All Roads, Part VI


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Scene Title All Roads, Part VI
Synopsis On the long road to Vegas, long-lost secrets and deadly truths are unearthed.
Date March 19, 2021

“It’s no good,” is a crushing thing to hear.

Warm sunlight spills through the tall, mill-style windows of a converted art studio. Jacelyn Petrelli feels like she’s walking naked through the middle of the city for how vulnerable she is right now. But it’s worse than that, more humiliating. The canvas she stands beside depicts a vibrant sunset sky dappled with streaks of blue, green, and pink where the spiral arms of an aurora radiate outward from the black disc of an eclipse. The cityscape below is crumbling like old autumn leaves, drifting up into the sky, drawn into the darkness of the eclipse’s penumbra.

“It’s childish,” is like a smack across her face.

Isaac Mendez is one of the most celebrated painters in the New York art scene. It had taken her months to get a meeting with him and required her mother to pull more than a string or two. She had come to meet him for a critique of her work, for something she could action on to improve her technique. For an apprenticeship. Not—

“I should never have agreed to this.” Isaac says, scrubbing his hand over his mouth as he stares at the painting. “This isn’t worth my time. I really—I have so much to do and they really lied to me about your skill level.”

Tears well up in Jac’s eyes, her chest tightens, face flushes red. She can feel her lower lip trembling. She’s trying not to sob in front of him.

“You’re just a kid.” He says; words like daggers in her chest. “You need to grow up.”

One Year Later

94 Miles West of New York

Just Outside Scranton

March 19th
6:48 pm

Getting out of New York City was only the start of this adventure.

Walking along the side of the highway, nearly a hundred miles outside of New York, Jac Petrelli feels at once lost and found. It is a painful struggle to reconcile that the worst memories of her life were fabrications designed specifically to tether her to an artificial world. But the further she gets from New York, the more it feels like those memories are clawing at her from the inside, trying to remind her how real all of this felt. How visceral the emotions were. It feels like coming apart at the seams.

Up ahead, Gillian walks side-by-side with Brynn, the setting sun ahead of them casting long, dark shadows that Jac walks in a few paces behind. They’d abandoned their car five or six miles up the road when it just… stopped working. They haven’t seen another car on the road for the last two hours. On a major highway to one of the largest cities in Pennsylvania.

It’s strange. It’s quiet. It’s wrong.

The faint scuff and slight stumble of her own feet pulls Jac's focus from the brooding introspection. Isaac Mendez was so mean. How can anyone be that mean? But also maybe he was right?

Each mile walked has given her the chance to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, Mister Faulkner was right and Asami really was batshit crazy. Except there's no denying that she can do extraordinary things, she and her sister and everyone else that’s trying to make this trip can; but it's hard to believe that literally everything in her life was all made up. Even mean old Isaac Mendez.

And who would she even be outside of everything she knows right now? Who were any of them?

Jac shrugs, as much to answer her own questions as to adjust the backpack that hangs from it. Her share of nonperishable foods and the small tokens of personal comfort weigh as heavily as the invisible hands that try to pull her back home. The home in this world, not the one they're meant to be searching for. Her eyes follow the elongated and sinuous shadows ahead of her, to their owners' backs. Her mouth half opens to speak, not for the first time, but no words form. Her brows knit and she looks aside to huff a breath.

With her next step, she kicks a rock to the side of the curb. As it clatters hollowly, a weird and unexpected pang of fear twists in her chest. It’s a childish fear that’s fitting of a childish painter. There's no one around, no cars or trucks or anything and there hasn’t been for hours. There's nothing to be afraid of. Except maybe the nothingness itself.

It’s those scary thoughts and the sharply recalled humiliation, those fingers that still try to tug her toward her home in New York City, that keeps Jac from joining Brynn and Gillian.

Brynn walks with Gillian, her hands shoved deep into the pockets of her jacket. Since the walk began, she's been mostly quiet as well. It's eerie as hell out here, and she murmurs finally, "Could you talk to me a little?" Because the totality of the strange quiet makes her feel as if there is no life in the world. And since the day she got her implant and started to hear sounds, she's enjoyed almost every sound, except the sound of silence.

Her voice trembles a little as she asks the favor, because honestly… she has no idea what to talk about. There is so much going on in her mind, she cannot properly parse all of it, but there are some major things happening. "Do you think Mom and the others are all right?" She bites her lip, finally asking, "Do you believe that we're really going to be okay at the end of all this, Aunt Gilly?"

The diminutive slips from her lips with ease, though it's not something Brynn usually uses. The sounds of their footsteps on this pavement in the most empty part of Pennsylvania she's ever seen or even imagined feels like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. "If this world is a dream and we all wake up… what if we're so much worse off? What if we're actually dead there and no one knows it?" Because they're taking so much of this on faith. It's a faith that Kaylee clearly shared because she was willing to allow her children to go along. But… Brynn is with Jac in her doubts about all of this. She isn't entirely sure she wants to leave her life behind and wake up in some strange place where things are not the same. She saw a movie like that! She doesn't want to eat gruel!

It should probably be getting colder as they walk into the sunset, but instead— the air around Gillian seems to be getting subtly warmer. At least it’s not bursting into flames, but there’s that small shimmer aura of heat around her that she can’t quite get rid of, that acts as a furnace and keeps the chill of the night away at the very least. It had been hard to accept what she had been told, but she knew that something was wrong, had for a long time now—

That no cars had met them on the road, not a single one, led credence to everything they had been told. Even more than what they had seen so far. Even then, she had left her son behind. And she clung to one tiny hope.

That Nicole Miller wasn’t wrong or lying.

“I’m sure Kaylee’s fine. She’s very strong— stronger now than ever, even,” she says quietly to Brynn, not even exaggerating. She had always been strong, in different ways. And now again. “Even if everything in our lives is made up, there are some things you can’t make up. Some things will be real no matter what. As for who we are out there— I don’t think we’ll know for sure until we get there…”

It probably wasn’t the reassurance the girl wanted, but… “It sounds like we’re family there, still, though.” That’s one thing they would have. She glances back at Jac as she says that as well.

Coming around a bend in the highway as they walk, Gillian, Brynn, and Jac are confronted by a visual anomaly bristling up from all around the roadside. There's an easel where a freeway signpost should be, upon which is hung a painting of classically-painted sunflowers in a cubist-style vase and a background that looks like stained glass. At first it feels like it's simply reality glitching, except it's more personal than that.

It's View Askew, one of the paintings that Isaac Mendez said was childish. One of the Paintings Jac Petrelli loved out of her older portfolio. One of the paintings she destroyed after Isaac Mendez destroyed her self-confidence. But there it is, a few hundred feet away, standing on the side of the desolate freeway.

Compelled by the voices of her companions, Jac’s eyes lift again. The urge to argue churns uncomfortably in her stomach and she allows it to build. She has so many questions and worries and probably Gillian and Brynn do too. Maybe if she just starts talking too, it’ll help her shake off the strings that still tie her to everything she knows. She takes a breath to gather her thoughts and turns her eyes to what’s ahead.

A painting — her painting that she destroyed — isn’t at all what the younger Petrelli is expecting to find. Not on top of everything else she’s trying to process. It blows everything else from her mind and a screechy, “No!“ replaces all of the other words she’d been collecting.

Reason and everything like it evaporates as she pushes between Gillian and Brynn and past them. She’s still yelling. It doesn’t have any words, but it’s full of all the emotion she’d felt in the moment a year ago: the crushing rejection, the anger, the impulsive and absolute need to destroy those things.

Those awful, childish, immature things she believed was art. She’d tried so hard, wanted it so much and now…


Jac, the rubber soles of her shoes scraping roughly against the pavement, lurches into a run to break past Brynn and Gillian. It’s no good. Cheeks flushed red, tears threatening to sting her eyes, she raises her hands to punch through the canvas. It’s childish. Like a force unleashed, she takes aim to rip all of the pieces apart, to break wood and tear canvas and stomp an end into those awful memories.

As Brynn glances back at her sister, Jac's eyes come up. She has a moment to smile before she turns back around and is confronted by the painting. And there's another moment where confusion crosses her features. Why is there a painting in the middle of the road? Just as she opens her mouth to ask the question, Jac pushes from behind and races up to assault the easel and its contents. "What in the— Jac?!" The tiny brunette pulls her hands out of her jacket pockets and starts forward, then aborts the movement. "Jac, what are you doing?"

She used to watch her sister paint. Some of Brynn's favorite photographs that she's taken are candids of Jac while she was painting – the light in her sister's eyes, the intensity of her attention, the joy when she finally got an image the way she wanted it. Her gray eyes take in the painting that Jac is destroying and she realizes it's one of Jac's own. And that in and of itself is weird as hell. Unease creeps up her spine, and she looks around like something else crazy is about to happen. It's like the woman in the park disappearing – it's something that should not be here and her heart starts hammering in her chest. "Can you… can you see that painting, Aunt Gilly?" Because last time… last time, other people couldn't.

