Ozymandias, Part I


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title Ozymandias, Part I
Synopsis SESA and Homeland Security investigate the Liberty Island attack.
Date May 5, 2018

"The wind's turned, Jason."

«Reports coming in from the United States indicate that President Andrew Mitchell has surrendered to rebel forces…»

A row of four tall, brick-framed windows with arched tops allow prodigious amounts of light in to a converted mill space. The Thames is visible outside, dappled with sunlight spilling over the industrial buildings just outside of Silvertown. A lone wall-mounted television in the converted mill is tuned into the BBC's round-the-clock coverage of the war abroad.

«Just after 4:00 am local time, American opposition forces moved on the Raven Rock government continuity facility in Pennsylvania. The assault began with a pre-dawn bombardment by missile batteries, followed by targeted air strikes on loyalist ground forces.»

Standing by one of the windows, the dour countenance of Jason Pierce stares down at the murky river, mottled with shadows cast by a partly cloudy day. "It is," he agrees, eyes partly lidded as though disinterested — or perhaps just exhausted. "I didn't think he'd surrender," comes with a raise of one brow, and slowly Jason turns to put his back to the window.

«Our BBC Crews on the ground recorded this dramatic footage of the rocket barrage lighting up the countryside. Opposition forces released at statement at 7:39 am that Mitchell had surrendered after the bunker was penetrated, though reports of significant casualties on both sides of the conflict are still rolling in.»

Seated behind his desk Gregory Armond — the former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security — drains a half-empty glass of whiskey the rest of the way. "Georgia saw the changing tides, though. Mitchell was a fanatic, but he wasn't a long-term planner." The glass is set back down on the desk, and Armond squares a level look at Pierce. "He was blinded by the death of his daughters. Inconsolable rage only gets a man so far…" reaching to the side of his desk, Gregory grabs the whiskey decanter and begins pouring a fresh glass.

«We have received word that General Moritz and other high-ranking members of Mitchell's cabinet were killed in the attack, though we do not have any specifics at this time. We're going live, now, to BBC News correspondent Ophelia Basani in Pennsylvania, Oph— »

Pierce turns off the television as he walks by toward Armond's desk. "So, what's the plan now?" His question is lost on Armond, who takes another long sip from his glass and looks Pierce up and down slowly. He says nothing. "Are we staying here? Hiding in the Queen's skirt until it all blows over?" Pierce is under no illusions that this conflict will blow over, but rather blow like a wind-spread wildfire across the world.

"Do you know what autohypnosis is, Jason?" Armond raises his brows, smile broad and affected. Pierce's brows furrow, head shaking in response. "It's the cognitive ability to alter one's own memory. If perception is reality, autohypnosis makes for a reality of your own design."

"Maybe a solipsism," Pierce quips as he reaches the desk, pouring himself a glass of whiskey as well.

Gregory shrugs, sipping from his own. "There's a reason that Mitchell put me where I am, why I was the one to hold Matthew Parkman's leash. Because I can keep a secret when it comes down to it." Tipping back his glass again, Gregory drinks, and Pierce can tell that he's visibly intoxicated.

"Cut the shit." Pierce states dryly. "What's the actual plan?"

"They're going to want blood," Gregory explains, sipping his whiskey again. "Mitchell's blood, my blood, everyone's. They're an infection, Jason, and we're going septic. The only way to survive now is to cut off the infected limbs and hope we can survive."

Pierce smiles, first, then laughs awkwardly and shakes his head. the absurdity of the way Gregory explained the situation has him walking away from the desk and laughing to himself. He turns, glass in hand and smile bitter. "Jesus fucking Christ, were you always like this? Did the weather do this to you?"

Gregory's smile fades, and he sets his glass down. "I'm asking you to be the surgeon in this metaphor, Jason." Gregory rises up from his desk, one hand steadying himself. "We need someone trustworthy on the inside, someone who can keep an eye on things. You weren't affiliated before the war, you have a spotless service record…"

"You want me to bring you in?" Pierce sees where this is going, slowly sipping his whiskey. "That's why you had me fly myself out here, the theatrics. So you're, what, one of them? You can redact your own memory. Am I supposed to shoot my way out of here through all those men downstairs?"

One brow arched, Gregory shrugs.

"It would be convincing, wouldn't it?"

Three Years Later…

Bright noon-day sun shines down from a clear sky speckled with sea birds.

Cutting across the Hudson River, a US Coast Guard transportable port security boat is a bright spot of white and red against a field of midnight blue. The wind is cool and string today, blowing sharp across the deck. Near the front of the ship, leaning against the metal railings, agent Cassandra Baumann's hair whips in the wind, her hands firmly gripping the railing as the ship dips up and down against the river's chop.

Standing beside her, Deputy Director Madeline Choi is an unusual sight for field operations. But given the importance and severity of the situation here, and the interdepartmental nightmare of SESA treading in both the DoJ and DHS' territory, a necessity. But Choi's usually easy attitude has been colored by something else as of late. Something strained, something stressed.

As the Coast Guard vessel passes under the sagging length of the demolished Queensborough bridge, Choi turns to Cassandra. "Before we reach Liberty Island, I wanted to… informally give you a heads-up about something." Choi raises a hand to keep her hair from whipping into her face. "You're an asset to us, Baumann. Your ability is priceless, but that doesn't mean you're untouchable."

Choi's dark eyes settle on Cassandra. "Your stunt at Elmhurst hospital was caught on the security feed, forwarded to us because they didn't know who you were, and SESA was called in to investigate. The only reason you still have a badge today is because this didn't get out to the press and we were able to quash it." The corners of Choi's mouth downturn into a frown.

"SESA is under a microscope, Baumann. Everyone is watching for us to become the next DoEA, to overstep our bounds, to fuck up. That's our allies distrust, that's our political enemies' distaste." Choi leans in closer, "Every SESA agent is held to a high standard. You especially. We took risks fast-tracking you, because no one has ever seen an ability like yours before. Because you can make a difference with it." There's disapproval and frustration evident in the older woman's tone and posture.

"I put my ass on the line for you yesterday, Baumann. We swept your stunt under the rug, and if that ever comes to light you lose your badge, I lose my job, and that's something you can control." Choi's tone is paternal, and it sounds like she's had similar discussions with others before — if not children, then other young agents. "I don't need you to justify why you did what you did, I don't need an apology, I need you to swear to me that you won't fuck up like that again. You won't go off the reservation pulling civilians in — minors — without express permission. I need you to promise me you won't make me regret this."

Choi leans away, brushing an errant lock of hair from her face. "Because I believe in you, Baumann, and I think SESA needs people like you. But this isn't the academy, this isn't civilian life. I know you're young, and I know young people make mistakes. So, consider this your mulligan, Cassie." There's a pleading look, briefly, in Choi's eyes. "I need you to pull your shit together, or the next time there won't be anyone to save you."

Ever since the events at the hospital, the multiple discussions on the poor idea of mapping of the tunnels with Squeaks’ help, and the events at the Cresting Wave Apartments, Cassandra has been keeping as low of a profile as she could. Yes, she still went out and performed her investigations, checking up on any leads to the food thefts and listening for word of Emile Danko around the city. Instead of the haphazard way that things happened previously, with Cassandra following leads and going for the truth come hell or high water, she had started to be considerably more careful, worrying about the truth as well as the image she was putting forward as a SESA agent to the public. She had been talked to by her partner, her direct supervisor, and now Director Choi was weighing in.

She screwed up. She knew it. And right now her career was hanging by a thread.

There wasn’t really anything to be said. She had no defense against the criticisms of what went on. She was in the wrong. Cassandra covers her face with both hands, rubbing her eyes for a moment before retaking her grip on the railing, the gentle rolling of the deck beneath their feet giving a strange sense of sideways motion, even though the boat wasn’t moving in that direction.

“I swear I won’t do anything like that again, Agent Choi. I won’t go off the reservation. I won’t get ahead of myself. I’ll think before I act. Hell, I’ll just think.” She turns to look at the dark-haired woman, her head lowered slightly in supplication, her hands moving from the rail to work against themselves, twisting and gripping. A nervous habit that occasionally returns at the times it most certainly doesn’t need to.

“Thank you for sticking up for me, Director Choi. I won’t let you down again.”

