What Do We Do Now?


abby_icon.gif asi4_icon.gif bright_icon.gif brynn_icon.gif castle2_icon.gif daphne_icon.gif faulkner_icon.gif

gabriella_icon.gif gillian3_icon.gif squeaks5_icon.gif kay3_icon.gif kaylee6_icon.gif nicole3_icon.gif nova2_icon.gif zachery2_icon.gif

Scene Title What Do We Do Now?
Synopsis The Sundered and representatives of the Department of the Exterior gather to discuss the events of November 8, and their next steps.
Date November 13, 2020

For many this year, November 8 came and went without major event. Thousands within the US braced for something to inevitably go wrong. They all collectively breathed a sigh of relief when no national tragedy came to pass.

For the Sundered, 2020 became the year which kept on fucking giving.

Information regarding the medical incidents suffered by nearly half of the victims came in trickles among the network developed between them. In some cases, they found out by word of mouth, association, or because a third party notified them first of what had happened to the others. So in some small way, everybody is vaguely aware of where things lay—

Almost half of them suffered a low-grade stroke. A 'mini-stroke', like that phrasing makes it any less significant what happened to them. Their risk for an event like that happening again was somewhere in the realm of likely, if regular medical science could be applied to them in this one case where so many other things didn't.

There was one among their number who didn't suffer an episode, but had a disturbing medical event happen to him anyway. Zachery Miller's exploratory brain surgery, which also took place November 8th, revealed something which shouldn't have been there at all.

They've all got their stories to bring to the table today. As uncomfortable as each one of them might be, each one of them was important.

Little Darlings

Friday, November 13

6:15 pm

Asi is standing rather than sitting, a solemn look on her face and a cup of coffee in her hand. She brought two to-go boxes of it, which sit on the bartop with paper cups and fixings. It's what Nicole would have done.

With everyone here and either seated or standing in a loose circle in the renovating club, with as many people arrived now as had indicated they'd be free at this time, it seems like there's aught else to do but begin.

"I know what each of you went through might not be something you want to discuss again. But any information about what you saw, what you felt, could be vital to helping us unravel this puzzle— to trying to figure out what comes next before it hits us." The former technopath's eyes are dark as she looks between those gathered. "So maybe we should start this how we started things the first time we met. We go around the circle, we reintroduce ourselves and chime if or how we were affected …"

She swivels her head to the one-eyed man seated nearby her on her right. "We end with Miller. And then we discuss what the fuck we do with what we know."

Asi nods once, then turns to her left. She realizes maybe she should go first. "I was unaffected, myself, but I received a call a little after 4 AM from a contact I have at Yamagato, notifying me about the ambulance calls. I was told the hospital a number of you went to, and I came out to Fournier's Emergency room to find out more."

She wishes she had more to offer, but grudgingly accepts her own limitations here. She nods for the person nearest to her to go next with their story.

"I'm Abigail Caliban." Abigail Beauchamp more familiar to some. Abby has not been a familiar face in the meetings that others have had, the SCOUT member opting to having tried to process things on her own and just get on with life. Take care of her daughter. That and she didn't know most of everyone else who had been affected.

"I woke up a little earlier than normal, I think. Pretty sure." Her southern accent tempered faintly by the years in Canada. "I didn't realize anything was different till it was too late to do much more than get down on the floor and scream for my daughter to call 911. I had a stroke. A small one, but I had a stroke. I uhh." Abby's sitting on a chair, ankles crossed and jacket across her lap. "I can't feel things on my right side now and then, at all, and then uhh, the headache gets real bad every few days and there's a big black spot that takes out most of what I can see." She looks around to the others, some familiar, most not really. "And I've gone from desk duty to staying home and just… I suppose more waiting."

There are a couple faces in this crowd that don’t belong in some way. Kaydence Lee Damaris is one of them. She stands outside of the circle, nearby the bar with a paper cup of coffee in one hand, here to quietly observe and represent Yamagato Industries’ interests in this situation. That’s the impersonalized version of saying she’s sitting in as Kimiko Nakamura’s eyes and ears. For that reason, her face is a familiar one to most gathered here, given the interviews she’s been conducting in an effort to try and draw connections and try to find some edge pieces to this puzzle they’ve all been presented with.

It’s not so dissimilar to the check-ins that have been performed by the agents of the Department of the Exterior, and Kay’s gaze shifts to one such bow-tie adorned representative at this meeting briefly, secretly amused at the way they both keep their notes on paper.

How much she’s allowed to divulge about the state of the woman who employs her is yet to be seen. Maybe she’ll take a turn in the circle to speak on Kimiko’s behalf, maybe not. Her eyes focus on Asi, who receives a faint nod at the mention of 4 AM phone calls. From there, she focuses on the notebook in her hands, her thoughts passed from pen to paper as she listens, glancing up periodically.

“Should we all say, ‘Hi Abby’ now?” Kaylee says almost too bitterly to be a full joke, she looks around at the gathered group, eyes - thankfully - hidden behind mirrored shades. Which is good for hiding distrustful glances to those there that are not Sundered.

Sitting up with a sigh, the former telepath a half-assed wave to the room, “Hey guys. Kaylee Thatcher. I… was affected by what happened.” As much as she doesn’t want to, she pulls the glasses off showing that one of her eyes was red. “Veins started popping in my eye and the world upended and started spinning like the Gavatron at the fair, only a lot less fun.”

The glasses are quickly pulled on again, before she continues. “Just before the world started spinning, I witnessed a memory of me as a kid… problem is. I don’t remember that happening, though a tornado was mentioned and I remember the tornado.” Kaylee takes a deep breath, hands lifting helplessly, “So I don’t know if it’s my memory or a version of myself in another timeline.” She doesn’t explain the alternate universe stuff… just moves on.

“Now I’m plagued by migraines and my eye is fucked up,” Kaylee says grimly, looking to whoever wants to speak up next.

Isaac's eyes stay on Abby for a moment after she's done speaking, his mouth drawn tight; it's only a moment after Kaylee starts to speak that his gaze moves on to her. When Kaylee's done, he takes a breath and starts to speak.

