Advanced Dungeons & Dragons


gates_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
Synopsis In light of recent revelations, Agent Gates comes clean about his darkest secrets.
Date June 21, 2021

A heavy, gray rain hammers down on the NYC Safe Zone.

Even though the sun hasn’t set, the city is thrown into darkness. Smoke and heavy cloud-cover has blocked out the sky, and the sooty rain that falls from the sky has formed a dark film over the windshield of the Yamagato Altum that slowly makes its way through congested traffic. Outside the car, neon signs and traffic lights paint the wet and grimy city in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors.

Agent Gates has been quiet since they left the ferry from Fort Jay, the palpable tension in the air evident in his firm-fisted grip on the steering wheel. Now, stalled in traffic a quarter of the way to LaGuardia Airport, he turns to his passenger with something like guilt in his eyes.

“I think we’re far enough away now,” Gates says quietly, returning his attention to the steady red glare of tail lights that paints his face in shades of crimson.

“…and you’re not gonna like how this goes.”

Gates’ Car

NYC Safe Zone

June 21st
6:27 pm

“But first, I gotta ask you a question.” Gates says, his eyes unfocused and distant, staring into the glow of the tail lights. “You ever been to the Nite Owl Diner over in Bay Ridge?”

The ominous promise burns through what happiness Wright gathered during the short visit with Seren and Everleigh. She sighs as she returns to why we’re here. It takes a moment to process the rest.

“Yeah,” she says, eyes not focused on much other than the imposing elements. “Tom the server still has teeth because I took Noah Bennet’s wallet out of his mouth while he was having a seizure. Nice guy.”

“Tom,” she adds, “not Bennet. Historically, kind of a dick.” Who sent Elliot into the Ark.

Gates laughs awkwardly. “I forgot you were there that day…” He looks over at her, managing a mild smile. “It was a very long time ago for me.”

That draws Wright’s attention to the driver, curious. Gates wasn’t there that day, unless his telepathic Swiss Army knife contains invisibility. There’s a pause as she runs possibilities through her mind before reacting, this entire conversation is a minefield to begin with. Elliot makes the connection first, and by the time he’s drawn her attention to the first memory she’s already zeroing in on the second, both memories composites seen from both of their perspectives.

“Don’t worry, I’m told there’s a big bathroom waiting for you on the other side of the portal,” Gates says with an uncharacteristically cheerful smile and a wink. Elliot catches the expression and there’s something about it he can’t shake, something that feels familiar.

“Jesus Christ,” Wright says.

“Three specials then,” Tom says with a cheerful smile, then turns his attention over to Elisabeth. “You want your usual, Lieutenant? Or have I tempted you with the special as well?” There’s an overly-familiar joking tone that Tom adopts that — while he is familiar to Elisabeth — is perhaps a bit overdone.

“Oh and,” Tom looks back to the Hounds. “Coffees all around? Juice?” He asks, taking a step back from the booth, pointing fingers at each Hound as he tries to make eye contact, mixing that gesture with an alternating thumbs up/thumbs down.

“No fucking wonder I’ve been craving the Ferrymen’s Benedict,” she says. “What the fuck happened to you?” Probably not progeria. It’s maddening that the most reasonable answer is fucking time travel.

“You ever see Benjamin Button?” Gates asks, then laughs. Then frowns. Because it’s not really a joking time. “Uh. It’s a long story that involves a kid I used to play online games with manifesting a time-travel ability and rocketing me back to Roswell, New Mexico and then… just a lot of bad experiences from there on out.”

Gates glances at Wright. “We got separated, I took the long way back. But, suffice to say, you saw the day I manifested. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since Elliot and I first talked about his ability, how he was worried that I’d… inadvertently copy it when we were training.”

He looks back to the road. “My fear now is that I copied it at the diner.”

“… and you’re not gonna like how this goes.” The ramifications are disastrous.

“You can’t—” Wright says as the scope of what happens unfolds in both of their minds at once. “You can’t…” she tries again. She takes a deep and sudden breath, braces her hands against the dashboard. Doesn’t look at Gates as though it will make him go away. Her hands don’t shake because she took drugs to keep her steady. They both did. “You can’t.” This isn’t what this conversation was supposed to be about, and she’s up against the Lock.

“I can’t…” she says around a tightness in her throat, hates the way her tongue clicks dryly around the words. “I’m incapable of talking about it.” Not unwilling, not reticent, not disinterested, not afraid, not loath, not averse, not resistant, not unenthusiastic, not disinclined, not opposed, not unaccommodating, not against, not hesitating, not, not, not notnotnotnotnotnot. Elliot’s hands snap out before him in a thunderous clap. His palms sting, and Wright can only grimace further, look to the floor for support.

