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Die Shize

[QUEST] [CLOSED] The Last Regret - Episode 1: Opportunity

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NOTICE


Spoiler

This is a Terrenus Class C quest closed roleplay with a total of three PC participants, including myself as quest handler and GM.

Participants include:

  1. Die Shize
  2. @-Lilium-
  3. @Ace

Interest Check

OOC Thread

Class C: Free inoculations are being handed out at the offices of the Civil Defense Force. There is a scientist that claims to know the truth behind these health initiatives. Escort her to the offices of the Public Defender news agency (note: quest ends with delivering the scientist and so should focus on challenges getting her there)


Map of Last Chance

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City of Last Chance

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Use only as aesthetic reference and not for technical details of setting.
Actual image of IC location currently unknown.


Cast of Characters

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Not all of the below characters are "featured" in the promo video

Hayden's Team
(Civil Defense Force)

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Justice
(Joining Hayden's team)

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CDF Command

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The Public Defender

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The Skinners of Opportunidad (Left)

First Chance Hospital of Fortuna (Right)

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Independents of Opportunidad

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______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Episode 1: Opportunity

Prologue

"It isn't a sickness, a virus or a disease that plagues the peoples of Valucre. One blight pops up in the land and is squashed back down. An epidemic sweeps the city, and maybe it destroys that city, but the nation and the state remain. The four walls of this world cannot be breached by the pathogens of the microscopic realms. No, the peoples of Valucre are suffering from an infection far worse than anything that they can combat with vaccines or potions or pills. They are suffering from themselves." Dr. Razien del Lombra, 'The Science of Philosophy'
 

La Ultima Opportunidad

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Use only as aesthetic reference and not for technical details of setting.
Actual image of IC location currently unknown.


Music

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Sound Presence: OOC

 


The Drunkard

The walk was long and lethargic, loose and lazy, just like it had been when he had stumbled out of the Mad Hornet with a bottle in his hand every night prior to this one. Tonight was different. He had barely lasted an hour on his stool, never mind the number of hours that come after three or four on a normal night. He just wasn’t feeling it, he had told Jamos, everyone’s favorite bartender—and Arlito’s only because he was the only bartender who could still stomach him. Even Jamos had been taken aback. “Not feeling it!?” The words rattled in Arlito’s skull beside a headache that was pounding at it. Not feeling it. No, he hadn’t. He wasn’t. He was feeling something then, feeling something now, but whatever it was it was not the desire to drink. If anything, it was the need to reverse the drink up his throat and out of his mouth.

 

As Arlito’s hand slapped the cold stone of the underpass, he retched another pint upon the ground that did little to taint the filth already coated upon the cobblestones. Whatever had just emptied itself from his belly like some black parasite, it was neither a creature nor a Negromaestro. He hadn’t gotten past the first beer in order to even lick the liquor, though that was no pint of lager that had spewed from his throat just then. It was some kind of foul bile. As he stood sweating and panting, his body on the verge of collapsing into a bag of trash to join the other piles of waste, Arlito could only wonder. Was it something from the night before? I was fine this morning..? Something I drank? Something I ate? What did I eat?

 

He wiped his lips with a sleeve, but when he removed his hand he noticed a red smear on the cuff. Against his better judgment, though after reminding himself of how often he plugged two fingers down the back of his throat, he put just one in as far as the back of his mouth before removing it. It wasn’t coated in red; just his own saliva. Not bleeding. Then what the hell..?

 

“H-Hey there, friend! You okay?”

 

It took a moment before Arlito realized that someone was talking to him. He had ignored the few passersby within the underpass as much as they had ignored him. He didn’t care about them and the feeling had been mutual. Coughing into a fist, he swallowed what saliva remained in his parched mouth but didn’t bother to look up.

 

“I…I’m fine...just...just need a minute…”

 

There was a sharp pang in his stomach, like a knife had just twisted within it, and it was all he could do to keep from growling as his fist pushed against his abdomen. Not again. I...don’t want to do it again...not now...

 

“You sure don’t look fine, man… Let me take you home…”

 

It was when footsteps came a little too close that Arlito realized what was going on. He snapped himself upright before snapping the wrist of the fool who had just tried to grab him. Arlito might have been a puking mess amid the pile of shit that was this half of the city, but he was no fool himself. His next limb was sent kicking into the stalker’s knee so that it was his turn to squeal in agony. That was that, and Arlito stumbled out of the underpass as quickly as he could. He hadn’t been followed.

 

By the time that he reached his own home, a rundown apartment suffering from the same decay as everywhere else, he felt less like a man and more like a maggot; writhing and squirming, at the mercy of the flies to feed it. His hands looked pale and clammy and his face was pouring sweat. He had tried several more times to vomit but his insides were spent. His back ached, his shoulders ached, his knees were wobbly and his elbows were flimsy. His headache had mutated into a marching drum at morning, and his eyes were starting to sting.

 

For so long now, for as long as he could remember, Arlito only came home for the same reason that he went to the bar. Alcohol had a way of washing the memories away. Tonight, though, he was at his pad to sleep the night away and forget that whatever illness had taken him would leave him alone come morning. So, he staggered like some zombie past the living room void of furniture and into the bathroom. Bed could wait. I have to see. I have to see how ugly I look even more than usual. His hands guided his feet, barely keeping himself standing now as he lurched forward and caught himself by gripping the sink. So much sweat, but his vision was hazy and he didn’t care to clean himself. Then he did.

 

Arlito wiped at his face with his hands, but when he removed his hands and looked at them they were drenched in red. He realized that his eyes were stinging because they were seeing red. Then, all at once, the horror hit him like a lightning train, as soon as he gazed upon himself in the mirror. He was sweating, but that wasn’t sweat that he saw. Running before his eyes, trickling down his nose, seeping out his ears and leaking from his mouth were rivulets of blood. My...my god! What...What...What…

 

“What is...happening...to me!? WHAT IS—

 

He couldn’t finish his speech. His eyes blinked, then they blinked again faster than they ever had before. His body began convulsing all over from head to toe, his fingers curling into fists but stopping short till they became like the talons of a crow. His head was pounding. His face was bleeding. Then, after what could only have been mere seconds, Arlito fell forward, but he knew that he was dead before his skull even hit the sink, and he knew that he would drink no more.


Opening Credits

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Some footage is aesthetic, some footage is "actual" in a lore/roleplay/IC sense


Civil Defense Force Complex (CDFC)

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Use only as aesthetic reference and not for technical details of setting.
Actual image of IC location currently unknown.

 


The Immediate Room

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Use only as aesthetic reference and not for technical details of setting.
Actual image of IC location currently unknown.


Lieutenant Hayden "Black Hawk" Jansuela

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Except with a buzz cut!


Music

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Sound Presence: OOC

 


The Soldier

There were seven people that filled the chairs in a room with a number of empty ones. The “Immediate Room” was as accurate a name as it was something of a misnomer. Designed for small- to medium-sized conferences within the upper levels of the Main Building of the CDFC, the room was purposed to be utilized at the quick-and-ready as much as scheduled for in advance. The irony was that anyone who already had it booked meant that anyone else who wanted to immediately use it could not immediately use it at all. Then again, with all of the other conference rooms and conference halls across the complex, the Immediate Room was generally reserved by and for the higher officials of the CDF.

