In Exchange


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Scene Title In Exchange
Synopsis In the aftermath of her battle with the Entity, Jac Childs is forced to accept a transaction that leaves her wanting.
Date March 2, 2020

“We can’t explain what happened.”

Jac Childs has heard some permutation of that non-answer for the last three days. It’s a catch-all answer, applying to the aurora that appeared over Detroit, the electromagnetic anomaly that exploded over the city, Jac’s miraculous recovery from grievous wounds, and the seeming absence of her Gemini-bestowed abilities.

Some of it comes from outright lies. Jac’s savvy enough to know that Noah Bennet — a stranger — was lying to cover for her, for reasons she doesn’t understand. He took the heat off of Richard, played down Jac’s injuries to authorities when they arrived. He moved with the effortless grace of a snake through a henhouse it had fed on its whole life. The federal agencies were unable to outmaneuver Noah Bennet in his element, in a role he wielded like a scalpel for so many years with the Company.

But where the lies separated from the truth, the connective tissue was red and angry. Jac survived the battle with Uluru, but at a cost neither she nor any other SESA agent was able to quantify, no matter the tests they’d run. But at least Jolene had been there with her, supporting her, keeping her grounded. At least until Gillian could return.

But for now, for Jac, her entire world had changed.


Department of Homeland Security Holding Facility
Kansas City

March 2nd
4:24 pm

The room Jac is being kept in is not a cell. It looks like a hotel suite, save that the windows aren’t real. They look the part, but the wide LED displays show a city that isn’t Kansas, and only seem real from a distance. The rest of the room feels comfortable enough, if not sterile and unfamiliar. The television works, showing news broadcasts of what happened in Detroit, citing death tolls in the high hundreds from what Adam and the Entity had done there.

Jac’s treatment has been a matter of considerable care. She had not been questioned, formally, about what happened. But medical professionals doing routine tests to make sure she is “healthy” asked veiled questions, seeking to inquire about information without an official record. It felt coordinated, but in a subtle way. Like a child trying to tease hints about their Christmas present out of their parents by asking around the issue, trying to determine its shape by the absence of answers.

But all of that is so hard to focus on when the television is reminding her of the choices she’d made.

Answering the questions without giving away anything had been simple but exhausting. Every bit of political intrigue and conspiracy in Praxia had been a game board for Jac to cut her teeth on. Even after months of practice, the teen was still a novice at sword play with words. Still, she made every effort to counter parry questions with questions and non-answers of her own.

The intent of having the television on at all had been for distraction, a want for noise and imagery that had little to do with anything. But the news loves its sensationalism, and whatever Jac could find quickly returned to the stories and videos she tried to avoid. Like a bad movie, she found it was even harder to turn off. Hope ran high that something, somewhere, would spin a better light on what happened in Detroit.

To no avail.

Images continue to flicker and change but without sound. At some point Jac had heard enough of the same tale regurgitated and muted the set before flinging the control across the room. A rare tantrum simmers after another long and fruitless day.

Pillows followed suit, with a throaty yell of hurt feelings, confusion, anger. She'd pull at blinds if there were any. The monitors pretending to be windows don't offer any such luxury. Instead, a pillow that had the misfortune of landing nearby is punted into the face of some unfamiliar anchor on the latest report. Victory goes unclaimed as she turns her ire back to her bed.

The teen crumples against disheveled blankets after shoving the mattress. Her slight weight carries her to the floor between fake windows and bed frame. Jac rests her head against the side of the mattress, eyes welled with unspilled tears focused on the unseen.

There’s a knock at Jac’s door, one offered solely out of courtesy rather than seeking permission. Through the door walks a tanned, dark-haired woman with deep brown eyes. She is followed by a pair of dark-suited federal agents who give the room a quick check before stepping back out into the hall. The woman offers them a brief thanks over her shoulder, then slowly walks inside. There’s an ID badge clipped to her dark blazer, her name showing in block print:


“Ms. Childs?” Indira asks, sticking to the space near the door to Jac’s cell-suite. “My name is Indira Laghani, I’m with the United Nations. Could we talk? You’re not in any trouble, I just have some questions I want to ask you about how you’re being treated here.”

The knock prompts a hasty wipe of her face, tears leave some damp smudges on the disheveled blankets. But all the stress is gone from Jac’s face by the time the door opens, hidden hopefully behind a steady and watchful stare. The teen only rises when called by name. Those suits, whoever they are, get a small frown when they turn out of the room. Then it's Indira who gets the full weight of her silent scrutiny.

The girl’s head tips to the side in silent invitation to at least not block the doorway. “Why is the United Nations interested in my treatment?” She counters. Curiosity can't be helped, but caution lifts with the presence of an unusual guest which keeps it in check.