Gates looks askance to Wright, frowning imperceptibly. He looks back to the road. “Alright,” he says after a moment of quiet consideration. “Can you listen?” He glances her way again. “Because maybe you can help me make some sense of the whole thing, and maybe that’ll help you?”

There is no help for them, but Wright manages a nod. She checks her pulse at her throat, elevated but not bordering on panic like the last time the Lock was tested.

“I figure Elliot told you that I have a….” Gates searches for the right word, “a mind palace, for lack of a better word. It’s a place I can store thoughts, ideas, or information that I might not want to have rattling around in my head all the time. It’s like compartmentalizing, but with a lock and key.”

Gates slows down as traffic comes to a standstill and he turns up the speed of the windshield wipers. They streak a greasy path across the windshield and their hum is white noise against the silence between his thoughts.

“I’ve developed, over time, a sort of command center. A little personal space where I can review the contained thoughts and ideas on an impersonal medium.” Gates smiles at his own cleverness. “A television.” He looks over to Wright for a moment, then back to the tail lights ahead. “I also have a means of outbound communication. I told Elliot a while back that I picked up dream manipulation, which allows me to link unconscious minds together until people wake. I can use this like, red emergency phone in my office to talk to people who are asleep if they know to dial in to it.”

A red

p h o n e

Wright feels a ball forming in her throat like she might vomit, a physical reaction despite the medication. “That sounds handy,” she says, lacking any emotional affect. She can’t tell Gates that what he’s saying can’t be true. It can’t.

Gates exhales a steady sigh and nods. “It was, right up until we got our Schwartzes tangled together.” He glances sidelong to Wright, hoping the joke lands. It does not.

“Right up until I tumbled through some sort of Pink Floyd nightmare a few days ago.” Gates shakes his head, brows knit together. “It was like my mind palace had its walls blown out, and when everything was said and done I could hear you in my head, talking, like I was eavesdropping on your thoughts. But it was more comprehensive, there was uh, other sensory components…”

Gates looks across the divide of driver and passenger seats to Wright. “It lasted about fifteen minutes before it abated. And I haven’t been back to whatever David Bowie labyrinth that was since, but…” He grips the wheel tighter. “Now I’m not sure what happened, and if it has to do with the fact that I copied Elliot’s ability. Because I must have been hearing you through it.”

Fifteen minutes

Wright takes a deep, sharp breath preceding panic.

I was in the shower and

the minotaur was free and


was in

my stream

“I need to,” she says, fumbling for the handle of the door—

was in

“What’s the first thing you want to do when you get home?” Elliot asks softly in the cavernous quiet.

my body

Bastian falls in on himself, implodes. His head leaves the wall to bury itself between his knees. There’s a struggle as his arms come up, wrap around the back of his head, cover his ears. Whispers, “I wanna

and I

“I’m gonna—

didn’t know

“I’m gonna be sick.”

“Ah, shit, fuck,” Gates hisses, fumbling with the automatic door locks. “Sorry, sorry.” They may be in the middle of traffic, but at the rate that no one is going anywhere it should be fine. “Do you need to— ”

The pounding rain creates a wall of white noise as soon as Wright has the door open. The shock of the water on her arm keeps her from immediately sticking her head out the door, or stepping out, or running away. She takes a few marathon breaths, feels Elliot pull pull pull at her attention. Brings him to her to purge the sensation of a phantom slipping through the network, slipping through the Palace, slipping into her body.

She isn't sure if she'll actually vomit. Elliot's reaction isn't as severe, he wasn't the one whose body was occupied, and that's all that either of them can think about right now. He slides down a wall to sit on the floor, controlling his breathing, closing his eyes, becoming mindful to anchor Wright.

"Please don't touch me," Wright says over the noise, in case Gates mistakenly believes this is an occasion for comforting human contact. But it seems to be passing, no more memories emerge from the BLACK BLACK BLACK—she does vomit, suddenly and harshly, sooty rain running through her hair and over her face and down her neck. But that seems to be all of it. Thank god Kenneth got to me before I ate a bunch of pub food, she thinks.

She leans back into the car and shuts the door, shuts her eyes, limits her sensory intake so she can stay with Elliot and escape this spiral. "I'm sorry," she says out of habit. Rain runs through her shirt and into the seat. She runs her hands over her face and through her hair to scrape the worst of the water away.

“We’ve all stress-vomited before.” Gates says with an awkward certainty that helps him sleep at night. He glances ahead at the tail lights stalled in traffic, then back to Wright. “I know you and Elliot are private people. Trust me, I didn’t want to wind up in Narnia any more than you all wanted me there. But the fact of the matter is I think it may have always been this way.” He hesitates. “Because— you know— time travel.”

