The Devil At The Crossroads


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Scene Title The Devil at the Crossroads
Synopsis Unlikely forces converge on a place that does not exist, to find the meaning of the future buried beneath the ground.
Date June 27, 2010

Coyote Sands, Arizona

Nearly fifty years has passed since the ghosts of Coyote Sands have been disturbed…

Under the reddish-orange sunset skies casting long, dark shadows across the Arizona desert, a single plume of dust crests up behind a beaten down old pick-up truck, wax marker still streaked across the window listing it as "$450/OBO". The suspension squeaks and creaks as it rumbles down a lonely stretch of Route 93, near ten miles northwest of the town of Wickenburg where it was purchased in cash.

Up ahead there's a crossroads, where Route 93 and Highway 71 cross each other, and trailing north from that crossroads is a fifty year old dirt trail leading towards the base of Weaver mountain. According to the directions, in the shadow of that mountain range, one of the best kept secrets of both the Company and the history of the Evolved lies hidden under shifting sands.

As that old truck rolls to a stop at the the crossroads, there's a crooked old sign indicating which routes are intersecting, nothing marking the dusty desert trail leading away, save for brown vegetation and scrub grass. When the wind picks up, blowing cool over baked hot dust, clouds of tan and crimson are kicked up into the air, drifting across the endless expanses of razor-straight highway with not a vehicle in sight in any direction.

There's a classic blues song about this situation, written by Robert Johnson, about finding the Devil at the crossroads, willing to grant whatever wishes the heart desires. The only devils here are the ones inside the beat up old 1972 Chevrolet Bronco, with its lack of air conditioning and stiff bench seat.

It's not to say that they're devils in the traditional sense…

But one man's angels are another man's devils, and vice-versa.

At the wheel of this extremely old vehicle, with the windows rolled down, the taller of two brunettes aims the vehicle toward their destination. There's not a map anywhere in sight. Cat's not concerning herself with speed limits, given the flatness of the terrain and the absence of other vehicles. Current speed: 85 miles per hour. The musical portions of her brain are engaged. "All we need now is a guy standing out there all alone to slow down and take a look at."

Then she's quietly singing, something about a person being sent to get Willie Brown.

Cardinal's bare arm is rested on the open window-ledge of the door, baring freshly-coloured tattoos to the fading sun as he relaxes there. He's wearing shades, a grey tank-top and a pair of tough denim jeans, head cocked just a bit to watch the side of the road as they drive along. "Well," he observes casually, glancing back over to Vee, "They certainly picked an isolated spot…"

Between the two, Veronica jostles along, bumping into one or the other and having long given up on muttering apologies for such incidental contact. Her own sunglasses, a requirement earlier, are now pushed up on her head as the sun sinks low enough to no longer be an issue. "Middle of nowhere, pretty much literally," she agrees. It's a strange trio, to be sure — sometimes enemies, one-time colleagues, current co-conspirators. This time they have a common goal, and collaboration is better than unknowingly working for the same goal, but stepping on one another's proverbial toes.

The change-over from pavement to dirt is a bumpy one and the old truck rattles down hard against the dirt road that diverges away from the crossroads. The noise of rocks flung up at the undercarraige creates a tinkling plink of noise that cuts higher in tone than both the rumbling of the tires over dirt or the sound of Cat's quiet singing behind the wheel. It's evident by the stiffness of the ride that this old truck has seen a lot, but replacement shocks were not one of them.

According to the information given by Sabra Dalton, Coyote Sands lies two miles north of the crossroads, in a desolate stretch of desert nestled in the foothills of these lonely mountains. It's hard to envision what might have gone out here, fifty years ago, when the notion of mind-readers shape-changers was relegated to the realm of science fiction and storybooks.

The desert scenery passing by out the windows all looks the same, save for the steady incline of the east and west ends of the mountain range these three are driving out to. Clear skies blue-black to the east and crimson to the west leave the space over their journey a rich purple, streaked with only the faintest hints of cirrus clouds.

The first sign that something exists out at the end of this road is the rusted out shell of an Army Jeep parked in the short brown grass off of the road. Devoid of tires and glass, the sun-baked rusted metal looks warped in places, bent by extreme heat or some other force; more than time alone could have done.

In the distance, maybe a mile out on the rippling horizon, the dark smudge of distant structures indicates that they must be getting close.

"The southwest lends itself to such places," Cat remarks just before a particularly sharp bounce runs through the truck's entire body and the seat too. Speed decreases to a pace which fits the terrain they're now on, eighty-five isn't conducive to holding the wheel steady otherwise. "Military bases, missile ranges, atomic weapons invention and first testing. As for internments, there were a number of those. German prisoners of war, concentration camps for citizens of Japanese descent."

