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Lantern Hill, the Morgan House

Corner of Newton & Salem

Noon, August 31st, 2019

Weather: Partly Cloudy, 80 °F, Wind ENE 8 mph

 

The historic Morgan House stands out from the normal colonial and victorian era architecture prevalent in the Lantern Hill district as a testament to the American Craftsman style. On June 30th, 1908 the original colonial structure was blown apart by an explosion and the Morgan Family ultimately chose to build a new house rather than try to replicate the old property. The cause of the explosion still to this day has never been fully explained, with the current owner Thomas Morgan saying that his grandfather told his father it was 'probably something he was working on in the basement'. The Morgan family has always been known as innovators of some stripe with the majority of their wealth coming from a variety of small patents and shrewd investments. Still, being one of the old families of Freedom City has caused no amounts of rumors to exist about both the house and the family that resides in it. 

 

While the Morgan House is on the national historic location list, it is still a private property and entry is only allowed for friends of the family or approved guests. However, the current owner occasionally hold exclusive philanthropic parties at the location and has recently worked with the Freedom City Historical Society to make a personally narrated virtual walkthrough of the house available at the Clark House. Today however, the fact of the gate to the property swinging open to admit a pair of teenagers on a scooter would have caused some on the historical society to weep bitter tears of jealousy as they putted quietly onto the property and parked near the detached garage. 

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Claude took off his goggles, making sure to pull them over the flatcap he was currently sporting before engaging the kickstand on his scooter. He was dressed in what Nick would find out to be his preferred attire: heavy duty boots, workmans' pants, and t-shirt of some stripe that was usually paired with suspenders. Claude waited for Nick to dismount before doing the same and then opened up the underseat storage and tossing his goggles inside. 

 

"Sorry 'bout havin' ta use my scooter. I didn't want to mess with the buses or payin' for a rideshare."  He apologized to his roommate as he signed for Nick to hang the helmet he was wearing on the handlebars. 

 

"The bossman has a thing for bein' timely." A trace of amusement was audible to Nick on the last statement, like a private joke he didn't know the punchline for. 

 

Everything else aside, the place was a bit off to Nicks' enhanced senses. Particularly noticeable to him was the grass and landscaping that seemed to be slightly out of sync with the current light wind blowing in from the Bay. 

 

"Anyways, thanks for comin'. I know 'I got somethin' important to show and tell ya, but I can't do it on campus' seems pretty sketch. At least it would be if I was in your shoes." If anything, Claude seemed to be nervously anxious, a far cry from his normally sarcastic wiseacre personality. "Still, you do get lunch outta the deal and get to meet the Doc, so ya have that goin' for ya at least." 

 

Claude then jacked a thumb over his shoulder pointing at the doors. "Well, times a wastin'." the Boston boy said before heading towards the front doors

Edited by Semi-Autogyro

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Nick grimaced as he slid off the scooter. A quick stretch and pop of his back signaled that he was okay. Just that the ride didn't exactly do his tailbone any comfort. A few circles and he stood up straight.

 

Adjusting his shoulder bag, NIck shrugged at the scooter comment and hung the helmet up. He signed, "No need. Faster anyway." He glanced at Claude curiously at the follow up but said nothing. Or signed rather.

 

That house though. Nick looked it over approvingly. Craftsman style did not occur often in his neck of the woods, and he seemed to like it. Then he paused as his senses took the place in. The sensation was akin to watching an out-of-sync video. He blinked and turned his attention to Claude.

 

Nick wondered what the big secret could be. Having his world turned upside down ironically made him more open-minded. Claude was really a cyborg from the future? He was an apprentice to a shape-shifting dragon with a Boston accent? He was, in fact, the Scout from Team Fortress 2? The weirdness of the property suggested the dragon.

 

"My pleasure," he signed as the two headed up to the door. He smiled and patted Claude on the back reassuringly. Everyone had secrets, and if by choice or necessity, certain ones needed to be shared, then Nick would keep them.

 

Standing on the front porch, Nick turned and looked over the property. The neighborhood sounds were...gone. Even some of the cosmic particles that whistled in the undertone felt muted. Except for a tinkling rhythm at once familiar and foreign. His smile faltered a bit, but he turned his attention back to the door.

