A Tangled Web

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Scene Title A Tangled Web
Synopsis After learning that his biological father may be alive, Richard Ray drives up to Tupper Lake to find out the truth for himself.
Date March 22, 2018

It started with a photograph.

With the new book held firmly against her, Valerie takes the rest of the way in silence. She drops down into a chair and lays the small book down on the table in front of her, scooting her chair until it gets closer, so she can see what the plastic wrapped book has.

It's not a book with pages, per se, but as the layers are unrolled and pushed off in a bundle to one side, it's revealed to be a heavy-covered binder; auhhjuch photo album, edges showing the wear and tear of age if not water damage. The cover's opened up, revealing the faded photographs within.

"Huh. I think… it's Edward," Cardinal admits, frowning down at the first few pictures.

The photographs look to be of Edward Ray throughout his life. A photo of a young boy no older than twelve standing with a High School cap and gown and a diploma rolled up, little wire-rimmed glasses on his nose. The next photograph is Edward, only a little older, sitting at a table in a library at a college, surrounded by much older college age students. One of them happens to be Mason Chesterfield, who has his arm around the young Edward's shoulder, and laughing along with the boy. In front of Edward is a copy of Isaac Asimov's "CHANGE!"

Mason Chesterfield, Company agent. The sudden juxtaposition is easier for Richard to make over the passage of time. The long drive from the Safe Zone up to the Adirondacks has given him plenty of time to sort the mental files, to go over everything that had been presented, the why, the how, the truth and the lies. Valerie would have to forgive him for borrowing the photo album without asking, leaving in the empty passenger seat for the ride up.

But Mason. Mason Chesterfield, who subjected his own daughter to the experiments that brought on the Formula. All the dirty laundry that aired during the Albany Trials, all the pain and suffering dragged screaming into the light. He can remember Cat's face on the stand, testifying to the things the Company had done to her, to the people she loved, without their knowledge of consent. He'd never seen her cry before. Family has a way of making people do things they otherwise wouldn't,

Edward is older in this picture, late twenties or early thirties, more easily recognized by the three, seated with a young woman on the hood of an orange Triumph spitfire, in a parking lot overlooking the Adirondack Mountain range of New York City. She is smiling, but Edward looks morose. The license plate reads '86' as the year the registration expires, but none of them recognize this woman at all.

On the other visible page, there are several more pictures of the woman, all alone, in various locations, and she is smiling in all of them. However, the further the pictures go, the less and less healthy she looks, but it doesn't seem like much time at all has spanned between them… No more of Edward, even as they flip the page.

This one bothers Richard, even to this day. The brunette woman seated on the hood of the car, the one who gets progressively sicker and then pregnant. The expiration on the license plate read 1986, which if everyone's birth certificates are accurate, is after Richard and Warren were born. Kaylee knows what her mother looks like, and is still alive, and Valerie didn't recognize the woman either.

Carolina Alexander, Warren's mother, committed suicide while in protective custody in a mental institution in 1987 after giving birth to Warren in 1985. There's no through line as to who she is, no clear point of evidence. Worse, there's no indication that Edward ever had photographs of Carolina Alexander in the scrap book he gave Valerie. But he did give her pictures of this woman on the car.

But why?

The last in the subsequent line of photographs, the woman looks at her sickest, yet still smiling, she is obviously several months pregnant.

The coincidence that they traveled the Adirondacks isn't lost on Richard along his drive. Perhaps he'd grown complacent, grown greedy with the notion that everything was answered when the Institute went up in flames. Edward was dead, the Institute was ashes, the circle had been closed.

The next pages show just how out of order things are as they continue on. It seems to have gone backwards. Edward is even younger than he was on the hood of the car. The unknown woman is back, younger, healthier, with big 80s hair. A metal trailer is visible behind them in the picture, and there's another couple with them, all drinking beer out of bottles. The man, dark haired, a heavy beard, sits with a folded bandanna, vest and flannel shirt, seems to be passing a joint toward Edward right as the picture was taken.

One of them is David Cardinal, physical records from drivers' licenses that Kaylee pulled before her trip confirm that much. Though he didn't have the beard in his photo, the resemblance is unmistakable. It makes the blonde woman Michelle. Michelle and David knew this mystery woman that Edward was with.

Michelle can be seen in the next picture with the original unnamed woman seen with Edward. Together they have nice 80s hair, smiling and beautiful. This time it's Michelle who is pregnant, standing in the snow with the other woman, her arm around her. They both seem to be marveling at the snow, and the busy street that's visible around them.

Michelle, pregnant. In the snow. Richard Cardinal was born in July of 1982. Was this another child? Were they high in the mountains? What was going on?

Another picture shows Michelle again, with David, standing outside of a garage. They have matching rings, wedding bands, showing to the clever and observant, that they had been married. This time the bearded man wears a jumpsuit, with a name tag on the breast, which reads in clear letters "Dave."

