Re: What The Fuck, Part II


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Scene Title Re: What the Fuck, Part II
Synopsis After serving as a communications service, Elliot asks Richard for a little clarity on what was discussed.
Date June 19, 2021

“So,” Elliot says before Richard can get too far from a sitting position. He thinks for a moment, trying to parse everything he’s just overheard through the relaying. “If you got a minute, I’d really like to know what you meant when you said we were ‘following the wrong plan.’”

The Manhattan Archipelago
The Flooded Timeline

“Because you made it sound like we should not be trusting the people in charge of the home-side of this operation, which is deeply worrisome.” He scratches at his jaw, trying to show his embarrassment with something between a grimace and a smirk. He taps a complex rhythm on the edge of the table for a moment before placing his hands back into his pockets.

“I absolutely do not trust the people in charge of the home-side of this operation,” Richard replies with a tight shake of his head, “Unfortunately, they were the only ones with the resources to pull this operation off.” He starts to continue a few times, cutting off each time, before finally waving a hand vaguely through the air.

“Marcus Raith is a legendary manipulative piece of shit all the way back from World War II and he’s in charge of the OEI on the home side of things. He was one of the original Royals if you know who they were, at all. King of Swords, if I recall correctly.”

Elliot can’t really act surprised, considering. “All I knew about Raith was what Nick said in Sweden,” he says, though he wasn’t there himself. “And the fact that Wright told him to eat his own shit until it killed him, which is another memory I view on the regular when I’m feeling down.”

“The Royals are new to me,” he says. He leans back into his seat, eyes losing focus for a brief moment as he considers. “I’m guessing tarot cards, which means divination. They were some kind of shadowy cabal trying to predict the future?”

“You’d think, but no,” Richard lets out a laugh, shaking his head, “They were CIA code names from back in the day. They were a black ops outfit. Avi was part of the last generation of them, actually- he was the King of Pentacles. It was him, Sarisa Kershner– my second cousin, as it happens– Adrienne Lancaster, and Jensen Raith, Marcus’s grandkid.”

“Murder, government destabilization, smuggling Nazis out of Germany for Operation Paperclip, they were involved in all sorts of unpleasant business. Marcus was supposed to be dead, but I guess he survived somehow.”

“Hi! Yes!” Rue raises her hand like she’s waiting to be called on in class, or maybe at a press briefing. “Excuse me.” Pointing at Marcus, she finally decides to address the elephant in the room. “How the fuck are you alive?”

“Time travel,” is Marcus’ answer. No follow-up.

He does have the air of one slippery son of a bitch,” Elliot says. “Avi, though? What will I do now that my moral true north has been defamed?”

He laughs quietly, rubbing at his temples as he runs the numbers on the names he knows. Lancaster is too out of place to be a coincidence. That thought brings back to mind the gnawing in his gut about other people with names he knows. Other people with his name. That somebody might know. He hides the worry with a nod.

“So where are we at,” he asks, gesturing between the two of them. “As far as I’m concerned, Marcus ‘Horsefucker’ Raith put you in charge of this team. How much should I insulate us in my reports?”

“Ah, Avi’s alright. He regrets basically everything these days and drinks to forget, the poor bastard. As for reports– we all have the same stated goal– get the tech, save the world– but knowing these guys there’s likely to be an eleventh hour betrayal planned. No idea what his agenda is, but trust me, he has one.”

“So if it’s mission-specific? No need to insulate. Anything else, like the code we’re looking into… well…” A faint smile, Richard’s brows going up, “No need for non-mission data to go into a report, right?”

“I have no problem with compartmentalization,” Elliot assures him. “I am an infiltrator by trade, evasions are my bread and butter. Plus Wright gets an editorial pass on everything anyway, so you get two redactions for the price of one.” He tries to keep the mood jovial before spiking it.

However,” he says, grimacing, “Wright had a non-verbal conversation with Agent Gates yesterday about the alterations to the events of our home timeline. We were working with very little information, having only been told to not worry about it, which is something we are actually terrible at not doing. It seemed unwise to not let somebody know that some kind of temporal psychic parasite had infiltrated the operation responsible for getting us home. Obviously the weirder part of that explanation came to me via Eve’s bong-rip exhalation.”

“So, sorry if that was a bad call,” he says.

“Fuck,” Richard swears, pushing up to his feet and stepping away to pace a bit across the room, one hand rubbing against his face.

Fuck.” He’s very eloquent.

Elliot doesn’t let Richard’s anxiety get to him because he has enough of his own, really. “If it helps at all to know,” he offers, “Gates didn’t believe her. He remembers having dinner with Rianna and assumes I experienced some kind of overlay.”

“I trust Gates more than any of the other agents,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure why, but he’s been honest with me in situations where continuing to deceive me would have better served the Office’s purposes. They lied about having the information I was looking for.” What Marcus had promised Wright in Sweden.

“But, like I said,” he continues, “I didn’t know what else to do. I don’t have the shared history that the rest of the team seems to have code for. We’ve never done anything like this before, and honestly there’s a wall between me and everybody else that I can’t seem to scale.”

