The Walled Tomb


luther2_icon.gif richard_icon.gif robyn_icon.gif valerie2_icon.gif

Scene Title The Walled Tomb
Synopsis Raytech mounts an expedition into the Manhattan Exclusion Zone.
Date March 20, 2018

Snow flurries whip through the air along with a biting cold wind coming off the Hudson. The roar of a boat motor drowns out the howl of the wind, but does nothing to depreciate it's sting. Having left the Brooklyn Terminal Marina fifteen minutes ago, Richard Ray and his team are on approach to what was, many years ago, home.

Even at a distance the Island of Manhattan is an imposing and somber landmark. Ruined skyscrapers reach up like broken fingers from behind an oppressive gray curtain of stone. The twenty foot thick wall of concrete and steel, rising two-hundred and fifty feet into the air, is a lasting epitaph to the Mitchell administration and the world that was. Streaks of rust mar the wall brown from upper walkways left unfinished. Blue tarps torn to shreds by high winds gutter and flap from their twisted remains. At this point on the wall, it abuts what was once the Brooklyn Bridge, now a tower of stone from which dangles severed support cables and collapsed bridge lanes sunk into the East River. A fifty foot high and equally wide gate of rust-streaked steel marks what was once intended to be an entrance to the largest internment camp ever created on Earth. But it never came to be.

Manhattan is, and always will be, an island of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams.

Today, the perimeter around the gate is surrounded by sandbags and cement-lined shipping containers stacked three high. A makeshift guard outpost sits outside of the gate, where four Humvees are parked in a line. Eight national guard and one UN observer are positioned at this gate on a rotating shift. As a light, drizzling rain is falling down on the isle of Manhattan, it's nearly time for a shift change, when up ahead the sound of a boat motor is coming a few hours too early. It's easy enough for them to spot the motorboat crossing the East River and navigating the debris fields of the Brooklyn Bridge's fallen span, and the insignias on the boat indicate it is an official SESA vessel.

When the boat docks below the western span of the Brooklyn Bridge, Richard Ray steps out alongside Robyn Quinn and a handful of Raytech employees along for what is undoubtedly going to be a long day. As the group comes up FDR drive toward the looming wall two guardsmen step away from their post and approach, spotters watching from a distance. The two groups meet at the west side of FDR Drive, just before the gate house, under the fluttering snowfall.

Everything here is by the book. Raytech filed the appropriate paperwork along with Agent Quinn. They've been permitted 4.5 hours within the Exclusion Zone for official business matters, which may include some unofficial business. They are all identified, logged in the visitor registry, and brought up to the looming steel gates as rumbling generators are fired up.

Manhattan Exclusion Zone

Grinding steel accompanies the gates of the Exclusion Zone's opening. These yawning walls of rusted steel spread wide enough to allow a single person to slip between their toothed seams at one time. Yellow and black caution banding around the gates' edges warns passers by Do Not Stop Between The Gates. Do Not Extend Limbs Beyond This Line. On each gate, the corroded seal of the Department of Evolved Affairs lies in defaced dereliction. Spray paint partly scrubbed away by time implores, "Fuck Everything."

Beyond the gates, the ruins of Manhattan have claimed the entirety of the island. Not a single building is spared from an appearance of desolation and destruction. Rusted cars lay parked in the street where the end of the world began, seven years hence. Brown grows up between fissures in the snow-laden concrete, life has found a way regardless of the world. Richard’s team treads carefully between these demolished vehicles, boots crunching broken glass, striding around fallen billboards, evading sinkholes in the street where the ground has given way to yawning crevasses that were once subway tunnels. Birds scatter overhead, the ostensible kings and queens of the world's end. From here, it looks like the war never ended. The Exclusion Zone’s high walls block out view of the Safe Zone beyond, and sight unseen it feels like Raytech’s team is entering another world entirely.

It isn't just cars in the streets. Firebombed military transports with melted tires block intersections, rusted tanks demolished by carpet bombing lay half-buried by the ruins of collapsed buildings. It's a 37 minute walk from the gates to 14 E 4th Street — the Village Renaissance Building. Another 58 minutes from there to the south side of Central Park, more than enough time.

Not that the second half of the trip - the sojourn down to the blasted ruin of Central Park - is something that Richard's even put on the unofficial itinerary for this particular journey past that wall of concrete and into the streets that he once called home.

"I hate the snow," he mutters under his breath, black puffy jacket closed over the AEGIS armor that he's wearing, both hands coming up to tug the collar up higher. A battery pack at his hip has a Banshee holstered beside it, and a less non-lethal firearm's holstered at his other hip. A scarf wraps around his neck and lower face, a knit cap shielding the top of his head from the chill. "Brings back bad memories."

Every time he's died, it's always been in the snow.

"Should just be about a half-hour to forty-five to the Verb," he says, voice carried to the others via radio since otherwise they'd have to deal with muffled voices possibly, "Keep an eye out for scavengers, squatters, and— anything else." Gloved fingers rustle the map in his hands, and he eyes a half-melted street sign for a moment to orienteer off its location in comparison. Hopefully there won’t be any giant craters between them and their destinations.

Unlike the others, Valerie doesn’t actually need the AEGIS armor. In fact, she’s wearing a pretty summer dress in the middle of winter. Well, it looks like a pretty summer dress, shape wise, the way it flows, but she was smart enough to make it a subdued color. A deep green. That still doesn’t blend in well with their surroundings, but it’s not deer hunter orange or something, either. Hopefully there’s not actual people still living in there— she wouldn’t know. It’s always been out of her range.

Not actual range, but out of the range of anyone she could tether herself to. “Do you need me to scout around? I can check out about 100 yards ahead and beside— not all at once, but…” She can do it. It’s one of the reasons she wanted to come along, to stretch her legs. The last time she projected anywhere near midtown, though, had been when she got shot…

But her body is back at home in the middle of Raytech Industries, safely under the guard of her big blonde bodyguard. There’s no possibility she’ll get hurt this time, right?

Her form doesn’t float around like it used to, but she knows she can still move quickly, move through things. “I wish I had a map, though.” Not that she could hold one.

Robyn Quinn has been solemn the entire time. It's been a while since she's been… decked out. SESA issue body armour, a service pistol, anything else she could have needed - but Robyn Quinn's always been one to pack light, instead choosing to rely on wits and the lighter weight of the sort of firearm she was primarily trained to use. And honestly, you'd be hard pressed to tell she's wearing armour, with the heavy coat she wears over it, black band one more pulled down over her eye.

Hopefully she won't actually need any of it, but is that always the hope? And how often does that go as planned.

"Can't believe this is happening." She's been quiet since they boarded the boat, hardly a word said to Richard, Luther, Valerie, or anyone else. Only speaking to guards and officials as an official representative of SESA in this endeavour. It wasn't that she sought to be rude, but… her mind had been elsewhere, and the boat ride had offered precious moments to take in the snow and simply think for a bit.

Like about the snow. She always liked snow. Unless she had to go someplace in it. The Exclusion Zone counts as someplace she has to go in it, and thus, it is immediately less tolerable, though it makes Valerie's apparent choice of attire all the more eye catching, as much as Robyn tries to hide it, some habits die hard.

She takes a deep breath, before looking over at Richard and nodding. "Sounds right." You know, for stepping into to a living time capsule into the past. A glance over to Valerie, and Robyn offers a smirk. "I have a map." A finger is pointed at the side of her head - it would be a long time before she forgot the paths in Manhattan she used to wind her Vespa through.

If Luther appears uncomfortable in his suit of AEGIS armor, it's because technically, he is. The light weight of it isn't the issue so much as it is a reminder of the weight he's put on, despite food shortages in the Safe Zone. He shifts his shoulders, flexes gloved hands, checks the XLRAD pistol strapped to his side. The snow, it doesn't bother him as much as the butterflies, or as much as the sights of the Exclusion Zone and remnants of places that used to be bustling with life that he watched from alleyways and side streets, long ago.