The photograph that started this all, that led to the bunker Edward built to wait out the war.

Edward can be seen again in the next photograph, Michelle pregnant in each of them and Dave man not far off. The pictures all seem to be grainy photographs of partying and wild abandon. Despite being pregnant, she doesn't seem worried about her partying.

The next pictures of Karen and Edward do seem to be happy — Karen, at least, is dazzling in them. There's an apartment, the wallpaper and furniture recognized form a dream, with her mother in the kitchen, smiling back at the camera, pregnant and happy. And healthy. There are more pictures, some of her, some of Edward. In the ones where he's facing the camera, he's actually smiling, with blue eyes bright— ones where he's caught by surprise, he looks sullen, like something is eating at him.

The last photograph in that apartment shows Edward standing at the sink in the kitchen, looking guilty. A broken mason plate lies at his feet, and a little head of blonde hair peeks around his calf. Her hands are on his leg, and she seems to be hiding there.

Kaylee. Had Edward actually cared for her as much as he seemed to? She was the last person to ever see him alive. Helped into his mind by a dream manipulator Richard still doesn't know the identity of. Why help her? Why help Edward? What was the full context of what Kaylee saw inside his mind, and how did she survive seeing inside Edward's mind?

The next set of pictures seems very different from the apartment, out of place. Cubicles, all empty of people, old computer monitors visible in each, perhaps from the 1990s. The next photograph is blurry, a wall, post-it notes visible, and strings. Unfortunately, nothing is really legible on them.

The next photograph is awkward, obviously taken by Edward himself. There's a cut on his forehead, stitches just added, red and angry looking, just along the hairline. A nurse can be seen leaning over him, tending to the wound. The next picture is of the same woman, though this time she's trying to cover her face and laughing at him.

The next photos are clearly some time later as the cut on his forehead has become a slight scar, Edward and the nurse, around a Christmas tree, opening presents.

And she is visibly pregnant.

Valerie's mother. Tragedy piled upon tragedy, her accidental death and Valerie's survival almost denied. Valerie, a girl who had to be plucked out of the past to survive.

The following pages are depict young Valerie growing up in various places, putting together a stack of blocks, playing chess and checkers. One game she's knocking over the black king with a huge smile on her face up at the camera. A dimple in the cheek mirrors the one that Valerie occasionally shows. A Japanese man can be seen in another one, hovering over her as she writes with a green colored pen, going through complicated kanji on a small easy-erase board. She's not even five, by the looks of her.

Japanese man, roughly age 30. Identity unknown.

A few more pictures, including one of her not much younger than she is now, holding up her cellphone with a shamrock dangling from it, and a wide smile on her face. That's the last photograph of young Valerie. What comes after seems more and more recent, probably after she vanished.

Richard looks down to the gas gauge, then back up to the road. The pine trees on either side are heavy with snow, so much so that they are bowed down to the ground by the burden.

Brushing past a stack of plastic crates and around some gas canisters, Richard comes to a halt before the equipment, looking down at four faded, dusty photographs tucked into the seam of the broadcasting console. One by one, he picks them up, brushing them clean.

One photo depicts a 5 year old Valerie playing with a chess set. She is trying to eat a white rook.

Valerie.

Another photo depicts a 10 year old Kaylee standing over a broken stonemason plate looking proudly guilty.

Kaylee.

A third photo depicts an 11 year old Warren with silvery eyes taking apart a lawn mower engine in a grassy yard.

Warren.

The final photo depicts a newborn baby wrapped in a silvery emergency blanket cradled in an unknown man's arms. In the background of the photo, police and ambulance lights are flashing in the dark.

Richard's grip around the steering-wheel turns white-knuckled.

It’s the last that he holds for long moments, gazing down at the picture of— who he can only assume is himself, minutes after birth. In Edward’s arms? Emotion wells up in his gut, grief at what he’d lost, anger that he could be so easily cast aside to the system. Was it some premonition of Edward’s ability that made him do it, to turn Richard into the man he needed? Or was it just the man’s own fear and cowardice?

He didn’t know which would be worse.


Tupper Lake

New York

9:58 am


Tupper Lake has lot in common with the fictional town of Twin Peaks. Though it's in the Atlantic Northeast, it's a remote town with a small population nestled in a forested valley in otherwise rambling mountains. While the Adirondacks aren't the Cascades, the parallels are hard to avoid. A quaint diner on the outskirts of town, looking like it was pulled straight out of the 1950s, with brightly uniformed waitresses and everything. Laden with freshly fallen snow, it looks idyllic in the way that Norman Rockwell paintings do, that postage stamp view of Americana that stands in bold defiance of the reality around it.

