The Nothing


mateo_icon.gif lynette_icon.gif voss_icon.gif

Scene Title The Nothing
Synopsis SESA calls in a last-ditch favor to try an understand the anomaly.
Date September 11, 2019

Out the window, through a sheet of tinted glass, the world is nothing but gray.

“I just wanted to thank you again for volunteering.”

Everything as far as the eye can see is dead, reduced to nothing more than lifeless husks. Trees are flattened to the ground, blown back like matchsticks, dusted in a fine coat of powdery ash. It floats in the air, too, drifting like heavy flakes of snow. This is what Purgatory must look like, crosses Mateo Ruiz’s mind as he watches the lifeless landscape roll past.

“Given everything that happened to you and your wife.”

The road out here was a long one, but there was something in his bones — an inescapable ache — that implied this was the only way the road could go. Once, choices seemed infinite, and all of history stretched out like a tapestry around him. Now, the truth of time is laid bare. Entropy is the only constant.

All things die.

In time.

The Quarantine Zone

Just Outside Plumstead Township
New Jersey
September 11th
3:33 pm

“I’m sorry about the clandestine nature of this meeting.” Kristopher Voss has been little other than opaque since appearing in person at the Ruiz residence earlier today. “It’s a matter of national security and, given the particulars of your former ability and your miraculous survival in New Mexico, we… “ Voss’ eyes avert to his lap, brows furrowed. He’s frustrated. He doesn’t want to do this.

Exhaling a sigh, Voss tugs off his gloves and throws them down to the seat beside himself as the SUV continues to crawl through the desolate landscape at slow speeds. “SESA is being faced with something that defies explanation,” Voss candidly admits, “the NDAs, the security clearances, it’s a large matter. One we’ve thrown everything we have at and… came back lacking.”

Sitting back against the bench seat of the Yamagato Lapis’ interior, Voss folds his hands in his lap. “I’d prefer if we saved the question and answer until we reach the site, but…” he looks away, out to the windows. “Lightning round,” Voss says with a quick look to Lynette, seated at Mateo’s side, to see if she got the joke.


She got the joke.

Lynette turns away from the window to look over at Voss, her eyebrow lifted as she lets him sit with that pun for a moment. But it is only a moment, seeing as this has all been extremely serious in a time when she hoped they were post extremely serious visits from the government.

"Is this a save the world situation or a save New Jersey situation?" She looks over at Mateo, putting her hand over his. "If we can spare our children another trauma, we'd love to be able to do that." Her tone is light, but the intent runs much deeper. She needs to know if there's somewhere far enough away she can put her kids to keep them safe. Just in case.

Usually, government agencies don't approach private citizens unless they've genuinely run out of options.

“And what exactly does this have to do with my… old ability,” Mateo no longer attempted to hide what he used to be able to do, half because he could no longer do it anymore. It had been part of that whole redacted situation after all, it wasn’t like it was something that most the world needed to know. He hadn’t even been sure how it worked exactly, just that it no longer did. His head had finally been his own, something he hadn’t experienced in much of either life. Except when negated or when he could hear the buzz of all the electricity in the air instead.

The answer to his wife’s question was very important too.

“We’ll do whatever we can to help, either way,” he adds after a moment, nodding toward his wife. Parts of New Jersey had a significance to them, after all. They had spent probably the best couple of years of their lives there, together, in another world.

He just wished he knew that he could definitely help. Glancing out the window he looked into the distance, lips pressing together in thought.

That feeling wasn’t going away.

Mmn,” Voss vocalizes as one corner of his mouth twitches up in a restrained smile. “Right now we classify this as an observation. Nothing appears to need immediate saving, but we’re on… let's call it a sliding scale of danger. The longer this anomaly goes on, the further toward the save the world end we might go. Might.” Voss creases his brows. “This is all guesswork, I'm pretty sure there's a physicist somewhere feverishly rewriting the laws of the universe based on what we’re dealing with here.”

Out the windows, Ruiz and Lynette see the SUV pass by a line of armored personnel carriers for the military police. Sawhorse blockades are next, followed by yellow-jacketed soldiers wearing respirator masks. Voss glances out of the SUB over the frames of his glasses, then turns his attention to Mateo.

“We’re not sure if this has anything to do with your ability, per-se, but we've discovered an anomaly at the heart of the blast radius that… in many ways is reminiscent of that thing you used to be able to do. El Umbral, was it?” Voss adjusts his glasses. “Given how it interacted with your subconscious, with Mrs. Ruiz’s ability, and that your blood tests still come up positive for the Suresh Linkage-Complex, we’re hoping for a Hail Mary here.”

The SUV slows to a stop and outside the window there is nothing. A gradual bowl depression in the ground a mile across and flattened trees as far as the eye can see laid out like matchsticks. Voss reaches under his seat and pulls out two visored respirator masks and holds them out to Ruiz and Lynette.

