At The Limits Of The Earth, Part II


bright_icon.gif castle_icon.gif chess5_icon.gif elliot_icon.gif emmie_icon.gif eve6_icon.gif gates_icon.gif hall_icon.gif richard4_icon.gif robyn7_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title At The Limits Of The Earth, Part II
Synopsis At the end of the world, an unlikely group of heroes prepare to give history a second chance.
Date April 16, 2021

REM wrote a song about this, but it’s different when it’s real. The end of the world. And this group isn’t a band. More of, say, a motley crew.

Agent Gates stands at the head of a windowless conference room, joined by four other members of the Office of External Investigations: Agents Hall, Sommerfield, Bright, and Castle. With them, Richard Ray sits alongside Robyn Roux, Elliot Hitchens, Wright Tracy, and Chess Lang. But it’s the dark-haired woman with her turtle sitting beside agent Castle, along with a stack of freshly drawn charcoal illustrations, that is the most surprising.

Because it’s Eve Mas.

“Before anyone says anything,” Gates says with a raise of his hands, “yes, she’s supposed to be here.”

Janus Offshore Drilling Platform
Off the Coast of Virginia Beach

April 16th
5:54 pm

“I understand there’s some apprehension, but please rest assured, this was an explicit ask by the Director and I agree with his rationale.” Gates says as he slowly lowers his hands. “I’d like all of you to understand that what we’re about to discuss here today is so much more important than whatever personal grievances any parties in this room may have with one-another.”

There is a soft clanging of distant pipes in the concrete-walled conference room and a subtle vibration in the floor. Somewhere roughly forty feet below them, a tear in space and time is held in place by what amounts to high tech subwoofers staving off the end of the world. But not the one they’re here to address.

“By now all of you are familiar with VA02, the anomaly contained beneath us.” Gates states as he picks up a tablet, remotely turning on a widescreen display mounted on the wall at the back of the room. “That isn’t the threat I need you all to save the world from.” He taps a few icons on his tablet, then swipes a presentation out to the screen, which shows a radio imaging of the sun, animated to produce a massive solar flare.

The image then zooms out, showing the flare’s path, like the head of a cracking whip, before it strikes the Earth. A printout on the side of the screen reads:

Estimated Casualties: 7.674 billion

“This is.”

Apprehension isn't what shows on Robyn's face, it's anger. Ever since Eve's presence was revealed to them, Robyn hasn't taken her eyes off the other woman, nor has she spoken a word. Arms crossed, she finally speaks up when Gates asserts that that all of this is more important.

"Is it? I happen to like being alive," is remarked snidely, either ignoring or missing the point that there's a good chance they'd die anyway. The sullen, quiet woman from earlier has been replaced with one that seethes on the edge of exploding into rage or worse. It's unprofessional and it's childish, but that doesn't seem to stop her.

Leaning back in her chair, she considers kicking her feet up on the table in front of her. The solar flare finally draws her attention away from Eve - mostly, at least. There will be words about this later.

Arms folded neatly, Sommerfield looks over those gathered critically, and knowingly at least in the case of a few of them. Elliot may at least recognize her from the events at Xpress, when she had attempted to give some orders, seeming to have an understanding of what had cut off the medical team from the disaster when Wolfhound had shown up to help.

As an aside, she sees fit to add on in her very posh British accent, “That happens to be the entire population of our world if you didn’t know.”

“And the numbers aren’t even accurate,” Castle speaks up, eyes squinting a little, “Cause this is only taking into account the populations of our world.” Their accent isn’t tinged with Irish as Chess might be used to, because today they are on the job, a merging of both of them, in agreement with each other. Two souls sharing a body with one purpose and goal…

Though they do break from for a moment to cast a partial wink in her direction. A hint of comfort. At least he’s glad she’s here.

Elliot does remember agent Sommerfield, and not entirely fondly. Though for the sake of not holding grudges he merely directs her a professional nod of recognition. Agent Castle looks vaguely familiar as well and seems generally pleasant. The others he’s only met today. Today’s primary goal is to not tell a member of this department to eat shit. So far so good.

Elliot didn’t interact with Eve at her festival, so the last time he really saw her was a year ago yesterday. When she was waiting, ominously, for him and Wright to come unearth a war cache hours outside the Safe Zone. While generally speaking they’re both kind of terrified of her, they at least feel now like she’s not likely to murder them, so he greets her with a quick peace sign.

The sun though—this is as much as he’s known for the past 4 months, and seeing it rendered on a monitor certainly doesn’t make him feel less dread about it. Wright remains quiet as well, trying to come to grips with the severity of the event.

When they stepped into the room, unlike Robyn, Chess’ tension lessened, instantly and visibly, upon seeing the “rest of their party.” Now, separated from Castle by a few feet and chairs, she sits so she can keep them and Eve in line of sight. The mission they’re being debriefed on and the consequences of failing are too serious for her to look at ease, but at least she no longer looks like she might vomit at any moment, like she had in the room with the anomaly.

Little victories.

Robyn’s words draw Chess’ eyes that way again, but she’s kept from snapping on behalf of Eve from the dire statistics on the screen. It’s not news to her, though seeing it in such stark black and white (in whatever color the Powerpoint display uses) would be sobering if she were not already devoid of any humor or levity in this moment. Even Castle’s blinked winks can’t reassure her. She looks their way at their addendum, remembering the first night they had met, Basil’s words asking her what she would do if she knew everyone she ever knew would die.

This is why she’s here — to try to stop it from happening.

Agent Bright sits at the end of one side of the conference table, leaning his head on one hand as if he doesn’t have the energy to hold it up himself.. His other hand clutches a cup of coffee, and the yellow cellophane of a butterscotch disk sits beside it; the disk clicks now and then against his teeth. The usually dapper man is sallow, like he might throw up any moment, looking like he may have been on a bender last night himself.

It's impossible to tell what Richard's thinking as he leans back in his seat, regarding the woman on the other side of the table with an absolutely flat expression. Eyes hidden by dark lenses watch her, and then turn away towards the display and those speaking.

He folds his hands on the table's edge, his chin dipping in a slight nod. "Do we have an estimated date on when this flare will occur, Gates? What’s the timeline here look like?"

“Within a year,” Gates replies, turning to face the table. “Estimates are in fluctuation, however, it could be early next year or late. We know one is brewing and we’ve been feeding information to analysts who are keeping a close eye on the matter. Which, I suppose, is a segue to the other part of this discussion.”

Changing the slide, Gates shows a photograph of a partially-constructed machine made from frost-covered piping, gold-plated wiring sprawling across the walls of an enormous room toward a triangular frame. There is a large array of lasers mounted to the floor, pointed at the center of the triangular frame, and technicians working on cart-mounted computer terminals.

“This is the Generation 3 Looking Glass,” Gates explains with a motion to the screen. “An interdimensional gateway first designed by Michelle Cardinal, both in this timeline and the root timeline. This model is based off of design elements from the Generation 2 Looking Glass made by Warren Ray and the Generation 1.5 Looking Glass designed by the Commonwealth Institute that was deployed at Mount Natazhat, Alaska in 2011.”

The slide changes, showing the machine fired up, and the interior of the triangle has a fist-sized point of light at the middle connected to the outer frame by arcing bolts of electricity. “Unfortunately, due to the power constraints of this device and the limitations of our designs, we’ve only been able to force the aperture open roughly six inches. Using information gleaned from outside sources, we developed a laser communication method and transmitted data through the aperture on our test firing in the hopes of being detected by another party.”

Gates shrugs and smiles. “We were.”

“Last year, when we attempted to transmit data through the Looking Glass we were met with communication from the other side almost immediately. The frequency we used to open the Looking Glass was that of a timeline in which Arthur Petrelli was not killed in 2009. A timeline that has gone through considerable changes and turmoil, but came out the other side stronger and brighter. Colloquially, we refer to it as the Bright timeline. No relation to the Agent. It’s official name is Branch 2.”

“Branch 2 developed their own Looking Glass technology years prior and, thanks to the efforts of precognition, they were waiting for us to make contact with them. Over the last year we’ve worked with the administration of President Allen Rickham to build a remote office for the Department of the Exterior, and have collaborated with our Remote Office agents on solving this crisis.” Gates explains, and the next thing he shows on the slides is astounding.

Photographs of another dimension.

The screen behind Gates depicts the New York City skyline, gleaming with skyscrapers. A massive cylindrical tower rises up in Lower Manhattan gleaming with glass. Photographs of Midtown not in ruins but overgrown with vegetation, statues, and art installations. Photographs of an older Allen Rickham in a suit, standing beside Kaylee Thatcher with the seal of the Office of the President behind him.

