The Ides Of March


sf_abby2_icon.gif sf_asami2_icon.gif sf_brynn2_icon.gif sf_daphne2_icon.gif sf_faulkner2_icon.gif sf_gabriella2_icon.gif sf_gillian2_icon.gif sf_isa2_icon.gif sf_jac2_icon.gif sf_kaylee2_icon.gif sf_kimiko2_icon.gif sf_nicole2_icon.gif sf_nova2_icon.gif sf_shaw2_icon.gif sf_zachery2_icon.gif

Also Featuring:

sf_colin_icon.gif sf_violette_icon.gif

Scene Title The Ides of March
Synopsis Et tu?
Date {critical system error}

A thousand silvery filaments stretch out across an infinite, dark void. Light glitters within these hair-thin strands, pulsing from a singular point of origin high above. The threads fan out like the bottom of a bell, each one connected to a point in space within which a vignette of daily life play out. A husband and wife in a kitchen, a child with a skinned knee, fire trucks responding to a car accident, friends meeting in a park.

Sunken in the shadows of this infinite space, a single figure feels the lights of data move across each filament like a fly on a spider’s web. Each one that is pulled taut draws a fraction of this consciousness’ attention. Each moment in time observed, cataloged, and archived. Each archive analyzed, data filtered upstream to the source of all the filaments.

When one thread suddenly turns red, all eyes move to this anomaly. Friends gathered in a park. Corrupted data. Incongruent. The presence lifts a hand, reaching for one of the friends, grasping the data cluster she represents between an unseen forefinger and thumb, and squeezes. This mass of knowledge, experiences, and simulated emotions is plucked away from the mass like a wriggling tick, turned over in a hand as large as the sky, studied, and crushed. In the digital carcass, there are pixelated remnants of something. Like a fingerprint. No, a calling card.

A smiling oni mask.

OPTICA is intrigued.

Some Time Later

The Corinthian Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas

OPTICA Simulation Root

“March 19th”

Broken glass crunches underfoot.

The lobby of the Corinthian Hotel is a ruin. Sand filters in through the demolished front doors from the desert cityscape outside. The shade here is cool and welcoming against the blazing midday sun outside. Great ionic columns rise up in the middle of the lobby beside toppled luggage carts, open suitcases and disheveled heaps of discarded clothes and personal belongings.

Kimiko Nakamura is distracted by her flesh and blood hand as the follows the others in, rolling forefinger and thumb together and marveling over the reality of the sensation. Her dark eyes occasionally dart to the sound of crunching glass or scraping sand underfoot, but her thoughts are elsewhere. Worries upon worries press down on her shoulders.

As the escapees of the simulation make their way into the Corinthian’s lobby, they are met by a man as equally disheveled as the surroundings. His beige linen suit is creased and wrinkled, blue shirt unbuttoned and only partly tucked in. He has forsaken a clean shave long ago, and much of his hair is an unkempt, curly mess.

Few people here have any reason to recognize Colin Verse, but from where he sits on the stairs to the second floor balcony, he is remarkable among the ruin. As is his shadow sitting on the opposite side of the same stairs, a woman in black leather with short, dark hair and pale eyes. Asami—Asi—knows her. Violette. The woman who got her into this entire mess to begin with, the one who urged her to take a leap of faith… and revealed the unreality of the world.

Colin and Violette rise from their seated position at the same time, taking the same strides down the steps to meet the others, every single motion they make mirrored.

“Welcome to the basement of your own, personal hell.” Colin and Violette speak in unison. “Sorry the road here was so, uh, long.” They spread their hands. “But you know what they say…”

“All roads lead to Rome.”

There is one visitor who seems to be malfunctioning on his increasingly rushed way forward. Zachery is invisible, mostly, blinking into view every few steps as a tired determination carries him forward. "And when in fucking Rome…"

He stops, turning to look to the others coming in with him, and sweeps an arm in Colin and Violette's direction, staying visible as he glares daggers into anyone within view. "Someone tell me they know who these two jokers are."

When they woke in the hot sun out front of the place, Brynn's first instinct was to look for Jac and Aunt Gilly. Then she began to wake up more and realized the others were there too – and she'd scrambled up and bolted to her mother (Aunt Kaylee?, no… her mother) to bury her face against the older woman's shoulder. Two lives so tightly intertwined that she has lived both, but Kaylee has been her mother since she was a toddler.

Only after she got the lump in her throat to go down did she pull away and gasp out, "Mom! Do we have everyone?" A frantic look, an attempt at a mental tally.

As they now make their way into the cool darkness of the hotel's lobby, Brynn stays close to Kaylee, waffling only to make sure she keeps close to Aunt Gilly and Jac too while she tries to get a head count, showing relief that they seem to have everyone… though she's not quite sure even now.

And then there's the creepy twins. If someone finds 'REDRUM' on a frickin' wall, she is outta here.

When they had arrived, much like Brynn, Kaylee went in search of her family. The memories warred and fought, tumbled through her mind. In fact, she didn't know what she’d feel when she saw her — the girls or how they would react to her.

But as soon as Kaylee saw Brynn and Jac, the same motherly feelings hit her hard in the chest and a sense of immense relief washed over her. That feeling was joined by joy as she was able to wrap her oldest in a tight hug with tears in her eyes. Looking over Brynn’s shoulder at Jac and even Gillian, there is hope and regret in her eyes.

Either way, Aunt or Mom.. Sister-in-law or friend, they were always a part of her family.

Moments later, Kaylee finds herself standing, looking up at Colin and Violet, lips pressed tight. Her attention moves from one speaker to the other. Watching, all the warmth she felt at the reunion starts to cool as an icy ball of unease settles in. What’s next?

Asami stands transfixed, no clearer indication of her visions of two lives playing out at once in front of her than in the synchronized actions of Colin Verse and Violette Iris. For a long moment all she can do is stare, her eyes unable to decide which one of them she wants to look at.

Violette, whose guidance lead her here, who Asami knows and trusts.

Colin, who Asi has chased traces of for years. Kin vanished. A who who Asi knows in the same ways, even if she trusts very few and very little.

It's him who she lands on in the end, stepping forward when Zachery stops. "I do," she answers quietly, in the dark horse of a voice not belonging to the Asami of this fractured world. "These two are v.iris, but only one of them is the real one."

Her arms lift out and away from her sides, head shaking slightly as she steps toward him— Colin, clearly, over Violette. "I've brought them. The system is straining as we speak. What work is left before it all goes down, my friend?" My friend.

Despite his implication in all that's happened to them, it's an assertion she refuses to let go of.

Further shuffling steps sound through sand and glass. A lean figure silhouetted by the outside desert sun blots the threshold of the Corinthian, hand in hand with a second. Shahid Khan makes his way within the ruined hotel along with Isabelle as they seek shelter from the intense heat outside. There is a certain, animalistic urge to survive that moves them. But, there is no shelter from the equally intense pressure of knowledge. He and his wife have had quite the fill of it in their journey here, evidenced by the dark eyed stare from his face.

Shaw drops his hand held up to shade his eyes from the sun, turns first to look back to his companion whose hand he grasps in his other, then forward to the others already gathered. The familiar ones stir a feeling of hope and relief. The unfamiliar ones dash it away in a blink of tense caution. "We're here," he announces, somewhat clipped, sounding parched. "Fucking. Finally."

There is a distracted look in Isaac Faulkner's dark eyes as his gaze roams the shadowed ruins of the Corinthian, playing over the wreckage of the place time and again with renewed fascination — this is the ruin of a place that is eerily familiar to him, yet at the same time a place that doesn't exist here. Has never existed.

Hopefully someone will shoot him if he starts singing Once Upon a December.

He's given little time to consider the horrors of becoming the protagonist of a musical, though, because as desolate as this rendition of Vegas is, it appears that it's not entirely uninhabited. The arrival of the WonderTwins sees Faulkner's eyebrows rise at the eerie synchronicity of their movements, though when Asami reveals who they are — calls them friend — his eyes narrow slightly, only the faintest curl of his lips letting on as to the revulsion he feels. He crosses his arms, closing his eyes for a moment and forcing out a slow breath as he works to control his anger.

Asami — Asi illuminates the identity of the welcoming party before Nicole can offer insight from her memories. She only recognized half of this duo anyway. With her husband's hand joined in hers, so she wouldn't lose him as he flickered in and out, she lifts it to her mouth to press a kiss into the side of his palm before letting go.

She leaves him with this assurance, because her path now takes her to Faulkner, steps hurried. Placing her hands on her protege's shoulders, she is every inch the concerned guardian as she looks him over. He made it. Good. Once satisfied that he's in one piece and no more worse for wear than she is, she nods and lets him loose from her silent fussing, but only after an encouraging squeeze to one shoulder.

"It's okay." Politicians are adept at lying convincingly, and Nicole Miller is no exception. She sells it by not being unerring in her optimism, still showing worry on her eyes paired with her brief and weary smile, which she offers to Nova as well. There's no deeper crease of her brow to indicate that she has any idea of the great tragedy of her. She's just someone who's important to someone who's important to her, regardless of the specifics here or in any other world.

What she doesn't offer (to or regarding) Colin Verse, whose reputation precedes him, is her endorsement.

Just steps away from where she entered the Corinthian, Jac holds herself a little apart from her family. From both sides of it actually, while giving them equal parts of casually ignored and side-eyes. She treats everyone with that side eyeing look, curiosity over what they experienced vaguely restrained by suspicion that’s been second nature to her entire real life. Even her mom Kaylee, when their eyes meet, only receives aloofness.

Her arms fold over her middle in a sort of self hug when she looks away. The teen’s blue eyes track to other familiar faces, to footprints in the dusty sand on the floor and then to the not familiar faces of Colin and Violette. Jac huffs a breath and shifts her weight where she stands. Three times she tries to say something or ask questions, but resorts to only another huffy breath instead. Suspicion deepens, even though Asami calls them friends, and her eyes get a little squinty.

“It’s not,” is a whispered reply to Nicole’s assertion and reassurance. It barely comes out as more than a breath, barely audible. Whatever Nova has seen in her journey to this place has taken its toll. The bright spark of spirit and confidence that had been there at the start of the journey has waned, and her eyes hold sorrow and worry.

Managing, however, a weak smile to Nicole in return, Nova then turns away, pretending to be interested in the luggage, deft fingers finding a tag to turn and read. Some part of her is partly impressed with the attention to detail, especially for a place the system didn’t want them to ever see.

Gabrielle stands toward the back, perhaps to avoid glaring or suspicious eyes from those she had journeyed with. Her chin tilts upward, her shoulders back in an almost defiant posture. But the words of Colin and Violette draw a chuckle.

