asi4_icon.gif elliot2_icon.gif

Scene Title Infinitesimal
Synopsis noun: an indefinitely small quantity; a value approaching zero.
Date June 25, 2021

Every moment that Elliot has been linked to Asi has been a blessing, has been a clock ticking down the seconds to right now. He wishes it didn’t have to be like this, that he could hold on even an hour longer. That her presence wasn’t becoming an obstacle to his ability to function here.

Letting go will be its own relief, he thinks. He’ll suddenly have the room to put the network actively to use here as he finds people he trusts enough to share his gift with them. While Wright will always be here with him, there’s a stark difference between their partnership and his friendship with Asi.

Yeah, Buoy!

The Flooded Timeline

June 25th, 2021

“Make sure Francis doesn’t start using my room as a storage closet,” he requests. “If he gets motor oil all over the place I’m going to have to cut him in half down the middle and nobody wants that.” Well, maybe some of them would. He does get oil on everything.

"Yeah," she answers vaguely, distantly. Folds her arms before her tightly, trying and failing to stave off a preemptive feeling of numbness. The fabric under her fingers could be anything. She glances down and realizes her arms are actually bare. Ah. "Yeah, no, you're just on leave and will be back soon and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise." Her eyes lift, roam, and she realizes she needs … something else.

She feels Aisu nose her leg and lets out an exhale of surprise, encouraged to breathe regularly again by realizing she'd stopped. Her arms don't unfold to seek the comfort of rubbing the dog's head just yet. "Shit," she breathes out instead, eyes closing. "Sorry."

“It’s okay,” Elliot says softly. “I’m probably going to run out of comedic deflection here any second now.” He clears his throat, but stands to shake himself before real sorrow can set in. He throws on his coat, heading above.

“Now that I think about it,” he says as he steps into a cold wind, “This conversation deserves firm footing. Might as well get inside.” He’s found a few places where he can have relative peace from intrusion. He clatters down the gangplank, pulling his coat closed and huddling down against the spray.

"I just convinced myself, I think, that we'd have more time. That I'd have any feet further forward on my own mess of things. That… I don't know." Asi lets out a laugh as bitter as she feels while he walks his way down the gangplank. "That we'd find a good moment to put a period on this phase. Some place of closure. A-and now instead, we…"

Now her hands do part, palms to jeans, fingertips digging in. There are so many other stressful moments she's faced with far less warning and far more grace. Why is this so difficult?

It dawns on her to reflect, however momentarily, that none of those had anything to do with a goodbye.

Asi sinks back on the edge of her bed, one hand stroking the soft top of her puppy's head as he demands closeness and affection both, sniffing at her. "Do you have everything? Are you sure there isn't anything else? There's not one last thing I can do to… to help, in some way?"

Elliot sighs as he moves from the ramshackle floating dock into the building. It devolves into an involuntary shudder of cold, and he has to yawn in order to make the weird procession of sensations go away. He tugs his jacket closed to recoup some of his thermal losses as he mulls over a response.

He takes to the stairs, hoping to get a few levels above the worst of the wind as it seems to breathe through the halls. Is there anything Asi can do? “Maybe a few pointers on how to make the local you stop being mad at me. I’m guessing the salmon and rice ball trick will have diminishing returns.” He laughs, not expecting actual advice.

He feels her anxiety keenly. “If it makes you feel better, the anxiety will pass,” he says. “It’s inevitable, though a purposeful and careful break should tamp down the worst of it. It’s been ages since anybody stayed linked this long. Aside from Wright, obviously. But it will pass.”

Asi breathes out a laugh driven by sympathy over the thought of finding something to make the other her less mad at him, her eyes closing as she inhales and says, "Oh, I'm not sure the knowledge it's not you she's mad at will help your situation. She hates that you're not from there. She's still not convinced you all won't steal Silas back to this world. And she's mad to know the world's ending. Again." Her hand cups the side of Aisu's face to scritch it with as much attention as he deserves. "There's no fast path to it. Just a lot of … proving you're not an antagonist."

