Description: I-No furthers the time-honored game of ambush tag by attacking Alan while he's out working on Illuminati chores. Lucky for him, this encounter involves way less vicious mauling and a little more conversation than their last. Alan receives an offer that uses the magic words: Command Gear.
Sometimes, you have no choice but to be in Minnesota.
The Illuminati's financial department makes a lot of money out of keeping track of the world's leylines, using their fluctuations to stay on the lookout for any of a very broad range of opporunities. However, people capable of examining them sufficiently are rare, either due to their own power obstructing their view, distorting the flows themselves, or simply not being cool enough.
Alan R.B. has the - as he would put it - unfortunate fuckin' luck to be a natural conduit for chi. Power flows through him like a briefly diverting river. He simply further diverts it into other people.
He is ignoring the chill conditions of the Superior National Forest at sunset, walking along a leyline toward an important junction the organization hasn't had looked at in a while. His hands are stuffed in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, a trail of smoke rising over his shoulder from the black-and-gold cigarette in his mouth.
His aviators are, of course, hanging off the back of his neck.
Alan hates leyline duty. He hates any task he has to go out and do all on his own. He has nobody to harass, nobody to fuck with, nobody to hit. He almost wishes a bear would come at him. He's had to break a few bear necks in his day.
He pauses briefly, crouching down and touching the dirt. Ghostly electricity washes up his arm as he does so, the power of the leyline passing through him harmlessly. "Fuck me," he mutters obscurely. Normally he'd just run along it at outrageous speeds, but that sends ripples through it. That completely screws with the data.
If chi is a river, Alan feels the peculiar and wholly unique sensation of a localized cloudburst radiating rain in all directions only for said rain to near-immediately get sucked back into some kind of whirlpool.
SPOILER THE FIRST: Water doesn't fucking do that.
SPOILER THE SECOND: It's right behind his head.
An enormous weight crashes into Alan's back, right as he's crouching over a leyline and cursing his cruel fate. The weight is person enormous rather than tank enormous, so the immediate result is that he gets bombed flat into the ground. It is here that he is reintroduced to an old friend to anyone who's been in merc circles long enough: knee on his spine, one arm wrenched behind his back, the other pinned to the ground with his elbow at a bad angle.
"And he's gagging for the V, ladies and gentlemen!"
I-No leans down closer. Not close enough to weaken her hold, but close enough that when she lowers her voice it sounds intensely intimate.
"Hey there, lightning pubes. Thought I'd come by and see how you're healing up. Feeling good?"
Alan's head tilts to the side. So focused on getting this done and getting out of here, his first thought is: Thank God, I can just bail and report something botched it up.
Unfortunately, that synapse has to finish firing before the next one goes: it's these cans he hates these cans get away from the cans
Right before he's impacted, to his credit, he nearly gets away. He smears an entire inch through the air as he puts his hand flat on the leyline and starts to speed along it, but his rare reflexes finally fail him. His hand keeps going as his body is hammered into the forest floor, wet leaves and pine needles sticking and digging. It reaches the limit of his shoulder and the momentum just kind of flings his arm loosely into the air.
I-No gets the other one behind his back. It isn't difficult. Alan's boxing foundations have nothing to do with holds or hold escapes. She has to shift a little to get that errant arm under control.
"Ah, fuck off!" he yells, irritated rather than afraid. He digs his steel-toes into the dirt, trying to get some kind of leverage. Then he recognizes the voice.
Alan R.B. doesn't get surprised often. Even when he's not in control of a situation, he's already prepared himself for that element of chaos. This? New on him. I-No can read that in the hesitation before he speaks, the moment of uncertainty while his face is pressed toward the dirt.
"First of all, I'm trimmed." He's struggling with his far arm, trying to get his hand back on the leyline point. "Second of all, if you're concerned with how I'm feeling, let's trade places and we'll both have a good time."
To Alan's credit, almost no one is prepared at all hours for a sudden attack from the witch dimension. Unfortunately, it is also to I-No's experience. That's why she did it.
Because she is mean.
"Mm mm mm, naughty -- NAUGHTY -- boy!"
I-No keeps trying to yank Alan's arm far enough away from the leyline that she can twist it and put pressure on the elbow. It's not great! While their little wrestling match is semi-aborted when Alan gets that uncertainty in him, which means brainpower is being used in addition to squirmpower, I-No is a merciless top.
