Closed, Part II


lynette_icon.gif mateo_icon.gif rasheed_icon.gif rhys_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif warren_icon.gif

Scene Title Closed, Part II
Synopsis The way back is…
Date December 25, 2018

It's always here.

Thirty-four years ago the Company banished the Entity from the rooftop of the Deveaux Building. Perhaps an event that monumental is felt across time, perhaps that's why so many strange temporal phenomenon come to that place. Why so many disparate threads seem to begin and end here. Under the cover of night and rapidly approaching the hour foretold in a painting by Eve Mas, the Deveaux Building has one again become the knot from which all threads are tied.

A light snow flurries from the dark sky, faint slivers of the aurora visible in the occasional gaps in the cloud cover. Floodlights powered by portable generators bathe the crumbling masonry of the Deveaux Building in enough light that it can be seen from as far away as the Safe Zone. High up on the rooftop, though, there are more than just lights.

A bank of humming generators are connected by a spaghetti mess of power conduits, snaking through the remnants of what was once a greenhouse and out to where wheeled carts are set up with laptops and portable electricity switchboards. A device sets ahead of all of that, a tripod of telescoping metal legs containing a twelve inch tall triangular frame of titanium around which coils of frost-covered copper piping pulse with liquid nitrogen. Tanks of the dangerous fluid are lined up in a metal mesh cage nearby, hoses connecting to the machine adjacent.

The machine's creator, in this iteration, stands beside the power relay switchboards that allow him to control the flow of energy going into the device. Warren Ray is a man of near unparalleled brilliance with the mechanical, but beyond that area of expertise his skills are just as fallible and mundane as the SESA scientists overseeing the project. They double check data on illuminated screens, theorize what the many electromagnets must do, speculate on the power output and energy requirements. There's no power grid here, keeping the generators charged for prolonged activation would require greater energy than SESA has access to. They only get one real shot at this.

Among the bright minds SESA has apportioned to this experiment is Agent Rasheed Mustang, here to observe and catalog the supernatural elements of the experiment. Which is exactly what this gathering is, an experiment. With the narrow window of opportunity, with the short amount of time Raytech had to prepare the Looking Glass based off of Michelle’s plans, nothing is certain. Save that prophets confirmed a date and time and perhaps — just perhaps — it could bring two wayward souls home.

Looming on the rooftop by the fully assembled Looking Glass, appearing much as it was when Michelle Cardinal first built it in 1982, is her long lost son Richard. The darkly-dressed man casts a long shadow across the snow-decked roof, and from where he stands the triangular lens of the Looking Glass eclipses the circular stone ring flanked by a pair of cherubs that has long sat as a part of the building's architecture.

He sees no coincidence in that now.

The Deveaux Building

Manhattan Exclusion Zone

December 25th

I don't know if I’m comfortable with this,” Agent Rhys Bluthner says over the noise of the cold December wind driving snow flurries across New York. “This all looks… dangerous.” The other technicians from SESA who are examining the laptop connections to the machine and the diagnostics look up and at each other. They then turn their attention back to the proprietary Raytech software, scanning lines of code as part of the total transparency arrangement Richard made with SESA.

“How much longer do we have?” Rhys shouts over to Richard, even as he pulls up one sleeve of his coat to check his watch.

"It's perfectly safe! You can't just break the universe. Except that time I accidentally broke the universe a little bit. But it's fine now I think!" Warren says as he's bundled up in a particularly large, puffy neon blue parka. If he's wearing armor or hiding weapons, who knows. It's usually safe to assume that Warren is perpetually prepared for some sort of war, despite what he assures people of otherwise.

Right now he's poking at mechanical things, and occasionally pulls a capacitor from his pocket to suddenly solder into something. "The only thing you have to fear, is an explosion of liquid nitrogen itself. Also unknowable horrors from beyond the veil of space and time! You'll be fine."

Meanwhile, Rasheed is wearing a simple red leather jacket with a badge hanging from his neck, and some blue jeans. His arms are crossed as he stares at everything with a perpetual look of concern. "This rooftop… it's like everything I can feel in the rest of the city, but amplified so many times over. It's almost like the boundaries of space and time are made of paper here."

"I don't like it." is all he can really say to that.

There’s silence for several long moments as Richard stands there swathed in a black coat that covers the AEGIS armor that embraces his lanky frame in the most state-of-the-art protective technologies on the market; the coat more for show, since standing around in security armor tends to make people nervous.

Possibly the long black coat and red scarf fluttering in the breeze were a poor choice if that was his plan, though, because he only looks more ominous like that.

“Not long! And it is dangerous,” he finally calls back, turning away from the triangle, from the cherubs, from the same image that stands in acrylics on canvas in his gallery of prophecies, “That’s why all this is here as a backup assuming we can’t make contact directly through Ruiz. All things considered I’d rather not have to turn it on, because unknowable horrors beyond the veil of space and time is literally what I’m worried about.”

Strolling across the rooftop, he claps a hand on Rasheed’s shoulder in passing. “They are. That’s why this is where we’ve got to be,” he comments in quieter tones. It’s probably not very reassuring.

There’s a lot more people present than he would have hoped for, but Mateo just looks around from one to the other for a time, then at the machines that have been set up one more time. It does look dangerous, and he’s definitely not comfortable with it either by the glance he gives the kid agent when he speaks, but… he would rather they have all the options available too. They had a family to reunite. Multiple families.

Dressed in a long woolen coat (with a colorful Christmas sweater on underneath) he doesn’t really look much like most the Agents moving about. Nor is he armed.

“I told her a time and place,” he offers, glancing toward Rasheed again with a cautious glance. “Though I’m not sure they’ll manage the place. It’s almost time, though. Everyone try to stay at least a couple feet away from that edge, and make sure you have something solid you can grab onto in case.” In case of what? Well.

In case of Plan A. They might have generators available, but he didn’t think that Richard would appreciate him destroying any chance of a backup plan before they know if they need it or not, so he glances to Lynette, “You ready?”

"I don't know, breaking the universe is what got us into this mess in the first place," Lynette says, her tone dry. "It seems a lot more fragile than I'm entirely comfortable with." She doesn't seem entirely comfortable with a lot of things here. She pulls her coat tighter around her and straightens her scarf before she looks over at Richard. "We'll get them back," she says. She leaves off one way or another, probably because she thinks that obvious. It wasn't just machines that broke the timelines, after all. But abilities, too.

