Nominative Determinism


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Scene Title Nominative Determinism
Synopsis Sometimes your name can define what you become, and sometimes, something else defines what you are entirely.
Date February 28, 2021

Sheepshead Bay: Dirty Pool Pub

There is a black door, set in a black wall, in the back wall of a bar that favours that same shade.

But that's skipping a few steps ahead.

Seated a few feet away from that door, Dr. Zachery Miller sits with scuffed dress shoes up on the corner of a wobbly table. As has not been the norm lately, he is crisply dressed and cleanly shaven. Stranger still, he gives off all the signs of being in a great mood, lifting his half-finished glass of Guinness up toward the creaky door as Isaac Faulkner leaves the chilly outside world and is embraced by the smoke-stink and dimly lit ambiance of the Dirty Pool Pub.

"There he is, young and hale. Thank you for coming!" Zachery says brightly, lowering his glass back onto the edge of the table and continuing in uncharacteristically cheery sing-song, pulling the new arrival into a conversation before a greeting can even be uttered, "Have you ever heard… of nominative determinism?"

While the good doctor is dressed up, there’s another man at the table who is more casual. Agent Castle always had an eclectic style, and that’s true today. Their outfit is loose and comfortable and colorful— and some of the clothing looks as if it came from multiple sides of the store. They don’t stick to gender norms when it came to clothes shopping, and that seemed to suit them well enough.

They have their legs folded underneath them in the chair they sit on, while they also have a Guinness in front of them, but they don’t interrupt the doctor other than to raise a hand and wave fingers at Isaac Faulkner in greeting.

At first glance, Isaac Faulkner is not a fan of this place. Dr. Miller's greeting arrests him before he can get very far into a second glance, fortunately; his gaze focuses on Doctor Miller, who is surprisingly well cleaned up.

Faulkner blinks when he sees who else is present — he can honestly say he had not been expecting Agent Castle, although it is perhaps a reassuring omen. He offers the agent a nod before turning his attention to Doctor Miller's question. "I can't say as I have," he replies, settling into a seat. "Something to do with names, I imagine?"

"As I was just telling our mutual friend over here," Zachery replies with a sweeping, palm-up gesture in Castle's direction, "it's the somewhat questionable theory that a person's given name holds sway over whether or not they gravitate toward relevant life choices. For instance—"

He drags his legs off of the table, his heels landing back on the floor with a heavy thunk as he leans forward to turn his eye on Faulkner with added keenness in his gaze. "If you were named Dennis Faulkner, you might be, some studies suggest, more inclined to become a dentist. A man named 'Michael Vickers' might sooner consider becoming a vicar. Someone named Castle, well—" That might be beside the point, but he darts a glance to the side anyway, a chuckle escaping him.

That makes Castle laugh. “Castle’s just what the Agency called me, and it’s entirely based on what they designated my ability, so it’s not really a good indicator of anything— you could say I determined my name in that case.” Lifting up his cup of Guinness, he looks down at it, adding on a soft, “Though my birth name does mean ‘king’ and you could say it also might have led to my proclivity for cooking.”

“But are you trying to say you should be making flour?” they ask ‘Miller’ before suddenly realizing something that they hadn’t gotten a moment ago, looking toward Isaac. “Oh. I see where you were going with this now.”

"That makes two of us," Faulkner says mildly in regards to Agent Castle's remark. "My name, for the record, means one who laughs. So if you'd care to explain the joke?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

Zachery laughs, approval creasing crow's feet bordering mismatched eyes. He lets the question hang in the air for a moment before he floats his full attention back to Faulkner. "I've always liked your wit."

This leaves him in the tone of someone who likes the sound of a sentence more than its validity.

His expression is worked back into some semblance of serious, his words slowing with a solemnity that his eager study of Faulkner's face refuses to back up. "As you know, it's been over a month now since the first of…" He pauses, before settling on— "Since the first of us was pulled into an early grave. However, the hand of time keeps clawing its way around without a conclusion in sight, and with that in mind, Castle and I have a proposition."

