The Eight Pointed Star, Part II


adam_icon.gif alice_icon.gif alix_icon.gif chess3_icon.gif claudia_icon.gif squeaks4_icon.gif joy_icon.gif lanhua_icon.gif niki_icon.gif sabine_icon.gif vi_icon.gif

Scene Title The Eight-Pointed Star, Part II
Synopsis Everything falls apart.
Date February 27, 2020

Something is terribly wrong.

«This is a Security Level 1 Alert»

An alarm begins sounding just shortly after 5 in the morning while many residents of the Ziggurat were sleeping. Emergency lighting in the ziggurat flashed danger red and communication lines to the outside were severed. Blast shutters dropped over the windows, making it sound like the entire structure were about to take off like a rocket. By the time the shutters are sealed, the Ziggurat is on total lockdown.

«An emergency lockdown is in effect.»

Sealing bolts snap shut inside residential-level doors, locking ziggurat residents inside their rooms. Security forces swarm the halls, some living and others entirely mechanized. Machines the likes of which aren’t ever seen in the ziggurat emerge from concealed creches in the walls, bipedal robots armed with assault rifles, marching down the halls like soldiers.

«All Ziggurat residents are to shelter in place until the lockdown is lifted.»

It is impossible to see what is going on outside, impossible to hear if another war has erupted with how thick the ziggurat’s walls are.

«Residents without Alpha level security clearance found outside of their quarters will be detained.»

Whatever was happening, it is unprecedented.

«This is a Security Level 1 Alert»

One Hour Later

Chess’ Quarters
Praxis Ziggurat
Praxia, California Safe Zone

February 27th
7:07 am Local Time

It’s been two hours with no answers. The voice alert stopped playing after the first thirty minutes along with the klaxon, but the security lighting has remained on and the blast shutters down. The door, too, remains locked and all outside communication lines cut. Suddenly every warning look Luther had given Chess on that mountaintop comes bubbling to the surface.

Chess has spent the last hour doing two things: getting ready for battle while going over every possibility of who the enemy is. Praxis has a lot of enemies. Adam has even more.

Chess’ reactions, forged and honed by war and conflict, are quick, nearly instant, when the alarms sound. Within a couple minutes she was dressed. Within five minutes, she’d rummaged for makeshift weapons to stow in her courier bag or in the pockets of her leather jacket — everything’s a bomb in her hands, after all. Still, she also needs to be able to carry the damn bag. The last item for the arsenal is the composite bow she’d bought in Japan, a temporary replacement for the one she left back in New York.

It feels like a century has passed since then.

Make it three things: She sends a few messages on her cell phone to Alix: What’s going on? and Are you OK? and Does this happen often? Chess knows the answer to that one, after seven months.

Make it four things: She considers going out into the hall more than once. Peers out the peephole. Puts her hand on the knob. Reconsiders. Waits a little longer. Lather, rinse, repeat.

With a grunt of exasperation, Chess heads into the kitchen to cram a granola bar into her mouth, hoping it will ease the knots in her stomach, then drinks a glass of water. She looks at her phone and considers calling Luther one last time, but the thought makes tears well up in her eyes.

Chess can’t afford that right now.

Not on the cusp of whatever this is.

None of Chess’ messages ever seem to get through, or Alix isn’t responding. Her cell carrier notification at the top reads PRAXICNET and it’s possible that all cell phone traffic is being contained within this particular walled garden. It makes her wonder about her communications with Luther, about their security.

But two hours after the lockdown began, there is a kssh-clank of the bolts in her door opening and unlocking automatically. What isn’t expected is the door opening, followed by a ragged-looking Alix hurrying in from the hallway. “Chess!?” She cries out, not seeing her in the kitchen from the suite foyer. But Alix isn’t alone.

“Ms. Lang!” Sabine Hazel’s voice cuts like a knife through the apartment, that firm British tone always carrying an air of authority. Sabine moves past Alix, looking around the apartment.

The second that door begins to open, Chess grabs the heaviest object that’s liftable nearby — it happens to be a tea kettle — to charge up, prepared to hurl it at anyone she doesn’t trust.

“In here,” she calls, setting it back down with a slosh, and hurrying out to hug Alix loosely around the neck, her fingers then sliding down to grip her hand. “The fuck is going on?”

Chess doesn’t necessarily trust Sabine, but apparently trusts her enough in this moment not to bomb her with a tea kettle, so there’s that. She looks to the British woman for answers, as well as to her sister, all while reaching for her bag and bow, ready to leave this apartment.

“Is it time?” she asks, meaning their planned fight with the Entity. But this doesn’t seem planned. “Or is it someone else?” Her mind flits to the threats and warnings of Yi-Min Yeh. No messages tagged Dworkin have gotten through either. And now Chess has to wonder if she sends them, will they make it anyway?

“There’s been an incident,” Sabine says with a tightness in her throat, “everything is on lockdown until further notice.” Her dark eyes level on Alix, who rushes over to Chess and stops just short of barreling into her, concern so palpable in her expression.

“The Director has requested you in his office,” Sabine indicates, turning back toward the door, “the Entity is on the move.”