"Hi Kaylee," Isaac deadpans, rising to his feet. "Isaac Faulkner. Also affected. I woke up at 3:33 am — I remember the time because my phone went off, something about a firmware update. Shortly after that, my eyes started futzing out and I started seeing… someplace else. A much larger room; rows of tables, all empty. Everything was sterile and metal; the main lights were off, but there were some… auxiliary lights, I guess, still on, so I could see a bit. I think they were… neon?" He shrugs. "It felt… something like a hospital."

"Then I bumped into something and it kinda… folded out. Like it'd been some kind of optical illusion or something. My eyes futzed out some more, there was a sharp stabbing pain right here," he says, tapping above his right eye. "I called for help… then I heard a voice — deep, sounded masculine — about two inches from my right ear, speaking what sounded a lot like German. Er schläft, he said."

"And then I had a full on seizure," he says, eyes straying to Asi for a moment; he's sure she remembers their meeting at the Nite Owl. He knows he sure as hell does.

His eyes move around the group. "Luckily, my roommate heard me, called an ambulance. After that…" he shrugs. "'Traumatic brain bleed' in the portion of my brain showing increased density — mini-stroke. Also persistent migraines," he says, nodding to Kaylee. His eyes stray back to Abby for a moment… then he pulls his gaze away, glancing around at the group. "That's all I've got." He nods, and sits back down.

Nova sits with her feet up on the chair, arms wrapped around her knees as if she could fold herself into a ball and disappear entirely if she could. She listens with her eyes cast downward, brows drawing together in a pained-sort of empathy with each description of the events of November 8.

When she realizes she’s next in the circle, she looks up. “Hi. Still Nova,” she says, with a small smile, but realizes there are those who haven’t met her — the people from the outside invited in. “Nova Leverett,” she adds, glancing over at Bright who seems to be taking notes where he sits in a three-piece suit looking a bit out of place.

“I wasn’t affected,” she says. It’s apologetic in tone, and she makes a face before glancing down.

While Gillian knows most everyone here knows who she is, she still follows suit and responds in a rather tight and raspy voice, “I’m Gillian, I— also woke up at 3:33am.” She’s looking at Faulkner with curiosity now, and then turns toward the others that she knows had similar attacks that evening. Had it all been at the same exact time? She doubts that time means the same thing to them that it meant to her—

It was probably a coincidence.

“My nose was bleeding profusely. I also saw and heard things that weren’t actually there. Then the pains and loss of feeling in my right side and I ended up here. A mini-stroke, like the others. The headaches come and go, and I still sometimes have weakness and loss of sensation on my right side.” She flexes her fingers on her right hand as if to test it. But then trails off.

Meanwhile, there’s at least one person sitting in who is not among the Sundered, or one of those who had been brought to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. After Gillian finishes they glance over and realize that, if it were going around in a circle, they would be next, and they suddenly stand up and say, “Hi everyone, I’m Castle, and I’m an addict— I mean— I’m your friendly neighborhood Agent here to listen in on this crazy thing that’s happened to all of you. One question before we continue…” They don’t have that Irish accent that at least some of them had heard a few times, much more American this time around, but there’s still hints of it in some of the words anyway. Accents were hard to lose.

“How many of you here participated in potentially dangerous personal experiments that may have caused unknown trauma to yourselves? I expect to see some hands up.” A finger gets cast around the room. “I know some of you did not… refrain from taking things upon yourself.”

Gillian, at least, does not put her hand up, but she can’t help but avoid looking at anyone she knew talked about “refrain” attempts.

Sitting not far from Gillian, Jac Childs offers neither name nor hand to admit to anything. None of her experiments were dangerous, she and her partner in science both came out from their joint venture into blindly grasping for answers just fine thank you. And everyone who needs to know who she is, does. Which, she silently assumes, includes the unfamiliar faces.

Elbows rest against her knees, hands prop her chin up. From beneath curled locks of red hair, the teen owns up to her chosen method of rebellion with stoic silence and observant blue eyes.

While Nova’s hand comes up tentatively at Castle’s question, both hands belonging to the brunette in the wheelchair stay tucked in the crooks of their crossed arms.

“Nothing here either,” Daphne says, with a tip of her head in Nova’s direction, but unlike the younger woman’s tone, hers is unapologetic. She has enough to deal with, thank you very much.

A crinkle of cellophane comes from the opposite side of the circle where Bright sits as he unwraps a butterscotch disc to pop into his mouth, then resumes taking notes in his strange shorthand.

There is one more brunette in a wheelchair at this meeting than they might have expected. Nicole Miller also sits to the right of Asi Tetsuyama, next to her husband. She’d dressed as casually as she was the last time they met, but also decidedly worse for wear, as some of the others are. The wheelchair certainly implies much, but the fading bruises on her face are the bigger visual indicator. She looks like her nose should be broken, likely her jaw as well, like it might be some kind of miracle that her skull is whole at all. Her blackened eyes are hidden behind a pair of dark Dior sunglasses.

It’s the lift of Nicole’s head and one manicured brow over the cat eye frames that indicate first that she’s heard Castle’s question. She exchanges a look over her shoulder with her husband and the two Millers lift their hands in tandem. Both of Zachery’s raise, but only Nicole’s right. She sighs heavily.

“Asi, help a bitch out here.” Although Asi’s on her left side, it’s the right side of her mouth that Nicole speaks from. She tips her head in the direction of her left shoulder briefly and Asi awkwardly acquiesces, helping Nicole to hold her left arm up as well. “Thanks.”

A pair of birds each from Dr. and Mrs. Miller, just for Agent Castle.

That question has a brow popping up above Kaylee’s mirrored sunglasses at Castle, what they can’t see is the narrowing of her eyes as she tries to figure out how they knew. While they are one agent she doesn’t have qualms over, the trust she affords them wavers ever so slightly.

Note to self… find that leak.

Kaylee’s hands stay where they rest, since she hasn’t done anything dangerous per se, other than continually cross the line in the sand between them and her. “Not yet, but I’ll be sure to call y’all if I do.” That was sarcasm, clearly by the sardonic smile tugging her lips to one side.

