All Roads, Part III


sf_isa2_icon.gif sf_shaw2_icon.gif

Scene Title All Roads, Part III
Synopsis Isabelle and Shaw traverse corridors of trauma and memory, staining a beautiful lie with ugly truth.
Date March 19, 2021

“You look like a slut in that.”

They had a way of talking to one-another. For Isabelle Ashford to take that insult in her own bedroom means she didn’t take it as one. Coming from Thalia Ashford, it was a compliment thrown out of the side of her mouth. “It’s good, you need taller boots though. Really lean into it.”

Stretching out on Isa’s bed, Thalia flips open her cell phone and patiently keys in a reply to a long-left message. But she only pays it half attention, instead fixing a look up at her older sister with a crooked smile. “Besides, what’s it matter what literally anyone here thinks. In two months you’ll be in NYU and rolling with a whole different crowd.”

Thalis flips her phone closed then sits up on Isa’s bed, tucking her legs under her while Isa continues to get ready. She watches Isa’s eyes in her dressing mirror, smiling when she catches her sister’s gaze.

“But seriously,” Thalia says with an embarrassed smile, looking down at her lap. “When you’re off like knee-deep in dick at NYU, just…” she tilts her head to the side, threading a lock of hair behind one ear. Her eyes search side to side, from the phone, to Isa, and back again.

“…just don’t forget about me.”

Twenty Years Later

47 Miles Outside of New York City

Carmel Hamlet
New York

March 19th
6:24 pm

New York City fought like a dying animal to its last breath. It took Isabelle and Shahid nearly three hours to find a way out of the city. Every single road out of the city was closed by traffic accidents, construction, or seemingly endless rush-hour congestion. It was just like Asami had warned them, that the city was a living thing and them trying to leave would be seen as a threat to its life.

But by the time they went off the roads, driving down back alleys, under bridges, and through construction sites they were able to find a way north out of the Bronx and followed the highway into Upstate. Traffic thinner, obstructions faded, and the rural New York quiet fell over them like a heavy blanket. But as the sun began to set, sequences of events seemed to slip out of sync.

The Range Rover Isabelle and Shaw had left the city in had a full tank of gas when they passed the Bronx. But when a knocking clunk erupted in the engine and the speedometer started to die it became clear something was wrong. The needle was buried on empty.

Abandoning the car on the side of the road, Isabelle and Shaw are left with one recourse. Take to foot and keep putting as much distance from the city as possible. But from where they stand, looking out over the picturesque way late evening sun glitters on the surface of Lake Glenedia, it doesn’t feel unreal here.

It feels like, in spite of all of the supernatural things they’d seen, reality had simply reasserted itself. A comforting embrace of normalcy, demanding a return to complacency. To compliance.

Whenever he blinked, Shaw could feel a deeply rooted need to check that Isabelle was beside him. If it weren't that he needed both hands on the wheel of the Range Rover to navigate through the city's ground-level roadblocks, he might have spent the whole three hours holding hers. That's why he liked flying, really. Except for that one time that he fell out of a helicopter and somehow survived. He recalls the bubbling debris of the chopper as it sank. It's like a bad dream, all of this. One he thinks maybe he might wake up from at any moment.

And lose it all. Any moment.

Hoisting the pack on his shoulders a little more to center the weight against his back, Shaw exhales a heavy breath. "This is crazy," he mutters, head shaking side to side and sliding a look to his wife beside him. Worry sets in his face, battling with a want to appear the opposite. He reaches for her hand to take it, to feel the warmth of her skin against his. "How could any of this not be real?"

Taking his hand without a second of hesitation Isabelle frowns and then glares up into the sky. She figures whoever is doing this, was watching. She hoped because the look she lets slip shows murderous intent, flames in her eyes. Not the same as her original ability, but the familiarity besides it had given her some kind of calm, even though she could kill them all with a snap of her fingers.

Would that wake them all up?

It wouldn't kill Shahid though, her main reason for comfort.

"I'm not sure babe, but we have to get out of here."

Gripping his hand tight and closing her eyes, "Namiko."

They had a daughter, she just wasn't here.

Isabelle needed to get back to her, they both did.

"Come on let's keep moving," they had to remain hopeful.

The further the pair travel away from the city, and the more of the lake comes into view, the more it feels like Asami may have been wrong, may have been unwell. Nothing is amiss on this forested, coastal Highway. They ran through their gas faster than expected, but maybe that's just an error with the meter. Nothing feels wrong. The sky is clear, the sun glittering off the platter of blue is—

— square.

It takes a second for Isabelle to recognize what Shaw does. The reflection of the sun on the surface of the nearby lake down the forested embankment is a perfect glowing square. But up in the sky, the sun is normal and round. Further down the road, the trees that rise up on either side are starting to curve toward the middle, as if forming a tunnel of curving trunks and bent branches.

