The Last Resort, Part I


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Scene Title The Last Resort, Part I
Synopsis The Ohio River Fire reaches the Safe Zone, and brings new terror with it.
Date June 29, 2021

Wildfires are a fact of nature. Powerful, intimidating, and oftentimes uncontrollable.

With national infrastructure barely held together in the wake of a civil war, the United States’ ability to control wildfires—especially in areas worst-hit by the war—are spotty at best. When the Ohio River Fire broke out in September, many feared that the proximity of the fire to major abandoned metropolitan areas like Pittsburgh could spell disaster. Those worst fears have long since come true.

In spite of the nation’s best efforts, the Ohio River Fire has spread from western Pennsylvania, swelled across the state consuming the nearly abandoned shells of towns and cities in its wake, driven already traumatized war refugees off of their resettled land, crawled up one side of the Appalachian Mountains. down the other, and marched without impediment all the way northeast to the worst-case-scenario destination.

New York.

Raytech Industries Corporate Campus
Jackson Heights
NYC Safe Zone

June 29th
7:19 pm

A wall of orange blazes just over the Hudson River. From the northwestern end of Jackson Heights, the Ohio River Fire looks like a gateway to Hell itself threatening to swallow the Safe Zone. The flames rage in spire of a torrential downpour in effect, smothering the city in atmokinetically-generated precipitation. The rain that falls isn’t clear and clean though, it is gray and black and smells of soot and ash.

The proximity of the fire has caused evacuations at Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital and across Roosevelt Island, of which the primary land route empties into Jackson Heights. Emergency services in the area have been redirected to the already overwhelmed Elmhurst Hospital, and—at the request of company leadership—Raytech Industries. Raytech’s state-of-the-art campus makes for a suitable and spacious emergency triage center, and those injured fighting the fire’s seemingly unrelenting approach are numerous.

What was once a shipping warehouse on the campus’ southeast end has become a mobile triage center. Firefighters, volunteer relief workers, and civilians injured by proximity to the wildfire are spread out across infirmary cots. Hundreds of victims suffer from smoke inhalation, yet more from exposure to heat and flames from both the forefront of the wildfire across the river and fires sparked inside the Safe Zone.

Yet Raytech has not sat idle. In the weeks leading up to the fire’s approach, technicians from Yamagato Industries and Raytech combined their efforts to produce microalgae-gel patches intended to serve as supplemental burn triage supplies. Raytech’s staff, including a number of volunteers and additional security, work around the clock to help the injured.

It is perhaps an unexpected situation such as this that has put “Ourania Stoltz (née Pride)” and Eric Doyle together again in the face of adversity. Not the drama of a burning building, but the much-needed triage for those fighting that mighty fire. Their patient is a young man in his late teens or early twenties, suffering from burns on his right arm and the side of his face, found by firefighters on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. A volunteer firefighter, judging from the heat-resistant clothing and makeshift survival gear that had to be cut off of him. He’s been in and out of consciousness the last half hour, so further details will have to wait.

But doctors and volunteers aren’t the only people on-hand today. Raytech’s personal security is supplemented by the city’s local paramilitary force, Wolfhound. Scott Harkness and Devon Clendaniel are on-scene, providing their own measures of security. Scott offers bottled water to those in the triage center, conjured from his personal interdimensional vault. And Devon provides a much needed additional pair of eyes to ensure nothing goes wrong.

Right now, all Doctor Stoltz and Doyle need are an extra pair of hands.

There aren’t enough hours in the day, and it makes Ourania furious. It seems like it wasn’t so long ago that she could have treated this whole building with the power of her ability. But there would be more. There would always be more, and she would have worked herself sick to save so many lives.

Maybe it would have commuted her sentence.

But that’s a regret and a fantasy she weaves for her weary mind, and what’s in front of her is reality. Sweat has matted her blonde hair to her forehead and she pushes it away from her eyes with the back of her forearm, avoiding use of her gloved hands. She has what she needs in front of her. The patches, the fluids, the IV needle, the— “Stand!” Dr. Stoltz shouts, looking around for one of the tall silver hooks on wheels. “Where the fuck is my–”

Whipping her head around to scan the room tells her what she already knows. “Eric,” Ourania calls sharply. He already knows by now she knows his real identity, that ship has sailed. “I need you to–” Demonstratively, she holds her hands above her head. “This thing,” she holds up the bag of fluids,” works because of gravity. And I don’t have anything to hold it up. I need you to hold it up until I can get my hands on a fucking stand. Or–”

She sags, shaking her head quickly, already peeling open the pack with the needle, which she leaves only started, and scrubs at the back of her patient’s hand first. She slaps it a few times with the flats of her first two fingers. “God damn you,” she mutters, “pop up.” Then relief. “Okay.” With a glance up to Doyle, she presses her lips together briefly in a grim line. “I won’t leave you waiting long,” she promises. Then, she turns her head, her chin pressed against her shoulder as she shouts as loudly as she can, “Can I get some help over here?!” Doyle can be put to much better use than as a stand, but he’s what she has for the moment.

Standing, with his thumbs tucked into his utility belt, Devon keeps a keen eye on the activity all around the triage point. Occasionally he lifts a hand to redirect a coming or going, directions and answers are given with concise words and a no-argument tone. Once in a while he glances in Scott's direction, making sure the other Hound isn't being swarmed by anyone looking for supplies.

His helmet keeps the rain off his head, but sweat trickles from his brow instead. It soaks the edges of his grimy mask, does little good to wash the soot from his face. His shirt, damp from rain or sweat or both, chafes beneath his Kevlar vest, but it's a minor annoyance compared to what too many of the hodgepodge of firefighters have suffered. Shoulders shrug slightly in a mild effort to adjust the lay of his vest.

His head rolls back slightly, tilting his face into the rain for what little good it won't do. A beat later, Devon angles a look to Scott. But before he can say anything, Ourania's call for help cuts in. His mouth closes, sealing off whatever thoughts he'd been about to share. Attention sharpens and he looks to where the latest casualty is being seen to.

Devon's eyes narrow slightly, brow furrowing. The elusive and enigmatic O is working the lines? Somehow it isn't surprising. "You got anything in your bag of holding that might help?" he calls over to Scott, before taking a few steps toward the triage area.

Jason,” is Doyle’s sharp insistence despite knowing that the woman knows his identity by now, a deep scowl carving its way across his broad face, “Don’t–” He lowers his voice to a cautioning hiss, “Don’t call me that in public, okay? Just— jeeze–”

Despite the words, he’s gathering up tangles of rubber hosing and an IV bag to hold up, a bead of sweat trickling down the side of his bald pate before it’s absently brushed away with his wrist. “It’ll still be— another hour or two before Lucy can get a door open and pick up some more supplies for us,” he mutters, lifting the bag up high, “And I know how an intravenous bag works, I’m not a–”

Across the room, the young woman in question is on her hands and knees sketching out a large box on the floor with chalk to designate a ‘landing area’ for once she’s familiar enough with the warehouse to open a gateway. Mala and Denisa aren’t in view – they’re out helping in the field, as their abilities make them well-suited for it. Which explains why Eric’s being especially tetchy right now.

The puppeteer catching sight of Devon making his way in the direction of them and thrusts the bag up into the air, shaking it slightly to draw attention. Which probably isn't good for the bag. “Hey! Hey, come hold this. You’re tall.”

Scott gives Devon a look as the younger of the two is called over to help Odessa and “Jason”, letting him split off as he notices two members of Raytech’s security force coming into the triage center. One a tall, muscular woman with dark hair and a black beret with a bird emblem pinned to it. The other is an even taller man with a square jaw and coal black hair swept back from his face. Scott whistles sharply to get their attention and begins approaching them.

“You with Wolfhound?” The tall woman says. “I’m Captain Diana Hahn, this is Officer Ulysses Ngata, Redbird Security Solutions.” She offers out a hand, one that Scott is quick to shake. He looks between the two security officers, then gives an easy smile.

“Harkness, the kid’s Clendaniel. Looks like you’ve got a zoo here. Anything more we can do to help, Captain?” Harkness asks, occasionally glancing at Devon to make sure that situation is going smoothly.

Hahn sighs, exhausted, and wipes a line of greasy black rain off of her cheek. “We have another transport of injured coming in, Elmhurst is overflowing and they’re redirecting everyone this way.”

“Jesus,” Scott mumbles, looking at the filled beds already at capacity. “How’re you doing on supplies?”

“Bad.” Ulysses says with a shake of his head. Behind him, a few more Redbird Security officers are wheeling in a single dolly stacked with plastic crates of mixed medical supplies. “That’s everything from our infirmary and med lab, we pulled out everything that wasn’t bolted down. If you and Clendaniel can help us, we want to move the worst condition patients to triage inside the infirmary rather than out here.”

Scott nods in agreement and the three continue discussing the logistics while Hahn heads back out to check on things outside the triage clinic.

Fine,” Odessa snips back at Doyle. “Sir.” A wave of nausea hits her like a sack of lead-dipped bricks and she swallows it back, shoves it deep down into the dark where those feelings belong. She does not have the patience for what name to use right now, but probably don’t test that by using her real name. Which she helpfully hasn’t supplied to Jason yet. She sighs heavily, resigned, and looks to where the girl is working, nodding her head slowly. “She’ll manage,” she says, more to reassure herself than anything else. “They’ll come through.”

