2008-03-21: The Price of Playing Pinehearst


Cass_icon.gif Niki_icon.gif Gene_icon.gif

Summary: Three people with common goals clash when they can't tell the whole truth.

Date It Happened: March 21st, 2008

The Price of Playing Pinehearst

Labs - Pinehearst Research

Fort Lee, NJ

The lab that Cass oversees at Pinehearst is very different from Bat Country. If only in the fact that there are other people here that she can order around to do the more menial tasks. It also means that she can't really talk to herself or the test tubes and beakers while trying to figure out problems like she used to do. Since she's been working on the Formula that she was given, she's been a little more involved with that. It's something she's doing apprehensively, though, and so every discovery she makes gives her a bit of an uneasy feeling. Glasses with the fake lenses in them are pulled down low to about the tip of her nose as she starts mixing one thing with another, trying to make sure she gets just the right amount and nothing spills onto the counter. Behind her, lab techs and other scientists work on their various projects, the hum of machines and low conversation constantly in the background.

Today, it's not Niki's intention to be at Pinehearst for more than the time it takes to be in and out. In fact, she's rarely here for any extended period of time lately, even less while Logan was away on business. Presently, she's on the out portion of her visit, taking a brisk path down a hall. She strikes a bold figure today in a black women's suit, all sharp lines and cut curves, a red, white and blue Petrelli pin on her lapel next to bare skin. Dark sunglasses have been pushed up onto her forehead.

As Niki passes a stairwell, she changes her mind at the last minute and heads down to the labs, keeping her pace fast, purposeful, not at all like she's sneaking around. Which she is. er gaze catches at the door to one of the labs, spotting a familiar face on one of those lab coat people. Cass. And so, she comes to stand in front of the door, looking in through the window of it. Tap tap tap, a few fingers on the glass, a wave of her hand. She has no access, not here, but maybe…

The tap tap tap startles Cass, as all her attention has been focused on the beakers and formulas. Snapping her head up, the glasses topple off of her nose and when she reacts without thinking to try and catch them, she drops one of the beakers and spills the contents of the other one all over the polished metal counter in front of her. She didn't even manage to catch her glasses, either. Sighing, she puts the remains of the beaker onto the clean portion of the counter and picks up her glasses off the floor, cleaning them with her lab coat.

"Hey, Dan, get a mop, would you?" Gesturing at the mess she made, she gives him an apologetic smile. Heading to the door, she opens it and steps through, letting the lock click behind her as she does so. "Hi Niki." Her voice is casual as if she didn't just spill a lot of stuff on the floor. "Haven't seen you around in awhile."

Niki winces, grimacing at Cass's fumble and the domino effect of destruction. Oops. She can't help but smile, though, especially as the woman approaches. It's a sincere smile, welcome nostalgia, but even by the time the lock clicks it's starting to fade. "Hi, Cass." A knowing glance around her toward the lab. She folds her arms in front of her, holding onto a leatherbound folder or agenda of some kind against her side; black, it blends into her attire ."I guess we've both been busy."

There are some things about Cass that she can't seem to grow out of, no matter where she goes. You can take the klutz out of the bookstore, but you can't take the klutz out of the girl. The glance at the lab is met with a shrug by the lab head. It's not a huge secret what the heads of Pinehearst are really excited about. Or, at least, Cass doubts it's a big secret to Niki. "Yeah. I guess so." Not exactly busy with what she'd like to be busy with, though. "You've been doing well, though?" In spite of everything. What with memory loss and explosions and stuff.

"Fantastic." The answer is both indulgent and sarcastic; in other words, not at all like the woman with memory loss who Cass met last time. People talk, and Niki knows that if Cass asked the right people, they'd tell her that she's not quite the same anymore. "Nathan is back from overseas," she says, her tone a mix of casual, using the Senator's first name, and business-like, clipped. "He wanted me to check up on you." Beneath a slowly arching eyebrow, Niki shoots another look at the lab door. "So how's it going?"

