Coriolis Effect


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Scene Title Coriolis Effect
Synopsis Everyone is in someone's orbit, and a constellation of moving parts come together when Elliot Hitchens draws Pete Varlane out into the open.
Date March 28, 2021

A cold wind whips across the ruined span of the Bayonne Bridge. Hundreds of feet below the span the Arthur Kill flows with dark ferocity. Beyond the broken bridge, the still-uninhabited ruins of Jersey City look like rows of broken teeth in a crooked jaw. Behind, the growing expanse of Staten Island’s industrial zone as governed by the steady hand of Gideon d’Sarthe.

Pete Varlane looks out of place here in the middle of a four lane highway, peering over the precipice edge at the dark water far below. The wind catches the smoke from his cigar and casts it away so strongly not even the scent lingers. He only turns when the sound of tires crunching cracked asphalt carries over the sound of wind and waves.

A dark green Lincoln Town Car from some time in the mid 1980s rolls to a stop where concrete barricades warn against vehicle traffic. The driver turns the engine off and steps out of the vehicle. Mara Angier steps out and immediately rakes her hair back and slips an elastic off her wrist to tie it into a messy bun. Pete gives her a thumbs up and she returns it, then leans down to look at her passenger: Elliot Hitchens.

“You have thirty minutes,” Mara explains, drumming one hand on the roof of the car.

That should be plenty.

Ruins of the Bayonne Bridge
Staten Island

March 28th
2:47 pm

Elliot surveys the area, only closing the door when he's made sure nobody can see them out here. The behavior is only for the benefit of the two people within earshot; he knows exactly who's watching. He nods in response to Mara, keeping his interactions with Gideon's oversight respectful but terse.

He keeps his hood up against the cool air, walking with a casual confidence that hides the great lengths he took to get this audience. He risked a lot to meet this man, and despite Pete Varlane deserving to be shot on sight, Elliot doesn't currently plan on killing him.

"Mr Varlane," Elliot says, polite despite the desire to be flippant. "You're a hard man to get a hold of." He stops two paces short of his target and to the side; no point making a dangerous man feel boxed in.

“Not hard enough apparently,” Pete says with a huff, flicking ash from his cigar. He turns to fully face Elliot, taking a couple steps toward him. “This is, what, the second time you people caught up to me? I don’t hear any jets this time, so I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t a business call.”

A bitterly cold wind whips across the bridge and Pete rolls his shoulders against it. “So whatever you’ve got me out here for,” he continues, gesturing with his cigar, “make it quick because my balls are shriveling up.”

Elliot doesn't back away as Pete approaches, he can't show weakness to a man who can kill him with a touch. He also can't take the risk of it, hence his insurance policy. He holds that in reserve for the moment, keeping a calm demeanor while letting his eyes linger for a moment on the tip of the cigar.

"It is business," Elliot says. "Your bounty is tempting, but right now knowledge is more valuable to me than justice. I'm chasing down information about projects you oversaw or inherited research data from."

Hmmh,” Pete grunts, then takes a slow drag off of his cigar. “I guess that career path is still paying dividends, even if it is what got me into this fucking mess.” He ashes into the wind, then wanders away from Elliot a few feet, putting his back to him as he looks out over the river to the desolate New Jersey side.

“Get to the point.” Pete urges, glancing over his shoulder to Elliot. “I don’t think you can afford my hourly rate.”

"Tell me about Heisenberg and what it inherited from Project Zero," Elliot says, happy to not fuck around.

“Well fuck a duck I had you pegged wrong.” Pete says with a pump of his brows and a jab of his cigar toward Elliot. “I thought you were going to be some bleeding heart asking about one test subject or another from my various uh, bad social investments. But project management questions?” He huffs out a laugh. “Sure, kid. I’ll talk the golden oldies with you.”

Pete seems largely interested in hearing himself talk and he continues to pace back and forth, alternating between gesturing with his cigar and taking a puff from it as he does. “First of all, you’ve got it backwards. Heisenberg didn’t inherit shit from Zero. Heisenberg was my baby, full cognitive network rehabilitation and replication created through networked consciousness.”

Pete doesn’t stop to explain the hard science, he expects Elliot to either keep up or ask questions between his monologues. “Zero was some bat-shit pet project of Zimmerman back at the Commonwealth Institute. He was trying to make a cognitive roadmap of somebody called Subject Zero that the Institute had on ice. They tried using the same hardware they used on Ed Ray, you know,” and he makes a drill noise with his mouth and pokes one finger at the side of his head, “but that shit wasn’t advanced enough for their needs. So, they called me in.”