She has to believe that, or she’s going to start panicking about the sheer number of people she’s going to be unable to help. Even the war wasn’t this bad, so the funhouse mirror tells her. It warps the past and allows her to forget that a lot of people did die under her watch, often due to lack of resources. The key difference was that she didn’t care.

These people are different. “Okay.” The first start has Dr. Stoltz voice coming through unsteady. “Okay.” The second time feels more confident, both to her and the two men she’s speaking to. “I don’t care who holds the bag, but someone has to hold it. I’m going to start the line, and we’re going to let the fluids go to work. Then I’m going to start addressing the burns.”

She doesn’t wait for anyone to give her their permission to begin. She navigates by feel what she can find by sight and tapes down the hand once she’s got the IV in place. “One of you needs to help me with these packages. With the gloves and— It’s just a thing. I’m telling you what I need, I need you to do it.” And if Ourania is bossy, she also does not give a fuck. When they spend their formative years learning medicine instead of being a child, having friends, playing outside, or understanding what it means to be well-adjusted, then they can criticize her tone in a crisis.

Shaking his head, Devon leaves Harkness to handle the handling of things with the Redbirds. The other Hound is better with logistics anyway, and… well, Jason isn't wrong; he's tall and this is one of those other duties as assigned situations.

Taking the bag in one hand, Dev positions himself where he isn't immediately in the way. A look angles to Ourania and then Jason, something of a glance that doesn't exactly ask if they need anything else as his attention is meant to return to the goings on around them. But then he looks at the pair again in a double take. Specifically, he looks at Jason.

More specifically, he stares for a beat longer than he means to. Brows furrow slightly, eyes slant toward Scott then return to Jason again. Devon slowly raises the IV bag to shoulder level, shifts his feet awkwardly. An effort is made to look away, and it's an effort, because every time he draws his attention elsewhere, it inevitably circles back to the familiar face a second or so later.

“Thanks.” The bag’s passed over to be held, and ‘Jason’ shuffles over to the packages that Ourania needs assistance with; the gloves, the tools, all that sort of thing. One more glance over to where Lucy’s working, and then he looks back at the doctor, hands lifting and thick, callused fingers wriggling briefly.

“I’ll be your puppet, then,” he quips, “Just tell me what you need.”

Feeling that look, then, he shoots a glance back at Devon— squinting at the man a bit. “What?”

«Secure 453. We—ave rep–rts of an explosi— on the river.» Ulysses’ radio on his shoulder crackles in fits and starts. It cuts his conversation with Scott decidedly short. Ulysses grabs the radio and turns his head toward it.

“This is Redbird 33, repeat?”

«Ex—sion on the river, possibly i—ed Hook. I can’t t—or sure but it –oks like the whole f–cking river is—fire.» The voice on the other end explains, cutting in and out. Ulysses shakes his head and scowls, briefly meeting Scott’s stare. Around that same time, Scott’s phone starts blowing up in his pocket.

“Shit.” Scott says, pulling his phone out. Phones around the triage center begin ringing and vibrating simultaneously. Though only some, not all. The signal strength on even the best-connected phone is showing as a single bar.

But to those who do get the message, it’s all the same:

If you reside within the Red Hook neighborhood there is an immediate evacuation order under effect, please…
Expand to view full message

“Devon!” Scott calls out across the way. “Stay put! I’m gonna see if I can get command on the horn, we might have to do aerial evacs!”

I’ll be your puppet. Odessa’s stomach lurches again, and she hides the moment by having her head bowed, her visual focus on her work.

But her hands are shaking.

This had always been the dichotomy of Odessa and Doyle’s relationship dynamic. It always felt one moment away from each of them snatching at strings, even in their most quiet moments, where they shared the most understanding. This is not her Eric. They’ll both manage. With the inclusion of Devon Clendaniel, this is almost a Dome reunion.

Christ,” Ourania mutters under her breath just head of the sudden cacophony of phones all going off to warn of the situation in Red Hook. She doesn’t have to ask what the situation is. She hears the buzz all around her. Her heart hammers. Harry. If the river is on fire, how is Harry getting back from Staten Island? She can only hope he’d already made it over, already headed home and saw her notes.

Cleaning and dressing takes time, but even with her fears and her uncertainties, she’s still a professional. Dr. Stoltz sits back, nodding with a tired but grateful smile for her little team. She deposits the refuse into a bag designated for potentially hazardous waste, as she goes.

The knuckle of her thumb nearly taps her forehead each time she wags her raised index finger at Devon. “Keep that held up. There can’t be any bends in the line, or we might get an air bubble. I don’t need to explain why that’s bad, right? If you can’t hold it, you have to pass it to someone else. Do not set it down.” Her voice is shaking. Doctor Stoltz wants so badly to take out her phone and inquire as to the status of her Mister.

“I don't know.” Devon’s reply to Eric is short, with a cutting decisiveness. He knows, but he's not owning to it. Not yet, anyway. He angles his eyes away, for good this time, intending to cast his attention on Ourania and possibly gauge where she's at in triaging. He's no medic though, and his expertise really only extends to the hasty patching intended to keep soldiers alive until they're in the proper hands. So what he sees likely only makes as much sense as if he were watching a drama on television.

His weight shifts, one foot shuffling against the ground. The bag stays aloft, dipping only briefly, just lower than his shoulder, and then only after Ourania’s warnings. It happens when he's called to, as his eyes and head turn to Scott.

The IV bag is hoisted again as instruction from the other Hound comes. Dev frowns slightly, confused enough to aside a look at Eric and O. “Something's happening,” he says, more to alert than alarm. “Harkness’ calling command to ready evacs.”

That look is held for a long moment beneath beetled brows, before Doyle flashes a quick and uncertain smile before looking back away. There’s no recognition there, it seems; whoever he may or may not be, he doesn’t seem to know Devon. But then, it’s been a long time since the Dome, hasn’t it?

At the warning, his attention snaps back to the man - and then past him, to Harkness and the others. “What? Evac where— my girls are out there…” He chews on his lower lip, fingers curling in his hands as if drawing in strings. An absent, habitual movement, with mercifully no power exerted behind it.


Odessa feels it twist inside of her for a second so sharp and intense that it’s hard to distinguish from her own feelings. It’s an alarming sensation made only worse by—

it all happens so fast.

The patient Odessa’s been tending to is awake. Or, maybe he’s been awake and she hadn’t noticed it or—but he moves. He moves. He twists to his right, reaches out and snatches Devon’s sidearm from its hip-mounted holster, is able to click off the safety and fire it point blank range into Devon’s chest.

Ferromagnetic fluid body armor absorbs the .45 blow but it kicks Devon like a mule. He’s thrown square off of his feet, topples over another cot, and lands with his legs up flat on his back on the floor. The shot was so close that it not only blew the AEGIS’ entire battery pack but punched into the armor, causing mercurial fluid to bleed out the front and down Devon’s uniform.

The young patient wheels around, gun in hand, and points it square at Eric Doyle’s head without realizing who he is.Get—me to a fucking car, NOW!

Blink. Blink. Eric slowly lifts both hands as if in surrender, expression frightened— and then it slowly turns to a smile as his fingers curl in and his power does the same, sinking into nerves and flesh and commanding that hand to drop the gun. All that worry about his girls gone in an instant as an… older part of himself takes the wheel.

“No,” he says mildly, “I don’t think so.”

He glances over to Devon, then, asking as casually as one inquiring about the weather, “…is that guy supposed to bleed silver?”

The movement happens so quickly, and Doyle isn’t the only one reaching for invisible strings. The doctor’s eyes narrow and her lip curls a moment. She makes small movements with her fingers, then twists her wrist and pulls toward her.

Nothing happens, of course.

With Clendaniel down, O very quickly realizes she could be the next potential victim. But unlike the Hound, she doesn’t have armor to protect her. Her hands come up as both a surrender and a shield. Not that either will do any good.

The gun, however, comes to target the puppet master instead and one corner of Odessa’s mouth comes up in a smirk that doesn’t get seen on Ourania’s face. While he’s got her patient occupied, she grabs her bag and moves to where Devon fell. “He’s fine,” she says of the color of what is definitely not his blood. At least, as long as he’s only bleeding what is definitely not blood. Either way, she isn’t about to cause more panic by saying he isn’t fine. Or going to be.

Hey,” Dr. Stoltz directs down to her new charge. “Talk to me. Where does it hurt and what does it feel like?” Cracked ribs are hopefully the worst she has to deal with. That’s what the armor’s meant to mitigate.

Before Devon can rightly feel the pain and injury inflicted on him, he's up on his elbows and struggling to get further by the time Dr. Stoltz hovers over. That Ourania is doctorly calm, and his old buddy from the Dome Jason isn't oozing brainmatter — he can see that face just past O’s shoulder — Dev eases down again. Albeit briefly.

Where it hurts might be noticeable as Devon responds with a hand cautiously finding the mercurial fluid leaking from his chest. Fingers pull away upon locating the wetness, lifting so he can assess the damage himself. “Feels like I was kicked in the chest.” Snark is a bandage over the more obvious pain and annoyance. He's a terrible patient on good days. And today isn't a good day.

With his hand carefully against the hole in his now useless armor, Devon braces in anticipation of pain. “Need to alert Harkness,” he says through gritted teeth. “And get some cuffs on that guy.” His free hand and feet work in tandem to wrestle free of the cot, and he makes movement and effort to get to his feet.

