Another Endgame — Conflagration


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Scene Title Another Endgame — Conflagration
Synopsis The Hub team sent to create a diversion does so, but at a terrible price.
Date January 12, 2012

What we’re about to do is the end, one way or another.

A single desk and chair looks small at the center of a spacious warehouse room. Tall, bare windows at the desk’s back shed a pale light down onto the hardwood floors, make the high back of the chair cast a long shadow over its single occupant who idly writes in a battered old journal. The room is otherwise without decoration, just the desk and chair and a lamp by which to see at night. By the cloudy skies visible out the windows beyond shed enough colorless, desaturated light for him.

Whether we win or lose here, there’s no turning back.

The door to the office opens, and a single Vanguard conscript emerges with quick strides. He approaches the desk, head down and eyes averted from the man in the high-backed wooden chair. “Sir— Hermod,” his brows furrow as he enunciates the title, “Ellinka just radioed in. Survivors have amassed on the streets of Red Hook and have begun advancing on the factory, they’ll be here any minute.”

If we survive this, win or lose, the Vanguard won’t rest until we’re made examples of.

“Good.” The leather journal is flipped closed, and Hermod sets down his pen. “I’ve been growing tired of picking them off one by one like rats. I knew if we sat idle long enough they’d think we’d forgotten about them.” Hermod rises to stand, smoothing a hand over his swept back hair, pushing the chair out with his legs. The pale light now silhouettes him, silhouettes the long, jagged scar cutting down the left side of his face to his mouth.

We have to be stronger, we have to be braver, and we have to be willing to face the unthinkable.

Hermod smiles, crinkling the scar as his cheek. “Good, good,” he murmurs, “this is good.” He looks up to the conscript standing beside him, and raises one brow as if to say move, and the younger man steps back hastily and dips his head down into a deferential nod. “I’ll go meet this resistance head on, and bring their broken bodies to Lord Volken.” The corner of Hermod’s mouth twitches again, not quite a smile, but almost a laugh. “They won’t take Gillian from me.”

The only way to escape this nightmare is by facing our worst fears.

The Scrapyard

Outside Textile Factory 17

Red Hook


The doors of Textile Factory 17 lay on the ground, blown off of their hinges and trampled flat by the rumbling approach of an M1 Abrahms tank. The vehicle plows through a barricade of rusted metal and scrap that once helped dissuade survivors from approaching the factory. Now, the scrapyard has become a battleground all its own.

They are the worst of humanity, they are nihilists who willingly serve a Nazi. They are the embodiment of evil.

The open field beyond the Textile Factory was turned into a scrapyard by the Vanguard years ago, a place where vehicles were stripped of useful metal and melted down into ammunition and other essential components by imprisoned labor contained within the factory. Those efforts stopped as the virus’ lethality rose and swaths of humanity died out in waves. Now the desolate field of rust and ruin has become a battleground.

When we face them, we’ll be facing our own dark mirror. It may be easy to look at them and see people, to hesitate, to empathize…

Atop the tank, a Vanguard soldier sits in the gunner position, manning a heavy machine gun mounted to the tank. Tracer rounds tear through the air, shredding scrapped vehicles and trying to drive out the enemies hiding behind them as cover. But it isn’t a soft, fleshy adversary that is driven out by this fire. Instead, it is a six and a half foot tall man made of dark iron, dressed in the buddled riddled clothes of the man who would be President. Allen Rickham, a living monolith of iron, charges the tank with one hand raised like a shield, deflecting bullets off of his body as he moves.

Do not be fooled.

Rickham’s charge distracts the gunner, allowing another man in a leather jacket to climb atop a nearby scrap pile. Benjamin Washington — better known as Knox — draws in strength from the fear all around him. He picks up the door and hurls it down at the tank’s rooftop gunner as though it were a frisbee. The door smashes into the soldier, caving in his head and breaking his back, causing him to fold over the hatch in a way a human body was not intended to.

The Vanguard doesn’t just fight with weapons, they fight with the mind. They’ll try to break you, bend you, make you compromise who you are.

The tank, still piloted, plows forward toward Rickham who dives out of the way and crashes into a rubble pile. He lands beside Dirk Dickson, huddled in the shadow of an overturned and rusted body of an SUV. “Dirk, I’m going to need you to run a zig-zag path, draw the tank’s attention. If I can get beside it, I can flip it over. But even I can’t survive a direct hit from the cannon.” Rickham’s dark, hematite eyes consider the far more fragile man. “I just need you to run. Can you do that?

I won’t lie to you. The Vanguard are better armed, many of them are better trained. We’ll be facing a portion of their army, here and now. Not all of us will walk away.

On the outskirts of the fighting, far enough away to not be seen but near enough to see the tank and watch the battle, Kaylee Thatcher pulls down the hood of her jacket and lets blonde hair spill down her shoulders. Edward had wanted her to stay in the Hub, to wait for everyone to return, but it was easy enough to slip out. Easy enough to mask herself among the others going off to fight for a better future. But now she’s here, watching others fight and die so that she can live. She’s hid most of her adult life. The thought of doing that now, was unconscionable to her.

Those who give their lives will do so willingly, making a choice to fight for a future.

Hurling himself through the air, Magnes Varlane lands on top of the tank with a clank of boots. He’s able to haul the dead gunner out, but then ducks back and away as the pilot inside fires up through the hatch with a handgun. His arms windmill, balance offset as the turret pivots, trying to shake him off. Further throwing Magnes off-balance is an explosion — massive and fiery — within the walls of the factory complex. It isn’t the building Gillian is being held in, so perhaps it’s part of the plan. The explosion gives the tank pilot enough time to yank the hatch closed with a slam.

But this will not be an easy battle to win.

As Magnes turns his attention back to the tank, something catches his eyes in the archway leading to the factory courtyard. Someone emerging, four Vanguard soldiers at either side, dark hair swept back atop his head, scowling. A chill runs down Magnes’ spine as he sees the operative the Vanguard call Hermod. There’s a trembling in his hands as he recognizes the officer approaching to reinforce the outside. A horrible realization that sinks deep into the pit of his stomach. An understanding of why no one knew him in this timeline, why he wasn’t at the Hub, why he wasn’t anywhere they’d been. Because in this timeline…

But it is one we must fight.