He reaches for his glass again and leans back in his seat, oh so casual. "All we'd need from you— is some trust."

“The death of Kimiko Nakamura was very unfortunate,” Castle says sadly, grimacing a little. “The Department of the Exterior can’t even get them to allow us to see her body, or even see what autopsies they might have done on her or anything. They’ve pretty much been stonewalling us the whole time. And since they’re technically Japanese, they can get away with it.” No amount of authority from the United States government will get them enough to make them. “Short of committing international crimes, our hands are tied in finding out what exactly killed her.”

And perhaps they had considered committing international crimes?

Some of them might have, at least. “But yes, my ability has some— advantages that could allow us to find out information that normal science could not without irreversible consequences. And you lot seem to like to throw yourselves into irreversible consequences already. This way at least they won’t be permanent— cause my ability— let’s just say that Miller here has seen it in action once. His wife tried to shoot me for breaking into their house to cook them dinner. One second the bullet was headed toward me, the next— it had never even left the gun. Because I took it back. I made it so it never happened.” As they explain, they’re making gestures.

“Just like I took back the third round of bombs that targeted the Xpress Urself Festival and saved who knows how many lives. Within a certain area, for a certain time, I can take back almost everything that happens. Except this.” He points at their head, and at the rest of their heads. “You’ll remember everything that happened. You’ll remember everything you saw and experienced. And you’ll remember everything you learned in that time.”

Faulkner meets Miller's gaze with a studied, unflinching placidity. It's the kind of look he had used, once upon a time, when he'd come face to face with some of the more feral denizens during his nightly excursions in Park Slope, the look of someone feeling supremely unthreatened despite being eye to eye with a predator.

Because for all the careful solemnity of his words, that gaze tells a different story, and Faulkner has noticed that Miller hasn't answered the question.

So he sits, and he waits.

Castle is the one to fill the resulting silence; as they speak, Faulkner's gaze swivels in their direction. To this, too, he listens in silence… though towards the end, there is the faintest curving of his lips. Once they are done, Faulkner says nothing for a moment.

"Now I see the joke," he murmurs dryly… and then his gaze moves to Miller. "Trust is something I'm rather limited on these days, Dr. Miller. Especially blind trust. If I'm to be a part of this undertaking, I want to be a partner in it, not an offering," he says mildly.

He regards Miller for a moment longer. "Not that I can't understand why you might be hesitant, under the circumstances; it's quite a request. But full disclosure would serve you better here. Because you're right. I am becoming increasingly convinced that we walked out of that plane crash with an expiration date, and the time for half measures has passed."

Faulkner chuckles sourly. "That's one thing I respect about you, doctor. The lengths to which you will go for your convictions." There's a flicker of something pained in his expression as he recalls the last time — recalls Isis.

But there's no time for bittersweet memories. He smooths his expression and turns to Castle. "And as to you, Agent Castle. I appreciate your candor. Also…" Faulkner's gaze sharpens. "Thanks to your actions at Xpress, one of my closest friends is still alive. I thank you. Your actions that day made the world a slightly better place than it otherwise would have been." Faulkner nods once.

Then he takes a breath. "So. To clarify: you, Dr. Miller, plan to undertake extreme exploratory brain surgery on me in an effort to learn precisely what in the fuck has been done to us, using Agent Castle's ability to reverse my almost inevitable death during the procedure — or procedures, as the case may be. Am I correct, doctor?"

There is some tension that finds itself in Zachery's shoulders when he flicks a look back to Castle upon their continuing to shed light upon the situation.

Still, he sits quiet, jaw tight while he waits for Castle's half of a joint effort to play out. Flies, honey, all of that.

What he does not expect - and what lifts his head when Faulkner brings it up - is a compliment. It catches him off guard, knocks the edge off of his stare and knits his brow. He finds no reply before the conversation continues, and downs a mouthful of his Guinness.

