chess4_icon.gif elliot2_icon.gif ff_nova_icon.gif

Scene Title Interface
Synopsis Elliot takes the opportunity to train Chess in the use of the network in advance of a code break.
Date June 22, 2021

Pressure changes happen with such regularity inside Lowe's that Elliot finds himself wishing more and more that he could findof all thingsgum. The seas in the skeleton of the building below his feet surge in the storm, hitting high enough to push and pull air through the structure's fissures and fractures. Chest compressions for a body that will fall into the sea despite the constant and clear care the owner puts into maintaining it. The Atlantic will claim everything here eventually.

Manhattan Archipelago
The Flooded Timeline

June 22, 2021

Perhaps he's being fatalistic. The local Marlowe Tyrell is the queen of the Mafia, after all, her resources are greater than what a life of day work could ever afford her subordinates. His fears of her have lessened since his arrival. Since the party. He hasn't been mistreated in his weeks in and around Lowe's. He continues to play it safe, but only because he always does.

He's here on an errand that might put him at greater risk, but it doesn't matter because Asi needs him to do this, so he will. All of the androids of his world do. And since the technology above him presents a danger to her, neither the OEI nor Raytech will get the first pass at anything he learns. It's Asi's decision, not his or theirs to make.

He's delaying his eventual approach, running countless unhelpful what-if scenarios through his head should the Crown decide his talents are rather their own. As such he's greatly pleased to come across a reason to delay further, stopping when he sees a fellow Traveler.

"Did you ever watch Gargoyles?" he asks Chess in lieu of a proper salutation. "I feel like, if there's a queen in a skyscraper, she should have an entire medieval castle full of monsters attached to the top of it."

Chess sits on the ground, tying her shoes – the Doc Martens that Eve had given her from the tash Mad Eve had saved for them all. They’re exactly in her size and in a deep hunter green, one of her preferred hues. The laces are mismatched, but beggars can’t be choosers. The toes are scuffed, and on the side of one, a peace sign and an anarchy sign have been drawn on in black Sharpie that only shows when the light catches them just so. She didn’t do it, and figures whoever did was a teenager now well into adulthood.

Or dead.

The out-of-the-blue nature of the question draws her dark eyes up to her teammate, still-damp hair falling away from her face as she peers up.

“I think one of my brothers did,” she says, reaching up to push a strand of hair behind one ear. “I was sort of more in the Blue’s Clues stage around then, though, and most of that show went over my head. But gargoyles are guardians, right? Let’s not malign them with the M word.”

Her smile suggests she’s only teasing him, and she finishes tying the second boot before rising, and sliding her hands into the pockets of a leather jacket – much like the one she wore back home. “What’s up, Hitch?”

"Oh no," Wright whines, "Not you too, Chess."

Elliot doesn't share his partner's detestation of nicknames, and lets it slide. "I'll go easy on the monsters descriptor when they stop doing incalculable damage to municipal properties with their adamantine cat claws," he stipulates harshly, time not matching his smile at all.

Scratching at his jaw, he's glad he didn't need to offer Chess a hand up from the floor. Afterwards, his hands are stowed safely in the pockets of his waxed canvas rain jacket. "I came to, uhh," he says, b looking around the space for listeners, "follow up on the centerpiece of the party the other day. Still working up the will power. What brings you to the queendom?"

“Technically speaking, they were Grotesques mostly, right? And if you’re categorizing them as monsters by damage to public property, are skateboarders monsters?” Chess says with a grin, before she lifts a hand to stop any answer to that. “Never mind, don’t answer that. Just by my storied past as a little skater tween, I probably qualify, and let’s not get into my post-manifestation damages.”

He might not consider her a monster, but she still bears some guilty feelings, obviously, despite doing most of her damage for good causes.

The question of what she’s doing there is easier to grapple with. “I’m doing some work, helping Nathalie with some salvage dives, to pay for a bow and some arrows,” she replies. “I used to keep losing cell phones, but these days it’s my weapon. Can’t just run to Dick’s Sporting Goods here, right?”

Chess’ head tips curiously. “What are you hoping to find out? With the, uh. Centerpiece.”

"That's fair," Elliot says. "They were all people, they were just also really cool-looking. Still weird that only two of them had names and the rest were named after the boroughs of New York. Seems kind of lazy, but then I'm not a writer, so what do I know?" He doesn't comment further on the destruction of property because he doesn't actually care and Chess obviously does.

His eyes turn up to the floors above them, where the corpse of a synthetic time traveler presumably still sits in a freezer somewhere. "Hoping to find wetware that could possibly have been accidentally excluded from earlier… centerpieces," he says. "Also I was going to ask around about weaponry myself. All I came through with was my knife and I'm used to knowing Wright at least has a gun. How much does an archery kit go for these days?"

The thoughts on naming devices in a 1990s cartoon draw an amused smirk to Chess’ face, but she has little to add, not really remembering the show to begin with except a very nebulous memory of its premise. Her nose wrinkles at the word wetware, and then she answers his question with a shrug.

“Basically I’m working here until we leave, so whatever that equates to in our currency, I’m not sure. If I’m overpaying in labor, I don’t mind. It’s something to do. I’d go crazy if I didn’t have something, you know?” she asks, glancing around for Marlowe, but the boss is nowhere in sight amongst the hubbub of all the workers.

“What are you hoping to figure out with the tech?” she asks. Besides, you know. Everything.

“Anything that could help,” Elliot answers. “Officially I’m there for the gate we were corralled through, but the people back home need any advantage they can get. I work with Asi, and I’ve felt kind of terrible that I’m not able to do anything to help. If I can improve their chances, it’s worth it.”

“Actually,” he says, pivoting from the grim task before him before he sabotages this conversation any further, “I wanted to talk to you about a side project. I’m trying to get volunteers networked so I can do some cool shit I’ve never tried before.” His posture is casual, but his eyes flicker around to assure himself nobody’s taken an interest.

“Would you be willing to lend me some thinking power so I can crack a cipher, and then maybe watch any movie currently in the Library of Congress?” He adds the latter to sweeten the deal with a sly smile. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to get linked in, but I’m going to keep it pretty locked down, no stray memory diving or sensory streaming. Richard thinks the document might be related to our op.”

The mention of Asi draws a nod and a worried look from Chess – leaving her friends and a sister in the state they were in weighs heavily on her, after promising she’d do whatever she could to help them. She might be about to offer help on that grim task, before he shifts to another.

“A cipher?” Chess repeats, brows lifting as the mysterious word piques her curiosity. One corner of her mouth pulls to the side thoughtfully.

“I’m not, you know. Super educated or anything, and definitely no cryptologist, so I’m not sure how much my thinking power will help you, but if it helps, sure.” The acceptance of the offer is made easily enough, with a shrug of one shoulder, but a disclaimer follows. “If it works. I have… I don’t quite understand it, but it’s a little trickier to get into my brain than other people. It’s something to do with the kinetic energy, maybe, but it’s not impossible. I’m happy to try, though, so long as you don’t go looking through any underwear drawers so to speak. Not that you would.”

She smirks, and glances at the rest of the room – it’s a loud workplace, and unless someone’s using an ability to listen in, their conversation is safe from prying ears.

“What’s this cypher? Where’d you find it?” she asks.

Chess's interest in helping with the android situation doesn't go unnoticed, Elliot will have to puzzle our of there's something he can use her help with. "The local Silas Mackenzie came into possession of it in Japan, apparently," he says. He nods to the side, motioning them toward a window with better visibility. "We just met, but Richard and co vouched for him."

