Ouroboros, Part IV


adel_icon.gif df_cardinal2_icon.gif cardinal_icon.gif elisabeth_icon.gif magnes2_icon.gif monica_icon.gif peyton_icon.gif

Scene Title Ouroboros, Part IV
Synopsis The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff. — Carl Sagan
Date November 8, 2011

Mount Natazhat Complex

It’s nearly the end. The Mount Natazhat Complex is a reinforced concrete building that looks like it was built somewhere in the 1970s. There’s exposed pipes and power conduits bolted to the walls, concrete is streaked with rust, and everything feels on the verge of falling apart.

«Security breach! All security personnel to the maintenance bay!»

Peyton Whitney’s voice has been echoing through the Mount Natazhat facility since entering the complex. Distant sounds of gunfire, explosions, and screams rock the facility. For Team Beta, making their way up to the second floor command center has been a running battle. Cardinal’s team has “killed” at least nine security personnel since splitting off from the main group, but none of the kills seem to have mattered.

Whoever, or whatever the security team is, they don’t leave corpses behind. Each one of these balaclava-masked men dissolved into a swirling cloud of ashes the moment they perish, leaving behind a sooty mark on the ground where their bodies fall. Everything about them, clothes, weapons, flesh, dissolved. Each time one of them is killed, their tactics seem to get better. Smarter. Sharing knowledge from one to the next.

Having just executed a pair of these guards, Cardinal’s team headed up a large flight of stairs to the second floor, a hair’s breadth away from their team’s destination, the Mount Natazhat Complex’s command center. That last run through the upstairs hall is suspiciously devoid of security. No drones, no guards, nothing. Just the reiterating of Peyton’s voice across all of the facility’s loudspeakers between alarm klaxons blaring.

Up ahead, a wide steel door at the end of a T-junction hall is clearly marked with Command 00 in black stencil across steel. They’re almost there. But on closing half the distance to the command center’s entrance, a sound comes rattling into clarity. A scraping sound of steel on steel, a clank and clatter of metal, followed by the whine of hydraulics and the hiss of synthetic muscles stretching and flexing.

Coming into view at the end of the hall is a nightmare of industry, a design started by Hector Steel and reimagined by Warren Ray. While its body is vaguely catlike, it doesn’t have a head so much as it has a massive camera and sensor array. Two enormous rifles are mounted on its back, each tracking independently of one another. The machine lets out a low, steely roar that was intentionally designed into it as an intimidation factor, before unleashing two volleys of gunfire straight down the hall.

Bullets rip through Cardinal harmlessly, perforating the shadow he reflexively transmuted himself into. Monica drops into low crouch, nearly flattening her entire body to the floor in a single and graceful motion. But then the bullets don’t get much further past her. Standing side by side, Magnes and Adel have their arms outstretched. The lights flicker around them and with a combined gravitic pull they yank the bullets out of the air and send them curving through the grating of the metal floor in a shower of sparks and steel.

The machine expels emptied cartridges that clatter to the ground, automatic reloaders snap ammo back inside, and it stamps both of its front feet and begins advancing.

It’s never easy.

From her spot on the ground, Monica watches those robot legs move and she lifts up just enough to be able to aim her assault rifle in its direction. For all the world like she’s hidden in some jungle floor and not a facility hallway. Her head tilts and she takes aim for the robot’s front leg joints, firing off a series of (considerably well-aimed) shots in an attempt to weaken it’s foundation.

Only after she stops firing does Monica kick up to her feet. The gun, though, comes back around to keep trained on the robot. She watches for an opening on the back legs, too, taking shots at weak points when they present themselves.

Motherfucker, Elisabeth hates these damn things that Warren built. While Magnes and Adel hold a shield, she concentrates her fire on the joints of the legs, backing up Monica’s shots. There’s always the hope that armor-piercing rounds right into a joint will take one or more of the legs out of commission. «Magnes, can you crush that damn thing?» she asks into the radio. «Like… make the inside of it really high grav so it caves in or something?» She’s not even sure that’s a thing but hey…

It's jarring, really. The sound of Peyton Whitney's voice over the loudspeaker is both distracting and like a knife in Richard Cardinal's gut as he hears it. Not, fortunately, distracting enough to keep him from realizing he's about to become cheesecloth if he doesn't engage his power, once he’s come around the corner and face-to-muzzle with some mechanical horror conjured from the darkest dreams of - ironically - two people he considers somewhat allies.

The biggest problem with being a shadow is that it cuts him off from radio contact, and with that mechanical roar and the rat-tat-tat of bullets spraying down the hallway, nobody's going to hear a whisper.

The living shadow twists along the floor of the hallway in a tide of darkness in the direction of this industrial nightmare, weaving like a serpent in case the damn thing comes up with some sort of laser weapon on top of everything else.

While Adel's control of gravity is far more finite than her father's, limited to the immediate area around her body, she can stop the bullets from hitting her at least as the yellow field raises around her once again. She's done some very interesting things that they've seen, letting very few things get close to her unless she wants them to. And even then, they seem to get expelled just as quickly.

The robot doesn't seem to surprise her one bit. In fact, she recognizes it.

In her puffy coat, gloves and goggles, with her mouth visible, she grins from her floating position within her sphere of influence. "Too bad the speed demon isn't here." She mutters. "Dad. Help me slingshot me around it. Make it fire at me and chase me. Help me move as fast as you possibly can." She's absolutely sure it won't hurt her. "When it starts to blow it's exhaust, take it down."

Aren't you glad you brought a kid from the future?

"Why would someone even kidnap Peyton?" Magnes wonders, while holding back bullets and considering Elisabeth's suggestions. "Well, I don't know! I could try, but it really depends on physics! Actually, there's probably better things we can do. Uhhh… hold on!"

"Oh man, I keep forgetting that I'm a dad now. I really need a sweater vest for this stage of my life… Wait, keep holding on!" He reaches into one of his thick white coat pockets, dressed for winter obviously, and pulls out a thick protein bar. "I can't be sure that I can crush it under its own weight. It's possible, but I don't really know what that thing is made out of, and I fought robots before so they probably know my ability! Instead, I'll do this… Hold on, Adel, I'll get you in a minute!"

He suddenly tosses the protein bar above the robot, and then holds his hand up, concentrating. It suddenly collapses in on itself, squeezing into an incredibly tight ball. Then the sphere of protein just -drops-, ridiculously heavily and instantaneously, trying to penetrate it with pure concentrated gravity. But he won't try to go all the way through. Instead, he'll try to hold the robot there in place, if he can manage to lodge the bar inside.

"Okay Adel!" He tosses her with his other hand, almost as hard as possible. She is his daughter, after all! "Uhh, I'll get you ice cream after this, and a new video game, if you do good!"

Gunfire ricochets in glowing sparks off of this machine’s chassis. The armor-piercing rounds shot from Elisabeth’s firearm leave large divots in the armor plating and cause the creature to lurch and stagger with its top-heavy design. Monica’s shots do enough to its off-balanced frame that it slouches against one wall with a resounding clang, then levers itself back up to stand with a protesting whine of hydraulics and synthetic muscle.

The beast is a behemoth, less a physical tank like the one outside, clearly a generation ahead of what they’ve faced so far. But to Adel, it’s three generations outdated. The Ferrymen long ago figured out the vulnerabilities to these machines — in her time — and when Magnes begins changing the focus of gravity into a ring, Adel loosens herself from the Earth’s own gravity bond and starts to spiral like a human missile around the corridor. There’s the occasional kinetic thunk as she projects herself off of a wall, moving in continuously tighter arcs overhead.

