No Grow


cardinal_icon.gif ghost2_icon.gif

Scene Title No Grow
Synopsis Cardinal cultivates hardy plants and a tenuous relationship with the man who was responsible for the worst of his recentmost episode of torture.
Date June 29, 2009

Staten Island — Between Here And There

It is dark like night time.

It's a hot night in the city; the skies are overcast with slowly milling clouds that threaten rain but primarily seem to hold the humidity and heat in the air down upon New York City, an oppressive sort of heat that brings steam roiling up from the sewers and sets tempers on edge. The weather, perhaps, knows something of the atmosphere of the city, of the country, has listened to the secrets whispered through the air to ready itself for what's coming this summer.

The silhouette of a man stands on the edge of a building, one foot up upon the ledge, gazing down at the river of moving light that is the street some stories below. A phone's flicked open in his hand, brought up to where the luminous display casts its light on the side of Richard Cardinal's face, thumb depressing send on the most recent number entered into his contacts list. A signal bounces from the phone to a tower, from tower to satellite - and down again to find another.

Ping-ping. Two rings in, the call connects, lights up circuitry and the little white window on the front of the ghost's cellphone. He lifts up a hand, waves it back and forth a few times to shut up the other occupants of his head; whether by virtue of deferential social obligation or because the sudden shift of brain chemistry eats up too much canvas, leaves too little for them to work with.

It's quiet, inside and out, by the time he levers the device open with his thumb.

"I was just about to look you up," comes the greeting, a voice aged a decade past what Richard might have been expecting, but carrying the same fluent, peculiarly too-perfect, neutral accent and easy cadence that Teo has always spoken English with. "What can I do for you?"

"What should I call you?"

The response is neutral as well, quiet, the mood and tempo carefully restrained to avoid giving any hint of emotion behind it. Still, it's not perfect. There's a harder edge to it these days, something darker than once remembered. If he remembers. The shadow's often forgotten by many, moreso in the future that will now never come to be.

"You're not Laudani behind those eyes, so I'm not going to call you that."

There's a brief but biting measure of silence for that, objection or contradiction quelled in the interest of practicality. I am, too, Teo. Unseen, he bares his teeth in a hyena's grin; unheard, there's an outgust of breath. "Ian," he answers. "Ghost, or Teo. Whichever appeals more to the dynamic poetry of your inner-life. Sorry about the other week.

"If I'd remembered who you were, I wouldn'tve told him the truth." There isn't enough give to his voice when he says that, none of the soppy saline moisture that tends to make Teo's big-eyed apologies glisten slightly when held up to white light for examination. It's true. Cardinal had chosen, in large part, to delete himself from the lives of his peers, let himself get eaten up by some function of his personality or his power. Maybe that is an existential point upon which the two men could commiserate. Probably not.

"What can I do for you?" he repeats, but his voice is slightly different now; genuine curiosity. Richard's slowness to deny the question is a hint faint in the dark.

"If you'd remembered." A question to it, almost. He's known, then, to whoever this is, whatever entity or personage lurks behind Teodoro Laudani's eyes. It's an academic question, however, and not one that Richard lingers overlong upon. A tour bus drives past below, followed by unseeing eyes in its garish lights, the drunken shouts of its passengers following behind it.

"I don't care about the other week," he says. It's a lie. He does care. It's just that he can set it aside for the moment, for matters more important to him. "Consider it repayment for deeds not yet done." Two hundred forty-five thousand and one. It's the one that's important.

"You stole the samples of the formula that Dean brought back from the future. Why?"

If he'd remembered. Ghost doesn't repeat after himself; that would be inane and unnecessary. It's self-evident that Richard heard him. No further explanation is forthcoming. He hates saying, 'I'm from the future' out loud. It sounds completely ridiculous— like he should be a cartoony personality popped out of a floppy swirl vortex someone had slapped up on a wall, wearing spandex and a watch with a tiny holographic woman standing on the top.

No, he hadn't remembered. He figures Cardinal's lying about not caring, though. Most of the time, when Ghost says things like that, he's lying too.

