The Lock They Make By Lying


elliot2_icon.gif richard5_icon.gif

Scene Title The Lock They Make By Lying
Synopsis the throat is deep and the mouth is wide / saw some things on the other side / made me promise to never tell / but you know me i can't help myself
Date June 30, 2021

Every day there’s another face that Elliot recognizes. A reflection of someone he knows, or knows of.

Comments are worrisome, though most of them he’s dismissed—“Funny. This keeps happening with you guys. Even if I haven’t met you, I feel like I’ve met you.”—as a bizarre form of confirmation bias. People looking for something to recognize. For something that isn’t.

Elliot has struggled with the possibility for weeks. In anxious daydreams he turns a corner and finds himself finding himself there. In nightmares, someone else meets that other him without giving this him a chance to perform damage control. In the here and now, he can’t simply hope that the other members of the team won’t eventually meet a local Elliot, and know.

His footing is perilous, to say the least. His jaw works around words that won’t form, that can’t; words that are prevented from forming. It’s frustrating that it’s his own fault, that his helplessness is self-inflicted. But this is going to come to a head, and he knows it. Nobody was ever supposed to be able to find verifiable truths. Nobody was ever supposed to find a control case.

The Pelago

June 30th

With all of the preparations for launch, Elliot doesn’t think he’s going to get much sleep. He dithered long enough to force himself to pull the trigger before the journey forced him into terrain even less familiar than this scattered handful of doomed buildings.

Midnight seems as good a time as any to speak the unspoken. He’d be a shaking, hyperventilating wreck if it weren’t for a double dose of medication. That allowed him to walk up the stairs to the roof where the whistle of the wind might keep his words from traveling far enough to matter. His waxed canvas long coat shields him from most of the gusts and rain.

Midnight is Richard’s time. Cardinal more than Ray; bereft of his corporate responsibilities he’s been reverting more and more to the habits of the former identity, awake when the sun’s down, asleep when it’s up.

So he’s up, standing on the roof, arms folded against a rail set up to ensure others didn’t fall over. The stained, mustard-yellow poncho draped over him shields him from the rain and gusts for the most part, although some of the spray still wets his face, eyes that darker than the storm-tossed skies staring out towards the ocean so far away.

“You know,” he says without turning, hearing Elliot making his way onto the roof, “I miss trees the most, I think.”

Elliot is grateful for the delay afforded him by the statement. He gives himself a buffer from Richard, just beyond arm's reach as he takes a spot at the rail and tests its stability. "I miss my ears not popping every time there's a swell," he says with a barely audible chuckle.

He feels the need to start this conversation with a personal admission; something to show his trust in Richard. They haven't spoken much about their personal lives at this point. "And my girlfriend," he says, "and my wife." At least he gets to talk to the latter via Wright.

“I used to be a pilot,” Richard responds with an equally quiet chuckle, “You get used to the pressure changes. Eventually. God willing, we won’t be out here long enough for that, though…”

A hand comes up, wiping at his face, and then he glances sidelong to the other man, one eyebrow lifting a bit. “You’re married? Didn’t realize.”

"Yeah," Elliot says. "I'm a pretty private person generally. Which is odd when you think about my ability being based on sharing." The latter is a lie he'll correct shortly, assuming this doesn't get Richard killed. It's highly unlikely.

"Married just over a month now," he continues. "Her name is Merlyn. We dated years ago but reconnected in April and things moved very fast. In a way, it's what's going to allow me to tell you some things you should probably know in advance of finding out in the field."

"Huh. Well, good for you," Richard's head bobs a bit, his gaze sweeping back out to the wine-dark seas, "Especially right now… embrace what brings joy and love into your life. No way of knowing how much time we have, after all."

Dark eyes soon return to the man to ask, “What do you mean? Did she have some intel or something?"

"She gave me hope," Elliot says, then cryptically, "and I weaponized it. Or armorized it, maybe. Whatever the term is for crafting a lock out of raw materials."

He sighs with frustration, he's talking too close to the truth and feels the limits of his ability to do so approaching. "Things are not as they appear, and this conversation will be difficult without first employing that hope," he says, grip tight on the railing. "This will be mechanically difficult for me to do. I'm sorry if it goes badly." He wishes he could add 'but killing me will only make the problem worse.'

