Trading In The Pawns, Part II


00-00_icon.gif 00-04_icon.gif hana_icon.gif logan_icon.gif

Scene Title Trading in the Pawns, Part II
Synopsis In a game of chess, a pawn that reaches the opposite side of the playing board can find itself promoted to a higher status. For a time-spanned Richard Cardinal, there is a reason for everything, even seeming acts of random cruelty.
Date December 6, 2010

Coco's Boxing Gym

"…like shooting fucking salmon in a barrel, I'm telling you…"

It's a cold evening, but one must also go where it's quiet to have a conversation. A cellphone, painted like a sportscar in red and black, is pressed against Logan's ear as he paces around the alleyway that nestles along beside Coco's Boxing Gym, nauseous lights spreading green and yellow over the concrete stairs that lead downwards directly into the illegal fighting ring below, and undoubtedly guarded from the inside. Outside, he is more or less alone.

"Sasha, he was right there. You'd think he didn't know he had a hit on him. And the chinks are all, oh, we can't just start shooting up our own establishment, and— what? No of course they can't hear me…"

The ground is lined with dirt and slush, and Logan is only semi-mindful of his shoes, oily patent leather things, as he roams up and down the wet brick corridor, the sky an indefinite black above. A woolen greatcoat is left to hang open to the three-piece ensemble beneath, a splash of colour in the form of a bright crimson satin shirt, with a black ascot tie wrapped around pale throat and disappearing past red collar.

"…close to taking Zarek's death as a fucking omen. You still there, you're breaking up— shit."

He wrenches the phone from his ear to squint at the screen, checking the signal.

"Quiet" conversations are usually the most — interesting sort. Which isn't to say Hana is deliberately eavesdropping on Logan's… although she did have other potential directions of departure from Center Stage. If wisdom at any point suggested this wasn't the best way to go, it found itself overruled by fixed obduracy. It usually is.

Her simple and spare ring attire has been replaced by street clothes — that ubiquitous black leather jacket and dark jeans, a sliver of teal shirt peeking through the top half-inch of coat zipper. The gym's exterior lights glinting off edges and contours render her visible enough in the evening darkness. Her shoes don't make much noise on the pavement.

"Technical difficulties?" 'Casey' asks, with the sort of detached curiosity that isn't really interest. She's not about to volunteer to fix them.

"Either he's going through a tunnel or he's being a cunt."

Logan twists at the waist enough to look back at 'Casey', not entirely shocked to see her. Not here. "So 'sort of'." He snaps his phone shut and turns to face her completely, opening up his coat to slip the device into an inner pocket where the familiar pattern of a shoulder rig is unabashedly and briefly displayed, if not intentionally. He looks no worse for wear than the last time they encountered one another, about the same amount of sleep, stress and cigarette smoking.

But he hasn't been punched yet this evening, so there's that. He sweeps a pale stare up and down her. "Playtime, is it? It's not freak-show Saturday."

It counts for something, not being punched yet. The kind of something the bookmakers inside would label with odds and take wagers on, if only they knew.

Logan's language isn't enough to change the odds radically, it seems, although one of the woman's brows arches. Evaluation, more than askance. "I see." She continues forward, closing with only casual intent, her steps unhurried. Looks past him, down the alley in reflexive survey; returns her full regard to Logan. "Doesn't have to be Saturday for me to be here," Hana remarks. Which may or may not bear any relationship to playtime.

Her feet pause, a short distance away from Logan. "Does it make a difference?"

He steps aside as she closes up some space, as if unwilling to assume he wouldn't be blocking her passage — but not by that much, especially as she comes to a halt, and he claims territory by half a step. Perhaps unwisely, Logan's attention is focused on the space Hana's shape occupies in the alleyway, hands tucking into pockets and blithely confident in his setting. "Maybe to you, I s'pose. Evo nights rake in bigger winnings, but then again, I've never seen you throw fire or spit acid."

So, fair point, in other words. His green eyes go a little unfocused as wheels slowly turn somewhere in his skull, recalling the last time they spoke. A little slowly, with cautious deliberation, he goes on to add, "'bout the other week— you caught me at something of a bad time…"

It's like he's apologising. Which isn't actually apologising. Self-awareness is hard.

Hana chuckles briefly, which isn't really much in the way of humor. "No, I don't do those." Not, at least, any more than any mundane could; Molotov cocktails have their uses. She considers the half-step which establishes Logan's turf of the moment, the space it cordons off by impliciation. Is content to let him keep it: pavement is cheap.