No, Asami was not mad.

Asami was horrifyingly right.

Three hours to get out of the city and a hell of a hike is not the vacation Shaw had been dreaming of. As he stares across the lake's surface, he realizes with growing worry and a sickening dismay that the nightmare maybe is just beginning. "Astaghfirullah, this is bad," he mutters, looking from the sky to the surface multiple times, to the tree line that isn't quite right. "Are you seeing that too? The sun. The trees…"

He tears his gaze away from the flora to Isa's face. He knows what their mission is, but that doesn't stop the warring feelings of doubt gnawing at him. Maybe he shouldn't have stopped his stroke-preventative medication.

Still. He knows where to go. He's not going without her.

Fingers grip tighter around Isa's, his remaining sense of reality translated by physical touch. And then he presses forward, tugging her closely along.

"Well we haven't got much of a choice do we babe." It isn't a question because just like Shahid, Isa knows where they must go. The brunette takes a step forward clenching her husband's hand.

"Got any jokes?"

She feels a tension rolling through her body starting at her shoulders and the feeling surrounds her in the air.

Silence is the joke that hangs between them, heavy and nervous. As Shaw leads Isabelle through the archway of curving trees, the landscape to either side of the road takes on a kaleidoscopic quality. The more then look to the roadside the more bent and distorted things become, but the more they look ahead or behind them the more everything tunnels forward into infinity. Funhouse mirrors without the fun.

Walking down this material illusion is disorienting, forward begins to feel more like down after a while, and both Shaw and Isabelle can feel their shoes scraping on the concrete underfoot like they’re being pulled forward. Legs bent and hair falling toward the front of them, both feel this harrowing sensation of tipping toward the edge of a precipice, like the world is about to upend and dump them out.

Shaw briefly glances back at his wife as she solicits some humor from him. At first, he doesn't have something quippy to say as they approach the curving arches of the ominous wood. He's determined not to get vertigo - he's a helicopter pilot, goddamnit - and presses onward with a grip on Isa's hand as tight as the pressed line of his lips. But just as there is the feeling of a slope instead of a road, he pauses beside her to look more warily behind them. Shaw's awareness is thrown.

"A bunch of the boys got a call-in that there was a naked man running around Midtown," Shaw says out of the blue as he turns and stares ahead. "Dispatch was going nuts, women and children getting flashed right in the light of day. Police chased him all around the blocks, and I heard when they finally cornered him in St. Patrick's cathedral?" He holds a beat, turns to look over at Isa. With a slow nod and mock-solemn features, he delivers the story's end.

"They caught him by the organ."

Isa looks at her husband and she's already on the edge of emotion so she erupts in a snicker and clasps his hand harder. Even when she's leading them through the funhouse. She's not looking forward, not really, there's something in this moment she wants to cherish with him. "I ever tell you how you save my life every day?"

The sensation of being pulled forward becomes too great to ignore and she looks back before sliding forward, "Together," they were unstoppable.

Together, they tumble forward when the road upends them.

Together, they—

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Dark

“What’s her name?”

Isabelle and Shaw tumble through the ceiling into a fifteen-by-fifteen concrete cell, with one wall a reinforced glass window. The husband and wife land on their feet, and even though their shoes clatter with the impact of their landing, it does not disturb the little girl sitting cross-legged on the floor of the cell with them.

The girl’s reflection can be seen in the single glass wall that partitions the cell off from the remainder of the cell block beyond, and the dimly-lit hallways winding between. Isabelle recognizes herself in the reflection instantly. It’s her, as a young child.

On the other side of the glass is a woman with dark hair and a kind smile, palm pressed to her side of the glass. This woman, neither Isabelle nor Shaw recognize.

“What’s her name?” The asks again, turning to look over her shoulder at someone just out of view.

It takes some training to not flinch as one feels the sensation of falling. Shaw plants solidly on the cell floor, knees bent slightly, expecting to have to tuck and roll to minimize. But he stays on his feet. Surprised confusion flits over his face at the sudden voice of the little girl. Wheeling, he stares. Who the girl is hasn’t hit him yet, or he doesn’t know. His hand lets go of Isabelle's only so it can brush through his hair in a self-soothing slide. Shaw looks puzzled, disoriented at their surroundings.

It's as he's looking at the walls, seeking the exit door, that he catches the figure on the other side of the glass. "H-Hey!" He hesistates. He doesn't know her name. "Where are we?" Shaw moves forward towards the glass, his hand raising not in greeting necessarily, but in demand. "Let us out," he requests firmly.

