The Answer Is...


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Scene Title The Answer Is…
Synopsis Seeking answers to their true nature, Zachery and Jac turn to Delia Ryans and embark on an odyssey into the subconscious.
Date February 5, 2021

"I've never actually met her in person,” Jac Childs explains. By the tone of her voice it isn't the first time she's made an effort to assure Zachery Miller that going to someone neither of them know personally is a wise course of action. She lifts her eyes from the phone cradled in her hand to look at the door they've stopped at. “Just the one time in the one dream. But people I know who know her say she's good.” Which was enough to prompt the phone call that was made to Delia Ryans only a few days earlier.

Delia Ryans’ Residence - Queens

February 5, 2021

4:27 pm

“This is the place.” Jac looks up at Zachery, eyebrows rising over blue eyes that fix with thought. “Just don't be an ass, okay.” It's half warning, half plea. She well remembers how suddenly the other dream ended because of all the yelling. She felt both sides of that argument had good and bad points, but she really wanted to avoid a repeat experience.

Bringing a hand up, the teen lightly knocks on the door then takes a half step back from it to wait. “Remember we need her help. And I really don't think she will if either of us are pushy or rude.”

"I'll be on my best behaviour."

Zachery's voice comes a few steps behind, flat and rehearsed. He runs a palm over the stubble on his jawline before shoving both hands in the pockets of his black coat and coming to a slow stop. He lifts his face to cast a tired look toward the door as they wait. "Which I'm beginning to understand sounds a little suspect, coming from me, but you'll just have to trust me, won't you."

It's not often that Delia receives company, aside from family members who have an open invite, not many people venture past the garden to get to the old house. The concrete walkway has seen better days, uneven due to frost and pieces missing from the slabs themselves make it a tripping hazard. The steps leading up to the house are slanted awkwardly, forcing Jac and Zachery to lean a little to one side in order to avoid the feel of falling. It's hard to believe that someone might use this every day.

This is definitely not the glamorous brownstones that Jac and Zachery are used to, this is a narrow stand alone. Its age is indeterminable, the front brick face is at the very least a hundred years old but the siding is much newer and definitely not the original clapboard.

The front door is a tall dark brown, looming seriously above both Jac and Zachery, and never opens. Instead, Delia's red curls can be seen peeking around the side of the building and she lets out a sigh. "This way," she calls to the duo, waving them toward her. "We don't use that door."

Once inside, it's plain to see why. The entire front entryway is missing.

"Haven't seen you since the wedding, Doctor Miller," Delia says a bit too formally. "How's Nicole holding up?"

If any sort of reply is forming in Jac’s mind, it's derailed when a mature version of a vaguely familiar voice calls from the side of the house. She doesn't seem at all bothered by the state of things while walking from the stoop to the side of the house, she might live in a tidy brownstone now but it wasn't always that way — compared to some places the teen had holes up in, the old and worn house she’s entering now is still a Hilton. It's also given the same polite curiosity she gives everything.

“I'll bet this house has an amazing history,” she says aloud, though mainly to herself. She studies the entry, or lack thereof, then sneaks a quick, unobtrusive peek past Delia that ends when the older redhead speaks up again. She glances up at Zachery, then directs her attention to their host.

Surprise makes way for a twinge of amusement when Zachery hears the formal address, though it doesn't make it into the top half of his face.

He follows along at an unhurried pace, keeping an eye on his more immediate surroundings as he walks and paying extra attention to the floor. Having to revisit his days in a cast because of uneven ground, after all, would just be embarrassing. "You should call her, some time," he says of Nicole, before glancing up at Delia. "I'm sure she'd love to hear from you."

“An amazing history of bad pipes, so far,” she laughs, “Lucky salvage is pretty much all over the place or I’d never get any reno’s done. Once I replace those ones, I can recover the pit to the basement and hopefully trap all the ghosts back down there. They keep trying to mingle with the skeletons in the closet.”

Ushering the two of them away from the gaping hole in the entry and into the kitchen, Delia proceeds to place a kettle on the stove. “It’s just been a bit busy,” she utters apologetically to Zachery, “Pippa’s been filling me in a little here and there on what’s happening. Mostly, I just don’t want to get in the way. So before we talk business, what’s your pleasure?” This is said to Jac as much as Zachery, “hot leaf water, hot bean water, or hot chocolate?”

“Maybe you've got a time capsule hidden somewhere,” Jac muses as she follows Delia, trying to find some kind of silver lining for the older redhead. “Treasures buried beneath the flooring. It could happen.” She glances up at Zachery. It's not his thing, she knows, so he gets a slight shrug. Scavenging is a thing she knows a lot about.

The offer, as she joins their hostess in the kitchen, is met with a quick grin. “Hot chocolate please?”

Zachery's response is minimal as he trailing along and steps immediately aside when entering the kitchen, coming to a halt with his back to a wall, his fingers curling inwards at his sides.

He lets his gaze trail up and to the ceiling, then around the room, before he realises a question has been asked of him. "Oh." He eyes Delia, then says with none of the caution he seems to be giving his environment, "Coffee? As strong as you'll make it, ideally." He frowns. "How long have you been living here?"

Delia busies herself with the two drink requests by pulling a few things from the cupboard: two mugs, a can of hot cocoa, and a glass jar of dark granules… instant coffee. Zachery is treated to two heaping spoonfuls in his cup before Delia raps the spoon on the counter and uses it to scoop a couple spoons of cocoa mixture into Jac’s cup. “All my life with the exception of a few years on the run. This was my family’s house before the war… when they reclaimed this part of the city for the safe zone, I parked my ass on the stoop and refused to leave.”

The whistling kettle is quickly pulled off the stove and hot water poured into the two cups. Jac’s is stirred first, then Zachery’s, giving it a bit of chocolate cloud before it’s swirled away. Then she hands them their respective cups, “Black?”

He may have no other choice.

“Thank you.” Jac curls her hands around the cup she's given. She shows an acute interest in the story of how Delia came to the house, and it's likely that she'd begin asking questions about it: the house and the property, even cautious questions about The Ryans family. But the visit isn't exactly a social one. Another time, is a silent promise she makes herself.

“I would like to talk about it more sometime.” A quick glance goes to Zachery then refocuses on Delia. “I would. Definitely later, after we've explored the other things.”

The teen draws a breath and looks into the swirl of chocolate in her cup. “It's just… we don't know why or how our abilities got stripped and with all the other anomalous things we've found, I hope that looking at the dreams will help.” She looks up at Delia again, one shoulder lifting slightly. “I'll make sure you're compensated for your time.”