“I…” Richard’s brow furrows in confusion as he regards Elliot when he ‘explains’ what he means, “You realize that none of what you just said made sense, right? I mean, maybe if I had some more context, but I– don’t?”

Arms unfold as he pushes himself up from the rail, straightening up and turning towards the other man, concern bleeding into confusion as he asks, “Are you alright, Elliot?” Something’s wrong here and he can feel it, turns of phrase and body language pricking at the instincts that’ve kept him alive this long. The spray of rain hisses against the plastic hood that shields his head, but even in the dim light he can make out every detail of Elliot’s face as he tries to translate his expression.

“Not being able to provide you with context is part of the problem,” Elliot says, then sighs. There’s no point putting this off any longer.

“Top Hat,” he says.

“Raining,” Wright replies.


Elliot’s eyes lose focus as he wrenches his will against the block he put in place to prevent this secret from getting out. That they put in place to prevent something so much worse from getting out. Intent forged into a Lock against the opening of the door labeled Switchboard. Wright takes/Elliot takes a Big Breath In, breathes it right back out.

His head cants to the side, eyes close—

They unlock

—pushing water to gather in the corners—

the lock

—as he tries to put the words in order—

they make

—snapping his fingers once—

by lying;


by lying;

—three times.

by lying.

There’s a moment of near panic, of assuming it’s gone badly, but in the silence of the howling wind, the phone still rings, the door stays locked. Hope prevails.

Richard just watches the other man, as he says this, as he closes his eyes and says a few words that seem entirely non sequitur but seem to mean something to Elliot at least. He doesn’t say anything else just yet, waiting, though he does edge slightly further away.

Fingers curl in around the rail, tightening, tension running beneath the surface.

That’s it, then. Elliot takes a centering breath.

“Everywhere I go I keep seeing the faces of people I recognize, or knew, or know,” he says. Deciding to not immediately dive into what the fuck that was all about. “And for a while I thought I’d be safe, that the version of me who was born in this timeline died when I almost died.”

He looks sidelong at Richard, and for the other man’s sake he relaxes his iron grip on the rail, leans more naturally. “When I was in the group home,” he elaborates, “This kid, Eddie, was about to push me off of the building to kill me. Absolute fucking psychopath, and with Wright shipped off to boarding school I was defenseless against him. But somebody came up with the news about the Bomb and that stopped him. So maybe here he didn’t stop, and I died, and I’m telling you this for nothing. But I need help, and I need you to trust me, so I can’t rely on that.”

“Heh.” Richard brings one hand up, fingers pushing some strands of hair back under the hood of the poncho as he relaxes slightly, “I was in a home like that too. Izzy was the one who had my back…”

And she’s dead now, he reminds himself. There’s another Isabelle. She’s a friend. But it’s not the one who had his back, who he laughed and cried with, who…

“Anyway.” He looks out to the water, then back, “Are you worried that we’re going to run into another iteration of yourself, and it’ll be a problem?”

“It would be a problem because,” Elliot says, “several things would become clear in short order, which would throw me into question. He’d be… different. He’d have trouble with verbal communication, for one, like I used to before I changed.”

“The second is that he wouldn’t have telepathic networking as an ability,” he says with difficulty. The Lock being gone doesn’t make this easier to say. “Because I don’t have an ability. I’m not Expressive.”

“I– “ Richard breaks off, and blinks several times before just staring at Elliot for a long moment.

“Run that past me again, would you?”

Elliot turns around to sit against the railing, hands still holding him in place against a gust of wind. “I wasn’t born with the SLC,” he clarifies. “Telepathic networking isn’t my ability.” It’s not a lot of things.

“When I infiltrated the Ark,” he says for some context first, “I came across some anomalous traffic, which led me to what was supposed to be an undeveloped portion of C-Ring. There was power there, and data from there was being processed in other labs. There was no human staff when I got there, all robotic. There was a false front of construction equipment, and behind that there was a door marked Warehouse Zero.”

“I got in but they bagged me immediately, and I got a tour of Project Zero,” he says, shaking his head as though there’s anything to be done about it now. “Tyler Case, or Ezekiel, sent me down there to die. Because everybody who got sent there died.”