Closing her eyes and nodding once, Choi sees fit to leave it at that, with no desire to belabor the point. They're both on the same page, and that's all she wanted. The smile she has, small and measured, is enough confirmation.

DoJ Temporary Offices

Kansas City, KS

The ringing of a desk phone is cut off when the receiver is picked up. “Pierce,” is firmly stated into the line.

Situated in a corner office of what was once a Chase Manhattan bank building, Jason Pierce stares out the window at the skyline of Kansas City. He listens to the other voice on the end of the line, eyes slowly closing and tongue briefly flashing out over his lips.

“Mnhm,” Jason vocalizes, slowly opening his eyes to stare listlessly at the window. Not through it, but at his own barely visible reflection in it. “And what's Agent Baumann do?” Jason looks away, down to his open laptop, a hand up to scrub over his mouth as tension turns to anxiety. “Burn everything, clean it all.”

Pierce doesn't wait for a response, just slams the receiver down and bolts up from his seat. As he's opening the a drawer on his desk, the door to his office opens with a knock. Pierce pauses, looking to his assistant as she leans in. The sign on the door beside her head reads: Deputy Assistant to the Attorney General, Jason Pierce, Counterterrorism Division.

“Mr. Pierce? I have—”

“Hold all my calls, Wanda. I need to head out for the rest of the day.” Pierce quickly snaps, hand on the desk drawer but not moving or opening it.

“But sir it's Claudia Z— ”

I don't care.” Pierce snaps back at her, and his assistant winces and ducks her head back, closing the door. Pierce swallows audibly, pulling the drawer open and withdrawing a foil baggies from inside. Unzipped, Pierce drops a flip phone into his hand. Battered, old.

Flipping it open he calls the only number programmed into it. His eyes go to his door, scan the room, and into the mouthpiece he calls out one phrase:

Code Alexandria.

Liberty Island Detention Center

NYC Safe Zone

The shadow cast by Liberty Island is a long and dark one. A place that once stood for the American ideal now represents everything that went wrong with it. That the Statue of Liberty was destroyed in the war is a tragedy, though there's no clear account of who or what actually destroyed it. It's presumed to have been demolished by the bombing raids that leveled New York City. History hasn't quite come around to determine the truth of that yet.

But the concrete walls surrounding Liberty Island tell a different story, the island’s recent past. First as a detention and interrogation center for the Department of Evolved Affairs during the civil war, now turned around as a prison that houses the most heinous of war criminals awaiting trial. It is a place of solemn uncertainty, and a dark window through which the world can be viewed.

As the Coast Guard vessel docks outside the concrete wall, Cassandra and Madeline are permitted off and immediately greeted by Liberty Island security. “Director Choi!” A well-groomed man in a sleek gray suit announced his presence. “Sebastian Waite,” he thrusts out a hand in eager offering, “we spoke over the phone.” His badge indicates the same identity, shows the same toothy smile.

Choi only briefly shakes Sebastian’s hand, then motions to Cassandra. “This is Agent Cassandra Baumann, she’ll be performing the viewing today. Cassandra, this is Sebastian Waite, the new director of the Liberty Island faculty.”

“As of January,” Sebastian clarifies with a nervous smile.

“Director Renner was let go after an incident and security breach here. That's what we've brought you in to investigate.” Choi looks to Sebastian, who breezily begins escorting them through security. “Director Waite will be the DoJ’s witness to your review of past events.” Sebastian nods at that, but doesn't offer much else.

The ship approaches the dock jutting out from the shore of Liberty Island like a rotten tooth. The thing that struck Cassie most was the stark image of the dias of the Statue of Liberty in the center of the island with only a bit of twisted wreckage from the lower half of the statue remaining there. “Looking at that…” She gestures to the dias, looking to Director Choi. “It’s a stark reminder of what was. Did you ever read the Shelley poem Ozymandias? ‘And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair…”

She remains silent after that, following quietly as they disembark, watching. Her badge is taken out and clipped to the outside of pocket of her jacket, bouncing slightly with each step as they approach the greeting party. She stands there, remaining a respectful distance behind Director Choi, letting her make all the introductions and niceties, only stepping forward a half-step once she’s introduced. “Director Waite, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m sure I can be of assistance.” She shakes his hand if it’s offered, giving a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact as she does.

As they breeze through security, Cassandra gives a brief rundown of what to expect when she’s using her abilities - specifically the darkness as she focuses in, the limitations, how her projections do not appear on film or recording, and the need for the blindfold. It’s easier to explain this sort of thing before things start getting strange. He more than likely has the rundown on what she can do but she still goes through the motions. Her bag is searched and locked away, her service weapon secured. The only things she has on her person now is a pencil and pad of paper, her flask and her blindfold tucked into the pockets of her jacket.

“Whenever you’re ready, Director Waite.”

The Liberty Island facility is a stark place, lacking the warmth of SESA’s sister island headquarters. Cold concrete is streaked with rust, metal handrails on the stairs are likewise corroded but painted over black. The entire structure is subterranean and windowless, lit only by fluorescent lights.

“In November of 2017, an incident occurred here that has been held under the highest levels of classification as an imminent threat to national security. Your presence here, as we discussed before we disembarked, is not public record. Nor is what we see here today.” Madeline’s tone is serious, but in that way Cassandra is familiar with after having been roped in to the investigation of Emile Danko.

“A SESA agent, Michael Lowell, was killed in an altercation in July by a member of Wolfhound. Former CIA and Ferrymen Avi Epstein. Epstein was being held here for questioning in Lowell’s death when a member of Wolfhound — also former Ferrymen Colette Demsky — shot her way into the facility, killing 9 and injuring 4, before fleeing with Epstein.” As Choi explains the situation, Waite manages a smile that all but wordlessly reaffirms his note of Since January.

“We've since discovered discrepancies between Demsky and Epstein’s account of the attack and the official body count. This is DHS’ case and we’re here in a consulting position. What we need to confirm is whether Demsky’s account of more than twenty security forces was accurate. Furthermore, we need to confirm if an illegal Hunter robot was deployed, and what happened to Epstein in an interrogation room.”

It's a lot to cover.

“The area impacted by Demsky and Epstein’s escape has been cleared for us and Waite is giving us the run of the roost.” Choi’s words are brisk and clipped as she walks with a purposeful pace down the corridors. “We’re going to start in the interrogation room.”

“Of course, Director Choi.” Utmost secrecy is a standard for quite a large portion of her work, and if there’s one thing that Cassandra can do well, it’s keep a secret. Having the ability to pluck secrets out of the air with the proper time and effort makes her privy to a lot of things that people might not want broadcast. And besides, it’s polite to not talk out of school. Her sensible heels click on the concrete of the staircase as they move deeper into the guts of the prison, the memories of the place already starting to beckon.

She listens as the altercation - the barest details, as usual - is described. Epstein is a name she remembers - a founder of Wolfhound is kind of a known entity, as well as being someone who testified about the siege of Pollepel during the war crimes trials. So pretty well known. Lowell and Demsky, on the other hand, she has no clue on, but as the day passes, she may know more about them than most people in the world could.

As they approach the interrogation room, she looks for signs of a fight. Bullet impacts on concrete, stains on the wall or floors that may not have been expertly cleaned or repaired. And when the reach the interrogation room, she chuckles softly to herself, looking to Director Choi for a moment before looking to the room. A small room. That seems to be a theme with her visions lately. Great. Cassandra shakes her head, a smile appearing for a second as she takes out her blindfold, wrapping it loosely around her left hand and wrist, waiting to be allowed inside.

The interrogation room is opened and Cassandra peers inside, stepping in after a second, almost like one would check a shower before getting under the water. It’s a standard room, with a table and two chairs set on opposite sides of the table, a mirrored surface to the rear to allow for observation of interrogations from outside the room. She walks around to the table and moves the chair from where it was to the corner furthest from the table, sitting down and relaxing herself with a soft inhale and exhale of breath, unwinding the blindfold from her hand. “Whenever you’re ready we can begin.”

“One more matter,” Choi notes with a crook of her brow up as she looks down the hall and over to Waite. “Secretary Vincent Lazzaro of Homeland Security will be observing as well. He should be here any minute.”

The busy clip of brogues on concrete marks Vincent’s turn down the hallway outside — he pivots on his heel to close the door behind him.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m here, sorry.”