She reaches over to take Mateo's hand, as if he is her something solid to hang onto. Her other hand lifts, electricity crackling around it. "For you? Always," she says, a flash of an impish smile sent his way. Don't mind her, she's nervous. Flirting makes her feel more stable. She focuses, then, on generating more power around her hand, making sure there's plenty for him to draw from.

“Six minutes,” a technician at one of the laptops calls out with a look over to Warren and then to Richard. “We’re six minutes out from the preordained connection time.” She doesn’t know what to expect, though, not from this experiment, not from the precognition that Eve rendered of this place in oil and canvas. Save for three things.

“Dialing frequency,” the technician says, attenuating the Looking Glass to 126.22 hz. “Reconfirming geosat coordinates,” she nods sharply, giving a thumbs up to the crew. “Timer is 5:42 and counting down. We’ll hold until requested to activate.” For now, the triangular frame of the Looking Glass sits idle, an ominous and sharp metal shape reverberated through time.

Rhys looks back to Lynette and Mateo, regarding them both with momentary scrutiny. His eyes go distant for a moment, and as Rhys looks back to the technicians and equipment, he quietly takes out his satellite phone and activates a speed dial number, meandering somewhat away from the group, one finger coming up to plug an ear and the other hand cradling the phone to his face. “We’re just a little over five minutes from Go,” Rhys says into the receiver, the remainder lost as he walks out of earshot.

Overhead, the clouds have begun to break up more, the patchwork pulling apart to reveal more of the green aurora shimmering overhead. This wasn’t just about the people on the rooftop, about the city of New York, about the threads that connect here. This was about the entire world, about multiple worlds. This was an event unlike any other in known history, burning brightly over their heads. One they were all an intrinsic part of.

In that way, they were all connected. In this world, and others.

“Five minutes!” The technician calls out, adjusting her glasses. “Whatever prep you need to do… it’s almost time.” Other SESA scientists are operating unconnected equipment, taking magnetometer readings, atmospheric pressure, there’s even a geiger counter softly ticking with one scientist in the event of something as terrifying as a gamma radiation burst. Other observers are standing by with digital recording devices, tablets, and attentive eyes ready.

"Have you ever considered that all this time I was onto something?" Warren asks while turning a bunch of analog knobs and beginning to just sort of walk around to what others are doing with the machine, occasionally reaching over to correct something that he perceives as some imperfection. "I've been talking about all the horrible things and tentacle monsters trying to get into the universe for a long time!"

"By the way can I turn this into a gun later, that can shoot people into other universes? I just got pretty inspired." he asks, looking over at Richard hopefully.

Rasheed takes a deep breath, looking incredibly uncomfortable. He even holds his head. "This is uncomfortable. I'm only just starting to figure out a language for all this stuff, I'm so used to thinking of it as time. It feels like… just, on an emotional level, it just feels like everything is wrong, like the universe is sick and we're standing right in the infected wound."

He remembers to raise a small journal he has just for this, starting to take notes. "My headache is getting worse. I felt something like this years ago, but I wasn't nearly this close…"

“There aren’t any tentacles, but I will admit that it’s possible you may have subconsciously been perceiving something the rest of us couldn’t,” Richard calls over towards his brother to assuage the man, then pauses before adding, “And no you may not weaponize the Looking Glass! Jesus Christ we’re trying not to destroy the universe, Warren!”

A hand comes up, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing against it, muttering to Rasheed’s words, “That was probably my fault too. A me, anyway. Sorry.”

The technicians’ calls then stir him from his reverie, and he turns a look on them that briefly is almost afraid. He really doesn’t want to activate the machine at all, but as his sister said— he’d move heaven and earth to get his family together, like any of the Rays.

It’s possibly they’re about to do exactly that.

He manages a faint smile for Lynette’s attempts at encouragement, and nods once before stepping over to a stack of heavy plastic storage units that used to contain parts of the assembled machine - now emptied, but heavy enough he hopes to serve as a good anchor, as he grips one of the side-bars of the cargo vessel.

“I know we will,” he answers her words now, and then looks to Ruiz with a grateful nod for the both of them for agreeing to this. For doing this, as dangerous as it is. He has faith that it works, that he gets his family back, somehow, someway, tonight.

He still believes in Edward Ray.

The flirting makes Mateo grin and shake his head with a light ‘maybe when we get home’ voiced quietly under all the activity and noise of the machines spoiling up. Yeah, he’s not completely comfortable with that machine at all from the way his eyes drift back to it. It doesn’t look nearly big enough for something that will rip a hole in space. Then again, he wasn’t very large either, and apparently it was something he could do. Warren gets a wary look, though thankfully it would seem that the man actually in charge was saying no to those scary ideas, it still made him a little edgy. And he doubted it calmed the nerves of most, either.

“Richard, as I’ve never actually done this before… and I haven’t heard from my source in a few days— “ His dreams had been too quiet, with all the auroras. “If the portal doesn’t stabilize and we have to use that thing, what do you need me to do to actually… work with that? Or is opening a… hole enough for that?”

The countdown and five minute mark made him ask that. He didn’t know how it worked, and he didn’t know if they knew how it worked either, but not liking something didn’t mean he wouldn’t do what needed to be done if and when it came down to it. It had given his word. He would do whatever it took to reunite that boy with his family. His whole family, he hoped. Whether Eileen had taken his promise for how he had meant it or not. That had, after all, included lying through his teeth.

As he asks that question he squints to the edge of the roof, trying to judge the positioning in his mind. He had to make Point A and hope that Point B was there somewhere else all together— or else he knew it wouldn’t stabilize. A few feet from the edge, make sure it was pointing toward them, make sure it was the size him and the other Lynette had discussed, cause making them the same size always seemed important to him.

Five minutes, the boy had said. He checked his watch again. He had to ask and get his answers now. Cause once it opened, he’s not sure anyone would be able to hear each other.

"Oh my god," Lynette says to Warren's… enthusiastic idea. She, too, is grateful that he seems to be the only Ray interested in weaponizing something so obviously dangerous.

She also doesn't seem troubled by the lie they told Eileen. She would do anything for that boy, and she's still not a huge fan of the woman who wanted to kill her husband— and nearly succeeded. And lying is the least of the things she would do for this whole endeavor. And she knows the boy's mother feels the same way.

So instead of commenting on what they're doing, she focuses on generating her electricity, on keeping it held close and under control, even if there is an urge to let it all loose once she has it in hand.

