Did You See The Fires Before They Were Lit?


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Scene Title Did You See The Fires Before They Were Lit?
Synopsis Special Agent Lamont Cranston goes to see Major Sarisa Kershner at the Pentagon regarding sensitive matters.
Date December 23, 2010

Washington D.C.

The Pentagon is among the most secure government facilities in the United States of America, headquarters of the Department of Defense and home to thousands of government employees, classified military records, and site of one of the most brazen terrorist attacks of the early 21st century nearly ten years ago.

In an era of heightened terrorist activity and threats beyond a mundane scale, the security at the Pentagon has only tightened. Evolved security scrutinizer every man, woman and child passing through backscatter detectors, physical pat downs, and other arcane security measures designed to keep America's defense secrets safe.

That Richard Cardinal — Aka Agent Lamont Cranston — is able to get within a mile of the Pentagon without being shot, stabbed and his body burned and ashes scattered is perhaps a small miracle. One man who could, with enough determination, have some of the governments most dirty secrets at his fingertips is on his way for office 2B315; a second floor, B-Ring office near the third corridor, numbered fifteen. As if security measures weren't daunting enough, the labyrinthine layout of the Pentagon almost seems intentionally designed to be difficult to navigate to an unfamiliar visitor.

The office of the Department of Evolved Affairs at the Pentagon is just one floor below, and the Department of Defense's Evolved Security Bureau — of which FRONTLINE is a part — operates out of offices once lorded over by one General Sebastian Curtis Autumn.

Now, the name on that glass door is stenciled to read Major Sarisa M. Kershner.

Beyond that door, past secretaries and staff aides, lies an office with several tall and narrow windows that spill dismal, gray light in from the clouded and snowy skies outside. Everything is drab gray, from the carpeting to the walls, track lighting in the ceiling permits dim illumination to the orderly office where a portrait of President Nathan Petrelli hangs on the wall, flanked by flags and above a picture of the Secretary of Defense, Gerard Rutland.

Standing at one of the windows, her shark gray suit a shade lighter than the walls, Sarisa Kershner is wringing gloved hands behind her back when Richard Cardinal steps in to her office through the front door like he belonged there.

It's almost a novelty.

There isn't anything that might be considered overtly suspicious about Agent Cranston coming in for a meeting and possibly a debriefing with Major Kershner. He was assigned to his current position in Madagascar by her, and this may simply be a routine debriefing while he's back on American soil.

Unfortunately, Agent Cranston - ex-Company operative under Charles Deveaux, former Black Operative in Afghanistan, current CIA operative - only exists as long as Sarisa allows him to… and as long as Richard Cardinal cares to keep playing the part.

Of course, he's dressed appropriately to the role; the dark suit, the sunglasses, the fedora a bit over-the-top but he's become rather fond of it, the only trophy he has from his brief visit to the past. As he enters, a dark-gloved hand reaches back to push the door closed in his wake. "I'm assuming," he offers casually, "That if there're any listening devices in here, they belong to you?"

"Devices is a behind-the-times notion," Sarisa states to the window, her blue eyes falling shut before she begins to turn to face Richard. When they open, there's a faint look of mirth in them. "Why use something as tangible as a device, when living people can be an eavesdropping method? Counterintelligence can no longer rely solely on technology to secure secrets, and Evolved-science is — ironically — an unevolved art form. We're living in a wild-west era where anything — any secret — no matter how damning can be dragged out into the light."

One corner of Sarisa's mouth crooks up into a smile. "At least until the turn of the age catches up to us, and the whole process begins all over again. But right now, for people like you and I?" One of Sarisa's dark brows lift slowly towards her blonde hairline. "Carpe Celo," she quips, "seize the secrets."

"You've been spending too much time around the politicians, Queen of Cups…" It's into a chair in front of her desk that Cardinal drops himself, sprawling back into it and raising his feet up to rest on the desk's edge, one leg folded over the other, gloved hands resting steepled on his chest, "…you're talking like you're giving someone a speech. And you're telling me things that I already know. Of course…"

A wolf's smile twitches upon his lips, "Once those secrets are dragged into the light, they're not secrets anymore, are they? And there's so many of them out there that could change the whole game on us."

"Cultural immersion," Sarisa admits with a casual shrug of her shoulders, "Washington might as well be a hostile foreign country, I've come to adapt to the poisonous environment and dangerous locals and, maybe picked up a little of their cultural morays in the process." One gloved hand wobbles in a see-saw fashion as she walks towards the high-backed leather chair behind her desk.

"I'll admit I was surprised that you went through official channels for this meeting," Sarisa admits with her lashes drooping down to partly shadow her eyes, "which means you either want there to be a record of your coming here, or you were trying to get my attention." Sliding down into the seat, Sarisa sinks against the leather with a protesting creak of the supple material. "What brings you all the way down here from New York?"

