I feel the weight of the world

r violence



chapter 1: semper eadem

"We're lost, aren't we?"

"No," Junpei said, more than a little defensively. "I can read a damn map. You probably haven't even seen one in half a century."

Sigma closed his eyes and tried to remember the breathing exercises Diana had taught him. Breathe in deeply through your nose, filling your lungs to capacity, holding it there for a moment -

"You're the one who told the cabbie to let us out here, anyway. 'No, I'm positive, this is the place,' you said. This clearly isn't the damn place."

He exhaled, keeping his eyes closed, trying to resist the urge to wrap his hands around Junpei's throat and throttle the living shit out of him.

Phi had dubbed the mission 'Crotchety Old Men: The Reunion Tour' and Sigma had to admit the way it was going, she wasn't far off the mark. Sigma hated flying to begin with and had borrowed Diana's antianxiety meds to get through the trip from California to New York. Their flight had been delayed and then the plane hit turbulence; Junpei had spent most of the last hour in the air vomiting into a bag while Sigma had clutched the armrests of his seat, cursing the fact that the Xanax was doing nothing to help him. Sigma's luggage had gotten shipped to Chicago, and while he was smart enough to have kept his valuables in his carryon bag, it meant the only clothes he had were the ones he was wearing. The hotel had fucked up their reservation, so they would be sharing a room. The driver of the first taxi they got in attempted to take them on a convoluted route to their destination. He had gotten extremely pissed off when Sigma called him on it and demanded he stop and let them out. It was late March but winter still had a death grip on the city and neither of the men had brought appropriate coats. The two of them were tired, freezing, cranky, and at this point, starving.

Carlos had planned to come with Junpei on this damn trip, but he was in the hospital recovering from a nasty case of smoke inhalation.

Lucky bastard.

Having lost the last bit of his patience, he ripped the tablet out of Junpei's hands and scrutinized the map on it. It only took him a moment to realize the problem.

"You're not even in the right section of New York on this thing."

He zoomed out until he could find the small blue dot that indicated where they were standing, which was about twelve blocks from the part of the map Junpei had been looking at. He switched out of road map view and compared the landmarks to what he could see around them.

"Okay. I think it's three blocks left, then one down."

"If you say so."

Sigma kept his focus on the map, watching the blue dot dart along the streets. When the dot was close to the address they had been given, he pointed to the building in front of him without even glancing up from the map.

"This should be it."

"I'm gonna go with 'no', Sigma. Also, I don't know how open-minded Diana is, but if I go in there, Akane's gonna kill me."

He looked up then. The flashing neon sign read 'Naughty Nancy's Pleasure Palace'. There was a menu in the window with clinical descriptions of sex acts and the prices for each, with the words TAX NOT INCLUDED in bold red print at the bottom.

"Has prostitution always been this expensive, or only since it's been legalized?"

Junpei glared at him. "How the fuck would I know?!"

"You used to be a detective!"

"So?!"

Sigma rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Okay, whatever, the point is, the map says it's right here."

"Maybe we're just on the wrong side of the street."

He turned to look where Junpei was pointing - at a tall office building that looked like it had seen better days. The traffic light took forever to change; Junpei apparently couldn't wait and darted across the street when he saw an opening, ignoring the sound of car horns.

When he got to the other side and saw Sigma still pointing to the DON'T WALK signal, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, "You waiting for a boy scout to help your old ass cross the road?"

Sigma flipped him off. Junpei threw up his hands and started checking out the directory on the front of the office building. Sigma joined him as soon as the light changed.

"This is it," Junpei said, pointing to the fifth name on the list. Nigel Sullivan, Adoption Services, Inc. Mr. Sullivan was on the same floor as Madame Zulka, Psychic Medium, Li Chen, Licensed Acupuncturist, and Triple X Feature Films.

As they stepped inside, Sigma gagged at the smell. "Did someone take a piss in here?"

The building was unbearably warm, causing both men to shrug off their jackets and take off their gloves. The walls had cracks in them that were so large he was seriously concerned the building might fall on their heads. Where there weren't cracks, there were stains, including one that looked like dried blood. The floor was cheap linoleum that was peeling up in some places and completely ripped away in others. As they got closer to the elevators, he saw posters advertising the various businesses. The one for Adoption Services, Inc had a smiling woman standing behind a young boy, her hands on his shoulders; its position next to the explicit advertisement for the porn studio was ... odd, to say the least.

"Who the hell would come here to get a kid?" he mused aloud.

"Someone who was desperate," Junpei responded. The tone of his voice caused Sigma to turn around and look at him. Junpei was staring at the boy on the poster, his forehead wrinkled in a sort of sad confusion, and that was when Sigma realized the child bore a strong resemblance to Quark.

"Hey, asshole, if you enjoy the smell of piss that much, you can hang around here, but I'm going upstairs."

It had the intended effect of drawing Junpei's attention away from the poster. "What the fuck is your problem?"

"I just want to get this over with." Sigma took one look at the rickety deathtrap of an elevator and decided he didn't want to have to SHIFT out of this timeline, so he headed for the stairs. They smelled even worse than the hallway, but he could hear Junpei behind him and from the steady stream of cursing, he definitely wasn't thinking about the kid in the poster anymore.

As far as Sigma knew, Junpei hadn't recovered any memories from the Radical-6 timeline, and Sigma was going to do what he could to make sure it stayed that way. When Sigma had first sketched out an idea for Sean's head, he realized that he had unconsciously drawn something that looked a lot like Quark. Eric had asked Sean if he would like to have a face like his, or Mira's, like he was a part of the family. Sigma expected Mira to balk, but Eric said he had already talked to her and she was okay with it. Sean had asked for something that looked like both of them and when Sigma was done outlining a face with Eric's jaw, Mira's nose, and hair that was a shade somewhere between the two of them, it reminded him of the boy from Rhizome 9.

He had abandoned it and gone back to the drawing board.

Akane thought it was unlikely that Junpei would ever learn about his time with Quark; the farther away - temporally speaking - the memories were, the harder it was to recover them through the morphogenetic field. But even when Sean still had what they had taken to calling his "helmet", Sigma saw the way Junpei interacted with him, and the pensive expression on his face. He knew what it was like to be haunted by memories of people who were virtually guaranteed never to be born in this world. He knew there were other timelines where Kyle and Luna were alive, but they weren't here and sometimes it brought tears to his eyes.