Magnes Varlane was Vanguard.

There was a little thrill in the telepath, to be outside again, to look up and see the sky and not concrete. Kaylee’s eyes might still be a little red from that. In fact, she brushes the heel of her hand against her cheek one more time to wipe at the dampness there. The other hand holds the rifle she managed to snag and what ammo she was able to stuff into the pack on her back.

Edward Ray would have such words for his daughter if she survived this. Such words… A few others might, too.

Especially, when they learned… Kaylee could hear again. As she inches forward, low to the ground, she can feel the way her ability seems to seek out minds. She felt like she had a purpose again…She felt whole again.

Close enough now, she can hear the President giving the order. But she also knows Dirk… In her mind, he shouldn’t be out here. “I’ll do it.” Kaylee says out loud, there is a false confidence in her tone, even though her stomach is twisting on itself and she might want to throw-up right now. Carefully, she slips out from behind the pile of scrap metal that was between her and the others. Keeping low so that the Vanguard don’t have an easy target, she drops to a knee next to Dirk. “I got this… I can do it.”

“Listen Princess,” Dirk sneers, leveling a scowl at Kaylee, “I understand you’re wanting to prove yourself and save the day just to prove your daddy wrong about what you can do… but you really need to learn how to pick the wins.” He points to her, “You can help in other ways.” Then to himself, “Anyone can serpentine.” In Dirk terms, he’s being nice, he’s telling her that she’s not as disposable as he is.

Then he looks up at Rickham and gives a firm nod. “I can run like a screaming little bitch when necessary.” Right now? It’s necessary. Stripping off most of his outerwear, he limbers up his arms and pulls one knee to his chest and then the other in turn.

What he does next is probably unexpected by everyone… except maybe Kaylee… but he suddenly grabs her and dips her into a long kiss. When he lets her go, he takes a deep breath and puts on a cat who ate the canary grin, “Okay! Let’s do this!”

There are many things that go through Magnes' mind. Why didn't Eileen know? Did she know?

Isabelle thought he was dead, but this is worse. He's an instrument in her oppression. And he knows… he knows that this is possible, that this is an expression of who he is, who he could be. It's shocking, but somehow… it's not unrealistic, it's not beyond the realm of his comprehension.

He begins to rise, a newly acquired leather jacket worn over his green Surge t-shirt swaying in the gravitational forces. He begins to use what he learned when he became a black hole, causing debris, rocks, chunks of metal, anything that he can feel, to quickly orbit around his body. Soon he has debris spinning around him defensively, acting as a shield as he floats in plain sight, both as a distraction for the others and to call attention to Hermod.

"Magnes J. Varlane!" he shouts, the debris so thick that he can't see much, instead feeling his way toward Hermod with pure gravity. "So this is what I became. I did the one thing that people were always afraid of me doing, and joined Kazimir Volken."

He suddenly lands, hearing bullets pelt against his wall of debris. "I can't let this go. I can't let myself do this to the people of this world. I can't let you hurt one more person. I'm going to stop you here, myself, and these people will have hope! I won't let you harm a hair of these people fighting with me, we're all working together, for a cause far more difficult than genocide!"

Hermod stares up at Magnes astride the tank, brows furrowing and expression stern as he studies his doppelganger. He raises one hand slowly, and the air around his body distorts in a mirage shimmer. As he begins to float off of the ground, he twitches his brow and wrenches a pile of scrap metal free, sending jagged lengths of rusted metal scattering like buckshot across the roof of the tank.

Magnes, reflexively, expands his own personal gravity field causing the debris to scatter around him, pieces crashing harmlessly into the roof of the tank, some whirling end over end into the air, and the remainder just skidding off of his outward-focused gravity field harmlessly. Hermod’s eyes narrow, lips part in confusion, and he launches himself into the air at Magnes like a bullet.

The two collide with a shuddering force, and Hermod insinuates himself into Magnes’ personal gravity field without resistance. His shoulder slams into his double, sending them both careening off of the top of the tank and down into the muddy ground beside it. Their impact pushes a furrow into the earth, kicks up rocks and mud and sends a throbbing hum through the air. “What are you!?” Hermod screams, drawing a fixed-bladed knife from his bolt and plunging it down towards Magnes’ chest.

We don't have time to argue!” Rickham bellows in a vibrating, metallic voice as he looks between Kaylee and Dirk. There's a sour expression on his face when he settles on the blonde. “Move!” At that shout, Knox slips away and weaves behind piles of scrap metal, looking to get behind the tank. Rickham crouches, getting ready to charge the tank once Dirk has started to draw its attention.

Kaylee,” Rickham shifts hematite eyes in her direction. “See if you can influence the tank driver’s mind, or… help Magnes. You know your limits better than the rest of us.

Okay…. Well that happened.

That’s the thought that went through Kaylee’s head when she suddenly found herself getting kissed by the very last person she ever expected that from. It kind of puts a lot of conversations with the mulleted man in perspective. Sharp perspective.

There isn’t time to dwell on it, though she has a hand pressed over her mouth, eyes a little wide from that shock as she looks at the President. There is worry that he is going to tell her to go back. A little thrill of fear, but… he doesn’t.

The hand drops away and she nods, firmly. She didn’t want to have to influence his mind… there is relief that she won’t have to. “Yes, sir.” Kaylee says firmly, with a sudden mischievous smile. There is something in her eyes, something almost dangerous. Her rifle is held close, as the telepath hurries along the piles of scrap; mind already reaching out, looking for the point where her ability can find the driver of the tank. Maybe it was the kiss or just the fact that Dirk is a ‘nice guy’ and doesn’t deserve to die, that drives that decision. Of course, someone like the famed Hermod might have a stronger mind. It’s logical

She tries something she’s never done, she tries to influence the driver’s mind… Whispering doubt of where his target is. Doubt about where to shoot…. Even an attempt to change where he aims… shifting towards his own people. Her lips move as she whispers these things in his head. Over and over, weaving the threads through his mind. Almost immediately there is a pinch between eyes.