"Almost like sitting near a feral animal quietly and unoffensively until it finally stops seeing you for what its first opinion was, and starts looking past that to see you and what you are." The comparison might be unflattering, but it's not like the other her can hear them. And it's not as though she's not self-aware enough to realize this doesn't characterize her in some way as well. "It might be painful. And it might not even be worth it. There's not enough time you have there and she…" Asi sighs deeply. "She's abrasive."

Uncomfortably so.

The distraction of advice has helped her some, though– distracted the worst of her obsessive thoughts for now. And his advice to her in return about how to make this as gentle as possible for them both likewise has convinced her from anxiously and selfishly letting go before they both mutually agree. "The best advice I have, somehow, is don't try to relate," Asi breathes out, amused at the irony of it all. "Don't… try too hard. Trying to connect will cause her to take up bigger and bigger poles to shove you away with. Just… be yourself, if you have the misfortune of being stuck face-to-face with her again."

"But trying too hard is my bread and butter!" Elliot laments. "As Wright would say. I do have a tendency to people-please. Guess I could try to be the real me." His tone carries But who wants that? buoyed in sarcasm.

He smirks as he rounds another bend in the stairwell, allowing a few people to pass him on their way down without talking. At the next floor he stops, considering which perch to occupy. He wanders into an unoccupied corner of the building to look out the windows at the sea below. The waves churn between the obstructions posed by buildings and boats and ramshackle docks.

He crosses his arms and fidgets with his fingers, tapping randomly as he so often does. "It really has been good to have you with me," he says softly. "I wish I could hold on longer." Thinking about it brings his attention back to the stress only he feels in the maintenance of her presence, causing him to work his jaw momentarily. "We don't have a lot of time left."

Asi mirrors the smirk Elliot wears as he walks, shaking her head ruefully at them both. "See? That dark humor and biting wit is sure to win you friends, when it comes to me." She bides the time in silence with the dog, letting go of seeing what he sees without stepping away entirely to focus on the fluffy face intent on comforting her whether she wants it or not. The sound of his voice brings her attention back, hands stopping in place. She blinks once. Makes a peace she hasn't been able to otherwise.

"Then let's not wait until it gets worse. End it– on our terms." The proposal is made on a hitched breath nonetheless, a steeling against the discomfort to come. For his and her sake both, she leans down to embrace Aisu long enough his tail stops wagging and he starts to wriggle in her grasp. She lets out a disgruntled chuckle at the minor betrayal of her affection, commenting as he wiggles free to pace the room, "You shouldn't be alone after this. I don't know if you trust anyone enough to be near them, but– worst case, she's someone you could go to. She'd understand the sense of loss. And if she's like me, she'll… care, because I care. Because I looked out for Silas knowing he meant something to her." A breath flattened by an ironic huff of laugh leaves her as she proposes darkly, "Maybe that's your bonding moment."

"But that's on you. I can't make that decision for you," Asi acknowledges with a bit of trepidation. "This is the one I can make with you.

"Letting go."

Tears spring to Elliot’s eyes despite his best efforts. Something catches in his chest which he has to swallow down. A complicated wave of anxiety, gratefulness and regret makes its way through the network, or at least makes its presence known.

His mouth opens to speak, but all that comes out is an aborted huff. He pinches the bridge of his nose and breathes raggedly for a moment. He nods when he has enough control of himself to do so. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “This has meant more to me than I can really explain.” Other than all the little ways she can feel it in his body. The way he remembers, rapid fire, every meaningful moment they’ve shared. “I wish we had more time. I wish I could be there to help you get what you need.”

Sudden, sympathetic tears are blinked away with practice. Asi presses her lips together, eyes crinkling at the corner. A smile, without actually following through with it. For a moment she considers words, but reaches for memory instead– just like she'd reached for Elliot's perspective when she thought she would break while dealing with the Pharo revelations. She remembers the comfort found by the once-familiar stink and sight of the sea, seen through his eyes, felt through his senses. Farther back than that still, when sensation and memory became silently-passed notes during serious moments; cementations and deconstructions of inside jokes; absent, sometimes unnecessary calls on network aspects nourishing a sense of never being alone. It's that last which finally does her in, a stubborn tear breaking free.

"Me too," she mutters tightly. "For your sake, too. But we'll get by. And we will see each other again."

Somehow. Some way.

