Title: A dead for the raising
Author: Alena Fryin
Summary: Dana can never escape Larkhill.
Rating: PG-13 for sexual situations, disturbing images, general 'ick' factor.
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to the WB and Alan Moore. I own naught and nadda.
Notes: Takes place in the movieverse. All section headings are lines Inferno, as is the quote assigned to V. The title was shamelessly lifted from Garbage's 'Hammering in my Head'.
A dead for the raising
i. consider your origin
Dr. Delia Surridge first sees Lewis Prothero in the flesh again five years after the destruction of the Larkhill Resettlement Camp at a Party function.
It almost sends her over the edge.
The doctor is rarely a guest at such gatherings, but she has never been offended by the lack of an invitation. Delia dislikes most prominent members of the government with the notable exception of Chief Inspector Finch. The rest are bores, pigs who use morality as a shield against their own breeches of ethics, a crime she too is guilty of. Finch, on the other hand, has a sense of decency. That may be why they seem to keep coming together. Chances are that the Inspector will never become a permanent feature in her life--his grief still seems too fresh, and her own secrets and guilt have a tendency to drive her from the company of others--but she does admit to enjoying his company.
Tonight however, she has been invited, and there is no way for her to escape. Pearl necklace, gold studs, a cocktail dress she never thought she would wear again; the combination of the three items makes for the perfect costume.
She smiles at all the right people, laughs at all the right jokes, all the while hoping to see a face that does not make revulsion sink its teeth into her belly. She is just starting to think she may be able to go through the evening unscathed and secure in her mask when she sees the Voice of London enter the room. Within moments, many of the guests are hovering around him in a frenzied way that makes Delia think of an electric insect, a wind up toy with rapidly quivering wings. They try to lap up power, glory, favors. The understand how the Party works; sucking up can do miracles for one's career.
Delia takes his arrival as a cue to duck to the back of the room where is will be eclipsed by the other party goers. She is careful to hide herself, keeping the wall, making herself half eclipsed fern and table, finding shelter behind other party goers. When she is sufficiently sure the Voice of London is too distracted to take note of her presence, the doctor slips over to the bar area, which is not so much a bar but a small table set up to service anyone in need of wine or Champaign. Sutler frowns upon drunkenness, as he frowns on most things that have even the slightest hint of vice attached to them, but there is never a shortage of alcohol at these events. One must keep the people happy, after all, and there is only so much mingling one can do before is in desperate need of getting shit faced.
Discreetly, of course.
A young man, his chestnut hair parted at the center of his skull, bows his head as she approaches. Behind him, Dana can see a small treasure trove of bottles huddled in buckets of ice that foams like an artic sea around them. The buckets, she observes, are a fire engine red that matches the curtains.
They never miss anything, do they?
"Can I help you, ma'm?" So she's old enough to be ma'm now? Delia is neither relieved nor distressed, only accepting. Aging happens to the best of us, and she is far from that description.
"I'll have a scotch," she says.
"Ice?" the young man says.
Not wanting to stay still for longer than necessarily, she thanks the young man for the drink and hastens off in another direction, careful to steer clear of anyone who might know her and therefore see fit to usher her over to chat, who might speak her name loudly enough to attract attention.
As she moves across the floor, she chances a look behind her and sees that Lilliman has joined the party. Their eyes lock briefly, twin looks of recognition darting across their faces like fleeting ghosts, and then he returns to conversing with an attractive, middle aged woman with the most dazzling pair of diamond earrings Delia has seen in years. She loathes Lilliman even though she can count the number of times they have spoken on one hand, but she is grateful he did little more than acknowledge her with his steel blue gaze. The last thing she needs is to be forced to make idle chit chat with a specter, from--
The doctor almost shudders when she sees the young girl standing beside the lady, presumably her mother, a girl so young her hair is in crimped pig tails, whose breasts are barely more than hints beneath the flowering pink dress gathered around her. Lilliman's hands move in gentle loops to emphasize whatever subject he is on, and the present gives way to the past as Delia is gifted with a memory of those same hands crawling up the ragged and filthy skirt of a child who couldn't have been more than eleven, twelve. The look of fear upon her face had been palpable, as had the confused expression twisting her youthful features.
Fine time for her brain to be vomiting up such memories. At least she has a drink.
The ice clicks against her front teeth, leaving them stinging with cold. She is not sure why seeing Lewis Prothero here surprises her so, especially when his face has occupied the screen of her television numerous times before, cheeks flushed with fury and indignation which may or may not be the product of a script. It has somehow solidified the Reality of him, of Larkhi...
You can't even bring yourself to think the name, can you? Delia thinks, disgust peppering the thought. You're a coward/i Dana.
