Betting Men


cardinal2_icon.gif hector_icon.gif nathan2_icon.gif

Scene Title Betting Men
Synopsis Cardinal takes a gamble on the President, and he's not the only one.
Date December 25th, 2009

Argentina: Cerro de Hierro Negro a.k.a "Svartalfheim"

If there's anything different about the activities within Svartalfheim, it's nothing of which Nathan is aware. Even as the Vanguard men gather in some distant hall, in his dug out corner of the mountain, where bars make lining shadows across the cement floor, constant and unchanging without a sun to steer them, and the robot critters pace around, occasionally breaking to chase down a mouse only to return to their monotony, everything is very much normal as it has been for a long time.

He can tell it's evening, or close to it, in the changes of the air. Tastes damper, settles cooler, although now that summer has come around for this part of the world, it's getting more and more difficult to separate the different. He lies on his back, currently, ankles folded and hands locked together and resting on his stomach, stretched out in the center of his cell and honest to goodness contemplating apologising to Steel if only to get more of that tequila. He came to Argentina to learn about the Vanguard's end of the world activities, but really, the most he's gleaned—

Is that they have all the time in the world.

"The irony just bleeds, really…"

The voice comes from nowhere, seemingly, but— no, there, a shadow creeping across the floor, crossing the spaces of light between the bars' silhouettes, as if for all the world a man was walking in front of Nathan's cell. Only there's no man to go with it.

"I suppose you wouldn't be in a… position to appreciate it, so you'll just have to trust me on that this whole situation really is very ironic."

There's a long, weighted pause, as if the would be President of the United States of America were seriously contemplating if he's gone insane. Eyes shift left, right, before he bends elbows enough to curl and lever his torso up off cement, focused in the direction he could have sworn a voice drifted from. "Not a fan of irony," Nathan finally mutters, planting his hands flat to the ground to better sit up, feet bracing to the floor before swiveling a look over his shoulder. The silver silhouette of a guard robot steps out of view of the doorway in its usual pace.

"Then you shouldn't have entered politics," Cardinal responds rather dryly, "It's an irony-laden field, as I'm sure you've found out."

The shadow of a man seems to be leaning against the bars as he speaks, voice soft and oddly hollow in its tone since it's not vocal chords producing it. "Miss Strauss has been terribly worried about you, you know. I doubt for the patriotic reasons she claims," he observes dubiously, "And here I find you… in Argentina, of all places. I imagine that the man who sent us here wouldn't be too pleased. But then, you don't like having your plans interfered with, do you?"

Now he tracks his attention to the shadowy silhouette, eyes narrowed as he gets to his feet. Looks beyond the bars and their play of shadow, wary enough to keep his voice down to an even softer tone than the disembodied voice currently— currently. Nathan's brow knots a little, overt suspicion defining both posture and expression, and the measure of silence that comes before his words. "I dunno who you are, or who sent you," he points out. "Might wanna fill me in, but otherwise— do I look like a man with a plan right now? What's your point?"

"I was referring to the other you, actually," Cardinal admits, "Technically, our entire team was sent by the government, which leads back to him - to you - but relatively few of us really give a shit about that, in the long run." There's a pause, then he adds, "More currently, your brother asked me to do something about your current state of being locked up in a lunatic toymaker's cell."

"Did he." Nathan closes in on the bars, eyeing the shadow man-shape as he lifts a hand, and is careful to set it on a bar where the darkness doesn't grow tellingly thick. "Nice of you to take a break out of your whole— busy saving the world schedule. You might want to hurry it up, sport - we can argue later and you get to gloat about irony as much as you want." Caustic brand of humour is more or less leveled to a muttered whisper, as if worried about being overheard.

Something is afoot.

Eyes that glitter and glint like citrine gems in the distant shadows and stream bold orange yellow in closer proximity watch with rapt, unblinking curiosity, three heads turning to the sound of Nathan(?)'s voice. Sometimes four. There are five of them — maybe six, scattered along the bleak length of the passageway to the brig. Their talons click along at an avian, gear-lagged strut, wedged heads bobbing in sleek tandem with the taut whipcords of their tails. Perfectly balanced works of prehistoric modern art in miniature.

