Deception and Decepticons


sf_abby2_icon.gif sf_asami2_icon.gif sf_brynn2_icon.gif sf_daphne2_icon.gif sf_faulkner2_icon.gif sf_gabriella2_icon.gif sf_gillian2_icon.gif sf_isa2_icon.gif sf_jac2_icon.gif sf_kaylee2_icon.gif sf_kimiko2_icon.gif sf_nicole2_icon.gif sf_nova_icon.gif sf_shaw2_icon.gif sf_zachery_icon.gif

Scene Title Deception and Decepticons
Synopsis A web of lies is spun in a play to bring everyone together and convince them all to give up their lives to search for another world.
Date March 18, 2021

The music is loud, the bass reverberates through bones, the shifting shafts of colored lights are garish. The air is thick with the scent of hollow unhappiness from lonely men and the arrogance of those with money who simply buy affection. Women perform complex maneuvers, twists and turns, held aloft with one bent leg, unaided by hands, and make it look so effortless that every desperate housewife wants to take a class and mount a pole in their bedroom to try to gain back the attention of their husbands, who are watching the stages right now.

The woman with the dark glossy hair, who only needs to turn her face and a side eye to the bouncer in order to be allowed entry unmolested, is interested in none of this carnal pageantry. She is, however, interested in the bar, which she strides up to and the server immediately abandons the patron he was chatting with in order to tend to her. She orders the usual with a thin smile and waits. When the martini is set in front of her, she issues a command.

“Call Dixie.”

She’s barely finished off the first of her three olives before the tall and broad-shouldered man with dark skin and a wide smile approaches her with his arms outstretched. “Nickels! What can I do for you?”

There’s no smile in return for him. No move to accept the offered hug. It’s unusual for her. “Shut this fucking place down,” she tells him, her head tipped to one side and her expression flat. “I want it cleared out. Nobody left in here. I don’t even want a security guard on premises.”

The man’s expression falls, at first to confusion, and then to one of determination as he begins to argue. “Now see here! We’re pulling in good business. You can’t just—”

“I can’t?” Her brow knits, eyes narrowing to dangerous slits. “I’m not a secretary anymore, Dix. I am the goddamn CEO.” In the staring match, it’s the smaller and slighter woman who wins. The fire cools and she straightens her back, with more calm, she explains, “The building has termites. We need to shut it down for a few days to assess if there’s been any structural damage. The safety of our staff and our patrons is paramount. You of course agree.”

The stony silence serves as an accord.

“Pay everyone their wages, and give the dancers and bar staff a bonus to make up for their tips.” Her brows lift, daring him to argue with her. “We take care of our own.”

He relents, hands up in surrender. “You’re the boss, Nickels.”

Nicole smiles. She is, isn’t she?

Two Days Later…

March 18, 2021
3:03 PM

Little Darlings

Gone are the pulsing lights and music. The club is clean, well-kept, bright and…

Entirely empty.

Well, except for the people who come filing in one by one, looking for Nicole Miller, who also is conspicuously absent. What there is, is a note on the bar that states:

Help yourself. Back soon.

In two days Abby buries James. Her life since five days ago has been dealing with burying her husband. Caskets, flowers, cemetery plots, arranging a wake, picking the suit and shoes from his expansive wardrobe that she thinks he would want to be buried in. Bereavement leave is burned through and now she’s burning through her personal leave.So a call from Nicole and asking to meet is not necessarily out of the ordinary in this instance. She’s one of her dead husband’s boss’s after all. That the request to meet is at a strip club? That’s the strange part but it is what it is and it’s probably for the best that it’s devoid of actual strippers. Keys in hand, purse over shoulder and hair pulled back into a bun and looking this side of barely keeping it together, she stands looking at the note on the bar, then turns and finds a place to sit and close her eyes and wait without taking even a glass of water.

It’s hard to know who’s behind the blue eyes of Kaylee Petrelli as she pushes the hood off of her head. At least until she speaks up. “Really hoping that no photographers just saw me bringing my kids into a strip club,” Kaylee says, her voice edged with concern for the potential scandal. Wringing her hands, she glances at the two girls with her, though one is an adult, the other certainly wasn’t.

Media would be all over that. Which is why she was dressed in a baggy hoodie, jeans and sneakers. Their world might be jacked up, but she still has a reputation to maintain.

Though Kaylee is tempted by the offerings of the bar, she moves past it. Her stomach has been off for awhile now, days really. Especially, when she was out in public. She was getting better at burying her feelings to keep Valerie at bay. Her mental hitchhiker scowled at the gathering, also displeased with having so many of them together in one place. She wanted out, but Kaylee just gave her a small shake of her head.

The slim, tall figure of Gabriella Milos hangs away from the others, finding a spot to lean in a corner. Dark shadows mar the space beneath each of her red-rimmed eyes, as one arm folds across her center and the other is held up to her mouth; all of her nails have been gnawed to nubs, the tips inflamed and red.

Usually dressed fashionably, as well as she can afford on a reporter’s salary, she’s barely recognizable in a drab hoodie, jeans, tennis shoes; she came in with the hoodie up and sunglasses down over her eyes; she’s definitely taking the threat to their safety seriously — knowing she shouldn’t even be alive today, except that she slipped through Fate’s fingers.

Daphne Ayers has perched on the stage, pulled her legs up and crossed them pretzel-style as she sips some coffee brought in a bright yellow thermos from home. One foot, clad in a bright red sneaker, taps out a beat only she can hear in her head, and the her fingers around the thermos, tap out a counterpoint.

“What if having all of us together makes some sort of stronger or larger beacon that these bad guys can track,” she wonders suddenly. “Like just one of us alone isn’t much, but so many of us in a location is like…” she lifts one hand and opens and closes her fist, splaying out her fingers like a flashing, radiating light. “You know?”

"So many of what?" A voice interjects from over by a dark corner, where one of the bathroom doors swings open. Zachery comes pushing through, backwards, turning around with a sleepy looking baby held securely under each arm.

Adjusting them slightly while confusion slants his brow, he looks between everyone and manages a thin smile, before footing a twin stroller closer toward himself. He leans forward to put one of the twins away, but visibly struggles to figure out how not to drop the other one in the process. His smile has turned sheepish when he looks toward the others again, breathing out an exasperated sigh. "Sorry, I didn't know anyone else would be here, actually, but— while you are, can someone give me a hand for a moment?"

The door that presumably leads to the kitchens opens, revealing Isaac Faulkner; like Gabriella, he's definitely dressed down a bit, wearing a gray hoodie and jeans. His dark eyes scan the room as he enters, making note of those present — including Gabriella and the teleporter who'd brought Jac.

He offers a nod of sympathy to Abigail when he sees her — her presence does a lot to reassure him — then opens the door back a little further, holding it for someone.

After accompanying her mom into the strip club, Jac peeled off as she is wont to do in all social gatherings. It's the most normal thing she can afford to do, slipping away to follow a circuitous route to an undefined destination, while all around her the confused and mistrustful thoughts of the collective turn her own thoughts into a murky mire. Blue eyes slant and side eye the various faces — some she recognizes easily, others she remembers only after distracted thoughts. Still, some are complete strangers. But they all get the same measuring look.

Even the babies are given a slightly squinty-eyed look, though after a second the teen is briefly distracted by Faulkner’s arrival from deeper inside the facility. Jac’s eyes track back to the twins and then Zachery a beat before he asks for help. He is relatively unknown, a familiar face at most, but it doesn't stop her from scuttling closer, ever social and willing to help but vaguely unsure given the circumstances. Her hands go out, wordlessly offering to hold one of the babies.

Following Isaac through the door, Nova glances around and offers a small, tentative smile to those present. One hand reaches for Isaac’s, fingers interlacing with his. She’s all too aware that she doesn’t have something in common with everyone else — at least not yet — and that despite all the stress and pressure that difference has brought her, her life has been relatively easy in comparison to what some of the people have been through.

“They’re so cute,” she murmurs when she catches sight of the infants Zachery wrangles, smiling over at Jac as the teenager moves forward to help the man with one of them.

Brynn is a mama's girl and sticks close to Kaylee as the small family arrives. Her hearing is still such a strange new thing — she's once again learning people's voice and nuances, since hearing it through her ears is a whole different experience. She remains near their mother while Jac peels off. Of the two of them, she is the one less likely to go nosing around for adventure, and especially now she doesn't feel very safe anywhere. She is relieved to see Nova as she settles into a chair where she can see what's happening and waggles her fingers in a wave at the other young woman.

Help yourself? Shaw definitely doesn't mind at all to do just that, to a bottle of whiskey and two glasses - one for himself, another for his wife. He's poured himself a double, because what the hell. Life's too short. Or rather, in his case, can be cut short. But it makes the alcohol burn that much sweeter that he's still here to savor it, and to still be in the presence of those living. By the bar's a good place to do it, as there's less likely to be a murderous teleporting mystery assassin to catch him off guard again. The former police helicopter pilot, as he's pretty sure he's been fired by now, sits at an angle that he's pretty sure he won't be snuck up on. His personal firearm this time is holstered on him, the handle visible inside the jacket flap when he lifts his drinking glass to newcomers.

It seems Shaw isn’t the only one who has lost their job in the last few months, as at least some of those present might know by now. Gillian Childs follows in, lugging a very heavy and deep purse that may or may not have a fire extinguisher inside of it. She’s not dressed as she usually would be, instead wearing something that’s loose and fire resistant, but somehow still fashionable. She spent the last month finding something that would work without burning or melting. “Meeting in a bar probably wasn’t the best idea…” she murmurs before finding the place to sit that is furthest from the alcohol. Just in case.

These precautions might be extreme, but only one person present has seen her apartment lately. She definitely lost any deposits she’d had on it. A year ago, she may have asked to touch the babies— but right now she barely even tries to touch her own son for fear of what she might accidentally do to him. Instead she sits down in silence and looks at each person who enters with a tight expression, directing the look first at Kaylee, then toward Isaac, as if questioning the young politician.

"We all deserve a fucking drink." Isa sounds as surly as ever as she storms into the bar from the bathroom with strands of hair in her face, eyes aglow until she comes into Abby's vicinity.

She's only here because… well she and Shahid don't have much choice do they and whatever the fuck it was that was happening needed to stop.

Isaac is nodded to, seemingly not surprised why others involved in her husband's work are here. She presumes this is something to do with her husband's work until she hears Shaw, and then Isa’s voice. That has Abigail looking to her partner suddenly and around the room, any abilities in play are suddenly snuffed out at the same time that Isa’s glowing eyes snuff out as her own ability flares to life with no outward indication that it’s her.

While Faulkner came in through the kitchens, the meeting’s facilitator arrives from the back offices, dressed down in her own way. Smartly still, in an electric blue boatneck sweater and a pair of black slacks that widen as they reach her ankles, and if she stopped long enough, they’d resemble a long skirt. Especially with the black patent wedges on her feet.

“Cliche as this is as a starter…” Lips, painted a shade of mulberry from a tube that calls the color Séance, curve into a wry smile. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you all here.” Nicole’s eyes drift from person to person, settling on each one in turn. Outwardly, she appears passive, except for concern and sympathy where it’s due. Her husband and his balancing act with the children is noted as well, but she trusts Jac to handle it well, refusing to be distracted by it.

