Exchange II



Scene Title Exchange II
Synopsis Five Years… Gone
Date January 1, 2021

Hold tight, wait 'til the party's over

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

Hold tight, we're in for nasty weather

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

There has, got to be a way

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

Burning down the house

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

Here's your ticket pack your bags

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.

Time for jumpin' overboard

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

Transportation isn't here

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

Close enough but not too far

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.

Maybe you know where you are

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.

Fightin' fire with fire

When a drop of water lands on his shoulder.

Soaking into dark fabric.

Geographic Region Redacted

January 1st
4:26 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.

Turnout seems good today. Glad to see some absent faces here this time.” Says the voice that was just on the other end of the phone. “We’ll start with the home office again. If everyone could give an update on your respective projects.

The screen turns purple as a smooth man’s voice chimes in. “We’re still observing the long-term repercussions of the November 8th mass seizure event. We’ve collated data points based on each of the stroke victims and compared it to data from those who suffered no experiences and were willing to talk to us.

Willing to talk to us?

There’s been pushback. Caliban’s finicky, Nakamura’s completely shut us out. Some of her employees are willing to speak more freely.

Why is it always a fucking Nakamura…” he grouses. “Alright. And the nanite leak? How the fuck did that happen?


“They tried to take care of it themselves. Non-disclosure agreements, you know how it goes. In spite of outreach there’s still trust issues.” Gates says with a rub of one hand at his forehead as he looks at the television. “You know how they can be.”

I’m working on a plan to turn that around. But we’ve got this buttoned up?

“FBI and SESA are on it. It’s not our purview. But yes, it’s been locked down.” Gates explains.

Alright. Moving on. Those of you who’ve had direct contact with them? Give me an update.

A low, slightly southern drawl speaks up first. “Despite the November 8 event, Thatcher still seems to be better than she was in the summer. Trying to solve this seems to give her some purpose, fills the void her ability’s loss left, I think.” The man chuckles a little, almost fondly. “Even trying to help us out, looking for some repressed memories the stroke seemed to bring up, but because she thinks her father might’ve known something about the entity. Our guy wasn’t able to recover those, unfortunately.

After a beat, he adds, “The leak seems to be an honest mistake. Pretty sure they won’t take it outside again. Raytech’s science team has been told to check with us before they do anything else on the outside. We’ll see.

Another voice chimes in with a low voice that’s pitched a few keys higher and lacks that distinctive southern tinge. “We basically may as well call this a collaboration with Raytech at this point, with how many of our science folks are over there making sure they don’t do anything, you know, reckless. But the more the merrier, right? Or is it too many cooks spoil the broth. Anyway.

Some of them are cooperative, some are not. The fact that this is a genuine mystery that has no easy or fast answers has made a lot of them think we’ve been hiding things from them. And considering the views of certain government entities in the past I do not particularly blame them. A quick way to rip the ability from someone would be a dream to many countries and organizations.” a female voice responds, quiet and serious, but then makes a tsking sound at the sight of one of the other agents. “I know that this sterile environment is a bit much for you, but do you have to… look like that today.

Said agent sticks their tongue out. “You’re just jealous.” Then they look back toward the group, with a swish of the colorful rainbow coat they have on. “I think it leaked cause they still didn’t trust us. And people they had working for them were trying to stay under the radar and were hoping to make use of outside resources that sadly they couldn’t control. They thought signing paperwork would be enough to keep overzealous scientists to task, but when people see something they’ve never seen before sometimes it’s hard to keep it under wraps. Luckily it’s such a huge breakthrough that most of the scientific community seems to think it was a hoax, a deep fake as the kids call it.

There’s a moment’s pause before another tone entirely continues on, “I do think we should up surveillance of the group again. The Doctor involved said she made sure all the samples were anonymous, but some people still know their identity. We don’t want people seeing machine bugs and deciding they want a supply of their own to harvest. It would also be fortuitous if we had assistance from your side. You have access to some better technology and resources than we do. If you have some nanotech experts that our side could compare notes with in the future that might be helpful.

