Ghosts Of Memory



Scene Title Ghosts of Memory
Synopsis Three ghosts, two memories, one agenda.
Date August 18, 2019

“No, that’s not really my style anymore hermano.

The kind of establishments that exist on the fringes of resettled cities vary wildly. On the south end of Rochester, past the bustle of the city center and toward the urban decay and industrial wasteland yet to be reclaimed, pop-up businesses are common. Unlicensed bars take advantage of overburdened and understaffed police, take advantage of the lack of proper inspections, take advantage of society still pulling itself up from the trenches of war.

“These days, I’m more a fan of Macanudo, when you can get them up from Cuba.”

A dive bar called AJ’s Saloon is one such establishment. A grimy hole-in-the-wall frequented by Rochester natives and drug mules and dealers looking to push north from the Safe Zone. Criminals of all stripes and the people who live between criminal margins congregate here, under thick clouds of cigarette smoke and behind the curtains of pre-war music pumped out of a repaired jukebox.

“You want one?”

Curtis Autumn isn’t a criminal, hasn’t felt like one for years, but seated in a dimly lit booth in AJ’s, it’s hard not to feel like it’s the good old days again. Curtis has come here for years, ever since the war ended, to share drinks and stories with an old battle-buddy who helped push back the tide of violent bigotry and fight the good fight. Today, that weathered old Mexican bulldog he’d befriended during the war looks just as old as ever, offering out a freshly cut Cuban cigar across the table, held between calloused fingers. It feels… familiar. This moment. Like he’s done it a dozen times before.

Curtis is at ease in the bar. Which isn't to say that he's not alert. That he's not aware of who is coming and going around him. But he's relaxed. More relaxed than he is almost anywhere else. Places like this? People like this? These people he gets. He's got a glass in front of him, some cheap whiskey in it, more yellow than amber, poured over a couple cubes of ice. They clink against the glass as he lifts it to take a small sip. The glass is lowered as the cigar is offered over the table to him. He regards the stogie for a handful of seconds before he gives his head a slight shake.

"No thank you." It's always offered, and it's always considered before being refused. "Still need my lungs intact. Maybe someday. But that day isn't today." He says, so sure of his response. There's a casual shrug of one shoulder as he lifts his glass towards his lips, pausing part way there as he watches a pair of men enter the bar and take a seat at a table. The sip is only taken once they've sat down, and his attention sways back to the man across the table from him. "Like you wouldn't smoke whatever happens to come your way." There's a faint smirk, a ghost of a smile really that flits across Curtis's lips before he hides it behind the glass again. "At least you can get your hands on them these days. Don't have to listen to you throwing a fit yet again because you haven't had anything to smoke in two weeks."

Curtis has eschewed his normal Wolfhound jacket today, in favor of a battered old leather jacket from his days before… everything. Before Wolfhound, before the war, before Frontline, before Messiah, before Ash even. The thought of Ash makes his throat tighten up. But he can’t be sure why. The jacket — the Marine Corps — something… Worn in. Comfortable. Something that wouldn’t stand out in a place like this. “You ever miss those days?” Curtis asks, eyes on the almost depleted whiskey in his glass.

“I’m not sentimental,” the old man says. It’s a lie. A lie he’s told before. He is sentimental, just not for those times. “We all had our leashes,” he says — it’s a familiar saying — bringing the cigar he’d offered to Curtis up to his own mouth, fishing a lighter from his leather vest pocket. The flint wheel flicks a few times, sparks and then finally flame. “You got out,” the old man says, smoke wafting slowly from his mouth. “Me? I had to be liberated.”

Turning the cigar around in his hand, the old man looks at the glowing orange ember at the end. Then, looking up to Curtis he offers a yellow smile. “Liberation’s a funny thing,” he continues, taking a puff of the cigar, “I was nine years old when Che Guevara came to Mexico City. He wasn’t a revolutionary then, but it was being there that lit that fire in him…” The old man lays tired eyes up on Curtis. “Same fire burned in me too, back when the government tried to make me an attack dog on a leash.”

Slowly, he lowers the cigar from his mouth and looks Curtis square in the eyes. “Some of my brothers in chains, they didn’t see them like that. They thought they were free.” He motions with the cigar over to Curtis. “Sometimes, you can’t see the chains.”

The old man exhales smoke from his nose. “Sometimes, you’ve gotta be liberated.”




