Cat and Valk

April 05, 2018:

T'Challa tracks a strange energy signature and finds an Asgardian. Cooler heads do not prevail.

Hoboken City Recycling Center

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The Hoboken City Recycling Center. What a lovely place. At least, owing to the still-crisp early spring weather, it doesn't smell too bad. It's really not a place anyone with royal blood would choose to visit. Hell, it would be down the list for some discerning rats.

One very valid reason to come here is the weak-but-persistent signal that is clearly non-Terran in origin. SHIELD was able to track something when it entered atmosphere in late February, but then promptly lost it somewhere over New Jersey. There exists more sophisticated tracking other than SHIELD, however - with scanners that can pinpoint the energy signature to a much smaller area. Even then it takes on-the-ground tracking to try and zero in on the source.

The signal itself has been intermittant - phasing from barely-there to sudden spikes of energy. It's happened frequently enough to narrow down the source to a particular corner full of busted cars, twisted rebar and various other scrap metal and car parts.

*

'We are getting closer to the signal's source, commander.'
'Are we able to pinpoint?'
'They use a non-linear scattering method to diffuse conventional active detection… not surprising that the Americans were having trouble. Using the passive array, we have been able to narrow down the wavelength to one engagement zone. The signature is consistent with a damaged system.'
"Is it consistent with our missing parcels…" he says, finally winnowing the conversation of the crew down to one sharply-edged point.

The skies flicker with lightning from high above, the foreign cruiser moving at an altitude too high for men on the ground to detect as anything more than a passing storm in the night. Onboard, three men are at the strange panels, hands hovering over sensory arays. One to be the legs. One to be the eyes and ears. One to be the mouth. But they all defer to the one sitting on the bench behind them, a creature dressed in all black, with hard eyes.

The Black Panther of Wakanda.

"This technology may have been modified after the fact," the mission commander reflects, a man with a wide frill of fur over one shoulder to mark his station and a pair of dark glasses, a noncombatant technician. "Without going closer for analysis, it is like a handkerchief in the wind. Going to active detection altitude runs the risk of exposing us…"
"Then, I will extend the range of our eye," the king decides. "If this is the source, we will not allow him to get away." He stands, walking to the ejection point. "Bring me the expansions, and go to injection altitude."

A few minutes later, a panther lands from the sky, soundless in an impact that is regardless forceful enough to crack the earth beneath his boots. He is an all-black thing in the dark, his dep crouch keeping him well beneath the sightlines.

*

The junkyard is unremarkable, but it is full of angles and shadows both hard and soft. Even without a hastily-rigged cloaking device, the two halves of the Warsong would blend in to the surrounding rubble for anyone not looking for something out of place.

There is a small clearing in rough paths cut by heavy machinery to push around loads of junk. The only sign that something crashed here are long skidmarks not consistent with a backhoe's scrape or the wheels of a forklift. Embedded in the scraps on the ground are specks of alloy that are clearly beyond American technology - and very possibly not terrestrial. There's also remnants of some kind of liquid fuel that has sunk into the surrounding soil. The frozen ground means it hasn't penetrated far.

As the Panther gets closer, something crunches underfoot. It's a food wrapper, but there's a bright pink family on the cover and the text is in very strange lettering. The family are happily consuming tiny clear egg-shaped confections.

*

Wakanda is a nation of extremes. Many nations tend to rely strictly on the lever of their science to gain advantage in foreign territories. Of the nations that exist, America is easily amongst the most egregious of these. However, the storytellers in his ear who use built in sensors in this particular version of his helmet to report to him on the alloying composition of the metal fragments around him are only part of the story, and their voices are only one part of the greater whole.

The panther roams the hedge of twisted metal silently, his hands open and ready as he stalks, glare fierce and alien behind his mask. His is a different way, a different means to achieve the pinnacles, beyond the scope of the spectrums that form the conversation in his ear now. Sight, to see the irregular patterns on the earth and the twists of metal that are cut in strange ways. Scent, to pick up on the smells of burnt carbons and oils unfamiliar to the 12 or so countries and their factories which made up the miasma of oils burned on today's roads. Hearing, to know the minds of his people above and the song of the wind through ragged metal reeds. The soul, to feel men who have known greater than the junkyard, greater than this.

