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Scene Title Eponym
Synopsis Richard Ray meets the man he was named after.
Date September 2, 2019

Meeting with Pete Varlane an hour ago had been a revelatory experience. Following the conversation, Richard and Elisabeth had two separate meetings with Director Waite and Strickland regarding their amended visitation list. They had gotten a foot in the door wanting to see Pete Varlane, but now that they're here the possibilities for discovery have spread out around them like a blossoming flower.

Top of their list is a man that has haunted Richard Ray’s past for longer than he ever knew. A man whose legacy was tied up with the Looking Glass, a man who has remained behind the curtain of so many secret projects and operations over the years. Someone who, by Michelle Cardinal’s own admission, is the man she named her son after.

Standing outside of a lab door, Richard and Elisabeth prepare to come face to face with a part of the past. For better or worse.

Lab 4


Plum Island, Long Island

September 2nd

10:22 am

There are no other scientists working in Lab 4 when Richard and Elisabeth enter. Most of the lab’s overhead lights are turned off, computers powered down. Whatever work is done here looks medical judging from the equipment, though none of it is in use at the moment. There is a stillness in the air, a cold impassivity broken only by the white noise of the HVAC system.

The man seated at a round table near the lab windows looks harmless enough. A slight man with curly locks of gray hair and a trimmed beard in steel colorations. His eyes are tired ones, unusually kind looking in spite of what he must have done to earn a place here. He dresses like a college professor, v-neck sweaters and collared shirts, a tie. If it weren't for the plastic bracelet around his right wrist indicating him as an inmate it might be easy to mistake him for staff.

But Richard Schwenkman isn't staff. He is a prisoner. He is the past.

“It's been a long time,” Schwenkman greets as they enter the room. He's right, though.

This was a long time coming.

There’s silence from Richard at first as he walks into the lab, turning his head to look around the room. “You know, sometimes it feels like I’m walking in the footsteps of my own ghost,” he says quietly, although clearly audible in the empty lab room, “So many people think they know me, so many people treat me a certain way because of it. It’s like I’m walking through my own future after I’m already dead.”

One hand comes up, drawing the sunglasses off his face - the room dimly-lit enough that he doesn’t need them - and he focuses those dark eyes of his upon the man he was named after.

“But that’s not who I was, and it’s not who I am. I figured it was about time that we met, though.”

The host of questions that Elisabeth would like to ask this man are likely completely irrelevant… but it doesn't stop her wondering about them. He and Edward Ray were, at least at one time, confidants. And Zeke had pulled this man in. Will he tell them of those years after the Looking Glass went off? How much of his mind has been redacted? Does he know that the Richard Cardinal he worked for at the Institute was from a different timeline? Does he even care that there's a difference between the men? Did he work on the projects that they're seeking answers about? And will they even know the correct questions to ask him now?

All of these questions and many more she keeps locked behind her teeth as she pauses at the lab's doorway to study the older man.

Rich spreads his hands in a what can you do sort of gesture, then claps them down against his legs. “For what it’s worth, I didn’t actually know who ran the Institute while it was still operational. Erica — Kravid — explained it to me a couple years after the fact as we started to piece together what happened. I always knew there was someone above Broome, I just… suppose I didn’t have the necessary imagination to win that pool.”

Crossing one leg over the other, Rich looks between Elisabeth and Richard thoughtfully. “I never did pin down exactly what the deal with you was. Not the uh, other you, but the you you.” He motions to the Richard in front of him. “That one.” Rich’s eyes narrow. “But I don’t imagine you’re here to play twenty questions about why you hop from one brilliant scientist’s surname to the next, so…”

Rich reaches up and straightens the collar of his shirt. “What’ve you come to pick my brain about?”

“Edward adopted me when I was born.”

Richard brings one shoulder up in a shrug, looking over the room again before returning his attention to Schwenkman— his words chosen very carefully. There’s only so much he can say before someone swoops in to cancel this interview.

“He ditched me eventually in an orphanage. Like he ditched all of his other kids. I don’t blame him, though, he had…” A deep breath, fingers raking back through his hair, “…his reasons. As for Cardinal— “ He meets the other man’s eyes, “You’ll have to use your imagination.”

“What projects were you working on for the Institute, Richard?”