“Why don't we introduce you to it?”

The Anomaly

Just Outside Plumstead Township

New Jersey

September 11th

3:48 pm

The world outside the SUV is like an alien landscape. On the walk down from the edge of the blast zone it feels like entering another world all together. The sky is hazy and gray here, even though it was sunny when they first drove in. Ash falls from the sky in thick flakes, clinging to clothing and hair. Underfoot the vegetation is dry and dead; not burned, but crumbling and ashen. It feels different than the aftermath of a fire.

“What we’re dealing with here is something not of this world,” Voss explains on the way down, his voice muffled by his respirator mask. “The day of the explosion we arrived on scene to find that…” Voss stops, motions to the center of the blast area where metal scaffolding has been erected in a cube around something. Between the metal framework white nylon fabric is stretched taut like a canvas. Large brass dishes are arranged around the framework, reflecting light from large bonfires on the area, lighting up the gloom.

“The first agent who saw what's behind that barrier said they heard voices coming out of the anomaly. Another agent who stared into it for too long went catatonic and hasn't come out of their coma yet. Whatever it is, it drains electricity out of all electronic devices within a 300-foot radius.” Which is where Voss stops, at an area cordoned off by yellow and black hazard tape, partitioning the outskirts of the blast radius from the small camp of tents surrounding the shielded anomaly.

Voss turns, looking to Lynette. “Now,” he says to her, “our first measure of business is your safety. We don't know what this might do with your power taken into account. So, if at any point you feel unwell or unsafe, you let me know and we’ll pull you out.”

Mateo can only partly hear what Voss is saying. Because there is a dull hiss in the air around him, a susurrus of whispers slithering unseen. It isn't the roar of El Umbral, but whatever it is, whatever is behind those screens…

…it's related.

Introduce is a troubling word, especially when used in conjunction with El Umbral. Lynette had hoped, with the power disappearing from both Mateo and herself, that it was over.

More the fool, her.

She settles the respirator over her face before they step out, her attention on Voss as they walk toward the blast zone. The sight of the vegetation makes her pause and crouch down to feel the dead plants between her fingers before she stands to carry on. The ash catching in her hair and against her clothes reminds her of too many battlefields across too many lives. She can almost see fallen comrades in the haze and hear firefights beyond.

When she finds it hard to breathe, it's nothing the respirator can help with.

"Well, Deputy Director," she says, turning back to Voss, "in the months leading up to… the crossing, there were numerous breaches from timeline to timeline. Memories slipped through, people slipped through, unknowable entities from beyond time, so on, so forth." Being flippant is her defense mechanism. "It stands to reason— as much as reason still applies— that those rifts might not all close perfectly in the aftermath. Or that the… walls between timelines might still be weak enough that something with enough power could tear them open again."

Turning toward Mateo, she puts a hand on his back in a gentle show of support.

It wasn’t the roar, but after months and months of silence, it definitely started to creep up on him like a whisper that sent gooseflesh rising on his arms. Mateo’s breathing through the respirator sounds a little heavier than it probably should the closer they get, as if he’s having difficulty like his wife. In some ways it’s for different reasons. In some ways it’s for the same. How many had they met and left behind in those other worlds? How many had his ability killed? And how many dead had been sent adrift into whatever had been on the other side of the threshold the many times he had used El Umbral though the course of both lifetimes.

He doesn’t say anything until he feels the hand against his back, leaning against it.

“This is… different. But similar. El Umbral drained electricity around it as well, it needed to in order to open, I think. That’s why we had needed Lynette and I together in New Mexico.” And on the other side, as well. It might not have been possible without all four of them. It also might not have been possible without his mother being present on both sides, and without that girl who created the sound modulation. It had required so much to cause…

Whatever had caused this was more than all of them together. That much he could tell.

El Umbral was always loud.” Even when it wasn’t open. But this…

He hesitated a moment, then tried to remember everything he hadn’t quite heard all of, “You want me to go in there…” he clarifies, but without really questioning it. With a slower inhale, he nods, then looks at his wife. “Will you stay out here to pull me out?”

“Let’s take this one step at a time,” Voss says, pulling a pair of black, rectangular badges from his pocket to match one that’s clipped on to the lapel of his jacket. He puts one on Lynette and one on Mateo. “These are…” Voss carefully considers his explanation, “just periodically check to make sure it’s still on you. We’ve had some spatio-temporal disturbances even in the vicinity of the anomaly. If you look down and it’s missing,” he spreads his hands, “just stay where you are and call for assistance.”

