As You Do


elliot_icon.gif gates_icon.gif

Scene Title As You Do
Synopsis Agent Gates gives Elliot a crash course in psychic defense training.
Date June 6, 2021

The Janus Offshore Drilling Platform appears, on its surface, to be a legitimate oil production facility. But the moment that veil is pulled back the truth is revealed to be anything but. The facility is a hive of government activity, overseen by the unblinking eye of the Office of External Investigations where an operation that may decide the fate of a billion, billion lives is underway.

Training for the operation comes in many forms, though not all physically exerting. Four floors below the helipad, across the facility from the Virginia Anomaly, there is a lead-lined cubical chamber lit by hanging globe lights in a box row of six by six. The floor is subtly padded, giving it a springy sensation, and is otherwise devoid of furnishing.

Agent Gates stands in the middle of the room, speaking with Agent Hall. The latter of the two is dressed in athletic wear and wiping her face down with a towel when the door opens. Hall turns, looking over her shoulder to see the new arrival, then blinks a look back to Gates.

“Better luck next time,” Hall says with a crooked smile. She takes a few steps back, then turns and walks across the floor and slows her pace as she crosses paths with Gates’ next guest. Hall looks Elliot Hitchens up and down with that same crooked smile and a pump of her brows.

“He’s got a mean right hook,” Hall says with a smirking tone, adding “watch out” as she breezes by to the door.

Janus Offshore Drilling Platform
Training Room

Off the Coast of Virginia

June 6th
3:47 pm

Gates reaches up to straighten his tie as he watches Elliot’s approach. “Mr. Hitchens, I’m glad you could make it to this exercise.”

Elliot watches Agent Hall leave with a confused smirk, which he then turns toward Agent Gates. He paces across the springy floor as the door closes behind him, though his attention is on the oddities of the room they’re in. “I had nothing else going on,” he says in response to Gates’s greeting. He leaves out that he’s happy to get this training, having few opportunities to hone this skill in his daily life.

“Was I supposed to wear gym clothes for this?” he asks, hooking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the door. “I generally prefer to not sweat,” earns him a vague chuckle through the network from Wright.

“It’s mind over matter, really.” Gates says with a casual shrug. “For Hall, mind and matter are one in the same. Mental and physical exertion don’t have a boundary, especially when it comes to utilizing her ability.” He looks briefly at Hall’s back before she slips out the door, then fixes his slightly divergent stare on Elliot.

“I wanted to give you some rudimentary training in psychic intrusion defense.” Gates explains, spreading his hands in gesture to the room. “It was commonplace under the Company, and the training regimen was passed down to the Department of Evolved Affairs, and later SESA and the OEI. It helps train a defender from being mind read, and in some cases more invasive telepathic abilities.”

Gates lifts one hand, pointing to his right temple with a single finger. “I’m what’s classified as a reactive telepathic mosaic. My psychic abilities are imprinted on by exposure to other mental abilities, which I then copy and adapt for my own uses. This is a double-edged sword, in that if I’m exposed—unknowingly—to a psychic effect, I will adaptively obtain it and be unaware how to control it until it manifests.”

Lowering his hand, Gates folds both behind his back. “As such, I have what you might call a Swiss-Army knife of mental abilities at my disposal, which will allow you and I to engage in a level of psychic sparring today.”

Elliot is actually excited for this training. Limiting the possibility of psychic feedback is a high priority. He’s horrified to consider—and grateful to have never experienced—something like a compulsion breaking through to co-hosts, making them do other things which might endanger them if they suddenly changed their behavior. He nods in understanding.

Once the agent describes his own ability, Elliot’s demeanor shifts. Heartbeat elevated, poised for a sudden movement. Fluttering between fight or flight and landing on freeze. He works his jaw, tries to speak. Wright pulls his attention with a sharp flurry of pings before he remembers to breathe, to relax his posture slightly. He streams her senses to anchor himself, to lean on her steadier reaction.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he says. “You absolutely do not want—” there’s a faint but visible quiver of his cheek, his eye, as he broaches a topic that his years of purposeful conditioning want him to avoid, “—my ability.” Again there’s no sudden release of worry, no cathartic finality to having made an admission about his network of lies. If everything goes according to plan, there never will be.

He feels the event horizon of a Bad Memory that he can tell will break any semblance of normalcy for this interaction. Move him to panic. But Wright feels it too, draws his attention to their anchor. “Coalesce,” she says, prompting a memory from the Index rather than the Palace. Letting the other settle back to the bottom of the bog. He takes that Big Breath In, more calmly than he would have a month ago. Grimaces at his reaction, giving Gates an awkward smile.

