The Impossible World


sf_asami2_icon.gif sf_nicole2_icon.gif

Scene Title The Impossible World
Synopsis Asami calls on Nicole to help her sort through her revelations regarding the world they live in.
Date March 11, 2021

The Linderman Building

Time to herself has been a precious commodity for Nicole Miller. Closing the door of her office and blocking her calendar theoretically should provide her with privacy, and yet— there's always people who can avoid those things. One of them happens to be Asami Tetsuzan.

She's also not one of those people to whom a closed door particularly deters her, for one.

From behind Nicole where she's seated at the desk, in the direction where there's only window, Asami's voice comes from the ether, quiet and just off her shoulder. "I need to talk to you. Not here."

Nicole’s nerves being frayed as they are, she jumps in her seat with a clatter of writing utensils and ceramic where her knees collide with the underside of the desk and upset the child-decorated coffee mug that proclaims her World’s Best Mom and holds the collection of her pens and pencils.

It also upsets the mug in her hands that’s assuredly enameled with 100% less toxic paint. Coffee spills down the front of her white silk blouse, eliciting a sharp gasp after the initial aborted shriek of alarm. Fortunately for her, she made this coffee twenty minutes ago and was only just sitting down to drink it in the lukewarm glory she’s grown accustomed to upon sudden motherhood, allowing her to avoid any burns.

Christ, I wish you could make an appointment like a normal person,” Nicole breathes out, setting the only quarter-full mug aside on a coaster on her desk. “Where did you have in mind?” she asks as she pushes her chair out and comes to her feet. She never bothers to look toward her visitor, expecting she won’t even be able to see her anyway. She strides to a standing armoire and pulls open its double doors. It’s where she hangs her coat and tucks away her purse, but also stows extra blazers, blouses, pants, shoes… A woman in her position has to be prepared for everything.

For instance, Harvey spit up on her shoulder and she didn’t realize it had dribbled down her back until she arrived at the office the other day.

“I’ll go wherever I’m needed,” the newly minted acting chief executive officer assures. The long-suffering sigh is only internal.

The spectre invading her office has no such compunction, though, wasting no time in sighing as she has to think on just where to direct them both to. "There's—" Asami starts, then trails off, caught up with trying to decide. Her voice nears Nicole's shoulder again, invisible. "It's warmer today, so why not the restaurant down the way? The one with the balcony garden?"

The sound of a coat folding arms sounds after, proof of physical nearness rather than any kind of telepathic intrusion.

A tight smile settles on Nicole’s face. “Certainly,” she acquiesces as she’s already begun working free the buttons of her shirt. She’s started getting used to the invisible conversation partner in her husband and his slow but steady climb toward mastery over the very ability Asami employs now.

The note of frustration from her throat as she wads up the shirt to toss into the bottom of the wardrobe isn’t directed at the other woman in the room. It’s directed to someone beyond the locked doors of the office. Doris Anderson and her questionable allegiances. Like hell is Nicole trusting her with her dry cleaning even.

She reaches for a green ruffled shell, but recoils with a breath hitched in her throat like it might have burned if she’d gotten too close. Her heart aches. Not green. Instead, she pulls an off-the-shoulder sweater free of its hanger and tugs it on over her head. Cashmere and her unfuckwithable attitude are enough to carry the look as corporate bitch.

“Any resources I should secure before I meet you there?” Nicole asks, finally turning at least in the direction of the other woman’s voice after having scooped her bag up and slid its handles down to the crook of her elbow.

The arrested gasp of a moment Nicole had on seeing the sign of green brings with it a freeze in Asami as well, even invisible as she is. The warbles of thought that accompany the reaction grant her only nuggets of insight to the strength of it. But she breathes again finally when it turns out to be nothing… dangerous.

"I'm sorry about your shirt," she says quietly while Nicole gathers up her bag. After that, she answers with a sign that goes invisible until it's spoken. "No, just— bring yourself. And an open mind."

Asami sounds hesitant— the exchange that's taken place involves a different power dynamic than she's accustomed to when it comes to Nicole Miller née Nichols. It's something she lays aside, ultimately, rather than address. She needed counsel more than she needed to navigate that topic.

"Get a table for two in a quiet spot. I'll meet you there." Instead of heading for the door, Asami's voice drifts now from the direction of the window.