You always were.
ii. to look once more "Back to the lit world from the darkened dens / Toiled upward, caring for no rest at all/ He first, I following; till my straining sense / Glimpsed the bright burden of the heavenly cars/ Through a round hole; by this we climbed, and thence / Came forth, to look once more upon the stars."
ii. to look once more
"Back to the lit world from the darkened dens / Toiled upward, caring for no rest at all/ He first, I following; till my straining sense / Glimpsed the bright burden of the heavenly cars/ Through a round hole; by this we climbed, and thence / Came forth, to look once more upon the stars."
"What was that?"
"He quoted that at me today," Dr. Dana Stanton says, stepping into Lewis Prothero's office. After spending most of her day walking on unforgiving concrete, the feel of a plush rug under her feet is somewhat of a shock. This particular carpet portrays what appears to be a phoenix rising from curling locks of flame, its head raised towards a purple sky whose hour is surely closing in towards midnight just her own is.
Against all this finery, she feels plain and out of place in her working clothes. A burgundy skirt, tights that adhere to her legs like a second skin, glasses. The only sparkling thing to grace her person are the twin hoops of gold inserted into the lobes of her queerly pert ears, Christmas gifts from long ago. She has discarded of a normal addition to her attire before entering the Commander's office, the gloves whose outsides always seem slick blood, rose wine that catches in the ridges of plastic.
"The man in cell five?" Prothero asks. "Sounds familiar. What's it from?"
"Dante's Inferno," Dana says.
"That would it explain it. I read it in high school, I believe." The Commander is seated at his desk, a structure whose color seems to resemble ripe cherries, the fruit perhaps drizzled in swirls of dark chocolate. The officer finishes scrawling his signature on the sheet laid out in front of him and places his pen down beside it. He settles his free hands in an archway beneath a chin so clearly defined it is as though it had been shaped by the decisive cuts of a razorblade. There is not an inch of flesh on the man; he is roped in muscle, held together by sinews rather than sticky, yellow globs of fat.
"Oddly enough, it's from the final Canto, the one where Dante and Virgil finally climb out of Hell and have their first glimpse of Purgatory. I wonder what it means," Dana muses.
"You're very interested in this man. This is the second time in a week you've mentioned him to me." A smile the doctor cannot bring herself to describe as pleasant in spite of its radiance turns the corners of Prothero's mouth up.
She stiffens, a cat whose space has just been violated by the presence of a stranger. It must show, for in the immediate silence following the officer's remark, his grin remains intact. "He's our best chance. You know that," Dana says, somewhat defensively. "And then there's the...the abilities he's developed because of the experiments." She voices this shared secret in a somewhat reverent tone, one generally reserved for disclosing the word of God.
The skills the man in cell V has begun to exhibit however, is not the product of divine intervention. The touch of angels would only be felt were they to accomplish what they set out to do through him.
"I take my work very seriously sir," she adds, and it is true; her duties here are the center of her universe, and the deeper she immerses herself in them, the easier it becomes. When it's numbers, cells gliding under the glass eye of a microscope, handles things effortlessly. When the tip of a needle is imbedded in some man's skin, his gaze--his all too human gaze--fixed on her with pained intensity, it becomes more...difficult to deal with.
"Yes, quite unusual," Prothero muses, cutting into her dark train of thought. "Most of them just die. He becomes Superman." The thoughtful expression departs from the officer's face the longer he studies Dana, yet the grin stays. Hoping to dispel it or at least occupy herself with other matters, the doctor presses on.
"He had no special physical abilities before he came here. You have to understand that, Commander. It's what makes the whole thing so extraordinary. He was healthy." Dana pauses, groping for a word that will express the oddly mundane life the man had led on the other side of the wire. "He was normal, it would seem. Intelligent yes, but normal."
"As normal as one of these people can be," Prothero says, removing one hand from beneath his chin. "As for his intellect goes, what was he before, hm? A professor? One of those goddamn hippie demonstrators? A queer who thought he knew everything just because he could open a book?"
"They all caused trouble in one way or another," Dana says, shoulders rising in a shrug. "You know the type."
"Of course I do," Prothero says with a heavy sigh of his own. What has this world come to? He does need not elaborate for the inquiry to come through, and does anyway. "We're surrounded by people who make trouble. Why else would they be here?"
There is a horrifying moment in which Dana is not sure whether he is referring to the inmates of Larkhill or the guards, and then all is made clear; the revelation that overtakes her is an immediate occurrence. Of course he was talking about the prisoners. The guards only do what they have to do in order to save what is left of a crumbling society; the people detained at Larkhill are those who willingly turned their backs on England. They are the people who prefer Chaos over Order, anarchy over reason.
They are Evil, and she is only doing her job.
The relief that submerges Dana's conscious releases the band of tension crushing her heart, and she exhales. June is warm here, and despite how late it is, the air is still pleasantly tepid. Her lab coat is enough to keep whatever chill lingering in the air from creeping under her skin.
