Song of the Earth

Kouamé and the Avengers drive to NASA without much incident, and while they are there, America gets a glimpse of what a government base in a zombie apocalypse would look like—at least, if she’d lived in an era where those films were popular. There is a perimeter and lots of lighting. Their car is stopped by men with guns, but Kouamé is able to get them through very easily, even if Jacob’s existence is questioned. “Sir, you have a vampire in your vehicle.”

“Do you think I’m stupid, Agent Bowman?” The Chrononaut asks. “Or maybe you think a year-old vampire has enthralled an entire vehicle of mages? That’s certainly the most logical conclusion.” Maybe the end of the world hasn’t done much for their mood.

America is still trapped on Kate‘s words to her. You are nothing. Maybe if the rest of her teammates weren’t so pre-occupied they’d realize the psychological loop Kate has trapped her in, and whatever part of her mind realizes what’s happening is even more defeated knowing no one has done anything about it.

The Johnson Space Center is not just one building but a whole campus of bland-colored square and rectangle buildings, and in the Houston way, more parking lots than buildings. There are also some spacecraft here, the interactive museum kids come for, training centers for Void Engineers, and so forth.

They are taken to a relatively non-descript office building, where they meet a South Asian woman who introduces herself as Indira Bachchan. She’s flanked by another government-looking man, Agent Steensen, and a man who very much does not look like a federal agent, Pradip Mullur. He smiles at the group; the others look uncomfortable.

Kouamé opens by asking to speak to another agent, to which Indira replies, “Dead.” Frowning, the Ivoirian asks about another Chrononaut, only to be told, “He’s dead too. I guess you’ll have to deal with me.” Her face softens a little. “We’re all on the same side now. Traditionalists, too.” The Indian woman jerks a thumb toward one of the Pradip who brought them in. “He’s a ”/wikis/celestial-chorus" class=“wiki-page-link”> Celestial Chorister, we have a Virtual Adept working on repairing the damage to the Web too." The reason for the man’s appearance becomes clear: he’s here to make the Traditionalists feel comfortable and safe. Obviously things aren’t comfortable, but they may be safe.

Pradip frowns suddenly, taking in America. “There’s something here.” He moves forward, starting to ask permission “Ma—” before stopping himself. If there’s a problem they need to know now. He lays his hands on America’s face. “It’s a Mind Effect, designed to get her to kill herself.”

Indira looks like she bit into something distasteful. “Can you remove it?”

“Yes.” The Choristers says a prayer in what’s probably Hindi, and America feels this great burden removed from her, like she was cycling down a kitchen drain and now it’s just… stopped. It doesn’t make her feel good after all that, but she doesn’t feel like nothing.

The sigh that spills from America comes on a delay. With all that had happened, the car ride had been spent with the girl staring out the window. No one spoke to her. At least she didn’t recognize any conversation. No one acknowledged her, checked in with her. She hadn’t been on their mind.

So it surprised her when someone did finally confirm her existence. It relieved her to be affirmed in that way. It also, after a moment made sense. America has been dwelling on what Kate had said but it didn’t occur to her that there was more to it than insult.

“You saw me,” she stated softly.

“I did.” The man smiles at her again. “You’ll be okay.” Jacob reaches out and gives America’s arm an apologetic squeeze. Most of this group just doesn’t have the strength in Prime to detect what was wrong with her. Maybe they would have noticed her behavior, but Kate doesn’t need magick for America’s self-doubt to injure herself.

The group is taken through the facility with a very casual tour, since lots of the things they’re really interested in, like spaceships and deep-space communication, are housed in other buildings. Once Kouamé explains they were trapped in a deviant pocket realm since New Year’s, Indira makes the tour a little more temporal: the eruption claimed the lives of everyone in that part of the Rockies, and massive earthquakes and eruptions devastated the west coast. The Pacific and especially Indian Oceans were beset by legendary tsunamis.

It was the unrest that followed that claimed the most lives in places like Texas: pure panic, exacerbated by the sun being blocked and the vampires rising. They’ve missed the worst of it, as order has largely been restored now, but the famine coming will put all of that to the test.

