Footsteps Of Yesterday


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Scene Title Footsteps of Yesterday
Synopsis Magnes Varlane unknowingly follows in the footsteps of past friends and journeys to Buffalo, New York in search of answers.
Date March 13, 2012

A seven hour drive from New York City to Buffalo is looking more like eight and a half hours, judging by the clock in the center console of the 1984 Chevrolet pickup truck belonging to one Magnes Varlane. Rust brown colored, beat up and without proper heat, it's a miserable way to travel, but it's also reliable in the snow, and today it is snowing.

The weather in mid-March is still unreliably cold in upstate New York. Snow comes down in driving flurries once you get past Albany. The roads are slick and icy, even the freeways aren’t properly plowed yet. No one expected a late winter blizzard of quite this strength, and none of the Department of Transportation services were braced for it. Even in a world of precognitives and weather manipulators, there can still be surprises. The drive up from New York City has been slow going, with unplowed roads, traffic accidents and the driving snow itself hindering travel.

Buffalo New York

March 13, 2012

4:17 pm

By the time signage for Buffalo starts showing up, there's snowbanks on the roadside some four feet high. Nothing compared to the snowfall of the Great Storm in Magnes’ home timeline, but for natural weather an impressive sight. The roads here are salted and sanded, a dark brown strip of the mix muddying up the middle of every lane.

It gets more rural the further west Magnes travels, through Binghamton, Rochester, and finally on into Buffalo. By the time the Buffalo city limits are reached, signs for Niagra Falls are everywhere, along with closed tourist locations shut down for the day because of the blizzard coming in off of the water. It isn't into the heart of Buffalo that Magnes bound for, however, but rather the outskirts of Buffalo in wooded seclusion where the target of his ongoing investigation has taken to living out his twilight years.

A few miles outside of the city, on State Highway 442 near Lancaster, is a narrow single-lane dirt driveway winding into snow-laden woods. The old Chevy has no problem ploughing through the thick snow, tires spinning in four-wheel drive and jostling Magnes around in the cabin. On the narrow road, the canopy is so thick from pine branches and snow that it feels like night, headlights cutting through the snowy dark, thick and large flakes still managing to fall down from above.

With the sun in the process of setting, night is coming soon to Buffalo, and the distant lights through the woods of a home out here in the rural outskirts of the city seem to lend validity to the information plucked from an internet address search. Magnes won't be driving home tonight, not in this weather, but hopefully he won't be going home empty handed.

The cabin isn't an outstanding thing, in fact the two floor building evokes memories of the Ferrymen safehouse called the Garden on Staten Island. Its roof is laden heavily with snow, surrounded close by thick forest and shifting, untouched snow. An old, red pickup truck rests in the driveway, covered in snow and untouched. There's no sign that anyone has been outside today, though the thick plume of smoke rising up out of the chimney and the smell of the woodsmoke indicates that the man Magnes is looking for is likely home.

Wearing a black leather jacket with fur around the edges of the neck, Magnes has his leather gloved hands in his pockets as he heads to the door of the cabin.

Going alone seemed like a good idea, like surely he wouldn't be going out to some creepy cabin. But Magnes grew up in a very suburban area, he doesn't usually expect nature and creepiness to, well, creep up on him.

Still… he's faced worse. Surely this secluded cabin person isn't going to shove garden shears into him.

So he takes one hand out of his pocket, then knocks on the door. "Hello? This is Ness Parker, I just wanted to ask you a few questions."

On the front door, just above where Magnes knocks, hangs a hand-carved wooden sign on a hemp rope that reads Home Spirit and has a wood-burned image of an American Southwest desert scene, with plateaus and pillar rocks. It has a light dusting of snow on it.

The first response to the knocking comes not from inside the house, but from around the side of the front porch. There’s a crunching of snow too light to be a person, and Magnes can feel the weight of something moving in his periphery. Up a side set of stairs onto the front porch comes a broadly built and shaggy gray and black dog with a white underbelly and ice blue eyes. It yowls loudly, then barks repeatedly at Magnes.