Woah!” One of the SESA observers yelps, looking at his tablet. “EM Radiation just spiked. Six times what it was a minute ago. NOAA is showing that we’re in the path of an X-Class flare.”

“I'm picking up x-ray bombardment,” Another observer indicates, checking her device. “Seven Angstroms, Jesus.”

“No gamma radiation,” a third observer calls out.

“Satellite uplink just went dead,” Rhys says over his shoulder, holding up his phone as he walks back. “Mustang, how’re you doing?”

Rasheed Mustang feels like he has bees in his teeth. His bones are vibrating, his vision is blurry, something cosmic is happening and he feels like he’s standing in the middle of it, crashing all around himself. In the sky, the aurora brightens and lengthens, extending up higher into the night sky. As Rasheed’s vision starts to focus, he can see monochromatic afterimages of Everyone in the red light spectrum.

Three minutes!” The SESA observer by Warren calls out, watching the screen on her laptop flicker. “We’re getting major EM interference here!”

Warren's eyes are definitely covered in their reflective chrome when he stares at the machines, then the sky, then the machines again, taking it all in. There's something absolutely fascinated in his eyes. "The ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of time!" he says as a large smile forms on his face, suddenly making last minute adjustments that most likely no one planned for or expected, but he does it as soon as the situation seems to change, as if he's compensating for something.

Rasheed meanwhile falls to his knees, holding his head with both hands as he tries to look around at everyone, trying to find the voice that's addressing him. "This… I can't… there's afterimages of everyone…" He lowers his head again, as if trying to shut it all out. "It's like the entire universe is crashing, I've never experienced anything like this before in my life. We're… it's dangerous, it has to be dangerous, this isn't normal!!!"

"I can't…" he repeats, and anyone from SESA knows that he normally keeps it together, usually has an air about him that he's always in control, usually has some mysterious quip about time. "I can't, I can't… this has to stop! We have to leave!" He tries to stand, but he just falls right back down to one knee.

But Warren isn't as convinced as Rasheed, no, the most questionable of the Rays (now that Edward is gone), seems to be done turning knobs. He instead goes to stand near Ruiz, staring at the man, then leans in to say, "Blue, green, gray, white, or black; smooth, ruffled, or mountainous; that ocean is not silent!"

Turning around to face Richard, it might be apparent that something is triggering Warren's slightly concerning state of mind. "We hold the placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far!" He walks even closer to Richard now, the various lights around them reflecting off his mirror-like eyes. "When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, They could not live!"

“Warren!” Richard reaching out to clasp his brother’s shoulder firmly as the tech-intuitive approaches, “Get it together! Maybe we weren’t meant to voyage far, but that just means we need to bring them home back to our island. Let’s get our family home before anything notices them…” He gazes seriously into those mirrored eyes, his voice sharp and hard as he tries to shake Warren out of that particular bit of madness. “And for God’s sake, grab a hold of something!”

His gaze sweeps to the heavens, to the roiling sea of colours, jaw tightening. Then he’s turning away from Warren to look back over towards Ruiz, “If you can’t link up with the other side… we shouldn’t need you to do anything further, but your way is far more stable— there’s less of a chance of It seeing us if you succeed! We’ll be tearing a hole through without an anchor if we use the machine, more than likely— ” He’s really hoping that Mateo and Lynette manage this. The machine scares him, as it should.

Back up to the skies, he shouts, “At t-minus zero we should be as close as we’re going to come to a full natural overlay — it’ll be our best chance of getting through!”

No. No the ocean is not silent. And neither is Mateo’s head, for that matter. The constant background noise that always made up his mind suddenly seemed to be screaming over everyone else, like lightning crackling through open sky, like rain hitting the pavement, gears grinding in giant clocks, like teeth crunching bone, sounds overlapping on sounds until it feels louder than everything else.

The words that the others say seems drowned out, which might be for the best, really. He doesn’t even hear the countdown, but he can feel when it reaches because he nods and makes a motion with his hand and he focuses everything on that one spot near the edge of the roof and pushes, drawing on electricity from Lynette, on the cosmic energy raining down on them, on everything, pushing it into one place as the sound in his head continues to roar. A sound that they might all hear soon as he makes Point A to be met by a Point B somewhere very far away.

Or that had been the plan.

"Richard," Lynette says, her gaze sliding sideways toward Warren, "I'd appreciate it if you could keep your brother at a fair distance." Her tone is dry, but it's also clear that she's more scared now, hearing the man who made the machine speaking that way. Or perhaps speaking at all. Her attention swings to the machine, even as she feels her power draining away from her, watching it as she would a venomous snake poised to strike.

The sound draws her attention back, that telltale noise of Mateo's hungry void. In her mind's eye, El Umbral is made up of hundreds of gnashing teeth, impatient for them all to lose their footing and tumble in. The sound of it doesn't help with that impression. And with the Looking Glass here and the aurora overhead, she can't help but think of the question she has heard over and over.

What happens to Point A without Point B?

Up in the air, nine feet above the roof of the Deveaux Building, reality begins to split apart at the seams. It begins as a vibration, a high-pitched whining sound that reverberates through the metallic components of the Looking Glass. Soon, the power of Mateo Ruiz causes a point in space to dimple inward, distorting the view of the aurora through it. Then, as wind picks up on the rooftop, that point in space begins to expand into a one-dimensional disc of infinite blackness ringed by swirling electrical light like the event horizon of a black hole.

At the same time, one of the SESA technicians lets out a shout. “The— the machine!” Engines begin to hum to life, a high-pitching whining sound reverberates through the air, and within the small triangular lens of the looking glass sparks of white-hot plasma begin to manifest. “It shouldn’t be engaging,” the technician shouts, “the— the power is off! Diagnostics aren’t even showing it as active!”

Pull the plug!” Another technician screams, running behind the console and yanking out the thick, black power cables from the generators. As the technician rises up with the cable in hand, the Looking Glass still has power.

Warren is in a bit of a psychotic daze as all hell continues to break loose, but as the hole in pace opens up, he suddenly removes his large coat entirely, revealing HORIZON armor with small steel grappling hooks attached to the waist. Multiple of them fire out where no one's standing, hooking into the edges of the building, a few of them piercing through the ground. Then he starts to walk around with multiple anchors adjusting to his movements.

