The Message And The Bottle


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Scene Title The Message and the Bottle
Synopsis Richard Cardinal and Monica Dawson take a trip up to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to track down a message left by Edward Ray, and instead discover a man with aspirations of sending a message in a bottle throughout time.
Date December 1, 2010


Outside, the rain is hammering down from cloudy skies.

A weather front that has rolled in from the Great Lakes region brought with it warmer weather, but also a torrential downpour of cold rain. In the brightly lit halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that rain is viewed through tall, eastwardly facing windows overlooking much of the MIT campus, as well as a whitewashed and concrete barricade bordered art-deco styled building residing just off campus and in clear view from this third floor hall. The Commonwealth Institute is just an arm's reach away, spitting distance, as it were.

It isn't the Commonwealth Institute that brings Richard Cardinal and Monica Dawson two-hundred miles from New York City to Cambridge Massachusetts, it's something more personal. On the third floor of the Maclurean building resides MIT's physics department, within which lies fringe particle physicist and professed researcher into the science of time travel, professor Ronald Mallett.

Getting directions to Professor Mallett's office turned out to be as simple as asking, remarkably just as easy as swiping a Registry card out in New York City had gotten Monica and Richard access to the high-speed Boston-bound train, out of New York City and into an area of the country where a man can take a taxi without swiping his Registration card. Massachusetts, despite being the heart of the Institute, seems to be no less liberal and no less free than anywhere that isn't adjacent to Manhattan.

After the Thanksgiving holiday, MIT is bustling with activity. Students and professors, all coming and going down these carpeted halls. Monica and Richard's journey takes them past lecure halls, labs, and finally towards the private offices of professors, where they have been told Professor Mallett can be found between classes.

At the end of a long, straight corridor bordered on its east side by tall windows, lies a a stairwell access, an elevator, and a partly ajar glass door with a stenciled name on the front: Professor Ronald L. Mallett and below that, his title of Professor of Particle Physics.

Directly beneath that, someone has taped up a printed off image of Doc Brown from Back to the Future with plastic googly eyes stuck to it. In the margins on the picture, someone has written in red sharpie marker:

Time is not a line.

The red-painted tip of a metal arrow spins within the old-fashioned casing of the compass in Cardinal's hand as he walks along the hallway, coming to a halt pointing in the direction of the Commonwealth Institute. It's tempting to follow its directions, to slide unseen into its halls, to do everything he can to wrest his people free of the complex. It'd be a foolhardy course of action, but it's a tempting one all the same.

But he's here hoping to find a different sort of direction than the one the compass offers. The fob watch-casing is snapped closed, and he tucks it into an inner pocket of his pants as they near the door.

"This looks like the…" Trailing off, his gaze falls on the picture tapped to the door. The faintest of smiles tugs up a little on his lips, and he reaches out to brush a fingertip down the words scribbled in red down the side of the page. "…hello, Edward," he whispers.

Then his hand folds into a fist, and he raps on the half-open door. "Professor Mallett? Are you in?"

"Edward is a fan of googly eyes?" Monica asks with a crooked smile and a lifted eyebrow. What she remembers of the man, after all, is just a lecture on how to stop the end of the world.

But as Cardinal knocks, she turns on the charming, sweet southern-girl smile. The freedom fighter tucked away for now. And hey, it wasn't so long ago that she really was just a wide-eyed and hopeful college student full of curiosity.

The door opens on its own with the pressure of rapping knuckles. Within is a cluttered work environment of rolling whiteboards littered with Post-It notes, a chalkboard dominating one wall filled with a mad-man's scrawl of mathematical notations. On one large table in the middle of the office, cluttered paperwork rests in presumably organized stacks interspersed with colored folders, city maps and electrical schematics. Amidst all of this, a four foot high and one foot wide cylinder of metal pipes and black plastic rings stands like some sort of abstract art piece, the rubbons of cabling coming from it spill down onto the floor and slither across the floor to where a young looking blonde woman is hunched over a computer with an old CRT monitor shedding dim light on her face.

Muddy green eyes peer up over the monitor to Cardinal, and despite the dirty blonde ringlets of hair, there's something familiar about the woman looking up at him, but for the life of him he can't quite place it. "Good morning, ah, Professor Mallet's in a loo," there's a quirk of her lips into a faint smile, "s'there something I can do for you?"

