Aisthesis

September 26, 2017:

Investigating the bombed-out ruins in Birnin Azzaria, Jane Foster and Matt Murdock run across Elektra Natchios — and an opportunity.

Birnin Azzaria, Wakanda

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Bucky Barnes, T'Challa, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Birnin Azzaria: The Learned City. South and west of its more resplendent sister, Birnin Zana, it is the Wakandan equivalent of a college town. Named for King T'Challa's grandfather, it is younger, and (arguably) more forward-thinking than the ancient capitol, home as it is to the reclusive country's scholars and philosophers.

And not so long ago, it was burning.

Daredevil's nose is always a good guide. As soon as their car reached the sleepy scholar's city earlier this morning, the man could catch the whiff of ash and char and previously-melted metal on the wind. It was a short ride to the source, a slender, bombed-out and, now, seemingly abandoned tower within the city limits. And it's in the empty, blackened ruins of the once-sleek and elegant grounds floor that the red-clad vigilante's footsteps now carry him. His helmed head angles itself as he walks — not to get a better look, obviously — but the way a cat might when it's catching, or at least seeking, stray sounds.

"Now two fire-bombings?" he notes in quiet aside to his companion.

After so long following that astral pull — something unnatural and ephemeral and just so /new/ to Jane Foster — she was more than welcome to favour and trust the better guide of Matt Murdock's imbued senses.

She might have called him MacGruff again in the car, but she ultimately lets his smell lead them all the way to —

— this.

Jane certainly doesn't have Daredevil's agility, and most of the sounds seem to be coming from her as she tails him in. The woman tries her best to be quiet, and thankfully she is a far more small, nimble thing than most, but the ruins are treacherous, and the failing light in the gutted-out building supplements poorly from the flashlight app on her phone.

She hops over some debris, before turning her phone up to survey the foundation around them.

"Seems so," she answers. "Son of a bitch. This is probably the reason why there was all those fresh heads studding up the south. Think you could get some things out of this? Like if it went exactly like Mizizi?"

"Exactly?" Daredevil repeats as he nimbly steps over some stray bits of wreckage along his path. The level of light in a room seems to have no bearing on whatever senses or combination of senses allow the vigilante to navigate the world with such surety. "Hard to say. But whatever did this burned hot. It'd need to in order to melt whatever space-age stuff these towers are built out of. In Birnin S'Yan I was able to find traces of the accelerant on the ground that Jess could analyze. I'll try that here."

All her talk of heads on pikes brings his attention back to her. "Yeah, maybe so," he says with a touch of distaste. "Master infiltrators warring against a country of xenophobes — talk about your unstoppable force meeting an immovable object." It could be a compliment, but it isn't. Neither HYDRA nor Wakanda have done much to impress Matt Murdock over the last half-year.

Another beat, and then a jut of his chin towards a scarred and battered wall. "Southeast corner of the first floor doesn't seem as badly burnt out. And there are computers there. Might be something useful?" How the hell the man knows that he deigns not to say; he keeps his tricks close as any magician.

"Or your undying roundworm meeting the super-clenched up — I won't be gross," Jane replies, her voice as dead and dry as the smoking ruins around them.

"You can really find all that stuff out?" she says, despite having in possession the evidence /he can/. "I know some very very passionate chemists you'd make break down and sob like babies. Seriously amazing."

With that aside said, met with a fond turn of her eyes, Jane hikes up her jaw and returns to business. "So — I'm no investigator. So I might be yapping the absolute obvious, but — so this cements the idea that Hydra's here, been here a long time, and Wakanda knows about them. From what I sensed, they're pissed and they're confused, so Hydra might be the first ever in the history of a long time to hit them this fast and hard. If they're hitting more than the conference, it was never specifically about James. He wasn't a target, but a convenient casualty."

Running a hand through her hair, she exhales noisily. "And yet T'Challa goes all these lengths after James. Berlin and New York and back again. Just a glance at this doesn't give anyone full evidence, but it surely says this is much bigger than the showcase execution of one man. No wonder that panther god feels pissed off at him."

For a blind man, Daredevil however catches notice of those computers far before Jane does, and she interrupts her own rambling to look where he gestures. "Definitely could be. If anything's still workable, I could get it up."