Junpei didn't have to mourn his grandson from another history. Not if Sigma had anything to say about it.

When they reached Sullivan's office, Sigma was loath to touch the doorknob - or anything else in this building. As soon as he opened the door, he wiped his hand on his pants.

Then the smell hit him.

He had experienced that smell too many times in his life, and from the way Junpei reacted, he knew it was the same for him. Junpei moved as if he was going to grab his gun, before remembering that they didn't have weapons with them because they didn't have permits to carry in New York.

"Fuck," Junpei swore. Sigma wasn't quite as worried. This was the smell of a body that had been dead and decaying for a while. The odds that the killer would have stuck around for days were nearly nil.

He assumed the body in the back room was that of Nigel Sullivan. The man had been shot multiple times in the head and chest. There were hundred dollar bills scattered all over the floor, as if it was a robbery gone wrong, but -

"This scene was staged," Junpei said, confirming Sigma's suspicions.

"We should call the police." But as Sigma pulled out his phone, Junpei held up a hand.

"Let's look around first."

"You want to contaminate a crime scene?"

Junpei rolled his eyes at him and pulled his leather gloves out of his jacket pocket. "Do you think we'll get any of the information we came here for if we bring the cops in right away? They won't let us look at his files."

He hated to admit that Junpei had a point. As much as they had gone through to get here, it didn't make sense to walk away empty-handed. Sullivan's death actually made it easier to get what they needed; instead of having to con, bribe, wheedle, threaten, or distract him, they could just dig right into the files that were presumably in the boxes behind his desk. He put back on his own gloves as Junpei opened one of the boxes and started leafing through documents.

"Who the fuck still keeps paper files in 2030?" he muttered.

Sigma shrugged as he tried to avoid stepping in blood splatter.

"Freeze! NYPD! Show your hands!"

Fuck.

Junpei stood up before Sigma could turn around, and Sigma froze when he saw the expression on the other man's face.

"Holy fucking shit."

Sigma turned on his heel a little more quickly than he should have, given that there was probably a gun pointed at his back, but the tone of Junpei's voice had him concerned.

The man standing in the doorway looked like a typical police detective, complete with the cheap suit, except that he seemed entirely too young. He was about Sigma's height and build. Or actually, probably exactly Sigma's height and build. His nose was slightly pointy, just like Diana's. His ears stuck out a bit more than was normal, just like Sigma's. His cheeks were marked by freckles, just like Diana's. His eyes were a steely blue-grey, just like Sigma's. And his hair - parted on the right, slicked back on either side - was the exact same shade as Diana's.

There was no mistaking it.

The man who had a gun trained on them was his son.



chapter 2: semper in excretia sumus solim profundum variat

Sigma sat in the holding cell, staring at his hands.

This hadn't gone exactly how he expected.

In the moment when he recognized Delta - a younger, healthier Delta - standing in front of him, he had become convinced he was about to die. Before he could even try to think of a way to escape the situation, Delta had called out to his partner, who rushed into the room and proceeded to handcuff them both. Everything was kind of a blur after that.

Junpei, at least, had kept cool. They were apparently Mirandized and Junpei invoked the right to remain silent for both of them, then demanded a phone call when they arrived at the station.

The car they had been loaded into seemed like a real police car. The building they were in seemed like a real police building. When Junpei had called Alice, he had asked her to trace the call, and she had apparently confirmed it was a legitimate police number.

None of that, though, really meant anything. Delta - the other Delta - clearly had resources. If this Delta had any access to any of those resources, it wouldn't be too hard for him to dummy up a police station, get cronies to man it, and even fake a phone trace.

The only things he knew - and that was only if he could trust what Delta had said - was that this version of his son was Detective Del O'Malley, he was forty-seven years old, and his fellow officers called him 'Babyface' because he looked like he wasn't a day over twenty.

Sigma had started to theorize out loud on how that could be when Junpei yelled at him to shut the fuck up, pointing at the surveillance cameras in the holding area.

Delta had asked him if there was anyone he wanted to call. On the one hand, he wanted to call Diana so he could say goodbye, properly, if he was destined to die here. On the other hand, he didn't want to give his son any hints as to where his mother and sister were living. Sigma had declined and then tried to fill his thoughts with gibberish in an attempt to thwart Delta, in case he was trying to mind hack him.

"All right, you're free to go," Delta/O'Malley/whoever-he-was said as he entered the room. "I would like to ask you both some questions, though. You were technically tampering with a crime scene. I could still charge you with that."

Even after his cell door was opened, Sigma was frozen in place, trying to figure out if this was a trap.

"You believe we didn't kill that guy?" Junpei asked, as he stepped out of his cell, carefully avoiding turning his back on Delta.

"Our coroner said Sullivan's been dead for three days. I just got confirmation that your flight didn't arrive until early this morning. Got a flight attendant who identified you and says..." He pulled a small tablet out of his shirt pocket and scrolled down the screen for a moment. "... ah, says 'musta given the Chinese guy a million puke bags and thought the other guy was gonna piss his pants.'"

Forty-five years away from civilization had dulled Sigma's ability to identify different accents, but now he was fairly certain this Delta had come from New England.

"Chinese? Really?" Junpei turned to Sigma in frustration.

"Is now really the time?" Sigma snapped at him.

Delta's face was unreadable as his eyes shifted from one man to the other. "Like I said, I would like to ask you both some questions, if you'd follow me to my desk. That would allow you to avoid the pesky tampering charges."

"Do we have a choice?" Junpei crossed his arms over his chest.

"No," was Delta's response. He gestured to the door.

Delta's desk looked bizarrely normal. Sigma wasn't sure what he expected - grotesque crime scene pictures, mementos from horrific murders, something gory and disgusting. It had a laptop, a phone, a small box, and various office supplies. A simple gold nameplate read 'Det. O'Malley'. The only personal touches were a hockey puck in a glass case and a picture of a red-haired boy in a suit standing in front of a man in religious garb of some sort. A reverend or a priest, maybe.

"First communion," Delta said, when he saw Sigma staring at it. "Please, sit down."

Junpei examined the chair as if he expected it to electrocute him the minute he touched it, but ultimately sat. Sigma followed suit.

"I had my guys check you out. Mr. Tenmyouji, I see you're a licensed private investigator in California, so I could understand why you're poking around an adoption agency. But Mr. Klim -"

"It's pronounced like 'climb' actually."