“It’s a shirt,” Nicole dismisses the importance with a shake of her head. “But the apology is appreciated all the same.” Even if it’s not worth being concerned with. The exhale of breath that follows isn’t precisely a sigh, but it’s a cousin to one. She’s gotten much better at approximating where an invisible speaker stands from the sound of their voice.

Gently, she speaks herself, a kind, if faint smile on her face. “I’m not going to tell you to relax, because everyone and their mother knows that I’m terrible at that myself, but if it helps…” Nicole shrugs her shoulders. “I’m still on your side.” She doesn’t wait for a reply before she pushes open the office door, feigning needing a moment to ensure she has everything she needs, patting down her pockets for her phone even as she’s walking back toward her desk to find it.

“Ah!” Nicole holds up the phone to announce to nobody: “Got it.”

The weather has warmed enough that the flowers that line the balcony dining space have begun to bloom. The aroma is heavenly. Or would have been any other time. For now, all it inspires in Nicole is a deep abiding sense of melancholy. For years, this was one of her favorite places to eat, and she hadn’t been able to put her finger on why. Now, the mystery is solved.

Of course, her perfect memory recalls every time she’s ever dined here — and those times have been plenty and numerous — but scent memory takes her somewhere far from here, to the other side of town. To Bay Ridge and the Rose & Trellis. A small voice in the back of her mind asks when the last time was that she called Ingrid. She knows very well when, every inane detail they discussed. How many times her daughter had to plead with her dog to stop begging for scraps when she was cutting flower stems, not celery. Recalls the murmurs in the background from her good-natured daughter-in-law, nearly twenty years her senior.

It’s all drowned out by the sea of regret represented by her relationship with Yi-Min Yeh. For the better part of two decades, their romance limped along, sometimes showing moments of promise, only to be dashed again. Nicole remembers every single chance she ever had to do the right thing and pledge herself to her best friend. Her lover. Her heart. Each and every time, she’d deftly dodged around it, expecting things to carry on as they always had. Expecting that she could continue to have her cake and eat it in the closet.

Yi-Min finally took their love off life support and smothered it. In that death, she could finally find release.

Nicole is startled from her reverie when the server appears at her elbow to fill her glass with white wine. “Can you just leave the bottle?” she asks. “I’m expecting a friend and we’ve got some… heavy stuff to talk about. We’d prefer as little distraction as possible.” Her hand lifts from beneath the table, a folded hundred dollar bill held between two knuckles. “If we need anything, I’ll flag you down.”

Just before the bill can be plucked up, she draws it back toward herself just enough to inspire hesitation. “This isn’t your tip. This is above and beyond, and there’s more where this came from if you can keep us from being interrupted without good cause.” After a nod of understanding, she passes the bill over again, relinquishing her hold easily this time when it’s taken gingerly.

“Alright,” Nicole murmurs, letting her gaze settle on the empty space across from her, “I’ve got an open wallet and an open mind.”

Almost like she was summoned by the words, Asami materializes moments later. Not in the seat, but a few scant steps from it, providing the illusion she arrived under normal means. She's sure no one was looking this way. She checked. Resting a hand on the back of her chair, she takes a moment to look out over the view— the greenery, the people, the city block below— with a wistfulness. It's a world she no longer feels a part of, one she's felt as though she's been looking at through a window.

No matter what's changed, she still finds herself wishing she could go back to before it all happened.

Asami slides into her seat right after that, leaving behind her reverie in favor of this moment. She meets Nicole's eyes directly, studying the blue of them like she's reading her. Where to even start with this? She'd come to Nicole out of worry she'd overwhelmed Kaylee when she started to peel back the layers of reality. The woman across from her though already knew about that other world out there— and maybe was best prepared to handle news of everything else.

"Things keep happening, Nicole," she shares wearily. "I put into place a plan which will hopefully start exposing the truth assuming the journalist doesn't get shot for writing the story, but even if it runs…" All she can do is shake her head, reaching for the bottle to pour herself a glass. "I've— begun questioning everything."

“Me too,” is Nicole’s short answer, diving in without so much as a greeting. They aren’t here for small talk. “I… Nothing’s right. People don’t just appear out of nothing as though they’ve existed the entire time. This is not some shared delusion we’re having.”

An uneasy swallow is masked with a sip of wine. “If it were just you and I, I could maybe buy into that. But the others? They don’t see what we see.” And like that, Nicole is comfortably settled into this notion that she — and by extension Asami — knows better. “I feel like I know some of the why of these additions, but I don’t like the conclusions I’m drawing, Asami.”

