All Roads, Part V



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abby_icon.gif caliban_icon.gif muldoon_icon.gif

Scene Title All Roads, Part V
Synopsis The OPTICA simulation begins to strain under the burden of non-compliance, and in Manhattan, Abby experiences the system's collapse first-hand.
Date March 19, 2021

"I hurt you. I'm sorry."

James Muldoon does not allow himself to reach for his wife, to cup her face in his palms, draw her to him, or any of the things his body is aching to do. He forces his posture to become a little more rigid to compensate and lets out a slow breath through his nostrils that isn't enough to deflate it.

"You look like a dog that got left out in the rain." Abigail's way of saying she accepts the apology. Her weight shifts from one side to the other, not quite able to lift her eyes up to his.

"I can say all I want, but, you'll have to either choose to believe me or we keep on as we’ve kept on." She looks down to his hands. She knows where he wants them to be, and why they aren’t there. “Do you trust me?”

Muldoon reaches a point where he can stand it no more and shoves his hands into the pockets of his suit jacket, back straight and arms stiff. Neck, too, even as he cranes it to look down at the top of Abigail's head and the halo of light produced by the glossy sheen of her soft blonde hair. He makes a low sound at the back of his throat, some sort of irritated noise that's too quiet to be meant for her. "Yes."

"Am I just really that, or are things… so far gone that you don't want to touch me James?" Her lower lip rises to meet the upper, then the two pressed tight as she looks anywhere but at him. Hands tighten on the handholds of the crutches, a glance behind her to see if any of her entourage is deciding to see how things are. "You hurt me, you're sorry, I hurt you, I didn't tell you what I did, and I'm sorry for that James. I could just… I could really just use a hug right now because for two days I have been here and I wanted to do was come find your room and bang on the door and tell you how sorry I am."

Sometimes Muldoon struggles to keep up with Abigail and process what she's saying in a timely manner. Sometimes her words run together; when they do, he drives mental wedges between them and pries them apart, forcing him to pause and reexamine what he thought he heard to ensure that the meaning he takes from it matches what she's struggling to convey. It's the only reason he hesitates.

Cautious steps close the distance between them. A hand comes out of Muldoon’s pocket and finds the small of Abigail's back, one arm hooked around her as he draws her carefully in with firmness that lacks ferocity but not an ounce of feeling.

She shuffles forward, tense for a moment then two before relaxing against him and working an arm to the small of his back regardless of how awkward it is with the crutches. Face buried into the lapel of his suit and fingers digging in with the fear she has that he just might let go, jump back and it was all a joke.

Only he's not the type to do that, far as she knows. He's also likely not the type to appreciate tearstains on expensive suits, so she reigns it in, leaving only a shuddered sigh, turning her face to the side, pressing cheek to his chest instead. "Thank the Lord something's going right.”

Abby closes her eyes and breathes against his chest. “Thank you James."

Two Years Later

Le Rivage Apartments
Battery Park City, Manhattan
New York

March 19th
6:37 pm

It was never supposed to be like this.

Seated on her sofa in the middle of what should be their home, Abigail Muldoon is forced to grapple with the emptiness of her husband’s passing. The way in which it turns their home cavernous, silent, and haunting. There is a small, ceramic angel on the coffee table in front of her. A gift James had given her a week after that argument. It was tacky, but it was from him. Now it’s just another memory of a life she can no longer live with him.

“If you want to do this another time, Ms. Muldoon, we can.”

Across from the sofa Dolores, a social services worker, sits with a patient and sympathetic smile. “But anything you can tell me about the environment these children might have been living in, and where we might be able to find Mr. and Mrs. Miller will be extremely helpful.” She still has her notepad out in her lap, creases of worry at the corners of her mouth.

It is a bad time. But, when is there ever a good time anymore?

“No, now is as good a time as any. My mother’s out with Dean and Katherine right now. I don’t know that I can rightly help you too much in truth though.” There’s a deep sucking in of air through her nose then let out in a deep breath as she looks at the little angel on the coffee table and then reaches out to adjust it just a fraction.