There's a raised eyebrow that comes from Cass. Unfortunately, she doesn't gossip much at work. She's too busy and still wary about this place from her talk with Peter. So, she may have heard a few things about Niki, but that doesn't mean she believes them. People will talk, right? "Is he?" Cass is interested in that, though maybe not for the reasons she should be to hear that a friend and technically boss is back from a trip. "Oh, well, I'm doing pretty well with what I have, but a formula as complicated and involving as the one we've been given to work on…it's going to take some time to make sure that it's ready." There's a frown. "There is, of course, also the moral implications that come up with work like this."

Niki gives Cass a skeptical look and steps in just to lean one shoulder against the wall by the door. Moral implications, huh? "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you've never seemed like the morally grey type," she says with a brief hint of a smile. She lifts her brows, tipping her head back to regard Cass carefully. "Does this have something to do with the people coming out of some of these labs all … messed up?"

There's a pause. Cass looks into the lab that she is technically in charge of running. "I don't like to think of myself in the grey camp, either," she says softly. Then, turning back to Niki, she adds, "It's all of it Niki. People shouldn't be given abilities they weren't born with. It's not right. It's dangerous, and it's instable." Then, there's a shocked pause. "…what do you mean people are coming out of the labs messed up?" It sounds like she didn't know about this before.

Niki should be more affected by Cass's words than she is, but she works to keep her expression neutral. The effect is cold. She has a part to play, and it extends to Cass, too; it extends to everyone in this building for as long as it has to. But if Cass didn't know about that one thing, well — at least she's planted a seed. "You didn't hear it from me," she says coolly, lifting a hand from her folded pose, splaying it in gesture. "I'm just telling you what I saw, I don't get paid to judge."

And while Cass has her own part to play - strangely enough - including with Niki, at least she can still be herself. Since that's who she was hired to be. If she acts too compliant, she has a feeling that people would notice. Not to mention the fact that she can't just turn a blind eye to this. "You don't get paid to—" This is like a slap in the face. How is Niki being so calm about this? "Niki." Maybe she doesn't get that she has to play a part, or maybe Niki is just that good with acting, but she sounds a little hurt by that statement. "Well, then who would I talk to about something like that?" She sounds maybe a little huffy. "If I'm supposed to be in charge of a lab, then how is it things keep happening within it that I'm not even aware of? It seems to me that Nathan needs to be checking up on other people, and not me." Since they're in the hallway, her voice is hushed, but it's an angry sort of whisper.

"I'll make a note on his schedule." Since she is, after all, the Senator's Schedule Coordinator. Niki is silent for a moment, eyeing Cass in a guarded, calculating manner. Gears turn in that blonde head of hers, and she makes a decision that her conscience might regret later. She pushes off the wall easily, close to Cass, her sharp black with its glinting American flag pin a suiting contrast to the crisp white of the other woman's labcoat. She makes a grab for the muscles between Cass's shoulder and neck, steps in closer, speaks in her ear wickedly. "Been awhile, boss." Niki's grip becomes rough; harmless, but seeming to have a violent intent behind her strong hand. "Get out while you still can if you don't think you can stomach it."

Well. Message received. When Niki grabs her basically by the neck, Cass' eyes widen in both fear and recognition. Don't they make the pair? The blonde woman in all black and the brunette in all white. They could pass for a parody of Spy vs. Spy. Then, narrowing her eyes, she tilts her head up just a bit and attempts to forcibly remove the strong hand from it's grip. Mostly it's a futile gesture, since Niki is much much stronger than Cass - even without superhuman strength - but it's one that she makes anyway. "Jessica," she hisses. She should have known. Niki could never let something like this pass by. Jessica, however, revels in destruction. "How long?" How long has she been Jessica and not Niki?

* * *

"Mr. Kensington, if you can't provide a doctor's note for the next time you call out sick, I'm afraid that we are going to have to cite you an official warning. In fact…" Short pause. "Your file states you've been here for less than six months. As a probationary employee, remember that we reserve the right to let go you for any reason, as per the contract you signed."

There is a sigh from the other end of the phone. "I understand, I'll be there in a few hours."

"Thank you, Mr. Kensington. Remember, Pinehearst prides itself on excellence. You'd do well to remember that."