Isa likewise tries her best to remain at ease at all the unsettling things happening around them. This room… it doesn't make sense. It's her but?

"Babe, it has to be an illusion… that's me." Isa grabs at her hair and glares at their surroundings. "What the fuck is this bullshit."

Now she's joining in with her husband shouting s the people and now beating at the glass. That's me. That's ME. She doesn't know why this fact is screaming in her head so much.

“She can hear you.” Daniel Linderman says as he slowly steps into view from the darkened hall, approaching the window with the dark-haired woman. “Ask her.”


She turns back to little Isabelle, who has stood up and approached the window. She watches as the young girl raises one small hand and presses it to the glass as well. The dark-haired woman takes a knee and puts her hand over Isabelle’s tiny one with an inch of thick glass separating them.

“Hey baby, what’s your name?” She asks.

“Mom?” Isabelle asks with confusion in her bright eyes, as if waking from a nightmare into a more comfortable dream.

Isa's heart clenched. Mom? No, that woman is a stranger.

The dark-haired woman withdraws her hand and curls her fingers against her palm, looking up at Mr. Linderman. She’s taken aback for a second, then looks back to Isabelle. “Am I your mommy?” She asks with a hitch in her voice, looking to Mr. Linderman for confirmation. But all Linderman does is stare disaffected into the glass.

“Mom!” Isabelle shouts, hammering her little hands on the glass. “Mom! Mom! Mom!

The woman little Isabelle calls mom stands sharply, taking a step back with wide eyes. She looks at Linderman again. “Why does—why does she think I’m her mother?” She asks with a tremor in her voice, looking back to Isabelle again.

“Mom! Mom, I’m sorry! Mommy!” Isabelle screams as smoke rises off of her clothes, her hair, her—entire body is engulfed in roaring flames. Shaw and Isa can feel the heat coming off of her. The dark-haired woman yelps in fright, stumbling backwards so hard she trips over her own two feet and falls on her backside.

“Oh my god! Oh my god help her!” She screams, watching Isabelle burn.

"I'm—" Shaw's dark stare at the woman across the glass intensifies for two ticks, his original intent to repeat his demand crashing against his confusion. Isa's distress turns his stare from the woman back to the young girl - the young Isabelle. He barely breathes as the scene plays out, watching wide-eyed, witnessing the interaction but still not understanding what is happening, or why. "Isa, that's Linderman," he recognizes of the other man from a faintly recalled space. Shaw still doesn't understand. His lips part to utter a quiet, "It's an illusion. Or a, a memory?"

All the speculation gets thrown out the metaphorical window, though, when the girl's form starts to smoke and then bursts into flames. Echoing the woman's yelp, Shaw gasps, but as if upon reflex he jumps in to reach for the burning girl, to try and smother the flames with naught but his own jacket and body. Shaw grits his teeth, eyes near closed by instinctive squint to protect them.

"I think this happened," Isa says softly, she doesn't know why, just that she feels it in her bones. There's a look of sadness that's washed over her features and the engineer just watches in silence and horror at her younger self. Poor girl.

Poor Isa.

She takes note of Linderman and the confusion of her mother, her first victim.

Finally Isa comes forward and lays a hand on Shaw's shoulder, he is always so helpful, so good. She didn't deserve him, maybe if they found each other sooner she wouldn't be as broken. "I have some things I haven't been dealing with I believe hon,"

Shaw’s jacket just—vanishes after he takes it off. It comes apart in his hands, threads splitting, but whatever fabric he isn’t touching just ceases to exist, dissolves like cotton candy in water. The fibers that roll off his fingers do the same, sublimating into little pixels of light and then nothing.

At the same time, the shared hallucination of the world moves around them. Without them. In spite of them.

Linderman reaches out and depresses a stopper on the wall and the cell is flooded with fire-suppressing foam that throws little Isabelle to the ground. Sopping wet and dripping with foam, Isabelle gets to her knees and cries, slamming her hands on the glass. “Mom!

“I’d—I’d like to go back to my hospital room.” The dark-haired woman whispers, tears welling up in her eyes. Linderman slowly turns from Isabelle’s cell and deactivates the external speaker. Linderman says something to the woman, but Isabelle can’t hear it. All she hears are her own screams as she slams her foam-covered hands against the glass…

…and cries for her mother.

The little girl slumps forward against the glass, hopelessly sobbing and slapping her hands against it with less and less strength on each hit. Then she just cries, cries for anyone who will listen.

Stopped by Isa's hand on his shoulder, Shaw for a moment doesn't quite register what's happened to his jacket. Not until he looks down helplessly at his hands, seeing the jacket fade away. Panic rises like the bile in his throat, but their connection through her hand on his arm prevents a full on attack. He remembers to breathe.

