The Gordian Knot


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Scene Title The Gordian Knot
Synopsis Returned home from captivity, Richard visits his mother for advice.
Date January 23, 2020

Raytech-Yamagato Greenhouse
Michelle Cranston's Office

January 23rd
8:14 am

Richard wishes he could call it a good night’s sleep, but it wasn’t. It almost doesn’t feel real, being home right now, everyone acting like everything’s normal while things are


at all


He’s here the next morning all the same, trying to shake off the lingering scraps of nightmare clinging to him like webbing, trying to erase the image of his dying cousin from his mind and forget the darker stirrings of fear that lay past that. He’s here because he can’t not come see Michelle as soon as possible, standing outside his mother’s office door and bringing his hand up to knock. He hesitates for a moment, then raps his knuckles on it three times.

Then he pushes it open, because it’s his mother’s office, and also he technically owns it.

“Knock,” is the immediate response he is greeted with from Chel the moment he sets foot through the door. Her office is dimly lit by the gray skies outside. Lightly falling snow drifts past the windows and she is illuminated by the screen of her laptop. When she looks over it at her son, she guides Richard’s attention to the door-frame with a pointed stare.

She isn’t kidding.

She wants him to knock.

Speaking of people acting like things are normal.

Richard stares back at her for a moment with a are you serious sort of exasperated expression, and then without looking away he brings a hand up to knock sharply on the door frame. “Hi, mom, mind if I come in? I just got back from being kidnapped and tortured, thought I’d come say hi,” he says in a complete deadpan voice.

“Regretful to know they tortured your manners straight out of you,” Chel says with a look over the top of her monitor before she slowly closes the screen with one hand. There’s a tension in her voice, a tightness in her throat. It isn’t pretending, it’s struggling. “You seem okay,” she adds, the relief in her voice palpable behind the chill veneer keeping her from completely falling apart.

“Sit,” Chel insists, just as she had with the knocking, motioning to one of the two chairs on the other side of her desk like this was an interview. “Talk.” So she doesn’t have to.

Richard draws in a breath and steps fully inside, reaching back to close the door behind himself. “I’m not,” he replies quietly to the first statement, moving to step over to the desk and dropping himself down to sit, sinking back. He’s paler still than he was, and one can spot shadows beneath his eyes under the edge of his everpresent sunglasses. Fingertips shake ever so slightly as he drapes an arm over the armrest, his other hand on his thigh.

“Nathalie’s dead,” he says, not pulling any punches, “Baruti Naidu killed me. I was dead, I was…”

Another breath is drawn in sharply, his eyes closing as he exhales it in a long, slow moment, “…I was dead. She brought me back. It killed her. And now I’m carrying her burden too. It’s…”

His eyes open again, and he brings a hand up to pull off his shades, wiping at his eyes a bit with the edge of his hand, coming away a bit wet, red rimming them, “It’s been a bad month, mom.”

Nathalie’s dead hits Chel in a way she hadn’t expected. One hand comes up to her brow, eyes closing. She swallows, awkwardly, then nods and takes in a deep breath. It was the second time she had been unable to save her, and both times her death came when she was effectively worlds apart. She doesn’t imagine anyone survived the Ark. It’s only now that she closes her laptop, sliding it aside on her desk.

The desk that sits between them. A barrier.

“How?” Chel is driven by data, by points of information, by statistics. Not in the way Edward was, but she is none-the-less a caretaker of the tangible. More like Edward, she coaches her emotional responses against facts. Rationalizes with numbers. Obfuscates with math. In that, they were the closest of friends. “Exactly,” she emphasizes, “does that happen?”

“They kidnapped us, both of us. They knew what they were doing,” Richard draws in a slow, shaky breath, leaning back instead of forward no matter how much he wants to. No matter how much he wishes the desk weren’t there right now, a barrier. But his mother’s always kept that wall up between them ever since she was rescued, didn’t she?

He sets the shades down on the table, pinching the bridge of his nose. “He— stabbed me. Tossed me that cane like a joke, told me where to go, suggested I fight my way out. I barely got down the hallway before I…”

He drops silent a moment, eyes closing, “Then she was there. Nathalie. She had— the conduits, I’m sure you’ve read the briefings. Both of them. She burn— she burned herself up. All of her. To bring me back. And they came to me, because there wasn’t anyone else.”

