Secrets Of Vinyl


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Scene Title Secrets of Vinyl
Synopsis Richard and Robyn reveal secrets hidden in plain sight.
Date February 6, 2020

The soft pop of a vinyl record playing jazz music floods the air.

"So…" Charlotte Roux hasn't known how to start the conversation they need to have. Seated at a lab table with her fourth cup of coffee in hand. "Do you think we'll make it out of this alive?" Across the table, Richard Drucker cuts a handsome silhouette, adjusting the positioning of the needle, cutting out the music at the same moment.

"No point in thinking about that," Drucker says, setting the needle down into the record's lock groove. "Arthur could come in here right now and have us both shot because he didn't like the color of our shirts," he says with a quick look over to her. "If I spend my life worrying about what desperate maniac is going to kill me, I wouldn't be able to enjoy any of it."

Charlotte nods, hiding her uncertain expression behind a mug of coffee. Finishing the setup, Drucker moves over to the console computer set up beside Charlotte. "Why?" He asks opaquely, entering a series of keystroke commands.

"Why what?" Charlotte asks as she sets down her coffee, threading some hair behind one ear as she watches Drucker work.

"Why are you wondering if we'll survive?" He asks, glancing over at her again.

Charlotte smiles, nervously, then looks away. "I just… I never thought my life would end up like this." She admits with an anxious laugh. "I'm a music history major from France," comes with a bubble of laughter. "Then one day my hands start glowing and they won't stop and suddenly I'm…" she stares into the coffee, "I'm traveling the world, studying astrophysics, I…"

"It feels a little unreal," Drucker says, hitting enter on the keyboard. There's a whirring sound from the recorder nearby. "I know. I wanted to retire to Bhutan."

Drucker looks up to Charlotte, then down to her coffee, angling his head to the side. "Is there booze in that?" He asks, to which Charlotte smiles in a guilty but sheepish sort of way. "You were holding out on me?"

"You wanna get hammered?" Charlotte asks, reaching into her jacket to pull out a slim metal flask.

"We might die tomorrow," is Drucker's response.

Charlotte laughs, teeth toying at her bottom lip.

"I hope not."

Thirty Six Years Later

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office
Data Processing Lab

February 6th, 2020

“Alright, I have no idea what to do from here so it’s your show, Alia.”

The data processing lab is not somewhere that Richard Ray gets to very often, because he’s been firmly told not to touch anything in the room after the first time he visited it. Surrounded by all sorts of input machines and computer racks, he steps away from the pristine white counter-top that holds a milk crate filled with vinyl jazz records in the original sleeves, his arms sweeping to either side.

“I don’t even know what a ‘lock groove’ is to be honest.”

He swiftly pulls his arms back in so he doesn’t accidentally touch anyone, and steps fully out of the way to let the people who understand the secrets of vinyl and data deal with this sort of thing. He knows when it’s someone else’s show.

What Alia has set up is… actually stupid simple. It's a record player. With RCA jack outs. Currently feeding into a laptop. She's… making a recording of the record, it'd seem. MP3 maybe? Either way, she'll be cutting the part of the audio at the end for a seperate file copy too. "Easy. and backup copy for you?" She asks Robyn as she does the work with at least a modicum of care. "… also, so glad didn't have to find an original." She grumbles. Yup, the laptop has a cycle-count accurate spectrum emulator loaded up…

"A lock groove is, in simplest terms, exactly what it sounds like. Unlike normal recording grooves, once the needle hits it it stays locked in that groove." Robyn stands with an arm folded across her chest, holding a jewel case with a DVD inside of it, and the other gripping the head of a cane. She looks unusually… smart, gray eyes framed by glasses and her hair pulled up. She looks past Alia and over to Richard, grinning.

"Some musicians use it artfully. An old example would be the Beatles, or Joy Division. A more recent one would be Gorillaz and The Format," she notes, nodding. "They tend to come at the end of records. Recording into one is rather brilliant." Turning her attention back to Alia's equipment, she rolls her shoulders. "Sorry I showed up so last minute, by the way. Thanks for letting me be a part of this, Richard."

“They are literally your records,” Richard points out with a bemused look to Robyn, one hand coming up briefly before falling, “And before you, your mother’s records. Not only would I not dream of not letting you be a part of it, I was surprised when you didn’t want to be in the first place.”

He chuckles, shaking his head, “You deserve to know what’s on those as much as any of us. Except maybe for S.Attva, since a part of him— it? Them? Fuck, what pronouns do I use with a technopathic entity made up of three people, broken apart, and put back together? I’m too old for this shit.”

He is not.

"Them/they, likely." Alia offers, helpfully. It takes, well, the length of time it takes the record to play. Then Alia eyes up the resulting file in an editor. Copies out the part that repeats as the lock groove. Then it's fed into the emulator, which, literally, just plays the sound back to the emulated chips, the same way it'd heard it if it was plugged in, ages ago… "Odd computer choice for this." She finally adds, as she likely has to tweak the audio settings a few times to sound like a really bad tape deck. Thankfully none of them are listening to the copy she's teasing into shape… finally, loading… and a run command, or rather, that they could be listening to nothing. Prankster Alia apparently left the computer's volume up! Which she hits enter on without another word.

"We could just ask him," Robyn supplies, glancing over towards Richard. "That said… I spoke to him last night." Eyes angles back towards the equipment, and then close. "He seemed fine with he then, so until he corrects me…" It's a curious thing that never occurred to her. Would an entirely digital entity even subscribe to the concept of gender as a way of identification? Or would they be held into such a construct by the remnants of their previous selves?

Food for thought, just on another day.

"He's actually the reason I'm here," she admits after a moment of silence. "I wasn't planning on coming. And then I took your advice, Richard." Normally, there'd be some sort of teasing in her tone or a follow up remark - this time, there's nothing but just a simple flatness. "He gave me much to think about." Holding up the jewel case, she waves it back and forth once. "And some more information."

Sucking in a deep breath, she nods. "These records have everything on them, I think. As far as their research goes, and as much as they could fit. This is my mom's legacy as much as it is her records." Looking back up, she sighs. "And Drucker's, and I think I want to honour that just as much."

“I suppose the three personalities involved were all male when they were alive, so… yeah, he works I guess,” Richard admits, one gloved hand coming back to push back through his hair, “And they were working in an outpost that was probably set up in the seventies, Alia, they had to work with what they had.”

A brow lifts to Robyn, then, “Oh? Good, I’m glad you did… man, the hard one’s going to be telling Niki.” His lips twist in a bit of a grimace, “Whenever we find her. Wherever she is. Shit, I should— anyway.”

The record begins to spin, the first of many in the box collected from the Antarctic research facility. Thelonious Monk’s Genius of Modern Music: Volume 1. Rather than the rhythm of 1940s jazz, there is instead a shrill sound that screams from the record in a cadence familiar to anyone who grew up with the internet prior to the age of DSL or Cable modems. It’s an analog modem shriek.

What would take a mundane technician time to adjust for, Alia does with a thought. The analog audio data is transcribed directly into digital information. The lock groove on these records is a quarter inch wider than they should be, and from inspection of each disc the lock grooves aren’t self-referential and perfectly circular. On a casual glance they appear to be, but instead they are a second series of tracks roughly three minutes long from the playback speed.

The calculations aren’t that hard; at 33 RPM with a three-minute track utilizing analog audio data compression, equates to roughly 30 mb of data per side. Which, while it may not seem like much, 30 mb of data in 1984 was a wealth of information. This, coupled with the stack of nine records confirmed to have these special tracks, is just over half a gigabyte. It’ll just take time to record it all.

Alia stares at the nine records, two sides each. 18 tracks. Assuming whatever it spat out was remotely readable/understandable, then all is good. Time she can't really speed up without distorting the audio too much, so it's just gonna take, well, at least a halfhour to an hour just to get the lockgroves clean and adjusted. Preferably without piercing everyone's eardrums. Finally, Alia sighs. "Glad didn't put this on tape." Because preserving and recovering old tape is way, way worse than this.

"Oh, I could have lived my entire life without hearing noise like that again." Robyn winces, eyes squeezing shut. "I don't know that I expected it to be instant, but I hope it doesn't take too long." Turning to Richard, she offers him the jewel case. "Here's most of the data S.Attva provided me with. I don't know if what we have here will render it redundant, but…"

One eye twitches, sound still echoing in her ear. "At the very least, they'd figured out something was coming. I don't understand all of it, but all of this data and solar readings… they predicted far into the future on this. I don't know exactly what they were doing but it seems incredible. There's a video too, but- it's not with the rest of the data." They'll watch that later, if the time warrants.

"Be careful with how much stress you put the vinyl under," she notes, turning back to Alia. "Vinyl from the 80s tends to stay in better condition that previous years, but it's still before 140 and 180 gram vinyl became the norm. This is thinner, probably 80 gram; we're lucky it has as wide a lock groove as it does and that it hasn't already been broken or damaged."

