The Only Hero..


jack_icon.gif tavisha_icon.gif rocket_icon.gif

And an assload of Rocket's NPCs!

Scene Title The Only Hero
Synopsis What starts out as a regular day at work turns into an ominous and self-fulfilling prophesy. Continues in: ... Is A Dead Hero.
Date March 1, 2009

The Hudson River

Up ahead, the cargo ship lies in the water at a depth that promises it's carrying considerable weight inside that patchwork children's block assembly of freight containers lumped onto it. To Rocket, cargo boats still make him think of human faces from the profile, the deck stretching out like a long, long nose jutting out from the control rooms and the winking black squares of windows like eyes. At sixteen years old, he's only been a pirate for a year.

It feels like a privilege, being allowed to drive the Dirty Deeds toward the target identified on the radio, even if he really only gets to do it because the speedboat's owner is busy manning the machinegun and the other guy doesn't know how to drive. The giddy tingle in his toes and red in his face haven't worn out yet, and he doesn't really think they will; sometimes he goes through whole raids in the state of paranoid euphoria like he's been gassed for dental surgery. He wishes they'd wait a little longer: the cargo ship is still pretty close to the invisible border of demarcation where Manhattan's law enforcement ends its jurisdiction and the beginning of Staten Island's no man's sea.

However, he's sailed with Captain Roscoe awhile, and the old Jamaican says this is it, this is good, and if they wait 'til the sun's done setting and the mark get any closer to Staten, there will be too many other vultures and, besides, they all know how Cherry stands out in the dark. So they're doing it now. The pirates' mothership — the term rather liberally applied — the larger yacht, is approaching a hundred yards off their left flank.

The boy bounces slightly on the balls of his feet in whispering syncopation to the chop of water passing underneath the speedboat. The radio finishes crackling at his ear. "'Kay," he says, peering over his shoulder at Jack, before hastily whipping his face around to bring their target back into view. "Uhm. Sir — Captain Roscoe says—

"You can start."

He's gotten used to it, as he's gotten used to so much. But this, the raw sensation of the powerful little speedboat skimming the waves of the river, the bucking as it skips and dances and plummets forward— it no longer makes Tavisha feel his stomach flip about like a dying fish. Now, it's mostly just fun, hands gripping onto what he can within the speedboat as they go. One thing he'd never realised before he started going out on Jack's boats was how lively the water could be. From a distance, it seems a flat untouched landscape of dusty blue with specks of white, unless in a storm wherein you had more things to worry about than the view anyway. Out here, it's a whole other monster entirely, and Jack has a talent for taming it.

It almost makes you forget that stealing is wrong, and all. Tavisha sets his eyes on the cargo ship, knowing that to the eyes of the other two within the boat, it must look like so much ripe fruit for the picking. For Tavisha, it's a task. A hurdle.

He lifts an arm to wipe his face against his sleeve, getting rid of the fine film of sprayed water that, over time of travel, eventually collects as stinging little cold droplets on his skin, in his hair. He's a quiet presence onboard the cigarette boat, alert and eager to take direction. If he remembered more, it might remind him of his earlier days in the Vanguard, or even the later ones - no personal investment in the Work, but allowing himself to be used all the same. This is less the Work, more a Job.

At the rear of the speedboat, Jack thawps Tavisha in the back of the head. "Pay attention," he calls out. "This shit is important." That said, he goes back to explaining the operation of the mounted Vickers machine gun to Tavisha. "It's water-cooled and the ammo is stolen, so don't be afraid to use it like a garden hose. If it jams, just give 'er one o' these." He jerks the bolt back and forth, ejecting a single bullet and chambering another. "She might be old, but she'll get the job done. Go, get on that fucker."

With a wink and a grin, Jack jerks his head toward the gun and climbs nimbly over benches and crates until he's up at Rocket's side. "You good, swab?" he queries. "Don't blow your wad yet, the fun's just started. Keep us circlin' around so Titties back there can sight in the gun. All goes well and we'll be home without a shot fired. You like whores?"

This might be Jack's fiftieth water battle, or perhaps his hundreth, but beneath his calm, redoubtable exterior is a layer of clinical dread. Men die on the water. He has a machine gun for a reason.