There is a glance at the other agents, before settling on the one that dared speak up. “Though, I gotta ask…. That all y’all care about? The dangerous shit we’re doin’?” She reaches into her bag, eyes still on Castle as she pulls a thick file out and gives it a wiggle before resting it in her lap, fingers curling around the edges of it protectively. “Not all our experiments have been dangerous, but far more informative than y’all have been.” There is a look to all the other Sundered in the room.

Brynn has been silently observing the speakers as they each go. Aunt Kaylee and Aunt Gillian are the two that her eyes linger longest on, but Nicole's state definitely has worry clouding her gray eyes. As is her norm, the Goldendoodle that accompanies her everywhere is at her feet while she watches the group. Finally she raises her hands to actually participate, knowing one of her family members will translate for her.

Nothing happened to me that night. It's all she says about what she might have been doing. But she does tip her head at Kaylee. You've figured some things out?

“Do you have another one?” Abby is leaning toward Bright, a polite and discreet gesture to the butterscotch candy. “If so, might I…” Have one. Brynn is signing and Abby offers up the translation though, so that the others can focus on the information they brought.

When Zachery's hands come back down, they do so to be brought together over a small notepad in which he, too, has been scribbling along with what's been said. He's been quieter than usual, and certainly his lack of spoken opinions - or speaking at all - is in stark contrast to when some of the people present here met him on the hospital rooftop after their first collectived, shared experience.

Some of that might have to do with the sutured up arc that runs in a shaved line down from the top of his head to just above his ear, where his skull was cracked open less than a week ago, still healing.

By the way he's been casting a look of disapproval down this entire time, one might assume his face is just stuck like this now. When it's his turn to speak, he takes a deep breath in preparation, but does not look up from the notes he's been taking, and then simply says, "We've got chips in our heads."

He looks up to let his eye scan across the faces present as if to catch any immediate reactions, sending a slightly sharper look to the Agents last. "Well— I don't. Not anymore." He promptly gestures upward at the new break in his hairline, grating, "Presumably, mine is in the hands of the CDC now. I can say with some certainty, though, that we've all got a nanobot infestation in our grey matter."

He looks back down to continue taking notes— on himself, a rough outline of what's been said. "Which is fun."

Asi is swift on a follow-up then, dark eyes gleaming with a sharpness as she turns to look at the group as a whole. It's a not-so-quiet silent demand for nobody to panic./

Yeah, right, Asi.

"It's not clear yet if discovery and removal of the chip would prevent what happened to some of us. If the… strokes could be avoided. It's not as though having your skull opened and your brain operated on goes without its risks either, for that matter." Her mouth is a tight line, one that threatens toward a frown with each passing moment. "But it is information every last one of you deserves to know, and it's far from text message material." She skims right past mention of the information-sharing portal, given present company. The point still makes itself.

Asi does ignore Castle's question entirely, maybe on purpose. No matter how well-meaning it may have been. Instead, when her voice softens as she lifts it again, she only announces, "Floor's open. What questions does everyone have?"

Faulkner stares at Castle when they ask their question, his face going completely neutral… save for that unblinking, unflinching stare.

Only after Kaylee's contribution does Faulkner's gaze leave Castle, slipping to her. Then his gaze moves languidly back to the agent; after a moment, he raises his hand. Then he lowers it, settling back into his chair.

Zachery's bombshell draws his full attention. Chips in their head. Nanobots in their brains. Okay. Sure, why not. Makes as much sense as anything else; their bodies are already weird science experiments, so sure, why not nanobots and brain chips?

Questions, though… he's got those. Oh yes, he sure does. "Do we have any idea what these chips are for?" Faulkner asks, frowning. "Or what the nanobots are actually doing? If not, is there any way to get them analyzed?" Here his gaze flickers to Kaylee, then to Kay, and last to the agents.

That news has Brynn physically recoiling. Joe's gonna love finding out there's a chip in her brain. And although part of her is freaking right the hell on out, it's only really noticeable in the trembling fingers when she signs — mostly for Abby, who is a medical person, but really kind of at large — Is the chip the reason for the strokes? If it's malfunctioning… are we all going to have strokes? Her troubled gaze sweeps the room. Not for the first time, she wonders in the back of her mind what the purpose of whatever was done to them was supposed to be. Maybe they're just cleaning up loose ends now….

“I know, it’s hard to wait for the government to do their thing. Some of us even suspected you would solve this mystery on all your own before we ever got a lead.” Castle shakes their head, but they aren’t really disappointed, because honestly the case is difficult and baffling and— “But this situation was a holy show, and after Ms. Miller here especially, we managed to get authorization to extend more help than we had originally been allowed. So next time you guys decide to try something dangerous? Call us. I know you’ve been using your own resources— “ They look at Kaylee Thatcher specifically for a moment. “But we can help you.”

Gillian raises an eyebrow, but nods after a moment, because, well, she is concerned about what Jac will do now, and what they have learned. A chip in all their heads. She wants to get it out— when she’d said no to the brain biopsy there hadn’t been signs of a chip, but now… In the meantime, Gillian does her best to make sure Brynn stays in the loop with slow and paraphrased sign language.

“The good news is!” Castle suddenly adds, clapping their hands together. “It is unlikely that what you did to yourselves caused this particular incident, so at least those of you who had strokes probably didn’t have them because of the wreckless experiments you all were doing on yourselves. But we are looking into exactly what happened with that, as well as where the chip came from. It’s still too early to know much, and we haven’t managed to get an idea what the chip was designed for yet, or who designed it, but one of the few companies that exists in this world that could be capable of doing something of this magnitude just happened to have a hostile takeover on the very same day that your attacks happened. Which seems like quite a coincidence.”

At Abby’s request, Bright sets his pen down and pulls a couple of discs out of his pocket, holding them out in a cupped hand to Abby and then whoever’s on his opposite side.

