All Roads, Part IV


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Scene Title All Roads, Part IV
Synopsis The journey to Vegas is marked by unexpected discoveries and troubling revelations.
Date March 19, 2021


Blood swirls in a spiral down a kitchen sink’s drain. Kimiko Park only realizes she’d cut herself when she hears her name. Instinctively, she brings her hand up to her mouth and looks over her shoulder at Ami, watching her with evident worry in her eyes. “I’m fine,” Kimiko says, thumb in her mouth. Ami isn’t reassured.

“Mom, what’s going on?” Ami asks, circling around the kitchen island to come up to Kimiko’s side. “You were just… staring at nothing. Did you even hear what I asked you?” Kimiko locks eyes with her daughter, tense and confused. Her attention drifts down to the knife in the sink.

“I…” Kimiko starts to say, but her voice falls off. She pulls her thumb out of her mouth, a single large bead of blood immediately wells up from the cut on its side. She hisses, putting the thumb back in her mouth.

“I—I’ll get you a band-aid.” Ami says, averting her eyes and stepping away. Kimiko nods, remembering to smile after.

“Thanks, sweetie.” She says, half-heartedly. As Ami walks away, Kimiko looks back down to the sink. Her stomach twists, knots in a gurgling pit. The sink backs up with a gurgling pool of blood. Kimiko staggers back, stumbling into the island. Her gasp is a breathless one, terrified as she looks back to Ami’s retreating form, and then back to the sink—

The clean sink.

Kimiko exhales a shuddering breath.

What the fuck?

Two Years Later

The National Mall
Washington, DC

March 19th
6:30 pm

With a roar of displaced air, the world becomes a surrealist painting.

Asi Tetsuyama materializes alongside Kimiko, Daphne, Kaylee, and Gabriella. What they should see is the gleaming white column of the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool, except nothing is as it should be.

All around, the world is a featureless and matte field of gray, plastic-like texture. They do not cast shadows, there is no sun in the sky and yet the sky is a bright blue of mid-day when it should be evening. The Washington Monument is nothing more than a wireframe of scintillating blue light that occasionally flickers with the texture of bare concrete. The reflecting pool is devoid of water, but not dry. Rather, looking down through the reflecting pool shows the sky as though there were a massive hole in the world and not but sky below.

Kimiko immediately covers her mouth with one hand and looks around with wide eyes. The remaining park is a field of plastic hills with featureless, leafless trees. Beyond that, rough cubes and rectangles shape out the DC skyline. Her stomach turns, she doubles over, and vomits at her feet. Except, there’s the sound of splashing vomit. She retches. But there is nothing there to show for it.

Fuck,” Kimiko rasps. “What the fuck?”

"Would you believe me if I told you this is better than it was when we went to Japan?" Asi asks.

Face to face with this blatant corruption— no, backdrop of the reality they've all been prisoner to, it feels easier to believe she is Asi. Or at least, that she could be, even though she's not quite certain she'll ever fit in those shoes of hers the same again.

"I was hoping not jumping directly to Vegas would give us better ground to walk on, but…" The technopath sighs, rubbing her forehead with three fingers. "Maybe nothing at all outside of New York is made well." She turns to look at Daphne in a moment of silent sympathy for how her ventures outside New York City to places far more personal to went.

A soft whistle escapes Kaylee as she slowly turns to look at what the world looks like. “This is some seriously fucked up shit…” Shifting her rifle into a much more comfortable spot on her shoulder with her pack, Valerie steps away from the puking woman with an disgusted frown. Weak…

Curiosity draws her attention from Kimiko to the edge of the pool. Steel-toe boots stop at the edge, looking first to the sky and then back down at the pool itself. “Twilight zone and Tron all rolled up into some twisted digital Alice in Wonderland bullshit.”

Fear and nausea rises up at the back of her mind, but is quickly swatted at annoyingly. If Kaylee had the reins she might have been heaving her guts right next to Kimiko. “Go to sleep… I don’t need you back seat driving,” Valerie grumbles under her breath to the other woman, thankful for the lack of reflections.

The flare of anger is ignored and Valerie turns back to the others, especially Asami.

Gabriella, it turns out, doesn’t teleport very well, either, and she takes two steps before she falls on her ass, like a toddler getting off a merry-go-round.

Luckily it’s not in the path of Kimiko’s vom. Her Gucci boots might be all zeroes-and-ones but they’re very pretty zeroes-and-ones that took three pay periods to save up for.

“I think I’d prefer Tron. At least it wasn’t trying to be something it wasn’t. This is some bullshit,” Gabby says, her fingers splaying out to touch the ground, as if she were trying to read it by Braille – to see if the texture of it against her fingertips is what it should be, or something altogether different.

Daphne looks around with an almost bored, disinterested expression on her face, though she uncrosses her arms to pull out a Kleenex and a Dasani bottle from the mini backpack she wears, handing them to Kimiko. Her arms go back into that defensive, guarded position.

“I think our memories of being in those other places are false, implanted like everything else, but maybe they’re expanding the world slowly. If Japan was unfinished, and Kansas was unfinished, but DC is, you know, like, half done, D- for effort, maybe they’re planning to upload people from the DC area soon? Or that they’re expanding the world for those of us already here?” Her musing feels detached, perfunctory – something to fill the silence, fill the void in her. It’s clear she isn’t all that interested in the answer.

“No.” Kimiko says quietly, her brows furrowed and eyes narrowed. It takes a moment for her to speak up in an audible voice over the weird buzzing hum of the environment. “No,” firmer this time. Attention-getting. “This is what the techno woman said.” She looks at Asi. “When you woke me up into this nightmare.”

Kimiko motions to the empty reflecting pool acting like a window to the sky. “None of this was meant to be created. New York City was all there is. The rest of this is… junk, created from our subconscious minds, half-real imaginations of places brought into being because we were connected to the system.” It’s as if, on some level, she simply understands this all.

“This is exactly what we were told to do.” Kimiko says, her jaw set and brows furrowed. For the first time in this simulated reality, Kimiko Park carries herself like Kimiko Nakamura. “We are to push the system to its limits by traveling away. Force it to… to…” She searches her memory for a relevant term, eyes narrowing. Her brother, rambling about video games. Find the word. You know it’s there. “Force the system to render to many assets?” She hesitates, then nods. Yes. That’s it. Render.

“We walk.” Kimiko says, waving a hand flippantly. “It does not matter which way. It matters that we force the system to try and accommodate itself to our position. We strain it, then we shatter it.

Having precisely no context for what's happening outside here, who else is being replaced along them, Daphne's idea holds a potential frightening amount of possibility to it. It brings her to look her way, brow beginning to furrow before Kimiko gathers herself together enough to sharply interject into the situation.

Her own worries are dropped for the moment, her shoulders settling down. She lets out a breath that's as much scoff as laugh, shaking her head as she looks back out to the horizon and the strange shape of it all.

"Have any of you been to DC before?" Asi wonders aloud, and then she starts walking down the steps away from what should be some kind of monument of a man sitting on a chair— she can't remember which President. "What would a DC made by a mind who only thinks they know what it looks like… look like?"

The irony is she already partly has her answer. "We'll find out, won't we," she supposes for the other half of it. Asi looks back for a moment toward Kaylee— no, to Valerie, and adjusts the heavy pack on her back. "Shall we, then?"

Valerie gives a sharp nod of her head at Asami’s unspoken inquiry, moving to follow, only to stop. “So the question becomes, do we walk together or split up, with a rendezvous point? See how much of this place it has to try and render? There are probably less touristy areas to venture into… some….where…..” She trails off looking around her, brows furrowing as she tries to remember what is where in its current state.

After a moment, Valerie shakes her head, “Anyhow, what about two groups going opposite directions? Teleporter in each. Rendezvous here at the first sign of trouble?”

“Who the fuck knows,” is Gabby’s answer to Asami’s question, as she stands up again and brushes off the back of her pants. “We’re not who we think we are, so if we think we’ve been to DC, it doesn’t mean we really have. I think I have. But maybe I’ve never been out of Podunk, Nebraska in reality.”

She lifts a shoulder, and gestures for them to move onward. “So we walk. Do we have to walk twenty-five hundred miles while it renders for it to realize we’ve reached Las Vegas? How does it register distance?” she wonders, squinting from Asami to Kimiko, but she doesn’t wait for the answer before she strides forward, long legs carrying her westward.

Daphne puts her hands on her hips and tips her head, squinting into the distance, turning her head to address Valerie. “We’re already forcing the system to work hard with the different field trip classes going different paths, right? I’d rather stick together so you can beat the shit out of something if things come after us,” she says.

She tips her head in Gabriella’s direction as the woman begins walking without waiting for them. “Or we let Gabby go that way, and we go this way,” she adds, jerking her thumb in the opposite direction.

"If the system starts fighting back, we absolutely should stay close together," Asi quips her interjection, looking to Gabriella in particular. Sorry, Gabby. Precognition is wonderful until danger's no longer avoidable through it.

Absently, she adds, "And for whatever it's worth, it feels almost like everything up until the '06 revelation around the existence of the Evolved kind of… matches." Her nose wrinkles for a moment and she stops where she's at, turning toward Kimiko preemptively. "So there's that."

And then she keeps watching Kimiko, expecting she'll have her opinions as well as her ability-based gut feelings to contribute to their decision.

“We stick together,” Kimiko says with a resilient urgency that Asi finds hauntingly familiar. For a moment the two Kimikos in her mind overlap, and that is where common ground is found. When backed into a corner, Kimiko fights. But she rarely opts to fight alone. “Like she said,” Kimiko gestures to Daphne, “if the system tries to fight us, we have strength in numbers.” Then a glance to Kaylee. “Literally.”

Sticking to her assertion that direction doesn’t matter, Kimiko puts the Washington Monument at her back and begins marching forward, tennis shoes slapping against faux concrete that looks more like plastic.

“You.” Kimiko looks over her shoulder at Asi. “You remember us, who we really are outside of this… fantasy.” She tightens her jaw, angles it to one side and balls her hands into fists. The question that comes next has her turning on her heels to stop and look at Asi. “Is my daughter waiting out there for me? My brother? My husband? Or is that just—just all some fiction a lonely spinster imagined?”

