A/N Wow!! It's an update!! Without months in between!! Thanks to all my amazing reviewers for your feedback and support, you know I love you guys.
Rebecca was happy. She'd just downed about five bowls of Fruit Loops and was now wandering around her Aunt Gina's large, gorgeous home. Sure, Rebecca's father had a great big fancy house too, but it was so boring. Just the normal, standard expensive-looking furniture and kitchen appliances. It was right out of a catalogue, screaming ''I'm rich and important, you're not; here: see what you're missing!'' But Aunt Gina's house was different. It was more unique. It had more integrity, somehow. Gina was an art dealer and also knew a lot about architecture. Her walls were covered in the most incredible, sometimes creepy-looking paintings. There were weird statues sitting on almost every table; the twisted little figurines seemed to be guarding the place. And photographs, too. Aunt Gina was great at taking pictures. She had elegant black and white snapshots of a Paris street that she'd visited a few years back, and also strange and spooky photos of a building that Gina said was the abandoned New York State Hospital.
Rebecca made her way up a staircase. The house had three floors, but she'd never been above the second level. Today, it seemed to be calling to her. She hesitated for a moment, though, realizing that it might seem like she was snooping around. But that was silly, Rebecca told herself. Aunt Gina had nothing to hide. And there was probably nothing much up there, anyway, just more paintings and photographs and statues stored away. Paused on the steps, Rebecca could hear her aunt speaking to someone on the phone.
''Yeah, Cynthia,'' she was saying, ''the damage was fairly extensive, and there was some good furniture and art in that suite, but we'll see what we can do. Why are they making you handle all this? Where's that other woman…what was her name? Lily, or Lucy…? Lisa…that's it.''
Rebecca continued to climb the stairs. Aunt Gina sounded like she'd be on the phone for awhile. Judy was taking a nap. She was safe to explore for a while. And the third floor would probably be a big disappointment, anyhow.
He said that he had something to show her. Lisa shuddered to think what it was, but she continued to follow the Doctor down three flights of stairs until they reached what seemed to be a strange hospital-like compound. There were examination rooms on each side of the long, tiled hallway, complete with medical technology; some of it Lisa recognized, like MRI machines, and some of it she didn't, and for that she was glad. Several of the rooms had gurneys with restraints
on them. There were also cold steel operating tables that glinted in the harsh, artificial lighting. Lisa almost threw up just entertaining some of the reasons why the Doctor would have such a facility in his home. She didn't want to know what went on down here.
The Doctor paused before a door on the right side of the hallway. They had been walking in silence, but now he spoke.
''Lisa,'' he began, then paused a moment, looking almost thoughtful. Some of the harshness in his face drained away briefly, like sand slipping through fingers. He seemed to want to ask her something, but couldn't begin to find the right words, and so he simply collected himself again, forcing any fleeting softness out of his features. Lisa's skin broke out into icy goose bumps, as in that moment, once again, the Doctor reminded her briefly of Jackson; both men had that same way of attempting to control their emotions and their expressions, and at times, both failed miserably, betraying something with a single glance.
The Doctor did not speak again, instead he opened the door and motioned for Lisa to walk inside. ''Dear girl,'' he said to her, perhaps feeling that addressing her by her name alone was too much of an emotional burden to bother with, though he wasn't even really certain why, ''this is one of my most favorite rooms.'' He walked inside after Lisa and switched on a light. ''But your Jackson didn't seem to like it very much.''
Lisa looked around. The room was very plainly furnished, seeming on the surface like a boring and ordinary room in any house. And yet there was, in the middle of the floor, what seemed to be a large, strange tank of some kind. ''What is….that?'' Lisa asked the Doctor in a quiet voice. ''That,'' he replied, with some amount of pride in his voice, ''is the final step in creating my assassins. It's an isolation chamber…became very vogue in the 1960s, along with LSD. Part of that 'consciousness-raising, break-on-through' bullshit. They used to be called sensory deprivation tanks, but in recent years it's been thought that the phrase had negative connotations; it smacked of torture.''
Lisa shuddered inwardly as she noticed that the Doctor licked his lips slightly when he said the word ''torture.''
''What,'' she began slowly and carefully, ''exactly do you use this tank for?'' A smile twitched at the corners of the Doctor's mouth but he pushed it away quickly and said ''not breaking through so much as breaking down. You see, it is a bit like solitary confinement. There's water inside the tank, enough to float in. Once the tank is sealed, there is no light whatsoever. There is no sound. There is nothing at all, dearest girl, except the sound of your own breathing and your own mind. You are alone, floating in the darkness.''