And most of all, the self, to know who, what, and where he is.

T'Challa's boot never actually disturbed the wrapper, his foot moving away from it as he almost crumples it underfoot. Soundlessly, he examines the thing, relaying the form of text back to his support team. There are few languages in this world he would do this with, as there are few he does not recognize. The custom of the people upon it give him pause. He frowns. Without warning, a small circular device attached to his wrist deploys, sliding into his hand. He is filled with a sense of realization.

He looks up.

*

The array of sophisticated scanners cannot tell what is here, but can tell that there is something here that oughtn't be. One or two pieces of evidence do not tell the whole story, but the combination clicks things into place like interlocking gears - either through T'Challa's sharp mind, or the minds and devices of those who support him. Something alien crashed here. But more notably, the thing that crashed shows no evidence of subsequently being moved - and the lingering signal suggests it's still here.

The aggregate data pops the answer up on the Wakandan scanners just as the Panther looks up. Something small, clear, egg-shaped drops out of the sky. aimed to tok him on the top of the head.

Valkyrie seems to float some fifteen feet off the ground, seated, with a crackle of disturbed energy around her backside that does not disrupt the illusion as a whole. She must have emerged silently from the cloaked vessel just moments ago to be able to evade his keen senses. She pops one of the egg-shaped candies into her mouth, then lobs another one down at T'Challa.

*

He looks up just in time to have a small candy drum off of the back of his head.

The effect is similar to throwing a pebble at the mountain, and when the Black Panther looks up, it is with the mien of a creature not accustomed to play. With the benefit of a mask, it is hard to tell exactly where his eyes are focused, but the frozen knife-eyed glare of the regal war mask is hard to interpret as anything but hostile. It settles on the boundaries of the new arrival's hips, and where the telltale crackle of a concealment field terminates in some form of a perch.

Even now, his team is warning him that the language and trace elements are not Wakandan in origin, and may in fact be extraterrestrial. Withdrawing is recommended to him, extraction offered in the face of the new target. But T'Challa is a creature of decision, a creature of his own mind. He stands there for a moment, the round device charging. It is a moment before he makes his voice known, a grave thing worn by hard years, and smoothed by the hollow diffuser of projection devices in his helm.

"You are not supposed to be here."

The weapon at his wrist discharges, circular device snapping as it splits apart into four separate pieces. The first part attaches to the ground not ten feet from T'Challa, some sort of central processing device. The other three parts are probes of a sort, meant to split apart and attach to a hull that T'Challa knows is there. Though the technology was devised for instantaneous revelation of a Wakandan cloaking field, the disruption process with a foreign technology will merely take longer to calibrate. There is no hesitation from the Panther. If left uninterrupted for some period of time, his probes are going to disrupt and dismantle both the passive and active concealments surrounding the ship, revealing it to his cruiser's sensors.

And every other sensor in the city.

*

The woman with white face paint and braided hair seems content to troll at first. She doesn't say anything, nor does she move - not until a device at her hip starts to make angry warning noises. "OI!" she shouts. "Back off!" Strangely, she sounds like she's speaking his language - albeit with a foreign accent.

She clambers to her feet, then leaps down the fifteen feet like it's three, landing deftly. She flicks a hand and a small throwing knife of alien alloy snaps out and flings with the speed and power of a bullet towards one of the devices. She is by no means a large woman, but there's something fierce in her eyes. Unlike him, with his face concealed by a helmet, the white streaks of face paint draw attention to her expressions. Her clothing is likewise easily read as a warrior's garb, but with little ornamentation on the black leather panels save a half-cape of blue.

"Had a little ship trouble. And if you destroy my cloak, every asshole in this asshole city is going to fall down on me."

*

The Black Panther is not a creature easily given over to compromise.