It’s clear that, beyond anything, Kimiko is afraid of one thing above all others: being alone.

It's Asami rather than Asi again for just a moment when Kimiko takes charge. She looks to the others and nods after the more diminutive woman before turning to follow after her, momentarily sheepish and feeling out of league again.

It's Asi who keeps walking though, given the line of questioning. Walking past Kimiko and onward helps keep her expression even, her tone level.

"Your family exists out there," she promises, before clarifying, "Ami's out there, alone. She needs you. Besides that, you're the… moral center to Yamagato Industries I can't imagine it being without." She lifts her eyes to trace the places where the horizon falls apart and where it yet holds together, hoping to find more of the latter to keep them from taking an unpleasant fall down through the universe. "Supercorporations without someone well-meaning at their head terrify me. Most… still do anyway."

Her head turns back, indicating Valerie with a slight nod. "Raytech, your family's company is much the same without you. Richard has vision, you bring a levelheadedness to things– that I've seen, at least." Her expression tightens, like she wants to smile, but can't quite bring herself to. "Then again, we've not really worked together. Perhaps Kaylee has a brash streak of her own."

"When we get out of here, you'll have to tell me if I'm wrong," Asi supposes.

Valerie’s response to the push back is just to grunt out an acknowledgement with a bland look around them, head on a swivel to watch for threats… while quietly trying not to let the surreal headache-inducing nature of their world get to her. The whole thing was unnerving even to someone like Valerie, her mind continued to reject what it was seeing.

Especially, since every reflective surface shows her a terrified Kaylee staring back at her. Not just about the journey, but for what Valerie might have planned if Asami was leading them into a trap.

A flash of movement out of the corner of her eye and the mischievous giggle of a child shakes Valerie out of her thoughts. He was the real reason why she was giving Asami the chance.

Shifting her rifle to hang loosely at her side by the strap, Valerie motions at the lot of them. “Well, lead the way. Sooner we crash this bitch, the sooner we can see if this family and our son truly exists.”

Glancing from one face to the next as they talk, Daphne shrugs. “Together’s fine by me,” she says, happy enough that a decision has been made. She gives one last look over her shoulder, as if she could see what she’s leaving behind back home – a man she’s not married to in the “real world,” a child that doesn’t exist.

Her chin wobbles, before she tips it up and falls into step with Kimiko.

Gabby seems unaware of the conversation; she’s humming the “500 Miles” song from The Proclaimers, but eventually glances back when she realizes the others are starting to walk. She stops to wait until the rest of the group catches up to her.

“What the fuck does haver mean?” she asks Kaylee, unaware of the other woman’s distractions.

Kimiko closes her eyes as she hears Gabby’s question, pinching the bridge of her nose with two fingers. She thinks better of commenting on it, everyone deals with the stress of this nightmare differently. Instead, she focuses on moving ahead. What Asi had told them was that the direction didn’t truly matter, and Kimiko takes that to heart, just picking a direction and going with it.

While the rest move to follow, Valerie hesitates just long enough to take up a defensive position at the back of the group.

Kimiko glances over her shoulder to Asi, then returns her attention to the surreality ahead of them. As they walk, the world around them exists in fragmented delirium. Some stretches of DC’s streets are intact, fully-rendered and realized images of America’s capital, while halfway down the street everything is crumbling into a coral-like texture, pieces of the road free-floating in the air. Clouds in the sky flicker in and out of existence.

Further down the street there’s a line of cars that keep changing color whenever they’re perceived. As if nothing about them is permanent. Even the drivers in the cars, frozen in time, change in physical appearance whenever an observer looks at them and then looks back. It’s haunting, and it feels like at any moment everything could just cease to be. Lights out, game over.

As she walks, Daphne looks around, frowning at everything that feels so utterly wrong as they walk through it. “Reminds me of Sound of Music, the horse of a different color,” she murmurs when she sees the cars shifting colors. It’s a strange comparison, but everything here is strange.

Several blocks away and more of the terrain has taken on a pock-marked and coral-like texture and strings of light trace through the sky. Not a framework or grid-lines, nothing so computational, but they almost resemble a microscopic view of neurons firing. They flicker and flash behind the blue of the sky, and it makes the world feel infinitely smaller. Makes those seeing it feel insignificant, miniscule.

That’s when Daphne sees it. A house.

A block away, Washington DC turns into a wide open stretch of farmland fenced in by an old post-and-beam fence with chickenwire. Beyond the fence, there’s an old two-story farmhouse. It is hauntingly familiar, but imposing a sense of deja-vu and dread that makes Daphne feel momentarily weak in the knees.

Tall stands of corn grow up in the field behind the house. It’s Kansas.

It’s no place like home.

When Daphne sees the farmhouse, she stops short.

“Why is this here?” she murmurs, not really expecting anyone to truly know the answer, or even try to guess. “This is in Kansas. But hey, maybe it means we’re halfway there. Apparently our map is ‘not true to actual size.’”

Lifting her hands to add air quotes to the last part, Daphne walks to the fence, setting her hands on it, looking sadly at the farmhouse in front of them. “Did I even live here?” she wonders aloud.

Gabriela artfully segues from humming “500 Miles” to “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

Asami spares a glance in her direction when she catches the shift to we're halfway there, the glib humor of it rescuing her momentarily from being unsettled beyond words. There's still perpetually something to be said for knowing the world is a sham and seeing it fall apart before her eyes. The two selves within her war over it– over feeling like her world is falling apart while the other half of her argues it never existed in the first place.

Her shoes crunch on the gravel road, feeling the very real dirt and rock grind beneath her sole. It's not, Asi tries to remind her. She closes her eyes hard for a moment, keeps walking even without looking where her feet take her for a few paces.

"Perhaps you did," Asi answers as she opens her eyes again. "Either way, it's better to focus on getting back to the real one."

“Toto, we’re not in DC anymore,” Valerie murmurs under her breath as she eyes the sudden change of scenery, though her attention is on the flickers of light above them. It was mesmerizing to watch them speed on to whatever their destinations were. It reminded them of something familiar.

W-w-what is that?

“I don’t have a fuckin’ clue,” Valerie says softly to the nervous question in her head, blue eyes squinting against the harsh light of day as she tries to follow one particular mote of light before it fades into the blue.

Valerie looks back down to where she is going just in time to avoid colliding with a suddenly stopped Daphne and the fence. It wasn’t a graceful jerk and stumbled around the other woman, despite her background in dance. She clearly looks annoyed when she recovers and finally notices the farm beyond. Brows lower thoughtfully or maybe annoyance that the world has stopped making sense.

So it’s using memories to fill in the spaces? says the voice of her passenger, though only Valerie can hear it… well… maybe Asami too.

“Less standing and more moving. You can reflect as we walk…” Valerie says out loud brusquely, stopping a few feet from Daphne and looking back impatiently. They didn’t like this one bit and the sooner they got to Vegas the better. Clearly, it wouldn’t be as long of a journey as Valerie expected.

Just admit it. She was right.

A look is shifted towards Asami, scowling and eyes narrowing. The voice in her head sounded almost smug, like she knew all along that her friend would be right. Valerie hated that, but couldn’t exactly punch herself in the face, nor could she lock Kaylee away completely anymore.

Daphne?” A voice echoes from inside the house, a man’s voice that rings true to Daphne as the voice of her father. But then the front door to the farmhouse opens and a willowy-built blonde woman steps out onto the front porch, cupping her hands over her mouth.

Daphne Millbrook, get your butt in here!” The woman hollers. The voice sends a chill down Daphne’s spine and makes her eyes prickle and well with tears.

Mom!” A tiny voice yells from the cornfield, followed by a little girl — no more than three years old — who comes running out of the corn with a stick in her hand. “Mom I found a magic sword!” She shouts, waving the stick around.

Daphne’s mom kneels down on the porch and watches her little daughter approach, smiling brightly.

The petite bar owner doesn’t even look back at Valerie as the other woman stumbles and nags her to move along – she’s too caught up in staring at the farmhouse when the woman comes out, then turns to see the miniature version of herself. The little girl’s hair is in pigtails, a natural blond instead of the platinum color the woman wears now.

“Mom,” she breathes out, and she lets go of the fencing to push herself forward, to get to the woman on the steps. “Mom!” Daphne says again, this time louder, almost a sob. While she knows that the vision before her is not real, her mother’s face and voice are just how she remembers them, and seem more real than anything else they’ve seen so far.

Somehow more real than anything else she can remember.

Tears sting her eyes and she glances back over her shoulder, toward the women she’s been traveling with, but then forward again as she breaks into a run, overtaking the little girl’s awkward running easily.

Asi can't bring herself to call Daphne back. Not now. Not yet. Her brow creases in sympathy for the situation, and her pace ultimately slows. "Hold on just a second," sounds more timorously Asami than anything, quietly spoken to the others.

She feels they have to give Daphne this moment, no matter how painful it might end up being. She just hopes it's only a memory.

Valerie slows to a stop and turns to look back. A heavy, annoyed sigh escapes through her nose and for a moment she looks like she is going to make a grab for her assistant’s wife. Asami’s order stops her short, but Valerie can’t help but throw out the obvious question, “How do you know it isn’t a trap to lure her back into the Matrix?”

A hand sweeps towards the retreating Daphne as Valerie gruffly adds, “Seems kinda convenient that this just happens to pop up when we’re trying to break it. Last ditch effort of a dying system?”

In fact, just saying those words breaks Valerie’s restraint. “I can’t…” She moves after Daphne, determined to bring her back, even if she has to force it.

But she may not have to.

As Daphne approaches the house, jogs past her younger self her mother blows away like smoke in the wind. So too does little Daphne, and the farmhouse rapidly ages as though years were passing in the blink of an eye. Paint is peeling now, the once-new tractor in the fields is rusting and unused.

Daphne rushes past herself out of the house, on crutches.

Kimiko stops short at the sight, gently resting a hand on Valerie’s arm to try and suggest a different approach. In the same moment, a man’s voice is shouting from inside the house. “Daphne! Daphne!

The Daphne in crutches misses a step, slips and tumbles. One of her crutches bounces off of the stairs and falls out of reach. She collides with the dirt driveway, groaning. Her father, a weary-looking man in a black suit that seems ill-fitting of the farmland steps into the doorway, calling for his daughter.

