We Meet Again, For The First Time


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Scene Title We Meet Again, For The First Time
Synopsis Richard Ray finds an unexpected message waiting for him in the newspaper…
Date June 6, 2018

At exactly 8:15 in the morning on Wednesday, June 6th, Richard Ray found the Safe Zone Siren laid out on his desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Sera had brought it in along with a bowl of dry food for the fluffy menace that has come to be an office mascot. The newspaper was underwhelming in a comforting way. An article about the hurdles faced by the mayor in reinstating the NYPD, articles about continued reconstruction progressing apace in spite of the Yamagato bombing weeks ago. An all-Beatles weekend at WSZR stands out. The personals’ section is also good for a laugh and unwinding, something sorely needed given the current skew of Richard’s life.

Sometimes, though, it isn’t good for that at all.

Safe Zone Siren, Missed Connections
Missed: Looking for my old chess partner from back in the day. We played once in Central Park many years ago, but our games began much longer ago than that. I play at Fulton Park in what is now Williamsburg on Wednesdays. Look for my cardinal red gloves.

Sometimes it’s a shot in the chest.

It’s a habit that Richard’s taken up regardless, reading the newspaper… after the bombshell that forced him to lose Odessa, he wants to make sure there’s nothing else lurking in wait. Simple articles, simple news. He makes a note to take out an advertisement or two in the paper, and then he’s turning to that personals’ section to read through the desperate notices so often printed there. The missed connections catches his eye, and—

— his train of thought derails as he reads those words, tumbling off the tracks and exploding in a fashion that would be worthy of Michael Bay were it put to film. It’s impossible, his first instinct says, that this notice is here. There’s only one person who would know to post this. One person who would know to put all those clues into it..

But Simon Broome is dead.

So his letter said, left in a dead and frozen Manhattan. Richard had no reason to doubt it at the time.

He stares at the paragraph, at those impossible words for a long minute, his thoughts racing to come up with an explanation. A trap? A trick? Then there’s a spark. A memory, a possibility that has him on his feet, the newspaper’s leaves coming apart as pages scatter across his desk from the speed with which he moves around it, heading for the door.

In his wake, Richelieu looks up from his bowl of food and mewls curiously before going back to happily munching on the dry food.

“Cancel my meetings this morning I’ve got something to go deal with smooth anything over that you have to I’ll bring donuts when I come back to make up for this thanks Sera,” he rattles off rapid-fire as he strides with purpose through the lobby, not even looking over at the receptionist in question before he’s passing through the security doors.

He has to get to Fulton Park.

Fulton Park


Fulton Park hasn't changed much since the war, though most of the people who would recognize that are now long gone from New York in one way or another. Fulton Park isn't a remarkable piece of land, a sliver of green a quarter-block in size wedges between the reconstructed and rejuvenated neighborhoods of Williamsburg where they start to decay into the “status quo” of Phoenix Heights.

The small Park is sparsely populated in the morning hours. A few people walking their dogs, unoccupied park benches, and a lot of overgrown park land that hasn't been properly tended in years. It shouldn't be hard for Richard to find who he's looking for.

There’s a part of the park for playing chess, of course; Richard’s been there, when he felt safer walking around the Safe Zone just exploring, before his people started being targeted by piratical assassins and ‘land mine accidents’.

He’s calmed down a bit by the time he reaches the park, still in a black suit as he walks the paths, hands clasping behind his back as he makes his way through to find the man he’s looking for. The gloves may just have been code but he’ll keep an eye out for them anyway — just in case he doesn’t recognize the face.

People can wear a lot of faces these days.

There's only one person playing chess today, and it isn't Simon Broome. A woman in his late sixties, maybe early seventies, sits at the only occupied chess table in the park. She has a brown tweed jacket draped over her lap, too warm even in the morning for it. The powder blue blouse beneath has a wide collar, upon which is pinned a tiny pewter bird in flight. She is an unfamiliar figure, with chalk white hair and piercing blue eyes. Eyes that sharply contrast her cardinal red gloves.