Richard grimaces at the analog shriek that comes from the groove, one hand coming up to cover an ear and the side of his head with a gloved hand. “…do we need to be here listening to it, or can we go into the break room on this floor and wait, because that is the worst sound I’ve heard since the time Quentin Frady interviewed me.”

He nods a little at Robyn’s cautioning Alia regarding the records. Yes, those are certainly all words she said.

Alia grins and just mutes the computer. Silence once again reigns. "We need to come back to switch records." Then Alia pauses in thought. She looks over at the computer which opens a couple menus, then she frowns. "Also, figure out where breaks in code are after that." Because the creators of this data couldn't cheat and make the processor do things the processor straight up couldn't, much less the other lacks of the original hardware, means there's no fewer than 240 different load programs in this collection. And yes, the former librarian archivist is using the most delicate turntable she could find currently. Not -quite- as good as the laser scanning ones for that, but it's the next best thing.

"Well," Robyn starts, pushing up her glasses. "It's a good thing we have a technopath helping us out, then." Turning back to Richard, she nods. "If we have time, we could run and get some food. Discuss this," she says with a motion to the jewel case, "while we wait for that to finish. Besides, bringing it back and not disseminating all this on an empty stomach sounds great."

There's a small chuckle as she looks up and past Richard, into the distance. "I promise it'll go better than our last lunch." A small smile forms on her face,a finger threading hair back behind her ear. "Otherwise, maybe I can wow you with more vinyl information. I learned a lot both from getting my record pressed, and from working at Studio K."

“Yeah, we can review whatever he gave you,” Richard motions a bit to the case, “And see what’s on there— there’s some snacks in the break room. Probably food, even! I’m not absolutely sure, I don’t get down here much…”

He looks around at all the unfamiliar equipment, “Mostly because I have no idea what most of this is.”

Alia shrugs, and grabs a spare laptop to toss the disc into. "It's stocked." This is one of her favorite places in the building and likely knows how half or better the room works. She grabs the AC adapter. "Let's go." She says as she sets a timer on her phone for when the entire platter has been recorded so she can come back to flip it over for side B. Time consuming since she's not going to risk the scratches or bounces an automatic mechanism could cause.

Robyn's eyes shift over to Alia and she offers the other woman a hesitant smile before turning her attention back to Richard. "To be fair?" she offers with a small laugh, "Neither do I. Before this the idea of recording data to vinyl like this never would've occurred to me. It's like a mixed media CD long before those were a thing. Remember those? I had-"

The way she stops herself is abrupt, shaking her head. "Uh, anyway. I don't have the head for this kind of stuff, for connecting dots, like you do Richard. But even what I could gather about it looking over it last night was fascinating. It's almost like they were charting solar activity into a predictive model. One that…" She sucks in a deep breath. "One that nailed the period of the overlays last year."

“I’m not really surprised…” Richard follows along behind Alia, shaking his head a little, “You remember those big— dishes, from down in the land of ice and snow? My mother identified those as something to study solar activity.”

A glance to her, “If these records have the information about that model, we could know when the superstrings are going to overlay again— it’d be invaluable information. Even if we just knew when they were going close we could at least monitor quantum radio traffic.”

Muttering as he walks to the break room, “…maybe we could get the rest of the fucking broadcast that I sent myself that way.”

Alia follows along, "Connecting dots, he's good. Just don't ask him to find the dots." She teases ever so lightly. Once inside the break room, with its ever present coffee pot, and fridge, and a table and chairs, she sets the laptop down, turning it on and making sure it's still the wiped clean other than a basic install, no network frills… juuuust in case. "Should be some cheese in fridge." She says, tone implying an offering to share. And indeed, there's what appears to be a good sized cheese tray, in the form of three different cheeses in slices, on a plate, with some butter crackers, covered by plastic wrap.

It's likely the height of Alia's cooking capabilities, to be honest.

"Oh… that's right." Robyn's walking pace slows a bit as she remembers the trip to Antarctica. "I forgot about the dishes. That-" Her teeth rake across her bottom lip, a small sigh escaping her lips. "Like Fort Hero." She falls silent for a moment as she follows behind Richard, eyes unfocused as her cane clicks across the floor. "What I hope is going to be on those records is something called Project Amaterasu," she remarks after a moment.

"It's something they were working on using solar energy as far as I could tell. Something to fight this…" She raises a hand and waves it back and forth. "Entity. Mum, I think she could- manipulate solar energy or something similar? I wish I had a way to show you what I've seen. It's a lot easier than explaining it."

Richard drops down to a chair in the break room, leaning back with a slightly furrowed brow. “Interesting… we don’t really know why we’re affected by solar cycles,” he admits, “We just know that we are. There was the powerless situation awhile back— eclipses work strangely— maybe they knew something we didn’t. Or maybe it can affect them…”

He grimaces, “We have a tape, but it’s— mental impressions? Memories recorded to tape somehow. One of them is an eclipse moving across the sky without the sun or moon separating.”

Alia decides not to ask how memories ended up on tape. Having moved them, once, to MPEG, via a lot of work between a telepath, herself, and the person who witnessed what Cat wanted in video form… the idea of making the extra hop to analog tape is just a bit much for her and she instead just gets herself one of the cheese bits to snack on for herself, as she pops open the optical drive on the laptop for Robyn to put the disc in when she's ready.

Robyn doesn't make that move quite yet, though the case is laid down next to the laptop. "Just picturing that is unsettling," she replies with a small laugh. She doesn't move to sit or anything else, instead staring off.past Richard with a vague sense of anxiety. "I have a memory. Or well, a recording of a viewing of a memory because nothing is ever simple anymore. S.Attva gave it to me. Its- from Hana's perspective, so I didn't want to just be showing it around."

Crossing her arms, her shoulders sag as she closes her eyes and lowers her head just slightly. "I feel like I've seen more of mum in the last few months than I had in the last few years before she passed. I never knew she was so damn brilliant."

With a blink, she smiles and looks back at Richard. "Anyway. It's clear that whatever The Company had them working on, it was aimed at understanding and combating it, and that my mom was.pretty dedicated to it. And that it cost Sticker his physical life."

“It wasn’t even the creepiest thing on those tapes,” Richard shudders slightly, and then he looks back to Robyn with a brow’s raise, “Mnm. Hana’s— it must have been from Walter, then. Heh. You know, somehow it never occurred to me that a technopath could just record a memory, but in hindsight…”

He scratches a hand under his jaw, “It makes a lot of sense.”

Then he’s offering her a rueful smile, “Trust me, I know how you feel. Finding out about my mother, after what I’d been told all my life…”

Alia stiffens at the mention of Hana's name. There's… a sadness there, then a sigh as the technopath shakes her head. Whatever she is thinking, though, she doesn't put into words, either from a lack of desire, or ability.

But then Alia outright snorts, and smiles at Richard. She's -given- the man a few recorded moments as video before, but that was years before. Finally, she quips. "So much to figure out. Remember when this used to be easy? Just worrying about DoEA, racists, and Rupert?" Alia, it seems, is feeling old.

"I don't know of that was easier so much as is it was that we has less red tape." Glancing over at Alia, Robyn offers the other woman a thing smile. "Being a revolutionary is a whole different ball game from being in charge." It's still a strange thing to reflect on after all these years.

"Walter's been busy. Besides what he showed Hana, he visited me yesterday. With Eve and Corbin and…" Lips quirk back and forth, "Hokuto, who I didn't even know was still alive." Maybe before S.Attva she might not have considered that alive, but things change quickly in this world. "Anyway, this should be a nice companion to whatever's in those records."

“Yeah. He’s been working… very hard, I know he’s visited a— “ Richard trails off, then, some of the colour fading from his face as he stares back at Robyn.

“Did you— “

“Did you just say Hokuto is still alive? Hokuto? The Nightmare Man?”

There's a pause. It's a long one. Then Alia finally makes a sound. It's a rather confused sounding laughter. "… said it at her grave. Cards said her story wasn't done." She shakes her head, and doesn't even ask. She then addresses the other side. "Of course easier. We knew the other side -could- be beat then. Even direct ways how. Just had to find ways to implement."

"The what?" Quirking an eyebrow, Robyn looks a little somewhere between confused and disinterested. "Look, don't- Don't worry about it. We can discuss it later." Finally, she moves over to a chair and pulls it out, offering the jewel case over to Alia. "Privately. No offence, Ms. Chavez."

Setting the cane against the table, she crosses both legs and arms. "Later," she reiterates, before Richard can protest. "After we finish what we're here for."

Richard’s nostrils flare, a breath drawn in - all his body language screaming anger - and he closes his eyes, chin dipping a bit in one nod, then two. The shadow behind him briefly blurs at the edges, more smoky, before he regains control once more.

“Yeah,” he finally says, “Later. Let’s— let’s review the disc.”

Alia raises an eyebrow. There's obviously a lot here she doesn't know. So she just sighs and shrugs, as she takes the disc and loads it up. "… Strange, three people know a fourth but maybe not know that eachother knows her." She notes, then pokes about the disc to see if it's audio, video, or data, and how to best display the contents. Which leads to her likely hooking the laptop up to the break room's TV screen. Because bigger is sometimes better.