As she steps out from behind the computer, a plastic badge dangling on a lariat around her neck reads: Baumgartner, Aria. over the logo for the Commonwealth Institute of Massachusetts.

Given that they were walking into at least an allegedly formal situation, Cardinal made certain to throw on one of his suits today; a nice off-the-rack number, his tie a little loosely knotted and just a touch of rumpling to it. He doesn't take excellent care of his formal-wear. The Oakleys hide his own eyes as he flashes the blonde a smile.

"Good morning," he offers in affable tones, glancing to her nametag, "…Miss Baumgartner. No, I need to talk to Professor Mallett, if you don't mind us waiting? He should have been expecting me to stop by sometime."

Monica, on the other hand, is wearing some of Peyton's clothes. Which means she is at least out of the all black look she generally sports! And even looks fashionable. It's a rare thing, really. While Cardinal takes on the socializing, she hangs out at his side, her attention more on the room itself. It's fascinating, really, how they work. And while she doesn't touch anything (she knows better than that, at least), she is checking things out. And really it's that cylinder that ends up with her attention, if only because it seems to be the current project.

"Oh well, if he's expecting you," Aria murmurs with a wave of one hand towards the chairs seated around the table. "Take a seat but don't touch anything, Robert would probably have a stroke if even one of those lasers got knocked out of alignment." Brows furrowing together, Aria sidesteps back behind her computer. "I'd offer you coffee," she comments out of hand, "but the machine's been broken for months…" While Aria does motion towards a corner of the office, while presumably there might be a coffee pot back there, the mountain of paperwork and electroic parts seems to be camouflaging it.

Pausing mid-click on the keyboard, Aria's eyes flick up to Monica, then track to Cardinal in sudden scrutiny. A quick look to check that they both have guest badges hanging around their necks, which checks out easily enough, then a look back to Cardinal with her brows furrowed together.

"Have you come here before?" Aria's eyes narrow for a moment, "there's something really familiar about you."

"I've never actually been to MIT…" Cardinal steps along over to one of the closer whiteboards, hands clasping behind his back as if to demonstrate he's not touching anything, his head cocking to one side as he tries to make sense of the scribbling to absolutely no avail. Anything past pre-algebra is a pain in the ass for him, and this is a little more advanced than that. "…I'm told I've got one've those faces, though. Unless you've spent a lot've time in New York City."

That said, he glances to the cylinder that Monica's checking out, "That his latest attempt at a time machine?"

"Oh boy, another for the harem," Monica murmurs for Cardinal's benefit, a bit of a smirk on her face. But for Aria, she lifts her hands, if only to show she's not near touching anything, and then slides them into her back pockets.

Just about the time Cardinal inquires about the machine, Monica pipes up, too. "Lasers?" And she peers at the contraption with a little more active interest. She's read enough comic books to suspect a death laser, but has a firm enough hold in the real world not to voice that thought.

Brows lift and Aria glances to the whiteboard, then Cardinal. "Oh, no it's not so much…" she waves a hand in front of her face, then furrows her brows and shakes her head, chosing to drop the topic in favor of the one that has garnered Monica's attention. Dismissing prior words with a smile, Aria taps a key on the keyboard and rings of red lights illuminate inside of the black plastic, aimed towards one another.

"Something like that," Aira admits with a tip of her head to the side. "It's a scale model of Professor Mallett's ring laser design. It's proof of concept, mostly, for his paper on the physics of time travel. Professor Mallet believes that by using a powerful enough laser ring to bend space in on itself, a pinhole into the past that could send back and forth particles could be created."

Aria's muddy green eyes look up and down at the cylinder, then to Monica. "It's not a functioning prototype though, it's just a model. In all practicality the amoutn of energy you'd need would be astronomical in order to power lasers strong enough to bend space at the amount required. It's all theory, but it's fascinating. Fascinating and also full of lasers, saying that usually gets the kids' attention."

