The Connection II


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Scene Title The Connection II
Synopsis Attempting to make lightning strike twice, Elisabeth and Kaylee venture to the ruins of Baltimore in search of a grave secret.
Date May 15, 2019

Warm light of a fiery sunset burns in the west, allowing the shadows of headstones and grave-marking monuments to cast long and dark shadows across the ground. The grounds here are years overgrown, tall grass obscuring the monuments toppled during the war and the years of abandonment since. Everything on the horizon is a ruin, the silhouette of a city ravaged by uncontrolled wildfires following a bombing campaign that left the US Capitol and its surrounding environs flat.

Trekking out to a cemetery at the end of spring is one of the subtler ways Elisabeth Harrison has been following on potential leads about current events, following a path trod by a Felix Ivanov of worlds hence. What she’d been told by Felix several years ago is still burning a hole in the back of her mind, and putting some distance between the temporal mystery brewing in the Safe Zone and her pending new career in law enforcement felt like a necessity. So here she winds up, walking between headstones and amid tall grass looking for a grave that could confirm long-set suspicions.

Green Mount Cemetery

Baltimore, Maryland

May 15

7:22 pm

Elisabeth hadn’t set out on this journey alone, and Kaylee Sumter’s footfalls in the tall grass at her side feels just as necessary as this side trek. They had spent precious few minutes alone since Elisabeth returned to this timeline and the hours long journey down from New York gave them time to not only talk, but for Elisabeth to have company as she bore witness to the ruin, desolation, and stories of survival on the road to the ruins of the nation’s capital. It is fitting, perhaps, that this journey ends at a grave. The last few vestiges of daylight are flitting away beyond the fringe of pine trees at the edge of the cemetery, and this headstone might as well be the red X at the end of a pirate’s treasure map.

Here Lies Otto Brum

Born May 3, 1901 — Died June 17, 1962

But it isn't the treasure she thought she would find. Not Simon Broome’s grave — and how could it be? — but the grave of his infamous father, brought over from Nazi Germany at the end of World War II as a part of Operation Paperclip. The same Otto Brum who had started the initial work on Project Icarus. The same Otto Brum that Richard has an old black and white photograph of, sitting at a table…

…with Adam Monroe.

The time together has actually been something Elisabeth has … well, enjoyed is maybe not exactly the right turn of phrase, given what they see as they travel. The trip isn't enjoyable, but the company definitely is. She has missed the bond that she shared with the Kaylee that stayed behind, and the opportunity to build this one with Kaylee here is welcome.

Scuffed jeans, hiking boots that have been broken comfortably in, and a dark-colored long-sleeved top are the appropriate apparel for this excursion at twilight, as far as she's concerned. They really don't want to draw much attention, after all. Digging up a grave has to still be something of a taboo, right? With her hands wrapped around the straps of the backpack she's wearing to carry water, rations, and collapsible shovels, Elisabeth's lips are pursed. "Through a mirror sideways once more," she murmurs quietly to Kaylee. "Not Simon but his father."

It had been a nice break from the cram sessions and hours at the range. From everything she was doing, to ensure she could make a change in her life. It hard recounting what she knew from the war, when they passed this battle field or that. While the Ray family didn’t participate, they knew details intimately.

Now standing in front of the grave, hearing Elisabeth’s comment, Kaylee can’t help but huff out a chuckle. A bland thing with no humor behind it. “Not surprising really.” Hands tucks into the pockets of her jeans, the long sleeved maroon shirt, dark enough for what they were doing.

“Well, Broome did live longer here,” Kaylee points out from Liz’s side. Adjusting her own pack, the telepath crouches with a soft pop of her knees. Her head tilts a bit studying the stone thoughtfully. “Though why his father’s grave wasn’t in the same place in both worlds is a bit odd. Much of the change we saw seemed to be after a specific timeframe.” Her best guess really.

