Ouroboros, Part V


adel2_icon.gifaria2_icon.gif brian_icon.gif df_cardinal2_icon.gif cardinal_icon.gif colette_icon.gif edgar_icon.gif elle_icon.gif huruma_icon.gif jaiden_icon.gif lashirah_icon.gif lucille3_icon.gif monica_icon.gifnicole4_icon.gif peyton2_icon.gif ryans3_icon.gif warren_icon.gif

Scene Title Ouroboros, Part V
Synopsis We have come full circle; from the beginning, to the end.
Date November 8, 2011

Mount Natazhat Complex

A long time ago, Richard Cardinal was released from prison. His worst problems were finding work, dodging curfew, and using his ability to commit petty larceny. He was a burglar, a thief, and somehow inherited a predestination that lead down all possible roads, to this minute, in this time.


As Cardinal’s eyes open, he finds himself in a red-lit hell that is either his final reward for a life of life-altering choices, or another step on a long and agonizing journey. Wherever he is, it’s colder than it was on the Alaskan surface. There’s a chill in the air, like a refrigeration unit. His limbs ache, small and snapping arcs of red lightning course over his fingertips as he pushes himself up to his knees. His Horizon armor lays scattered around him, pieces broken off in — the collapse.


Looking up, Cardinal sees no hole in the ceiling. There is just a slouched pile of concrete and steel debris, a blaring alarm klaxon, and flashing red light in a cylindrical tunnel frosted with ice. The tunnel curves, and there is a visible conduit on the inner ring, a three foot wide pipe that vibrates at a high enough frequency it makes his ears ring. A frosted label on the pipe reads, Particle Accelerator — Mjolnir 00-01 — Segment B. A chill, not one brought on by cold, but one brought on by dread, throbs in the back of his skull.


He’s freezing, cold to the bone, exhaling gouts of steam as breath. No gun, no functioning Horizon armor. The tunnel only goes one way, with the rubble at his back. It’s a metaphor for his life. It only goes one way.

No going back.

"…gotta stop waking up like this," groans Richard Cardinal as he shifts to sit up, grimacing as he realizes the state of his hard-won armor and starting to kick the pieces still on him off. It did its job, at least, and saved his life.

At least for now.

He takes in his surroundings slowly once he's straightened painfully up to his feet, fingers flexing by his side, tiny arcs of crimson lightning crackling between them, like an undeserved gift by a man thrice failed. Tyler Case. But it’s cold lightning, and brings no surcease from the temperature here.

"F-fuck," his teeth chatter together in the cold as he realizes just what that sound over the loudspeaker means, and then he pushes screaming muscles to move as he drops into a dead sprint down that one-way tunnel. Why is it always cold, in the end? First Antarctica, now here.

He half expects to find Francois down here somewhere. Dead, again. Memories and nightmares flashing through his mind, pushed savagely away by a dogged determination to survive this. He has people waiting for him. He has family now - sisters, a brother. He has Elisabeth. He has the ragged family that Endgame’s become. He has two beautiful children.

No going back. So he has to go forward.

The particle accelerator tunnel must begin and end at the Natazhat facility, Cardinal assumes, making his way through the gradually curving passage. In order to have fallen into it, and for the accelerator to have use. But, he wonders, where the arc traveled to. Now many miles of tunnel is he trapped in?

The cold is numbing, vents in the ceiling every twenty feet blast artificially cold air into the passage. Without the electronic components of the Horizon armor, its internal heating systems have gone cold, and Cardinal is rapidly shedding warmth. The ice down here is otherworldly looking, flaking away from the walls in bristling feather-like and delicate growths, all bled red from the emergency lighting.

A break in the tunnel up ahead comes in the shape of an alcove in the inner edge of the tunnel. A metal door set in place is partly ajar, and inside is a maintenance room for the technicians who must have staffed the facility. At a glance, Cardinal can see black winterized gear hanging in lockers. Fur-trimmed parkas, wind-resistant pants, high boots, snow goggles. As the cold sets into his bones, the clothing may be all that stands between life and death.