When Castle finishes speaking, the older agent adds, “We aren’t much help because we don’t have the answers, either, I hate to say. I know some of you think we might be the enemy, but trust me when I say we’re trying to help. We just… haven’t had all that much luck. But you are very resourceful,” he says, with a nod to Kaylee.

He lifts a finger. “One thing I can confirm for you is that the chip was not made outside of this dimension. Whoever made it,” he nods to Castle for the mention of the few companies who could, “it’s from here.

The door opens and fashionably late — as well as just downright fashionable in a long, green Gucci coat — is Gabriella, not seen by most of the survivors since the least-injured got the all clear to leave the Winnipeg hospital.

Seeing the sea of worried and confused faces, she blinks twice. “What’d I miss?”

The news about the chip and bots isn’t new for Kaylee, but then… there is more of a resignation to Kaylee over the news. Of course, her feelings about the Millers were a bit frosty at the moment as it is, so she doesn’t say anything about it.

Kaylee’s attention remains on the agents.

“Lucky for y’all, I know well the concept of ‘at the speed of government’,” Kaylee says blandly, “Which is why all of us are doing our own and will continue to do so, since we are potentially on a timeline here.” Pushing to her feet and a few steps later, Kaylee offers the file to the agents.

“You have the chip and bots, so Raytech’s scientists can’t test any theories,” Kaylee says, pushing the sunglasses up on top of her head with a freehand, “so y’all might as well have what we have on the adaptive blood, with a promise of more research coming.”

Kaylee holds up a finger though, with a small smile, “Only thing is y’all can’t have our pigs tho, y’all will have to get your own. You’ll like that part,” she adds with a tap to the file cover. “Makes you really wonder what else is synthetic or enhanced.”

The butterscotch is plucked up by Abby, a polite thank you to the man, coming to realize that they're actually valid individuals on the investigation. She pauses in the unwrapping as the news that there’s chips in brains and little robots and it seems everyones been busy shooting up refrain. That gets a raise of brows and worried look. “Well.” She’s looking to the butterscotch disk, frowning now. “Well.”

Blue eyes follow the speakers, each in turn. They narrow at Zachery’s revelation, very carefully slide a look to her mom. But little else is done; even with the floor being offered for questions, Jac keeps her seat. Her head turns again, facing into some indistinguishable point. Chips in their heads, some may have malfunctioned. The memory of the visit from an Agent Bright and Agent Reeves strikes with relevance.

Her eyes slide again toward Gillian, without actually looking at her, then angle toward Kaylee in much the same way. Both of them — hell, nearly everyone in the meeting would have an issue with what's brewing in her mind right now, let's be honest — but those two in particular give some weight to the thoughts she's thinking.

“I don't have a question.” Jac hadn't planned on speaking, or even offering anything. The incident with her mom and the stroke had bothered her more than she'd admit and the meddling agents were worse than any assistance she'd ever offered in investigations. But now she stands slowly and turns so she can mostly face everyone. “But I have something to say.”

That something hasn't finished percolating, it's evident in her slightly furrowed brow and the way she clasps her hands at her front. Jac searches the familiar faces, pausing on Doctor and Mrs. Miller then the less familiar agents. “I want mine removed. I know, pretty much everyone here thinks I'm too young to understand the risks, that… that just because Zachery came out alright there could be complications. I get it, it's scary, but so is watching your mom look like she's dying and no one knows why. And maybe these chips aren't what caused that to happen, and maybe it is. And if it is, what if it malfunctions on me before then. What if it happens when I'm home alone? We know something is there now.”

The young redhead pauses again, more sure of her argument if less sure of its reception. She glances around again, this time not lingering for long on any one person. “If we could remove multiple…” she starts again, now leveling a look on the few agents in their midst. “I mean, how many — Zachery said nanobots. That's plural. But then we could work more collaboratively. Maybe… maybe skip the government’s glacial pacing.”

Jac shrugs, maybe deciding it doesn't matter either way. “My decision though, is to have it or them removed.”

“Actually I’m in agreement with you this time,” Gillian responds simply to her adopted daughter’s words. “It’s no longer exploratory and with no reason other than to get a sample— now they know what they’re looking for.” And can at least get an idea where it is on an X-Ray or CT scan. They hadn’t really discussed it yet, but— she shakes her head a little— yes, she wouldn’t say no this time. Not to what Jac wants to do. “I also want mine removed.”

Castle claps their hands together. “That’s great. But I want to make one small thing clear— it’s not the speed of the government that’s slowing us down on this. Until now, we had literally had nothing to work with except your interviews and what SESA gave us. Now we do. It’s not the red tape this time, it’s the speed of science. It’s been a few days. Our people can only run so many tests on one chip when some tests take days and can’t be run concurrently.”

They don’t sound quite as happy go lucky as normal, and there’s a hint of something else to their accent that isn’t Irish or American— or even Russian for the Millers.

“With multiple chips, our people would be able to get more done. If you want to keep one chip to run tests of your own, we might be able to talk our bosses into allowing that and if for some reason they say no, just don’t bloody tell us about that one.”

Nicole lifts her head on Gabriella’s entrance, taking a moment to admire her coat. Her envy is definitely a shade similar to its luxurious fabric. “So, we’ve got chips in our brains. We don’t know what they do. There’s also nanobots?” She gestures loosely to her husband with her right hand. “Look, I’m married to a doctor and I have no fucking clue what any of it means either. There’s coffee on the bar. Make yourself at home.”

Although she half expects the blonde to just turn on her heel and walk right back out the door. She isn’t sure she could possibly blame her if she did.

With the talk of removing those chips, Nicole lowers her head to look down at her lap. “I think I’ll be keeping mine,” she says loudly enough to be heard in spite of her posture. “Someone has to, right? Control and treatment?” They won’t know what the chips are doing if they don’t leave one intact, right? “Besides, I’m not sure I’m a great candidate for it, considering…”

Sighing heavily, she lifts her head again. She may as well explain what’s put her in the state she’s in. “Our brainwaves are doing… strange things, as most of you are aware of by now. We’re essentially dreaming while awake, as far as the patterns suggest. I…” Nicole winces, and she can feel her husband’s ire, the glowing coals of his lingering anger with her. “I thought if I hit it with an electrical pulse, maybe I could reboot them somehow.”