A moment later a voice calls after the malamute. “Uni!” The voice, too, comes from around the side of the cabin where a stout old man comes ambling into Magnes field of view. He’s layered in a heavy flannel-pattern jacket with a fur collar and snow pants with rubbed-lined boots. Though that he carries a woodcutting axe is only mildly concerning on the scale of things that Magnes Varlane has been threatened by.

The white-haired old man stares as Magnes as he clomps up the steps, brows furrowed and snow dusting his hunter orange knit cap. A look is given out to Magnes’ truck, then back to the young man. “What’s got you troubled enough t’come out here in shit weather?”

Magnes stares at the axe, and before he says a single word, he connects his gravitational field to it. He doesn't actually alter it, it's more like… he's trying to keep a conscious link to it, in case he does need to alter or move the axe in some way. He does not want to get caught off guard again.

Though the man himself wouldn't notice a difference, as the weight goes entirely unchanged. "Well, I know this is going to sound weird, and it's kind of a long story, but I'm doing a bit of a project. Studying physics students who, well, were taken too soon. I'm a physicist myself. I'm just trying to learn more about this particular one, how she passed, what her interests in science were. I know you won't know all of that, but…"

"Well, I was doing research and saw that you were involved in her accident somehow?" he asks, trying to be gentle with this question. "Michelle LeRoux. I was just wondering what you could tell me. I know that this is probably a very sensitive topic… I just wanted to understand more about what happened."

For a moment Thomas Redhouse stares at Magnes with a vacant and empty expression that lacks recognition of what he's talking about. But when memories of a tragedy thirty years past come flooding back, all he can do is exhale a breathy, “Jesus Christ.” The silence is palpable after that, enough so that Magnes can hear the snow falling.

Hollowed by guilt, Thomas takes a deep breath and exhales an uneven sigh. “I… didn't know she was a…” he trails off, figuring it isn't important. Reflexively, Thomas pulls off his knit cap and holds it to his chest, then sets the axe down against the porch and leans the haft against the cabin wall. Hand freed, he works fingers into the loop of his dog’s collar and starts leading him toward the front door.

“C’mon inside…” Thomas says with a distracted quaver to his voice, clearly still blindsided by the emotional backlash of coming face to face with such a heavy past event. The door was unlocked, and Thomas easily opens it as he leads his dog inside. The cabin interior is warm, though dimly lit. It's all a spacious, open place with a living room of old and comfortable-looking furniture, a small dining room and kitchenette. What's most notable are half-finished canvases everywhere, leaned up against walls and stacked atop one-another. Oil paintings of modest skill.

Thomas lets the dog wander off once he's inside and holds the door open for Magnes, motioning toward the couch and armchairs in the living room.

"I again apologize, I know it must be difficult." Magnes repeats, trying to remain gentle and understanding, walking in behind him. He stares at the canvases first, eyes wide. "Wow. I do a bit of art too, but my art is mostly bass guitar, and making clothes if you believe it or not. Baking if you count it as an art…" he smiles, trying to lighten the situation a little, create a non-judgemental atmosphere.

"Never been in a cabin so deep in the woods before, it's nice." But then he's turning back to the man, letting him settle and collect his thoughts. "I don't mean to disrupt your life or anything, I just… there's not a lot of information, and you're my only real lead so far."

Thomas makes a noise in the back of his throat, looking at Magnes thoughtfully. For a long moment it's like he's trying to see something in the young man, but then lets it go. “It was a long time ago,” Thomas dismisses, briefly moving to the kitchenette across the cabin rather than the living room he'd directed Magnes to. He retrieves a bottle of beer from a small refrigerator, twisting the cap off with his calloused hands on his slow route back.