Soon she's back to the song. "Standing at the crossroads, believe I'm sinking down."

"…and the Evolved, maybe," Cardinal observes in casual tones, his gaze trailing along upon that twisted hulk of a Jeep as they drive along past it, "I don't think a little bit of sunshine took that car out." He doesn't seem to complain about the company at all, taking it all in stride.

Glancing at the Jeep, Veronica nods. "Could have been a few things — A telekinetic, maybe, or maybe just weapons testing, who knows," she says lightly, turning to squint to make out the structures barely visible in the gloaming's increasing darkness. She glances to Cat and raises a brow at the singing, then nods back to Cardinal. "Next time we get a car with a stereo in it. Or an iPod dock." The radio on the metallic beast they ride in long since turned off when it could only be tuned to country or religious stations.

That the old radio even still worked, in itself, is something of a miracle.

There's not many more miracles to be had though, just ill omens. Approaching down that dusty road, crooked wooden posts interlaced with tangled lengths of broken barbed wire indicate a perimeter fence, and the sudden jostle that rocks the truck comes when a long since crushed wooden security barricade is driven over. Closer now, the outlines of barrack-style buildings come into focus against the backdrop of low desert mountains.

These buildings are ancient, dryrotted and left to crumble and decay in the nearly five decades past. On the left, coming up, stands a tall sign that proves that the leads Sabra Dalton had given weren't just stories, that this place — whatever it was — still exists.





The bottom word on the sign and the plank it is attached to have partly fallen off, the once red lettering now a faint shade of pink against the sun-baked gray woodgrain. Not far from the signage, another old Jeep — this one with dryrotted tires — rests just off the road, crooked and abandoned with no sign of damage save for the wear of desert sun and sandstorms.

Beyond the barracks, carved into the closest hillside, a concrete bunker is surrounded by old and sun-bleached signs warding off tresspassers, one large portion of the concrete marked with faded yellow lettering that proclaims RESTRICTED AREA wearily, though the bunkers doors have long since fallen off of its hinges.

Of all these things, however, the presence of a trail-dusted black SUV parked alongside the barracks stands out the most. Windows tinted dark and the Arizona license plate giving away few secrets, the presence of its back hatch propped open is a sign of activity. Though there's no one else to be seen…

Pulling up to the location, eyes sweeping over the buildings just ahead, Cat's brows furrow. "This is unexpected," she mutters, "I thought we might've had to dig for artifacts out here, given the place's purpose and the massacre that happened, they'd have sterilized it completely. Wiped out any trace it ever existed." In the back of the truck, among gear brought for the mission, there are in fact shovels.

She eyes that dark vehicle warily, choosing then to take the vehicle into a place where whoever else is out here won't see it, and hopes they weren't heard.

"Veronica," she asks quietly, "are you sure whatever cover you gave is holding, Harper doesn't suspect a thing?"

At the sight of the sign, Cardinal's brows draw in together as he reads that third word down and the one beneath it - it could be named Happy Trails, it wouldn't hide the meaning of 'Relocation Center' any more than the euphemism itself does, and it clearly doesn't sit well with him.

Then his attention drifts on from the sign to the buildings, pausing on that SUV where it's parked. "Just in case they're not friendly," he murmurs, melting away into shadows, spilling over the bench and into the well where their feet rest in a liquid slither of darkness.

"Well, you know, my away message on my email says 'absolutely not going to Coyote Sands' so I don't know why he'd suspect," Veronica says a bit sarcastically as she pulls out her cell phone and begins tapping the keys, squinting at the plates on the SUV. "How do I know if it's holding or not…" A few scroll strokes of her thumb, and her brows furrow. "Registered to a Christian Montpiller, Haverton Security Services, Phoenix, Arizona. Name ring any bells in there?" she glances to Cat, then down at the slithering shadow.

A gentle breeze blows dirt and sand from the dilapidated rooftops of these old buildings, sends rotted swings creaking in their rusted swingset frames. That this place is still standing is otherworldly and unusual, a skeleton of a memory five decades back that is reaching out from beyond the grave to sink claws in to the present. Out the windows of the truck as Cat pulls the Chevrolet around to the side of the largest barracks building, the sight of an old playground gives a certain chilling context to this place, that amidst the broken and rusted merry-go-round and the sun-bleached swings, there may have once been children.

On the western horizon, the sun is approaching the ground, shadows are long and dark but daylight still demands attention in goldenrod hues. There's at least an hour of daylight left, if not more, and the near full moon tonight will likely provide more whenever it chooses to finally arise from slumber.