Near imperceptible at a distance, one pair of eyes — one pair of eyes — blinks red. Red, yellow, red. Yellow.

Then, for more than a second (but not much more), all six heads turn, all twelve feet still, and all six pairs of eyes wash a singularly unpleasant shade of red at what might constitute Cardinal's backside. The beat passes, and in the time it'd take for a head to turn or eyes to narrow after a doubletake or an easily distracted lunatic toymaker to frown at his iphone, red has ebbed back into yellow and their previously ceaseless rattletrap pacing has resumed.

…Meanwhile, somewhere not too terribly far away, Hector is excusing himself. Politely. Emergency? What? Nooo, no emergency. Too much to drink, is all. Back in two shakes.

He even waits until he's 'round the corner before he allows his pace to pick up into a breezier clip.

"Yes, well, you see… as much as he thinks he can give me orders," Cardinal replies, unknowing of the alarm that's been raised by the spindily-legged raptorbots, "I don't take orders from your brother, Nathan, and really I'm trying to find a reason why helping your Linderman-enslaved race-traitor fascist ass out of this hell-hole is really in my best interests."

"Why don't you help me out here."

"Linderman-enslaved?" Nathan can't help his voice hitching up in volume as he bleats these words back at the shadow in obvious disbelief. "Great, an anti-Registration nutjob is my saviour. Tell me, what have you been doing in Argentina for as long as you and your friends have been wandering around? Open your eyes, if you have 'em. People here only wish they got that kind of attention. You think carrying a card around is somehow worse than a bunch of terrorist lunatics putting that identification on your face with a branding iron? Jesus Christ. 'Race traitor'."

He paces away from the bars abruptly, and by the time he turns around, it's those unblinking eyes staring his way that gets his attention. His expression goes neutral, before switching his attention back to the shadow. "More to the point, if you want to gamble letting the Vanguard keep a bargaining chip in favour of— whatever else you think you're doing, then you go right ahead."

It is likely exasperation that leads idle hands to straighten at the knot of a tie that is no longer there. His fingers find only the irritating informality of his collar popped white from out the coal black of his lapels. It is ridiculous to imagine that he has any interest at all in the impression he is on his way to making, and rather than smooth and button the rumple of his shirt, Hector pops his knuckles and threads a ring around his thumb from within the cuff of his coat sleeve.

Out of the dining area entirely, down the main corridor. Ten paces to the next turn and he's already halfway there.

"Please. Registration isn't the problem, and if you think it is… well, then you haven't been paying attention very well. As for the Vanguard… mm, I think the only question at this point is, Nathan, are you going to be one of the casualties, or not?" The shadow's voice turns hard at that last, "Clock's ticking, Petrelli. Like it or not, you're as hunted as we are now. Your twin isn't about to let go of his seat."

"I didn't let go of mine either, shadow boy," Nathan states, voice level. "And I'm beyond hunted, jackass. I'm caught. I can handle going back to hunted. You take out Vanguard, you won't have anything to worry about, no. Except another version of me just crazy enough to do what he did in the White House." There's a pause, settling heavy, before he manages to tone down his volume once more. "You think I don't know I've made mistakes? Then you're not paying attention very well either."


The open end of the passage, bright in the play of industrial lighting over cold stone, is broken. Not by a seventh twiggy robot, but by the stout silhouette of Hector Steel. His footfalls are quiet and steady for all that they are brisk and prone to tainting the air just behind him with a touch of tequila stink. "I should have known," he is saying at a grumble, either to himself or to the miniature raptor hopping along in his wake as if in search of scraps. "I did know."

"Junk on the bunk," is announced more inclusively as he approaches the near entry — the part of the tunnel that expands out into the housing that shored up Peter and Raith outside of Nathan's cell prior to their release.

"Your family's very good at mistakes, aren't you? What I want to know is, once you're out of here, what— " The sudden arrival of Hector's silhouette in the passage's maw brings sudden silence from the shadow, the image of a man upon the bars' silhouettes flattening out to meld with that of the bars themselves as Cardinal hides.