“Thank God for that,” Richard murmurs, hand dropping away, “If he’d believed her– if he knew who she was–”

“It’s not that I don’t trust Gates specifically,” he says, turning back with a slight grimace, “But he’s a company man, and I don’t trust his company or the people pulling its strings. And you’re right…”

He steps over, dropping down to sit, “You don’t. Information compartmentalization is a part of it, but– with you serving as our primary contact between worlds, you probably do need to know more. Let me set the game board for you so you can see what’s going on.”

Fuck, yes, Elliot thinks. “Go ahead,” he says, unable to hide a twinge of excitement that creeps in as he finally has an opportunity to contextualize all the various threads of nonsense that hold this tattered sweater of a plan together.

“Okay.” Richard’s silent for a moment, looking down at his hands with a frown before admitting, “Got to figure out where to start. If I tried all the way back we’d be here all day. And tomorrow. And probably the next few days, and we’d need a lot of paper and strings. Explaining the situation without three dimensions to work on isn’t easy.”

“Let’s start with the obvious player on the board. Mazdak. They are a SLC-Supremacist group with a religious core that reveres as divine or semi-divine what we know as ‘the Entity’. Their leadership is guided by a group of precognitives. Now, that would be difficult to deal with but not impossible - there’re ways around precognition - but recently we discovered that they’ve been combining that with their own extensive intel network and feeding information telepathically into someone held within a SEER unit.”

He grimaces, “My adopted father, Edward Ray. His ability is probability analysis. I need you to understand, Elliot–” He looks at the other man seriously, “–Edward is the architect of the current world situation. The civil war, the fall of the Ark, he manipulated events to arrange all of that years before any of it happened. He was in a coma being held in the Ark, and Ezekiel refused to let him be woken up. He still guided events, though myself and my family and others, to the… best possible outcome. To divert us from the Wasteland.”

“Which means that we are all being manipulated towards Mazdak’s desired future, without even realizing it.”

All of it, Elliot thinks. He’s squeezing their hands, cryin—roken, helpless whimpering. He can’t get wor—ala’s blood is in his mouth. There’s a bulle—awbone and her mouth is sagging ope—ongue in pieces. She coughs more blood onto him and hers—ones veer off for another strafing run. Sh—ezes his left hand in the way that means—yperventilates. He feels her love ripple from her—la dies.

“Understood,” he says, a vague, vacant look returning to focus as he goes back to refusing to remember. As he tries not to think about adding another name to his list of people he’d kill if he got the chance.

“That’s all kind of awful, then,” he guesses. “The only way to escape the coming nuclear annihilation was to push events in our direction, and now some else's hand is on the wheel. Or, at least, hands are on the wheel steering in the direction of a possibly amoral entity.”

“Yeah. Someone who doesn’t have any morals, any ethics…” Richard grimaces, “…I doubt that he even has any conscious brain function anymore, which means he can’t at least try and make things less awful for the world. Priority one is pulling the damn plug and killing him if we ever have a chance, but I’m sure that he’s under their highest level of security. Anyway.”

His hands spread, “Edward’s plans– they went all the way through everything Liz did, all the world-jumping, he even predicted that. If you want an idea of how mind-breakingly powerful he can be.”

“Anyway– Mazdak’s over here, with their hands on the wheel as you said, steering things towards a destiny we don’t know anything about but we can be pretty sure isn’t any good.”

Leaning back in his seat, “And that’s them. Moving to the next player on the board - the Entity is a completely different animal. We don’t know what it wants at all. We’ve traced its appearances back to Sumeria, but we can’t rule out earlier manifestations. It was trapped in fourth-dimensional no-space for a long time, which was actually a terrible idea given that meant it had access to all times at once to plot and plan and scheme. It’s been obliterating entire cities across the face of the globe, it created a goddamn Jurassic oasis in Antarctica for awhile. Creating time-space anomalies wherever it goes. Currently, it’s possessing Adam Monroe, who split himself into a dozen or so bodies, so that’s a fucking mess too. It was a lot easier when there was just one body to worry about.”

Elliot marvels at the thought of an ability of that magnitude, and what it could do with access to the telepathic network. The fascination is short-lived, as the specter of Adam rears its many heads. Sorry for that, he thinks. Of all the ominous bullshit Joy related to him via Wright, the fact that Monroe had his fingers in Project Zero at some level, at some point in time, haunts him the most. He doesn’t bring it up only because doing so wouldn’t help right now—and because he couldn’t even if he wanted to.

“How much of the coming crisis is Mazdak via Edward, and how much is the Entity via Mazdak?” he asks instead. “You say they worship it, but talk as though they’re pursuing different agendas. Also—Jesus fucking Christ—it’s thousands of years old?

“I very much doubt that– whatever that thing’s up to– it’s bothered to tell them its whole plan,” replies Richard with a shake of his head, “I can’t make the mistake of assuming that they both are working on the same plan. Assuming anything is dangerous at this point…”

He nods, then, “Sumeria’s the first recorded appearance. We’ve found legends of it through China, Japan– Zuni even. It got around. It was around Japan during the, uh– feudal period, Samurais and all. Adam was there; we suspect he made a deal with it for his ability, actually, although eventually they had a falling out. A group of Evolved managed to banish it to non-space, and it was there for awhile before somehow reappearing in the 80s. The Company fought it, ended up re-banishing it like they had the first time, using Odessa Price and Mateo Ruiz to create the portal.”

