They're Still Machines


joseph_icon.gif kendall_icon.gif raith_icon.gif shannon_icon.gif ygraine_icon.gif

Scene Title They're Still Machines
Synopsis How do you move through Midtown when robots want to kill you? This topic and— mainly this topic is discussed amongst people who could help.
Date January 22, 2011

Grand Central Terminal

With the topside of the iconic Grand Central Terminal in ruins, it's its basement level that sees most activity, as covert as such activity may be. Entrances are sealed (at least, to those who don't know any better) to the upper levels leading above ground, whether with rubble, or with manmade additions of gates and blockades, and so most will find their way to this place via the countless tunnels that run like arteries in what could appropriately be termed the heart of Manhattan's train system.

Electric lights shine pallid white in the arching ceilings of the basement concourses and foyers, running off their own generators and so power is only used conservatively. Here, the wide open spaces are used for storage that is destined to be moved either towards the arching doorways opening to platforms and subways for shipping out, or waiting to be dragged down to the subbasements for longer term storage. The floors, the walls, the ceilings are differing kinds of tile and vary in cleanliness.

Tables have also been set up so that supplies can be sorted, shifted, packed properly. Folded cardboard boxes awaiting use can be discovered in most corners. Signs on the walls in the form of crude spray paint indicate where things might go, from food, to clothing, to medical supplies, and some things even more exotic. This is a place of motion and organization.

Last but not least, a makeshift recreation room has been set up for the workers of the Grand Central Station, and this can be found within what used to be known as the Whispering Walls. Famously, this interstitial space was known for its strange acoustics, wherein one could whisper to a companion from one far side of the corner to the other by talking directing into the curving corner, where sound would travel along the curve of the arcing ceiling. This, of course, still works, but now the space is no longer simply a foyer - there's a semi-portable kitchen area offering simple food and beverages, a television (which gets no reception, but is hooked into a VCR and a DVD player, with a modest library for both), a card table, a few comforts such as couches and armchairs.

Upon one of the walls, is a rough but well-meaning mural, a mock up of an aquarium - an addition that came after the Ferrymen claimed this space as theirs. It seems to grow in size every several days, with new aquatic characters added each time.

Robots tend to clear a room.

In this case, the entirety of the Grand Central Terminal is probably not seeing as much action these days, although the place is so big and the work crew so diverse that it takes someone who has been down here many times before to really feel the difference. Joseph is one such person, and can't rightly blame them, all things considered. With a strange clank, lights flood through the concourses. Blue tile on the floors, up the walls and the curving ceilings, concrete everywhere else and the kind of post-dystopia abandonment of what was once a very busy underground cavern, of shops, restaurants, and tunnels leading into the subways.

More sound effects — the hollow sounding thump of metal on wood. At the sound of people approaching this meeting place under the harsh lights, Joseph doesn't quite look up from where he sets two items down. They look like skulls cast in silver — one of them equine-like, and like it should be resting on a long neck, its jaw removed. The other more feline, with silver fangs glinting in the light.

Normally, their sockets light up with green, red, blue, but the skulls have been emptied of their hardware, reduced to shells for display. It's good to get a mental image.

Vertical shafts, mostly-flooded tunnels and routes largely blocked by rubble are all really good for avoiding attention - be it from men or drones - but they do also have the unfortunate side-effect of tending to be really rather dirty. As a result, the figure emerging into Joseph's light from the darkness is no longer black, but more a brown-spattered filth-grey. It even trails little wisps of dust whenever it moves a portion of its attire left still for some time.

Perhaps as a result, the dirt-covered figure comes to a halt just within the light, spending a few moments dusting itself down before reaching up to set about removing layers of protection and gadgetry from its head - revealing the dyed-red hair and pale features of Ygraine. She blinks and squints a little, but musters a smile that has real warmth behind it. "Hi. It's good to see you again, even in these circumstances", she says quietly, before setting about shrugging out of at least some of her outer layers.

When Shannon goes wandering around the city, at least this part of the city, she does it with illusion. Illusion is good. Illusion means she can't be seen and thus can't be harassed by any pesky DHS agents. Or robots. So it's invisibly that she makes her way down to Grand Central, pausing when she spots the robot skulls. But moments later, once she's assured that it's safe, she drops the illusion.

"Have you started making robot minions now, or spoils of war?" she asks, approaching Joseph, as though she hadn't just appeared out of thin air.

It's a time for uncommon sights in the terminal. The skulls are uncommon sights. Jensen Raith is another uncommon sight, for even at the height of his involvement with the Ferrymen, he has scarcely made an appearance at Grand Central, except when his presence was required. Now, it is required more than ever.

