The Shadow Of Smoke, Part II



Scene Title The Shadow Of Smoke, Part II
Synopsis You can't outrun fate.
Date September 4th, 1977


Klaxons blare, echoing down the dark corridor lit only by flickering lights and showering sparks from ruptured electrical conduits. Water sprays from a shattered coolant pipe, sprinkling down on the floor below. Blood drops into the water, swirling crimson in the dark, ripples cast outward, lapping on concrete shores.


Rivulets of red soak between bloodied fingers, pain lances through a dislocated knee, flesh is still oily from the residue of the gas clinging to his hair and in his eyes and nose, depriving him of freedom from corporeal restrictions. Hobbling down the curving access corridor, there is a low, throbbing hum coming from the two foot diameter metal conduit running the length of the hall, cracked on one seam and spewing a white gas backlit by blue radiation.


White wool soaks dark red below rib level, sopping up the blood that pressure of a hand alone can do nothing to stop the flow of. Murky, near blinded eyes stare blearily down the dark corridor, and every flash of light from the electrical conduits is like a blinding light shone directly into the injured man's eyes. He arrests his movement, coming to a large machine at the split conduit that contains a pair of electricity switches and a pressure release valve. One handed, the injured man in the white jacket struggles to release the valve, clenching his jaws against the agony, wrenching his eyes shut as it squeaks forward inch by inch.


As the valve releases, he turns, reaching for a lever to throw that turns a red light green. Immediately, there is a sudden rumbling sound and a low, harmonic humming as the particle accelerator's ring begins to power up manually. Breathing in wheezing, wet breaths, the injured man's face is illuminated by the energy passing through the accelerator ring and the crackling explosion of electricity from the broken seal. Richard Cardinal is a weathered, exhausted old man, too much gray in his hair and beard, effectively blind. But far from helpless.


Gasping out a rasp of a laugh, Cardinal turns towards a nearby pair of metal stairs that leads up out of the access corridor. His footfalls clank against the shaky frame, bringing him up through a bulkhead door that creaks noisily, opening into a colossal domed chamber. BLue light throbs and hums, flashing from between three metallic rings spinning at different speeds and different angles around a large central machine bathed in light. Lasers sputter and spark, blasted apart by some sort of kinetic force, the same ones that have cracked the metal rings, causing them to wobble.


Over the howl of the alarm, illuminated by the arcs of electricity passing off of the machine, Cardinal looks like a man pushed to his absolute limits. He limps ahead from the stairwell, stepping over the twisted and broken carcass of a mechanical animal, its legs twisted and bent, head demolished into separate pieces of metal that all look to have vibrated loose, bolts and screws scattered on the floor.


Stopping at a computer terminal, Cardinal's attention turns to flickering screens. One of which displays a computer rendered diagram of the sun, spreading out an intense wave of colored bands from its surface. A small, blue-green dot on the diagram looks to be bombarded by the bands of energy. Bloody fingers leave red fingerprints on a number pad as a password it typed in to the machine: 103175


Blood trickles from the corner of Richard's mouth as he taps the execute key, and a long string of numerical entries begin scrolling down one of the other screens. A sound of scraping metal has Richard jerking around, wincing from twisting the injury at his side. In the doorway of the chamber, through a haze of steam from the temperature differences inside and outside, a silhouette of a man is backlit by the red emergency lighting in the exterior corridor.


Tall, lean, dressed in a padded arctic survival suit, the intruder's black silhouette is almost as dark as Cardinal's own when he turns to living shadow. The only bright reflection gleams from the curving blade of a sword held point-down to the ground in one hand. The machine wobbles, rings spinning rapidly and arcs of electricity blasting off to strike metal nodes around the walls of the room. Spitting up blood and slouching back against the computer terminal, Richard Cardinal's lips draw back from pink teeth into a feral smile.


"You almost had me."

And then there was light.

Sixty-Four Years Earlier

Elizabeth, New Jersey

September 4th


The nightmare was always the same.

It wakes Richard Cardinal up before dawn nearly every morning. The blaring of the klaxons still ring in his ears. He can feel the bitter Alaskan cold on his fingertips, remember the chill numbness in his lips. He scrubs a hand over his face, swings his legs over the side of the bed and sits forward. It takes a moment before Richard can do anything other than hold his face in his hands, breathing into his palms.

Dim city lights filter into his bedroom through slatted blinds, casting horizontal shadows across the walls, across his face. Slowly, Richard rises to stand, eliciting a disturbed noise from the darkness on the other side of the bed.

“Bad dream again?” She asks from the darkness. Richard turns, regarding her voice with a slow shake of his head.

