I Will (Not)


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Scene Title I Will (Not)
Synopsis After his return from overseas, Richard reunites with his mother and draws on a newfound strength.
Date December 18, 2020

It’s been an agonizing return trip home. Even arriving through the security checkpoint outside of Raytech Industries hasn’t felt like coming home, so much as coming to another job. Sweden was at once enlightening and distressing, but news of an attack at Raytech moreso. Worse, that it involved someone that Richard Ray fought so hard to save.

After the critical check-ins with security and assurances to Diana Hahn that he isn’t going to do anything reckless, Richard finds himself in both the last place and the first place he expected to be on finding out about the end of the world. With his mother.

Raytech Industries Campus
Corporate Housing

December 18th
6:17 pm

Michelle Cardinal’s apartment at Raytech is a sparse affair. The bare concrete walls have no decorations, shelves remain empty, and boxes of household items given to help fill up those empty spaces remain unpacked on the floor where they were delivered nearly two years ago. The house is somewhat cold, in the way impersonal spaces often feel without the clutter of someone’s life in it.

Michelle sits with a black coffee in one hand and a cigarette gingerly resting in another that is set in a sling. The bags under her eyes are pronounced tonight, her stare is a thousand-yard one, focused off into the infinite distance beyond the small table she shares with her son. One of three pieces of furniture in the whole apartment. It’s no wonder she rarely invites anyone in. She didn’t want anyone to know how she was living.

“…after I was sure he was dead, after the adrenaline started to fade, I blacked out.” Chel recounts her attack, flicking the spent end of her cigarette into an ashtray. “I’ll live.”

Richard was hoping, when he came to see his mother, that he would be reassured as to her health and state of mind, so that he could stop being worried about her.

Somehow, seeing the state of her apartment has only made him more concerned.

He’s seated across from her, hands clasped on the table’s surface as he watches her for a long moment with dark eyes. “Will you? Mom, I… are you living? Looking around here…” He glances around the room, then back in consternation, “This isn’t a home at all. I was worried about you getting murdered but now I’m thinking I should’ve been worried about you a long time before this…”

Stop it,” Chel says defensively, bringing her cigarette up to her mouth. “I don’t… live here. I just—I sleep here. I live at the Greenhouse, or down in Providence.” She looks up to Richard at that, worry in her eyes.

“This isn’t the first time some stupid piece of shit’s tried to kill me, and God knows it won’t be the last.” Chel says as she rests her cigarette in the ashtray to switch hands with her coffee and take a sip. “Your f—David is the one you should be worrying about. He’s declining, and so far I haven’t been able to get anything to work. I don’t have the tools or the expertise.”

Chel looks away, down to the floor, her thoughts a jumbled mess. She focuses on anything other than the fact that her arm is in a sling from being shot by a would-be assassin. “I’m fine, really.”

Richard gives her a look that says he’s going to check on those other places to make sure she’s got more than just a cot and a table. He may or may not follow through on that implicit threat, though, with as many things that are on his plate right now.

He leans back with a sigh, “Alright… alright. Alright.” Hands up in surrender, “You’re my mother, I’m going to be worried about you, okay?”

Those hands drop again, and he grimaces slightly, “I’m going to make a wild guess that the fact that you and Sabine both had someone go after you the same day wasn’t a coincidence — was this asshole after your Gemini research?”

“He wasn’t exactly conversational,” Chel says with a tightness in her voice. “He wasn’t just after my research, he came straight for me.” Her voice tightens at the end there. “After he tagged me twice and I scrambled away, that’s when he went for the computer. He was using some kind of ability, or— abilities. He phased through a solid fucking wall, and I think he was technopathically trying to intrude on the system.”

Chel shakes her head, looking down to her arm. “I wasn’t thinking.” She whispers. “I should’ve—aimed for the center mass, anything. I shot him in the fucking head and—” She exhales a sharp sigh through her nose, eyes closing.