"Poor thing," I-No purrs. "Can't eat a little dirt for mistress? Maybe you'd prefer the taste of my boot."
Alan can feel I-No shift on his back again. She's straightening up. This means she's got a better hold on things and also has probably abandoned her creepy sex whispers, so it's really a net loss in every category.
"It occurred to me that whoever you're working for hates you, because they sent you to get my attention. My attention means you're fuckin' cursed for the rest of your life. So, I thought: since this guy is toiling away unloved and unappreciated, why not offer him a chance to become gainfully employed as my bitch? I offer full benefits to my best workers."
I-No squeezes Alan's arms, fingers digging into his flesh. Trimmed fingernails or no, she is stronger than she looks -- or looked, from last time.
"What'dya say? Do I let you up? You could run then, but I'd just find you again and do something really fucked up to you."
Alan gets just close enough to let I-No know she should not let him do that - his pinky comes just in range that a pulse of that ghostly electricity runs through him. He doesn't try to control it, but it's deeply (albeit briefly) unpleasant. "Safeword. Banana. Constantinople. Fuck off." he mutters. "Aren't you FetLife trolls supposed to be about consent?"
Unfortunately, he is at a disadvantage in every possible way. I-No gets her prison lock in place. Alan goes 'tch' once he realizes it - and starts relaxing as I-No talks.
"Oh, come on," he says. His tone has shifted from last time - he's gone from sex mode to rude mode. "I found you crashed in some shithead's house rolling through stolen liquor. You should be asking /me/ for a job. I don't have to be liked to get bigger paychecks than some nation's GDPs."
"So if you want to t-" He hisses as I-No wrenches on him. "If you want to talk, get the fuck up off of me instead of grinding on the entirely wrong bone and we'll have a proper fucking conversation." Chi flow is starting to build up in his relaxed body, fast, thanks to the leyline runoff - though he isn't tapping that pure force from within it. Even totally restrained, if he gets a little more time he could try and force the issue.
Alan knows when he makes things unpleasant for I-No. It's when she drops tone to hiss "fucker," while jamming her knee further into his spine.
But I-No is listening. When Alan makes his case, she eventually makes an amused noise and lessens the pressure on his back. Not enough for him to get up, but enough for it to stop hurting.
"You never need a paycheck if you never pay for anything. I'm a fuckin' revolutionary." She shifts again. Weight on her hands. It hints that she's about to move -- and, hopefully, that means off.
"I see you're getting engorged. Walk it off before I think about popping it in the least fun way."
I-No disappears off Alan's back all at once, as if lifted off by some giant force. Considering Alan saw her flying around last time this is probably not so perplexing.
When the Illuminati man finally sets sight on her, she is standing several feet away, hips cocked to the side and arms crossed while she waits. She's wearing a red parka with black buttons and fur trimming, unzipped just enough to show off a ribbed sweater. Heavy black leggings and beat-up steel-toed stompy boots finish her off.
The moment I-No lets up, Alan is standing with no apparent intervening frames. His body smears as he turns most of a complete circle in less than a heartbeat, electricity pulsing outward in a ring from his feet, draining into the ground where it hits the leyline. He stops when he's facing her.
He's in no rush. He can leave at any time. One foot on that leyline and he's /gone/. The boxer pulls the crushed cigarette out of his mouth and pitches it into the woods. Alan is no longer wearing his checkerboard "incognito" Illuminati suit - he's in a blue shirt with opened cuffs and collar set off by a dark blue vest with black pants and well-polished boots. The now-grass-marked outfit is the kind of thing you see on websites saying 'wow this costs so much dumb money!'
His hand slips an inner pocket of his vest and withdraws an onyx cigarette case with a sapphire triangle logo, snapping it open and drawing out another black-and-gold cigarette. After he fits it in his mouth, a spark of electricity jumps off his wrist, landing neatly on the tip. He pulls another out, snaps the case closed, and holds it vaguely toward I-No, filter up.
He pulls his sunglasses, somehow unharmed, off the back of his neck, flicking them closed and shifting them into another pocket. "See, people think just taking what you want is power. Like bein' a parasite that hangs around by the anus of society's rad and glamorous. Like, I don't give a shit, right? Do whatever you want." Puff of smoke.
