khalid_icon.gif magnes_icon.gif

Scene Title Sideswipe
Synopsis Magnes' meeting goes in a direction neither participant expected.
Date March 1st, 2019

The border between the New York City Safe Zone and Yamagato Park is not as stark as some might claim.

On the Safe Zone side of the boundary, buildings are either in a state of repair or still showing signs of the damage from the civil war. Brick is crumbling, streets are riddled with potholes, and construction crews work round the clock repairing infrastructure below the streets. On the Yamagato Park side of the boundary line, the buildings are by and large still in the same condition, in fact many look to have had little resurfacing or repair since the perimeter fence went up. What makes the division clearest is the life within Yamagato Park. Businesses are thriving, neon signs line narrow sidestreets, and the diffuse glow of pink and violet neon blooms in the steam rising up from warm sewer grates.

It is under the shadow of an overpass to a subway system no longer in use that Magnes Varlane stands on that very boundary line, between the world he remembers and the world that was built in his absence.

86th Street At Bay Parkway Station

Sheepshead Bay

NYC Safe Zone

March 1st

8:17 pm

It’s dark beneath the overpass, but Magnes can clearly see the graffiti on one of the vertical supports. It’s an old, faded depiction of an orange bird with wings upturned, the words Rise Up tagged beneath it. In another timeline, this graffiti was uplifted as pro-evolved propaganda by Pinehearst, leveraging the memory of Phoenix to suit their needs. Here, it is a faded and forgotten reminder of the world Magnes left behind a year ago, one he hardly recognizes now.

The photograph of the Phoenix matches the one sent to Magnes’ phone an hour ago. This is a clandestine place for Kimiko to want to meet him, and Magnes is well-aware just how suspicious this is. He’s been kidnapped nearly more times than Princess Peach, so he has a good head for these sorts of things. What’s perhaps more worrisome about this, is how overtly suspicious this all is.

Either someone’s underestimating him, or there’s more than just a kidnapping at work here.

It's definitely suspicious, and Magnes definitely came prepared. People know that he's here, ready to react if shit Goes Down.

Standing in front of an old check cashing place, he's in his buttoned up long coat, his gravitational field extended a good twenty feet, not wanting to stretch himself too thin to react quickly. The gravity within that field is slightly heavier than normal, like someone keeping a muscle tense to swat a fly if it gets too close.

He only has one relic left from the Virus world, his Jericho 941. The handgun that he was given on a whim before first facing Hermod. It's served him for seven years, and the sheer suspiciousness of the situation makes him far more trigger happy than normal, running through scenarios in his head.

Basically, the space around him is essentially a murder zone born out of paranoia and caution.

Why is it so obviously suspicious?

Why didn't that guy just put Kimiko on the phone?

It's difficult to imagine that Kimiko would meet him in a place like this, regardless of how close it is to Yamagato. She could find another way, she would find another way.

But who would want to lure him into something? Who would even be answering Kimiko's phone if not people associated with her?

There are a lot of unknowns, but anyone who expects this to go like trying to trap the Magnes of seven years ago are in for a surprise.

Admittedly, so is Magnes.

The first sign of pedestrian activity on the street since Magnes arrived comes in the form of a man with hunched posture in a hooded sweatshirt and an olive-drab jacket that looks military-issue. He moves quick out of an alleyway, not immediately noticing Magnes’ position as he jogs across the empty street below the subway platform. It’s there that he catches sight of Magnes behind one of the support pylons, his pace slowing.

“Varlane?” He asks, looking the part of a down-on-his-luck war veteran, not a corporate messenger. There’s a good distance between he and Magnes, twenty feet or so, and his progress up to Magnes is slow and cautious, like someone approaching a wild animal. “We need to get off the street, right now.” He raises both of his hands, showing that they’re empty.

The stranger’s accent is subtly different, someone who has worked hard to Americanize themselves. Up close, Magnes can see scars across his face, a stubbled black beard, dark skin and dark eyes. He’s nervous, his posture and the flit of his eyes gives it all away.

Magnes has been fighting in various people's wars for years now, and one thing that he's learned is that hesitation gets people killed. So the moment he's warned, the man will feel himself sucked up into a gravitational field, then dragged up into the air next to the gravity manipulator.

It's certainly not as quick as someone with powered flight, but it's quick enough, not only flying high, but trying to flight out of the neighborhood entirely. "Tell me where to land." is all he says, not stopping or landing until he's told to stop.