When Joseph appears, the ex-spy regards him from a distance. When Shannon appears from nothing, she is largely unnoticed: Raith's attention is fixated on the two skulls. He's not surprised to see them. He knew he would see them again, knew there was no avoiding it. But seeing them again nevertheless stirs old memories from inside his brain, reviving the old terror he and so many others experienced in the wilds of Argentina. They weren't at all prepared to face them then.

And when he silently walks to close the distance between himself, Joseph and the others who are assembling, he can't help but wonder if they are at all prepared to face them now.

Kendall has to be careful. After all, his illusions don't really work on technology, although he can affect the people looking at or through said technology. And, he was really worried about his girlfriend in the Grand Central Terminal, so the trip was made. Good thing he's able to be sneaky even beyond his invisibility, and he drops his invisibility as well with the removal of a ring. He looks nervous, always glancing around.

Joseph looks up first when Ygraine, expression neutral if only because he'd been thinking inside his own head just a moment before — so when he does smile for her, it's abrupt and genuine, the growing lines at the corners of his mouth and eyes both deepening. "You too," he says, arms going out in a small gesture of here we are, in most unusual circumstances, before he plants his hands upon his waist and opens his mouth to say more—

When suddenly people are appearing out of nowhere. Which is great for them, and maybe the network generally, but it does cause the pastor to startle just a little, hand flying up to grip onto the twin crucifixes that dangle on their thin silver chain around his neck. "These?" he replies to Shannon, after taking a second to adjust, offering a smile to both she and Kendall. "No ma'am. These would be a couple of the items some folk in the Ferry found when they knocked down a government supply convoy. I can barely work a cellphone."

Out the corner of his eye, Raith's quiet presence is detected, causing Joseph to turn, and offer a more neutral smile, hand waving him closer. "Thanks f'coming," he says. "Take a— " But he didn't get around to setting up the chairs, which are stacked off against the wall rather than surrounding the scarred, expensive dinner table on which the skulls reside. "Make yourself at home."

Ygraine finishes removing her jacket and gloves (to reveal a neck-high thermal skinsuit that leaves comparatively little to the imagination); stashes her breathing mask and night-vision goggles inside her helmet; then moves to snare a few chairs, hauling them over to the table. Handing them out, she then takes one for herself, slumping onto it with a distinctly relieved sigh, one hand reaching back and up to rub at the base of her skull. "Crawling on ceilings gives me a real crick in my neck", she grumbles to no one in particular, before hastily adding a more business-like comment. "But it's certainly worth it to find out more about these things."

"It's Shannon, not ma'am," says Shannon, looking at the skulls again before she finds something to lean her shoulder against, arms crossing over her chest. "But I assume we're not here to chit chat, and I'm guessing that it has something to do with those since you have them displayed where we can all see them."

"They don't look like much right now," Raith remarks on the heels of Shannon's supposition. "But you attach them to their bodies, put their eyes back in and power them up… you'd think someone kicked open the gates to Hell and let some demons loose. Maybe that's not too far from the truth." 'Making himself at home' is not high on the ex-spy's list of priorities. He leans forward on the table, resting on his hands and looks, for lack of a better word, grim. "Bad enough when you're surrounded by trees. Even worse when you're surrounded by concrete."

Kendall blinks at the skulls, and swallows. "Ah… and how do they see? Er, are they being controlled, or are they AIs?" he has a bad feeling that he can't be of any use to the ones gathered here. "And how do you take them out?"

At least Joseph is taking a chair, helping take them over the table to place, before sitting down on one himself, several feet away from the table. Almost a posture thing — council or no, he doesn't touch the part of Ferry that deals in confrontation, and his hands link together, elbows against his knees, back bowed as he observes the skulls, then up towards Raith. He pulls in a breath, lets it out again, unsure if he should be offended or wary of comparisons to things like demons.

"We got reports in about these things crawling through Midtown, commissioned by Evo Affairs. In case you haven't noticed," and he tilts his head to indicate their surroundings, "the heart of our supplies and logistics is right in the middle of it. I know some of y'all haven't been down these parts and I'm happy to take you on the tour if you need it. All these tunnels, open spaces, underground, we've been working on for the past— gotta be two years now. We're not going to get another place like it. The only place more sophisticated would be Pollepel Island, and that's just a fallback."

He shrugs, and leans back in his chair as he looks towards Shannon. "Before we start thinkin' of evacuation, we need to think of how to make this work 'til this project of theirs gets discredited or destroyed someway. Part of that is figuring how to move people through the ruins — these things, I'm told, are able to detect people who are Evolved. Close range, is figured, because we're still okay. I don't know much more about 'em than that."

Ygraine pauses, arching a brow at Joseph's last comment, then resumes massaging the back of her neck. "Merde", she grumbles, sounding tired more than unduly put out. "I feared it'd be something like that. As an immediate offer, I can take small groups by routes impassable to any remotely normal man or ground-bound drone. It's filthy, smelly, and time-consuming, but I could keep a skeleton crew supplied… but it'd just be whatever I or any people I took with me could haul in ourselves. But… sorry. Thinking aloud."