Then, as Daphne lays there on the ground. As another Daphne stands facing her tired father overwrought with grief, the sky goes black.

With an eclipse.

The older version of Daphne stops short when she sees the younger version of herself. Her face is almost comical in its confusion, if it weren’t so tragic a scene. She turns as the younger woman falls to the ground, and takes a step toward her, like she might offer her help up.

“This didn’t happen,” she says softly, before she turns to look up at the familiar face of her father.

The suit… the suit she remembers. They’d had to drive to town to get one since his last one was a decade old and her father ten pounds too heavy to fit in it. She’d helped to pick it out, and for a few minutes at least had been distracted from the overwhelming grief for her mother, deciding which style best suited his hardworking frame, which material was the right shade of somber respect. And after those few minutes, the grief had come back, heavier and more suffocating than before.

But she hadn’t needed crutches. She hadn’t run out of the house the day of the funeral. She had been the strong one, the one her father could rely on.

A shaking hand covers her mouth as Daphne understands this is the truth, and that was a lie.

Asi isn't paying attention any longer to what's happening on the ground, exactly, her head turned up toward the sky. The eclipse is regarded briefly, and then her eyes wander on, wondering at what's happening here. She hears Daphne's murmur, and hears her thoughts that come after.

Her heart beats faster. Daphne's remembering?

"Valerie– you could still be right. But it sounds like we're breaking free, actually," she says quietly. "Finding ourselves."

Asi's eyes lift once more to the sky. "Many people… say it all started for them with an eclipse."

The muscles of Valerie's arm twitches under Kimiko’s hand that earns the woman an annoyed glare. With a small jerk, Valerie removes herself from under that hand before turning her focus upward when the sky darkens.

The voice at the back of her mind is saying something, panicked, but Valerie isn’t paying attention. She was distracted by Asami’s words. Finding themselves? Her head snaps down to look at Asami, with so many questions ping ponging between the two minds. One finally falls from their lips.

“What are you talking about? The fuck started with the eclipse?” This was all too overwhelming for Valerie, eyes narrow as she looked up again.

"Powers," Asi answers quietly, letting her gaze lower to watch the memory play out hopefully without disrupting it. "Some of them, or maybe even all of them."

The younger Daphne, laying on the ground, looks up not at the figure of her father approaching from behind but a point in space ahead of her. It’s in this moment that the Daphne held fast in the grip of the Optica system remembers what she was seeing.

No one else can see it, not even here in the simulation. But Daphne remembers as she sees her younger self mouth the word: Mom?

Struggling up on her hands, the young Daphne whispers, “I’m not special,” to herself. “I’m not.” Her older self remembers the voice of her mother, her dead mother calling out to her as it from down a long hallway, as if from another time and space.

No, Daphne. You are special.

The voice becomes louder, and that’s when everyone can see her. Not beside the young woman on the ground, but standing beside the Daphne they came here with. A middle-aged woman with long, dark hair held in a ponytail. She places a hand on Daphne’s trembling shoulder and says the same thing she remembers from that moment in her youth:

“Don’t let the braces hold you back,” Daphne’s mother says with a tearful smile. “Stand up and leave this cage.

In that same moment, the younger Daphne pushes herself to her feet as her father hurries down the steps of the old farmhouse to catch up to her. But he never will, and Daphne knows this in her heart as she watches her younger self stand on her own two feet, dip forward,

and disappear in a blur of superhuman speed, leaving a plume of dust in her wake.

Daphne’s mother is gone in the same instant, but the memories of that day—the memories of another lifetime—come flooding back in an instant.

Daphne sinks to her knees, her hands trembling as they cover first her mouth and then her tearful eyes. Every possible emotion flickers through her along with the memories. Grief and fear rear their heads again and again, in a painful juxtaposition against the life she’s “lived” here in this New York made from pixels and code. The brief episodes of joy, of love, are like the brightest of fireworks painted on a somber canvas of gray and black.

After what feels like a long time – really just a few minutes – Daphne shakes her head, lowers her hands, and stares at them. She marvels at the realism of mascara on her palms. How she can taste the salt on her lips and feel the tears on her cheeks, in this false world.

“Go without me,” she whispers. “I’m going to go back.”

To Corbin. To Corbie, her son. To her beloved bar. To being able to walk – she’ll take that, even without the supersonic speed. To a life that’s rich and textured, if false, compared to what she knows is a shadow of that life back “home.”

To a home… when she doesn’t truly have one in the real world – Paris is no longer the city she once loved, and she’s no one special there. Just an ex-pat without powers, without a family, without purpose.

Asi has done her part to give Daphne her space to get herself together. She had turned away, trying to give peace and a lack of staring. "I wonder if memories will come back for each of us, the more we strain the system. The farther we get from its trappings, maybe there's room for the real of us to emerge," she explains, mostly to Valerie in the hopes Kaylee too will also hear. That maybe she'll get her answers to what the real reality is without having to do something more drastic than she already has.

It takes Asi entirely by surprise when Daphne makes her decision though, a flicker of panicked fear distinctly more Asami in her before she breathes out, centers herself. She doesn't emit insistence, like she wanted to a moment ago. There's more empathy to her reply now.

"If my life hadn't already been so far on the outs, I'd probably have felt the same." Her brow creases with that admission. "But… Daphne, even if you go back," Asi cautions, "When we bring the system down… it'll likely take you with us. If you go back, it might not be for long."

She breathes out another long breath. "And when we wake, it won't be safe for us. It might be a case of move or die."

"We don't belong here," Asi gently reminds Daphne. "No matter– no matter how good or right it feels, this isn't real." Tears sting at the corners of her eyes suddenly for that. Just saying it aloud affects her more than she thought it would.

She's been driving all of this so hard, compelled to do so, but there are aspects of this she doesn't want to leave behind. Her nephew, who she adores, who doesn't even exist in the real world.

To say little of all this power. Power that will be lost to her the moment she opens her eyes.

Daphne’s declaration to return to the lies they lived is a bit of a shock that neither woman was expecting. When that happens, Valerie feels a trickle of fear bleeding from the woman hiding at the back of her mind, it was thick enough that her stomach twists in a knot at Asami’s words.

Valerie doesn’t like that feeling.

This is why she was in control, because Kaylee was afraid of remembering what was waiting. Afraid of the ‘what if’s and it was too much for the gentler woman. What if the real world was worse? What if Kaylee was left with regret, crumpled in a field wanting to go back like Daphne?

Letting Asami say her words, Valerie moves up behind the figure on the ground with disapproval, before crouching with a sigh… Maybe she had some profound words… Or maybe a gesture of comfort as she reaches out for the woman and….

Just bitchslaps Daphne into unconsciousness.

Asami starts and lets out a note of alarm for what happens, starting to reach out– but ultimately she falters, says nothing else. She only turns to Valerie with widened eyes.

“Brutal,” Gabrielle says, looking fairly impressed.

Valerie catches Daphne before she crumples to the ground and tosses her over a shoulder like she weighs nothing.

On her feet again, Valerie turns to look at Asami without remorse and simply says, “You talk too damn much and she’s a teleporter. I couldn’t risk her flitting back and leading those machines to us. Then we’re all fucked.”

Kaylee protests the idea of Daphne ever doing that.

Shut it, Princess.

Valerie motions for Asami to lead on.

Overhead, the sky has darkened. The sun is blotted out by the moon passing in front of it. A total eclipse, casting the world into darkness. But the sky is not normal here even beyond that; there are fracture lines spread through it like broken glass, as if the eclipse is a bullet hole in heaven, through which only darkness can be seen. It’s as if Valerie’s slap had knocked the sound out of the world.

A warm breeze blows across the front of the farmhouse, and all ambient noise ceases. No birds, no wind, nothing but the sound of the people trespassing in an echo of the past. At some point between Daphne being conscious and rendered unconscious, her father disappeared. The cars belonging to the other family members at the wake disappeared. The farmhouse sits empty, and its door — left ajar — no longer leads inside the Millbrook residence.

Beyond the door there is another apartment, and then


An electric guitar, distant. Sharp. Drums.


Look in my eyes

The hair on the back of Valerie’s neck stands on end.

What do you see?

Valerie's determined first steps falter as the recognizable chords play. Her breath catches as the first lyrics start to sink and she… they turn back towards the door with a mixture of confusion and horror.

“I know this song.”

Well… fuck.

It was easier to walk away from something when it wasn't about them. But now…Valerie felt her feet start to carry her toward the music, even as a part of her held back.

No! Don’t! Don’t go there! A scared voice warns in the back of their mind.

There was no denying the music's effect on them, the way their heart starts to beat hard in their chest. They were certain that it was a song that had plagued Kaylee her entire life… attached to trauma… to… to…

"Karen… Please, you have got to get Kaylee out of this city. She's going to— " he cuts himself off, a hopeless and equally helpless look crossing his face. "Karen please, I know I hurt you but I didn't have a choice, I have to— I had to do what is best for her.”

"You son of a bitch don't you dare try to tell me what's best for my daughter!"

”Just— God, Karen please listen to me. If you don't get Kaylee out of here she's going to hurt someone."

Valerie’s feet suddenly dig in, but it wasn't her doing… was it?


Shrieks the voice in her head, her bloodstream is suddenly flooded with adrenaline as Kaylee’s fear threatens Valerie's hold on the body they share. Which meant Daphne was starting to feel pretty heavy.

By their side, Asami continues to waver. The music that carries through doesn't have the siren's song effect on her as it does on them– but she looks back to Kimiko and to Gabriella. She's on the verge of saying something at all before she hears Kaylee begin to struggle.

The sudden sensation of weight forced her to kneel before she lost complete control of their body. Once Daphne was prone on the ground, Valerie could concentrate on gritting her teeth against the assault.

"Yy— " the first sound is a croak of emotion and shock, "Get the fuck out of my house!" And that's when Karen punches Edward square in the mouth, sending him down to the floor.


Their parents were happy and loved each other. Kaylee had just thrown a big anniversary party for them… They had said such sweet things. Accounted how they met… as people cooed over the sappy romance.

Kaylee was desperate to keep hold of that.. that– lie. An implanted lie, but better than the truth that the music promised.