Robyn's gaze levels with Richard's, appraising his reaction - clearly there's some history here she doesn't know about, and from the reaction she finds herself unsure if she wants to know. A finger raches up, pushing her glasses back up her nose. "Later." Clearly she's hit a nerve, and it's tough on her poker face not to let any other thoughts slip through.

Relaxing back in her seat a bit, she looks to Alia. "It's the collected data S.Attva was able to provide me about mum and Drucker's research, I think from what he could glean out of the vision Hana saw. Like I said, I can put together some of it, but this kind of technical information was never my forte."

“Mine either, although I’ve picked some things up over the years,” Richard admits, turning his head to the television screen as Alia sets it up, “Whatever we can find out to contextualize things, the better. I feel like half my issue is a lack of context.”

He’s pushing whatever just rose up back now, turning his back on it. But it’s out of its locked door, and he’ll have to deal with that later.

"… Solar activity, hot spots… 'eureka' spot." She mutters then blinks. "Crap. Overlay prediction was spot on." She considers the implications of that. "Use to build our own predictive model?" She theorizes one good use for the data at least. She puts the data up, showing the range of dates they examined, and the spike between November 2018 and February 2019. She also puts over -that- data from elsewhere. Data points are marked in showing known Overlay events. Alia also takes the tracking and prediction data and transfers it to her own phone to shove onto a computer shortly. She has ideas, but will likely need time to sit down with them to make them into something useful.

"Huh." It's a sound tinged with just the slight bit of tangible surprise. "Maybe I understood this a bit better than I thought." Her lips curl in a smug smile, flashed for just the briefest of moments. It fades just as quickly, Robyn sinking a bit into her chair. Fingers drum on the table, and she fixes her gaze back on Richard.

"Welcome to my life as of late. People keep coming to me, telling me what I should do and trying to get me involved in things. But I don't have any of the real context for it." She states part Richard for a long moment, before craning her head back. "At least I've been able to piece together some things."

“It’s like putting a puzzle together without the picture of what it’s supposed to look at,” Richard says with a grimace, “I’m getting more pieces from people, but I still can’t quite make out the whole. I think we’re being purposefully obfuscated. The string map seems to indicate that it’s all— part of a greater design. A greater plan. But I don’t know who’s pulling those strings.”

He regards the data, nodding a little, “Alright… well, if their predictive model is on those vinyls, we should be able to figure out when the next ‘danger period’ is, at least.”

Alia considers. 30 MB of this kind of data, but in it's bare minimal form, as a ZX user would have done. She nods to Richard. That would be enough that she likely could rebuild most the model they had, give or take. Or hand off the data to someone who could at the very least. "I'll go switch platter. You two talk out whatever. Ping me when I'm okay to step in." She picks up her phone, leaving the laptop on the table behind her.

A frown forms across Robyn's lips as Alia rises up and makes her way from them, looking off towards the side. "This wasn't what I meant by later," she remarks in a low voice. "But if you want to get this out of the way now we can. I have a few things I wanted to say privately," she notes. "Nothing bad, just… Concerns. Thoughts."

Giving a noncommittal shrug, she turns to look back at Richard. "With any luck, it won't be that much longer until the data is done being copied anyway."

“Hopefully not,” Richard agrees, and then he leans a bit to rest an arm on the table, looking back to Robyn then with a frown, “So what’s up?”

With the ball so quickly thrown back into her court, Robyn seems a little caught off guard. Her frown doesn't fade as she sits up and takes in a deep breath. "I wanted to show you the video of what Hana saw, but… just to you. It already feels like an invasion of privacy sharing it at all, but…" It'll be fine is implied in the way she pulls out her phone and begins to fiddle with it.

"And… I know you and I have spoken at length about my ability. When I was looking to recapture it, when it finally did resurface… different." Looking up from her phone to him, she sets it down in front of him, ready to play. "I was wondering if your people have made any progress on SOD and identification. Back when I finally went to see Julie, at Elmhurst, she told me that I had my concept of my ability wrong. That I'd been trying to pull trucks with my teeth. But what I do now? It's not even anything like what I used to."

She leans back again, crossing her arms. "I beginning to wonder if my ability is a mutation of my mother's."

The video on Robyn’s phone entitled 05/17/84 begins to play, cutting into a familiar surrounding to them both: Antarctica.

Snow whips across an endless expanse of white and jagged gray.

Mountains blend into the whiteout, visible for only fleeting moments between the billowing and voluminous drifts of stinging cold that steals breath and already works at freezing exposed flesh. In the gloom of the cold, in these twilight hours that hang perpetual across the vast expanses of cold, a pair of headlamps shine bright and golden through the blue. Steel treads have cut a path through the snow where the red-painted body of a snowcat idles loudly outside an elevated, octagonal building of bare steel with long, dark, rectangular windows.

Seeing Antarctica wells up a feeling in Robyn's stomach, one she has yet to figure out exactly how to identify. It lies somewhere at a crossroads between regret, curiosity, emptiness, and almost strange sort of nostalgia. "If I ever have to see that much snow again, again, it'll be too soon," she grumbles, also fighting back memories of a whiteout many years ago. One that had also changed the course of her life.

A lone figure approaches the structure, his blood red parka trimmed with fur, face covered by a full mask of insulated fiber and yellow-tinted goggles. He trudges through the hard-packed, icy snow, then looks up to the stairs ascending to the building where it is suspended off the ground by columns of white-painted steel. No flags fly on this structure, no identifiers of nationality.

In this twilight, there is just snow and the dim blue glow across the horizon of a sun that set long ago.

A sun that may well be setting for humanity.

Sealed behind an airlock to keep out the cold, the red-clad man begins stripping off the layers of his arctic survival gear. Gloves come first, to facilitate the remainder of his work. Fingers chilled to the bone in spite of their protection shakily work at buttons and toggles to remove the parka, two hands sweep back the fur-trimmed hood revealing chin-length wavy brown hair. As the goggles come up, blue eyes survey the dimly lit interior, and as the facemask comes down, a bear flecked with ice is already melting.

Richard Drucker looks just as he did in the handful of old photographs that ever existed of him. But up close it is his height and the intensity of his stare that is most striking, as if somehow the photographs weren’t able to convey the sense of presence he had when he became T. Monk in a decade yet to come. “Charlotte?” He calls out, boots tracking melting ice and snow as he walks deeper into the cramped, submarine-like confines of the research facility.

“I suppose there may be some elements of surreality to be experiencing this as you are,” comes not from Drucker, but from the white-haired phantom in the room that can neither be seen nor heard by those that belong in these moments. Walter Renautas turns to look directly at person he is showing these images to.

“I’m not gonna lie, it almost feels like he can see us,” Richard murmurs as he looks back at Walter, suppressing a shiver. The man unstuck in time is slightly disturbing even knowing he’s a friendly face.

Back here!” calls an unfamiliar woman’s voice, echoing from the other side of the small complex. Drucker ducks his way through a doorway, following the sound of the voice and a distant glow of faint blue light. Though the world does move around them, Hana can’t help but fall in stride as she follows. It is an awkward process, but one that eventually feels like second nature in a world as illusory and ephemeral as anything digital could be.

"I do kind of hate this," Robyn admits as she brings a chair over to sit next to Richard. "It feels so… voyeuristic. On two levels deep now." Arms cross, tilting her phone so that it's case forms a proper stand. "But there's also a strange sort of comfort in it."

Drucker passes through a laboratory, one that seems to draw a moment of inspection from Renautas as the old phantom pauses and inspects a chalkboard scrawled with mathematical equations and a large circle surrounded by tight bands of additional concentric rings, waves of lines coming from the far side of the board. The phrase X-Class is written nearby to the equations. Hana recognizes some of the mathematics from her time aboard a Chinese space shuttle bound for a Company satellite some years ago. They’re astrophysics, specifically involving gravity and mass.

“When was the last time you checked the satellite feed?” Drucker asks hastily, continuing through the doorway on the other side of the lab. “The SDO at Goddard picked up a huge flare this morning. This might be the one we were waiting for!” As Drucker moves through the doorway, Renautas looks back to Hana with one brow slowly raised. He pauses, noticing something sitting on one of the shelves at the edge of the lab. A crude wooden box, filled with wires and angular pieces of metal in the shape of…

…a compass.

"…fuck." Robyn's hands run down her face as the sight of the compass. She had watched the video before now, but it's only here, in the presence of Richard and all the memories that tend to well up in that situation, that she finally recognises the compass for what it is. "Fuck."

Renautas starts to reach for the compass, then curls his fingers in toward his palm. “This looks like something I fashioned,” he says in a small, hushed voice. “Except… I have no recollection of having made one in 1984.” His blue eyes move back to the disappearing silhouette of Richard Drucker through the doorway.

"And after 1984?" is spoken in Hana Gitelman's voice to Walter, just a hair shy of sharply pointed.

