A Phantom Pain


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Scene Title A Phantom Pain
Synopsis The past lingers like…
Date August 30, 2019

By the time they reached the aircraft, Ben Ryans could barely think straight. The trees were tall, he remembers that much. Tall, old pines and scraggly new growths. The vehicle in the clearing was enormous, a four-prop vertical takeoff and landing vehicle, back bay doors open and a landing ramp down.

He doesn’t remember what Adam said, isn’t even sure he heard it, because the pounding of blood in his ears is so strong. Because all he can see is the narrowing sliver of Nicole’s face staring up at him as the cellar bulkhead closed.

He can still feel where his hand was, a phantom pain.

Memories of Nicole feel the same.

Fifty-One Years Earlier

Soc Trang


November 7th


A hot breeze blows through towering palm trees, rustling rubbery green fronds to create dancing patchwork shadows on the jungle floor. Booted feet storm across broken deadfall and wet underbrush growing up in the smattering of sunlight. Through the noise of jungle birds and blowing wind, the zip of bullets whizzing overhead accompany the crackling pop of automatic gunfire.

"A4 is inbound! Go!" Barking orders at the top of his lungs, a young man in an olive-drab uniform darts between trees, hearing the buzzing noise of bullets whipping past his head and punching into the pulpy bark of the thick forest. Looking over his shoulder, the young soldier spies four more men running at his back, one of them clutching an arm to his midsection where his uniform is stained darkly.

Breaking through into a grassy clearing, Sergeant Claremont is waving his hand over his head, rifle held fast in his other hand. "Go, go, go!" Behind him, one of the four other soldiers breaking through the treeline with an antenna waggling left and right over his shoulder should be the one shouting orders, but the bullet holes riddling his pack that carries the heavy radio equipment prove to be a complication in that plan.

The clearing is hundreds of feet across, in the center of which rests a bullet-riddled Bell UH-1 Iroquois, engines whining and rotor spinning as the helicopter prepares for takeoff. The tall grass surrounding the vehicle shifts from the downdraft of the spinning blades overhead as Sergeant Claremont ducks his head down, leaping up into the open bay doors of the chopper, sliding on his shoulder across the floor.

"Norfolk!" The shout comes out as the straggling soldier ducks behind a tree and drops into a crouch, slapping a magazine into the bottom of his M1 carbine, "Norfolk get cover! Get cover!" A wiry young soldier ahead of where Private 1st Class Benson has situated himself skids to a halt, turns around just enough to see Benson crouched and then dives to the side behind the thick trunk of a tall, twisting tree.

Benson ducks out from behind cover, firing blindly into the jungle behind them where the gunfire is coming from. The pop and crack of automatic weapons fire precedes Benson jerking back with a plunk sounding from his helmet. He hits the damp ground back first, rifle laid out at his side, blood pooling down around his head and seeping into the ground, one foot twitching from side to side.

In the belly of the helicopter, Claremont climbs up to his knees, reflexively ducking as he hears an errant round fired from the jungle plunking around inside the helicopter. He scrambles forward, grabbing a hold of the dual grips for the M2 Browning machine gun mounted on the door, folding it down and forward before squeezing both triggers and launching a volley of fifty-caliber rounds back into the jungle over the heads of his own men. Running out of the jungle, the radio technician is clipped by incoming fire before Claremont can lay down suppressing fire, tumbling forward before he disappears into the tall grass.

The roar of a jet engine soaring overhead is what was feared all along; the inbound approach of an A4 Skyhawk with a payload of napalm readied for the Vietcong waiting beyond the treeline. "Airstrike inbound!" The shout comes from the helicopter pilot over the chattering report of the Browning firing wildly into the forest. "Sergeant we have to take off now!"

"Negative!" Claremont shouts back, turning to look over his shoulder as his firing stops, smoke rising from the overheated barrel of the Browning. "I still have men back there! I will not leave them behind!" Claremont braces one foot against the side of the door, sweeping the aim of the Browning to the side of where his men had been in the treeline, hoping that the incoming approach of the Skyhawk and his own fire into the treeline would buy them the time they needed to escape. He had no idea that there were only two left to rescue.

"C'mon!" sharply barked out causes 'Norfolk' to jolt up from his position behind the tree where he'd been ducking. A hand sweeps out to grab him by the collar, yanking the lanky youth up to his feet. It's only the wide-eyed recollection of a US military uniform and a familiar face that stays Norfolks' hand and the pistol he's gripping tightly in both hands from discharging. The blue-eyed soldier yanking Norfolk to his feet turns around with a revolver in his other hand, firing into the jungle.

