Log Title: Starlight Investigation

Characters: Major Bludd, Jess McCabe


The Starlight Mansion, the award of the Battle of the Bands

Location: Starlight Mansion - Los Angeles, CA

Date: April 18, 2018

TP: America Burning TP

Summary: An unwelcome visitor turns up at Starlight Mansion.

As logged by Zarana - Wednesday, April 18, 2018, 6:15 PM

Starlight Mansion - Los Angeles, CA

The Starlight Mansion is the second and current home used by the Starlight Foundation. Both The Holograms and the Starlight Girls live here.
Jess McCabe is a severe-looking woman in a white hardhat and matching white coat. Her red hair is pulled back in a tight bun, and her narrow eyes look like they could cut through reality. A white shirt, blue tie, neutral slacks, and steel-toed shoes complete her no-nonsense look.

It's a little before 6 PM in Los Angeles, when the doorbell rings in the mansion. The Holograms are out shopping with Rio, leaving Bludd behind to ramble around the giant house alone. A quick glance outside would reveal a lone woman at the door.

Bludd frowns at the sound of the doorbell, casting a quick glance out the upstairs window from the kitchen, where he was about to fix himself a snack. He jogs down the hallway to fetch his sidearm out of a dresser, replaces the firing pin, and tucks it into the back of his trousers. He asks Synergy for his bland, nobody-in-particular disguise and heads downstairs.

When he gets to the front door, he opens it just far enough to peek out at the woman on the doorstep. He puts on his American accent and asks, "Help you?"

At the door is a severe-looking woman in a white hardhat and matching white coat. Her red hair is pulled back in a tight bun, and her narrow eyes look like they could cut through reality. In her right hand is some sort of detection device labelled 'EE' for 'Extensive Energy'. A white shirt, blue tie, neutral slacks, and steel-toed shoes complete her no-nonsense look.

When the door opens, the woman looks Bludd up and down like she doesn't like what she sees. "May I speak to the woman of the house?" she demands, not making it sound like much of a question. "A Ms. Jerrica Benton?" she continues, without consulting a clipboard or her phone. She locks eyes with Bludd's eyes, both real and holographic.

As the woman gazes at him disapprovingly, Bludd returns the expression. "She's not here right now," he responds. "I can pass a message on to her for you, though."

The woman speaks with a slight Midwestern whine - she certainly doesn't sound like she comes from California. For some reason she seems vaguely familiar to Bludd, even though he's sure he hasn't seen her before. With the Extensive Enterprises equipment, however, she's very likely an employee....

The woman looks at Bludd with no trace of recognition. "That will not be soon enough. We have a report of a gas leak in the area, and I need access to the house and grounds. It's a very dangerous situation. I understand you have children living here?"

Extensive Energy surely means Extensive Enterprises, and Extensive Enterprises means Cobra. Bludd doubts there's really been any reports of a gas leak. "I'm not authorised to give you access to the property," he explains calmly. "Ms Benton is the one in charge." He doesn't answer the question about children.

"I'm not asking for your authority," the woman responds sharply. "I neither desire or require it. This is merely a courtesy so you are not alarmed to see me on the property. I'll knock again if and when I need access inside."

"I don't think you heard me," Bludd replies, drawing himself up slightly. "You don't have permission to roam the grounds." He looks her up and down briefly. "I don't suppose you have any kind of identification?"

"I do," the woman replies, pulling open her coat to reveal a badge identifying her as 'Jess McCabe' from SoCalGas Emergency Reponse. "I'm authorized to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of this block. If you wish, you can talk to my supervisor, but I'm not leaving."

Bludd peers at the badge. "I would like to talk to your supervisor, actually," he says. "And in the meantime you're not to leave my sight, understand?"

McCabe narrows her eyes even further, giving Bludd a look that could melt diamonds. Nonetheless she remains still as she hands over a card that reads, 'John Ross, SoCalGas Emergency Operations Center.' There's a phone number on the card. "I'll wait," McCabe says testily, crossing her arms across her chest. She looks away with a bored-already expression.

Bludd merely smirks in response to the withering look, accepting the card with a nod. He fishes his mobile phone out of his back pocket and dials the number on the card. "You understand why I'm so cautious of strangers about," he says to McCabe while he waits for someone to pick up on the other end of the line. "Since the occupation, many of us have gotten used to keeping a close eye out for trouble." He offers her the slightest of disarming smiles. "We don't want our families and friends to come under threat again."

"Yeah, yeah," McCabe says dismissively as Bludd's phone rings on the other end. Eventually someone picks up. "SoCalGas Emergency Operations Center," a bored-sounding voice says. "If this is an actual emergency, please hang up and call 911. How can I help you?" McCabe uses her time to study the building, raising her device and scanning it around the entrance.

