Two Masks


keira_icon.gif khalid_icon.gif

Scene Title Two Masks
Synopsis Keira and Khalid cross paths as they attempt to liberate the Praxis railguns from SESA.
Date December 11, 2018

Night has fallen across the Safe Zone, casting much of the city into darkness. The rolling blackouts that affect the resettled city mean that the city glow is intermittent and the hour of the night can be discerned by seeing which neighborhoods have power.

Out in Floyd Bennet Airfield, the power never goes out. The airfield’s runway lights flash brightly against the cold night air. Workers on the tarmac move cargo into the hold of a massive Boeing C-17, looking like a battleship gray whale beaches on the old asphalt. The perimeter around the aircraft is marked by a contingent of US National Guardsmen and members of the Military Police, backs to the jet and assault rifles set at the ready, held fast to their chests.

Beyond the chain link fence surrounding the air strip, tall grass rises up three feet high on a steep embankment headed down to the water. Down here, everything is swathed in darkness, and the sounds of Ferrymen’s bay lapping against the rocky shore is drowned out by the whine of distant jet engines.

The hunters in the tall grass go unseen. As does the corpse. A tall man, stripped of clothes, covered head to toe in his own blood with his throat slashed. In the tall grass, a lone figure crouches over the body and touches the side of his face with a gloved hand.

Dark eyes narrow, then rise to the fence.

Someone beat him here.

Floyd Bennet Airfield

December 11th

8:12 pm

Sergeant Patrick Lynch cuts a direct path across the tarmac from the hangar. Booted feet clap soundly on the asphalt on his way past a parked Humvee and to the checkpoint of soldiers surrounding the loading site. There's a plastic-sheathed identification card hanging from his belt, just a yellow color stripe and a barcode. It's enough to indicate that he's a part of the tarmac crew.

This is stupid.

This is so fucking stupid.

Certainly, it’s going good so far, but Keira is no longer capable of being an optimist these days. This is a suicide mission that the Triads have sent her on, retrieving a rail gun from the government. Greed won over in the face of her natural caution, though, and here she is, with the face of a tall man who she murdered unceremoniously. But god did it feel good — she had forgotten how good it felt to take a new face. That blossom of warmth that starts in her chest and spreads to her fingers as the life drains from another. It’s troubling that she likes killing people this much, and it’s a testament to her natural paranoia that she avoided going on a killing spree when she first found out what she could do.

This is stupid.

With a deep breath, the tall man makes his way toward the cargo jet, his posture rigid and stiff. He approaches the armed guards, first, pulling the obvious leader off to one side. “I saw some movement out there,” he points out, gesturing toward the water. “Take your men and investigate.” Keira makes sure to put an authoritative tone to this new voice of hers.

Out there, a small group of Keira’s men await by the water’s edge; explosives have been discreetly placed against the fencing, and the men have instructions to detonate them as soon as the armed guards near the fences. A distraction, intended to create a commotion while Keira takes the precious cargo. More of her men are a good distance away, waiting for the action to begin before they jump in with guns blazing.

Tonight, the 41st Precinct will either become extremely rich with an agreement with the Triads, or it will find itself in the charge of Tanith. Keira could have brought her along — probably should have — but a suicide mission like this requires a contingency plan, and it wouldn’t do to have all of her men suddenly unemployed on account of her greed.

“Watchdog to Tower, activity spotted by the southeast fence. Over.” One of the soldiers calls into the radio on his shoulder and the trio break away from the perimeter to investigate. There’s a braying of dogs further down the darkened tarmac, and a chirp comes back over their radios and the one Keira has stolen for herself.

«Confirmed. Awaiting response. Over.»

Swiftly moving through the perimeter, Keira spots a trio of Chinese men in suits standing on the loading ramp of the plane, watching a palette of plastic crates being moved onto the bed of a truck that will drive up into the vehicle for transport. Guns, right, railguns. The cases must contain additional firearms, confiscated by SESA.

Six plastic crates by an eyeball estimate, each likely containing a single firearm. They probably weigh ten to fifteen pounds each. Keira’s moved guns in similar containers before, and her eyeball assessment of it means they’ll need a vehicle to move the hardware. A vehicle or a miracle. With a glance over her shoulder, she can see the soldiers making their way to the edge of the airfield. Not long until the distraction. Not long to plan.