“Mrs Miller was my husband's employer and his boss. I only came across her a few times in a social fashion at work events that I attended with my husband.” Her attention goes back to the social worker. “I didn’t even know they had children. James never spoke of them to be fair.” Her voice catches on James’ name and she shifts, uncrossing her ankles and then crossing them again, shifting them just to the left.

In two days now, she’ll be burying her husband. “Where they are is, I don’t know where they are right now. I don’t rightly know that it’s Mr Miller that you have to worry about so much as Mrs Miller. He was much like myself, very confused and had the best interests of their children at heart. Mrs Miller was…” Abby frowns. “Unhinged.”

But then she shakes her head again. “I don’t know where they are at this time. I’m very concerned. Strange things happened and I cannot imagine just… leaving your children. Even with a detective who has children of her own. But they know, they certainly know who had their children. Mr Faulker called me to see how the children were. You could reach out to him, he likely knows where they are. He said that he would relay to them where their children were. There’s been no word?”

“And that’s, Isaac Faulkner?” Dolores asks, but it’s a rhetorical question. She’s already clicking her pen and scribbling down in her notebook. “When you called, I was obviously concerned about the children, but it does sound like you have reason to be concerned about Ms. Miller’s well-being, and potentially that of her husband’s if she’s being unstable.”

Dolores flips to a fresh page in her notebook. “Because this may be important in custody hearings, can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by saying she was ‘unhinged’? Was she violent? Do you have any reason to think she would—or has—harmed them?”

“Senator Faulker, yes. Isaac Faulkner” Abby confirms in her untempered southern drawl before Lips press together and there’s another deep breath then just as deep an exhale. “Unhinged. There was… a lot she was saying. That she’s blacked out and doesn’t remember some things and then remembers everything. That she didn’t have children, the children were not hers. Ma’am, she was saying that everything is fake. Nothing is real, we’re living in a machine.” There’s real worry in Abby’s voice and on her face. “Mr Miller was very worried about his wife. Said something about a cult and that all of her behavior was unlike herself. Dolores, he was a man adept and used to handling kids. He moved through a door with the kids in his arms and a foot hooking the stroller with the same skill that I have with Katherine and Dean. That’s a man who has been caring for them since birth.”

She’s so sure of it.

She lifts a hand, forefinger rubbing at the space between her brows as she closes her eyes to recall. “I don’t have reason to believe that she has harmed them. I was hoping that Mr Miller might come and pick them up at the precinct so that I could get someone to talk to him and see if he needed help of some sort. To talk to someone or if he needed the services of a shelter.” She licks her lips.

“She said that I have two daughters, not a daughter and a son. She… someone came in with a gun and just fired. He was already taking the children out and Mrs Miller just… walked to the person with the weapon and interposed herself between the person that was shot and the weapon and was crying. Telling them to kill her instead. I ran for the kids and Mr Miller to help him get them out of there but he couldn’t leave his wife in danger so he took me up on my offer to get the children out of there. If anything, I’d say she’s suicidal of sorts.”

Dolores stops writing and hesitates, then stares nervously at her notebook. There's a moment of silence before she glances up at Abby and then back down. “Discharged… a firearm?” Her brows knit together in worry. “I— I'm sorry, I'm having trouble following the sequence of events. Was this reported to the police?”

It's hard for Abby to follow the sequence of events too. For as sedate and secure as her apartment feels, there is something that has demanded her attention. Behind where the social worker, Dolores, is sitting is a tall window overlooking the city. And in that window — a phantom in reflection — is James Muldoon. He stares in reflection, directly at Abby, watching her with hawkish intensity.

“Ms. Muldoon?” Dolores inquires, looking up from her notebook at the silence. “Was that incident reported to the police?”

She’s staring at the window. Her right hand balling into a fist, fabric of her skirt bunching in turn, pinched and pulled by fingers as her breath catches in her throat. She has to close her eyes and take a deep breath. The social worker is talking to her. As if it were an adult in a Peanuts cartoon.