It doesn't matter how many miles there are, because Cardinal's fairly certain that he won't survive more than one if he doesn't find a way to conserve body heat. Memories surface from the final phase of Apollo, briefings warning about frostbite and hypothermia, half-remembered snatches of medical data that he shoves off to the side of his brain before they leave him gibbering in horror.

It's funny what you remember at times like this.

The sight of that cracked door has his heart racing in hope, and he throws the door open with fingers that he can barely feel before stumbling inside. Desperate fingers claw at the fur-trim of one of the parkas, and he starts to pull on the winterized gear, just dragging it over the bodysuit he was wearing beneath the Horizon gear earlier.

When the last glove is pulled on, past the scars left by Peter's grasp and the red-and-black bracelet of leather, he finally breathes out a relieved sigh against the scarf. It's something, at least, thank God, something.

Now he can worry about how many miles he has left to walk.

With a renewed sense of hope, even if just in personal warmth, Cardinal continues down the corridor. The automated messages continue to blare from loudspeakers, echo down the corridor, and come with a growing hum from the accelerator’s conduit. It's charging up, that much Cardinal can be sure of without a degree in particle physics. He recalls a conversation with Ronald Mallett, the device’s creator, where he off-handedly mentioned the kind of power it would take. The Large Hadron Collider came up, and Cardinal remembers the brief — and pointless — panic that it would unleash a strangelet that would rip the world asunder. It doesn't seem like such a far-fetched nightmare now.

As he walks, Cardinal feels something in his side. Something in one of the jacket’s buttoned pockets. A gloved hand searches, feels the curved handle of… a gun? No, not quite. Pulling it out of his pocket, Cardinal sees the orange handle of a flare gun. In this case, perhaps good enough.

Up ahead, he can hear a sound. Someone moving, shambling steps and labored breathing. A shadow cast on the curving wall of someone crouched down, struggling in the dim light.

It's him. He knows it.

A grim smile tugs at the corner of Cardinal's lips. Better than good enough. Against his own power, a flare gun is better than any mere handgun. Know thyself is the old adage, and he knows his own weaknesses better than anyone else.

He hears the sound of that heavy breathing, he hears those unsteady steps, and briefly has to wonder why he would be corporeal right now… and none of the reasons he comes up with are good.

A moment's pause, and then he pushes already-protesting muscles further, his arctic gear rustling against itself as he jogs down the curving passageway in the direction of that shadowy form, of that sound of movement. Red lightning arcs and spits from him now and then as he moves, casting stranger shadows along the walls, his body still not used to containing the new power that was so violently shoved into him.


The shadow moves up ahead, slinks out of sight, and Cardinal can hear the clunk thump of footsteps going up a flight of stairs. He isn't sure if he was spotted, or if he was quiet enough. Regardless, he pursues with the same adamancy as he had before. Around the corner, up a flight of stairs past the demolished chassis of the robot they'd fought outside the command center.


Each of Cardinal’s steps, one faster than the next, brings him up through an open bulkhead into a colossal domed chamber. Blue light throbs and hums, flashing from between three metallic rings spinning at different speeds and different angles around a large central machine bathed in light. Lasers sputter and spark, blasted apart by some sort of kinetic force, the same ones that have cracked the metal rings, causing them to wobble.


As Cardinal comes up into the partly flooded chamber of the Mallett Device, he can see in silhouette his alter-ego, and hears the click of keystrokes. He pushes a fallen coolant pipe out of the way to get a clear line of sight, looking up to see the sky beyond the demolished dome, a wavering black hole that was once Magnes Varlane churning above. The sound of scraping metal has Ezekiel jerking around, wincing from twisting the injury at his side. In the doorway of the chamber, through a haze of steam from the temperature differences inside and outside, Cardinal is a silhouette backlit by the red emergency lighting in the exterior corridor.


Tall, lean, dressed in a padded arctic survival suit, the intruder's black silhouette is almost as dark as Ezekiel’s own when he turns to living shadow. An arc of red lightning snaps off of the Richard Cardinal’s hand, crackling down to the floor and casting him in crimson shades. The machine wobbles, rings spinning rapidly and arcs of electricity blasting off to strike metal nodes around the walls of the room. Spitting up blood and slouching back against the computer terminal, Ezekiel's lips draw back from pink teeth into a feral smile.


