The New Beginning


bf_cassandra_icon.gif richard3_icon.gif

Scene Title The New Beginning
Synopsis Richard Ray turns to a dimension-spanned postcognitive to find answers to a long-burning question… only to find more questions hidden within.
Date August 16, 2019

Raytech NYCSZ Branch Office

“Thanks for coming, Cassie,” Richard says with a smile as he rises up to his feet, adjusting the fit of his jacket and offering a hand across his desk, “Good to see you. Hope you’ve been well, everything going good with you…?”

The cat’s not in the office today, presumably in the care of one of the children - or, potentially, Sera. The poor woman. The window’s tinted to opaque at the moment, hiding the view of Jackson Heights and replacing it with a scrolling news marquee set to mute and streaming a number of different channels at once.

The easier to spot crises, one expects.

“Hey, you’re welcome.” Richard’s hand is given a polite shake, Cassandra turning to make sure she’s aimed right before sitting down in one of the leather chairs on the other side of the desk, her heels off the ground, her toes barely touching. Apparently these were built for bigger people than she was. She looks relaxed. Comfortable, even. Taking a break from heavy lifting using her powers has allowed her time to heal. No more bloodshot eyes or raggedness to be seen. “Everything’s good with me. Just the usual, you know?” She chuckles. “Aurora babysitting and researching for you mostly. I do have that SESA thing coming up once they get the paperwork through the proper channels, though, so that’s going to be an interesting day or two, to be sure.”

Cassandra pulls one foot up and crosses her other leg over it below the knee, smiling faintly, her gaze wandering to the screens on the wall, studying the talking heads and news reports, wondering what crises Richard has already seen coming, moving back to Richard once a commercial for an insurance company comes on. “So…” She blinks. “This is like being called into the principal’s office. Are we having an employee review?” she’s teasing a little.

“I can imagine it will be, interesting that is… don’t let them give you any guff,” Richard chuckles, easing back into his chair and leaning back with a creak of leather, hands spreading a bit, “And make sure they pay you what you’re worth. Which is a good deal.”

He glances to the screens for a moment, then back with a wry smile, “No, it’s not an employee review, this is— well. For once I had an object I wanted you to look at that’s of more— personal importance, honestly, I don’t know if it’ll apply to anything more than my own life, but I can’t just keep staring at the damn thing and wondering. If you’re willing.”

Cassandra’s head bobs in assent. “I know, and trust me, they’re paying a good deal for this chunk of consulting. It’s kind of personal, though, so I don’t mind offering a little bit of a discount to give closure to the people who need it.” She pushes herself up on the chair, straightening once the reason for her being summoned is made clear, relaxing visibly when it’s made plain that it’s not an employee review or checking up on her internet habits.

Roleplaying at work via Telnet might not be considered the best use of company time and resources, after all.
“Of course.” Her voice is quiet and don’t think she hasn’t noticed it’s just her and Richard in the office. Some things might not be good to share with those you’re close with without having some kind of context to go off of. God, her life has pretty much turned into figuring out the nuances of context, and she’s gotten pretty good at it. “What is it?”

“It’s… well,” Richard hesitates, looking at a drawer of his desk before reaching over and rolling it out. His black-marked hand briefly dips into it and then emerges with a small leather case, opening it to reveal a pair of dusty, cracked spectacles with a broken arm. He gently turns the case and slides it over to her.

“It was a message, I think,” he admits, “There was a note with it, too, but… the thing is, these were Edward Ray’s glasses. I’d recognize them anywhere. But after thinking about it, it doesn’t make sense that he would’ve been alive to leave the message where and when he did.”

“But I learned a long time ago that nothing to do with Edward was left up to chance.”

The drawer sliding open on well-machined glides and closing with a muffled thump has Cassandra leaning forward to reveal the mundanest of things. A small leather glasses case containing a simple-looking pair that held glasses that Cassandra saw last on a battered man in a wheelchair in a tomb beneath the seas covering Boston.

