The Fire Inside, Part VI



Scene Title The Fire Inside, Part VI
Synopsis Shedda Dinu activates a sleeper agent.
Date May 10, 2019

“No, that’s not really my style anymore hermano.”

The kind of establishments that exist on the fringes of resettled cities vary wildly. On the south end of Rochester, past the bustle of the city center and toward the urban decay and industrial wasteland yet to be reclaimed, pop-up businesses are common. Unlicensed bars take advantage of overburdened and understaffed police, take advantage of the lack of proper inspections, take advantage of society still pulling itself up from the trenches of war.

“These days, I’m more a fan of Macanudo, when you can get them up from Cuba.”

A dive bar called AJ’s Saloon is one such establishment. A grimy hole-in-the-wall frequented by Rochester natives and drug mules and dealers looking to push north from the Safe Zone. Criminals of all stripes and the people who live between criminal margins congregate here, under thick clouds of cigarette smoke and behind curtains of pre-war music pumped out of a repaired jukebox.

“You want one?”

Curtis Autumn isn’t a criminal, hasn’t felt like one for years, but seated in a dimly lit booth in AJ’s, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the good old days again. Curtis has come here for years, ever since the war ended, to share drinks and stories with an old battle-buddy who helped push back the tide of violent bigotry and fight the good fight. Today, that weathered old Mexican bulldog he’d befriended during the war looks just as old as ever, offering out a freshly cut Cuban cigar across the table, held between calloused fingers.

Curtis is at ease in the bar. Which isn't to say that he's not alert. That he's not aware of who is coming and going around him. But he's relaxed. More relaxed than he is almost anywhere else. Places like this? People like this? These people he gets. He's got a glass in front of him, some cheap whiskey in it, more yellow than amber, poured over a couple cubes of ice. They clink against the glass as he lifts it to take a small sip. The glass is lowered as the cigar is offered over the table to him. He regards the stogie for a handful of seconds before he gives his head a slight shake.

"No thank you." It's always offered, and it's always considered before being refused. "Still need my lungs intact. Maybe someday. But that day isn't today." There's a casual shrug of one shoulder as he lifts his glass towards his lips, pausing part way there as he watches a pair of men enter the bar and take a seat at a table. The sip is only taken once they've sat down, and his attention sways back to the man across the table from him. "Like you wouldn't smoke whatever happens to come your way." There's a faint smirk, a ghost of a smile really that flits across Curtis's lips before he hides it behind the glass again. "At least you can get your hands on them these days. Don't have to listen to you throwing a fit yet again because you haven't had anything to smoke in two weeks."

Curtis has eschewed his normal Wolfhound jacket today, in favor of a battered old leather jacket from his days before… well before everything. Before Wolfhound, before the war, before Frontline, before Messiah, before Ash even. When he was just a Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. The jacket, and simple jeans and a t-shirt. Worn in. Something that wouldn’t stand out in a place like this. “You ever miss those days?” Curtis asks, eyes on the almost depleted whiskey in his glass.

“I’m not sentimental,” the old man says. It’s a lie. He is, just not for those times. “We all had our leashes,” he says, bringing the cigar he’d offered to Curtis up to his own mouth, fishing a lighter from his leather vest pocket. The flint wheel flicks a few times, sparks and then finally flame. “You got out,” the old man says, smoke wafting slowly from his mouth. “Me? I had to be liberated.”

Turning the cigar around in his hand, the old man looks at the glowing orange ember at the end. Then, looking up to Curtis he offers a yellow smile. “Liberation’s a funny thing,” he continues, taking a puff of the cigar, “I was nine years old when Che Guevara came to Mexico City. He wasn’t a revolutionary then, but it was being there that lit that fire in him…” The old man lays tired eyes up on Curtis. “Same fire burned in me too, back when the government tried to make me an attack dog on a leash.”

Slowly, he lowers the cigar from his mouth and looks Curtis square in the eyes. “Some of my brothers in chains, they didn’t see them like that. They thought they were free.” He motions with the cigar over to Curtis. “Sometimes, you can’t see the chains.”

The old man exhales smoke from his nose. “Sometimes, you’ve gotta be liberated.”