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The pair weren't alone on the porch as blonde and white tabby cat was lazing in the sun on a nearby porch swing. The feline in question mewled a greeting when it noticed Claude then immediately became wary on spotting Nick. "Heya, Arcade." Claude called out to the cat before talking to Nick.

 

"Don't mind him. He's wary around strangers." the Bostonian explained. "On that note. There are some other cats here, but trust me on this: don't follow them if they go into a different room. Tell me or the Doc immediately if you see a black cat. That's Mobius and it's a right frickin' pain if he shows up." Claude however didn't bother explaining anything that he just said and took hold of the door handle and turned it. 

 

Nick could hear the thrum of exotic energy begin to emanate from the device that Claude always had on his person or closely nearby. Moments later there was another spike of similar, yet distinctly different (to his senses anyways) that came from the house itself. Narrowing down on the source, his hearing drew his attention to the lintel of the Morgan House's doors where the motto of the eponymous family was displayed in flowing Latin script: Omnes æquales sola virtute discrepantes. A feeling of clarity washed over him akin to getting dropped in a pool, like those fleeting moments of hyper-awareness when ones' adrenaline began pumping. 

 

Before he could get any deeper, Arcade went zipping through Nicks' legs to disappear into the house. "Yeah, he does that." Claude noted at the furry distraction as he held the door open for Nick. "Go on in and take a load off. The sittin' room is to your right. I gotta go tell the boss man that we're here and then get lunch started." 

 

Claude had taken his hat off as he went inside, tossing it on a nearby coat hook. He made sure Nick got to the room in question before leaving his roomate to his own devices and the sound of a grandfather clock ticking away from somewhere else in the house. 

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Nick cocked his head in question but just rolled with the situation. The energy signatures though did pique his interest, and he surmised at about 90% probability that the pulses were security credentials. Likely systems performing handshake mechanisms. His eyes narrowed on the lintel fully intending to dive deep into the analysis.

 

The cat though had other ideas, and Nick reflexively dampened his senses as he focused on it. Nodding to Claude, Nick shuffled into the sitting room while taking in the house. As soon as Claude left, a feeling of loneliness settled over the small teen. Nick didn't feel lonely often. His great uncle would say he was self-contained, but really he didn't have many people he could connect to. Something about this place though made his skin prickle. The sensation didn't feel bad per say just off. Like the out-of-sync feeling from outside. With that tinkling sound now more prominent.

 

The other reason he felt alone had a more prosaic reason. The furnishings in the sitting room alone were likely worth more than his parents' net worth. They weren't poor but nowhere the old money vibe this place gave off. He silently hoped Claude's "boss" turned out to be a good guy. Or at least tolerable for a free lunch and visit.

 

Nick sat stiffly in one of the chairs and observed the room. Beyond the occasional breath, the ticking of the clock, and sounds of subatomic particles, an eerie silence pervaded the room. Wait, subatomic particles?

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Nick didn't have to wait long, as less than a minute later (thanks to the helpful clock sound) the oddly familiar smells of food hit his nose. Claude popped back in a few moments later, rocking an apron and sporting a light tan that he didn't have before. 

 

"Foods ready. I figured you might be a bit homesick so I tried to make stuff from your neck of the woods."  He indicated for Nick to follow him, winding their way through the foyer, the dining room, and then to a table in the breakfast nook of the kitchen.


There was a five course meal waiting for them, with dishes that were achingly familiar to Nick: german potato salad, coleslaw, fried okra, scratch made biscuits, kielbasa with steamed broccoli, and an apple pie that was still steaming on the cooling rack.  "I already took Doc his portion, he'll come down a bit later. Only needs to be here for the last half of what I gotta tell you anyways, since it concerns him too."

 

"Well, go ahead and dig in, if you got any pressing questions i'll do my best to answer 'em during chow." The Bostonian handed a plate to Nick and then shooed off a scrawny cat named Borous that was eyeballing the pie before taking a plate himself and digging in. 

