A way home by planet p
Disclaimer I don't own the Pretender or any of its characters.
Author's Notes AU. It was the middle of the night, and I have not yet read over this with a critical eye, so it will probably be very choppy, but I just wanted to post this to see what response I got. And, yeah, it is fairly abstract, and the conspiracy and the MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) is pretty much just my imagination.
If anyone had ever said, and believed, that the Center Corporation consisted of little more than a head office – somewhere in the UK, presumedly – and various branches – honestly, no more than a handful – spread across the globe, in Africa, the United States of America, and possibly Canada, Lyle knew that they were either ignorant or suggestible, or, as he preferred to think of it, stupid or brainwashed.
It was, after all, a conspiracy.
A part of, and included, in that wide-sweeping conspiracy was the notion that the idea for the Center had been founded by a man by the name of Parker, who'd lived, for the most part of his life, on an island off the Scottish coast, but, upon coming upon a set of scrolls, professed to be the prophets of the future, and of Parker's future, he'd burnt his home, along with his family – a wife and child – to the ground, and set sail for a foreign land, to found the mystical empire of the scrolls that would later become known as, simply, the Center.
In Lyle's opinion, anyone dumb enough to swallow that was suffering from a serious mental health problem they either a) were in denial about, b) believed that they were squeakily sane, or c) generally didn't have a clue that they were actually stark raving mad, and quite nuts, and probably also believed that they'd been abducted by aliens, or maybe that the existence of aliens, and the whole hullabaloo over finding the wreckage of alien crafts and all of those scary UFO sightings was an elaborate stunt by the government and the military combined to control the masses by fear, or that New Mexico's tourism industry had been suffering from a serious shortage of business that year.
The scrolls that Parker had found on the Isle of Carthis weren't, in fact, the real scrolls – which were kept in Africa, in a presumedly secret, but not necessarily secure location, and likely pretty much prophesised the end of the world and the destruction of the human species as, as they say, we know it – but a diversionary tactic through misinformation, and a mechanism of ultimate control.
Certainly, it had worked its insidious magic on Mr. Parker, descendant of that first, lonely voyager to a strange and distant land.
All of that was beside the point, however, as the point, in point of fact, was merely that the Center Corporation was, literally, everywhere.
And a multi-billion dollar business, and one of the top leaders in its industry, which dealt with individuals possessing a tiny, little anomaly of the human genetic code known as Cooper's Anomaly, after its discoverer, a geneticist named Cooper.
And it had teeth!
That little known fact, at face value, nothing more than a superseded name – Cooper's Anomaly – pointing to, perhaps, a more involved explanation of the discovery of the anomaly in question, was also the sole reason that the Center Corporation had staved off liquidating its Delaware branch, located in the unimaginatively named seaside city of Blue Cove, as it had many, less inconsequential, others, in effort to make way for the many newer, bigger, brighter branches, all apart of its grand future, exuberant and driven, and, most definitely, on top.
At the beginning of the new millennia, in fact, Blue Cove had stepped down from her throne as the Center Corporation's only branch in the state of Delaware, and thrown her crown aside, and officially become the sleepy, dumpy half of one of two.
Blue Cove, after all, had had, for the most part of its history, been assigned a single Tower doctor, and a single Tower official, who, to add insult to injury, in Blue Cove's case, had been the same person. They had not, for instance, been so much as offered the occasional services of a visiting Tower Healer, let alone a Tower Healer of their own.
Mr. Parker, longstanding Chairman of the Blue Cove branch, and now, the newly appointed Acting Chairman, as the Tower representative over the employees of Blue Cove, was not so much a representative of the Tower – the Center Corporation's driving and organising force – as to them.
But, somehow, Blue Cove had found redemption with the Tower in 1957 with the damnation of a little boy, and the appointment of the services of the four-year-old Tower Pretender, Alex, who was later to become known as the Chameleon.
And, in 1962, they truly found their star with another four-year-old little boy, named Jarod.
As it stood, rumours abounded as to why it had been Blue Cove who had been allowed pickings when it came to the, some said Child of Prophecy, untrained Pretender, Jarod.
