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Old Oct 27th, 2020, 12:05 AM
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Act 18 Scene 7 Layered Pagoda

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Presley Long didn’t steal The Jade Necklace he wore. Nor was it given to him or earned, not really. It started with the cook in his favorite soup kitchen in all of Sichuan. The best time was to show up right before they closed up - so that was about 2 AM. That was late even for the Chinese of the deep south, but it was worth it. There was something about this old Master Cook Presley liked - even besides his spicy dumpling stew. Perhaps it was that he was so patient with Presley’s Sicuanhua, the local dialect. Perhaps it was the feeling of ancient wisdom behind those deep, dark eyes. Perhaps it was the long talks of life and lovers won and lost. Of course, it might have been mostly the soup.

It was during one of these late nights with Master Cook Zao, a pile of the day’s left-over surprise - the only surprise that Presley liked, and especially cold Tsingtao Beer that a loose gas hose met an open flame. Presley flung himself over the old man mostly out of reflex. A piece of metal four inches long had to be surgically removed out of his back that night. Presley wasn’t surprised when master Zao showed up at his hospital bed. He was however surprised how pissed off he was.

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For a brief moment Presley thought he was mad because of some kind of life debt, then remembered that was just an old 70’s American movie writer cliché that really didn’t apply to any culture he knew - especially the Chinese. Then he surprised himself by catching a phrase Zao had already said twice but he didn’t understand previously. Since most of the conversations the two have had in the past centered around eating and drinking, much of his ‘southern’ Chinese was sorely lacking outside of those topics, but this time Presley caught it.

“To rescue one person from death is better than to build a seven-storied pagoda for the god,” Zao said slowly as if talking to a small child. Presley appreciated both the effort and the insult. It was then the mid-aged, long-bearded man walked in.

It was likely the drugs he was on but Presley thought he saw two golden dragons, both in this world and partly in another circling this man’s head and shoulders. He wore flowing purple and gold robes with long, traditional sleeves that looked like they would drag along the ground save they seemed to just float in the air of their own accord free of gravity.


Presley blinked, blinked again and then rubbed his eyes. Whatever hallucination that he was having was gone and replaced by someone that he recognized as the long-bearded man he saw a moment ago but this time dressed in a plain black suit and smart shoes. Other than insanely long pinky-finger nails, he looked completely normal and remarkably dragon-less.

Presley was thinking of ideas in his head for a way to formally greet this new-comer having selected Putonghua or ‘standard Chinese’ as the dialect and the more formal ‘high’ language syntax when he lost his chance by the man speaking first in perfectly clear, British English. “I see your circumstances,” the man said in a voice that was both soft-spoken but filled with certain authority. “Yet within your dark path beats an enlightened heart.” The presence that Presley would later call Yu Di opened up a bag that he must of brought in with him. Mister Di began to prepare food for him and to take care of him by calling in the hospital staff and commanding them to take care of the smallest detail. In Chinese hospitals it is the family that feeds and takes care of the common needs of the sick, not the hospital staff. This man - an obviously high ranking and well respected man of considerable power was treating him like family. Presley hadn’t had a family for, well, never.

As the man began to leave he told Presley, “You have saved my dearest friend, you have been judged with a kind and just heart, and I see you, and your paths. You may ask anything of me. Anything, and if it is within my considerable power, it will be yours.” Now Presley understood he thought to himself. ‘This is all because of some great guanxi debt between Master Cook Zao and this Mister Yu Di person.’ Presley could not conceive of a situation where he himself was thought of in such good regards. ‘Better get on with the formalities’ he thought to himself. You have to accept the offer but it can’t be too big an ask. Just large enough to satisfy the point of honor but not too much that it could become awkward. It was in that moment that Presley spotted the jade necklace around Mister Di’s neck. It wasn’t too large - obviously a nice piece of deep green jade this culture loved.

