Exchange I



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Scene Title EXCHANGE I
Synopsis Pick up the phone, it's the end calling.
Date October 30, 2020

And you may find yourself

There is a brown two-level house in St. Joseph, Missouri.

Living in a shotgun shack

It has a fenced in backyard, neighbors on either side of the street, neighbors across the street.

And you may find yourself

It is an unremarkable residence, decorated with furnishings and styles that went out of vogue in the Reagan administration.

In another part of the world

This home has carpeted stairs, faux wood paneling on the walls, and pictures hanging.

And you may find yourself

There’s a family here, pressed into a two-dimensional expression of faded color. A mother, a father, a son. In some of the photos, there’s even the family dog.

Behind the wheel of a large automobile

But there’s noise in the kitchen, down past the stairs, past the slowly spinning ceiling fan with the light that no longer works.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house

Down in the kitchen, there is music coming from a small radio with faux wood paneling on its face.

With a beautiful wife

A man in a suit is dancing in the kitchen, one hand at his waist, hips swaying from side to side, eyes closed and a smile spread across his lips.

And you may ask yourself, well

Dancing straight over to the refrigerator, taking out a carton of milk with a curious look, and giving it a cautious sniff before bringing it up to his mouth.

How did I get here?

When a drop of water lands on his shoulder.

Soaking into dark fabric.

Geographic Region Redacted

October 30th
3:17 pm Eastern Time

An unlit room is suddenly flooded with light with the touch of a single switch. The ten by ten concrete-walled room comes into sharp focus as rows of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights come on row-by-row until barely a shadow is cast in the room. All that furnishes the space is a single gray fabric-covered armchair with a low back, Swedish in design, and a large console-style CRT television with a mantle clock sitting atop it on a lace doily. The clock has no hands on it, save for the second hand, which tracks around at a normal pace.

Agent Gates steps away from the shut door, with its water-streaked metal surface contrasting sharply with the sterile quality of the space. His footsteps echo across the concrete floor until he comes up beside the chair. Gates looks from the chair to the television and back again, then slowly walks in a clockwise circle around the chair with his hand on the back. When he completes the revolution, he discovers that there was an end table beside the chair the whole time with a red rotary phone sitting atop it along with a boxy TV remote and a glass of scotch on a cocktail napkin. Gates smiles, then settles down comfortably in the chair.

Picking up the remote, which only has one button, Gates turns on the television to static. He then sets the remote down, picks up his drink and takes a sip from it, then glances sidelong at the napkin. Under his glass, framed in by the ring of condensation on the paper, is a phone number scrawled in smudged ballpoint: (516) 261-2342. Gates sets down his drink beside the napkin, then picks up the phone and dials the number one turn of the rotary dial at a time.

The line rings, and Gates turns his attention to the static on the television. "Gates here," he says into the receiver when someone on the other line picks up.

«It’s time for an Exchange.»

Gates’ jaw sets, and he lifts his chin up slowly, eyes fixed on the television as a multicolor test pattern flickers into view. Soon, the television screen flickers and flashes and the lights in the room go dark, leaving that single square of light the only thing that can be seen. Each time the screen changes colors, a different voice emerges from the television.

We have almost everyone. But it’s enough of a quorum.” Comes the same voice that was on the other end of the phone line. “Let’s start with the home office. Each of you give a status update on your current assignments.

The screen turns purple as a smooth man’s voice chimes in. “Wellfare checks went well, almost everyone is reporting in. We have a couple of outliers, but within expectations. Good work, everyone.

We’re still getting a broader understanding of what Praxis Heavy Industries was up to, but our information recovery is doing as good as can be expected in light of the burndown in Shanghai. We think we know who is responsible, but we’re not going to pursue it.

Which Reed is it?


A few voices join in, murmuring. “He’s getting bolder. No sign of—

Not a blip.

Ok, thank you. Moving on.

Interestingly enough, a couple of the subjects were present at the site of Anomaly 200908-B. It’s probably to be expected, given the givens, you know, but it does complicate matters as far as finding patterns related to the other Anomaly. It’s a bit of a headache, to be frank.