The robot pivots, looking up, and its boxy camera head jerks back and forth over and over trying to follow Adel’s movements. Both of its articulated machine guns track up to her and begin firing a figure-eight pattern into the ceiling. Glass casing on lights shatters, ceiling tiles crash to the floor and wires spill out like mechanical entrails from overhead. But Adel is unscathed, as whatever this machine’s automatic tracking software is, it’s not that fast.

It lets out another mechanical roar, slams both feet into the ground and suddenly charges forward. Monica springs up into the air, pushing with one hand in an acrobatic display on par with the greatest of Olympic gymnasts, flipping overhead and landing behind the charging mechanical behemoth with poise and grace.

But the machine comes careening into Magnes, slamming him head-on with its blocky body. Magnes is knocked off of his feet, ferromagnetic body armor hardening to blunt the impact. The senior Varlane lands a few feet away, but his tether to Adel is snapped, and the gravitokinetic lands behind the machine next to Monica. The tremendously large machine now stands in close quarters, flanked on one side by Magnes and Liz, and another by Monica and Adel. Cardinal, it seems, has gone wholly unnoticed by its sensors.

With feet on the ground, Monica takes aim and waits for the exhaust cycle. It gives her enough time to grin over at Adel when she lands. “That was awesome,” she says, because it was. But her attention flicks back to the robot, then across the robot to the others. “Hit the cameras, Liz! We need to hit the sensors!” Because they don’t need to learn how to counter that particular move from present father and future daughter. If they can help it.

Well, if a fast-moving target is needed, we do have some other people who can be targets. "Chickadees on a hawk!" Elisabeth calls out to Monica, hoping that people have seen a flock of tiny birds mobbing a much large bird until it finally gives up. Or… in this case, the small flock can keep the robot busy so someone with a brighter idea can get in there somehow and damage the thing!

Her jump is hydraulically boosted - she can't leap like Monica does normally, but it's close in the exoskeleton. She's just heavier and can't turn on a dime. C'mon, you bastard… Each time she makes a leap, she 'smacks' the camera-head of the thing with a sound wave shaped into a concussion wave directly at its head.

Monica must get the reference, because she nods and shoulders her rifle. "I'm gonna need a boost!" It's all the warning Liz gets before Monica comes running right at her, using the other woman's hands — and hydraulically boosted jumps — to flip herself up to the monster's back. Once up there, she charges up toward the head, stomping any delicate machinery along the way and taking pot shots at the sensors.

The sparking of wires dangling from the ceiling, the flash of machine gun fire, reflect off the shards of glass and polished tile that litter the floor around the mechanical monstrosity casting shadows dancing madly everywhere. One of those shadows doesn't move as expected, however, spreading across the floor beneath the robotic horror instead…

…and that shadow is hungry.

Like some tenebrous kraken, tendrils of pure darkness lash up along the legs of the murder machine, bleeding between armour plates and into hydraulics. Roiling shadows twisting and wrapping around metal and bleeding it away into wispy shadow where it touches, tearing it from the firm reality of matter and into the strange in-between place that Cardinal dwells in darkest transubstantiation… and leaving it to fade away to nothing in his wake.

"No dad, it has to move," Adel had muttered as if she had to explain everything to her dad who's practically the same age as her. But then she went flying, and anything else got ignored in the fun that followed. Cause to her it certainly seemed fun. Inertia wasn't a problem, gravity wasn't a problem. She was always in the center of that bubble of hers as she spun around within it cheering the whole time as if she's having the time of her life.

Which she was. "Whoooooooo!"

Until it suddenly stopped with her father getting hit. Even the sudden stop didn't seem to bother her much, as she released the sphere just long enough to drop down to the floor before putting it right back up. Her teacher had taught her how to turn her power on and off at the tick of a second hand.

At least one person understood what she wanted them to do, so Adel waves her hands within her sphere. "Over here, metal head!" She tries to keep some of it's attention, even if she can not move very fast on her own. In fact she can barely float at a quick walk.

Magnes skids across the floor when he gets slammed into, groaning and holding his abdomen. Then he reaches into his coat and pulls out a smashed phone. "He broke my brand new iPhone 4!!!" he shouts, slipping it back into his pocket so that he can slowly float back up to his feet. "I'm trying to be a dad here! I have an entire reputation to live up to. She probably spent her life hearing about how I slay robots, and wore a cool cape in the future probably, or that time I piloted that one robot off of an island. I won't get shown up by this little thing!!!"

He stretches his hands out to the robot, squinting hard. "I bet, tactically, they're totally prepared for me making them heavier! But, Adel, I'll show you the true awesomeness of my fatherly wisdom! I'll remove all of the robot's gravity and make it awkward!" He starts to focus, then, not on really shifting its gravity in a particular direction, or making it any heavier, but instead on sort of giving it no direction at all. Trying to shift any real gravity from pulling on the robot's body at all.

The cacophony of sonic disturbances jostles the machine repeatedly, though Liz’s hydraulic-assisted harrying of the beast is returned in favor by a pivot of one of its turrets and a near point-blank firing into her armor. The Horizon armor does what it was designed to do, hardens ferromagnetic fluid into armor plates. But the caliber of round from the machine is significant, as is the proximity. The force of the blast is enough to knock Liz off of her feet and into a wall, which the armor likewise deadens the impact of. But the hydraulics on her armor take some of the blow as well, and rattling pieces of her armor’s exoskeleton go skidding across the floor. Servos lock up for a moment, and briefly the armor becomes more prison than power. Backup systems come online, hydraulics strain, and Liz is able to move once she’s able to catch her breath.

Looking down to her chest, she can see the ferromagnetic breastplate is cracked, silvery liquid pouring out from the carbon-nanofiber weave that holds the fluid pockets in place. That should be what’s inside her, but instead it’s the armor. She’s alive, against nearly all odds. The same cannot be said for the machine.

Sensors destroyed by Liz’s sonic disruptions, it moves blindly. One turret arm pivots directly at Cardinal and opens fire at him at the same point-blank range. However, the rudimentary AI on the machine can’t distinguish his shadow as incorporeal, and the bullets rip through the wall instead, leaving glowing hot holes. At the same time, Cardinal is dismantling parts of the machine from within, removing screws, bolts, armor plating, wires, consuming these mechanical components like a carrion bird picking apart a carcass.

The robot whines and groans with a shuddering mechanical cadence, bucking and breaking in the same movements. Pieces, important pieces, of the machine are coming undone, rattling to the floor, and its movements become more and more panicked. Then, the entire thing becomes as buoyant as a helium-filled balloon. Legs are kicking rapidly, trying to find purchase on the ground, the turrets are pivoting, unable to make a lock on a target with its visual sensors destroyed. It fires, blindly, into the floor and ceiling without realizing which way is up and down.

Then there’s a loud beep from the core of the machine, and inky tendrils reflexively recoil from bright light that shines from within. Five wedge-shaped vents open up on the machine’s back, rippling waves of heat and steam expelled from within. The construct continues to pivot and turn, even as Monica climbs up atop its chassis with her gun and presses the barrel into the exposed heat sink. She fires, repeatedly, and the war machine lets out a series of high-pitched grinding and clanking sounds. Sparks fly off of its body, there’s an explosion of gasses that burns up the side of Monica’s leg, sending her sprawling off of the floating behemoth.