Valerie’s eyes shut tightly and she gives a hard shake of her head, as if it would somehow shake loose the other mind as it scrabbles and claws for control.

Desperate, Valerie pleads out loud with a voice edged with panic. “Dammit, Kaylee, stop!

Asami feels that pain so keenly– being aware the other side may be worse, and yet…

"Go," Asi urges Valerie, kneeling beside Daphne to be ready to pick her up and carry her forward. "Find out what they took from you." She knows– she knows it's not all heartbreak, and it's that she holds fast to.

On the other side of this, Kaylee's children are out there.

“I don't… I don’t know if I can…She’s fighting me,” Valerie says through her teeth. Looking up at Asami, the next words are forced through a thick wall of pride.

Help me?

When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies

Surprise visibly manifests itself on Asami, and she glances back for a moment to Kimiko before she comes to her feet again, looking to Valerie when she rises.

Kaylee— listen to me, she says as she takes a step closer to Valerie. She starts to offer her hand out, but pulls it back as she gets closer, looking up at her instead. What's out there… I know it hurts. But it's real.

You can trust it. All the things you've questioned here, they're truths out there.

She lifts both hands, fingertips gently placing to the sides of Valerie's— of Kaylee's brow. Having been asked for help, she could try to drag a woman stronger than her beyond a threshold she fights with herself on crossing…

You won't have to follow me

Or she could give her a push.

Asi's eyes go unfocused as she reaches down for those memories so close to the surface now— the ones that song has brought to the surface— and seeks to push aside the veil keeping Kaylee from recalling them.

Good or bad… it's all yours.

Only you can set me free

New York

December 25th

A home invasion has happened in Brooklyn. The fifty-story apartment’s sanctity is ruined. Christmas lights glitter on an anemic tree perched by the two small windows at the front of the apartment. The few presents that would have been under the tree were unwrapped that morning. A mother and father sit in armchairs, side by side, in front of a television that is not turned on.

There is no door kicked violently ajar in this home invasion. No forced entry, no raised voices. There is, however, a gun.

Eric Thompson stands by the door, revolver at his side, cigarette hanging in his mouth. He watches another man kneeling beside one of the armchairs. There is a beautiful woman in it, with a two-year old girl sitting on her lap. Her husband sits beside her, his eyes unfocused and glassy, staring at the dark television screen, glasses slouching off the bridge of his nose.

No one is speaking, no one is moving.

It is like a diorama of quiet violence perpetrated against an average American family. Except, they are not average.

They are Kaylee’s family. And this diorama is not anything she knows.

Standing in the tiny kitchenette, Kaylee stares at the man crouched beside someone she knows is her mother. Which makes the baby—

Kaylee.” Kimiko whispers, looking around the cramped, cheap apartment. City noise is muffled outside; distant police sirens, passing cars, a dog barking somewhere a couple floors up. She doesn’t know what to make of any of this.

Asi, kneeling on the floor of the kitchenette, is beside Daphne’s unconscious form slouched against the refrigerator.

Something throbs in the back of Kaylee’s mind. Recognition. The man in the glasses is her father, Edward, she already knew this.

But the man with his hand on her mother’s forehead. The man with the dark hair, in the brown trench coat, with the deep voice…

Charles.” Thompson asks, impatiently. “How long’s this gonna take.”


Kaylee has no way of knowing who Charles Deveaux is, yet she knows his name.



Kaylee’s is not unlike a deer in the headlights. Her chest heaves, breath quick on the edge of hyperventilating. The urge to run was still there… but more than that she looks…confused. A part of her acknowledges that what drove her to panic didn't manifest, not that she could even remember what it was… it was all emotions and flashes of moments.

What she did know is this wasn't familiar…. well… mostly… Kaylee stares at the scene before her, especially Charles. Fingers clutching at the fabric of her shirt just above her heart, pressing against the quick beat behind her breast bone.

“I…I don't understand?”

Wasn't seeing this supposed to suddenly make the world clearer? Not leave her just as clueless. Kaylee shifts to look over at Asi and gives a small bewildered shake of her head. “I don't remember this.”

Asi only shakes her head in return, the side of her hand to the side of Daphne's forehead, gently checking for greater injury from the suckerpunch. Seeming content finally with that, she looks across the house to the two true intruders to the family vignette. Her eyes dance across them both, her head beginning to tilt the longer she looks at Charles.

The other figure speaking sets the hair on the back of her neck to stand on edge. "They're Company," she announces softly, like otherwise more important things might not be heard. "Perhaps the point is that you weren't supposed to remember."

“I wouldn’t expect you to, if that’s you,” Gabriella says, with a nod to the toddler. She meanders slowly around the little apartment, looking at the items in the room – a photo frame. A knick-knack. The sad Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the window.

“You were a cute baby,” she says, then wrinkles her nose as if giving a compliment was somehow unpleasant. Or maybe babies are.

Charles Deveaux casts an askance look at the man waiting by the door. “Mr. Thompson, would you mind waiting outside?” Thompson looks at Charles, then the people sitting motionless in the chairs and rolls his shoulders, doing as he is politely asked without question. Only when Thompson is out of the room does Charles turn back to the family.

“Edward,” Charles says with a sigh. “You’re not paranoid if you’re right,” he says, putting a hand on the bespectacled man’s shoulder. “You just don’t ever remember how right you are.”

Slowly, Charles rises from beside Edward’s chair and walks over to Karen holding baby Kaylee in her lap. “As for you, a late Christmas present.” Reaching out, Charles touches Kaylee’s brow and closes his eyes. “Just don’t open it early,” he says with a gentle, quiet voice.

Then, with a slow blink, Charles looks up at the group gathered in front of the chairs. “Kaylee,” he calls her out directly, looking right at her. Then a quick glance. “Kimiko?” Charles looks back to Kaylee. “This is unexpected.”

He doesn’t seem to recognize Asi, Daphne, or Gabriella.

Kimiko opens her mouth to speak, but cannot bring herself to.

"… What the fuck?" Asi wonders, her voice dropped low as she dips her head and peers at Charles out of the tops of her eyes.

The last ones didn't recognize or talk to them.

Kaylee’s mouth forms an ‘o’ of surprise when Charles turns to her directly and addresses her. In fact, it takes a few more moments for Kaylee to even squeak out the meekest…


It’s a trap. The gruff voice of Valerie warns in the back of her mind, Kaylee can feel her rage at having been shoved to the backseat, again. The rifle you idiot. Defend yourself!

Startled, Kaylee fumbles with the weapon and levels it at Charles, the end of the barrel trembling. The fact that the more forceful woman didn't take back over was a miracle.

“H-h-how do I know you?” Kaylee asks, curiosity winning out. “Cause… I recognize you, but I know for a fact we’ve never met, and my father..” she glances at the subject in question… “Never talked about you.”

Or did he? Kaylee’s mind was so confused it was almost painful.

Daphne has stirred, opening her eyes and groaning; she manages to sit up and put a hand to her head just as Thompson is asked to leave the room. She frowns, staring at him for a long moment. “I know that guy,” she murmurs. Her eyes flutter closed again, and she slumps against the wall.

When Charles speaks to Kaylee and Kimiko, Gabriella drops the tchotchke she was examining. It hits the floor with a clatter. Her face contorts into a grimace and she slinks back over to stand with Asi.

“Well, clearly he’s fucking up all your memories, girlfriend,” she says to Kaylee, eyes narrowing and one hand resting on one of her narrow hips. “‘You just don’t ever remember how right you are,’” she echoes, in an impression of Charles’ deeper voice and his inflection from a moment before.

“Your friend is half right,” Charles says of Gabriella , an amused smile spread across his face at her antics. He would have liked her.

Charles steps around the chair, putting his hand on the back. “But this, your memory? Well, it didn’t go like this. But since you’re here, it means you’re deep in your subconscious, past some locks and doors I put in place to protect you.” There’s a hint of sadness in his voice as he says that.

“My name’s Charles.” He says with a warm, grandfatherly smile. “Charles Deveaux.” He squints, taking a step toward Kaylee as if seeing something unusual about her. “And I don’t think your father would’ve mentioned me much, in this life or any other. I made sure he never remembered me. I can’t help with that.”

Charles slowly offers out a hand to Kaylee. “But what I can help with, is your little problem you have right now.” He turns his palm up. “If you’ll let me.”

Kaylee first instinct was to take a step back, away from the outstretched hand. The rifle is clutched to her chest, but more importantly her eyes unfocus.

There is clearly a mental tug of war going on in her mind about what to do. Finally…

Do it.. The voice in her head says in a complete turn around from a moment ago, though it doesn’t seem happy about it.

Delicate hands tremble hard as they finally lay on his, Kaylee’s eyes wide with fear. But then suddenly her whole body relaxes and fingers wrap around his hands like a vice and she just looks angry now.

“Just so you know, old man… we’re tired of being shielded and protected. We’re not that little girl anymore,” Valerie says with a low growl. “So we’ll be seeing you again to continue this talk.” It was a promise.

Asi dips her head as she leans back against the countertop in the kitchen, hands curling the edges of it while she tries to put some distance between herself and this conversation, this situation. There's only so many ways her mind can handle bending, and…

She looks down at the back of her knuckles abruptly, brow furrowing. If she had a mirror to look into, she'd do that instead.

Strange. Something about this makes her feel like herself for once, rather than a woman torn. Something about the Company founder before them pulls her that way, as everything to do with them is so far distanced from 'Asami' entirely. At least… at least there's that.

She glances at Kaylee momentarily when she promises she'll be seeing Charles again, but decides to not point out the man's being deceased in the real world. She looks back toward the man in question before asking somewhat skeptically, "Help how?"

“So is he a sim or is he a memory? I’ve lost the plot,” Gabriella says, picking up a magazine and flipping through it, as if she’s suddenly very bored. “How do we know we can trust him?”

But then she’s distracted by what she sees in the magazine, and she opens it up to a two-page fashion spread, holding it out so that Asi can see. “Ooh, look, Mom jeans,” she says. “You would look so cute in those.”

Is that a compliment or not? With Gabriella, it’s very hard to tell.

“Neither,” Charles answers Gabriella. “Or both?” He raises his brows. “Personally, I don’t think it matters much. What does is that you’re here, and you’re going to get what you need.” He says, looking back to Kaylee and showing no fear in light of her threat. He holds Kaylee’s hand firmly, then blinks a look over to Asi.

