Into The Dead Zone, Interlude III


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Scene Title Into the Dead Zone, Interlude III
Synopsis After the meeting with the Guardians, Richard Ray is visited by the ghost of Christmas Past.
Date April 19, 2018


“The fuck’s it mean if Iago doesn't remember you?”

At the time, Richard had just shrugged, as if he had no idea what it would mean. There were no doubt plenty of theories, of guesses - clones, disguises, shapeshifters - but he didn’t think that Avi necessarily knew what the most likely answer was.

The potential answer that was still haunting him, and that he was reminded every time he went into a bathroom and stared into the looking glass.

So sleep? Sleep wasn’t coming easily, there were too many thoughts in his head… and he was oddly comfortable here. Maybe it was all the familiar faces that he’d seen coming in, people he hadn’t seen in years. He’d headed out for a walk, and he was walking now, just taking a stroll down the beaten paths of one of Snoqualmie’s gardens, enjoying a step out into the green even as the skies turn purple and black with deepening night and the stars begin to pepper the sky with their gleaming.

The one thing that the war had left them was a beautiful sky, at least.

“So, Richard.” Usually it was Richard Cardinal sneaking up on people in the dark. Now, the tables are turned in ways that Richard Ray has started to become accustomed to. “I’ve been wanting to ask, because I’m not sure I can tell myself… is the grass really greener on the other side?”

Stepping out from behind a tall, thin tree is a broad-shouldered silhouette that is momentarily unfamiliar. But when the dim light of the moon reflects off the lenses of a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, Richard is suddenly given all the context he needs.

A ripple of tension flows through him as his name’s spoken - Richard isn’t used to being the one being snuck up on, not even now - and he turns slowly in the direction of the tree, sees the gleam of the moon off those glasses. A single brow lifts upwards as he regards the other man for a long few seconds, as if making sure it wasn’t a hallucination he was seeing.

“Either the reports of your death were greatly exaggerated— “ Richard wouldn’t doubt it, given the man’s reputation and skillset, “— or Candice is playing a particularly bad joke tonight.” Lips tug up at the corner of his mouth, an almost-smile, “As for the question, wouldn’t know. Never left the side I’ve been on all this time.”

“I meant the west coast,” Noah Bennet admits as he steps into the dim light, smiling faintly, “but I suppose there’s something more metaphorical there too.” Gone is the Company Man in his sleek suits, the man standing before Richard Ray is dressed in a loosely-cabled brown sweater and jeans. He has traded in wingtips for workboots, and looks like time has pushes his hairline back even further, cut deeper creases into his brow.

“I had to fake my death,” Noah admits reluctantly. “There were a number of high-profile people looking to put a bullet in my head after the 8th. I flipped the script around, and now they’re dead instead.” Noah looks away from Richard, into the dark. “I’ve already talked to Claire,” he says, getting that out of the way before looking back to Richard.

“Good. That was the next thing I was going to ask, because I wasn’t about to keep this a secret from her,” says Richard with a nod to the older man, head tilting to look up towards the moon briefly, “She might be WOLFHOUND now, but she’ll always be one of my people as far as I’m concerned.”

A deep breath, and he looks back over, shrugging one shoulder upwards in a rustling of his old flight jacket, “It is. Greener. There’s not a lot of green in New York, not anymore. We’re working on it, but…”

“War is, what war is. Seeds are still growing from the soil back home.”

Noah nods, meandering up to Richard and then past him, boots scuffing idly on the ground. “I decided not to show up at April’s meeting. I’m not actually one of her people. These days,” Noah looks over to Richard, “I’m more of a community manager. Ostensibly mayor, but— it’s more of a council.” It always is, isn’t it?

“Claire asked if I knew anything about the Horsemen,” Noah makes an incredulous face at that name, “and unfortunately, I don’t know more than April was already able to tell you. They’ve kept to themselves.” Adjusting his glasses, Noah turns to face Richard more directly. “As for what they want, I’m of two minds on it. But… you always had a keen sense for this sort of thing. You would’ve made a fine Company agent, in a different life.” A faint smile creeps up at the corner of Noah’s mouth. “I wanted to hear your thoughts on it.”

“Agent Lamont Cranston,” is Richard’s response to that, his smile tugging up wider at the corner of his mouth as he looks back to Noah, “Deveaux put me on the books back in ‘ninety-two. Not sure if he erased me afterwards, or if I was listed as killed in action or something.”

So technically he actually was a Company agent. For a few hours, anyway.

He draws in a breath, then, and exhales it as a sigh, giving his head a slow shake. “I— probably know what they are, why they’re not dead,” he admits, “I haven’t told them, because I don’t know what they’d do with that information. But you— “

A sudden, sharp and focused glint to his eye as he regards Noah, “Nineteen-eighty-two. Kansas City. Eric Thompson. Mean anything to you?”