Walt's Automotive rests just off the shore of the eponymous Tupper Lake, a concrete block three bay garage with an attached double-wide trailer. Tire tracks cut deep into the freshly fallen snow, leaving brown smudges from dirt plied from the treads. There was a tow truck here not more than ten minutes ago, one that's now headed out of town to rescue two out-of-towners down on their luck. Or so the story goes.

Richard Ray has no business being here, walking across hard-packed snow tracked with tire marks up to the front steps of the trailer. He has no business being in the snowy town of Tupper Lake, being in the Adirondacks, being here practicing his old skills. The screen door wasn't even locked, though the interior one unsurprisingly is. A knife and credit card foil the deadbolt, and a refrigerator magnet carefully applied to a dark plate in the doorjam keeps the magnetic security alarm from noticing that the door is even open to begin with.

No tripwires, no pressure plates, no booby traps all bode well for the mental stability of the man who lives in this trailer; not Walter Stockton like it says on the lease, not really. David Cardinal disappeared three decades ago and has a death certificate somewhere that says he died a victim of a robbery gone wrong. The world may not know any better, but his ostensible son does.

On first stepping in to the trailer, Richard is greeted by a small dining room and kitchenette. No lights are on, but the diffuse gray light of day filtering through the open windows is more than sufficient to see by. The round dining room table has a recent copy of the New York Times laid out on it, a middle page article cut out. The scissors used to trim it still sitting on the table beside a coffee mug with a sip of black coffee left in it. There's a spare pair of boots by the door, roughly the same size as Richard's. The kitchenette is clean and sparse, with an two-burner electric stove and a small metal sink with a plastic dish rack sitting in it. The first sign that gets the hairs standing up on the back of Richard's neck is a closed box of 9mm handgun ammunition by the sink.

Past the kitchenette the floor turns from linoleum to beige carpeting, two doors on the right side of the hall and one at the end, all closed. This is how his father lives, with the slatted blinds drawn closed, clipping articles out of newspapers, drinking black coffee, and keeping ammunition by the front door. Maybe he doesn't need a blood test.

If it wasn’t for certain events, things that drew Richard into the life that he ended up in, he might well be living just like this still; in a plain apartment somewhere, stolen goods hidden under the floor, weapons handy in case he crossed the wrong person, leads to the next score gathered on a table and that same black coffee brewing on the counter.

There, they say, but for the grace of God. Although one could argue the opposite as well, rather easily.

A gloved finger brushes over the paper, noting the date - he can check that edition later and see what article had drawn David’s attention. Every little piece of information could be useful, puzzle pieces to come together and form an idea of just who David Cardinal is. Who his father is.

If David really is his father. Who knows, anymore?

He moves quietly down the hall, heel hitting the floor first and rolling his foot forward to minimize the sound he makes as he walks, pausing before the first door on the right before carefully opening it.

Clear each room in turn before moving on, otherwise you might find someone behind you. Lessons learned from both burglary and his more… interesting activities over the past decade.

The first door is a bathroom; small, cramped, standing shower only and blinds drawn. Clean, though, especially for a bachelor. Grooming products are neatly arranged by the sink. With a crouch, Richard notices a fixed-blade knife taped to the side of the sink cabinet next to the toilet. That's alarming, slightly. But nothing else seems out of place.

The second door leads into a bedroom, equally well organized. The bed is made, though not overly nearly, just squared blankets thrown over a mattress and box spring on the floor. There is no closet to speak of, instead David’s clothes hang on an open rack by the curtained windows. There's a shotgun propped up by the door here, box of ammo — slugs — sitting beside it. That is also slightly alarming.

One door left.

These things should be alarming. A combat knife in the bathroom. A shotgun by the bedroom door. To anyone who’s lived a normal life, these things would be alarming.

It probably says a lot about the life that Richard’s led that he just nods to himself when he sees them. Sensible precautions, he thinks, leaving the weapons and the rooms be as he gives them a cursory check before moving on.

Nothing unusual so far. No family photographs sitting in pretty frames for him to compare to, no computers for him to examine - and probably try and steal, since hacking isn’t his strong suit, to say the least. Just the house of a man who’s been hunted before.

The last door at the end of the hall is finally reached, and he lays a hand on the knob, pausing for a moment before turning it and pushing the door open.

When the lights abruptly click on, Edward looks something like a squinting mole affronted with the light of dawn. Narrowing his eyes as the shadeless light-bulb suspended from the ceiling flares to light, he raises a hand to shield his bespectacled stare, then turns his focus towards the noisy rumble of the generator, before looking over to the table. With the lights on Richard is presented with an elaborate fishnet map of strings that weave from one end of the wall to the other, with a narrow path winding towards where the generator is kept. Puzzlingly, all of the strings are merely marked with post-it notes and assigned a number, rather than physical details.