Ruins of Long Island

Interstate 495

27 miles from the Safe Zone

May 10th

4:45 pm

What remains of Long Island past the Ruins of Queens long ago returned to nature. Though Long Island is a verdant ruin, it is not uninhabited. Staunchly independent civilians have chosen to make a home off the grid in the wild reaches of Long Island’s parks and forests, living as many of them had since before the end of the war. It is a remote stretch of largely uninhabited rural land, bordered on all sides by water and flooded with new growth vegetation of young forests sprouting up where houses once stood.

Interstate 495 cuts through the middle of what remains of Long Island, poorly maintained and infrequently trafficked save for the occasional government vehicle. More and more in the last few months have cut through the remains of Long Island, and the black armored SUV rolling across the interstate today is no different. The vehicle is marked with the brick red and gold seal of SESA.

“No, what I’m saying is that baseball would make a difference.” The agent driving the SUV says to the DoJ representative in the passenger seat, more focused on an e-book on his tablet than the conversation he’s trying to avoid. “You get the Mets back, and maybe we can get folks rallying around sports as a distraction. I’m not saying we can’t have intense political discourse, I’m just saying… everyone needs a pressure-release valve, right?”

The DoJ agent makes a non-committal noise in the back of his throat, continuing to scroll through the document. He only stops to look up into the rear view mirror at the prisoner they’re transporting in the back. “Baseball,” he murmurs, as if participating in the conversation, “I dunno…”

The prisoner in the rear of the vehicle looks even more disinterested in the conversation than her DoJ handler. Adrienne Allen did not get a chance to shower before they moved her from her cell this morning, and due to the fierce rain coming down outside and howling winds, her ferry transport to Plum Island was cancelled. Rather than delay her transfer, a ground transport was chosen instead. Doctor Allen isn’t a high-profile figure, her trial was short and largely without incident, and there were no throngs of agitated war survivors outside of the courthouse in Albany begging for her head on a plate.

Instead, the French doctor stares vacantly out the passenger side window, softly clicking the edges of her handcuffs together as her dark brown eyes take in the green scenery passing by out the window.


"Do not stand at my grave and weep"

Hardened plastic scrapes on metal, accompanied by the hard click of an object locking into place. Gloved fingers check the hold of the drum magazine that's been slotted into place on a sleek black AA-12 shotgun.

"I am not there; I do not sleep."

The hands are experienced, familiar with the weapon as they move over it, checking everything on it. The heavy automatics shotgun is settled against the figure's side, hanging from a sling as hands move on to check over other equipment.

"I am a thousand winds that blow,"

Quick and efficient hands move over blades, two small grenades just in case, a large caliber pistol, and a spare drum magazine strapped into webbing at the lower back. In easy reach, but also out of the way of any stray bullets.

"I am the diamond glints on snow,"

The spare shouldn't be needed. None of the extras should be needed. Really only two bullets should be needed. But many a warrior has lost their life by not being prepared.

"I am the sun on ripened grain,"

A spike strip has been hidden on the interstate, underneath the cover of some leaves and other debris, common to roads out this way, that haven't seen real maintenance in years. Two bodies rest under further cover down slope from the road itself. They would have lived if they hadn't found the spike strip.

"I am the gentle autumn rain."

The shrouded soldier is in the back of a broken down minivan, gutted by fire at some point in the past. Most of the ash and soot has washed off of the outside, but the inside is a blackened ruin, leaving the back windshield black with soot. There is a small window in the soot, rubbed away so he can watch the approach of the vehicle through binoculars.

"When you awaken in the morning's hush"

When he spots the vehicle he takes note of the speed it's traveling, and begins a soft count down, more mental though than actual sound, but hushed whispers could be heard, if there was anyone to hear them.

"I am the swift uplifting rush"

The spike strip is set up about thirty feet from where the burned out wreck sits. With the hope that the vehicle will come to a stop and give the ambusher a good line of sight to simply take out the two agents in front with two quick shots from the side. No risk to the occupant in back, to the target.

"Of quiet birds in a circled flight."

A black tactical mask is pulled down over his face to hide his features. No survivors. But, it pays to be prepared. He shifts in the back of the vehicle, ash rubbing into his clothes and gear. And he waits.

= "I am the soft stars that shine at night."

