cardinal_icon.gif hana_icon.gif

Scene Title Convictions
Synopsis Once a player of the game, always a player of the game. Sometimes it's just hard to admit, even to yourself.
Date November 20, 2010

New York Public Library

Once upon a time, the New York Public Library was one of the most important libraries in America. The system, of which this branch was the center, was among the foremost lending libraries /and/ research libraries in the world.

The bomb changed that, as it changed so much else.

By virtue of distance, the library building was not demolished entirely, like so many others north of it; however, the walls on its northern side have been badly damaged, and their stability is suspect. The interior is a shambles, tattered books strewn about the chambers and halls, many shelves pulled over. Some have even been pulled apart; piles of char in some corners suggest some of their pieces, as well as some of the books, have been used to fuel fires for people who sought shelter here in the past.

In the two years since the bomb, the library — despite being one of the icons of New York City — has been left to decay. The wind whistles through shattered windows, broken by either the blast-front or subsequent vandals, carrying dust and debris in with it. Rats, cats, and stray dogs often seek shelter within its walls, especially on cold nights. Between the fear of radiation and the lack of funds, recovery of the library is on indefinite hiatus; this place, too, has been forgotten.

The sun's already shading towards the horizon, though the day by any clock has ample hours left; one month shy of the winter solstice, sunlight is scarce. Despite the afternoon hour, however, Hana Gitelman is alone — alone in the building, alone on the street, even virtually alone in this entire neighborhood. Law enforcement has representatives out there somewhere, suspicious eyes on the ruins and the streets — but never enough, and none of them with reason to poke around here. Not when daylight prevents any need for telltale glints of artificial illumination.

She's dressed in her usual style, the black jeans and black leather jacket that defy all weather conditions. Picks her way through the disarrayed books with no hesitation and no confusion; Hana has a destination in mind, and a mental map telling her how to get there. Despite the likelihood of solitude, she keeps a wary eye on her surroundings, old habits being virtually impossible to kill. Her destination? The rows and rows of books relating to computer science and programming — perhaps not exactly a surprise.

It's quiet out here in the ruins, quieter perhaps for Hana than for the majority of the hairless apes walking the face of the planet. The wireless signals that bounce from phone to phone, from antenna to antenna, are distant here when present at all. A stillness in the air of the ruins like a moment of silence for the lives snuffed out in an instant by the Midtown Man's moment of weakness.

Nobody lives here. Or should be living here. As Hana explores the vaulted reading rooms and long halls and shelves of the library, though, some things begin to not add up. Bundles of wires and cables along the ceilings and floors of the hallway lead to the discovery of box-kit video cameras slowly panning back and forth as part of a CCTV system, further wires leading in one particular direction through the library.

They're present; Hana's ability is too sensitive for them not to be, the distance between ruined Midtown and living city blocks not great enough to dull that background noise. The cameras, on their closed circuit and attached to an independent computer, are more silent than the airwaves — and very much catch the technopath's attention, because they shouldn't be panning. She pauses for a moment, outside what she predicts is the nearest camera's field of view, and considers them. Considers where she is, what they represent.

Takes a step forward, putting herself into the path the camera pans over, arms held loose at her sides while she watches it… and listens carefully.

It takes a couple of minutes before there's a response from within the library… although it may surprise her, since there's no sound of footsteps, no rustling of air through fabric or creak of doors opening or closing. Just a sudden whisper in the air, a familiar one, a sound of dry and brittle humor that's accompanied by the sudden wash of a shadow up along the wall as the disembodied silhouette of a man.

"Hello, Apila… what brings you by? …Hana…"

Dark eyes narrow at the whisper, but relax again as the familiarity sinks in. Hana shakes her head slightly, then turns to resume her progress across the room. He won't have any trouble tagging along, after all. "Wasn't looking for you, if that's what you're asking," she informs the shadow, a similarly dry, scant humor in the words. The tap of each step against tiled floor is the only other sound in the high-ceilinged room; unheated, it's as cold as the air outside, a chill that sank its teeth through Hana's jeans some time ago. "Here for a few books." She pauses, giving the dark silhouette a sidelong glance. "You seem to have settled in."

"The Ray that came back from the future was using the library when he was alive…" The form in the shadows pushes outwards, Cardinal's booted foot falling to the library's dirty floor as he emerges into three dimensions once more, managing a tired smile for the technopath, "…we used what he left behind for awhile, at least until the storm drove us out. I've been getting things back up and running again the past week."

A pack of cigarettes are tugged from a pocket of his jacket, and he pulls one out with his teeth, murmuring in dark humor, "You got a library card?"