On impulse Presley spoke without thinking too much further on the matter as he knew the rest of the scripted cultural dance. He’d need to reject Mr. Di’s offer three times and if extended the fourth time, he would have to accept it in some way. If Mr. Di didn’t make the offer a fourth time, he was just being polite. So three times Presley gave a version of the same answer, “You honor me Sir and I think you for all the kindness. But I could never ask more than you have already done for me.” Presley did not expect the fourth offer which Mr. Di presented as a command, “You will ask me now and know that my benevolence in this matter knows no bounds.” Presley couldn’t help but smirk a bit on that one, whoever this man really was, he didn’t have an ounce of self-doubt in this body.

Noticing the man’s necklace again, Presley said, “It would honor me to accept a small token of jade from you as a memento of your friendship we share with Master Zao and this occasion of our meeting.” ‘Yes,’ Presley thought. Small, simple and symbolic as jade represented good luck, renewal, longevity and to some, immortality - it was the stone of heaven. This seemed to be acceptable to Mr. Di as he said in Putonghua an old saying, “Gold is valuable while Jade is priceless.” Surprising Presley, he reached up to his neck and took off the Jade Necklace he was wearing. It would have been customary for Mr. Di to simply purchase some raw jade and have it polished and presented to him - or simply purchased from one of the many stone vendors. This was so personal, so intimate that the act shocked Presley into silence as he slipped the round, flawless piece on Presley’s neck. Only then did Presley notice the twin dragons carved on its surface - one on each side.


When Presley woke up the next day, he decided it was all a very vivid dream. Then he realized that two things indicated otherwise, his stitches and the associated pain were very real so there must have been an accident. The other was the jade necklace was still hanging on his neck. It would be several years before Presley would realize what really happened that day in the hospital, who Master Zao and Mr. Di really were and the nature of their relationship, and why he could never bring himself to take his jade necklace, THE Jade Necklace, off.

It also explained why one night, many years later in a bar in Dublin called “Drop Dead Twice”, he did just that.

**************

When Presley dashed in the bar, he saw that team had managed to capture one of the two Men in Black. The other had just stepped through one of their shadow portals to gods know where. They seemed to have the large man-creature down and in submission, though much of the team, Esmae, Javan, Ruben, Magnus and even Otter and Timbre seemed all battered and mixed up in what he was sure was going to be a cluster-fuss to explain to his bosses later. The bar-tender was the only civilian in this room he could see and of course he was using his smart-phone to record this all - perhaps even streaming live which would make it easier in one way as Presley could just show his supervisor the whole mess on YouTube instead of trying to explain it all. The local PD was surely on their way given the crowd that just cleared the bar were all shouting ‘bomb!’ or ‘terrorists!’ - something they know a bit about in this part of the world, so he didn’t see anyway this could get any worse. Presley literally spoke out loud, “So much for discretion in unusual circumstances.”

Then he saw the glowing, pulsing and expanding ball of black and red energy in the middle of the bar. “Heavens help us” he said in a foreign language.

Then, along with everyone else in the bar, he died.

The explosion ran in reverse. For Presley, it was like watching a movie run backwards as the brick, wooden shards, blood and grizzle all returned to where it belonged so that everyone and everything in the bar was whole and right again, frozen in place just before it all blew up. Presley realized he was able to walk around this ‘freeze-frame’ moment when he spotted them. Two Jade Dragons.

They didn’t look like dragons, rather one looked like an eternally young Asian man, young and strong with green eyes, the other his twin sister who was fair and beautiful. Presley didn’t know how he knew they were the dragons but he did. If he had looked at his necklace in the moment, he would have noticed that it was smooth on both sides.

They spoke without having to use words but Presley heard them clearly as the young man spoke in prayer. “Help the sick and all who suffer, protect the hermits against serpents and tigers, navigators against the fury of waves, peaceable men against robbers and brigands!” The sister took up the prayer, “Drive from us all contagion, caterpillars, and grasshoppers. Preserve us from drought, flood and fire, from tyranny and captivity.” Then in unison they prayed together, “Deliver from the hells those who are tormented here… Enlighten all men with the doctrine that saves…”

Presley surprised himself having only heard the New Year Prayer once as most modern Chinese did not believe or practice the once popular rite. He finished the prayer joining the twins as they said together, “Rebirth that which is dead, and let become green again that which is dried up.”

