Me I'm Not


chess7_icon.gif elliot2_icon.gif ff_hart_icon.gif ff_nick_icon.gif richard5_icon.gif robyn7_icon.gif wf_squeaks_icon4.gif

Scene Title Me I'm Not
Synopsis I can swallow it down / Keep it all inside / I define myself / By how well I hide / I feel it coming apart / Well, at least I tried
Date July 7, 2021

A cold, drizzling rain falls on the city of concrete and steel.

While New Chicago’s heart beats with an industrial pulse, the outskirts of its marketplaces look like the ramshackle remnants of post-war America in a timeline not to pass here. Shelters made from salvaged metal, welded shipping containers, and gutted ships are lashed together with catwalks, rope bridges, and a spider’s web of power cables.

Gulls and terns wheel around overhead, coming in from the bay with the morning fog. The side streets of New Chicago are quiet in the morning, and the slate-gray sky is reflected mutedly in rippling puddles. For a handful of members from the expeditionary team, it is a moment to catch their bearings and consider next steps while other members of both their team and the convoy explore their new surroundings.

Steam rises up out of a grate underfoot along with the distant sound of running water. The warmth coming with the steam implies an active, if not also healthy, sewage system churning somewhere below. It’s the most successfully industrialized city in the post-flood world they’d seen yet.

And perhaps the last.

New Chicago
Ruins of Indiana

July 7th


Sarah Hart recognizes that she’s an odd-one out of this splinter group from the Convoy. Adjusting the strap of her messenger bag, it’s clear she’s nervous. Whether it’s about being here in Chicago or something else isn’t clear.

“So I… take it some of you know who the uh, man in charge is?” She nervously asks, then looks over her shoulder, fidgeting with the bag’s strap. Hart quickly glances back to the group, worried they’d replied to her while she was distracted.

Robyn's seemed more than a tad bit preoccupied since their arrival in the city, making sure to keep her bag close at side as well. Just in case. "I only know him by reputation," she admits, shifting a look over towards Sarah. "I don't want to jump to too many conclusions because I have people constantly trying to make sure I understand the… differences at play, so… it'll certainly be interesting to see what this world's made of him."

Her shoulders rise and fall in a lazy, noncommittal shrug. A hand is held out, letting some of the drizzle pool into it as she frowns. "I was kind of hoping we left the rain behind, though." Shaking the rainwater to the ground, she turns here eyes back upwards for just a moment. "This is still… beyond impressive. I can't imagine what had to go into this place over the last decade to get it to this state." But she can imagine, given Gideon's reputation.

Richard, on the other hand, has fewer qualms about stating the blunt truth of the matter: “He was a mob boss. Organized crime. Makes sense, really, a man like that having the resources and manpower to pull off something like this…”

There’s no actual judgment in the ex-burglar’s tone when he explains it, his hands tucked into the pockets of his jacket and the old, worn poncho that he’d picked up in the Pelago draped further over everything, its hood tilted forward and the kiss of the rain giving his world the rattling soundtrack of constantly rustling plastic.

“He’s got a reputation as fairly reasonable, though. As far as such men go, anyway.”

Chess is content to let the others answer Hart’s question. She’s never met Gideon D’Sarthe, though she’s aware of his looming presence on Staten Island in their own world – she’d spent a lot of time there, once, but it was well before his reign started on his corner of the island. She quietly makes note of the signs of infrastructure and rebirth. Despite the dire warnings issued to them on their arrival, it’s an impressive feat that says something about the optimism and undying spirit of humanity.

That and that someone will always rise up to fill a power vacuum. In this case, D’Sarthe.

“And here I thought we had our shit together over at the Sill,” Nick chimes in, after a low whistle expressing that he too is impressed. “This bloke’s got his shit together and everyone else’s too with a working sewage system.” He gives a nod to the steam rising and pulls the brim of his baseball cap lower to keep the rain off his face.

Elliot paces back and forth slowly, occasionally turning in a circle and scanning the crowd. His eyes flick to the others, curious why they're not likewise occupied but having trouble bringing himself to ask. The rain taps loudly against the hood of his waxed canvas jacket when it's up, though he's lowered it because the other sound is eating up his tolerance for noise.

"Does anybody else hear this?" he asks suddenly. "It's like my ears are ringing but it's… directional. And circling us."

Dodging around the worst of the puddles, Squeaks tags along like she does. It's a rule that's been written down somewhere, kind of like the rule for stacking draw two cards in Uno. But she's just a couple of steps behind, shadowing. Occasionally, and not heard by the other travelers, she lets out a chirp or click in a sort of exploratory survey of the grounds they pass through.

For a while the teen is content to just shadow watch and listen and look in passing wonder when an odd thing or another pops up on her personal sonar. Mostly it's just noted as a curiosity to herself, probably nothing of interest to anyone else. But eventually, some time into the hike while there's speculation about the S'Darthe person and weird ringing, the teen finally sets her attentions fully on the others with a curious frown. She tilts her head slightly and tugs at Elliot's attention by showing him a glimpse of their group from her point of view.

A second later, Squeaks stomps through a shallow puddle, hurrying to catch up proper. Once she's close enough she plucks at Elliot’s sleeve, still with a question lingering over the network link, but she's looking forward, the way they're going.

Sarah Hart didn’t hear Elliot’s question, and it’s not clear if she heard the answer to the one she asked either. She’s distracted by what, on the surface, looks like the steam rising out of the sewer grate. But it’s something bigger than that. She idly threads a lock of hair behind one ear, fidgeting, and casts a furtive glance up at Nick. She starts to ask him a question, then hesitates when little more than a, “Hey have—” makes it out of her mouth. She shakes her head, grimacing, and squashes down whatever it was she was about to say.

As Squeaks makes her presence known, Robyn offers the young woman a glance and a bit of a frown - not a look of disdain, but clearly one carrying some level of displeasure. If she has any deeper thoughts, though, she keeps them to herself as she angles her gaze lazily up to Elliot.