A knot forms in her brow to note one face conspicuously missing, but she’s not sure she can blame Yi-Min for ignoring her summons. Taking a steadying breath, she turns her attention to Abby. “Miss Beauch” Nicole catches herself, tipping her head to one side gently as she begins again. “Mrs. Cal” Her eyes close as she lets out a deep sigh, glancing up at the ceiling once that’s done in the universal expression of Lord, grant me strength or, more likely in her case, Get your shit together.

Mrs. Muldoon,” she begins again, trying to recover some of her sense of command over the situation. “We’re all adults here.” Nicole flits a glance to the younger of Kaylee’s daughters. “More or less, at this point. Would you mind dispensing with your ability, please? It may prove necessary later, but I don’t believe we require a preemptive strike.”

Smiling tightly, she carries on, regardless of the fulfillment status of her request. “Every one of us here has something in common: we all have abilities. Powers. We’ve all seen or experienced strange moments in our realities. I’ve lost an entire day of time in one shot. I came to in the middle of traffic in a part of town I have no business being in on foot. I have no recollection of the senator giving his concession speech at all.” She gives a sad smile to Faulkner.

It moves to Zachery. “I’m sorry, duckling. I know this is… a lot. And it sounds insane, but I have a perfect memory. I remember everything. I can tell you exactly how many Cheerios Harvey’s spilled on the floor in the last three weeks and two days.” She swallows uneasily, further explaining, “Isaac can heal people — it’s why Avery hasn’t been sick. Abigail negates people’s powers. Shaw’s body regenerates incredibly fast — even whole limbs! Brynn can walk through walls!”

Nicole shakes her head, eyes wide and maybe a touch frightened. Certainly desperate. “Asami Tetsuzan woke every one of us up.” She lifts her hand and waves it in a circle near her head to indicate the space around them, and beyond. “None of this is real.

She points toward the stroller, shouting and distraught. “How many children do I have?! How many children did I have before March?!” If there’s one glaring sign that something in their reality shifted, she’s hoping that’s a big enough sign. That she’s shaking and tears have started to run down her cheeks tells Nicole she’s said all she’s going to be able to say for the moment. Looking to the back of the room, there’s just one last plea:

Tell them, Asami.”

From the moment Abby's influence extended itself, two more figures appeared in the back corner by Gabriella. The two Japanese women are unassuming, unobtrusive, as if they've been there all along. And they had been— under a lightbending cover of invisibility now dispersed.

"Actually," the named intruder interjects. "Abby's ability will keep us safe. Either by keeping Isa's power suppressed, or making us all less of a beacon like Daphne said."

Asami Tetsuzan's eyes finally leave Zachery's somewhere in the middle of Nicole's opening, her expression losing its fascination yet horror over whatever it is she sees in him in favor of adopting a more solemn face for the situation she needs to explain. She segues right back to it. "Believe me, I know this is hard to wrap your head around—" She takes a step forward, letting go of Kimiko Park's hand. "But everything that's happened until now points at a greater secret than just… superpowers. Something more terrible than that."

She takes a moment to steel herself. "The world we're in isn't real. The city has been fighting to keep us in it because beyond its borders, everything starts to fall apart. Roads end into nothing— attempts to leave are met with roadblocks, innocuous or not. Kaylee," Asami looks to her. "You know this. How far have you gotten in your attempts to leave, find someplace safer?" She looks to the rest. "How many times has something insane happened that only we remember or recall and think is abnormal?"

"Furthermore, if the government was the one keeping us negated…" Asami spreads her hands apart before they fall loosely by her side. It's her own narrative she's challenging at this point, and her voice thins. "Why haven't they come for more of us? If we're being watched by them… why isn't what happened to me happening to all of us, at this point?"

She pauses for only a moment, sure to speak slow and clear when she picks up again. "The world keeps changing in an attempt to change us— to keep us trapped by our demons— because it's a simulation designed to keep us here," she asserts calmly. "Because… there's an outside world. One we have to remember. One we have to get back to." Asami's hands come together before her, fingers knitting themselves near her abdomen.

"As soon as the last of us are awake, we'll have enough power to overwhelm the system and cause it to crash. We'll have enough power between all of us to escape New York. Together." Her eyes shift to Zachery, rather than Nova. "But that's only if all of us are awake," she cautions carefully.

When Abigail activates her ability and Asami Tetsuzan fucking precipitates out of thin air, Isaac's eyes widen… then they narrow.

Nicole had brought him here. Fine.

But she had brought Nova here, too. And that… that is unforgivable.

His face hardens into a placid, even, calm mask that belies the inferno of rage within.

"Mrs. Muldoon, thank you for bringing your ability into play. In this one respect, I am inclined to agree with Miss Tetsuzan — I believe that it will serve to help keep us safe. Certainly from the danger posed by Detective Khan's ability — the radioactivity that would otherwise even now be poisoning everyone in this room," he says, his eyes shifting to Nicole for a moment — only a moment. He's seen someone die of cancer, thank you, and it's not an experience he's keen to repeat.

His gaze moves on, his expression mellowing. "It may indeed keep us safe from those who would attack us, as well. The… golden-eyed perpetrators who have come after several of us, perhaps," he says. "And… perhaps you, Miss Tetsuzan, as well. Several of us, I think, have tried to have discussions with you. Yi-Min Yeh was very vivid in her descriptors of how that went, as was Mr. Khan. For those of you who haven't heard the stories, though, let me spell it out — several of us showed signs of hesitation when it came to accepting Miss Tetsuzan's gifts, including myself. In all cases, she resorted to violence. To forcing her will upon us."

His gaze falls squarely on Asami — he doesn't trust himself to look at Nicole right now, he's too angry with her. "And now you come before us asking for trust. For unity. After you lured us here — on false pretenses, through a catspaw! Again, you couldn't be bothered to try to interact with us like human beings, who actually talk things out from time to time. Why, in God's name, should we trust you now? After everything you've done?"

“With all due respect, my children just lost their father, I’m not about to potentially see them lose their mother, nor desire seeing everyone here irradiated by Detective Ashford Khan.” Abigail’s stiff as a board seeing Asami and the woman is spared a gun pointed at her by the fact that Abigail didn’t actually bring one with her. “So it will stay on.” She listens as Isaac speaks and nods. “I think Miss Tetsuzan is touched in the head and and should be in cuffs and restraints. For that matter, if what you say is by some miraculous reason true, if we can’t leave the city before, what possibly has changed now?” Abigail scowls. “I have a husband to bury, and to report your appearance. Not try to leave the city. I can’t leave Dean and Katherine right now.”

Nova’s hand tightens on Isaac’s as she feels the tension seep into him at the sight of Asami, but her expression is one of sudden understanding — everything they’ve seen. Justice Quinn’s disappearance in front of her eyes, and then out of everyone else’s memories. She looks from person to person, and opens her mouth to speak, closes it, tries again.

“The people here, the ones with powers, the ones that you’ve gathered,” she murmurs to Asami, then Nicole, her voice barely above a whisper. “We’re the ones in the simulation? Everyone else is…?”

She can’t say the words, but Daphne picks up on it immediately.

“You’re saying everyone else is an NPC and we’re in a video game. You’re saying my child and my husband are just code?” Daphne turns to Asami. “I figured we were in the freaking Matrix, but that we all are in the freaking Matrix. Or are we the only ones who can awaken everyone?” The look on her face shows she very much wants the latter to be true.

All this time, Kaylee’s been staring at the babies. Maybe there is some jealousy there, but mainly there is confusion… Because she’s pretty sure Nicole didn’t have any kids. That was a detail the Petrelli heiress would have remembered.

Seeing those kids brought back the memory of the little boy. Her son. Brows furrows trying to remember the name that had crossed her mind. C-ca-rl? Did the twins mean… maybe? Her breath catches as she doesn’t hear Valerie, but the familiar giggle that’s haunted her.

The only thing that pulls her from those deep thoughts is her name. The blonde's attention swings over to Asami who’s asked her a question. But then others are reacting to appearance.

“I’ve been trying,” Kaylee finally speaks up, nervously. Anxiety at standing up for her friend gnawing at her gut. “T-t-to leave. To take the girls. I’ve been booking flights, trying to buy a place outside the city, but something always comes up. Flights cancelled, a higher bidder… Seller decides not to sell. I haven’t tried driving, I’m almost afraid to."

Fear brought on by a memory claws icily at her stomach, she almost expects Valerie to take over, but a glance at the mirror finds the other woman gone. Kaylee almost loses track of her thoughts in surprise. “H-h-have any of you been attacked by friends and family yet? I have at work. Co-workers suddenly strong and hell bent on killing me, if I didn’t have…” Valerie? No… “My ability I would be dead.”

Kaylee’s fingers pluck at the strings of her hoodie, her eyes unfocused in thought, “Something is keeping us here… I’d rather get as far away as I can….” She looks up and points at the twins, “I want to see if that little boy I’ve been seeing is real.” Chin tipping up some, Kaylee looks at Asami, “If Asami says we need to go together, I think we should try it.”

The senator's emphasis is not quiet, and as the pitch of his annoyance rises, Brynn finds herself fidgeting uncomfortably. Raised voices, even now after a couple of years being able to hear, cause her anxiety. And with everything in her ears off-kilter the elder Petrelli daughter finds herself only now really realizing how involuntary some people's situation is.

Biting her lip and resorting back to ASL in her stress, Brynn's question is more for her mother anyway. Mom, what if she's wrong, though? What if by doing something like this, what we're really doing is winding up killing us? We have no idea, if this really is a fake world, what conditions we actually are living under. Just because that guy in the movie didn't die when he unplugged himself doesn't mean we're gonna survive it. For all we know, we're all coma patients and they're just out there trying to make our last days comfortable and somehow this whole digital storybook has turned into a choose your own adventure story.

After having let Jac assist with the increasingly slow process of getting the twins back in their stroller, Zachery turns, then, listening, smile fading to nothing. Nicole's distress has him open his mouth to reply, but— he finds no words as of yet.

As everyone else says their part, he looks at each of them in turn as if he's looking at complete strangers speaking a language he's unfamiliar with, clearly lost. Finally, he levels another stare at Nicole. "What is this, some sort of… cult?" He breathes out sharply in amusement, though none of it is in his eyes. "A joke? Some sort of game? I don't really have time for…"

He reaches for the twin stroller, turning it in preparation to take it— elsewhere, even if he has to shove this thing through a small crowd to do it. There is no small measure of judgement riding on his words when he adds, "This is unlike you."

"If I hadn't gone through Nicole, just how many of you would have actually come?" Asami's answer to Isaac is sharp but stops short of a snap. "After what I did when not myself?" She can't bring herself to look at several of those here because of it, even.

Daphne, though, she meets directly even if there's a dash of regret for it. The last thing anyone wants to hear is that their family here isn't real and can't escape with them, and yet…

"Violette reappeared, and gave me a list of everyone who's trapped in here." Asami looks briefly to Gillian and Kaylee. "She's— not of here. She's from the outside. That's why we couldn't find anything about her, no matter how hard we looked. She said only minutes had passed there, compared to the months for us since what happened to… to start all of this."