Her voice is shaky as she continues. “Instead, I gave myself a brain bleed and fucked up my memory.” Turning her head away, she stares hard at one of the half-painted walls. The renovations are nearly complete, but the space still needs some final touches before the club actually re-opens next month. “I’m only just now getting mobility back on my left side.” Hence the ability to lift a finger, but not her whole arm. “I did that on the fifth. I didn’t have anything else happen to me on the eighth.”

Faulkner glances to Gabriella. "Chips in our brains and nanobots, yes. Also several of us have had surprise ministrokes out of the blue," he offers quietly.

That addresses that issue at least, though several others remain. Nicole's story draws a troubled look from Faulkner; dangerous experiments indeed, and some troubling consequences. But at the part about not removing the chip, he nods slowly.

"I also think," Faulkner says, "that I will have to pass on the brain surgery at the moment."

"Mrs. Miller's excellent point about a control group aside… our bodies are messes. Our blood is strange, our DNA has been restructured, our white blood cell count is the kind of number that makes doctors go into cold sweats, we have EM fields that MRIs balk at, and — as Mrs. Miller has mentioned — our brainwaves are bizarre nonsense. And now we have nanobots and brainchips added to the mix. But somehow, despite all the different ways we should have been quadruple dead, we are still able to function for the most part."

He raises a hand. "These chips might have played a role in the strokes, or they might not… but I would like to know more before I start surgically removing things. Especially since removing the chip doesn't do anything about the nanobots also inhabiting our skulls." He pauses. "Besides… in my particular case, it might be best to let my brain heal before I have someone start poking at it again," he admits, his gaze slipping to Gillian for a moment, not without a little concern.

Then he looks to Castle; the comment about not telling us about that one has bought them some goodwill from Isaac, at least. "I appreciate that even the best magicians need a hat before they can pull out a rabbit; I'll try to keep you in the loop. With that said… you mentioned something about corporations and hostile takeovers?"

There’s a sharp intake of breath from the direction of Kay Damaris at that last question. “Until recently, Renautas Company was under the control of Yamagato Industries,” she begins sourly. “On November eighth, that changed. Weiss Evolved Nanotech bought up a majority share and enacted a merger.” She’s more than just a little irritated by this turn of events. Given she’s the Director of Public Relations and she was apparently blindsided by it, it’s not really a mystery why. “To be honest with you all, Weiss was barely even a blip on my radar for this.”

Tapping her pencil restlessly against her notebook she frowns. “Given what we know now about what we couldn’t see on MRI, this is looking like, as Agent Castle put so succinctly, quite a coincidence.” While she wasn’t personally affected herself, it sure looks like Kay might like to put someone through a wall if she manages to get her hands on them.

“Funny you should mention them,” pipes up Kaylee suddenly to Kay, file still held out, avoiding the question about the chip removal.

“Renautas-Weiss came up in my research as one of barely a handful of companies trying to make a breakthrough in the area of adaptive blood, maybe they should be on our radar,” Kaylee comments thoughtfully to no one in particular, eyes narrowing slightly as she turns over the information in her mind. “I know we’ve established we’re very normal, but they’ve been working on an injectionless negation system.” She gives a shrug like ‘you never know.’

Brows lift and a smile tugs at the corner of Kaylee’s mouth, “And they're based in Germany, if I remember what I read right.” Which works with the audio they have.

Gabriella raises her brows at the first short answer to her question that comes her way, then shakes her head as she makes her way over to the bar. “Think I need what’s behind the bar, not on it, for a meeting like this one,” she says over her shoulder, and for a moment it might seem like she plans to just walk around to help herself.

She definitely thinks about it, peering at the bottles on the top shelf, but maybe she doesn’t see any shelf high enough to meet her standards. She goes to the coffee instead and goes about pouring a cup. Rather than joining the circle, she leans against the bar to listen in, eyes narrowing a little as she focuses on the faces of those she hasn’t met before.

“Do you,” Nova pipes up, looking at Bright and then Castle, “suggest we do get the chips out? I mean… aside from so you can have more for testing. What if they’re helping us in some way — to help regulate whatever else they did to us? Maybe whatever happened to some of you is because yours were faulty or are being rejected, but keeping them in there is better for the majority of us? I mean I guess… maybe we’ll find out, if Dr. Miller does okay and if anyone else gets theirs out and are okay, but…”

She trails off, brows drawn together as she stares downward, as if the answer to the dilemma might be written out on the floor.

Bright looks up from the file he’s taken from Kaylee, and his lips flatten a little in what might be a sympathetic look. “Until we do more testing, we can’t say. And to be clear, we’re not the ones running the tests, but I will definitely take your concerns back to those above us,” he says quietly.

“Yeah, Cat Mountain really let that one slip out of their claws,” Castle jokes quietly, with a grin, but they might agree with most of what everyone else is saying. But Kay handled it well enough with the answer to the question he would have answered. She had the same details he did, and possibly more.

Kay’s lips part and she fixes a look of stunned incredulity on Castle for their little pun. Cat Mountain, she mouths, working her still-open jaw to one side as it looks like it might be them she puts through the wall instead. Then with a heavy exhale, she’s back to neutral.

Jesus Christ.

When Nova speaks, Castle’s expression softens and they look at her, a hint of recognition in their eyes, but the Agents knew all of them, really, at least based on their files. She was one of the youngest of the victims, it was easy to sympathize for her, right? That was surely all of it was. “Well it would be nice to have some extra to look at, and it might be good to have one of the chips from one of you who had an attack to see if it was the chip that actually malfunctioned and to compare it to one that didn’t, but— you are right. It might be best to keep them where they are until we know more about their purposes.”

Zachery sits quietly, next to Nicole - whose words have been the only to have gotten a movement out of him beyond his scribbling - and even then, only for the deepest possible inhale, and the slowest possible exhale.