“They just left me there. Like a fucking— like a discarded fucking toy. All that mattered to them was where the conduits were. They’re working off a plan, they have— someone like Edward, I think. Someone like Lisa.”

“She’s not,” is Michelle’s impassive response. There’s a tightness at the corners of her eyes that belies an internal emotional response, but it doesn’t outwardly express itself as concern. Richard’s seen that expression before, in people like Sarisa. A compartmentalization of emotional response and factual response. The past cannot be changed, therefore the present and future are the focus. Michelle Cardinal has decades of practice with this. “Lisa, that is.” There’s a hitch in her voice when she says the name, a flash of guilt, and a knowing look at Richard.

“When you were gone, Elisabeth had me try and make sense of your… that room, with the strings.” Michelle shakes her head, looking down to the desktop rather than look her son in the eye. “I read about your Edward. What he could do, what he saw. Lisa… isn’t like that. I knew her for years prior to the Crossing, Richard. I made a promise to keep her safe and protect her from people who would abuse her ability, but she isn’t some… computer.”

Michelle shakes her head and threads a graying lock of blonde hair behind one ear. “Lisa’s intuitive, like an unpracticed dancer who has a natural rhythm. She can’t piece together a future from extemporaneous points of data. She feels her way through a situation, it’s like… a massive gut instinct. She’s never tried to explain it to me any better.”

“I didn’t mean that she was, I mean… someone like them,” Richard brings a hand up, fingers rubbing between his eyes, “It’s probably for the best that she’s not like him, though, God knows his ability fucked his life up enough. Just because he was missing one or two key pieces of data…”

He breathes out a heavy sigh, slumping back in the chair and staring at the desk-top, “Yeah. I thought you’d be able to understand, I labeled everything… there’s just— there’s patterns upon patterns, and they aren’t random. Especially not after what Naidu said, they’re— just not. We’re trapped in a web and I don’t— know how to get us out, mom.”

Chel’s brows rise slowly, though she doesn’t remark on anything in spite of her expression. Instead, she picks up her coffee and quietly takes a sip, then looks out to the snow lightly falling out her office window. The distance in Chel’s expression is a familiar one, he’d seen it in Ezekiel all those years ago. Perhaps Kenner was right about the predisposition toward megalomania. Or, perhaps it’s all in how that predisposition is leveraged.

“There’s a story,” Chel says after that moment of thoughtful silence, “Alexander the Great arrives in the city of Telmissus…” she sets down her coffee and turns to face her son. “In the city there’s a post with an ox-cart tied to it with a knot of many ropes so elaborate that the beginning and end cannot be determined. The Gordian knot.” Folding her hands on her closed laptop, Chel sits forward.

“An oracle tells Alexander that any man who can undo the knot is destined to become the ruler of Asia.” Chel explains, making a gesture with one hand as if to indicate where Asia is. “Alexander looks at the knot, tries with all his might to undo it or untangle it, but there is no solution. So, figuring that it doesn’t matter how it’s done, Alexander the Great draws his sword and…”

Chel makes a cutting motion with her hand in the air.

“…right down the middle. The knot unravels.” Chel folds her hands again, head angling to the side as she reaches for her coffee once more. “Sometimes the solution isn’t to play the game at all, but flip the fucking table.”

As she’s silent, so is he, eyes closing for a moment as he just breathes… maybe waiting for her to say something. Hoping she has something to say. Not sure if she does, as closed off as she’s been since he walked in.

Then she speaks, and Richard’s gaze lifts up, watching her steadily - hopefully - for some wisdom, something he’s missed, some option that her enhanced intellect has found that he hasn’t. He leans forward, arms resting on the edge of the table as he listens.

Once she finishes, the ghost of a smile touches his lips. After a moment he says quietly, “Edward once said that in order to change the future, you had to be willing to move mountains. I don’t know which mountain to move, but… hah.”

Leaning back, he rakes one hand back through his hair, “Flipping the table like that might kill a lot of people, mom.”

He’s not saying no. Maybe it’d be less people than not doing so.