“I had a few more years left in me,” Renautas says casually as he starts toward the door out of the lab, “in which my confidence in the entire apparatus was quite shaken. I took my research on those devices and put them somewhere the likes of Arthur Petrelli or Daniel Linderman wouldn't get them. A device designed to track any people of a minority group is…” He shakes his head. “Ghoulish, when given historic precedent.”

“…huh. I didn’t realize that it was Walter that built the first of these,” Richard murmurs, his brow knitting, “It was inevitable, though, that they’d be invented. Someone would have realized that we can be detected like this. I wonder if the Carnival stumbled on the research, actually… that would make a lot of sense.”

"Well. That failed," Hana states with some acerbity.

As the pair make their way from the lab into another connection of narrow hallways they pass by junctions that lead off to other wings of the facility, something like a recreation room down one hallway, a small kitchen down another. “I passed on before the turn of the millennium,” Renautas goes on to say. “Or so that's what my granddaughter has educated me on. I don't… recall the moment, precisely. I may have been asleep.”

Another voice cuts over Renautas’ reminiscence on his own mortality, coming from a doorway up ahead where the blue glow of a television fills the darkness with cool shades of electronic lighting. “That explains why the hairs on my arms have been standing up all day,” the woman’s voice says softly.

“I came back as soon as I could.” Drucker is heard saying, and as Hana and Renautas creep around the corner they find an office with but one darkened and narrow window in it. The walls are a sanitarium white, with a television mounted in the upper corner of the room playing an Argentinian news broadcast with the sound off. A headline in Spanish on the screen reads Fuerzas Iraníes en estancamiento en Irak.

Most of the room is filled with computer equipment sitting on an L-shaped desk pushed into the corner. Several IBM computers and two black and green monochrome monitors hum softly, and though Hana can hear the chattering of their hard disks accessing data, they are like ghosts to her; ephemeral and unreal. A dark-haired woman sits at the desk, turned with her back to the computers and attention up on where Drucker has come into the room.

“We’ll need to get out of here after the flare,” Drucker says with a motion to the darkened window, “we’ve barely got a day of sunlight left, there's no way we can keep working here through the winter in the dark.” He eyes the computer behind her, “do we have all the data we need?”

Renautas narrows his eyes slowly. “I don't know her,” he says with some amount of suspicion.

"Charlotte Roux," Hana supplies absently. "A painter, by trade."

“Well that wasn’t the whole truth, clearly,” Richard comments dryly.

That comment elicits a dry laugh from Robyn, strained and uncertain. "And yet, all anyone ever knew until the last few years. I still wonder when she learned to paint, if she was so busy with astrophysics. Maybe someone implanted the skill into her." Or she just worked hard at it like any other normal person, who knows. "Strange that she didn't tell Renautas more. She clearly knew who my mom was."

Silence is Renautas’ response to Hana’s remark, coupled with a momentary furrow of his brows that implies he doesn't fully know the truth. As the most likely possibility sets in, he exhales a sigh and looks down to the floor as Charlotte Roux speaks up again.

“We need to wait for the storm, at least. If this is an X-Class it'll tell me everything I need to know about how the effects of solar radiation impact that thing’s ability to manipulate genes on the fly.” Roux turns to her computer and starts keying in commands, backing out of one program and executing another that shows a line chart of several different types of cosmic radiation, including electromagnetic. “I did this while you were gone,” she says, pointing to the pixelated chart.

Drucker leans in, resting a hand on the back of Charlotte’s chair for balance. “This is you?” He asks, blue eyes flicking to Charlotte and back again. “This plateau,” he traces his fingers across the screen, “it's higher than before. We talked about this, you can't— ”

Robyn motions at the screen, almost going to point at the chart - something that's rather hard to do with a screen as small as her phone's. "This is what I'm talking about when I say she did… something with solar energy. I don't even know what I'd call that, and I…" She trails off for a moment, forming. "No, I did know someone who did something with solar energy, years ago. Didn't he get dragged into space?"

“Heliokinesis. Yeah, he was on the mission to take out the Company’s satellite,” Richard says, squinting down at the screen, “I’d kill for a heliokinetic, honestly, given what we’ve discovered recently…”

"Yeah, well… I feel like that need is only going to grow," Robyn half grumbles, trying to relax back in her seat.

“No,” Charlotte interjects, turning to look up at Drucker. “I talked, you lectured me. If we don't figure this out we're all good as dead, aren't we? After Canada how many of us are even left?” That comment had Drucker straightening up and leaning away from the chair. “I know you don't trust Charles, or any of them, and neither do I, but they need us, Richard. The whole damn world does.”

Exhaling a sharp breath through his nose, Drucker propels himself away from Charlotte’s seat and directly through Hana and her falcon as if they were the ones who were immaterial. Drucker laces the room, raking a hand through his hair. “I know, I know. But we can't keep… we keep handing them tools to oppress us. I don't want to be a part of their future, I don't want them to keep an eye on me.”

“Then we dismantle it,” Charlotte says as she pivots her chair to face Drucker. “When this is done, we destroy the research. The compasses, the Looking Glass, the dish— we burn Fort Hero to the ground if we have to.” She closes the distance between them and places a hand on Drucker’s shoulder. “But after we save the world.”

It's with a deep sigh of resignation that Drucker looks to Charlotte’s hand and nods, then slips out from under the contact and makes his way over to her computer. “Just promise me,” he says with a hint of bitterness in his tone, looking from the computer screen and back to Charlotte, “you won't burn yourself out.” Then he looks down to her midsection and back up. Anxiously, Charlotte rests a hand on her stomach and nods. “Don't do that to Conner or your child.”

A thin, similarly resigned sigh escapes Robyn's lips. "Good thinking, mum. Wish it had worked out that way." But as the pair go on, that's when Robyn starts to fidget uncomfortably in her seat, looking off to the side at the mention of her father. "I still can't believe so much of this happened right before… and I guess after I was born."

Her lips purse, and her gaze angles down slightly. "Yeah, I see it too," she remarks to no one in particular.

“They aren’t so much different from us,” Richard points out as he watches the video, “At this time, the Company wasn’t much different from— Phoenix, or Endgame, or the Ferrymen in many ways.”

"Time is a flat circle," Robyn states somewhat flatly. "Like the records we have decoding, always spinning, always repeating. The needle reaches the middle, and we move it back outside and start again." Huffing out a breath, she looks over at Richard. "Still, it's nice to know she was doing good before the Company became unhinged. I hope she wasn't around for that."

Renautas looks away from the pair, to Hana. “This is what I have been trying to understand. Whatever it is they are researching, preparing for, but the pieces are missing. This is too far in their future, too close to whatever happened. I can't see the whole picture.” He looks back to Hana, “do you have it in you for one more… search?” His brows rise. “We need context.”

Drucker walks away to pull up a chair, dragging it across the floor to beside Charlotte. “Let's go over the data again,” he says with a resigned sign to her silence. But the data isn't what Renautas is here for, nor Hana.

The file ends.

Robyn is aware of one more video file on memory.

Still looking off to the side, Robyn lingers for a moment before she turns back and picks up her phone. "There's another," she says quietly. "I… didn't watch this one yet. I had some trouble after the last one. And it was late." Sure, that's what it was.

“I can imagine that you had a lot of… emotions after seeing that,” Richard says, starting to reach out - then realizing what he’s doing and pulling a gloved hand back before he touches her arm. “I don’t blame you a bit. Do you want to watch this next one, then?”

"Yeah." A single reply to multiple observations, made as Robyn reaches over and picks her phone back up. "I had promised myself that I'd back off from looking into my mother, that maybe some things aren't meant to have closure. BUt that video and some things S.Attva said have left me with more questions than I had expected."

She pauses for a moment, rewinding the footage back to the moment where Charlotte tells Drucker about the tests she ran herself and lets it play. "S.attva told me he didn't believe Drucker and my mother were in a platonic relationship. Watching this, I can't see it. Might just be confirmation bias, through, and there's no easy way of knowing."

She falls silent after that, queueing up the next video and restanding her phone. "I have a lot to think about."

The next video, titled 04/01/84 begins playing.

Arrhythmic notes of jazz music fill the air. The transition from one moment in time to another seems instantaneous to Hana, as instantaneous as her recollection of the sounds of Thelonious Monk, a famous musician of another era long beloved to one man.

Robyn sits up as the music fills the air, eyes widening. "This music…" she remarks in low voice, looking back in the direction of where Alia tended to the records. "Mum loved jazz liked this too. I guess some things always stay the same…"

“Drucker was into it too,” Richard observes, watching the screen, “Maybe it’s what they bonded around, originally. Music’s something that everyone has in common, after all.”

Robyn's eyes slide to look towards Richard, and she chuckles. "You don't have to tell me," she remarks quietly. "Wouldn't that be something, though?"

“No, it was something that you did. I'm sure of it.” Richard Drucker paces around the fluorescent-lit space of a tile-floored lab filled with computers. A dot-matrix printer is noisily chirping as reams of data are spilled out onto the floor. Nearby, Walter Renautas stands beside a wall that does not exist, yet one he leans against nonetheless, looking more tired than an instant could have caused.

