Lex Talionis


cardinal_icon.gif sal_icon.gif

Scene Title Lex Talionis
Synopsis Cardinal and Sal discuss retribution, vigilantism, secrets, plastic surgery, and real estate.
Date July 30, 2009

New York Public Library

Once upon a time, the New York Public Library was one of the most important libraries in America. The system, of which this branch was the center, was among the foremost lending libraries /and/ research libraries in the world.

The bomb changed that, as it changed so much else.

By virtue of distance, the library building was not demolished entirely, like so many others north of it; however, the walls on its northern side have been badly damaged, and their stability is suspect. The interior is a shambles, tattered books strewn about the chambers and halls, many shelves pulled over. Some have even been pulled apart; piles of char in some corners suggest some of their pieces, as well as some of the books, have been used to fuel fires for people who sought shelter here in the past.

In the two years since the bomb, the library — despite being one of the icons of New York City — has been left to decay. The wind whistles through shattered windows, broken by either the blast-front or subsequent vandals, carrying dust and debris in with it. Rats, cats, and stray dogs often seek shelter within its walls, especially on cold nights. Between the fear of radiation and the lack of funds, recovery of the library is on indefinite hiatus; this place, too, has been forgotten.

Most of the others have either moved on to their business and work, or are still checking out other parts of the library after their initial search of the former headquarters of Phoenix, and of Edward Ray, at different moments in time. Cardinal remains, however, currently crouching beside some gasoline-powered generators stacked in a side room, looking them over with a thoughtful eye and adjusting some of the cables to look beneath them.

"I think with a few extra parts I can get these going," he muses, "Maybe Tuck's got something stuffed on a shelf somewhere…"

Sal did his share of looking around, now he's made his way back to Cardinal. "You seem to have a weird relationship with Edward. First you wanted to kill him, now you trust notes he left from beyond the grave." Although he knows nothing about generators, he kneels in front of it just the same and examines its guts.

The answer to that is silence at first, Cardinal's fingers tracing along rusty fasteners before pulling back, rocking to his heels and slanting a look back to the other man. "Edward…" A pause, "…he had a good cause, but the ends don't always justify the means. I'm not even sure if I wouldn't've backed him if I knew everything he was planned. It wasn't entirely what I thought. Maybe— maybe I would've." He rubs one hand over the side of his face, "He killed a friend of mine, though, and blood calls for blood."

"Lex talionis," says Sal. Being a doctor, the latin rolls easily off his tongue. "The law of retaliation." He straightens, eyebrows raising. "Didn't do the Greeks or Romans any good, from what I recall. Blood for blood for blood. It's a whole gory cycle. Someone has to let go."

"I don't know about that," Cardinal replies, a touch wryly, "Rome conquered the world, after all. It was when they let themselves slow down, grow fat and weak on decadence, that's when they fell." He gives his head a shake, then, "Edward fuckin' deserved to die, though. I just wish I'd killed him that night on the pier. Would've saved at least one life."
"Rome didn't conquor the world with lex talionis though. And the Greeks, who pioneered the concept, were conquored by Rome." Ah, the doctorate speaks. Sal opens his mouth to argue more about the death of the Romans, but there doesn't seem to be a reason to. "My point is, even the Greeks had written cautionary tales about the dangers of eye for an eye type justice. The person who seeks justice always ends up with dirty hands. And the wrong of killing a person then has to be righted. It's endless and destructive. And…" he purses his lips. "…not entirely applicable here. But I think even vigilantism can be smart."

"I know, I know…" Cardinal's hand comes up to ward off the doctor's words, his lips twisting in a grimace as he averts his eyes, "…I don't— don't kill easy, doc. Can number the times on one hand, I think, if I tried. It's messy business, and I'm not fond of it. But sometimes it's necessary." Quietly, he adds, "And better my hands than someone who doesn't deserve to dirty theirs."