Nicole gestures with her glass. “Would you like to deliver your proposal first?”

Asami speaks only after she's drank roughly half the glass she's poured for herself, looking as perturbed as she is exhausted. She looks off from Nicole. "It's not a proposal. Just … a series of observations, maybe, that I don't know what to do with."

"Kaylee was attacked two weeks ago. The night after I woke your power. She was leaving work and suddenly her coworkers— all of them— turned on her."

There's something haunted in her eyes when she looks back to Nicole. "When she came to after her power-fueled other ceded control back to her, every last one of them were dead. Blood, everywhere." She speaks as though she saw it for herself. "She locked herself in her office, called the burner I let her give me."

But: "By the time I got there, there was no sign of what had happened. Everything was fixed. I saw in her mind what should have been, but everything had just… reset. It was a perfectly empty building, dark only because it was close to midnight."

She swallows again despite not having taken a drink. With an unsteady breath, she looks away again. "And then— I found more like us, after I woke you. One of them, Nicole, one of them, she…" Asami has to close her eyes because this still, on a very real level, all sounds insane to her despite the presence of an other in her head who thinks finding powers abnormal is the insane thing. "She can manipulate space— time. She can stop it. She can teleport."

"She…" Struggling to get it out, she tries again, brow furrowing. "We…"

It still doesn't come.

Fuck,” Nicole whispers, her hand coming up to cover her mouth when she hears the story of Kaylee Petrelli. She can’t imagine the mild woman hurting a single fly. She’s shrewd, certainly, and knows how to get what she wants, but she isn’t a shark like Nicole is. Nicole would kill someone without a second thought (even if she might panic and regret it later), but Kaylee?

Kaylee Thatcher might. To protect herself. To protect others. Never to hurt someone.

She shakes her head slowly to that, to the rest. Space and time. “Like O— No… More like Walter Trafford. Or Hiro Nakamura.” Nicole stares across the table at Asami, uncertain of how much she knows about the other life, the other world they both understand exists.

That stare hardens. “Spit it out, Asi.”

Asami is stopped from her stammering at the mention of Hiro Nakamura, her brow twisting now in confusion rather than quiet dread and horror. "Hiro?" she asks without any expectation of an answer. Him? That goofball? A teleporter?

Not here, she realizes. Elsewhere.

Being addressed by the name of her other causes her shoulders to draw back in shock, but a hardness to enter her gaze. As astonished as she is to be called it, she reacts to it.

"When I activated her ability," she says with a sudden hard calm, "I triggered it. One moment we were in Brooklyn, the next— Shibuya Crossing. It should have been the middle of the night in Japan, but the sun was shining overhead. Every single person in the sea of traffic around us was dressed the same. And then, just like that…"


"They were gone. Not a person in sight. The buildings were lit up as though it were night, but the sky overhead was blue. I could hear the sounds of people and traffic both, but nothing was there. And when I examined the buildings around us… they were weirdly flat. Oddly shaped; only looked right from a specific angle. Like a poor 3D render." Her dark eyes settle on Nicole's. "I panicked— ran to see if I could find anyone there. The ground suddenly stopped, though, concrete ended though the facade of the city went on further than that. At the sidewalk's end, hundreds of feet below was nothing but ocean."

Asami purses her lips together, looking down for a moment. "Violette told me not to leave New York. I believe I found out why." She lifts her head back up. "Reality isn't just fragile … it's broken. Like New York is the only thing it can handle being. Like it… well…"

Her expression becomes tempered with a frown.

It paid off. What Nicole knows of Asi Tetsuyama tells her a story of someone tough as nails. Not that Asami isn’t, but… Asi sounds like she was sharpened like a knife, honed. Asami hardened under pressure.

The glass of wine is halfway to her lips when the other woman begins to describe Japan. Or what passes for it. Nicole doesn’t bother to hide how much that perturbs her. Her gaze goes far away and focused all at once. Terrified and numb simultaneously.

“If you and I didn’t know what we know, would we even know this?” Nicole winces immediately after the delivery of that question. “I mean, would we even question any of this? The validity of…” The hand with the wine glass gestures expansively to the great, wide somewhere. It’s shaking when she finally takes that drink.

