Intercision, Part I


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Scene Title Intercision, Part I
Synopsis 1. a cutting off, through, or asunder : interruption, intersection.
Date February 6, 2021

The men walking out of the room speaking Arabic, their posture. The piecemeal nature of their armaments. She looks back at Greg, who has finally deigned to look Rue in the eye. It’s assessing, the way someone looks at a horse when they’re considering if they want to buy it.

But her headache, her anxiety, and her paranoia don’t allow her to see the smaller details. So Sofia points it out.

“Those men are Mazdak.” She motions with her chin to the soldiers who left, never breaking eye contact from Rue. “We didn’t leave you out of a sense of altruism, we took you because we know who and what you are.”

Rue Lancaster’s experiences with Mazdak have largely consisted of conversations with old white men, but the pieces fit together once Sofia calls attention to them. Pieces that Rue had been actively ignoring in the interests of not realizing too much and not making a liability of herself.

Should’ve known that bird had flown.

“I didn’t slip my tether, if that’s what you think,” Rue responds cautiously. Her eye contact hasn’t broken either. “I’ve been dying for a while now. Been keeping it at bay, but…” It’s become difficult to ignore. One hand comes up to pinch at her brow. “They cut me loose,” she explains, bringing the topic back around to Mazdak. “I’m not worth anything to them. So, I”m sorry if you thought I would be some kind of bargaining chip, but I don’t think I’m going to be of much use to you.”

Sofia looks at her brother, making a face Rue has seen her make to Ingrid. Can you believe this girl? it says. Greg doesn’t have the same good-natured smile, however. He merely affords Rue a lifeless stare and then turns his attention down to the maps.

“You’re not a bargaining chip,” Greg says in a derisive tone, as if the concept is an absurdity. “You’re a corpse who doesn’t realize she’s already dead.” He briefly glances at her, then focuses on the map again, tapping two fingers on a city named Twin Falls off of Interstate 30. She’s not sure precisely where that is though, the map is printed at such a close zoom in it's hard to tell.

Sofia steps away from the table and walks up close to Rue, tilting her head to the side and giving her a piteous, but supportive, smile. “This is about your future. What if I told you we had a cure for your condition?”

Rue had been ready with a quip about having figured out she was already dead about the time she started bleeding from her eyeballs and Claudius Kellar started talking to her in that smooth voice about what she was going to have to do in order to keep living. At least they’re on the same page. Her gaze barely has a chance to harden before Sofia calls her attention back, however.

There’s no spark of hope in her eyes, no light breaking through the storm clouds gathered around her. There’s only a wary caution.

I don’t have a future.

“I guess I’d have to ask the question I should have asked the first time I was told this,” Rue supposes. “What do you expect from me in return?”

“That depends,” croons a familiar voice from behind Rue. It turns her blood to ice. “On how the next few minutes go.”

She can’t even turn to look back at the source of it, because she knows who is standing behind her. Yet, she feels something—feels compelled to turn—and when she sees the man standing in the doorway of the old, derelict building, it is not the familiar face that causes her heart to skip a beat.

It is the eyes.

His terrible eyes.

Six Days Later

OEI Containment Site ID08
Twin Falls, Idaho
PNW Dead Zone

February 6th
8:17 pm

Twin Falls was once a peaceful town, nestled on the edge of a winding ravine in rural Idaho. Then the Second American Civil War came. Twin Falls didn’t collapse due to guerilla warfare, or by being an important military target. It collapsed in the aftermath of an EMP so powerful it turned the western half of the United States into a dead zone. The chaos that followed would see most of Twin Falls burned to the ground, leaving little but ruins in its wake.

But that was not the end of Twin Falls’ troubles.

On the northernmost edge of the town, where Interstate 93 crosses Snake River Canyon, a single bridge spans the 1,400 foot canyon divide, broken at the middle and twisted like a sheet of aluminum foil. Hovering in the center of the bridge’s broken span is a sphere of infinite darkness, surrounded by a faintly glowing corona of light like the eclipse of a dying sun.

Both sides of the Perrine Memorial Bridge have been converted into an operations center. Black, unmarked vehicles are parked along the side of the road, towers connected to generators supply floodlights for a half mile around both sides of the bridge. And at the center, where the bridge’s span is broken, metal towers rise up from all the way down in the river, streaming with power cables and plated with strange sheathes of matte gray material that emit a low, vibrational hum toward the spherical anomaly.

