I'm Not Here


kay2_icon.gif bf_kravid_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

eizen_icon.gif ella2_icon.gif jiba_icon.gif kay3_icon.gif kimiko_icon.gif

Scene Title I'm Not Here
Synopsis Don't look for me.
Date November 9, 2020 — January 20, 2021

Rain causes neon lights to bloom in the dark of night.

Shades of teal and violet join to form a radiant haze around the skyline of Yamagato Park. The running lights of a medivac helicopter flicker in the night as it makes its way through the neon sky. The vehicle touches down on the roof of the Yamagato Building, looming high over the rest of the district. Vehicle traffic down on the streets forms streams of twinkling headlights and burning crimson tail lights.

Standing on the roof, shielding her eyes from the rain blown in the downdraft of the helicopter, Kimiko Nakamura stares in tense anticipation at the arrival. Two security guards flank her, assault rifles relaxed but held at the ready. When the door to the helicopter slides open and Yamagato medical personnel carry out a man on a stretcher, Kimiko strides forward under the protective shield of her umbrella.

Eizen Erazawa is next out of the helicopter, rain stinging his face and hair windblown by the downdraft. “He’s alive!” Eizen shouts over the roar of the rotors. Kimiko looks down at the man on the stretcher with a respirator over his mouth, eyes shut and a shunt in his chest to control his collapsed lung.

Stepping closer to Kimiko, Eizen rests one hand on her shoulder and insists, “We need to talk.

One Day Later

Unknown Location
November 9th
7:17 am

Kaydence Lee Damaris awakens into a familiar world.

Her breath hitches in her chest, fingers curling against her palms. She feels the tug of mechanical restraints almost immediately, the cold press of metal on her forearms connected to the arms of what looks like a hospital bed. There’s a familiar keypad on the restraints as opposed to a lock. Medical equipment is everywhere; EKGs, EEGs, she can feel the texture of a gauze bandage on the side of her head, taped in place.

She’s been here before. But at least her headache is gone.

As Kay’s vision adjusts to the disorientation and dim lighting, it’s clear she’s in the same medical facility she had tried to escape from earlier. The same low-watt LED lights set under cabinets across the room offer a familiar, dim and restful illumination level. But this time, there’s a distinct difference.

She’s not alone.

“Good morning Miss Damaris.” A severe-looking woman stands over Kay’s bed, dark hair down to her shoulders, thin lips pressed into a tight line. Her attire is the same kind of business-aggressive that Kay wears, modern and sleek. “My name is Erica Kravid. It is now…” she glances at her wristwatch, “seven eighteen in the morning on November 9th. How are you feeling?”

I’ll feel a lot better after I tear your throat out, you ugly bitch.

Not remotely the right thing to say in this situation, and so Kay is mostly content to let that one just float around in her head for now. Her head that is mercifully less pained than it was the last time she woke up. Her jaw sets tight as she simply stares for the moment, considering not saying a damn word at all.

But she needs information if she’s going to get out of this.

“A little bit like a lab rat, Ms Kravid.” That’s an honest enough answer, however much it’s delivered with a sharp edge. Her voice feels thick in her throat from the prolonged unconsciousness and lack of use.

And probably all that screaming.

“‘The fuck am I?”

“You’re in a lab,” Kravid says with a smug smile, “not entirely unlike a rat, Ms. Damaris. It’s a canny analogy.” Circling around the foot of Kay’s bed, Kravid fetches a stool and brings it over to the opposite side of the bed she started on and sits down.

“You are conceivably going to be here for a very long time. So while you may have had notions of escape, now that we know what you are that won’t be happening again.” Erica folds her hands in her lap. “If you do feel any discomfort, let me know. The only person you’ll be hurting is yourself.”

Kay follows Kravid’s moves with only her eyes, which have narrowed to slits the more she’s been talking. It’s only once she’s seated that she turns her head to regard her properly.

Again, the retort she was about to lob back is abandoned in favor of a confusion that doesn’t surface to her expression. Instead, she curls her lip in a sneer. “What I am?” she asks in that thick Louisiana accent of hers. “Y’all’ve been treatin’ me like my old department used to treat them,” Kay observes with a shake of her head. “I don’t know what you think you’re dealing with, but y’all keep bringin’ rocket launchers to swat at a mosquito.”

Which, first and foremost, is the part Kay can’t wrap her head around. The response is disproportionate.

Kravid’s brow furrows slightly, her smile somehow more smug than before. “Well, either way you don’t need to worry yourself about it. That said, and because I believe you shouldn’t be left in the dark about your predicament, we have one more session of information-gathering we need to perform, and then you’re going to be transferred overseas to our partners.”

Kravid lifts her chin up, one brow raised imperiously. “I don’t know what will become of you after that point, and for that you have my deepest apologies. Unfortunately, there’s not much helping the matter. I will, in the interests of giving you peace of mind, let you know that Ella will be well taken care of within reason and she will not need to know the strain of having lost a parent. To her it will be like you were never gone at all.”

Overseas. Okay, that means she’s still in the United States, most likely. Maybe Canada. That allays the fear she had about the German shouted during her escape attempt. If she hasn’t been extracted yet, there’s still a chance…

But it’s the second part of that… It creates a cold knot of fear in the pit of her stomach. First the invocation of her child’s name, then the implication that someone will be looking after her. Monitoring her, most likely. Every time Kay has signed away her soul, it’s been to ensure ‘Ella would have a better life. The trust fund from Linderman, and now from Yamagato.