"They can detect us? How? The only way to do that without an ability is a blood test," Shannon says, brow furrowing. "But as for moving people around…The only time I've ever been spotted when I was invisible was when I got hit with negation gas. So I should be able to help," she adds, shrugging.

"Used to be with a blood test and a radio they found you. May as well be back magic now, from what I understand, and it doesn't get any better from there." Reaching out with his hand, Raith gives a solid rap on the smaller of the skulls, certifying the strength of its construction. "Small arms are largely ineffective, so don't even think about fighting if one finds you. This is why we need a quiet, sneaky way of getting people out. They aren't too bright, from what I remember, and no matter what they look like, they're still machines. Machines have to follow instructions, and that means pre-determined paths and waypoints for navigation. We find and avoid those, and things get easier, just a little bit. Fully automated, if you hadn't guessed already, so there's no player one on the other end to fool."

"I got arrested sneaking into a casino in Vegas because they caught me on tape." Kendall admits, sighing. Yeah, don't ask. He just wanted to have fun, too! "I'm not sure if that means they can find me, but.. well, I'm not willing to voluntarily find out. But yeah, I mean, how is it they 'sense' us? Black magic?" Kendall frowns at Raith. "I'd feel more comfortable knowing that they use senses similar to our to find us, because I might be able to fool that. Maybe we smell different from normal people, who knows."

Nodding along with Raith's words, Joseph shrugs his agreement. "And how do these things interact with non-types such as yourself? I wouldn't go around assuming you'd be completely safe from these things, but maybe if we got volunteers like that along with folk like Ygraine that can get outta there to figure things out— "

Fuzzy eyebrows go up at Kendall's confession, a small smile hooking at the corner of Joseph's mouth before he tips his head a little. "It's— I don't know it, myself. Some research branch of the government's got some tool that points to Evolved people. Cat called it a compass. These things are apparently running on that or some such. Black magic, ain't a wrong way to put it," he finally admits, glancing back towards the sight of silver fangs and hollow black eyes.

"I figure, though," he adds, "that if they're takin' such an interest now, chances are these things ain't totally without human support, for clean up, or whatnot. But, don't get me wrong," he adds, with a nod to Kendall, "I ain't the one to be making you go anywhere. I don't rightly know how your power works besides."

Ygraine shoots Kendall a distinctly startled look upon hearing his casino confession - clearly not the sort of admission she'd expected to hear today - but she soon returns her attention to Raith and Joseph. "I… think I heard the term 'compass' used at some point", she says cautiously. "And since the curfew's in place, I suspect they might at least radio in anyone they spot even if they don't identify it as a target…"

Shannon's quiet for a minute as compasses come up, her head tilting just slightly. "Got a technopath? Give one of the 'bots to them, let them figure it out so we can figure a way around it. For the long term. Could be some sort of adaptation of the Company tracking system. The one they marked people for. For all we know, it only detects marked evolved."

"Doesn't matter how it detects people. If they are capable of differentiating between individuals, it's almost certainly with a basic IFF system. Identify friend-or-foe, and all those are really good at identifying are friendlies. There's a long-term solution as it stands, definitely. Problem is that, right now, we can't afford to think in the long-term. We need short-term solutions, and that's where you three come in.

"Joseph tapped me earlier about a way to get people out if we need to." At this point, Raith gives the pastor regard again, to recognize that this is not a one-man, or woman project. "We can't rely on the roads much, since they'll be patrolled. We find around to go around the roads, or over them, without being seen, and we might have something to work with. At least until we come up with something better, or find a way to keep these things from operating."

Kendall turns to eye Shannon. "We do have someone who could help. Shirley screws over practically anything technological that comes near her. Although I wouldn't suggest dragging her along and shoving her at one." he pauses, consideringly. "Hmm, I wonder if they could sense Valerie. If they can't, she can tell us where they are. She can do an astral projection kinda thing."

On the subject of routes, Joseph tips a nod to Ygraine. "That's where all your access ways come in use, I'm sure've it. You and Jensen, the Milburn brothers that run this place, can all get acquainted properly after this meeting — they'll give you both a run down about which accessways open up where. Once we get some sort of protocol established, we can put out some bulletins — well. However it is we're doing that without phones. The only thing we got going at the moment is going deeper underground for now, and banning anyone from the topside ruins."

And Joseph can't very well say to Kendall, she's too young. Because so are a lot of the people who bring a little fire to the Ferry. So instead he says, "She's new, too. We can— let 'er get settled and then discuss some options. But if these things truly are just machines, 'stead of demons, then I can't say she wouldn't be an ace up the sleeve."