“Because everybody who got sent there got killed by a dislocated psychic parasite called Prisoner Zero.”

“Ah, god-damn it,” Richard exhales, one hand coming back up to rub against his forehead, “Of course they did. That’s just like me, too, to hide a secret project behind– anyway. Anyway.”

He waves his hand a bit, brushing away his own line of thought, “Go on.”

Richard seems to be taking the news well, which won’t last, but Elliot is glad the conversation will make it to the bad part. “You’ll have to keep in mind that my memories from that point on are absolutely shredded,” he says. “I don’t want that to underscore your understanding of what happened, but there will be details I don’t have access to anymore. A lot of those rooms went red over the last ten years.” He’s getting ahead of himself.

“I was the first person who didn’t die when I got infested by the parasite,” he says. “Zero. It would jump from one host to the next, killing the old and beginning to devour the consciousness of the new. Jump after jump, mindless consumption. I don’t know why I survived, but I did, and instead of transfering to the next host—” he stops suddenly, putting a hand over the bridge of his nose as a wave of grief hits him in the gut and takes the wind out of him.

After a few strangled sounds of sadness he clears his throat and continues. “The next host they tried to feed to it was a twelve-year-old boy named Bastian. Expressive, like everyone else who came before me. But Zero didn’t kill him either, and the network was born.”

The pad of Richard’s thumb presses against his temple, his middle finger the other, eyes shadowed by the palm of his hand for a moment. “Jesus Christ,” he mutters quietly, drawing in a slow breath before his hand drops down and he turns dark eyes upon the other man.

“Almost sounds like poor Sybil’s ability… fuck. I’m sorry, Elliot,” he grimaces, his stomach churning, “That’s just fucking– monstrous. Doing that to you, to the kid– anyone– doing that to Zero for that matter…”

Elliot seems confused for a moment, but realizes Richard has no reason to know this. “Zero wasn’t a person,” he says. “I don’t think it ever was. I think it came from the Aquifer.”

“What?” Richard’s brow knits in confusion, “What– Aquifer? It had to have been a person at some point, Elliot– or an animal, I suppose. The SLC linkage starts with life, although it doesn’t always end there…”

“If it wasn’t a person then what do you think it was?”

"Maybe it was a person at some point," Elliot says with an unsure shake of his head, "but whoever it was then, it isn't them anymore. Maybe because it got transferred so many times it lost its personhood. But the Aquifer is what allows it to exist sans body, and I honestly thought you would know more about this than I do, since you said you have a mindscape." He does look confused, maybe a bit embarrassed that he might be explaining it wrong.

"A mind is just a few fistfuls of hamburger and electrolyte," he says, "in order for a consciousness to exist without a body it needs something else to support it. So the Aquifer is the kind of space that allows for the existence of dislocated consciousnesses, mindscapes, dreamscapes, and all the other kinds of mnemonic architectures. You have a mindscape which exists in the Aquifer." He stops as he realizes he hasn't mentioned this part yet. "I have access to a mindscape called the Palace, which is located elsewhere in the Aquifer. Islands in an infinite sea."

“Interesting.” Richard’s head cocks a little to one side, thoughtful, “I hadn’t heard that term before– I suppose it’s a way to name and envision a concept I guess I already had, just didn’t have a word for. I know that it’s entirely possible to survive beyond death with certain powers– it’s most common with technopaths, Drucker called it becoming a purusha.”

He lifts a hand from the rail and gestures with it, “There’re maybe– half a dozen of them that I’m aware of, though they might not all still be alive. A few may have gotten killed a second time. Mostly technopaths, I know of a dreamwalker that survived death too. I guess visualizing it as an ‘Aquifer’ is as good as anything.”

“I don’t know how related this– “ He motions to his head with a grimace, “— is, but it might be, I suppose. I guess the Graveyard has to exist somewhere, since it’s not just in my head. Four thousand plus years of memories, of copied consciousnesses, twice over. And– they do come out. I mean, into the real world, and I don’t mean just as hallucinations. There’ve been… signs that they actually can affect things.”