Elisabeth's hand comes up and she flashes her Richard a look. What she did and why she put it up is evident as soon as her blue eyes turn to Richard Schwenkman. She's not entirely certain that anyone is monitoring in here, but if they were, they're not getting this. It takes a little focus but she's not doing anything strenuous. Outside of their small bubble of privacy, the sound that comes from their vicinity seems to be conversation that's just being carried out in low tones, as if the watcher is standing just far enough away to know people are talking but not make out individual words.

"Oh, I don't think he'll have to use him imagination at all," she says into the momentary pause. "He knew Michelle Roux, knew she never married. He was there the day it opened, the day she died and you showed up. The only way he could even know your ties to a brilliant scientist named Michelle Cardinal and that she's your mother is if he knows about one or more of the other timelines." Which, of course, makes sense — he was helping work on Looking Glass.

"Ezekiel didn't tell him that information. And Broome didn't. So one of the Ericas did." She tips her head at him. "Did she tell you which timeline she came from?"

“Wow,” Rich says with a slow blink, reaching up to scrub at one of his eyes with a finger, “she is just— subtle like a kick in the mouth. Wow.” Unaware of what Elisabeth is doing to dampen the external sounds, Rich looks a little ashen at her bold display. He waits, looking to the door to the room for someone to burst in and end the meeting, but it doesn't happen. Instead, Rich just draws in a deep and slow breath and scrubs his hands over his face before looking to Richard.

“I guess this means you have suspenders on those big-boy pants, because there's no alarms going off right now. Okay.” Rich still looks a bit flabbergasted, then slowly raises his hands in a tentative whoa there gesture to Elisabeth. “Okay one— weird thing at a time.”

Taking a moment to compose his thoughts, Rich seems a bit struck by how much both Richard and Elisabeth seem to know. But as it turns out, it's more than him in some respects. “Firstly, Erica— didn't tell me anything. I inferred some things from her absolutely bizarre bipolar-without-illness behavior. I know about,” and he makes a flippantly vague gesture with his hand, “all this other stuff? From my work.”

When it's clear that isn't a good enough explanation, Rich continues. “Project Looking Glass.” The recognition he sees on naming it gives him confidence to move on. “Mid two thousand and… ten? Eleven? Somewhere thereabouts, executive management at the Institute brings this project online. They pull me in on it, say I helped design the thing. Of course I have no recollection until a man named Caspar Abraham hands me a… a penny and taps me on the shoulder. Suddenly it all comes rushing back, you know?”

Rich shrugs, running a hand through the side of his hair at his temple. “Kravid is operations director. We have a small staff, the wunderkin acting as a glorified intern. We bring the device online, there's a massive power fluctuation. Lots of chaos. Then we suddenly have Mateo Ruiz in our midsts.” Rich spreads his hands. “Long story short, he says he came from a place where the Vanguard made everything a bad Kevin Kostner movie.”

“He's dead now,” Rich adds. “Mateo, not Kevin Kostner. He was in a confinement cell when the whole place went down. The Ark. Anyway, we lost everything except the second Looking Glass array, which got shipped to Mount Natazhat and… well,” Rich spreads his hands. “So that's gone now. Uh,” his brows pinch together, “sorry. I think I got off track. What was the question?”

Richard brings one hand up, fingers rubbing over the side of his face. “…I love you, Liz, but he’s right. I don’t think you have a subtle bone in your body,” he admits, both rueful and amused at once. At least nobody seems to be kicking down the door.

A breath’s drawn in, and he gestures vaguely, “There were two Ericas, yes. And my mother was from the same place that particular Ruiz came from. Michelle opened the door that day in the lab, and I fell through, somehow. Edward ran with me.”

Clearing his throat, “But we shouldn’t talk too much about that, they’re going to get suspicious, lover. Right. What did they have you working on after you lost the Looking Glass, Richard?”

Elisabeth simply gives a slow shrug. "I really could give a shit about the subtleties when it's clear that he already knows, love," she admits without apology. "Especially since he was at Natazhat." That place still leaves a bad taste in her mouth. "Although on an aside, I figured out the resonance problem with your machine," she adds to Schwenkman. Her blue eyes flicker back to Richard.

"We'll have a few minutes. They're watching us talk and just thinking we're talking at very low volume." Now her husband gets one of those wicked smirks. "It's good to have me around sometimes. Better start asking the good questions."