An Abandoned Bar

Lyell-Otis, Rochester NY

August 18th

8:17 pm

Curtis Autumn never went to AJs. In fact, AJs as an establishment doesn’t exist. It never has. In the dim blue haze of twilight, with the sound of buzzing cicadas and chirping crickets for the only sound, Curtis Autumn sits at a derelict, water-stained table in an abandoned bar a few miles outside of Rochester’s city center. He’s been here before, been down this road before, but he’ll never remember it.

Sitting in the bar with Curtis, across from his seat at the table, is a weathered old man with black hair streaked with grat tied back into a ponytail, faded tattoos visible across his chest where his button down shirt is open. His face is a roadmap of a hard life lived in the hot sun, riddled with creases and wrinkles, scars and memories. His dark eyes are fixed on Curtis, and although AJs is no more real than Neverland, the old man — the old war buddy — that Curtis meets with for drinks is. Except he’s never been Curtis’ friend.

Daniel Hernan Espenosa is listed as killed in action by the United States Military, but the 75 year old man is living proof that records lie. He’d have hung beside Colonel Leon Heller, more than likely, regardless of how much he was conscripted into the service of Heller’s own private Frontline squad on Staten Island. No one would have shed a tear for Espenosa after his trial. Not when all of the skeletons were pulled up from the ground. Not when all the bodies were dug up.


That single phrase of Sumerian elicits a marionette-like motion of Curtis’ hands, pantomiming finishing his drink. But then he just sits there is silence, staring ahead without so much as blinking. Espenosa pushes up from his seat, watching Curtis with a furrowed brow before he checks his watch, content to wait.

In the background of this mysterious foreground conversation, there is a minor character having a momentary startle.

He is a grizzled old man with a tattoo of a boat on his bicep, freckles weathered into his cheeks, pepper in his beard.


He is Ghost, specifically. Finding himself in a state that he is not accustomed to, albeit not one that offends him as much as one might expect, given Teodoro's tendency toward vanity. He blinks his blue eyes into the grimy light of the saloon, touches his beer. Something tells him his beer isn't a real beer. What is it? Maybe the fact that he cannot recall entering a saloon in Curtis' body. Also, that he wasn't sixty-years-old, last he checked.

Ghost glances down at the liverspots on his arm, manages not to pitch a tantrum. He's slow, carefully casual about glancing around the room, the tawny woman in a crop top over there, a bartender whose face is all but a blur, and — oh. Curtis' highly recognizable ass. Even in a psychic representation, he good about obscuring his true intentions, discreet as he glances at Curtis' companion. Also an old man. Huh. He drinks his painfully non-alcoholic, psychic beer, wishing he had the genuine article, but knowing better than to allow the push and pull of his own thoughts to power hard enough to alter the path of…

…wherever the fuck this is. Ghost tastes the beer, he tastes the air. The Sicilian knows: this is no dream.

It loops. People in the background only passingly real, sometimes distorted in Ghost’s perspective like shadow puppets. For Curtis they all seem normal, seem real, but the surreality of the psychic intruder’s presence has created a perspective not accounted for by the telepath’s design. Limbs are too long, shadows hang unusually, the perspective of the city outside the windows is skewed just so. The more Ghost sees the details the worse it seems to become, like the optical illusions of an MC Escher painting opening doors into Salvador Dali’s surrealism.

In this space, Curtis keeps sipping his drink, keeps repeating the same movements over and over again, each with incremental changes to his behavior. Though the telepath in the space continues to smoke a cigar that never ends, slowly nodding and smiling as he bites down on the papered end with a laugh at the back of his throat in response to a joke never said.

But slowly, surely, something in Curtis’ looped reactions does change. It’s like watching an actor slip into character, the way the neutral position of Curtis’ face melts into something with more tension in the jaw and neck, with more furrow in his brow, tightness at the corner of his eyes. Stress, strain, tension. They define the man he is changing into, a slow metamorphosis of mannerism and trauma manifest mentally and physically.

Ghost's old man eyes widen slightly on his face. What the fuck? He speaks the language of dreams, with reasonable fluency, but that is exactly what makes this event so fucking weird.

The ghost would know exactly what this meant if it were a dream. The fact that it's not feels like hearing the dialects of Palermo spoken State-side, that wrinkle of context, brief confusion. Not a lack of understanding, but a strange, scant misunderstanding. He takes a moment to push himself past it. Centering himself. Fighting back the automatic reflex, which would be to leap over there to the bar, step into what seems like Curtis' mind and study the stranger's face. Which would be stupid, because he's in Curtis' mind already.