The question to him directly earns a resolute nod. "Full disclosure serves the rest of our little group of ticking time bombs as well as it does me. You'll be privy to any new information - should there be any - just like everyone else."

He sets the glass back on the table. "If I believe in something, I will give my life to prove it." Faulkner's near-witnessing of this should, at least, lend some credibility to this statement. "But for whatever a promise is worth - your life is not mine to give."

“Well, you figured it out for the most part— however,” Castle closes their eyes for a moment, and there’s a shift in their accent. It sounds a little more British. Cockney in fact, as Miller at least, would recognize it. Why their accent changed is probably for various reasons, but it sounds a little colder when they talk. “The plan is to just kill you first so that the doctor can dig around without worrying about what it does to you. He’ll basically have an hour to perform a fast autopsy before I will reverse time and return you to the state you were in before we started— when you were alive.”

Miller may not have wanted to reveal all this, but apparently, Castle would prefer to. Insist upon it, even.

“Dying isn’t fun, but I’ve done it before, and you’ll remember all of it. The problem is the Castle has a time limit. I can only maintain it for about an hour before it needs to come down. If we did a normal surgery and waited for something to go wrong, it might not last long enough to find out anything useful, and we may have to reverse it before he gets deep enough. Surgeries take too long when done with the safety of the patient in mind. If you’re already dead, that changes things.”

Faulkner raises an eyebrow at that… but he appears more amused than offput. "And here I thought you'd save the brainectomy for last," he murmurs. His expression turns serious quickly, though. "Understood. Since we're under a time limit, that would be the most effective way to proceed." He doesn't look entirely enamored of this, but there are a lot of things in his life he's not altogether enamored of, lately.

"We're doing this today, then?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

Zachery's side-eye in Castle's direction for their exposition is mild at best, and delivered only just past the blind spot his nonfunctional eye provides him.

Distaste shows much more clearly in a sneer, but he repurposes the energy for any possible argument against the supplying of details into abandoning his drink and getting up. "We're doing it now," he decides, stepping over to the wall and laying a hand on the almost-hidden door handle amidst the black, fingers curling and tightening preemptively around metal. Faulkner is fixed with a look that is equal parts impatient and expectant. "Everything is ready. It will take only an hour of your time."

For all that he's obviously trying to lead things forward, he is calm. Something slightly more uncertain and less harsh threads its way into his words when he tacks on, "What have you got to lose, really?"

“Probably nothing that hasn’t already been taken from you, at this point,” Castle adds to the end of Zachery’s rhetorical question. Those who had been attacked had lost quite a lot already, and possibly their lives were threatened now based on what happened to Kimiko the month before. So much was possibly taken already, at least this they could try to take back, somehow… As they get to their feet, they pick up the beer that they have and hold it out to Faulkner as if he might need to finish it off more than Castle does. They hadn’t really drank that much of it.

Probably because they knew they would need to use their ability today.

“I was going to say that I would provide a demonstration as proof that my ability worked if you wanted it first. But since you already know someone who was saved because of my ability then you already know that it does. We’ll bring you back, and we’ll do our best to make sure it’s as painless as possible for you. Miller would have offered himself for this if he hadn’t already had his chip removed and corrupted the results entirely, and unfortunately, there’s no one left who hasn’t had some kind of attack.”

They were limited in who they could ask to make this choice, though.

Faulkner taps a few words into his phone, then stows it back in his pocket and levers himself to his feet. "Not much, I suppose," he admits. If everything really goes pear-shaped, he might end up having lost, what, a few days or weeks? Months at the best, most likely. "I've already had an attack, but I suppose mine wasn't as bad as this last round," he muses.

Faulkner eyes the offered beer, then shakes his head with a grin. "I'll take that after you're done, thanks; I suspect I'll need it then. But… if you're feeling in a giving mood… I'd ask a favor of you. Of both of you, come to that."