“I could see it,” Gillian says in a soft voice, surprised at the sudden outburst of rage by the younger teen, her niece of sorts, looking curiously at the painting, but not quite knowing the significance. She wished she had spent more time on these girl’s lives— especially now that she knew that— maybe— her relationship with them was more real than her relationship with—

No, she didn’t want to think about that right now.

“I don’t think it was there a moment ago, but we all saw it, right?” It’s not like the shadows in the — No, it was probably exactly like the shadows in the room. “This is the first thing we’ve seen in a while.” Something unnatural. Something—- also familiar.

To at least one of them. “Do you recognize it?” she asks Brynn, even as she moves closer, a crackle of fire dancing onto the ends of her fingertips.

By the time Jac is finished demolishing the painting all that’s left is a splintered frame, torn canvas, and a lifetime of regret. Hands trembling, eyes glassy with tears, Jac briefly glances back at Brynn and Gillian, and when she looks back to the ruined painting there’s four more. Each an identical representation of View Askew, showing a crooked city skyline as seen out of an apartment window.

To Brynn and Gillian the paintings just appeared without pomp or circumstance. The moment Jac looked back to them. To Jac, it was as if they just showed up while she wasn’t looking. Worse is the horizon down the road where once the city skyline of Scranton had been lingering in a haze, it is now…


The city of Scranton on the horizon is askew at a 45-degree angle, blurring at its edges where it meets the more level horizon. It flickers and gutters, at once seeming impossibly unreal and terrifyingly real.

Shoulders heave as Jac pulls in a breath. Seeing the painting that shouldn’t exist, seeing it four more times, is like vinegar poured into a salted wound. Like being kicked after falling in the mud. Her hands tighten, fingers curling around a foot-long scrap of broken frame, every muscle tight with the intent to do violence to the newly appeared paintings. The one thing that stops her from committing another murder of art is the realization that something is… off.

It happens in two parts, like a double take. Blue eyes bounce against the tunneling of her focus because she notices the oddness of the skyline. And then they raise in earnest upon recognizing that the skyline isn't right.

Her arms go slack, her shoulders sag, as she stares at the skewed horizon. For a minute she wonders if the whole world opened up and began swallowing the city. It seems ridiculous, but then so did being invisible, like she was never there, and that happened. And there was the time the lawyer just disappeared and everyone forgot her like she never existed.

It's all proof that Asami was right, and that means they need to keep going.

Jac looks over her shoulder, wondering if Gillian and Brynn are seeing the same thing. Maybe even to take and give strength with — her head swivels and she looks at the horizon again — whatever that is. The younger Patrelli takes a deep, brave breath and takes a step forward. The stick in her hand is swung to knock down the nearest painting. Her other hand comes up to push over the next nearest as she keeps walking, making a pathway.

"I recognize it," Brynn acknowledges slowly. "It's one Jac was… unhappy with." No; it's one that someone made Jac unhappy with. Brynn had tried to cajole her sister out of believing that asshole 'cause who cared what he thought, but his opinion had hurt her little sister. To her, it was unforgivable so her opinion of the man has been in the toilet ever since.

She moves when more paintings show up, grabbing Jac's arm. Though whether that's in solidarity or in terror is another question altogether. She swallows hard, her eyes caught on the same skyline out in the world. Her stomach feels queer, like it's rolling inside her body – not a sensation she's particularly comfortable with. The angle of the cityscape in the distance is giving her flashbacks to the vertigo she used to experience after the initial cochlear implants surgery. Trying to figure out the source of sounds disoriented her in the beginning. This though… it's an utterly terrifying piece of evidence that they are not crazy. There is something wrong with their world.

But… there's no real usefulness to having an existential crisis in the middle of the road just because there's proof you don't really exist.

"Jac? You gonna be okay?" she asks softly of her sister. After so much destruction and the emotional impact of that particular painting turning up, it's the one thing she can wrap her head around. Making sure Jac is okay.

“Based on your reaction— I’m going to guess this is some kind of distraction…” Gillian resolves after a moment, looking into the distance as everything looks— wrong. The paintings had certainly distracted the young woman for a moment, and stopped them for a time, but— “I’m concerned what other distractions there might be.” First the car broke down and they had to walk, then the landscape didn’t seem to lead them any closer to their destination—

Now paintings that obviously hit a nerve.

“We keep going. Remember that anything we see here isn’t real. Just us. We’re the only things that are.” The three of them.

“Not the paintings. Not that city in the distance. Not this road…”

And not the son she left behind.

A car approaches from down the road, but before it can pass by them on the freeway it disassembles into a series of blocks of flickering light and then vanishes entirely. There’s a ripple that passes through the road when it vanishes, like the surface of water with an edge of crackling light. It’s like the world is coming apart at the seams.

At first, when Brynn takes hold of her arm, Jac’s persistent march stutters like an engine freshly run out of gas. Her eyes stay fixed on the skewed horizon. And, when asked if she’s going to be okay, it seems for an entirely whole minute that she’s deciding if she’s going to answer or not. She huffs a breath. A tiny bit of her anger escapes with it.

“I don’t know,” Jac settles on as her blue eyes slide to the road, drawn by the sound of the vehicle approaching. It’s the most honest response she can muster, following the open display of hatred toward her own artwork. Blue eyes follow the approaching car as she thinks about, really actually thinks about, if she’s going to be okay. With everything that’s happened, the attacks and fantastical abilities and everything? And what if this whole trip turns out to be wrong? Will any of them ever actually be okay again?

Her mouth opens to begin voicing her thoughts and concerns but, before she can say anything the car disappears. Instead, it’s sounds, like words but not, scrambles in her throat. It’s just like what happened to Justice. Well, not just like but near enough that the exact details aren’t as important. And it tugs on the younger Petrelli’s impulsivity the same way she ends up tugging her arm free of Brynn.

Jac pulls herself away from her sister and away from Gillian and makes a mad dash for the ripping ground and last fragments of the disappearing vehicle. At two steps short of the distortion she pushes off the ground, launching and throwing herself into the wake like she might dive into the surf at the beach.

And she does.

But Jac jumps like a porcelain doll falls, and shatters into as many pieces when she hits the scattered light. It is terrifying to see from behind, the way Jac simply is there one moment and then on a whim is scattered like a broken plate thrown to the floor in anger. Except there isn’t even a fragment left to pick up, she’s just gone and that radiant puddle of shimmering pixels continues to crackle in place.

The sound of a car coming brings gray eyes up from her sister and for a moment Brynn thinks maybe things aren't what they believe. That somehow reality will right itself and they aren't somehow stuck in a dream world where they're not even real.

And then the car falls apart. The petite brunette stares in horror at the sight of the thing literally deconstructing. It's even worse than that time in the park! Her hand on Jac loosens in shock and Jac makes her move. Brynn scrabbles for, again catches the arm of, and loses her grip on her little sister in a split second as Jac hurls herself at the blocks– and then she's gone!

Brynn's whole body jerks like she got hit with electricity and she screams. She can't stop screaming. "Jac! Jac, no!" Her guts are twisted in knots and she wants to move, to look for pieces, but she's rooted where she stands in terror. "Jaclyn, come back!" Tears flood those gray eyes and Brynn's knees give way. She crumples to land on them on the ground, sobbing "No, please no," as she stares at the spot where her sister just vanished. This can't be happening.

This can’t be real.

Gillian thinks to herself, rejecting what she sees in front of her. Except she was supposed to be real. That young girl was supposed to be real. And outside of this place they were—

The air heats around her, shimmering. There’s a burst of light and a small explosion of fire around her hand, rippling up her arms, and leaving her clothing a sooty, burned, and melted mess. The blackened soot covers her more than the clothing does, leaving her standing there trying to push the flames back down all over again. The flames weren’t the same this time, though, they weren’t— red?

Perhaps because the emotion was different. It wasn’t anger bringing out the fire this time. It made the flames flicker with almost a bluish-purple light. “Jac?” she calls out into the night, voice hoarse as she continues to smolder, stepping a little closer.

The space of distortion crackles and sputters, reverberating with an electrical buzzing noise. The patch of broken landscape and partial-vehicle looks like a pixelated mirage, entirely one-dimensional as Gillian approaches it. The thing is only visible from one angle, otherwise it simply flattens into non-existence. As it sputters and cracks, it also shrinks, like a slowly-evaporating puddle of water.

Neither Gillian nor Brynn are of the mindset to notice that the trees are blowing backwards against the wind, or that neither of them are casting shadows. The emotional shock of what they just witnessed is too great. And yet, the world continues to deteriorate around them.

"No!" Brynn's terror is palpable. "Don't go too close! It might suck you in!" Like it did Jac. Like it did that person in the park all those weeks ago. Tears flood the young woman's eyes and roll down her cheeks as she kneels on the road there, staring at the anomaly. "Aunt Gilly… please don't." Her gray eyes flicker up to the older woman and she implores, "You're all I have out here. I… I can't do this by myself! I don't want to …" She doesn't want to die in the middle of this road all alone.