Tilting a look up at the other woman, Kaylee gives her a bit of a lopsided smile. “Could be Broome had this moved here… or, you know, dad,” she adds blandly after a moment. Edward Ray, always with his fingers in all the pies. “I mean, who knows really. Over there,” In Bright she means, “The stone Felix saw, may have been the plant to throw people off.”

A single brow tips up, questioning. “Still want to dig?” Kaylee asks.

Want to? No, not really. Going to? Yep.Elisabeth casts a roll of the eyes at Kaylee. "You think we're coming all this way to not see what's in the goddamn box?" Get real.

She drops the backpack on the ground and starts rummaging for shovels, her blue eyes skimming the graveyard watchfully. "I doubt anyone's going to be anywhere around here… but I'm still putting a field up to monitor. Let's hope there's nothing gooey in there."

Kaylee’s own pack hits the ground so she can find her own shovel, snapping the thing open. “With hope, it’ll just be like… beef jerky or something.” So helpful! Standing again, the telepath turns to cast a look around them, her ability pushed out a little further. It should be a little tougher to sneak up on the pair.

Flipping the spade to point down, Kaylee flashes Liz a bright smile. “You ever expect in your life that you’d be digging up a dead man?” She might be finding this all amusing. “What would Donovan and Wilson say to this… one the cusp of our becoming law-enforcing citizens?” With that chuckled comment, the spade of the shovel shoved into the ground.

As they start the work of digging a hole big enough to uncover what they hope might be there, Elisabeth snorts. "Donovan would give us both the eyeball, watch our asses appreciatively while we dig, and … I don't even know. Wolf whistle?" She has high respect for the man's abilities… but he's also a horndog of the first order. "Can't even take a guess at Wilson."

It's gonna be a sweaty night, for sure.

There is a chuckle from the telepath, even as she hefts a clump of dirt and grass to one side. “Okay.. you have a point. Not that I’d mind… He’s not bad to look at for his age and it’s been awhile since a guy wolf whistled at me.” Shovel hits the dirt again, before she adds. “For that matter, Wilson is pretty wow himself.”

Leaning forward to push it further, the gold wedding ring she wears slides from her collar and catches her eye.

Kaylee flushes as she realizes how she’s talking with that ring around her neck. The guilts hits hard, forcing her to change the subject. “A-a-anyhow, what I meant is we are not exactly doing something legal.” Not that she’s stopping, just pointing it out.

And legal this certainly isn’t.

A generous estimate based on past experiences, of which Kaylee and Elisabeth both regretfully have some, would be three to four hours for two people to dig a six foot deep grave. Thankfully, the weather is warm and the frost layer melted more than a month ago. The digging is arduous, back-breaking work, especially with a pair of folding shovels like the ones they’re equipped with. Thankfully for both of them, there is no one around to witness this desecration. By the time the sun goes down, Baltimore becomes a haunting site to behold. There are no city lights in any direction, just the ragged silhouettes of ruined buildings until those too disappear into the darkness of night.

Stars glitter overhead accompanied by the pale flourish of the Milky Way, like a ribbon of starlight tracing its way through the heavens. Night bugs are prolific out here, as are the distant croaks of tiny frogs in the wetlands that threaten to consume what is left of Baltimore. It makes the night come alive with sounds, and soon the flickering sparks of fireflies come to dance in the tall grass around the crooked headstones, in the warm air of a late spring night.

Breathing hard, Elisabeth takes a break from this mess. The bottle of water from her backpack is lukewarm, but it's wet. Hell, she's wet. "This is going to hurt tomorrow," she observes wryly. Maybe they didn't quite think this through as well as they could have. "We shoulda brought the goddamn velociraptor or something." Because that would have gone well.

She shoots Kaylee a grin, wiping her forehead with the back of a grimy hand. "I'm gonna feel stupid if all that's in here is a dead body," she admits. Another long swallow from her water follows, and her blue eyes take in the night sky. Until she lived in the Flooded world, she'd never really seen so many stars except in Alaska — Wasteland, to a degree, but they were close enough to the floodlights of the walled city that it drowned them out. "It's amazing what you can see when there's no more light pollution," she murmurs.