 

Edited by Semi-Autogyro

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Nick jumped at Claude's entry. Between the subatomic activity and the sudden smell of food, he had been completely focused elsewhere. Up he stood a tad quickly and followed Claude through the building. The rooms were noted, but more interestingly the decor. The place felt a bit dated much like the house itself. That wasn't bad though. It still felt rather homey.

 

That they bypassed the dining room bothered Nick none the least. If anything he looked relieved. In his mind, old memories of family gatherings with his rather, shall we say, martinet grandparents soured him to the very concept of dining rooms. The breakfast nook though he could dig...

 

...whoa, Nelly. Nick froze upon sighting the cornucopia. The sheer volume was one thing. That he suddenly journeyed to his other grandparents' farmhouse was another. Grandma Jane made the best potato salad and honey-glazed biscuits. Holding a plate of biscuits, covered in flour: a favorite memory of learning the recipe. He puckered up and sniffled to keep from crying. 

 

He nodded at the invitation to dine, rubbed his eyes, and saddled up next to Claude. Besides a glance at the cat, he was in his own little world. His plate loaded with a bit of everything, sans pie, Nick sat down and did indeed dig in. Although he had the manners to wait for Claude to sit down first.

 

Chewing a bite of biscuit, Nick stared off in thought. Honey glaze didn't give anything away, but the slight heat of cayenne pepper did. The cuisine didn't just hail from his neck of the woods. These were family recipes. So many questions.

 

One biscuit all but vanished and the okra started down the same path. Again he could see his grandma cooking them. Slowly chewing a bite, Nick signed, "How did you make all of this so fast? And where did you get these recipes? Is that a tan?" All came out in a tumble. 

 

 

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Claude ate some of the okra, chewing with a thoughtful look at Nick before swallowing to answer his questions. "In order? Time management, somebody gave 'em to me, and it's generally what happens when you work outside." 

 

Claude gave Nick a completely serious look and broke down laughing as soon as he saw his friends' reaction to the non-answers.  "Sorry, buddy. You pitched that one straight at me. Had to take the bunt, just to see your reaction." The Bostonian made a show of wiping a tear from one of his eyes. 

 

"Heh. Anyways, those questions are ones you need to ask so that you are open to the possibility of what those answers really mean. I did answer all of them truthfully and I know it's going to be annoyin' as crap, but I'll have to keep doin' obfuscations like that when people not in the loop are around."  Claude picked at his potato salad before continuing. 

 

"So before I get to answering those last ones directly without screwin' with ya, ya gotta know a bit about my personal history." He leaned over and pulled a set of three laminated newspaper clippings off a nearby shelf, sliding it over to Nick for him to read as Claude continued to eat.

 

The articles were dated from 2015 and read: "ArcheTech Transport Hijacking Foiled", "Scrounge Still at Large, Son in Custody", and "Kit-Bash Sentenced to 1 Year in Juvenile Detention". Claude was surprisingly quiet as his roommate read the articles, the only sound that he was still there was the occasional clink of silverware against china. 

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Nick stopped mid chew and gave Claude a deadpan look. Once Claude's composure slipped, Nick couldn't help but chuckle silently along with him. Before he could make a crack about running for public office, Claude continued and Nick listened intently.

 

Secret agent. Yeah, secret agent had to be put on the list too. Although only knowing him a brief time, Nick's read of Claude always included "cagey". That he admitted to double-speak and vagaries only confirmed that much. He obviously connected with something larger than himself. Which of course only brought up more questions. 

 

Sometimes his head hurt from chasing his thoughts around. He wondered how super geniuses managed. Probably smart enough to not chase their thoughts around.

 

Focusing, Nick watched the clippings with obvious curiosity. Downing more okra, the three articles received a thorough inspection. For his part, Nick seemed pretty nonplussed by the news.  The conclusion didn't take a super genius in this case. Nick did quirk an eyebrow at the last one.

 

Instead of stewing on the details, he set down his biscuit and signed, "I assume then that you were Kit-Bash? So what's the next secret?"

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"Yeah, got it in one." Claude nodded. "But that's a freebie. Some people don't exactly have a positive reaction to findin' out their roomie is an ex con."