"Beats being part of the system, I guess. A cog in the gearbox. I mean, they think they're being a cog in the whole machine, but they can't even see the whole shape of it." Ash flick. Alan sneers. The sun's drifting down, but he remains luminous, the big lightning charge draining away down to the crackles on his skin that never go away. It's more clear now, with no gloves, no mask.
"So, look. Obviously you know a bit more about what's up than most of the cogs. Trackin' me down and all that type of shit. Seriously. You looking for a better job? Still being a parasite, but more like one of those real scary brain parasites, dragging this rotting idiot of a world toward power and control it isn't even ready for. I mean, me working for you? That's a joke and a half. Not happening. Don't think you got the zeroes."
I-No is comfortable with her sassy poise. She watches Alan do his routine with the kind of nonchalance that only the truly weird can summon up in these unfamiliar situations. Her gaze moves to study different things, so she is interested on some level -- and Alan can tell this because every time she moves her eyes, the color of her irises change.
Like when Alan offers a cigarette from a case. A CASE. I-No looks at the thing from where she's standing, eyes half-lidded. Instead of crossing the distance to take it from him, she raises her hand to accept it as if it were being given to her. The cigarette obliges her by slipping out of Alan's hand and serenely flying across the way into her fingertips.
I-No spends the rest of Alan's monologue giving the cigarette a smell, putting it between her lips, and then evidently lighting it by snapping her fingers near the tip.
She's taking the first smokey exhale around the time that he's talking about brain parasites. Her eyebrows raise fractionally without there being any hint of surprise elsewhere in her expression.
"Shit, you had your manifesto memorized," I-No mutters, complete with vocal fry to show proper levels of enthusiasm. She holds up her hands and waggles her fingers, cigarette leaving a squiggly trail of smoke as she briefly widens her eyes. "This rotting idiot of a world!"
Cigarette back in mouth. Eyes back lidded. I-No exhales more smoke.
"This is real fucking simple, coppertop," she says, in full form again. "You help me with what I want because I don't give a dry Minnesotan fuck, or I continue to beat the shit out of you whenever I get bored. It's a fuckin' dilemma!"
I-No pauses. It's not enough to give Alan a chance to speak up, but enough for her to put on a clever look while switching topics.
"Hey, who do you work for? Is it two-tone or Bateman?"
Alan's seeing it, taking note. Makes sense that she's not entirely human, the way she just throws sorcery around as simply as breathing. The cigarette floating away from him doesn't bother him. Fuck it. Not worth worrying about.
I-No makes fun of his speech. The sneer turns into a smirk. The blonde waves a hand through the air like he was brushing away a cobweb. "Nah, we get notes to go off'a. It's the kind of bullshit that impresses the dark enlightenment tech bros we swallow up into entry level positions. 'Finally, now I can show the world true free market efficiency!'
He flicks ash again, right into the beautiful forest floor, scraping a boot over it so he doesn't risk starting a fire. Doing that too near a leyline with the wrong emotions could create interesting side effects he doesn't want to clean up. Alan then goes to answer I-No, but she steamrolls her second offer with another question.
"Please!" Alan barks a cruel laugh, the sort of laugh someone who watches old people eat shit on stairways has. His eyes go narrow as he reaches up and rubs a scarred knuckle on his cheek, wiping away a smudge of dirt. He examines his fist critically. Was she trying to catch him off-guard with a description of Gill, or trying to intimate she knows more than he does?
Misstep, as far as he's concerned. She gets nothing from knowing just how much he knows. "My handler's still middle management. You'd like her. You probably go to the same stylist. Anyway, that's a whole different issue. Favors?" The shadows are blending into night, but the lighting is weird on Alan, who mostly gives off his own. His cigarette glows cherry red, smoke curling out of his nostrils as he slips one hand into his pocket.
"Favors we do. What's your damage?"
I-No snorts when Alan turns to bag on the party line. It's clear as day even if day ain't so here right now: smoke right out of her nose. Her multi-hued gaze briefly drops to the ash he stomps out, but ultimately she does not comment on the act. If she knows the significance of his care, well, would it be a surprise?
The witch -- minus hat currently -- doesn't change her expression when Alan makes the initial dismissal, and she is kindly silent enough when he takes the time to fuss over his appearance. She has a cigarette to smoke, after all, and sucking on something antisocial is a decent way to pass a few moments of boredom.
