Through the Fire and the Flames, Part I


byrne_icon.gif ff_doyle_icon.gif finn_icon.gif odessa5_icon.gif rhys_icon.gif

Scene Title Through The Fire And The Flames, Part I
Synopsis They don't normally recommend splitting the party, but good samaritans and first responders leap into action when Meredith Gordon Memorial Academy goes up in flames and use that strategy to save lives.
Date May 31, 2021

Douglas Adams has a quote: The single raindrop never feels responsible for the flood. Tonight, it’s the single ember that’s responsible for the inferno.

While the western horizon has remained a steady, infernal glow from the slowly encroaching Ohio River Fire, the embers that have crossed the Hudson found purchase within the Safe Zone’s borders. Until tonight they had not manifested in more than small fires easily managed by the city’s emergency response.

That’s all changed.

The skyline of the Safe Zone is a haze of orange and red, illuminating the night clouds as though it were the skyline of Hell itself. Sirens blare through the city over the roar of raging flames. Too many fires rage through the night for the city’s overwhelmed fire departments to manage at once, and in some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, it could spell a death-sentence.

Meredith Gordon Memorial Academy
Phoenix Heights

May 31st
9:17 pm

The Meredith Gordon Memorial Academy completed construction in April and saw its first residents move in the first week of May, consisting of homeless, poor, and low-income youths from New York state and beyond who came to the Safe Zone on scholarships designed to foster a growing student population and combat rampant homelessness. The heart of the campus was the Meredith Gordon Academy, a K-12 boarding school sponsored by financial donations from Raytech and Yamagato Industries. The school is surrounded by twelve 7-story dormitory buildings featuring a mixture of apartments and classrooms.

Now, it is all a tinderbox.

The school at the heart of the forested campus is engulfed in flames, roaring up out of the roof and belching a pillar of thick, black smoke into the already smoke-hazed night’s sky. Fire alarms ring out across the campus and students ranging from kindergarteners with their parents and guardians to high-schoolers living on their own with academy supervision stand on the sidewalk, watching their hope for the future go up in smoke.

The fire spread from the academy to three of the dormitories. Building 9, directly across from the school’s parking lot, was the first to go up. Flames leapt from the ground floor windows only a few minutes ago and students are still streaming out of the building, barefoot and carrying whatever they could grab from their dorms before they were completely consumed. The fire hasn’t yet reached the top floors of the seven-story building, and it’s unclear how many students or families are still inside.

There’s nothing that connects Jason Tyminski to Meredith Gordon - at least outside of those who know some of the New York Ferrymen’s more obscure false identities - but that suited him just fine. He’s been talking with the administration here about an off-campus drama program utilizing the Fiddler’s Green Dinner Theater - to save them the expense of having to establish their own.

He was just leaving a meeting that seemed pretty promising when the school went up.

As the building goes up, he’s standing in the parking lot outside his crappy car in an ill-fitting suit he picked up from a thrift store, staring at it in wide-eyed horror as the flames lick upwards and people stream out in a panic. He’s not used to having to worry about fire without having water everywhere for people to start a bucket line with.

An evening of Wine and Unwind with her friend promises to end on a distinctly different note than expected. As Odessa Price’s ride had wound its way toward her home in Williamsburg, she felt the tremor in the air, even before she spotted the orange glow on the horizon. So much fear. Terrific anguish. Utter despair. Whatever it was, it was enough to set off all her alarms from a greater distance than she would otherwise be aware of. Her insatiable need to know demanded she redirect here evening. Slapping her hands against the back of the driver’s headrest, she announced her change of plans, and indicated she wanted to be brought closer.

Once she arrived, she knew she couldn’t just leave. Having tipped the driver and sent him on, Odessa makes her way quickly through the rows of parked cars and toward the burning building. The heat rises rapidly already the closer she gets. And the closer she gets, the faster her feet want to carry her there. Toward the danger and the screams and all of that fear.

Clipping Doyle’s shoulder just hard enough that she spins and nearly goes tumbling down onto her backside on the blacktop, a quick grip of the lapel of that thrift shop suit allows her an anchor to shift her balance and keep herself upright. She’s wide eyed and nearly nose-to-nose with her fellow monster once the ship that is her has been righted. “Eric,” Odessa breathes out, forgetting for a moment that they’re supposed to use the fake names.

Forgetting for a moment that he won’t recognize her.

Agent Byrne didn’t waste time upon arriving on the scene. He announced himself to the emergency first responders and made sure they knew what he’s capable of. Relieving heat stress feels like a secondary consideration to the size of the blaze. He can survive the heat inside the building, but he still needs to be able to breathe. Other rescuers in the area are balking at the temperature this close to the building, but he just sends it past with little difficulty.

His eyes move over the structure, trying to estimate the total volume of structural steel. He doesn’t think he’d be capable of drawing enough heat through the interlinked metal supports, but trying could keep the building from collapsing. A stunt like that would require that he remain out here, where he could vent the heat into the atmosphere. He weighs this against the notion that there are people needing direct rescue inside the building.

“Unbelievable,” the thinner, shorter, younger SESA agent at Byrne’s side remarks with a muffled report through his respirator mask. Rhys Bluthner doesn’t do much field work these days, but hands were in short supply when it came to responding to this developing crisis. Looking up from checking his phone, Rhys fixes Byrne with a concerned stare. “Two more fire reports in the last hour, over in Bay Ridge.” He looks up to the flames dancing in the ground floor windows. “I don’t think we’re gonna get any b—”

That’s Eric Doyle.