She gestures around the room to provide confirmation rather than context. "We're it. We're the only ones who were kidnapped and forced into this dream. Nova was the last, the only one of us needing woken up still, but…" Brow furrowing, she looks back to Zachery. "I don't know what's happened to Dr. Miller. He looks like he did before…"

Well, before.

Jac squats beside the stroller in a brief attempt to keep the twins entertained. The sudden absence of thought noise has her attention swiveling to the larger sum of the gathering. Her eyes bounce from Nicole to Faulkner and Abby. The senator’s comments are regarded with an exaggerated eye roll. She was there when Asami woke him, and what he says isn't the way she remembers it. A sigh follows of the long suffering kind.

A couple quick steps maneuvers her from the stroller and Zachery’s attempt to leave. The teen — who is practically an adult now, thank you very much — drifts away after a few seconds longer.

“But how?” Jac finds an open space between shoulders to look toward her mom as she voices the question. It's close to the why she had asked almost a week before, and why seems to be getting clearer. “How are we stuck here? How did we get here, and how do we… how…” Brows knit as she tries to parse the whole of their world being a simulation. “What… what… what do we need to do?”

“At least that means no one has actually died here because of us.” Gabriella speaks at last. She doesn’t seem upset by the news they’re the only real people in this world — at least no more upset than her pale, red-eyed presence has been for the past several minutes where she’s lingered like a ghost on the outskirts, not even jumping when Asami and Kimiko suddenly appeared out of nowhere beside her.

Daphne whirls on her, eyes flashing with anger. “You must not have anyone you love if you think it’s good news to find out they don’t actually exist,” she snaps. “That all your memories are, what, bits of code in our heads?”

She pulls out her cell phone, fingers poised to type in the passcode, but they are stayed by the photo on her lock screen — Corbin, Corey, and her in Central Park. A perfect family. Whatever she was going to do is forgotten as she stares at the photo, her other hand covering her mouth to stifle the sob that wants to break free.

Kaylee offers her daughter a sympathetic look, her fingers moving to ask her daughter one thing. Do you think staying here is any better? Brows lift expectantly for the answer. Before her daughter has a chance to answer, she goes on… You and Jac were almost killed. I was almost killed. Staying here or leaving, we’re in danger of dying… so why not find out if this whole place is a lie, see if you have an unknown brother out there.

Asami’s announcement gives Kaylee a lot to think about. Violette was from outside.

To her own surprise she was starting to believe there was an outside and Kaylee desperately wanted to see it. And for one simple reason… “I agree with Gabriella. At least no one has died because of us. Val… I slaughtered those people that tried to kill me. The lobby of the foundation was covered in blood. I ran when I saw it, hid and not long after, I walked out and it was all gone.” She looks at everyone. “Gone. No stains in the carpet, no arm on the receptionist's desk.. And the next day the woman that arm belonged to was there again with both arms. Needless to say, I did not stick around.”

Kaylee rubbed her hands over her face, the images of that day still fresh. But then she’s looking over at the wife of her assistant - soon to be CEO of the foundation while she gets her shit together - and the guilt sets in. Her own kids were here, while Daphne's was not. “I have parents and a brother who are not sitting here,” she offers lamely, but it was as close as she got. “But they could be out there. Real… I just… I think we need to try.” Sudden uncertainty sets in and Kaylee falls silent again.

“Nate….” It is a very good thing that the negation field is up, because this whole place could become a sad fireball right about now if it wasn’t for that. Gillian is sitting there looking at the table, watching her entire life melt away before her eyes. Like Daphne, she’s being told that her son isn’t real. What about Peter? Her question for Nicole and Asami, whom she still doesn’t trust from the — thankfully not literal — fire in her eyes, is very loaded, “Then who the fuck are we?”

“I thought it was off gassing from a meth lab the first time,” Abigail tells Zachery. She stands, hand gripping her purse with knuckles white but makes no further attempt to leave. “I am real, my children are real and I am about to bury my husband. The only reason I haven’t left yet is because of Detective Khan.” She looks to Asami. “But I certainly would have told you to go to hell and I am still telling you to go to hell. You're crazy. Bug nuts crazy.”

Nova's seeming belief in Asami's solipsistic bullshit hurts; it cuts like a knife, in fact, but Faulkner doesn't let that show on his face — one of the first things he learned about debate is that you never, ever let doubt show. If you can't believe in your own argument, how can you expect anyone else to? Zachery's seeming obliviousness, though, is… interesting. Faulkner watches for a moment with a contemplative frown… but Zachery's on the right course as it is, as far as Faulkner is concerned. There are other points that need to be addressed.

"You say," Faulkner says, his voice grave as he looks to Kaylee, "that you wouldn't have survived without your ability. Perhaps that's so… but I maintain that without your ability, you wouldn't ever have been in danger. And neither would they," he says, gesturing to Jac and Brynn.

"And you," he says, turning to Asami. "Now you tell us that this world, and everything in it, is a lie. That all the people, that the whole world outside this room, is a lie." He nods slowly. "Does that include your sister? Your nephew? What would Kaori and Genji say if you were to call them right now and tell them they didn't exist?"

With that, he looks back to the larger group. "She says the world has changed, and in that she is right — it has changed. It has changed every time someone has been inflicted with one of her gifts. Her own quote-unquote awakening was immediately followed by a woman named Justice Quinn ceasing to exist; after she attacked me, I was blindsided by a car that materialized out of nowhere. There is a price to pay for these gifts she is giving," he asserts, reaching out a hand towards those gathered, as if imploring them to hear reason.

"And now she says that the price is the world itself," he finishes quietly.

Now, finally, Faulkner looks back to Asami. "To answer your question, Miss Tetsuzan — I might have come. Yi-Min might have come, if only for the novelty of having you treat her like a human being instead of a broken watch, to be fixed and then put back into a display case. Or discarded, as you seem ready to do with this entire world now. Is it no longer enough to destroy — I'm sorry, fix — individual people, now? Must you turn your attentions on the entire world?" he asks, regarding her with disbelief.

“Excuse you.” Jac, blue eyes following the back and forth like a game of tennis, has scuttled around so she's more part of the circle and less outside it. As she speaks up, it's with her focus splitting between the naysayers. “But you don't get to decide for anyone how they feel. You can make your opinions and any of us can make our own. And if she's telling the truth then Asami is just as much a victim as anyone else here.”

The teen takes a half step forward, just enough so she can get a look at every face. “What does it hurt to even just try? To see if Asami is right? Before I had powers, before I even knew about powers, something strange happen to me same as I bet something strange happened to everyone here even before their powers too.” It's a big bet, gambling against the house, but she hangs onto her confidence like a life preserver in a stormy sea. “I was there when Isaac got his, I saw what happened and I still chose to trust Asami. Maybe that makes me foolish.” She's still a kid and inexperienced, still likely to do things on a whim or without really thinking it through. “But I took a chance because who wouldn't want to know the truth after weird things happened?”

Jac looks to her mom, and then to Asami. “I almost might have died the other day because some suits came after me and my sister. And if it wasn't for your powers…” A finger jabs in Faulkner’s direction. “I probably would have. If it wasn't for Daphne, my face and Brynn’s would be on a milk carton as missing kids because we'd both be dead or something worse. And,” the teen looks at Faulkner and Abby, who've both loudly made their points known, “there isn't any way to know if it would have happened if we never had abilities. If you doubt so really very much and hate what Asami did to you, then why not try what she thinks? Are you afraid she might actually be right?”

Somewhere beyond the steadily mounting tensions of the conversation, the main door to Little Darlings— which had sat quiet and dark for some time now— swishes ominously open once more.

A small, lone figure crosses over the threshold, their head bowed and hooded in a somber hanfu-style cloak as though they are wracked by some mysterious affliction: surely, such garb is heavier than necessary for the spring weather outdoors. Nevertheless, tightly wound footfalls draw the figure straight in the direction of the ragtag group, as though in a fresh reaffirmation of whatever silent intentions they had brought along with them.

On arrival, the hood falls from their shoulders, and the identity of the newest interloper becomes immediately clear.

It's Yi-Min.


The florist is a far cry from her normally well-kempt self, which would put her in rather solid company here— save that it is also clear her eyes are violently inflamed from recent, relentless weeping. At some point during her entrance, her focus might have been roving between any number of the people assembled here, particularly Nicole, but now she has eyes only for one.

"You fucking bitch!" Yi-Min howls at Asami, drawing a readied revolver from the folds of her dark cloak and firing once at the Japanese woman before anyone can stop her.

The moment Faulkner’s face showed calm, Nicole knew his anger was blazing beneath. She knows his expressions just as well as he knows her own. Her heart sinks into her stomach, but she knows she has to hold steady.

Even when Zachery responds to her the way he does. Whimpering, she refuses to let her teary blue eyes stray to the stroller and the twins now nestled safely within. Instead, she watches her husband and silently begs him to understand while she tries to keep her tears to a volume no more than her sharp inhales of breath and occasional sniffles. There are no words for what’s been done. She shakes her head sadly and turns her attention to Asami. “They did something to him. I know they did. He’s forgotten everything. He doesn’t— He doesn’t have his power. He remembers when the children were born.”

Is he real? she wants to ask, but she won’t. He hasn’t tried to attack her or the others. Even if he isn’t aware of the incongruousness of their situation the way he was before Asami woke him, she has to believe that he’s her Zachery.

“James Muldoon has been dead for years, Abigail. You buried him long ago. You have two beautiful daughters to get home to. They need you.” Next, Nicole turns to Daphne. “Corbin Ayers is real. I work with him. You two have a will they, won’t they that needs to just become they do.” Her head shakes quickly. “And Brynn! You have so many brothers and sisters. You don’t share blood, but you’re family. Gillian helped raise you all. And Jac… Jac is her adopted daughter. And you have another daughter, named Jolene. Peter’s… her father.”

Nicole looks down at her feet, regretful for the lies of omission and unable to meet the eyes of anyone involved in that shuffled family, but she doesn’t skip a beat. “The Wesley-Khans have a daughter at home, too.” Her voice is becoming hoarse from the crying. The courage is finally mustered to look at Kaylee. Her friend. “Carl. Your son’s name is Carl.

Pleading, her focus falls on Isaac finally – the one whose judgement has hurt the most. “I’ve seen our other lives! I’ve told you!” Frantically, she searches the room and finds– “Jac!” The twins begin to fuss. “Jac, you have to look in my head! You’ll be able to see it’s all real! Jac, please! You have to–”

The doors swing open and the hooded spectre of Death strides in, and Death’s face is known to her. Nicole gasps sharply.

The gun goes off.

Harvey and Avery instantly begin to wail in their stroller, the loud noise having startled the pair of them. Frightened them just as much as anyone else in the room. Nicole screams. “Asi!” She surges forward, horrified as she watches blood blossom across the front of her shirt. “Asi!

It reminds her of a lotus.

Jac's fatuous outburst is met with a bland expression from start to finish. There isn't any way to know what would've happened without abilities? Sure there is — it's what's been happening to them, all their lives. She's insisting that correlation doesn't equal causation… which would be a valid argument were circumstances not also providing strong evidence of causation — which she is steadfastly ignoring.