After a low chuckle, another voice replies, “They definitely are not the type to take their situation lying down. Inquisitive, if I had to describe them as a group. There are a couple of exceptions, but it doesn’t surprise me that they were out there looking into things.

Hardly regular Joes, though, are they? I wouldn’t be surprised if they solve it all by the end of the month, with the resources and talents they have working on it. But regarding Anomaly 200908-B, the area is still a bit… well. Tell them.

Still getting feedback, even though it looks like it’s back to normal. Something’s out of joint.

I’m not convinced that our wellness check assignments were relative to our primary objectives. The temporal anomaly seems more likely to be a side effect than this— abnormality.” another voice pipes in.

Almost immediately on that voice’s heels, another voice speaks up, though, ”It’s still worth looking into. There could still be something about it tied into what we’re investigating. Even you guys haven’t figured out where the plane came from yet.” After a moment, the voice adds with a slight change of tone, “Can’t you do something about this place. So dreary, man? We could get some mood music or something?

“It’s brutalist.” Gates responds dryly. “It’s intended to not distract.”

Moving on,” the voice from the phone insists. “I agree that the individuals involved in the Event are likely not at fault. But right now we’re looking at a dearth of real options here to explain what happened. These are by-and-large the same people who toppled a government, so if they set their minds to it maybe they’ll point us in a direction we hadn’t considered.

“Are you suggesting we work with them on this?” Gates asks, one brow raised.

No. Not yet, anyway. I’m not ruling the possibility out, but that raises liability questions that could put a spotlight on our operation we don’t want.


Alright, remote office,” the voice on the phone directs. “Let’s do a status update.

Presently,” a woman with a strong, firm voice chimes in over the communication, “we’re following up on the growing spatial anomaly in the Natazhat region. We had an accident four days ago where agents weren’t wearing their protective gear properly and a ruptured seal caused an intrusion, we lost everyone.


The anomaly is currently tracking a 4 on the Clarke scale. Our researchers have started to complain about a hum. We rotated out the research team and no reports yet, so we believe it’s exposure related. We’re performing further analysis and moved base camp back a mile.

A different woman’s voice slides in afterward, smoother and gentler. Her words are more carefully chosen but carry with them a hint of smirking optimism. “Individual studies conducted by our partners have shown a growing number of manifestations since the spatial rift that opened over Detroit. We’ve estimated an increase of twelve percent worldwide with a further 1% increase in poly-evolved ability expression.

To further clarify,” a younger woman adds, “while we can’t be certain that 100% of these manifestations were generated by the Detroit incident, we believe that a large enough number are that it’s—

Statistically unlikely.” A middle-aged man says with a faint quaver to his voice. “By all measures this was a calculated maneuver. Whether it’s the full extent of the Entity’s ability or a trial run… we can’t be sure of.

People are scared, but with the unilateral authority the President has given us, the psychometrics and cognitive phenomenon department is working around the clock to gather more intelligence.

We’re tracking at least ten thousand different conscious minds right now that we believe have actionable data on the Entity. With any luck we’ll be able to provide more clear data by year’s end.


That’s… trickier.” A man says with hesitance in his voice. “Sentiment is up 20 points since last year, but that’s largely been thanks to an aggressive media campaign targeting at-risk communities where Humanis First had its largest recruitment draws during the last administration.

Since the Detroit incident we’ve been tracking nine different groups whose philosophy is espoused to be ‘human centric’ in a way that is consistent with Humanis First’s rhetoric. Incidents outside of the US are significantly higher, but foreign sentiment to the US’ significant presence of powered individuals in the armed forces are raising comparisons to nuclear proliferation. Pakistan is…

The CIA is continuing to keep us abreast of foreign threats. Which includes Mazdak.

Right.” He replies with a clearing of his throat. “Since the Detroit incident we’ve seen a significant increase in Mazdak activity overseas. But domestically, we believe that they may have coordinated a significant number of resources inside the US. The Rochester tip was just the start, we fear. But without the Monroe connection we’re running a slower race.