"So, what have you got for me?" Edward asks finally, laying out the documents on the table that Teodoro had thrown so brusquely at him, hungrily pawing through the papers with one brow slowly raised.

Clopping, and then a clothey thump of torso meeting wall. Is Ghost rejoining the delightful assembly, and propping himself up, the better to spectate. The post-its warrant a frown, speculative, a lazy squint of pale eyes picking at the details penned onto small yellow squares of paper without managing to pull loose any actual thread of meaning.

That's very inconvenient. He wonders who Edward had figured was going to be the curious one. "Known associates," Niles, for instance, has— had?— quite had assemblage, "loved ones and family living and dead," Case's list is considerable, "under what circumstances, progeny," childless. Markedly. All of them, "Evolved ability— stunts scrapped together from the best of our knowledge, how that wove into whatever landed them up at Moab 2019. I'm sorry there isn't more of that," he admits, after a moment, almost it seems with rue. Memory is such a finite thing.

"So how many compunctions would you have, Eddie…" A push off from his lean, and Cardinal approaches the tangled map of strings; hands sliding to clasp behind his back to ensure that he doesn't touch anything, gaze moving from one taut line to the other in bemused thought. A post-it note is examined. A number. No help. A look back over, one brow raising as he completes the thought, "…doing the same for one of your plans?"

Edward begins paging through the documentation, and is somehow filing the pages into two stacks, one he keeps on his left side, one on the right, but they're a worthless jumble of names and half pages of information on the surface. "That all depends on how badly I wanted something, and how many lives the one lost would save." Edward states in an level tone of voice, looking up to Cardinal for just a moment before turning his focus back down, eyeballing one of the pages in particular as his tongue rolls over the inside of his cheek. That page, he sets directly in front of himself, and then goes back to work sorting the documents out until nothing but his oddly stacked piles remain, the left side notably thinner than the right.

It's a string map.

Beyond the door is a string map filling what could have been a second bedroom. There is a desk by the door before the madness sets in, shipping envelopes from Texas, the same address he'd been receiving packages from, except there's three of them here and no immediate signs of their contents. The handwriting is the same too, sloppy and awkward. A box of paperclips is beside them.

The web isn't the largest that Richard has seen, but its impressive. There's at least a dozen strings of varying yarn colors stretching across the room. One he notices has a newspaper clipping from June 18th, 1982. The headline reads Woman Slain in Pedestrian Traffic Collision and shows a black and white photo of police kneeling over a covered body. No name is given, but the accident happened on the University of Kansas’ campus.

That string has other clippings, however. Further back, college transcripts from MIT in a plastic bag. The name on the files reads Michelle LeRoux. There also some old instamatic photographs of Michelle, a clean-shaven David, and Edward in the snowy woods somewhere. They're celebrating around a fire, but it's different. The infirm brunette isn't there. Michelle isn't pregnant.

Toward the end of that string is a marriage license, with a red stamp on it that says unfiled and is from 1982 for David J. Cardinal and Michelle R. LeRoux. Past that is the accident, and past that the string is blank.

Following it to the center, Richard finds a new photograph of three people sitting around in a concrete basement. One is visibly a young Edward Ray, the woman in the middle is Michelle, and the man to her right is an unknown. Wavy brown hair, beard, looks to be in his thirties. It's without a doubt the basement from the LookingGlass video that Richard was sent. Sharpie marker on the bottom of the photo reads Trial Run - 7/18/82.

The other strings, on a casual glance, appear to be for other involved parties. There's a string for the bearded man. A string for Edward — no, two, a string for Charles Deveaux, a string for Richard Cardinal with a new Raytech business card clipped to it. There's a string for Arthur Petrelli. A string for Mason Chesterfield. A string for a brunette woman that Richard only now recognizes.

It gives him pause.

At the far end of the string is a newspaper article that reads Science For Tomorrow and appears to be from a copy of OMNI magazine. In it, a young brunette woman — identical to the one on the hood of the car in the Adirondacks and the camp photos Richard has — is Juliette Luis. The article is dated 1978. It's partly torn, but what Richard can read says, The late Juliette Luis studied biochemistry at Pierre and Marie Curie Institute in the field of human genome sequencing. Her breakthrough work helped jump start a new generation of thinking into the human condition. Her death in 1973 from an unidentified viral infection brought this young genius’ career to a too-soon end. Today res

There's a string for Luis as well, connecting to what appears to be this relative’s. More, too, beyond that.

There were a lot of things that could have been behind that door. A string map was not even one of the possibilities that Richard possibly considered, and he's left staring at it for several heartbeats before he recovers from the shock of the sight.

Chalk up another point in the familial resemblances column.

"Okay," he breathes out, sliding the phone from his pocket and tapping the camera function on as he steps forward. The rumpled packages catch his attention, and he frowns, stepping over to consider them a moment before bringing the phone up and snapping a picture.

