It's Not a Lake, It's an Ocean


elliot2_icon.gif richard5_icon.gif

Scene Title It's Not a Lake, It's an Ocean
Synopsis Elliot and Richard leave camp to have a clandestine conversation.
Date July 3, 2021

I-76 Overpass

Western Appalachians

“Hey Elliot,” Richard calls over with a tilt of his head away from the encampment, offering the other man a faint smile, one eyebrow lifting upwards over an ink-dark eye, “Got a couple minutes? Need to talk some logistics but I want to get some walking in too before we get back in the cars and my ass assumes the shape of the Wildcat’s seats.”

Elliot looks up from the fire and away from Wright’s bedroom, finding Richard in the dark. “Yeah, sure,” he says, standing and dusting himself off. There’s almost certainly no way that anything Richard needs from him is logistical in nature; Marlowe has the goods on lockdown.

“What’s up?” he asks, closing the doors between the others in the network and his sensory feed. “Just us.” And Wright, but he hasn’t yet gotten around to saying that he can’t close that door.

“Got a few things I need to talk to you about,” Richard answers, hands tucking into his pockets as he walks along a circuit - not too far from the campfire, but far enough that any eavesdropping would be noticable.

“First– any recent news from the other side? How’re things going over there?”

“Fires are all put out,” Elliot says with a shrug. “Other than that, nothing world-shattering.” The attacks on the Safe Zone were nerve-wracking for a lot of reasons, some of which haven’t come up yet in the days since.

“That’s not entirely true, sorry,” he says. “I’ve been distracted since we hit the road, which could be a problem. My…” he stops himself, swallows, tries again. “Wright’s daughter Ames is missing. Possibly kidnapped by her pieces of shit grandparents.” Wright having already said it out loud doesn’t make it easier for him to say it now. “I thought you should know, in case that was the problem.”

Richard’s eyes widen slightly. “Jesus,” he swears, stopping dead and looking back at the other man, “Is there anything– does Wright need any help? We’ve got people on the other side, still– wait, Ames. Ames goes to WInslow-Crawford, doesn’t she? Have you asked Peyton for help?”

He says, as if the other man would have any idea the principal of a school could help with a kidnapping.

“Yeah, Marthe works at the school as a nurse,” Elliot says. “And Wright called Liz. It’s ongoing at this point, but no actionable information yet. Just feeling really helpless with me here and Wright stuck in KC." He scratches at the stubble on his jaw and tries not to spiral into it because it's honestly even worse than that.

“Good. Good. If Liz is on the job, and Peyton’s helping…” Richard shakes his head, and he starts to reach out– then remembers and his hand falls back down to his side. “There’s nobody better to have on the case. They’ll find her.”

He grimaces, “I understand how it feels, though. There’s– nothing more frustrating.”

"I appreciate that," Elliot says with a sigh. "Because it feels pretty not fucking great." He shakes his head and keeps walking away from the camp.

"Do you have actual logistical needs, or was that a cover for something else?" Elliot lets the dread simmer in the background.

“Cover,” Richard admits, glancing back over his shoulder, “Got a few things I wanted to talk to you about, and a favor to ask on top of it all…”

A slow breath’s drawn in, and he looks back out ahead into the trees. “I’ve been in touch with some people in the Pinehearst timeline– but not through official channels, and I’ve learned something that’s definitely worrying.”

“Every report they’ve sent over to the OEI regarding Mazdak has fallen into a black hole. No follow-up questions, no requests for more, it’s like– nobody’s even receiving the information. Or more likely, someone’s burying it. Given that they knew exactly where and when to hit the rig, well…”

Elliot stops in his path as he runs the numbers on Richard's information, then looks away to address someone else. "Black box black box," he says, and Wright confirms and recedes. If they're under telepathic surveillance, he'll make it as hard for them as he can.

"You think there's a Mazdak mole in the OEI?" he asks, sounding cautious, not incredulous.