That fear manifests itself in the quickened pace of her breath, the widening of her eyes.

And then it flips over to white hot anger. Kay shouts furiously and strains against the binds on her arms. “You leave her alone, you fucking bitch!” It worked before. Someone freed her before. Come on, don’t leave her hanging now.

She’s got a damn murder to do!

Erica Kravid doesn’t so much as flinch. “Were I that, I would’ve let your daughter know what happened to you. Or worse, had her abducted to make you more compliant. But I didn’t. Now, what happens to you after you are sent overseas will likely result in your death. Based on how I have seen Expressives treated by our partners in the past, the odds are that you will be turned in for raw components and then executed.”

Kravid tilts her head to the side and sits forward, well within arm’s reach. “I would like to offer you a reprieve from the hand of Mazdak, and instead give you something like a future. The only complication is that you must both be willing, and informed.” Kravid lifts a brow. “Would you like to discuss these options now, or do you need some time to process everything else?”

Kay screams one more time as she tries in vain to break free, but eventually falls back onto the table with a hard exhale and a shakier inhale. She’s trying not to cry. It was fine when she was making the choice to leave her daughter behind, believing it best for her not to be saddled with her mother’s baggage. With her inability to look after her and make sure she’s safe. To give her someone to resent and want to be better than. But that was her agency. This is the utter lack of it.

Kay catches her breath and listens to what Kravid has to say to her. Again, it’s that confusion that manages to break through the cloud cover of her heavier emotions. “What are you talking about? I’m not— I’m not Expressive! Is that what y’all have been so—” Her brow furrows, and she holds on to this need for an answer to keep the rest of the panic at bay. “Look, I’m the odd one out at Yamagato. Whatever you think you got with me? Ya ain’t found it here.”

There’s wariness now, but also a willingness to listen. “Alright… You have my attention.” She shakes her head slowly and lets out a humorless breath of laughter. “Inform me.”

There’s a crook to Kravid’s lips that says so many things without her uttering a word. Her expression is the picture of didn’t you know? said in such a patronizing tone. But she moves past that moment, doesn’t acknowledge it.

“There is an alternative to your being sent overseas that I alone can authorize,” Erica begins to explain. “You would consent to volunteer for the Structure program. It is a pet project I have been developing, a networked collective consciousness technology. Now, it’s still a decade or so from viable, but one of the components for testing I have been lacking is a technopath.” Erica spreads her hands and motions to Kay. “And it just so happens one landed in my lap.”

With a little smile Kravid says, “Congratulations. If you didn’t already know.”

“Volunteer,” Kay repeats numbly. “No, no, no,” she begins to stammer. “N-n-n-n-no.” Again, she shakes her head, this time more emphatically. “Technopath?” Her brow creases, lips parted in shock and eyes widened with horror. “No, no no! That’s not— That’s not me. You’ve got the wrong gal!”

Do they?

Kay’s eyes swivel to the domed camera. She’d thought… For sure she’d thought someone had been watching out for her. She’d even had a moment where she theorized she’d been betrayed by her own people, and had been in a Yamagato facility, and that Jiba was helping her.

Was all of that her?

“What the fuck?

“Judging from your reaction and my knowledge that Yamagato does regular blood tests, I would imagine you were exposed to the coronal wave that scrambled the genes of much of the world’s population back in February.” Kravid slowly rises from her stool and pushes it back. “Hundreds of thousands of new Evolved within the United States alone,” she says with a rise of one brow, “miraculous.”

Walking around the foot of the bed again, Kravid comes back to the side she started on. “We tested you with an injection of glycimerine after your little escape attempt, just to be certain. The fog you’re feeling is likely the after-effects on the nervous system the drug has. But based on your brain-wave activity and record of your escape we’re certain your ability lies within the technopathy range.”

Kravid taps her hand on Kay’s right wrist restraint with a there-there gesture. “I know this is a lot to take in, so we can shelve the Structure talk for another day. Besides, you’ll need to be prepped for data extraction.”

It’s hard not to feel dazed after all of that. The combination of the life-altering information and — apparently — the drugs in her system. The coronal wave… How could she have gained an ability when those close to her lost what they had?

Kay doesn’t realize she’s started to cry until she feels the tears start to dampen the hair at her temple. God, she wants Asi right now. Beautifully capable Asi, who would almost certainly have figured a way out of this mess by now.

Data extraction sounds a lot like torture in her ears, and it sees her fighting back a fresh wave of tears. “What did y’all do to my head?” she asks instead of properly dwelling on that particular thread of despair. Brown eyes shift toward the bandage in lieu of being able to point a finger.

“Nothing permanent,” Kravid states. “We have a talented telepath, and he has been extracting mission-critical intelligence about your role at Yamagato Industries. We have one more session to complete.” She smiles, as if that were good news to be delivered, then takes a step back.

“Rest,” Kravid says with another hint of a smile and a put-on motherly tone, “you need your strength.”

Kay manages until Kravid’s left her alone with the soft hum of monitoring equipment and the nearly-silent buzz of the lighting to start sobbing.

