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Scene Title Sovereignty
Synopsis Time travel, identity, and apologies are all topics for an early morning chat the day after Nova and Faulkner learn some of the truths about themselves… and their other selves.
Date June 24, 2021

Park Slope

Even in the sooty gray light, there’s a beauty to early morning in Park Slope; the light filters through the overgrown trees and brush, and the ruins overtaken by nature serve to remind a person that life finds a way.

Nova sits on the stoop of an abandoned apartment building, staring at a crack in the stone step beneath her feet. A single yellow dandelion has sprouted from the crack. It’s an unexpected bit of color in a sea of black, gray, green. It’s too early to wish on; its miniscule yellow petals are still attached, but one day they’ll drop off, and the white sphere of seeds will emerge, ready to parachute out into the world.

She heaves a sigh, resting her chin on her knees. It’s too early for anyone to arrive, and too late to go back to sleep.

Isaac walks lightly, but he's not going out of his way to be stealthy. Even if he were, the creaking and groaning of old floor would give him away, here; Park Slope is not known for its adherence to code when it comes to building maintenance.

So Nova has plenty of warning before Isaac steps out of the dark behind her, leaning against the building. He takes a moment to scrutinize her… then he speaks.

"You're up early," he observes quietly.

Nova doesn’t turn to look back at the sounds of creaking wood and footfalls, nor at Isaac’s voice. A moment later, she smirks, unseen by him, and her shoulders rise and fall with a soft, single-syllable laugh.

“I was just going to say my internal alarm clock went off, and wondered if we could actually have, like, programmed internal alarm clocks we could set. Like an app. If we’re gonna be robots, I’d like to also be able to play music in my own head without needing to worry about charging my iPhone or dealing with Air Pods,” she says.

Her voice rings just a shade too artificially bright, a couple notches beyond her usual sincere chipper setting.

“I’d save so much money on phone chargers,” she says, before finally looking over her shoulder and up at him. “Man, before we go rescue ourselves from the Czech Republic, I should go on a spree on my ‘emergency credit card’ that my fake parents gave me. I mean, it’s only got a cap of 10,000 but still. It’s the principle.”

For a moment, Faulkner doesn't say anything… mostly because, for just a moment, he's sorely tempted to fall back into the pity puddle and join Nova in wallowing around in it. At least you have someone who cares enough to pretend to be your parents. Do you know what I'd give for that? is what he is sorely tempted to say; he can feel the words, a gelid lump frozen in his throat.

Instead, he lets out a quiet, shaky sigh and lets them go. Wallowing in self-pity is the opposite of what they need to be doing right now… and it's bad form and very off-brand for him besides. "If only they'd remembered to pack a copy of the user's manual on that plane," he deadpans instead. "It'd be pretty cool if we had built in wi-fi. Of course, it'd probably have burned to a crisp even if they had sent us one, but…" he shrugs.

“GPS directions to anywhere you wanted to go without looking it up on your cell phone,” Nova suggests next, for another helpful upgrade. She latches onto it like a life preserver, pulling her out of whatever dark thoughts she was in before his arrival.

“Oh, and automatic translation. We could know what anyone was saying in any language. They could have at least made us more useful, right?” Her smile returns, a little rusty, but still intact.

She looks past him to the doorway, then back up to his face — it’s a long distance up, given her seated position. “How long did you live here?” she asks, curiously. “Great view. Could use better plumbing.”

Anti-Babel tech. That one actually would be pretty helpful. While Faulkner is mulling that over, though, Nova asks her question. "Mmm… Late February of '19 is when I got back in town. Of course, I lived around here before the Bomb went off, too, but… Park Slope then was a very different place from Park Slope now."

"It was a place to lay low and try to get my feet under me. Not that laying low seemed to matter," he says, rolling his eyes at the universe in general. "And yeah, I won't deny I liked having running water again when I started crashing with Aman. But I try to keep this place up, just… in case." He's silent for a beat. "It's a bad thing, not having anywhere to go."

He lets that sit for a moment, watching Nova out of the corner of his eye. "So," he says at last. "Penny for your thoughts?"

As he talks, she shifts, leaning against the brick wall that flanks the steps so she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder to see him. One hand plucks the little dandelion, lifting it up to her chin, the way children do to see the reflection of yellow on one another’s skin. Her fingers twist the stem so that it moves in circles, a soft-petaled cog rotating against her skin.