"I don't know if peace is the repayment, or your pending revenge," he answers. He stretches 'revenge' out a little bit, 'revennnnge,' kind of like he's making fun, but mostly for emphasis. "But I get it." Other shit being more important. "It wasn't safe where it was. It doesn't matter unless it gets into the wrong hands, anyway, and it was going to." Quaver-beat.

Amusement discolors the accusation: "You shouldn't know about it. Just goes to fucking show, doesn't it, Richard?" Ghost's breath fogs glass where he is. He draws a finger through it, a rubbering noise of skin on moisture, not loud enough to carry. He scribbles indistinct shapes, illustrating nothing, or maybe his best guess at Cardinal's mood.

A hollow chuckle stirs on the other man's lips at the accusation, humor-graced as it is. "I make it a point to know things, little spectre," he replies quietly, a twist of some private if dark amusement on his voice, "As it happens, though, I agree with your chain of logic there. She never should've brought them back in the first place."

The matter of revenge isn't elaborated upon. The meaning behind his words is private, and likely meaningless to anyone save himself in any case. "Phoenix isn't a secure organization. They're too… political. Making too many compromises." A pause. "Why haven't you destroyed it?"

"The wrong compromises, maybe," Ghost suggests. "That's a little bit pot and kettle for you to be talking about too many."

Either the ghost really doesn't remember much about Richard Cardinal at all, or he's come to recall — likely, more than the erstwhile shadowmorph would be strictly comfortable with. There was a time when Cardinal was more of a thief and a liar than anything else, and you wouldn't talk to him about fighting for the principles of things unless you were trying to be funny.

"I haven't destroyed it because the benefits outweigh the costs as-is. One or five more Evolved in the world isn't going to tip the scales I'm concerned about, even if there are some pretty fucking catastrophic abilities vailable out there." Hello, Samantha. "Could be useful. The Formula's replication is the fulcrum— the recipe, fabrication, steady supply. There's no social or political entity on this Godforsaken that I particularly trust right now to wield that power.

"Especially not the ones who we currently see trying."

"So long as it exists," Cardinal retorts, with a surprising amount of vehemence, "There's the possibility of replication. Use it or lose it; I don't care which, so long as it's not out there anymore. I've sacrificed too much to make that impossible to let some asshole who thinks he knows what he's doing fuck things up and hand the future back over to Arthur before everything's in place. I wouldn't risk that from Dean if she still had the stuff, I won't risk that from the other person who has a sample, and I damn well won't risk that from you." Almost vicious, his tone, emotion tearing it into almost a hiss. A snake in the shadow, baring its fangs for once.

A breath. He brings his new hand up, fresh and pink, untanned, to rub against the side of his face, as he gathers himself, eyes closed. "You just need to make one mistake to fuck up all the plans in place. Don't risk that. Get rid of it."

There's a tinny, hard-shelled rap-rap of what is probably knuckles on glass and then, with all of the grace of a particularly suave chainsaw, Ghost responds, "Shut the fuck up, Richard."

It isn't very polite. One of maybe five things Teo grew out of as he grew old.

"Maybe when you've been part of the fucking future where Arthur wins, or party to a plan which saves six billion human beings and millennias' worth of human culture from extinction, you can tell me what to do and expect no fucking questions asked. You have no fucking idea how high the stakes could be next time someone needs the Formula. Until then, why don't you share with the fucking class?"

Ghost's voice is so brittle, it's probably grating out from the ground white halves of a smile. The next moment, there's a faded beat's silence. And, "Who else has a sample?"

A laugh. Short. Hard. Brittle. Puzzle pieces click together behind dark eyes. "I know more than you think, Laudani. You aren't the only special snowflake in the world, not the only castaway from a time that isn't going to happen anymore. I'm part of the solution, part of the plan as you put it. As for sharing… why? You aren't. The remainder of the formula is being handled; worry about more important things."

"I didn't say I wasn't sharing," comes the rejoinder, flat, this time with distinct irritation. "Phoenix thinks she needs your help. That's your in, right there. I have no fucking doubt I have more important things to wory about then the Formula.

