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Mystery at Bedside Manor

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"Yes," Mara pondered, frowning past Ellie into the hall. "Think I can. Not perfectly comprehensive, but can check for common things at least? Parts, parts...."

The young woman took a moment to glance up the stairs before putting her hands to her choker, the air between them twisting outward and dropping what looked like an unfinished half-sphere the size of a dinner plate into her grasp, along with a few random pieces of wiring and circuitry that she almost managed to catch. Once it was arranged on the ground, though, she demonstrated far more agility and dexterity as the multi-tool came out and (apologizing - "....sorry, need your visual array....") the parts came together into...a thing.

It was definitely something, anyway. After a few minutes' work it looked a bit like someone had attached a cheap screen over the top of a large metal bowl, but the bowl was full of wires and metal and its outside had been covered in lenses and prongs. Whatever the mash of data on the screen showed her as she swept it around, though, was underwhelming. "That's...no. Okay, so. Not molecularly unstable, no atom shifting, no energy trace or tachyon pattern, no...they're clothes," she finally observed, looking frustrated. "Just clothes. No nothing here, which is...I don't know. Maybe I missed something in the scan?" She bit her lip, frowning. "Always forget something. Not the most obvious choices, though. Maybe magic, but not always subtle, there, and have a hard time scanning for that...."

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"Hey now, muñequita, we both know that if you didn't find anything there was nothing to find," Ellie admonished in the most encouraging way possible, knowing how frustrating the insightful engineer found and unsolved problem. She was pretty annoyed at the lack of answers herself but preventing Mara from indulging in any self-blaming was her immediate priority. "C'mon, wherever that guy went he's got to be long gone now. Let's go check on the patient who was attacked, maybe we can figure out what's going on from that end." Giving the heap of discarded clothes one last glare and a nudge with her foot, she shook her head and headed back up the stairs.

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"Mmh." Mara seemed comforted, if not totally at peace with her failure, and after half-heartedly tweaking an unlabeled knob on her device she banished it back to wherever its parts had come from. She brushed her hands off and gave the pile of clothes one final frown before kicking them into a corner behind the stairs and following Ellie back up.

"Attack in a hospital is a weird choice," she mused, running her mind back to what they'd seen in the futile hope that she'd notice something they'd missed the first time around. Unfortunately, being able to replay events in your own head wasn't always much help when the replay was limited by what you'd already noticed. "Very public. Not high-security, but not..mmh. Don't know. Never tried to assassinate someone. Motels, maybe? Vulnerable. Too many people in a hospital, weird schedules, light security. Rooms often double-occupied or more. Doable with a lot of stealth, maybe, good disguise, but....weird disappearing aside, sweater-and-hat don't strike me as covert gear. Too many holes in the data."

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"Well, I guess if your, uh, target is in the hospital and doesn't look like they're leaving any time soon, you don't get to hold out for a motel visit," Ellie pointed out as they rounded the top of the stairs to find the nurse from earlier picking up the contents from the spilled cart with the help of one of the janitorial staff while a security guard stood halfway in the door to the patient's room, glancing warily between the interior and the hallway. "Although that begs the question of why you'd bother trying to kill a coma patient. If it looked like he might wake up soon they would have moved him into a different room."

Looking up, the nurse finished piling a handful of pill bottles into a tray. "Oh! Did you run him off? I swear, I thought I was going to have a heart attack!"

"At least you're in the right place for it," Ellie quipped reflexively, covering with a light cough.

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"Would have preferred to run him down," Mara muttered, straightening her blouse again. She made half a movement to step forward and help with the cart before spying the pill bottles, and the motion played back in reverse, one hand twisting uncomfortably behind her leg where the others wouldn't see it. nope "Owe him punches for interruptions. Many punches."

"It's a weird thing, though," she commented, loud enough to be heard, leaning her head over to glance into the room. An expert eye took stock, memorizing the area in case it would come in useful later...though she sorely wished she had her suit's mapping suite on hand. "Have to assume this doesn't happen often. Can't imagine coma patients make many enemies, wouldn't exactly pose much threat. Why here, why this person? What's special about - mmh. Not special, I mean, obviously, but-"

Edited by Fox

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Ellie gave Mara's jerky movements a confused look for a slit second before she made the connection and realized why the blonde engineer might be so uncomfortable. Stepping in smoothly just beside her, she pushed her own hand forcibly between Mara's twisting fingers and squeezed tightly, running her thumb up and down the back of her girlfriend's hand reassuringly. Mara was so brave about confronting her understandable aversion to hospitals in general it could be difficult to predict what specific things might prove to be too much.