The younger woman’s begging draws Gillian’s attention away from whatever burning hole she had been falling into mentally. The flames smolder and spark a little, but then she clenches her hands into fists, and it dies back down, leaving behind the charred soot of burned clothes. “She’s— probably okay,” she manages after a moment, trying to sound reassuring, but her voice shakes too much for that to really work. The intent is there.

“The real her— she’s probably okay.” She has to be, right? Instead of following toward the road, she reaches a hand out to take Brynn’s. Her hand’s still warmer than it should be, but at least she’s not on fire. The black soot smears on her face in tracts as tears slide down. “You’re not alone.”

But she wouldn’t admit that she wanted someone beside her just as much. “But we do need to keep going— we can’t go back anymore.”

No matter how much she wants to.

When she takes Gillian's hand, it is with a desperate grip. Brynn climbs slowly to her feet, holding back sobs as much as she can. She swallows hard, unable to suppress a sound of pain. "I don't know what to say to my mom. I can't tell her that my stupid-ass sister yeeted herself into a crack in the universe and pixelated! So she has to be alive!"

She looks up at the sky trying to force herself to breathe more calmly and then nods, her breath hitching in her chest as she keeps on trying to be brave. She's an adult, she shouldn't be acting like a scared little kid … right? "Let's– let's go. I can't–" She stands close against the taller woman and whispers, "If it's all true, if we wake up somewhere else… maybe she's not my sister there. But I don't care, I am still going to hug the stuffing out of her." And then maybe beat her with a flip flop. She cannot bear the thought that she just watched her little sister die.

It's a desperate play to convince herself that they're all not mad. There has to be a reason.

It’s an unfathomable thing. Watching what happened to Jac happen only to have to leave her behind, or move on without her. But there’s no sign of her, no speck, no fragment to ever indicate she was here on the road. Struggling with this revelation, yet determined to continue, Gillian leads Brynn away from the shimmering fissure Jac leapt into.

Each step down the road past the fissure feels like a dozen. Even looking back at the shimmering crack in space, it feels like it’s following Brynn and Gillian. Or, perhaps not getting closer, but getting larger. Like a forced perspective trick of the eye, old Hollywood magic optical illusions. And with each step away from the fissure, the landscape around them changes. Asphalt takes on a brittle, porous texture like sun-bleached coral. The sky is banded with color lines, as if there were only a handful of shades of blue with which to depict it.

Then, suddenly, the sound cuts out.

No birds, no breeze, no breaths.

The sound cuts out and—

Somewhere Else

The sky is pitch black, streaked with tracer rounds. Low, thudding vibrations shake the ground; distant explosions light up the night with blooms of fire and smoke. Up ahead, a line of cars is on fire. The glow illuminates the city street, casting Washington D.C. in a hellfire hue.

Gillian Childs stands amidst the wreckage of a car, blood streaming down her forehead and one side of her face. She’s limping, boots crunching in broken glass, assault rifle braced to her shoulder, advancing down the middle of the street toward an SUV flipped upside down, wheels still spinning. She can hear something inside, it sounds like a fight; growls, screams, guttural noises of violence and pain.

But this is not Gillian. Or if it is, she has no memory of this moment.

Brynn and Gillian find themselves on the periphery of this carnage, watching a woman who looks identical to herself, dressed in body armor and smudged with soot and grease, walking through a warzone in the nation’s capital. Still, there is no sign of Jac in this nightmare.

As the world returns, forever changed, Gillian squeezes the hand she’s holding as the only source of sameness. They were the only things that hadn’t changed, and as she looks upon someone who— could be her? — she can’t help but find the differences. This might be what she would have turned out to be in a world torn by war, perhaps. While she had joined the police department, she had never done so to become a street officer or a detective. She found her solace in the records and felt like keeping evidence secure and the records available would bring about justice for those who had lost loved ones.

Like she had lost Peter.

But this—?

“Is this— me? Am I some kind of soldier?” It could make sense, depending on the state of the world. She would fight for those she loved and against injustices that would harm them. It was safer to watch from the outside, in a way, but… “I’m not sure I like this.”

But they had to keep going— she’d said that.

And just like Brynn, she was not looking forward to telling Kaylee she lost one of her kids. So she wasn’t letting go of this one. Holding on firm, she keeps moving, but can’t help but follow the sight of herself even if she felt this twisting anxiety in her throat.

Brynn freezes as they are suddenly somewhere else and then she instinctively curls into Gillian's side and flinches in terror at the nearby explosions and shooting! "Oh my god!"

Where the hell are they now?! She looks around, confused by all the noise. She's rugged along and allows herself to be because she can't even fathom not just now.

"This better not be a boss level! I don't like shooter games!" Yeah, it makes no sense. Although it does kind of. "Aunt Gilly do you think they're trying to stop us getting out… or is something glitching?" Cuz like those portal things that swallowed Jac. If things are glitching, maybe her sister really is dead. The idea makes her feel sick to her stomach. And more explosions have her flinching and crouching a bit as they hustle along. "Where are we going to go!! We've backtracked like 300 miles east or something, right?!"

Glass blows out of the upside down SUV as Brynn talks, followed by a woman who ejects herself from the car with a push of her legs. She slides across the ground on the back of her body armor, rising up into a crouch with a blood-covered knife in her hand. Her right leg is bleeding, there’s a cut running from knee to ankle, blood everywhere. Gillian doesn’t recognize her but there’s something familiar about her.


Gillian advances on Hana, rifle trained on the SUV. “Is he dead!?” She shouts, but the look on Hana’s face is a snarl. “Hana is he dead!?

He wasn’t inside!” Hana snaps at Gillian.

As Gillian and Brynn watch this scene play out, a low-lying vapor creeps between some of the vehicles, coalescing into a bald man with hawkish features in similar body armor to the three. There’s blood running down the side of his face from a cut on his cheek. His hands are spotty with it too. “Mitchell must have been in another vehicle. We need to fall back. See if the others had more luck.”


Overhead, the sound of helicopters draw near.

In many ways everything in front of them was both completely insane in appearance— and somehow familiar all at once. Gillian couldn’t help this gnawing anxiety building in her chest as she watched, putting herself physically in front of Brynn on instinct enough so that the younger woman would have partial cover if anything happening in front of them was— real?

How could it be, though?

“It has to be some kind of— memory? Or— “ she tried to figure out how she could be looking at herself right now. She recalled Kaylee’s story about what was going on with her, but no, that had always involved mirrors, right? The only thing close to a reflection out here would be the bend of light on the edge of the horizon.

“Like what Jac was seeing, maybe, the painting. This time targeting me…” She squeezes Brynn’s hand. “If anything happens to me, you’ll probably see or hear something next. Whatever it is, hold on. We’ll be waiting for you.” If she focuses on the young woman with her, she could make it through whatever this was.

Speechless in her shock at the explosions all around them, Brynn holds tightly to Gillia, her hands fisted into the back of her aunt's shirt. "My God," she whispers. "We're gonna get shot. If we die in here, do we die out there too?" That old pearl of wisdom has always been if you die in dreams, you die in the waking world, right?!

Gray eyes flicker sideways to see the man who coalesces out of smoke and she just gulps hard. "Don't suppose we could just … ask for directions or grab a car or something, huh?" she tries to quip in a shaky voice. The sound of more gunfire makes her flinch and she automatically looks in the direction it came from. "We've gotta move, Aunt Gilly. We're just sitting ducks out here like this."

“We’re sitting ducks out here,” Vincent says, eerily echoing what Brynn just did. The Gillian of this moment looks at Hana and hooks an arm around her shoulder when she notices the other woman limping, though Hana pushes it off. “Come on,” Vincent emplores, offering out a hand. “We can’t stay here.”

We can’t stay here.


Thunder rolls over the land and lightning fills the sky.

Jac wakes up in a cold start, feeling rain blowing stinging against her face. The sky above is darkening, not just from the stormy gray clouds that flood her vision but from the approaching of a deep and dark night as well. The bus stop bench she awakens on is soaked in rainwater and a howling wind blows the rain sideways down a desolate street lined with abandoned cars.

At first Jac is forced to grapple with the surroundings she’s in, with the blistering cold air and hurricane force winds. She can see the Brooklyn coast from the bench she’s seated on, sees the crash of churning white surf crashing up against the breakers. An oil tanker sloshes back and forth in the Hudson river, listing aimlessly and caught on powerful waves. There are no lights anywhere, just howling wind and driving rain.

Manhattan, across the river, is nearly unrecognizable and looks like something out of a nightmare. A walled tomb of jagged, broken fingers grasping up at a cloudy sky. Lightning tears through the sky, brightly illuminating the dark landscape for a few flickering moments. Storm drains overflow, rats scurry past on the street to avoid being swept up by rising tides crashing against concrete breakers. The storm is intense, unrelenting, and threatens to swallow the city.