Two Hours Later

Yamagato Fellowship Building
Yamagato Park

Kitten heeled shoes click softly across the tiled floor leading to Kaydence Damaris’ office. As the head of public relations for Yamagato Industries returns from her weekend in Niagara Falls with a renewed sense of vivacity. Her flash of a smile to her office administrator elicits a hesitant smile back.

“Good morning Ms. Damaris. President Nakamura left a message, it’s on your voicemail.” He says with a subtle nod in her direction.

“Thanks Sugar,” Kay says with a bright red-lipped smile as she breezes past his desk and into the column-lined hall of her office, past glass cases displaying artifacts of Japanese history. Her dark eyes fall on each piece, considering them carefully as she passes them on her way to the horseshoe shaped white desk at the end of the room.

{Good morning Ms. Damaris,} Jiba chimes in, his voice emanating from all around her. {I hope your weekend left you feeling refreshed.}

“Weren’t all sunshine and rainbows,” Kay says with a smile and a look up to the sky as if conversing with God, “but it was nice to disconnect, you know?” She pauses at her desk and laughs. “Actually, I suppose you might not.”

{I most certainly don’t, ma’am.}

Settling into her chair, Kay’s eyes track to a thumbprint scanner built into her desk. She squares her shoulders, tilts her head from side to side with subtle pops of her neck, and then presses her thumb down on the sensor. A light flashes green, and a holographic display comes up showing a number of unread emails and new voicemails.

“Guess I’m just gonna’ be a busy bee today, aren’t I?” Kay says with a large, pleased smile.

Unknown Location

November 10th
8:34 am

Wheeled from her room shortly after waking, Kay is brought through the lab she is detained in, past those glass walls and technicians she spotted her first day here. Beyond doors she never made it through, Kay finds herself in some sort of mechanical fabrication floor where glass-walled clean rooms are staffed entirely by specialized robots and machines constructing mechanical components.

She spots roughly a dozen such rooms before she enters another white-walled corridor and is brought into a featureless white room with subtly reflective walls and floor coating. It gives the room a dream-like quality of bright light and minimal shadow. The technicians moving Kay leave her without saying a word, and she is soon joined by someone she didn’t expect to see. A man she knows.


Lucien Crane was once an employee of Yamagato Industries, Kay had seen his personnel file during her orientation years ago. Crane was in charge of one of the first initiatives to begin the Safe Zone project in the United States and for his efforts was given a cushy position as a Chief Technical Officer at Yamagato’s subsidiary Renautas Industries. Now, Renautas-Weiss, after the recent hostile takeover.

A corporation located in Toronto.

A mere 44 miles from Niagara Falls.

“Miss Damaris,” Lucien says as he walks in with his morning coffee in a paper cup. The thermal sleeve on it partly obscures a Tim Hortons logo. “Wanted to keep you awake for this one.” The door shuts behind Lucien as he enters the room. “I wish we’d met face-to-face under different circumstances. We probably would’ve been friends.”

“If you want to keep me awake, then you should’a brought me one of those,” Kay responds flatly, flicking her gaze to that cup in his hand. She’s had some time to come to terms with her situation — not a lot, but enough to keep the urge to scream buried so deep down that it will take effort for it to claw its way back up to her throat again.

She smiles, a strained thing. “I reckon you’re right, Mr. Crane.” Her brows lift. “Prob’ly could’a been if you’d just asked to see me. You should know I’d’a jumped at the chance to find out where the fuck we went wrong with you all.” She means Renautas. How they got so completely blindsided by that takeover. That’s a failing she took rather personally.

Her gaze flickers down momentarily, then back up to Lucien. “How’s this meant to go, then?”

“It’s simple, painless, quick.” Lucien says, taking a sip from his coffee as he does. “I’m going to connect my nervous system to yours, our minds will merge together and we’ll share a consciousness. Once that step has completed, I’m going to walk you back through specific memories in order to gain a fuller recollection of them. Then, when I’m done, I’ll disconnect the link and you won’t remember any of it happened.”

Lucien smiles proudly. “That’s how you were blindsided, too. My gift.” He motions to himself with his coffee. “I’m able to masquerade it as a low-grade telepathy, but the truth of the matter is considerably more complex. You wouldn’t believe the people I’ve had contact with who were never the wiser that they — for a time — were one and the same as me.”

Stopping by the side of Kay’s bed, Lucien rests her coffee down on the top of her restraint. “From your perspective it will only take a moment. You didn’t need to be awake, as I said, but I thought we could talk. You’re a fascinating person, considerable life history, remarkable career arc. I thought we could chat a little, if you’re interested.”

Well, that’s fucking terrifying.

But also fascinating, if she’s being honest. “Well, if I can’t get ya to buy me dinner first,” Kay quips dryly. Because this is exactly the kind of intimate invasion that calls for such things, by the rules of decorum.

Try as she might, she eventually flinches, shifting her gaze away. “Look, can I at least sit up so I don’t feel like a goddamn invalid? I’m locked in here, obviously outnumbered, and on top of that, I’m sure you could reduce me to the mental state of a drooling toddler if you wanted to.” To give credit where it’s due.

“I’ll talk to you. Whatever conversational lane you wanna meander along. I’m just asking for a shred of dignity while we do it.” Kay takes a deep breath and brings her eyes back to Lucien’s. “Please.”

