In The House Of The Open Gate


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Scene Title In the House of the Open Gate
Synopsis It is nearly time.
Date April 17, 2021

There is a room in the Raytech campus that Michelle Cardinal hides in when she doesn’t want to see anyone. It’s an alcove in the basement of the greenhouse, one with a stack of old computer hardware partitioned off by plastic butcher’s curtains to keep the humidity out. A lone cigarette burns in an ashtray sitting atop an old CRT monitor. She is not there.

Outside the greenhouse, there is a stretch of parkland that runs along the campus’ southern wall. There is a footbridge, an artificial pond, sometimes there’s even ducks. Lily pads float on the surface of the artificial pond, pink blossoms in bloom.

Here, hunched over the foot bridge’s railing, Michelle Cardinal vomits into the pond.

Raytech Industries Corporate Campus
Jackson Heights

April 17th
4:17 pm

It’s mostly dry-heaving now. Chel’s white-knuckled grip on the railing hasn’t relented for a while. Her arms are shaking, eyes wrenched shut, and everything her son just confessed to her is ringing through her brain like a gunshot. She feels sick to her stomach again, makes a gagging sound, and doubles over the railing again.

Nothing comes out this time either.

Exhaling a shuddering breath, Michelle looks over to where her son stands a few feet away against the railing. She had held her composure well through most of the explanation, through the description of the impending end of the world straight through to him asking her to work on the technology that ruined her life and potentially doomed humankind. But it was when Richard told her he was going back to the timeline of his birth, back to where she worked so hard to escape from that she couldn’t hold herself together any longer.

“You can’t.” Chel gasps, not looking at Richard, but rather her reflection in the now somewhat tainted water. Richard isn’t sure if she’s talking to him… or herself.

Honestly, her reaction could have been worse. Richard was half expecting her to lunge at him with a sedative syringe or shoot him in a limb or something, so this isn’t the worst of all possible reactions.

It’s also some of the most emotion he’s seen out of his mother since she came to this timeline.

“I don’t have a lot of choice, mom,” he says quietly, looking down to where his own hand rests on the railing and then back up with a grimace, “If we don’t get our hands on this technology, it’s… over. Everyone. You, the kids, Liz, Dave. Gone in a flash. Literally.”

“There’s always a fucking choice,” Chel says as she wipes her mouth with the side of her hand. “Jesus Christ, you don’t have to be the one to go. Why you of all people?” She stands up straight, fighting against the clenching sensation of her gut. “You’re not a scientist, you’re not a soldier, you’re not a diplomat.” With each telling of what Richard isn’t, Chel’s hands become more animated. “You’re an ideas guy. You’re the one who goes behind the fucking screen, in the headquarters. You don’t have to go.

Chel swallows audibly, then gasps again. “Jesus Christ, I lost your sister to that fucking machine. I’m not going to lose you. Not again.” Her jaw trembles, blue eyes wide and ringed with red, her vision blurry with tears.

“I was a lot more than an ideas guy before you ever met me, mom, before all of…” Richard vaguely motions with his hand, “…this. I was in the field all the time. Add to that, I’m basically immortal at this point, I’m, uh, the one person they know can get the damn job done if everyone else dies.”

He steps over, reaching out to rest a hand on her shoulder, “Trust me, I’m not— I’m not happy about it either, okay? Do you think I want to go, to go away from— from you, and Liz, and the kids, and— everyone?” A pained look in his eyes as he speaks of everything he’s leaving behind.

“Then—then send someone else,” Chel pleads, tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m not—they can’t make me run that fucking machine. I won’t do it. I—I won’t send my son off to fucking oblivion on the other side of that nightmare.”

Voice strangled tight, Chel paces the bridge and runs her hands through her hair. “I’ve just started to piece your f—” she catches herself a moment late, “piecing David back together again from what those fucking monsters did to him. I can’t… I can’t just abandon his treatments to help the government tear another hole in space. Richard—” her voice tightens, “you can’t seriously be asking me to do this.”

“Do you have a better idea?”

It’s not said dismissively, but almost pleadingly, as Richard sinks back against the rail of the footbridge, hands resting on it slightly behind him, his head tilting to look up towards the sky. The sky, and what lay beyond it, deteriorating by the day.

“If you do— if you know any other way to stop the world from becoming a piece of charcoal in under six months, tell me, and I’ll do it. I’ll drop all this, divert all resources to it.” He looks back at her, brow furrowing, “You did all you did for me, mom. I’m doing this for Aurora, for Ricky, for Lili— so they have a world to grow up in.”

“I…” Chel starts to say, then exhales a ragged sigh and scrubs her hand over her mouth. “I can’t just leave David. You know how much time this kind of work is going to eat, you know I won’t be able to handle his treatments. He’s—he’s stable now because of me. If I stop researching this he could—” Die is the word she can’t bring herself to say. Not again.