Jac only moves so far as to step clear of her bed, back to the screens still pretending to be windows. One arm crosses over the other against her back. “They aren't breaking laws, if that's what you mean.” Not as far as she can tell with her very limited experience about such things. “I would know if they did.”

Indira smiles, stepping further into the room. “Laws aren’t always obvious when they’re being broken, but I’m glad you don’t feel mistreated.” She moves over to an armchair set next to the dresser the TV rests on and settles down.

“As for why the UN is interested, after the Civil War the UN placed members from the Office of Genocide Prevention in the United States as observers. It’s our job to make sure none of the abuses of office or power that were prevalent prior to your country’s civil war ever happen again.” Folding her hands in her lap, Indira produces an electronic device about the size of a cell phone from her blazer, then unfolds it three times until it’s about the size of a notebook.

With a brush of her thumb, Indira produces a stylus from the side of the tablet, and starts writing a few small notes. “I’m here to ask about your treatment, the things you’ve experienced since you were taken into custody, and see how you’re feeling. You haven’t been charged with any crimes yet, so your time here is strictly voluntary.”

Abuses of power, genocide? Jac’s brows tick up over that, but her surprise is no greater than finding a semi-anticipated twist in a good book. The rest she seems to take at face value, likely deciding she's heard the line or something close enough to it plenty of times before.

She works slowly on a response. Maybe international law says her time is voluntary, but local law? She's a minor, and even she's aware of how that muddies things. After a moment, she spreads an arm in an unspoken invitation to view her room.

“This is better than most hotels I've ever been in,” Jac states as she levels her attention on Indira once more. “It's messy now. I… thought I saw a spider.” Two truths and a lie that's given a sheepish grin. That news anchor’s face could have had a spider on it. “Everyone's been nice too, always making sure I don't need anything.”

Indira makes a few notes on her tablet, then nods. “I’ve been told your family is on their way, that legal representation has been secured for you.” She glances down at her tablet again. “Do you feel as though you are here of your own free will? Or do you feel held here against your will?”

That question seems different than the other, specifically because of the use of the word feel. Jac’s old enough, savvy enough, to know that there’s some things that are said in ways as to hide their true meaning. While Indira seems nice enough, there’s a careful choice to all her words. In a way, it’s a lot like it was talking to Adam.

A single brow lifts at the question, obscured as Jac casually crosses the room to drop onto the matching sofa. Like any teenager, she slouches in her seat with a put-upon sigh. Her eyes roll to the screens, something that's much more interesting than playing twenty questions. But eventually, after a few wasted moments, she turns a flat expression on Indira.

Does this adult really think the girl would be here if she felt she was being held against her will?

“I think we both know the answer to that question,” Jac allows herself to say. It's quiet enough she could be speaking to her own inner monologue, loud enough that it suits for a reply to the agent’s query. “Why are you here? Do you feel this is necessary?”

“I do,” Indira is quick to answer, taking another note. “You’re a minor, without a parent or guardian present, and a member of a protected class of citizens. It’s important to me that you’re being treated fairly, respectfully, and are here of your own volition and not through duress.” She adds one more note to her tablet, then folds it back into the phone-sized square, tucked away in her blazer pocket.

“But I can tell you might appreciate the space, and I’ve got all I need for now.” Indira says, retrieving a business card from the same pocket she’d put the phone. She rises from her seat and crosses the distance to Jac, holding the card out between two fingers. “My cell number is on there. If you ever feel uncomfortable or just have a question about your rights, you or your mother are welcome to call me any time.”

Jac sits forward only far enough and long enough to reach for the card that's offered. She looks at the information printed on it, then sets her focus past it to Indira. “I do have a question,” she says, scraping a finger over the edge of the card.

The teen folds her hand around the card, then folds her arms over her chest. Eyebrows tick up slightly. “Do you have one of these for your supervisor too?” Her shoulders bounce with a quick shrug, she's only asking. “Since I'm a minor, I'm pretty sure my mom’s going to want to talk with who sent you with two guards to talk to me. Especially since I'm alone right now.”

A grin twitches at one corner of her mouth, but Jac doesn't appear precisely amused. Her blue eyes flick to the pocket where the folding phone-tablet went to. “And because you're taking notes like this is some legal matter.”

Indira is more amused by the question than anything. “It isn’t pertaining to your case. My notes are a review of SESA’s standards and practices. But you can call that number any time, day or night. There’s an office number on there as well that can put your mother in contact with the inspector general at the United Nations, if you have any concerns.”

“If there’s nothing else you wanted to discuss in private…” Indira says with one brow lifted, “I can call for your mother to come in. She should be waiting outside by now.”

