Dungeons & Dragons


gates_icon.gif wright_icon.gif

Scene Title Dungeons & Dragons
Synopsis Gates and Wright covertly discuss a shared fear.
Date June 18, 2021

There is a nondescript conference room at the back of Fort Jay, one with a buggy intercom system and an extremely spotty telepresence hookup. The conference room table is just two smaller tables pushed together. A spaghetti mess of wires and cords rests like a rat’s nest in its shadow. A mismatch of office chairs surround the table, paper filing boxes containing triplicates of outdated documents are piled six to seven feet high.

Every office building in the world has a conference room like this. The old, outdated one. The one no one uses. The one that gets the least scrutiny and is from an older iteration of the office’s floor plan but survives like a vestigial limb. It smells of old coffee and musty paper, is lit by flickering fluorescent lights that are never properly replaced.

It is in this shabby conference room where the fate of the whole world hangs in the balance.

Fort Jay
Governor’s Island
NYC Safe Zone

June 18th
3:47 pm

Wright Tracy has spent days here in this conference room, serving as a communications relay between the terrestrial offices of the Department of the Exterior and an away team one parallel dimension removed from the present space. This wasn’t supposed to be how it was, but circumstances that led to the evacuation of the Janus oil rig demanded it.

Sitting with a fresh cup of tea and this morning’s copy of the Safe Zone Siren, Wright focuses half on this world and half on another so far away. It’s no surprise she fails to notice someone else entering the conference room until they politely knock on the inside of the door.

“Sorry for barging in,” Agent Gates says from the doorway. His presence is startling, not simply because of the sudden appearance, but that the last time Wright saw him he was halfway into the grave. Though still a bit pale, Gates is dressed in a suit and (stiffly) carrying himself on his own two feet. Though he favors one arm more than the other due to the tenderness on one side from the knife wound.

“Thought I’d check up and see how you’re doing.” He adds with a somewhat inscrutable smile.

Wright does her best to hide her startle, something made easier by her first night of real sleep in what feels like a month but is closer to a week. That doesn’t make her reaction time any better. The pause is obvious, though she forestalls actively remembering their plan with honest appreciation for the fact that Gates is standing.

“I mean, I’m doing great,” she says with a laugh, “You’re the one who nearly died.” In my arms, after I…

“Can I offer you a cup of fourteen-year-old Oolong tea I found in a plastic bag that also contains two packets of soy sauce, warped chopsticks, and a fortune cookie I absolutely refuse to open?” she asks, sweeping an arm magnanimously to the stolen carafe of hot water sitting above an open drawer full of fast food menus.

Gates is caught so off-guard by that whole description that he laughs, then grabs his side and says, “Okay, no more humor or I’m going to nearly die in your arms a second time.” He passes off the physical discomfort with a grimace that turns into a smile, then eases his way over to the conference table and takes a seat.

“And uh, no.” Gates says. “I’ll pass on the archeological tea artifacts. But I do want to tempt fate on the fortune cookie, though.” He wrinkles his nose. “I can’t resist those kinds of things.”

Wright shrugs, your loss, and picks up her cup. The mug was once covered in text, the lower half of which has been redacted with purple and black permanent marker; all that remains are the words, ‘Don’t talk to me.’ “More for me then,” she says with a glint of amusement in her eyes. She rolls her chair the four feet to the cabinet and fishes around for a clear plastic bag. She turns her back to the table and propels herself into it with a kick across the room, tossing the treasure unceremoniously onto the table between them.

“I may have forgotten to mention the fourteen-year-old spicy mustard,” she says apologetically, eyes locked on his, then taps on the table three times. She keeps her breathing steady, though it’s impossible to keep her heart from racing at this vulnerability.

Gates eyes the finger gestures, brows knit together. It’s clear something is working behind his eyes, gears turning, but he hasn’t quite been clued in yet. Instead, he takes a seat at the conference table with Wright and reaches for the fortune cookie.

“How’s your better half doing?” Gates asks, crinkling the old plastic of the fortune cookie wrapper. “I—figure if he got eaten by a whale you’d have said something. But…” He pops open the wrapper and fishes out the fortune cookie that has the consistency of gum, rather than cookie.

"Oh, you know," Wright begins, "cold, wet, cranky." The cons. Are you listening to this? she thinks. I assumed you are because of the whole dying in my arms thing. Her expression remains warm.