“I know what you’re asking me to do, and I’m here asking you to think about him.” Chel says with a tightness in her voice. “I—I know you two don’t get along, I know your relationship isn’t… isn’t right. I know he isn’t who I—who I want him to be. But he’s still David. The smile, the laugh, we even have shared experiences between here and there. Constants that, no matter how divergent our timelines became, remained the same.” Her voice cracks when she says that. “That’s—I can’t throw that away.”

Scrubbing her fingers at her eyes, Michelle looks compromised in ways she hasn’t allowed Richard to ever really see. “I can’t lose you both. Again.”

Richard’s shoulders slump slightly at her words, his head dipping in a slight nod. “I know. I understand, I…” A hand comes up, fingers sliding under his shades to rub at his eyes in much the same way as she is, “Look, David wants nothing to do with me, and I— uh, I’m just trying to respect his wishes, mom.”

A deep breath, exhaled, and he looks back to her, “What can I do to help? Could we move your research to the campus, put some junior researchers on keeping up with him until you’re back? Hell, if you make his pardon a contingency of your help, they could probably arrange that, and then we don’t even need to hide him or anything like that.”

Something in that list clicks with Chel. “A pardon,” comes as a quick clarification. “You know he was manipulated into all of this, they abducted him from prison, they used him. They,” she waves toward a wall and the general they, “would come for him here. To kill him.”

Swallowing down her frustration, Chel closes her eyes and shakes her head. “You tell the feds that I’ll help them with their goddamn doomsday device if and only if he gets a full pardon and is allowed to receive proper medical care. If not here, then wherever has the appropriate resources.”

“If they can’t pull a presidential pardon out of their asses then they damn well can’t control the Looking Glass,” Chel says, bleeding resentment for her maligned creation. “I’ll be damned if that fucking machine is taking anything else from me.”

“I know he was, mom.”

Richard lets a sigh whisper past his lips, his gaze dropping to the bridge beneath their feet. “I’m sure it won’t be a problem to arrange. I’ll ask, they’ll agree. They’re not in a position not to, after all…”

There’s silence for a long moment, his fingers curled in, rubbing against the dark mark that still stains his hand from when he’d been healed, all those years ago.

“You know I don’t want to ask you to do this,” he finally says, quietly, “I don’t want to do this at all. I don’t want to leave you, or Liz, or my kids, my //family/…”

Chel breathes heavily and hastily, trying to temper her emotions when the target she truly wants to outburst at isn’t here. Richard can see her fists clenched at her side, the gnash of her teeth. “I know,” she says with a strained voice. She wants to go to him, comfort him, but her emotions don’t let her right now. All she has is anger.

“One more thing,” Chel says, trying to restrain a tremor of anger flowing through her. “When this is said and done…” she looks up at Richard.

We’re destroying that fucking machine.

Five Hours Later


There are sheets of construction plastic covering the windows of David Cardinal’s cabin, stapled in place directly to the frames. The matte plastic reflects light from an oil lantern sitting on a dining room table beside a dust-caked respirator mask and a pair of soot-stained work gloves.

Hunched over the table, David coughs into his closed fist, pulling his hand away to see flecks of red against the black staining his skin. He turns a worried eye to the plastic, to the windows, and the orange glow blooming through the plastic from outside. With a wheeze he sits back, looking over to a wind-up clock sitting on the kitchen counter, barely able to make out what late hour it is.

The distant glow of fire imitates sunset as it bleeds through the plastic sheeting.

A knock on the front door sends Dave to his feet, retrieving a revolver from where it was tucked in the back of his pants. Clicking the hammer back, Dave slowly approaches the door and stands beside it, gun at the ready.

Yeah?” He says at the door.

“For the love of God let me in,” Chel’s voice echoes through the door, “it smells like you tried cooking dinner out here.” Confusion dapples across Dave’s face accompanied by a flush of color faintly visible below the faint haze of grime. He unlatches the door and Chel pushes her way inside.

With someone else.

Dave takes a step back and looks at the tall, darkly-dressed man that follows Chel inside. When he threatens to raise his gun, he feels her hand on his forearm pushing it back down. Confusion of a new kind flashes in his eyes when he looks at Chel, then back to the unfamiliar intruder.

“Mr. Cardinal?” The darkly dressed agent says, slowly pushing the front door shut behind him.

“Y—” Dave starts to say, glancing at Chel, then back again. “Yes?

“It’s your lucky day.”

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 the silvery light of the waxing crescent 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, Aida Baraka Sa’id looks down assessingly at the cloth in Ra’id’s hands. 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. "«What did you see?»" 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 ones. He folds the cloth eight times over itself, until it is a small square in his lap. "«The Mother sits in the House of the Open Gate and the Instrument is ready to be played.»" He watches her approach, curious of her ever move. "«And what have you seen?»"

She inclines her head in a subtle nod, then offers a hand out to Ra'id, helping him up off the floor. "«The Host is on the path, when he crosses through the House of the Open Gate…»" she 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 will shut the door behind him forever.»”

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