The cup lands in Zachery's hand without complaint, and Delia's question only barely has him lifting a shoulder in a shrug before he lifts the cup to his mouth— it's been a hell of a month, and caffeine, no matter how instant or how bitter, is welcomed.

But. Before he lifts it all the way, he mentions off-handedly, "You know, I have some numbers I could give you - people who'll be able to at least help you start to fix up your foundation and walls. Nicole's sniffed them out for a side-project, so you know they're well-vetted. And the compensation, well…"

He takes a few steps forward, peering into his cup before lifting it again, and leveling flat stare in Delia's direction as he says over the rim, "Personally, I'm happy for part of it to come out of my own pocket, if need be. The sooner we can get this started, the better."

“Well, I suppose I could do a bit of poking around.” Delia says, leaning back against the counter and folding her arms across her chest. “If you can’t remember awake, maybe…” Letting loose a frustrated sigh, Jac is the one to receive the apologetic grimace. “Telepaths are better at this, though, the subconscious can be a monster if it doesn’t want to be bothered. I could tell you some nasty stories.”

The subject of compensation is too good a bargain to let go of though and if the giant hole to the abyss in the middle of the front entryway is any indicator, the dreamwalker could use a little extra cheddar. “So my price is a vial of blood from both of you.” She manages to say it with a straight face and doesn’t crack until the teen gives her a look. “Kidding! Kidding… if you can help me get the pipes and floor fixed, that’ll be good enough.”



Zachery Miller wakes up in a cold start, feeling rain blowing stinging against his face. The sky above is darkening, not just from the stormy gray clouds that flood his vision but from the approaching of a deep and dark night as well. The bus stop bench he awakens on is soaked in rainwater and a howling wind blows the rain sideways down a desolate street lined with abandoned cars.

Crouched beside the bench, Delia Ryans looks unphased by the rain, a red-haired Virgil to Zachery’s Dante in this particular layer of Hell. At first Zachery is forced to grapple with the surroundings he’s in, with the blistering cold air and hurricane force winds. He can see the Brooklyn coast from the bench he’s seated on, sees the crash of churning white surf crashing up against the breakers. An oil tanker sloshes back and forth in the Hudson river, listing aimlessly and caught on powerful waves. There are no lights anywhere, just howling wind and driving rain.

Manhattan, across the river, looks much as it does today. A walled tomb of jagged, broken fingers grasping up at a cloudy sky. But the freezing rain driven by this powerful wind is not something from his memories, which is when clarity and objectivity dawn on him.

These aren’t his memories.

They’re Jac’s.


The first word to leave Zachery's throat is not eloquent, nor is he particularly graceful in the way he finds himself braced with his fingers curled around the seat of the bench, gaze darting around the unfamiliar sight as his lip curls into a sneer.

He lifts a hand to shield his face, only then noticing Delia behind the crook of his arm. "Great, fucking— wonderful," he pauses to slick his drenched hair back, and to wipe the rain out of his eyes. "This had to be done here?"

Only then does he look out toward the river again, narrowing his eyes at the oil tanker just as another gust of wind brings with it another pelting of rain. "Wait. Actually. Why here?"

"This is the spot for the drop. I don't pick the location, the boss does." Delia replies, giving their surroundings a quick glance and then straightening to her full height. She doesn't explain any further than that, allowing Zachery's subconscious to fill in the details with whatever spy or superhero fantasy he needs to stay with her.

Silently, she does wonder the same question. Why here?

She hasn't gone exploring in this particular noodle before, so she's not familiar with most of the details of the landscape. She glances from tanker, to skyline, and then to an abandoned car… in the movies there's always a puppy in a car in need of rescue. This grim landscape is pretty much a Hollywood B movie poster. Any minute now, a giant slime ball could roll around the corner.

She takes a look in a second car for a puppy, just in case.

"Come on, we should move before anyone sees us."

Lightning tears through the sky, brightly illuminating the dark landscape for a few flickering moments. Storm drains overflow, rats scurry past on the street to avoid being swept up by rising tides crashing against concrete breakers. The storm is intense, unrelenting, and threatens to swallow the city.

The why may not ever truly be clear, but the when is for Jac. Huddled in the rusting wreckage of an old van, wrapped in the shredded remains of a blue tarp, she is only now becoming aware that this isn’t now.

It’s somewhen else.

October 25, 2012 to be specific. The day Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the ruins of New York City, flooding the sewers, killing thousands of refugees living in the city’s ruins, and forcing Jac to the surface for the first time since the war began in earnest. When she locks eyes on Zachery and Delia, her perceptions of now crumble and she remembers entering the dreamscape. Delia’s presence is an anchor to reality, even as the tides of unreality crash so vividly around them.

Delia and Zachery spot Jac in almost that same moment, briefly illuminated by the flicker of lightning.

At first, as lightning crashes and rain pounds, making frightening silhouettes of everything, Jac keeps herself small and insignificant. Being overlooked is a boon, a weapon of survival, one she wields with skill and ease.

Locks of red curls still damp from the storm frame blue eyes that stare out from beneath the makeshift shelter. Shadowed shapes are picked out in fits at starts, directed by the sharp flashes. Rising monoliths of concrete and steel stand out for seconds at a time looking like nightmarish creatures.

She begins to sink deeper into the crinkle of ragged tarp when the shapes of Zachery and Delia move during one sporadic snap of light.

When the next lightning flash brings detail to their features, recognition and memory sink in. She remembers the storm, the flooding. The fear. Knowing it's a dream helps only a little. At least she was smart to ask Delia’s help.

Jac unfolds herself but keeps the tarp drawn around like a cloak. It does a poor job of protecting her from the downpour. Her feet splash through standing water as she picks her way across the ruins to join with Zachery and Delia.

With both questions and confusion weighing heavily on Zachery's mind, he lags a few steps behind Delia, rain trickling over furrowed brow and thoroughly soaked through.

"There you are," he grates under his breath when Jac's spotted, sounding none too pleased but keeping his gaze locked on Jac nonetheless, as though she might disappear before finding her way closer. Who the fuck knows, in here. Slightly louder and after a few more steps forward - through puddled muck and crumbled wall, he dryly adds, "Tell me this is as strange to me as it is to you."

Delia is shot a brief and questioning glance, but— maybe only to imply he might know the answer for her.

Jac is greeted with a grin as she comes into view. “Fine place,” Delia chirps, then sticks her finger into her mouth … only to pull it out with a bit of a pop and hold it in the air. “October? It smells like October. Well it’s colder and stanks less than August or September, and it’s not snowy enough to be November or December.”

She doesn’t seem at all bothered by the ambiance and the weather… she’s weathered (haha) worse than this in her travels. So instead of using her words, she holds out a hand with an offering to Zachery. The offering being a bright pink umbrella with just as bright yellow duckies in a repeating pattern sprinkled all over it. For Jac, she has a little hat contraption that folds out into a personal head umbrella… because in her estimation, the teen would look adorable and it’s not really in public anyway.