That guy, as it so happens, remains frozen in place by the prowess of Eric Doyle. It’s a haunting sight, seeing the young man so still. And yet, the look of dawning horror and fear in his eyes reads so clear behind the veil of anger. It feels at once familiar and yet difficult to place, like something from a dream.

Harkness may be out of sight trying to get a signal to call in, but one of Raytech’s security officers is already jogging over with his Banshee readied. Ulysses comes to a stop and looks with confusion at the scene, watching Ourania checking on Devon and Jason Tyminski holding the attacker in place with a single gesture.

Shit,” Ulysses says with a look of surprise. There’s a tremor of anxiety in the volunteer medics and wounded that were nearby to the gunshot. But security is on sight and the situation seems to have been immediately defused. “Hold him steady, however you’re doing that. I’ve got him.”

Ulysses holsters his Banshee and pulls out a bundle of plastic zip ties, forcing the young attacker’s arms behind his back. He applies three sets of plastic ties around his wrist, then grabs him by the scruff of his shirt and looks over at Doctor Pride. Other Redbird security are fanning out around the triage center, checking cots and reassuring volunteers.

“You alright, ma’am?” Ulysses asks, then down to Devon. “He gonna’ be okay?”

“I could hold him all day if you needed. Or make him dance a jig,” ‘Jason’ replies with a brief, dark smile. As the man’s secured and scruffed, the puppeteer straightens up and leans forward, rounded face looking the would-be assailant in the eye.

“Now,” he asks, easing his control of the man’s mouth, jaw, lips, tongue. “Why… when we’re working so hard to put you back together… would you try and kill us? Are you one of the people trying to burn our city down?”

He smiles again, beatifically, both eyebrows lifting upwards. “I’d tell the truth, if I were you. I could have you eat your fingers, you know.”

“Whoa-whoa-whoa! Stop! Stop!” Ourania points a scolding finger at Devon. “You stay. Do not move yourself! You could be more injured than you think!” As she climbs to her feet and hustles past ‘Jason,’ she hits him very lightly on the shoulder and hisses to him, “Manners!

It’s the patient-turned-assailant that’s her goal here. “He still has a fluid bag connected!” It isn’t going to help them if the gunman is unable to answer questions about why he suddenly sat up from the table and started shooting. Dr. Stoltz makes sure she’s making eye contact with Ulysses before she reaches for the detainee’s hand. “I’m fine,” she assures him, looking and feeling a little small in that moment, and with the voice to match, for all her confidence. “Thank you for asking.” Her head tilts back toward Devon. “He should be fine, but I’ll give him a more thorough looking-over once I make sure this idiot isn’t risking an air embolism.”

Ducking behind the detainee, Ourania reaches for his hand and pops the fluid line free, quickly turning it up in a U shape. The IV she leaves in place. Wherever he ends up, he’s still undoubtedly going to need care. No point in making it harder for the next physician. “Whole fucking line’s a wash,” she mutters under her breath. “I have a mind to slap him.” But with the tubing pinched off so the bag won’t leak everywhere, she winds it up and starts backing up to make her way back toward Devon.

Halfway to his feet, Devon pauses to stare narrowly at the finger thrust in his direction. It lasts less than a second; he's faced things that were a lot more scary than a scolding finger. Then his eyes raise to Ourania, one brow ticking lifting higher than the other. It's a challenge, and maybe not the wisest one he's ever laid down. But he holds like that until the doctor's turned away, breath half caught and released in shallow pulls. Once the attention is off him, Dev relaxes slightly.

He tests his chest again, fingers probing through metallic fluid. A slanted look marks Jason and his charge, Ourania's gripe with the IV on their new friend. Dev flinches when he locates that tender point of impact and pulls his hand back so he can grip the side of the cot.

By the time the doctor is turning back, Devon Clendaniel is once more getting his feet under him to stand up. Finger pointing and grouchy looks aside, he's still got a job to do. One part of that is alerting Harkness, whom the younger Hound is half looking for as he pushes against the cot with one hand. The other braces against the wetness oozing from his armor in anticipation.

The ill-planned gunman says nothing at first, just stares at Doyle. When Eric sees the tell-tale jaw and neck motion of preparing to spit it doesn’t take much more than two fingers pinched closed to prevent the young man from doing that.

Ulysses looks the young man up and down, then turns his attention to Devon and Ourania. “We’ll detain him somewhere and hand him over to the police once this shit-storm has stopped burning, he doesn’t seem all that compelled to talk anyway. Right now we need to—”

Ulysses is cut off by the sound of small arms fire popping repeatedly out in the parking lot just outside the triage center. “Shit, shit!” He hisses, trying his radio a couple of times and only getting static.

Turning to Ourania, Ulysses points two fingers at Devon. “Figure out if he’s safe to move and send him out after me if he can.” He barks, then shoves the zip-tied young gunman down onto an unoccupied cot. “Stay inside, keep an eye on this kid,” he tells Ourania and Doyle, then starts to jog for the door out of the triage center as more gunfire and shouting erupts outside.

“Hahn, Barazani, anybody can you read me!?” Ulysses shouts into his radio, picking up speed as he heads to the door that Harkness had just walked out not that long ago.

Eric’s lips curl in a sneer at the man. “Manners,” he mockingly repeats Ourania’s scolding to the gunman, before there’s that tell-tale sound of small arms fire. A sound that maybe he’s more familiar with than he’d like.

Instinctively he ducks down beside the cot he’s next to, then realizes something and pushes himself up to his feet, bellowing across the room, “Lucy! Get down and stay down…!” His attention turning to the door, jaws chewing on his tongue uncertainly. Should he follow?

Across the room, Lucy is already behind a stack of pallets, thanks. No need to yell, she knows how to avoid gunfire better than he does.

Ourania looks up from where she’d knelt beside Devon and nods her understanding to Ulysses, sparing Doyle from a withering look and a stuck-out tongue. (And probably sparing her a ‘stop hitting yourself!’ moment.) When more gunfire pops in the parking lot and the blonde’s mind starts to wheeling and jumping to the conclusion that perhaps that this is a concerted effort of some kind.

Her gaze pivots to the blazing landscape beyond and ten years into the past. It had been easier, then. The bigots had wanted to take control and she had helped stop them by showing them human may have been first, but evolution is inevitable. The three of them – Devon, Doyle, and herself – were present then, too. The fourth large player1 is conspicuously absent, and it twists her heart. The unwillingness to dwell on that pain brings her back to where she is now.

“It’s your lucky day, Clendaniel,” Ourania tells her patient as she begins to firmly push against parts of his armor to see if he does more than merely hiss and wince with pain. “I was going to make you stay down regardless of my findings, pending a complete check. However, I’d much rather have you making sure I have fewer gunshot victims to treat, so if you don’t howl at me, Hound, you’re off the hook.”

Devon's head doesn't lift at the sound of gunfire, but his eyes swing in that direction. He starts to move, intending to be no less than two steps behind Ulysses regardless of what the security guard planned. He's stopped only when O appears in front of him again.

He scowls and brushes Ourania's hand aside before it can do more than find the edges of the cracked chest plate. His reaction to her attempted exam isn't exactly rough, but it isn't done nicely either. The action matches the look on his face, which falls simply into no touchy and done with this shit. "I'm fine." He's already checked and he's not letting anyone else go prodding unnecessarily. Devon straightens on his feet — thankfully with none of the world splitting pain of broken bones — though he does put a hand against the silvery bleed for a second. Just the grinding ache of a bruise, dismissed on his next breath.

A detour takes him around one cot and close enough to Doyle Jason to collect his firearm. The victim-turned-detainee is hardly given a look. Honestly, Ourania's exam of the gunshot wound lasted longer than the attention the Hound gives the guy. The handgun is seated in the holster at his hip. He's ready to be off, but hesitates for a half second. His eyes flick to the pair meant to be tending to victims and volunteers.

"Be ready to evacuate." Dev glances between Jason and O. Harkness had gone off to radio for support, a flight out for survivors. Whether they are or will be, he leaves that to them. He jogs away, following Ulysses' path…

…straight into a warzone.



“Where the fuck did they come from!?”

Scott Harkness is pinned down beside his truck, flinching away from incoming small arms fire from across the Raytech courtyard. Redbird Security is already deployed trying to repel a threat he doesn’t have eyes on.

“No idea! I was trying to get a single bar to make a call and then people started shooting!” Francis Harkness is situated in a hunched position beside the rear wheel well, ducking down to look under the high undercarriage of the truck to try and identify what’s going on. He clicks his tongue, then holds out a hand and motions across the length of the vehicle to his father. “Empty out the bag.”

Scott nods, extending one hand as a latticework of blue-white light sculpts into the shape of an M16, offered out across the divide to Francis. A pair of magazines form next in the same manner, passed out as gunfire continues to ring out. In Scott’s other hand manifests an old wood-stock bolt action marksman rifle, an M1 Garand.

“Let’s take a peek.” Scott says and raises three fingers, then two, then one. Simultaneously, he and Francis peek out from opposite ends of the truck and look down the open courtyard of Raytech’s campus. Fire has spread into the compound, but not from the wildfire. There’s a car burning near the security checkpoint, armored Redbird security officers jogging away from it under incoming gunfire.

Seven men in makeshift body armor with gas masks, hoods, and a mish-mash of military surplus gear as filtering in through the checkpoint around the burning vehicle, one that looks to have been driven into the security booth.

“The fuck is this?” Scott asks himself, then waves for Francis to move up. As he does, Scott notices Devon coming out of the warehouse nearby and waves him over.