"I can be sure to bring that up with folks on our side, but realistically speaking, coordinating an effort like that will pose some challenges." One of the men from the remote office sounds earnest to help, though, even for his caution. "It's not as though we can just … trade emails and samples back and forth easily."

"Even so, I'll see who we could get in touch with on this one. Maybe we don't find anyone who could weigh in without incurring NDA pileup on our side," his voice tinges with some rueful humor, "but it's worth a shot."

We’ll follow-up on that when we move to the remote office. But I agree, we need to up surveillance on the Survivors. But, there’s still one more person I need to hear from. How is the situation in Lhasa?

"Not great." Voice light and tinged with the dance of a vocal fry, the answer comes almost immediately, unimpressed and frustrated, though passive about it.

"China's still being China. I can only do so much on the ground, or we'd be done here. This place is just…" A sigh, soft. "I wish we could do something for these people still here. China has that locked down too. I was able to get my hands on a few things. What I did get… video from outside, statements, someone who will come in and talk if she's safe. We took some samples and ran some atmospheric tests, just in case. Not sure how much we can learn otherwise. There's no getting more without pushing our luck with the State. Those expressive soldiers give me more goosebumps than I have skin."

"Sounds like y'all are doing just as good as I am." The woman's laugh is dry and short. "Anybody want to trade? Gates needs dancing lessons and I need to brush up on my Mandarin."

Keep on it. We need to understand exactly what happened there better than we do now. Our informants inside the Chinese government are trying to keep us abreast of their study of the Lhasa anomaly, but I’m worried the situation is only going to worsen with or without our guidance…” A sigh breaks up his thoughts, gives him time to think and reconsider.

As matters of new business, I need to bring everyone up to speed on Project Svalinn. Given the development of the situation in Lhasa and our dwindling options to combat the HELE, we’ve greenlit an expeditionary force to travel from the home office into the Root timeline based on the intel we gained from Operation Flipbook. We have the telemetry information from Sunspot necessary for a return trip, and though there are significant risks to spatial integrity with the Looking Glass’ activation… we’re almost past the point of no-return here.” Those words are delivered with the serious and somber tone of a eulogy.

However, our team at Site 2 has hit a dead end on construction of the fully-operational Looking Glass. Even with the remote office’s help, we can’t build it to scale with the combined knowledge-base we have, which means if we’re going to pursue Svalinn we’re going to need to reach outside our organization.” Which, judging from his tone, he’s loathe to suggest. “I’m going to assign to agents from the home office to bring in Ms. Cardinal. I didn’t want to have to go this route and get her involved… but we may not have any other choice. I’ll follow-up after this meeting with the relevant agents.

I’m going to turn this over to the remote office with that in mind, and see if we can round-table some of these situations while we cover remote status updates.

Thank you. Remote office has eleven agents in attendance today. We can begin by covering the results of our magnetosphere analysis. If you’d please take it away?” A measured woman’s voice says, calm and in charge.

Right.” An older woman says, collecting her thoughts. “Full magnetosphere analysis has returned confirmation of our fears. The electromagnetic shielding around the Earth is deteriorating at a rate of roughly a full percent per month, with spikes coinciding with the formation of cross-dimensional anomalies.

The older woman sighs, her voice lowering. “At this rate, barring no more Lhasa-scale incidents, we’re looking at full depletion of the Earth’s magnetosphere by 2026. But all life on Earth will be gone well before that happens. Once we hit roughly the 20% depletion mark we’ll be in a complete societal collapse. All telecommunications systems will be inoperable, radiation levels on the surface fatal.

If this situation isn’t turned around we’ll be at that threshold by the end of next year.

A silence falls over the meeting. The end of humanity has been given a deadline.

As for Sunspot S14W54, we don’t have a precise time of when it could fire a CME, but my calculations suggest it will likely fall within the next year or two.” A man with a low, though nasally voice says. “But even if it fires off by the time we’ve only hit the twenty-percent threshold, that’ll still be enough to cause catastrophic damage to the earth. Less than twenty percent?” He grows silent for a moment. “Not even bacteria will survive that.

So, then this expeditionary team?” Another man chimes in, speaking a little hastily. Emotional, worried. “We send a team Post-Flood and we get what Flipbook uncovered and we get back. That’s our hail-mary, right?