In the interim, the malamute Uni comes to brush up against Magnes’ legs, staring up at him with pale eyes. When Thomas makes his way around and settles in to the old armchair by the wood stove, motioning for Magnes to take a seat on the couch across from him.

“June of 82,” Thomas recalls, “I was trucking, just leaving KC at the start of a haul west. Never been able to forget the day,” he says in a hushed tone of voice. “I was up on the other side of the university, and that young woman you're asking after darted out into the street from between some parked cars…”

Thomas looks down to his beer, frowning, distant. “I never saw her coming. One minute she was there, the next she wasn't. I didn't even have time t’hit my brakes.” The beer isn't touched, just nursed, and Thomas looks from it to Magnes with a heavy heart. “She was dead before the police and ambulance even arrived. Never had a chance…”

"She was running from something?" Magnes asks, after he's thoroughly pet the dog a bit, and takes his seat across from the man. Though he tries to usher the dog over with him. He likes dogs. His focus, though, stays on Thomas. "Do you know where she was running from? Like the university, or…? I guess it was all a split second, and a long time ago, so you probably wouldn't remember if she seemed afraid or what…"

"Some things about that time don't make a lot of sense. For example, there's no trace of her research that I've been able to find. It's as if they acknowledge that she exists, what she went for, but everything else…" He makes a majestic poofing motion with his hands. "Just kind of… vanished into thin air. I know this must be difficult for you, but I think there's more to the story than your part in it, and I'm trying to figure out what it is. As a physicist, I have to wonder, did she discover something, were people trying to hide it? I know you can't tell me that, but… this seemed like a start."

Growing quiet again, Thomas looks down to his beer. For a moment is seems as though he may never speak again, and his dog makes a soft whining sound while brushing his cold and wet nose against one of Magnes’ hands. The sound rouses Thomas Fromm his silence, eyes settled on Uni, then back to Magnes.

“She was running, sure. I can't say if it was from anything. She came from the direction of the school, though. It was dark, she might've been on her way to a campus party. I don't know. I never even found out her name till the obituary ran in the paper.” When he looks at Magnes again, something changes in Thomas’ expression. There's a bitterness, inwardly directed, but also something more driven.

“Why’s this matter?” Thomas asks, and it sounds like the answer might matter more to him than anything else.

"I don't want anyone to know about this right now, outside of us right here, but I think she was researching something very revolutionary, the kind of thing that alters the course of the entire world, and I think some people may have wanted that for themselves, to stop her research for some reason. Or maybe what happened was an unfortunate accident, and they decided to cover her research up." Magnes wouldn't normally explain this, but, this man clearly seems like perhaps he wants some sort of closure, perhaps.

"We're talking Einstein's theory of relativity level stuff, and people are just hiding what she was doing, almost like they tried to erase her from history." Then, he nods to the man. "That's what I came here. If you knew any details, saw anything strange that you didn't feel like you could tell anyone else, or anything out of the ordinary that doesn't seem important… anything could help. People should know what she was doing, more than whatever greedy people are trying to cover up her name and her work."

Thomas makes another noise in the back of his throat, and in spite of only just having settled down in his chair is slowly coming to stand again. “You sound like my daughter,” is said with a touch of pride. “After I lost my license, lost my job, I went back to the reservation. Met my wife, in two years I had a family.” Thomas starts to walk out of the living room. “She’s your age…” he offers as he moves toward a door that goes into a closet.

Opening the door, untouched beer still in hand, Thomas rifles through old canvases and pulls out a finished painting. “She was… eighteen, right round-about, when I made this one.” Slowly, Thomas ambles back over to the living room and stands up a dusty old canvas in front of Magnes. The bottom rests atop the coffee table, the top steadied by his hand.

The painting depicts a man in a fur-collared leather jacket standing in the snow, an old pickup truck behind him. It is very clearly Magnes. In Magnes’ hand he's holding some kind of book or thick folder.

Thomas says nothing, just stares at Magnes.

