A Different Game


df_cardinal2_icon.gif tamara_icon.gif

Scene Title A Different Game
Synopsis Tamara and Cardinal sit down for a friendly chat over a game of checkers — while also making moves on a different board entirely.
Date January 22, 2011

A Residence in the Commonwealth Arcology

Minutes turned into hours, hours turned into days, days turned into weeks.

The perception of time as a linear thing is a wholly human invention, a necessary psychological fabrication designed to give a sense of scale or scope to the short fragility of human existance. It is a known phenomenon that long periods of time appear to pass faster as people grow older. The time from a child's eighth birthday to the ninth seems an eternity; the time from the sixty-eighth to the sixty-ninth seems to pass in a flash. This phenomenon is present for the same reason that if one gave a person with no money one thousand dollars, this sum would seem to make a huge impact in their life. In the inverse, if one gave a billionaire one thousand dollars, it wouldn't seem to have much impact at all. By applying this example to the concept of age, science has theorized that if a person who has lived one year lives another year, that new year will seem very long because his experienced life span is now doubled. If a person who has live for one-hundred years lives another year, that new year will seem very fast, and like in the money analogy, will seemingly make very little difference.

Science has yet to explain how individuals who perceive the future deal with the passage of time.

Let alone those who have been there and come back.

Within the sterile, white walls of the Institute Arcology, the passage of time seems difficult to gauge were it not for the presence of clocks. Every curving corridor seems to blend into the next, save that every day another new corridor is added on, another new room constructed. Hundreds of busy workers, welding iron scaffolding together, firing noisy rivet guns, putting up walls, running wires, installing security; it is like a bee hive still in construction.

Within these subterranean halls, Richard Cardinal is seen as little more than another face in the crowd by the uninitiated. He's another man in a suit, a man that wears another's face like it were clothing. Decades ago — for him — the same could be said of his old friend Fedor Imbragimov. Decades older and — presumably — wiser, Cardinal has found that measuring the passage of time has become more and more difficult at the same time that it has become more and more important. He has schedules to keep, after all.

Down here on the residential ring, Cardinal's less broad-stroke appointment is one of no less importance. It's the fourth time he's changed her room, first time he's come to visit her in all that time. On the outside, the residence of Tamara Brooks looks identical to the other residences. A matte white door flush with the walls, electronic key entry on one side, old-fashioned tumber lock on the door itself as some sort of redundancy.

He knows better than to lock her door and think it matters. He knows that she isn't a prisoner here, but that she chose to stay. His hesitance in knocking is because he isn't sure why she did, why she stayed. That, among many things, are on the fore of his mind as he finally raps on the door with a gloved hand.

To Cardinal, it seems like only a few days had passed since their encounter on the balcony after her waking. For her…

God only knows.

And maybe not even him.

It would be difficult to call Tamara a model guest, in any phase — although at her most ingenuous, she might come close. In the time she's been here, that affect has gradually become the most prominent, fits of disorientation fewer with each passing week; one might conclude that the seeress' psychological state now approaches whatever 'normal' means for her.

It's a given, then, that Tamara waits for Cardinal to knock, giving him the chance to commit himself — or change his mind. That the girl who opens the door has tousled blonde hair, her feet bare of socks or shoes in the climate-controlled environment. The teal and beige sundress is completely inapprorpiate for outdoors weather, but the weather can't touch her here — or perhaps she looks ahead to summer, rather than thinking of winter's cold breath.

That she smiles to see him is typical of the girl; but it would take an insight Cardinal doesn't have to know if the guileless warmth is sincere.

"Good," Tamara says, satisfaction rather than surprise as she opens the door for him to enter. "He left a box. Do you want to play?" He in this case might mean the absent illusionist, at present not contributing to the residence's interior decor. The juxtaposition of imagery which reigns supreme in his absence is a peculiar one — paintings of fleeting moments captured by a dreamer's eyes interspersed with what seem to be splashes of abstract color sans coherent shape, or even an eye to complementarity.

The box, then, must be what sits out on the table — a cheap, mass-market checkers game.

"I have a bad working history with people leaving boxes," Cardinal admits in a voice not his own, unspoken disconcertion at that dissonance visible for a brief moment in his eyes. "But checkers might be a good change of pace," he admits on entering the residence, reaching up to slide off the pinstriped fedora from the top of his head, holding it flat against his chest as he flits a dark-eyed stare about the decour. "It's… good to see that you're doing well. Respectively, I mean." Well for Tamara.