Rhys stares past Byrne to the broad silhouette just past his partner for the day. It isn’t until Ouriana Pride turns and her face is partly illuminated by the fire that Rhys connects more dots that send his stomach upside down. Forcing a smile, Rhys clears his throat and looks back to Byrne, then to the small crowd of other volunteer rescuers standing near the entrance to the building, currently belching smoke.

“The uh,” Rhys continues, “uhm, the— census of students says there were seventy-eight residents in Building 9. I’m counting like sixty-something heads here on the street,” he says with some difficulty discerning who are resident students and who aren’t. “We’ve probably got people trapped upstairs or passed out from smoke inhalation.”

“Hey, watch where—” Eric breaks off mid-sentence as the entirely unfamiliar blonde looks at him like that and calls him by his real name, his eyes widening briefly in panic before he quickly flashes her a sickly smile, as he stumbles back a step away from her, his hands lift before coming up to sort out his suit’s lapels, “Uh— no, uh— I’m sorry, you must be thinking of somebody else, I’m not an Eric.” How ridiculous! What a silly name! Not him, that’s for sure! Quick! Find a distraction!

Catching something from the direction of the SESA agents - one of whom at least looks familiar - he hesitates before calling over, “How long before— the firemen get here?” There are firemen here, right? He seems to remember that being a thing, when he was younger.

Odessa looks confused at first. There was no one else close enough to hear her. Why is he pretending that he’s someone el—

—se. Oh.

His hands come up and Ourania’s back straightens, instinctively concerned that he’s about to exert the use of his ability on her. Doyle can see that recognition in her by the look in her eyes. Eyes that are somehow familiar to him, but lacking in the context required to place them.

“My mistake,” Ourania breathes out quickly and relaxes only when it becomes clear he won’t send her walking straight into the flames in order to protect himself right in front of the SESA agents. Agents neither of them should have anything to fear from, right? They both acquired their identities legally and there’s far bigger troubles brewing than wondering if a pair of reformed monsters are backsliding. Especially confronted with the one soft spot they both share:


There are kids in danger, and whatever axes they may have to grind, they’ll be put to far better use here saving lives.

Blue eyes dance between the men gathered, listening to the information available. Already she’s pulling a hair tie out of her pocket and holding it between her lips while she pulls her hair up on top of her head, securing it in a messy ponytail. “Jason and I can get them out,” Ourania insists quickly, easily switching to Doyle’s false identity. “Help may be coming, but they aren’t here yet, and,” her chin juts toward the blaze, “those kids don’t have much time.”

Byrne keeps his curses for circumstance to himself. “No time to wait,” he says.

He turns to Agent Bluthner and the two locals who look ready to dive into the building on their own. “I’m Agent Byrne, this is Agent Bluthner. If you don’t have masks I have some in that SUV,” he points to the black government vehicle a few paces away. He doesn’t seem to recognize either Eric or Ourania. “Grab what you need, some extra to give out inside the building. There’s bottled water to wet them.”

He pauses to raise his own water bottle, conducting its heat into his empty hand enough to cause it to frost over. “If you stay near me I can mitigate the heat with a touch. Make sure I can hit you at least once a minute when we get in there to avoid heat exhaustion. If anybody you find is exhibiting symptoms of heat stress bring them to me so I can get them moving on their own. I may also be able to extinguish some combustibles but we’re on limited time.” He makes sure he’s heard and understood before donning his military issue gas mask and activating the voice amplifier.

Rhys fixes Doyle with a steady look and a nod of acknowledgement, one that he offers down to Ouriana as well. “Jason, Ms. Pride,” he says as if they’ve met, “we are, unfortunately, all the emergency response that will be coming. Every engine in the Safe Zone’s fire department is occupied with fires across the city. As soon as they have availability they’ll come here but…”

But Rhys doesn’t elaborate. Everyone here knows what it means. It may be too late.

Frowning behind his respirator, Rhys turns to the crowd. “Okay, everyone please step back! If you know someone who might still be in the building let us know! If you’re in contact with anyone in the building on a mobile device we can help!”

As Rhys turns to direct the crowd, there’s a popping sound of shattering windows on the second floor from the intense heat, followed by billowing clouds of smoke. A sound that makes stomachs sink emits from an open window on the fifth floor. A scream. A moment later, two young women no older than fourteen or fifteen lean out of the windows crying for help, doubling over to cough as they do.

As he’s volunteered for heroism, Doyle’s head snaps towards Ourania with eyes wide with shock. He holds up both hands, clearing his throat before stammering out past a sheepish smile, “Ah, I’m not exactly, I mean, it’s been a long time since I was in the kind of shape that—”

He’s about to spread his demuring to Agent Byrne when Agent Bluthner steps in with the news that there won’t be any emergency response. “Still— I can’t—”

Windows shatter. Smoke billows. The scream of young women fills the air.

“I— I really— I—” He snatches his jaw closed to silence the words into a frustrated growl deep in his broad chest, lips pushing up in a bulldog-like scowl and shoulders squaring up as he reluctantly comes to the conclusion that he can’t say no here. Turning without another word, he jogs over towards the SUV to grab one of the proffered masks.

