Jericho steps out of of his aircar. The trip out here to the middle of nowhere had taken a few hours and he was glad to do it in the air. The ground is… longer. But more than that it’s tricky. There are not many people left out in the hinterlands but the ones that are are dangerous and unpredictable.
It’s a small town he’s in. He’s on the main street or what probably was the main street twenty five years ago. To the naked eye it’s deserted but he knows that there’s power running to this place so odds are good it’s not. The question is, is it just squatters who don’t want to live in the city or sprawls, or is it something else?
Jericho gets a drone the size of a serving platter out of the trunk and sets it to floating. It’s got a camera and an underslung coilgun.
“You there, Simmons?” This is something of a test, seeing whether or not she can connect at this range and do anything useful.
Back in her laboratory Kaylee is sitting at her desk with the device that Jericho had created. The metal band sitting around her neck and shoulders – it’s a good thing her seafoam green hair is short, that device needs access to her systems.
The drone in front of Jericho wobbles a bit and a very british voice emits from it. “I’m here and I’m looking right at you.” it goes silent for a moment “… talk about vertigo. I’m having trouble splitting the image from the camera out from what I’m seeing here. This is going to take some getting used to.”
“And it’s Kaylee.” Not … Simmons.
“Okay. Try not to accidentally engage the gun this time.” Jericho says. He glances around. There’s precious little tech here and everything that’s left is twenty five years old at best. He’s not detecting any wifi signals or radio. But there is power running to something around here.
“Alright. If I were hiding in an abandoned town in Nowhere USA… where would I be?”
Church? Maybe. General store? Has some potential. Personally Jericho would be underground. So…
“Come on. This way. The community center had a really large storm cellar. Let’s check that first. Can you move around okay in that thing? And try closing your eyes. It helps with the vertigo to start with.”
“I …” the indignant answer comes out of the drone quickly followed by a sigh “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shoot up that warehouse.” There might be a reason that Jericho’s decided to bring ‘her’ all the way out here, apart from the ability to connect over a longer distance.
There’s very little data available on this city – yes, the powers on, but the records are difficult to get hold of but Kaylee had been monitoring the network connections since they decided to head out this way. “From what I can see, there’s network activity from the General Store of course and …” Jericho’s already moving and the drone hovers precariously in the air as it swings around, the coilgun swinging just a little more which might be worrying. “Alright. Community Center and well, driving this thing is like driving a dodgem car. I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it.”
Another pause “That’s better, but if someone comes in here, they’ll think I’m sleeping.” Says the LMD – who doesn’t need to sleep. “There’s no schematics for the Community Center, becareful, ok?”
“I’m always careful.” Kaylee might not think that’s true. The trip to the community center isn’t a long one. It’s only a couple blocks away. The trees on the sidewalks are overgrown, the pavement is starting to crack. The buildings stare out starkly though empty windows.
As the ‘pair’ get to the parking lot – with half a dozen rusted cars in it – of the community center something flashes across Kaylee’s vision in the distance. It’s hard to tell if it was camera artifact or something moving quickly.
There’s a rather unladylike snort that comes from the drone followed by a chuckle “Sure you are. I’ll remember the next time I’m giving you check over because you’ve managed to damage your traces again ….” The drone floats along finally stablising as it’s pilot slowly grows accustomed to it.
“Why would anyone live out here, Jericho?” It’s sad, the tone that she uses “I … hadn’t expected it to be so bad.” She’s still working of Jemma’s memories and these towns, when her copy was made, were … well, not thriving but … not this.
The drone turns sharply causing the underslung gun to sway precariously again “Something to your two o’clock, Jericho. I can’t be sure it’s not just the camera picking up lens flare, but …” The drone pans slowly, the lens moving in and out as the LMD operating it tries find what she saw. “Maybe … it was nothing. Do you want me to go look?” she doesn’t sound sure of that.
The hacker turns to look off slightly to his right and stares down what looks like a deserted street. There’s a lot of ground clutter thanks to twenty five years of overgrowth so there are plenty of places for something to be potentially hiding. “If you don’t mind? Don’t wander far. I’m going to pop the cellar door and then we can both go down there, assuming everything is okay.”