"Sorry, I had a Mortimer moment." he apologizes, then heads to the machine and starts to look at it, tapping his chin. "Did I build power redundancies into this thing?" he wonders, because sometimes he forgets when he really gets going into a design. "I actually don't see a way to stop it, which is strange because I built it. The way it's working right now actually doesn't make any sense at all! And the power is too volatile to simply shoot it, not that I have a gun right now or anything."

There are two very obvious Desert Eagles on his waist and some sort of heavily modified assault rifle on his back.

He looks to Richard and just sort of throws his hands up. "I'm not really sure what to do here that won't get everyone exploded or ripped across time and space."

Rasheed stands up, doing his best to fight through the headache of reality tearing apart. "Everyone move! Get away from the machine!" he shouts, before holding a hand out towards it. "I don't know what this is going to do, but I'm not about to let everyone die for this! I'll hold it back long enough for you all to finish what you're doing, then you need to get the hell out of here!"

That's about when he starts trying to entirely rewind the activation of the Looking Glass, as the flow of time becomes even more strange and distorted. But who the hell knows what happens when you do that, when you try to rewind the time of the time puncturing device.

“This is it,” Richard mutters as he watches the sky, as the vortex blooms outwards; it’s something he’s never seen before, his eyes widening as the event horizon’s black begins to devour everything it can reach.

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he has seen something like this before. In the sky above Nazahat.

It’s almost hypnotic, his attention locked upon it so raptly that he doesn’t notice anything is wrong for the first few moments. Then his head snaps around, staring at the Looking Glass in horror as plasma begins to spark within the triangular frame.

“No,” he breathes out, “Oh, fuck, oh— Warren! There has to be some way to— what do you mean? Where the hell’s it getting power from then?”

Before he can be answered, Rasheed reaches out, and every nightmare scenario possible replays inside the man’s head at once. He tenses for a moment, then releases the cargo container he’s holding onto and lunges to try and cross the intervening space between him and the SESA agent in a tackle. “No! You’re going to— “

That wasn’t even where Mateo was attempting to open it— and it was definitely much bigger than he was going for, too. But he at least is not even shifted under any of the force and pull of it. He’s steady on his feet as if it doesn’t really affect him, even as his hair whips around in curls and it pulls on his coat.

No. No this didn’t go right.

“It’s not stabilizing!” Obviously it wasn’t, but he still feels the need to yell it. Eyes flicker to the machine that seems to be on without even being plugged in— that could have done it. And now he can hear the sound always in his head in his ears. Louder and louder and louder, like all the noise in the universe all at once. No. Closing a hole once it’s opened has often been hard for him, but he can usually do it now, since he’d trained himself to, so that is what he tries. To shut it down. With everything going on he has no idea how well that will work.

He came here to reunite families, not destroy them. He didn’t want anyone to get lost in the nothingness today.

Even if it meant losing the chance to get them back.

Lynette watches the portal as it distorts, her head shaking lightly. Her concern is there, at first, but it isn't too long before the sound from the machine and the techs shouting to each other gets her attention. She looks over in time to see them try pulling the plug to no avail.

"Can you close it?" she asks Mateo, her voice steady despite the worry she feels. "I'm trying the machine."

She stretches her hand out toward the Looking Glass and tries to drain it of its power. She only sees Richard and Rasheed out of the corner of her eye, but all she can do is hope that Mateo can shut down the portal before they're sucked into it.

Electricity flows from the Looking Glass into Lynette, snapping and arcing through the air, creating iridescent rainbow ribbons that crackle like a heat mirage around it. The electricity creates an ozone stink in the air and the SESA technicians are scrambling away from the bolts of electricity barely restrained by Lynette’s control.

Is this supposed to be happening!?” Rhys shouts over the roar of the air, holding his dead phone tightly in one hand.

Ruiz can feel something in the back of his mind, like two magnets that were on opposing ends slipping into place and snapping together the moment Lynette interfaces with the power surging out of the Looking Glass. No matter how hard she pulls, it seems to have a near infinite level of energy within, causing her eyes to glow a vibrant white in the dark of the night. Somehow, the vibrations emitted by the Looking Glass’ discordant presence is synchronizing his portal with something else, a familiar feeling, like reaching into a bag and finding an identical bag.

Someone else is on the other side.

It’s got to be Elisabeth and the others.

In that same moment, the aurora overhead begins to distort and ripple, twisting at its center directly over the Deveaux Building and dimpling into a spiral several miles across. There's no doubt this light show could be seen from the Safe Zone now. Still, the afterimages all around begin to take on a more solid shape. There's black silhouettes of people on the roof, like the way a sun burns into a retina when it's stared at for too long.

Rasheed can feel a weight pressing down on him, a force that he is levering against which is both heavy and also feels as though it is hinged on an axis. It feels like bending something and being able to feel that moment the tensile strength won’t hold any longer. Whatever it is, whatever he's doing, he stands on the threshold of completion.

Warren slowly backs up, staring at everything, considering, thinking. Surely there's an engineering solution to this, tapping his chin. "Is anyone here a hydrokinetic?"

He has an idea, but, well, it may or may not be a bit late for that.

Rasheed has to concentrate, this feels like life or death, and he can't let Richard tackle him. He'll apologize later for what he does next.

He reaches to his holster and draws his handgun, then aims and fires it at Richard's thigh to try and avoid breaking his concentration as he continues trying to push through. Whatever he's doing, it feels like it needs to be done. "You don't understand, we can't just let this happen! You can't feel what I'm feeling, you don't know what I'm feeling right now!"

The shot slams into Richard’s thigh with relative accuracy, and although the MR plate stops the impact of the bullet entirely, it’s enough to knock him off-balance as he skids past Rasheed on one knee, landing entirely too close to the Looking Glass for his own liking. Afterimages stutter in his wake, slowly fading dark across the rooftop.

The pull of the vortex starts to tug upwards, dragging his coat’s hem skywards, and he desperately grabs for a cable — grabbing hold of the same loose cable that the SESA tech is hanging from, a foot hooking on the edge of a console.

“We’re in the middle of a neutrino storm,” he desperately shouts against the roar of the vortex, against the whining and crackling hiss of plasma that casts him in silhouette from behind, “If you try and twist time in the middle of all this there’s no telling what could happen! You could link us to the previous overlay-breach here and pull the damn thing right to us from the past!”

Why do some people always have to think with their guns and their need to physically stop someone? But then again, just telling someone to stop often didn’t actually work, and Mateo is so focused on what he feels and is attempting to do that he can’t actually move or say anything to react to the other men moving about on the rooftop. And they’re half blurry anyway, moving with after images as he blinks.