This isn't the kind of a Job that some of Tavisha's other corporate sponsors would like to think he's pulling, but admittedly, legal concerns haven't left either the erstwhile serial killer or John Logan's bodyguard a huge number of options. Rocket might look like he should be in another category, ostensibly, young and bug-eyed and thin-limbed and, "Uhhhhno sir, but they tell me I'm gonna grow out of that soon," but hey.

If he though the could do something else, he probably would be. For now, he just smiles. Querulously. Then back over his shoulder at Titties, with a slight furrow of curiosity down at the front of Tavisha's shirt, before — again — he yanks his skull around to pay attention.

And circles the cargo ship. Her straight sides boast a name, big off-white serif letters, the DELIGHT. The crewmen aboard her see the Dirty Deeds and her date pretty quick — they're at sea, after all, not a lot to see in this diorama besides occasional gull hordes and particle-blurred skyline. Consistent with Jack's cheery words and dissonant to the underlying fear, the first part of the process is going well. Insofar as no one flips their shit.

The cargo ship stops moving. A man identified as a figure of some authority by his bearing and the way his men look at him, if little else, comes out into view of the railing with an arm up; the pirates' yacht draws close, sliding in through the gurbly circle that the Dirty Deeds is drawing. "Whatcha think they're carrying?" Rocket asks, his voice uncomfortably loud in his own ears, but thin in the wind.

The gun is gratuitous and kind of monstrous, in a way, and likely to be seen eventually by the crew aboard the Delight. Tavisha looks from Jack, to the machinegun, and back to Jack, before clambering to get at his new station before he can be yelled at. You move lightly and quickly, something that's come to be hard learned. Another lesson would be, you also don't bitch about the nicknames tossed your way. Not while onboard, certainly. Tavisha endures, settling for giving Rocket a warning raised eyebrow look when the boy glances his way.

His hands, a little numb from the cold, find a grip on the machinegun as the boat bucks beneath him. It won't be the first firearm he's touched, not even in the last month, but it would be the first time he's actually turned it on someone with the expectations to spit bullets like water spray. Perhaps the fact that Tavisha will miss a whole lot is a good thing - serves as a warning, a 'fuck off' that doesn't have to be yelled across the windy, watery terrain of the river.

The thwap to his head responded to, Tavisha steers the gun accordingly. He's a quick learner, memorises what he's told with preternatural ease, even if he doesn't completely know how things work yet. He doesn't really have to, just pull this and aim there and it gets the job done. When Jack checks to see that he's no dawdling, he only says, "I have it," before he can ask.

"We're after the crew payroll and the docking stipend," Jack replies quietly. "But we'll take what we can get."

Still grinning in a lopsided, friendly fashion, he hauls a shotgun from under the pilot's seat and cycles a shell into the chamber. It's leveled at the would-be captain of the cargo ship the next time the Dirty Deeds makes a pass. At this range it's more of a promise than a threat, but it's a promise backed up by Tavisha working a WWI-era machine gun.

"Hello, the ship!" he booms out in his cheerful, heavily-accented basso profundo. "Stand to and prepare to be boarded. Asses on the deck and hands in the air, and remember, the only hero is a dead hero!"

Clear and concise instructions, and difficult to misinterpret after they've been repeated a few times. The Delight's crew is not exactly tripping over itself with eagerness to comply, but that would probably have created an inconvenient and confusing carpet of waterborne bodies to try and drive around anyway, so it's probably just as well.

From Roscoe's yacht, there's a rattling cough of rod launchers; grappling hooks claw the air like the fingers of a dying man reaching for something — anything high and dry. They clank onto the railing. The boarding party consists of five: a woman, four men. The Jamaican captain is nowhere among them, of course; his presence is heard and felt rather than seen, a staticky ghost on the radio. "If anybody fucking tries anyt'ing, lay him out, fast, 'ard. Easy, easy…"

Fast, 'ard. Weird choice of words, Rocket thinks; time seems to be crawling and even the water seems to be handling them with gentle hands tonight. It's difficult to see from the level of the Dirty Deeds, but as they jig closer to the long bow of the ship, there seems to be a few too many heartbeats hammering away at the edge of Tavisha's hearing, distorted by wind. Either somebody too scared, or there are twice the number of people aboard than the headcount that's called out across the radio.

Maybe both.