“We’ve got some fucking yahoos in MilSurp gear out by the checkpoint,” Scott says with a motion over the back of the truck. “Redbird’s on the heel, looks like they’ve got injured. Whoever these guys are, it looks like they set a car on fire and crashed it into the checkpoint at the gate. Can’t get any signal out of here, might be jamming, might be something else. You wanna help us mop up these idiots?”

Gunfire, whether it's intended to distract and act as cover or actually intended to take out the security forces, keeps Devon in a hunched position. Head down, knees bent, he crosses the distance between warehouse and Harkness the Elder's truck in a practiced hustle. Basically he times his hare scamper from doorway to quasi-protective something to the father-son duo to happen roughly between volleys.

He slides onto a knee, shoulders against the body of the truck so he can lift and look beyond. "One of the volunteers we were patching up attacked us," he explains. It's sort of meant as an answer; fuck yeah he's going to help squash this… strange uprising. Whatever it is.

Devon checks his sidearm, drawing back the slide far enough to note any malfunctions he'll need to clear. The magazine is dropped and then slapped back into the receiver after. Satisfied, he eases upward, just high enough to get his eyes on the crashed and burning car. "Any guesses about who they are?"

“No idea!” Francis shouts over the noise. “Really, really reminds me of the war, though. Street-to-street bullshit with little local militias.” Francis leans out from around the other side of the truck from Devon, training his sights through the scope of the M16 Scott gave him. He waits, watching, and then pops with a single shot, watching the attacker drop in the street. “Jesus, this is fucked.”

Devon can see a line of militia fighters moving in past the Raytech security checkpoint, one of them armed with a makeshift riot shield made out of welded steel. Behind him two men hurry, ducked in the shield’s silhouette. “Fuck!” Francis hisses. “One in the back—I think he has an RPG!” Francis fires twice, missing the man at the rear but clipping the one in the middle at the leg. He crumples down and his friend steps over him.

“Hold on!” Scott says, popping up to stand and lay the barrel of the M1 Garand across the side of the truck bed for balance. He stares down the iron sights, punching a shot directly in the center of the metal shield. The round blows straight through the shield, fragments, and the shards of the round hit the man on the other side, causing him to crumple forward. Scott pulls back the bolt and goes to chamber another round, ejecting the last spent shell casing and the empty cartridge out the top of the gun with a loud PING, right before the fucking thing jams.

“Goddamnit!” Scott shouts. “Clendaniel! Take the shot!” As Scott calls out, the last man standing ducks into a crouch, preparing to set the RPG over his shoulder, focused on the truck.

Like the war is right. The small skirmishes in the cities were often some of the most savage and desperate. Devon makes no response except to ease around the truck opposite of Francis' movements. Gravel crunches under a boot as he shifts low, well beneath the sight line of Scott's M1 Garand. He notes the group with its makeshift shield, eyes tracking to the ruined gate then swinging back as Francis alerts to the possible RPG.

He uses the younger Harkness' shots as time to look for a way to flank the opposing forces. It's a risk he's known to take, preferring it to being pinned down. But with the shield, his chances of success aren't great. "Fuck," is a frustrated grunt.

Raising his handgun, Dev holds his position and hopes for a shot. Or for anything that leads toward better positioning. The concussive force of the Garand is felt in his bones, but it doesn't make him waver or flinch. He sees it punch an opening into the steel and the man holding it crumple. He hears the familiar chunk of a malfunction and takes it as his cue.

Devon moves forward, anticipating what the elder Hound would call for their next strike, even as Scott instructs him to take the next shot. Two quick, almost sprinting, steps lead off then settle into a hurried march. His gun raised, aimed down the barrel, Devon covers three spans before firing three shots in quick succession at the RPG man.

The panic of being shot causes the man carrying the RPG to collapse onto his back and—


Moments Earlier

The amount of gunfire popping outside makes it sound like a warzone. The loud crack of rifles, the pop of small arms, shouts, screams. It’s the Civil War’s cacophony all over again. Doctor Stoltz can feel the current of panic flowing through the wounded held inside this makeshift triage center, and though thick walls stand between them and the violence it does little to abate that growing fear.

An interior door to the triage center bursts open, followed by four Redbird Security officers rushing in, carrying another officer who has clearly been shot. “Help!” One of the security officers shouts. “Please!” The four officers are carrying Raytech’s chief of security, Diana Hahn by her arms and legs, leaving a drizzling trail of blood in her wake as they bring her over to a cot.

Each pop of gunfire sets off new ripples of panic through the crowd, and that would be fine if it were only that or would stay only that. No, too many ripples and the waters start to become unsettled. Choppy. Waves rise and fall and threaten to capsize—

They have to get away from here if she wants to keep her ability active and keep her hands steady. They need to get away from here if they want to get real answers from this patient about what’s going on. Her focus begins to narrow, finding the pearl of anger in the middle of the sea and braving the waters to plunge in deep enough to reach it.

“We need to get him to my office so we can—” Ourania is cut off in mid-sentence when the door is thrown open, drawing her eyes up to it and scattering her awareness back out to be thrown about by the tumultuous waters just long enough to make her vision swim with a sensation like vertigo, a feeling of nausea attempting to settle in thick.


Blue eyes seem to darken in shade as she casts a look to Eric. “Have a chat with him.” Her lip curls faintly. He’s capable of asking questions without her direction.

Here!” Odessa is on her feet immediately, calling out ahead of her own flight to join the Red Birds. As she’s practiced before, she takes in a deep breath that helps her feel as though her ability contracts to a smaller radius around her. It isn’t as though she and the security chief are friends by any stretch, but the Rays trust her, and she trusts the Rays. Owes them.

Dr. Stoltz skids to a stop with her bag in tow. “Tell me what happened,” she asks the detachment calmly while she makes her initial visual assessment, prioritizing — performing triage. She’s going to catch hell from Ace for this.

Ace, whose presence she still feels distantly when she reaches for it.

“Wh– I– uh–” Doyle’s wide eyes look from the door where the sounds of gunfire are coming from to the injured apparent enemy combatant to Odessa’s departing ass uncertain on his feet, his hand half-raised in continued restraint of the captive - not that he needs to do it, but the gestures help him focus a little bit better.

He could probably be of great help outside, but that’d also expose him to gunfire and despite his power, Eric Doyle has always been more than a little bit of a coward.

And a bully, but that’ll come in handy more inside than out.

His jaw sets, jutting out a bit from his rounded face as those large, expressive eyes slowly roll back to focus on the would-be gunman. “So. Who are you with,” he asks, bushy eyebrows lifting, “And who is it that’s out there shooting at us?”

Fingers twitch, and the rude young man that had attacked his own doctor brings his hands up in an equally jerky motion, the fingers of one hand closing over the others’. His mouth released again.

“Every time I have to ask, you’re breaking one of your own fingers.”

The young man Doyle has snared in his spider web is the same age as Denisa and Mala, someone who should be enjoying college years here in a world that hasn’t flooded. But instead, all Doyle sees in that young man’s eyes in abject terror that slowly bleeds away into blind rage. The “Fuck you— Slice,” that comes next barely registers as an insult to the Traveler. But he gets the jist.

Doyle’s reply is in the equally succinct language of violence as he guides his captive to break one of his own fingers. To Doyle’s mercy, it’s a clean dislocation more than a break. It’s a firm reminder and a second chance. The young man would buckle under the pain, as the howl he gives indicates, but Doyle’s ability keeps him upright and held on unseen tethers like a self-flagellating marionette.

Nearby, Dr. Stoltz is getting a rambling overview of Hahn’s injuries. “They came at us out of nowhere! Bunch of militia kids, armed to the fucking teeth. Pulled up in a van and just shot out the front windows of the office. They kicked in the front door, I think Barrington and Worth are dead. The front desk woman, Lang, she got clipped. There’s guys behind her bringing her in too.”

The words Lang got clipped have blood pounding in Odessa’s ears. Sera isn’t her mother, was just a vessel, but she’s still a friend. A friend who was shot. Meanwhile, Diana Hahn is spitting up blood. Dr. Stoltz already knows what that means, judging from the perforation in her AEGIS armor. Battery blew and she took a shot-through. There’s a half dozen flattened bullets wedged into the kevlar coating to paint that picture, even as the other security officers explain.

“The non-lethals triggered, fucking sticky foam everywhere. Hahn came out, full tactical response team. They got a few lucky shots off on her. We cleared the room, neutralized hostels, got Lang to safety, that’s— that’s when Hahn collapsed.” The security officer continues.

Dr. Stoltz is already peeling the AEGIS off of Hahn when she realizes just how bad things have become. It’s a clean shot, straight through Hahn’s upper abdomen and out the back, just missed getting lodged behind her scapula. Problem is that the round went through the AEGIS armor after the battery died. Ferrofluid is mixing with blood in the wound, a too-common downside to this kind of reactive armor. Ferrofluid is only a minor skin irritant on externals, but internally it can cause pulmonary distress and death.

Hahn didn’t even realize when her battery blew, didn’t realize she needed to strip the armor. Didn’t realize the additional danger she was in.

The options available to Odessa in Hahn's case are slim and growing slimmer by the minute. With a hospital and all its equipment, its medications, its staff

She could try. She could make do with the resources she has available to her. Stabilize her. But where would she go? If Richard were here…

But he isn't. It's just her judgment. How many more patients can she stabilize in the time she's going to have to spend on Hahn?