But he can feel it. He can feel the other side. There’s a buzzing in his ears that’s suddenly different, suddenly new. A thrum that he can almost feel more than hear. “I think— I think it might be stabilizing,” he calls out, lifting his hand up as if trying to grasp that spiral. More energy is pulled into it as he tries to figure out how to make take what he’s feeling and pull it into the right place, the right position. He imagines it needs to be smaller. What is above, the spiral, isn’t even entirely el umbral, it’s something else too. Maybe a combination of somethings.

All he could hear was that thrum in his head, the feeling that came through. Something was there. But he do something. Maybe Point A and Point B were too different and they needed a nudge to fit. He didn’t know exactly how but he used whatever it was that he was feeling to try and make what was above him hold that feeling as well.

"I can't empty it," Lynette says, closing too-bright eyes against the surge of power she's feeling. Her eyelids glow from the inside. She can't hold that much, not for long, and she lifts her hand upward to release a lightning bolt toward the sky. Smaller bolts jump through her hair and out of her eyes when she opens them again. She does what she can to keep them directed where she wants them, instead of leaping all over the rooftop.

She sags a little, gripping onto Mateo like she's lost her footing. But it's only a moment until she straightens up and smooths out her coat. "Something is feeding it power. A lot of power. Whatever I take, it gets refilled," she says, loud enough for the others to hear.

In front of Rasheed and Richard, the universe unfolds like a sliced onion. Rings of spacetime collapse inward on themselves in the center of the disc, comprised of tightly contained spirals, like a thread being pulled from a sweater at tremendous speed. As the puckering distortion at the middle of the disc sinks into itself, the infinitely dark center begins to clear from an opaque and lightless surface to…

…a window.

Ringed by crackling, white-hot bolts of electricity, this portal’s surface is coated in a rippling glass-like sheen that only subtly distorts the image of another place beyond. It is a vast, rust-streaked metal chamber with crumbling catwalks high overhead and stark lighting with deep shadows. Standing immediately on the other side of the portal is Mateo and Lynette. The former rests on one knee, electricity crackling around his hand arcing out toward the portal’s edge, the latter holding her hands out toward the portal with brows tense and a thin line of blood running from her nose across her upper lip.

But then, it’s clear they aren’t alone. To the side of Mateo and Lynette stands a woman that Richard Ray recognizes as Odessa Price’s mother, wearing a tattered labcoat, decades older than Richard knows her as evidenced by fading gray hair streaked with blonde. The surname Ingram is printed on her labcoat. The horror in her eyes is tempered by a reassuring hand on her shoulder, placed there by none other than Elisabeth Harrison.

Liz is staring into the portal, her eyes meeting Richard’s. Behind her, there’s someone else, a short blonde woman in a gray jumpsuit, but she’s occluded from view as Elisabeth steps closer to the portal. She’s talking, but no sound is carrying out. Then, as she sees Rasheed holding a gun on Richard, Elisabeth’s ragged expression turns wrathful.

She’s screaming, loud enough that Joy recoils and clutches her ears. But no sound permeates the barrier beyond a faint humming sound, like someone trying to shout through an iron wall.

Oh my God,” Rhys whispers, pupils dilated to black discs. After which, he says nothing. The other SESA technicians and agents are dumbstruck, slowly rising up from where they’d recoiled from the noise of a gunshot. All eyes are on the portal and Rasheed can feel the weight of the universe pulling down on him, like trying to stop an overturning truck with his bare hands.

Warren stares up at the portal, then suddenly removes all of his grappling hooks from the rooftop. "I have an idea." Which, with Warren, is possibly something people get a mix bag of hope and horror from.

He crouches down, the artificial muscles in the legs of his armor beginning to flex and tense up. He's always had a strong sense of how to use the armor he created, you just have to do the thing. Then he leaps up into the air and, at the exact right moment, fires a grappling hook up into it, aiming for a stable object within the portal, and then fires one behind himself, aiming to embed it deep into the ground.

He's trying to create a sort of not-horrible way for them to get out without hurting themselves. It's the least he can do. "I hope no one sits on my face, that'd be an embarrassing way to die with the universe tearing apart!"

Rasheed is still holding his gun at Richard, but is falling down to one knee as he continues trying to reverse the time of the machine. His nose is bleeding, he can barely keep it together, but he's trying. "I can't explain this to you, Ray! You don't understand. You think you know but you can't feel it the way that I feel it!"

The gun may be pointed at him, but Richard isn’t paying attention anymore. He’s standing there staring directly into the portal, his grip lessening for a moment on the cable before he remembers - and tightens it.

It was one thing knowing Liz was alive. It’s another to see her.

“Liz…” He barely whispers, reaching a hand out just as a grappling hook goes hurtling past. He jerks his head back to see his brother trying to offer a rope to the refugees from another world, then looks back, “Please, God. I know I haven’t been the best Christian in the world, but if you’re out there…”

“Please let this work.”

As Mateo looks up at the image of another world, all he can hear is the soft roaring in his head and the world around him. There’s no sound coming from there. No. They shouldn’t be seeing it at all as far as he knew— maybe that was the Looking Glass. A mirror to another world. “I— I’m not sure— “ he mutters, even as a trickle of warm wet starts to drip down from one nostril, mirroring the Lynette on the other side almost.

“Something’s not right.“ He grimaces, feeling a sharp pain in his chest, the hand not raised pressing against his thick coat, but he doesn’t move beyond that. “They’re not all there.” He knew there should be more, Lynette had told him, in the Garden. There should be a little girl. There should be… more. She didn’t tell him everything, didn’t know how many would want to come or how many would actually survive to come— they had the possibility of a fight ahead of them. And then he hadn’t heard from her for days.

But there’s no way they would come through without the girl.

Lynette takes in a breath when the tableau on the other side of the portal becomes visible. Her double and Liz are noted, certainly, especially with Liz screaming and Lynette bleeding. But Ruiz is where her attention lingers. The Other Otter. It's been a long time since Eve first told them about him and his journey through possibilities, and there he is. Her hand reaches for Mateo and she turns toward him as his words filter in. "You're right," she says, using the sleeve of her jacket to wipe away the blood on his face. "I don't think this is their escape." Considering how much the pair have gone through for their son, she also knows they wouldn't leave without their daughter.

"What do we do? Kick the machine off the roof? Add a little more radiation to Manhattan?" Her questions are sarcastic, meant to point out that no one on this rooftop knows what's going on. "Richard," she says, to try to get his attention, "we have to do something!"