Lucien picks up his coffee with one hand and presses a button on her right restraint’s keypad. “Certainly.” What Kay feels next is a hum go through the bed she’s on and an involuntary movement in her body as the table folds at her knees and waist, shifting from a prone position to that of a reclining chair without so much as a single restraint needing to be undone. “To be fair I prefer that anyway,” Lucien admits.

“Now,” Lucien sets his coffee down on the restraint again, “I’ve always wondered, what was it like working for the Daniel Linderman?” Lucien raises a brow. “Is he really dead? You know, everyone hears the conspiracy theories.”

Not ideal, but it does at least give her part of what she wants. Kay won’t complain. Openly. “Thank you.” She’s a southern lady and remembers her goddamn manners, thank you.

The first question elicits a little look of surprise. Kay can’t quite suppress the chuckle that comes with it. “Linderman? That’s who you wanna know about?” Running her tongue over her teeth, she sighs. “Y’all would dredge that up, wouldn’t ya.”

Tipping her head to one side, she takes a moment to consider. “T’be honest, I didn’t see the man himself all that much. I would get a phone call, telling me about a case I should try to look into, and then I’d make sure whatever needed to happen, happened.” This could be an attempt to dig up blackmail material. Somehow, miraculously, she got away with her involvement all those years ago. But if Kimiko knew, it wasn’t such a stretch that others — like Lucien here — knew.

And besides, what would the point be in this sort of blackmail anyway? He’s probably running on the assumption she’s headed to certain death once he’s finished with her. Somehow Kay doubts that Kravid’s shared her plans with him. Then again, maybe she doesn’t have to.

“I never killed for him,” she feels the need to clarify. “That wasn’t part of my deal. He had plenty of other avenues for that.” As if that absolves her of literally anything or makes it less terrible than it was. “I saw far more of that pretty little admin of his.” Nichols got away with a lot, too.

What she neglects to go into is who her closest associate within the organization was, but she thinks it. It doesn’t show in her neutral expression, but manifests itself in the tightness of her throat when she swallows.

“If that geriatric fuck isn’t dead, then he owes me a whole lotta money.”

“I’m actually fascinated by everyone that was in the organization,” Lucien admits with a drum of his fingers over the hard surface of her arm restraint. “Daniel Linderman was one of the most influential and powerful people in the world, and yet few people realize the true extent of his machinations… I do, to an extent, but only because I’m a fan.”

“Arthur Petrelli fakes his death and who takes over the Company? Daniel Linderman. Between April of 2006 when Linderman officially took over Company operations through to the very end of the organization he was always the one pulling the strings. The Company had so many directors, a revolving door of them, but Daniel Linderman always sat at the top of the pyramid. Most people in the Company probably even forgot his associations because he was so busy being Harry Houdini, hiding an elephant in a crowd.” Lucien smiles as he praises Linderman, starting to pace the room.

“Now, by my estimates, the only man who could’ve challenged Linderman was Charles Deveaux. A man who Daniel let die of cancer rather than save with his miraculous power. But that isn’t even painting in all the lines, either. You have Linderman’s association with the notorious Adam Monroe, some who went as far as to call Linderman a disciple of his.” Lucien spreads his hands, gesturing to the broad implications of such things.

Pausing to pick up his coffee and take a sip, Lucien kicks his brows up. “To think you were right there, working for the man who organized the nuclear explosion in Midtown. Were you even aware of what was going on? Who he was?” The level of admiration is alarming.

“Of course not,” Kay is quick to admit, and without shame. Because Lucien is right, Linderman was an artist when it came to that kind of obfuscation. “I kept my head down, I watched for the deposits in the trust fund, I did my job. Digging into the background of the most notorious crime boss in probably the world at the time?”

The blonde shakes her head. “Nah. I may be foolhardy, but I’m not stupid.” She can’t even fault the man for his admiration. She’d like to believe she could have unravelled some of that if she had decided to dig, but what could one person do? What could one non-Expressive person do? No clout, no connections, no wealth… “You know, I only ended up in his organization because my husband turned it down first? Linderman had him killed, and then came to me with his charity, like he was doing a good turn for a widowed wife and mother. Like he hadn’t created the very situation I needed saving from.”

That she looks away has nothing to do with any discomfort Lucien’s causing her, but just so her gaze doesn’t go distant while she’s looking at him. Now she wonders if he knew the whole time that Spence would refuse to compromise his moral code. If it all had just been a matter of creating a situation in which she could be exploited.

A little bubble of astonished laughter comes up. “Now that is conceited, Damaris,” she mutters to herself. Places an awful lot of importance on someone like her. Until this moment, she’s never felt important in her whole life. “What else do you wanna know?” she asks at a more conversational volume.

“That was enough,” Lucien says with a smile before laying his hand atop Kay’s head.

Thank you.

Cresting Wave Apartments
Kay’s Penthouse

November 13th
8:44 pm

“No, no, that’s not what I’m saying…”

Pacing barefoot across the floor with a glass of red wine in one hand, Kay rolls her eyes and laughs to herself at the person on the other end of the phone held to her ear. “No, Ella, look. Just for a little while longer, okay? We’ll get together for Thanksgiving, promise.” She smiles, sipping her wine while listening to her daughter. “Of course we’re doing Christmas here. Why wouldn’t we?”