“One other thing. The Digital Web crashed and lobotomized everyone inside.” Indira sounds apologetic as she explains this to Linda. The tall blonde only nods; she already worked this out. “We’ve re-established it, but we only have one Traditionalist technomancer on-site. Maybe you’d like to take a look?” Her invitation extends to America as well.

“Can I do it in a bit? It’s still a lot to process right now.” Linda was pulled out of the web abruptly and hasn’t slept since then. It’s not something she’s prepared for. Indira looks at America.

Without the shackles of Kate’s rote weighing America down, she feels awake and alert enough to help. "Take me there, " she replies to Indira with a nod.

America turns to look at the others and touches Linda on the arm to check in with her; to acknowledge her.

Check-ins are important. Linda doesn’t know America as well, but the Adept looks down at her (she’s 6’1") and flashes a weak smile. “Have fun. I’ll come join you if you’re still there.”
“Can I come too?” Jianyu asks. “I’m not Adept but I have Correspondence.” Agent Steenson shrugs. He leaves the others and leads America and Jianyu down a hallway and out an exit. “It’s in another building. We’ll take a golf cart.”

America is sure it would probably have been faster to walk there then find a vacant cart, the keys, and then drive over, but there were almost no sidewalks in this city, as far as she could tell, and a volcano didn’t do that.

After their ride, they are led through a slightly less bureaucratic-looking building with keycard access and security, into a room with computer monitors and more advanced-looking equipment. This is the sort of NASA America was probably expecting. They are introduced to a smiling tech named Steve, who talks them through the process of getting on the Web, normally just accessible to people with Correspondence. A lot of the Web is gone now, but they’ve had weeks to rebuild. He intersperses the conversation with a lot of space talk—America gets the impression he’s putting on a show for a pair of kids. Younger kids.

The engineers, a half-dozen of them, seem very interested in the Traditionalists, or at least distracted. “We’ve only recently let Virtual Adepts in here. And ”/wikis/sons-of-ether" class=“wiki-page-link”> Sons of Ether."

“I’m not a Son of Ether,” Jianyu replies. “I’m a ”/wikis/dreamspeakers" class=“wiki-page-link”> Dreamspeaker." A man at a monitor makes a snort and looks away. Steve gives him a slightly patronizing look. “Well that’s wonderful. Please, if you have any questions about the Union or how we work technology, let us know. Nobody’s going to force you to think anything, we need all the help we can get. But the door is always open.”

They offer to set Jianyu up with a tour of the Web while another Technocrat shows America some graphs of Web activity; getting Jianyu inside is a lot easier than showing America inside.

“Daughter of Ether,” America corrects, looking about the place. When she reaches details about the Virtual Web, she enthusiastically learns all she can. It has been such a large shadow over her time with the Avengers, and yet she’s learned so little about it.

Now that she’s reviewing the details, she finds herself thinking of all those who were lobotomized when the network detonated. It takes only a moment before her thoughts shift to worry for her friends in Hollow Earth. Would they be similarly affected?

“What do you need help with?”

The conversation drifts to other Realms, like Hollow Earth. “I don’t think so,” Steve tells her. “The Adepts were lobotomized because their minds were somewhere else, and it crashed and took everything in it down. The Umbra was okay, except maybe for the parts closest to the explosion. We haven’t been able to learn a lot about that part of the world yet.”

They set Jianyu up with some VR glasses. As soon as he’s away, there’s a shift in the room. America doesn’t need to be some kind of empath to notice the predatory way the Technocrats are looking at her. “I think you should check the Web out for yourself,” Steve says glibly. Where once he was animated, his face is totally dead as he looks at her now. “You might see something there.”

America gives Steve an incredulous look. “You mean go into the place where people get lobotomized while surrounded by technocrats in Houston after a cataclysm engineered by a lady out to kill me and mine?”

The last few times she thought she could relax she was attacked. Her thoughts flash from Kate to Kite to Eleanor. Oh Eleanor. Instinctively she places her hands on hips, as much to demonstrate her stubborn resolve as to position her fingers beside her flash balls.