 

The last time that occupants had frequented the chamber more than usual was before and after the Raid on Last Chance by the Legion of Doom. That attack, still an unsettled wound in the people’s hearts, felt to Lieutenant Hayden Jansuela like it had happened only yesterday as much as a long time ago. In reality, months had passed and a new year had followed. That temporal irony was also not lost on Hayden as he sat on one side of the long table within the meeting room. Over the years, the city of Last Chance had suffered more than its fair share of troubles and tragedies, those brought on internally and externally, to the point that the steel blue wall which surrounded it seemed to serve both ways. The same could be said for the Immediate Room. At the headquarters of Last Chance’s other bulwark that came in the form of flesh and bone, and the boots and brawn to back both up, the city’s first line of defense was the Civil Defense Force itself. It needed its conference halls and its briefing rooms in order to strategize that defense and, sometimes if not often, it needed them immediately.

 

That morning, the need had been fulfilled by Willem Acosta, a four-star general within the Terrenus Military who served at permanence as the Director of Intelligence of the CDF. Apart from the covert wrap that his own CO had given Hayden and his team, the head of the Department of Intelligence heading this meeting felt a tad unusual. Hayden hadn’t been with the CDF, or for that matter in Last Chance, all that long, but as a military man at twenty-five years old he knew enough about hierarchy to know that the head of his department was not the Director of Intelligence. Hayden, his team and their commanding officer served directly under the Department of Operations and, in turn, its own director. So why are we here, a pack of well to do grunts in the eyes of polished brass, sitting around waiting for the DOI?

 

The answer, of course, wasn’t all that alien. Intelligence meant clandestine knowledge, until that knowledge was shared with someone else, who in turn was trusted to keep that knowledge clandestine. Hayden and his fireteam of three others had been pulled from their platoon and their squad to sit in on this meeting, whatever it was about. As the former platoon leader turned squad leader with a retained rank that was its own misnomer and stab of irony, he looked from his team’s side of the table to the two individuals sitting opposite, staring only long enough to size either woman up. Though I’ll lay my bets that these two ladies know a little more as to why we’re here, if not much more, but who knows?

 

They, unlike him and the rest of his outfit, were certainly not sporting the same outfits as the former. Hayden and his three subordinates were dressed in their standard CDF patrol uniform, including the peaked cap—a trademark ‘police’ feel of the CDF that every Watchman wanted for their own. His brown leather jacket sat as snug as his ass in the black leather seat beneath. To his left, down the line, sat Sergeant Bartolome Barnett, Corporal Drake Fliskin and Corporal Deante Lyles—three of his finest and closest, which was no coincidence. They looked as at wonder as he did, if no less reserved.

 

To Hayden’s right, past the immediate table’s corner, sat Major Kerrin Nalgiers, his company’s commanding officer. Uniform as crisp as ever. Just as it was before my last chance in Last Chance. Unlike them, the Major knew exactly why everyone was here. There was no doubting it. Though the man clearly felt eyes on his person, his own were at the television on the other end of the table opposite his seat, though all it showed was the still image of a blue sky. He seemed at peace.

 

The CDF soldiers and their lieutenant-turned-fireteam-leader knew too well to say nothing and ask nothing—the Major would reveal nothing. They had only to wait. Still, waiting was waiting, even for the patient. Hayden checked his wristwatch. 0900 is coming up. One minute had become three minutes that was turning into five minutes, and there was only so much waiting that a man could do in a room graced by two women. The Major wouldn’t mind. He didn’t.

 

“First time in Last Chance?”

 

Hayden questioned mildly, looking from one woman to the other. Smalltalk was smalltalk, and right now that’s all they had.

Edited by Die Shize

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The previous day...

Sulfur and phosphorus collide in a stench that lingers. The freshly struck match allows smoke to trail behind it when used to light a homemade cigarette hanging from the corner of a flat-lined mouth. Where many choose to dip their heads in order to accomplish such an action, possibly a habit of fighting a persistently-constant breeze, ovular framed lenses are held perpendicular to the ground. Always looking forward. From behind the polished glass lies the glitter of luminous amber eyes that seem to trap and absorb whatever light dares filter into them.

“Tell me what you know about the new inoculations.” 

What exudes from the questioning patron isn’t so unnatural as to negate the true light from whence it comes. Rather it is a sign of compulsion, one more necessary for the user than for the victim trapped under its umbrella. Intense amounts of practice has helped to tighten the zone of truth expelled, pulling it inward only to unleash it when times call for the survival of the innocent. Like a true chameleon, the persona speaking had to embed themselves into the city shadows. Watching and waiting for the opportunity to elicit wanted actions and responses. All in order to evade the scrutiny of prying ears and eyes.

“All we know is what we were instructed to do under the new health legislation. Everyone receives the inoculations free of charge to help promote the overall health and well being of the city. Regardless of their ability to pay for medical expenses. The standard protocols have been completely negated to allow the full force of this new immunization initiative to take place.” Agitation and confusion contort the face of the secondary speaker before the empathy and compassion finally take over under the heavy burden pressed upon them to speak only truth, “We’ve received some unusual reports lately… I can’t prove it but some bodies have been pulled out of our cold storage and taken away. All I managed to grab was this.” The edges of the paper are charred-cracking and crumbling under the pressure of a new grip-where the bottom half had been entirely burned away. And what remains are a few snippets of information the receiver can understand, though it still leaves the nature of the initiator’s unspoken questions unanswered. 

“Thank you, you are free to go, Doctor.”  

'Despite all efforts to combat the effects of fever and hemorrhage, the patient was pronounced dead at 0100 hours. The cause of death is believed to be a combination of severe thermogenic changes as well as excessive loss of blood due to anomalies in the meninges of the brain as well as ruptured vessels in the brain itself. No clinical diagnosis has been given at this time as the patient was brought to emergent care in a seizure induced state. The patient will be transported to the morgue for further assessment under the evaluating coroner.'

Another match is struck and held just under the center of the ovular snippet given. Smalls flames refracting from under the ever watchful lensed eyes of the being intent on seeing it burn to ash as it was originally intended to. It was seen, and that would have to be enough. For now.


 

As per the usual framework, one knee is crossed over that of the other with the thighs topped off by the entanglement of merged fingers. Unlike some, the black-swathed denizen is a portrait of stilled and mastered patience. Where creaseless and bland notes of enthusiasm expand across the forward held face, and citrine eyes rove from one person to another around the long rectangular table. A contradictory fire dancing deep within their central darkness as they land securely on one Lieutenant Hayden Jansuela as he speaks. The man has produced a means to converse, where she imagines his previous time-check did little to soothe his need for mission information. 

“First time in Last Chance?”