It takes her a moment to parse the trombone-esque noise into actual words from the woman's mouth before opening her eyes and looking to Dolores, trying to avoid the window lest her heart just separate in two. One can die of a broken heart. This is a thing. She gets it now.

“Uhm, yes. Yes. I called it in before heading to the station with the children. Handing them over. Giving my report” her free hand reaches up to rub the side of a forefinger along her forehead and then looks to the window. “I reported it. I’m sure of it.”

“Of course,” Dolores says while jotting something down in her notebook. “Do you know where the Millers are now? Where they said they might be going, and if they were with anyone else?” She sits forward in her chair, folding her hands over the notebook in her lap.

In the reflection of the window behind Dolores, Abby can see Muldoon shake his head slowly and lift a single finger to his lips in a shush gesture.

“It’s imperative that we find the Millers, you must understand.” Dolores reiterates. “Any information you have could help us find them.”

She’s a woman given to belief in angels, if higher power, omens. Hard as it is for her to believe that they are just hooked up to a machine living in a fantasy world, this ghost in a window is something just this side of believable to her. She has no reason to do what it seems to ask of her. Nothing at all. Yet…

The ghosts problem however is that Abigail Muldoon nee Beauchamp is one of the shittiest liars this side of the Hudson. She knows where they are going. “I understand the urgency to locate them given what has happened.” She looks out the window and does her best to speak truth without speaking the truth. “As I said, the Senator seemed to know. He knows where they are. Where they are going. Mrs Miller needs help and Mr Miller needs to be reunited with his children so he can take them someplace safe. A DV shelter even. I don’t know what cult she has gotten herself and others into but it is not safe for the children. I can give you the number that I have to reach him.” She offers, looking at her purse on the counter in the kitchen.

Skim milk version of truth. Just enough truth to maybe make it believable. She looks to the window for the reflection, yearning to see her husband again. Even if he might be her mind breaking or a sign from god. She hopes, internally, begs for it to be the latter.

“Cult.” Dolores repeats after a prolonged silence. She clicks the back of her pen, jotting that single word down with as much acerbic quality as she spoke it. Looking up from her pad, Dolores fixes Abby with a thoughtful and silent stare, then folds the notepad closed and recrosses her legs.

“Ms. Muldoon.” Dolores says with a crease of her brows. “I appreciate your concern for the children, and for the Millers, too. But the most help that we can give them is if we can get to them in time. If there’s any details you can remember that you haven’t already mentioned,” she notes with a gesture to the pad in her lap, “please do tell. I’m going to deliver everything to the appropriate offices, and I have no doubt everything will be fed to OPTICA to help predict their movements. But the more you share, the better.”

Muldoon’s reflection in the window behind Dolores takes on a more dour expression. He shakes his head with a slow, disapproving gesture before looking down to Dolores, then back to Abby. His stare is fixed, emotionless, but at the same time intense. In that same moment, Abby can feel a hand on her shoulder.

Muldoon’s hand.

Standing next to her, making that same inscrutable expression.

“Ms. Muldoon?” Dolores asks, pitching her voice up. She cannot see him.

Her head is turned, eyes to her shoulder and looking to the hand that’s there. That she can feel as much right now as she did when he was alive. Dolores words wait outside the wall of her mind as she tries to process and reconcile the reflection in the window with the hand on her shoulder. Lips parted just a fraction as her breath plays out over her lower lip and she stares at that hand and forgets to breathe. Forgets to inhale. Doesn’t hear the query from Dolores nor see the look from the woman because she’s looking at that hand. Studying the nails, the skin, the fine pale hairs that would populate the lower backs of the fingers. She yearned. He appeared. Her gaze follows that hand up to the face that she knows too well.