"You don't need any special aptitude to contribute thankfully," he assures her. "Case in point, I dropped out of high school just after the Bomb and never received any formal education after the fact. School didn't agree with me anyway." All the bullying, really.

"Also, a kinetic shield against telepathy sounds interesting," he laughs. "Never come up against anything like that before. Hopefully uhh… Yeah I can't really speculate about what could happen because of that but there's only one way to find out. Would you be willing to attempt a practice link?" Don't want to get blindsided by a brain punch before the show even begins.

Her brow tics up at the mention of Silas and Japan, given her own connections to that area. “Relocation hit during my first semester in college. Then war, and then…” she gestures vaguely to indicate everything that happened after, before returning to the topic of her ability, and his.

“It might not impact you. And it won’t hurt you. It’s more like trying to get through static, or go against the current of a river, according to someone I know who’s tried. They made it through, though. It just took a little longer than otherwise,” she explains, glancing out to the workers closest to them, ensuring they’re still engaged in their loud and industrious activities and not quiet enough to hear the conversation.

“I haven’t tested it out too much, really, because, well.” Chess lifts a shoulder and huffs a short laugh. “But yeah, we can do a test. Is…” she glances down, then back up at him. “Is there a way for me to get out of it once we’re linked if I need to? For some reason the thought of it suddenly makes me a little claustrophobic, but I want to help.”

He nods as he thinks of what static might feel like. Perhaps a few more word associations during the linking, or more effort feeling out the places in her mind where the links should go. Neither are insurmountable in a safe location.

He doesn’t get defensive at her fears of needing a way out, it’s a common worry, easily and honestly assuaged. “That part is much easier than creating the link, fortunately,” Elliot says. “Either of us can break the connection at any time for any reason, simply by not wanting to be connected anymore.” He makes a soft cutting gesture through the air to illustrate the lack of resistance.

“For new co-hosts it can be difficult to stay in the network on purpose without a little practice. If you’ve been linked in for a while there can be some anxiety when it breaks, but I don’t intend to keep this large of a network active for any longer than I need to so it shouldn’t be bad at all. And I’m locking down pretty much everything we won’t need. No accidentally chasing rabbits through memories or unwanted guests in your perception.”

She nods, glancing away to the windows, then back up at him. “It’s not that I don’t trust you,” she says swiftly. “I just don’t like feeling like there’s not a way away from other people, you know?”

One hand crosses over herself to rub at the opposite elbow. “But I want to help. Is it something from Adam’s past, or a more modern tech kinda thing?” she wonders. “He’s dead in this world, I guess. Seems like he wasn’t as much of a bastard over here, at least according to Ryans.”

Chess shakes her head slightly at the memory of talking with the living iteration of Benjamin Ryans, and how different his fate seemed to be from the one who sacrificed himself to put a stop to Adam’s plans.

"I can't blame you there," Elliot says wistfully. "I remember the therapeutic benefits of recuperative solitude, but only faintly. In the way back." Back before there was always the possibility that Wright could step into his perspective at literally any time. The Rules mitigated some of that of course, but he's still adjusting to the new kind of being alone. Or was, before this. Right now nothing is stopping the two of them from constantly sharing other than common decency.

"Seeing Ryans was definitely a surprise," he says. "Wright worked in special activities in the Ferrymen, which he headed. I personally had basically no interaction with him, but he's a legend. Adam on the other hand… I've never had the pleasure. I met an old cohort of his recently, she thinks he's gone." Not dead, gone. "I don't know if that makes the Entity better or worse for it."

"All I know about the code at this point is that it's written in Japanese," he says of the code. "Possibly by the local Kaito Nakamura. Richard thinks that it's not a coincidence that it found its way here, now, to us."

Chess’ lashes drop at the mention of Adam being gone, her jaw tightening; any mention of the failures of that day seems to draw that response, pulling up with it those feelings of guilt, regret, anger, grief.

“It’s been a long time. I’m not sure how long their personality lasts once taken over. I could almost get through to Eve that day in Detroit – I did, for a second or two. But that was just hours, a day? After she’d been taken, not… shit. A year…” her fingers tap against her sleeve – March, April, May, most of June, “and four months?”

But the name of Kaito Nakamura captures her attention, and her brow tics upward. “Well, I do speak a little Japanese, but you’ll have Asi, so no reason to rely on my brain there, when you have someone actually fluent. I’ve only been working on it a couple years. There wasn’t a lot to do in Praxia for me, besides study and work out. That’s where I met Ryans, back home.”

A sad, crooked smile unfolds on Chess’ face. “I wasn’t sure what I made of him then. Nice enough, but I didn’t trust most people there. But now? So much respect.”

Glancing downward, she sighs, then looks back up at Elliot. “So do we do the practice link now, or later?”

Elliot can’t miss Chess’s reaction to news of Adam, nearly apologizing, but ultimately he holds onto that for later. “We can try now,” he suggests. “Somewhere with a door that closes, optimally. Maybe a boat, though equilibrium might be an issue today.” He motions behind him to the ocean behind the glass, waves surging and winds gusting.

“Anywhere nearby that you know of?” he asks. Then, feeling he’s been too forward, “If you want to have somebody else there for this that’s okay too, just preferably someone on the team or otherwise trustworthy.”

“Those are some high standards,” Chess says with a smirk, and her gaze follows his gesture to the window showing the stormy sea beyond.

She lifts a shoulder. “I’m pretty used to the rocking now after sleeping on Nova’s boat a few nights. I think I’ll be fine, unless you’re not, if you just want to go back to the Buoy.

As far as needed somebody there, she frowns slightly, though in thought, not offense. “I trust you, but should I be worried? Is there a reason we need someone there on the outside to spot us? What should I expect?”

"I just wanted to make sure you feel comfortable while it's happening," Elliot says, nodding again to lead them toward the nearest stairwell.

"It can be disorienting at first," he continues, "mostly the effects of the sensory link. Equilibrioception, proprioception, either can cause something like an out-of-body experience, but it's brief, usually the information stream needs to settle out. So when you stream my perception, for example, there may be a period where your senses and mine seem overlaid, which is confusing. Usually it smoothes out on its own, but may take a little coaching. The end goal is to experience it like you're looking out of two windows that are separate from each other."

"So, all in all, nothing that can't be immediately addressed by breaking the link," he assures her.

“Oh, that makes sense. Stereovision, yeah? I can see that,” Chess adds, and turns to the stairwell that will take them out to the docks that lead eventually to the Yeah Buoy.

It’s not a long walk before they’re aboard the little yacht that could. When the get into the cabin below, Nova sits on one of the well-worn couches playing the guitar – given there’s been no new music since the flood that’s had a wide release, it’s not too surprising she’s playing something old, though her song choice predates the flood by quite a while. The familiar chords of the Beatles’ Blackbird come from the guitar, and she has a CD Walkman on of all things that she’s likely got tuned to the same song.

Chess lifts a hand in greeting, not wanting to interrupt the song, and tips her head toward the hall that leads to the little sleeping quarters. Nova pulls the headphones off anyway, a wide smile breaking across her face to see she has some company on the little boat. Somehow, she never seems to get sick of seeing anyone.

“Hi! There’s some tea in the kettle if you like,” she offers.