“I think…” Richard draws in a slow breath, stopping as well and giving the other man a serious look, “I think that Mazdak knew exactly where and when we were going to jump, and they waited until we were jumping to hit the place. I think they wanted us here but without a way back.”

“I don’t think this was our plan at all. I think this was theirs. Which means somewhere up high the OEI’s been compromised.”

Elliot sighs luxuriously as he pinches the bridge of his nose. Nothing he’s seen to this point can discount the theory. “I think Gates is clean,” he says. “He had a conversation with Wright and went on a bit of an anti-Mazdak rant. The rest of them I have no insight on. Gates…”

Elliot pauses, grimacing. “Gates’s mind palace ability appears to have crashed into the Palace,” he says. “Or, much worse, he somehow made himself a suite in the Palace that I have no knowledge of, it’s not on my map. Which isn’t possible, that would be like seeing somebody use geokinesis to carve the statue of David and then going home with the statue instead of the ability. He’s a reactive telepathic mosaic, he collects mental abilities.”

“He thinks it happened when he had a seizure at a diner I was at last year,” Elliot says, getting to the important context, “when he was like thirty years younger and going under a different name. Tom. Nice guy, apparently did some time travel. But it means he and I have both had access to the Palace this whole time without ever knowing we shared it until Zero gave back the Church and set the fucking minotaur loose.” What the actual fuck, Zero?

“That’s a relief. I never got a bad vibe off Gates,” Richard’s brow furrows, “That’s one hell of an ability, though… Tom? Christ– “ He rubs his jaw a little, “I think Liz was there, I vaguely remember her telling me about a seizure at a diner…”

He shakes his head slightly, “Well, if he has– access to your palace, or however it works, all the more reason that he seems clean.” He has no idea what the Church or minotaur are, so he just lets that part go.

“I– look, I notice patterns and now that I have some context and time to think,” he grimaces, “We were taken off the board. The people who were replaced with androids? If they were just killed, that would have been one thing, but this– this divides more resources, has them and their allies focusing on that. Someone’s been clearing the path for something, Elliot. Which asks the question– “

“What are they doing right now that they want us not to stop that badly?”

“I could not even begin to guess,” Elliot responds helplessly. “I know so little about Mazdak to begin with, I’m assuming it’s something to do with the Entity and whatever it wants.”

He considers in silence for a moment. “If there’s somebody in that building who could ferret out a rat, it’s probably him. Do you want Wright to talk to him about the Bright reports going unused? She’s been having conversations with him off the books and out of range since the minotaur came back and he saw it. If you need proof the network isn’t the Palace, look no further. Gates isn’t in the network, but he can visit the Palace.”

“Maybe…” Richard’s brow knits slightly, “…maybe not quite so blatant. Do you think she could ask something that’d have him looking up data? Maybe have a ‘brainstorm’ and asking if any of the other timelines offered any useful intel regarding Mazdak? If he looks and finds nothing then– well, if he’s half the agent he acts like, that’ll raise alarm bells with him.”

A slight turn, and he looks back to the campfire, “We should… have a private chat with Castle, too, at some point. Nova’s with us, I can confirm. Both of them that we’re aware of.”

He pauses, then gives a searching look to Elliot, “Odd question for you. Might be important. Might not. Why did you call it the Aquifer? Did you coin that, or did someone else?”

“Mazdak seems to be a special interest of his, so it shouldn’t be too hard for Wright to plant the seed in his mind,” Elliot says. “That’s a really good idea, actually.”

As for the aquifer, he grimaces. “I’m not sure where the word came from. I know it’s at least as old as the Palace, because I’ve been associating with it this whole time, and it’s written on the wall as part of a Relevance mantra that fortifies the structure. The 0bservation Room—where I communicate with the phone that represents Zero—is in a facsimile of the Aquifer, which is called the Aquifer Overlook. There are signs in Facilities that lead all the way down to it.”