Rue Lancaster can see this all from the air at the behest of her newfound benefactors. The helicopter Rue is seated in has both side doors open, allowing for a mostly unobstructed view of the ruins and the camp at the bridge.

«Glassworks confirmed. We’re clear to land.» The pilot’s voice rings in Rue’s ears through her headset. The man in the helicopter with her, Gregory Sharrow, has a smug smile of appreciation on his lips as he watches on.

The helicopter touches down on the south side of the ravine, on the northern limits of Twin Falls, right in the middle of I-93. Already, Rue can see what really transpired here. Mazdak soldiers are moving from the edges of the encampment, searching the vehicles parked on the roadside. But there are bodies in the street. Some are men in suits, others are what look like US military judging from their uniforms and gear.

Shell casings litter the ground.

Greg is the first to step out of the helicopter, his silvery hair blown about by the downdraft from the rotors. “Come on!” Greg shouts over the roar of the rotors.

He’s waiting!

Six Days Earlier

Mazdak Camp
Sturgis, South Dakota

January 31st
9:17 pm

Adam Monroe stares at Rue with eyes like glowing hot metal.

“Give us some space,” he says, gesturing to Greg, Sophia, Camilla, and the Mazdak forces in the room. Greg glances at his sister, and the two do not even so much as cast a shadow of a doubt before making for the door Rue was brought in through. Camilla follows them out, along with the Mazdak soldiers—none of whom so much as look in Monroe’s general direction.

Once the room has cleared, he fixes those burning eyes back on Rue. “Privacy’s so important these days, you know what I mean?”

Just a walking corpse. The fact that Rue’s known this about herself for a long time means that she doesn’t feel the fear she supposes she should in this moment. He’s unnerving, of course. One of the last times she saw that face, it was looming over her with an axe, poised to split her head open.

Now, it’s those eyes. The eyes feel like they can see past who she is on the outside and bore straight into her soul. Whatever’s left of it at this point. She was a paper pusher. The only thing she ever slashed before was a budget. Now she’s done such awful things.

“Yeah,” the redhead responds with a nod of her head. “Of course.” Whatever’s about to happen, he doesn’t want an audience. What that means, exactly, she can’t even begin to guess at.

Lifting her chin, she tries to show at least a bit more bravery in the face of whatever fresh hell awaits. It doesn’t mean she isn’t scared, just that she isn’t going to start shaking or crying about it. Not this time. “What do you want me to call you?” It seems as good a place to start as any.

Not Adam,” he says with a glib smile. “Old hat—passé—you know, just not it.” He walks casually over to the table where Greg and Sofia had been studying a map. Glances down at it and then back to Rue. “Guess that’s not really an answer though, is it?”

With a huff of a sigh, he rolls one shoulder and sits on the edge of the table, folding his hands in his lap. “You can call me Uluru, enough people seem to think that’s my name. So why buck tradition now?” He smiles, though there’s knives in it.

“Yeah,” Rue says again, feeling lame as soon as she feels the repetition part from her lips. “I kind of figured.” Not Adam. “Alright, then. Uluru it is, if that’s what you want.” She can be glib, too. “You’re still the boss.”

Footsteps are slow but sure as she makes her way toward the table as well, only giving a cursory glance to what’s spread out on it. No expectation that any of it will mean a damn thing to her. She’s not the one who traversed the country. She doesn’t read maps, she sits in the back seats of towncars and checks e-mails.


“Then what happens now?” There’s a little tilt of her head, a knit of her brows. “I don’t…” With a grimace she gestures to the one who may be her benefactor, or her undoing. “Go ahead.”

“Well, first.” Uluru says, reaching out to boop the tip of Rue’s nose. “We fix that.”

Clicking his tongue, Uluru gives Rue a wink. “Check, fixed. No longer dying.” She doesn’t feel anything, though.

“Second,” Uluru continues, gold eyes brightening for a moment. Now Rue feels something, a tingling sensation beneath her skin and behind her eyes, one that feels like a carpet of ants crawling through her veins. It’s short, substantial, but not painful. Just terrifying. “Small modifications. Just a little under-the-hood work.”

