Beware of big spoilers in the reviews.
This story is a sequel to Deus Ex Machina. Although it can be read independently, you may be slightly confused about how we got here and by a few references. I recommend reading (or skimming the first and last couple chapters of) Deus—I mean, hey, it's more content, if you can stomach a preachy OC—but it's not required. If that homework doesn't sound appealing, here's a quick summary: weirdo ex-Fang assassin named Deus saves Adam, yells life lessons at him in a cave, and eventually gets him a fake identity so he can sneak onto a flying ship from Atlas that's headed to Vale because Adam wants to ~make things right~
Deus Ex Machina can be generously broken down as 80% character study and 20% plot. Odds of Survival is probably closer to 40/60. Get ready for more, uh…stuff.
Chapter One: Silence As Victory
Beyond the window and several thousand feet below, the ocean separating Anima and Sanus crashed against itself. The massive waves breaking apart into foam were tiny from this far up, just spots of white that appeared and disappeared in the deep blue. With a sigh, Adam lowered himself back onto the bench and faced the rest of the cabin. A couple hours done, but many more to go before he would reach the city of Vale.
It was a small mercy that this flight was a silent one. Aside from some frankly unseemly behavior at the start from one of the passengers—the short female human demanded to see the paperwork allowing his presence because she "wanted to make sure there wasn't anything funny going on" since "we weren't supposed to have to deal with tagalongs"—the journey was almost pleasant. He'd had far worse trips, which usually involved being packed shoulder to shoulder with other Fang members, shot at, chased, or having to fly through rough weather to avoid detection. By comparison, this silent flight with three other people and a pilot through smooth air was almost calming.
Or it would have been, had that short human not taken exception to his existence. Once it became clear he would be staying, her protests had been exchanged for suspicious glares that she seemed to think he wouldn't notice just because he wasn't looking right at her. All of that while he was being read as human because of the baseball cap hiding his horns.
He wondered how she would react if she knew he was a faunus. Or, better yet—given her status as an heiress to the Mariner Dust Company, a company notable simply because it hadn't yet been consumed by the SDC—if she knew he was Adam Taurus instead of some forgettable human huntsman named Aiden Cole whose only distinguishing feature was that he wore a blindfold over half his face. It would almost be worth revealing himself just to see her terror. Almost: that scenario would likely end with this ship plunging into the water below in the ensuing fight.
Her attention was impossible to ignore entirely, and her glances were becoming more frequent and bolder. She was going to say something. He refused to make eye contact, always finding some reason to let his focus drift away from her before she could feel justified to speak. That excuse usually ended up being one of the many Dust crates tied down with rope and cable throughout the rest of the hold. The Mariner anchor was a far cry from the SDC snowflake, but their storage methods were the same. He could hardly stop himself from absently planning out the most efficient way to either unload or destroy the Dust.
So, if the esteemed heiress wanted a conversation with him, she would have to force it.
"Mr. Cole." And so she forced it.
He let his eyes land on her, and blue met blue. Where he was dressed in the clothes gifted by Deus, a simple ensemble of black slacks, a dark red hooded jacket, and a black puffy vest, the heiress was clad in what had to be some kind of company uniform. It was almost like a modified Atlas military uniform, altered to be curved and loose in all the places the military opted for straight and sharp. Colored primarily in blue like the waters below but with white and silver accents, it reminded Adam far more of Vacuo's style that Atlas's. Those flowing pants, even though she wore them tucked neatly into her boots, were hardly the gold standard of Atlas practicality. In fact, all of the Mariners were wearing that style. Only the guard was different, clad in muted grays and blues that washed out his brown complexion. Brothers forbid the help outshine the heiresses.
Shifting his eyes back to hers, he raised his visible eyebrow. "Were you going anywhere with that, or were you wasting my time?"
She offered a razor-thin smile, though the angry red tint to her white skin betrayed her true reaction. "My apologies, huntsman. I was just curious how you were spending your time before joining us on this flight."
Prodding him to see if he was worth her valuable time. Ridiculous. "Recovering."
"Ah, you failed to fight off a Grimm attack? How unfortunate."
Though half-lidded, his eye still communicated enough searing disdain that the guard to the woman's right shifted on his bench, shoulders tensing in warning. Adam closed his eyes and took a breath. Clearly, she would not let the conversation be shut down just because he had no interest in continuing it. He would have to be creative.