He had a sick, faraway look on his face, like he was enraptured by the concept. Lisa broke the Doctor out of his trance by asking, in a voice slightly more cold and demanding than she had hoped, ''How long did you keep him in here?''
''Do you mean, how long did I generally force my patients to stay in the tank?'' The Doctor was being deliberately obtuse, and Lisa knew this, and he knew that she knew, but it didn't matter, because she still asked the question, despite whatever mind game he might be playing. Because she just needed the answer.
''No, that's not what I asked. I said how long did you keep him in here? I'm not asking 'generally' about your goddamn 'patients', you revolting excuse for a human being, I'm asking specifically about one patient, and just so I'm specific enough, I'm asking about Jackson. How long did you make him stay in that tank?'' Lisa's voice had begun to shake slightly with rage. She was dizzy from the effort of trying to keep her fury under control. Perversely enough, the Doctor looked rather impressed with her, and so he answered. ''Specifically, I kept your dear Jackson in this tank a great deal longer than I typically do—but it was necessary. You see, I had such…high hopes for him.'' He said this with an almost paternal sigh in his voice. ''I pushed him so much harder than the others because I knew that he had the potential to be the most ruthless, but…'' the Doctor trailed off and shook his head.
''There were just too many horrible things in his past that we couldn't erase. I thought that maybe I could take some of those incidents and use them to my advantage, making Jackson stronger, colder, and more obedient by somehow recycling all the angst and the fear that they caused and turning it into a kind of driving force. But my dear''—and then there came that weary shake of the head again—''the boy was so unpredictably weak. Something about this tank, whether it was the lack of light or the lack of sound, but some aspect of this treatment brought out some memory that was so god-awful and frightening that well…I fear it couldn't work exactly the way it was supposed to.''
Lisa's mouth was set in a grim line. ''But that didn't stop you from trying harder, did it?'' Icicles grew on every word.
''I thought,'' the Doctor explained in a voice that was infuriatingly apologetic, ''that by simply…extending Jackson's sessions that we might be able to push past the worst of his trauma, so that we could begin some cognitive restructuring, some re-direction of energies toward a worthy goal—''
''You mean by turning him into a killing machine,'' interrupted Lisa, full of fury.
''My dear girl, calm yourself. We just don't see eye to eye on the end result, that's all. Really, my experiments can have an enormous impact on behaviorism as a science. Really, I'm…just like Pavlov. Or B.F. Skinner. Or Milgrim.''
You're Dr. Fucking Frankinstein, thought Lisa, but she knew better than to say it. The Doctor was so damn convinced that his work was somehow justified, she let him rant on with his messianic delusions.
''It would have just been so…neat and clean, if it had worked out. You see,'' the Doctor turned his gaze to Lisa, ''you are partially to blame in all this, my dear.''
Lisa felt her stomach twist. ''Why? What could I possibly have to do with any of this?'' She gestured toward the room, the tank, and the Doctor himself as she demanded an answer. The Doctor decided to reward her with an explanation, she had been suitably patient, and so he owed it to her: ''The Keefe assassination was to be my greatest achievement. But it was not only an assassination, it was an experiment of sorts. Whenever I find that I am presented with the opportunity to kill two birds with a single stone, I always take it. I could use close quarters, such as an airplane, and evaluate stress levels and response. I could measure how certain people behave under extreme duress, when faced with an incredibly difficult scenario that will require harsh and terrible choices. What will they do?
''We had our eye on you for some time, dear Lisa, and right now I will not say how long or exactly why, but I while planning the assassination, I came to believe that this was my chance to use you, to see you in action, so to speak, along with Jackson. You were the perfect woman for the job since day one. I must tell you, dear, in the end you exceeded even my expectations. Jackson, however, did not. He failed catastrophically. I think that this is because he somehow developed feelings for you, feelings that complicated the job.
We told him to watch you for eight weeks. And while he watched you in those eight weeks, I was watching him, and now and again I would see something in his eyes that I knew I needed to destroy. And so I tried to destroy it, the way I continued to try to redirect all of his nightmarish memories. He spent days here,''—the Doctor nodded to the tank—''and in the beginning he would scream and scream and scream, like he wasn't even certain why he was so utterly terrified at all, but still the screaming would continue. Eventually, though—and this was really remarkable--after Jackson started watching you, in those last two months before the flight, when I was beginning to reach the end of my rope with him—he stopped screaming. He stopped fighting. We monitored his vitals, and there were moments when he was absolutely calm, like he was thinking of someplace wonderful and safe. Soon I understood that those were the moments when he was thinking of you. You see, Jackson came to see you as safe, and strong, whether he admitted this to himself or not.