“Why are you reviewing SESA’s standards and practices?” Jac can't stop the question from being asked. Her hands come down to rest against her middle, fingers folding the card in half like a hamburger. Her eyebrows knit, and it's clear she's trying to reason the answer to her own question, rather than playing at skipping questions by turning words around. What's the UN looking for? Why would they involve themselves in something…

How much trouble is she really in?

“She could've been here for those questions,” Jac answers. Back to turning it on the agent. The verbal counter only lasts a second, the teen’s demeanor shifts to one of thread thin hope. She turns in her seat to look through the opened door. “Is she really out there?”

“I’m reviewing them because no one is above the law,” Indira says with a raise of one brow. “Not even SESA. And I wanted to give you the option to speak freely. Some people your age tend to self-censor around their parents, and since this wasn’t a legal proceeding it was technically a conversation you and I could have in confidence.”

Indira looks down to the card, then back up to Jac. “And yes, she’s really here.”

“I’ll send her in.”


Outside Jac’s Room

Gillian Childs has been waiting here for close to twenty minutes.

The hall outside of Jac’s room looks like a hotel corridor. Carpeted floors, inoffensively generic architecture, some fake flowers. The chair opposite of Jac’s room makes it feel a little bit like a hospital waiting room, a place she’d spent the last three days before flying out here. Right now, Jac was having a confidential interview with a UN observer, a woman who spent considerable time reassuring Gillian before going into Jac’s room.

Down the hall, the sound of the elevator door opening catches Gillian’s attention as she waits for Indira to be done with Jac. A man emerges from the elevator; tall, Black, extremely well dressed in a suit that screams fashion more than business; maroon with burgundy plaid patterning. He has a gold pocket square poking out of his breast pocket that catches Gillian’s eye. That’s about when she notices he’s looking directly at her.

“Ms. Childs,” he says in a firm but casual greeting. “Michel F. Harris,” he says as if that name might mean something to her once he closes the distance to her, offering a hand out to Gillian.

Years ago, patience had not been Gillian’s strongest character trait. She had, thankfully, developed some in recent years, but she still couldn’t stop the tapping of her foot as she waited, looking across the hallway with lips pressed together. She’s not very put together at all. She hadn’t slept much. Half of her mind was way back in New York, wanting to know how Peter was doing, but she also needed to get Jac home— and she couldn’t leave it to Lene. Lene wasn’t her adoptive mother.

Lene wasn’t even, technically, her adoptive sister.

Lene could, though, keep an eye on Peter. Rhys could keep an eye on Peter. Others could keep an eye on Peter. She couldn’t stop checking her phone, though, as she waited until she noticed the mother fucker staring at her across the hall. No, she doesn’t know the name, and the way she raises an eyebrow might say so. “Who exactly are you with?” she asks, because, well, men in suits like that tend to be with someone. And she didn’t see any guest badges, or identification hanging from him.

Okay, maybe her patience still wasn’t the strongest. Especially not when her daughter was alone in questioning and the man she loved was halfway across the country possibly dying again.

“The Office of External Investigations,” Harris says as he withdraws the untaken hand without any visible insult. His office is a branch of the government Gillian’s never heard of before, though, and that sticks in her mind. “I’m here as a liaison to SESA. Your daughter was involved in an extremely serious case of domestic terrorism involving SLC-Expressive abilities.” Harris glances down to the floor, then back up to Gillian.

“I’m here in an official capacity,” Harris suggests, “but I’m also here to try and negotiate for a better future for your daughter, because I am in the minority who don’t want to see her tried as an adult in a military court.”

Harris comes to sit down on the other end of the couch beside Gillian, resting his forearms over his knees as he sits forward and looks to her. “Now, SESA’s taken a number of statements about what’s happened. We know Jac wasn’t there of her own free will, but we also know that she was bestowed with abilities that allowed her to return to the Safe Zone and that she, of her own volition, returned to Adam Monroe.”

Harris lifts his hands in defense. “I’m not saying I agree with that outlook. But right now there are people within the government who want to take a very hard stance against domestic terrorism, especially tied to Adam Monroe. But, like I said…” Harris closes his eyes and shrugs. “I’m sympathetic, and I don’t think she deserves to spend the next two decades behind bars.”

For a moment, Gillian just presses her lips together, obviously not liking where this conversation is going, but thankfully avoiding losing control over her ability or anything of the like. It mostly shows in the narrowing of her eyes, the tightening of her mouth, the way that dimple deepens in a way that is definitely not from a simple. It shows how little sleep she’s gotten, too. And how much she’s not even wearing the level of make up she usually was in pictures. Or in public. She just hadn’t had time to do everything. “I’m glad you don’t think that,” is what she says after a moment, voice definitely husky and tight.