Dropping her shovel at the edge of the grave and moving to sit, Kaylee hisses in pain as she rotates her shoulder. “You are not kidding,” she grumbles, “I’m feeling it now.” Picking up her water bottle where she left it, Kaylee looks up at the sky while opening the bottle. “I used to spend a lot of time outside when Carl was a baby, during the war. He was a fussy baby.”

Stretching out her legs, Kaylee glances at the other woman out of the corner of her eye, “Granny always was big on wishing stars. So I’d wish every night when I’d see a shooting star for the war to end.” Her shoulders shrug and she takes a quick drink. “Never worked… it ended when people were ready to stop killing each other.”

Closing the bottle, Kaylee sets it next to her hip, “Some days I wonder if it is really done.”

It’s thoughts like that, ones that Liz herself has, that punctuates the night. No one comes to disturb their dark deed, not even the small animals rustling around in the tall grass; possums, likely, or possibly racoons. Baltimore has both. Occasionally they show themselves, but only as little more than a pair of glowing eyes in the dark, scampering away at the first sweep of a flashlight in their direction.

This far out from civilization, this far away from anything resembling reality, it’s hard to track the passage of time. The moon, heavy and nearly full, tracks a lazy path across the low horizon and sheds its pale light down on the cemetery to afford these two some more light to work by. But their arms ache, their backs scream with pain and knees groan from being bent for so long, stooped down in an ever deepening pit of damp earth as they are.

But then there’s a clunk at the end of Elisabeth’s shovel. It isn’t a clink like one of the twelve dozen rocks she and Kaylee have had to dig out. No, it’s a clunk of wood.

A casket.

The point of her shovel thuds into the wooden box below a couple of times and Elisabeth says, "Pay dirt." Pardon the pun. It needed to be said. Some kind of amusement must be had when people are digging up dead bodies in the middle of the damn night! Otherwise, you're just waiting for Freddy Krueger to jump out at you.

A couple of additional shovels full to open up and loosen the dirt on top of the casket, and then Elisabeth tosses her shovel up top and kneels down to start clearing the lid. She did bring something else so that they don't have to try to pry it if they don't want to. "Are we bold enough to just hatchet the top open? Or should we pretend we're actually nice people and just clear it enough to open one half?"

Part of her is very much of the idea that chopping it open will be a hell of a lot more satisfying.

With the sound, Kaylee’s attention jerks over and she quickly shifts her efforts to where Liz is, scraping the shovel around the edges, before joining Liz on her knees. The question is a bit of a surprise for the telepath, looking down at the coffin.

Rolling back on the balls of her feet and resting arms on her thighs, Kaylee’s eyes the box. She gets the feeling what Liz wants to do, but… “Ex-Nazi or not, there is probably bad juju behind what we are doing, do we want to make it worse by taking an axe to it?” Seems she made her choice. Fingers brush at the dirt on the casket, looking to clear the edges.

Apparently she takes the argument of bad juju seriously. Elisabeth works on brushing and clearing off the half that they're going to manhandle open. "If you gotta puke when this comes open " because they don't know what they're gonna find! " do it in the soil, not the coffin," she warns.

The comment only gets an arch of Kaylee’s brow and an amused smirk, but no more. The smell of rotting bodies, the sight of mangled corpses… Not something she hasn’t witnessed before. Still, Kaylee braces herself. “Roger that, Sargeant,” she teases moving to grip the lid to help once the latch is found.

The coffin is decades old and what may have been a finely sealed lid has long since decayed in the intervening years. The handle of the upper half of the coffin tears right off of the wood, screws breaking apart and crumbling at the slightest bit of tension. Fingernails find purchase at the coffin’s seam and with their combined strength Elisabeth and Kaylee are able to wrench it free. But the hinges likewise do not stay intact, causing the lid to tear completely free and fall back down into the coffin.