There's no haste in Cardinal's slow, almost ambling gait that he carries himself with. Curiosity on how the sybil has been keeping up is reflected in curiosity for her environment, the more permanent changes she might have made. "If there's a particular painting that you're most proud of, I have a gallery where I keep some other important pieces. I'd be happy to hang it up with the rest of them. Sentimentality is just as important as predictive quality," he admits with a hesitant smile, lingering near the doorway as his stare settles back down on Tamara.

"It's relieving to see you're feeling better. I imagine there's no shortage of people worried about you right now…" That much, at least, is something of a loaded comment. Cardinal is under no illusions that Tamara is confined here, as she proved on awakening. It continues to itch at the back of his mind, that paranoia; why is she here?

When she awoke, she was to some extent confined — too limited by her own weaknesses to have a strong chance of leaving. But now, indeed, the odds are generally more in Tamara's favor. Yet all the girl does is close the door quietly behind her guest, padding soft-footed over towards the table. She pauses at its corner to blink in the direction of the nearest wall, head tipping as if to study it for the first time. "…I like the colors," she tells Cardinal. "But if you want one…"

There's a moment's pause before Tamara drops down to her knees, sliding the box around on the table until its top is oriented such that she could read its print, if she read at all. She removes the board and unfolds it, picking up a handful of molded plastic discs and rattling them briefly in her grasp. "There's two colors. I can make one for you."

It's hard talking to Tamara, especially when you're looking to find some kernel of meaning in everything she says. "Just the two?" Cardinal looks down to the box of the checkers board, then back to Tamara as he circles around behind her, insinuating himself between the low table and the armless L-shaped sofa that brackets one corner. He sets his fedora down on the corner of the table, then eases down to sit, leaning forward with forearms over his knees.

If Richard Cardinal suffers from apophenia, he tries his best not to let it show when he steals another glance at Tamara's handiwork with paint. "I guess I get to be red, don't I?" Cardinal offers with the faintest touch of a smile, folding his hands together as he looks down at the board, brows furrowing in memory of the last time he'd sat down with something like this. Checkers is a different beast from chess, but the idea is still the same. It all ties back to backgammon in the end.

It all comes down to black or white. Or, in this case, black and red.

"Okay," the girl agrees brightly, as she spills a few red pieces from her hand onto what is by default Cardinal's side of the board. The rest of his pieces, he'll apparently have to gather together himself, for she progresses on to collecting the black ones. Seemingly oblivious to Cardinal's glances at the walls, Tamara assembles a pile of black chips at the edge of the board. She pauses to study them for a moment, as if to assess her handiwork — or figuring out what comes next — before beginning to place one on each black square for the three nearest rows of the board.

That is, after all, how a game of checkers begins.

"It takes fire to make smoke," Tamara muses, as she considers the board. "Bees sleep and other bugs leave. But too much burns the building down."

Silence is Cardinal's long response, his hands folded in front of his mouth, elbows resting on his knees as he studies the board. His attention isn't so much on the game as it is Tamara's words, the easy to recognize patterns of red and black are just something simpler to let the eyes fix on. "It's tricky," Cardinal admits, eyes vacant. "Too little and all you do is dirty up the air, too much and you've burned the whole house down." When he finally looks up from the board, however, it's clear he knows what Tamara's vague assertion actually meant.

"The lighter colors always go first," he agrees, reaching out with one hand to move one of the checker pieces across the board with little forethought or planning. It's like playing a game with Edward, in a fashion. Don't bother planning, because no plan survives contact with the enemy. Especially someone who can see a few steps ahead in the game.

"It'll be five years since Midtown," Cardinal muses on placing his piece, "in just under a year now. It's hard to imagine," in many ways, for both he and the sybil. Breathing in deeply, Cardinal exhales a sigh through his nose, letting his dark eyes wander back down to the board.

"Do you remember your sister?" It's a personal question for Cardinal to ask, also one that implies at least some passing familiarity with the particularities of Tamara's ability. He always did take knowing things to be his specialty, that never changed in thirty some-odd years.