“No, but it has been a very very long time since I’ve been able to grace its streets.” Spoken in truth with little expansion on its full meaning. As though something left unsaid is nestled between each syllable and is purposely held back. “I’m Capria Belvardi, an Inquisitor of the Gaian Church. Who might I have the pleasure of making acquaintance with this morning?” And without knowing the people around the table well enough, Capria chooses not to share more information than is necessary about herself. At least not for the moment. One hand peeled away from her lap, faces a palm toward the ceiling as it slides from the persons on his right to the persons on his left. A gesture to follow along with the question. 

The clergical woman says nothing to indicate prior knowledge of the young woman sitting beside her because she has none. Although they didn’t come entirely unaware of one another's presence, they have no idea who the other is. Their only commonality, being able to equally stick out among the uninformed like sore thumbs. 

 

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“...Last Chance?” 

A newsreel of images floated through Levi’s mind, none of them good. A devastated war zone. Terrorist attacks, leaving crumbled remains of tenement apartments and schools. Refugees with soot- and blood-stained faces lining up in the dark against chain-link fences, praying for aid. 

“The Just Ice nightclub. Tell Mick at the bar, ‘the usual table’.” 

"Alright.” 

“Oh, and Levi?” the voice continued. Levi waited patiently. The pink glow of the AN-AR stayed dim for only a second. She hadn’t needed to answer. “Bring a suit.” 

The connection ended soundlessly, no clicks or tones. Just that pinkish-violent light, switching out, and the faint rosy aura cast over her spartan apartment returning to its normal, noncommittal gray. Levi stood at the array for a moment, thinking. Nothing about the anonymous call would have struck anyone else as out of place. There’d been no introduction; one might assume Levi simply recognized her caller.  (She hadn’t.) For all the world, it passed as a kind of casual, vague invitation to meet and catch up. 

Except, Levi didn’t own a suit. Not the business professional kind, anyway. So the contact could have meant only one thing. 

A biohazard suit? Her assignment with the Contagion Management Unit had ended weeks ago. In fact, life in Casper had returned almost to normal. She could probably still get her hands on one, if she was careful. But why? 

 

————————————

Like the silent officer at the head of the table, the slate-gray eyes of the young woman with hair the color of brushed aluminum and a plain, silver ring through her left eyebrow, had settled, unmoving, on the on the video screen. When after several moments he—or anyone else of any authority—had not greeted them nor offered any words of commencement to start the briefing, Levi had followed his unreadable stare out of natural impulse. 

Whatever the reasons for the major’s queer stillness, Levi saw the digital picture as the one thing in this room that would divert her from the furtive, questioning glances around the table... and from producing any of those glances herself. She disliked how little she knew about the present situation, and disliked even further the idea of unintentionally disclosing her ignorance through some thoughtless nonverbal signal. Only, though her eyes seemed to hold on the placid image projected there, she saw nothing of its pale blue sky and white clouds; Her vision was filled with bodies. 

Laid out on the concrete, corpses either so bloated or withered that they looked like someone’s dark parody of a person. Ink-black blood vessels, like climbing vines up their arms and the sides of their throats, and in their eyes, petrified open in death. She had sight memory of her own gloved hands grasping their wrists, and dragging them one-by-one off of the street and into tidy, functional piles for removal. The rest of her body remembered, viscerally, the anxiety of those moments. Fearing a break in her bio-suit. In constant, low-lying terror of sharing their fate.

She’d felt it all over again after that call, and late, while gingerly, laboriously wedging the suit into her backpack. (It’d barely fit, and had taken almost half an hour just to make it work -- thing wasn’t meant to be transported like this, but except for the mask it was still fundamentally pliable material. Not cloth, but close enough to manage.) And she could feel it again, physically, even now.

From outside, only the constriction of her pupils would hint at the faraway place Levi had wandered. Is that why Justice had chosen her for this mission? Her access? Escorting scientists hardly seemed to be their trade, but this business about vaccinations felt eerie. Too close to home. 

“First time in Last Chance?”

Her gaze switched from the video screen to the soldier, almost too quickly. The way a cobra moved almost too quickly, and made you uneasy to watch. She disguised well the nature of the look, though; alarm or deadly reflexes, it was hard to say. Levi’s consciousness returned to the briefing room, regarding first the man who had spoken, and then to the woman beside her as she offered up a cool reply. 

“...Who might I have the pleasure of making acquaintance with this morning?

Do people really talk like that?  A wrinkle formed at the bridge of Levi’s nose, while the soldier answered with his own introduction. Was it a regional thing, she wondered, or just courtesy of life outside the slums? 

Levi felt eyes on her:  Hers, inscrutable.  His, glinting.  Underneath that military discipline, she noticed, he had a bloodheat to him, a kind of humorous charm. “Levi—ah, Elisha. Ripken. Escort detail from Justice, with regards.” she said, extending her leather-gloved hand in a generally appropriate direction so that one or the other could easily shake it, then reaffirmed pointedly: “Levi.” 

Edited by Ace

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Music [Recurring]

Spoiler

Sound Presence: OOC

 

 

 

Hayden kept his eyes trained on the black-clad lady of Justice who sat as still as a statue with a face that was yet contorted in nonchalance, as though her visage were suffering under the weight of keeping emotions from spilling out. Poker face. Maybe she’s a gambler. His thoughts, however, were kept concealed behind a kind enough smile as he listened to her introduction. For his part, Hayden lost more poker rounds than he won, and so his curved lips positively faded to be replaced by a curved brow once she addressed her position. He didn’t look, but he was sure that his three comrades were sharing the same expression. What the hell’s an Inquisitor doing here..? Hayden glanced at the Major as though hoping for a reassuring look, but the Major merely glanced back with a look of his own that read something along the lines of you’ll-find-out-soon-enough.

 

“Lieutenant Hayden Jansuela. Callsign “Black Hawk”.” Hayden removed his hat upon the table and gave a small tilt of his head in place of a salute. “Platoon leader, squad leader and today’s fireteam leader all in one.” He shrugged with his own nonchalance. “It’s a long story.”

 

Another glance at the Major had caused both men’s eyes to peer into the other’s for a split spell, before the latter conceded and took a drink from his glass of water, probably as a distraction. He was a silent statue in his own right, there at the head of the table, as the introductions continued. Hayden had half a mind to prompt the other woman of two for her own first, though she seemed a tad skittish at the moment. Secret agents. They’ve always got their quirky quirks. Instead, Hayden mimicked one Capria Belvardi’s gesture as his arm passed over the three men sitting down from him, who answered his silent call in sequence.

 

“Sergeant Bartolome Barnett,” spoke the mustached man immediately to Hayden’s left. He had a creased countenance indicating some age—mid-forties if Hayden could recall. “Callsign “Beater”.” Bart’s jolly grin might have betrayed his combat prowess, though his teammates had since learned him an amiable man outside of battle. “I’m the Lieutenant’s lieutenant, if not a ‘lieutenant’ myself. I’m otherwise but a humble grenadier!” If the Sergeant had intended to jest with jargon and in turn confuse the two guests, it just might have worked.