The woman’s nose wrinkles instinctively, but she resists the urge to reach up and rub it. It’s not off-putting, just unexpected. So is the proclamation that she’s fixed. Instead, her hand starts to reach toward the table with the intent to lay her palm over it and see what happens when she lets the rush of her power flow over her. The last time… Well, she swore it would be the last time.

That all stops short when that crawling cascade seems to work its way through her. Rue holds up that hand in front of her, watching it like she might see movement under her skin as she flexes her fingers. Then, nothing. She lets out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, gasping for more in its wake. Blue eyes shift from the back of her hand and to Uluru again. “What was that? What did that do?”

“I woke you up.” Uluru says with an impish smile, crossing one leg over the other. “I’ll be straightforward with you, Febs. I need you to do a favor for me, and as payment in advance I’ve reassembled your genetic code so that you’re not going to melt like the Wicked Witch of Whichever Direction That Was.” He smirks, amused by his own antics. “I also made some modifications to your, the fuck do you people call it, Expressive ability?”

Sliding off the table, Uluru claps his feet on the floor. “Your psychometry was like… if your ability was a painting, your ability to read the past of objects was like a fucking fingerpainting, daubed over your body by the shaky hand of an inelegant artist. I’ve rendered you in oil and gauche, made you a fucking masterpiece.

Febs. Jesus. “Thank you.” When someone gives you a gift, you thank them. This is… an obligation, but she's living. Part of this parcel is a mercy, however twisted.

One more time, her attention settles on the flexing fingers of her hand. It doesn't feel any different. “I've always known I would be fucking spectacular.” And while that levity is a defense mechanism, it's not entirely without truth, in that she's believed it.

One constant between the Rue Lancasters of both worlds was their (crushed) dreams of stardom. Of being exceptional at something. A ballet dancer, a gorgeous face, a talented actress… She tried and failed to be all these things, but when she thought she was Expressive, she escaped being a nobody.

Until she was simply mundane February Marlene Lancaster again. Adam Monroe had granted that wish of hers, curling a finger of the monkey's paw. Now Uluru meant to refine her further and… maybe make it real.

“If I'm a masterpiece now, what does that mean?”

“Reading was the cover to your book,” Uluru explains, starting to pace around the table. “Being is the rest of it. You familiar with what a mosaic is? That’s a now word, right?”

Slowly, Rue lowers her hand while the rest of her straightens up to her full height. “It is,” she confirms. She forces herself to keep breathing, not to hold that breath in her lungs until it burns.

“That’s you.” Uluru says with a fingergun, wink, and click of his tongue at Rue. “I mean, now anyway. Think of it like a tether,” he says with a gesture to her. “You touch someone, you link with them. You learn, understand, fuck—embody what they can do. You get too far away from them, the tether breaks and so does your connection to their Ur—soul—fucking ability whatever.”

“You can do that as much as you want, as many people as you want. Assuming you don’t get too far away from any one person you’re linked to. Trick is you need to know what they can do, so reading them will help you understand that. Link blindly and well, best hope you’re lucky.” Uluru cracks a smile. “Jury’s still out on that I suppose.”

There’s a shaky smile that forms when she’s told she isn’t just special, but the ultimate kind of special. “So… I can do anything now.” There’s an incredulous little breath of laughter. “So long as I can find the right person and make them stay close enough.”

Tipping her head down, she runs her tongue over her teeth, catching for a moment at the front while she considers the repercussions of this new gift of hers. “If you wanted me to mimic anything, you’d have just done that,” Rue surmises, lifting her head again and leaning in with an almost conspiratorial little grin. “There’s no freedom in this.” She should be more scared than she is, she knows, but something broke in her about the time she hears a clatter as a grenade pin lands in the bed of the truck. Then another. And another.

“Well…” The ginger’s head tilts, considering with lifted brows. Her voice quavers as she posits, “Just like cornhole back home, right?”

A moment later, inside the mouth of the beast is an explosion as the three grenades detonate inside.

The Seeker lurches to the side and skids across the ground, and it struggles back up onto trembling segmented limbs. As it starts to gallop ahead again, there’s a crackle of electricity around one of its limbs that blooms in the shape of a human silhouette, like something just passed through the machine’s legs and elicited a shower of sparks from the mechanisms within.

The Seeker turns, tracks the movement, and then slams six of its limbs down into the dirt. While they machine becomes a black spot in the distance as the truck finally begins to outrun it, Rue realizes that the exodus may be made from the frying pan, but she’s
headed into the fire.