Then he's moving into the map itself, a part of his mind leaping at the challenge of turning the madness of strings and notes into something he can understand, camera-phone at the ready to record the important points on the line.

The car accident on his birthdate. He grimaces at the sight - a blessing that the body is covered. He follows the line back, lingering on the transcripts. "LeRoux," he murmurs, taking another picture. His mother's name, it seems. Why is that name familiar, he wonders to himself, unable to find a connection for that string in his head just yet.

The photographs are an enigma. Another timeline? Pictures of them taken as well, to be compared to the ones he has later. The marriage license, at least, brings a rue-touched smile as he takes a picture.

"People always said I was a bastard," he mutters, moving to find the heart of this web of people and events.

Another picture taken, and he frowns at this one for a moment. "Who are you," he asks the third man, knowing that he can't answer, before moving on.

These strings are more familiar. Edward (Prime), his future counterpart, Charles, himself. Arthur. Mason. This part of the web he knows well, events he was in, that touched him. In a way, he muses, this part of the web is his life.

That musing ends as he finds that next string, and he stares at the article, finally having a name for the woman he's wondered about for so long. "Juliette…?" The next, Jean-Martin. Suddenly frantic as he moves to trace these strings, to find what they're connected to— do Kaylee, Valerie, and Warren have another sibling somewhere? Why didn't Luis ever mention this?

Why is David building this map at all?

Juliette Luis’ string traces back to Jean-Martin Luis’, to an article from 1973 regarding an international bioscience conference held in New Delhi. Associated documents in plastic bags appear to be medical reports about a particularly strong virus with flu-like symptoms that killed a number of people in New Delhi in 73, one among them appeared to be Juliette Luis who contracted the virus while traveling with her family.

Frustratingly, there's no mention of any other children worse yet, this entire mess is a paradox. The license plate in Richard’s photo of Juliette is from the 1980s, yet all of these documents claim she died in 1973. None of the photographs here have her in them in that time period. Then why? Why?

But there's a string tied to Luis’, crossing it, its Chandra Suresh. There's a newspaper article but Richard can't read it, as it's in Hindi. But there's English translations paperclipped to the string that look to have come from an Internet translation site. It's not well done, but Richard picks up some key words: Shanti Suresh, deceased, virus.

The Shanti Virus. Which means—

Richard follows Juliette’s string back, no mention of her having an ability, but Chandra was researching them in the 1960s, he had to know somehow. Going back to Chandra’s thread, it dips back and forth with Luis’ a few times, then ends with an obituary from September 28, 2006. A police report looks to have been added, and a cursory glance shows that he was murdered.

So both Shanti Suresh and Juliette Luis succumbed to what would eventually be dubbed the Shanti Virus in 1973. But it's hard to see how that connects to the photographs. Until Charles’ string comes into play.

Deveaux connects with Jean-Martin in 1988, a photograph from a Kyoto-based global climate change summit. Deveaux and Jean-Martin are together in the same crowd. The photograph identifies them as “philanthropists and scientists working to stave off the reality of climate change and its impacts on evolution.” There's an old brochure from the summit paperclipped there too.

From here Deveaux’s string connects with Kaito Nakamura’s in a charity gala held at MIT in 1981. Kaito stands side by side with Charles, his hand on the shoulder of Michelle LeRoux who is identified in the photograph name and as recipient of the Deveaux Society Scientific Research Grant.

Their strings collide with Michelle’s here, just a year before her death in Kansas. That's also where Arthur Petrelli’s string comes into play, as Michelle’s string connects to the bearded man and Arthur at the same time. The bearded man, still no name or identifying documentation, is in a photograph with Arthur in February 4, 1982 from an old science journal. Text associated with the photograph says Biomere Research Issues Grant for Furthering Understanding of Quantum Theory f. A. Petrelli (right), R. Schwenkman (recipient; left).

The string web is a mess. It's hard to follow and it's hard to tell if even David could. He seems to be trying to contextualize something, but there's no real design. It's just… slipshod.

Something back on Chandra’s string catches Richard’s eye as he ducks under the tangle. Near his death, there's a clipping of a science journal attributed to Chandra. The title is Finding Patient Zero. There's a lot of big science words like mitochondria and the like, but the jist seems to be the foundation for Chandra’s book Activating Evolution. It sounded like he was looking for the origin of species for the Evolved.

But… how does any of this relate to one-another?

Richard's mind is working quickly as he works through this tangled mess of a web, trying to figure out just what question it's meant to answer, and trying to figure out what information can be extrapolated from all this.

Juliette died of the Shanti Virus. This means that she had an ability - unknown, although surely Luis would've known of it. Kaito and Charles, standing with Michelle - did Charles know of his connection to the woman, when they met in the past?