Telepaths are Ghost's least favorite thing, other than catastrophic personal grief and loss, zits, under-seasoned entrees.

Ghost rises gradually, in his old man costume. He lumbers blurrily over to the bar, some stools down from Curtis and his companion, mingling with the traffic.

It only further distorts the perspective, though. People appear like two-dimensional cutouts casting too-long shadows and pantomiming the human experience. The floor is at once an aged wood and something as flat as wood screen-printed on linoleum. At some point the ceiling reached up into a point, but from this angle seems to fan out like an umbrella of rafters and eaves.

There’s a moment in there where Curtis finally finishes his drink. The time between the glass being full and the glass being empty simply doesn’t exist. There’s just that last swallow, and like the supping at a goblet of communal wine the contract is complete. The weight of years of abuse seems to press down on Curtis’ shoulders, darkens his eyes, makes the tension that was already growing change the shape of his face ever so subtly until it feels like he’s become someone else.

It is denial pulled off like a burial shroud, revealing the corpse of trauma beneath. A decade of pain pushed back into somewhere and someone else. A scapegoat fashioned and constructed by the stars and bars of Uncle Sam, sent off to war and abandoned as handily. It’s in that moment that the butterfly remembers being the caterpillar, and Curtis remembers


Espenosa’s voice comes with the abrupt termination of the auditory-visual hallucination. Whatever the old telepath was doing to Curtis had run its course. Ash — and by extension Ghost — awaken in the dusty confines of a half-decade abandoned bar dimly lit by the last midnight blue corners of twilight. “Good to see you again,” Espenosa indicates with a nod, walking over to the table that Ash is still sitting at.

"Always with this dingy ass table." Ash remarks as he stretches out. It's a bodily stretch, like someone putting on a freshly laundered suit. Familiar fit, but still needs a bit of loosening up to fit comfortably. The telepath has done his job, bringing Ash to the front, but it still takes a moment's adjustment. That moment a small lifetime as Ash settles back into his body. There's a wince as he rises to his feet, stiff from sitting in position for so long.

"And you." Ash finally returns the greeting as he gets to his feet, looking around himself at the ruins of the building he always awakens in. He flicks his head to the right and then to the left, heavy pops sounding from his neck. He looks down at himself then back up and around. "So, where am I off to this time?" He asks, tone flat and serious. All business. The government did good work in crafting a second person out of Curtis. Down to the smallest of gestures and mannerisms he is different. It's no wonder Curtis earnestly believes they're two entirely different people.

"And, we have a problem." Ash remarks in the same flat tone. His eyes flicker around as if worried people might be watching him at that very moment. Of course one doesn't usually account for astral projecting people. "A big problem." He doesn’t waste time or mince words. “Curtis has a telepath rooting around up here.” A finger reaches up to tap the side of his head, then he makes a face as he feels entirely too much hair on top of his head. “The hell Curtis?” He asks as he swipes a hand through hair that’s definitely not being kept to it’s usual buzzcut. “Kaylee Ray. An old friend of… mine funny enough. She says she can’t help him. But he knows about the trigger now.”

The fuck. Klaxons sound inside Ghost's head, which is fortunately not something that transcends the walls of his consciousness and ring any alarms in Curtis' head.

Or shall we say, Ash's head?

Suddenly, the frame around this picture is gone, and without a doubt, Ghost knows this is real. Conviction is a strange thing to experience with such clarity, when everything about this moment is muddy and blurred. Francois had warned the ghost about the alter-ego, named him by his name, which is being spoken now. Ghost knows something about alter-egos himself, from personal experience. He suspects that Kaylee did not want her name slung around clandestine mindscapes to dudes who fuck up her friend in his beautifully curly head.

Abruptly, Ghost wishes he had even an imaginary beer. He was not informed of a trigger, but as long as his own body is far and away, he has little to fear. He watches through Ash's eyes.

The look in Espenosa’s eyes is one of silent uncertainty. He is frozen at the mention of this operation being compromised, shoulders square and back arched, dark eyes trailing down to the floor and then to the door, then back to Ash. “That is a hell of a problem, hermano.” Taking in a deep breath, Espenosa closes some of the distance between himself and Ash, scrubbing a hand across his bearded chin as he does.