That’s so many what if’s” A young woman says with a hitch in her voice.

I am not going to let me wife and my daughters die in some—apocalyptic disaster because we’re worried about the what-if’s.


Parkman.” A steely-voiced woman snaps. “You’re not the only one with family here, for God’s sake. We need to take what time we can to weigh our options. If we stop one calamity by starting another we’re no better than the Company.

We were doing the best we could.

Agents. Let’s stay on track. Remote office still has the floor.

A pause that could be described as uncomfortable begins to lapse before one of the young women from the remote office lean in. "Okay," she murmurs softly, like it won't carry the way it does if she says it quietly enough. The television screen flicks red. "On our side, we continue to see parallels in extremist activity. It's— kind of interesting sometimes to note the way things diverged and other ways they stay the same? At any rate, we're anticipating an attempted attack on the inauguration date over here, so tensions are…" She wonders if there's a diplomatic way to put this before finally settling on a flat description of, "high."

"We have it on good credibility that there will still be a Mazdak attempt to disrupt events. We've frustrated their efforts to get close to President Rickham or his cabinet, so we're anticipating they'll try and set something off nearby the event, instead." A pause lapses for only a moment before she finds what she means to say. "Hope you all have a less eventful time there than we do."

"Jesus." In between the alarming notes and concerns, it's all she has— the ghost of a breath and the audible inhale afterward. As the young woman finally moves into speaking softly, there's only listening.

"You and me both, honey. Over here they're just a little tied up in themselves for now. 'Course, I'm keeping an eye on it." Exasperation plays its way through her voice, and a sharp exhale punctuates her words. "I have faith in you. You can do this."

"Um…" The normally acerbic agent genuinely seems at a loss for words in the face of this apparent earnest encouragement. "Thanks?"

Last meeting,” begins another young woman, “I said I’d check on the anomalies in the other timelines. First, the anomaly in late October in Natazhat did occur in the other worlds, but more importantly, the deterioration of the magnetosphere—” The speaker breaks off and murmurs something unintelligible, followed by a quick “sorry.

It’s hard, I know,” says a gentle, older man’s voice, before he picks up for the other agent. “All timelines, if that wasn’t already clear, are close to that threshold, of the ones she was able to access.

I’m okay.” There’s a pause, before the young agent continues to speak in a careful, neutral tone, her efforts to be professional marred only by a small tremor of voice and a sniffle at the start. “Does anyone over on the local team know if your Mateo Ruiz still has the ability to open portals? I’m aware of one in Branch 3 that still can and can recruit him to the cause if we need him. I’m unsure of the others, but I can look into it.

A voice from the remote office pipes up, concerned, but still optimistic, “The science team is making great progress thanks to the ongoing support of the Rickham administration. We’re trying to find ways to combine abilities and technology to combat and mitigate the effects of this and other future disasters as well. We’ve already made multiple breakthroughs in the last few months alone— we never would have been able to transplant the Antediluvian Lily if it hadn’t been for the assistance of one of my coworkers’ abilities. He was able to acclimate it to the environment in midtown more quickly. The shield may be a Hail Mary, but we are brainstorming different ideas too.” And it sounds like at least she is trying to stay optimistic about it.

As for the questions posed, though, on the home office side of things, there’s a quiet response from the now more somber serious female agent, “According to the files that we have received from SESA, the Mateo Ruiz that we have here no longer retains the ability to open portals at all. He can teleport still, after a fashion, but has no longer shown the same abilities he’d had before the Crossing at Sunspot. We’d looked into him for a possible team to travel, but if he can not open portals anymore… I’m not sure the one in Branch 3 will be much use to us.

"On our side, Mateo Ruiz… passed away years ago." That's a nice, sterile way to put that. The male agent from the remote office inputs, "So that's going to be a scratch from our end as well…" But he trails off, thought entering his voice.

I’ll get my contact to check on the other, then,” murmurs the young woman, another sniff punctuating the quiet comment.