Charlotte Roux is here, standing by a window to an equally uncomfortably lit hall, writing on the glass with a wax pencil. “That doesn't make any sense, that kid blasted her with— whatever the hell that was— and she didn't even so much as flinch. What'm I going to do to it, exactly?” She asks, looking over her shoulder to Drucker, opening her free hand and creating a warm yellow glow from her palm. “Illuminate her?

There's a small scoff at that, Robyn shaking her head. "Fucking right? I remember when I felt that way, back when Colette first started teaching me." Another small bit of congruency between them, one that lifts Robyn's sagging mood a noticeable bit. Fingers drum a bit, and she looks back to Richard. "I think… this is the aftermath of what I saw the other day. They had a face to face encounter with this Entity, and it just… it wasn't going well for anyone."

“I’m not surprised,” Richard snorts a bit, glancing to Robyn, “They were trying everything they could to stop her, without having any idea what she was capable of or what she could do, at the beginning. Arthur was a big fan of the blunt instrument.”

Pacing past the turntable playing that jazz record, Drucker shakes his head and takes a hand through his hair. “No, no it's not— we need to break down what happened. Because the second you showed up on the roof she looked at you and vanished into thin air. It's like she knew something.”

Charlotte seems more focused on the window, scribbling a list of terms on the glass.

Ability negation?

“Kaito said that she wasn't special, he's looked through birth records and data from Korea and Japan and he's said that there's no indication of a probable ability.” Drucker brandishes a hand at the data on the glass.

“Then Kaito was wrong,” Charlotte shouts, turning around and pointing at the glass. “Arthur said he couldn't do anything when she looked at him. You know he doesn't feign weakness. He was scared, Richard, terrified.”

Drucker stares at the list on the glass, then closes his eyes and takes a hand through his hair again and drags his palm slowly down his face. “We’re talking in circles…” he mumbles.

The apparent shift from Antarctica to somewhere else is jarring, even though she expected something. The intrusion of jazz into the ambiance around Hana serves incongruously as a source of aggravation. Dark eyes follow the pacing of a dead man around the room, her own feet remaining rooted in place.

"I fail to see," Hana's voice rises even though she isn't in view and the perspective shifts to focus on Renautas, "what this has to do with anything." The perspective moves around, restless, pacing, agitated.

Reversed mirror to Hana, Renautas is remarkably patient. Though he seems to glean no immediate understanding of the events either, his narrowed eyes and lips parted in anticipation seem to hold no small amount of hope that this thread will lead somewhere. His attention is momentarily stolen by Hana, a brow raised in thoughtful consideration. He was about to say something when the sound of a frustrated growl from Charlotte draws his attention, watching the brunette walk away from the glass.

Drucker turns, watching Charlotte move, and he too looked about to say something right up until the distant and muffled sounds of panicked screams comes down the hallway. Drucker’s back straightens in an instant and he moves away from the windows, setting flush up against the wall. Charlotte turns to look at him, and he reaches out and grabs her by the wrist and pulls her over to stand beside him.

“Arthur and the others just got back,” Drucker says, his eyes unfocused and distant, “I can see them on the security feed. There’s a half dozen agents, it— ” anguished screams come down the hall, moving past the door to the lab. Through the windows covered in Charlotte’s writing two black-suited Company carry a third between them, who is screaming in absolutely unbridled anguish. Drucker grows silent as Charlotte cups a hand over her mouth and stares out the small window.

Arthur comes limping past next, blood painted up the side of his face and the shoulder of his suit jacket split along the seam. Angela walks beside him, a hand on his shoulder and blood spattered across her face. Two more agents run by, and a trailing sound of footsteps stops at the door to the lab, slowly opening it.


Charles Deveaux stands in silence in the doorway, a ghost of a memory long dead before Richard Ray ever met him. Here, though, he’s a younger man. His suit is torn in places, white undershirt soaked red with blood that doesn’t appear to be his own, soot collected in his hair. “Stay in here,” Charles instructs Drucker and Charlotte, not even so much as waiting for a response before he turns to the hall, only to bump squarely into a younger agent.


“I’ll— catch them up.” He says quietly to Charles, who lets him pass with a shell-shocked look in his eyes. The young agent steps in, hands trembling, holding a cigarette between his lips that has an inch and a half of ash dangling from the end. As Charles shuts the door, Charlotte and Drucker are frozen in anticipation.

The agent is unfamiliar to both Richard and Robyn.

"I wonder who the hell that is," Robyn muses. "I mean, Arthur Petrelli I'm more familiar with than I'm comfortable admitting, and Charles… well, it'd be impossible for me not to by now."

“No idea. Never seen him before,” Richard admits, though he’s looking more at Charles, “Shit. This must’ve been bad…”

“We ah,” the young agent says with a shaky hand snatching the cigarette from his lips, “we— cornered her. Out in— it— the whole fucking…” Charlotte moves away from the wall and goes up to the agent, placing a hand on his shoulder and looking back to Drucker who seems both more suspicious and less concerned for the agent's overall wellbeing.

“Spit it out,” Drucker is quick to say, his nerves already on edge from the screaming echoing down the hall. The young agent takes a long drag off of his cigarette, burning into the filter, then just throws it down onto the floor and grinds it out with the toe of his shoe.

Exhaling a lungful of smoke, the agent glances to Charlotte like he’d only just then seen her, and looks back to Drucker. “They— we— found her. Nisatta, on an island. Somewhere in— in fucking Ontario. We had thirty agents.” The young man is so shaken that he reaches for a cigarette in his mouth he’d already put out. “She fucking killed all of them. Almost all of them. How— however many we had come back.”

“Jesus Christ,” Charlotte says into her palm, “what about the chemical negation that Sue— ”

Nothing fucking worked,” the agent spits out, “I saw people— fucking— just turned to dust. Benning,” he motions to the hallway, “can’t fucking breathe. It’s like his lungs stopped working. Collins’ ability just turned off and hasn’t come back, it’s… the whole town on the island is gone.”

Gone?” Drucker finally speaks up. “What do you mean it’s gone?

“I mean the island is gone. The houses, the people, the boats, everything. Like it never even fucking existed.” The agent starts pacing the room, running a hand through his hair. “Mr. Petrelli is going to come in here as soon as— as he’s cleaned up and you contractors better— ” he splutters over his words. “I just hope to god you’ve got a miracle up your sleeve. Because we threw everything we had at her and… nothing.”

At the description of the Entity’s power, and what it’s done, Richard draws back a bit with a sharp inhalation of breath. “Christ,” he swears, “That’s just… did it send the island to the cornfields?”

Robyn sucks in a breath. "No. I think… it's maybe like Moab." She nods and looks over to Richard. "And it could've already popped up again and we just don't know it."

“We don't have much,” Drucker admits, shooting a look over to Charlotte that silences an interjection she was about to make. “But we’ll give them what we have.” Charlotte slouches against the wall, watching Agent Smith in silence. In turn, the agent flicks a nervous look between them both and nods a few unsteady times, then shakily opens the door to the hall.

“You two stay put,” the young agent says, and neither associate says anything to the contrary. At least not until he closes the door. Immediately, Charlotte looks over to Drucker with her brows furrowed.

“What about your theory about how she reacted to me?” Charlotte pointedly asks once the agent is out of earshot. Drucker shakes his head and paces around the room, offering a skeptical look up to the boxy surveillance camera in the corner of the room.

“Have you ever gone camping?” Drucker asks her, and the seeming aside has Charlotte shaking her head in the negative. Drucker clicks his tongue, then waves a hand in her direction. “If you're camping and you're approached by a bear, and you feel threatened… pointing a rifle at it isn't going to get it to run away. Hell, even firing it into the air might only piss it off. Because the bear has no frame of reference for how dangerous a gun is. It'll charge, and odds are it'll get killed. Maybe it'll get lucky and survive an initial barrage, but not for long.”

Slowly, a look of dawning understanding comes over Charlotte at Drucker’s strange choice of analogy. “These people are the bear in this analogy, aren't they?” Charlotte asks. Drucker’s rise of his brows and emphatic nod is both a youthful and tongue-in-cheek mannerism far departed from the much more stoic, older and disembodied man Richard once knew.

"I guess it runs in the family," Robyn mumbles as she leans forward, looking closer at the screen.

“They're going to get us all killed because, I don't think they've ever faced something stronger than themselves before.” Drucker looks back at the security camera and furrows his brows, then back to Charlotte. “I don't trust them, I haven't since they picked us up. This whole operation of theirs, everything they've got here feels criminal. Forget the big picture problem, what happens if we’re successful and they get to keep on doing whatever clandestine work this is? What happens to us if we don't want to be complicit?”

The possibilities hadn't dawned on Charlotte, and as she looks down to the floor, all she can offer as an answer is a slow shake of her head. “So what, we play free for all and hope this— person doesn't decide to proclaim herself Queen of the Earth?”

“No,” Drucker says with a slow exhale of a sigh through his nose, “if we run they'd find us. Maybe not right away but… on a long enough timeline. What we need to do is be smarter than the bear. And keep our options open. A failsafe.” He brushes his bangs from his face, considering the window to the hall with Charlotte’s writing on it.