If the nurse reordering the cart had noticed she was too busy with her work to make any kind of comment. She did look up and down the hall when the question of why the patient in the room beside them had been targeted before leaning forward and speaking in a hushed voice. "Well, you know Trinity has a reputation for being, well, safe from all of the craziness in this city but it sounded like that boy might be some kind of..." She mouthed the word 'superhero' silently, giving each of the women the significant, knowing look of a particularly juicy bit of gossip. "He was wearing some sort of outfit when they brought him in anyway," she continued, making waving gestures as she said it to make it clear that it hadn't been anything a normal person would be seen wearing. "They got it off of him right off, of course, Miguel -- that's one of the orderlies -- said that when they went to figure out what to do with it, it was just gone. Poof!"

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Mara's eyebrows shot up as she mulled that one over, one finger on her free hand tapping against her leg while her other gave Ellie's a grateful squeeze. She hadn't expected anyone to notice her reaction - that her girlfriend has was...gratifying? Comforting? "Would explain the interest," she murmured, frowning. "Or might, anyway. Disappearing uniform is weird, though. Too many possibilities. Uniform has powers? Someone covering for him? Theft?"

It took her a moment to snap out of it, glancing up at the nurse like she'd only just realized other people might be able to hear her. In a public space. While trying to be a normal person. "....mmh. Sorry. Engineer," she provided as if that would explain everything, offering what she hoped was an apologetic smile. "I am one, I mean. Brain gets away from me sometimes. Did you ever hear what the outfit looked like? Kind of curious."

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"Well, I didn't see it myself but Miguel would have mentioned if it were anything particularly villain-ish it that's your worry," the nurse assured Mara sympathetically, nodding along with her own words. "No skull-and-crossbones or... well, or what have you." She waved a hand vaguely in the air as if to encompass a whole subset of design choices that she was sure she'd recognize if she saw them even if she couldn't name them off hand. "Anyway! Thank goodness you chased them off. I'll need to let security know, maybe we can have some posted to keep watch..." She made little tutting noises to herself as she finished reorganizing her cart and headed off to make good on that plan.

Not letting go of Mara's hand just yet, Ellie craned her neck to look into the coma patient's room. "Probably safe to assume the attacker's not going to just give up, right?" she asked even if they both already knew the answer. Nothing was ever that easy. "We can't just camp out here, obviously. What's the plan?"

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"Could...sort of camp out," Mara pondered. Rather than crowd Ellie at the door she was staring off into space, eyes unfocused and darting around a bit as she played her memory of the room back. She bit her lip, pondering the layout of the space they had to work with. "Just finished a new project. Would need full...jewelry...or some private space, though, to monitor from. But wouldn't have to be here to be here, if that..."

She trailed off, apparently dissatisfied with the double-talk. "Remote surveillance. Can provide remote surveillance. Still a bunch of waiting and watching, though."

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Ellie blew out a long breath, much of the weariness that had creased her face before Mara's arrival returning with interest. "Ugh. Yeah, alright, not going to just abandon this guy, obviously. I guess." She put some exaggerated dejection into the last word, managing a small smile for the engineer. "C'mon, there's a couple rooms for folks to crash between double shifts and nobody uses the one on the floor above us 'cause it's basically a closet and the air ducts are all messed up. We can stick a sign on the door and set up there, nobody'll care." With another look up and down the room in case their evasive attacker suddenly reappeared she turned to lead the way, rubbing one eye with the back of her hand and stifling a yawn.

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Mara was largely quiet as they made their way through the hospital, content to hold Ellie's hand and give her a moment's peace after so much excitement, but found she had to break both on their arrival...the held hand somewhat more reluctantly than the quiet.

 

"Ought to remember this room," she observed once the door was shut behind them, glancing around. "Can see why it doesn't get used much, but quiet places are valuable. Am sure we could find a use for it." She stole a quick, simple kiss before stepping away from her girlfriend, space twisting around her body to replace clothes with powered armor....though only long enough to hold her hands out and call her friends. Space opened up and deposited a half-dozen little robots into the air, each the size of a football with the front end lopped flat, metal bodies of adjusting plates formed around a large, cyclopean eye that glowed a neon blue.

 

They looked for all the world like Puppy's oblong, flying, militarized cousins.