Voss turns to look over at the enclosure surrounding the anomaly. “We can get a little closer,” he suggests, leading Lynette and Mateo past several scientists in full-body hazardous materials suits, writing on clipboards with pencils and comparing notes. “I’d like for you to tell me what you think it is, and if you think there might be a way to close it. Some birds flew into it before we got the enclosure up, never came back out. We’re not sure if it’s a portal or just…” he shrugs, helplessly. “I don’t even know what else it would be. But there’s nothing on the other side. If there is another side.”

He ends his approach at a clipped flap keeping the white-cloth enclosure closed, like the flap on a tent. Even at this distance, Mateo can feel something in his arms, in his bones, behind his eyes. It’s like a vibration, a low hum that vibrates all the way up to his teeth and leaves his ears softly ringing. Lynette feels the proximity differently, it’s like being in front of a jet engine, threatening to suck her in. There’s a feeling like something is pulling at everything under her flesh, like a vacuum is pulling her forward even though she isn’t moving.

“What I don’t want is you to take any unnecessary risks,” Voss says carefully, motioning to the flap. “You only go in there if you feel comfortable.”

Lynette reaches up to touch the odd badge Voss gives her, nodding solemnly to his instructions. She doesn't seem to hesitate in moving closer, though, even with tales of their disturbances in the area. She doesn't respond to him, though, not with that pull from the anomaly. Part of her is glad it isn't drawing around them everything in like El Umbral did, but most of her is worried at feeling anything like it at all. Her hand rubs at her arm, an attempt at soothing herself and perhaps checking to make sure she's actually okay.

"No," Lynette says to Mateo's question, "if you go in there, I'm going with you. Together, that's how we do this." She won't lose him again. Can't. She's watched him die too many times already. "It feels familiar," she says, tone shifting to something more clinical, "maybe it's some sort of echo of what happened in New Mexico. It feels like it wants more energy." That's how she'll word the growing worry that she might end up sucked back into it, back between timelines. "When we needed to close a portal in an emergency, we'd pull the energy out of it. An energy manipulator might be able to do something. It could hurt, though."

To be honest, Mateo knew better than to expect his wife to let him go in alone, so he just nods in response. He still might have hoped she would stay on the outside, in case anything went wrong, but he also knew he’d rather have her at his side if something did. That nagging feeling kept digging into his skull, he’d been used to the sound of the universes grinding away in the back of his mind, but this was different. It had been quiet for so long, perhaps he had forgotten what it felt like?

“I think I have to go in there— I think we have to,” he adds after a second thought, since the we will happen either way. “If you feel anything strange, just let me know and we’ll get out,” he continues, looking at Lynette even if his voice is a little muffled, his eyes dark and serious. The way his hand squeezes hers might tell her he’s worried, even if his eyes hadn’t already given him away. She knew him better than anyone. All of him.

“I don’t know for sure what it is, but it does feel— I can feel it. In a way I haven’t felt anything since… since earlier this year.” Since his birthday. Or at least his rebirthday? One of him had lost that ability for a time, but the other had never lost it, never even been negated for long periods of time. That feeling had been a consistent part of the life he could remember. “If I get closer I might be able to… do something. If not someone who can pull energy out might have a chance.” But he would hate to see what would happen to the person who had to hold that much energy.

“Do you know what happened here? Did someone… make this?” His first thought was someone messing around with Looking Glass again, but he assumed Richard Ray had learned his lesson when the robots tried to descend upon them on the rooftop.

Voss shakes his head slowly. “The most we know is there was an explosion here. We've found some skeletal remains, not identified. Also some spent shell casings and body armor. The locals in Providence were unhelpful when questioned, but I don't think they knew much to begin with.” Walking to the entrance of the enclosure, Voss adjusts his respirator mask and checks his badge, then checks Lynette and Mateo’s. Sucking in a deep breath he nods, then opens up the flap to reveal a small plastic-covered area beyond with another opaque flap and butchers curtains on the other side.

“This is as far as I go,” Voss explains, “I know I'd just get in the way.” He looks at Mateo and Lynette. “You're sure you want to do this?”

Lynette puts her hand on Mateo's face, her thumb brushing against his skin. She's worried, too. They know better than anyone how bad this could go, but she also knows that if they can help… they have to.

Her father will take good care of the children, should the worst happen. Maybe without that reassurance, she wouldn't be as driven to help. But as things stand…

She turns to look at Voss. His question is a good one, but her response comes in a crooked, wistful smile. "Wish us luck," she says before stepping in toward the curtains.

Would the right answer be no he’s not sure? Cause that is what Mateo Ruiz wants to say in response, a small quirk of a smile unseen under his mask as he glances over at his wife, definitely the more confident of the two. She doesn’t feel what he does, but he also knows that she wouldn’t leave his side even if he tried to make her, which he wouldn’t. “We’ll be back,” he offers after a moment, trying to sound as confident as she does.