''Naturally, this complicated matters, but I was intrigued. I had no time to train anyone else for his job, and the date was approaching. Everything was in place, and at least he wasn't screaming anymore. He seemed to be more obedient as well. In the end, I felt confident enough to let the assassination go on as planned. And these new developments, I thought, would add an interesting dimension to the experiment as a whole.''
Lisa could barely stand, now, but she forced herself to remain upright, though the sick nausea hitting her in waves was almost crippling. She could feel all color draining from her skin. She had had no idea that it was so complex. It was dizzying. For one moment, as she stood there,
anger and confusion and disbelief washed away and a calm simplicity took its place. In that instant, everything boiled down to all she really wanted, which was to see Jackson and to hold him.
She said to the Doctor: ''I won't ask where he is. I promised you that I wouldn't. I want to know what I need to do to be able to see him again.''
''I beg your pardon?'' asked the Doctor, eyeing her strangely, as if he hadn't at all anticipated the question.
''I'm not here by accident. You need me for some reason. You want to study me and learn something from me? Fine. Shove me in that damn tank or some Skinner box, or whatever the hell else you want to do. Stick electrodes all over my forehead and monitor my brain waves, give me electric shock, I don't fucking care. You aren't going to hurt me, I promise you. I won't scream for you. I'll bite my own tongue off first. Get all the data you want. And then, when you have it, you will give him back to me. I know he's alive. Don't ask me how—I just know. It's women's intuition, and it's gotten me a hell of a lot further than male-driven fact-based logic. Tell me what I'm here for.''
Rebecca pushed open the door at the end of the third floor hallway. The air smelled stale up here, old and sinister somehow, full of decaying secrets. It looked like a spare bedroom. There were boxes piled haphazardly on the floor and bed. Rebecca could see that one of the box contained photographs. Interested, she knelt down to get a better look. Pulling out a pile of old pictures, she went through them one at a time. There was a black and white photo of Gina as a teenager with her arm around a man that Rebecca assumed was her father, in his younger years. But there was something unrecognizable in his face; his features were those of her father, but there was a look in his eyes that was different. It was a sharp, wary look, though the face was smiling. He looked harder and thinner and somehow…meaner and more intelligent than her father ever had.
Gina looked as beautiful as ever, but there was a strange imbalance to her smile, like she was trying to appear happy for the camera, but her eyes, which stayed slightly focused on the man she was posed with, were slightly haunted and grim. They were standing on a beach, and in the sky behind them, out at sea, storm clouds were gathering menacingly.
Rebecca frowned and put the picture down. She flipped to the next one, and paused. The photo was of the same man, the man she assumed to be her father, but this time his smile was more honest. He was standing next to a gorgeous young woman with a familiar face. Rebecca blinked. This wasn't right. It couldn't be her. This picture looked almost fifteen years old. The clothing and hairstyles spoke of time long past, and the film had been developed, because there had been
no digital photography then. No, it wasn't her, but the woman in the picture bore a remarkable resemblance to the pretty lady from the red eye flight.
''What are you doing up here, Rebecca?'' Gina's voice startled the little girl so terribly that the photographs fell from her shaking hands and spilled onto the floor. Gina bent down and picked them up, saying softly, ''Oh, Beck, you shouldn't be seeing any of this. I don't know why I kept these pictures at all….too many ghosts.'' She smiled almost wistfully. ''That's the thing about having been an orphan, once you find people to belong to, you can't seem to let anything go. Even ghosts.''
Rebecca wasn't sure what her aunt was talking about, but she stuttered, ''the woman…the woman in this picture with my dad,'' she pulled the photograph out of Gina's hands and waved it in front of her face, gesturing to the frozen figures smiling, ''she looks like someone I met, someone I know…'' She was babbling now. Any trace of a smile vanished utterly from Gina's face. ''No, no, Rebecca.'' She brought a hand up to her forehead as if checking herself for a fever while simultaneously trying to regain some composure. ''You couldn't have met this woman. She was killed years ago. And that man isn't your father…Oh god, this was more than I planned for today. '' Gina sat down on the floor and motioned for Rebecca to sit beside her. ''We weren't supposed to tell you this, but I think now you probably need to know at least a little. Your father had a twin brother, and he died several years ago. The man in this photo was his brother. The woman standing with him was his girlfriend, and he loved her very much. And then something happened, I'm not exactly sure all of the details, but she was murdered by someone that your uncle knew….and after that he took his own life.''
There was something in Gina's voice indicating that the last part of her story was a lie, and that she knew many more details that she was willing to divulge. Rebecca could tell this, because as her aunt spoke, her eyes took on that same broken, fragmented look from the photo, betraying every forced and lying smile.