The drone lenses are a bit more sensitive than regular eyes and there //is// something there. It’s showing up on thermals but it’s also really… weirdly ‘blurry’. Which thermals just aren’t. Something is either there or it’s not. This seems like… half there.
The drone dips as Kaylee nods back in her lab “Oh, sorry, yes. I’ll look…” It’s really like letting a kid off on their bike with training wheels, what could possible go wrong? Still the drone wobbles on off down the street, panning left and right as the scientist watches.
As she gets a better fix on … whatever that is, the drone actually stops in the center of … what once the street. Probably not the best to stop but there you have it. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” she mutters, slowly moving closer “There … but not… ” Before jumping to conclusions or even hypothesise of which she has a couple, Kaylee pushes the drone closer. “Uh hello. Is anyone there?” the drone greets the air before it.
Behind her, Kaylee can ‘hear’ the sound of the bar across the cellar door shattering. Jericho probably clawed it. He doesn’t even need a crowbar for that really. The moment it does the blurry thermal resolves into a very humanoid shape and a brown haired woman lunges out, shoulders past the drone and dives at the hacker with unnatural speed.
On the feed, Kaylee will get a very, very close look at what appears to be a spiked leather choker or collar.
The drone turns a little as the cellar crashes but swings back as the shape resolves. The coilgun underneath spitting out a short burst of fire. //After// the woman has lunged.
“Jericho. Incoming.” Kaylee calls out and the drone skews around and starts after the woman, using her mind to take a snapshot of that collar. She can’t look it at – at least she doesn’t think she can, but she knows that important.
Haring off down the road, she tries to get between Jericho and the woman.
Jericho turns just in time to see the unnaturally quick woman lunge at him. She goes right for a mid section tackle… and goes completely through him. Kaylee can //feel// his network connections stutter and then die. Whatever she did, she disrupted his electronics.
The hacker grunts in pain and manages to barely avoid it when the woman resolidifies and punches at his throat. Her fist is a blur, barely able to track with the eye, or the camera as the case may be. Jericho’s traces light up and a jagged projection of red light errupts from his arm – like the ‘horn’ of a beetle, really – just in time to catch the next strike.
“Little help here!”
“You want me to shoot?” Comes the snarky reply. That drone certainly does have an attitude. “Phasers. I hate phasers. Impossible to work with in the labs… uh… if I shoot her, she’ll just phase again and I might hit you.” Kaylee thinks, using the drone to watch the phasers movements.
Still, Kaylee turns the drone, aims the gun and … fires. It’s possibly a good thing the drone is connected to her brain, because yes – the scientist just totally closed her eyes when she did.
The burst of fire does, amazingly, hit the phaser. She goes down snarling and whimpering. No words out of her. Just sounds. Jericho punches her, hard, in the head and knocks her unconscious. He’s breathing hard but not hurt.
“Hounds.” He half growls. He’s not pleased, no not pleased at all to see this woman apparently. “Kaylee do you see anything else out there?”
“Hounds?” It’s a question but Kaylee knows what Jericho means and the image of the collar comes to her mind. “…that’s horrible…” she stammers a bit, turning the drone to scan the area again. She knows what she’s looking for now – well some of it.
It’s not clear if she means it’s horrible that they’ve made these people little more than animals or that Jericho punched her. Maybe both.
“I’m not seeing anything, Jericho but that doesn’t mean anything and you know it. But there’s no ‘blurs’ and I’m not picking up any other heat signatures. Have you found what you need there?”
“Not quite. The Hound was protecting this door. She reacted when I opened it. Let’s see what she was guarding, shall we?”
It doesn’t take but a moment for the hacker to guide Kaylee down the stairs. She might bump into a few things. It’s clearly been occupied for a bit. In one corner Jericho can see a table with a radio and off to one side a set of presently empty man sized cages.
“I think we know where that power was going to.”