Schwenkman squints, looking between Elisabeth and Richard. “Resonator….” but he shakes his head and lets the topic go, dismissively. “Look, now, I wasn't anywhere near Natazhat. Again, I wasn't high on the chain of command. I was at the Arcology,” he makes a box gesture with his hands, “then they moved me to San Francisco when that office opened.” He moves the invisible box to the left. “I worked on projects but I didn't get the big picture stuff. I've told all of this to SESA and every other alphabet soup agent that's talked to me.”

Schwenkman seems a little worn out by the same conversations. He slouches some, folds his hands in his lap with a clap. “I worked on the DoEA robotics defense contract, Looking Glass, SEER, tried to get Structure off the ground, and then back to Looking Glass right up until the end of the goddamn world. Then Varlane had me crunching data and building distributed systems for the Gemini project. I'm a programmer,” Rich explains, “systems architecture with a background in data analysis. I'm not Doctor Frankenstein.”

“What was Structure?” Richard’s brow furrows a little, and he shakes his head, “You might be glad to know we finally got SEER off the ground in a workable state for something other than a containment system for Edward. It’s just about out of prototyping after another successful test.”

He rakes a hand back through his hair, then looks at the man before hesitating - and then he confesses, “Honestly, I don’t know if you have anything useful for us. I just— wanted to meet the man I was named after. My mother spoke well of you.”

Structure is not a project she's heard of either. And Elisabeth sure as hell has no intention of telling the man what projects might be being worked on at RayTech — even if it had been her place to do so. But she watches the man's face when Richard tells him that he's spoken with Michelle.

"Dr. Schwenkman… in all the time you worked on Looking Glass… did you actually make any significant progress at any point after the '82 incident?" she asks curiously. "The device at Natazhat … had problems, obviously. But I'd be interested to know if, during your attempts to open it, you had any notable successes or failures?" They're data points for a thought she's brewing, though Elisabeth is not certain she'll be able to get the thought to cohere. The question may be too broad, but perhaps his answer will help her clarify the niggle in the back of her head.

Rich makes a soft sound in the back of his throat, then wrings his hands together and looks around in a reflexive self-consciousness about the conversation. He looks up to Richard, eyes momentarily dead as if staring through the man. Some of the color has drained out of his face, and for a moment there is fear.

Then, there's just laughter.

Rich breaks into a fit of nervous giggles, then scrubs a hand down his face and hiccups a few more laughs. “Jesus Christ. Okay, I…” his stare dips to the floor, then rises up to Elisabeth. “If you call… pulling a man from another time through progress then yes. Sure. I don't, though, because it wasn't repeatable. We couldn't figure out how we did it. And as far as I know the one in Natazhat exploded and was too reliant on living components to function.”

Howard and Colette.

“I know we were missing something from Michelle’s work, but the Company buried it so deep not even Caspar had access to it. What little we scraped together wasn't perfect. I still, to this day, don't really understand what happened to Mateo Ruiz. I don't understand how he got to us, the coincidental timing of his ability use and out trying to open the Looking Glass. I mean…” Rich exhales a sigh and laughs deeply again. “We thought it was a window, not a goddamn door.

Spreading his hands, Rich seems out of answers for that. And for a moment he sits in silence and waits, only belatedly realizing that Richard and Elisabeth are waiting for him. He'd forgotten to answer a question.

Structure, right. So,” Rich falters, scrubbing a hand at the side of his neck. “Uh, SEER? Right? Cerebral interface?” Rich taps on the side of his head with two fingers. “Imagine that, but networked. An entire consciousness web distributed across multiple thinking minds. The idea was to propose a computational living supercomputer, networking…” he makes an uncomfortable noise, “people. Gifted people. Hypercognition, precognition, eididic memory. All sharing their capabilities with one-another.”

Rich’s shoulder slack. “We built a proof of concept, uh, Colin and I. Piggybacked off of the ALIA system. The idea was that we’d make a super think-tank for the Institute. I named it MAGI and was going to break it out into the biblical Magi but… then Caspar told me the Company already did that naming convention. and I felt a little upset. You know. It felt right.” He waves a hand dismissively. “Anyway, it was never finished. Never even funded. Died with the Arcology.”

Richard just stares back at the man for a long moment as he explains what he was working on, what Structure actually was, the thing that Eve had seen in a vision - or something more - during that ill-fated experiment of hers.