“Sorry, it’s just…” he says, “Not safe.” It’s not a lot of things.

Gates raises his hands, palms out. “You’re absolutely right on that, I don’t want your mental link. And I should be safe from exposure to it, provided you don’t intentionally try to link with me.” Lowering his hands, Gates takes a walk around Elliot. “But your ability is why you’re the only one who is going to undergo this training, because you are going to be the multi-faceted point of failure for the entire group. If you become compromised, it could spread to the others. It could spread back here.” To Wright.

Stopping his pacing, Gates folds his hands behind his back. “The training regimen I have in mind is a meat-space telepathic intrusion defense lesson, which means in the here and now, me and you, a little mental sparring.” Then, Gates extends two fingers. “Part two is a mindscape version of that training, while dreaming, in a construct of my design. The rules work differently when you’re in a mental space, and you need to be prepared for attacks to come from either vector.”

Elliot relaxes honestly when Gates clarifies their activities, not the false calm he’d cultivated. He allows the agent’s agreement to push him past his discomfort, shedding the dread, forgetting it. He lets it bend bend bend across his mind until it’s too slippery to hold on too. Can’t remember what it was that had him so on edge. Embarrassing, really.

“Jesus,” he laughs as Gates paces around him. “I’d have killed for some dream-construct training recently. Still would, actually. I think there’s a stone angel stalking the halls of…” pause brief as he recalculates, “the places in my recurring dreams.” Nice save.

Gates arches one brow slowly, momentary concern crossing his face. But there’s enough in Elliot’s tone to dismiss the whole thing as recurring trauma-based nightmares. Somewhat less concerning than the alternative. More manageable, to be sure.

“Do you feel like this is something you’re up to, today?” Gates asks, tilting his head to the side like a dog that heard a far-off noise. “If you haven’t been getting good sleep we could push it out a day or two. The last thing I want is to put your mind under additional stress.” Just the right amount.

“Yeah,” Elliot says, “I’m good to go. Sleeping as well as I can. Got roped into somebody’s crazy dream adventures recently, though occurrences are few and far between. It’s been a hoot.” He doesn’t seem very troubled by it, relaxed with his hands stuffed in the pocket of his hoodie.

“With Wright here it’s easier to sleep anyway,” he continues. “Synchronizing our sleep cycles lowers the chance that one of us will be caught alone out of REM. Either way I wouldn’t want to pass up this opportunity. It’s not something I can easily find training for, and I get that I need it.”

He doesn’t miss the agent’s look of concern. If they’re going to visit Gates’s construct, they should be fine. He has a faint urge to warn him, but it’s immediately crushed under the weight of secrecy. Bent and falling away, again and again. Already forgotten. “But if you start quoting Edna St. Vincent Millay I might wake myself up out of spite.”

Gates raises one brow and follows it up with an awkward smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know who that is,” he admits with an uncharacteristically nervous laugh. “I’m not that kind of nerd.” Though just as quick as he adopted that more casual demeanor, Gates drops it and angles a look over to the wall, then back to Elliot.

“So,” Gates says, gesturing to his side. “The first thing I’m going to instruct you on is sensory orientation. This is a defensive tactic that I’m fairly certain originated with the Company, it’s a sensory checklist routine you need to condition yourself to perform in order to ascertain if one of your senses is being manipulated.”

Gates folds his hands in front of himself. “Some telepaths possess the ability to generate false sensory input, but it auditory, visual, tactile, gustotatory, olfactory, vestibular, and in rare cases proprioceptive or body awareness.

“Now, most of those are self-explanatory. The telepath can use their ability to interfere with your senses to make you believe something is, or isn’t, happening. The most common use of this is to cloud your optical receptors from perceiving the telepath, allowing them to pass through your field of vision without recognition. Auditory is pretty common as well, but it more often arises as projected sound or what is commonly referred to as telepathic speech. The others, scent and taste, unlikely outside of specific cases. Now vestibular is tricky, because that is a telepathic manipulation of your body’s perception of motion. This is only ever really present in high-threat telepaths capable of multi-sensory manipulation. Proprioceptive is almost unheard of, that’s the ability to make you fail to be able to perceive yourself or to perceive yourself as someone or something else.”