While Byrne’s ability goes unremarked upon verbally, the jump from the blonde’s brows conveys appreciation enough. She ducks out of the crossbody strap on her purse and starts to take a step toward the SUV when the younger — but more senior — of the two agents turns her direction. In her mind, there is no question that Agent Rhys Bluthner knows exactly who she is. Lifting her chin, she holds, waiting for pronouncement.

With permission to operate given, Ourania’s chin dips. The last time they met, Rhys saw her on the worst day of her life. The day time and space nearly turned inside out. The day her power was stripped from her. The day she lost her mother and her brother. With any luck, she’ll spare someone else that last unbearable pain… without transferring that pain to someone else she cares for in the process.

As Ourania pulls the yellow and green sapphire ring off her left hand, an inexplicable shift in the air brings her attention up to the building just before the commotion really kicks off. Not to the second floor, where the glass explodes outward, but the fifth, just before the two girls lean out and cry for help. The ring is tucked away inside of her clutch, and a small pouch on a carabiner unclipped from the D-ring that connects the body to the strap. Absently, she pushes the purse off on Rhys. “This needs to go to Raytech.”

The if anything happens to me goes unspoken.

Rhys takes the purse, looking down at it for a moment with a furrow in his brows. He nods, implied understanding given, but there’s something in his posture that is an unspoken tension. Ouriana feels an emotion well up in him. Surprise, on a surface level, but she doesn’t have time at the moment to dig deeper.

“Understood,” Rhys says to Ouriana as he tucks the purse under one arm, then is drawn away by a shout of concern from the crowd.

Ourania takes her marching orders to the SUV next, gathering a mask for herself first. Doyle’s self-concern for his safety is something she refuses to adopt as her own right now. Instead, she meets his eyes with a look of resolve. “For Meredith,” she says quietly, firmly, to keep him from turning tail. If they make it out of this, she’ll let him know what hides behind her mask.

For now, she pushes her thumbs against the bottom of that pouch she took off her purse earlier, turning it inside out and shaking it until it takes the shape of a full size tote bag. Looping her left arm through one strap, she leaves it resting on her shoulder as she unzips the main portion, loading extra masks inside. One by one, she picks up a bottle of water, twists the top enough for the plastic ring to crack, then tightens the lid again so it doesn’t leak. This process is completed half a dozen times, until each of the exterior pockets holds a bottle of water. Not only are they in easy reach, they’ll now be easier to open when time is in short supply.

The lavender tote’s other strap is slid onto her shoulder, though she doesn’t zip the main compartment again, making that another thing they won’t have to struggle with later. Securing her own mask, she steps away from the vehicle and nods to Agent Byrne as she joins him. “Ready.”

Byrne keeps an eye on the tenants shouting for help from the fifth floor. He counts the number of windows to them relative to the entrance. He looks at the volunteers and nods. He gives each, including Agent Bluthner, a quick tap on the shoulder, bringing them just a bit below standard to give them a headstart on the heat. A faint mirage rises from his off-hand as the heat is conducted into the dry air around him.

From there all he can do is head inside. “Let’s go,” he says. He stays on edge, ready to conduct heat from any door handle he comes across, if only to protect himself from the heat while opening it. As long as the door isn’t on a spring hinge the doorknob can stay hot.

The presence of Byrne’s ability is a subtle one among the volunteers headed into the building. It’s almost like a false sense of security: the heat isn’t so bad. As they move through the doors into the lobby, that false sense of security also brings a sense of confidence. The respirator masks help with the smoke, Byrne’s ability helps with the heat, and visibility isn’t yet a concern.

As Agent Byrne and the volunteers navigate the lobby, they follow signage for the stairwell and begin their ascent. The fire didn’t start down here, and fires tend to spread up faster than they spread down, so the worst is yet to come. The stairwell is also clear of smoke and the sounds of shouting from above are muffled here. The first thing all three notice is on the landing between the first and second floors, an emergency box with a fire axe and a coiled fire hose. Odds are there’s one of these on each floor, connected to thick pipes painted to match the same eggshell white color as the concrete-block walls.

Something clicks in Byrne’s mind: Why aren’t the sprinklers running?.

“Oh, thank God,” Doyle breathes against the inside of his mask as they reach the landing, and he shuffles in front of the others to work the hose box open— swinging it wide, he reaches in to pull the nozzle of the hose off the spool, shaking out the flat material of the hose a bit. He twists the valve and aims the nozzle up towards the stairs, pulling back on it…

…and nothing happens.

“What the fuck? This is— such an OSHA violation!” He sounds not so much angry or suspicious at the lack of water, but that it’s not fair that there’s no water. Like he’d just been cheated at a game. He frustratedly tosses the hose aside, moving to continue upwards, mumbling under his breath, “Probably cut corners building this place… find the fire marshal… jump off a building…”

Ourania’s done this dance before. The lack of water from the hose cinches it for her. “Someone set this deliberately.” While she’s looking toward Agent Byrne when she says it, she doesn’t necessarily expect him to hear, or to respond. Instead, she turns to the other emergency equipment on the wall, pulling aside the glass cover.

When there’s a trick, get an axe.