* * *

Only ten years of Sunday School and the tutelage of Gene's grandfather keeps Gene's supervisor from getting a nasty set of virus and his wife's cell phone from getting calls from escort services asking for 'that sexy manbeast from Pinehearst'. Coming into work without his dress shirt tucked or his black tie with the Empire logo on it tied, a paler than usual Gene makes is way into work. Handling his work order, he goes to repair the cameras that got messed up some how. Smirking to himself despite his current health, he makes his way toward the labs.

Then the Geek God sees them. Cass and Niki. There is a long pause as there is the first instinct. To flee. That would likely get him in MORE trouble. Defend Cass or confront Niki. MORE trouble. So he goes for the one that will get (faintly) less trouble. The road he loves. The road… of the passive aggressive.

Looking toward Cass and Niki as he prepares to walk past the two, Gene only has one thing to say. "Touched her breast too?"

Niki trusts that Cass would never guess that she's doing this on purpose. It makes it all the easier to pull off the ploy. As "Jessica's" deadly grip tightens just enough to push Cass against the locked door of the lab, an observer would never guess that they have the same goals. A snarl on her lips, she's prepped to give her (once?) friend a biting reply when Gene happens upon the scene. In typical Gene fashion. Distracted, she lets go, taking a brisk step back to block his path, pointing viciously at him. "You."

"…" If this were any other situation other than what it is - dangerous - Cass might have laughed at Gene's statement. However, this is certainly not the time for laughter or anything of the like. As soon as she's let go off, she steadies herself with a hand against the wall and gives Nikica a bit of a glare and then glances over at Gene. Man, he's going to get himself killed talking to Jessica like that. Looking between the two of them, she doesn't quite know what to do here. "So…you two know each other." Stating the obvious always works, right?

The young man looks up with tired blue eyes which are set in the center of dark hollow circles. He expected to be let allowed to pass, but with the statement stealing away the tension and ire to direct it toward him. Even with a genius IQ, Gene is still horribly at figuring people out. He doesn't seem too concerned if she hits him. Maybe part of him secretly hopes she does. His voice is barely above a whisper, though there is little fear behind it. "Me," he states simply, merely giving Cass a glance and a small nod before returning his gaze over toward the (ex?)killer.

The blonde stomps toward Gene with a sharp click of heels, but stops just short of running bodily into him. He goes untouched. Unhurt. "I need to talk to you," she demands with an underlying tone of urgency. She ignores Cass — or at least seems to — for the time being. "And soon."

Frowning, Cass quickly follows behind Niki's steps. The last thing she wants to see is a fight break out between Jessica and Gene. That's not exactly a fight she thinks will end well. When it looks like she's about to run into him, she snakes an arm forward in an attempt to grab an elbow to stop that. "Hey, step back." It's not so much a threat as an order. Which to some people may be taken as a threat.

"I imagine you do," comes the simple reply, his head the only thing that is moving. Cass gets a look and a small smile which has a warm to it. So rare he smiles like that these days, but it's so rare he's trying to comfort people. "It's okay, Cass. Really."

Niki recoils away and shoots a look to Cass that could be construed as impatient — and part of it is, but it's not Cass's fault. "Yeah," she says without warmth, looking at the woman as she agrees with Gene. Darkened blue eyes slide back over to the young man. "We're old friends," she says, absolutely nothing in her voice present to suggest that is actually true. The opposite sentiment, though — that abounds. "Have fun with your formula," she tells Cass. "Gene— " Niki slides the agenda she's been carrying around to her other side, keeping it snug above her hip while she reaches in her suit's coat pocket for a pen, courtesy of Pinehearst. She tears a small rectangle out of the book, writes something on it, and shoves it at Gene's chest, palm-first. "I'm serious."

Eyeing Niki, Cass allows her arm to drop back down to her side. And while she may have just been 'dismissed', that doesn't mean she's going to walk away. Watching the two of them, she just crosses her arms across her chest and stands there. "Hm." Just because Gene says it's okay, doesn't mean she wants to leave him alone with a sociopathic killer. "Oh, I will." Have fun. Sure. Because this place is really all about fun and warm feelings.