“One of our specialists in the Remote Office is that timeline’s Edward Ray, who serves in an advisory role to the president. I believe many of you are familiar with Mr. Ray, but for those who aren’t, he is a probability predictor precognitive. Meaning that the more data points Mr. Ray has access to, the more accurate his calculations of the future become.” The slide turns to a photograph of Edward Ray in his late fifties in a suit and dark-framed glasses, sitting at a computer looking at predictive modeling of the flare.

Gates switches the slide back to the projection of the solar flare. “It is with the combined efforts of the Home and Remote offices that we have estimated this flare is happening in synchronization with every known, observable timeline. Not just here, not just there. Everywhere.”

“Our plan…” Gates says, switching to the next side to show triangles deploying into space around the Earth, with little dotted lines showing their path. “Is to build a shield.” The dotted lines converge at a distance beyond the moon, forming into a hexagon. “This solar shield, when deployed, would block the effects of the flare from striking the Earth.”

On the display, the model shows the flare lashing out from the sun, hitting the shield, and causing a conical area behind the shield to not be affected by the solar radiation.

“However, we do not have enough time to design, test, prototype, and fabricate the shield.” Gates explains, turning back to the group. “If we had a working design that was proven to work, we could rapidly fabricate it and deploy it in hopefully enough time. In that, we have one Hail Mary.”

Gates switches the slide to show a photograph of a bearded man with long hair and tired eyes. “We have intelligence provided to us by the Remote Office that this man, Richard Drucker, designed and began construction on such a solar shield for NASA in 2007. In another dimension.”

Gates switches slides to show an overhead map of the United States. “This research was performed by NASA in a timeline where the Vanguard terrorist organization was successfully able to detonate an atomic bomb beneath the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica in 2009, leading to massive global climate change and flooding that raised sea levels by more than 100 feet.”

At the push of a button, the image of the United States changes, showing massive coastal depletion as the sea levels rise. “This, combined with the Vanguard’s aggressive military action against global governments following the flood, led to a complete and total breakdown of modern civilization. We know that Drucker survived these events and is located here.”

Gates presses a button on his tablet, and a green triangle appears in southern Alaska. “In a facility located in the Mount Natazhat region of Alaska. Three-thousand and two hundred miles away from our only known insertion point into this timeline. Branch 0, or, the Root timeline.”

Eyes locked with Eve and no one else, the surly expression on Robyn's face only grows with each passing moment until it becomes a full on scowl. A large part of Gate's history lesson is lost on or ignored by her; she knows the basic idea of Looking Glass and to her that's all she really needs.

At least, until the Photos from Elsewhere start to be shown. Robyn's eyes widen as she sees that skyline, those shots of Midtown - the words Unity Park echo from somewhere deep in the back of her mind. President Rickham. A part of her knows what this is despite missing it being named, somehow.

A feeling she can't quite describe wells up in her. Something distant, not so easily pushed down. But she does, just. Swallow, it's all eyes on the presentation at last, just in time to her the mention of her father. And now it all starts to come together.

"Bright and Flood," she whispers mostly to herself. "Of course." Her expression thins, devoid of any telling body language as she leans back and cocks her head slightly to one side. "So what. We go there and walk across the country to find a man who has to be, what, 80 by now?" It's oddly detached for someone who is gradually understanding her stakes in this.

“Something like that,” Gates says with a slow sigh. “It's going to require in-field recon and interfacing with an asset we’re fortunate enough to have on-site, but I'll get to that. It's not going to be easy, though.”

Eve is too busy caressing precious Bean and looking over her sketches as the others file in, she completely misses the flat looks and sadly even the fond ones. Eve is studying.

Voices. Those are familiar voices… tilt your head up and feast your eyes, you big turkey!

"Careful Red, your face may get stuck like that." Eve's head lifts and blood red shining pupils stare back at the other woman before slowly taking in the others, expression softening at finding Chess' face amongst the others. There's a sly smile on her lips.

Bean (the turtle) barely moves a muscle, head swaying from left to right slowly from his perch in Eve's lap. She doesn't look worried or upset, she seems to be the happiest she's ever been. Eyeing the slides shown, grinning madly at the image of Kaylee before her grin drops when she spots Edward. "The one I met was no fun." The messy bun of dark hair becomes more messy as her head whips around, strands flying into her face. "All at once across the globes, gutes-asi, unite. They'll all implode." Tapping her fingers on the surface of charcoal drawings.

"Energy energy, she still needs a battery." Brow furrows and her hand is removed from the sketches, placed on her cheek and leaving smudges of charcoal behind. "Do you know when the next eclipse is?" Her tone is vacant and eyes get a faraway look in them.

“The next total solar eclipse in the United States isn't until 2022,” Gates says, as if that is a fact he commits to memory. “Outside of the US, I'd have to check.”

Sommerfield clicks her tongue as she looks at the pictures, perhaps still surprised even if she’s seen it for the dozenth time. “It’s a lot to take in if you didn’t know about the other worlds— but I think most of you have been briefed on that at least. Even then, it’s a sight to see.”

To see the world whole and together and “Evolved” able to live openly and rule in apparent harmony? It was something that seemed impossible now, especially for someone who had come from the UK.

Meanwhile, Agent Castle reaches over and puts their hand on top of Eve’s as if offering her calmness or support, but it definitely seems more familiar than a motion by an agent who had arrested her. They don’t say anything about it, though, even if they pat her hand gently— gentle pats. Be good.

Like a parent trying to soothe a child.

Or a child trying to soothe a parent, in this case.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to come up with a plan, or we might have had time to come up with a better one, but this is what we got, and it’s better than sit around and wait for the inevitable.” They would know. They did that once. They tried to, at least. Even after it killed half of them. “The Root world is not a fun place to live, and I doubt it’s any more fun now than it was a few years ago. But you won’t be going in alone.”

That was his way of reassuring Chess that, yes, he was going to.

“How divergent are the events of the root timeline?” Elliot asks, “If our NASA didn’t design this shield, what else was notably different before the flood?” He’s managed to pack down the dread of comprehending that there might be another version of him out there. Or in Branch 2. Though, if events changed there in 2009, it’s unlikely that version of himself ever went into the Ark. Ever came out …

Wright places her hand on his arm as a ripple of that dread escapes him. “Which branch are we?” she asks.

Bright leans over and slides a butterscotch disk to Wright. “It’s totally named after me,” he murmurs, winking, then sinks back into his existential-crisis slouch.

Wright beams Bright a wide smile and laughs voicelessly. She accepts the offered candy, trying to unwrap it without too much crinkling before popping it into her mouth. She and Elliot enjoy it quietly.

“As for divergences,” Gates says, “we’re very different from the Root timeline.” Gates says with a soft exhale. “Our timeline diverges from Root as far back as 1961, going through several branches to get to where we are. By our known estimate we can classify ourselves as Branch 5, also known as our Local branch.”

“As far as getting you up to speed on the politics and history of the Root timeline, we have rather comprehensive documentation we’re going to share with you before you leave so you can appropriately prepare.” Gates goes on to explain. “There's striking similarities, but also vast differences. Chief among them, and the difference that formed all Branches in our divergence, is that there is no Company in Root.”

In her seat, Chess studies the slides, her eyes narrowed under a furrowed brow. She lifts a brow at the familiar face of Kaylee Thatcher, and both brows draw up at the photographs of a whole and complete New York City — something she’s never seen in person.

When Castle looks her way, she offers the most fleeting of small smiles. Her hands in her pocket find the smooth stones placed there, curling her fingers around them, letting them warm and cool against her palms to calm her nerves.

“If I provide you with some files, can you get them over to Edward?”

A simple question from Richard, who no doubt has an interest in making sure that the man has all the data points to work with. As the Rays were briefly shown on screen, a wistful look crossed his face for a moment.

A brighter future for everyone. That was the inspiration for everything he was trying to build. Had been trying to build. Was it even possible, anymore?

“Drucker was one of our world’s most powerful technopaths before his death,” he observes, “We may be able to get his attention through technological means, although the lack of global infrastructure will make that more complicated.”

“We’d need to review any communications that cross the interdimensional boundary, but yes. Though, I will say this because I know that the temptation is there, to please try and keep it restricted to a professional matter. We can't spin up the Looking Glass for personal communications.” Gates explains, and he does seem genuinely regretful about that.

Moving to the next slide, Gates shows a nearly unrecognizable profile of the east coast of the United States with several locations marked with red triangles. He zooms in on one, labeled “insertion point.”

“Your assignment is a multi-faceted one.” Gates says, without directly addressing the map yet. “Once you’ve arrived at the insertion-point in the Root timeline, you’re going to be in the open ocean. Your entry point will be close to, if not slightly above, the current sea level. We’ll be providing you with emergency gear to make the water landing safe, at which point you’re going to need to signal to our in-field asset. A Root-local asset named Nova Van Dalen.”

