sound like thunder booms through the theatre's high ceilings, and three uniformed soldiers flood in through one of the doors that connects it to the lobby outside, which is fortunate for Cat and Ryans but unfortunate for Harper and his team. Eckford barely has time to raise his pistol before the lead OMON operative opens fire with his rifle, hurling him to the floor.

Harper's cheating now, yelling in Russian. And while Kelly can't understand what he's saying, she can guess about the general idea of what he's meaning. She shakes her head and glances to Tania. "Show me the way, but keep close. I want to be able to cover you if I need to." Bullets don't bother her. Death doesn't bother her. Failing however, is out of the question.

She lifts her pistol, intending to offer some suppressive fire to make it easier for Tania and her to make it to the back way. Of course, then there's the booming and more people flooding in, and she just orders Tania to, "Move it!" A little push is added to reinforce her words, and she, of course, is right beside the girl.

Those words do get a pause, the girl considering for a moment. She doesn't translate for Kelly, but her fingers reach for the folded up letter in her back pocket. One of these two came with hard evidence.

The added chaos prevents her from answering, but then, as Kelly pushes her, she runs along toward that back exit. It is, perhaps, answer enough. Her fingers grip onto that letter, her knuckles white from the effort and perhaps making her motivations clear.

"Harper?" The name is whispers, the name rumbled with surprise, but then brows furrow and a sneer touches his lips. Why is he even surprised that the Institute is here? His hand dips into his jacket and pulls out one of his Company issue guns.

"What's he saying?" He asks Cat quietly, glancing out of the corner of his eye as he moves to gently nudge some of the heavy red curtain away and try to get a visual on Harper. "You know what… nevermind." The butt of his gun rest on the back of his hand as he moves to put Harper in his sights.

"Paintings will have to wait. Get ready to help whoever, it is down there." Benjamin growls out, blue eyes narrowing as he aims at the Agent's back. When others open fire, his finger squeezes the trigger. Hidden in the curtains, the Company issue .45 goes off.

Despite Ben telling her never mind, Cat translates the Russian words she's been able to hear anyway. The assault rifle is brandished, she seeming ready to also aim through the curtain and take down this Harper person she's heard about and has now learned is present, but abstains for the moment in favor of locating the orcherstra pit and looking for anyone coming her way. "Got it," she assures the agent.

The explosion of a .45 going off in the backstage comes with a muzzle flash that Kelly and Tania are both capable of seeing. A man in his late thirties or early forties in a black trenchcoat and fedora aiming his gun not at them but at the CIA operatives who'd been trying to take Tania. The gunshot aims perfectly true, slamming Harper in the back while he is distracted by the OMON bursting in thorugh the doors. Harper falls down to the ground between the rows of seats and out of sight, though the lack of a blood spray on the seats implies that he likely had a vest on. Even then, he's not oging to be getting up after being punched in the back by a Company-issue firearm, body-armor or not.

Harper's CIA operatives on the balcony spot the gunfire from the stage, and the pop of small arms fire crackles thorugh the theater. Catherine and Ryans hear the buzz and whip of bullets as they perforate the red curtain, exploding pieces of the plaster facades on the set and wood of the floorboards bursting around them.

The CIA agents on the ground level of the theater floor are swarming on Harper, pulling the agent up and to his knees. In the trade of being a spy, one lesson that is quickly learned is that while it may be possible to shoot ones way out of a situation, it does not mean that one must.

Sometimes, dodging words is easier than dodging bullets.

Harper immediately drops his gun, lifting up both of his hands and ceding to the authority of the OMON present in the theater, the display of gunfire from the stage is enough to enforce that the CIA isn't the bad guys here — or that's the spin he'll be using — and a story involving the attack on Ivan's residence and what he will eventually become aware of happening at the harbor will be a convenient smoke-screen for his presence.