Knees tuck up against her chest and arms hug tightly around them in a real first effort to shield against the cold. Jac’s eyes wander, squinted against the driving rain and wind and darkness, trying to find something that would place where she could possibly be even as her body shivers and shakes in the deep deep cold. In some ways she recognizes things, like the river even in the dark and even with the surging waters, it strikes as recognizable in the way that streets passed so many times are remembered. But the rats, the water coming out of the storm drains, the skyline

A strong chill makes her shudder as she stares up at the jagged, broken tops of the Manhattan skyline. “Wh… where…” She was on the highway just a minute ago. Somewhere between New York and Las Vegas. And now she’s… “Where…”

Jac’s teeth chatter, and the question is swallowed in exchange of peeling herself up from the bench. Answers won’t be found sitting here and freezing. Arms stay crossed over her chest and her hands tuck into her armpits as she takes some halting steps forward. Water swirls and splashes with her steps when she starts walking away from the bench, blue eyes sweep all around as she moves away from where she’d woken up, searching for… anything that might make sense.

There’s just the wind and the cold. Biting, bitter. There’s a point at which cold stops feeling cold, though. Jac feels that illusory warmth, mostly in her extremities. There’s sleet in her hair, collected on her threadbare clothes. She smells of sweat and garbage, shoes barely held together by layers of duct-tape. There’s grease, grit, and grime on her skin. Small cuts, bruises. She’s so thin.

Lightning strikes again and the wind gusts, driving the river up onto the land with a resounding crash. Sea spray hits Jac’s cheeks and prickles like tiny knives. Ice crystals begin to form on the bus stop bench. The wind is only getting stronger. It feels like at any minute it will just blow her away.

Jac starts to turn a small circle, but she startles and stumbles when lightning strikes unexpectedly and loudly overhead. Her heart hammers against her chest and she looks wide-eyed toward the sky for an instant. Her eyes squint against the sleet and driving rain, and after a second she hunches her shoulder against the freezing wet, against the fear swelling in her core. Her feet start to move again, slowly, almost woodenly with the chill, sloshing through the street with zero aim, but some half formed purpose to find shelter and figure out what she should do.

She turns as she walks, angling herself away from the street and toward the sidewalk. Her nose feels hot and she sniffles, eyes sting but no tears escape when she blinks. Worry keeps her casting about, looking this way and that, searching for somewhere she could shelter from the storm in. Maybe a phone she could try to call… who could she call?

“Somebody.” Her voice comes out mousy and small, wavering with the uncertainty that turns her answer to her own question into a question itself. Jac squeezes her arms tightly around her middle for more warmth, feeling the tattered clothes and her own thinness for the first time. It makes her pause and look down at her frame, confusion stirring. When did this happen?

Blue eyes squint to slits against the driving, freezing rain as her head swings frantically left and right. “Somebody,” she calls again, wishing against doubt, hoping against fate that someone is outside too. Panic threads into her voice, giving it a reedy sound, “Please. I need… I need help?”

The storm answers with a crack of thunder and a flash of lightning. Mother nature’s version of get fucked. There is nowhere to shelter, just darkness and crumbling cityscape, bombed-out ruins that look like something out of a movie.

Waves crash against the shore, wind howls with flurries of freezing rain and sleet. It clings to Jac like a sheathe, and as she recoils from the cold that’s when she sees… herself. Thin, pale, in threadbare clothes matching the ones she perceives herself in now, wrapped in the tattered remnants of a blue tarp. Jac watches herself collapse onto her knees, trembling from the cold, soaked to the bone, hypothermic.

And that’s when she sees the wind slow. Not everywhere, but in a bubble around her other self. The snow is pushed aside, the sleet driven around her, as though her other self existed inside a snow globe and the rest of the world was pushed beyond the glass. Out of the darkness, a wiry figure steps into view. His hair is wild and unruly, a thick beard covers his face, and he looks for all his worth as skinny as Jac is, but decades older.


Jac watches her other self look up at this wiry old man who kneels down in front of her and catches her as she passes out. He picks her up as if she weighs nothing, and they are both shielded against the wind and the rain.

The rage of the storm drives her closer to the ground, like being smaller makes her less of a target, and the cold has sapped enough strength that it’s easier to stop than keep going. It puts her closer to the rising waters and slush and, half crouching, she stares ahead into… not nothing. Her. Shivering, Jac stares at… herself. She raises a shaking hand to brush ice crusted hair back from her eyes, baffled. Just steps ahead, and suffering the same as she is. How can she be in two places at once?

More thoughts and questions chase the first. Could this be the real her, the one Asami was talking about? Could this be the world they actually live in, where it’s storming and dark and frightening? But even as they swirl and smush like playdough in a small child’s hands, she dismisses all of that when the snow and the wind suddenly stop badgering the other her. She suddenly surges forward.

For the first time since finding herself in this storm and hopelessness, Jac feels hopeful. It gives her the energy to pull herself toward the other her. If there’s a bubble of safety there, if she can reach the other her, they can share the space and wait out the storm together. She clings to that idea, making small sounds of frantic and fearful hope as her feet slog forward, half stumbling in her rush only to skid and stop short on her knees as someone appears out of the darkness.

“Wait.” Jac reaches toward the pair as the man lifts the other version of her off the soaked ground, hand and arm shaking as hard in the chill as the rest of her body as she pulls herself back to her feet. Lurching forward, splashing as she half trips in her haste to reach the two. “Please.” Heat stings in her eyes and nose in contrast to the blistering cold and wet. “Hey! Wait for me!,”

He doesn’t wait. Because he can’t hear her. Because he doesn’t need to. Because all of this already happened.

Because suddenly the cold rain is replaced by a damp chill, because the violent wind is replaced by a gentle breeze, because the sleet is replaced by a thermal blanket. Jac wakes in a sleeping bag in a ruined apartment, lit by a flickering oil lantern. The old man sits there with her, holding a can of Campbell’s soup in one hand, cutting open the lit by pointing the index finger on his other hand at it. An invisible saw.

Jac’s vision blurs and tunnels, consciousness ebbs and flows in shifting patterns of scintillating awareness and near catatonia. The old man holds the can up, concentrating, and the contents begin to bubble and steam as he heats them from within somehow.

Slowly, the old man rises and shuffles over to where Jac lays, then eases himself down into a crouch with the pop of weary joints. “You need to eat,” he grumbles, setting the can down beside her sleeping bag. Then, remembering something, he produces a plastic spoon and slides it into the soup. “You have a fever. You’re sick.”

But that both is and isn’t Jac. She watches herself from outside her body, standing by the still intact windows, listening to the wind howl against them and the rain hammer the glass. Lighting flashes outside, and Jac doesn’t cast a shadow. Because she is not really here.

Because here is…

Jac squeezes one eye closed and squints the other, trying to find an anchor in the elusive familiarity of it. Of here. Of being here. But it's like trying to catch a fragrance that tantalizes and teases; it's gone as soon as she tries to land on it. Her squinted eye squeezes shut as hard as the other and she takes a step back. In the darkness behind her eyelids she tries to draw what she’ll see when she opens them again. She takes another step, and then on the third she cautiously opens her eyes…

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

“Remember. Safety on at all times unless your firing.”

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

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

“Always keep your barrel angled toward the ground when not intending to shoot a target.”

  // deallocating the memory

  return 0;

“And most importantly… never point a gun at someone you don’t intend to kill.”


Brian Winters stands amid a grassy field surrounded by a dense forest of thick pines. The air is crisp and cool and there is a dappling of recently fallen snow caught between the patches of brown grass. Across from him is a group of children, most of whom are around twelve or thirteen. One of whom…


…is deaf.

Brian shoulders his assault rifle with its strap and uses both hands to sign to her. Safety on at all times. Unless shooting. He begins, careful and slow. He doesn’t know ASL properly, but that makes the pidgin sign language he’s teaching his kids both hard to decipher and simple, for now. Point the gun down. Barrel down. He repeats showing where the safety is, and how to keep the gun down. And never, ever point a gun at someone you don’t want to kill. He signs that last part twice, just to make sure it’s clear.

Because it needs to be clear.

Because thirteen year old Brynn has an assault rifle in her hands. So do the other children.

Gillian and the adult Brynn watch this scene from the periphery of the field. There is something haunting about the blonde man directing the children, and the name Brian comes to both Gillian and Brynn at the same time.

Brynn's heart is in her throat as things shift and they're suddenly standing in a field instead of a city street. Part of her has no idea what that sign language is… but part of her knows exactly what the man just said. "Brian," she whispers, uncertain why she knows his name… but she knows his intense expression. And she watches herself handle that weapon with both caution and familiarity. The younger Brynn isn't afraid of the rifle in her hands, she is focused, an expression of determination overlaying reluctance. The older Brynn can see that for whatever reason, her younger self accepts that she needs to know these things and is giving the man teaching it her full attention.

"Wh… what is this?" she whispers to Gillian, gripping her aunt's arm tightly. She has this sense that she should know these kids but she doesn't. She sees the seriousness that the children have to their expressions. What kind of life do they live that this is normal to them? Brynn is horrified.