“I never knew what that was like, not having a place to go,” Nova says softly, thinking through her memories that are not really her own. “I guess I do now.”

Sad blue eyes turn away from him, and she stretches out her legs along the step, crossing them at the ankles. “I don’t know,” she says after a moment, as for her thoughts. “I almost envy James. At least he has no delusions, you know?”

Isaac arches an eyebrow. "How so?" he asks.

She arches her own eyebrow back, a mirror image of him and then shakes her head. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it sucks to be him in different ways, too. But he knows what he is and what he isn’t — he had that knowledge built into him so it’s not like being stabbed in the heart to find out what you thought was real… isn’t.”

Sitting while he stands suddenly feels strange, so she pushes herself up to her feet and crosses her arms as she leans against the wall of the stoop. “Everything just feels so…” Nova rakes her teeth over her lower lip, biting the word pointless back. “Like there’s no actual floor beneath me anymore. Everything I thought I knew isn’t real, Isaac.”

Isaac is silent for a moment, leaning back. Her choice of metaphor is particularly apt, because he remembers something like that.

The fall.

"Yeah," Faulkner sighs, slouching against the wall. He is silent, taking a moment to remember that night — that awful realization that he just didn't have it anymore. That he wasn't going to make it. Then, past that — the realization that he'd gone blind.

He takes a moment to remember what that had felt like, to immerse himself in that feeling… and then he starts to speak. "I remember one of the first times I tried running again after the crash. I always used to run on the roofs — higher up, less chance of running into someone or getting hit by a car, plus it was… more of a thrill, I guess. I wasn't very high up on this particular occasion, because I knew I'd probably lost a couple of steps." He laughs. "I hit a jump I should've been able to make, easy, but my foot slipped at the edge. I was halfway across when I realized I wasn't gonna make it."

"I picked up my ability at almost the same time I started learning to do the whole Peter Parkour thing, so… I tended to integrate my ability into my running. If I hit a jump wrong and was gonna fall a bit short… it was fine, I'd just Spider-man it, catch the edge, and keep moving. But now… no shadows. No Spider-manning, just… gravity and velocity and concrete below. Hit the wall, fell… gave myself a concussion, went blind for awhile. It… gave me some time to reflect. To come to terms with the fact that the thing I used to be the best at — something I used to love — was just… gone. That my sight might be gone, too."

He sighs and slides down against the wall, until he's sitting down beside her. "Of course, there was still Daredevil as a career path, but…" he starts, but he trails off with a sigh. "Nah. I can't even joke about it. It was bad."

For a moment he is silent… then he chuckles and looks back to Nova, a lopsided grin on his face. "Which I guess is a really long-winded way of saying I can understand where you're coming from — at least a little."

"But the thing is… even if you aren't who you thought you were. Even if your past isn't what you thought it was…" Now the grin is gone, and Faulkner's expression is intent. "You have a present, and you have a future — maybe a long one if we can get our firmware upgrades — and those are yours to decide what to do with."

Faulkner raises his hands, flexing the fingers. "See these? They're not just… robot claws or power tools. They can build. Draw. Do things." He pauses. "Well. Mine can't really draw that well, but yours do pretty well, seems like. Anyway," he says, but doesn't quite know what to follow that up with.

Nova’s brows draw together as she listens, her emotions playing out on her face visibly, from distress to sympathy, as he tells his story. But when he gets back to what his story means when it comes to her, she frowns again, looking down at one of her own hands after he raises his.

“I’m sorry you went through that,” she says softly. “It must have been awful.” She uncrosses her arms, looking down as her hands connect in front of her, one folding in the other.

“And I’m sorry for what I said last night,” Nova says in a smaller voice, reaching for one of his very human hands, squeezing it and letting it go again. “I know it sounds dumb to say that I didn’t mean you, or James, because we’re all in the same boat, but I don’t think of you or anyone else as anything wrong, you know? Just.. just me.”

Her eyes fill with tears and she presses her lips together. “Once we do this thing, we won’t have anything but ourselves, you know? And right now I don’t even know who myself is, but…”

Nova takes a shaky breath, bringing her eyes back up to meet his. “You’re right. If we feel and think, uniquely and independently, then that’s pretty real.”

Nova's commiseration is met with a wry smirk and a shrug of one shoulder — yes, it had sucked, but it is also over. Her apology, though, sees Faulkner blink… then he gives a small smile.