Dust kicks up from inside the coffin, dust and ashes. Inside the coffin is not a body in the traditional sense. Otto Brum was not embalmed and placed in a nice suit and left to rot away in the ground. What is inside this coffin is the deteriorated fabric of a heavy cloth sack that the falling coffin lid has torn open, revealing a largely disorganized collection of ashen human bones. Flakes of what may have once been flesh are so paper thin and light that they drift through the air. The particles of dust from Otto’s body are caught in their flashlight beams, impossible not to breathe in. The chalky taste of his desiccated, ashen flesh is bitter on their tongues.

Elisabeth smirks. "That's Lieutenant, brat." Not that she really cares. As they pry open the lid and things start floofing into the air, her arm rises to cover her nose and mouth in the crook of her elbow. She waves her free hand to disperse the dust…. Only they both know it's not dust. Coughing, spitting the taste out of her mouth into the soil that's in a heap on the side they didn't open, she peers into the box warily. "What even the fuck is that all about? Why would they chuck him in a satchel and …?"

That makes zero sense to her. Unless… "I wonder if someone dug him up and reburied him once already." That might explain the body in a bag — someone chucked a body in here when they came and took whatever was in here before that. If anything.

Gingerly, she reaches in there to shift the fabric of the bag, to see if there's anything else in there or if it's just the jumbled-up remains.

He first thing Elisabeth finds, almost immediately, is a piece of cardstock with printed fields and handwritten entries. The top reads, DEPARTMENT OF SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS in block print. Below that there's a handwritten date: 6/18/62. And then check boxes of height, weight, and age followed by a name field with Otto Brum written on it. The card is decades old, and at the bottom one particularly curious piece of information is recorded:

Classified: Top Secret [SPECIALS][ICARUS]

Elisabeth isn’t the only one attempting to spit out the taste of dried up dead guy on the soil next to her. She doesn’t keep it up, instead pulls a bandana from her pack and wraps it around her lower face. This allows Kaylee to work to lift the lid out of the casket and prop it up against the wall of the hole.

Once, she knows it’s not going to fall over, Kaylee flicks on her flashlight and leans over the coffin. While, Liz checks the bag, the telepath points her light into the bottom half, looking for anything of interest.

“What was it again that Felix found here over there?” Kaylee asks conversationally, to distract her mind from how the bits of Otto Brum reflect as they drift through the beam of her flashlight.

It takes a moment for what they’re looking at to really register for either of them. The remains of Otto Brum in some ways look like they were run through a furnace, except the bones aren’t blackened. They’re brittle and old, but they haven’t been exposed to heat. Everything in the bag that the coffin lid tore open has every telltale sign of incineration, what with the parchment-thin flesh, the ashen and dusty quality of the bag interior, and the lack of any real sinew or meat on the bones. Even after as many years as this man has been dead, there should be something here. But instead there’s just…

It hits Elisabeth like a hammer.

The roiling mass of shadow and energy crumbles and churns like an ink black sea. Richard Cardinal can barely contain the battle that is happening inside of himself. Even consumed as he is, Kazimir’s entropic force still drains outward. The portal is collapsing as Gillian Childs dies, her arms crumbling away like fire-blackened pieces of wood, bone and flesh turning to windblown ash as much as Denisa’s corpse had. Her eyes close, the wind of the growing storm overhead blows layers of dusty flesh from her body. The purple aura around her begins to flicker and fade, and the integrity of that doorway begins to falter.

Ashen bones.

The other survivors have scrambled through, thirty some-odd people, refugees from a dying world. Magnes stands on the threshold of the door, and he can see the agony in Ruiz’ eyes at holding the portal open any longer. Behind them, Gillian drops to her knees and her legs crumble like twin columns of thin cigarette ash. Her skeleton, slightly less degenerated than the rest of her body, falls out of her back and crumbles into caked chunks of bone-white powder. The darkness that has been seething and roaring together finally begins to settle.

No heat.

Tattered blackness rises from the roof of the Deveaux Building like a piece of cloth, and as it solidifies into the form of a person, there is nothing left to do but see the futility in this battle. Richard Cardinal stares back at Mateo and Magnes, brows furrowed and eyes an icy blue. His flesh is charred on one side, veins of scar tissue lace up along his brow and through where hair is missing, as if he had been exposed to an intense heat and light. Just as in Magnes’ home world, Richard’s body had survived a nuclear explosion.