Staying in a flank position as they travel, Luther for the most part keeps himself focused on their surroundings. Not a hard thing to do, except this time there's Valerie in a flowy dress. It's Robyn's claim about having a mental map that he raises his brow to, the expression not as visible through his helmet. "We're not here just for a few records, are we," he remarks at the comment to keep an eye out for 'anything else'.

The first leg of their journey takes the team down the overpass from the Brooklyn Bridge entrance. From this elevation the desolation can be seen across nearly the entire length of Manhattan. To the north, skyscrapers that once stood tall even after the bomb have partly collapsed and are slouched against one-another like two drunks on a walk back from the bar. The cold wind at this height isn't nearly as brutal as the sights they find next, though.

The streets had been choked with ruined vehicles with flat tires and fire-scarred chassis. But once they reach the clusterfuck of what was once a military checkpoint the horror of the Exclusion Zone is drawn into sharp focus. All of the ice-crusted vehicles still have bodies within them. Frosted, skeletal remains of families trapped in their vehicles, trying to flee Manhattan when the war swept into Manhattan. The hundreds of vehicles frozen in time here were struck by white phosphorus anti-personnel munitions fired from drones. Whole families burned to death, trapped in their cars.

The line of melted vehicles goes all the way back to the snow-covered plaza that abuts city hall, which is where the team will connect onto Broadway. But between them is the first of many impromptu memorials they will find. Some of these vehicles have long-dead flowers left at them, an implication that others have come before and been as moved.

It is a sobering sight, one of many reasons why the Exclusion Zone remains closed off. It would take decades to recover all of the bodies within its border.

“I mean, I’m not going to lie, Luther, if we spot an active Hunter in here I want to drag it back to the labs,” Richard admits in wry tones - answering what the man asked, but perhaps not entirely what he meant. Not quite the whole truth about his agenda here. “Please, Val. Give us a fifty yard perimeter at least so if anything’s coming out way, we’ll know.”

It doesn’t seem like he needed to worry for the first leg of the journey, at least, given that the only people they’re seeing are dead. A frozen graveyard of the city they once called home, sobering him to silence, respectful and regretful for everything that happened. Perhaps it could have gone differently… but what happened, happened.

“God our Father,” he murmurs quietly and somberly, audible over the radio, “Your power brings us to birth, Your providence guides our lives, and by Your command we return to dust.” A prayer stirring up from his Catholic upbringing as they pass the long line of tombs melted and frozen around the interred. “Lord, those who die still live in Your presence, their lives change but do not end. I pray in hope for my family, relatives and friends, and for all the dead known to You alone.” Boots crunch over ice, the wind whistling through the vehicles in a high-pitched dirge, “In company with Christ, Who died and now lives, may they rejoice in Your kingdom, where all our tears are wiped away.”

He steps over a piece of rubble where an explosion had shattered the pavement, hopping down the other side, “Unite us together again in one family, to sing Your praise forever and ever.” A long pause, before softer he finishes, “Amen.”

And then silence from the expedition’s leader, as he walks the route.

The sight of all the death seems to have a visible effect on Valerie. The summer dress she’s been wearing goes from a deep green to black. The change isn’t sudden, just a darkening of the color as she looks at the car in a distracted fashion. So many people… And she knew that there had been even more than what they see before them. There had been more bridges still functioning at the time. Before they blew them.

Her big brother draws her out of her thoughts and she nods, “Will do.” And then she disappears. Teleporting her projection around isn’t as easy as it once had been, she can’t do it within line of sight anymore— she just goes back to her body and casts her the tether further out when she returns. Half the distance she could do, to the east. She looks around, trying to hear for anything, see anything. She does the same with north, south and west, all centered on Ray, the person she knows best in the group.

She feels somewhat safe with the fact that she knows only living minds can actually see her.

Not those Hunters her brother wants to salvage if possible.

Luther's question elicits a sheepish look from the SESA agent. "Well…" Robyn doesn't offer any sort of rebuttal or follow up - it's more a weak attempt at humour. She knows revisiting the what is likely ruins of The Village Renaissance was part of today's goals, but she was sure Richard had other plans as well. She wouldn't drag people out this far all just for her, after all. That sort of selfishness is in the past, and even as excited as she had been about the prospect of adventure she wouldn't have done it without another reason to latch on to.

Every moment, though, makes it feel less like an adventure, and more like The Omega Man, or 28 Days Later, or some other terrible film someone would've convinced her to watch about a desolate future. She hadn't been around to see how bad Manhattan had gotten after November 8th, 2011. This… graveyard they were walking through would sober anyone up. Richard's prayer is met with Robyn stopping and closing her eyes for the duration - she may not be religious anymore, but she still has respect.

"If there is an active Hunter, then I imagine a lot of people are going interested in knowing that. Because that…" is a problem. "Don't tempt fate." She purses her lips and draws out her gun, more of of an uneasy need to be prepared now that Hunters have come up. Which makes her wonder - would she even register with them anymore?

She doesn't want to find out.

"Uh, sure, sir. But it might be significantly less active, after," Luther remarks to Ray's statement. Body after body that the group passes, he flicks his gaze away and tries to find a spot where there isn't some horror. There's no sanctuary for his gaze. His jaw and shoulders tense when he catches sight of a smaller skeleton slumped over the rear seat of a sedan like it's looking out of the bullet shattered rear window. Luther follows the skeleton's gaze and looks up to the crumbled, crippled buildings and structures instead, borrowing what's left of the reflective surfaces of their husks to watch the group's progress through the urban wasteland. The prayer from the leader silences him for a time, even after the amen is given.

It's not that he's got no respect for the dead. But Luther's next words sound detached, at least emotionally so. He observes, "How much of this material do you think's salvageable?" It's a question posed to the general group, a plural 'you'.

There's nothing around them for several blocks. Nothing living, at any rate. Pearl street that crosses below them is a ruin of collapsed buildings slouching up against the wall, and the grounds of city hall up ahead are littered with the building’s debris and the wing of an F-16 sticking up out of the snow like a sculpture. Valerie returns with an all clear, safe enough to move.

“The metal is, at least,” says Richard in quiet tones as he proceeds along the street’s side, keeping close with the others — but not too close. Slightly spread out formation, in order to avoid grenades or other area hazards more efficiently. “One day, they’ll come through here, collect the bodies and inter them. They’ll probably even identify them all, do genetic mapping. It won’t be for a long time, though. Years, probably.”

His gaze sweeps over one of the cars, a pair of skeletons melted into one another. One can imagine they were embracing when the fire hit them from above — and maybe they were. “Until then, it’ll all just sit here. After that, they’ll clear it, salvage what they can. Smelt the metal. Some corporation will fund it if just for the metal, I’d wager.”

Maybe even the one that bears his name. Who knows?

“Val says it’s clear, so let’s keep moving. Verb shouldn’t take us too much longer to get to - what floor were you on, Robyn?”

“Nothing yet, thankfully.” Valerie responds with a smile that isn’t quite as bright and cheerful as she’d like it to be. After all— they are pretty much standing in one of the biggest graveyards, and these poor people weren’t even buried. No tombstones, no respectful grave. Just left to rot where they died.

Would that have been her, if Samara hadn’t gone back for her on that rooftop? She wouldn’t have died right away, but without treatment the gunshot might have killed her. And if not, she probably would have starved. Her projection flickers, that summer dress becoming more and more subdued, sadder, but she gives a thumbs up. They’re definitely good to go. For the moment. “I’ll go on ahead, check out what’s in front of us, then check the sides and back every so often too.”

She’s not got any military training or anything, but she’s played video games. And she’s definitely safer at doing this than anyone else.

With that she vanishes again, to keep fifty yards in front of them, eyes and ears open.

"Third. Of… five? Three for public, the studio, and Catherine's penthouse." The answer is given quietly, Robyn instead taking the sight of the F-18 wing as they pass it all. A part of her begins to think maybe- maybe this wasn't the best idea. Maybe they shouldn't be here, and this is insane. That's an old, familiar feeling. It's hard to be excited about adventure with the sight of so much horrific death around them. "Should've brought an electrokinetic." For practical purposes, and maybe for a jolt of power if needed.