 

The Bostonian bulled on. "Anyways, Did a nine month stint. Got out on good behavior, if you can believe that." There was a self effacing smirk plastered on Claudes' face at the last statement. It didn't last as he stood.

 

"My old man was waiting for me. Had a plan, needed my help." Claude was pacing back and forth, body taut as his voice. "The same man who left me holdin' the bag. Actin' like he gave a damn. He didn't need Claude. He needed Kit-Bash. Not even a 'Hey, sport. How ya doin' before trying to rope me in on a score." 

 

There was a very real anger in his voice, his accent becoming rougher by the minute. "So I figgered, why not let him learn a lesson like I did? Agreed to help, trigger the silent alarm and wash my hands of it. Job was a little place up in Baltimore, an exhibit about the Liberty League."

 

Claudes' voice is rising steadily, until a calico cat suddenly starts rubbing on his leg causing him to look down. He clenches his jaw and takes a deep breath before he faces Nick, "Sorry bout dat. Still a sore spot even though its' been years." 

 

Returning to his seat under the watchful gaze of both Nick and the calico, he continued. "Scrounge starts just grabbin' everythin' in even though it was replicas or mockups. Everythin' except this." Claude pulls a cube out of one of his pockets and set it on the table. 

 

"Spotted this, went to take it so dear old dad wouldn't get his hands on it so I could return it later on the down low." Nick could practically read Claudes' conflicted emotions by his enhanced senses as if they were a flashing neon sign. 

 

"Too bad it was a trap. Not meant for me, but I managed to booby into it anyways. Say Nick, have you ever seen the movie Groundhog Day?" The segue was admittedly odd but by the look on Claudes' face he wanted a serious answer from Nick. 

 

 

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Nick just shrugged at the ex-con comment, grabbed another biscuit, and listened. After buttering the carb-laden treat. Honestly, Claude's record didn't concern Nick, and his nonchalant behavior showed it.

 

He did smile at Claude's joke about getting out on good behavior. That seemed believable to Nick. Maybe naivete or maybe he just read Claude right. Either way the smile felt genuine.

 

The smile faded into a look of concern as Claude continued. Obviously, this whole experience wounded him deeply. He didn't need his enhanced senses for that, but with them Claude read like an open book. The betrayal, the guilt, the love and loyalty to an admittedly crappy father. Man, could he empathize with that.

 

Nick kept his eyes focused on Claude. The appearance of the cube unnerved him, and he'd be lying if he said he didn't cringe back a bit. It moved. The coils reformatted themselves in the corners of his eyes. The red lights blinked when he wasn't looking directly at it. And the whispers...like ghosts of radio waves from somewhere in the cube. Creepy stood as far too little a word for that thing.

 

The sudden tangent made him sit down the half-eaten biscuit. The look of concern had shifted to a general seriousness, his brow knitted in concentration. The question then only caused him to tilt his head in thought. He shook his head.

 

"I know the summary. Bill Murray repeats the same day over and over again," he signed.

 

Truthfully, he'd never seen the movie. His Great Uncle Otis, though, deemed it one of the finest films ever made. He referenced it constantly.

 

Nick glanced nervously at the cube.

 

Edited by Dariusprime

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Claude gave a dark chuckle as he put the cube back in one of his pockets. "Got it in one. That freakin' thing dropped me in a temporal loop of Freedom City. I got the pleasure of relivin' February 29, 2016 on repeat." 

 

"I still don't know how I managed to trigger it, with the ones who made the thing clammin' up on the subject when I asked them. If it had worked as intended, the guy they meant it for would have been sealed in the cube and unable to escape. Zeitgeist would have body-jacked someone and when the restart happened his memory would be reset as well due to the fact he was wearin' a meat puppet. Result: one delusional Nazi ghost who never cottons onto the fact he got punked. Toss the repository in a vault and throw away the key." The Bostonian grabs one of the napkins and mimes washing his hands with it and then lobs it over his shoulder into a waste bin that was behind him. "Boom. Mischief permanently managed." 

 

"So when I got yoinked instead, I got the absolute pleasure of keepin' my memory from loop to loop and nothin' else." Claude folds him arms across his chest. 