As Gates talks, he slowly paces in front of Elliot. “In my tenure I’ve only known of… maybe four or five telepaths worldwide capable of that last trick. Most of whom are dead now.” He shrugs. “Now, a sensory checklist routine is a self-assessment either when you suspect that there may be telepathic interference as a possibility, or when your suspension of disbelief makes you believe that something may be unreal. It’s as simple as focusing on one sense at a time, looking for incongruities.” Gates tips his chin up. “You meditate, right? That’ll give you an edge on this.”

“I do love proprioception,” Elliot says. “Probably my secret favorite sense-share. In close quarters you can use another person’s in order to track yourself in a space, assuming they’re looking at you or you’re familiar with the environment. Handy in a kitchen. I had a former co-host whose ability was telepathic misdirection, which messed with it. Mostly used it to stack a deck of cards.” He’s not actually sure how Yancy’s ability really functioned. He knows it was Foundational, Relevant.

Elliot gives Gates’s question a bobble of his hand, so-so. “I’m not great at meditation,” he admits. “I’ve been practicing over the last couple of years, letting Wright’s emotions roll past so I don’t get sucked into them.”

“Actually,” he corrects, doesn’t talk down how difficult it was to get to this point, “I usually only get empathy overflow if I’m injured or panicking. Even in those situations Wright and I can tag Indexed memories. Like the memory of removing myself from a strong emotion with purpose. That’s not meditation but it’s a tool I supplement it with. Experiencing something else to keep from tipping into a rabbit hole. Very few people know that.”

The Index doesn’t carry the dangers of the Palace. It’s simpler, straight-forward. An artifact of Tala’s ability, the way she remembered. Foundational, Relevant. A database of memories used to communicate in situations where they don’t want people hearing what they say. Or whenever they’re alone. It operates in the same way as the tags he uses to link someone into the network, call and response. Trigger and memory. It also doesn’t carry a decade of conditioning against talking about it, they just never do. “Actually I’m curious if a thought reader would be foiled by that at all. Never had occasion to test it.”

“Well,” Gates says with shrug, “no time like the present.”

And like an old Kung-Fu movie mentor sucker-punching his student, Gates unleashes a quick snap of telepathic hell at Elliot. It manifests like dolly zoom in a Hitchcock movie, where the distance between Gates and Elliot appears to rapidly expand. But unlike a simple camera trick, the room begins to corkscrew until Gates is upside down as opposed to Elliot and appears to be over a hundred yards away.

Gates then raises one hand, holding a keychain from it. “Come get the keys.” He says as the corkscrew begins to rotate slowly.

Elliot reacts to the sudden skewed perspective by lowering his posture, hands to the sides. When the room begins to rotate he nearly tips over, skidding a step the the left before clenching his eyes shut. “Wow, that’s awful,” he says. He takes a centering breath to get past the disorientation.

He tries to keep the image of the room from before the distortion in mind, judging the distance to Agent Gates. He starts, then hesitates. He can’t help but peek into the room again, making things decidedly worse. “God damn it,” he says as he levels his postures again. Then with all the grace of a child preparing to zap a sibling after sock-surfing around a carpet, he slides forward on his sneakers and swipes out for the keys.

The keys clatter in Elliot’s hands, he feels the purchase of metal against his palm.

“Good,” he hears Gates say. “Now, we advance.”

The sensation of keys in Elliot’s hand changes in an instant, the keys crumble like dry earth and then begin skittering in fragments across his palm, between his fingers, over the back of his hand and up his wrist. Hundreds of tiny legs. Spiders.

Elliot simultaneously opens his eyes and shakes his hand sharply in an effort to dislodge the… nothing. “Jesus,” he says through gritted teeth, “Motherfucker.” Not to Gates, merely the spidery sensation crawling up his arm.

He clutches at his forearm with his other hand as though it might prevent them from gaining more ground. He goes through a rapidfire evaluation of what he should be able to do to combat this, and settles on a memory. Pins and needles pins and needles, he thinks, trying to change the association to that of a sleeping limb.

It only works in half-measure. The pins and needles feeling still scrambles further up Elliot’s arm, moves beneath his sleeves, triggers primal fear-centers of contact with insects.

You aren’t alone,” Gates says. “Your ability is a sense. Overwhelm what isn’t real.”

Elliot and Wright reflexively seek out a stronger sense memory that can wash this feeling away, and both their minds go to the same place. To their composite of the festival.

Elliot is unconscious before Wright hears the explosion—In the moments between the percussive force of the blast and indistinct haze of smoke and screams of pure terror, Elliot is becalmed in a sea of scintillating black—She gasps at the emptiness where he should be, that gnawing black—When he is able to sense again it’s only the slaughterhouse of the culvert, the ringing in his ears is the whine of drones, the pop and hiss of burning metal and flesh is the cannonade of gunfire—As Elliot begins to come to, she streams the memories as they appear to him in his confusion, flickers of what’s left of his recollection of the Chokepoint.