She takes a deep breath, sticking close to Ray. She does have a mental map, and she does direct them when there's any moments of uncertainty. But for once, she doesn't want to stay entirely quiet. The gloom is too much for her, watching as the snow blankets the desolation, a temporary, makeshift tomb for everyone who wasn't as fortunate as she was.

"I guessed right," she remarks, trying to cut through sullen mood. A small grin forms on her face - a bit forced, but a grin nonetheless - as she looks over at Ray. He might remember their lunch conversation that led to this insanity, though.

With the all clear given, Luther starts to relax into the pace. Trusting in the plan, and the team, and that at least for now, they won’t seem to be joining the corpses on the battlefield just yet. To Robyn’s mused commentary, he sends a wry sort of look at the woman. In some ways, they have one in him, if he’s got a power source. Not the most effective but he’s got some juice in a pinch. But he keeps quiet for now, casting more looks around at their surroundings, a grim stare aimed at the downed plane.

The trek through city hall plaza is tough going. The snow is knee deep in places, sandbags are still lined up in barricades topped by razor wire. Old husks of jeeps are parked on the green, partly buried in snow. City hall is gutted from an internal explosion, the northwest face of the building torn open from ground floor to top floor. The exposed floors are sagging and dilapidated, with tangled messes of furniture and debris jutting out.

Past the ruins of city hall, the old stone structure of the US treasury building looks to have been gutted by fire, the external shell intact but windows blackened. It fares better than the FBI building just past it, which is little more than a rubble-filled crater. The debris from which is spread across the street, heaps of broken concrete, upended vehicles, all concealed by drifts of snow. The scenery is much the same, following Broadway in the shadow of demolished high rises and skyscrapers.

But the Raytech team isn't alone out here. Evidence of occupation is everywhere, from the glow of distant fires through blown out windows to the tracks of feral dog packs trod in the snow. After five blocks they hit the intersection of Broadway and Canal Street, where cars are stalled in an eternal gridlock. Most of these ones are empty, decayed things. Two tanks, each demolished by past explosions, sit desolate in the middle of the intersection. There's a distant pop of gunfire, so far away it might not even be within the Exclusion Zone’s walls.

After Canal street it's Howard and Grand, and these intersections are likewise congested with traffic trying to flee the city as the war took a sudden northerly turn. Just past grand street there's the remnants of a chinook helicopter on its side, windows blown out and rotors torn off, smashed atop a row of ice-encrusted cars. The snow crunches hard underfoot here, crusted with ice.

Past Grand, Broome Street comes into view. There's few cars here, just one overturned semi truck devoid of any contents. The back door of its trailer is open, icicles hanging from the yawning aluminum maw. The team is just a little over halfway to the Verb, and Valerie has nothing of consequence up and down the adjacent streets.

As the signs of habitation begin to show - the glow of fires in distant windows, the far-off pop and crack of gunfire - Richard’s voice comes low over the radio, “Keep quiet if you can. We don’t want to draw any attention. If we can get in and out, that’s for— “ A grunt as he pulls down a sandbag that was in his way, mounting it to get over a wall of them, “— the best.”

The Banshee’s in hand once he’s moving, though, just in case they run into some feral dogs, or some scavengers who think they look like easy prey. The truck gets a glance — just to see if there’s anything in it — but then he’s continuing along. So far, they’ve been lucky…

So far. Every so often Valerie reappears, though she’s sometimes not even out of sight at all, just down the street or behind a building, and keeps giving thumbs up to let them know that she hasn’t made out anything that looks particularly dangerous. It’s looking bare. Perhaps the snow has kept people out, perhaps nothing ventures in this far, she doesn’t want to hazard a guess. She doesn’t stay in one place too long, sometimes walking around as she keeps her senses outward. Too bad her senses aren’t actually enhanced, or anything.

But she’s not given anything in her reports, either, hasn’t seen anything worth mentioning. Maybe a few bodies that made her sad, which could explain the dark dress sticking around.

Visible cues and hints of occupation leave Robyn worried, and though she tries not to show it, it's very likely that the prevalent silence makes the click of her disengaging her safety all that much more noticable. "I can do quiet," she replies in a low voice, following behind Ray up and over. Being able to turn invisible tends to lend itself to being quiet, but there more than that in her motions as she pulls herself over the sandbags with barely a sound coming from her or them.

She keeps her eyes ahead, save for the occasional glance over to Valerie as she appears and disappears. Trying to not focus on the fallout of war all around them, and instead on any threats that might be looming on the edge of the snow, gaze always moving so that her blindspot doesn't linger in one place for too long.

Maintaining position at the flank, Luther continues to double check physically the spots that are checked at the front and poking his nose, or at times the point of the sonic pistol, towards possible points of ambush. He’s quiet by nature and command. And to save his breath. The cold weather and rough goings in the snow is aggravating some injuries no doubt, some older, some newer. But the man presses on in silence. He distracts himself with the duties of protection and inspection, watching fires and tracks, eyeing the ruins of the city.

For all that the Exclusion Zone is horror, it is also desolation. Those brief glimpses of desperate habitation by residents either too stubborn or too criminal to inhabit the Safe Zone are fleeting, and then they're gone. Birds are the only constant, fluttering from rooftop to rooftop, nesting in the demolished frames of windows and the crumbling eaves of sagging high-rises.

The further north they go on Broadway the worse things get, structurally. The streets may have collapsed down to the subway stations there, but it's impossible to tell because the chasms are filled in with the broken remnants of buildings. Entire city blocks are laid flat here, with just jagged pieces of rebar and steel I-beams to mark where foundations once stood. A sense of dread builds as they cross two more blocks, finding the shredded fuselage of a passenger airliner in twelve sections wedged between demolished buildings. Sun-bleached remains of blue seats litter the rubble-filled streets. Fragments of plastic and metal jut up from the snow, sometimes it's hard to tell what is concrete and what is weathered bone.

Looking just one block away, all hope dies in Robyn Quinn’s heart. There is no Village Renaissance Building, there is just a pile of rubble spread out over a city block that flows into the streets. Healing piles of broken stone and metal covered with snow, broken streets and demolished cars. There's nothing left of it, nothing recognizable except an inexplicably undamaged bench directly outside of the building that the rubble fell around rather than on.

There won't be any recovery done here, not from that building, not from the vestiges of Robyn’s fond memories, not from the former home of the now Secretary of State Catherine Chesterfield. All that's left is ruin, and a reminder that this could have been the entire world. If things had been just a little different.

There’s a long silence as the ruins come into view, Richard standing on a small pile of rubble that used to be a concrete divider for a better view, one foot up on a higher piece than the rest and a hand on his knee. Then there’s a long, low sigh, “…well. Shit. There goes that… someone must’ve decided it was a valid target, or mis-aimed… hit the place directly. Cat made the building pretty solid, too, I was sure it’d still be standing if anywhere was…”

He turns, stepping down from the chunks of concrete. “Sorry, Robyn,” he says in genuinely regretful tones, “Looks like those masters are lost.” All this way, it seems, for nothing at all.

The usual ball of enthusiastic happiness pops back in— just in time to see her brother’s face fall. Valerie glances toward the rubble and— oh. “This was the building?” she asks, looking saddened at the idea that they had ventured so far and found— well— Maybe she should have just suggested her and Luther go out using a map, but she knew her brother would not have sent the bedecked janitor on his own with just a projection to help him. Her lips press together as she looks at the broken stone and metal of a building, before she just… “walks” toward it. As much as one could say she’s walking. Her feet don’t leave prints on the snow, after all.

If she keeps going this direction she’ll just walk right into it, but she’s going to do what she can to check it out. The woman had said her things had been on a higher floor, so it’s definitely not survived, but she’s going to go in and make sure. Assuming enough light filters through the holes to “see” by.