Richard Schwenkman. The unknown man - Richard's namesake - finally has a full name. Is he alive? What does he know?

And then Chandra's work. The Suresh Linkage Complex. The origin of the species - the first Evolved?

Adam? A thought that occurs, Richard's lips pursing in a frown as he looks over the map, and then steps back over to the photographs of Michelle and David and Edward in the snow. A match for the others he has - of Michelle, David, Edward, and Juliette.

Photographs, like others he has, that can't exist.

"Is that why you said you didn't have a son?" Thinking aloud, Richard's gaze lingering at the picture of smiling people he doesn't even really know - yet who mean so much to him. "Are the other photographs from another timeline? One where Michelle did get pregnant, where Juliette got pregnant?"

Maybe that's why his life doesn't make sense.

Maybe he doesn't even belong here.

The click of a gun’s hammer behind him agrees. “You shouldn't have come here.” As does the voice. In Richard’s peripheral vision someone has snuck up on him while distracted by the strings. A man in a puffy winter coat and flannel scarf bundled around the neck. Five o’clock shadow, pale eyes that look at once tired and angry.

The matte black Beretta M9 pointed through the map at Richard is a no-nonsense choice for self defense. No frills, easy to find ammunition, easy to acquire. A practical man’s gun. It appears that David Cardinal is both practical and paranoid. It also reminds that Kaylee can't read minds through a telephone when someone is lying to her.

“On your knees, hands laced on top of your head.” David demands, eyes narrowed and posture tense. This isn't the family reunion Richard was angling for.

It's not until there was that hammer's click behind him that Richard realizes just how absorbed he's become in the web, just how distracted he is - how long has been tracing these strings, trying to make sense of it? Too long. His desperation for answers left him vulnerable, and now he’s paying that price.

A heavy sigh lifts his shoulders, and then they fall, and slowly he eases down towards his knees, hands lifting up to lace atop his head as instructed, resting on that nest of short, messy hair. "Maybe so," he replies in quiet, even tones, "But I'm looking for answers just like you are. A man's got a right to know where he comes from, David. In my place, you’d be here too."

“Who the fuck are you?” David asks without moving from the doorway, and Richard has to imagine the question isn’t rhetorical, because there’s an entire string dedicated to him in that map. There’s a frightened desperation in David’s eyes, the kind that drives men to commit unpredictable acts of violence out of fight-or-flight. He’s been where David stands on more than one occasion.

But there’s no way to hide the unfamiliarity in David’s eyes, the haunted look of a man staring down a stranger he’s been told is his own son. The tremor in David’s outstretched arm is either adrenaline, fear, or in a worse-case scenario both. He’s not practicing good trigger discipline either, with his index finger featherlight on the trigger.

“That’s a question I’ve been trying to figure out myself, honestly,” Richard replies, drawing in a slow breath, head turning just enough to look at the other man more directly - without shifting in a way that would (hopefully) trigger a gunshot. A shaky finger on the trigger is never a good sign, though.

“Been told all my life that you’n Michelle were my parents,” he says carefully, clearly, trying to hide the tremor in his own voice. It’s there all the same. “Also that you were both dead. Starting to wonder if any of that was true, or…”

He glances to the web, “…it was true and false at the same fuckin’ time. Saw the packages on the desk. Been getting those myself. Not sure who they’re from.”

The tension David displays doesn’t ebb at all. “You’re not.” His son, he means. He’s rather emphatic about that. “I got the same line from the blonde you sent after me. But I’ve been trying to figure out who the fuck you are ever since I saw you on the news after the war. I recognized your voice. I’ve been having fucking nightmares about it for years.” David swallows nervously, wide eyes locked on Richard.

“Then I found out you went by the name Richard Cardinal? I try to dig into things, but records are fucked from the war. No way to find anything. So I figure you were just some shady con man who stole the identity of someone, just a coincidence. Until,” he nods at the packages.

“Photographs. Old pictures of Me and Michelle and that fucker.” Edward, he means. He’s rather emphatic about that. “Your blonde told me everything I needed to know, and if you’re here to try and fuck me over again…” he jabs the gun forward as if it was a punctuation mark at the end of his sentence. “I want what you stole from me back.”

"I would, if I could," Richard breathes out a sigh, his eyes closing as the man makes his demand, "I haven't had any ability for years. Yours, mine, or anyone's. It all burnt out with the dawn over Nazahat." Whatever that means to the mechanic. "I might have a way to fix it, I have my scientists working on a process now. If it works, I owe you that much at least."

Knowing who David was, what they did to him, a dark part of him considers that he might even deserve it if that finger slips on the trigger.

He draws in a slow breath, exhales it shakily, "I'm not here to fuck you over, David. I've been lied to all my life and I'm trying to figure out the truth. That's all. I can— I have some things to show you that'll explain, but I'm not going to try and do that with a gun pointed at my fucking head."