He hears the thrum of the engine, and reaches down to flick the safety off on the shotgun, racking the slide to chamber a round. One hand deftly slips a tube grenade into the underslung grenade launcher. Just in case. Shouldn't be needed. Risky. But someone might decide to be a hero. Or decide to try to keep driving despite the tire blowouts.

"Do not stand at my grave and cry,"

He waits until he hears the loud pop of the tires as they run over the spike strip to move. And when he does he moves fast. Legs carry him across the interstate at the speed of an olympic runner, eating up concrete faster than most people can gather their wits after a tire blowout. But these are federal agents. And the running figure has no idea how much training they have. As he runs he's lining up the shotgun, looking for an opportune shot through the windows at the agents. He pulls that trigger with zero hesitation, and no second thought for the lives that these agents have lived. Nor the families they might leave behind. His one and only focus is the safety of the woman in the back seat.

"I am not there, I did not die."


It's over just as quickly as it began. Blood fills the front of the SUV — sideways across two vacant lanes — where the shotgun rounds tore through the passenger’s side widows. Reinforced against small arms fire, but not this. Screams, too, fill the vehicle. But they're not from the dead agents, but the blood-spattered blonde doctor in the second row of seats behind the metal mesh cage.

Doctor Allen is terrified, handcuffed hands raised, scrambling to try and get further into the back of the SUV but unable to work her seatbelt in the moment of panic she's experiencing. The vehicle’s doors are all locked, and the doctor looks to be of little to no help in liberating herself. Given what happened to the agents in front of her… she's probably not anticipating liberation.

As the echo of the bangs fades on the open air the figure makes his way forwards, moving slowly, cautiously, one step at a time. When there's no movement from the front seats his pace increases though it by no means grows hurried. Once he's at the vehicle it's a simple matter to reach through one of the broken windows to unlock the vehicle. He's silent as he works, checking pulses on both of the men, making sure they're good and gone before he steps to the back and pops open the door.

The door swings open and his masked head tilts to the side as he sees her backed into the corner.. "Come on now Doc. Rescue is here. Mind like yours shouldn't waste away in prison." He unclips her seatbelt and then simply offers her a hand, waiting for her to take it. He snagged the keys to the cuffs off of the men, but they're in a pocket, not held out. Cuffs make it easier to make the uncooperative to come along. So he stands there in the open door, one hand held out to her. "What do you say we get out of here?"

The terror in Doctor Allen’s eyes is visible as she’s released from her seatbelt, slinking and scrambling back and away from her liberator like a cat trying to crawl deeper into its carrier at the vet. Words said by Eve Mas reverberate in her mind like the rhythmic beats of a drum.

“…il va venir.”

“No,” Adrienne whimpers, eyes wide.

“…il va venir.”

No!” She finally screams, finding her voice.

“…il va venir.”

She struggles to get back against the opposite door, bound hands fumbling to find door latches that aren’t there. “No! No! No!

“…il va venir.”

A fear made manifest: he will come.

While terror wasn't entirely unexpected, it's also a slight surprise the degree to which the doctor is terrified. The soldier's head cants to the side slowly, watching her. This does not line up with the information he was given on the doctor. "Allrighty Doc. There's two options here. You come out of there under your own power. Or I knock you out and carry you. I would really prefer the first option, but I have no problems with the second if that's the route you want to go. Either way… you're coming with me."

And he'll give her a moment to figure it out too. While he stands there in the doorway and waits. "Here I thought you'd be happy to not be going to prison." There's a half amused laugh from the masked man as he waits for her to make a decision. "Tick tock Doc. You've got about thirty seconds before I make your decision for you." But all she does is panic, so against his best intentions Doctor Allen gets the butt end of the shotgun and ends up slung over his shoulder. Her weight doesn’t mean much to the super soldier. No heavier than some of the kitpacks he's shouldered.

Time isn’t something that Ash has in abundance. But he knows the timing between the attack, between when the agents don’t radio ahead, between the response time of a chopper sent to check on the transport. He’s been fighting wars like this his whole life, fighting against organized governments, organized paramilitaries, he’s—

Somewhere between the SUV and the treeline Ash experienced a moment of missing time. As he slipped down into nostalgic slopes, his mind wandered far afield. He only comes to when the sound of a motorized boat brings him around. The small pier he’s perched on rests behind a residential home, a once sprawling coastal Long Island cape. But now it’s just a cellar hole overgrown with vegetation and flinders of its wooden frame. The pier, though, weathered the storm of time.