“Sorry I… I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“It’s alright,” she says with a sigh, blankets rustling. Richard can just barely make out the silhouette of her bare shoulder in the dark, the reflection of dim lights against the glassy whites of her eyes as she props herself up on one elbow. “Come back to bed.”

She knows he won’t.

“I… I need to take a walk,” Richard explains with a tremor in his voice, massaging his brow with his fingertips. “Something. It’s okay.” He lies to her, looking back and knowing the look she’s giving him.

The resigned sigh that comes from the bed is accompanied by the sound of a body’s weight falling back against it. “Suit yourself, but I’m going to take up the whole bed,” she says in a tone that’s just teasing enough to hope to tease a smile out of Richard. It works, though not as well as she’d hoped.

“I need to get up soon anyway. When you get back,” she says, “coffee will be on. We’ll have an early breakfast, and you’ll tell me about your dream or I’ll get out the thumb screws.”

Richard smiles, this time more earnestly. “That tracks,” he says with an easy smile, forgetting himself for a moment. “And yeah I… I just need to get out of my head. I’ll be back.” As he leaves the bedroom, Richard can feel her eyes on him. It’s the one thing keeping him anchored right now.

Through the house, things are quiet. The city outside has already woken up, but the distant noise of the freeway is so ubiquitous that he can barely hear it now. Richard walks into the spare bedroom, then the walk-in closet, picking up a pair of running shoes and a tank top. It’s warm enough outside right now, even this early in the morning. After he gets dressed, he swings through the kitchen and then the French doors partitioning off his office.

The dull glow of the TRS-80’s monochrome screen floods the office with a dull green light. Slipping inside, Richard walks over and checks the status of a program running an algorithm, computing a long string of numbers. The process is running and the computers of 1977 have no way of showing how much time is left. He exhales a sigh, then moves over to the black phone on his desk.

The number dialed is one from memory, each turn of the rotary phone familiar in spite of the perceptual anachronism. It only takes two rings for the other end of the line to pick up.

“Yeah, it’s me.” Richard says quietly so as to not be overheard. “Look I… I’ve given some thought about what you said last week. We should meet. I have some files I put together, I can have Simon bring them down to your office, but we need to be careful about this.”

Richard looks back at the computer, brows furrowed, then stares past it into the darkness. “I can’t talk about it over the phone, it isn’t safe. Look, just— tomorrow. Nine sharp. I’ll explain everything.”

With a sigh, Richard nods. “Yeah. Alright. Sorry for— yeah.” He hangs up, gently, so as to not cause the base to chime when the receiver hits it. Richard brings his hand up to his face, sucks in a deep breath, and sighs once more.

By the time he’s outside, Richard can see a faint blue haze on the horizon in the direction of Manhattan. The sun hasn’t risen yet, but it’s near. It’s hours of dusk and dawn that he feels the best, periods of time when the shadows are deepest but it isn’t total darkness.

The gloom suits him, the city noise suits him, and as he starts his morning jog, a boxy metal device clipped to his waist. The term Walkman wouldn’t be introduced for a few more years, but Richard was always on the cutting edge of technology, even in the ass-end of history. If the Sony TC-50 was good enough for astronauts at NASA, it was good enough for him.

Richard hits play as he starts to run, hoping the music will help even out his frayed nerves.

It blows his mind to think that, right now, this song is less than a year old.

«Carry on my wayward son»

It feels timeless.

«For there'll be peace when you are done»
«Lay your weary head to rest»
«Don't you cry no more»

As the guitar kicks in, Richard is off down the sidewalk, nearly at the corner of Bayway and McKinley, passing by the other houses with their front porch lights still on. It’s hard to look out over the New Jersey skyline and imagine this place will be irradiated in a couple of decades, when Peter Petrelli is manipulated into turning into a thermonuclear bomb in the middle of Manhattan. It’s even harder to imagine that he’s going to sit back, do nothing, and let that happen.

«Once I rose above the noise and confusion»
«Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion»
«I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high»

There’s no traffic out right now, so Richard jogs straight through the crosswalk over McKinley, continuing on down his street toward the Texaco station on the corner. Not a lot of people jog in 1977, he’s come to realize. Most people are sedentary, it’ll be another few years before the exercise crazy of the 80’s hits. There’s so much music he’s looking forward to experiencing. It’s moments like this that he appreciates, that helps lift him out of the pit of despair of knowing what’s coming, and being willfully powerless to do anything about it.

«Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man»
«Though my mind could think I still was a mad man»
«I hear the voices when I'm dreamin', I can hear them say»

He picks up the pace, knees aching, but it feels good.