"My mistake." Delta put down his tablet. "You have a graduate degree in mechanical engineering, and in spite of the fact that you're a newlywed - I guess I should say congratulations - you recently walked away from a job with a Fortune 500 company. What's your connection to this?"

It felt like his chest was being crushed in a vice; all he could focus on was that Delta knew about Diana. He rubbed his finger where his wedding ring had been, before he had to turn it over with the rest of his personal effects. He was unsure if he should try to contact Diana to tell her to take Phi and run, or if that would play right into some fucked-up plan.

Instead, he tentatively sought out his son's mind, trying to get a read on this Delta's game plan. It was easiest for him to envision the field as a circuit board, with clean, etched lines from one mind to another. It was difficult for him to make connections with strangers, and even with his friends and family, some of them - like Akane or Phi - could block him when they wanted to. So he anticipated running into an esper version of a resistor.

He was startled when he seemed to make contact. Even more so when he sensed sadness. Not anger, or malice, or hate. The man sitting in front of him was radiating melancholy mixed with confusion and a touch of ... feeling betrayed?

"Sigma is a friend of my fiancée," Junpei was saying. "As you said, he's recently unemployed and just got married, so I'm helping him out by giving him some part-time work. A client of mine had her adoption facilitated by Mr. Sullivan. She wants to find her birth parents, so she hired me to come out here and talk to him."

"Ah." Delta picked up the box on his desk and opened it; Sigma could see it contained their wallets and everything else that was taken from them upon their arrival at the station. Delta pulled out an envelope and handed the box over to Sigma. He immediately fished out his wedding band and put it back on his finger.

"This must be your client, then," Delta continued, as he pulled pictures out of the envelope. "Mind if I talk to her?"

"If you want." Junpei shrugged. "Her number's right there on the envelope."

The photos were of Tomoko, a member of the Crash Keys who usually worked COMSEC and coordinated with the Kashiwabaras; since she wasn't a field agent, she had been chosen to pose as their "client" should it come to that. She knew what to say if someone were to call that number.

Delta nodded as he typed the number into his tablet, then handed the pictures to Junpei.

"I guess that's it." He almost sounded disappointed. "I have to ask you to -"

"Not leave town, yeah, I know the drill." Junpei stuffed his wallet in the back pocket of his pants. "Come on, Sigma."

"Do you want me to have someone drive you back to your hotel?"

"No." Junpei was adamant. "We'll get a cab."

Delta sighed, and Sigma found himself oddly reluctant to leave.

-

Unlike the initial cab ride from the airport, the two men barely spoke as they rode from the police station to their hotel. Once in their room, Junpei grunted as he pulled the minibar in front of the door. Muttering curses under his breath, he got his laptop out of his bag and set it up on the desk. He dialed up Alice for a video conference, but she didn't answer. After he tried her four more times, she finally appeared on the screen.

"Where the hell have you been?!"

"I know it's hard to believe, but women have to urinate just like you men do. Clover told me your alibi checked out and you were going to be released. I sent you the results of the background check over an hour ago. Did you bother to read it?"

"Do you understand who the fuck just kidnapped us?!"

"You were arrested, Junpei, not kidnapped, and if you read the document I sent you, you'd understand why I'm not ordering air strikes on the 41st precinct!"

Sigma dug out his own laptop and opened his email as Alice and Junpei argued. The file she had sent them was a profile of Delta O'Malley. Seeing the first name in black and white like that sent a chill down Sigma's spine. He was supposedly born October 5th, 1983, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Kieran and Bridgette O'Malley, who were researchers at something called the Argus Institute. Before he joined the Boston Police Department, he had attended college and gotten a degree in art history, of all things. His mother had died of cancer when he was seventeen and his father had died of a heart attack twelve years ago, which was when he moved to New York.

His police record was what caught Sigma's attention. He didn't have a single complaint against him, in either city. His performance reviews were glowing and his clearance rate was almost 90%. He had received numerous commendations, including the New York City Police Department Medal of Honor.

It was a record that any father would have been proud of, but Sigma couldn't help but wonder if Delta had mind hacked his way to all of it.

"I don't doubt that this guy is a clone or a copy of Brother," Alice was yelling at the screen. "But I didn't find one shred of evidence that he's connected to Free the Soul, or the Cortex, or guilty of anything except bad fashion sense!"

"He's involved in it somehow!" Junpei shouted back. "There is no way it's a coincidence that he shows up -"

There was a knock on their door and Sigma slammed his computer shut in frustration. "It's probably the damn hotel manager telling you two to keep it down!"

He shoved aside the minibar and flung open the door, prepared to apologize, only to be surprised for the second time in one day by the appearance of his son.



chapter 3: semper apertus

Sigma took three steps back, his fists up in front of his chest before he knew what he was doing. Behind him, Alice and Junpei had stopped squabbling; she asked if they needed backup and he told her to get them here fast but keep them outside. Sigma estimated it would take at least thirty minutes for agents from the New York SOIS office to get to their hotel.

That would be plenty of time for Delta to do his damage if that's what he came here to do.

Right now, though, the calm, cool visage he had maintained in the police station was gone. He looked dismayed, puzzled. He held up his hands in front of him, which was little comfort for someone who could kill you with his mind.

"I know you're scared of me. I know you know what I can do. I get that. I told myself wasn't any good following you but I can't let it go. I just wanna talk."

"Talk about what?" Junpei asked.

Delta glanced over at him, then back at Sigma. "I know you got no reason to believe me. I know if other people can do what I can do, they might be out there doing some awful stuff. I never hurt anybody with this. Only reason I scanned you -"

"So you hacked him." Junpei looked like he was ready for a fight, too.

"If you're asking if I scanned his mind, yeah, but... it was only because - I mean, look at him! Even my partner was like, 'Hey, Del, that guy could be your twin brother!'"

He gestured towards Sigma, making the other man flinch.

"My - my parents swore up and down, their hands to God, that I wasn't adopted, but I always thought they were lying to me. They mighta had the red hair and the blue eyes, but we didn't really look anything alike. My pa was five seven, for crying out loud, and they didn't have any pictures of me before I was four years old. So when I saw you, I mean, I know my hair's not the right color and you don't got freckles, but I thought you ... you might be a long-lost brother or something. Until I scanned you. I got out of your head as soon as I figured you were scared. Before I did, though, I ... I heard you think I was your son. Which doesn't make any damn sense, 'cause the records I found on you say you were born in 2006. You sure aren't in your sixties. I think I musta messed up something there."