"You okay over there, Hitchens?" It's a genuine question, rather than her usual detached disdain. "Because I don't hear anything." Not yet, at least. Her frown deepens as she turns to face ahead, taking in a deep breath. She decided not to bring her sword with her on this particular meeting, and though it was clearly the better choice, the sense of safety it affords her feels lost at the moment, and it has her a little on edge.

Richard’s head cocks a bit in a half-turn towards Eliot with a crinkling of the poncho’s hood, a frown pursing his lips as he considers the other man just past the yellow edge. “Circling us?” If it was just tinnitus that could be a lot of things, few of which were concerned, but he’s never heard of a directional ringing in one’s hears that was anything less than worrisome.

The appearance of the teenager isn’t a surprise to him, it seems, and he takes advantage of it in a quiet, “…Squeaks, can you tell if we’ve got a tail’ve any sort?”

For the first time, he misses that instinctive feel of where living bodies are around him.

Chess turns at the sound of puddle splashes behind them, and her brow knits at the appearance of their ginger shadow. Her expression shifts into a small, half smile for the teenager… her sister, though she knows the girl feels no kinship for her here in this world where neither of them are meant to exist.

She shakes her head in response to Elliot’s question, and tips her head, scanning the sky for something that could cause the tinnitus – maybe he’s simply more sensitive to it or something’s rattling his fillings. “That’s not ominous at all,” she says wryly. “Ever experienced it before?”

The Brit looks like he might say something about the sudden appearance of the teenager in this splinter group, but Hart draws his focus that way instead, and he smirks in response to her starting-and-stopping of whatever it is she wants to ask.

“I promise I only bite if you want me to,” Nick tells her with a roguish grin. “What’s on your mind, Jam Tart?”

Watching Squeaks approach the group through her eyes, Elliot makes no turn to see her with his own. The difference between his perception and hers is stark, which means it's definitely just him. He offers his own perception back to her as she sidles up to him. Right now there isn't a directional quality to what he's hearing, just a pervasive ringing sound that shouldn't otherwise be noteworthy.

"I can't pick a direction now," he says, pointing further along the street they're on. "Last time it sounded like this direction, but it's been popping in and out. Like, my ears have been ringing since we got here, but the sound keeps diffusing and losing the directional quality. Like I'm on the edge of it and it's moving in and out of range. This is absolutely not normal for me."

Squeaks’ head tilts at Elliot point of view. Like always it’s a little disorienting seeing things from higher than she’s used to, but that’s shrugged off just as soon as it hits her. She squints a little when the vague nagging feeling over the link is given a source — that strangely weird ringing that Elliot’s asked about. It makes her switch between her own senses and back to his twice, like flipping a page back and forth because the last sentence doesn’t make sense right away.

“I don’t…” she begins, curiouser and curiouser, using her own eyes to look up at the grown-up types. “I haven’t noticed,” is settled on, with her attention shifting to Richard. But that doesn’t mean very much. Squeaks’ head tilts first to one side and then to the other as she starts chirping and clicking more purposefully, feeling out the sounds, and probably trying to find that mystery ringing. Even her eyes start studying harder, focused on whatever her sonar radar shows her.

Squeaks hadn’t noticed, until suddenly she does. She isn’t sure how she missed an entire person, but she did.

Hart spots him first through the steam rising up from the grating in the street. A silhouette of a man, tall and shoulders made to look broader for the cut of his jacket. She draws in a sharp breath, startled by noticing him through the haze of steam as he steps through.

What the fuck?” Hart rasps.


“Why the…” another Elliot false starts, swallows, resets, “why the fuck do you look like me?” His jaw is clenched and his voice is tight. His hands fidget in the way Elliot’s used to when he needed to sign but assumed the other person didn’t know the language. His hand fidgets in the way that means he doesn’t know if he should pull his gun and kill someone.

Elliot’s heart hammers in his chest as he comes face to face with the personification of a decade of lying. Wright grips the edge of the conference room table, exactly as afraid because now people are going to know. Elliot wishes he could just kill this apparition on the spot, but not with any seriousness. It would only make the problem more obvious, and it’s time to head off as much of the damage as he can. He needs to say something but all that comes out is the existential dread pulsing through the network. Just like this reminder of the man he used to be, he can’t put the words in order.

When the other Elliot steps into view, Robyn stops dead in her tracks, turning to look first at their Elliot, over at Hart, and then at what she assumes to be the local variant. Her jaw clenches as a number of things settle into making more sense. She has several off the cuff responses to the other Elliot's question; for once she recognises that none of them are good for this sort of moment, so she lets the sound of light rain fill her mind instead.

A half step to Richard, and she leans over, speaking in a low voice. "I think a version of the truth may do us the best here," she offers as her thought. Her eyes never quite leave their Elliot, watching both of them carefully for a moment, ready to step in if needed.

“Aw, shit,” Richard mutters under his breath as the strange twin of their companion, his gaze immediately cutting to their Elliot, knowing all too well his fear of this moment coming to pass. He glances to Robyn with a slight nod, and then he’s moving - pushing forward through the group to behind one shoulder, though he doesn’t touch him, remarking sotto voce, “Easy. Don’t panic.”

From beneath the yellow edge of his poncho’s hood, he flashes the local Elliot a smile, “Hey, what’s up, buddy? There a problem?”

Seeing one’s doppelganger is something that Chess doesn’t have to worry about here, but aside from Robyn, she’s probably the most experienced with the phenomenon. She looks at the stranger, and glances over at the Elliot she knows – and moves a little closer to him, a silent show of solidarity.

“It’s only weird forever,” she says a little wryly, before her gaze returns to the other Elliot, watching his twitchy hand even as her own curls around one of those rocks in her pocket, charging and uncharging to release some of her own anxious energy.

Nick’s brows rise and he looks from one to the other, then releases a low whistle. “Things are getting bloody interesting around here,” he says. To the ‘new’ Elliot, he says, “Easy there, mate. He can’t help how he looks anymore than you can. Lucky for us.” There words are punctuated with a click of his tongue and a cheeky wink. Apparently Nick’s here to flirt with all Elliots, unabashedly.