“So what does this make me? Your leashed pet or what?” There’s no hint of disgust, but no traces of amusement either. “Name me. What am I?”

Uluru laughs, covering his mouth with one hand. “Name you.” He says with barely restrained laughter and incredulity. “God, you really were a theater kid or whatever the fuck you were. Look, what I need from you is blindingly simple. I need eyes and ears somewhere I’m not, you’re a spy by current trade, and you also very much want to be alive.”

Circling Rue like a shark, Uluru taps two fingers under her chin and alights it so their eyes meet. He’s completely ignored her assertion that he could make her do whatever he wants, be whatever he wants. Her belief is useful.

“All I need you to do is exactly as I say, and then…” Uluru spreads his hands, “you’re free. You don’t even need to fucking come back or check in, because I’m going to be,” he moves his hand and presses a finger to her temple, “right here the whole time. You don’t even have to hurt anyone. Just don’t fucking die. Can you do that, Febs? Have an ounce of self-preservation?”

Spy,” Rue repeats. “Was that so hard?” The circling doesn’t bother her visibly. Uluru’s certainly an impressive figure, but he doesn’t unnerve her in the way that Claudius Kellar’s own assessments did. He doesn’t slither around her and make her want to recoil, his oil slick voice in her ears.

Is she dramatic? “Well, I was an actress.” Any sense of sassy bravado she felt, however, stills in her when his hand comes to rest at the underside of her chin, directing her in a way not unfamiliar. Like they’re adjusting her for just the right shot. Is this her best side?

Her eyes track the movement of his fingers when they move to her temple instead. Does she have self-preservation? When presented with the option of an axe to the head or Adam’s schemes, she accepted the latter. When she had to choose between working for the Mazdak splinter or a bullet to the head, she took the former. The Gemini process had been hell, and it had left her a deteriorating mess, but she’d endured it to survive just a little longer.

All in the hopes of one thing.

“I can do all that.” Blue eyes returned to those burning gold. “This isn’t negotiation, I just have a question.” Rue hesitates only a moment before she lifts her chin and asks, “When I’ve done what you need me to do, can you send me back home? To my wife?”

Uluru squints at Rue for a moment, both questioning and unquestioning all at once. He steps away from her, then twirls one finger in the air. “Get some fucking sleep, you’re leaving at dawn,” he says, Rue’s question unanswered. She was right:

It wasn’t a negotiation.


Six Days Later

OEI Containment Site ID08
Twin Falls, Idaho
PNW Dead Zone

February 6th
8:23 pm


He’s waiting, Greg had shouted. Of course he was. Uluru took the shortcut between there and here, left days ago while the combined Mazdak and Sentinel forces took the long way traveling west by land and air across the United States into the Dead Zone. It had given Rue a long time to think about her Faustian bargain, and how little she truly knows about what is asked of her.

But she knows one thing for certain: everyone here is afraid of Uluru.


“Do you have any idea how much of a religious experience you’re having right now!?” Greg shouts back over his shoulder at Rue to be heard over the rotors. “To be chosen like you are!? It’s miraculous!

Nearby, the bodies of some sort of federal agents lay scattered. Mazdak fighters stand watch at checkpoints once manned by these agents, Sentinel mercenaries stand watch around the helicopter. Greg seems enlivened by the experience.

Ahead, that floating sphere of absolute darkness bisects the broken bridge. It is at once awe-inspiring and horrible, and it is where Greg is leading Rue.

“Yes,” Rue calls back over the noise. “I’m very lucky!” She isn’t. Ever since Natazhat it’s been one giant shitshow of horror. At least she’d had Erica in the beginning. Then she’d just had— “The right face at the right time!”

Like all great modeling gigs. All she has to do is look a certain way, present a certain look, aura, image. Or so she tells herself. They’re all afraid of their God. Rue is too, but Uluru needs her. She tells herself this, too. It’s how she sleeps. It’s how she keeps from breaking the absolute fuck down at every moment. She is needed. Otherwise he could have had anybody fucking else.

“What the fuck is that?!” The darkness churns and so does her stomach.

“A door!” Greg shouts over the noise, looking back over his shoulder to Rue. She doesn’t get the opportunity to ask to where. An instant later, an eruption of auroral green light flares to life a few feet ahead. Greg stops dead in his tracks as Uluru, wearing Adam Monroe’s face, manifests from the light.