 

“Corporal Drake Fliskin. Callsign “Jackal”. Sniper.” Hayden hadn’t needed to acknowledge Drake’s smirk to know that he was sporting one. For the corporal, women were either wonders to conquer with flowers and kisses or rivals to put down with wit and expensively good looks, the likes of which were maintained by a manly bearded goatee that helped flag him as someone in his early thirties. It was too soon to tell where these two women fell with him.

 

“Corporal Deante Lyles.” The youngest member of the fireteam was still crawling into his twenties. He drummed his fingers on the table and maintained eye contact with the two Justice operatives, before blinking himself out of what could only have been one of his trances. “Cyber Operations Specialist and Ram. I mean my callsign is “Ram”. Sorry.” He cleared his throat and that was that.

 

This was all feeling well to do, various individuals tossing first names, last names and ranks and titles across the table like dice, but it wasn’t over yet. While everyone had since learned of Major Kerrin Nalgiers in order to be sitting in this very Immediate Room, Hayden’s gaze now swept back over at the still silent woman who appeared to him to be the younger of the two, though perhaps around the same age as himself. As his eyes embedded within this lady’s own enigmatic gaze, he lifted his brows as though it might break the trance.

 

Hayden’s smile had returned as she finally spilled the beans, at least her name if not her reason for being here. Maybe she and her friend are as in the dark as we are. The name “Levi” was a little lost on him as to how it fit with her other two. “Ripken”, meanwhile, sounded far too intimidating for so petite a person, at least from his point of view. As her hand extended, Hayden might have reached over the table to greet it, but of course it had to have been the token playboy who sat most parallel. This time, Hayden caught the grin on Drake’s face.

 

Jackal.The word almost oozed with seduction. Drake would attempt to keep Levi’s hand in his for a moment longer than was formal, probably debating whether to kiss her knuckles, before releasing it.

 

Said and done, done and said. Now it was Hayden’s turn to drum his fingers on the polished table. He checked his watch again. It was certainly past nine o’clock. He felt Kerrin’s bearing gaze before he met it with his own and promptly looked away.

 

“Soo…” Drum-drum-drum. The Lieutenant’s dark brown eyes looked from one Justice operative to the other. “...Either of you play poker?”

 

Just then, as though sensing the flippancy of the Black Hawk, the door opened to be closed again, but not before admitting the arrival of a man with a woman trailing behind. The latter Hayden had never seen before. She was dressed like a civilian and moved like one; brown khakis, a gray shirt beneath a blue leather jacket, long black hair in a bun. There was an aura permeating about her that seemed soaked in esteemed education and high intelligence, if not to an elitist degree. She had entered that room as though each footstep was a struggle, like she wanted to walk faster and keep moving even in a room filled with people who were sitting. Hayden was no highly intelligent man, by his own standard or anyone else’s, but he fancied himself capable of reading into the way that a woman walked. If not quite as capable as the Jackal.

 

The former entry, well, there was no mistake: the Director of Intelligence for the Civil Defense Force; none other than Willem Acosta himself. He had strolled into the room with all the time of the world resting on one shoulder and every sense of urgency on the other. This was not necessarily a paradox when it came to the man who headed the department of military intelligence for the CDF. Where one woman was dressed like she had just come out of a shopping mall, two other women like they had just been sent by Justice, and four men garbed in the standard patrol uniforms of the CDF (with or without a hat and a leather jacket), and a major in an officer’s uniform, Director-General Willem Acosta was presented in regality. Though there was no elitist vibe that Hayden was picking up from him either. Just a man with the stars and the stripes to accommodate his station, and all the skill and experience that goes with it.

 

Whatever the two women at the table had done in response to the entrance of the two newcomers, Hayden and his teammates had acted in unison like a bunch of choir boys. They rose from their seats and saluted the Director until he put them at ease with those same two words. Then he took the empty seat beside the Major who had mimicked the other men’s actions. The woman, meanwhile, went to take the corner table opposite Hayden for another awkward setup that just kept on giving. Three women on one side, four men on the other side. Gaia must have planned this all along. At his own thought, Hayden was suddenly aware that he was grinning, something that the scientist had quickly assessed and shot a disapproving look at to wipe the grin off his face.

 

Once all bottoms were planted snugly in chairs, various eyes fell upon the Director-General’s, whose own two Hayden had felt entrapped by. He had seen the man about Headquarters only here and there, usually from a distance; one could imagine the Director of Intelligence spending most of his time behind closed doors that weren’t those of the Immediate Room’s. In those gray eyes of his, Hayden felt himself looking into seas of steel. His vacant expression all but confirmed that this was a man of iron. His baritone voice did little to convince to the contrary.

 

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. For those who may not be aware, I am Director-General Willem Acosta of the Department of Intelligence for the Civil Defense Force.”

 

There was a slight pause as the Director’s eyes roved around the table, as if to let that title settle in the ears. Not forgetting the four-star ‘General’ that goes with it.

 

“Depending on how much you know about me, and I admit that it probably isn’t much, know that I would not be sitting here with you if I did not deem it to be necessary. Know, too, that you would not be sitting here with me if I did not deem you to be necessary.”

 

Another pause, another moment to let words settle.

 

“Major, if you’d please.”

 

With that, Major Kerrin reached into the briefcase that Hayden had spotted beside his chair and rose with a stack of dossiers. He distributed them evenly, one per person including himself. Though he took his time and it was obvious as to why. Before a folder was handed out, a CDF Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA) was first provided, and the Major would not budge two feet until each one was signed and the folder in turn presented.

 

The folders were all printed with the same red writing: “CONFIDENTIAL” and further stamped in black with “CENTRAL DEFENSE FORCE”. At this point, it wasn’t at all taboo to open the folders and Hayden did so at once. He wasn’t alone. His teammates did the same, but a passing glance to his right showed only the silent and still forms of the Director-General and the scientist. I guess they’ve already been briefed.

 

“The files in front of you are as top secret as the word you just read.” The Major spoke while distributing. “You might be wondering if they hold information on either of the two parties sitting across from you—the CDF and Justice—but the nature of this meeting, and this mission, prevents your personal information from being shared beyond what is required.”

 

With that, the Major returned to his seat, his gaze moving about before landing on Hayden in particular.

 

“Besides, you’d only read a few sentences on our Justice friends, while they’d get to read pages of paragraphs on all four of you.”