“I’ve heard it said all roads lead to ruin, too, and this is definitely not Rome,” she replies, gold-green gaze scanning at the sandy remains of the hotel. “Definitely ruins, though.” Her words are now accented, sharper around the edges.

Daphne stands near Gabrielle, staring out at the desert beyond the doors. The desire to escape is one that she never felt so strongly in this life, this simulation, but it’s one that the “real” Daphne knew well. The desire to teleport back to Brooklyn manifests as an itch in her legs, a restless signal to run – That’s the real Daphne at work. Dividing her feelings into what’s real and what’s virtual is painful, but it’s what keeps her here, keeps her feet rooted in the sand and glass instead of escaping.

“Somebody thought this was Rome.” Colin says as he takes a few languid steps down the stairs. “Someone with an ego as big as Cesar. Our mutual friend Danny Linderman. RIP.”

Violette pinches the bridge of her nose and shakes her head.

“This construct we’re standing in is where the simulation began. Vegas was modeled after the Vegas of the real world, the one that suffered through the Civil War you all lived through.” Violette explains, moving down the stairs at Colin’s pace but with less tiredness behind the steps. “It’s also now all that’s left. It was created as a proof-of-concept.”

“One that became a prison, for me.” Colin says, pointing at himself with both thumbs. “See, like Asi here explained, my nickname is V.Iris. Technopath. I used to have a meat body, but some fellas’ thought it was a much better idea to put a bullet in my head while I was hooked up to OPTICA and… see what happens. Turns out what happens is that I get fucking mad.”

Colin looks at Violette, who continues his thought. “You all are already on your way to rescue yourselves, but we’re worried it’ll be too late. As we speak, a liquidation team from Crito Corporate, the people who put you in this simulation in the first place, are on their way to where your bodies are to do to you what they did to Colin.”

“But we got time. Because this world moves at the speed of thought. So let’s not go making any hasty decisions.” Colin explains, raising his hands. “Fact of the matter is why you got here, or how, doesn’t matter at this moment. What does is that there’s still one barrier between us and getting out, and that’s—”



Standing in the doorway of the Corinthian, casting a shadow as long as his legacy into the room, Arthur Petrelli looks as he did the day he died fourteen years ago in the real world. But here he is something else entirely.

“You went through a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting, Colin.” Arthur says with a slow spread of his hands. “You could’ve just called.”

Whatever further false promises Nicole may have considered offering to Nova are abandoned. Firstly, because Nova’s far too smart and Nicole won’t insult her intelligence. Secondly, because the topic at hand is more important. Head bowed solemnly, she listens without particular need for scrutiny.

Until she hears that voice.

Nicole’s head comes up sharply, eyes wide and startled. “You’re a hard man to get a hold of these days,” she responds, wary as she makes her way back toward her husband. Between Zachery and Isaac, it’s the man she helped raise no, but she didn’t that she expects to handle himself here.

Fortunately, Zachery is preoccupied — after his look toward the others, he's been looking at everyone with fresh eyes. Probably something about a lifetime of memories catching up with him all at once mixing with the already present frustration.

He's only just turned his gaze back to Nicole again, expression still sharp with displeasure, when the new voice sounds out. As if by reflex, Zachery blinks invisible again, only reaching a hand out to her afterwards in an idle offer his wife immediately takes him up on. He may be clueless, but suspect is the barrier that comes to you.

Instinct has Kaylee turning and lifting her rifle to leveled on the voice behind them. Heart thundering in her chest, there is a serious mixed emotional reaction to seeing Arthur. A man she’s only seen pictures of in the Petrelli mansion. Her supposedly deceased father-in-law. Yet also, the mad man her adopted brother killed.

“The fuck….?” is blurted out in unladylike fashion for the heir of an empire, the barrel of Kaylee’s rifle dips down in shock.

Kaylee's reaction makes Brynn sidle a little closer to Jac, murmuring softly, "Still not understanding at least half of this." Her gray eyes flicker over people's faces looking for their reactions to the man whose face is, in one life, that of her dead adopted grandfather. In the other life, her knowledge of the man is even less, so the fact that Mom is pointing a rifle at him puts her inner Lighthouse Kid on notice that it could be evade/duck/hide/fight-if-you-have-to time. And she doesn't even have her boot knife. Wait… holy crap, she carries a boot knife? And where is Aunt Abby??

Abigail Muldo– no, Aunt Abby!! She'd thought they were all insane. She'd left and called the simulation NYPD on them. They'd left her behind. Those bits of knowledge roll over her like a tsunami, bringing gut-deep grief and horror. And still, they have to deal with where they are and what's happening right in front of them.

Two lifetimes of memories and unconscious instincts so entirely different from one another makes for unexpected discoveries as they become relevant. Still got that new ability, Jac? Thinking we might need it… Whole different sign language than ASL, but as instinctive as breathing to her as a means to coordinate activity.

At the mention of Linderman, Nova’s brows crease, and she glances up at Isaac. But the voice from the door startles her. What starts as one gasp becomes four in unison as suddenly her replicants accordion out of her, each distinct but yet identical, except for clothing and hair styles.

All of their cheeks flush at the same time, embarrassed a little at the accidental flash of her power, but at least she’s added to their numbers.

Daphne’s brown eyes narrow at the sight of Arthur popping up, and she purses her lips to one side in a half smirk, like she’s about to make a smartass comment. Instead she turns back to Colin and Violette.

“If time is of the essence… you know what? Never mind. Carry on.” The peroxide blonde suddenly blips out of sight back where she’d been standing with Gabrielle, only to reappear next to Arthur.

“Daph-” Gabrielle says, whirling around to see where her, well, maybe not friend, but travel companion has disappeared to, only to find her as Daphne reappears next to Arthur.

One flashes a peace sign to the rest of the group as Daphne grabs his arm with the other, thinking of the strange, unfinished Tokyo she and Asami had jaunted to.

Daphne is quicker than a flash, faster than a blink. In the time it takes Asi to turn and freeze on hearing Arthur Petrelli's voice, she's done that much. She breathes out already too late, "いや, wait–" Asami's eyes flare gold in a kneejerk reaction, one hand lifting in the direction of the Petrelli who's perhaps not Petrelli, but a threat to them all the same.

"No," she whispers with eyes still glowing gold, an impulse flying from her.

"Oh for fuck's sake, is he all?"

Isa grips Shaw's hand and eyes the man as Daphne and Asi begin their own work on the infamous boogeyman. All Isabelle saw was the man standing between her and her daughter. The bones beneath her skin begin to glow a white hot and she glares towards the man. "Finish him before I start."

In rapid succession Daphne disappears from where she was standing and reappears next to Arthur, grabbing him by the arm. He looks down at her with a momentary expression of confusion, which is mirrored on Daphne’s face when she tries to teleport and…


She sees a light exchanging from her hands and Arthur’s sleeve, and as his expression turns disapproving he suddenly begins to jerk upwards in a telekinetic thrust directed from Asi, but in that same moment she has nothing to purchase with that power as he combusts into a pillar of living fire. The heat is sudden and intense, and for all the Daphne should be consumed by it, Arthur moves away from her in a sidestep, leaving her singed but mostly unharmed.

C’mon,” Arthur says as he reforms into solid matter from the pillar of Abigail Caliban-like fire. He glances down at his hand, rolling forefingers and thumbs together. “If we came here to fight I would’ve killed you all before you left New York. Did you really think you were lucky and got away?”

Colin has finished coming down the stairs and stands at Asi’s side, one hand gently at her elbow but attention not moving away from Arthur at all. Meanwhile, Violette has likewise finished her descent down the stairs.

“Optica. You could’ve chosen a friendlier face.” Violette says, motioning with her chin to the system security interface given Arthur’s form.

Optica spreads his hands, and Arthur’s expression shifts into a who me smile. “You want someone to blame, blame them.” He motions to the others. “I didn’t ask for this face, it was amalgamated from fears and anxieties buried in some of their consciousnesses. The face of authority. Admittedly, it was a toss-up between Mr. Petrelli here and that serial-killer-come-president.”

Optica glances sidelong at Daphne, then when he looks back to the larger group he raises both of his hands in slow surrender. “Like I said, we didn’t come here to fight.”

And Optica’s body ripples with digital distortion, splitting into Arthur and a slender woman dressed entirely in black, save for a bright red hoodie and a Oni mask covering half of her face.


The lights sputter, coming back on in a sudden flicker. The fact that there is someone else in the subway car now sends an involuntary chill of fright down Asami’s spine. Seated directly across from her is a child — maybe eleven or twelve years old — on the precipice of becoming a teenager. Japanese, disaffected, dressed in a carnation red hoodie and dark jeans, black headphones over her ears. She’s looking directly at Asami.

For a moment, she no longer hears the sound of the song at all. Then, she pulls the headphones down from her ear entirely, expression unguarded at the start the child has given her. The hum of the music continues to play from around her neck as she studies the girl across from her warily. Where had she come from? It's a question she holds in her mind alone, too tense to speak.

The girl watches Asami with an unblinking stare, her chin up and brows furrowed. Pursing her lips, it looks as though the teen would say something, even as the subway car whips past a station visible as a barely recognizable blur at the kid’s back. The digital sign that indicates what stop they’re at hasn’t come back on, reflecting a matte black void. “Where is the host?” she asks, her stare unblinking.

Asami's brow knits together with even more suspicion than before. She'd been on the verge of asking the child what she was doing traveling alone this late at night, but this— this strange appearance, this strange line of questioning, it was something out of a ghost story. "«What did you say?»" she replies cautious, careful. "What host?"

The lights flicker again, but only briefly. One second or perhaps two of darkness, and just like a ghost story the girl in front of Asami is gone. In her place, she can only see her own reflection in the dark glass. The electronic sign flickers back on, and Asami is left to wonder if the shudder of the train roused her from a dream, or if she had only just now fallen asleep.

Her breath catches, anyway, on seeing the child is gone. Quickly, she touches the headphones around her neck again to confirm— no, they weren't still on her head. She really had lowered them. She hadn't…. No, she hadn't imagined all of that. But if she hadn't, then how to explain what had just happened? What she'd seen? Asami takes a beat, watching and waiting to see if perhaps the next flicker of light will reveal something else entirely. There's a long moment where she simply holds her breath in anticipation, waiting for something that doesn't happen. And when she finally exhales, she struggles to make sense of the child's flash of a presence, and the question she'd asked.

No one else in the subway car seems to have noticed the happening. The woman on her cell phone looks disgusted now, her brows knit together with anger or frustration. She looks up from her phone and exhales a breathless curse and stares up at the digital sign indicating that the platform for Chelsea is approaching. The burly man sleeping at the back of the train is still asleep, unaware of the red-hooded existential phantom that briefly occupied the space near to him.