The words had spilled out of him so rapidly that Sigma almost had trouble keeping up. When he was finally done, Delta let out a deep exhale.

"I gotta know who you are and how you know me and how you know what I can do. Are there other people like me? Do you know them? Are they my biological family? Can I meet them? Do you know why I am how I am?"

Sigma was speechless. Junpei was staring at the detective with his mouth hanging open. Even Alice, who was still watching everything via video conference, looked perplexed.

"Could one of you boys move the laptop so I have a better angle on this?" she said. "Why don't you start at the beginning, Delta?"

"Christ almighty, call me 'Del'. I hate my full name."

Sigma sat down on the closest bed, a touch of irritation flaring up at Delta - Del's - rebuke of the name Diana had carefully picked for him. Del glanced at the seat behind him, but didn't sit, making eye contact with Junpei, silently asking for permission.

Junpei threw up his hands. "Sure, why not! I don't even know what the fuck is going on anymore." He adjusted the laptop so Alice had a better view and then popped open the minibar. He fumbled around with some of the tiny bottles and a can of cola before turning around with three glasses. He handed one to Sigma, who immediately took a sip, hoping to take the edge off, and one to Del, who looked at it warily before accepting it.

"I'm technically still on duty. Shouldn't really be drinking."

He laughed bitterly as he hopped up on the desk, sitting next to his computer. "This is the weirdest fucking day I have had in a while. And there have been some big fucking contenders. Just ... have a damn drink with us."

"Then start at the beginning already," Alice interjected. "'To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born,' and so on and so forth."

They were stalling, and if it was obvious to Sigma, it was probably obvious to Delta - Del - as well. They were trying to keep him occupied to give the SOIS agents time to arrive.

What exactly the agents would do when they got there, Sigma had no fucking clue.

There were only a couple explanations for Del's existence. It was possible he had been created by Delta/Brother as part of any one of the bastard's fucked up schemes. Maybe to be part of Free the Soul, maybe just to be a spare in the event something happened to Brother.

Or maybe he was a victim of circumstance. Whoever put Phi in the transporter and sent her to 2008 could have put Delta in the machine at any point ten months after that and sent him to a different time. Phi had tried in vain to locate records from the experiments done with the transporter, but two wars - and possibly deliberate sabotage - had left nothing to be found. If the other Phi - the one who materialized in 1908 and subsequently went on to raise a version of herself - had any answers, she had taken them to her grave when she died three years before the Decision Game.

He was pretty sure Alice had the authority to detain anyone, even if their crime was solely being a clone or replica of someone who had committed atrocities in another timeline. But if he was innocent...

"My parents, for whatever lies they told me about me being their biological kid, were good people," Delta was saying. "They knew what I could do. Until I was ten, I took these 'vitamins' every day. They were insistent on it. Then one day they sat me down and told me the pills they gave me weren't vitamins at all. They were drugs that suppressed my ability. They kept me from feeling stuff from everyone around me and from being able to hurt people with my power. I was mad, at first. They were just trying to protect me, though. What I can do, it's dangerous. You called it, what, hacking?"

Sigma nodded.

"Yeah, well, my parents called it rape. Mental rape. They said anybody who would go into somebody's mind and read their thoughts and force them to do stuff against their will was no better than a rapist."

The look on his face and the tone of his voice seemed so sincere. Sigma had to keep reminding himself that their Delta had been a skilled actor, convincing the Dcom participants that he was a helpless old man. And with everything he had learned from watching the Decision Game, he knew that Sigma's biggest weakness was his family. Nobody knew how much information he shared with his accomplices before he died, and just because Free the Soul had disbanded didn't eliminate the possibility that some of them could be out there, stirring up trouble.

He tried to strengthen his resolve, remain detached.

But it was fucking hard.

"I won't tell you that I never used it, but alls I ever did with it was to put away people who had done horrible things. If I knew, without a doubt, that someone had hurt a child or raped somebody or committed a murder, and I knew we couldn't get him or her on the evidence, I would, to use your word, hack 'em. Get 'em to reveal where bodies were or just confess. I know the ends don't make the means alright, and there are nights where I don't sleep so good, but most of the time, I'm okay with it. Maybe Saint Peter'll have a different take on it when I die, but that's between me and God."

When he was done, he slumped in his chair, running a hand through his hair, mussing up the previously carefully slicked down strands.

"I'm not a monster," he added after a moment. "I'm sure if there are others like me some of 'em have been doing some really messed up things, but I was raised right. If you know something about me, I just wanna to find out what it is. If I got family out there, I wanna to meet 'em. That's it, I swear. Alls this time, I was thinking maybe I was just a freak of nature."

They sat in an uncomfortable silence after that, until Junpei broke it by clapping his hands together slowly.

"That was a great performance. Oscar worthy."

For the first time since they'd met, Sigma saw anger on Del's face.

"Look, what is your frickin' problem? I get being scared if you know what I can do but I don't have to read your mind to tell you got some real animosity towards me. I'm sorry if someone like me hurt you in the past but -"

"He's angry with you because another version of you hurt him and a whole shitload of other people," Alice said. Sigma had almost forgotten she was still watching everything from her office.

"What the hell are you talking about?" He looked genuinely confused.

"I'll break it down for you." She leaned forward, her face nearly taking up half the screen. "One way or another, you're a clone. Your ... genetic donor, for lack of a better word, attempted to exterminate three-fourths of humanity and in the process, he tortured a group of people, including the two men in the room with you right now. He's a sadistic terrorist who burned people alive, put them in acid showers that dissolved their bodies down to nothing, poisoned others, including his own mother, father, and sister, and he enjoyed putting explosive collars around people's necks and watching their heads get blown off. What we're not sure of is whether you're an innocent victim who has nothing to do with this, or an accomplice of his."

If he was aware of all the information Alice had just dumped on him, Junpei was right; he was doing an incredible acting job. Del's jaw dropped as his eyes went wide and he stared at the computer.

"Wait, what?" He loosened the knot on his tie and finally took a long sip of his drink. "You're a frickin' bozo. You're saying I'm a clone of some ... some terrorist?"