The twins smiled approvingly.

Speaking normally but together and mostly in unison, “It is time to go, we shall deliver you from this place and time, ‘For it is better to save one life than build a seven storied pagoda.’ That last phrase was one Presley knew from his previous life. Master Cook Zao said that once - though he was mad at the time and Presley didn’t understand what he meant by that. Presley still didn’t fully but it did look like he was about to get his first 'get-out-of-stuff-free-card'. However it worked, this was not the time to be asking questions. Then the question came anyway, “What about my team?”

Still in mostly unison the Jade Dragons replied, “They have already died and they shall die again.” Presley’s first thought was, ‘irony’ thinking of the bar’s name but he let it pass quickly. “Then I die - twice.” He still smirk-smiled at his own comment. He thought, ‘If you were going to die, again, you might as well go out punny.’

The twins took what seemed like several minutes to look into each other’s eyes. It was clear they weren’t happy and struggling with some kind of internal dialog. They spoke again, “This is not acceptable to the Emperor in Heaven.”

“Then take them and leave me in exchange,” Presley said.

“That is not acceptable to the Emperor in Heaven” they replied. The sister looked embarrassed by what she was about to say it seemed, “You may not die again this day but if you must, I can grant you their pain.” Tears streamed from her eyes so that the brother held her in order to try and console her. “They have died the first death so if you take their pain, their hurt… for each of them, it would be unbearable and almost unending.” Sobbing now she said, “An intolerable hell.” 'Chinese know about hells' Presley thought, 'so that is not a great sign, not at all.'

The brother looked up as he said, “They would share your spirit - just enough to pass the Jade Blessing to them to pass around this moment. But you will be known and they will know you then. This shared spirit will bind your life to theirs to keep you in this world long enough to hold their sorrow, their pain.”

'This doesn’t sound like any kind of plan but I’m not losing this team,' Presley thought. “If it must be so, then let it be.”

The twin dragons walked through the frozen moment and touched each team member and at Presley’s urging, their dog, Timbre. Each time, their touch woke the person up just long enough for them to see the frozen scene and then to fade away, as if they were simply slowly erased from the room. Timbre was the last to go until it was only the Jade Dragons, Presley and the bar-tender still holding his smart-phone up. At the last moment, Presley said, “Might as well get him too. That dumb bastard’s agony will be just another drop in the bucket at this point.”

"Hey, that's seven." Presley either said or thought smiling as in this moment both were one and the same.

It was the last coherent thought Presley would have for the untold future. The rest of his conscience mind’s thoughts would simply be his own screams.

************


Somehow, someway, Esmea, Rueben, Javan, Magnus, Otter, and Timbre stood watching the bar with the crowd across the street as a car pulled up with the new recruits from the London office.

Then the building exploded as a confused bar-tender streamed it all on Facebook.

 
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Last edited by savoylen; Nov 2nd, 2020 at 02:43 AM.
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Old Oct 28th, 2020, 05:05 PM
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Bobby relaxed and enjoyed the easy flight to Dublin. He had done one of those online genetic tests and it had come back, to his surprise, that he was thirty percent irish. He laughed to himself at the memory, thinking of the time he walked in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade through Manhattan with an Italian flag. Disembarking from the stylish plane was as easy as boarding, followed with more mock salutes as he walked to the matching black BMW 8 series Gran Coupe.

"I suppose this is whence we are on our own. I cannot drive," the professor said and Bobby looked at the man… hardly surprised.

“Ain’t no thing, I got this. Did a lot of drivin durin my juvie days in the Hudson Valley. Hope it's an automatic… otherwise it’s gonna be a rough drive.” Walking to the trunk, Bobby threw in his gear, including the night vision goggles and other equipment he has swiped from the plane. Jumping into the drivers seat, Bobby fell into the Fiona red Merino leather and let out a prolonged sigh as he punched the ignition. The digital display lit up and Bobby took out his USB. He plugged one end into his phone and the other into the port in the center consol.