Gates begins to pace, preparing to recite some things from memory. “Nova is an Expressive, and Agent Van-Dalen is a native to the Remote Office. She possesses a rather unique ability to synchronize her consciousness with para-dimensional versions of herself, allowing her to share information, skills, and resources across dimensional boundaries. Not entirely unlike how your mental network functions, Mr. Hitchens.”

“To the best of our knowledge Nova has not ever been able to make a connection to herself in our Local timeline, possibly because she has not manifested here yet. Nova is, regretfully, rather young. But I wouldn’t let her age undercut her accomplishments. She’s one of the Remote office’s best.” Gates says as a point of fact. “Nova will be coordinating with us to meet you with a sea vessel, from there our course of recommendation will be to head here.”

Gates points to the map, where a red triangle hovers over a location called Pelago Manhattan. “This is the remains of New York City. Known in the Root timeline as the Pelago, a shorthand for Archipelago, referring to the artificial chain of islands that flood-surviving skyscrapers make off the New York Coast. The Manhattan Pelago is the largest and safest settlement we know of, and it will be your task once there to secure travel to the mainland.”

Zooming in on the map, Gates shows the ragged coast of the United States in approximation based on sea level rise modeling. “From what we’ve gathered through Ms. Van Dalen and refugees who arrived here from the Root timeline in 2019, the mainland of the United States is a wasteland. War, pollution, and strife decimated the inland United States. Multiple nuclear strikes launched by the Vanguard, the resulting fallout, destruction of chemical plants, and twelve years of systemic breakdown has left it a wilderness with pockets of isolated, extremely xenophobic communities.”

“Nova will be your guide inland, but you’ll need land vehicles in order to be able to make the three-thousand mile trek from New York to Alaska in any measure of reasonable time. While I’d love it if you found a working aircraft that could make the trip, I’m not going to put any hopes on it. Chances are the people of the Pelago will be your best bet at sourcing information on where to find land transportation and necessary fuel, which—as we’ve come to learn—is extremely scarce.”

The door to the conference room opens and Agent Hall enters from outside. “Did you get to the part where it’s all Mad Max yet?” She asks, then leans starts walking around the table, handing out hard copy documents in three ring binders with CLASSIFIED (GARDEN) and below that Sensitive Compartmented Information. “Your homework,” she whispers, having a binder for each non-agent.

Gates just smiles away Hall’s eccentricities, then looks back to the table. “Agent Hall here is one of our information specialists when it comes to the Root timeline. She and Agent Castle are both former natives, having crossed over to this timeline with Elisabeth Harrison and Magnes Varlane in 2019 after they were marooned in an alternate dimension following an incident in 2011. Details of which are enclosed in your binder.”

“I’m gonna be your teacher.” Hall says with a wink, finishing her circuit of the table. She goes to stand beside the door, arms crossed over her chest.

“Agent Hall worked for the Department of Evolved Affairs in the Root Timeline. And while you may find the agency name similar, their modus operandi were nothing like our Local variant. Whereas Agent Castle grew up in the civilian sector.” Gates clarifies. “So if you have any questions on what you read, they’re your best outlets for information. Anything else you can filter up through Hall or Castle and we’ll get it.”

Gates exhales, tiredly. “I realize this is all a lot to pack in at once. So, before we move on, what other questions do you have on what we’ve already discussed?”

“There’s a lot of differences, really, even on things like pop culture. You’ll never know how surprised I was when I realized the Hoff’s music was never big here in the States. Mum loved him. Had a big poster of him in the boat for most me life. Half the albums he released never even existed in this world. It’s a shame.” Castle says though they’re casting a very teasing grin over in the direction of Eve, for some reason or another (Chess and Eve and the fellow Agents at least know).

Hasselhoff would be proud.

"Did she? What a woman of culture and taste. Do not," Eve holds a finger up in the air with the utmost seriousness, "Mess with the Hoff."

And that's that, honey.

Regardless of the lack of musical material she is no less of a fan in this dimension.

The other names though, make Eve tilt her head and she squints. "What a unique gift… fascinating I must meet this precious one." There's a lot of information at thrown at them and Eve takes her binder while eyeing Hall up and down. "Playmate of yours darling?" Directed to Castle.

But there's a water landing to contend with. "I have a theory that we'll find help as soon as we've crossed. Mad Eve is as nosy as I am." The former seer says that quite proudly. Crimson eyes flick over the pages detailing the distance world they would soon be traveling too.

"Do you have flippers?"

There's a sick feeling in Eve's gut. She doesn't want to think about how it'll feel for Castle to be in their home again and with their real mother.

From the way Castle waves their fingers at Hall after Eve asks if she had been a playmate, one might imagine the answer is— probably. At one point, but then they look over at Chess specifically, and she can notice their eyes are distinctly more blue for the moment. “You don’t really need to learn how to swim, since we’re betting on most of the trip being overland, but for the first part, it would be a good idea to strap on old-fashioned life jackets at the very least. In case our landing isn’t great.”

And if Richard remembered any tales of how the Flood landing went for Liz and her companions, they definitely had needed life jackets.

Sommerfield remains silent, but she looks down at the homework in front of each of the team members.

Elliot lets out a curious huh at the mention of somebody with an ability even remotely similar to telepathic networking, and with utility that could make linking her in very useful. It also relieves some of the anxiety about whether or not his own ability will work across timelines. He has many questions, but none that don’t seem like digressions.

Wright pages through her binder slowly, looking busy more than actually reading. There will be time for homework following class, most likely. She doesn’t look up as she whispers to Elliot, “You still have to exercise with me even if people don’t think you need to be able to swim.

Taking the binder from Hall with a murmured “Thanks,” Chess glances down at the word Garden on the binder. She frowns, and looks back up, her attention pulled by Castle speaking. She leans over to Richard, and her brows lift inquisitively.

“Who the hell is the Hoff?” she asks. It doesn’t seem to be a rhetorical question. But her attention alights on a name she does know. “I know Magnes. Also a member of clone club.” Somehow she doesn’t seem worried about outing that potentially private information — maybe because he told it to a perfect stranger in the middle of a public place. “Different type of clone, but we’re an equal opportunity organization.”

Away from the anomaly, Chess has at least recovered her penchant for making dumb jokes when nervous.

She cracks open her binder to look at the first page of contents, but shakes her head at Gates’ query. Her eyes move to Richard, expecting him to ask more, since he’s had to patiently table them since they arrived on the top of the rig.

“He’s not my Edward, Gates, I don’t have anything personal to say to him,” Richard observes with a shake of his head, “Strictly… useful data points that may help him get a better picture of things.” The OEI doesn’t know everything, although they know more than he’s comfortable with, if one was being honest.

The binder’s accepted with a wry smile for Hall - chin lifting a little in a familiar nod - and he sets it down in front of him. “I could make a comment about the teacher thing, but this is a PG-13 room.”

“I have… one question, since it seems you have more recent information regarding the Pelago than I do,” he says then, any playfulness fading for seriousness, “They were under attack when the refugees left. Do you know how that ended? If we arrive and Kazimir Volken is standing on the settlement we’re supposed to be getting help from, we’re fairly fucked.”

“The attack by the Sentinel was repelled,” Gates says with some certainty, “though there were massive casualties. We don’t know much more than that, unfortunately.”

With a look around the room, Gates waits another moment and then ends the presentation and deactivates the monitor. “Alright,” he says with a look to the others, “now that you have a surface-level understanding of the assignment, we’d like to take you to the next step of orientation and discuss some of the challenges we’re currently facing in getting you to your destination.”

Hall leans away from the wall and with a crooked smile makes a circle motion with one finger in the air. “Everyone take your binders and follow me, we’re going to see the Looking Glass.”

A Short Time Later

The frost-covered coolant pipes showed the way.

Located two stories up from the entrance to the anomaly is a high-security area of the Janus platform, guarded by armed, unidentified security at a single checkpoint. A double-airlock system acts as a multi layer choke-point to prevent forcibly entry, and perhaps forcible exit from the room beyond. Even this far away, Richard knows where he's going. That they're keeping the Looking Glass directly above the anomaly. He can feel it vibrating in the floor. Two stories down.

Through the last of the security doors, Agent Hall leads the large group into a cavernous hangar-sized chamber roughly two floors tall. There is no immediately obvious portal in the room, just rows of workstations and computers where technicians labor. But the frost-covered coolant pipes show the way.

Rather than go deeper into the room, Hall leads the group up onto a gantry that crosses the room at ceiling height. From up here, the true shape of things becomes clear. All of the scaffolding and machinery at the middle of the room concealed what was on the floor. A framework of frozen pipes, hold tubing, braided cables, and sonic amplifiers forged into a triangular frame with what amounts to a diving board extended out over it.