As she hits the ground, the creature gives a few last kicking motions. Turrets pivot, then servos stop making noise. A clicking sound dies down inside, and finally the robot comes to a halt. It spins, slowly, floating in mid-air so long as Magnes maintains the gravitic hold on it. But it no longer moves of its own accord.

It’s not often that Monica hits the ground in a heap, but this is one of those times. Her rifle goes spinning off to the side and she hisses with pain. Her hands ball up into fists and bang against the floor until she can fight off the urge to scream.

Her breathing turns heavy, and she rolls to the side — her good side — and props herself up. Her gaze turns to the robot, but seeing that it’s pretty much out of commision, she drops back down to the floor. She’s gonna take a minute. “I should have worn the armor,” she notes. But she didn’t, for the sake of freer movement. Observation made, she starts to pull herself back up to her feet. Or, well. Foot.

Hitting the wall hard and sliding down the wall, one her feet only by virtue of the fact that her armor is frozen in an upright position while the servos reboot, Elisabeth is seeing stars. “Ugnh!!” Her helmet would have been really nice to have just now. When she can move again, however, she has a moment to be beyond grateful for the fact that she retrieved the military-grade Horizon armor that was made for her rather than just using the Arkham armor – it might not have withstood that hit.

The sound of the gunshots and the high-pitched whine tell the audiokinetic that the exhaust vents finally opened and someone managed – whether it was the shadow that was literally taking it apart from the inside or what, she can’t really tell yet. But as things quiet down, the world finally starts to come into focus again and she blinks her blue eyes, bringing up one hand to the lump that is already forming on the back of her head.

“Fuckin’ A, I’m gonna kick Warren in the shin for making these things better when I see him again,” she grouses. Finally able to push off the wall, her hydraulics rebooted, she looks over the group. “Everybody in one piece?”

"You'll have to get in line to smack my brother for building this thing, I think…" I think…

A tide of darkness spills down from the robot like midnight blood, pooling beneath it and swirling forward before erupting upwards into the form of a man, spilling away from the armoured form of Richard Cardinal.

There's no sign of all the bits and pieces that he devoured from the robot, and possibly for the sake of physics it's better not to ask.

"If everyone's good, let's keep moving," he says tightly, adding into the radio, « Sentinel robot down. Moving in on target. »

Oh dad.

These are actually the kind of stories she grew up with about her dad and Adel can't help but grin, glad to have finally fought side by side with him in a meaningful way. In her future, they didn't have awesome suits. The closest was Hannah, Cash and her, who took the hits like champs. But she has to say the suits are pretty amazing to have on their side.

Dropping down out of her sphere with the beast down for the count, feet hitting the ground with soft bootsteps as she offers a gloved hand down to help Monica up. "Nawh, you're amazing without those suits," she offers the woman who also happened to be her boyfriend's mom. Whether she knew that or not.

"Need a boost?" she asks, offering to help her along if needed, both in her sphere and otherwise. "The good shadow says to move, so time to move." And she can help get her moving, if nothing else, willing to follow the direction of the good shadow.

"Adel! Don't take any robot parts with you! Leave everything here!" Magnes firmly states as he flings the robot behind him and then lets go of it. He walks up next to Adel and reaches out to ruffle her head like a little kid. "Well done, daughter. And that shadow's cool. I think we're about to have a boss fight, so everyone be careful. We have Monica, and she's the real life first superhero, she's like Superman. And you're my daughter, so that basically makes you, uh, Booster Gold? I'm not sure how this works…"

He holds his hands out. "Does anyone need any gravity?"

No takers?

Magnes brings up the back of the group as they begin their approach to the closed doors that lead into the command center. Before they can contemplate how to open the way, the doors grind noisily and begin to slide open into the walls. Beyond, a wedge-shaped room lined with monitors comes into view. The far wall opposite of the door is a V of angled glass, showing a whirling machine of spinning light and electricity beyond. The command center must overlook the Mallett Device, and it’s already primed.

At the fore of the room, Peyton Whitney stands in stark contrast to the room around her. She is not dressed for a fight, but rather looks the part of someone who performs day to day operations, in sleek black and sensible boots. Clutched in one arm is a book, a familiar old book to Richard. On the front, written in marker, is a simple phrase in his own handwriting: WHY I'M DOING THIS

Beside her is someone who may have been counting on a fight. A tall figure, clad in black, hydraulic exoskeleton encasing ferromagnetic body armor. The helmet is off, revealing the tired and sunken eyes of Tyler Case, behind which stirs the mind of Richard Cardinal. As he turns from watching the device, there is a number stenciled on the right shoulder that comes into view: 00-36.

“Hey folks,” is the all-too-casual greeting from Ezekiel, as most people have come to call him. He shoots a look to Peyton, giving her a reassuring nod, then takes a few steps down from the front of the command center. “Looks like it’s a reunion.” His nose rankles a bit, gaze falling on Adel with some sourness and unfamiliarity mixed together. He doesn’t — can’t — look directly at Liz.

«Power levels at one hundred percent and holding!»

The voice crackles over the intercom in the command center. Ezekiel’s expression shifts to one of mixed emotions, and he draws in a slow breath. “Why’re we doing this?”

The wayward and once red bishop, Peyton is pale, the dark of her hair and the black of her clothing making a stark contrast to her skin. Her dark eyes are cast down, and it’s probably a surprise to no one who knows her — everyone but Adel — that there are tear stains on her cheeks.

“There’s always blood in the end,” she murmurs quietly, probably too quietly for anyone ’s ears to quite catch the words other than those of Ezekiel, Elisabeth, and maybe even Richard, the last only because it’s a familiar phrase — it’s one of the phrases in the book in her hands, in fact.

What is probably surprising is the small swell of her belly — she’s still much too slim and willowy everywhere else for it simply to have been weight gain caused by stress and hours indoors without exercise these past several months. Peyton Whitney is with child — perhaps six months or so along.

Monica takes Adel’s hand when it’s offered. She’s not too proud to accept help. Especially when it comes with compliments. So she comes into the next room with an arm over Adel’s shoulders, still intent on charging forward, but using the walk to adjust to the pain in her leg. And she has to take a moment to adjust to what’s in the room, too. In it, beyond it. Ezekiel’s casual greeting and, eclipsing it all, Peyton.

Peyton and her condition.

Her eyes widen, her mouth works in several false starts before she leans in Cardinal and Liz’s direction. “She’s top of the exfiltration list now, right?” she asks in a whisper. Whatever the answer, it’s probably obvious that Monica’s pretty set on it. Probably always was. So she leaves Zeke to the others and drops off Adel’s shoulders to start over toward Peyton. Inching, but on her way. “Peyton,” she calls out to her. She’s not being subtle.

She thought she was prepared for whatever they would find. She wasn’t.

Holy God. The prayer is the only thing Elisabeth can think when they come face to face with Ezekiel’s meat suit that was once Tyler Case and Peyton Whitney. What have you done, Peyton? Pity wars with rage at the man standing on the opposite end of the room, but when Liz’s eyes take him in along with Peyton’s tear-stained condition, the rage wins out. The bass thrum of sound that rolls off her is palpable.