Formula? Is Cass actually working on Gene looks to her with a flood of various emotions. He appears ready to say something to the dark-haired woman, but he has other things to worry about at the present.

The blow to his chest isn't hard, but it's enough to make the weakened geek wince as he staggers back a couple of steps securing the paper as he moves back. "I never said you weren't." Gene looks at the paper as he studies it carefully. With a sigh, he then proceeds to consume the paper. Of course, this was a better idea when he forgot he had serious nausea. He swallows back down some stuff that isn't pleasant, but he manages to avoid a spy no-no. "Now, are we going to chat about the weather, listen to you make threats to your fellow employees, or are you going to calmly be on your way?"

Niki can't help but stare incredulously for a long while at Gene before she can reply at all, and only after a shake of her head. Good idea, she guesses, but she didn't think anyone actually ate paper to get rid of sensitive information. "I have somewhere I have to be." She weaves around Gene and starts to stalk down the hall the way she came. As she slides her sunglasses off the top of her head, she glances over her shoulder and winks — at Cass, although the distinction may not be crystal clear.

When Gene wavers, Cass is immediately steps forward to offer a hand should he need it. Of course, he stands his ground and doesn't throw up - all good things - and so she just stands there in case he needs/wants the extra support. The look she's given by Gene isn't one that she misses and she just frowns and shakes her head. That's a discussion they can talk about once Jessica is out of earshot. "Fiber?" she asks of Gene after he eats the paper. It's the one thing she can do to ease tensions. "I'm sure. Important things to do for Senator Petrelli." Hmph. Or Logan, to be precise. The wink that she's given by Niki is contsrued as something mocking, something that Jessica only does to rub things in more and she narrows her eyes again at her when she sees it. Then, she turns back to Gene. "Are you okay?"

"Most people my age are in college, wondering what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. I'm a dead man walking in a Den of Lions, dying by inches scared someone's going to speed up the process for me." While Gene's name badge shows him as a simple low level guy from engineering, but he seems to have a much firmer grasp on the situation than most of his co-workers. "I heard Dr. Suresh worked here…" Gene states, looking down as he thinks things over. "Didn't know this place was hiring all the Evolved specialists." Blue eyes look up, seemingly hurt as he looks toward her. "Didn't know you'd be the sort of woman to sign up for it."

"We'll find a cure, Gene. I heard we just got a neurologist on the payroll." Cass looks over toward her lab and then back at Gene. "You should talk to her. This is why you're here." To get a cure. "And as for her…she's not herself." The her being Niki, of course. "She used to be afraid to hurt people, if you can believe it." But that was before she was 'Jessica'. The hurt look that Gene gives her is enough to break her heart. And she wants to tell him everything, spill her guts in the hallway that she hates working here probably just as much as he does and what it means she's complying with. But, there's only so much righteous indignation she can let loose without calling even worse attention to both herself and Gene. "There are things I don't agree with and I'm going to talk to Nathan about it," she tells him honestly. "But Pinehearst is trying to make the world a better place." The words feel a bit ashen in her mouth as she speaks the company's 'tagline'. "I haven't seen Dr. Suresh here yet." He must have opposite hours or something.

Cass's words hit on a memory that Gene hasn't thought on since he came to Pinehearst. When he demanded answers from another friend, and they were not what he wanted to hear. This new revelation doesn't help matters at all. He tries to use anger to shield his tears, but it falls apart. He keeps his tone level, focusing on keeping himself from sobbing than shedding tears. The dry black tie soaks up the tears well, as if enjoying the Dark Force that comes from suffering.

"…Neurologist on the payroll?" Gene almost laugh at this, like it was an insult delivered so poorly that it became a joke. The empty joy fades within a second. "You're just like Elena with the 'neurologist' talk, promising one thing but as soon as a better deal comes along or something you feel is more important, you drop me like a bad habit. After all, Pinehearst could cure AIDS or treat genetic disorders, what's the guy that installed my cameras for free?"

