The Old Barn


chris_icon.gif kara_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title The Old Barn
Synopsis While out on patrol, Kara, Chris, and Yi-Min make a troubling discovery.
Date April 8, 2019


There is an old barn on the edge of the territory commonly referred to as Providence.

Its roof sags and its walls bow in, but until recently it was structurally sound enough to store the decades-old farming equipment belonging to the family that called the plot of land it sits upon their home. Kara remembers the Kauffmans fondly, only because they’re hard to forget; like many of the Amish clans in the Pine Barrens, theirs is a sprawling family tree, and the last time she paid their farmhouse a visit she counted at least fifteen men, women, and children tending to the sheep in the pasture adjacent to the barn.

A young woman with straw-blonde hair and twins in her arms had invited her inside and had introduced herself as Rachel. Her husband, Aaron, sat her down at the kitchen table and served her a heaping bowl of butter noodles smothered in a thick, gamey sauce cut with fresh cheese. They were glad she and the Remnant were there, they’d said.

They would sleep easier at night knowing that God had sent His angels to watch over them.

That was two weeks ago.

This morning, rain slants down from a bruised gray sky, transforming the trail into a river of dense black mud, even if their horses navigates the terrain without complaint. As she and Chris and Yi-Min crest the top of the hill overlooking the Kauffman’s farm on their patrol, the first thing they see is that barn. Normally, Kara’s eyes might skip over it and roam beyond the fence line to look for familiar faces in the pasture, or for Rachel’s silhouette taking down clothes from the laundry line — but today her attention never gets that far.

The barn has collapsed. The pasture is empty: devoid of sheep, goats, or children bustling cheerlessly about in the rain. No smoke rises from the farmhouse’s chimney.

Its windows are dark.

"Something's wrong," may be obvious to even someone who's not been to this particular farmstead before, but it escapes Kara tersely and quietly anyway. She pulls back on the reins again to slow up her horse, scanning for signs of movement … but she sees nothing.

After the trouble Eileen and Byron had run into only a day before, the group had communally decided to increase patrols — around the Factory, around the community as a whole.

Still, they were only so many.

The pause is also necessary to properly ready the assault rifle she's brought with her. They were informed the intruders (as Kara was internally referring to them) had shot without warning. She was keeping her eyes on the treeline as much to fire first as avoid being fired at. "Let's head up quiet." The suggestion is made with a glance back to her companions, seeking full consensus before heading on.

What gave that away? The fact that the barn is laying in a giant heap?

…Is what Yi-Min would have very dryly said by way of direct response, had she thought that Kara would be in any mood for a comment such as this. She does not have to look to know that this isn't remotely the case, given the rather serious-looking issues at hand for them all. The smaller woman herself is already busily scanning the long stretch of the terrain before them, both for signs— as of said intruders— and any concerning lack of signs, as of the conspicuous lack of life to be seen anywhere on the farmstead.

Yi-Min returns the recommendation with a smooth, wordless nod ahead to Kara. Beneath her, a tense and disagreeable little whicker escapes from Parable, whom she reaches down to steady with a calming hand.

The milky-white stallion clearly doesn't like any of this, and neither does she.

“No shit?” Chris’ voice is a murmur but the grim look he gives Kara speaks volumes more than the snark.

He definitely lacks the filter or grace that Yi-Min holds, but then Kara's known that for a long while. And even the Taiwanese woman should expect him to say whatever comes to mind by now.

His attention returns to studying the farmstead, pushing his feet against his stirrups to see further. Sitting up on the crest of earth as they are, if anyone is down there they could have been seen. After a moment he looks at his companions. “Backtrack around this hill,” he adds to Kara’s plan, “come up from the side instead of straight on from here.”

Sitting back in the saddle again, Chris gives a light whistle while turning Jester’s head. The horse responds easily to the rein, turning as directed with only a few extra steps. Chris twists slightly, looking at Kara for the final word.

The few extra seconds wouldn't change what happened here, but the prudence could make the difference for them. Kara nods wordlessly as she directs the horse firmly with one hand. There's a quiet huff of protest from the horse who would much rather be directly pointed at the house or some other place out of the rain, but he yields to the direction given.

This is not about Yi-Min's possessing a filter. It is that she literally cares more about other things right now. Parable defers to her unspoken commands with a gentle tug of his lead, though apprehension at something unseen is still clear in the stiffened movements of his otherwise lithe form. "If we are looking to approach without being seen," she comments, matter-of-fact but quiet, "It may be best to dismount soon and continue on foot." There is not much in the way of cover up ahead— at least not for the broad silhouettes of a trio of mounted figures.