Whatever. If there's a lesson Isaac has learned in politics, it's this: some people will never, ever change their minds, and those people cost far too much time and effort for it to ever really be effective to persuade them.

Nicole's speech draws no reaction from Faulkner, save that same bland expression — is there a hint of sympathy in those dark eyes? It's hard to say.

He turns when he notices the dark-cloaked figure, too, and it's not hard to read the surprise on his face when the hood falls away to reveal Yi-Min Yeh. It's not hard to read the shock on his face when she pulls a gun, either.

For a split second, Isaac's thoughts race. Then —

"Get down!" he barks, diving for Nova, grabbing at her and lunging for the kitchen doors as the pistol barks.

Daphne’s brows are drawn together at Nicole’s description of she and Corbin in some other world; her lips part to ask a question but instead gasp out, “Yi-Min!” when she sees the woman draw the pistol. She’s frozen in place, fingers clinging to the edge of the stage, unable to blink out of this chaos and somewhere safe due to the negation field that lies upon all of them.

Gabriella screams loud enough for both of them, scrambling back and then flattening herself along the wall, trying to put herself out of Yi-Min’s periphery. And then she scrambles for the door, stumbling over chair legs and possibly the feet of the others that stand between her and the exit, but she manages to stagger-step, recover, and open the door to the outside — not as stealthily or gazelle-like as she would have preferred.

Nova’s been quiet, listening to each person speak, listening to the answers to her question; only Isaac can gauge her emotions as her hand tenses in his as the room heats up — thankfully only metaphorically, given the dangerous abilities present.

The report of the gun is met with a quiet gasp as well; her brows furrow in fear and confusion as she turns from Yi-Min to Asami; she doesn’t resist Isaac’s efforts to drag her to safety, though her feet don’t move on their own to help him in the escape. “We need to help Asami,” she whispers in a small but fierce protest, even as she clings to him — she’s torn between that curiosity and Isaac’s need to protect her; she’s never declared herself an enemy of Asami, though. “We can’t kill each other; that’s just doing what they want.”

The nebulous “they” that keeps sending its agents after them.

There is no chance for Kaylee to say anything to Issac, Nicole or anyone for that matter, when the shot rings out. With a yelp of fear for her girls, she tries to protect them. It’s only Nicole shouting Asami’s name that informs who the victim is and has the heiress whipping about. “No!”

It’s a moment that has Kaylee torn, stay with her girls and get them out or run to the side of her closest friend.

Instead Kaylee turns to Abby, as she was pointed out earlier as the cause of their abilities being off. “Stop whatever the fuck you’re doing…Stop it now… she can heal. Please! Just long enough she can heal. Don’t let her die.” There is a pleading tone as she tearfully turns back to Asami. “Please.

“That's it,” Jac answers Faulkner’s flat look with musing epiphany. Because wouldn't the senator at least allow for the possibility of anything else as possible if he wasn't scared of… whatever it is, the teenager can't guess. And she doesn't have time to push further or press on with the uncomfortably challenging questions.

Her focus diverts, when Nicole calls her by name the first time, and settles on Gillian. Somewhere in the transition she catches movement from the door, but her mind is too wrapped up in squinting curiously. Gillian’s kid in this maybe real world? Adopted still, which makes her wonder who…

The repeating of her name tugs a distracted look back to Nicole again. “I can't,” Jac points out. She glances at Gillian and then Kaylee, torn, but it's Nicole’s request she decides to confront. “I can't… I can't it's…” Vague annoyance clashes with a deep desire to help and she angles a side eye at Abigail. “I want to but… but I… it's like it's…”

The building frustration that she can't reach her telepathic abilities is consumed by the sound of gunfire and fear. For an instant the teenager freezes, locked in wide eyed panic as the memory of the attack just a few days ago grips her for a beat.

Jac pulls in a shaking breath in time to see Kaylee and Nicole converge on Asami when the impossibly awful pain doesn't follow that terribly loud and startling sound. Hands go to her mouth, blue eyes swing around to Faulkner for help. He had healed her, after all.

Amid the chaos Kimiko Park has effectively been a very realistic-looking mannequin at the back of the room. She didn’t flinch at the gunshot, didn’t even follow the trajectory of the violence and the ensuing mess with her eyes. She’s just stood there in the back of the room, eyes unfocused and head slightly down with a furrow in her brow. There’s not much there behind her eyes, just the dead lifelessness of someone who has lost everything, then learned that everything she lost is a lie.

But below raised voices and commotion, the mannequin in the back of the room has whispered something. It’s practically inaudible, evident only in the movement of Kimiko’s lips while her eyes remain unfocused and vacant. But she repeats it again, though still it’s lost over the sound of so many other voices fighting for attention.

A third time, then. A whisper. A warning, unheard.

Asami's stomach had sunk, her mind split in two ways when Faulkner invoked the name of her family. As much as she wanted to snarl for him to keep their names from his mouth, there was only time for the mental dissociation of two truths: one where her nephew existed, and one where he did not.

And for all the confidence she tried to feign when speaking of the other world and its certainty of existing, her heart still struggled to accept it. For that, Isaac's intended knife strikes home, the resolve visible in her eyes shaken.

In contrast, the gunshot feels grounding. A familiar pain, as much as something like that can be. Asami staggers a step back, her hand going to her side to apply a sturdy pressure. Through grit teeth, she raises her head again to look around the room, at the way everyone scatters.

Her other hand lifts, too. "Please," she forces out, looking in Yi-Min's direction. "We're all we have."

"And if we're not together—" Asami breathes in sharply through her pain, fighting to keep her voice even. "Then there's no way we escape New York. No way we make it as far as Vegas."

"I'm sorry," Asami apologizes in a fainter voice, not even knowing the half of what pain Yi-Min carries with her.

Between Shaw and Isa over at the bar, the whiskey bottle is half gone by the time the meat of any argument or counterargument can start to form. The man leans in to whisper a sweet something to his wife, a phrase that sounds heartfelt. («My love for you is not a lie, nor will my love for you ever die.») The emphatic clink of his glass against hers before he slams the rest of the drink back is all he has to comment upon the discussion. Not even Nicole's claim that he and Isabelle have a daughter in the "real" world gets more than a stare of mild disbelief chilling the core emotional impact of such a statement.

Which, in turn, pales in comparison to the statement Yi-Min makes upon entering the club and drawing a gun. Shaw barely gets out a spoken swear. His hand's still grasping to flip the safety of his pistol before the deafening bang. If he's honest with himself later, he'll know he hesitated. He winced. But, the years of his training comes barreling in the same time he points his pistol at Yi-Min. "Drop the gun!" he commands.

Faulkner doesn't stop moving — by the time Jac looks to him, there's nothing left to see except the swinging kitchen door. He pulls Nova along with him, settling into a crouch at the corner of one of the huge sinks — with it between them and the gunfire. Then, and only then, does he turn and speak to Nova.

"I can only heal one person," Isaac speaks to Nova, his voice low and calm but his dark eyes intense. "Yi-Min's probably got more than one bullet in that gun. If I get shot, I won't be able to do anything for anyone… and if you get shot, I won't be able to do anything for Asami. So right now, the best thing we can do is stay safe. Okay?" he asks, meeting her eyes, and for all the adrenaline he's got running through him right now, it is still very much a question — the concern he feels is easy to see in his eyes and on his face.

Nova lets him pull her down into that crouch, both of her hands finding his as she stares up into his face. Her eyes are wide, darting left to right like she could read his, for all the questions that she wants answers to, based on the information Nicole and Asami were telling them before Yi-Min brought literal firepower to the already explosive debate.

She nods, silently and unequivocally. “Okay,” she whispers, then reaches up to put a hand to his cheek, bumping her forehead against his. “Okay.”

Unintentionally, Asami's words send a new current of rage flooding through Yi-Min's limbs. Shaking with the intensity of her emotions, she takes a step closer to her fallen adversary, and another.

Such is her fixation on Asami alone that all the various calls to her go neglected, at least at first. Daphne shouting out her name does nothing. Kimiko's whispered warning goes unheard. Indeed, she barely seems to even see the others scattering away on both sides of her peripheral version.

It may well only be the sight of Nicole, who'd just arrived over where Asami had fallen, that temporarily stays her hand. Nearly at the same time, like a lucky projectile sinking through a breach, Shaw's command manages to penetrate her attention.

Yi-Min's eyes are streaked red as blood, even as her gaze sweeps up past the real blood runneling out of Asami's wounds. Even as the nose of her gun lifts again, as though in preparation for another shot.

But, she pauses.

"'We're all we have?' You have taken away everything that I have," she laments loudly in answer to Asami's murmur, keeping her gun trained on the same spot she had just shot. Even just concentrating anew on the sight of the other woman seems to be inciting her to all-new depths of maddened fury.

Nicole diverts her course at the last moment. Rather than turn in Asami’s direction to try to help her, she steps immediately in front of Yi-Min. While nothing about that maneuver is remotely safe, she’s moved in close enough that there’s no room for the furious gunwoman to fire around her. She’s trembling, tears still running down her face. Terrified, but determined.

“If you want her…” Nicole’s voice shakes just as much as her hands as reaches out to cover Yi-Min’s, taking a step forward, then another, until the gun presses against her ribs. “Then I hope you have enough bullets in that gun for both of us.” Her voice lowers to a whisper, pleading, “Xīngān.

Daphne’s been frozen, clinging to the stage’s edges so tightly that her knuckles are as pale as her white-blond hair. “Min,” she whispers, then turns wide-eyed, first to Shaw as he points a gun at her friend, her best friend, then to Nicole as she steps forward to put herself between Yi-Min and Asami.

“Don’t. You are better than this,” she says to Yi-Min, finally as she moves off of the stage and toward Asami, to take her by the wrist and tug her away gently. “We need to get you where you can heal,” she says, taking a step toward the kitchen doors but keeping an eye on Yi-Min, waiting to see if that gun gets turned on Asami again, even with Daphne so close in proximity that she might be hit by friendly fire.

Or if she’s no longer Yi-Min’s friend for trying to help the woman in need, un-friendly fire, as it may be.

Jac isn’t the only one who has a visceral reaction to the gunshot. The detective is near the door when Yi-Min enters, yells and draws, Abby freezes. Most of the people, ninety percent of them, she doesn't know and has never met before now and this woman is the same. Eyes squeeze shut as she is certain that this is another drive-by likely from John Logan.

Only it's not. There's no pain following the report or wetness and then there's screaming, people moving and Abigail just stands there turning white from the shock of it all. Shaw's drawing his weapon and Kaylee's giving her orders colored with vulgarity to turn off her ability.

She just stares for a moment at Yi Min then follows the direction of the muzzle to Asami with all that blood before the woman is diving toward Zachery with the stroller and those babies to interpose herself between them and help the man get the infants out of the strip club, get them outside and away from unstable individuals and guns. "Call 911!" She yells out.

Zachery, having stopped in his tracks halfway to the exit, finds himself not only speechless once more, but also looks like he may have stopped registering words entirely as he stares at his wife with an incredulity twisting his expression.

He listened to every word he failed to make sense of, watched the new arrival, heard the gunshot. The gunshot? A full second late, he reflexively pulls the stroller away with a start, which doesn't help calm the startled infants.