"I've always wanted to visit the Pentagon." It's a simple response, a simple explaination. It could even be the real one. Cardinal lifts one hand up to scratch under his chin through his gloved fingertips, admitting with a hint of dark humor in his tone, "I wonder what I could find if I really poked around in here. I'll wager there could be some fascinating files hidden behind these walls. But that's not what I'm here for…"

His feet drop down from the desk's edge, and he uses them to reel himself in, dropping forward to rest on folded arms, gazing over the edge of his shades with a dark, hard stare at the woman's other eyes. A look that gives the lie to his crocodile smile. "What exactly possessed you to put a complete maniac in charge of OS?"

"I take it you've had the chance to meet Colonel Heller?" One of Sarisa's brows rise slowly as she folds her hands in front of herself. "Heller isn't a maniac, he's efficient. I needed to put someone in charge of OS that would be capable of, and willing to, perform any and all activities associated with that group. Since you declined my offer, I had to insist that Agent Cranston was unavailable for the assignment and went with my second-string choice." Sarisa leans back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other and folding her hands in her lap.

"Colonel Heller isn't operating with an agenda, he's doing as he's ordered. Heller is handling the terrorist situation within the boundaries established by Martial Law. Trust me, however, it could be considerably worse. They wanted to put Heller in charge of Unit-01, give him full jurisdiction over all of New York City. I shoveled him into Staten Island…"

Sarisa's eyes avert down to the glass surface of her desk, then back up to Cardinal afier glimpsing his reflection briefly. "Do you have any more accusations to make?"

"Really." It's a somewhat flat word, accompanied by the slow lift of one eyebrow above Cardinal's shades. "He's operating within the boundaries established by Martial Law… you do realize that he walked into someone's home, asked for tea and then executed her in her living room where her child could see it, right? And that isn't the only murder he's committed." He leans back slightly, his hands spreading to either side, "Even within the rather broad range of powers that martial law allows, he's tromping all over them. And you and I both know that the law isn't everything… but he's sloppy. There're already a number of people clamouring for the man's head, and he's had the job for, what, a month?"

"Heller isn't a hunter," Sarisa feels the need to explain, "he's not an attack dog like Emile Danko, at any rate, he's a patient person who is fond of using live — or dead — bait, in order to draw out his prey. I'm not going to bore you by going over his military record, but Heller has an established history of successful counter-insurgency activity, enough that he was a logical choice for this job. To hear that he has people gunning for him…" Sarisa offers an apologetic smile, "means that he's doing his job well."

Scooting forward in her chair, Sarisa suddenly looks enthusiastic, eager. "If someone you care about is gunning for Heller, I'd persuade them to give up that particular ghost unless you want them to wind up dead as well. Leon isn't a man who makes mistakes like an amateur, Richard, and he certainly isn't about to be out-foxed by your run of the mill terrorist."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Sarisa…" Cardinal leans back a little from the desk's edge, straightening, hands sliding to the edge of it and head canting ever so slightly to one side as he regards her for a moment, "Because I was under the impression that we were aiming for less horrific oppression of the populace here… not more. I'm starting to wonder how dedicated you are to the ends you claim to be aiming for."

That crocodile's smile curves to his lips, "From where I'm sitting, it seems like you're on the other side of the line, lately."

"That's probably what it looks like to everyone then," is Sarisa's response as she slouches back against her chair. "Just because I'm against the Petrelli administration doesn't mean I support groups like Messiah, Richard. It doesn't mean that I'm going to let an emotionally unstable murderer like Griffin Mihangle roam the streets. If he won't turn himself in, than I'm entrusting Heller to be able to handle the situation with ruthless efficiency. I can't let the world go to hell just because I have an agenda."

One of Sarisa's blakc brows rise slowly. "And, like I told you, Heller would have a great deal more authority and power if I didn't put Elisabeth where she is. I have to make sacrifices to keep up appearances so that I'm capable of keeping my place in the pecking order. Petrelli doesn't surround himself with sympathetic sycophants, he wants to be surrounded by knives. I'd like to prove that I'm the sharpest, at least right before I wedge one squarely between his shoulderblades."

"You know the situation with Messiah as well as I do," Cardinal replies dismissively, waving one hand as if to brush her excuse away to tatters on the floor, "Murdering their families isn't going to do anything but push one of them to something drastic and unpleasant — I could complete instrumentialization of the group now that Petrelli and Carmichael are out of the picture, but given that they have Heller bounding on their heels like a rabid bulldog that's proving rather difficult."