Greg takes a step back, bows his head, tenses. Uluru casts a crooked smile at Greg and walks right past him to Rue, then offers out his hand as if he’d chosen her to be the belle of the ball.

Uluru doesn’t deign to shout over the noise, he just motions with his head down the bridge. They can talk where it’s quieter, he’s not going to yell.

Rue lifts her arm instinctively to shield her face when the light bursts into being in front of them. She lowers it when it reveals the shape of a man who isn’t just a man. Her eyes shift to Greg and all his shrinking deference. Converse to him, she has her head held high. She’s the Chosen One, after all.

She takes the offered hand without hesitation and follows. She doesn’t look back.

Uluru walks Rue down the bridge. A blisteringly cold wind whips over them, and when gaps in the clouds pass overhead she can see the shimmering curtain of an aurora in the star-filled sky beyond the clouds.

Greg watches the two depart, tense and holding his breath. He looks back at one of the nearby soldiers and then exhales a sharp sigh through his nose and begins marching in the opposite direction Uluru is leading Rue.

“In case you’re not clear on things,” Uluru says as he walks with Rue, “I’m not asking you to hurt anyone.” His gold eyes burn bright in the dark, like stars themselves.

“You’ve said that.” At least Rue can confirm she was paying attention, and not so rattled that she couldn’t recall later. “Do you think I need the reminder? Or do you think I’m going to meet someone I’m going to want to hurt?”

As they walk hand-in-hand, Rue tries to reach with this new ability of hers. Looking for something to grab on to. What can Uluru do? Besides everything, apparently. Maybe conjure fire? That’d be fun. Could she do everything? She glances at him from the corner of her eye as they walk, curiosity idling.

“People forget things,” Uluru says. “And it never hurts t—”


kensei_icon.gif past-uluru2_icon.gif

Takezo Kensei awakens with a sucking, sharp breath. His chest rises high, back arching off of the stone beneath him. All he sees at first is the fiery orange sky of dusk, then as he looks to his right the lifeless corpse of a woman dressed in a red kariginu with a wakizashi driven through her heart.

Kensei coughs violently, rolling onto his side. It’s the cry of a baby that brings him back to the moment. He sits up, suddenly, looking to where Yaeko stands nearby cradling their daughter in her arms. Pieces of Yaeko’s blasted armor cling together by a few rawhide straps as she turns, gently tracing a circle on the baby’s brow with one finger.

It’s then that Kensei sees Yaeko’s eyes—horrible, gold eyes—and realizes what nightmare has come to pass.

No,” Kensei whispers, struggling to get to his feet. He feels for the sword wound in his chest, where his armor is cleaved open. He feels for the burns on his face from the flames. He finds none. Exhaling a shuddering gasp, Kensei looks at his hands, then up to Yaeko. “No.

The entity within Yaeko turns her head, smiling at Kensei with smug satisfaction. Only then does she say—


Rue’s vision of somewhen is broken violently. The first thing she sees is the mixed look of horror and outrage on Uluru’s face. The next thing she feels is her feet coming off the ground and a vice-like tightness around her throat. Her legs kick in the air, vision spots from the sudden lack of oxygen.

For a moment Uluru raises one hand, fingers flexed as if to twist, but then calmness replaces blind rage, and Rue is dropped a few feet to the asphalt.

Never,” Uluru hisses, “try that again!

Rue drops to the pavement, at first flat-footed, then staggering forward to one knee. One hand rests at her throat, tears stream down her face as she catches her breath, frightened little gasps that come with soft but shrill notes. “I’m sorry,” is the first thing she says. Not just because she’s scared, but because she means it. “I wasn’t trying to. Not like that.”

There were no tears of blood. No sensation of her body trying to break apart. Like it’s all being shoved in a blender and being pureed bit by bit. Uluru had kept his end of the bargain.

She keeps her chin up while she addresses him. She doesn’t simper or look away the way she imagines someone like Greg would. She climbs back to her feet. “I just wondered what it was like to be that close to real power.” For a second she wobbles, then forces her knee straight, forces it to support her. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. It won’t happen again.”

Without hesitation, she holds her hand out to him again as a gesture of her good faith.