“I’d just made the first breakthrough.” Chel admits in a small voice. “I slowed David’s degradation down to .074%.” She looks up from her arm, brows knit together in worry. “I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing since. I can’t even call him to let him know why I haven’t shown up or…”

“Yeah, he was, as far as we can tell. Alia’s firewalls kept him out, at least long enough for you to…” Richard gives his head a tight shake, “You can’t blame yourself — life or death situation, you’re focusing on the threat, not anything else. Christ, he shot you, you can’t think straight in that situation.” He should know.

“It… look, you have to have been on the right track,” he says, leaning forward a bit, “They wouldn’t have gone after you if you weren’t. People don’t try and kill you and steal your research if you’re not a threat. Have you gotten samples from Sabine Hazel yet to work with?”

“No,” Chel says softly. “I was going to this week but I’ve only just felt well enough to get up and start moving around.” And she’s never going to ask anyone for help, though that goes unsaid. “But none of this makes sense,” Chel says with a shake of her head, backing up from talk of Sabine.

No one knows I’m working on this.” Chel looks Richard in the eye as she says that. “David, you, me. I haven’t registered any of this research and I’ve been working off-hours so the lab is unoccupied. My records aren’t even kept on a networked computer, it’s all air-gapped.” She looks down to the floor, bringing her coffee up to her lips again.

“I did file the request for us to examine Sabine, but you’re right, there’s… no way they would have known we’d have you on it,” Richard says, his brow furrowing a little, “This isn’t even your specialty. It’d be more logical that I’d have Doctor Pric ah Doctor Pride, working on it. It falls more under her purview, although she doesn’t have your ability to enhance it. Unless David told someone, and I can’t imagine he did, this would’ve been one hell of a… guess.”

“Oh. God damn it.” He brings a hand up, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose, “That— Mazdak sonuvabitch was hinting that they had a probability analytic. Like this-side’s Edward, or Lisa…”

“David wouldn’t talk, I trust him.” Chel says with adamant certainty.

But then, after a moment, her eyes narrow and lock on Richard’s for several long moments. “But if what you’re saying is accurate, then that… makes even less sense, depending on what they were trying to gain.” Her eyes track to the side. “If they wanted my research why move before it’s completed? I’d only just started to make progress.”

Chell’s brows twitch and she looks away, trading coffee for a cigarette. “If they wanted to destroy my research…” she sighs, losing steam. “I don’t know. It’s— so hard to think with these painkillers.”

“Of course it is,” says Richard, watching her in return for a moment as he drags strings across his mental map of things, “…of course it is.”

One hand plants on the table, and he pushes himself up to his feet. “So let’s get rid of the need for them. Come on. We’re going over to Botanical. And before you say no, I will absolutely sacrifice the energy myself right here and now if we don’t, so you should just say yes and get it over with.”

Michelle looks up from a distant, far-off stare and locks eyes with Richard. For a moment she doesn’t understand what he’s on about, but then she does. “No.” She says anyway, because they are absolutely related and possess a genetic predisposition against being helped.

“You haven’t practiced,” Chel insists. “We’ve barely tested the algae biomass, we don’t know the ratios it needs and if this thing decides it’s too hungry—” Chel’s voice trembles. “I am—I am not risking losing you over this.” She gets it, but she doesn’t get it. “I’ll be fine. The doctors said six to eight weeks and I’ll have some range of mobility.”

“I’ve practiced enough healing without it already,” replies Richard firmly, “And you’re not going to lose me over this - if your injury’s that minor, then there’s no risk of it killing me in the process. In the absolute worst case I can go kill some lab animals or something and I’ll be fine.”

He draws in a deep breath, “You don’t— you never had to learn how to navigate a string map. I did. Nothing’s a coincidence when you’re dealing with these kind of plans, mom. This is a purposeful removal of you from the board temporarily; distracting you with the injury, the painkillers, the trauma of the attempt on your life. They wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t a threat.”

“Are you going to come with me,” he asks, pulling an unfair card, “Or are you going to risk missing the window to save David’s life?”