As what should be the Village Renaissance comes into view, Robyn's heart sinks. This was the outcome she had expected, and seeing the state of Manhattan had only hammered home that it was the likely outcome. But expecting something is different from laying eyes on it first hand.

In truth, she isn't sure what she had expected. If The Verb was intact and somehow stable enough for them to venture up to the third floor to her and Elaine's old home, what would she have done? Recover some vinyl? Reacquire the analog masters to an album that would never be released anyway? Grab effects both hers and her former fiance's, damaged and dirty from a life long forgotten? Haul out the old lap harp Elaine gave her? The ukulele that was a gift from Melissa Pierce? Her Glass Wonderland custom?

But faced with this, she is equally unsure what to do. This had been partially her idea, and in truth she was utterly unprepared for it to be reality. She swallows audibly, climbing up the rubble and down next to Richard. She stares at the rubble for moments like an eternity, before she closes her eye, and does something Richard's now heard her do multiple times.

She sings. Quietly, though the emptiness probably carries her quiet words a bit more than she'd like.

Let's begin where the story ends
I'll try to explain how I lost my friends
I didn't stop when I knew I should
I've got nothing now, it's gone for good

Wind and snow whips past her as she steps past Richard, eye locked on the remains of the building. She tries to get closer, as much as she reasonably can, weaving and climbing her way through the rubble.

I guess they want me dead,
A bounty on my head.
I say just let them come,
Yeah, bring them on
Are you listening now,
Can I get through somehow
I've been waiting for so long
This is last year's song

Slowly her gaze moves to the bench, all that remains of even the street outside, in any recognisable sense. Where she waited for so many people, so many times. For Elaine, from class or her translation work with Mr. Monroe. For Ygraine, who would surprise her from the wall above. For Sable, from Magnes' most of the time. For Royce, that time they went down to New Jersey to pick up her record. With Adel for Royce the time they almost went to Atlantic City, had it not been for snow not unlike this. For Jolene when she had the time.

It all began in this prayed up town
You were looking for a way out
Love strapped you down
I turned and ran as we were taking our vows
It sure is hard to run in a wedding gown

These are the sights Luther's more familiar in tangling with, but the more they see, the more his mind and being withdraws. A dispassionate, distant gaze from the man sweeps over the ruinscape, and when they reach the site of the rubble, he focuses on the surviving bench sitting there. Luther frowns. He glances over to Ray, to Robyn, searching for some direction if any. But then Valerie moves towards the building and by reaction, he follows at a protective distance. Even if she doesn't really need it, and such thought crosses the man's mind because he only takes a few steps before stopping.

The first notes of the song make his weapon hand lower to his side, his head turning back towards the singing. And he listens. A flicker of emotion twitches behind the distant gaze. He watches Robyn move past to the rubble ahead. When the song ends, his chest lifts and falls, an exhale of hot breath curling into the air. "Miss Robyn," he says after a pause in silence. "Do you… want us to take the bench?" There's no plan of how yet, merely an offer. And a glance, to Richard Ray.

The wind picks up, carrying a gust of snow from the powdery dunes that cover the ruined building. A flight of pigeons pass overhead, and the sound of the wind they ride of whistles through the jagged remnants of these clouden buildings. There's a sense of emptiness here, somber memorialization for so many dead.

Valerie has still seen nothing. No one coming down the side streets, no predators stalking the daytime roads. After dark that may be another story, but being here after dark sounds like a dark, cruel fate.

There’s silence from Richard as the lyrics carry over the radio, quiet as they are, his head turning a bit as Robyn makes her way down and past him towards the rubble, towards the bench. As the music fades, he steps along after her, one gloved hand coming up to rest on her shoulder, giving it a companionable squeeze.

He’s about to say something, then, when Luther’s genuine - if unrealistic - offer is spoken, and he just turns his head to give Luther a look that just says what? A long pause, and then he actually chuckles ever so softly. “I don’t… think we’re equipped to take the bench, no,” he murmurs, the mirth short-lived.

“I’m sorry, Robyn.” An echo of his words, a sigh of regret carried on them, “The memories are always there, at least.”

It’s not long before Valerie is back on the street again, shaking her head. There’s no way they would be able to get anything from this. Except— at leasts she got back in time to hear her brother respond to the bench line. She looks back at it, tilting her head to the side. “If we had a truck maybe…” But they did not. There’s nothing they can do for that.

“You don’t happen to have super strength, do you?” It’s worth asking of Luther, cause she’s not entirely sure how his ability works exactly. She just knows he’s safer going to places than most people. She does cast a sad look at Robyn, though, because… it had been her home.

And now it’s rubble. Like so much else.

The song ends only long enough for Robyn to take a deep breath, a glance over to Luther, and then to Ray, before continuing. Her eyes trace Valerie's path, trying to follow her as best as she can.

So I stole your car,
And ran it through your heart
And the radio was on,
Playing last year's song
And if you're listening now,
Can I get through somehow
You know I never did you wrong
That was last year's song

Robyn continues to sing through the songs middle parts as she looks from the bench, to where the entrance to The Rock Cellar should be. Where she saw Else Kjelstrom and The Shattered Skies play. Where she'd first met Catherine Chesterfield. Where Tasha, Nicole, and her had held a costumed birthday party for Colette. Where she'd held the release concert for the album she would've once called her life's work.

Are you listening now,
Did I get through somehow
When you're finally catching on,
Then I'm gone, like last year's song
Na na na na na na
Na na na na na na

For the first time, her voice hitches as she cranes her neck upwards, looking to where the Verb used to rise to. To her former home with Elaine Darrow, utterly and completely eradicated from the face of the Earth in what had surely been one fell swoop. And here she was, singing at it one last time.

Na na na na na na
I'm not afraid now
It's gone away now,
yeah, yeah, yeah,
You're on your way now
It is New Year's Day now
And I got through somehow

As the sound of the last lyrics fades, hands clench into fists. She turns back towards the others, though she doesn't look anyone in the eye. Instead, she reaches one hand up under the band over her left eye, wiping away tears trapped underneath.

"So it goes," she says quietly. "Some pasts stay buried, I guess, no matter what we want. Thank you for bringing me out here. Think the bench will be fine where it is, though." Taking in a deep breath, she wipes her cheeks one last time. "Where to next, Richard."

"Maybe not the whole bench, not all at once," Luther remarks when he receives the odd looks and doubt. But for the sake of the woman with her heartfelt song, the man is thus moved to some action. He steps over to the bench, examining the piece. His grey eyes lift up to Valerie's form at her query, answering with a slight shake of his head. "No ma'am, but…"

He walks around the bench, appraising the piece. In a past situation, he may have slept on this sort of bench when he could. "If I put a bit of heat on these ground bolts, or here where the welded joints are, maybe we could pull a piece or two off. And then, um. I don't know. Use it for another build, or, put it in your office or something." His gloved hand gestures vaguely. "Art… type things." The man lays his hand on the back of the bench, and then his gaze switches over to each other face in turn, gaugingly. His gloved fingers flex, loosening up in case there's a go ahead.

His gaze lingers on Robyn, since she seems the most invested in the memory of this building. "We also might need some rope. If we're going to try for it. It's up to you, Miss Robyn."

From a small opening where the rubble is piled up, a flight to starlings emerge in a flurry of wings and chirps, moving into an undulating cloud in the air and then scattering deeper into the ruins. They are only briefly present, but their flight shows that even in the midst of destruction, something new can live.

“We’d probably need a truck even then, unless we just wanted to take a piece of it back…” Richard’s gaze sweeps over the bench a bit dubiously, although he doesn’t seem entirely opposed to the idea, merely skeptical about their ability to do so at this particular moment.

Then he tips his head in a nod to Robyn’s words, drawing in a deep breath before offering quietly, “Sometimes they do. Even when we want to dig them back up again. Like the lady said…” Just a hint of sad humor in his voice, “The way back is closed.”

He turns, then, looking to Valerie and Luther, then back to Agent Quinn. There’s silence for a long moment as he watches her, weighing his words before he finally asks, “Can I trust you, Robyn? I’ve got something else I need to do, while we’re past the wall, that… I need you to keep quiet.”

