one of the new Auditor's first jobs.

warnings: AU - Fateverse. sci-fi. technobabble. rampant bad 616 references. reference to AU character death. hints of het (sort of) and slash. language: pg-13 (primetime tv plus s***).

pairing: implied Will/Dory (Billy/Teddy) and implied Nate/Wade.

timeline: Network Operations 3651 (AD 6188), a week after Auditor!Wade's death in The Auditor (Blood & Tears); WM local year AD 2065, immediately after the crash in Scream Until We're Satisfied (End of Dreaming); CT local year AD 4081.

disclaimer: characters belong to marvel. au and au versions belong to me.

notes: 1) GCP = Gravitic Constructor Pad. see the entry in the Fateverse Glossary. 2) the M11A1 (MAC-11 Advancement 1) is an American sub-compact machine pistol that fires .380s at a maximum rate of about 1200 rounds per minute. 3) Glock here refers to the beloved Glock 17, the Austrian-made workhorse of 9mm semi-automatic pistols. manufactured to ridiculously exacting standards of safety and reliability, it's used by the bulk of US law enforcement. 4) a macro is a short command (or button press) that is programmed to execute a long string of commands, as any PC power-gamer knows. 5) UMP stands for Universal Machine Pistol, an H&K submachine gun that can be chambered to fire .45 (UMP45), .40 (UMP40), or 9x19mm Parabellum (UMP9) rounds. it provides more stopping power and is more reliable than most SMGs. 6) Mr. Binky is the name of Sandi's cat in the Waking Man universe (and probably a few other worlds in the Fateverse). 7) one of the original Auditor's major jobs was exploration of bundles deemed to dangerous to risk the Cartographer, so the AR bundle maintains a large secondary database that includes anecdotal information the Auditor thought would be helpful. 8) Hope and Kali appear on Earth-339 sometime in the year 2065, at the end of the Skywar, at the wreckage of Helicarrier Providence (and Valse Faction Flagship Madeen). 9) meet the Collector, the most neurotic William Kaplan/Maximoff/Whatever in the multiverse. now meet his blonde bombshell wife, Theodora, who could be his blond bombshell husband Theodore if either of them really cared one way or the other.

visit The Fateverse Glossary (merianmoriarty (dot) deviantart (dot) com/art/Fateverse-Glossary-174203180) for terms, concepts, Nodes, and important people.

Call for Pickup

When Hope inherited Kali, she inherited Wade's GCP. This is slightly awkward, because the thing's routed to Wade's vault, and nobody knows exactly what's in it. Even now, after fiddling with the GCP for a week, there's about forty items on the list she hasn't gotten to. Wade used a lot of macro combinations, and the inventory doesn't use sensible names like 'M11A1 extended clip,' or 'recoilless launcher, heat-seeking.' Instead, Hope keeps seeing things like 'Boomstick' (which turned out to be a fully-auto drum-fed twelve-gauge) and 'Spock' (a silenced Glock).

The real speed bump in using the GCP is that the primary buttons are linked to Wade's favorite guns, four of which have custom grips meant for someone with much bigger hands than Hope's and most of which she can't shoot for shit.

She doesn't have the heart to reprogram it.

So she makes the extra effort to find the macros for the guns she can shoot. Right now she knows two: Zoe is a neat little double barrel sawed-off, and Baxter is one of the UMPs.

Not everything in Wade's vault is a gun; in fact, three of the things Hope's gotten to aren't even weapons. There's a huge roll of duct tape under the inventory name 'The Force' (she even suspected what it was before she hit the send button). The other two are a can of Meow Mix (Noms for Mr. Binky) and a box of Kleenex (In Case of Emergency).

She's scrolling through the list (she thinks 'DON'T PANIC' is probably a towel) when Kali beeps on her desk.

~New assignment.~

"Lay it on me," Hope says.

~Reloc 99735: Node 250 Eight-ball solid-phase presence from WM bundle to CT bundle. Priority Alpha.~

"CT bundle?"

The text entry from the secondary database starts to scroll through Kali.

Junk Heap. Don't touch anything. Hot blonde shapeshifter can and will rip limbs off.

Hope arches an eyebrow. "Oh…kay. Thanks bunches, Wade. Kali, get me the official entry from the CDB, please."

Primary 106-283 (CT). Collector's Grotto (colloq. 'Junk Heap'). Exists slightly above PO. Site of Solid Phase Object Repository. Warning: high incidence of Fidelis Effect.

"What the hell is the Fidelis Effect?"

~Clarification: the phrase 'Fidelis Effect' refers to a complex phase-resonance phenomenon whereby people, places, objects, or animals may spontaneously share traits.~

Hope rolls her eyes. "Such as?"

~Clarification: these traits include knowledge, appearance, X-gene mutations, and location.~

"You and Wade are about equally helpful right now," Hope mutters. She feels a brief flash of childish self-pity, but shakes herself and stands up. "Priority Alpha, you said. So let's go, Kali."

~Warning: lateral transit destination is rated for presence of radiation, toxic aerial particulates, and potentially hostile natives.~


Hope sighs, picks up the Node, nods. "Acknowledged. Put up a gravimetric filter."

