The Nature Of My Game


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title The Nature Of My Game
Synopsis Richard Ray finds himself deeply entangled in the choices he made in another life.
Date December 13, 2020

No one came.

Sunlight spills through the tall, curtained windows of the funeral parlor. Standing beside a closed coffin, a man in sleek black rests his hand on the polished white surface, his palm brushing slowly left to right across his own reflection. Silence hangs in the parlor, rows of folding chairs left empty behind him. No one came, and this isn't entirely a surprise.

Breathing in deeply before exhaling the breath as a shuddering sigh, Simon Broome looks at his reflection with worry. As his fingers curl towards his palm, nails soon bite into soft flesh and jaw muscles tense in a grimace. Swallowing tightly, Simon looks away, eyes falling shut and brows tensely furrowed as he turns to step away from the coffin, only to grind to a halt in mid-stride, finding himself not as alone as he once imagined.

"I'm… sorry for your loss." The stranger lingers in the threshold, halfway between one room and another. His suit is well cut, a light tan shade with undershirt crisp and white, tie a stark black against it all. He's old— older than Simon is by at least a decade, probably more. His hair, short as it is, has clearly gone gray all over, save for irregular dark patches at the top. Wrinkles crease his face like worn leather, dark circles hang around tired eyes muted by the milky coloration of partial cataracts.

Simon's anxiety is palpable, a sense of nervousness that runs like a tremor through him. Blinking back confusion, the younger man swallows down his first words, only managing the next once the stranger makes his advance into the room. "Were…" No, that's not the right beginning. "How did you know my mother?"

"I didn't," the stranger admits on his way in, one hand tucked into the pockets of his slacks. "I'm… actually here for you, Simon. But I am sorry, sorry for your loss… and I'm sorry that I couldn't stop what happened in time." Those words cause Simon's heart to skip a beat in his chest, jaw stiffening as he watches the stranger offer out his hand, to introduce himself. To make the shift from stranger to what will, eventually, be friendship.

"My name is Richard Cardinal, and I'm here to change your future." Glassy, cataract clouded eyes stare out at Simon's darker, clearer ones. He doesn't take the offered hand, instead takes on a look of indignation and frustration, his lips sagging down into a frown, brows furrowing and nose rankling as if he smelled something terrible.

Simon's hand eventually does raise, but not to meet Cardinal's; rather, it is to point to the doorway behind him. "I do not know you, Mister Cardinal, and I would suggest that you kindly leave." Brown eyes stare a challenge at Richard, deep pits of void that seem to — for a moment — draw Richard into them. "Now."

A hand offered out soon changes posture, and Richard is showing his palms in the universal sign of meaning no harm. "Simon, calm down… I'm a friend, or— I can be. I know what happened to your mother, I know you didn't mean for it to, and I know you're horrified that this might be related to what your father Otto did in Germany during the— "

"That man was not my father!" Simon's voice rings off of the chapel walls, jaw clenched and one hand swung out wildly at his side. "I am no more his son than I am a Nazi." The words are growled out, gravelly and coarse. Simon's temper flares as he strides challengingly towards Cardinal, several inches taller and many years younger. "Leave."

As Simon approaches, Cardinal's brows furrow and clouded eyes narrow. "What are you going to do if I don't?" It's a gamble, like much of all of this to Cardinal, but if Simon Broome kills him here and now is a risk he has to take in order to break through to him. Simon's response is quickly reaching up with strong hands, grasping Richard by the lapels of his suit and forcing him backwards towards the chapel door.

Right up until the moment that Simon is holding naught by wisps of smoke between his fingers.

Richard's body discorporates into living shadow that slips like smoke between Simon's grasping hands. It pools like ink over his body, slides across the floor between Simon's legs and has him springing backwards as if it were fire, eyes wide and heart pounding in his chest. As Richard slowly rises from the pool of shadow as if ascending from some impossibly murky depths, he keeps one brow raised in challenge.

"Your father was a madman," Cardinal intones, "but he wasn't insane."

Stricken with disbelief, Simon loses his footing as he stumbles backwards over his own two feet, collapsing to the floor on his backside, one hand down on the carpet to support his weight and keep him in a seated position, the other hand held out in warding fashion, as if trying to banish some evil spirit.

"What— " is rasped out from between Simon's lips in hoarse whisper, "what are you?"

"Your father called them the Übermensch— Supermen." Cardinal scoffs at the notion. "In my time, they're known as the Evolved." Slowly, Richard's approach brings him back towards Simon, and once again a hand is offered out in friendship, this time down to a man who has fallen not only literally, but figuratively as well. Fallen from the path that destiny would see him on, fallen into the shadow of doubt. "I'm just like you."

It feels like an eternity that Simon is there, staring up at Cardinal's offered hand. Broome can feel his heart pounding in his chest, not out of anger or rage, now, but out of excitement and fascination. Out of a primal sense of curiosity that is the backbone of human nature, parallel with the desire to destroy what is discovered.

When he does finally take Cardinal's patiently offered hand, the old man shows visible strain to help Simon to his feet, one extra hand clasped at the younger man's elbow once he's on his feet. "Simon, you and I have a great deal to talk about. Suffice to say, where I come from you and I have already met. We're old friends, and I mourned your passing. I've come back… back to change things, set things right."