Michelle stands up from her desk, then retrieves a pack of cigarettes from her jacket and comes around the side of the desk toward the door, stopping at her son’s side. “I ripped the entire universe in half to get you back,” she says calmly, though he can see up close the barely restrained emotion in her eyes. “If you don’t think I’d do it again to find the gates of Hell or wherever it is people like us go when we die?” She shakes her head, tugging a cigarette out of the pack and putting it, unlit, between her lips. “Damn the consequences.”

With that, Chel pushes the door open and holds it, looking back over her shoulder with one brow raised in wordless question. Coming?

Richard looks up at her as she stops beside him, struck silent by her words— and the truth in them. There’s pain in his own, and guilt, along the desperate desire to just be able to reach out and hold her.

But more than his power holds him back. There’s still a gulf there between them, created by so many years, and maybe it’ll never be truly bridged.

Brow furrowing in bemusement then, he pushes himself up to his feet, moving to follow her out the door. “Where’re we going?”

“Where people like us don’t get to go,” Chel says with a lift of one brow and a finger to the ceiling.


Raytech-Yamagato Greenhouse

There is a light coat of snow across the roof when Michelle and Richard make their way out from the stairwell. It’s only now that Michelle lights up her cigarette, taking a drag off of it as she wraps her free arm around herself to keep her wool jacket closed — though unbuttoned — against the bitter January cold. She doesn’t offer her son a cigarette as she makes her way to the edge of the rooftop, exhaling a gout of smoke through her nose, squinting against the cold and the wind that whips her hair around.

“Who is they?” Chel asks, turning her back to the snowy Safe Zone skyline, plucking her cigarette from her mouth to keep pinched between forefinger and thumb. “The ones who killed Nathalie.”

She doesn’t offer, and Richard doesn’t ask for one. He tries not to smoke these days; he’s got kids to worry about now. He pulls his shoulders in a bit at the cold, but after Antarctica, after Alaska, after the Dome… he’s handled worse cold before.

“Mazdak,” he replies, looking back to her, “This particular bastard named Baruti Naidu, specifically. One of the surviving founders. I guess he’s also in control of Shedda Dinu, or at least part of it, he…”

A shrug of one shoulder, “— he didn’t explain everything. He was good at not monologuing. I think they’re religious fanatics; they follow the entity. The one that came through the Glass.”

Chel’s expression goes distant again, her brows furrow, eyes unfocus. It’s like she can hear the panicked screams of the SESA agents all over again. Rather than answer, Michelle takes in a drag from her cigarette, holds the smoke in, then slowly lets it drift out her nostrils as she thinks. “I don’t know them,” is her quiet answer to Baruti and Mazdak. But that isn’t what’s eating away at her.

“They’re the ones who hit Liberty Island,” Chel explains in a hushed voice. “They took your father,” she says with an audible tension in her voice. “They took you.” Her blue eyes track back to Richard. “This is starting to feel extremely personal. Have you had run-ins with them before?”

“My… they took David?” Richard sounds entirely confused on that point, “Why? He’s not leverage— the man wants nothing to do with me, and it’s fair enough…” He turns his head, gaze sweeping over the snow-kissed rooftops of Jackson Heights, arms folding to add a bit more warmth as he rocks on his heels.

“I mean, he isn’t my father. Why would he?”

There’s silence for long moments as he thinks about the question, then looks back with a frown, “No. No, I haven’t, not that I know of. I’d only seen the guy in Most Wanted files before he walked into that room… “

He shakes his head, “He insisted that we were similar. That we both followed a greater design, probability, all that. Edward, in my case. In his? I don’t know. I worried that it was Lisa— I’ve noticed some tampering from her, which you must have noticed when Liz showed you the map room…”

“That’s her business,” is Chel’s dismissive answer that comes with a flick of ash off the tip of her cigarette, cast to the wind. “This must have all hit the papers at the same time,” is her deflection away from the topic of Lisa. “Naidu hit Liberty Island personally, with another woman. Francesca Lang.” It doesn’t sound like Chel knows her either.

“Naidu grabbed a handful of others…” Chel says, and it’s only now that Richard realizes what she’s doing. She’s distracting him from what was troubling him when he came in, by trying to give him a more immediate puzzle to solve. It makes Richard wonder how it is Michelle chose to grieve her husband and son for all those years. Or, perhaps this is how. “James Woods, Faruq Mansoor, Jason Pierce, Alphonse Baumann.” She recites them from memory.