Poor guys. Poor dogs. Keira feels a bit bad for the fates they are about to suffer — most of these guys are probably just showing up to work for the paycheck. It’s too bad that their chosen job has put them into the line of fire; Keira’s men at the beach have explicit instructions to set off the charges once the men are on the fence. A second walkie talkie is removed from the tall man’s belt once alone, and Sergeant Patrick Lynch murmurs, “On their way,” before placing it back on the belt.

For a moment, the shapeshifter pauses, glancing about and taking in the scene, pushing down a mild panic attack with a deep breath. It’s been way too long since she’s been in charge of something like this, and there is so much at stake here — her life, her men’s lives, and a lot of money.

After a moment of hesitation, Keira starts toward the truck that is currently loading the weapons into the plane, posture still stiff and rigid as she’d imagine a Sergeant would walk; by the time she gets to that truck, the explosives should have gone off, creating that wonderful diversion that should allow enough time to escape with the merchandise in question. If she can get some of those extra weapons, that would be an added bonus — something extra to sell when all is said and done. She won’t push it, though.

Lock-step movements carry Keira in her cadaverous disguise right up to the driver’s side door of the truck when—

A plume of fire sixty feet high erupts from the southeast side of the fence. Screams and calls of alarm break into the air and the perimeter around the plane collapses into chaos. Military police and national guardsmen rush toward the blast, shouting into their radios. The chatter coming over the comms is chaotic, and the Praxis agents on the loading ramp of the plane watch on in confusion, a fireball reflected in their eyes.

One of them immediately pulls out a phone and begins making a call while the other two hustle up the ramp, pulling handguns out of their jackets and securing the plane. They don’t realize that the enemy has already slipped into their ranks like a knife between ribs.

And there’s the signal. In the chaos that follows, the Sergeant opens the door of the truck, pulling out the driver and barking an order to go help to him in his most authoritative voice, before shoving him away.

This is so fucking stupid.

Swallowing down the lump of anxiety in his throat, the imposter of the man who lies dead in the grasses beyond slips into the vehicle, closing the door. One glance is cast back toward the Praxis agents, narrowing his eyes.

And then, Keira flings the car into drive. With one last glance back, the tall Sergeant hits the gas, pulling away from the forklift with a metallic scrape and swinging the front end of the vehicle toward the front gate. The headlights are flashed three times, then the passenger side window is rolled down, three shots fired in the general direction of the Praxis men — if one hits its mark, that’s good, but the main goal is to get them distracted long enough to make a clean getaway.

The headlights flashing is another signal. From the beach, one of the men raises a bazooka, settling into a crouch and taking aim at the aircraft itself. Once satisfied, he fires off his first shot, falling flat on his ass from the recoil. And from the front gate, another man crouches with another bazooka, aiming again at the cargo plane. He doesn’t fall over like his friend on the beach.

Distract the men with the explosions enough, and maybe, just maybe, they will actually pull this off. “FUCK!” That doesn’t stop Keira from shrieking in the deep voice of the dead Sergeant, knuckles gripping the steering wheel tight as she pushes down on the gas as hard as she can, heading for the front gate.

Two anti-personnel rockets strike the jet nearly simultaneously, causing the aircraft to erupt into a fireball that is visible for miles. The ground shakes with the explosion of ruptured jet fuel, huge pieces of metal are spinning through the air, crashing down around the truck. There’s a loud thump on the roof, likely as one crashed down into it. Gunfire pops in intermittent beats in the darkness, shouts both heard through the cab of the military flatbed and over the radio.

There’s a shearing sound as Keira pulls away from the forklift. The bottom of the metal blades scrapes across the bed of the truck, and the crates are dragged toward the rear of the bed, but remain on the truck. Even with the pedal to the floor and the truck shifted up a gear, it’s slow to get rolling. The heavy diesel engine gurgles and sputters, rumbles noisily inside of the cabin. In her periphery, Keira can see the plane completely engulfed in flames along with whatever was on board and the Praxis Heavy Industries operatives that had just gone inside.