"He did just get an invitation to the Mafia Queen's castle for a party," she adds. The pros? "For some reason the native Eve had party clothes for everybody stuffed in a footlocker. Hoping it's actually a party and not 'being kidnapped by the Mafia Queen,' that would be the second fancy party in the last year that went to shit." It seems like a fairly basic tool for a ‘Swiss army knife of telepathic abilities’, she thinks.

Gates casts an askance look at Wright, then tears—not cracks—open the extremely stale fortune cookie. “Joys are often the shadows cast by sorrows…” He reads from the tiny strip of paper inside. “Not terribly impressed.”

Joy lingers for a moment, then nods and turns away. As she heads to the door, her body discorporates into an ephemeral three-dimensional shadow that flows down to the ground and slides under the door, disappearing from sight.

Wright turns toward the door when she doesn’t hear it open or close upon Joy’s exit. The tail end of her shadowy departure is met with silence, punctuated by an unnerved, “Jesus Christ.”
Wright suppresses a shudder, blinking away the memory.

I try not to on principle, it’s rude. But I caught the tail end of that. It felt like you were signaling. Gates’ telepathic voice is crisp and clear, stereo in the way Wright’s own internal thoughts are or when someone communicates through Elliot’s network. Though there’s an uncomfortable, familiar texture to it. Like voice modulation in a movie, it’s Gates, but it’s also not Gates as she’s used to hearing him.

“The…” Gates is distracted, ducking under the table to grab a waste basket, “ah, Director is extremely interested in situational information about the Pelago. Similar individuals, behavior patterns we can map from one timeline to another. There’s a back-thread about using some of this data to see how similar people’s behaviors and personalities are in spite of sweeping environmental changes.” He sweeps the plasticine cookie crumbs straight into the bin.

Frankly I think it’s a little Orwellian and gross. So you don’t need to do that.

“I’ll be honest,” Wright says, chagrined, “We don’t know a lot of the power players over there unless they were in the Ferrymen here. Constantly playing catch-up with everyone else who seems to be taking everything in stride.” It’s an easy way to deflect the Director’s request. There is a problem that we need to bring to your attention, she thinks.

“The Odessa Price there seems nice,” she does offer. “Ship captain. Much less of an internationally famous bioterrorist if the rumors are true.” She’d like to think this would be easier if she could share memories straight through the network instead of explaining to Gates. She knows, however, that the idea of Gates picking up Elliot’s ability would be terrifying. Let alone the discordant nature of the memories in question.

She rests back in her chair with a pondering look at the ceiling to buy herself enough time to think out the rest. There have been alterations to our timeline that rippled backward from after the expansion of the anomaly to as long ago as two years. My memories were altered, Elliot remembers both sets of events, none of the other Travelers remember the changes. You and I originally fell into the anomaly, which consumed the entire facility unchecked. Rianna Cranston had until that point not worked for the OEI. She never came back from the Root. Eve insists that Ria is in fact actually her //aunt, somehow living through Richard’s sister parasitically.//

“A guy Elliot may or may not have done some light crime with back in the day is just as much of a gross weirdo as he is here. Also a ship captain.” Sorry if this conversation feels off in cadence, I’m trying to do what Elliot says is the “Aes Sedai thing” from Dune.

Gates closes his eyes. Deep breath.

Bene Gesserit. He thinks. He can’t not. In spite of everything else. Aes Sedai are from the Wheel of—it’s not important. I get it.

Gates has to stop though, eyes shifting from side to side. “Nature versus nurture is a hell of a thing when you’re working in five dimensions, I guess.” He rolls the paper fortune between his fingers with a little nervous energy.

Time doesn’t work like that. Gates thinks, looking Wright up and down. Based on all of our understanding, changes don’t happen like that. They create new branches, that’s how we get these parallel worlds to begin with. But what your describing goes against everything we’ve come to understand. He purses his lips, about to say something, but forgoes the eavesdropping small-talk. He can’t focus on two things at once right now.

Rianna Cranston’s been with us since the 2019 Crossing. She came over with her mother. She’s a light mimic. I’ve had dinner with her. Suddenly, Gates stops and looks down at the fortune in his hand again. But—you said this happened after the explosion? That Elliot remembers something different? Maybe he experienced an overlay of another timeline close to ours? One we’re not yet aware of?

Wright can’t help but show a glint of amusement at Gates’s reaction to the joke, though it quickly pivots to confusion. She lets the silence linger as though they’re both trying to think of something to say.