He doesn’t offer his hand again.

You,” Uluru says with a scan of his gold eyes up and down Rue, “are going to follow me,” he says with all light and humor lost from his voice. Without so much as a gesture, Rue feels herself yanked off of her feet again, this time by her shoulders as she is unceremoniously dragged through the air across the bridge toward the infinitely dark sphere hovering at its middle.

Uluru does not traverse the distance on foot, rather disappears in a dimpling of spacetime and reappears on another on the end of the bridge. Rue is dragged through the air toward him like a piece of meat on a hook at a slaughterhouse. The closer she is drawn toward that sphere, the more she feels something in the air. A static tingling, a prickling in her fingertips, a sensation so visceral it is unforgettable, one she hasn’t felt since…

Ten Years Earlier

Mount Natazhat

November 8th

Bright Timeline

bf_kara_icon.gif bf_kravid_icon.gif

«No! I just got down here! Why did you start the first cycle!?»

Kara Price's voice reverberates through the loudspeakers in the observation lab. Erica Kravid, standing beside Rue Lancaster, looks out at the nuclear reactor used to power the subterranean particle accelerator below their feet through a foot-thick reinforced glass window. Technicians in clean room suits are struggling to enact manual shutdowns, but find that they can't be engaged. They turn toward the window, throwing their arms out in helpless shrugs of confusion. You can't power something down that isn't already turned on.

«We’re venting o2 into the—»

Kara's assertion twists something in the pit of Erica's stomach. "What?" She barks, squinting against the cognitive dissonance of the moment.

«Why did you—»

"The accelerator is cold, Kara. It's off." Erica says, leaning over the status monitor, then looking up to the confused technicians in the lab.

«Fuck you it's not cold, it's powered on! Can you hear it!? Turn the fucking thing off we’re still down here!»

There's panic in Kara’s voice. Erica looks over at Rue with a shake of her head, helpless and abject confusion in her eyes.

«Turn it off!»

"No—Kara, I'm telling you. It's off." Erica says, flipping between status monitors with a click of a mouse. "I'm looking at the monitors right now. We haven't even started the boot up—" The lights flicker inside the facility and Erica jolts away from the monitor in response. She snaps a look at Rue, then to the technicians in the lab who are windmilling around in confusion. Flickering, insubstantial shapes that look like people are running through the room, passing through the wall like ghosts.

A loud beep comes from the system monitor.

The particle accelerator roars to life.

"Holy shit! The power just—" Erica cuts herself off, watching all of the diagnostic meters spike into the red zone. "Oh my god! All our readings just went off the chart! What happened!?"




Kara screams seconds before a blinding white light and deep buzzing sound explodes through the floor.

Present Day

The closer Rue is drawn to the sphere, the more she feels the moment of that explosion trapped in an infinity. The moment her world was forever changed, condensed into a black sphere with rippling, distorted edges like how a black hole looks in a science fiction film. Uluru lowers her to her feet, just outside of arm’s reach of the thing.

Having unceremoniously lost her status as golden child leaves Rue rattled. She doesn’t remember the panicked cry of No, no, please! she gave when pulled up and off her feet and just hopes that prick Sharrow didn’t see the abrupt change. It’s just too easy to imagine some sort of satisfaction in him and she’s not close enough to punch the smug off his face.

When did she get to think like that? Maybe she’s spent too much time studying her counterpart.

It’s strange the things that go through a person’s head when they feel so helpless and the line between life and death is at its thinnest. Rue’s been down this road more than twice. Disappointing her dance teacher when she was seven. Climbing trees and sharing secrets with her best friend, telling her about the first boy she kissed and how much she hated it. Dancing her heart out, giving her best performance ever, only to be told she’ll never be a ballerina, because she was built like a model instead. That time she told the admin — Mia? Ria? — that she thought her shoes were a bold choice and inadvertently hurt her feelings.

Li in the parking lot, bathed in the gold light of a street lamp that would make anyone else look sick, but made her look like a fucking angel sent straight to her. That pink hair, that perfect face. Cupid herself showed up and buried that arrow right between her ribs, where to dislodge it would mean the very death of her.

Erica at Natazhat. The panic. The noise. The light. The buzzing. Grabbing her arm just before everything turned on its head and they found themselves shivering out in the snow. The sharp slap to the face that pulled her out of the panic spiral and stopped her confused and terrified tears. The impact of it sounds in her ears when Rue’s feet touch down again on the pavement.