 

Hayden let that thought settle. Secret organizations. Secret agendas. Secret identities. Justice was known but, well, not known at all. Hayden didn’t care to press it. For now, he began skimming through the folder: documents and photos (in no listed sequence) pertaining to any of:

 

Spoiler
  • Last Chance’s health legislation;
  • The city's ongoing Inoculation Health Fairs;
  • Various vaccines as part of those inoculations;
  • Mentions of the very recent if very typical influenza outbreak (of which one set of inoculations was specifically designed for);
  • The First Chance Hospital (hosting a bulk of the inoculations);
  • The CDF and Complex (hosting only some of the inoculations);
  • Argus Incorporated and Campus (a primary funder and sponsor of the Health Fair and the inoculations);
  • Dr. Landa Nurox, the only bio available, and hers was certainly an accomplished and educated background (physician-scientist, researcher, epidemiologist and biologist currently working within First Chance Hospital’s Epidemiology and Infection Control (EIC), though she evidently had a hand in other areas, including biotechnology;
  • La Ultima Opportunidad, the current social and political climate there, and any accompanying photos being unsettlingly different to those of La Ultima Fortuna;
  • An article from Serena Vaughn, a journalist for The Public Defender, that sounded to Hayden at a passing glance like uninspired and biased gossip about Argus and the CDF involving themselves with the health efforts to gain popularity;
  • Classified reports of a few discovered corpses of unidentified individuals suspected to be from Opportunidad who suffered shared violent deaths (with words like “severe thermogenic changes as well as excessive loss of blood due to anomalies in the meninges of the brain as well as ruptured vessels in the brain itself”);
  • Other bits and pieces of information that Hayden didn’t get far enough into before the Major, after a couple of moments, broke the Lieutenant’s concentration and his very concerned thoughts.

 

“The NDA that you signed shouldn’t surprise any of you, whether you’re wearing the uniform of the CDF or not. This is a covert operation, nothing unusual there, but the information that you were just provided with is very specific to that operation. Now, before we proceed, and since you all already exchanged names before the Director-General and Dr. Landa Nurox entered this room, it’s important that you in turn exchange skill sets. After all, under joint operating procedure, you’ll be working together on this one.”

 

It was a moment that just then arrived that made Hayden recall his own admiration for his CO. Major Kerrin Nalgiers was as much the former’s commanding officer in the CDF as he had been for years outside of it, and had since evolved into a father figure and a friend. No one else in that room, not even Hayden’s own teammates, would be able to comprehend the half-smile on the Lieutenant’s face, all because the Major had first directed his question, not to the fireteam itself, but to the two Justice operatives. And Hayden knew exactly why. Trust is earned in the light. It is not gifted from the shadows.

 

“Members of Justice, Inquisitor Belvardi and Operator Ripken, how about you start us off?” Kerrin held up a reassuring hand. “Of course, we don’t expect any war stories or history lessons. We understand that you are bound by your organization’s parameters. Just a brief outline of your specific skill sets, what you bring to this table, should suffice for Lieutenant Hayden and his team.”

 

At that, all of Hayden and said team, the Major, Dr. Nurox and Director-General Acosta himself sat silent, still and staring at the two Justice operatives—though Hayden was smart enough to know that the latter more than likely already knew what was about to be shared.

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UZ7K9Bh.jpg?1Expressions and even a lack thereof carry weight where eyes tend to mirror the hidden depths of a being’s true self. Observance is provided cautiously and with reflexive thought. Each member of Hayden's team is granted the exact same expression from the man himself to those either side of his position. Giving them no more attention than a fly on the wall would garner. As each presents themselves she takes not only note of their chosen and earned names but also how they carry their words and frames. All done with a quick simple look. Each weighed respectively.

Whatever personal examination she gives them remains hidden beyond the polite half smile adorning her face. One that eventually lands on the woman next to her, upon Levi speaking. The Inquisitor remains neutral to every degree and gives no indication of knowledge at her moment of introduction or any thereafter. A very shut book, wrapped in black shadows, tied together with rope. When Hayden's poker question hits the deck she finds herself unable to respond. New bodies enter the room, adding yet another layer of mystery and intrigue to the mixture they're all swimming in. Capria's expression doesn't change as her eyes follow both man and woman to their seats, the surgical nature of her gaze lingering just a smidgen longer on Dr. Nurox than any other. 

Perhaps born of habitual benefits for self-preservation and the need to protect her counterpart. At every mention of Justice, she holds Levi apart from herself while still maintaining a close presence that lets the woman know she is still there. As there now seems to be some informal correlation between them. Being that the announcement of their similar countenances is irrevocably solid on the parts of the fancily decorated CDF members. Whatever gave them leeway to state such a thing would be reprimanded in short court syllables indicative of the separation of her clergical momentum and that of Justice.

“As a member of the Gaian Church, I retain not only the holy aspect of my religion but also that of inquisition. I am well versed in prayer, holy healing, and am an herbological and herballistic hobbyist.” Etc., etc., etc. A list that could go on for quite some time is shriveled down to nothing more than an extremely lackluster summarization. Centering only on what she feels is plausible for this many ears. Whatever it is she doesn't say can be expanded upon by the less than imaginative phrase ‘If I told you, I would have to kill you.’ It can always be viewed as elitism and pride and overwhelming self-prostration, but for her, it isn't.  An empty or even blacked out dossier would be enough of a statement that she has been through and seen more than her fair share of things not spoken of or brought to light. For good reason.

You don't want to add anything else?

If I need to share something else...things aren't going well. Let this Hayden and his team do the heavy lifting, we'll back them up only if absolutely necessary. And I don't want to step on Levi's heels either, she was sent here for a reason, so we need to let her see it done.

And who has your back in all of this?

A perfect indication of Capria having nothing else to add is the opening of the folder on the table in front of her so that she may swiftly glide her eyes across its contents is. Closing it nearly as quickly as she had opened it, appearing to flip through the papers out of aesthetics though she read each and every one of them in doing so. Many questions are formulated in doing this. Her analysis of the provisions telling her there is much more that needs to be discovered.


 

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Honestly, Levi mused thoughtfully, the corner of her mouth twitching as if almost to smirk. Seems like a decent bunch of guys. Good chemistry.  Though the one did seem to linger over her hand with scandalous intentions, she simply withdrew from his grasp and leaned back in her chair, effecting an easygoing, unperturbed attitude. And happily, the sound of the door unlatching commanded attention. Even hers. 

Her posture straightened again (she made no move to stand) and she turned her eyes to the door with open interest. The newcomers carried an intense energy into the room--both of them. The general, in his arresting attire and gravity of presence, naturally attracted her observation and deference.  

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. For those who may not be aware, I am Director-General Willem Acosta of the Department of Intelligence for the Civil Defense Force.” 

General...  A tiny crease appeared between Levi’s eyebrows, just a shade darker of silver than the textured, pixie-cropped hair that crowned her head. She hadn’t expected such a high-ranking confederate at this table. General Acosta. Had she seen him on the news broadcasts in Casper? She thought she might’ve. Jeez, Ma, check it out. Heh. But, Levi wondered, glancing at the second figure. Who’s the woman? 

Acosta’s next words brought her back.

"...I would not be sitting here with you if I did not deem it to be necessary. Know, too, that you would not be sitting here with me if I did not deem you to be necessary.”

A mind hardly wanders after a remark like that. 

“Major, if you’d please.”

Levi watched as the officer retrieved a stack each of pages and dossiers, and accepted the NDF issued to her with a smooth sweep of the hand. Whatever. Reaching for an array of pens ordered neatly in the center of the table, she plucked one up and, with a brief glance at the contents, scribbled a sharp signature at the bottom and slid it back across the surface of the table. 