“Says the man who just broke into my fucking house.” David’s brows lower and his scowl is carved deep into his face. “Fuck you, fuck your scientists, and fuck all of this!” It’s the moment when the gun comes away from aiming at Richard, gesturing instead to the yellow packing envelopes on the desk. If Richard was going to make a move, it would have to be now. Otherwise, this plays out whatever way David wants it to.

The gun sweeps away for a second, and Richard's hand drops from his head and reaches down to the pocket of his jacket. A crumpled yellow folder, bulky from the contents, is withdrawn and offered out in the older man's direction. Prints of the photographs that he'd found so long ago in the Library, left as a 'gift' - or a manipulation - behind a wall.

"Look at the god damn photos, David," he demands, "I'm looking for the same fucking answers that you are!"

The gun sweeps back up when Richard moves and it's clear that David had plenty of time to pull the trigger. But he hesitates. His attention then drifts to the fistful of photographs and as he creeps forward he keeps the gun pointed at face-level.

Once close enough to see them, David looks down at the one on top, of a pregnant Michelle with her arm around David — with a beard — and snow. He looks confused, brows furrowed and eyes wide. He moves quicker, shoving the barrel of the gun against Richard’s chest as he snatches the handfull of pictures with his other hand and then retreats with them.

He looks at the first picture, drops it to the floor, looks at the next, the same. There's abject confusion and disbelief in his expression when he looks up. It's quick to turn to anger. “What the fuck kind of sick fucking game is this? Why the fuck— ” David throws the remaining photographs onto the floor.

“Why do you people think I know anything!?” The tone of David’s voice is a mixture of rage and confusion. “I was in a concrete cell for twenty-seven fucking years! They stole my life and I'm still not even sure who they were!” Wild-eyed and screaming, David is also trembling. The barrel of the gun wavers wildly.

“What the fuck do you want from me? Why— why are you sending me these fucking things!?” David motions to the pile of envelopes. “Why won't anyone just leave me alone!?

"What makes you think I know anything? I don't know who the fuck's been sending these envelopes any more than you…" Richard's eyes close, and he lets his head slump forward, shaking slightly, "This was a dead end. Obviously. I'm… sorry, David. For everything. For what the other Edward did, for what— probably the Company did."

He holds up a hand, palm forward, "Look. You want to be left alone, I'll leave you alone. I can guarantee that nobody that comes up this way will be one of my people. We'll give you all the peace you need, I promise you that."

A deep breath, "You want answers? I can help you with those, too. We've both been fucked with here…" A motion to the photographs, "And I don't like it any more than you do."

Finally, David lowers the gun. He clicks the hammer back into a neutral position and the tension ebbs out of him. “Seven years ago, some guy came all the way to see me. Tall, lantern jaw, nice suit. He said he knew what happened to me, was asking all the same questions you were.”

David looks around the room, helplessly. “He didn't have any answers either. I told him the same thing I told you, that Chelle wasn't pregnant and I didn't have a son. He asked me if I'd tried figuring anything out, getting answers? I ran him off with a shotgun.”

“Because… unless whatever you figure out brings Michele back? It doesn't fucking matter.” And yet, David has this map. “He got in my head, got me turning gears, and I spent the last four years building this stupid fucking thing after those packages started showing up.”

David makes one last look at Richard to assess his posture and threat, then turns to the desk to retrieve something.

At the mention of the man in question, Richard's own jaw tightens. "I know who that was. He won't be bothering you - or anyone - ever again," he says, shifting slowly to push himself up to his feet, gaze sweeping over the map.

He's standing, but there's nothing aggressive in his posture. He's not going for a gun, or a weapon. There's frustration and disappointment there, but no anger, nothing dangerous.

He draws in a slow breath, and asks, "What did they send you? They— whoever they are— sent me— some pictures of you and Michelle. They sent me a video of her work. Her, Edward, Schwenkman. Did she ever tell you about Looking Glass? Because I think that explains a lot about… why those photographs don't match."

David glances over his shoulder when the name Schwenkman is said, but then continues rummaging through his desk. Eventually he comes up with a typewritten letter. “This was what I got first. Then I started getting some of the documents I've got in baggies there. Government issue, most of them. Police reports, that sorta thing.”

He hands the letter over to Richard.

Good day,
Enclosed you will find an attempt at penance. More will be forthcoming.
- JML

“There was a photograph with it of Ed, Michelle, and Rich.” Schwenkman. “I got that in… I dunno, 2014? That was it.” David looks at the desk, tiredly. “I started trying to put it all together, every six months or so another package would show up. Another photograph. I started t’get paranoid that it was blackmail or— some kind of intimidation.”