"You almost had me."

There's silence from Richard Cardinal for a long heartbeat, the blue-white arcs of electricity reflecting off the polarized goggles he's wearing along with the crimson lightning that cracks and spits from him. Then his shoulders sink, a sigh breathed out against his scarf.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, Richard," he says, shaking his head slowly as he walks closer, stopping across from his future self and bringing his left hand up to push the goggles up, letting the other man see his face. Some blood crusted at the corner of his lips, chapped and cracking from his exposure to the cold, his eyes squinting a bit against the light. Unused to it, even

"I asked you a question, up there," he adds, voice lifting so it can be heard over the noise of the machine spinning up in the background, "What did it say? There was a note on Ronald Mallett's door when we showed up there. I don't think it was for me. I think it was for you."

"What did it say?"

Face to face with his younger self, Ezekiel is forced to consider an uncomfortable truth. The villain never considers himself as such, he is the hero of his own story. Now, surrounded by water tinged pink with blood, bodies soaking in six inches of ice cold death, he gives that notion due consideration.

“The way back, is closed.” Ezekiel breathes the words out, what the sign said for him. He stares at Cardinal, as if that should hold some meaning to them both. But it only proves something to Cardinal that he had been considering for some time.

It's the meaning of what the sign said when he got there. What was written for the Richard Cardinal of this time on Mallet’s door: Time is not a line. Either someone changed the sign, or two roads diverged in a wood further back than imagined.

“But, you're right,” Ezekiel admits. “The message — wasn't going to work. My road always ends here. Walter Trafford stood right where you are in our future. My failures are circles.” Sliding his tongue over his teeth, Cardinal exhales a ragged breath. “I’ll get it right next time.”

Overhead, the lasers of the Mallet device wobble and grind together as they spin. Bit the lasers are being bent upward, distorted by the insane gravitational force exerted by Magnes’ power gone berserk. “I had to think bigger.” The entire facility begins to rumble, pressurized pipes begin to blow.

Ezekiel’s eyes are that of a madman, stolen from Cardinal’s friend. “Welcome to the new beginning, Richard.

There was a part of Richard Cardinal that hoped, that hoped desperately that he could talk some sense into his older self. That he could make him understand everything that he'd realized in that moment upstairs when La Mer began to play over the radio.

The final lesson of Edward Ray.

As he meets that gaze, though, he knows that these roads diverged a very long time ago. One of them learnt that lesson, and all the lessons that went along with it. The other wandered from the path and into madness. He could tell him about the family he’d overlooked, the reason he was wearing the bracelet around his wrist. He could tell him about the way his children look while sleeping. But he wouldn’t hear any of it. He’s too far gone, and realizing that about Ezekiel — about himself through a glass darkly — fills him with guilt and anger, a self-loathing directed outward at all the parts of himself that he hates made flesh.

“Joshua sends his love."

He brings his other hand up in a sudden, swift motion from his side with those final words, orange plastic beneath gloved fingers as he fires the flare gun dead on at the other man — a sudden blinding phosphorus flare within the chamber as he pulls the trigger, a flare that he knows would be agonizing if he still had his power, and lethal if he melted into the shadows.

The same power Ezekiel stole, just like he'd stolen Tyler Case's body.

Of all the things Ezekiel expected to be brought to bear against him, a flare gun was not one. He doesn’t notice the orange plastic, he notices the body language. He can read himself perfectly. He “knows” Cardinal has a gun, “knows” that he intends to shoot him. Ezekiel’s second greatest weakness is his hubris, that he thinks he can plan for every eventuality, that his luck will never run out.

It is with a smug smile that his entire body discorporates into shadow-stuff, a swirling mass of darkness that is like a second skin to him. But Ezekiel’s greatest weakness is light. Bright, horrifying light.