Dryly, “For the record, they were barely children at the time.”

“And then…” He waves a hand vaguely, “…this happened, and Liz’s path through the timelines somehow opened up a way for it to return. When we opened the door to bring the refugees from the Ark through, it joined them.”

“I take it there is a fair amount of weirdness surrounding transit through non-space,” Elliot says, stunned by the idea of children having displaced it back to the abyss. “Agent Castle, I’m sure you’ve noticed, has undergone some cosmetic changes. Also I jumped through the aperture before the bomb went off, but came into this world after the debris was already boiling the ocean.”

“Yeah, to be honest, everything about the space between superstrings scares the bejeezus out of me,” is Richard’s admission to that, “It’s literally nowhere, nowhen, everywhere, and everywhen at the same time and trying to comprehend that’s enough to make your head explode. Ideally you want the transit to be as rapid as possible, but– unfortunately the Looking Glass isn’t what you’d call ‘perfected’ yet.”

“Hopefully it never will be.”

“But– back to the topic. We also have the Office of the Exterior, and the OEI inside it, run by Marcus Raith. We know the least about this group, despite it being the one we’re supposedly working with,” he grimaces, clearly not thrilled about that, “Other than that it’s run by a bastard-coated bastard filled with bastard pudding. It has connections to other branches in different timelines– the one here, relatively low-staffed obviously, and the one in the so-called ‘Bright’ timeline, which is the best funded and supported. I’ve been trying to use them to get in touch with their Edward, because having him on our side might help us discover what mountain we need to move in order to screw up the other guys’ plan.”

“They obviously don’t want the world to end, and are working with us for that, but experience tells me that they’ve got another agenda as well– or at least Marcus does.”

“Is that Edward as powerful as Mazdak’s?” he wonders. “Because, if he is, it seems unlikely that he doesn’t already have full awareness of what we’re doing here, and has decided to not involve himself in a way we’re aware of.”

“Wouldn’t a functional Looking Glass be preferable to one that fucks reality through the pants but gets used anyway?” Elliot adds sarcastically, before returning to a more serious confusion. “Also, who attacked the Looking Glass and why do it while half the team was through already? Why not before or after?

“No,” Richard admits, one hand coming up to rub at the nape of his neck, “He isn’t… but, you know, he isn’t a barely-alive vegetable held together by Institute technology so I’m hoping that makes the difference, at least enough to give us something to work with. He’d know better than anyone how to trip himself up.”

“And– no idea. You’re the one with contacts on the other side,” he notes with a nod towards Elliot, “You’d know better than I who carried out the attack. So if you don’t know– neither do I.”

“Sorry,” Elliot says, “more of a thought exercise than a question.” He pulls at Wright’s memories of a conversation with Agent Gates. “They know very little. In the early hours of June eighth, Dave Cardinal was approached by a security guard while staying in Fournier-Bianco. He was seen on security footage being escorted out of the building by the security guard.”

“The guard failed to show up for work the following day and, three days later, was found dead in the river between Jackson Heights and Roosevelt Island, single gunshot wound to the head. His death is being investigated as a homicide by SESA. No motive has been identified to tie him to Dave’s disappearance.”

He sighs, recounting various statements. “Dave has no memory of the events, as far as Gates can tell, he was unconscious the entire time between being approached by the guard and being subdued on the rig. But he headed there in a raft, knew exactly where to go to place explosives, detonated them remotely, and attacked your mother before anyone else. All signs point to an attempt to disable the Looking Glass and prevent its reconstruction.”

“It– Dave?” Richard seems baffled if anything, his brow furrowing, “Dave doesn’t– Dave’s a fucking auto mechanic, he doesn’t know a damn thing about explosives. He shouldn’t even be walking around, he’s actively degrading from Gemini treatments, how…”

Then he pauses, and sighs, a hand coming up to rub between his eyes. “Of course. They– he was in Mazdak’s custody for a little while, and then they just let him go after performing the Gemini process on him. I thought it was sketchy at the time, but mom wouldn’t let me turn him away. He must have been inserted as a Manchurian Candidate…”

An attempt to incur as quietly and unobtrusively as possible in on the conversation to verify Elliot's general safety and wellness fails out in the form of an emotional record scratch as Asi catches the last exchange in the conversation. "Oh," she breathes to herself, pausing with the Bastion door half-opened by one hand, a stack of two pizza boxes flat on the palm of her other. "Shit."

She slides half a step back, waffling in entryways both physical and metaphysical. "Uh…" is the only form of contribution she immediately has as she otherwise scrambles to know if this is something she should walk away from or, well, not. "That's new," comes across from Asi in an awkward whisper. "But Shedda and Mazdak altering the memories of those they touch isn't. Things were drastic for them to weaponize it rather than use it to cover their tracks."

Elliot looks to the side for a moment, attention elsewhere. “One of those pizzas had better be for me,” he says into the air before turning back to Richard. “I hope there’s pizza in Alaska.”

“I remember there was a flickering light in his pupils,” he says after some consideration, “is that an effect of the Gemini process? Have you ever seen him use his ability before?”