“What was that movie you were telling me about this morning?” Drucker asks, slanting a sidelong look at Charlotte. For a moment it seems like she doesn't remember the conversation — nerves frayed — but then

“It isn't out yet,” Charlotte says with a shake of her head, “what— ”

“The plot. The story— the,” Drucker rolls one hand in the air, “why were you excited to tell me about it?”

Charlotte looks aside, embarrassed, then back to Drucker. “Oh, it— a kid finds, you know, an Atari game with Cold War data from the Russians on it. Cloak & Dagger.”

Robyn's expression pales a bit at the mention of Cloak & Dagger. "Oh my god, that movie! Mum made me watch that- a few times when I was a kid! Said it struck her in a really funny way." The world maybe makes a bit more sense to her in that moment.

“Cloak and— shit. I did see that movie,” Richard realises, “It was one of the few movies they had in the orphanage, we just had this old stack of VHS tapes. This guy and his imaginary agent friend…”

Drucker smiles, pointing at Charlotte. “Cloak & Dagger,” he says with a rise of his brows, seeing the look on her face that she gets it.

“But,” Charlotte glances at the door, then steps closer to Drucker. “What would we even put? How— where?” With a crook of one corner of his mouth up, Drucker looks over to the record player.

“Everything. Our research, our experiences with these people, names, dates. Evidence. Enough to destroy them if it comes to it.” Drucker looks back to Charlotte. “All I need is some basic equipment, nothing they'll ever suspect.”

Blinking, Robyn looks over at Richard. "Well… there it is. Now I guess we know what's on the records."

“That’s what S.Attva said,” Richard admits, “That there were some records of the past on the vinyls. Guess we’ll see what they are soon.”

Drucker stops moving, standing there beside Charlotte, a conspiracy of two built in the back of his mind. Renautas steps forward from the wall, looking to the viewpoint of the video with a white brow lifted. “You know him better than I,” the old ghost asks. “What do you think?”

"He's Ruth Meisner's son," Hana says, as if that statement of familial ego were all the answer needed. Perhaps it is.

"Are you finished here?" follows shortly after.

“And Ruth Meisner is dead, nor did she know the man he would become,” Renautas says with narrowing of his eyes. “It was your understanding and inquiry I'm seeking. If he were able to hide something from the Company that survived into present day, and that is a big if, it could be invaluable.”

Renautas takes a moment as he reassesses something, taking a step closer to Hana as he rests one hand in the pocket of his suit jacket. “Based on everything I've seen so far, what I've been told from people in your present, the being that caused this destruction has slipped whatever bonds the Company placed her in. Somehow this is connected to Adam Monroe, and somehow that last threatens you in the here and now on a long enough measure of time.”

Slowly, Renautas lifts his chin. “But if you're done here, then so am I. There are others I need to meet with.”

There is a long, tense moment of silence before Hana's voice is heard again. "And yet, I have told you the only thing you need to know." Everyone in the room recognizes that tone. She's done.

“So you did,” Renautas says with a sudden dispersal of the tension in his presence, as though he'd heard something other than what it was Hana said in any tone other than the one she used. His blue eyes linger on her for a moment and

The recording stops.

"And that's it," Robyn states, taking her phone back into hand. "I just…" Her lips quirk back and forth, and she looks down at the floor. "It's a lot to take in," she whispers.

“I know,” Richard says quietly, leaning back in his chair with a sigh, “So much that we thought was true that wasn’t, I’ve— had to overturn so many peoples’ lives already learning about these things. I feel like shit but they all deserved the truth.”

"Isn't that a hell of a moral quandary?" Lips thinning, Robyn sits up a bit, arms folded on to the table as she looks at Richard. "Very damned if you do, damned if you don't. Just… have to be mindful of who you're talking to. And not let it turn into la noblesse oblige just because we know more." She lays her head down, forehead against the table like she's about to take a nap and lets out a long sigh.

"Je ne regrette rien, for what it's worth. I'm sorry if that hasn't been clear or I've been… a bit of a bitch about it. I appreciate you letting me in on this to begin with." There's a small, muffled chuckle that rises up from her. "Though knowing our circle of friends, I would've found out eventually anyway. At least it came from someone I trust." Most of the time goes unsaid.

“You ready to learn more, then?”

Richard pushes himself up to his feet, eyebrows raising a little, “I’m sure Alia’s done by now, so we should be able to find out what’s on those records before we call our hybridized friend to pass on the data to him…”

"No." Similarly muffled, there does at least seem to be some mirth in that response. It takes another moment before Robyn lifts her head back up and looks at Richard. "But have you ever known me to stop once I'm hurtling towards something?" She's not very good at the whole "quitting" thing, except when it's quitting something she maybe shouldn't be.

"Yeah, sure. Let's see what she's got." Rising up from her chair, she grabs the cane and looks back to Richard. "Maybe you can tell me why you had such a visceral reaction to Hokuto while we do."

When Richard texts Alia back, letting her know it’s clear to come back in, she’s acutely aware of what’s been transpiring in the digital world regarding the record transcriptions. The conversation had given her time to transcribe information from five of the nine total albums. What she returns with on her laptop is a host of information, primarily contained in raw text files, others were images encoded in the .DGN Microstation Drawing Format, which would have been cutting edge in 1984, and are typically used in CAD applications.

The lion’s share of the data is, regretfully, incredibly outdated. Indices of Company facilities around the world, including a “brand new” facility located in the Bronx. Financial records for Primatech Paper, names of all of the Company founders and their business ventures, scattered evidence of the Company’s criminal enterprises from the Linderman Group to forced capture. All of which were long-ago aired during the Albany Trials. While a fine-toothed comb may find some kernels of information, much of it is without merit save for historical context.

But then there’s the .DGN files. These appear to be detailed schematics for some sort of device, though the notation goes beyond Alia’s expertise and would likely require Warren to decipher. But visually the files appear to be for some sort of broadcasting dish, a massive antenna measuring at least seven or eight meters across. There are also formulas for power conversion, computational data on solar energy, and documentation compiled within the files that showcase that the machine was intended to produce Gamma radiation along with a host of other energy typically emitted by the sun.

But what Alia has among all of this is that it’s not complete. Not even in that there’s still four records left to go, but that there’s no way the four remaining records have all of the data on them. The certainty behind this comes from a single text file encoded on each record. Of the five Alia has so far decrypted, they are as follows:


It’s a simple enough equation for her to Solve for X. This isn’t the only set of records.

"… Solar emitter?" She states dryly, having the drawing blown up to nearly full scale on a screen. She isn't dragging one of the Yamato emitters in just yet. "I think. The math on this is… Warren, Devi." She notes where she's going, then sighs. "Also, discs ten through fourteen… out of twenty seven. Four to go." She pauses. "Oh, and all the Company dirt from Albany. Killed for THIS before the war." She pauses again. "Hypothetical: Artificial sun spot to cause artificial thinning of barrier?"

“Close, but no cigar…”

Richard steps along up and over to the screen as he comes in, looking at the picture for a long moment before with a glance back to Robyn he suggests, “I think what they were building here was a weapon. The Entity seemed to run away from the last heliokinetic that it met, which… given how the sun affects our powers, there must be something there.”

He looked pleased for the two point three seconds it took for him to register what Alia’d said about the other records. Then he sighs, “And of course. There’re more records. Of course there are more records… well, maybe our friend will have some idea where they might be.”

"Someone called it a 'giant fucking laser'. It's not right, but it's not wrong, from what I've seen and heard." Robyn glances over at Alia, then over to the finished records, which she sets about resleeving and getting set up to be put away as she continues. "Richard has the right of it. The idea isn't to create a thinning, it's to literally bombard it with solar energy."

The news that there's more records brings a frown across her face. "I doubt it. If they weren't at Colobanth, they either were thrown out when Julien and Sabine took over, or they would've made it out into Company archives or worse, public hands." Letting out a groan, she taps her cane against the ground once and looks up at the ceiling. "I would imagine they're long destroyed. It would be an absolute miracle if they weren't. We lucked out with these as it is."

She doesn't want to think how angry she would've been if she'd found out her mom's records had been thrown out.

"I could always check with my dad, see if he still has any of mum's old records. She didn't bring everything with her when we moved out here, any of them ended up in Mum's collection. I think. I don't honestly know anymore." He lips thin. "Her old home in Boston is dust. So is my original collection, quite a bit of which came from her. Other than that, I have no idea where to start."

Which is probably why she's glad to have people like Richard around. Though…

"You didn't answer my question, by the way," she notes, eyes sliding to look over at him.

"Aiming six meter wide dish at individual? Challenging." Alia shrugs. She also has a flash drive plugged into the side of the computer… she's making MP3 copies of the records while she's at it, and when the last disc is finished, she'll hand the drive to Robyn, full copies of the data and the music both.