The notions bounce off of Simon Broome's suspension of disbelief like insects off of a car's windshield. As he grips Cardinal's hand, he's trying to listen, trying to fathom all the things he just bore witness to. "I know that you feel responsible for your mother's death, but I can tell you Simon that what happened was an accident. You're special, Simon, more than you could ever realize just yet. I'm… I'm here because I want to save you, because I want to prove to you that I am your friend… and because…"

Cardinal's lips creep up into a hesitant smile.

"Because you and I are going to save the world."

Fifty Nine Years Later

The Reach
Lappland, Sweden

December 13th

5:53pm Local Time

“It was April 8th, 1962…”

A light snow is falling over the forested mountains beyond the insulated walls of the Reach. From Simon Broome’s personal office on the second floor, the snow-covered woodlands spread out in nearly every direction, viewed through enormous shadeless windows. Broome sits, like a monument to survival, in his wheelchair by one of the windows, looking out at the gentle falling snow.

“You came to me in the hour of my need, wild-eyed and full of possibilities.” Slowly, Broome pivots his wheelchair so he can face the man he’s speaking to easier. Richard Ray—once Cardinal, once many things—stands before him still the young man, but in a way still also the old friend.

“You told me that the Company would come after me in 1985, attempting to kill me for reasons you did not know. That I would fake my own death, and spend the remainder of my life trying to undo their work. That is how we met in the original run of history, as co-conspirators in a war waged against the Company and the United States Government that allowed them to fester like an infection.” Broome wheels over to Richard, looking up at him with tired eyes. “But you changed history. Got to me before they did… and even though you were taken off the board…”

“They still found him.” Simon and Richard aren’t alone this evening. The voice that comes from the windowless side of Simon’s office by a bookcase falls into the category of I should have fucking known when it comes to Richard’s life. It isn’t Marcus Raith, or some other government spook. But it is a ghost.


“By my best guess, in another lifetime, the Company attempted to kill Simon for his role in the event that occurred on the rooftop of the Deveaux Building on November 8th, 1984.” As Renautas walks over, forming the third point on a triangle of conspiracy, Broome does not seem surprised by his presence. “You’re looking well, Richard.”

Richard’s expression does, in fact, say I should have fucking known as he looks over to the man standing there who wasn’t there a moment ago, and then he shakes his head ever so slightly.

“I’m well,” he replies dryly, motioning to the pair with a sweep of his hand, “If haunted by ghosts, it seems.”

The ghosts that stand before him aren’t even the only ones. There’s the ghost of his alternate self whose hand he can see in every architectural twist and turn of the building they’re standing in. There’re the ghosts of the conduit, walking beside him unseen, but palpably and provably there.

He doesn’t need to dream to visit the Graveyard. There are enough ghosts in this one room for it to qualify as one.

A sigh spills past his lips, and he admits, “It makes sense that they would. Arthur tried very hard to blot out all knowledge of the Entity… I’m beginning to think she manipulated events to make it that way.”

“How long have you two been working together again?”

“Recently,” Renautas says as he crosses the room to stand by the same window Broome was at a moment ago. “I was introduced to Mr. Broome through the lovely woman Joy. She and I knew one-another from the Old Days, and she was lamenting Mr. Broome’s passing and I… happened to know better. So we shared some information and here we are.”

“Walter is an invaluable, if somewhat frustrating, asset.” Broome opines, fixing a look on Renautas that is both vexed and amused. Renautas returns it in kind. “He shared with me the results of your long investigation into the events of 1984’s Redaction, and revealed to me my own role in those events, long since forgotten. He also revealed a solution to the problem of the Entity.”

Renautas tilts his head to the side, eyes closed and hands spread. “Let’s not get too hasty. Solution may be ambitious. Let’s say, another chapter in an ongoing saga? Equally as bombastic, but promises less.”

“Oh?” Richard lifts a single eyebrow, gaze flickering between the two, “Are you referring to Amaterasu, or do you have something else in mind, Renautus?”

He hasn’t sat down yet; a hand brushing against the back of the chair, but he’s too ill-at-ease to immediately relax, even around two people that he doesn’t in honesty consider a threat to him at all. Allies, even, in their strange ways.

“And don’t think this is getting you off the hook just yet, Simon. I still have words to have with you, when we’re done planning to save the world.”

“If we’re both around when that time comes, I look forward to it.” Broome admits with an earnest smile. Though he knows both of them have a rather unpleasant habit of dying and leaving the other to finish their business like some game of hopscotch.

“Project Amaterasu, yes. The solar weapon.” Renautas says with a motion of one hand back and forth in the air. “Mr. Drucker’s brainchild, I’m afraid, isn’t the key to success alone. I do believe it’s a part of it, and the only reason the Company was able to drive off the Entity back in 1984. However, there is another key.”

Renautas looks to Broome, then Richard. “Martin Pines, codenamed Melchior, was one of the Company’s Magi. A group of operatives used in information retention and eradication. Obviously you know Caspar as Mr. Abraham’s legacy is, as it so happens, this redaction. Melchior is missing, last believed to be held in the Ziggurat of Praxis Heavy Industries before its fall… and now…” he spreads his hands. “The third Magi, Balthazar, was Alphonse Baumann whom I now believe has been in league with the Entity for some time.”