Eckford, at Harper's side, likewise lays down his gun and raises his arms, though stays on his knees for cover. "«Armed gunman behind the curtain at the stage, accomplices of the woman! She is kidnapping!»" Eckford can play up the helpful CIA operative role, try and use the other witnesses to his advantage as best as he can. Even if they make it out of this, Eckford is aware that he and Harper may be in Russia longer than they planned on.

Three more OMON operatives burst in through an adjacent door, bringing the total number of soldiers in the theatre up to six. Those on the left side of the seats move in to apprehend Harper and Eckford. Those on the right train their weapons on the agents on the balcony, ordering them to stand down in Russian, consonants coming out harsh regardless of their intentions — that's just the nature of the language.

The word kidnapping has one of the soldiers snapping a glance in Kelly's direction, and he swings his rifle around to level it at the fleeing woman's back, though he does not yet pull the trigger. Maybe he's afraid of accidentally hitting the girl, or maybe he's still lining up his shot. He isn't telling her to stop.

"The hell are they saying?" Kelly demands of Tania as they move as quickly as Kelly dares towards the safety of the stage. She occasionally grabs Tania's arm, pulling her down, to duck out of the way of potential bullets. Without looking, Kelly can't know they're not aimed at them, after all! "Tell 'em you're with me willingly or something!" Which, given that she's only rarely holding onto Tania, wouldn't be too much of a stretch!

Tania looks over at Kelly at that demand, which makes her trip over her feet some. "They are saying you are a kidnapper. And I think your Americans are letting the authorities take over." Oh, and there's shooting from their side, too. or something. "You brought others?" She might be a little overwhelmed. It is her first shoot out. But she does sort of turn, covering Kelly, since they don't seem to be shooting when she's in the way so much, her one free hand lifted. "«Please, it is okay. She is a friend!»" And hopefully, she doesn't sound too nervous there. "«It isn't what you think!»" She is new at this, though.

There is satisfaction when he hits the man, but also some disappointment there was no blood to follow, but with some hope he'll feel that one for sometime. Grabbing Cat's arm, he pulls her out from where the curtain hangs and back into the wings, pressing his back against the wall. "Need a way to get to those paintings, too." he growls in thought. "With Harper here… this can't be good. They must be after those paintings.

His head turns sharply to look at Cat, lips pressing together. "Any ideas Chesterfield? Think there is a back door to the orchestra pit?"

He inches back to the edge of the curtain, using the barrel of his gun to moves the curtain to see if he can peek to see if the girls are coming their way. He notices the gunman training on the people coming their way, and aims for him. He's not going for a killing blow, just to get him off the target.

"Hold the area, see if Katarina is coming our way," Cat recommends as she goes into motion. It's not far to the nearest unexposed entrance of that orchestra pit. Once through it she ducks, taking care to keep her head down lest she knock herself out or somesuch, and begins to search for the paintings. Sometimes it's not so good to be 1.73 meters tall.

The area beneath the stage is dusty, cobwebs strewn between aluminum and wood framework supporting the stage above. Cobwebs hang like curtains in places and dust settles thick outside of the normal paths where people moving to and from the orchestra pit would gather. Old pieces of set design, dust-coated articles of clothing and prop swords all litter the lightless recesses of the unde-rstage area.

As Catherine approaches the door at the fore of the stage, she's able to quietly swing it open, able to see the CIA operatives on the balcony distracted by the presence of OMON, their guns laid down and hands raised, standing down in the presence of local authority. Weaving around the piano at the heart of the stage, Catherine swerves around a cello and kettle drums, looking for the floor hatch that the paintings are contained within.

There's at least going to be eight of them, and getting the paintings out of the theater is looking more and more unlikely as time passes.