Byrne hesitates as he walks into the wall of dry heat. When Doyle’s hose produces no water he reaches up, touching the glass bulb of the fire suppression sprinkler head, conducting heat from the wall to expand the liquid within and burst it. “We need to figure out why there’s no running water,” he says. “This will be a short trip otherwise. I can take the heat upstairs, somebody else needs to get into the basement, boiler room, whatever there is and get the valve open.”

The stairwell is silent, no screams, no coughing. With Rhys’ head-count on the street, even with room for error, it means someone is in here either too far away to be heard or unresponsive. A clock for a child’s life is ticking rapidly.

«Byrne, it’s Bluthner,» crackles over the radio. «I just talked to someone on the street, confirmed they can’t find a friend of theirs who was in their dorm. Floor 6, Room 12. There’s a lot of smoke coming out of the windows that high.»

“The sixth floor?” Doyle looks over with a pained expression as he hears the radio crackle, and then rolls his head back to look upwards with wide eyes. He takes in a deep breath, then exhales it with a shoulder slump before starting to lumber up the stairs, muttering under his breath.

“Should’ve… kept up with… my cardio,” he puffs out, one hand on the stairway’s rail.

Ourania frowns at the situation. She's determined, but uncertain. They have a better chance of finding more people if she forgets on toward the upper levels, but Doyle has the better chance of getting them out, and whoever heads up needs Agent Byrne.

"Jason!" Unshouldering her bag, she hands off her supplies to the puppet master. "I'll head to the basement and find a way to get the water back on." She doesn't love it. She can't protect him if they aren't together, but everyone has a better chance of survival if the fire suppression systems come back online.

Hefting the axe, she gives a nod to both men. Ourania very nearly wishes them luck, but that seems too unsteady in a situation like this. "See you soon," is her farewell instead, before she turns away to start quickly down the stairs, heading opposite from them.

“Floor 6, Room 12,” Byrne confirms into his radio. “Fire suppression systems not currently operating. Ms Pride is going to look into it as Jason and I head up.”

Before Ourania can get too far off Byrne turns toward her. “Be safe and get out quick,” he says. “Check in with Agent Bluthner if something’s wrong, he’ll be closer.” With that he nods to Doyle and begins taking the stairs up two at a time. He pauses at each landing only long enough to look for stragglers or signs of fire as they head toward the 6th floor.

The heat has to be getting worse. It has to be. But Byrne's magic touch keeps the worst of it at bay, making the appearance of flame visible in the hall from the fifth floor landing possibly more alarming. The lick of flame is taking its time in making its way down the hall, more focused with climbing, inching its way to and through the ceiling of this floor.

Smell is stronger here— an acrid, complex scent of burning plastic and wiring. The walls themselves are filled with flames, keeping the worst of the fire off them directly. For now. But there's nothing but smoke ahead, blackening and thickening as they look up the last flight of stairs.

From somewhere beyond the veil, the sound of distant coughing rises.

“Careful. If this— *hff*— if this is arson they might’ve— left something behind down there,” ‘Jason’ grumbles out, glancing back to Ourania with a deeply-creased frown of worry even as he accepts the bag of supplies, and then he looks up again with the dread of a man facing a workout when he’s definitely out of shape.

A deep breath and he continued up the stairs, sweat beginning to bead on his hairless brow despite the ability keeping the heat off him. The mask keeps the *worst* of the smell from him but it’s still a terrible stench, and he stops at the top of the landing to draw in another breath through its filters.

“Alright,” he grunts, “Only way out is through. You ready, secret agent man?”

“More of an overt agent man,” Byrne corrects. He reaches over to touch Doyle’s shoulder, offsetting the heat the man has built up through the exertion of climbing the stairs.

He stops to focus on the sound of coughing, cupping his hands behind his ears. “Emergency services,” he says, voice amplified by the module on his mask. “Call out or make noise so we can locate you!”

Floors below, Ourania's rushed steps toward the basement have deafened her to the sounds above, between distance and the sound of her own heart pounding in her ears. The closer she gets to the bottom of the steps, the more prominent it becomes. What will she find?

Fear seeps in. It bleeds like a wound. Anxiety, with not a small bit of panic. Those she left behind made their way upstairs, into the worst of the fire… Even with Byrne's ability to stave off the worst of the heat, exertion was still just a matter of time. Would they run out of energy upstairs before making their escape? If they shouted, would she hear them?

If something happened down here, would anyone hear her?

The thought's enough to make anyone take pause, and on the last step down into the dark basement she does. Then from below, something sounds with enough force to make her jump.

Bang, it goes. Bang bang.

The lower Ourania goes, the stronger that feeling of fear grows — suffocating, stifling, choking her, just as much as the soot and smoke itself. Fear is the top note that swells with other emotions. Panic, too, yes, but it’s a heady mix of so many other emotions that Ourania can practically taste in the air, like a complex cocktail made up of so many ingredients, with each becoming clearer, and more distinct on her empathic palate.

Anger and despair follow closely — emotions she knows and knows well, but are they hers in this moment? There’s a sharpness to the anger that doesn’t feel like hers in this moment, and the despair is a forlorn and wistful thing that threatens to overtake the fear. It’s familiar, like a pair of worn shoes, but something about it is off — like she’s slipped the left shoe onto the right foot. It’s then she can be sure she isn’t alone down here.