This feels like Level-5.

It’s hard for Niki Zimmerman to forget what those four concrete walls felt like. It may have been more than a decade ago, but her time in the Company’s captivity left indelible scars no longer able to be obfuscated by Jessica or even Gina. Staring into her bathroom mirror, Niki only sees herself looking back. It is both the most whole and the most alone she has felt in years.

The red security light in the ceiling of her bathroom shines brightly, reminding her that the crimson phantom in the mirror is a reflection of danger. That her red-hued self is not a hallucination, a trick of memory, or some new spiritual successor to her former ghosts. There is just one woman looking back, one woman who has outlived her son and her husband. Not that she ever knew for sure what happened to D.L. Hawkins. But there was a war. People die.

Especially people she cares about.

Too many people. Niki’s fingers curl around the edges of the floating sink. Water flows into the basin, and soon it flows into her cupped hands and is splashed onto her face. Palms scrub over the pale skin, matting blonde hair to her forehead and her cheeks. Excess runs off her chin, down her throat and soaks into the neckline of her black tank top. After a shaky exhale, she looks at her reflection again.

Red always was her color.

With a slap of her hand down on the tap, the water shuts off and Niki does one more pass over her face before shaking her hands out at her sides, rather than reaching for the towel on her right.

Stepping out into her sleeping quarters, she grabs a pair of black jeans and a red open-front cardigan off the floor. She’s just as fluid pulling her clothes on as she ever was taking them off for an audience.

Niki’s instinct is to stand in front of the window and look out to ascertain the situation causing the blaring klaxon. With that option off the table, she took to the mirror instead. Even she’s not sure what she thought she’d find if she stared long enough.

Maybe if she’d repeated the name three times, that strength she’d lost would have reappeared?

It’s going to be— ”

The sound of magnetic bolts sliding open in the door to her apartment jolts Niki out of whatever daydream she was experiencing a moment ago. There is no water, no sink, no mirror. Just the armchair in the living room she’s been sitting in for over an hour. Her eyes reflexively track her surroundings, move to the door when it opens from the outside, raising all the hairs on the back of her neck.

Violet Sharp is someone Niki doesn’t know very well. It’s not hard to tell her apart from her identical sisters, there’s a sharpness to her and an edge that seems softened on the others. “Zimmerman,” Vi says with a tip of her chin up to Niki, one hand still on the door. “The Director wants to see you in his office.” All business, no pretense. Maybe a little bitterness, too. Vi has never seemed all that comfortable around Adam’s flesh and blood.

Niki swallows hard when she comes back to the moment and finds that she had been out of it in the first place. Vi can see that she’s rattled, but given the current situation, maybe that’s to be expected. And, hopefully, forgiven.

“Thank you, Vi.” In contrast to the porcelain earlier, the armchair has some give to it when she curls her fingers around its forward edges, giving herself leverage to stand. She takes a moment to glance around the space before she moves toward the door.

There’s a tactical flashlight on the counter that she grabs on the way out, shoving it into her pocket. Refusing to actually glance toward Sharp after taking the action, it’s like she dares her to say something about it.

Vi stands in the doorway, letting Niki pass her by on the way out. But her attention is drawn away as Niki makes it out into the hall, her head angling to the side in regards to something she hadn’t noticed before, perhaps because Niki hadn’t been wearing a tanktop other times they’d been in one-another’s company. But she can’t help but stare for a moment at the tattoo on Niki’s shoulder.

It’s the same symbol on Adam’s sword.

Not Long Later

The Director’s Office
Praxis Ziggurat

Chess and Alix had only just arrived with Sabine when Niki and Violet come through the door behind them. Adam’s office is a spartan place, sitting on the north face of the upper-most level of the ziggurat. One entire wall of the office is angled with the slope of the ziggurat’s exterior, though the window that would normally look out over the forests north of San Francisco instead are blinded by the closed shutters. Adam stands behind his desk, head in his hands, looking stressed beyond expression.

On the other side of the desk, Claudia Zimmerman looks like she’s going to bite her tongue off from the way she’s held back saying something when everyone finally arrived. She turns, regarding Chess with marked indifference, but Niki with palpable relief. Alice Shaw, on the other hand, seems only annoyed by the interruption. Seeing two heads of the Deveaux Society here in Adam’s inner sanctum is a rarity. One Claudia finds no appreciation in.

“Are you going to explain what’s going on?” Alice asks Adam, indicating they’re just as in the dark about what’s happening. Her attention levels back at Claudia, watching her carefully, before turning that attention back on Adam again.

Chess looks like she’s ready to go on a camping trip with the bow over one shoulder, her courier bag slung over the other. Alice and Claudia are strangers to her, though she’s seen Claudia around, gleaned her name from others. She looks at each face, eyes a little wide and lips parted as if to ask questions that never quite surface. Alice has the main one covered. Sabine’s terse Cliff Notes version is still ringing in her head, in her ears.

Weh Niki and Vi enter, Chess takes a couple of steps closer to them, pulling Alix with her, in a subconscious attempt for some familial comfort. She may have called Freud bullshit to Adam not long ago, but he may have been right about some things.