Kay lowers her wine, listening to the young woman on the other end of the phone as she pads across the floor to windows overlooking the city. Kay shifts her weight to one foot, looking at her dim reflection in half-unbuttoned work-clothes she’d only just started to peel herself out of before Ella called.

“Well, no. That’s changing. New Christmas traditions.” Kay says with a swirl of her wine glass around. “Maybe I feel like a new person,” she says with a breathy laugh. “I did a lot of soul-searching over the weekend, you know. It’s a big day. And I think I’ve found… you know, a new lease on life.”

Kay closes her eyes and smiles. “I know, I know. I love you too.” Her eyes slowly open, looking at her reflection in the glass with a momentarily dead-eyed stare.

“Ok, buh-buy.”

Unknown Location

November 17th
12:48 pm

Days have gone by without Kay seeing anyone except medical technicians that check her vitals and deliver injections. Meals are delivered on a regular schedule and are remarkably well-made. Neither Lucien nor Kravid had come for her. The isolation was maddening, but the accommodations has, at least, changed.

Rather than kept restrained to a bed, Kay is afforded the dignity of what can be called a suite. It is a single room roughly the size of her walk-in closet back home, but the bed, bathroom, and tablet they have given her is an attempt at civility she was not expecting. The ironically Yamagato-branded foldable tablet came stocked with what clearly feels like someone else’s choice of music and e-books, but it’s something.

Without any internet to speak of, it is merely a resilient pane of glass and metal with which she can while away the days.

Part of what she’s done to pass the time is type out her thoughts into the word processing program on the tablet. It helps her number the days and organize her thoughts. Nothing too revealing, of course. Not like Here is How I Would Escape — she’s not a damn fool — but little things, like what she thought of dinner, how she wished she could sit in the sunshine, no matter how cold it might be right now, and wondering how ‘Ella’s doing. Is she keeping up on her school work? Is she listening to Mémé and Papa? Has she tried to run away back to the Safe Zone yet?

More often than not, her thoughts are with her daughter. With the thoughts that she may never get to see her again. Never see her become an adult. That she might be just out of her reach for the rest of their lives.

She’s written her letters. Sometimes just a hello, I miss you, and other times I’m sorry. Most often, it’s goodbye.

What could they possibly be keeping her here for still? Didn’t they get what they wanted from her? What could they possibly be waiting for? Christmas?

Today’s essay is about baseball season.

There’s a soft chime before the door opens, another strange kindness afforded to Kay by her captors. Lucien emerges from the hallway, Tim Hortons’ coffee in hand again. “Good afternoon,” he says conversationally as if meeting Kay for lunch. “I thought I’d drop by before Erica sees you, give you a little pick me up.

Lucien holds out the paper cup of coffee. “Pumpkin-spice latte. Cream and sugar.” Just the way she likes it. “Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference when you’re being detained.

Setting the tablet aside, there’s no hesitation or wariness when Kay accepts the cup offered out to her. “Y’all dig that outta my head? Here I thought you were only lookin’ for the important shit.” Brown eyes close as she inhales the aroma of the beverage first. It reminds her of Eileen’s. She glances up before she takes the first drink. “Thank you.”

If this were a ploy to drug her or poison her, there were plenty of opportunities for that with her daily injections, so the coffee is accepted at face value. “Thought y’all had given up on me. Must’a bored you with our little chat.

The prisoner gestures with her open palm up. “Have a seat if you like.” She folds her legs together, taking up less space as she offers some up to him.

“I can’t stay long,” Lucien says with a motion to the accommodations. “And yes, our consciousness was linked. When you asked for the coffee earlier I thought to go looking for preferences. The act of doing it slipped my mind until today.”

Lucien paces the room a few steps, then starts to meander back to the door. “It’s a shame, this. I spent a considerable amount of time in a cell just like this once,” he says with a knock against the wall. “Not quite as homey, but… four walls all look the same on a long enough measure.” Turning his attention back to Kay, Lucien offers her a mild smile.

“Kind’f ya.” The longer she’s been in here, the further she seems to have gotten from the elocution of the Public Relations Director. After all, what’s the point in keeping that persona? “A shame that I’ve been locked up? Or a shame that I’m about to be—”

Kay takes a steadying breath and shakes it off. They both know how that sentence ends.

How she ends.

“Why me?” she asks suddenly. It’s the thing she’s never thought about too hard. They didn’t know about her status before they picked her up, right? And it could easily have been anyone else if they wanted access to Yamagato. Hell, Eizen has more of Kimiko’s confidence. He has more knowledge and more access than she does. “Why, of all the better options out there… Why did y’all pick me?

“Eizen? Ah, the security chief. Yes, well, he doesn’t take the unnecessary risks you do on a predictable schedule.” Lucien smiles fondly at that on his way to the door. “There weren’t any better alternatives. You are the head of Yamagato’s clandestine operations, your security access within the Yamagato Building is second only to that of Ms. Nakamura, and you have control authorization for the AI Jiba.”

Lucien shakes his head with a smile. “I mean, there’s so much more but I almost feel like that’s an overwhelming list. All it took was monitoring your behavior to find a vulnerable loop, and your frequent trips to Niagara lined up perfectly. The Kain Zarek look-alike was mostly just a feather in our cap.”


“Anyway,” Lucien says with a slap of his hand on the door frame. “Hopefully that clears things up.”