Seeing the truck rolling away, the soldiers don’t seem to recognize the theft for what it is yet. They recognize the man in the cab and their gunfire is directed both downfield toward the southeast edge where the explosion first went off, and up toward the main gate into the airfield where one of the artillery-employing attackers is now scrambling away on foot. But then, someone comes crashing through the passenger side window.

Khalid Sadaka.

Keira recognizes him in an instant, scars down one side of his face, dark hair in a tangle. His black clothing glitters with pieces of broken glass, and both of his booted feet slam into Keira’s side, smashing her against the door of the truck. It wasn’t debris on the roof, it was him.

And while she recognizes her old friend Khalid, it isn’t Keira he’s seeing right now.

It’s working. It’s working, and Keira’s going to get away with it. It’s really going to fucking happen, and she’s going to get the job with the Triads, and the money is going to rain down on her and her crew, and life is about to be fucking awesome.

She barely has time to let out a triumphant whoop of joy before suddenly, someone from her past is driving his boots into the her, and she’s smashed against the door of the truck with a shout. Oh, that’s some broken ribs there — the truck lists off toward the side, losing momentum as Keira, still in the Sergeant’s body, stares wide-eyed at the man.

Khalid?!” She hisses in the man’s voice — then, he’s grasping for the gun that he fired at the Praxis agents, while one hand holds the wheel steady, foot pressed heavily down on the gas. The gun is lifted, aimed clumsily at the man — even as the man holding it suddenly shrinks down into Keira, teeth gritted. “Stop!

Khalid, knife in hand, looked ready to strike like a snake in the moment that Keira began to shapeshift down into her thinner frame, wearing the now loose clothes of the dead soldier. His expression is a mask, a cypher, and the scarred operative of Humanis First narrows his eyes with what for a frightening moment looks like confusion, rather than recognition. Then, eyeing the gun, he just nods and flips his knife around and slides it into the sheathe under his arm.

“Drive.” Khalid says in a single go, looking through the cracked back window at the soldiers. “Before they realize.

He doesn’t have to tell her, and there’ll be time to get down to brass tacks later.

As Keira keeps her foot slammed on the gas, the truck continues to pick up speed like an out of control locomotive. It barrels toward the road out of the airport, and the gunfight happening at either side of the airfield is met with confusion as the vehicle comes crashing through a wood-barricade checkpoint preventing vehicle access onto the landing strip. Keira turns the wheel, hand over hand, and the truck slings to the side, losing one of the crates with crashing clatter as she does. The other five, though, still intact.

Gunfire rattles off the armored sides of the truck once the soldiers realize what’s happening, and Keira ducks under the shower of breaking glass from the windshield. She clears the gated entrance to the airfield with a smash of the wooden arm over the front of the truck, and Khalid watches out the back window nervously.

But Keira’s left like a dog that was chasing a car, now finally catching up. Now what?

Keira isn’t very happy that Khalid, an old Humanis First acquaintance, is here, and knows that she’s Evolved now, but at least he’s not trying to kill her right now. She lowers the gun, mostly out of necessity, and focuses on the task at hand — getting the fuck out of there with the weapons.

And so, she drives, about as fast as one can drive a giant truck, her teeth gritted as she glares at the road. Once clear of the gates, her next goal is to get the fuck away; the fellow near the front gate has relocated himself, and aims one last rocket at the gate itself, now that his boss has broken free. Because explosions are a really good way to keep people occupied.

“The fuck are you doing here, Khalid?!” She hisses, reaching down and pulling the gun into her lap, eyes glued to the road. At the very least, she’s safe so long as she keeps driving; a pickup truck full of her men screeches onto the road in front of them to act as an escort; its occupants shout triumphantly, unaware of the danger their boss may (or may not) be in. “I thought you were dead,” she adds in a hiss, gritting her teeth.

“Yeah,” Khalid says as his face is illuminated by the orange plume of another explosion shining through the rear window of the truck, “I get that a lot.” His dark eyes swivel back to Keira, seemingly unsurprised by her latest change, the display of a power she in no way had when Keira had last seen him. “I was looking for my fucking guns,” he says with a side-eye to her.