"I'm going to pretend that any of that made any sense to me," Cardinal says with a low chuckle, his shoulders shaking a bit with that hint of humor, "I'm not exactly a big science guy. I'm sure some've my subordinates would be fascinated, though." He brings a hand up to rub against his chin as he watches the lasers whirl, "A lot of power, eh? So, like, that thing they're doing up at CERN level of power? Miles and miles of tunnels and shit?"

"I guess I can't argue that point much, since the lasers got my attention." Monica straightens up some, though. "It is fascinating, though. I don't have a background in science, either, but the idea of time travel actually being a functioning bit of tech — that's like the holy grail of science, yeah?"

"Sort of, I guess. It's more Professor Mallett's personal dream… more so than anything else, at least." One curious look then goes from Aria to Cardinal at the not a big science guy, which elicits Aria doing a look around the room to indeed make certain she's still in a professor's office at MIT and not a Kentucky Fried Chicken. After a moment of improperly timed laughter, Aria threads a lock of hair behind one ear, then finally sits down at the computer. "LHC-levels of power is about right. yeah. This is something that we're probably a good ten… maybe twenty years off or more from even having the appropriate level of technology to build."

The door to the office creaks open just a touch more, and a new voice joins Aria's. "I wouldn't sell the model of human innovation short, miss Baumgartnet." Standing in the doorway with a paper tray-box containing two coffees and a raspberry danish is the most unassuming professor since Doctor Edward Ray defined meek and mild-mannered. Professor Ronald Mallett is going gray, his short, dark hair taking silver hues at his temples. Dark skin and a stocky build layered in a festive red and green Christmas sweater makes him look more like Monica's uncle Roy rather than a particule physicist.

"But if you're here about my recent paper, I don't much have time to discuss it with you…" Walking through the office, Professor Mallett carrier the coffees over to Aria, letting her take one out of the tray, along with the danish with a crinkle of its wax-paper cover.

"They said you were expecting them?" One of Aria's brows lift slowly, and Ronald looks for all his worth like he has no idea what she's talking about as he goes thorugh the process of extricating his coffee cup from the cardboard container.

See? Cardinal knew something about science! Of course, that's because he read an article that was saying the world was going to be destroyed by the LHC, but give him his moment of pride, okay?

Just as he's about to respond to Aria, the door opens and in comes the professor. He's given a once-over as he talks, and then he flashes a winning smile over to him. "Professor Mallett. I'm Richard Cardinal."

Hopefully he doesn't have to shoot Aria when he says that name. She seems like a nice girl.

There's something to be said about a dramatic pause. And Monica believes in them so much, she seems to be waiting for the reaction to the name before offering her own. Extreme curiosity, perhaps, over Cardinal's method of making this particular… appointment.

Plus, she's a little disappointed there's no lab coat. The festive sweater almost makes up for it, but it's really likely she was expecting someone closer to the googly-eyed visage on the door.

Richard's name rolls by Aria without recognition as she slurps at her coffee, danish balanced in her other hand as she steps around the computer. Professor Mallet, however, seems to recognize the name. Brows furrowed, chin lifted, Professor Mallet looks at Richard like he has two heads. "We've… met?" The suspicion in his tone is undeniable, and there's some sudden scrutiny crossing the old scientist's face as he glances to Monica, then back to Cardinal.

"I'm going to have to ask to see some credentials, sir, because I spoke with a Richard Cardinal over the phone earlier last month." When Ronald starts to get suspicious, and cagey, Aria likewise seems to notice, but her concern seems more focused on her danish than anything else. She steps around both the conversation and the people having it, peering over at Monica ever so briefly as she politely and wordlessly excuses herself from the office, headed to the door.

"Oh…" Cardinal's gaze slides over to touch upon Aria's clueless form for a moment, "…I'm sure you did. It's easy to claim to be someone over the phone, though." The fact that the man on the other end of the phone was more than likely actually Richard Cardinal doesn't change the truth of that statement.

He reaches into his suit jacket, drawing out his wallet and flipping it open to pull out his driver's license and his Redbird Security security pass. Stepping over, he offers them to the Professor, lips twitching in a faint smile. "It's not like moving mountains after all."