With a motion, he ducks around the curtains, holding it open for her, as he steps into the nothingness that still somehow calls to him like a long-forgotten friend.

Or an enemy.

The initial space beyond the curtain feels interstitial. A chamber of white vinyl sheets with a hard dirt floor caked with ash. As Lynette and Ruiz move through the butchers curtains into the next space, the entire tented dome opens up and yet at the same time feels claustrophobic because of the presence in its middle. What rests in the center of this enclosure is like something out of a dream or a nightmare. It is a blind spot hovering some six feet off the ground, black in the middle and trimmed with bruise-like shades of violet and yellow with hints of mottled green. It hurts to look at, causes a sense of vertigo as if an observer could simply fall inside.

The anomaly undulates, churns slowly, but is otherwise silent. Nonetheless Lynette can feel its presence in her bones, a forward tugging sensation that prickles her skin and causes the hair on the back of her neck to stand on end. Mateo can feel it too, but in reverse. He doesn’t feel a pull, but rather a pressure. Like a weight that’s been set on his chest making it hard to breathe. But the anomaly is unmoving, a hazy spot of blindness rippling with opalescent distortion around its edges. A one-dimensional spot in a three-dimensional world, always facing the viewer no matter what angle they view it at.

But it is not entirely alien. This blackness, this blot, it is the protoform of Mateo’s old ability. The darkness that appears a moment before his vortexes open, usually only visible for an instant before splitting wide open. But here, now, it lives in a sort of stasis between open and closed. The adjacent room wasn’t the only interstitial space. This thing is too.

It’s a wound between here and everywhere else.

Lynette takes in a breath when she sees the anomaly. It takes her a few moments to convince herself to step any closer. Instead, she circles around it, unsettled by how it seems to move with her. Or rather, how it seems not to change at all from whatever angle she sees it from. Her eyes squeeze closed as she rubs at her forehead.

Nothing about this is pleasant.

And yet. She can feel that pull and she steps toward it without thinking about it, her hand reaching out. She doesn't really want to look at it, but also can't seem to resist getting a little closer. And a little closer.

"Well, I wish we could say we've never seen anything like it," she comments, dryly. "I was hoping when we were done traveling, the divide between the timelines would heal."

They definitely have seen something similar. Different, but very, very similar. Mateo presses a hand against his chest as if that will help, hoping it’s not the same thing that affected him on his trip between the world of the plague and the world where he met his wife all over again. He hadn’t had any heart issues since, but he also wasn’t the one who opened the portal between worlds after that one. Only that last one, but he had help on the other side and he’s not sure how much of him was that Ruiz and how much of him was the one born in this world.

“I can try to close it,” he says in a voice that’s almost too quiet to hear over everything else, sounding unsure. It’s been months since he had anything to close— months since he’d heard the noise and felt the push and pull and pressure. He didn’t know if there was anything he could do, anymore, though his blood tests showed he should be able to do something. It could be similar, but changed, like his wife’s.

The gloved hand reaches over to find Lynette’s hand as if squeezing her hand might help him concentrate. And it did. “This must be what the Aleph looked like,” he references one of the stories from an author they had in common in multiple worlds. Only much bigger. With a slow inhale, he looks into it, as if trying to find it’s center, an anchor, something, and as he exhales he tries to imagine it closing, the energy pulling out of it. That’s how he used to do it, in the old days.

Mateo’s grip on Lynette’s hand arrests her unconscious forward movement. It's only then that she realizes she'd taken a few steps toward the anomaly. A momentary vertigo comes over her, at the same time she can feel that exchange of energy moving through herself and Mateo, something symbiotic and interlinked. They had been more connected now than ever.

As Mateo reaches out for the anomaly, it starts to take on a more rounded appearance. Light seems to regard it as though it were solid, and it begins to look more spherical than one-dimensional. It reacts to Mateo, and that much is as tantalizing as it is terrifying. He can feel this blot like it was a part of himself, something severed and lost. But as he starts to collapse it inward and draw power from it, the noise it is making becomes clearer. Like a radio being tuned away from static.

It's voices.

It's over!” Mateo and Lynette can both hear echo from within that darkness. “Karin, we need Mateo!

The voice is unfamiliar, but hearing his own name echo up from a yawning abyss sends a chill down Mateo’s spine.

Lynette lets out a breath when Mateo takes her hand and she notices what she's been doing. A shudder runs down her back and she steps closer to Mateo— her anchor, always. Her hand squeezes his in encouragement and support for his attempt. She looks back at the wound when he mentions the Aleph and she tips her head in a nod. "I don't recall the Aleph actually helping anyone who looked in it," she says, her tone lighter than she feels, but she doesn't want to give into the pit forming in her stomach.

And then she hears it.