“The Ghost Shadows are owed them.” Khalid quickly glances out the passenger side window he’d busted open. “We’ve gotta move these. They’ll dispatch a helicopter soon. Turn left here,” toward the ocean, “there’s a sewer access, we can ditch the truck and the crates and carry the guns on foot.” Apparently that might have been his plan, or some part of all of this.

Well, at least they aren’t competing interests — that much is a relief, though not much, considering their shared background. “Good,” she says with a measure of relief to her tone — but only a small amount of it. She can’t help but feel like she’s in a cage with a vicious dog, with only a steak between her and the dog’s sharp teeth.

“Tsai sent me,” she puts that out there up front — just so he knows that they’re on the same side, again. Assuming he doesn’t want to murder the shit out of her for her status as a SLC-Expressive human. “Guess she didn’t think I could get it done by myself,” she adds, letting a grin crack her features.

She’s still scared of the man in the passenger seat, but the adrenaline is helping her feel a little cocky again. With a nod, she flashes the lights at the truck ahead, and follows Khalid’s directions, teeth knitting at her lower lip. “So, as you can tell, those shitty tests they used to give out lied to me.”

“Yeah,” Khalid mumbles with a noncommittal tone, flicking a look up to Keira for a moment before returning his attention to the road ahead of them. There’s still shouts and pops of gunfire at their backs as Keira’s men stage a fighting retreat on the ambushed military forces. The directions he gives to Keira don’t take long to bring them to their destination, cutting down Belt Parkway through Plumb Island until they’ve made it to the Venice Marina.

Khalid directs Keira to pull the truck in through the parking lot, and watches out the window for signs of scrambling choppers. “Ok, let’s go. Fast.” Khalid is out the door before the truck even stops, climbing up the side of the cab and then down the back onto the flatbed. Keira can see him moving along the bed of the truck, and then he holds out one hand to one of the cases…

…and it moves.

The case flips over, snapping open and one of the railguns from inside floats up out of the foam padding and into Khalid’s hand. Having seized the heavy rifle, he directs his attention to the next case, flinging it around with a telekinetic gesture like it weighed nothing.

Stopping the truck, Keira takes a deep breath, grabbing her gun and other things. Pausing only to briefly tighten her belt to ensure she doesn’t lose her pants, the woman slips out of the vehicle, landing on the ground with her hand on the gun. You know, just in case she finds herself needing to shoot at Khalid.

Then, her eyes widen, almost to the size of saucers, as Khalid demonstrates that his tests must have lied, too. For a moment, she can only stare, dumbfounded, before she springs back into action, scrambling to the back of the truck to help him out by opening up the cases — surely he can handle the rest.

It also makes her gun rather obsolete — she’s seen telekinetics and what they can do. If he wants to, Khalid can rip her to shreds with a simple gesture. So all she can really do is trust that he won’t kill her.

She breathes a sigh of relief as the truck that had pulled out in front of them screeches to a halt not too far off, the driver poking his head out of the window. “Everything alright, Boss? This wasn’t part of the plan.” The man frowns, turning to peer over at Khalid suspiciously. One of the men in the truck is hugging his bazooka, and all five of the men are looking at Khalid like he has a fourth eye.

“Run diversion.” Khalid orders them, as if they were his men. “Drive away from here, ditch your vehicle, burn it. They’ll follow the smoke.” He doesn’t hear helicopters yet, and they may yet get out of this. Khalid stops at the third case, then yanks it back toward Keira, sending it tumbling over the side of the flatbed to the ground. The padding and dense plastic assuredly protects the delicate military hardware within.

You,” Khalid barks to Keira, “get to opening crates. I’ll carry four, you carry…” He only now notices one of the cases is missing. “Three.” Khalid’s dark eyes flick back to the five men that work for Keira, waiting to see what they do.

The men stare at Khalid, now looking at him more like he’s some kind of monster that they should maybe extinguish. The one with the bazooka looks like he has an itchy trigger finger, and Khalid would make for some good target practice. It isn’t until Keira, a frown on her face, nods, that the driver nods. “His name’s Khalid Sadaka. I know him,” she calls out to them — giving them his name just in case.