Elliot’s attention is drawn to the CD Walkman. It isn’t the right color, but it seems as out of place in this post-apocalypse as it did in a Manhattan kitchen in 2010. It stirs something in his mind, begins to answer a question he’s had on his mind for several days. A way to find someone in a sea of survivors. He tables it for now.

“Captain,” he says with a nod of respect, “I hope you don’t mind, we were going to attempt a network link session somewhere more private than anywhere in Lowe’s. Tea sounds wonderful, though, if you don’t mind.” Even if it’s made of local driftwood it would be preferable to most of the coffee he’s had here.

“I got it. Don’t get up,” Chess says with a smile to the guitar-strumming captain, and she heads to the little galley, pulling out the mugs and pouring a bit of tea for both. She’s made herself home enough here in the few days they’ve been here that she knows she doesn’t need to ask to put a dollop of honey in her cup, and her brows lift in tacit query to see if Elliot would like the same.

Nova sets aside her guitar anyway, reaching for the mug she’s left sitting on the nearby coffee table and taking a sip. “Network link sounds very high tech,” she says with a grin. “You know we have no wifi here, ja?”

Wifi sounds like vee-fee. A smirk gives away that she’s teasing, and knows what Elliot means.

Elliot gives Chess a short and appreciate nod yes, he's not one to turn down something sweet. Nova's joke earned her a smile. "Thankfully my partner does have wi-fi," he chuckles. "Which she is unfairly luxuriating in at the moment."

Wright hums in agreement over the clicks and pops and chimes of the puzzle game on her phone.

"She's relocated to the DOE facilities in the capital, should you need anything communicated. I realize I'm kind of the only phone that gets signal there right now," he says. Normally he'd resist reducing himself and his ability to being someone else's comms equipment, but assumes Nova will relate in this experience more than any other team member.

“I guess I shouldn’t bring up that I have a penchant for accidentally blowing up phones,” Chess says with a smirk as she carries over the two mugs, handing one to Elliot. “And not in the fun way of sending a lot of messages.”

She takes a careful sip of her own tea, and smiles. ‘I may have outgrown it. Except for the one that got destroyed in the crates,” one she’d been bringing for music and camera capabilities, “I haven’t lost one since…well, last year.”

Maybe it’s not as far in the past as she suggested.

“Anyway, I’m good,” she adds.

Nova shakes her head. “I don’t think I want to know,” she says, wide eyes widening as she looks over at Elliot with a mock-worried expression.

"Wright requests that any blowing up of this phone be the message overload kind," Elliot conveys with a chuckle. He accepts the tea with thanks to both Chess and Nova, not waiting to test it despite the heat. It's surprisingly good, especially in comparison to the fourteen year old oolong tea Wright recently found in a bag of Asian restaurant condiments in a drawer in the conference room she annexed in Fort Jay. He looks around the room and toward the stairs as he considers the best place to set the link with Chess.

"Would it be okay if we set up at the table?" he asks with a tilt of his head toward the only table in the building. "I find this goes more smoothly if we keep it businesslike." With his back to a wall, and the prospective co-host given easiest access to the exit should things get too weird. Trust is fundamental to maintaining a comfortable network.

“I’ll do my best, Wright,” Chess says with a smirk, but nods at the suggested transition to the table for the work that needs to be done. “Works for me,” she says, a little overly-amiable maybe to compensate for her nervousness.

She turns in that direction, setting down her tea carefully first before pulling out a chair to settle into. Out comes the smooth river stone she carries in her pocket, though this she keeps tucked in her palm to fiddle and worry at – at least if anything gets charged, it’ll be that and not the table.

“Anything I can do to help?” Nova asks, tucking the guitar back into a case to protect it from the moist sea air that permeates everything on a vessel like this. She rises too, to set the case back in the corner where it rests when not being used.

Elliot sits on the bench, scooting sideways around the corner to face Chess. His attention is on Nova as he does, talking awkwardly while he moves. "I think we are all set," he says, eyes then flickering around the cabin for colors, flavors, anything to anchor the sensory link to. "But uh, if Chess is okay with it you could witness the process in case you would like to be linked in at some point."

Settled, he stretches his neck and places his hands on the table. This is the hard part. He clenches his fists, stretches his fingers, prepares himself for the necessity of touching another person. He contains his revulsion at the idea, showing only his intent to clear his mind for the purpose of setting the link. His interactions with Chess up to this point assure him it's okay, that she's safe. He knows it intellectually, but intellect isn't the problem here. He takes a deep breath and centers himself at last.

"To go over the basics," he tells Chess, "we'll need to keep physical contact for this process. I'll place my hands on the table and you can hold them, giving you the ability to break contact at any point for any reason, which will break the formation of the link. I'll be calling out words to gauge your mind's associations to them, so I know where to set the links, emotion, sensation, and memory. I'm going to try to be as abstract as possible to avoid unpleasant memories, but if something I say does trigger something unpleasant that you don't want me to see, pull away and we can try again when you're ready. Do you have any questions before we begin?"

Nova’s brows lift and she nods her assent to watch the process. Chess looks her way, and offers a small, sort of shy smile, before she looks back in Elliott’s direction.

She sets the stone down, maybe a little reluctantly, and rests her hands flat on the table for the time being. Biting her lower lip for a moment thoughtfully, she seems to really consider the last question – does she have more questions? Finally, she shakes her head.

“I think I’m good. I’ll try not to be too me about it,” Chess says, one corner of her mouth tipping upward. She lifts her hands to place them, hovering above his, like she’s about to play a game of Red Hands, but she waits for his nod before lowering them to make contact.

Elliot smiles and closes his eyes. "Ok," he says, waiting for Chess's contact before saying more. "We start with emotions." And try to keep them on the lighter end of the spectrum, the lesson having been learned through Asi so recently. He extends his telepathic sense to feel for the activity in her mind that his words will provoke.

"Gratitude," he begins.

Chess’ lids flutter as she concentrates on trying not to think, but letting her mind complete the answer. The images and feelings start filmy, vague, growing more saturated after a few seconds, as if a wind has slowly blown the fog away. It isn’t impenetrable, but makes the process a little slower. This word doesn’t seem tied to a specific memory but to people – Luther Bellamy, Monica Dawson. Eve. Castle – both faces. Asi. Yi-Min. Jac. Kimberly. Alix.

"Frustration," he continues.

This word evokes little mental flashes, faster now that he’s past that fog: fighting with a printer in the office. Sitting in traffic. An umbrella blown inside out by a gust of wind. Stepping in a dirty gutter. A plate breaking.

Beneath it all, there’s the strong feeling of being useless, powerless connecting to an ache in the pit of her stomach.


Before she can stop it, the memory rises, unbidden. In the wreckage of the Entity’s fight in Detroit,

Joy lifts a hand up to her mouth. A choking, strangled sob of grief wells up inside of her, and when it finally emerges as a mournful wail her entire body discorporates into a roiling cloud of life-consuming darkness. A plume of shadow rises up ten feet high where Joy once crouched, taking on a vaguely humanoid form much as Ezekiel once was able to. The tattered shreds of ephemeral darkness whirl and twist at her lower edges, and she blasts away like some sort of phantom through the air, leaving her wailing banshee-cry trailing in her wake.

Accompanying that is the heavy weight of so many emotions – grief, guilt, betrayal, fear – that she had felt that day. Too late, Chess’ hands lift, curling in on themselves. She shakes her head. “Sorry,” she whispers.