Notebook in hand, he looks the part of Mister Secretary, grey suit trim and styled sharp, tie tucked neat behind the V of his vest. He’s shaved bald but for a shadow of stubble back behind his ears and the carefully maintained bristle around his jaw; a thin scar carved in over his right ear is matched by another running around the bone of his wrist and up under the cuff of his sleeve on his same side.

“Deputy Director, Waite.” A quick sling sees his notebook slapped down flat on the interview table. “Baumann.”

Tapping of shoes heading down the hall has Cassandra rising to her feet to watch as Secretary Lazzaro arrives in the room.

“Good morning, Mr. Secretary.” Cassandra says politely. Just Baumann. Hmmph. At least call her Agent Baumann. She doesn’t show her irritation at that, though, and bounces slightly at the bang of the notepad on the table. “If I may, sir…” She takes a step forward. “You might not want to sit there while this is going on. Some people find it uncomfortable to have images of the past moving through them. They, of course, are only images and cannot physically hurt you, but blocking them with your body may make things more difficult to see for all involved.” And then she gives a warning. “Please familiarize yourself with the locations of objects before we get started. I suggest standing with your back to a wall.”

Cassandra takes a shuffling step back, letting the blindfold unspool from her left forearm as she sits, moving her notepad and pencil to her lap as she settles herself in the utilitarian metal chair. “Okay then….if we’re all here?” This question is directed to Director Choi and, when the affirmative is given, the diminutive brunette begins to prepare for the viewing. It’s a simple ritual she has. Folding the blindfold in equal halves, she lifts it and places it over the bridge of her nose, looping it around her eyes twice, the thick silk blocking all light from breaking through. Then, settling back in the chair, Cassandra lets out a soft sound as she settles down, tapping her pad with her pink eraser..

And with that, she begins.

For a few seconds, nothing seems to change. The room is fairly small and simple, with nothing moving or showing any signs of anything happening but, as the seconds tick by, sounds outside start to become more muffled, like the world after diving into a pool and swimming to the bottom. The light starts to fade, too, the fluorescent lights behind the metal cage in the ceiling flickering and fading, until finally, the room vanishes around the watchers entirely, a blackness surrounding them that seems to stretch into forever. The only constant is the table in the center of the room and the two chairs - all well lit and one of which Cassandra has moved to sit in, but now appears to be there under the table where it was. An afterimage of what was.

“November 2017, yes?” she turns to look at Director Waite through the blindfold for a second or two for confirmation before she lifts her right hand, fingers outstretched and thumb up, and moves it in a slow motion from left to right. She’s doing this slowly as to not disorientate people but, as glimpses of interrogations start to seep in, she starts moving faster. Flicks of her middle and pointer finger send memories away to be observed later. She does stand, taking a pair of steps to peer down at the desk as documents appear and vanish, watching the pages for incident reports that all have the date printed in quite legible English. April, March, January, December 2017. She takes a step back and re-takes her seat, her notepad pulled back to her lap, inching through the remainder of December until the scene starts to focus….

"Can I bum a smoke off you?"

Avi Epstein is a broad-shouldered silhouette of a prisoner. He's been given a suit to wear today, no gray jumpsuit for this meeting, but no personal effects either. He isn't even given his glass eye, leaving a somewhat uncomfortable void where his missing eye should be.

"I don't have one. Besides, we're not allowed to smoke in this facility."

The other man in the interrogation room, the one not handcuffed to a table, is tall and lanky and only a few years Avi's junior. His receding brow hair is splashed with gray, tired eyes hung with dark circles. His suit is a crisp and official looking black, pressed white shirt, dark red tie. He bears no badge and no indication of rank or office. He's a cipher, an unfamiliar face.

Choi regards the interrogator with an uncertain look. She has her phone out, activating the audio notes function. “Interrogator is a white male, early to mid fifties, salt and pepper hair, blue eyes. No outward identification.”

Avi grunts in response, slouching back in the metal chair he's seated in as far as his handcuffs will allow as the interrogator begins circling the table, opening a folder of documents in one hand. "Avi Epstein," the interrogator begins, "former CIA Special Activities Division, designation King of Pentacles. Former Ferrymen… also Special Activities." He looks up from the file to Avi, smiling. "That's cute." When he looks back down, he leafs through to another page, an official report of the Cambridge Incident. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"I ain't got anything going on right now," Avi admits with a lazy air of casual sarcasm. "Sure."

The vision slows momentarily as Cassandra stands, taking a couple of steps to look at the open folder, jotting down notes of what it is and what she can see on it in shorthand on her pad. She turns to look at the man’s face, then back to the file before she retakes her seat, flipping to a new page to keep taking notes. “Do we know who he is at all? Name, department he works for, anything like that? I can only show you what happened, so unless he whips out his wallet, we’re kind of in the dark.”

“I don't recognize him, and he wasn't in the logbooks or among the bodies we recovered. Unfortunately without being able to run his appearance through facial recognition we’re at a loss.” Though Choi seems to dismiss his identity at first, she circles back around to it. “We might be able to work something out with a telepath and a technopath, but that would require some additional contract work.”

“I don’t know him either,” is the best Vincent can offer. He strolls closer as the vision slows, hands in his pockets, chin tilted up to regard the interrogator head on. “I’m 5’8”,” he adds, for Choi’s benefit, as he continues on. Back to a better vantage point at the periphery of the room.

“For the short term we can develop a facial composite the old-fashioned way.”

"I'd like to talk about some events that occurred in the fall of 2011." The interrogator closes the file and slaps it down on the desk." The interrogator keeps walking though, and Avi tries to follow him around the room, though struggles when the interrogator hits his blind side.

"I figure you want to hear the part that was on the news?" Avi raises his brows, smilimg. "The big hero moment? Carrying the kids out of the subway tunnels?"

The interrogator regards Avi with a side-long look. "We'll get to that."

"Uh-huh. So — " Avi is cut off.

"Do you know how Sylar infiltrated the government?" The question has Avi's brows furrowing, a stillness coming over him as the question is posed. "How long he had been masquerading as Nathan Petrelli?"

It takes a moment for Avi to determine how to answer. "Guesses. Six months? Maybe more. I dunno." It's non-comittal, the interrogator has him off-balance by asking about something he didn't have any real involvement in.

"Do you believe the rumors that Nathan Petrelli is alive?" When he asks that, the interrogator leans in to the two-way mirror, picking something out of his teeth and regarding Avi's reflection in it.

Avi watches, shifting in his seat but finding his mobility limited by the restraints on his wrists. Nothing on his legs, though, which is curious. "How the fuck do you think a guy like that survives Sylar? Seriously."

"So you think he's dead?"

"I think it's pretty fucking obvious."

"Okay," the interrogator leans away from the two-way mirror, looking back to Avi. "Tell us about what happened in Cambridge that day. The arcology."

Avi squints. "For real?" There's a moment where he looks to the mirror, as if expecting to discern something from it before looking back at the interrogator, who moves his hand in a slow circle so as to indicate go on.

The scratching of Cassandra’s pencil is unobtrusive, the turning of pages soft as the conversation moves from Sylar and Petrelli to the Ferry attack on the arcology. The basics were known - there was an attack and people fled, only to be gunned down on live television by automated drones. One of the darker moments of the war and the match that lit the fuse that blew the country apart. Whoever this man is, the questioning is fairly focused, moving from knowns to unknowns. A small note in the margins of her page. ‘Questioner trying to keep Epstein off balance.’

"So, uh…" Epstein shifts in his chair again. "The Ferrymen'd been let in on what the Institute was up to. We'd had some inside sources, some outside, we'd put together a plan. Two-pronged attack. One group headed to Alaska to shut down some device, me and a handful of others headed to Cambridge to rescue everyone they'd captured."

Avi pauses, then. "You know, just like in the testimony I gave in Albany?" He motions to the folder on the table. "The public record?"

"How did that transpire?" The interrogator ignores the notion of the Albany trials. "The attack on the Arcology. It was a secure government facility with automated defenses. Was it just the advantage of so many…" the interrogator dithers, "so many expressives on-site?"