Hana's brief smile is equally dark. "Not in this country," she answers. She nods slightly to the man who has emerged from the shadows, no comment made either way with respect to the cigarette. Turning, the woman resumes walking, unhurried and presuming Cardinal will tag along. "It's probably long since expired besides," is added as an afterthought, her mind dwelling a shade longer on the prior subject before it too moves on. A curious, sidelong glance at the shadowmorph. "What's special about the past week, Cardinal?" she prompts.

"That's how long I've been out here… what sort've books are you looking for? Some've the wings took some serious damage from the bomb, and the different groups based here've done some moving of shit around," Cardinal admits, evading the subject a bit as he moves to drop into pace beside her, lighting the cigarette he's holding as he walks. He takes a few puffs off it as they walk, his head shaking from side to side, "You know if Doctor Brennan's alright? I tried not to hit 'im too hard."

One dark brow arches; then both come down, and after a moment's pause the woman snorts. "Doesn't that just figure. He's walking and talking, if that answers your question." It's not like she invests much concern in the Institute-employed doctor. "Computer science," Hana supplies, returning to the earlier subject. "More the esoteric than programming." She's still walking towards where those volumes should be, based on the floorplan the library once followed. Lets the rhythmic tap of a few steps intervene before speaking again. "What're you doing out here by yourself, Cardinal? Don't tell me you're taking up my habits."

Computers were never really Richard Cardinal's thing, as as far as he can tell, they're not Warren's thing either; the books should still be there, if there hasn't been looting or damage that he isn't aware of. The question brings a few long moments of silence from the man before he says, without glancing at her, "…got a price on my head, Kain'n Logan hired some Triad to take me out've the picture. Figured it'd be easier to just stay out of the way for awhile." The words are hollow, even to his ears.

Hana stops cold mid-step. Plants her heel back on the floor. Pivots to fix Cardinal with a patently disbelieving stare. "Richard Cardinal," she says slowly, "the man who absorbs nuclear explosions and murders entire futures — since when do you take the fucking easy way out?"

"What?" A halt in mid-step, Cardinal's head canting to look back at her uncertainly, his forehead furrowing into fine lines, "What do you mean?" Oh, he knows damn well what she means.

That feigned confusion — she's sure it's feigned, he's not stupid… exactly — instantly earns Cardinal a resounding open-palmed smack across the face. The sound echoes from the high ceiling. "Don't give me the fucking act," Hana growls, closing her hands tightly on his coat. "You've been playing with fire too damned long to go stick your head in the sand just because there's a bullet with your name on it." She shoves him back, attempting to pin Cardinal roughly against the nearest vertical surface. Or maybe just shake some fucking sense into the shadowmorph.

"You want to throw in the cards, take your pieces home and forfeit the game? Fine," she says, although the snarl in her voice, the angry gleam in her eyes, suggests that Hana has a very different opinion than that word implies. Except perhaps when used in sarcastic mode. "Do it. But fucking own up to it when you do." A forceful jerk of her arms rattles Cardinal again, her hands releasing and coming up with the motion, as if to turn him loose in distaste. Her lips twist in a grimace.

"I expected much better from you."

It's an unexpected blow, that slap, a solid crack of her palm over his cheek — he stumbles back a step, not from the impact but in surprise, one hand half-raising to his cheek before he finds himself shoved violently back against the wall and shaken. That tired, apathetic look in his eyes is shattered with a sudden flare of heat as she snarls at him, anger that isn't precisely aimed at her per se.

"I bet you did," Cardinal replies roughly. "That's what everyone fucking says… even the morning of the eighth, when there wasn't anything more that I could do, I was already been yelled at that I hadn't done enough." He pushes away from the wall, stepping in closer to her aggressively, although he's not fool enough to try and touch her.

One hand sweeps to the side to encompass the city, all but shouting, "This is all my fucking fault, Hana! And you want me to make it worse by still fucking with things?"

Her posture shifts as Cardinal steps forward, a crouch that doesn't quite flow into attack, hovering on the cusp of renewed violence. "You are being a selfish, egotistical prig!" Hana counters, volume escalating in turn — she does shout. Steps sideways because she has to move, but doesn't have enough room to pace; not with him at the wall. One hand comes forcefully up, jabbing towards his face to punctuate her next words. "You think you can take sole responsibility for the world out there? You think your choices are all that made it what it is?"

She steps forward suddenly, closing the distance between them, two inches shorter than Cardinal but projecting enough sheer vibrant presence that even face-to-face it doesn't quite feel that that way. "Answer me this, Cardinal," Hana says, voice abruptly gone quiet, but no less intense for what it loses in volume. "You really believe you can sit on your hands and everything will become miraculously better?"