When the truck comes to a stop, the brakes creak and the rumbling engine splutters before its finally turned off with a clunk and a rattle. Warm breeze blows in through the open windows, bringing with it only the scent of dry desert air. For all that this place looks like a carcass, it does not smell of one.

"It's not one I've heard before," Cat informs, "nor is the security firm. But it still screams Institute, hiring them as private soldiers is their thing. Is it too bright to cross the ground and get a look at what they're doing, how many there are, Mr. Clemens?" With the vehicle stopped she opens the door and gets out, feet moving toward a position where she can observe the SUV without being spotted.

A shadow shifts as if in accelerated dusk down the wheels of the truck, mingling with that beneath the vehicle itself. Richard Cardinal's tenebrous shape slithers through shadows and through deep furrows in the dry earth and clay underfoot, working its way along beneath the black SUV and the building to run a little bit of recon…

The Blackberry is slid back into her pocket and her gun is slid out — just in case. The fact that she now bears an isotope on her neck is left out of the conversation — if Harper chose to look in on her whereabouts, he could. She's banking on his arrogance and the fact that she probably comes across as querulous and disgruntled rather than sneaky and underhanded. Or so she hopes. She slips out of the truck after Cat, watching the shadow slip away over the rugged ground.

The inside of the building is all shadow and cobwebs, the floorboards infested with termites and the families of mice that nest beneath them, but what's above them is more interesting than what's below. "Let her be," a man with graying blond hair is saying, a suit jacket decorated in pin stripes draped over his arm, his polished leather shoes covered in a fine layer of dust.

He's undoubtedly referring to the woman dressed in black with her back to the front door, her dark hair swept up and covered by a pale shawl tied under a stern chin. Old, gnarled hands rest on the sill of an empty window, glass pane long gone, and visibly tighten on the next exhale. It's fortunate that the window looks out over the opposite side of the property rather than the front, but the man in the half-suit is already steering his gaze back over his shoulder in the direction of the truck.

Out here, the sound of a door popping open, like a gunshot, is difficult to miss. "We aren't expecting anyone, are we?" he asks his other companion.

She waits, watching the surroundings as best she can, one hand adjusting the desert-quality hat atop her head. Without turning her head to rest eyes on Veronica, a question is asked. "What might you share about Harper?" Light colored clothing which covers most of her skin, preventing undue sun exposure, is now a bit dusty and marked with salty patches. Damp too.

"I hadn't really expected to find anyone else out here, but it's not surprising. Zimmerman may have told them about the place, he worked here."

Clunking snakeskin boots carry the other man through what remains of Building 26, as the faded wooden sign beside the door so simply describes it. Sunlight and ruin reflects off of mirrored aviator sunglasses hiding his eyes, lips skewed in crooked fashion and brown hair decked with hints of gray at his temples that makes him look as old as he feels. Switching the side of his mouth that a toothpick protrudes from with his tongue, Avi Epstein's voice is a low, grumbling one as he speaks.

"She'd know," he explains cooly, nodding his head to the old woman standing at the corner of their triangular arrangement. It's not the best of answers, but as Epstein shrugs his shoulders it's clear that he's either anxious, or has sand down the back of his button-down shirt. "Well…" there's a crease of his brows behind the frames of his sunglasses, "are we expecting anyone? 'Cause last I checked," his mirroed lenses hide the askance look he offers to the blonde man, "I still don't even know why we're out here."

A shadow passes amongst them unnoticed before it slips out once more, delving into the dusk once more to head along over to the truck. Cardinal slithers beneath it, his voice a whisper from beneath, "Two agents and an old woman." Old woman…

Veronica arches a brow. "He's a smarmy bastard. That's about all I know but that's common knowledge," she says dryly. But then Cardinal's eery echo-whisper is murmuring his findings to them. "Agents of…?" Veronica whispers, glancing down. "No way they won't see the truck. What's the plan? Try to come off as locals?" Veronica glances at Cat. The agent is dressed casually enough, to go with the truck as it were — jeans, a black tank top, boots. "Just out for a joyride?" Seems unlikely.

"We could be botanists," Cat supplies, "out to find and catalog desert plant species, take some samples back with us, or…" Her voice trails off as she reaches into the vehicle for the video camera she brought along, "amateur filmmakers. Or we could be just plain lost." Eyes then trail to where the shadowy voice came from, a question of her own being floated. "Can you describe the agents?"

"Older guy, greying blonde.. the other one's in shades, greying brunette… I recognize that one from Apollo, but I don't think I ever caught his name," Cardinal's quiet, whispering voice emerges from beneath the truck, "I don't recognize the other one. Or the old woman."