On the one hand, Gillian doesn’t remember any of this— on the other… “Brian?” Somehow she knows his name, more than the people she’d seen before in the warzone. She’d recognized them somehow, like a memory of a dream, but he felt even more familiar— like… “I don’t know. I feel like I should know him, but— “ She looks at the children, and the weapons and—

She feels sick.

Too many of them are Nate’s age. And far, far too many of them are even younger. She recognized thirteen year old Brynn as that girl who had been adopted by her almost-sister-in-law.

Absolutely none of them should be holding a gun, much less learning how to fire one.

Unless you intend to kill.

“This— this can’t— this isn’t what the real world is like is it?” She had been so set on continuing forward, on leaving behind everything if only on the hope that what Nicole had said to her on that bus had been true—

The more she sees those memories she didn’t even have, the more she wonders if she is wrong.

“The next thing you need to know, is a gun will only get you so far.” Brian says, and this time when he does he steps to the side and splits into two identical copies of himself. One who speaks and holds the rifle, the other who signs for Brynn. “Your abilities can be a weapon too, if they have to be. Even something that you don’t think can help defend you can.”

Brian points over at one of the young men in the group. “Luca here, he feels vibrations as different scents. It’s not fancy, it’s not flashy. He’s not turning into a ball of fire like—” one of the other children, a teenage girl on the end of the line, is smoldering. “Kelly, no. Stop.” The girl stops smoldering and frowns. Brian gives her a brief look, then points back at Luca. “See, that means that even if Luca can’t see he can still smell.

Walking up the line of child soldiers, Brian looks at once concerned and confident. One is trying to hide the other. “The only reason I’m telling you this… is because you need to know how to defend yourself if it comes to it. There’s a whole world of people out there,” he says, gesturing toward the treeline, “who’ll try and hurt you. Just because God made you different from them.”

“Shouldn’t we… try and kill them all, though?” A boy on the end asks, hand raised like he’s in a classroom. “Because if they’re all dead, then we aren’t in danger anymore.” The Brian handling the sign language fires a sharp and disapproving look over at him, but the one doing the talking speaks up first.

“No, Cody.” Brian says firmly, walking back down the line to Cody. “No, that’s the way of thinking that got us into this mess.” He admonishes, gently. “All this eye for an eye stuff just leaves everyone blind. It’s gotta stop somewhere.”

Brynn jerks against Gillian when Brian splits into more people, and she breathes out a soft sound of distress. "These things we can do… these powers… people want to kill us for them out there too?" she whispers. Her gray eyes tear up and she looks at these kids, all of them holding weapons, and beneath the bravado Cody just showed and the determination on the faces of others she can see their fear.

"My God, Aunt Gilly…" She turns her face into the older woman's shoulder. "Are we just… escaping one jail to land in a world where we are… all soldiers?" Something in her stomach tightens and she pulls back as she feels something else in with the dismay. The sense that this man Brian's words are important to her; that these kids, that she holds onto the idea that hate has to stop.

When she looks back at the children, she studies their faces. They are familiar in the same way a dream is familiar – just a feeling that she's missing something. "Are these people us… or is this just something that they're trying to scare us with?" she wonders. The idea that they're leaving their lives behind to go to a world at war makes her sick to her stomach.

“This isn’t us. It isn’t me. I don’t care what kind of fucked up place we come from. I would never support this…” Gillian could feel the heat rising under her skin, deep in her chest, growing in her eyes. Part of her wondered why she felt she should love this strange man— and yet. She somehow felt like she wanted to set him on fire at the same time. “How could someone allow something like this?”

She wanted to stop this. To end the sight of it, it just kept playing in front of them. Thankfully none of the children’s faces struck her the same way that Brian did. The same way that young Brynn. But those two were bad enough. “They’re just making me mad,” is what she says in response to questions on if they’re trying to scare them. “Stop watching, Brynn. We need to get out of here. Before I set fire to this place.”

Cause she’s very, very tempted suddenly, the more she watches this man train child soldiers.

But as Gillian’s denial of her reality turns inward, the forest collapses around the children and Brian, funneling downward in a sensation of sinking. Soon, the crisp mountain air is replaced with a humid warmth amid the swirling darkness, and flickering glimpses of light dance between waves of shadow that soon unravel like inky black muscle fiber, bringing with it a steady downpour.

The nighttime city street isn’t immediately identifiable, and yet Gillian feels as though she’s been here before. Because of the car parked on the sidewalk nearby, rain hammering down on the roof, on the windshield, streaking in forking paths down the driver’s side. The radio in the car is not turned up loud enough to be heard from outside, but she can feel the lyrics vibrating in her teeth, pounding behind her eyes.

There are two people leaning against the car. One of them has dark hair swept down one side of his face, stubble, a scar. Peter Petrelli.

The other is her.

Peter moves his hand to the back of that Gillian’s head, nose brushing against hers, and his free hand moves up to take a bottle from her fingers, and let it fall with a sloshing clunk to the pavement, then gently guides that hand to the small of her back.

"Just… think about one of them, about the feeling…" He whispers against her cheek. "Feel." He breathes out the words, lightly brushing his lips over Gillian's in a testing motion, leaning in and against the shorter woman, pinning her between the rusting frame of the car and his damp jacket.

In the car, on the radio turned down to just a whisper that might as well be a roar, is a familiar song pounding in near-muted silence over the speakers.

She'd have been fine if things melted away, but the view of things whirling like that makes Brynn lose her balance. She grips Gillian and makes a sound of distress, burying her face against her aunt for the moments that the world seems to be spinning even when it's not. The sound of bottle clunking to ground brings her eyes back up.

And whoa, Nellie! Gray eyes go wide and then Brynn turns her head to the side and tries very hard to pretend not to see Peter making out with Aunt Gilly. She barely remembers him – she was very small when Nathan Petrelli died in the accident with his brother. She barely remembers Nathan himself – just a few snapshot memories here and there, of a man whose eyes always softened when he looked at her, with an expressive exasperation when he fumbled Signs. The vague memories of Peter are accompanied by a hint of uneasiness even as she peeks just a little. Cuz… that's kinda hot.

"Wow," she can't help the soft giggle. "That's… a little bit more'n I wanted to know, Aunt Gilly!"

If the other images had been making Gillian angry— this image evoked an entirely different set of emotions. The giggling of the young woman barely out of her teens at her side brings even more color to already brightening cheeks, and she can’t help but look away. The voice tugged on her memory, even if the face didn’t look quite right. It had been so long since she’d heard his voice outside of recordings and family videos left behind. It sounded deeper than she remembered, but it was still him.

“This is not funny. Whoever you are behind this.” Cause this was not something that ever happened to her, was it? But somehow she could almost feel it. “Brynn. I— I need to let go of you. I’m sorry.” Brynn can feel why she’s saying this, cause her hand is getting hot. It’s not feverish hot, but hot like the radiator in a building. As she lets go, she steps back, moving away from Brynn, because that heat is rising and rising. It had been boiling up when the anger hit her, but now.

Now it rose for another reason altogether. “He’s alive. He’s alive. Outside of this place, he’s alive. Nicole told me. She said that he was alive. That’s why I left. That’s why I came. That’s— That could be us. Couldn’t it?”

The Gillian of this moment in time slowly inhales, lips remaining parted as she feels the toying breath against her skin, the touch of a nose. Her free hand reaches up, to grasp at the arm of his jacket, even as he traps her against the car. Even as lips brush against hers.

Her eyes slide shut. The hand tightens on his sleeve. The testing brushes get a rather forceful return as she pushes up against the pressure keeping her pinned against the car.

"Think," Peter exhales into the kiss, eyes shut, fingers on one hand sliding through a belt loop, "remember."

The word remember hits Gillian like an icepick behind the eye, a sudden and forceful sensation. A blow to the head. Warm blood on her brow. From where she stands beside Brynn the world buckles and warps, but only from her perspective. There’s a sensation of vertigo and disorientation.


The boxes of photographs in the police archive. Donovan. Her job. Her—


Not that.


"C'mon, purple's your favorite color, right?" One of Peter's brows raise as he takes a step towards Gillian, smiling crookedly to her. "I'm a pretty good guess with that sorta' thing, y'know?"


"I ah— " Peter jerks his head back, motioning into the kitchen, "I just cooked up some pasta, I ah— didn't have any meat, but— you know, sauce and noodles isn't entirely terrible." Grimacing a bit, he leans one shoulder against the door casing. "There's… uh- there's enough for two, if you're hungry?"


"We can do that sometime, if you want…" His lips creeps up into a lopsided smile. "Just— you gotta' call first." There's a laugh, an amused one, and Peter reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out his cell phone, flipping it open with his thumb, turning it round and holding it out to Gillian. "C'mon, put your number and address in there. Tell me where you're staying, and I'll make it up to you as soon as I can. I'll bring you lunch, and you can watch your movie." He flashes something of an awkward smile, head tilting to the side. "Until then I'm holding it hostage."


There’s a tension in Peter’s voice. A moment where he’s waiting for the worst to come. “It always ends the same.” He says, squeezing her hand.


“One of us, gone.”