He realizes that Richard has no context for the sectors. “Facilities is backstage, a lot of my passages lead in and out of there, it kind of winds its way through the other sectors and isn’t directly part of the labyrinth. The Apartment Complex, the Mill, the Church, those are all superstructure sectors that make up most of the body of the Palace; the actual labyrinth wrapping around the Foundations. The Foundations are rooted in the Aquifer.”

Richard listens, nodding slowly as he tries to form some context there. “Okay. Next question– I swear, I’m going somewhere with this– “ He hesitates, then pulls a pen out of a pocket, tugging off the cap with his teeth and scribbling a few quick lines on his palm with it.

Pulling the cap back out of his mouth, he holds it up, “Have you ever seen this symbol?”


“I mean,” Elliot says, sorting through all the places he’s definitely seen the symbol before. “It’s all over Company shit. I worked for the Linderman group before Nichole Miller pushed me into the Ferry. It’s on Pinehurst shit, I know they had some equipment in the Ark that I found… or was attached to at some point, who knows.”

“And,” he continues, faltering, as something about the symbol in Richard’s hand gives him momentary vertigo. “It’s on…” he continues as it nags at him from the recesses of memory. What once was lost, but now is found. “In the fucking Church,” he whispers.

He looks suddenly distressed. “When I let the Switchboard annex the Church I lost the memories that are stored there,” he says, picking up steam, “I lose the map of anything that gets annexed, including my own passages. But it’s…” his mind roves through the surface of the place, touching memories so delicately as not to disturb them should the minotaur still be living inside. “On the wall of the Auditorium, where like, a crucifix would go, there’s a crack in the wall instead and that’s what the crack looks like.”

His heart is hammering as he floats around the corner to find the door marked Cash Register. The doorknob is accessible, the mold reaching for but not claiming the door. Just past the door there is an intersection, lights in the perpendicular hallways all glowing red and steady. Illuminating, menacingly, the wall where the mold climbed and crept and clawed and buttressed by the words forms an image of a colonial chapel with its doors open, and above the steeple in the place reserved for a Christian cross hovers instead a serpent with a head at both ends, tied into a figure-eight knot.

Why the fuck did Zero want me to go into the Church? He shudders.

Richard watches the other man’s face, listens to it, the symbol held up until that memory’s located– identified– and then he drops his hand, his other moving over it to rub at the ink a bit. It’ll fade soon enough, on the palm.

“That’s… what I was afraid of, honestly,” he murmurs, glancing away. Silent a moment, gathering his thoughts..

“The symbol’s cropped up in a lot of places over the years. Its use by Pinehearst was because Monroe took it as his personal symbol, but… it didn’t originate with him,” he explains, drawing in a slow breath, “There’s a– friend of mine, she’s Zuni. They have some myths that I believe represent the Entity, the conduits, and– well.”

He opens his hand again, looking down at it, “This is the symbol of Kolowisi. Kolowisi is a water serpent, the guardian of the waters. A benevolent god, according to legend, credited with saving humanity during a flood– one of the many flood myths that mirror each other across anthropology. Many of the Zuni believe that evolved abilities are the kachina, or katsina manifesting in us, and…see.”

He looks back up, brow furrowed, gaze slightly haunted, “This is why I asked why you called it the Aquifer. Kolowisi is the guardian of rivers and streams, but mythologically they all join up underground in a great ocean where the kachina dwell.”

“An aquifer.”

“Huh,” Elliot says ponderously. He considers all of the connections that could be made there patiently. “So, you’re theorizing that Zero is… a Conduit? I’m still very unclear on what those are. The Entity at least appears to have drive, whereas you are still your own person, presumably.”

“Also, benevolent is not a word that I would ever use to describe Zero,” Elliot laughs bleakly. “It killed a lot of people. A lot.” A whole warehouse full of them. Just eat, eat, eat.