Then she took the dossier, no small amount of keenness to the velocity of her grab. She began flipping through the pages, pausing at the documentation of the influenza outbreak. Disease. More disease. Levi’s lips pressed together grimly. 

"You might be wondering if they hold information on either of the two parties sitting across from you—the CDF and Justice—"

Her eyes flicked upwards, but from the corner of her gaze, she attended to the woman in black. And…? She waited for him to finish the list. He didn’t.  

…? 

And what about her, the shadowed woman. Did she just--shift? Not a fidget, not enough for that, but there was something.

Nalgiers continued, "Besides, you’d only read a few sentences on our Justice friends..."

Friends?  This time Levi did allow her eyes to slide freely to her neighbor, with great effort managing to keep all signs of confusion or surprise from her face. It would look like a perfectly natural shift of attention, as if directed simply by the major’s calling of their organization to attention. The way partners would not avert their eyes from one another, but let insignificant glances pass between them.  Inside, though, she was staring. 

And maybe, if one looked closely enough at the minuscule pucker above her brow, the constriction of her pupils, it mightn’t have been a perfect deception... 

The woman--she’d called herself Capria? Yes, Capria -- answered first, coolly and confidently reserved. Levi wondered that she wasn’t made of stone. At least this gave the junior of the two a chance to compose her thoughts. The skillset Capria ran through was imposing, to be sure, but Levi for one was glad for the vital presence of a healer. And one item pricked her curiosity. An herbalist. With any luck, they could come back to that one later. After they’d gotten to know each other, her mind retorted drolly. 

Then it was her turn. She drew a breath through her nose and quickly recalibrated, again paying special care to the impassivity of her expression. Levi turned to face the four soldiers, specifically, and though she didn’t share the older one’s obvious geniality, she did have an agreeable, homey sort of demeanor. 

“You all look the type I’d want to watch my back,” she started, and her mouth curved upwards. “But I’d say, I’m at least the type that could watch yours, too.” In the few short months she’d been associated with them, Justice seemed to have left its mark. Levi slipped so easily into the jargon of a military or, at least an organized force, that it surprised even her. “Reconnaissance mainly. Small unit tactics, when you need to get in and out quickly, maybe without attracting a lot of attention. I, ah-- I’m curious, too. Maybe more than anything else, that’s what I do. Unanswered questions bother me,” she smirked, “So I discover the answers, make connections---and quickly, for that matter. It comes in handy, being able to think in a pinch.”   

While Capria, she suspected, held something back from her response for surreptitious reasons, Levi’s list was short from being undeveloped. Maybe she didn’t have the grooming her colleague did. The professional lexicon, the training, or the sophistication. Even magic was--so far--out of her realm. But she spoke confidently, at least, about what she did possess.  

And then Levi paused, and seemed to be working her mind around what next to say. The way she glanced from the lower-ranked soldiers to the head of the table, and made eye contact with Major Nalgiers, and even General Acosta. Her hand dropped and gestured toward the open folder in front of her. "I think I understand now, why my name came up." She said, chiefly to the two men who might have had something to do with that decision. Then she faced Hayden and his team again, her face bearing a distant frown.

"I'm from Casper," Levi began slowly, as if that statement alone should carry some weight. And it should, if any of her present companions kept abreast of events outside their borders. Last Chance had had their own troubles lately, she knew, but just as the holo-arrays had broadcast images of the violence in Last Chance into her world, they would also have sent visions of the plague in Casper out of it. The gore--what used to be bodies, but couldn't be called that anymore. Just black blood and shredded pieces of organs, smeared across the ground. Littered bones by the thousands. The young operative curled her lips tightly inward, the dark visions bringing a deeper crease to her brow, then continued.

"After the necromancy that started the plague was sealed off, remnants of the disease still remained in the city. It mutated. Became weaker, but still ... spreading. That was when the Phoenix ordered an emergency response be organized. I was... one of those, in the Contagion Management Unit. That's where Justice found me, investigating an, ah, anomaly in the symptoms of the dead." 

"So..." Her lips turned up half-heartedly into a cold, bitter smile. "I guess you could say I have relevant experience." 

Edited by Ace

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On 2/27/2019 at 11:00 AM, -Lilium- said:

“As a member of the Gaian Church, I retain not only the holy aspect of my religion but also that of inquisition. I am well versed in prayer, holy healing, and am an herbological and herballistic hobbyist.”


 

Hayden just blinked himself out of blinking. Justice. Church. Inquisition. Healer. Herbological herbalist. He wondered how he had even managed to think that herbological part in his head as he strung the other words together like loose wire, and further how such an accomplished bigshot of a just inquisitor and an inquisitorial Justice person had managed to sink so low as to be sitting here at the long table of the Immediate Room. The CDF certainly had its importance, what with being the strong arm of Last Chance’s much needed security sector, but Church Inquisitors with a flowery scholarship for flowers and plants and flowers were far from usual visitors around these parts. And, as a humble grunt and the brass above me and everyone else in this room knows, if she told us anything else, well… His thought trailed off as he watched this Capria Belvardi finger through the folder like it was a magazine in a waiting room. She’d probably have to kill us.

 

“That’s all you can gi—”  

 

“Thank you, Ms. Belvardi.”

 

The Major’s words were fired like a bullet as they cut off Drake Fliskin’s before he could go too far. Hayden fought off a grin on both men’s accounts; his subordinate’s for saying what everyone else was thinking, and his superior’s for both silencing the corporal’s foolish tongue and for his manner of addressing this finely esteemed fine woman. I suppose a prime player of the Church has a number of titles beside that of ‘Inquisitor’ and ‘Herbologist’. ‘Ms.’ ought to cut it. With that, Major Nalgiers’ unbreachable wall of an impassive face aligned with the other member of Justice. Hayden followed his gaze as all others remained silent—including Drake, at least for the moment.

 

On 2/28/2019 at 4:09 PM, Ace said:

 

“You all look the type I’d want to watch my back, but I’d say, I’m at least the type that could watch yours, too.”

 

When Levi smiled Hayden’s lips matched her curvature, though the fat grin on his face threatened to break into a chuckle while soldierly dignity fought back this new foe. He hadn’t expected to be humored by a stick of a secret agent who, apparently, was not so wooden after all. Not like her counterpart, at any rate.

 

On 2/28/2019 at 4:09 PM, Ace said:

 

“Reconnaissance mainly. Small unit tactics, when you need to get in and out quickly, maybe without attracting a lot of attention. I, ah-- I’m curious, too. Maybe more than anything else, that’s what I do. Unanswered questions bother me. So I discover the answers, make connections---and quickly, for that matter. It comes in handy, being able to think in a pinch.”   

 

As Levi elaborated on her own skillset, it all suddenly came together in Hayden’s head. By the sounds of it, this ‘secret agent’ of Justice had gotten her feet wet in combat situations that stretched beyond podium prayers and asking dark questions in dark rooms. The Lieutenant had been in so many of his own combat situations that he had lost count, but he had learned that only individuals who had some understanding of small unit tactics tended to utter the words “small unit tactics”.