The horses pick their way around the hill, churning up mud and new spring grass. From this angle, they can better see the deep grooves in the earth where something large with blunt, heavy edges dragged itself toward the barn. The tracks — because they are tracks — look fresh. Judging by the amount of rainwater pooling in their indentations, Kara estimates that they’re somewhere between eight and twelve hours old.

There are no birds in the sky, only oppressive clouds. If there’s something still lurking nearby, Eileen will be unable to deliver an early warning.

Chris sees no sign of the glowing red lights he’s been told to watch for, not in the gloom, and not in the shadows of the treeline that flanks the crumpled barn. Whatever happened here seems to be firmly in the past.

As the tracks become apparent, Chris draws his horse to a stop. He’s studying the building, or what remains of it, instead of the deep cuts in the earth. Then, twisting in his saddle, he looks to the trees, taking a slow survey of the dreary world between canopy and forest floor.

Swinging a leg over, he eases himself down from the saddle. He lets the lead hang free, giving Jester the ability to wander. The horse’ll respond to a whistle, and isn’t likely to wander too far. Before moving away, he drags his rifle from the boot near his right stirrup. He crosses to one of the bags at the paint’s flank and digs around until he’s found a set of binoculars.

Turning from his horse, the strap of the binocs are looped over his neck, and the rifle is slung from a shoulder. Footsteps are placed carefully on the soaked ground, each spot picked so he leaves the little prints.

“Check the buildings first,” he asks quietly, without looking at either Kara or Yi-Min. Chris brings the binoculars up to his face to scan the forest again, taking slow sweeps to either side of their trail.

Kara stills in her saddle when she sees the depths of the tracks, sees where they start, and where they lead to. It didn't look like anything human had done it. Her eyes lift, shooting back to the home rather than the collapsed barn.

"No, no no," she breathes in a hiss, her expression contracting sharply in on itself as a pang of deep, raw emotion runs through her. She wants to make a break for the house, seized by the urge to see if maybe any of the children were safe, hidden under beds. If perhaps there was a cellar the family could have—

Kara forces herself to look back to the barn. Why had it collapsed, yet the house was fine?

She steadies herself by the next breath, swinging her leg off the side of the horse and coming to the ground like she's taking a large step rather than dismounting a horse. It's a wonder the saddle doesn't hang sideways, with how all her weight had hung off the stirrup in that moment. Her eyes go up to Chris. "Avoid the barn, yell as loud as you can if you see it start to move." It being either the whole barn or what she suspects might be lying (semi?) dormant in it.

Despite suspecting she won't find the aggressors she initially thought they might, she readies her weapon before her and begins making her way to the house, horse's reins held in one hand while the other keep the butt of the rifle against her. She makes her way as quietly as she can in the mud and rain, casting occasional glances to either side, scanning occasionally for movement in the barn or treeline as much as the home.

Yi-Min draws on the opportunity to dismount when Chris does, slipping silently off her pale, muddled shape of a horse in the sloping rain and securing the end of the lead about the squat bole of a nearby sweet bay tree. For his part, Parable seems only too pleased not to have to travel any further; he has already planted his front hooves firmly into the ground beneath the heavily dripping boughs.

A glance is spared for Kara, more warning than it is sympathetic. Now is not the time for such emotions. "Careful," she murmurs sideways to the other woman as she unslings her own rifle from her back at last, feeling the weight of it in her hands. “Stay together with me." Such advice may or may not prove to be invaluable in the near future, depending on what it is they find in that house.

They cross the pasture and skirt along the fenceline that should be milling with sheep and goats feeding at their troughs. Kara discovers the pasture’s gate hanging wide open, and leads the way around the back of the farmhouse to the door she knows is located on the side.

That’s open, too.

Inside, the living room is all shadows except for the faint glow of embers gasping their last in the hearth. At one point, there was a fire burning behind the protective metal grate, but it’s since died down to a low, flickering smolder. Spools of wool and yarn span the length of the uneven wood floor, torn from Rachel’s knitting corner and hastily discarded when the individuals responsible realized there were no valuables hidden beneath them in their basket. Her loom sits upended. So do the ten chairs that should be tucked in neatly around the family’s dining table.

A cat comes loping down the stairs to the second floor, pausing when it enters their field of view. It recognizes Kara and lets out a faint mew, but then it’s zipping out between Yi-Min’s legs, back out into the rain.

No floorboards creak above their heads. The only sounds are their own shallow breathing and the rain pattering gently upon the glass.

There’s nobody here.