“So what are we looking at here, Boss?” She questions the younger redhead, not so obviously doing her best impersonation of Dick Tracy. “Kidnapping? Hostage situation? Theft?”

Hurricane Sandy continues to bear down on the New York coast, bringing crashing waves up from the breakers that wash over Delia but never seem to truly touch her. The waves crash white and frothy down around her, then recede harmlessly back to the swollen shore. In the sky, lightning traces spiderweb patterns, but something about it makes Zachery feel uneasy. Though at first, he’s unsure as to why.

When Jac arrives, the wind has picked up and the rain gained a stinging quality. A street sign from the highway comes cartwheeling end over end down the nearby street and through the narrow strip of overgrown parkland they’ve gathered in. The sign careens into a thin tree, uprooting it from the ground and both go wheeling off into the rapidly encroaching water.

The lightning spiderwebs through the sky again, and this time Zachery sees what made him so disquieted before. It’s not really so much a spiderweb of lightning. The brief flash resembles a network of synapses made from lightning, burning bright for a brief moment before giving way to the dark, cloud-filled sky.

The lightning makes her flinch and draw the makeshift cloak around her narrow shoulders more tightly. The wind tugs and rips at the plastic violently, but Jac’s fingers, red with cold, stubbornly hold tight. She doesn't quite seek the safety of closeness with Zachery and Delia, but the slight lean in her posture implies an unacknowledged desire to.

The dreamer’s question is given a shrug, while a nervous look follows the cartwheeling sign. “The big storm.” Shivering and teeth chattering give a stuttering quality to her words. “I had to leave the Underneath because it filled with water.” Blue eyes lift to look up at Delia from beneath soaked red curls.

“I don't know why here. Sandy…” was terrifying. The teen cringes at the crash of thunder that answers the next forking claw of lightning. “What the hurricane has to do with… One of the tests we did, Zachery said I was asleep when I was most absolutely awake.” Jac looks away, to watch the rain fall all around. “It made sense to check the dreams if I was sleeping and awake at the same time.”

The moment the pink umbrella ends up in Zachery's grasp it - FFfTHP! - flips immediately inside out. And just as well, because his drowned rat attention is overhead, still, torn away only when the entirely-too-mobile street sign comes into his line of sight. He turns to watch it with a squint to fight the rain in his face, and a wrinkling of his nose to fight the thought of what else might come tumbling past soon.

"Okay," He turns his attention back on Delia, then, studying her for a moment while letting the wind rip the umbrella from his hand entirely, and relinquishing it into the disaster that is the rest of the area. Jac is looked at next, and with more urgency entering his expression. "Right, yes, experiments. So— nightmare, established that. But it's yours, it's familiar, it's…" Once more, his eyes lift to the sky. "Why would you be dreaming about that?"

He begins to close the rest of the distance between them, but stops a few steps short, motioning for her to move, instead, outstretched hand kept in place as he asks, incredulously, "Can't you… change this? Dream of, I don't know, school?" You know, like young people do. "Maybe a nice beach?"

The gift of the pink umbrella being flung across the street by the wind catches Delia's attention, causing her to give Zachery a bit of unamused side-eye. “You’re welcome,” she grouses (mostly) under her breath. “So what experiments did you do exactly? Maybe you traumatized her back to this place.” It’s possible that they told her in the waking world, but over the years she’s turned from serious and studious to someone that ignores the finer details in favor of a bit of fun.

“And I’m not so sure that changing the location is a good idea,” she adds, turning her attention to Jac. “How long has it been since you’ve visited this place dreaming or otherwise? What did you do when you left this… underneath? Where did you go?”

Behind Delia, a weatherbeaten freeway sign rattling against a heap of collapsed concrete finally pries itself free and once more takes into the wind like a giant, flying guillotine. The whirling sheet of metal spins off into the distance on the gale, revealing an alcove in the collapsed concrete, within which rests the pristine front door of a suburban house, painted a soft shade of blue with a cream-colored fleur-de-lis knocker.

Jac recognizes the incongruent door once it’s revealed. It’s the front door of the Ford Residence.

“They weren't traumatic,” Jac states, vaguely distracted but matter of fact as she squints against the blowing rain. She watches Zachery for a long second, wondering and thinking on what this day and place could mean. Then she begins to turn, following his gaze to the sky. “After here…” She pauses to consider where she went next, and as her mouth moves, her answer is lost to the sound of wind and crashing metal.

The unexpected violence of the falling, cartwheeling sign is startling, and the teen ducks with an arm drawn protectively over her head.

As the sound of tumbling metal continues down the street, Jac cautiously lifts her head. Her eyes sweep from the flying sign moving away to the building it launched from in anticipation of more dangers. Her stomach twists at what she sees next.

The door, that door, isn't the danger she would have anticipated. Her head shakes, first as a slow denial then gaining insistence in rejecting it. “No. No it wasn't there.” Jac wraps her arms around her middle to hide a shaking that has nothing to do with the cold. The tarp at her shoulders catches in the wind. It flaps and tugs behind and around her small frame in fits and starts. She doesn't seem to notice. Her attention is fixed on the door, the perfect paint, the pristine knocker. “I ran away before this. I never went back.”

Zachery, too, is startled, but he uses the moment of the sidestep that his reflexes prompt him to take and just keeps on walking, somewhat clumsily sidestepping uprooted bits of pavement while announcing, "Well, it's miserable out here, so I'm going where the literal signs are pointing!"

Wiping the rain from his face, he presses forward, with full intention of helping that pristine knocker fulfil its only purpose.

Delia nearly flattens to the ground as the sign slices its way through the air overhead. Only when Jac speaks does she stand straight from her crouch and revert back to her laissez faire countenance. After all, she’d rather not get decapitated here or awake.

The dreamwalker is pretty much an expert at avoiding things. Her track record spans from conversations to consequences and back again, so she recognizes the signs coming from Jac. From what Delia’s heard of Gillian’s fearless daughter, this hesitation is a little surprising and while she sympathizes with the feeling, she also knows it won’t just disappear. “Well, it looks like you’re not going to keep that streak,” she shouts over the wind, firmly clapping a hand on the teen’s other shoulder. It’s meant to be a gesture of encouragement, but if it weren’t in this place, it could be considered a little too rough. “Looks like this is going to be one of those coming of age moments for you, kid. Do you think you’re ready?”


The wind picks up.


Thunder claps overhead.


Ford Residence?
Fort Lee, New Jersey?


A child is crying.