«Carry on my wayward son»
«For there'll be peace when you are done»
«Lay your weary head to rest»
«Don't you cry no more»

Rounding the corner onto Brunswick, Richard heads toward the distant lights of Linden across the highway, to the foundries and chemical plants where no one will bother him. Where he can find peace. In a few decades no one will be out there, fires will rip through Linden from the chaos in the aftermath of the bomb, fallout will linger over the entirety of eastern New Jersey rendering it uninhabitable for long enough that no one feels confident to go back home. Hundreds die in the chaos, thousands from radiation sickness after. His stomach turns into knots.

«Masquerading as a man with a reason»
«My charade is the event of the season»
«And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know»

The overpass to Linden gives Richard time to think, straightaways like this are good for thinking. But he has to clear his head, it’s why he came out here. It’s easy to forget all the good things that exist in the here and now that didn’t in 2041. The air is cleaner, even when factories nearby pumping out so much carbon dioxide they’ll burning a hole into the ozone layer that will lead to a brief environmentalism push in the early 1990s, but won’t last long enough to carry into the new millennium by the time the ice caps start melting.

«On a stormy sea of moving emotion»
«Tossed about I'm like a ship on the ocean»
«I set a course for winds of fortune, but I hear the voices say»

Stop thinking. Stop. Stop.

«Carry on my wayward son»
«For there'll be peace when you are done»
«Lay your weary head to rest»
«Don't you cry no more»

Down off the overpass, Richard enters the Goethals Industrial Park, running past an Econo Lodge he stayed at when he first settled here. There’s still a sense of nostalgia about that place, it’s avocado green carpet and turmeric yellow walls. The way it smelled of mold and pot in equal measure and the stains on the floor might just be urine. But for a while it was home, until he and Simon had a plan, until he’d made a decision about the path the future would take. The same path, unerring, no ripples.

«Carry on, you will always remember»
«Carry on, nothing equals the splendor»
«Now your life's no longer empty»
«Surely heaven waits for you»

Stop thinking! Richard screams in his own head, losing the rhythm of his pace right before he feels a sudden, sharp pain slide across his abdomen with a flash of heat. He falls forward, headphones flying off and cassette player clattering to the asphalt. Richard drops to his knees and nearly hits his forehead against the pavement, one hand cupped to his side where he feels fresh, hot blood.

“You picked the wrong man to mug.” Richard says as shadows begin to seethe off of his back in rope tendrils. He looks up, staring down a silhouette illuminated by a street lamp and his heart nearly stops in his chest. He can hear the klaxons blaring in his ears, feel the bitter Alaskan chill in his fingertips, the cold numbness at his lips.

Tall, lean, dressed in a padded arctic survival suit, his attacker’s black silhouette is almost as dark as Cardinal's own when he turns to living shadow. The only bright reflection gleams from the curving blade of a sword held point-down to the ground in one hand.

For Richard Cardinal, it had been sixteen years. For the red-haired man wielding that sword, judging from his attire, it had only been moments.


Wait!” Richard shouts, but Walter doesn’t so much as hesitate before he steps in and swings the sword for a killing blow. His blade passes through Richard’s throat and exits out the back of his neck, but instead of a spray of blood there’s just a seething mass of shadows. His eyes widen, and Richard’s body explodes into a surging mass of darkness that rises some nine feet high, frayed on the edges like tattered cloth and chittering with the stuttering audio of a scream.

Walter takes a step backward, then vanishes at the last second as the consuming darkness surges down over him. Richard reforms, letting out a sharp exhalation of pain, blood pulsing through his fingers as he looks around, then discorporates a second later as Walter reappears, practically teleporting through him with a sweep of his sword.

“Walter,” Walter. The shadows demand. “Just wait a second!” Second.

Walter grips his sword in two hands, widens his stance and stares Richard’s shadowy form down with gritted teeth. “Is that what you said to Robert before you put him in that fucking machine!

Walter disappears again and this time Richard’s incorporeal form swirls and surges around, trying to find where he is. He only remembers a moment too late that Walter knows his weaknesses and is barely able to dive for cover when he spots Walter falling from the sky, slashing power lines apart with his sword. A shower of vibrant sparks fill the air as the power lines land on the roof of a parked car and erupt in a brilliant blast of electrical light.

Richard seethes as he moves into the shadows of the motel, and Walter is on him like a lion hunting across the Savannah. He zips, darts, disappears and reappears and then vanishes again. Only for all the exterior lights of the motel to come on at once. A security floodlight clacks on, and Richard hisses in agony as he recoils from the light, rolling like a fog across Allen street and through the backyard of residences across the way. Dogs are barking, lights are coming on in some of the homes, and Richard is moving.