"We knew where the arcology was," Avi admits with a look up and down at the interrogator. "Right below the Commonwealth Institute building in Cambridge on the MIT campus. We came in from underground, schematics fed to us by a mole inside. We were able to use a maintenance access, technopaths to override security." He snaps his fingers. "Bing, bang, boom."

The interrogator starts to circle the table again. "What was the nature of the arcology?"

"I don't know," Avi admits with a shrug.

"You don't know?"

"Well…" Avi hisses out a frustrated sigh. "I mean I was told. But I don't fucking understand."

The interrogator pauses, latching on to that piece. "Can you tell me what you were told?"

"Sure." There's resentment in the delivery. "It… it was built to survive revisions to time. I don't really know what the fuck they thought that meant, but the whole superstructure was supposedly designed with the intention that if someone changed the past, the shit inside the arcology would stay intact. See, the big Dick in charge had this plan of resetting history, but riding out the change, maintaining his knowledge and coming out of his ark like fucking Noah after the flood. Absolute horse-shit."

"You don't sound convinced," the interrogator notes.

Avi scoffs at the notion. "Well, fuck all of nothing happened."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the Alaska group says the Institute succeeded in sending a message back in
time. Should've fucked us all up and changed history. He went all the way back to 1930 to send someone a warning. Butterflies and hurricanes kind of shit." Avi goes to spread his hands, but his cuffs rattle against the restraining bolt. The interrogator looks at the gesture, then back up to Avi's broken eye.


"And fucking nothing. We'd already damaged the superstructure by the time this all happened. We blew a hole in the fucking building's exterior. We were mopping up the inside when we heard to brace. But… nothing happened." Avi shrugs, looking down to the chain at his wrist and focusing on the links for a moment, brows furrowed.

"So what happened next?"

Avi continues staring at the links, working them from side to side. "We had like… fifty — maybe more — prisoners we were freeing. I got handed a list. Do not release, the people we knew couldn't be let go. So…" Avi looks up to the interrogator when he comes back into his field of vision "…while everyone else was heading to the extraction point, I was going room to room with an M5 and putting a bullet in people."

"Bad people?" The interrogator wonders aloud.

"Some," is Avi's honest retort.

“My god…” Cassandra says, the images stilling as she writes. Some of what Avi is saying is known publicly, but a lot of it isn’t. The outright admission of war crimes on the part of the Ferry was shocking. It was like hearing Harriet Tubman, while freeing the slaves, was told that a few of the house slaves needed to be slaughtered as an example at each plantation.

Choi scrubs one hand over her mouth, looking to Vincent. When she looks back to the image, it's with a deeply exhaled sigh. “The war started a long time before Mitchell took over,” Madeline says thoughtfully. “I don't know if anyone's hands are clean. I'd be curious to know where that list came from, but I have my suspicions as to whom on the council would have operated on that agenda.”

Off near the mirror by himself, Vincent stands in unruffled silence. No real reaction, past an unpleasant, inky blackness to his stare, which switches to Choi when he feels her eyes on him. Certainly. there’s no surprise, there.

The interrogator slowly his pace, coming to sit down on the corner of the table beside the closed folder. "What happened after the exodus?"

Avi presses out a sigh at that, looking up to the fluorescent light in the ceiling. "The press caught on. There was shit going down in the DOEA. But things were shaking — metaphorically. I don't think it had the desired effect, but there were press helicopters in the air. Some of them caught us leading the children — little fucking kids, like, six and seven years old — out of the sewer tunnels. Some people were cheering."

The interrogator flashes a reflexive, resentful smile. "When did the rioting begin?"

"Fuck, man," Avi exhales another sigh. "I don't remember exactly. We'd moved people out through an extraction route to boat waiting off the coast. We were in a drainage culvert…" he looks at the interrogator. "You've seen the fucking news, right? Memorials?" Avi glances down at the chain at his wrist again. He's quiet for a moment.

"There was… we heard the sirens, gunfire. Then there was this whining sound, like a jet engine. There were these drones, big fuckers. They were swooping in and just—they were just shooting everyone."

At this the interrogator leans in. "Was that the DOEA?"

"Indirectly, probably." Avi admits, and the movement draws his focus back up to the interrogator's eyes. "People on the streets watched the drones gun down children, their parents, the people who saved them. That fucking trench was ankle deep in blood." There's a visible emotion in Avi's expression and his voice.

"What happened next?" The interrogator demands.

"I don't know who fired the first shot, if that's what you're asking…" Avi stops playing with the chain. "But the riots pretty much picked up right there. Cambridge was on fire by the time it got dark, I don't think they put all the fires out until the second week in November."

"How did you and the survivors escape Cambridge?"


Reaching into his pocket, the interrogator takes out a pen and clicks the tip out. As he does this, he unbuttons his jacket, revealing a holstered sidearm under his left arm. "What can you tell me about the events that transpired on October 25th, 2011 in the Natazhat mountain range in Copper River, Alaska?"

Cassandra’s pencil stills, as does the playback of the past. “The investigator is armed with a holstered sidearm. He should not have been able to get that past security to this room.” Security? Is written on her pad, then crossed out. “Is there any other physical way to access this place without going through security?” She is pretty sure she knows what the answer is, but she asks anyway, not really expecting a response.

“Not on paper,” Choi admits with a raise of her brows. “But any security is only as good as the people running it. But this doesn't feel like a slip.”

Conspicuously, perhaps, Vincent has nothing to say on the subject.

There's a long sigh from Avi. "Like I've said before, I wasn't there."

"But you know what happened?"

There's a moment of pause, and Avi rolls his head around and begrudgingly admits. "Yeah, sure. Yeah."

"Walk me through it." The interrogator requests, and Avi eyes his pen.

"Natazhat… housed a research facility for the Institute. Black project, something to do with — I'm not even shitting you — time travel." Avi carefully assesses the interrogator's reaction to that.

"I believe you." It's a flat one.

"Whole thing was put together by the head of the Institute. The way I was told it, some shit went down in 2040. Apparently the Department of Evolved Affairs goes full Nazi, World War III, basically it's The Road everywhere. Probably with cannibals." Avi admits flippantly, but the interrogator subtly seems more intrigued. He grips his pen more tightly.

"Go on…"

For a moment, Avi hesitates, eyeing the pen and the high cheekbones of the man leaning in. He eyes the gun, then the pen, then those dark eyes again. "In that… timeline — whatever — Richard Cardinal was the head of the Institute and a government monkey. He tries to do what other people've done, go back in time and change shit. He does, winds up about forty years ago or something, sets shit in motion too soon. He winds up dying, letting his subordinates run the show until they find a way to bring him back from the dead. That's when the shit started hitting the fan."

"What about the… timeline he came from?" The interrogator wonders aloud. "How much do you know about it?"

Timeline. Cassandra pauses for a heartbeat, considering. A puzzle piece for a few questions she’s had.

Avi makes a face, lips downturned into a frown and brows furrowed. "Not… a lot." He looks back up to the interrogator. "DoEA went full-on Nazi, they had robots enforcing their bullshit orders when jackbooted thugs didn't do. Obviously this is all second and third-hand info from… reliable sources."

"People who were there?" The interrogator wonders, leadingly. Avi tenses, then nods once, slowly. "Are they how you knew about the Natazhat facility?"

Avi nods. "Mostly, yeah. They'd hit the place before."

"What do you know about the DoEA of their time? Structure, leadership?" The interrogator twirls the pen between his fingers.

"From what I gathered, Georgiana Mayes. Stick-up-the-ass red-armband Nazi, goose-stepping down Mayberry with some fucking Fahrenheit 451 robots at her heels." Avi looks intently at the interrogator again. "Why the interest in the fuhrer?"

The interrogator smiles faintly. "Explain to me, again, the purpose of the Alaskan facility the Institute had. Natazhat? You said it was supposed to change history, but failed? What //happened?"

"Look, christ, I don't know." Avi goes to reach up to his face, but the restraints on his wrist prevent it. He rankles, then calms slowly. "This big—crazy fucking Rube Goldberg bullshit that was supposed to tear open a hole in time and send a warning back about all the shit that had happened, in the hopes that by doing that enough times we'd get it right."