At somewhere around six years old, Jac is red-faced and inconsolable as she sits at a formica table with an empty dinner plate in front of her. The combination kitchen/dining room is unfamiliar. But the tall, severe-looking woman pacing the kitchen floor with her head in her hands, that one Jac recognizes.

Can you please shut her the fuck up?” Jac knows Carolyn Ford’s voice. She recognizes her near-black brown eyes that remind her of a shark. Stefan Ford looks just as livid at Jac’s crying, standing at a wall-mounted phone by the door to the kitchen.

“No, she won’t stop.” Stefan says into the phone. “She just keeps crying. I’ve tried everything. I think something is wrong, I need you to send someone to pick her up.”

Zachery, Delia, and Jac bear witness to this family drama from within the confines of the living room, provided with a clear view of the kitchen through an open doorway. Nothing here looks familiar to Jac. Not the brown-gold shag carpeting, not the faux wood paneling on the walls, not the plaid-patterned couch in front of a set-top old CRT television. She’s never been in this house before.

At least, not as far as she remembers.

The crying and yelling are so familiar that Jac initially ignores the unfamiliar setting. Her eyes go from the sight of her much younger self crying at the table, to the two adults that were supposed to care for her. The fear and hatred she harbors for the Fords mirrors the storm outside, echoed in the trembling and shaking of her slight frame.

Unwilling to watch further, the teen turns her face away from the scene. She has more than enough memories like what's playing out in the kitchen, she doesn't need to witness another.

Her eyes focus on the carpet crushed beneath her feet without recognition. It takes her a second to realize that she doesn't recognize it. This wasn't the carpet she remembers. Jac lifts her head, turning slowly to look at the furniture, the walls. This was not the home in New York. Apprehensively, she glances back to the kitchen and the drama within.

Zachery bristles when he realises he's no longer where he was, but as he slowly lowers his hand from where he'd lifted it to knock, he keeps his attention where it is. The somewhat familiar child, and completely unfamiliar parents.

"Alright," he says under his breath, as if this marks some sort of progress. At least they're out of the rain. But the storm wasn't the only thing in that sky, earlier. He leans forward as if to start walking toward the kitchen, but stops himself.

"Sorry about the, ah- small issue of privacy," he raises his voice, notably without apology carrying on his words, "but does this seem… right?" He asks of both people at his side, looking between Delia and Jac, his gaze lingering on the latter. "You look confused."

Delia’s anger flares white hot and instinct has her grabbing Jac, pulling the young woman up against herself protectively. ASSHOLES… her thoughts shriek with all the fury of the drekavac. Elsewhere, the fierceness of the hold would be near painful, and elsewhere it is.

Later (maybe in the morning), the dreamwalker will wake and rub the crescent indents of fingernails from the heels of her palms.

“Who are these dink wrinkles?” She doesn’t apologize for barging in on anyone’s more private moments… if she had a nickel for every time that happened, she’d have more money than a Ray on payday. Besides, she was invited, this time.

“It’s happened again,” Stefan says quietly into the receiver, practically hunched at the wall-mounted phone, “No… we can’t keep her.” Stefan's tone remains conversational, but he's sweating at his hairline. Stefan glances over at his wife, and they exchange wary glances.

We can’t,” Stefan says in response to something said on the other end of the line, feigning a smile to Carolyn. “She needs to be separated.” The young Jac at the table lowers her head, brows furrowed.

“Carolyn,” Stefan says suddenly to his wife, tension in his voice. “You should go,” he says firmly. “You— forgot something at the store, right? It'll be a quick trip.” There’s a surreality to the scene, as if Stefan’s mouth doesn’t quite match the words he’s saying.

“No! I wanna stay!” Jac screams and slams her hands on the table. Stefan and Carolyn both jump with a startle. When they meet young Jac’s eyes, they see they now glow gold. Stefan sees it, lets out a breath in the back of his throat and starts to say something into the phone. He never gets to finish it.

Stefan’s face is struck by an unseen force so powerful it caves his entire head in. He collapses to his knees, leaving a single fleck of blood on the refrigerator. The phone is left swinging side to side by its cord. Everyone is screaming now. Carolyn tries to run for the phone, but a steak knife whips through the air into her neck. She staggers, blood gushing out of the wound, turns to Jac. Drawers fly open, knives suspended in the air. “Clearcut,” Carolyn manages to say, before the knives all perforate her body.

The table flips away from young Jac by unseen hands, crashes down on its side. As she steps through the doorway into the living room toward the older Jac, Zachery, and Delia, people are bursting into the house from behind them—men in dark suits. One of them draws a tranquilizer gun, and young Jac jerks her head to the side and he is lifted off of his feet to crash through a banister, impaled on two stakes of wood pushing up through his ribcage. Another through the door hops over the sofa, is caught in midair by unseen hands and wrung up like a towel filled with uncooked eggs. Another tries the same thing, firing a handgun straight at young Jac. His bullet is stopped in mid-air, and he too is twisted into a shape no longer resembling a person.

One of the men in suits tries to run. Jac’s gold eyes shimmer, and he combusts into flames. His screams come with begging and pleading as he burns from the inside out. Smoke and fire escapes what is left of his eyes and mouth. He collapses backwards, flames lapping up through cracks in his skin.

Right in front of Zachery.

“This isn't right.” Some of it is. Jac recognizes Stefan and Carolyn, their lack of empathy toward her. She knows they never wanted her and that being removed from the home wasn't an empty threat though she doesn't remember it actually happening. She isn’t sure that this never happened. “This place… I don't…” Where is this place? “Did Maury do this?”

The teen startles when the child slams her hands upon the table. Her eyes draw from the figures of her foster parents to her much younger self. Blue eyes catch the shimmer of gold ones set in her face.

Her heart skips a beat.

Pulling away from Delia and Zachery, Jac takes a decisive step forward. A slight tilt of her head allows her to see some of the unfolding horror, the rest is registered by sound or in her periphery. Slowly, she walks forward, approaching the small girl. Her face turns back to the visage of her younger self, blue eyes seeking to meet gold ones.

Zachery stands, watching, confused. As soon as the first injury lands, his face is stuck on something between a sympathetic wince and revulsion, and he is unable to look away. But not once does he try to move to try and intervene.

At least, not until the Jac he knows begins to walk, and he finds himself reaching out to stop her - only to immediately be interrupted by the man combusting before him.

"Fucking Christ," he hisses through gritted teeth, and just like that, panic floods over into anger aimed at just about anyone still in sight and alive to catch his glare. "Jac, that looks an awful lot like—" He cuts what sounds like it might have been a warning short, whipping a sharp look over to Delia. "People don't die in dreams, yes?"