On a potential lost cause.

Odessa Knutson would see the ailment. The treatment. The possibility. The probability. Anything but the patient. Anything but a human being. Anything but a colleague. Anything but a friend.

For Odessa Knutson, this would be an easy choice. Odessa Callahan is torn.

“You!” she snaps her fingers and points to the nearest security member. “You need to go inside, down to the laboratories, number two and get into the cabinet. The code to open it is one-zero-three-zero. Do you have that? Ten-thirty.

Gesturing to Hahn, Dr. Stoltz elaborates. “She’s been poisoned by her armor’s battery. I can’t do anything for her until I get the medication I need. You need to bring up deferoxamine. Once I have that, I can save her.” Working on the victims of the crash last summer means she has supplies more befitting of a hospital on hand. The question remains of whether she can administer the IV in time to save her life. “If you can’t figure out what you’re looking at, grab anything that looks remotely fucking helpful. Go!

None of that will matter if she’s bled out before they can get back with the bag. “Stay with me, Diana.” O starts packing gauze in an attempt to stem the tide. Even as she does, she calls out for her next patient. “Where’s Sera Lang?”

“Down the hall, her injuries aren’t life-threatening so we moved to transport others. She got hit in the leg, can’t walk on her own, but she’s safe.” The security officer rambles in a shaky, adrenaline-fueled way.


Doyle’s tone is almost disappointed when he speaks in the aftermath of that finger’s dislocated, his head cocking to one side and bushy eyebrows bouncing up above wide eyes, “You’re just one of those racists, then? I forget what they call them here. Humans Eat First? Purged Earth? I don’t pay attention to the news a lot– “ He leans in as if being conspiratorial, “It’s just so depressing most of the time, don’t you agree?”
Leaning back, he smiles blandly, “So, you can either tell me what’s going on out there, or– or– I can get creative. I’ve always wondered how much of someone’s intestines they could pull out of their own ass before they died, so I really hope that you’re not going to cooperate.”

“I really do.”

The smile never reaches those eyes. Cold. Flat. Dead. Like a doll’s eyes.

“You can go fuc— ”

The rest of that sentence is drowned out by an explosion as a rocket-propelled grenade impacts the side of the warehouse. Concrete debris, grenade shrapnel, glass, and window framing explodes outward in a volley of horrific destruction. Triaged patients closest to the wall suffer the brunt of the blast, and Doyle is — perhaps miraculously — saved by the proximity to his human shield of a captive.

Saved, but not spared.

Diana Hahn coughs up a mouthful of blood and spits it to the side on the floor, wavering in and out of consciousness. While Odessa’s ears are ringing from the nearby explosion. She sees where Eric was and that he’s no longer there when the dust clears. Her heart is racing, blood is pumping, and

The detonation of a grenade sends a plume of earth and dust into the air, along with a scream. The truck lands heavy back on its wheels, and the second stops moving. Valentin barks an order down the line of the radio, and a chorus of gunfire peppers the approaching enemy — from a new angle. Panicked, inarticulate yells sound out from below, and he lifts his rifle, laying into one of the silhouettes that spill out to the side to avoid this new onslaught.

Lowering his weapon, he nods to Odessa, and then moves. Orders come quick but somehow also unhurried: "Brymer, take the rooftop. Eyes all around, please. Knutson, with me. Let's solve a mystery."

A snap of her fingers is all it took to bring the grenade out of its stasis and Odessa laughs triumphantly at the cacophony and confusion she creates. Her first step back toward Valentin is a half-skip, grin wide across her face as she jogs to catch up to him.

For all that she's jovial, she's also wiping sweat from her face and looking much paler than she ought to. The giddiness should leave her flushed, but the use of her ability takes its toll. Still, she bites her lip and flashes him a look. "Always." With him.

And there lies Doyle, covered in concrete dust, blood spotting on the fabric of his shirt, glass and metal shrapnel bristling out of him like Christmas ornaments. There’s gunfire outside, screams, and unidentifiable dark shapes moving through clouds of dust and billowing smoke.

It’s a war zone.

Dust and debris fall from the air and settle onto Odessa’s hair and skin like the crystalline of snowflakes. This is the chaos she used to cause during the war. The people causing it now are the same she used to call allies — for a given definition of the word that only means they fought together without attempting to kill each other. Now… Now, she wants to kill them all.

Well, not just now. She’s wanted to do that for some time now. Ever since…

It would be beautiful, if not for the context. Not that Odessa can fully remember exactly what happened to lead to this moment of snowflakes frozen in the air. Mist of breath like smoke suspended above her face. Missing roof over their heads.

Their heads.

“Michal?” She turns her head slowly, ensuring she hasn’t been injured terribly. When she spots him, she no longer cares for her own injuries. “Michal!” She’s on her hands and knees in an instant, scrabbling across the space between them. Had he shoved her out of the way? There’s a fleeting memory of strong hands against the backs of her shoulders that she isn’t sure is even real, or just manufactured to explain the moment.

Pressing her fingers to his neck to check for his pulse brings him out of the time lock she’s created by instinct rather than intent. “Come on, damn you. Don’t you dare be—”

Odessa doesn’t remember dashing across the floor to drop to her knees at Doyle’s side, but she’s here now, feeling for his pulse. She’d parted from him not once, but twice before, in favor of Michal Valentin. She no longer has to pick between them.

No, the choices before her now are much worse. It isn’t a matter of running off with someone who sets her heart to racing and doesn’t care about the blood under her fingernails (who never stole her agency), it’s choosing which lives to save. Which of her friends to save.

Her panic spikes and it’s returned with a desperate determination from her partner. Across the city, but fastened to her heart. It shifts the planes of her emotional landscape and provides a fuel. While the fingers of her right hand feel for the thump of his pulse under his skin, the fingers of her left test the air and the ephemeral things between it, hoping desperately to somehow, somehow, reclaim what once was hers and use it to save lives. “Eric!” she snaps, trying to call him back to her as she begins chest compressions. Her voice lowers, hoarse, “Please…”

Wake up.

Moments Earlier


A driverless electric bus softly hisses to a stop amid a firelit intersection. Its sign changes from In Service to Emergency Route Delay as its doors open, spilling its two passengers out onto the street.

"Here we go," Aman says to himself once his feet hit the pavement, looking back up for Isaac to follow. "Almost there, can see it from here."

He tries to direct Isaac's attention ahead to the walls of the Raytech campus rather than behind, where the signs of the river on fire loom oppressively, threatening to crawl ashore and choke them out. Aman pulls up the gaiter he's been wearing outside this last week before offering an arm out to support Isaac if he needs it.

Isaac grabs his bag and levers himself up smoothly enough, but he moves with a degree of care that is atypical for him; he follows Aman's lead, pulling up his gaiter and stepping off the bus and into the wind and rain outside. "Thanks," he calls over the roar of the elements, holding on to keep his balance.

Aman frowns to himself as they press on, aware of how unsteady Isaac is. "Just a bit further and we're there," he encourages. He can see the busy, packed parking lot from here. Uncertainty grows that they'll be able to find help in the chaos, but he's determined to try.

He lifts his head to try and get a better idea of where they should go as they come up on the gate, looking for an area more busy than the others— where triage and determination is likely happening for anyone newly brought in rather than just being transferred.

"Yeah," Isaac says haggardly. Just a little further. Sure. He holds onto Aman's arm for dear life, trying to keep himself anchored in the midst of this hellscape as he doggedly drags himself onward.

But as they approach the brightly lit front office of the Raytech building, there is a distant sound that cuts through the night. One that is too close to be coming from anywhere but the compound.


It starts as a few pops of handgun fire, then screams. Isaac turns toward the sound a moment before a second blast of automatic weapons fire cracks through the air, followed by a thunderous explosion and a blast of flame and debris up into the air over the wall of the Raytech compound. Shouts and gunfire continues, and up ahead Aman and Isaac can see a trio of men in urban camouflage and tactical gear hunkered down behind a concrete security checkpoint, firing inside the compound.

They’re armed like US military, but they’re accompanied by—


A thing moves behind the trio of insurgents crouched by the security checkpoint. A mechanical thing six and a half feet tall and ten feet long, walking like a giant animal on all fours. As it moves, a hard-point mounted machine gun on its back pivots toward the interior of the Raytech courtyard and then stops. The machine makes a high-pitched whining sound, then its small, camera-clustered head turns and looks directly down the street at Aman and Isaac.

And it screams a siren of alarm.

The gunfire slots into place the last thing to turn this all into a funhouse memory of his own– to make Aman forget the present for however brief, however jarring and overwhelming a moment. His stomach goes out from under him and he returns to a hollow feeling he's not had in years.

Not since the war.

Amanvir doesn't know how this didn't come on earlier. He honestly doesn't. Now the acrid air in his nose prevents him from breathing in more ways than one, and he stops in place, putting his hand on top of Isaac's as he holds on. His eyes go glassy, distant. "Wh–"

He'd stay there, frozen in fear, if not for the monster that crosses their paths next. This machine could be any of the ones that the DoEA made for all he knows– all he's ever heard of are horror stories. So his fingers dig into Isaac's knuckles, his eyes go wide.

It screams, and then so does he.

"Is–aac," Aman starts, feet lurching before the rest of his body begins to follow, rapidly, dragging his friend if he has to. The nearest alley will do. "चलो, चलो!2 Move!"

Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck. Of course fucking giant robot murderdog things (although these things are more bear-sized and only vaguely dog-shaped) because why the fuck not.

Isaac hears Aman speaking, but doesn't understand; as absolutely fucked as he is right now he isn't entirely sure whether Aman's lapsed into his native tongue in panic or if his brain's started processing language sideways — he suspects the former but with every other fucking thing that's gone sideways today the latter certainly isn't beyond the realm of possibility, is it?

He'd laugh if he could, and probably die, but Aman is dragging him along and Isaac's body, as not okay as it is right now, remembers the rhythm of running enough to make at least an attempt, adopting a lurching, broken gait forward as he tries to move and not fall.

Not again.

As Aman and Isaac try to move out of the hulking machine’s line of sight, the insurgents at Raytech’s security gate bark callouts. Aman only realizes that they weren’t talking to each other when he rounds the corner of the nearest alleyway and hears the squawk of a radio just before he spots two men in military fatigues covered in blood coming down the alley with long rifles.

Isaac practically stumbles into Aman’s back as he reflexively stops at their sight. Aman’s heart beats once, twice—

Two rifle shots crack out. Aman braces and—

the bullets hang suspended in the air in front of him, humming softly.

HEY!” Someone screams from behind Aman and Isaac, a panicked woman’s voice. Isaac sees her first; a dark denim jacket and cuffed jeans, jacket sleeve torn and bloodied. He recognizes her like someone in a foggy dream. Brunette, tough—


“This way, come on!” She screams, but that’s when he sees the blood-spattered lanyard swinging around her neck. A Raytech Industries visitor badge for



I can’t fucking hold this forever!” Kimberly screams, hands up and pushing forward toward the two men in the alley who are reloading their bolt-action rifles. Back the other way, behind Kimberly, three armored Raytech security officers are hunched behind a bullet-riddled car, cut off from the security checkpoint.

Seeing the other armed men just around the corner pushes Aman further into wondering if they've somehow not slipped back in time to the war, in the worst of ways. The kind that makes him regret being out of doors, anywhere in plain sight. He regrets, for a split second, not having someone else's ability on him. Anything to help with what comes next.

He blinks after the gunshots fire, waiting for the pain of bullets leeching into him. His eyes focus around the pair of them hovering in the air a moment after, and he turns with the sound of the yell out of reflex more than anything else. Seeing how she's struggling to stop the inevitable, he does her the favor of stepping aside from the bullet's path, and with an arm around Isaac's shoulder, angles to redirect their momentum in Kimberly's direction.

"He needs medical attention– we were just trying to get to–"

Oh, what does it matter now, Aman. The world's changed already.

"Thanks," he summarizes quickly, and staggers back away from the Raytech complex, presuming that's the closest way to safety at this point… but willing to be proven wrong by the kineticist's redirection.

Isaac blinks. He's not at his best right now, is still trying to separate and piece together the scattered fragments of the present hell as well as one long gone. Gunfire. Robots. Militant goons shooting at him in the streets… and then, in the middle of all that… he doesn't pick out the name on the badge, but the face is one he knows. As Aman drags him out of the path of those frozen bullets, a name bubbles up.

"Chess?" Isaac asks blearily.

Kimberly nearly misses the name over the chaos. Clenching her teeth together she redirects the kinetic force of the gunfire down to the ground at her feet, causing the pavement to crack and the bullets to fall like tiny hailstones. Presented with Kimberly’s defensive capabilities, the insurgents in the alley start to withdraw and fall back to the group with the war-machine.

While the insurgents retreat, Kimberly backpedals with Isaac and Aman and angles them toward the vehicle the three Raytech security officers are crouched behind. One of them is a mountain of a man with swept back black hair and a lantern jaw.

“Who the hell are you people!?” Ulysses Ngata isn’t a familiar face to anyone here, but the Redbird Security Solutions logo on his armor identifies him to the makeshift group gathered as being under Raytech’s umbrella.

“Hey first of all fuck you I was volunteering when this happened!” Kimberly yells, waving her badge around. “We got three guys with guns in that alley and a—” a machine noise roars in the distance, “whatever the fuck that is up the road!”

“I need to flank that machine up ahead. We have people pinned down in the parking lot!” Ulysses shouts over the noise, then takes a look at Isaac, trying to find obvious wounds at a glance and coming up short. “If your friend can walk he needs to stick behind us!” He says to Aman. “That machine is between us and the only medical facility in miles, so if you want him to get medical attention we’re your best bet! Any of you Slice? Got a bag of tricks? Because fuck I could use a miracle today.”

“Kinetic redistribution,” Kimberly says, glancing at Isaac and not correcting his assertion that she’s Chess yet. “I can stop the bullets around us but I can’t keep it up forever.”

“EM Vision here, I can see where all these fuckers are.” Ulysses quickly adds, looking from Kimberly to Aman. “You? Anything?”

Ears ringing, this is where the paths between the horrific past and the horrific present diverge. This moment right here. Aman meets Ulysses' look, locked up for a moment– until he remembers this isn't like then. Here and now, abilities might firmly keep them alive rather than spell an extended death sentence because the war has not yet been won.

"If there's anyone here injured, out of the fight, I can borrow their abilities with a touch. It works best if I know what the fuck I'm picking up, but I'm a quick study." He wishes he hadn't made the choices he had, to not have an ability on him today, but he never would have dreamed that this all would have happened. "I don't–" Aman shakes his head and looks back at the trouble down the road. "I haven't held a gun since the war, and I was never any good. If one of you get hit, I'm great at first aid, otherwise– I'm sorry."

He keeps a hand on Isaac's shoulder to steady him, and looks back at him. "You hanging in there?"

"No tricks," Faulkner answers the huge man's query. It might be better to say that he has the opposite of tricks at the moment, but it's probably not the best time for it and it's too much effort anyway.

To Aman's question, he just nods. "Still here," he replies.

For the moment, at least.

“Fuck,” Ulysses hisses, glancing at Kimberly and then pointing to Aman and Faulkner. “Okay, we’re going to push north. We need to get inside the Raytech compound, we don’t know how many more of these assholes there are out here. You two stay behind us, wait for a sign, and then run for the entrance. Keep your heads down and follow the wall that way,” he waves to the north, “as soon as you get in. That’ll take you to the triage center.”

Kimberly leans in toward Ulysses. “Wait, the fuck’re we going to do?”

Ulysses reaches down to his belt and unclasps two cylindrical grenades. “Diversion.” He says, motioning up the road. “I can see them and I’m willing to bet — except for the drone — they can’t see me. You stick with these two, be a bullet shield. Keep your eyes down and hug the wall, listen for the bangs, then run to the entrance.”

Ulysses puts a flashbang in each hand, pulling the pins but gripping the levers tight. “We move up together, okay?” He says, then motions to the other two Redbird Security officers. “You two, on me. Covering fire, forty-five degrees off my mark.” They nod, confident. This is clearly not their first combat scenario.

Ulysses crouches, ready to move, then looks back at Aman and Faulkner. “Ready?

Holy shit he pulled the pin on those things.

"As soon as we get in there," Aman promises quickly, "We'll find others and let them know you need help out here. That you're here." The risk these people are putting themselves through just to get Isaac a clear shot to triage is not lost on him. He feels like he should feel heavier with the weight of what needs done, with the anxiety of having to run and hope like hell the diversion has worked.

He's already feeling the dissociation take him, though. He can do this, though. His goal of finding a good guy with a gun and directing them this way is a light at the end of this run for him.

"All right, bhenji, it's you and us," he says to Kimberly, wrapping Isaac's arm around his shoulder to keep him close and steady enough in case the other falters. He looks to his friend, pupils widened. "On your mark, Isaac."

Faulkner takes a long breath in, lets a shaky breath out, and tries to pull himself together. It doesn't entirely work, but he nods anyway; the risk these guys are taking isn't lost on him, either, and he isn't going to let it be in vain.

"Yeah," he says, tightening his arm's grip around Aman's shoulders, tensing his legs experimentally, trying to will his body to not fuck this up; he can have a breakdown or a stroke or whatever the fuck later when it's not going to get people killed. This is not what he'd signed up for today, not how he'd planned to spend this or any other part of his life, but when has that ever made a difference?

Faulkner takes another breath. Running. He can do running. It's his thing. He's been working on this. "Ready," he says, and for a wonder he means it.

It’s hard to remember exactly when Ulysses shouted “Move!” Everything happens in staccato recollection, overwhelming noises of too-close proximity gunfire. Flanked by the other two Redbird security officers, Ulysses strides out into the open and lays down suppressing fire. The rounds skip off the street, some impact the hulking metallic creature partially concealed by smoke and rain.

As Isaac, Aman, and Kimberly follow the perimeter wall of the Raytech compound to the north, they can at times feel the rounds whining past them. When they veer too close, Kimberly catches them out of the air with an unseen hand, directing them down and away like peanut shells littering the floor of a bar. The ground cracks under her feet with the displaced kinetic force of the bullets.

As they get closer to the compound checkpoint, the billowing cloud of smoke that has crossed the street and concealed them is starting to thin. All three of them can see the machine again, as tall as any of them at the shoulder, compound eyes made of cameras, a pivoting light machine gun on its back. Kimberly makes a sound that feels like a scream but is too short-lived.

But it’s so much worse than even that seems.

Isaac is the first to reach the checkpoint, skidding through where an arm would normally block cars. Fragments of it are on the ground. There’s a car on its side, shell casings on the ground. Gunfire inside the Raytech compound.