Oh yeah it happened… and the smile on Dirk’s face doesn’t die down.

When Rickham says move, Dirk is off like a shot. Dressed in only his muscle shirt, combat pants, and boots, he makes his way through the debris field as quickly as his legs can carry him. He should have worn the spandex today, because it’s more aerodynamic.

Serpentine serpentine serpentine.

In every movie Dirk has seen, it’s only the ones who serpentine that survive. So he weaves through the trash, metal, tires, maybe even bullets like a crazy person… sending out a high pitched scream the entire time. Sorry Kaylee, if you’re trying to send doubt into the mind of the shooter, he might be counteracting it with fear. But at least his pants aren’t getting wet.

Magnes quickly raises a hand to wrap it around Hermod's wrist, staring up at him, brows furrowed. He tries to push him off with gravity, tries to reverse something, but it's not working. Instead, the two of them being in such close proximity causes their fields to sort of… combine, becoming more powerful, spinning more violently. Their bodies are heavy to the world around them, causing the ground to warp and crack, but to each other, their body weights feel perfectly average.

Physics apparently has no choice but to get dragged into their bullshit.

"I'm Magnes J. Varlane, I'm you. I said no to Kazimir as a father figure, I said no to our father as well. I never forgot what Kazimir told me, when he was in Peter's body. To never forget that he is the villain." He suddenly shifts his leg around to hook Hermod's leg, floating himself into the air and flipping them so that he's on top. He kicks off from the other version of himself and steps back, trying to make some space between them.

"Trained by the Company, Kimiko Nakamura, Hiro Nakamura, Kazimir himself, and a few others. I won't be a pushover! I know that you won't stop, I know me." A slight pause, a thought hitting him. "I know what I'd be willing to do for Gillian. I'm here right now because I won't let Gillian lead this kind of life, I won't leave one of my best friends in a world like this."

He suddenly draws his pistol and aims it at Hermod, firing.

But when he fires, the bullet stops short of a few feet, and hits the ground, going entirely flat.

"I guess no bullets are getting in or out, so it's just us. I won't let you fight my friends, this mission is too important." That's when the ground starts to shake, and light distorts slightly as the spinning field of debris around them gets stronger, more violent.

He raises a foot, slamming it into the ground, completely destroying the concrete in a 20 foot radius as he tries to make the ground even more unstable for Hermod.

If they're going to fight, better that the battlefield give them both a hand to hand combat disadvantage, so that the difference can be made up with their abilities. "I'm sure we've both read the Art of War by now, I'm sure Kazimir made you do it." Putting his gun away, he begins to slowly approach. "So, come on. I know you have something to prove, we always do."

Hermod is steady, hands at his side and brow furrowed, though he wavers as his balance is slightly off from the earlier acrobatics. “You’re just another fucked up clone, aren’t you?” Hermod insinuates, looking to the tank as it drives past their position, turret whirring slowly to follow Dirk’s movements. “The agitation, the instability, the false memories, the…” he gestures at Magnes, “all of that. Cerebral degeneration. You’re just another copy.”

With that insult thrown, Hermod launches himself straight up into the air, coming to an abrupt stop fifteen feet above Magnes. With a clenched fist, he wrests control of gravity around his doppelganger and draws all of the scrap metal toward his counterpart, sending it cartwheeling end over end in a circular tsunami of demolished vehicles and jagged scrap.

Ahead, the tank plows through a barricade of rusted cars, turret pivoting to square on Dirk’s frantic rush across the open field of muddy earth. Once they’re certain the tank is distracted, Rickham and Knox both move in toward the vehicle. Their approach from opposite sides catches the vehicle blindsided, though not before the tank fires. The round strikes behind Dirk, blasting a divot in the ground and sending shrapnel flying. The force of the blast launches Dirk off of his feet and down onto his shoulder in the mud. He rolls, flips head over heels, and skids across the ground battered but — remarkably — alive.

Kaylee feels a pang of resistance in her mind, a tension of a trained will pushing back against her. The turret starts to turn away from Dirk, then turns back, wavers from side to side as though two different people were at the controls. If she could just push harder she could overpower him, but the pain at the back of her eyes is already so intense, like straining a muscle that’s been atrophied.

Rickham hits the side of the tank like a wrecking ball, slamming into it shoulder first. The vehicle jostles to the side from the impact, and he crouches down and grabs a hold of one of the wheels that turn the tank’s treads, straining to try and lift the vehicle. Knox climbs up on top of the tank, clatters over the closed hatch, and then drops down beside Rickham and presses his back up against the vehicle. “On three, man!” Knox leans forward, looking level at Rickham even as gunfire erupts around them.

The eight Vanguard conscripts that Hermod escorted outside take up positions behind debris not located near where Hermod and Magnes are engaged in their fight. They pop up from behind cover, automatic weapons fire ricocheting off of scrap metal and impacting the wet earth with plumes of dirt. One shot ricochets off of Rickham, “Kaylee! Someone! The soldiers!

Pushing against that will is almost tempting, to burn herself out in that contest of wills, but it would put them at a disadvantage… and Kaylee had been under the drug too long. Damn you, she curses her father silently. Luckily, she is startled by the impact of metal against metal and the brief alarm in the tank drivers mind. She lets go of if, shuddering at the thought of what she could have done and the joy it brought her… even with the pain.

She’ll have to hope that The President and Knox have it from here.

The metallic voice of Rickham manages to pull her to her senses, with the sudden notice that other weapons are being fired. Kaylee looks at the weapon in her hand… it felt clumsy and she was uncertain if she could be effective with it, so she opts instead to duck and weave her way through the piles of metal. If she could get closer… Maybe… just maybe she can try again…. Her ability she could use… the weapon in her hands she was less certain.