"Whatever was removed from me," he finally cuts in, without looking up, instead choosing to flip from page to page in the notebook in front of him. Distracted, sluggish. "It was hidden. An x-ray didn't pick it up. The surgeon who performed my procedure said the mass that was removed included an implant, but it was an Agent - Harris - who mentioned it was wrapped in something. It's not as easy as sliding the lead out of a mechanical pencil."

He barely lifts his head to shoot Jac, in particular, a wry look. "I wish I knew more. I wish I could tell you I was okay, as mentioned, because I think further examination of those who have not yet suffered a stroke, as well as those who have, could…" He flips through his notebook again, studying it page by page, pencil clutched tightly in a fist when his sentence stalls. "Could…" His wife rests a hand on his forearm, wordless.

Brynn looks between the speakers, keeping up as best she can, but she finally pulls in a slow breath and signs, I want nanobots out of my head. And no, Mr. Zachery, they didn't say it couldn’t be seen on X-Ray —- they said we're emitting a field that was interfering, she points out. Lacking tone to convey emotion, it's only her worried face that gives away what her tone may have been. Do you think whatever it was wrapped in is EMP-proof?

Looking between the older adults, especially those who were Ferrymen, she points out, Not all the bots during the war were shielded, right? At least, early on? Maybe Aunt Kaylee's company has the tech? Her eyes slide over the very damaged Gillian. With Mr. Zachery's chip out, we could maybe try it on that one before attempting it on a live target, though?

Apparently she's following along well enough and has enough memories of wartime combat to ask the question, anyway.

The various acknowledgments of her stance and shift to other topics cracks and fractures what confidence Jac had been clinging to when she stood up to speak. Gillian’s support helps keep it from breaking entirely, but the rest leaves her on uncertain ground. Her arms fold across her chest, a poor shield against the discomfort that's settling around her shoulders like a stole of porcupine quills. She shifts her weight to sit again, to make herself less noticeable, then Zachery speaks and catches her eye.

Of everyone who she would have expected to say anything to dissuade her from going forward with the procedure, he'd never made the list. To hear him speak now — even without directly saying so, she hears the warnings against going forward with removal clearly — crumbles whatever foundation remained of her confidence.

Her eyes angle aside. The rare but not unfamiliar feeling of betrayal leaves an oily sheen over the confusion and frustration that roll over her in waves. She shakes her head once, then again a beat later. Her mouth works after the second, but words don't form. It seems pointless to speak up anyway. A third shake of her head happens as Jac abandons the plan to sit and instead weaves the shortest route to the exit.

While the conversation rolls on, Asi slides her phone from the pocket of her jacket, typing away at it with cliff notes for later. She suspects the chances of the DOE agents diligently taking notes sharing theirs is low. Once she scrawls enough in her shorthand, she looks up to begin following the trace of the conversation a bit more actively.

Especially when Bright chimes in that they confirmed the chip isn't an extradimensional device. That's a heavy confirmation, a closing off of one path— that they're themselves, but not from here. It's cathartic, almost, to be able to cross even one thing definitively off their theory board.

"Just how many nanobots were observed during Miller's procedure? Were they moving? Were they just… there, or were they embedded? Did they appear to be monitoring anything, or did they send out pulses?"

Like a remote control system.

Asi looks to the agents in the room, lacking the resentment and distrust she normally has for them. "These are the answers I would be after. And if it was not clear in the exploratory surgery, then it is something that should be followed up on in the procedures of the volunteers who are stepping forward."

“I’ll be a control. No offense to those who want theirs out, but clearly Dr. Miller is having issues with the result of his own procedure and right now, all I have is headaches and occasional loss of sensation and I don’t… I can’t be… I have a kid that I’ve scared enough as is already.” Abby shakes her head, that little butterscotch disc sitting in the side of her mouth. “So no surgery for me, no exploration, no tests. I’ll just sit and be the control.”

“Yikes,” Gabby opines behind the rim of a coffee cup, eyes wide as she watches from her distance. “I think I’ll stick with waiting and seeing what happens to the rest of you.”

She takes another sip of coffee before it occurs to her that might sound rude.

“No offense.”

Bright stares at her for a long moment, blinking behind his reading glasses, then turns to Asi to address her.

“They were noticed after removal but were already dormant — or maybe were dormant before then,” he says, his tone apologetic and calm. “And number, well. Dozens. I don’t have the precise number. Some of this is, you know, there are only so many specialists in that level of technology, and we don’t want to invite Hannibel Lecter in for a consultation, you know, but it does give us an area to focus on we didn’t have before.”

“Well, if you need any of Raytech’s staff for that, let me know,” Kaylee says to Bright once she’s settled in her chair again. “Like I told Agent Gates, we know people… we might have what you need.” All in the spirit of cooperation after all.

That said, she looks at Gabriella and then some of the others. Seems to be a mixed “I’m waiting on my chip though, we don’t know what those bots and the chip were doing for us or how dependent we are on them.” Kaylee looks across at the file in Bright’s lap. “Hey… you said they were dormant?”

The former telepath looks between the agents. “Have your scientists check what happens if you put them in an electromagnetic field. We’re putting off a ton of it right?” Kaylee spreads her hands. “Maybe it’s a powersource… Possibly, a communication source as well right?”

Asi shifts her weight more to one hip, phone sliding into her pocket again. She looks off to one side, gaze distant even though her voice comes through present and clear. "No one needs to make an immediate decision. There's still a lot we don't know, but if we now have joint science on our side, a little more patience may lead to more clarity."

"The most important thing from here is that we look out for each other. That we be honest with each other if something feels off, even if we trust no one else." Sorry, not sorry, observers in the room. "We've established now that what's happened to one of us is likely to happen to more of us, and that our experiences with medical science vastly differs from the rest of humanity's. Whether it's a typical medical procedure, exploratory Refrain usage, or response to other therapies…"

"We are it. We are the only ones who can look out for each other. And staying in touch is just as likely to help you learn something to help you as it is to help someone else." Asi shifts a look briefly in Gabby's direction before moving on, to Bright, to Castle directly. "And hopefully the results we share from our end will be met in kind with additional information from yours."