“It might very well be.” Cassandra takes the case hesitantly, a fingertip brushing through the dust on one of the cracked lenses on the off chance that these gave her the same chewing aluminum dipped in hot sauce sensation as one of Caspar’s pennies did. It might even be a message from an Edward from another timeline. Surely with her sitting there, that’s crossed Richard’s mind. “A message in a bottle. Could he somehow know that someone with my ability would be around to even read it? I know he did something with probability, but that’s about it.”

“Yes.” Richard’s chin dips in a slight nod, “This message was left for me in another timeline, knowing that being thrown randomly through time by a time-traveller in an attempt to save me from a bullet would land me in a specific place, in a specific time.”

Wryly, he admits, “I suspect that knowing I’d have access to you would be child’s play, given things like that he’d predicted. Sometimes I feel like I’m following a script, to be honest, but— at least I know the writer had a happy ending in mind. Or as close as he could get.”

“It’ll be the second time someone has talked to me in a vision, directly. Knew I was looking in and mentioned me by name. Kind of creepy, to tell the truth.” Cassandra says ruefully, setting the glasses back on the desk and pulling out her blindfold. Developed by RayTech, her new blindfold looks just like a pair of normal, close-fitting black sunglasses but blocks out all visual stimulus while keeping the evidence of her ability hidden. This lets her use it pretty much anywhere she wants without having to wrap her eyes in absorbent cloth - one of the advantages of hooking up with a major company.

“I’ve got time now, if you’re willing.” She holds up the blindfold. “Just lock the door and off we go.”

“Trust me, I know the feeling. I got mail for years after the man died, it was kind of surreal,” Richard admits with a rueful chuckle of his own, leaning back in his chair, “The door’s already locked, so… whenever you’re ready.”

He’s trying to seem casual, hands folding loosely, brows going up a little— but there’s an underlying anxiety gnawing at him. He’s been worrying this particular bone for years now.

Cassandra is businesslike in her movements - the placement of the glasses out of their case where they can be easily found while blindfolded, the fastening of her blindfold around her eyes and the boxer-like movement of the small brunette rolling her head back and forth, her neck popping faintly as she does so. “Okay then.” She takes up the glasses carefully with her left hand, sweeping it across her lap to capture them, cradling them against her stomach as her power goes to work.

It’s much faster now, than it was before. The darkness comes almost in a blink, the world vanishing, the light fading like someone flipped a switch, leaving Richard and Cassandra there, in the void, seated on invisible furniture. “I’m going to guess it’s not going to be the most recent memories, just on a hunch. You found them or they were brought to you, after all, so you’re definitely in there somewhere. We can start with the last strong memory and then go fishing from there?” The lilt at the end of that statement makes it more of a question than anything.

Still, while she waits for his answer, Cassandra starts to comb through the memories on the glasses. Brighter, more recent threads are studied and discarded in a matter of moments - flashes of Richard holding the glasses, a pensive expression, the man deep in thought makes up most of these. And then a gap.

And then…a memory.

The room is dark, save for a single desk lamp situated a few feet away. Most of the walls and furnishings are white, including the lamp, though the light it shines has a subtly blue tint to it. There is a man, seated on the edge of the large and low-set bed, hunched forward with his hands clasped between his knees, large blue eyes stare vacantly out toward a wheelchair within arm’s reach.


The door to this sterile room opens slowly, accompanying the emergence of a tall and dark silhouette into the room backlit by the ceiling-mounted lights in the dark hallway. It’s hard to tell who it is at first, until he closes the door and the great and many wrinkles creasing his long face come into more clarity. Simon Broome looks down at where Edward Ray sits on the edge of that bed and locks the door with a click of his thumb.


Slowly, Simon steps forward and furrows his brows, watching Edward with the curiosity one might an unfamiliar animal; uncertain as to whether or not it’s going to bite. From the side, Edward possesses a scar along his skull from the back of his head to his right temple, surgical in nature and relatively recent. Four small dots around the scar look like they might have been where anchor bolts were put in place. “You’re healing well,” Simon says in a conversational tone, and it’s only then that Edward blinks a look up to Broome.

“You have quite the rogue’s gallery of talented physicians,” Edward admits in a backhanded compliment. “I’m sure whatever passes for the Nuremberg trials in the future will treat them all quite kindly.” That quip doesn’t sit well with Simon, whose lips downturn into a deep and heavy frown. “What’s the matter, Simon? Hard being on the other side of history with your father?”

