Three Keys


cardinal_icon.gif aria2_icon.gif

Scene Title Three Keys
Synopsis In the aftermath of the raid on Mount Nazahat, revelations are made to a man perhaps too weary in soul to appreciate them.
Date November 10, 2011

The Fitzroy Cabin: Good Hope Lake, British Columbia, Canada

A single oil lamp is all that sheds light in the living room of Hollis’ cabin at these after-midnight hours. Dusty trophies from hunting hang on the walls, old wooden floorboards creak comfortingly, and the smell of woodsmoke clings to the air. There’s something rustic, something comforting, about her choice of safehouse. If it could even be called that. But it provides few creature comforts to the traumatized and wounded who find refuge under its roof today.

Hollis has finally receded like a tide of well-wishing and good nature to her room upstairs. Not to sleep, not with Mary-Anne’s death hanging on her, but to contemplate. Everyone has disappeared from the living room, everyone except one.
With her legs tucked beneath herself, Aria Baumgartner looks small on the sofa. A rainbow-patched wool quilt covers her legs, drapes over the soft fabric of the old and well-worn sofa she is nestled onto one side of. In her hands, she cradles a ceramic mug with tea long since gone cold. Her eyes, half-lidded, stare vacantly at the flickering flame of the oil lamp on the living room table, turned down to just the ghost of a fire.

When the side door opens into the living room, brings with it a blustery gust of cold air, Aria looks up to the tresspasser disturbing her silence. Dark brows knit together, not in concentration, but in worry. There are knives for every back, and she has been wondering when the one just right for her will find its way in.

“Hello, Mister Cardinal,” mister Cawdinal, it comes across as in her soft British accent. Aria says nothing else, just diverts her eyes to the cold surface of her tea, watching her reflection ripple in the dark.

The others had embraced the warmth like a long-lost lover, their chance at eating something after all they'd been through and commiserating their griefs and losses bringing them together.

Richard Cardinal spent most of the evening outside, staring out into the snow-kissed forest full of shadows whose secrets were no longer his to keep. He won't be getting a lot of sleep tonight. If any.

Those heavy snow boots are stomped three times to clear the clinging white from them, and then he turns to push the door closed behind him, locks and latches slid into place with the clicks and clatter of barest security. Gloved hands come up, pushing the fur-lined hood back as he turns in the direction of the woman that's called his name.

"Mnm," he makes a noncommital sound at first, his lips cracked and blistered from cold with some frozen blood still clinging to the corner of them, bruises mottling up one cheek and the side of his head. Hazel eyes consider her for a moment until he places her, "You again."

He's such a sweet-talker.

“All this time and I’ve never caught your name.”

There’s a smirk at his recognition, and Aria moves her tea from her hands to the small table beside the sofa. “Baumgartner,” immediately rings a bell. “Aria Baumgartner,” he didn’t need. Liz spent the better part of two of three months hunting her down, the psychic who trained Niles Wight.

“We move in the same circles,” Aria notes with a subtle furrow of her brows, eyes returning their focus to the flickering flame of the oil lamp.

It rings a bell, but it takes Cardinal a moment to process which bell was ringing. He's exhausted, both in body and in spirit right now, and it has his usually-sharp mind running a step behind.

"Ah. Yeah, seems like it…" He steps slowly over towards the sofa, his head shaking ever so slightly and one hand coming up in a vague gesture before it falls back down to smack against his thigh, "We're always extracting you from really cold spots, it seems like. Next time maybe you can get taken somewhere tropical, change it up a bit?"
The usual banter, the jokes, fall flat. His heart's not really in them.

“Not a fan of warm,” Aria admits with a cant of her head to the side, dark eyes upticked to Richard. “Neither are you, if our crossed paths are any indication.” Then, looking back to the flame she wonders aloud. “I suppose you got what you needed at Doctor Mallet’s office that day,” then over to the teacup.

She brushes that all aside though with a swift, “I heard you need a redecorator.” Her brows pinch together. “At the office.” Her smile is mildly rueful, and she pulls the quilt up over her legs afterward, eyes diverting down to the knit fabric.

"I really am, believe it or not," is Richard's dry response, dropping himself down into one of the chairs near the sofa and leaning back with a crinkling rustle of his snow gear. He hasn't bothered taking it off yet. Then she says something else, and a puzzle piece clicks as he remembers her from somewhere other than a helicopter over a frozen landscape.

"…I knew I knew you from somewhere," he muses, his brows lifting a little as he regards her steadily, "I did. He got what he thought he needed. He didn't read the sign on the door, or maybe… well. The world's full of maybes."
Then, a snort— "You angling for a job, Baumgartner?"

Please,” Aria retorts with a somewhat teasing look. She shifts her weight onto her side, legs curling up next to her under the blankets rather than beneath her. “I'll have you know that frozen landscapes, doctor’s offices, and all the places at the end of the world are my employment.”