As Chris enters the room behind them, his boot bumps against something soft that yields under the weight of his foot. It’s a doll: made of cotton and yarn spun from sheep’s wool. Odette might like it, except that it belongs to some other child.

It’s not the sort of thing Kara imagines would be willingly left behind.


Neither direct statement or question, but somewhere in between, and made as Chris stoops down to pick up the homespun doll. He takes a short survey of the room, the ransacked state of things, while pushing the toy into his jacket pocket. If they find the family, he’s sure a little girl might want that back.

He moves past Kara and Yi-Min, stepping with the same care as when they’d made the walk up to the house. From the ground floor rooms, he angles himself for the stairs. There could be more to the story on the second floor, and possibly a better view of the property. The rifle hanging from his shoulder is pulled off and carried, more ready to use. Even if it’s silent overhead, there could be something lying in wait.

"Looks that way." is all Kara has in the way of a reply, quietly continuing to move forward through the house even as she turns on her heel to scan for any further signs of what happened. When Chris peels away to head up the stairs, she glances his way but offers no rebuttal to his decision. She approaches one of the lower-level windows, neck craning down so she can peer at the barn, seeing if it's shifted any.

The order in which things happened isn't immediately obvious, but she makes a guess. "Robot probably rolled through after." She speaks softly, head tilting in Yi-Min's direction to help the comment carry to her. Her expression is stern. "After we clear the house, we'll need to verify if it's still out there." Kara turns on her heel after, heading for the staircase landing.

"Either that, or the intruders were attracted by the carnage caused," Yi-Min observes by way of a reserved response to Kara, though the guess is a dismissive one at best; she is less interested in theorizing than finding more tangible clues to verify the truth of what had happened. While Kara and Chris both direct their courses towards the stairwell, the dark-haired woman does not indicate similar intent to follow, at least not immediately. Instead she steps further into the gloomy shambles of the living room, eyes seeking for some forgotten sign in the darkness that might shed light on the progression of things. At one point, she stoops to trace her fingers softly down the length of the floorboards nearest her.

…Something lying amidst the the scattered lengths of thread and furniture, perhaps. Something they had missed, and might tell them where to go next.

It is worth a check.

The climb up the stairs makes the steps groan in protest.

As Chris and Kara crest the top of the stairs, they find the first body. She recognizes the bloodied tousle of red-blonde hair immediately: Aaron. He’s face down in the hallway, one arm bent above his head. Shell casings scattered across the floor tinkle, spurred back into motion by their footfalls on approach.

It isn’t immediately apparent where he’s been shot, but it also doesn’t matter because rigamortis has already set in. He’s gone.

A cursory exploration of the children’s rooms yields no sign of the others. It’s much the same story as the living room below — empty and abandoned. Drawers hang open, clothes — all the same uniform black and charcoal gray — are scattered across squat wooden beds covered in beautiful quilts that would fetch a high price at the Red Hook Market if they sold them there.

They don’t. That’s the family on the plot of land next door.

Yi-Min’s keen eyes find footprints that do not belong to either Kara or Chris, but look like they belong to a similar type of boot. When she brushes it with the tips of her long, slender fingers, they come away dry. Whoever was here was physically present around the same time the machine left the grooves in the sodden earth outside.

When she eases herself back onto her feet, the barn comes back into view through the nearest window. Nothing has changed, except perhaps that its shape standing out against the watery gray sky looks somehow more ominous.

There’s a sense of urgency in her gut that wasn’t there before.

“That’s unfortunate.”

From anyone else, it’s a statement that would be perceived as flippant, but coming from Chris it’s an earnest observation. He moves carefully around the body to avoid disturbing it while he criss-crosses through the hall and clears the upstairs rooms. He spends only as much time as necessary looking at the state of things — deep investigations aren’t really on his resume, he’s more of a scout and maybe a tracker — but he takes in the details enough to have a framework of understanding.

“One body upstairs,” he says loud enough to hopefully catch Yi-Min’s attention. “Looks like it’s been there a while, but not long enough that the animals’ve gotten to it yet.” At least not that he could tell, since he didn’t touch the body. “Rooms were dug through, almost like they left in a hurry.” Or like someone was searching for something.

Chris tips a look to Kara while he moves toward the door they’d entered. There’s not much left to look at in the house, far as he can tell. There’s still the barn to check out, and then those tracks to follow.

"Hold on," Kara bids him quietly, her terseness sharper than normal. She doesn't reach out to stop him, but hopes he listens nonetheless. "If that machine is still out there, we'll need to be on horseback if it stirs, and we'll need to lead it away from Providence. And even then, there's no guarantee it's not going to catch up."