I think my direct reports will be able to speak more eloquently to the Mazdak situation.” He adds, offering up a segue.

"Thanks, Deputy-Director. On our end, for our citizens who aren't paying attention to Mazdak's movements overseas, domestically they seem like a rational answer to the bigotry of Humanis First and its spin-off groups," chimes in a smooth male voice. "So we're dealing with a lot of the same problems you are, in that respect."

"Sort of." The young woman who cuts in speaks quietly but decisively. "In dealing with this problem, we're also working with stable infrastructure, not to mention more progessive policies when it comes to the use of abilities in relation to our citizens. I wouldn't be so quick to compare. Hate and fear might be universal, but the circumstances that drive them aren't the same."

Less smooth than before, the male voice recovers. "Erm… right." A beat passes to collect himself before resuming. "At any rate, the good news is with a lot of the recruitment and grooming happening in an online format, some of this stuff isn't blindsiding us. It starts innocuous enough, beginning with how those like Humanis First should be stood up against… eventually leading into things like 'the institutions that allow HF to still exist also need torn down, too,' with— frankly zero respect for the effort involved driving them into the ground."

The young woman's voice eases in again, slightly softer than before. Perhaps self-conscious for how sharply she'd spoken previously. "What my teammate means to say is we're making progress on identifying markers for potential Mazdak interactions and are working on setting monitoring into place when those triggers are met. There was a kidnapping of a public official in Michigan recently that we were able to avert entirely thanks to those efforts and cross-departmental cooperation on our end. In the meantime, it still means we're reactionary."

"With hope, we'll be able to start tracing activity back to the source soon. Until then, we're still operating without an idea of just how many radicalizers there are operating stateside."

We still have a lot to contend with where offshoots of Humanis First are concerned, unfortunately, as well as Mazdak,” It is said as if with some experience with that sort of thing. “There was an attack at a pro-Expressive rally on the twenty-third, dozens were killed and many more injured. Thankfully, we were able to mitigate some of the damage."

Luckily we had agents on site or it would have been worse.” The female voice softens as it adds in an aside, “Well done, you.

Careful, you’ll inflate his ego,” is said to the praise, before the voice goes silent again, allowing the others to continue their conversation.

"That's… terrible to hear," the agent from the remote office acknowledges back. "But at least some of it was able to be mitigated. That can't go understated. Any tragedy made even slightly less should be treated like the win it is." After a beat, like a moment of silence, he asks, "Were you able to get an ID on the perpetrators of the attack? So we can do cross-checks on our side, if they weren't already on our radar."

IWe did get the identity of one from a civilian at the site. Zachary Becker, known member of Pure Earth, a Humanis First offshoot, and one of the most wanted criminals still at large. But we’re hoping that the law enforcement are able to get some leads from the explosives used. It’s obviously not among our primary objectives, but they have attacked us before.

"Becker… I'll make a note. Thank you."

After a pause, a man’s voice, baritone and strikingly similar to one of the local office speakers, speaks. “Currently looking for human anomalies who might be potential causes or effects of the incidents, which you can imagine is, you know, a giant headache. Not that I’m complaining.

You’re absolutely complaining,” retorts the same voice.

And you weren’t?

Gentlemen, please. We do recognize and appreciate both of your sacrifices for the good of the cause. Back to you, remote office.

Right. Apologies. You should go.

Oh. Right,”A young female’s voice begins, and the shuffle of some papers can be heard. “The anomaly in Detroit and the subsequent wave that caused the influx of new manifestations happened in all timelines I’m privy to,” she says.

A page turns, and she continues, referring to notes, it seems, more out of nervousness than necessity. “As far as the Antarctica anomaly, I can’t access if that occurred in the other dimensions or not; it may be localized. I’m working on trying to find out, but resources aren’t what they are here in the other timelines. I’ll give a status update the second I find out more.