“I… hm. The multiplicity of an eclipse… the sun and the moon…” Richard stares at the image for a long moment, as if an almost-idea was stirring in his head. Then he shakes his head, glancing back to Alia, “Can you open a single unsecured workstation and invite S.Attva to join us? I’m sure they’ll want to hear what we’ve found so far.”

The question from Robyn brings a brief grimace. “A story for another time. Nightmares killed a lot of people once.”

“You don't want to see what happens to someone who's too close when it goes off, either." The response carries an unexpected sense of bitterness as Robyn glances over to Alia. "Why do you think a technopath and a- I don't know, astrophysicist or whatever they trained my mom to be were working on it?" Her free hand rises up and rubs at her temples. "It still hurts that I never got to see mum be this smart in person. She always was but… I wish I could've seen her brilliance shine."

She falls silent as the call is made for S.Attva though, shuffling a bit uncomfortably. She doesn't press on Richard's response, re: Hokuto, instead filing it away for later. "Here's hoping you can make more sense of this than I can."

It doesn’t take Alia more than a thought to open an invitation to a workstation with an open wireless interface, air-gapped away from the remainder of Raytech’s network. The call that goes out is responded to in fractions of a moment, but only in ways that Alia can perceive and first. It feels like the barometric pressure in the room suddenly rose, as though a great storm had moved in from outside, funneled into Raytech through the open access port that isn’t even intended for internet traffic, just wireless communication to peripheral devices.

The weight of something massive presses a finger into the device, the computational equivalent of a giant from Norse mythology leaning down to peek in a farmer’s window. The computer immediately begins reinitializing itself, moving software around to accommodate the new guest. Audio drivers slave themselves to a remote process and speakers and camera turn themselves on.

«{Robyn Quinn.» A synthetic voice echoes from the computer, neither recognizable as Rebel nor as Richard Drucker, but similar in cadence. «Why have you called?»

Alia tilts her head a moment. Then shrugs at the other two, before quietly asking. "That how I sound when, do the ghost thing?" Alia's linguistics are still delightfully messed up alright. Though it appears she's considering how much she must weird people out when she used to do that. Not so much in recent times. Once burned and all that.

Somehow, Richard gets the feeling that S.Attva could have pushed his way into the Raytech systems whether or not he was invited— if he still possessed a fraction of the power of the three technopaths that made him up, he may be the most powerful entity in the world’s networks.

“S.Attva,” he greets as the voice speaks out, “We’ve gotten the disks you were looking at transcribed into file form, as you requested. At least the ones we could find - the ones we found in Antarctica are clearly only part of a set.”

"Wha-" Robyn seems a bit dumbfounded when she's the one who's called out by S.Attva. "I didn't- Well, that's largely irrelevant in the end, isn't it?" Robyn closes her eyes and smiles, looking towards the workstation the voice emanates from, then up to Alia. She furrows her brow at the other woman and sighs.

"Alia called you," she notes. "Though I'm glad to talk again." A smile crosses her face as she looks over to Richard. "Have you considered getting Michelle to look over any of this?" is a bit of a wayward thought. Particularly if it meant pairing her up with someone like S.Attva.

«{I hope they were of assistance to you.))» S.Attva’s tone is very neutral, flat and detached. «{{{It would be a logical choice to have multiple batches of information separated geographically, so that if one batch is found and destroyed the whole lot is not ruined. Unfortunately, my recompiled memories of Richard Drucker stem entirely from the remembrances of K.Apila,» a name for Hana that is rarely used these days, «{and publicly available information. Therefore, I do not have any knowledge of where the additional data may lie.»

There's a sad look on Alia's face at the mention of K.Apila. But there's nothing she can do about that _now_. Instead, she simply shrugs and prepares to put the data onto the correct computer for the visiting technopath. Unlike Richard, she knows exactly how good the outer line of defenses at Raytech's network are. She designed over half of them to the standard of 'if it can't at least deter me…'.

As to the technopath in question, she gives more a digital equivalent to a wave. Or a handshake. The two are pretty similar in digital terms. Either way she doesn't intrude overly much into the already loaded system.

“Do you know any trusted confidantes that Drucker had, outside of Roux? He may have passed on the records to someone else to keep safe; possibly within the Company, possibly without…” A frown purses Richard’s lips, fingertips tapping to the table beside him, “And I’ll be sending it over to Michelle and Devi as soon as we’re done here. We may be able to use the existing technology at Colobanth to fill in some holes, too, if we can’t find the remaining records…”

This is why Robyn had frowned upon the request to contact S.Attva. It seemed unfair to her to levy this expectation upon him, knowing what she now did, and in the moment she wishes she had spoke up about it before it was actually done. "Well… either way, thank you for joining us, S.Attva."

Still, it's too late for that now. "We at least have blueprints it looks like. Is that the right word for something like this?" Even after all these years, the really high tech stuff is not her forte, she has friends for that. "And probably a Company archive to rival the Deveaux Society's." There would be time to sift through that - and by god she would - later, particularly in the event it has data that might be redacted from other archives due to its timing.

"I don't know that I've met Devi, but… there's no way we could easily fabricate this without anyone knowing. Not without using what might already be left at Fort Hero." A hand runs down her face and she lets out of a weary sigh. "There's no way this archive can be completed," she stresses again. "The odds are impossible. Unless we know anyone else from the Company days who was into jazz."

Which is probably most of them given the eras at hand here.

«{Drucker trusted no one,» S.Attva says at first. But then there’s a static crackle, followed by «{Recalibrating… Drucker trusted few.» His discoveries of Drucker’s past with Charlotte had changed his perspective. «{Charlotte is the only person I could think of aside from family.» But all of Drucker’s family are either dead or, in the case of Hana, missing so—

Suddenly it occurs to Robyn there may be someone who may know something.

Drucker’s Family.


“Wait, what did you say? Someone from the Company days who was into jazz, and… would have had lots of vinyl…”

Richard turns towards the nearest wall and thuds his head against it rather firmly, exhaling a long sigh against the surface.

“…Pines. Someone needs to go check out the radio station.”

"Pines? Martin Pines? Jolene's boss?" Though Richard may not be aware of the last part, Robyn can't help but stare with mild disbelief. "I take him records whenever I have enough to fill a milk crate. Or I did, before the incident a bit back. You're telling me he was Company too?" Robyn will believe a lot of things, but that one clearly stretches the limits of plausibility for her.

Reaching up, Robyn taps the head of her cane against Richard's shoulder. "Don't do that. There's enough going on in there," is meant to be a lighthearted quip, even if it hints at darker subject matter. "I can't imagine anyone would've thought of that first go 'round."

As the cane clicks back down to the ground, she looks back over to the workstation and then to Richard. "Have we considered reaching out to Noa?" She pauses for a moment, frowning. "S.Attva… did Hana tell you about Noa?" Because there's a whole bag of worms she didn't consider before mentioning her. "Because that's a link to Drucker's family I never would have thought of."

«{I am aware of an alternate timeline surrogate biological offspring of Hana Gitelman you are referring to.» S.Attva answers clearly and succinctly. «{We have not spoken.» There is a hint of regret in S.Attva’s synthesized voice at that, which is swiftly swept away when his technopathic consciousness switches to a new topic. «{Martin Pines, owner of WSZR Radio. The station was broadcasting Thelonious Monk on a loop for several days following his disappearance, according to internet postings.»

The computer’s speakers crackle for a moment, followed by what sounds like an audio capture of that broadcast from Pines:

«You're listening to WSZR, the free radio of the Safe Zone. I'm Martin Pines,» crackles over the speakers, «and it has been my distinct pleasure to host WSZR for all these years. But sometimes, a person has to… take a stand for what they believe in. For the safety of the world, for everyone they care about, for the future. So,» there’s a distinct pause, «I want to play you all my favorite album. One of only three copies of this printing to exist…»

Three copies.

«This is Martin Pines,» he says one final time, «and you’re listening to Japanese Folk Song by Thelonious Monk from his album Straight, No Chaser on WSZR, Radio Free Safe Zone.»

Japanese Folk Song.

Robyn’s heart skips a beat.

It’s only now that Robyn and Elaine can hear the sounds of piano and jazz saxophone coming from somewhere off the foyer of the split-level condo. It’s dark up the stairs to the second floor, shoes are arranged on the steps to about halfway up the stairs. As Robyn and Elaine move through the foyer, they follow the sound of upbeat piano and sax into what — the last time Robyn was here — was a living room. But there’s no furniture anymore. The floor, what was once a meticulously polished wood is now scuffed matte and covered with long-dried and scraped blotches of paint. Blank canvases stretched over wood frames are stacked by one side of the door and the smell of acetone mixes with cigarette smoke in the air.

The jazz music is coming from a cabinet set record player, one of those classic brushed steel and wood paneling Panasonic models from the 80s. There’s a soft splash of drums added to the music, interspersed by tinkling piano notes with a staccato rhythm. It isn’t clear if Charlotte Roux heard her daughter, it isn’t even clear if she hears her and Elaine coming through the wide doorway into what is now an art studio. Barefoot and hair unkempt, Charlotte is clad in charcoal gray leggings and an oversized white sweater, both of which are smudged with paint. She’s working at a tall canvas, probably six feet tall and three feet wide, portrait orientation. The back of it faces the doorway, and Robyn only somewhat catches glimpses of her mother, cigarette pinched between two fingers, paintbrush in the same hand, palette in the other.