"It's… goodbye, but not farewell," Asi insists. And then she can't help but let out a helpless laugh at herself. "Or is it the reverse? Does that even make sense?" She holds back from pulling on his better knowledge of the intimacies between the uses of those two words. Another preparatory step toward not being able to, shortly.

“As much sense as anything in the English language can make,” he says, trying to pivot away from his emotions and failing with grace. “Getting to borrow languages really highlights the five hundred years of hamfisted, drunkenly belligerent mishandling of all the root components of English.” He only stutters twice.

He shakes his head, clenches his jaw in apology. Just another deviation from having to say whichever word means this is only temporary. “Wright is on standby,” he croaks, then clears his throat, continuing at a whisper. “You can reach out to her if it’s trickier than anticipated. She can relay the old fashioned way. Whenever you need.”

A protest rises in the back of Asi's throat and finds itself held there. She barely feels herself slipping off the edge of the bed and onto the floor, her back against her bunk. She wants to argue Wright is more than just a pathway to Elliot, but neither does she want to be arrogant in insisting she shouldn't use the link those two uniquely share in that way.

The pent-up sound finally releases itself as a disgruntled, humbled note as she breathes out, a small wave of gratefulness floating out along with it, directed to both their shores.

"Okay," Asi whispers, and with a long blink, begins the first motions of stepping back. Familiar for how many times they've done it before, but something she's held off from stringently.

Until now.

Elliot steadies himself, breathing deeply, eyes closed. As he begins to step back and let go, they can both feel his muscles begin to relax their psychosomatic grip on what only his mind feels as strain. The body’s manifestation of not wanting to let go coming to grips with the reality of the moment; with the need to do so regardless.

“We’ll meet again.” His mouth forms the words of the statement as fact, but he doesn’t speak even to whisper. What need is there for words when so much can be spoken with such discrete intimacies, tiny movements and postures and feelings. What it feels like to remember letting go.

“Let go in three,” he begins. He experiences the link as a web of infinitesimal connections between synapses all throughout the brain; a cloud of sparkling lights where information might flicker from one to the other in the vast distance between their minds.

“Two.” Cowpaths and highways ending in memories both as vague as childhood and as specific as vocabulary. Alleyways and shortcuts to the parts of the Index he’s opened to her. Even apart from the Index, what can be said without words creates layers of subtlety, chained inexorably to intimacy and its foundation, trust. Trust that he has in her, that she certainly shouldn’t have in him.

“One.” He reaches into his mind, gathering the links like handfuls of stars, pulls them from the sky. Unmoors them and casts them into the black ocean between them.