 

"So when they say time is relative, they're right. I quickly lost track of how many loops I was in. Just kept on wakin' up on my last day in juvie starin' at the bottom of the bunk above me. Again and again and again." He takes a deep breath and releases a sigh.

 

"I don't like tellin' people about this next part. It didn't take long at all for me to start abusin' it. Since you know in advance that everything is always going to go back to the way it was, then you could do anything, for as long as you want, without having to worry about consequences. I did great things. Terrible things. Things I'm not proud of. But once the novelty of the situation went away, I crashed. Hard. Kept on tryin' to get out of the loop. When that didn't work and I couldn't see any way to escape..." Claude had been staring out the window as he told his tale, but at the last statement he closes his eyes and shakes his head. "...I took the easy way out. Countless times. Every way I could think of to see if it would stick." 

 

He looks at Nick again. "Once my self destructive streak was over, it was apathy that set in. Unending ennui for a long time. But even apathy eventually got to be boring. So I started teachin' myself things since I kept my memory, so I could keep my experiences between loops at least. Guitar playing, cooking, sculpting. You name it, I did it. Gave me purpose and a reason to keep going. With me so far?" 

Edited by Semi-Autogyro

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Slowly but surely Nick's expression shifted. Brows up, eyes wide, slack jawed. Shocked, no. More like blue screen of death and just blinking to try to reboot. The whole story...let's just say, if Nick hadn't seen the stuff he already had, he'd call shenanigans on the whole tale. But here, now, either Claude packed world-class acting skills or this was the real deal. Part of him hoped this thing was a joke. At some point he leaned back and completely focused on the conversation and Claude's emotional state.

 

Nick's emotional state read easily enough too. Overwhelmed followed by understanding followed by empathy. As if things are what they are, non-judgmentally. If anything he seemed sad.

 

He quirked his head when their eyes met again. Oh, questions abounded, but Nick knew to let the storyteller finish the confession. He nodded and listened.

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Claude continued at Nicks' nod to continue, silently appreciative that his new roommate was apparently saving his questions for later. "So, there I was spendin' the days impovin' myself when I figured, why the hell not go get my head shrinked? Went to a few, some good some quacks. Till I ran into one Dr. Chiba Kobayashi, I really was just spinnin' my wheels."

 

"At first it was because she entertained the fact that I was living my life on repeat. Till I convinced her otherwise with stuff I shouldn't have any idea of knowin' about, heh." He chuckled in fond remembrance at the memory.

 

"Eventually she helped get my head screwed on straight, then one day she asked a question that changed everything: 'What if you are the only one aware of what is happening and everyone else is stuck like you are?'" He gave Nick a level look. " Now I ain't a saint and never professed to be one. But if that all was somehow my fault or I was the only one who could help, I had ta fix it. I ain't my old man. I own up to my mistakes, especially after seein' what they did to me. I owe Chi everythin' for pullin' my punk ass outta my funk and gettin' me back to my feet so I could look beyond my own problems." 

 

"The issue I quickly ran into was time. Irony, am I right? I had all the time in the world and not enough at the same time. The reset, well, reset everything to five in the morning once it hit midnight. So, I only had around nineteen hours to somehow stop the loop." Claude paused to take a few bites of his food.

 

"Anyways, I won't bore you with everything I tried or what I learned in the attempts. You could fill a library with that, which was where I found the concept of the the noosphere. Basically, it's the idea that there's a sort of 'collective unconscious' that all humans, especially psionic metahumans interact and broadcast into. Think of it like human cloud computin' if you get that analogy. So, what if I could forcibly update this unconsciousness to make it so everyone was aware like I was they were in a loop? Talked to some psions, made some tech, tried out a few things, and got some promisin' results." The Southie took a long drink from his water. 

 

"Sorry, bit parched from all the jabberin'. The only issue was that then everybody would be freakin' out like I was when I found about livin' on repeat. So I tried tweaking it and set to see if I could use the noosphere as a storage medium for everyone's' memories. That was both the right and wrong thing to do." Claude looked rather chagrined.