Doctor Allen lays on the pier beside Ash, hands bound in cuffs, blonde hair spilling over her face in tight ringlets. There’s blood on the side of her face, a bruise already forming at her temple where the butt of the shotgun struck her. She’ll be unconscious for a bit longer, but it won’t matter.

Cutting its way across the water is a small motorboat, a weekend fishing vessel meant for coastal waters. The two men inside are armed, Ash can tell as much from a distance. Both of them, darkly dressed against the warm, late-afternoon sun, watch the pier intently. As the boat comes up and slows to a stop, one of the men — a middle-aged Chinese man with a facial tattoo — hops off and onto the dock, hurrying over to Doctor Allen. The other man stays inside the boat, but motions for Ash to walk down the pier and come over.

Triad contacts, mission nearly accomplished.

There's a moment of panic in his mind when that flash happens. That bit of missing time when he's walking one moment, Dr. Allen's weight over his shoulder, and the next he's on the pier. The panic doesn't bleed into physical movement, just a quick assessment of his surroundings and his own mental bearings. Is his activation wearing off? There's a mental… probe, towards where Curtis resides in their mind, asleep for now. Ash reaches out to that part of their mind, but when he finds the other asleep still there's a sigh of relief, more mental than physical. "Sleep little baby don't you stir." He whispers sings under his breath, with no one but the wind to hear.

Ash’s eyes track the boat as it comes in, watching and assessing the men in it. The way they steer the boat, their familiarity with it, how they keep watch, how little or how much they move. Are they nervous? Are they calm and collected? Do they know what they’re doing driving the boat? Ash doesn’t trust people. Very few people anyway. And these two are definitely not on that very very short list. Adam probably isn’t even on that list. Ash knows Adam will do what he thinks needs doing to achieve his goals. So he watches, and he assesses.

"She'll come to in a little while. I'd be careful about hitting her in the head again. Might be easier to just bind her and gag her." Ash offers to the man that comes over to collect the Doctor. The other man beckons him forwards and Ash's head tilts ever so gently to the side in an almost dog like expression of curiosity and confusion. Does he know these two men? Ash isn't about to have one of them at his back, so he waits for that one to collect Dr. Allen before following him towards the boat, one hand drifting down to settle at a pocket on the black canvas pants he wears. It's a quick motion to lift the hand up and snag the pistol out of it's holster with the motion should things go… unexpectedly. "Yes?" The single word from the still masked Ash.

Wǒmen zhīdào,” one of the men says, and while Ash doesn’t know too much Mandarin he’s picked up enough to know that means we know. The man on the dock seems like a professional. Not in the field Ash is in, but in kidnapping and abductions. He’s already spooling out a roll of duct tape, binding Doctor Allen’s wrists and ankles, then tucks the roll back into his coat. Like many of the Ghost Shadows triad, this one’s not just a jacketed criminal.

With a raise of one hand, the triad officer lifts Doctor Allen off of the pier with unseen force, steadily levitating her own to the awaiting boat. Once she’s settled down into the arms of the pilot, he lowers her down the rest of the way. Then, turning back to Ash, the triad officer gives a subtle nod of his head in recognition, than violent upthrust of a chin between two men who understand one another.

Then, he has one message to deliver to Ash.


The Bunker

Rochester, NY

May 10th


Curtis’ eyes open sharply where he lays in his bed, looking up at the ceiling of his quarters. His head throbs, mouth cottony, blankets tangled around his limbs. He feels, in many ways, sore. There’s a dull throb behind his brow, that sensation of having had too much to drink over the course of a night. A dream slips from him like sand from between his fingers, something about water this time, and gunmetal. The war left tracks of scars through his memories, perhaps these were just his mind tracing these marks again, to remind him of where he’d been before.

Reflexively swallowing, Curtis can see a faint crack in the concrete ceiling. A drop of water falls through from it to strike his brow.

There’s a leak.

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