“Did you call me down here to try and make me feel guilty, Edward?” Simon asks, sternly

With a sign of resignation, Edward shakes his head. “No,” he says softly, “I didn’t. I called you here because I know you don’t believe in Richard’s plan. Your Richard.” Simon’s shoulders square and his jaw tightens. “Don’t act surprised, you know full well what I’m capable of… especially after what happened at Pinehearst.”

Simon closes his eyes and nods, taking a few steps closer to Edward. “You told him you were having trouble making accurate predictions,” Simon says. “But I suppose that was a calculated risk too, wasn’t it?”

“When isn’t it?” Edward admits with a slow rise of his brows. “Simon, I know you don’t know me well. But if you trust Richard, my Richard, I need you to do something for me that… I’m incapable of now.” Imprisoned, unable to walk. “Because if you don’t, your Richard will succeed in what he’s doing and you know goddamn well deep down in your heart that he… that he didn’t come back right.”

That choice of words makes Simon turn away from Edward. He knows he’s right. “He is…”

“Obsessed.” Edward interjects. “Isn’t he?”

Slowly, Simon nods and draws in a breath and looks back to Edward. “The things he’s been uncovering, things that the Company did, things…” he stops himself short of saying something. “He’s afraid, Edward. He’s afraid of everything. His paranoia is beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I don’t… I don’t even recognize him anymore. Not on the inside, or the outside.”

Slowly nodding, Edward reaches up and takes off his glasses and folds them into his hands. “You know how this will end if he has his way,” Edward intones, “in fire.”

Sighing, Simon looks down to the glasses Edward took off, then back up to him. “What is it you want me to do, Edward?”

Slowly, Edward offers out the folded glasses with an unsteady hand. “I need you to take these, and that note,” he nods over to his writing desk, “and deliver it to the address I wrote on that card.” Simon considers the glasses, follows Edward’s indication to the desk, then back again.

“Would I get an answer if I asked you what good this will do?” Simon wonders, taking the glasses.

“Not one that would make sense,” Edward replies.

As the memory plays out, Richard’s brow furrows in instant consternation.

“Wait, that’s… this is our superstring,” he states, leaning forward on one arm and watching Edward’s face steadily as if he could get some secret from it, “How did— how did these get there, into the Wasteland from here? Walter wouldn’t’ve wanted to go anywhere near it, Hiro wouldn’t’ve done it… and why?” His gaze drops to the glasses, hands lifting helplessly, “This just raises more questions— Cassie, is there anything more?”

“Memories, being what they are…quite possibly, yes. Whether or not it’s what you’re looking for, that I can’t say. It would make sense that whatever message he put in here was done before he handed these glasses off to…” Cassandra gestures to ‘that guy’ currently frozen in time with the disabled Edward, looking toward the desk with the note. Simon Broome. “All things being equal, I’d expect the memory before this to be just before whatever caused him to have to have some fairly invasive-looking surgery.”

Leaning back in her chair, Cassandra delves further back into the memories sealed in the glasses.

Scratches on paper, hatch marks, scribbles, spirals.

Setting down his pen, Edward Ray leans back in his wheelchair and scrubs his hands over his mouth and pushes his palms up the bridge of his nose, moving his glasses off his face for a moment. “Okay,” he whispers, balling up that piece of paper and throwing it aside. “Come on, focus…” he says to himself, clicking the end of the pen multiple times. “The ah, Hawking… Hamiltonian— ” he snorts, leaning to the side and resting his head in his hand.

Staring at the paper, Edward’s eyes unfocus and his brows furrow. “If we…” and his arm moves, pen striking paper, rapidly scrawling series of calculations and symbols as fast as he can. When he’s done he slides the sheet to the side to find a new piece of paper and refines what he was writing down to a simple few equations. Teeth press into his lower lip, brows knit, and Edward drums his pen against the edge of the white desk.