Taking another slow drag off of her cigarette, Chel turns her face to the wind, trying to get a hair across her face to blow back and away. “Where do they fit into the knot?”

Richard’s lips purse briefly at the mention of Francesca Lang. The other names, he tilts his head back, gaze watching the clouds drifting overhead as he tries to place them. He can tell what she’s doing, but is it working?

“Woods is… a nobody, really. Company Agent, was one of the first Gemini experiments I think, they rescued him from Praxis not too long ago. Odessa was— well. He was important to her,” he says quietly, thoughtfully, “Pierce was a Humanis First piece of shit. Anti-Evolved activist, hiding in the government and helping kill our people. Baumann was Company too. Used to clean up evidence for them. I don’t know Mansoor. And Dave was… well. Dave.”

He frowns, “Doesn’t seem like there’s any direct connection between any of them.”

Michelle kicks up one brow, then looks over at Richard. “My Dave or not, I don’t know what I’d do if it came down to someone hurting him… or my being leveraged.” It’s a cold, painful admission to have to make. To admit her susceptibility to manipulation. “Woods is important to Odessa, and last I remember she helped open a doorway into the other side of reality. I don’t know about the others.”

The point Michelle is trying to make lingers between her words, like the smoke drifting from the head of her cigarette. “Sometimes a plan isn’t about the tools, but what you’re going to use them for. The answer was right in front of you, if you ask me.” She takes another drag off of her cigarette, then turns her back to the snowy cityscape to face her son.

“Question is what do you do next?” Chel asks, pointedly. “You can’t predict the future, but we have an enemy that can… maybe.” We is carefully slipped in there. “What’s the next move?”

“Okay. Okay…”

Richard draws in a slow breath, then exhales it, the chill turning that breath into a finer mist than the cigarette smoke she’s exhaling. He walks slowly over to the edge of the roof, looking out over the city without seeing it.

“Leverage. So they took Dave as insurance against you, me, or both; Woods is insurance against Odessa. They hit PISEC so they might have her, too; probably using him to keep her in line. Baumann’s utility is obvious, he may’ve just been a target of opportunity,” he murmurs, “Pierce… maybe his knowledge about national security, or maybe they just wanted an anti-evolved fanatic to toss on a fire somewhere, I don’t know. They’re grabbing up all the tools they can, and they have a plan for all of them.”

Silence for a long moment, “We don’t have enough tools of our own. We need to find more tools, we need to act unexpectedly so they can’t predict what we’re going to do. Be like water, but water during a flood…”

One hand comes up to pinch the bridge of his nose, “Nnh. If I knew what their goals were, I could plan for that, but they’re being too careful. Mom, you’ve got an IQ of like sixteen billion. Powers aside, I’ve been put in this position. What would you expect me to do in response?”

Chel exhales a breath that might have in simpler times been a laugh. Instead it just comes out as a soft snort. “You’re my son,” she says, blinking a look up to Richard. “I expect you to protect yourself and your family, to stay safe. Failing that,” she says with a hint of emotion breaking through her otherwise impassive facade, “sometimes there is no immediate response. Sometimes the only thing to do is circle close, hold fast, and pray the waters don’t wash you away.” It is, after all, what she did to survive a less proverbial flood.

Flicking her cigarette over the edge of the roof, Michelle shakes her head. “Sometimes, there isn’t a way out.” She steps over to Richard, one hand on his shoulder with a firm squeeze, and then lets the hand slip away as she excuses herself from the conversation. At least, for the time. Richard can hear the strain in her voice, the shock of the truth Richard laid on her too much now to hold up a strong front against. She needs to take her own advice, hunker down, and weather the flood of her own emotions.

But as Chel steps away from Richard, a third figure reveals himself on the roof, having been hidden behind Michelle’s silhouette like some sort of magic trick. He is hunched over against the railing, looking down at the street. Bald, hawkish, blue-eyed. He almost looks like Vincent Lazzaro, but his eyes are too light. He looks up to Richard, one dark brow raised.

“I may have a suggestion,” he says, but Richard can’t hear him or see him.

“When you’re ready.”


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