Of course the number McCabe gave him will ring to someone who's part of the whole endeavour. "Mr John Ross, please," Bludd says into the phone, playing along while he keeps a sharp eye on the woman.

"Ross here," says a voice with a little more authority. "How can I help you?"

McCabe starts scanning the rosebushes, staying in sight but obviously going about her business while Bludd is on the phone.

"Mr Ross," Bludd says into the phone, "I've got a woman by the name of Jess McCabe here telling me there's been a report of a gas leak in the area. I'm calling to confirm she is who she says she is." He glances from McCabe to the gate, scanning the driveway area before returning his gaze to her again.

"McCabe.... yes. At the Starlight Mansion?" the voice asks. "We're getting a serious drop in gas pressure in the main there. There's a leak somewhere. Please grant her access if you don't mind. It's a bit of an emergency," he says calmly.

"Alright, Mr Ross," Bludd says, "thanks for your time." After getting off the line, he pockets the phone and tells McCabe, "You can inspect the grounds. But I'll be accompanying you."

McCabe sighs. "Very well." She moves her way around the grounds, scanning with her sensor, obstenatiously looking for a gas leak. However, the sensor doesn't go off 'til she approaches the point where Bludd buried the Incinerator. As the meter stutters, McCabe slowly looks from the sensor back at Bludd.

As they walk, Bludd runs through the probabilities in his mind. What is Cobra looking for? Why a gas leak? When they near the burial spot, it becomes more clear. If McCabe's "found" a "gas leak", her people will have to -dig- to get at the "gas main". "What's that?" he asks McCabe as her device gives off some kind of warning sound. "You found a gas leak back here?"

McCabe gives Bludd a shrewd, searching look. "We found something, yeah," she says measuredly. "We're going to have to dig. I'll call and get a permit. Don't worry - we'll repair anything we damage." She studies Bludd, obviously closely monitoring his reaction.

Bludd glances at his wristwatch. "How long's that gonna take?" He glances at the spot McCabe indicated and frowns. "The ladies aren't gonna like that you're digging up their yard."

"Not long," McCabe says, relaxing slightly at Bludd's seeming lack of response to her finding. "I'll call it in right now." She takes her phone out of her coat and places an earpiece in to call and watch Bludd at the same time.

Bludd knows what's under that spot in the yard has nothing to do with a gas main, and he's sure "McCabe" knows it too. There's no way he can let her contact her people. He quickly moves in toward her, attempting to get in close, and his hand darts out to try to seize the phone from her.

>> Major Bludd succeeds with his generic combat roll on Zarana. <<

McCabe was watching for Bludd to do something, and yet she's still surprised by the speed in which he snatches the phone from her grasp. "You're faster than you look," the woman says, slowly removing her hardhat and tossing it aside. "What are you, security?" She drops into a fighting stance - it's nothing fancy, but her intent is obvious. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to return my phone," she warns Bludd, before lashing out with a quick jab at his face.

>> Zarana critically strikes Major Bludd with Punch! <<

A confident smirk crawls onto Bludd's unremarkable face as his fingers close over the phone. It doesn't last long, though, as McCabe's knuckles make a painful impact with his nose. He draws his head back instinctively, backpedalling a few steps to size up his opponent, who's obviously had some kind of hand-to-hand training. "Nice shot," he mutters, swinging the fist that's not closed over the phone at her face.

>> Major Bludd misses Zarana with Punch. <<

McCabe fluidly dodges Bludd's swinging fist - OK, she's DEFINITELY not just from the gas company, unless they've really upped their field-inspectors' game. "Thanks," the woman replies, with a slight touch of a Cockney accent creeping into her Midwesten twang. "I got plenty more where that came from." She ducks low and attempts to slam another bony fist at Bludd, this time aiming for his ribs.

>> Zarana strikes Major Bludd with Bash. <<

The next punch drives the air from Bludd's lungs, and he shakes himself mentally. This one is either combat trained or luckier than any civilian he's ever tangled with. The accent shift catches his attention momentarily, and he files it away in favour of concentrating fully on the fight. He makes the slightest feint, shifting his body to one side, only to lunge back in the other direction a moment later to attempt to drive his foot down on her knee.

>> Major Bludd misses Zarana with Kick. <<

McCabe pulls back just in the nick of time to keep from having her knee crushed by Bludd's knee. "You're good," she allows, her red hair starting to escape from her bun. "I'll give you that." She smiles confidently. "But I'm better."

McCabe's narrow eyes study Bludd as she moves in a small half-circle around him, carefully sizing him up. Who are you?" She moves like a street-fighter - although obviously a very skilled and experienced one. "You're not garn ter win, ya kna. It's Mae West for aw involved if ya just give up na," she chuckles, dropping the Midwestern drawl entirely.