At the same time that association is made, her blue eyes flit up to Richard and make contact. There's a look on her face that is at once unsettling and intriguing, it's a look of immediate recognition and a hesitant smile. Richard’s seen that type of smile before, when he reconnected with old friends he hadn't seen for years. A smile of friendship tempered by time and choices. Colette smiled that smile to him once upon a time.

She raises one gloved hand, fingers fluttering in the air, a casual hello at a distance if ever there was one.

It’s a look and a smile that he recognizes, but the woman? Not so much. Richard’s head cocks a little to one side as he sees the gloves, as he sees that look, and that wave. Not, though, who he expected to see.

He walks unhurriedly over, circling the other tables and making his way to hers, sizing her up with a curious look in hazel eyes. The chair opposite her is claimed, and as he eases down to sit he observes, “Either you’re not my usual chess partner, in which case I have a great number of questions for you, miss… or someone got very creative with Julien Dumont. Which just opens an entirely different box of questions.”

A twitch of his lips in a faint smile, “Either way, good morning.”

The smile is returned with a good-natured laugh, followed by a gesture to the seat across from the chess table. There's no pieces set out, no game to be played anymore. There's metaphor in that. But what's distracting is the way she's looking at Richard, a puzzled and yet endearing way, head tilting to the side and visibly expressing disbelief.

“You hardly look like you've aged a day,” is a worrying thing for her to say first. “In fact, you look younger, and that's…” The woman sighs, offering a gloved hand across the table. “My name is Ruby,” she says as though it's her pleasure to make this acquaintance. “I suppose… it's a pleasure to meet you again, for the first time.”

“Richard Ray,” is the name offered, because Richard’s suddenly very aware that this woman may not even know what name he’s going by, reaching out to clasp the offered hand and crooking a faint smile, “It’s a pleasure to meet you again… for the first time. I’m afraid that you’re going to have to explain how you know me, and I feel somehow like time travel’s going to be involved.”

Wry, “I should’ve brought some whiskey. I may need a drink.”

“Twenty-seven years sober,” Ruby notes with a raise of her brows and a gesture to herself, leaning back to a more comfortable position after she disengages from the handshake. “I'd heard you'd changed your name, Simon mentioned that when he arranged this in his will.”

His will.

“We met… in 1962, on the Fourth of July.” Ruby folds her gloved hands in her lap, brows furrowed and stare distant. “I'd been dating Simon for about seven months, we were quite serious. One day he told me we were going to have an old friend over for dinner… and you showed up.”

Ruby settles blue eyes on Richard, a different Richard than the one she ever knew. “You changed everything in my life, showed me things I never believed possible. Simon told me everything,” and she doesn't quantify that with a back then.

“Ah.” A rueful look crosses over Richard’s expression, his head tipping in a slight nod. “It wasn’t… me, you know, then,” he notes with a faint, almost sad smile, “He was another Richard Cardinal, from after my time and before it. A snake eating his own tail.”

He breathes out a sigh, then, leaning slowly back in the chair. “I’m sorry about Simon,” he says quietly, gaze meeting hers, “We had— our disagreements, but he was doing what he thought was right. Same as me. I was saddened to learn he’d passed before we managed to talk one more time… I would’ve liked to’ve said goodbye. Maybe worked through those disagreements, somehow.”

“It was his time,” Ruby says in a small voice, mirroring Richard’s expression. “Simon struggled for a long time with his illness, and we knew it would happen eventually. I'm just lucky I got to spent the majority of my life with him…” her eyes drift down to the black and white squares on the chess board. “He was a good man, deep down, and… he always spoke highly of you, even after you disappeared.”