Before she goes, she shouts something she might regret. “Dirk! I need cover fire!” She doesn’t wait to see if he heard her, Kaylee starts moving. Keeping low and hopefully out of sight.

Each step makes her head throb with pain, she didn’t know how much she could do… If she could affect at least one man… that all she needed. She understood now… Just one could wreak havoc. Like a snake in the grass her ability finds it’s target and the contest of wills begins anew.

«What’s that?!»

«Shit! Behind us!»

«How did they get back there?!?»


Someone seems to shout behind the soldiers as Kaylee’s mind bounces between they, insinuating just enough to startle… in the thick of things can they tell that it is all in their head? Kaylee can only pray that it works long enough to give the team time to flip the tank or do something. Fingers grip tightly to her gun as the pain in her head starts to intensify.

He feels like hamburger… but he’s certain that his landing would have caught at least a 4.9 from the Russian judge. “God.. damn..” he wheezes, pulling himself toward a low lean-to of metal to get cover.

Once there, he takes inventory of what he has, what he’s lost, and whatever else. His cargo pants are shredded from the blast and he’s got blood oozing through on one leg, making the fabric stick. His right shoulder has had the skin scraped off from the landing and is littered with gravel and little shards of shrapnel. Painful but still useable. Miraculously, he’s still wearing that little hip holster and the pistol inside seems undamaged, at least that’s what the bruise on his hip is telling him.

Slowly, he pulls the pistol out and checks the ammunition. Ten bullets. His impressive mullet peeks out the side of his cover and he quickly assesses his situation. From where he is, only two of the shooters are visible. Five bullets between two people or try to save the ammo and get somewhere else. Looking down at his leg, he doesn’t think he’d make it anywhere quickly.


He fires two bullets at the closest of his two shooters, then ducks back down.

"Wait, clone? What?" Magnes is hit by this suddenly, thinking, because something just kind of hits him. "Varlane, he was a clone? Talking about coming from a Vanguard paradise?" he asks, looking concerned now.

There's a clone back home, a mentally unstable one.


His hands are outstretched, and he starts trying to repel the scrap metal that Hermod takes control of. But physics, in the end, is both their worst enemies. Trying to wrestle control only seems to add fuel to the fire. Some of the scrap metal curls up into tight balls that just sort of float there, others start to spin and tear apart once they begin to spin again.

He takes a deep breath, because this is dangerous. Who knows what'll happen if they keep trying to take control of the floating scrap heap. But there are ways to do this…

"If Varlane was a clone, then where did he come from? Talk to me!" He shouts, diving forward through the air, trying to grab Hermod's wrists and carry him flying into the Debris. The problem with that is, well… the debris moves with the two of them, they remain its center, so trying to knock Hermod into it just sends them both flying toward the side of the tank, with a massive heap of flying scrap.

Regardless, Magnes isn't holding back his aggression, if they're going to collide, they're going to collide hard, and physics is probably going to take another nosedive. "Why are there clones of us?!"

Hermod and Magnes pinwheel through the air, and Hermod reaches out and snags a handful of Magnes’ hair locking the two of them together in a grapple. As he flies with the debris toward the tank, Hermod thrusts up and carries himself and Magnes directly into the air like a spinning wheel. Some of the debris fly upward, lose their tether to the gravity field, and come raining down all across the field. The remaining tidal wave of scrap metal crashes into the Ambrahms tank, shearing Rickham off of it as though he were a barnacle on a boat. He’s consumed by the debris pile, along with Knox who is tangled up in Rickham’s tumbling fall.

The debris pile scrapes up the side of the tank, a broken pickup truck smashes end over end, bounding off of the roof of the tank and then crashes down nose-first into the mud ten feet from Dirk. More metal debris rains down, clattering around Kaylee. She can’t see Rickham or Knox anymore, buried in the pile of scrap as they are. Kaylee herself seems oblivious to the falling scrap, to the sharp pieces of metal driving into the ground like darts. Her mind is elsewhere, focus distracted, to great effect.

The psychic push into the Vanguard conscripts drives a wedge of panic between their training and their reactive minds. They pivot around, eyes wide, hearing noises that aren’t there and feeling pangs of very real panic. They start firing, blindly, into the scrapyard, seeing enemies in every shadow around them. One of them being picked off by Dirk’s covering fire does little to dissuade them from the belief that these figmentary foes are anything but real.

High above that battlefield, Hermod curls his fingers tighter in Magnes’ hair and delivers a knee to his doppelganger’s abdomen. “You’re the clone! You can’t even understand! I thought I killed you for the last time, but here you are again!” Another knee, this time harder, and Hermod struggles to break free from Magnes’ grasp at his arm. They’re more than four hundred feet into the air now, rapidly gaining momentum.

You were grown from a piece of my brain!” Hermod screams, slamming his own head into Magnes’ with a ferocious headbutt. Both of their brows come away bloody. “You’re the reason I’m unstable! Why I’m broken! You’re why I can’t— can’t— ” Hermod smashes his head into Magnes’ again, splitting the bridge of his nose. “You and that motherfucker took away everything from me! I just wanted to be normal!

Oh this was too fun… Kaylee’s lips have a small smile on them, even as a piece of debris punches into the ground next to her foot. She doesn’t feel the way the ground vibrates with it and the impact of others around her. Her mind is out causing chaos among the Vanguard.

With the panic bouncing around in the mind of the enemy without aid now, Kaylee uses that chaos. Pulling up memories of their teammates and wrapping the idea ‘Enemy’ around them. She can only hope her friends stay out of the line of sight, because she doesn’t have the time or strength to persuade the Vanguard lackeys to ignore them.

«Don’t let him get you…»

«Watch out!»

«//Get him first… //»

While she gleefully plays with the minds of others, back at her body, a ruby drop of blood slowly slides it’s way from her nose. A sign that the telepath is starting to reach that point, her limits.

Dirk lets out a shrill squeal when the truck lands so close, his pants so wet with blood and muck it’s impossible to tell if he actually had a biological mishap in result or not. After he’s sure that the truck is stable enough, he skitters out from his lean to and uses the vehicle for cover instead of the thin barrier. It just makes more sense.