Whatever they’ve managed to lift from her, she can only hope that it wasn’t enough to fool the people that matter. But there isn’t a lot of hope left in her. The only warmth now comes from the coffee she sips at. “It does,” she confirms. Unnecessary risks. She had thought it was just the daily ebbs and flows of life. She always thought Kimiko was too paranoid. Turns out, Kay should have been taking cues from her.

Well, there’s a reason she’s the boss, and Kay’s… “Thanks for the coffee,” she offers hollowly in exchange.

But then there’s a small spark. She feels it in her chest and lowers her head to keep it from showing in her eyes. Look-alike. Ain’t no way. Kay bites the inside of her lip and shakes her head ruefully.

“How many pieces of silver did you promise Judas for this job, anyway?”

And like Iscariot, Zarek hanged himself.

Lucien looks at Kaydence with a little bit of a squint, followed by a quick shake of his head. “Oh— him. I have no idea. I don’t handle that.” To which he wrinkles his nose and laughs, like Kay was asking him about who did the interior decorating. Lucien steps out of the room and the door slides shut.

And she is left alone.

Cresting Wave Apartments
Kay’s Penthouse

November 20th
7:09 pm

Striding around her bedroom in a pair of dark stockings and a loose robe, Kay scrolls through her phone. Laid out on the bed is a slim-fit black dress glittering with iridescent sequins that make it look like an oil-slick in the right light. Her hair is wet from a shower, hanging in damp coils around her neck.

Hottie alert?” She says to herself on seeing an entry in her contacts. With a swipe of her thumb, Kay scrolls through associated photos. “Oh you aren’t kidding,” she says with a breathy laugh, teeth toying at her lower lip as she considers what she’s looking at. Threading a lock of blonde hair behind one ear, Kay walks over to the bedroom window and looks out at the neon glow all around.

The phone rings a few times, then goes directly to voicemail. “Hey, Godfrey?” She smiles, twirling a lock of hair around one finger. “Yeah it’s Kay. Damaris? I just thought I’d leave you a message I know you’re… preoccupied?” She laughs; a fluttery, flirty thing. “We should catch up when you’re not. Drinks, maybe find somewhere that isn’t trash to dance?”

Kay sways from side to side as she talks, smiling to herself. “Anyway, I’m going out tonight. I figure you’ll be busy but… hit me up if you’re not?” She shakes her head and laughs, wrinkling her nose.

“Talk to you soon, sugar.”

Unknown Location

November 25th
6:15 am

The intervening days have all blurred together for Kay.

The sound of a chime and her cell door opening at exceedingly early morning hours breaks the rhythm of meals and recreation and zero human contact since she last saw Lucien. Erica Kravid’s arrival comes as a surprise, it’s been days — weeks? since they’d seen one-another. Kravid looks immediately apologetic as she enters.

“I’m sorry about the delay, Ms. Damaris,” Kravid says as though Kay had been waiting in line at the bank. “But I had to get clearance for a great many things before you and I could have this conversation. I’m sorry for leaving you in the dark. Do you mind if we sit and talk about your future?”

Jesus Christ,” Kay sighs out, but without bitterness. It’s with relief. “You can’t possibly know how good it is to see a face that actually talks to me.” Sliding her legs out from under the covers of her bed, where she’d been playing goddamn solitaire, she sets down the tablet and rakes her fingers through her hair. An attempt to tame the bedhead.

Whether the vulnerability is an act or not, it’s tough to say. It looks genuine enough. Kay is weary. This isolation has obviously taken its toll. It’s reminded her too much of situations she’s endured before, even if this is no Seaview Hospital.

“By all means, Ms Kravid. Let’s talk.”

“Come with me,” Erica says, content to not spend any more time in a small and confined space. She steps out into the hall where an armed security officer is waiting. “We’re going to forsake the restraints for now, as you’ve been very cooperative. I thought you might enjoy a good walk, too, and a change of scenery.”

Kravid waits for Kay to join her, then starts slowly walking down the hall toward a door at the end. “I do apologize for all of this. I know I’ve said as much in the past, but there’s a certain degree of regret I have at putting you in this position. All things said, though, it could be much worse. I know that’s cold comfort.”

“I appreciate it.” Kay knows better than to be anything but gracious at this point. This is a kindness, and they could be so much worse.

Falling into step with Kravid, she keeps her face forward, but lets her eyes roam the space, noting cameras, doors, guards… Anything that might be useful later. Even if it’s all in vain. “I can’t… I can’t say I feel like I understand why all of this is happening,” Kay admits in a soft voice. “I’m aware I could be getting cut into little pieces right now, so.”

Especially if any remnant of Praxis Heavy is involved. She’s responsible for the executions of many of their operatives, not to mention the espionage. There was a fair amount of tit for tat over the years.

Yes, it’s a comfort that could be measured in Kelvin.

“You keep saying this, though…” She keeps the tremor out of her voice, but Kay’s swallow is nearly audible. “You’re not offering me anything good, are you?” At least there’s the trust that Erica Kravid isn’t going to sugarcoat this.

