Where There's Smoke


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title Where There's Smoke
Synopsis After his betrayal, Kain is beset upon by a ghost.
Date November 11, 2020

California Safe Zone
Pacific Southwest Dead Zone

November 9th
5:53 pm Local Time

Thermal imaging shows increased activity in and around the residential districts across San Francisco Bay, but no sign of active mechanized defenses. The US Military has kept their hands in their pockets and not co-opted the numerous automated weapons systems left behind by Praxis Heavy Industries’ collapse.

From a perch atop a crumbling factory on Praxia, it is easy to observe the military’s actions in what was once the seat of Praxis’ power. A low-light scope on a heavy-duty precision-guided sniper rifle offers both a wide field of view and significant magnification, allowing Ling Chao — now more commonly known as Sun Xiaolu — the ability to count freckles on a young soldier’s face from a mile away.

An alert pops up into her field of view within the scopy, notifying her that a connected device just received an encrypted message. Peeling her attention away from surveillance, Ling unfolds her Yamagato Awasu. Thumb print and magnetometer reading identifies her biometrics, unlocking and decrypting the information.


A code word to cancel her operation and return to home base.

Something must have happened.

Two Days Later

Yamagato Industries Building
Executive Office

Yamagato Park
NYC Safe Zone

November 11th
6:12 pm

Rain streaks down across the enormous wall of glass at the north face of Kimiko Nakamura’s office, providing a blurry view of the purple and teal neon light spreading from Yamagato Park. The corporation’s CEO stands facing the city, her cybernetic hand clenched into a fist at her side, shoulders squared and filled with tension.

{Sun is here to see you.} Jiba declares, his disembodied voice filling the room.

“Send her in.”

A moment later the tall gold-leaf stenciled doors leading into Kimiko’s dimly-lit office give way to Ling Chao’s silhouette. Her footfalls echo across the black marble floor. She had expected Kimiko’s office to be brighter, more like the aesthetic of the rest of the Yamagato Building. Instead she has found a place of deep shadows, dim lighting, and black marble trimmed in gold and laden with ferns and bonsai trees.

Kimiko slowly turns from the window, still standing behind her desk. The doors to the office slowly close on their own, and when they do Kimiko asks a direct and knowledgeable question of the woman in front of her.

“How well do you know Kain Zarek?”

Ling's approach is slow - though she doesn't show it, there is no small amount of apprehension brewing within her. It's uncommon for her to have direct contact with Kimiko Nakamura, often instead routed through Kaydence Demaris. Still, she keeps a stoic expression, only having her ill at ease state betrayed by a slight wisp of smoke rising up from one of her hands, a nervous tick she's had a hard time quashing since arriving in this world.

There's clearly no room for formalities, though, something which she appreciates as Kimiko goes directly into the matter at hand. This question, though, is perhaps the last that Ling ever expected, her shoulders tensing as she keeps her eyes level with Kimiko's,

"That is a question that begets more questions than answers," is a bit more cryptic than -*/ Ling may normally be, shifting her posture slightly. "He is an old friend." She opts for the truth in the face of the temptation of a lie; for all the ways Ling Chao is skilled at deception, she knows when it's best to play her cards as they were dealt.

There's no immediate follow up to that, Ling instead waiting to see what Kimiko's follow up questions are - she certainly has some of her own, but doubts they will be answered.

Ling’s answer comes with a slow nod of understanding from Kimiko. That the CEO of one of the largest international companies is aware of the crossing and Kain’s existence seems par for the course. What comes next, less so.

“Mr. Zarek is currently here in the building, recovering from a gunshot wound in our medical wing.” Kimiko steps around her desk, pausing at the side to trace her flesh-and-blood fingertips over the black glass surface, bringing up a three-dimensional aerial projection map of Niagara Falls.