The sudden blow against the back of America’s head isn’t enough to knock her out—probably because these guys don’t really know how to fight—but it does disorient her, and she is going to feel it. Two pairs of arms grab her and bodyslam her into a seat while she’s getting her visual bearings. Maybe one-on-one she’d have a chance, but the man on her left side is very strong, and she feels straps close over her arms before she’s able to do much. “Lobotomy might come later,” Steve replies. They haven’t even bothered to finish strapping in her legs before the VR glasses are forced over her face.

There is a sudden, invasive feeling in her head—the face part and the brain part—before she’s abruptly standing in a middle of a large dirt circle. Rows and rows of bleachers encircle her, and she stands under the great shadow cast by the afternoon sun. This is a colliseum. “Welcome, America,” Comes a voice over a loudspeaker. The crowds jeer all around her.

The Daughter of Ether does a slow turn in place, taking it all in. She’s seen movies, she knows what this is. Why this is, she can’t yet surmise. She checks herself to find her spanner and curled up playbook, along with a few flash spheres.

“So this is the Virtual Web?” she says, arms stretched outward. “The set of Spartacus isn’t the most forward-thinking venue for the Virtual Adepts, is it?”

There is a large clicking sound, and then a video is projected onto the giant wall in front of her like a screen (and behind her, so maybe it’s not actually a projection since she casts no shadow on it).

America immediately recognizes her father, James, moving around a group of Technocrats. There’s enough context to suggest the group are Nephandi. They are working on cracking the Network. “You need to vent any excess power,” James instructs the Void Engineers, “So you don’t end up like her. This is what Octavia was doing. Use these coordinates—44.428 N, 110.586 W.”

The screen cuts away to show the location of those coordinates—Yellowstone National Park. Then, back to James. “There’s a problem at one of the work sites,” James informs Jerusha. He hands her a sheet of technobabble he knows she doesn’t have the requisite knowledge to understand. “This means?” She asks him, trying to hand the paper back.

“Just take us here,” James insists, pointing at the coordinates. Trusting him as he’s gotten them this far, she takes James through a threshold…

…And winds up in a ring of stones in the middle of a vast winter wilderness. Nearby, hot springs burble. “What?” She wonders, turning around to see James collapsing the archway. “Where are—NO!” The demon screams, attempting to throw herself through the threshold, but there’s no doorway with which to travel through. James is laughing now, a hysterical belly laugh that makes tears run down his face as he clutches his midsection.

The projector grows dim, leaving America to wallow in her own dread. James. James is the one who did this. Before she can speak or ponder the implications further, they project another scene. It’s weird to watch herself, but she remembers this scene, if from a different angle.

“I felt so sure – I mean you not only brought me back to life, but you didn’t rat me out to your bosses and then when you were in the caverns you actually helped me survive the Cauls! You’ve saved me often and I just thought I guess you knew – you knew I was your daughter.” America sighs and withdraws a hand from her pocket to wipe away a tear.

“I always thought my parents were watching over me. That they had something really important to do that kept them from me but they were watching over me,” she continues. “You seem to be in the right place at the right time when I needed you.”

James’ face jerks as America mentions the Cauls. He crosses the intervening space between them, and actually closes her jaw with his hand. It’s not a rough or terribly painful motion, but it is firm. “Don’t.” He says sharply. His finger moves over her lips, making the sign of silence—not that any of the technomancers will appreciate it was originally a mystic symbol. He withdraws his hand. “That’s a good way to get us both killed. Especially if someone is listening.” A gasp escapes the young woman’s lips and she blinks, nodding up to him, eyes wide and full of hope, sudden worry, and daddy issues.

“This isn’t fair,” she complains flatly, “What a cluster fuck my life has been lately. With all that’s happened and all the ghosts and goblins that seem to want nothing more than to ruin my chance at a sports scholarship and a normal life, all I really want to do is get to know you. Again."

“Life’s not fair.” He tells her simply. “You want to know what a father would say to a daughter right now? Stay away from Technocrats and Nephandi.” The video must be edited a little. James turns turns away from her.

