Warnings for major character death.
The news came in by text and tweet and news ticker, spreading like wildfire around the world. Gabriel watched from the center of Times Square as the people around him, most wearing expressions of concern, began tapping at their phones frantically, trying to verify the news. A few ran to straight ATMs or nearby bank branches. Concern slowly turned to panic as more and more came away empty-handed. He flipped to D.C. London. Paris. The scene was the same everywhere, growing fear as people realized the entire financial system had collapsed in an instant.
Gabriel worked his way through the growing crowd, automatically dodging the sign-waving protestors. He slipped around two children, his stomach tightening at the sight of their thin arms and skeletal faces, a thinness mirrored in the adults around them. He was nearly to the front when the the crowd surged forward. People moved around him in a giant wave, heading toward the locked warehouse doors. And then the gunshots began, the sound echoing around him as the riot police opened fire.
Gabriel walked down an empty street, barely registering what city he was in. They were all the same at this hour. In the distance, he could see the heat signatures from two people: police enforcing the curfew. Despite the rapidly approaching dusk, there were few lights on--just the cameras, running on a generator, ready to capture anyone who dared venture out.
"This is a bad idea," Lillian said, clearly fighting to keep her tone appropriate respectful.
There's no camera footage to call on for this one; just his own chip-enhanced memory. It doesn't matter. He knows every word that was spoken.
"Why do you say that?" the new president asked mildly. "I've read what you and Agent Vaughn have accomplished. Just think about what we can do with a hundred agents just like him."
They both glanced at Gabriel, standing off to the side with Riley. He considered speaking up, but Lillian signaled silence.
"Mr. President, I don't know if you understand just how much power the chip gives a person," Lillian said. "The vetting process for this...we have to be absolutely sure not just of their ability to use the chip, but that they won't misuse it. We can't rush this."
The scene froze, and then Riley stepped forward, doubled, one statue-still beside the other Gabriel, and one walking over to stand in front of him.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" she asked. "This wasn't your fault."
"Then whose fault was it?" Gabriel asked bitterly. "If I hadn't agreed to the chip, if I'd stopped the expansion, if I'd stopped Blackwell--"
"You can't change the past. The world changed the day that Doctor Cassidy constructed the first prototype for the chip. The day he drew up the plans. The day he dreamed of it, and realized it was possible."
Riley's face, but not Riley's words.
"I'd prefer it if you wore your own face," he said.
The figure in front of him wavered, then reformed as Mei Chen.
"We are the future. They were the past," she said. "It was always going to end this way."
"Not this way," Gabriel said.
Gabriel watched himself as he focused, trying to connect with Blackwell's system, trying to stop him. Riley stood in front of him, sidearm drawn, ready to hold off any defenders until he was finished. She said something, but he didn't hear it, focused on his work.
And then Blackwell's people rounded the corner shooting began. These seconds always stretched out like hours before him, Riley returning fire, his slow resurfacing as he the attack rolled into his brain like molasses and he realized he wouldn't have time. Drawing his own gun far too slowly. Joining Riley in returning fire, only to see her collapse at his feet.
"Enough," Mei Chen said beside him. The render dissolved, leaving them in the grey room he'd started from.
Mei Chen touched his hand. "Enough, Gabriel. If you care so much about these people, then go out there and help them. But enough of this." Her expression softened, just a little. "She wouldn't have wanted this for you."
Gabriel drew in a deep breath. "I know."
Mei Chen nodded and stepped away, mask sliding back into place. "Then if you're ready to work, we have news that suggests Doctor Cassidy might still be alive."
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