Kind of like surgery, Tavisha imagines. Everything should go fine, as long as extra variables don't occur, and as long as people don't fuck up their practiced task. His fingers are rigid on their grip of the machine gun, listening to the static of the radio and waiting for, well, anything. And in trying too hard, he almost entirely misses the vital clue of heart beats and their outweighing ratio of what was said. Misses it for long enough that the boarders have hit the point of no return. Hang on.

He blinks a little, staring up at the ship and trying to see what he doesn't have the vantage point to see, and finally speaks up, voice lifting over the sound of engines and radio, "Hey. How many aboard did Roscoe say?" At the answer he's given, Tavisha shakes his head, eyebrows angled in an expression of confusion and worry. "No," he says, more to Jack then to Rocket, "there are more men up there." Pause, concentrate, maybe he's just not— no. Even over the sound of water and chainsaw-like engines and all the clamor and noise that comes from being out here, he can hear the percussion of heart beats almost double what they should be. "A lot more."

"Something's not right," Jack agrees. His thick brows furrow darkly as he peers at the hull of the cargo ship, as if willpower alone might be enough to penetrate thick layers of steel. His hackles are raised and every nerve he owns is tingling with vague, undefined anticipation. "Fuck it," he growls. "Swab, pull us up next to one o' the grapple ropes. Tav and I are goin' aboard."

It's not an easy decision. Not only is it a change in the established plan, it requires that Jack leave his cigarette boat in the care of a probable virgin. He slings his shotgun across his back and glances over his should at Tavisha. Though he doesn't speak, there's an understanding edge to his expression. Non-verbal communication at its finest.

This isn't you. You don't have to do this.

There should be a crew of nine men aboard the cargo ship. Nine is what they have, seated in a row, tanned arms up and faces angled down, careful not to show their attackers too much scrutiny. When Tavisha and Jack come aboard at the opposite end of the other boarding party, that's what they see down the length of the deck, through the seven yard 'aisle' afforded between stacked rows of freight containers on either side.

Roscoe's first mate is a giant man of apparently Neanderthal descent, and he motions with an enormous arm left conspicuously bare despite the cold. "Hey. What the fuck are you two doing up here?" he asks. The next instant, he jerks his head downward, listening to a belated radio relay from the stuttering sixteen-year-old at the Dirty Deeds' helm. "Yeah I know they're coming aboard," he rumbles irritably. "They are fu— stupid kid. Hey!"

Racket-a-racket. Up here, striated iron blocks out the worst of the engine din and the wind's interference. The thunder of heartbeats finds greater clarity in Tavisha's ears. Forward. Forward— closer to the crew, to the other pirates. No, not that one. No… No — the next one. It's red, marked AL-2003. And there are eight people doing their very best not to breathe inside of it.

Which leaves one missing.

Jack, well. Jack notices a light machinegun stashed between two containers as he walks by, hastily stowed, concealed in a block of shadow just beyond the trajectory of the boarding party.

Of course he has to, is the look Jack gets in return, as the cigarette boat wheels around towards the grapple ropes. And so he does, Tavisha following as Jack's darkly clad shadow, boarding the ship and utterly ignoring Roscoe as he concentrates with all the focus of a blood hound. Dark eyes dart over the row of captives, one two three yadda yadda nine. Fuck.

It would really be terrible if he was wrong about this, but up here, he knows he can't be, even if doesn't see it. The brisk wind that slithers through the gigantic containers catch and play at the end of his coat as he moves up towards where he can hear people hiding. He misses the ninth heart beat, too busy raising a hand, and pushing.

An invisible force rattles the container about an inch backwards, nothing dramatic - but its a sharp and powerful movement at odds with the distant rise and fall of the river beneath them. "In here," he says. Refugees? A trap? He can only hear the hammering of hearts and shallow breathing, looking back towards Jack for instruction from his captain.

At the sight of the concealed weapon, Jack waves the boarding party to a halt and unslings his shotgun. "Me Captain, you Jane. I'm in charge, so shut the fuck up." Despite the nature of his explaination to Roscoe's mate, it's not even an insult. His attention is focused on the cargo container and it's companion gun.

With one arm leaning over Tav's shoulder, he points briskly at the gun with two fingers. "Rip that off the mounts and give it to Cro-Mag over here so he can cover the container. You. Woman." He glances at the only female member of the crew and smirks. "Time to put your vagina where your mouth is. Bring me that gunner."