"Apollo?" Veronica says, glancing at the others. "That's not coincidence, or just someone working security to keep this ghost town safe. "What are they doing to the old woman? Is she with them or are they trying to take her in or something?" she asks, reaching into for her Blackberry, handing her gun to Cat to hold for the moment, and typing in the name of the security firm — should have done that first, she tells herself, but hindsight is ever 20-20.

Glasses. Apollo. It gives Cat a flash of being in the sickbay on that carrier while speaking with Noriko, Elisabeth, Raith, and Eileen when they were interrupted by the arrival of Sarisa and a man in shades. A certain kind of shades. The replay includes Raith approaching the man in a hostile manner, grabbing him by the face, and giving him a kiss itself reminiscent of Michael Corleone kissing Fredo.

"What kind of shades, Mr. Clemens? Were they aviation glasses?"

"As a matter of fact…" The shadow slithers up along up Veronica's leg, spreading over her back and whispering behind her head, "…they were. I take it that it's someone you know?"

"The security firm's owned by Linderman, boys and girls," Veronica intones, the glow of her Blackberry lighting her face a pale blue before the backlight turns off. She slips the phone back into her pocket and takes her gun back from Cat, playfully swatting her neck where the shadow sits. "Maybe you should go listen in more, Shade," she suggests.

"Sarisa Kershner had a man who wore aviators around her," Cat relates, "and Jensen Raith certainly knew that man. Saw him walk right up and plant one on him, it was straight out of the Godfather. The part where Michael finds out Fredo gave him up, he gave him the kiss of death." Veronica's information is considered quietly for some moments, before she decides to float a suggestion. "Ruses won't work, he'd recognize us anyway. The security firm is tied to Linderman, so is this place, and… Mr. Clemens, if you believe Sarisa isn't entirely hostile to our concerns, it might be worthwhile to just approach him."

"They know we're here," Cardinal points out dryly, "If we just stand around looking like idiots all day, they might decide to shoot out the window at us. Why don't you just go knock?"

"I don't think I ever met him," Veronica says with a shrug, but shakes her head. Godfather talk and kisses and fake names aside, she exhales, tucking the gun back in the waist of her pants and beginning to move toward the building. "Easier for you to say, just fucking knock, you're riding my back like an incorporeal squirrel monkey or something — you can't get your brain shot out, Shade," she says irritably as her legs eat up the ground with long strides.

As Veronica moves toward the building, the man in the pin stripes appears on the steps. In the light, she'll be able to make out the dark stains under his arms and at the center of his chest where sweat has soaked through the material of his clothes and given his skin an almost plastic appearance. The shoulder holster he wears overtop still has its pistol in it, though one hand rests its heel against its grip. Drops away when blue eyes alight on a pair of familiar faces.

Robert Caliban recognizes both Catherine and Veronica and comes to an abrupt halt at the top of the rickety wooden steps leading up into the hut, the corners of his mouth pulling into a slow smile that lacks sincerity but is also devoid of any malice whatsoever. "Does that answer your question?" he asks Epstein over his shoulder without turning his head.

"Isn't this quite the gathering?" Cat remarks with a dry chuckle when the LinderMan emerges. "Mr. Caliban, sir," she offers in terse greeting to the pair with her head inclining toward each in turn. A thought is given to introducing the others, but she sets it aside. They know their names already, she's sure.

"Fuck me…" Epstein curses from over Caliban's shoulder, pushing his sunglasses up the bridge of his nose to wipe away sweat before letting them settle back down again. "It's an Apollo reunion, fantastic." Tugging at the unbuttoned collar of his camel-colored shirt, Avi works open a button and breathes out a frustreated undertone of disappointment with the weather before he steps out of sight and deeper into the building.

There's heavy clunks that sound with each of Avi's bootfalls on the wood, and he addresses the woman inside with a quiet tone of voice. "I hope there's a point to this, because I noticed there were only two shovels in the truck. I don't like it when I get invited out into the desert with shovels." Tension in his hushed tone of voice, but that he's not coming out seems to indicate that the others might be the ones coming in.

Veronica's eyes narrow as she takes in the faces of the two men peering at them. Epstein is recognized, but only from passing now and then on the carrier; Veronica can't recall ever having spoken to the man. She gives a nod to him, then Caliban, who she recognizes from Montauk of all places, though she has since realized the man is one of Linderman's spokespeople. "Who's in the building?" she asks. "And is this a coincidence along the lines of 'all great minds think alike,' or is that just naive thinking on my part?"

The woman by the window does not remove her hands from the sill. She keeps her back to Epstein, but if the pane of glass was stil affixed to the frame, he might catch the twitch of a rueful smile at the corner of her mouth. "I saw that they would have questions," she murmurs gently. "Who am I to withhold answers?"