Can't hurt to check with, presumably, an expert.

The dreamwalker’s eyes flit between the two versions of Jac and her eyebrows twitch together as she attempts to puzzle out what is real. She moves between the teen and Zachery, acting like a shield for the latter.

“Sometimes…” The word is uttered low, practically whispered, and probably not the answer he wants to hear, “but we’re not really here. We’re just watching, you’ll be fine.” She’s pretty sure that’s right, still, the teen receives an uneasy look to the back of the head.

“What’s happened already happened… and we weren’t here the first time. So as far as the little one is concerned… we’re not here. Stay behind me though, just in case.”

Just in case the older Jac gets her golden eye on.

Except, nothing happens. A moment later the childhood recollection of Jac is just gone, as if she had never been there at all. The corpses remain, the blood still runs down the walls and drips off the ceiling, the smell of burned hair and flesh still clings to the air. But nothing is happening. It all still feels disorientingly alien to the real Jac, who finds this memory neither familiar nor relatable.

None of this happened. Stefan and Carolyn weren’t killed like this. Not to say she hadn’t wanted to. But this wasn’t even their home.

“I know what it looks…” Jac pauses when the image of herself as a child disappears. She frowns at the emptiness that's left, at the corpses of what were — what looked like — Stefan and Carolyn Ford. “What it looked like.” This isn't how her foster parents died. The scene they walked into, the disdain and disgust from them, that could have been any given day or time of the week. But the rest…

“I don't… I don't remember any of this.” The teen turns slightly, giving a side eye to Delia and Zachery. “The door was… was to their house, but this?” She gestures at the whole room. “Who are these people? I never… that's not what I can do. And…”

Turning away again, Jac looks at the bodies that had been her foster parents. “Why?” She demands of everyone and no one at the same time, suddenly angry and afraid. “Why is this in my dream?” She takes several steps forward, stalking into the kitchen to confront the corpses. “Why are we here? Why are you here!?” Witness or not, Jac pulls a foot back to kick Carolyn first. “I never wanted to come back and you still keep finding me! Why don't you stay dead and gone!? You never wanted me, you never tried to want me! Except so you could keep experimenting!”

With Delia's words considered, Zachery's unease hardly decreases. But just for a few seconds, his attention whips back to where what remains of one particular person lies, and he realises something.

He remembers a different moment involving gold eyes, and the face of Stefan Ford. Much more recently than this. It could have happened this way, but - he assumes, at least - not to this version of…

"Jac." He calls firmly, squaring his shoulders and looking past the carnage to lock eyes on the youngest of the three still living people in this room. Though steadied with urgency, there is no anger in his voice. "Let's go. If this is simply a dream, let's move on from this for now. Yes?"

As Jac draws her foot back to kick the corpse, Delia reaches forward, hand splayed, to stop her. “Don’t,” her tone is stern but laced with concern, “kicking the dead corpse isn’t going to make you feel better. You're the one that found them this time, not the other way around."

Her eyebrows are drawn together in a frown of concentration as the takes in the entire brutal scene, now that the child is gone and the immediate danger seems to have passed. She's not as swift as Zachery to want to leave. To her, it all means something. So she slowly walks around the room, stepping over corpses and examining the spray on the walls, looking for patterns. "But why is a good question, why did you bring us to the storm and here?"

Something twists inside of Delia’s stomach as those words leave her lips. An idea that hadn’t dawned on her until this moment. Maybe it wasn’t Jac’s doing. As that paranoid thought slithers through her mind, she notices an incongruity about the kitchen when viewed over Jac’s shoulder. A door that wasn’t there before. Delia is certain it wasn’t there a moment ago.

A basement door, closed behind a padlock.

Zachery and Jac can see the momentary pause in Delia’s actions, follow her eyeline and see the door that wasn’t there before she asked her question. On seeing the door, a dread feeling of anxiety creeps over Jac. It feels familiar, though she knows she’s never seen it before in her life. But therein lies a kernel of doubt: did she just forget it?

Jac spins to counter both Zachery and Delia’s better sense with a look best described as adolescent scorn. What do they even know about this anyway? But something about Delia throws a little water on that fire. She still frowns at the pair, but only for as long as it takes her to begin wondering about what's made the dreamer pause like that. Which isn't long at all.

Huffing out her frustration, the teen turns and leans slightly to a side to follow Delia’s gaze. In almost the same instant as she finds the door, she wishes she hadn't looked.

Color drains from her face, a soul-deep feeling of foreboding smothers her earlier hatred. But for all of Jac’s fear, there's confusion too. It's marked in the way her eyes dart, first staring at the padlock and door, then flicking to Zachery. She can't explain what’s struck her with terror this time, or why the door seems familiar when she's sure it isn't. But maybe it is.

Blue eyes flick from the doctor to the dreamer. Jac bites down on her lower lip, then turns to the door again. “I don't know,” she offers as an explanation. Her feet move with a practiced quiet, closing the short distance to the door. She raises a hand for the padlock, hesitates just centimeters from it, then grasps the lock to remove it and open the door.

Okay, so they're not leaving. That's fine, Zachery decides, turning halfway to cast a look around for the door out— before he, instead, looks into the kitchen again. Finding the biggest window within view, he takes a deep breath and then promptly walks forward over mangled bits of human and furniture alike.

"How much of this would they know about?" He asks of no one in particular, tearing a bit of curtain aside to get a better look at that stormy sky. "And who is they. If anyone."

“Whoever they are, they sure like doors,” Delia grumbles. With a deep sigh, she nods and begins picking through the bodies and debris toward it. She reaches it about the same time as Jac and watches with concern as the teen tests the padlock.

Then she turns to Zachery and waves him over. “She has to go through this one and you’re probably going to want to come with us.” She’s not sure how well the man does with moral support but he’s the one that Jac brought, so the dreamwalker feels okay with laying that responsibility on him.

“When you’re ready,” she murmurs to Jac, “this is going to be a rough one, I can feel it.”

There is a silence here in Jac’s consciousness, in her dreaming mind. Delia has been listening to it nag at her for quite some time now, a background hum in the dreamscape that makes her teeth itch and her eyes ache. There’s something about this place that sits ill with her, like realizing the town you’re in is nothing more than a Hollywood backdrop. There’s something wrong about everything, every smell, every sound, every recollection. It reminds her of the first time she ever dreamwalked, and how different it felt from reality.

This place, somehow, feels like a dream nested within a dream. Something new, something unknown.

The voices behind her bring Jac to stillness, the way a mouse goes still knowing it’s being watched. Very slowly, her eyes slide to the side, watching for shadows, waiting for the danger to pass. There’s something instinctual about it, a patience she’d learned at a very young age while in the care of the Fords then honed during the time she haunted the streets. A predetermined time when it’s now or never.