"Indeed," he said, thinking up the lie as he spoke it. "Having my comrades butchered in front of me as we attempted to defend a town doomed to burn and being the sole survivor was very…unfortunate."
Her smile was as breakable as glass, but it held. "What town?"
"I'm quite certain someone of your status and heritage would not be able to recognize it," he offered a tight-lipped smile of his own, "miss."
Oh, that got her. "Please, call me Annea. If we will be travelling together, we should get to know each other."
"I couldn't agree more." He cocked his head, deliberately not giving her the curtesy of how he wanted to be addressed. He also let her name go in one ear and out the other; he didn't care enough about this human whelp to let her have that much attention. "Tell me, is the MDC still losing investors and hemorrhaging money while the SDC takes over your assets, or has that changed since last I checked? I haven't been keeping up with the news."
What had been a slight blush of irritation turned into a flood of rage as her eyes went wide. She shot to her feet as though her short stature would be at all intimidating to him when he was almost at her eye level while still sitting down. "I don't know what your issue with me is," she began, but movement from the doorway to the cockpit drew Adam's interest instead. The other heiress, taller and older yet clothed in the same fashion as her sister, had been summoned by the noise.
"Nea, is something the matter?"
Other than the height and age difference, the easiest way to tell them apart was in their hairstyles: both had the same hair color, but the taller one wore hers in a ponytail and the shorter one in a braid wrapped carefully around her head. Perhaps it was a vain attempt to add a couple of inches to her height.
The taller one looked at him when the short one just sputtered. There was one last difference: she had brown eyes instead of blue. "I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?"
Adam shook his head, noting with interest how the short one cycled through a gauntlet of expressions before settling on composed neutrality by the time her sister looked back at her. The guard had relaxed upon the older one's entry, leaning back in his seat.
"No," Adam said, copying the guard's example and closing his eyes, "you're not. I was merely asking your sister about the state of your company, and she got upset."
"Got upset? You were insulting—"
He cracked an eye open to see the taller one silence the shorter with a disappointed frown. She would not be as easily riled. More was the pity; arguments would make the time pass faster than conversation.
"My apologies for my younger sister," the older one said, sitting across from Adam and pulling her sister back down with her. "She cares a lot about our company. I came back here to let you all know we should be over land in a few minutes, but Aiden, if you're in the mood to talk about the Mariner Dust Company, I would be happy to answer your questions."
The younger sister was practically vibrating in place. Inferiority issues, undoubtedly. He would let her cool for now. Too much more and distaste would turn into suspicion. "Your sister answered enough. Did the pilot say how long is left?"
"We're more than halfway, though he was worried about some weather the sensors were picking up ahead." She folded her hands in her lap, the perfect company representative. "But please," her gaze hardened, and Adam realized she had picked up more of the earlier conversation than he'd thought, "you sounded rather curious about our company. Ask me anything you'd like."
Cornered. He released a sigh, buying himself a couple seconds as he leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. Behind him, the wrapped parcel that was the disguised Wilt crinkled as he took his weight off it. Had his weapons fit in the gray duffel stashed under his bench, he would have put them there to avoid attention.
And if he could teleport from Argus to Vale, he would've avoided this ship to begin with.
"I suppose I might be wondering why your company is sending its two heiresses away from Atlas after the borders were closed." He fished for a way to make himself sound more like an Atlas Academy graduate. "We all know how General Ironwood values security."
"We were able to impress upon him the urgency of our mission. The city of Vale still needs aid, and the MDC is uniquely equipped to assist."
"We have a long history of using the Vale ports for our trade, even longer than the SDC, even if we have not historically moved as much product. To have us be absent in their time of need would be to add an unnecessary strain on inter-kingdom relations. The Dust we're bringing will be a much-needed boost to the city's thin resources."
He scoffed. "You're a marketing team." And one he was certain the paranoid Ironwood had not actually sanctioned.
"We are overseeing the delivery of aid in person. Would you call that marketing?"
"Oh, I have no doubt you'll oversee the Dust." He made a vague gesture at the crates to his right. The uses he could have found for all that if he was still in the Fang…"I'm talking about what comes after. The SDC and every other Dust company was hamstrung by Ironwood closing the borders." The girls and guard frowned, and he silently cursed his mistake. Calling more attention to it would just make it worse. "How convenient that the MDC now has two up-to-date representatives on the ground in a city that desperately needs Dust."