"He'd hooked some people up to power the machine. Some of the kids who'd come from the future to stop him, stop the DOEA, led the Ferry and some other folks there. Rolled up on Natazhat and shot their way inside. They had shit in there—shit like out of the Terminator. I've heard stories about the machines they had as security, fucking guns for arms and…"


Avi eyes the pen again, eyes narrowing. "…and I guess that's off topic." He looks back up to the interrogator. "One of the kids he had, this girl, she was manipulating the lasers used in the machine for him. She was under the control of some doctors. Whole thing was going haywire. Guy I know who was there said it looked like a tornado of color."

"Everyone says he heard a woman singing. A French song, La Mer." Avi leans back in his chair, relaxing his hands.

"Do you believe them?"

"I don't have any reason not to. Look at our fucking world."

The interrogator twirls the pen around again. "I suppose that's all I really needed to hear," the interrogator admits, clicking the pen again and putting it away. "You served your country dutifully, Mr. Epstein. Decorated, just like your son who gave his life for our freedoms. A patriotic example of the all American."

That sentence causes Avi to tense up. But the interrogator continues as he slides off of the table and begins to walk around it again. In the mirror, Avi can see the interrogator favoring his arm that isn't carrying the weight of the gun under it. He recognizes the tension in the room.

"So you forgot to ask about something," Avi adds, breaking the momentum of the interrogator's conversational tone. He raises a brow, a wordless permission for Avi to entertain him.

"Back before all this shit went down," Avi begins casually, "a bunch of people in the Ferrymen found something weird happening. People who could see the future, they were just—they were getting short-sighted." The interrogator tilts his head to the side at that non-sequitur.

Avi flashes him a tense smile. "People who could tell what was coming down the road, they only saw—well they didn't see anything. Word got around about that, about how some people who'd traveled to the future'd seen the same thing once before, right before they went back in time and prevented that future from coming to be."

"The way I see it, people assumed that this shit was all happening once. Like a fucking book. You go back and re-write the beginning pages and you gotta' re-write the rest of the book. Everyone—fucking everyone believed that. Cardinal put his whole fucking cockamamie plan on it."

There's a long moment of silence, and the interrogator starts to talk, but Avi interjects again. "See, these people had gone so far off the fucking reservation they thought that by changing some single event in the past he could rewrite all our histories. But it turns out it doesn't fucking work that way. Nakamura, Cardinal, the Ark, those kids…"

"You can't change the future." Avi admits with another twitch of a smile. "That's what happened in the fucking ark. All the big, terrible shit people've tried to change in the past, all the horrible shit we've avoided?"

"We never avoided it." Avi plainly states, as if it was as simply as that. "It all happened. Somewhere out there, I've got both my eyes and am sitting behind a desk at Langley. Somewhere out there, we all get our happy ending."

The interrogator smiles at that, withdrawing his handgun from the underarm holster. "Maybe, Mr. Epstein. But not you, and not today." The interrogator gets in close. "You killed a SESA agent, you tried to kill me in this very room. Tried to take my gun from me, and I was forced to kill you in self-defense. Wolfhound gets shuttered, your friends rounded up, and…" He brings the gun up to the back of Avi's head. "Maybe you're right. Maybe you can't change the future."

"You think that by killing me it changes anything?" Avi's heart is pounding in his chest, fingers curling into fists. "It doesn't. Because somewhere out there you didn't survive the fucking riots, somewhere out there you're rotting in the ground."

A pop of automatic gunfire in the distance draws the interrogator's eyes up to the closed door. His brows furrow, lips part and head tilts subtly to the side. That pause is all the opening Avi needs as he throws his weight back and jerks his head to the side. He rams the back of his chair into the interrogator's stomach. The handgun goes off by his right ear, deafening him on that side and the round punches into the table.

Avi jerks his head to the side, teeth sinking into the interrogator's wrist, pulling away a ragged strip of bloody flesh. With a scream, Avi yanks back on the chains of his cuffs, splitting them with a clattering rain of metal down on the floor. He wheels around, elbow smashing into the interrogator's temple, one hand on the gun, twisting it out of his hand as the other hand punches him in the mouth twice.

Choi tenses, watching the violent exchange. “Jesus Christ,” she whispers under her breath, offering a look over to Vincent and then back again. This wasn’t in the official report. None of this was.

“God, this is crazy.” Cassandra murmurs. “Epstein was talking about people from the future, coming back and sharing information. It’s how they knew how to get into that Nazahat place. Could this guy be from the future too, trying to change what happens then?” Cassandra looks to Choi. Vincent, and the Warden, then back to the image of a man fighting for his life.

“Epstein’s a few rounds short of a full magazine.” A sentiment Vincent is all too comfortable lending voice to, with bits of human wrist stuck in Avi’s red-stained teeth. He’s moving, again, circling the fight with a critical eye. None of this was in the original report, was it?

“If the interrogator belongs to Mayes, it’s reasonable to assume he’s unhappy enough with the present to want to change it without time traveling first.”

Logically speaking. Nevermind whatever nightmare robot future she might have otherwise ruled under an iron pump.

“We knocked her off her broom years ago.”

More gunfire echoes closer now, and the interrogator slumps down to the floor. Avi climbs on top of him, pressing the barrel of his gun firm against his right eye socket. "But you know what happens here? Now!? You know what I was told, when I liberated the kids from the Ark? This blonde girl walks up to me, looks me dead in the fucking eyes."

Avi presses the barrel of the gun harder into the interrogator's eye socket. "She looks me dead in the fucking eyes and she tells me, "Whatever happened, happened."

A gunshot goes off, bone, blood, and brain sprays against the wall behind the interrogator. Avi leans back, firing more rounds into the interrogator's chest with a deep and psychotic growl until he's emptied every round. He throws the gun to the ground, heaving breaths. There's a noise, a slam at the door, and Avi grabs the chair he'd been sitting in and hurls it at the door as it opens.

The door to the interrogation room flashes with a shower of sparks and droplets of molten metal as a blast of laser-light moves between the door and the wall. When the door bursts open, there's no one on the other side. But the chair hits something solid, something shimmering and nearly invisible. The figure begins to dapple into visibility, dressed in a suit of black body armor that looks like salvaged parts from an old suit of Horizon armor — just the soft parts, not the exoskeleton — and a matching helmet with a blacked out visor with a spray-painted red X across it, now spiderwebbed with cracks.

«//Epstein I swear to fucking god — » A woman's voice hisses through the tinny and damaged loudspeaker in her helmet. Epstein relents immediately, recognizing the voice.

"Demsky?!" He splutters, "I thought you were — "

«Fuck off and get next to me.» Colette spits back, stepping close to Avi as she calls back the invisibility, cloaking them both in a world of bent light and darkness. «Not one word,» she cracks through her helmet as a pair of green lights begin rounding the corner down the hall, back the way Colette came from, back to the stairwell up.

There's a mechanical whirring, hissing, and howling sound that is rapidly drawing closer…

Slowly, Madeline Choi turns to follow the movement of the two rapidly dissipating figures as she hears that horrible mechanical sound. Choi and Cassandra have never heard those hydraulics hissing before, never heard the machine scream in the dark. But Vincent has.

“Please move away from the door, Director Choi, Secretary Lazzaro.” Cassandra says quietly, standing and moving behind the table, moving through the projected image of the chair that was still sitting there pulled out from where it was left during the interview, leaning over it to gaze at the sounds coming through the door. “I think we may see an illegal hunter robot.” It just sounds funny saying it.

Vincent, who’d turned so grudgingly to follow Colette’s entrance past him, one hand hooked to rest next to the ID badge at his hip, pivots to sharp attention at the sound that’s followed her. He’s stock still, hand dropped, focus zeroed in up the stairs, ice in his veins.

Out of sync. Just for a split second. Long enough for the hairs on the back of his arms to stand up.

Cassandra’s voice sinks in before a buzz at his watch does — he flicks his wrist, reaches to snuff whatever alert, and scuffs his thumb under his jaw as he steps aside. Away from the door. Sure. No problem.

The noise reaches a machine-howl crescendo of electric motors, whirring servos, and scraping steel as Epstein and Colette shimmer away like a heat mirage, becoming nearly invisible save for a rippling distortion around the edges of their bodies.

Coming down the stairs at the other end of the hallway from the interrogation room is a quadrupedal machine the size of a bengal tiger, practically filling the hallway. Its body is sleek, heavily armored, though it looks to have been damaged long ago and repaired repeatedly with increasing patchwork quality.