“Where’s everyone else?” is a quiet question for Alix or Vi, who always seem to know a little bit more about anything than she does, perpetual outsider and Johnny-come-lately that she is.

When they’ve arrived at their destination, Niki pulls at the errand right sleeve of her sweater from where it had slouched off her shoulder. Her mother can see the apprehension in her when their eyes meet. They spent enough time together in close quarters during the war that her poker face is all but wasted on the Zimmerman matriarch.

“Mom,” Niki greets quietly. She means to move to her side, but she expects Chess might need her strength more. Claudia stands alone more often by choice than simple necessity.

Alice receives a nod as well, though the reception is lukewarm at best. “I don’t think he’d call us all here if he wasn’t intending to enlighten us,” Niki posits in response to her vocalization of the question on everybody’s mind.

“Jac was off-premises with Joy, training, when the lockdown hit. They won’t be able to get back inside until it’s lifted, but she’s safe. The others are still in their quarters,” Adam explains with a hand running through his hair. “Our plans, everything, they’re moving up. We were attacked. By it.

Alix’s eyes widen and she lifts a hand to her mouth when Adam proclaims what happened. Violet cocks her head to the side, looking to Sabine, then back to Adam. Claudia, having a somewhat less immediate connection to the severity of the situation still looks concerned, while Alice shares in Adam’s deep-seated worry.

“A couple of hours ago, a Praxis Heavy Industries submarine that was off the coast of the United States was destroyed, by Uluru.” Adam’s right hand curls into a fist at this proclamation. “That… thing killed all fifty crew on board and destroyed the delivery system we were going to use for part of the second stage attack against the entity.” A phase of his plan that has, up until now, been shrouded in secrecy.

“I need you all to get your things and get down to the airfield the moment the lockdown is lifted,” Adam explains. “We’ll be boarding an aircraft and headed east, Ryans is already in the process of setting up some tech that will assist us in phase two, and I’ll explain your roles while we’re in-transit.” He then turns to Claudia and Alice. “Claudia, I… know this is all a lot to handle right now. But I need you and Alice to stay here. This might be the only building in the world that thing can’t get into immediately and you’re safer here than anywhere else.”

Sabine shifts her weight from one foot to the other, then looks around. “Where’s Lanhua?” She asks Adam, who furrows his brows and doesn’t look like he knows the answer to that question.

Chess squeezes Alix’s hand in hers; her own response is more stoic, though her brows dip and her scowl deepens, especially at the thought of Joy and Squeaks outside somewhere. That and the loss of fifty lives alongside the loss of a key component of Adam’s plan — not that she knows what that is — are enough to make her breath catch in her throat, but only those close to her can hear that reaction. Her sisters in arms. Her sisters in blood.

She’s already carrying most of what she owns, ready to go, but there are a few things back in the suite she’ll gather — so long as there is time.

“How,” her voice cracks, giving away a little of the fear she tries not to show, and she tries again after swallowing hard. She probably shouldn’t have spent the night with a bottle of sake. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.

“How much time before the lockdown lifts? And… East?” Chess’ dark eyes flit to the shuttered windows. Everyone she cares about is in that direction. “Was it off the coast of the Atlantic, then?” She doesn’t say the words New York but it’s obviously what she’s worried about. She glances to Niki through the corner of her eyes, knowing Niki too has her roots in the east these days. They have a lot to lose, and a lot to fight for.

Niki, for her part, is less ruffled by all of this than she probably ought to be. There’s a part of her that thinks she’s seen it all already. That even though it’s been drilled into her the magnitude of this threat, she just can’t quite bring herself to believe in it. That at least serves to keep her calm in the face of whatever calamity this is.

It’s what allows her to hum thoughtfully and mutter an aside, “Well, I know what happened when one of my sisters went missing in the clutch.” Maybe she’ll be less bitter about Tracy someday. Today is not that day. Tomorrow, if she makes it that far, may not be looking good either.

Still. Fifty lives lost aboard a submarine is bad news no matter how you slice it. Niki catches Chess’ look and gives her a subtle nod. Yes, she does still have ties out east. And even if she didn’t, saving lives regardless of their significance to her is a worthwhile endeavor. “I hate to ask the obvious question, but is any of your plan going forward going to work if someone in this room is your leak?”

The question elicits a rub of Adam’s hand over his brow. “It’s too late to start questioning that now,” is his desperate answer. “Thankfully, none of you here know what I’m planning.” He takes only cold comfort from that. Sabine takes less, judging from the deep frown cutting across her mouth.

“I’ll inform security to prepare to drop the lockdown,” Sabine explains, “and get the pilots to spin up the ZZ7’s. What coordinates should I tell them to plot?” She asks, to which Adam shakes his head.

“Tell them to follow my aircraft. I’ll lead the way.” Adam instructs, and Sabine offers a sharp nod and turns toward the door. At the same time, Claudia steps forward and shakes her head in disapproval.

“This is fucking insane, Adam. You can’t fight this thing by yourself, you could barely keep your shit together the last t— ” Whatever Claudia was going to say next is cut short.

