Two Aces For The Price Of One


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Scene Title Two Aces For The Price Of One
Synopsis When Elliot goes to commiserate with the Flooded World's Asi about an experience they now both share, she isn't alone when he finds her.
Date July 6, 2021

New Chicago

The Pelago is a masterpiece in a world lost to itself, but it's one that floats. The Midwestern version found in New Chicago is one Asi finds herself taken by, even if the only changes with the tide here are ones that tend to change the oil-slicked smell of it all rather than do anything of consequence to building access. She's taken by the old neon flickering in various windows, by the electricity running with relative freedom here. It's like the novelty of Delphi, but on a deeper, more orchestrated level.

She stands side by side with Spades, idling near the front gates of the city. Shoulder to shoulder, they share cigarettes he's managed to find, absolutely unquestioning where they came from. They share the closest thing they can to a companionable silence given their usual standoffish behavior to each other– something like rivalry but without the energy for it until they're both drunk and belligerent, which is the case for neither of them presently.

No– here they stare out over the New Chicago afternoon as something like comrades-in-arms, taking in the situation and casting some amount of judgment over the city and its dwellers while they mutually keep afternoon eyes nearby the tanker. It sat well with neither of them to leave Jonathan and the kids alone to the task.

"What's a second one of these going to run me?" Asi breaks the silence to ask him idly, only halfway through their shared first.

Spades squints, sucking in a deep pull while he thinks on that. He turns it out to her to toke from in turn. Holding his breath, he says while still keeping the smoke in, "For you to admit I'm the better Ace."

"Motherfucker," Asi curses him, and Spades suppresses a grin, smoke leaving him in a snort. "You cheated last time, remember?"

"I was using my naturally-given advantage, as I recall," Spades replies innocently before exhaling away the rest of his toke like a whimsical, preening creature.

Asi takes the cigarette from him finally and uses it to gesture at him as she counters him, "And I still won."

"Ah, but would you again?" Spades counters her, completely unphased. One corner of his mouth pulls back in a lopsided grin now as he looks at her out of the corner of his eye. Aces rolls her own and draws in breath from the borrowed cigarette, savoring it slowly.

"Only one of us can successfully control the firing instruments of warships with a touch, which when it comes down to it, is the more useful trick, isn't it?"

"You've got me there, Aces," he admits without argument, and the use of that word sets her bristling even if it shouldn't. She takes another drag from the cigarette as payment for the dig at her pride through ironic acquiescence of her superiority. "There's only one of us who could put a sword through someone's neck without them hearing so much as a breath before it happens, though," Spades reminds.

Asi sighs and stares off into the market. Ah, there was the barb she was expecting. She offers the cigarette back wordlessly. She refuses to think he's won this trade, only that she's uninterested in fomenting raised tensions among their little group out here. They were all they had, after all, in a world getting stranger and more dangerous with each passing mile.

Elliot is a danger they're taking with them, though neither have reason to believe the threat that he poses them is as significant as it is. Telepathic networking isn't something that generally causes more than some understandable wariness. It isn't something people would know is connected to something so much worse. It isn't a lot of things.

Meeting his local self wasn't as disastrous as he always assumed it would be. As disastrous as he'd made allowances for by revealing pieces of the truth to Richard. He's been wandering the streets, learning the city, ignoring the way the ringing in his ears points toward a man he used to be just like.

He's drawn into himself more than usual, face dark beneath the hoods of both his black hoodie and waxed canvas long coat. He's recognizable to anyone from the convoy, but hopefully not to anybody who might mistake him for the man he isn't. The man who's supposed to be here.

From beneath the hoods he spots the familiar faces. The face of a version of his only friend, who's supposed to be here. The face of a version of the man who brought him before a version of Gideon d'Sarthe. But this one too is supposed to be here, as is the man he was taken to see. They have no idea he's met them. That they let him let a monster live in exchange for information about how dangerous he is.

He isn't certain he has the capacity to speak to them now. He craves the false familiarity of Asi in the network, where she can once again begin to form in the 0bservation Room beside the fading impression of the Asi he knows intimately. An impression that will be gone in about a week, he feels now. It would be awkward not to acknowledge them, and he does so with a wordless nod of greeting.

