Whatever Happened, Happened

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Scene Title Whatever Happened, Happened
Synopsis Following instructions from the Special Activities division, Avi Epstein executes a kill-list within the arcology.
Date November 8, 2011

The Commonwealth Arcology, B-Ring


The sound of gunfire echoes down long, subterranean corridors. There’s a rhythm to it, not a steady tempo, but something that feels practiced. Screams, though, interrupt all of that. Somewhere — not here, not yet, but somewhere — people are dying. An explosion shakes the ground, causes the floor to wobble in a way that implies structural damage. The acrid smell of smoke starts issuing from the ventilation ducts, white smoke belching out a moment later. There’s a fire, somewhere inside the walls, and it’s only just started.

A lone security officer stands below the smoking vent, back to the wall, automatic rifle clutched to his chest. He breathes, ragged and heaving breaths that try to steady his adrenaline-rattled body. He hears footsteps coming from around the nearby corner, boot-squeaks on tile. In a single movement, he drops to a knee and pivots to face the hallway. He never sees what kills him, sends bone and brain scattering across the floor before his body even drops. The single three-pop report of a rifle is loud, but he never hears it.

Black boots treads through the dead guard’s blood, leave dark streaks across the floor. Avi Epstein treads on ahead with his own rifle braced against his shoulder, trained up and squared down the hall. Something is duct-taped to his right arm, a hand-written paper list of names and numbers. His one good eye flicks up to a sign above a door: 0011. Touching his ear-piece, Avi calls out to someone on the other line.

D.Crypt, pop the lock on 0011.” At the same moment Avi says that, a magnetic lock releases and the door swings open. Avi steps inside, finding a small ten-by-ten cell that contains only a massive plastic and metal coffin. The ACTS system is a bulky but practical means of long-term storage for the Evolved. Taking in a deep breath, Avi goes over to the panel on the side and punches in a string of numbers, ones fronted by Veronica Sawyer to the Ferrymen, unlock codes for the ACTS.

White fog spills out of the machine, pools around Avi’s ankles as the lid pops open. Slinging his rifle over his shoulder, Avi trades it out for his sidearm. His now free hand opens the lid revealing a wiry boy — maybe eleven years old — resting inside the ACTS in a hospital gown. Tubes go into his arms, breathing and feeding tubes into his mouth. He’s unconscious.

Avi checks the paper on his sleeve. David Yaeger — Viral Replication — 0011. Avi’s brows furrow and a knot of worry creeps up in his throat. He looks down into the ACTS container, then to the door. Then, lowering the gun inside, pulls the trigger.


The Commonwealth Arcology

B-Ring


Fifteen names crossed off of the list, and Avi Epstein is nearly done with his task. Faces haunt the back of his mind, terrible and weighted things that he’ll never be able to unsee. Looming over another open ACTS he stares down at a man in his twenties. Jacob Stack — Hemokinesis — 0076. Swallowing dryly, Avi places the gun to his brow, pulls the trigger, and the gunfire echoes loudly down the hall. Exhaling a shaky sigh, Avi looks down to his feet, lurches for a moment, and then steps away from the case and looks at the last name and number on his list. Nodding a few times in slow succession, he steps back out into the hall.

Following the red arrows on the floor, Avi moves past open doors where other former captives are being freed by Ferrymen operatives. He hears the voice of children, sobbing cries, frightened sounds of people who don’t even understand where they are or why people are shooting. Some of these people have been catatonic since the 2010 riots. He exhales another breath, rounds a corner to put the sounds of crying children at his back and makes his way to the last door he needs.

D.Crypt, open door 0008.” The door doesn’t open, no magnetic lock pops. Avi’s brows furrow. “D.Crypt, open door 0008,” he calls out again with more urgency this time. But there’s nothing, no response. Tapping the comm he tries again. “Sawyer, sitrep.” Static. “Fuck,” Avi hisses and paces in a slow circle. He looks back up at the number above the door, then the name on his list.

Finally, Avi’s eyes settle on the keypad beside the door. But there’s no way he could guess the combination of alpha-numerics needed to open it.

Chaos reigns. Chaos of noise, screams and shots and the nearly subsonic rumble of shockwaves echoing through the subterranean structure; chaos of activity as people scramble hither and yon, fleeing, fighting, floundering. Chaos of vision, the exponential permutations of hundreds of souls confronted with thousands of choices from moment to moment, heartbeat to heartbeat. Fortunately, so very many of those fall into utterly predictable tracks, the infinity of possibility condensed into only a handful of actually relevant probabilities: when push comes to shove, when bowled over by a tide, the vast majority of people strive for only one thing.