Speaking of the Antarctica anomaly,” A new voice pipes in, female, young, polite and kind sounding. “My team finished the analysis of the Antediluvian lily— as we’ve come to call it— that grew within the Antarctica forest of both our worlds at least. From what we can tell, it’s an evolved version of the common lily—

So wait, by evolved did you mean like, chimp to human evolved or are you dealing with powered flowers over there? Cause I don’t think we were able to keep any of ours alive long enough to test that thoroughly,” one of the voices suddenly interrupts, from one side of the exchange to the other. Cause well, terminology.

Sorry, you’re right, I should have said it’s a mutation— now I see why you started using Expressive on that side.” There’s a definite apology in her voice before she continues with the explanation.

The oxygen levels of our Earth, and presumably yours as well, are too rich for it to survive normally. However, we were able to transplant samples to the enriched gardens in Midtown and they are able to thrive there, thanks to the evolved— sorry, excuse me, Expressive circumstances of its cleansing.

Thank you, remote office,” the seeming organizer of this exchange states. “I think this brings us to the more pressing topic at hand. Agent Gates, bring us up to speed on your research.

In that concrete-walled office, Agent Gates stares at the static on his television, red phone held to his ear. He turns his attention down to the drink on the table, and the vibration ripples beginning to spread through it. Then he says, in a clear and concerned voice, “We’ve made… a little progress.”

“According to estimates from NOAA, solar activity is on the decline right now, but the sunspot located at S14W54 has continued to grow. We sent over statistical data for the remote office to compare,” Gates adds.

It’s an identical match,” the nasally male voice on the line says. “The sunspot is in precisely the same region, but I can’t estimate the likelihood of it being the same across all timelines. We’re looking for a way to corroborate, but right now we just have to assume there’s no Goldilocks Zone.

The youthful female voice of the note-reader speaks up. “I’ll try to corroborate with one of my contacts. Just a moment.

One day I’ll get used to that. Today is not that day,” adds the baritone voice of the man with a headache.

A smooth voice from earlier chimes in, “I’ve nearly completed my review of Praxis Heavy Industries’ archival data that wasn’t destroyed in the cyberattack. Based on that information and my conversations with apprehended personnel, we don’t think Praxis was aware of the EM field situation.

What’s our go-forward plan?” The woman from the remote-office wonders. “Do we have… a timetable yet?

“No,” Gates says into the receiver. “But NOAA says that we could be looking at a total collapse of cohesive magnetosphere protection in the next decade and a half. Maybe less if this isn’t a natural phenomenon and there’s another spike.”

There’s a chance that each of the anomalies we’re tracking have a deleterious impact on the Earth’s magnetic field. This might be the Entity’s end goal, but there’s no way to be certain.

What are we getting at here, exactly? The last time we talked about this it was trying to avoid a second — what was it — Carrington Event?

“The situation has escalated with the sunspot’s growth,” Gates says with a tension in his voice. “Worst case scenario, the planet’s EM field gets any lower and that sunspot flares…”

What’re we talking about here?

It’s a HELE,” the group’s organizer confirms. “Human Extinction-Level Event.

Jesus Christ.

And to think, everyone was worried about Global Warming.” quips one of the agents, earning an immediate smack from one of the others, followed by an ow.

"At the end of the day, it's an Evolved that might be driving this," one of the young women from the remote office cut in, sounding particularly driven. It was the end of the world being discussed, after all. "Are there mitigation measures we can put into place to slow the deterioration of the field? Anything we could do to help restore it through use of abilities?"

After a brief moment of hesitation, she ventures, "Could slowing that down not be worth drawing its attention potentially if we pissed it off by doing so?"

We’re considering potential ability-related mitigating factors, but we’re talking about a whole planet. The scope is… unprecedented is an understatement. We’re hoping to find a technological solution, but if something presents itself — maybe.” Then, after a sigh he adds, “We’re also considering continuity of species options. If it comes to that.

It is an entire planet. We might be able to mitigate with some Expressives capable of manipulating the ionosphere or similar, but even then, it would require multiple Expressives working in tandem most likely, probably with assistance of some kind and— I’m not sure how well that could be organized.” a female voice says, quietly, pondering, trying to think of ways to handle this situation.