Dozens of engineers are working on what look like repairs to the horizontally-aligned Looking Glass frame, while directly below everyone’s feet a massive laser array is suspended over the Looking Glass on the underside of the gantry.

“This is the culmination of two years of research,” Gates says from the back of the group, moving up so as to be more easily heard by everyone. “Those of you familiar with past models of the Looking Glass will note that this one is aligned horizontally to the floor. That's because of the orientation of the electromagnetic anomaly below. We found the least resistance was on a downward insertion point once we opened an aperture.”

“As you can see,” Gates continues, “we’re still trying to get it into fully operational order. We had a misfire a couple days ago that caused damage to the particle accelerators, and we have people working around the clock to fix the damage.”

“Never thought I'd see it again,” Hall says with a shrug. “Never wanted to, either.” There's bitterness in her voice. Wariness, too.

“I don’t really remember the other one,” Castle mentions quietly, looking over this one from where they have stood next to Eve and Chess now— during the walk they had moved to stay close to the two of them, a protective manner taken with both of them in a way. “Were you involved with it on the Ark? I mean I was just a cook, so it wasn’t like I got to do much important science stuff.” Even if the cooks were very important. They took what limited nutrients they had access too and made them into meals for the people.

Of course that also led to that one special mass execution dinner fest that one time after the travellers came knocking—

But that was just once.

Robyn has been quiet through most of the discussion since her previous question, only ever taking her eyes off the presentation to either glare at Eve or respond to one of her comments by flashing her a backwards peace sign. Professionalism has absolutely taken a back seat today. Even as they transitioned to look at their Looking Glass device, she's remained quiet.

At least, until a question finally occurs to her.

"I don't really know much about Looking Glass outside of what it does," she notes as she crosses her arms. "But I know it's not exactly portable tech." Her eyes dip down from the machine to Hall, them over to Gates.

"And if I recall, it's mostly one way unless you have a specific person or a machine on the other side." There's a brusque tone to her voice as her lips thin. "You got someone waiting on the other side, or are we winging it?"

And that's when her voice turns almost accusatory.

“It is one-way,” Gates explains with a slow shake of his head. “But portability is where we’re working on an innovation. That’s part of what I’d like to show you next.”

Mention of Kazimir Volken has Eve staring at Chess intensely, eyebrows raised and assessing the younger woman for something. In Eve's mind the vision she most recently had plays out. "Blue eyes everywhere, what cha gonna do…" Singing as she stands from her chair to leave the room with the group.

Chess frowns and mouths, what? but no one really expects Eve to answer direct questions. Chess is used to it.

"Oh we won't be trapped Red, gotta get you back to your Matty." Eve follows the others up the way but Castle is handed her binder and she sighs in content as her body poofs into that crimson mist and she trails behind them. Making sure to not allow this form to touch anyone and drain their energy. Vision muted but the lights within everyone shine bright and call her forward.

"Imagine if you got some water on that hardware," Eve whistles as she returns to corporeal form, walking out of the mist next to Hall while gripping the railing and leaning forward slightly. "Massive charge, hairs on end, probably burnt to a crispy crisp." Nudging Hall with her elbow. "Bride of Frankenstein."

“God damn it,” Elliot complains quietly as he overlooks the device. Something about seeing the apparatus in person makes the whole operation feel more real, and more dangerous. More permanent.

“Looks like we get to hit up that high diving class after all,” Wright says cheerily without feeling a bit of that humor. She pats Elliot on the arm as he sighs loudly, head tilted to the ceiling.

“What’s the plan for getting the portal open wider than six inches?” Elliot asks Agent Gates. “I feel like no amount of training is going to let me pencil dive through a cat door.”

“Right now we’re exploring our options.” Gates says with a sigh. “What would accelerate this is if we could get Richard’s mother on-premises. Which, hopefully, we’ll be able to secure with some help from Mr. Ray himself.”

A soft, unamused huff comes from Chess when she sees the contraption and the diving board that will help facilitate their apparent downward insertion point into the portal — when there is a portal. She shakes her head slightly.

“Less shearing that way I guess,” she says, a little wryly. The back of her hand grazes Castle’s, seeking that reassurance. “And eating is plenty important,” she adds with a smile for them, before she looks back at the machinery in front of them.

Elliot’s question is a good one. “I was imagining those old cartoons where they dive into a tiny bucket,” she says to the couple.

“That plan would include me.” A woman says from behind one of the wheeled computer consoles. When she stands up straight and steps around it, her smile is a thin one of both contrition and awkward greetings.

“Imagine my surprise.”


Just about to make some comment - likely in regard to his mother - Richard looks up from the triangular frame that’s haunted his dreams for a few years now just in time for a woman to stand up from behind that console.

Someone who he’s never met, but he knows her face all too well.

He’s silent for a moment, though his shadow seems to shift behind him, the edges seeming to crumble in an ashen spill before he draws in a slow breath, gathering himself (his shadow abruptly snapping back to normal), and looking back to Gates with an expression of disdain.

“Do we need a middle manager for something, then, Gates?” he asks, tone flat as the event horizon that the machine’s meant to open.

Gates looks like he’s just had a lemon shoved in his mouth. That surprised and puckered look comes with a steely glare at Erica Kravid, who raises her hands as if to imply her lack of guilt.

“Erica, you weren’t supposed to be on the floor.” Gates says with strain in his voice.

“I wanted to peel off this bandaid sooner rather than later,” Kravid replies. “And before any of you get your panties in a twist, Wrong Kravid.” She slowly lowers her hands. “I was the project director of the Pinehearst Looking Glass in Natazhat, Alaska before it was destroyed in 2011 and—”

“We’ll cover this later.” Gates says with a pinch of his hand at the bridge of his nose.

There's worry over the mother of Richard Cardinal, such a big brain, bound to be trouble.

"Oh no no no no no." Eve leaps back but she sneezes at the same time and momentarily disperses into the red cloud, "No kink shaming!! Heh, but she's into water sports and I did not sign up for that sort of water fun times." The pale woman clasps her hand onto Castle's shoulder looking more than a little disturbed.

"You're a badddd lady, with your Structure. Hooking my cousin up, I know your game lady." The wild woman looks at Gates with raised eyebrows and widen eyes. WHAT THE HELL MAN?

"If I want your commentary, Miss Murder, I'll ask you," is brusquely offered to Eve with a point of Robyn's finger, not letting her attention linger on the other woman afterwards. Instead, she turns her attention to Gates and his confirmation that this particular trip is, in fact, one way with an asterisk the size of Erica Kravid's ego.

And speak of that particular devil.

Tongue runs over dry lips, and she lets out a short, staccato laugh. "Hello, Erica." The concept of her bring from another timeline is pretty expected at this point, and Robyn doesn't miss a beat as she tips her head towards the other woman with unexpected cordialness. The mention of Pinehearst in particular brings a notable shift to the photokinetics demeanor. "Long time, no see. I'd love to chat at some point." Emphasis on the word point, it seems, as a thin, wicked smile slides across her face.

Her gaze lingers on Kravid for a moment before she turns back to Gates. The smile fades into something much flatter, fingers drumming at her side. "So, let me make sure I've still got this all straight." Posture stiffening, she holds out one finger. "You want us to make use of experimental tech you don't even have working on the level we need it to be, to pinpoint dive across the timestream into the ocean with a team of underprepared people that includes at least one psychopath…" The second finger goes up at that word.

"Hydrophobic, by the way," is appended casually to that, "and then, what? Hook up with Evie K's Black Parade," a motion given to Eve and Castle's direction, "march across the country to meet up with people who may not even want to see us regardless of if me, a chess piece in all of this, is even there, and then… hope we find a way back from this one way trip?"

A hand reaches down to her side as she begins to rifle at something. "I've been trying to find a way to sum up my thoughts through this, and hadn't been quite able to." Which is maybe why she'd been so uncharacteristically quiet. "But I think I got it."

Turning away from the others as her eyes scan for a door, Robyn pulls a $50 bill out of her pocket and flicks it towards Richard. "Pass," is said with the sort of blase way one might decide not to go somewhere for dinner.

The fifty’s caught deftly as it wafts through the air, Richard’s fingers folding it over before tucking it into a pocket. There’s no look her way that shows that he’s upset - or even surprised - with that decision.

Instead, he’s been looking back at Erica.

“Oh, you’re that Kravid?” He smiles the sort of smile that sharks do. “I don’t see how your experiment with Tetsuyama qualifies you for this project, Erica. You’ve never accomplished anything in any timeline worth speaking of.”