Suddenly she stands, knee crashing into the coffee table and the little angel is jostled enough to tip over and a crack appears in a folded wing. She remembers to breathe in finally. “I think I’ve helped you all that I can.” She winces, hand coming to her knee before she’s heading to the hallway and the door that leads out of her home. “I’ll give you the senator's number, the station will have my statement about the events that happened and the cult that was there. I need you to leave before my children come home Ms…” She can’t remember the last name. But that doesn’t stop her from limping to the door, putting her hand on the doorknob but not turning it yet.

“I hope Optica can help you where I can’t. I think we both know that it surely can.” It’s insincere. She looks back in the direction of the couch and the window but not Dolores. “I’ll pray for the children to be reunited with their parents as swiftly as possible. God has funny ways of answering prayers.”

Dolores stands, seeming like she wants to say something, but lacks the right words of conviction to stop Abby from leaving. She clutches her notepad to her chest, eyes diverting down to her phone on the arm of her chair. She picks it up and puts it in her bag, moving to the door wordlessly.

“Thank you for your compliance,” is Dolores’ farewell before Abby lets her out into the hall. By the time the door is closed at her back, Abby can feel her pulse in her neck without touching it, feel it in her tightening chest. It’s somewhere between an anxiety attack and a psychotic break. The grief counselors she’d been working with had warned her of moments like this, but if this was a hallucination it felt more real than she was prepared for.

Her apartment is silent, save for a familiar rattling of pipes in one wall when the upstairs neighbor uses the hot water. Muldoon isn’t there anymore, not behind the chair, not in a reflection. It feels like the room is spinning, like the heat is cranked. Suffocating.

What the hell is happening?

She moves away from the door toward the kitchen when Dolores is good and gone. There is a moment of hesitation before dipping her head around the corner of the hall into the well-used kitchen where she’s met with gleaming pots hanging above the island, breakfast dishes in the sink, spice rack filled with its glass bottles all neatly labeled with their contents. Expecting him to be standing there and ready to dissect what that woman was doing in their home.

She finds nothing.

But it was like he was real. She felt him.

Her feet carry her down an adjacent hall where she starts opening each door swiftly with one hand, the other holding onto the wall like it might keep her upright even as she’s fighting to suck in enough air. The woosh of the door swinging open and being met with Katherine’s room, then Dean’s, the guest room with her mother’s things, the bathroom then the master. Each one she’s met with no ghost. Just her breathing and her heartbeat thundering in her ears. There’s no one else here. Just her staring at the bed and James’ side. Neatly made, nary a wrinkle. The whole bed was made. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to sleep in it and had been sleeping on the recliner in Dean’s room.

She moves back to the living room to sink down onto the plush couch and squeeze her eyes shut. Hands press to each side of her cheeks, elbows on her knees as she mentally scrabbles to cling to any shred of sanity that she might have left in that moment. An attempt to ground herself instead of letting everything carry her away even as tears course from her eyes and slide around her palms to drip onto her knees.

“You’re a ghost.” She gasps on an inward breath. “You’re dead. You’re a ghost. It’s in my head. I’m just going crazy. I’m just going crazy.” Rocking on the couch, the pads of her feet pushing her back and forth.

Focused inward as she is, Abby doesn’t notice some of the external things happening in her home. The way the lights in the kitchen are flickering, the way the sky outside looks off and pixelated. Clouds guttering like candle flames. It takes something immediate to get her to recognize it, and that takes the form of the television turning itself on.

«Robert.» Abby hears her own voice through the television.

Cue the movie music. Brunette in a pair of jeans and a black apron pushing open the emergency exit from the bar into the dirty alley. Look stage left, look stage right, focus on the tall blonde guy who's making swift strides away from. Cue dashing past the fluttering police line tape that's since been ripped down. past the darkened dirty pavement that will never quite be clean of the blood spilled.

«Robert.» She keeps saying that name, but the only other person on screen is Muldoon.

And he can hear her say it — fresh-fallen snow muffles the rumble of Manhattan traffic, the slush squelch of tires rolling messily through melt water and grit. Even the music that leaks out of the bar when Abigail pushes open the door is a whisper in comparison to the blood drumming in his ears as he moves toward the alley mouth at a brisk, even pace.