“We’ve been workin’ at this a long time, trying to have our cake and eat it too, y’know?” Espenosa’s brows furrow together as he lays a hand on Ash’s shoulder. A worried look is fired to the door, then back again. “Tonight ain’t a good night for bad news, for either of us. Because in about five minutes, boss-man’s going to come walking through that door,” he says with a nod toward the entrance of the bar, “and if he finds out that we screwed the pooch?” Every muscle in Espenosa’s wrinkle-detailed face tugs down at his mouth to make the deepest frown he can muster. “It ain’t gonna’ end well.”

Espenosa pats Ash on the shoulder, then looks to the door and back again. “Got any ideas? I only have the one.” Which he hasn’t volunteered yet.

Ash turns his head, cold eyes settling on Espenosa as he closes in and talks about fuck ups. There's a slow raise of a brow in response, the sort of level stare that used to scare people in the fighting rings. Get into their heads and under their skin. "I haven't done a single fucking thing wrong. I'm not the one that wanted to play reverse fucking MOAB and infiltrate fucking Wolfhound of all places." There's an annoyed snort from Ash, his head shaking a little bit.

"I'm just a soldier. I do what I'm told. I have taken on every mission I've been given and I've completed it. With brutal efficiency. Just like I always have. And as far as I know you haven't fucked up either ese. It's just a matter of fucking circumstance. Curtis noticed he's losing time. And he went to someone to get help. We just happened to know one of the strongest Telepaths out there. But she told him she can't help. I don't know what he's going to do at this point. But I thought you should be aware. It may become a problem. My cover may be blown. I don't know how deep of a read she actually got. She told him she couldn't go far. But she did tell him we're not seperate people. So there's that. Which also might be a problem." His voice is cold and level, but when he's done speaking he stands a moment or two, eyes flickering around them.

"Which boss man?" He asks, his head turning to glance at Espinosa. "The boss man? Or the big boss man?" He rolls his right shoulder slowly, wincing a bit. It's an odd feeling really, though one he's gotten used to. Slipping on the meat suit. Different every time he does it. Hair length, muscle build. Sore spots, bruises and cuts and scrapes. Sure he knows how it happened, but there's a difference between knowing how it happened and being in the driver's seat. "Frankly I'm not sure why either one of them would come down here." Ash's shoulder is like steel cable under the pat, muscle coiled and tense, ready. "Ideas for what? The problem? Let the world think Curtis is dead. I go off grid. It's what I'm good at anyway."

Ghost grimaces. What's happening here? Are they hiring? Is it his ethical responsibility to save Kaylee's life if some dudes try to murder her? Would he get caught if he fails? For how long can a completely passive, creeping specter hope that his targets are going to keep providing helpful exposition without mysterious gaps in pronouns or code? Does Curtis ever skip leg day, his thighs feel like watermelons. With these questions and more, Ghost waits and watches.

“Garza,” is Espenosa’s calmer response than he’d been a moment ago. “He has some things he wanted to talk to you about, an assignment too. I was just supposed to wake you up and give you the basics, but,” now he shakes his head, pacing past Ash and looking to the partly ajar front door of the bar.

“You’re looking at this the wrong way, man.” Espenosa smooths one calloused hand over his tightly pulled back hair and frowns. “It ain’t like either of us are going to get in trouble. It’s more like, we both might wind up dead when Curtis’ friends figure out what happened. When they come looking for us. Because that’s how these things always shake down, these assholes always show up with their guns and their righteous indignation.” One corner of his mouth twitches in a reflexive grimace.

Outside, the sound of tires on dirt draw Espenosa’s attention. Headlights sweep through the blown out windows of the bar, and a car’s engine cuts off as the lights go out. “Don’t worry about Thatcher,” is something someone who knows Kaylee but doesn’t realize she’s been married for some time would say. “I can probably take care of that before it gets any worse.”

Well, when the bad guys don't realize they're being observed there tends to be a lot of information dropped rather casually. Cuz you know, conversation. A skeptical brow is lifted and Ash rolls his eyes heavenwards. "I thought we were a community and blah blah blah blah…. blah." Ash actually lets out a quick laugh before he looks around as if trying to spy a Garza before he's even arrived.

"Well, good fortune there. Curtis doesn't have much left in the way of friends. He's pushed pretty much everyone away. He has… acquaintances. In fact… I'm hard pressed to think of anyone that would actually call him and his stiff upper lip…. friend. Hell I have more friends than he does and I've been well…" He taps the side of his head a couple times. He's been locked away upstairs. "And even locked away I have more people I can call on than he does. Fucking sad really. Almost feel bad for him."