“Drivuh gets tuh pick dat music… we got James Taylawh, Jim Croce, or Gaslight Anthem and Jason Isbell. Ya' dig?”

Bobby waited for everyone to get situated, checking the GPS as he did so. “Drop Dead Twice?” he said with a hint of a smile. “Sounds like my kind of place.” He turned to his companions and shrugged his shoulders as he gunned the engine and peeled out. The drive towards Francis Street and the tavern was enjoyable, Brian Fallon’s voice blasting from the speakers, Bobby banging out the beat on the steering wheel.

Pulling up to the preprogrammed destination, Bobby let out a laugh as he slowly idled in front. The garish black and yellow paint job on the entrance to the bar was hideous and obviously purposefully so. “Seems tuh be a group of people who don't give a ****, my type of people.”

And then the bar exploded.


 
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Old Oct 28th, 2020, 07:46 PM
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Reuben hesitated a moment with the pistol in front of him, looking from side to side wide-eyed. No longer was he staring at a menacing red orb as it evaporated him. The Scot put the weapon in his leather coat and turned to the team next to him, similarly shocked. "Am off me heid, er..."

And then the bar exploded.

 




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Old Oct 29th, 2020, 01:08 AM
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Death Otter shielded her eyes with her hand and sort of half-crouched out of sheer instinct. When the explosion didn't send a hail of shrapnel across the street, she did a quick check of herself and the others. In her hand was the briefcase with Taserface inside it. She'd been going to get it out of the car, and then things had gotten crazy. Nice to know it hadn't gotten blown up at least.

"And that," she said, "is why we can't do two shows a night. It's just...we just can't. Always leave them wanting more you know, Roobs?"

Otter nodded at the car that pulled up. Something about it, and the motly crew inside, gave her a feeling.

"Did someone call for reinforcements?"
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Old Oct 29th, 2020, 10:13 AM
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Old Oct 29th, 2020, 06:20 PM
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There was no coffee "served" on the plane over the Irish Channel. When she asked, though, one of the crew members pointed Katey to a prep area with a Konig and all the coffee accouterments — including real heavy cream! — besides a well-stocked mini-fridge and cabinet with other beverages and snacks.

Returning to her seat, she offered up the madeleines, but there were no takers. With great self-discipline, she managed to eat just one with her coffee. Worth it! Next best thing to sex!, she thought. Then she closed up the box and placed it in the prep area for the crew or whoever wanted it.

After arriving in Dublin, she, "The Professor," and Bobbie drove to their first probable contact site, the Drop Dead Twice pub. There were a group of people standing outside, watching the pub. Bobbie said, "Seems tuh be a group of people who don't give a ****, my type of people.” Katey recognized them as Long's team, though, and was about to say so when the bar exploded.

Instinct took over, and Katey ducked down in her seat, as low as she could get herself. When there's a BOOM like that, the limbic system tends to take over!


 
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Old Oct 29th, 2020, 07:01 PM
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The explosion was something…. Yup, shrapnel pinging against the pristine finish of the BMW but the windows curiously holding under the extreme change of air pressure. Bobby would have thought the windows would have shattered, but nope… they held with nary a scratch. Bobby Barone did not waste time on the details though, throwing the car into park and diving out of the driver’s side door to roll across the pavement.

Before he made it to his knees and then to his feet, Bobby had his Sig Sauer P226 in his hand, clearing his field of vision as he yelled to his mates.

“Hey yo! Get behind some covuh... check your angles!”

The wave of heat and the smell of burning plastic filled Bobby’s nostrils and his eyes watered as a result. Wiping tears from his eyes with his free hand, Bobby maintained trigger discipline as he looked about, through the crowd of fleeing patrons, searching for anything that looked like a threat.

Leaning over the hood of the car, the pistol braced against the hood, Bobby carefully cleared each person as they passed… waiting to see the one that made him pull the trigger.