"The Teo who returned from the future believed in retribution. Edward Ray believed in the greater good. I think in order to be a good man, you have to fall somewhere in between. And it's hard to know where." Sal struggles to walk the line himself - well, not that line exactly, but a line nonetheless. "There's doing what needs to be done because no one else can, and then there's going to town with a machete."
He purses his lips thoughtfully. "I want to be honest with you about something. Well. A couple of things. First, I did a background check on you. I know what your priors are, what warrants you have out. And I'm not going to turn you in. There's men who are guilty of worse, and I have a feeling you're a bit too busy trying to save people right now to break into the homes of socialites. I hope you don't feel like that was an invasion, but I needed to know if I could trust you."

The confession's listened to with a tilt of Cardinal's head… and then he exhales a low chuckle of breath, that head shaking a bit. "I didn't talk to people because I wanted mindless thugs and followers, Sal," he points out, gesturing vaguely with one hand before letting it fall down to his knee, "If you weren't smart enough to look into me, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I told you— " He grins a bit, "— information's where the power is, these days."

"Which is exactly why I keep my information close to my chest. I have secrets, Richard. Secrets that can't get out. But I can't like and keep up facades all the time. It's possible some things will come out about me. And I need to know that you won't tell anyone." Sal's not blackmailing him, but there is the unspoken knowledge that he knows what Cardinal is wanted for. It's not a threat, it's simply acknowledging that they both will know things about each other that could be damaging.

"We all have secrets." It's a statement of fact, said as if to question it would be absurd, and Cardinal pushes himself up from his crouched posture and stretches, both hands bracing at the small of his back as he does so— grunting a little, as his backbone pops and crackles a bit. Once he relaxes, he looks back to the man seriously, "And I won't reveal any've yours unless not doing so would endanger lives, or somethin' similar. I imagine you'll treat mine the same."

Sal flashes a smile, but it doesn't quite reach his eyes. "I don't have any secrets like that, Cardinal. This, what I'm doing with you? Is the biggest mark I've got on my record." Well. Except for maybe getting a bartender shot. But that was entirely an accident. What he does now, he does knowing his hands are likely to get dirty. And then, "I can change other people the same way I change myself. I touch you, I can look like you, or I can make someone else look like you. The shift is permanent until I change them back. Power suppressors won't affect it. The only way to find the person's real identity is with a DNA test."

"Huh." Cardinal's brows raise a little as he considers that, "That's… a useful little trick there, in case someone needs to disappear, or infiltrate somewhere." He adds after a moment's thought, wry, "…or a nasty way to fuck someone over."

"The new face that Teo had for awhile was my doing. If you met him. I'd imagine he went by a different name, at least some of the time." That's a sure sign that Sal is getting better, that he's getting past things with his former lover. He can talk about him without his throat closing up. "Deformity is a side effect, if I go too fast."

"I had wondered where he'd picked up the new face," admits the former thief, one hand rubbing at the side of his neck, "That's… yeah, that's pretty fuckin' useful. I'll keep it in mind."
"He had so many people convinced that he was the Teo who belonged here and was fooling everyone. Even those who did know what he really was were forgetting he had someone trapped in his head." Sal frowns off at the wall. "…I didn't want people to look at him and see Teo. I don't know if it helped or hurt in the long run, but at least a distinction was made. If nothing else, I think the cops think his crime spree was done by a shapeshifter or a bodysnatcher." He flares his nostrils. "Anyway. Keep that part under your hat unless it's necessary to use it. I'm pretty sure Liz already knows. Even if she doesn't, because of her position in Phoenix, I trust her."

"Consider it tucked under my hat." Richard gives his head a tight shake, reaching out to clap a hand to Sal's shoulder in a brief, reassuring squeeze, "And I think you made the right call there. God knows I got fucked over 'cause of his face…" He turns, stepping out of the side room to muse aloud, "I think this could make a decent headquarters, cleaned up a bit…"

"If you need money, let me know. At least…before you go stealing it," says Sal with a small grin. He looks around the library, up at the ceiling, then down to the floor. "Location sucks. No view from the street. Price on the rent is right."

A laugh, at that, and Cardinal heads towards the main room that they'd first investigated, hands sweeping to either sides as he observes, "It's got history. I'll take it."

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