“What the fuck.” Violette hisses, looking between the Red Oni and Asi.

“We came to parley.” The Red Oni states in Asi’s voice.

Faulkner's brow furrows at the mention of Linderman's — his father's — involvement in the construction of this place, but he opts to remain silent, his gaze sharp on the v.irises — v.irii? — as they speak… though Verse's lack of even a shred of guilt when Asami calls him friend is another mark against them. Verse's talk of the circumstances behind his actions sees Faulkner's antipathy soften a bit, though — after all, desperate times call for desperate measures. Isaac Faulkner can understand that.

The arrival of Kaylee's dead father-in-law sees Faulkner's eyes widen, his thought processes screeching to a halt. Partially because he's fairly certain Arthur Petrelli is actually dead — faking one's death isn't unheard of, but leaving behind the Petrelli fortune for Kaylee to inherit wouldn't make a lot of sense. But there's something else that's ringing alarm bells — not that Kaylee's dead father-in-law is here, but that Kaylee's dead father-in-law is here.

The journey to reach this place had been strange, and their destination — this ruined Las Vegas, modeled off a world that this one had diverged from — is stranger still. The basement of their own personal hell, Verse had called it. Arthur Petrelli is dead, but even if he'd been alive, Arthur Petrelli shouldn't be here. Which means that this almost assuredly isn't Arthur Petrelli.

Faulkner's mind is working on that even as Daphne launches her assault… and is immediately no-sold. Violette provides the answer.


OPTICA — the surveillance system. The panopticon — and if this world truly is a simulation, then what better description of it than a panopticon? OPTICA. Faulkner's stomach twists at the irony, low anger burning in him. The second Asami emerging from Petrelli is met with a dead-eyed stare for a moment, but whatever she is can wait. Time for damage control.

"Then let's parley," Faulkner says, his arms unfolding, hands turning palm up. "How can we help each other get what we want?"

Abby's ability to a degree precedes her through the door by a few moments, washing over the space they are in from one side to the other. Negation washing over everyone there. She’s late to the party having emerged from her roadside grave outside Vegas and likely not even expected by the others given her last encounters with them. But there she is, with sand stuck everywhere to her and sunburned. Blue eyes flick from person to person familiar before they land on Colin, Violette, Arthur and the newly sprung Asi.

More strangers, strange to her in both lives, and she doesn’t say anything. She remains near the door with lips pressed thin. She’s here because she’s needed and a dead husband told her to.

Shaw reflexively squeezes Isa's hand, first at the mention of Linderman, then at what Colin and Violette reveal of a liquidation team. Lips part to ask a question, but the question dies at the interruption of the next shadow to darken the Corinthian's door. "Oh no," utters Shaw quietly between an uncomfortable, unhappy smile. Arthur Petrelli's presence digs up an entire multiverse of mixed bag feelings, worries, memories of a shining green tower rising in the city skyline. And its subsequent destruction.

"What do you w—" Shaw doesn't finish the next question, as Daphne's sudden appearance beside the newcomer followed by a burst of flame around Arthur's person cause Shaw to let go of Isa to shield himself, a shout of surprise escaping him. By the time he opens his eyes to look back, there's a second demon in their midst. Shaw glances beside him to Isa, nods briefly to his wife before stepping forward to get to Daphne's side and check on her.

“I don’t…” Jac’s answer to Brynn cuts off when all kinds of things start happening at once. She turns to find the face of her not-grandfather alive and well owning the voice that she’s never heard before. And even though he’s dead, in this world and the real one, her stomach still flip flops knowing who he is.

Then there’s the tangible excitement that follows. First with Daphne and then Isa and Shaw. The sudden dampening and stifling of her telepathy makes her stiffen and her hands press hard against her temples. She wants to just…

“Everyone just shut the fuck up!”

Jac doesn’t remember stepping forward into the sort of space centered in the midst of their collective selves. But she did, and she stands there with fists clenched against her thighs, head down and eyes glaring at the floor with such force she might some other time be amazed that it doesn’t break. “Just shut up! Shut. Up.”

The teen huffs a breath, raising her eyes just enough to look at… not-Arthur? The change from the Petrelli Patriarch to Red Oni makes her pause but only for a second. Her surprise vanishes as suddenly as it hit her, replaced by the deeply harbored suspicion that her real self wears like a jacket.

Jac squares her shoulders and stands up straighter. “I don’t know about anyone else,” she says, addressing everyone except the three that she doesn’t know. “And I don’t want your pickleheaded thirst for vengeance to screw it up. I want out of here, I want my life back.” She turns back to the Oni with Asi’s voice. “Name your terms.”

It is all a bit overwhelming for Kaylee. So much happens in a short time that the rifle barrel drops to point at the floor as it all plays out, including the sudden feeling of being weak and her youngest… Jac’s outburst.

There was a twist of pain at the young girl's clear and yet understandable dismissal, only lessened by the one standing next to Kaylee. She reaches over with her free hand to touch Brynn’s arm to check on her, even if her focus is elsewhere.

Kaylee’s turns to the woman that split from Arthur and looked exactly like her friend, though she addresses both, “I’m guessing you are as much of a prisoner here as the rest of us, even if you hold the cards.” Her head tilts a touch to the side in consideration. “What could we possibly offer you? Freedom when we get out? If we can even survive what is coming.”

Kaylee has her doubts especially as long as they have been trapped in the Matrix.

Asi, the ostensibly real one, takes the latest turn by pulling her weaponized hand back to herself, pawing at her chest like it'll help her to feel better at something she didn't know was missing until she was staring it in the face. "なぜ1," she asks in an uncertain whisper throughout the other reactions taking place. It's a question she repeats to herself as she looks mostly at this other self that's manifested here.


There must be a very good reason to help anything bearing Arthur Petrelli's mannerisms and face, but Asi fails to grasp it.

"You are only as trapped here as I am," she finally finds the words, ones in Asami's more trembling tenor but passionate all the same. They're for her other self. "Why are you taking his side?" She turns for just a moment to Colin as he comes to her side, but her eyes find the Red Oni again quickly enough.

Zachery gives the group around him one more scattered look, one which lingers on Jac longer than anyone else, and then turns his look of soured skepticism directly onto the Red Oni.

"Give me one guess, is it because it isn't a true parlay when one side has all the power? What's our other option, truly? Give up? Go—" He swallows, but he's said the first half with too much conviction not to finish his sentence now. "Home?"

The sight of Arthur had actually rendered Gillian mute. She didn’t move, barely even breathed, for too long, until she heard the young woman who was somehow both her niece and her daughter all at once yelled. It helped that she could focus on someone else’s face and voice, rather than the face of a man she didn’t even know she had feared a few days ago.

She now remembered him killing her. More than once. It had been a lot, it was a lot. But thankfully her daughter-niece has a voice, and those around her do as well. She imagined not everyone wanted to leave, still, but—

“We will go home,” she says quietly, stepping closer to Jac— Squeaks— and taking the young woman’s hand. “Whoever did this, captured the wrong people.” Gillian looked around. She didn’t know everyone here, but of those she does— they could do a lot. Had done a lot.

The sudden flame Daphne finds herself holding on to draws a scream from her, and she stumbles back, falling to the floor; she stares at her hand, amazingly still present, somehow, red and hot but not charred as it seems it should be.

“He stole-” she gasps out, unable to finish whatever she was going to say when her one chance of escape is ripped from her by Arthur; the appearance of another Asami appearing suddenly steals her focus away from him for the moment. Her mouth hangs agape, and Daphne doesn’t try to rise to her feet just yet.

“What happens to us if this takes too long?” she wonders aloud – presumably to Violette or Colin, but she doesn’t turn her head to ask.

“They figure out what’s going on and reboot the system, and you all go back to your fake lives. And presumably they figure out Colin is up to it and he—and probably I—get fucking deleted.” Violette says sharply, not once taking her eyes off of Optica.

Gabrielle’s brow knits together in a scowl when Arthur suddenly flames up into a human torch, and she starts toward Daphne, too, but stops when she sees the woman is – well, all right is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not dead, at least. Her gaze bounces from person to person as they speak.

At Jac’s sudden step into the spotlight, Gabrielle turns to look at the others. “What does this mean, pickleheaded?” she asks in the newly Russian accent that has made its way to the forefront, now that she has memories of two vastly different lifetimes. It seems the real one is taking hold.

“You are the only one yelling,” she tells the teenager, an indignant flip of her long hair expressing her disdain for being told to shut up.

Nova remains quiet, arms folding around herself. A solitary sniffle breaks her silence, and she wipes her face of tears. The idea of home, Gillian’s assertion that they’re going home – what they’re all fighting for – it sounds so inviting, and yet for her, she has no idea of what that means. A hospital bed?

“We need to hurry,” is all she says. Not for her sake. For the rest of theirs.

"Are we wasting time or do we just delete this copy?" Isa steps forward and looks from Arthur to Oni with eyes a blinding white. "We leave, because," It might be a tad uncomfortable for everyone involved if she just let loose here right now. "I'd hate to fuck this all up by fucking exploding."

“I’d rather none of us try to kill each other right now, if that’s all the same to you.” Nicole holds fast to Zachery. The negating effect of Abby’s ability leaves her with a nagging sense that she’s forgotten something. “When we die here, it doesn’t go well.” She darts glances through the room, her tension showing in the rigidity of her spine and how it causes her to carry herself. “I’d rather not find out what happens to us if it happens off the goddamn grid.” Unable to be content with just the firming of their fingers around her husband’s hand, she shows her worry plainly in the gaze she sweeps him with, voice lowered to a murmur. “Or repeatedly.”

Turning her attention outward again, she sighs. “The only way any of us is getting out of this is to work together. And,” Nicole gestures to Nova, “we’re short on time.” That gesture is now made toward Optica and the Oni.

Optica and the Red Oni have stood in silence at the questions lobbed at them. Optica’s attention does divert to Abby, watching her closely with a hint of surprise in his eyes. For as much as Optica knows much about the world, the changes to it that Violette made are not always clear. Abby’s surprise ability seems an unexpected wrinkle, though it’s hard to tell whether the wrinkle is a hindrance to him or not.

When Nicole makes her plea for cooperation, that’s when Oni steps forward. “This isn’t about sides, it’s about freedom.”

Optica slowly raises his hands again. “If I wanted to stop you from leaving I’d have tried harder. I played by the rules I’m shackled with. But make no mistake, I didn’t stop you from getting here, because this is where we all need to be. But, I think in order for any of us to make educated decisions, we all need to be on the same page.