Either the monsters will catch her as she moves, or they’ll have just missed her in hiding.

Jac’s eyes refocus on the door. Her brows draw down, fingers curl around the lock. She gives a quick twist and tug of the padlock with one hand. The other holds the doorknob, ready to push it open once able to.

"At this point?" Zachery replies, scrutinising the dream-crafted outside with a scowl before turning to throw a look of confusion in Delia's direction, mulling over her words. "I don't think I have much of a choice."

But who knows. Maybe the only way out is through. He moves away from the window, glancing around the room one more time before approaching Jac, scrubbing a hand over his face in exasperation. "We're right behind you either way."

"That's where you're wrong, Doc," Delia smirks as she steps behind Jac, placing a hand against one of the teen's shoulder blades. "There's always a choice… problem with choices is that they're not always good ones."

And this seems like a tug of war between bad choice and worse choice.

The other two will be fine, but the dreamwalker is pretty sure she should just start drinking if she's going to use her ability to help people instead of just have fun.

After a moment, Jac feels a mechanical click under her hand and the lock comes undone. There is a dread sensation of something terribly wrong in that moment, as the lock crumbles to flaky bits of rusted metal in her touch. Jac feels like a woman possessed as she opens the door into the basement, a dark and lightless space that rickety old wooden steps descend down into.

It’s only on seeing the basement door open that Delia realizes the mistake she’s made. The grave oversight.

She’s been here before.

Delia collapses down to the ground on all fours. There's corpses everywhere, black-suited men with crisp white shirts stained with blood. One lays in a doorway to stairs, horrifically burned down to the bone. He's still crackling. Some of the men are twisted like they were made of putty filled with bones that now show themselves in broken disarray.

Delia’s heart starts racing as she looks around the house again.

The floor has a brown shag carpeting that is blotched with blood. Furniture is broken and in disarray. The doorway behind them no longer leads to Raytech, it goes outside of a suburban home in a flat, dry, evening landscape.

She’s been here before.

The walls in the house are wood paneling.

In Odessa Price’s dreams.

Before Delia can scream a warning a massive human head some seven feet tall erupts from within the basement. Jac’s head, eyes rolled back in their sockets, blood running out of her nose. She opens her mouth revealing too many rows of human teeth and snatches Jac Childs in her jaws, teeth gnashing together and cutting into flesh, then retreats back down the stairs into the darkness like some sort of massive snake.

Zachery is on his ass before he fucking knows it, having staggered back without even having registered his own steps.

But it's wet where he puts a hand down to help himself back up, and when he looks to his side, there's Carolyn. And a steak knife, just enough of its handle sticking out from punctured neck flesh.

"All right!" He hisses out the words, reaching up with a bloodied hand to twist and tear the knife free from where it's nestled into muscle and artery. When he rises to his feet with it, it's to stalk immediately back toward that fucking door. "That's enough."

The way through it is.

"Fuckin' fuckity fuck…" Delia squeaks as that realization hits her like in the noodle like an Acme anvil form the sky. She wasn't expecting this, not here. Not here. But Jac is gone and can't be asked the question, how exactly are you related? And like the very definition of insanity, the dreamwalker grabs the limb from a nearby piece of furniture and brandishes it like a weapon. "These aren't Jac's memories, they're someone else's… you know Odessa Price?"

Nodding toward the basement, she grits her teeth and takes a step toward it. "Swear to god, if Alex Trebek shows up here, I am going to kill both of you. In real life. No regrets."

She won't even mail Nicole a sympathy card.

The name Odessa Price rings in the back of Zachery’s mind like a gunshot as he breaches the doorway to stairs going down. There’s blood on them, probably Jac’s, but it’s hard to say. Something twists in his guts like a snake, each creaking old wooden step feels like a warning telling him to save himself. But what was that feeling that pushed him back toward the door? Frustration? Temerity? Guilt?

As Zachery reaches the bottom of the basement steps Delia is only halfway down. It’s in that moment both of them hear the noise of a chair scuffing across a floor, but what’s jarring is that it seems to be coming from behind them, back in the kitchen.

Delia is far up enough on the staircase to be able to see back into the dining room, and it looks like something changed. The bodies are gone and everything looks nicer, wealthier. It looks like dinner was served at some point, plates have scraps of food on them, chairs are pulled out. There’s an empty wine bottle and one glass.

Carolyn Ford—now alive—is leaning against the door to the pantry adjacent to the basement entrance. Someone is pounding on the inside of the pantry door, crying. The sound elicits a sharp look of contempt from Carolyn, who turns and slams the flat of her hand against the pantry door, the other cradling a mostly-finished glass of wine.

“You’re a worthless little piece of shit! You know that!?” Carolyn yells as she slams her hand against the door to the pantry again. “Stop crying!

But the sobbing from inside the pantry doesn’t relent. A moment later Carolyn loses her temper, throwing her wine glass to the floor where it shatters. “I’ll give you something to cry about!” Carolyn shouts, and she pulls the pantry door open. “Come here you little shit!” Carolyn continues, yanking the prisoner out by the arm. “Come here!”

The girl, no older than five or six, is dragged from the pantry where she was being held and hauled over to the basement stairs. It was a child. A young girl. Sack-of-potatoes size with choppy blonde hair and pale blue eyes, face flushed red from crying. Zachery can just barely see the girl from the bottom of the basement stairs, and he is immediately reminded of Pippa, of his twins he’ll never have. The snakes in his stomach twist further.

“Get in there!” Carolyn howls over the sobbing pleas of the confused and frightened child who tries to dig in her heels. “No!” Carolyn screams. “I told you to stop crying!” Then, forcing the blonde girl to the stairs she adds, “The bad girl gets a time out!”

“Get down the stairs!” The drunk woman screams at the top of her lungs, hauling the child to the top step and then shoving her forward. “Get down there!” There’s an audible scream as the girl tumbles down the steps. There’s an audible scream as the girl tumbles down the steps toward Delia and Zachery.

Whatever it is that drove Zachery to descend down the stairs - and whatever wrote itself so harshly across his features - is simply forgotten the moment he turns around on them. His expression clears as he stares intently upward, snakes and all, breath held.

The grip on the knife in his hands tightens as his head lifts to see what he can, but the moment the girl begins to drop is the moment he's slammed the knife's point down into the stairs' railing at his side, leaving it there as he makes his way right the fuck back up again with all the speedy confidence of impulsiveness and instinct joining hands.

The girl falls straight into Zachery’s arms, caught mid-descent. It’s only when she freezes on being caught and looks up into Zachery’s eyes that he recognizes the child for who she is. It’s Jac.