“Kain participated in an abduction of your direct superior, Ms. Damaris,” Kimiko says, which doesn’t track well at all knowing both Kain’s history with Kay and the fact that Ling received a communication from her less than 24-hours ago. “Here, at Niagara falls. There was a mercenary outfit Kain delivered Ms. Damaris to…”

And with a brush of her fingers, Kimiko brings up the image of a winged sword and six stars arranged in an arc below it. “Durandal, the international equivalent to Wolfhound, but with significantly larger coffers. Mr. Zarek was shot and left for dead, retrieved by Yamagato personnel.”

Kimiko moves her hand from the desk and finishes her circuit to stand in front of it. “Less than twenty-four hours after her abduction, Kaydence returned to the office and feigned ignorance to the entire exchange. We have suspected she is an attempted mole of some variety and have been monitoring her movements and activities in the hopes that she reveals the truth to us. However, Mr. Zarek’s involvement is a cipher to us.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Kimiko leans back against her desk. “As of today I am directly handling your further operational objectives, though you will continue to report falsified information to Ms. Damaris until such a time as you are told otherwise by me directly. I have given Ms. Damaris decoy intelligence for you to pursue in the city to free you up for this counterintelligence operation. Our artificial intelligence Jiba will be directly assisting you.”

“Your first matter of business will be to question Kain Zarek.” Kimiko says with a tilt of her head to the side, one brow raised.

Ling's eyes never leave Kimiko as she moves, matching her movements and remaining level any time she is able. Hands clasp behind her as she listens, silent and considering each word carefully. If she hadn't already been on edge, the news that Kaydence was kidnapped certainly makes it razor thin, eyes narrowing as a slight hiss of a low muttered curse escapes her lips.

"Kain Zarek has never been one to make what I would consider good decisions," she shares with a shake of her head. "But then, neither have I, seeing as I was a party to many of them." Her head angles down and she lets a withering sigh escapes her lips, hoping it sends a chill down Kain's spine in whatever stark white room he's being held in.

Lips purse, and she gives a single slow nod. "Understood." Perhaps her occasionally offputting and stoic demeanor will work in her favour for once, making her harder to read to her former boss. Posture straightens, looking off to the side. "Immediately? I-" Her shoulders tense and then relax a bit, despite her. "It isn't the first time I've taken him to task, questioned him. This is something I can do." In case there was any doubt.

“As far as I know he isn’t aware you are under our employ, either.” Kimiko explains quietly. “So that particular piece of leverage is yours to use as you like.”

“As far as Ms. Damaris’ situation goes, we will likely require your further assistance in the future to resolve the matter one way or another.” Kimiko rests her hands back against the edge of her desk. Her cybernetic hand clinks softly with a report of metal on glass. “I’ll be up front with you. We don’t know if the woman here is Kaydence Damaris, or someone else masquerading as her. So, I don’t think I need to tell you to be on your guard.”

But do so.

Yamagato Industries Building
Medical Wing

7:05 pm

The patient suite currently housing Kain Zarek, under his alias of Kain Leblanc, is normally reserved for Yamagato Executives or VIPs that require urgent medical attention and long-term care. It is the privacy afforded to this space that was the rationale behind Kain’s placement.

The bare white aesthetics of his room are hospital-neutral. And though he is in a basement level of the building, it’s impossible to tell from his suite with its synthesized exterior windows made from a combination of flat-screen projection and holographic technology found around the building. Without great scrutiny, it looks just like the real thing.

Kain is currently remanded to his bed, punctured lung healing from a near fatal gunshot wound. That he’s asleep would normally mean that he is also undisturbed. Such is not the case tonight.

The sort of entrance Ling makes is only one someone with knowledge of her and her abilities or past would expect. The front door to the room would be simple, direct - the way she likes to conduct herself. But this time, with the way smoke silently billows and wafts into the room through a vent in a manner intimately familiar to her, she instead aims to make a statement.

One beyond the inevitably crass what the fuck that she's likely to share later.

With Jiba notified of this plan, slipping in from ventilation comes easily, her smokey form creating a thin haze that hangs throughout his suite. For a long moment, Ling is intent on simply watching him to see if he's asleep or not. To see her friend again after all these months. She'd spare a thought for something more deeply sentimental if she were here for something less catastrophically stupid on his part.