The drones — because really, that's what they are — fall in line with far more disgruntlement than the Delight's crew had. The First Mate is fucking irritated, of course, but it makes sense; even if Jack's crew consisted of only two, or two-and-a-half if you count the rat of a boy on loan, the rank he has isn't a polite concession from Roscoe because Roscoe doesn't make polite concessions.

The Goliathan First Mate spits in a reasonably inoffensive direction, and radios back to Roscoe. Captain Jack and Gulliver found something. Checking it out.

The woman juts her jaw, throws a glance that could cut steel at Jack, but stomps over on a clangor of heavy boots. Abruptly, her lanky and raw-boned silhouette begins to brighten, haloed in orange and yellow light, before her skin, clothes, hair, suddenly flare white-hot and incandescent gold, flesh and cloth transmuting to living flame. Her feet lift a few feet above the deck and, turning, she blows up in front of the row of prisoners.

"Who mans the fucking gun?"

Tavisha hesitates, for a second— which shows exactly what kind of pirate he isn't— before he lifts that hand again, concentrates. A screech of metal as the machine gun is wrenched from the tripod, a clatter as it hits the container just besie it, and with a puppet-strings haphazardness, it bounces and clatters before finally flying in a tumbling trajectory as Tavisha's unwieldy telekinesis tries to do what Jack is bidding he do.

"Jesus," mutters a crewmember, as the machine gun comes to a rest at the feet of Roscoe's first mate, Tavisha's hand lowering once this task is complete. Then, the heat of the Evolved woman prickles the skin of those unfortunate enough to be nearby, her voice coming out little a hissing, waspish whip from the blaze she turns into. Tavisha's attention drawing to this display like a moth to flame for a moment.


Needless to say, this isn't going quite the way Jack expected. There's more people than there should be and some of those people are on fire. He licks his lips with a tongue that feels more dry than glib. "Err," he begins again tentatively, waving back Cro-Mag. "You can have the gun, lady. Sorry about your… Y'know. Talkin' about your girl genitals. Christ. Tav, you had boobies once. Talk to her? Do something."

Rarely has Jack been so desperate. Not only is this a particularly bad time for a crew squabble, this is a bit more potent than than a brawl over the last bottle or the prettiest whore. His shotgun is brandished and the barrel is thunked none too gently against the top of one prisoner's head as a reminder to behave. "Eyes on the ground or I'll snatch 'em out."

"Thanks, Captain, but I figure we sort it on shore," Cro-Mag replies, shaking his shaggy head in a manner that approximates diplomatic. "Let's just do this thing, a'ight? Fuck, Cherry. Do you have to—"

She might not have, but it works. The gunner gets up, muttering, casts a haphazard glance up at Jack, flinches away when the butt of the Somalian's gun connects with the back of his shipmate's head.

Oddly enough, the cessation of Tavisha's telekinetic box-rattling seem only to make things worse for those inside the freight container. They're getting more and more terrified by the instant, judging by the adrenalized acceleration of cardiac muscles contracting and expanding in the bottom of Tavisha's hearing. Thunk-a-thud-a-thunk-a-thudathunkathud — and the pulses of those kneeling in front of the fiery female pirate are lifting proportionally, as uneasy as Jack. Mind you, they had no way of knowing these were the nice or expedient kinds of river criminals who'dve just done the till and left, but you could always hope.

The crack and splinter of bolts ceding to Tavisha's telekinesis sends reverberations through the deck. That, apparently, finally proves too much for someone's nerves. There's a scream, high-pitched, muted by the freight container's walls, expelled out of the recognizably tiny lungs of a child, more like a chicken's dying squeal across a knife than a human noise, startled and startling. Perhaps worse, though—

It pops the end of the container right off, like a cork out of bottled champaigne. Through some minor miracle of coincidence, the door doesn't flatten anybody on its way out. Inside, there are eight people, three of them children, one of them elderly, all of them with their hands over their ears and clothes in various states of civilian dishevelment. One of the children, some scrawny black boy about Rocket's age, has his mouth open so wide you can see the pink droplet at the back of his throat. His eyes are wide open with guilt and surprise. He looks left, then right.