There is no muzzle flash, just a kssh-thoop sound as the flare gun is fired point-blank range. It is red light, ultimately, that is Ezekiel’s end. Not the light of Tyler Case’s ability, not the red of blood seeping from his wounds, but the burning red light of a flare. Unable to shift back in time, unable to realize what he has done to himself, Ezekiel is faced with the scathing light of the flare in his darkest of shapes.

There is a scream, a scream unlike any other that has been heard on this Earth, or ever will be heard again. Not even in Antarctica, when nuclear fission turned to shadow, was this wail so strangled, so mournful, so agonized. Richard Cardinal, spawned from a future darker than any other, does not die painlessly. He screams in wild, unfathomable agony as light burns away his incorporeal form. The ghost-scream will haunt the younger Cardinal until the day he dies; the sound of his own death ringing across history.

Scraps of shadow burn into smoke, clawed hands of darkness try to pull away but are consumed by that red glow. Light burns, boils, tears at the shadow until there is nothing left but flakes of ephemeral ashes guttering in the wind. A sickening sensation churns at the pit of Richard’s stomach, a feeling of finality that has never been so real.

Whatever it was Ezekiel was planning, whatever his last-ditch attempt in this room was, will never be answered. There is a smoke residue in the air, all that is left of a man who ruined a world’s worth of lives, on a chance throw at a better future. The weight of the scales for that soul’s judgment will be debated for years to come, whether the future they earned was better than the last. But this journey ended where it began for him, the serpent swallowed its own tail, and devoured itself.

Suddenly, Cardinal can hear again. The blood rushing in his ears, adrenaline, nerves — it all calms. He can hear a helicopter’s rotors nearby. He realizes the Mallet Device chamber is empty. Up, far overhead, he can see Magnes now two-hundred feet in the sky, the vortex of his body winding and twisting uncontrollably. But before Cardinal can conceive of a plan to save him, there is a rippling pulse of light from the young man’s body.

All across the Natazhat complex, they can see it. As Jaiden and Edgar lead the others out onto the helipad, as Warren carries Elle’s unconscious body in his arms, as Nicole carries her sister and Lucille walks side by side with Aria Baumgartner, they see it.

Monica Dawson sees it, as Peyton shakily helps load her into the bay of the chinook helicopter with the aid of multiple Brians. Peyton sees it as Brian takes her hand and helps her inside. Benjamin Ryans, cradling the cauterized stump of his hand can see it through the chinook’s windows, and even Huruma, laying on the floor of the helicopter with two Brians performing emergency medical aid on her, can see it too.

Adel, in the passenger seat of the chinook sees her father. A whirling blot of darkness falling into the sky.

Then, in a sudden collapse, like that of a dying star.

Magnes Varlane is gone.

La mer

At the helipad, snow swirling from the chinook’s downdraft, one Brian waits by the open door. Everyone else has been loaded in, everyone else that is accounted for in their eyes, except one. “There he is!” Brian calls over the radio, as he spots the darkly dressed silhouette of Richard Cardinal walking out from the Natazhat facility.

qu'on voit danser le long des golfes clairs

All of the radios are flickering with static, a popping crackle caused by the solar flare that reached Earth on November 8th, 2011. When the ionosphere is struck by a coronal mass ejection, it can disrupt radio transmissions. Make signals from across the world able to be received on much weaker bands. The song, the voice, echoing over their comms is a siren’s song from a future that never was, may always have been, or just perhaps, has been beside them all along.

a des reflets d'argent

As Cardinal comes up on the helipad, past smoldering corpses and streaks of red, he sees Adel in the cockpit next to another Brian, tears wetting her cheeks and eyes wrenched shut. The Brian at the door greets him with a stoic expression, clasps his hand and helps him up inside.

la mer

There’s no staying here. If the Institute didn’t have people outside to come and investigate this disturbance, the US Government would surely have detected the shockwaves by now, would be scrambling jets, would be flooding this place with researchers. Anyone else might be concerned about that, but Richard Cardinal isn’t. He knows there’s another reason to go.