“I put something in Kaylee for safekeeping a long time ago,” Charles says, certainly not speaking of the baby behind him. “It allows me to live here alongside her. Or, a little part of me anyway.” He presses his thumb to the middle of Kaylee’s palm. “Now that you’ve come and found me, I can help Kaylee undo what was done to her.”

Then as he turns his dark eyes to Kaylee, Charles simply says. “You’re stronger than this.

In an instant, Kaylee’s pupils grow wide and dark. Her hand reflexively clamps down on Charles’ and her teeth clench. A thousand painful, beautiful, heartfelt, and suffocating moments crash against her like a tide. Her mother, her father, her siblings, the Ferrymen, Bannerman’s Castle, Joseph, Luther—

Something growls at Kaylee in the dark; lips curl up over a long mouth full of teeth. The other presence presses against Kaylee’s, testing her psyche for weakness.

And she is weak. Just not weak enough.

The silhouette of a wolf advances on the cradle, its ears pricked forward. Its steps are slow, creeping, but purposeful — the tentative stalk of a wounded predator on the hunt.


Two lifetimes of memories blend together, irrevocably connected. Two lifetimes lived in parallel, each one as real as the other, a slurry of experiences tangled by Optica.

The walls of the apartment fall away at this revelation, like set dressing on a stage. High ceiling lights are revealed in that there is no roof to the apartment. A stage full of empty seats expands out into the darkness behind the small group gathered here. Mr. Thompson walks off-stage through the curtain. Charles squeezes Kaylee’s hand.

“If the time comes,” Charles says, looking Kaylee in the eyes. “Please pick up the phone.”

And then he is gone, as if he never was there at all.

Kimiko slowly turns, looking out from the apartment at the empty rows of audience seats barely visible against the bright stage lighting. She lifts a hand to shield her eyes, squinting at something she sees in the darkness.

Once Charles is gone, Kaylee’s breath leaves her in a sudden surprised woosh and her knees buckle like they can't hold her weight. Wiping hands down her face, she finds them wet. So much had been taken and falsely given. It left her emotions in a confused jumble, but she was whole again.

Looking up, she stares blankly out into the audience. Her memories warring against each other until they settle into a moment.

“Wait…” Kaylee half whispers, pushing to her feet. Her heart flutters at the memory. “I… I think I know this place. This is where I met…” her voice catches remembering dancing and spotting her husband Nathan in the crowd. The love for him… Of course, just as quickly her face turns into a grimace. “Jesus…”

Because, Kaylee remembers the true Nathan Petrelli and all the people that died under his administration. What the fuck?!? The mixture of emotions about the man leaves her feeling disgusting and violated.

“Who are these twisted fuckers…” Kaylee asks, turning to look at Asi and the others for the first time with clear furious eyes. “…cause I am going to kill them.” If she can get to them that is, instinct has her eyes unfocusing as she reaches for her true ability.

Gabriella puts her hand up like it’s a phone and mouths “Bye” to Charles after he’s already disappeared.

“Why do you get a fairy godfather or something?” she asks Kaylee, before turning to look out at the seats, squinting as she tries to see what Kaylee sees. She bows with a flourish of her hands before dipping low, her back leg sweeping gracefully back behind herself. When she rises back to her full height, she holds up her hand – in order to flip off the empty audience seats.

“Are we on stage? And yeah, 100 percent on board with that. Not sure how we’ll do that if we’re tucked away hooked up to OPTICA, but I’ll garrotte them with an ethernet cable if I need to.”

Having managed to pull up to a sitting position again, Daphne slowly gets to her feet with a wobble. In theory, she could possibly teleport away, to go back to her fake life, but somehow she knows it’s futile. She reaches into her pocket for the small wallet, just big enough to hold ID and a couple of credit cards. One side has a laminated window that holds a small photo of Corbin and Corbie, and she stares at it, like she’s trying to memorize it. Resignation and grief line her face, making her look older suddenly, all the light in her dimmed.

Asi has to take a moment to take all this in. It's strange for Kaylee– the outside one– to address her still with the familiarity they shared in here. And where do they even go next?

They're likely far from wherever they were before. Definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Gabriella's determination to also visiting harm upon their captors speaks to her belief in there being an outside world well enough. Each of them, in their own way, seem on board more than before. Blinking twice out into the lights, Asi doesn't press beyond the stage– just turns to look at Daphne.

"Have you ever been to Vegas before?" Asi asks. "Can you envision it if you close your eyes and focus? Even if we only got as far as the sign at the edge of town… it'd be closer to our goal."

Kimiko, unfortunately, has other plans.


Kimiko’s voice is a child-like whisper as she hops off the stage into the rows of seats. She sees something in the dark, something the others don’t, and she starts sprinting toward it. “お母さん!” Kimiko shouts, running up the center aisle toward the back of the theater, “お母さん!

At the back of the theater she runs straight into a pair of double doors and bursts through them. Light spills around her as she does, and when the doors swing back shut all the overhead lights in the theater go out. All that is left is the red glow of what should be an emergency-exit sign. Except it doesn’t say “Exit.” It says:


“What’s that say?” Gabrielle says, pointing to the Japanese signage, and looking at Asi. “Guess we’re moving again.” She starts after Kimiko, but at a much more leisurely pace. She has long legs. She’ll catch up.

Daphne rubs her face where she was punched, and it takes a moment to register that Asi had asked her something.

She pulls her gaze away from where Kimiko’s running to look at Asi, nodding. “I’ve been there. I can imagine it. But, uh, we should probably all stick together, yeah?” she asks, as she too begins to move toward the exit after Kimiko at a much slower pace.

“Why’s everyone running,” she whines a little, giving Kaylee/Valerie a wide berth so she doesn’t get punched again.

The loud voices around Kaylee pull her out of her failed attempt to access her telepathy. “Son of a bitch,” she huffs out, rubbing at her forehead. “I had hoped….” The thought isn’t completed when she notices the others moving after Kimiko.

There is especially a twinge of guilt as Daphne skirts around her, she’ll have to try and apologize for that later. Unlike the others, Kaylee isn’t as quick to follow…. Not knowing where they are going doesn’t sit well with her, so she hesitates.

But then… they all followed her into her childhood apartment. With that bit of reasoning, Kaylee murmurs, “Dammit.”

"Oh, shit," Asi breathes out when Kimiko breaks rank. She doesn't even call out, one hand tightening into a fist by her side before she lets out a sigh and takes off off the stage, hopping down. "I don't know–" she answers Gabby with a tired laugh. "Because maybe it'll get us to where we're going faster?"

It's a throwaway answer, for sure. She keeps her eyes head on where Kimiko's dashed off to, sprinting after her.

Somewhere Else


Through the double doors at the back of the theater, it is dark.


The air is warm and humid, cicadas chirp with the rhythm of a summer’s night.


A child cries in the dark. Cries for her mother.

Hello?” But the child… is not alone.

As Asi, Gabriella, and Kaylee arrive first, their eyes begin to adjust to the darkness of night. Of trees blocking out view of the sky. Of two distinct voices, neither of them obviously Kimiko, calling out. Daphne is slow to follow behind, head still spinning from the blow that rendered her unconscious. Her jaw throbs, neck aches, head pounds.

It’s only once the four are reunited in the dark forest that they glimpses of one-another shaded in pale hues of blue and green. Light, filtering down through the trees from… a spiraling aurora.

The play of lights across the ground gives Kaylee a sense of deja-vu and she looks up. At the sight of the aurora she draws in a sharp breath. “I know this…” Kaylee whispers, staring up at the sky with wide eyes. “I have seen this… I mean, something like this.” Looking down at her hands, with palms up, she can almost imagine memories slipping through her fingers.

Kaylee murmurs, as she finds what she wants. “Looking glass.” She looks up again, this time with a bit more confidence at what she’s remembering. “The night the Looking Glass fired maybe? I saw…I saw memories of it as a telepath.”

At the moment, Kaylee really missed that ability.

Asi's eyes climb to the stars, to the swirling light in the sky. For a long moment, that's all she can see. All she can focus on. "Why do you have a memory of…?"

One can hear just how unsettled she is by this turn of events, and she wavers with it for a moment until her eyes find the ground. Then, just like the gears of her mind, she unslows and continues to jog– this time in the direction of the two voices she can hear. Her heart races in concern for whatever information is implicit by Kimiko's proximity to one of these events.

“The what now?” Gabriella asks of Kaylee, giving her an odd look. “That’s an aurora borealis. It’s not caused by mirrors exploding or something.”

She shakes her head like Kaylee’s dumb. But as Asi runs ahead, she glances back at Daphne. “Come on, struggle bus,” she says, offering an arm to the poor former speedster who can now barely keep up with a slow jog.

“Fuck off, Gabby,” Daphne says, tiredly. “Why are we running?”

Asi collides with a woman who isn't really there. Runs straight through a ruddy-cheeked woman in her twenties with a wild mane of curly red hair and wide, fearful eyes, likewise running through the woods. “Where are you!?” She calls out. The sobbing grows louder, closer, and the redhead's pace picks up.

Kaylee and the others catch up at this point, nearly running into the jogging redhead as well. Gabriella is the first to notice the redhead is dressed in a pencil skirt and a blazer with overstuffed shoulderpads and a cream colored blouse. She looks like she walked out of a mid 1980s SEARS catalog.

Suddenly, there she is. A little girl with puffy cheeks and dark hair laying on her side in a clearing in the middle of the forest. Her cheeks are wet with tears, there's mud on her skirt. Kneeling next to the child is Kimiko Nakamura, the same tears in her eyes, one hand over her mouth. She does not look up at Asi.


The redhead jogs straight at the little girl, dropping to her knees beside her like Kimiko is. “Are you okay?” The redhead asks, and she rolls the child over in the grass. Dark hair is plastered to the child’s brow, blood slicked across her hairline and runs down her forehead and the right side of her face from a cut somewhere on the top of her head. The child exhales a ragged, wailing cry.

お父さん!” The child cries out again. Dark eyes stare up at the redhead reflecting the spiral aurora above them. She picks up the girl, pulling her to her chest and touching pale fingers at her scalp, finding a short gash in her hair near where her part is. Those fingers come back wet and red.