“I doubt there’s pizza in Alaska,” Richard replies a bit dryly, but then the question has him frowning in thought, “I wouldn’t say a light, but gold eyes does seem to be symptomatic of Gemini-originated abilities in my experience. Which is deeply worrying since it’s also symptomatic of being influenced by the Entity, but I have nothing to actually connect those two facts.”

“What sort of light? I haven’t seen him use his ability before, admittedly, we– don’t really interact at all.”

Asi wrinkles her nose at Elliot in disapproval rather than reply about the pizzas. Focus, friend. For his sake, though, she does glance at the receipt taped to the top box. "Confirmed," she says at a more conversational level than she means to. "Flickering light likely indicative of something other than Gemini. Immediate user identity doesn't come to mind, either."

Elliot tries to recall with better clarity, though the chaos of the stabbings, the bomb, Wright falling unconscious and dying only to not have died make it a bit hazy. “Kind of like candle light,” he says, “like a candle burning behind his eyes. Not the cool glowing Iris thing that a lot of people have. Word from back home is that this isn’t a standard effect of Gemini ability use.”

“I suppose it could be part of his ability manifestation, like I said, we… don’t really interact. Or see each other. Mom would know,” Richard shakes his head, “I didn’t see– much of what happened, when the attack hit.” Inwardly, he grimaces. He’d never had a full on PTSD attack that bad, and he’s still blaming himself for it.

"Gemini consistently produces a golden-eyed effect," Asi inputs with offhanded dismissal. "I guess the question at hand remains did Mazdak mean to try and stop you, or try to stop anyone else from going in after you."

"Though I don't know what the original question— how you got here in the first place," she notes more awkwardly, once again uncertain if she should ask.

“I’ll have Wright ask,” Elliot says, “just in case it’s helpful, though obviously it’s not a huge deal right now. But if Mazdak used him as a sleeper agent, either he arrived too late to stop the entire transit, or they didn’t care who made it but wanted everyone else dead. The wildest theory would be they wanted us to be here, which is unsettling for any number of reasons. Not a lot of facts to theorize with, I realize.”

Jesus Christ, he thinks. What if that really is it? What if they saw the future and wanted me here, where I can’t do any damage? The body count would certainly be lower in a place that’s already had an apocalypse.

“Oh, they want us here. I don’t know why, but we’re here, which means they want us here,” says Richard with a shake of his head, “Which sounds absolutely insane, I’ll admit, but it’s just safest at this juncture to expect that we’re being heavily manipulated.”

He takes a deep breath, “One of my concerns is that they specifically wanted what I’m… currently in possession of here, since they went to great lengths to make sure I was in possession of it.”

"Huh," Elliot says, pondering what that could possibly be. "All I came through with was a pocket knife and a fistful of drugs." But if you're the problem, maybe I have nothing to worry about.

“I wish that was all I had,” replies Richard dryly, shaking his head, “How much do you know about Kazimir Volken? His ability, specifically.”

"I read Wolves of Valhalla," Elliot says, not expecting this turn. "Re-read it after Sweden, but I have no idea how much of that is applicable to this situation."

“Kazimir Volken’s ability is referred to in the documentation as life force manipulation, but it’s more… complicated than that,” Richard explains, leaning forward and clasping both hands between his knees, “To– the way it– you see–”

He starts, stops, starts again a few times and then sighs, “Fuck, this is complicated. Okay, so…”

“His ability wasn’t originally his,” he tries to get across, “It moves from person to person, generally leaving a person for someone who would otherwise be about to die. There’s a– mindscape attached to it, with the memories of everyone who’s ever possessed the Conduit– that’s what it’s called, the Black Conduit– within it. Volken managed to learn how to ensure that when it was passed on, his personality and memories would overwhelm the new owner, and therefore was hopping from body to body.”

“We believe it was one of the first three abilities created by the Entity. The Black Conduit, the White Conduit, and another that we never had a proper name of, mostly because we only became aware of its existence recently.”

The door thumps closed behind Asi as she steps inside, feeling like an apt sound for the way her mood just dropped. "Fuck," she says to no one in particular.

Elliot can't hide sudden discomfort from displaying on his face—or traveling through the network—as something Richard just said strikes a little too close to home. A mindscape? He has a fucking palace? Processing the rest takes a long moment. "Sorry," he says as the words catch back up with him. "There's pretty much no part of that description that isn't weird. I thought the Entity only altered the abilities of other people, you’re saying it can also create them?”

An some sort of generational memory parasite to boot, as though Rianna Mas Price isn’t enough to worry about. “Also it seems important to point out that Mazdak giving you an ability and letting you go has a familiar, if theoretical, ring to it in regards to Dave. How certain are you that you aren’t a sleeper agent?”

“Unlikely,” says Richard with a faint, brittle smile, “Since they killed me while I was in their custody.”

Elliot gives that comment a moment to settle before trying to grapple with it. After that cool down he remembers that he knows what dying feels like, though he doesn't let the memory get all the way to the surface. The memories. "That's a terrible experience," he says. "Though it just adds another layer of confusion to the Mazdak parfait. They take great pains to give you this transitory, potentially parasitic Conduit only to kill you. But then I have to assume you became not-dead at some point. Wright sends her sympathetic death solidarity." She doesn't, as he's the only one who remembers her dying, but the joke works better this way.