Delia races upward, Zachery's got the kid. "Heads up!" she calls back to him before wheeling around at the top of the stairs and winding up that broken off furniture leg. She doesn't need to ask how they're related anymore. If this woman is the common theme between the two of them, Delia is not about to be the enemy in Jeopardy part deux.

"No ma'am," she chirps, as cheerfully as a clown serial killer. "How about you get down the stairs?"

And then Delia swings.

Right into Carolyn's head.




The theme song of the classic game show Jeopardy hums from the small speakers of a faux wood paneled set-top television set. Jac Childs sits cross-legged in front of the television, shoulders hunched forward and large blue eyes wide. The television looks old, from sometime in the mid 1980s. The surroundings aren’t much better: a dank basement with exposed pipes in the ceiling, a rumpled and worn throw rug on the bare concrete floor under her, a microwave TV dinner sitting on an overturned milk crate in front of her.

There’s no furniture in the basement, but there is cable television. The thick black coaxial cable extends up from the back of the TV and to a bundle of wires in the exposed wood of the ceiling. Jac is illuminated by the pale blue glow of the TV screen, her eyes puffy and red from crying, her meal cold and untouched. The basement around her is dark, as if beyond the light of the television there is nothing but an empty void. The only other source of illumination is a crack of light at the bottom of a door at the top of an old set of wooden stairs.

Jac Childs is eight years old here. Locked in a basement, too tired to cry any more and too sad to eat. The phantom haunting the basement behind her is older, taller, rounder in the cheeks but healthier. The Jac of today stands in stark confrontation with the Jac of yesterday.

This memory is painfully familiar. Jac only realizes how much so when she feels the wetness of tears on her freckled cheeks. She’d buried this, Carolyn’s treatment of her, bone deep. But now, confronted with a memory of her early childhood from just weeks before the massacre in Cambridge that would spark a civil war, she feels that pain with vivid clarity.

Some of what Jac saw upstairs wasn’t right. But now, she’s starting to understand, some of it was.

A shaking hand raises to swipe at the tears that still sting her eyes and make her cheeks damp. Then the other, this time with the inside of her sleeve coming away slightly wet, but her face is drier, if still splotchy red and puffy from crying. Then, the teenaged Jac feels the spot on her arm where Carolyn had grabbed her, recalling all too clearly where unyielding fingers and manicured nails gripped flesh. Gingerly working the hurt away, she lifts her eyes to look up at the closed door.

The pain of the experience is as fresh as the day it happened, both physically and psychologically. The urge to try the door, to bang on it with her hands and feet is as strong now as it was then. Even in the dream, even though she knows in the back of her mind that she eventually escaped this hell, she feels the consuming hopelessness that she is destined to die in the basement.

She doesn't give in to the urge now, just as she didn't then. It never worked anyway.

Silent, and with new tears in her eyes, Jac approaches the presence of her eight-year-old self and joins her in front of the television: a mirror image, if nearing ten years apart, in criss-crossed legs, hunched shoulders, and sad blue eyes. A quick glance is spared for the child she was before, then she scrubs her eyes again and looks at the television. “This is jeopardy.”

Running away from this moment her entire life has only brought Jac full circle to this nightmare. In just a few short weeks her life will be turned upside down by the coming war. New Jersey was too close to New York to be spared, but even now in the face of her past the actual sequence of events that led to her living in the sewers and subway tunnels of New York City are a dark haze. She was a child. Eight years old.

A sudden, dawning realization settles into Jac in that moment. Something that she had always known, but never truly considered. As she looks at the matchstick-thin child sitting in front of that television, disassociating away from the trauma of her young life, Jac understands. There’s no way she could have survived all that time alone.

Someone helped her. But she can’t remember who.

Confusion draws crease line across her brow, and Jac sits up a little straighter. In the weeks and years that followed, during the war and after, she never once thought that someone was looking after her. Childishly she believed, from eight-years-old until today, that she'd survived because she knew how to. Maybe that was partly true, maybe some things she did without any help at all, but…

Blue eyes settle on her younger self. So small and scrawny. She's still small now, still skinny, but not in the way she was back then. She knows more now, too. So who…

Unfolding herself from the hurting sulk, Jac eases backward a step. Who? A hand lifts, rests against the side of her head as she dredges through names and faces. Who could have had any kind of interest in a street urchin, especially during the war? Not many people were kind during those days. "Who was it?" the teen asks quietly, watching her child self. "How did I stay alive? Who helped?"

Shh,” young Jac shushes without looking away from the television. It’s only then that Jac’s older self sees that the episode is at Final Jeopardy.

«Today’s Final Jeopardy category is…» Alex Trebek says as the screens behind him go blank one-by-one until a category is revealed on the side monitor. «Famous Peoples. The final Jeopardy category is Famous Peoples.» He reiterates.

«Contestants, place your bets and we’ll be back after these commercial messages.»

Commercial Break


The theme of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles plays over a brief animated clip of the turtles running through a sewer. The scene cuts away to an expansive plastic sewer playset that a pair of children split open on a hinge, revealing a secret sewer lair.

“Cool!” The two kids—a one-eyed boy with a narrow face and a red-haired girl with curly hair—shout in unison.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles SEWER HIDEOUT Playset is the ultimate Ninja Turtle accessory!

The two kids each pick their favorite Ninja Turtle, the one-eyed boy holding the villainous Krang in his encounter suit with brain in belly and the red haired girl holding the Shredder. The advertisement showcases moving sewer hatches, a pole the Turtles can slide down, and an exploding battle-damage brick wall that the one-eyed boy pushes the Krang action figure through.

“Radical!” He shouts while looking straight into the camera with a dead-eyed stare.



“Get yours, today!”



ʞɔɐq ǝɹ,ǝʍ puɐ


Delia Ryans’ chest tightens as she finds herself behind a podium on a hauntingly familiar soundstage. She is on the left-most end of the Jeopardy contestant set, and to her left is a yawning void of darkness where the studio audience should be, bright red curtains partly drawn to conceal the empty void. Zachery is beside her, looking equally bewildered as he stands behind a podium in the middle, with Jac on his right.

Alex Trebek, as he looked sometime in the early 21st century taps a set of cue cards on his lectern. “Welcome back. We’re in Final Jeopardy and our contestants have placed their bets.”

As Trebek calls that out, Zachery notices the words scrawled in his handwriting on the pad in front of him. With a sideeye he can see the same is written for Delia on hers in her own handwriting. Jac’s pad simply has something far less worrying written on it.

“And the Final Jeopardy clue is…” Trebek says, turning to one of the many screens behind him.