“It’s not bad,” Kravid offers, pressing her hand to a palm-print reader beside the door. It slides open effortlessly into a brightly-lit office that shows a ground floor view of a parking lot with low shrubbery, lamp posts, and dozens of cars. The sky is a clear slate of blue without a cloud in them. It looks cold, but crisp and refreshing. Partly-slatted vertical blinds divide up the scenery in tantalizing glimpses of freedom.

Kravid has led Kay into a conference room. There’s a long, glass table in the middle of the room, several wheeled chairs, and a phone hub built into the middle of the table. “What I’m offering you is a chance at a normal life that is, otherwise, entirely off the table for you now.” Kravid pulls out a chair for herself, allowing Kay to sit wherever she like, or stand. The guard remains outside of the room.

“The project I’d like to take you on is, as I said before, called Structure. It’s a nascent design for radical shared-consciousness simulation, a virtual world so to speak, but one that is indistinguishable from the real world. Part of the genius behind it, is that Structure isn’t maintained by computers so much as it is the human mind. Networked consciousness, regulated via technology and the bridge between them.” Kravid settles into her seat and motions to Kay with two hands pressed flat together. “A technopath.”

Rather than move to one of the chairs immediately, Kay wanders into the room and over to the windows, taking a moment to just drink in the sight of the world outside. Even in the pale of winter, the sky seems so blue.

But while she engages in this study, she’s not inattentive to what’s being said to her, and she makes sure she nods along to indicate as much. Once the project is mentioned by name, she turns away from the window and moves to take a seat not across from Erica, but next to her. Kay swivels the chair to the side and rests her elbow on the glass table, her wrist hanging loosely over the edge of it.

“You might find this ironic, Ms Kravid, but I ain’t… real great with computers.” Her eyes close momentarily as she shakes her head, correcting herself. “I ain’t real technical with computers. I know my way around the office suite, I can put together a slideshow and I learned very specific step-by-step instructions on how to slice my way into someone else’s system. But by god, if they deviate from what’s expected, I’m shit outta luck.”

Kay sighs, feeling helpless. “I’m willing to try, I can learn, but I ain’t got no clue what in the hell I’m doing with this —” Her brow creases. She can scarcely believe still what she’s been told. That she has an ability. That she let herself out of the restraints, opened the locks, commanded the drone. “It’s gonna take me time, and I don’t want you to be disappointed with that reality.”

With determination, she meets the other woman’s eyes again. “I’m not saying no. I’m just asking if you’re prepared to temper your expectations.”

“Thankfully your skill is a non-issue. It’s more your neural interface that we’re interested in. Structure has been a long-standing dream of mine. In essence creating a whole new reality born purely of consciousness, mitigated and sculpted by technology. But it’s only been a dream up until now. You would be our first test subject, our first trial run.” Kravid sits back in her seat, crossing one leg over the other, hands folded in her lap.

“Should your trial prove successful, my goal would be to roll out Structure on a larger scale. Potentially it could serve as end-of-life care for the elderly, a world where they are youthful and healthy for as long as their minds can remain active and — perhaps over a long enough time — even after death.” Kravid glances down for a moment, then looks up to Kay. “You wouldn’t even realize you were the arbiter of this reality, either. Your subconscious would… run along doing what it would and you’d remain able to live your normal life however you see fit.”

Reaching up to brush an errant lock of hair from her brow, Kravid considers the woman across from her. “With whomever you want. Now, we’re still five to ten years out from anything other than an alpha test with you as the core subject… but it’s groundbreaking work.” She smiles, a smooth and knife-like smile. “What do you say?”

While it’s laid out for her, Kay can’t help but think this Structure doesn’t sound so terrible. It’s not the sort of nefarious idea she’d expected. Then again, if this is a Renautas project, it’s not like Yamagato was plotting to end the world with that particular branch. However semi-autonomous they may have remained.

Nodding her head, she exhales a breath of mirthless laughter. All of this happened right under their noses. This situation is her own making. This is exactly the sort of thing she was supposed to see coming. Somewhere along the line, her eyes became unfocused, staring at some point just past Erica’s shoulder while she absorbs it all. Even the touch of her hand can’t draw her out. Not yet, anyway.

“I think it’s a very noble work you’re suggesting,” Kay grants, obviously made numb by her considerations. She inhales sharply and has to remind herself to exhale again. The ragged sob and the tears that follow are a shock even to her, but it’s what brings her back into focus again.

“So, what? You want me to become the goddamn Matrix?” It’s a prospect that sounds perfectly horrifying. The reality of it is an awful thing. The idea that she might go on living a life that isn’t real.

But if she can’t tell the difference…

Does it even matter?

“You said my daughter won’t even know I’m gone.” Kay’s already calculating, calming, getting herself back under control. The decades of compartmentalizing pay dividends in the face of this madness. “You’re a mother, aren’t you, Ms Kravid?” Mothers know. “Go on, then. Tell me how this is gonna be alright for her.”

“Because you’re already there with her,” Kravid says with a slowly creeping smile. There is some light that has left her eyes at the mention of motherhood, and she has come to have the cold, dead eyes of a shark. “We have remarkable resources, Ms. Damaris. As far as anyone in your life knows, you’re there… right now. You came back from your weekend in Niagara… replenished and refreshed.”

Kravid rubs her palms together, looking squarely at Kaydence with all the unmoved dispassion of a statue. “So what else do you have to live for now?”