Ronald's brows furrow, watching Richard for a moment with a suddenly more nervous and wary expression when he sees the card. "Aria," he calls after the blonde, who stops and turns looking over her shoulder with one brow raised. "Can… can you tell Robert that I'll be late for our lunch?" There's a sheepishness to his awkward expression, and Aria's only answer is an open mouthed smile and a look back and forth between Ronald and Cardinal, then a brief look to Monica.

Her smile and nod is the last seen of Aria Baumgartner before she disappears into the hall. Professor Mallett, however, takes a step over to the machine that has so fascinated Monica, completely shifting conversational gears. "How much do you know about me, Mister Cardinal?"

The identification cards are slid away carefuly as the young woman steps out of the room, and Cardinal slips the leather wallet back out of sight. Once the door's closed behind her, he moves to step along after the doctor in the direction of the cylindrical machine and its carefully-attuned lasers, both hands clasping at the small of his back once more.

"Not much," he confesses, "Just what little Edward mentioned. That there was some sort of… accident when you two were working together. That you're working on some sort've time machine, at least according to the newspaper."

"Edward…" is said in a rueful manner, or perhaps that's just the only way anyone knows how to say his name these days. "He and I worked together in 2006, we shared office space when this hall was being renovated. I'd just moved up from Pennsylvania University to here at MIT, and Professor Ray was a man I got to know as well as anyone could in our short time together." Walking up to stand beside Cardinal, Ronald glances to Monica warily before turning his attention up to the ring laser.

"We were working on constructing this prototype on October first of that year. There was a power surge here in the lab and the lasers overheated. Professor Ray suffered some burns on his hands from the resulting flash. I… wasn't in the office at the time." Professor Mallett looks at the machine, brows furrowed together.

"This device is childish," he concedes with a breathy voice. "It's a young man's desire to have his father back, and no amount of plastic, steel and lasers is ever going to do that. But when my father passed away when I was a little boy, I was determined to find a way to bring him back, to change things, for the better."

Ronald looks up from the machine to Cardinal. "The temptation there, to want to build a machine by which man can correct all of its mistakes is so profound. But this machine won't do that… not in any of our lifetimes, not even after a full-scale version is completed…" Ronald looks down at his coffee cup, then up to Cardinal.

"What… is it you want with me, Mister Cardinal?" It's the tone of voice of a man who has lost his focus, a man running on fumes. It isn't an entirely unfamiliar tone to Richard.

"It is the ultimate question, isn't it? If you can go back and fix everything. Or if fixing everything back then would only make things worse in the now. Man is, after all, a flawed creature. It's only logical that we'd be screwing up left and right." Monica looks over at Cardinal, "Tempting, isn't it?"

If she's teasing, it's really hard to tell.

She looks back to the professor, though, a gesture toward the machine, "You said… was determined. What's the motivation now?"

"I don't know." That probably isn't the answer that was expected, not by the professor and not by the woman that accompanied Richard Cardinal up here to the Massachusets Institute of Technology. It's a tired admission, his gaze trailing over the ring lasert for a moment before he looks back over to Mallett with a weary little half-smile, "I honestly don't. I suppose it's because I wasn't sure who else to talk to. Edward never left anything to chance. He mentioned you in his last letter, and I told him that I'd be coming by here in the autumn…"

He shakes his head a little at Monica's question, "No. Not anymore. I've seen what happens when you give in to that temptation. This…" He gestures to the machine, "It's a bad idea. It looks good on paper, but in practice… it's a Pandora Box that shouldn't ever be opened. No offense, Doc."

Too many questions going in every direction, and Ronald isn't answering any of them. Instead, he takes a sip of his coffee and turns his back on the machine, walking back towards the computer. "I think it is our responsibility to lead as a lesson to the future. What better way than by educating the past…" Pausing by the computers, Ronald reaches down with one hand and types in a string of commands to the terminal, then presses the execute key.

The ring lasers light up again, and to actually show the beams, a gust of steamy air vapor is funneled up through a whirring motor on the bottom of the device. Now visible, the spirals of laser beams criss-crossing inside of the cylinder look more like a helix. "Imagine… being able not to travel back in time, but to send a message backwards to the past." Ronald looks up to the machine, smiling faintly.