Kaylee can see a bit better in the dim light than Jericho can and something catches the drones camera. It’s a badge. On slightly closer inspection… it’s a SHIELD badge.
The drone is silent as it dips to look at the woman and the ground. Jericho hit her quite hard so she’s likely to be out for a while. Navigating the stairs is interesting and the scientist manages to bump the drone into the ‘ceiling’ several times – which results in some rather choice words being uttered.
“They were … keeping people here?” Mutants, most likely “Looks like your friend, Triain has a sense for these things.” Back in the lab, the green haired woman shakes her head, which makes the drone move to – she’s going to have to practice that. “What’s that …”
The drone moves closer and the camera focuses on the badge, drawing a frown from Kaylee and a ‘hmmmmm’. She’s quiet again, Jericho might know what she’s doing. “Agent Thurston Ballantine. Reported missing about six months ago.” More silence “… He was mutant. Could change himself to liquid and back again, among other things.” The tone … is dead.
“Mmmm, not any time recently.” Jericho is crouched over by the cages. “There’s a layer of dust in them. But they’re preparing to do so anyway. And maybe have done so in the past.”
When Kaylee finds the badge behind him he twists, looking interested. “They have a SHIELD agent’s badge here. A mutant shield agent?” That’s not good.
“Pull his files. See what he was doing when he vanished. Might give us a lead. This is definitely a recovery operation like Triain said. This will be a stash house. A place they store snatched mutants before arranging for their return to Europe. There will be others. No one’s here at the moment though, so it means the hunters and their hounds are out doing work likely.”
It’s the speed with which Kaylee answers Jericho that should tell him she’s ahead of him. “Says here he was on a routine job, helping Alchemax sort out a dispute. He was last seen in Chicago, checked out of Alchemax’s headquarters and told Agent Myers he would him for a drink. They were room mates. Myers report says he got to the bar and Ballantine never showed.”
“At the risk of stating the obvious, how did he end up here? Taken from the street and transported? Ballantine was incredibly well trained and his mutation meant he was hard to pin down.” None of this, not one bit, bodes well.
“Good question.” Jericho leans down to pick up the badge. It’s scuffed and there’s something red on the back. Might be blood. Might just be dirt. “Six months is a long time too. If he’s alive I’d say odds are good he got transported, but we’ll see if we can find him anyway. It means we’re dealing with a sophisticated operation and possibly one that’s been in place for a while.”
He turns. “They probably won’t keep using this place if they discover we compromised it. But tag it for obserbation anyway. I’ll bring the Hound back with me. Not much hope for her recovery but the Institute can try. How’s the link holding up? Sort of an unexpected stress test.”
“I’m going to run searches on our other mutant agents, just …” Kaylee sighs. This is bad on so many levels. “… Better to know too much, than not enough. And I’m tagging this place for observation, if they’ve someone guarding it now, I’d expect them to be moving in the next month or so.”
It’s speculation, she knows that.
“The link is ok. I want to test it some more, of course, that unexpected stress test might have given me a headache, though.” Of course Kaylee would say that – pinochette that she is. “I’d like to examine the Hound, if I may. I’ll speak with the Institute. Maybe there’s something we can use. I’m sorry for her though.”
“I am to. The way they turn people into these is… cruel. Brutal.” Jericho pockets the badge and turns to head back upstairs and retrieve the defeated phaser. Reminds him a bit of another russian he knows.
“I’m sure the Institute will let you look at her. You can disconnect for now if you like. I’ll be back in the city in a few hours. We can talk then.”
There will be another test of this hardware. She can be sure of that.
“You don’t like my dulcet tones, Jericho?” Comes the teasing response but the scientist lets out sigh. She’s got work to do and … now this.
“Are you working tonight? Shall I meet you at Sals?” They often catch up there – he works there and she can get something to eat while she listens. “See you in a few hours.”
The Drone returns to the aircar and settles as Kaylee terminates the connection. She sits there for a few moments before removing the ‘harness’ rubbing her neck and rolling her shoulders. She’s thinking….