The tunnel forms with a flash like light through water. Hope's skin tingles when it moves to engulf her, which is ten times better than the nauseating whiplash feeling of timesliding.

Kali's warning is well-deserved. They appear in a ruined world, an ash-clouded sky over blackened ground. About a hundred feet away is the combined smoking wreckage of two huge airships (looks like one rammed the other and they both went down), and the space between is littered with debris.

Even through the filter, Hope can smell burning metal.

The sunlight in this dead world is orange and muffled by cloud cover, so it takes her a while to spot the familiar glint of a Node.

It's beautiful, this Node—baseball-sized and perfectly transparent.

"Are you Eight-ball?" she asks.

A golden light twinkles and streaks over the Node's surface. ~Yes.~ It sounds so much like the Savant that Hope shivers involuntarily. ~It's time to go. I need your physical contact to shut down for solid-phase transit.~

She crouches, picks it up. The light vanishes with the suddenness of a snuffed candle. Eight-ball is curiously heavy, compared to other Nodes. "Okay, Kali, tunnel us to the Collector's Grotto. Whatever the hell that is."

Again, the flash and tingle of the gravitic conduit.

The Collector's Grotto, as it turns out, is a large cavern with shelves carved into the stone walls and a huge skylight above. The floor is covered with tables of all shapes and sizes, and the tables (like the shelves in the wall) are stuffed with stuff. Long strands of jars and cages and containers trail from the ceiling like willow branches, or octopus eggs. A hundred thousand kinds of thing, arrayed in itemized clusters, a spectrum of glorious junk. She spots the shape of a model Death Star on one table (there's an X-Wing near it, and a Millennium Falcon), a plush Mudkip on another. In one of the cages, a ferret peers out at her with sharp eyes.

Hope's gaze catches on a reef of snowglobes on an ornate golden table, hundreds of tiny worlds buried under snow and glitter. Mesmerized, she reaches to touch one, and a nervous voice calls out.

"Don't—don't, don't, don't t-touch that!" he scolds. The nervous voice turns out to belong to a nervous-looking iteration of Will. He peers at her around a dangling tendril of colored glass bottles. "That, it, everything's got—got a proper place, and, and if you move it—I—I've got this system, see—it's all arranged by resonance, so if you move it, the whole Fidelis Effect is thrown outta whack and things'll start popping up where they don't go, and then the next time someone comes to get something, it'll take ages to find it, so that—that has to be exactly where it is, or else it won't be, and then nothing will, and it'll take me, like, years to, to—"

Hope pulls her hand back quickly. "It's William, isn't it?"

He nods several times. "William, Will, William," he answers, half-shrugging.

Kali beeps. ~Ident confirmed.~ White text dubs the man William Maximoff CT203, the Collector.

He seems to actually look at her for the first time, and is surprised. "You're the new Auditor? I thought you'd be…"

"A guy?" Hope guesses.

"Sorry. Yes. It's a rough gig, and—n-n-not that I think girls—sorry, women—can't handle dangerous work, I mean some of the meanest people I know are women—that came out bad—uh—"

"Calm down, Will," Hope says. "Because of quantum branch interference and stuff like that, I have to leave something with you for a while."

"Oh—oh, thank God!" Will cries, hurrying through the assorted imbroglio. "There's, there, it's—I've got this space, just a space, but nothing went there, and I hate having these, these glaring—these blanks—it's like—nevermind, nevermind. Is it a Node? It is a Node, isn't it? It's an actual physical-presence Node, it's—this table is for things that are, are more real than other things—which probably makes absolutely no sense to you, but—"

"Actually, I know all about phase solidification, Collector," she interrupts mildly. She holds out the inert Node. "This is Node 250 Eight-ball."

Will takes Eight-ball with gentle hands and holds it up to the light until its control grid appears. He nods and continues through the cavern to the very middle, where the sunlight is brightest. There, dazzling sunbeams warm an array of charms, jewelry, and trinkets. In the middle of the table are several glassine shapes that Hope recognizes as Nodes, some with the blinking lights of pending timeslides. There is a conspicuous space at the very center, and it's into that space that the Collector carefully sets Eight-ball.

"I hereby verify the change in custody of this Node," he says in a clear, official-sounding tone. "It will remain in the repository until such time as it recognizes its intended recipient."

~Receipt logged with Network Core,~ says Kali.

"Can I get you anything to drink?" a woman asks, startling Hope.

"You must be the blonde shapeshifter who can and will rip limbs off," Hope supposes when she turns.

The woman blushes prettily. "Oh, so you heard about that…I'm sorry, but your predecessor was being awfully improper at the time. I'm Dory, by the way—Will's wife."

"I'm Hope, the last Auditor's daughter. Or step-daughter. Or…well, I guess 'adopted' is a better term."

Dory smiles. "I know. Hopes crop up all over the place. They don't actually have legitimate biological parents, so the terminology can get a little fuzzy. We're very sorry for your loss, by the way—and please give your father our condolences. I just finished a batch of iced tea, if you'd like some before you leave."

"Tea would be great."