"A message to a loved one you were too young to express yourself to before they were gone…" That's the personal answer. "A warning to a more innocent time about a pitfall to come," is more practical, though bordering on dangerous. "A record of history passed backwards in the hopes of building a better tomorrow for someone." Ronald steps awat from the cylinder, and the lasers continue to pulse in a slow spiral, every so often forming a single helix, with three horizontal laser beams extending out from it.

"With a machine like this, the message wouldn't be complicated. Transmitting even a few bytes of data backwards in time is still well outside of the realm of physical application. But… imagine if you could. What message would you send?" Ronald looks to Cardinal, then Monica, then back to the cylinder. "How would you make sure people got it, saw it, knew what to look for?"

There's a sigh as Ronald shakes his head, then steps away from the machine again, headed towards a cluttered desk.

Frankly, it is surprising. Enough for Monica to blink and reach over to lay a hand on Cardinal's arm. It's almost like she's trying to be comforting. But when she speaks up, she looks over at the Professor. "I think you're intentionally ignoring how bad something like that could be. And also a bit naive, thinkin' there was ever a more innocent time. If you want a better future for people? You should get with the history professors learn from the mistakes history's made and left there for us to learn from. Sendin' messages, messing with what's happened, that's a train wreck waitin' to happen." And don't they know it! Having so recently been tossed through time to prevent that very thing. "Now, if you could find a way to see the past, so we can learn it more accurately than we can with what scrolls or art was able to survive… now that I might be able to get behind."

The explanation of what the machine is for is listened to in silence, Richard's gaze lingering on the luminous gleam of the lasers that lance up through the cylinder in a way that brings to mind an oddly familiar symbol. His lips pull in a thin line, head shaking slowly after a moment. At the touch to his arm, he looks back over to her, managing a faint smile before slanting a look after Ronald.

"I can think of… a number of messages I could send back," he admits, "And it'd be tempting to do it. Hell. I've done it, if you want to be technical about it. It's very, very tempting, Doc."

He watches the other man heading for the desk, and then asks quietly, "What did the other me want from you when you talked to him on the phone?"

Ronald stares flatly at Richard, brows furrowed together, and then as he looks back to the machine Ronald says nothing. He just rummages around in the desk, pulling out a drawer with an exasperated sigh, trying to find whatever it is that suddenly has his attention. A breathy aha elicits a look of relief from Ronald, and after a few crinkling noises and clunks he pulls out an old, wooden humidors covered in dust and painted a faded shade of royal blue.

Wiping off some of the dust with his sweater sleeve, Ronald looks up to Cardinal. "The man on the phone that day?" One brow arches slowly. "He called to tell me that it worked…" there's a furrow of his brows, and Professor Mallett looks positively confused by that sentiment. "That's all he said."

And on that note, he's coming back around with the humidore.

Monica may be behind on the latest events that Cardinal's been uncovering. The other him, certainly. But those words from Ronald are ominous enough to get her to press her lips together and look over Cardinal's way. She doesn't have to say it out loud, not for him. She doesn't like the sound of that.

And she might be thinking of fiddling with one of those lasers just on principle.

"Ah." Cardinal's gaze drifts back to the ring laser, "I suppose it will, then."

His jaw sets slightly, eyes closing briefly. It does sound tempting. Just like something he'd do, or would have done, before he'd looked into the eyes of what he'd become if he didn't learn to yield when he needed to.

His eyes opening, he watches the other man's approach with the humidore, one brow lifting a little, "What's that?"

"Yours," Ronald insists, holding it out to Cardinal, "or that's what Edward told me the last time I saw him." The humidor is held out and up to Cardinal, offered out. "Before he left MIT, Edward came down to my office with this box. He told me not to open it, and that a man named Richard Cardinal would be coming by eventually and that he'd know what to do with it…" Ronald shakes his head slowly, tapping one finger ona keyhole in the front of the box.

"I've been tempted to unlock it, try and pick it, but… I just couldn't in good conscience do that." There's a furrow of Mallet's brows as he looks down to the box, then back up to Richard. "I don't rightly know why Edward would have wanted you to have whatever this is, or what your relationship to him is, but he did give me an instruction. He said that the box and all its contents are yours, but that you're not allowed to open it up without someone named Kaylee around."