He turns his head back to Gates, “Gates. Cards on the table. No more surprises, no more people not in the room. If you want my participation in this suicide mission, stop fucking around.”

Hall leans away from the gantry railing at that, nodding in Robyn’s direction. Gates nods to her and closes his eyes, massaging the bridge of his nose. Hall breaks away from the group and follows Robyn out.

One hand slips into Robyn's pocket as she reaches the door. She either doesn't know or doesn't care that Hall is behind her. Either way, she doesn't look back. More importantly, she stuffs down any number of inappropriate further remarks.

Instead, she wordlessly flashes back a backwards peace sign - still not exactly professional, but that ship has long since sailed - and slips out the room.

Elliot and Wright look at Kravid and wince hard, both turning to Chess. “Kind of wish the Rescue Rangers did suffocate her with a rag when you had the chance,” Wright says to the two others responsible for bringing this woman in. Elliot contains most of a morbid laugh. He’s a bit on edge as the fabric of this mission starts to unravel around its unhappy participants.

Seven billion people.” Castle says after a moment, voice suddenly starkly calm.

“Anyone able to see that number and say pass for any reason at all, probably shouldn’t come anyway.” Those eyes are noticeably green for the moment, though only some of those present know that means he is doing most of the talking, even if the accent isn’t quite there. “Yes, the team isn’t as prepared as we would like to be. Yes we are operating on faith and hope and what little we have, but the whole world is unprepared for what is happening. This mission could be the only hope of those seven billion people. I watched one world die. I won’t sit by and watch it happen all over again when I can at least try to do something about it.”

Summerfield shakes her head and follows Hall and Roux with her eyes, but then looks back at Castle and nods for a moment, as if she finally understands, perhaps, why they volunteered for something as crazy as this.

There’s a lot to respond to, and Chess’ expressions react to it all. Erica Kravid’s face surprises even her, and she lifts one brow in confusion, but then tips her head at Wright’s comments. “Oh, we were the Rescue Rangers? I wasn’t sure what any of the code names meant,” she murmurs, before turning to watch accusations fly back and forth like she’s at Wimbledon. “I just sort of stumbled along and did the only thing I’m good at.”

Blowing shit up.

Castle’s — Basil’s — words draw her attention to him, and she slides her hand into his to squeeze it. It may not be the most professional of actions to take, but it’s hardly the most unprofessional, given the stakes and the obvious fear and grief he feels.

“It’s a hail mary, but we know if we don’t go, nothing will matter,” she murmurs — it’s too quiet to reach the ears of Robyn on her way out, so she’s likely preaching to the choir.

As things calm down, Gates turns his back to the gantry railing. “Look,” he says with fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose still, “this isn’t about my trying to hide anything from anyone. There’s a lot of moving parts to this whole project and I’ve been trying,” he says with a sharp look at Erica, “to introduce the hardest pieces bit-by-bit so you don’t get hyperfocused on one problem, or lose sight of another because it got drowned out in the background noise.”

“None of this will matter without Michelle Cardinal.” Kravid says with a slow spread of her hands, dismissing criticisms leveled at her. “As I have been indicating to Agent Gates since my move to this project. We need to reinvent the harmonics of the Looking Glass to compensate for the unusual nature of the electromagnetic anomaly, and either we take several years to do this and wind up in a fucking underground bunker hiding from solar radiation, or we get the literal woman who designed this to do it in a few weeks.”

“I understand that,” Gates strains at Erica, holding a hand out to her. “Why don’t we—go down to the equipment locker, and we can go over the last corner of this. Since you want to drink from the firehose on this, fine. I’ll give it full blast.”

Kravid crosses her arms over her chest, she finishes a long and assessing stare at Richard before slowly—finally—looking at Eve with one brow raised. There’s no recognition in her eyes, neither fear, nor confusion. She has no idea who Eve is, or what she’s talking about.

Gates motions to a far door on the other side of the gantry, leading into another room off of the Looking Glass containment chamber. “Erica Kravid’s expertise,” Gates says as he starts to walk in the direction of the door at a slow enough pace for everyone to join him, “is in short-term project management and asset handling, but also her understanding of the Looking Glass and the challenges utilizing it represents. She has agreed to cooperate with us, but I assure you it has done nothing to mitigate her prison sentence.”

Kravid’s brows furrow at that, jaw set, but she starts to walk after Gates as he talks. It is a point of curiosity, as Erica Kravid is likely imprisoned for life given her role in the abduction of Kaydence Damaris, her time with Adam Monroe’s resurgent Institute, and whatever extradimensional crimes she committed against the remote office as a Pinehearst employee. Why care if the world ends if she doesn’t get to live in it?

“We’re operating on a time crunch, and we’ve had to leverage every single asset at our disposal.” Gates says, turning to look back to Richard. “Whether we like it or not.”

“Michelle Cardinal, huh? I wonder if maybe having the son she was willing to do so much to reunite with on the team will help us get her to assist us in saving the world?” Castle muses to themselves, but not very quietly. And not quietly enough cause they get a sharp look from one of the Agents who doesn’t put up with their shit.

Emmie might well smack them if it wasn’t improper.

But Castle raises hands up as if innocently. “I’m just sayin’. It might help.”

“She’s more likely to say fuck you to any plan that involves hurling me into another string without any realistic way of getting me back,” Richard shoots back at Castle in dry humor, breathing out a rough snort, “And if you think that the Cardinal bloodline won’t try and hunker down and survive through this if there’s no other choice, you don’t know what an Ark is.”

“I’ll talk to her. She’s not going to like this. She prefers botany these days.”

He brings one hand up, rubbing at the bridge of his nose, “But like the Agent says, seven billion lives times as many superstrings as this thing is reaching across is a pretty fucking big number.”

Seven billion people is already an incomprehensibly large number. Trying to imagine the scope of a threat to multiple timelines is impossible. It’s hard not to feel insignificant in the face of it. The idea that a handful of people—likely fewer people than currently stand on this catwalk—can stop the end of all of it makes Elliot want to laugh helplessly, or cry. Perhaps a few hours alternating between.

Wright taps her fingers into his open palm casually, as if just a passing graze. She offers memories of Ames, Rue, Marthe. Pictures of their lives so foundational to their happiness that she doesn’t need a keyword to pull them quickly to his attention. He contains the dread, and concentrates on saving the people he can count that he’s already willing to die for.

At Richard’s retort to Castle, Chess sucks in her breath and squeezes their hand — for their sake or hers, it’s hard to say. If it’s to keep herself from replying, it’s a gambit that fails, because after a moment, she looks at Richard with solemn eyes.

“Castle was on the Ark in that world. Not everyone survived,” she says, her voice quiet and huskier than usual. “But yeah. Maybe ‘talk to her.’” The last comment comes in a wry tone, much more like her usual dry sarcasm, but that too is swallowed a moment later and she turns to look away, brows drawn together as she too contemplates that number again. The reality of what will happen if they fail.

"Come now," Laying a hand on Castle's arm, "Surely," Eve grins an easy grin, fluttering her eyelashes before proceeding to stare wide eyed at the room.

"After that fancy tech she invented opened a hole for our inter dimensional friend to slip through, Miss Brains doesn't need much convincing to help right her wrong." Her cackle is abrupt and jarring to hear, head snapping backwards. "I'll need to ask her about this strain of weed I've been trying to grow…" There's danger in Eve getting distracted at the prospect of discussing cannabis and growing it with the matriarch of the Cardinal family but Richard seems to say something even funnier and Eve stops herself with a choke.

"Oh Richard please, we're all very aware of where your family was during the last war. No need to remind. Happy you're showing up now!"

Fingers pinching the bridge of his nose Gates mumbles, “Why am I always stuck with a bunch of kids?” into his palm.

“Tell me about it,” mutters Bright as he unwraps one of his ubiquitous butterscotch discs.

"I haven't received any cookies." Eve says like a grouch.


After Robyn has cleared the gantry stairs and made it back down to the Looking Glass chamber’s floor, she hears the sound of Agent Hall’s footsteps on the stairs behind her. “Hey Roux,” she calls out as if nothing was amiss, “you want to go have a smoke out in the sea air?” She pulls a somewhat crumpled pack of cigarettes out of her back pocket as she does, waggling them at Robyn temptingly.

"Not really," isn't entirely honest, but Robyn seems to stick with it in the moment. She doesn't look at Hall, doesn't glance back over her shoulder as she hears her approach. Why would she? "I don't have to be Eve Mas to know what you're going to say," she offers, reaching down to her pocket for a phone that isn't there. A small curse escapes her mouth, having forgotten she gave it to Hall earlier.

Instead, fingers curl into a fist. Knuckles crack, and she lets out a heavy sigh. "But we can go up, I guess. Just- maybe not overlooking the sea."