Crestfallen, America remains there, staring at the man who, in another life was her Father as she turns away from her, rejecting her. She begins to cry softly, cheeks cold from the tears as the wind picks up. “I hope you change your mind someday, Daddy. I’m not going to stop believing in you, in us. When you want to know your daughter, find me. I promise you, she’s pretty great. I-I think you’d be proud.”

The film ends. The crowd, which had kept matters to a sneering jeer, calls louder and more raucously. “KILL HER!” “DO IT TO HER! Put HER in a volcano!” “CUT OFF HER ARMS!”

She’s crying before the video even finishes and the roar of aggression becomes the soundtrack to the situation. For all of what she knew of her Father, which was decidedly little in this darkest timeline, she thought she knew he was protecting her. She thought she knew he was not a monster.

As she rummages through her memories for any indication of his madness, the frenzied crowd begins to register. She blinks, looking up and spinning around to face each of their hateful screams. “Why!?” she roars back, cheeks wet with tears but eyes glazed with anger as well. “Why did any of this happen? Why did he do this? Why didn’t you save him!?” she screams back to the crowd in question, though perhaps she’s just screaming at herself. Dad saved her from the Nephandi but America wasn’t there to save him. Her shame and guilt boils into distilled hate for the technocrats. “You wasted your time hunting children when you could have saved my Father!”

America isn’t going to be able to have a conversation with them, but she almost misses the crowd of combatants who come streaming out the sides of the coliseum, until the first one is already upon her. His Avatar in the Digital Web is big, masculine, muscled, but tears are streaming down his face. He’s armed with a spear. “I lost my mother because of your dad,” He says, crying, as he pushes his spear into America’s abdomen. There are too many people with weapons too close, and she zigs instead of zags.

He pulls it out, and her body regenerates the wound like it wasn’t there. Others crowd around, holding knives and sickles, machetes and clubs. This is how it’s going to be.

From the bleachers, Jianyu grabs at the cage preventing him from getting onto the field. “This doesn’t make sense!” He calls out. “She’s not James!”

“It doesn’t. It’s almost unrealistically improbable.” His eyes widen and his body stiffens at the sound of the voice behind him. Kate lounges with cross legs in the front row, and leans over. “Who could have recorded such intimate moments? And really, how would they have been distributed all over the Web? I mean that would make… just about every Mage on the planet her enemy.”

The steel stings its way into her body and a look of shock spreads across her face. It hurts, but the healing hurts more. Then she’s alive instead of dead. Huh.

America can’t see Jianyu but she hears the distant cry, the lone voice of reason drowned out in a stadium of shrieking grief. An hour ago, America was convinced she was nothing, didn’t exist, and no one saw her. Now she feels the weight of being the center of gravity for the universe.

She’s scared and reaches out with her hands outstretched, pleading for the mob to stand back. “We tried to stop them!” she screams, her voice going hoarse already. Her weight shifts from one foot to the other, attempting to dodge as much of the blind clumsy hatred that is flung, thrust, and slashed towards her.

“You didn’t try hard enough,” A woman replies as she swings a club down. It grazes America’s shoulder as she dodges. “My husband was in LA when the earthquakes happened.”

“My husband was in Idaho,” A man tells her as he viciously jams his knife into America’s shoulder, twisting it once before pulling it out. “He can’t even be reborn now.”

“My brother—”

“My best friend—”

“My wife—”

“My sister—”

“My whole family…”

Jianyu straightens turning around. There’s nothing he can say to change the crowd’s mind—this is a force beyond his ability to control, much like Kate. If she decides to kill him here… “You did this,” He repeats.

“I see why they say you’re a prodigy.” The Adept replies sarcastically.

Jianyu crosses his arms. “You’re afraid of her.” Kate scoffs. “Maybe not as much as you were ”/characters/gabrielle-harrison" class=“wiki-content-link”>Gabrielle," He continues. “But you are. She’s something outside your ability to predict. You have this all planned out, down to a science, and then here comes this variable you’ve never encountered before. She threatens your control.”