"Jesus." The screen remains a shade of green for a while longer as one of the agents from the remote office tries to come up with something else, something remotely positive, and makes it as far as taking in a breath before the idea escapes him, ending in a sigh. "So," he says instead. "Should we expect aggressive retasking in the near future??"

And then the jokester speaks up again, much more serious this time, “How many timelines are being affected by this?

Suddenly, the young woman’s voice pipes up again, her words a little slower now, like she’s just waking up. “My contact in Post-Flood isn’t able to corroborate at the moment, unfortunately, but she should be back at her base of operations within the next couple of days. The others, I’ll check in on later today and ask them to find a way to investigate it. They may have to travel a bit to get somewhere they can access the right tools — if they’re not busy with their own projects..

After a pause, she adds, “Obviously I’ll tell them this takes precedence over… well, pretty much everything else.” Human Extinction Events go to the top of the to-do list, no matter what other projects one has.

The sooner, the better.” the slow, low-timbred voice of one man adds. “How does the plan differ if it’s every timeline, versus just ours — yours and ours? Do we consider moving to one of the less populated timelines if it’s safe there? And is there a threat of it following?

Do you know what a headache that would be for me?
Do you know what a headache that would be for me?

The twin baritone voices speak in stereo and unison. A woman laughs, then adds in her crisp tones, “Better than dying, boys.

I was more concerned that the other worlds don’t have a groups like this to defend them,” It would very much seem that the joking tones of a moment ago have taken on a more serious stance.

If we figure out a solution, once we know, maybe we can help them,” the soft feminine voice replies to the prankster’s worry.

"Yeah," echoes the smooth male voice in a distracted undertone. "We've got a hard enough time looking out for two universes, the potentially countless others only get to jump the line if they're… well, key to saving the rest."

"All things considered, these exchanges are remarkable on their own. Expecting we could feasibly take shelter, as a population, in some less-inhabited— less impacted world…" The younger woman who'd begun to speak abruptly cuts herself off once she catches her own shift in tone, the way her emotions lead her. She takes more care in her phrasing as she continues, "Even managing to transplant a small 'arkfull' of people— for a lack of a better term— may carry with it risks we can only begin to guess at."

"Don't suppose there happens to be a deep space version of an ark anyone has just lying around that we could use. Surely that'd run less risk."

"I'm sure the other office would love to still have that option available to them," comes the patient, yet flat turnaround to the smart remark. "Not that it'd help us very much."

"Mm… right." the young woman's teammate concedes uncomfortably. "The uh… Dawn, right?"

For some of us, those people in other dimensions aren’t just theoretical, and I will do what I can to help those I have contact with, to find the people who can help them in their realities. There are human lives at stake in those too, whether they’re ‘key’ or not.” Less tentative than before, the young woman’s voice is sharp this time. “We’re talking extinction-level events, not rides at Disneyland. Please.

Well-aware that at this point he's batting a thousand, the man is swift to address the point. "Of course," he apologizes, professional tone resumed. "I didn't mean to make light of any of this."

It’s fine.” She doesn’t sound fine. “Sorry. Carry on.

Arks are a terrible plan anyway, even as a backup. They don’t work.” that now serious voice says once again, before continuing. “We need to save everyone that we can. Stop the extinction events all together, if possible.

Rescue isn’t an option,” the leader of this organization states. “Look at what it took during the Crossing for a few dozen people and we still don’t know how much damage those events caused. We can’t take those risks.

We don't have any answers right now, but you needed to be made aware. For now we have to focus on what we can impact and intelligence we can gather, and tackling our other priorities. We’ll reconvene in a month’s time to discuss further developments.

The television in the concrete room turns off and Gates is left with a dead line on the other end of the receiver. Gates closes his eyes, sitting forward and exhaling a deep and slow breath, hanging up the phone. Then, provided with both privacy and time, Gates does what is only human when confronted by such an existential threat.

He cries.

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