Picking through, testing the creaks of the burnt-out building in fear the foundation isn't going to crumble on her, Jane goes where asked. "Accelerant works as well as I read, I see," she intones. "The thing about Hydra is they don't just infiltrate. It's like they've always been there. They're your forefathers long rotten. So something strong enough to burn down Wakandan materials has to be Wakandan too."

Jane marvels at Matt's powers of perception, and not for the first time. It leaves Matt — who has all sorts of complicated feelings about said powers — flattered and flustered at once. He tries to pass it off. "Yeah, I guess I could have gone into science," the man says archly. Or done nearly anything with his gifts — become a chef, or a sommelier — other than spend his nights beating criminals to a fare thee well. "Chemistry or biology, at least… but I always kind of sucked at math." The answer is vintage Matt: wry, flip, and only half-true, if that.

Jane posits her theory on what this second attack means, and he abandons the focus required for his silent, invisible survey of their devastated surroundings to give it a hearing. His chin — one of the few parts of him not obscured by the outfit she fashioned for him — dips downward contemplatively. "I think the theory of James as a patsy makes sense," Matt says carefully, thoughtfully. "Getting their revenge on him was a kind of bonus prize, but it's not what drove their mission. Figuring out what did drive HYDRA may lead to the evidence we need to get James off. As for T'Challa…"

A beat. The man's jaw sets, and then resets. "Beyond what's necessary to free James, I don't care about him or his motivations. At the end of the day, for all the fancy armor and the ceremony and the traditions and the pronouncements from on high, he's just another politician." Disdain born of a blue-collar, working class upbringing suffuses that last word.

"Watch your step," he says as she begins making her way over the debris to that corner of the floor that escaped the full fury of the blast.

The fire and rescue teams have long since come and gone, leaving the smoking wreck of Birnin Azzaria empty and desolated. Nothing stirs in the ruins to touch Jane or Matt's senses — particularly Matt's, which are extended to their very limit.

Nothing — up until, several streets down, the slight sound of rubble being disturbed, as by a person walking softly through the ruins, pulls at the edges of his keen hearing.

He will be able to tell that it is a woman, and one moving with intent to stay stealthy and undetected, but beyond that, the distance is too great to discern detail.

The charred and abandoned ruins of the spire are as quiet as a mausoleum, scoured of any trace of its former inhabitants. Disquieting as this vacant ruin may be, its sheer emptiness has left Matt free to focus on building a mental picture of the space and determine what, if any, evidence remains within it. It also leaves him undistracted perfectly posed to catch the stray sound of soft footfalls — still far-off, but growing closer and now within the security perimeter established by the Wakandan authorities.

He can't tell much, but what he can discern of those footsteps narrows the field of possibilities, and does nothing to disqualify the possibility he dreads most. Elektra's last sighting was here — in Birin Azzaria — where she nearly killed Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. He knew that coming here might set up a collision, but now that the prospect of it is here

"Someone's coming this way," Matt says in a sharp hush to Jane as he slowly draws one of the batons from the holster at his calf and positions himself with back against one of the half-melted walls. "A woman, a few blocks off. Stay low, and stay close to me."

Already in work mode, Jane makes a beeline toward where the battered, but unburnt, remnants of computers still stand strong against so much burning wreckage. It looks promising.

Turning her phone on its casing — far more advanced that she's used to, and wishing now more than ever she had James's convenient left arm to open all sorts of metals — she sorts into the long way around into getting into the electrical guts of the system to wire on. Or such was the plan, because —

Matt speaks, and Jane looks up. His warning reflects visibly across her brown eyes. She makes no noise to confirm or acknowledge she's heard, and there's a seamless, strangely-learned way in how quickly she obeys. Not the first time she has been expected to change from civilian to something else — something that lives and dies on its own abject silence.

He can hear it; the familiar displacement of air that is Jane's quick nod. She lets her abandoned work go silently, and turns off her phone, pressing its screen to her breastbone to smother away any future risk of light. Balanced low on the balls of her feet, she remains half-crouched, swivelling to put her own back parallel to another wall. She waits in their shared silence, listening even if she cannot hear what she can — her eyes on Matt to follow his lead.

Matt Murdock's worst fears soon come to fruition. As that presence draws closer, as of yet unaware she has company, the shape and color of her presence resolves in his sharp senses as devastatingly familiar. Her pace, her breathing, the steady beat of her heart, and the scent of her — carried on the intermittent wind — all tell Murdock one thing.