“Baumann vanished from Liberty Island when Mazdak hit it.” Broome reminds. “We have reason to believe he is an inside operative for them, but we don’t know to what end. As far as Pines goes… we need to find him.”

“Pines holds the keys to the final piece of the puzzle in defeating the Entity, an unfinished project called Umbra.” Renautas tucks his hands into his pockets. “From what we understand, Umbra would have provided some form of inoculation against the Entity’s gene-manipulation, but that’s inference. No one has actually found any hard research. We believe Pines may have the last known information on Umbra.”

Broome pivots his wheelchair to face Richard, then reclines back against the seat. “Before… the end of things, the you that I founded the Institute with started to uncover this conspiracy. I was already being shut out of your—his fears and doubts. But I know he was on to something. Something pertaining to Umbra was being assigned to our San Francisco branch office the same day as the attack on the arcology. Something… Richard intended for one person only. A scientist by the name of Adrienne Allen.”

Broome shakes his head, looking like he doesn’t know her name well. “Doctor Allen may not have ever received that correspondence, but it’s possible an archive of it still exists. We know that in 2017, Wolfhound made a copy of the Institute’s telecommunications database at the Ross Dam facility in Washington State.”

“A database once held in the mind of Hana Gitelman,” Renautas interjects. “But, alas… no more. Unfortunately, Mazdak saw fit to wipe her memory and she is, regrettably, uncooperative in her current state. What we don’t know is if Wolfhound kept a hard copy.”

“Don’t think you can get away from me by dying, old friend, we both know that one doesn’t work,” Richard observes a bit dryly, motioning towards the man with one hand before letting it fall back to rest on the back of the chair once more.

“I’ve been looking for Pines, but he was moved somewhere and then Claudia died…” He grimaces, “Slipped right through my fingers as soon as I realized who he was. I got to his home minutes late. As for Umbra, I have access to its only surviving test subject, but it’s not like I can reverse-engineer a person.”

Mostly because he doesn’t have Pete Varlane on hand.

“I can check with Wolfhound regarding any hardcopies, I have good relations with them, as I’m sure you know. And…” He glances between the men, “If it was kept in Hana’s head… hm. Someone else may have had access, and possess a backup. I can inquire with them also.”

“Allen’s in the wind, unfortunately, and I haven’t had any intel on her whereabouts reach my desk.”

“They’re all pieces of a puzzle you were trying to solve a decade ago,” Broome opines with an incline of his head toward Richard. “But the timer ran out, as did your good sense. But we, fortunately, have the good luck to be given a second chance. I can direct you to what research I know your older self was doing, where he was looking into this history. Maybe there’s threads you’ll pick up that he didn’t.”

“If there’s any particular historic detail you’d like investigated,” Renautas adds with a raise of his brows, “I’m more than willing to accommodate. I realize that the past often holds the keys to the future, and with the right people around me I can find the answers to a great many secrets.”

“If you have any records, papers, databases, anything related that he was working on…” Richard brings a hand up to rub against the bridge of his nose, “I’ll go through them. What of the Institute did you manage to salvage on your way out— do we have anything left outside this house?”

Because it seems that it is, in fact, we now.

Or again, depending on one’s point of view.

At the offer from Renautas, he pauses for a moment, “What are your limits there? I take it you can’t just pop in and talk to Pines for some reason… is there a limit of how far back you can go?”

“Within the lifetimes of the people I have as attuning,” Renautas says while Broome looks lost in thought. “My limitations are as they have always been, I can go backwards through another individuals timeline with great precision, or I can go back through the timeline of their most recent ancestor or someone to whom they had a long interpersonal connection with some precision.”

“If you want to find Martin Pines, you’ll need to find me someone related to him, or someone who knew him for a few decades.” Renautas explains. “And even then, it’s going to take a few tries to find the precise moment you want.”

Broome finally looks up from his lap when Renautas is done talking. “What you see is what we have,” he admits with a shake of his head. “Much of the Institute died in atomic fire, and what didn’t was picked clean by a flock of vultures over the course of a decade. I’ve no doubt Marcus Raith has access to some of it, but he hasn’t volunteered that information.”

“I’m aware,” says Richard, turning his head to look out to the window, drawing in a slow breath, “It seems that every time I turn around, the Institute’s work is staring me in the face, being used for… just… abominable bullshit. If it wasn’t Monroe deploying Sirens in my damn city, it was my sister waking up in an ACTS unit after being kidnapped by whoever the fuck took all those people— I don’t suppose you have any intel on that situation?”

Broome looks apologetic as he shakes his head, brows furrowed. “Unfortunately, that’s news to me as I sit here. Much of what happens in America doesn’t reach Europe at large and it isn’t as though I have an intelligence network these days.”

Richard leans back then, one hand coming up to rub between his eyes, “Okay. And Pines is out, then, almost everyone close to him is dead… we have the single successful Umbra subject, would you be able to track back through her to look for leads on the project itself?”

“Potentially.” Renautas notes with a lift of his chin. There’s something else going unsaid, but Renautas lets it linger for the time being.