“No, I don’t think that Kolowisi is Zero– at least, I hope not– but… metaphysically, the aquifer… mythologically we can tie that in as the legendary source of all evolved abilities,” Richard’s frowning, thoughtful, one finger tapping against his jaw– and then he glances at his hand, frown deepening. He reaches out with his other hand, tracing the symbol, “And we’ve been looking at this as a DNA half-helix, but… it could also represent branching timelines… the serpent as the guardian of time? Or… damn it.”

His brow furrows in frustration, and then he exhales a sigh, “I feel like I’m on– the edge of something, something important but I don’t have all the pieces.”

“The conduits do have their own drives, but they don’t communicate like the Entity,” he admits, “In theory the original host’s consciousness is probably still in there somewhere, but the further back you go, the harder it is to access. The Entity doesn’t seem to store its past hosts like the conduits do, or if it does, they’re locked away.”

Elliot takes in the information thoughtfully. "I had a theory," he says after a moment of silence, "that SLC abilities were caused by exposure to the thinning of the boundaries of the string. I was talking to Asi about it. Coming from the Aquifer itself could work in that context. I'm never really fully there, and it's insulated against the Aquifer outside of it. There are no windows in the Palace. So I'm never exposed to it."

He waves away his digression. "The important part of my theory is that the Entity isn't the source of the abilities," he says. "It isn't a genetic ancestor. It just wants to control the source so that people can't get more of it. Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil style. Bearing in mind that I'm working with a very sparse information board." He chuckles.

“I don’t think you’re necessarily right about the motive but I think you’re right in that they aren’t the Source,” muses Richard, “They might still be the First– but maybe not. Heh. For all we know, the rise in Evolved– sorry, SLC-positive– abilities could be Kolowisi trying to protect us from the next great flood. Only this time it’s fire from the sky.”

He looks up at the sky, smiling faintly, “We probably shouldn’t give this too much thought, though, or we’re going to end up founding a religion by accident. And I’m Catholic– I’m pretty sure that’s a Cardinal sin.”

A sudden bark of laughter, “Shit– I did not intend that pun.”

Elliot is graceful enough not to sigh in secondhand embarrassment. “Well if you’re catholic,” he offers, “that just means you take to parts of the other religion that you want and add them to your own in order to quell the pagan uprisings. Also wouldn’t that religion as described be Mazdak’s?

“Nah. They claim it’s not a religion, and besides, they revere the Entity. This is…” Richard shakes his head, “The serpent is something else. God. It’s like I know there’s something right there but I just can’t put enough pieces together… anyway.”

He waves a hand vaguely, “Business. Right. Shit needs done. One– I’m gonna want to sit down with Eve soon and I need someone with– less history with her there to keep the conversation from going off the rails. That means you, if you’re up for it. We have a whole book of prophecy– which she’s got experience with– but she has a history of being more on the ‘make sure it happens’ end while I really am on the other side. Someone else to make sure it doesn’t just degenerate into pointless shouting’d be great.”

Elliot winces. "If you need me to try I'll give it a go," he says. "Though I haven't been a huge fan of Eve's prophecies since she showed Wright a painting of me in the Ark after I'd already escaped. Bannerman's siege was not really the best time to get a don't take the Ark job warning. Prophecy is kind of useless in my opinion. Maybe I just don't have enough of the big picture to appreciate it though."

Something dawns on him. "Hey did you ever visit Gracie's room on Freedom on the Seas?" he asks. There's no indication in his tone that such an act worries him out of misplaced jealousy, he's seen the two of them interacting since and they're both adults. "She had some paintings in there that she implied were precognitive, but they didn't mean anything to me. One, which she seemed to think might be meant for me for some reason she didn't elaborate on, had eclipse or rift symbolism but…" He shrugs.

“It isn’t her prophecies in this case,” Richard says with a slight shake of his head, “It’s Else’s… and they can be useful, trust me. I’ve got a whole collection. The trick is figuring out what they mean in time.” A weight to those words, regret; too many times, he hasn’t.

Then his brow furrows, “I haven’t, no… I’ll have to ask her when there’s a chance. Can you describe them at all, whatever you remember?”