Three memory is so far from what he'd intended with this presumably lighter round of trigger words. Do many emotions lightning up so quickly prints a perfect path for the link, only to blink out suddenly, disconnected. It takes him a moment to sorry through it and leave his cultivated concentration.

"Sorry," he says, pulling his own hands back toward him, but leaving both above the table. "I should have… That was clumsy. The person who told me about Adam was Joy, I should have guessed, or asked." He's been clumsy at this recently. He needs to figure out how to do this without being invasive, though that may be antithetical to how the network functions to begin with; the only walls here are trust.

"We can talk about it, we could not if you'd rather," he says quietly. "We can pause or stop, either is okay."

Chess shakes her head. “It’s okay. We’re… genetically she’s my mother, but it’s complicated.” She offers him a battered smile and draws a shoulder up in a shrug. “You probably want to skip on the words Miles and Castle, too, while we’re at it. Though I doubt they were on your list.”

Castle’s easier to understand why, of course.

She uncurls her fists and splays her fingers for a second, before putting her hands just over his again. “Don’t worry, I can’t charge a living person,” she assures him, then lifts her brows to see if he’s ready to go again before lowering her hands to make contact again.

Elliot accepts the deflection with a sympathetic smile. He looks away for a moment, not immediately falling back into it. If something is going to change, there's no time like now. He drums his fingers against the table for a moment, an irregular rhythm, then looks back to Chess.

"I'm going to try something new here," he says, "if you're willing to experiment. The way I've been setting links is just the way I've always done it, improvements can be made. So I'm going to see if we can come at this from another angle. You think about something and how it made you feel, and if you want to share that with me, tap on the back of my wrists to tell me it's okay to share it. It can be any emotion, I'll just need a few across a range, and they don't need to be strong for me to work with them, so long as you feel them when you remember. Does that work for you?"

Nova watches quietly, offering a small, supportive smile to Chess when it’s clear things aren’t going as smoothly as planned. Otherwise, she’s a quiet bystander, content to watch the process with a student-like curiosity.

The suggestion from Elliot draws a nod from Chess. “Sorry for being a bit of a landmine.” She thinks for a moment, brows drawing together. With the pressure on, it’s hard not to think of a memory that’s riddled with potential trauma, much like her past itself.

After a moment, she settles into something, her eyes closing as she concentrates. Her fingers tap his wrists to share with Elliot the feeling of the hard pavement beneath her feet on a morning run, the sound of her running shoes and the rhythm it creates with the sound of her breathing. The emotion is a meditative calm that builds from the outside in.

Once he's through the static, Elliot finds Chess's meditative concentration quite helpful, allowing it to overflow and carry him into the mind state he needs to be in. It serves as an excellent anchor for the process; he ties a link there to begin.

When it's done he speaks slowly, remaining in that frame of mind. "Perfect," he says, eyes closed to limit distractions. "How about something that made you laugh?"

This one takes some more thinking – too many memories run the danger of veering sharply from humor to feelings of loss, given the number of people Chess has had to mourn, and now, leave behind. She is more careful, choosing a moment with Kimberly and Alix. People who are still alive, at least.

She shoves aside the feelings of homesickness that want to crowd in on the moment, focusing instead on the sound of Kimberly’s laughter, the aghast look on Alix’s face before she dissolved into giggles in one of the rare moments that whatever dangers they faced felt far enough away to just be sisters.

Eventually there’s just the memory of the laughing, the sting of tears in eyes and sore muscles in the cheeks and core. Chess taps Elliot’s hands again.

Elliot smiles as the infectious laughter reaches him, even devoid of context as it is. The other emotions preceding the memory she chose to share are landmarks of their own, and all together he pins threads through those areas of her mind that come alight. This should be enough to build upon.

"Keep contact with one hand," he says slowly, suspended in effort, "and enjoy some tea."

She nods, reaching with one hand for the mug, fingers trailing across a chip on the rim she knows is there. She’s careful to avoid that when she brings it to her lips to take a slow sip of the warm, sweet brew within.

Even something as simple as a single sip of tea has connotations: the thought, unbidden, that Chess prefers black or green tea to herbal concoctions such as this; the taste of fresh honey pinging on a memory of eating a slice of honey cake in a tea house in Tokyo. It’s barely above the subconscious level, ephemeral; it’s there and then gone again.

Elliot senses the change in texture from smooth enamel to the rougher sensation of the chip. Smells the disturbed beverage from afar in a way that stands out from his own drink beside him. The heat, the bitterness cut with the sweet honey. The weight of the mug and the soft clack of setting it down.

He silent for a minute, weaving further strands between them. Not enough to form a pattern, but enough to weave it with minimal further work. "Say a sentence in Japanese if you can," he says.

Chess’ brows draw together for a moment as she tries to think of a sentence, and ultimately chooses one of the many proverbs that are so often repeated.

“人のふり見てわがふり直せ,” she murmurs. One man’s fault is another’s lesson. She doesn’t speak with a native fluency; the words come slow, and a little plodding, clumsy in their American trappings, though not incorrect, exactly.

The short recitation draws to her mind another image of running – this time on a treadmill. She repeated a deep male voice speaking to her through her headphones. The walls are a mix between sepia and gray. The windows are a strange shape, narrower toward the top and wider at the base – The Praxis Ziggurat.

Elliot doesn't have the capacity to check what Chess says against Asi's shared language, but that's not important right now. The looking through and retrieving from her long term memory is, and this task accomplished that nicely.

With that, they're almost done. "What did I say when you asked me if I wanted honey in my tea?" he says at the same slow pace.

Her eyes still closed, her brows draw together as she does the mental retracing of steps. Her head tips slightly in the direction of the galley, and she’s picturing that moment. Where they were in the room, the feeling of the spoon in her hands. The gentle sway of the moored boat as it rocks beneath their feet. The color of the tea and how it almost matched the rich amber hue of the honey.

“Trick question,” Chess murmurs, and one corner of her mouth tips upward in a small smile. “I didn’t ask, at least not verbally, and you didn’t say anything, but nodded.”

Her brows lift slightly, though she doesn’t open her eyes – another silent question: did she get it right?

"Excellent," Elliot confirms. With one last strand in place he lets go of his task, letting the link cinch itself in place like a knot. With that comes the awareness, a brand new sense, that Chess now has access to the network. Elliot opens his eyes, pulling his hands toward himself but leaving them close enough to reach out and correct for an accidentally dropped connection.

“You’re standing at the center of a room. On the wall there is a door, closed…” he says, then opens to connections between them, “now open. You can walk up to the door and look through, but only I can close it. You’ll always know whether the door is open or closed, and you’ll always know if someone else has walked up to look through their door leading to your room. It’s impossible to spy on a co-host.”

He doesn’t rush past this point, letting her adjust to her new psychic sense. For now the only thing that seems to be coming from outside herself is a sense of amused satisfaction from Elliot over his trick question, and curious anticipation from somewhere else all together.

Though the interview portion is over, the tension lingers, along with a conscious effort to keep the anxiousness in check. Chess focuses on the feel of the smooth, cool table beneath her palms – an effort to ground herself in the physical realm as he plays tour guide in this metaphysical space. She doesn’t move toward the door but stays in that center.

“Room, door. No spying. Check,” she murmurs. She feels the need to explain that she wouldn’t spy, but doesn’t, knowing he probably said that for her comfort rather than to warn her against it. “It’s like being in the dorms again. Promise me you won’t blast us with One Direction like the girl next door to at Colorado State.”