“Other way around.” Richard grimaces, “My– cousin Nathalie. Berlin? You may have met her, she was with Wolfhound for awhile. Avi’s her biological father. She inherited the conduits after a failed attempt to destroy them, back in the day– both of them, the Black and the White. They captured her, too, and…”

“Well. They killed me. She brought me back. There was a price for that, and it killed her.”

The words are simple, plain, but there’s an underlying guilt to it all. He looks down at his hands, adding quietly, “I tried to stop her. But. It was too late. And then they came to me.”

Shaking his head, “I don’t know if they could make me a sleeper agent, honestly, there’re enough people up in my head that might make that problematic.”

In the midst of handing off the pizza in the kitchen area, Asi presses a small smile she doesn't feel when she's offered thanks for the pick-up, silent and screeching feelings of what the fuck held secret in her core. There's a lot to unpack there. Or never unpack. Maybe never is better. Just keep it in its presented box and never touch it unless the need arises.

She sincerely hopes the need never arises.

It all seems like news to Elliot. “That must have been during my retirement,” he says, still coming to grips with the absurdity of a resurrection. There is sympathy for Avi and the tragedies that his family have undergone, but Elliot’s attention is on putting the pieces in order. Avi’s daughter was Richard’s cousin. “My condolences, that must have been awful.”

He’s sad to watch Asi’s pizza go, but doesn’t know what else to say to her reaction. Elliot and Wright have historically assumed that Avi experiencing even one emotion other than anger would kill him on the spot, and gave him as much privacy as they possibly could.

“Was that the outcome they were looking for?” he asks. “You getting the ability from Nathalie, that is. Or did they just not know what they were dealing with?”

“I believe it was, yes,” Richard admits, “Which is absolutely a sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I don’t know why they wanted me to have it, but…” He vaguely motions with a hand, “I suspect it might have something to do with all of this. Which is why I need to stay the fuck away from Gil– Stefanie. She was there at the Captains’ meeting. She has this world’s Black Conduit.”

Leaning back again, he spreads his hands, “Whatever their plans are? No idea. But they’re probably not good, or they’d just, I don’t know, tell me. I’m not an unreasonable man.”

“Anyway, uh. Moving on from that, we’ve got the whole robot issue going on back home. And here, but that’s divergentally related.”

"Yeah," Elliot says, sympathetic to Asi for being an outside observer to this conversation. "That's definitely a whole cluster of varying degrees of fuck. I'm assuming the data Asi and I brought you didn't cover time-traveling synthetic humans?"

He debates just outright letting Richard know, as the man seems to have no problem with keeping secrets from the OEI or any respect for non-disclosure agreements. No sense letting the other man refer to his friend as a robot again if it can be avoided. Either way he wouldn't do it without her permission first.

After a quick review of the Index, he's sure there's nothing in there that can serve to ask that question. And he can't ask her with their new RATT language, as that defeats the purpose of constructing an entire somatic language in order to keep secrets from other network co-hosts. He draws her attention instead to an unindexed memory.

as he settles against the partial wall surrounding the Bastion's rooftop lounge area. "So I have a weird opportunity to present to you," he tells her. "This is probably treason to talk about, but how would you like to hang out in the network while I drive through a hole in reality into an alternate timeline?" He turns away from Richard again for a moment, signaling his intention to talk elsewhere. "You mind if I tell him?"

Plate in hand, dog at heels with nose upturned to the scent of the slices, Asi continues walking to her quarters and lets out a barely audible tone of concession. "Good evening, Richard," she murmurs with faux-cheer. She doesn't harbor the same concerns about being called a robot that Elliot has. She knows what she is, and she knows Richard isn't technical enough to use— "The proper term is android, actually." She clicks her tongue to encourage Aisu to follow her in through the door, then shuts it behind her.

"Asi has been in the network since the day we deployed to the oil rig," Elliot says as his attention returns to Richard. "Android Asi."

"It'd be great if we could learn from that corpse what pieces we're missing that are causing us to deteriorate, but Miller's sketches of our insides were done by memory once he left Castle's bubble. Detailed as they were, they aren't a complete image, and that's not a complete person you were looking at." She sets the plate down, sighing. "The potential that Mazdak did this to us has always been in the back of my mind, for what it's worth. Crane and Kellar's involvement with Galatea points to that suspicion bearing fruit. Verse's involvement— not so much. So while I'd love to draw all these lines that point to Mazdak having the Looking Glass tech, or perfecting it, things don't line up that neatly yet."

"Wherever 'Dave' is, though, if he's still in proximity to Richard's mother, say he gets activated again. A targeted kidnapping would change that," Asi observes unhappily.

Elliot quotes the rest word for word as Asi speaks, just as he did minutes ago for Liz. "An extra-legal kidnapping of Dave or of Michelle?" he asks. "It seems like it would be difficult to keep Dave kidnapped."

An eyebrow lifts up a little past the edge of Richard’s sunglasses, and then he just chuckles a little. “Hey, Asi,” he greets, not that she’s there. He gestures a bit with one hand, “I don’t know what’s going on with Dave right now, or where he is. I assume the OEI have him in a cell somewhere. We haven’t publicized it, but– early Wolfhound testing of the Banshee showed that its effects on a phaser can be best described as ‘scrambled eggs’, so there are ways even outside of negation treatments that he can be held somewhere.”