The first answer Magnes gets is a yelp of shock and fright. The scarred man wobbles uncertainly, but doesn’t seem as uncomfortable in the presence of flight as most people Magnes haul bodily into the sky. “Anywhere— ” he says with gasping breaths, “anywhere’s fine.” Getting away from the border of Yamagato Park isn’t hard, getting away from Sheepshead Bay isn’t difficult either, the further west Magnes flies the sooner both of those places are behind them.

But as he searches for an appropriate rooftop for a landing, Magnes notices something about the man he’s pulled up into the sky with him. He recognizes the scarred man’s face, now that the wind has pulled his hood from his head. The last time he saw him was more than a decade ago, in association with Emile Danko. He’s a Humanis First operative.

Khalid Sadaka.

Magnes flies for a good twenty miles, before finally landing on top of what seems like an abandoned building, in some overgrown obscuring sky garden to offer privacy.

Regardless of how far away they are, there's a certain fear of snipers in a situation like this.

When the man is sat down, he isn't quite allowed to move freely. The man's body is kept tethered to Magnes' field, his weight heavy enough to feel like every movement requires some level of labor, but not enough to keep him from standing. "I know you." he realizes, hands in his pockets. He doesn't drop his general air of suspicion, the idea that he could act at any moment.

He pulls out a phone, pressing the screen a few times, then holds it up to his ear. "Get out of the area and I'll keep in contact. If anyone approaches you suspiciously, run, if they chase you, shoot them." he leaves a voicemail, because it's easier than trying to make a live phone call.

Putting the phone away, he focuses on Khalid now. "If I think you're acting aggressively, I will either crush or shoot you, I won't make it apparently clear what exactly I'm going to do, because I've fought enough people without my ability to know not to underestimate people without abilities. I will fucking destroy you as if you were as big a threat as Kazimir himself." he makes very clear, feeling that it's important to draw these lines.

"If I think that you're lying to me, I will still shoot you." Then, nodding in the man's direction. "Talk, be clear, and get to your point as soon as possible. If I think you're trying to emotionally appeal to me rather than getting to your point, I will shoot you."

He hasn't even drawn his gun yet, but he's clearly very serious.

Like a cornered animal, Khalid is motionless when held in Magnes’ contempt. There’s a visible strain in his expression from the crushing weight put down on him, a lethargy caused from the effort it takes to do things like breathe and the struggle his heart is undergoing to keep blood pumping to his brain.

After a moment to catch his bearings, Khalid massages one hand at his throat and looks across the rooftop to the dark horizon beyond, then back to Magnes. “Your call didn't— go through to Kimiko Nakamura,” is the first thing out of Khalid’s mouth. “I got orders to pick you off with a sniper rifle from a distance. Sternum shot,” he taps his chest, “brain intact. There's an address in my jacket pocket of a doctor they wanted me to bring your remains to.”

Khalid struggles against the gravity in the way someone trying to find comfort against tight restraints would. “I could've taken the shot and taken my pay, but I didn't. I'm not your enemy here.”

"I wonder if it would have gone that way." Magnes says with some measure of disbelief, the weight bearing down on Khalid letting up. But if he tries to back up, he'll still find himself tethered to Magnes' unmoving, ridiculously heavy form, like being chained to a wall. "I wonder if you would have survived that."

"So, tell me, why didn't you take the shot? And who hired you?" he wonders, wanting to get to the, becoming slightly less threatening by physically easing up on him, but leaving the clear threat that things could easily go south at any moment. "I've been gone for a long time, and it sounds like there's clearly someone out there asking to be destroyed, when I just want to be left alone."

But then something hits him.

Brain intact.

"My father."

“No,” is Khalid’s surprising answer. “The people he worked for. The people who were bankrolling his research even when he was with the Institute. This is bigger than your father, bigger than you.” Khalid slowly inhales a breath and then exhales a steady sigh. “I didn't take the shot because— ” he slides his tongue across the front of his teeth, an almost-stated answer not quite coming to the forefront.

Khalid instead offers no answer.

“The cloning project you were a part of, it ended when all your clones died. When the Institute crumbled. My bosses needed that project, needed you, but everyone… and I mean everyone believed you were dead.” Khalid keeps his hands raised, remaining on his knees as a placating gesture. “Magnes, they came after you because they thought you'd been in hiding. But they're not idiots. If they fail here, they'll give up, circle back around and figure out how to proceed again. They can't afford risks.”

Khalid looks to the horizon again, then back to Magnes. “I'm not your enemy.”