"I can promise you that I would never do that," Elliot chuckles, "though Wright will offer no such assurances. Thankfully, even if she tried, you can escape her bad behavior just by not streaming her perspective. You wouldn't need to break the link, just move back from the door to the center of the room."

"The only thing you'll feel regardless are other co-host's emotions," he continues. "I still haven't figured out how to close that portion of the link, though it's a great early warning system to figure out if something is wrong with a co-host. Sudden spikes of someone else's worry might mean they're in danger or something similar. Those are the easiest ones to deal with because they usually clash with your own; subtle emotions can impact your own, maybe altering your mood if you're not paying attention. But there are tools to combat that. Mindfulness meditation has helped us deal with it."

He gauges her comfort, both in her features and through the link. There's no rush, he keeps himself relaxed, moving one hand away only to enjoy his own tea. "Would you like to learn how to step up to the door, or do you need a minute? Either is fine. I can show you how to share memories, or sensation. Afterwards we can work on overclocking, which is probably the weirdest aspect of the network to explain."

“I apologize in advance to everyone then,” Chess murmurs wryly when he explains that no one can escape the others’ emotions. No doubt they already sense her anxiety underlying everything, wound tight like a coil and ready to spring at any moment into fight or flight (or explosions). Above that, in sharper focus, is a more acute nervousness for this particular event. The knowledge everyone in the network can feel draws a little spike in that layer, that she tries to push back down.

“Whatever’s most useful to you,” she says, to answer the question. “I think mostly I’ll be trying not to share feelings and sensations, and I don’t think anyone would want any of mine.” Her tone is sarcastic, and like most sarcasm, a metaphorical wall. Somehow in this metaphysical sort of space, it feels more concrete.

Elliot smiles in understanding, not pushing against the wall Chess needs to deflect away from her stress. "I know what you mean," he says. "I've gotten used to the push and pull of Wright's emotions over the years, but for new co-hosts I'll occasionally employ a little lorazepam to take the edge off. Let me know if you need some, my pill case was the only thing in my pockets when we crossed other than my knife." Glad to have them, especially to keep down his own spikes of anxiety when his thoughts turn too close to the minotaur. He fishes the waterproof plastic container from his pocket, bright orange and buoyant, and sets it on the table.

"As for sharing, there are rules we employ to preserve privacy," he says. "No unannounced drop-bys, invitation only. The most obvious of which is closing the link, like this." His eyes lose focus for half a second as the sense of the open door becomes the sense of one closed. That change brings with it a clarity regarding another closed door in the room, or possibly two? "You ask to have the link closed and I close it until further notice. The other is a specific memory share. I remember knocking on a door and draw your attention to that memory and, if you stream the memory and decide it's okay to stream your sensation, you remember opening a door and draw my attention to that memory." Again he demonstrates, the door between them opens, and there is a sense that something is being offered, and all Chess needs to do is pull it the rest of the way to her.

“Due to the lack of Duane Reades around for refilling a prescription, I don’t want to steal any from your stash,” Chess remarks, with a smile and nod at the offer just the same.

The wry remark made, she focuses on the sensations of the door closing, and then opening again, then concentrates on that metaphysical offering, pulling whatever it is closer to her. “This better not be a can of snakes,” she teases, though it does highlight that coiled edge of worry that seems to be her typical state – and the effort she’s making to keep it in check.

"It isn't," he promises, "and Wright already got somebody with the orange juice and toothpaste combo so hopefully she's got that out of her system."

Elliot's shared memory of the door is a wash of change. The door flickers between muted possibilities, at once wood covered in crackled white paint and a flawless matte eggshell. The doorbell is both a dented brass nub protruding from a round collar and a yellowed plastic rectangle illuminated from within. The rap of his knuckles feel both the cool of steel and the comparative softness of wood. His hand is the hand before her on the table and also the softer hand of a younger man. The number on the door is a blur, indistinct and unimportant. All this Chess remembers with him.

"As you can tell I kind of wore this one thin," he says. "You'll need to remember up one of your own, it helps to do it with purpose. Remember it clearly, so you don't have to try to remember a random door knock every time. After somebody pings you like this you can either share a memory of opening a door, or just start streaming the perspective of the person knocking; obviously that was the intent of the share. For now try to share your memory of opening the door into this cabin. Then pull my attention to it, which is hard to explain. Kind of like trying to get somebody's attention from the other side of a crowded bar, kind of just have to will me to turn around and spot it."

There have been plenty of rugged places from her past that would match the word cabin in texture and style, but all of those have a danger to them – places she traveled with one person long lost to her, and any of those memories might cause a spill of emotion she’d rather keep contained. Chess chews her lower lip for a moment in concentration, then settles on one that isn’t quite so close to grief, though it does draw up that dull ache of homesickness.

The door she pictures is the door to her apartment at the Clocktower Building. It isn’t particularly distinct except in its quality, especially compared to his worn door. Unmarred, beveled moulding frames the door; digits – 515 – wrought of something like brushed nickel adorn the door above the peephole, though a camera above the door also peers down, connected to either building security or perhaps a Ring app. She presses in digits into the keypad, remembering how the buttons feel beneath her fingertips and the electronic whirr and click of the lock disengaging. She remembers the coolness of the doorknob against her warm palm. Forehead furrowed in concentration, Chess thinks of sharing the memory like she’s AirDropping it, and willing Elliot to turn around with his own device – while in a busy bar – while standing in front of their own respective doors.

“I think I’m mixing metaphors,” she murmurs.”

With the offering comes the knowledge that Chess isn't the only person remembering her door. "Successfully done either way," Elliot congratulates her, then joking, "though you have to change your door code now. Password security 101." His amusement carries across the link kindly.

His eyes lose focus for a moment, followed by a quick grunt of agreement meant for someone else. "That action forms the basis of most sharing activities," he says. Sending that their link is currently holding stable, he leans back against the wall and crosses his arms. "If you'd like to try streaming my sensory feed you just have to pull here like you did when you streamed my ping. My door knock, that is."

"It will be like being in my body and your own simultaneously, but you'll have no control over my movement, which can be hard to deal with at first. It's possible that our two perspectives will seen mashed together at first but it should straighten out within a few seconds. After that it's more like watching two televisions at once. I should add that it isn't mission critical that you do this, so if you'd rather not feel what it's like to inhabit my body as keenly as I do, I'll totally understand," he adds, then directs her attention to where she needs to pull. "If you'd rather stream Wright's senses, you just need to pull here, she's just given the go-ahead. And she's had regular access to a hot shower, unlike me." This time with the directions comes the awareness that another door in the room has been opened.

"If you'd rather not try, we can move on to a more complex memory share in order to show you how the overclocking process works." He continues to direct her attention to where her options last as he slowly picks up his tea for another sip.

At the offer to share either Elliott’s or Wright’s sensory feed, Chess’ emotions are a tangle of curiosity and a little bit of shyness, and she shakes her head at the offer.

“Maybe another time for that. If we’re still here in December, I might demand Muppet Christmas Carol, but for now I’m good.” She presses her lips together at the very thought – that’s still half a year away, and change, but a very real possibility.

“Overclocking sounds like a bad thing,” she says, brow furrowing as she considers it. “It’s not dangerous?”