Aria’s hand comes out from under the blanket, holding a red and white business card with a gold symbol crossing it in the middle. He's seen it before, the card of the Deveaux Group. “I work in insurance.”

The card is extended in his direction, and Richard regards it for a long moment before slouching forward and reaching out to take the card between two fingers. Once he leans back, he regards the logo upon it, his lips twitching in the slightest of smiles.

"Ah," he says, gaze flickering up to settle on her face, "I'd say that Claudia still owes me a second interview, but I don't know how much good I'd be to her anymore."

“You weren't,” Aria explains, settling back against the arm of the couch and making no move to retake the card. “But times are changing, Richard. The world is changing. What happened today, what's happening all over the world,” her eyes partway lid, then focus on the candle. “That's a tidal shift.”

Looking back to Cardinal, Aria’s expression softens some. “Your father wanted it that way,” she explains in a small voice.
“This,” she indicates around herself with her eyes. “November 8th, 2011. This was his mountain.”

There are a number of things in Aria Baumgartner's statement that Richard could seize onto, and of all things…
"My father." The faintest of smiles, "My… father." His shoulders briefly shake with a hint of humor. "My father."
And then his head falls back and he laughs, his voice echoing off the walls of the cabin's living room. "God. My father…" He shakes his head, letting the hand with the card held drop down to rest against his knee. A smirk, then, gaze falling upon her face, "Of course it was. He knew all of it, didn't he? He knew what I would do. He knew what I would do. It was all his design…"

"He knew what it'd cost me, too." The smile fades, replaced with something harder, "I hope it was all worth it. Tell me that, at least."

“Please, just…” His gaze drops down to his hands, “Just tell me that.”

“That's up to everyone,” is Aria’s way of answering. “I worked at the Cambridge arcology up until recently. They burned through seven telepaths trying to understand your father’s ability. Then, Warren changed everything.” Aria exhales a slow sigh through her nose.

“He perfected a brain-machine interface for Edward, and working with Doctor Luis I was able to get him conscious again. But,” Aria’s brows furrow. “That was short-lived. Eventually he and your… doppelgänger,” the word feels right, “came to blows. Edward’s spine was broken and he fell into a coma.”

Curling her fingers through the holes in the blanket, Aria stares into the lamp’s flame. “I tended to him after that, navigated his unconscious mind and — when they asked me for progress, I lied. They went through nine telepaths, they'd believe a tenth would fail.”

“I fed Edward information, at my real superiors’ request. He, in turn, showed me his blueprint — in so much as I could understand it — and I tried to navigate as best as possible.” Making a noise in the back of her throat, Aria grows momentarily silent. Thoughtful, pensive.

“He said he would have a message for you,” Aria finally manages. “But I don't know what form that will take.”
"My brother hasn't been good, historically, at thinking through the consequences of his work," Cardinal says in quiet tones, regarding his hands for a moment, the card in them, and then looking up to her with a brow's slight furrow, "…he broke his spine? Jesus."

He pulls off his gloves finally, and one of those hands - scarred with Peter Petrelli's touch black upon it - reaches up to rub over his face. "He's always been creative about leaving me messages," he murmurs, "He couldn't ever tell me anything important to my face. Never - never once - acknowledged what he should have been to me, promised to be to me, until he knew he'd never actually see me again."

He looks back up, asking quietly, "He's dead, isn't he?"

“I don't know.” Aria’s brows furrow together, eyes searching the fire for a moment. “When I was asked to come to Natazhat to oversee the Mallet Device operations, I needed to pick a replacement. Edward showed me the candidate he wanted, a registered dream manipulator named Kathleen Brooks. I questioned the wisdom in the choice,” Aria admits with roll of her head to the side. “What with her sister Tamara being a resident at the arcology. But —”
Aria sighs through her nose and finally regards Cardinal again with a brief look. “I debriefed her on her role, what the Society needed her to do, and gave her to Edward.” Her dark eyes scan the flame again, then muted reflections in the glass of the back door.

“But, if you want my opinion, I don't think he intended to survive.” Aria’s voice is quieter there. “I don't think he felt he deserved to live in the future he built.” That said, Aria looks back to Carfinal again. “He was proud of you, though. In ways I don't have context to understand.”

Averting her eyes, Aria looks down to the blanket full of holes in her lap. “I suppose now, we just have to be the ones to survive into the future he saw. One way or another.”

At the mention of who they sent into the man's dream-scape, Cardinal can't help but exhales a snort of humor. Tamara's sister… of course. Is there any real surprise that the manipulator of fate and fate's voice itself would cross paths, even so indirectly, so close to the end?

There's silence when she finishes speaking, and then he nods. Just a little, before he nods again. "He felt… guilty. I know that. I think it's why he wasn't willing to face me, after I knew the truth," he admits quietly, "I'd have made him answer for what he did. To me. To my sisters."