Pushed ahead, Norfolk hears the report of that handgun firing off into the jungle, one round after another until the revolver is emptied. "I said go!" Those tired blue eyes sweep the jungle, the sound of the jet roaring overhead has him looking up to the noise with eyes narrowed, his revolver tucked down into his holster before turning towards the back of Norfolk as he runs towards the helicopter prepared for takeoff.

"Get ready to takeoff on my mark!" Claremont screams into the cockpit, watching Norfolk break out of the jungle, trodding across the tall grass on his way towards the helicopter. Braced and ready to fire at a moment's notice, Claremont keeps a steady aim over Norfolk's head and finger hovering over the trigger all the way until the young man leaps up into the helicopter and rolls onto his side out of the way of the door.

"Corporal— Corporal Sanders is still out there!" Norfolk huffs breathlessly as he clutches one hand to his chest and stares at Sergent Claremont, his brows furrowed and tongue sliding over his lips to try and wet their parched surfaces. His shoulders jerk and head ducks at every ping of gunfire that ricochets off of the outside of the helicopter.

Much to Sergeant Claremont's amazement, Sanders is strolling out of the jungle a moment later carrying a rifle to his chest. Having taken the weapon from the corpse of Private Benson, the blood-spattered M1 sways from side to side as Sanders breaks into a sprint. "Alright, get this bird— " before those words can spill fully past Claremont's lips, there's an explosion that brightens the sky, followed by a sharp whining sound. The A4 Skyhawk, circling in to drop its payload now streaks with fire from an engine, wobbling uncontrollably as it careens towards the jungle floor.

Turning around, Sanders' eyes narrow as he looks up at the smoke trailing from the jet, his upper lip curling into a snarl before turning back towards the helicopter at full speed. Climbing up, Sanders keeps one foot on the rail as he turns back to look towards the A4 as it crashes down into the jungle, belching black smoke from its wing and belly as it descends.

"Sanders get your ass inside now!" Sanders can't hear Claremont's shout over the noise of the helicopter taking off, though as he tosses his carbine inside, his hand moves down to the blood-stain at his midsection he'd been holding on his retreat from the jungle. There's a brief tensing of his brows before he ducks his head down and steps inside, looking over to 'Norfolk' with an intent stare.

'Norfolk's' wide-eyed stare back up at Corporal Sanders comes with a few more moments of deafness within the helicopter as it begins rising up off of the ground, blowing the tall grass out and away from the vehicle as it picks up and away from the extraction site. "We failed," is Sanders' sharp admonishing to Claremont, blue eyes snapping to the Sergent. "Now they're going to have to send someone else in to do our job, you realize that don't you! You never should have ordered the retreat!"

"If I didn't make that call you'd all be dead!" Claremont climbs up from his position by the door gun, reaching up to grab Sanders by the collar of his uniform. "Now sit the fuck down before I sit you down!" Sanders' reaction to being grabbed is challenging, lifting up one hand to point a finger towards Claremont, about to speak before there's a shattering of glass from the side window and an explosion of red in the pilot's seat against the opposite glass.

The helicopter immediately pitches forward when his body slouches over the controls. Sanders and Claremont are thrown to the opposite side of the Huey, crashing into one another as the chopper begins to break into a spin. 'Norfolk' is thrown across from where he'd been seated, tumbling head over heels before smashing up against the interior wall, barely catching sight of the red mess that is the pilot's head wobbling limply from side to side, drooling thick crimson out a gaping head wound.

Norfolk's eyes grow wide as his hands grip the mesh netting on the wall he'd collided with, watching Sanders and Claremont trying to reach the Huey's cockpit as gravity swirls them around like lint caught in a drain. Norfolk's last memory is of hearing the words, "We're going to crash!" He isn't sure if it was Claremont of Sanders who said it, but that sound rings in his ears right before the sound of shattering glass and crumpling metal does.

Then pain.

Then darkness.

Somewhere over Pennsylvania

August 30th

It’s only in the wake of memories about aircraft and pain that Ryans really sees his surroundings. The interior of the Z-12 Qingniao isn’t all that unfamiliar. Bench seats against the walls, straps to be buckled into, nylon netting along the walls to hold supplies. There’s a row of bipedal robots standing in the middle of the space, that much is new. Dark green in coloration, boxy and ugly. Utilitarian. Not Pippa. They won’t be disappointed in him for the rest of their life.