Warren’s grappling hook explodes when it passed through the event horizon of the portal, turning into white hot plasma slag that rapidly spins up and is sucked into the edges of Mateo’s portal and disappears entirely. Warren’s showered with a few glowing pieces as well that sizzle and smoke where they land on his clothing.

But that's the moment Rasheed can't hold whatever cosmic weight he's holding any longer. There's a stabbing pain behind his right eye, and Richard can see the white of Rasheed’s eye blast red as blood vessels rupture and he weeps crimson from his tear duct. Rasheed’s knees give out and he collapses onto them, and the weight he was carrying drops like a stone.

In that instant, the electricity around Mateo’s portal turns a scathing neon violet color and bathes the rooftop in purplish light. A high-pitched whining scream fills the air, and the portal begins to destabilize as arcs of violet electricity leap from its edge.

Through the portal, that short blonde steps around in front of Elisabeth, staring wide-eyes directly at Richard. Her jumpsuit reads Ruiz at the chest, but she doesn't much look like Mateo. As she approaches the portal, squinting at the light, she sees entranced. Behind her, the taller and older blonde who looks strikingly like Mara looks up at the ceiling with an alarmed expression, as if something terrible had happened.

Mara’s doppelgänger is screaming, looking up at the ceiling and shouting. Then, she suddenly explodes into a vibrant blast of white light and looks startlingly identical to Mara. This was the moment Richard had foreseen. This was the moment Mara already experienced.

And he's powerless to stop it.

Everyone looks panicked, focused toward and behind the portal, as a wave of sea water crashes into view, white-frothed and cascading waves of water that smash into Mateo and Lynette. In that instant cause the portal to turn pitch black like a television channel suddenly cut off.


…it isn't.

The spiral aurora overhead stutters like a jittering film frame, and Mateo can feel something vibrating within El Umbral, and a moment later something emerges from within. Warren is at ground zero when the first, massive tentacle comes lashing through. Black and segmented, gleaming of machined steel, clattering and slamming into the rooftop.

Voices echo out of the portal as a horrifying machine emerges through, what sounds like Elisabeth screaming something, and then very clearly the voice of Peter Petrelli: “It's too late! We have to go! The dome’s down! We— ”

The sedan-sized machine pulls the remainder of its bulk through, and as it comes through massive portions of its armor plating are stripped away and flung to the outer edge of Mateo’s portal like a basket of forks tossed into an MRI. Smoke and flames erupt from the damaged portions, electricity arcs off of its circular central body of machined steel and arcs of electricity dance within its single glowing red eye. There are sparks erupting from the crackling triangle of white light below it's eye, like a miniature Looking Glass. Seven more tentacles follow, and the machine lets loose a horrifying braying sound of horn and grinding steel.

SESA agents are screaming, drawing their guns, and Rhys is backing up in horror as the machine pushes up on its tentacles to its full height, and horrifyingly — above it's red eye — a stenciled red emblem.


Rasheed can't do it anymore, he's trying to keep it together, but… it's like the weight of the very cosmos on his shoulders. When he loses grasp, he can't even stay conscious, not only physically, but psychologically, the things he's experiencing, the sheer sensory input of such a cosmic scale event, it causes him to finally just collapse.

But Warren is the first to see the horror, falling down as if in slow motion. His eyes are still chromatic and reflects every curve of the complex machine before him. There's a flash, so many flashes, so many things locked away by Rene's work, it just… it cracks open like a long buried pandora's box.

So many things happen in those few seconds he's descending in the air. Time is cracked open, perhaps screaming in every direction. The machine's design, so many aspects of its origin both familiar and foreign, taken far beyond the capacity he's ever taken anything.

This is a moment that so many Warrens, Mortimers, Alexs and Jacks experience, who knows where and when and to what degree. But in this moment, it's an absolutely mind-shattering experience.

When he finally hits the ground, polyurethane has already exploded from his back to break his fall. But he continues to lay there, staring, memories continuing to overwhelm, the moment when Gillian augmented him, the realization of the broken universe.

What can he do in a broken universe, how can he fix it? Does it even matter?

He starts to roll over, pushing himself up. His mind is unclear, the urgency of the moment pushing him on, but something like an awakening stalling him in his tracks. "Here then at long last is my darkness. No cry of light, no glimmer, not even the faintest shard of hope to break free across the hold."

He stares up at the tentacle machine, pulls his ridiculously modified assault rifle from his back, then starts firing explosive rounds at it. "I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both!"

“No…” The word on a horrified breath as Richard stares into the portal, watching the prophesied moment take place, sees the flash of light and the woman he knew changed places there. Despite her travel back, time refused to change. “No, no, no— “ Desperation rising up in him frantic, unwilling to believe what he’s staring at, unwilling to believe that he was wrong.

Then the water crashes down like his dreams, and the connection’s severed in an instant leaving nothing but the vantablack of an event horizon.

And then, instead of his dreams, a nightmare tears out of the void as if embodying his deepest fears.

As that massive metallic tendril slams into the roof, he’s torn out of his reverie of despair instantly, stumbling back and grabbing for the Banshee at his belt. “C-code,” he stutters into the radio, unsteady and off-balance in body and mind, panicking on multiple levels at once, “Code Eliot, repeat, Code Eliot, we have— we have a Wasteland Incursion— “

The wailing shriek of a sonic weapon being deployed echoes across the rooftop as he raises the Banshee towards that burning triangle of white light in a robotic visage and pulls the trigger, hoping desperately that his other self hadn’t invented this sort of weaponry for the DOEA to have prepared for when building their robots.

To say the world is unravelling would be an understatement. At least for Mateo Ruiz. His hand started to drop as the horror reached their faces, as he realized that something terrible was about to happen and, based on the attempt to shoot an anchor into the portal exploding what they were looking through was a window instead of the threshold it was supposed to be. He wouldn’t even guess why that was. All he could do was watch, watch their faces change, watch the wave of water crash into them.

The rattling through El Umbral rocks through the numbed pain that had settled in his chest, sends him down to his knees, that hand he had been raising up to the sky moments ago hitting the rooftop to hold him upright. He lets out a shuttered breath, more blood dripping down from one nostril and onto the concrete below them. Only when he looks up does he see that—

Now the window was a threshold.