Pete ashes his cigarette into the wind, then takes a slow drag. “See, way back in the day the Institute was super interested in something called Project Lazarus. Finding a way to recreate the consciousness of the dead, absolutely biblical nonsense. Way I hear it they eventually got what they wanted and that’s what did them the fuck in with their whackjob leader, but the fuck do I know?” Pete laughs. “Anyway, Heisenberg was born from the needs of Lazarus. It let me take care of some, y’know, family issues. Personal business.”

Realizing he’s losing the conversational thread, Pete backs up. “Okay, maybe it’s more fair to say Heisenberg and Zero learned a little from each other. I showed them the routes that failed, and we started talking about how to use telepaths to map neural pathways and force similarities into uh, you know…” Pete squints at Elliot. “Kind of like a xerox but not. We had Doc Carpenter back in the day, he could overwrite consciousness with copies. But no amount of telepathic whammies could really keep the whole network together. Not until we found our silver bullet. Mine, and theirs.”

Refrain.” Pete says with another pump of his brows. “Judging from your expression I know you know what it is. But the science behind it? That shit came straight out of Pinehearst’s labs, wasn’t ever meant to be recreational but here we are. See, Refrain is a small molecule recognized by the adynomine receptor—something only Expressives have. Its binding causes a conformational change of the adynomine receptor that activates molecular pathways involved in memory. Refrain was the chemical grail we needed, and as far as I know Zimmerman pumped the test subjects for Zero full of the shit to stimulate their memory centers and make them more pliable for telepathic mapping.”

Sucking in a breath from his cigar, Pete watches Elliot, then exhales slowly. “They were trying to make a copy of Zero out of one of the test subjects. Now, I don’t know if they succeeded or not. ‘Cause I didn’t find the last piece needed until I got my hands on the blood of a three-hundred year old regenerator. Let me tell you that’s like genetic duct tape.” He says with a laugh.

“But, I bet you Zero ran into the same pitfalls I did. Nearly every single Heisenberg test subject died. Not quickly, not at a predictable rate. But eventually? Dropped fucking dead. Why?” Pete uses the dramatic pause to take one last drag off of his cigar. “It wasn’t stable. The mind rejected the imprint, even if it was a one-to-one genetic copy. The whole apparatus required telepathic maintenance of cognitive routes, otherwise the overloaded neural activity caused psychological trauma and, usually, complete neuropathic decay.”

Pete flicks the butt of his cigar aside. “Let me tell you, neuropathic decay ain’t pretty.” He looks from the cigar to Elliot. “That answer your question?”

Elliot takes a moment to process what he's been told, grateful that Wright is paying attention too. "What can you tell me about known Project Zero subjects?" he asks, ignoring Pete's question.

It looks like Pete really has to dig to remember anything about that. He stares out at the horizon for a moment, cheeks red from the cold wind, then looks back at Elliot. “Prescribed captures. They were hand-picked. The who didn’t matter, the what did. I don’t know who vetted the lists or exactly how, maybe Registry vetting?” He shrugs. “All that was handled by middle-men, the Retriever squads were all cell structured. They didn’t know why they were picking up anyone or where they went after they were dropped off. You go far enough up the chain to me it’s the same, except I know the orders came from Zimmerman directly.”

Pete starts to pace, brows furrowed. “They were serial numbers and ability descriptions, but fuck if I remember them all. It’s been years. Mental stuff, y’know?” He taps his temple with two fingers.

“Only one I know for sure was Zero himself,” Pete says with a squint against the wind. “Telepath. Scary powerful. They had to develop entirely new chemical sedatives to keep his mind from wandering and shutting off lab techs’ autonomous functions. Y’ever wonder what it would be like to forget how to breathe?” Pete huffs and shakes his head. “Some poor fuckers down there did.”

“Christ,” Elliot says, humoring the old man. The secret black site having only been patrolled by robots was his first clue, then there were all of the other horrors that now exist in varying states of decay in his memory. “Any of those drugs make it onto the market? That seems too lucrative for the government to have passed up, but…” It was a very secret project, after all.