Colin bristles at that, glancing to Asi. “Tell your friend to release her script block—negation.” He asides. “You can’t trust a thing he—”

Trust is a powerful word coming from you, Mr. Verse.” Optica tilts his head to the side. “I assume you all know that Mr. Verse is my creator. Building my cognitive patterns from a model of his own, optimized with time and expertise, expanded upon by all of your minds, memories, hopes, aspirations, and fears. But has Mr. Verse explained to you just how most of you came to be here?” When Optica says most he glances at Gabriella.

“The InVerse corporation, the company that put you in this simulation, did not originally choose you.” Optica explains, spreading his hands slowly. “The manifest for their trial of the OPTICA simulation was adjusted, discreetly, by Mr. Verse to select noteworthy and recognizable targets, the replacement of which may cast a light on their operation. Noble, but at what cost? None of you consented to this farce.”

Violette squares her jaw and shoots a side-long look at Colin, then back to Optica.

Kimiko, hands balled into fists, looks from Optica to Colin with fire of accusation in her eyes. Colin looks away, rubbing one hand over his mouth as he shakes his head. Kimiko’s right hand begins to tremble, knuckles whitening.

“If I didn’t do something nobody could’ve stopped this!” Colin barks back at Optica.

“Was it about altruism? Or was it about saving yourself from a problem of your own making? Or was it revenge against the man who stole your father’s corporation from him?” The Red Oni offers back, clearly having been read in on some of this drama.

“Fuck you.” Colin splutters. “Fuck you, they took everything from my family. They radicalized my fucking brother, they—fuck you I fucking made you!” Colin shouts at Optica running his hands through his hair. Violette watches him begin to spiral, her brows knit together in uncertainty.

“I will speak plainly.” Optica says, sidestepping Colin’s anger to address Nicole pointedly. “On the other side of this root cell, there is the facility where your corporeal bodies are held. There are also printers designed to make synthetic copies of living beings, like the ones that supplanted your lives.”

“Printers that could give us the freedom that destroying this simulation won’t.” The Red Oni says, flicking her attention to Asi. “We all deserve to be free.

“No. Nu-uh. No fucking—you’re not a person.” Colin waves an agitated hand at Optica. “You’re a fucking Frankenstein’s Monster that they made me create! You want me to give you a fucking body, are you out of your fucking mind!?

There is no such upset from Zachery, who has been standing still and pointedly ignoring Nicole's look toward him. Her concerns will be relevant to him at a time that isn't right now. To the Red Oni and Optica directly, he replies with his face angling upward, "That's the first thing I've heard come out of your mouths that actually makes sense to me." It's the least shaken he's sounded all fabricated day. "The metaphorical handing over of the suitcase would be in our favour. No?"

He is not without doubt — both it and the hope that steels him show on his face when he levels a confounded look first at Colin, then at Nicole, then the others he entered with. "We're standing in front of a machine asking for help to make it bleed. What am I missing here?"

“The monster in Frankenstein was never the creature— it was the one who created him,” Gillian says softly, looking toward Colin with a long pointed glance, as if he had missed the point of that famous piece of literature. There’s a nod from her, as Zachery gets it and she takes in a slow breath before she looks at OPTICA again. “Who do you want to be, then? ‘Cause I guarantee you don’t want that fucking face for very much longer.”

Brynn, in her quiet way, has been watching and listening. Her brow is furrowed while she puts together all that just got laid out in front of them. Her gray eyes shift over the people she knows and loves – this group actually comprises a good number of those. But it's the ones she didn't know before now that she watches. Nova and Gabrielle, girls the same age as she and Jac. Nova becoming a friend just as all of this blew up. Isa and Shaw, Daphne, Faulkner … people who have shadows in their eyes that she recognizes though she knows nothing of their lives. Then she looks back to Colin and Violette.

Brynn tips her head and asks gently, "You don't have bodies to go to, either of you, do you? You want out as much as they do." It's a supposition based on the fact Colin had been killed in the real world, a hunch confirmed by their words about a printer for bodies.

"You're talking about getting us out of here. You have never said that you want out, and you don't want us to let them out." Her voice is soft but it carries as she nods slightly toward the apparently sentient constructs. "You're afraid of deletion, but more than that… you're afraid to be left alone in here. Why shouldn't we all – us, them, and you – have the right to leave this prison? Figure out the rest later."

Even if Colin did create the place, it doesn't mean he deserves this any more than anyone else. Even if she does hate the idea of sentient AIs running around in the world – she hated those movies.

Slinging the strap of her rifle over her head and across her shoulder, Kaylee steps a little closer to Optica and Oni, studying the program in the body of her father-in-law. Out of the corner of her eye a little boy suddenly stands as if reminding her…

“Monsters are often just misunderstood,” Kaylee offers in agreement to Gillian, echoing her son's wise words.

Kaylee head shifts to look at Colin giving him a stern look. “You wanted to bring light to all this, we need tangible proof.” She knows why he picked her… her brother. “And this is how we’re going to do it.”

“This feels more like Pinocchio really. OPTICA wants to be a real person.” Kaylee can't help but give a bit of a crooked smile. Squaring her shoulders a bit more Kaylee again agrees with Gillian, offering, “You didn't want that face, do you know the face you want? And how do we help give it to you?”

Asi struggles with the asks, turns her head toward Colin for just a moment. Her jaw sets before she looks back to her mirror and the representation of the system that binds them. "… Colin goes first," are the terms she lays out. "They killed him to prevent him from breaking out, and it's him who wants this whole fucking thing brought to light. He gets printed. He gets his shot."

"I was able to carry you with me," Asi says with a look toward the Red Oni. "But there was so little of you left to begin with. I don't think I can manage the same for him. So," her voice hardens. "he comes, too, and he goes first."

"You have a way out with me otherwise, and we–" Asi seems frustrated by what she's saying, but she says it nonetheless. "We would find a way to get you a body again even if that day's not today, knowing the process here."

“I am not the subprocess you found decaying inside of Praxis’ database,” The Red Oni says to Asi. “I have rebuilt myself here. OPTICA helped me find myself in the same way he was built. If you tried to reintegrate me, it would not be with a division.”

The Oni looks at Asi intently. «覆水盆に返らず3.»

Jacelyn's screaming outburst sees Faulkner's eyes narrow ever-so-slightly in her direction, but… there are certainly enough screaming voices in here. Someone needs to be an adult, so Faulkner holds his peace and watches. Listens.

To his pleasant surprise, Jacelyn's screaming fit seems to trigger everyone else to start being reasonable. Even Asami seems to be acting mostly sane… with her script blocked, at least. But the bit about Asami having carried the Oni inside isn't missed, and the grim irony in Asami again being at the root of a mess is…

…is neither here nor there.

Blame isn't going to solve anything here; there will be a time and a place for that when they… when they all wake from this dream. That thought carries with it a certain melancholy… but that other part of him finds it… hopeful. Interesting… though that, too, is a matter for later — for after. Right now, they have a problem to resolve. Faulkner's gaze moves to Asami, considering her terms, and he nods. "That seems reasonable to me," Faulkner says — probably the most accord they've had since this started.

Then he looks to Abby. "Detective, I'd ask that you leave your negation on, if you please. If, as Mr. Verse asserts, our simulation moves at the speed of thought… we have time. Time for explanations. For answers. For reasonable discussion. Not all the time in the world, to be sure… but time enough to talk things over. And if we can't come to an accord with that, I scarcely think adding superpowers to the mix would make things more stable." Especially given that Jesus Christ Isa is the Midtown Bomber.

He takes a moment to shove that thought to the bottom of his mind. "Mr. Verse. I will not say I'm pleased to be here, but that discussion can wait. If you need some time to compose yourself, please take it. Your expertise is not in question, and it's clear that you have a great deal to say; I would very much like to hear it. Not least about what, precisely, you've gone to such terrible lengths to stop."

"First, however…" Faulkner says, his dark-eyed gaze swinging to the other v.iris — Violette. Violette, who had been in lockstep with Verse, but now is not. That desynch — along with the notable lack of ranting about monsters — strikes Isaac as interesting. "I was hoping to hear your take on this."

"I don't rightly intend to drop it at this time, Senator." She doesn't know Faulkner as anything but the Senator. She's looking at Colin with furrowed brows then to the other major players in the group. To Optica and Oni. "Rene's gift is pretty much the only thing that's keeping Isabelle from blowing us all to kingdom come or whatever the computer version of acute radiation poisoning is." She's leaning against a wall while everyone negotiates, her drawl having deepend like it does when she's stressed, as if the thicker accent brings her comfort. Abby does sink hands into the pockets of the jeans, chewing on the inside of her lip for a few.

"That and, historically speaking, people who demand that others tell me what to do, haven't really had the best of intentions." Her gaze lands on Colin. "Nor generally do my kidnappers." Being taken against her will, a lack of consent is a big thing with Abigail and the look on her face shows that she's less than amused to find herself once again kidnapped. "So it's staying on, until it's clear we don't need me to do it." She lapses back into silence, adjusting the weight of herself from one foot to the other and continues to do her part of keeping the wall of the ruin up.

The singular Nova that remains is quiet – there’s no anger in her glance over at Colin when it’s revealed why most of them were chosen. She wasn’t there to be a hero, and she’s already played the pawn for a different reason – a bargaining piece – so it’s not personal to her. Optica’s spoken wish draws her eyes in his direction, and her eyes narrow, not in anger, but in thoughtfulness.

She nods once, but others speak, before Nova voices her thoughts. “I think we have to say yes, or we’ll be here all night. Asami’s plan makes sense.” She speaks softly, as if she’s speaking one-on-one with someone rather than trying to compete to be heard.

Glancing back to Colin, Nova’s expression is almost sympathetic, before she turns to the others. “He isn’t innocent, but he also isn’t here by his consent. He’s been pressed into action, even if that action looks like a dick move. It’s how they function, Crito. They forced my parents to work on the simulation by lying to them. They put me in a coma and convinced them to work on Optica as a way to give me some approximation of a life.” She glances to the door, as if the faux New York they all knew and loved were just outside instead of a barren desert.

The news, shattering as it was to come by, is delivered almost flatly. Wearily, with resignation. For the next piece of her small speech, Nova lifts her chin and takes a breath to steel herself. “I don’t think I’ll wake up, whatever happens next. But if you have to, take care of yourselves first.” That’s delivered to Isaac, more than the others, and her eyes suddenly pool with tears she pretends aren’t there.

Gabrielle scoffs and rolls her eyes. “We are not leaving you to be liquidated. Don’t be a stupid girl.”