"Yeah." She pressed two fingers to her temple and gave him her best bone-chilling smile. "They may have repealed the PATRIOT Act, but trust me, there are plenty of laws on the books that would allow people like me to send you to Gitmo, for no other reason than your genome. Or, for that matter, the fact that you just admitted to coercing confessions out of suspects. They ... did mention I work for the government, right?"

Junpei snapped his fingers. "I knew we forgot something."

"This - this is frickin' entrapment." He glared at Sigma, even as his face went pale. Sigma felt a twinge of guilt. Del started to stand up, but then his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell with a thump to the floor.

"I'm inclined to think he's not acting," Alice said, after a moment. "If he is, he's fantastic. One of you should kick him in the balls to see if he's faking."

Both men turned to the computer, their faces contorted in painful grimaces. Alice rolled her eyes and clicked her tongue against her teeth.

"Or just flick your finger against his cheek, but my way is more fun."

"I drugged him," Junpei said, exasperated. "I was starting to think he'd never drink it."

Alice almost cracked a smile. "Supports my theory. If he had hacked you, he'd know it was drugged."

"So what do we do now?" Sigma asked.

"I ... didn't really think that far ahead," he replied, staring at the unconscious man on the floor.



chapter 4: semper anticus

He had stormed out of the hotel without his coat; his anger kept him warm as he walked aimlessly. His head hurt from stress, from listening to Alice and Junpei bickering, yelling at each other as if sheer volume would convince the other.

Sigma could understand where Junpei was coming from. He knew coincidences happened, but this whole scenario left him wondering if someone was pulling their strings.

If Del hadn't been with the Boston PD fourteen years ago, or if he hadn't been on duty that day, he wouldn't have been the local law enforcement official working with the FBI on Patty Garber's case. He wouldn't have investigated her kidnapping and her parents' death in a house fire. If he had used his full name, Diana certainly would have noticed it when she read the police reports; the name 'Del O'Malley' meant nothing to her.

When Alice had spoken to Rebecca Sawyer, his former partner in Boston, she told her that he considered the Garber case the biggest failure of his career. They had a witness to the arson and a fingerprint on a gas can outside the house, but the case still went cold. Sawyer told her Del still called her at least once a year to ask if there were any new developments.

If Sullivan hadn't been arrested for a DUI four days ago, his prints might have never been entered into the system.

If Del's old partner hadn't flagged the case, she wouldn't have gotten an email yesterday telling her that there was finally a match to the print on the gas can.

If Sawyer hadn't returned from maternity leave four days earlier than planned, she wouldn't forwarded the email to Del until Sigma and Junpei were long gone.

If their flight hadn't been delayed, if the airline hadn't lost his bag, if the hotel hadn't fucked up, if they had a more ethical taxi driver, or if Junpei hadn't gotten them lost, if just one thing had been different at some point in the past fourteen years, they never would have crossed paths.

And, of course, if they hadn't fucked up, maybe they would have been out here earlier, or with more people, and maybe Sullivan would still be alive. Then they'd have their first solid lead since this damn thing began.

Given that his last attempt to stop the apocalypse took forty-five years to pull off, he didn't know why he thought this time around might be fucking easier.

When they realized children were being kidnapped, they got tunnel vision. They fixated on preventing kids from being taken, preventing parents from being murdered, and trying to get their hands on the kidnappers. They had surveillance on twenty-one eleven-year-olds, and while none of them had been kidnapped and their parents were still alive, they hadn't learned anything new.

They had fixated on the genetics. Phi had wasted entirely too much time compiling all the state records into one database, trying to find other similar sections of DNA. Ultimately she reported she found nothing of significance. Even the sequence they did have was useless - noncoding DNA, what they used to call 'junk'. He had theorized it was a signature or tag, made by the creator, a cypher that - if broken - could give them a clue. If there was some kind of code in there, the SOIS cryptographers and Phi hadn't been able to figure it out.

They had discovered that thirty-six men, including Nigel Sullivan, had been responsible for facilitating the adoptions of almost one-third of the children on Diana's list. Thirty-five of them seemed to have dropped off the face of the Earth, which was how Junpei and Sigma ended up in Sullivan's office this morning.

But if somebody - anybody - had bothered to pull up pictures of the thirty-six men, instead of just reading words about them on a screen, somebody would have noticed that all thirty-six were actually Nigel Sullivan. Or whoever the fuck he was. Thirty-six aliases over the span of twenty years, in twenty-seven different states. Different hairstyles, hair colors, with glasses and without, with facial hair, clean-shaven, they were all him if someone had just taken the time to look. It was a fucking stupid mistake.

He realized he had some blood on his fist. He wiped it on his pants.

Sigma hoped he hadn't broken Junpei's nose.

After the Laraine case, Diana had been worried about a mole in either the Crash Keys or the SOIS. She thought it was entirely too convenient that Rachel went missing only hours after Diana identified her as being at risk. Sigma thought it was entirely too convenient that her parents were killed by a letter bomb, as if the murderer knew the house was being watched.

Alice was adamant that her people could be trusted; Akane was equally as adamant that she had cleaned house after their previous security breach. They hadn't had any problems after that, which had assuaged Diana's fears. Somewhat.

Now it was Junpei who was convinced that there was a mole, and that Del was right in the middle of everything. In spite of what the other Delta had done to her father, Alice wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. While the two of them had been cooling their heels in jail, she had been digging through his life, reading everything she could find, even talking to people who knew him. She thought his confusion at being confronted seemed genuine.

Sigma wanted so badly to believe that was true. Maybe Junpei was right. Maybe he wanted it too badly.

Junpei's words still echoed in his mind. Of course you want to think that. If that's true, then you're off the hook! It wasn't your fucked-up genes that created the monster who held us captive, who turned my body into Swiss cheese, who blew my head off, and who made me watch the woman I love die, more than once! Then you don't have to worry that Diana -

Sigma hadn't even realized he had punched the man until he saw Junpei lying on the floor.

He had seen the looks on everyone's faces when Delta revealed his origins back in the shelter. He had been worried that most - if not all - of the other participants felt Sigma was to blame for everything. Even he had hung his head in shame as realization hit him. If he hadn't sent his consciousness into the past, if he hadn't inserted himself into the Dcom experiment, if he hadn't talked Diana into transporting with him, if he hadn't slept with her, knowing damn well she wasn't on birth control, if he hadn't transported Delta and Phi into the past, if, if, if.