Tamara Brooks is not one such.

The young woman strides down the smoke-hazed corridor with all the cool collection of one striding through the halls of her own apartment building, not even sparing a glance for the corpse on the floor; she's seen it already, and besides, the inanimate have no voice in the shape of the future to be. The man standing stymied by a closed door, faced with an impossible task — he is a different story altogether. Eyes that seem to be nothing more than black pupil framed by white settle on him, the sybil pausing in her progress. She tips her head as if listening to something distant, casts Avi a brief, wan smile. "Allow me," Tamara says almost lightly, even as she ducks past him and reaches for the keypad, adroitly entering a ten-digit sequence with no hesitation for all that it seems to be done by feel and without so much as a glance up at the room number.

She straightens, steps back as the lock disengages, as the door opens. That dark, penetrating gaze remains fixed on Avi. "I can finish the list, if you prefer," the sybil offers, her tone perfectly neutral, devoid of inflection, of attempt to steer him towards either yes or no.

Oddly, Tamara has a quarter-roll of duct tape slipped over her left wrist. A handgun is obviously tucked into the right waist pocket of her vest, with seemingly zero regard for such things as personal safety and proper handling.

Avi didn’t notice her until she was right up on top of him, until she had already started to key in the number pad. By that point she could have shot him, perforated a lung, he’d be bleeding out on the floor before he’d realized what hit him. It’s that realization that stays his hand, doesn’t even bother to raise his firearm. Instead, he stares vacantly at the young woman as though she were speaking another language. In a way, Tamara is.

Breath hitches in the back of Avi’s throat, a yes crumbles away to silence with a second of consideration. He almost handed the responsibility to Tamara because it’s eating him alive, but something like pride keeps him from completely crumbling under the weight of his own thoughts.

“No,” feels like it took too long for Avi to say, “thanks,” is a perfunctory addendum. He looks to the partly opened door, to the body she walked past, then back to Tamara; gun, duct tape — that’s a familiar combo — crazy wide pupils. Avi tenses, looks behind himself, half-expecting to see something else there except a wide open hall. A pop of distant gunfire brings him back to the moment, and he’s side-eyeing Tamara as best as a man with his disability can.

“Are you — “ a prisoner, goes unsaid. He realizes how dumb it sounds mid-stream, because nobody carrying a roll of duct tape and a handgun is presently a prisoner. “Ferrymen?” His voice raises an awkward octave at the end.

Tamara waits as the man works his way around to replying, calmly patient despite the fact that she is intimately aware of each grain of sand slipping through the figurative hourglass. The corollary is knowing precisely how many she can spare. The sybil smiles for his chosen answer, expression gentle and sympathetic, utterly incongruous with their embattled surroundings, the corpse beside them, the strikingly frank contemplation of just who should execute the helpless girl in the casket.

The smile broadens as Avi changes his mind, substitutes one word for another; she seems amused, albeit only fleetingly. Something far more somber settles over the young woman's features in levity's wake. "I am my own," Tamara answers; at another time, she might qualify the statement, but this is not that time, not the place and person to detail fine points to. "But our circles overlap, and our goals."

Though overlap does not mean the same.

Her gaze flicks away, to empty space, to a featureless wall; then back again. The dilation of her pupils fails to so much as waver in the process. Tamara steps up to the revealed casket, resting a hand on its dark face. "I know the roads that end here," the sybil says softly, choosing her words with a care that borders on painful, a care that likely goes unregarded by her audience, "by lead or by fire… and those for which branches remain."

Tamara keys the casket's lock without ever glancing to the panel, watches solemnly as it splits open to spill forth a veil of chill mist that pools around her feet… to reveal the child within, no more than half her own age. The sybil glances over her shoulder at Avi and keys the steps aside, giving him clear access to the casket in the event he chooses to reaffirm his decision… or to change it.

"You do not have to carry her death," the sybil remarks in the same perfectly-neutral tone as for the choice offered just moments before. Afterwards, Tamara's hand lifts, touching fingertips to the base of her nose; one comes away dotted red, which she regards with an air of resigned regret.