He squares his shoulders. "Dr. Miller… you've already promised full disclosure, which is most of what I'd have asked of you… but if something happens, I'd like you to send a message to our mutual acquaintance. I… haven't been able to get through to her in awhile. You might not be able to, either, but… I'd at least like the message to be sent."

His gaze shifts to Castle. "Agent Castle… if something happens that you can't take back, I'd like you to let a few people know, if you would. What happened. Or at least that I won't be coming back. You already know Aman. I'd ask you to tell Seren Evans at Raytech, as well; they're the friend I told you about. I suspect they'd like to meet you. And…" For a moment, Faulkner hesitates, his composed expression faltering to reveal something a little more vulnerable. "…and if you can… find my next of kin. Let them know."

That flicker of vulnerability passes almost as soon as it's shown, replaced by a confident smile. "I'm sure none of that will be necessary, of course, but I've always tried to have my is dotted and my ts crossed," he explains, then starts for that black door that Miller's waiting at.

It opens ahead of him, with a particularly heavy pull from Zachery. This likely due to the fact that the door - along with the doorway - is a lot thicker than it looks like it might be from the outside.

Inside awaits a still, brightly lit room, not unlike a doctor's office - all white surfaces and stainless steel, with a lowered operation table surrounded on three sides by counters laden with all sorts of supplies, from piles of cotton swabs to coils of plastic tubes to— what is probably the shinier sort of tools covered by pristine sheets of fabric.

"Naturally," Zachery agrees to Faulkner's favors, after a spot of thought. His words pick up pace, as if in growing anticipation. "I'm counting and aiming for, of course, you losing barely any time at all. Or my name isn't, as you've so rightfully pointed out," he pauses as Faulkner passes him, then lifts a hand up behind his own back and retrieves a heavy duty taser. "Doctor Necromancer."

With that, two electrodes are pushed forcefully into Faulkner's back, with a crackle of activity surged directly into the left side of his ribcage.

"Ideally — " Faulkner starts.

He never finishes.

There's a strangled noise as the current shoots into him, his chest, his limbs, his heart suddenly paralyzed. He can't move, can't breathe. Darkness swirls at the edges of his vision, rapidly eating its way inward; at some point the current lets him go, and he sags, then drops like a marionette with his strings cut, his world dissolving into black.

While those two went forward, Castle hung back a little. Not because they doubted Dr. Necromancer, but because they needed a moment to concentrate to bring up the Castle. It didn’t take long, they weren’t making it large, Just big enough to cover a small portion of the building, so by the time Isaac is getting suddenly shocked, the Agent is stepping into the doorway and looking at the doctor with a sudden realization, “Oh that’s what you meant. I thought you were comparing him to Isaac of the bible being offered up in sacrifice on faith alone.”

Someone had read their bible a few times growing up or at least knew the mythology around it.

As he looks down toward Faulkner, as the world goes dark, for him, they grimace. “Once you start I’m going to sit back as I told you before. I’m not really into this sort of thing.” The cutting and blood and—


There’s nothing dramatic about Isaac Faulkner’s death. There is just silence and stillness and the relaxed lack of focus in his eyes that stare off into the infinite like a doll’s. It’s this moment where Zachery can feel the reflexive knot of adrenaline in his stomach, pushing on his diaphragm. Isaac is dead, and his entire life hangs in the balance of something so unknowable and someone so unpredictable as to be the work of a fairy tale.

"It's alright," He breathes quietly out after a moment of silence, watching Faulkner's body collapsed on the floor like forgotten laundry. His grip on the taser is much tighter than necessary. Whether he's talking to Castle or himself is not clear.

But there's work to be done, and limited time to perform it. And he's prepared for this.

And so, he blinks one last time before promptly jumping back into motion, throwing a quick glance over his shoulder and shutting the door behind them before throwing the taser onto a counter.

