It Means You're Dead


cardinal_icon.gif evan_icon.gif

Scene Title It Means You're Dead
Synopsis A lost wallet's returned, as well as a request for a professional consultation.
Date July 3, 2010

Columbia - Professor Langford's Office

With the lingering effects of the freak extended winter mostly taken care of by now - and that mostly by facilities staff - things at Columbia have settled down to their usual summer lull. Evan isn't scheduled for any classes until the second half of the term - a reward for sticking it out through the spring - and while he's been on campus a couple times, and helped out with a protest at one point, this is the first time in weeks he's actually stopped by his office.

His collection of textbooks still only fills half the bookshelf, the rest of the space taken up by old assignment papers. There's some trash and dust; looks like facilities hasn't touched the room for a while, either. And there's some voicemail waiting… probably just telemarketers or wrong numbers, but he'd better run through them, just in case.

It isn't long after the professor steps into his office that the door opens again - as if his presence were predicted, or he was followed across the campus - and Richard Cardinal casually steps inside. A grey t-shirt beneath a leather jacket in spite of the weather's warmth, denim jeans. A pair of sunglasses, wrap-around and oil-slick black, perched upon his nose.

"Professor … Langford … I presume?" The name's read off the identification in a wallet that may seem rather familiar, though the title must have come from somewhere else. A twitch of his lips, and he waggles the wallet in one hand after closing it, "Dropped your wallet."

"Ah!" Caught off guard, Evan punches the wrong button on the phone, cutting off a female voice just as it starts talking— dammit, he'll have to think back to it later, see if he can place the voice. Meanwhile, he turns and regards the familiar face from the train. Not a cutpurse after all, then. "I am. And I did, thank you— the credit card's been canceled already, but it'll be good to have the rest of it back." He reaches to retrieve it, brow furrowing in thought. "You passed out that day, too, if I remember correctly. Any interesting visions?"

"You might say that. Yourself?" The wallet's handed over easily enough - nothing missing from it, not even any cash that was tucked in there - and Cardinal steps along past the other man to walk along into the office, towards the desk. His head tilts a little, gaze swept over the textbooks, musing, "Game theory. Interesting subject."

After a quick glance, Evan drops the wallet into a desk drawer to be dealt with later. "I've always liked it," he replies, before leaning back in his chair and frowning. "Actually, I got… nothing. Literally, I mean there was a sense of nothing, somehow— not just black or quiet or numb or anything. I haven't figured out what to make of it."

"Hm." Cardinal's head tilts a bit, looking to Evan over the edge of his shades before looking back to the books, "Probably means that, by that particular point on November Eighth, you were dead." After a beat, he asks, "You really understand this game theory stuff?"

Evan shoots Cardinal a look. "I certainly hope so, I'm teaching it again in the fall—" And the school isn't in the habit of slapping just anyone behind a lectern. "What do you mean dead? That could just as easily have been someone projecting random dream imagery. Right?" Most of the visions point to an unpleasant future - maybe worse than what the city's already been through, maybe not - but really, how much more personal can it get?

"Oh, no." Cardinal straightens from looking over the books, and he tilts his head to one side, then the other, popping his vertebrae with a slight wince before looking back to him through those unreadable shades, "I know exactly what happened on the tenth, and it wasn't just… random dream imagery. It was the result of pairing up a power augmentor with a projective precognitive — possibly some other factors, we're not sure yet. So. Yeah. In that timeline, you were probably dead." A pause, "Good news is, that's not necessarily the case anymore."

"That is good news," replies Evan, considering. The guy knows specifics— or at least there's no obvious reason for him to lie about it. And he mentioned a 'we' of some sort. "If you don't mind my asking, how do you know all this? I'd like to knock the 'necessarily' out of the equation, you understand."

A brief grin tugs up at the corner of Cardinal's lips. "I imagine you would," he murmurs, reaching over to tap a finger to the spine of one of the texts, "Tell me - you ever read anything by a guy named Edward Ray? Taught at MIT until a couple years ago. Mathematician and theoretical physicist, your sort of line of work, really…"

Evan scratches at his chin, turning to follow Cardinal's gaze. "I've been working more with the civil engineering department, lately. Too specialized to teach a full course on it— Anyway, I don't have any of his books that I know of. There's some math and physics journals on the bottom shelf, might be some of his papers in there. So what's he been doing the past couple years?"

"Turning theory into practice." Cardinal's statement may seem absurd on the face of things, one hand raising up to scratch under his chin as he admits, "Let me toss you a theoretical question, Prof. Assuming all… million or two, or three, visions that people had were snapshots of a particular day in time, a day where things had gone really wrong… what would be the best way of figuring out how to stop what happened?"

A lot of things seem absurd with the advent of the Evolved, which doesn't mean they actually are. "The best way?" Evan gestures with his hands as he talks, invisible lines cutting through the air between them. "Trace back cause and effect from that day to the present day, locate the most crucial turning point - or points - you can, then make sure those points turn away from the wrong direction. Now a practical question— can you and your, ah, group actually do that?"

"Who said I had a, ah, group?" Cardinal shrugs one shoulder, admitting, "Of course, purely theoretically, there are precognitives and seers by the handful scattered around. Now, putting that aside… given the number of extremely powerful Evolved in the country, it seems fairly improbable that there haven't been any… society-shattering events since Midtown, doesn't it? The Statue of Liberty hasn't been crashed to the ground by anti-registration fanatics, the government isn't making the Evolved disappear into a massive secret prison, and the world hasn't been drowned in a massive flood…" A pause, "Not that any of that's likely, of course."

Evan turns sideways, draping one arm over the back of his chair. One of the few advantages of not having one of the fancy high-backed ones is that you can actually do that with it. "And it hasn't frozen to death, either, but someone was sure trying like hell. Or lost control in a big way. But it isn't realistic to put the seers aside, is it? If one of them sees a shatter point coming, warns the right people—"

"— action could be taken," Cardinal completes the sentence, before admitting in wry tones, "Of course, the trick is figuring out how to change it without making things worse. And whether or not you can live with what has to happen to change them." A quirk of a smile, "Of course, that's all theoretical. I doubt there's anyone who takes that sort of idea seriously."

At that, the frown from earlier returns. "If you're guessing - or just projecting your wants as so-called needs - then no." Evan hasn't forgotten the previous month's microwaving incident. "But if you know? Then the question is whether you can live with not changing it."

Reaching into the drawer, he flips through the wallet and takes out a business card, passing it across the desk to Cardinal. (He has more of those than he'll use up in a decade; there's an entire nearly-full box sitting next to the staple remover.) "I doubt," he echoes dryly.

As the card's offered over, Cardinal reaches out to take it between two fingers. "Now, as a purely… theoretical exercise," he observes mildly as he reads over the card, glancing back up, "I've got people gathering up as many visions in as much detail as they can get, and working to… reconstruct what happens on that day. I don't suppose you might be interested in volunteering some of your time to help work through it all? It's quite the mess."

"I'll be busy with classes again in a couple weeks," Evan answers, "and especially come September. Still, it's four months out yet, and I've got a vested interest in the subject; I'm sure I can manage something." The non-vision might not have foretold his death, and even if it did, it might have already been averted… but he's not at all comfortable living in doubt.

"We're currently acquiring a building for our company," Cardinal admits easily, "I'll give you a call, you can at least glance over what we've got. Who knows— " An easy shrug as he turns to step towards the door, "— might interest you more than you know."

"Might," Evan agrees, rising to his feet to see Cardinal out, "we'll see. Thank you for stopping by." What's this company going after, besides large-scale survival? Oh well, he'll burn that bridge when he comes to it.

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