The how that she missed him isn’t Squeaks’ focus, pointing him out as soon as she’s found him is. And even that becomes secondary in an instant. She doesn’t need to look at the traveling-Elliot to know his thoughts and feelings about the version of him that’s stepping through the steam, since she can feel it. She can also feel the indecision about what to do about it.

Not that she has any problems deciding what to do. On her very next step, while everyone is turning to talk to the other Elliot, Squeaks turns and slinks away into a gush of steam from a vent herself. Hopefully the surprise encounter is enough of a distraction that she can get around her little wandering group and then sneak up behind not-the-Elliot.

Hart is frozen in place, attention darting back and forth between Elliot and his emergent doppelganger. She takes an unsteady step back, putting herself somewhat beside and in front of Squeaks, with a hand reaching back for the younger woman’s shoulder both to steady herself and offer reassurance.

Unable to help herself, Hart flashes a nervous flutter of a smile and threads an errant lock of hair behind one ear with a nervous laugh. The tension that hangs over this moment, over this alley, is palpable.

For Elliot—both of them—the ringing in their ears is still present and stereoscopic, each one recognizing the other as the source of the sound. A tinnitus hum of duo-dimensional certainty.

Elliot flinches briefly at Richard's proximity, but mostly because he didn't realize he's been holding his breath. His head turns back toward his teammates as his only acknowledgement that he heard them.

His twin, coincidentally Abel, only looks more frustrated when his question isn't answered directly. His mouth opens to make a demand, but no words follow. He tries again, forming the beginning of a word with no sound propelled. He grimaces and snaps his fingers once, twice, three times.

Elliot would never dare to try to put words in the other man's mouth. Surprising himself, takes a deep breath and a play from Richard's playbook. He begins to tell with a sigh, "Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

Cambridge Massachusetts
The Commonwealth Institute Arcology

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
5:43 AM

Elliot runs his hand angrily over the stubble of his freshly shaved head. He hates seeing his tattoos in his reflection on his ACTS, and that he's not conscious when they shave his head. When was the last time he saw a human face without sharing?

"I think they really bring out your eyes," Tala says playfully. She doesn't fuss with her own stubble, and has accepted her tattoos.

"This isn't what I always wanted for a tattoo," Elliot says grumpily.

"Shh—" Elliot stutters, "Shut the fuck up, Zero!"

"I couldn't," Tala says with sudden worry, "I couldn't hear what it said."

Elliot seethes at his reflection, but it's soon replaced with that old, hopeless dread. "Well that's new and bad."

—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." He clears his throat, more grateful that the emergent memory carried with it none of the trauma that the one Gates dislodged did. He lets it pass to think about later, right now he needs to focus on his reflection.

"My name is Elliot Abel Hitchens," he says with a bit more certainty, eyes briefly losing focus as he sees where Squeaks has slunk off to. "I was born during a solar storm on August sixteenth, nineteen eighty-nine. I lived in a Pentucket group home with my best friend, Wright Janelle Clark, who won't let me live it down if she knows I admitted that the solar storm she was born during was cooler than mine." Wright shakes herself from her fear long enough to nod playfully in solemn agreement, grateful for the pull away from darker thoughts.

I'm you from an alternate timeline, he signs.

Abel, stunned, has to take a moment before he can laugh in horror and put his hands on his gun beneath his jacket, but he finally gets around to it.

"Merde," Robyn breathes out, shooting a look up towards Richard and Elliot. She has no idea what Elliot just said, but whatever it was it seems like things might be about to take turn. Taking her chance to step forward, she holds a hand out towards Abel and another back towards Elliot. "Whoa, whoa, whoa," comes in the ease of as gentle a voice as she can manage. "I don't know what he told you, but I bet that isn't necessary."

The faint glow to the tips of her fingers and rising heat in her cheeks says if it is, I'll take care of it, if nothing else.

"I get the feeling I should have brought Zee along like she wanted," she mumbles, looking over to Richard, and then to Abel. "We're just on our way through to elsewhere, friend. I'm sure whatever questions you have, we can answer without any of that," said with a nod down to his gun.


Richard brings one hand up, palm outwards towards ‘Abel’, his voice threaded with steel as he backs up Robyn’s warning with less velvet glove, “Half of us are Evolved and you wouldn’t have an arm by the time you get that gun out, buddy. Let’s try and resolve– this– without violence, eh?”

Past the crinkled edge of his poncho’s hood he slants an exasperated look at Elliot. Now the man decides on open honesty as a policy, of all times? How inconvenient.

Blue eyes follow Jac’s trajectory – if Chess or any of them have to go on the offensive, the last thing she wants is the teenager to be caught in friendly fire. Between Robyn and Richard’s gestured warnings, Chess doesn’t add her own tacit threat – but the stone sits warm in her hand, and she feels the prickles of kinetic energy beneath her skin, ready to throw up a shield to protect herself and those close by if he shoots.

“Half?” she says a little wryly to Richard.

A little behind the others, Nick’s hand curls around his own firearm, but he doesn’t lift it yet. “Frost? I’m impressed, Ponyboy,” he tells the Elliot that stands on their side of this strange standoff.

The hand on her shoulder holds Squeaks in her place long enough to look up at Hart. Puzzled. And then longer enough to look back at the interaction with Elliot and not-the-Elliot, with her blue eyes jumping from one person to another before she's eyeballed all the people in her group one time and the twinsies two times. Then, entirely with Squeak-like ability, the teen twists and slips away from Hart's hand and scuttles for her off-angled position.

Over the link, Squeaks flickers her intended stopping point to bring it to Wright's attention, since Elliot is a little bit preoccupied with things. It's just over there among some castoff junk leftover from war, where she can make her sounds and keep watch. Or cut not-the-Elliot off at the knees. That idea is also floated but without her fingers checking to make sure her knife is there. It is, but maybe, hopefully, the talking thing will work.