"Ray now. Kaylee Ray. As in Richard Ray's sister. As in big important sort. As in Richard fucking Cardinal who has always had an inflated sense of his own self importance. Which is fucking dangerous when you have the resources that he does." Alert eyes follow the path of the lights until they cut out. "Don't do anything fucking stupid Espinosa. After all. Think how much I'd miss your smiling face if I got a different handler."

Ghost swings around inside the bad guy's skull when Ash casts about. It's a weird feeling when you are squatting inside someone's head spying on them and they then look around to check if someone's spying on them. Of course, if Ash were looking in the right direction, he'd have a whole other set of problems. Arguably even more grave than Wolfhound's inevitable vengeance.

Anyway, he appreciates the casual information. Specifically that these check-ins don't seem to be have happened often enough that Garza (who is Garza) is to be referred to as //boss or the like. Ghost actually finds Ash's description of Cardinal quite accurate! He puzzles backward thoughtfully. Dè-dal.// Trigger. Right. He wonders if it only works for telepaths. And he also wonders the fuck that language is. Like all Teos, he speaks a lot of them; it's relatively rare he comes across one he doesn't recognize at all.

Ghost supposes be probably couldn't get away with delaying intervention til after Richard caught a bullet? No. And he is actually on the same page as Ash, in that Richard would be a birch to murder. 👎

That’s about when the light-switch is turned off.

Curtis Autumn, star-spangled son of America, is staring at Espenosa in a run-down bar that looks nothing like the one he thought he was drinking in a moment ago. The disorientation is jarring and the wheel-about sense of vertigo it gives even more confusing. He blacked out and woke up inside of another man’s life.

“I won’t kill Thatcher— Ray— whatever,” Espenosa says with a dismissive wave of his hand, having not for a single moment realized the impossibility that someone else haphazardly used the trigger command word inside of Curtis’ skull. “But I really don’t want her getting any closer to this, you know, for her safety.” To which, Espenosa considers, “Does she have kids?”

A car door shuts outside, footsteps approach up a gravel path toward the ruined bar. Someone is coming and Curtis has no idea who.

The world comes apart, like a shattering kaleidoscope as the switch is flipped back, inverting what has just happened. Only not with the nice slow repeating and easing into it that Espenosa does for Curtis and Ash. No this is an abrupt slam of a reversal, shattering everything and then rearranging it back into Curtis, the shards of his mind all slotting back together, if a bit roughly. The mental lurch nearly sends him staggering in real life, but there's a face he recognizes and that stops him.

Because it brings realization to him. Brings him up short in that lurch. Banishes the confusion. Because why would Espenosa be standing there talking casually about killing or not killing Kaylee? Why would he be standing here, in a bar that Curtis doesn't recognize but he seems perfectly comfortable in? Because he's not surprised by being here.

His right hand curls in on itself, forming a fist as he looks over at Espenosa, gauging distance and impact. Could he take the Telepath down before he sees the first coming? And if then what does he do about whoever is coming up to the place right this moment? The tension eases out of his hand as it relaxes, settling by his side. Boots scuff on the destroyed floor underfoot as he steps to the side a little bit, to be more at Espenosa's side, facing whoever is coming through the door, confident in his ability to drop the Telepath first. Curtis is a hell of a lot faster than most people assume.

So for the moment, he bides his time, settling back onto his heels, body tense, tight. Wound like a spring. He has no idea who is about to come through that door but it could provide good intel. Or they may end up getting kicked through a wall. Who knows! Either way it's too late to do anything before the door opens, so he turns his eyes that way to see who walks through it. — Alea iacta est!

In the meantime, Ghost has no idea what he just did.

Well, at least for the first three seconds.

Things that the ghost does feel: the sudden drubdrubdrub adrenalinized shock of Ash's heart! It's like there's another, tinier, but just as beefy Ash inside of this full-sized one trying to pummel his way out of there, a matryoshka doll of dude. He can feel Ash's intent to punch the telepath he's with, even as Ash's senses shift to follow the sound of a new arrival. Ghost senses now that something is wrong; while he can't read thoughts, he has spent a lot of time creeping around the bodies of others, learning to put two and two together based on superficial cues.