"How fortunate, you mean."
Neither of them broke composure. A few years his senior, she had clearly been at this game for a while. It wasn't a game he had ever enjoyed playing; while he had participated in politics enough to sway people to his faction, he was not one to mince words with the enemy.
And this human was, without a doubt, the enemy. The MDC had neither the SDC's reach nor its infamy, but there were stories enough to go around.
He was the first to sever eye contact, looking away with a shake of his head. She only saw him as some upstart—albeit somewhat experienced—human huntsman. As dismissive as he was of them, he was getting the same in return.
"You're acting pretty full of yourself for someone who's a glorified stowaway," sniped the short one before her sister could stop her. Adam released a low chuckle.
"Believe me, had there been any other choice, we would never have met. Not like this." Preferably on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, or within a back alley in the dead of night. "And being added as an extra hand in case of emergency hardly makes me a stowaway, even nominally." If there was an emergency, and these heiresses happened to be in danger, they could use his help to make sure that danger was fatal. "No offense to your guard."
Said guard didn't react to the pointed comment, at least not verbally, but his hand did fall self-consciously to the pistol holstered on his thigh. He didn't even have a mecha-shift weapon, just the standard-issue pistol. It didn't help that he looked to be at least a few years younger than Adam. He was no older than twenty, Adam would bet on that. Not even a huntsman academy graduate, so probably a legacy hire; humans were predictable like that. Then again, if he was, they would have outfitted him with better gear. It was a bit of a puzzle.
"Besides," he continued, speaking while distracted by the weapon issue, "it's rather difficult to be charged as a stowaway on an unsanctioned relief mission done under a paranoid government's nose."
That was taking it a step too far and dropping his cover to boot. The taller one's gaze sharpened while her sister groped for some petty response, not yet having grasped the implications of what Adam had just said.
He had never been meant for undercover operations. At least this would be over with quickly; if he attacked swiftly enough, he could get to the cockpit and assume control of the ship before it crashed.
"Just because you have been away from Atlas for so long does not mean you have the right to speak of our kingdom in that tone," the older one said, and Adam's musings about weak points and who to target first jarred to a stop like a line of cars in a pile-up.
"You heard me. Try to have more respect. Since we are stuck together for a while longer, we can at least be civil about it."
Civilians. He sighed, waving away the conversation. "Fine."
"Miss Mariner?" the pilot called.
Both sisters perked up. "Yes?"
The younger one frowned, then sighed and sat back. "He was probably calling you," she said, and her sister headed over.
Adam didn't move from his spot, but faunus hearing made it easy to listen in despite their quiet voices.
"What's the issue?"
"Looks like it's a big weather system heading into our path. We'll need to curve fairly far south to avoid it."
"Looks like it. A bad one. This ship can't fly high enough to avoid it."
Across the hold, the guard reacted with furrowed brows and a concerned glance at the heiress next to him. Good hearing for a human.
He crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat, adjusting Wilt and Blush behind him to stop the trigger guard from digging into his lower back. Avoiding the weather would add time to this journey, and were this a Fang mission, they wouldn't risk any delays. Oh, but the horror of the heiresses experiencing some turbulence.
His eyes began to drift closed, but he couldn't shake a frown. Something was poking at him, a niggling idea that couldn't quite resolve itself into a concrete thought. Approaching storm, Grimm territory, flying low…
He sat up, earning the attention of the other two passengers in the hold. "How far out is the storm?" he called. For a second, there was only surprised silence from the cockpit.
"About thirty miles," the pilot replied.
Adam pushed himself to his feet and, ignoring the questions from the younger heiress, headed into the cockpit. The pilot and older heiress both shot him confused glances. The pilot cleared his throat, clearly not pleased about Adam intruding on his domain but too professional to just kick him out. Besides, for the moment, Adam had a huntsman's qualifications, which prompted the pilot's question:
"Why are you looking so worried?"
Ignoring him for the moment, Adam scanned the sky ahead. After a couple of seconds, he picked out a cluster of dark dots that couldn't quite blend in with the approaching clouds. Mouth settling into a grim line, he pointed them out to everyone who had now crammed into the cockpit around him.
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