He looks back at her, and even manages to smile. A little. "I'm glad he felt that way, at least. So.” A beat, “You told me what he planned. What he said. Edward. But that’s not who you work for…"

"What about the old women?"

“That’s a bit rude,” Aria retorts with a genuine, if softly delivered, chastisement. “The Director and Executives are good people. They've each witnessed first-hand the pain everyone has endured, and we've worked diligently to see it to its natural end.”

Aria’s eyes flit to Cardinal again. “There's three keys,” she implies. “The Company’s archival database of all their crimes and atrocities without color by the Institute.” She raises one finger at that. “The Vanguard’s operations log from Amundsen Scott, showing US Military and government operators who secretly supported the Vanguard — many of whom are still in office and have ties to Humanis First.” A second finder comes up. “Lastly, there's the Institute’s archive and email records showcasing human rights violations and — thanks to the deployment of Martial Law in 2009, war crimes.” Aria’s third finger raises, and then her hand closes into a fist.

“We've been busy.” With that laid out, Aria folds her hands in her lap and looks back to the lamp. “Not everyone can fight the physical battles for the future. But we've been trying to prepare for the battle to come, the one for liberty and peace. The future where the guilty are punished for a lifetime of crimes.”

Aria turns her attention back to Cardinal. “We’re fighting for the way back.” Her lips crook into a faint smile. “Back to hope.”
"What can I say, I've had a bit of a day and my etiquette is slipping," is Cardinal's ashen-dry observation to the mention of his rudeness in the way he referred to the Macbethian trio that sits atop the Deveaux Society pyramid.
Behold, mine field of fucks. See ye that it is barren.

She explains their plan, then, and he nods slightly, then again. It's a sound plan, a good goal, and he certainly approves from his expression. Then he brings a hand back up, fingers rubbing against his face.

"Not so sure I remember where that road is, Baumgartner," he admits tiredly, "So I'm glad somebody's looking for it. I'd say that I'd help but right now I— don't know what I've got left to offer. The feds are all over my front company, my operatives are scattered, I burnt most of my remaining assets on this assault. Shit— " He sweeps that hand away, fingers brushing through the air, "I don't even have my ability anymore."

Aria’s brows scrunch up at that, and then her expression shifts to something more thoughtful. “You did,” she opines, then — corrects. “You do have an ability.” Aria’s dark eyes lift to Cardinal again, one brow tauntingly raised. “Being a shadow was never your power, it was a tool. Tools can be replaced, tools can be repurposed.”

As if intending to let Cardinal stew on that thought, Aria rises from the couch with the blanket wrapped around her shoulders like a cloak. “But you're not asking the right questions, which — makes sense. You were — we've all been through a lot.” Aria’s eyes turn to the candle flame once more.

“What happened to the vials of the Formula that came back from 2019?” Aria’s dark eyes land on Cardinal with purpose. She raises a hand with four fingers up. “You used one on Peter,” she curls one finger closed. “Tamara took three, and used one on Abigail Beauchamp.” Another finger curls, with two left raised.

Aria is silent, then lowers her hand. “Maybe that's what you do next? You've done your part, the battle for you is over for now. All that's left is the aftermath.”

"Semantics." Cardinal's lips twitch ever so slightly, his eyebrows raising ever so slightly as she does, hazel eyes lifting to follow the movement, "I'll take that as the compliment it is, though."

"The Formula. It's… unpredictable," he says, his lips pursing in a tight frown as he's reminded of it. Something a close friend died for. Something another friend was changed forever by. And something that he played a key role in ensuring would never be recreated. He hadn't thought about those vials, not for a very long time.

"Tamara knows what she's doing, and where they should go. If she shows up on my doorstep one day with a needle, well…" He gives his head a shake, weary. Right now, he's not thinking about replacing what was lost. He hasn’t even had time to take all his wounds into account to worry about healing them.

Then he smiles, ever so faintly. "The battle's over? Much as I wish it was, no, Baumgartner. It isn't. Just like Allen Rickham told me, a long time ago…"

He sinks back into the chair with a sigh, his eyes closing, "We can rest when we're done."

“Then rest, Richard.” Aria’s brows furrow, this time intrusively. It's an invasion of his personal agency he can be mad about later, when he has the energy to be mad. Rest, is a directive and one the body clings to desperately. Aria is there to catch him when his legs buckle, drags him to the couch and slings the quilt over him.

She stares, for a moment, and knows her psychic imperative will only hold for so long. But even a short nap, now, will help for the long road ahead. Aria smiles, faintly, and looks to the flame one last time.

“Rest, Richard.” Aria says to the flame, “you're done.”

Richard Cardinal's never been good at listening to orders.

Unfortunately, he's in no shape whatsoever to resist a telepathic assault at the moment, and even as he's shaking his head… he's collapsing, caught by Aria, dropped onto the couch for the sleep that his body so desperately, desperately needs.

You're done she says.

But if history tells us anything, it's never count a Ray out of the race.

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