“No mountains,” Edward says in a hushed tone of voice, “you— stupid man.” Exhaling a sharp breath, Edward continues to scrawl on the paper. “You went so far in the other direction nothing is changing but the river is still moving forward. Point of aversion, momentum, temporal inertia— of course. Of course.” Edward throws his pen at his desk like a football player spiking the ball in the endzone. “Of course. You’re playing chicken with time.”

Edward laughs into one hand, leaning back in his wheelchair. “What a strange day you’ve made.”


When Edward leans back, Cassandra subtly ‘moves’ the scene, shifting it so the table Edward is writing at shares the surface of Richard’s desk. The illusion now shared is the pair of them sitting on either side of the desk while Edward writes from his chair at the northern side, allowing Richard to more easily see what was written without moving and bashing into invisible furniture. One of the many benefits of having a talented postcognitive on staff.
As the man in the memory leans back, Richard exhales a rough snort of breath. “As good a way of explaining what he was doing as any, I guess,” he admits, rubbing at his jaw a bit and leaning over to look at the paper on the desk. A sigh, and he reaches out to grab a sheet of paper from the in-box, flipping it over and grabbing a pen.

As he carefully copies down the equations, he comments dryly, “None of this math makes any sense to me, but it probably would make sense to my mother.”

“It doesn’t make much sense to me.” Cassandra offers plainly. “The quadratic equation and some college level math was about as high as I got in my education. This is beyond what I know entirely. I mean..I recognize some things, but the meaning behind them is…way, way above my pay grade.”

“It’s quantum physics, or— whatever’s beyond quantum physics,” Richard notes as he scribbles, “These are some sort of temporal equations— he was talking about Hawking radiation, that’s emitted by singularities, like black holes. They look a little like my mother’s work from Kansas, honestly. I understand the application of time theory, but most of the math is beyond me…” He eases back, picking up the paper, “Whatever this means.”

Setting it down, he frowns at Edward as he explains, “Ezekiel went far back, and then worked his way forward, being so very careful not to upset the flow of the river until just the right moment. It would’ve worked, probably, but he went fucking psychotic after Samson— after something happened. Like Simon said, in that first memory.”

A pause, and he muses aloud, “Or was what happened always his plan? Sometimes I wonder if what he said at the end, if I interpreted it wrong.” He’s talking to himself now.

“What did he say at the end?” Cassie wasn’t there. She doesn’t know.

“It was a damn weird day. Eleven, eleven, I wonder if that’s a coinci— hah, there is no such thing,” Richard murmurs, tapping the numbers on the page. Then she asks the question, and he glances up, eyebrows raising. “Just before I killed him. The last thing he said was ‘welcome to the new beginning, Richard’.”

Cassandra blinks - or would, if Richard could see it - sitting back in her chair, looking at the frozen Edward, then the equations on the table. “I don’t know why I expected that to make sense.”

One could hope, though.

“Do you think that’s it? The equations, to get you to talk with your mother or someone with the knowledge of what they actually mean? It’s not hard to dig back a little further, to see if there’s any more.”

“Did he really think he was going to win? Or did he mean….” Richard grimaces, physically waving the idea away - as if an idea could be waved away with a hand. “Sorry. Don’t worry about it, if I chew on this too much I’ll end up as crazy as he was. Predestination is a weird thing when you’re dealing with time, probability, and fucking Edward Ray.”

Cassandra’s mouth turns up in a small smile. “Hey, you’re talking to someone who looks back for a living. My stuff is fixed. The future is not. I mean…” She gestures to Edward, still leaning back in his seat. “He’s trying to quantify things that, by definition, can’t be quantified. From the way you’re speaking he gets a hell of a lot of things right, but not everything. He’s not infallible…” She pauses. “Is he?”

Clearly she doesn’t know Edward Ray. At all.

“The future isn’t fixed,” agrees Richard, but he spreads his hands to either side, “However, the closer you look at it the more real it becomes. Precognitives and seers and such, from a certain point of view they’re literally creating paths that can be followed — easy paths. The more you can see what’s coming the easier it is to get there.”

He grimaces, “And the harder it is to avoid. Time has inertia. It’s a bad way of saying it, probably a better way would be some metaphor about superstring vibrations, but it’s easy for our brains to understand. If you want to change the course of a river when you know where it’s going, you can’t just throw in pebbles.You need to move a mountain.”