“Galatea– that’s something that’s entirely Verse’s wheelhouse. He was trying to copy technopaths back in the day, got his hands on Alia and made a crude first attempt at it,” he admits, “We’ve technically had the technology to copy consciousness and memory for some time, but we’ve been hesitant to use it for obvious ethical reasons. The drive you brought filled in the holes for us, but– again, for ethical reasons we’ve kept that door closed.”

Pizza is left forgotten, unease quickly followed by a respect that's more than grudging. Trust is more than a commodity when it comes to technopaths, and Richard laying out in plain language that he knows the risks of his technology and has been avoiding pursuing it for the reasons he has… he's earning it.

He smiles wanly, “Although I suppose that backing up people prior to the solar flare, if we fail out here, would save room on the new Ark. Might explain why the time travelers are androids.”

"Shit," Asi sighs, at last sinking into a seat and reaching for the food. She dutifully ignores the puppy dog eyes and wagging tail that beg for just a morsel. It pains her slightly to do so. "Does that mean I should leverage the Galatea research and advance the SEER tech after all?" She doesn't sound pleased, but neither is she arguing against it by word or tone. "For surviving past the end of the world?"

“It may be a good idea,” Elliot adds after relaying Asi’s question. “Though, with our present knowledge, maybe program a way to let us know what’s going on instead of just sending an evil android into the past of another timeline to fail to keep people from escaping the Flood Ark, I guess.” It’s all very confusing.

“It’s already happened, so it’s up to you at this point, really,” admits Richard a bit wryly, “I was hoping to take the technology in a different direction, since copying people is kind of a terrible idea– no offense– unless they’re suffering from some sort of fatal disease or something like that, I suppose.”

“I’d lay odds that Kravid knows exactly how it all works, though, honestly. Her signature move is stealing other peoples’ technology in every timeline I’ve heard of her, so…”

Just as dryly, Asi counters, "Life-destroying rays of solar radiation likely won't impact anyone on long-enough a schedule to get to the disease stage, but I would argue it meets the fatality criteria." She pauses for a moment to chew on the thought of working collaboratively with Kravid. The pizza is an excellent excuse.

"You know she killed me, right," she finally asks flatly. She doesn't look up from the pepperoni and mushroom, speaking in a disaffected, almost sarcastically offhanded deadpan. "Speaking of the Looking Glass. She took— her Oni, held her at gunpoint, and told her to walk through an open portal with nothing but the clothes on her back. And this is something I experienced for myself when we recovered what was left of her, what— passed over."

Asi presses her tongue to cheek before glancing up. "But logistically speaking, I have high levels of confidence the OEI would bar my access to her."

Elliot feels a ripple of fury that somebody would use humans as test subjects in a Looking Glass experiment rather than literally anything else. He also remembers what happened to that version of Asi, it's still indexed in the Gymnasium.

"Speaking of not trusting Kravid," Elliot says, "Remember when Kellar and Crane managed to escape the op in Canada, but Kravid was sent into the basement with no idea what she was supposed to do there and that's why we bagged her? That one still keeps me up at night. Why they wanted us to take her."

"If it's Mazdak, she's a secondary sleeper agent," he adds, it seems intuitive. "But if she's being kept by OEI, Wright might be able to get close to her. She was allowed to just walk around the oil rig, after all. It's probable she'd have some freedom wherever they're keeping her now."

“She’s an opportunistic bitch, and I’d sleep better if she was six feet under,” is Richard’s dry appraisal of the woman, “Sleeper agent, double agent, even if she’s not a traitor technically, we’d be better off without her. And I say this as someone who’s hired war criminals that I felt deserved a second chance.”

“I think finding out what’s going on with the OEI in general should be a priority– we don’t know what is going on since the attack,” he grimaces, “Just that the most important personnel survived, and we need to know what’s going on now.”

”Which, ah, brings us to Rianna…”

“Wright is moving from Fort Jay to K.C. at some point this evening or tonight,” Elliot says, “there’s a lot of prep for the evacuation ahead of the encroaching wildfire. And we have no idea what conditions will be in the capitol, but Wright can do as much digging as we feel she can get away with.” As for the rest, he gestures to Richard to continue, as he himself has absolutely no clue what to believe about Rianna.

"Fine, you get one piece of cheese," Asi is meanwhile muttering to the tail-awag lab at her feet.

“This one’s… going to take a bit,” Richard admits, head tilting back as he tries to organize the events - the ones that he understands, anyway - in his head, “But she’s the best weapon we have. Okay. So we’re– we’re dealing with two people here.”

“One is Rianna Cardinal. My sister. Grew up on this side of things, with my mom. Apparently sacrificed herself to help connect the Ark’s Looking Glass to the portal we created at Sunspot.”

He pauses.

“The other– ah–.did you ever meet Doctor Jean-Martin Luis? I can’t imagine under good terms, all things considered.”

"If you mean he worked at the Ark," Elliot says, seemingly distracted, "my memories of that period are pretty fucked. As Wright is currently getting a reminder." He closes his eyes for a moment and breathes slowly to help guide her back to center.