But that doesn't stop the horrific scene from playing out. That even if it isn't his personal trauma to bear, Shaw bears witness to this tragedy as deeply as it were his own. "Isa, I," he stammers with his throat tight. He stares at the little girl, then after Linderman and the dark-haired woman. He turns back to his wife, eyes wet with tears. But also, behind the glimmering dark pools of his gaze, another emotion slowly growing: outrage. His hand moves to hers on his shoulder, gripping tightly. "We have to get out of here," Shaw says in words barely above a whisper. “We have to go.

Unsure if it's her mind or if she actually smells the smoke in the air, there's a pang of loss. She missed the fire. The scene is so terrible and traumatic that Isa almost vomits before she grimly nods her head and looks away from her younger self and her mother and Linderman.

"Okay, okay let's find the way."

She can't help but look back over at herself as she looks for the exit.


As if on request, the door behind them—the once-locked door to the cell—is open. But there isn’t a hallway beyond it, rather the cell door opens into the middle of a familiar, bustling street. It’s Manhattan, nearly identical to the one they left behind, save that it only extends in any one direction for about a thousand feet. Beyond that threshold Manhattan turns into a crumbling, porous structure not entirely dissimilar to coral, and beyond that, a hazy gray void identical to the rainy sky overhead.

Even the skyscrapers fail to fully render here, dissolving into fractal coral growths near their upper reaches. The only thing that is clear and in focus as Isabelle and Shaw step out of a smoke-filled prison cell onto the street is a church. A cathedral in Manhattan wreathed with flames. The whole cathedral is consumed by flames, a pillar of black smoke twisting up from it into the sky before it breaks apart in fractal patterns.

They’re directly across the street from it, close enough they can feel the heat. Firefighters are struggling to contain the blaze, the entire street is blocked off, sidewalk bounded by caution tape. There’s only a handful of people on this side of the street, behind a row of parked cars. One of them is a gray-haired man in a business suit, watching the fire. The other is a teenage girl sitting in the back seat of a sedan, legs out on the street, hunched forward and sobbing into her hands. She’s naked, but wrapped in a thermal blanket, covered in ash and soot, smelling of burning. Unharmed.

It’s Isabelle.

“We can’t keep sweeping this under the rug.” A long-faced man with salt-and pepper hair says, looking from Isabelle to the gray-haired man in the suit watching the fire. He waits for a response, and when he doesn’t get one he raises his voice. “Charles.”

“I heard you Arthur.” Charles replies, tension in his voice. “And you’re right. We need to wipe her and…” And he doesn’t have a good solution.

past-arthur_icon.gif past-charles_icon.gif

None of these people seem familiar. But the situation does. The fire does.

Shaw takes Isa's hand from his shoulder and into his once more as they turn for the containment cell's door. He looks back to her, searching for her eyes. There are no words for what he's seen, not yet, but perhaps there isn't a need for words. Only connection. The man casts a final stare in the direction of the young girl with smoking shoulders, closes his eyes to her with a restrained grimace, and pulls Isa away.

The door opens. Shaw's breath reaches for oxygen and clearer air in a reflexive gasp upon seeing the disaster before him. His mind reels a bit at the abrupt, disorienting shift of scenery to an open street of Manhattan. "What…" he utters with a frown. They'd spent all that time and energy fleeing the city, and now suddenly they were back? Shaw's hand tightens around Isa's at the sight of the fire, the firetrucks, the smoke rising up into a fractal sky.

Voices turn his attention back down to the sidewalk, to the pair of men talking about the young girl crying. "Babe, is that you…" Shaw sees the girl, looks back to Isa, back to the men. There's a part of him that wants to turn to the Isabelle at his side and tell her, Don't look, but he pushes the feeling back. What feeling rises up in its place is a growing pit of urgency to leave this place, a strangled memory squeezed out from somewhere, to find what the burning cathedral should have been to those in need of it - a sanctuary.

Shaw tugs on his wife's wrist, turning back to her to draw her close into a fierce hug. He swallows thickly, throat feeling dry and hoarse from the smoke earlier but moreso from an urge to scream at the unseen god or devil playing tricks. "Come," he whispers into Isa's ear instead.

The whisper places all the urgency back into his resolve. They had to go. They had to escape this nightmare.

None of this made any sense but Isa was done trying to understand.

It always leads to one thing.

You're a monster.

Isa's voice curls around her and rocks her side to side, "I'm a monster." She says it simply but doesn't move when Shaw urges her to. Focused on the younger version of herself but not truly seeing anything, Isa was looking past her.