“And Edward had a map.”

“Is that what these are?” Cassandra taps the page with a fingertip. “GPS Coordinates on that map of where the next mountain needs to be dropped? Or could this be where to find the map he was using? Like a physical one?” Images of dusty chambers filled with pages, connected with strings flashes to mind unbidden, Cassandra smirking. “Sorry, that was silly.”.

“I think this is probably just— he was working out the effects of what Ezekiel was doing,” Richard chuckles, “Although he did use physical maps sometimes. I have one of my own, although I’m basically blind and deaf compared to him. I had to pick through enough of his string webs…”

One hand comes up to rub over his face, “See— look, I haven’t really talked to anyone about this, because they all hate him. They don’t— get it, they don’t understand his perspective. If you take a step back, though, if you look at it…”

The chair creaks as he leans back, hands spreading wide, “He did all of this. And not just— not just him, because there were parts of this plan that spanned superstrings, entire other versions of himself. People were brought through from Arthur’s timeline in a— a jailbreak of all things, but all of them have had a major impact. The Nathan Petrelli from that world took the presidency over by impersonating his other self, and in turn was impersonated by Sylar, and that accelerated the war before Mayes could take control. Silver founded the Guardians of all things, and who could have guessed that? Some of them, I don’t even know what their purpose was, but they all had some. But there’s no way given the data he had on hand, the data he had from this world, to know this. And there’s no way his other-dimensional self could have either— he had a completely different plan. It’s…”

His head drops back, and he’s silent for a moment before saying quietly, “I’m either completely insane or there’s a plan here that someone is manipulating, between worlds, between times. Maybe it’s the Entity. Maybe it’s one of the Edwards. Or all of them. But— I look at it, and there’s no way that I can conceive of it being random. It’s too meticulous. Too purposeful.”

“He said he did everything to keep us safe, to bring us to this point. But he couldn’t’ve, it wouldn’t’ve worked without factors that it seems like he didn’t even know about. And then the glasses, I didn’t even find them in this timeline…”

“There are enough stories about ancient oracles out there that have their own curses to bear.” Cassandra’s voice is just as quiet, the scene frozen around them, their voices echoing off into the void. “Just in my case, being able to see the past has exposed me to a lot of…” She breathes out through her nose. “A lot of interesting things, to say the least.” Present conversation definitely included.” The thing is, what I see, I know has happened. The thing is, he’s not seeing the bus speeding down the highway that flipped, he’s seeing the bus that’s going to flip, and he knew that it was going to flip and he’s on the bus. So he tries to get it to slow down, to change lanes, to take an exit. To miss all the things that’ll cause hell to come crashing down.” She turns to look at Edward. “That must have made life pretty hard for the guy.” She sounds like she feels sorry for Edward Ray - something that very few people might have been able to say with any certainty.

“There’s got to be some sort of plan. It’s like Edward was playing chess on four different boards at the same time against four different, highly skilled opponents. Maybe….I don’t know. Maybe he was able to see the moves on the other boards and was trying to apply them to his board to get one win out of the set. One good ending. Liz said she went from here to some world killed by a virus, to my world, to a flooded world, and then back to here. Four timelines. Four Edwards seeing what could happen and getting flashes from the others.” Pure speculation here, of course, but it could make a bizarre sort of sense when you’re looking at the past, the future, and everything between. “Do you know which timeline you found those glasses in? It might give us some clue to where he was going with this.”

Cassandra scrubs her fingers through her hair, frustrated. “God, you’re reminding me of a conversation I had with Liz in the arcology, about the things between worlds. She threw it off as speculation, but…imagine something very old, and very powerful, getting stuck, somehow, between strings. And it sees us, going back and forth. Little motes of light to and fro, starting with the experiments leading up to Looking Glass Every time someone goes, it sees what it hasn’t had for ages and wants out. Then, someone opens a door that stays there for a while, it gets desperate and sends a bit of itself out into one of the worlds…knocking over a domino, which knocks over another, and another. All to get out of where it’s been trapped for eons.”