“Ssh, shh,” The redhead whispers. “すべて大丈夫1,” she whispers into the girl’s hair. Watching the scene play out, Kimiko swallows audibly and quickly lifts a hand to wipe tears away from her face. She can't hide how much this is affecting her, and it's impossible not to see a resemblance between Kimiko and the little girl.

Overhead, the aurora continues to slowly churn.

After she comes to a stop, Asi's hand slowly comes to rest on Kimiko's shoulder– the adult one– to squeeze it once in support. She does her best to keep a poker face, but wariness over what she's seeing shows. Kimiko had thought she'd seen her mother when she ran all this way… and the woman…

That's not Ishi Nakamura.

"Kimiko," Asi asks carefully. "Do you know that woman?"

Gabriella keeps her distance, letting Asi deal with Kimiko as she watches curiously. “Man, that’s what’s missing in the 21st century. Shoulder pads that make a woman feel like a linebacker. Talk about a power outfit,” she asides to Daphne.

She might not actually be joking.

Daphne doesn’t answer, watching Kimiko with sad eyes – she doesn’t understand what’s going on, but she can understand the fear the little girl feels, that Kimiko feels. Her own dark eyes tear up with a swell of empathy.

With the wailing of the child and the arrival of the red-headed woman, Kaylee’s aurora watching ends. None of what is occurring jogs any of the long dormant memories.

But the child's distress draws Kaylee in closer and she can't help but reach out a hand to the child. To try and comfort the young Kimiko. How many times had she eased a bad nightmare or memory for her children to help them sleep?

She couldn't remember.

But, none of that matters as she doesn't have her ability and her fingers do not find resistance against silken dark strands, they simply pass through it like the holograms at Yamagato.

When Asam… Asi asks about the woman, Kaylee turns to Kimiko to see if there is an answer to at least one of the questions swirling through her mind.

Darrow,” Kimiko says of the redhead soothing the child. “That’s Roselyn Darrow.” She looks up at Asi, then to the others who may know her better. “Elaine Darrow’s mother.” There’s a dawning realization in Kimiko’s eyes, a horror peeling back as a childhood of false memories fall away like the walls of that stage play.


Elaine's name– to this Asi– is so distant a memory it takes a few seconds for that to sink in. Then, all she can do is boggle for a moment. The mystery takes only seconds more to solve as it all comes back to Kimiko.

“We’re here… because she was my babysitter.” Kimiko says softly, her jaw trembling. “My babysitter from—” her right hand flexes open and closed rapidly, “from—”

“They’re from another dimension.” The voice of Charles Deveaux cuts through the night. In the distance, a spotlight has come on in the dark forest, revealing a diorama resembling a 1980s office, complete with the orange and black monochromatic screen of an old computer.

Charles Deveaux and Daniel Linderman are featured in this spotlit tableau, with Charles behind the desk and Linderman pacing the floor. Linderman looks much younger in this recollection, so much like Isaac. Little Kimiko sits in a chair across from Charles at the desk, like she’s here for a toddler’s job interview. The two adults talk around her like she isn’t there.

Kimiko couldn’t say the words, but her memories can.

“Even if we believe James’ theory, if we take what you and Maury saw in their heads at face value…” Linderman rubs a hand over his mouth. “It’s mind boggling. The whole world would turn on its ear.”

Charles looks down at little Kimiko, who is playing with a Transformer on his desk. When he looks back up to Charles, there’s a heaviness to his voice. “That’s why no one can ever know what happened.”

Charles was just a hammer for every nail, wasn't he.

Asi stalks forward toward the vignette playing out from afar much more slowly, but with all the morbid draw of someone coming to see the aftermath of a car accident. You don't intend to do what you do… you're just…

Possessed by a need to know. And in this moment, she feels more Asami than Asi once more, still spurned forward by that urge.

"I'm sorry," she says back to Kimiko as she looks back to her— the more human side of her rather than mission-focused once more. "That all this happened. How long have you…?" Her eyes start to narrow as she reconsiders that question, and looks toward Kaylee whose uncovered Charles memories seemed to be new to her as well. Asami corrects herself by asking: "Did you know before just now?"

“Because of course they are,” Daphne says, less fazed by this than she probably should be – but then, they’re also trying to get out of a simulated hellscape to get back to their bodies that are being kept somewhere hooked up to the worst virtual reality game ever.

She also dated a Company agent-turned-SESA agent, who has a ghost living in his head, so you know. Some things are pretty easy to accept.

Gabriella, however, finds that simple explanation a little less satisfactory and looks around at the others – Kimiko, Asi… who seem to already be aware of this turn of events. Kimiko because she lived it, apparently.

“Another what now?” she asks. “Are we in the Twilight Zone or what’s happening? I better not get to my memories and have a pig nose.”

Elaine’s mother? Kaylee shifts to get a look at the woman for the first time. Both of them? Charles' voice says out loud just what Kaylee was thinking.

“Twilight Zone has nothing on this,” Kaylee says blandly. “The crossing–” she swirls a finger to encompass what is happening “was just one clusterfuck of many that has happened over the course of human history and is a part of a much bigger overarching multidimensional clusterfuck.”

It is all delivered as one who is way too used to all this shit. Too clinically. Though at the end she looks a little surprised at her ability to recall.

“The spiraling auroras, like that,” Kaylee points up at the swirling sky. “Is often a sign of a thinning between dimensions…In fact, it's happened recently.”

Kaylee turns towards the spotlight and Charles' voice, she offers an explanation for those that need it. “In the 80s there was a device created that punched a hole from our world into another. Shit went sideways and a lot of people ripped from their world and tossed into ours.” Kaylee doesn't go beyond that or offer up the names of those she knows came over that day. Or her family’s involvement. She just moves closer to the scene, watching it play out thoughtfully.

“They did their best to integrate them into society, hiding the truth of what happened.” Kaylee turns a sympathetic look to Kimiko. “I’m sorry they couldn't send you home.”

Kimiko is silent. She keeps flexing her right hand open and closed. Cracking her knuckles on it. Her expression is flat and blank, her eyes unfocused and distant. Her head dips forward just a little, hair shifting from behind her ear to fall like a curtain and hide the side of her face. She is silent, and so is the memory. So is the forest. So is everything.

“I know.”

Smoke and fire rips through a demolished office space. The forest is gone.

Billowing black plumes of choking ash are sucked out of the hole in the wall that was once towering panes of photovoltaic glass. There is a broken desk, blown apart, large shards of glass spread out across the floor. Leather is torn from a chair, and blood covers the floor.

Kimiko is here in this place. She lays on her side, much like she did as a child. Blood runs from her hairline down across her face. She drags herself across the rubble-strewn floor, leaving a trail of blood in her wake. With each slap of her palm on the marble floor, with each squeak of her body, she draws closer to the man gasping for breath where he lays beside her, blood trickling from his open mouth.

Tears are streaming down Kimiko’s face, black smears of her mascara cut dark lines down her cheeks. She can't get up to stand, one of her legs is mangled beyond recognition. One of her arms is missing. She can barely keep her eyes open. “Jae, Jae!” She hisses his name, and he has enough strength to turn his head and regard her with scared eyes. A shaky hand moves to reach out for her, slick with his own blood.

The crunch of glass underfoot elicits a look up into the smoke behind her. Two shapes move through the darkness, stepping out of swirling embers and black ash. One is a tall and dark silhouette carrying a gleaming sword in one hand, a shock of platinum blonde hair in a disheveled coif atop his head. The other is a young woman, covering her mouth and nose with the fabric of a woolen sweater of rainbow colors, her pink hair flecked with ash.

adam_icon.gif val_icon.gif

I know.” Kimiko’s rasps, flexing her right hand—the hand that her other self does not have—open and closed.

Open and closed.

Open and closed.

I know.

Asi closes her eyes and bows her head against the memory when she realizes what's happening– a misplaced sense of wanting to give privacy for this loss. It's still, comparatively, so recent compared to the rest of all this. But she opens her eyes before long, getting a good look at Adam Monroe directly and the teleporter Val in the process. Her mouth flattens into a line.

"You know, too, that he's been taken down. Power stripped from him. Praxis… destroyed." She reaches for Kimiko's hand to stop her from the loop she's entering into, holding onto it tightly to distract her from what she's sure to wake up to when they finally break free. Asi looks up to Kimiko with a solemn expression.

Kimiko nods, eyes glassy with tears, hands trembling in fists save for the one that Asi holds, an anchor preventing it from compulsive movements. She swallows down a lump in her throat and looks up at Asi with eyes she has not had since being in Optica. Gone is the soft-hearted woman, gone is the kind mother, gone is the doting sister. Nearly all of that has been taken away from her. What is left behind, stripped to the bone by the knives of reality, is a beast of lean emotion: anger.

Kaylee remembers hearing the news about this and her heart can't help but twist with sympathy. Loss was never an easy one for anyone. She couldn't imagine losing Joseph or Luther.

There isn't more Kaylee can do or even say, but stand and watch, at least until Adam steps out from the smoke.

Seeing Adam always stirred up a storm of emotions in Kaylee. Enough so that she has to turn away and walk away from the scene. She doesn't have a direction in mind, she just picks one and starts to walk. “W-we need to go. I need to get home to Carl, he must be worried sick…”

For once Gabriella is quiet; she stands, one arm wrapped around her own waist and the other hand up at her mouth, knuckles pressing against her lips. There are no tears in her eyes, but even she seems affected by what she sees, by Kimiko’s grief and quiet acknowledgement that this was – is? – her life.

She nods when Kaylee nudges them onward.

Daphne’s eyes are wet and she moves forward to put a hand on Kimiko’s shoulder, squeezing lightly. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers, tears of her own falling for the other woman’s loss on top of the own she feels – they are different kinds of grief, but grief comes in many guises – shadowy and suffocating, heavy and exhausting, or holes dark and deep and hard to breathe in.

“Do we know how long we’ve been…here? And not there?” she wonders, glancing at Asami.

The question is a good one. But one that no one voices an answer to. As Kaylee walks off from the small group, even such a tiny deviation from the space they’re sharing causes the landscape around to gutter and warp, for pixelation to reveal coral-like underpinnings to reality, for the fire all around them to become two-dimensional effects. For the whole world to—

Somewhere Else

Muffled voices in the darkness lead way to a crystalizing reality. Where once there was a ruined corporate office, now there is something more… mundane.