It isn't until she's shoving through the police tape and in true pursuit of him that he stops, hands closed into fists at his sides, and turns his head just enough to track her approach in his peripheral vision and give her a view of his hawk-like profile.

"I'm sorry."


"Again." Abigail doesn't seem to at the moment care a whit that it's cold or snowing and she's in a tank top. "I wasn't thinking, I don't do that to everyone. Are you… okay?" She asks this yet again, when he'd answered before but that didn't include an exploding beer bottle at the time.

Something about all of this feels at once hauntingly familiar and decidedly alien.

"You're not cut, not… anything?" Out of the alley proper she emerges finally, sinking her thumbs into her jean pockets, hunching shoulders in while looking him over. "Thank you, for protecting me in there."

Shards of glass too small and blunt to pose a danger glitter in Muldoon’s hair and in the dark fibers of the greatcoat he wears over his suit. There's no blood — the only thing that could even come close to passing for it are the stains on the front of his dress shirt where he was sprayed with beer, and these appear a sallow shade of brown rather than red.

He doesn't say anything at first. Pivots instead, showing Abigail one side of his long, lean body illuminated by the glow bleeding into the alley from the street lamps beyond it. A gentleman would tell her that it was no trouble, that she's overreacting and that the touch was nothing.

He isn't particularly feeling like a gentleman anymore.

It’s only now that Abby realizes she’s not on the couch anymore. She’s in that snowy alley, she’s the one in the tank-top with her thumbs hooked in the pockets of her jeans and he’s—

real. Here.

Wherever here is.

She shivers. It’s cold out there and she’s no longer in the skirt and sweater in a heated apartment. The realization that what was on the TV is now where she is and her husband (But not?) is in front of her and giving her the long predatory look.

She looks away from him for a moment to look around the alleyway, hoping that it does look familiar in truth and not in the nagging back of her mind way. But blue eyes find their way back to the man in the alley and hesitantly, one foot slides behind her as if she might walk away. But she doesn’t.

“This happened before… the drive home that one time…” She looks to the ground, the sky then back to him. “What’s happening? I shouldn’t be here. You’re supposed to be dead and I’m… losing my mind while waiting for my Momma to come home. I’m burying you in two days James… Robert…” She’s confused. “What’s going on?”

Muldoon turns to look at her, brows knit and head tilted to the side. As he steps forward through the snow, he steps in and out of shadows in the alley. Each time he does his face changes, from one man to another and back. One is her husband, the other— the other—

“Stop.” Muldoon says, wearing the face of her husband. He reaches out, one hand hovering near her arm but not quite touching it, as if he’s afraid to. “Stop fighting.” He says with a tightness in his voice and a sadness in his eyes. “Stop running.”

Rather than touch her arm, he reaches up to brush his knuckles against her cheek. His hands are as cold as the night air. Though he doesn’t say anything, his eyes speak volumes of regret. Through the partially-ajar door to the bar, Abby can hear the sound of a television broadcast of some kind. Faint, distant.

«Mr Caliban, you are now before this tribunal and you are within the jurisdiction of it. You will be tried by the tribunal. You will be accorded the full rights of the accused, according to international law, and the full protections of international law and the statute.»

“Stop running.” Muldoon pleads.

She keeps her eyes locked on his even as she hears the broadcast inside the bar. “You’re not there either are you.” A faint shake of her head. “She was speaking the truth, wasn't she. You’ve been dead for years. But I have a child.” She licks her lips then swallows hard, closing her eyes and leaning her face into the cold hand. Her own hands coming up to grasp and hold them close, palms closing to either side of his as if she could preserve the moment. Even as she listens.

«The trial chamber will treat your response as a waiver of your right to have the indictment read out. The next part of the procedure is to move towards having that indictment put to you.»

“I buried you already.” Spoken on a soft sigh.