He fumbles for words when Abby rushes over, panic finally catching up with him as he looks at her with eyes widening, then around— at Shaw, at the retreat toward the kitchen, at his wife now with a gun against her ribs. "I can't— I can't leave the…" He tries to tell Abby, but the words catch in his throat as if he's not sure why they're being said in the first place.

There is no such hesitation in the next decision he makes, though - with one more look at Abby, he lets go of the stroller and steps forward to join Nicole at her side. "Stop," he says firmly, looking Yi-Min in the face. "Whatever this is, stop. You shot her, it's done. What else do you want?"

There is a flash of anger as she is pretty much ignored, the only way she knows is because she’s still there. Had Abby turned off her power when asked, she was sure Valerie would have taken over. Kaylee can only look helplessly at the scene and focus on her girls. Asami had enough champions she didn’t need one more, especially one as weak as Kaylee. Last thing she needed was for the unstable Yi-Min to turn her gun on Brynn or Jac.

“We need to go,” Kaylee says to the girls, trying to grab their arms to guide them, a fearful glance over her shoulder. Her voice trembled with fear and anxiety. “Nothing is getting done tonight, we’re too fractured, and I can’t risk losing you two.” She loathed to leave, but… losing the girls would kill her.

With the door to the kitchen closing and no answer given, Jac swivels her attention back around to the worsening chaos. She lurches from her frozen state as Kaylee’s hand finds her, but it isn't to dutifully go along with her mom. She twists away from the guiding hand, asking with a strained, “Wait,” as she stumbles and crawls on hands and knees to help Daphne get Asami moved away from danger.

She only gets so far, maybe half the distance, before she stops and whips around to look at Abby. Abby, whose fault it is that no one can do anything, keeping Asami from healing and herself from showing everyone the truth. “No!” It's a yell to match all yells, made as the teenager stands.

No! Don't call them!” Her feet shuffle, slowly drawing toward the danger, but with all the caution of approaching a venomous snake. “They'll try to kill all of us if they come here. They'll arrest Asami for things she didn't do.” Blue eyes, full of anger and frustration, move from the negator to Yi-Min, turning to pleading and searching as she looks up at the florist. A hand cautiously, terrified, reaches to guide the gun down with all the gentleness she would use handling a newborn kitten.

“Please.” It's meant for both, Yi-Min and Abby, though the latter brings a subtle hardness back to those blue eyes when Jac looks her way again. “Turn it off so we can do things.”

Tucked in behind her mother, Brynn is horrified. "Yi-Min!" she gasps out, shocked to hell. "What are you doing?" The question is probably lost in the uproar, and her fingers dig into Kaylee's arm as she holds on to her mom. Tears spring to gray eyes and she watches her little sister try to play peacemaker. "Don't shoot my sister! Please," she begs. Jac and Kaylee are all that she has — this story about having other siblings in another world someplace… it has an uncomfortable ring of truth and it's causing Brynn's head to spin a little. Something… something she heard once upon a dream, probably.

"Mom…!" All the young woman can do is literally freeze in place and stare. Her boss is going to kill her sister in this split second and then … does the world reset? Go back to 'normal'? Do we all wake up? She's so utterly lost.

Asami lowers her gaze away from Yi-Min, letting herself be steadied by Daphne. Or at least, what she thinks is steadying. Their feet are moving, taking them away for more than a pair of steps before she lifts her head again, pulling back against the guiding support just before they reach the kitchen doors.

"We have to stay together!" Asami insists loudly through her pain. "If the system wins, if it kills us, we reset. We re-integrate. It forcibly rewrites us, running the risk of brain damage. And that's the best case scenario. The increased aggression means its orders might have changed, that OPTICA—" No longer a surveillance system of the US but rather the operator of their very reality, "might do worse to us."

She sounds passionate and desperate because she is. This is more important than her own potential death. It's a message that could prevent all of theirs.

"Your life here isn't the only one you have! The pain here…" Asami squints against her own. "I-if we break free of New York, if we make it West to Vegas, we can take back control of our lives. We'll get ourselves back. We bring the system down, we wake up."

"We either escape," she submits with more finality, "or the system will stop at nothing to reintegrate us."

“Go, I have the kids.” Abby doesn’t hesitate when Zachery looks torn between going to Nicole or staying with the kids. The moment he lets go, her hands are on the stroller and she’s heading for the doors to get the crying children out and away to safety. Away from further potential gunfire. A glance to Jac as she yelled at to not call, to turn off her ability. “Stay the hell away from me kid, you’re crazy like her.” And she’s using her hand then back and one foot to maneuver that stroller out the door like a woman not at all unfamiliar with a double stroller and barring being physically blocked, disappears from sight. Ability pulling away once she’s far enough and leaving everyone exposed to their Asi-given gifts once more.

The conflict within Shaw's tone grates up another notch of anxious tightening, but the movement of Nicole towards the danger and others congregating around the wounded stays his trigger finger. With Zachery moving right into the danger zone as well, Shaw only fires off a verbal shot into the air. "Fuck's sake!" The potential for misfire is too high.

Crisis management steps tumble sloppily through his mind in conflict with the alcoholic buzz. Nostrils flare. He sucks in a breath through clenched teeth. "Okay! Okay, just, everybody just calm down," he calls out, releasing his grip on his pistol and lowering the barrel off of the caped woman. His focus remains on Yi-Min, though, ready to change tactic if needed. "You're in control," Shaw states. "Everybody's just here to talk. See? Just people who are scared, trying to make sense of things. But what about you?" He dares a glance to Zachery briefly before repeating what the other man has asked. "What do you want to do?"

"Qī," Yi-Min intones evenly, the look in her eye a piercingly strange one. She makes no indication that she even sees any of the audience rather absurdly crowding her and Nicole, save for one moment where she elbows Jac back down and out of her way like an irritating child.

Her wrath is not for any of them.

"Qī fā zǐdàn. Seven total bullets, Nicole." Six, now that she had already fired once, but that simple arithmetic is beside the point.

The point is that there are quite enough bullets for Nicole and Asami combined, if it came down to it. Without lowering her gun or looking away from Asami even for a moment, Yi-Min turns her head slightly to field Zachery and Shaw's questions of what she wants to do.

It leaves Yi-Min as a wry snarl. "This is an easy answer. What I want is for this woman who destroyed my life to suffer. You have all now heard this insanity— what is this drivel she is spouting about 'the system', and 'freeing ourselves?' Freeing ourselves from what: our very lives? Our famil—" A new spasm of uncontrolled grief crosses the Taiwanese woman's face as she finds herself unable to even finish the word families, and she brushes a brusque wrist across an eye. When she settles her hands back on her revolver, her red-rimmed gaze is even harder than it had been.

"Enough is enough. How dare you all think that I am the crazy one here?"

Zachery stands with his eyes locked on Yi-Min, but there's something absent about his gaze when Asami speaks, the new words spoken after it only eliciting a twitch of his brow in response.

That is, until that last question. At which point he barely stifles a wince of a laugh, blinking himself halfway back into focus at Yi-Min. "Are you joking me?" As he raises both hands to try and continue to signify for her to stop, his voice is not one of mockery but rather fear mixed with confusion. "I've never been so sure I may have— finally… lost… the last of my marbles." His next few words are chosen more carefully, spoken through his growing preoccupation with a sharp emphasis that drags his voice into something decidedly colder. "But you've got a gun on my wife."

At the door of the kitchen, Daphne shakes her head at Asami’s words. “You can’t do anything if you die. We need you to get away from Abby. Everyone needs to get out of here if she’s calling the police.”

That word draws her eyes back to her friend, Yi-Min, and she raises her voice to be heard. “She has. She’s suffered. Enough, Min. I don’t think you’re crazy, but I believe her.”

She lets go of Asami to face Yi-Min completely; the stance also serves to put herself between the target and the gunwoman. “The rest of the world, outside of New York, is wrong. Incomplete, with holes in it, like it’s hollow in parts and someone forgot to fill it all in. I went back to my dad’s, to Kansas, and it’s… it’s not right. And other places too — I didn’t have the courage to test it more than a few times, but places I know by heart. Kansas, Niagara Falls, Chicago, Paris. They’re all wrong. Incomplete. Everywhere but here. I can show you, if you need me to. Just…don’t hurt anyone else.”

Her eyes swim with tears as she looks around the room, at the people frozen in place or cowering or trying to leave. She looks back to Yi-Min. “I don’t want to accept it, but I feel it’s true. All the weird things you’ve told me have happened, they don’t make sense unless what they say is right. And if they are right, if we’re the only real people, then you don’t want to have to live with this. It isn’t who you are, Min.”

“Girls,” Nicole directs Jac and Brynn both gently, matching Shaw’s tenor, “stay with your mother. She needs you right now. She needs you both to help her stay calm.” She doesn’t look toward either of them. Doesn’t look toward her husband when she assures him, “I’m fine. It’s going to be fine. I need you to stay with Asami, okay? I need you to do that for me.”

Her hands no longer tremble when she folds them over Yi-Min’s and again makes sure that gun stays pressed against her body, wresting that control from Jac. “You’ve already shot me through the heart once, my love…” Her smile is a sad, shaky thing. “What’s six more times?” A tear runs down Nicole’s cheek. “You’re not crazy,” she affirms. “But neither am I. There’s another world out there where you and I are friends. You introduced yourself to me as Kara’s partner.” Her throat gets tight. There are so many mixed feelings there. In this life, Nicole envies Kara Prince more than words can express. In the other, it brings her such joy to see her two friends together. Especially in those candid moments when they forget there’s anyone else there to see them.

“Kara’s there, Minnie.” She has no idea what could have happened to cause Yi-Min such distress, to react this way. But she can guess. “In any world, you’re my best friend. Come with me,” Nicole begs. “Please.

“Jeezus, will you look at the lot of you?”


The words spoken loudly over the commotion, spoken by a voice that is often far more gentle in nature. Valerie watches them all with a flat expression, moving to lean against the bar for a bottle of vodka. “Some of the most put together people I've ever known… now a fucking mess. Are you cryin’ Miller? Damn, never seen you do that in front of people.”

Valerie gives a disgusted bark of laughter as she twists the top off the booze, only stopping so that she can wiggle a finger at them all, “This is how they are gonna win.”

Without another word, Valerie starts to pour her a decent glass, clearly needing it in hopes of drowning out the whining voice in the back of her head. “Oh…” she stops and looks at the others, “and if I were you, I’d go after blondie,” her head jerks towards the door and the retreating Abby. “Because if this is like the Matrix and she gets through, she’s gonna drop a pin for them and I doubt it will be standard New York City wait time.”

Hopping on the barstool she takes a deep drink and grimaces at the burn, “I’m not, because I don’t want to go back into Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes head.” Valerie gives them all a salute with her glass and settles in to watch the show.

“Yeah!” Jac calls after Abby as the woman leaves. “Yeah, well it takes one to know— uff.” The wit and retort she’d been gathering to lay down is sharply interrupted and pushed aside, turning her last words into a pained grunt that’s chased by a hurt look. Those blue eyes turn up to Yi-Min, but refrains from trying anything further against the florist’s stance.