Asami shakes her head once. "These other memories? They're curious, but I didn't make much of them. They're… out of place. Why only us, out of all the people I've woken up?" Her shoulders pitch in an indifferent shrug. "The way the pieces didn't line up have been little more than an annoying distraction from determining what is happening to our reality, to us, and who did this to us to begin with."

She glances back to Nicole. "This? What I saw? It… changes everything. It takes what happened to Isaac, what happened to Kaylee, what happened to you and makes it all click into place." Asami's eyes widen with her certainty, as dangerous a line of thought as it is to embrace.

Anyone else would call her crazy. Send her off to be committed. But they've not seen what she has at this point.

"What if it's not the government who kept us suppressed, but something else? That it's not any one body fighting back against us, but reality itself all because…"

Because it's not real. Asami lets out a broken, incredulous laugh.

Nicole joins her, because that unspoken conclusion aligns with her own. “The memories are because I can remember everything perfectly. Everything, Asami. Every little detail. Whether it’s something I care about or not.” Her brow furrows. “Memory doesn’t work like that.”

Sitting back in her chair, she scoffs and stares out at the skyline. “I’m a complete piece of shit in this life. The only thing I ever did remotely right was raise Isaac to look out for himself. And… maybe I fucked him up more than I didn’t.” The notion of that troubles her. Hurts her. “I married the first solid guy that came along because it would be an advantageous match. Good for my image. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband well enough, but I should have committed to the one who had my heart in the first place.”

Lids fall shut heavily for a brief moment, a pained thing. “I should have been loud and proud, instead of insisting that we were just friends to everybody but her.” Too concerned for her own appearances and what it would mean for her career, she never allowed herself or Yi-Min to love freely.

“I learned to watch grown men beg for their mothers and feel not an ounce of pity. I’ve paid people for murder, signed death warrants…” Nicole takes a deep breath. It does nothing to ease or calm her. “Then my sister appears and it turns out I’ve done awful things to her too. I… I don’t remember them, but I can guess. It’s my worst nightmare. Colette means everything to me and I can’t even speak to her. I can’t figure out where our path diverged in the wood.”

Blue eyes shift back to Asami, looking at her with a sense of shame and despair. “The disappearance of Justice Quinn, Isaac and Nova’s accident, the attack on Kaylee… Couple all of that with Avery getting sicker the moment Zachery or I step out of sight, and the fact that nothing seems to even exist outside of this city…” Nicole’s gaze sharpens again. Maybe she shifts between versions of herself in some way, too.

“We’re in a nightmare. And it wants to keep us here.”

The things Nicole says she's witnessed and felt are things Asami only barely doesn't react to. She knew— knows— that the Linderman Group had massive criminal underpinnings. She just never came face to face with them herself.

Asi's steel saves her face here, and all she does with it is reach for the glass of wine that can't get her drunk if it tried, with Shahid Khan's ability righting every wrong done to her body before she can even think about it.

She could turn it off, but she'd lose so much more than just that ability in the process.

Glass drained, she sets it aside, swallows hard, and looks back to Nicole. Hearing that Avery's sickness seems to be part of the nightmare is something which makes as much sense as it does horrify her, motivating her to keep a strong grip on the base of the wineglass. "Why?"

"And who's real? Who's not? Who— what determines that?" Even as she asks the question though, she comes up with a suspicion. "All of us who saw things, who see the seams where things don't line up— who remember Justice, and had powers suppressed by the system…"

Her brow suddenly furrows with a new kind of incredulousness. All goes silent and still around them. Even then, it's something she fears being overheard. Is that why I can do so much? If I'm a technopath and not who I am, am I just… gaming the system?

In a strained voice, she says in the absence of sound on the city block, "But I don't feel like me. Like her. I just…" She lets out a broken laugh, eyes gleaming with tears as she shakes her head and lifts both hands. "This all just…"

It all feels so real. Like the only real that's ever been real, even for all the ways it's proven itself not to be.

Asami can't put words to that, just lets out a single, strangled sound of grief as she looks away, observing the way no one seated in the outdoor space moves. Observing how, the longer time remains frozen for them, the more the strain against reality appears.

A nearby waiter statics in and out of existence just at his shoulders, like a television in and out of focus. A bead of blood forms at Asami's nose. "How isn't this real?" she mourns to herself, if not to Nicole.

And is it good or bad that it isn't?