Prothero pushes back from his desk and stands, locking the fingers of one hand around the wrist of the other. He turns to face the great window to the rear of the writing table as he makes his reply. "They're all the same, doctor. You should know that by now." The painfully maudlin affection in his voice is enough to make Dana grimace. His words drip with mawkish delight.
With his back to her, Prothero looks like nothing more than a silhouette of a man, a being cut from the very shadows swarming around his form, an epic parade of deepest blue and fathomless ebony. Her eyes scale the length of his figure, picking out the bones hiding beneath his dark uniform. Scapula to humerus, humerus to ulna. She is a cartographer, charting human beings, studying the subtleties and contours.
His pose is that of a preening Narcissus, and Dana has to wonder how many Echoes have foolishly tried to gain the love he reserves only for himself.
A beat. Then--
"I'm sorry if I intruded," the doctor begins, meaning to apologize, meaning to depart, to return to her work.
She never has the chance.
"Come here," Prothero says.
"Come," he insists for a second time, more assertion in his voice, and Dana finally weaves over to the Commander's cluttered desk. A half empty glass of wine occupies a place of honor at the center of the mess, the discolored liquid clashing with the crystal ridges of the cup.
Once she has reached the window, the sight Prothero obviously wanted her to partake is clear. A small group of prisoners is assembled on the parade ground three stories down from the office. A pack of three guards has herded them into the area, and now they stand behind the inmates, the muzzles of their guns pointed at the bald, dead eyed people kneeling on the concrete.
They are weirdly resigned to their fate, their gazes roaming over nothing and everything, staring at the back wall of the Oblivion they are about to become acquainted with. Their knees are squares of bone and their fingers are knobs of bone and their teeth are boxes of bone in the pink bone cabinet of their mouths. Dana can almost make out the way their lashes fight against the darkness soon to overcome them.
On the other side of the world, a tsunami spirals into being, and the chaos theory is proven. Disorder wins, laughs like the villains in all the movies and skulks, prowls like the guards with the skull impressions printed on their caps, symbols marking them as the executioners of this place.
So sorry--Death is busy today. He is excavating souls from Block 10. He is balancing the extracted multitudes of spirits from the children's barracks on his shoulders like they were luggage, like he is a bus boy, like this is just another journey down another road towards another future. Death is catching the spirits shooting up from the mouths of the crematoria chimneys.
So sorry--Death is busy today. Death cannot be here to oversee your grand finale, but you needn't worry. We will do it in his place.
Their lashes blink and in Kansas, Dorothy is sent hurdling towards Oz.
Some of the prisoners are crying, and their silent tears form star bursts of illumination on their cheeks, make shapes that resemble the hands of a clock, and they do not want to die here. No one wants to die here. They do not want to live here. No one wants to live here. Their hearts smack like fists and kisses on the bars of their ribs and Dana's legs suddenly feel like weights lodged into the sockets of her hips. She wants no part in the skulls that are about to crack open under the force of metal; her methods of murder are more understated. They are methods she can live with, or so she thinks now.
"They never fight," she says. The doctor isn't aware she had spoken aloud until she sees Prothero twist his head towards her. The smile has regained its hold on his mouth, and it is not a man looking at her but a wolf in cleverly fashioned clothing. "They're so wretched...they never fight back."
"They never fight back because they've come to realize what we've known all along," Prothero replies. He raises his right hand as though he means to take an oath, and sets it on her shoulder, lacing his fingers around the knot there.
"And what would that be?" the doctor says.
"That they're unworthy."
Dana somehow doubts this, but does not go so far as to rebuke the Commander's proclamation. She is a scientist, made to doubt, made to have reservations about life, the Universe and everything. She does not think that the miserable creatures awaiting their ends have acknowledged their inferiority--they have simply abandoned any hope of escape from this place save that which a bullet offers.
She envies him beside her for his conviction, even if it borders on absurd. For men like Lewis Prothero, absolute faith in the new order seems to come naturally. For women who act on the rules of logical and logic alone, who had earned a doctrine by twenty-five, blind belief is an art difficult to master.
"Sir, why am I here?" Dana says. "I see this everyday. I disturbed you and I'm sorry, but I do have work."
"You're here because I want you here," he says curtly.
His fingers climb up the back of neck, pausing in their ascent at the hilt of her pony tail. Dana is so grotesquely enrapt with the scene unfolding on the ground that she is hardly aware that Prothero has snapped the elastic band holding her hair back in its ponytail. The newly freed locks trickle down her back in flaxen waves, and it is only when the Commander starts to toy with them that the doctor takes note of his actions.
"What are you doing?" she says, finding it difficult to drag herself away from the people assembled below them despite what is happening to her. It seems foolish to even ask the Commander such a thing--she knows perfectly well what he's doing. The only question is why is he doing it.