Inside the floor hatch, which is easily located beneath the piano itself after a brief amount of searching, Catherine finds a stack of what must be paintings, each canvas wrapped in plain white cloth to protect its contents. They're of varying shape and size, some small enough for her to hide under her coat, others so large that she'd have to carry them under an arm to get them out. Assuming no tricks of the light, there are thirteen in total — too many for her and Ryans to carry out, but maybe with Katarina's help…

The OMON operative's finger contracts around the trigger— half a second too late. The bullet tears off a chunk of the wall beside Kelly's head, harmlessly spraying Tania with fine chunks of plaster.

"«Shoot her!»" Yustina is wailing from somewhere in the seats. "«Kill her! She's stealing my baby!»"

The OMON operative staggers backwards, clutching a bloodied shoulder, a curse hissed through his teeth. "«There are more behind the curtain!»" he shouts up the aisle at the unit's leader, who is presently fastening Harper's wrists together behind his back with a length of plastic tie. "«Secure the side entrances!»"

That shot has Kelly ducking down instinctively, and reaching for Tania to draw her down as well. Another Hindi curse escapes her lips as she glances around, grimacing and looking for a more secure route to the stage and the back door. "Tania, I don't think they believed you," she says absently as she checks the nearby area.

Then she's calling out to all the people who are shooting at her. "In case you missed it, I'm not kidnapping anyone! She agreed to come with me, you trigger happy jackasses!"

There's a yelp as that bullet lands a little too close to Kelly and this time, Tania grabs Kelly's wrist to run her back behind the curtains. Because there she explains to both Kelly and whoever else she might find there, "They are saying… they are going to secure the back way." She's still working on keeping herself nice and calm, although her words tumble out a little too fast and come with a thick Russian accent. And she's shaking some, as Kelly can tell. But she's not screaming and crying, so that's something.

He watches Cat for a moment, before he takes another glance, finding the girls closing fast. "Hurry. Out the back." Ryans starts to hold the curtain for them, then lifts his eyes to where Ivan's wife sit. She may see the familiar fedora'd figure. Something that might tickles memories of the past. There is a glance to Harper and a heavy sigh, at least the CIA is caught. "Katarina!" The shout comes from behind the curtain, familiar to Harper, of course. "Time to go!" He motions her through that side of the curtain. With hope she's listen… but also recognize the voice… it is rather distinct.

The curtain falls and he hurries across the stage, stopping at the trap door long enough to state. "Running low on time." In other words hurry. He finishes the hurried journey to the other side of the stage. He then pushes the curtain open to expose himself to the people at the back of the theater, gun raised to fire if any take aim at Ivan's wife… the two women running… or him, then to duck into cover again.

This has to go fast, but fortunately there's good light here. Cat can see the paintings well, know what's on them. The rifle is set down, then she gets to work. One by one, a small pocketknife is used to liberate the canvases from the wooden backings which would make them cumbersome. The borders are kept to as best she's able, her goal not to damage them more than needed, but speed is essential. Time will not be wasted.

In doing so, the presence of good light is her friend. Each painting is viewed and thus remembered while she works, use of photography eschewed to avoid delay. Who needs cameras, when she has Kaylee and Hana, or Alia Chavez?

The paintings are more than Catherine may have expected on examining them. Each one is mounted on a wooden frame that she is systematically cutting them from. The first eight paintings appear to be from Isaac Mendez' series of eight judging by the art style, very reminiscent of Isaac's work that Cat has seen before on numerous occasions.

They are in sequence where they are stored, and the paintings themselves are numbered in the white space of the canvas. The first painting, conveniently marked 1/8 depicts an aerial view of a street where a dark-haired man in a long black coat lays face down on the pavement in an enormous pool of blood. The front of an automobile is just visible on the left hand corner of the painting and the ground around the blood gives the impression of being shiny with moisture, maybe from recently fallen rain.

The next picture in the sequence, 2/8, depicts a dramatic angle of a concrete staircase and a metal railing. Center in the painting is a blonde woman laying on her back in a short brown jacket, legs twisted at an awkward angle and one arm hanging limp in front of herself. There is blood trailing from her nose and mouth, and Cat recognizes the style of depiction to be Claire Bennet done in Isaac Mendez' style.