Whoever is meeting Espenosa and Ash here, it should not take the young spy by such surprise. Ghost surmises what had happened. But that doesn't seem very likely! It can't be. No fuckin' way. Maybe. Possibly. Uhhhhhh. This probably isn't his fault probably, because nothing ever is probably.

“She does,” comes the crooning voice with a sandpapery Spanish lilt. Come through the door and answering Espenosa’s question is a salt-and-pepper curly-haired man of tall stature. “Step children with her now ex-husband Joseph and one son born right before the start of the war, a boy named Carl.


Mr. Garza,” Espenosa says deferentially, inclining his head in a subtle nod. Garza, well-dressed in a suit and tie, seems out of place for the abandoned bar and its derelict inhabitants. He in turn offers Espenosa a smile, then turns his attention to Curtis without so much as an inkling that the former soldier isn’t who he thinks he is.

“Ashley,” Garza greets, closing the distance between them, “it’s good to see you up and about again. I’m sorry for needing to meet in these environs, but you understand. I did, however, want to take a minute to check in on you, which is why you’ve not received your assignment from Daniel,” he indicates with a motion to Espenosa. “I’ve been checking in on everyone… wanting to make sure your needs were being met.”

All the while, Espenosa is quietly excusing himself from the conversation. Once he’s by the door he makes a small waving motion with one hand. “I’ll keep an eye on your car,” he says as a convenient enough reason to not eavesdrop, leaving Curtis alone with Garza.

Curtis has a clue what's going on. He picks it up real quick. He already knew there was some weird stuff going on with his head, and now he knows it for fact. Of course that doesn't get him out of his current predicament. He doesn't of course, have any idea about his astral tag-a-long. Doesn't know there will be someone to tell the tale of what happens here if it all goes sideways. But Ghost being in his body might just be able to feel the differences between the two men. Where Ash is all coiled aggression, like a spring loaded knife ready to be fired, Curtis is cold precision, the patient hunter waiting to see what comes.

His fist relaxes at the sound of the voice from the front door. The moment to take the old war dog has passed, and now it's all in. "Garza." Curtis remarks in a voice pushed to imitate Ash's thicker New York accent, but the name is unfamiliar in his mouth. There's a rolling of the vowels that feels alien to him, and perhaps to the Ghost riding within if he can discern to such a degree. Curtis tilts his head to the side, a few pops sounding from his spine. "Always strange. Like coming home after being away for a while. You know it's your home but it doesn't feel quite right at first." He rolls a shoulder a little bit and turns his head to look around.

"One place is good as another." There's a pause and then a slow raise of a brow. Not an expression that Curtis is prone to, but definitely one he's been told was common to Ash. "My needs?" His tone is half amused and half annoyed as he asks it. "I'm not sure what my needs have to do with anything, let alone the mission. Same complaints as usual. Being penned up in here while Curtis runs free." He taps the side of his head lightly and rolls one heavy shoulder, the same shoulder as earlier as if there's a tic in the joint that won't quite work itself out yet.

“You underestimate yourself as always,” Garza says with an affable smile, tucking his hands into his pockets and adopting a markedly casual posture around Ash. “If it helps, think of yourself as a finely honed knife, yes?” His brows rise as he makes the analogy. “You need to be sharpened, polished, treated with respect or you’ll dull and your cutting edge won’t be honed when it’s needed most.”

Garza motions to Ash with one hand. “Your personal needs are to your temple of a body as proper maintenance is to any good weapon. I respect you, and I know your current predicament isn’t one that is… desirable. But, we’re rapidly approaching the time when we can cast aside Curtis entirely and give the man they tried to have killed freedom.” Garza looks away for a moment, out to where Espenosa disappeared to, then back to who he presumes is Ash.

“I want to make sure it’s clear that Dinu isn’t treating you like merely an asset. You’re a person, an individual, and one who has needs and wants that deserve to be fulfilled. Sometimes we get so focused on the mission, on the goals, that we don’t think about the humanity of our own most loyal operatives.” Garza says with a tired smile. “If that makes sense?”

Picture Ghost: curled up into as tiny a psychic ball as possible, peeking over the covers, inside the creases of Curtis' brain. Like an aneurysm. Arguably less problematic. Fanculoooo.