In the space between one attack and the next, America reaches into her pockets and withdraws her earplugs, putting them in as a pitchfork thrusts into her belly. She coughs out a sob of pain and anguish, bending over and grabbing a sonic grenade, activating it in her own hand. The sphere thrums and pulses, alternating in pitch and frequency, inundating the crowd with constant waves of variable sound that assault their senses and create an overwhelming sense of vertigo.

“We’ve all lost people we care about,” she hisses, unable to hear her own words. “We all failed to save them.”

A good chunk of her attackers are already crying—the others are either whipped into a frenzy or completely emotionally blank. Their continued suffering doesn’t dissuade them, and one of them fuses the components inside America’s sonic weapon, neutralizing it.

The crowds roar in approval, and Jianyu closes his eyes in the power of the crowd’s screaming. Dreamspeakers don’t always seek ecstasy, but there is ecstasy to be found, and this is a spiritual place. It is—has to be—part of the Umbra somehow. The beat of his heartbeat is like drums in his ears.

Jianyu isn’t the fastest mage but he remembers what he learns. If Will is right, he should have more Correspondence here. Enough, perhaps, to contact help.

“Will!” He calls, the roar of the crowd eating his words and carrying it away. “I’m in the Realm of your Tradition and I need your help! America needs your help!”

America hears only the crowd’s death chant.

America frantically shoves and pushes at the crowd so she can spark the gloves Davey gave her to life and touching as many of the mob as she can to escape.

Many interminable moments pass by. Jianyu is pretty sure Will got the message, but the Virtual Adept doesn’t respond. Do they even know if he’s in the same time as they are?

The screens abruptly cut out, blinking dark, and then light back up again. The footage of America and James has been replaced with what must be, impossibly, a live feed of Kate, hanging out in the stands. The audio blares loud enough to drown out the screams of the angry crowd. America might recognize it: It’s Kate, speaking with Will on New Year’s Eve, all but admitting aloud to what she did. Correspondence readings too complex to read flicker along in a crawl, interspersed with what looks like someone’s personal information: names, aliases, addresses, Web coordinates.

There’s also a teenage boy attempting to wade through the sea of angry Mages to America. He’s black as night from head to toe, and featureless except for what appear to be eyes of blue fire. Between the new distraction of the screens and what seems to be superhuman strength, hopefully he can get to her. Unlike the rest of them, he carries no weapons.

Kate, from her seat of honor watching the Webizens tear America apart, jerks her head as she sees her own image on the monitors. She doesn’t know the audio is coming, but she trained Will. The Adept hesitates only a moment before teleporting.

Or trying to. Kate is powerful, easily more powerful than most of the people here, but Virtual Adepts work as a mob, each contributing what they can to the whole. She’s not sure how many people simultaneously blank out her ability to do magick, but it’s enough she’s suddenly as helpless here as America.

The stands turn into a mob, of Adepts and others reaching out and grabbing her. She’s strong here, almost as strong as Will, but they are legion. Jianyu hisses as someone stomps hard on his foot, and presses himself back against one of the bodies pushing in. He could easily be crushed if he’s not careful. Whispering a call to the spirits of chaos, he tries to make his way out, out onto the field.

There are around twenty armed combatants here to torture America. Some of them fall when she shocks them, but like America, they get back up. And unlike America they are determined to chase and hurt her. She’s not as strong as she is in the real world, or as fast. All she has is self-preservation.

When the riot breaks out in the stands, at first it doesn’t matter. Then the combatants start to get distracted by this new arrival.

Before Will can reach America, he sees the Adepts have formed something like a mosh pit, and Kate is involuntarily crowd surfing into the field, screaming her head off.

America takes the moment her attackers torn their attention towards the commotion to run. She glances up to try to ascertain what’s going on and sees Kate and her predicament. Then she sees Jianyu.

See turns her trajectory towards her cabal mate and doubles her efforts to make her way to him. While she runs, she adjusts the gloves in her hands to convert the electricity generation into repulsion tech, makeshift iron man blasters to shove her way through this mob to get to Jianyu.

For a second, Will is distracted by Kate as well. He weighs his mixed feelings at seeing his Mentor swept away by a mob: the vindication that comes with revenge soured by lingering anger at her betrayal, and the elation of a successful rescue mingles with his despair at knowing he may never meet her here again.