He stops, just in time to see three of those insurgents dropping like flies to returned gunfire from the Raytech side. Some people ducked behind a truck, shooting. But one of the three insurgents has a rocket propelled grenade launcher.

Aman rounds the corner in time to see that man take a round to the throat. He falls backwards, squeezes the trigger, and fires the RPG round off. It arcs through the air and impacts with the side of a warehouse, blowing out the windows in a plume of debris and glass. The blast is far enough away that Isaac only feels it in his chest and teeth like a drum beat. It makes him stagger, sends a shockwave through Kimberly’s kinetic redistribution field that blows out the windows of the guard booth near her.

The machine turns toward Kimberly, zeroing in on her and Aman. Its back-mounted turret turns. “Run—” Kimberly hoarsely cries. “RUN!

A flashbang detonates on the machine’s head, sending it staggering to the side. Kimberly is momentarily blinded, stumbling back and away into Aman, knocking he and Isaac both further into the Raytech compound’s parking lot.

Ulysses Ngata advances, firing on the machine. The men he’s with shoot at the insurgents accompanying it. Three insurgents drop like sacks of flour, one of the Redbird Security officers spins around like a top and falls as well. Ulysses can’t stop to check on him, there’s six tons of weaponized robotics pivoting in his direction.

Inside the Raytech compound, Devon Clendaniel’s ears are ringing. He’s able to see around the truck, the rocket hit the triage center, blowing out the wall. There’s screams coming from inside and a cloud of dust billowing across the parking lot. Worse, there’s civilians coming in from the street. Devon can see Isaac, Aman, and Kimberly hurrying through the checkpoint with—

Whining hydraulics

Four mechanical limbs

Back-mounted turret

It isn’t the same model, but it’s close enough. Devon’s nightmares have been haunted by this ever since he learned of his fate in a future that never was…

…but might yet be.

Amanvir honestly isn't sure how the fuck they're alive. He knows well enough that Kimberly has godlike mastery of her ability and that one hundred percent is the reason, but it's honestly magic to him right now. He screams internally that he has nothing of his own to bring to bear in this moment. The way everything is falling apart, he could probably scream externally and it'd not go amiss.

But he's waiting for the right time.

When the wall to the triage center explodes, he loses the false hope that they had somewhere safe to escape to once they made it inside Raytech's walls. But he's positive— absolutely certain his warning will at least be heard now by more people.

"Hunter!" he howls with all the force he can muster, hoping it carries as far as it needs to. "There's a fucking hunter bot out here!"

He stumbles his way through the scattered glass that's burst out from the guard booth, trying to pick up momentum to head right for where the hole into the triage center is. The risks in what he's doing are outweighed by the potential benefit if he can find someone whose ability he can borrow to run back out to help Kimberly and Ulysses.

As soon as he sees enough inside to see outlines of bodies and faces, Aman asks frantically, voice raised, "Does anyone in here have an ability?! Is anyone SLC-E?"

Isaac's body does not, in this particular moment, betray him, and though bullets are hitting all the fuck over the place, none of them actually hit him, or Aman, or Chess; as he skids into the compound, some part of his mind that is starting to creep out from under the iceglaze of shock that a large part of him is still operating under makes a note to buy Chess a drink.

Then he starts seeing what's actually inside the compound. The shattered gate arm and the car laying on its side are worrying… but between the bright gleams of shell cases lying on the ground and the sharp sound of gunfire from inside the compound, it's clear that they are not yet safe. The fucking rocket launcher impact catches him offguard, though; between the fire and the distant screaming, it calls to mind the plane crash all over again…

Except, of course, there wasn't robo-Zuul with a machine gun at the plane crash.

Chess is screaming for them to run, and Aman's already doing that, making for the warehouse where the screaming is coming from; probably the right call, since it's close. Ulysses and his guys have got the robot terror dog's attention for the moment, but one of them just went down; sticking around and giving the robotic terror dog opportunities to use them for chew toys — with its machine gun — does not seem like a recipe for a good time.

"Come on!" he yells to Chess, turning and sprinting after Aman as fast as he can. Maybe he can do something — anything — useful in there. Maybe someone has a gun or something. Maybe he won't have another episode or mini-stroke or seizure or whatever the fuck they are, but if he does, being in there is probably better than being out here.

With one shake of his head meant to clear the ringing in his ears, Devon motions toward the building with vague hopes that Scott and Francis will pick up on the signal to help the civilians caught in the explosion. Within the same beat, he swings around the truck, abandoning the flimsy safety it offered and hustles forward to meet the figures coming from beyond the checkpoint. His steps falter slightly at first, when the hissing and whirring of hydraulics and large, mechanical appendages adds a percussion to the persisting tinnitus. He knows that hulking shape and those sounds the way two lovers know each other.

Technically, he isn’t familiar with this particular breed of robot; another version of him saw it once, and had a very similar reaction then. It’s close, too terrifyingly close, to the kind that…

Before his mind can really set off down that path, before the cold needles find home in his spine, Devon breaks into a run. A forward run that will take him into the path of the robot.

“Keep moving!” he bellows at Aman and Faulkner and the other civilians. He doesn’t spare a second to direct them which way to go. That’s a second he needs to buy them time. As soon as the words are out of his mouth he’s following up with a series of shots. Three rounds are sent in quick succession, aimed roughly at the Xiezhi’s head. They don’t have to be perfect, just enough to draw its attention and give the civilians a chance to escape.

Devon’s gunfire immediately draws to Xiezhi’s attention. The machine shifts to the right, moving like a sturdy horse with its long legs and considerable weight. Devon can see the bodies of the insurgents that were leading it scattered at its feet. Dark shapes behind the Xiezhi emerge from the smoke, two surviving Redbird security officers training down sights on the machine, unaware of Devon’s plan. They fire into its back and the machine rears up on its hind legs and stamps back down onto the ground.

Devon watches as the machine gun mounted on the robot’s back pivots toward the Redbird officers and opens fire. One tries to withdraw and is mowed down, the other—Ulysses—rushes forward and gets in between the massive legs of the war machine, too close for it to get a firing arc on him.

While Devon is advancing on the Xiezhi, Ulysses maneuvers between its legs, trying to avoid being kicked or stomped on as it gallops around trying to find him. Whatever the Hound was going to do, he had to do it fast.

At Devon’s back, Scott slaps Francis on the back and motions for him to go into the triage center while the old man jogs along behind Devon. Francis, reluctantly, breaks away and follows Isaac and Aman inside through the carnage. “How can I help?” Francis calls out, trying to make heads or tails of what’s happening inside.

Kimberly lingers in the rubble-strewn threshold of what was once a wall, looking back at Devon with wide eyes. Her hands curl into fists, hesitation sinks in. There’s screams from inside, but her ability won’t be helpful in here. But her heart is racing. Her head is screaming don’t.

When a puppet’s strings are cut, they look not unlike Eric Doyle does at the moment; on the ground, limbs splayed akimbo. His clothes are stained red in a dozen - or more - spots where shards of glass and bits of shrapnel are protruding from his legs, his chest, his arms. A shallow cut across his brow and scalp bleeds more freely - as scalp wounds do - spilling down to pool beneath his head in a way that makes him look in even worse shape than he is.

Not that he’s in any great shape anyway.

At first there’s no response from him, but then he stirs slightly– his head rolling a bit and a groan rising, one hand lifting helplessly and weakly to wave fingers in the air before it falls. “M– Meredith?” A muttered, confused name leaving him, followed by a less confused but still disoriented, “…hurts…”

Odessa’s heart twists. Her head is throbbing and she feels sick, but Eric Doyle stirs, and that’s one crisis averted for now. “You’re gonna be fine,” she assures herself just as much as him. “But you need to stay still. I need you—” Her voice catches in her throat. She pats her hand gently against him to try and convey some of that reassurance, in case he can’t hear her. “I’ll be back.”

Pushing to her feet she turns in time to hear the cry of a familiar voice, calling about an even more horrifyingly familiar threat. Spinning, she can see the terror beyond the walls and feels her stomach drop. She has no power that will help against what’s outside. All she can do is try to save what lives she can inside, and hope that the ones meant to keep them safe will manage to do that. Blue eyes wide, she looks around for the source of the warning.

“Aman!” She rushes to him, chest heaving, eyes filling with tears. Very visibly, what remains of her composure is only barely maintained. “You have to help me,” she begs, putting her hands on his shoulders. “There’s too many of them.” Whether she means foes lined up against them, or people in need of saving isn’t immediately evident.

“Sera’s been shot. I need you to—” Odessa takes in the sight of Isaac Faulkner and the state he’s in and seems to sober up in an instant, no longer drunk on panic.

Shit. Over here, over here.” Her hands leave Aman and grasp on to his friend instead, ushering him further inside and urging him to sit next to where Eric Doyle lays. “Are you having an episode right now?” she asks him very firmly. It is the last thing she needs, but she’s at least familiar with what to expect by now. She fumbles for the pen light in her lab coat, the edges of it smudged with blood in varying stages of drying, from brighter red to nearing brown.

Faulkner lets himself be shepherded along for a moment. "Y-yeah, I've been losing time, I saw things —" he starts, then abruptly shakes his head, his lagging brain catching up. "Wait, shit, no, can't. There's a, a robot outside. At the gate. They're fighting out there now. Do you have a gun?"