The male agent makes a quiet tone of agreement before continuing on with what's on his mind. "Suddenly getting a sense that that's a bit weird, though. That Ruiz, a guy who can open portals through universes, is dead or useless in so many worlds. After all, the two that pulled through against odds were the keys that made the Travelers' journey a success… That makes me wonder if him being taken out wasn't one of those greater design strategic choices the Entity put into play."

"I don't know," he allows cautiously, heading to a wrap on his conversation with himself. He concedes with a certain emphasis, "I'm not our pattern-seeing guy. Either way, without question, sure as hell could have used a Mateo Ruiz here."

Suffice to say the pattern-seeing guy doesn’t have much more insight to offer you,” that nasally voice says on chiming in again. “We’re looking at so many variables over so much time. If we seriously want to consider that possibility, it’s going to take more computational power than my little scratch-pad here.

Clearing her throat, the younger-sounding woman from before chimes back in. “As far as our operation to assess the threat-level of the Entity is concerned, we’re beginning to notice statistical divergences within the operations of Mazdak here at the remote office and on your side of the Looking Glass.

As of December, Mazdak’s military activity has surged on our side. They’ve made similar moves as historically indicated in the Home office’s timeline, indicating that some temporal inertia is at work here, though a decade behind.

As such, we’ve shared intelligence with the President Assad to give the Syrian military a fighting chance against Mazdak incursion. It’s also helped repair our relations in the region. However, we’re seeing a growing number of terrorist attacks in the UK claimed by Mazdak that have occurred in the Home office.” The older-sounding woman adds on chiming in. “If my office could have its hands untied, we might be able to do something about it.

Or we could, I don’t know, put you right back in prison?” Parkman spits back at her.

Parkman, I’m not going to warn you again.

Sorry, sir. It’s just—” Matt thinks better than to finish that sentence.

What have we gained in so much as intel on the Entity itself from the Remote office?

Minimal details, though we’ve confirmed all data points align to yours. We’ve reviewed the information provided by your source on historic data and uncovered significant anomalies here as well. The Company, without a doubt, performed the same redaction on this side as well. Regrettably, Caspar Abraham and Martin Pines both died on our side during Pinehearst’s rise to power.

We tracked down Alphonse Bauman, the third of the Company’s Magi, to a safehouse in Rwanda, but when we attempted a capture he took his own life. We’re hoping you’ll have better luck on your side.

Alright. We have some joint items to discuss before we close the link.

First, we still have no confirmation of the Entity’s location or activities here in the Home office. Eve Mas has confirmed that it is inhabiting the body of Adam Monroe, which is right up there in our worst-case scenarios. We suspect Monroe may still be in control of anywhere from 2 to 7 remaining Hydra copies of himself, possibly more.

With a sigh, he continues. “So far, however, it hasn’t made a direct move. Unless that was Lhasa… but we just don’t know enough yet. Our Home office agents will continue to follow leads pertaining to the Entity’s whereabouts and activities.

Gates, could you fill them in on the Renautas-Weiss situation?

“Absolutely.” Gates says, sitting forward in his chair with the red phone held to his ear. “We have reason to believe that Erica Kravid may be alive and operating within the Renautas-Weiss corporate office in Toronto, Ontario. However, this presents a number of unanswered questions.”

“The first of which being that we have bodies for both Home office’s Erica Kravid and Remote office’s Erica Kravid. The location of the latter was provided to us courtesy of Doctor Wu. Now, this could be an Erica Kravid from Branch 3 or possibly the Root timeline, but we have no way of confirming that right now. The other possibility is that she is an impostor.”

“Either way…” Gates sighs and shakes his head, “we’re going to move on her for questioning. We just need to figure out the timing.”

We should leverage her, if we can get her. Erica Kravid knows the Looking Glass systems. Hell, she had the one at Natazhat built on this side and she was building a massive one on the Remote end. We could use her to finish the Site 2 project.” The man with a smooth, deep voice suggests. “We need to start making hard decisions here.

"Forgive me if I missed something here," one of the agents from the remote office cuts in again. "But even with the difficulties on your side with the Looking Glass, don't we still need a solution from the Root side of things for getting them back? Even if they were going to complete the same hat trick the Travelers used to get them home again, is there a known reliable source of generating that much power that's remotely accessible for such a feat? The…" She dithers for a moment, trying to find the right term. "Arcology from before is no longer an option, I thought."