Tilts her head, as computation of a sort winds its way through Logan's mind and a rather astonishing result comes forth. "Can't expect anyone to be at their best after getting punched," she points out. Making allowances, brushing the subject off, or tacitly accepting the apology-that-isn't; her palette of tone is too simple to make translation easy. Dark eyes glance down Logan's posture. "This evening going better?" has the same not-quite-interest as the question with which 'Casey' opened the conversation, but it's something that she asks at all.

Pale eyes roll at her question, which probably communicates a no in that it could be better, certainly, and a yes in that he can at least be flippant about it. "I guess. Suffering a case of 'if you want something done, you'd best do it yourself'," Logan tells her, leaning a hand against brick wall— minorly regrets it at the chilly, gritty feeling beneath his palm, but doesn't retract immediately.

He is good, evidently, with brushing the subject off. Tacit acceptance works too, but he's never operated on the most subtle levels anyway. "'bout ready to carve out the rest of my night. You're so welcome to join me," is richly delivered, as if implicated sarcasm would make inevitable shrug-off easier to take so that Logan doesn't take advantage of girl-in-an-alleyway, though a flame of sincerity still burns away, insistently.

It isn’t much the weather for thunder, let alone lightning. The peal sounds too close to be distant, and admittedly seems a touch symbolic when the intention is realized. But a sound of thunder nevertheless it is, originating from the alleyway behind where Logan and Hana converse.

Moments later, the snap and pop of live electricity seems all the more noisy, a crackling emission of sputtering arcs of blue-white lightning that leap from one brick wall to the other, strike down on the ground and leave a smoking patch of blackness. The lightning is quick to form a bubble, a cage of electricity that warps and distorts the air inside like a heat mirage.

A split second later there is a thunderclap and a flash of light, followed by an expulsion of air rushing down both sides of the narrow alleyway. When the flash fades and steam issuing up from the ground parts, two darkly dressed figures stand silhouette at the far mouth of the alley where the lightning-storm had begun.

Each one is armored in a suit of head-to-toe black, reminiscent of FRONTLINE but with heavier plating made of matte blacks and grays. Their helmets are subtly different, visors tinted an ochre shade rather than glossy black. On one, the numbers 00-04 are stenciled across one side of the chest, on the other, 00-00.

At their feet, smoking pieces of concrete glow orange around the edges, and do not match the type of asphalt paving under their feet, as if burned away from somewhere else by molten shears.

Well, this is… aggravatingly familiar.

Not at first — not when the sharp burst of sound ricochets off brick walls, Hana dropping fluidly into a crouch that puts the nearer wall behind her, Logan at the edge of her field of view, and the sound's origin dead ahead. That there's a gun in her hand unerringly pointed towards the two suits which arrive in a blace of electricity — is absolutely and utterly irrelevant, said suits being Horizon armor. One little pistol, however well-aimed, isn't going to do enough damage.

She reaches out to the noise of their communications, sifting them out of the sea that is urban digital traffic, looking for anything that might offer an advantage. The alley provides little help — no cover, few handy escape routes. There's one thing she can do.

Rather than throw physical items at the suits (to no avail), Hana instead grabs the digital traffic that is a constant part of her paradigm — sappy text messages, conversations in two dozen languages, emails from around the world — and shunts it into the suit receivers such that generates an earsplitting feedback squeal. One that won't stop.

Simultaneously, she darts for the door back into Center Stage. It isn't much of an escape route, but she has no advantages out here.

As for Logan, he's just going to have to make his own decisions.

The first decision wasn't unlike hers, if lacking the same feline grace. For all his saunter, Logan's right leg, mottled with old injury, denies him any crouching and ducking and rolling, so when he turns sharply towards the sound of electricity, making the air taste metallic, the stink of scorched rock and ice reduced to vapour, he mostly just— careens sideways. Pistol is jerked from the inner of his coat, but also like Hana, he can recognise the potential for wasted bullets when he sees it.

Does occur to him, for all her quick reaction, that maybe they're after her. The black and silver weapon is then held loosely, dangling from the thicker root of his thumb in supplication even as he's reeling back some several feet, and his eyes are going cat-bright with green.

It's Mister 00-00 that gets the first wave of choking negation, lasting only several seconds before Logan veers it towards his companion to cover his bases.

"Hey now— " he protests, putting on a smile. Maybe there's room for verbal clarity.