He regards her for a long moment, observing, "I have to make sacrifices too. Heller may end up as one of them if he doesn't learn some degree of subtlety."

"That's Heller's problem," Sarisa admits nonchallantly, "if his operations fail, it's his head that will roll not mine. Probably— literally, too. Work with what you have and be thankful that he isn't bounding on your heels. After all, it looks like you have some other problems to attend to." Reaching into her desk, Sarisa pulls out a drawer and removes from that a red folder and throws it down on top of the desk.

"This is an assignment dossier from the Commonwealth Institute, dated December 6th. The NYPD has passed along criminal investigation into the murder of one of your former associates, Kain Zarek." Blue eyes lift from the folder to Cardinal. "Right now the investigation is moving in a direction involving the possibility of a phasing attacker. They pulled a flattened bullet from the crime scene, the forensic reports say it hit a form of hardened body armor. They also pulled a bullet out of Zarek and matched it to a distinctive Cold-War era firearm called a Stechkin APS, one of the only handguns ever made that chambers a 7.62 by 25 milimeter round. Whoever used it may as well have signed their name on the corpse. Fortunately, they haven't been able to track the firearm."

Sarisa looks down to the folder, then back up to Cardinal. "Do you know anyone with a Stechkin? Because I know an old Russiah ghost who was fond of collecting war memorabelia."

As the folder's dropped down to the desk, Cardinal's gaze drops to it; hidden behind his shades again since he leaned back, he nods slightly, reaching out to brush his fingers over the folder's edge and turning it around. "The old man did like his old weapons," he admits, "I can't remember if he had a Stechkin, but it's entirely possible. You aren't kidding when you say that he was fond of old war memoribelia. I thought it was going to kill him when Humanis blew up that godawful sky whale he flew around…"

"If you're looking for a suspect, though?" The edge of a smile curves to his lips, not kind in one bit, "He was approaching one John Logan regarding helping us in an operation to bring down Daniel Linderman. Kain Zarek winds up dead in a locked room killing and — well, look at this — so does Ling Chao. A Linderman operative herself, with the ability to go smoke form. Looks to me like Logan wanted all the beans to himself, and didn't want his assassin talking about it."

Chao's name causes one of Sarisa's brows to raise, her lips to purse and head to dip down into a steady nod. "Frankly I don't give a damn about this, but you'd best hope that…" Sarisa eyes the report, trying to remember the name. "Agent Lupinetti finds that a convenient enough answer. You're on a list of persons of insterest, only tangentally, but he did put in a request for your background file. Fortunately for you, Lupinetti didn't have the security clearance to get anything from Apollo."

Sarisa leaves the file there on the desk, then reclines back again with her hands folded on her lap. "I'll say this much, whether or not John Logan had anything to do with it, dead men tell…" she wrinkles her nose, "relatively fewer tales than living ones. I hear he and Heller had a run-in on the 8th. You might be able to use that to your advantage."

After all, turn about is fair play when it comes to mob hits.

"If you could forward me Lupinetti's file," Cardinal offers, and given that he's actually here officially that request doesn't even need to go around proper channels, "Maybe I'll talk to him about some things, and… make sure events unfold properly."

"While I'm asking for files, I'd like to review the Apollo files myself," he requests, "If I have that sort of clearance." There's a wryness to his words, one likely birthed by his earlier comment that, if he wanted to, he could start raiding the building for hardcopy files if he liked now that he has entrance to the building.

"I can get you information on Lupinetti," Sarisa admits with a furrow of her brows, though the unspoken but in that sentence looms unflatteringly between words. "But," there it is, "the Apollo files aren't exactly something I can just fax off. You're talking about a little bit more than an agent dossier there, an thousands of pages worth of information. Is there something in specific you need? Because I'm not about to make footprints that deep in horse shit unless I have a good reason to."

Leaning forward, Sarisa folds one hand over the other, then rests her chin on the back of bend knuckles, lashes flashing in sarcastic butterfly movement. "Entice me," she suggests, her head tilting to the side and one brow lifting.

The right hand goes one way; nobody's watching the left.

"Actually, I was just wondering if you'd say yes," is the reply to that with that broad smile of his, "I'm rather curious about what, exactly, the secondary purpose of some of those missions were - and where certain people have disappeared to, Hector Steel for instance - but I suppose that's not a good enough reason for you to hand them over. This does, however, lead into my real request…"

Cardinal's hands spread slightly, "I need information to work, Sarisa, but right now? If I want it, I have to come to you. I can't use my Agency credentials to look up a file, because you forbade me from using my credentials for anything without your specific permission. I have to come and bother you for things as unimportant as this Lupinetti character's file." His wrists come together, "My hands are tied. I'd rather not have to waste your time. Let me access the Agency's database with the clearance that I should have, given my…" Fictional. "…position."