With one last distrustful look, the truck does a U-turn, and heads out with a screech of the tires.

Keira turns, then, watching Khalid for a moment. Then, after loosening her belt she’s shifting back up, this time into the muscular shape of Carl, for ease of carrying heavy items. With one last glance to Khalid, the gun is holstered, and Keira is setting to work picking up the case.

Splitting five railguns between two people is laborious work. Khalid Carries two over each shoulder with visible strain, and has the last one leaning up against the truck. The weapons are heavy, durable steel and look like massive rifles with boxy scopes bolted to their frames. Keira, carrying one over each shoulder and one in her hands, notices the weapons appear partly disassembled, as their firing mechanisms don’t appear to be intact — or in the boxes. Maybe they were never shipped with them to begin with.

“This way,” Khalid says as he moves down toward the shore, reaching out a hand to draw the last rifle into his grasp from a distance. As booted feet negotiate the rocky shoreline of the docks, there’s a corrugated metal sewer pipe jutting out between two of the piers. An old, white metal sign with red text is bolted to the side, with an exclamation point above a line of block text that reads: No Admittance.

Khalid backs away from the pipe, brow furrowed, and there’s a straining sound of bending metal. The grate twists, bolts snap, and it finally comes flying out of the opening and splashes down into the water beside him. Exhaling a deep sigh of exertion, Khalid looks over to Keira, as the distant sound of helicopters and sirens rise into the air.

“I’ll cover the rear.” Khalid indicates, looking to a rock on the shore large enough to plug the entrance.

It’s a very good thing that Carl worked out up until the day Keira killed him. Though Carl’s muscles burn, Keira pushes through, following Khalid to the pipe. There’s a moment of hesitation — Key isn’t fond of situations like these. But ultimately, the shapeshifter nods, carrying the guns inside with a groan.

“Glad I ran into you,” she ventures to say as she slips past the man, hoping that she won’t eat those words later — the gangster doesn’t really trust Khalid, given their shared history, though she’s much less terrified now that she knows that he’s also an Evo.

Once within, the shapeshifter sets the gun down in a safe spot, gulping in a few deep breaths. Carl is strong, but the guns are heavy as hell.

“Yeah.” Khalid says quietly, and when he gets into the entrance of the tunnel Keira can hear something wrong with his voice. It doesn’t sound like Khalid. “Likewise.” The sudden feeling of a knife in the small of her back is vindication for her paranoia, vindication for putting her back to Khalid Sadaka. Feeling her legs give out, Keira collapses to the side against the curving wall of the storm drain, feeling the weight of the guns drag her down. She can’t feel her arms, can’t even really feel the knife anymore.

In the dark, Khalid is just a silhouette lit by the city lights out the mouth of the drain pipe. One shuddering breath later, and Keira watches on in paralyzed horror as that knife slides between her second and third ribs at the side of her chest. The pain of the blade piercing her heart is sharp, sudden, and hot. The dark-eyed man staring back at her is a cypher; bearded, shaggy haired, and shimmering like a heat mirage as the illusion of Khalid Sadaka peels away from him.

That’s why Quentin Frady was still alive. Why nothing felt like Khalid’s hands. Keira had been tricked by someone doing what she does, in a subtly different way. Thoughts race through her mind, of Ryans, of Walsh, of the choices she could have made but didn’t.

Now she’s dying here.

In a drainage ditch.

“It’s nothing personal,” the bearded man says, placing a hand against the side of Keira’s face as darkness shrinks down in on the edges of her vision. She sees a pale glow exchange from her skin to his hand, like something was borrowed from her, a wave of tingling sensation slipping like a ghost between them.

Then, he reaches for his jacket and retrieves a phone as the world grows dark around the edges of her perception. A number is dialed from memory. Pain is gone now, replaced with a tiring cold.

Zhao,” the bearded man says into the phone. “I’ve got them.” Dark eyes level back on Keira. “Keira didn’t make it,” is a lie barely heard as he terminates the call. Keira never learns the reason why she had to die here, when they were working for the same man. Never sets things with with Ben. Never…

The last thought that passes through her mind, is a connection. One answer, before death. She recognizes her killer’s face. From the news. From years ago.


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