She looks back to Yi-Min then, making sure she knows this applies to her as well. "If one of us can break off while it chases the others, to get back within walkie range, you do it, and the rest of us will figure something out until help arrives." Kara trusted them both to act, feeling satisfied there won't be any argument there.

The settlement's safety was the top priority.

Then she's heading for the door along with Chris, to untie her horse's reins from the porch.

News update.

This changes things, potentially much for the worse.


Yi-Min's hand catches Kara on the forearm before the latter can make it out of the doorway, that same sense of grim urgency extending now into the cool iron of her grip. "This may not work. It seems that whatever human intruders there were, were here at the same time as the machines. We should not discount meeting both."

Not that such a fraught plan had been likely to work well in the first place, but this throws an additional theoretical wrench into all of that. One that is, incidentally, both spike-tipped and on fire.

"If you are still insistent that this be be our plan, I’ll note that the machines would have no interest in either of you. Me, on the other hand." She briefly turns an eye towards Chris as tacit acknowledgement of his news, but her gaze swiftly settles into a succinctly even split between them both.

“Well, the machine sure as shit isn’t hiding in here,” Chris points out. Not that be believes Kara missed that fact, but maybe that it needed to be said out loud. He spares a second to look at Yi-Min, to take in her thoughts on the plan as well, but he has nothing to add to it. Or if he does have additional words of wisdom, it’s actually kept to himself this time.

He pushes through the door and back into the rain. He whistles as he steps off the porch to call Jester’s attention. The horse is still milling near the track, browsing over the new shoots of grass that somehow escaped being crushed or cut. Ears flick at the sound and the beast moseys after the young man who hasn’t waited for a reaction but already started toward the barn.

Chris walks with the confidence of one who’s cleared buildings one or two times before. His rifle rests against his shoulder, ready to raise, but he’s otherwise only as cautious in his approach to the downed structure as he was entering the house. Behind him, he can hear Jester’s hooves thud against the soaked ground and the occasional breath, but his focus is kept on what’s ahead, eyes scanning for movement or strange shadows. Or those red lights he was warned about.

He’s the first to the barn.

Up close, fragments of splintered wood stand out in the flattened grass, which is slick with blood that comes away on his boots and the legs of his pants. Chris can pick out what was once the barn’s rafters and loft only because the barn’s interior was never painted. Chunks of rusted metal, too. A tractor’s wheel.

This was not just a collapse. Something — and he knows what — decimated the structure trying to get at whatever was inside. Not just the decommissioned machinery.

The aroma of damp hay and ozone wafts up into his nose as he picks through the carnage and locates a mangled cross-section of the barn’s doors, the clunky steel lock still in place and—


This new piece of information clicks neatly into place, clarifying Chris’ current understanding of the situation: The barn had been locked from the outside when the robot tore it down. An absence of bodies, or body parts, suggests that it also made use of what it discovered inside — as its design intended.

When her arm is grabbed onto, Kara isn't so aggressive as to jerk away, only glancing at Yi-Min disapprovingly out of the corner of her eye. The cross-chatter and the doubting could last plenty of time, but what she'd offered wasn't meant to be debated. This was the downside to most days having no clear 'leader' in place — plenty of smart people could put out great ideas, but when time became an issue, there were too many potential authorities to take direction from.

Her look conveys to Yi-Min knew very well it was an imperfect plan, and who was most likely to be in danger if something went wrong.

But on the fly, what else could they really do?

Chris taking off how he does is testament to the urgency behind conveying the messy plan that could later be refined. Planning on their feet was the unfortunate need they found themselves having to address, especially with the headstrong in the group. Kara simply starts walking again, unhitching her horse to follow after Chris at a distance.

Once her boot hits grass still slick with blood rather than rain, she stops. Even at this distance, she's able to see the barn is settled in such a way a three-meter-ish robot most likely is not hidden in its debris. Between that, and the slick, and what she believes might be the odd scrap of dark clothing … she sees enough for this moment. She takes everything in, and leaves it to process until later, should she be allowed that long.

The horse by her side whickers, stamping a foot on the edge of the bloodied grass. She feels much the same way, but occupies her time instead by lifting her weapon and minding the treeline again while Chris performs his deeper search.

A plan built on the back of incomplete information, especially one as 'messy' as this one is professed to be, can lead to death.

Yi-Min is experienced enough to know this. It had not been meant as a challenge to Kara's authority, but rather an objection to all three of them walking into the prospect of a scene of compounded slaughter. Kara's disapproval to an exception being voiced now is something she would much rather deal with as opposed to something much worse later.