"You know, that would have probably sounded smarter. The name thing?" Is the first thing he says, hurriedly, when the room goes eerily still thanks to the room's sound-insulated walls. Cheer enters his voice by force, but lacks warmth entirely. "But that nickname's… always gotten slightly under my skin. Joke's on him, though isn't it? Because now—"

He pauses, swallowing down whatever amount of uncertainty he can manage before dropping into a crouch and working his arm under their volunteer's knees and back, to lift him onto the table in a slightly unwieldy fashion. "It's time to get under his."

“Lovely— Too bad you can’t actually keep samples or anything, but keep a close eye on everything. I’d offer to help, but I’d probably just get in your way… and fainting would be bad,” Castle admits, as they glance toward the tools laid out and then back at the body. Poor Isaac. With a shake of their head, they move off toward the door to the bathroom and raise an arm up to touch their wrist as if to indicate a watch that they don’t have. “Clock’s ticking. You got about an hour. Make good use of it before we bring him back from the dead, Dr. Necromancer.”

And with that, Castle disappears into the bathroom, closing the door behind them. Likely to try to forget what was going on in the other room.

"Thank you again!" Zachery answers once he's sure all of Faulkner's limbs are going to stay on this particular ride, footing open a cupboard nearby so he can reach down and pull two buckets from inside, so he can place them beneath Faulkner's head.

The colour drained from his face, he pulls out his phone and activates a preset alarm- 50 minutes, just in case, then 55.

"This may— get messy," he mutters downward, before sliding the phone onto a counter, fingers lingering on its screen before his hand reaches, instead, for the sheet next to it. "But it also might be fun. In a way. Right?"

He sounds unconvinced. The sheet is yanked to the side, revealing an autopsy saw that he grabs onto with all the enthusiasm of someone who chooses to drive full speed down Discomfort Lane.

He laughs, a sudden and graceless sound - and leaves safety measures strewn about the counters unused— gloves, plastic face shield, everything abandoned on the promise that the blood on his shirt and face by the end of this won't matter anyway. "Right."

The whirring buzz of an electric (battery powered) saw splits the silence and echoes into the bathroom Castle disappeared into. After the test of the equipment, Zachery switches to a simple scalpel, making incisions across Isaac’s brow long before he is even brain dead. Flesh is split open, incising around the circumference of his skull. He peels the flesh below the incision down, rolling it like an inside-out sleeve over Isaac’s eyes. For the flesh above the incision, Zachery uses a gently curved steel tool to separate scalp from skull, setting the wet heap into a bin beside himself.

The first thing Zachery notices is a sense of wrongness about Isaac’s skull. While it is organic looking it is missing some of the peculiarities one would expect from a human skull, though the differences are subtle save for a trained eye. Something about the way the flesh of the scalp connected to the skull seems off. But it’s hard to pin down the exact specifics.

Reigniting the cranial saw, Zachery cuts through the bone with the proper resistance he would expect, leaving a drizzling pool of blood that runs down along the table. Cleanup is pointless, none of this will matter soon. By the time Zachery has done a circumnavigation of Isaac’s skull he turns off the saw and switches to a small hammer and prybar tool, wedging the metal prong end into the gap in the skull. Then, with a gentle push and a soft crack sound, Zachery separates Isaac’s skull cap from his brain. The skull cap is set aside in the same tray as Isaac’s scalp.

But that’s when Zachery’s heart flutters, chest tightens, and his diaphragm quavers on a wave of nausea he didn’t expect. Isaac’s brain looks wrong. The silhouette is correct, two hemispheres and wrinkled nodes, but the color and texture is completely off. The brain tissue is a deep angry red color as if engorged with blood vessels. The surface texture seems aberrant, more spongy and less like a cauliflower stem. Worse is the webbing encompassing the entire surface of the brain, hair-fine veins too small to show up on an x-ray that cross-cross the surface of the brain like a spiderweb.

"That's… fascinating." These are the sparse words he manages to after a few too-loud heartbeats, with the airy disconnect of someone who no longer knows whether they're lying to themselves or not. Unable to look away.