An involuntary scream erupts from Gillian as she erupts into a pillar of fire. The expression of her ability turns the scream to a crackling roar as she drops onto her knees, blue flame rolling harmlessly off of her back and shoulders, flowing down to the ground in incendiary curtains. Brynn can feel the heat so intense, and it burns away the scenery as if it were made of thin paper.

Behind the vignette of the past there is nothing. Darkness. Emptiness.

Tears wet Gillian’s cheeks, sizzling away. She does not remember crying them. But she does remember everything else. Her life, their life, her daughter, her family. Everything Asami had told them was real. But, so too, was this.

And that, she understands, is why she’s crying. Because the memories of the woman who was placed in this simulation live side-by-side with the woman who was born in this simulation. Their hopes, dreams, fears, loves, and losses were all the same. Only the fire is an illusion, and as it dies down and turns to wisps of smoke, Gillian Childs is whole again.

It's embarrassing to witness such intimacy. Brynn's small laugh was just an expression of that embarrassment, really. As her aunt steps to the side, though, Brynn's expression shifts to alarm. Aunt Gilly's power is kind of scary! The younger woman inhales sharply and backs up a few steps to give the fire room, and her gray eyes go wide.

"Aunt Gilly?" Terror rips through her belly and she watches in horror as the older woman flares with power, half expecting to see her burn away. It's enough to make Brynn herself instinctively phase to insubstantiality, her unconscious wanting to escape the fire if it happens.

It takes a moment before Gillian hears what Brynn says, or perhaps for her to process what was said more accurately, but when she does, she blinks and looks at the young woman in a completely new light. A young woman who can hear her. “I’m fine.” Aunt Gilly. It sounded both strange and right all at once. “It doesn’t have to end that way this time.” That part wasn’t said to Brynn, but to the memory.

Thank you, Peter. She was whole again. And she now knew what she was really missing.

“We need to find Jac.” A few moments ago, Jac’s disappearance had been a concern, but now it felt like a giant gaping hole in her life. Now that she remembered, she could feel the panic that hadn’t been there at the time.

But it was a panic she could control. Because she also knew that Nicole had been right. Asami had been right. They were right.

“Jac!” she yells out into the air as if the young girl wasn’t very far away at all. “Squeaks!

Her voice rings out against the recollection of night.



Jac opens her eyes. The storm is gone. The ruined city is gone. And her surroundings have become an Alice in Wonderland experience. The furniture is massive, a table looms over her with the size of a one story building. The carpet she stands on feels ankle deep, couches and chairs are like high walls.

“…I’m glad you understand the severity of this situation.”

A man with a New Jersey accent sounds like a giant. His voice emanates through a doorway into a kitchen where a heavy-set man with wisps of gray hair on his head sits across from a rail thin man in glasses. The large man with the Jersey accent is shuffling through some paperwork.

“There’s a lot at stake with this project. Obviously when two very powerful and very well-connected people are interested in something there’s a lot of strings involved.” The big Jersey man says, setting the papers down. “Obviously Mr. Linderman has his own vested interest in your work, but I’d like to talk about another interested party in Jacelyn.”

They’re talking about her.

“Who is that?” The thin man in the glasses asks.

“We’ll call him a silent partner for now. He and Mr. Linderman had a bit of a falling out and he’s had to, ah, step out of the public eye. But rest-assured he is not someone you want to get on the bad side of.” The large man says, folding his hands.

“We had an arrangement, Maury.” The wiry man says with fear in his voice. “It’s been five years, and you want to make addendums? You do realize I can just say no.

The large man nods, spreading his hands. “You can, that’s… super true Stefan.” So the wiry man’s name is Stefan. “But you could also, y’know, pick that pen up…” and as the large man says those words, Stefan’s eyes turn to the pen on the table. Shakily, he reaches out and grabs it. “And you could bring it up to your eye…” and Stefan does that as well, raising the pointed end of the pen to his unblinking eyes.

Maury. Stop.” Stefan hisses.

Maury raises his brows, leaning forward. “That all depends, Stefan. Do you really think you can still say no?

And like Alice, Jac is curiouser and curiouser. Fingers reach cautiously to touch the carpet, while her eyes wander up and up, trying to place where she’s at now. Her interest grows with each word that Maury and Stefan but it piques especially when she hears her own name. Her heart jumps and the flutter of worry that follows mellows the rising wonderment at where she’s found herself now, replacing it with a steady trickle of concern. Who are these two and why are they talking about her? Who’s interested and why?

She creeps around the foot of the massive table for a better look at the men, eventually even walking several steps backward as she cranes her neck. “Stefan,” she echoes, unsure about the name. “Stefan.”

Those backward steps stop dead when Stefan picks up the pen and follows Maury’s instructions word for word. “Wait!” Her eyes squint, face half turning away. Jac makes a sound that’s half disgusted and half frustrated, even though she’s not the one about to lose an eye. But, for some reason, she can’t stop from watching either. “I need to know!”

Neither Stefan nor Maury can hear Jac. Not can they seem to see her. Instead, Stefan exhales a shaky, “I—I’ll do what you want. Whatever just—just stop.”

Maury sits back in his chair and Stefan drops the pen like it burned him. He pushes back and out of his chair, rising to his feet in a moment of shock as his body once more responds to him. Maury folds his hands across his stomach motioning to Stefan’s chair with a nod. “Sit the fuck back down.”

Stefan eyes the chair, then, unsteadily sits again. “What—what do you want?

Maury chews the thought over, lips pursed. “Tissue samples from the girl. And for you to look at some stuff he has on hand, give your professional opinion. Easy breezy. You ain’t even gotta’ leave Jersey.”

Stefan slouches back against his chair, dragging his hands down his face. “Anything else?”

“Sure. Anything happens to that girl that keeps us from keeping an eye on her?” Maury raises one brow slowly. “I make you cut your own balls off and eat them.” As if he’d just given a pleasant parting, Maury slowly rises from his chair and flashes Stefan a smile. “That’s all.”

Tissue samples? For what? “No one is cutting me apart,” Jac calls up at the two men. “Did you hear me?” That they can’t seems irrelevant, or she just doesn’t care. “It’s never going to happen!” But maybe it already did. Asami had said they were in a simulation. Maybe she doesn’t know the two men because they’re real. “You can’t! You won’t! I’ll fight you!” Unsure of who she means that last part to be directed at, she stares upward half glaring at the whole giant world.

For half a minute she considers climbing to the top of the table. It seems important, that the way out of this, that the truth Asami was trying so hard to show everyone, is up there. For half a minute she entertains the idea of climbing. It’s a long way to go — a long way to fall if she makes a wrong move — and she can’t bank on Maury and Stefan still talking if she reaches the top.

Jac huffs and takes a step backward. There’s another way. “You can’t hide!” she calls out. Her hands clench into fists at her side and her eyes squeeze shut. You can’t hide! She eases another step backward, eyes coming open as she yells and batters telepathically, for anything she can use. You can’t keep me here! Tell me what you know!


 // deallocating the memory

  return 0;

Coughing fills the air. Coughing, and the muffled sob of frightened children.

It is dark, cold, and damp where Gillian and Brynn find themselves. Brynn does not recognize the crumbling stone building they find themselves in, but Gillian knows the drafty hallways and frost-covered windows intimately. Being back here sends a chill down her spine to match the chill that can’t be shaken from the air.

This is Bannerman’s Castle.

Rows of cots line the drafty room, a half dozen sick children quarantined in the room on cots. The children are sweaty, flushed, and unwell. This was a nightmare, but one that Gillian recalls didn’t have a dark ending. It was a miracle, for as the H5N10 virus swept through Bannerman’s Castle it just—

A cough rouses Gillian from her thoughts and draws Brynn’s attention to one of the cots. Her cot where she, but twelve years old, lays curled up on her side beneath a thin wool blanket, pale, glistening with sweat, and wheezing.

Disoriented by the shift, Brynn can't figure out what she's seeing. The sight of the makeshift hospital causes Brynn's stomach to twist. She looks around the room, noting herself there. "I…" Frowning, takes a step forward to tip her head and stare at herself. "I don't think she sounds very good, do you?" She squats down next to the cot with younger Brynn. "Why are they all here instead of in a hospital?" Because it's clear that the walls and drafts wouldn't be good for someone that sick.

This place brings back some memories. Some pieces are foggier than others, really. Gillian knows that Brynn was there among the sick kids, but she didn’t remember her. She had been too busy dying in one of those same beds herself. With the new handle on things, she breathes slowly and once again takes Brynn’s hand. She’s disappointed that they have not found Squeaks yet— Jac— but she focuses on the girl with her for the moment as she squats down next to her younger self.

“We couldn’t go to the hospitals. It wasn’t safe for us,” she answers, now that she knows, now that she understands. “I remember this, now. I was in one of these beds too. It was an illness. We both survived it.”

She leaves out that many others didn’t. “She’s going to be okay. You’re a force to be reckoned with. This virus isn’t strong enough to handle you.”