Breathing in from the nose holds back the nose drippings, giving him a moment's reprieve to get himself back together. Gene knows the importance of keeping things close the chest, but he's getting too young for this. He doesn't break completely though, which may be enough to avoid a rather bad encounter with Pinehearst that are higher up. His tone lowers, determination entering as his voice is barely a whisper. "I know a lot about Niki, this company and what it wants to do. A lot more than I should, but not enough to do what's needed. I know that this Company needs a hero. And I know that I'm a horrible hero, but I'll try it just the same. Forget the cure and the empty promises; let me do the things I need to do." He pulls back at that, preparing to walk on as he uses his sleeve for his tears. If Cass lets him walk along side him, Gene has final sentence for his rare emotional rant. "Have a good day, keep your head low."

Gene's words hurt Cass just as much as he might have intended them, too. She's not one to be told that she's not helping them. "I came here to help you, too, Gene. The blood I got from—-" she stops herself. "The blood wouldn't cure anything other than the damage that was already there. I've been looking up what to do, and the neurologist is the only other thing I can think about. She knows more about brains than I do. I didn't drop you. I'm not stopping." She attempts to walk alongside him, to try and keep the conversation going.

"Abilities don't cure everything. I don't think they even cure anything. That's not what I'm here to do. That's not what I wanted. I'm not about to forget the cure. And I didn't give you an empty promise." Because what he's really doing is trying to get her to say she'll forget about him, which is not going to be the case at all. "What this company needs…" Is to be dismantled. Or de-fanged. But she can't just say that in the hallway for anyone to hear. She shakes her head. She's not sure how to finish that sentence.

Why is she following him? Why isn't she getting angry? Gene stops, confused by this. It's enough to make him listen to everything that's said. Cass entered this company to help him? This changes everything. "You… Did what?" Gene loses his strength, his anger and sorrow no longer fueling his walk. A palm slams into the wall, though it lacks the strength to do much less than get it slightly damp. His voice is hoarse as he adds a desperate plea. "Please tell me there was more to you joining than that."

Well, there were a lot of reasons for Cass joining Pinehearst. Nathan asking, the ability to help people, to find a cure. She's not angry, really. She's upset. She doesn't want Gene to think that she abandoned him to come work here. It's the opposite. When Gene makes an abrupt stop, she does the same. "I had a lot of good reasons for me coming here, Gene. But…there wasn't anything more I could do to help you at Bat Country. This isn't something I can do on my own. I thought I could help people by coming here. You, primarily, were one of them."

"You are a kind woman, Cassandra Aldric." The tone is soft at first, almost in shock. It hardens a little once Gene speaks again though. "But this is not something you want to be a part of. /Trust me./" Despite his new information, Gene finds himself learning a bit as well. There is a chance that this thing will really help Evolved? Wait, Cass knows about the healing blood and she knows it won't heal him? New revelations begin to bomb in. Hope is destroyed, Gene's seemingly noble mission despite jerkish ends (mostly to Niki) is called into question. All he can do is pray that this all works out and that he doesn't have to be ashamed of.

"The closer you get all this, the more I'm gunna have to hurt you and you like I did Niki. I don't want to do that, Cass." The perk of being the geek with all the information is that it gives you leverage. Leverage is a powerful tool, but when used against friends, it is rarely something your parents would be proud of (unless you're a Petrelli). Pushing off the wall, Gene looks back as he prepares to walk on to the task he is now late for. "If you want to talk more on this, you have my number… What little I know is not work safe."

"You and me both," Cass sighs under her breath. "I can't get out of this now, Gene." She's in a little too deep and not only does she doubt anyone would take her resignation, she needs to be here to help Peter - where ever he is. She needs to try and break Logan into Nathan again. And the best way to do that is from the inside. "If you have to hurt me to do what you need to do, do it. But just leave Lachlan out of this." Not that he isn't really involved with with Pinehearst to begin with, but just because she knows that's who she cares about that is liable to get hurt in all this. "We'll talk later." She remains where she is for the moment, watching him go, before she turns around to head back to the lab where Dan has hopefully cleaned up what she dropped and she can get back to the work she doesn't want to do.

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