'Zarek," comes like a commanding and stiff whisper on the wind. "The time for rest is over." She has a plan, an approach in mind. Hopefully, he doesn't see through her before she's able to make her point, figuratively and literally if needed.

Because if anyone could see through her, it's Kain.

Kain’s dry swallow accompanied by the crack of one eye open is a familiar look. Usually it was because of a hangover. This is a hangover of an admittedly more fatal stripe. “Oh they got me on the good stuff, don’t they?” Kain mumbles, throat dry and voice like sandpaper. “‘Cause this shit here’s a little late for Ghost of Christmas Past bullshit.”

For a moment Kain thinks of sitting forward. The stabbing pain in his chest from his punctured lung puts an abrupt stop on that motion. As he falters back down onto his pillow, Kain winces and hisses, then looks over in the direction of Ling’s voice with a grimace. “What kinda’ hot bullshit is this, Smoky?”

Silence follows his question as the haze in the room thins. Called out as Ling is - not that she wouldn't expect Kain to recognise her in any form - the smoke begins to coalesce into a humanoid shape, though not quite solidifying to the point of being human. The Ghost of Christmas Past?

Alright, then.

"I could ask you the same, Zarek." An intentional choice, not using his first name like she normally does. "Why are you so good at getting yourself into such trouble?" She tries to not let the earnestness behind that question slip through, her smokey form crossing her arms. "And it's never too late for a reckoning."

“Usually mah’ opioid-induced hallucinations don’t have so much smug satisfaction,” Kain grouses, looking at the coalescing smoke, “so Ah’m here thinkin’ you decided t’show yer old ass up here just t’kick me while Ah’m down? Ain’t that just the way?”

Sliding his tongue over the back of his teeth, Kain looks aside for a moment, then back to the smoky form. “Like you ain’t made a mess outta all’a your fuckin’ life too. C’mon Dingaling, slither your way off that high horse an’ lay it straight. You here t’finish me off?” Kain asks, chin up. “Mines offer you a nice fat check?”

Mines. Ling hopes Jiba has already started recording this conversation, because that's not a name she recognises, every word Kain says to her drips with meaning he may or may not have intended. "Mines?" she questions in a dull whisper. "No."

Finally, her body solidifies into a form just as familiar as any other to Kain, the woman pacing over to a stool. "If I were here to finish you off, Kain, you would not even know it was me." Except he probably would. He's more perceptive than she gives him credit for. "I am here for answers, Kain. And I'm hoping you'll have some."

“Look if it’s about that time your underwear went missin’ at the Hub,” Kain says with a dry laugh, followed by a wheezing cough, “Ah’ sold it t’Lisbon for that bottle of tequila we split. Y’all know he had a thing fer you.”

Kain can’t help but not take anything seriously. It’s his greatest defense mechanism, and also his most frustrating personality trait. Here he is, flat on his back in a hospital, gunshot wound to the chest, and he’s cracking wise.

"Oh, I know," comes smoothly from Ling. No, she doesn't but, well. "I went looking, you know. You are very lucky that tequila was worth it." It wasn't. "It's better than him stealing it. We didn't need murder happening in the Hub too." At least that much is probably true, as tempted as she had been on numerous occasions. She's sure Edward would've stopped her, though, spouting something about the necessity of preserving some stupid bullshit.

"You want straight? Fine." Because not getting to the point will just lead to more jokes, and neither of them is here for that. "Kaydence Demaris. Why and who." She sets the stool down next to the bed with an intentional bang and scrap, lowering herself into it. It's then that Kain can see a knife, one of her favourites, at her hip as the hunt of the blade catches just a glint of the light.

Kain looks away, eyes partly closing. Guilt is one of his most obvious expressions. Ling remembers it well, and the bone-deep look of hurt on his face is one that even Kain can’t fake. Whatever it is that happened, whatever it is that he did, he regrets it with every fiber of his being. And yet…

and yet

This leopard can’t change his spots.