That’s twice in the same span of breaths that Richard Ray has made Noah’s brows rise. He regards the former shadowmorph with momentary curiosity, clearly knowing something from the silent look he affords the younger man, but he backs onto his conversational heels and circles around to the more temporally strained question instead.

“Before my time.” Noah admits reluctantly. “Thompson wasn’t even a Senior Agent back in 82. I can’t say for certain when he started, but I know it wasn’t too much earlier.” Tucking his hands into his pockets, Noah meanders away from Richard. “I didn’t join the Company until after ‘85. Even with the position I had… older cases?” Noah arches one brow. “Those weren’t think we inquired about, unless we had the proper clearance.”

Then, turning it around, Noah asks a question of Richard. “In all your troubles,” is certainly a way to put it, “have you ever come across the name Caspar Abraham?”

“That’s a funny question,” Richard replies, the conversation twisting back around on the other man as he regards him steadily for a few moments, “Since it’s the next question I was going to ask you, Bennet. He was in charge of compartmentalizing information regarding the ‘eighty-two incident, whatever the fuck that means.”

He gives his head a slight shake, “Whatever it does mean, it means that every lead on this goes cold. And it may explain where those dead men came from. What do you know about Abraham?”

A smile cuts its way across Noah’s face. “Caspar Abraham was a direct operative of the Company Founders. If we encountered something beyond what the Company could handle, or what humanity wasn’t yet meant to understand… Caspar would “compartmentalize” it. He was an agent before the Haitian — Rene — and he had a similar ability. But instead of erasing your mind, he took and encoded your memories on some kind of physical object that he could later read, or re-implant.”

Reaching up, Noah takes off his glasses and produces a cleaning rag from his pocket, quietly wiping off one of the lenses. “Only senior agents and above even knew of Caspar, and only the Founders knew where to find him or could call on his services. I never met him, personally, but I do know there was a small collection of senior agents who had access to his archive.”

Noah slides his glasses back on, then sticks out his thumb to Richard. “Sabra Dalton,” then his index finger, “Martin Crowley,” then his middle finger, “Lamont Cranston.” That smile persists.

The explanation makes sense, and Richard listens, nodding ever so slightly now and then. His ability he understands, the security around him he understands… and then he blinks, once.

One hand comes up to smack against the side of his face, and he laughs, mouth half-hidden by his palm. “Oh, Charles, you fucking schemer,” he observes, humor bubbling up from his gut, “Still watching out for me after all this time… “

He looks back to Noah, then, a single brow lifting as he notes, “Not that I know where he is. Or where his archive is. Don’t suppose you have any hints in that direction… well. Guessing you do, since you brought him up.”

“I almost found him during the war,” Noah admits as he turns to regard the distant lights of houses. “He'd turned up in California, apparently he was among the Company assets turned by the Institute. I have to imagine your other half leveraged his credentials.” Noah regards Ray side-long. “But he disappeared with the surviving upper brass of the Institute…”

There's regret in Noah’s voice at that failure. “The only other people who might have any information on him would be Sabra Dalton or the other executives of Charles’ estate.” Otherwise known as the Deveaux Group. “But without either Caspar’s cooperation or a psychometrist, whatever he stores his data on is useless.”

“Damn.” Richard looks off into the distance as well, those lights gleaming there. “I can get to Dalton. See what she can tell me. Even if we can’t find Caspar, if we can find his archive… there are psychometrists out there that I can pull in for this.”

Human Resources has always been a specialty of Richard Ray.

A sideways look, “But. You asked about the Horsemen. I’ll tell you what I suspect, but I’ve got a question for you afterwards.” Quid pro quo.

There’s a silent judgment at Richard in that he has a way to contact Sabra, but it remains unvoiced. Noah pulls his hands out of his pockets, crossing his arms over his chest and tilting his head to the side, one brow raised.

“If you say time travel,” Noah’s voice has an understandable resentment in it, “I swear to god…”

A quiet chuckle stirs past Richard’s lips, his head tilting back to look at the sky. “No, no time travel,” he replies, “It’s much stranger than that, I’m afraid. Did you know that my mother was a hypercognitive?”

Silence for a moment as he gazes at the stars, “Smartest person on the planet. Died in ‘eighty two. Thompson fucked up— panicked when one of her projects started working. Scared her into the street. Car hit her. Dead on impact. Abraham… compartmentalized the project, but the Institute dug it up at some point.” A hint of bitterness, through all that.

“Somewhere, Bennet, there’s a place where the Shanti-Rage virus was released across the world, because Phoenix didn’t stop them. Somewhere there’s a place that Project Apollo failed, and people stand on the beaches of thirty-fourth street. Somewhere there’s a place where I founded the Institute.” Somewhere there’s a place where Richard Cardinal was actually born.

“Project Looking Glass… could reach those places.” He tips his head back, looking over, “I think someone’s recreated it. I think these dead Vanguard come from a place where they won.”