 

"Drones," Mara brightly supplied, suit disappearing to whence it had come. Her new pets hovered around her, some peering around the room and at least two inspecting Ellie with bright chirping. "New project; thought the support could be useful. Good for search and rescue, some combat utility. Plus, recon."

 

Lights danced behind her eyes, and some of the set issued a quiet chirrup - their eyes dimmed, their bodies shimmered, and they nearly disappeared from view - visible only by the chameleon-like ripple they caused in their surroundings. "Not very smart on their own," Mara noted, holding the door just open enough to let them slip away and into the hospital, "especially without the suit, but good at figuring out orders and teamwork. Hive AI. What one knows, they all know, so we know."

 

At a gesture, one of the ones left behind settled down onto the ground, extending little legs to balance on its pointed end. Its great eye shifted color, projecting a two-dimensional screen into the air that played camera feeds from each drone as it made its way into the room with their patient or the surrounding hallways. "But, now, waiting."

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"Ha! Neat." Ellie gave the drone that ventured closest to her a small pat before it was sent off on its mission. Semi-autonomus, combat ready robots with cloaking abilities probably should have been more intimidating but leave it Mara to execute the idea in a way that was more than a little adorable.

 

Once their ad-hoc command centre was set up she took a seat on the bottom cot of the worn looking bunkbed wedged into the corner of the little room and patted the space beside her meaningfully. She waited until her girlfriend took the hint and sat down then promptly let herself fall sideways, using Mara's lap as a pillow. "Yes, good," she judged, even as the second word devolved into a full-bodied yawn. "Let me know if they spot anything, alright? Just going to rest my eyes." It wasn't more than a few minutes before the engineer recognized the familiar, steady sound of Ellie's breathing while she slept.

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Mara smiled her happy Ellie smile, knowing just how badly Ellie needed that shut-eye. If Ellie needed a pillow, Mara was more than happy to serve for a good cause...and she wasn't going to pretend she didn't enjoy the same consideration sometimes.

 

It was almost too comfortable an arrangement, really, even as the headrest - the young inventor wasn't nearly as worn down as her partner, but in the quiet of the room and the comfort of her love and the background hum of her own creations keeping watch, it took a major act of will to not join Ellie in her nap. Instead she gently ran her fingers through the medic's hair, softly humming as she watched her drone-delivered security feed with interest. Hospitals had enough bad things happen in them; she wasn't going to let someone else add to the pile. Not where Ellie worked. Not if she could help it.

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The peace held for the better part of an hour before one of Mara's drones reported movement. Ellie stirred with a murmur of objection, wrapping an arm more tightly around the inventor's waist as she moved forward to get a closer look at the video feed. Looking through the sensors of the drone in the hallway outside of the coma patient's room revealed nothing at first until she toggled through different readouts. As she watched the motion sensors were tripped again, not by anything in the hall but in the ducts between floors, a space too small for any conventional human to crawl through.

 

With a vigorous shake of her head Ellie brought herself back to wakefulness or at least as close as she was going to get and looked to her partner expectantly. "What did they find?"

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Mara seemed pleased, in the same way she was always pleased when she built something on-the-job that cleverly solved a situation she didn't really want anyone to be in - her tiny hint of a satisfied smile was there, but there wasn't a lot of warmth in it and the weight of circumstance pulled down at its edges. "Weirdness," she answered, frowning; lights danced behind her eyes as she fed the drone - and, by extension, the whole net of them - some basic instructions to try to get better resolution out of the projected image.

 

The drones had the instrumentation for it, but they weren't really designed for motion tracking; still, by the time Ellie's gotten the last of her sleep from her eyes - or, as much as she was going to get without a good night's rest - Mara had finally gotten a half-decent hologram going, projected at chest-height and following the movement as it made its way. "It's moving through the floors. Through the floors," she emphasized, hologram tilting to better convey depth. "Reads like ducts, but ducts are not large. Access points are even smaller. Too small for normal people. Might not have noticed at all if I hadn't put a drone by a vent by accident, caught an anomaly. Should be able to follow it, though, see where it's going. Up for a walk?"

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"In the ducts? Uuugh, I am too tired for a freaky one," Ellie complained, rubbing one eye with the heel of a palm. Despite her grievances she gave Mara a wan smile bumped her hip lightly. "Nice work. Let's go catch a creepy crawly."