Wry, “I suppose that asking you of all people in your position to do so is probably a little unfair of me, but if it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be.”

“It would have been nice to be able to take the bench,” Valerie responds, before watching the birds fly away. That they had nested there tells her that it is at least safe-ish, but she decides she better check and and make sure nothing besides them spooked them. Without a word, she vanishes again, casting herself out further to look about— just in case. This time she even goes further than the fifty meters and goes to the very edge of her range, to check out from multiple sides, walking through buildings if she has to. Just in case something other than their group caused the birds to take flight.

"The way back is closed," Robyn echoes, looking back at Richard and nodding approvingly - his choice of saying appropriate for so many reasons. "Don't even know where I'd put the bench. Hana wouldn't have it in Rochester, but…" That's not home to her anyway. Dirk would've had to deal with it. Like a plant. "Maybe the spare room." She takes a deep breath, looking off into the distance as her expression suddenly grows much more serious - the moment, as it were, is behind them. Now she has to be Agent Quinn again.

Which means Richard's question earns him a flat look. "Didn't think we were out here just for me," she offers as she turns to face him. "I trust you Richard. But if we're looking for something… compromising…" A glance to Luther, and then to Valerie. "Trust me. Read me in." It's obviously too late for her to say no, and even if she would want to she's a little outnumbered here at the moment.

A smile follows that up. Keep quiet, that's something she has and can do in the past and present. It's something she has to do every day as of late. One more thing - unless absolutely untenable - isn't going to break her.

Luther moves over to the front of the bench as he waits for the group to discuss. Sitting on one side, he leans against the arm lightly. When Richard takes the topic to a more discreet point, Luther’s focus turns from studying the bench to studying the man. There’s no commentary from him this time, but a quiet switching of his gaze between the other faces. Anyone watching him might note the metal arm that he’s leaning on is turning hot. That’s right, he’s taking a piece off with them, despite what the others might say.

A block to the west, where Valerie flickers in flitting scouting, a pair of deer are walking down the middle of Greene Street through the snow. Their ears twitch at the distant sound of human activity, but they're so urbanized they aren't quite afraid. A few more birds are fluttering through the upper windows of a demolished tenement building with a burned out Subway sandwich store on the ground floor. It's the most threatening thing she's seen in a while.

Back at the ruins of the Village Renaissance Building, the wind briefly picks up and blows powdery snow off of the ground, but the sky remains an otherwise clear blue slate. There's been stories for a long time about how dangerous the Exclusion Zone is. But from here, it looks deceptively serene.

“We’re heading to the south part of Central Park,” is Richard’s initial explanation as he gestures towards another street and begins to walk, double-checking the geiger counter he’s carrying around. That is, after all, quite close to where the second bomb hit.

After a minute or so, he starts explaining in quiet tones that are carried more by radio than through the muffling wrap of his gear, “Someone reached out to me recently. An… old friend, although in the conflict by the end we were on opposite sides. Fairly high up in the ranks of the Commonwealth Institute.”

He turns his head a bit, keeping an eye on Robyn’s reactions as they walk, “He knows things that I… need to know, and I need to know what he’s been up to. I don’t think I need to say how un-thrilled Hana or your superiors would be, and if you mentioned it to either, I’d be pretty fucked.”

“So. Guess the ball’ll be in your court, Agent Quinn.”

The deer give Valerie a little pause, as she stops to watch them for a moment. It means she doesn’t hear a majority of her big brother’s plan, but she also wouldn’t be stopping him no matter what he intended to do. They were Rays, after all. A Ray always has a plan that they don’t necessarily share with everyone.

Whether he’d been a Ray by blood or raised, he’d been drawn into the family and taken up the name. There would always be a second motive to a move this big.

When she returns, near the end, she gives another quick nod and stays put for a time, even as she listens for new signs of movement. She doesn’t tell them of her sighting of the small flock, though she is notably wearing something far too breezy when she returns. Almost like a young girl might wear when standing in a beautiful field, hoping to feed a deer by hand.

Robyn had begun moving quickly, not wanting to linger on the Verb. She knew there were other reasons they were here - there was no way in hell someone would arrange just for her to come out to her old home - of which no one was before hand even sure still existed - so that she could wallow in memories of the past, sing, and argue about a bench that has had better luck than almost anyone the SESA agent knows.

She may be still naive at times, but she's not an idiot.

At first she walks alongside Richard, silent as she takes in their goal, or at least what she expects to hear of it.

And then he mentions the Commonwealth Institute, and she stops dead in her tracks. Eye locks him, her pensive and uncertain expression gives away to something flatter, but still easy to read - Agent Quinn is not thrilled by this turnabout.

"Of course," she states flatly. "Richard, do you know what conflict of interest is?" Rhetorical question, obviously he does. "Wolfhound gives me enough of those." She narrows her eye at him, and then lets out a long, tired sigh punctuated with a shake of her head. "I trust you Richard. I need you," she starts, taking a deep breath as she walks towards him, "to fucking. Trust. Me!" She doesn't quite yell it, but anyone who had seen them in 2011 might be able to hold a mirror up to Robyn Quinn's mood. "Always told me you pulled shit like this," which is probably unfair but not untrue.

She closes her eye, exhaling sharply. "I get it. It involves the Institute. I am with SESA. I get it." She shakes her head. "But next time, if you wish to put my job in jeopardy? Please. Give me a heads up. As much as I'm not allowed to admit it…" Her foot taps on the ground, looking back over her shoulder at the way they came. "I look after my friends… as long as I don't think they're walking in the footsteps of their lessers." The Vanguard. The Institute. Even the Ferry, to a small degree.

"Hana won't hear of this. SESA either. And I'm already here, so…" She trails off, before a thin smile starts to form on her lips. "But if I'm going to be involved in this…" A glance over to Luther, and then to Valerie, and her smile widens into a longer grin. "I would like to stay involved, as much as you can allow." And that is not up for negotiation. There's almost a giddiness to those last words, as much as the often quiet and terse woman can allow - she may or may not be secretly excited about this not that she's past her initial outburst.

The last to rise to his feet, Luther comes away from the bench with a forceful tug of the bench arm he’s leaned against. The metal audibly bends, then clangs as he pulls it off, accidentally striking the back of it with the loosened piece. No apologies, though, just a satisfied grunt as he hefts the piece up on to his shoulder. The formerly welded points remain visibly hot, left to cool in the wintry air as he moves to catch up to the group.

He’s caught up in time to catch the near-yell from Robyn, and it puts an extra alarm in the pace to his step. Only to get a glance from the SESA Agent, one that puzzles Luther on account of the mood shift. “What exactly are we walking into, Boss?” asks the man after he’s had the chance to look around, to notice what direction they’re headed. Even as they step towards the proverbial lion’s den, Luther’s pace is right behind.

"I know, I know…" Richard breathes out a sigh at Robyn's quite-understandable outburst, hands spreading a bit through the air as he starts walking again, boots crunching on snow, "…you gave me an excuse, though, and I had to take it. I'm sorry for putting you at risk, but this is too important for me to leave alone. And if I'm being honest, Robyn…"

His head lifts, and he orients on the city streets before taking a turn, his voice quiet even over the radio, "This way. Shouldn't be too dangerous, Luther - should either be a meet, or a drop, but stay alert. If I'm being honest, Robyn - I might need someone with your connections who knows what's going on, in the near future. I don't know what's coming, but I can feel that something is."

"And I'm worried that we're running out of time."

From the Village Renaissance building, the city rapidly deteriorates around the intruders into the Exclusion Zone. Storefronts blackened by fire, upturned vehicles, burned police cars and toppled ambulances all line the street. There’s no bones like there were on the bridge, but the signs of violence from the riots is punctuated by the presence of more sandbag barricades, razorwire wrapped around small growths of stick-thin trees shooting up from the split concrete, and the demolished frame of a crashed police helicopter sticking out of a third story window.