Jason Mines,” Kain says with a furrow of his brows and a low, gravelly tone to his voice. “Feller works for Gideon d’Sarthe, big boy hotshot runnin’ the show on Staten Island. He and I go way back, ain’t none of it good neither. Turns out this world’s Kain got on his shit-list too, and when we crossed paths he thought I’d faked my own death and wanted to beat me back into the grave.”

Kain slides his tongue across the back of his teeth. “Ah’ talked Mines out of it, bought me some time. It came back around a couple times, him putin’ pressure on me, askin’ me t’do some jobs for him. Put some people in the ground. Like th’ good ol’ days.” Kain’s voice is a low, grumbling mutter.

“Couple months back he comes t’me in mah apartment, asked me about Kay. Ah’d already convinced mahself not t’look her up but…” Kain closes his eyes. “He had a job, said he needed someone t’help nab her. Ah’ figured for extortion or somethin’ ‘cause of her big-shot job. Ah’ told Mines t’pound sand. He said he’d get someone else t’do it…”

Breathing in deeply, Kain looks at the ceiling, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. “Mines left, an’ Ah’ reconsidered. Figured someone else might get her hurt. Ah’ took the gig, planned on double-crossin’ Mines and puttin’ a lead-one in his fuckin’ face.”

“Mines had Kay’s life mapped out, someone had her surveilled for a while. Ah’ was t’go up t’Niagara t’fuck it all up. Had the idea of tryin’ t’run off with her or somethin’. But Mines… fucker must’ve planned it all from the start. He had some big fuck-off mercenary company waitin’ for the handoff. They’re the ones that gave me this new fuckin’ hole.”

Kain angrily thumps his head back against his pillow, then grimaces from the shooting pain in his chest. “That’s all I know. Some long-haired Asian fella hauled me out of the ditch they left me in, patched me up an’… then Ah’ was here.”

Ling's shoulders visibly tense as Kain relates to her what exactly has led him here to Yamagato and her superior to be missing. Teeth grind for a moment, just audibly as she stares down at him in tense assessment. Judgement, perhaps. "So it is chance that brought you here, then." There's no high horse behind those words, just a tired weariness. "If this Mines had done such digging into Kaydence, then I can't imagine him trying so hard to recruit you was a coincidence. I am sure he anticipated that you'd try to backstab him."

Leaning back on the stool, Ling crosses her legs and stares down at Kain, a harsh expression on her face. "Just a pawn. I'm beginning to think you get into these situations on purpose, Kain." Nostrils flare as narrows her eyes. "Alright. Did Mines give any hints of who he was grabbing Kaydence for?" Deciding to leave the name Durandal out of this for now, she taps a finger against her elbow. "Was it personal, or business?"

Despite her tone, a bit of compassion does creep onto her face, something that is as foreign to her as it likely is to Kain. The idea that Kain is caught up in this through a mix of chance and a desire to save someone does make her feel better than the alternative, and no matter how hard she tries just a bit of that slips through. "What about who had been watching her?"

“Don’t know,” Kain says in a grumble, staring up at the ceiling. “Lotta money t’hire an outfit like the one what put a bullet in me. Think Ah’ heard a chopper or somethin’ comin’ in when she was gettin’ hauled off, too.” Kain slides his stare over to Ling. “I dunno what Kay’s been doin’ with her life here. Tried t’stay out’f it ‘cause we always got too tangled up. Too much hurt, too many bad choices…”

Kain closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Kay an’ I ain’t good for each other. Oil an’ fire. Volatile.” Clenching his jaw, Kain tries to sit up again but can only make a grunt of pain before he settles back down again and sharply closes his eyes. “Fuck, Ah’ hate this.”

"It seems to me that you two idiots…" Ling sucks in a breath, trailing off as she offers a quizzical look into the distance. "What is the phrase I keep hearing? Ah, right." Eyes settle back on to Kain, expression flat. "You two idiots get on like a house on fire when given the chance, until one of you finds some way to fuck it up."

A beat.