Michelle locks eyes on Richard for a long time. Whatever response she was going to have for him is crushed by the last thing he says to her. The defiance dies down, her shoulders slack, and her attention turns toward the pack of cigarettes on the table that she quickly snatches up.


Raytech-Yamagato Greenhouse
Raytech Industries Campus
Jackson Heights

6:58 pm

The microalgae production facility at the Raytech-Yamagato Greenhouse has an ambient emerald glow in off-hours. Minimal overhead security lighting filtering through the walls of transparent tubing filled with algae shifts the light to that verdant color. As Richard and Chel walk through the rows of piping, she pauses to look up through one backlit, eerily-illuminated tube.

“Have you tested this with the algae at all?” Chel asks, turning her attention over to Richard. “Do you know how much of it you’re going to…” she isn’t sure how to even complete that sentence. “Drain?” Her nose wrinkles, that word choice doesn’t feel right.

“You know I haven’t, since every time I as much as suggest I do you come up with sixteen excuses why I shouldn’t,” is Richard’s dry observation to the question being asked, glancing back over to her with a slight smile, “We’ve got plenty of it, though, so I don’t think we’re in any danger of running out. I’m healing a minor gunshot wound, not something lethal, or organ failure, or something like that.”

He looks up at the tubes of algae, his fingers shifting by his side as if feeling for the power that’s decided to make him its conduit for now. Without looking at anyone in particular, he observes aloud, “We’re going to be doing some science with this power of ours, Rouen, I know how that often piques your interest if you’d care to come out.”

His mother may start questioning his sanity, with him talking to someone who may or may not even be able to hear him. Or exist at all.

Chel does precisely that, but directly. “Who’re you talking to?” She asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

Rouen does not respond. But, they’ve been finicky at times, cautious in others; whatever the beings that dwell inside the conduit are.

Chel glances around the algae farm. “If one of your friends is going to sublimate out of the algae…”

“A ghost.”

Richard draws in a breath, then exhales it slowly as he walks along over to an access to the algae farm, reaching a hand up to unlock the lid and slide it open. “Madeline Rouen, burned as a witch in the eighteen-hundreds,” he explains quietly, “Every past wielder of this power, there’s an— echo of them. A memory, a copy, of who they were, what they believed. Sometimes they… manifest? They show up, and I can talk to them. Rouen tends to be the most— scientifically minded of the ones I’ve met.”

He chuckles, “In other words, I’m haunted. Pull up a chair, let’s do this.”

Chel fixes Richard with a stern look. “Ghosts,” she says in a huff of exasperated breath. It’s not a question, it’s a statement. And she’s not mad, she’s disappointed.

“I take it this comes with a well-written user-manual,” Chel teases in deadpan tone with a squint of one eye. She drags an open folding chair from where it was being used as a stepladder to access a rattling vent, and sits down in it under the verdant glow of the algae pipes. “That you’ve been given some clear instruction on how all this works? And you’re not just…”

Chel lets a silence hang in the air. She doesn’t finish her sentence, but Richard’s brain does for her.

Winging it.

“You and I both know that when you’re exploring the edge of science there are no clear instructions, mom. And this…”

Richard reaches out with one hand for hers, his other hesitating before reaching down to touch the surface of the green-lit tank, the thick mats of algae stirring as the water’s disturbed, “…is as much science as anything else. Clarke’s law, right?”

He flashes her a smile. “It runs in the family.”

If she takes his hand, he draws in a breath and reaches out, focusing on the feel of her injuries, the trauma her body’s suffered… and the life under his other hand. It’s a conduit, right? In one end, out the other. That’s how this should work.

In theory. He’s winging it.

Richard’s hand bumps up against the glass of the algae tank. It’s cold, damp. Nothing.

In theory. He’s winging it.

He taps the glass.

Still nothing.

“I may have given you an inaccurate impression in our previous meetings.” Comes a woman’s voice from over Richard’s shoulder.


Madeline Rouen steps into his periphery, clutching the front of her long dress in her hands to make sure it doesn’t scuff along the floor. “Of my success in the sciences, I mean.”