He doesn't stop her when she knifes one of the probes on the ship's hull, but neither does the interference signal stop tuning. Ascertaining the frequency of an entirely alien cloaking field takes a moment, even with the formidable technology of the kingdom of Wakanda and its scientists at the helm. With only two probes to network between, the time needed stretches out for much longer than a moment.

The expressionless mask of the Black Panther tilts with a slow deliberate act as she objects openly and loudly to his judgment. But her complaints hardly faze the young king, the panther already taking the measure of the fierce woman. There is a sense that he doesn't move to stop her in that moment only because he is busy with watching her movements. He is quiet for a handful of moments, stepping past the multiplexer as she gives a quick accounting of her troubles.

And it does not move him.
"A story, the same as any other…"

He will not allow her to hit the other three parts of the device. He moves. A creature swathed in all black, the Panther goes as no man outside of his country has or will, with mortal speed and no hesitation in the slightest. From the very beginning, he does not hold back. If she is only a breath too slow, a moment too vulnerable, Black Panther will have her throat. It would be easy to assume it overkill from the very beginning. To not take into account the bullet speed and accuracy with which she threw that knife.

But T'Challa does not customarily make these kinds of mistakes.

In an eyeblink, the Black Panther's claws are inches from her eyelashes and closing.
In an instant, she will know she is in a fight for her life.

*

The experience of a general of the Valkyrior is not something to be underestimated. She has the speed and strength of an Asgardian, certainly, but also years of experience that is measured in lifetimes and is hard to comprehend on a human scale.

The draw of her sword happens in a heartbeat, luminous blue blade interjected in the space between them to block those claws. Not a lot can stop vibranium, but Dragonfang is a blade of legend. The sound it makes when the two substances meet is teeth-grating and sends up a shower of blue sparks.

The time the block is intended to buy her is followed by a swift kick to midsection. She is not holding back either. And though she be small, she hits with the force of a freight train. Her aim is to push him back far enough into the pile of junk to buy another moment to send a throwing blade at another device.

*

For all of the wear and harshness in his voice, he is still young yet in his years. T'Challa is not familiar with the Valkyrior or its general, and the foreign styles of otherworlds are boon to her as they are anathema to him. His claws lay into the mythic metal of the sword brought to bear against him, checking his lethal thrust even as his claws set hard against the blade. His head tilts as his fingers flex into it, blue crawling livid against the length of the fang. By the time he is thrown free, both sets of his claws were set against that blade, force enough to have cut any normal steel into slices suited for the evening tea.

His head tilting as she fights him off, the kick catches him off-guard, energy crawling around the tribal matrix of his suit as he is bodily thrown away from her, the impact of an oncoming train more than what he can account for in that space. Even with his own vibranium protections keeping his organs safe, he can still feel one of his ribs break in the opening exchange.

But the panther is something more sinuous, something seemingly made of less bones than a human, something made more of will. He rolls in the air long before the point any other man would have even regained consciousness, his claws dropping to the ground as he lances filthy earth with vibranium claws, arresting the force of his momentum, and draining excess from his ligaments into the earth, musculature flexing as he cuts the rest into a forward roll.

The way the panther moves is not natural for a man who has been struck with that much force. Such an uncontested attack against any other who was similarly caught unawares would have buried him, bought enough time for her to have neatly plucked off both remaining probes and gift-wrapped them. But as it is, she can barely get her arm up before the panther attacks again.

Limited by the sheer amount of force the warrior woman was able to unleash against him, T'Challa rolls towards her, low and fast, his body whipping out of the motion at her knee and just at about the time she turns to make her throw. One claw goes for the ankle of her boot, and the other for the back of her knee. The Black Panther could try and cut into her tendons, but he doesn't. Instead, he moves to undercut her, to move her weight over his center of gravity and steal it from the ground, from the mooring that would allow her to give her full strength into a retort. He does not try to strike her in that moment, instead trying to throw her bodily over him and through the trash heap, ostensibly the very same she intended him to be thrown into.