Hart has been backing up inch by inch since Squeaks slipped out of her reach. Her hands are frozen in place, afraid that any movement of them might trigger a shootout or something far worse than she has no hope of walking away from. She looks between the two Elliots, noticing the small and useless details that won’t help in this situation—different scars, slightly different hairlines, the way the elements have treated their skin—details that will not stop a bullet from entering and exiting her body without effort.

Hart’s attention diverts to Richard, then back to the new Elliot, and she holds her breath for a moment before exhaling a shuddering, frightful breath. Her entire body is trembling with nervous anticipation of violence.

The foreign Elliot raises a hand slowly, signaling for the others to hold their Evolved fire. He can read this man better than anyone else alive; he used to be just like him. He views the other man from two perspectives at once. He feels Wright cede her cognition to give him an edge as she leaves Squeaks's perspective so her partner can effortlessly stream it instead. Seen from multiple points of view, there isn't a tic he could miss.

The native Elliot's eyes flicker between the members of the group in a second, and he's able to do the math. If even half of these people are Evolved, a low estimate based on the blue-eyed woman's jibe, he's far outgunned. His jaw clenches into an attempt at a disarming smile as he slowly inches his hand away from the pistol beneath his duster.

His mouth opens to speak, but words are slow in coming. He spends that time letting his hand drift further to his side. "What was my childhood," he says to Elliot, then clears his throat. Restarting takes only a moment. "What was my dog's name?"

"Keeping in mind divergent circumstances," Elliot the Traveler says, "You didn't have one, but his name was Two."

Seeming satisfied enough for his horror to downgrade to existential confusion, the other man holds his head in his hands. "What is happening?" he asks.

Exhaling sharply, Robyn lowers her hand as relief washes over her. "To be honest, nothing you need to worry about if you want don't want to. I wasn't lying when I said we're just on our way to elsewhere." Letting her shoulders slouch, she looks to Elliot, then to Abel once more. "If you do want to know… well, I'll let someone smarter tell the story. Either way, if you want some tips for talking to our friend here, head down to our Convoy and look for, uh. Me."

An offer, if nothing else, to tell him he's not the only one in this position.

Looking over towards Elliot, she steps up him, almost reaching to put a hand on his shoulder but remembering to stop at the last moment. "Are you doing okay? Need any help? Tip offer's open to you too."

Richard exhales a relieved sigh of his own, his upheld hand slipping under his hood to rub against his forehead a bit. “Well, that was almost bad,” he mutters under his breath, hand falling back down to his side as he suggests dryly, “There are probably better places to discuss this than the street, maybe? Since it seems we’re discussing it and not just going our own ways forever with no explanation like I’d personally prefer.”

He glances between the two Elliots in the hope that they choose B. A man can hope, right?

“S’alright, nerwowy,” Nick murmurs to Hart, but luckily at least a little of the palpable tension slips away when the other Elliot doesn’t decide to shoot anyone. Still, Hart’s been nervous since they started this little side expedition, so he doesn’t figure that’ll stop anytime soon.

Of course, him telling her that it’s all right isn’t going to help. At least he didn’t tell her to calm down.

“You didn’t have a dog but it’s name was Two?” repeats Chess from her stance near their Elliot. “Is that what you put on the security questions for your bank or something?” She’s genuinely curious, but aside from the unhelpful question, she watches the new Elliot and eyes the spot she last saw Squeaks sneak off to.

Squeaks has squatted down and made herself smaller exactly where she showed Wright, just over there where she’s easily missed by the casual lookers. Chess can probably find her, though, since she knows kind of where to look. The teenager has also taken a smallish and not really wrinkly apple from her coat pocket, that she’s leisurely biting into while watching Elliot and not-the-Elliot.

Squeaks mirrors Hart’s internal smallness. She offers a muted look at Chess, tension and uncertainty keeping her on edge in spite of reassurances. Something else is going on behind her eyes.

Hart steps back from the group, taking in a slow and deep breath before asserting, “I—need—I need to go—” It sounds like there should’ve been a destination at the end there. But there isn’t. Hart just swallows the end of the sentence and continues to back away like someone might from a bar-fight in progress, even if this situation is deescalating. Something inside of her is doing the reverse.

The Elliot who survived the Flood looks up from his hands to see Robyn decide not to touch the Elliot who didn’t have to. He squints, barely perceptible, before turning his gaze to the interloper with a look that tries to ask a question.

“Great,” Elliot quietly tells Chess over his shoulder as the other man begins to run the numbers. The man before him, if their lives aligned, has thought about time travel to a degree that likely infuriated his own best friend. “Now Wright has to change all of my passwords.” He turns to look at Richard before nodding. It would probably be a good idea to talk about this elsewhere.

Whatever the Elliot of the high tide thought to ask seems to fall away at that; this is all still so confusing. “Why—” he asks, stops, reorders, “—why are my ears ringing?” he asks Elliot of the low tide.

Amazingly, the dual Elliots in front of Robyn isn't enough to hold her attention, not when this sort of thing has started to not faze there at all and particularly not when Hart abruptly stammers out something almost resembling a sentence and slips away like an extra sliding out of frame. Wrinkling her nose, she watches the other woman's retreat for a moment, frowning as she looks over at Richard.

Should someone go check on her? is mouthed silently to her compatriot, before she looks back in the direction of Hart's retreat. It looks like she's ready to go after her regardless of what Richard says, but she doesn't make a move yet.


Richard’s gaze cuts over after Hart as she retreats, and then he meets Robyn’s look. He nods to her once before he turns his attention back to the situation, leaving the Hart one alone. A sigh whispers past his lips, and he lifts one hand to rub against his face, suggesting, “…so, uh. You know a good hole-in-the-wall where we can sit, talk, get some drinks, maybe?”

“Alcohol seems like a requisite right now.”

Robyn returns the nod, turning on her heel as she smiles and starts after Hart, no longer worried about the… whatever this is happening here.