"A prophetic painting…" Magnes says this as if this isn't the first time he's seen one, like he's used to this kind of stuff. "That's me." he notes, just to be clear that he definitely understands what's going on here.

"Why do I have files?" he asks, his tone suggesting that he expects the man to know, some level of shock, but also caution, a hand rising the cover his mouth. He has very few gestures for a moment like this, as he didn't expect things to be quite this eventful.

Thomas hands the painting over to Magnes, letting him handle it. “They don't all come true,” he says quietly. “My gift manifested not long before the accident. I didn't realize what it was at the time, I'd always loved painting. As time went on, I realized the significance of it. But more often than not, trying to look for the deeper meaning in what I painted only led to people getting hurt. I didn't understand it then, that my ability wasn't for me, it was for others.”

Slowly walking from Magnes, Thomas goes over to one of his book shelves and picks up something that looks strikingly like the book in the painting. It's a leatherbound photo album. Walking back over, Thomas breathes in deeply and exhales a slow sigh. “Sometimes, though, if I don't fight it, the paintings come to me.”

“You're the first person I've met who knew what they were, though.” Thomas opens the photo album and starts to flip through it. “I figure that it shows you with this, it's a sign that's what you're meant to do. If you hadn't told me what you were looking for, I might have just handed it all over to you. But…” Thomas flips through photos of a young girl with black hair about age 10, the name Sparrow is written in pen on each page. “I think there's one thing in particular you might want.”

Finally reaching the right page, Thomas pulls out a color photograph of city streets. There's an old car parked on the side of a poor neighborhood, but over the rooftops of the tenement buildings there's a spiral of ethereal green light in the sky, like an aurora borealis. Magnes recalls seeing the same thing on the day he turned into a black hole, swirling around in the skies above Mount Natazhat.

“This is the only thing I have that might help you.” Thomas suggests. “Months after I killed that poor young woman, I found my camera in a bag of my things I had to clear out of my truck. This photograph was on the film reel… but I don't remember taking it.”

Troubled by that, Thomas hands the photograph to Magnes as well. “It's a mystery I've always wondered after. The neighborhood I recognize. It was just a block away from where the accident happened. I used to take photos of everywhere I trucked, but nothing like that.” With obvious worry, he adds, “It's not in any newspapers. Nobody in KC I ever spoke to saw it happen. Yet, there it is.”

"Sparrow… wow." Magnes knows the name, but could that actually be her? "I knew a Native girl named Sparrow, don't know if she's the same one. Back in New York. One of the nicest people I ever met in my entire life… no, no, wait, Thomas Redhouse… Sparrow Redhouse, holy crap." Okay, so it was her.

He takes the photograph, looking it over, squinting. "No way…" he says, as if the photograph means something to him. "Is there any chance I could get a copy of the pictures of this area from that time? They'd be very useful to me. I think this has something to do with, well, her research. I think I might have some idea of why she was running, but I can't say the exact details for sure. But… when I know things more concretely, I'll tell you, okay? I think that you deserve to know."

"Oh, and before I leave, is there any chance I could take a look at your other paintings? Just in case some of them might mean something to me. If I could take pictures it would be great. I know what they are because, well, I've encountered them before, other people have done them. If you read the comic 9th Wonders, that entire thing is a prophetic painting. Though I'm not sure that all of it came true. Timelines branch when things change." he explains, clearly knowing a lot about the topic.

But he's already standing, glancing over at the paintings, then over at Thomas.

Some of what Magnes says makes sense to Thomas, but it’s word of his daughter that he hones in on the most. “Sparrow was a good girl,” has the sense of past-tense that most tragedies do. It doesn’t sound like she made it here, and who knows what’s befallen her back home. “I’m glad you got a chance to know her.”

Exhaling a sigh, Thomas moves over to his collection of paintings, motioning to where they’re scattered around the house and guiding Magnes by them so he can inspect. “I don’t much mind if you take photographs, the paintings are only as much help as the people who need them. As for pictures I took… the one you have is the only one I held on to after all these years. I’m sorry about that.”