Instead of replying, he captures her face, fingers nestling in the hollow of either cheekbone. They are big enough to cave her skull in, pinch it like a rotting melon, a taste Dana has become familiar with, almost come to love. Hatred is a bitter fruit one carries at the back of one's throat at all times, and no amount of water can deprive your tongue of its flavor.
"You've got very nice eyes doctor," he says to Dana, forcing her neck to the side so that he can inspect the profile cut by the bars of light mingling with the shadows crawling over the woman's white countenance. To be given a compliment is one thing, but when a man tells you this while he is drinking you in with pupils stained an unattractive wine color by the fetid smoke seeping up from ovens whose sole purpose is destroying human beings, the comment falls flat.
She feels herself go red, though she cannot pin point whether the emotion moving across the surface of her brain is embarrassment or anger.
Both, she suspects.
If he was sore for company, why is he trying to seduce her of all people? His friends are numerous, boisterous, always ready to entertain should the right incentive (usually an overabundance of alcohol) be provided. And for women, there is a string of them; nurses, guards of the female variety, younger and more attractive than she is. Anyone in the camp, even the inmates, could have provided Prothero with whatever he needed that particular evening.
Instead, he has appealed to Dana Stanton.
Outside the four walls encasing them in a dark and private Universe, the stink of burning flesh curdles on the wind. Inside it, she curls her shoes on the inside of her practical shoes, knots her fists, feels the push of her neat, practical nails on her palms. I don't even like him.
Perhaps all the Commander wants to prove how he has power over everything here. From the prisoners to the soldiers stationed here to the head of the biological research department. Maybe he's tired of the blond, plastic girl-guards who titter and steal jewels from the new arrivals, daring to pluck gemstones from their necks and fingers and dawn them in clear sight of their superiors. Not everything must go to the state, after all.
It could be a matter of ego, of not wanting to stoop down and pluck someone from the lower branches of the camp's hierarchy. Prothero and Dana are not cannon fodder. They are important, and they are in deeper than any other member of the Norsefire Party stationed here.
She remembers a movie her older sister used to watch about a girl who went to save her brother from the a goblin king, remembers how the girl in her flouncing princess shirt and jeans had declared that the master of the fantasy realm she was now a prisoner in did not have the ability to control her. But there are no more girls in princess shirts and jeans, and once again Dana finds herself hating her lack of faith. If she believed in anything at all, she might consider walking away. She might consider what she is doing here in the first place.
He seizes her all at once, turning so delicately the spin of his body is difficult for her to tract. Prothero's adds his left hand to her other shoulder, his thumbs coming to straddling the depression at the center of her collarbone.
"I don't love you," she says, and means it.
"That was never the point," Prothero replies, and settles his mouth on top of hers.
The doctor breaks the kiss a few moments later and tips his head up so that she can tighten her lips around the side of his neck, adding teeth to the hold. Dana can feel the blood racing through his jugular. It buzzes under her molars like a cluster of bees. The composure he wielded with such polish earlier has departed. When the night is over and they resume their posts, it will return, but for now...
The machine guns pointed at the victims in the yard raise in a hideous symphony. The composition breaks irregularly as the screams of those on its receiving end crescendo and halt in time. Life after life is snuffed out, potential after potential lost in a cry that gives way to silence all too abruptly. The cure for cancer, the greatest novel of all time, an ode to rival Beethoven's 9th, a sea of endless possibilities dissolve with the shrieks, with the dull thud of another corpse whose grave will be an unattractive combination of earth and the twisted limbs of those who have already gone into the arms of their heathen gods.
The darkness eats the noise and the bodies fall, completing their final acts in the great cosmic drama.
The summer heat stinks, charbroiled flesh and the cologne painted on the Commander's throat.
iii. three fatal sparks
In another world, Delia drinks, and the nightmare is over. She reminds herself that she is Delia, and that Dana died on the cusp of winter five years ago. She is Delia, sucking on ice and memory, and she is at a Party function she would rather be anywhere but.
Delia, Delia, Delia.
What's in a name? she asks herself, and considers whether the source of the quote has been blacklisted yet. She suspects as much; Sutler never did care for the works of the Bard. Despite living in the four centuries earlier, Shakespeare's works are too liberal for the Chancellor to enjoy.
She is Delia and she would like another drink.
And another, and another.
Prothero was, is a monster, one she fell in with because she was little better. Today, he is a myth created by censors, by flattering manipulations of light and sound. Lilliman's flock hang on his every word, on each speech he gives on the meaning of Hellfire and damnation, the righteousness of England's struggle. Delia herself is more than respected in her field--she is considered by a good many of her coworkers to be a brilliant physician. But the success enjoyed by the members of the trinity is christened with blood.
Delia knows this.
She has seen the faces of the condemned, and her own visage is among them. They will burn as Larkhill did, and she will be glad of the punishment.