A hand rubs at the sore spot on her chest, as the teen eases a step or three away. The gun is handled, it seems, now it’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page. And that’s a task definitely easier said than done, with Faulkner and Nova running away to the kitchens and as her mom so helpfully points out the negator’s departure. That’s a fact punctuated by the sudden, and almost dizzying, return of noise within her head.

The pressure of thoughts from so many people, so many heightened emotions, is as loud as a beehive. Jac squints an eye mostly closed while swiveling her attention in search of something, anything, substantial to focus on. She’s only tried a few times, with middling success, and never while under pressure like now. Please. Please, Yi-Min. Don’t do this… The teen’s eyes tick to Daphne, brows knitting faintly. Don’t… my family, my kids are all made up? hurt anyone!

Opening her mouth, she half turns. You are cared about, and you are important like a sister to me. That’s Yi-Min’s voice, but it’s coming from… I know, I know. You’re a capable person. A quick look, spooked excitement dancing in blue eyes, darts between Yi-Min and Nicole. I’m going to miss you, my friend Anything I’ve left behind that can be put to use should be. And I’m going to miss this place. But it’s someone else that the girl reaches out for in haste.


The name is barely begun before the reverberating hum of feedback forces Jac to withdraw just as fast as she’d reached out. Hands press over her ears and she physically moves herself a few steps further from her teacher.

After claiming some space, the teen’s hands come down and she cautiously reaches out again. Maybe she can pry more from Nicole, what is this farmhouse and place called Providence where she was friends with Yi-Min. Her mind skips away from the obviously intense emotions. Shaw and Valerie are strong currents Jac is hesitant to even consider wading into. It’s coming. And Asami’s proximity to Nicole keeps her too shy to try too hard at learning more. It’s coming. She’ll ask later. It’s coming.

A look slants to Kimiko. It’s coming. The thoughts from the woman are quiet enough to be ignored, but the worry guiding them and the repetition… Jac’s brows pull in uneasiness. What’s coming?

It’s coming.

Alone in the kitchen, with Nova's forehead touching his and her hand on his cheek… for a moment, Isaac Faulkner lets his guard down, just a little — he lets himself stop being the Senator, stop being the Heir, and just lets himself be himself — not an advocate, Devil's or otherwise, just a human being who doubts and suffers and questions and hopes.

And fears. Of course he's afraid. How could anyone not be? Are they even listening to what Asami is saying? If this world truly is a simulation, what do they think will happen if they crash it? All the places that Isaac Faulkner — that any of them — have ever known will cease to exist as thoroughly as if a goddamn nuclear bomb had gone off in the Kirby Plaza. Everyone they've ever known — dead. There will be no going back.

This world is worth fighting for.

It isn't a perfect world, no… but it never would be if nobody bothered to try to make it better. The world might be sick… but sickness can be fought, if there's a will! It can be contained. Everything is just a means to an end, dragging this imperfect world towards a better state.

This world is worth fighting for, dammit!

And yet…

For all of his bitter determination, there is a despair buried within him too. The Linderman Group — the legacy his father had entrusted him with — is dying around him, rats gnawing at its body even as some unseen parasite eats its heart. The Feds are circling like vultures; if they manage to indict him, his political future is probably ruined, one way or the other. And the people who should be helping him…

Muldoon is dead, assassinated by John fucking Logan of all people. Kaylee — someone who has, for so long, striven to do good in the world with her foundation — seems to be drunk on Asami's Kool-Aid. Even Nicole — Nicole, of all people, who should be standing at his side, who should be fighting to preserve Daniel Linderman's legacy — seems to have just… given up on it. Cast it aside like nothing. And Asami herself… maybe she is a victim in all of this, sure. But what she's plotting now — ending this entire world — she's plotting of her own free will.

Asami is close enough to the kitchen door that he can hear what she's saying out there — OPTICA. Of course it's OPTICA — he'd called that back when they'd found out that all digital records of Justice Quinn's existence were gone, just like he'd called agents coming after them. But he hadn't predicted the scope of it, hadn't predicted just how bad everything would end up…

"Nova," he says quietly, opening his eyes and raising a hand to her cheek, cupping it ever so gently. "There's… there's so much we don't know. Nicole… she told me about that other world she remembers. She knows… knows so many people. But she doesn't know me. She practically raised me, but she doesn't know me there. And…"

He pauses, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, forcing himself to get a grip. He opens his eyes. "Nova," he says quietly. "You're… you're the only good thing in my life that… that I haven't managed to ruin. So… tell me. Please."

"Is this world worth fighting for?"

Okay, but what is it?
It’s coming.
I don't understand…

At the sound of Daphne’s pushing open the kitchen door, Nova’s eyes turn in that direction, wide and frightened, but Isaac’s words and touch draw her gaze back to him. He usually grounds her, calms her, but this is a side of him she’s never seen — unsure. Vulnerable.

Her brows knit as she listens to him. She’s questioned this world, but she hasn’t stopped to consider what her life or his would be like in another one. Tears well up in her eyes and her lower lip trembles as she tries to speak, before she swallows, takes a breath, and tries again.

“It’s the only one we know,” she whispers. “You’re worth fighting for, I know that. But if it’s not real… We’re living in the Allegory of the Cave. We can’t know it’s true until we see it for ourselves.” A tear slides down her cheek, and she looks to the door, where the discussion from the other room has stalled Daphne and Asami from entering.

“I love my life here, or did until all of this has happened. I can’t imagine it being better,” she murmurs, reaching up with her free hand to caress his temple. “But if it’s not real, if it’s all just shadowplay… we deserve more than that, too.”

Meanwhile, back in the main part of the strip club, Yi-Min is clenching her fingers even more tightly around the handle of her raised gun. Nicole's melodramatic approach looks like it's only aggravating her further, but notably, the rapidly-fraying edges of her frustration don't seem to doing so out of rising hostility.

"Fuck's sake," Yi-Min growls, making a noise of disgust deep in her throat after the puzzling distraction of whatever Jac is doing is over, then returning her attention to the combination of Nicole and Daphne.

Particularly Daphne. Because her tavernkeeper friend is actually correct on multiple counts— Yi-Min Yeh, professional florist extraordinaire, is no murderer.

And the digital holes in the world Daphne had once described to her, which Yi-Min had long since reasoned away as merely some personal aspect of Daphne's ability gone terribly awry…

When Yi-Min slants her face back up towards Nicole’s a few inches away, her gaze is like a sheet of ice, belying the sickened sorrow twisting all the way down through her core. "If this was your plan all along… to take away every last thing that I had in this world so that I would be forced to follow you out of utter despair—"

There couldn't be more hatred contained in the glance she throws towards Asami if she tried.

"…Then, it worked. You both have won. I have nothing left here, and I hope you are well and truly pleased with yourselves. Just tell me one, last thing: In this fanciful world of yours, the one you are so certain is real… you claim that Kara is there, somehow? Then, is my family there, too?"

"…Is Yi-Shan?"

It’s coming.

What is? Jac swings a look heavy with uncertainty and uneasiness from Kimiko to those still gathered near and with Yi-Min.

Nicole wants to protest. To swear she’s taken nothing from Yi-Min… Except for the ten years of their lives they spent together publicly and yet behind closed doors. The best years of her life, some might call it. Her face contorts with her misery, fat tears sliding down her cheeks when she closes her eyes and remembers the shade of Yi-Min’s blouse the first day they met. How the sun felt warm on their faces when they had coffee together and began to feel each other out. The silkiness of the strands of Yi-Min’s hair slipping through her fingers when they shared their first, second, third, fourth, and fifth kisses in succession. The sling she wore on her elbow after they’d tumbled over and under one another before she had tumbled out and landed wrong.

The first time they fought. (You can’t control every aspect of your own life! Let alone anybody else!) The first time they made up. (Surprise me. I mean it.) Every time she finally let the stress break her down and was wrapped in the shelter of Yi-Min’s arms while she cried. The smell of her perfume and how it would change subtly over the years.

The smell of the flowers on her bedside when she drifted in and out of consciousness after the crash.

Nicole remembers every single time she fucked up. She can’t lie to Yi-Min now. Her eyes open, and she can only look penitent. “I don’t know,” is honest enough, but it’s a half measure. “You never really talk about him, so I can only assume…” Sometimes honesty hurts. So she’ll turn that blade on herself in return. “I don’t know if my babies exist out there in the real world.” She can’t look at Zachery when she says that. Not just because she’s afraid of losing Yi-Min’s focus, but because she’s afraid of what it will do to her own. “I know I was pregnant, and then I know I was here.”

There’s a ragged breath, then another. Nicole’s voice cracks when she tries to speak again. “I don’t know what happened to you here, ‘Min. I don’t, but I’m sorry. You— You deserve—”

Yes, Valerie, Miller is crying. And crying hard at that. The sadness in her is so profound that it feels like it could crush her where she stands. What does Yi-Min deserve? To Nicole, the answer is simple.

“Only good things.”

In the kitchen, Isaac stares at Nova for a long moment — studying her face, weighing her words — then, at last, he closes his eyes for a moment and lets out a weary sigh.

"Okay," he says quietly, and for a moment he sounds resigned — defeated, almost.

"Okay," he says again, but this time there's something else in his voice, something warm shining through the bitterness and pain like sunlight shining through a cloud. He smiles faintly, reaching up with a thumb to wipe away that tear streaming down Nova's face.

"Okay," he says for a third time, nodding. "But. I'm not going to stop asking questions," he says, his voice still quiet and gentle, but with a firmer undertone. "This is… a big thing, Even Morpheus fielded some questions before he started red-pilling people. If we're going to do this — and if we're going to do it together — then we have to be on the same page." Faulkner hasn't entirely given up, it seems… but it seems that he's accepted the possibility of laying down his arms at some point, at least.

He rises to his feet again, but the sight of Asami lurking in the kitchen door forestalls any thought he might have had of rejoining the group in the main room now that the gunshots seem to have stopped; his eyes narrow a bit, and he remains where he's at — between Asami and Nova. If Nova's going to get her brain squinched, it's damn well going to be with consent given, if Isaac has anything to say about it.

It’s coming.

Jac’s eyes draw back to Kimiko, brows knitted tightly enough to make deep furrows between them. What?

On the other side of that door, Asami is very glad for the static that scrambles her sense of hearing when Jac is standing too close to her. Would that it would have been from Abby not taking off with Nicole and Zachery's children, but she'll take what she can get at the moment. Back hitting the wall, she presses her blood-stained hand through her side and it emerges again after fishing out the bullet, holding it in her hand.

She lets out a relieved breath, letting it roll into her palm before closing her hand around it. Her head lifts, observing the room with some small amount of clarity restored.

"We need to get Abby back before whatever happened to Zachery happens to her," she inputs into the air. More than that, she's not willing to chance. The tensions here are too high. Asami looks to Shaw and Isa both with a pleading expression. "Before she calls the cops or worse here and exposes all of us."

Still dazed-looking, Zachery stands as though the words in the room are simply passing him by while he's busy solving some unspoken problem visible to him alone.

His hands come back down as he steps back from Nicole and Yi-Min, distancing himself from them. Words register late, and he looks to Asami just in time to see her pull a bullet from her body. "I…" He tries with his head falling to one side, but abandons that train of thought almost immediately. "This isn't happening," he decides instead, shaking his head.