Suddenly, they find themselves in another living room, far different from that little apartment where Kaylee had been a toddler. Before details make themselves known, there’s an instant feeling that this home isn’t American. While not palatial, the space is decorated with rich woods and fabrics, and minimalism is not a known aesthetic choice it seems. Every wall is covered in a red and gold wallpaper; an ornate and gilded Orthodox crucifix with three bars takes pride of place above the mantle. Gold curtains frame a large window and outside, snow covers the ground.

Inside, a teenage girl sits, coltish with long legs and arms, in a short, shapeless gray dress in sturdy material atop a lacy white shirt – a school uniform. Her hair, dark blond, is braided in a coronet, and she wears no makeup, but it’s easy to see from the cat-like gold eyes and dark expression that it’s Gabriella. Across from her sit what are likely her parents – one, a robust, bearded man with dark eyes, the other a frail-looking woman with Gabby’s green eyes. A scarf wrapped around her head seems more a choice made due to illness, chemo perhaps, than to fashion.

“ты больше не можешь быть ее другом.” Her father’s voice brooks no argument, but Gabby stares sullenly at him, arms crossing. She fiddles with a friendship bracelet, old and faded, but still more colorful than anything else she wears – threads of pink and green create a chevron pattern in the little token wrapped around her wrist.

After a moment, she dares to speak. “почему?” Why is a fair question, but she has the tone that all teenagers have, making it clear she finds this new directive from her father as stupid.

The man studies her, trying to decide if he wants to address the tone, his eyes narrowing as he studies her petulant face. The woman beside him murmurs something to him. “Артём. мягко.”

“Потому что она урод. Она причинит вам боль. Эти люди, они убьют нас всех, солнышко. Вы понимаете? He looks earnestly at Gabriella, waiting for a response.

Gabriella’s scowl deepens and her jaw sets as she looks down at the bracelet. She pulls it free – it’s been there for so long that the knot is only hanging on by a few threads at this point. She rises, taking a few steps to stare at the bracelet, before she tosses it into the fire.

“Да. Она одна из тех, кого мы должны устранить.” Her voice is flat and cold as she watches the bracelet burn.

Kimiko looks up with unfamiliar eyes at her surroundings, searching the others for recognition. Being pulled out of the burning memory seems to have pulled her from a fraction of her fugue as well. It’s only when she sees Gabby—younger, different—that she understands where, if not when, they are.

It doesn’t take long for Gabriella to realize that the girl is her. “What in God’s name am I wearing? Nobody should wear that color. Ever. It is a color for Toyotas.” is her first response, before she steps forward, turning to look at her parents, before they speak. “Where is this?”

But even as she says it, there’s something about it that feels familiar, that feels like…home.

And then the man speaks; it’s clear she understands. Her eyes widen and she reaches down to scratch at her own wrist, as if the friendship bracelet still rests there. Her lips twitch, and she turns away as the teenage version of herself watches the threads burn.

Asi counts herself fortunate in the languages she speaks in that they number as many as they do, but this one is beyond her. The tract of the conversation is lost on her, but not the actions surrounding. She continues to hold onto Kimiko's hand just as tightly as before.

She manages the presence of mind to note, "Not some nobody from the Nowhere, Iowa Register after all." It's meant to be comforting. She has no idea if it is.

Watching everything unfold, Kaylee is completely in the dark. There is clearly something they are upset about, but what.. She has no idea. The language is pretty distinct. She looks to Gabriella for, hopefully, some clarity.

Gabby smiles in a distracted manner at Asi’s comment as she watches the couple rise, the man offering his arm to the sickly woman as they exit the room. Even though they don’t seem to see the women, it’s only after they leave that Gabriella gives a quick summary.

“He’s telling her she can’t be friends with someone anymore because she’s a ‘freak’,” she explains, uncharacteristically quiet. “She says they’re the ones we have to eliminate.” Her brows draw together, and she looks around, moving to a newspaper that’s been left by her father on the coffee table. It’s in Russian. “This is 2007. I don’t… I’m Russian?

Trying to smile, Gabby turns to Kaylee, “Where’s my old fairy godfather? Why do only you get one?” she demands of the other woman, before giving one last glance to the younger Gabby. The teenager turns around, her face tearstained after the burning of the friendship bracelet. She heads out of the room, taking a different door than her parents. The adult version of herself turns to follow.

A different look of concern manifests on Asi's face once Gabby provides translation. Once that goes into a more even keel, carefully neutral. Her head turns to Kimiko first, then Kaylee after. A question wants to burn forward about how Gabby feels about that encounter now, but she's still discovering herself.

So she follows after.

There is a subtle tightening of Kaylee’s jaw, but she doesn't say anything. Freak?. She doesn't move until Asi is following Gabriella, trying not to judge her just yet. People change. Kaylee isn't the same person she was when she was young.

For now, Kaylee will give her the benefit of the doubt and trails after.

Even as they turn to go, the living room shifts suddenly. Gone is the ornate decor; the walls shrink in size to a smaller room with walls papered by flyers and photographs and stickers. The floor hardens to concrete beneath their feet. The small bar they find themselves in isn’t much to look at, yet there’s something to look at no matter where one looks. Every inch of every wall has been covered over the years. Here, band gig announcements, movie posters and stickers for both Russian goods and those from other countries all coexist with little rhyme or reason. There’s no theme, no connective thread.

The bartender sits reading a newspaper behind a small counter that only two at most could stand behind; there are no bar stools but a few mismatched tables around the room. One of the walls behind the bar has an inset built in to house CDs, and the slim spines of the jewel cases create a flat surface. A CD player from the nineties plays a Motorama song, dark and moody, sounding like it’s 30 years older than it is, which suits the bar perfectly.

But it isn’t the bar itself that they’re here to see, it seems.

One of the dark-clad customers rises from the corner seat – Gabriella, grown, looking much as she does today but for the drab clothing she wears and a darker shade of golden hair. She nods to the bartender before moving toward a tiny corridor at the back of the bar, one that leads either to a single-toilet bathroom well advertised by the smell of urine coming from the open door, or a narrow stairway that leads upstairs. It’s the stairs that Gabriella takes – they’re barely wide enough for a single person; someone broader than usual would have to turn sideways to manage.

The Gabby who’s on this terrible road trip down sighs, as she trudges upward. “This place is gross,” she murmurs.

Daphne squints up at the steps and sighs. “Why do there have to be stairs?”

The stairs are narrow, steep, and unwelcoming. Old in the way they creak underfoot, allowing the walls to lean in claustrophobically. The darkly-dressed Gabriella ascends to a door plastered in partly torn-off band flyers. There’s a stencil painted on the door in red, like a greeting.


Gabriella opens the door, stepping into a converted attic loft. There’s one light on, a single club with a conical shade over a folding table laid out with a Russian street atlas. There, cast in extremes of light and dark, is a figure torn from the pages of Wolves of Valhalla. A ghost who should be dead.


Daiyu Feng regards Gabriella through round-lensed glasses. He picks up a roll of rubles and tosses them to the side of the table closest to her. “To start,” he indicates, motioning to the money with a gloved hand. Incentive.

Kimiko regards Feng with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. She had no personal experience with the Vanguard but knows full-well what they represented and who led them. Seeing Gabriella in this context, seeing a ghost like Daiyu alive, twists her stomach into knots. She shoots an accusatory look at the Gabriella who can see her, jaw set.

Right there is a positively unfortunate confirmation Asi had hoped not to see play out here. She didn't understand the sign on the door, but she surely understands who this is.

"Gabby…" Asi asks cautiously. "Is this still you?"

Welp! That is that. Kaylee doesn't wait for her to answer Asi and raises the rifle she’s been carrying, slung over her shoulder. The barrel of if pointed directly at Gabriella. In this world, the blonde might not know guns, but in her newly remembered life, she knew how to handle one.

Sorry, Gabriella. The ex-Ferryman might have trust issues. Kaylee wouldn't take any chances, but she won't kill the woman… even if she wants to.

“Keep your hands where we can see them,” Kaylee says far too calmly, with firm authority much like Valerie would have. Now blended with the other, everything made sense. They were her. “Anyone have a way to restrain her?”

"Kaylee," Asi remarks wearily, her own hands raising up by her side. Not in a gesture of surrender, but one for calm. "Please. That's… we're all still in this together." Her voice stresses for calm, even as she silently reaches for the subtle knife of weaponized telepathy in case it's needed.

Either on Kaylee, or…

She turns her head to Gabriella.

In the little tableau in front of them, Gabriella glances at the money with an air of disinterest – in that at least.

“I don’t want to be your landlady. I want to be your apprentice,” she says, leaning forward, her green-gold eyes glittering with what looks like pure reverence for the renowned man sitting in front of her.

“I…” Gabriella begins, tuning to look at Asi with wide eyes – she looks almost innocent, like a deer in the headlights, a stark contrast to the woman staring at Feng in front of them. But those memories are starting to click into place. Her name is not Gabriella Milos but Gavriila Miloslavskaya, daughter of Artyom Miloslavski, a cell leader of an anti-Evolved group.

“It was me,” she confirms, but her brows draw together. “I was raised to-” she swallows, and looks over at Kaylee, her eyes widening. “I think I feel differently now. And what am I going to do, lady? My ability is mental and only happens when I’m asleep.”

The walls of the little safehouse flat dissolve suddenly and they find themselves in an alley of the city; gray buildings strike no contrast against a sky the same color. Suddenly, the staccato of heeled boots can be heard behind them, and they turn to see another Gabriella running into the alley, flattening herself against a wall. She pulls out a phone – a cheap thing, obviously a burner.

они в баре,” she gasps into her phone. “Где ты?

Где ты?

Somehow they all hear it clearly – Feng’s voice, repeating the same question. The Gabriella in OPTICA translates, her voice flat with dread: “They’re at the bar. Where are you… Where are you?”

The rest of the conversation in Russian is quick, and Gabriella repeats it in English, her eyes staring at the woman in the alley as if she pities her.

“They didn’t see me. Where to, location two?”

“We cannot assume it isn’t compromised either.”