But her voice always was, even when she wasn’t wrought with emotion. It always had been in all her interviews, in her book readings, in anything she had ever done in the last few years. Even one of the voices at the scene of the crime had been that tale-tell husky tone that seemed so her. “And just because she had the abilities to leave, doesn’t mean she could. There’s always situations where you feel you can’t leave, even if you want to and have the power to— it’s called coercion isn’t always about use of force or physical restraint. Or even threats to you personally. He fed her lies after lies and put the weight of the whole world on her shoulders.”

“You don’t have to convince me, Ms. Childs.” Harris says with a raise of his brows and a look over to the door. “Jac deserves to have the remainder of her childhood, but there’s a high likelihood that the Justice Department is going to try and make a public case out of this and that would mean she wouldn’t be available for parole until she was thirty-seven.”

The reality of the situation feels like a car crash. Gillian’s heart races against her will, anger, frustration, and the bile in the back of her throat make for a toxic mixture. It’s been a hard enough week, what with losing Eve and finding Peter, with everything that has pressed down on top of her leading up to this. The world they fought for turning a knife inward on them.

“I want you to know that I have a significant amount of pull within DHS.” Harris says, noticing the tension in Gillian’s expression. “Provided it’s approved from above, I’m authorized to make recommendations for leniency in exceptional circumstances, such as this. But I have to be able to provide something worthwhile to my superiors. As long as you and Jac help us get to the bottom of what happened…” Harris spreads his hands, “I can hopefully make this all go away.”

If that was supposed to make Gillian feel better, it doesn’t seem to, because she can see the thin rope that’s laid out before her that she feels she’s being asked to walk down. But after a moment she nods, moving to take a seat again. She would do what it took, if she had to, because she wanted to make sure that this ended up in the best possible way that it could.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help you. I was with her in Praxia, for part of it. Agent Robyn Quinn of SESA knows I was there, though I was unable to share many details with her due to the circumstances of how we were being kept. We weren’t allowed to share much information. Our communications were monitored.” She’s sure they even checked the book that she mailed home at the end.

Which is why she hadn’t tried to hide anything in it.

She wasn’t going to risk her daughter in any way. Either of them. “So whatever you want to know, I’ll tell you. Monroe wasn’t very forthcoming in any of his plans, however. And what he had told us was full of holes and deceptions. I was only there in hopes that I could get Jac out somehow, or protect her when things went badly. I wasn’t able to.”

But maybe she can now.

“That attitude will be very helpful,” Harris says with a dip of his head in a shallow nod. At the same moment, the door to Jac’s room opens and Indira Laghani emerges with a look to Gillian, then Harris. Indira merely nods, leaving the door open as she turns and continues down the hall with her tablet cradled under one arm.

“Why don’t we go in and talk to Jac,” Harris says with a gesture to the room, “and figure out how best we can help each other.”


Jac’s Room

Gillian does not enter alone after Indira leaves. The tall man dressed in a dark suit that enters has a slow cadence to his steps, letting Gillian lead the way. Once she’s inside, he turns to shut the suite door and hesitates for a moment, as if expecting something. But then he slips right back into his role and turns to face Jac, not moving from the doorway.

“Jac,” he greets, “my name is Agent Harris. I spoke with your mother out in the hall, and I’m hoping to be able to ask you a few very specific questions. If that’s alright?”

Mom.” Relief powers the breath that Jac uses to call as her mom actually does walk through the door, just seconds after Indira leaves. For an instant it’s hard to believe that someone in this place wasn’t using half truths or possibilities to just skirt past lies. Disbelief eases as quickly as it’s felt and a thrill of comfort replaces it. She sits up, leans forward to stand and go to Gillian, but ideas of reunion are smothered when Agent Harris follows her mother inside.

Whatever warm feelings or ideas of things looking toward the better are smothered beneath the cold, wet blanket of reality.

She’s here for reasons besides just being a wayward, runaway or whatever other spin they put on it.

The teen sighs at her plight and sits back. The card from the UN investigator is folded a second time between her fingers, then both hands are pushed into her pants pockets. The whole time her eyes are on Agent Harris, watching beneath shaggy curls of red hair as he hesitates, closes the door, then introduces with the suspicious curiosity of a juvenile cat.

“I haven’t seen you before,” Jac observes out loud, with a ponderous tone that might be better suited for a newly discovered book. Or neighbor. She pulls her legs up to fold criss-cross on the couch, hands slipping free of pockets only to be folded in her lap. “Okay. But if it’s anything like what the doctors ask, you’re going to find it’s very boring because there’s nothing to tell.” He doesn’t look like one of the doctors, or like he even belongs in the medical field. And agent doesn’t seem fitting of his appearance.