Explain to me how that’s possible.” It isn’t the harsh demand of a cornered enemy, but the pleading of a parent. “What’d y’all do? Throw her a look-alike like you did to me at the Falls?” With Kain. “My baby already lost her father. She needs someone— Someone who’s gonna look out for her and love her better than I could.”

Her chest heaves with the breaths that edge on weeping again. She holds it at bay, but only just. Her fear causes her to stutter. “C- C- Can you do that? If you can look me in the eye and promise me that without lookin’ like ya just wanna tear my throat out, then—”

Whatever fight might have been left within Kay Damaris drains out as swiftly as blood from a severed artery. “I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Ella Damaris is nearly an adult, and I assure you that her caretaker will make sure she is happy, loved, and care-free so long as you continue to cooperate with us.” Kravid says with a smile. She then unclips a badge from her lapel and slides it across the table to Kay. There’s no photo on it, no text or any indication of what the badge is, just a microchip embedded in the plastic.

“That key card will unlock the door,” Kravid says, motioning with her chin over to the opposite side of the room where a white door is recessed into the wall near the windows. “When you’re ready.”

It’s strange to Kay, feeling hollowed out as she is now by the assurance given that maybe her daughter will have a better life without her than she would have with. Strange that Kravid is so bent on ensuring her cooperation with this brainchild of hers. She slides the keycard toward herself, turning it over to examine its blank features.

This is important.

It has to be, or they’d have just hauled her off to god knows where and hooked her up to some kind of machine or whatever it is they need her to do, and to hell with whether or not she’s compliant.

Kay looks up. “Is it gonna hurt?” It seems a foolish question, but she’d like to be prepared.

“You won’t feel a thing,” Kravid says with a raise of both hands, as if to say Scout’s honor. In that, she does not appear to be sarcastic.

Closing her eyes, it isn’t the image of her nearly grown daughter that she sees projected on the metaphorical silver screen of the back of her eyelids. It’s a little girl blowing out the candles of a birthday cake. Four years old and hugging her father. Kay lets out one last thin sound of her grief, then climbs to her feet, clutching the card in her hand.

“Let’s go, then.”

Kravid rises, watching Kay turn toward the door at the other side of the room. With a single, encouraging nod she allows Kay to go first. The card, when brought in proximity of the door, causes it to elicit an electronic pop as it unlocks. Kay reaches out, turns the handle, and steps into the bright white room on the other side.

Kravid does not follow.

Lifting her hands up to her brow, Kravid’s fingers find purchase on the air and she lifts—


Unknown Location

—a headset off, flashing lights moving in strobing patterns behind thick lenses. With a soft gasp, Kravid sits forward in her padded chair and lifts the full halo rig off of her head, setting it down on a metal tray beside her.

“How did it go?” Lucien asks from the corner of the room, standing like a looming gargoyle with his hands clasped in front of himself. Kravid works her jaw open and closed, then turns her attention to the chair next to her where Kaydence Damaris sits motionless, one side of her head shaved and a cerebral implant plugged into the side of her skull, a tangle of cords coming out to spool down onto the floor where they disappear into the darkness.

“She’s fully accepted the simulation,” Kravid says with a look from Kay over to Lucien, smiling.

“We have our first successful Structure integration.”

Cresting Wave Apartments
Kay’s Penthouse

December 25th
8:09 am

Legs curled up under herself, a smile spread across her lips, Kaydence Damaris sips a fresh pumpkin-spice latte from a World’s Best Mom mug. A light snow is falling outside on Yamagato Park, but her attention is directed to the young woman sitting in the cream-colored armchair diagonal to her, peeling back the corner of her third meticulously-wrapped Christmas present.

“I hope you don’t already have one,” Kay says with a lopsided smile, watching Ella’s expression shift as she reveals the sleek packaging of a Yamagato Awasu Tablet from behind glittering paper. Her daughter’s sounds of elation are enough to almost bring tears to her eyes, and as Kay hides her smile behind her mug, she can’t help but admire how much they’ve come together in such a short period of time.

“Merry Christmas, Ella.”

Unknown Location

January 20th

7:12 pm

“Okay, alright, okay… this was maybe my bad.”

Laughter fills a kitchen as much as smoke does. At least, until the smoke alarm goes off. Rolling her eyes and fluttering with laughter, Kaydence shoulders through the narrow space between refrigerator and stove with two people in the kitchen, and steps out into the dining room where the smoke detector continues to chirp and scream overhead.

Fanning the smoke-detector with an oven mitt, Kaydence wrinkles her nose and lets out a small cough. The man in the kitchen laughs, taking a smoking skillet off of the stove to set in the sink where it can do less harm. “But for the record, this is also partly your fault!”

Kay looks over her shoulder, smile bright and wide, nose wrinkled and eyes crinkled with amusement. When the smoke alarm stops screaming she watches him step out of the kitchen, one brow raised and towel draped over his shoulder. “If you hadn’t distracted me with that kiss, I would’ve— ”

“Shut up,” Kay says, curling her fingers into the collar of his shirt and pulling him close, pressing their lips together firmly, re-engaging that very distracting kiss. His eyes shut, hand comes up to cradle her jawline, and she can feel the cool touch of his ring against her skin.

“I love you,” he says into their kiss, eyes open partly. Kaydence’s flutter shut, running her fingertips down his stubbled jaw.

“I love you too, Spencer.”

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