The slide of Tamara's chosen piece across a diagonal comes promptly on the heels of Cardinal's move, with a seeming lack of deliberation. Her blue eyes look not at the board, but at the man sitting on the sofa, head canted in interest at his words. "It's always since," she remarks, brows drawing in slightly. "Do you miss it?" …miss what?

Reaching up to tuck shoulder-length hair behind her ears, the girl tips her head the other way as he continues speaking. Blue eyes scan across the images taped up on the wall, but don't appear to linger on any one. "Katie," Tamara supplies, evidently meaning it in answer as her gaze levels upon Cardinal once more.

"Katie?" Cardinal asks cooly, one brow lifting slowly. "I hadn't heard her go by that name before, but— Kathleen is fine. She's alive, registered, living in as much comfort as anyone else in this world we live in can." Leaning forward as he talks, Cardinal slides out another red piece across the board, far from where Tamara had moved her last.

As he leans back, it comes with the sound of an exhaled sigh. "She still has a missing persons report out on you, filed with the NYPD. There's a picture of you— old— on the memorial wall down in Central Park, too. The one with the pictures of people who were killed or went missing during the explosion." Richard's brows furrow, lips downturn to a frown slowly.

"Why haven't you gone to see her? In… all this time." It isn't a judgmental thing to say, his tone doesn't imply any levels of you should have or something of the sort. Instead, it seems, he's trying to understand something that — to most people — can't be understood. In his long life, Cardinal has learned that in order to best ancitipate a person, their motivations must be first understood. What makes them tick, what drives them. Family, usually, is as good a place as any to start.

This time, Tamara doesn't move a piece immediately. Cocking her head at a listening angle — that she's listening to Cardinal is questionable — she leans her elbows on the table. Folds her hands together and leans forward, chin propped on interlaced fingers, blue gaze tilted up towards the man in a stranger's body. She considers him in silence for a long moment.

"Why are you alone?" isn't an answer, and nothing in the seeress' expression implies that it should be. Straightening again, Tamara lowers her hands, two fingers sliding a new piece out from the black ranks.

"What time is it?" she concludes as her hands fold in her lap, the girl blinking up at Cardinal with honest inquiry.

The question elicits a look of momentary shock from Cardinal, grief and regret visible in his expression before his mouth shuts tightly, throat works up and down in a dry swallow and understanding is delivered whether she intended to or not. Tamara's question wasn't intended to be an answer, but to Cardinal it is. All his answers could just as readily be hers, and in turn explain why Tamara hasn't gone out of her way to reconnect with her family, for all the reasons that he has kept his distance from his own.

To him, the answer is simplest put as; When you do things you can't be proud of, facing your family is the hardest test.

"Fair enough," is his verbalization of understanding to Tamara, sliding out a piece from the front, eager to claim one of her forward pieces for himself, placing it off to the side of the board. It's only then he remembers that there was a second, more honest question layered beneath the more difficult to address one. Shaking his wrist back and forth, Cardinal works the sleeve of his suit jacket back and checks the watch on his wrist.

"Nine seventeen," he informs her, "in the morning." Following that necessary clarification, Cardinal looks down to the board, then back up to Tamara. "You've never been much concerned about the exact time before. Why now?"

Of all things, Tamara chuckles.

It's a young girl's lighthearted amusement, the smile that follows closelipped but broad. "Why not?" she asks in return. "It's something people like to know." Normal — like a friendly game of checkers.

Indifferent to the lost piece, she drops her gaze to the board, reflexively reaching up to shove back a lock of hair that worked its way free. With no change in expression, she slides a black piece sideways onto the adjacent red square, as if that should be a perfectly legal move.

"Why not?" Cardinal parrots back with a dry laugh, finally moving one of the back row pieces forward. "Because it doesn't matter to you, to me. Time, in that sense. It has less impact and every last ticking minute isn't as all-important to us, for wholly different reasons. Only the milestones matter to me anymore. Maybe it's the same for you…"

A sigh slips out Cardinal's nose at that, realization coming at nearly the same time as vocalization. "I don't think you or I can really do much more than make pretend at caring about normal things like that anymore, Tamara. I mean that in the kindest possible way, too. But, you and I both know that we're so far gone from the norm that it makes it difficult for us to see the forest for the trees when it comes to people who are." Maybe this, in a way, is why Cardinal had come to talk to her. Maybe he's so far gone, that the only way he can see a clear reflection of himself is in Tamara's mirror.

