ArchivedLogs:Retconning Reality

From X-Men: rEvolution
Retconning Reality
Dramatis Personae

Flicker, Tag, Tian-shin

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


"We haven't destroyed all of history /yet/." (Part of Future Past TP.)

Location

<NYC> Chinatown


One of New York's oldest neighborhoods and the oldest Chinese enclave outside of Asia, Chinatown is a vibrant ethnic community, which draws throngs of tourists annually as well. This neighborhood is packed with Chinese-owned businesses, from restaurants to groceries to theaters to fashion.

Life goes on for the human citizenry of this neighborhood, although the bustle of Canal street now cannot match its glory days. The prevalence of Sentinels excites little remark, even when the machines' chassis bear designs in cheerful colors, often incorporating an iridescent dragonfly.

In an alley beyond a greengrocer, Tian-shin has flattened herself against the wall for the cover of a tattered eave, placing the rusty bulk of a dumpster between herself and the street. She wears a red newsboy cap over her close-cropped hair, a black canvas jacket covered in patches--most of them functional, some of them fanciful, and one understated letters on each shoulder: a blood red A and a bright yellow X, each in a circle of the same color--and ancient blue jeans faded almost to white.

Someone has wedged a half a brick near the hinge of the dumpster's lid to keep it propped half-way open. Inside, Tag has almost filled a knapsack, squatting amongst smashed wooden crates and even more smashed produce. His hair is shoulder-length, pale blue with purple tips, and his outfit is thunderstorm-themed. A gray jacket, much too big for him, is shaded subtly like a brooding cloud streaked here and there with faint electrical discharge, and his black cargo pants have stark, jagged lightning bolts running along the outseams. He pokes his head out and glances at the sky. "Okay, let's go." He yanks the brick from its place as he exits and never bothers even climbing down to the ground, merely hopping over to the fallen ladder of a nearby fire escape and scrambling up without looking back to ensure that his sister has followed.

In the bustle and noise of daily city life there are few who pay much heed to the omnipresent Sentinel patrols. One pair has recently passed by. Uneventful. Another pair stands motionless a few blocks away, perhaps engaged in some inner dialogue all their own. Uneventful, too.

The sky, in contrast to Tag's stormy attire, is clear and bright. Springlike. It makes it that much easier to spot the trio of shapes flitting by overhead. Also uneventful!

At least, by most people's standards; nobody much bats an eye, really, when the bots veer downwards to clang heavily to the ground. Two of them at the mouth of the alley -- though one has landed one flight up on Tag's fire escape. "Be advised," this one informs the siblings, in a pleasant-polite tone, "You are in a prohibited area. By federal law you must come with us."

"Of course. We surrender." Tian-shin raises both hands above her head, making no sudden movements. "{Get down from there, Brother,}" she adds quietly, "{and stay close to me.}" The bolts holding the fire escape to the building have begun corroding rapidly, starting with the ones farthest from the street.

"{Sorry,} I not speak good English," Tag says, exaggerating his very faint Chinese accent as he descends from the fire escape and goes to his sister's side, raising his hands as he does so. "{Seriously?}" his reply is quiet, also in Mandarin. "{You want us to go out /that/ way?}" He stares hard at the two Sentinels blocking their path to the street. Their entire bodies, optics and all, chang quite abruptly to stark, matte white...along with the patch of pavement on which they stand.

"{Be advised,}" the bot above them repeats undaunted, this time in equally pleasant Mandarin, "{you are in a prohibited area. By federal law you must come with us.}" Its polite tones make an odd contrast with the scrape-creak of rusting metal starting to groan and shift.

The bots on the street are not quite so polite. It's hard to read alarm on their unchanging features; no panic there, no anger, but the lift of their arms in response to Tag's white-out is sharp and quick.

So is the barrage that flies towards Tag and Tian-shin -- from one of the Sentinels, plastic darts; from the other, globs of sticky webglue aimed -- oddly accurately -- at hands and feet.

"{You are in a prohibited area,}" the overhead Sentinel is saying again. "{We are authorized to use force if necessary. For your own safety, peaceful compliance is advised.}"

There's another shape flitting down from overhead. Not the heavy bulk of the robots. Lean and thin and moving a lot more erratically, Flicker's wiry shape comes dressed in tattered old brown cargo corduroys and heavy dark boots, a grey-on-grey striped sweater underneath a canvas vest, a mostly-empty backpack slung over his back.

His particular mode of travel makes him kind of hard to track upon arrival. Sort of a blur. A blur that drops a spritz-bottle of vinegar down towards Tian-shin before reappearing behind the blinded Sentinels. His tentacle wraps around one of their necks, its tip starting to glow as it latches up beneath the bot's head.