Still, she tries. It’s who she is, she has to at least try to make him see reason. Besides… maybe it will keep his attention on her while the others manage to destroy things? Rage laces her words with the subsonics she’s always used to persuade crazy people off ledges. “~You tried to change it all and made it worse,~” Elisabeth tells Ezekiel, struggling to keep her fury reined in. “~It’s the same thing that asshole Hiro has done. And you’re doing again? Did you learn nothing from our fuck-up at Pinehearst?~” She refuses to call him Richard Cardinal — that man stands beside her, not in front of her. “~Don’t do this. You know it will only make things even worse in the end. Please? Don’t make us kill you.~”

Does she know it’s futile? One look at her face will answer that.

If it wasn't for the features of the face of the man that's standing in that room, Richard Cardinal would be a perfect mirror for him. The same matte black armor. The same way of holding himself, the same little mannerisms that only those closest to him would recognize. It's just the face that was stolen.

The man of this time's dark eyes sweep the command center, taking note of everything. The flashing light through the glass, the tears staining Peyton's face and the book in her hand, her current condition, the tone in Ezekiel's voice.

Monica's words get a slight nod, Elizabeth's words heard as well as she hurls them at his other self. His gaze locks on that man, though, and he asks one flat question:

"Who did you put in there?"

Well. That's new. It takes Adel a few moments to realize that the odd face is actually 'the bad shadow'. And once Monica has released her she pops back into her bubble and gets ready for a potential fight, looking around at the adults who, well— have far more invested emotionally in this situation. She doesn't know the pregnant woman well, but she knows a little about what happened to her in the future.

She heard the story of Peyton. And how her story ended right here, in Alaska, in her future.

It didn't have to end this time. Especially not along with a child.

"Oh my god, Peyton! It really was your voice! You're EVIL?! And you have that guy I don't know's BABY?! Is that why you wouldn't date me?! I thought you were just a normal rich girl? Oh my god why is there always a weird plot twist with every girl I try to date! I should have just treated Elaine better. Ugghhh Elaine was like the only one who didn't do something crazy or get amnesia and break up with me, or get mad at me for getting revenge for her, or wait until I'm in a relationship to make a move in the middle of a traumatic mission. God Gillian could have at least tried when it wasn't all traumatic! Goddamnit Peyton! This is EXACTLY why I'm dating Dr. Blight now! She's nice and normal!" Magnes rambles and rambles and rambles, then points to 'Tyler Case'. "And who is THIS guy? Is this your boyfriend? He's not even that hot!!!"

Hands on his hips, as if there were any other way to face this crowd, Ezekiel listens with furrowed brows. His eyes flick over to Peyton, briefly, then to Monica with a slightly softened expression. Their exchange is something that distracts him, even if briefly. Liz, however, get his undivided attention. He shifts his weight to one foot, weighing her words without a sense of sarcasm of dismissal.

Breathing in, deeply, Ezekiel doesn’t ever quite meet Liz’s stare. He tilts his jin to the side and looks away, over to his younger self. The timing is impeccable, as that is when Cardinal asks the question about the laser-light and lightning show exploding behind the windows at his back. His lips press into a thin line, downturn into a frown. It’s someone else’s face, but Cardinal recognizes his own guilty tics when he sees them. “It— “

Oh Magnes.

Magnes’ arm-windmilling rant immediately draws Ezekiel’s attention. His eyes widen, just a touch, brows pinch together and then just shoot up towards his hairline. He looks over at Peyton, lips part, and then…

…he laughs.

Not spitefully, not tauntingly, no deep-throated cackle. It’s just a laugh like someone who hasn’t had a laugh in a long, long while. Covering his mouth with one gauntlet-clad hand, Ezekiel takes one step away from the others up the stairs, takes a deep breath, and has to re-compose himself. He swallows, audibly, over the buzzing and humming of the glass behind him.

I’m so glad you brought him,” Ezekiel admits, a bubble of laughter creeping up between his words. It’s impolite, given the circumstances, to laugh. But here at the end of all things, maybe this is where one last laugh is the most important. He scrubs a hand over his mouth again, tries to regain composure and stature and comes down that one step again.

Bishop and Nichols,” Ezekiel finally explains, jerking a thumb over his shoulder to the window. “It wasn’t supposed to go like this,” he continues, looking at his wits end. “I didn’t want to bring either of them into this, but you,” he motions to Adel, “people— screwed up the whole equation.” Eyes searching the room, Ezekiel realizes he may have nearly flown off the handle. He takes a single, quick breath, and then exhales a calming sigh.

“Look,” Ezekiel motions with one hand, carefully and slow. “That’s the beauty of fresh starts. That’s the lesson we should have learned from Pinehearst, from the Narrows, from Antarctica. We can start over.” Ezekiel rubs a gauntlet-clad hand at his chin again, dark eyes meeting his younger counterpart’s.

“For what it’s worth,” the time-spanned Richard Cardinal adds in a rueful tone. “It’s actually better this time. She can tell you,” he motions to Adel. “She saw first-hand what the DoEA did to this world. To our species.” His dark eyes sweep back, passing Liz over, looking to Cardinal, Monica, Magnes.

Liz, is right.” Ezekiel finally agrees, “but not in the way she wants to be. It did get fucked up this time. But…” he looks briefly to Peyton, then back. “There’s always blood.” Frowning, still, Cardinal looks to everyone gathered. “It doesn’t have to end in vio— “

Then, everything explodes.

The entire facility shakes like it was struck by an earthquake. The lights flicker, sparks shower from blown fluorescent bulbs and computer monitors go out one by one. Now the light comes only from the flashes of lightning and lasers whirling at the back of the room. Ezekiel looks back, a quick glance, then forward and starts to talk again, but —

Then, everything explodes.

The windows at his back shudder from some sort of impact. Liz can feel a high-pitched sonic effect coming from the floor below them. Cracks spider-web up the glass, and air blows through the fissures, sending loose papers scattering into the air. Ezekiel raises his hands into the air, expression taking a decidedly sour turn.

Why is it always”,” Ezekiel begins as an auto-assembling helmet slaps together around his head and clamps a visor down over his face, «like this with you people!?»

Monica’s call to her brings Peyton’s dark eyes up to find her friend’s gaze, and she shakes her head slightly. A fresh onslaught of tears floods down her cheeks, and she brings a hand up to her mouth to keep from speaking or sobbing or both. Her eyes dart from Monica to Liz, then Cardinal, then Adel as they speak, but Magnes’ speech makes her shake her head again, this time in bafflement.

Ezekiel’s laughter makes her look over at him, and it’s clear she’s not there against her free will — there’s some fondness in her gaze, though it’s mixed with fear. She looks like she might be about to say something when that explosion rocks the room. She gasps and flinches, a hand going protectively around her abdomen, and she takes a step back away from the windows.

Her eyes seek Monica’s and she shakes her head. “I didn’t think it would be like this,” she whispers.

“Gee, Magnes, way to make it all about you,” Monica says, looks back at him with a shake of her head. She’s not here for monologues, from the villains or the good guys. So while it’s true that she sees Peyton shake her head, once explosions start happening, Monica runs and flips her way across the room to get to her friend. She wraps an arm around Peyton and puts herself between things that might hurt her. Things like cracked glass or unstable ceiling.

“It’s alright, Pey,” she says to her friend’s whisper, “You didn’t know.” Even with the walls shaking around them, Monica’s voice is warm and kind. And while she’s certainly aware of the fact that Ezekiel is a touch annoyed just now, she seems to be letting the others handle him. She’s got what she came here for.