Mateo's name is obviously unsettling to hear, but perhaps not so strange. When she gazed into time itself, it was centered around him— although she doesn't discount that that may have been her influence over its focus. Karin though, that's a name she hasn't heard in a long time. Hasn't wanted to hear in a long time. Her head shakes. Coincidence, surely.

"I'm here," she whispers to her husband, because she tries to be his anchor, too.

“We’ll try not to go crazy, then,” Mateo responds quietly to the words about the Aleph, though hearing voices probably wasn’t a good start to avoiding that outcome. The static was more recognizable. Even when the portal stabilized they didn’t usually hear sounds on the other side. But he did remember a time, with a radio, where something came from the void. A strange voice. This wasn’t really that either.

Jaw tightening into a frown, his leg inches a little to the side, as if wanting to both step forward and back all at the same time. The anchor of their hands connected gives him some comfort, as he squeezes her hand back, glad to hear her voice as well as that echo.

“What is this?” he whispers half to himself, not really recognizing the voice or the name.

Though he definitely knows of a few Karens, he doesn’t think this referred to any of them.

Electricity leaps and dances around Lynette’s untethered hand, grounding out on at the floor of the enclosure but on the darkened blot of the anomaly. It isn’t under her control, and from the way it feels as though the electrical energy is being siphoned from her it feels like she may not even be able to stop it so long as she stays in proximity with the indescribable phenomenon. But through that hand held fast by Mateo she can feel the symbiotic link of their powers, as if they were made for one-another, ebbing and flowing like a circuit.

Now!” A voice rings out from the darkness, distorted beyond recognition of identity. There are other sounds within it, strange warping noises and wooshing sounds that are reminiscent of crashing waves, but if played in reverse; subtly wrong. “¡Hijo de puta!” A masculine voice cries from the anomaly.

There was more, more voices, more sounds, but the blot begins to buckle in that moment and the room is filled with a howling roar like hurricane winds forced through a subway tunnel. Mateo can feel the structure of the blot bending and collapsing down as power is drawn from it. But at the same time it feels as though it is struggling against him, trying to draw power out of Lynette to sustain itself as though it had a will all its own. But that will isn’t as strong as Mateo and Lynette — not when they’re together.

Just a little more!” A voice cries from inside the darkness, and Mateo cannot help but feel like there is something dreadfully wrong with all of this. A massive explosion causes this wound in space to appear, one that he can feel an intrinsic bond to, from an ability he lost somewhere between time and space, somewhere between today and infinity. “Almost! Almost!

Mateo can feel that the more the structure of the anomaly collapses, the more unstable it becomes, the more it feels familiar to him. It doesn’t get harder to control as it collapses it down, it gets easier. As the wobbling mass of churning darkness shrinks in size, Mateo feels as though he could collapse it down to a singularity with a squeeze of his fist or—

— or open it wider.

I can see,” a man’s voice quavers from the darkened anomaly, “Eye to Eeeeeyeeaaaaaaagh!” Then, a scream.

"I don't know," Lynette says to Mateo's question. Perhaps they're picking up a glimpse of another timeline— but she's not entirely sure enough to speak it aloud.

Plus, the electricity distracts her. She hasn't felt her power for a long time, not since they opened the portal home, and right now, it doesn't even feel like hers. If she ever needed confirmation that something was different, that something was lost, this is it. She takes in a steadying breath because there isn't time to worry about such things or their implications. And it helps to feel that sync with Mateo, a warm comfort in the face of the unknown.

She can do little more than hang onto his arm and endure the pull of electricity around her, wincing when the blot begins to howl. "Can you close it?" She has to raise her voice to be heard, but there is still concern in her words as she looks over at Mateo. Her gaze snaps back to the anomaly with the man's voice and the scream and she takes a step forward, like she might be able to do something.

For a long moment, Mateo could not help but be transfixed by the feeling, the sight, the sounds and the way part of him just knew it would be so easy to push and just open it all up. Maybe they would learn so much if he did. The hand he squeezes pulled him back from that curious edge, as Lynette moves forward, causing him to shift slightly to hold his ground. He didn’t want to get closer, perhaps because part of him could feel it holding together by a small thread.

Likely, his grip keeps her from getting too far. That they could be here at all was a miracle. That he could hear her over everything, perhaps almost as much.

“I think so,” he responds to her question, voice winded, as if he were holding his breath for a few moments there. Maybe he had been, he hadn’t really noticed until he spoke and felt himself breathe again. So many questions, so many things he wanted to ask whatever was on the other side of this whole thing.

But he had seen what was happening around this place, he knew the destruction that rifts like this could cause. Raising his free hand, he opens his palm toward the darkness, as he would sometimes do with his portals, a motion that wasn’t needed, but something that helped him concentrate. Lynette knew it— she’d seen him do it many times when they practiced his ability on the beach. slowly, he curved his fingers inward, closing his hand into a fist, as if he were picturing his hand pulling the edges of the nothingness back together, smaller and smaller.