There’s a power source in Root,” says the other youthful-sounding woman, her sniffles having subsided so her tone is back to its usual eager and bright professionalism. “Not the Arcology,” she confirms.

Returning to the subject of Kravid, she’s from another branch, I’ll be able to determine that, though not which probably. Sometimes there’s, you know, a hunch, but it depends how long she’s been out of her home timeline,” says a deep voice, twin in tone and timbre of the older man on the Remote team.

… Who interjects a moment later, a little quieter like he’s making an aside to someone nearby him. “He says this, but I don’t buy it. Just because there’s more branch-hoppers over there than here, he thinks he knows more than I do…

It’s true, though.”

"I've been trying to get a fix on the Hydra copies, but it's very… complicated." Lhasa's voice chimes in again only after listening for some time. "I can help with Kravid, it'll be easier from the office. There's nothing more that can be done here right now. All that's left to see is a hole where God came down and scooped the place up." It's a roundabout way to say that she wants to come home; there are surely people better equipped to deal with problems like the Chinese authorities. She knows there are.

Her rasp isn't quite gone, an addition coming before she falls silent again, "I'd like a more thorough briefing on the crash case developments when I'm back."

“I’ll get you up to speed quickly,” Gates notes as an aside. “We could use you in the field.”

"I have here as a follow-up on my end to look into nanotech experts to see if there's any headway we could make regarding the crash survivors… are there any other items you'd want us to look into regarding Project Svalinn?" There's a deliberateness to the lightness of the inquiry, careful to mind stepping on toes while also trying to be a team player in the way the anxiety-ridden line of questioning his superior forwarded earlier hadn't been.

"Given what's at stake here, I'd consider any contact we can physically get to not to be out of reach," his teammate proposes, quieter than she has been. "We'll interview whoever's necessary, work something out regarding silence when it's done. I'll ensure cooperation on the matter."

I’ll help with that too,” the optimistic one from Remote speaks up, looking toward the others with a friendly smile that doesn’t seem to be quite as worried about the end of the world as might be normal. “The science team can look into anyone already vetted by us. We have a lot of people, but I don’t know of anyone personally who has nanotech experience right now.” But she would help. It was something. The more eyes on it, the more likely they’ll find something.

Unless we manage to get a lift between worlds up, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to give us much help, honestly. But the thought’s nice. I’m more concerned about how Operation Svv— Operation—” There’s a frustrated sound as if the word is too hard for them, and they decide to just go with, “Operation Sun Shield is going to actually help more than just us.

After a small moment of silence, another voice breaks in from the sterile side of the Home Office, with a jump back to the past topic, perhaps because that’s a question that she’s not sure anyone can answer— or that anyone will like the answer to. “When we locate Kravid, we should probably outsource the apprehension if you weren’t already planning to. Wolfhound perhaps. They have experience with her in the past— at least one her. It would be good to not use our own resources while we’re preparing for the Operation.

A sound recommendation,” their leader states. “One way or another we need to get Kravid. As far as getting the remote team back… they might need to make peace with not coming back if the resources are minimal. We can get data transference going easier than physical materials with the Iris,” he adds confidently, “we could handle fabrication on our side. The fact of the matter is just the time the R&D would take. Even with all the machine empaths in the world… we just don’t have enough time.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Gates says matter-of-factly. “Or… after.” Implied sacrifices bring the line quiet, but when the fate of the entire world is at stake, what price is too high?

“Is there anything further sir?” Gates asks into the red receiver.

No. Not for now. We’ll reconvene in March, hopefully with more cohesive plans. For now, resume your operations and remember… we don’t have a failsafe here. With Project Exodus deemed infeasible and magnetosphere depletion uniform across all known timelines… there’s nowhere to run.

This one is for all the marbles.

The leader of the exchange says nothing more, and after an awkward silence Gates severs the connection. He sets the red phone down in its cradle, slouches back in his chair and stares up at the ceiling as tears well up in his eyes, then streak down the sides of his face.

Gates has stared into the eyes of death and learned the date of the end of the world.

Five years.

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