Dave looks at the gun in his hand. “Almost visited the return address, kept getting spooked. One of the pictures I get sent,” moving over to the strings, David plucks one down that Richard hadn't gotten to yet. It's of a room filled with strings and photographs and documents, concrete walls and illegible paper files. Richard has seen it before, in Odessa’s mind.

“I thought it was… I don't know. Like a code.” David motions to the string web. “I made this, same style. Figured it was like a three dimensional flow chart. It… hasn't really helped. But it's given me something to focus on so I don't— ” he realizes he much he's talking.

Shutting down, David bolsters his gun at the back of his pants. “Man, I don't know what this is. I sure as fuck don't know what Looking Glass is. I don't know what you think Chelle knew, but…” David breathes in deeply. “She was smarter than anyone I ever met. Whenever she talked science it sailed over my head, her professors’ heads, everybody. The only people who ever kept up with her were Ed and Rich.”

“So,” David sighs, deeply. “Look, man. I don't know you, I'm sure as shit that you aren't my son though. But I went to the clinic yesterday and had a blood test done. Results are being forwarded to your blonde attack dog. I mean— I figured it'd get her off my back.”

David kneels down and starts picking up the photos off the floor, then slowly rises to straighten up. “Anyway, half of this is just to keep me busy. All these names, connections. It's like some kind of fucking puzzle. I used to like those, the ones that made a fucking Garfield or something when they were all put together. It keeps me busy, when I'm here.” Alone goes unsaid.

“I'm sorry you blew all this time and money looking for me. Chasing this…” David waves the photos of a pregnant Michelle around. “This Hollywood magic bullshit or something. But… you're being conned. It sure as shit isn't by me. I don't want to try and get your money, or your fame. I just… want to be left in peace.”

The letter’s taken in hand, and Richard glances over the short sentence and signature. “…Jean-Martin,” he breathes out, “Of course. Couldn’t just’ve picked up a fucking phone, could you, old man? Were you that phobic of direct conflict…?”

All the more reason to get in touch with the scientist as soon as humanly possible. Wherever he was, and if he was even still alive.

“It wasn’t blackmail. Doctor Luis was… well, what he says in here, I believe was honest,” he admits reluctantly, stepping over to look at the photograph. He stares at it, paling just a little as recognition hits.

Looking Glass, he thinks, one hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“Money and fame are just tools,” he replies dismissively, “I’m no better or worse off than when I had them, honestly. I… you were done wrong, David. So was I..”

A deep breath, and he glances over, “Did you— did you ever watch Star Trek at all?”

“Excuse me?” David squints, because he's not sure he actually heard Richard right. But he knows he did, and that look of impatient frustration returns to his face. “I— I've heard of it, but I never got to watch tv much growing up. I don't even think it was on the air anymore by the time we even had TV.” Says a man who missed all pop-culture touchstones between 1982 and 2009.

Holding up a wait hand at Richard, David gestures to the string web. “I'll reiterate. All I really want from you or anyone you're here with is peace. If this,” he motions to the web, “means something to you, then just take it. All it's ever done is leave me with more questions and— fucking pain.”

David scrubs a hand over his stubble-bearded mouth and looks down to the gun in his hand, then up to Richard. “Pack it up and just… go.”

"That's fair." Richard's gaze sweeps back over the web, "I'm sorry, though, I am. For all the bullshit you've been put through— and all the life you had taken from you."

He brings one hand up, rubbing at his face, "I'll pack it up and get out of your hair. If— I'll send you the results of the test and that'll be it from me, unless you change your mind about wanting answers."

A turn of his head, looking back to the man, "And if we figure out a way to restore your ability, I'll let you know. Other than that… I'll leave you alone. You deserve your peace and privacy at the very least."

There's uncertainty in David’s eyes, the way Richard’s expected to see people in a contract negotiation when one side is making their case for terms. It's that assessing look of let's see how much of this holds up. While David has never been in such a situation before, the expression is an affect of human nature rather than nurture.

“I'm gonna head into the garage,” David motions with his head to the adjacent building. “You do what you've gotta do. When I get back… hopefully all this, and all of you, are out of here permanently.” David’s brows furrow, and he rubs forefingers and thumb at his eyes.

Though he's turning for the doorway, he pauses. “Whatever it is you're hoping to find…” David offers in a hushed, eternally haunted voice. “I hope it brings you peace.” He doesn't look at the man the world tells him is his son, only the middle distance between them.

"Yeah." Richard looks back at the man, the man he'd hoped had some answers. The man he'd hoped was his father, but it seems is just an echo of him. "Yeah, so do I."

He looks back at the web, takes a deep breath, and then steps over to go to work disassembling it. The sooner he has it all packed away, the sooner he can leave the man to his peace and quiet.

And the ghosts that haunt both of them in different ways.


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