And Nathan is left standing at the bars, and talking to himself. Or formerly so. Either way, there's an easy nonchalance in his stepping up a little close to rest an arm against the sticks of iron, forearm angled above his head which tilts enough to regard Hector's approach. "Evening, Steel," he says, dry resentment in his voice as much as the words hitch along with a strange brand of amicability. "What can I do for you?"

There is nothing terribly dramatic about Steel's entrance beyond the fact that he saw fit to announce it in advance. He is less kempt than Nathan has seen him in prior interactions — more tired in exchange. There is a darkness around his halcyon eyes that does not become him and cannot (wholly) be attributed to eyeliner when they hunt and jab warily around the brig's stark interior. He hasn't been sleeping well. "Evening." That he is likely a bit slurry around the senses and squints against the brighter lighting in here is less out've the ordinary.

"Er…" is what he says next, dismal attention span struggling to catch up even though an initial sweep of the area reveals nothing out of the ordinary. Left to stand and look somewhat put out, he pokes his tongue after a bit of food stuck in his teeth and reconsiders the evidence. "…Who are you talking to?"

Nathan's bristling brows go up in what might be innocence, evaluating the engineer for a good long moment as he chooses, carefully, what fantastic excuse he will come up with. Then; "There's a man made out of shadow in here being a prick. We're arguing. Enjoying the holidays, doctor?" He manages a slice of shining white smile in all the pitch black unshaven bristle at his face.

Hector knits his brows, draws in a breath, holds it as if he'd like to make words out've it…and winds up wasting it on a malcontent sigh, woe made tangible in a single mute expression of exasperation. Life is hard and now there is either a shadow person in here being a prick or yet another Petrelli is pulling his leg.

"No." So far as 'no's go this one is exceptionally mopey. All it's missing is a dirt kick or a jutted jaw, and the hinge in the latter is already making progress in that direction. "Kazimir's got some plot to drown everyone and Iago didn't tell me. He didn't get me anything for Christmas, either, you know." In case that matters. "Why is there a shadow person?"

Cardinal remains silent. Maybe he'll think Nathan's insane. He is a Petrelli, after all. It's genetic.

He's a Petrelli in captivity for a long time, too. Gotta be a few screws loose. "Probably keepin' me company on Christmas." Nathan pushes his weight back off the bars, hands tucking into his pockets as he narrows his eyes across at Hector, as if attempting to see through the same tequila haze the engineer has found himself in. "Maybe Iago didn't tell you because you're not the best swimmer, Steel."

"There are a thousand possible reasons," says Hector, who fields eye contact with a lazy sort of fatalistic disinterest, "my genetic affliction not the least among them." But, as time is wasting and thoughts back at the dinner table are likely beginning to presume that he must've had to do number two, he glances at his watch and eases into a dreary step backwards, for the way out. "Can't be any worse than mine." Or that of the raptors, who pace on and on and on with their incessant ticking and whirring all through the night every night.

"I should go. Merry Christmas, Mister President." And go he does, dragging his heels all the way.

As the technological genius drags himself back down the corridor, the voice of the shadows speaks again - softer now - and mildly surprised, "…is it Christmas already? Well, damn. I've lost track of time in this jungle…"

"Try a cage," is breathed out in a sigh, Nathan watching the space Hector vacated before backing up from the bars again entirely, turning his back on them and regarding what little is left of his cell at that point of distance, head tipped up and breathing out a sigh. Whatever brand of melancholy moves him to not press the shadow with more urgency goes unvoiced for a few moments, before he gives a jerky shrug. "And that son of a bitch in the White House'll probably be playing the world's best dad after Heidi picks out whatever for him to give to the boys. Good for him."