Rouen comes to stand beside Richard. “I studied the impact of the Black Conduit on plants, animals, even people. The necrotizing effect on tissue, the way it hindered natural healing and stunted new growth. But none of my science, none of my analytical thinking, was ever able to control it.”

Chel, looking to Richard’s hand on her arm, waits in silent anticipation. She has no expectation on how fast this effect is supposed to be. Her eyes lift up to meet her son’s, then level back down on her arm in the sling. She can neither see, nor hear, Richard’s ghosts.

Rouen looks down to her feet, shame briefly dancing across her features. “It is a thing of emotion, and emotion is often the enemy of calculus.” Blinking her stare back up to Richard, Rouen offers a slow shake of her head. “If you want to learn how to control the force within you, you will need to control your emotions… and I am a poor tutor on that.”

But, perhaps, there is another.

“There can be a balance of both, Rouen. That’s what we do here,” replies Richard in quiet, tight tones, regarding the algae tank in consternation as the conduit refuses to surface to his will, “And I have to believe it’s true.”

There’s a brief surge of anger before he pushes it down; if he’s going to be stuck with this curse, it might as well prove itself useful, right?

He turns, looking past his mother to Rouen with a brow’s raise of challenge, “Is there someone who might be more helpful with that, then? For all his posturing, I wouldn’t call what the old man did controlling it by any stretch of the imagination. Riding it, maybe.”

“If the conduit is a thing of emotion,” Rouen says in a leading manner, as if coaxing a cat out from under a bed, “then you would need an empath.”

There’s only one Richard knows.

“Damn it.” Richard flexes his hand as he looks back at the algae tank in frustration, “You’d think it’d be happy to have something to feed on…” A heavy sigh, and he releases his mother’s hand, shaking his head, “Damn it. We need you healed before I leave, and I’m still not experienced enough to make this work…”

“I’ll have to ask Huruma for help.”

Chel looks at Richard, then to the algae tanks, then around as if finally starting to wonder who he’s talking with. Of course, Rouen is unable to so much as signal to Chel that she exists, if she even does. Rouen herself isn’t entirely clear on that.

“I don’t think she’s in here.” Rouen says with a slow shake of her head, as if she knows who Huruma is. “I wasn’t referring to you gaining an outside correspondence,” the ancient scientist indicates with a motion of her hand to Richard, as if indicating the empath is in the room. With him.

“Look within,” Rouen says with a tilt of her head to the side. “Think,” she stresses. “I’m not going to say you’ll like the answer. But you know it.

"Shut up and sit down," is Kazimir's far less diplomatic instruction to Gillian with a wag of two fingers. "Sawyer and Cardinal understand," a wave of one gloved hand comes in the air, "they're professionals. Moreover, she," he motions to Veronica, "does not have an ability that can pose a liability to the team. This wouldn't have happened if you had simply left when I instructed Varlane to get you out of this jungle. But now, we're at an empasse and I cannot afford to spare one of you, lest we fail at our mission. Unfortunately, miss Childs, the world does not revolve around you— just this moment." Staring at the brunette, Kazimir points down to the ground again.

"Now…" his eyes narrow, "sit." He's avoided the topic of trees entirely, there's not a single word spared about the alternative, of why he insists on using Veronica's life-force instead of the jungle's. When he looks to Magnes, there's a slow shake of his head and a furrow of his brows. "I healed you recently, I don't know if there would be any repercussions from using life force I already moved and shifting it to someone else. I don't— know enough about how this works to risk poisoning her or drawing too much out of you, or— " there's a shake of his head, "I don't have time to experiment."

Sitting down doesn't happen right away, but perhaps shutting up does. Gillian lets her head lower, closing her eyes and putting a hand over the bandage. It does itch, but many wounds itch. It still hurts, but that's true of many wounds too. There's anger in the tightness of her jaw, but she doesn't pull away from Veronica all together. When she looks back up, she's not quite as angry and indignant, but her voice is raspy. "I'm not leaving," that stubborn tone again, perhaps just to make it clear.