Outside on the front steps, Caliban rubs his hand across the back of his neck and swats at a fly buzzing in the slick hair around his name. "There's no such thing as a coincidence, sweetheart. At least not anymore." And he steps aside, providing Veronica with a full view of the hut's interior and the woman at the window, who has turned to face both Company agent and Ferry operative, brown eyes so dark that they appear almost black.

"Miss Chesterfield," Angela says. "Agent Sawyer."

The words spoken by Aviators cause Cat to emit a brief chuckle. "Fuck you, sir?" she asks. "You might have skills, but really, I don't even know your name." The path of his retreat is watched as she advances into the building. Whether or not he opts to change that fact is up to him. And inside is a familiar face, one not seen since the dreamscapes. Her presence is met with a neutral expression and a calm return of greeting as she elects not to correct the salutation with her doctoral title.

"Cat will do, Mrs. Petrelli."

Brows creased together and lips downturned into a frown, Avi slides down the frames of his glasses along the bridge of his nose and gives Cat a look, though the fact that his newly placed glass eye gives him a somewhat crooked stare doesn't help the content of the expression. "This is a gaggle of geese here, Mrs. Petrelli," sliding his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, Avi takes a few steps deeper into the crumbled walls and dusty floor of Building 26, looking at the dilapidated desks, glassless windows and toppled lamp stands.

"Especially to take out to a hole in the desert like this…" Though he is complaining, there's a certain haunted tone Aviators offers, coming when he turns around to look at a sign placed on the inside of the wall above the door. His brows crease together, head shakes slowly, and it's hard not to find the abandonment and isolation of this dusty facility unnerving. But the sign, seals the deal:

Home is not where you are, it is where people understand you.

"Christ," Avi whispers with a shake of his head, looking down to Veronica and Cat with a tight swallow of anxiety. He's a little superstitious, against all odds, and this place gives him a tingle at the back of his neck.

"So this is the infamous Mrs. Petrelli…" Angela…

The haunting whisper stirs within the building as a shadow - having slipped within - crawls up along the wall. Richard Cardinal pushes out into the three-dimensional world, the shadowy form slowly bleeding back into colour as he straightens up. The wrap-around shades reflect the matriarch of the Petrelli clan for a moment, his lips tugging up a bit at on corner in the slightest of smiles. "I think I've met all the family now."

The dramatic answer to Veronica's question has the agent's eyes widening — the fact that the woman is not only her boss but a Company founder probably doesn't bode well for Veronica's personnel file. Of course, they're both on a sinking ship, so it's rather moot. She just gives a shake of her head.

"If it's not coincidence…" her eyes flicker from the Petrelli matriarch to the three men and back, "did you plan to get us all here, and… why?" she asks Angela, beginning to follow the others into the building.

"You give me too much credit." Angela crosses the decaying floorboards, still swathed in shadow, and trails her fingers along an old card table with rusted legs off to the side of the room, leaving tracks in the dust. She wipes off her hand across the front of her coat, an ashen smudge in the shape of a crescent moon. Heels click against wood and she pauses to rest where a sliver of light shines through a hole in the roof, drawing her attention to where Cardinal's figure has come into behing, and she does not seem surprised to see him.

"No," she says at length. "I arranged nothing. I knew where you would be and when, that's all. I'm guessing your superiors don't know you're here?"

The question is likely meant for Veronica. As far as Angela knows, Cardinal and Catherine answer to no one.
"It's surprising," Cat muses, "this place wasn't scoured from the map fifty years ago, no trace left of it ever existing." She glances again at the agent in the aviation glasses, perhaps expecting or hoping he'll provide his name, but not vocally asking for it. Yet. "Hopefully some piece, or pieces, of information related to current events will be found." No commentary is made on the number of Petrellis she's met, or where.

"Apparently you haven't looked at a map lately," Avi jokingly grouses, boots clunking across the floor as he steps away from the gathering. "This place doesn't exist, when I got asked by Mrs. Petrelli to come out here— trust me— I looked. It's not even as if this is just above my clearance, this place just never existed. No paper trail, no rumors, nothing."

Turning to look down to a dusty desk, Avi wipes his fingers across the top, shaking his head slowly before looking up towards where Cardinal had appeared, back tense and eyes narrowed behind the lenses of his sunglasses. "What happened here?" is perhaps the obvious question for Avi to ask, and from the tone of his voice it's clear that he's been considerably in the dark on just what Coyote Sands is.