Enough,” Adam strains through his teeth. “Alice, take Claudia to her room. Then find out where the fuck Lanhua is.” His attention flicks over to Chess afterward. “The uh, ah… submarine was near Virginia. I don’t know what happened in detail. We got some— panicked radio transmissions, then everything cut out. Transponder signal indicates the submarine was destroyed.”

As Sabine makes her way for the door, Alix watches her leave, then notices that Violet is crying next to her. Tears are streaming down her cloned sister’s cheeks, but she isn’t making any sound. Her hands, clenched into fists at her side, shake violently. Alix tries to get Vi’s attention, then reaches out to try and take her hand in a show of sympathy, and Violet steps forward out of Alix’s reach.

“Niki,” Claudia says turning toward her daughter, “tell me you’re not—” She stops short when Violet takes her by the wrist. Adam doesn’t notice the movement until a beat later, when Claudia sucks in a sharp breath and a strange noise radiates from Violet’s hand holding Claudia’s wrist. A split second later, Claudia Zimmerman explodes in a shower of gore, bone, and blood the size pebbles. Alice lets out a shriek and staggers backward, tripping over herself and landing on the floor. Violet extends a hand out toward Alice and a vibrating wave of sound shudders down toward her, causing the front half of her body facing Vi to explode outward in a spray of blood and tiny granules of human detritus. Violet is covered in blood, it drips off of her hair and runs in thick streaks down her face.

When Claudia suddenly becomes a human bomb, Chess grabs Alix’s wrist to yank her sister behind her, wheeling around to face Violet at the same time — trying to put herself between Violet and the rest of the room, in front of Adam and Niki if she can as well. Adam may be immortal but Niki isn’t, as far as she knows.

“Is this the fucking plan?” she shouts over her shoulder to Adam. She keeps her eyes trained on Violet as she pulls bow from her shoulder, fingers brushing along the arrow tip to charge it while nocking it into place.

And then Alice is gone, too. The room is a nightmare, gore and viscera. Bile rises in her throat and she can’t seem to speak. Somehow, though, her hands are steady, and the explosive arrowhead is pointed at her sister.

She should shoot.

Her eyes instead seek Violet’s, searching for answers.

“Don't you fucking talk to her like that!” Niki snaps, finally breaking away from the other sisters with the intent of getting in Adam's face for his disrespect to her mother. “We have done everything you've asked us to do! You—”

But Claudia's voice cuts through her annoyance and brings Niki to turn to face her, ready to tell her no, of course she's not. But Violet is there, and at first she thinks the younger woman might be trying to deescalate the brewing situation.

It couldn't be further from the truth.

There's a stunned silence that follows the bloody explosion. Niki can only hear the sound of her own shallow breaths and the roaring of blood in her ears. Then, nothing at all. Not even the sound of her own brokenhearted wailing.

The blonde lunges out toward Vi with a vengeful howl.

Niki’s scream is met by a scream of Violet’s at the exact same time, a riotous wail of anger that comes in the same moment that she brings one of her hands up to Niki, a strange howling wail building around her palm. Niki’s right hand wraps around Vi’s throat at the same time and the pair go tumbling to the ground. When Violet is thrown off balance she loses concentration and focus on her ability and the scream around her hands dies down.

Stop!” Alix screams, occluded from the violence by Chess’ protective silhouette. “Stop! Stop!” She can’t think of anything more coherent to shout. This is her sister, a sister she only just now emotionally reconnected with who has caused horrific violence.

Sabine has pivoted on her heel, turning around and rushing back toward the absolute carnage that has broken out in the room while Adam stands slack-jawed and confused. He staggers around, eyes searching the floor, trying to find a piece of Claudia large enough for him to bring her back from. Sabine reaches the brawl on the floor, about to come down and grab Vi when the clone’s hand slips out between Niki’s arm and rib, sending a screaming blast of destructive resonance out. Sabine stops short just in time to avoid the force, which tears into the ceiling causing the metal to vibrate apart at a molecular level, sending support beams and lighting raining down on her.

Sparks shower from the ceiling, live wires dangle wildly, arcing off the floor. “Fuck you! Fuck you!” Vi shouts at Niki, trying to get one of her hands into position to tear the blonde apart. “Get off me you piece of shit!” She screams against the hand around her throat. Niki’s other hand keeps Vi’s left hand pinned to the ground where the floor buckles, cracks, and splits around her palm. “I’m going to fucking kill you! Do you hear me Adam! I’m going to fucking kill you!

Niki stop! Niki no! Niki stop you— ssssstop! Violet!” Alix wails, her hands cupped over her mouth.

Niki, bearing down on Violet says through her teeth, “Niki’s not here right now.”


Grabbing Violet by the hair, she smashes the back of her head against the floor. Violet lets out a keening sound of agony from the blow, and Niki does it again.

“Stop! Stop!” Alix cries, unable to see what Chess can. Violet flailing her free hand enough to bring it back toward Niki’s side—

Goddamn it. It’s too hard to keep a good bead on Vi with Niki on top of her — or whoever is on top of her. Chess throws the bow back over her shoulder and grabs the first thing her hand alights upon when she thrust it into her courier bag full of potential bombs.