Ruby smiles, faintly, and offers a shake of her head. “I… intellectually I know what you mean about who you are, but it's impossible for me to separate the two. Your mannerisms, the way you talk, carry yourself. It's like looking backwards in time…”

But Ruby digresses. Reaching into the jacket in her lap, she removes a small portable microcassette recorder and a pair of earbud headphones. “This is Simon’s will. He recorded it the day before he passed on. There's… probably not as much as you'd hope for in there, if you're looking for closure. But Simon confided everything in me, and he told me not to trust anyone else with that knowledge…” she inclines her head, “no one except you.”

“I’m told that we weren’t too different… at least before he died, that first time,” admits Richard, almost reluctantly, “He went— further than I ever would, but not over the line. Until they brought him back.”

Bringing back the dead rarely ends up well for anyone involved. Claudia, perhaps, was an exception.

The recorder and the earbuds are regarded with some trepidation as they’re produced, such simple things, but he looks at them as if they were a weapon. They might be, depending on what’s on them. “I appreciate the trust that he — and you — put in me,” he says genuinely then, “Even if I’m not exactly the man you knew…”

He reaches out, then, “Well. I guess I should hear what my old friend has to say.”

Ruby smiles again, tentative and somewhat awkward. It's evident there's a myriad of things she wants to talk about, though none of it goes said. Instead, she motions to the recorder and folds her hands in her lap. As Richard plugs the earbuds in and presses play on the tape, the voice of a ghost manifests in his mind.

«Hello, old friend.» Simon’s voice is weary, wearier than Richard had ever heard, slurred with fatigue. «By now I figure you've received my letter. That should be enough misdirection to keep interested eyes away from Ruby and your activities. Very few people know of our connection and I would prefer it kept that way.»

There's a pause on the tape, and in the background Richard can hear the hiss of a respirator. «I've never been much for legal documents. This is effectively my last will and testament, though I don't know how much legal clout it would hold. It's meant for your ears alone, not even Ruby would have listened to it.»

«Richard, I'm leaving you an invaluable resource in Ruby’s presence. She and I shared much in our many years together. I could never write down all of the work I did in your name, but Ruby knows the length and breadth of it all. For however many years she has left, she's agreed to work with you in my stead. Were it not for you, Ruby and I would never have had as long a life together as we did. We both feel it's fair, given the extension we were afforded.»

While the tape plays, Ruby wrings her gloved hands together and looks away and into the distance. There's a silence in her posture and a tiredness in her eyes, also a longing for the familiar in a world that has inexorably changed.

«But this is not merely about what I leave in your care, Richard. It is also about a responsibility I now lay on you. When I was a younger man, after your death left me rudderless, I made acquaintance with a man who you know quite well: Charles Deveaux. I followed your instructions, keeping an eye on your mother and father, but I lost track of them in 1982. Around that time the world was a dangerous place, but I will process that I don't recall why or how. Only a lingering sense of dread.»

In the distance, several large trucks marked with the Yamagato Industries logo roll past, tarps over their backs, followed by construction vehicles in a procession like ducklings. History marches on, ever forward.

«A portion of my time with Charles is lost to me, memories that I strongly believe were taken by someone who later came to work for the Institute as an archivist. When I inquired, he professed ignorance, but I have always suspected he has kept them secret. His name is — or perhaps was — Caspar Abraham. His evolved ability allowed him to take memories from and individual and implant them in inorganic objects, pennies, for later retrieval.»

Ruby looks over to Richard, watching him with an inspecting and curious regard.

«Caspar was a part of the Institute that had gotten away from my control, and he answered to a woman named Erica Kravid who I believe was attempting a coup until you rose as Lazarus. I believe Kravid is alive, and I believe Abraham may be as well and somewhere in hiding. The knowledge he has would be disastrous if it fell into the wrong hands. I fear possibly even disastrous in yours. I tell you this, because I trust you to be the man I know you are and do what you feel is right.»

«Beyond that, my last request is that you live your life to the fullest for as long as you can.»

«Ours was a unique friendship, and I would not change it for the world.»