 
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Old Oct 29th, 2020, 10:15 PM
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Javan blinked and found himself outside the bar.

He blinked again and kept his eyes closed, rubbing his hand over Timbre's neck and bathing in the Dublin air.

His pain was erased. And in its vacancy all sorts of feelings and sensations rained down on him.

It felt like when he was a young boy in his childhood home and would stand in the basement as his mother dropped tablecloths, napkins and towels through the laundry chute in the family bathroom. She would send the light napkins first, and he would snatch them as they drifted. Then came the tablecloth and then a few towels and then a downpour of them. Catch, catch, pound, pound, pound. Soon, he would stagger and often even fall under the weight of the cotton and terrycloth, laughing and sifting his way out from underneath it.

Here, thousands of miles and sentiments from that location and time, he once again felt bombarded by sensations, smells, emotions and—lingering at the end and above everything else—confusion and regret.

"Presley?" he asked, looking around him, trying to establish some sort of connection with the man, not understanding if he had just seen things through a dream or a heightened sense of foreboding. "Anyone seen Presley? " he said, finally opening his eyes.

Timbre looked up. It seemed like he, at least, shared Javan's confusion. So Javan returned to his closed eyes where everything was in sharper focus.

Presley? he thought, Shared Jade Blessing paired with Empathy skill use; Excellent success 16 on 10/15/20trying to recall exactly Preston's expression, posture, state of being from the last glimpses he had of Presley in the dream-sequence, or whatever he would eventually use to describe it once he understood it, inside the bar.

As he began to assess the clues, he heard a song, first faintly, then growing louder until the music aligned with the vibrations of the tune coming from a car speaker directly in front of him.

Who blasted James Taylor that loudly? For that matter, who even listened to James Taylor anymore.


They'll hurt you, and desert you
And take your soul if you let them, oh yeah, don't you let 'em now

Finally opening his eyes, Javan saw the car. He didn't know cars well. This was a fancy one. It was black. Its wheelcaps were shiny. Some people were starting to get out.

And then the bar exploded.

And then Timbre pulled at his leash.

And then someone in the back of the car threw themselves down.

And then a man jumped out of the car with a gun.

And then someone—several someones—were yelling and cursing.

And then, overwhelmed once more, Javan looked around for the one person whose reactions and judgment he trusted the most.

"Esmae? Esmae? What just happened? I mean ... the explosion ... the explosions."

Javan didn't hear an answer right away.

But he heard James.

And James? James continued to sing over it all.

Hey now, all you have to do is call
And I'll be there, yes I will
You've got a friend
You've got a friend, yeah





 

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Old Oct 30th, 2020, 01:30 AM
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Standing on the sidewalk across from the bar, Esmae looked left and then right at the others who also found themselves in a new location. Struggling to comprehend what had happened, what she remembered, Esmae turned her focus to the calloused hands held out in front of her. Empty hands. A second ago she was wrestling… something, and now she was standing empty-handed across the street. Her head was down when Javan’s voice reached her, asking about Presley, and no, she hadn’t seen him since before. Now?

It was panic for everyone as the bar exploded, with people screaming and fleeing from what seemed like certain death. Esmae felt broken glass cut her forehead and felt her jacket billow out behind her as the blast wave washed over her in a deafening, sudden roar. She blinked and looked up, and the world around her came fully into focus for the first time since they had landed on the sidewalk. People ran screaming in every direction while Esmae just stood there on the sidewalk, strangely calm as she pulled a small piece of bloody glass from her forehead and spat the dust from her mouth.

”I… I don’t know what happened. Check the rubble for Presley; use the dog,” she replied to Javan as she looked around, gesturing to what had been a decent little bar a while ago. Maybe he had gone to get the car, but she doubted that; he had been in there with them, with those things. It didn't even fight back. She shook the thought from her head as the sound of sirens reached her ears, still ringing from the blast, and remembering that the authorities were unlikely to view the team favourably if they were caught. ”We can’t stay here long, so make it quick.”