The dark of this infirmary is broken by a sliver of light from a door opening just a crack. There’s someone standing on the other side, peeking in. Short, small, thin. She slips in while no one outside is looking, while Pollepel is distracted with the siege. Shutting the door behind herself, she turns pale blue eyes over the cots.


Nathalie LeRoux is but a child, but she moves to the bedside of one of the sick children with the purposeful steps of a nurse. She kneels there, hand on a shoulder, and closes her eyes. Instantly, the sick child’s pallor begins to normalize and their wheezing stops. They don’t even rouse from their sleep, and LeRoux rises, moving to Brynn next.

It hurts her heart to see this, hurts her all the way to her soul. Brynn looks up at Gillian and asks in a teary, choked voice, "This is the world we're all fighting so hard to go back to? A world where they've made kids into soldiers and it's too dangerous to go to hospitals?!"

Her grip in Gillian's hand is painfully tight as she watches the little girl apparently heal the other child and start toward them. Her growing doubts are not assuaged with that healing… it just makes her belly cramp harder. This life, this world, they're being shown is horrible. She's utterly terrified now and she whispers, "Aunt Gilly, what are we doing? I don't want this." Her life hasn't been perfect, of course, but at the very core of her she knows she doesn't want to be a soldier; the thought makes her want to throw up.

She is sad, her free arm wrapped around her middle as if trying to hold herself together. There seems nothing good about this world they're seeing. And in some gut-deep part of her, after what happened to Aunt Gilly, she knows when the other child touches her younger self in the bed, there's no turning back. No chance to change her mind. She's not ready for the horror of that world. "Please no, wait–" she surges to her feet to try to reach across to the other side of the cot where Nathalie is about to touch her younger self, even though they've already seen that they are not even here to the perceptions of these people. I'm not ready!

“Brynn!” It was hard to argue with the girl who was very much right. There was little to love in that world. It was hard, it was terrible. Bad things happened. This world, in some ways, was much nicer. Gillian agreed in a lot of ways. But this world was missing so much at the same time, but the most important thing it was missing was that— it wasn’t real.

And that was why she grabs the girl before she gets too far, even if she can’t really interact with the memory. She can’t let her stop Nathalie from healing young Brynn, something she had been unaware had actually happened. “Stop, Brynn. This world is hard. It’s ugly. There’s a lot that’s wrong with it. You never should have had to be trained to use a weapon. It was my fault for letting Brian do that in the first place. I should have stopped him instead of leaving. We were the adults. We were the soldiers. We should have been protecting you, not forcing you to protect yourselves. You should have been allowed to just be children.

“But it’s real.”

She looks up at the woman she knows as her aunt, pulling her eyes from what's about to happen to young Brynn and the words are wrenched from her soul as if she already knows even though she has no memories yet, "But I don't want it to be. I'm going to lose my family!"

“No, no that’s— you won’t lose your family, Brynn,” Gillian says, putting her arms around the young woman, who sounds and seems younger than she really is for the moment. Probably because the small fragile version of her lays right there nearby. “You’ll get an even bigger family, even. Kaylee’s still your family. She’s not your mother, but she loves you kids, you have no idea.” She now remembered when Kaylee had almost begged to stay in the Lighthouse Kids’ life. How upset she had been at the idea of not being part of their lives.

“You have so many brothers and sisters— including Sqea— Jac. Including Jac. And so many aunts and uncles. And you have me.”

She had left them once when Brian had insisted on training them when she thought he was stealing their childhood away— but this time… “I’m not leaving you.”

In that precise moment, Nathalie finishes her work on the younger Brynn. A ghost unhearing and unflinching against these observers. Brynn’s breathing normalizes and Nathalie looks over to the next bed, rising to stand and tend the next child. There’s conversations down the hall, muffled voices, ones that at first sound unfamiliar, but that’s because… she can’t hear them. The sound slowly drowns out of the memory, the illusion of wind, of footsteps, of breathing.

It was a trick of the mind. Because Brynn never remembered these sounds. She imagined them.

Because she’s deaf. Because she doesn’t have a hearing implant.


A sensation like sinuses clearing brings tears to Brynn’s eyes as a young lifetime of memories bloom to life behind her eyes. Brian, Lance, Joe, all of her siblings. The Lighthouse, the war, the life in the aftermath. It was all real. And yet, the one thing she was afraid of losing most, the sister she loves and the mother she remembers growing up with… are still there. Jac and Kaylee, just as real in her heart as Brian and the war. Two diametrically opposed lifetimes, two totally different lives welded together.

It is impossible to tell where one ends and another begins. Brynn is both the girl who was forced into this simulation, and the girl who was reforged within it. One who now has a memory of sound, of voices she could never have otherwise heard.

And that brings new tears. Because she lost nothing.

But she gained everything.

It happens while her face is buried in Gillian's shoulder, the surge of pressure behind her eyes. Brynn's shaking in her aunt's hold, and the ebbing away of her hearing… is not nearly as traumatic as the upswell of memories. Although she can't stop the flood of tears while she assimilates both lifetimes juxtaposed against one another, there is relief in the knowledge that Aunt Gilly hadn't lied about the outside world. There is so much more family actually waiting for them out in the world that is not this one.

As she draws back, the petite young woman stands up straighter than she has been, no longer afraid of what she's seen. She has lived through all of those things she was so scared of… and she can take care of herself if she has to. She is fully capable and trained, even though she hates to use what she knows. Gray eyes open to her aunt and she offers a tremulous smile as she pulls a little way out of the hug. Her hands instinctively come up… because she has never learned spoken language, even though somehow in here she knows it.

It was a really nice dream, she signs with trembling fingers, both heartbroken at the loss of such a simple, normal life and at the same time so angry at the lie. And the rest of the emotions that come with remembering? It's not time right now to deal with those… except she can't hide the vulnerability in her eyes as she insists, You promise you won't leave Jac, Aunt Gilly. The rest of them are all grown up but Jac isn't. She needs a mom who won't leave.

Even through tears, Gillian can recognize what Brynn is saying, and what it means that she’s saying it this way. She doesn’t remember when she started crying, but she doesn’t bother to wipe away her tears, even as she frees up her hands and arms to sign back. Some parts of it were very nice.

She leaves out that some parts of it were not.

I won’t. And I’m not leaving you again, either. she adds, emphasizing the you very plainly.

Let’s go find your sister.


There is a scream ringing in Jac’s ears when she awakens on a forest floor. The ground under her back is soft and wet, the sky overhead an impenetrable blanket of starless darkness. Her arms and legs ache like she’s been running, but she knows she hasn’t. Yet, the divots in the dirt and pine needles next to her look like heel prints.

On Jac’s other side she sees herself, also laying in the wet earth, chest rising and falling, breathless and exhausted. Her clothes are dirt-stained, hair tousled. She doesn’t look any noticeably younger than Jac is now. Her other self sits up at the sounds of shouting in the distance, flashlights sweeping through the trees.

Fuck,” that Jac hisses, crouching low.

At first, once she's gathered what few bits and small pieces of this new surrounding that she can, Jac turns her face to the sky. She supposes it's the sky, for all that the dark void above her should be a sky just without stars. Maybe there are no stars because she's dead. That could explain the strange visions and versions of herself, the people not hearing or seeing her. It would mean that what Asami was telling them was really just nonsense.

The thought aches, curdling in her stomach like rotten fruit. “Hello darkness, my old friend,” she sings quietly, in a voice almost too quiet to even hear herself. The next part goes to be hummed, but she doesn't get past the first note before the other her is moving. Her head turns first to look at the girl, and then she sits up to follow her gaze to the lights flashing and bouncing between the trees.

Instinct forbids her to just give up and wallow — she knows she isn't actually dead, the heart hammering in her chest is a strong reminder of that — and she drags her feet under her so she's also in a crouch and ready to move. “Who… where…” Every muscle goes taught, and her eyes dart from the flashlight beams to the other her and back again.

The other Jac struggles to her feet, looking down at an IV shunt sticking out of her forearm. She grabs it and yanks it out with a frustrated howl, blood pulsing out of the spot where it was set. She turns wide eyes to the treeline where flashlights are streaking through the night and sparks of electricity dance up and down her arms and arc off of her shoulders for a moment. She blurs as if out of focus but then snaps right back into crystal clear vision a moment later with a muttered curse.

A moment later a gunshot rings out and Jac is hit square in the head by a rifle round. She spins through the air, landing on the soft earth with a grunt. Shouting comes over the ridge, flashlights honing in on her in the dark. Then




A bullet slides off of her brow, flattened like a wad of gum. The girl leaps forward like a flea, landing atop whoever was approaching in the dark with the rifle, tackling them to the ground. There’s panicked gunfire, screams, and Jac lifts the man up and hurls him into a tree like he was a child’s toy. But his weight and mass is very real. The figure breaks against the tree, snaps it in half, and sends it collapsing down with a crash.

“Fire! Open fire!

Gunshots ring out and Jac raises a hand to shield herself, squinting against the onslaught of gunfire that bounces off her.