 

"I broke it. The loop and everythin' else connected to it." He patted the pocket where he had put the cube away in. "The feedback went straight into my brainpan and the next thing I know I'm no longer in Freedom City but sitting in a weird ass clockworks with one hell of a migraine drippin' blood from my nose like a faucet, with the cube sitting on the floor glowin' red hot while smoking like an addict with a pack a day habit."

 

"

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Oh, Nick got the analogy. Nodded as much too. Up until then he'd gone with the flow, but the idea of human cloud computing made him squirm. Still as awkward as the situation made him, he focused on what Claude said. Time enough later to ponder theories. Aside a fidget here-and-there, he remained reclined and listening.

 

Of course the next sentence caused him to blink. His mind immediately latched onto the problem with that plan, but thankfully, Claude had already taken that into account. His brow knit in confusion at the solution but again said nothing.

 

Now the smile that came over him next was hard to describe. Was it amused, rueful, joyous, or a little of all three? Truly his eyes sparkled at the implications and the outcome of breaking the loop. Especially after seeing the cube...overloaded, he guessed. On the other hand, Claude sat there telling the story so he had to have survived.

 

He didn't process the details further this time around. Instead he simply sat up straight and motioned for Claude to continue. A riveting story this turned out to be.

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"Ya see, the cube was merely an sort of 'capture' of Freedom City at that day. Like a file copy on a flash drive. However, I didn't plan on it still bein' plugged into the supercomputer so to speak. I basically crashed it by using my brain as a neural link. With all the conflicting extraneous data, it scrammed like nuke reactor and dumped me into the physical site of the mainframe as a failsafe." Claude shook his head ruefully.

 

"The good news I was outta the loop. The bad news I was pretty sure I did a number on my gray matter, since I started realizin' I knew stuff about the place I was in:  The Dolorous Clock. The worse news was an alarm started going off. I'm an ex-con. I made it about twenty feet on sheer instinctive panic before I ate the floor again. I'm pretty much down for the count between the nausea, the nosebleed that wasn't stoppin', and the cherry on top bein' the head trauma that the alarm was not doin' any favors for. I dunno how long I was there, it was all kind of fuzzy for a while but next thing I clearly remember was seein' a pair of red jackboots dead in front of me..." Claude was gesticulating wildly as he explained, clearly building up to a reveal. 

 

"And then you promptly threw up on them." Came a new voice, tinged with amusement. Entering the room, the man needed no introduction. Red shirt and boots, black pants, dual ray guns, and the iconic jetpack. Doctor Tomorrow. 

Edited by Semi-Autogyro

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Yup, nothing like keeping your audience riveted. Nick just continuing going with it. Given the superscience he read about occasionally, digitizing and de-digitizing people seemed within the realm of possibility. Not probable, but possible. "The Dolorous Clock" though elicited nothing more than a blink. Must have been important though.

 

Instead he focused on the aftermath. He nodded in understanding about Claude's reaction. Made a lot of sense. By now he'd gone from reclining, to upright, to leaning forward. Hanging on every word as it was. Nick was on the edge of his seat for the reveal.

 

Thankfully, he managed to keep from calling out "Wow!". Throwing up his hands in shock still occurred. As did him jumping up from his seat. You'd think his favorite team had just scored a last-second win. Only after a second or two did he process that the final sentence had a distinctly German accent. Freezing in place, he looked over at the newcomer.

 

Now Dr. Tomorrow he knew, at least in general terms. And his name had already come up. No super genius but no blockhead, two-and-two processed visibly across his face. It seemed to make sense to the young man. He stared quizzically at Dr. Tomorrow, then looked at Claude, then back to the Doctor.

 

Then he calmly produced a ten dollar bill from his wallet and offered it to Claude. No commentary, neutral expression.

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Doctor Tomorrow

 

Tomorrow's eyes lit up. "This must be Nicholas! Hello!" he said, practically bubbling with excitement at the sight of the other man, who got a very firm handshake from the famous time traveler. He paused momentarily to remove his gloves, then signed at Vox in ASL: I can talk this way if you prefer. There was a tactical advantage to things like hiding your command of a particular language from an enemy, but Tomorrow lived by the idea that friends weren't enemies. "Are you well? Is there anything I can get for you boys?" 

 

 

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