"You are your brother's brother, I see…" A stir of dark humour from Cardinal, before he notes in less antagonistic tones, "…what will you do if I get you out of here, Petrelli? By all rights, I should leave you to rot, or make sure you're one of the casualties here. You've never exactly been sympathetic to the Evolved cause. Hell, you cheated and lied and stole the presidency to begin with…"

Hey the shadow is still here. Which Nathan knew, but he turns back in acknowledgment, now, angling his scarred chin up at where he imagines Cardinal to be, as much as scars are hidden. "Here's one. What would you have me do, when I get out of here? Because I think we both know what I'm gonna do. Left to my own devices, I get my life back, and if I have to make waves this time, maybe I'll risk it. So what do you want to get outta this, if you get me out of here?"

"What do I want you to do? I want you to tell the truth, Nathan…" The shadow slides over the floor, swirling about the feet of the other man and then up the wall as a darker patch in the shadow, "…all of it. How you got where you were, where the bodies are hidden, the whole nine yards. You could even blame it on your 'evil twin' if you like." A twist of dark amusement there, "That'd absolve you from it all."

Nn shadow. Nathan edges aside as if to escape the swatch of darkness, uneasy as a skittish horse that's scented wolf on the wind, hands going out, but otherwise gathering his composure once more. "I ran for President. I lost to Rickham. Rickham stepped down and I was the next eligible. That's the long and short of it. You're lookin' for conspiracies where there are none. If you know my brother, then you probably already got the only truths worth knowing."

"Do you really not know that you didn't legitimately win your seat? That Rickham was threatened and blackmailed by Linderman so you could step into his place?" A derisive snort from the shadows, the 'head' tilting to one side, "Are you honestly that ignorant about what happened, or do you just think I am?"

"Man couldn't keep a hold of his own secrets," Nathan says, words that would be snapped and snarled out of him if he wasn't both tired and worn down into blunt edges. "It's as simple as that, and they were turned against him. Linderman would have had nothing on him. Regardless — no, I can't claim ignorance, but I'll tell you it was out of my hands. Linderman had something to gain and he went for it. Do you usually ask questions you know the answer to? Testing my morals? Because I think you know the answer there, too. That doesn't change the fact that I'm more useful to you and Pete than I am dead."

"I haven't gotten a good answer as to how just yet," Cardinal observes, flatly, "As far as I can tell, one 'you' on the throne is just as bad as the other. If not worse. At least the future you is doing what he wants and not acting with someone's hand up his ass puppeting him around."

"Wrong," is simple argument, with a brisk shake of his head. "This new and improved me is jumped straight back into Linderman's pocket. It's warm and cosy in there, don't you know." Nathan goes, now, to sit on the fixed bench at the end of the cell, elbows rested on his knees. "I'm the one who doesn't want that anymore. I'm the one asking you what your terms are, because I don't know what you want beyond stopping the nuclear warhead. I'm the one who's told you that I know I've made mistakes. Hell, it's a gamble. Taking the mountain's a gamble too. You a betting man, shadow boy?"

A thoughtful stirring of the shadows, at that, before they admit, "Maybe we can work together, then. You want Linderman to go down… so do I. I already have a few dominoes set up, but maybe you can help me knock them down. If we do things right, we'll be free of that remorseless sonuvabitch once and for all…" A silent pause, then Cardinal snorts, "What the hell. I am a betting man, after all. I guess I'll just have to hope that you've learned something somewhere along the way, and that you're a better man than your father was…"

"I want to try to be," he says, Nathan managing to drag the words out despite the momentary silence that hitches them. On his feet again, he nods towards the electronic pad installed on the wall beyond his bars. "They press that to open the bars. I dunno how it works — from what I've seen of this place, it's ridiculous. Security is tight."

"Kazimir's distracting everyone. We should be able to get you to a door or a window before they can regroup and come after us… and then you can fly off and I can come with you. We'll rendezvous with the others - we may need to kill the team leader, so he won't report your presence, the others will follow my lead there."

So cold-bloodedly said by the shadow as it bleeds back between the bars along the floor, sliding up the wall. Then Richard Cardinal steps out of that shadow, darkness spilling away from him and a rogue's grin flashed to Nathan. "Well, then. Let's roll the dice, Petrelli."

And his hand comes down on the control for the bars.