“Evaporated with the Institute, or maybe got picked clean by Praxis Heavy Industries and the other vultures that went through the bones.” Pete explains. “The Institute wasn’t keen on sharing anything beyond the bare minimum with the government, but some of it? I know they used a version of it at other government detention facilities, but it all had the same flaw.” Pete admits, rubbing his cold hands together. “Biochemical manipulation. You get someone whose ability alters biological chemistry and sedatives like that start to break down real fast. Happened once on Zero, too. Probably why there weren’t more contestants on that fucked up little game show.”

Pete lifts his hands up to his mouth and blows on them, pacing back and forth as he talks. “We had a girl in storage, “triple-zero eight.” He says flatly, for lack of a name. “I got notified she was being moved, was a part of a project I was managing called Obelisk. Had some folks researching the ability the world’s favorite Nazi—Kazimir Volken—used to possess.” The way Pete talks about it all is so nonchalant.

“I didn’t manage the day-to-days, that was Clark’s responsibility.” Pete says, still winding down this rambling diversion. “Anyway, Zimmerman wanted to borrow her for his pet project. Tried daisy-chaining her to the Zero whatever-the-fuck he had going on. Whatever happened went bad and some of the test subjects died. I didn’t get details on how or who, not my circus not my monkeys. But it also woke the girl up out of sedation, ‘cause if I had to guess she sucked the fucking life out of those folks and triggered a regenerative episode that burned off the sedatives.”

Pete shrugs. “They put the genie back in her bottle, somehow. I don’t think Obelisk ever ran any solid results,” he says with a furrow of his brows. “Clark never filed any important updates and then, y’know, the institute fucking collapsed so there you have it. Monroe must not have given a shit about it because he never mentioned it to me.”

Jesus Christ, Elliot thinks. He sorts away the relevant research details for later. Wolfhound has attack records from the assault on the Ark, and the Ferrymen had the list of detainees.

"Do you remember approximately when that event occurred?" he asks. He certainly has no memory of dying while linking somebody into the network, and Bastian was the only one who died inside. The other three made it outside, he himself the only one not riddled with bullets. "And who's Clark?"

“Clark was an errand boy. Lawrence Clark. A mid-level functionary for Institute projects. He got his hands dirty. He’s probably fucking dead by now.” Pete says flippantly. He neither cares nor knows.

“And if by event you mean the shit-show with 08?” Pete asks, wringing his hands together. “Late at night on the 7th of November, right before everything went tits-up.” He means 2011. It must have been impactful for him to remember it down to the hour. “I was on a flight from New York to San Fran when it happened.”

Well that doesn't make any fucking sense. Elliot resists the urge to argue with Pete. There's no way to say 'I did not in fact die from doing that' without giving the wretched bastard too much information. He's got a lot to think about anyway, and it's more than he's got from Marcus Raith either way.

"That's all the questions I had for you," Elliot decides. "Thank you for your time." No sense telling him to eat shit, despite wanting to very badly.

“Thanks only goes so far,” Pete says with pointed elevation in his voice. He takes a step closer to Elliot. “I much prefer my thanks in the form of monetary compensation, especially since I’m—you know—working under the table these days.” He resists the urge to say like your mom because this is a business transaction. “So,” Pete kicks up a brow, “what’s all this worth to you?”

"What's this worth to me?" Elliot asks incredulously. He lets himself show a bit of the disgust he's been containing, but he keeps his posture relaxed to appease his babysitter. "It's worth more to me than justice, but it's still worth the risk of incurring the wrath of Gideon d'Sarthe if I have impress upon you with extreme violence that this entire conversation is going to stay between us."

"Because you're going to promise me that," Elliot says, a wave of his hand forestalling any argument. "Otherwise you're going to get an extended tour of the great assisted living facility in the sky while my friend here finds out if there's a hard limit on the number of times in a row that you can crawl out of your own corpse."

Something dawns on him, his expression relays a sudden surprise at the odds of it. "Actually," he says, "you've already met Donna Dunlap, haven't you?"

"Say 'hi,' Donna."

“Donna D—”

Pete Varlane never studied physics. He is unaware of what the Coriolis Effect is. To his credit, Donna Dunlap isn’t a physicist either, but she is a sniper. The Coriolis Effect is an area where those two professions overlap.

The Coriolis Effect describes the pattern of deflection taken by objects not firmly connected to the ground as they travel long distances around the Earth. Such as, a bullet. It’s by the fact that different parts of the Earth rotate at different speeds, i.e. the rotational speed is higher at the Equator compared to the poles.