That next bit, though. I-No's face turns into dull neutrality, given overtures of viciousness by the knit in her brow line and sharpness of her eyes. It's the face of a woman who sees the person she's gonna shoot.
"Oh. So you're blind," she says in a flat voice. "Saves my ass a workout."
I-No reaches up to pluck the cigarette from her red, red lips and gives a surprisingly girlish sigh right before rolling her head around. Her neck pops when she leans it too far left, and then she reaches up to rub at her shoulder on that side.
"Fine. Your menswear cult pops fat boners for information on Gears. They tell you that much during your monthly preclear auditing?"
The coldness falling on I-No's face doesn't seem to affect Alan, which begins to raise the question: Is he an idiot? Is he that self-confident? Or is 'fear' just... something he doesn't do? "If you just wanted me to give your ass a workout, this would've been a shorter and sweeter conversation." He flicks and stamps ash again.
She brings up Gears. Alan leaves the cigarette in his mouth and takes off his sunglasses to itch behind the ear, letting the Very Red Witch wait for a moment. The shades of grey in his eyes move slightly, slowly rolling to his right along an unseen horizon. The conduit may not be very highly-placed rank-wise, but his information clearance is a bit outsized.
"Yeah," he says, slipping the aviators back on. "Might know a thing or two about that."
SMASHCUT TO: Mostly nude men rampaging around a cave bellowing "GEARS! BRING ME GEARS! FILL MY OILY HOUSE WITH GEARS!"
"Given relatively recent events, kind of a hot topic." A shark's smile. "As you know."
I-No makes 'tch' noise of acknowledgment when Alan weighs in on ass workouts. Considering her everything, it's not a wild guess to surmise that she throws the slow pitches to see how people swing.
Alan acts cool. I-No watches with pale ambivalence. The deeper the sun dips, the more the cherrying tip of her cigarette sharpens the shadows on her face. As she tilts her head to the side, her irises slip through snow gray to forest green to deep ocean blue.
"As I do fuckin' know," she agrees with another cloud of smoke. "I also do fuckin' know your high-ups are thirsty for this shit. A man who gets tasked with hiking along a leyline while his balls take shelter might skip a few ranks if he brought back a way to bag one of the missing Command Gears, ne?"
When I-No says 'Command Gear', she finally gets a rare tell out of Alan, a brightening flicker from the end of his cigarette. While he isn't particularly interested in climbing the ladder, managing something like that would do something even better - give him enough clout to keep the Project off his ass and /maybe/ somewhere a little more secure from their particular line of bullshit.
"So an I spank your ass, you spank mine situation. I'm always down for that, fills time on a lazy Sunday." He's nearly smoked his cigarette down. He pinches it from his mouth, drops it in one palm, and closes his other hand over it. "But, I gotta say..."
Fulguric light flares in the spaces between his fingers. When he opens his hand, the butt's reduced to a few scattering ashes. It seemed more like the man did it out of habit than for effect. "I don't see what you can gain that makes up for that particular balance."
I-No's gaze dips. It's typically a subtle gesture, but Alan has the benefit of her irises shifting slightly on the color spectrum. That she noticed the flicker-tell... well, there's power in knowing that he knows that she knows, right?
Shit gets complicated.
I-No blows right past Alan's cigarette trick because she's probably done all sorts of weird dramatic finishing moves on smoking paraphernalia in her time. "What, can't a lady inform on someone and eagerly watch an army of freaks in trenchcoats descend from the sky to karate chop her unconscious?"
I-No splits her face with a sharp and unkind grin. All the known Command Gears are shes, so the field is still open on which she's got intel on.
"I mean I'll gladly ask for more if you're shitting Christmas spirit. I could always use a few more checking accounts, maybe someone kicking the NOL in their taint until they forget about my bounty."
"So," Alan R. B. rolls on, "you either wanna get a feel for what my organization can roll out when suitably motivated or you wanna see something you're not willing to straight up tangle with get removed from the board."
He slips his hands into his pockets, head tilting slightly back. The blonde matches I-No's grin with a half-slash of a sneer. "But... you also know damn well that if you've got that info and I blow you off I'll get my dick wrapped around my throat and hung up to be someone's personal winsock." Alan dips his head like a fencer acknowledging a point. "The second you went and said 'Command Gear' the deal was as good as made."