Elliot closes his eyes in concentration, recalling the events of weeks past. “There were a few pieces,” he says, “Mostly done in the medium of makeup. A red and a blue figure leaning toward each other in front of a charcoal farmhouse. A set of four images showing the progression of feminine hands. One is ghostly, the other dark linework. The more physical hand reaches out but passes through the other and falls out of frame.”

“The other was painted directly onto a wall-mounted TV,” he continues. “That’s the one she said might be meant for me. It was a sunset on a road that was broken in the middle. There were two gray constructions of some sort, like pylons, on either side of a lightless black void ringed by orange light. I got the feeling of looking at both an eclipse and the Virginia anomaly, though obviously over land.”

“And, again, it wasn’t explicitly stated that they were precognitive,” he clarifies. “She made a comment about not know if they were past, future, or metaphorical, and that they were done by someone else who wasn’t Eve.” He shrugs, realizing it’s not a lot to go on.

“Hm. Redhouse? No, I’ll– ask her when I get a chance,” Richard shakes his head, “You’re right that they’re often useless, but that one time out of ten, or a hundred… anyway.”

He offers a faint smile, “Last thing. Is– I don’t know what’s up on the other side. Is there any way Wright can get a message to Liz for me?”

“Yeah, that’s easy enough,” Elliot says. “Safe to assume everything is bugged though. What’s the message?”

“Always,” Richard admits wryly, “So I’ll have to be obtuse, but– message follows.”

A pause, as if to let Elliot prepare or to form the words in his own mind, “Joshua-Jolene situation confirmed; proceed assuming gambit failure, new tactics needed. Swords as trustworthy as cups. Final message– I know.”

He nods, then, gesturing, “That’s it.”

“Copy,” Elliot says simply, eyes elsewhere as he confers wordlessly with his partner at home. “Wright is in contact with her anyway, considering the Ames situation, so a phone call won’t seem out of place.”

It hurts him to talk about his d— his partner’s daughter tactically. Which brings him to another thing that’s been causing him to feel helpless. “Eve had a vision of Marcus Raith smiling over Rue’s autopsy,” he says quietly. “I couldn’t get any more out of her for it, but if we need to move against Raith it may need to be timely.” It comes out unprompted, he feels weird for injecting it into the conversation so suddenly.

“Jesus Christ.”

Richard’s eyes widen in shock at the mention of the vision, straightening up further. “It– it doesn’t always mean what it seems, it could be metaphorical. Or it might be an alternate-reality version. But we can’t risk that, we… fuck. Metaphorical. He did send her off on a mission, and if she’s not back yet…”

He paces slightly, anxious clearly without the ability to directly influence events… and now starting to suspect that was on purpose. “We need to move against him, I think, but I don’t know how.”

“Maybe we can get more out of Eve to make a clearer picture,” Elliot suggests. “She seemed like she wanted to do some violence to him, so she may be totally in our corner on this one. Wright is on the ground there, obviously, but he can make force fields and her only ability is bullets.”

“Fun fact, you can’t put up a forcefield if a bullet’s already gone through your right eye and tossed your brains out the back of your skull,” Richard quips - darkly - with a shake of his head, “I’ll have to count on our people on the ground on that side to make calls over there for now. Unless we want to - I don’t know - hire fucking Redd to go kill the sonuvabitch.”

“After we meet with Eve, maybe we’ll have something,” Elliot says. He doesn’t know Redd, but he can’t say he isn’t familiar with murdering people. He isn’t sure they’ll need to go that far even if Raith is worse than he worries; he might just need to be replaced. “Gates is going to want to meet with Wright again soon, I think he’s keeping all of that just between us. Might be able to plant some seeds about the Mazdak reports in his mind then.”

“Alright. Sounds like a plan…” Richard’s head cants back towards the fire, “…shall we head back before they start thinking we have some weird love affair thing going on?”

"I wouldn't worry about that," Elliot says. "They all know I'm out of your league."

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