Third in sequence, the painting marked 3/8 shows a bare arm reaching up against a blood red background. Held in the grip of the hand, indeterminite in gender, is a vial of clear fluid with a blank label running down one side.

Fourth in the sequence is the painting marked 4/8 on the bottom has a stark black border and depicts a blonde woman that has facial similarities with Mendez' previous depictions of Niki Sanders in his 9th Wonders comics, dressed in suspenders, slacks and a white button-down shirt, slamming her fists against a door with a furious look in her eyes.

Painting 5/8 is a grim one, depicting a very distinctive Peter Petrelli, clean shaven with his hair slicked back possesses a horrified looking expression, standing in front of a glass window. A semi-opaque sticker painted on the window reads BIOHAZARD backwards, and a severe looking and unfamiliar man behind Peter in a white shirt and a striped tie is looking off-frame from the painting.

The sixth painting shows a man in glasses wielding a katana and dressed in a blue hakama brandishing a sword in combat with a man in full samurai armor wielding a matching sword. His blade bares down against the bespectacled man, their shadows tangled together in this depiction of battle. Given the profile shots, it's hard to tell exactly who they are, but they both bear enough similarities between Hiro Nakamura and Adam Monroe — especially given their histories — to be more than just a coincidence.

The second to last painting is just as unexpected as the first. Mohinder Suresh is impossible to mistake, though that he has a bandage across a likely broken nose may have something to do with why he has a crazed and wild-eyed expression, one arm held out and holding a smoking gun, tears in his eyes.

But the last picture of Isaac's, 8 of 8, is the most distinctive. Noah Bennet lays on his side in the foreground, his face unmistakable, a bullet hole in the left lens of his horn-rimmed glasses is spattered with blood. That same bright red runs down the side of his face, and in the background behind him, two figures are locked in an embrace; one a blonde woman whose face is obscured by a man cast in shadow holding her close.

Next looks to be an unrelated Mendez painting, judging from the style. It shows the skyline of Midtown Manhattan as viewed from the rooftop of the iconic Deveaux Building, but it is divided up into five differently drawn and colored segments. The left most showing the smoking ruins of New York City under cloudy skies. The next the ruins of midtown overgrown with vegetation as it was in the year 2019 Cat visited. The middle image is that of the clear and undamaged New York skyline, with buildings undamaged by the bomb. Then comes a vista of the ruins of midtown, gutted skyscrapers and the distant glow of dawn on the horizon. Lastly, the literal shores of the Empire State, skyscrapers flooded by a risen sea, birds filling the air.

Following this painting is a one foot by one foot painting of a circular window by a different artist than Mendez. Out the window is viewed the curvature of the earth from space, and a streak of fire falling down towards the planet, twinkling stars in the dark void.

The next picture is harrowing, a stark red and black piece of artwork depicting some sort of monster. It resembles a quadrupedal skeleton shown only in silhouette, tentacles extending from its jawless mouth and a gleam of red in one visible eye socket. But this is no mere monster, for behind it are the suggestion of tall buildings, coils of razorwire and a poster fluttering by that reads REGISTER! at the top.

Between this painting and the next, a— menu falls out. It is a familiar sight to Cat, a menu for the Nite Owl Diner in New York. But on the back is a ball-point pen sketch of a naked woman's back, part of her body wrapped in a blanket or a robe. On her back there is an image, maybe a tattoo? It depicts the profile of a dark woman's face, a splayed hand, and a very distinctive likeness of Tyler Case. There is also a coffee ring on the menu nearby to the sketch.

The next painting is an ominous one, showcasing a glass jar with a plaque on the front that reads B037, containing clear fluid and a human brain suspended within, the background to the jar blurry and indistinct, but the lobes and nodes of this preserved brain are quite clear.