While the machine is feline, its head is something otherwise outside of the animal kingdom: a four-barreled machine gun mounted on a pivoting turret with two green lights in the middle between the pairing of barrels. Visible drum magazines for its ammunition rest up on the back of its shoulders. Each drum magazine clack-snaps into place, and judging from the way it isn’t immediately firing it doesn’t appear to be able to see the cloaked escapees, it doesn’t seem to register their movement when they hastily duck back into the interrogation room and the heat-mirage blur moves to one side and out of direct line of fire.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Choi exhales, and it’s clear to Vincent she’s never seen one of these up close before. The design itself isn’t entirely alien to Vincent, but these models had never seen use during the war. As far as he was aware, the second generation Warren Ray/Hector Steel automatons were being produced at the Institute Arcology and destroyed when it went up before they could be deployed. Save for one, but this isn’t Brian Fulk’s spray-painted leftover.

For a moment everything seems still. This fresh hell pushed off of an assembly line either during the war or — perhaps more terrible, after — pivots its head and then unleashes a volley of gunfire down the hall. All four light machine guns unleash hundreds of rounds in the span of just a few seconds, pockmarking the floor, walls, blowing out the mirror in the interrogation room.

The destroyed mirror is one Vincent saw fully intact the last time he’d come here. He saw no tell-tale signs of this machine’s hail of automatic gunfire. Choi takes one lurching step back when the bullets begin flying, several of them whipping harmlessly through her body. Nevertheless she places a hand to her midsection, looks behind herself, and breathes in sharply.

Light machine guns are still machine guns, able to deal an extraordinary amount of damage in a very short period of time. Cassandra winces at the sound of gunfire and the whining of ricochets spiralling down the hall, easing out from behind the table to stand next to the door. It’s anathema for her, or anyone really, to stand in front of that thing unarmored and unarmed, even if it’s a memory. “It’s like something out of a bad science fiction movie. A salvaged Transformer.” It’s a flippant comparison but the tension in her voice indicates that Cassandra is really, really on edge.

The gunfire stops and there’s a momentary click from the auto-reloaders in the drone's neck as they begin to replenish ammunition while a microfacturing printer in the torso fabricates new bullets from base materials nearly as fast as they're needed. “Now!" Avi’s voice rings out from nowhere. The pair rush forward under cover of photokinetic manipulation of light heading at the drone. Colette drops the invisibility and the pair come flickering into view, while Avi unholsters Colette's sidearm from her hip, just a step behind her. She drops into a crouch, firing her assault rifle at the machine's head at point-blank range while Avi fires over her as she takes the knee, destroying the sensory lenses between the machine’s four barrels.

It’s a practiced maneuver, something that wasn’t spontaneous. These two had fought these machines before, and this was a proven tactic, and it shows as much from their timing and posture. The drone collapses under the assault into a sparking heap, and Colette rises back up and shields Avi with her armored body as the drone detonates in a shower of shrapnel, an autonomous self-detonation protocol that leaves the machine a broken heap of slag on the stairs.

The body armor Colette wears does its best to shield her from the shrapnel. Most of it is harmlessly embedded into the ferromagnetic plates that harden the instant a kinetic impact is registered. But the armor is overloaded, the battery pack at the small of her back sparking with a magnesium-white flare and dripping a few sparks of molten metal down onto the floor. She yelps, audible through her helmet, and slouches against Epstein. Droplets of blood track three beats on the floor.

Up, up, up!” Avi screams, grabbing her by the shoulders as she threatens to collapse with a wobble. He’s pushing her forward, toward the stairs, past the smoking remnants of the machine.

Choi stands with one hand over her mouth, looking at the twisted wreckage of the robot.

Cassandra leans against the wall with an exhale of breath, the dead machine splayed on the floor, half in and out of the room, sparking and smoking there in the hallway. “A machine like this…how? I mean….how?” She sounds astonished. “This…this makes absolutely no sense. How did it get here, what battlefield was it dug out of, who rebuilt it and sent it here, and where did the wreckage go when all this was done? And why? I mean, there’s already a guy holding a gun to Epstein’s head. Why do something so visible?” The euphemism of using a shotgun to kill a housefly is extremely apt here.

She walks back to the chair where she left her pad and pencil, fumbling for a second as she finds where they fell on the floor before she sits, looking at the fallen killer robot. “Demsky killed 9 and injured 4 getting Epstein out, officially, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that Demsky’s casualty count might be closer to the truth and, even then….it might have just been an escape attempt that turned into a rescue mission. How else would she know to come in… well… that?” Her armor. How she knew Epstein was there? More questions for later.

Logical analysis stirs Choi from her nightmare fugue. She looks askance at Cassandra, then back to the slag of the robot on the stairs. “Some people don’t turn off, Bauman. Demsky and Epstein have been fighting a war for a long time. If she was expecting even a little bit of resistance, she’d fight like she’d always fought. What’s curious is that she didn’t use any of the registered hardware Wolfhound has. This looks salvaged, personal.”

“Using Wolfhound equipment would have caused too many questions to be asked. She might have has a way to ‘borrow’ something, but doing it this way provides plausible deniability in case she was captured or killed. There must be a stash somewhere here in New York or the surrounding area left over from the war.” Cassandra surmises, the scene freezing as they walk around inside the echo.

Bringing her phone up, Choi turns on the audio notation function again. “Hunter robot or… some other designation. Armored, multi-assault design. Larger than the others, each iteration seems bigger than the last. Automatic scuttling system, looks to prevent critical analysis of systems or retention by enemy forces. Check to see if that was SoP during the war.” She looks back into the interrogation room, squinting as she eyes the walls.

Walking to one side of the hallway, Choi smooths her hand over where a bullet mark is chipped out in the vision. “Walls feel repaired. Need to clarify time between attack and assessment. What resources could have caused that without obvious patchwork? Check the registry for temporal manipulators, matter manipulators…” She looks back to the hallway and Cassandra, shaking her head slowly as she clicks off the audio note function. “Demsky and Epstein were both interviewed, we’ll need to have the assigned agents compare statements to this…”

“The bullets were standard, it seems. Repairing the concrete properly would require this whole hall to be stripped and resurfaced, which would make this place unusable for a week or two. And the lowest bidders….” Cassandra reaches up to rub her hand over one of the particularly large patterns of fire, feeling for imperfections that a repair would have. “Not to mention the crater this thing should have left when it went boom.”

Vincent’s hung back and kept quiet, as much a fixture of any interrogation room as the chairs or the mirror or the table with the bar for handcuffs to be threaded through. The acrid stink of hot steel lingers after the hunter’s servos have whirred their last whirr, soon lost to SESA back and forth over the whos and hows. He looks from Choi to Cassandra, his own thoughts as impenetrable as the puddle of robot slag between them.

“Are you able to skip ahead?”

“Sure. It might get a little blurry as more people come through, but I can go forward and back.”

Cassandra moves from her spot by the wall where she was exploring for damage and pads over to the table in the middle of the room, passing through the wrecked robot’s echo on her way there. She leans against the bolted-down table, watching the door through blindfolded eyes. “I can see and show exactly what happened up to a point.. .then it gets a little more wonky with overlapping echoes. I'll do my best, though.” She sounds surprisingly chipper, despite what just occurred.

“I’d like you to stop, actually, when the first responders arrive.”

Lazzaro’s interest is as understated as that, matter-of-fact as he watches her navigate her way to the table blindfolded. ‘Wonky.’ He looks to pick Waite back out of the overlay projected around them.

“I’d like to hear what they have to say.”

Cassie looks to Choi for a moment for confirmation and, if it's given, she starts to move the scene forward at a decent clip until a uniformed form moves through the room. Reversing it to a few moments before, she starts the scene again. First responders.

On the one hand, Cassandra Baumann’s ability is one of the single-most remarkable postcognitive powers yet seen. It is a boon to the government, a boon to investigations like this one, and a bane to those who hide behind lies. Their actions speak clearer than words ever can. But on another hand, an ability like Cassandra’s is one of the single greatest threats to national security that could ever be. There is — at least not yet discovered — a way to hide information from her. But like all emerging fields of discovery, sometimes those limitations are hidden in plain sight.