It's Elektra. And there's nothing in her to suggest that she knows she has company. No wariness, no curiosity, nothing except cold purpose.

Her trajectory, by luck or — as far as Matt might be concerned — distinct lack of luck, takes her down their street and past the wall behind which Matt and Jane crouch in silence. Matt's early warning system does well to keep them so silent that not even Elektra detects their presence, as she passes silently by. Her progress is wraithlike as a ghost.

Visual confirmation arrives for Jane as the assassin passes them, some time after the 'everything else'-confirmation arrived for Matt: it is Elektra, clothed in black, the lower half of her face hidden away under a wrapped shemagh to ward off smoke and ash.

The woman nears, the truth is confirmed, and Matt Murdock closes his sightless eyes. It's not just that he barely survived their last encounter with her that weighs on him; or that he's still mystified and quasi-grief-stricken by her transformation; or even that, by failing to stop her, he had set his friends up for a near-death experience of their own. It's that he knows in his bones that there is no scenario — even one where they prevail — that will not feel like a devastating loss. There seems a yawning gap between the woman Matt thought he knew half a decade ago and the woman who stalks past them, but he still knows her well enough to know that any victory won against Elektra Natchios is a Pyrrhic one.

In the moment, as Elektra makes her way through the ruins, she seems nothing so much like a revenant — the ghost of one of Birin Azzaria's fallen mindlessly repeating the old routines of her day before fire consumed the Spire and reduced her world to ash. She is unaware, and that's their saving grace.

The honorable thing to do here would be to call her out, give her notice, so they could square off like gunslingers in the spaghetti westerns his dad used to love. It might also give him the opportunity to ask all the questions burning in his breast over the last several days, like:

What happened to you?
Why are you doing this?
Why did you keep doing this even after you knew I was one of your targets?
Where did you go?

And who knows, she might even select the truth for her answers.

But then an image comes to mind— or the impressionistic smattering of sensations that count for images in Matt's world. It's of Jessica Jones laid up in that hospital bed, wan and in pain and poked full of holes. The memory and the flood of emotions the memory summons set off an unstoppable chain reaction — first seen in the jut of his hard jawline, the tensing of his armored frame, and then later, in the space of seconds, how he rises so swiftly and silently to do the least honorable thing imaginable, as he takes a play out of his former-lover's own book — and strikes first while unseen.

The only notice she'll have is the whistling of that spinning baton as it makes its arc straight for the back of her skull.

The whistle of the baton sure alerts Elektra. And her reflexes are just as quick as Matt would remember them to be — if not even quicker.

The woman whirls instantly, sai drawn, a flick of the wrist stabbing the weapon up with unerring precision to catch and trap the descending baton. She slips it between the sai's tines, twists, locks the weapon an inch from her face —

— and then she notices who tried to hit her, in complete silence, from behind.

Contrary to what anyone might expect in such a situation, the look that crosses her face is a melange of muted delight, hopefulness, and smug 'I knew it was so.'

"I knew you had it in you," she says. "I knew it was still there, even if you've stayed so unaccountably soft — "

She shoves hard, disentangling her weapon at the same time, trying to push him away and gain space. She makes no offensive move of her own. She seems as yet unaware that Matt is not alone, her head canted to one side, her stance nonhostile. "Matthew," she begins, an odd coquetry to her demeanor that would have been familiar and expected at one of their college-era parties or flings, but is assuredly not here in the bombed ruined of a far-flung city, "we have much we need to catch up on."

Even if she doesn't know he has company, she is suspicious of it. "Yet so many interruptions keep rearing their heads! And I am on a timetable."

And the Devil of Hell's Kitchen (and Wakanda) makes the first strike and wastes no time to engage —

— Jane Foster remains where she is. Some lessons either instilled by the missing James Barnes or her own good sense, she uses what tactical advantage she has of remaining out of sight. Already folded in beside some wall and wedged beneath the yet-unburnt desks housing the computer system she was thirty seconds from dissection, the tiny woman remains low and concealed, eyes alert as she remains out of sight.

She retracts, losing any real vantage point to see what is happening, though she surely recognizes the mercurial sing-song of a woman's voice. Her.