“And here I thought I was a calming presence,” Nick says to no one, now that Hart’s darted away like a deer in the headlights who has finally remembered it has legs. “Probably not me, then,” he says to Robyn, with a shrug.

When Elliot makes his quip back, Chess releases a little bit of a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, and flashes him a quick smile. “Sorry not sorry.” But that he’s able to make a joke makes her feel better – even if she makes all the jokes when she’s nervous herself.

She keeps an eye on Squeaks, sorting her out of the background, but stands in a place she can watch both this world’s Elliot and this world’s version of her half sister at the same time, for different reasons.

For all intents and purposes, Squeaks looks as comfortable as can be in spite of the drizzle, with her apple and close eyes on the goings ons. She doesn’t miss Hart’s departure, eyes flickering to that movement as well as some others. Robyn’s gesture Richard’s response. She even makes a point to look right at Chess, meeting her stare for stare for a whole awkward two seconds before ending it with a crunchy wet bite of her apple. Over the link and with her eyes angling back to Hart’s retreat, still leaving Elliot to figure out not-the-Elliot’s deal, the teen passes it informationally along to Wright.

"Somebody might be talking about us behind our backs," Elliot tells the native as a way to say both I don't know and mine are too. It doesn't make sense for there to be an interaction between their abilities, seeing as this man never should have been given one. Though, considering Elliot is unique in being the first person to survive Zero's parasitosis, perhaps there's an Aquifer-adjacent effect he doesn't yet understand.

The native seems to accept the guess for now, and looks about to orient himself. He can't exactly take them all to Mer Tranquille, Seren might react badly to the situation, and Baird worse. On top of that, Gideon doesn't seem the type to let such a peculiarity go unaddressed and Elliot isn't ready to meet with him anyway.

He clears his throat. "Yeah, place…" the native says, grimaces, "I know a place."

Shortly Thereafter

Tom's Derrick

Few workers frequent the Derrick during the early hours, though evenings tend to get raucous. The clientele isn't Elliot's normal crowd, but it's occasionally nice to have a place to go that doesn't directly indebt him to the man at the top awaiting word. The interior is of rough hewn wood that was likely reclaimed, though the steel sheet of the bar is polished to a shine. It's homey in the way a dive can be, and lacks any indication of why it's named what it is.

The rye has always been surprisingly good, not that he would guess that the peppery flavor probably started in a tub can labeled McCormick. He wouldn't care if he knew, and throws the pour back in a way that would have made Wright proud to see if she were here. "Food's edible," he says, though he has no intention of padding out the whiskey with any of it.

The foreign Elliot sits across the table, hood up beneath his waxed canvas jacket. He's not hungry, he couldn't eat if he wanted to. There's absolutely no way he can control this situation. People are going to know. He taps to Wright in his pockets, feels her tap back. All they can do is hope.

“So, hey,” Richard says, his tone dry as dust as he leans forward onto both forearms on the table, “I’m Richard, that’s Chess, Nick, Squeaks, think you’ve already met Elliot.”

He is not sorry for the joke.

“I don’t see any way we can explain this without all of us sounding fucking mental, but I assume you’re not just going to agree to go our own ways and never speak of this again, eh?” A man can hope.

The dive bar is absolutely like a place Chess would have gone back home, and it gives her a pang of homesickness that’s hard to ignore. In fact, it reminds her of a place on Staten Island where she might have thrown a bomb when things got a bit sideways in the way things on Staten Island tend to do.

There was something about an ocelot. It was a long time ago.

One of her hands is also in the pocket of her leather jacket, curled around the stone that she keeps ready.

Chess gives the other Elliot a wave with her free hand. “Sup.” She glances over at their Elliot, gauging his mood, or what he allows them to see of that mood, anyway.

Enchante,” Nick says, with a smirk in one corner of his mouth. For his part, Nick isn’t shy of throwing back his glass, nodding with some satisfaction at the taste – it’s not the worst he’s had, which is always a surprise to him, somehow. Bright blue eyes scan the patrons, before he looks back at the two men who look identical, but for those small sundry differences.

“Where’s my double, mate? Did he not get the invite?” he asks of Richard. Nick’s figured out some of what’s going on, even if he hasn’t been in any of the inner circle conversations about this group.

Up until she’s introduced, Squeaks’ attention is on the door they came in through. Not that she’s afraid or uncomfortable with being inside the dive. Somehow she looks like she’s one of the regulars, even though it’s absolutely the first time ever that she’s been to Tom’s Derrick. It’s the same natural presence she’s boasted forever, she just belongs wherever she is. She’s watching the door because curiosity is a strong force.

But as soon as her name is given, the teen’s attention returns to the group and not-the-Elliot. She’s parked herself, standing, between a chair and Elliot’s shoulder. After a once around at her traveling companions, she stares at Not-the-Elliot without shame for her scrutiny.

The Elliot who drinks looks across the assembled faces as they are introduced, and assumes he doesn’t need to provide an introduction of his own. The bottle he bought from the bar is used to refill his glass, but he doesn’t throw it back like the first. The bottle is placed at the center of the table, as good an invitation to share as any.

Nick gets a quizzical look that doesn’t evolve into a flirtatious response he might expect from the Elliot who traveled all this way with him. Chess receives a look to acknowledge her greeting, but no words form to return it. He notes Squeaks’s proximity to his double, and the respectful distance of the others. It feels like he’s floating even though there’s ground beneath his feet.

“Could be—” he says, then stops to swallow. “I don’t—” doesn’t have the words, couldn’t put them in order either way. He tries another sip of the rye. Sets it down and snaps his fingers crisply. “Should we?” he asks Richard. “Seems I’m not one—the one out of place here.” He glances at the table and mouths I’m not the one out of place here because it would bother him to not get it right.

The Elliot the others know doesn’t do much of a better job, though leaving now and never looking back is starting to seem appealing. But how does one walk away from this? Wright is silent and approaching calm, having taken one of the same round white pills as Elliot did to keep waves of existential panic out of the network as he made his way over here. He doesn’t reach for the bottle, doesn’t fill a glass, hasn’t had a drink in two years.