“Sure,” Hall says in a gentle agreement, hustling with a few jogging steps ahead of Robyn. She tucks the pack of cigarettes back in her pocket for the time being, then brings her back into the airlock that enters this Looking Glass’ containment chamber. As one side of the double airlock closes them in, Hall shifts a side-long look at Robyn.

“You really peacing out?” Hall asks, looking Robyn up and down as bolts noisily slide into place on the door behind them, locking one-by-one.

One hand reaches up and pinches at the bridge of Robyn's nose when she's more or less locked in a room with Hall, albeit briefly. "I promised I'd come and… listen. Get more information," she offers to the other woman in a voice that's much more subdued than intended. "I understand what's at stake here, but I just… I can't. There's too many variables I don't like."

Not that she's normally one to worry about constants and variables, she typically leaves that to Richard.

"I listened to Agent Gates, and all I felt was dread. I don't think I'm a good fit for this, to be honest."

“That’s fair.” Hall admits, looking down to the floor, then up to Robyn. “Nobody is, though. That’s the problem. There’s a small handful of people who Gates thinks are qualified for this, and you—of all the traumatized people up in that room—were on that short list.”

The middle door to the airlock clanks loudly, hisses, then swings open allowing Hall and Robyn to move into the next chamber. That middle door swings shut and closes behind them, following the same slow bolting process as the first.

“I told him not to ask you to go,” Hall admits with a shrug. “Because you have a kid, because you have a lot of baggage that’s basically bursting at the seams.” She looks to the final airlock door, listening to the machinery in the walls hum. “But we get what we’re given, Roux. We didn’t choose for any of this to happen.”

Looking back to Robyn, Hall smiles crookedly. “Fact of the matter remains, if this doesn’t work? We’re all dead in a year. You, me, Matty. I’m not gonna be the one to stop you. You wanna spend that last year we got on this earth with your boy, I wouldn’t blame you one bit.”

“Me?” Hall looks down to the floor. “I don’t know if I could look him in the eye again, knowing I didn’t try to save him.”

Hall looks back up to Robyn. “But none of us asked for that responsibility.”

Staring ahead at the door, Robyn resists the urge to look Hall in the eye. The mix of curiosity and suspicion on her face likely says everything that look would have. "Oh good, that's right. You have my evals." Her baggage isn't exactly a comfortable subject for her, shifting herself a bit away from Hall.

"I have done so much to save Matthew," is offered back quietly. "But sometimes, it feels more like I'm gone than I am there. He makes no hesitation letting me know that. To be honest, I don't appreciate having my dedication on that front questioned." The knuckles of her other hand crack as they wrap around the head of her cane. "But if this goes sideways, I'd rather he have me by his side, making the best of it, than worrying about me off someplace he isn't even allowed to know about."

The bottom of her cane taps twice on the floor. "I did refrain from telling him, for what it's worth. I won't lie, I left him some hints. Bought him some comics. But I doubt he thought too much of it."

Robyn falls quiet as she watches the doors in front of her, sucking in a deep breath. "So help me understand what Gates sees that I don't. From where I sit, I'm being paired up with at least one person I would rather literally kill than speak to, so that I can be a glorified chess piece, a negotiation tactic. And that's fair. I'm not exactly the most stable or skilled person in this group. Possibly the least so."

Finally, she turns and looks Hall in the eyes. "I don't get it."

“This isn’t about skill.” Hall says with a furrow of her brows as the next set of doors open. “It’s about family.”

Nodding out into the corridor, Hall follows Robyn, continuing to talk as they walk. “Everything we know from our on-site asset in that timeline is that your mother is… unstable. Drucker cares about her more than anything, but he also trusts her. It isn’t just Drucker that this team needs to convince to help us, it’s that world’s version of your mother, too.”

Hall looks at Robyn, brows raised. “The only person in this whole fucking world she cares about more than Drucker is… technically you. She lost her daughter in the Ark, but she doesn’t have that closure. But you? You could find a way to get through to her, make her believe that this threat is real.”

Teeth grit as Robyn stares ahead and listens to Hall, looking away from her. "So chess piece," she reiterates. "Bargaining chip. That's my qualification." Teeth rake across lips, a huff of a breath following. "She won't believe I'm her. I don't know much of anything about her, and I doubt she has the scars I have." Literal and otherwise.

"I just… I don't have the faith you all do. I have a bad feeling about all of this. Hell, I don't even feel like I knew my mother at this point. The one I remember… she's not the person she should've been. The person it sounds like she is there."

She stops, stares ahead. "I'm going to guess I don't have to tell you that Drucker is my father. I didn't even know that until a few months ago." Swallowing, she looks down at the ground, but doesn't offer a follow up

“Whatever bullshit idea Gates might have about you pretending to be someone you’re not?” Hall shakes her head and waves flippantly in Gates’ general direction. “Smile, nod, and do your own thing. This isn’t about gaslighting a version of your mother, it’s about getting through to her. Maybe you don’t know her, but you’re still her daughter—a version of her—and that alone is something remarkable.”

Hall stops walking, stepping into an alcove where a cluster of pipes join together so she and Robyn can talk without filling up the narrow hall. “As far as Drucker goes, we found out when you did. Carrington forwarded the information along to SESA, and the DoE has access to all of that. Not everyone, but they told me because I’m on this project.”

“Look.” Hall reaches out and takes one of Robyn’s hands. “This whole thing? It’s fucking insane. We have no idea if any of this is going to work. Traveling to another dimension? But we wouldn’t be doing this if there was literally any other option. This is it, Roux. The big times, end of the world.”

Hall smiles, nervously, and lets go of Robyn’s hand. “It’s this… or nothing.”

"Goddamnit." The curse is grumbled, a response to a multitude of things all at once. All or nothing. The big times. Dana forwarding the information about Drucker that Robyn had wanted to avoid sharing. A heavy sigh follows again, and she looks off to the side.

"It's always the big times," she whispers. "I made such an effort at distancing myself from these people for so many years because I was tired of being roped into the big times," she admits. It's mostly true. She gets a thrill out of all of this she still hasn't admitted to herself, but…

"So we stop this. What about next year? Two years after that? At some point… we're not going to be enough. And besides, now that I know there's an infinite multiverse out there? It's literally impossible to fail everywhere." At least that's what comic books, books, movies, and Magnes crowing in her ear have led her to believe.

"Have you ever heard about the time Hiro plucked me to go back to, christ. The 1800s I think it was?" Which is to say, the insane is normal for her. "That's my qualification," she asserts. "I've been doing this shit for years at this point. It's always all or nothing." On and off, maybe, but years none the less.

"All or nothing." The statement comes flatly, Robyn finally looking over at Hall again. "If I'm going to be involved in this, it's all or nothing. No more surprises. No more guest appearances. No more secrets. This…" Reaching to her lapel, she holds up the guest identification card and the containment card that sits under it - but is careful never to actually remove either. "Needs to be more official, at least for the rest of this this particular crisis."

This isn't something Hall has a say in, she knows that. It's clear Robyn knows what she's asking, but the finality of her voice makes it clear that these are her conditions. The bargaining chip is doing some of its own.

It's clear there's another thought lingering from the way she regards Hall with renewed curiosity, but she holds it for the moment.

“I don’t know everything you’ve been through,” is Hall’s diplomatic start, “but I do know it’s never been this big before. End of a nation, sure; scrambled history, okay; rise of a fascist robot-empire, whatever. But this is the end of humanity, across all history, all timelines. The stakes don’t get any bigger than this.”

Hall exhales a sigh, shoulders sagging. “I can’t say there’s not going to be more surprises today, because if we told you everything all at once in one sitting your fucking brain would leak out your ear onto the floor. Kravid ambushed us. Gates was going to ease into that conversation. But we have a few people working here you might not be happy to see.” She warns. “Kravid, Suresh. We’re pulling out all the stops.”

Reconsidering the pack of cigarettes in her back pocket, Hall turns and starts walking again with a motion for Robyn to follow her. “Look, let’s… let the others finish the tour. We can go have a smoke and you can unwind… and we can take it one step at a time. Because, honestly,” she glances back at Robyn over her shoulder, “you’re right. Because even if we succeed here?”

Hall’s brows furrow together. “It is still out there.”

As Hall starts off again, Robyn stands still for a moment, looking down briefly at the floor. "Sorry. That wasn't fair. I'm just…" Her hand runs down her face, looking back up and followingly slowly after the Agent. "I'm overwhelmed, and not… I guess by what a normal person would be. There's not much unwidning. I'm always on edge, about something. I don't think I know how to be calm anymore."