If he were thinking clearly he'd not even be asking, given his state, but right now literally everything is on fire, his brain may be imploding, and there is a killer robot outside.

"If there's a gun, if there's an ability laying around on someone injured that could be used against the fucking robots, give it to me– not him," Aman interjects. He's too many things at once to feel relieved there's someone here he trusts with Isaac's state, looking over his shoulder at where they've come, at Kimberly shielding the doorway, rather than looking at Des. "He's been like this for over an hour. He's had– four? episodes?"

The pop of gunfire and the slamming sounds coming from the robot trying to find and pin its prey claw anxiety up his back, leaving gouges. He wants to help, but he knows he's fucking useless out there. Aman looks back quickly to Odessa, at what she's doing–

Remembers, suddenly, what she'd been on the verge of asking. Knows Sera. Feels the weight of her panic in someone they both know potentially dying, even if his ties to her are far different than Odessa's.

"Fuck the gun," he decides. "Where is she?" He waits long enough to be pointed before leaving with the parting advice, "Everyone in here needs to be ready to move somewhere safer in the building, Des. That thing's right the fuck outside." But he's off to find Sera, relieved there's at least some good his hands could certainly provide in this moment.

Right outside, Devon yells a note of frustration. What the absolute fuck is Ulysses doing? Definitely something more insane than he himself is doing. Two more shots are fired from his gun. It has to be enough to buy Uly some time, a minor distraction at the very least.

As soon as the second round is fired he takes a hard right to the company vehicles parked against the side of the building. Dev slaps a hand onto the side of the vehicle, with his feet still skidding on the pavement. For a hot second, he begins to wonder if he shouldn't have used Ulysses’ fool maneuver to cover his own crazy plan. Fifteen seconds is a long time. He can't worry about that right now, it's eating up any time that may or may not have been bought.

Staring down at the car beneath his hand, Devon reaches out with his ability. Fifteen seconds is brutally long. And he can't guarantee that time is on his side. But once he has it, once he feels his control over the car’s mass click into place, he'll throw it like the improvised ballistic he intends it to be. Right into the face of the Xiezhi.

Ulysses ducks between the Xiezhi’s legs, dipping and crouching as it wildly bucks around. He aims up with his rifle, firing a few times into the undercarriage when Devon’s shots distract it.

More gunfire suddenly pops off from behind Devon as Scott Harkness rushes in, having switched out to a slug shotgun, the last thing he has in his extradimensional armory at the moment. The Xiezhi turns, pivoting its top-mounted gun and opens fire. Scott dives to the side, ducking behind the concrete-walled checkpoint booth. Bullets ricochet off, shards of stone clatter to the street and rain down on him.

Any time now, Clendaniel!” Scott howls, and when the Xiezhi has to cycle out a drum of ammunition with its loading arm, Scott pops back out and fires a slug at its midsection. The rounds do next to nothing to the heavy carrier robot, but it does keep its attention away from Ulysses who keeps peppering the underside with gunfire until he runs out of ammo.

Fuck!” Ulysses hisses, reaching for a spare mag. That moment of pause in his footwork gives the Xiezhi time to kick backwards and knock Ulysses flying. The security officer is launched into a parked car, sent straight through the windshield, and lands somewhere in the back seat.

“HEY!” Kimberly shouts, rushing out of the threshold of the triage center, waving her arms. “HEY OVER HERE!” She shouts, clapping her hands over her head. The Xiezhi looks at her, gun pivots, Kimberly braces to receive the automatic gunfire and—

Three thousand pounds of Yamagato electric car rises up off the ground like an untethered balloon. Devon closes his eyes, feels the gravity vibrations in the metal, and then changes where down is.

Down is now directly at the Xiezhi.

The car sails through the air like a missile, crashing into the Xiezhi and pushing it across the street, through two parked cars, and into the corner of an adjacent building. The already burning car now explodes from the force of impact, causing the ammunition stores on the Xiezhi to erupt in a second explosion.

Metal fragments rain down across the street. The lumbering, wrecked hulk of the Xiezhi tries to free itself from the burning wreckage, hydraulics howling like a wolf. Then it lurches, creaks, and falls motionless.

Fuck you!” Scott yells at the Xiezhi in triumph, shooting an approving look over at Devon. “I’ll check the security team, Devon go plug the hole, make sure nobody gets into the triage building!” Scott says, hurrying out into the street.

Inside the triage center, Francis holsters his sidearm and is following Odessa’s instructions. “Hey, whatever you need me to do.” He says, turning his attention to some of the other wounded that are getting chest compressions. “I can help!” He calls out, taking off his jacket and dropping to a knee beside some of those wounded in the blast.

Aman finds Sera not in the triage center but just down the hall from the interior entrance. She’s sitting on a bench, right leg extended with an emergency medical tourniquet around her thigh. Blood covers her pant leg and stains the floor below where she sits. Her face is puffy, eyes red from crying. She was clearly shot in the leg, looks like the bullet went straight through the meat from how much blood is everywhere. She’s a little ashy, but the tourniquet will keep her stable until someone can properly tend to her.

“Panama,” Sera wheezes, looking blearily at Aman. “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!” She laughs, then grimaces and moves a hand near her leg.

"Hey, that's my girl," Aman chimes as he comes up next to her, one hand squeezing her shoulder. He offers a smile, warm despite the chaos. It's automatic and second nature, but it feels genuine. "If you've still got your sense of humor, you're gonna be just fine, all right?" He comes to a kneel beside the bench. After seeking permission, he tenderly assesses the strength of the tourniquet. "You know what blood type you are, Sera?" he asks calmly. "I want to make sure to hook you up with the good stuff. You're just gonna have to help me out with that a bit, all right?"

The world is falling apart around him, fires encroaching from Manhattan that may end up here soon— but for this moment in time, the problem before him is comparatively small, and for once he feels he has the tools to solve it. He promises, "We'll get you cleaned up, get a bit of color back in your face, and get you some downtime. How's that sound?"

There’s someone talking to Eric, but he can’t quite tell who; his brow furrowing beneath the spill of red across it, he tries to lift his head. He winces, a hand trying to lift to the hurt but not quite making it. “It… what happened, where…”

Like a stubborn mule that doesn’t understand why it shouldn’t do what it’s doing, he tries to sit up again despite everything, fingers twitching a bit in a half-conscious effort to force those muscles to obey.

Which is when the world goes black again and he drops right back onto the ground and into blissful unconsciousness, to dream of Punch and Judy and their many feuds, ignorant of the robots and terrorists all around them.

Devon sags backward a step as the car and robot explode one after the other. He doesn’t share in Scott’s cheer, but there’s obvious relief in his posture. It worked. Concern flashes across his face, thankfully masked behind his visor. It was too close, even though it worked. He needs to find a way to trim the timing off, before trying a crazy stunt like that again.

His head turns to Scott when the older man calls to him. It’s followed by a look angling away to the blown out wall. Devon straightens and calls back with, “On it.” Glass and debris crunches beneath his boots as he crosses the short distance at a jog. When small pieces and pebbles of concrete and mortar become larger, tire-sized stones or more, he shifts gears. Those things Dev actually moves, pushing them or carrying — physically and with his ability for ones he can’t actually handle — into the breach.

The pops of gunfire, the shouting, and the crash outside finally have Odessa turning to look that way even as she’s waving her pen light in front of Isaac in a maneuver he’s been through with her so many times that she doesn’t even bother to pause and explain what she’s doing before she does it. After everything, he’s still aware enough to realize that it’s her hand shaking, and not some terrible side effect of his condition that sees the tremor in the light.

Turning back, his doctor nods her head. “Okay, look at me. Listen. You’re not fine, but you’re fine enough. I’ve got somebody— Jesus Christ, Eric! Lie down!” Odessa ushers Isaac to sit even as Francis Harkness comes to see what she needs. “You,” she says firmly to Isaac, “sit.” She jabs a finger at Doyle, maintaining eye contact with Isaac. “He needs to stay down.” Then she turns to Francis, “You, help others nearby. If he,” she points to Isaac now, “starts to seize, you come find me, or you send someone to come find me.”

Her stern look softens when she sets it back on Isaac, “You are going to be okay.” Drawing in a deep breath, Odessa nods gratefully to the young Hound. “I need to go help Diana.” Her sneakers squeak on the flooring as she pivots and breaks off in a run across the room.

On to the next crisis.

If there's a gun, give it to me, not him!

Isaac wants very badly to protest, the indignant words bubbling up from his guts… and then he swallows them, instead.

Because Aman is right, and Isaac knows it. Because in his current state of unreliability, the most likely contribution Isaac would make to any life-threatening situation is his own death. So he grits his teeth and nods and Aman's gone anyway.

Judging from the truly enormous crashing sound outside and the sudden lack of small arms fire, someone did indeed successfully Do Something about the robot terror. Good, great.

Doctor Pride — Stoltz — sweeps by and then she's gone too, and Isaac gets it. It's a hellscape out there, there are plenty of people with immediate and serious wounds that can be treated, and whatever's going on with his brain probably isn't going to kill him yet and even if it was, they know that not a lot can be done to treat it anyway.

There's not even much he can do to help — he's had four episodes since they left the house, and if he has a fifth while someone's counting on him, he'd be responsible for the consequences of that. So he nods quietly and sits, alone save for the unwelcome company of his own thoughts and the low din of the cries of the wounded.

The roar of the flames…

…and the distant pop of gunfire.

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