All around Choi and Vincent are blurs, echoes of psychic residue, of perception made manifest in three dimensions. As Cassandra stands, head tilting to the side as though looking for or listening to something that can't be heard, the blurred images begin to slow in their movement and she seems to find the moment in time Vincent was looking for.

”Jesus fucking Christ.” Stepping over the slag heap of the hunter robot is a recognizable face. A pale and faint man with receding, curly hair and deep set eyes. There's contempt in his expression, exhaustion in his voice. Former DHS counterterrorism director Jason Pierce, now with the Department of Justice. He seems both surprised and unsurprised.

Madeline sucks in a sharp breath as she sees Pierce, her posture tensing. “Pierce wasn't on site. He was supposed to be in Detroit for a conference.” Choi fires a look to Vincent and then back to the darkly dressed man as he looks down at the Hunter.

All the humanity has been charred out of Vincent’s eyes. He is become a death sentence, objectivity dropped like dead weight, unfiltered hatred smoldering — slightly upward. Because Pierce is taller than him.

This is personal.

He doesn’t notice Choi looking.

Cell phone up to his ear, Jason looks at the machine scrap on the stairs and smooths a hand over his mouth. “We’re going to need a cleaner,” is all he says before shutting the flip phone and tucking it into his jacket pocket.

Cassandra, in her chair, takes notes on her pad, the flipping of paper and the scratching of the pencil against recording all that she sees. A camera or a recording device would be easier, but they do not work on her images, since they’re beamed directly into the brains of those watching, necessitating witnesses with notepads and impeccable credentials. Cleaner is underlined. Jason Pierce is underlined.

Coming down the stairs a few paces after Pierce is a blocky-bodied brute of a man in black tactical gear with light body armor and an assault rifle in hand. No badges, no patches, no identification of any kind.

”Keep, uh,” Pierce motions back to the hulk of a man following him. “Keep the folks who didn't see what happened back. Have Serrato run interference.”

Vincent recognizes that name. Michael Serrato, a security officer for the Liberty Island facility, was on site during the attack but arrived too late to intercede. In his interview he mentioned nothing about this event, his background raised no red flags. Spotless record, former Marine, distinguished service.

“If he’s here revoke his credentials. Lock him in.”

Now. Lazzaro scorches Waite with a look, quiet anger seething up behind the baseline level of his voice. It shows through cracks in the knead of his fists and the set of his shoulders; he turns his own phone up out of one of his pockets.

Just long enough to send a single text message:

Jason Pierce.

That explains how the gun got in. With a security guard on the payroll, getting things in and out should be a piece of cake. “Don’t just revoke his credentials. Find him, wherever he is.” Cassandra adds to Lazzaro’s comment, looking towards Director Waite. “Send two guards if he’s on duty. Send the cops with no sirens if he’s not. I don’t want him to have an ‘unfortunate accident’” Yes, she uses air quotes. “That keeps him from talking before someone gets a chance to.”

Fountains of information like that tend to get dried up very, very quickly in postwar America.

Waite furrows his brows and looks at Cassandra as though she could see his perturbed expression, opens his mouth to say something, but then just closes it and exhales a steady sigh through his nose. He looks at Vincent, then Choi, one brow raised.

There’s a delayed echo of Waite’s look in Vincent’s turn back to Cassandra’s blindfolded figure, as if he feels like he might have missed something. He matches Waite furrow for furrow, and also looks to Choi, briefly taken out of the moment by his confusion. DId she just —

“Thank you for your suggestions,” Choi offers to Cassandra, looking back to Waite with a somewhat opaque expression as the vision continues.

“Serrato was transferred after the incident. He had six weeks of time off and then was moved to the Highland holding facility in Kentucky.” Waite disrupts all of their possibilities. “He had friends that died in the attack, so… It didn't seem unusual for him to ask for— I'll… I could call down to Highland.” Waite says as his eyes follow the action.

“Sure,” says Vincent, still off balance, but following along.

The broad-shouldered security officer turns and heads back up the stairs, and Pierce walks toward the interrogation room, stepping through the doorway and looking down at the corpse laying on the floor. Closing his eyes, Pierce looks around the room and then scrubs one hand over his mouth again. “Fuck, fuck, fuck…”

Slowly, Pierce walks over to the body while retrieving a folding knife from inside of his jacket. He takes one knee, snaps the blade out, and then begins digging around in the dead man’s temple with the knife.

Waite’s eyes grow wide and he claps a hand over his mouth. “Oh no,” he whispers, transfixed. The notion of making a call has been rapidly replaced by dizzying horror.

Choi sucks in a retch and momentarily closes her eyes at the sound of splitting bone.

Cassandra’s eyes close beneath the blindfold, although it doesn’t help block the sight. She finally turns, physically looking away from the scene in front of her. The sound of the knife scraping against bone, scraping like fingernails on a wet chalkboard, carving through cranium is gut wrenching. She covers her mouth as the scene plays out in living color, doing very well to keep what she had for breakfast inside.

A moment later, Pierce pops a perfectly circular piece of skull out of the man’s head after cutting the flesh away from it. Stringy bands of connective tissue snap away from the bone, and the knife goes back in to soft, bloody gray matter.

“What the fuck,” Choi exhales the words through the hand over her mouth. She's forgotten her recorder entirely.

There’s a click sound, and Pierce’s knife hits something inside the man’s head. He grimaces, then pulls the knife out and slides his fingers into the swollen brain tissue. After a moment of rooting around, Pierce retrieves a bloody piece of hardware from inside the man’s head with a few hair fine wires dangling from it.

Choi is speechless. She stared wide-eyed at the piece of technology and then remembers herself. She raises her phone and hits record again. “Ah— Jason Pierce removed a piece of… some sort of device from the deceased interrogator’s head. Near the… the right ocular socket. An implant.”

“You worried you’ll forget seeing it?” is what Vincent has to say, in lieu of a what the fuck of his own.

He’s restless now, horror stifled by fury, humor worn black as his mood while he crosses behind Pierce’s back.

Waite, silent all this time with a look of thoughtful — if muddled — introspection finally lets out a belated retching sound and turns away. Swiftly producing a handkerchief to cover his mouth, Waite slouches over and hangs his head out the interrogation room door. “Oh dear,” he whispers, gagging.

Grimacing again, Pierce wipes off his fingers on the deceased’s jacket and pulls a plastic baggies out of his pocket and deposits the bloody implant inside and zips it shut. “Fuck…” Pierce whispers, staring vacantly down at the body in visible distress. “Fuck.

“I never forget what I show. I can’t not see it sometimes, when it’s bad. Like this.” Cassandra whispers quietly from her seat, turning to face the scene, watching as the technology is plucked from the fallen man’s brain, straightening finally, professionalism winning out over disgust for the moment.

“Clock’s running,” says Vincent, to the point, hands back in his pockets. “If he knows we’re here he’ll rabbit.”

Cassandra turns to Vincent with a nod. "He already knows.” A spooky prediction that she lets hang there for a moment before continuing. “He doesn't know what we're investigating or why we’re here, but he knows we're down here. All the guards do. I saw the echoes…ghosts of them…when we were coming down here. Talking about the big shots coming in.”

“Helpfully,” Waite exhales the words, standing up from where he'd been slouching while his stomach reoriented from the threat of vomiting. “This is all new staff. We rotated everyone out after the incident as a precaution. It doesn't mean that he won't still know, but…”

With only the most cursory of glances to the corpse, Waite waves one hand and covers his mouth and nose with a handkerchief and moves out of the interrogation room. “I'll make some calls, while you— continue this. Uh. Investigation.”

Flashing a twitch of a smile, hidden by his handkerchief, Waite scrubs one hand over his brow. “I'll be just down the hall. We need eyes on wherever Pierce and Serrato are, yesterday.”

That much Choi agrees on. Though as she regards the frozen image of Pierce and the device, she can't help but cover her mouth with one hand. “Agent Bluthner is in Kansas City right now, but if we get Pierce he can help us track his accomplices.” She flicks a look to Vincent. “He can sense interpersonal connections, some kind of specialized postcognition.”

Not quite out of earshot down the hall, Waite let's out a frustrated yelp and there's a clap, clap, clap of his shoes as he comes running back. “Pierce left his office abruptly today after receiving a phone call,” he exasperatedly calls from the doorway. “His assistant said he hasn't answered his personal phone since, either.”