The four-lane road of Houston Street is a graveyard, however. Gridlocked vehicles are frozen in time and partially buried in snow drifts, windows blown out of each and every vehicle, many of which have vegetation growing from inside of them, little more than sapling branches in these pre-spring months. The wind howls between the gutted buildings, demolished from explosions and a battle between the unthinkable forces that twice leveled Manhattan. Another military checkpoint ahead has a large, bullet-riddled steel sign displaying the seal of the Department of Evolved Affairs, below which a placard reads HAVE YOUR DOCUMENTATION READY.

A skull here, missing most of its top, stares up at the group from a drift of snow and ice. Birds scatter from the grille of a truck with no tires. Broadway starts to curve here, moving to the west steadily, crossing streets where more demolished vehicles lay in ruin. The sun tracks a course overhead, shadows shorten and the bright sky is dappled with a few thick, fluffy clouds. In the thirty some odd minutes they’re walking, the sky gradually darkens as a thin cloud cover blocks out the sun and the temperature drops noticeably.

By the time the group has reached Madison Square Park, they are approaching the worst-damaged areas of the city. Entire skyscrapers slouch against one another like drunkards on their way home from the bar. The park has overgrown the street here, vegetation rambling out into the streets in the form of leafless shrubs and brambles, tangling into cars and spread across the asphalt beneath the snow. The park looks like a forest now, with trampled brown grass where manicured parks once stood. Birdsongs fill the air here, and then…

There’s a crash, branches snapping at the right side of the road where the park’s perimeter lays. And then out from the woodline emerges a shaggy, brown-furred grizzly bear chasing a scampering pair of raccoons away from the woodline. The raccoons disappear under the demolished automobiles with clanks and snaps, and the bear sniffs loudly at the air and turns dark eyes in the direction of the approaching entourage. It makes a gruff noise, low and steady, and brushes its head against a tree trunk, then its shoulder, and then ambles up and climbs atop the hood of a car mostly buried in snow to look down on the travelers.

It's a quiet walk, at least from Richard Ray's direction, as he indicates the direction they're going now and then; the presence of so many dead, the sight of so many buildings he once knew so well destroyed, is a sobering one for the man.

"The chess park should be— " The words are cut off by the sudden crash, the man whirling towards the sound. The sight of a grizzly bear in the middle of the city is almost surreal, and he gawks at it for a few moments before it lumbers up onto the car's hood. One hand slowly goes down to his belt, drawing the X-LRAD from its holster, cable connecting it even as he weighs the weapon in his hand. "Mm. Luther, think you could scare the thing away with a flash or something? I'm worried the Banshee might hurt it, animals have sensitive ears…"

“I could create a distraction for it, make it chase me,” Valerie offers, looking at the bear with big eyes, but at the same time looking excited to be able to offer to do something that isn’t just jumping around checking the parameter. Though she knows that’s important, it hasn’t yielded anything yet. This whole trip is what she always wanted, after all. To see what became of the city that they can only see from a distance from tall buildings. But with no people to project off, not even she could take a safe walk in the walled off Manhattan.

“Cameras might not be able to see me, but animals can. I used to play with cats sometimes, like a giant laser pointer.” That happened to be a person. They’d try to catch her hand only to find it not there. It had been fun, and a good test of her ability.

Too bad she couldn’t actually tether to them— cause she tried that.

Eyeing Richard for a long moment, Robyn sighs and resumes walking alongside of him. "Knew you'd never come out here just for me," she opines. "No one's that foolish. But at least we're both getting what we want. I do appreciate being brought along." She's pissed, certainly, but she's clearly not holding it against Richard. She's quiet for a time, nodding as he speaks. Another huffed out sight follows his explanation.

"Never changes," she says quietly. "Keeps marching forward. Time, forever running out." A wavering smile as she looks back up at him. "Think I'd be used to it by now, right?" But if Richard's right, and something is coming - something was always coming, it seemed like - then she was glad to be made aware of that possibility now. "I'll do what I can. Lots of eyes on me, but for Wolfhound. Should be able to help out. Keep an ear to the ground."

The ghostly remains of familiar streets, ones she used to walk or ride her scooter down in a hurry to get to Ichihara, Tartarus, Studio K - what they had scene before was one thing, but this… this sight, the closer they get to the worst of it, is even more surreal. It's like travelling in time - but not back. Forward.

To the apocalypse.

Robyn Quinn isn't religious person, not any more, but she can't help but whisper a prayer, just as Richard had before. This would be too much if she hadn't inured herself to death as much as she had over the past several years, and even then it turns her stomach. The mention of a chess park gets a raised eyebrow. "Chess? Like… the king." The piece she remembers he kept at his desk when she had visited. Curious.

The bear, though. That's a new one. She stops, hands moving to draw her service pistol - for a lot of good it would do against a bear. Her lack of a better gun is the only thing that gives her pause, really. She'd dealt with those hunterbots and other people, both with and without her ability. This bear feels like a nuisance at best. "You're not serious." Her voice is flat , giving Richard an unamused look. "I would just… shoot it. But." A look over to Valerie. "That might be for the best. A flash would draw attention, I imagine. Anything else will just… make it angry?" She's not entirely sure, she's never met a bear before. But it makes sense to her.

Given the cryptic answer from the boss, Luther narrows his gaze then sends it out to their environs. It doesn't help settle him, and his grip on the still-cooling bench arm curls just that much tighter when they reach the park. While all's quiet, so is the man, looking around at the slouched buildings and overgrowth in sobered stares.

The crashing noise catches Luther, and in a quick whirled angle and brandish of the newly acquired bench piece, he drops into a defensive posture. Eyes widen at the sight of the grizzly, for a moment fighting the urge to step back and run. He eyes both Ray and Robyn, their suggestions getting a troubled stare. "Unless you want to drag back some bear meat for the Safe Zone food shortage, I wouldn't recommend scaring or shooting it," he says quietly. He looks over to Valerie, considering her offer, and nods to the projected woman, pointing to her with his free hand. "That's a better idea, Miss Valerie, but pissing off a grizzly ain't much like pissing off a cat. However…"

Still, the man moves from the rear of the group to forward, bidding Valerie with a gesture, "Just in case." He starts walking at a fast clip around the grizzly on the car hood, keeping a healthy distance. Luther waves for the others to follow. "Keep together, and Miss Valerie, if you'd keep a couple feet up, make us look like the bigger badass, and… unappetizing."

The bear exhales a shuddering breath, steam explodes from its nostrils and it rises up halfway to a standing height on its hind legs and then drops down to slam it's impressive weight on the hood of the car. The blow breaks the hood, denting it inward in a single slam. The beast breathes in deep and snorts again, looking at Luther with coal black eyes before exhaling another loudly chuffed and threatening breath.

Fuck off, for those not fluent in bear.

“Oooh-kay, then, I don’t think that Yogi here is going to just let us wander on through,” Richard says as the bear rears up and then slams downwards, stepping back slowly and bringing both hands up. As if a bear knows what the universal symbol for ‘I’m unarmed’ is.

Also he’s not unarmed, as he’s holding a Banshee in his hand.

“Going with Plan Val, then,” he agrees with the others - rather than try to startle or scare it - “Think you can show him where a good pic-a-nic basket is, little sister?”

“I’ll catch up with you once I get a building or two between you,” Valerie responds with a grin, before she starts to run, run past the bear, waving at him with a “Hey Yogi, Jellystone is this way!” and waits to see if he’s taking the bait before she continues on, not too fast, not too slow, just right. The goldilocks zone of leading a bear on a chase, it would seem. It helps she isn’t actually running, and while she’s been using her ability for a while now, back in her body she only feels the slightest of tingling in her finger tips.

Helps that her nervous system isn’t really that functional south of her waist— she’d probably be tingling a lot more than she is otherwise. Not that her brother needs to know any of that, of course.

“This way, Mr. Bear,” she leads him on, until she finds a building she can slip into, sliding right through the half-busted door in hopes that the bear will spend the rest of his time trying to get through the door and not go after the people who didn’t run right by him. She’ll catch up once they start tugging her to show they’re at the maximum distance of her tether.