The fear claws away at Ourania’s insides. It leaves deep grooves in her vertebrae, scratches that will look like winding trails on her lungs. It tries to tear its way out of her throat. The descent both brings her further into it, and draws her away, into something new. Or at least different. Like another route to the same destination. Maybe a different dish on the same plate.

Anger is an emotion far easier slipped into. Like her favorite old pair of thigh high patent leather boots. Like her hands around the hilts of her knives. It feels better. Flesh giving way. Bone putting up resistance, but not enough. It feels like her.

Odessa adjusts her grip around the axe handle. Holding it too tightly will mean it will be too rigid. Too loose and it will slip from her fingers. But this… Like her anger, is Goldilocks’ equilibrium.

It’s the despair that tips her off in the end. It slowly seeps into her skin like the cold of a December evening in the Pacific Northwest. A cold that’s held at bay, but only just, by the roar of too much fire. Not unlike what’s going on above her, and in the other buildings. If she doesn’t act fast, she could be trapped here.

The blonde pulls her mask up, as the smoke doesn’t plague her this far beneath. “Hello?” Odessa closes her eyes and reaches out, focuses, draws a map, a line between herself and the other signature. Blue eyes open again and she moves forward with purpose. “Hello?” she calls louder this time. Coming to a door, she finds a block in front of it.

Getting the fire suppression systems back online is reprioritized for the moment in favor of helping whoever is trapped behind the door. “It’s okay! I’m going to get you out of there!” With a small grunt of effort, Odessa shoves the block away and holds her palm just over the knob to test it for heat before wrapping her hand around it and opening the door.

At the first hello, that feeling of despair dampens — it’s not put out entirely, but there’s a swell of something else, something brighter, though tentative.


It’s a fragile hope, one that threatens to be overtaken by the other emotions again. The hoarse voice that calls out sounds weak, probably from calling out earlier only to be too far away to be heard. It’s low in pitch and frayed around the edges, but it raises at the end of each word, out of fear and excitement.

“Hello! I’m here! I’m here!” the boy’s? man’s? voice yells, and Ourania can hear a scuttling of feet on cement inside, and a rattle of items — mops or buckets or whatever’s kept in the supply bucket inside.

When the door opens, she sees a young man in a janitor’s jumpsuit leaning; his eyes are red and blotchy from crying, making his already eerily blue eyes seem all the bluer. What would be a shock of dark hair across his forehead is instead dyed green, though the rest of his hair is still black. The name on his jumpsuit says simply Salem.


The feeling of relief tinged with embarrassment washes out the other feelings — except that anger that still flickers deeper down; it has a permanence to it, like a coal fire that burns forever beneath the surface of the earth.

“Oh, h-hey. Thanks,” Salem manages to murmur, cheeks flushing a little at needing to be rescued, maybe. “Some assholes locked me in here.”

“I hear you!” Odessa assures at the first call back. “I’m here!” When the door swings open and she finds the young man — is he an older student maybe? — she wears a wide smile of elation. It shines in her, in spite of everything else that threatens to crush it. Excited — so excited — just to have helped someone. “It’s okay,” she promises, reaching out to offer a steadying hand, hovering just alongside his arm. “We’re okay.”

But she glances over her shoulder the way she came and a seed of doubt starts to put down roots in her heart and in her lungs. How much longer is that going to hold true? Looking back, she lets her hand drop to her side again once she’s sure it’s no longer needed. “Salem, right? The sprinklers aren't on. The hoses are bone dry, too. Do you know how we can turn the water back on?”

The thin blonde is already off and moving throughout the basement again, looking for something. Maybe it’s one of those turn-wheels? No, that’s for a boiler, isn’t it? Without pausing, she turns fleetingly to glance over her shoulder. “I'm O, by the way. And… who locked you in here?” The axe is adjusted — Wait! It’s a small lever and it’s usually red! The spark of hope catches again. When she still operated out of the basement clinic at Gun Hill, they had to shut the water off to fix a busted sink. Eric showed her what to—

Fear ripples through her and it opens the floodgates to anger. Odessa Price almost has to count on a second hand the amount of times she’s lost everything to fire. Doyle is up there, searching for anyone left in the upper floors. How dare it happen here? The people here are just kids. They aren’t like her. They deserve stability.

That spark that lit the small flame of hope has also ignited the anger that burns so bright in the pit of her chest.

Now he’s no longer locked in the small space, the overwhelming emotions have dampened, back to the normal amount Ourania would feel off of a person — he’s no longer hemorrhaging his emotions now safety has arrived.

“The…over there,” he says, making his way out of the closet and pointing to a wall where various pipes lead to the main line, with a bright red wheel. “I don’t know who they were. One of them might have been a student maybe? Both had dark hair. One had an American flag bandana over his face. I haven’t worked here long so I don’t know most of the kids.”

He tries to sound nonchalant, but his breathing still hitches in his throat. He’s an adult, but a young one, and the residual fear and his boyish appearance makes him seem and feel a little younger than he might otherwise. He sniffles as he moves toward the valve to turn it — hopefully back on.

It takes much less time than it might otherwise to find the water main for the building, thanks to Salem's help. What's very visibly in the off position is a deceptively easy thing to wind back into an on state.

But there's not time yet to jump for joy.

Storeys above, on the sixth floor, a voice is calling out in reply to their rescuers. "I'm here!" The boy coughs again. "Room 12! I'm—" His voice is thinning out in response to the smoke. "Stuck."