“The mission are my needs and wants. What I want I can't have until we are further along. Until Curtis is no longer needed. Or at least the guise of Curtis. Though at this point I'm less sure who is the guise constructed and who is the real person. Not that it matters I guess. We can't both survive. And I am nothing if not a survivor." He admits with a casual shrug of his shoulders for the talk of doing away with a whole person whom he's shared a body with. Or well, the facsimile of a person. The idea of a person since they are one and the same. Mostly.

"This brain stuff is beyond me. Curtis is noticing the missing time though. Not sure how much longer we'll have the cover to use. Might need to do what we're going to do before too much longer. I know it cuts things shorter than expected."

Curtis lets his eyes wander around their surroundings. "I'm still concerned about having to keep in hiding even after we are able to cast Curtis aside. Wolfhound has resources. And I doubt they'll take the loss of one of their own, fringe that he is, lightly." His head turns to look over at Garza again. "But yeah. I know what you mean. I've done this cloak and dagger shit before as you know. I'll be fine until we get done what needs doing." What is that? Curtis has no freaking clue. Not even a single one.

"So, chit chat pleasantries over, what's the mission?" He asks as he takes a couple of steps across the creaking boards so he can pick up a glass, coated in dust and dirt from years of sitting on a table. It leaves behind an almost clean looking circle on the table where it sat. "So many ruins like this around the country now. Run down. Abandoned. Forgotten."

“More to come, likely,” Garza says with regret in his tone. “Change is never clean, nor is it ever peaceful. The oppressed must fight for their place, their rights, their sovereignty, and the oppressors and everyone caught in the middle…” he shrugs, trailing off. “Anyway,” Garza flicks a look to a point in space ‘Ash’ was looking at, then back to him.

“Regretfully I have something very mundane for you to handle,” Garza says as he steps around the man he believes is currently Ash, hands tucked into his pockets. “We need a piece of military hardware retrieved from storage in Kansas City,” he continues to pace around, “a guided missile guidance system designed to penetrate extant NORAD protection.” What little of it is left after the war.

Garza stops, turning back to ‘Ash’. “It was confiscated by the US government from Fort Irwin after the assault led by Wolfhound last year. The guidance system was designed by some of their brightest minds and intended to be used to launch missiles at continental targets without alerting missile defense. It’s currently being housed in a subterranean facility below Kansas City, all the details of which will be provided to you once you're on site through the usual means.”

Furrowing his brows, Garza angles a look over to where his car is parked outside, then back to Curtis. “You'll be handling this one alone, I hope you understand.”

"You may want to consider changing things up from the normal way actually. Some of Curtis's friends have become aware of him having a trigger. They don't know what it's for or what it does. But they know there's a trigger implanted in his head. I told Espinoza so may as well let you know. So we may want to change up SOP this time around. Just in case they gleaned more information than they told him.”

“They were afraid to dig too deep lest they set off the trigger with unknown results. So I don't think they know about us. If they did they'd have locked us away not let him go. But they could have realized they need to keep an eye on him. So a shift from the norm would be advisable." Curtis rolls his shoulder yet again, his eyes wandering the inside of the bar for a few moments more before his focus swings back to Garza.

"But you're right that does sound like a rather mundane smash and grab." There's a pregnant moment's pause as Curtis watches Garza, studies the man with intent eyes. "You know I have no problems working alone. I'm curious why this mission is alone though. This seems like exactly the sort of thing I would have backup on. Is there something else going on I should be aware of?” There’s a dangerous edge to Curtis’s voice, one he’s practiced in case he ever needed to imitate his alter ego. It’s the quiet threat of violence that lurks in Ash’s voice more often than not. Especially when he’s discussing a mission. Right now that intent focus and quiet threat are focused on the man standing next to him as he awaits an answer to his question.

Garza makes an unbecoming noise in the back of his throat and looks in the direction Espenosa left in, then back to “Ash”. “Compartmentalization,” is Garza’s quick answer to why it’s to be done alone, “the less people who know we’re handling this operation, the better. That said, if Wolfhound is starting to suspect things…” He breathes in deeply and exhales a sigh, “it might be time to recall you from the field, permanently.”

But after a moment of consideration, Garza creases his brows. “How about,” he looks momentarily to the floor, then back up, “we pull back, just for a little bit. Let’s give Wolfhound some rope and see what they do with it. We’ll keep an extraction team on standby in the event you need to be exfiltrated — and we’ll know if that eventuality comes to pass. But, if things quiet down… we’ll return to business as usual.”

Daniel,” Garza calls out front.