Drawing it out, it’s some stone sculpture that once adorned a shelf in her suite. She was never sure if it was supposed to be a cat or a woman or maybe some Chinese symbol she can’t quite make out due to its artistically rough-hewn charm. But it’s heavy.

It’ll do.

“I’m sorry,” Chess hisses to Alix, stepping forward as her fingers slide across the surface of the sculpture, while she looks for an in to the fight that won’t harm Niki. They keep moving. Then she has no choice. It’s now or never, if she doesn’t want Niki’s remains to join Alice and Claudia’s everywhere in the office. Her eyes fill with tears.

She sucks in a sharp breath and slams the piece down toward Violet’s shoulder, letting go as it drops the final few inches and grabbing Niki around her red sweater’s neck to drag back with her, to keep her out of the damage zone.

Change of tactics. If Vi gets that hand on her, she’s going to be in a world of trouble. So, she is first to grab her wrist. There’s a sickening snap and a tear as Jessica wrenches Violet’s arm from her socket. It’s hard to tell who’s screaming louder as she does.

It’s the opening Chess needs to get in and deliver her own blow. Jessica scrabbles like a mad dog being pulled back by the collar, red painted nails clawing furiously in the air in a bid to get to the other sister and scratch her eyes out.

Let go of me!” Jessica demands, already beginning to shrug out of her cardigan. Fully prepared to turn her retribution on Chess if she has to, to protect Niki. Whatever the cost or collateral damage.

Violet’s scream as her arm is dislocated is a ragged, snarling and animalistic thing. Her legs kick under her and when Niki is pulled back she lashes out with her good arm, fingers splayed and a wailing cry vibrating down through the bones in her hand. As Chess turns with Niki, trying to pull her out of the way, the stone laid down beside Violet rattles angrily. A wave of discordant sound emanates from Violet’s unbroken arm and Chess is just on the fringe of that short-range wave. The rippling blast shreds the back of her jacket, creases a rippling bruise up her back, and sends feathery shrapnel of her backpack scattering to the air. The stone beside Violet begins to glow and—


Moments Earlier

Alameda Point Airfield

Praxia, California Safe Zone

There is a flurry of activity outside of the Ziggurat, dozens of massive Z-12 Qingniao quad-rotor aircraft are preparing for launch across the airfield. Huge plastic and metal containers are loaded onto the backs of the aircraft through cargo bay doors. The loud whirring of ZZ-7 automated tanks tear across the asphalt, with these mechanized and spider-like tanks rolling to a stop before switching to ambulatory mode and marching up into the awaiting aircraft.

“Banshee hounds! Where the fuck are the banshee hounds!” One of the munitions officers on the tarmac shouts, looking at a digital tablet of inventory. From an adjacent hangar a soldier in heavy body armor with a bulky backpack comes running out, followed by four massive robots, each roughly six feet tall at the shoulders with some sort of cannon for a head. They stalk like dogs across the tarmac to the munitions officer. “Load up, one BS-3 per vehicle!” The soldier with the backpack nods, then uses gesture commands to direct the massive machines to separate aircraft.

Nearby, in clear view of these events, Jac Childs stands on the metal rooftop of one of the hangars alongside Joy, looking up at the looming shadow of the Praxis Ziggurat adjacent to the airfield. “As soon as the doors open,” Joy says to Jac, her throat tight with worry, “we’ll go inside.”

“What if they don't open,” Jac asks in a voice hushed with confusion and worry. The yelling beckons her attention, but the scene of scrambling soldiers and robots, of waiting transports is barely a distraction from the silhouette that's been home for months. Her family, those she's known about for a bit and those she's only just met, are inside the seemingly impenetrable fortress.

She pulls her eyes from the structure. It's an effort, physical and mental, to redirect herself, convince herself that there's nothing she can do just now. It's a paper thin belief that everyone is okay.

Tilting her head, Jac looks up at Joy. “What could have happened? The last time…” She pauses. Last time, a phone exploded. “Is it…” It can't be an attack. Not yet. “Maybe it's a drill. Maybe it just went off?”

“This isn’t a drill,” Joy says with a pinch of her brows together. The cool breeze from up there whips through her hair, and she turns her attention down to the soldiers. “Jac,” she says with a slow look turned toward her young protege, “your training may be over now. This…” she looks up to the ziggurat, “…may be the beginning of the— ”

The ground shakes as a tremendous explosion rocks the pinnacle of the ziggurat from the inside. The blast screens contain the explosion, but a flash of light and flame vents out through the downward-angled shutters. Smoke billows up and out through the gaps in the blast screens and new alarms sound all over the base. Joy’s eyes draw wide and she grabs Jac by the wrist, transforming into a tenebrous insubstantiation, moving like a flow of wet ink through the air, down to the ground, then bounces across the tarmac before reaching the sealed blast doors of the ziggurat’s ground level.