The cigarette is in Asi's hand again when Elliot nears, and she offers it to him wordlessly with an upward touch of brows but no other outward welcome. When Spades notices she's done it, his eyes go from the cigarette to the stranger with a flicker of irritation that the precious resource he's managed to get his hands on is going to–

Oh. The lack of familiarity fades from his eyes, even if it isn't replaced with approval. Spades acknowledges Elliot with a wary upward lift of his chin, uncertain entirely how to address him. They haven't been well-acquainted on this trip, traveling in different vehicles, but his face isn't unfamiliar. The acknowledgement, silent, seems to be the extent of his hello. Unlike the certain, conniving creature that he composes himself as in another universe, here he's…

Different. The same but different, in strange ways. This one speaks far less, at least, though there's the same curious bent in his gaze as he sizes Elliot up and down.

Asi's initial hello and offer stands, but the longer she looks at Elliot, the more she notices something is amiss. "大丈夫?" she asks, and Spades' eyes flicker between the each of them once more, brow furrowed at the lamentably-still-elusive tongue. What she airs was simple: is he doing okay?

The offered cigarette gets a short shake of the head. Streaming a smoker is one thing, as olfactory fatigue usually makes the experience less unpleasant. Smoking on his own has just never interested him. He's still curious as to where the hell everybody is getting tobacco, but he doesn't have the spirit to bother asking again.

He racks his brain for a response in what little Japanese he's been able to learn through use while it's available to him, which it isn't now. It takes too long, mostly because he doesn't know what he's even trying to translate. He shrugs instead, it is what it is. He doesn't move on, but doesn't take a place beside them without invitation. He feels like enough of an interloper already. "Weird day," he manages.

Asi passes the cigarette back to Spades and shoves her hands in the pockets of her coveralls, turning her head to blow away the smoke in her lungs in a thin stream that turns into a whorl once it meets enough air resistance. It disperses as messily as these sorts of things always do, despite best intentions. She shakes her head somewhat.

"Prior history with Chicago?" she asks amiably enough. She doesn't explicitly invite him over, but turns away from her vigil with Spades, shoulders pointing enough in Elliot's direction now to invite him in that way.

"It's weird here enough without it," she offers up, an out if he needs it. She looks behind her momentarily to the holding yard comers and goers pass through. "I can't say I was expecting to find any place like this. But… no way of knowing 'til we got here."

"Makes you wonder how many other places held out," Spades interjects in muted tones behind the shield of his hand. "Here, Anchor, the 'Pelago… Hawaii count? Not sure Kobe does. Not the same way." When Asi glances at him out of the corner of her eye, his shoulders pop up and his hand tilts away from his mouth, cigarette and all. "What?" he defends himself. "They made a big deal out of being hidden. Not the same as this. Not at all."

Elliot is silent throughout Ace's digression, wondering himself. By way of answer to Asi and Ace both, he says, "I met a ranger this morning who might actually know about other settlements." He feels Wright bristle at the thought of the local Ace learning anything about him even though she's noted all the same differences in the man that Elliot has.

He looks away from Asi back into the city, head turning slowly until he finds the direction the other Elliot is in; it doesn't sound like he's moved much in the last minute. "He's…" he starts, but lets it trail away to nothing.

He sighs, finding the words that failed him earlier. Words he's heard Asi use infrequently, but at a time when he could understand what they meant. His accent has improved, it's easier to get right when one can feel the speaker's tongue moving in their mouth. "別の私."

Spades is entirely uninterested in Elliot's answer until the somewhat familiar language bends his ear again, drawing his eyes furtively back. Asi, on the other hand, looks openly at Elliot first and then away, looking like she's swallowed something foul and is doing her best to play it off.

"そう?" she answers casually, offhandedly. Like he's not said something monumental. She slips one hand from her pocket, letting it lie by her side instead, overselling it. Spades sees right through it and glances long at her now, wondering what the fuck he's missing and lamenting he didn't pick up as much Japanese as he well should have on their trip to Japan. Elliot didn't say what he thought he did, after all, right?

"Ranger know any danger ahead?" Spades asks in light of the pause. The cigarette of questionable origin is momentarily forgotten. "West? North?" He turns toward Elliot. "That's the kind of knowing we need now."

There's an undercurrent of praise there. Good job, he found the good intel.

Asi holds any further comment of her own for the time being, though the glance she gives Elliot is that she'd say more if she felt like they had something like privacy. Something like being able to speak openly without the third party present understanding.

"I'll have to ask for specifics later," Elliot says, eyes only traveling from Asi to Ace halfway through his reply to the man. "I know how to find him again." Judging by the whine in his ears, the other Elliot is on the move. At this distance it is hard to guess how fast, or even in what direction.