The paintings are largely things Magnes has already either seen before, or has little context to. There’s one of Midtown, divided in half. The left side of the painting is a bombed ruin, the right side is a lush and green landscape that exists today. The date on the bottom of the painting is 05/08. Several other paintings seem to depict events that came to pass in the Bright Future, including one image of the gleaming spire of Pinehearst Tower like an emerald spear jutting up from Manhattan.

One painting among the mix, never finished, stands out among the others. It depicts a broad-shouldered man in dark clothes with thick brows, standing with his arms raised over his head. He looks somewhat like Gabriel, and Eileen is standing nearby, hand on her mouth looking on anxiously. Curiously, Gabriel is creating a vortex over himself that looks identical to the kind Ruiz can create. Only a third of the painting is finished, not all of the colors are filled in and much of it is long-faded pencil sketch. The date scribbled in the corner is 12/11.

The only other painting that seems to have resonance with Magnes is one depicting a laboratory environment with indistinct figures dressed in white lab coats. The floor of the lab has many cables snaking across it, heading toward a ramp that leads up to a triangular frame of metal, cables, and glowing coils. Inside of the frame is a vibrant triangle of blue-white light. In the periphery of the painting are several black-clad figures not quite in focus, but clearly wearing armor marked with the Pinehearst logo. Each suit of armor has glowing orange eyes, almost like those of a spider. This painting is marked 2/12.

“Feel free to take pictures of the ones you want,” Thomas notes in a tired voice. “I’ve got a sleeping bag, if you want to stay on the couch tonight. The storm’s pretty bad out there. You’re welcome to rest the night before leaving…”

"Wow… okay these will definitely be useful." Magnes is already taking pictures. He's using an actual mini camera, because there are hackers, and his paranoia regarding Rebel never quite went away when it came to protecting information. He of course takes a picture of the last two, and a few other random ones just in case any of them stand out to Elisabeth or Isabelle.

After that, he puts his camera away into his pocket, then nods to the man. He looks a little sad, at the notion of Sparrow. "But, Sparrow, yeah, she was really nice to me. I was much more awkward when I was younger, but she turned me down gently." he laughs a little at that, shaking his head. "I miss her. She was a good friend. But… yeah, I'll stay. I might have to take a trip out there to where this picture was taken, but I'll grab a friend first. A friend who has a fire ability who I should have brought with me in this blizzard."

He stares down at his hands. "You'd be amazed at how useless gravity manipulation feels in a blizzard. I can move the snow but I can't move the cold."

He learned that one the hard way.

Thomas eyes Magnes with some measure of uncertainty, then dips his head into a slow nod. “It’s late, and I’m unsurprisingly an old man and am going to turn in. There’s firewood,” he motions over next to the wood stove, “if the stove cools down. Just open the front and pop it in. I’m up at 5:00am and need to leave for town, so I’d like to have you up and out by then. There’s a Nite Owl diner down the way that serves early-bird breakfast.”

Taking a moment to look back at his old paintings, Thomas closes his eyes and nods slowly, then walks past Magnes and rests a hand on his shoulder. “If you’re going t’where the photo was taken… the accident was on, uh, West 19th street across from some apartments. The picture… I’m not sure. Had to have been somewhere around there. But it was more than thirty years ago, so…” He gently taps the hand on Magnes’ shoulder in a don’t expect much sort of way.

Stepping away, Thomas snaps his fingers and calls, “Uni.” The dog sits up from where he’d been laying on the floor and follows his master toward the stairs leading to the second floor. Thomas disappears up the creaking steps, leaving Magnes with the remnants of his past art, and his past mistakes. It’s hard for Magnes to shake the uncanniness between his connection to Mr. Redhouse, how everything seems to be connected if you look hard enough.

That perhaps there are no coincidences.

But not everything happens for a reason.

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