Out of Cro-Mag's radio unit, Rocket's voice does finally emerge: "Guys? Some—somebody's about to die."

As the reverberations of his telekinetic jostling of the container take effect, Tavisha winces as the end noisily crashes down, cutting through all activity from the sheer sound of it, and to his ears, someone may as well have hit his skull with a frying pan, hands flying up to cover his ears as the vibrations die away.

Whoops. It's hard out there for a telekinetic.

He's quick to move to see what his ears had confirmed, despite this task being delegated to others. He doesn't have a weapon to cover him, but he keeps his hands free enough that he doesn't need one. He becomes a silhouette to those within the container, caped in his coat and tall, intimidating, breath stolen away from what he sees. This is a variable and a half. "Jack, there's— I think they have refugees or…" he stammers out. Tavisha had only known the sound of children inside here until it was too late.

Jack is likewise shocked. This is not what he signed up for. He takes a few slow steps forward and peers into the container with wide, forlorn eyes. The refugees' situation is one that he knows too well. Their battered clothing and bowed heads speak to a compassionate side of the Somalian that's rarely seen or even heard from.

It's time for a command decision. Jack glances at the refugees, the boarding party, and finally at Tavisha. Then he shakes his head and barks out: "We're done here! Everybody off the boat!"

Leland has arrived.
Elisabeth has arrived.
Baxter has arrived.

Leland watches Baxter and Elisabeth descend from the chopper with a mix of wonderment and deep-boiling resentment. When they land on the deck, the detective moves towards them. He's clad in a heavy, water-proof jacket that's too small on him. The cuffs barely cover his wrists, suggesting it was borrowed from one of the boys on shore before they took off.

Baxter is given a dark, half-squinted look. His arm is tense as it's clapped, though it's hard to feel through the layers of the jacket. "Some trick," he mutters. That was not a compliment. Then he turns to Elisabeth. "Harrison, I presume? What's your plan then?" For a guy about to face a firefight, his tone and demeanor are surprisingly flat. He has to force it to a baseline to keep his assholeness in check.

New engine noise gutters into Tavisha's hearing now. Distant. Thin. Staticky; there's too much going on right here, though, so until he finds a moment to step around containers and up to the railing—

"That's bullshit!" Though her First Mate might have been willing to do well by the rank and file of sailor protocol, the pyro-form female seems to have accidentally lit the fuse on her own tampon in the process of igniting herself. Her hands are knotted into fists that smart to look at, and her hovering flight emanates waves of hot air against those around her. "We didn't even get the fucking till we came for, and now you want to— Orson!" She rounds on the First Mate. "Fucking tell them! Get Roscoe on the line! We can't leave without at least what we fucking came for."

Jack is serious. Cro-Ma — that is, Orson kind of can't believe it. "Cherry, shut the Hell up. You too, Rocket," he tells the radio, which squawks into an uncomfortable silence, halfway through repeating his warning. To Tavisha's hearing, every time the boy speaks, one of the crewmen's pulses begins to hiccup and falter, a subtle but almost mathematically proportional relationship. "Y' man John Logan has stock in human cargo, right? River's getting crowded. Maybe we sh—" Whatever he's about to say next is cut short, interrupted by Roscoe's voice across the line, abrupt, though strangely not without orders relevant to the immediate discussion of industry, economics, and the imminent prospect of going home empty-handed.

"Fuckeeng coppas incoming. Boat and choppa. I see the sign for SCOUT."

And what would you know? That's what finally drives the cargo ship's crew to action. Suddenly, two out of nine are pointing guns; one of them at Jack's back, the other at the First Mate's profile. Click. The other seven move somewhat slower, clumsy, obviously characterized by a more ordinary level of field experience. The table's haven't quite turned, but they're beginning to seesaw, crazy angles.

The little kid inside the freight container closes his mouth and his eyes at the same time. Chokes back a sob.

A little over a minute out across the water, the National Guard's speedboat is finally puttering to a diplomatic halt on the wrinkling sea. The SCOUT helicopter hangs in the air behind it, an angry wasp looking for a spot to sing.

Continues in: ... Is A Dead Hero

March 1st: Fighting Hurts

Previously in this storyline…
Workshop, War Room

Next in this storyline… a Dead Hero

March 1st: ...Is A Dead Hero
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