The Instrument


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Scene Title The Instrument
Synopsis The Mother sits in the House of the Open Gate and the Instrument is ready to be played. — Ra'id Abdul-Jalil Sabbagh, In the House of the Open Gate
Date June 8, 2021

Creosote rain falls on the city.

The air stinks of tar and soot, the western horizon is cast in a nightmarish orange glow. Even with the rain a haze still lingers in the air, dimming the glow of street lights and making their illumination bloom foggy in the dark. In spite of the scent of smoke in the air, a security guard stands under an Emergency Room entrance awning beside an ambulance, lighting a cigarette. The EMTs at the rear of the ambulance load an empty gurney up inside, noisily shutting the doors. Only the security guard notices a lone man approaching from the parking lot, his face veiled by the shield of an umbrella.

The security guard takes a drag off of his cigarette, watching the stranger with the umbrella walk past the ambulance toward the Emergency Room doors. The security guard follows the man's movements, then catches sight of him as he passes by. The man with the umbrella is still a stranger to the guard, even when he can see his face. But that comfort lasts only so long. The stranger's pupils flicker with an internal light, a chromatic yellow glow like a cat's at night, and so too do the security guard's in sympathetic reaction. They stare at one-another first in silence, then in understanding, and finally in one-sided confusion.

As the ambulance drives off the man with the umbrella turns around with a bewildered look on his face. The light in his eyes is gone. He looks up at the sky, gray rain dappling his face. When he looks back to the security guard, he calls out, "H-hey! Hey how—how did I—can you help me?!" In anxious panic.

The security guard flicks his unfinished cigarette into a puddle and walks back into the hospital, ignoring the stranger's plight.

Fournier-Bianco Memorial Hospital
Roosevelt Island
NYC Safe Zone

June 8th
1:12 am

"When does your flight leave?"

David Cardinal looks better than he has in years. Though seated in bed, there is a light in his eyes and a smile that feels irrepressible. Seated on the edge of David's bed, Michelle Cardinal looks at him through glasses of nostalgia and mourning for the man he might have been. Though still, she holds his hand with hope for the man he might become.

"Six in the morning," Chel says with a dismissive smile, "so we still have plenty of time."

"You're not going to sleep?" David chastises her with a teasing smile and a squeeze of her hand.

"I can sleep on the flight," Chel replies with a flutter of laughter. "Besides, I won't be back until after the end of June. There's…" her eyes go distant, stare dipping down to the blanket. "There's so much left to do."

David cradles her hand in both of his now, reassuringly. "Which you still can't tell me anything about?"

"No." Chel says with a tired smile, stroking her thumb over the David's knuckles. "But maybe when it's done. I want to. I do." There's a tension in David's brow, and now he looks away, but not entirely. Instead, he's focused on their hands held together.

"The last time you had a big project you couldn't tell me about—" David looks back up to her, "I've never stopped thinking about that night." It kills Chel to hear that. Her jaw tenses, trying to hide the fact that it wants to tremble. But she can't hide the way that she's clinging onto his hand.

"That wasn't me," is hard for Chel to say. David returns the squeeze of her hand.

"Maybe not entirely," he replies. "But some."

A silence hangs between them, an understood distance in spite of their obvious want for affection from each other. The wounds of their pasts will not heal as quickly as David's sickness. On that thought, Chel gently disengages her hand from David's and slides off of the bed, adopting a more formal demeanor. "How is everything? The headaches, the join pain?" For as much as it pains him to see Chel distance herself, David can't help but still smile. Even if that expression is tempered by their separation.

"I haven't felt this good since… in a long time." David says with a shake of his head. "Everything they did to me, all the symptoms I was having it—it feels better." Chel draws her teeth over her bottom lip and nods, a smile ghosting across her expression before being pushed back down.

"You need to make sure not to forget a dose," Chel says, moving to the table by his bedside where a battery-powered refrigeration case the size of a purse is currently plugged into a wall outlet, charging. "The best I've been able to do is find a way to mitigate the symptoms and help repair some of your collagen damage. But this connective tissue disorder is only part of the problem with—with whatever Gemini did to you." She checks the power light on the case, the cable; everything needs to be just-so.

"You'll figure it out." David says in a show of faith, leaning onto his elbow to slouch closer to her. Chel tenses her brows and steps away from the side of the bed, struggling with her own emotions.

"You don't know that." Chel says with a shake of her head. She can't look at him now. Not without the constant reminder that she might fail to save him again. "You don't know that," she says again as a whisper, wrapping her arms around herself. Seeing her like this kills him, and David leans to the side to get out of bed, which only makes her withdraw more. "No," Chel says, "please. I—you're right, I should get some sleep."

"Hey," he whispers, bare feet touching cold tile. David closes the distance as Chel locks up, first putting his hands on her shoulders and then as she gravitates toward him, draws her into an embrace. Chel closes her eyes, breathing in his scent as she buries her face in his chest. David presses his mouth to the top of her head, eyes shut, and takes in the scent of her scalp. "You might be the smartest person in any room, but you're terrible at figuring out how you feel."

Chel exhales a breathless laugh at that accurate assessment. "Richard says the same thing," she agrees.

Mention of Richard makes David's grip on Chel slack, and she feels the moment their conversation passed an unsalvageable threshold. The son he never fathered, the son of a he that can never be me. "Yeah," David says in a hushed tone, letting Michelle go. They two look at each other and recognize that there's little that can salvage the night now. He looks down at the wedding band on her hand he was holding and his heart aches for all the might-have-beens.

"Get in bed." Chel demands, and David can't argue. He already feels stiff in the joints for standing as fast as he did.

"Yes, Doctor." He says with as much of a smile as is appropriate at the moment. She returns one back. But still.

"I should go," Chel says, picking up her purse and jacket from the door. David reminds her of her umbrella with a nod as he sits back down on the bed, and Chel quickly throws on her coat and sweeps the umbrella up from the chair it was leaning against. "Get some rest." They both know he'll try, but they both know he won't be able to right away.

As Chel leaves the room, she pauses and steals one last look at David, then smiles in a way that doesn't quite reach her eyes as she shuts the door behind herself. Only once she's out in the hall does she allow herself to sigh and deflate, to show disappointment at him and herself. On her way down the hall, Chel picks up her phone and checks notifications from her OEI handlers, checks her itinerary for her rendezvous with Agent Reeves at 6am sharp. There is no flight, but she could never tell David that.

Waiting for the elevator to the lobby, Chel scrolls through news about the Ohio River fire, a knot of worry twisting in the pit of her stomach. She glances back down the hall in the direction of David's room, but snaps out of her worry when the elevator doors rush open with a soft chime. Chel steps forward without looking and bumps head-on into someone on their way out.

Oh!” She exclaims, looking up in a fluster of surprise. “I’m—sorry. My head’s in a million different places.” The security guard stepping out of the elevator laughs and gingerly slips by her.

“Me too,” he says with an easy smile. Chel slips into the elevator with her eyes glued to her phone again, never noticing the faint light flickering in the back of the security guard’s pupils. He turns as the elevator doors close at his back, and his focus shits down one long stretch of hallway. After a moment of consideration he continues ahead.

Inside his room, David Cardinal sits on the edge of his hospital bed, head in his hands. “I could’ve handled that better,” he mumbles to himself. A knock on the door rouses him from his guilt and frustration. He doesn’t even have time to ask who it is before he hears the door handle turn and sees the broad silhouette of a hospital security guard standing in the doorway.

“Can…” David starts to say, head tilting to the side, “I help you?”

The security guard steps into the room and shuts the door behind himself.

“Yes, David. You can.”

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