Peeking out again, he takes a look for any more shooters that might have come into view from this new angle. Unfortunately, at this present moment, they are all either ducked down themselves or there just aren’t any. So, focusing on the one he knows, he waits for him (or her) to pop out from cover before firing another two shots.

pop pop

He will probably have to move soon, but he’s not quite sure if he’ll manage it.

By the time Magnes finds his nose split, he raises a free hand to rock Hermod's jaw, and then raises a knee to slam it directly into his abdomen as blood flows down Magnes' mouth. "I just wanted to be normal too! Our dad filled my head with a load of information growing up, trying to train me for… something, I don't know what. But I'm not a clone, I promise that I'm not a clone, I'm here to take Gillian, and get these people out of this universe so that they don't have to live a shitty life here!"

He reaches for Hermod's top, and tries to wrestle control of gravity again, this time starting to launch them both straight down into the ground. Their mass will most likely treat the ground like a bowl of jello, but he has to stop this, he knows he has to, if it doesn't this will be just like Shibuya… it really already is like Shibuya, but there's only so many ways that he knows how to stop himself, and his gun doesn't seem to be particularly effective right now.

"Tell me who made the clones, damnit! When I get back home, I have to stop it. Don't be so freaking… ugghhh why am I so fucking stupid!" He raises a hand in their rapid descent, trying to just… slap the living hell out of Hermod's face. "STOP BEING SO FUCKING STUPID AND JUST TELL ME WHO MADE THE CLONES SO WE CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE, IF I WAS A CLONE THEN WHY THE HELL WOULD ALL OF THESE PEOPLE BE HELPING ME, YOU KNOW DAMNED WELL THAT NO ONE BELIEVED VARLANE, BECAUSE HE WAS FUCKING CRAZY!!!"

Gritting his teeth through the blood that's very much spilled down into his mouth at this point, he shouts, "WHY AM I LIKE THIS, AM I REALLY THIS FUCKING STUPID?!"

If someone took something out of his brain to make a clone… is that what he's been dealing with? Is that why it's so hard to just… exist?

Or maybe Hermod himself is the clone…?

No, no, Magnes knows damned well that he actually is this stupid, this is precisely how stupid he is at this very moment, he is exactly like Hermod and that is an even more frustrating revelation.

Spitting blood down to the ground, Hermod and Magnes spiral rapidly back down to the ground. Hermod reaches down to his belt, pulling out another fixed-blade knife and brings it down into Magnes’ palm, the point of the blade sticking out the back of his hand before he forces it down into other flesh, pinning Magnes’ left hand against his right shoulder. “Our father made you from parts of my brain you idiot!” Hermod screams, smashing his head into Magnes’ again, blood spraying from his nose at the impact and vision blotching with spots of light.

The two collide first with the overpass, shattering concrete in a circle around their impact. Jagged pieces of rebar slash across both Magnes and Hermod, tearing through clothing and flesh with equal ease before they both impact the ground. The force is like an earthquake, upends the ground like a flipped tablecloth, sending loose earth and rocks careening into the air, and soon piles of scrap as well. They landed nearly two hundred feet away from the tank, far enough that the shockwave doesn’t affect Kaylee and the others, but the plume of dirt and debris cannot be missed.

Hermod and Magnes never touch the ground, both suspended a few feet above it until Hermod finally draws them both down into the bowl-shaped crater they created. He steps down on the knife, pressing Magnes’ back into the dirt. “Those weren’t lessons you— you fucking idiot! They were tests! Tests to see if I had brain damage from what they did to me! Tests to see what you remembered after they recreated your entire fucking body from a chunk of me!

Hermod raises a foot and stomps down on the knife, agonizingly dislocating Magnes’s shoulder with the blade. “You— s-stole a chance for me to be ff-fucking normal!” Hermod stomps again, but this time hits Magnes clear in the chest. “I killed our father for making you! I tore out his fucking eyes and left him screaming in the fucking woods!” Another stomp, this time on Magnes’ stomach.

I’ll kill you! I’ll kill every single last fucking one of you for what you did to me!” Hermod is bawling as he attacks his perceived clone in Magnes. His eyes are puffy, red, and face streaked with a mixture of tears and blood. “I’ll crush you!” He raises his boot again.

Far afield from Magnes and Hermod’s confrontation, there is a riotous explosion of gunfire as the Vanguard conscripts turn on one another with a sudden panicked cry. Kaylee’s insidious telepathic impulse turns them on one-another, feeds on their fear and ends with a circle of bodies and the echoing remnant of gunshots ringing in her ears. She’s never done that before, never forced others to kill for her, let alone convinced others to kill their allies and it feels like it all happened so easily.

It was so simple.

The tank slowly pivots its turret, grinding across heaps of metal and demolished vehicles. As it pivots, it bypasses Dirk entirely, soon squaring on the blonde standing amid the debris field focused on the now dead Vanguard. Before it can settle on her, the metal debris beside the tank erupts as Rickham bursts free from the metal scrap, large gouges and divots punched in his metal body. He clamors over the metal, crawls up the side of the tank and grabs on to the barrel with both arms.

Knox!” Rickham screams, feet braced against the top of the tank, trying to prevent it from targeting Kaylee. “Get the hatch!” There’s no response from Knox, not at first. But finally, a battered and bleeding man pulls himself from the scrap pile. Knox is bloodied, a piece of rusted metal driven through his abdomen, clothed dark and red around the puncture. His brow is slashed from hairline to eyebrow, spread wide and blood glistening across his face. He slips and stumbles over to the tank, one arm limp and broken at his side.

Weakly, Knox hauls himself up, pulls himself to the roof of the turret and embraces the fear inside of Rickham and Dirk. Reaching down with his good hand, Knox grabs the exterior handle of the hatch and pulls. His teeth clench, muscles ripple in his back and shoulders, blood flows from the wounds at his front and back. Knox lets out an agonized scream, shoulder muscles rippling as metal bends, groans, strains, and finally snaps as he pulls the hatch free and lets it fly like a frisbee.