Lastly, there is a tall painting of a Carnival in red, with a single male hand with a distinctive crown-like ring and black nail polish holding aloft a tarot card, The Wheel of Fortune, which burns at one corner.

Turned toward the sound of Ryans' voice, Katarina's dark-haired head appears in the gap between two seats. Indecision creases her face's matronly features as she looks between the rippling curtains and the other woman sobbing hysterically in her arms. Yustina's small body shuddering against hers makes the decision for her.

She won't leave her friend. "Go!" she shouts at Ryans. "Take all that you can and go!" Why else would her husband's protege be here in St. Petersburg? "Tell Ivan I will find my way! Be quick, Benjamin!"

Ryans may be a stranger, but he's offering help, which Kelly clearly needs. And at least he isn't shooting at her or calling her a kidnapper. She looks at Tania and nods. "C'mon," she says, before she's jumping up, waiting for the girl to join her, then darting towards the curtain, not as quick as she'd like, but at Tania's pace. No leaving the job behind!

Tania only pauses to look at Katarina when she speaks, the familiar voice drawing her attention. She gives her a bit of a helpless look, but it follows with a more grateful one when she opts to stay with her mother.

It's only a moment or two, though, before she moves again, following Kelly along. There is a moment, though, in which she proves she's much like any other teenage girl, as a blush crosses her cheeks and nose when Ryans flips the curtain aside as is totally badass, at least in the girl's estimation. It's written all over her face. That was so cool.

"What you don't understand is how much, my hide will be tanned if I leave you." Ryans calls out, before moving quickly out of the curtains. Not to mention Harper won't be detained long, after they leave. They would certainly use her against them. "Both of you, if we have to. Move!" He's not taking a 'No' here if e can help it. He doesn't want to have to explain to Ivan his wife got left. "He's waiting for you."

He can't delay any longer, so after a moment of hesitation, he pushes out of the curtain and hurries across short feet to the stage and jumps down into the pit, disappearing from sight again. Ryans lands in a heavy crouch, once again thanking the lord for having the body of a younger man. That would have been much more jarring. "Could this go any worse?" He softly asks himself, hurrying to the wall, keeping low.

A glance goes to Cat, before Ryans attempts to glance over the edge of the orchestra pit's wall.

With the task at hand finished, a rolled up bundle of thirteen canvases under one arm and the rifle having been retrieved, Cat is emerging from the area when Ryans decides to jump into the pit. Her destination is the stage door by which she entered this orchestral place, movement happens with her head kept low to avoid making herself unconscious.

"Objective secure," she reports without stopping, "what's status of Katarina?" Cat, having been busy, isn't yet aware of the others. Unless, of course, they're in view when she reaches the stage.

Thorugh the chaos of the gunfight and the incursion of the OMON, Desmond Harper hadn't noticed Benjamin Ryans being the man behind the curtain, as ironic as that is. But when agent Ryans rushes across the stage and drops down into the orchestra pit, Harper practically bolts up to his feet and then winces in a twist of pain from the wound at his back, only to be forced down by the OMON guarding him. Inside Harper's pocket, his phone is ringing, Flight of the Valkyrie chiming noisily over the sound of gunfire, but with his hands tied behind his back, he isn't going to be answering that call any time soon.

On the other end of the line, Agent Eldridge is dispensing some terrible news to Harper's voicemail. Coincidentially, another phone had been ringing during this entire altercation, but with Benjamin Ryans having put his cell phone on silent the call from Lashirah Lee has gone missed, but the voicemail that he will find should he make it out of this mess is nothing more than the ambient sounds of death and destruction.

Yes, it can get worse.

Ryans' glance over the orchestra pit wall yields what he probably expects: two OMON officers in uniform hurrying down the aisle to secure the orchestra pit and stage. They insert themselves between Katarina and Ryans, one dragging Yustina off her friend and out of the seats. He barks at her in that language Ryans doesn't understand, and although Cat would probably be able to translate Yustina's response, her watery, burbling voice makes comprehension difficult. She has no idea what Tania's mother is saying, only that it involves the Americans and her dead son.