Avi’s silhouette is blocky, framing Tamara from behind much in the way Judah’s once did. He regards the girl in the ACTS with downturned lips, checking the piece of paper taped to his arm again. Natalie Le RouxLife Sense. Avi’s brows furrow, fingers pick at the corner of the taped piece of paper, anxiously. He stares for a long moment at the girl, dark hair in vapor-dampened curls pressed against her cheek. His nose rankles, fingers clench tightly. Fatherhood impresses guilt upon him.

He wonders if Tamara already knows what happens when he shirks his duty. Doesn't ask ask much, though. Clairvoyance has always been the most terrifying Evolved power, in his experience, and it's clear Tamara has it in some regard. How harmful is life sense? Avi wonders to himself, before holstering his pistol and scooping the catatonic girl up into his arms. He’ll bring her to Doyle, use a different name. It'll work.

Avi turns to look down at Tamara, the slumbering girl slouched over his shoulder. “Hey,” he manages to finally croak out in her presence. But his question is cut out by something. A voice screaming over a headset, frightened and desperate.

«The device — activated! They se — message back in time! Oh my g — what is that!? What's —» The Alaska team failed. This was it.

Avi drops to a knee, clutching the girl to himself as tightly as he can. There's panic, an instinctual fear of the unknown and the mysterious. They've been saying for weeks that the Institute had a machine that could change the past, unwrite everything. End everything. Avi crouches, bracing himself for something. A shockwave? An explosion? What will the end of time look like?

Cracking his one good eye open, he sees Tamara, unfazed. His heart skips a beat.

As Avi's resolve crystallizes — as his stronger arms scoop up the helpless child — Tamara hides her relief, her approbation, behind impassive expression. That expression promptly changes as Avi steps back, as panicked words stutter through the radio, as the man hunkers down like he expects the whole building to collapse inwards upon them.

When he looks up, it's to a curious tilt of the sybil's blonde-haired head, a bemused lift of her brows.

A beat later, Tamara also goes to one knee, folding hands across the other, putting her gaze as close to level with Avi's as it might get. She listens to words that could be spoken, draws inferences that don't quite attain understanding but approximate it well enough for present need; her lips twist sideways in a smile at once both good-natured and rueful. "Whatever happened, happened. A branch passed, but the road goes ever on," she assures. "It is for us to just keep walking."

Straightening, Tamara extends a hand to the one-eyed man and his burden. It could be an offer to help him up, or simply a gesture of solidarity and affirmation.

Confusion is pained across Avi’s face, abject and complete. He looks to the tiny, unconscious child in his arms, then back to Tamara with no understanding of what is true and what is real. He swallows a lump in his throat, looking at the offered hand, at the singular possibility he can see among the myriad that are apparently spooling out before the blonde. He exhales a shuddering breath, could-have-been words going unsaid.

Instead, he takes her hand carefully in his. He needs someone to help him build an ostensible truth from a clear lie. Someone trusting, someone understanding. Avi’s brows furrow as he rises to his feet. He finally settles on something to ask of Tamara. “I need to find Eric Doyle.”

The words themselves aren't a question, but speaking them cuts away competing outcomes, lays bare the void that her companion cannot — not successfully — fill on his own. The sybil nods solemnly, and with indisputable self-assurance gives Avi the words he needs: the perfectly plausible tale, the pledge that Eric Doyle will be sent. Even she cannot guarantee success in anyone else's actions, but Tamara can weight these particular dice hard, and does.

Darkened eyes watch figurative dice roll as Avi takes his leave, the man and his burden disappearing around a bend of smoke-shrouded corridor; she finds his odds acceptable, but even if they weren't, those threads are now almost entirely beyond her capacity to affect. At least — not without abandoning other tasks she has set herself, and those have no possible fallbacks. That choice is simply not tenable.

After, the sybil herself turns away, takes a step back into the vacated cell. "The only way is forward, the only constant is change." She kisses her fingertips and rests them briefly on the casket standing forlornly open, heedless of the blood they also carry along, the more obvious mark it leaves behind. "Who will you be, tomorrow, after change finds you?" she asks the high-tech coffin, the empty space, the sleeping child being carried towards potential safety. Towards the promise of a life that nearly didn't exist.

Tamara allows herself a smile, poignant, shadowed; then, heeding the eternal passage of time, the ever-diminishing pool of sand in her personal hourglass, the seeress takes off running down the corridor.

She still needs to collect a particular tool — one that will, finally, let the sybil bring the interminable saga that has been playing out before her eyes these long months to its only acceptable end.


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