Knox stumbles back after the hatch is torn off, and when he leans over to drop down inside is immediately shot five times in the chest and face, crumpling to his knees and rolling off the side of the tank and into the scrap pile to land in Dirk’s line of sight.

Staring at the bodies, while wiping the blood from her nose with the back of her hand, the young telepath seems of two minds about what just happened. Kaylee knew she should be horrified by what she did, but… she found… s-s-she found…

Her whole body shudders, not letting that thought complete itself. Kaylee has only ever used her ability for selfish things… not killing. It should feel like that.

Up until now, she had been unaware of what was going one behind her; but, the telepath is very suddenly made aware of it by Knox’s scream and the sudden flickering of the man’s mind. “No!” Kaylee spins around only to be confronted with that huge barrel pointed right at her. It sends a wash of cold fear through her, paralyzing her for a span of what feels like forever.

In reality it is only moments, her feet start to carrying her forward as something seems to push her forward… Kaylee has tasted blood and now she wants more. Smart enough to not just run forward, the young woman weaves her way through the debris field towards the tank and the man within who she had already matched wits with. This time, however, it was time for a different tactic…

Distraction… long enough for someone to maybe… hopefully, shoot up the inside of that tank. Getting as close as Kaylee dares, situating a pile of scraps between her and the tank, her hand lifts in front of her in the direction she feels that mind… her ability snakes out and winds around it. She doesn’t try to dive in, but she lets the tank driver feel her there. «//Hello Handsome… Shall we dance? //» Her ability presses in, even as it seems to look for cracks within his defenses. Looking to give him thoughts of failure.. that he cannot win, but for now, she’ll settle for a decent distraction.

It’s the open eyed stare of death that traps Dirk in a cold freeze. “Ben….” he whispers, using the man’s real name for what is possibly the for the first time ever. Dragging his legs behind him, he makes his way to the body and gently draws a hand over his lashes to close them. “I’ll see you on the other side buddy…. At least you didn’t turn to cobbler.” That fact doesn’t make him (or probably anyone) any better but it’s a small mercy, dying quickly instead of to the virus.

Setting his face with grim determination, he tears the sleeve off his companion’s shirt and ties it around his head like a bandana. “Time to get serious,” he says to himself, pulling his body up and stumbling a few paces. Then the pistol comes out and he fires wildly toward the closest sniper he can find.

He doesn’t have Magnes’ flair for words or Kaylee’s grace, not even Rickham’s steadiness, but in a shot, Dirk’s adrenaline takes him faster than he thought was possible. To anyone else, it’s a slow jog, but to the P.A. it’s like he’s winning a marathon, firing shots every few steps.

Magnes is yelling, because he's felt similar pains before, especially that time he had his arm eaten off. Hermod rambles and is cruel, as cruel as Magnes knows himself to be, as cruel as many people refuse to believe that he is. This sort of torture, this is the pain he's inflicted onto everyone he's ever wanted revenge on, ever felt truly wronged by.

He vomits when his stomach is stepped on so unbelievably hard, so mercilessly.

Just as Hermod is about to stomp his foot into Magnes again, Magnes reaches up and rips the knife from his hand and shoulder with his free arm, and then jams it into Hermod's leg. "Tests…" he says, coughing, using the sudden stabbing as enough distraction to reach up with the same arm and grab Hermod's other leg, attempting to shift around and pull him to the ground, putting all of his weight on Hermod's leg.

He sounds like he's getting exhausted, but he keeps pushing through. He's had to play through the pain before, he's had to suffer because other people's lives depended on it. "I'm not a clone… our father, if our father did this… then I guess it really was tests. But I'm not a clone, I led the same shitty life you did, I constantly made mistakes too. I saved people, I hurt people, I hurt people I loved. But… I managed to work through whatever that instability is, that we have. I didn't even know I had it, I never learned these things…"

"You have to believe me, I don't want to fight you, I don't want to be here, I have to take these people and go back home, to my world. I know that you don't want this either, you don't think you can lead a normal life. But you can… you really can. We can leave here, together, you don't have to live in this world." His grip tightens around Hermod's leg, trying to restrain rather than hurt right now. "If you don't believe me, well, if there's something missing from your brain, then you must have a scar, right? If I was a clone, I wouldn't have a scar. Which means, if you know where the scar is, all you have to do is check, and you'll know that I'm telling the truth."

There's a sigh, and he shakes his head. "Come on, what will it hurt to try at least that much? I've been healed by Abby a bunch of times, but it doesn't just make old scars go away."

He suddenly releases Hermod, trying to stand up, holding his dislocated arm, bleeding, watching his other self. "Let's stop this. Just… check my head. If I'm not a clone, we can save Gillian together, with our power, no one can stop us, we can open up a wormhole, and we can get the hell out of here. Our father, as awful as he is, taught us a lot about logic."

"So… let's use it." There's a smile, and he coughs up some blood. "You're in love with Gillian, right? Honestly, she's kind of our first love, when I think about it. All that time on the internet. It's not too late for that, you know. You can change everything, you know there's always hope, because I know there's always hope."

Having this discussion in a crater, with smoke and debris everywhere, the apocalypse made somehow worse… yeah, that's life. There's always a moment to reflect on things like that. His encounters, his battles.

He's in unbelievable pain, but he's felt worse pains. He's facing down someone with an ability equal to his, and yet Magnes can't help but realize, in this moment, that he's been trained so much, had so much combat experience, and yet still kept thinking of himself as some weak nerd… but here he is, in pain, facing down this threat, bloody yet unafraid.

In this moment, he can't help but reflect on himself, in all the ways he's grown, in all the ways he's refused to grow.

It's fitting, really, that he faces down his greatest enemy, the one enemy that would force him to reflect inward, to consider his mistakes, to consider the kind of person he's been, the kind of person he wants to be.

Facing down the one enemy that he truly wants to save.