In the network of halls behind the stage that leads outside, all Kelly has to do is follow the draft of air blowing through the door Catherine and Ryans entered the building through. Although OMON might already be on their way around the building to secure it, she might be able to make it out and mingle with the dense crowd of theatre staff and curious onlookers coverging in the side street.

One of the OMON officers in the theatre raises his rifle and blasts a hole in the pit wall less than a foot from Ryans' right ear. His next shot isn't likely to miss.

Kelly isn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so when OMON people are busy with others, Kelly is doing her best to just get the hell out of there with Tania. The distraction certainly helps, as does Tania's willingness to move and hide her fear. "Okay, now run," is her quick suggestion to Tania, before her empty hand is on the girl's back, physically encouraging her to obey so Kelly can follow her own advice. "We need to get out of here before they close it down."

"But what about—" Tania glances back toward the theatre, but oh lordy the chaos. And the guns. It doesn't take a lot of convincing to get the young girl to follow orders. She gives Kelly a nod, and breaks into a run. It's not a very practiced run, and she seems to be keeping it sort of easy going. Lifelong habits of not overdoing it drilled in deep, it seems. Even so, the pair are able to slip out, leaving her mother and friend and the odd strangers all behind as they hit the street.

Ryans' head ducks down in time for the shot to come close to hitting him, bits of wood cut his cheek, his head jerking to the side. "Damn it." Any hope of getting her out is gone in that moment.

Times up.

Before the next shot can find it's mark, Ryans is rushing after Cat, under the stage, shutting the door behind him. "Compromised." He hisses with irritation. Popping out of the floor on the other side of the curtain. "We don't have a choice, but to leave her." He doesn't sound happy about it, but at this point the paintings take priority.

He heaves himself out of the floor, urging Cat to start moving, since he'll be right behind her. Of course, he might as well allow himself to get killed, since that's about what will happen when he breaks the news to his mentor.

Being told is unneeded, Cat is very much moving without cease. Not even a glance is spared toward where Katarina might be, this is a familiar position. Shades of having to leave Brian and Al behind to get captured, she knew then there was nothing for it and knows the same now. To try will only get her and Ben captured or shot down.

Her destination is the door they came in through, with the hope of leaving by it before Russian SWAT men can seal it. The assault rifle she's carrying is wiped down with sleeves along the way and discarded lest it draw attention to them outside.

They an hear boots slamming down on the way in, the crackle of radios and the bark of Russian as the OMON rush the stage behind them. Kelly and Tania are forced into the bottle-neck of the gray-painted backstage halls. The explosion of the backstage door opening behind them spills Benjamin Ryans and Catherine Chesterfield into that same narrow space of hallway, running past prop storage and dressing rooms, though as they approach the back doors that lead to the rear parking lot of the Mariinsky Theater, the back door is opening to reveal a team of three gray and black clad OMON coming up and in through the door.

Clad in their vests, matte black assault rifles at the ready, radios crackling about armed intruders, they are a physical obstruction between the Russian special police at the back and the freedom of the parking lot at the rear. There is only one way out of this particular situation, and it is through.

Skidding to a stop, there's not even time for Kelly to let loose with another string of curses in her mother's native tongue. First she has to hide the pistol at her side, using Tania's body to conceal the movement. Killing would be easiest, but then she'd likely have a hysterical fifteen year old on her hands, and that is never fun. Or conducive to escaping the country. She can't even act to get out of it, since she doesn't speak Russian. Not a mistake she'll make again, thankyouverymuch.

However, there's always…the truth. "Tania, explain to them that we were talking when armed men arrived and started shooting at us," she murmurs to the girl, holstering her weapon at her back, beneath her backpack, then raising her hands in the universal sign for being unarmed. If they search her, she's screwed, but killing won't solve this particular problem. Unfortunately.