But this time it felt different.

As the anomaly gets smaller it's like the effect it has on the world around it is concentrated. The tent seems to fisheye distort, bending lines of perspective and causing an extreme sensation of vertigo. As Mateo forces his will against the anomaly, as he works against this rift in the fabric of spacetime he can feel is fighting against him. Lynette too can feel the pull it exerts on the electricity in her body, trying to draw it and her into its middle. As perspective continues to warp, as the anomaly condensed into a singularity, light itself begins to fade from the edges of the tent.

Lynette and Mateo’s vision tunnels inward with the now fist-sized blot of the anomaly at its center, forming a torus of bent perspective like artistic depictions of a black hole’s event horizon. Seat pours down Mateo’s brow, his heart races and his hand in Lynette’s is clammy and cold. And as he grits his teeth, groaning against the exponentially stronger will of the rift to survive he also feels his own body growing more tense and at the same time cold. The roar, the vortex’s howl grows in his ears with the reassurance of an old friend come back after a long time away.

Finally, fist neatly closed, Mateo has condensed the rift down to a marble’s size, and all the world has been thrown into near and total darkness. With one last clench of effort Mateo forces his hand closed and


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“You planning on being up here all night?”

Walter Renautas slowly turns to look over his shoulder, the bare edge of the Deveaux Building roof at his back. He's been nursing the same martini most of the night, and it's still cradled in one hand like a cross when he regards the tall silhouette of Charles Deveaux standing in the greenhouse doorway in a tuxedo. "I had considered it," Walter says with a distant smile, turning fully from the edge of the roof to close the distance between he and Charles. "Your greenhouse is lovely, this patio is divine. However, I'm finding myself ill at ease celebrating when the end of the world is at hand."

Charles' brow furrows when Walter makes that assertion. "We've had this fundraiser planned for months. One more day won't change anything." He looks out to the glittering city lights, the way the moon hangs heavy in the air, and turns to look back to the lights and noises of the party through the penthouse windows. "Jon's been filling up space in your absence," Charles says with a fond smile, looking back to Walter. "Really, you should come back with us. You need to meet Ms. Brauer and her daughter anyway."

Walter looks down when that name is mentioned, searching the slate tiles underfoot with a thoughtful expression. "I suppose I do," he says with a sense of finality. But when he lifts his attention up, there is a silhouette of another man in a tuxedo in the doorway and Charles makes a dismissive motion, sending the man back inside. With a sigh of resignation, Walter nods and takes a sip from his long-ignored martini and moves to follow Charles back into the penthouse. The two pass through the verdant greenhouse, avoiding the doorway to the party proper and instead entering into Charles' dimly-lit office where a blonde woman sits cradling a vodka and tonic with a twist of lime in one hand. She regards Charles through the fringe of her bangs, smiling fondly. At her side, there is a young girl seated in a chair with wide blue eyes upturned to the two founders.

There is also a young boy sitting in a chair beside the girl, looking nervous. She turns to him, smiling, and the young girl reaches out to take the boy's hand as if to say it will be alright.

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Walter stops in the doorway, pressing a hand to the door frame and looking at Charles with a wordless criticism. Charles walks across the room, coming to stand by the older woman's side, letting a hand come to her shoulder. "This is Karin Brauer, Simon found her for us. More importantly, Simon found her daughter who will help us with our power concerns." But all of Charles' words fall on deaf ears, a thread of worry moving up through Walter's chest as he looks to the other man in the far back of the room, standing by the window, cradling a baby in his arms.

"Arthur," Walter says with tension in his jaw, stepping forward. "Who's baby is that?"


Arthur turns, smiling, unfolding the cloth by the baby's face to show Walter. "Our little miracle, she's going to help make this all possible," he says with a growing smile.


"They're going to help us save the world."

Somehow, as they exist in immaterial form within the boundaries of someplace between here and now and another age, Lynette and Mateo wonder what it is they are experiencing. No one has seen them, no one has felt their presence and here, wherever here is, is like a dream. Nothing is truly real.

Except. They can see themselves here, together, as children.

Lynette takes in a breath when she sees her mother sitting there. This is the age she remembers watching her walk out on them. The age she remembers reaching and hoping for some connection to her. It hurts to see them sitting together like mother and daughter when it's been decades since they were more than acquaintances. Mateo knows— she doesn't speak of her mother at all and this year she hasn't even bothered to try writing her like she used to.

She doesn't want the children to live with the type of disappointment she does.

Her grip on Mateo's hand tightens even as his hand becomes clammy. Her other hand covers his as well, because she can't bear to let go of him now, not even by accident.