Joy manifests from her energy-attenuated form, Jac along with her, and looks up at the structure. “Let us in!” She shouts into the security camera. Dozens of soldiers on the tarmac are looking up to the pinnacle of the ziggurat, drones are launching from far away, sirens blare.

Shifting her footing slightly so she can follow Joy’s focus to the soldiers, Jac watches the way the people below hustle and scurry. Like ants before a storm. She lets out a measured breath and knows, even as Joy voices those thoughts, the implications of whatever is happening not being a drill. It doesn't cause the sour thrill of anticipation that settles in her stomach.

The girl snaps out of the questions and doubts about herself that begin to build, eyes swing up to the Ziggurat as flames escape through the shutters. She steps, the first motion intending to take herself back to the Ziggurat when…

Joy does it for her.

She stares at the barricade, for a second, without understanding any of what's happened. The second passes. Jac unleashes a sound kick, mustered out of frustration and fear, against the blast doors. “What if we can't get in? If they don't open the doors…” Her hands desperately search, thin fingers pressing and feeling around the edges of the shielding. “I… I could get to the roof.” It's a guess, the scrutiny of the door ceasing so she can pass a worried look to Joy. “The helicopter pad. That's where Zhao teleported to.”

Joy’s hands curl into fists, she scans the wall with a thoughtful eye, then shakes her head. “That entrance would be sealed too. This was designed to keep it out, not even I could force our way ins— ” The groan of protesting metal and hissing hydraulics cuts Joy off. It would seem that she wouldn’t need to test that theory.

Joy reaches out to take Squeaks’ hand, squeezing it firmly as the blast doors part to reveal the ground-floor concourse of the ziggurat. Standing in the middle of the doorway as it opens, Adam Monroe looks at once stressed and prepared for a war. His black body armor is of Raytech design, AEGIS armor. “Adam?” Joy asks in surprise.

“We need to get upstairs, now.” Adam insists, turning on his booted heels. “Violet attacked us, I believe she may have been working with Kravid.” He says with a wince. He was looking in the wrong place for the mole.

“But…” Whatever argument Jac was forming cuts off when the blast doors begin to move. She steps back, a glance shooting up to Joy as her hand is taken, then returning to see the corridors and Adam slowly revealed. Confusion touches her for a fraction of a second. She recognizes that kind of armor.

Even without the explanation it's obvious whatever is happening is really bad.

Another quick look pulls up to Joy, and Jac gives a light tug to start the trek inside. She hurries after Adam, nearly jogging, sometimes skipping, to match his stride. “Is that why the alarms went off before? What was that explosion?”

Adam turns a serious look over to Jac, jaw set. “It was Chess.” He looks to Joy, then. “I’m already up there.

“We need a medical team.”


The world is blurred swaths of light and darkness.

A tinnitus ring hangs in the air, sparks shower from a hole in the ceiling. Someone’s muffled voice is calling for help.

Chess’ head swims with the disorientation of a concussion, the cool tile of the floor at her cheek replacing a deadened sting of numbness. Her limbs ache as she pushes herself off of the ground, lungs burn as she exhales smoke. Small fires still burn all around the office, broken pieces of Adam’s desk are scattered across the floor, pieces of demolished padding from his chair drifts like snow through the air.

There is blood everywhere.

It’s hard to tell what blood belongs to who. Chess can see her hands, stained red. Her fingers work open and closed against her palms fine. Alix is kneeling beside her, screaming for help between hiccuped sobs. She’s covered in blood too. Chess can’t tell whose it is either. But hauled up in Alix’s lap is what remains of her sister Violet. One of her arms is missing, most of her face and the side of her head. Alix is cradling her by the shoulders and the back of her neck.

Claudia is just gone. It’s impossible to tell what in the room was her and what was Alice. There’s a dismembered limb across the room, parts of a hand a little further away. She can’t tell who they belong to. A wave of nausea comes over Chess, and as she turns her head from the sight of Violet and Alix, she can see Niki sitting with her back up against the wall and forearms draped over bent knees, staring vacantly off into the distance. There’s a fine misting of blood drying in her hair and on her face. Sabine kneels next to Niki, trying to talk to her, but Chess can’t make out what she’s saying.

It’s only then that she sees Adam, or what’s left of him. He was close to the explosion when it went off, the blonde hair stained pink with blood is the only way she can really be sure it’s him. But then, she’s also seeing double.

Adam is standing in the doorway to the office in black tactical gear, steel-eyed and tense. Jac is at one side of him, Joy on the other.

Fires burn all around.

With a ragged gasp, Chess begins to rise to her hands and knees, wincing as everything hurts. Shrapnel embedded in one palm makes her suck in another breath, and her boot slides in something red and slippery; she loses traction and tries again. She shakes her head, her own blond hair tinged pink by blood, to clear the tinnitus, to clear the imagery but the latter will remain far, far longer than the former. She murmurs, “I didn’t mean…” but the words don’t come.

She manages to scramble into a sitting position, staring at the hellish aftermath of the blast. She can’t look anywhere too long. She’s pale beneath that sheen of blood. Her lips tremble and she shakes her head again, vehement in her silent denial.