Eyebrows twitch at the words of Arthur and Charles, she will remember those names. She wishes she knew her mother's name in that moment and it breaks the spell the nightmare spews, "We need to leave." Half turning but finding it hard to turn completely from the teen that's sobbing. Isabelle wants to tell her that it gets better.

But really it doesn't.

“You told me the Ashfords were going to be a solution,” Arthur says, giving a pointed look at Charles. “You said foster care was going to be the solution before that.” He takes a step toward Arthur, raising one hand as if to show a third option. “I should just take it away from her.”

No.” Charles’ expression hardens and he steps close to challenge Arthur. “I am not feeding another ability to you just because the person who has it needs time to grow. That’s not a solution. You’re the one who gave it to her in the first place with your god damned experiments!

Arthur spreads his hands, smugly. “It was a mistake, clearly. I’m big enough to own mine, and clean up after them. Are you, Chuck?

Charles’ right hand curls into a fist, but he knows better than to step into Arthur’s court. To give him the emotional and physical reaction he’d been goading for. “I’m going to sculpt something. Harmless, but lesson-forming. A manifestation memory, one with less…” He looks at the burning cathedral, “jarring outcomes. Turn a tragedy into a victory… paint over the ugly canvas, give her a chance.

Arthur looks down at Isabelle, frowning. “You get one more chance, Charles. Then it’s either my way, or back in the cell down in Level-5.”

Isa's declaration of monstrosity halts Shaw in his tracks. He shakes his head, reaching with a hand to cradle the despairing woman's face. "No. No," he insists that it be known, she is not a monster. "You are Isabelle, my love, my life."

But, as their lingering unveils from the continued confrontation between the two men, there are monsters in the midst of memory. Shaw turns as the conversation becomes heated in the foreground of the fire. He narrows his gaze at the men, studying their faces, committing their argument to his own memory. "Ability? Experiments?" He feels his teeth grind, his jaw clenching. For all his urgency and Isa's agreement to leave, he too doesn't yet move. Not until he sees what Charles actually did, and what Arthur may have done in the wake of it.

A lot of days all she wanted to be was Shahid Khan's love, his life but sadly there was something else there deeply rooted inside her. They were starting to get a taste of who she was. Before she can reply to his earnest statement the memory has shifted and changed.

She didn't like Arthur and Chuck was getting an eyeful as well, not that they could tell the woman and her husband were there.

"They made me?" Isabelle takes a step back shaking her head from side to side, "The Ashfords…" her family, they loved her even if it wasn't always perfect. Right?

There was a thumping from her heart that was ringing through her whole body, reaching a fever pitch in her ears. Isabelle feels the hot heat of her anger crackling to life inside her. "No." There are flashes of her face wreathed in flames, smoke billowing behind her form. The whispers masquerading as her voice inspire that anger. "This doesn't make sense."

This doesn’t make sense.

 // if memory cannot be allocated
  if(ptr == NULL) {
    printf("Error! memory not allocated.");

This doesn’t make sense.

  printf("Enter elements: ");
  for(i = 0; i < n; ++i) {
    scanf("%d", ptr + i);
    sum += *(ptr + i);

  printf("Sum = %d", sum);

This doesn’t make sense.

  // deallocating the memory

  return 0;

“This doesn’t make sense.”

Shaw is struck by the voice of his uncle, Faruq Mansoor. It feels like waking up from a dream, finding himself sitting on a brown recliner in the middle of a dimly lit apartment with the smell of dinner hanging thick in the air. Isabelle is laying on the sofa, jolting up as if waking from a dream. The apartment is unfamiliar, but the ghosts haunting it aren’t.

past-dima_icon.gif past-faruq_icon.gif

Dima Mansoor paces around the adjacent kitchen, wooden spoon in one hand, waving it in the air like a conductor’s baton at Faruq. “What doesn’t make sense?” Dima asks him, one brow raised and lips pursed.

But the third spirit haunting this scene is one Shaw knows well. Because it’s him. Fifteen or sixteen years old, sitting at the table of his aunt and uncle, headphones on and head bobbing to the music. A CD player beside him hums softly.

Linderman,” Faruq says softly, glancing at young Shaw to see if he reacts. He doesn’t look up from his homework. “He’s doing something on the side. Has me digging into the personal finances of this fertility doctor from out of state. He—heavily implied I shouldn’t talk to anyone else about it.”

Dima purses her lips more fully, then steps over to the stove and stirs the dish simmering in the skillet—kadhi pakora, absolutely mouth-watering. “Maybe he’s embarrassed? That sounds like personal business.”

“He wants me to leak information to the feds.” Faruq says in a sharp whisper, and Dima’s playful expression fades.