He steps forward, turning and settling himself against the wall with Asi providing a buffer between him and Ace. His annoyance at having to assure himself that Asi is safe barely makes it to the surface. There's a way they can have a conversation without Ace's intrusion, though as always he can only make the suggestion and leave the ball in Asi's court. He taps the back of her hand with his, not seeking her thoughts through the contact but offering a link if she wants it.

"Everybody calm and content out there?" he asks, nodding toward the vehicles obscured by the protective wall. Calm and content are safe memories for the setting of a link, in the off chance Asi mistakenly thinks he'd touch her without reason.

The angle Elliot approaches at, and especially its closeness to Asi is something that immediately catches Spades' attention. Relatively no one gets that close to her, and he remains rapt waiting to see just how she chooses to react. But she doesn't shove him away, doesn't glare, doesn't… anything. He thinks he might even clock interest flicker over her. Curious. And then Elliot asks for a status update, so he looks where his eyes are directed rather than anywhere else, taking a long, final drag of his cigarette down to its filter.

Because it's not any of his fucking business, after all, strange as it is.

"As far as we can tell, no one's casing the tanker yet. But they might be waiting until the shadows grow for that." He drops what remains of his smoke and grinds it out underfoot all while Asi tilts her wrist, knuckles reaching back out to brush with Elliot's in return, maintaining that connection. Her eyes close long enough to mask the flicker of seagreen light that comes over her mundane brown.

Calm and content are memories of a time where she could use her ability freely and to her benefit, and the hair on the back of her neck rises when she feels something like that sensation in connecting to Elliot, in the tiny signal she manifests to indicate her readiness for borrowing.

"I promised Showtunes to either relieve him for a while or bring him dinner here in a while," Spades' admits to the both of them, head turning their way without him looking away from the yard and those passing through it. "Destiny's insisting on a proper bed if this is our last shot at one for a while, so there's also scouting for the least bug-infested flophouse to look forward to as well."

"You know," Asi mentions to him with the slightest angle of her head toward him, also not looking his way. "She's not your Captain out here anymore."

Spades only breezily exhales away the thought of the last of his cigarette even though he's been drained of last wisps by now. "You know," he banters back at her in the same offhanded way. "I could say the same for you about Silas."

Asi's lips curl back over her teeth more like a threat than a smile as she murmurs, "Sure you could. クソ野郎."

The corner of Spades' mouth knifes back in return, smug in his grin as he actually looks her way now. He remembers that one.

Asi makes a point of turning more to Elliot and remarks airily to him, "So…" without the earlier inflection indicating her native tongue. It lasts precisely only that moment, right before she leans into casually remarking, "形勢逆転かな1?"

And Spades' smile hitches. He doesn't know that one.

Elliot chuckles mirthlessly. He doesn't respond to Ace, that conversation seemingly having been resolved. He does note the curiosity, and decides it can't hurt to interest the man further in case he needs to seduce him later. There's not a flicker of guilt at the thought; taking advantage of people is the bread and butter of a spy.

He nearly laments how the tables have turned in agreement with Asi, but he doesn't want to think about the room labeled Turntable right now. The best he can do for the moment is a bleak, "Snowboard."2

It skirts some of the more damning irregularities that nobody else seemed inclined to remark upon, but Asi is wary by nature and he'd rather she not dig into it. That's a lie; he wishes he could be truly seen, but it's terrifying to be so known. Keeping these secrets is going to kill him and then it's going to kill everybody else. He opens a large portion of the Index to her either way.

Spades' confusion only grows with the obscure reply, and his weight shifts uncomfortably. His discomfort doubles when on a single coded word, Asi is sent into full, open laughter in a way he's never seen her, head tilted back in some kind of vindictive joy. A more suspicious version of him would suspect they planned this all along at this expense, but this one? He's just awkwardly looking for an out, now, glancing about for one.

"It went that well, huh?" she cuts into her laughter to ask, a broad and unfriendly grin breaking over her. She shakes her head and lets out a belated cough from the earlier cigarette, looking down for a moment to collect her grace again as much as spare Elliot any further humor at his expense. "You know, maybe that just says something about…"

Asi looks conspiratorially at Spades now, and he looks back at her, dubious. "About us," she supplies to him. He looks at her a moment longer, and then to Elliot with a look that surprisingly seems to say if he also needs an out from Asi, he just needs to say the word.