Slowly, other things register. The men in the room. The baby. Mateo, young and scared. Them together in this place. She turns away to look toward her Mateo. He's the only thing that makes sense here. Wherever here is. Whenever. "Are you alright, my darling?" She knows she feels like she's been hit by a train, in more ways than one, so he must be far worse off. "We have to get out of here."

¿Qué demonios es esto?” Mateo can’t stop but exclaim as he looks onto this strange outcome. The only thing that stayed steady in this whole transition was his hand grasping Lynette’s. And them. There had been some strange, troubling moments with previous portals, but this?

He recognizes himself as a child, from pictures that the woman who’d raised him had kept. He recognizes young Lynette from pictures of her childhood, mostly kept by her father. A lot of those here, he didn’t recognize at all. Arthur, vaguely, from the world where his children were born. The man had been in the news more than a few times, and he knew that Liz had had issues with him. He’d avoided most of that situation, had intended to settle down forever, in fact. But things did not go that way.

“Do you remember this?” he asked absently, returning to English, though he knew she would understand it whether he switched or not. They switched effortlessly anymore, part of raising children in a bi-lingual household. “I don’t remember this. I don’t even know if this is… because of…” He looks at his closed fingers, looks past them again. Did he do this? Did the… whatever this was… bring them here?

No, they didn’t seem to actually be here.

Or at least not then?

He looks toward the baby, settling his eyes on the little miracle. And part of him knows, somehow, who it must be. Odessa.

“We were all here together…” he whispers, looking from the baby, back to the other two children, holding hands, much as they were holding hands now, full-grown.

“How’s this going to do anything, Arthur?” Charles asks, looking at the child with furrowed brows. “Where did she come from?” Arthur curls his upper lip into a sneer, keeping the child tucked under one arm as he paces about the room. He's practiced with this, with holding a child. For as cold as he is now, he wasn't always that way. There was a time when he was a good man. Maybe, somewhere deep down, he still wants to be one.

“I found her in Odessa, which coincidentally is also the girl’s name.” Arthur admits with a shrug. “That incident with Colin, the break in and the murder. I had Walter’s son Daniel check her out, and he's confirmed she's special. Unmanifested, but with Daniel’s ability we can draw that power out and bend it through the lens into a shape we need. She's a time manipulator.”

Everyone in the room was skeptical until Arthur mentioned that, and now everyone has fallen silent. “The boy here is another convenient find, and Daniel thinks his ability can create doorways in space. Not entirely unlike what the Looking Glass did.” Then finally, he motions over to the girl in the other chair. “Simon’s friend Ms. Brauer has brought her daughter, Lynette, who is a potential electrokinetic like Bob’s daughter. Together…” Arthur inclines his head to the side, “along with what Drucker and Charlotte are finishing, might be the final pieces of Project Tartarus.”

Tarterus?” Walter raises one brow. “That's an awful portentous name, Arthur. Just what are you suspecting we do precisely?” Charles looks at Walter and nods, then looks over to Arthur to see how he’ll answer that.

“One thing at a t i m e

we have t o



a b o u t

The Quarantine Zone

Just Outside Plumstead Township
New Jersey
September 14th
3:33 pm

Gray skies.

That's the first thing Lynette and Mateo see after a sudden plunge into darkness. Gray skies and a field of toppled trees fanned out around an empty impact crater. A light, drizzling rain is falling on New Jersey, and shouts of confusion and alarm echo from the ridgeline at the top of the shallow crater. Hands still linked together, Mateo and Lynette can feel the circuit of their connection maintained.

They're back!” They hear cried from the hill as a pair of SESA agents come scrambling down the slope of the crater. There is no base camp set up anymore, no tent, no blockade preventing access to the area. There are just two agents, one with a Geiger counter and the other with a video camera, running down the hill.

“Oh my god you're alive!” The other agent shouts, skidding down the hill and lowering his camera. “Oh my god, oh my god.” He pauses, noticing that neither Mateo nor Lynette have the badges they were given on their person anymore and he freezes for a moment, then sucks in a slow breath.

What happened?” The agent asks, breathlessly.

Lynette looks to the baby once the girl's name is revealed and she looks back at Mateo with eyes wide. "They were using children— " She can't even deal with the fact that it was them being used, she's still dealing with the idea of an organic Looking Glass. She stops, though, closing her eyes and trying to calm herself.

She feels more than sees the memory collapse around them and only opens her eyes again when things seem to have stabilized. Blonde hair falls haphazardly in the dirt as she looks up at the sky, squinting against the drizzle. Turning, she sees Mateo still with her and she pulls herself closer to him to press her forehead against his. The agents will just have to wait a few moments before she responds.

Pushing herself up with one hand, she glances their way, processing their shock and their questions slowly.