It makes her wonder. “What do you want to know?”

“He’s with the Office of External Investigations,” Gillian says, explaining to the teenager as she moves closer, wanting to hug the girl, but restraining herself to offering a squeeze of her hand on the girl’s shoulder. A reassuring touch to let her know that she was there, she was real, and she wasn’t going to leave her alone with this. She shouldn’t have left her in the first place— but that was something she would explain when they made it back to the Safe Zone.

Hopefully very soon.

“He’s going to try to help us get you home, but we have to answer his questions to the best of our ability, okay?” She talks as if she’s explaining something very carefully, but not really as if she doesn’t expect Squeaks to understand. It’s more— she’s being careful. Because this situation is sensitive. And she wants Jac to know that. This was a place they could go either direction. “We want to go home together, right?”

That’s what they wanted out of this. Or what she wanted. She hoped it was what Jac still wanted to.

“These aren’t going to be easy questions,” Harris notes, moving over to the chair Indira had been sitting in earlier. He puts a hand on the back of the chair but doesn’t move to sit yet. “I’m interested in a very narrow band of topics, and provided with how open and honest you are with me, I can put in a good word with my superiors and hopefully get you out of this jam you’re in.” Now Harris moves to sit, adding, “It’s a very serious jam,” as he settles in.

Harris crosses one leg over the other and removes a small, black rectangular device from his jacket, then unfolds it four times until it becomes a tablet. He lays it in his lap and taps two fingers on it. “I’m going to record our conversation, for your security and mine, just so you know.”

Swiping his fingers across the tablet, Harris looks deep in thought for a moment, then looks up to Jac and asks. “Tell me, in your own words, everything you know about the entity that is sometimes referred to as Uluru.

“External Investigations,” the teenager echoes quietly, trying the words out like a scientist examining a newly discovered species. Her eyes flit up to Gillian in response to the hand on her shoulder. Then they slant back to Agent Harris. Her nose wrinkles slightly, considering. She wouldn't place him as an agent Office of External Investigations — except at maybe one of those upscale clothing stores like Neiman Marcus.

Her eyes dart again to her mom when the man talks about jams and recording their conversation to get a read on how serious things are. It's a quick glance, done in the space of a heartbeat. Her attention returns to Agent Harris, curiosity renewed by the repeated hesitation. She nearly dares to interrupt the man’s thoughts when he presents the topic of discussion. “Oh.”

Jac’s expression falls just shy of the cautious lilt of her voice. She looks down at her hands as she recalls the very basics of the entity. “It's a… a being. Not really a person or… thing. It… it exists in all places and times. Not just here, with our past, past present, and future, but in all of them. It… it existed outside of the superstrings and wanted to destroy the world we have right now and remake it in their image. Maybe all the worlds. It um…” She picks up a hand and fusses with a thread in the upholstery seam.

“It used radio… well…” She stops herself for a second. That's not entirely accurate. Jac pinches the thread between her thumb and first finger and looks up at Agent Harris. “It used things like radio to communicate. I heard it on a video tape once. But also sound waves sort of act like a Taser against it.”

“Oh, right, the camera,” Gillian couldn’t help but say quietly, surprised for a moment as she thought about it for the first time in— well— so very long. Had that really been the first time she had known anything about this Entity? This Urulu? It had to have been. It had been before… before Eve had even said anything. Kaylee and Barbara and Squeaks and the rest of the kids— they had all seen, heard something. Kaylee and Barbara and Gillian had only seen the after-effects— though she did not know exactly what Barbara had seen.

As she realized she spoke, though, she cast an apologetic look at the Agent and nods her head for a moment, before going quiet again. She wasn’t the one being questioned at this point, but she tried to remember what had happened to that camera— even if it hadn’t really had any real evidence of Uluru on it. It had evidence of Magnes and Liz and the other world, though. It had begun a lot of what had led to the event they couldn’t really speak about.

Though she imagined this man was somewhat exempt from that— but that depended on how he took this whole thing about… the other worlds, she supposed.

Harris is quiet for a moment, making a note on his tablet and considering how best to approach the topic further. “It sounds like you’ve had considerable experience with this entity. It also sounds like you’ve been told a lot of things about it. I have some follow-up questions, and I’m just going to lay them all out, and you can come around to them however you’d like.”

Looking at his tablet, Harris considers what to start with. “Firstly, who told you that it existed outside of super-strings? That’s a very scientific term, and it doesn’t sound like the way you might describe it on your own.”

He consults the tablet again. “Secondly, it existing in all places and times. Where did you learn that?”

“As far as it’s motives go,” Harris adds, “where did you learn its intention was to destroy the world and remake it in its own image?” He quotes Squeaks’ words right back at her. “And do you believe this is accurate?”