When next Shaw opens his eyes - or perhaps he hadn't even blinked, he can't remember - finding himself sat in a recliner is the last place he'd expect. Especially, given the voice he thought he'd heard. "Phuppa," he utters the title as if struck in a nerve, dark eyes blinking as he searches out Faruq. The husband of his father's sister, Dima, had so graciously taken in the son of Dima's brother after the terrible winter accident.

The spicy, tangy scent of the kadhi pakora reaches his nose and he doesn't fight the urge to take in a much deeper breath. Aunt Dima's own recipe had the thicker, creamier quality with smooth mouthfeel of the kadhi yogurt sauce to contrast the crispy onion pakora fritters.

Shaw spies the beanpole of a teenager that he recognizes as himself, even if he doesn't immediately startle in surprise at the sight. Pushing up to his feet from the sofa, he staggers forward a few steps towards the kitchen but stops as Faruq continues to conspire and he overhears. Enraptured, Shaw doesn't say a thing to break the spell. Dima's change of expression reflects in his own.

Much to his chagrin, Shaw recalls somewhere in the back of his mind that he hadn't thought to visit the couple for several months. Not since Isa had found him in the aftermath of the stroke, even?

Not since… Isa.

A flash of thought, an image of Isa's face skitters across his mind's eye. Shaw spins his gaze away from himself at the dinner table and his adopted parents in the kitchen, his gaze wild and hunting for the woman with him.

"Are you okay?" Her anger all but deflated as they turn to view a new scene of the past. Seeing her husband upset makes Isa herself hurt and she rushes over to him and places a warm hand on his face, not as warm as it use to be. "It sounds like they pushed your family." That anger still threatens to bubble over and she grits her teeth together.

The feds?

Linderman was an asshole in every timeline. This time he was harassing her extended family, or had.

Feeling powerless to stop the trauma from being viewed Isa does all she can by holding Shaw's hand and watching the scene unfold before them.

“What happens if you tell him no?” Dima asks, brows raised. It isn’t a question, it’s a recommended course of action.

Faruq throws his hands in the air then—not wanting to draw Shaw’s attention—awkwardly laces them behind his head and pretends to be casual. Teenage Shaw doesn’t even glance up.

“I don’t know,” is Faruq’s lie of an answer. He knows the vague shape of what consequences come with saying no to Daniel Linderman, and they all look like knives. “He wants me to work with Aaron on this. You remember him? Smokes a lot?”

“Smith?” Dima glances over her shoulder. “I don’t like him. He’s like a car salesman with a gun.”

“I think most people in New York have a gun,” Faruq opines with a little shrug. Dima doesn’t look back at him and instead focused on the dinner. “It’s extortion, this isn’t field work it’s—”

“Organized crime?” Dima says without looking back. “This is why I retired.” She sets the wooden spoon aside and turns around, stepping over to put her hands on Faruq’s cheeks. “Meri Jaan,” she says with an earnest smile. “I love you and I know you will make the right choice without my nagging.”

Faruq put a hand on hers at his cheek. “You never nag.” He whispers, leaning in to kiss her when teen Shaw loudly clears his throat.

Faruq glances back at Shaw, eyes wide. “Were you listening?”

“No.” Shaw repeats, disinterestedly.

But it dawns on the Shaw watching all this, the answer is yes. Because if this is a memory, how would he remember a conversation he never heard. He’d heard all of this, but perhaps without the context of age to give it the proper weight.

Shaw's hand tightens around Isa's again as he watches his aunt and uncle with a melancholic confusion slowly being eclipsed with understanding. Young, teenage Shaw had suffered, physically, mentally, emotionally, from an accident that claimed two lives and, to him, most of a third. Only through the diligently applied structure and affection of the Mansoor household, at Aunt Dima's insistence to see to it a young boy with dark clouds for eyes thrived, did he actually bloom; like a weed from a crack in concrete, he had survived.

Shaw's free hand rises to his face, fingertips wiping away wet. But his next words, a bare whisper to Isa beside him, are steady. "Faruq worked with Linderman… Or, under him. And Aunt Dima, too? But nobody could tell her what to do, only let them convince her it was a good idea." It'd be a fifty-fifty sometimes, he recalls, whether it was sparing the money to buy expensive high top sneakers for the sake of a fashion trend, or perhaps a little wetwork in exchange for saving the world and her children's future.

The name Aaron Smith, though, draws in a furrow of Shaw's brow. His head shakes slowly, trying to draw up a face to match the worrying description of personality from Dima's disapproval.

Whispering in Shaw's ear, "You were such a cutie baby." Isa wraps around her arms around her husband's middle from behind, comforting him and even herself with the closeness while they face these unearthed memories. Somethings were better forgotten but Isabelle can't say that they shouldn't know these things of their past, no matter how much it hurt them.