"Like killing Arthur Petrelli," because there isn't any point in pretending that wouldn't be lots and lots of awesome fun anymore, "but you don't get to make such requests," he enunciates this clearly, in case Cardinal was confused, "with no better qualifer than your genius. I'm not sure if you're up-to-date on recent events, but 'what happens' and 'your plan' don't always fall in line. There was an incident."

"I'm not the one who makes the plans," replies Richard, a rough and dismissive snort of breath mingling with the words as punctuation, "I just do what needs doing, little ghost. At least they seem to aim at the same goal, although I'm fairly certain the one I'm following is more likely to reach it than whatever your genius is leading you towards." A pause, then, silent consideration before he asks, "Which incident is that? There's been several."

Ghost's end of the line grows rigid. Ices over, uncomfortably, as if an icelock suddenly rimed the mouthpiece. "Cardinal." This time, the name isn't spoken with the curl of a sneer or the molar-chafing annoyance that frequently characterizes the solitary old soldier when he's talking to whelp in this time and age, but a flattering note of genuine alarm. "Who the fuck have you been talking to? I'm not following any —"

What the fuck? Fuck. What had Cardinal said, just now? 'You're not the only castaway —' Retroactively, if hopefully not too tardily, recognition and suspicion click into focus, framed in steel and polished to the harsh acuity of a macro lens. "Cardinal, sweetheart, if you think I'm a treacherous fucking bastard with a deranged sense of acceptable losses —"

"I'd rather gathered that," comes the response; dry and flat, without a hint of humor to it outside of the cynical. To which comment or question that statement is, well, it could apply to either. Or, more likely, both. "You'll fail, little Ghost. History has inertia. The future wants to happen."

Incredulity spikes Ghost's snort with something nearly bright enough to pass for laughter. It isn't that, though. Not exactly. "If you believe that, you're really getting your orders from the wrong man, Richard. And you might as well start rolling the Formula over to Pinehearst in kegs. What the fuck has he told you?" There's a creak of cloth, a settling sound.

Ghost's shoulder thumps up against the frame of the window as he seats himself on the sill, a heel digging absentmindedly into the panelling and plaster of the wall, with little if any thought given to how it might hold up to its abuse. Another circumstance in which he contrasts to his younger analogue, who had an odd habit of placing himself in a room as if his hands and ankles were cuffed by the pernicious awareness that he might accidentally hurt it. "Edward?"

A boot slides down from the edge of the building's rooftop with a rasp of rubber against brick, and Cardinal paces slowly across the rooftop; pausing beside one of his plants, fingers pressing into the earth packed into the ceramic pot to test its moisture. Unsatisfied, he starts a casual ambling over to where a bucket of water sits beside the fire escape.

"I'm really not as stupid as you think," he replies, his tone almost— tired, resigned for some reason, "I don't trust the man as far as I can throw him, no, and I'm sure he'll stab me in the back the first chance he gets. But there's more than one way to look ahead to the future, little ghost. Eddie's probabilities is one of them, sure, but there're others. It's a hobby I've picked up recently. Paintings. Visions. You want Arthur Petrelli dead? He's going to die." Flat. Cold. There's raw hatred in his tone when he speaks of the man. "I guaran-fucking-tee it, so long as one of you other wildcards don't fuck things up."

This time— Ghost might even admit that was something he didn't know. The painting trick, that is. His left eyebrow hoops up; he glances up at the ceiling from which a sudden frenetic spray of bodily thumping comes through the plaster, setting of a shimmer of movement through the lighting fixtures. "If you know the first fucking thing about prophetic paintings, then you know they don't conform to plans.

"Not Edward's, not fucking anyone's. For all you know, the outcome you've seen on that canvas, or inside your bright bird brain hinges on wildcards, and you'd have no fucking way to tell until you were standing over Athur's fat, gray corpse. Never mind the subjective interpretation of that art— it's fucking irritation bullshit, let me tell you. Made a few friends of mine dead, once." That's probably a little bit passing off the blame and unfair, but you wouldn't really expect less from the spook, these days.

His eyes hood. A flare of empty air sheets across the phone line. "I don't think Doctor Ray's going to stab you in the back, Cardinal. He's just going to throw you under the fucking bus if there's a three percent chance that'll work better than keeping you alive."