Pulling out his phone, he taps it on, “Also— what’s the wifi password, I don’t have any signal in Norway or wherever we are and I need to send an email. What’s Joy’s role in all of this, anyway…? I saw her briefly in Detroit, but after we hurt the Entity enough to drive it away, she was gone.”

“We don’t have any telecommunication links in this building.” Broome says apologetically. “It’s too easy for a technopath to gain access to the facility, it was one of your—your other self’s instructions. Everything is kept quiet here.”

Though the invocation of Joy’s name elicits a deep breath from Broome, and a wander of his eyes away from Richard and over to a crackling hearth. “Joy is a longer story. One I’m not particularly proud of, either.” Broome wheels over to the fireplace, warming himself in its glow.

“It began in 1990…”

Waldo Lake
Crescent, Oregon

April 16th

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The rocky shoreline of Waldo Lake could be anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Sagging boughs of deciduous trees laden with morning dew look like so many shadows in the fog rolling in off of the water. Standing on the banks of the lake, up to her ankles in the water, Joy looks out over the mirror still placidity and pulls her arms tightly around herself. It is—has been—silent here for longer than she ever expected. In these early spring months, at dawn hours, the rocky coast of this lake is hers and hers alone. If she closes her eyes just right, just so it almost feels like—

"I hope I'm not intruding."

The voice causes Joy to wheel around, wide-eyed as she watches a woman step out from the treeline in a royal blue North Face jacket. Her boots crunch loose rocks underfoot, gray hair pinned up and out of her face. Joy braces, then slowly relaxes and looks back to the water. "I was just leaving," she starts to say, but then hesitates when the older looking woman says nothing and just follows her with cool blue eyes.

“You don’t have to be alone,” she says, and Joy hesitates in her tracks, leveling a more intense look at her. “Go ahead, you can read my mind if that’ll help you. I wager you can, with all you’ve got upstairs.” Joy either doesn’t, or it isn’t obvious when she does. Instead she asks of the stranger:

“Who are you?”

To which the gray-haired woman replies with a warm smile. “You can call me Ruby. I’m just here to help… I come in peace.” She can’t help but smile at that remark, offering her hand out to Joy. Like a feral animal, Joy looks down at the offered hand, then up to Ruby.

Now she reads her mind.

Present Day

“I first learned of Joy while pursuing a list of Evolved of interest that we had drafted before your untimely demise.” Broome explains, while Renautas wanders to the window to be on a silent periphery of the conversation. “You knew of Joy in distant future, but long after she had perished. But she was a mosaic, and gaining the assistance of a powerful mosaic to the Institute’s cause was a prime objective in the early years.”

“We tracked Joy down to a remote lake in Oregon, Ruby and I, and we were able to convince her to come to California and stay with us for a short time. What we discovered was… more than we bargained for.” Broome admits with a slow shake of his head.

“Because she knew us.

Broome Residence
The Catskill Mountains
Shandaken, NY

April 18th

“No. I want to see her before you move.”

Tethered to a cord-line wall-mounted telephone, Ruby Harper pinches the bridge of her nose with forefinger and thumb. She stands in the threshold of a small kitchen, frustratedly leaning against the door frame. “Jeremy, if you leave with her without letting me say goodbye I swear to God I will—” Her breath hitches in the back of her throat. “Jeremy? Jeremy.”

Ruby slams the phone down on the hook and exhales a strangled noise. “Motherfucker.” She growls through clenched teeth. Joy emerges from deeper in the kitchen, pressing a hand to Ruby’s shoulder in consolation. There, at the green formica kitchen table Simon Broome sits in observation of the small drama, concern evident in his dark eyes.

“Is Lynette alright?” He asks.

“Jeremy is taking her away. He says he can’t keep what’s happening to her a secret and he’s refusing our help.” Ruby’s voice tightens, her hand over her face. Joy looks at her with wide eyes, then Broome.

“Lynette will be fine.” Joy says softly. “She’s a strong girl. After all we put her through, she deserves rest.”

Ruby’s eyes open, track over to Joy, staring wide-eyed.

“What did you say?”

Present Day

“Joy kept her secrets,” Broome says with a slow shake of her head. “No mention of the Entity, presumably for our own safety. But she did explain that the Company had wiped our memories of past involvement. That they knew who Lynette was, and that be letting her father take her into rural Oklahoma may be the only way to disappear off their radar.”

Broome looks over to a crackling hearth in the room, eyes drawn to the fire. “We also learned that Joy’s mosaic ability is a curse, more so than a gift. Her body adapts to the presence of death. Whenever an Evolved dies within a hundred mile radius of her, Joy somehow gains their ability through some form of genetic manipulation. Neither she nor I fully understand how it works, and even the radius is an estimate.”

“When Joy takes on an ability from someone else, she also gains impressions of their life.” Broome explains. “Subconscious memories, echoes of who they were as a person. After having lived as long as she has—more than two hundred years—her mind is a constant battle of wills.”

At the explanation of how Joy’s power works, Richard’s eyes widen a little in horror. “Christ,” he breathes out, “And we thought Gabriel’s mosaic talent was bad.”

Broome turns to face the fire, pivoting his chair, while keeping Richard in his periphery. “Joy chose not to help found the Institute, and we didn’t press the issue with her. She wanted to be free, away from others, and I was not about to force the issue with her. But…” Broome looks up to Richard. “…something unexpected happened.”