The thunderous report of a tank cannon firing drowns out all thought and sound. Panicking as Kaylee’s mind intrudes in his own, Hans fires the gun aimed down as close to the ground beside the tank as possible. The land explodes immediately, kicking a dark cloud of dust up into the air along with rocks, dirt, and scrap metal. Rickham is thrown from the turret from the shock of the blastwave, flying over the other side of the tank and landing in the debris pile. The vehicle starts moving toward, then treads pivot, and it turns around and struggles to aim in the direction of the clearest target, which happens to be both Magnes and Hermod.

The treads spin up again, dirt and mud sprayed out the back, and the vehicle begins to barrel forward. From side side, Rickham leaps in front of the tank, feet digging into the dirt and shoes ripped from metal feet. The ground furrows up around him and his metal body groans as he finds himself under the vehicle, propping it up at a diagonal angle. The scream that comes from Rickham is a roaring, metallic clang, and he flips the tank over onto its side with a resounding slam.

Rickham staggers, hematite eyes narrowed, and then drops to one knee as he looks around at the chaos and destruction. It’s then that he notices something is amiss. Someone is missing.

Across the battlefield, Hermod stares down at Magnes, pupils narrowed to pinpoints and foot resoundly resting on his doppelganger’s chest. Snarling, like an animal challenged to a meal, Hermod leans forward and grabs Magnes by the head, roughly manhandling him and checking him for a cranial scar. When he turns Magnes’ head to the side, his fingers press along the back of his scalp below and behind his ear. He pauses there, and Magnes can feel a fingernail pick at something. Hermod’s breath hitches in the back of his throat.

Something about the entire line of logic had Hermod frozen in place for a moment. He jerks away from Magnes, floating up into the air and putting distance between them both. His hand moves up to the back of his own head behind his right ear. Hermod breathes in, sharply, and fingers something there at his hairline. There’s a hitch of breath, brown eyes darting from side to side, hands shaking. He reaches down to the holster at his waist to withdraw his handgun, leveling it out at the other gravitokinetic.

Scar,” Hermod says in a huffed, shuddering breath. “A scar,” is something he hadn’t thought of, but it’s something that makes sense when coming from his doppleganger’s mouth. But there’s something intensely wrong with the way Hermod is acting, the way he looks erratically around himself, the short and shallow breaths, the seized and panicked shaking of his limbs.

“No… no, no, no, no, no!” Pawing at the side of his head, Hermod feels something there again. Tears begin to well up in his eyes, confused and frightened. “No! No! No, no, no!” There’s a keening sound in the back of the Vanguard officer’s throat, a horrified whine as he starts hyperventilating. He fires the gun at Magnes, but the bullet is caught between their gravitic fields, hovers for a moment, and then drops.

Swallowing noisily, Hermod looks at his other self, then looks at the gun in his hands. “No,” he whispers again, before putting the gun abruptly to the side of his head and pulling the trigger.

The sound of another nearby gunshot has Kaylee jumping nearly out of her skin. She looks over just in time to see a Magnes fall to his knees, and then fall over onto his side. At the same time, she notices that Dirk is nowhere to be found. Her mind races, trying to put the last few minutes together. Then, as she sees the smoking divot in the ground where the tank fired, she realizes that there’s a smoking shoe in the debris.

Dirk’s shoe.

From the now sideways hatch of the tank, Hans Kazakova pulls himself free. Gun in one hand, other arm broken. He lets out a rough, groaning snarl and raises the gun up toward Kaylee, “Hündin” he hisses, narrowing his eyes.

It feels like her head is going to explode, the fight against the tank driver’s will… the search for weakness… The pain is almost blinding, but there is satisfaction in what she has done. There is even a bit of a cheer when she sees that Rickham flips the tank. When Magnes’ doppelganger goes down, Kaylee is feeling like they have finally triumphed. “Oh my god, Dirk did you see….?” The blonde turns to look for him, casting a look around… she doesn’t see him, but she does spot the shoe.

That lone shoe is like a swift kick to the gut. It brings a sharp clarity to what was happening. Her eyes falling on the riddled body of Knox. People were dying. Good people were dying. One because of what she did… She could even die, he father understood that better than her. “No… nono.” Dirk was always so nice to everyone one, even when they were shitty to him… even she was guilty of that. The tears are almost instant.

It is only the unfamiliar shout that has Kaylee turning in time to see a gun pointed at her… at her. Her mortality suddenly slaps her in the face and the man poised to kill her will see her eyes widen in fear. The fear is so sharp and the pain in her head intense enough that it doesn’t occur to her to use the weakness she found. A last ditch effort to save herself. Instead, instinct suddenly kicks in… fight or flight… and the telepath scrambled to put something between her and Hans.

"Wait!" Magnes shouts, starting to run, then he just leaps into flight when he feels the other gravitational field drop.

He falls to his knees, taking Hermod into his arms, placing a hand onto the core of his stomach. Most might not understand why he does this, it's probably a thing that only a Magnes would understand, but he holds his hand there, then closes his eyes, tears starting to slowly roll down his cheeks.

Why… why did he do that? This was entirely unnecessary, they could have both gone back…

They could have both gone back.

He tries to process this, but he realizes he doesn't have much time, and he hears the explosions in the distance. It's complete and utter chaos, but he has to know what Hermod realized, he has to know…

Reaching down, he tries to feel behind Hermod's ear, and take a look, and then he reaches up to feel behind his own ear, to try to compare in the way that Hermod did.

He has to know. What kind of existential horror would have driven him to do this?


They have matching scars. Small curving incisions behind the ear. That ridge of scar tissue, which Magnes believed was from a childhood fall, is all it took. Whatever Hermod knew, whatever he saw, ended with—

A gunshot.

This time, from behind Magnes.

As he looks back to the sound, Magnes sees the flutter of Kaylee’s blonde hair as she is in full sprint. But her legs buckle, and she collapses into the mud. Behind her, a burly blonde man with short hair and a smoking gun stares across the distance of twisting scrap metal, a smoking crater, Knox’s corpse, and Kaylee’s gasping, writhing, prone form.