Awkwardly hopeful, Ronald seems worried that the message might not make a lick of sense. It most certainly doesn't to him. "That's… it."

It all makes Monica chuckle, really. Just a little! It's not a good sign as far as everything suddenly making sense, frankly, but she cocks out a hip, her hand propping there on it as she looks over at Cardinal. "I guess that means your Pony Express worked, huh?" She may just have lost a bet.

The instructions might not make any sense to Ronald, but Richard Cardinal nods in complete understanding as he reaches out with restrained eagerness to accept the locked cigar box. It's turned in his hands, fingers brushing over the faded paint over its head. "Thank you," he says quietly, earnestly, "He got my message after all… and I know where to find her, that's alright. She'll be glad to hear from him."

A bit of a smirk at Monica's words, then it fades as he gives Mallett a serious look, "The man, the… other man that was claiming to be me. You can't trust him. He started out with good intentions, but you know what they say about those…" He doesn't really expect Ronald to listen to him, but he has to try. "This thing, this machine of yours… it's a bad idea. You might be able to send a message to the past, to try and fix the big things… but where do you stop? It's like an artist who keeps going back to fix all his little mistakes. Eventually the painting ends up ruined."

Ronald looks at the machine, brows pinching together thoughtfully, then his eyes dip down to the floor, then up to Monica and back over to Cardinal. "Maybe," is as much as Doctor Mallet concedes. "But I'm willing to bet that one day… one day my work's going to save lives, not damage them. Maybe it isn't ever about trying to fix all the mistakes in the painting at all, you know?" Ronald looks up to the top of the machine, his stare somewhat distant.

"Maybe sometimes, it's about knowing when you need to scrap the old one, and start all over again from scratch." Conviction, of some variety, stands behind those words. When Ronald looks back to Monica and Cardinal, it's with less patience than before. "I have a class in fifteen minutes. I— I'd like to know what's been in that humidor I've been holding all these years, but…" smiling understandingly, Professor Mallet dismisses the notion. "I get that sometimes, there's things a man wasn't meant to know."

This conversation has run Monica through a multitude of emotions. By the end, though, she's settled on 'wow, this son of a bitch is crazy'. And given that it's Monica, it is written all over her face. It's also really rare for her to meet someone more naive than her, so it's sort of a big day, today.

She opens her mouth to speak, but nothing seems to want to come out, so after a moment of hang time, she closes it again and looks over at Cardinal. And then back to the professor again at those last words because of irony.

"Do you?" It's a pointed question, Cardinal's head shaking slowly at the professor's words, his expression turning altogether grim, "It sounds like you're playing the serpent in the garden here… anyway, I suppose it's not my place to argue with you, Professor. I— thank you, for holding onto this all these years. It means a lot to me."

He tips his head to the door in a signal for Monica, moving to step that way, "Maybe I'll stop by again sometime. Take care."

It's with a speculative look that Professor Mallett regards Cardinal, affording him and Monica both a subtle tip of his head down into a nod before he moves away from the prototype and towards the computer its connected to. Curiosity does, indeed, have the better of Ronald as he watches Cardinal carry the box out of the office with Monica following behind. His hands hover over the keys, and professor Mallett looks down at them, finger wavering between two buttons, then finally makes his decision with a symbolic click of one key.

The machine powers down with a soft hum, but determination such as that is often too little…

…too late.


The Commonwealth Institute


Lifting up the corded land-line, Tyler Case slouches back into his chair, little more than a flesh suit worn by a shade of a man. An ink black pinstriped suit looks unusual on Tyler's frame, for those that knew him, but it — like the fedora on the desk — is par for course for Richard Cardinal, the shadow coiled inside of Tyler's empty shell of a body. "Mnhmm… and no one interfered?"

A pitch of his head forward turns into a nod, and Cardinal turns borrowed eyes to the fedora, lifting it up and moving it aside to reveal a battered old journal laying on his glass-topped desk. "No, no let them leave. It's good he found it now, this will be a good lesson for him." Reaching for the battered journal of Edward Ray, Cardinal turns it over in one hand, brows furrowed in anger.

"No, that's all…" he adds dismissively, staring vacant at the old book before letting it fall back down to his desk.

"Thank you Aria, you've been very helpful."

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