des reflets changeants

As the helicopter’s blades spin up, Cardinal sees Jaiden slouched against a seat, eyes closed and blood staining his clothes, caked dry on his mouth and chin. Cardinal sees Elle, slouched against Warren, who has his arms around her. He sees Nicole, cradling an unconscious Colette. He sees Brians, and Ryans, Huruma, Edgar, Monica with Peyton at her side.

sous la pluie

There is a gap, space on the floor between Peyton and the pilot seat. A spot ultimately where Cardinal can sit, but a spot where perhaps, in another time, Elisabeth Harrison was there. The familiarity of the chinook clings to the back of Cardinal’s mind, dances in the shadow-scream of his future self’s death, and his past self’s near demise in Antarctica. It had come full circle, but this time it was he who was sitting in the helicopter as it lifts off, knowing someone was left behind — knowing that not everyone made it.

la mer

As the chinook takes off, Cardinal looks out the window to the Mount Natazhat facility, as steam issues from fissures in the ground around it. He knew that if the government got their hands on it, if they’d been able to reverse-engineer what was done here, this nightmare would never end. But his future self, in his desperate attempt to salvage his own life, had already set the dominos in motion.

au ciel d'été confond

Gasps of shock and confusion come from inside of the helicopter, he hadn’t given them much of a warning. Perhaps it was the shock, perhaps it was just certainty in the measured way things like this play out, the way everyone dances on the strings of precognitives, postcognitives, time-travelers, and seers.

ses blancs moutons

When the chinook is two hundred feet into the air, there is a thundrous shattering sound, followed by a massive explosion of earth and snow. The particle accelerator and the facility’s reactor reach critical mass. The detonation is a perfect ring that blasts upward from the ground, upheaving the ground at the center like so many legos once laid on a blanket, tossed into the air by a temperamental child.

avec les anges si purs

The chinook shakes when the shockwave hits it, snow blinds vision, attitude sensors whine and buzz noisily. The entire helicopter pitches to one side, Brians performing emergency triage on Huruma’s gunshot wound scream, but Cardinal is still in the face of the blast. He can feel a prickling sensation in his fingertips, a heat radiating out from his heart and down to his hands. Pink static crackles over his gloves.

la mer bergère d'azur

His body was never meant to hold Tyler Case’s power. The ability was never meant to be swapped with itself, exchanged out like an old coat well past its prime. Something tingles in his fingers, burns behind his eyes. He feels it, fading like a waking dream. The last vestiges of a friend he lost to himself, the last bit of Tyler Case he can hold on to, dissipates like so much static electricity into the air. The feeling Cardinal is left with, is a sense of emptiness, of hollow spirit, of humanity. When the helicopter tilts into the sun, it does not burn his eyes. For the first time, he sees the light, and it is warm.


The snow passes the helicopter, the dust clears, and all that is left of the Mount Natazhat facility is a mile wide ring carved into the ground and — something else. Strewn about the debris of Mount Natazhat, perhaps by casuality or fate, by geomagnetic disturbances, sun spots, or the whim of a capricious god, but there are the ruins of a different building where Natazhat was obliterated. Blocky guard towers lay toppled in in the snow, crumbling debris of a chain-link fence and razor-wire unspooled. Demolished trucks and cars free-fall from mid-air, crashing down into the snow.

La mer

Bricks, blocks of concrete, orange-jumpsuited corpses, mangled cars, and portions of collapsed buildings scatter the snow in the wave of the particle accelerator’s explosion. It isn’t Natazhat’s ruins anymore. Cardinal recognizes the shape of the watch towers, recognizes the fence line, he’d seen it before in a satellite reconnaissance photograph. So, the voice in his mind wanders, that’s where Moab went.

les a bercés

There is a finality in all of this. In the scattered ruins tumbledown in the snow, in the people gathered in the helicopter, in Aria Baumgartner sitting beside Lucille, in Elisabeth’s absence, in Magnes’ death, in the silence.

le long des golfes clairs

Everything has come full circle, everything has come to an end. But at the same time in Nicole, in Peyton, there are new beginnings. It wasn’t what Ezekiel had envisioned.

et d'une chanson d'amour

But it’s a start.

La mer

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