"Aunt Dima was strong." Clearly, "I see where you got it from." Squeezing him and laying her head on his shoulder, watching her husband's younger self with his aunt and uncle.

"It seems Linderman was more involved in our families lives than we thought." It's said quietly and Isa has a renewed sense of anger bloom within at the Founders of the Company and the chaos they left behind due all of their fuck ups.

The Company.

It came so easily to Isabelle, that thought. It slips through her minds fingers like sand, but the grit feels so real. That is a thing, that is something, and not just in the general sense that companies exist. No, in her mind it is Capitalized. In her mind it means something in—


The apartment catches fire in a flash, but neither Dima nor Faruq seem to notice. Wallpaper burns, the table catches fire, though young Shahid does not. The entire apartment begins to burn around them, and through the walls the tortured cries of children fill the air. Is sinks a stone deep into Isabelle and Shaw’s guts, twists a sensation of survivor’s guilt and remorse like a knife until—

int main()
    int input;
    cout << "Enter number: " << endl;
    cin>> input;
    int i = input/2;
    int c;
    for (i>0; i--;) {
        c= input%i;
        if (c==0 || i == 1)
            cout << "not prime" << endl;
            cout << "prime" << endl;
    return 0;


An industrial building, pops of gunfire flood the senses, figures in gray uniforms with automatic weapons. Cages, cages with children in them, Isabelle and Shaw standing amid this carnage.

Isabelle watches a blood-spattered, ash-smudged version of herself rise from the ground into a crouch, one wounded arm hanging at her side.The other clutches a knife in a death-grip. Isa grits her teeth as she takes cover. The flames roar as she channels this fury through her ability. Blue eyes narrowed to slits as the fire engulfs her whole chest, the tank top disintegrating to ash that blows out around her. “You burned the world to the ground!” Her voice rings out as she winds her arm in a circular motion, the flames burn brighter as she does so.

“You murdered everyone. And you THINK,” the knife in her hand serves as an anchoring point for the flames to gather. “I CARE ABOUT A FEW FUCKING KIDS!” Isabelle roars as she throws her hand out, launching a large fireball towards an armed soldier crouched behind a cage full of screaming children. Flames trail behind it and Isabelle shoots another jet of flame that way to follow.

From bullets ricocheting and striking screaming children around to fireballs and choking smoke, chaos raining down around him, Shaw sees himself in as sad a state as Isabelle flinching back into cover like a spider sensing the booming vibrations of a shaking web. Rifle clutched to his chest, he’s waiting for a moment to take his shot.

This grimy, blood-soaked version of Shaw pushes forward from the cage cover as Isabelle throws out the wall of flames, sprinting for the next cover, rifle bobbing in his hands. Once closer, he stops beside the next cage, focusing on his own ability, bringing rifle up to bear. No smoke scent, no roaring fires. The man aims for a soldier's head like a raptor on a mouse in a grassy field. Adjusts. And, not even feeling it in his fingers, squeezes the trigger.

Hunched beside the hole in the wall where they’d breached the compound, one stranger is slack-jawed and frozen in place. As the violent glow of fire rises into the room, carrying smoke aloft on thermal wind and the screams of children burning alive, he can do nothing but stare. The fire reflects in his eyes, lights his face and highlights the horror in his expression. The grip on the rifle in his hands is slack, jaw unsteady and brows raised in an expression of dread and revulsion.

With his hand around hers, Shaw turns his face to a sideways gaze at Isa. Silently, he agrees with her on the subjects of their memories and the strange intertwining of their fates, their families, and those of strangers in even stranger circumstances.

He is, in some way, letting go of the need to feel in control. In flight school, such a tailspin would be so dangerous. He remembers the howling wind of the air when Asami removed him from the helicopter, the gut wrenching, sinking dread of when he was in utter freefall. And almost… almost a sense of peace.

Only to return to chaos.

The screams and moans of what can only be war and blood around him sets Shaw suddenly on edge. Reflexively he ducks back into his Isa still behind him, a shocked gasp escaping. The raging fires reflect off wide, dark eyes, and he fights the urge to look away, to run for that cover. This isn't his memory… is it? But Shaw sees himself there, holding his own in the battle, firing upon soldiers, doing nothing to stop a fearsome, fire-enshrouded Isabelle from an unspeakable warcrime. "What the fuck," he utters beneath the cacophony.

He can't help but realize it. Beneath his lack of understanding, under the surface horrors, there is no guilt.

Shaw turns, taking in the rest of the scene to look for further context, for the why of all of this. He catches sight of the man by the hole in the wall. He lifts a pointed finger towards the other witness. "Isa, look," Shaw says, squinting to find some identifying feature of the motionless stranger.