Elliot accepts Chess's decision without any disappointment spreading through the network, though the same can't be said for Wright. "Damn it!" she says, turning the volume down on her phone and closing the video of the opening animation from SpongeBob SquarePants. "Ah, well. Next time maybe."

"Overclocking probably isn't the perfect word to describe the activity," Elliot admits. "It's never been harmful in the past. Basically an underclocking host lets the overclocking host use a portion of their cognitive capacity, which can have several uses. If you streamed my general knowledge of cooking you'd be able to cook just as well as I can, to a degree. It would take more effort on your part to pull the information into your mind, and you wouldn't get any of my talent for flipping pancakes because that's muscle memory, which doesn't transmit."

He draws her attention to the aforementioned skill, ten years of self education built on what remains of Tala's instruction. "Pull here," he says, waiting for her to experience the share before taking on the burden of effort himself.

“Too bad. I can’t flip a pancake to save my life. And now I’m thinking of pancakes,” Chess murmurs, and her stomach growls in a sudden plea to fill it with something other than alcohol, tea, fish, or any of the foods easier to find in the Pelago. Pancakes aren’t one of them, sadly.

Before she turns toward the experience offered to her, metaphysically speaking, she asks, wryly, “This isn’t a ‘pull my finger’ sort of thing, right?” One corner of her mouth tips upward in a smirk, but there’s a quick flash of something apologetic about it.

Despite the little joke, she does as he asks, concentrating on the feel of pulling the shared skill toward her.

"It is not," Elliot promises. With her effort concentrated in his indexed memories, Chess has access to a wealth of culinary experience. The cookbook in Elliot's mind seems scattered, a fog of sensation and discovery she can float through to find anything he knows how to cook, and how to cook it. It's not unlike pouring through her own memories, and thoughts of pancakes brings those instructions to the front of her mind. Simple boxed pancakes on a griddle at the perfect temperature. Those made from scratch and how different types of flour change the texture and flavor. Dressings from grocery store pancake syrup to the much bolder variety made from tapped maple trees. Pairings and toppings, candy, whipped cream; fruit raw, grilled, and oddly, spiced.

Elliot feels her rummage through what's available for a moment. "Overclocking allows me to contribute the capacity for you to use that skill as easily as if it were your own. It's also hypothetically possibly to enhance a co-host's mental-class ability." More than hypothetically, though it's never a good time to bring up what happened in the Ark.

His eyes lose focus, and with it comes a sudden ease of access. Chess suddenly knows everything Elliot does in regards to cooking without having to pull, to sift through our focus on what she's looking for. She doesn't need to remind herself of the touch doneness of varying preferences for the perfect steak, it's like always having known it; something she could teach to someone else from her wealth of experience. The traditional meals of other countries, many seeming to come from the Philippines. The specific preparations and local spices and mealtime habits of a neighborhood in Manila, memories that feel faintly feminine, separate from others that Elliot has made on his own.

"Also sorry for the stomach grumbles," he says with a little more alertness than he did during the link. "I just made myself hungry too."

Her stomach does protest – when was the last time she ate? She doesn’t actually remember, but Chess laughs and lifts a hand to wave off the apology.

“It’s fine. As long as we do the job and get back, this won’t be the worst or longest I’ve been without.” She had gone a long time living off the grid after the war, before coming to New York in 2018.

“Will I remember this stuff if I’m not linked, or only when you’re in my pocket?” she wonders aloud. “Spaghetti and ramen are about all I can make without setting something on fire on accident. Unless I’m cooking by fire. I can barbecue like a mofo.” Chess is a handy person to have around in the wilderness, because she can always start a fire.

"You'll remember what you interact with about as well as you would if I'd explained it to you," Elliot says. "Permanent skill transferral would be pretty awesome though. The more you access and actively use someone else's knowledge, the better you'll get at it on your own, like any skill you can learn through practice. And you can also make memories of memories, which are generally less clear because human memory is imperfect to begin with. Like photocopying a photocopy."

"I also spent a lot of time living rough," he sympathizes. "Both before and during the war. Though I didn't learn to cook until I was in the Ark. One of my fellow inmates and frequent co-hosts was formerly a chef in Manhattan, she was amazing. Plus her ability was her perfect memory, so her ability to recall things that were shared through the network was perfect. My memories of her memories are, unfortunately, not." Those that weren't broken from trauma, or locked away in the Palace and lost in the trench war with the Switchboard.

"But I actually haven't done a lot of barbeque," he says appreciatively, "so it's good that we'll have options on the trail."

Chess listens; there’s an apt quality about her that suggests she probably was a good student, long ago before fascism and war treated them all so poorly.

“That’s more than I would have known before, so I’ll take it. I would love Monica’s ability – Dawson?” Her brows lift, since she’s not sure if Elliot knows her. “She can learn perfectly anything she sees, and it doesn’t go away. Meanwhile, it still takes me about ten tries before I get a neck tie right. Or a French braid. And icing cookies or cupcakes? It looks like a third grader did it.”

Her lips curve into a side smirk. “Don’t be too excited about barbecue. I’m no grill master. I just mean I can throw a wild pheasant on a fire and eat it without getting food poisoning. At least we should be able to pack enough salt for the journey.”

"I…" Elliot says, smiling art Chess's admission before his eyes suddenly turn up and away as he considers something. "Should I have a teaching cert on my license? Just realized I don't have one and do teach a fair number of people how to use the network." He shakes his head, returning to the moment.

"I've never met Monica," he says, "though I've heard about her. Ran in some of the same circles back in the day. And I know Asi knows her." He assumes that means she's trustworthy, though Asi's trust is flawed if his and her own friendship is used to form a baseline.

"Perfectly remembering everything she sees could be useful," Wright says. Not to mention the fact that she headed the Deveaux Society, which until recently had a full copy of the Institute's records, possibly including some regarding Project-0.

Elliot doesn't react to his partner's otherworldly commentary, though he doesn't miss the implications. Could be Foundational, Relevant. "I know you said you don't want to stream anybody's perspective," he says instead, "and I respect and accept that. I won't pester you to try. However, if there's anybody who you would like to talk to back home at any point, Wright and I will do what we can to facilitate it. The offer of course includes our discretion."

“Yeah, we worked together with her a few times,” Chess confirms, a pang of guilt followed by another twinge of homesickness for the people back home.

At the offer to help her speak with someone left back home, her breath catches in her throat. She nods, swallowing hard, as she considers if it would ease the chronic ache she feels, or make it worse, rubbing proverbial salt in proverbial wounds, not only for her but those left behind.

“Maybe,” she says, the words a little ragged. “Not yet. If we can’t make it back, maybe.”

To say goodbye.

Elliot feels Chess’s emotions come and pass without any feeling of judgment moving across the network from him to her. He nods, remaining quiet for a moment. It doesn’t matter that talking to a friend might be good for Chess based on her emotions, both those shared through the link and what he’s learned of her through conversation and observation; he has a lot of respect for her comedic deflection, a skill in which he prides himself.

He does wonder if she’s close to Home Asi, if there is perhaps a schism between her and the android version of her friend. There’s a clock ticking on how long he’d be able to support a conversation between the two of them without having to use Wright as intermediary. People should be given as much privacy as is feasible, which is an obvious roadblock for some.

He closes the door in the room in Chess’s mind that leads to Wright’s room in her own. "How would you feel about trying to underclock for a demonstration?" he asks. He again looks thoughtful for a moment before adding, "not that there's anything I can do to prove to you it's working. Being a little better at math isn't exactly showy." He then has an idea, eyes flickering around the space for a second.