Over the rim of her cup, Gabriella meets Asi’s pointed look, before her own eyes point up and over in a slow arc to the other side of the room.

As Jac moves to leave, Gillian lets out a soft sound and starts to stand, but winces stays halfway up instead of standing all the way. She doesn’t need a wheelchair like someone who electrocuted herself, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still weakened by the mini stroke she’d had, at times. It slows her down and keeps her from going after Jac immediately, allowing the teen to make her way out the door. She shakes her head and lets out a small sigh. “This whole thing has been hard on all of us, Agents. We’re all trying to get something back.”

Control. Power. Safety. Themselves. Things they might never be able to get back again. But that was why she understood them taking the risks they did. Would they probably take more now? Who knew…

With a sad expression, Castle looks at Asi, “We’re going to share what we find. To be absolutely clear, we were not running any tests on you until this happened. Everything we did was with those questions, and I can tell you right now, all we were attempting to determine with those questions, masked in general wellness questions, were if you had been the victims of a temporal or spatial event. Which in this case, you were not, as we have officially verified based on the technology. We are not hiding anything from you about your case, other than that we have been trying to keep a close eye on what you have been doing so that no one takes you again and that nothing worse happens to you. That is all.”

Kay lifts her head from her notes to speak up. “How do you detect a temporal-spatial anomaly like that?” She’s not completely ignorant to the notion of tech that can just… do that, but some kind of confirmation of method would go a long way with her. This is not her area of expertise, but she’s at least trying to cover her bases so that Kimiko can at least be satisfied that she’s done what she can to represent her interests. “How do you know with any certainty that this isn’t some event like that?”

At the mention of other therapies, Nicole looks down at her hands in her lap uncomfortably. But for all that her experiment with electroconvulsive therapy didn’t work out as hoped, it did at least kickstart the Exterior into digging deeper and sharing information. “By making this a two-way street,” Nicole says just loud enough to be heard, looking up to Castle now with a remorseful kind of expression. Maybe she feels guilty about giving them the finger earlier, “hopefully this keeps anyone else from experiencing that kind of desperation, and we won’t run into another situation like…”

Pointedly, Nicole turns her face away from her husband, though she can practically feel his reproach. Or thinks that’s what he should be feeling. She’s often rather unfair when it comes to intuiting his emotional state. Instead of dealing with that, she turns to address Brynn’s concerns, apologetic that she can’t make the shapes with her mouth that would help make her communication clearer. Fortunately, there are others who can bridge that gap.

“What they removed from my husband couldn’t be seen on an X-ray. It was… tucked away. Hidden. It might have shown up on an MRI, but we won’t know because of the EM interference.” Nicole shakes her head. “If we had access to that chip…” Again, she glances to Castle. “If we were to get our hands on another one,” and not tell them about it, as they suggested, “we could look into studying it. But until then…”

From her place outside the circle, Kay taps her pen against her notebook restlessly. “Yamagato is prepared to offer any assistance we can on that front. Money. Facilities… Whatever is needed. We’re in contact with Ms Thatcher, naturally. If there’s any resource any of you needs access to, she can let me know about it.”

Bright smiles over at Kaylee and nods, jotting down the directions for the science team, these in regular English rather than shorthand for any spying eyes — maybe to prove he’s writing down their ideas. “They probably already plan to do those things, but I’ll pass it along,” he says with a nod, before listening to the others.

At Kay’s query about how they can test for temporal-spatial anomalies, he looks up, then glances over to Castle, perhaps to get the other agent’s thoughts on the matter. As much as Castle is able to impart those with a look, which just happens to be a shrug, as neither of them have the ability to mind read.

He looks back to Kay, then clears his throat. “In regards to how we know the chip isn’t from another timeline, I’m afraid it’s not a test that we run that any of your labs could do at Yamagato, or yours at Raytech,” he says, nodding first to Kay and then to the Raytech contingents.

“Simply put, it’s my ability, to, you know, sense when something isn’t from here or now. I can tell you that you’re all,” he gestures to the group, “from here and now. As is the chip, and you know, the plane.”

Kay’s brows lift in silent appreciation of the explanation. That must be handy.

Bright smiles that grandfatherly smile. “If you were all from somewhere else, I wouldn’t be able to be in the room with you for very long. I mean, this long is a chore for anyone to be in a room with some of you.” He chuckles. It’s a joke. Really. And that at least makes Castle snort with laughter, cause they get the joke. “But I wouldn’t last more than five minutes with this many… anomalies.”

Stretching his legs out a little, then tucking them back under his chair, he adds, “I don’t normally tell people, so if you could keep it on the downlow as they say, I’d appreciate it. But in the spirit of communication and trust, I felt you should know.”

“Davis,” Nicole looks to the older of the two agents present, “I’m wondering… Have you met with any of the…” Her right hand waves in the air as she tries to find the right word. “Victims from Yamagato?” The question earns her the sharpest of looks from Director Damaris. Like a hawk who’s just spotted a rabbit.

It's a look matched by Asi, her interest in Bright's ability tempered now by the caution for what might be done to anyone who runs afoul of his radar.

Survivors,” Nova says, a hard edge to her voice after the word victims. Technically this was done to them, so she understands Nicole’s connotation, but it’s not a word she chooses to use to describe herself.

Nicole holds her hand up in surrender. “Thank you, Nova. You're right.”

Bright smiles, and glances down at his hands, then back up. “I haven’t had that distinct pleasure, but I was speaking for those in the room. I will add that the longer something has been in this timeline, the resonance fades, incrementally. So rather I should probably say that it’s not likely the chip or the plane or any of you have been in another dimension recently, but I am aware that I may pick up some, you know, pings now and then from some of you and your associates.”

Faulkner watches Jac leave, but isn't at all sure what to make of it; he opts instead to focus his attention on what's happening here, in this room. He regards Gabriella with a mild expression at her comment, his gaze lingering on her for a moment longer before it moves on.

Once the DoE agents start talking, though, Faulkner leans forward, watching them intently, waiting for an opportune time to speak up; Bright and Castle's talk of pings — and, by extension, other worlds and dimensions — seems as good a time as any.