The Entity is still a whole other topic Robyn hasn't felt like broaching. It doesn't feel like there's much point to it. No one seems to have the plan they think they do, and if anything she's learned over the course of the last few years it's that no one ever does. That fact alone makes all of this feel ill fated at best.

Ultimately, rather than hound on that, she shuffles her feet and picks up her pace behind Hall. "You keep calling me Roux," she notes, holding up three fingers - she's been keeping track. "Was that what she went by too?" There's more curiosity than anything else in her voice. Mentions of Suresh and others didn't escape her, but she can circle back around.

They could probably both use the change of subject for a moment.

“Yeah,” Hall says with a subtle downturn to her voice. “You two couldn’t be any more different, though.” She sees the need for a change of subject, shifting conversational gears as she carries herself to the stairwell with a casual pace. “She went through a lot…”

Hall stops by the door, hand on it as she looks over her shoulder to Robyn. “I can tell you what I knew,” she says quietly. “Maybe that’ll help.”

And it isn’t clear whether she means help Robyn…

…or help herself.


Last stop,” Gates says louder, pointedly so, as if to reign the conversation back on track. By now he’s reached the door at the end of the end of the Gantry, opening it into another short corridor that leads into a lab on the outside edge of the oil rig with reinforced glass windows overlooking the churning sea. There are computers everywhere, technicians working at them, likely calibrating the Looking Glass.

But what is also in this room are a row of metal stands containing locking arms holding a series of gray-black armored suits in place. The material design of the armor is familiar to Chess and Richard, the armor of the Horsemen that came from the Bright Timeline and the armor Adam Monroe used in the attack on Detroit, except the helmet lacks the aggressive six-eyed design, instead having a more open visored faceplate.

As they’re greeted by the line of standing armor, Chess takes a quick breath, her fingers tightening again around Castle’s, as her mind and emotions are pulled back to that terrible day in Detroit. In some ways it’s fitting that the next time she wears such a suit will be in a last-ditch effort to solve at least part of the problem she’d failed to in February.

Standing by one of the suits of armor is a face known well to history, a man who holds reluctance in his eyes when he sees the group entering. “Welcome to the end of the world, I suppose.”


Doctor Mohinder Suresh sets his tablet down on a nearby table, wringing his hands together. Gates introduces him, though most know him by the historic precedence, and also his criminality as the engineer behind an attempted genocide on order of the Presidency.

“I don’t believe Doctor Suresh needs many introductions,” Gates says with a gesture to him. As he does, Kravid slips into the room and lingers in the back, arms crossed over her chest. “We tracked Doctor Suresh down to cooperate with this project,” is Gates way of very pointedly breezing past the issue of how this wanted fugitive—one Richard last saw in the care of the Monica Dawson—wound up here.

Bright leans over against a wall, long legs crossing at his ankles and long arms folding across his blazer jacket. “That’s what I call, you know, community service. A lot of that going on.” He casts a glance at Kravid before popping the golden bit of candy in his mouth.

“Mohinder’s role is ensuring that your traversal through the Looking Glass doesn’t cause undue genetic damage, and to field test the suits we’re reverse-engineered from the designs of the Remote Office’s Warren Ray. The, late, Warren Ray.” Gates adds with a clearing of his throat. “These suits were initially commissioned by Arthur Petrelli to breach the Looking Glass in his timeline to invade others. They protect the wearer from the shearing effect of travel through the Looking Glass unprotected. Without Mateo Ruiz to create a stable wormhole, this is our only recourse.”

Gates shakes his head. “Living matter that enters the Looking Glass is incinerated by incalculable levels of friction and arrives on the other side a smoking husk, if it arrives at all. These suits lack the quantum communication technology of their original designs, simply because we haven’t had the time to engineer it. Which is one of the reasons we’ve requested Officers Hitchens and Tracy for this endeavor.”

“You will each be wearing one of these suits on your crossing,” Gates says with a motion to the suit, “and due to our extremely limited fabrication window—I’m not going to lie—we’ve had to cut some corners. But it’s a miracle we were able to produce the hardware at all.”

Chess’ brow lifts at the mention of cut corners, and she glances at her fellow travelers, to see who else is bothered by this bit of honesty.

All of the jabber of the equipment and not being able to come back has Eve tilting her head and she clears her throat. "What if I poofed inside and went through? No body, no smoking husk." Crimson eyes seem to get even brighter as they glitter with excitement at the prospect of traveling NO PANTS! "Not a serious request of course! Just a thought, maybe Doc Mo can help me with some experiments." The pale woman's skin crawls as this would be the second time in her life she's willing submitted herself to any sort of testing.

“Additionally,” Mohinder says, walking over to a pair of large black crates, “we’ve produced containers that can transport equipment as well. Due to the fact that you will be arriving over open water, we’ll also be supplying you with an emergency raft contained inside a protective housing to keep it intact through Looking Glass transit.”

“Our office will be providing you with all of the essential gear you’ll need for your journey, which will include a piece of hardware that is still in the prototype phase, but…” Gates glances to Mohinder, then back to the group, “it’s all we have.”

Mohinder walks over to a table, holding up a three foot long metal rod that looks like it segments at parts. “A single use, portable, looking glass. We’re packing it with an enriched plutonium power source and a micro particle accelerator that, ideally, will power the portable device for roughly a minute before burning out. These rods are staked into the ground in a triangular pattern, tethered to one-another, and the onboard computer is already set to target this timeline’s resonant frequency.”

However,” Gates says with a raise of one hand, “much like our primary Looking Glass, we’ve run into issues with this design. Aperture size is still a problem, meaning even if we get the primary Looking Glass online, we have no guarantee this portal will be able to open wide enough for any of you to come home.”

“That said,” Gates says with a sigh, “it would allow you to transmit the designs for the solar shield back to us while we try to find a way to get you home. We’ll be including a laser data transmitter for that purpose. Obviously this is all…”

Kravid looks at Gates, raising one brow. “Are we just moving past that last part?”

Gates shakes his head. “No,” he says with a look down to the floor, then back up. “Obviously, the solar shield data that you transmit to us will allow us to build the device to protect the Earth from the flare. We’ll even be able to share the design with the Remote office thanks to our connection. But…”

“We can’t save everyone.” Kravid says with a certain dire tone of voice. “Even if we could transmit the plans for the shield to other timelines, we have no guarantee they’d be able to execute a fabrication or even believe us that a threat is coming.”

“This mission is about mitigation of damages,” Gates says gravely. “Save as many people as we can. Because saving everyone isn’t possible.”

This was the grim truth Gates was trying to ease the group into understanding.

“All this,” Gate says with a gesture around the room, “all this, and it still won’t be right. But I can pray to god that it’s enough.”

Chess presses her lips together, swallowing at the dire news. She stares at the suits, so similar to the suit that had failed to protect Ivy and Niki in February. Her dark eyes, widened, turn to Gates. There is something of the proverbial deer in the headlights, and it might look like she’s about to balk. She doesn’t.

“Should… is there a way to send someone first, so we know they survive, before sending the others, or does it have to be a big group trust jump?” Her head tips toward Elliot. “One of us can link up with Elliot and go ahead.” She turns to the mentioned man, brows lifting in query. “You’d feel it, if the link broke, yeah? If your ability can keep the link, that is.” There are so many ifs to the plan as a whole. What’s one more?

Swallowing, Chess glances around at the others, then back to Gates. “I can do it. I don’t have kids. I’m a born lab rat, after all.”

"Do you remember when I said the horse was a metaphor?" Eve asks aloud and to nobody in particular but she snorts as she spots the armor from her dreams, from Bird's troupe of goons. When everyone sees Mohinder, Eve looks over at her friends. "Don't worry guys, this one isn't Sylar in disguise." Though the wild woman still momentarily squints at the doctor, she's always got her eyes on the science fairies.

It's Chess' words and the last bit from Gates that has Eve frowning so deep her brow furrows. "No." A quick but firm look to Castle and they understand that look anywhere, Eve isn't having it. "We all potentially sacrifice together. If anyone were to go alone to test it working, myself and Cardinal with our gifts are the best chances at survival." Chess is given such a hard stare that she could be the young woman's mother herself. The thought of it. Absolutely not!

"Plus I need grandbabies." Eve doesn't even cackle but inside she's dying.

Chess’ dark eyes widen and her cheeks flush a little. She manages not to give Eve the finger, at least.