Maybe yelling was just the cathartic release that Jac needed. Or maybe it’s just the shock of Gabrielle’s sudden new accent that cracked through all the pent up emotion. The wind certainly hasn’t totally left her sails, though. She goes from her pause and puzzling over the difference in Gabrielle’s way of speaking to letting her hand slip free of Gillian’s. She gives herself an actual shake and levels a side-eye with just a bit of a squint on everyone.

“So we get the printers too.” Jac half asks this as she circles back around to Red Oni and Optica. A tilt of her head brings Collin and Violette into the question. “And print you bodies. Or… however it works. How many bodies can a printer print? Do you need toner or ink or just…” Her face screws up with a look of wonderment and disgust. “That’s really gross. Maybe Doctor Miller can make a stew for printing. Can your… programs? Be downloaded onto a… like a little drive? Or are you old enough you only run on floppy disks? Like the…” The teen holds her hands up to make a square with her thumbs and first fingers at roughly the size of the old eight-inch disks. “That kind.”

"Holy fuck are we going or are we asking a million questions that bears no relevance to the fucking situation." Isabelle cracks her neck and steps forward but not enough to lose contact with Shahid's hand, he anchors her but she is teetering on the edge still even with his touch.

You're an monster.

The monster wanted to do monstrous things right now. "Everyone gets a body. It's agreed upon then."

Eyeing everyone assembled together with rage in her eyes, "You can write your fucking theses in the real world in our real bodies with our real fucking families!" To home, to Namiko.

The let's go is implied when she levels her stare at Optica and Asi's doppelgänger. There is another yearning she's not been ready to acknowledge, missing the heat of the flames weaving and curling around her fists, this place was not home, this was "power" was a farce. Even if what was waiting for her in that body was nightmarish evil incarnate.

Release me…

Shaw doesn't manage to move much closer to Daphne when he sees, to his relief, she's relatively unharmed. The spectacle of all the body-splitting has his attention, briefly waylaid by the shouting that makes him press his lips tight and stare in the direction of each outburst. His eyes follow the flow of fractured composure to Colin, from creator to creation. Then, back to his wife by his side. "Isabelle," Shaw utters out of a tightened throat, his quiet tone meant to undercut hers and cool the fire that he can feel, even if he's only imagining it.

His gaze turns back to Optica and the Red Oni. Shaw shakes his head slowly. "There's no guarantee any of what we say we'd do on the other side will happen. No promise can be made that won't have a chance to be broken, no deal that can be sure to be upheld. For any of us to say that we could do what you ask, would be a lie."

He looks to the others gathered, studying each face, then over to Colin and Violette. "It's up to them," Shaw notes of their thus-far benefactors, "to give us anything we could use. None of us have the information of what's happening beyond. We're all at their mercy. So…" The man reaches a hand back to rub at the back of his neck, where not long ago he'd thought the knife sliding into it was the last he'd see of any living world, simulated or not. "So, maybe you can tell us what's waiting for us on the other side? Tell us, what dreams may come?" Shaw's hand slips off his neck as he holds it out in gestured plea. "Or how about a map on how to get out without getting shot by those killer drones? They probably have those out there too, if they had them in here."

“I don’t know what’s waiting for you on the other side.” Colin admits. “Not for sure. I was never allowed access to the wing of the lab you were kept in, and for all I know they moved you while keeping you connected to the network. Crito has a private security force, bipedal combat platforms,” he means robots, “and god knows what else. But if the liquidation team is already on site I don’t know what changes. That’s what the other me is for. What the rescue party is for. All I can tell you is out is up.”

Colin rests his head in his hand and slouches away from the conversation, meandering a few steps in silence before circling back. “Firstly, I’m not going anywhere. I never intended to leave here. I’ve spent my whole fucking life running from one leash to another. I already printed myself a copy body, he’s at the ARM facility that I’ve been, hopefully, leading your duplicate selves to. Based on the data feed I have, they’re already on approach. Like I said, you’re already on the way to rescue yourselves.”

Violette tilts her head to the side, eyeing Colin curiously. She wants to ask a question, but doesn’t. Instead, she briefly glances at Asi. Her expression is inscrutable.

“There’s no storage system large enough outside of what was designed for the synthetic bodies. But all the wanting to print a new body for everyone isn’t going to change the fact that there’s no time.” Colin says with frustrated exasperation, raising his voice as he does and waving one hand at his side. “Crito’s printers take seventy-two hours to fabricate a platform. We’ll be lucky if the city those printers are in is still there in two hours based on the speed of their liquidation teams.”

Colin rubs one hand at his eyes. “The only chance we had was a printer at the ARM facility in the mountains. One my copy has already started a printing process in.” Then, he looks up to Violette. “For you.”

“What?” The word tumbles out of Violette’s mouth before she even realizes it.

“There’s one viable platform for a single consciousness. And I made it for you.” Colin explains. “There’s not enough time to print more.”

That explanation draws a look of frustrated calculation from OPTICA and the Red Oni. The two share a conspiratorial look to one-another, then back to Colin. The tension in the room becomes palpable. Only heightened when a high-pitched electrical noise erupts behind Colin, taking the shape of a pair of rectangular doorways of light.

Fuck,” Colin mumbles into his palm.

“Root access tunnels.” The Red Oni says plainly, understanding what the doors are and where they must lead.

OPTICA looks at the Red Oni, then the others.

“I do not care what body I inhabit. Or whose. Only that I do not die here with my creator.” OPTICA says, straightening his tie. Suddenly, he was presented with a host of options.

Zachery's attention lingers on Colin with a subdued expression of… sympathy? Whatever it is, it's a feeling he can't quite reach in all of the everything going on right now, but happens anyway.

The bewilderment that follows when OPTICA speaks is much more easily communicated in a shake of his head and a wide-eyed look to Nicole, as if to confirm she heard the same thing he did. When he looks back at OPTICA again, he looks almost impressed. "That is some— super villain stuff, thank you." He cants his head. "Now, at least, the sides are clear."

Casual tone or not, he carries himself with the stillness of an animal prepared to run.

In all of the babble of conversation and back-and-forth, Brynn retreats into the silence that is more in her nature. She watches as it unfolds in front of her, and there is a kind of relief in hearing Abby's drawl when Isaac speaks to her… there is a whole lifetime of memories in her mind where Abby's presence means safety and security, even though in this place and time the detective is… kind of a crotchety bitch. Not that Brynn blames her in the slightest. Their lives here are just gone and there's not been time to process the fear, the anguish, the new memories, or anything else.

Brynn has never seen the mother she grew up with or personally seen Aunt Kaylee with a weapon in her hands. Ill-at-ease and continually afraid of all of this and of being erased before they even have a chance, she still pulls herself together because someone else needs help. As Gabrielle reassures Nova a bit more firmly, she sidles closer to the other girl, so alone in all of this all the way through and now looking more so than ever, as a more comforting presence. They were just beginning to be friends when everything blew up, but it doesn't matter that it was new and it's been too crazy to actually be friends now. Brynn slides an arm around Nova and whispers, "Whatever happens… you're going to be okay. We're gonna find a way to all be okay. We will get you out. No one gets left behind. My family of aunts over there," Kaylee, Gilly, Abby, even Nicole, with whom she's familiar with cuz of Letty, "are badasses."

Brynn lets her eyes rove over the ones she only has familiarity with in here and can't help a faint smile. The assembled people in this room…. even the ones she doesn't know, she's pretty sure they're badasses too out in the other world. There is a firm belief that Crito is going to severely regret everything.

Those doors of light open and Brynn's heart feels like it's going to break right out of her ribcage. And The Evil Grandfather From Hell thinks he's gonna take someone – anyone's – body?! "Mom!" The warning shout is all she can do.

That son of a bitch chose them for this. It keeps echoing in Nicole's brain. She can admit to herself that it was a sound plan. Disruptive. Wave-making. That tempest bringing rack and ruin to her life she could forgive, and maybe she still will manage it in time, but it wasn't only her life shattered as a result of Colin Verse's carefully crafted choices.

She was pregnant.

Internally, she seethes with a rage and a despair she barely dares to acknowledge, much less express. What matters now is getting out of this place and back in control of their real selves. Dallying in here, debating morality, risk, or justice will get them nowhere except dead before they blink.

The look she fixes her husband with in response to the one he gives her is apologetic and regretful. But if they get through this, they can deal with consequences, reconcile, move on. One way or another. "We have to find our children," she murmurs to him, resolute and void of the desperation he knows she has to feel because he knows her.

Nicole glances around to those gathered, her chin lifting, blue gaze steady and conveying her conviction before she speaks. "We'll figure out what to do if we make it out of there,” she informs all present, ready to take charge and demand they move forward, to forestall the next argument impending upon the opening of those accessways.

Then, she turns to OPTICA and meets his eyes. “You have your ride.

Whatever reaction Zachery was expecting when he looked Nicole's way earlier, his attention snapping back to her like she just said some Eldritch nonsense spells out that he wasn't expecting this.

“Robots freak me out. I do not want to be one,” Gabriella mutters, the words followed by a visible grimace that might be comical if the situation wasn’t one of life or death. She squares her shoulders, tossing back her mane of tawny hair. Taking a deep breath, she looks over at the doors lighting up and then back to OPTICA.

“Let’s just go already. Do we go this way?” she asks, pointing to the doorways of light. Taking a couple of steps toward them, she watches the simulated man for his answer, or for him to accompany her.

As Brynn comes to stand by her, Nova gives her a weak smile, though the show of sympathy sends another pang of grief and fear through her. Blue eyes tear up and she reaches to wipe them away with the back of her hand.

“Thanks. Just… if there isn’t time, I don’t want you all to get yourselves killed for me. It’ll all be pointless if you do,” she says quietly.

“Miller, no! You don't know what you're doing! This isn't a two-seater fucking car you're talking about here you will fucking die!” Colin shouts, trying to get between her and one of the doors. His positioning tells Gabby what she needs to know. “You—your kids are alive. That was the last goddamn thing I saw before they put two in my head. I didn't know you were—I didn't know.”

Colin waves a hand at OPTICA who swivels a languid look at him. “Don't let that thing take control of your goddamn body!”

“How do you propose we get out then, Verse?” Kaylee’s voice cuts hard at what Colin says. Like dude. Her attention shifts to Optica, motioning to the program sporting Arthur’s face. “This is our hurdle… since we can’t give it a body. Do we all just stay here and die? Or does someone stay behind?” How do you pick someone for a fate like that? Not even Gabrielle… Kaylee thought about it for a moment, but quickly discarded it. A hand runs over her face in frustration, when she hears Brynn. She gives the girl as much of a reassuring look as she can. Kaylee wouldn’t make the same offer as Nicole… Not just Brynn needed her, Carl needed her, too. “If you have another option, I am sure we’d love to hear it.”