"Yeah… I know," he says quietly, looking off into the distance. "You're not the type to bag on others — not like that, at least. You ought to cut yourself a little slack too, though," he says, looking back to her with a faint smile… though it quickly fades to a grimace. "There's going to be plenty of people happy enough to say things like that; no sense helping them with it."

Her comment about them having no one but themselves is met with a blink, but when she comes to the end, he grins. "About as real as you can get, if you ask me. And for what it's worth… I think yourself is pretty cool," he says with a smirk.

The last sentence is met with a smirk that bubbles into a laugh, and Nova shakes her head. “All the late grammarians are turning over in their respective graves, thanks to us,” she quips.

Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, Nova glances out at the brambles and weeds and ivy overtaking a building across the way. “So if we somehow save ourselves,” she begins, “what’s your plan? Will you a) see if the other you wants you around and just split everything fifty fifty? b) Steal all his savings and identification so he’s the one who has to prove he’s real? c) plan your world domination, or, d) other?” Despite the joking nature of the question, she looks back at him with genuine curiosity as to what comes next.

Isaac smiles at Nova's joke, but he doesn't answer right away; from the way his gaze slips off into the distance, it seems like he's taking it seriously, too.

"He doesn't have a lot to his name, honestly," Faulkner admits. "There's not a lot he has that I really want." Except the night, he doesn't let himself say…but that's beyond his reach.

"He's got a little money saved from his job; I'd probably take what I've added to that and… I don't know. The whole reason he came to the Safe Zone was to… try to find something. Some trace of… anything. Looking for Uncle Ben," he says, a ghost of a smile crossing his face as he glances to Nova. "Or a family friend, or the Parkers' graves, or… anything. But all this time…"

He doesn't let himself finish, just shakes his head. "I'd probably stick around for awhile, but then? I don't know. Sooner or later I'd probably drift off somewhere, I guess. Maybe back to Montana…"

He's silent for a moment. "What about you?" he asks. "What would you do?"

Nova’s smiles at the allusions to their Peter Parkour allusion, nodding a little absently as she stares back out at the untamed foliage across the street. A this question, she shakes her head; her brows draw together and she looks downward.

“I have no idea. Pretty sure that Evil Incorporated won’t continue to pay my tuition and board once we blow up all their plans and rescue ourselves. I don’t even know who the other Nova is. I guess I’ll just…pack what I have and figure it out later. I just know that…”

Her scowl deepens, and she bites her lower lip, then looks up at him again. “I don’t want to not be.”

"Good. That's a good start," Faulkner says firmly, nodding. Then he grins. "If all goes well, there'll be plenty of time to figure out the rest." Of course, if all doesn't go well… well, in that case, probably neither of them will have to worry about that or anything else for too much longer.

Still, there's one thing that doesn't quite add up, and Nova's touched on it. "You're probably right that Evil Inc. isn't going to pay your bills after we kick down their front doors, but… hm," Faulkner muses, staring off into the distance for a moment as he thinks. He glances over to Nova, hesitating for a moment… but he's already half-voiced what he's thinking; no sense stopping now. "I kinda wonder why they were doing it at all."

Nova shrugs. “A question for the ages,” she says, suddenly sounding very tired. “You know, I kind of wish they made us a little better than actual humans. Like, we’re still just as vulnerable to getting physically hurt, or worse, and we still have to deal with dumb body things like getting headaches from overthinking or crying or whatever else,” she points out, crossing her arms again.

A stern frown pulls her brows together and she shakes her head. “The least they could do is make us a little better. Not enough to notice, but you know. A little better hand-eye coordination, a little less anxiety… even before we had our medical disasters. Maybe we will be once we get our final upgrades.”

Her nose wrinkles at the word choice. “If a time traveler could bring you anywhen, when and where would you go?” she asks, suddenly.

Isaac finds himself nodding along with Nova. "It would be nice," he agrees softly. "Though honestly… it's possible they did exactly that. When we saw Shaw…" he begins, only to trail off; it's not hard to tell what he'd been thinking.

Nova's next question provides a welcome change of subject; it also takes him completely off-guard, drawing a raised eyebrow and an amused smile. "Time travel?" he asks… then he chuckles. "I suppose it's really not that much stranger than any of this…" he concedes, his expression growing more serious as he gives her question consideration.

"There'd be a few factors, of course… but assuming I had some time to prepare, assuming I got to keep everything I know, and assuming I was able to take things back with me… probably either the end of the Depression, the end of World War II, or just after the Second Civil War," he says seriously. "That's when it's easiest to make an impact, and even a little foreknowledge could go a long way."