“Interestingly, when I had an overlay with myself in the Virus timeline, I got shunted into their Graveyard pretty much instantly. The inhabitants were pretty confused to see me there.”

Elliot reflects on the overlay that he and Wright experienced when Marthe was in the network, and what it almost cost them. He doesn't linger on the uncomfortable truth that Wright couldn't give Rue then. He hopes he has the chance to make that right.

"You should probably tell them not to touch me," Elliot suggests. "I'm not sure if the Palace could handle a continental collision right now, and neither of us seems to know enough about this to guarantee that won't happen. If your dislocated souls ended up in the Palace it could be a very, very bad thing."

"However, there's something I couldn't tell you the last time you talked about the Graveyard," he says. "I recently found out something that I don't remember even though I would have to have been involved. The last known subject they attempted to have me link into the network was Nathalie LeRoux."

“They– “

Richard pales at the name offered, shoving himself straighter, “They tried to network– fucking hell, he must not have known. If he’d known he never would have, not even him, the potential– “

He cuts himself off with a grimace, looking at the other man, “What happened?”

"I have no idea," Elliot says. "I was hoping you could tell me, with your access to previous stewards of your ability."

“I…” Richard trails off, turning away slightly in a curt motion, the edge of the poncho’s hood shadowing his face. “I haven’t seen her,” he says quietly, his voice thick with the pain of the admission, “I haven’t– not since she gave it to me. I can’t just– summon them up like that, or, I can but they have– triggers, emotions or situations that bring them forward. And if there’s a way to just slip into the Graveyard…”

He sucks in a breath, “I don’t know what it is. But. But that’s not the point, the…”

He looks back at the other man, his expression paler that before, droplets of rain dribbling off the edge of the hood between them. His tone tense, urgent to be understood, “Elliot, nothing ever leaves the Graveyard. Nothing. Once you’re there, you’re always there. They destroyed the conduits once, in New Mexico, it was– replicated again, it’s complicated. But it still remembered, it remembered everything. It’s not a power. Not really. It’s a conduit. It’s a link to somewhere, to something. And whatever that is never forgets, Elliot. Never.”

“And if you linked too closely with Nathalie, if you let it in, then the entire Palace is there too.”

"I mean," Elliot says, seeming more confused than concerned, "they're both already in the Aquifer. Do you mean the Palace might be accessible from the Graveyard?" What would the Palace even look like from the outside? The geometry would be maddening to behold, though it might not seem as infinite from that perspective.

"And is there any chance that one of your ghosts witnessed what happened, even if Nathalie didn't…" he isn't sure what the process is like, none of his former co-hosts have taken up residence in the Palace. "Get imprinted there, I guess. Would any of them manifest if I told you that the Palace is a prison labyrinth we made to trap Zero, and that if it gets out there will be a mass casualty event of unknowable scale? And that if I die the Foundations won't hold and the Palace will open to release it?" This is the part that terrifies him. Terrifies him every single day.

“Okay, that’s… terrifying, honestly,” Richard brings a hand up, fingers rubbing between his eyes, “And no, they’re all– “ He glances around briefly– “:They’re all being very quiet right now. If any of them are paying attention and know what you’re talking about, none of them are willing to say anything. That’s not– unusual, though. I go weeks without seeing any of them usually, and I’ve only seen one of them since we came through. I…”

He shakes his head, holding his hand up, “One, you’re making a lot of assumptions that the Graveyard shares a ‘location’ with your Palace, this ‘Aquifer’. There are a lot of reasons I have to doubt your theory there actually, particularly regarding continuity across superstring iterations, but– let’s assume, for a moment, that you’re wrong about that.”

“Everyone who’s ever been through the conduits is stored somewhere by them. Their thoughts, their memories, even their personalities. There’s no distinguishable difference save for time and learning between them, they’re a snapshot that can evolve over time. To all intents and purposes, they are a version of who went through them,” he explains, taking a deep breath, “Which means that if your network connected to the conduit, it’s entirely possible that there’s an Elliot, an anyone else connected to the network, every memory that makes up your Palace, and a Patient Zero that were copied and are stored in there too.”