He nearly loses track of America, given that she is moving away from him. Yeah, okay, she probably doesn’t recognize him. He tries to use Correspondence to catch up to her with his next step. “America! It’s me. It’s Will. Let me get you out of here.”

Jianyu waves a hand at America as she catches up with him. “We need to get out of here!” The focus of the crowd has moved from America to Kate, but this is still a riot, and they still hate America.

Kate is screaming, partly in pain but mostly rage. “Will! I’m gonna—” Her cries stop as someone deletes her mouth. The Avengers lose track of her wide-eyed face as the mob swallows her whole, throwing her to the ground between them.

With a hand on Jianyu, America turns to nod back to whatever it is Will is guest starring as and they continue to run away from the craziness.

“How do we get out of here, Witch King?”

“Yeah, I-” Will hesitates again, hearing Kate shrieking at him. Those fiery eyes twitch. “Ugh. We’re going to neutral territory. Come on.” America has Jianyu, so he takes her arm. She has stuffed him into enough lockers to know he doesn’t have a grip like that in real life. He produces something that looks like an even fancier version of the handheld he carries in meatspace with his other hand, and then the world seems to go low-res around them, breaking down into its individual bits and static.

They hear soft music and quiet conversation as the world comes back into focus around them. Will has brought them what looks like a jazz bar, though the stage is dimmed, with music piped in through the speakers instead. Small groups sit around low tables, talking softly amongst themselves. Many look human, if somewhat fantastical, but there are animals, mythological creatures, weird shapes, and what might be a sentient high heeled shoe off in one corner. “Through here,” he says, trying to usher them into a smaller room off to one side. “We don’t have time for them to haze you. Where are you right now? You should log out.” He’s mostly asking America; he knows Jianyu has been in and out before.

The Dreamspeaker’s lips are moving soundlessly as they travel. “Johnson Space Center in NASA, Houston,” Jianyu replies. “There are a lot of Technocrats. Kouamé took us there, he’s trying to get their help to contact the Archmages in space.” Jianyu has never been in the Digital Web before either. He figured he would have help to log out. “I just told Linda what happened. We were in a separate building from the others.”

“This is nicer than the Spartacus movie set from before,” the Daughter of Ether days, to the jazz club. First impressions of the Digital Web were not good for America.

“How do we log out? I’m in a room filled with the people who put me in here. They haven’t killed me yet, though. Oh no, could they have killed me?

“Neither of you knows how to log out.” Will’s voice is flat – not judging them for their lack of knowledge, but after everything else, it’s just like. Of course. “No, America. You wouldn’t still be connected if they had. Um. Are you- are you okay? That was kind of fucked up.” He paces a bit, anxiously. “That video’s been all over the Web for a couple of days at least. I tried to take it down where I could. Okay, you’re in a room full of Void Engineers who stuffed you into the Web against your will – do you realize how premeditated that would have to be? Someone had to code Icons for you…” He gestures vaguely at them, apparently not really aware that they might not need to hear that particular train of thought.

“Look, I could probably talk you through it, but if you’re in a room full of Technocrats it might not matter.” Will folds his arms. “But maybe I could log off myself and get a message to the others. You said Kouamé was there. I made friends with a Master of Forces from Iteration X a few hours ago too. If you’re in the Web, this is the safest place to be. No one’s allowed to fight in the Spy’s Demise, for any reason.” He pulls out his handheld, trying to trace their Icons back to their positions in the real world. Even as a Novice, this was a trick he used to be able to do for anyone who wasn’t actively blocking it; he should be able to find the computers they’re using to log in. “Or if I can get a lock on you, maybe I can just pull you out of there myself.” Will absolutely could not teleport other people the last time America spoke with him. “You guys tell me what sounds best. You’re the ones at risk here.”

“They coded my Icon for me when we were touring it, but I didn’t see them make one for America.” That happened before they arrived. Jianyu looks at America. “It might be safest for our bodies to be pulled out there, but there’s still everyone else. They’re in danger too.”