That punch felt like an eternity, T'Challa is very aware of the passage of time. He needs to put her in check for a certain amount of time. And tactically, the general will be all too aware her assailant means to put himself between her and the probes, limiting her options for destroying them.

*

What is natural is not a framework that Valkyrie applies to anything she has seen or done. Each planet has its own nature, and its own framework for what is 'natural.' Instead, she acts without preconceptions, without assumptions. She works off what she sees and what she reads. Felids exist the galaxy over, and she recognizes the grace, even if she wouldn't properly name him panther.

She could hope that the blow would knock him far enough to give her time to slice the remaining probes, but she doesn't expect it. Midgard more than other limited-contact worlds has a wide variety of powered individuals beyond the baseline.

Her armor is strong and durable, but not as strong as the Valkyrior armor that shame stops her from donning. It offers some resistance to the vibranium claws, reducing their depth and slashing power somewhat. But her skin is the real challenge. What would be a wicked wound to a human is a cat's scratch to her. It's still enough to throw her momentarily off-balance, enough to get her into the grip that would half her thrown.

A short dagger pulls seemingly from nowhere. She holds it at such an angle against his bicep that it steals some of the momentum of the toss should he still attempt to do so, and to use the power of a toss against him, to bite with that blade should he follow through. It is not made out of the same substance as Dragonfang, but it's still an Asgardian dagger.

In that moment, they're close enough to lock eyes if he does so beneath that mask. There's a spark in her eyes and a fierce smile on her lips. She might actually be enjoying herself.

She's fast enough to attempt another move as well, and this is to send a disc-shaped device skipping towards the probe. At first, it seems like it's stopping short, until it comes to rest against a thrusting trio of rebar. She jams a remote control at her wrist, sending a current through the mess of metal. With any luck, the alien shock frequency will overwhelm or slow down that nearest probe with its skip of energy. It's meant to down elephant-skinned humanoids and even zap Asgardians. It's still meant for biology, not technology - but some things work in a pinch.

It should be noted that she doesn't bring Dragonfang to bear in a lethal attack. So far, she has only used it in defense. It's unmarred by vibranium claws.

*

T'Challa is starkly aware of the exchange. In lieu of the earth she leans on him, using her blade and his shoulder to lever against his throw. Her skill is admirable, and she moves with the same instinctiveness of someone who has fought all of their life, the same as any Wakandan warrior. The blade is held in as such position that it threatens his arm, threatens to cut it open, of this he is aware. But he is not afraid of seeing his own blood.

The problem with cutting through is not in itself finding a material that is tougher. Vibranium in and of itself may be a tough metal, but it is far from the toughest. Vibranium is considered one of the strongest metals not in that it cannot be destroyed or cut. It is considered in the fashion it is because it, like the Wakandan spirit, does not yield.

Slicing through the suit of his habit, even when the angle is just right, is a work more like sawing through wet wood with a dull blade. With even the steel of aliens mired in the sands of his suit, the damage to his arm is limited greatly from the crippling extent it could have been, and T'Challa moves to throw the Valkyrie free from him. But because of her weight distribution, his throw is hardly the spine-breaking exercise it would normally be, allowing his opponent to recover. A fateless mistake, T'Challa realizes, as he favors his arm to make sure none of his tendons were cut in the passage, blood freely weeping from the open injury as surely as his claws are hardly coated in her blood at all. That in itself is telling..

She is enjoying herself. He is grim and unforgiving.

The panther smartly looks up as the shock device flies onto a nearby junk pile, only making the connection at the same time the energy field does, his probe flickering as it shorts with the unexpectedly strong energy surge, its sensors attempting to compensate for the energy frequency and disparity with the conducted shock instead of the field which it was programmed to isolate and disrupt. It takes the panther only a moment to realize what is happening, and only a moment more to react, raising one hand over his wrist.