“He got the cushy job dealing with terrorists in the Middle East,” Richard quips back to Nick, which sounds like a joke. It’s not, though, not at all.

Then he looks back at the local Elliot, and sighs, one hand lifting to pull off his sunglasses and set them down. He rubs at his eyes for a moment, then looks back to the man, eyes that are mostly black with very little whites reinforcing the mention of being Evolved earlier.

“Since Elliot’s already started with the radical honesty, let me give you the short version and you can decide if you want to just walk away,” he allows, his tone wry, “Short version? Multiversal theory. There are other worlds. Sometimes there’s crossover. Our friend here is a non-local Elliot from one of them. Running into you is a complete coincidence and one we’d hoped to avoid, honestly, because as previously stated I’m aware that this sounds fucking bonkers.”

“Dealing with terrorists,” Nick repeats, one brow ticking upward as he shakes his head and takes another swallow of the peppery whiskey. “Well, I guess it beats being one. If only just.”

The humor is wry and self-deprecating, but lacks any of the Nick Richard knows actual self-loathing.

Chess reaches for the glass in front of her, more for something to do with her hand to alleviate the restlessness and the energy that crackles through her when she’s at rest. She huffs a small laugh at the talk of sounding bonkers.

”Honestly at this point I don’t think anything’s impossible anymore, and our friend here,” she nods to the Elliot who she doesn’t know, “looks like he’s seen some things, yeah?” The last is directed to the local iteration of the man. There’s an empathetic look in her pale blue eyes, before she glances back over at the more familiar of the two lookalikes. Just a quick visual check-in.

“Glad I don’t have to go through this,” she murmurs to Richard. The two of them, at least, are safe from running into themselves here.

“It’s for reals.” Squeaks speaks up with an eye roll that laments the mutliversal experience. Her eyes tick in Elliot’s direction, but she doesn’t actually look at him. Her attention stays pretty wholly on the larger conversation, and she even goes elbows and chin to the table so she can watch Not-the-Elliot. “For reals,” she repeats with more emphasis.

"I went with radical honesty because I assumed he'd be good at reading people," Elliot tells Richard. "And because I assumed he'd be familiar with multiversal theory already."

The local shrugs in agreement, being one or more of those two things.

When Elliot catches Chess's look, he smiles faintly. He has an air of trying very hard to remain calm, or keep from fidgeting like the local is. His emotions through the network are a confusion that's hard to parse. He's afraid, but calming down, detaching from it.

"Do you have a book about it?" Elliot asks, eliciting an unsuccessfully suppressed look of shock from the other which fades into something like embarrassment. Calling it a book about multiversal theory may be a stretch. It's a book for children, and he's a grown man. "I have one too, though it didn't make the trip with me."

Sighing, the native Elliot pulls a ziplock bag from a wide inner pocket of his jacket, thick and folded and scuffed so uniformly as to appear nearly opaque. He sets it on the table in front of him. "Must be more interesting than," he suggests to Richard, "you're making it sound."

“Right?” Richard’s tone rueful as he murmurs back to Chess, and then he’s looking back to Elliot - body shifting in a way that indicates a shrug, admitting, “I did say it was the short version, but… honestly, while this is weird for you it doesn’t have anything to do with you, really, and - no offense - I’m not about to spill all my secrets about the universe to a guy I’ve just met.”

His lips twitch in a wry smile, eyebrows lifting, “We’re just passing through. Won’t be staying long.”

“You do talk,” Chess murmurs to Squeaks with a little bit of a playful smirk, but her attention turns back to the two Elliot. She looks down to see the book that he pulls out, protected by plastic, but can’t make out its cover through the opaque bag.

“It’s not un-interesting,” she tells the native Elliot. “I could do with a little more boring, honestly.” That applies not to just the dimension hopping, but her entire existence.

Nick simply reaches for the bottle, brows lifting up at the native Elliot to make sure it’s for sharesies, then pours himself a refill – then tops everyone else’s off. Surely discussion of a multiverse requires more alcohol.

Squeaks passes a plainly puzzled look to Chess. Of course she talks, everyone — that’s everyone except Not-the-Elliot — has heard her before. Any other time she might make more than just a look, she might have questions or more words. But this time she shrugs, simply unsure of what Chess means.

Nick's unasked question receives the barest of nods as alternate Elliot raises his own glass for a sip. "Same," he informs Richard. "Passing through. Just waiting for Wright. Got separated. Not sure how long she'll be. Hopefully meet up with the correct one?" This last directed to the interloper across the table.

Elliot hides a flinch well. With all of his fears of meeting this man across from him, he'd rarely given much thought to running into the other man's closest childhood companion. "She's back home," he assures him. "No need to worry about doing this twice."

To try to push the conversation of why this man wouldn't know exactly where his Wright is at any given moment, Elliot gestures toward the wrapped book. "May I?" he asks. Not just because it would be comforting to feel its familiarity with his own hands, but because he needs to be sure it hasn't been defaced, page by page, with the relevant mantra.

There's a look of distrust that plays across the owner's face that slowly dissolves into acceptance. He shrugs, whatever, pushing the book toward Elliot with a flick of his fingers.

The danger level of this reunion seems to have simmered down to an acceptable level, so Richard just leans back and lets Elliot talk for the moment. He reaches for his drink, taking a sip of it and exhaling a sigh.

“Had worse first meetings with alternates,” he mutters to himself.

“If clones count, then me, too,” Chess replies to Richard. She relaxes enough to let go of the rock in her pocket for the first time, reaching up to push a lock of her hair away from her face.

“You have a clone?” Nick says, side-eyeing her.

Chess huffs a laugh, reaching for her own glass to throw back a swallow. “A clone, he says.” Despite her quips, she keeps an eye on the two-Elliot situation, watching as the book is passed from one to the other.

