2008-01-25: The Black Death of Sugar Maples


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Summary: Cass stops by ABC Studios to talk to Erin, and finds out a little bit more about the impact of Peter's attack.

Date It Happened: 25 JANUARY 2008

The Black Death of Sugar Maples

ABC Studios

Most days in January are cold, but this one is especially so. The wind is gusting, bringing the perceived temperature to well below zero. There's a light snow falling - a dry snow, so frozen that it's blowing right off the roads as it lands.

Thankfully, the studio with all its bright lights and machinery is warm and comfortable. It's a busy day on the set of Afterlife, with the set crew and actors all present and filming, the directors yelling instructions to both, and the producers cradling their heads in their hands when someone mentions anything about 'fixing in post.'

It's a perfect day for a studio tour. And who better to give it than Morgan Starr!? She's hanging out just inside the door of the soundstage, comfortable in the heat, waiting for Cass to arrive. Sure, it's a Serious Conversation under the guise of a tour, but it works, and she promised. Unfortunately, it's going to be between takes, which means she's in full makeup, which means that there's a trio of bloody slashes across her face, which will definitely explain what's going to occur with the Werewolf-Vampire hybrid that's been hanging out lately. Poor Morgan.


Face still red from the cold and the snow, Cass stares at all the sights there is to see around the studio. Shaking off her scarf and unbuttoning her jacket in the warmth of the lights and studio, she searches around to try and find Erin. Not expecting her to have slashes across her face, she eyes and then realizes that it's just make-up. "That's pretty realistic." Poor Morgan indeed. "Hey, how's it going? Sorry it took me a little while to get here."


"Yeah. Sorry about the spoiler," Erin says, though she doesn't seem too particularly contrite about it. If you come to a set, you're going to have to deal with discovering the gigantic secrets that will soon come to pass on the television. "If they haven't already, they're gonna make you sign a non-disclosure agreement. You can pretty much safely ignore it. Everyone else does. C'mon."

She motions into the set. She'll take Cass through it, showing her the props and sets, introducing her to the crew and the cast alike - she promised, after all. But it's pretty clear that her mind's on other things, considering the lack of smiles and the small (albeit scathing) argument she has on the way with someone on her set crew.


"Don't worry about it. I like knowing things in advance." Cass isn't one of those people who is crazy about spoilers. She likes being ahead of the game. But, if she signs a contract, she's certainly going to adhere to it. That's just the way she is. Polite to the crew and cast, if a little star-struck, she watches Erin and raises an eyebrow. "You know, we could do this part later, if you want. Why don't we sit down somewhere and talk?" Because that's really what she's here for and it's quite obvious that Erin is on edge. Or maybe this is just how she usually is on set. Cass doesn't know. She'd like to think otherwise, though, and so she looks around to find a fairly secluded place to sit. Not that she has much luck in that department. "I don't know where I'm going."


That seems to be the answer she gets from most people she sees on the set, that they don't mind spoilers. Just as well, since there are a lot around. "Yeah, I guess we could," she says with a sigh, looking backward and waving to someone, gesturing to the exit sign above the back hallways. Usually, she's in her element on the set, but— As soon as she's out of the range of prying ears, she says, "That's where I was attacked."

Back through the halls she goes, leading Cass to a place where doors line the walls. They're hastily constructed, but private, each one with a name on the door. Heading to her own, she holds it open for Cass. "This should work. Not too many people back here when there's filming going on." A pause, then, "Have you heard anything? About Peter Petrelli, I mean."


Following Erin, Cass gives a frowning look back at where Erin was attacked as they pass. She steps into the private room made for the actress and waits until the door is closed before she answers again. "I don't know. I haven't been able to get a hold of him. He won't pick up his phone or return my calls." And she's been trying. It's strange and making her a little uneasy. "I don't know where he is." As she frowns, she pulls off her jacket now, still feeling the heat of the lights from the set. "I don't know how to reach him."


That sounds suspicious to Erin. In fact, turning her attention to Cass, she narrows her eyes. "Come on, Cass. You have to admit, that doesn't sound good. I know it was him." Leaning on a dresser, she traces an invisible pattern on the surface. "I had to do something about it. I needed to…" She rolls her eyes, sighing, shaking her head and deciding that now isn't the time to tell Cass what she did. It's not something she's proud of, but it's no longer something she can stop anymore. It's beyond her control.