«Mr. Caliban, you may if you wish have time to consider your plea.»

In that moment she makes the choice to stop running like he asks. To stop fighting everything.

«The rule allows you up to 30 days to do so if you do not understand the matters to which you have to plead, or you wish to consult council before entering a plea.»

“None of this is real.” She opens her eyes and looks up at him. “How do I find them? They’re going to need me won’t they.” It’s not a question, it’s a statement and realization. “They can’t do whatever they need to do without me. It was all of us or it wouldn’t work Ms Tetsuzan said. How do I… help get us home… where we belong. Just drive?” Drive west. To vegas. “When I get there… will I know where to go?”

«On the other hand you may enter a plea today.»

She looks like her world is falling apart around her but she’s accepted it.

«Now do you want to enter pleas today or are you asking for an adjournment to consider the matter further?»

“You already know the answer.”

«I plead guilty.»

Somewhere Else


It is dark.

Abigail Caliban wakes up as if from a nightmare, rising up out of a shallow grave of shifting sand with a hoarse scream. The air is blisteringly hot, the sky a deep shade of red fading to orange. It feels like dusk, except the sun hangs overhead like the unblinking eye of some great mythological deity.

A fully-eclipsed sun hangs overhead and hot wind blows across the flat expanse of a dusty desert. There is no marker for the grave Abby woke up in, just a shallow trench by the side of the road. A windswept, cracked stretch of highway leading toward… a city.

What rests on the horizon isn’t the Las Vegas of lore, not the glitz and glamor, not the neon and fountains. It isn’t the getaway she experienced during the long winter in New York. It is a city swallowed by the Nevada desert, with cracked monuments and fading splendor. It is the Las Vegas of the Dead Zone. It is the Las Vegas of the world beyond this illusion.

Seeing it, even though she had never seen it in this life, causes memories to come crashing back like a tidal wave. Faith, the Ferrymen, her healing power, its loss, the war, the Albany Trials, Robert’s execution, the NYPD, her father, her life. It all comes crashing back with a violent headache that, when it subsides, leaves her with not one emotional scar over her heart, but two.

It’s jarring, another transition but less gentle than before. She’s scrambling to her feet as the hot desert sand scorches and spills off of her. She slips a few times in the grave as she gets her feet under her and fingers pressing to the ground to help her steady and rise even as whatever happens isn’t done with her quite yet.

The heels of her hands press into her eye sockets and an animalistic scream slips from her as the life of Abigail Caliban comes crashing into her memory to take its place beside Abigail Muldoon. To overlap in so many places where they can and in some cases shouldn't. Causes her to rock on her feet unbalanced and have to take a few steps back. She falls back on her ass in the sand and it leaves her panting softly and staring off blankly when it’s over and her mind needs that moment to adjust and account for everything. Both parents alive, both parents dead. Two children, born of her body. There’s a third that’s hers by choice. Things are hard to separate in her mind. She lets loose a long wail out into the desert air around her. A noise to mark the loss of a life that maybe, just maybe would have been enough for her. Her hands close around stones that she picks up and throws with all the energy and anger that she can muster.

She falls silent then, looking at the eclipse happening, the sickly shade the sky has turned to. Abby drops a hand to the ground and twists in spot, not trusting her legs quite yet so she can look around. Vegas. A dead Vegas.

Lips parted as she pants softly, sand in her hair and sticking to her scalp, she can see the ruins. She’d know the answer. She’d know where to go. Abby stares dumbly at it before she makes her way back up to standing and does one of the hardest things she can think of.

She starts heading toward the ruins, one foot in front of the other even as wind blows sand across her skin. Somewhere in there, in the ruins, is the way out, the way home. Back to her children. No. Not her children. Her child. Back to her father. Back to everyone though she doesn’t know what’s waiting for her or them -back- there.

Abby moves onto the road and once feet contact pavement, she starts to jog toward the destroyed city.

Praying that she’s not too late to help get them out of whatever this is.

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