Robyn watches in a bit of disbelief as this bizarre distract the bear plan actually works, relaxing just slightly. Still, she keeps her service pistol drawn, taking a deep breath. "Well." She watches as Valerie leads the bear away, a grin forming on her face. "That's one way to handle a bear. Better than killing it." She imagines, at least. Luther is right, that would be a pain to deal with, and the meat might not even be usable given where they are.

"Let's move before it gets bored and comes back." Warily, Robyn starts forward again. "I've never been to the chess park. Didn't have the patience," she admits. "Could probably do better now, but…" She trails off, closing her eye for a moment. "Wish I'd been to the park more. When you still could." All she ever did was run for exercise or occasionally find a spot to play in the park.

If she cared to look, she could probably find a lot of corners she played on once.

There’s some head-shaking from Luther for the exchange between Ray and Valerie, and a low mutter of “Yogi’s an asshole” under his breath. Only that’s probably audible, given his helmet radio. He watches Valerie lure the bear away, with a slightly worried crease to his brow, if only because it still looks like she’s being chased by a giant grizzly. His reaction to move after her and protect presents its conflicts. “The chess park was a pretty good place to be,” he says after a pause, looking back to Robyn and Ray. “Even if you didn’t play, just watching the games, laughing with the winners, sympathizing - or maybe not - with the losers.” And now? Hard to say where they stand on the board. Where he stands, in relation.

“So, Boss, you don’t actually know what you’re looking for out here? Or you got one of those ideas of yours.” Luther idly swings the bench piece he’s hefting, testing its weight and balance.

Richard always has ideas. Some spoken, some not. Luther’s question is answered by a silent move forward, moving down Broadway long enough to meet the intersection with 5th avenue. The rows of rusted automobiles is endless here, bumper to bumper traffic frozen in time, dusted with ice, and buried by snow. Valerie’s escape with the bear eventually becomes a distant memory, the bear’s noises lost to the city’s silence. She reappears several minutes later, no worse for wear.

5th Avenue leads up toward Midtown, revealing all-too familiar reminders of a life gone by. Up ahead there are twenty foot tall concrete barricades stacked side by side, the kind typically used by the Army Corps of Engineers to create temporary perimeters around base camps in urban war zones. Here, they were used to partition off the functioning parts of New York City from the Ruins of Midtown. The clicking tick of Richard’s Geiger counter means they won't be taking the direct route through that area, however. The site of two ground zeroes against Peter Petrelli and Sylar is still impossibly irradiated years after the fact.

Instead, 5th Ave follows the perimeter of the ruins, following the barricade walls and its checkpoints like a vision of the Exclusion Zone in miniature. Tall and colorful graffiti covers the wall, paintings going back as far as the 2008 election, with faded and cartoonish depictions of Petrelli, Rickham, and Mitchell. Never is the road here bare, there are cars as far as the eye can see, many of which with rooftops still packed with weathered old luggage and personal effects from people trying to evacuate during the war. Nearly all of the vehicles are, mercifully, free of human remains.

It takes another thirty minutes to reach the corner of Central Park, now an overgrown wilderness muted by winter’s embrace. Tall fields of wild grass are packed down by minimalist drifts of snow only a few inches to perhaps a foot deep in places. Some areas are bare to the brown grass. The Park might as well be upstate wilderness now, with small growths of new trees and overgrown bushes abutting rusted remnants of park benches.

The shanty town that once abutted the northern concrete wall of the Midtown ruins is still there, too. Blue tarps stretched over salvaged frames, corrugated metal walls and milk crates. Blankets for walls and pieces of wrecked cars piled up like partitions. There's some smoke over there, one or two small fires. Proof that people still live out here, more proof that not everyone chose to relocate to the Safe Zone. But the ones left behind usually have good reason to be.

It isn't far to the chess park, and though the visitor center gazebo is crushed flat by the weight of multiple winter storms and disrepair, the old concrete chess tables are untouched by time. But something is readily apparent in the group’s approach. Aside from the small tracks of what might be a cat or a possum, there is one set of boot prints tracked through the snow around the chess tables.

Someone else is, or was, here.

"We used to play chess in the park," Richard Ray explains as they walk, his head shaking slowly, "While we had our… disagreements. He believed that survival was paramount, that the ends justified the means to that goal. I believed we needed to change things, that we needed to act to prevent disaster. We never came to an agreement. I shot one of his clones, eventually, that kind of soured things between us…" Feet crunch over snow-dusted pavement, his gaze sweeping the road for further hazards. "He called the office recently, said it'd been too long since we played. So no, I'm not sure what's waiting for us exactly, Luther. But I know it'll be important. He was never a man to act lightly in anything he did."

There's a long pause before the barricades blockading Midtown, Richard's gaze on those walls and the counter in his hand ticking steadily to offer a warning not to approach further. Another one of those ideas, unspoken, one that's been gnawing at him for years showing in his expression as he stares at the barrier before finally turning to carry onward and away from the radioactive hazard. The shanty town's given wide berth - the people there want their privacy, and he has no reason to disturb them.

A tension grows in the man as he walks along the paths of the chess park, memories stirring unbidden - noticing the boot prints, which have to be fresh. "There," he says quietly, motioning with the hand not busy with the Geiger counter, moving to track them, and hopefully to find what they're looking for.

Whatever that is.


It probably isn’t Desdemona Desjardins, but there she is, recognizable to the Raytech crew by her dark hair and large, red-framed glasses. There’s an earflap cap over her head, bushy curls sticking out beneath, and a scarf wrapped around the lower portion of her face. Both in varying shades of grey, like her overcoat. The boot prints in the snow lead to a table, where she’s cleared the snow, sitting atop the checkered surface. “He’s not coming,” the brunette offers by way of greeting.

“I’m sorry, Richard.” He can’t see the sad smile on her face, but he can see it in her eyes and hear it in the apologetic tone of her voice. Blue eyes fix on her boss, then shift to regard Luther, Quinn, and the projected image of Valerie before settling back on Richard again. “I was worried,” is offered as defense. After all, if she’d been invited on this outing, they wouldn’t just be finding her now.

“I would have come back if anything went wrong,” Valerie responds to one of her favorite scientists that her brother hired. Not only because she’s weirdly protective of her, but also cause she doesn’t look at her too differently— because they seem to have a lot of little things in common. She half wants to tell her about the deer, about the bear, about everything, but she just offers her a smile instead. The smile and the reassurance that she would have been the first person to know if something had been happening to them.

Even if it would have taken a lot to get anyone out there to help them. But that had been part of the reason she insisted on going. Not just because she wanted to be along and because she would be helpful.

But because she too was worried about them.

On first sighting of the new arrival, Robyn's free hand moves to her sidearm, gripping it with both hands as she raises it slightly. The woman addressing Richard - unfamiliar, or at least unremembered - doesn't really alleviate any of her concerns. He isn't coming, cryptic as it may be, elicits the drawing of a long breath.

"Tell me she's one of yours, Richard." Not that she's going to shoot her if not, but it would put her a bit more at ease. It's nothing about Des herself that does it, but rather the situation - addressed by name as Richard is in a place where no one who knows them is supposed to be. And on top of that, if one of his people is here… why are they?

That question sticks in her mind for a moment,

"Worried's a hell of reason a reason to come out here," she adds, her eye locked on to Des for a moment, before she looks back to Richard. "Not coming. So, who's not coming? Hope all of this wasn't for nothing. Don't know that we get to do it again." Not with how she had to push paperwork through for it, and not with her having to go back to Rochester.

There’s been a lot of things Luther hasn’t questioned about the comings and goings of Ray’s crew, his own presence with the company being a question mark at times. The man has only just learned about the barest details of Desdemona Desjardins, albeit he had, maybe, encountered her in a distant past. An alternate past? But now here in the present, to encounter the woman here of all places is just a trip too far. Luther swings the piece of bench down to his side, free hand moving to the sonic pistol, pulling it out of the holster and aiming it at Des. In this case, he’s with Robyn in being a touch incredulous with the bespectacled biologist just standing there coincidentally at this time, this place.