“You… wait, wait, let me— let me get this straight,” he holds up a hand, “So the idea was to put mentally gifted Evolved into induced comas, attach them to the machine, and essentially use their brains and abilities as computer components to pool their abilities all together, built on the framework of Alia’s copied ability pattern and mind. Is that it? Am I right there?”

He sounds calm. He is not calm.

Listening to him talk through what they did with Looking Glass, Elisabeth is thoughtful. She's not entirely sure which Mateo Ruiz got pulled through, but if it becomes relevant, she can ask Mateo and verify. (Maybe.)

But then he's talking about Colin Verse and ALIA. Alia, who had been captured because Elisabeth asked her to do something. Alia, who had been held captive as a ghost in the machine for far too long. Their Alia, who was the template for that fucking project. And he's talking about hooking people to it like the goddamn Minority Report. .

Her back teeth clench together so hard, she'll wonder later if she cracked a molar. What the fuck kind of people are you?? she wants to scream. It's all she can do to not slap Schwenkman.

“Look,” Rich holds up his hands in a vague gesture of surrender, “SEER is more than just subconscious interfacing. I mean yeah that's what it was designed for but I like to make an art out of uh, in the wargaming models world we call it kitbashing. Anyway,” Rich tries to smooth past that, “we had petaflops of data from Edward’s brain, just tremendous amounts of information coming in from SEER and the Director asked me for ideas on how to parse it all. I jokingly said ‘well we could daisy-chain Cat Chesterfield to a laptop’ in an email and…”

Rich draws in a breath and sighs. “Okay, I get how that sounds. But the finished product would've been a conscious network. Something you could plug in and out of on a whim. Like the internet, but for genius abilities. Imagine the possibilities of what we could accomplish with someone with, say, hypercognition paired with technopathy? Or eididic memory? Imagine if…” Rich seems to be entering a fit of fantasy, “so the Gemini program? Hydra? Imagine if we could use Hydra to grow artificial brains with SLC-E abilities, network those together into a living supercomputer able to handle unfathomable tasks. Then someone like Edward Ray…” he exhales a sharp sigh. “God the possibilities, right?”

Suddenly, two things become very clear. One: there's a reason why Richard Schwenkman is in prison. Two: there's a reason why Ezekiel hired him.

“Do you really think for a second that it’d be… voluntary, Schwenkman?” Richard’s jaw tightens a bit as he looks back at the man, “You knew the things the Director was doing. The living components in some of the devices. And you sure as hell knew what sort of person that Kravid was. You knew damn well how Structure would be used.”

He draws in a slow breath, taking a step back, “My mother would be furious to see the sort of monster you’ve become. I’m done here. Liz, if you have any other questions— “ A motion of his hand, and he turns towards the door with a disgusted shake of his head.

Partly at his namesake’s careless lack of empathy. Partly at himself - because a part of him does recognize the endless possibilities in what was just said.

She wishes she were surprised. She wishes that she didn't recognize the justifications and the possibilities. Destroyers of worlds. Oppenheimer said it about the nuclear warhead; Alia said it about the Compass, too. Once again, the eggheads have a brilliant idea, and the horror of actually doing what is suggested is lost. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

And as she turns to follow her husband out, Elisabeth pulls in a quiet breath. "Dr. Schwenkman, who has the petaflops of data now?" Because fucking hell, that could be bad.
She has a desperate urge to leave, to go home, hug Alia, and tell her to destroy all traces of the Compass tech. And if it weren't for the fact that others are working on it and a countermeasure could someday be needed, she probably would. And now she has to worry about what the fuck they pulled from Edward's brain.

Making a noise in the back of his throat, Rich shrugs. “Monroe, probably. The government, definitely. For all the good it'll do either of them without a way to translate the data. There isn't a computer on earth that could make any use of all that garbage without taking a century.”

He doesn't rebuke Richard’s remark about the involuntary nature of Structure. He doesn't defend himself. He just spreads his hands and says, “Look, all of the best science of the past one hundred years came at a cost. But, sure, there's probably other ways. But we weren't restrained, we weren't tied down to a contemporary morality. If I was a betting man? I'd say the people in charge knew what was coming…”

Rich lets his hands drop down into his lap, “…and they were willing to do anything in their power to stop it.”

Richard and Elisabeth both wish they didn't sympathize with that last thought. But they do.

And it hurts.

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