The hall itself is a haze to see through, and the end of it is visibly aflame, the left side and the farthest bedroom there in the process of being consumed from the ground up. Room 12 is nearer to the middle on the right, and safe for now. The door is ajar already, one less barrier between them and their quarry.

Just inside, a boy who sounds older than he is struggles to pull himself free from under a fallen cabinet of drawers. One discarded drawer from it lays strewn on the ground next to him, clothes and keepsakes in it. "I didn't want to leave anything behind again," he explains all too calmly for the tears on his face, still trying to wriggle his way out under the weight. He's made progress, but hasn't escaped. "I went for my mom's— on the top— and it fell."

“Shit,” Doyle hisses from behind the mask as he spots the raging fires at the end of the hall, one hand uselessly flapping at the air to try and clear the haze of smoke. Then he hears that voice, and he’s hustling down the hall, shouldering the door the rest of the way open.

“Save your breath, kid,” he says, digging through the bag and coming up with a mask that he drops next to the boy, “Put that on.”

Crouching beside the cabinet, he jerks his head across from the trapped teenager, “Overt Agent Man, take the other side.”

Byrne slides past Doyle, holding an arm against the faces of the drawers as he lifts to keep them from falling out onto the boy. “We don’t have a lot of time,” he tells the student, “So don’t take anything you can’t easily carry.” He can’t begrudge somebody a memento of a lost mother, even in a crisis. He reaches down to haul the boy to his feet, ready to adjust his temperature if needed.

The thin boy, who after he's entirely visible for his height looks like he can't be older than nine or ten, scrambles out from underneath the fallen cabinet and affixes the mask to his face quickly. He's wheezing, but manages, and paws at the ground quickly for the drawer containing change of clothes he grabbed to take with him, sandwiched down by a photo frame. He grabs a dense small-ish box that had fallen from the top of the clothes cabinet and throws that on top before standing with his makeshift box, wide-eyed.

"I'm sorry," he apologizes rather than saying thank you as he comes to his feet. Rather than being overheated yet, it's simply hard for him to breathe. He looks like to drop his box of keepsakes at any moment.

The fire at the end of the hall is spreading. Stepping out and turning back the way they came reveals flame licking through those walls and around the doorframe now, too. "What do we do?" the boy asks, afraid to move from his spot.

Behind them, through the window in the bedroom, a light sweeps onto them at level, accompanied by the sound of whirring helicopter blades.

Doyle opens up the purple ripstop bag in the boy’s direction. “Toss it in, kid, I can help carry it down—”

Then he’s turning, and realizing that the flame’s all around them now - his eyes big as saucers as he looks around, as if hoping for a miraculous rescue. Then that light sweeps in through the window, and he whirls towards it.

Stumbling over some of the room’s mess to the wall, he waves one hand desperately at the helicopter, “Byrne! Help me get this open, maybe they’ve got a— ladder they can drop or something for the kid—”

“We’re not expecting a helicopter rescue,” Byrne says with an edge of suspicion in his voice. He makes his way to the window to peer out. “And this kid isn’t jumping ten feet to grab a hanging ladder out of the air.”

He picks up his radio, “Bluthner, who's in the bird?”

«Contractor with the NYFD. They came to drop some water, and were headed to the higher levels.»

After dumping his things in the nylon bag, the boy turns to see the light and is instantly struck with hope. The breath he takes in makes him cough despite the protective mask, and he goes closer to the window as Doyle works on jamming it open. They weren't expecting the helicopter, but flames were closing in all around.

To that effect, the heavy sound of a bed or something else heavy collapsing down through floor no longer stable to hold it can be heard at the far end of the hall.

The window shoved open, the boy sticks his arm out through it to wave it for attention. "Hey! Hey, we're here!"

The Yellowjacket has seen better days — the last several months of fighting fires (and robots) have left its marks; scorch marks and scratches are all left as battle scars mostly to focus on repairing things that need repaired for the helicopter to function. Even the bright yellow of its paint job is hard to make out among the black, dirty smoke that pours out of the building.

Finn isn’t reckless but he knows he has luck on his side, so he dares to go where others might not, into the narrow spaces between the building and its neighbors, rather than just hovering above, in order to target hot spots with the high-tech water and foam cannons. It’s quite lucky he sees that arm waving out the window — and not even the sort of luck he’s used to. This isn’t his power, but just good old-fashioned luck that comes from being in the right place at the right time, and not even Finn Shepherd can claim it as his doing.

“«Hold tight! Gonna throw you the rope!»” Finn’s voice booms out through the aircraft’s loudspeaker, and the craft climbs upward so he can drop the rescue ladder where it will be in arm’s reach — that means his rotors need to be above the roofline.

A moment later, the nylon rope ladder drops into view in front of the window. Peering up, the Yellowjacket hovers above, a firefighter’s face peering down at them from the open door.

Doyle leans forward to grab the rope, which takes him a few tries before he manages to snatch it - shifting to offer it to the kid. “Okay. Can you climb? If you can’t, just hold on and they’ll— try and lower you to the ground or something, or pull you in, or something, You can do it.”

He flashes an encouraging smile, “Actually, I know you can do it. Uncle Er— Jason’ll be right here, trust me. You’ll be fine.”

