|One Man’s Death is Another Man’s Birth
Author: meridian-rose PM
In a rebellious moment, Henry skips work and visits Edward’s grave, reflecting on the circumstances in which Henry Spivey came to be. When Edward takes over he finds himself wondering about his own mortality, since he’s already considered to be dead.Rated: Fiction T - English - Words: 1,566 - Reviews: 2 - Published: 09-16-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5380896
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
For the 100_tales prompt "034 Anniversary"
Warnings/Spoilers: None/spoilers for series as a whole (with the exception of the final episode).
DISCLAIMER: Not for profit, no copyright infringement intended.
Henry shivered and pulled the collar of his coat up around his neck. He was certain that he wasn't just feeling the cold because of the unseasonably chilly wind. He was, he told himself, doing absolutely nothing wrong. Yet he couldn't help feeling like a criminal as he trekked through the cemetery, seeking a particular gravestone.
Finally he found the grave he was hunting for and stopped, staring at it. It was, in a way, his gravestone. It was all the more eerie that, by some fluke, he'd come here only one day too late for the anniversary of the deceased's death.
Edward Albright had died serving his country, or so the official story went. In truth, Edward had joined Janus and become a sleeper agent. From then on, Henry Spivey became the dominant personality, having full control of the body except for the few hours each week when Edward's skills were needed. In a way, Edward's death had been the means of Henry's birth.
It was, Henry thought, a rather odd notion, to think that he had been born in a lab. That he was a mere construct and not a real person. It was, putting it mildly, screwed up.
He hadn't planned on being here. This morning, he'd been stuck in traffic, worrying about being late for work. Then he'd remembered that his work was just cover for Edward's activities and in a moment of rebellion changed lanes. The traffic was still heavy but at least moving and Henry drove away from Janus, laughing out loud at his sudden break for freedom. He'd never get far, but he wasn't intending on running, not really.
Just one day that was his, that was what he wanted. One day away from working for Janus while pretending to be Edward, one day not working for A J Sun while pretending to be ignorant of Edward's existence. One day away from the lies; was that too much to ask for?
Ironic, then, that he'd somehow ended up here. That he wanted to be just Henry and yet he was standing at Edward's grave.
Empty grave, Henry reminded himself. He assumed that the incident that had allegedly claimed Edward's life had been said to be horrific enough that it wasn't suspicious that a closed casket had been required. With Albright's parents dead, he didn't think anyone would have really been paying attention anyway. A military funeral, for a military man, mostly attended by military personnel. It sounded both heroic and lonely.
When Henry died (hopefully many, many years from now), he had a wife, children, friends and colleagues who would mourn him. In some ways Henry was now more real than Edward had been at his death.
"I should have brought flowers," Henry muttered. "Or a beer. I guess you'd like that better."
A crow cawed nearby and the wind stirred the branches of the tree in which the bird perched. Henry glanced at this interruption to his musing – and then quickly reached for his phone as a wave of dizziness swept over him.
Edward blinked, took in the scene. God only knew where he was or what he was supposed to be doing. There was a stone beneath his hand, supporting his weight. His phone was in the other hand. So far, no-one was trying to shoot him, which was always a good sign.
The stone under his hand was a grave marker. A cemetery. Nice, Edward thought with disdain. Still, lots of cover, looking on the bright side. He stood and turned three hundred sixty degrees, looking for danger. Seeing none, he felt safe enough to refer to his cell phone.
"We need to call in sick," Henry said desperately in the video. "I didn't want to go to work and I didn't mean to be here but I am, and I'm sorry…"
Not a mission, then, Edward concluded. So Henry wasn't such a boy scout after all. Well if he wanted to take a sick day, what was the big deal? Why be sorry for sparing Edward the drudgery of Henry's day to day work? The third day that Edward had found himself at A J Sun and at Henry's desk he had seriously considered blowing both his and Henry's brains out. No-one who hadn't been programmed for it could seriously enjoy being an efficiency expert, at least in Edward's opinion.
He slipped his phone back into his pocket, planning to use Henry's sick day to his advantage. Sports would be involved, and beer, of course.
Then he glanced down and felt the blood drain from his face.
He knew he was officially dead. He knew, intellectually at least, that there was a gravestone with his name on it. He just hadn't been prepared for the emotional impact of actually seeing said grave.
He'd given up everything for Janus. His life, his identity, his body were all handed over to them. It had seemed worth it at the time; a chance to avenge his parents' deaths, the opportunity to be part of an experiment in the deepest sort of cover, the prospect of continuing to serve his country while completely under the radar. It hadn't exactly worked out that way.
Seeing his gravestone made Edward reconsider his decision – not that the decision was reversible. Extraction of the microchip had only ever been attempted once and the subject had died during the procedure. Protocol was, that in the event of a microchip malfunction, or the host body was longer able to fulfil Janus's duties, the original personality would be terminated and the civilian persona would be left with full control of the body so long as the body lived. Should that happen, Edward would, effectively, die; he would cease to exist. He'd get a little engraved plaque on the wall of Janus HQ, and that would be that. And no one would mourn him.
Wow, Henry must be rubbing off on him. He'd never been this maudlin before. Besides, Edward told himself, Norah would know, and miss him; Mavis, too, in her own way.
Squaring his shoulders Edward marched off across the manicured lawns, hunting for Henry's car. He located it and got it in. He called the office and lied about how lousy he felt; better he did this than Henry, he thought. The man could barely lie to save their lives.
Then he started the engine, though he had no destination in mind. He drove aimlessly, deliberately messing up Henry's radio presets for no other reason that it irked Henry. Edward let himself enjoy what Henry had for so long taken for granted; the chance to just be himself for a time.
Henry suddenly found himself at a table in a sports bar. There was football showing on a flatscreen TV nearby and two empty beer bottles were at his elbow.
"Oh, crap," Henry muttered. He felt a surge of annoyance that Edward had, however unwillingly, usurped his day off. Then again, it couldn't be much fun for Edward, only usually allowed out for work purposes – or, these days, often stuck doing Henry's job or being with Henry's family, things which Edward found monotonous and irritating. Besides there was – he checked his watch – a few hours left for him to enjoy himself.
"Get you anything else, sir?" a waitress asked brightly. Henry blinked and tried not to stare at her very tight tee-shirt.
"Um, diet coke," he said, wondering if the two beers were all Edward had consumed. He didn't feel drunk but he didn't need to get pulled on a DUI. Then he decided that if he did, Janus would have to deal with it. He'd whine to Mavis that he couldn't get to work at A J Sun, let alone Janus, if he was without a licence. If traffic violations weren't something Janus could deal with then he'd been seriously misled about the reaches of the shadowy organisation.
"You know what? Get me another." Henry waved one of the empties at her and she nodded and went to fetch more beer.
It wasn't his usual brand, Henry noted when it arrived, and it tasted somewhat bitter, but not bad. In fact, by the third mouthful, he was starting to like it.
He took out his phone and left Edward a message.
"Hope you enjoyed my day off," he said. "But no hard feelings, okay? Though that may be the beer talking. You know what? We should do this every year. My unofficial birthday, your official death. What do you say? Take a sick day and drink beer? Our very own anniversary?"
Yeah, Edward thought, when he listened to that message later, a smile on his face. The beer was talking, but he liked what he was hearing. For the first time, he felt a genuine warmth for Henry Spivey. Perhaps he wasn't sharing his body with a complete idiot.