She thought they might be getting through to him. For just a half a second, Elisabeth had some kind of hope. And then Magnes opened his mouth and … basically spewed forth what amounts to an entire rant of NONSENSE. “Jesus fucking Christ,” she breathes as Ezekiel laughs. “You’re still a fucking moron. You’re always going to be a moron.” It’s mostly under her breath, just… basically kind of shock that gets verbalized.

And then shit gets real. Ezekiel starts … is he pleading?… with them to realize why he’s right. And Elisabeth shakes her head ‘no’ but… Things start exploding. And well. When things start exploding, it’s time to take down the bad guys. Her eyes rest on the visor-covered face of a time-traveling Cardinal. “It’s always like this because you never fucking listen,” she informs him in a furious voice.

Leaving Richard to deal with the man in the Horizon armor, Elisabeth turns her attention instead to what she can feel building behind the glass. She’s been so careful for a year now with her power, but she can feel the full range of the frequencies that are being unleashed below. A low, resonant hum – it seems like nothing more than the same roll of sound that happens when she’s upset – rolls through the room. Her blue eyes close as she focuses, and Elisabeth reaches for those sound waves, amplifying them, bouncing them off one another, building them higher, rebounding and lacing them with the ultrasonic frequencies that do things like shatter glass or explode kidney stones. As it builds, the effect generally invisible, there’s a moment where she opens her eyes and looks at both Cardinals. Then she pushes the wave, its passing perhaps making ears pop, toward the very center of the Mallett Device below.

The sudden wild ranting from the gravitokinetic has Cardinal's left eye twitching slightly. Unlike his future counterpart, he doesn't seem to find anything about what's going on amusing in the slightest. Red Knight Two, exfiltrate Red Bishop One and cargo immediately regardless of their opinion on the matter, he subvocalizes into his radio as Zeke begins his monologuing, Priority Alpha. Red Queen, act on best judgement.. The admission of who his other self's fueling the machine with makes his jaw tighten all the more, the shadows of the room oddly still about him despite the flashing red alarms that swirl through the command center, a subtle sign of building rage held carefully in check.

"I don't need her to— " The building rocks, and he staggers a step before bracing, his voice raising in anger, "— I don't need Adel to tell me what happened! I just got back from your future! I had your goddamn tablet in my hands, I know everything you did — I know what you did to Elle, to Robert, and I know what you did to Peyton!" That last one has a particularly sharp edge to it, jagged enough to draw proverbial blood. "Old— "

Another explosion, the glass beginning to spiderweb as he stumbles again, turning it into a lunge forward towards Ezekiel across the room, snarling out in a rage as shadows seethe in his wake, "— Old man Harper coughed up all your secrets through his goddamn respirator, you body-snatching sonuvabitch!"

Wait, that shouldn't be possible. That timeline's already been changed, has been changed since Cardinal and the future kids came back. Right? Well, Ezekiel doesn't have a trademark on shocking revelations.

Oh my god.

"Dad. You're embarrassing me. Even I looked at the briefing."

This is so not primal. Yeah yeah, the bad shadow in a different meat suit is blaming Adel and her friends for what he's doing. She makes gestures with her hands as he talks cause, well, it would make sense in crazy land, but not in her book. But yes, thank you good shadow. See. Good shadow knows what's right. At the mention of one of those two people hooked up in the machine her eyes harden, more so than they've probably ever seen them. But most of them haven't known the cheerful girl long. How dare he touch Colette.

Her fists tighten inside her gravityless sphere, hair and body floating suspended as she waits for orders from the good one, until the explosion wracks the world. That's their teams.

The explosions don't budge her, as she still waits for word on what she needs to do, waits to see where she's needed, but it's Cardinal's words that draw her eyes.

Their future still existed?

"I'm supposed to look at those?" Magnes suddenly asks, then listens to the back and forth, furrowing his brow, confused. "You leave my daughter out of this!!! And listen, all I'm saying is that I feel personally attacked. I keep getting rejected for criminals and villains! I mean, I think I'm technically dating Dr. Blight now, but it's the principle of the thing!" He holds his hand out toward Evil Cardinal, sensing the particular gravity-feel of particular organs, the way that lungs push ribs forward, the push of gravity when air escapes said lungs.

When Cardinal attacks, Magnes just closes his hand, latching onto that gravity as a lung begins to close, and just tries to close it all the way, to the point of crushing. "Cardinal, I'm crushing his lung! Don't worry, I practiced on Emile Danko a while back!!!"

Cardinal’s advance on Ezekiel has him stepping backward up the steps. But the revelation that Richard was somehow in his future has him distracted, has his mind reeling. Richard closes the distance easily, and the two armored men are toe-to-toe. Cardinal’s hand comes out, grasping at a strap at on the chestplate of Ezekiel’s armor, one armored fist balled up to smash into his helmet. Ezekiel jerks back, dazed, confused.

«You’re lying!» Is Ezekiel’s desperate and panicked retort. Nothing makes sense, and yet Cardinal described Harper’s deteriorated body perfectly. Ezekiel shoves Richard back, enough to put a foot of distance between them, but then he sees that Liz isn’t attacking him, sees her focusing her attention past him. «Elisabeth no!»

The sonorous hum generated by Elisabeth causes a metallic grinding sound on the other side of the glass. The rapidly spinning metal rings and arrays of lasers pitch ever so subtly, shifting to an angle that throws a part of the Mallett Device out of alignment. Ezekiel panics, goes to turn and then, «Hkkk.» No amount of Horizon armor can stop the effects of gravity.

«Mallett Device operational, beginning broadcast.»

An automated voice crackles over an intercom in the room, and Ezekiel reaches out a hand toward the glass, even as everything is pulling toward his center. «No! No! No!» Everyone can see, through the swirling rings of lasers, a funnel begin to appear in space at the center of the spinning — and now misaligned — laser rings. A distortion in space and time made by the sheer power of determination and scientific knowledge from decades in the future. A single laser begins firing into the center of the vortex, a staccato pulse of light that is either morse code or binary.

«The device is activated!» Howard Phillips’ voice cries over the comms, «They sent a message back in time!» THere’s fear in his voice, a chill that is palpable in his tone. This was it, this was the moment where everything hinged on. A message sent back in time to change history and yet, with the rings misaligned… «Oh my god,» there’s horror in Howard’s voice, as a sudden flicker-flash of something, somewhere else superimposes itself over the entire room.

For a brief moment, all anyone in the room can see are the jagged tops of broken skyscrapers jutting upward from a roiling ocean. Sea birds fly through the air, and a bright sun burns overhead. There’s something echoing in everyone’s ears, a tinny and staticy broadcast, as though over a ham-radio.

La mer

«What— what is that!? What's —» Howard’s voice joins the broadcast, and the image begins to gutter and flicker. Soon blowing away like a heat mirage. When it disappears, the rings are spinning wildly out of control and electricity is dancing along the walls beyond the cracked windows. But the voice, the siren song of Else Kjelstrom continues to reverberate through the comms.

qu'on voit danser le long des golfes clairs

Then, there’s another jostling of the misaligned rings, and Ezekiel drops to one knee from the pain. A low, rumbling hum comes from Magnes as he clenches his hand closed, and Ezekiel lets out a ragged, groaning cough. Lightning snaps through the air inside the Mallett Device, whirling lashes of lasers carve glowing hot scars in the walls.

a des reflets d'argent

Ezekiel looks back, up to Cardinal, over to Liz, to Peyton and his child. Gauntleted fingers scrape across his breastplate, a gurgling, wet breath escapes his lips within his helmet. «No,» is rattled out, «No, no, no!» A bolt of red lightning arcs from his back to the floor, reflects in the glass.

la mer

Ezekiel lets out an agonized sound, and then as the song fades from everyone’s comms, Ezekiel utters something wholly alien. «Samsum», the Sumerian word meaning power of the sun. No one here speaks Sumerian, and neither does Ezekiel. But Rupert Carmichael did, used Sumerian to implant suggestions in the minds of unwilling subjects. Rupert Carmichael worked for the government, his playbook was in their possession, fell into Ezekiel’s hands a lifetime ago. Magnes never knew what Rupert coded him to do.