"We were pulled into the anomaly as we were closing it," she says, shifting to stand up. It's more difficult than it needs to be, since she doesn't want to let go of Mateo. "Is this— the same place?" The missing camp sinks in, but also she worries that they didn't end up in the same reality they left. Like last time.

Yes, Mateo’s thoughts were correct, and part of him wasn’t even surprised that they were using children to save the world. These were the people who raised Odessa, weren’t they? They had both seen the trial, known what she had gone through. He isn’t at all surprised by that, even if he’s confused by most everything else. How were they here with her? And how did they save the world?

And what was Project Tartarus?

If he had time to think about all of this more, he might have said some of his thoughts out loud, but then suddenly they’re plunged back into the darkness, and the only thing he is aware of would be his hand squeezing hers tightly. Until there are gray skies. Topped trees. A crater.

And soft rain running rivets across his face. When Lynette moves and speaks, he blinks a few times and sits up fully, looking around at the area. It does seem… changed. “Did it close? Was anyone hurt?”

What would perhaps be an odd question tacked on, he manages to ask after a second, “What date is it?”

Cause he’s pretty sure they weren’t in reality for a time, that they weren’t in now, either. Whatever now was. And he really hopes this is the same world they were in before the anomaly.

Both SESA agents have been stunned to silence since their arrival. It's only when they're asked a direct question a second time that one speaks up. “It's the 14th,” he says.

“Of September,” the other agent — Inman, according to her badge was adds, worried that it matters. It does. They'd just missed three whole days. “The ah, the anomaly it— it collapsed,” Inman says with a shake in her voice. “Pulled in everything we had around it. Equipment, the enclosure, it was like a bathtub drain getting unstoppered.”

“Nobody was hurt,” agent Groder, her partner, notes. “We pulled back and… I mean the whole site just folded up on itself and you both were just… gone.” Groder reaches for his satellite phone, swiping a contact into the call position while Inman slowly takes a step toward Mateo and Lynette.

“Are you two okay?” Inman asks worriedly, glancing briefly back to Groder as he places in a call to the head office. “Director Voss hasn't made a formal announcement yet, he wanted to wait a week to… to determine an appropriate course of action. I honestly think he was expecting you two would be back.” Or perhaps just hoping. Why else leave two agents to watch an abandoned field? “How do you feel?”

The roar behind Mateo’s eyes answers for him, in a voice only he can hear. One that had gone silent for too long, one that had now come back like a howl from beyond the void. El Umbral has returned.

"We have to get back to the city. Our children— " Lynette will deal with the anomaly and what they saw inside it later, what matters now is that they've been missing for days. Their children need to know they're okay. "Can you send word ahead, let the Benchmark know we're okay?" She turns, looking back toward Mateo, letting out a gentle sigh. "I was hoping we had shed the habit of getting drawn into those."

It's meant to be a tease, lighthearted, a release of tension.

It doesn't hit the mark.

"I feel fine," she says, even though it's a lie, "Nothing some rest won't fix." That one works better, a reassurance to the agents that all is well and no serious harm was done. Lost time aside. At least it was only a few days this time. The agents don't need to know the dread that's circling her mind is more personal than just a reappearance of rifts in time.

She is going to have to contact her mother.

In many ways, the reassurance of the date is a relief. They weren’t gone over a month like last time something similar happened, so three days would be easier to cope with. He just hoped they hadn’t jumped the gun and informed anyone that something had happened to him. The children had been through enough in the last year.

But even with all his thoughts, Mateo can’t help but be distracted by the sensation in the back of his head that had once been all too familiar, like a constant ringing in his ears that threatened to overwhelm him. Sometimes it had. “I’m not entirely sure what happened,” he admits, voice a smidge louder than was necessary. This was something Lynette had been used to, sometimes, when he would speak up just so he could hear himself over everything going on inside his head, but someone who didn’t know him as well might not notice it right away.

“We’re fine,” he continues, though he reaches up to check his nose for blood, even as he says that. He might see if he can schedule a few tests, but for the moment… “I’m just glad no one was hurt and that it closed. Who knows what it would have done if it had stayed open…” Whatever it had really been.

“We should get home to our family.”

“We’ve had Agent Bluthner staying with them,” one of the SESA agents says with a subtly shaky voice, looking back to where the anomaly was days ago, then back to Lynette and Mateo. “We need you to come to Fort Jay first, a— medical checkup. Then we’ll take you straight to your family.”

The other agent, stepping back to begin making the ascent up the embankment to where their SUV is parked looks out over the desolate landscape of flattened trees and swallows audibly. Blinking back surprise, he scans the horizon one last time and then turns his back to Mateo and Lynette, leading the way up the hill and back from…

…from wherever they just were.



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