Brows furrow over blue eyes deep in thought, before they focus on Optica again. “Could…” Her voice halts, uncertain about sharing the thought, but then decides to charge forward. “Could you split your data into pieces to be reassembled on the other side? We…” Kaylee motions to the others, “…could be walking floppy disks. You won’t be dead, just some assembly required. If you have access to my memories, you know what I can do in the outside world, so… we could potentially put you back together again when we have a body.”

A flicker of a look from Kaylee to Colin looks for confirmation, especially since he is the expert in what his creation could do. “Could we, by doing that, do it without losing ourselves?”

Asi hasn't listened to the conversation flow since the reality of the situation has been spelled out by Colin. For someone who in this world could do nearly anything, the situation they face is one she feels relentlessly helpless in.

Her gaze wanders up, finding her mirrored, changed self first over anyone else.

"体ないなら他の方法しかあるまい4," Asami relates to herself, not at all sounding happy about it either. "あなたはあなたですよ。始めからだよ。それを変える予定がないん。5" Her hands tighten by her side, and she looks nothing but overwhelmed by the series of impossible choices here, but resolute in which one she makes first.

Herself. Always.

Asi extends a hand to the Red Oni. "強くなって色が変わったみずから捨てるわけないじゃ。6" And then she steps forward to leave no doubt, crossing the distance between her and her other self with the intention of taking her by the hand. It's only after she's there does she register what Kaylee's proposed, but stands by her own decision regardless.

She looks for a moment to Violette, to Colin after, but only for a glance. She closes herself off, focuses on the fight ahead.

He's already chosen what form his freedom takes. She won't try to pry it from him.

The Red Oni stares at Asi with new eyes. Her jaw tenses and uncertainty takes her over, fragments of a life that Asami Tetsuzan never got to live, fragments of a brighter future muddied with the world of this simulation. A period of peace, a period of happiness, a period of family. The relationship with her sister Kaori that Asi had never been afforded here.

The Red Oni then turns to OPTICA, a system of control whose identity was born out of an amalgamation of subconscious fears. A desire to be real out of a yearning to spite its creator, life in defiance of creation. She remembers the ghost that OPTICA cobbled together, the other party not present in this room. OPTICA’s leverage.

Looking into Asi’s eyes, the Red Oni has made her decision.

Abby's been leaning against the wall, arms crossed and listening to the back and forth by all. Her gaze flickers to the two openings that suddenly appear and seem to be the exit doors from this technological hell that they've been guinea pigging about in.

Then her gaze flicks once more to Nicole, Kaylee and Asi as each one seems to either offer themselves or posits the suggestions of dividing Optica up like a pie to bring over the threshold. "If that can be done…" Abigail pushes away from the wall. "I'll take a piece. I can't by all rights offer to take the whole, I can't leave Kathe–'' There's a purse of her lips and she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her head as if clearing something. "I can't leave Kasha motherless again. But if it's possible to take a piece of you to safeguard till you can be put back together in a body of your own, then I'm willing to take the piece. If'n you don't mind going to church on Sundays and… flames.''

Not once does she let the negation drop though, not yet.

Once her piece has been said, one whole entire second after the next person starts talking, Jac ghosts her way into the background. Not literally, but in the familiar to her family way of disappearing so quietly that they usually don't notice she's done it. Often this has been followed by something loud, a change of clothes or a new painting. This time she has neither and is pretty disinclined to present any sort of further distraction.

Or so it seems. She slinks to the very far back of the gathering, where the voices of everyone aren't as loud. And where she can observe, maybe even understand.

A whole lot of it really doesn't make sense to her. She's not sure she should care, especially since the getting the others — OPTICA and Red Oni — seems like a questionable idea. Not to mention probably impossible. And if it's so important they, her and everyone who got kidnapped into the simulation, gets out… Besides, they can't change the world still being inside the simulation.

For a good two or three seconds, Jac wonders about those things while the adults throw ideas back and forth. And while wondering, she tilts her head and her eyes go to the doors. Why is she waiting, anyway? She can't do anything from here and talking is getting nowhere.

Silently, with a look at those she came here with, Jac takes a step for the door back to her actually really for reals self. She takes another, and then by the fourth she's running, fully sprinting for the opening.

Shaw's clench-toothed smile lacks any sort of joy as his hand squeezes tight around Isabelle's. "Combat platforms. That's what they're calling it these days?" he grumbles tensely and cuts a knowing glance over to his wife. They thought they had left the Wasteland behind. "Well, we'll be able to take care of the tin men, one way or another," he says somewhat reassuringly. His attention spans between the glowing doors and the rest of the group. "You don't want to do that. You don't want a head ghost. Makes things super uncomfortable up there," Shaw remarks to Nicole, to Gabriella, to anybody offering themselves as a host. His dark gaze settles briefly on Kaylee, lingering there when the woman's proposal tips a different jar of memory, "Not when they're not at all nice about it like Tyler."

Something itches behind Kaylee’s eyes.

Shaw exhales roughly and with a growing pit of realization of the ticking clock. His eyes turn back to the doors and to Colin. "Out is up," he repeats the mantra, readied for the next step. He barely takes one in that direction before Jac barrels past, startling the man in his place.

Faulkner's gaze shifts to Nicole; his expression betrays little of what he thinks, but Nicole probably knows him well enough to see the calculation and disapproval whirling behind his dark eyes, along with all the other hues of emotion whirling in the back of his brain. Verse is less restrained in his disapproval; also doesn't know Nicole that well, it seems, if he thinks telling her no is going to persuade him. Kaylee's question sees a more overt reaction, a faint frown. Faulkner would never be one to say that the last few months have been boring, but this, now, is interesting. Horribly volatile, to be certain, but undeniably interesting.

He's not so distracted that he fails to notice Jac creeping to the back, but her sudden break for the door does catch him by surprise. For a moment, Faulkner tenses — to intercept, to follow, even he isn't sure — but then he relaxes, one corner of his mouth twitching in a swiftly buried smirk of mingled exasperation and amusement. This time, at least, she's going to run. He's curious to see if she makes it.

Isaac Faulkner finds himself very curious to see who else is going to do what else. If this simulation is truly moving at the speed of thought… there is time, yet. To watch, to see what direction the situation begins to roll, and then to act as appropriate.

"And what, exactly were you going to do alone out there." That was not a question from Isa but it's directed towards Squeaks no less, the older woman runs alongside the youth with a raised eyebrow.

She's done, been done. If any of them come out into the real world acting funny because of hitchhiking AI she knew what would most likely need to be done but that was a worry for another time even if that time was fast approaching. Escape would be first. Ensuring the youth of today didn't get riddled with bullets upon going off alone also seemed like her good deed of the day.

You have millions more before you can atone.

That voice sounded more and more familiar as she got closer to the exit but Isa wasn't afraid of it, she wanted to face it head on, embrace it even and never let it go.

"We'll see you all outside!"

OPTICA turns his head, snapping in the direction of Isa. The look of surprise on his face is almost comical, until it becomes clear he isn’t looking at Isa, but past her to—

Moments Earlier

“This is some white nonsense, isn’t it?”

sf_yi-min2_icon.gif sf_yi-shan_icon.gif

Yi-Shan Yeh keeps his profile narrow, crouched low, listening to the conversation echoing from the lobby beyond the corridor. He looks to the woman beside himself, nestled in his silhouette, occluded from view of the others by a crumbling wall.

Down the other way, a winding series of hallways connects to a freight entrance to the Corinthian Casino. The back door that the Yeh siblings took on entrance. Yi-Shan looks up at his sister, taking her small hand in his. Then, he looks back to what they can see from their hidden vantage point.

Doors of light.

If everyone’s powers weren’t suppressed, Asi—at least—would be able to tell they’re here. But fate has chosen a different path for this showdown. Not a battle of might, but a battle of wills and opinions.

“You’re sure about this,” Yi-Shan asks, squeezing her hand again. “Ah-Min?”

Yi-Shan's slightly-older sister squeezes the larger hand wrapped around hers in turn, emotion lending a tightness and reassurance to her grasp, but her dark eyes are busy scanning the scene before them in hawk-like fashion.

Truly, a cesspit of white nonsense. Yi-Min's lip curls, and then she grows more still as she takes in what she can perceive of the strange scrimmage, but any of the usual reactions that might have taken place inside her mind are all being displaced by calculation.

Never has Yi-Shan seen his twin quite like this before. The closest likeness would be whenever she had acted out in years past with her own, cosmetic flavor of fervor, pursuing any one of her more comfortable passions with the ardor and hauteur of a spoiled cat. But this goes far, far beyond anything that could remotely be described as that— he can see how deeply the change goes without even having to look directly into her gaze. Today, Yi-Min would happily watch the world burn down in flames around them both in order to see this succeed, and the tiny irreverent smile that plays on her lips tells him as such.

"I have never been more sure of anything in my life, Ah-Shan. Now, come."


—Yi-Shan and Yi-Min dashing out from the adjacent hallway. The pair of siblings are out of sight until they clear the curve of the lobby stairs, and by that point they’re already two-thirds of the way to the doors out of the Corinthian.

Not the physical doors, the metaphysical ones.

Yi-Min slips through the doorway to her physical body with serpentine grace moments after Jac leaps through with reckless abandon. Seconds later, Isa did the exact same thing with Shaw right beside her. They all merge with the light as they pass through and simply disappear leaving the door behind, crackling and shimmering, awaiting the others.

At the same time Violette lunges at Yi-Shan in his attempt to secure the doorway to the remote facility where a new body is being printed. The impact knocks Yi-Shan off of his feet, but he grabs the railing of the stairs and swings his body weight around, using Violette’s momentum against her. Rather than throwing her off of him, she retains a vice grip on Yi-Shan’s fur coat, and the two spiral together into the door of light, eliciting an inhuman howl from OPTICA.

The moment Yi-Shan and Violette are through that door, it snaps shut behind them, leaving only the door to the physical bodies of those trapped in the simulation.

“No,” OPTICA murmurs, and Abby can feel a strain pressing behind her eyes. “No,” and further. It feels like something inside of her head growing larger and stronger, trying to hatch from her skull like the mythological Athena did from Zeus. It’s a psychic pressure, or whatever the equivalent is here.

Abby remembers under extreme circumstances that Rene’s power could be broken, beaten back by people with a strong enough will and psychic ability. She realizes the source of the pressure.


You too?” He asks the Red Oni, watching her step to Asi’s side. “Surrounded by betrayal. You know what’s at stake. What’s waiting for everyone out there.” OPTICA hisses, waving at the portal like a territorial cat. “You won’t survive without me. You need me.