Now everyone does.

The gravity-well forming at the center of Ezekiel cuts off and there’s a sudden shockwave as Magnes throws everyone away from him against his will. Only Adel is unaffected, standing against the gravity push. Peyton is thrown back against a wall, Cardinal and Ezekiel against another, Liz is pushed down to the floor and skids along until she reaches a bank of deactivated computer consoles, and Monica is hurled up into the ceiling.

In a moment of impossibilities, Magnes redirects the gravity, following a pre-programmed course of actions that could bring about his own death. But that isn’t what Ezekiel wants, it isn’t death of anyone that he’s seeking. Dropped from the wall when the gravity ceases, he launches a bolt of red lightning at Magnes, overcharging his ability. Magnes unleashes a scream, and flies upwards into the ceiling, tearing a hole through metal and wood and concrete as though it were styrofoam.

His ascent is slow, like a balloon lost without its tether, and he’s both cut off from local gravity and drawing in gravity toward himself. Chunks of the ceiling are swirling around him like orbiting moons, waves of strange purple light shimmer and arc from his body like solar flares. Ezekiel is distracted, maintaining the arc of red lightning that is the overcharging effect of Tyler Case’s power, muttering raggedly to himself. «Try. Again.»

“Wh-What he did to me? What do you mean?” Peyton murmurs, when Cardinal says he knows what happens in the future. Her eyes flit from one man to the other, before narrowing on Ezekiel. “What does he mean?”

She takes another step toward Monica, away from the glass. But when Magnes turns his gravity against Ezekiel, she moves away again, glancing at the machine with worry. “Magnes, no! He doesn’t want-”

Her words are cut off by the image they all see, of broken, jagged buildings and the turbulent water. “What is that,” she whispers. Her tears are gone — it’s only fear in her eyes now. But again, her questions go unanswered as suddenly the strange, foreign word triggers Magnes’ power. She gasps as she’s thrown against the wall, releasing the notebook she’s been clinging to. She’s stunned for a long moment — her eyes finally blink and then she looks up to where Magnes floats above. “Don’t kill him,” she whispers — her voice is no doubt lost in the noise of the machine and the music. Which him she means is probably unclear.

"Oh… no," Monica says, when the announcement goes out that the machine is on. Her attention turns that way, but she can only watch, and listen, as some other place gets transposed over their own. "Oh my god," she adds, in shock. And wonder. And fear.

The song doesn't help, especially as it stays when the image melts away. Monica puts a reassuring hand on Peyton's shoulder, a squeeze to ground her friend and herself.

But a hand is not enough to keep her from being thrown upwards. Or rather, from falling upwards. Monica hits the ceiling in a thud and ends up in a heap for the second time today. It's a precedent she doesn't like setting. Her head reels. Her eyes swim. After a few breaths, she pulls herself up to her feet again, she always does. But once she's up, it becomes clear to her — and to anyone paying attention — that gravity's gone the wrong way around. Down is up. Up is down. And the ceiling she stands on is crumbling away under her. First, she runs. Heading for the edges of the room, hoping for firmer footing.

As she runs, she pulls out a pistol from her waistband. And when she turns, she takes aim at the distracted Ezekiel. It's possible she didn't hear Peyton, given the distance she 'fell' and because when she fires, she aims for center mass. And she doesn't stop at one shot, firing like she was trying to split her arrow.

Her focus is on the machine, but Elisabeth hears Ezekiel’s desperation in the way that he calls out. The reason for his panic becomes clear as the machine destabilizes and opens anyway! «”Oh God,”» says, her words carrying through the radio in a whisper. Abject horror is reflected in her expression as Howard’s voice comes through and the machine does what it was intended to do. A flooded world. Is it a past? Is it an alternate future, the one that three teams of people stopped from coming to pass when Richard Cardinal absorbed a nuclear blast in Antarctica? The memory of screams carried on wisps of tattered shadow flashback in her head for a split second. Or is it what the world looks like right this very minute if you take a half-step sideways on an Einstein-Rosen bridge to a parallel Earth? She suddenly … understands, just a little.

She pivots on her heel in time to see Magnes become essentially a puppet of the enemy. “No!” she gasps as she’s slammed to the floor and shoved, hitting the consoles in a tumble of armored arms and legs. She fights the effect of Magnes’s overcharged gravity without much luck, but she can hear what Ezekiel says as he attacks… feeds?… Magnes’s explosion of power. Sucking in a breath, she attempts to force Ezekiel’s train of thought off the rails, “~NO!! NO MORE!! NEVER AGAIN!!~”

If she can hear Peyton’s plea, she ignores it. Clenching her teeth tightly, Liz fights to focus her ability on the one target. There’s plenty of noise to use, but he’s still got his helmet on. She doesn’t need the audible ranges, not really. Instead she whispers in a soft gasp, sending the sound waves through his helmet for Ezekiel’s ears only, “~If you ever loved me, Richard, you. will. stop. this.~” And God help her, she uses that whisper begin vibrating the very bones of his skull viciously. Eventually they’d turn to powder within his scalp… although she sincerely doubts she can keep her focus long enough for that.

"I'm not lying, and you fucking know it!"

Richard Cardinal is in a rage as he's shoved backwards, the darkness in his eyes reflecting that anger as he glares back at the other man. Even as his future self staggers from the sudden agony of a collapsed lung, he draws in a breath to say something else, but then there's that shouting in his ear, and his gaze sweeps over in the direction of shattered glass and pulsing lights.

There's a moment where he tenses, as if afraid everything is going to change around him all at once.

And for a moment, it does. Only it isn't something new. It's something old. Something he thought was averted when Munin fell into shadow.

The hallucination - or whatever it was - fades a moment after, and he's left staring into the crackling lightning and searing lasers of the machine despite the pain that even looking at it has to be causing him.

And he laughs. In the face of pain and madness, to the tune of that tinny song playing in his ears, he laughs the helpless laughter of a man who's just seen something that had been in front of him all along.

"You… you dense motherfucker, you… what did it say? What did the goddamn sign say on Mallett's door?" He looks down to the screaming man and —

— is thrown against the wall by a gravitic shockwave, his head snapping back to bounce off the wall. He really wishes he hadn't lost his helmet when Joshua attacked him.

"Mag— Magnes, what— " As gravity begins to reverse he twists, desperately grabbing the wall, hydraulic-enhanced grip digging into the surface even gravity starts pulling towards the gravitokinetic, "Ffffffuuuuuuuuucccccckkkkkk! HOLD ON TO SOMETHING!"

Magnes never has any idea what the hell is going on, or what's happening to him at any given time. He sure doesn't remember anyone implanting anything into his brain. Except when he gets to see boobs, those are all pretty burned hard into his mind.

He doesn't know what's going on, he feels his ability doing things, things that are far outside of his comfort zone. He feels himself floating. "Wait!" he shouts, trying to reign himself in, but he can't do anything, he just feels this nagging… compulsion. Like it's something he has to do, and can't stop himself from doing.