Cardinal leans back against the wall, one foot lifting up to press to it — leaving an imprint on the dusty walls, smeared with ash and time. The shadowman's arms fold loosely across his chest, his voice quiet as he observes to Avi, "You obviously didn't read the sign on the way in…"

Veronica tilts her head and offers a half smile that pulls out the seldom-seen dimples but doesn't quite reach her weary and wary eyes. "I would say they're unaware of my location, but you and I both know that I can't be 100 percent confident in that statement," the Company agent says wryly. Her eyes move to Avi. "What exactly is your clearance, Mister…" she trails off for him to provide a name — if he's so inclined of course.

"Epstein," Angela puts in helpfully. "Once upon a time, he worked on the same team as Sarisa Kershner, Adrianne Lancaster and," the corners of her eyes crinkle, "Jensen Raith, who I believe all three of you have a passing familiarity with?"

Caliban leans his shoulder into the doorframe and folds his arms across his chest, a silent participant in this conversation. He hasn't taken his eyes off Cardinal since the shadow-man became corporeal, and there's something almost cagey about the way he's studying him, watery blue eyes pale and distrustful.

"You'll have to elaborate, Catherine," Angela continues. "I'm not sure what you mean by information related to current events."

"Doctor Zimmerman was here," Cat explains, "as part of Project Icarus, and now is possibly tied to the Institute along with some others. Together they make a dangerous grouping, as if the Institute weren't troublesome enough." Going further is considered, to enlighten Epstein on the place they're standing in, but she chooses otherwise. Angela was here then, she can tell her own tale.

There's an exasperated look at Cardinal, but it's more Angela who's getting mouth-open stares from Avi when she lets slide his identity. Exhaling a sigh in resignation to this situation, Avi lifts a hand to scrub at the back of his neck and looks out through the holes in the walls of the crumbling building, then wrings his hands together and squints towards the trio of new arrivals.

"The Institute," is bitterly commented upon by Avi as his dark eye sweeps behind the lenses of his sunglasses, while his glassy replacement remains fixed in place, staring lifelessly ahead. Monofocal vision alights to Angela, then Catherine with a furrow of his brows, putting pieces together.

"Experiments?" His attention settles back on Angela, head crooked to this side. "This place… if it's connected to what went on back then, I would've read about it. I've read the Icarus files front to back, I've— " Avi's jaw tenses, brows furrow and he looks for a moment to Caliban, then down to his feet before turning away.

"There was a playground outside…" is hushed, quiet in the tone in which it is delivered as he reaches down to dilapidated wooden box atop the desk, lifting out a dust covered metal canister with a faded label across the front; an old film reel case. Disinterested, he drops it with a clang down onto the desk, shaking his head slowly. "Children? Really."

As the man in the aviators is identified at last, Cardinal's head cocks just a little to one side as he considers the King of Pentacles with an expression unreadable through his shades - taking him in from head to toe before finally sweeping his attention to Caliban. A brow crooks upwards over the edge of his wraparounds, and he asks in quiet, almost absently mild tones, "Yes?"

Then there's some far more interesting things being said, his attention sliding over towards Avi as he speaks. Attention drifts back towards Angela, then, and he asks flatly, "What skeletons are we rattling out of this old closet, Petrelli?"

"Looks like we have no secrets," Veronica says to Avi, her husky voice colored with a droll tone, as she moves toward the desk that the man is exploring. When he discards the metal canister, she glances down at it, fingers brushing across the dust on the label to peer at it, then sliding along the sides to open the circular container, to see if the film is within.

"You never read about it because the Company erased every record of it ever existing, and when it came to records we couldn't erase—" Angela's gaze sweeps back outside, past where the vehicles are parked to the rippling horizon line and the distant shape of the sun sinking slowly behind it. She presses her lips into a thin line, unwilling to let her mouth betray the emotions behind her eyes. Suddenly, her throat is very tight.

Cardinal's absent inquiry receives a dark look from Caliban, who opts to descend the steps and start making a straight line for the SUV, feet crunching over gravel and sand. He's uncomfortable about showing the other man is back, and it isn't exactly clear why.

"It's funny that you should mention skeletons, Mr. Cardinal," Angela says. "I have some I'd like to introduce you to."

While others speak, Cat lapses to silence. She lets her eyes wander the interior of this building, to take in and record all she can see. Her intent is to bag up as much as can be gathered and taken with them. Mention of skeletons between Cardinal and Angela has her glancing their way briefly, before returning attention to interior perusal and speaking for Epstein's benefit. "Yes, a playground. And children. Really."

When the film canister is eyed, she directs a question at Veronica. "Is there anything in that, does it have a label?"