"Actually that's not the only thing that can be overclocked," he says. "You could underclock to help me have an easier time establishing a link to another prospective co-host. And, if I'm remembering correctly, the captain has an ability which might serve as an excellent example for overclocking."

He raises an eyebrow inquisitively, then leans slightly to the side to direct an equally inquisitive glance at the captain herself across the room.

Chess’ brows lift at the question, and she lifts her shoulders in a casual shrug. “Sure, why not? I mean I’m always happy to underperform and not think,” she says wryly. She doesn’t seem nervous, though, despite the dry humor that isn’t really all so true. If anything, Chess seems to constantly be thinking, fretting, remembering things.

Nova’s been quiet, sitting with her feet folded pretzel-style, and her gaze slides over to Elliot’s. “Do I? Will I be able to taste the fabric of space and time if you overclock me?” she wonders, with a smirk curving her mouth upward.

“I hope so. I have the hunkeren for something different.”

Elliot is intimately familiar with constant worry and overthinking, and is always grateful that thought can’t be shared across the network in the way of traditional telepathy. There’s too much to worry about, and keeping it all to himself is currently mandatory. Wright sharing some of that burden doesn’t make the worry go away.

But he smiles anyway, letting thoughts of such horrors bob just below the surface where they can’t affect his emotions. Leaving the worst of them in the BLACK BLACK BLACK. “I’ve never had a chance to try eating spacetime fabric,” he says regretfully. “Hopefully I’ll find a good recipe some day.”

“For Chess to help with the link we’ll both have to be in physical contact with you,” he says, scooting a bit to the side on the bench to make room for extra arms across the table. “It should go a lot more quickly. For overclocking your ability we should also be able to get Wright’s help even without contact. Agent Gates said in our first meeting at the oil rig that it’s thought that you can’t connect to our timeline’s version of you because she hasn’t manifested yet; maybe with enough effort we can punch through.” Maybe she’s also an android, and her original self in whatever condition Asi and the others have been since their kidnapping.

Chess smirks at Nova’s joke, and then reaches a hand out, palm up, in silent offering. Nova reaches for both hands, hers calloused but clean.

Nova shakes her head at Elliot’s words. “Her power was awakened, but I do not think she is aware of it. One of our selves has been in her mind, a passenger, um…” She sticks out her thumb and curls the rest of her fingers into a fist. “…hitch rider?”

Chess’ brows lift and she offers quietly, “Hitchhiker?”

“Ah! Ja. hitchhiker. Funny word.” Nova grins. “I do not think your Nova has traveled to one of our minds yet. But she was manifested enough for one of us to go to her. Fantôme. She has had a hard life, so I try not to judge.” Nova lifts a shoulder.

Chess glances at Eliot and then back to Nova. “You’ve had a hard life, too,” she says gently.

Nova flaps a hand as if to wave away any sympathy. “I am lucky. Anyway, we can try. Fantôme has not been able to get to her, though, even knowing the way. The feel of her world.” She offers Elliot an apologetic smile.

Elliot smiles politely as the women talk, trying to steel his nerves to pass on the emotional detachment he had to cultivate in order to make physical contact with Chess. The captain is safe, isn't she? He's seen nothing in her behavior to make him think otherwise, but this has little to do with reason. Thank god for little, white anti-anxiety pills.

He dismisses Nova's apology with a short shake of his head, then places his hands flat on the table. "In order for you to underclock for me," Elliot directs to Chess, "the best way to teach you that I can think of is to share a memory of what it's like for someone else, so this memory is coming from Wright. She's definitely got the most practice."

Eyes momentarily list focus again as he opens the door between Chess and Wright. "Rapturous," he says, using the keyword to direct Chess to an indexed memory they had prepared in advance for this purpose.

"Daydream1," Elliot says, causing her to reflexively pick at the memory even though she doesn't need the Index to know what to do. She merely puts herself in the state she needs to be in. She relaxes like she's just had a shiver run through her; like she's just set down a great weight. Like she could let go of a sigh without stopping, she offers up her mind to where Elliot can reach out as her thoughts calm. It takes a surprising amount of effort, though none that taxes her body.

"Is Famtôme her vigilante name?" is directed toward Nova.

Chess lifts a brow with just a little bit of skepticism as she takes in that memory – has she ever been that relaxed in more than a decade? But she nods to show she’s gotten the gist of it, breathing in slowly, holding that breath for a few more seconds, and breathing it out in even more. She’s clearly been learning some meditation techniques – probably from Castle – and it seems to be working.

“Like Batman?” Nova says with an actual giggle, and she shakes her head. “We have names for one another so we don’t get confused. She is our stealthy one, and was living in a dead world, so… ghost. We have not named the one in your world yet, though perhaps Fantôme has one for her. They call me Schipper, because of the boats,” she explains, rolling her eyes a little. “It is a bit reductive, but it works.”

She flashes him a grin, and gestures to herself. “We are not so original.”

"Thankfully the nicknaming portion of the network isn't graded," Elliot says with a chuckle.

"And also forbidden," Wright adds.

"Like with Chess," Elliot continues with a slight smile at the interjection, "I'm going to prompt you for a memory and you can tap on the back of my hand when you're comfortable sharing it with me."

Hands palm down on the table, he feels his thoughts become clearer, and uses some of Chess's donated cognition to first run through a list of flood-themed memory landmines to avoid. "Think of something that makes you feel satisfied," he begins, more lucid than he was earlier. "A place, or activity, or your favorite food. No wrong answers."

Maybe it’s because she’s used to sharing her brainspace with others, but Nova is far less cautious about show and tell, it seems. It only takes a second as she thinks of what to share, then taps his hands to indicate he can take in the memory.

In the memory, she’s practicing the cello, slowly going over a run of notes, then bringing up the speed incrementally. It’s a mournful but swift-moving piece, and, from her perspective, one can see a key signature full of sharps, naturals and extra sharps stamped all across the sheet music. There are a few wrong notes, and a few swears in Dutch each time she makes an error.

There’s the moment that it all comes together and she plays it at full speed, fingers flying over the strings as the bow pulls to-and-fro across them. The sense of satisfaction at the end of the line draws a broad smile to memory-Nova and current-time-Nova’s faces in unison.

Elliot smiles too, Nova's focus and satisfaction easy to pick up. He feels the instrument's vibration in her fingers both on the strings and holding the bow. Hears the warm sounds resonating from the body. Understands the language of musical notation, which is a novel experience.

"Wonderful," he says, eyes remaining closed. "Think of something from home." Already the map of Nova's mind is coming into focus.

Nova’s mind travels down a hall to a little bedroom – outside the window, there are patches of snow on the ground, but it’s not frozen solid. The room is small but cozy, made personal with quilts and posters and photographs taped to the walls, like teenagers do.

Nova’s mental image zooms in on a bookshelf, full of an eclectic assortment of books, ranging from music theory to mechanics to science to fiction. From there, her mind finds its way to a little carved moose, rough hewn, more like a totem, its features left to the imagination. It’s been smoothed and sanded, so there are no rough edges along its body. In her imagination, she picks it up, turning it over to run a thumb on the one rough spot on the little wooden sculpture – the initials GVD are carved on the underside of the moose, the letters angular so that they resemble runes of old.