Nicole listens to Asami — as Asi starts to piece it all together. “Yeah,” she commiserates, “that’s how I feel pretty much all the time.” The broken laugh is just what the kids call a Big Mood. Then her attention shifts around them, her own unease rising. Bile rises in the back of her throat, too.

“I… I know almost everyone that’s had something happened to them in this world. That remembers Justice Quinn. That has… has powers.” Closing her eyes partly so she can conjure up the names and partly so she can make the glitching nature of their reality something that’s out of sight and subsequently out of mind, she begins listing the names.

“Abigail Beauch— Caliban. She was a healer for a long time, wound up being able to turn herself into fire. Deeply religious sort. Then there’s Daphne Milbrook. A speedster and a thief. A damn good one. Heart of gold, that old story. Gillian Childs. Augmentor, freedom fighter, author… Jac Childs is her daughter. Echolocator or something in that vein. Brynn Ferguson, a color manipulator, is one of the Lighthouse Kids. Bunch of orphans before and during the war.” She drops that so casually, like she expects Asami to pick up on the alternative history she’s laying out.

Only for Nicole, she’s slipped into the other memories firmly now. This isn’t alternative history, this is her history. This world around them is a fabrication. A lie. “Oh, god. Who else? Right!” Giving her head a quick shake, she continues down the line. “Kaylee, of course. Thatcher. She has a son. I worry if say his name, he’s going to appear and fuck up her life.” There’s a wince. Kaylee doesn’t remember the other world — their world — the way she does. The presence of Carl, Nicole assumes, would only serve to confuse Kaylee and drive her mad. “Ah, she’s a telepath.” There’s a wry smile for that. Asami’s got a taste for how miserable that can be. “The Wesley-Khans check out. Isabelle’s a pyrokinetic and Shaw can shut off or fool people’s senses.”

There’s a heavy exhale, a note of incredulity. “Christ, I barely know them, but I can remember all that so clearly. Stories told over drinks. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t drunk…” Nicole is bitter as she opens her eyes again. “Let’s see if this shithole throws me a bone and lets me refill my glass.” She drains what’s left in her glass but hesitates on reaching for the bottle.

“Who does that leave us with? My husband, obviously. Has a form of anatomical intuition I don’t really understand. And he’s… still my husband, though he’s…” Nicole holds the glass to her sternum rather than set it down. “He’s different here than he is there. But I suppose…” She doesn’t finish that thought, moving on to the next. It isn’t any comfort in comparison. “Uhm…” Her throat gets tight, eyes a little glassy suddenly. “Y- Yi-Min… She’s one of my best friends. Her and—”

Nicole sniffs hard and lifts her gaze back to Asi. “Have you tried talking to her partner? Kara Prince? Maybe see if she’s like we are?” She isn’t sure if that would hurt or help her broken heart, honestly. “Although she… doesn’t have an ability. Yi-Min’s is to neutralize poisons in herself.” And Yi-Min would probably roll her eyes to hear Nicole put it so simplistically, but hopefully in that way that suggests she at least finds it marginally endearing. “Although… Kara’s not like you and I or Yi-Min… Maybe— No.” The moment serves to pull her back from the brink of sorrow, even if she dismisses the notion with a thoughtful frown. “I’ve seen Nick Ruskin, too, and I’m almost certain he isn’t like we are. Maybe Kara’s the same.”

The mental recount doesn’t take long at all. Only as long as it takes Nicole to set her empty glass aside and drag her fingers through her hair. “So that just leaves… Nova Leverett and Isaac. They have to be involved, based on the patterns. But I don’t… know either of them.” That affects her. More than the mentions of her husband and Yi-Min. They still exist in the world they come from. Presumably. She has a life that includes them that she can step back into, so long as they can find their way back.

But Isaac Faulkner… “Daniel Linderman had no heir. I would have known.” So that leaves her ward and the intrepid cellist as blindspots in Nicole’s view of the other world. Her mind wanders and roams through the vast expanse of her memories. So much, a person could get lost meandering through. “Asi?” Nicole’s focus slowly slides back to the here and now. Her expression is cautious, but also curious.

“Which reporter did you ask to run your story?”

The list of persons one after another is one Asami tries to hold out through, giving themselves privacy as long as possible. But near the end, she suddenly blinks hard and the city around them begins moving again. She takes in a deep, silent breath among the background noise, shoulders sloping. When she notes the blood at the corner of her nose, she reaches for the napkin on the table to blot it away as discreetly as possible.