His finger hovers over the trigger. “Is this a trick?” he growls, not unlike the bear they’d encountered earlier. “Boss?”

Of all the people that Richard expected to see out here, Desdemona Desjardins was one of the last on the list. She was on the list, but it was a far out possibility, and one that he really was hoping wouldn't happen. The implications are unpleasant.

"I certainly hope she is," he answers Robyn in low, tense tones, adding then to Luther's words, "And I certainly hope it's not."

He does extend a hand slightly towards the latter man, perhaps encouraging prudence before firing. Not that it's off the table completely.

"Doctor," he asks then, his voice muffled by the scarf but the bone-dry tone of it carrying through all the same as he fixes his gaze on her unwaveringly, "I was wondering how he was going to roll his wheelchair out here. If you're about to tell me he sent you, though, I may just let Luther pull that trigger. Explain yourself."

“So little faith,” Des says with a faux pout they can’t see. “I come all this way to make sure you’re okay, and this is the reception I get? That’s a fine hello.” The woman lifts her hands in the air, turning her hands at the wrist slowly to show one side, then the other. See? I’m unarmed. Please don’t shoot.

“No tricks.” The edge on the woman’s voice - the note of madness that Richard recognizes - softens. “I knew you asked him to join you in the wrong place. I wasn’t sure you’d put it together, so… I came here to look.” Hands still up, Des shrugs her shoulders, their narrow frame made broader by shoulder pads under herringbone wool. Valerie can’t see the smile she receives behind the scarf, so that dark head inclines ever so slightly to indicate her regards.

“If I knew where to find him all this time, I wouldn’t have been with you.” That’s at least truthful. It isn’t that she wouldn’t have taken the offer of the position, but she’d have been chasing down the ghosts of her past on her own instead of enlisting his help. Instead of endangering him in the pursuit. Endangering his sisters.

Des chews on her lower lip a moment, mulling over her next words. If she says the wrong thing, she’s getting shot. Either by the X-LRAD or a bullet, and neither option is terribly appealing.

“He’s dead, Richard.”

There was a moment's pause.

Oh. Well. That’s unfortunate sounding. Valerie visible frowns as she hears the confession from their suddenly appearing guest. She wouldn’t have been pointing weapons at her, and she in fact waves her hand at Luther and Richard as if to try and calm them both down. No shooting Des. The little blonde one had no doubt she’d had a good reason and not meant any harm. She didn’t know who her brother had been trying to meet, but it still made her sad.

Her brother had lost so many friends already. She doesn’t say it, but her eyes don’t need to. She’s sympathetic and sorry.

Robyn purses her lips, regarding the woman in front of them with uncertainty, eye never leaving her. She does at least lower her gun back to her side, letting out a sharp sigh. "Sometimes, pasts stay buried," she echoes from earlier. She can't decide if she's sad that the person Richard is here to see is dead - whomever they may be - or furious that this was set up and her job put a risk for nothing.

Ultimately, she decided to let Richard have his moment, just like they let her have hers, and keeps her thoughts to herself. She even manages, for once, not to wear any lingering annoyance on her face. She's more curious about what they do next.

The Banshee pointed at Des doesn’t lower, but it’s probably a good thing it’s lightweight because there’s a small sheen of sweat on Luther’s face that indicates an effort to keep the tension there. To be ready just in case. His gaze flicks to Valerie’s motion to stand down, but switches back to Des and Ray, to their conversation and unpleasant news. He stares down the pistol sight at the strange woman with esoteric words.

Luther shakes his head slightly to refocus. His finger lays on the trigger, ready and waiting for any indication to pull back.

"Dead." A deep breath's drawn in, exhaled, a plume of frozen breath spilling past Richard's lips. His voice is more audible now, scarf down although it was wrapped around his face a moment ago. He's a step closer to Des, as well, perhaps having moved when nobody was looking.

He lifts his hand (again?) and gestures downward for Luther to lower the Banshee, "All this time and the ancient sonuvabitch goes and dies on me before we can meet. It fucking figures." A turn of his head, lips twisting in a grimace, "Sorry for wasting your time, Robyn — looks like there aren't any secrets here to keep after all. Just another dead end."

One finger points authoritatively in Des's direction, then, "We'll talk about this at the facility. You should get out of here, you're not authorized to be in this zone."

Des lifts her raised hand to her forehead in a lazy salute to her boss. “Yes, sir. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.” Slowly, her attention shifts to Luther, who’s eyed not warily, but with interest. “May I put my hands down and take my leave, Mister Bellamy?” She’d really hate to get fired upon just for fun. Or as a precaution. Whichever of those Luther might be into.

Yellow eyes peek out from under one of the chess tables as a stray calico cat comes trotting out at the sounds of voices. It pads across the snow, coming up to Luther’s leg and threading between his feet, purring loudly before starting to sniff around at the ground, tail twitching excitedly.

The unfamiliar and collarless cat looks up at Robyn and proclaims loudly with a mrow that it is either hungry or in need of attention. But then begins to saunter away slowly.

Between the sadness and her brother’s apologies, Valerie almost misses the loud mrow until, well,there’s a loud mrow coming from the vicinity. Specifically at Robyn’s feet. “Oh a kitty!” she suddenly exclaims, hand going to her chest for a moment in a gesture that makes her look younger than she actually is. For a moment, she’s even wearing a beanie with kitty ears on her head. As it starts to move away, probably starving, the poor thing! She looks toward her brother, then Luther in a ‘we’re going to save this poor thing, right?’ kind of way.

Cause obviously they can’t just leave a hungry kitty in the middle on nowhere. There’s a bear wandering around!

"It's fine, Richard," Robyn replies quietly, shaking her head. "I think we both needed this trip anyway." So, it's not a waste of time she's decided - but certainly not the best outcome for either of them. She takes in a deep breath, watching Des for a moment longer, before looking over to Luther. She joins Richard in motioning for Luther to lower his Banshee, and-

Well, then a cat suddenly meows at her feet, catching her off guard. She manages to avoid looking too startled, but her hand does move to her chest. Her head tilts to the side slightly, eyeing Valerie for a moment before returning her gaze to the cat. Crude jokes aside, cats are always one way to get her attention.

So, she kneels down and - provided she doesn't receive a bevy of scratches in return - attempts to lift up the calico into her arms. At the very least, if it doesn't belong to someone out here, maybe they can get it somewhere safer.

Staring back at Des, Luther is the last to release what tension has gathered around. The approach of the calico goes unnoticed, his attention focused up on the woman in his sights. His pistol drops down eventually though, as does his gaze when the sensation of a cat rubbing against his leg draws his attention away from Des. Where the cat has sniffed, near his boot, he moves it away - more to give the cat some space. There might be a worrisome moment when his pistol is pointed down towards the stray animal, but the worry is unfounded. Luther holsters the Banshee with a rough huff, letting out pent up frustration and confusion.

The significant look from Valerie is met by a dip of his head. If she wants the cat, he’ll dutifully retrieve the cat. The man utters something about strays and lowers himself to a knee, clicking his tongue in hopes of distracting or enticing the calico over so either he or Robyn can pick up the feline.

“We can talk later, Luther,” says Richard quietly, his head tipping over a bit towards the tense man. The hint of a smile tugs up at the corner of his lips as he looks to Des, then turns… only to find the group focusing upon a cat of all things.

The promise of that smile becomes something more full, then, and he motions with a hand towards the feline, “Well, maybe we aren’t going home empty-handed after all. Anyone looking for a pet?”

He points the Geiger counter at it just in case, triggering the machine to make sure the poor thing isn’t going to glow in the dark.

The cat looks up at Ray, ears twitching, then pads over and sniffs the end of the Geiger counter. The cat produces a safe amount of clicking.

“He’s safe,” Richard reports.

The trip wasn't a total loss, at least.

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