“It shouldn’t’ve been…” Chess begins again. This time whatever she means to say is swallowed by a choked sob and she draws her hands up over her face, blood-stained knees rising up to support her elbows. Whatever her injuries are, they’re not obvious under the blood and shredded clothing — at least not as obvious as the emotional trauma.

Somewhere in the commotion, in the horrifying aftermath, Niki came back to herself. Or, well… her evil twin retreated again. Niki isn’t really there, to look at her. Her ears are ringing and tears are streaming down her cheeks, though she doesn’t make a sound.


Her mother isn’t just dead, she’s gone. It had seemed that Claudia Zimmerman might live forever, given the chance. That chance was definitively stolen. Grey-blue eyes gradually start to regain focus. A thousand yards seemingly becomes five hundred. One hundred. Fifty. Slowly, Niki’s gaze tracks around the room and starts registering the carnage, though almost without comprehension. That comes by degrees.

The last thing that comes into relief is Sabine at her side. Bewildered, Niki turns her head to look at the other woman. “It was her, wasn’t it?”

Everything and anything else that Jac might have wanted to ask is abandoned long before she reaches the doorway. The sight that she finds banishes nearly all other thoughts. Blue eyes go wide, darting from gore to flame to survivor, mouth slightly open and drawn at the horror-filled scene.

It lasts only in the space of a heartbeat. She takes a breath. Something drives her to get closer, to go to Chess and Niki and offer comfort. Something else holds her back.

Jac moves sideways instead, a step closer to Adam’s side. Eyebrows knit, hands curl into fists at her sides. After another measured breath, she pulls her focus from the carnage, from Niki, Chess, and Sabine. She looks up at Adam and Joy, seeking cues from the two who have been her mentors for what feels like always.

Across the floor, Sabine has no idea what Niki is talking about. Instead, her attention moves briefly to where Alix and Violet are, then back. She reaches up and checks Niki’s head for injuries, then looks over her shoulder to Adam, wiping blood from a cut on her own brow out of her face. Adam steps into the room, leaving Squeaks at the entryway with Joy. He walks through the carnage and the fire, past Chess, past Alix, to where the remains of his own body are. One corner of Adam’s mouth twitches, followed by his brow, then his eyelid.

Get up,” Adam whispers to his corpse. His right hand closes into a fist. “Get up.” Nothing happens. He closes his eyes, tightly, lips pressed together in a thin line as he turns and looks back to Joy and Squeaks.

“The submarine is destroyed. We have to move,” Adam says in a shaky, broken voice. “We have to move now.” His eyes wander the room, trying to piece together his plan from the shrapnel of the room. One hand comes up to his ear, two fingers pressed to a comm set coiled around it. “Get the missile loaded.”

Joy gently lays a hand on Jac’s shoulder, meant at once to be reassuring but also liberating. It is a show of trust. I’m here for you, it implies. But at the same time, I trust you. She makes her way over to Chess, taking a knee and resting a hand on her shoulder.

Yingsu?” Joy asks in a whisper, glancing briefly over to Alix and struggling to divide her attention. She looks back to Chess. “Are you hurt?”

With a visible wince the instant Joy puts her hand on Chess’ shoulder, the answer is obvious, but Chess shakes her head anyway. A glance to her back reveals that shredded jacket and a piece of shrapnel lodged against one shoulder blade — better than through ribs to softer tissue. She lowers her hands, the left pooled with blood around the piece of jagged metal she’d apparently rested it on when rising up.

Her eyes seek Joy’s, tearful and still dazed from the blast. She looks past Joy to Adam talking to his own bloodied corpse and she closes her eyes again. The word missile should wake her out of that daze, but doesn’t seem to. “I didn’t mean for it to be that strong,” she manages to say, a fleeting look at Alix, at Violet, and quickly back to Joy again, her eyes flicking left to right, as if to read something there. Reassurance. Forgiveness, maybe.

Chess sucks in a breath and pushes herself up. It’s clear every bone, every muscle aches. “Do you still want me with you?” she asks of Adam — she doesn’t apologize, not with words; the dark mirrors of her eyes are full of pain and regret.

While examining the back of Niki’s head, Sabine’s hand comes back wet. The blonde must have bounced her skull off the floor when she was thrown back from the explosion. She seems otherwise uninjured, and the wound doesn’t feel deep.

Further examination is shoved off with a rough twist of her shoulder as Niki pulls away from Sabine now and staggers back to her feet. Bare fingers push up off the floor, and a palm braces against the wall at her back. With the murderer dead, Niki may never know why her mother was targeted. Or if she was collateral damage and Violet had meant to kill all of them.

Panicked gasps turn to the ragged breathing that comes with barely constrained anger. Niki peels off her cardigan and presses it to the back of her head with one hand, standing up taller when she does. Undeterred. Someone ordered this. Violet didn’t just lash out on her own, and Kravid’s dead, which means someone else is left pulling the strings.

Maybe she’ll find a canister of negation gas and scratch Lanhua’s name into it.

Cold eyes fix on the Adam that remains. “Where’s my weapon?”