There is indeed a label, and barely legible writing faded from sunlight is evident on the partly peeled emblem stamped atop the canister. Streaking the dust away with her thumb, Veronica can make out something in the title, the fragment of a name. Cnd-a S-resh and below in the "subject" field, mu-l Su—-van. As she pries at the age old metal container and pulls it open, there's a strong odor that comes from within, smelling like benzine or some other acrid chemical stink. But within the case is a short spool of 45 milimeter film, some of it rotten away with age other portions scratched and torn, but it does look like there's some intact footage left.

"You know…" Avi interjects to the conversation, looking to Angela, "I thought I was going to sleep in today." There's a nervous timbre in Avi's voice as he turns from the desk, leaves Veronica's side and pauses only briefly to regard Cat askance before continuing out the doorway into the fading sunlight behind Caliban.

As he leaves the dilapidated wooden building, there's a brush of cool desert wind through the holes in the wall, sand picked up softly scraping against the rotted wood. What Veronica seems to have though looks to have weathered whatever storm turned this place into a ruin, at least as much as anything could be expected to.

"I'm guessing that's what Pentacles over there meant about the shovels then…" Cardinal pushes himself off from the wall, his foot dropping down to the floor as he offers a tight, humorless smile in the direction of the wife of the man he murdered less than a year ago, "…where're we headed, then?"

The glare and departure of Caliban is noticed, of course. His gaze trails after the man for a few moments, and then cuts back to Angela. He really should get around to asking Kain about Abigail's new boyfriend…

"Label's faded, looks like Chandra Suresh and … something Sullivan, maybe," she says with a shake of her head. She squints at the degrading film and then puts the lid back on. "Might be other stuff," she says, opening and closing the rest of the drawers. "That looks like it'll need to restored before it's useful. We'll take it back with us… I can see about getting it cleaned up… I probably have a source or two that could do it." She glances over at Angela, to see if this plan of action is acceptable to her boss. Or one of them, anyway.

"Samuel Sullivan." Angela is being uncharacteristically loose of tongue this evening, but the subdued manner in which she provides Veronica with this name is different than the wry tone she'd taken with Epstein. "You won't find anything on that reel that you'll like," she warns Veronica, but she doesn't try to dissuade her from taking it with her, either.

Outside by the SUV, Caliban is retrieving a pair of heavy shovels from the trunk and muttering something under his breath about it being like Vegas all over again. The rest of it is too low for Epstein to make out, and as he comes into earshot, the rest of the words transform into a low grumbling sound at the back of his throat.

"Coyote Sands," says Angela, "was the first of its kind. When we first formed the Company, it was to protect our people from men like Simon Broome," and this name is punctuated with a slight curl of her lip, because there's no doubt in her mind that at least one of the women remaining behind with her in the hut will recognize it, "but at some point, Daniel and I lost our way. My husband was no better."

"If the Institute has its way," Cat opines, "they'll open and operate a number of places like this. The sites have been identified, plans put into motion. I believe at least some of them are ready to accept occupants." She glances at Epstein again while speaking, perhaps not quite believing any of this should be a surprise to him. Or that he and Sarisa are in on it. While she's been vouched for to a point, the jury remains somewhat out.

In the back of the vehicle they came by, should anyone look, are more shovels and other equipment such as gallon cans of gas, flashlights, a cooler which has bottled liquids and food, among other things like weapons. Preparation was made expecting a need to dig and not knowing how long they'd need, as well as anticipating activity after dark.

Cat's attention, while speaking, turns to the spoken name. "There wasn't a Sullivan listed in the file," she comments in hope of Angela elaborating. "What can you tell us about Simon Broome?" While she makes no response to admission of losing their way, she's aware of things to be learned from it. The Company at its inception wasn't so much different than she and the people she's worked, fought alongside. They too could lose their way.

"He's a grade-A lunatic," is Avi's response as he takes one of the shovels from Robert, then offers an askance look to Angela, watching her for a moment until she motions to a patch of flat ground between the buildings, in plain sight of the dark shadows cast by the playground, to begin digging. Swallowing noisily, he looks over to Cat, then begins to walk slowly towards that empty patch of earth.

"Maybe you already heard, maybe what I told Ruskin didn't make it to you, but Broome's got the blood of all this," he motions to the buildings, "flowing through his crusty old veins. His father was Otto Brum," there's a noisy crunch as Avi drives his shovel into the ground at that, stepping down on the back to push into the dirt before hefting up a shovel-full and slinging it to the side. "Otto was a bed-buddy of Kazimir Volken, started this whole ball rolling back in the 40s. Guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," there's another crunch as he drives the shovel back into the dirt.