"I didn't know how much it could hurt. Look." She holds out her hands. "I still shake. I dunno if it's just stress or if there's something wrong. Peter— " She stops, then corrects herself. "Whoever it was didn't stop until I was almost dead. I had to do something."


It does sound suspicious, but this is Peter they're talking about. "Peter does things like that sometimes. He went into the future for a month and we couldn't reach him." It sounds like a weak excuse even to her, but she's going to hope and think something extraordinary happened to him. However, thinking about Peter going to the future or the past or anything else like that, she stops and watches Erin. There's genuine concern in her gaze, but also something else. "What do you mean, do something?"


Erin laughs. It's not a particularly friendly sound. "I don't want this life. I was happy. I finally had a career, I got away from my parents… I just— when does it stop?" It keeps getting worse. Every time she thinks she's gotten used to it, something worse happens, and this time, she almost died because of it. "I mean, I healed this guy. I gave you the cure to that damn virus-whatever, and this is the thanks I get. I was owed."

Erin knows that she's trying to convince herself of that more than anything, because she doesn't believe what she does was the best idea. "Peter said— When he went to the future, he found me hurt, and he healed me. That I owed him for that, but I couldn't tell him how my ability worked. So I… I've been playing with it, with plants. I can kill plants. I made a… I made a virus. It's out of my control now."


"Erin, you can still be happy. It's not mutually exclusive. We'll work with it, practice it, make sure that you can both defend yourself and not become a threat." Cass knows she's told Erin this before, but then the whole virus thing, the whole…everything. "Owed?" It's funny, she never thought of it like that. Of course she didn't deserve to be attacked, but owed is something different. "You didn't owe Peter for that. And Peter didn't owe you for curing him. It sounds more like you paid each other off." For the future and the past. Her face turns white, though, when she hears what Erin has to say. She just finished helping cure that other virus. What is she going to do now? "…what did you do, Erin?"


"I haven't been happy!" she argues. Spoiled, self-centred. Hi, Cass. Meet the real actor behind Morgan Starr. At least she still feels bad about it, despite the fact that she did something she shouldn't have. "I couldn't get him to stop. I tried to make him sick, but it didn't work. He just kept…" She reaches up and tangles her fingers in her hair. She wasn't quite strong enough to help herself, and that just kills her. Erin wasn't good enough, so she had to prove to herself that she was. That's what this is about.

No one told her that in the future, that's exactly what makes her lose her mind.

Wincing at the rebuke, she turns back to Cass. "Maple trees. I thought I could, you know… Keep it contained. But I couldn't. It's traveling through the roots. I can feel it spreading. It's killing the trees." Specifically, it effects sugar maples. Alas for the people of the Midwest. Soon, they'll have to take their waffles without maple syrup.


"It's a process, Erin. You don't automatically become amazing at abilities. And sometimes you have to work at things like happiness." This is frustrating. "What he did wasn't right. Of course it wasn't…but we'll find a way to help you control things. But just because you can make your ability stronger…that doesn't mean that you'll be happy. Or even happier. I've seen what being power hungry can do to a person. It changes them."

Hearing what Erin has done keeps Cass silent for a little while. Trees. Cass knows nothing of trees. Of plants. She kills plants. All of them. She's been unable to keep a plant alive for most of her adult life. "Maple trees." At least it's not people. Not people right now. "And…you can't fix it?" Human biology, she can handle. Plants, not so much.


"I know. I know."

Leaning back on the dresser, she watches Cass' reaction. She expected anger, yelling, something to make her push back, because this is how Erin operates. One hand reaches for the handle of a small drawer, and she pulls out a newspaper, open to section C, the 13th page. Not huge news yet, but there's a little blurb, highlighted, that says that there's a disease that's killing sugar maples that's been documented in New York, Michigan, Ontario, even up to Maine. She tosses it at Cass. "You tell me."

Lowering her gaze, she stops talking long enough for Cass to look at the small article. There's a tenseness in her jaw, a redness in her eyes that she's holding in check so that she isn't murdered by the set's makeup artist. "I didn't mean for it to go that far. What else was I supposed to do? Go after people on the set?" Pushing the heels of her hands into her eyes, she adds quietly, "I thought about it."