"Your bosses don't know who I am. Their failure is in the thought that I've been in hiding, that I won't retaliate, that I can't retaliate. I'm well aware that they might come for my family, my friends, that they might take a hostage." Magnes carefully pulls his handgun from his pocket, looking it over. "Another kidnapping, another organization with a plan, more people we have to destroy if we're ever going to live our lives in peace."

"Tell me what your plan is, why you're telling me this, what it is that you want to do. Because I'm leaning heavily towards the desire to make a statement, and I imagine that you probably have a far less scorched Earth plan than I do, if you're taking these risks." He cocks his gun, a plan clearly going through his head. "If they come after me again, if they come after anyone that I know, I will put a guerilla team together and fucking annihilate these people. So if you want to keep the peace, if you don't want things to escalate with these people, I hope you came with a plan that seems like a reasonable alternative to me starting a war."

“That's exactly what they want.” Khalid says with a slow narrowing of his eyes. “You don't understand because wherever it is you've been the last seven years, you haven't seen what's been going on. You want to start a war?” He waves his hand at the horizon. “Pick a direction and go in it and you'll find one. I don't have any answers for you, Magnes. If I had a surefire solution to this that ended without millions of civilian deaths?”

Khalid shrugs, helplessly. “You kill whoever it is you want to kill, and they'll go and do the same back, and this whole fucking insane cycle will just perpetuate itself into infinity.” He points at Magnes, brows raised. “You get to live with that. The people you care about get to live in the shadow of that.”

Breathing in deeply, Khalid holds his breath a moment and then exhales a weary sigh. “I don't have a plan, Magnes, and neither do you. We’re just two people doing what we think is right, because the alternative is facing our own past failures head on.” He squints, then looks down at the ground, “and neither of us are strong enough to do that.”

“I saved your life today,” Khalid says as he looks back up to Magnes, “but there's something going on bigger than guns, bigger than nukes, bigger than anything you've ever seen. Whatever it is… it's been in the works for a lot longer than any of us have been alive. I'm just trying to find out what it all means.”

Khalid slowly rises to his feet, hands still raised in the universal gesture for surrender. “All I know is this: the people who bankrolled your father? They're everywhere. They're politicians, executives, cops, criminals… and it's got something to do with a man named Adam Monroe.”

"Adam again…" Magnes he practically grits his teeth as his hands ball into fists. "I should have killed him when I had the chance, if that was ever possible. Now it sounds like he's dug his claws into everything."

"All I know about the cloning project is that there were many of them, they couldn't keep the clones stable, and they all had different abilities from the original version of me, as far as I've seen. But me, I can reproduce, I don't genetically breakdown, and I have the ability of the original Magnes, the one who died in 88. The people my father worked for called me the Aberrant clone." he explains, since, well, this seems like the only relevant thing he can think of to explain.

"The last clone, he had a connection to versions of me from other timelines, and me. Possibly other clones too, who knows. But I was in his mind not long before he died, and it was chaos." He holds up his free hand, looking around. "I've dealt with powerful people with their claws in the government before, and we've brought those people down. People who were in control of far more than a barely functional post-war society. I don't know what you've done, I barely know who you are other than the guy who I'm pretty sure shot me and my cousin years ago, but here's the plan."

He puts his gun away, taking a deep breath, because this is all clearly exhausting. "I'll find out who within the current American government can be trusted. If you can gather any information on that front, good, if not, I'll handle it. But I'll need you to compile information, evidence, concrete connections between Adam and anyone he's associated with. I'll pass the information along to people who can be trusted with it."

"As far as Adam goes, I don't want him coming after me again. You tell him that you shot me, the bullet stopped before hitting me." He looks very serious about this, stepping forward to get a closer look at the man. His gravitational field still has a certain thickness to it, even though he's let up on the man. As if to say he'll clamp his jaws shut at any moment. "You saw my face and body shift into Gabriel Grey, and then I flew around trying to find you, before you decided to escape. Your hypothesis is that Gabriel is pretending that I've returned out of hiding and wasn't actually dead, and trying to slip into my life so that he can live normally. You don't advise anyone go bothering Gabriel."

"I just need to buy enough time so that we can actually undo whatever Adam is trying to do, and figure out his plan. I can't imagine he'll have much interest in whatever Gabriel is doing impersonating me." he figures, since, well, Adam never seemed like the type who cared. "Any questions and/or suggestions?"

"And… I guess one more question." He holds up a finger. "Where the hell is the Alpha clone?"