 

After briefly opening the door just enough to make sure nobody was in view she stepped out into the hallway before waiting to let the engineer lead the way indicated by the drones. It wasn't much of a surprise that the path of their quarry brought them back toward the long term care rooms where they'd first encountered it. They beat it to the coma patient's room by just a few moments, giving the attending nurse enough time to open her mouth with a question before she was interrupted by the grating on the wall rattling. "Remember, no powers if we can help it," Ellie reminded Mara under her breath, taking up a position between the vent and the bed, jaw set resolutely.

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"Mmh," Mara softly replied, casting her eye around the room. Despite some training from Ellie and Erik, she was not any kind of expert hand-to-hand fighter; she remained, in her bones, an engineer. And an engineer used tools. She opted to grab an unattended blanket, quietly unfolding it into an improvised net, and moved around the beds to take up her place a few feet to the side of the vent.

 

The action served a secondary purpose: when the blanket was briefly in front of her face, it hid the lights dancing behind her eyes. A barely-perceivable shimmer in the corner of the room adjusted to turn its invisible eye upon the room, an action mirrored by its peers in the hallway and beyond. She hoped she wouldn't need them...but with people's safety at risk, it couldn't hurt to be ready. Just in case.

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No sooner had the drone in the room focused its lens than the grating popped off of the wall and a dark shape burst forth. Ellie moved with the grace of a practiced movement, pushing past the weariness in her limbs to deliver a snap kick directly into the thing's centre of mass. Rather than feel a solid connection however she found its form distorting awkwardly around her foot, robbing it of it momentum. The intruder pulled back quickly and pooled itself in the space between the floor and the wall before drawing up into something recognizably humanoid.

 

In the fluorescent lights of the hospital room the women were able to recognize the figure they'd chased down the hallway earlier. A second glance revealed nothing but empty space beneath the hood of its tattered sweatshirt, hanging impossibly in the air. Other gaps could be seen between each piece of clothing, empty sleeves ending without hands but even so its posture managed to convey a silent desperation as it looked back and forth for an escape but always retuning its attention to the young man in the bed.

 

"...what," Ellie demanded in a flat voice, fists still at the ready as she tried to figure out how to fight a living pile of laundry.

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"What," Mara issued, simultaneously, with a tone of voice that indicated her brain was shifting without a clutch. She'd been preparing for something unusual, supernatural, or even super-scientific that might be wearing the clothing. But the clothing itself? What did clothing want with a sick kid?

 

Something didn't feel right, ambulatory laundry notwithstanding. She followed its...gaze?...toward the hospital bed, forcing her brain to dump previous assumptions and preconceptions. What did she know? It was hard to tell without a face to read, but the body language was all wrong for aggression; fight or flight, sure. Desperation, maybe. Concern? For some random kid? What did a set of clothes want with some kid her--

 

Oh.

 

"Oh." The blanket came down, slowly, and Mara took a step back to give the fabric silhouette some room. "Ellie," she cautioned, very carefully, "I don't think this is an attack. Thinking maybe the...suit of clothes...has good reason to visit, if it behaves. Betting that if we check hospital record or footage, that came in with the patient, or just after."

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"Want to run that by me again?" Ellie asked, letting her eyes flick in Mara's direction under a raised eyebrow just for a moment before snapping back to the bizarre animated outfit. For its part the lack-of-shoulders formed by the hoodie seemed to express surprise before the sleeves began to gesture emphatically. One arm pointed at the blonde engineer while the other waved in the air.

 

Ellie slowly dropped out of her ready stance, bemused. "You think this is the guy's... costume?" She'd encountered heroes with some pretty fanciful getups over the years, not the least of which being armour that sprang forth from a pocket dimension but this was a little tough to believe. "So maybe it wasn't attacking him in the first place? Just trying to... put itself on?" At her uncomfortable expression the clothing folded its 'arms' and pulled off something of a haughty sulk.

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"Yyyyyes," Mara admitted, dropping her head a little in self-admonishment. "Sorry. Wasn't sure how subtle I should be. Body language......mmh." She took a moment to, again, reflect on the thing's lack of actual body before continuing. "...lack-of-a-body language?....is all fear and concern, not malice. Self-preservation, too, when it goes to run. Might even be beneficial?"

 

The young woman visibly slid from "concerned citizen" to "scientist", crossing her arms and cocking her head to eye the outfit more critically. "Wish I could research the...guy. Might not want to put on new clothes if he's too hurt to move much, but always the chance they're...mmh. Symbiotic? Better chance at healing, cleansing. Edge case, though; could just provide other benefits not useful to comas."

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