A couple blinks brings him back here, away from Cambridge, as he looks around he knows that this is now, though there are dead children all the same—She feels the chill of the panelling of the Wolfhound truck, clutching a handle as the blossoms of firelight momentarily burn silhouettes of trees into her vision—That’s when the pain registers, a wash of stabbing agony stemming from his arm, articulated at a new joint and blossoming red—She doesn’t feel his pain until he feels it himself—There’s also blood in his eyes and mouth, but not his blood.

He inhales through the agony of ribs bruised or broken, feels the network flicker in the periphery of his mind. “Black box black box,” he says. Hears Wright reply, “Black box confirm.” Feels her dry-heaving from his pain as she grips the door of the armored truck. Feels her drop the sensory link, leaving his pain behind for him alone. He slips his belt from his pants with his left hand and tourniquets his right.

Elliot shudders against the feeling, his grip on his own arm now delicate, as though any harder might rekindle the pain of a broken bone long since healed. He winces at the damage they did to that memory, that they had to do.

The spiders don’t feel like spiders any longer. Though somehow that is less a concession in the face of more traumatizing past. Gates squares his shoulders. It’s only then that Elliot realize there were never any keys at all. That hand closed around them is empty. A trick of the mind, a trick of the light, a trick of

Geographic Location Redacted

A spotlight comes on in the dark, illuminating the bare concrete floor and a twelve-sided pillar of smooth, dark stone. Atop which rests a red rotary phone.


Drifting closer.




Until a voice in the darkness, tinny and distant says

Gates here

And another voice replies

Are you available for a quick case review?

To which the original man replies

Yes, I'm in my office. What do you have for me?

Water begins running out of the seams of the rotary phone, trickling down the base of the pillar.

In the Moment

Gates steps away from Elliot, bringing a hand up to his head. Elliot is likewise repelled backwards as if two opposing ends of a magnet came into contact with one-another. Gates exhales a shaky breath, staring at Elliot with wide eyes. For a moment there is a dull, humming silence.

After which Gates asks in a whisper. “What was that?

Elliot barks out an alarmed noise, winces. Snaps his fingers once, twice. “What the fuck?” he says, accusatory. “What fucking phone was that?” It couldn’t have been the phone in the Switchboard. It couldn’t. Breath catching, jaw clenched. Blink, blink, blink. “That wasn’t…” …one of the Palace loci? Could it be on one of the lost levels? He can’t remember what all of them were. Even parts of the Church are missing now, and that's on the surface.

His heartbeat is erratic, and Wright sits in horrified silence, frozen in place on her bunk. He stomps on his link to Asi, assures himself it’s well closed. Firewalls Asi from Wright for good measure. He has an urgent desire to go to the 0bservation Room. To check the locks, touch each one in order. He has no idea what that action would look like to Gates, worries that going that far down the rabbithole would just lead Gates through the maze, past the traps. But that’s just reflexive fear. If the Switchboard was unlocked, Elliot would know. Everybody would know.

He tries his best to reel himself in, feels Wright’s pulse through her fingers pressed into her neck. He realises there’s no clean walkback from his reaction, but gives it a shot. “That wasn’t you?”

“It— was. Sort of.” Gates looks at Elliot, tracking his eyes from side to side as if only seeing him for the first time. In the state of shock that he is, Gates doesn’t do as well of a job as he usually does modulating his expression, and Elliot can see the naked confusion on his face. The surprise. The fear.

“I recognize the phone.” Gates says softly. “The voices were—” He puts a hand to his head, wincing at a throb behind his eyes. “We must’ve have tangled our Schwartzes together,” he mumbles an opaque Spaceballs reference.

“Part of my ability is… the construction of a mind palace.” Gates says, moving his hand from his brow. “That phone, that’s my safe room. I can invite others into it, communicate over vast distances. I’m like a…” he searches for a word and Elliot hates the one he lands on, “switchboard for the DOE. All of our interdimensional communications happen through my mind, while the Looking Glass is open, providing a gateway by which telepaths on their side can project agents’ minds over to me.”

Elliot reels, skin roils, thoughts cloud, ears ring an echo of that phone, that scrape along the hull. His throat is tight as the Bad Memory stirs again, floats up to the surface. He keeps his attention elsewhere, tries with great difficulty to push it back beneath the waves. He focuses on his heart rate, on his breathing, on the startling fact, the unexpected realization: Gates could fix the Palace.