"I have a question, if I may," Faulkner says, regarding Bright and Castle intently. "On the subject of other dimensions, since that subject has been broached and the cat is out of the m… bag, as it were," he says, resisting the urge to bring up Castle's horrible/hilarious Yamagato pun; this is serious business, after all. "It's a question that's been puzzling me since the start: namely, why us?"

"There must surely be some commonality between us, but so far no one's been able to find it as far as I know — the survivors of the incident range from a Fortune 500 CEO and a high-ranking SESA official to a package delivery boy," he says, grimacing a bit.

"However… it occurs to me that the Department of the Exterior may have a… broader perspective than most of us. My question, then, is this: do you feel that it is possible that extradimensional factors might have played some role in the selection of some or all of us?" Faulkner asks, watching Bright and Castle intently.

“That is, of course, still very possible,” Castle says, focusing their response to Faulkner. At least they seem to not be quite as— emotionally distraught as they had been before they snort-laughed at Bright’s joke. “We just can ascertain that it is now extremely unlikely you yourselves travelled to another dimension and that the tech itself did not originate from another dimension. But there’s still possibilities that— other dimensions could still be involved. We’ll be looking into that too, as we have been the last few months.”



Maybe that wasn’t good for all of them. They glance toward the woman in the wheelchair who had flipped them off earlier and wince slightly, which Nicole acknowledges with a flattening of her mouth and a small dip of her chin. “Anyway, we still don’t know much of what happened. Whoever did this is good at covering their tracks. And it’s still possible there’s something extra dimensionally chancy going on, but that’s what we’re going to keep trying to figure out.”

“‘Extra dimensionally chancy,’” Bright murmurs with a head shake. “You millennials.”

To Faulkner, he spreads his hands, then reaches for his pen to tap against his pad, before glancing toward the door and back again.

“I would imagine there is some commonality but as you say it’s really hard to spot. Unless that is the point — to have a cross section of, you know, society, from the poor to the rich. We’ll continue — as I’m sure you will — to look for the common denominator. Aside from being almost all expressive,” his blue eyes flit to Gabriella, who crosses her arms and tips her head to the side to stare back, eyes widening slightly, “mostly white, mostly within a certain age range, and mostly from this area… that’s about all we got. But maybe we’ll learn more soon.”

He smiles over at Kaylee. “At the speed of government. But we’ll try to be a little quicker, I promise.”

“So sometime next year,” Kaylee says sassing right back at Bright with a teasing tilt to her smile.

“Seriously, though… that’s all we can ask for, but you can't blame us for our impatience,” Kaylee says with some uncertainty, rubbing at a point next to her blood infused eye. Her attention goes to Asi and she nods slowly. “We’re the only people like us right now and the only ones that really understand each other.” Blue eyes drift around to the other Sundered that remain and she sighs, rubbing hands over her face.

It was getting hard to hold on to that brave face, when the telepath was truly terrified. Hand pause and then slowly lower, “Agent Bright? Question about your ability. It’s dimensional? Right? Does that include people that have moved through time? Or strictly across worlds?”

Straightening, Kaylee studies the older man. “Because, we know the plane isn’t from another version of our world, but… that may not rule out it being popped back in time.”

Bright dips his head when he’s addressed in the affirmative to the first part of the question. “Both. The plane isn’t a time traveler, unless it’s been a fairly long time since it did so. I can’t however,” his eyes sparkle just a bit as he attempts to put some levity into the matter, “outrule any trips to Fantasy Island.”

Most of the audience is way too young to get that joke.

Nova cranes her head to look for someone’s eyeline to make contact with. “The hell is Fantasy Island?”

“I guess… an island where you can live out your fantasies?” Abby offers. “Sounds like a pretty good place right now honestly.”

"Wasn't that from Pinnochio?" Faulkner asks.

“No, that's fantastic Island.” That at least, Abby knows. “He said Fantasy Island.”

“Oh, my god,” Nicole groans and covers her face with one hand. “Davis.

“Pinocchio is Pleasure Island.” The correction comes, surprisingly, from Gabriella. Apparently she knows her Disney classic on top of having a grade-A eyeroll game.

Davis Bright sighs the long suffering sigh of a man surrounded by people half his age (or younger). Because he is. “Next you’ll tell me you’ve never heard of The Love Boat.”

“Well that would be exciting and new,” Kay quips flatly in all her southern-accented glory.

Brynn looks toward Abby and Gillian, signing, Did he say a 'love boat'? Is that like a she makes air quotes before finishing, massage parlor? Why's he talking about paying for sex?

“No, pleasure Island was one of the names. I think there was different names. I’m pretty sure Fantastic Island wa-” Abby looks at Brynn and with eyes wide, covering the teens fingers with her own like a mother cover their child's mouth after saying something situationally inappropriate. “Brynn! No!” She looks horrified. “How do you even know about that!” Abby looks to Gillian shaking her head and questioningly staring at the other woman. “How.. How does she know about those places?”

“Because she’s an adult, Abby,” Kaylee says with flat amusement. She’s just been watching the exchanges quietly with a lifted brow - she has no plans of letting anyone know she knows the shows Bright’s talking about having been raised by her Granny.

They've all gotten horribly off track now, but Asi stops short of trying to reright the group's train of thought. She stifles a small laugh of her own.

At least with all the world going to shit around them, they can still find the spirits to banter like this. That's one thing their suffering and worry hasn't crushed out of them yet.

And if they've still got that, she's sure they've got the strength to face what comes next. To continue to fight for answers, as terrifying as they may be. To fight to make things right, no matter the cost.

Hopefully the price of victory on that front doesn't exact too many more pounds of flesh from them all.

"I'm going to call it here. Everyone is welcome to stay as long as they like, follow up with whoever they want to separately, but for now, I think we've answered as many questions that can be." Turning to look to the agents, then to Kay, Asi voices, "I speak for everyone in saying that we look forward to more answers. And that we're looking forward to being partners in finding them."

"If anybody needs anything else, we all know how to get in touch with each other by now."

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