Every time we think we understand how time travel works, she thinks, the less sense it makes. So, two things. All of the Travelers remember the version of events where Richard’s sister never made the transit in 2019. Elliot remembers both versions, including my experience of falling into the anomaly with you and Suresh just as we were about to make it to the helicopter. It consumed everything. He was streaming my perspective at the time, then experienced the changes instantaneously.

“You seem to be recovering really well,” she says, gesturing at his cane. “I wasn’t at all sure you were going to make it.” Especially considering the fact that your jugular was slashed in the attack and you lost like fifteen gallons of blood, she adds.

Are you saying that any and all instances of time travel result in the creation of a new divergent timeline branch? she thinks. Our understanding was that there is some amount of pliability before compiling changes result in divergence. If not, any time traveler who went into the past and changed something, then returned to the future (their present), would find another version of themself there who never needed to go back in time to make the change.

“The hospital for rich folks sure does get the job done.”

Gates reflexively reaches a hand up to his neck. There is no scar there, no bandages, no injury. He was stabbed in the chest according to medical reports and what Wright remembers from the time following Rianna’s revision to time and space. Pressure placed on his abdomen, blood between fingers. No slashed throat.

“Yeah,” Gates says, distractedly. Stumbling on keeping up the two-way conversation’s ruse. He sweeps a hand over his head, then looks at the little plastic packaging the fortune cookie came in. His eyes narrow slightly. “I got really lucky.” Apparently.

It takes a moment for Gates’ mouth to align to his brain. Gears slipping, thoughts jumbled. “Any word on the supplies situation? I know we… didn't get everything through that we needed. Is that more or less covered, or?”

It's an inane question. It's all Gates has the energy for. The anomalies caused a spatio-temporal event for Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz when they were exposed too. Missing time. Experiences of another point in space-time. Maybe the Looking Glass caused some sort of… cascading… Gates furrows his brow and scrubs his hand along his mouth.

How has your situation with Elliot been? The connection? Stable? Gates is getting at something. Wright can feel it. But it's hard to know precisely what it is.

Thankfully, talking around curious questioners is old hat for Wright. Crystal clear, which is a huge relief. I was worried I’d get a padded cell if our link broke, she thinks. Do you really not think it might be a good idea to look into Rianna Mas Price, a possible infiltrator with the apparent ability to insert herself retroactively into the life of another person? Because that is what Eve is suggesting. Simple answer, then deflection to what’s actually important here.

I mean, super grateful to her for me no longer having dropped into a spacetime anomaly and dying with you, she clarifies. I probably owe her for that.

Gates brows furrow, his eyes become distant and in that relaxed state his lazy eye is slightly more noticeable. “I don’t—” he starts to say, then realizes he was about to reply to telepathy with speech. He catches himself, tries to cover. “Uh, don’t know what else we could do to help with the supplies anyway. I’m just, you know, curious.”

Fuck my life this is complicated. Gates thinks, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose with forefinger and thumb. As far as anyone knows, Rianna Price died back in 1984 at the hands of Samson Gray. If this… He sighs softly. I’ll do some digging, but discreetly. I don’t want to put anyone into an impostors among us panic any more than they already get with alt-timeline people.

Gates sits forward in his seat, folding his hands between his knees. There—was something else I wanted to ask you about, too. It uh. Gates makes a distasteful face, like he’s about to ask something uncomfortable. I had a… a uh, dream—and let me preface this with// it’s not like that—but you were in it. Or, I could hear your voice? I had a dream about being… I don’t know, chased around inside my mind-palace by some kind of… uh… anyway, when I woke up I could’ve sworn that I heard your voice. You were as freaked out as I was and you, uh, you said: it learned something. Gates searches Wright’s eyes for recognition. Does any of that sound familiar?.

It does, as evidenced by Wright’s already fair complexion bleaching. Her heart hammers in her chest for a breath before Elliot quietly closes Asi’s links to either of them. He puts his hands over his mouth, begins shaking after only a breath of his own. Wright is too rattled to type anything to Elliot; she can barely form words in her own mind for this horrific inevitability.

They had both only just had their first real night’s sleep in a week. Elliot feels it stir once more beneath the water: the Bad Memory that reared when Gates assaulted the network in training, desperate to make itself known. To cut him off at the knees. He lets it bend against his mind and fall away. Wright tries to stay just as far away from it, tries not to be dragged into the BLACK BLACK BLACK.