As the first bullet strikes, Jac cries out in a wordless, animalistic way. Her heels push against the soft earth to propel her backward, hands barely catching as she lands halfway to her back. With wide eyes she watches the other girl — no, she watches herself stand up again. And more than that, she watches herself weather the attack like an inconvenient rain.

Panting, shaking from shoulder to knee, Jac slowly finds her way to her feet. Her eyes follow the fight, engrossed with a sort of horrified fascination. That's her, she knows it is. But she's never done anything like… flickering with electricity or throwing someone like a rag doll. Has she?

What comes out of the treeline next isn’t men, but machines. Sleek, black-armored bipedal machines with rifles. They are followed by a tall, broad-shouldered man in a suit jogging through the forest, dark eyes like a shark’s. He comes to a stop on the ridge and raises one hand to his lips, murmuring a single command.



For a second the Jac from this moment wavers, eyes rolling back in her head. But then, fists clenched, she unleashes a scream unlike any the Jac observing this has ever heard. The sound creates a shockwave that rolls out like a tidal wave, tearing up the grass, sending the robots flying like unwanted toys, and throwing Iov Oblonsky off of his feet. The trees all around sway from the force of the blast, but so too does Jac.

Blood trickles out of her nose, eyes roll back in her head, and she collapses onto her side in the wet earth.

Jac takes a single hesitating step forward, eyes moving from her other self to the fighters. She takes another, more confident than the first, then draws short as robots emerge from the tree line. Blue eyes dart back and forth between the other her and the robots, then alighting on the man as he appears next. Her mouth opens, maybe to shout a warning or just from distress.

But then the other her, screams.

Jac's hands immediately go to her ears to muffle the sound, but then a second later she throws them out to hold her balance against the shockwave. What was that? Her arms drop slowly to her sides and wide eyes fall to the her laying on the ground. "How did I… this was… is me, but… when…" She flicks a glance up to the tumbles robots, then back to the girl on the ground.

Jac wanders toward the other her, kneeling once she's close by. "How could it…" Cautiously, she reaches out to check the girl — herself — for life. “Why? Why would people…” Instead of finishing the question, she shakes her head, face scrunched with a mix of hurt and anger and frustration.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” A voice howls from the treeline in a crisp, British accent. Accompanied by two more of those sleek, black machines, a gray-haired man with a long face and intense eyes surveys the nighttime scene of chaos. He’s plucking at one of his ears, working his mouth open and closed to try and get his ears to pop. “I thought you said she was negated!

Another, heavier-built man accompanies the leaner one down the hill. He is round-faced and sad, horrified eyes fixed on the unconscious Jac laying in the dirt. “We—we have her at a full dose. Her manifest didn’t say impervious to bullets on it!” He shouts. The taller man narrows his eyes.

atkins_icon.gif huber_icon.gif

Huber shakes his head, staring down at Jac as she fades in and out of consciousness. “It didn’t say she could—could teleport.”

Atkins snorts sharply. “She’s either a mosaic or was subjected to Gemini. Either way, she gets a double dose until the cuffs arrive.” Atkins flicks a pointed look at Huber. “Because she just tore her way out of a two fucking billion Euro lab. If this happens again we won’t get so lucky.”

Huber takes a knee beside Jac, administering a second dose of something with a pneumatic injector to her neck. He then looks up at Atkins, shaking his head. “Why is a mosaic on our trial manifest?”

Atkins stares at Jac’s unmoving form long and silent, then shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says with the intention that he plans on finding out. “Get her back in the lab.” He directs to one of the machines that clicks loudly, holsters its rifle, and moves to pick Jac up.

For as strange as all of this feels, there’s something undeniably true about it. More than just the experience of seeing herself, seeing this peril, it’s the reality of the moment. The smell of the wet soil, the drizzling rain, the whirring clicks of the machines.

Because this is where they’re all being held.

Because she nearly escaped.

Because Jac remembers.

As soon as the men appear talking, Jac is looking up at them. She doesn't have the cautiously wondering cast to her face, because she remembers. Asami was right. Instead she's got a hard look that could cut through titanium like it was paper. It was all fake before. Because she remembers everything.

"Oh I wish you could hear me right now," Jac says as the pair get closer. "Because I'm going to find you. I'm going to hunt you down…" She pushes herself backward when the robot gets near to the her that's on the ground, and then stands up straight and tall. "I'm going to find you and you'll wish a two billion Euro lab was all you had to worry about!" Hands clench at her sides into white-knuckled fists until the adrenalin of the moment abandons her.

In the next second Jac realizes she's still alone, and has no idea where Gillian or Brynn are. Her hands slacken — or how to find them — and her shoulders drop. Uneasiness etches onto her face and posture as her eyes leave the scene. With carefully small movements, the girl turns a slow circle in place and looks at the trees and the spaces all around her.

How they got into woods is just as much a mystery as how they went from a road in the middle of Pennsylvania somewhere to the place where Aunt Gilly was kissing Uncle Peter to Bannerman Castle. Brynn isn't even surprised anymore when they end up in some trees and start walking. But as they step out of the trees into the frozen tableau of two men, a group of Terminator robots – God, Brynn hated those movies – and two Jacs, she stops short. In either life, this frozen scene scares her enough to make her waver a moment with shocked wide gray eyes. "Oh god…"

She swallows hard, staring at the horror of that robot frozen in time lifting the small body of her sister. Without thinking, she shouts, "Jac!" And for a moment she's surprised at the sound and at being able to do it – both lives are alive and well in her head and this is, after all, is still a dream world. She doesn't have time to overthink it right now because her eyes come to the real Jac and this time she just breathes out, "Jac" in a tone of abject relief.

The robots bring back some pretty horrible memories for Gillian, though she does not remember this specifically, she does have to smile as she realizes what it meant, though— Jac nearly escaped them. In a way, it made her just as proud as if she actually had, because it showed they had underestimated the girl. Just as so many probably always did.

With just a small gesture to Brynn, Gillian takes off toward Jac— toward Squeaks, to check the girl over. Because she’s not alone. The relief was almost overpowering, just seeing the girl again and knowing that, at least in this place, she was still there. “I’m here. We’re here.”

And she looks towards the men and their machines. “And we’re going to make them pay.”

Slowly the recollection begins to fade. The visualized memory of past events sinks into an impenetrable darkness. But the significance of the memory is not lost on any of them, let alone Jac. She nearly escaped the facility they are all detained in. She remembers the concrete walls, large windows, laboratories, cargo bays, the sound of vehicles, the smell of machine oil. She remembers fighting her way out. It’s hazy, comes in dream-like glimpses at the corners of her mind, but it’s there.

Soon, the three are left in this infinite void. No memories given shape, no simulation, nothing. It has all come crashing down around them and they are left with the absence of a world. A brief sensation of deja vu creeps over the trio, and all they can perceive in the darkness is one-another.

Jac spins around to Brynn and Gillian, shoulders and head lifting with relief. They all made it to… wherever here is. “I remember,” she states, at first firm and determined. It morphs into cautious curiosity as quickly as the scene around them shifts.

She takes a step, but only to turn away from Gillian and Brynn. Jac looks over her shoulder but finds only darkness where she knows the others are. “Did it break?” she wonders quietly. Anger creeps into her like a fine silk. She had just gotten back some of what was stolen from her. Hands clench at her sides and her head swivels left and right. “You better let us out!”

Brynn is just behind Gillian and she doesn't stop a step away, instead she wraps her arms around Jac, shaking a little bit at the shocks and the adrenaline that just keep on coming. This is her little sister…. and it's not… but it still is. Family by choice is the only family she's ever known. "I can't believe you jumped in a rift," she scolds tearfully now. "What was I gonna tell Mom?!"

But then Jac is stepping away and yelling at The Void around us. As Brynn looks around, she shudders again at the thought of the robots. Sadness rips through her – some of them found it really hard to believe it was over. And it breaks her heart that they were right. That the preparations they started to make in the Lanthorn when they bought it will clearly be needed again.

"Do you think Mo– Aunt Kaylee," the name is as strange on her tongue as it is familiar. For the longest time, Aunt Gilly was the closest thing to a mother she had ever known. Now Aunt Kaylee has been her mother for years. The melding of those memories of two separate places is jarring. "— and the others made it too?" There are so many emotions, she just does her best to lock them down for now. This Void is almost scarier than all the proofing about reality.

And before another word can be said, there is one more “poof.”

Somewhere Else


Bright sun startles the senses that had but seconds ago experienced a lightless void. Gillian is the only one among the three not in direct sunlight where she wakes, sitting up, against the demolished front doors of some great building with a white-washed stone facade. Jac and Brynn are set on the stairs, laying in the scalding-hot desert sun.

Beyond the stairs is a partially sand-shrouded circular driveway, a bone-dry fountain, and a disparate group of friends walking up that sandy stretch of desolate cityscape. Asami, Kaylee, Faulkner—everyone who had set out on this journey.

It takes a moment for their eyes to adjust to the sunlight to grasp where they are. A moment more to see the demolished neon signage high over this building’s entrance.


This was it.

This was the end of the maze.

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