He breathes out a heavy sigh, shaking his head, “And if you are right, things just get stranger and– we’re inventing an entire new school of physics based on a theoretical plane of existence. Regardless I have no idea what it would do, but if it’s already happened…”

Elliot considers this all carefully, happy he's taken medication in advance of this meeting. He doesn't have any proof of what he's saying, he just knows that it's something he learned.

"The Palace and the telepathic network are unrelated," he feels the need to clarify. "The network is an ability of Zero's that I'm using while it's trapped in the Palace, which is a mnemonic construct that the other subjects of Project Zero built with me to trap it. The Palace is a place. Not my place, but I can control the doors. The others supplied different aspects of the trap."

"I get that it seems a bit…" Elliot shakes his head. Knowing what he knows doesn't make it less weird. "Astral plane. But without the Aquifer the Foundations of the Palace would have nothing to attach to. I can tell you that it feels like being enclosed on all sides even though it's infinite and there are no walls. There's something above you there like a cavern ceiling, and something like water below that the islands of constructs can be founded on. It's the purest black in the way black is every color all at once. Impenetrably bright. It scintillates."

He feels embarrassed to try to talk with authority about something he only has memories of memories of. So much of that time had to be indexed directly.

"If a copy of Zero was made when there was an attempt to link in Nathalie," he says. "You may also be a walking time bomb. If it's true that nothing can leave the Graveyard, maybe it can't get out at least. But if I had to guess, it will probably consume all of the dislocated consciousnesses of your ghosts if it gets out of…"

How the fuck would it not have escaped yet? At the time that Nathalie would have been able to have copied it, the locks on the Switchboard would have been rudimentary compulsions. A duplicate Zero would have eaten it's way through them long ago. "I'm sorry I don't have better information. If the Palace was copied and Zero in it, it should be free in the Graveyard by now."

“I don’t know. I don’t think it could consume them either, not in there, although I don’t understand it very well– the Black is hunger incarnate, it’s… wait, why is it hungry? Could it– “ Some stray thought has Richard’s brow furrowing, and he glances back over the rail at the roiling black seas, so dark - yet so full of life.

“Could it be that simple,” he mutters to himself, fingers tap-tap-tapping on the rail for a moment as he mentally chews on things.

“It may not have whatever ability it had, either, we– I don’t have enough data to say what happens to a mental-ability Evolved who gets copied by the conduits,” he says, dismissing that thought and looking back at Elliot,”So far I haven’t seen them exhibit any ability to influence the world directly, outside the old man’s possession trick but that was…” A shake of his head, “That was different.”

“Your ‘Palace’ is just an aspect of the network in that case,” he points out, “Do you have any evidence that this ‘Aquifer’ connects to anything outside it, or contains anything but the Palace? Or– actually maybe we shouldn’t follow this chain of logic. If it’s a mental construct we don’t want to weaken it by thinking about it too much. Fuck.”

"It's not my Palace," Elliot insists. "The only reason the network seems related is because the heart of the Palace is the Switchboard where we trapped it. I use its ability because we had to build the Palace by combining their abilities through the network like your SEER. It was impossible to enclose the ability that we were subverting in order to trap its source, so everything is still funneled through that door to me."

The black churn of the waves makes it hard to avoid thinking about the answer to Richard's other question. "Do you remember when people started having visions of other lives they could have lived?" he asks.

“The superstring overlays,” Richard affirms with a slight grimace, “Yes, I remember.”

He looks back at the shadows of the sea, his lips pursing a bit, droplets falling from the edge of the hood into his vision. “I’m not sure what triggered them, really– the solar activity unlocked the door, but something had to open it. The frequencies don’t align often enough for that sort of overlay very often.”

"We didn't see our other lives," Elliot says. "We saw the Aquifer. Wright's wife was in the network when it happened. It…"

He shakes his head, convulses and grips the railing hard to keep himself from vomiting. "It went very badly."

“Christ,” Richard swears, glancing sidelong over to the other man before reaching out to clasp his upper arm briefly– attempting to show some sympathy for what he’s been through, in a way that he has no words for.

Elliot barks and pulls away from Richard's hand like a cigarette burn, then clenches his fist and screws up his face. He has to remind himself to keep at least one hand on the railing, angry at himself for not being able to feel angry about the correct thing in the moment. He tries to stop grimacing as he remembers that he's going to have to explain that.