"As for you all," Turning her head to Gates before eyeing Kravid then Mohinder. "Logical minds told me the Entity could not exist, that the things I have been screaming about that have been plaguing this noodle brain of mine for the last few years could not happen. Logical minds have declared me dead and gone more times than we can count. Logic can steer you in the most likely situation but also the most depressing, but if what we are attempting right now isn't a miracle. I don't know what is." Gripping her arms tightly to stop herself from swaying, "And if we believe enough in this miracle to attempt to save lives. Then who is to say the other Eve's, other Edward's, Tamara's and seers and science fairies of the worlds aren't leading similar causes." Her gaze travels to the various tech in the room, born from the imagination of terrifying but brilliant minds. "Save your logical doom and gloom dearies. We have a job to do and people to save. But don't discount the others."

Crossing her arms finally and glaring at the wall, "We underestimate ourselves enough."

“Let’s save the world before you worry about grandbabies, mum,” Castle responds with an amused voice, one that seems to have settled down as they have talked. For a moment there, they had been looking at Chess with— well— eyes that could only be called lovey-dovey for a minute. Maybe they’re really attracted to selfless offers. Even if, “We know the tech works, we just need Michelle Cardinal to make it big enough to transport more than a mouse. So we’ll cross bridges of who goes first or if we need to all go at once when she designs the specs.”

After a moment, Sommerfield speaks up as well, “We won’t be leaving you to do all the work on the other side. We’ll have a team assigned to finding a way to get you back alive once you transmit the data. And I imagine you lot will also be working on that from your side, too.”

With a nod, Castle continues, “This is a mission of hope. If we fail, there’s no hope for anyone. If we succeed, then there’s hope for billions— “ They cast a glance toward Richard, “It actually is about building an Ark, Mister Cardinal— just one for seven billion people.”

The revelations of the brutal realities of their chances barely register with Elliot and Wright, they're already committed. He's slow in responding to Chess's suggestion of a canary trying out the coalmine, but eventually shakes his head. Wright looks to him and they meet eyes for a long moment before she nods.

"It wouldn't matter," he says. "If a link broke I'd know it broke but that's it. Fresh links break easily, it's hard to maintain them in high stress environments without training and this sounds like it'd be a fucking workout. The only way to know for sure whether or not a link could be maintained is if Wright or I went through."

He pauses before saying something he has only said out loud a small handful of times. "My link to Wright is, unlike the links I usually make, unbreakable."

"We don't know why our link is permanent while others can't be maintained more than a few weeks without falling apart," he lies with perfect confidence. "The only way the comm works for absolute certain is if one of us remains on either side of the divide."

“Root, Wasteland, Virus…” Richard says softly at the revelation, “…none of them have the infrastructure necessary to build the shield for their timelines.”

He draws in a slow breath, shaking his head at Castle’s words. “No. It’s an act of desperation, because even if we succeed, it’ll just find some other way to force the timelines back into parity. This is a— holding action.”

“But right now it’s all we’ve got.”

He looks over to Mohinder, offering the man a slight, wry smile, stepping over to clap a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You really never do stay where I put you, Mohinder. Good to see you, all the same.”

The portable Looking Glass is considered for a moment with a thoughtful expression, then he nods once, glancing back over to Gates, “Worse comes to worse, we could send you Drucker himself through it as a purusha— ah, a disembodied technopathic form. At least then he wouldn’t be doomed like the rest of his timeline.”

“Those are words you probably don’t want to say over there,” Gates admits with a somber, quiet tone of voice. “I don’t know if the people in the Root timeline will believe you about your situation, but if they do… finding out they’re doomed and we’re only there to save someone else may not go over well. But of course, use your judgment.”

Clearing his throat, Mohinder offers a thin smile to Richard. Awkward, apologetic. “Our friends at the Office of External Investigations have some… profound resources,” Mohinder admits. “When they came to me and told me I had the possibility to save billions of lives I…” He laughs, awkwardly. “It felt like a sign.”

“For now…” Gates says with a heavy sigh, “we’d like you to stay here for the remainder of the day and go over the information we’ve collected about the Root timeline, familiarize yourself with the individuals and power structures we know of, and what little of the geography we can confirm. Following that, we’ll take you home in the evening. I recommend you coordinate with one-another and stay in contact.”

Then, looking back to Richard, Gates adds, “If you could talk to your mother sooner, rather than later, we need her help.” He says with a slow shake of his head, clearly hating to put her in this position. “And we’ll all reconvene here the week before you depart for final training and orientation.”

“Well. Let’s hope we find a way to test it, I guess then,” Chess murmurs wryly to Elliot.”Rather than trial by literal fire.” It’s not a criticism of Gates; by now Gates knows sarcasm is just as much her armor as the ANCILIA they’ll be wearing.

As talk turns to the doomed people of the timeline they’ll be visiting — and possibly not leaving — Chess’ hand tightens around Castle’s again. It’s Castle’s home, one where Saffron and Basil presumably know people that they won’t be able to save, as much as they speak of hope.

The reality of the situation for herself also seems to be settling in a little; beneath furrowed brows, her dark gaze settles somewhere far off in the distance, beyond the walls that encompass them. Still, she nods in acknowledgement of Gates’ words.

Eve rolls her eyes at the doom and gloom that persists in the room. Maybe staring absolute annihilation in the face in her visions and otherwise and coming out the other side has hardened the pale woman. Or maybe she's remembering something more and more, something she's seen that pushes Eve in the direction of this journey.

"Leave the dramatics to me." Clenching her teeth together to make a cringe worthy expression. "Nobody needs to hear that sort of nonsense." As if Mad Eve wouldn't have been spewing insane notions to the whole of the Flooded world already.

“Yeah, knowing the world’s doomed is no way to live. You can trust me on that one,” Castle says, glancing toward Eve as they say that, because she at least knows why they would look at her while saying that. Even if it hadn’t been her dramatics really that had given them foreknowledge of the fate that had been in store for the world they had been born in. It had been her, but not. All at once. “We need to get what we can get, get it back, and then get back ourselves.”

And if there’s a Back Up plan already informulation, well, they can worry about that in the meantime.

Sommerfield shakes her head. “I sometimes hate it when they’re being serious, it makes me think they’re actually a decent agent sometimes.” It’s a statement to herself, really, though maybe Bright or Gates will understand.

Elliot gives Chess a hopeful nod, finding out the hard way that the network would be stamped shut certainly would be traumatic. He doesn’t respond to Eve’s morale booster, feeling justified in being afraid of these unthinkable circumstances. Neither he nor Wright can think of anything to say. There’s a lot of processing to do; a lot of homework to do as well apparently.

“See? Can’t save any lives if you’re rotting in a cell, Mohinder,” Richard tells the man a bit wryly, “The only way out is through. Always is.”

His gaze cuts over to Gates, “I was planning to as soon as I get back. She’s not going to like it, but she’ll agree. I just hope that you’re being… forthright about all this.”

“As forthright as Uncle Sam will allow with an ironclad non-disclosure agreement,” Gates says with an attempt at a smile, but it looks a little more like a nervous grimace. Mohinder gives him a side-eyed look. Kravid rolls her eyes and heads for the door. Gates straightens his tie and tries to smile again, clearing his throat.

“I encourage you all to review the documentation on your tablets and refer to Agent Castle if you have any questions,” Gates says with a look around the room. “You all are this world—multiple worlds’—best hope for the survival of humanity…” His eyes follow Kravid as she leaves, tension knitting in his brow.

“…we don’t get any do-overs on this one.”



A billowing cloud of choking black smoke twists up from a concrete-ringed crater nearly a mile across.

The demolished remains of a dozen skyscrapers pitch toward the middle of the bowl-shaped crater from its edge, groaning with the strain of age and entropy. A caustic, tarry smell clings to the air here and a fine, sooty residue clings to the ground like snow. There are derelict cars overgrown with vegetation on the nearby road, a family of starlings nesting in the ruined back seat.

Heavy boots clunk against the ruined asphalt, whirring motors whine a tired tale against the sound of whipping wind. There are no visible fires in the crater, just black smoke. Fingers of it rise up from fissures in the asphalt, heat radiates up from the ground. The world is on fire, somewhere below.

A woman in scarred armor comes to a stop along the side of the road, rankling her nose against the chemical stench. She takes a knee, stopping when the servos in her right knee joint fail to bend. She bounces, popping the knee joint back into place with a protesting crunch of old metal and plastic, then settles down and takes off her heavy pack.

Rummaging through it she sets a battered handgun, a cassette walkman, and a stained knife aside in order to pull out a battered helmet. She scrubs her thumb across the name stamped in a rectangle above the scuffed visor, then secures it on with a hiss-click of a pressurized lock. Lights come on inside the helmet, internal displays flicker and sputter to life. She packs up the knife, the walkman, and the gun and swings the pack over her shoulder again before standing up straight.

The chemical smell of the coal fire is gone now, and she can breathe a little easier. “Get your shit together,” she says in a huff of breath before returning to her journey.

Nearby, an old highway sign hangs off of a crooked aluminum pole.




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