Of course, none of this matters in the least if Chris is just going to walk straight into the mouth of danger by himself. As soon as she sees this happening, Yi-Min gives Kara one last look and slips out of the house the way they had come, cutting a straight and silent line towards where Parable is waiting for her. It takes her a bit more trouble than the rest to undo the knot that binds him to his post— the wiry horse is disgruntled, whickering in undisguised mistrust— but she manages to lead him in the direction of the flattened barn nonetheless.

Honestly, it is a situation neither of them want to be in.

"Trapped," Yi-Min is the first to point out curtly as her footsteps tread lightly over wet remnants of hay a steady distance behind Chris, her voice very soft. Her rifle rests steadily in her hands, and she is mindful of both her horse’s tense movements behind her and the possibility of a realm of danger beyond.

“Unknown,” Chris replies with the same casual tone that borders on flippancy. His expression doesn't match, though, somewhere between the doorway and the first steps into the ruins the whole situation has started to bother him. And it's beginning to show in his eyes.

Sweeping left to right, he makes a cursory examination. The watery light isn't the greatest, but it'll have to do for now, he's not calling Jester into a death trap.

“Check the floors and walls for storage.” It isn't an order or even a suggestion. It's a statement of what his plans are. Chris doesn't wait for either Kara or Yi-Min to respond either, soon as the words are said he's doing his thing again. Only slightly less impatient than before as he makes his way deeper inside the structure.

As Chris picks his way through debris, shouldering past hunks of fallen rafters and the collapsed roof, he feels something shift under his feet. It’s a similar sensation to setting foot in the farmhouse, in the sense that his body instinctively knows that there’s something hollow beneath the floor. Wood judders. His footsteps have depth.

There’s a root cellar.

Help,” quakes a small voice.

Kara shakes her head at the speculations, indicating she won't be joining right now. An unsettling enough picture has been illustrated without them adding more to it. Instead, her eyes remain narrowed on the treeline, and she listens. So of course, she hears the voice that does not belong to the three of them. Her head turns toward it halfway before her shoulders agree to the rotation. The angle of her arm deepens, gun lowering as her posture relaxes.

She looks to Yi-Min for just a moment before she's sliding the strap of the gun over her shoulder, moving in Chris's direction. "Let's get this cleared off," she suggests brusquely. Two was better than one for that.

"Stupid," is Yi-Min's more reproachful bite of an answer to Chris, nudging at the intact bulk of the lock beneath her heel as though for extra confirmation, a criticism of both his assessment and his tone in this situation. All of this she does without looking in his direction: after all, they are a little occupied. Parable had stopped in the shadows of what remains of an opening, and in this new lull relatively devoid of sounds, the little intruding voice is equally as clear to her.

Then she takes a sparing step over the nearest hulk of a splintered mess barring her way, making her way off to one side where she can gain a better vantage over Chris and Kara as they delve into their new work. "Be careful," she says flatly for the second time tonight. Potential body in need of rescue or no, this feels like a trap to her.

As the voice reaches his ears, Chris is sliding the strap of his rifle over his shoulder. His feet mark out where the hollow sound begins and the solid floor ends. And by the time Kara has reached his side, he’s starting to haul fallen timbers and debris away from the edge he’s found. A motion toward the floor should give Kara an idea of where he’s guessing the door to be.

“What’s your name,” he calls to the voice below, when he pauses against one of the larger cracked beams. A look shoots toward Yi-Min, possibly checking for signs that would alert them to danger. Then he puts his back into shoving the beam, scraping across the floor and away from the cellar.

The muffled squalling of a frightened infant isn’t a name, but it is an answer. Its cries grow louder and more intense as Chris and Kara set to work. The boom and scrape of shifting wood above must sound like thunder to those below.

Splinters come away in their hands and stick in the vulnerable flesh beneath their nails. Yi-Min may want to look into whether or not they have any tetanus vaccines back at the factory; within minutes, there’s blood gathering on their cuticles, and Kara sports a gash across the back of her knuckles where a rusty piece of metal split open her skin.

But they persist.

It takes two of them to move the cement block placed upon the door, but only open to open it once it’s been cleared.

Motes of dust and hay gather in the air, sheltered from the rain by an overhanging panel of crumpled roof.

They look down into the cellar, and five small faces streaked with soot and tears look back. “Kara,” bleats the eldest surviving Kaufmann child, the youngest cradled and still wailing in her arms.

“Praise be to God.”

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