Facing the truth can be devastating and Isabelle looks shocked at the grim tableau laid out before them. "No…." She didn't do this.. did she?

You're a Monster. That familiar voice snakes into her ear, encircling her, reminding her of who she is.

Isa sinks to the floor on her knees, staring ahead with a dead expression and tears rolling down her cheeks. These kids, "No…" She would be resigned to staying there forever tortured by her own apparent past actions but more and more of their past is being revealed and Isa isn't sure she can take much more but then Shaw as always is bringing her attention to something else, someone else.

Anything to not focus on this scene of murder, the stench of death fills the air as she looks over at the stranger as well.

Of all the things Isabelle and Shaw have experienced, of all the good things in their lives, it is abject horror and violence that gets through to them. It comes flooding back simultaneously to them, a wave of nausea and nostalgia, of lives loved and lives lost, spanning worlds and crash-landing in one not their own, one they called home in spite of everything they’d done to get there. The things they could never tell anyone, not even Namiko.

As the recollection turns into memory, the fiery scenario begins to crumble and fall away as though it were a moving matte painting. It pulls away from all sides, zooming out to leave Shaw and Isa standing on a bare concrete floor surrounded by a ring of seemingly unending darkness, alone with their thoughts both tender and terrible. Isa can feel the scar on her face, even though it isn’t there. A sense memory of violence.

But in all of that, they still remember Optica. Their life. Their home. Their love. It was better in many ways, and to both of them viscerally real, indistinguishable as reality from their other memories. For they are at once the Shaw and Isabelle of Optica, and the Shaw and Isabelle of the material world.

Forever intertwined.

The shadowy form never resolves for Shaw into anything familiar. The heat of the firestorm that is Isabelle's power slams into him like a tsunami, causing him to stumble. He staggers, but it isn't away from Isabelle that he moves. It's towards her.

Shaw's hands reach for her and arms wrap around hers, clutching, clinging. Everything comes back to him, every horrible, ecstatic, excruciating, humorous, nostalgic, bawdy, frightening detail; the screams of the burning children and the eerie silence of a long dead and unbreathing metropolis; the sounds and smells of a bustling New York City with its gleaming green tower rising to scrape the sky; a ruined wasteland scattered with mechanical terrors and cruel bands of raiders who had taken him hostage; a flooded world ruled by a madman and a desperate escape; their efforts to rebuild everything in the wake of a civil war neither of them experienced, but recognized its circumstances all the same. Stacked on top of it all, their life - lives - in the simulation, culminating in the ruins of memory.

Shaw can remember another face, too, a haunting feeling that twists in his guts and surges instinctual urges of fight, flight, freeze. The terror of being hunted in what was supposed to be their sanctuary, their home. The feeling of Vör's knife sliding deep into his spine and darkness overtaking everything that was warm and vital, slipping into the cold dark.

It feels like he's drowning in the icy river waters all over again.

Shaw sinks to his knees, weakened and overwhelmed. He gulps for air that doesn't want to come, and lets out a strangled sound, his face weighing heavily against Isa's skin. There's so much. Too much, and yet nothing.

Nothing but a word. It escapes Shaw's lips at a whisper, the name he's used for her in all their lives but the one they had discovered was a lie. "Eanqa'…" Phoenix.

Isa sinks with him, hand on his face as she trembles herself. The dark haired woman looks around them, the weight of everything merging together crashing down on her, she feels infinitely small in this moment, confused, relieved, terrified all at once. "We're okay."

Were they?

The lie felt like the right thing to say. So she repeats it as she hugs her husband and tries to cling to some semblance of reality. A finger goes up to trace the invisible scar and she closes her eyes. All she can do is lean her forehead against Shaw's and whisper it like a mantra, lending him her strength. "We're okay." But at what cost?

And that is, ultimately, where the simulation begins to lose hold of them. As the darkness closes in around them, as the world fades away, all they have is each other. In the end, when the lights go out and the world goes dark, they still have—


They awaken with a startle as if out of a dream. But it is not the sterile confines of a lab where they find themselves, but rather the blistering heat of the American southwest. The sun hangs high and bright overhead, blasting away shadows and casting a deserted ruin of Las Vegas in stark illumination.

The city is at once iconic and unrecognizable in the condition they awake to find it in. As if they had slept for a thousand years, for the city to fall into disrepair, for the desert to once more encroach on the land, swallowing streets and flooding the plazas of crumbling casinos. They are not on the streets, but rather in what remains of a fountain in a sand-swallowed plaza, out front of a looming structure of white marble columns and half-collapsed neon signage.

As their eyes adjust to the light, they can see what the crumbling sign says: Corinthian. They realize that they are one step closer to freedom.

But, as Isabelle asked: At what cost?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License