«Goodbye, Richard.»

Only silence remains on the rest of the tape.

“Goodbye, Simon,” Richard speaks softly, his voice thickened with emotion he didn’t even know he held for the man who considered himself his friend — even though, technically speaking, they barely knew one another.

His world is a strange place sometimes, and interpersonal relationships are no exception.

The ear-buds are taken out, and set down, one hand coming up to rub at his eyes. No tears, but he came close. “It always comes back to Abraham, lately,” he mutters to himself, if audibly, “I suppose that’s somehow appropriate.”

A deep breath’s drawn in, and then he looks across the table at Ruby, a smile answering her curious look. “So, it seems we’ll be working together for awhile,” he observes wryly, “I guess you’ll get your chance to get to know me all over again… and vice versa.”

“While I’m sure we have a lot of work to do, the most important thing is,” he inquires, and suddenly he’s grinning, “What’s your preference for lunch? I skipped breakfast to come meet you, and I’m famished..”

Managing a fond smile, Ruby leans forward just a little and folds her hands atop the chess table. “I'm fond of a good reuben, but there's not as much opportunity for that in New York City as there used to be.” There's a subtle slyness in that, followed by a motion of threading one hair behind an ear. “For your record, I have a home in Albany. The Safe Zone isn't entirely my speed, but I'm willing to entertain guests upstate for consultations. I'm getting on in my years, and the last thing I want to do is be the woman who dies because she tripped on a lot hole and broke her hip.”

Managing a somewhat rueful laugh at that, Ruby makes no effort to reclaim the tape or recorder. “More pressing than lunch, while you have my ear, is can I answer anything for you? Our lives are complicated ones, but sometimes talking can help untangle things.”

“I will find a way to get you a good reuben,” Richard declares with a grin and a shake of his head, “And I don’t entirely blame you. The Safe Zone is… despite the name, the front lines of our attempt to rebuild civilization, and it’s not always easy out here, even for those of us with resources.”

He brings a hand up to rub at the nape of his neck, admitting, “I’m not even sure where to start, and finding a place to start’s always important for untangling things. I don’t even know most of what Broome and the Institute was up to, mostly the— atrocities at the end after he lost control of things, after my… alternate self lost it.”

A long pause, and then he looks back at her, something hopeful yet unsure in his eyes, momentarily vulnerable, “Tell me that I did some good, before I went crazy, Ruby.”

There's a troubled look on Ruby’s face at the accusations that Richard’s Lazarus impersonation ended poorly. She wrings her gloved hands together for a moment, head tilted to the side. “The way you always told Simon and I, is that in your original timeline Simon faked his death in the late 1980s to escape the Company and died a handful of years later in the 90s. You learned of him posthumously through our son.”

Their son.

“You spoke of Desmond like he was an inevitability. Something about historic inertia.” Ruby looks down at her gloved hands thoughtfully. “Without your intervention Simon would've been lost and our son never would have known his father as well as he did. I wouldn't have had my many years with him either.”

Looking up from her gloves to Richard, Ruby can tell that isn't the answer he's looking for though. “You weren't about making huge changes. Your motives were always to make as few waves as possible. Small, subtle changes that wouldn't disrupt the tapestry, you called it.”

Ruby props an elbow on the table, chin coming to rest on her palm. “The way I remember it, you were worried about changing things so much that your knowledge of the future became useless. You were waiting for a moment, a point in the future… or perhaps the past, now. Either way, it wasn't about doing good, so much as it was setting the stage.”

But Ruby seems to be sitting on something, and as she drinks her fingertips on her chin those blue eyes settle back on Richard’s. “You left Simon a roadmap, in the event that something should happen to you. I think that's how we got to where we were, but without your knowledge of what was to come, Simon felt rudderless. He made choices, ones that you might have been able to help him avoid. But he never blamed your death for that. He blamed himself, and he wished that he had been a better leader.”