A full on energy spear materializes in the Black Panther's hands, long and full, as he whirls out of his crouch to throw it with all the force his body can muster at the Valkyrie, the translucent purple light blast flaring as it flies like a bolt from a ballista at her. The frequency was changed on the fly, and it will draw little blood of its own volition, even those this energy embeds herself right through her middle. But the attack left undefended will send a lightning bolt of dismantling energy through every nerve and circuit in her through even the most incidental of contacts. He is trying to break her control device at the same time he cuts into her ability to fight him..

*

It's been a long time since anyone has drawn the Valkyrie's blood. Although T'Challa might not know it, he should be proud of landing that slice - even if it didn't send rivulets of blood leaking down her leg. And the throw as well, even if she manages to correct her momentum midair and land mostly on her feet - is a feat few accomplished on her years on Sakaar - at least when she was actually trying.

She tosses her dagger aside. Its blade is left dull and pitted from its encounter with vibranium-infused fabric. Once again, the blue blade of Dragonfang is held up, this time to take the energy spear. The blade eats in the energy and dispenses it with a sharp crackle. She swings the blade and flicks it like she's ridding it of blood, then starts a fast march towards T'Challa. She leaps and sails through the air at a height and with ease that is definitely beyond human. This time she does have Dragonfang held aloft, ready to swipe down against his arm. It didn't take a lot of watching to know the claws are the real danger. If he's not quick, he might lose an arm. There's a warcry that accompanies it which is suitably intimidating, even from all five foot three of her.

*

The Black Panther is not pleased.

As the protector of an entire nation, 'somewhat' damaging the enemy is not acceptable. One hand opens, the king's claws extending in plain dissatisfaction as the energy spear is dissipated with that blade.
But with it, he knows that the weapon is not an ordinary blade, and up until this point, she was holding back. He is silent in the face of her valiant war cry. Even his blood curdles, a reaction only made possible by a true warrior. Good.

The panther moves with speed beyond the man. She leaps out of heaven, and he moves to meet her. As she tries to land on his arm with a decisive cut that may have removed it entirely, the young king moves quickly. He crouches, going low enough that she lands less into him and more atop him entirely, her blow coming within inches of shearing off the ear of his suit. He tucks quickly, moving to catch her by the wrist on the outsidewhere it is harder to pull or push awayand sinuously roll her along with him, aided by her own downward momentum. A moment in landing with a wide stance will be enough. He will attach himself to her, slipping a leg behind her knee and tucking her into a cooperative ball.

From there, he is of a mind to disarm her, first of her sword, trying to plant the point somewhere in the dirt and force her to roll across it. Then, of her wristband, which is the work of an instant with his claws.

*

A Valkyrie of Asgard will not be disarmed.

She may go by Scrapper 142 these days, but she's still a warrior to her core. It doesn't matter that he ends up grappling her wrist - he can't compel her to let go. Even as those claws manage to bite into extremely durable skin, her grip remains ironclad. She twists her body in a feat of agility that avoids skewering her own torso with the legendary blade called Dragonfang.

She drops to the ground on her back, seemingly prone and vulnerable. The sudden upward thrust of her foot is carried out with such force that unless he dodges or somehow manages to stick his feet to the ground, he'll be sailing back up in the air - and this time not of his own volition. She has the ground to give her leverage with her considerable strength behind that thrust of her leg, so it's not exactly a gentle nudge. It doesn't matter if the claws rake into her arm and shred her wrist protector in the process.

"I don't know why you call me enemy, feline!" she calls, a fierce sort of quasi-berzerker joy on her painted face, "You fight as a man who is protecting something, but your goal is to be a common thief!"

Never mind she's a kidnapper and a thief herself. Shh. T'Challa doesn't have to know that.

"I'd hate to kill you. I have a feeling that would make some people angry and make it difficult for me to leave your planet!"

*

The panther rolls easily into the sky.

There is nothing ingracious about the man in black as he is thrown off of the warrior, orienting in the air with a twist, and rolling until his feet are under him. He springs off of the ground, the shock of the landing rolled away into his bodily tissues as he tucks, putting calculated space between him and his opponent.