Jane's jaw tightens.

Her phone is still in hand. She thinks she even has the script in mind —

— that is, if Matt will even need the help.

She turns and blocks his opening sortie, quick as ever — quicker — and cuts short any hope he has of a quick or truncated end to this encounter. Fine, fuck it,, he thinks to himself, sparing the crouching woman beside no glance that might betray her position as he steps out fully from behind the wall, the second of his batons clenched in hand.

She tries to gain some distance from him, while he presses forward with slow steps. She teases and flirts like old times, but there's not even a flicker of reciprocal spark on the half of his countenance she can actually see. The truth is the tone rankles him, not just because her flippancy on a matter of literal life and death is galling, but because every word she utters carries them further away from his preferred theory on her trajectory from cosmopolitan socialite to killer.

But he does his best to set it aside. To focus on the moment, as Stick once taught him, and allow these surging fury to crest and fall. One step forward, then another. "Well we all miss deadlines now and again, Elektra, no matter what line of work we're in," the masked man says with a spread of his hands, empty and weapon-wielding alike, in a tone of feigned nonchalance that still can't hide its bite. A beat, a cock of his head rightward. "What was yours, again?"

Her trajectory from socialite to killer, yes.

Or was it ever really a 'trajectory?' Was it, instead, more of an unveiling? A baring? A stripping away of artifice?

Elektra's dark eyes say nothing that would tell Matt Murdock anything for certain. They only laugh; even now, she finds joy in the violent give and take, stab and parry, cut and thrust — joy in the savage dance in which they indulge. This is where she is in her element. This is where she would like him to join her.

Where she's always wanted him to join her.

"I can't discuss work with you, Matthew," she mourns. Still, she does not attack. She might have orders to kill him, but they don't seem to be orders she's keen on following. "But I can tell you — you are holding it up. Men! Always making me late. I have somewhere to be."

She cants her head, and the space between them sparks electric with unspoken danger. "Let me pass."

That's the crux of it for him, really. To accept that Elektra's sudden, violent reemergence into his life isn't the result of HYDRA programming or brainwashing is also to accept that the woman he knew was capable of terrorism and murder. Which in turn means he either didn't know her at all, or on some level did know her — and loved her anyway. Either way, the answer casts new light on the time they spent in each other's company. All that thrill-seeking and the fire he'd remembered with longing and regret suddenly fills him with revulsion.

The air between them is charged, filled with portent and possibilities — but then, wasn't it always? He takes a step deeper into it, heedless of the consequences. This is also true to form.

"The last time I let you slip away," Matt answers, his low and resonant tone carrying through the empty spaces around them as he slowly closes the distance, "you went and hurt some people I care about. Now why would I let that happen again?"

Silently, Jane listens. Listens to the woman of Matt Murdock's past tease and taunt and toy with him with memories Jane is not and should not be privy.

Her eyes crease to absorb that distant exchange… though it's not the only thing she does.

Dr. Foster is a consummate multitasker. The lilt of Elektra's voice makes her fingers tighten around her phone, as she taps into her applications and opens into her prewritten list of scripts. She silently rolls her sleeve up on her left arm, the inside crook of her elbow bruised black from so many tracks of magic. She told Jessica she'd lay off doing more. She tells people a lot of things.

Jane hooks herself back in, grimacing as she bends the long, copper ends of stripped wires deep down into her worried vein. The pain doesn't hurt as much as it should, however, because her body is already electric with anticipation — bracing for the rush she knows will come.

It'll be death for her to engage Elektra — but there are other ways Jane can enter this fight. She taps her phone and her eyes switch to blue.

The air between Matt and Elektra is indeed charged — filled first with the electricity of their shared past, the charge what crosses the permeable barrier of their bisecting futures —

And then it's charged with something else. Matt will smell it first. The sharp, heady ozone of ionized air, like a thunderstorm forming in front of him, electrons stripping away and singing freedom as plasma writes a long, meandering path.

The source is Jane Foster, hidden and out of sight, but still here. The destination are the conducting tines of Elektra's sai.

A charge strikes to hit that point: on those weapons, up through them, into Elektra Natchios. It is not electricity, not lightning in its classical, oxidizing sense that brings pain and death, but it is still witnessed in a thunderclap of magic. And it is still /felt/.