And the wrong thing was coming out of it. The only thing he could do was try to close it again. He knew it wouldn’t destroy this one, as it was still functional halfway through, but it might stop more from coming through, if he could keep a hold of himself long enough.

He didn’t even notice that he was crying, yet.

Lynette watches as the water sweeps the others away, as the portal blacks out. She makes a noise, disbelief mixed with pain— but it doesn't last long. The voices, they are a warning, but the robot stepping through is what flips the switch inside her head.

Because she isn't here on the rooftop with her husband, she's in a war against people who want to kill her for what she is. Lynette's eyes glow white again just moments before she disappears in a flash upward and reappears on top of the robot. Her hand reaches for the red glowing spot on its head and she lets her electricity slam into it.

The machine, horrifying and otherworldly in its design, is already on fire when everyone begins to fend it off. The sonic beam from Richard’s Banshee seems to have no effect on the monstrosity. The other SESA agents that are armed withdraw sidearms, firing at the lower half as best as they can, with Richard, Rasheed, and Warren occluding their aim. Warren’s gunfire takes advantage of the armor plates having been stripped away, demolishing internal components in contained blasts of fire and shrapnel, but even that seems to have little effect on the machine.

There’s a shearing metal-on-metal sound when Mateo closes his portal, pushing the back two tentacles that hadn’t already made it through into the physical realm beyond its metaphysical border. As the machine lurches forward, it raises one smoldering tentacle, only for a shower of sparks to erupt from within as servos fail and wiring melts under the strain caused by passage through El Umbral. The tentacle falls limp, crashing down on one of the wheeled carts of computers, smashing the tech to pieces.

As it’s struck by gunfire again, it wheels around, a tentacle crashing through the unplugged generators that were to power the Looking Glass, sending one careening off the roof. In response to Warren’s continued gunfire, the machine’s red eye narrows and it pivots its body to angle a circular mouth of grinding wheels for biomatter conversion. A functioning tentacle sweeps out, knocking Warren off of his feet and hooking him by the ankle, dragging him toward the wood-chipper-slash-incinerator where a cephalopod’s mouth would be.

But then, a crackle of electricity manifests atop the beast, followed by a splitting sound of thunder as Lynette Ruiz raises both hands arcing with white-hot lightning and drives them down atop the mechanical abomination’s gleaming red eye. Electricity blasts out from that lens, shattering and melting glass. Smoke and flames explode from the sides of the machine and the tentacle around Warren’s leg sags. The machine begins to tilt backwards, flames issuing from every opening in its armor plating. Lynette is easily able to blast away to safety as a streak of lightning, before the towering machine crashes into the Looking Glass.

As three thousand pounds of steel falls on the Looking Glass, the delicate machine explodes in a blast of white-hot plasma that erupts in a plume toward the sky. A second explosion happens inside the machine, causing molten thermite to erupt from the core of the robot. The destruction of the Looking Glass and the weight of the falling machine causes a corner of the Deveaux Building to crumble away, and the machine’s flaming chassis, tangled in the remnants of the Looking Glass, crashes down more than thirty stories to the street below before erupting in a third and final explosion.

Then, save for the howling of wind, all is silent under a spiral aurora that divides the heavens.

Rasheed falls back to his knees when everything goes silent, his head pounding as he tries to muster up the ability to say something. But instead he just very gently lays down, entirely losing any ability to stay awake as he completely loses consciousness.

Warren lands on the ground when he's released by the tentacle, bracing himself with the shock absorbing artificial muscle of the armor. He looks around, scanning the area with his chromium-like eyes.

The large gun is returned to his back, and he slowly walks over to Richard, offering his hand. "There were too many variables. I did everything to spec, that machine had a Looking Glass inside of it, I think we opened up a way for it to connect to our universe." he says in a surprisingly coherent way.

But then he stares up at the sky, eyes returning to normal. "This was the moment, I forgot all about it, all of us did. All of us from everywhere and every when, every Warren and every Mortimer."

"I am the Bad Wolf. I create myself. I take the words… I scatter them. Across time and space. My message to lead myself here." he quotes, then shakes his head. "That's what happened, that's the only way I can explain. It's the only way that I can say it without breaking something."

"This always happened." he explains, because it's the only thing he can do. "Real fate, real destiny, the fate of all worlds converging on this fixed point in time." He takes a deep breath, inhaling the air. "Our dad knew, I always knew, it just couldn't be explained, it couldn't be consciously comprehended. How do you make a fixed point in time happen when the fixed point is tragic, for the good of your children?" He looks down at Richard and says, "The universe is a broken gear, but you have to break things even more sometimes to fix them."

He starts to walk to where the machine exploded, seeming rather calm despite the apparent catastrophe. Then he crouches down, picking up a little bolt in between his fingers, and stares at it. "Everything will be fine, because dad saw it, and this was a part of the plan. The success of failure. Suffer now, succeed better later."

He watches as numerous people try to recover, and stands up straight, stretching. "Congratulations, you're all the most important people in the entire multiverse, and I'm literally the center of all Warrens! I'm the best Warren! Sorry for the trauma, childhood Warren." he frowns for a moment, then perks up again. "Hurray for stable time loops!"

Richard’s brother is talking. He’s not listening. No, he’s stepping slowly to the edge of the building — or what’s left of it — and staring down at the smouldering heap of technology below, the tangle of an attempt at reproducing Michelle LeRoux’s brilliance and the dangerously advanced murder-tech of the Wasteland burning in the cold night, the flames seeming to twist into many colours under the spiral’s effect. It’s just a trick of the light.

“It should have worked,” he whispers to himself, the Banshee falling from limp fingers to thunk against the ground beside him, the cord attaching it to his belt stretching downwards, “Why didn’t it work? Why… we were so close. So close and then…”

He wavers just a bit there at the building’s edge, suddenly unsteady on his feet as a gorge rises in his throat, eyes wet with unshed tears.


On his knees, Mateo doesn’t even see them take the robot down. Doesn’t see the machine fall apart. Doesn’t see any of that. Cause his vision is drowning in something else, just like, he imagines in his mind, they might be drowning. Was the tightness in his chest the same thing they were feeling. He clasped his hand against his knees and started to hear some of what the madman was rambling.

“Will someone please shut him up,” he finally says after a moment, not even bothering to look up, he was trying to listen for something, for anything. And all he could hear in his head was the ocean. An ocean that sounded so very far away.

An ocean that felt like it was falling out of his eyes, really. Tears tasted almost the same.