A loose squeeze on Veronica's hand, and then she's moving closer, but not sitting, still. "If you insist on healing me— then I insist on it being done as Peter. You can be Kazimir for your infiltration, but you have to be Peter for this." Selfishness, perhaps, but it seems to make a difference.

Son of a bitch.

“Sorry, mom, ah— think of it like a memory archive with an interface of remembered personalities that only I can see,” Richard suggests with a grimace as he notices Chel’s confusion, “I’m not crazy. I mean, I probably am, but this isn’t— you know what I mean.”

Then he looks back to Rouen, pained, “Are you— Huruma’d probably do as well.” If more… blunt. “But— fine, you’re probably right, honestly. Much as I hate it.”

He takes a deep breath, “How the hell do I find him, though? I don’t have a martyrdom to perform to draw him out, exactly. Just saying ‘Peter, I need your help’ doesn’t seem likely to work.”

“I trust you, but this sounds an awful lot like mental illness,” Chel says as she looks around the algae lab. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do or… how to help. What do you mean a memory archive? How is—is this related to the thing that happened to you in Iraq? That ability?” She seems incredulous, but not in that she doesn’t believe it, but that she’s questioning the explanation.

“I know. I know it does…” Richard draws in a slow breath, taking his mother’s hand between his and looking back to her seriously, “This— ability, it isn’t inborn like most. It’s a— symbiote of sorts, it moves between people. We’ve tracked users back a couple centuries before the trail goes cold, records weren’t great back then. It— aside from everything it does, when it moves on, it keeps a— copy of the previous host. Their memories, their personalities. It’s how Kazimir Volken kept his immortality, he managed to overwhelm each next host in line.”

He explains it as carefully as he can, watching her, her worry about him even if she’s doubting his mental capacity at the moment. She’s terrible at expressing her care for him, but he can see it there, even if it’s hard sometimes.

“You find me through logic and scientific reason,” Rouen says clearly. “If you want to find Peter, you’ll need to appeal to your own emotions.” The phantom looks over at Chel. “Why do you want to heal her?” Rouen asks, stepping out of Richard’s peripheral vision and becoming just a voice.

“How would you feel if you lost her?” Rouen’s voice whispers in the back of Richard’s mind. “Permanently.”

Rouen’s whisper in his ear reminds him of how close he just came to losing her to an assassin’s bullet, and his stomach turns over. He doesn’t turn away from that feeling, squeezing her hand more tightly as he remembers the first time he heard her voice, in the wake of Destiny’s stumbling words.

The first time he saw her.

"Forgot how bright the world is," he mutters, rubbing a hand against his eyes, disoriented and trying to reorient himself again. His hand drops, and he focuses on the nearest person, brow furrowing a little as he tries to determine who they are. Greying blonde hair. A lab coat. One of the SESA scientists…?


A faint, tired, but genuine smile tugs up at the corner of his lips. "Oh," he says to Michelle Cardinal, "Hi, Mom."

“Richie,” is the strangled name that Michelle Cardinal manages to spit out before throwing herself at Richard, nearly knocking him over as her arms wind tightly around his neck. She presses her face into his shoulder, and three decades of guilt come flooding back from walls she’d erected long ago. Legs weak and shoulders trembling, Michelle Cardinal allows herself to finally let go of everything she’s been holding on to. She sobs, and shows no sign of stopping. Not now, not for a long while to come.

The first time his mother held him.

His fingers tremble a little against hers, and he closes his eyes briefly. He can’t lose her. He can’t lose Liz, he can’t lose Ricky or Lili or Aurora. He did this, all of this, for his family. He can’t lose them now. He can’t.

You know the damn answer to that, Rouen!

“Easy,” comes a voice from the opposite side of Rouen, and Richard feels the weight of a hand on his shoulder. In his periphery, Richard sees the next in a long line of ghosts haunting him.