"We did a lot of damage to our memories of that time, not understanding how memories get composited," he explains, attention returned but continuing to monitor his posture and breathing. "And what I remember about Site Zero is pretty horrific to begin with."

As if to prove his point, the Bad Memory that's been plaguing him since the week before their arrival stirs in the black waters of his mind. He's on guard now thanks to Wright, and it's easy enough to tread water and let it fall away. Not today, he thinks, I'm so sorry.

“Probably for the best,” says Richard, the tone of his voice very subtly different as he glances away, missing a beat in the conversation.

The other man may have accepted that ‘Ezekiel’ wasn’t actually Richard. Richard, on the other hand, never quite has, and reminders of the atrocities committed in his name always pull at the stitches of guilt deep inside.

“Anyway, uh,” he rakes a hand back through his hair, refocusing on Elliot, “Unrelated to his work there, he had a daughter. Juliette Luis. She died, ah– from Shanti, I believe, back in the seventies. Thing is, her ability was– is– a bit unique.”

“One of its aspects is that she can move from body to body,” he explains, “It’s not really– possession, it’s more… an overlay? It’s hard to explain, and I can tell you that she doesn’t really understand it either. One of her ‘lives’ was as Odessa Price’s mother, Rianna Price.”

“The other aspect– the more important one– is that she can act completely acausally.”

Elliot studies Richard's reaction to what he said carefully, but doesn't seem to find what he's looking for, or doesn't react himself if he finds it.

Despite the familiar way in which Richard speaks of Rianna, there's nothing about the description of her ability that isn't totally alarming. "You're not really making me any less worried with that explanation," he says.

“I mean, you should be,” Richard replies plainly, hands lifting a little palms forward, “She’s terrifying, and she doesn’t even seem to have full conscious control over her ability– if she did, she’d– well.”

A brief shudder passes through him before he suppresses it, “Anyway. The thing is– the Entity existed in all times, and Mazdak has precognitives and predictions on their side. Everything we do, they can potentially predict.”

“But they can’t predict acausal events.”

"We're talking about event alteration here," Elliot surmises. "The reason that the anomaly unconsumed the oil rig and everybody didn't die after all. Is there any chance that she can acause the world to not end, or is her ability limited in scope to something less existentially incomprehensible?" And then the Entity never existed, the end. White sand beach vacation post credits stinger.

“Fuck if I know. Maybe. I don’t think she knows,” admits Richard, “She doesn’t seem to have manifested her ability until her death, and her presence in another’s– identity– seems to leave her less than focused. We thought she’d died in the process of making sure that the Sunspot procedure succeeded– but we thought Rianna had too.”

Wryly, “Apparently we were wrong on both sides, and she promptly inserted herself into the narrative of the OEI. Which is probably why Wright wasn’t believed– as far as anyone in the world except maybe two people can tell, she was telling the truth.”

Asi considers things for a moment, glancing to the side before sighing. "Would… I mean, I'd be worried for Wright. But would approaching her in a private setting and explaining we know what she is and would like her help be worthwhile or…"

She doesn't bother to say hurt. Because of course it could hurt things. What if the reality-writer panicked and decided to write the people who know her secret out of existence?

"Be so catastrophically a bad idea it's not worth the risk," she unhappily settles on instead.

"Wright would be very hesitant to approach Rianna now that she's already tried ratting her out to Gates," he replies. "Though that's not an absolute no."

He ponders the events of the last two weeks as he scratches absently at one eyebrow. "If they have prognosticators," he says grimly and mostly for his own benefit, "and couldn't see the changes Rianna would make, that means their goal was the total destruction of the oil rig, including Wright's death leaving us without communication, and the Virginia Anomaly continuing to grow completely unchecked. At the rate Gateswho also originally fell into the anomalysaid it was originally expanding, that in and if itself could have been a mass extinction event."

He recalls the memory carefully, not wanting to get stuck clinging to the discrepancies, paying attention to the details. "Michelle was nowhere to be seen on the helicopter pad, so potentially no further Looking Glass improvements. Hall and Carrington had made it to the chopper, which presumably never took off. Suresh was helping Wright surf Gates into the void, so no… whatever he gets up to these days. Safe to say nobody made it out alive except us, and I would have been out of play from the moment I instead got a nosebleed." He looks nervous at the admission, something he's experienced before but doesn't want to remember.

“Sounds correct, although we don’t know the actual purpose of the Anomalies,” Richard reminds with a shake of his head, “They might be to destroy the world, they might be for– something else. After what we found in Antarctica…”

He grimaces, “But yes, it’s safe to say that they intended everyone on the rig to die.”
“As far as Rianna’s concerned– don’t approach her, would be my advice. Let Liz handle it– once Odessa’s in touch with her, we have a connection we can use.”

“Wright’s kept it vague regarding getting Rianna and Odessa together,” Elliot says, not bothering to hide the connection that Liz already confirmed for Wright. “Because you were. But is there anything specific you want to pass on if it’s possible for her to make that meet-up?”

“No, I trust them to handle things on their end– Liz knows enough to pass on,” says Richard with a shake of his head, “We’re going to have to play this all pretty much by ear… which will help too, hard decisions and planning solidify things too much.”