There's a flicker of conflicting emotions through the network at Asi's reaction to the memory. It passes because he can't really blame her, it did in fact go that well. At least the local Elliot didn't draw the gun in the end. He catches Ace's look over Asi's head, returning a bemused smirk. Lets his eyes linger half a second longer than might be polite; he is very pretty.

"I mean, nobody got shot," he clarifies as he looks back to Asi then away. "Which is great, all things considered. But yeah, I get your point. It's weird. How do you stand it, in fact?" The question feels rhetorical, he felt her emotions while she was experiencing her other self's presence in the network.

"I thought it was clear I patently don't," Asi replies as bluntly as she does quizzically. "In my case, I can't stand her, and so– I don't."

Over the top of her head, Spades is having trouble determining what to make of Elliot's extended look. Is this an extension of the inside joke that might be at Elliot's expense but definitely also at his expense? Or is this something different? His gaze stutters on Elliot, wanting to move away but coming back once before he finally does look off and rub the side of his neck uncertainly.

"I'd recommend you do the same," Asi goes on, either oblivious or ignoring the exchanged looks. "Get what information out of him you need and then move on with your life. «You don't owe him anything, and the reverse is also true,»" she segues into her native tongue to say, turning to look up at Elliot with a more serious expression despite her clear amusement still with the situation. "Not worth getting worked up over."

"Calm and content are the words of the day, after all," Spades muses from the outside of the circle made up of her and Elliot, making no further attempt to breach it than that. Elliot can tell he's trying to play it cool; but despite that, he both wants in and doesn't all at the same time, and can't decide which.

Elliot chuckles at Ace's interjection. He's feeling something like calm and content, though it's just medication. He spares the man a wry smile, nods in agreement.

The ringing in his ears has stopped moving again, the local Elliot must not have traveled far. He wonders if the man will seek him out, or if he's likely to unknowingly follow Asi's advice and get on with his life.

"Yeah," is his eventual reply to Asi. "I certainly don't want to get swept up in his affairs, hence the low profile. Should honestly just go back to the convoy, but the lure of an actual bed is too powerful. Complimentary rooms is a factor, obviously. Do you think this place has enough tech for them to be bugged? Wouldn't put it past the man at the top."

Asi lets out a laugh that sounds patronizing, but Elliot is keenly aware it comes with a pang of emotions that indicate a sharpness involved with laughing so one doesn't cry instead. "What do you think it is, 2010?" she asks on the edge of that laugh, her fingers itching together by her side as she craves the creature comfort of another cigarette already. Her head shakes. "There are enough eyes and ears to go around as it is, I'd keep an eye out for those, instead."

Spades shifts his weight suddenly in a way that telegraphs he's unrooting himself and he nods off into the street beyond the lot they're standing guard by. "There's safety in numbers. We should probably try to get beds in a bloc." He glances at Elliot rather than at Asi then looks forward indicatively with his head still tilted from the nod. "If you're heading off for that now, I'll go with you."

Asi bites her tongue, doesn't mention the check-in experience she's already had at the flophouse she found for herself and Silas. Her hands slip into her pocket, touching the black-lacquered coin hidden away there. "He has a point," is all she can say. They're definitely being monitored already, after all.

“Not a bad idea,” Elliot says, shrugging himself off of the wall. He shows Ace a smile that tries to convey that he's happy for the company. He's seen the man become at least partially insubstantial, so he's not sure if he'll stay somewhere Ace’s curious eyes might be among those watching. He can always try to get another room elsewhere if he doesn't like the vibes.

I'll break your link in three, he signs to Asi, giving her a moment to prepare or protest at her whim.

Asi fights off the urge to protest– but only barely. She contents herself with the fact this means she can drink freely tonight instead. After that flicker of intense conflict within herself, she glances up to Elliot, looking directly at him by the time she nods. "There's a brick building a few blocks up, three stories. Can't remember the name. We're holing up there, you could see if there's any rooms left."

And she stays where she is, holding the watch while the other two go on search.

Spades doesn't look back to say farewell, feels no compulsion to. The bomber jacket he wears is shrugged somewhat up with a hike of his shoulders before he shivers his arms out. He despises the cold and the wet, and they're not far enough away from it even though summer should be here. He sighs once they've made some paces away, then glances back to Elliot at last to divine which direction he's headed in – the one Asi specified, or another.