Broome Residence

The Catskill Mountains
Shandaken, NY

April 12th

A red phone on a small end table rings in the dark.

The soft whirring sound of a motorized wheelchair heralds the arrival of Simon Broome into the dark office. A night sky of glittering stars is visible out the enormous windows in the office. Broome reaches out for the phone with a shaky hand, hesitates, then picks up the receiver and brings it to his ear.

“Who is this?” Broome asks with a hint of exasperation in his tone.

«I told you to leave me alone!» A woman on the other end of the line screams into the receiver. Broome is taken aback by the surprise, his eyes wide in recognition. He knows Joy’s voice.

«They killed—» Joy sucks in a sharp breath, «your attack dogs killed people! I would have come if you asked me. You didn't have to—»

“Joy,” Simon says with a hitch in his voice, “where are you? I didn't order anyone to find you.” Simon shakily explains, sounding as distraught and unnerved as she. “I don't even know where to look.” Fear builds inside of Broome, fear and confusion. But no surprise. The Institute had been rapidly spinning out of his control for more than a year now, this was a symptom of a greater disease.

«Simon. Simon, they survived.» Joy whines softly into the receiver. «Simon I had both of them and— Simon, what did you do!?»

“I haven’t ordered any retrievers to go after you. Where were—” Simon changes his mind. “Joy, tell me where you are. Stay where you are and I’ll come get you. I don’t know what happened, but we’ll make it right.”

«Simon, please Simon you have to remember. Please, I just need you to remember what we did. We needed them. We needed to keep them safe and you— your people—» Joy’s voice cracks as she struggles to maintain a ragged sob.

“Joy, you’re not making any sense. What did I forget? Tell me. I just want to help you.” Broome implores. By now the urgency of the conversation has roused Ruby from her sleep, and as she steps into the doorway of the office, Broome muffles the receiver with his palm.

“Simon, who is that?” Ruby asks with concern in her voice. Broome shakes his head. He can hear Joy trying to say something and brings the receiver back to his ear, waving Ruby off.

«Simon,» Joy croaks through the receiver, «where are you?» For a moment, Broome hesitates and looks at Ruby. There is tension in him, anxiety, and then acceptance as he brings the phone back up to his mouth.

“My house, in the mountains. You know the one.” Broome pauses, hearing nothing on the other end of the line. “Joy?”

Ruby’s sudden and fraught gasp has Broome turning around in his wheelchair, where Joy stands just feet away from him, her eyes gleaming gold in the dark, grime caked to her cheeks and bare feet filthy on the floor.

“Simon.” Joy says with a tightness in her throat and rage in her eyes.

Present Day

“Someone within the Institute had sent Retrievers to the Ferrymen commune in Ascensión,” Broome explains, his eyes distant and unfocused. “I don’t know whether it was a DoEA operations manager or someone from Kravid’s department. The Institute had grown so large and I had so… little control over it.” Simon slouches to the side in his wheelchair, elbow on the armrest, head in his hand.

“Joy was livid,” Broome explains, “and it took her scanning my thoughts to prove to her that I didn’t send a team after her. She never explained what she had been trying to explain to me in such a panic on the phone, she simply demanded that I bring her to a girl they recovered from the commune. One who had been fatally wounded, but Joy had been able to bring back to life before escaping the Retrievers.”

“Her name was Nathalie LeRoux,” Broome says, without any sense of the weight that may carry to Richard. “To this day Joy has never explained why the girl mattered so much to her, only that she needed to take care of her. Joy requested that she be placed into stasis within an ACTS unit but not be negated. After some discussion we complied, and she was put into a medicated coma. We believe Joy may have been telepathically visiting the girl, who was undergoing… experiments at the request of the DoEA.”

“I know why,” Richard says softly, but he doesn’t interrupt the older man, leaning forward with hands clasped together, focused on the tale unfolding.

Broome realizes how horrible that sounds and he drags a hand down his face. “When the Institute collapsed, I assumed Joy had died in the resulting meltdown. But then, a few days later, Joy contacted me…”

Broome Residence

The Catskill Mountains
Shandaken, NY

November 10th

«It’s me.»

Holding a red phone his ear, Simon Broome looks like he’d seen a ghost. Joy’s voice is juxtaposed to the soft din of news coverage on the television in the corner of his office, showing carnage across the United States. Riot police clashing with civilians, military police pushing back walls of protestors.

“Jesus Christ,” Broome uncharacteristically curses, “you’re alive?”

«I'm… things… have been…» Joy’s voice is a struggling quaver on the other end of the phone. Broome’s heart sinks as he hears it, jaw trembles.

“Where are you?” He asks immediately.

«Cambridge.» Joy replies. Broome’s stomach sinks into the pit of his bowels.

“Aren't—” Broome cuts himself off, looking to the television. “Isn't that a war zone right now? The riots!” He tenses, looks back to the desk with eyes searching from side to side. “Are you safe?”

«For now. I'm—»

“Are you coping?” Broome asks pointedly. “Can you get out of there?”

«I’m overwhelmed.» Joy whines into the phone. «It’s— s-so much.»