Negation and the howling shriek of digital noise thundering in their heads is the blunt-force mental trauma that both Logan and Hana Gitelman needed to make their escape. By the time Logan’s voiced his abortive attempt at diplomacy — unheard through static shriek — 00 has unfastened his helmet, splitting down the middle like a big plastic coconut. It’s swung around by the inside, still shrieking and beeping as he turns his attention towards 04 and his staggering collapse up against the brick wall.

No hesitation, even as he watches his partner struggling with the emergency release latches on the side of his helmet, 00 turns his attention to Logan, all lantern-jawed and clean cut. Youthful bordering on showing signs of his forties in subtle ways. Tyler Case’s dark eyes level on John Logan, shortly followed thereafter by the large-bore .50-caliber handgun removed from the holster at his hip.

Inside,” Tyler insists with a waggle of the barrel of his gun towards the door, while a click-snap-pop of plastic and metal followed by the increasing volume of digital screeching accompanies 04 removing his helmet. Lucas Eldridge isn’t familiar, though Tyler Case isn’t much either. The DHS agent swings his helmet off and shakes his head, jaw working open and closed as he tries to clear what feels like pressure out of his ringing ear drums.

“Go after her,” Tyler insists to Eldridge, without looking back to the stunned operative. Lucas fires a silently frustrated look at Tyler’s back, and then with a crackling snap of electricity and another flash of light, disappears from sight, taking a spherical chunk of the alleyway with him, glowing orange around the edges.

Somewhere inside Coco’s, Hana can hear a loud clap of thunder and crackle of electricity, enough voltage to make the interior lights flicker.

The basement of Coco's Boxing Gym, crowded with spectators, bettors, and sometime fighters, isn't exactly better ground than the alley outside. People are so many animate and — worse still — unpredictable obstacles; there are chairs, tables, a bar, and the ring itself. Stairs that lead up to the main building, what may be an alternate escape route — if Hana can reach it before the opposition arrives.

The sound of thunder contained by walls; the flicker of power surge through dim lights — these things don't bode well. On the other hand, his armor's systems helpfully tell Hana exactly where Eldridge is. And the flickering lights help obscure, for a too-short moment, the naked firearm in her hand. However benign its orientation towards the floor may be, it's an armed weapon nonetheless.

Leaving the alley doorway far behind, Hana estimates and proceeds down the fastest route to the other door she can manage. Which involves at times going over tables, not to mention, brusquely shoving people out of her way, but that's almost nothing compared to Eldridge's electricity-and-molten-asphalt entrance.

Fucking fuck. Hana, come back and ask Logan that question again, about having a better night. He will have a more definite answer for you!

Logan's mouth thins in a line, eyes going back to fishbelly pale as if withdrawing negation might encourage the unfamiliar man in front of him to not shoot. He doesn't drop his gun but he also doesn't point it at anything, moving backwards down the slick concrete stairs and giving the FRONTLINE soldier something of a withering stare. If this one ever had a chance of getting fanboyed and stalked and questionnaired about marriage, he has since lost it.

He backs his way inside, a hand out to grip the edge of the steel door that shuts the world out from the underground fight ring— and listens to impulse when he levers it shut, hard, and takes off at a run, looking for the nearest Chinese goons that might feel like helping a brother out. Hana is out of his mind completely.

Hearing his feet slamming on the concrete steps as he barrels down the stairs, Logan’s own retreat is followed by an all-together different sound up at the top of the stairwell. First a clatter of metal from the locked door, then a groaning cry of twisting metal and a snapping pop of the door tearing open, accompanied by the hissing whine of hydraulics struggling to exert additional force. It bought him the necessary time to reach the bottom of the stairs and disappear out of sight, though unfortunately not out of mind.

Elsewhere in the Center Stage, noises of confusion and frustration spill around Hana as she elbows and shoves her way through the crowd, past tables of people drinking and smoking, over tables of shocked patrons. Wherever it is that Eldridge emerged — and Hana can feel it some few meters away and to her right — no one has seen it.

The cacophonous thunderclap has everyone on edge, though, and Hana’s tracking of the signals put off by the helmet of the Horizon armor is noticing that Eldridge isn’t moving when she passes right by his location, behind the bar and in what is presumably a kitchen where a handful of Chinese cooks are emerging along with a gout of smoke and banter in Cantonese.

The stairs up into Coco’s are just to her right, where a pair of young men are standing on the bottom-most steps, sharing a cigarette and watching the confusion with notable interest. A hallway adjacent to the bottom of the stairs leads back into a dimly lit corridor where a pair of sleekly dressed Chinese men in suits are poking their heads out of a back door.