Whether to dodge the imminent collapse of the fire escape or the barrage from the Sentinels, Tian-shin tackles her brother to the ground in the general direction of the dumpster. This does not get her own feet clear quickly enough to avoid a mass of glue, but she catches the spritz bottle right out of the air and douses the stuff at once. The solvent seems to work with preternatural speed, reducing the mass of goop to a watery puddle. "Timber!" she shouts barely a second before the bolts on the far side of the fire escape give way.

Tag remains remarkably calm as the world around him explodes into motion. He tucks his head when Tian-shin knocks him aside. He rolls to his feet in a crouch behind the dumpster, which should /in theory/ shelter him from the toppling fire escape, though he looks up at it askance. Another swath of white consumes the remaining Sentinel and the rusty metal around it. "We need to GTFO!"

The aim of the Sentinels grows worse once the third of their number is blotted out in white as well. They still fire darts in Tag and Tian-shin's general direction -- a wide enough barrage that they seem to just be going for sheer volume rather than accuracy.

The one on the fire escape starts to topple towards the ground when its perch gives way. Starts to. It never hits the ground, thrusters firing and correcting its path quickly to right it in midair.

By now they've evidently sounded an alarm; there's a distant telltale droning sound that suggests reinforcements aren't far off.

Flicker's bot is shifting its weight. Reaching up to try and shoot at him -- a bright blast of repulsor beam, not darts -- as it twists and drops, trying to dislodge the sudden grip clinging to it.

Flicker's weight hasn't stayed /still/. Even with arm locked around the bot the rest of him is shifting, moving -- dodging that blast quick enough it looks almost like it's passed right through him.

The tentacle is releasing one of its own. Up and through the head of the Sentinel before disengaging. He's over by Tian-shin in a flash, tentacle wrapping around her arm and -- stretching out longer as he blips over to Tag's side. His hand clamps down on the other man's shoulder.

"Hope you don't get motion sick." Because the world around them is starting to shift. Blur. Really quickly. The ground is dropping quickly out from under them, the droning more distant. Buildings kind of blending together.

And then it's just darkness. Still a moving darkness. Wind against their faces, stomachs -- not quite ready to settle yet. The smells of mold and damp and sewage around them. Occasional flutters of dim light.

By the time Flicker puts them down, on a damp slab of cold hard concrete, and switches on a dim glowing light in his arm, /he/ looks pale. Shaky. Slumped against the wall.

Tian-shin more or less collapses when Flicker releases her. Bracing her hands against the concrete, she dry-heaving for a good half minute before mastering herself and sitting back on her heels to look up at their rescuer. "Thank you," she manages hoarsely, and looks like she was about to say something else, but claps a shaking hand over her mouth and forces herself to breathe slowly instead.

Tag clings to Flicker in palpable terror that fades somewhat when the light comes on. His hair has gone entirely white, and so have his irises, almost swallowed up in deep black pupils. "Gan," he mutters, not letting go of Flicker so much as switching to supporting him. "You okay? Did you get beamed?" He looks down at his sister. "{Sorry,} Mei-mei, I keep dragging you into..." He scrubs his dirty face with one hand and blows a long, slow stream of air. "Is it just me or are the Cylons getting smarter all the time?"

Flicker leans -- partially against Tag, partially against the wall. Head thumped back. Eyes closing. He shakes his head, tentacle slowly unwinding from its grip around Tag to trace over his vest -- it has a scorch mark sizzled through one side. No blood, though. "Think they learn."

His eye cracks open. Shifts to Tag. Shifts to Tian-shin. "... Hi." The delayed greeting comes with a very lopsided half-smile.

"It's okay. I'd rather rather you drag me into trouble than worry about you getting into it along." Tian-shin appears to have defeated her nausea more solidly this time, and slowly struggles to her feet. Her eyes dart to Flicker, lingering first on his arm, then the scorch mark, then at last his face. "Ah, hello. I...it’s been a while. How have you...been?”

"Hey." Tag tilts his head sideways and peers at the burned fabric. He shifts his weight, momentarily standing on his own before he suddenly throws his arms around Flicker again. "I'm so glad you're alive I mean so many people have but thank you for saving our lives." The words come spilling out in a stream. He disengages, running a hand through his gleaming white hair. "You with the Resistance now?"