He should have figured it'd be Zarana. He'd know that cocky Cockney accent anywhere. He can't let Cobra know there's something worth investigating here, but taking out Zarana won't be nearly as simple as taking out an Incinerator. As she gives him a brief reprieve, he presses his attack, dropping a shoulder and rushing at her in an attempt to knock her over.

>> Major Bludd misses Zarana with Bash. <<

Zarana waits until the last moment to pull back and to the side, letting Bludd bowl past her like a raging bull. "Oh, you're a feisty wahn!" she laughs admiringly, obviously enjoying herself. "Ya should 'eaven and 'ell give up, though. You're not garn ter beat me, and you're only makin' it 'arder on yourself... and whoever else lives in this giant gaff. Na just give me that Dog and Bone, and we'll find aahhht just wot you've been 'idin'." She spins around and lashes out a kick at the forearm of the hand holding her phone.

>> Zarana misses Major Bludd with Kick. <<

/You are an ex-Legionnaire,/ an annoyed voice in Bludd's mind angrily reminds him. /You're not going to let some street punk beat you./ I'm going about this all wrong, he realises, remembering the pistol tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He draws the weapon and aims it at Zarana. "No," he answers her in his unremarkable American accent, pulling the trigger.

>> Major Bludd strikes Zarana with Pistol. <<

"Even if ya beat me.," Zarana starts to say, "And trust me, it's not garn ter 'appen," she continues with a smirk. Whatever else she is going to say is cut off when Bludd draws a pistol from seeming nowhere and shoots her in her left arm. "Crikey!" she yells, before narrowing her sharp eyes. "Na you've done it. I'm just garn ter 'ave ter kill ya na and sort aahhht the bloomin' George Best mashed potato." Instead of retreating, she moves in closer to Bludd and tries to smash an elbow into his face.

>> Zarana strikes Major Bludd with Smash. <<

Bludd turns his head at the last possible moment, avoiding another blow to his already bloody nose, but copping an elbow to the left temple, which sends him tumbling to the ground. He rolls to his feet more slowly than he'd like, and crouches for a moment, regarding his opponent. He opts to try to buy himself a bit of time. "What's Cobra want with this place?" he asks her, looking for an opening. "Why'd you come here?"

"You've obviously got the chuffin' trainin'," Zarana comments, still talking as if maybe she can confuse Bludd with her bizarre linguistic choices. "But not the speed. I fin' you've been livin' the Robin Hood Porridge Knife a lil' too long 'ere in the 'ills of sunny California!" she laughs.

In answer to Bludd's question, Zarana laughs again. "Wot makes ya fin' I'm Cobra?" she asks, turning again in a half-circle around Bludd, this time in the opposite direction, noting Bludd's responses. She turns slightly, keeping her injured arm away from direct attack as much as possible.

GAME: Zarana PASSES an INTELLIGENCE roll of Immense difficulty.

Bludd tilts his head, as if pondering her comments about his recent lifestyle. "You could be right. I shouldn't have such a hard time taking out a Dreadnok." He stands up again, resuming a defensive stance. "But I don't have to knock you out when I have this." He aims the pistol at her again and fires.

>> Major Bludd misses Zarana with M9 <Low>. <<

Zarana jerks back in some alarm as Bludd fires again - this time a close shot that would have potentially killed a slower fighter. Her eyes narrow again. "So, you're familiar wif the bloomin' Dreadnoks. Ya seem ter favor wahn side, so ya 're either recoverin' from an injury, or ya can't clock 'eaven and 'ell from wahn mince pie. I don't recognize ya, but ya seem familiar. I mean, 'eaven and 'ell, 'oo 're ya?" Reaches into her coat, she produces a switchblade, which she dramatically flicks open. "Answer me, or i'll carve it aahhht of ya." To demonstrate, she lunges with the knife, slashing at the forearm of Bludd's gun arm.

>> Zarana strikes Major Bludd with Cut. <<

The cry that escapes Bludd's lips betrays both his weariness and his native accent, as he's unable to suppress a few harshly-whispered swear words in both English and French. He stumbles back from Zarana. "You can't hurt these people," he grates out, gesturing toward the mansion with his left hand as he clutches his right arm to his chest. He shoves the cellphone in his back pocket and switches the handgun to his left hand. "Not gonna letcha." He takes another shot at her.

>> Major Bludd strikes Zarana with M9 <Medium>. <<

GAME: Zarana FAILS an INTELLIGENCE roll of Immense difficulty.