“Yeah boss?” Espenosa calls back, stepping in through the front doorway after a moment.

“Scan the perimeter, make sure no one else is eavesdropping on this.” Garza motions around himself, and Espenosa offers a slow and understanding nod with a lopsided smile.

“Already did,” the telepath replies with that smile growing, “coast is clear. Nobody around the building.” Garza’s shoulders relax and he looks back to “Ash” with reassurance.

“Then,” Garza nods to himself, clapping a hand on Curtis’ shoulder, “I think for the moment we’re in the clear. You should head back to Wolfhound and we’ll deactivate you once you’ve retruned to Curtis’ quarters. We’ll play it low-key for a little while, and then we’ll reach back out to you when we’re ready to begin the assignment.”

Garza lets his hand slip away, brows raised. “Sound good?”

A huff of disbelief leaves Curtis at Garza having Daniel scan the perimiter. "You really think Curtis or Wolfhound are that dumb? Give our enemies a little credit. They may be short sighted, but they're not stupid. They have some of the most experienced and dangerous operatives there are. They're not stupid enough to have someone spying within range of a telepath. If they're spying it's being done from a ways off. Even then I doubt it. If I were them? Which I… sort of am? I would wait for me to come back and follow me around. Keep close tabs on me. I wouldn't risk Opsec to try and overhear something when I could find out what's going on simply by following the subject, in this case me."

There's an almost sneer from Curtis at what he sees as the easy dismissal of Wolfhound. "Don't underestimate them Garza. If you do it's going to cost us. Starting with my freedom, probably my life. They'll hang me this time. There wont' be any forgiveness for having been a puppet of the Institute. They'll fucking hang me." There's an angry growl that's been building in his voice as he speaks, his jaw growing tighter.

"We'd be better off having me carry out the mission now if I am compromised. But sooner rather than later is good too. If I am compromised the longer they have to observe and investigate the harder it's going to be for me to pull this mission off. On the bright side though? Curtis has been whining to his friends for awhile about sharing his head with someone and they don't believe him. They just think he's got PTSD or that it's as simple as having a second personality. Which I mean I guess that is the raw truth of it." Though it doesn't cover the complexity of Curtis's situation. "So there's at least a little bit of the boy who cried wolf in all of this. His friends will be slow to catch on."

“I think it’s a mistake to wait, but if the op isn’t ready it isn’t ready.” Curtis’s head shakes slowly though his eyes do watch Espenosa and his grinning. It draws a scowl from Curtis for the merriment. “We done?” He finally asks, tone gruff and annoyed as he looks back to Garza.

Garza turns to Curtis with one brow raised. For a moment there’s no expression on the elder man’s face, just a flat line of mirthless lips and a dead-eyed stare. But then, like a light-switch was turned on, Garza offers an affable smile to Curtis and a clap of one hand on his shoulder. “Give me some credit too,” he requests with a gentle squeeze.

“We’ll let Wolfhound puzzle around with Curtis for a while,” Garza decides. “We let them find out what they need to, but it’ll be too late to stop what’s already happening. Once we finish this next mission, it’ll be time for you to retire from undercover work anyway. Time to live your best life, not two lives. Not an ephemeral life as a ghost of memory.”

Behind ‘Ash’, Espenosa walks back in with his hands at his hips. Garza looks over Ash’s shoulder to Espenosa, then nods once before turning his dark eyes back to the younger man. “Take a deep breath, and exhale. The next time you breathe in deeply, it will be a breath of fresh air on the road to being a free man.”


Sometime Later

The Bunker

Curtis’ Quarters

One deep breath in and the room finally stops spinning. Dizziness like drunkenness causes the room to swim as he rolls onto his side, looking at the digital clock by the bed reading 2:32 AM in red LED. Swallowing dryly, confusion quickly sets in. Scrambling to his feet, he moves across the bunk in the dark, tripping over a pair of pants discarded on the floor. The small bathroom is unlit, only a reflection of the alarm clock visible in its surface.

Smacking the light switch, the bathroom is illuminated by gradually flickering overhead lights. There is a man in the mirror, but not the one who usually wakes up from a night of drinking with his friend Espenosa. Somehow, the tables have turned, somehow the man in the mirror isn’t the one who is supposed to be in control right now. Somehow, they’ve gone through the looking glass backwards.

He looks down at his hands, unsure of what happened. But he knows one thing in his heart.

Sometimes freedom comes quick.


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