His good intentions didn't just pave the road to hell; it created hell in the first place.

But nobody had ever confronted him, said anything about it to him. He had started to think maybe they didn't bear any resentment towards him. Obviously, that wasn't the case.

Junpei's frustration had been building all day. With his condemnation, he had hit upon all of Sigma's fears, both the rational and irrational. Maybe there was something wrong with his genes. Maybe his X chromosome carried some switch for evil, and Phi had been lucky in that the one he gave her was countered or complemented by the one she got from Diana. Maybe he had damaged Delta through the morphogenetic field in utero, somehow, and he would end up doing the same thing to this child. Maybe he was going to be a terribly shitty parent - he fucked up everything with Kyle, after all - and he would end up creating an even worse monster.

He pulled his phone out of his back pocket to check the time and saw three missed texts from Diana.

Are you okay? I can sense something's wrong.

Sometimes he wished their connection wasn't as strong as it was. Thousands of miles away, she could tell he was upset, and she was worrying about him.

Clover told me about Delta. I don't think she was supposed to but you know how she is. Sometimes things just slip out. She's worried Alice is going to be angry at her.

Probably, he thought. He was pretty sure Alice was still angry with her for revealing to him that the two of them were in a relationship. Clover had watched with wide eyes as Alice shoved him against a wall and told him if he said anything to anyone and jeopardized her job, she would rip off his balls and shove them so far down his throat she could pull them out his ass.

Clover says he's different than the other Delta. Is it true? Do you want to talk?

It was hard to gauge anxiety via text, and he didn't know how much Clover had told her, but she seemed a hell of a lot calmer than he was. But then again, it had been that way back in the underground shelter, too. He was the one who flew off the handle constantly; she remained remarkably positive and composed.

I'm okay, he typed, before going back and changing it to, I'm physically okay. Then he added, Emotionally, I'm a fucking mess.

Her reply was almost immediate.

I can tell. I'm sorry. Can I help?

He sat on a bench, the cold finally getting to him.

I wish you were here. Or I was there. How are YOU dealing with this?

He could tell she was typing, then pausing, then typing.

I'm scared, if I'm being honest. Either he's up to no good and we are going to end up on opposite sides of this, or he's truly a different person and I don't know if I'd ever be able to accept that. I think the latter would be worse. If he really is a good person and I can never see that in him. How can we ever know what's in his head?

That, he hadn't considered. Again with the tunnel vision. He had been so fixated on what to do if their son was a villain again in this universe. He hadn't thought about the possible tragedy of having a son he could truly be proud of, only never being able to believe it.

Junpei and Alice were probably still arguing over whether to kidnap Del, take him back to California, and stick him in a medical pod until they could figure out what to do with him, or just dump him in a stairwell and make sure they were far, far away when he woke up.

Sigma didn't like either plan.

There had to be another option.



chapter 5: semper ad meliora

Junpei, oddly, had been reluctant to leave Sigma alone with Del. Although maybe he was more worried that Sigma would give Del sensitive information than he was worried that Sigma would get hurt. While he had been freezing his ass off outside, Akane had been updated on the situation. She wasn't particularly pleased that Junpei had drugged a cop, without knowing if he told anyone where he was going or who he was meeting with. She wasn't particularly pleased that Sigma had punched him, either.

She wasn't really happy about anything. At best, they'd be walking away empty-handed. At worst, the situation was bigger and more dangerous than they thought.

The two men hadn't verbally apologized. They had made awkward small talk, asked if Junpei's nose was broken (it wasn't) and if Sigma was okay (sort of) and then just nodded at each other. But as Alice had once said - girls hold grudges; boys beat the shit out of each other and move on.

Sigma was sitting on an uncomfortable chair in front of the bed, playing with the pack of ibuprofen, watching condensation form on the glass of water in his hand. Junpei was downstairs, hopefully in the hotel restaurant and not sitting at the bar.

Eventually, Del woke up. With a loud groan, he maneuvered into a sitting position. Sigma held out the pills and the water; understandably, Del was wary about taking them.

"You put something in that drink earlier," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"Yes. It usually gives people headaches." Sigma had been dosed with it before and it wasn't fun.

After assuring himself that the ibuprofen hadn't been opened, Del tore the packaging and swallowed the pills dry. Sigma lifted the glass to his own lips, draining the water from it in two large gulps. Del looked around the room; Junpei had his bags with him and Sigma's was packed and sitting next to him. As soon as Sigma was done, they were set to check out and get on the next flight back home.

"Your friend gonna arrest me?"

Sigma shook his head. "She just said that to see your reaction."

"So alls that stuff about the terrorist, that was fake, too?"

He was staring at Sigma with such naked hope in his eyes, as if the burden of being a clone of someone who had caused so much pain was too much to bear, and he desperately wanted to be spared it. Sigma could empathize. He was also learning that the instinct to protect one's child, regardless of circumstances, was difficult to suppress.

But not impossible.

"No. That was the truth."

His face fell. Sigma took a deep breath to compose himself before picking up a bottle from the floor, next to his chair.

"I took these from your jacket pocket while you were out. The label says they're blood pressure meds, but we have no record of you having issues with hypertension. These are the pills that suppress your ability, aren't they?"

"Why'd you drug me?"

"Because we were scared you were here to kill us."

"Christ almighty," Del scoffed. "I coulda shot you when I first found you. I don't carry a drop gun but I know five guys who do. Coulda killed you right there without a problem. My partner would have covered for me. Or I coulda shot you up when you answered the door."

Sigma didn't respond; he just shook the pill bottle again.

"Yeah, okay? They're my damn suppressants. I can handle it without 'em most of the time but if I get tired, I need 'em."

The pills were nondescript - big as any multivitamin Sigma's ever seen, white with no imprint on them. The prescribing doctor's name was Arzt, which was apparently a German word for 'physician'.

"How do they work?"

"I ... really don't know."

Sigma raised an eyebrow at him. "How can you not know what they do?"

"I'm a cop, not a chemist." He rolled his head around like he was trying to work a kink out of his neck. "I get 'em from the place my parents used to work. Whenever I need 'em, I just call up their prescription line and they mail it out. Couldn't exactly take 'em to the boys in the lab and have 'em run tests on it, could I? Too many damn questions. I just know ... whenever I get people creepin' into my head, I need to pop a pill to make it stop. Well, and they don't show up on the random drug screens we have at work sometimes. Can't be heroin or meth or anything."