Where the fuck are you?” Charlotte sharply mutters as she paints, “Morceau de merde,” she mutters after, slapping the paintbrush against the canvas and catching sight of Robyn and Elaine reflected in the tall windows to the studio, their curtains long since pulled away. Stepping out from behind the canvas, Charlotte stares wide-eyed at Robyn.

That song. That fucking song. The song her mother loved more than anything. The song on one of the albums here, taken from Antarctica.

Charlotte looks past Robyn to Elaine, assessing her the way someone might a new pet. Clothes, hair, makeup; all considered. But then with an uncharacteristic — for this moment — gesture, Charlotte reaches out and lays a hand on Elaine’s shoulder. “You're very tall, aren't you?” Elaine can smell the wine from here. It's doubtless Robyn could as well.

But around the canvas Charlotte’s painting isn't quite what Robyn is accustomed to seeing. It is a portrait of someone, but it's unfinished. A whole figure is depicted in the center of the painting, dressed in a brown and tan cabled sweater and dark jeans, black boots. His hair is a rich shade of brown and wavy, cut down to his stubbled chin. But his face is just a swath of palette knife strokes with gray and beige, like a stylized blur. “I just can't get the face right,” Charlotte says as she scrubs the heel of her palm against her forehead. Robyn and Elaine can both make out other details in the background painted in dark shades of blue and gray. It's raining, there's concrete underfoot and some sort of scaffolding behind the unknown man. Lightning arcs from the sky which is painted with auroral shades of blue and green.

“Anyway,” Charlotte says dismissively, taking a drag off of her cigarette, “I suck at faces.” She doesn't. “I just can't— find it? Blue eyes? Brown? What's the nose like? It's just— ” she hisses through her teeth. “It's not like I can sleep,” is a weird thing to say in conclusion to her thought. But the dark bags under her eyes do make it seem like she hasn't been sleeping well.

It was right there, all along.

Alia already is adding a note to her digital day planner to make a trip over to WSZR to offer her services in helping both modernize and back up the existing audio. Or to have someone do that at the very least. She rubs her forehead, then blinks. "Wait, entire album. Was it captured?" She might be able to save needing find one of the three discs after all!

“I heard it. The album. I didn’t think anything of it, but…”
Richard offers a rueful look to Robyn as she jokes about his head. “Pines was Melchior. He was— is— the Company’s human data backup. As soon as I found out about it he was snatched out from under me, and the government’s sitting on him somewhere without telling me. You want to go check out the station? I think the kids are running it these days, or something, I’m not sure.”

He draws in a breath, blows it out, head shaking, “I don’t— unless— S.Attva, I don’t suppose you can find Pines’ location? I assume he’s in a government safehouse somewhere.”

"Lance Gerken is stewarding the station right now, I believe. Jolene was as well, but she's with her mother right now." There's a bit of an uncomfortable sound in the back of her throat. "I go by there regularly, like I said, but… I won't be able to any time in the next few days. I have a case to work, and I think we're close to a real breakthrough. He works with me at SESA as well, so it shouldn't be hard to secure permission for someone to look around."

Eyes close half way, and she looks down at the floor. "I… I'm going to give you an address, Richard. I want you to send someone out there and see if they can find anything." Clearing her throat, she looks up at the workstation, and then over at him. "It's in Boston. It's… mum's old condo. I'd like to go but…" Uneasily, she scratches the back of her neck. "Well, you were there when I saw the Verb, and I can't take any more time off work."

A heavy breath escapes her lips, shoulder sagging. "Anyway, that song. She loved it. Listened to it all the time. I think… I remember her painting to it a lot. I never thought about it at the time, but I think she was painting her removed memories. Somehow." She doesn't mention the exact content or any examples that might lead her to believe this - this is something she'd need to look into herself. "I'm sure her place is a ransacked wreck by now, but you never know. She was a strange one at times, could've put them away safely. Who knows what might have leaked through."

A hand runs down her face, and she sighs. "God. She was trying to tell me for years and didn't know it. Neither of us did."

«The album was recorded, but not the lockgroove track. It never played.» S.Attva clarifies, and likely because of the way the lockgrove on those albums is constructed, not intended for the needle to reach without direct intent.

There is a period of static, followed by a few soft clicks, and a beep. «##FFCC33|According to classified internal SESA documentation, Martin Pines is located within a remote protective custody residence located in White Cloud, Kansas.»

After perhaps directly breaking into critical SESA infrastructure, S.Attva adds rather casually, «Did you require anything further?»

Alia jots the location down, though not a name. There's enough fun to be had lately. So she sighs and shrugs to Richard. It's his call on how to handle this more than hers. And she knows it. Interfacing with other groups is so not her strong point usually unless it's making their networks behave.

“Okay.” Richard reaches out, gloved fingers brushing briefly against Robyn’s shoulder before he draws away, as if maybe by brief occasional touches he can get the black conduit to stop trying to murder people. A slight, understanding smile flashed, “I’ll have someone run past and see if there’re more records there— I can give Noa a call too, we’ve worked together before. Talk to the kid, see if someone can check the station then?”

The last time he was there, Mazdak tried to murder him, and he has… unpleasant memories of the occasion.

“Once things quiet down a bit I’ll see if we can go pay Pines a visit, too, even if I’m sure SESA will be pissed at me showing up.” He flashes her a quick smile, “Maybe your mother didn’t know what she was telling you— but she still told you.”

Frowning, Robyn looks over to the workstation, and then over to Richard. "They'll ask how you know," she remarks in a low voice. "I certainly don't have access to that information and I definitely didn't hear anything about where he might be just now, but it's a hell of a gamble just showing up there." Clearing her throat, Robyn's eyes follow Richard's hand. "Maybe we can go talk to Claudia together. I know that probably isn't anyone's favourite idea, but… given the situation maybe she won't talk in circles for once."

Robyn Quinn has never actually met Claudia Zimmerman for more than moments at a time, but this is clearly what she expects based on the stories she's heard.

"I think we'll be fine, S.Attva," she remarks with a certain apologetic brightness to her voice. "Thank you for stopping by, though. It's helped a lot." There's another one of those pauses typical of her as of late before she chuckles. "If you want to meet Noa at any point, I'm sure she'll be open to it." If there's anything Robyn likes doing, it's bringing disparate families closer in any way she can.

«{I will… consider this possibility.» S.Attva says with what sounds like nervousness. «{If… she wishes such.» It is.

He does not say goodbye, or any variation thereof, just simply ceases to be. His load on the network dissipates in waves like a multi-tentacled creature slipping out of a pool. But then he is gone, as much a phantom as a ghost from an old storybook would be.

Alia just stares at the computer for a few moments. Not using her ability on it, not doing anything with it for the moment. The technopath finally just puts a hand to her own forehead gently and rubs a little, recalling exactly how close she came to having an existence not unlike the ghost that just flickered through.

Sometimes it's good to remember why you keep a body.

“Don’t forget our agreement,” Richard calls ‘after’ the digital entity, although it’s impossible to tell whether or not the technopathic entity hears him or not.

“Claudia doesn’t trust me,” he says with a grimace at Robyn’s suggestion, “She only works with me because she has to, really, I don’t think she really sees a difference between me and him.”

A shake of his head, “Anyway. Noa, and the radio station, and we’ll see what we have from there.”

"I mean, fuck her for that," Robyn states succinctly, if a bit crassly. "But." A small sigh escapes her lips as she turns her attention back to the records she had been resleeving "That doesn't change the fact that we have to. If she knows what we're investigating, if she knows it's not just you? Maybe it'll be different."

Letting that sit for a moment, it's only when she looks back up at Richard that a sly smirk forms on her face. "And if she's difficult about it? Then we take things into our own hands. I doubt I can be involved without losing my job." Eyes slide to look back at the records, and her smirk grows. "It's not the first time I lost a job to help save the world."

Because if all of this is what it seems to be? That is inevitably where this all leads.

"If you do go to my mother's old place, just… do like we used to do out in the ruins, and bring back anything that looks salvageable. Assuming it's not all gone. Like the Verb."

"… I miss the Verb." Alia agrees, even though she was never on that trip. "Not surprised above ground is… rather flattened. Wonder if they bothered with below…" the technopath muses. There's not much more she really has to add as Robyn pretty well summed up the situation if anyone ever had.

“Yeah. If we find anything that’s in salvageable shape, especially that might have sentimental value, I’ll make sure to have it brought back for you.”

Richard offers her a sympathetic look, “Let me yell at Claudia, though, if it comes to that. No need for you to lose your job, honestly. Besides, I’ve got a list of things I’m pissed about anyway.”

He sweeps a hand towards the door, “So while we’ve got copies of things being made— lunch? No point in sitting around here all day, and I’ve got fresh food straight from the greenhouse.”

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