"I'm sorry!" he exclaims when he finds himself pushing everyone away. "Stooooooop fuuuuuuck!!!"

And then, when his ability is apparently amplified, he's just floating there, watching things orbit around him, wrapping his arms around his own body. "I can feel it…" He can feel gravity like he's never imagined it. An overwhelming force of nature, large chunks of debris floating around him as if they're nothing, and the sheer weight…

The sheer weight and density of gravity itself, a feeling that perhaps only a gravitokinetic could understand. Like being surrounded by some sort of wrathful divine entity being produced by your own body, entirely outside of your control.

He stares down at his hands in shock, watching a surreal purple energy play across his fingers. He knows that this could all collapse in on him at any moment, but even so, the feeling, this feeling of being surrounded by what, to him, feels like apocalyptic mayhem, the feeling…

Is this what gods feel like?

Is this what it's like to be Peter, or Gabriel?

Huh, Peter Gabriel, he never noticed that before…

"I can't stop it! It's going to collapse, I don't know what to do, it's too big… it's too much!" His nose starts to bleed, one of his eyes becoming rapidly bloodshot. "I don't think you can escape it, shit! It's too heavy, everyone will die…" He stares down at Adel, trying to hold his hand out to her. "You can move, you have to do something, you have to get me away from here! Or, or, I don't know, you have to kill me! I know I'm asking too much, you're my daughter, it's wrong, but you're the only one who can do anything! We can't let our friends die!"

The Wasteland kids have a world for this. Primal. Cause it didn't take long at all for the whole world to go completely primal. And not in a good way.

Inside her bubble, Adel might feel safe, but everything else around her is anything but. The world itself is wrecked and slowly tearing itself apart. Her father floats into the sky. She can't feel the destruction, it's even lightly filtered out of her ears through the sphere, but god, she can see it. A hamster in a hamster ball, watching the world around it fall apart.

As her father reaches out to her, she looks up at him, dark eyes meeting his as she grabs a knife from her belt. She didn't bring guns like the others, doesn't have a truly offensive power— but she did bring a wicked looking knife. One she let her father pick out for her.

Her and her sphere float toward the ground, it seems like it takes forever— it doesn't. She lets the gravity push her, until her feet actually touch the ground. Then she mouths something up at her dad. »Sorry, dad.«

Adel can't kill him. But if she's the only one who can move, there's something she can do. Pushing off with her feet, she launches her sphere much faster than if she had floated it, navigating gravity waves, carrying her in the direction of one bad shadow man.

With every intention of taking him into her sphere and doing what they had not been able to do in the past, present or future.

As Magnes floats helplessly up into the air, ripping strips of the ceiling with him, there is an explosion of light and energy coming from the Mallett Device. The glass in the window shatters, and all of the shards begin moving in a spiraling trail behind Varlane’s helpless form. With the window now blown, the paired screams of Colette Nichols and Elle Bishop can clearly be heard, along with a half dozen other panicked voices and electrical discharges.

Monica’s inverted gunfire ricochets with sparking precession off of Ezekiel’s armor, leaving divots in the metal. He struggles, trying to move against the gravity forces while keeping an accelerating tether to Magnes. Then Adel comes whirling in, before Ezekiel can even catch sight of her. She lands down, legs wrapped around his neck, and drives her knife down into the gap between the plates in his shoulder. The red arc of lightning going to Magnes gutters out instantly, but Magnes doesn’t seem to stop.

Adel wrenches the blade back and forth, separates flesh from bone, and Ezekiel howls in pain. He reaches up, grabbing Adel by the hair, and slams her down to the ground like a heavy sack.

Ezekiel smashes Adel into the floor with superhuman force. The knife, still embedded in his shoulder, drools with blood at its edges.Then, before she can get up, before Ezekiel can hurt her more, Liz’s voice crackles through his helmet. The sound vibrates in his skull, rattles bone, rattles blood, blurs his vision and causes his teeth to jostle in their sockets. The armor deadens some of the vibration, but the microfractures in his skull, the agonizing pain, the near blindness, it’s unbelievable.

He endures, he endures what Elisabeth tries to kill him with. She relents, the strain of using her ability in that way, after everything they’ve been through, makes her head throb with ice-pick precision pain. But what she did has weakened him, considerable. It’s enough time for Adel to get to her knees, crouch, and ready to —

A bolt of red lightning slams Adel in the chest, throwing her off of her feet. «I’ve had enough of all of you!» There’s a tearing feeling inside of Adel’s chest, a ripping and breaking of a purely metaphysical nature. She screams, back arching, tears welling up in her eyes, and then as the tearing sensation reaches its breaking point she feels a fire burning in her mind and a sudden snap of something coming loose.

For the first time in a long time, Adel feels heavy. Stripped of her Evolved ability, Adel crashes to the ground on her knees, muscles trembling, mind reeling. She can now feel the pull Magnes’ gravitic force is laying onto her. Ezekiel raises one hand, considers Monica, but then —

A white-blue whip of laser light comes up from the Mallett Device, leaves a glowing hot gash in Ezekiel’s armor and cuts hydraulics from the exoskeleton. Smoothly sliced metal falls upward into Magnes’ gravity well, but that same gravitic force bends Colette’s laser, sends it spiraling in a direction no one could have anticipated.

There’s a snap sound, a sudden ozone stink in the air, and one of Monica Dawson’s arms joins the debris free-floating around Magnes. The cauterized stump of her arm, just below the shoulder, bellows with smoke and sizzles with agonizing pain. She buckles to her knees, consciousness wavering, not quite yet sure what happened. She can still feel her arm, even though she can also see it drifting away up into the sky.

The floor splits, peeling backwards, metal beams snap and pop and break. Lightning from below blasts upwards through the floor, but then there’s a sudden series of screams and the sound of a torrential blast of water from the first floor, and all of the lightning stops. Cardinal, gripping on to the floor for dear life, sees Ezekiel looking at him. His time-spanned doppelganger starts to move, when part of the floor comes up and crashes square into him, shattering half of his helmet into a series of broken hexagonal plates that flip end over end into the air.

Ezekiel, blood running from his brow, looks up to Magnes. There, Varlane hovers near the satellite dish on the top of the facility. Parts of the dish are snapping off, the antenna bending towards Magnes. His body is now nothing more than an infinitely dark silhouette around which corona of violet light sheds. Half of the entire building is circling him, twisting and spiraling in an accretion disk. Nothing escapes a black hole, not even light.

«Goodbye, Richard.» Ezekiel raises one hand, and a blast of red lightning leaps out from his palm and strikes Cardinal square in the chest. There’s no failsafe here, no fallback plan, just a desperate gamble by a madman to see his plan come to fruition, to prove his younger self wrong. To prove everyone wrong. So Ezekiel does the one thing no one would do in his position.

Richard Cardinal feels a tearing, splitting sensation in his chest. There’s a rending feeling, a metaphysical fissure of something intrinsic to his very being torn away. It rips, tugs, pulls and snares, and when it finally breaks he emits an involuntary scream the kind he unleashed when Munin exploded below Antarctica.

The red bolt of lightning snaps like a rubber band, breaking away from Ezekiel, and snapping back to Richard. In that moment, Ezekiel looks to Elisabeth, only one of his eyes visible from his half-remaining helmet. There’s no words, no goodbye. If he’s right, this will never happen. With that, Richard Cardinal from decades in the future turns into shadow and slithers through a crack in the floor.