She works her mouth silently, casting her eyes down at the table. She tries to think about anything other than the Palace, focusing on her tea, raising a hand to lift it only to immediately set it back down even though it’s still full. Growing irritated that the wisps of steam could be so calm at a time like this. What could she say in response to that? What the fuck could either of them possibly say?

“Help,” she whispers.

Gates’ back straightens, brows knit together and he experiences whatever is going on the way someone might watch the surface of the water churn when a shark is devouring a seal far below. He can see the emotional tides churning in Wright, feels the blood of dread and anxiety bloom red to the surface thanks to the ability he’d absorbed from Odessa. Once he realizes he’s feeling Wright’s emotions he clamps the ability down, tries to shut out the stimuli so as to not let it bleed into his own reactions.

Glancing at the door, Gates only stays in his seat a moment longer before he eases up out of it and takes the few steps forward to Wright’s side. He never fully stands up straight, keeping one hand on the table as if to steady himself. The other hovers near her shoulder but never fully lands. His proximity is a wordless reaction to her request, but his silence is a plea for further context.

What was that?

He couldn’t know how deep the answer to that question is buried.

Wright can’t help but lean away from Gates, the proximity of his hand to her shoulder stirs small waves of revulsion and dread. She shakes her head harshly, it isn’t you. She clenches her fists and takes a centering breath. Gates is safe, isn’t he? He’s neither the source nor the target of that revulsion.

“It’s supposed to be gone,” she says unevenly, wincing against the impulse to say nothing. That thing isn’t what the Locks are for. I don’t know how much I can say. Everything is so tangled together, she continues in thought. Elliot doesn’t try to get her to stop, he trusts her to speak for him, and at this time, Gates is the only person he knows of that might be able to do something, anything.

“It’s all the horrors of a young boy’s life,” she whispers. Tears form in the corners of her eyes, her breaths seem to need reminders. “Broken free from its loci.” Free to roam and despoil and take take take. And more horrific still, Gates already heard the worst part: that it learned something. We can’t get close enough to stop it, she laments, and even if we could it wouldn’t matter. We already killed him.

Gates glances at the door, then gently taps his fingers against the side of his leg in idle nervousness. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel the hit of several hours without a real meal.” He’s distracted, struggling to maintain a cover conversation.

We shouldn’t have this conversation here. Even if it’s internal. Too many eyes, and this doesn’t seem like something you want in a report.

“Besides, I’ve got to go feed my cat or he’ll knock everything off my shelves.” Gates says with a wry, though strained, smile. “He’s a little shit. But I love him.”

When we transfer to KC, I’ll be the one to drive you to the airport. That should give us some time to dig into this without raising any suspicion. Gates projects more confidence in his thoughts that he does in his voice.

“You want me to pick you up anything while I’m out?” He asks, slowly angling toward the door.

Wright bristles with the anxious reflex of having made a dangerous admission and now having to wait, potentially for days, before finishing the conversation. "Oof, where to begin," she says, her tone in diametric opposition to her body language. "Literally anything that doesn't come from the cafeteria would be amazing."

Something else occurs to her that might be able to save her a few days of simmering dread above even the new normal tolerance levels since the minotaur broke loose. Was set free? "If you're in a mind for a home cooked meal," she offers, her expression slowly tilting back to match her facade of professional cheer, "I can't cook for shit, but Elliot can and he's got a place in Red Hook."

Something makes her want to bring him there, unlock the door to the office, let him see the wall and understand everything without her having to say a word. Her mind stays away from the parts of the idea that would violate the gag order against revealing things from so deep below even the BLACK BLACK BLACK. Admissions that would require the unlatching of a Lock. Her thoughts remain only at the peripheral features of it, on the adjacencies. Places she can use to play off the suggestion as merely something he can refuse as part of the facade of the spoken half of this conversation.

It’s safe to assume any residence you have on the books is being observed by government intelligence apparatus. That could be telepathically, technologically, or both. Given the nature of what we’re doing and the risk to your well-being, privacy is a non-concern.

Gates steps to the door and offers Wright a mild smile. “Nice of you to offer, but I don’t really have the time. Maybe once the world doesn’t need saving. I could go for a nice, home-cooked victory meal.”

Wright knows that’s an obfuscation of the truth, but she also can’t help but notice that there’s doubt in the lie too. Gates doesn’t believe there’ll ever be a time like that. And Wright can see on his face how that eats away at him.

Stay safe.

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