Hans Kazakova slowly rises to his feet, blood running from a gash in his brow. Gun now trained on Magnes.

One thing that Kaylee has never been, is shot. So the sensation of the bullets impact only gets a surprise yelp of pain. Her vision goes white and then for a moment she feels like she is going to pass out from the pain. Maybe it’s that sharp burning pain in her side that keeps her from completely succumbing to it.

Groaning, the telepath rolls on her good side and retches against the sensation of the world twisting of her world… and pure fear of dying. Feeling the sensation of stick warm sliding down her stomach and back, Kaylee presses a shaking against her side and whimpers at the pain, what she doesn’t know is there are twin holes front and back. Both are oozing steadily. Moving the hand into her line of view, she can only stare at it dumbfounded… not registering it right away for what it is… shock maybe? What she does focus on is just beyond that hand… to the tank driver…. The man who shot her.

Tipping her head a little she looks to see where he is pointing the gun. Magnes. His death would ruin everything that her father was trying to do… to get everyone out of this hell hole. Blue eyes narrow as she turns her attention back to Hans. The bloody hand turns out towards the man, a line of blood slowly sliding down her arm. Despite the pain… despite the fact that her head is pounding, Kaylee lets loose with her ability again.. Hopefully giving Magnes the chance he needs to get away. «Hey handsome… we ain’t done yet.» There is a growl from the telepath as she sends those seeking tendrils into the weak cracks in his mind driving down the command to «STOP!» As she does so, her vision goes white with pain…. She’s over extended her ability…

She’ll probably pass out before she knows the results of that last attempt.

Kaylee did what she snuck out to do.. What she risked everything for… to help her people.

Just like her daddy.

Magnes is on his knees, feeling that gun on him, and then he stares down at the other Magnes, Hermod, again. He can't stop staring, but he turns his head and realizes that Hans is pointing a gun at him, with Kaylee on the ground, the potential that he might die, but… that… that isn't what's bothering him, the feeling of failure, the feeling that he might not get back home, none of that bothers him in this moment.

Reaching out to place a hand against Hermod's cheek. Hermod is safe, held against Magnes, but Hans…

"KAZIMIR!!!" In that moment, all he can think about is Kazimir, what Kazimir's done to this world, what Kazimir did to him, in this world. The mystery of the scar aside, Kazimir did this, he made all of this happen, he's the reason they're all here like this, the reason everyone is suffering, why they couldn't just pleasantly work together to try to get home.

This is Kazimir. This is the Vanguard.

This oppressive world, where everything has been bent to that man's knee.

He starts to stand, he pops his wounded arm back in as best as he can. He had to do that shit in Argentina he's pretty sure, these things are starting to blend in for him.

"This world is disgusting…"

When Kaylee yells stop, he's familiar enough with her ability from back home to know what that means, what she's doing. But he also realizes what she's trying to do, what her intent is.

He won't let her die, he refuses to let her die.

Hermod is rested against the ground, and he goes flying across the battlefield. He's been straining his ability for a while now, but if he has to strain it a little more, then so be it. He refuses.

He absolutely refuses

"I'LL WIPE THIS PLANET CLEAN OF EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU!!!" he shouts, his entire body falling from above, moving to slam a single boot directly into Hans' head, enough gravity to shatter concrete, let alone a human skull.

"EVERY. SINGLE. ONE!!!" he shouts, eyes turning a glowing white-purple for a brief few moments before his nose starts to bleed, and he quickly draws his ability in.

He can't afford to burn himself out, this isn't over yet…

Hans is frozen in place, motor functions locked from a psychic urge deep in his mind that he needs to be very still. But what his subconscious tells him and what his eyes tell him do not line up. There is panic, confusion, terror that fills his every expression as he watches Magnes barreling down from above. He knows Hermod, and what his ability can do, and he’s seeing that in Magnes now.

It is the last thing Hans Kazakova sees.

What Magnes’ ability does is not kinetic impact. Object break but not because of concussive force. They are crushed by their own weight, much as anything that attempts to pass the event horizon of a black hole is crushed, but on an astronomically smaller scale. As Hans enters Magnes’ field of gravity, he is beset upon by an intense weight. He is dragged down, pushed down, as multiples of Earth’s gravity force him to collapse on himself against the rigidity of tendons and ligaments. Hans pops like a roll of twisted bubble wrap, screaming through a clenched jaw as he does.

Soon he is pressed flat to the ground as every bone in his body dislocates, fractures, and soft tissue is forced out through whatever opening it can manage. It is horrifying, but neither Kaylee nor Magnes see the full end of it. By the time Magnes’ shoe hits the ground his vision is swimming and spots flash in front of his eyes. His head throbs, body aches, and he succumbs to a crippling migraine that renders him first blind.

Then unconscious.

The Hub

Six Hours Later

There is an argument happening in Magnes’ peripheral vision, where he lays in aching incapacitation on a metal framed cot. The door to the small concrete room he rests in is only partly shut, and the metal-bodied form of Allen Rickham stands with one hand on the door, aggressively pointing at Edward Ray, who looks up at him with a baleful expression.

You are going to get everyone killed!” Rickham shouts in his hollow, metallic voice. But Edward steps up to him fearlessly, small and angry with red-trimmed eyes.

“Not her,” Edward affirms, whoever he is talking about.

Magnes’ vision swims again, blurring at the edges, before he blacks out again from the pain.

"Do not forget what I have done before," Kazimir insists, harshly, "do not forget that I am a murderer who has killed thousands of our kind, do not forget that all of this," he waves a hand out at the ocean, "is my fault. Do not dare disgrace the sacrifices of so many people who have given their lives, given their souls to stop me by canonizing me as some sort of redeemed devil." There's venom in his voice, frustration and emotion that is rare to emit.

"Do not forget for one moment that I am a villain," his blue eyes are cooling, losing that heat and emotion, "and that if I had the chance one year ago…

"I would have killed you without a thought."

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