“Deep down inside, I believe you made good choices. Choices with the best of intentions, but there was always a suspicion Simon held that there was a root of something in the Institute, that he'd made a mistake and let the wrong people in… and they'd gone wild. By the end of it, the Institute was so large Simon didn't even know the full length and breadth of what it was doing. He would come home some weeks, furious about a project he'd discovered. But ultimately unable to do anything.”

There's a earnest sadness in Ruby’s eyes. “Because in order to survive, the Institute aligned itself with the US government… and they turned that into ashes. I can't imagine what horror that must have been for you, waking up from death and finding out the dream you had for the future had spoiled like milk in the sun.”

“Small changes.” Richard smiles sadly, looking down at his hands, at the one marked with black finger-marks, “That sounds like me, yes, back before I understood better how time worked. Little things, a tug here, a tug there, moving behind the scenes of history as if we could hide those changes from the universe…”

He sighs, one hand coming up to rub over his face, “I imagine it was… bad. I was completely insane by the end. The look in my — in his eyes — I still see it sometimes at night. It helps remind me what I need to make sure I never become.”

Faint, his smile, “I’m trying to do it right this time. I don’t have the Institute’s resources, or its wealth of geniuses and evolved abilities… but I know I can trust my people this time, and I guess that’s what matters. No horrific projects going on behind my back, no Erica Kravid undermining my efforts…”

A slow breath is drawn in, “If you can help, with any of this, I would appreciate it. There’s a lot of history we’re still digging up, still trying to find things out about. My parents, my mother’s project, Caspar Abraham. Hell, if any of the good people that Simon had are still out there somewhere that you know about — even that’d be helpful.” He looks at her seriously, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
“I don’t much know if there are,” is Ruby’s honest assessment about the good people left behind. “I wish I’d been able to help you with your parents more. Back before you disappeared,” which is a more polite way of framing death, “it was your sole driving interest, making sure they were safe. We never realized just how much danger they were really in.” Looking down to her hands, Ruby furrows her brows. “I don’t know if we ever will.”

But when she looks back up to Richard, the next words out of her mouth might as well be an air-raid siren. “At least we were able to rescue your father, set him up and get him working.” Her smile is an oblivious one, as if these were facts that Richard simply knew, because why wouldn’t he? “That was a close one, truly, but I like to imagine it all worked out in the end.”

Richard draws in a slow breath. “You have… no idea,” he admits, a rueful tone to his voice, “And— I found David recently. He wants nothing to do with me. I thought he was dead, he didn’t— know he had a child.” Technically, he didn’t. “I decided to respect his wishes.”

He leans in, then, one arm resting on the table, “Luis was sending me mail, messages, information about my family, about Institute projects. Someone intercepted them and had them forwarded towards David, and he— well, let’s just say he wasn’t happy about it. He’s been living paranoid for the last however many years, worrying that they’d come for him again.”

“My mother…” he closes his eyes, “She put some things in motion, I think. Things that are coming around again.”

All of this appears to be news to Ruby. “He— someone— ” Her expression screws up into nearly a sneer of distaste. “We didn’t tell David anything, per your— per— per your past instructions. We were able to keep an eye on him after he was broken out of a Company holding facility and helped orient him into a comfortable, remote life. We had one observer on him for a few years, who could report back to us if anything happened. But we wanted him to just… to live.”

That the plan did not go accordingly, that the observer didn’t report back, that everything went horribly wrong is a knife in Ruby’s side. “Jean-Martin, what… a sweet, sad man. I lost track of him after everything started to fall apart. Simon cared deeply for him, they were very close. I even got to meet his daughter once.” Ruby pauses, “Not his biological daughter, but the twins. Charming girls. I’m— ” Ruby realizes she’s rambling. “I’m sorry, I get a little nostalgic when…” dithering, she motions with a gloved hand in the air as if swatting aside her former words.