The Bastion

Phoenix Heights

New York Safe Zone
asi4_icon.gif Lowe’s

Archipelago of Manhattan

The Flooded Timeline
It's suddenly, overwhelmingly quiet. Asi closes her eyes to brace herself against it, the unexpected shock of that sensation forestalling anything else emotionally, mentally. She takes a breath in, trying to convince herself to not do what she's done so many times before– to not go through the acts she does when she awakes and she thinks, for scant few moments, that maybe everything that's happened to her the last year has simply been a nightmare. She tries, knows better than to paw at what's no longer there.
Elliot’s ears ring, his whole mind rings as what was once a door becomes a bare and featureless wall. Words that once filled its surface with life, with the story of a door leading home, now struck out. Regret, or perhaps a more nebulous, bittersweet feeling might have been the last thing felt echoing across the link. Not just because Asi is Elliot’s closest friend, or that he may never make it back. But because of how the weight of lying to her has grown so much heavier than any supposed strain he feels in maintaining their connection.
To feel at the stump of a severed connection.
A door that once led to not feeling alone here.
She knows better. She does it anyway. Doesn't breathe again for– she doesn't know how long. Her head swims by the time she remembers to.
He breaths raggedly, unashamedly, as tears mark his face the way a sudden gust of wind adds drops of the sea to the glass window before him.
It's different this time because she knows it's different. It's different this time because the world is different, their circumstances are different. Her circumstances are different. Her tolerance for being alone and unconnected has unquestionably shifted. Trying to remind herself of the necessity of having let go does nothing to ease the– it's not… regret? It can't be regret– or maybe it can be. Maybe it's guilt. Maybe it's grieving.
Even though Wright holds her hands, herself, the way that means I love you, her presence, her solidity, her permanence is such a different thing to him than friendship. So different from even the romantic love, the heartbreak and grief he feels for Rue. Nobody can meet every one of another person’s needs. So here too, in this void where a person once stood beside him, so infinitely far away from him, there’s now only guilt, only grieving.
There's certainly a bit of that.
How grieving makes him feel so guilty.
She's shifted to one side, one arm on the ground propping her up, mouth opened like to scream in agony though no sounds like it come. She tries to remind herself to breathe despite the tears that are coming now, unbidden, presently unnoticed. It's not until a hic breaks her silence– refusing to become an actual sob– that Aisu takes significant notice in her situation, trodding back across the room to lick at the salt on her cheek with a faint, uncertain wag of his tail.
Last year, losing his connection to Wright on opposite sides of the Castle had been a live wire caught in his hand, muscles unable to let go as the energy caused him to spasm. This is so much less than that, yet hurts equally and more, for so many reasons. This time he was prepared to do this grieving, he and Asi had the benefit of holding hands, of breathing out, of letting go together. He knows this is chemical, it’s his mind adapting to such a sudden loss of stability, of kinship.
Asi takes in a shudder of a breath, opening her eyes just enough to understand enough of the dog's position relative to hers to push herself up and scoop her arms around him. "おいで," she whispers, or something enough like it he allows himself to be drawn close and hugged. Even then, he feels so distant– worlds away compared to the connection she's just let go of, and everything else unreachable stars beyond it.
The Here and Now, this flooded world, feels flat, opaque, impenetrable. He presses his fingertips against the glass as though it might heat and fall away, open the divide and bring her back to him. Allowing himself this small selfishness before he needs to truly grapple with having let go, having lost a friend. The existence of the Looking Glass armor above him does little to bring him hope that it might also bring him home.
She's aware enough of how badly she's handling this that she feels gladness she kept herself together– mostly– when it mattered. Her own grief should be private. Elliot shouldn't be made to feel like he was letting her down by doing what needed to be done. They knew this was a temporary arrangement. That hers was a hand to be held onto through the stress of the jump; that his were eyes that she could briefly witness a world known to a friend she'd thought lost. That– what happened would have to end.
All things considered, he feels that he’s handling this far better than he thought he would. His breathing returns to even, to calm, returns to ragged, to involuntary whimpers strangled out before they can draw the attention of other people around him. He knew it was going to come to this eventually. That he could hold on to help her however he could as she struggled against such malicious circumstance. That maybe he would have something to offer that could bring her safety, wholeness.
That they would have to say goodbye.
That he would have to break their link.
She just wishes that they never had to.
How he wishes he didn’t have to.
Of all the skills Asi Tetsuyama has at her disposal, healthy emotional expression is not one of them. There's irony to be found that only in freedom from the life she lead before that she's found the dark side to letting people in and caring about them in return. She wonders if this isn't just the last gouge against her that makes everything else happening around her suddenly take on a new texture of realness. After all: The world is ending soon, and she's part of a team tasked to research how to endure past the end of it. She both is and isn't herself, cleaved of her ability and stuck permanently in a body that will continue to malfunction until death. Her only hope is to find a friend she knows has betrayed her as well as saved her, to fight seeming impossibility against the clock in search of a miracle that will save not only herself, but the her she's always been.