Even when he feels the drip of blood over his fingers from unfortunately angled tools, he fails to move beyond just what's necessary to steady himself with a hand against Isaac's shoulder— subsequently twitching when that causes more movement than he expects. Digging into corpses he's done plenty, but so far, they'd all had time to go through rigor mortis.

He sucks in a deep breath, annoyance clear in shorter movements when he leaves his tools right on Isaac's chest. "Castle, friend, we've got a real treat here!" He sneers at the sound of his own voice, unsteady as it is. Wiping the blood from his fingers onto the other man's shirt, he tries again- flicking one glance down toward the buckets and what little they've caught so far, before saying in a much more level voice, "It's like a gift, especially for us."

With time ticking, his stomach is offered no time to settle before he continues. with conviction, nimble fingers grab hold of the scalpel again.

This time Zachery cuts directly into Isaac’s brain, knowing full well he isn’t precisely dead yet. The incision comes with the application of a spreader, opening a forcibly gap in the brain tissue as he explores the organ, searching for further anomalous—


Zachery reflexively pulls his scalpel back, then presses it inside the opening in Isaac’s brain.

Clink. Clink.

The scalpel is set aside and Zachery switches to a pair of long clamps. They’re extended down inside the opening in Isaac’s brain, grip around something, and like pulling an apple from a tree Zachery twists with his wrist causing a popping and tearing sound. A flood of clear fluid pulses up through the opening, mixed with swirls of pinkish blood. From within Isaac’s brain, Zachery produces some sort of golf-ball-sized device made from plastics and metal. It’s a dodecahedron with nodules on each of its twelve faces with shredded nerve endings dangling from it.

The piece of hardware is dropped with a thunk into the tray. It’s not an implant, it’s too big. It’s a replacement for the Thalamus. A part of the brain responsible for sensory input and motor control.

"Look at you." Though so much of this is unfamiliar, something washes over Zachery with this first prize having been severed from its still warm host. "The little router that could. What sort of… blood-harvesting peer-to-peer—…"

He takes a moment, standing under the gentle buzz of the fluorescent light. To commit what he's seeing to memory, to wonder about the implications, and then to retain focus. The grin he cracks is not out of gladness - there's too much canine to it - but it lingers nonetheless.

It's not often he gets to be in his element anymore, but when he slides his attention back over to the exposed brain matter and widens his stance on a floor slick with fluid both familiar and not, it's with his head held high.

Determination helps guide his movements with more confidence and precision when he returns to his task. "And you thought you could keep me out."

Surgery turns to reverie. The hum of fluorescent lights, the buzz of electric tools, the crack of a sternum, and the splitting of flesh all become an aberrant symphony composed by not a physician, but a mortician. Isaac Faulkner’s body is opened, explored, harvested, and dismembered with the expert precision only someone like Zachery Miller could muster.

Forty-eight minutes later, there are four trays filled with organs that only superficially look like they belong in a human body. Their silhouette is correct but their texture is wrong, the fine latticework of veins and nerves across them is alien looking. Many of the organs have odd anomalies, nodules of cartilaginous flesh littered with nerve clusters. Isaac’s extracted brain lays beside a ruptured sac that had contained the dodecahedron at its center.

There’s exposed muscle, blood, gore. But there is also fibrous cabling that runs parallel to the digestive system, easily missable as a shadow on an X-Ray, but seems to connect the nervous system and the spine to the other organs through what can only be compared to organic cable management.

Everything is wrong. There is not a single organ in Isaac’s body that is not in some way changed. But it isn’t transmutation, this isn’t some mutation or metamorphosis that Zachery is seeing. Only with it all laid out in front of him like some kind of 5200 piece jigsaw puzzle can Zachery truly see the picture for what it is. This isn’t transformation, this was fabrication.

The body in front of him was assembled, piece by piece, woven like some sort of handspun fabric. Given life like Pygmalion to the statue Galatea. Zachery’s hands tremble at the revelation. At the horrible truth laid out before him.

This isn’t Isaac Faulkner…

…and he isn’t Zachery Miller.

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