Then, still on the phone he makes a face at whatever he's hearing on the other end of the line. “What? When?” He asks to the phone. “Jesus Christ.” Waite looks up to the others, shaking his head. “Serrato was in a head-on collision last month on his way to work. He didn't survive.” Then, to the person on the other end of the call. “Melody, have someone call the coroner’s office down in Bracken County and have the report emailed to me. Get me the names of the officers on the accident report too.”

Cassandra was right after all.

“Son of a bitch,” muttered deadpan after Cassandra’s observations re: guard gossip in the early hours, Vincent nods in distracted aside to Waite and Choi in turn. He already has his phone back in his hand, still thumbing through contacts when Waite hustles back into the room. He lowers it.

“Ok.” Ok.

This is fine.

“I need to start making calls. Thank you, Cassandra, Madeline, you’ve been very helpful.” Earnest, for all that it’s on the curt side of direct, and for all that his attention lingers a little hard line on Choi, like he expects he doesn’t need to explain to her exactly how confidential this all is, Vincent looks to Waite last. “I’ll follow up with you later.”

With that, he flushes into obscurity in a snarl of smog — black vapor that dissipates with an otherworldly sense of urgency.


“Snipping off loose threads…” Cassandra murmurs softly, watching as Vincent vanishes in a puff of smoke, leaning back a little in surprise since that was very, very unexpected. She turns her attention to Choi and Waite after a moment. “This…”. She shakes her head with a frown. “I can probably tell you where this is going to end up. Pierce is on his way…somewhere.” She waves a hand thataway, toward an outside wall. “The dead zone is my guess. Chances of him making it there alive, I count as fifty-fifty. He can keep secrets, but wasn't counting on my ability. His assistant, if she can be found, will be dead or completely ignorant of any of this. His office will be stripped of anything personal. I just hope his office has computer backups. His home is probably burning to the ground right now. Bank accounts empty, credit cards maxed.” She sighs, avenues of questioning cut off.

Cassandra looks to the two remaining people here. “We should try to see the cleaners who came to get rid of the machine, try and get as many details as we can. Names, accents…anything to help us find them.”

It probably won't help. These people are professionals.

When Vincent dissipates into a swirling cloud of black vapor, Choi tenses up and closes her eyes for a moment. Reaching up to massage fingers at the bridge of her nose she is momentarily silent. Then, after drawing in a deep breath she offers a slow and weary nod. “Ok,” she asserts while clutching her phone. “Let’s see who they called in.”

“I’ll… forward whatever we see here along to Secretary. Lazzaro,” Waite notes with a tension in his voice.

As Choi readies herself, Cassandra begins cycling through the psychic impressions again, filtering in the wavering noise of time between summer in 2017 and now. When she finally stops, a blurred depiction of a single man comes into crystalline focus.

Pierce steps into hallway from the interrogation room, looking down at the floor with one hand scrubbing at the back of his neck nervously. Coming down the stairs into the hallway, stepping over the slagged remains of the Hunter, is a dour-looking man in a finely pressed suit.

Cassandra immediately recognizes the figure, she had seen him that very day this happened, he had come to visit her personally. Choi stares agape in realization of who the “cleaner” is.

“Mr. Pierce, this is highly unacceptable.” Standing on the stairs is a middle-aged man in eyeglasses and a pressed suit. His gloved hands wring together, then reach out to touch one of the walls. Pierce looks up to the man as he descends the stairs.

Choi immediately looks to Cassandra, and Waite looks puzzled. He looks back and forth between the two women, then squints at the man coming down the stairs as if there’s something familiar about him.

Pierce has no affectation, no smile, nothing but deadness and fatigue in his eyes. “Mr. Baumann,” Pierce motions into the hall. “I wouldn’t have called you out here if it wasn’t an emergency. We need this place scrubbed, top to bottom.” Alphonse Baumann manages to smile, if only through politeness.


It’s Cassandra’s father.

“Is it a coincidence that you went off the reservation while I was in the city?” Alphonse inquires with one brow raised, “or is this just a matter of coincidence?”

Pierce forces a smile, then looks down to the ground. “Will you just… do what we pay you to do?”

Alphonse’s lips twitch into a ghost of a smile, eyes averted to the slag of the robot. “This will only erase the physical evidence, you realize. You have to understand the risk this puts you in?” He looks back to Pierce, who is staring back expectantly.

“Just do it.” Pierce mutters flatly. Alphonse raises his brows subtly, then lifts one hand and closes his eyes. Around himself, matter begins to rearrange itself. The metal from the destroyed Hunter starts to disassemble and break down into component parts, soon crumbling away and evaporating as though it were water. He then walks over the blood stains on the concrete, and they too immediately fade. A gloved hand smooths over the wall, erasing bullet holes. Pierce closes his eyes and draws in a slow, sharp breath and then exhales another.

Pausing, Alphonse looks back at Pierce. “How much more is there?”

Pierce furrows his brows, looks to the adjoining hallway with a wave. “A lot.

“Here he is…” Cassandra says softly, leaning forward as the scene begins to play. She was expecting men with tools, mops, gloves and masks on. Faceless men. People she could easily point to, find herself at odds with, and bring to justice. When the man who tucked her into bed each night, helped her with homework, read her stories, and taught her about justice walks into the vision, she sits up straight, her mouth falling open.

This is just as big of a surprise to her as it is to Choi.

“D…daddy?” she whispers, the scene freezing as she stands, moving to where Alphonse stands, bumping into the table in her haste. “No, no no. This…this isn’t right. This can’t be him. My dad’s a prosecutor in St. Martin’s Parish…he’s…” She takes a step around the table, looking up at her father. “He just manipulates colors. This isn’t what he does!”

But the evidence melting away like snow beneath the blazing sun says otherwise, the evidence quickly cleaned up by dissolving into components. Holes are filled in with what was the automaton, the same dull green and grey paint scheme appearing, barely any different from what it was before. If it wasn’t for the acrid smell of cordite and blood, it would look like nothing had gone on here but soon that, too, vanishes, leaving only the smell of disinfectant, sweat, and fear that permeates the prison to the very core.

“He…he came to visit me that day.” Cassandra says, leaning against the table, holding herself up just barely. “Said he wanted to see how I was getting along in New York. It was a big surprise… he… it’s so hard to get up here, you know. We took a late lunch and then he had to head back. He got a flight out on one of the planes heading to New Orleans.. Big case coming up that he was working on…” she trails off.

Cassandra grips the edge of the table, knuckles going white as she stands. “He was right about one thing, though; only the physical evidence was erased.”

She turns her head to Choi, the blindfold still in place. “I can get you his home address, work address, license plate number, email, cell phone….” her head droops a little. “If I need to take a leave of absence from this case, I completely understand.” And then she just looks at her father, hand outstretched, eyes closed, in the middle of cleaning up someone else’s mess.

“You’ve got some explaining to do, Dad.”
“We have all of that,” Choi explains to Cassandra. “But — it’s appreciated.” Waite just keeps looking back and forth between Choi and Cassandra, then slowly creeps up to the paused image of Alphonse Baumann and reaches up as if to touch him, though his hand passes straight through the image.

“Your father,” Waite offers in a hushed tone of voice, looking back to Choi. Madeline shakes her head to an unspoken question that Waite must have offered. Then, withdrawing his hand from the psychic projection, Waite rolls his forefingers and thumb together. “I’m very sorry, Agent Baumann. For… how troubling this must all be.”

Choi walks up close to the projection, standing beside Cassandra, and lays a hand on her shoulder. “This could be a trick, somehow. We don’t know for certain this is your father, but…” she looks back to Cassandra, gravely serious. “We’re going to have to find out.”

As her hand comes away from Cassandra’s shoulder, Choi breathes in deeply and exhales a slow sigh. “For obvious reasons we’ll need to keep you apart from that, but I’ll do my best to keep you up to date on the status of things as permitted. Once we’re done here, I’m going to recommend you for some personal leave time. This is… all a bit much. But if we absolutely need you for a consultation we’ll pull you back in.”

Looking back to the image of Alphonse Baumann, Choi slowly shakes her head.

“What the fuck have we found here?”

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