Cassandra huffs. “I read too many science fiction books, I guess. Can you tell I’m reaching a little?”

She hangs her head. “Sorry.”

“Don’t get me started on that,” Richard’s shoulders pull up in a bit of a shudder, “It’s one of the reasons I’ve been digging, to try and find a way to deal with it… them… whatever. I feel like I’m groping around in a dark room trying to figure out not just the shape of an elephant, but how to kill it.”

Fingertips drum over the desk, “I found them in the wasteland. The original wasteland string, before it was splintered further by Ezekiel. I suppose that depending on when the glasses were put there, it may have been before this timeline split, but… then that means that this was at least the— second? Third? Iteration of… ugh.” He pinches the bridge of his nose, “Thinking in four dimensions hurts. Five is even worse. Sometimes I wish I had my mother’s ability, sometimes I’m glad I don’t have it.”

He sighs, then, “Yes, it was hard on him. It was shit for him. He abandoned at least three families he built, because he predicted they’d be harmed by the people chasing him. You know what the irony is? Someone was protecting him. He never needed to do that. But he didn’t have that datapoint.”

“For want of a nail…” He looks down to the paper, “Sometimes it’s mountains. Sometimes it’s just a missing nail, though. The nail requires perfect precision, though.”

“Well. Just to put it out there, has this…presence, if it exists…ever been dealt with before? Get me something that was there and we can see if I can pull something that would let us watch and see what happened and how it was dealt with. If not…”. Cassandra shrugs. “I hear poachers and deforestation work wonders killing elephants. Oh, and hot peppers, if we just want to drive them off. I seem to remember reading about farmers in India putting chili peppers on their fences to keep elephants out.” Interdimensional hot peppers used for repellant? Stranger things have happened.

Cassandra sits quietly, looking off into the middle distance through her blindfold before she speaks. “Is there something that linked the Edwards of each world together? Could their abilities have been working in contrast with each other, like muscle memory transferred between strings?” She leans back in her seat then, mirroring Richard’s position in his chair. “I can see what you mean. Thinking with all of these moving parts is probably on par with the moon shot in the sixties. They just had to worry about gravity and acceleration and vacuum of space and landing on a moon a few hundred thousand miles away. Edward…and now you, apparently, get to worry about world-ending events coming from strings you can’t even see.” She taps her nails on the leather arms of the chair, a muffled tapping felt rather than heard as she thinks.

“You want me to do any more digging on these glasses? See what else happened with them?” She holds them up. “Unless you think that equation was what he was trying to tell you.”

“You don’t want that, Cassandra. The last time a postcognitive got close to one of the two times that the Entity was confronted…” Richard grimaces, “Barbara was knocked into a coma for like two weeks, it was— it was bad. I wouldn’t want to risk you like that, especially since there’s always the possibility it can see you back. I’ve seen both times already regardless, and both times it was the same thing. Sacrifice and imprisonment. But it always escapes its prison in the end…”

His hand waves vaguely, then drops back to the desk, and he returns his gaze to the glasses. “Mm. One more jump back, see if there’s anything there or just— more of the same.”

“Yes, sir.” Cassandra says, leaning back in her chair to start following threads again until one, if any, makes itself known.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, cleaning his glasses, Edward Ray seems small and fragile against the white-walled confines of his residence. The room is small, smaller than others in the Institute are afforded, just a bed and a desk and a faux window on the far wall for synthetic sunlight during pre-arranged hours. It is night, now, as evidenced by the fake starlight and forest silhouette displayed on the window.

Pausing in his work, Edward reaches up and traces his fingers over the surgical scar at the side of his head, a distraught look briefly crossing his face. He looks down to his glasses, eyes wide and pupils dilated, as though seeing them for the very first time. He looks away, hastily sliding the glasses on before hauling himself up off of the bed and down into his wheelchair. He rolls over to his desk, only to have a chime at the door give him pause. Breathing in through his nose, Edward assesses the door but doesn’t say anything. Instead, he waits.

The chime comes again.