“Joy. You have to get out of there.” Broome insists, looking around his office, waiting for her to simply appear next to him. But then, something in him twists, a knot of doubt. Suddenly, Broome doubts the safety of his own home. What could he do to protect her? He can barely protect himself.

«I don't think I can. I'm— having trouble concentrating.» Joy’s response kills Broome’s notion where it stands, far quicker than doubt. «Everyone’s voices,» Joy’s voice trembles. «All at once.» Then, in a whisper. «They’re so scared.»

“Can you get to me? I can put you to sleep again.” Broome asks, though he isn’t sure it’s enough. He struggles to find a solution.

«I don’t… I don’t know.» Joy whimpers into the phone, disoriented. «The— when the security alert went off, it… the door opened.»

“For your safety.” Broome tries to reassure her, relieved that the humanitarian protocols in the containment rooms triggered during the collapse of the Institute. In a way, knowing that some people may have escaped beyond those the Ferrymen were able to rescue set him at some measure of ease. “You need to get as far away from there as possible, Joy.”


That question has Broome stumped. Even if she made it to the Catskills, he had no way to be sure if he could protect her. Let alone if the small medical facility here would be substantial enough to keep her sedated. But then, deep down, he’d always known the real answer.

“There's only one place I can think you'd be safe.” Broome says with a dawning certainty. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Joy.” A passphrase he had explained to her so long ago as to be a distant memory now.

«Y-you. Told me. Not to.»

“He won't betray you.” Broome pleads with her. Even after all this time, he has faith in only one person. “I trust him. Implicitly.”

«I don't know if I can do it, Simon.»

“You can.” Broome asserts. “Find Richard.”

“Find the end of the Yellow Brick Road.”

Present Day

Broome ends his retelling of events with a deep sigh. “Obviously, things didn’t work out as we had hoped. It would appear that Joy never made it to you. She’s been unwilling to explain the why of it. But that will make more sense shortly. There’s a few more pages in the story before we get to the current chapter.”

Wheeling away from the fireplace, Broome comes to rest beside Richard again. “I didn’t hear from Joy again for seven years…”

Broome Residence

The Catskill Mountains
Shandaken, NY

May 24th

Standing in the kitchen near a percolating coffee pot, Ruby Harper offers a look across the counter to her grandson. “Do you know when the movers for the medical equipment are coming?”

Nolan offers a shake of his head, folding his hands and leaning forward against the other side of the island’s countertop. “Next week sometime? I’ve already called your Realtor contact, she wants to make sure we give the place a full scrub down for fingerprints and DNA before she puts it on the market.”

“Oh, I’m not going to get rid of this place yet. There’s a few people I’d like to invite out here before that happens.” Ruby notes, and just as she says that the landline phone mounted on the kitchen wall starts to ring.

“That’s… still hooked up?” Nolan asks with a side-eye to the phone.

“It’s… not.” Ruby says hesitantly, approaching the phone as it rings. “There hasn’t been electricity or phone service out here since the war.” As she reaches out for the phone, Nolan gives her a look.

Grammy,” Nolan implores. “Don’t.”

Ruby gives him a look and picks it up anyway. “Hello? I'm sorry you probably have the wrong–”

«Ruby?» Joy’s voice on the other end of the line is like a knife to Ruby’s heart.

“Joy?” Ruby enunciates with a wide-eyed look to Nolan, who vaults the island counter. He slides across the countertop to the other side and comes up against the wall beside his grandmother as she holds the phone away from her ear so he can listen too.

«I don’t have much time.» Joy says tersely.

“Joy, you're alive! Where are you?” Ruby asks, and Nolan pulls a satellite phone out from his jacket pocket, pulling up a voice recorder app and setting it to record as he holds it up near the phone.

«I can't… I can't.» Joy says with a hitch in her voice, whispering. «Ruby, I need you to deliver a set of coordinates. 35.371068, 77.558093.»

Ruby’s brows furrow and Nolan squints at the delivery of coordinates over the phone. “Joy, what is this?” Ruby asks. “I can get help.”

«No.» Joy says flatly. «You can’t.»

“Joy.” Ruby’s voice tightens, her tone assertive. Don’t do this, she all but says.

«I’m sorry.» Joy says on the other end of the line before the phone goes dead. Nolan is already pacing around, looking at his phone, thumbs moving wildly across the screen.

“She cut the line,” Ruby says, hanging up the phone. “I can’t believe it,” she says exasperatedly. “She’s alive.”

“Gramma?” Nolan asks, looking up from his phone to Ruby. “What’s in India?”

Ruby narrows her eyes. “What?”

Nolan holds up his phone, showing a pin in a snowy mountain range. “Because that’s what the coordinates lead.”

Present Day

“The coordinates,” Broome explains, wheeling over to his desk to open a drawer where he removes a small wood humidor, “were to a vault hidden near the Mamostrong Kangri peak in the Karakoram Mountains of India on its border with China. One of the most remote places in the world.”

Broome wheels back over to Richard with the humidor in his lap. At the mention of the vault, Renautas slowly turns around with one brow raised, suddenly more interested in the conversation.

“By the time we were able to send anyone out to investigate the coordinates, someone else had gotten to the vault before us.” Broome explains. “It once belonged to Kaito Nakamura and contained unknown treasures of the Nakamura family. It had been largely cleared out except for this box.” He says, holding the humidor up.