“Lastly,” Harris adds, “what video tape?”

Jac’s eyes tick up when Gillian speaks, finding her mom for a second. That tape had been an adventure no one saw coming. She still remembers the voices and the eyes that burned with them. Then, when Harris begins speaking, her attention returns to him.

She only shows thought when the agent lays out his questions. And vague surprise at one point, eyebrows popping up at how many questions make up the some.

“Okay.” Jac looks down at the thread her fingers are worrying. Where to start? It's a lot to unpack. “Okay. The video tape.” That's the beginning, before she even knew about the entity. “I found it in the abandoned underground electrical plant. I didn't know what was on it, but when I watched it was just some old home videos. At first. Maybe half way, that's when the other voices started coming from the video.” She raises her hands and waggles her fingers like a spook, and continues with a creepy voice, “I see you. Eye to eye.

It obviously doesn't scare her like it used to. As for the rest… “I used to work around scientists and investigators, I was even a SESA intern. I listen when people talk and I read a lot. Someone somewhere said super-strings, and Uluru’s existence… you have to pick through some really boring textbooks to find it, but they're like… some kind of Sumarian god figure?”

That's been pieced together from what she's learned, and the teen’s tone makes it more of a question than answer. “So because it's like a god? That makes it exist outside of time like we know.” Jac shrugs, unsure of how accurate that logic is but confident enough to believe it's been answered.

“Adam.” Jac’s shoulders drop, her eyes follow and find the thread in the seam of the sofa. “I heard others theorize that the entity wanted to reshape everything. But Adam said it. He…” The girl ticks her arms around her middle. “That's why I was there, why he didn't just… get rid of me. He needed me to help stop Uluru from destroying everything.”

This time, Gillian does seem to think she should add more information, because she speaks up again, even if she gives Jac a sad kind of look at the mention of Adam not getting rid of her— part of her is afraid that might be what the girl actually believes now. And she hates Adam for letting her down like that. She reaches out to take the girl’s hand as she speaks, “The tape, it didn’t show that when watched again,” she explains.

“She tried to show it to me, but it didn’t happen a second time, whatever it was.” There’s a lot more details that she could go into, but she wasn’t being questioned, so she just thought she would add that tidbit.

As for the rest, Gillian didn’t know a lot of where the girl had gotten the terminology from, but— she could have her suspensions. But since she didn’t know for sure, she would keep it to herself.

“It sounds like a psychometric encoding,” Harris explains with a look to Gillian. “It wouldn’t be the first time someone with a psychic ability was able to imprint images or sound on an electromagnetic medium. It being a VHS cassette means that it has to be read by magnetic heads, which is perfect for interfacing with these kinds of imprints.” Harris looks back to Jac. “Do you still have it?” He wonders. “The tape?”

“Psychometric,” Jac echoes, as for confirmation she'd heard right and thinking out loud on what she knows of the subject. “Like the way ghosts can be picked up on audio and video tapes, or sometimes by those really old cameras that took film. We can't always see or hear ghosts unless they want us to, but they're not immune to magnetic imprinting.”

The teen’s thoughts wander that path a short distance. She wondered how the message got on the tape in the first place. “Radio waves use the earth’s magnetic forces,” she muses, “and the more the ghost wants to be heard or seen then the more powerful the recording.”

Her lips twist at the thought, but she doesn't follow it further. Jac nods, turning her eyes and attention to Agent Harris’ question. “I hid it. It never showed anything after that… not with the eyes or voice. But…” a shoulder lifts and she looks briefly up at her mom. They couldn't just destroy it. “It seemed too important to leave out or anything, so it's hidden.”

There’s a pause, Gillian had been trying to remember where the camcorder and tape had ended up, but as Jac says that she hid it, she nods, remembering, because she had helped hide it. Sort of. “It’s in my cellar back home. In the bomb shelter. In a safe.” She had helped Jac hide it, not wanting it to end up in the wrong hands, and not wanting it to be somewhere they couldn’t control. Someone could stumble upon it if they had hidden it underground, or back where Jac had found it.

She just hadn’t thought about it in so long—

That was part about why it had been hidden away. The less they thought about it, the better in some ways. She gives her daughter an apologetic look, because she knows that, perhaps, the girl wanted to keep it hidden, but— she thought maybe… they needed to offer some things over. And while what was on that tape might have been an issue a few years ago…

But those on the tape had already been returned. It didn’t matter as much anymore.

Harris’ attention drifts up to Gillian, one brow raised, then slowly back to Jac. “Ghosts aren’t real,” he says with some measure of certainty to the girl, “in so much as the restless spirits of the dead, at least. But I suppose that’s a very fine line, given the world we live in.”