Just dust.

His mind, however.

Just dust.

“No.” Richard — Kazimir — defies them, reaching out for Ruiz and Magnes from across the roof.

They’re looking at the remains of a man killed by Kazimir Volken.
She'd been bleeding badly from a knife wound, not entirely able to focus as they evacuated that world. Elisabeth, up to this point, had been spared the memory of those last moments in the Virus world. She was told much later, about what happened, but perhaps until now she's not been strong enough to relive those moments. Or perhaps the plethora of other traumas allowed her to bury it deep. Whatever the reason, it's a visible hit as those memories cascade over her. She jerks back, breath escaping in a gasp, and she stares with wide blue eyes at the skeleton in horror.

"Kaylee…" The word is choked off, bile climbing Elisabeth's throat. She fights back that reaction because the hole is too small to really lose it like that, but suppressing the physical response means that the adrenaline shifts to the more 'usual' reaction, the one that sends a deep sound rolling off her. That, too, she fights — because the rumbling of the dirt walls is dangerous to them both if the sides shake free. Where to put it, though?

Instinctively she looks up at the sky, shaping it into what amounts to a narrow-band single-tone sound wave and sending it straight up into the night sky where presumably it will do no damage. It's almost like a static discharge, but for the split second that it's audible, it's an agonizing sound. And when it's done, Elisabeth is drenched in a cold sweat and shaking hard.

"Wh-wh-why w-w-w-ould V-v-v-olken k-k-k-kill Ot-t-t-to B-b-blum?" she stammers, staring at the bones.

Tragedy in a memory is often loud, screamed. Hard to ignore. There is a familiarity to what she sees, but Kaylee can’t really place it. However, it is enough that the woman and flashlight come up to look at Elisabeth.

Even as Liz is discharging the sound, cool fingers catch her wrist. “Shhh..” Comes the soft soothing sound from Kaylee, already the memories blur and become harder to really concentrate. “I got you.” Liz knows they are there, but… Kaylee turns her friend’s thoughts to her daughter instead of the horror that was Richard being consumed by that thing and everything else to go with it. Once it is done, Kaylee lets go of the other woman and sits back.

“I wouldn’t want to be the guy that had to sweep him into the bag,” Kaylee comments, flashlight dropping back to the corpse. “Clearly, he either pissed the boss off or in typical villain fashion had stopped being useful.” She was giving Liz a moment to compose herself, while the telepath tries to gently move more of the bag’s fabric aside to get a better look at the contents of it.

While she does this, Kaylee suddenly asks. “You going to be okay? Do we need to stop?” That was to Liz and not the corpse she was currently messing with.

"Yes. No," Elisabeth gulps. It was more information than she wanted to remember, but ultimately… she's already lived enough of these moments. The redirect is hugely appreciated and she casts the telepath a grateful look. "I'm okay." She's still a little shaky, sure. But it's a perspective thing — handling the adrenaline surge that comes with surprise and panic in non-combat is a little different than channeling it in combat; she's better at the latter. But she pulls in a slow breath, trying not to disturb any more of the flesh-dust than necessary, and goes back to gingerly searching the coffin itself on her side of things. Answering the earlier question helps focus her again. She'll deal with what just hit her later… when there's time.

"What didn't he find?" Felix in the Bright world, she means. "Sixty years of files that Simon managed to hide for a rainy day when he faked his own death — that's what he found there. Here? I'm not sure what to expect." She holds up the card in her hand. "Project Icarus. Maybe there's something on Umbra, Hydra, or Gemini in here? Whatever we can find would be more than we have now." It's probably too much to ask that some blueprint of Adam's plans exists in whatever they might find, but hey… if you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, you've still made it into space, right?

“It’s only temporary,” Kaylee gently reminds her about what she’s done. The fabric is treated with such care to preserve it, while she talks. “With hope it’ll last long enough to get you back to Richard.” To Liz’s support system.