"He runs the Institute, top to bottom, orchestrates God knows what kind of research. He got put into place when the government started giving the stink eye to the Company." There's a glance back to Angela, then over to Cardinal. "The actual groundwork didn't start getting laid until after the summer of 09 though, after Pinehearst came down. Then it just started escalating, and here we are today…"

Throwing dry desert soil and rocks to the side, Avi furrows his brows, hunches forward and stops digging. "Don't all of you lend an old man a hand all at once."

No, Cardinal's look shot in Angela's direction clearly delivers as she mentions her husband's failings, No, he wasn't.

The ex-burglar slips around the side of the truck they came in, reaching in to grab one of the shelves there — hauling it out and twisting it around to rest back against one shoulder before strolling back towards the others. A smirk twitches to his lips at Avi's words, noting as he swings the shovel back down and delves the spade into the earth, "…don't worry, Epstein. I'll finish it off if your old bones aren't up to it."

As another shovelful of earth and rock tumbles onto the pile, he adds darkly, "I imagine the windfall of personnel that we captured during Apollo didn't hurt either. I knew I should've pressed Kershner about Gregor while we were still on the ship."

"I didn't expect I'd find it a pleasant fairytale," Veronica says to Angela. The red clouds meeting violet sky looks more Maxfield Parrish than Salvador Dali, but the night feels surreal to the Company agent. She carries the cannister to the truck, laying it inside before heading to the back to grab a shovel. Talk of getting lost has her glance back at Angela with a look that is a mix of commiseration and maybe a touch of hurt — after all, the Founders losing their way led her to the path she now can't seem to leave.

"So whatever we find down here," she begins, setting her shovel to the ground and stepping on it to push it in, grunting slightly as her scant weight helps guide the medal edge through dry earth, "you're here to keep them from finding and using?" Are they on the same page, in other words? Or at least, are they on her page — she's not sure what Cat's and Cardinal's agendas are.

"I'd rather it be in your hands than theirs," Angela says, watching from the hut's doorway. Caliban has joined in, either at Epstein's request or of his own accord, it's difficult to say which. One of them has already answered Catherine's question about Broome.

A breeze floating by ruffles her shawl and the dark hair beneath. "I've seen what's coming, and so have you. The only way to change the future is to make amends with the past, and to do that, you have to unbury it. Keep digging."

She stiffens on hearing Epstein's answer, it causes Cat's poker face to slip. "Fuck," she mutters, "so this is Vanguard Round 4. That damned thing keeps growing a new head every time it gets mowed down." As she puts the film in the truck, Veronica is observed. A mental note is made about not letting it get tucked away in some Company vault, never to be seen again. She also intends to go through Building 26 again, as well as the others onsite, and gather all she can. But for now, she seems unbothered by manual labor and picks up a shovel.

"Just to make sure we're all reading the same book, what have you seen, Mrs. Petrelli?"

"Good luck," Avi grumbles frustratedly when Cat tries to plumb the depths of Angela's dream world. With he, Cardinal and Caliban all digging now, the loose and rocky desert soil is more rapidly disappearing from the space they're excavating and more rapidly piling up in dusty heaps beside a growing hole. Under the last remnants of the fading Azirona sun, Aviators takes a look over to Cat, then shakes his head slowly.

"I wish it were that easy, Chesterfield." There's another crunch as the soil is lifted and tossed aside from his shovel and another immediately afterward when Cat's shovel adds to the work. "Broome doesn't want to end the Evolved, he's not like that, but I don't know what he wants… why he's so eager to do what he's doing for the Government." Another heavy hsovelfull of sandy earth is heaped aside, mostly small rocks and loose, infertile land heaved into that growing pile.

Sweat bears thick on Avi's brows, darkens his shirt under his arms and on his back and chest. Wiping a grimy hand across his forehead, he breathes a heavy exhalation then looks down to the dirt. "I dunno what the hell Broome wants…" he says with a tone of both desperation and lack of understanding, a man who's tried to discern another's motives and came up with only darkness and silence.


Cardinal's shovel hits something solid, and it causes Avi's back to tense up. His eyes cast over to something that looks like a larger rock in the dirt, and as their shovels scrape through the sand and the gravel, the tan orb revealed isn't a large stone, judging from the gaping eye sockets and missing teeth of its frozen open jaw. A hissed breath is drawn in when Avi notices the bullet hole in the skull's forehead, then the tattered, nearly dissolved clothing its wearing.

That there is a decaying teddy-bear buried in the hole with the small skeleton makes his jaw tighten and tremble. "Oh, God."

What did Angela Petrelli see, Catherine Asked?

The president's mother's fingers curl in on themselves, her hand making a tight knot above her heart. "The beginning of the end."

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