With his attention returning to Gillian, Harris adds, “I’m going to need that tape. But we can handle that at a later date. It might be helpful to analyze it and see if there’s any information that can be gleaned from it.”

“Now Jac,” Harris returns his attention to her, “I’ve been told you were at the Sunspot Crossing, that you’re aware of individuals from alternate timelines.”

“Shut it!”

“That you saw the Travelers come through.”

There is a sound from every single electronic device in the room at once, a high-pitched scream of digital noise that reverberates through the tower and shakes the ground. El Umbral explodes like a blown tire, sending shards of red lightning spinning off in every direction, slashing through floor and ceiling, cutting through power conduits and computer equipment. Mateo and Lynette are both struck by this untethered force, blown apart into shimmering clouds of rainbow hued light that forks like tiny, opalescent bolts of lightning in every single direction from where they once stood, leaving shadows burned into the ground where they stood.

“That you saw the Entity enter our world.”

As screams fill the room, the red lightning that tore apart from El Umbral begins to take on a coalesced shape, vaguely humanoid but at the same time indistinct. It is like lightning given form, it is like dust, given shape, and it leaps into Eve Mas with a single stroke of electrical impulse and a reverberating howl.

“That you saw what it did to Eve Mas.”

Eve’s eyes flare with a golden light, a red glow suffuses her body, and a moment later she dissolves into a shimmering cloud of red energized particles with glowing gold eyes. What was once Eve Mas looks down at its hand, an ethereal shape like fine particles of metallic dust in the air with veins of light flashing through it.


This being, this shape, this Entity erupts with a corona of concussive force that snakes and winds its way through the room. Two SESA scientists struck by the blast explode into ashen cinders and scatter across the floor, another hit by the blast simply explodes in a shower of gore and bones, spraying down along the wall. The Entity staggers forward, struggling, like a car gone out of control down a freeway.

“I’d like you to tell me how it was stopped, from your perspective.” Harris asks, chin lifting up slightly.

Jac keeps her attention on Agent Harris when Gillian gives a more precise location of where the tape is hidden. No protests are made about giving the object up. That's more likely to come at a later date. Along with her bold insistence that she be part of any further analysis of it.

Likewise, the teen doesn't argue about the existence of ghosts.

“Sound.” Her answer to the man’s actual line of questions. It doesn't take much thought to remember that first encounter. Jac has nearly been struck by the blast that basically vaporized others. She might have been turned to dust too, if Dana hadn't saved her. “We used sound against it, to keep it from… doing anything. I matched the frequency the weapons were using.”

Even as she said it, Gillian knew the odds that they would ever see the camcorder again if they took it were pretty small. They would not be involved in anything involving it. She would owe her daughter an apology— but she thought she needed to give as much as she could. And that might be something they could use… As the questions continue, she looks relieved, glad to hear that this man knew of that incident— it clears her conscious on the contents of the tape, but at the same time…

She had not been there.

She also had not been there when the creature had been defeated. She had only seen what everyone else saw from the news recordings.

“Even negation didn’t do much against it,” she offers. “We tried to get through to her— Eve was one of my best friends. I’ve known her for over a decade… We couldn’t reach her. None of us could. She wasn’t there.” It hadn’t been Eve anymore. Eve had been gone.

Harris nods slowly, his expression distant as he listens. He looks at Gillian briefly, jaw muscles flexing as a thought crosses his mind. But when he blinks a look over to Jac, there’s a hint of compassion in his otherwise impassive expression. “XLRAD, Banshees?” He cites the weapon, then picks up his tablet again and flips through it looking for something. “Monroe’s people in Detroit used similar sonic weapons,” he says with a brief look to Gillian, “and according to this report, sound was a key factor in aligning the portal through which the Sunspot Crossing occurred.”

Harris taps his stylus on the side of the tablet. He looks like he’s piecing some thoughts together as he looks down to the tablet again, then back up to Jac. “How much do you know about a scientific procedure codenamed Umbra?

“Yes, those weapons. At the observatory it stunned the Entity.” Not for very long, but it kept worse from happening. Jac sits forward slightly, her chin cradled in hands propped up by elbows braced on her knees. “And the portal used sound frequencies too. It was slightly off because of the way the sound waves moved off the walls. Like diminished returns or something, it was losing somewhere.” So she helped, which she figures is likely in that report too.

Umbra is given a lift of her shoulders and a vaguely irritated sigh.

“Not as much as I want,” the teen admits. Clearly that's the cause of her mild frustration. “I learned that it was tested on me when I was a little kid. I heard it was… like a vaccine.” Jac’s shoulders give another shrug, a subconscious motion to escape some icky feeling. “Protection or immunity or something from whatever it is Uluru does when they attack I think. I could feel them trying to… like claws.”