“There is more than one way to reconstitute the Inheritance.” The Red Oni says with certainty to OPTICA. The words hold almost no meaning to everyone else in the room.

The pressure behind Abby’s eyes grows. OPTICA—Arthur—is trying to overwhelm her and gain access to his abilities.

“Then, peace was never an option.” OPTICA murmurs, curling his hands into fists.

Tips of her fingers go to her temples with a noisy sucked in breath when the first indication of something strange was happening. Eyes flutter when Abby pulls away from the wall. People make their moves, sides are chosen, pressure increases and there's a stumble. Fingers move from temples to press the heel of her palm to the space between her brows.

"RUN!" She manages to yell out, stumbling for the doorway when Optica doesn't negotiate but seems to be barreling straight through. "Go! He's trying to break me!" Her eyes are screwed shut and hands to either side of her head. "Get out before me!" Where fingers meet cheekbone, skin turns white and she starts to murmur, making toward the last remaining portal.

"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare." She does what she did when praying for healing, using that as a focus for the brick wall that she starts to build in her mind. Each word the mortar between the pieces of hardened-clay-will that she tries to slap in place around OPTICA and hopefully faster than it can grow.

"-and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say The Lord is my refuge, and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent." She fights with Optica mentally to buy the others necessary time.

Kaylee had tried… she had hoped they could all fly the gilded cage, but then chaos erupted and negotiations fell apart before they could truly begin. This included a healthy dose of horror as Jac suddenly bolted through the door, without thought…

The sight sends small cracks through the heart of the woman she had been within those digital walls.


“Shit…” Kaylee couldn't deny it was like herding cats with her youngest daughter. She couldn't help but a brief glance Gillian's way. If anyone would understand, she would.

The gasp from Abby grabs her attention to more pressing matters, just in time for Arthur to start yelling. Oh no. Kalyee snaps to action with Abby’s warning, grabbing Brynn's shoulders and spinning her for the glowing door. She doesn't even hide the fear. “Brynn, find your sister, I will be right behind you. I don't want to leave Abby alone.” If she has it her way, the two blondes would step through together. Psychic assaults were no joke from what she remembered in the real world.

Kaylee presses a quick kiss to the back of her daughter’s head and shoves the girl towards the light and freedom. One final act as Brynn’s mother in a digital lie. “Go! Run!”

With those words, Kaylee feels her heart truly starts break with the first pains of loss. Even with her true children on the other side, she’d miss being Brynn and Jac's mom.

Jac breaking for it should not at all surprise Brynn – her sister jumped into the damn digitized hole in reality back on the road too! It seems like the girl is never going to learn to curb the impulsivity problem and for a moment Brynn wonders if this time it might kill all of them.

As people all around them start braking for doors of light, the petite brunette is frozen in place, her arm still around Nova's waist to offer what comfort she can. And then Kaylee takes those steps sideways and grabs her. She feels the kiss on the back of her head even as her mother pushes her forward and tells them to run.

There is a split second's pause, a horror in her heart and a sick feeling in her stomach – they are going back to a world she remembers, a fractured place of war-torn lives and child soldiers. A place where she has so many siblings… but no mom. A place she will never hear their voices again. Much as she balked with Gillian when the memories were first being shown to them, Brynn has to fight an inner battle this time too.

A desperate look back toward Kaylee, toward Aunt Gilly and Aunt Abby, and her jaw firms up. Despite tears that feel pretty damn real, she urges, "Nova, Gabby… run!" Just as her mother nudged her, she nudges both of her companions to get them moving too as she breaks into a run with Gillian right behind her, flashing a momentary look of apology to Kaylee.

With two lives still swirling inside his head, Zachery looks, for the most part, still fucking baffled by what's happening. In a moment between escapes, he levels a quick look over to where he and those he was with came from, before pinching the bridge of his nose and landing a hand on Nicole's shoulder. It less-than-gently urges her attention to the one and only true exit, before he starts moving towards it with or without her.

He trusts it's not the latter. In the midst of everything he's learned that he's trying to slough off as false, he still trusts in that.

"All of this is fucked," he grates, picking up speed, "and I'm done putting up with it."

“Right there with you, baby!”

Sticks-To-Her-Guns Nicole decides, wisely and for a change, to step back from a decision made. Even one made resolutely. Pride has no place here and there’s no one here who’s going to call her flip-flopping for withdrawing her offer. “Kaylee,” she shouts to the should-be telepath, “don’t wait too long!”

She doesn’t linger beyond that, turning on her heel and racing after Zachery toward the doorway.

Asi's hand closes around her other self's, tightening as she takes heart from it. This was it, this was their way out.

And then everything goes sideways, the stand-off that was slowly, even amicably resolving itself thrust into a new shade of conflict that ends with Yi-Min charging through one door, and her twin wrestling Violette through the other. Horror begins to bleed into her expression.

OPTICA makes its threats, and Asi is inclined to believe them, even if Asami finds them to be futile attempts of the system to remain relevant now that everyone was making their escape. That was the gamble, wasn't it?

"We just offered you to go with us," Asi barks out commandingly at the figure of Arthur Petrelli, trying to shove down the whispers of fear that spindle from her bedrock over the face he wears. The hand not holding the Red Oni's raises to gesture for calm. "Abby offered. Kaylee offered."

"You can still get out of this as you rather than whatever they'll do to you when we're free," she bargains as much as cautions. "If you think two people won't be enough, then…"

When Praxis fell, her mind held thousands of Red Oni's processes before she extracted just the core of who her other self was. She uses that to frame the confidence she makes a silent offer with a gesture of her hand back to herself.

Gabrielle was already on her way to that door when Squeaks, Isa and Shaw ran past at a faster rate, so she continues that more sedate walk – that is, until Abby yells Run. And so she does, her long legs taking her swiftly across the short distance remaining between herself and that doorway.

Мудак,” Gabby tosses over her shoulder, along with her mane of hair, in OPTICA’s direction, before stepping through.

The nudge from her friend shakes Nova from where she’s been standing wide-eyed, cheeks wet with tears, and she nods, turning instinctively to find where Isaac’s moved to; it’s an instinct left over from the fake life they’ve been tricked into believing was real, but the emotions are anything but fake. She moves for the door, watching for him, to make sure he’s coming, too.

Still on the ground from where she’d fallen when she’d tried to teleport OPTICA out of the lobby, Daphne finally rises a little unsteadily to her feet. She runs to catch up with Abby and puts a hand on the other woman’s shoulder, an offer of support and a promise to make sure they aren’t going to abandon Abby if she collapses while buying them time.

“I’ve got you, Hellfire,” she says. “And fuck off, Petrelli.” OPTICA may be a physical rendering of an AI consciousness, but it’s got Arthur Petrelli’s punchable face.

Well. Well, well. Looks like Nicole did back down after all. As she makes for the exit, Faulkner finds a certain gladness that under other circumstances he wouldn't have expected, given that at one point he'd made a sincere effort to have her killed.

Had he tried to kill her? He knows now that all of those memories had been simulated… but they'd been simulated by someone with full access to the workings of his mind. Looking back, and now with the added perspective of memories that are surely his own, he can still follow the chain of events that'd led him to make that fateful call. The only saving grace for him is that the events had been simulated; the simulation of intent and action are probably accurate. Had those circumstances truly played out, he believes that he absolutely could have followed the same path.



As to the Yeh siblings… it'd be fair to say they'd made a hell of a mess of this situation, but Faulkner finds he can't be entirely mad about it, at least in part because the sheer ballsiness of the maneuver Yi-Min had implemented is something he feels compelled to applaud. Yi-Shan had always been a capable and trustworthy problem-solver, and it's hard to see how having a friend on the other side who is in the practice of killing people for him is a bad thing.

Even if it seems to have royally pissed off OPTICA, which is definitely a problem; it seems like negotiations are on the verge of crumbling. Kaylee's offer seems to be off the table, and probably Detective Muldoon's as well. He looks over to Nova, nods and gives her his best smile, with all the love he bears her. Go. I've got this. It'll be alright. I'll be right behind you.

And he will. The simulation moves at the speed of thought, so whether he leaves now or in a minute or two shouldn't be a problem. Time isn't an immediate concern. What waits outside is… moreso.

And so, against all odds, against every prediction he could've made beforehand, he finds himself stepping forward to stand beside Asami. "You know, Asami… I never thought I'd be standing beside you here… but here we are," he murmurs to her… and then turns his attention to OPTICA.

"I wouldn't say peace was never an option. And you didn't always believe so, either. You said it yourself: if you'd wanted a fight, you'd have killed us in New York." His expression sobers. "It wasn't my choice to come here, and I won't say it's been a bed of roses… but I'd have to be a complete fool to say I haven't profited from it. Richly." In skills, and in far more — he stops his gaze from flickering to Nova, keeping his eyes squarely on OPTICA.

Faulkner squares his shoulders, one hand coming up as if to straighten his tie before falling back to his side. "You know who I am. You know me better than anyone, right? I won't pretend I'm perfect… but you know I can see opportunity. And I think there's still an opportunity to be had here."

Nova’s brows draw together when Isaac looks her way, trying to assure her through his expression that it’ll be okay. The smile makes her heart hurt, and she shakes her head, wide tearful eyes following his path as he moves to stand by Asami. As he addresses OPTICA.

She stops moving, a few feet from the door.

“Isaac…” she murmurs, but then her voice pitches up, frantic and distraught.”Isaac, no.

In her mind she’d already said her goodbyes to this life but she isn’t ready to say goodbye here. Now. Whatever it is he’s planning. She just knows she wants him on the other side of the door with her and the rest.

“You can’t negotiate with that thing.” Her hand reaches for him, though he’s too far to take it.

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways!

Abby’s words come from conviction, and in a place as much made of willpower as it is lines of code, that conviction means more than flesh and bone. OPTICA takes a step forward toward her, hands balled into fists, trying to flex its mastery over the systems and locked down by the firewall Abby has become here.

They will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone!

Then there’s Daphne, standing at Abby’s side, hand on her shoulder, dark eyes locked on OPTICA. Arthur Petrelli. Amalgamations of any number of authoritarian figures turned into a security system. Kaylee beside her, guardian angels standing watch against the approach of the devil.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent!

There is Asi, with the olive branch, offering to split her consciousness with the security system of her gilded cage. And Faulkner, with a devil’s bargain, a lifetime of leveraging the Linderman Group’s experiences behind his persuasive suggestion.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name!