A beat, and then, "We'll let Kaylee decide on Valerie."

"Shirley's range is short, and she's got no control over it. By the limited tests we've done, I think she generates a constant radius of effect, out to about six feet", Ygraine says quietly. "But we've not identified any kind of trigger - emotional or otherwise - to intensify, extend, or reduce the effect. And she's not remotely combat- or stealth-trained. At the moment, she's an emergency option at best, I'm afraid. For routes in and out…." She nods to Joseph. "I can take people under and around - a vertical shaft or a ceiling are just as viable choices as the ground, for me. But that does require me to travel with people for the whole of any time they spend taking those unconventional routes, so it's uncomfortably dependent on me being available every single time someone needs to traverse a section like that. And… for bulletins, you're probably looking at me - and a few others, for places easier to get to. There's a girl called Mina, for example. Couple of other couriers, at least in theory."

"I'm not talking about screwing up the technology. I'm talking about finding out what makes it work so that we can make some sort of workaround. Like if it operated on located only marked people, we know that unmarked can move more easily," Shannon explains, shaking her head. She looks back to Joseph, brows furrowing slightly, but she doesn't address him, not directly.

"These things didn't have trouble singling out any of us that weren't Evolved. They targeted Evos preferentially, but not exclusively. If it registers you as a threat, however it does that, it can still see you." Meaning a simple workaround for the 'compasses' is, in fact, not so simple, or at least not enough. "They've got some sort of optical system as well, so they don't run into things or trip over rocks, and that probably means UV or infrared detectors too. That's why we need magicians like you two." Meaning Kendall and Shannon.

"Yeah, me too." Kendall adds. "I mean, for the courier bit, since I can move around very easily and do so often." after all, quoting Star Trek provides boats with a perfect cloaking device. "Hmmm. I suppose the only way to see if I can get around them is to…. try." he takes a deep breath. "Well I died once already, and survived." yeah, that makes sense.

That gets a look from Joseph. "No one's dying. We're just as valuable as the people we protect, ain't that right?" Which, Joseph likes to imagine, separates them out from the terrorists. He stands, now. "If it turns out we can't move as much without relying on Ygraine and the like, then that's that — we reduce personnel. Maybe shut down some of our duties. 's the kind of thing we'd present to the Milburns as soon as we know it. And if we have to evacuate, if only 'til we can get these things off our backs, then that's what we'll do too.

"'til then, we're gonna try make do. If Shannon and Kendall want to discuss ways of maybe foolin' these things, if it's within their range to do so, with you, Jensen, then Ygraine and I can go scout around and put the mileage into figuring out some emergency routes. And I know Abby and Kaylee were talkin' a little about rigging up some security — cameras, traps, that kind of thing. Can figure that out later too."

He glances to the other three, taking a breath, offering his hands in a shrugging gesture as he adds, "Any other questions?"

"If they're ground-bound, at least at present, then we can set up some things only people can use - rope traverses and the like", Ygraine muses. "Set up an abseiling harness to cross a stretch that's impassible on the ground. That sort of thing. Reduce the dependence on me where it's feasible to do so, without giving away our presence or leaving a trail to lead people here…"

Joseph gets a look that's slightly amused from Shannon. "I was talking about fooling them for others. Like I said before, I've never been found out unless there was negation gas involved. So those hunks of metal don't worry me in the slightest. I'll escort people if you want. Won't bother me at least."

"Just don't go playing chicken with them," is Raith's caution. It's pretty good advice, really. "I only have one question. In the event we do have to move people out, how soon do you want us capable of doing that?" Standing up fully is a way for Raith to communicate that he is ready to enter 'action' mode. The time for talking, at least for the moment, has nearly concluded.

"Believe me, I've seen dozens of anime that involve killer robots, getting anywhere near them without some way to take them out is just suicide." because… anime applies to real life, apparently? Kendall shrugs. "I can try it whenever, really. But I'd like to see if I CAN first."

"An absence of somethin' don't prove anything," Joseph says to Shannon, with a shrug. "Granted, I hope you're right. Would make this whole deal a lot easier." His fingertips rap on the top of the table, and he looks towards Raith at that question, uncertainty showing in the black discs of dark brown eyes as he thinks on that one. "One thing at a time, but I think we should be as prepared for all possibilities as soon as we can, don't you think?"

His shoulders seesaw out a regretful shrug, casting a look around the small, unlikely group of Ferrymen, and offering a smile. "Alright, boys an' girls — we got a lot to think about, and unless we're careful and blessed, not a lot of time. We can reconvene for lunch, how's that sound?"

Joseph glances down at the skulls, before, as he moves with Ygraine to scout out the layout of the immense underground operation, choosing to leave them there.

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