“I believe it was meant for you.” Broome says, offering it out to Richard.

It’s a lot to digest, and Richard is still mentally turning over some of that information before he realizes what’s being brought over in his direction. It isn’t the first humidor that had dropped to his life filled with mysteries, but the others had all had the same origin.

A breath catches in his lungs, and he stares at it for a moment before reaching out to accept the box, setting it down on his lap. He stares at it for a moment before muttering to himself, “Well, Pandora never hesitated, I suppose— “

And he opens the box.

Fifty-Five Years Earlier

Elizabeth, New Jersey

July 11th

Richard Ezekiel Cardinal lays beneath the body of a 1963 Fort pickup truck currently up on a jack. The soft sound of the Beatles plays over a radio set on top of a wheeled toolbox. As he works on the truck’s muffler, Richard fails to notice a disturbance in the air of his garage, fails to notice the sound of footsteps until he sees feet from under the truck.

Richard collapses into a sheet of darkness in an instant, slithering up through the vehicle and erupting out from under the hood like a cloud of locusts. The shadow form solidifies into the shape of a man, one hand grabbing the intruder by the throat and using his momentum to force him against the closed garage door with a clang of the metal frame. The intruder grunts as he hits the door, then locks dark eyes on Richard, who feels the cold steel of a sword blade against the side of his throat.

Richard freezes in his tracks, eyes wide, breath hitched in the back of his throat as he recognizes the intruder.


Present Day

Inside the box is a newspaper clipping from the New York Times. The article reads:

Two Dissidents Killed in DHS Operation

CARSON CITY, NEVADA—Two anti-government dissidents were killed following an altercation with DHS Agents. The Department of Homeland Security was alerted to the presence of two anti-government dissidents earlier in the week thanks to a tip from a neighbor who recognized one of the tenants from a local news bulletin.

The dissidents, believed to be Gillian Childs and her son Nathan, were members of the notorious Phoenix organization responsible for the bombing of the Department of Evolved Affairs Detention Center in Quincy, Massachusetts just last year.

It is unknown if

The article cuts off there. It’s only on reading it that Richard sees the date line on the top of the yellowed scrap of paper that reads:

July 11th, 2023

Below the article is a tarnished necklace. A Maori hei-matau, a necklace Richard had seen before around the neck of Walter Trafford in his adult iteration from the future and also reflected in the corporate symbol of the Deveaux Society.

A hand-written note on the back of the article reads:

“You still owe me.”

It’s Hiro’s handwriting.


Richard’s brow furrows as he looks over the article; timeline unknown, but given the existence of the DOEA and the age of the box, likely the Wasteland? The necklace is regarded with bemusement, and then he turns the scrap over. It’s not what he expected, and not who he expected it from, and brings only more questions.

“Is this— what? Hiro? I haven’t seen him in— years…”

Broome doesn’t seem surprised that Richard has no answers. “We don’t know who cleaned out the vault, but we presume it was Yamagato Industries. Joy warned us that there was an encoded Penny in the vault containing Adam Monroe’s memories, redacted during the events of the 1980s. But it was gone.”

“Whoever cleaned out the vault made sure to leave that, however.” Broome explains, motioning to the necklace. “I wouldn’t hear from Joy again until Walter here brought her to my doorstep.” And with that, Broome invites Renautas to finish the tale, such as it was.

Renautas pulls away from the window, nodding and offering a smile to the two. “Ah yes. Joy and I became acquainted with one-another during my forays through history to find the truth behind the Entity and the redaction. She was able to perceive me and had become something of an ally in my search for the truth.”

“When I uncovered the events of November 8th, 1984 I returned to her with my understanding of the sequence of events, many of which she was not party to in that age.” Renautas notes with a small shrug. “I determined that the next realistic course of action was to reunite the individuals responsible for the Entity’s imprisonment the first time, and we came here when we realized one overlap was Mr. Broome.”

“Regretfully…” Simon says with a shake of his head, “I can’t be of help in the ways I once was. I had the other Richard remove my ability and transfer it to a copy of myself that was running the Institute as my health declined. He perished in the collapse of the arcology, and with it took my ability with him. But, if the goal is to find a replacement… I can be helpful in outlining what I could do in the search for another.”

“I can only assume that someone returned the penny to Monroe, since he certainly seemed to have his memories back,” admits Richard, setting the paper back down in the box. He reaches for the necklace, then pauses before shutting the humidor.

Best not to disturb it. A psychometer might be able to determine more.

“Much like myself, your strength was never in your ability, Simon,” he says a bit wryly, “And in any case, I think that we can’t continue to just try and shove it back in its box every few decades — it’s obvious at this point that’s not a workable solution. If anything, it’s counterproductive. Still, if you know of a replacement, we may still be able to use those tactics against it…”

He leans back in his chair, eyes closing for a moment, “Even if we can gather all the weapons and abilities that the Company used against it… it knows those tactics now. We need to find a way to eliminate it for good.”

“Mr. Raith was of the same mind.” Renautas notes with a lift of one brow, turning to regard Richard out of the corner of his eye. “Which I suppose brings us to the conundrum we find ourselves in, one which in time we’ll need to come to a solution.”