“I don’t know who would do that to your father. Let alone who would even know about him, Simon and I never told anyone aside from our observer where he was.” Ruby pauses, brows furrowed in brief paranoid suspicion. “Have you ever heard the name Kyla Renautas before? She was the observer we placed on your father. A gifted young woman, able to telepathically communicate with her twin brother, acting like a relay system. Their parents were geneticists that worked overseas for the Pinehearst company and owned the Renautas corporation, which the Institute absorbed with the Renautases in 2010.”

All of this has Ruby’s eyes flicking from side to side, thoughtfully considering what she’s discussing as a red-gloved finger curls a lock of silver hair around it. “I’m not sure what became of their parents, they worked on the Eden project in the Arcology.” Ruby’s expression darkens there, and her icy blue eyes square back on Richard. “I… saw what happened on the news. I can’t even imagine.”

“They were. The girls, that is, I had the pleasure of meeting Liette…” Richard shakes his head slightly, “Kyla— no. I’ve never heard of her, or the Renautas Corporation, although I guess I should look into it. The Eden Project was one of the projects I was hoping to recover, and if she was watching David…” He said my mother earlier. He’s only called David by his given name.

His lips purse briefly at the mention of the Arcology, gaze darkening as he reports what he knows about it. From his side, at least, instead of that of the Ferrymen. “It was… bad. I sent in a team to… rescue who they could. Someone killed Doc, Jonas Zimmerman took his own life. The only ones that they were able to exfiltrate was Jean-Martin and Odessa Price.” He looks down at his hands, “I should’ve tried harder to make him stay. He wouldn’t.”

He looks back up, tone tight, “A few months ago he was executed in his home by Adam Monroe.”

For once, a name that Ruby has no recollection of. “I’ll have to remember that. Luis was a sweet, kind man who was put in an impossible situation and asked to do even more. He didn’t deserve to die like that.” In that explanation, Ruby wrings her hands again, blue eyes settling on Richard. “I hope you don’t judge Simon too harshly on the way the Institute changed over time. We struggled with it ourselves, without commitment to your cause. A belief that with enough monumental change, the world could be healed.”

Bringing one hand up to her cheek, Ruby threads a white lock of hair behind one ear. “There were concessions Simon had to make to keep up appearances with the government. People they dropped off on his doorstep like Dmitri Gregor, people Simon was repulsed by, and yet if he turned him away or gave even the slightest hint of sedition…” Ruby closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Simon thought he could play one side against the other until it was too late for anyone to stop you. I suppose at the end, Simon was the only one who could.” Then, thoughtfully, she looks over to Richard. “Well, Simon and you.”

There’s a ghost of a smile that threatens her otherwise placid expression. “You two were capable of anything when you worked together.”

“I don’t,” says Richard with a shake of his head, “I… did, once. I blamed him for a great deal, and maybe he could’ve done more, but… he meant well. His heart was in the right place.” A faint smile, as faint as hers, “And after all, he was just trying to follow the path I’d set for him.”

He rakes a hand back through his hair, and nods a little, “Even stop ourselves, it seems. For what it’s worth, I wish things had… ended differently for all of us. I wish it could have been what he wanted it to be. I just hope that I can build something now that can actualize a— sliver of that promise, of what could have been.” A slight, sad smile. He’s all too aware that his alternate accomplished far more than he could ever hope for, even if it all came crashing down in the end in madness and corruption.

“I think that’s at least a start,” Ruby admits as she unfolds her hands and slowly rises up from her seat, lifting her jacket and swinging it over one shoulder, hooked on a red-gloved finger. “I think that’s all anyone can profess to do, at least to start. Use the power you have to help others. Then, when you think you’ve helped enough people, look harder. Because that’s the curse of people who want to think progressively, that’s the responsibility we choose to bear.” Ruby’s smile becomes just a little sad. “There’s always more people who need help, and always more problems that need fixing.”

Then, letting the light and life return to her smile she has one final point of uptmost importance to address:

“Now… about that reuben.”

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