"I'd like to take some of these with me. I know people who could analyze them."

Del's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What're you gonna do with 'em?"

Sigma was silent for a while, turning the bottle over in his hands. "There are other people like you. We know of two others. Three, really, if we count ... the other version of you."

"Are they my family?"

"No."

The discouraged expression returned to Del's face.

"One of them has managed to make a decent life for herself. She struggled when she was younger but learned how to manage her ability. The other is in a residential treatment facility. His official diagnoses are schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but my ... a woman I work with has a theory that his mental illness is a result of being poisoned by the thoughts and feelings of others. She's been trying to determine the biological basis for what it is that you can do. She had the same idea as whoever made these pills - that there might be a way inhibit it with medication. If these pills do what you say they do, maybe we can get him the help he needs and he can live a normal life."

"Really? You know, I could talk to him. There's these mental exercises that I could teach him. I can help him." He looked almost excited, which was somewhat disconcerting.

"Maybe in the future. I ... I can't trust you."

"But ... I mean, I guess I understand." He reached into his jacket pocket, and even though Sigma knew there were no weapons there, he tensed up. Del retrieved a business card and handed it to him. "Alls my contact information is on there. I'd like it if ... maybe your people can do some research on me. Sounds like you already have but if you talk to people who know me, they'll tell you, I'm no monster."

He took the card and tucked it into his back pocket as he got up and picked an envelope off of the table. He held it out to Del but pulled it back just as the other man reached for it.

"My colleague and I were hoping to get access to Sullivan's files."

"Is that information on my family?"

Sigma just stared at him, watching the internal struggle play out on Del's face. He couldn't take his eyes off the envelope. He pressed his lips together until they were a thin line. Ultimately, he let out a frustrated grunt and shook his head.

"I ... I frickin' can't, man. Your client can apply to see her own files but I can't just let you guys go diggin' around in 'em. Not ... not even if you're offering what I hope you're offering."

He extended his hand with the envelope back out to Del. "It's not information on your family."

Del opened it anyway, reading the handwritten names, his brow knit in confusion. Sigma cleared his throat before continuing.

"Every name on that list is an alias of Sullivan's. They're on the files of dozens of adopted children. Many of those children were kidnapped later and their parents were killed."

"Just like Patty?" He looked at the names again, his hand balled into a fist and resting against his chin, as if in contemplation. If Del was faking all of this, maybe it was a deliberate move on his part, to remind him of body language he had seen in Diana and Phi countless times. Or maybe he was truly clueless and the movement just felt natural to him, because it was somehow imprinted in his genes along with Diana's red hair and Sigma's muscular build.

"Yes. The crimes are separated in both space and time, with widely varying MOs. Not even the feds have pieced it together."

"If the parents are dead, cops aren't being pressured. It's easy to let things go cold. New crimes are poppin' up all the time. Any good parent, even any decent parent, won't stop looking for their kids. Don't matter how long they've been gone or what mighta happened."

There was something in Del's tone of voice, an expression of deep sorrow that flashed on his face for a second or two. Alice hadn't said anything and there was nothing in the files she sent, but realization hit Sigma like a ton of bricks. He was certain.

"You ... you have a kid," Sigma said, stunned. "Or you had one."

"If you're just figurin' that out now, maybe the people you got doin' backgrounds aren't as good as you think." He paused for a moment. "Eight years ago, wife left him in the tub for a moment to answer the door. Only takes a moment. She couldn't deal. Blew her brains out with my piece."

Even though Del was staring down at his hands, Sigma clenched his jaw and his fists, trying to avoid displaying any emotion. Eight years ago, he would have been playing high school football and making out with cheerleaders in the parking lot. Eight years ago, he had never heard of SHIFTing and had no idea that the tinkering he did with electronics in the garage would lead to him creating robots in the future. And eight years ago, his son had been mourning his grandchild.

Fucking SHIFTing. Fucking transporter. Fucking everything.

His watch beeped.

"I have to go," Sigma said as he grabbed his bag.

"Wait! I - I still got questions. Like, why'd you give this to me?"

He didn't turn around, keeping one hand on the door handle. "If you're working against me, you already know this, and you're probably already aware that we know. If you are who you say you are ... you might be able to do some good. Either way, I'm sure we'll meet again."

"At least tell me - look, we're related, right? We gotta be. Can you just tell me that? I won't - if you want me to leave you alone, I ... I will. I just wanna know."

Sigma didn't know if there was any point in lying. They looked too alike not to be, and if he wasn't innocent, Del already knew and was just fucking with him. Maybe he would regret this, but -

"In a way, yes. Do you have a pen?"

"I'll remember whatever you're gonna tell me."

He rattled off an email address he had used for a cover last month. "I can't guarantee you I'll reply."

"Okay. I ... I get it. That whole thing about the Sullivan files, that was a test, wasn't it? If I told you I'd let you see 'em, you woulda walked out of here and never looked back."

"Giving me the right answer then doesn't mean I can trust you."

"But it means maybe you'll give me a chance. That's - that'll be enough."

Sigma didn't offer a reply as he left. He only had four minutes left to contact Junpei; if he didn't talk to him by then, the other man would come looking for him. It gave him enough time to slip into the restroom, lock himself in a stall, and cry silently with his head in his hands.



chapter 6: semper fortis

Diana hastily shut the laptop when he entered the room, a guilty look on her face. He sat down next to her on the sofa and opened it back up.

"You don't have to hide this from me." He pressed his lips to her temple as he rested a hand on her stomach. He touched her belly so much she had actually asked him the other day if he had a pregnancy fetish. While he did love how beautiful she looked carrying their child, more often than not, it was to reassure him that this was real.

There were two windows open on the computer screen. One was Del's latest annual evaluation; the other was the social media page of his partner. Del didn't have an online presence, but most of his police buddies did.

"It's interesting," she said, softly. "Everything I read about him regarding his behavior as a police officer says he's straight-laced, by the book, almost ... boring. Then I look at his partner's Facebook page..."

"Is ... is he doing a keg stand?"

"That was at his forty-sixth birthday party." She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. "Apparently it was a dare."

Sigma was actually impressed. He had attempted a keg stand once, senior year of high school, and ended up in the hospital with sixteen stitches.