“One problem at a time,” Peter says, though it is with the measured and deliberate cadence of Kazimir Volken. Whatever blend of them existed during the height of Operation Apollo. Peter takes a knee beside Richard, looking up at him, then over at Michelle in this moment in a bottle. “Breathe. In once, deep, then out slower… it’s not much different.”

Richard feels Peter lays a hand on his, guide it back toward the algae tank. But he can’t be sure he isn’t just reaching himself. He has to be. “Keep that feeling in your heart, what you’ve got now. It’s real. The realest thing in this whole world.” Peter says with a smile, looking over to Michelle.

“Now breathe in again and imagine the algae is air. You want to take it in. It’s not circular, you don’t move from one to another. You’re a conduit, you have to let it flow through you.” Peter explains gently. “Breathe in.”

“One, steady breath.”

There’s a moment’s tension as Richard hears that voice. Once upon a time, he reached out more than once, more than twice, to its source for help.

Always to be told no. At least the first time. Ironic, that he needed to ask again now. But for his mother - he’d ask anything, do anything.

That trait runs in the family, for good or bad.

He looks at the man knelt beside him, draws in a deep breath, and nods once. His hand guided over (don’t think about it too much) to the algae tank, his other’s fingers tightening over Michelle’s.

“Just relax,” he murmurs, to himself, although she may think he’s talking to her. Relax. Breath in, slow and steady, drawing inward from one side…

…and out.

Thousands of Miles Away

Somewhere in Iraq

Somewhere in the world, there is a quiet room.

It is silent for its remoteness, less so for its construction. Its walls are a dome, covered in crackling white plaster. Four round columns rise from floor to ceiling in the middle of the room, inlaid with tiles painted turquoise, vermillion, and bone white. The tiles on the floor have not weathered the years as well, and the sand that blows in through the open skylight at the top of the dome has long since ground away the mosaic represented in them. The tiles are now all brown and beige, scuffed bare of even enamel.

It is not sunlight that spills down through that skylight, however. But silvery light of the waning, gibbous moon far above. Seated under the shaft of moonlight, a lone man contemplates a length of fabric. He is dressed in shades of white and gold, fine silk and soft cotton. His keffiyeh is worn loose, draped down over his shoulders and shadowing his bearded face like a hood. He sits cross-legged on the floor, fingers working over a length of woven cotton, delicately tracing each stitch with his bare fingertips. Blind, milky white eyes see not the fabric, but the pattern in the weaving.

Stepping out of the shadows, a woman roughly his age who has concealed the gray in her hair with dye emerges into the moonlight. The mekhela sador she wears elegantly is woven in shades of sapphire, crimson, and gold. Her dark eyes assess the man in front of her, the one that contemplates the skein of the fabric. "«Where do we stand, Ra'id?»" Her tongue is not that which she was born with, but an older one, long since dead. The language of Ancient Sumer.

Ra'id looks up from the fabric, the white swirling out of his eyes to reveal far darker eyes. He folds the cloth eight times over itself, until it is a small square in his lap. “«The Path is opening, the Awakening is taking place.»” He looks back to the square of fabric in his lap, resting his hands over it. "«Have you consulted the stars, Aida?»"

She inclines her head in a subtle nod, then offers a hand out to Ra'id, helping him up off the floor “«The Bond is renewed, the Debt called. When the Son asks the Mother, she will concede and open the Eye.»” Ra'id drapes the folded cloth over one arm, then looks up to the waning moon visible through the long cylindrical shaft to the sky above, where sand wafts over the opening as though he were staring up from an ancient well.

"«We must trust the Skein,»" Ra'id admits, reluctantly. "«The river flows inexorably to the ocean. It is merely a matter of time.»" Aida steps closer, joining him in looking up at the moon. She smiles, laying a hand on the cloth draped over his arm.

"«The Resurrection is at hand,»" Aida says softly.

“«We must tell Him,»” Ra’id says with an affirming nod. Aida’s brow twitches subtly. She forces a smile.

“«I will.»” Aida replies.

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