Elliot knows he needs to let himself feel the grief, to experience it as best he can so that it may eventually pass him by, leaving in its place, if not hope then the determination it will take to find a way home. He needs to feel it despite his ability to push such feelings down to where they don’t hurt him. Down into the BLACK BLACK BLACK. It’s saved him so much pain in the past, continues to save him. He needs to feel it because a leviathan now stirs in the Aquifer, the halls of the Palace are no longer his alone. The phone behind the door labelled SWITCHBOARD rings and with the ringing rouses memories that cut out his heart even as they put him back together. He can’t use his voice as it can only expel the sad sounds of loss, of being unable to put words in order. He presses his hands against the window and types to Wright slowly, steadily, ␇␇␇IT␠HURTS␠SO␠MUCH␄.
The comfort she was deriving from Aisu's head against her shoulder is interrupted suddenly when she realizes she can't breathe, either from trying to hold back from crying, or for having failed at doing so. Her head tilts back, a vain attempt at clearing clogged airways, struggling for air. A note of agony leaves her as she disentangles herself, comes to her feet, and pulls open the door without looking first. She's aware she's followed by the dog by the click of his nails on the concrete hallway. Asi lurches her way to the shared restroom and shower just down the hall, throwing herself inside and shutting the door behind her and the youthful puppy, grabbing a fistful of paper towels out of the dispenser so she can blow her nose as quickly as possible.
Wright doesn’t have to acknowledge, she feels the grief in his body just as keenly as he does as he stands here. As he stands there only because his hands are pressed against the window. It would be so easy to collapse here. To melt down and spiral into it. But then, seeing the event horizon of that maelstrom, Wright wipes away her tears and says with a jagged voice, “Coalesce.” It hits like a wave, it hits like it always does. The memory washes over him and pulls away, taking as always grains of sand from the beach of the Here and Now to alter itself forever. A memory of meaning that collects his attention but other little things as well. Next time the wave will be imperceptibly different. The Big Breath In will carry the colors of letting go of Asi as his breath out chases the wave away.
She catches sight of herself in the mirror– her red eyes, her disheveled hair, her distraught expression. A long moment passes as she catches her breath and looks at herself more critically, recognizing and compartmentalizing what's come over her. After a spell, she swallows, and with it, regains some of the composure she's not sure she wants to recover just yet. But ultimately, she does what she's always had to do– be the one who puts herself back together.
The window makes a poor mirror, but he knows how he looks and accepts it. He can stand here, feeling at the edges of the network where she used to be, not to cry for the loss, but to remember where she will be if he makes it home and she accepts the link again. Not goodbye, not farewell. This is where we’ll meet again. Where he can make rapid reconnections to the things he’s indexed between them—where new connections can flourish.
"また会おうと約束した," she sternly reminds herself in a whisper. It sounds plaintive even to her, but she looks severe enough as she states it.
It's hard for him to honestly reckon with what he's being doing, what he's been preparing her for even though she isn’t Relevant.
They promised to meet again. And it was up to her to do her part to ensure that meeting could even happen.
There’s the guilt. Not wanting to admit that, despite honest affection, part of all of this has been compulsory for him.
The next breath she takes in is the first clear one since the connection was broken, accompanied by a pull of one single last sheet of paper towel to dry her eyes and clear her sinuses. After it's tossed in the trash, she catches sight of herself again in the mirror and lifts her head a little higher, sets her jaw in a way that better reminds herself of how she's looked in other silent conversations with herself in the mirror on other days so unlike this one. She emotes a self that's paradoxically both years past from present, and yet never existed at all.
Asi’s experience with technopathy had made her intuit the quirks of the network faster than most. Faster than Elliot had expected. Faster than Wright, though back in those days he stumbled just as frequently as she did. Robbed of his memories of much of what he learned in Site 0, he’d had to learn to walk again, and teach her how to walk beside him. And it was comforting in a way, to share the network with Asi, who felt like such a natural fit. The way she intuited the little quirks almost as well as he does. The quirks that he allowed her to know about.
Because that's who she needs to be now. And that's who she wants to continue being. Someone strong enough to endure pain and struggle to secure moments of hope even if they're ones she'll never fully be able to appreciate– to lay down the stepping stones for a better future. Someone to be looked to for help, rather than someone who needs it. Asi slips back from the sink mirror, leaning down to place a hand on Aisu's head.
Because he can’t share everything, even if he wanted to, which he so desperately does. He can’t march into the 0bservation Room to reach for the lock the make by lying; by lying; by lying. Not unless there’s no other way. Only after they can build a new lock to sit in its place. Without going there now, he still feels the way she pressed against the other side of the glass with force, seeking form. Seeking sitting down.
"Be well," she wishes the air in a murmur, even though no one's there to hear any longer. "Take care."
The way the heat of her fingertips had begun to warp the mirror, press into the room, unaware of the danger.
It's one last harmless thing she does for herself that makes her feel better and able to move forward… and maybe that's the only thing that matters.
So he lied, said it's a strain. Broke the link before he becomes too comfortable.

Before she screams, cries, begs him not to.

Before he can't.

Before it’s forever.

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