Threads, unseen, unfelt, unspooling in the puppeteer’s mind ready to snatch up the youngster’s limbs if he weakens. He’ll climb up the ladder one way or another.

As Doyle handles the arrangement of the kid— Byrne isn’t thrilled about not having something to clip him to the ladder but everything’s going to hell right now— he jogs to the doorway. He peers out to see where the floor gave through and what their best option is for reaching the other potentially tapped residents.

He steps into the hallway, worried about having to go up another floor if it’s falling down around them. He crosses back to the stairwell to grab this floor’s ax, and pulls heat from the ax head to test its conductivity through the paint without looking, eyes still alert for signs of distress. Where is that water?

Eyes wide, the young boy looks between Doyle and the rope ladder nervously. He does a double, then triple-take at the rope. He takes one look back at the hall, coughs into his mask, and then looks back up to Doyle. "Just like Teo from River Styx, right?" he says up hopefully to his new 'Uncle', then steps forward to climb up a little bit of the ladder, hooking an arm around the wooden step, and then a leg, like a particularly scared and determined cat. "Just like Antarctica," he tells himself.

"But cooler, because you're in a building on fire, and you don't have to deal with anybody kissing you after—ward!" The boy breaks off his own peptalk with a yelp when the ladder goes free, clinging intensifying as the rope ladder swings six stories above ground.

As soon as it's stabilized, with the firefighter's goading, the boy lifts his head and finds strength and courage both to begin a dangerous climb up with more ease than he thought. Someone guides his grasp invisibly, almost to the point he moves without consciously thinking about it.

But where is that water, anyway.

Down in the basement of the building, Odessa and Salem can hear water gush through the building pipes once the shutoff is thrown. The sound is odd down here so close to the source and so near to where the pipes run along and into the walls. While not solving everything gone wrong here, the sprinkler system suddenly kicks on even in the basement level— a sure sign what they've done is having the intended effect.

There's no one else down here, a fact both empaths know to be true. And now that they've done their work to trigger the fire suppression in a building well-underway in its being on fire … there's not much left to do down here.

Above, there’s not much for Finn to do but ensure that Yellowjacket is kept as still as possible — a job that takes minute corrections as the wind and movement of the rotors, even in a hover, want to edge the craft little by little in one direction or another. From where he sits in the cockpit, the pilot can’t see the bottom of the ladder to watch the progress of the climbers, and relies on the other man in the belly of the bird to advise him on any corrections he needs to make.

Far below, Salem lifts his sweaty face up to the fall of sprinkler water, and his relief bleeds out again, more than just what Ourania would feel ordinarily. “Thought my number was up,” he admits to her.

In a smaller voice, he admits, as he turns to the stairs, “I probably deserved it, but not from those assholes. Setting a school on fire? What the fuck is wrong with people?” The relief swings swiftly back toward anger, swelling for a moment before it’s dampened once again, as he manages to pull the emotions back inward — what she feels is now all courtesy of her own power, rather than theirs combined.

“Come on,” he says, reaching for Ourania’s hand, suddenly seeming more mature, like he’s the one who’s rescuing her. “I don’t want to be down here if the roof collapses.”

As Salem looks up, Ourania tips her head back too, letting the water wash away the sheen of sweat she’d accumulated from the heat of the fire and the bone deep fear that permeates this entire campus. Her free hand comes up to clear her brow when she comes back to center. Her gaze settles on the young man she’s rescued. Her ability aside, she can’t feel anything but empathy to hear him say he thought he would die here, and that he deserved it. Just that karma sent the wrong party to collect on his debt.

“You’re too young to feel that way,” she says in a soft voice, knowing she wasn’t much older when she began saying the same. “Those monsters will be stopped,” she vows to him, like she might take those matters into her own hands. Although Ourania will deny involvement if there should be any incidents of vigilantism, naturally.

“Come on,” the blonde says in unison with the man with the dark, turquoise streaked hair, her hand already reaching for his. A breath of laughter escapes her as their hands meet halfway and clasp together. “Yeah,” Ourania agrees, glancing overhead. Holding the axe at her side, hoping and fairly certain they won’t need it, she still retains it as a contingency plan. “Let’s go.”

They move forward, together.

Floors above, the sprinkler systems activate as well. The water sprays down the hall without nearly enough effectiveness to stop this fire, the building almost certainly condemned top to bottom at this point, but it cuts through haze and pushes it lower. It provides what might be maybe a false sense of security, but it's a visible sign Ourania found what she promised to. Maybe there's still a clear path down if they hurry.

The boy clambers into the helicopter with the firefighter's help, and then the nylon rope ladder goes swinging for the window again. They've got options, even if both are unsettling and dangerous in their own rights.

Doyle stands by the window as the boy climbs up the swaying ladder, his eyes rolled upwards to watch the ascent - one hand lifted, fingers twitching slightly now and then with the skilled motions of a true puppeteer. Once he’s pulled over the helicopter, he leans out — missing on the first swing, then catching it on the second. He considers the ladder, considers his current physical condition…

“Hey! Obvious Agent Man,” he calls, turning his head to look back over his shoulder, “You’re next. Up the ladder, come on, it’s just like basic training.” They do rope and ladder drills at agent training, he’s sure. He’s seen it in movies.

No, Eric. That’s the Army.