"Alive. Glad to see you are, too." Flicker's smile fades. "You got any water? I was supposed to be restocking." His mechanical arm curls back around Tag. Squeezes gently, lets go. "I --" His brows pull in. Deeply. "No. I don't know. I'm not -- I don't know what I'm with. Sometimes I see your work up there though. Those dragonflies --" There's a small hint of wistful in his voice. "Kind of good to know you're still. Kind of a punk."

"Are you /alone/ out in...all this?" Tian-shin unzips her jacket and tugs a small plastic flask--one of several--from her utility belt, passing it to Flicker. "Tag has more in the backpack. Food, also." Some of it, especially the ripest of the fruit, gives off a pleasant, if slightly cloying, scent. "We were restocking too--on our last stop."

"Pushed our luck a little too far." Tag hefts the knapsack, looking sheepish. "Found lots of fruits and veggies, herbs, even. You and yours're welcome to share." He smiles wanly, his hair turning rainbow colors gradually, by sections. "I /am/ still kinduva punk, vandalism or no. The art is just how I fight back. How I keep myself together, you know."

"Alone -- no. No, I haven't been alone, exactly. Not for a while." Flicker reaches out to nab the flask from Tian-shin, tipping his head back to gulp at it thirstily. "Oh -- /oh/. Real fruit. You two living the good life, out here."

A small shiver runs up him. He stretches his arm a ways down the tunnel, letting its glow light the darkness. Then dropping his arm to his side. "You seen anyone else out there? Or is it just -- you two."

"Tag still can't really eat meat." Tian-shin puts a hand on her brother's skinny shoulder and rubs it absently. "Makes a diet of rat somewhat untenable, which in turn motivates us to be better at gleaning. Or to take bigger risks at it, anyhow." She follows the line of Flicker's arm, the circle of light creeping over the crumbling tunnel walls. "Occasionally I help move people across the city--ones trying to get out. But no, not really. It's mostly been us."

"I /can/ eat meat, it just makes me sick. My body wants me to be a good Buddhist." Tag fishes a slightly overripe persimmon from the knapsack and holds it out to Flicker, one eyebrow up. "This is from a sympathetic old family friend, but we have little guerrilla gardens scattered all around. Rooftops, mostly." He shrugs. "I bumped into Anole a while back; he's running refugees out, too." When his eyes fix on Flicker again, their irises have turned magenta, and a hopeful glint shines in them. "Who you with?"

"You're not missing much. I mean, enough spices, even rat tastes fine." Flicker's grin is quick. Lopsided, again. "-- but we don't really have spices down here." The mention of guerrilla gardens pulls his gaze downward. He's quiet as he takes the persimmon, turning it over slowly in the end of his arm.

"... Hive's been a terrible Buddhist," he finally ventures. "But I guess he always was. Anyway he mostly only eats what I --" For a moment he stops. Chews briefly at the insides of his cheeks. "Don't think you know the other people. I'm with. It's been kind of a -- we've been kind of." Uncomfortably, he shifts from one foot to the other. "Reaching out to some folks, though. Saw Micah. Not long back."

Tian-shin has fished a small headlamp from her utility belt and secured to her head. This necessitates pushing back her cap so that it sits in a vaguely ludicrous jaunty fashion. "I think I've managed some reasonably palatable good rat dishes. There are wild herbs that make decent seasoning." She picks up the rear of their little procession, turning occasionally to survey the tunnel behind them. "Reaching out? Are you planning something?"

"Hive!" Tag chirps. The colors in his hair grow several shades brighter, and the dark clouds on his jacket turn to billowy white cumulus puffs with glimpses of blue sky in between. "And Micah! Wow, we could have some kinduva shindig." But the smile on his face is pained, and he hugs himself as though cold. "Though I guess there's more important things to do. Staying alive and all that."

"'Planning' would be putting a generous spin on what we're doing," Flicker answers. Kinda wryly. "More like desperately reaching." He's quiet briefly. Head tipping to listen -- though aside from them the tunnel has not much aside from a quiet trickle of water in the distance. "I'm tired of just trying to stay alive. We're trying to undo all this."

"Sometimes desperately reaching is the best plan." Tian-shin sighs faintly. "If there's really nothing else you /can/ do, there's always a chance you find a handhold, or someone willing to lend a hand." She says nothing for a moment. "I'd love nothing more than to undo...well, the last couple of years, I guess. But I don't see how it's possible. I believed in justice once, despite the law if not because of it." Her voice wavers slightly. "Not anymore."

"I'm still in favor of shindig," Tag mutters, "/and/ staying alive, for what that's worth. Dum spiro, spero...or something." He shoves his hands deep into the slash pockets of his jacket. "Honestly, I'm kinda terrified of any plan that involves Hive and can be described as 'desperately reaching.' But!" He smiles, a little impishly. "If you need something tagged for the cause of bringing down the Evil Empire, I'm all ears."