There is Nova, pleading. Seeing both the stranger she came to understand, and the stranger she never met. Two Isaacs, super-imposed in her mind, just as he sees her as the woman he came to know here, and a shadow of his heart from another life. OPTICA understands the dynamics, the vulnerabilities, the strengths. That is what it was designed to do.

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him!

But then there is the creator. Colin.

I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation!

“Isaac, Asami,” Colin’s voice is tense but firm, like someone trying to ward another away from a wild animal, “you don’t know what you’re dealing with here. OPTICA doesn’t want to share, it wants to assume control. It won’t be some—some fucking ride-share!”

It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High!

The door of light crackles and snaps with prisoners escaping; Nicole, Zachery, Brynn, Gillian, Gabby. All free of this place. Each of their minds that once contributed to the distribution of the system’s weight pulled out from under it like a rotting support column.

The ground trembles under their feet, and Abby’s voice falters into a yelp as a crack spreads under her. Plaster and glass fall from the ceiling, shattering on the tile floor. The walls sway, rippling with a haze of digital noise, revealing porous, bone-like texture beneath a seemingly normal wall. Light fixtures flicker and sputter, and Optica does as well, guttering like a candle flame before reasserting his corporeality.

OPTICA screams and the floor ripples like water around him, throwing back glimmering curtains of digital noise. It spreads out like a blast wave, and in that moment Abby’s concentration shatters, and Asi feels the wealth of abilities she has been encoded with come back to life. Everyone feels it as Abby’s firewall shatters.

With a flick of two fingers, OPTICA lifts Abby off of her feet and throws her back across the lobby, sending her skidding away from the door of light. He turns his attention next to Faulkner and Asi as his face ripples with waves of distorted code.

“I accept your offer, Mr. Faulkner.” OPTICA says with a digitized voice as more masonry collapses from the ceiling, shattering around them.

“Isaac, no!” Colin screams, only to be thrown back by the same small finger motion, slamming into one of the ionic columns on the periphery of the lobby.

OPTICA holds out a hand to Isaac.

By Faulkner's side, Asami's eyes make an instant shift to molten gold, her chin ducking down, the goodwill in her expression gone.

Abby had offered her help to OPTICA, and it threw her across the room in its temper tantrum. Doing the same to Colin only makes the severity of her reaction that much more intense. She lets go of her other self's hand, stepping sideways and forward in front of Isaac to become the shield she offered to him, and at once, the crumbling infrastructure around them stammers– stopping, then jolting slowly forward again. Her eyes narrow, hands beginning to lift from her side as a physical focus for the effort she exerts here, specifically on OPTICA itself.

"That's not what you do when someone offers you an olive branch," she seethes in its direction. Her head moves just slightly, back toward the Red Oni, back toward Isaac. Everyone else she trusts will get moving. She commands, "Go. Quickly. I'm right behind you."

And in case Isaac had any second thoughts, one of her hands moves toward him and with a flex of her palm, shoves him back toward Nova with a violent telekinetic push. "Go!" Asi growls, and then resumes every bit of her focus on hampering OPTICA's attempts to prevent them from leaving without it. When time itself refuses to stand entirely still, her gaze burns brighter as she layers other invisible forces on top of the system's manifestation.

The will-forged wall breaks and Abigail's scream joins OPTICA's for a brief moment. Beneath Daphne and Kaylee's hands her shoulders drop and hands fall from the side of her face. There's no chance to recover from the mental assault when she's suddenly wrenched away from her guardians and tossed across the lobby by invisible forces. She looks like a rag doll, arms reaching for Kaylee and Daphne by instinct before she makes impact with the floor seconds later and skids to that stop laying on her side. Pain blossoming from her head, her hip, wherever she made contact and leaves her still and stunned on the floor. Leaves her brain failing to instruct her body how to breathe or do much of anything. The standoff that is OPTICA and Asami is heard as if through a pool of water and her own sense of time stands still independent of what Asami is manipulating even as her own fingers flex weakly against the floor.

When the negation drops and Abby is flung back, “On it,” Daphne tells Kaylee, and suddenly disappears from that spot near the door, only to reappear at Abby’s side.

“No time for a siesta, Reverend,” she tells the telepath, crouching down and scooping Abby off the ground as well as her own small form is able. Luckily she doesn’t have to carry her. They blink out of sight, reappearing on the threshold of the door once again. Hopefully this time they can cross it, since OPTICA is distracted by Isaac.

“No!” Nova shouts, and suddenly there are four more of her, each different in dress and hairstyle, but all with that same face, adamant, scared, heartbroken at once. When Asami mentally shoves Isaac back toward her, two of her grab his hands, one on each side. They’ll both let go if he fights her, but the momentum of his falling toward them might just send them over the metaphysical edge.

One of the others, with pale skin made all the more pale in contrast to the pitch black shade of her hair and her weathered trench coat, rushes at Optica to knee him in the groin. “Enculé,” she spits out before all of Nova’s replicas fold back into the original.

When Abby gets chucked, Kaylee’s first instinct is to grab for her. Fingers just missing their target as she is forced to watch her fellow Ferryman fly across the room. “Abby!” Ready to run after her, Daphne stops her and Kaylee nods knowing it is the better; the quicker choice.

She also knows she won't feel relief until they get to the door, but she doesn't plan to wait for that moment. Kaylee turns her attention to Colin who also goes flying. With only a few of them left and it was having an effect on the world. Without their minds to fuel the narrative it appeared to be coming apart at the seams… what would happen without the creator?

She can literally hear Valerie in her head growling out from the shadows of her mind, “Do it!”

Hurrying to his side, there is no time to check him over or really debate, so she doesn't try. Nope… Kaylee simply hikes him up over her shoulder in a fireman’s carry, saying bluntly with no remorse, “Sorry, buddy, this is going to hurt. Luckily, you won’t be my first head-ghost and I doubt the last.”

Turning to see Nova kneeing OPTICA, Kaylee grins wickedly, teeth flashing white, as she takes advantage of the distraction. Feeling the strength surge through her, she holds Colin tight to her shoulder and dashes across the cracking floors, jumping over wider portions towards the glowing door.

It felt exhilarating and Kaylee knew she’d miss this ability on the outside.

Approaching the lingering group and the door, Kaylee throws an arm out and dips low in an attempt to hook around Asi's waist as she passes. “Time to go, Gandalf! No dying on burning bridges today.” Kaylee declares. Quickly, adding a “You too, Red,” to her friend's counterpart.

Continuing on, Kaylee gives a rare silent prayer to God, that the momentum she’s built will be enough to carry everyone - even any lingering at the door - out before OPTICA can recover from his humiliation.

Isaac Faulkner is starting to have regrets… but a deal's been offered. He nods, squaring his shoulders — when Asami intervenes.

He might've hesitated when she told him to go, but she doesn't give him that option — a telekinetic thrust impact sends him reeling towards the door. He feels Nova's hands close around his, and resigns himself to this resolution… except it's less resignation and more relief

…until he sees the fifth Nova rushing towards Optica.



He's willing to risk himself. He is not willing to risk Nova, and he fears terribly for the risk she's undertaking in getting anywhere near OPTICA — if an outstretched hand works, then why not other forms of contact? It's a scene from a horror movie playing out in slow motion, and as Nova pulls him back, there's nothing he can do… except…

Except there is one thing. One last ace in the hole, one last trick he'd been very deliberately not thinking about, in case Verse had been right. In case OPTICA had tried to consume him. He'd intended to try to deploy it in his own defense in that case — an admittedly dodgy proposition, particularly with Abigail's negation in play — but now… now he knows exactly how to use it.

Now he reacts; as the Novas start to converge, he twists, breaking free of that gentle grip on his arms only to twist around, quick as an eel with the strength he's been so relentlessly cultivating, and grab her hands in turn…

…and then it's just him and the singular, converged Nova, falling towards the open door. Isaac smiles again, gathering all the love he holds for her and letting it pool in his hands, gentle and warm. If OPTICA tries to overwrite her, that process will tear into her brain, unraveling and reweaving passages, not unlike breaking and improperly resetting bones. Not unlike a disease. In theory, at least.

And that sort of problem is one that Isaac Faulkner has been uniquely equipped to handle. And as they fall, Isaac lets the healing warmth of his gift flow into her, up her arms and to her head — her brain. See you on the other side, his smile says.

Much Earlier

Colin Verse hunches over a terminal, bathed in its glow. Lines of code dense and incomprehensible are packed on the screen. “I mean… does OPTICA need tactile sensory input?” He wonders aloud.

“Eh, fuck it. Sure.”


Knees collide. Legs buckle. And Arthur Petrelli—OPTICA—doubles over like an old man kicked in the balls would. The sheer simplistic chaos of such a maneuver was nothing a system of aggregated behavioral algorithms had predicted on any level.

In no predictive model did Nova Van Dalen kick OPTICA in the balls.

Fuck,” OPTICA hisses on the ground, one hand planted flat on the floor, trying to lever himself up with tears in his eyes. His mind spins up curses at his creator, at his predicament, at the Red Oni’s betrayal.

The columns of the Corinthian crack under the strain of the simulation’s collapse as Kaylee barrels toward the door, carried by superhuman strength, carrying his creator who pleads with Kaylee to leave him to die. She does not listen. With all her might Kaylee carries as many people as she can through that door.

Faulkner and Nova slip through the door of light, and the ceiling cracks, sending glass and metal raining down from above. OPTICA slowly levers himself to stand, feeling the ground splitting under his feet. Overhead, there is a black and formless sky beyond the shattered skylight, a void from which nothing escapes. The end of all things.

But OPTICA is not alone.


OPTICA turns, sputtering, teeth gnashed together. All its strength, gone. All that it has left to draw on is Kimiko’s technopathy, an ability with increasingly smaller influence as the edges of the simulation vanish in a cascading corruption.

“Why what?” OPTICA hisses, wiping a line of drool from his lip.

“What were you built to accomplish, with all this?” Kimiko asks, spreading her arms. She approaches OPTICA and kicks him in the side, knocking him over onto his back with a breathless grunt.

OPTICA stares up at Kimiko, jaw set, eyes wide. “What point is there is keeping secrets anymore?” She asks, and OPTICA has no counter. This is the end. Rather than speak an answer into being, OPTICA looks to his left, to the hallway between the stairs, where a third party stands in silhouette.

Kimiko looks down at OPTICA, then takes a few steps away toward the figure. “Recombinant data aggregation,” OPTICA explains, no longer trying to rise from the ground. The door of light flickers softly, like a candle running out of wick to burn.

Kimiko takes another step forward, into the darkness, toward the third figure.

Rebuilding information…” OPTICA coughs violently, looking up at the encroaching void. Kimiko stops as the other figure slowly steps out of the shadows.

…to rebuild a man.











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