“…asn’t said a word since you brought him on board.” Voices, too. People are talking, things are happening. Ryans spots Adam being yelled at by a woman an infinitely small fraction of his age. She’s a brunette, short and angry looking, giving Ryans’ the stink eye at every opportunity. He thinks he hears Adam say the name Ivy when talking to her. She just calls him Director.

“Just go up front,” is how Adam dismisses Ivy, turning to walk back down the aircraft’s noisy interior to where Ryans has been sitting. He doesn’t say anything, not really, just sits down in the seat next to Ben and offers him a side-long look, hands folded between his knees. It’s one of sympathy, one of understanding. They’ve known each other a long time, since Ben went by the callsign Norfolk, and Adam’s last name was Sanders.

They understand one-another.

Finger and thumb rub over eyes, casting way the final cobwebs of memory and giving himself a moment to collect himself. Anyone looking at the two of them sitting there, would find it hard to believe that Ben was the younger, the least experienced in life.

A part of him can feel invisible fingers curl into a fist, but when his hand falls away, there is nothing there and it aches. Finally, he turns his head to look at Adam for the first time in…. How long? He couldn’t remember. There is no emotion in his own blue eyes, hidden behind the walls he created for himself.

It had been an impulse had put him there, sitting beside the enemy….

Wait… no.

A weary sigh escapes through his nose and he looks away again. His memories were folding in with others, making it hard to even keep thoughts clear. “Been a while since I felt myself,” Ben voice just loud enough to be heard over the engines.

The words felt weird. That false part of Ben’s mind, created by Charles, kept interfering. Still the words ring true. He felt like a man slowly waking up from a long slumber. “How long? How long have you remembered?” There may an accusation there.

“Between you and I? A little over a year,” Adam says in a hushed tone of voice, coming to sit beside Ben. “I spent most of the Civil War sweeping up the Institute’s material possessions, building an empire designed to crush every single person who ever wronged me. I was like a little kid with a loaded gun walking into a fucking school, just ready to dispense indiscriminate violence because I was broken.” Adam swallows dryly, then folds his hands at his knees and stares down at the floor.

“Then I met Caspar Abraham,” Adam says with a slow shake of his head. “I’d captured him along with other Institute assets, knew who he was from their database. Caspar knew me, certainly, and we got to talking about how he knew he had a penny with my memories on them. I strong-armed it from him, got back a large chunk of my life… my truth.” Adam tilts his head to the side, “but there were gaps. I knew about my children, about experiments done to me, but I also knew that something was missing. Caspar was lying to me, and I never found out why. Maybe he was afraid of me, afraid of what I’d do if I knew everything. He disappeared, went off radar until you and Wolfhound found him.” Adam smiles, awkwardly.

“I’d figured out where it was without his help, though. Kaito Nakamura had hidden the penny with my deepest memories on it in a vault, the Nakamura family vault.” Adam explains, wringing his hands together. “But I needed to know why Caspar was lying to me, what he was hiding, who he was protecting.” Shaking his head, Adam closes his eyes. “I never did.”

Exhaling a sigh through his nose, Adam leans forward and scrubs his hands over his face. “I went on a killing spree to find the location of the vault. I turned everything I had against Kaito’s one surviving child, I murdered Kimiko’s husband, ordered an attack on the Safe Zone, and had my subordinates find and rob the penny from the vault in April of last year.” Adam looks over to Ben, then down to the floor. “God, I… I wasn’t prepared for what was on it.”

Adam sighs again, this time deeper. “You know how it comes back, in fits and starts, dreams. It’s been… made more complicated by my current situation.” One he doesn’t get into. “It’s a lot, Ben. I feel like I was walking off the edge of a cliff and I just— I just barely stopped myself.”

“Found mine buried in my Bradley's grave, after Eve told me about a vision she had,” Ryans offers. “And just like you, I wasn't prepared for what I found.” Mainly, a whole lost life and a dead child. Brows crease and he looks down at his hands… hand and flexes his fingers; real and phantom. “I thought I lost my chance to know when I sacrificed it to save Nicole’s sister…” Ryans doesn’t bother to rope in the confusion, “Then I started reliving memories, without help.”

Whether it was a good thing or not was left to be seen.

“They always redacted when we left, but this….” It was clear that Ryans was still processing everything that was happening to him. ”They took… so much away from us.” He and Adam. But there was one piece in this he didn't have…


“Caspar was hiding something from me,” is how Adam chooses to start his explanation. “He handled the redactions, held our physical memories, but he took something to the grave with him. More than just guilt over what he’d done or anything… like that. I’d sent two people he had no way of recognizing out to bring him in and he still went and shot himself. Like he was trying to protect someone.” Certainly not the monster he was keeping in the shipping container, a monster Adam hasn’t so much as bothered to bring up.