One hand pinched at the bridge of his nose, Khalid furrows his brow and mutters something into his palm. “The government and I aren’t on speaking terms, so fuck if I know there. I’ll come up with a story Adam’s people will believe, though. Don’t worry.” He says with a slow wave of one hand in the air. “Whatever information there was about your cloning experiments are probably with the government now, Adam’s people had a facility in California hit. Your father was there. I don’t… know if he made it out alive or not. But he isn’t with Adam anymore.”

Slowly running a hand through his hair, Khalid looks over to the edge of the building. “All the cloning was done at that facility, best as I know. But I don’t think they pulled any out. The details I have are sketchy, it’s not an assignment I’m involved in. Everything with Adam is… it’s compartmentalized. There’s people who work for Adam who never even realize it. He was a bigger threat than any of us realized, Magnes. Pinehearst, the Vanguard, the Institute… he was there in the background. Profiting off of the collapse of a dozen groups. What he has now?”

Khalid shakes his head. “It’s greater than the sum of all its parts. But… I don’t know. Something’s going on. I’m missing a piece of the puzzle. I know this is going to sound weird, coming from me, but I need you to trust me.” Khalid’s brows raise slowly. “And you need to play this safe. I don’t think I, or anyone, knows what we’re really up against right now or what’s at stake, and that scares me.”

Then, thoughtfully, Khalid’s expression grows distant and he looks away from Magnes and then back again. “Richard Cardin — er — Ray. Richard Ray, might be able to help fill in some of the blanks. About the government, everything.”

"Who the fuck are you?" Magnes asks, apparently something he said raising red flags. "I've met you before, I know who you are. I have a lot of experience with meeting people who look like themselves but aren't themselves. I was writing it off as me just not knowing you that well, but what you're saying, the way that you're presenting this information, it outright contradicts what I know about you."

Suddenly holding up a finger, as if to stop him. "And don't say it's been seven or eight years. You're saying a whole lot of us for things you were never involved in. Unless you're going to say you were some deep cover human supremacist agent. Which is stretching the limits of plausibility a bit. And after everything I've seen, it takes a lot to stretch the limits of plausibility for me."

But he sighs, shaking his head. "Anyway, bigger fish to fry. I'll do my part and keep this information on a need to know basis. I'll gather people who can be trusted. Adam will be brought down, I've helped bring down people who seemed impossible to bring down before." He says this with a grim look in his eyes. "Adam isn't a god. I've fought the closest things to that already. If the right people work together, if the right people are determined, Adam isn't immune, he isn't beyond anyone's reach. The way to stop him will be to make a team of people, trusted people, who are together specifically for the purpose of unraveling Adam's conspiracy."

"I'll put that team together." He pauses, thinking for a moment. "You do what you can. If you have any kind of breakthrough, learn any important information, use the apartment above Panucci's Pizza as a drop, which is abandoned now. I'll check it once a week at an undetermined day."

Panucci’s? Khalid’s eyes narrow. “In the Exclusion Zone?” It takes a moment for him to consider that, and then shrug. He avoids the topic of his identity all together. “Fine, you do you and if I come up with anything… I'll dead drop info on the counter under a rock.”

Khalid looks back to the dark of the city, then back to Magnes. “And you're right, Adam isn't beyond anyone’s reach. Neither was the President.” There's a tightness in his voice there. “It isn't about killing your enemies, it's about preventing this,” he says with a motion to the city, “from happening a second time. This world’s had enough Pyrrhic victories.”

"Don't let anyone build giant fucking robots and dome cities, and at least we'll be able to keep the world at large from getting nuked into oblivion." Magnes says while knowing the relative lack of context.

He begins to slowly ascend into the air, staring down at Khalid. "I'm trusting you, whoever the hell you are. But if you betray me, there won't be a corner of the Earth where I can't find you eventually. I'm not big on trusting strangers anymore, but I can't really imagine why else you'd be telling me all of this instead of just trying to assassinate me." He looks around, determining his route.

"You'll be able to find your way down, I know this building."

“Yeah, I'm not big on trusting strangers either,” Khalid says as he brushes his hands off on the front of his jacket, “but I'm fine with heights.” With their verbal contract writ, Khalid moves toward the fire escape, coming to the edge and looking down across its full height, then back over his shoulder before disappearing over the edge. “Don't get yourself killed, Varlane. It only hurts the people closest to you.”

With that piece of small wisdom, Khalid disappears over the edge of the roof. There is no clang of his landing on metal. No sound of feet on asphalt.

He's just gone.

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