America shakes her head at the form of Will. She’s not okay, but checking in is important. “That /was/ fucked up,” she repeats. “This is all so fucked up. I’m in a room Nasa uses to login to the VW,” she continues on with a shrug. “If I can get out of here fast enough, the others might still be in here, dealing with Kate.”

She paces back and forth for a moment and pats her playbook against her thigh. “Spy’s Demise safe, Nasa unsafe, far as I am concerned. Eject our tapes or whatever and we can boost signal to light us up like Christmas on your compubot radar,” America says. “We can’t leave without Linda, that’s for sure, and Kouamé is still around here somewhere. Now that you’re a ring wraith god monster and can /teleport/ people apparently, do you think you could locate her while we prepare the signal fire?”

“Are Linda and Kouamé together? And with the others?” Will frowns, shifting his focus. If Linda’s awake and okay, she’s just as likely as he is to have her devices at her fingertips. He tries to send her a quick message. In the Web with America and Jianyu. Technocrats forced them in. What’s your status? “Yeah, I passed another Seeking,” he replies absently as he’s doing that. “I doxxed Kate, I think they’ll be busy with her for a while. So you’re saying you want me to log you out and scoop you up from the chantry?” As an afterthought, he tries to get Ursula’s attention too. Can you please tell the fucking technocrats in houston to not torture my cabal?????

Linda’s reply comes after a moment’s hesitation. In Lab w J&A bodis. In standoff with VE. Wake them up. K aware. She’s not in a place to type accents, apparently.

Ursula’s reply comes a minute or so later. WTF?

“Linda’s with you, and Kouamé knows where you are.” OK Will sends back, and then Your getaway ride is en route. “She wants me to wake you up. Sooo, let me try to explain how this works.” He trails off, distracted by Ursula’s answer, and quickly types back, VEs stuffed my friends into the Web to fuck with them and now there’s some kind of standoff over their helpless bodies?? Johnson Space Center. Kouame is there.

He exhales. “Okay, you’re astrally here. It means they’ve used regular computers and VR rigs, combined with Correspondence, to trick your brain into taking the sensory input as true. Usually you need Correspondence to get back out, too. Jianyu, you should definitely be able to find the thread leading you back to your body.” Will pauses. “Well, that implies you aren’t still simultaneously in your body. You need to- to know that. Really know it.” Usually, the Virtual Adept is extremely precise when explaining how technomagic works, but the Web really pushes the limits of what they can all explain. “You’re in both places at once, because it’s the same place. It’s like, uh, something you can see out of the corner of your eye, but when you look, it’s gone – that’s your body right now. Remember it, and just end the Correspondence routine you were using to log in. Or if they forced you here, you may need to countermagick it.”

He glances to America, frowning. “Can you detect it? The effect they used to put you here. You should have a base-level feel for Correspondence as long as you’re in here.” He fiddles with his handheld, trying to bring up his own readings of the magick keeping them here so he can show her on a screen. “They forced you in. I can maybe help you shut the effect down, but you need to be ready to snap back to reality.”

Biting her lip, the Daughter of Ether would find this fascinating if she wasn’t in peril. She shakes her head slowly at Will’s question but does understand what he’s saying. "She checks her calculator watch and shows the soft blue blinking light. “I got it,” she confirms.

Then America turns to Jianyu and places her hand on his shoulder, looking him in the eyes. “I might be a little slow on getting out of here. When you get out, you could play possum. Be aware and listen in, but otherwise not try to move from the chair. If you could create a distraction, get their attention focused away from me, that would be good too, but don’t put yourself in any more danger. You’re only in this mess because of me.”

She returns her attention to Will and nods. “Any help you can give, I’ll take Will. Thank you,”she says in earnest before forming fists and getting a straight up bitch face. “There’s no place like home.”

Jianyu keeps eye contact with America, and then nods. “Got it.” With a burst of static he’s gone—disconnected back to his body.

Will tries to latch on to the same correspondence signal, hoping to keep America on the right track given her inexperience with this. He suddenly remembers, as she mentions home. “Hey, your mom’s with us. I’ll tell her you said hi.” He flashes a faint smile at her. “See you soon.”

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