Alan steps forward. As he passes over the leyline to I-No's side, blue lightning flares up his legs, pure chi washing over him like water on a fisherman's waders. It stops once he's passed over. It's more than just symbolic - with the leyline /behind/ him, he'll be hard-pressed to get onto it if I-No were to decide to take a swing thanks to the shortened distance.
His left hand slips out of his pocket, palm out, gesturing to the side in indication of a play come to its conclusion. "Well? Let's stop dancing around each other's rims and get to the point."
I-No makes an exaggerated little show of feigning bemusement and shrugging her shoulders as Alan guesses her motivation. She opens her hands, palms splayed wide to show their emptiness. Who's to say?
But then he gets into the real delicious stuff. The same poised maintained, I-No drops only enough of the questioning act to show a more truthful expression: eyes narrowed in predatory recognition, red lips thinning due to the wideness of her smile. Her irises both settle on red.
Alan comes over. I-No's attention shifts briefly to his gesture, but returns to meet his gaze soon enough. She drops one hand, but uses the other to take the cigarette from her mouth and flick it out into Mother Nature because she's a villain.
"Alright. We're gonna do this nice and slow but going in dry is fuckin' amateur hour. I'm not gonna tell you right away because I want to see a few other things shake out first. You are not gonna commit to me right away because you're gonna send out feelers and see what kind of big-dick conspiracy hammer you can gather up. Once we're both satisfied..."
I-No half-lids her eyes. Her irises shift partially into a spectrum of whites and blues.
"I'll serve you up Dizzy and you can do whatever you feel like. Simple as that."
A moment of silence passes. The corners of I-No's lips turn up.
"We'll call the NOL thing extra credit. I'll do something creative with my mouth."
Alan snorts, comboing it into a classic 'nheh heh heh' style snicker. "Oh, trust me," he says, "in terms of how most of this shit goes down we're practically at the honeymoon already. I didn't even have to decode a single Netherrealm script to get to this point."
It's been about thirty seconds, so Alan slips his backup cigarette from behind his ear, lighting it against... something. He lets out a puff as I-No finally gives a name.
He gives the witch a slightly cross look. "Of course, it had to be that one." Alan doesn't have the taste for the tobacco anymore. He throws the nearly-whole cigarette down to crush it under his heel. At least that'll get everyone's full attention.
"Got it, yeah, whatever. We meet again under the Vicar's riven shadow at the death of the last bird or some shit." He hooks a thumb over his shoulder. "We got anything else to take care of? A blowie in that leaf pile or whatever?"
"Don't say blowie, it makes you sound like an accountant," says I-No.
The red witch turns partially away, raising her hand to tuck some of her hair behind her ear.
"I'll let you get your bureaucratic grab-ass games going. When I'm ready I'll find you. I'll be a sweetheart and put Lady Nukeheart in a spot where she won't goddamn nuke your asses so easily, but whether or not you all get ashed is really a matter of if you're all fuckin' useless or not."
I-No gestures dismissively at Alan. She completes her turn, beginning to walk off. That doesn't mean she's finished talking. It just means she's started raising her voice.
"Gird your loins, Arbys! She doesn't even banter good when she's killing you!"
The air ahead of her ripples, twisting inward on itself and sinking into some kind of whiter-than-white abstraction. Alan has a moment to shout some choice words back before I-No disappears into the anomaly, which itself vanishes a moment later.
"Good," responds Alan, "less distraction from staring at her tits."
Alan is unaware that Dizzy is, charitably, about four years old.
When I-No is gone, he waits for a brief moment before snapping his fingers. A wave of elves - ethereal red circles of upper-atmospheric lightning - pass from him to sweep through the space the anomaly just was, checking to make sure she didn't just go invisible or some shit.
Exhaling through his teeth after she's confirmed gone, he slips the next iPhone out of his pocket, pressing his thumb on the screen and pulling off his shades to hang them off his vest. He flicks at it a few times before lifting it to his ear.
"K.G.- no I'm not calling to talk about how good my dick is today. I got a lead."
Pause. "Class 1."
He steps back onto the leyline and is gone in an instant, the forest no longer privy to his words.
Log created on 20:31:39 10/18/2018 by I-No, and last modified on 09:15:54 11/07/2018.