Leaning back on the sofa, Cardinal folds his gloved hands together in his lap, brows furrowed and eyes cast askance to the cushions. "You don't need to pretend, any more than I do. But I guess…" he waves one hand at the game board, "this is all pretending. Playing games, trying to… root ourselves in something that we really aren't anymore?"

Furrowing his brows, Cardinal asks a question she may not be equipped to answer, or even truthfully have an answer for. "Do you ever get tired of pretending? Feeling the need to, for everyone else's sake?"

She tips her head the other way, watching the conversation change; smiles again, closelipped, suddenly somber in sharp contrast to the amusement presented just a moment before. Her eyes seem a shade darker with the expression. "Who are we," the sybil asks Cardinal, "when we are alone?"

She too sits back, weight over her upturned feet, hands curling casually where they rest across her thighs. "Clean edges and level gravel are pretty things, but what is the road," Tamara continues, a sparsely lopsided veil of blonde hair falling forward as she angles her head, "without feet to walk it? A letter, without words?"

The girl's shoulders lift and fall again, lips quirking sideways. "What is a mirror, even a broken one, if it only reflects itself?"

"I don't know…" is Cardinal's breathy answer, those words blown out past his lips ona heavy and tired sigh. He's all but forgotten about their checkers match, briefly considering the board before dark eyes find the seeress' far lighter ones. "Is that why you stayed here? Is that why you're entertaining my… intentions to find answers through you?" Answers that Richard isn't sure he can even find in those addled and knotty words of hers.

"Did you stay here to make me look harder?" There's eagerness to accept that answer in his voice, perhaps a sense of self-doubt in a man who has — in all other ways — presented himself as doubtless and sure. It is a weakness he cannot afford to show to anyone else, save for one, and she's dead to him.

"I'd say I could use a conscience, or… an objective viewpoint," Cardinal admits reluctantly, looking back down to the untouched pieces on the checkers board. "But I'm not sure even you are capable of impartiality. Everyone has an agenda…"

Her smile pulls more lopsided, and the girl shakes her head a bit, hair shivering with the slow motion. "A conscience is only as good as the trust put in it," Tamara reminds him. "Were you prepared to have one?"

Without waiting for his answer — after all, she knows what he's likely to say, at least for the moment — she rises smoothly to her feet. Tamara walks past table and sofa alike to the shelving beyond, something rustling briefly as her hands scoop it from its place. She comes to the back of the couch he sits on, extending hands loosely clasped as if to cage something within.

"Maybe what you needed to remember is that looking too hard defeats itself."

Dark eyes reluctantly lift from the game board to Tamara's outstretched hands, and the expression on Cardinal's borrowed face is one of uncertainty and hesitation. Reaching out towards what is offered, gloved fingers carefully pull the delicately folded paper from her hands, each single fold and crease painstaking and intentional, creating the elaborate design of an azalea made from a single sheet of uncut, colored paper. As if it were some sort of priceless treasure, Cardinal carefully handles it, mindful not to harm any of the paper petals.

His expression maintains that confusion as he looks from the origami flower to Tamara and back again. The last time someone handed him something made of origami, it was a paper crane. That turned into a landslide down a very slippery slope. It could be said that the paper crane is what started him on the road he's one, and his actions in the past that fateful day; the decisions made.

There's hesitation in a twitch of movement in his lips, before Cardinal is finally able to vocalize an almost childish question. "Is there a message inside?" His eyes move from the origami flower to Tamara; something equally as difficult to properly unravel as the flower likely will be. In that respect, they share more than one similarity. Cardinal is too afraid to damage both of them, to see if they hold something important deep down inside.

Tamara is quiet through his confusion, watching Cardinal steadily. Once the flower is removed from her keeping, she clasps her hands loosely before her waist; purses her lips at his query, something the girl has to think about in order to answer. For all that, the words she leans forward to speak in a conspiratorial whisper provide no true answer: "Keep it safe."

Riddles, conundrums, puzzles; they're an oracle's stock in trade. Maybe Tamara doesn't even know herself; is it possible to tell the difference from the outside — or from the inside?

The girl smiles again as she straightens, folding loose hair back behind her ears, then pads back around the sofa on quiet feet. Reassuming her prior seat on the floor, she waits with a comfortable, amiable patience.

Tamara's made her move; play passes.

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