Jac sits up and mimics grabbing with curled fingers. “But it was not physical claws. And they couldn't get me like they did others. The claws just kept slipping. It was gross.”

There’s not much that Gillian can add to this, really, but she does say, “Monroe mentioned Umbra, said that Jac was the only one who went through the process, that she was the only one protected from it. The only one who had a defense to it. That is why she— was there.” Why they were both there.

Because he had put the world on the shoulders of a teenager.

Harris looks at Jac for a long, silent minute before he looks back down to his tablet and takes a note. “I think we have everything we need here,” he says rather abruptly, folding the tablet up into something cell-phone sized which is easily tucked into his pocket. “Your answers have been helpful, but given the nature of our work you will not be permitted to speak of the questions you have been asked or the answers you have given. I’m sure you’re both familiar with the paperwork you’ll be given.”

Slowly, Harris rises from his chair and tucks his hands into the pockets of his slacks. “I’ll put a word in with the Justice Department about your pending case and, provided that there’s nothing in your information that can’t be corroborated or runs contrary to anything else we’ve been told, you shouldn’t be hearing from me again.”

Harris then turns to Gillian. “I want you to fully understand how fortunate Jac is right now. I have every confidence that the Justice Department will accept my insight and Jac will be allowed to go home with you within the week. That said,” and he looks at Jac to make sure she’s listening, “you are on a razor’s edge with the government right now. A second offense of any measure will put you right back here and there is no amount of negotiation I’ll be able to do to save you.”

Harris breathes in deeply and exhales a sigh. “That said, I do not believe you will be able to pursue your career with SESA any further. Regardless of how the agency feels about you, there are restrictions placed on intern and junior agents that your actions go far and beyond. I’m sorry it had to come to this, Ms. Childs, but that have no control over.”

It’s with an apologetic look that Harris fixes Gillian with an intent look. “I highly recommend Jac stay out of trouble. For both your sakes.”

"More secrets." Jac doesn't sound as resigned to the paperwork as her words imply. There's actually a hint of relief, like the silent sigh that comes after passing a surprise exam. For her the entire experience is one whole weird dream she's ready to wake up from and go home. And if that means agreeing to never talking about a part or any of it again, she can do that. Just hand her a pen. She looks at Gillian and nods slightly in silent affirmation.

That relief is short lived when she catches Agent Harris' tone and finds his gaze. It sobers her more than his words to her mom seconds before. But what he says after his warnings sends spots of color to her cheeks and makes her look like she might throw up at the same time.

No career with SESA. Her mind reels, tears fill her eyes and spill over before she can blink them away. What did she do? Running away, sure she should be in trouble for that. The girl pulls in a sharp breath. But losing SESA… Jac manages a half turn away from Gillian and Agent Harris before everything crumbles. She folds, upper body wilting, crumpling in on itself. Unsteady, sometimes panicked breaths wrack the teen's shoulders. Days and years worth of confusion and guilt, anger and hurt feelings spill freely into her arms.

“Not from each other, though,” Gillian assures the teen, letting her know that they could at least talk about it if she needed to. And she’s sure they would. She would owe a lot of apologies for giving the details of where the tape had been away, cause she knows they won’t see it anymore or have any hope of control over what they do with it. But she could hope that, at least, they find something they can do with it. If they knew about New Mexico, they knew about the most important things on that tape anyway, right?

As the teen pulls away, she grimaces, but nods with understanding. She had figured this could be a problem. “It’ll be okay. There’s a ton of things you can do that don’t involve the government…” She could go into more detail, tell the girl that she would do better with something with less constraints and more freedoms— but she was just told she was on a last rope as it was. She would need to be careful.

No matter where she went. “Thank you, Agent Harris,” she offers with a small nod, resting a hand on the teen’s back to give physical comfort. She would stay right here until she was ready to start picking up the pieces again.

There is a fleeting moment of sympathy in Agent Harris’ eyes as he watches Squeaks crumble under the weight of consequences for her actions. He looks away, over to Gillian, and affords her a curt nod. “Thank you for your cooperation,” is the last thing Harris says to either woman before he shows himself out of the room.

The government was at times a lumbering behemoth of many heads and just as many minds and desires. But in those moments where all focus crystalizes on a single point, on a single decision, it can move with a startling alacrity that would shame any coiled viper. Today it is Jac Childs who takes that venomous bite, pumping the poison of harsh truths through innocent veins.

Everything she had hoped and built for withered and died for want of something she believed in. The loss she has experienced, the trauma she has been dragged through, all of it in exchange for what?

She may never have a satisfactory answer.

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