"I can't find anyone who has an unkind word to say about him, except the criminals he's arrested. His coworkers say they'd trust him with their lives. His friends say he's kind, honest, and apparently a hell of a lot of fun at parties."

"He could be hacking all of them to say that, to think that."

"That would be so ... sad. How desperate must you be for love and affection if you feel you have to force other people to like and respect you?"

His phone beeped. He pulled it out of his pocket; Alice's text just read, Ready.

"I used to worry that, doing this work, it would change you." She sat up to look at him and he cupped her face in his hands. "You still have the same kind, empathic, beautiful view of everyone."

"Some people would say that makes me naïve."

"Not at all." He gave her an all-too-brief kiss. "Alice says they're ready."

Diana nodded, her expression suddenly serious. Hand in hand, they left the lounge and went to the infirmary. Just as she had let Sigma have free rein over the laboratory, Akane had let Diana determine the layout and décor of the infirmary. The result was that the large room looked remarkably relaxing, nothing like the typical clinical and cold hospital room.

In spite of the ambiance, though, there was no way Cassie could be calm with the audience that had gathered for this. Akane and Carlos were huddled over a computer, probably reviewing the lab reports. Phi was in front of another computer, frowning at the screen. Alice was standing a few feet away, arms crossed, toe tapping in impatience. Clover was sitting on a stool next to Cassie's bed, chatting away, probably trying to distract her from the fact that she was covered with electrodes, sitting under a medical scanner, and was about to serve as their guinea pig.

Diana helped Phi resolve whatever issue she was having with the scanner, and then went to prepare the injection gun. Sigma glanced over to see Alice looking at Clover with the tiniest touch of a smile on her face.

"Shut up," she said when she caught him watching her.

"I didn't say a thing."

"You were thinking it."

"Oh, you're an esper now?"

"Shut up."

They stood in silence as Diana calibrated her gun, as Phi got on a chair to adjust something on the overhead medical scanner, as Akane and Carlos abandoned their computer and joined the two of them. Any time Cassie would start to look anxious, Clover would say something to her and make her laugh.

"This is what she's good at," Alice said, so quietly he almost didn't hear her. "Her marksmanship needs work. Her outfits usually allow her to get away with subpar acting. She's not the stealthiest among us. Or the smartest. And if she thinks you've done something to hurt someone she loves, she will scorch the earth you stand upon. But we see too much suffering and pain in our job, and she can mitigate it. A joke, a hug, a kind word. This is what she's good at."

"Are you getting mushy on me, Alice?"

She managed to glare at him out of the corner of her eye. "Pull them. Out. Your ass."

"All right," Diana announced. "We're going to get started."

"Are you absolutely sure you want to do this, Cassie?" Carlos asked. Akane frowned at him, but he continued. "Have you read the same lab reports we have?"

Now everyone was frowning at him. Except Cassie.

"It's okay. I want to do this. Phi here's done a lot for my sister and Diana's explained all about the neurotransmitters and how this could ... mess with my heart rhythm and stuff but she also said if I have a heart attack or something, she ain't gonna just sit there and let me die. Y'all gotta know if this drug does block my hackin' and ... I'm ready.

Clover smiled at her and held Cassie's hand as Diana pressed the gun against her arm. Everyone held their breath as they heard the whoosh of the injection. Akane pressed her hands together and brought them to her lips. Diana had two fingers on Cassie's wrist, monitoring her pulse as she watched biorhythms on the monitor. Phi folded her arms over her chest, a finger tapping against her elbow as they waited.

"I don't feel nothin' different. Should I be feelin' something?"

"He claims there are no side effects," Diana said. "It should be impairing your ability by now, though."

"All right. Who's my victim?"

Carlos stepped forward, his hands loose at his sides. "Remember, don't tell me what you're trying to get me to do."

"Right. Don't want that idiotmotor response."

Alice opened her mouth as if to correct her, but decided against it. They waited a full five minutes, watching Cassie bite her lip and narrow her eyes, even grunting in frustration at one point. Clover gasped when Carlos scratched his nose, but Cassie shook her head.

"Wasn't trying to get him to do that. I think it's workin'. Tried to get him to give me the finger, to call Diana a bitch - no offense, hun, I just knew he wouldn't want to do that - and throw that tray across the room and ain't none of it happened. Can't even read his mind. You are thinkin' of a poker hand, just like I told you?"

"Yeah. Full boat, aces and eights."

"I didn't get that." She looked up at Diana. "That's good, right? That's what you wanted?"

Akane was across the room in a flash, pulling out a knife and seeming to stab Phi in the chest. Even though he and Diana knew it was coming, they both gasped. Carlos and Clover had been kept clueless; they instantly wrestled Akane to the ground. Cassie was screaming, ripping off the electrodes as she dropped to her knees in front of Phi.

"Oh my god! I tried to stop it! I tried! I'm so sorry, Phi!"

Phi's eyes opened and Cassie shrieked. Phi took Cassie's hands and tugged on them hard to get her attention. "You tried, you really tried there, didn't you?

"Every time, I swear I tried!"

Clover and Diana put their arms around Cassie, with Akane showing her it was a fake blade.

"I'm sorry. It was necessary. I would never harm Phi and I knew you would never allow harm to come to her. You had to be truly tested. You've given us a new weapon we can use against a new foe, if we must face him."

"So I did okay?"

"You were perfect," Diana said.

"You've helped us so much, sweetie!" Clover assured her.

While they helped Cassie to her feet and walked her back to her room - more post-experiment monitoring - Carlos and Phi got Akane up.

"We must be cautious," Akane said. "This is only the first trial. But if all goes as planned, we'll get Det. O'Malley in here, we'll dose him with the suppressants, and we'll have Cassie go spelunking in his brain to find out if he intends us harm."

They had apparently forgotten he was still there.

If all went well, they could have discussions about maybe starting to consider having Del join their mission, in some capacity. If it didn't, if he posed a threat they couldn't contain ... Alice and Carlos had both offered to kill Del, so Sigma wouldn't have blood on his hands.

He already had blood on his hands. In his work here, thirteen people whose lives were ended by his actions. Fourteen if he counted Delta. He could have stopped Carlos. Delta's blood is on his hands, even if he didn't pull the trigger.

He turned and left to look for Diana.

Step one was complete.

Akane would say it was necessary.

He just feared where it would lead.

(fin.)