"I don't know if there is a best plan anymore," Flicker admits, quiet. He bites into the persimmon finally -- with a shiver and a small moan, a pause to chew it over. Slowly. "I think there's just. Less bad." He stops, sinking back against the wall again to take another bite of fruit. "Jax said --" He catches himself after this, scarred cheeks flushing. "It's just, what we're trying -- /is/ undoing the last couple years. Sort of literally. Hive and the people I'm with, they found a way to send messages -- back. Send people back. Or forward. And we're thinking -- the right message, the right time, none of this would have happened." This time his smile is -- lacking in much humour. "I don't know if destroying our existence is justice. But it's something."

Tian-shin stares at Flicker for several long seconds, slack-jawed. "Wait..." She tugs the headlamp down to let it hang from her neck, throwing an unsteady pool of light on the ground at her feet. "/Literally/ undoing? As in...changing the past?" Snatching the cap from her head, she musses her short, spiky hair as if this would help her process the information better somehow. "I...don't know how to even think about that."

"You're trying to retcon /reality/?" Tag seems to accept this notion much more readily than his sister did. "See, I was justified in my terror." He's smiling still, but there's a haunted quality to it. "So...do you have any reason to think it'll work? Or, at least, that it won't, I dunno, destroy all of history in some kind of Doctor Who-esque time singularity? And what did--" His voice breaks finally. Tears roll down his face, leaving glistening trails through the grime. "What'd Jax say? Did you un-kill him somehow?"

"Literally --" Flicker tips his hand outward. Towards Tag. Retconning reality. His head shakes. "Is blind hope a reason?" In his hand, the persimmon turns over. And over. "We've done it before. Changed -- things. You just -- can't tell because this reality is -- the. Real. One. Now." /His/ eyes are scrunching up a little, like trying to think this through much is a little bit painful. "We haven't destroyed all of history /yet/."

His arm curls out, wrapping back around Tag's shoulder when the tears start to fall. "Jax wasn't -- happy with us. We didn't unkill him. We just -- brought him here. From five years ago. To ask for help. He -- doesn't like the idea. Not that he wants all this to happen. Just feels like -- killing us." His shoulder gives a very small shrug. "Maybe it is. But we're all dead soon enough here anyway."

"How do you know you've changed it if no one remembers?" Tian-shin shakes her head slowly and replaces the cap. "No, that's ridiculous, of course /someone/ remembers. Just not us. I'd be convinced that the person--or people--who /claim/ to remember a different reality were playing you if you weren't...bringing people here from five years ago. I’m still not convinced they /aren’t/ playing you." She chews on her lip, eyes focusing on the tunnel where it fades into shadow ahead of him. "This is messed up. This...project. If /I/ could choose to die right now and keep Westchester, the camps, all of this from happening? I'd do it. But the rest of the world?" Her head shakes again, more resolutely. "Gods really do walk among us."

"All of this has happened before," Tag intones leaning into the curve of Flicker's arm, "and will happen again." His shoulders hitch once or twice more, but the tears have eased. "Five years ago," he echoes, mopping at his eyes with one sleeve. His fist circles his heart, and when his hand falls away from his jacket a the clouds there have parted to reveal part of the sun. "We can't die if we never existed, and if this works we won't," he says at last, "but from here it's the same. Still." His shoulders sag, and it makes his already slender frame look even smaller. "It's Hive. I can't /not/ give him the benefit of the doubt." He looks up at Flicker. "Can I see him? Is he...you know." A vague gesture at his own head, then those of his companions.

"We thought he was crazy at first, too." Flicker's brow furrows. "-- /everyone/ thought he was crazy at first. I mean he was like a -- /TV/ psychic, right? And totally /was/ just a scam -- except he's actually a mutant and actually can see through time. And then he just cracked. Started going on talk shows predicting war and doom and a huge explosion and everyone thought he was crazy and he ended up..."

He trails off. Eyes squeezing tighter shut. "It's Hive. You can't really play Hive. I don't think there's a telepath in existence stronger, not when he has enough people in him. And if there was one he'd know, he's stretched himself the /world/ over and back."

His head turns to the side, quick-rough brushing his eye against his shoulder. His eyes are still bright when he looks up, though. Glistening. "It's beyond messed up. Most days I don't really know how I ended up -- I just can't let this be our world. Not forever."

He pushes away from the wall. Takes another hungry bite of persimmon. Turns back down the tunnel. "Come on. He'll be glad for the fruit, anyway."