It still seems absurd to him. It won’t ever be a reasonable thing.

“What I mean is, I took the long way around.” Gates says, gesturing to his face. “But I’ve never experienced anything like this until now. No indication of anyone else knocking on the walls of the mental tenement building, so to speak. I figured I had the run of my own roost. Now, I’m not so sure.”

It takes Wright some time to process that Gates has said anything, some more to make sense of it. What can she actually contribute to this conversation? Lying will have to do for now.

"You're saying what," she tries, eyes still unfocused, "you've always been in the network, just hiding?" It's a rough place to start to gauge what he believes happened to him, especially as the Palace isn't the network. It's not a lot of things.

“I don’t know,” Gates says with a shake of his head. “I didn’t know there was a network until I really understood—as much as I do now—what you and Elliot do. It’s only ever just been me and the things I experience. The things I find and tuck away.”

Gates looks over at Wright, troubled, weighing further truths. He can’t keep lying to her. Avoiding the truth of it all. “Other people come and go all the time,” he says, pulling off a band-aid. “I act as a communications hub for the entirety of the OEI through my dream-manipulation power. I pull sleeping minds into my mind-palace and we have remote conferences. Back when the Looking Glass in Virginia was functional, we’d open it a microscopic amount and it would allow me to draw in sleeping minds from across the divide, to communicate with our other branches.”

Up ahead, cars have started to move again and Gates glances from Wright to the open car door and back out the windshield. “And you never experienced any of that?”

"No," Wright says, "we thought that the training caused a continental colli—" She strains against the truth. She's going to have to get creative. Gates already knows something, which gives her some wiggle room.

"I can't lie," she says with a frustrated sigh, "I don't know much about dreamscapes, memory palaces, or other mnemonic architectures founded in the—" then veers off course as she tries to get more specific than hypothetical. She clears her throat and tries again.

"That is to say, I imagine that in a psychic construct like you described to Elliot during training, things would function differently," she tries. "It wouldn't be a world of matter, so if you needed to keep a room secure, you'd need to make the lock out of something more relevant to the type of space that allows for the existence of that kind of architecture."

"Otherwise I'd guess that anybody who's done even a little dreamwalking—like me, actually—could impose their will on the reality of the lock and force it open with little trouble. You'd have to use things relevant to a world of thought. Compulsions might work, because not many people would have the correct compulsions or know to employ them, and the upkeep would be automatic. Promises or powerful emotions maybe, if they could be sustained."

"But with the kind of secrets you run into at work?" Wright muses, into the flow and riding a very thin line. "If you needed to keep dangerous information in place, it could take careful and habitual behaviors like… sobriety or habitual lying. And if the relevance locks were broken without being shored up beforehand, other less-relevant locks might not be enough to keep that door closed. So you'd probably need to have a new one in place before you could unlock another. I'm just spitballing here, feel free to tell me if I have it wrong."

“Would you believe me if I told you I operate mostly on vibes?” Gates says with a crooked smile. “Sorry, I’m mostly kidding but halfway not. “A lot of what I do is subconscious, but I’m not going to go as far to say you’re not right about how it all works. Everything in my mind-palace manifests as a tangible object. Something given physical representation of a contained or secure idea.

Pausing, Gates motions to the open passenger side door Wright had been hanging out of. Behind them, cars are beginning to honk.

“Paintings, an old television, a comfortable arm-chair, a rotary phone.” Gates shrugs. “They’re not just decorations, they’re… totems.”

Wright squints at Gates for a moment, then pulls the door shut. "The kind that store memories," she asks, "or the kind that serve functions? The kind in the rooms or the kind on the table?"

“Both?” Gates isn’t sure at first. He grimaces at a honk from the rear of the car and sets it into drive again, moving the some hundred feet until he hits a wall of tail-lights again. “I’ve got paintings I keep that have personal memories for me, and guests just see reflections of their own thoughts and experiences. The rotary phone is a direct line to the boss, Raith. There’s an old tv too, old wooden floor-set my folks used to have when I was a kid. That’s what I perceive the conference calls across time and space through.”

Gates glances at Wright. “Dunno what you mean by in rooms or on the table. I guess everything I have is out in the open to some extent?”

"Sorry," Wright says, already exhausted. "Not sure what the rest of your dream was like for you, I can't give you any more context than that right now." It's said in a way that implies this won't always be the case. She does think it's interesting that his palace relies on objects like the Palace does; in a traditional memory palace, the entire room stores the memory. An artifact of how Tala learned the technique.