When the fire suppression systems finally kick in, Agent Byrne’s first thought is Thank god they purged these pipes recently. Nobody likes being hosed down with stagnant, rusty pipe water.

He hears Doyle call to him, but motions behind him to the stairs. “I’m doubling back,” he says. “There were two girls hanging out the window that I haven’t seen yet.” He leaves it up to Doyle whether or not to follow or take the cooler exit, heading down the stairs in a hurry.

The flames on the fifth floor coexist with the water spraying from the fire suppression now in a strange harmony— both carrying on in full force. It's much too late to stop things here. It might possibly not be too late to save the girls seen earlier, though.

It takes a second to orient and figure which side of the hall was facing the street earlier. The left, though, is the winner. The doors here are closed, the far end of the hall engulfed in flames where the collapse happened a few minutes earlier. The ceiling is aflame that way, and it's spreading. But a keen eye spots a single doorway closer to the stairwell closed with the fuzz of towels shoved under them, damp but drying against the heat.

The second thing Byrne is thankful for since the cascade of water began to soak everything, including himself, is Thanks for the thermal conductivity. Ordinarily things like sheetrock and wood don’t make for good conduction the way metal does. With everything now in a deluge, looking for pathways to direct heat is simple.

He approaches the door between himself and the two girls spotted from the street. The heat from down the hallway may seem oppressive to anyone else, but to him it feels like a seasonal breeze. He plants one hand on the hallway wall, pulling the heat from the material with practiced ease. Ice climbs the wall away from his hand toward the source of the nearest threatening flames, discarded in the droplets running through his clothing, distributed to the rivers flowing down the stairwell.

Already smoldering flames, now encased in ice, suffocate where they once bloomed. Only then does he take the doorknob, syphoning heat from it as well just in case. He twists and throws his shoulder to the door to break the ice formed at the edges. “Stand clear,” he shouts through his mask’s amplifier before hitting the door a second time.

Only one of the girls is conscious, looking up with hazy eyes at the sure hallucination of someone bursting through a suddenly-iced door of someone coming to their rescue. She has a wet washcloth pressed to her face, a makeshift facemask of her own to breathe through, her other hand on the shoulder of her roommate passed out from the smoke and heat.

She coughs rather than speak, looking up at Byrne for a long moment, trying to decide his realness. Then she waves a hand over to her and her roommate for him to help the latter.

Byrne doesn’t waste any time, striding into the room to pick the girl up off of the floor. There’s no chance of getting her on the helicopter, so he’ll have to carry her downstairs himself. “Okay,” he tells the still-conscious girl, already rising and pivoting toward the door. “I’m Agent Byrne with SESA, I need you to follow my lead. We’re taking the stairs down and we’re going to be fine.”

Then, as an afterthought as he’s headed for the door, “What’s your name?”

"Neveah," the girl breathes through the cloth, and comes up to her feet. She hesitates for a moment as they approach the flaming hallway, but Agent Byrne says they're going to be fine, and she makes up that distance quickly to follow closely behind him. "I'm here. I'm right behind you." The thick braids of her hair whip as she turns and looks in the direction of the fire, and immediately after she makes the decision to head for the stairwell with even more haste.

The floor behind them groans as they leave it behind, heading down the concrete stairwell. Neveah has to swap the hand she's using for the washcloth, holding onto the railing tightly as they navigate their way down. The floor immediately below is belching smoke and she squints her eyes through the stinging black as they circle to head down further.

She coughs coarsely, lifting her head to look up to Byrne and her friend both. "We're going to make it?" she asks nervously.

“We sure are!” Byrne replies chipperly. “Stay low through this smoke. You can hang onto me if you need to close your eyes for this bit.” Worst case scenario he can carry both girls, though if Neveah can stay mobile that would be better for all of them.

“Once we get a bit lower all we’ll have to worry about is slippery floors,” he assures her. Highrise stairwells should be independent enough to withstand the loss of the odd floor or two, but no need to rely on the efficacy of the Safe Zone’s housing safety inspection infrastructure this late in the game.

Neveah lets out a laugh, because compared to the fiery hell she thought she was about to die in, slippery floors are something else entirely. "Okay. Okay."

When they hit the ground floor, and finally the exit, the helicopter being flown by Finn has dropped its load of water. It's turning now to head for another load— and to take the rescuee and rescuer in its care somewhere it's safer to be dropped off. Neveah looks up at the sound of the helicopter passing overhead, then finally, almost disbelievingly, lowers the washcloth from her face to breathe in air much fresher than inside.

Rhys lets out a breath of relief when Byrne emerges from the building, stepping aside to let the more skilled hands Ourania wields help him with the unconscious girl brought from the building. Neveah watches on almost in a daze, cycling off to stand by the more familiar figure found in Salem. She watches anxiously on until her roommate is breathing again, sagging in relief.

For the empaths, it's little comfort able to be passed on to them. They know what happened down in the basement— that someone actively cut off the water. They know what everyone who went in has figured out in some way— that the fire absolutely wasn't an accident.

Some of what happened here was luck, though— in being able to be at the right place at the right time to make a difference, to save lives in one way or another. That's an impact that's not passive nor restricted to this night, either. It reflects in the hopeful eyes of children like Neveah who were guided out of harm's way.

Thanks to the bravery and selflessness shown here, their faith in people won't be lost, despite the dark revelations that will rise in the coming days.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License