"Me? I don't know how to use your ability." Cass takes the paper from Erin and glances over the titles. She's a quick reader, so it doesn't take long. Anger, yelling, that's something she's been doing a lot of lately, but she's sick of anger and sick of yelling. Not to mention the fact that Erin was just attacked. That doesn't excuse this behavior, but, she can't think of how to respond to it. "No. I don't know." Then, the quieter admission makes her eyes widen. "Erin. No, you wouldn't. You're not like the man who attacked you. You're not going to go after innocent people. People who can't fight back, who have no idea what would even come after them."


"I don't know how to use my ability, either!" Erin exclaims, clearly frustrated. "I mean, yeah, maybe better than I used to be able to, but still." Shaking her head, Erin hops up on the dresser, closing the drawer with one of her legs. "I can't fix something that wide-spread. It makes me tired just to — A few weeks ago, around Christmas, I went through a kids' hospital, you know? With the really sick kids. And I just exhausted myself, and now here I am— " She chuckles. "Killing trees. What the hell happened to me?"

Thinking back to that moment when Peter attacked her, one thing stands out in her mind. "I really feel like I'm owed," she says. "And that scares me." Someone should answer for what happened to her, dammit. "You don't know me, Cass. You don't know what I was like before you met me." This seems hilarious to her for some reason - she's changed a lot, but she's still the same underneath everything. "At least the virus is unstable. I feel like it'll burn itself out eventually. I mean, how do you inoculate a tree, right?"


If Erin doesn't know how to use her ability, how does Cass? Of course, she's willing to help the woman, but it's going to be a lot of guess and check involved. And hopefully she won't contract something like Ebola along the way. "Ah." She was able to help fix the virus, but that's because she only help by killing one sample. "I don't know how you were before. But I'm not really a big believer in clinging to the past. You're a good person, Erin. You're focusing on curing people, on helping kids with diseases. Bad people don't do that." There's a frown. As for the being owed thing, well, she can't really tell her anything about this. "I don't know. Maybe you just have to work at what you can do, help who you can and see how that works. Maybe the feeling will go away. The only person you owe is yourself." As cheesy as that is.


"That's a first. Good to hear, though," she says, the hint of a real smile finally appearing, stretching the edges of the angry red slashes across her face. Feeling that, she turns around to look in her mirror, to make sure she hasn't damaged anything. When she looks away, she points to the gruesome 'injury.' "Werewolf-Vampire, in case you were wondering."

All this does sound cheesy, and it's almost embarrassing to hear. She wouldn't feel bad about it if she was happy about creating an epidemic, though. As for whether or not she's a good person? Eeeeh, that's up in the air. She'd like to be. "How can you be a good person when you can just… kill things by touching them? I mean, yeah, I can fix things, too, but… It's like saying a— I dunno. A toxic slime monster has a wonderful personality, but if you touch it, you might die. That's how I feel."

Again, she looks at the floor for a long time, quietly, then she holds out her hand. "Hey, can I show you something? I figured this one out. It's about the only thing I can do on purpose." She pauses. "And then fix."


"I was wondering. I didn't know if it was going to be the cross-breed or the full-blood." Cass, obviously, still follows the show when she can. Maybe it's embarrassing to hear, but sometimes people need to hear it. "You can have the power to give life to people and can still be a bad person. You can have the power to kill instantly, and still be a good person. It really all depends on how you use that power." She's channeling a little bit of the Lord of the Rings, here. One person can change the course of fate, we all must band together, etc. But, hey, it's fitting. "You're not a slime monster. You're a werewolf-vampire."

As for the hand, Cass is hesitant. After all, Erin just told her that she may kill people. But, a leap of faith is needed and Erin is trying to do better. Okay. If she dies, at least she'll have the comfort of knowing she'll be in the papers. 'Girl found dead in Soap Stars Dressing Room.' "Okay." Reaching, out, she tentatively gives the actress her hand.


"It's the cross-breed. The one that's not Kenneth Pryce." Since poor Doctor Pryce is actually getting rained on all over the place for this show. "And the secret is, when everything's said and done, Morgan comes out perfectly normal. It's kinda weird." Taking Cass' hand, she wrinkles her nose. It's not really weird so much as it is ironic. "It's like the exact opposite of him and I in real life. I'm the mutant, he's the normal human being."