Rue is no longer panicking. She understands her place here, now. Her comfort and enthusiasm aren’t needed for this assignment, only her compliance. That much is familiar. She’s just exchanged her yes, Mr. Petrellis for the shape of a different name of power in her mouth.

“Where does this rabbit hole lead?” the redhead asks, ignoring the screaming terror in her chest. The primordial need to get away from the void and what lays beyond it. She’s faced it before without any guidance or idea of what would come next. No context, no warning. This will be different. It has to be. “And where will I find Alice?”

Uluru tilts his head to the side, then makes a gesture at the black sphere and it ripples like water. He approaches it slowly, close enough to touch it—and he does—and with that contact light spills from his hand like blood. It spreads in veins of golden illumination across the sphere’s surface, radiates outward and then bends around the sphere like the event horizon of a black hole, or from a certain angle the corona of an eclipse.

“A different now,” Uluru says, looking back at Rue with a pointed expression. Behind him the sphere begins to shift from black to something more like glass. Like a crystal ball with a warped spherical mirror of the bridge’s span, but it is strangely intact. “You’re familiar with the concept,” he asserts.

“And you’re not looking for any Alice,” Uluru says with a sneer, keeping his hand fixed to the sphere. “You’re looking for a group of people who will be arriving there in June, in what was once New York City. You’ll know you’ve found them when you find Richard Ray.”

Uluru motions for Rue to walk forward, this time not dragging her. It’s in that moment she notices his eyes are fainter, flickering, like a candle about to go out. “I need you to find them and… observe. Be my eyes and ears. Nothing more, nothing less.”

A different now. “Yes, I am.” Familiar with the concept. From her perspective, this now is not her now. “So you can see and hear everything I do, because of the gift you gave me?” There’s an uneasy feeling in the pit in her stomach. She chooses her wording carefully. A gift, not something he’s done to her. Her lips part to ask another question, but shut again without giving it a voice. If there’s some other way she’s meant to relay this to him, he’ll tell her. He wants to know what she knows, after all. It’s not like he’s going to set this game of his on hard mode.

And she has a bad feeling he can’t guarantee, that he doesn’t know whether she’ll make this journey and come out the other side intact. She’d rather not know. Because she does know one thing now, indisputably.

Uluru is fallibile.

No,” Uluru says with a hand at his brow, teeth clenched. “It’s not because of your—it doesn’t work like that. Less questions, more getting in the giant fucking Christmas ornament.” He motions toward the sphere.

“You’re going to experience temporal dysplasia when you pass through,” Uluru explains, then realizes that isn’t actually an explanation to most people. “Some wrong glimpses of now are going to be inside your head. Just let it happen, you’ll navigate through them by inertia alone and wind up where you need to be.”

He tenses, fingers of the hand pressed against the sphere digging into it as if it were made of water. It ripples around his touch. “Go. Listen. Do not intervene. Too many billiard balls on the table for you to go throwing rocks.”


Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. The net result is the same. Can he just throw her in there? She'd rather not press her luck and find out. Instead, Rue takes a deep breath, and backs up several paces. She pauses to take a breath and say one last thing. "Good luck."

Then, Lancaster takes the giant fucking Christmas ornament at a run. God damn it, if she's doing this, it will be done with grace. At the last possible moment of runway, she jumps.

And just the embodiment of what she always dreamed of becoming when she was only a little girl, she makes the leap with the poise of the dancer. Like the Swan Queen.

Just spread her wings…



And go.

In spite of the nerves twisting up her stomach, Rue leaps. She moves out from behind the obscurement of the curtain onto the faux moonlight of the stage on strained legs aching from too long of a walk back from the bar the night before. But adrenaline dulls the ache and tomorrow she can beat herself up for the lapse in judgment.

The other dancers on the stage move to accommodate her and with one half turn Rue can see the rows of audience members faintly illuminated by the simulated moonlight. She bows, drapes her arms forward, then then blooms back up as the music swells from silence. The dancer dressed in white laid out in front of her on the stage floor unfolds her arms like a blooming flower, embracing Rue and allowing the redhead to pull her to her feet.