"So," asks Cardinal, his tone dry, "Your plan to run around like a chicken with its head cut off is a better one? Oh— wait— sorry, my bad. You shoved yourself into a different chicken after cutting its head off. That's much better."

A faint, brittle humor threads through his voice now, mingling with the soft spatter of water spilling over dry earth. "You don't think I know that? Unfortunately… I don't think that he will. Just make sure the fucking vials don't get to Pinehearst, god damn it. At least the one thing I know right now is that Arthur can't custom build himself an army of synthetic superhumans to throw at us."

For once, Ghost does his thinking in silence. Decides, after a moment— really, he might as well tell. Even if Richard's actually doing a little bit of oblique digging, there's enough pyrite to share between the two of them. "The plan is fluid. I'm going to cross-check between your Edward Ray, the sweeter-tempered one he's been trying to murder— who's staying with me, and the most powerful precog in the world.

"'Nd them I'm going to have Arthur killed. Again," he adds, after a moment, a little blankly. "Don't worry your little head: Pinehearst isn't getting the vials. I don't know what the fucking plan is, for after that. Are— you pissing? I can call back later."

"W-What? No! No, I'm watering my fucking plants, you bloody temporal parasite," Cardinal replies in sharp, startled tones that carry quite a bit of offense, proving that he's either been browsing a dictionary in his spare time or has some Heinlein and Clarke books stashed away somewhere in his private library. The sound of water stops, followed by the hollow clump of a plastic vase down on something, "I don't— I don't even want to know why your mind went there, Jesus Christ."

After a moment, he asks curiously, "Which precognitive is that, exactly? I didn't think they came with little labels that give them ratings."

Ha ha— bloody temporal what? Ghost has to swallow a laugh, but Cardinal can probably hear it anyway. "Sorry," he answers, unrepentant as anything. "Just— Americans, you know." Are disgusting. "I didn't know you garden. That's fucking adorable." Possibly not the most reassuring compliment from the most soothing of company. Click click, is Ghost's pinkie-nail tapping on the perforated plastic of the phone's flat.

"If you'd met her, you'd know who I was talking about. Care to?"

"It was an extracurricular activity at Riker's," Cardinal states, and the roll of his eyes is quite audible in his voice. A slightly thoughtful grunt of breath rakes across the speaker of the phone, then, and silence falls for long moments as he considers the offhanded offer.

"Sure. Fair warning; I see John, I'm splattering his brains across the floor."

Maybe Teo should have taken up gardening. Probably would have made him a lot calmer over the course of the intervening years. He scuffs long fingers through the bristly hair at the back of his scap, furrowing his fingers into the small hollow at the base of his head. "Might suit your delicate sensibilities a little bit better to keep your fucking eyes closed then, if you get my meaning. Far as the sibyl goes, though—

"I don't think you'll have to worry about him. I'll give you a call tomorrow. Evening suits you better, doesn't it?"

"I don't care what you're doing with him, honestly. After this is over, assuming we're all still standing… he's a fucking dead man." It's said calmly and steadily, a statement of a considered fact rather than opinion. "Psalm fifty-eight ten."

A rustle of clothing is audible as he sits, easing himself down to the edge of a grow box, and his voice is briefly obscured as his palm rubs against his mouth and the side of his face, fingers pressing there lightly. "Mmhm. Always been nocturnal. I'll expect your call, then."

An alligator would have better luck understanding the complaints of a three-limbed monkey. An eyebrow loops higher on his forehead; he resists the urge to pick at Cardinal over the distance of the phone, and to dig at the stitches still healing across his belly. "Someone is," Ghost acknowledges, lightly. He pulls his shirt flat again with a grip of knuckles on the hem. "Okay."

A silence wedges itself in here between his words, an island in the deluge of fierce criticism, scolding, dick-measuring and varying scatology. "Buona sera, Richard. Stay good." A slight dig of his thumb, and the line cuts out with a flare of red light through the disconnect button.

As the subtle whisper of the open line gives way to the dead silence of disconnection, Richard pulls the phone away— considering it for a moment, then snapping it closed to tuck into a pocket. "I think I liked the pussy better," he mutters under his breath as he reaches for the watering vase, "At least he knew who his friends were."

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