"I will not be moved by your protests," the panther responds, slowly rising. He never comes to a full stand, his stance remaining low and at the ready. The direction of his silhouette is unmistakably predatory. One hand opens and flexes, the claws of his gauntlet sliding out with a sound so bare and scant it has no character, with nothing left for the mind to catch on. "I have made my decision…"

There is still one probe left attached to the hull of the unit, and the Panther has carefully stuck his landing so that he remains between her and it, ready to break any attempt to disrupt it. But he doesn't attack, at least not for spare moments as he faces her, the soulless eyes of his panther mask remaining unshaken in the face of her fierce mien. His accent stands out as not being the same as others in the city.

She says she doesn't want to kill him.
"You assume more than is your right."

*

In contrast, Valkyrie stands upright, but with her weight distributed on her feet to create stability and allow her to pivot at a moment's notice. She holds her sword, its curious blue blade not reflecting the light as one might expect. She remains aware of the probe and their greater surroundings, but her gaze fixes on him. Her arm bares the scratches of those claws, though it only beads with the faintest specks of blood.

"I once met a Midgardian warrior who dressed in the habit of a black feline. I offered him the way to Valhalla for his great deeds and valiant heart. He refused my offer and told me he wanted to dwell in the land of his ancestors." She looks at him, head tilting slowly, fingers flexing against the hilt of her weapon. "If you were to die here and now, I would not make you the same offer. Stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to reason are not the traits of a valiant warrior."

Her words are meant to distract, to misdirect. Regardless of whether her words give the man pause, she quickly pulls a device from a spot on her hip. As the device sails towards T'Challa, a web extends, then expands to a large net that is studded with dozens of tiny shock points.

*

"Your reason is only a veneer to your vanity…and the look in your eye speaks of none of it."

Valhalla. The panther's sharp mind hangs on the word with some discernment, though his mask, of flesh or metal, would never betray the fact. His head tilting in a severe glare, the man in black mulls over all of her words except the ones she wishes to sting most. He knows there are things she is not saying, and things that she is hiding. He has decided to abide neither.

"I will not bend to your whim, as I am no longer merely a warrior."

The net spreads in the air before him, and reflexes and eyes many times faster than the norm counts the points of light on it. He has been trained all of his life to decide. Here and now, he finds it as easily as he does the next. Folding backwards, he moves, his crouch turning defensive.

A thousand points of light descend on him, small sharp pinpricks of energy tracing between the net and his body. Barking harshly in pain as the lightning crawls through the vibranum lattice of his suit, the panther goes to a knee. It is a feat of will that keeps him from falling immediately underneath the omnslaught of light. A feat of will that lets him reach behind him, to a dagger tucked seamlessly at his back, made out as another otrnament of his suit.

Then, the warrior may realize that she is not the only one holding back.

A flash of light, and the net is cut. A flash of light, and the Black Panther makes his escape. Soundless, he leaps away from the battle, trailing vicious marks of lightning. By the time he hits the top of another trash pile, he has already receded into the dark. There is only precious few seconds to intercept him before his silhouette melts into the scenery of the junkyard. A few seconds to realize what he actually has done. His probe, and the master that it was attached with are both gone, telling as to why he chose to escape.

*

Vanity. That's not a word anyone has attributed to Valkyrie in the last few centuries. Vanity doesn't exist when you shill for a charlatain who keeps 'prisoners with jobs' and makes them fight one another. Vanity doesn't exist when you wake up in strange bars on a strange planet with no idea how you got there.

Or crash your ship in a junkyard in Hoboken because you were drinking and driving.

"Naw, mate, that's not it at all," she quips, as she watches with satisfaction as the taser net does its job. She is a little suspicious that he didn't dodge the net. She was expecting it. He's fast. She was prepared for it to be a distraction at best, to get him away from the cloaked ship.

Another throwing knife sings through the air, sailing after T'Challa. At best, she might catch the edge of that suit and bite into it a little but at this point, it's more the principle of the thing.

"By Odin's fucking beard." A sigh. "I need a drink."

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