Far behind Hana, John Logan is skidding into view on a floor made wet by drinks toppled in Hana’s gymnastic table-vaulting.

A signal not moving, Hana knows, might just have to be interpreted as devices abandoned. Though she can hope it means Eldridge has been confronted with an obstacle, stymied for a few precious moments.

While Tyler is opening the back door by main force, Hana circumvents the final barrier between her and her destination by going around — just because there are stairs doesn't mean she has to use them all. Instead, she diverts to one side, plants her left hand on the rail behind them and vaults over it, landing in a graceless scuffle that is shortly redirected into a lunge for the doors.

It'd be a cinematic gesture to try and take a shot at Tyler now — but impractical, and a waste of precious, so-very-finite time. Hana keeps right on going, through the door that opens beneath her weight.

The path of destruction ahead of him tells a story of Hana's flight, Logan pinwheeling an arm when wingtip heels slide against beer still fizzing in a sticky splash across concrete. Knowing the ins and outs of this place is only vaguely useful, thought process something like a ferret dashing madly within a cage without direction or clue, but Logan is spurred into action around when that screech of metal screeees out behind him.

Run. Figure out where later. He more or less follows Hana's path for lack of a better option, and she seems to be the kind to have a plan!!, tracking damp and vaguely alcoholic shoeprints as he goes, a wave of a gun doing something to clear the way and when it doesn't, the pistol grip knocks into at least one man's narrow jaw.

He, too, doesn't turn to take shots, for all that he's unwilling to free up his hand. Does run half-ducked, at least, so that any bullets headed for him might hit a patron.

When Tyler’s black-armored frame comes into view downstairs, screams fill the Center Stage. Words of “Raid” leap through the air, and a sudden mad-dash of everyone scraping their cocaine off the tables, pocketing their joints and otherwise diving out of the way of presumed armored figures of authority are expected in such dens of illicit activity.

Barreling through the crowd, Tyler shoves one man out of the way with the force of a bull rhino, sending him up off of his feet and down onto a table top, then over the other side. People scatter, some simply winking out of sight entirely in display of superhuman stealth and evasion. The Man is here, in bulletproof fashion.

Tangled in the fleeing crowd, Tyler watches Logan’s long-legged sprint heading up the stairs, and before the pimp can get too far out of range, Tyler shoves someone down from in front of him and suddenly the world turns a vibrant shade of red.

The high-voltage buzz of Tyler Case’s ability manipulation is made manifest in a wavering bolt of red lightning that lashes out from his hand, causing the fleeing crowd to duck and scream as it explodes across the bar in a hundred-foot long arc to strike John in the back. The sensation is unusual, causing him to heat up from within and tingle from head to toe in an uncomfortable prickling sensation.

His legs buckle, pace hiccups, but he doesn’t go down. If nothing else the force of the blast threw him a few steps forward in his loping escape. But what Logan is quick to recognize in his escape is that he feels notably blunted, somehow out of balance like someone with too much fluid in their ears. An uncomfortable sensation of ability negation.

But Logan is gone, too far up the stairs now to see, and Tyler is in hot pursuit with clomping and stamping footfalls, whining hydraulics and clattering armor rattling with each charging step. Eldridge, still, is nowhere to be seen and his signal remains stationary downstairs.

The first thing Logan finds, as he stumbles through the basement exit and into a storage room, is the coldly sharp caress of something moving way too fast through the air, way too close to his head. That there was a sound associated with the bullet registers only after the fact, if at all.

"Dammit, clear the door!" registers a little more coherently, sound allowing Logan — if he looks — to trace back to a familiar profile half-crouched by the end of a shelf, partially obscured by its corner. As cover goes, the movable metal rack covered with everything from packs of gauze to pairs of boxing gloves to borrowable shoes is lousy — but it offers something in the way of concealment. It's also near the open exit… and one of two units left standing.

Two others have been toppled into a haphazard mess between Hana's position and the basement stairs, former contents sprawled over all paths into the room. Clearing the door isn't going to be as easy as she demands. On the other hand, if he fails that, Logan still poses an obstacle to her opposition — as well as a barricade to her line of fire. There's a desk in the nearer corner that might provide a semblance of concealment; stashed here for being broken, until it can replace another that's broken worse, it's not going to stop any bullets, either.