"Have you ever heard of a memory getting dislocated?" she asks, able to be mostly blunt about this as the Lock doesn't apply to the minotaur and Gates already has the percent facts here. "Have you ever had a memory learn something it shouldn't know?"

Gates arches one brow slowly, looking side-long at Wright before turning his attention back to the road. “I’m not sure that’s how memories work. That sounds more like a person than a recollection.”

The notion makes Gates pause in mid-thought, brows furrowed and eyes distantly focused on the tail lights ahead of him. He glances at Wright again and asks, “Has anyone ever died while a part of your network?”

"At least three people," Wright says. "Eve's uselessly timed precognitive painting that she showed me after the fact had eight ACTS units, though we've been assuming that it was mostly metaphorical horses. Bastian was in storage, Tala and Yancy got gunned down by drones in the Choke point. It was bad. Elliot was catatonic for almost a month." Another opportunity for clarity, the Lock doesn't censor discussion of former network co-hosts.

Gates can’t stop drumming his hand on the steering wheel, staring ahead with tension visible in the way he clenches his jaw. None of this sits well with him. Even though he had an understanding—a strong suspicion—about the origin of some of his mindscape constructs, this makes it infinitely more complicated. His proverbial mental neighbor might have rats.

“It might be eight,” Gates hesitates to say, but does anyway. “Depending on who ultimately pulled the trigger on the project. Eight is a numerologically-significant number for Mazdak,” he says, glancing at Wright. “The eight-pointed star is an icon they call back to. Eightfold plans.” He shrugs. “We know Mazdak has managed to touch a lot of what’s been going on the last few decades, but we still know next to nothing about their actual core ideology, not what’s pushed on the streets in Baghdad.”

Stopping himself, Gates exhales a sharp sigh through his nose. He could go on, extensively. Wright can feel that simmering obsession behind his words, she’s felt similar in Elliot. This is a particular scab that Gates seems determined to pick at, even when it isn’t the topic at hand.

“Are you at risk of being compromised?” Gates asks directly without looking at Wright. “Do you think you can trust yourself to carry out the ongoing assignment, given all the…” He finally looks over at her. “Givens?

“Fucking Mazdak?,” Wright says, scraping more water out of her hair and into the upholstery. “Are you kidding me? I was really hoping this would all get suddenly worse. Jesus.” What if there are four co-hosts Elliot can’t even remember? Had he cared for them as much as the three he does? Would they have been different in some way? Why would there only be three sacred items on the table in the 0bservation Room? Could the Deck of Cards be making other items imperceptible?

“I’m fine from an operational standpoint,” she diverts, deciding to deal with that curveball later. “It can’t get any further out of where it should be, and it can’t effect other network co-hosts. At least it never has, and this isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with it. It was supposed to be gone for good. The only thing it’s going to fuck up is my personal life.” That and all the damage it could do in the Palace that she can’t directly reference. It cuts her in ways she doesn’t let herself fully comprehend, being touch starved and touch averse at the same time.

Fucking Mazdak,” Gates echoes. “You don’t even know the half of it and…” He drums his hands on the steering wheel. He’s picking at the scab again.

“I’m going to trust you here, implicitly, that you’re the best judge of your own capabilities.” Gates says with a nod toward her. “That you and Elliot are keeping me in the loop as much as I need to be, and that none of this is a risk to the rest of the team. To me.” And he means it, that’s the last Gates brings up the issue. His trust is, at this point, an honest one.

He takes a moment to cut across two lanes of traffic and take the offramp that will get them on the route to the airport and out of this traffic jam. “To that end,” Gates says after a long silence falls between them, “I’m going to open up a link to my hotline, if you need it. If there’s an emergency. It’s a psychic permissions thing, right now I only use it to contact Raith but… I guess since we have something of a shared wall,” again with the apartment complex references, “if you give a knock on your side, I can call. For emergencies.”

“Only if we’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty,” Wright says, “Understood.”

She stares out the window for a moment before trying to work around the lock. “Don’t touch things on pedestals,” she says, hoping a lack of context will keep her in the clear. “Don’t talk in hallways. If you ever find a door that goes to the wrong place, shut it three times or backtrack. I’ll let you know when I have more context to give you, maybe in a couple of weeks.”

Gates makes a soft noise in the back of his throat, the subtlest bit of acknowledgement as he merges onto I-278, slipping into the steady flow of traffic. There’s always rules, and Wright’s rules for the Palace don’t sound different from his own. In fact, they sound remarkably similar.

“Just one piece of counter-advice,” Gates says as he checks his rear view mirror. “If you see a door on it marked ‘Containment’, don’t open it.” He glances over at her in the passenger seat.

“Or I’ll be calling you about an extended warranty.”

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