Narrowing his eyes, Noah reaches up and takes his glasses off again. This time it isn’t so much to clean them, as it is to massage the bridge of his nose where they’d been resting. He’s silent for a long while and only looks up to Richard once he’s ready to put his glasses back on and resume talking. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re right. The resurrected Vanguard from up north are from another… timeline.” The word ill-fits in Noah’s mouth. “It raises some questions. Well, it raises a lot of questions, but only a handful that matter in the moment.”

“First,” Noah motions with a finger in the air, “if that’s the case, what reality, did they come from? Is it where the Vanguard won? Because if so, there’s only three of them and they’re not what I’d call the most dangerous of the lot. Is it where the Vanguard lost? Are they refugees, fleeing from their own defeat?”

But then Noah furrows his brows, and looks back up to Richard. “Second, why the behavior change?” Once more, Noah motions with a finger into the air. “Sedro-Wooley has a large Evolved population, from what I’ve seen. Adults and children. Now, the Vanguard had Evolved operatives, but they weren’t always well-integrated and they certainly didn’t keep families and children.” The handful of child soldiers like Eileen Ruskin notwithstanding.

“Third,” Noah again motions with one hand, “is how did they get here? You say that your mother designed some sort of device. Let’s assume that’s the same across all these possibilities. Does that mean they’ve come from one where she’s alive, and the device didn’t get compartmentalized? Or is this also the handiwork of the Institute?”

That part elicits a raise of a brow from Noah. “The Institute had a major installation up north, one that was defended by a small army. Wolfhound killed nearly every single operative they had there, arrested the ones they didn’t kill. But the Institute’s been out here on the west coast since before I was out here. People like April and Cyrus have been fighting them for a long time. If…” Noah motions vaguely with one hand, “if they had the capability to open doorways between worlds, why them? Why this situation?”

Drawing in a deep breath, Noah tucks his hands into his pockets and begins to pace again. “Once you start opening up the possibility of other realities,” and it sounds like he hasn’t fully accepted that notion yet, “the possibilities for the account of things starts expanding exponentially. My question to you is, how much do we actually know about the device your mother designed?”

“These are all very good questions. I mean, they could also be evil robot clones, but— ” Richard’s lips twitch into a smirk, “— I don’t believe in coincidences. These duplicates showing up right after all this information falls into my lap? You’re right, though. Iago, the Butcher, Danko… they weren’t the worst.”

One hand comes up, fingers rubbing between his eyes, “I don’t have answers. That’s why we’re going in. And… not a lot, Bennet, that’s the answer to that question. Not a lot. I’ve been digging but Caspar’s hidden all the graves.”

His hand drops, and he looks skyward. “A heavy Evolved populace… that’s not Vanguard, you’re right. The Institute did partition off their projects and experimental areas, but, so close? I don’t know. Think, Richard. Who else is on the table right now. Praxis? Monroe?”

“Or worse,” Noah offers worrisomely, “none of the above.” His brows raise at that notion, and his posture slacks just a little. “There isn’t much worse than an entirely new enemy. But then,” his head tilts to the side, “what if we’re both looking at things from the wrong perspective?”

Circling Richard, Noah looks out to the minimal lights coming from the town and motions in that direction. “If there’s multiple timelines, it stands to reason there’s one where the EMP didn’t black out the west coast, where the lights we see there are brighter.” Noah regards Richard out of his peripheral vision. “Now, wouldn’t it be equally possible that there’s a timeline out there…”

Noah turns to look northward, toward the dark. “Where there never was a Vanguard? One where the people didn’t become the monsters we know?” With a sigh, Noah settles his attention back on Richard. “We live in a world of impossibilities. Without hard facts… anything is possible.”

“Hn.” A thoughtful sound, Richard’s head turning towards the other man - a faint smile tugging up at the corner of his lips. “I hadn’t thought of that. There’d have to be, somewhere…. although Danko did just blow someone’s head off back in New York, so I’m guessing that they aren’t a bunch of Care Bears after all. Still.”

He chuckles, “It’s a nice thought.”

“So we’ll just have to go find out, I guess. Nothing like field work to get some good solid intel,” he admits, “Find out who the hell they are, who’s behind them, and what we need to do about it. If anything.”

Nodding, Noah looks over to Richard. “Therein lies the question… One I’ll leave you with, and one you should think about.” Starting to walk back toward the lights of Snoqualmie, Noah pauses and looks back at Richard. “When you have someone from another timeline, and they cross over to somewhere else… how much of that person is you? How much of you is in that person?”

Noah looks away, shoulders rising. “It’s easy to dismiss them as someone else, because of the different life experiences. But science isn’t even clear, on whether it’s nurture, or nature that defines a person, or a mix of both. Maybe this Emile Danko isn’t a member of Humanis First, but does that inherently change his capacity for cruelty?”

Noah keeps walking, leaving Richard with one last thought. “How much of the angel Lucifer is still in the Devil?”

“…and how much of the Devil was there all along?”

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