"Please don't touch me," he manages in a more civil tone than he expected. "When we crossed over here the Palace got shaken up and…" Being able to tell the truth doesn't make it any easier.

"At some point we indexed Bastian's child abuse trauma," he explains, trying to stay far enough above it for the Bad Memory to stay below the waterline. "It got dislocated years ago and we thought we'd taken care of it but it came back. Getting close to it inside the Palace is like experiencing PTSD. It's wandering the fucking halls now." Clinical, dismissive, don't think about the answer to the question you asked him. Stay above it.

As he pulls away, Richard draws his hand back slightly - startled - but then just grimaces and nods at the explanation, pulling that gloved hand back to fall down, to rest on the rail again as he looks out over the water.

“That’s what happened to me coming through the Rig,” he confesses quietly and shortly, as if to share something in return, “PTSD. Had a flashback. It was bad.”

"Don't try to index the trauma memories into a Graveyard memento locus," Elliot suggests with a bitter laugh. "Results unpredictable. And sometimes your telepathic parasite learns things it shouldn't have access to and teaches them to the dislocated trauma memory in a deliberate attack against Palace security. That's how you get minotaurs." Surely he knows how it is.

Elliot steps back to where he had been standing, trusting Richard not to attempt contact again. "Sorry for yours," he adds, not knowing or wanting to honestly make light of the other man's trauma. "Comedic deflection is just my go-to defense mechanism. Also the compulsive lying, which I used as a lock on the door to the Switchboard."

“Hey, same hat,” Richard actually chuckles a little, head dropping forward slightly and eyes closed, “I probably read too many ‘Spider-Man’ comics as a kid, I tend to taunt megalomaniac killers and use the worst pseudonyms in the history of the world…”

He’s silent for a moment, trying to reclaim the thread of the conversation in his brain. “I don’t think we have enough data to figure out anything further yet… if one of the ghosts stirs up I can try and ask them, but there’s no guarantee they’ll know anything. If we were back in our timeline, there’s only one person who might know something, but no guarantee there either…”

"Who might know?" Elliot asks. "I ran down every lead I had and got very little for my trouble. If there's somebody Wright can get to we would very much like to do that before somebody kills me and it leads to a totally unexpected catastrophe."

“Nobody like that– everyone who escaped the Ark is either dead now, are so far off our radar as to be inaccessible, or profess ignorance like Simon,” Richard shakes his head, “But– this Aquifer of yours, your hypothesis is that it’s a sort of shared mental space, possibly even existing beyond the splitting causality of the string system.”

“Logically,” he grimaces slightly, “You’d want to ask someone who exists entirely on the mental plane if that’s accurate.”

"Someone who's there and also who knows what being there means," Elliot clarifies, though clearly Richard is going somewhere with this. "There's a dislocated dreamwalker invading people's dreams to try to point out that a Vanguard operative is trudging through Russia, but she doesn't know anything about how or why she's there. She just alternates between statuary angel and creepy Victorian child and incorrectly quotes poetry."

“I know of another dreamwalker that’s probably more… lucid than that,” Richard says, although he’s clearly reluctant about it, “She was very knowledgeable before she died, and I don’t expect she’s changed much. I…”

He exhales a heavy breath, gaze returning to the sea, “I can’t forgive her for what she did. Even if it was just a splinter of her. But she’d probably be the best option to find out about that sort of thing.”

“Hokuto Ichihara.”

Fingers tighten against the rail, then release, and he sighs heavily, “Delia Ryans can probably find her for Wright. Or maybe Corbin Ayers.”

Elliot nods. "Wright is in KC, but she should be able to get ahold of Delia fairly easily. Thank you," he says. If he hadn't destroyed the wall in his home office, her name would have been added to the mystery he tried to untangle there.

After a pause, he turns the conversation back to the problem of the here and now. "So, now that you know all of this, we have a problem," he says, shaking his head. "If anybody knows the source of my ability, I will never get anybody to link into the network again and the team loses an enormous utility. Nobody will, for even one second, agree to be exposed to the possibility of a psychic parasite, regardless of the amount of protections I have in place to keep it from escaping the Switchboard or affecting network co-hosts; even then it wouldn't be an active danger to them if I'm still alive. Nobody will willingly take the risk of experiencing an overlay with the Aquifer if they know that it did lasting psychological damage to Marthe."