Light strings tremble and the deep notes of cellos reverberates into the audience. As the oboes join the chorus, Rue shifts her feet into the fifth position and then lunges into an assemblé. It is a short, hopping jump backwards and when she lands to put her feet back in the fifth position her ankle is at the slightest of angles.

Rue feels the pop, the knife of pain up her calf and into her knee, and the involuntary scream as she


Twin Falls, Idaho
The Mainland

February 6th
8:53 pm

Flood Timeline

falls screaming onto her side.

Rue sucks in a sharp, involuntary breath as she lands between two rusted out hulks of cars on a darkened bridge under a cloudy sky. The air is hot and damp like a muggy summer, not the middle of February. There’s a chemical stink to the air, caustic like acid but metallic like rust. Probably coolant leaking from the wrecked cars.

For a long moment, there’s only the sound of her ragged breathing to greet her. No pops of gunfire or shouting voices. Rue takes a moment to orient herself to where she is in space. Where she is in time. Tears are streaming down her face, unnoticed for the moment.

On her side. Concrete road beneath her, not wooden stage. Cautiously, she sits up and presses around her ankle, tensed for a pain that doesn’t come to overwhelm her. Not in any appreciable way that will keep her from putting weight on the leg, anyway. Every dancer’s worst nightmare.

Was that all that was? A nightmare? The culmination of her childhood dream destroyed in an instant? An entire career ruined? A lifetime up until that moment entirely wasted?

Rue grasps the handle of one of the abandoned cars and uses it as a point of leverage to start to pull herself up.

There’s tufts of dead scrub grass growing up from between cracks in the bridge’s surface. As Rue starts to look around she realizes she’s right where she started. But the bridge is full of derelict cars, a traffic jam frozen in time and covered in rust and overgrowth. There’s no government research station, no military vehicles, no flood lights, no Mazdak. What happened here?

The bridge is intact, too. As Rue climbs up to her feet, feeling a phantom pain in her ankle from whatever experience she just had, she can see the lightless silhouette of Twin Falls in the distance to the south. There are no lights anywhere to be seen. Nothing from any building, nothing from any stars either. There are just the sound of crickets and… hooves.

A deer lifts its head up from between two cars just on the other side of Rue. It’s a doe, one ear twitching, dark eyes fixed on Rue in thoughtful silence.

The first attempted step is stumbling for multiple reasons. First, she still expects to feel pain, despite her cursory examination telling her otherwise. Second, the sight of a deer that close is a shock. She’s never been this near to one without the glass of her uncle’s bay window between herself and the creature, giving both some sense of security. Any other time, it’s been because she’s just bagged a kill while hunting with her father. This, Rue has to admit, is far more beautiful.

But beauty won’t save her here. It didn’t save her back home.

It didn’t save her in the world she just left behind. Why would this be any different at all? Choosing to no longer hide behind her beauty is why she left modeling, acting, and dance in order to get a corporate job, isn’t it? This time, however, whatever she was about to face, she was doing it entirely alone.

The doe startles and bolts when Rue’s boots crunch over the gravel, but she doesn’t shrink back. In this strange land with no supplies and no support, her best chance is going to be to head toward that city, even if it’s abandoned. Even the dead zone wasn’t entirely without signs of life. At least it will be a shelter, no matter the case. With luck, there’ll be someone to take her in, if only for the night. A meal. Maybe a map? Even a point in the right direction with verbal instructions would be welcome.

The breeze cuts through, making an attempt to pull her curls free from the bun at the back of her head. It cools the tears on her face. Rue stops and stares up at the darkened sky. The stars remind her of Natazhat. Too many of them. She misses Erica. Shitty coffee shared at a small table, talking about what next looked like.

Her work isn’t in the stars, though. It’s on terra firma. The town ahead reminds her of the first time she laid eyes on Providence. She misses Kara and Yi-Min. Cutting bad spots off the veg for soup while not being too overzealous, given the short supply of food. Being made to feel like maybe there could be a next for her.

Blue eyes close to block out the memories and she sniffs against the threat of more tears. But the intrusive thoughts aren’t about a corner grocery store. A future together gone in a flash. Her heart can’t even constrict for Li anymore. After almost ten years, she’s finally starting to become numb to the loss of her wife. Or her wife’s loss of her, she supposes.

There’s only the wind for company now. The sounds of birds. The sharp inhale of her breath as she steels herself to move forward again.

She opens her eyes.

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