To Squeaks, she smirks. “Don’t act like you’re Chatty Cathy over there, little mouse. You’ve barely said more than two words in my presence. It’s all right. I’m not complaining. Less talk, less headache, usually.” She takes another sip of the rye. “And God, do I have a headache.”

Squeaks’ head tilts to one side, mouth twisting as she thinks about that. She's pretty sure she's said way more than only two words around Chess. Maybe she's just going to have to ride with the woman for part of the trip to prove it.

“What do you and Wright do here?” That comes as plainly curious — she's put off the not-talking wonderings to be openly nosey — as the teen turns her attentions to Not-the-Elliot.

"I know!" Wright screams, fists clenched to hide the shake. It doesn't, and Elliot leaves his flask on the low stone wall. He knows where this is going. "That doesn't make it any easier. I can't just…"

"I'll meet you there," she says instead. "I need to not see your face right now. Don't act without me."

"We find people," The local Elliot says, tearing his eyes away from somebody who has apparently been fucking cloned multiple times to address Squeaks. "Things. Recon and recovery. We stay alive."

Elliot opens the ziploc bag carefully, and slides the book free with more reverence than he treats his own despite how important it is. By the look of it, the native copy is in better condition than his, though the cover is still missing, the spine still bound in duct tape. He pages past a single blank page to the epigraph.

"Into this wild abyss,
The womb of nature and perhaps her grave,
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the almighty maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,
Into this wild abyss the wary fiend
Stood on the brink of hell and look a while,
Pondering his voyage…"

He turns the page.

Chapter One, The Cat and the Hornbeam Trees

“What the fuck?” he quietly asks no one in particular. His local crooks an eyebrow. “This is… this is the wrong book. It’s the sequel.”

“Golden Compass is the sequel,” the local Elliot says, baffled. “Wouldn’t make,” he continues, “sense to start in the fantasy world. You start with our world then travel to the fantasy one. That’s the trope. Narnia and shit.”

“Local divergence from one-twenty-six-point-two-two was a long, long time ago, remember,” Richard tips the edge of his drink over in Elliot’s direction, an eyebrow twitching upwards, “Even in pop culture there’re a lot of differences. Go look over some movie posters in the market sometime, it’ll blow your mind.”

Glass goes back, dubious liquor goes down the hatch, empty glass is thumped back down to the table.

“One what?” Chess says, brow furrowing a little. “Did they name our different variations like Marvel comics?” Did Gates explain this and she zoned out during boot camp for jumping into another dimension? She doesn’t remember.

Nick looks to the local Elliot and shakes his head. “It’s all bloody mad, mate, but they’re not bad people from what I seen. I’m from here. The other day this one tried to tell me that Curious George doesn’t have a tail.”

He side-eyes Chess, then looks back over at the local version of Elliot. “I guess that’s not the only one that’s different. Next you’ll be telling me Paddington was a bloody aardvark or sommat and not a bear.”

“Why should Paddington be an aardvark,” Squeaks asks in an offhand way, as she stands up on tip-toes to look at the book in Elliot’s hands. “What kinds of things does Not-Elliot and Not-Wright find? Like… people?” Her eyes flicker briefly up to catch Elliot’s. Their first meeting she asked about some graffiti art he'd made.

"Curious George doesn't have a tail," the local Elliot tells the local Nick. A big visitor of libraries when those existed, he feels confident in the remembering. The implications of the divergence point being that far in the past are very interesting. He watches his alternate leaf through the book as Squeaks peers over his shoulder, and resists the temptation to snatch the book away.

"We find all kinds of things," he says, cadence leveling out a bit now that he's not spun up quite as tightly with imposter horror. Being addressed as not doesn't seem to bother him, it's all a matter of perspective. "People, salvage. Whatever puts food on the table."

The traveler wants to read every page of this alien book, but carefully returns it to the bag instead. Squeaks is right to remind him of what would be a wasted opportunity; he doesn't thank her, but knows she'll feel his gratitude. "Have you ever met anyone named Tala Lualhati Dimatibág?" he asks, pronouncing the name fluently, but seeing no recognition from the local. "Or Yancy Garcia?" he tries, but gets only a shake of the head.

"Bastian Nelson?" he wonders, and this one hurts both of them. He watches the flicker of grief, of rage, of yes from his alternate, and he can't help but take on those emotions himself. He'd never really dared to hope the boy had lived.

"I'm sorry," Elliot assumes.

"Me too," he's told.

“Resonant frequency. Important if we ever want to get home,” Richard tells Chess with a shrug of one shoulder, one hand coming up palm-upwards in a lift before falling. That assumes they have the right equipment to do so, of course. Because they don’t. But if they should happen to come across a completely built Looking Glass, it’s good to know that he knows the phone number for home?

“Divergence was pretty far back, we aren’t even sure how far. Forties, at least. Maybe further.” Casual conversation, though he’s keeping an eye on the Elliots.

Nick looks at the native Elliot skeptically, but Squeaks’ question draws a nod from him. “Exactly, li’l bit. He shouldn’t be. You made my point. But no real reason for Paddington to be a bear, either, except that he is. No native bears in the UK in a thousand years or the like.”

Across the table, Chess’ mouth forms a silent oh before she nods in understanding to Richard’s explanation. “So we’re literally trying to find a specific channel like on a radio or TV when we travel from one to the other. Can’t just walk through a wardrobe and make it easy on ourselves,” she murmurs, quietly, as she glances up to see the two identical men giving one another condolences for their mutual losses. One corner of her mouth pulls to the side in an expression of empathy, and she glances away again.

“Wait, you said you were a terrorist?” she asks Nick, who shrugs, and tips back his glass again.

“Retired terrorist. You get raised by wolves, you act like a wolf,” he says.

“Maybe because bears are deceptively cute,” Squeaks says like it's unarguably fact. When the book is put back into its bag, she settles onto her feet normally and looks at it, book at plastic both. She's clearly curious too, sharing in that whole strange wanting to read it just the same. Maybe more because of the shared link with Elliot.