He looks for the stroller, finds it missing, and begins to head immediately for the exit.

It’s coming.

What is coming?

No matter how many times Jac questions Kimiko, that’s the only answer she gets back. It’s only when Kimiko sucks in a sharp breath and looks around, disoriented, that her thoughts change.

It’s here.” Kimiko says with a gasp.



A roar of jet engines shakes the street, accompanied by the downdraft of thrust from powerful engines. On the phone with the police, standing by the stroller, Abby is the first to see something unfathomable come screaming into view. A wedge-shaped vessel of some kind, a red and gray arrowhead of space-age metals hovering like some sort of flying saucer as it careens into view around the corner of a skyscraper.

The vector-thrust engines on the craft create a substantial downdraft and people on the street scatter from the billowing clouds of dust it kicks up. The craft, roughly the size of a car pivots in mid-air, then splits into five smaller craft that zip through the air like a school of fish.

The craft move together toward the strip club, sending out bursts of light from some kind of sensor on their front before reassembling into a single mechanical mass. Abby can see on the underside a stenciled identifier of SV-01. When the craft stalls outside of the strip club it releases a high-pitched pulse, signaling a second craft of the same size that descends down from somewhere in the glare of the sun off the windows of a neighboring building.

The second craft—SV-02—projects a cone of light at the strip club that causes the outside of the walls to pixelate and stutter. Then, as if they were an optical illusion, the two car-sized craft seemingly shrink down to something the size of a microwave and move for the windows.



We have to run.” Kimiko whispers frantically, looking around as if in unfamiliar surroundings. As if she only now realized how much time passed since her arrival with Asami. “We have to run!” Kimiko hollers, just as the walls and floor begin to flicker and pixelate with visual artifacts.

Kimiko’s warning comes too little, too late. A split-second later the front of Little Darlings erupts in a shower of broken stone, flying glass, and blackened wood. Kimiko is thrown off of her feet and lands on her back on the floor, looking up as two wedge-shaped red and gray drones come hovering in through the dust and debris, scanning the room with pulsing beams of light.

«NON-COMPLIANCE DETECTED.» shrieks one of the drones.

Kimiko stares up at the drones, scrambling back on her hands and heels. This can’t be happening, she thinks. It’s too much like one of her brother’s stupid comic books. And yet—

«SEEK AND DESTROY» the second drone shrieks.

This is happening.

“Mi-” Daphne begins, dark eyes swimming with tears at her friend’s words, at her own sense of loss. But she turns at Kimiko’s warning just as the drones blast through window and wood.

Time, she can buy them.

As her hands rise to shield her face from the debris, it suddenly pauses, suspending everything but the people in Little Darlings. Glass and wood hover mid-air, like a paused frame of an explosion on a DVD. No, not paused — moving very, very slowly.

But one of the drones fired a lightning bolt that Daphne doesn’t see in time to duck, and even in slow motion, moves fast enough to strike her shoulder, sending her crumpling to the ground. The world resumes in normal time, wood and glass falling in a delayed smash and clatter around and against them.

In the kitchen, Nova murmurs, “Questions are good,” to Isaac’s reluctant acceptance that this world might not be. But at the sound of explosions from the front room, she gasps, eyes wide and alarmed again as she grabs for both of his hands. “What was that?”

"Time to go," is Faulkner's answer; he squeezes her hands for a moment, giving his best grin, but there's some definite worry there — he's not sure what's going out on front, but finely honed instincts developed over years of experience are telling him that he'd very much rather avoid being involved with it.

Gently, he disentangles his hands from hers. "Run. Same way we came in. Tell the driver 'Zarek'."

Unavoidably though, he remembers the last time he'd told Nova that… and despite everything, that memory calls a grin to his face, bright as the morning sun. "I'll be along behind you. Maybe not right behind you, but… soon enough. Promise."

Then he raises his voice. "This way! Hurry! Move!" he calls. He'll give Nova a bit of a head start and try to warn the others, but he's not sticking around for long.

Despite that sunny smile, Nova’s brows draw more tightly together, and she shakes her head; she doesn’t want to leave without him. There’s no time to argue, though, and she nods just once, rising to her feet and running in the direction of the back door.

Asami's eyes widen as she in turn scans the hellish machines that have come for them. The fact she can understand their makeup, their purpose, what's brought them here is something she'll have time to fret about later. Instead, her gaze skips across the room, the moment everything freezes lasting all too short.

"Zachery!" she yells across the room. "They're seeing through you!"

If there was further evidence needed he's been reintegrated, she feels like it's been found. She deposits the bullet in the pocket of her coat, lunging a step forward, then another. For as good as she's been this entire time in not immediately diving in to do just the thing she now gives into the urge for… they needed to be able to escape without being used against each other.

All it takes is a lift of one hand, a gentle touch to the side of his brow for a foreign yet familiar ballooning sensation to overwhelm Zachery abruptly.

For him to fade out of sight and take Asami with him until she recoils back from him, eyes a blazing gold color.

"Nobody's saying that," Shaw adds to the voices attempting to calm Yi-Min down. And to it, when Daphne reveals her travels to the spaces outside the city being incomplete, it ticks off a funny realization as he utters, mostly to himself, "And Jersey bridge is always under construction." It's an epiphany that draws his eyes back towards where Daphne and Asami have retreated after Isaac and Nova. And then to the bar, where Kaylee - Valerie - is taking it all in. The theatre of it all.

Which, before he can make further statement to it, fully shatters in an explosive burst of glass, wood, smoke, noise. Shaw staggers as he's blown backward further into the club. Once the initial hit subsides and the drones arrive, he spends a second too long staring up at the menacing machinery unlike anything he's ever seen. Sharp pains from the glass and rock shrapnel embedded in him draw his attention back to his body, where he peels a part of his shirt away to look down, bringing his hand to pull out a piece of window impaled into his chest and abdomen.

The superhealing already begins to close the wound. A dismaying observation no matter how many times he sees it. But, now, he actually accepts. Now, because it's imperative to him somewhere in the back of his mind that there are people here he cares about and they have to escape impending doom. His grasp tightens on the grip on his gun. "Everybody run!" Shaw cries out as he rises to a knee, raises his pistol, and fires multiple rounds at SV-01's malevolent glowing eye and body.

The bullets impact with small sparks of metal grinding on metal, bringing the drone to a wobbly staggered flight that looks like it's going to crash. But when the drone does exactly the opposite, glitching out along the edges and reappearing to be no more damaged than it had been previously, Shaw's swear of surprise is audible as the drone turns on him.

He dives out of the way of a bolt of lightning that singes his jacket edges and the overturned table used as cover.

Valerie has front row seats for the arrival of the drones. Not even bothering to duck, simply turning her head to the side as bricks and glass fall around her. The figure in the mirror is in a state of panic remembering what’s happened before. This was different, but still…

“Well, this is fucked up,” Valerie sighs out, plucking a piece of glass from her glass and flicking it away. Pushing the glass away, she takes a drink from the bottle, before stepping away and into the fray on a mission. “Brynn! Jac! We’re leaving. NOW!

Valerie had one priority at this moment and that was to get the girls safe so that the other in her head will shut the fuck up. Should the girls fight, they will find themselves scooped up by the strong woman and carried towards the kitchen where Isaac is calling for them.

Whatever bitterly twisted response Yi-Min had been about to deliver to Nicole is arrested by the explosion that eradicates one whole side of the establishment, sending a tempest of debris showering down around them. Once the initial impact is over and she has uncurled from instinctively shielding herself (miraculously unhit), she wraps one hand around Nicole's wrist so as to yank her erstwhile lover towards the kitchens— directly away from the ear-piercing hunters coming at them.

With the other hand, Yi-Min takes aim at the other drone with her already conveniently-readied revolver, firing off a salvo of bullets into the nearest side of its metallic casing.

Her aim is true, but other than a rapid glitching that seems to consume the wedge-shaped nightmare for several violent milliseconds after the bullets strike their mark, nothing else seems to happen. The drone— just as unharmed as Shaw’s— simply rotates blankly around to face the pair of them head-on, discharging a thunderous bolt of lightning that misses Yi-Min by the skin of her teeth.

Slapping her hair out of her face in her continued race to get away, Yi-Min grits her teeth together inside her mouth when she distantly spots Asami placing her palm on Zachery's skull, but there is no time to dwell on that hateful sight. Instead, she beelines for Daphne after shoving her revolver back in her belt, intent on hauling up her fallen friend by the arm and bearing her along towards the exit, too. "Get up! Come on!"

Nicole’s ears are ringing and she’s dazed in the aftermath of the explosion, staring blankly ahead, unseeing through the settling dust illuminated by sunbeams that absolutely should not be seen from the confines of the club. That much doesn’t register to her beyond a small point of confusion that brings her brow to furrow and her head to tilt. It’s like the world is moving in slow motion.

Because, for a moment, it was.

It all seems to start again, loud and full of light and movement, when Yi-Min grabs her wrist, forcefully pulling her back to the reality they’re all still trapped in. “Oh my god, what is that?!” Nicole shouts, suddenly panicked and aware of the noise from the drones. She gasps and shoves her hands over her ears when the revolver and Shaw’s pistol go off.

With wide, terrified eyes, she surveys the room, knowing where every person was just before the wall exploded inward. Zachery had headed toward the door, and she doesn’t see him now. Did he make it outside to chase down Abby and the twins? “Find the nearest exit!” she calls out. “There’s one through the kitchens,” where she’s standing, “and one through the offices!” Where she came in from. “Try to stay low! Stay out of sight! There’s a bus out back! Go!”

Helping Yi-Min usher Daphne through the kitchen doors, she lets out a sound that isn’t quite sure if it wasn’t to convey terror or relief. “Isaac!” A set of keys jingles as she pulls it from her pocket and she hurries to where Faulkner is also directing people out the back. One hand finds his face, the other presses the keys into his palm. “You have to get them all out of here. Take the bus and go.”

She’s not planning to go with them. “I have to find Gabriella,” Nicole explains. “I have to find my husband. Abby and—” She tries on a shaky smile instead of finishing the sentence. “You’re gonna be fine, okay?” His hair is smoothed back gently. “Like your first time riding a bike. You were fine then, too.”

Nicole closes Isaacs fingers around the keys and steps back. “I’m sorry.”

A twisting motion brings Jac to the floor, with arms covering her head in barely though time to deflect the flying shrapnel. Things pelt against her arms in the immediate aftermath, ignored right up until the first drone begins shrieking. Her head lifts slightly then, still shielded, and she peers with wide eyes through the dust and fluttering debris. The teen’s eyes find the red-and-gray wedges as the second drone issues its orders.

Panic claws at her heels then, as she scuttles under the nearest and yet righted table. Glass and rock bite into her hands and knees. She takes shelter, drawing herself up small and compact. The sound of gunfire and destruction brings her arms up, again covering her head, and her body hunches over her knees. The calls to run prickle against the fear that keeps her in hiding, only successfully prompting a slight shift of her head and blue eyes peeking from behind her knees.