Zarana is shot again. The bullet grazes a rib, and between the two wounds the side of her white coat displays an ever-expanding stream of blood. Definitely hurt now, Zarana stumbles back. Something about Bludd's shift in accent triggered something in the back of her mind, but the increased blood loss is impeding her concentration. "You're not garn ter stop me, whoever ya 're. Even if ya kill me, it'll just brin' daahhhn aw of Cobra ter your uncle josh lil' Pope in Rome." She takes a moment to try to regain her combat edge.

She's right, and he knows it. If Cobra sent her to find out what happened to an Incinerator, having her go missing will certainly gain their attention. It's a Catch-22. If they find out there's a dead Incinerator buried here, they'll send troops. If Zarana goes missing, they'll send troops. A mansion full of singers and girls couldn't possibly take her out. Bludd stares at Zarana for a long moment, then lowers his sidearm. "All I want is for these people to be left alone," he says quietly.

GAME: Zarana PASSES an INTELLIGENCE roll of Immense difficulty.

Zarana looks at Bludd suspiciously, keeping well aware of his gun even as it's lowered. "You've been protectin' them," she says. It's not really a question. "Ya killed that Incinerator ter protect your friends. I can respect that. Cobra can't just alla summit loike that ter Scapa Fla unpunished." She sounds almost sympathetic. "Tell ya wot. Drop that Peas in a Pot cross ban, and maybe we can Kathy Burke aahhht a way ter Ian Beale wif ya while sparin' your mates." She keeps her knife handy in case this is just a ruse to get her to lower her guard.

Defeat always leaves a bad taste in Bludd's mouth. But if a personal defeat can permit the Holograms to be safe... but how can he trust Cobra? Backed into a corner, he flicks the safety on his sidearm and tosses it at her feet. "Do whatever you want to me," he says. "Just leave them in peace. They've got nothing you could possibly want."

Zarana nods, crouching down to retrieve the gun before slipping it in the pocket of her blood-soaked coat. "Me Dog and Bone?" she asks tiredly, looking slightly glassy-eyed. She touches the side of her head, looking for her earpiece, but it was long ago lost in the grass during the fight. Instead she holds a hand over her wounded side as she waits for Bludd to comply. The more blood she loses, the more likely Bludd could take her... but as she's said, that would only bring more Cobra.

Bludd fishes the cellphone from his back pocket and tosses that to her too.

Zarana retrieves the cell phone and calls it in. Bludd can hear her side of the conversation, and sure enough, she asks for a discrete pickup team (rather than a pack of marauding Dreadnoks). "Ya wanna leef a note or summit?" she asks, keeping an eye on Bludd in the meantime. It's probably not wise to give someone like Bludd a potential weapon like a pen, but Zarana acts like they've reached some kind of mutual understanding.

Bludd nods. "I would. They'll worry about me if I don't."

Bludd clutches his injured right arm to his chest. "Don't suppose you'd lemme run in the house to scrawl something down...?" He looks down at his bloody arm. "I'm right-handed."

Zarana chuckles and glances towards the house. "Make it fast - and keep in Chinese Blind that if ya try aahhht, it'll be your friends in the bloody mansion that suffer." Zarana draws Bludd's pistol and holds it in her right hand while her left tries to the stem the blood from the wound in her side. She gestures for Bludd to head towards the house while she follows close behind.

Despite his growing blood-loss-induced weariness, Bludd jogs toward the mansion. He fumbles the back door open and sticks his head in. Seeing nobody in the immediate vicinity, he darts in and fusses about in a disused desk that stands against the outer wall until he finds a scrap of paper and a blunt pencil. With difficulty, he scratches out a more-or-less legible message:

"Kimber - I have to leave to keep you safe. Sorry can't explain, no time. Love you. Sebastian"

He leans over the paper as he writes to prevent Zarana from reading it, then folds it in half, awkwardly, and shoves it under the door leading to the back studio. He only hopes Kimber won't faint when she sees his bloody fingerprints on the paper. Sighing, he turns back to Zarana. "Ready when you are."

Zarana stands in the doorway with Bludd's gun at her side. She watches him carefully, but doesn't seem to pry into what he's writing. Once he's ready, she nods, and leads him back to the front of the house, where soon after a couple of tough-looking men in suits arrive in an armoured black car. They hop out and open the back doors for Bludd and Zarana. "I'm driving," Zarana insists, pushing the driver towards the back seat with Bludd.

The driver glances at Zarana's wounds and obvious blood loss, but after a half-second's hesitation, decides it's in his best interest not to argue. He gets into the back with Bludd, drawing a small pistol to train it on the injured mercenary. Zarana get behind the wheel and barely waits for the other agent to get in the car before she puts it in drive and roars off, leaving the Mansion and the Holograms behind.

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