With a huff, three or five seconds later, the teen looks up at Not-the-Elliot. Then, she leans forward and turns to look at Richard, with her eyebrows pushing way up on her forehead. “If Not-Elliot and Not-Wright find things, and I find things, maybe we can find resonant frequencying parts.”

Elliot quells his frustration at the other man's loss, there's nothing he can do and doesn't have any more room for someone else's grief.

The book is transferred from one Elliot to the owner and quickly tucked away. The owner nods begrudgingly, he could in fact help find something if it exists. "Not the find stuff," he says, "for free kind of guy. Guessing your money has impossible dates on it, but I'm open to trade. Let me know if you need something and I can look around. The Radio Shack is probably out of resonant frequencying parts."

"I'm guessing the things we need are a lot more custom than standard," the Elliot who doesn't belong here says. "But Richard might know if there's anything we ought to have handy."

"Also I think you are the resonant frequencying parts," Wright reminds Squeaks.

“Basically,” Richard‘s head bobs a bit at Chess’s return metaphor, “Not a bad way of phrasing that.”

Behind dark lenses, his gaze slides over to Nick– and he exhales a faint chuckle. “Right. Fuck, Ruskin, I forgot about all that. I’m getting old, too much up in my head.” The last muttered, as he looks down at his glass. It’s empty. It should probably stay that way, he doesn’t want to end up like Avi.

Back up, he snorts, “I don’t have the technical know-how to build that sort of thing anyway, Squeaks. That’s my mother’s wheelhouse, and she’s a few decimal points away.”

Nick glances over at Richard, raising his brow as he studies the other man. “I don’t expect you to keep up with the news over here when you’re clearly not from over here, mate,” he says with a chuckle.

“Now that I’m in the know. The question is, are we Narnia or are you?” Nick punctuates those words with a grin over at Chess for the allusion.

Chess takes another swallow of the drink, finishing off what’s in her glass. “Hence the trip,” she says – not to Nick but to Richard’s comment.

Squeaks looks at all the different answers and comments — well except for Wright, who's more kind of turned to like she's just over the shoulder. And she shrugs after a second. It was just a question, how would anyone know anything if nothing wasn't ever asked. The teen would ask more, she glances at Richard like she might, but she doesn't.

The Elliot with the incorrect book doesn't seem put out to not be asked to find anything, though he does look with puzzlement at Squeaks's comment to the air. "Well," he offers those gathered but leaving, "let me know if that changes."

He doesn't imagine he'll be taken up on the offer. "I guess you'll know where to find me if it does," he adds, eyes on the Elliot with the correct book. It's still a question, and neither of them can think of an answer.

"Yeah," is all Elliot can say. The ringing in his ears is still diffuse in there other's presence, but he knows it will begin pointing one he's far enough away. For specifics, he'll ask Squeaks to keep an eye on where he goes and owe her one. For now, the only thing that comes to mind, again and again, is What the fuck?

As the group filters out the door, one Elliot lingers as the other remains silently in his seat. The one in the doorway turns, debates even asking. It's possible that he's been wrong, that the sitting Elliot's time in the group home was wildly different from his own. But he needs to know.

"Why didn't Eddie push you off the roof?" he asks. There was no bomb, would have been no reason for a scared child to bring the news to the up with her. No reason for the bully with one dead eye to ask what it meant, to let him go, to go downstairs and leave his prey alive.

"What?" Eddie calls in confusion as the girl starts to take form in the darkness. The fingers of one hand are tangled in the cloth of Elliot's shirt, held out over the railing along the edge of the rooftop. The taller teen looks suddenly conflicted as he attempts to understand the gravity of the situation. Elliot, shaking in fear and unable to speak, is wondering if he may not actually die tonight. He was so certain up until this moment that he would.

His counterpart, startled at first, takes a sip of whiskey before smiling in a way that makes the other shiver. "Because I pushed him."



With an abrupt start, the kind one might make when they feel themselves slipping or falling, a man's eyes snap open.

There's nothing except for the sound of his own rapid breathing filling the space he wakes in, nothing lighting it save for the gloam of a cloudy, rainy day cutting through windows of broken glass. Once, a war was fought near here. Once.

In his head, the war isn't over. It'll never be over. The job wasn't finished, the world not yet safe.

It was so strange when it all came out in the open, all those years ago now. The monsters he knew to be hiding under everyone's beds were dragged kicking and screaming into the open, all to be effectively shot on live television and in every major city around the world. Nevermind the flood. Nevermind the civil wars. Nevermind the loss of everything. With those well-intentioned bullets, they were finally going to be able to put the nightmares to rest, quell them forever and make the world safe again.

They had, too. And hadn't.

His hands are shaking as he rockets from the moldy armchair he went to sleep in, going immediately to reach for a rifle he left leaning against the coffee table missing part of a leg. It'd be missing more of it to get a fire going later. Something needed to keep back the shadows. His fingers aren't as deft as they used to be, though, as he checks the chamber on the rifle and looks wide-eyed to the windows, waiting… listening.

Hoping his dreams– his nightmares hadn't followed him into the waking. He's always worried they will. And those worries are always valid.

Some things don't die when you kill them, after all, even if they well and truly do. Some things just change shape instead. And he can never be sure anymore what's waking and what's something else. It's just… one place to the next. Always keeping his head down, lest something come to take it off.

He stumbles into the windowless bathroom of the apartment and crawls into the bathtub, boots clambering somewhat noisily as he takes a seat, puts his back against the wall where he's safest, and leaves the rifle laid across his lap, ready to fire at any and everything that might come through the door. He nervously swallows, his throat too dry for it to be effective, but he licks his lips after anyway to help bring his voice to work.

"It's alright, baby," Gregory Tracy says to nothing and no one, his face sunken from years of being haunted, his eyes glazed from too many restless nights' sleep. One finger lies along the trigger guard of the rifle, prepared to slip inside it on a moment's notice. "I'm ready. I'm ready."

"The minotaur won't get me this time."


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