 

All was said and done on behalf of Justice, and once more the poker button could be slid Hayden's way for CDF divulging. And then we can proceed to the next phase of questions, such as why in all infernos of Valucre this scientist is sitting at this table. Looking her way as she looked no one’s way, Hayden caught Kerrin’s lips part to thank Levi for her less cryptic information when she suddenly continued speaking.

 

On 2/28/2019 at 4:09 PM, Ace said:

 

"I think I understand now, why my name came up."

 

It didn’t seem possible for either the Major or the Director-General to be any more frozen in their seats, but somehow a new layer of ice embalmed their bodies at that statement.

 

On 2/28/2019 at 4:09 PM, Ace said:

 

"I'm from Casper."

 

Hayden bit his tongue. He might have wondered if his teammates were doing the same. Oh, shit. That’s it. His mind flashed over corpses, those in Casper on the news and those in the dossier on the table, then the First Chance Hospital and Dr. Landa Nurox—both also within that set of documents, the latter sitting at this very table. That confirms it. Surely. Anyone who had made it out of Casper was a survivor in their own right, but a member of Justice? She’s a friggin’ plague fighter. So what did that mean? Was that black horror now running rampant in Last Chance? No, there was no way.

 

On 2/28/2019 at 4:09 PM, Ace said:

 "After the necromancy that started the plague was sealed off, remnants of the disease still remained in the city. It mutated. Became weaker, but still ... spreading. That was when the Phoenix ordered an emergency response be organized. I was... one of those, in the Contagion Management Unit. That's where Justice found me, investigating an, ah, anomaly in the symptoms of the dead. So...I guess you could say I have relevant experience."

 

Against this Justice operative, Hayden caught himself staring at the scientist once more, whose eyes had positively widened at Levi’s mention of being in a Contagion Management Unit. Meanwhile, the Major’s eyes had shifted to exchange a look with the Director-General’s, but Acosta’s own pools of steel were penetrating Levi. It was none other than him who spoke.

 

“Your name came up because that is the name that your superiors came to me with.”

 

That voice, as bound in iron and as unbendable—it would break before it bent, and it wasn’t going to break any time soon. Willem Acosta just then looked Capria’s way, as if he might be confirming something.

 

“Revealing any other information as to why you and the woman beside you are sitting at this table would, I believe, jeopardize your involvement in this mission—if nothing else.”

 

As he looked away, it was clear that Acosta was unwilling to keep to this little topic in a room filled with topics. His gaze drifted away to no one and everyone while the Major stepped back in.

 

“All right. Lieutenant Hayden, how about you share with the group your expertise and those of your men, if you’d please.”

 

Hayden was suddenly at a loss for words, saved only by his own eyelids as they fluttered to break his trance.

 

“Right.” He cleared this throat. “I’m combat team leader so, in a way, you might say that my area of expertise lies with pulling a trigger.” He shrugged as he looked at the only three individuals who didn’t already know about him. Then, out of nowhere, perhaps because of the intensity of this so far unspoken operation, Hayden felt himself turn serious. “I could tell you about my years of service, a medal and a decoration, terrorist cells I fought to liquidate, but suffice to say that I will lead myself, and any man or woman under me, to seeing an objective through to the end—and back home uninjured and alive. As best I can.” With a sigh, he checked his emotions and managed a smile to break the awkward air.

 

“And, apart from all that, I’m a rifleman at heart. If not as accurate as Corporal “Jackal” Fliskin. A better marksman than anyone else in my platoon, Drake here is our resident sniper. He’ll keep us moving if he can find a reason to stay still, covering from afar, and otherwise he’s ever vigilant at every flank while he’s moving with us.”

 

Drake offered his own smile and a tilt of his head as though he were offering himself up for marriage. Hayden nodded up at the younger man sitting beside the resident sniper. “Corporal “Ram” Lyles has a bit of a fancier title than the rest of us: Cyber Operations Specialist. It’s his duty to type his fancy fingers away as he hacks into the enemy’s computer systems and keeps our own secure, whether we’re on the move or not. It has its uses out in the field, but even more so in an urban environment."

 

Deante was less enthusiastic. He just nodded with his eyes on the table as though hopeful that someone else would get their turn. It was Bart’s, who smiled as though meeting everyone for the first time. “Last but not least, Sergeant “Beater”. As second in command, he's also our combat engineer and grenadier. He’s the man who makes the stuff to keep us grounded or to keep us pushing forward, and sometimes that means launching a grenade or two.”

 

Hayden drummed a finger on the table as though pondering on what to say next. Not everyone liked having their file read by a complete stranger, normal though it was within a military or a paramilitary. Still, it would have been a lot easier.

 

“And that’s us, me and my team. The four musketeers. For now, anyway.” His eyes went from the Justice league to the scientist. Which leaves only you.

 

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” Major Kerrin spoke as he turned to the group. “I probably don’t have to tell any of you that it is important to know enough about the person beside you to know how they will be watching your back, as Ms. Ripken put it. General.”

 

Without missing a beat, Acosta, who was apparently either acknowledged as the Director-General, the Director or the General depending on present company, flicked his sword of a tongue.

 

“Both the Director of Operations and your commanding officer, Major Kerrin, have spoken highly of all four of you soldiers sitting here with the same CDF badge as mine, and their words are ones that I have learned to never take lightly. As for you two,” his eyes went from one of the Justice operatives to the other. “You are indeed here out of my personal request. It took my own words to see that through, and my appreciation extends to those who obliged my request as much as—“

 

The door opened just then, a man in uniform stepping in, and others turned to look with cat-eyed curiosity as he paused. Acosta barely sized the man up and his uniform, his speech broken only for an instant. Hayden could feel as much as see the Director’s steely gaze on the unfortunate intruder. There was not a shred of anger or malice on that stone wall of a face, or in the deep and composed voice, and somehow that made all of it more intimidating.

 

“—Sergeant, why have you interrupted our meeting?”

 

“S-Sorry, sir! I just came to ensure that the room had been cleaned, sir. I was not aware that a meeting was being held, sir.”

 

“Did you check the meeting schedule?”

 

“Yes, sir. From earlier this morning, sir. I-I didn’t see a slot at this time, sir.”

 

“Did you check the updated meeting schedule?”

 

“N-No, sir.”

 

“Do you know to check the updated meeting schedule?”

 

“Yes. Sir. Yes, sir!”

 

“Can you close the door on your way out?”

 

“Yes, sir!”

 

There was a short delay before the sergeant realized that the question had been a command.

 

“—As much as you yourselves.” Acosta continued, as if a man had never just barged into the room and closed the door on his way out. “All of you. You have my thanks. As I am sure that you have Major Kerrin’s and Dr. Landa’s as well. The latter’s father, General Akery Nurox, was a great commander and a close friend of mine. More importantly, his daughter is the one who requested this meeting to remain classified. On that note, that is all that I have to say for now. Doctor.”