“Fine, just tell me where.” Gavriila’s voice is sharp. There’s no response from the other line, and she stares at her phone, brows knitting as she wonders why the call has dropped. A second later, the answer is given – not from Feng, but from the sounds of sirens and the thunder of feet as several politsaya charge into the alley, weapons drawn.

Kimiko paces around, looking at the architecture, the dreary gray skies and the drizzling rain that feels so real. “Reign of the People,” Kimiko whispers, piecing it all together. She snaps a look back at Gabriella, eyes wide. “Your father is the leader of Reign of the People?” The fury in Kimiko’s eyes is a flickering flame that darts between Gabby, Daphne, Asi, and Kaylee.

But then, to the burner phone.

Kimiko’s brows furrow. Her eyes narrow. “She was—” the technopathy she has in this simulation traces through circuitry, call logs, decrypting geopositional data. “He burned you.” Kimiko says, looking up at Gabriella with a hint of amusement as black vehicles marked with politsiya on their side come screeching to a stop at the mouth of the alley. Armed Russian police officers, some in uniform and others in plain clothes or body armor, train rifles at the recollection of Gabriella.

“He burned you to the Russian authorities.” Kimiko says with a curl of her upper lip into a sneer. She isn’t sure whether to pity Gabriella or resent her. She chooses both.

“Don’t you Kaylee me,” She hisses the words back at her angrily, visibly bristling. Then her eyes snap over to Gabriella, narrowing them at her with suspicion. One thing is for certain the rifle doesn't lower. “And you don't have to have an ability to kill or hurt people. Though people like Humanis First or the government always employed them.”

Memories broil at the surface of her mind where Asami can see it. Moments of sorrow and horrors inflicted on her and those she cared about. Trauma from years of fighting those who hated them for who they were.

Kimiko’s assessment of the ongoing scene goes far to take some of the tension out of Kaylee’s shoulders. She wasn't crazy to feel this way.

“What I want to know is why you ended up in here with the likes of us,” Kaylee half asks and half accuses. She motions at the memory, eyes never leaving Gabriella. “I know just about everyone who set out on the journey from outside of this world.”

Kaylee’s eyes search over Gabriella’s features. “But I don't know you, so excuse me if I can't trust you or your reasonings for being here.”

Asi furrows her brow before pointing out, "All of us want to know why we're here. For all we know, she was chosen and put in here because she's different, or because…" Her head turns to the ghost of Gabriella past, staring down the police. "Because she was already in a deep, dark hole no one would notice her going missing from."

She unfolds the invisible arm of her telepathic ability, reaching out to Gabby– intending on seeing for herself if the younger woman was professing to feel differently now out of self-preservation or sincerity. "In either case…" Asi asserts cautiously. "Until we get out of here, Gabby is one of us. She'd be hunted the same as the rest of us if she stayed, and we'll still need all the help we can to get free."

Tears fill Gabriella’s eyes as Kimiko explains what it is they’re seeing; the memories are crowding in, layering and overlapping the ones from her safe, happy life as a features reporter for the New York Times, and she shakes her head. “I… no. Yes. He… was. He died.”

She swallows, glancing at the woman that is and isn’t her as Gavriila falls to her knees, shaking hands rising and covering her head.

Gabby turns around and closes her eyes, but then they snap open as Kaylee speaks. “I don’t know why I’m here. I haven’t reasoned anything, for you to believe or not, Punchy.” Suddenly, her English, though still perfect, is colored around the edges by a Russian accent. “You want to punch me, like you did your friend that you do know? That won’t solve anything, but feel free. I’m tired of walking anyway.

Her emotions are conflicted, Asi can tell – the deep hurt of Feng’s betrayal is the strongest, coloring everything like a black marker scribbled on top of everything else. Somewhere below it lie a mix of hatred, envy and even self loathing.

Gabby’s arms cross around herself, and she looks from one person to the next, these women who have been on the journey with her. That she would almost call friends. Their faces are no longer friendly. “Can we… can we just go…” she murmurs, and turns to leave the alley and the forsaken Gavriila behind.

Kimiko watches Gabriella with furrowed brows, then glances over at Kaylee, Asi, and Daphne. In the background, the memory continues to play out, and the Russian police beat and drag her to the ground, violently arresting her and hauling her off to a van.

“We need to keep moving,” Kimiko says, looking away from the violence. “All of us. This only works if we all cooperate. We can pull out all our knives once we’re out of this hell prison.

There is a tense moment where Kaylee might clap back at the idea, but she hesitates and finally lets out a long sighed out, “Fine.”

The rifle is finally lowered and hung from Kaylee’s shoulder again. “Only, because the sooner we get to Vegas, the sooner I get to Carl and my gi— girls…” She stumbles on that word with brows lowering. They weren’t technically her girls.

That realization brings a sledgehammer like surge of emotion and a prickling behind Kaylee’s eyes, because all the years of watching them grow and thrive were there still. But they weren't real?

It was all starting to really sinking in and they didn't have time for that. Wiping a hand down her face, Kaylee struggles to get over herself, and motions them onward without a word. She’d bring up the rear.

“That’s not really a great incentive for me,” Gabby points out at Kimiko. “‘Hurry up so we can stab you later!’ Maybe you can put that on a mug or a t-shirt.”

Even so, she does move in away from that alley, turning her back on the Gavriila whose cries of pain echo in the alley behind them.

Daphne glances back, wincing as she sees the brutality with which the woman is taken down. “No one’s going to stab you, Gabby. I wouldn’t expect to be on their Christmas card lists.”

She reaches out to give Kaylee’s arm a squeeze, too. “You have Carl to get home to. Focus on that, yeah?” she says softly; Daphne remembers Carl, or at least that he existed. Once, she’d been close with Joseph, and that’s come back to her, too. She doesn’t point out that there’s no children waiting for her on the other side of this nightmare, that that was why she hadn’t wanted to keep going.

And for other reasons that she hasn’t quite come to grips with.

Asi reiterates quietly, "Getting out of OPTICA isn't the end of getting out of the situation," like the reminder is needed. "We'll be out of the frying pan, and into the fire." Calls for peace between them may not work forever, but she had to hope it'd be for long enough.

Her own expression goes hollow, gaze vacant as she follows after instead of leading now. The weight of everything they were leaving behind here, the weight of the world they would emerge into, and the fight it would take to get back home again is a heavy burden.

One made worse by the knowledge no one was out there looking for them. That they'd been replaced.

"… We just have to make it to Vegas," Asami whispers, clinging to the thin hope there truly is something better on the other side of this.

“Then how do we


—get. There?”

Kimiko feels like her voice didn’t even come out of her own mouth for a moment. There’s a sense of disassociation that comes from the sudden transition to sitting on the side of the road in the bombed-out remains of a sprawling city. Sand flows in dunes across a four-lane highway studded with dead palm trees in the median.

Kimiko tries to push herself to her feet but feels unsteady. Looking around, she sees the others, as if they’d just woken from a deep sleep in the scalding desert sun. It’s blindingly bright, searingly hot, and stiflingly dry. The city around them, though, is unmistakable. It’s Las Vegas, but one consumed by desert sands and abandoned.

In the distance, a passenger aircraft is crashed in the middle of the street, wings sheared off and nowhere to be seen. It looks like it’s been there for years, paint peeling off and metal worn down by the windblown sand.

Asami pushes herself up off of her elbows where she's sprawled on the ground, the abruptness of the transition making her feel a lurch– a sensation tugging at her that she needs to keep moving forward. She comes to her feet quickly, breath quickening.

Was it good things looked like this? Was it not? How could they know for sure?

A tightness in her chest, she volunteers up, "I'll look ahead. Make sure it's safe. I'll be– I'll be right back." The words are barely gone before Asami sprints ahead and up into the sky, using the first power she awoke with in all of this to guide her now. She's quickly a dark speck against the blinding bright of the sky, seeking signs of anything not broken down still existing in this wasteland.

“So much for sticking together,” Kaylee murmurs out flatly once Asi is up and away, watching her speed off on reconnaissance. A small part of her wants to just keep going, she was intensely worried about Brynn and Jac. While she fully trusted Gillian to protect them, as she was really their mother… Kaylee wouldn’t feel better until she laid eyes on them herself.

Glancing around her, Kaylee’s brows drop into a thoughtful furrow. It all had a familiarness to it. Crouching, she scoops up some of the sand and lets it run through her fingers. “The Dead Zone?” she asks, looking up at the one person she was sure would know what she means, Kimiko. That’s why it seems familiar on some level. One version of herself still remembers the glitz and glamor, the other remembers the news reports from a civil war. “I haven’t seen what Vegas looked like, but…” She runs a thumb over the grit clinging to her skin, but doesn’t continue.

Brushing her hand on her pant leg, Kaylee slowly comes to her feet again. “If this is real world Vegas. Why would we be seeing it like this now?” Curiosity was tugging at her relentlessly, pushing her to follow Asami. She needed to know why the real world was flooding into this one.

Finally, Kaylee gives into it and starts walking.

Gabriella rises, brushing sand off herself, then offering a hand to Daphne who takes it easily enough, and looks around.

“It might be what it looks like now, but we’re still, you know. Zeroes and ones,” Daphne says. “So we have to go wake our own asses up, however we do that.” She doesn’t sound thrilled about it still, but knows teleporting back to fake-Kansas or fake-Brooklyn isn’t going to do her any good, either.

Gabriella’s gold-green eyes scan the sky as Asami speeds away from them. She raises her brows, looking impressed, as she begins to follow Kaylee.

She does keep a fair distance between them.

“I still do not understand why I’m the only one without an ability in the real world,” she tells Daphne, whose brows furrow. The petite blond stays silent.

Kimiko gives Gabriella a thoughtful look, then shields her eyes again as she tries to track Asi up in the sky. “We can worry about that after we get out of this hell,” she says firmly, “and after every single person responsible for this is dead.” There is not a hint of humor in her voice.

Up in the sky, Asi sees so much wreckage and ruin. The desert has reclaimed Las Vegas, swallowing it up in shifting dunes. Most of the sprawling city is shredded by desert wind and disrepair, save for one tall landmark near to where they woke. A pearly white casino across from a crumbling black pyramid.

A casino marked with a name in dead neon letters at its crown.


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