She can hear Nicole's inner concerns regarding the possibility of Nova or Isaac not being real and shakes her head as she folds the napkin in over itself. "Of those of us who have powers, there's plenty I haven't known. Jac and Kaylee I've seen at Raytech, but Brynn?" No, it'd seem. "But the best guess I have is that every one of us with pow— with abilities are 'real', whatever that means."

As in, she can't fully tackle the implications of that just yet. But it's a sound enough deflection before she glances back to Nicole.

"I spoke to Gabriella Milos, on Kaylee's recommendation. Milos was hesitant to run the story for me— wasn't sure who'd believe her," and who could blame her? "But I'm sure she'll do it. She had a power, too, and I woke it back up in her before we parted ways. She left before I could tell her just… what it was, but…"

Asami wobbles her head, and ends it looking more or less certain. "Of everyone I've found who's been broken," she segues instead. "I've woken up all of them, save for one:"

"Nova," she clarifies slowly, turning the sound over in her mouth and mind like one examines a physical curiosity. "I've kept my distance out of… respect, maybe, but maybe it's time I find her after all." Asami leans back in her seat again. "Because now that we're not fighting against the government, but rather reality… she needs her weapon more than ever. And to know the truth."

Her eyes half-lid, quietly murmuring, "They all need to."

But she knows she doesn't have the right to call on several of them again. Getting to them, and getting them to believe her… that'll be a difficult task.

“Gabby.” Nicole smiles a little ruefully, passing her own napkin across the table in a silent acknowledgement of Asi’s situation without calling attention to it. “You know, I almost called her to ask what she knew about my children. Maybe I should have. If you’re having trouble with her, you can start there. Or I can.” One shoulder comes up in a shrug.

Looking down at the table and the chipped lacquer on her nails — when did she start leaving the house like this? — Nicole draws in a deep breath, her chin dipped down. Her eyes come up without lifting her head. “Arranging a meeting with Ms Leverett should be easy. She’ll trust me. We can talk with her. Help her understand the importance of this.”

Leaning forward, she agrees, “We have to do something. And we’re going to need all the help we can get if we’re going to make it back to… to wherever it is we’re supposed to be.” Moving the opposite way now, Nicole drapes one bent arm over the back of her chair. “It sure isn’t here.”

Asami isn't sure how she feels about that, even though Asi knows it to be a truth. The cognitive dissonance is one she has trouble reconciling. So, in this moment, she doesn't. She looks away from Nicole and then back again, dabbing under her nose one last time before folding the napkin in on itself and placing it back on the table.

"Make the call," she says anyway. "Make it for…" She takes in a short, single breath before refocusing on Nicole. "For soon."

After saying as much, her jaw rotates, biting down on the inside of her lip aggressively as she's nearly consumed by a thought. "Is it wrong to…?" The question doesn't reach an end, though. Asami only shakes her head, trying to discard the half-spoken doubt.

“Soon I can do,” Nicole confirms in a quiet voice, gaze drifting off to the side after she makes this vow to her confederate. Some of her confidence is waning in the face of her own anxiety. The collision of memories takes its toll on her, though somewhat lesser in the presence of Asami. Their history is not an overlapping one, though they share an understanding of the world they both come from. Or at least the one they both remember.

The impossible world.

One corner of Nicole’s mouth comes up in a half smile that manages to be part wry, part soft and genuine, part supportive all at once. “I may not be the best person to ask on that subject.” Blue eyes turn back to Asami. “Out with it.”

She doesn't have the stomach for it, though, and shakes her head. "Nevermind," Asami insists. She closes her eyes, draws her shoulders up. She ends up leaning over the table slightly as she prepares to stand.

"I'll text you soon from the burner I've got. Let me know when you corner Nova." It's easier to focus on that than her own lack of consistency in the way she views the world, in her struggle to reconcile the two sets of memories and how they diverge.

"Thank you," Asami insists, chair skittering on the balcony concrete as she rises quickly, almost messily. In this moment, she's not the woman Nicole Varlane was peripherally aware of, nor the woman Nicole Miller knows well. She's become someone who's neither, somehow, anxious and overwhelmed with the situation she's found herself in.

She promises "I won't forget this," as she strides briskly away from the table. Should Nicole turn, she can see Asami's retreating back for less than ten paces before she vanishes, shrouding herself in an invisibility heralded by a flickering bend of light before giving way to complete, unfailing translucency.

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