“Come in,” Edward says in the direction of the door, swallowing noisily afterward. He wonders if that could be heard through the intercom system. He supposes so. As the door opens, the man who enters is a fork of familiarity both in appearance and the man behind the facade. Though it is Tyler Case’s eyes that stare down at Edward from the door, it is Richard Cardinal’s soul behind them.


If such things exist.

“Ed,” Richard says, slowly shutting the door behind himself. “How’re you doing?”

Defiantly, Edward wheels his chair toward the intruder in his space. “I’m paralyzed from the waist down, I have a bag that I shit into, and a constant tinnitus hum in this ear,” he says, tapping the ear below the surgical scar, “that I’m certain won’t ever go away. But at least it’s my body, so…”

Cardinal closes his eyes, bringing one hand up to pinch at the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t say anything, so much as move over to the bed and sit down near Edward. “I need your help,” he says, which Edward expected. Not out of some precognitive fit, but because that’s all anyone wants when they open that door. Something.

Edward pivots his chair, looking Richard dead in the eyes. “I told you everything.” But Richard waves a dismissive hand at Edward, then folds his hands in his lap.

“No, I’m— it’s not… about the future.” Richard admits quietly. “Ed, I… I’ve been trying to figure out who I am. For a long time now. But no matter how hard I try and dig, I keep coming up empty. Orphanages with adoption records, birth certificates that are forgeries, just…” He exhales a sigh through his nose. “Somebody once told me that my past looked like a lie. Where I’m from, I never… thought to dig too hard. But here, with all of it so recent…” He looks up to Edward, shaking his head. “What were my parents into? Drugs? Were they— like us? I couldn’t find any record of them in what we got of the Company archives. I just— ”

There is a haunted look in Edward’s eyes when Richard asks him that. Bright blue eyes dim just a little as Edward looks down to the floor. All of the vitriol and anger fades. Instead, there’s just sympathy and understanding. “You’re who you make yourself,” is Edward’s small-voiced answer, lacking any of his usual tone. “Who your parents were,” he blinks a look up to Richard, “the mistakes they made it— it’s immaterial. None of it matters, Richard. What matters is the person you choose to be.”

Frustrated, Richard pushes himself up off of the bed and runs both of his hands through hair that isn’t his. “I don’t know what the fuck I expected…”

Edward reaches out, grabbing one of Richard’s arms as they swing down to his side. “Listen to me,” Edward implores, eyes as wide as saucers. Richard pauses, looking down to the man he’d seen as a father so much of his life. “It’s never too late to change course. There isn’t a thing in heaven or earth that can’t be undone with enough effort. I know you believe that.”

“I thought you didn’t want to talk about the future,” is Richard’s bitter response as he pulls his hand away, but Edward’s expression doesn’t change.

“I’m not,” is all Edward can bring himself to say. Richard just stares down at him, silent in a moment of frozen confusion and uncertainty. He breathes in deeply, then exhales a sigh out through his nose to try and steady himself. “Richard. Don’t lose track— ”

Richard pulls away and walks to the door. “I have too much to do to lose track, Ed.” The bitterness stings, even as he pulls open the door to leave the room. But Edward rolls himself closer, illuminated by a column of pale light coming out from the hallway.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Edward says with a crack in his voice, “there can always be a new beginning.” Except Richard isn’t listening. He steps into the hall and slams the door shut, leaving Edward alone in the darkness.

The sound of Richard’s fist thumping against the desk’s surface is loud in the silence that follows that darkness. His other hand comes up to rub at his eyes, lips twisted in a grimace. “It didn’t need to be that way,” he says in tight tones, “It didn’t— not for either of you. God damn it, why can’t anyone in our family fucking talk to each other…”

He pushes up to his feet, turning to step away from the desk with a frustrated sound in his throat, “I know you were trying to keep him from finding Looking Glass but damn it, you could’ve told him something…”

But maybe, somewhere in there, Edward did tell him something.

Maybe he told him exactly what he needed to.

Eight Year's Earlier

Klaxons blare into the icy wind.


Mount Natazhat

"You almost had me."

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

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

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

"What did it say?"

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

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

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

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

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

Ezekiel’s eyes are that of a madman, stolen from Cardinal’s friend.

Welcome to the new beginning, Richard.

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