The Lynette that remanifests as the robot falls is not the woman who has spent years focusing on a way to help people. Instead, it's the one that led one of the most deadly squads in the Second Civil War. It's the one that people called on to do executions and missions no one was meant to walk away from.

The hate that she fixes on Warren is very real and deeply felt.

"I can shut him up," she says, lifting her hands as she starts purposefully across the rooftop. What's left of the rooftop. Electricity burns white-hot as it builds in her hands, but there's barely a moment before she looses it in Warren's direction. She can feel where his sult holds the most power, and her bolt heads right for it.

Warren is distracted, not quite seeing it coming when the influx of electricity suddenly hits his suit. While he has the suit insulated, for obvious reasons, he falls to his hands and knees as the artificial muscle structures are overloaded. Then, looking up at her, his eyes shift silvery. "You don't understand at all! I never cared about our dad much, Richard was obsessed! But now I see, he was right all along, all of this was supposed to happen! All of this always happened!"

He sounds ridiculously determined when he says, "It's a stable time loop! That means they're all coming back, because our dad knew! You just don't see it, you can't see it! The things in my brain came from myself, because they were already there, because they came from myself! It's a time loop!"

"Richard!" he finally shouts, becoming frustrated. "Listen to me!"

The high-pitched electric whine of a Banshee charging up cuts into the shouting on the rooftop. Two SESA agents who still have their wits about them have their weapons trained down at a 45-degree angle, but their eyes are focused on Lynette. From her right flank, Agent Bluthner likewise has an activated banshee held in a two-handed grip, trained at the ground but his posture and attention is full of anxiety. “Stand down, Ms. Ruiz,” Rhys says with as much authority as he can muster, given the situation. It isn’t much. “Please,” comes out a moment thereafter, a plea to de-escalate.

The SESA scientists that were working on the Looking Glass are huddled in the stairwell to the roof, staring wide-eyed in memory of the improbability that they witnessed. Decades of scientific research might as well be thrown in a bin now, given everything they’ve seen. Entire models of physics now must be reconsidered, and they’re grappling with that and the very real danger they were in up until just a moment ago.

There’s a distant chop of a helicopter’s rotors from the direction of Governor’s Island, the sound of humvees roaring on approach on the ruined streets below as the military police come to check on the situation.

Even the heavens felt that moment in time, and the corkscrew of green, blue, and pink shimmering overhead is proof enough of that. But none felt it more than Rasheed Mustang, laying on his side on the rooftop, with two SESA agents knelt over him to try and assess his condition. He’s drifting in and out of consciousness, and what he’s learned here won’t be clear to others until he’s had time to recover. But the truth of it is, he can feel something has changed here. The air feels different.

All of Richard’s efforts have been focused upon this evening for the past month; he’s been sleeping little, eating even less, pushing himself to accomplish the impossible on this rooftop while simultaneously juggling several other schemes and plans to make sure nothing gets forgotten or dropped. And now he’s failed.

He should be calming his brother down, taking control of the situation, giving orders. Figuring out their next steps, making sure wasteland-tech gets recovered from the remains of the machinery so far below.

He closes his eyes to steady himself, draws in a breath to speak—

And collapses on the spot like a puppet with its strings cut, body and mind finally too over-stressed and exhausted to keep him coming. An arm dangles over the edge of the building, dangerously close— if he’d been a step closer, he may have fallen after the tangle of broken dreams and burning nightmares.

In another situation he might have tried to talk her down, cause that wasn’t exactly what he meant by shutting him up, but it hadn’t really worked either way. Mateo can still hear that voice grating through the noise in his head, which sounds distinctly mechanical suddenly, like a train’s air brakes engaging. And honestly all he can see behind the tears is those last images. Could they have escaped that? He didn’t know for sure. But what he did know… is that this didn’t go as anyone had hoped.

Except perhaps the guy cheering and talking about time loops and other crazy things. “‘Nette,” he calls out quietly, unable to get up. He’s not even trying to stop her from doing what she did again, like the agents might have been… He just needs her right now. Because had no idea what they were going to do now, except that they would go through it together.

"They're dying while he's congratulating himself," Lynette says, all but growling out her words. It's almost as if she's explaining to Rhys why she isn't listening to him, because it certainly seems like she isn't. Electricity sparks around her hand, building a little brighter as she speaks.

It's all too possible that Warren owes his life to Mateo's quiet voice. That sees to cut through her anger better than the appeal from authority. She looks away from Warren, to her husband. Her power fizzles away harmlessly into the air. "Make sure Richard doesn't fall off the building, please," is what she ends up saying to Rhys before she walks away, running her hand through her hair to shake free the last of her lingering electricity before she puts her hands on Mateo's face.

"I'm here."

Helicopters begin circling the Deveaux Building, floodlights shining down on the roof and whipping up a frigid wind and once-settled snow. Radios chirp and squawk all across the roof as SESA agents try to come to grips with what it was they’d seen, what they’d been party to. On seeing Lynette move to Mateo, Rhys slowly lowers his Banshee and closes his eyes, drawing in a deep and shaky breath before holstering the weapon.

There will be reports to file, interviews with everyone involved, medical examinations to ensure no long-lasting psychological or physiological effects. But, those can all wait. As Rhys surveys the rooftop, giving Mateo and Lynette space, he watches other agents hedging Warren away from the couple, some already shining lights in his eyes and trying to assess if he’d taken a blow to the head or suffered trauma from the electrical overload of his armor. Others are kneeling beside Richard, looking at each other, then down over the edge to where smoke rises in a thick plume.

Rhys turns his attention to the stone molding on the roof, brows furrowed.

Two cherubs…

…and a ring.

Thirty Four Years Earlier

past-charles2_icon.gif past-kaito_icon.gif

“What are you looking at?”

Emerging from the greenhouse, Charles Deveaux carefully cradles a teacup and a saucer in one hand, his other arm in a bandaged sling. Dawn light spreads over the roof, a warm golden glow, the sense of possibilities that a new day brings.

Kaito Nakamura turns, a troubled look in his eyes. In his hands he holds an architect’s blueprint. “I think I’ve determined where we will put the message in a bottle,” he says with a motion to the bare brick railing overlooking Midtown. Charles come to stand beside Kaito, one brow raised. He looks at the stone, then back over to his close friend, and then down to the blueprint…

…of two cherubs and a ring.

“Let’s hope it’s enough,” Charles intones, looking to the rising sun in the distance.

“And let’s hope it’s never necessary.”

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