He shrugs, looking over to Nova. "What about you? If H. G. Wells popped up with a time machine and said he'd give you a lift to wherever, whenever… where and when would you go?"

“True,” she says with a furrow of her brow, reminding her how lucky Shaw was to be alive — a miracle, really. But she quiets as he talks about going back in time in order to make an impact, and her smile returns.

“That’s an interesting take on it I’ve never heard anyone else say,” Nova says, tipping her head as she studies his face. “You definitely think about things in a different way than most. I think most people would say they’d try to stop the bad things from happening — you know, kill Hitler before his rise to power, knock out all the guys exploding things in New York. Why is it always men, by the way?”

Her smile turns a little wry, but then he turns the question back on her, and she shrugs a shoulder. “Maybe the future. I’ve been told that we can’t really change the past in a meaningful way — we just split the timelines, right? So we might think we changed it, but somewhere else, that timeline is still going on the way it already did, and our time-traveling selves would travel along a new timeline, thinking we saved the world. And I guess we kinda did, but we kinda didn’t.”

Her eyes scan the sky from left to right, as if re-reading what she just said, then nods. “But if you go to the future, from the present, I don’t think you’d screw up the present? And definitely not the past.” Nova’s lips tip to one side, and she laughs. “I think, anyway. But I’m not sure where, or when. Maybe far enough and long enough away that people wouldn’t know the other me.”

Faulkner's eyebrows rise, a hint of an amused smirk touching his lips when Nova talks about killing Hitler. He does give her a bit of sideeye when she asks why it's always men, though. "Because the Lady Macbeths are crafty enough to not get caught in the limelight, I would imagine," Isaac offers, shrugging.

Her theory of time travel is interesting, though, and prompts a thoughtful frown from Faulkner. "Makes sense. Is that where those other timelines people were talking about come from?" he wonders idly… then he shakes his head. "But that's not why I wouldn't go kill Hitler."

His expression grows more serious. "Killing one man isn't going to do much to change the circumstances that prompted his rise to power… and if it hadn't been Hitler, the Germans might have been led by someone competent during World War II, and the Allies might have lost. And that's assuming you succeeded; there's a lot of things that could go wrong with an assassination like that, and it'd be very easy to end up thrown in German prison and dying before you'd ever been born. Or possibly just the last part," Isaac says drily. "It'd suck to end up as a bug splattered on the windshield of history. So if I wanted to change things… I'd play it carefully. Go back early, lay groundwork, build resources; then, when the time came… they'd make their move and find out that I was already there, three moves ahead. Checkmate."

But when she starts talking about going to the future, Isaac frowns, looking thoughtful… right up until the end, at least. Then he smiles. "Well. You're the only Nova I know," he says. "The only Nova any of the rest of us know, for that matter. So maybe that's not so very far away, hm?"

“Not sure,” Nova says, with a lift of her shoulders, when he asks about the people from the other timelines. “It’s a theory I’ve heard, though. You ever been to college? Late night dorm discussions can get pretty deep, especially when you hang out with the science and math folks.”

His reasoning for not going after the big kill draws out a thoughtful nod from her. “I’ll add that to my time travel philosophy, then,” she says with a smirk that’s more of her usual variety than the pensive expressions she’s been wearing since meeting Kirk. The smirk softens into a smile, before she lightly punches him in the shoulder.

Nova’s smile shifts into a faux-cross glower, and she crosses her arms again. “Stop being so maddeningly right all the time.”

Faulkner rubs at his shoulder in exaggerated reaction, though he can't quite keep the smirk off his face; after a moment he sighs and gives an exaggerated shrug. "Ah, sometimes it hurts to be this good," he says… then he chuckles at himself, grinning at Nova in wry amusement.

Then he stretches and comes to his feet. "Alright. I think I've been up long enough to start my morning workout. Feel up to joining me?"

Nova’s brows lift and she looks a little skeptical. But she did make him join her on an illegal kayaking and hiking trip to North Brother Island not so long ago.

“Fine,” she says with a laugh, pulling a scrunchie off of her wrist to wrap around her dark hair, pulling it into a ponytail. “But try to keep up, Petey.”

Faulkner raises both eyebrows at that. "Bold. I like it. Hope you haven't been skipping leg day," he says, with a smirk that is definitely at least a little evil.

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