"Usually you." Let's call a spade a spade. "I learned that one from Kay," she adds with deliberate enunciation. "I hate this as well, Kain. You may yet have a chance to make it right, however. That isn't my decision. If there's anything else you can think of, it will help."

When Kain’s attention squares back on Ling, there’s a tension in the corner of his eyes. “Yeah…” sounds like a concession at first. “Ah’ tend not t’make great choices when Ah’m on mah own.” But it’s not a concession, it’s an indictment.

“Where you been, Ding-a-Ling?” Kain asks with that smooth flourish of a verbal knife. “Here?” He looks around the room.

Ling stares at Kain, considering this turn in the questioning. She's not the one who's supposed to be questioned here. Perhaps, though, this was the fault in picking her to interrogate Kain. That ever vexing feeling of empathy that's crept more and more into her life since leaving the Hub.

"The last few months, yes," she states plainly. "And you happened to kidnap my boss." Which is damning of her more than anyone else, working for Kaydence Damaris of all people. "Other than that? I have been… around. You…" Her lips thin, and finally she looks away from Kain. "I assume you were around, as well. Keeping to yourself. You seemed to want it that way."

“Sure,” Kain says sharply. Ling is familiar with that tone too.

They’re fighting. This is a fight.

“So what’re you gonna’ do now, take the express elevator up to your penthouse and ask some penny-loafer wearing fuck in a thousand dollar suit what your next move is?” Kain’s words are biting, but Ling knows him too well to be thrown by those ones. That criticism comes from a place of shame. Because that used to be Kain’s job.

A withering sigh escapes Ling's lips, and this time it isn't put on. This isn't the time or place for this argument. It's a bad look for both of them, particularly her, to engage in this when there's much more important matters to discuss. And yet…

and yet

If there's anyone who can break Ling's hard exterior, it's Kain.

"Would you rather I still be working at the deli, choosing to live in relative poverty?" Before the Virus, Ling had been ruthlessly ambitious, a part of her that had never really gone away. "I am not beholden to the choices you make, Kain." There's a sharpness of her own to those words.

"If you had ever responded to Shaw or Isa trying to get you to come by, you would know that isn't the case." That's right, they both are here as well. Ling's lips purse. "I could ask you the same question. Where did you vanish to, Kain? After finally I found you, did you fall into the same old mistakes? Is that what led you here?"

For a moment Kain looks disappointed, but that soon flattens out into something more like ashamed. “Ah’ learned all’f one thing in that bullshit travelin’ we did all them years ago…” Kain’s attention fixes on the ceiling, but his eyes feel distant and empty.

“No matter how fast ya’ run, no matter how far ya’ go…” Kain’s jaw clenches and his eyes narrow. Shame turns to guilt, guilt turns to anger. “Ya’ can’t change who you really are.” He blinks a look to Ling, jaw set and his next words strained through clenched teeth.

“We are who we are,” Kain growls. “Whatever happens, happens.

Ling is quiet for a moment, watching Kain's demeanor shift with almost a tense sense of judgement. "That much, I can agree with you on." She leans back, still looking down at him, judgement devoid of any sense of smugness as she tilts her head slightly. "Just because I work at a place like this doesn't mean I'm not doing what I know best."

She emphatically is.

Slowly she rises up from the stool, a hand reaching to the sheath holding the knife at her hip. "I told you once that we are a crew. Minus the best of us, as we are now, but." Peyton, Richard, Kaylee. A hand moves to the necklace hidden underneath her top, Ling allowing herself a brief moment of sentimentality. "I knew as soon as we robbed you that it would never be any other way, Kain."

Her thumb flicks off the strap holding the knife in place and she pulls it out, offering him the hilt. "Maybe we can still fix this." That's not a promise she's at liberty to make, but her intention is clear:

A knife to help, or a knife to stab her in the back. Kain's choice.

Kain’s eyes angle to the side, looking past Ling to a distant point on the wall. When Kain finally blinks a look back up to her, there’s a knit in his brows and a familiar downward cast of his lips. He knows he isn’t going to like the answer to his next question.


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