"No." A single, flat word, Cardinal's eyes narrowing as he looks down into her eyes with a steel-hard gaze, "But I won't be making it any worse… and if I keep going the way I'm going, I will. That isn't ego, that isn't selfishness, that is fact because I know what'll happen."

His lips curl up a little in a snarl, and then he pulls away, turning his back on her to take a few strides down the hall, although he stops after those few steps. One hand curls into a fist, his head dropping down a bit, his eyes closing. "Do you know who the head of the Institute is, Hana? I'll give you a hint, it isn't Simon Broome."

"So you are giving up," Hana retorts, unfazed by his glower. She turns to follow his progress through the hall, but lets him walk away, making no moves towards his presented back. "The man who changes futures is going to let 'fate' dictate his own?" The fact that he isn't looking her direction means Cardinal can't see the twist of her lips. "I don't care what you've done, Cardinal. I don't care what you haven't done. But surrendering your convictions?"

The Israeli walks forward, a mere two steps that — however long her stride — aren't enough to bring them close; aren't enough to put her in arm's reach of Cardinal's back. Quite. "I can fill in the blank: You're going to tell me it's Richard Cardinal." She lets that sink in for just the span of a breath.

"So. Fucking. What?"

"Richard Cardinal," Hana continues, stalking around to face Cardinal, "is the man standing in front of me." Her turn to sweep a hand at the city beyond the ruins. "That? Is my enemy. Maybe, in another past, he and I once crossed paths in the darkness of a subway tunnel. Maybe, in some future, you could become him. God only knows what lies within us; some of it is dark and ugly indeed. But you of all people should know that the future changes."

She rocks back on her heels, tilts her head to study the shadowmorph. After a moment, Hana holds out a hand, palm up. "Tell you what, Cardinal. I'll make you a promise.

"You start looking like you're going to build an Institute, I'll shoot you first."

A mirthless smile pulls in a fine line across Richard's lips at those words. "Elisabeth said the same thing," he points out with a slow shake of his head, "Apparently it didn't stop me from killing her." There's a beat, "Not— not our Elisabeth, the other… you know." He grimaces, one hand lifting up to rub against the side of his face. Timelines give him a headache.

"If I keep doing this, Hana," he says in frustrated tones, not looking at her directly, "If I keep throwing myself at every future that rises and cutting its throat, I'll go crazy. Like he did. I'll stop steering the boat away from every iceberg that comes along and decide that it'd be easier to steer it towards an iceberg and see how many people I could save from the wreck."

Those dark eyes flicker up to look at the technopath, then, lips pursing in a line. "I'm not… giving up. I'm trying to clear my head. Trying to figure out a different way to do this, some way that isn't going to lead to him."

"Harrison isn't me," Hana says quietly, a self-recriminating darkness in those three words that's suspiciously reminiscent of Cardinal's own mood. As her hand falls away, a grim smile flickers across her expression. "Harrison's too good." She looks away, towards a featureless bit of wall, deep breath reining in the bitter memories that have yet to be blunted by anything.

"Whatever you do, Cardinal," the woman continues after a moment's silence, "don't lie to yourself. Don't rationalize it. Take the time to think, yes," she affirms. Only now does Hana look back to Cardinal, a short, forceful hmph expressing little humor. "For all we know, by coming to our time, that one murdered his own potential. In the end, we can think ourselves in circles looking for the best way out — and in so doing, lose all chance to act against anything." The technopath shrugs. "Try not to take too long, Cardinal; the future might just leave you behind."

"There's always another one behind it, Hana…" Cardinal's fingers lift up to rub against the nape of his neck, the faintest edge of a wry smile tugging a little, "…don't you think the world can get along without me for a little while? I'm just asking, 'cause, thinking otherwise, that seems like that whole egotistical thing you were accusing me of earlier. I've done a lot. Not always succeeded, but… when is enough enough?"

He knows the answer to that question, too. Allen Rickham told it to him.

"What is done?" Hana echoes, folding her arms across her chest. "I set out four years ago to destroy the Company. Now they're gone; am I done? I could be. I could be. If I had…" She stops before her voice can catch, twists, using the momentum of that turn to glide into a first pacing step. "I've bled enough, killed enough. I could go home… but there's no future there. Only my ghosts." Cherished though they are.

She turns at the wall, path curving back the other way, an arc centered around her companion. "I could — but the rot in the Company is the rot in the Institute. It's not finished. Can I finish it? Can I ever pay enough? I don't know," Hana admits, shaking her head. Stopping, she turns to face Cardinal directly. "The world will go on without you, without me — but if we stop, who will argue against what they're trying to create? Who will step up to the line? Who out there knows enough, wants enough, dares enough?