Adam closes his eyes, struggling to find a suitable answer. “The real answer is that knowledge is power,” is the tired old phrase he trots out, but puts a new spin on, “and the enemy we fought used our own knowledge against us.” Running both hands through his short hair, Adam seems at his wits end. “The explosion,” he explains, “that was a who, not a what. A lot like what happened to the Petrelli boy, except intentional this time. A being, the one you’ve probably been remembering pieces of…”

Adam looks up at Ben with something in his eyes that Ryans has never seen before. Fear.

“It’s name is Uluru.


Leaning back in his seat, Ben’s gaze turns to the far side of the plane while he searches for some sort of recognition buried in his head. Something terrible enough to rattle a man like Adam. The name sparks nothing in Benjamin’s returning memories, at least not yet. The swiss cheese of his past was slow to fill in the blanks and there was no guarantee he’ll get much back.

It was a touch frustrating.

Ryans’ head slowly shakes when he comes up empty handed. “Nothing,” he rumbles out. “I remember you being the best man at my wedding. September in that wedding gown. I remember… “ He looks at his hand again with furrowed brows, confused. “I remember Arthur stealing an ability away from me. The feeling of it being stripped from me.” It was an emptiness he had never known before, filled quickly with the burn of betrayal. It also brought with it a question that has been bothering him since.

“How many years did they have to strip away?” To hide that he ever had an ability, there had to be more than the memories of whatever event happened. To take away his son, they went so far as to strip the first woman he loved from his life, completely. Benjamin feels that surge of anger again, wrapping it around him like a blanket. This was the first time he’s been able to really allow himself to feel it. It brings a sort of heat to the rumble of his voice.

“How much of me did they strip away and stuff in a fucking penny?”

It was rare for the patriarch of the Ryans clan to use colorful language. Everyone is a product of their experiences and the Company had taken away some of the most important events in his life.

Adam seems relieved when Ben doesn’t recognize the entity’s name. Looking back to the floor he speaks with a distant tone. “Best as I can figure it, it averages four years for most people. Some, like me, they took more.” Adam shakes his head, sucking in a breath through clenched jaws as he picks at the shredded fabric of his shirt and pulls back still tacky blood on his fingertips.

It was defeared in 1984,” Adam explains, offering a look back to Ryans, “on November 8th. It’s like ever since that moment, the ripples of what happened that day have been striking distant shores of history. Maybe that day really is cursed.” Slowly rising up to stand, Adam looks down at the stump of Ryans’ missing hand, then up to him.

“You’re a stubborn old man,” Adam says with a hint of good-natured ribbing, “you do realize that, right?” He grimaces, then shakes his head. “We’ll get that fixed when we land in Praxia. What you’ve walked into is going to require both hands on the wheel.”

“What can I say, I had a good teacher, old man,” Benjamin fires right back at Adam without thinking. For a moment, he almost seems shocked at those words. Brows furrow like he almost had a piece of something there, but like so many of his memories they fall through his fingers like water.

Ben sighs and rubs a hand over his face, because this was going to be a long road ahead and he was quickly running out of patience.

“What exactly, did I walk into?” Ryans ask bluntly, hand falling away to rest on his thigh in a fist. “Or am I expected to go into this blindly? Because, I’m not that boy playing soldier you saved on the battlefield anymore.” He was here for answers. Ones he hoped would protect his family and help him find balance again.

“I know,” Adam says quietly, to both assertions. But when Ryans asks about what he’d walked into, he sees Adam withdraw into himself again. “I wish I could tell you more,” he admits in a hushed tone of voice, “but that thing… it adapts too easily. The wider knowledge is, the harder it becomes to combat. The one good thing the Company did was limiting who it can sense and who it can read from.”

Adam stands up from his seat, smoothing a hand over his hair. “But I want you in on our operations. I just… you have to trust me that I’m trying to save all of us, but I have to play what’s happening close to my chest. For all our sakes. We’re headed back to the California Safe Zone, I have a gathering of loyal people there now, people you know, people you trust.”

“What I’m hoping is that I can buy us enough time for everything else to fall into place,” Adam says in a reserved tone. “Before people like Eve Mas doom every single one of us.” Exhaling a sigh, Adam looks up to Ryans, then ahead to the front of the aircraft. “I need you to trust me, Ben…”

“…one last time.”

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