“That sounds like a lot of anxiety-created assumption and not a lot of facts,” Richard points out, slanting a look sideways to the other man and crooking up an eyebrow, “We’re all on a suicide mission here, Elliot. You don’t think these are people willing to take risks?”

He shakes his head slightly, his lips pursing a bit, “You’re not the only time-bomb here either. If I get seriously injured things could get pretty fucking bad too– the Black’s likely to just sort of reach out to the closest life force it can find to heal me if I can’t stop it.”

Elliot laughs bitterly. "I'm alone here. You, Castle, Eve, and Robyn refused the link before this. Chess only agreed insofar as it helped crack Nakamura's code. The local Asi didn't trust me when she knew that android Asi is my only real friend, she'll never fucking speak to me again when she learns I kept this secret from both of them. The fact that I was psychically compelled to lie about it to protect myself will mean shit to all of them beyond having legitimized their fears of how the ability works."

He's furious and helpless and hates himself for it, but he can't blame any of them. "Regardless, if you want them to know, then I'll deal with it. This is your operation. If we run into the local version of me and everybody suddenly realizes he's non-Expressive and behaves differently than I do, there's no way that the ensuing conversation doesn't get awkward."

“You know why I refused the link,” says Richard with a slight shake of his head, his eyes closing, “And the local Asi knows about the sun. She’s angry. Understandably so. It’s hard to find a target to be angry at when the thing coming to kill you’s so… impersonal, and she has no context for the Entity.”

He’s silent for a moment, then closes his eyes. “No. Keep that a secret. As much as I hate keeping secrets from my own team these days… if you’re sure it’s not a problem unless you die, then there’s no point in bringing it up. Something like an overlay’s an external influence– you can’t blame yourself for that one.”

“As for your local self– people will just shrug and say they’re different from you. That happens.”

“Sorry,” Elliot says. “I know why you won’t and I strongly agree with that. It’s just hard to not feel…” he shakes his head, unsure what it is he’s even missing. The world is going to end, feeling alone won’t be what kills him. He still has Wright to connect him to most of what he left in his world.

“We should probably create countersign codes,” he says, changing the subject instead of meditating any further on the topic of loneliness. “In case you run into my local and he’s also sneaky for a living. You don’t happen to know American Sign Language, do you?”

“No, I feel you. I do,” Richard shakes his head a little, hand lifting from the rail slightly, “Trust me, the worry of being demonized because of your ability is… definitely something I understand.”

Then he smiles faintly, ruefully, “I know like three or four signs, and one of them’s ‘applause’. I’ve been meaning to learn more, since I think Liz is technically deaf now, but I haven’t had the free time. We can always make some up for now, though.”

"I only ask because if he had a similar upbringing he's probably fluent," Elliot says. "And I can teach you if you're interested. It's very hhhhhh…" He shakes his head and does not finish saying handy. "Useful," he decides.

A gust of wind forces him to pull his hood lower and hold it in place. "Thank you for not pushing me off the building," he says. "That's always been a major fear of ours when discussing removing the lock we made by lying. Just putting us in a field and hoping Zero doesn't have good range when we die. There was no human staff anywhere near Site Zero, which should tell you something about the precautions they thought necessary."

“Honestly? It mostly creates more questions for me, questions like ‘how did they get it there in the first place’ and ‘why would they bring it there and not the Antarctica station or something if they could move it,” observes Richard, his brow knitting in thought beneath the shadow of the poncho, “There’re holes in that story– not your holes, I don’t think. I think there are holes in the story you were told originally. Some things don’t add up.”

He blows out a breath, then flashes a wan smile over, “But, it’s academic right now– worst comes to worst on this mission, you get shot and it starts eating brains, we’ll see if the four thousand years of selfish assholes in my brain can recontain it.”