When he emerges into the parking lot of an industrial park, all he can see are the towering lights not yet turned on to light up the park. He’s run straight into a trap. As Richard turns around, there’s Walter in the seat of a parked car, turning on the headlights. He’s struck by one of the beams, forced back into his corporeal form to avoid further damage, smoke rising off of one of his hands as he manifests.

“Walter— ” Richard gasps for breath. “Wait— wait!

He does not.

Walter Trafford comes in like a poorly cut film reel, flickering, flashing, moving at break-neck speed through short temporal hops. His sword gleams with the light of the parked car’s headlamps as he comes in and slashes down with his sword, cutting square across Richard’s face and sending him reeling down to the asphalt. Blood pools on the ground below Richard, one hand coming up to cover his face, feeling how deep the gash there is. Warm blood runs down his hand.

But Walter is casting a shadow, and that’s enough. As he comes down for a killing blow Richard transubstantiates back into darkness, surges left and moves through the cracks in a broken warehouse window. Walter hops to the side, disappears in a pop and chases him in.

The warehouse is pitch black on the inside, suffocating with lightless dark. Richard hides within the gloom and Walter realizes in his haste that he’d been baited into the same trap he’d used a moment before. He can’t freeze time like Nakamura, he can just move.

“Walter!” Walter!” The darkness screams, and Walter pivots toward the voice, teeth clenched and every muscle in his body tense.

“Listen to me,” to me. “I know it hasn’t been long for you,” for you. Walter twists, trying to find the direction Richard’s voice is coming from, but he’s too smart to fall for the same tricks twice. He keeps moving, swirling, churning around like a storm. “But it’s been sixteen years for me,” for me. “We need to talk.” To talk.

“I don’t have shit to say to you, you megalomaniacal fuck!” Walter screams at the darkness. “I don’t care if you feel bad about what you did! I don’t give a fuck what come to Jesus moment you think you’ve had! I’m not going to let you hurt anyone else!”

The shadows roil with anger, frustration, but also sympathy. “You can have your anger, but you need to see the bigger picture.” Bigger picture. “Think about when we are, think about what we can do here!” Do here.

“No!” Walter shouts, scanning the darkness. “No, fuck you! Listen to yourself! Do you ever fucking listen to what you sound like you manipulative shit!?” Spotting a gleam of light from outside reflecting on the floor through broken warehouse windows, Walter starts edging toward it, not realizing the door that had been closed a moment prior is not open.

“Do you even remember what you did to— ” the next sound that comes out of Walter’s mouth is a strangled yelp of pain before he collapses down to the floor on his side, sword sliding out of his hand. The shadows grow quiet, but they can see the silhouette of another man that had come to interrupt this happy reunion. Richard mistakes him for night watchman, right up until he sees the hammer in his hand, dripping with Walter’s blood.

The bearded man kneels down over Walter’s prone form, hammer gripped tightly in one hand as he murmurs. “What’ve we got here?” His eyes narrow in the dark, and as he winds back up with the hammer, Richard makes his first mistake.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” were you. He doesn’t move when he makes the threat, thinking a disembodied voice from the darkness is enough. He doesn’t see the cable-tethered control sitting in the hammer-wielding man’s other hand. Not until he depresses the switch that turns on the garage’s interior lighting.

Richard lets out a high-pitched scream as his shadow form is revealed, bathed in intense fluorescent lights. He flattens to the floor, then recorporealizes in a staggering retreat toward the back door, leaving a drizzling trail of blood in his wake. As he slams his shoulder into the door, he gets one good look back at his attacker.


By the time he’s out the door, Richard is dizzy from pain and blood loss. He has to keep one eye closed as he stagger-sprints away from the warehouse. His mind is reeling, unable to process the identity of his attacker and blindly moving for the sake of putting distance between him and Walter. It’s the headlights of the parked car that catches his attention, it has to have keys.

Running to the car, Richard throws the door open and hurls himself inside. He can already see the silhouette of the dark-haired man in the track suit coming out of the warehouse holding a bloody hammer. Fearing more for his own blood loss, Richard throws the car into drive and slams on the gas, careening toward the hammer-wielding man and screaming at the top of his lungs.

He hits him going about twenty-five, sends Samson over the hood, smashing into the windshield, then up and over the roof and down the back onto the parking lot. Richard doesn’t look back except for that glance in the rear view before flooring it. He has to put distance between himself and Walter, he can’t risk going back home, he can’t risk an open fight in the middle of fucking New Jersey drawing attention from the Company.

He does the only thing he can think of. He follows signs for the Goethals bridge and hopes to find somewhere to lay low where no one will think to look for him.

Staten Island.

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