She does, at least, laugh a little, though. Eventually, Morgan's luck is going to run out, and she's going to be abducted by aliens or something. SHE JUST KNOWS IT.

Erin's eyes narrow, the blue light just barely visible in them as she cultivates the virus in Cass' system. Just a couple cells. "I figured out that I can make them, then make them replicate on their own," she says. "This is just the common cold. It's the only one I can…" Letting go of Cass' hand, she idly gestures to her own head. "See. I kind of see them, you know? Does that sound weird? Can you feel it?"


Hopefully that rain involves white t-shirts. That get wet. Ahem. Not that Cass ever thinks such impure thoughts about her neighbor. "That is weird. Morgan's got some sort of immunity?" What a funny thought. Or maybe she just cures it herself with a strange ability that she finds. Not that she'll bring that up. "You're not a mutant. You're still human. Just with a special ability."

With the little sleep that she's been able to catch, it doesn't take long for her to feel a cold coming on. In fact, she already starts to sniffle and rub at her nose. "No, that doesn't sound too weird. I…yeah." They're replicating pretty easily in Cass' sleep-deprived body and the power of suggestion is also powerful. "At least it's something that will go away with some sleep otherwise." Nothing like SARS or Rabies.


Well, Erin would be a hypocrite if she rebuked Cass for thinking that of Taine. He's a very good-looking guy! "I can't tell you everything," she says offhandedly. Then, after a beat, "Mostly because I really don't know until I get my script." Aaand she's still in the dark about that particular secret. It'll eventually be revealed. Or, in pure soap opera fashion, they'll retcon everything important to the plot and just write something completely new.

Arching an eyebrow, Erin says, "That's what a mutant is, Cass. A freak, abnormal. You know it's true. You work with viruses and stuff. What happens when one changes? They call it a mutation, right?"

Almost as soon as Cass starts to feel the worst effects of the cold, the symptoms will start to diminish as Erin kills the little bugs in her system dozens at a time. Her eyes are definitely bright, but thanks to the light in the room, they aren't really glowing. She's learned to control that a bit.

"You should feel better in awhile," she says. "I want to know more about this. I just don't want to be weird. And I don't want it to get to a point where — I don't know. Y'know Spiderman? That whole great power, great responsibility shit. Maybe I'm not responsible enough."


"If it were only a few people, I'd agree," Cass continues, sniffling a little and pushing her hair behind her ears. "But I've met more people lately that have abilities than don't. Of course, that may just be because of what I've been doing lately, but, still, there are a number of people who have surfaced with powers." There's a pause. "Enough so that there's a whole research facility devoted to studying and helping people like you."

She'll start feeling better soon, or so she's been told, so she remains quiet and just tries to focus, not trying to feel fuzzy or anything. "It depends on how responsible you want to be. If you want to be responsible, it may not be easy, but it's easier to be. And I can help you."


There's a box of Kleenex on the dresser. Makes it easier to remove makeup and all. Erin passes this to Cass. And then, she's just quiet. There's a slight tension in her cheeks, eyebrows lowered over her eyes as much as she can without stretching the slashes across her face. She thinks to herself - it's hard not to cry, and tells herself it's because of the makeup. She… really just doesn't want anyone to see her fall apart, though. So with that in mind, why is she playing the damsel-in-distress 'why me?' game? Softly exhaling, Erin laughs through her nose, still looking away from Cass.

"Research facility? Your place in the basement of Seville?" Been there. It was impressive, but— to put it bluntly, slightly understaffed. Then again, she doesn't want a whole lot of people knowing she's a freak. "Can you help me now? Preferably before I go crazy and kill all the narwhals in the ocean?"


"Yes, my research facility in Seville." No matter where Cass goes, Bat Country will always be her first lab, really. It's where she started. And had the most hand in creating. "But, also, there's a place called Pinehearst. They're supposed to be able to help you. They're a lot more…funded than Bat Country." Which is a nice what to put it. Taking the Kleenex, she blows her nose and then hands it back, since it looks like Erin may need it, too. She can tell that look on people's face. "Well, I don't know what I can do for you right now. I mean, learning to control your ability isn't something that's going to happen in a couple minutes, a couple hours, or even a couple of weeks. It's going to take a lot of work. But, it will certainly help keep you from killing all the narwhals."