Tania stops at the sight, wide-eyed for a moment before her hands come up, too. She doesn't seem to acknowledge Kelly's words… but she does break down into tears there at the sight. And then she starts to ramble. Nearly hysterical rambling. "«Oh, god, it was awful. We were sitting and talking in the theatre and then there were these men and they had guns and there was so much shooting and we were so scared and tried to run, but they were just everywhere,»" her hands lift to gesture about in a panic as she talks. She seems to be able to do 'totally freaked out teen' pretty well. But then… she is a totally freaked out teen at the moment.

As they find themselves in the hallway with the two girls between them and the men at the door, Ryans acts quickly, using the cover of the two women in front of them, to extract a flash bang. He pulls the pin, with his teeth, the action covered by his head tilting down, as he hurries forward. "Cover your eyes!" Is said gruffly to the two in front of him, before the canister is tossed. Kelly will probably know what it is right away as it drops past her vision.

The Company agent is banking on her to protect the other, his head ducking down as the flash bang tink tinks to the men's feet. Moments later, the world explodes in sound and light.

It leaves Ryans' ears ringing, but able to see and leaves the men blinded and without hearing. Sitting ducks as Benjamin Ryans brings up his .45 and shoots each man in his way, all dropping dead. Each firing of the gun is muffled in his own ears. He isn't really worried about delicate teenage sensibilities, just getting them the hell out of dodge. He pushed past Kelly and Tania. "Move it!" He growls at them, hurrying for the door, making sure it's clear to escape.

She knows what grenades do, whether the real kind or the flashbang variety. On seeing that weapon being used, Cat turns away from the direction it's been tossed and covers her ears. Sticks fingers in them, even. It's only after the detonation that she turns around, with ears still ringing, to see the three men be felled.

Motion occurs next, along with Ben's urgings, as she seeks to escape through that door and shepherd the other two females with her, to keep them all together and on the move quick. That way, she points, indicating the place where their vehicle and thus escape method awaits.

She hopes.

Sirens are wailing outside, tires are screeching and at the backs of Ryans and Catherine gunfire is exploding. Bullets punch at the steel door ahead of Ryans, whizzing over his shoulder, streaking thorugh the air and striking adjacent walls and cars, shattering windows. Barked orders to stop fill the air, and in the hallway behind Catherine and Benjamin, Kelly Reynolds is scrambling to get her footing, one arm wrapped around the thin waist of Tania Kozlow, trying to hold up the young girl's dead weight from where she has passed out.

Blood runs down Kelly's side, a bullet wound somewhere at her shoulder streaking dark and red under her arm and down Tania's side. She hefts the young girl up, turns around and opens fire at the OMON bottle-necked in the hall, the heels of her boots slipping on her own blood as she backs up. Gunfire pops mutedly, muffled from the ringing in their ears and the double-vision still fading.

Police are swarming the parking lot outside as Ryans and Catherine make their way to the parked BMW, police cars screeching to a hald down one side of the parking lot, trying to block it off. The distant sound of a helicopter's blades chopping in the air means that further reinforcements are on the way, and with her arms laden with the paintings, ears ringing, Catherine looks back as she stands between the back door and Ryans' car, waiting for Kelly to drag Tania out of the building, ducking from the blind gunfire she's shooting back at.

Another bullet strikes Kelly, this time in the back as she throws herself around Tania to try and block her from the gunfire, dropping the brunette to her knees, but not halting her repeated gunfire through the back door until it swings shut on its hydraulic hinge. Shouting and sirens will draw closer, and with her head swimming and blood hot down one side, pain at her back where a bullet flattened on the vest she wears, Kelly pulls herself up to her feet before Catherine can even offer a hand, her pride and stubbornness motivating her onward, one arm cradled around Tania protectively.

The BMW's engine rolls over, a rev and a roar, Ryans is already in the driver's seat.

It's time to go.

Together, or alone.

The Spektor Collection

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License