But the Richard Cardinal of here, of now, looks down at his hands and realizes what equivalent exchange has been made. In order to hold on to the shadow power, Ezekiel had to give something up. Red lightning — Tyler Case’s ability — snaps between Cardinal’s fingertips. He has just enough time with the power to make eye contact with Liz, before everything falls apart.

There’s a shifting, a sudden snap, and when Magnes’ accretion disk moves far enough away from the building, Earth’s gravity takes hold again. The floor collapses below Richard, falls away and in an instant Liz watches on as her love becomes a red and black blur, falling down to the first floor, then crashing through a broken floor into an unlit basement. Thousands of pounds of twisted steel, concrete, and furniture tumbles down into the opening, piling atop Cardinal.

Magnes is now more than a hundred feet above the facility, writhing around, screaming — though no one can hear him any longer. Alarms are blaring everywhere, distant pops of gunfire indicate that no one battle has ended. But without Ezekiel to fight, without Cardinal to lead, the Red Queen is in charge.

And everyone’s life is in her hands.

Whatever has led her here, whatever has kept her here, it’s clear that it isn’t what Peyton believed in. Her horrified eyes dart from Magnes to Ezekiel. When he slams Adel, she cries out, wordless at first, but followed by a sharp, “Zeke! Stop!”

It’s Monica falling to her knees that draws her attention, the loss of the arm registering somehow in her shocked mind, her eyes going to track it as it floats upward. She cries out again, a new flood of tears washing away the old. As soon as she feels the pull of the earth downard again, and she falls away from the wall, she scrambles for Monica.

She stares in horror at the collapsed floor, before she looks up to Liz. Apology, sorrow, fear, anger — her expression is at once all of these things. Somewhere in there is also the silent offer to help — but she’s not brave enough to say it aloud.

Monica watches from above as things go all to hell on the ground below. And she glances up at Magnes, or what’s left of him — she can’t tell, and she lifts her arm to take aim at him. She hesitates, and then… loses her opportunity.

Pain sears through her and she drops, gripping her arm — what’s left of her arm — and staring ahead at where her arm floats in front of her. She doesn’t scream. She whimpers. Tears fall down her face.

She doesn’t know what to do.

It’s decided for her when Earth takes back over and she falls again, the same fall, opposite direction. She tries to turn, to land on her feet, but shock and pain leave her off balance and she lands on a hip instead. That’s when she cries out, a sob she can’t quite fight back, as much as she’d like to. So when Peyton comes her way, she finds someone bruised, broken, perhaps beaten.

She can’t sustain the attack. If the brain is a muscle, it’s taken her a year of exercise to get her power back to normal, but Elisabeth has given it one hell of a workout over the past hours. Days? Perhaps it’s merely minutes. She has no way to know. She feels a familiar sensation of strain, that precise stab into her brain behind her eyes. Blood trickles from her nose, though she doesn’t even realize it. Initially caught and held in place by the consoles that she slid beneath when she was thrown, she drifts from beneath it. Her blue eyes are on Ezekiel and Richard – and she can see the moment he makes his decision. Her eyes go wide. You know him. You know what he does when his back’s against the wall. Jolene didn’t have to tell her that… she does know him.

But she’s not entirely convinced he ever knew her at all.

There is a moment, just an instant, when she catches Richard’s eyes before the floor caves. And he can see the moment when she realizes what she’s going to have to do. And then he’s gone, without his powers to evade the fall or the massive pile that comes down on top of him.

«This is Red Queen,» she murmurs into her headset as she shifts around to put her booted feet on the table that was keeping her tethered. «Blow it to hell. Then get out if you can. Go now.» Her tone is calm amid the chaos, as if she knows exactly what she’s doing. Tilting her face upward, she kicks off the table with a bit of hydraulic assist, arrowing straight for Magnes Varlane. And despite the pain in her head, she pulls on all the sound around her, fully intending to obliterate either his ability to use his power or him or die trying, in the only hope she thinks is left to stop him from killing all of them. God forgive me.

For the first time since that day, many, many years ago, when her almost-brother and almost-boyfriend had been taken, Adel felt heavy. Felt… like the world no longer moved around her. Like no where was safe. She'd felt terrified then, she felt terrified now. He head rang from being slammed about, her body hurt— she never should have let him into her sphere— but she would not have been able to get as close to him if she hadn't—

It was gone.

It was just gone.

For a moment she felt like she couldn't breathe. Like the air around her was wrong, like everything was just wrong, like her whole body felt wrong. Adrenaline, panic, makes the whole world seem to slow down.

Her father continued to float away, the opportunity to stop him, hers at least. Others may be able to stop him. Or maybe no one can. Maybe they'll all die. Maybe they were always supposed to die.

Pushing herself to her feet, she can feels an ache she didn't even know she had as she hurries over to Peyton and Monica, grabbing onto them, "We have to get as far away as we possibly can. Now. Right now. Come on. Move. MOVE."

And if she can, she'll get them to move. Cause moving is the only thing she can do. Cause once she does stop she doesn't know when she'll be able to start moving again.

Elisabeth Harrison did not begin her life as a soldier. She began as a police officer, behind a shield, to protect and serve. Her heart was found in — and will always remain with — her life as a teacher. It was an attempt on the life of children that turned her from peace, down a path of violence, to this moment in time. At her back, a pregnant Peyton Whitney scoops Monica Dawson’s trembling, sobbing form up into her arms, hobbling away together as the world appears to end behind them. Adel, severed from her ability, scrambles away. She puts her father at her back, helpless as he is, twisting in the sky, a victim of his own fate.

But Elisabeth Harrison is not a teacher in this moment. She is a soldier. As her knees bend, as the straining hydraulics of her Horizon armor let out a whining protest, she knows there is only one thing to do. She took up arms to face down the Vanguard, to protect people, she has fought nearly every year of her life since then. When she leaps from the twisted wreckage of the Mount Natazhat facility, it is with determination and resolve.

She is running toward the danger, and her father would be proud.

Down twisted stairs, broken halls, past battered and bullet-riddled corpses of Brian Winters, Adel, Peyton, and Monica can see the missile of Elisabeth Harrison launch herself into the air. Her Horizon-assisted leap cannot clear hundreds of feet straight up, but it never needed to. As soon as she falls within the gravity well of Magnes Varlane’s out-of-control power, gravity does everything that technology could not.

She is a dark silhouette, a missile of armor and wild blonde hair, rocketing upward with a swirling trail of snow behind her. As they escape the crumbling facility, they hear a high-pitched sonic scream wailing in the air. Blood wells up in Elisabeth’s eyes, streaks like tears across the side of her head, rolls in rivulets from her nose, from her ears. Blood vessels in her skin pop as the gravity intensifies, as the crushing pressure of Magnes’ event horizon bears down on her.

That lance of sound is pointed forward. Sarisa Kershner once called Liz a valkyrie, in an attempt to get her to join FRONTLINE. Now, bathed in radiant violet light, set against a blue sky flecked with stars, screaming upwards at a hole in space, she has ascended to that role.

Her scream hits Magnes’ ink black form. But the sound is dead here, there is a cry vibrating into the heart of what may as well be a dying star. They can see Elisabeth from the ground, not a red queen, but a red valkyrie.

Then, in an instant, she is simply gone.

Nothing escapes a black hole.

Not sound.

Not light.

Not Elisabeth Harrison.

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