The script seeks to travel up through and into her. Jane's code in Elektra's head. And she's going right for the reticular activating system.

Now why would I let that happen again? Matt Murdock asks. "You sound almost as if you're about to do something, Matthew," Elektra begins, amused —

— but of course, ultimately, he is not the one who does something. It's Jane, who has got unnoticed. Up until now.

There is no outward indication of what she did, not at first — not other than that brief and frankly unremarkable charge of electricity. It's so small, barely more than an average static shock, and Elektra barely seems to notice it beyond the way it jolts her weapon briefly in her grasp.

She looks down, confused… then instantly aware that a third party is present. Her gaze angles sharply up on Matt. "You planned — ?"

Her pupils dilate. Her entire body lights up in Matt's perception, her heartrate crashing through the roof, her breathing shallowing to panicked, furious pants. She starts a few steps, unerringly, towards where she knows Jane must be, rage written loud and lurid in every last inch of her.

Then something else seems to kick in. Whatever is happening to her escalates. She claws at her own clothing as if the fabric burned her, as if she were wearing her very own hydra-blood tunic and all her flesh were scalding free. She screams — and the sound of her own scream seems to hurt her, crumpling her in an agony Matt might find familiar indeed.

She falls against a wall, and the roughness of it sends her shuddering away. Her hands clutch into her hair, as her unseeing eyes stare straight ahead. "Baba mou," she pleads, seeing something years and countries away. "Oxi, oxi, oxi…"

In the handful of moments before Jane pulls her stunt, Matt both mentally readies himself for the seemingly inevitable clash and spares a moment to marvel once again that Elektra is here, now, a continent and half-a-decade away from Columbia. She's both herself and not: still the same sly provocateur, but with a naked menace that he either never noticed before or willfully chose not to see. But there's no time to sort through the differences between his memories of Elektra and the woman standing before him now; he's already preparing to answer her verbal riposte with a physical one of his own. Fingers tighten around the baton and ready for —

Wait, what's that smell?

He never even has a chance to raise a hand against her, anymore than she has a chance to finish that sentence. "Jane, what did you do…?" he says, his voice trained back behind him.

Then her heartrate is spiking, her breathing stutter-skips, and she's showing signs and symptoms he knows all too well. Signs and symptoms he displayed on a hospital bed at Metro General seventeen years ago, when his world went black and the noise, the stench, and every graze of fabric against his skin threatened to overwhelm him. Sensory overload is something Matt Murdock is intimately familiar with, and to witness it in another — in her — is jarring.

"Jane, he repeats, alarm growing in his voice as he takes a step towards the flailing Elektra, "What did you do?//"

Her blood steeps with that familiar, dizzying rush of magic, until Jane tastes it, until Jane feels it: until every atom of her body slouches toward Bethlehem, thought ripping free from her mind in a single, rending moment of absolute nirvana.

And then it ends. And the trade demands its payment.

Jane Foster comes to, moments too late, to the foggy, too-close sounds and smells of Wakanda, of that burnt-out building: to the closer parse of Matt Murdock's voice, demanding something of her between and beneath the louder pound of her blood in her ears.

Nausea twists up her insides, and she pulls the wire free from her arm, shakily rolling down the sleeve.

A moment later, Jane emerges. Across the gutted-open room, as Elektra hallucinates and convulses, her quiet assailant unfolds herself from her hiding place and tries to stagger up to her feet. She can't quite do more than kneel, one hand up on the desk to prop herself upright. Her dark-ringed eyes, sleepless and other things, look on the woman. Maybe at some point she will feel remorse. No time to now.

"Calcium channels," she rasps, voice thin, rough, distracted. "Passes neural signal. Quantum wave field disrupts — ion flow. Simple program." Jane's breathing hitches. "Rebooted — brainstem. Not fatal."

Simple. Not fatal. Short, theoretically reassuring words to summarize the much longer ones which answer Matt's question.

There is little that seems simple about the way Elektra hallucinates and shudders on the ruined floor. Whatever she's seeing, it starts the tears running down her face. She was too late, and all the training her father gave her couldn't help her save him.

There is a last moment, in that brief second before the 'reboot' finishes, when the hallucination loosens its hold, and she sees Matt. Matt, coming towards her.

"Matthew," she begs, before she finally loses consciousness.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License