“Presumably after we’ve forestalled the end of the world,” Broome admits with an only half-serious smile.

“Yes, presumably so.” Renautas adjusts the lapels of his suit. “As my part in this storytelling is complete, I would like to depart for a time to explore a personal matter. But, like a bad penny, I will return.” He says with a crooked smile and a laugh before simply disappearing.

Broome breathes in deeply and then exhales a sigh, looking to Richard. “There was one other thing…”

“That… that was a terrible pun, Walter,” Richard says, too late, though he lets out a chuff of laughter anyway.

Sitting back up, he looks to Simon with a wry expression, “Only one?”

“Well…” Broome’s expression shifts to one more awkward before he looks up to Richard and wheels closer. “It’s something personal, and I know you’re already grappling with a lot. But…” Simon breathes in deeply, then exhales a sigh.

“You, I am certain, are aware that Peyton Whitney’s son is Richard’s. But…” Broome’s eyes avert to his lap, hands wringing. “He had two sons.”

Oh, he’s aware, and it’s something that’s made his relationship with Peyton very awkward - and something that both of them prefer not to mention. Richard just stares at Broome for a long moment, then draws in a slow breath, a hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“Why do I get the feeling,” he says tightly, “That you’re not referring to Joshua?”

“Two sons in this timeline.” Broome affirms. “…and this is where it gets complicated.”

Fifty-Five Years Earlier

Elizabeth, New Jersey

July 11th

“Surprised to see me?” Hiro says with a smile.

Richard unwinds his fingers from Hiro’s collar, stepping away and looking him up and down. “If you were here to kill me I figure you would’ve just frozen time and run me through. So if Walter didn’t send you…”

“This isn’t about that.” Hiro says with a shake of his head. “This isn’t about something as petty as revenge for a misdeed or a slight. It’s about the future.” That bit of tantalizing vagueness causes Richard to raise one brow.

“Come,” Hiro says, motioning with his head to the door into Richard’s house.

“Sure, yeah, come right on in Hiro.” Richard grouses in a sarcastic tone. “Make yourself at home!

Hiro opens the door to the kitchen, stepping out of the garage. As he does, Richard is confronted by two people sitting at the kitchen table, one of whom is a boy no older than 11 or 12 sitting facing him as soon as he comes in. Hiro steps to the side, revealing the dark-haired woman sitting with her back to the garage door.

“Hell… o.” Richard awkwardly says, reaching up to scratch at the back of his neck. But when the woman turns around to look back at him, Richard’s heart freezes in his chest and his blood runs as cold as ice.

“Hi Cardinal.”

wf_gillian2_icon.gif wf_nate_icon.gif

Present Day

“Hiro Nakamura had found them stranded in the past from where they should be.” Broome explains, his head hung. “You never explained to me why or how Hiro brought them to you, it’s possible he asked you not to. I don’t know.”

Broome settles back in his wheelchair, looking fatigued from the whole exchange. “But you raised her son as your own, and for a time you and Gillian were… happy together. After your death in 1977, she took her son and left. I kept an eye on her up until she passed away in 2002. Her son is still alive today. He had a daughter who fought and died in the war.”

“Gillian’s son was one of the financial backers of the Ferrymen in their early days and an ally of the Deveaux Society. He goes by the name Athan Stone to cover his identity.” Broome explains. “He lives in Kansas City.”

Richard slumps back in his seat, one hand lifting to rub over his face. “Gillian… Christ,” he murmurs, “Her and I were close for awhile, but— “

A breath’s drawn in, exhaled in a heavy sigh, “Christ Almighty. Does he know?” He looks back, fixing Simon with a questioning look.

“He knew everything,” Broome affirms with a nod. “Where you came from, the danger of the future. You raised him as you would’ve raised your own flesh and blood son, trained him. After you were resurrected you and he met, though I don’t know any details. Family life was always a challenging topic for you.”

Broome smiles in sympathy, sighing softly. “He’s a smart, capable man. I don’t know if the Deveaux Society knew who he was, but I know he was close to Claudia Zimmerman in recent years. So… maybe.”

“If I raised him, I doubt it,” Richard admits a bit wryly, “I know how not to disturb the timestream too much, and… the three witches needed someone watching them more than another pair of hands to work with them.”

“He’d be…” A sigh, “He’d be more my son than Jonah is, even if… not really. Fuck. I guess I should… reach out? Or something?” He waves a hand a bit, vaguely in the air.

“He’s waited this long,” Broome says with an understanding smile, “he can wait until you’re ready, I wager. It’s a trouble for another day, for sure, but I do have his address and can supply it to you for when you are ready.”

Broome wheels his chair away from Richard, then looks out the window. “For now, I… I really should rest. I don’t know how many years I have left at this rate, but I’m trying to make the most of them.”

“Aren’t we all?” Richard pushes himself up to his feet, drawing in a deep breath, “I should go see if Joy’s willing to talk to me anyway. If she was protecting Nathalie…”

He leaves that to trail off, shaking his head and offering a faint smile over, “Go get some sleep, old friend. We’ve got a world to save, after all.”

Broome smiles, nervous at first but then more full-hearted.

“Some things never change.”

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