"Jesus." Unwilling to be a meatshield, Logan's natural instinct has him flinging himself towards the nearest hiding place — the broken desk looks like it would sooner help to damage him than offer protection, but it will serve a brief hiding spot as he stumbles and trips his way over spilled shelving. His head is tingling, focus disoriented, what is wrong with him, refusing to believe that the strangely muffled feeling might be negation.

His power has never offered him the ability to detect the presence of others. It didn't even let him know who was Evolved and who was not. But when it's gone—

He's still amazed he's not on fire, actually. Rather than warn Hana that there might be some abilities in play, here, Logan concentrates on stumbling somewhere that is a semblance of covered, instantly winging the aim of his pistol for the door, and squeezing the trigger when he next sees something move into frame.

What emerges up through the open door of the stairwell following the thundering cadence of armored boots hitting concrete steps isn’t a man. Hana can feel that split second pause where Tyler’s suit comes to a halt just out of line of fire, and for all that she has a moment to brace herself for what could have halted him, there’s little that bracing can do for a grenade.

Small, quick, black, lobbed into the room to strike the corner of a metal shelf and then careen down to the floor with a clatter, a click, and in the time it takes to suck in a sharp breath a cacophonous explosion of light and sound. The flashbang reverberates off of the walls, blasts eardrums, rattles windows and blinds with a sudden magnesium flare that is as intense as it is painful.

Eyes aren’t Hana Gitelman’s only sense, but the kinetic shock wave of a flashbang rattles her lungs and dizzies her enough that despite being able to feel the proximity of incoming and outgoing digital signals from a still-squealing helmet, there is little she can to in the time it is taking for her vision to come back.

Blind fire is better than no fire, and what should be the noisy report of Hana’s handgun feels like the muffled sound of someone knocking on a door as heard underwater, for all that the tinnitus whine in her ears is preventing the finer acoustic slam of indoor gunfire from doing further palpable auditory damage.

The black blot in her field of vision jerks back from the gunfire, though whether reflexively or because he was struck Hana can’t quite make out. Her own reflexes are telling her to run, move, fight not to panic as one John Logan’s windmilling silhouette in her muddled vision seems to imply.

Crimson fills Hana’s vision a moment later, a sudden electrical surge that feels like it’s boiling the blood in her veins — and were it electricity it certainly would. It evokes stories she’d heard through the Ferry, of the man who swapped powers back when Edward sent time-traveling psychopaths hurdling through history to change the future.

Her mind reels, a sudden fire in her cerebellum burns like no headache ever could. Muscles contract involuntarily, seethe, and she can see that Logan has been struck too, twinned and continuous bolts of arcing red electricity emitting from the black-armored figure’s hands.

When she collapses, her gun falls from fingers that aren’t responding as her heart rate does its best to imitate the galloping clatter of racehorse hooves. That she strikes the concrete floor of the back room isn’t felt, everything is numb, and it reminds her of a day long ago; reminds her of a bus she nearly lost her life on.

John finds the experience far less metaphysical though equally harrowing. On the floor where the lightning has left him, his muscles too fail to respond in helpful ways. Fingers curl, jaws clench, back arches and the ever-snapping red lightning seems to be cooking him from the inside out from the sensation of burning. Maybe that’s how the mind is interpreting what is happening, maybe that is how helpless synapses are translation a near spontaneous resequencing of the genetic code on the fly.

The mind wasn’t meant to endure this.

John’s wasn’t meant to endure what comes next.

As vision starts to come back in doubled blur, Hana feels a sudden quiet. She doesn’t hear a sudden quiet — no her ears are still ringing from the flash-bang — she feels the quiet in every fiber of her being. Where once the global telecommunications grid was a constant background noise trained to be filtered out through years of experience there is now an almost palpable, deathly silence.

Logan has the inverse. Where once was — as some would say cavernous — silence of his mind, there suddenly is a highway of everything that was or is information hitting him like a sack of hammers. It’s much as what Hana did to the two men that have ambushed them, but on a far more expansive scale. Every digital purchase, television signal, emergency alert, phone call, text message and l o l to come down the pipeline of Logan’s mind is overload.

That his pupils dilate saucer wide gives it all a very drug-like appearance.

That neither of them can hear what the muffled voice of the man who did this to them said in passing is unfortunate. Maybe it would have been a reason, maybe it would have been an apology, maybe it wouldn’t matter at all. He wasn’t speaking to them, he was calling down the stairs.

Eldridge landed in the deep fryer. Their escape is going to be slow.

Logan and Hana’s, likely slower.

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