 
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Old Oct 30th, 2020, 12:33 PM
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Of course! Javan could have kicked himself for not thinking of what Esmae so quickly suggested. But he was more grateful than ashamed. After all, dying and then coming back to life outside a bar gave a guy a lot to process.

"You're right. Thanks, boss," he said to Esmae.

Briefly, Javan considered the possibility of a secondary explosion. He knew it wasn't uncommon for political or terrorist bombings to follow up the first blast with a delayed explosion intentionally targeting rescue workers and survivors. But ... as he had already realized, dying a mere few minutes ago also gave you certain privileges and perspectives for the rest of the day. And one of those insights was that he would do whatever it took to prevent another death.

"Timbre," he commanded, "search!"

And both dog and old man crossed the road into the debris.


 

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Old Nov 1st, 2020, 02:46 PM
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Timbre almost leaps and in the confusion hardly anyone from the crowd notices him head directly for a charred pile of brick and lumber to start digging. Metal pieces, glass and rock immediately open wounds on both his paws but this doesn't seem to slow him down. His bloody claws and forelegs begin to stain the blackened corner section of what was once the end of the bar closest to the entrance before anyone human can catch up to him.
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Old Nov 1st, 2020, 04:41 PM
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Recovering herself, Katey got out of the car, hand discreetly in her purse and ready to pull out her sidearm. Taking stock of the situation, she said to Bobby and "The Professor," "I guess we should we go introduce ourselves?"


 
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Old Nov 2nd, 2020, 05:47 PM
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It was only after Bobby cleared the chaotic scene in front of him, the bombed out corpse of a tavern, that he became aware of the other team standing, seemingly nonchalantly behind him across the street. As Katey got out of the still idling car, he had the fob in his pocket after all, Bobby turned to the home team and shrugged his shoulders.

“Do buildings blow up everyday here, or what? Is dis somethin' I need tuh get used tuh?” he asked, more than a bit confused by the evolving situation.

Stowing his sidearm into the waistband of his jeans, underneath his leather jacket, Bobby watched and old man and a dog cross the street. From the man’s commands it was clear he was looking for something so Bobby jogged to walk next him.

Leaning close, Bobby asked quietly, “Hey, my man, we're your backup, name's Bobby. Wanna let me know what we're searchin' fawh?”

Before the man could answer, Bobby looked back at the still idling car. Cursing under his breath, Bobby took the key fob and ran back to car, just long enough to throw the key to the self-proclaimed professor.

"Just move it up tha block man," he said as he ran back to join the other agent.


 
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Last edited by Begon Ugo; Nov 2nd, 2020 at 05:48 PM.
  #14  
Old Nov 3rd, 2020, 10:33 AM
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Prof. Fintan
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Fintan had few misconceptions about what this particular avenue of employment might involve. An explosion so nearby was a fresh experience for him, but the work as ever had to come first. "Just move it up tha block man..." Bobby called out as he tossed the key.

Fintan caught it reflexively before making a slight face and clicking his tongue. "Póg mo thóin..." he muttered under his breath. 'It'll be your fault if something happens to the car. Now how do I...' It had been at least twenty years since the Professor could remember anything about himself using a car, and even moving it safely in a single direction was a test of his memory.
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Last edited by Oghain; Nov 8th, 2020 at 05:15 AM.
  #15  
Old Nov 4th, 2020, 12:50 AM
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Backup. Perhaps what they needed, just not when they needed it. Suppose that’s how it goes.

”We’re missing one, Bobby,” Esmae said as she passed by the tattooed gunman, having little trouble catching up to him and Javan with her long strides as they crossed the street to the ruined building. Stepping up beside him, she looked down at Timbre with some concern, ”Seems he’s found something. Hopefully someone.”

Esmae Rojas might not know what the hell had just happened, or how her life had gotten so complicated so quickly, so it was a refreshing bit of change to simply put her hands to work. There was no time to waste here and she set to lifting away the rubble as soon as she had caught up to their canine companion.




 
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