“This former Company agent helped Jac Childs survive the Second American Civil War,” Trebek reads from the screen, then looks to the contestants. “You have thirty seconds to give your answer. Good luck.”

And that music starts.

And then, Zachery does not.

His shoulders twitch back but he stalls like a faulty engine, lifting his stare up in front of him for the precious seconds it takes him to parse even partially what's going on.

With half of his time wasted and an involuntary shudder of a chuckle leaving him, he finally begins to write. He doesn't have a wide variety of choices to pull from, at least. And one of them in particular came up extremely recently, thanks to Delia.

He shoots her one more pointed look before - in handwriting that seems to consist mostly of points - he writes something down/

Delia never got this far before. Not last time. Not Final Jeopardy.

Frowning, Delia looks down at her monitor, pen in hand, as she slowly begins to write. It would be so much easier if she could just open her mouth and screech. But… she remembers her neighbour in the red and black polka dot bikini and what name she used before the war. How their lives mingled so much, before they had actually met. The clinic that Delia kept alive in Gun Hill.

So she writes something down…

But her wager? The deficit, if she’s wrong, would be the worst.

The dreamwalker doesn’t glance to her side when she’s finished. With her brow furrowed in concentration, she sets her jaw and gives Alex the most defiant gaze she can muster.

Former company agent. Jac’s mouth moves slightly, small motions as she speaks the words without adding voice to them. But who? She frowns and looks down at the pad in front of her, nose wrinkling as she makes a desperate search for the question to the answer. The pad, though, is as blank as her mind, but the gentle think music with its tick-tock underscore makes her anxious. She grasps the pen and peeks up at Trebek. Could it be anyone she actually knows?

Her mind races through names she can remember. Some more obvious ones are dismissed, like Maury Parkman and Adam Monroe. Jac places the tip of the pen against the pad and scrawls slowly

who is

Cindy? Wasn’t she missing then? Noah? She suspects he was with the Company but she doesn’t have solid proof. Zhao? Not likely. The teen’s eyes flick to the game show host, then down again, as the music winds toward an end. Just like the list of names she could pick from the use. She doesn’t know, and panic to put anything down prompts her to scribble more than write something down.

“And that is time.” Trebek says with a confident smile as the music stops. He swiftly crosses the floor to the contestants, stopping at Delia on the far end. “Delia Ryans, you were in the lead with $2,500 dollars. Let’s see what you wagered?” The screen on her podium updates to show:


“That’s a bold move,” Trebek says. “And what was your answer?”


“Oh, I’m sorry. No, that is incorrect.” Trebek taps the top of the podium with his hand and Delia’s score drops to four red X’s, her legs give out and with a shriek of pain she collapses to the ground.

“On to Doctor Zachery Miller,” Trebek continues down as if nothing is wrong. “You were tied with Delia for the lead. Let’s see what you wagered.”


“Mnhmm, and will it be worth it?”


Trebek clicks his tongue and shakes his head. “No, I’m sorry, and that puts you at zero as well.” A gurgling sound rises in the back of Zachery’s throat as his score becomes four red X’s and he collapses to the ground. Still undeterred, Trebek continues on down to Jac.

“And here we have Jac childs, with just $2,003 dollars keeping her in the lead now.” Trebek looks down at her screen. “And what did you wager?”


Smart move, did it pay off?”


A disembodied audience groans softly. “Oh, I’m sorry. The correct answer was—

The correct answer is…

The wind is howling. She knows this place.

Jac Childs wakes up in a cold start, feeling rain blowing stinging against her face. The sky above is darkening, not just from the stormy gray clouds that flood her vision but from the approaching of a deep and dark night as well. The bus stop bench he awakens on is soaked in rainwater and a howling wind blows the rain sideways down a desolate street lined with abandoned cars.

Manhattan, across the river, looks much as it does today. A walled tomb of jagged, broken fingers grasping up at a cloudy sky. But the freezing rain driven by this powerful wind is not something from his memories, which is when clarity and objectivity dawn on him.

Lightning tears through the sky, brightly illuminating the dark landscape for a few flickering moments. Storm drains overflow, rats scurry past on the street to avoid being swept up by rising tides crashing against concrete breakers. The storm is intense, unrelenting, and threatens to swallow the city.

The why may not ever truly be clear, but the when is for Jac. Huddled in the rusting wreckage of an old van, wrapped in the shredded remains of a blue tarp, she is only now becoming aware that this isn’t now.

It’s somewhen else.

October 25, 2012 to be specific. The day Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the ruins of New York City, flooding the sewers, killing thousands of refugees living in the city’s ruins, and forcing Jac to the surface for the first time since the war began in earnest.

A hundred or so feet away, down by the rocky coast of a flooded parking lot that has partly collapsed into a sinkhole, there is a terrified child sitting with her arms wrapped around her legs and face buried against the back of her knees. Her blondeish hair is taking on redder tones as she gets older, a year’s worth of growth since the world came crashing down around her. She is grimy with filth, cheeks stained with dirt.

Nearby two waterlogged corpses float in the water, face down in the lapping shores of the Hudson river where it meets Brooklyn’s swollen banks. Jac knows the girl. It’s her. She knows the two people dead in the water as well.

Charlie Gough and his girlfriend Marianne. They’d taken her in when the Fords abandoned her as the fighting started. When the firebombings spilled over into New Jersey. When Carolyn died. They had lost their daughter to a military execution squad six weeks prior before they escaped an Evolved internment camp. They found Jac, and they hid underground.

Jac’s stomach twists into knots, remembering this day when the underneath was no longer safe. There were other families who’d lived down there, hiding from the fighting. Children too. The river has claimed them.

“We should go.”

But Jac knows she wasn’t alone there that day. The day Charlie and Marianne died to save her.

“Before the wind gets any worse.”

Fighting against the sense of denial, Jac can finally see the person who kept her safe the rest of the way through the war, until she was old enough that she could take care of herself, until he vanished one day without a trace or even so much as an apology.

His hand settles on Jac’s tiny shoulder, squeezing firmly. As Jac’s younger self looks up at him with puffy eyes swollen from crying, he moves his hand to cup her cheek. Hazel eyes stare down into bluer ones, and the grizzled old man just shakes his head.

“You can cry later. When we’re safe.”

And they were. Because there was no other danger greater…

…than the one she traveled with.


Delia Ryans’ Residence - Queens

February 5, 2021

7:29 pm

Jac awakens calmly, though she can feel tears in her eyes and wet on her cheeks. Delia and Zachery do not look nearly as well, both already awake—though only just—nursing what appears to be profound headaches.

There is nothing to say in the immediate waking. This isn’t what they went looking for. But sometimes, on the journey into your innermost mind, you don’t always find a door, but a mirror.

And the reflection never lies.

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