At first, her gaze tracks after Adam, but the hand on her shoulder returns Jac’s attention to Joy. The pressure of the grasp, the look she's given are received with the smallest of nods. Then, as Joy moves away to help Chess, her attention returns to the destruction.

She remains in the doorway, silent and observant. She picks up on the small details, the things she missed when she first confronted the scene. The girl’s head tilts slightly when she notices that Adam’s head is also on the floor. It's a discovery that's filed away, and she moves on to Niki and Chess’ contributions.

Their questions draw Jac’s attention fully back to Adam. She crosses the room, once more taking her place at Adam’s side without word or question of her own. A hand briefly touches his arm, a physical reminder of her support, where she stands. Then, as her hand drops to her side, she looks at the two women — her sisters by some strange manipulation of fate.

A pair of glowing gold eyes burn in the doorway behind Joy and Adam. Sabine halts the second she sees the burning rings, steps to the side and looks back to Adam as Lanhua Chen slowly walks in through the smoke. There’s visible concern painted across her face, eyes wide and horror evident in her every expression. She cups a gloved hand over her mouth, gold in her eyes dimming as the time between the use of her last Gemini-imbued power fades. Adam looks up to her, demandingly, but doesn’t say anything until he looks back to Chess. “You did what you had to,” is his assessment of the situation. It tracks with everything else she’d heard from him about war and loss.

“You can come with me to the armory,” Sabine says to Niki, inclining her head to the door from behind Lanhua.

Yingsu,” Lanhua says as she moves over to Chess’ side, taking a hesitant knee. She sees the shrapnel bit into her clone’s shoulder, sees the blood staining her back. Her now dark eyes drift over to Alix, then to the shattered remains of Violet draped across Alix’s lap. Her expression tightens, jaw sets, hands curl into fists and tears well up in her eyes.

“I’m going to find Ivy and Val,” Joy says to Chess and Lanhua with a hitch in the back of her throat, unable to look at what happened to Violet. Unable to process the horror in the moment. “Stay with Alix,” she urges, even though she knows how horrific a burden that is.

“Go find Gillian and Jolene,” Adam says to Jac, “make sure they’re safe. They’ll be coming with us.”

Chess stares into the eyes of her twin, her own still dazed. Seeing tears in Lanhua’s draws more to her own and her face crumples. She covers it again with one hand, but her other reaches for her sister, maybe a proxy in that moment for Kimberly, so many miles away.

It’s the first time they’ve touched, at least since they were babies, since the day they were separated more than two decades ago.

She casts another fleeting glance to Alix and looks away again, another sob racking through her. “Can you…?” Chess whispers to Lanhua, eyes pleading. Help Alix. Comfort her.

She sucks in a shaky breath, and rises the rest of her way to her feet, glancing down at her bloodied hand and pulling out the chunk of metal there, letting it drop to the ground. Her other hand swipes at her eyes, her face smeared with blood and soot.

Her eyes return to Adam and she nods once for the acceptance in his words of the non-apology she’d given. Chess had made a decision and it cost more than she anticipated. It’s hard not to find a parallel to his life there.

Niki’s instinct is to grab Lanhua and shake her. Demand where the hell she was when her sister went psycho and caused all this. Like she wanted to demand answers from her own errant triplet sister when the war began in 2011.

But it’s transference, isn’t it? To want to see a traitor in Lanhua’s shape. Sabine’s voice recapture’s Niki’s attention, and the blazing fury in her gaze extinguishes as she pivots to move toward the door.

Someone will pay for this. Her pain will be assuaged through the blood of someone else, but she’ll make damn sure it’s the right target. “Let’s go,” Niki tells Sabine, throwing one last look over her shoulder, trying to make the image stick. She’ll need the fuel later.

Questions are swallowed, replaced with trust that answers will come when time and circumstance allow. Jac lingers for a moment, looking up at Adam in that same wondering, searching way of watching.

The moment passes and she turns. The massacre greets her first, the blood and gore and fire isn't frightening this time. Her brows knit, confused by the madness of it, silently mourning the pain in Niki and Chess. She picks her way carefully through the mess, to find her mom and sister. Half way, she pauses again to look back at Adam.

A breath later, Jac closes the remaining distance through the office. Her path takes her to follow Joy into the hall, a hand reaching to touch the woman’s arm.

Lanhua is silent at Chess’ request, but then against every urge in her body moves over to kneel beside the inconsolable woman. Lanhua rests a gloved hand against the side of Alix’s head and brushes her hair behind her ear, jaw unsteady and tears rolling down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers under the volume of Alix’s sobs.

Joy exhales a shuddering breath on leaving the room, reaching out to take Jac’s hand in hers as several white-jacketed emergency response medics come rushing into the room and then skid to a stop as soon as they see what’s transpired. Four bipedal robots follow behind them, rifles held to their chest and monocular eyes scanning the space for hostiles.

Sabine slips past them with Niki, only now noticing that she herself is bleeding from her scalp, touching fingertips to the side of her head. She’ll worry about that later.

Adam is left, standing amid the medics, hands clenched into fists and jaw set.

There was no turning back now.

This was the beginning of the end.

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