A pause, and he looks up, “Mm. Anything I haven’t touched on…”

As Richard wonders what else, Elliot tries to think of something productive to add. There’s clearly a lot of context he’s missing on all of this, but he no longer feels like he can’t ask for clarification. “I have an only tangentially related question, if you’d humor me. I promise to make this one far less complicated than the one I asked in your office before we deployed.”

“Time travel scenario,” he starts. Hopefully less convoluted as well. “A time-traveler goes to their favorite cafe and finds out that they ate the last seasonal pastry the day before. They go back in time a single day, existing alongside the younger version of themself but not interacting with them. Craving the seasonal pastry, they beat themself to the cafe by an hour, buy the pastry, and leave. Does this cause a divergent timeline, or is there some amount of flexibility preceding a threshold of divergence? What happens when they time-travel back to the future—their own present—self-sabotaging seasonal pastry in hand?”

Richard immediately brings one hand up to his forehead to rub against it. “I– all I can answer in is hypotheses you understand, there’s no real– way to have an answer to that question? There’re two possibilities. One is that it creates a divergent timeline, albeit one so slight in differences that travel between the two is essentially impossible because the resonance differential is so low. The other is that there is an amount of flexibility that allows for such alterations.”

He gestures aimlessly, “In the end it’s a pointless question since the end result is - from our viewpoint - the same.”

“Not entirely serious, just building my understanding of temporal mechanics with a very late start and a life-long special interest,” Elliot says in a tone that implies many more such questions at a later date. “Just trying to paint a better gradient between ‘events cannot be altered, there is no free will’ and ‘chaos theory.’” Either end of the scale would have its own ethical implications.

“Here’s a more relevant question,” he offers. “In a perfect scenario, what combination of super-abilities would be necessary to get us all home without a complete set of shear-resistant Looking Glass armors?”

“Singularity generation, electrical generation, resonance control,” replies Richard without skipping a beat, “The first one’s the tricky one, unfortunately.”

“The Looking Glass’s method is– just inherently dangerous,” he admits, “Doing it with abilities is much safer, but… we don’t have those abilities on hand, unfortunately.”

“Alternately, a time traveller could just jump between strings and bring us along, if they knew how.”

“Mateo Ruiz’s ability,” Elliot says in a way that implies he’s not certain about that one. “Or was that Magnes?” He makes a back and forth gesture beside his ear. “Wright’s getting a similar rundown from Liz, still putting it in order. Either way, I’m assuming that’s not a common manifestation?”

“Mateo’s ability was… unique, as far as we know,” Richard admits, “Magnes could do in a pinch – it’s how they left our timeline in the first place – but not ideal. Honestly, our best bet is to hope for Hiro, Walter…”

He shakes his head, “Any of the time-space manipulators. Hell. I’d take Nowak showing up in the Dawn, if we’re hoping for miracles.”

“Is there a Hiro who is alive enough to help us?” Elliot asks. “I’m figuring no. Since, if there was, it would have been a whole lot fucking easier to have him pop over here his own damn self to grab whatever it is that Drucker’s apparently holding on to for us.”

“Your guess is as good as mine, I haven’t seen that asshole in years,” says Richard, glancing back over his shoulder before looking back to Elliot, “And even when I knew him, he… didn’t really grok the idea of timeline-jumping very well. The one time I know he did it, I don’t think he understood what he was doing.”

Elliot chuckles, then sighs and rubs his hands over his face, more out of helplessness than any familiarity with Hiro Nakamura. There’s been a lot of information doled out in the last half-hour and it’s going to take a while to digest it all. “Do they have a billboard around here of people with abilities for loan?” he asks. “Maybe there’s someone we don’t know about who can whip us up a singularity. Shit, plus the electricity and vibration stuff, we’re already missing the easy ones.”

“I’ve got faith,” Richard says simply and without explanation, one shoulder coming up in a shrug.

“You and Asi have any more questions?”

"I'm a bit distracted, going back to the Praxis files for now to…" Elliot already knows, though, presumably. Asi shakes her head as she focuses on the laptop in front of her again. Aisu has given up on her in this interim. "But keeping a close eye on what abilities are available in your environment is a good call. Don't get shot for looking like you're poaching, though."

"… Too much to do, not enough of me to do it," Asi laments as an afterthought to herself alone, a familiar pang of longing for her missing subprocesses interrupting her productivity.

Elliot nods in response to Asi’s statement. “I can lend you some processing power if you want,” he offers. “I need to let all this information simmer in the background for right now anyway.”

His attention returns to Richard, expression going through a series of changes as he tries to work out his phrasing beforehand. “It looks like Wright isn’t deploying immediately,” he says. “Which means she’ll be going to Aurora’s birthday party tonight with Ames. If you need anything, or want to say anything…” he offers an open hand, palm up. “I’ll be here.”

“I–” The reminder that it’s his daughter’s birthday hits Richard all at once, and he trails off in mid-sentence. He looks at the other man for a long moment in silence, expression hard to read, and then he’s shoving up to his feet. “I don’t– I mean–”

His lips twist a bit to cut off his uncertainty, and he just gives his head a tight shake, turning away towards the exit, “I’ll let you know.”

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