Jac’s eyes flick and dart from one yelling face to the next, fully knowing she should follow but struggling to make herself do so. Last time she ran from something — really it was a pit of someones then — she nearly lost her sister and herself. It’s not easy to try that tactic again so soon.

But her mom’s voice cuts through the chaos. There’s something safe about Valerie, she remembers, even if it’s weird to see her mom so direct and no highway option.

Jac looks across the bar to Valerie. Her hesitation and reluctance is plain, and it takes a second for her to unfold and move. Still crawling and staying to the perceived cover of furniture, the teen shuffles over the debris littering the floor to reach her mom’s presence. Her eyes stay on her mom, except for once when she shoots a look to Kimiko. Run! she yells, more than suggests. Come with us!

Faulkner's hand closes around the keys, his eyes wide in disbelief… then they narrow in annoyance. "The campaign bus? Really?" he grumbles.

They don't have time for squabbling, though, and he knows it. He takes a deep breath. "Focus on Gabriella and your husband. If you run into Abby along the way, great, otherwise I'll send her a call and pick her up. She's worked with me before," he says grimly. He turns to the door… then pauses to look back. "Stay safe," he says quietly.

Then he takes a deep breath. "THIS WAY!" he calls, raising his voice loud enough to hopefully reach the bar… then he runs. He's got to get the bus started and ready to go, after all.



"Janice-" Abby speaks the name of the woman working the dispatch, having been trying to toss babies into her car (not literally) and into the car seats there when there's the descent of something out of some sci-fi movie that Abby doesn't watch.

"Janice… do we have… drones in the arsenal?" She cranes her head to look at the second one as it descends after the call from its mate. "S V dash zero one and zero two on the underbe- Oh my god, Janice it's going for the club. Is this…" It's far too soon for a reply from the NYPD. "Janice, send SWAT. I don't know what this is… if a BOLO comes out about the Miller babies, I have them and I'm bringing them to the station, keep them safe."

Screaming babies from the noise break her out of the reverie that the happenings a block down are drawing her into. Hanging up, she’s swiftly hauling Avery out of the stroller and into the carseat so she can hastily buckle the babies in and tighten straps.

"Mommy finger, mommy finger, what do you do?" she sings, trying to soothe the children. "I see flying things, just like you. Daddy finger, daddy finger ,what do you do? Run real far, ‘cause we like to live…" She ad libs, keeping her tone light. Dean's seat is better equipped for a baby, Katherine's seat can handle one but it takes a little longer as Abby frantically adjusts the straps as quickly as she can. The stroller is looked at and then pushed to the side.

Windows are blown out and there's sounds that… don't sound so great. She's digging in her purse to find her notebook and scribbling on a piece of paper, rips it off and places it in the stroller, tucking it under a seam where it won't just blow away. If the parents survive, they'll come looking and they'll know where to go.

She's hopping in her car then, throwing it into reverse, then forward, aiming to get her and the babies the hell out of dodge, even though it will take her past the front of the club.



When Yi-Min hauls Daphne up, the petite bartender is barely conscious; her lashes flutter and her feet have trouble moving in a straight line. “Can’t feel my fingertips,” she murmurs, wiggling the fingers on the side she’d been hit. Unaware of it, behind her, time slows again for the drones, slowing those lightning bolts and making them easier to dodge — as long as a person’s looking.

But she slumps against her friend and time resumes at normal speed; Yi-Min can feel Daphne’s arm spasm and twitch. “Can’t teleport,” Daphne protests, scrunching her face like she has when she’s demonstrated the ability to Yi-Min in the past. The pauses and electrocution have taken a toll on her. At least her feet are moving — if crookedly.

There is a crunch of glass and metal shards, some of it by the door moving as if of its own accord.

"I— remember." Zachery's voice comes near breathlessly from down on the floor, where he flickers visible when a deathlaser goes shooting through the room. He disappears back out of sight the same time he staggers to his feet among the destruction, checking his hands and arms for glass but finding only superficial cuts while the sound of yet more violence spurs him onward faster, finding Nicole in the kitchen. "I remember," he repeats as quickly as it is grim, just before grabbing her by the forearm. "We have to go."


Nicole blinks out of sight just as she's pulled away from the kitchen door and toward the new, wider exit out to the street.

The absolute utter chaos of the club exploding has Brynn also ducking. The most recent explosions are far too clear in her head and she would have been tumbled arse over teakettle except that Abby went outside and Brynn's instinct was to go completely intangible as things pelted in her direction! She does cover her head in the same fashion as any normal person though. When she finally lifts gray eyes, it's to scream, "Jac!" Scrambling madly to get to her feet from the seat she was in, her mother's order in her ears, Brynn reaches out to grab her little sister's wrist. "Kitchen!" she gasps, pointing the way that is not at this moment exploding.

Adrenaline coursing through her, her eyes still burning with vestiges of gold, Asami lifts her arm up with her hand clawed, reaching for the newest ability available to her with all her might. A technological battle of wills begins to unfold with the drones in the room, who strain to fight against the influence. Those sensors begin to rotate again in slow motion, trying to find the source of non-compliant activity so as to best eliminate the nuisance of it.

"Kimiko, 早く行け1!" Asami shouts at the more dazed of those in the room. "Everybody, get to the bus!"

Panic is pushed down in this moment in favor of throwing every ounce of effort into controlling the danger and creating a path to escape, eyes narrowed upon the robots. "Fucking try me," she dares the murder machines in a whisper. Her steps take her slowly away as well, in the direction of the kitchen once more, and their escape vehicle beyond it.

Asami’s order has Kimiko finally snapping out of her fugue state. She looks at the drones, only now really seeing them. She scrambles backwards, gasping for breath, panicking, terrified. As she backs up, Kimiko holds up her hands as if to protect herself from the drones and they struggle to maneuver even further. Kimiko pivots, trips and loses a shoe, but doesn’t stop running.

One of the drones—SV-02—begins sputtering and flickering and Asami can feel something unseen in the air. A pattern, repeating itself over and over again, code. A message.


Message received, Asami can feel it. But—nothing. No response.

I remember, Zachery tells her and Nicole’s eyes go wide. She doesn’t hesitate when he pulls her along outside, but drags him just out of the way of the others so she can pull him to her in a tight hug. “I thought I’d lost you,” she admits in a whisper, ashamed of herself for daring to even consider having given up hope.

Nicole draws back, tears in her eyes. “You have to go with the others. You’re their best chance of— Abby thinks you’re the only one who hasn’t lost their fucking mind. You have to… I don’t know. Convince her. Trick her. Do something, but you have to get her to join up with the others to go to Vegas.”

There’s that smile he knows well. That smile she has for him when she’s made a mistake and she knows it. When she’d maybe like to cry, but she’s holding it together. For now, or maybe forever because she just has to. It wrinkles her nose and makes deep crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. “I already played my trick. The others won’t get on that bus if I’m there. But if you want to help me, if you really want to help me escape, then you have to go with them. It has to be all of us, or it’ll be none of us. You have to join the others and figure out how to bring them Abigail. I need to go get Gabriella.”

Her hands are warm on his face when she paws at his cheeks in that way that she does when she’s doting on him, preparing him for a big function or an important speech. “I won’t be long. Isaac will know where to find me.” Nicole’s hands fall away and for a second, she starts to lean in for a kiss, but this isn’t goodbye. “Get on the bus.” It’s an instruction, an order, but she still follows it up. “Please.

Zachery's attention is noticeably torn between Nicole and the promise of nearby murderdrones, and even when he focuses on her directly, she's treated to a look that implies he doesn't have everything exactly in order just yet.

But not everything has to be. A stance of readiness to get himself and her the fuck out of there still holding, he watches her expression and reaches past the rigid uncertainty that tells him to argue, and tells her through gritted teeth— "I'm trusting you."

He leans forward into the kiss, brief as the situation might call for it to be. "I don't know how," he steps back after, holding eye contact but letting go of Nicole's arm as she alone pops back into view while he begins to make his way back the way he came. "But I'll figure it out."

A hand on the backs of her girls, Valerie is concerned with no one else as she pushes them towards the bus and alleged safety. It’s only once the girls have scrambled on the bus that she’ll stop and wait for everyone to get on.

Asami Asi's eyes flicker uncertainly when she senses the outbound pulse of message from the drone— and the lack of reply given to. Regardless of new orders being sent to it, though, it was still very much trying to kill them in the present. And that's all that mattered, no?

Uncertainly, she looks quickly in both directions people seem to be escaping from, lamenting quietly the lack of union between them all. But escaping safely was the more important goal in the short-term. And escaping would take more than what was currently being done to hamper the bots.

An idea begins to form in that regard, and Asi blinks hard before taking her eyes off the robots to look toward the woman still armed with a gun. "Yi-Min—" she calls out with strain in her voice, her eyes going up. "The ceiling." Her other arm begins to lift, hand open with fingers loosely beginning to curl. She slowly pulls a step back while still focusing on the bots for now.

"For everyone's sake, please!" she begs. She waits at the ready— waits for a physical signal of Yi-Min's intent to join their power together and do more than what one could alone.

When Zachery leans in to steal the kiss she aborted, Nicole almost breaks. She almost resolves to hold tight to his hand and just say that they should stay invisible until it’s too late for anyone to object to her presence, so they can stay together.

But she can’t. Nicole lost that privilege when she lured everyone here under false pretenses. When she led them all into this trap. “I love you!” Mrs. Miller calls to her husband’s back, now fully visible again in her anguish.

He zigs, she zags.

Maybe that will keep them both alive.

And, just in case it doesn't…

Yi-Min is hovering on the periphery of the scene, her revolver still gripped darkly inside her hands like so much dead weight. The look on her face as she surveys the carnage being wrought by the twin drones isn't one of panic, but rather of grim, turbulent calculation— and it's an expression that does not shift at all when she hears her name.

Because she already knows, just as well as the other woman does… what the final piece of the equation would have to be.

"There," Yi-Min commands in a single word, sharply throwing her gaze upwards in a manner that makes it clear she expects Asami to look, too. The central column bisecting the floor between the stage and the bar: start there, says that gaze, with no need (she hopes) for further elaboration.

Latching her revolver back into her belt, the florist lifts her arms upwards to mirror Asami's, the folds of her dark cloak rippling away to either side. After a last tense appraisal, she locks eyes with the woman she had shot earlier barely long enough to give a curt nod.

It's the signal Asami had been waiting for. Yi-Min turns all of her concentration on the point where the load-bearing column meets the already-ruptured ceiling, sweeping her clenched hands forward and willing the top of the column to flake and fracture and fall with the full fury of her telekinetic power.

Their telekinetic powers.

The smaller woman would look the part of a sorceress in black, casting some extravagantly difficult spell requiring the use of both her arms, if she wasn't also so clearly ready to dart off to the next room the instant the ceiling shows signs of collapsing the rest of the way without them.

No further word is needed. By the telekinetics' combined power, cracks form in the ceiling, flakes forming. The drones struggling to escape technopathic influence move far too slow to escape the first bits of falling plaster…

And then the whole of the ceiling begins to collapse in, one section after the next. Silent, invisible hands continue to rip more of the building down on top of the robots, leaving them buried behind a growing pile of rubble.

By the time they work their way free from the collapse as well as the influence slowing them, every last person is gone through one exit or another.

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