He offers no spoken companionship, or at least none yet.

Elliot nods in thanks to Asi, leaving her to her introspection. “I'll check it out,” he says, then trails away after Ace. He indicates with a tilt of the head that Ace is welcome to walk along. He lets the silence linger, mostly for an easy air of mystique.

The ringing in his ears isn't moving, though he thinks about how the local Elliot's own ringing ears are letting him know where the other is moving toward.

"So where did you pick up Japanese?" Spades eventually breaks the silence half a block later to ask, even if he finds it an easy one. It's not often he feels he's able to corner one of the Travelers alone, even if that's mostly by choice. As bored as the question sounds, he balks after, "We went there last year, came back with more people than we left with, and I still can't carry a conversation in it."

“I picked it up from Asi,” Elliot says with a smirk. “But I had to give it all back just now so I only know a handful of words. Don't quiz me.”

“Long voyage round trip,” he guesses, obtusely complicating any effort on Ace’s part to clarify the previous statement, but leaving room for the man to want to know more. “What'd you do for fun?”

Spades' expression twists in abject confusion over Elliot's phrasing, finding it absolutely bizarre. Okay, then. He starts to shake his head, derailed from any train of thought and attempting to return to one. "Fun?" he echoes back like it's a foreign concept. His brows screw together. "I… don't know, we had a few books from the Library. Destiny, her chessboard."

The question is easy enough for him to answer and then slide back to his original hangup, eyes slipping back in Elliot's direction. "Sorry, what did you– oh, is that your trick? I think I'd heard…" He trails off all while the rest of that sentence comes off in something of a hum regardless, as though words actually followed.

He's definitely much worse at smalltalk, this one.

Elliot notes the differences, all of which are important if he follows through on the long game to get intelligence on the man's alternate self back home. “It's more complicated than just that,” he admits. “But yeah. All sorts of useful stuff can be shared temporarily.” He glances around them in the universal sign of not wanting to be too specific in public.

“Man of many talents,” he adds. “Just not always the same talents.”

A hmph of vague amusement rises from Spades, finding that funny even if it wasn't intended to be. "How cerebral," he opines conspiratorially, an edge of a smile visible in a brief flash of teeth. His gaze darts back to Elliot for a moment before he returns to idly observing their surroundings as they make their way through, trying to keep an eye out for anyone who might be watching their movements. "Not to mention useful, in our boat."

He takes a breath in, holds it while he tries to decide whether or not he should say anything else. In the end, he huffs out the breath in a small laugh at his own expense and smiles a bit more openly this time. "Though– I guess that turn of phrase isn't as applicable as it used to be, these days." He doesn't break stride, though very much seems to be taking cues from wherever Elliot's feet fall to steer himself in terms of direction.

“Yeah,” Elliot agrees with a half-hidden grin, “that ship has sailed.”

“Embarrassing,” Wright says dryly. “Shameful.”

“That was awful,” he apologizes. “Terrible first impression.” Despite that, he seems happy to lead Ace to the hotel Asi suggested.

With a snort, Spades considers Elliot out of the corner of his eye again and shakes his head. "Could be worse," he admits in a lighter voice, if quieter one. "Some of the people on this trip I only met properly after we'd had … negative encounters between our various crews, previously." He sighs at that entire situation, the baggage of it. "That was certainly something to have to come back from."

"Terrible puns are only a minor annoyance to crawl back from, comparatively." He squints ahead as they approach an intersection, catching sight of a red brick building slightly to the left and across the street from the cracked sidewalk they follow now. A wooden sign with calligraphic spraypaint hangs in a window of its facade, though he can't make out the text from here. It fits the description, though - three tiers of windows facing the road.

“Well,” Elliot says with a touch of wicked grin, “Considering that, we certainly could be much worse off. I'm glad you’re implying that I'll have the chance to make it up to you.”

It throws Spades off, that grin and that tone. He can't help but read from it what he's meant to read– and doesn't know Elliot well enough to know it's a thing of manipulation. He has to look behind him, almost like to make sure there wasn't someone else immediately there who Elliot was speaking to instead, and then the corner of his mouth hooks back in the beginnings of a smirk of his own.

"We'll see, won't we," he concedes. "First, to see how outrageous these rooms will run…"

Elliot gestures Ace along in an ‘after you’ of agreement.

“Redhead, huh?” Wright says dryly. “You really do have a type.”

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