"Steel was apprehended off of the George Washington, I can only imagine by the Institute. Wherever they took him, there aren't files I can access on it, and neither Sabine nor Julien have been able to track him down, which means that whoever's keeping him has him in tight care." Then, of course, Sarisa waggles her brows and leans back again, hands folding over her lap.

"I could give you that access," she admits with a raise of one brow, "on one condition." Sarisa lifts up one hand and peels back her leather glove, laying it down on one knee before offering out the hand towards Cardinal. "We shake on it," she states with the corner of her mouth creeping up into a smile. "Or, you know, whatever sort of biometric contact gets you tingling these days…"

There's a smugness to Sarisa's expression in that condition. "Then we'll see about that access."

As she talks about Steel, Cardinal shifts in his seat; reaching into his jacket, although he doesn't pull a weapon. Sure, he was searched and scanned at the gates, but given his powers, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. No, he pulls a folded piece of paper, tossing it on her desk. "Might find it interesting."

It's a painting; one of Hector Steel's llama-bots on a backdrop of red. On a flyer on it, the word REGISTER can be seen.

Then? Then he laughs, leaning back with a grin, "Sarisa, that sort've offer isn't worth the price. But I'll tell you what…" A pause, his gaze keen over his shades, "Meet me on February 14th, and we'll discuss it."

Snatching the copy of the painting up between two fingers, Sarisa affords an imperious look down to the picture, then up to Cardinal with a sharp attention. It's not what she wanted, but it will make due for now. "Fourteenth," she parrots back with both brows lifting, blue eyes considering the picture with a marked scrutiny — evidently — worry. "Alright, Richard, you have yourself a date." Famous last words for many a men who dared consort with a praying mantis.

"Do you know who this artist is?" Blue eyes track up from the dark and somber picture to Richard again, and it's clear that he's managed to catch Sarisa's interest with this scrap of information. Blood in the water, and now the shark is on a feeding frenzy.

"I haven't the faintest idea," Cardinal admits, one booted foot lifting up to brace against the desk's edge and arms folding behind his head, "It's part of a series of prophetic paintings that were recovered awhile back — I just got a hold of some prints. Most of them are useless, things that've already happened. That one caught my eye, for reasons that should be stupidly obvious."

After a moment, he notes, "Warren's been given full access to all of Steel's prototypes and work recovered from Argentina. He isn't really sure what he's doing, and admitted that he basically improved the computer and automation for that flying wing that FRONTLINE's using without actually know what the fuck he was doing."

"AETOS," Sarisa clarifies, "I was the one that comissioned the prototype to be field tested with FRONTLINE after it worked out so well during the riots. From what I've been shown, Ray was fifty-percent of the contracting work that went into its construction. There's a programmer at the Institute, a computer science wizard by the name of Colin Verse, registered technopath. He developed the new systems designed some of the security countermeasures and programming in the machine."

Sarisa's brows furrow thoughtfully together. "He's also one of the few technopaths employed by the US Government. You might also be familiar with his brother, Stephen Verse, one of the interrogation agents at the Moab Federal Penitentiary…"

Sarisa looks down to the copy of the robot painting, folding it up between her hands carefully. "I'll see if I can put a name to this," she admits quietly.

"After seeing that little painting, let's just say that I'm less than… optimistic about this drone program of yours," observes Cardinal in quiet tones, his head shaking ever so slightly, "I have other things I'm focusing on, though. There's some Humanis operations in the city I'm looking into, a hit team or two that's trying to kill me, you know, all the fun stuff…"

A mirthless smile, and he pushes himself up to his feet slowly, "So unless there's some aspect of this plan of yours you won't tell me about that you'd like to discuss, or something you need me to do, I'll leave you to your busy day."

"The plan is… progressing," Sarisa admits vaguely, uncrossing her legs and slowly rising up to stand, smoothing down the back of her slacks as she does. "Don't worry though, sooner than you expect you'll have a sizably important role to play in it all, after full disclosure of course." Sarisa's lips creep up into a smile as she steps out from around her desk, gloved hands folding behind her back. "I figure before Valentine's day we'll be saying goodbye to Nathan Petrelli…"

The very notion causes Sarisa's lips to squirm up into a giddy smile, "Then we can start fixing this country," she adds with a tick of her eyes from Cardinal to the door. "Until then," is left lingering on her lips as she makes a sweeping motion to the exit.

"Don't start any fires you can't put out yourself."

As Richard Cardinal walks to the exit, he smiles to himself where Sarisa can't see it. She wouldn't appreciate the irony behind that last statement.

Setting a fire he can't put out is exactly what he has planned.

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