"There are," Elliot has no doubt. "Holes in the story. It's hard to parse between my lived reality and what I've been able to learn from people involved. Mostly only tangentially involved, obviously Zimmerman ate a grenade and Doc got Eve'd and Kravid died at Sunstone. So what I'm getting is based on what people outside of the project saw it as. They talked about Zero as a person, but if the warehouse full of braindead people in the ACTS in Warehouse Zero are any indication, he was just another host who got killed."

"And fuck, I hope four thousand years of dislocated consciousnesses aren't just a huge milkshake to this thing," he adds, honestly not thrilled at the idea of the problem being made actively worse through their interaction. But Richard is correct in that there's only one way to find out. "With any luck we'll never know. If there is a local me, it might be possible to offload some of the risk by linking him into the network. Him or any local versions of the Project Zero co-hosts, if they're alive. It may be possible to reinforce the Foundations."

“Let’s hope we don’t ever have to find out,” Richard observes a bit dryly, shaking his head, “I wish I could name someone else who might know, but… they’re all fucking dead, everyone who was at the Ark and might have known. The only ones who survived were the ones that even that sonuvabitch refused to keep anywhere near him…”

He exhales a tired sigh, one hand pushing under the poncho’s hood to shove some hair out of the way, “…well. We’ll keep an eye out for a local instance of you, or any of the others, if they’re here at all.”

Elliot nods, grateful. "Other than Bastian Nelson," he says, "there was Tala Lualhati Dimatibág and Yancy Garcia. They both lived in the city for a while. I left a message where I think Tala could find it if she's still here. Yancy would be difficult to look for, as he could just make you look elsewhere instead." It still hurts to think about, there's only one day left where he'll be somewhere Tala could find him if she's even alive.

"Anything else you want to know?" he asks, huddling into himself against the cold. "Being able to talk about this stuff now isn't going to make it easy for me to do so where people can hear me. I'm kind of terrified of this being used against me." He doesn't feel the need to point out how vulnerable he feels admitting it to Richard of all people.

“Want? Absolutely… unfortunately I don’t think either of us have the answers to those questions,” Richard admits, pulling his hand back and tugging the front edge of the poncho’s hood back into place, droplets tumbling from it in front of his face, “I think I’ve poked at your demons enough for one day, though. We both know what we need to know, for this, anyway…”

He offers the other man a faint smile, “I appreciate you talking to me about it. I know it’s– probably not easy talking to me at all.”

"There was some inner turmoil," Elliot admits with a bleak laugh. "Overall I'm dealing with it a lot better than I thought I would. It's a lot easier to keep in mind that divergent alternates are totally different people when Eve seems to have no respect for the idea. If there's ever a person I can trust to face True South on a topic, it’s her."

A bitter chuckle answers that, and Richard looks back out through the rain for a long moment before responding to the other man.

“You’re not wrong,” he murmurs, “I’m not happy she’s with us at all, but that wasn’t my choice… we have to keep an eye on her, she’s unpredictable and always thinks she’s right, even if she’s been proven wrong over and over again. It’s not entirely her fault– she’s sick– but since she refuses to take medication– ”

Trailing off, he turns back to Elliot, “Anyway. We should get back inside before we catch our death out here. Let’s just hope that everything we talked about here today…”

A grimace is shadowed by the edge of the poncho’s hood as he starts back to the door, “ something neither of us ever need to know.”


One Thought and a World Away…

The ten by ten concrete-walled room comes into sharp focus as rows of ceiling-mounted fluorescent lights come on row-by-row until barely a shadow is cast in the room. All that furnishes the space is a single gray fabric-covered armchair with a low back, Swedish in design, and a large console-style CRT television with a mantle clock sitting atop it on a lace doily. The clock has no hands on it, save for the second hand, which tracks around at a normal pace.

Agent Gates watches the picture of Richard Ray fading as the CRT screen goes dim. He sits back in his armchair, resting his head in one hand, brows furrowed. Turning his attention to the red phone receiver he has against his cheek, Gates slowly shakes his head.

“It’s me,” he says quietly, reaching out across an infinite distance of thoughts. “Yeah, I saw everything.” He can’t hide the trouble in his voice. “We should talk. In person.”

He nods to something said on the other end of the line, then exhales a sigh through his nose. Calming. Centering.

“Oh, and Wright?” Gates says into the receiver.

“I may have a piece of this puzzle.”

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