"It's enough when it's done, and if done is when I'm dead, so be it. I will not stand by, silent. I will not let them shape the future in their image without fighting it however I can."

"That's what Allen told me." A slight nod, Cardinal's tired gaze dropping to the floor, "We rest when we're done. He knew what he meant the same as you do… we're never done until we're dead. Nobody'll remember you and me, in the end." His balance shifts to one side, a tilt of his body until his shoulder is resting against the wall in a slouch, both arms folding across his chest and his head lifting again to consider her.

"Is that all we can do, though? Kill their futures? If that's all we spend our time doing… then who's going to make a good one?"

"Not me," Hana says, grimness juxtaposed with biting dark humor. "It takes a different kind of person. But how can anyone make a good one if the Institute secures its grip? Someone will. Maybe someone out of the Ferry, maybe someone from a place we don't expect. Maybe it'll be you, in the end, or Harrison; wouldn't that show him? Someone can step into that void — if the space first exists."

"They claim that they're only letting Mitchell hang himself… and once everything settles they'll be there, like Noah and his Ark, to step in and clean up the mess," Cardinal admits roughly, giving his head a tight shake. "Maybe they're right, too… I don't even know if they're wrong, and that's the fuck've it. I don't have Edward anymore to give me instructions, and the Institute's snatched up the only precog that provided me with regular updates… I don't know where this is leading anymore."

"Never listen to words," Hana snarls with suddenly reawakened fury, gliding a step closer to Cardinal. Thankfully, she isn't angry with him this time, but the abstract of words. "Words twist and lie. Look at what they've done, Cardinal, and ask yourself — do you want to live in a world they've 'cleaned up'? Do you want Harrison, Whitney, the little Bennet to live there? Can you be okay with that?"

A brief pull back as she leans in closer, and then Cardinal eases back forward again, meeting her eyes. "No," he says quietly. "But I don't know if I can trust the only other option that seems to be presenting itself. It seems too good to be true. And I can't ever trust a free lunch, Hana."

"You shouldn't," Hana agrees. "They generally try to kill you after." She learned that the hard way. The woman folds her arms again, leaning her weight back on her heels and studying Cardinal. "What is it?"

"Kershner." Cardinal's lips twist in a scowl, "She claims to be working on getting rid of the whole administration… but she won't tell me what she's moving in to replace it, and given the CIA's history of putting worse tyrants in place of lesser ones… well." He exhales a snort of breath. "Just because she's given me so much support doesn't mean I'm going to blindly follow her."

Pressing her lips into a thin line, Hana thinks about that one for a little bit. "I wouldn't suggest following her in any case," she points out. "But… it's almost always better to do something decisively than to do nothing at all. Do what you can — without her, when you can." Hana shrugs, a bit regretfully. "I can't say the devil we know is any better than the one we don't."

"The devil we don't know always seems to be worse than the last. I'm starting to wonder how long it'll be before we have an actual Antichrist on our hands…" Cardinal exhales a sigh of breath, his eyes closing. "I'll figure something out. I just… need some time. Mm. There is something you might be interested in."

Hana chuckles darkly. "If we ever do, that becomes a whole different ballgame." She tilts her head as Cardinal continues, one brow arching. "Which is?"

Sigh. So easily does he fall back into the game, if even for a few minutes. There's a moment of rue that Cardinal wallows within, and then breathes out again, looking up to her, "Sabra Dalton's still in the game. I don't know what she's up to, but she intercepted one've my people — Niklaus — off the street on the eighth."

Hana's eyes narrow. "Dalton. Of course she is," the technopath snaps. "Never saw the body, did we?" The woman leans back a little, clearly contemplating.

"I don't know what side she's working these days," Cardinal admits in quiet tones. "You probably know more about her than me, though, so… it might be something you want to look in on. She can't be left with Niklaus for long without knowing what her game is. Anyway. You were looking for some books, right?"

"I'm not convinced she plays on sides," Hana grumbles, as she gestures for Cardinal to walk with her towards the bookshelves. She was looking indeed. "She was Arthur Petrelli's legal secretary back when, but apparently didn't go with Pinehearst. Now the Company's gone, the Founders are practically gone — Dalton probably sees the opportunity to run her own show in their absence." After a moment, the technopath also sighs. "Yes. Books. Computer books."

It's not like the various modern reimaginings of Machiavelli will all realize their plans tomorrow. They can take the time to find her books first.

"This way." A jerk of Cardinal's head, and he pushes away from the wall, heading down the hallway, "Let me know if you find out anything there. Even if I'm stepping off the board, doesn't mean I'm not worried about my people…" Which means, of course, that he isn't off the board at all.

"…don't suppose you want to stay for dinner? I've got a stack of TV dinners in a fridge downstairs."

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