Nothing happens.

"Well," Cardinal looks at his hand as if it'd betrayed him somehow, or was somehow not functioning. It is the hand Arthur cut off. Maybe it's objecting to letting his son out. "That didn't work."

Nathan closes one eye, opens it once more. By that time, he's leaning against the bars, and gives on a subtle push as if that would help. "I was afraid of that," he mutters, rolling his eyes up towards where the iron stabs into cement. "Nothing ever comes ever comes easy." A pause, scratching nails against the iron before he speaks again. "Might want to talk to Steel. If there's a weak point in this place, it's him — only 'cause he's what makes this place strong, and he's only here 'cause he's scared."

"Wonderful." A turn, and Cardinal pushes himself back into the shadows, features bleeding away into darkness, "I'll go ask him nicely to let you out, then." Revealed as he is, he turns to look around for one of those ever-present raptorbots with their watchful eyes and scratchy claws. There were some around here a minute ago!

Ah. There they are. The shadowman promptly walks over to one of them, peering down for a moment before asking nicely, "Hi. Steel, or Braxton, or whatever your name is? Could you do me a favor and open up Nathan's cage? You're flooding the world in a few weeks, it's not like you really need him for anything."

Hey, maybe it'll work. Stranger things have happened!

The little metal dinosaur peers back, uncomprehending.

How long has Hector been gone? Not more than five, ten minutes, surely. It may come as some surprise then that he re-enters the scene via shower stall in entirely the opposite direction from which he vanished.

Not into Nathan's cell, mind. Nathan's cell has no shower.

But the largest of the three here — barred door partially open to entry — is well-equipped. It even has a nicer toilet than the others. But the the toilet doesn't rotate on its axis the way bookcases tend to in old movies, and the shower does.

Steel looks much the same as he did however many minutes ago when the shower mechanism hisses to a halt. More annoyed, maybe. And holding a gun.

Fortunately, dissipated to shadow again or no, the only thing he shoots at Cardinal is a vaguely dirty look as he crosses from the shower'd cell to Nathan's and does as asked. This time there is is a beep, and somewhere, the heavy metal swing and release of an unseen lock. "Surely you've surmised that these machines record and transmit every word you say." Surely.

Nathan reels back from the bars, as much as Hector's inevitable return, gun and all, did not quite get the same recoil — tension, yes, uneasy silence, sure. But freedom seems, for a moment, is what unmans him, before the flying man is swiftly crossing the threshold on foot as if prepared for the cage to come back down. A hand up and out, as much as the Brit doesn't need convincing that he's unarmed. "Welcome back," is stilted offer, burningly aware that perhaps his remarks were more unflattering than anything else. He glances towards where he imagines Cardinal to be, and edges a step for out.

"I'd more or less suspected." Those words from the shadows, of course, as Cardinal prefers not to hurl himself in front of projectile weapons when he can at all avoid it. Unfortunately those situations keep cropping up where he can't, damn it. "I do appreciate it, though… you'd better get back to Kazimir and the others before Iago starts wondering where you are."

Cardinal doesn't waste time waiting for a response, instead slithering down the passage as a river of darkness for Nathan to follow. The crazy person with the giant robot crab is Peter's problem to deal with, thank you very much. He's dealt with racist murderers, serial killers, immortal monomaniacs, megalomaniacs who ate powers like some fat people crunch chips, time travel, prophecies…

But killer robots are where he draws the line.

The hand Nathan has held up and out is filled with cock steel the cold metal of the gun Hector is handling about as respectfully as he might a banana, or a President of the United States. A second touch of his right hand closes the gate at Petrelli's heels, and with a succinct "Fick dich," he is recrossing the brig with clear intent to disappear back into his magic shower.

Gun passed over, and Nathan is looking at Hector's swiftly departing back. He knows enough German— in that he knows none at all, but he knows how to cuss— to parse the words tossed their way, mouth crooking in a smile. "Thanks," is intoned, lightly, before the President moves swiftly in Cardinal's wake, taking care to step around the roaming guard bots without a second glance.

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