It actually surprises her that there's something else besides the little lab called Bat Country. It might give some people hope, but it only makes Erin uneasy. Still, Cass is smart. She'd be able to weed the good out from the bad, right? Unless that's what she just wants Erin to believe! What nefarious purpose is— Watching too many soap operas. Starring in too many soap operas. People in real life aren't that two-faced!

Sure. Right.

"Supposed to be able to help me," she says. Taking the box back, she sets it on the dresser again, then folds her hands on her knees. "I need to do something. I keep watching the news, waiting for them to trace the tree thing back to me."


"I don't think they'll trace it back to you," Cass reassures her. "But that doesn't mean that you should keep doing things like that. We'll figure out a way to help you control what you can do, make sure you can't hurt anyway accidentally. Maybe even make sure you don't tire out so easily when you're trying to cure people." Who knows, crazier things are possible. "Yes, they say that they can help. I've started to work there, to see how it goes. Look from the inside in. But, if you don't want to do there, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to help you. I'll still keep Bat Country open." As understaffed as it is. "We'll find something to do. For you to practice. Maybe you should work on trying to control small samples of that maple tree plague. You may be able to fix it before it kills more trees."


Create some sort of vaccine, sure. But again, how do you inoculate a tree? Let alone thousands of trees? RETROVIRUS. Because life is imitating science fiction so much already, they might as well make a drinking game out of it. If you reverse the polarity, take a shot.

Erin lowers her head into her hands for a moment, and when she looks up, it's to glance at her watch. She needs to be back on the damn set so she can yell at the damn crew some more. "Maybe…" She slides forward on the dresser until her toes touch the floor, and then she puts her weight on her feet. "It doesn't hurt to check it out. Do— I have to say I'm a mutant just to talk to someone?"

Her eyes kind of widen in horror when Cass says that word. "It's not a plague." Oh god, it's the Black Death of sugar maples. SHE'S A MONSTER.


It's already a life of science fiction. Why bother making it more or less than what it is? Glancing at the clock, too, she shrugs her shoulders. "You can just ask for me. They'll know where to find me. It's the big pretentious lab. I doubt you'll even have to say much about what you're there for." It will probably fit right in with Erin's ideas of what a lab should actually look like. "I would probably not use the word mutant." She gives the other woman a lop-sided smile. "Someone might take offense."

As for her wording, she tilts her head. Well, a virus that destroys lots of trees is a plague in her mind, but maybe that's not really the most helpful word to Erin. What else can she call it? "Okay, the sickness, then?" Is that better? She's not even sure. Gathering her things, she smiles warmly again. "I should probably let you get back to being mauled by werewolf-vampires. If you want to visit, the facility's in New Jersey. It's called Pinehearst."


Vampire werewolves. "Ah, yeah. I'll walk you out." Plague. That's what it is. She caused a plague. It's funny how one word can make an accident into the eighth deadly sin— At least that's how it's sitting in Erin's frazzled mind at the moment. It might have been the best possible word Cass could have used. Okay, no killing things with plagues. Note taken.

"I'll be by," she says. Even if it's just to check things out, see what it's like. Meet other people like her that aren't her weird brother. "Wait."

Her hand lands on Cass' shoulder, and she looks up at the other woman. "I owe you a set tour. A real one. Just give me a chance to … settle." Settle. That's a good word. That having been said, she'll lead Cass back through the maze of hallways and outward.


Not forgetting the frigid temperatures outside, Cass bundles up again. She's already feeling like she has a cold and though she knows that feeling will fade, she'd like to prevent from actually getting a cold. "Okay. Good. I'll be looking for you." Just in case that creepy British guy intercepts or something. She doesn't want the zombie welcoming party for someone like Erin.

"I'll keep you to that," the woman grins at the soap opera star. "So get yourself settled." It's her attempt at being light-hearted. Even if she's not feeling particularly light-hearted about all that she's heard today. And with that all taken care of, at least for now, in her mind, she's quite content to allow Erin to lead her through the maze to the proper exit.

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