In shooting, the Coriolis Effect means in practice that the deviation of the trajectory of the bullet, i.e. the curvature, arises from the difference in rotational speed between the shooter and the target. Put simply, due to the rotational motion of the Earth, the target location moves at a different speed than the firing point during the flight of the bullet. When firing north or south, the bullet sways to the right and in the Southern Hemisphere to the left.

Shooting at extreme ranges, those measured in a mile or more, you have to take it into effect. It can turn a fatal shot—

Donna is so far away no one on the bridge even hears the gun fire. Pete Varlane’s words are cut off by the buzz of a bullet kissing his lips. It passes less than an inch between mouth and air, close enough that it feels like a bee sting, far enough away that it doesn’t take his mouth clear off of his face.

—into a warning shot.

Out of earshot, Mara Angier can’t tell what just happened, but she sees Pete recoil and grab his face. She tenses, about to move, but Pete frantically waves her off. Wide eyes focus up at Elliot, then scan around for any sign of Donna. But there isn’t. There wouldn’t be. She’s the last surviving member of the Kill Squad.

She’s a professional.

“Sure.” Pete blurts out with a bit of a slur in his speech for the tingle in his lips. “Fine.” He hisses. “Just keep that fucking maniac on her leash!

Pete looks so tiny from where Donna is laying. As insignificant as he would feel if he could see himself the way she does right now, flickering between wavelengths to build the most accurate possible image of her target. It's a thrill to experience it in addition to Elliot's perception of the man. He feels her eyes through his taking in a second point of view to set up the shot.

"Hey now," Elliot chides, "that's a risky thing to say to someone who can read your lips. But I accept your promise. Just—if he asks—tell Mr. d'Sarthe that I was barking up the wrong tree."

Pete is seething, one hand at his mouth, face bright red and several veins prominently displayed on his brow. Elliot can recognize the look of a man who wants to lash out, and also the look of one who knows when he’s beat. The more worrying part is what comes days or weeks later, when does the slapped dog bite back? Unfortunately for Pete, he’ll be in the wrong zip code for any sort of retribution.

Mara, who had been carefully watching the situation and still couldn’t see what happened perfectly, starts to move away from the car, but Pete waves her off. Instead, Pete fixes Elliot with a withering look, but then tries to hide his contempt.

“The wrong tree,” Pete finally replies. “As you wish.” Is added with all the venom of a curse.

Elliot nods, then turns on his heel and heads toward stable ground. He smiles politely as he gets closer to Mara. "Thanks for the ride," he says.

"I'll find my way back from here."

Two Miles Away

An Abandoned Industrial Park
Elizabeth, New Jersey

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Donna Dunlap leans her cheek away from the iron sights of her rifle, pupil dilating back down from the maximum zoom of her ability. She sits up, flicking on the safety and turns to the blonde woman sitting on top of the warehouse roof beside her.

“I win the bet?” Adrienne Allen says with a crooked smile. Donna rolls her eyes and ejects the round from her rifle’s chamber, followed by the magazine.

“Slimy fuck probably would’ve survived a headshot anyway.” Donna says, pocketing the magazine.

“That sounds like a win.” Adrienne admits, pushing off of her knees to stand. “What do we do now?” She asks, threading a lock of hair behind one ear. Donna shoulders her rifle and stands, looking out across the water. Her cheeks and nose are pink from the cold air.

“Dunno,” Donna says with a sigh. “We’re even. So…” She turns to look at Adrienne, who slips in at her side to put an arm around Donna’s waist. “I guess we’re free to go wherever we want.”

Adrienne leans in and presses a kiss to Donna’s temple. That’s the answer she was hoping to hear.


Two Miles Away

Ruins of the Bayonne Bridge
Staten Island

Rubbing one hand at his mouth, Pete Varlane throws himself into the back of the car and slams the door. He watches as Mara settles into the driver’s seat, catches her eyes in the rear-view mirror. “Get me the fuck back home,” Pete splutters, and Mara locks the doors. Pete doesn’t realize she isn’t driving the car anywhere for a few moments.

“What the fuck are you waiting for?” Pete blurts out, about to sit forward, until he suddenly feels a hand press against his chest. The unseen hand levers him back against the seat and pins him in place. That’s when—out of the corner of his eye—Pete sees someone sitting in the back seat with him.


Mara looks away, rolling up the privacy window. Pete’s breathing hastens, and he looks at Samson Gray with wide, recognizing eyes.

“Easy there, friend.” Samson says with a Cheshire smile.

I just want to talk.

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