There is a pause in Kaylee’s search, her focus shifting back to the other woman. Brows shift up with her surprise. “Really?” Her gaze moves up to the gravestone, thoughtfully. Hand rubbing against her jeans to brush away the bits of Brum. A soft “huh” escapes her. “Amazing how a single detail can shift so much history. Butterfly effect in action.”

Reaching down, Kaylee picks up a small bone and studies it, “I mean look at our world. It’s probably not much different then the one our children witnessed, but it was enough. Enough that Eli won’t be born and Carl was instead.” She looks down at the pile of ash and bone, carefully moving to replace the one she picked up, “Too bad, Dee’s grandpa’s ability is so complicated. Be interesting to see what happened when this guy because dust.. and what prompted it.”

Ultimately, though, there is nothing else here. Otto Brum, one of the Operation Paperclip scientists brought over after the war had his ashen remains buried in a cloth sack. The only clue as to why and how is the paper tag on his remains and the date of their interment, a time before the children who would become the Company could have consolidated their power. A remnant of a history of the United States when the Evolved weren’t unknown. A relic of the era of Coyote Sands and Fort Daedalus, the hidden vestiges of Project Icarus.

In a timeline where Simon Broome chose to fake his death, he must have had his father’s grave plot moved. It was no secret to Richard that Simon hated his father for being not only an amoral monster, but a Nazi Jew. Ultimately, his past caught up to him, but not before he was able to continue spreading his blighted science to another continent. Whatever fate befell Otto, whyever Kazimir Volken murdered him, either lies in the Company’s oldest archives or was lost to history entirely.

It is a dusty footnote of the past, and little else. Sometimes, when you go digging for buried treasure, all you find is trash.

A faint smile tugs one corner of her mouth as Elisabeth comments softly, "Joshua too. I don't.. Even know what happened to him. After." The kids all kind of scattered and she was 'dead'. She has no idea what happened to the son who came so far to save her life. But she turns her attention back to the grave.

It had been a long shot, at best. But one worth taking. Despite the outcome. Glancing at Kaylee, Elisabeth purses her lips. "Bring the bit of bone," she suggests quietly. "Maybe Cassandra can … if you really think we need to know." She herself has seen enough of Kazimir Volken's killing actions for a lifetime. She keeps the card and tucks it into her back pocket. "I don't know where, if anywhere, to go from here. Except home," she admits to her grave-robbing partner. There's a faint grimace. "We should rebury him. Not that anyone is likely to notice, but… " It's the decent thing to do. And one never knows if covering one's tracks might save their life.

The bone is retrieved carefully and wiped on her jeans to remove any soot, before Kaylee tucks it into a pocket of her pack. “I guess if there is nothing, this bit of Brum can join that skull I have.” Yeah… she still has it. Morbid really. Pushing up to stand, the telepath asks, “Should we take a bit of the bag too for her?” Three items, maybe they will get lucky.

Kaylee moves to grab the lid, eyes on the body. “It’s weird. I want to feel sorry for him, but I just can’t.” Her tone is bland, lacking of emotion. “But, yeah, the right thing to do is to rebury him. Thank god I don’t have a PT test til next week.” That last said under her breath.

Crouched there studying the remains, Elisabeth is quiet for a long time. And then she nods, moving to help with the lid, to cover the casket once more. Hauling themselves out of the grave, and holds on to Kaylee's hand a bit longer than is perhaps necessary. Her tone is quiet when she meets the other woman's eyes.

"Thank you." For indulging the long shot. For insisting on coming along. For being here. For a lot of things she can't articulate. But also… "She was the best partner Liz ever had. And the only real sister I ever knew." Well, Kaylee and Isa. "I'm grateful for the chance to have both of those things with you."

A faint grin quirks her lips upward and Elisabeth murmurs, "Best friends are the ones who, when you show up on their doorstep with a body, don't ask questions and bring a shovel."

It's a long-ass night, but it was worth the time spent.

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