 

Finally. Hayden adjusted his posture like one does when a movie is about to start on a big screen, even if this one was turning out to be something of a horror flick. The atmosphere of speaking only when it was your turn to speak was maintained to the degree expected in an official meeting, whether in a corporation’s boardroom or a security force’s like the Immediate Room. The wait, though, was about to pay off. Time to find out the real reason why we’re all here.

 


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Sound Presence: OOC

 

 

 

Dr. Landa Nurox glanced the Director-General’s way, but remained seated for a moment in what appeared to be some deliberation. Gathering her words for the long yard? Letting everyone else’s sink in? Hayden thought. When the scientist rose from her seat, she moved with the speed that had first carried her into the room. She looked at no one as she walked to the other end of the table where the television monitor was, her gaze glued to the virtual sky, her fingers bouncing off her chin. Then she turned around, looked from one face to the other, and took a breath.

 

When she spoke, each word was carefully constructed; not so much slow and lazy as thoughtful, like building a puzzle piece by piece. There was no wavering in her voice, she didn’t seem nervous, but as Hayden listened more attentively than ever he got the impression that the lady wasn’t all that comfortable speaking right now. Part of it was probably due to her having to consciously tone down any scientific jargon for the four grunts sitting in the room. Dumb down. Just say it, Hayden.

 

“You might have already been told before of who I am, or maybe you read it in the folder before Director Acosta announced it. I’m Dr. Landa Nurox of the First Chance Hospital. I’m, well, I’m a number of things, to be honest. I’m a physician-scientist, practicing what I research. One of my primary fields is epidemiology. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s the branch of medicine namely dealing with diseases and viruses—how to contain them, control them, or outright eliminate them. So, research and practice, again.”

 

Landa nodded as though confirming her own words for herself.

 

“At the hospital, my current station is in Epidemiology and Infection Control, or EIC for short. That therefore includes the hospital’s Biocontainment Unit.” There was a pause as Landa’s gaze rested on Levi for a moment, Hayden recalling the latter’s mention of being involved herself with one Contagion Management Unit. The Lieutenant was by no means brushed up on medicine or biological this-and-that but he doubted that the two units were that much different from the other. If not simply a different name for the same thing.

 

“I…” Landa continued, or tried to. “Despite, or maybe along with, the limited information you might find in those dossiers, I should tell you up front that I don’t have the kind of clarity that any of you might be expecting from me; probably not the kind of answers you really require to get started. But I won’t delay any further.” With that, Dr. Nurox cleared her throat, and suddenly her voice was delivered with power and confidence.

 

“Four days ago, a body turned up in First Chance. Adult male. Blood draining from the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth…”

 

Pausing, Landa looked around the room as though assessing each individual’s tolerance level. Hayden knew that look, and he knew what would come next.

 

“Eyes to the screen, if you will… Fair warning.”

 

A remote in her hand changed the telescreen from a marble blue sky and fluffy white clouds to a premortem body of a clearly dead man, one whose orifices were as bloody as had been described.

 

Spoiler

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“The exact cause of death could not be determined. That itself isn’t terribly unusual. We live in a world filled with strange occurrences that, I don’t know, might not even be strange any more. What was unusual, what was strange, was that four more bodies have turned up since then—same symptoms, same mystery. I probably don’t need to tell any of you that one dead person is a statistic, but more of the same is an unsettling pattern. There are millions of people living in this city, and only five of these obscure bodies have turned up, but when you’re in the field that I’m in, one is a problem—five is a very big problem.”

 

Hayden almost felt out of his elements at those words. After all, in his field, one or five corpses that were made out of his comrades was definitely problem. When those corpses were the enemy, however, more often than not they were part of the solution.

 

“When general hospital staff couldn’t identify the root cause, they called in EIC. That meant me. However, I couldn’t find any bacterial or viral infection that would indicate just what happened to these people. There seems to be no traceable basis for what killed them, and no common connection between them—male, female, adults, human. The adult part, the human part—that might seem like something of interest at first glance, I know, but this is still a city of millions; hundreds of one species, thousands of others. Five adult humans is more a coincidence than a conspiracy to me—at this point, anyway. Though I’m at the point where anything is possible. There is, however, the only connection that has so far been uncovered: all five victims are nameless, with no kind of identification as any one person might have in La Fortuna, and they were found in La Opportunidad.”

 

With another sigh, Landa reached toward the table and took a glass of water, clearly collecting herself in the process. She swallowed her drink as though the very act itself were out of deliberation.

 

“Yesterday, I was contacted by an acquaintance of mine outside of the medicine or science fields.”

 

She said nothing else until she pressed the remote again and changed the image to what appeared to be a very much alive woman.

 

Spoiler

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“Serena Vaughn. A rather active and established reporter for The Public Defender, headquartered right here in Last Chance. I know her from some time ago. She had appealed to me for an article on a biotechnology project that I had a hand in—unrelated, trust me. Just something that a team was working on to improve vehicle fuels. But that’s how I know her. Ever since, we’ve been in contact here and there, mostly just for further reports on this and that. I knew of her expertise, and she knew of mine, and that’s why she’s looking back at us on that screen right now.”

 

“Serena’s message to me was cryptic to say the least—the equivalent of someone scribbling a note with only seconds to spare. One moment I was at my computer and, the next, I was at my computer reading an instant message with a digital signature, a kind of reporter’s anonymity, that I knew was hers.” There was a long pause as Landa closed her eyes, like someone recalling a memory, before she opened them. “ ‘They’ve found me in opportunity. Don’t respond. Don’t dig. They’ll find you too. I found dead people crying blood from their faces. Not the flu? ’ ”

 

Landa allowed a moment for others to digest those words, including herself.

 

“Look, at this point, I’m not sure what to make of any of this. I’m not sure if there is implication here that the flu vaccine has been tampered with, if we just got the flu strain wrong, if it’s an isolated batch, if any other Health Fair inoculations have ‘problems’, if whatever killed these people is the flu, if the flu is the flu at all, or who else might be asking themselves these questions besides Serena Vaughn, me and now everyone else in this room. And, to be quite blunt, based on the message she sent me, I’m hesitant to ask questions openly—with my superiors, with Serena’s, with the city’s overall medical system, with anyone else in the CDF—without knowing why exactly that message came through urging me to ask those questions. But whatever is going on, there is one thing that I know for certain—two things, actually: one) there are four unidentified bodies in cold storage and no one knows how they really died; and two) a reporter from The Public Defender is currently—how do you say it?—”MIA” in Opportunidad.”

 

Composing herself, Landa took another sip of water. As far as Hayden could tell, she needed something a little stronger.

 

“Forgive me. Presentations are not new to me, neither is standing up before a group, and this is a small one. Trying to brief said group on a potential outbreak, after this city has suffered so much already, however, is definitely something new to me. I’m sure I’ve missed something in these few moments, so… Questions?”

Just a few. Hayden, however, remained as silent as he sat still, his eyes roving between Levi and Capria, the two resident seen-it-all’s and know-it-all’s, as far as he was concerned.

Edited by Die Shize

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