It comes on in a wave: his small hands hold the wooden horse delicately, afraid that clutching it tight would be seen as rebellion. Small chirps and hiccups of sadness escape as he memorizes the shape with touch. As the heat from the fire grows. As his feet carry him foward, programming implemented through the carful application of terror. Holds

Elliot nearly drops the link but tears himself away from the intrusive memory. Glad neither Nova nor Chess's memory links are open yet. He focuses on the things that make them different and as the links fall into place he withdraws his hands to safer territory. He can't remember a locus it could have come from. So much clearer too than the dislocated memory that came in the event at the city pool.

"Thank you, Chess," he says levelly. "And here we are." He opens the doors in Nova's room that lead to Wright and himself, leaving Chess's doors closed.

It’s Chess turn to watch from the spectator spot, folding her hands and tucking her chin upon them as she looks from Elliot to Nova. She can’t help but think of something from “home,” herself, and her dark eyes fill with tears with the little burst of homesickness that rises in her. She looks away to the cabin windows and the expanse of gray water and gray sky, focusing on not thinking – lowering that cognitive load so that Elliot can borrow from her reserves.

Nova’s memory isn’t so emotional – she trusts she will see that place again, even with all the adversity they face in getting from the Pelago to Anchor. She nods, and Elliot can feel she is much more open and curious than Chess had been.

“This part will be mostly up to you, Captain,” Elliot says. “Once we begin underclocking you should just have an easier time doing what you do. I'm interested to see where our abilities intersect.”

He slips into the place of calm with Chess, and feels Wright do the same. If they need additional support from Asi he can invite her later, but the three current volunteers should provide a strong boost to Nova’s connections.

“Hm.” Nova’s lips purse over to one side as she thinks for a moment. Her brows knit as she concentrates. As a test, she starts with another Nova version she knows well. Her mind’s eye takes on different imagery from the rooms and doors provided by Elliot, and instead she imagines three tool boxes, each differently colored. She imagines opening one that’s beaten up, black and rusted, something that might be found in an old basement.

She murmurs, “Okay, now to look for the stranger… I need to be unresponsive. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Her eyes flutter closed and her face goes slack, her hands relaxing where they held the others’. Chess looks up, tensing a little while the captain does the opposite, but manages to calm again after a quick apologetic look thrown in Elliot’s direction.

In Nova’s mind, it’s like a black wilderness but for little beacons that shine a little differently, like stars in the night sky – one, two, three, close enough to reach for. She’s looking for four.

After a few minutes of this, Nova’s blue eyes open again, and she shakes her head. “I think I know where she should be, but I still can’t find her there,” she says, her tone both apologetic and a little sad.

“If you think it’s a manpower problem,” Elliot says as he returns to the here and now, “I can muscle up a bit more.” Mindpower problem?

Nova’s brows knit together as she considers the question. “I’ve never connected with her before but after I knew the first one, I could find the others without too much trouble, if I knew to look for them. I could be looking in the wrong place, but I think it’s the right spot. If she’s online, I should be able to find her, but…”

Her teeth worry at her lower lip. “We can try, but I think it’s not me that needs the manpower. She’s been offline for longer than the collision last summer, too – Fantôme lost connection with her a couple of years ago, she says.”

She lifts her shoulder. “We can try.”

Nova closes her eyes again, her eyes closing and muscles going slack. Once again her mind becomes that black nothingness, with those pinpoints of lights coming into focus. This time, she approaches each one, coming closer until the small star-like lights grow into larger, whirling orbs of light. As Nova moves by each, the image of another Nova comes into her mind. Long blond hair, lab coat. Long dark hair, drab parka smudged with dirt, maybe blood. Short dark hair, paler, black trench coat, black kohl-lined eyes.

She turns away from each, going deeper into the darkness – the farther she goes, the darkness deepens until it’s like trying to see through black velvet. Loneliness creeps inward, upward, into a lump in her throat and a stinging in her eyes.

Elliot’s attention is occupied enough that Nova’s sadness begins to become his own before he notices it. He opens his eyes through the fog of someone else's effort to check on Chess. Letting Nova's emotions roll past, he tries to focus on a more neutral encouragement for all of their sakes.

"It's okay to stop," he says softly, slowly. "If you think this isn't helping."

The connected Nova nods – the Nova beside them in the cabin remains still, in that trance. “I’ll come back.”

Chess looks up when she senses Elliot looking her way, and gives him a small smile of appreciation. The sinking feeling of loneliness and sadness is one she’s all too familiar with, one she lived with for a very long time.

It’s a few moments of traveling back through the darkness to the brightest light of them all, one that feels somehow like home. The darkness clears as the Nova at the table opens her eyes. They’re wet, the lashes dark, and she shakes her head. “I’m sorry. I just feel so bad for her, wherever she is,” she says, reaching up with both hands to wipe her eyes.

Elliot relaxes as he stops offering his cognition fit use. "No need to apologize," he assures her. "Our circumstances aren't identical but I know I wouldn't have a good time if I couldn't reach Wright through the network. Hopefully she’s okay."

He takes a moment to close all of the doors between them. "You can both break the links if you want," he offers. "Might as well let you both practice breaking the link on your own." It should be as easy as simply it to break.

“I hope they all are, wherever they are,” Nova murmurs softly, knowing that Elliot and Chess have quite a few friends impacted by whatever has impacted her alternate self in their world.

She nods, focusing on letting go of the connections, and releasing their hands at the same time. “Thanks for trying,” she adds to Elliot. “Fantôme says when she tries, it’s like it’s just… an empty doorway or something. Like she should be there, but is not. For me, I haven’t connected with her, at least directly, so it’s harder for me to find her. I think I know where she fits. But it’s like… I don’t know. When you hear a song that feels like it should have a note in it where one doesn’t exist.”

Chess yawns now that she too has released the connection – the effort of not having effort has taken its toll on her and made her sleepy, it seems. “Sorry for any emotional wobbles or lack of trust. It’s not personal.” She stretches, shoulder and elbow joints cracking as she reaches over her head, then hops up to her feet. “Sorry, Wright, too,” she adds, knowing that Elliot’s partner is likely still tuned in.

Elliot looks grateful for the well-wishing. Two people he knows were copied; one from long ago and the other now his closest friend even though he didn’t know her before the crash. The links break with what feels like a pressure pop cascading through the body, and Elliot’s room returns to having only two walls, two doors. After catching Chess’s contagious sigh, he passes on Wright’s response. “She says don’t worry about it, she’ll be there if you ever want to chat,” he tells Chess.

“Thank you both for helping,” he says. “Sure would be nice if it were more of a one-to-one exertion ratio.” As it is he’s only a little tired. He hasn’t done anything strenuous today, which reminds him he was supposed to be at Lowe’s on android cadaver business.

The older of the two women is up on her feet once it’s clear the team building exercise is over. Chess gives a little salute in Elliot’s direction for Wright’s sake, then heads for the door that will lead to the tiny bedroom cabins, clearly having had her fill of social activity for the day.

“Let me know if you need help for other things. I am glad to help, other than be a tour guide or courier.” Nova says with a smile as she stands up and heads for the door to the boat’s deck. “Thank you again, Elliot.” She’s at least stopped calling him Meneer Hitchens.

Elliot answers with a smile, uncomfortable calling Nova anything other than Captain at the moment. He sits in the cabin for a while to clear his thoughts and make a plan of action. When his determination has returned he pulls on Asi's attention. "Okay," he says. "Ready to do this."

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