What if it were suddenly that simple? What if they didn’t have to sleep in fear of these last, weary locks coming undone? Thoughts flash from one to the next, images, parts of ideas, rings and rungs and reinforcements, parts of a map he can’t see in its entirety, not anymore. Of water, the Foundation, the door labelled SWITCHBOARD and the phone still ringing behind it.

He’s worried Gates’s fear and distrust may lead him on a foray deeper into his mind. Chasing the cowpaths and highways of the network into the core of him. If Angel could manifest a corrupted version of the Palace in his dream, he realizes, sadly, that he can’t risk Gates’s safety in the promised dream construct training. Can’t risk what stability the Palace has left in those crumbling columns if it endures another collision. He begins to put the Forbidden Words in order, feeling the Bad Memory stir beneath the waves as though asking for help was deserving of punishment. Then it hits in a rush.

“What’s—irst thing you wa—do when you g—home?” Elliot asks only to feel—feel—feel—a toxic dredge, a horrifyin—darkness as—

Bastian falls in—self, implodes. His head leaves—bury itself between his knees. —struggle as his arms co—wrap around—head, cover his ears. Whispers, “I—

He croaks, nearly loses himself, nearly overwhelmed, doesn’t let himself hear the response. Feels Wright release a pang of heartbreak for him in her room, feeling what she wasn’t there to feel, what he can’t allow himself to feel right now. He fights it, slams doors that aren’t even there as though, like a mantra, the thought alone might protect him from the rest. He takes a shaky breath, hangs his head, shuts his eyes.

“I can’t let you attempt the dream training,” he says around a tightness in his throat, hates the way his tongue clicks dryly around the words. “I’m incapable of explaining why.” Not unwilling, not reticent, not disinterested, not afraid, not loath, not averse, not resistant, not unenthusiastic, not disinclined, not opposed, not unaccommodating, not against, not hesitating, not, not, not notnotnotnotnotnot. Wright’s hands snap out before her in a thunderous clap. Her palms sting, and Elliot can only grimace further, look to the floor for support.

“No that’s—” Gates takes a step back and gingerly raises a hand to his temple, wincing, “—that’s fine. I think maybe we went a little too hard and fast today, anyway.” He looks back up to Elliot, trying to relax. But the ghost of discomfort still haunts his features. Lowering his hand, Gates tries to unclench his shoulders and fails to do that as well.

“We can pick this up…” Gates starts, but falters. “Later.” He seems cloudy, unfocused, distracted. The furrow in his brow belies his preoccupation with what just happened. Now Gates looks at Elliot anew, as if only now seeing the person standing in front of him with clear eyes. “But yeah you’re right, maybe we uh, skip a couple chapters of this lesson too.”

Elliot can’t make himself keep eye contact with Gates. He knows what this can do to someone, exposure to even the outskirts of the truth. Wright pushes her fingers through her hair and grips her scalp as though the pressure could keep Gates from looking in. It dawns on him late in Gates’s excusal: he wasn’t prepared for this at all.

“I thought Raith would have…” he starts, stops. Warned you. He casts his eyes further down. “He doesn’t have any information for me, does he.” Tone like a statement, not a question. He’s glad he looked on his own, as glad as he can be about what he found. As glad as he can be about anything under the spotlight of Gates’s crooked stare and dawning horror.

“No.” Gates says with a tone that implies the unspoken but I wish we did.

“Look, there’s a lot about what happened at the Institute that’s a mystery. To me, to the people who were held there, to the people who worked there. The Director wasn’t know for keeping everyone in the loop, and when Adam Monroe inherited all the skeletons in his closet, he buried a lot of them.”

Gates looks down at his feet, then back up to Elliot. “The only person who would know for sure might be the former Director, and he died in Alaska a decade ago.”

Elliot finally musters the will to look Gates in the eye. “I’m surprised by the honesty. Not surprised that somebody with the personality of a keelhauling, like Raith, would lie to get what he wanted. I would have done this regardless,” he says. “The fucking world is ending.”

Not that he has any real ground to stand on considering the severity and frequency of his own deceit. He sighs, keeps those lies from getting too close to the front of his mind where Gates may brush up against them with his own. Anchoring himself with Wright is already clearing up most of his panic.

“Come on,” Gates says as he moves to Elliot’s side. “Let’s get out of here and get you a water or something. You look a little green around the gills.”

Gates’ hand falls away and he takes a step away from Elliot, toward the door. “We can pick this up later, or…” he shrugs.

Maybe never.

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