Certainly, there were those that believed that it was in part owed to a man the Tower, inexplicably, seemed to like, the then Director of Med Space, Jacob E. Green, who had worked first in the Canadian auxiliary branch and experimental eugenics facility, where it was said that Pretenders were bred, before coming to work for Blue Cove and taking the position of Head of the Med Space Department.
And that, in a way, was, to a large extent, the length and degree of the Tower's interest and involvement with the Blue Cove branch.
Oh, excepting one small fact, perhaps.
A child named Theodore E. Parker.
Twin to Miss Parker, daughter of Mr. James E. and Mrs. Catherine E. Parker.
The Great Hope of the Entire Corporation.
The Year of Our Lord, 1964.
And with that child,
Ashes to ashes, flames to flames.
At least, that was how Lyle told it.
The year was 2009, so he'd been told, and presumed, that it, in all likelihood, was thereabout, give or take a month or two, and the location of the cage of his holding, fastidiously titled the Specialist Rehabilitation Ward, Advanced Experimental Division, of the Department of Health and Human Services – or Upkeep, he couldn't be sure with the amount medication he was on – a fancy way of saying the Department of Med Space, he decided, Ica Medical Research Facility, was Thailand.
Where in the bloody Hell was that on a map!
He really wanted to know!
The real matter at hand, however, was that whatever the facility claimed to be, to whomever it ostensibly obeyed – or served – whichever government – or whatever – wherever it, in fact, was located, was one more in a long, ever-increasing, list of conspiracies.
Basically, the Center Corporation did whatever it pleased, whenever it pleased, to whomever it pleased, and, as long as it abided the Triumvirate's rules, it was, and would continue to be, free to do so at will, or whim.
Not that "Roma," Lyle's assigned Companion Facilitator – or, as Lyle liked to think of it, virtual 'friend' – Class Ursa Major, Version , cared. In fact, Roma didn't care about, or for, anything, because she wasn't real.
The diner they were sitting in, the table they were sitting at, the chairs they were sitting on, the waitress with the tacky uniform and porn star name, Velvette.
None of it was real.
In fact, about the only real thing about it all, Lyle decided, was the air, and, of course, himself, unless that was an elaborately staged hoax also, which, at current, seemed very, very funny.
Roma, ever the death of the party, somehow, however, did not seem to share his humour, and observed him, almost as though impatient, from across the table, until finally her incessant staring put an end to his laughter.
Roma, and, in fact, the entire diner set-up, was part of, for lack of a better word, a Made Real virtual reality room, or space – and that was patented – called a NextEarth Platform, or NEXEP, and the diner they were sitting in was located within sector Compassion Tango Romeo of this platform.
These were all the sort of fun, little things that Roma 'knew,' and could 'recall' at 'whim' – or, interestingly – and this one really was interesting – if he 'upset,' 'angered,' or made fun of her.
The point of Roma, he supposed, was much like the point of this Spy Kids/Floop's Castle inspired room, which served, more or less, the same function as – though they used the cleaner, politically-correct term, rehabilitation – a Renewal Wing.
Used, of course, for rehabilitation.
Or, in other words, everyone's favourite – brainwashing, or a – in some circles considered to be painless – frontal lobotomy.
Which meant that he was a very, very bad person.
Or, basically, fucked up!
Which he wasn't allowed to say aloud, because Roma didn't 'like' profanity, or offensive/derogatory/threatening language.
Yeah, and that pissed him off, but, that, he kept to himself, because, somehow – by a super, massive leap of intuition (super, massive) – he had a feeling that Roma wouldn't like that either.
Early on in their 'friendship' he had attempted to explain to Roma the most part of how he'd decided the platform, and she, worked.
Which lead to: At least for her, she could say, "Yah, that's why I did that," and there was someone to blame at the end of the day. For him, not so much, and it was always him to blame at the end of the day.
At least for her, there was a point to pinpoint and say, "There, that's where I changed, that's where everything changed, that's when I became what I am now, what I am today, that was the start of the end, the beginning of the downfall, that's where and when it happened," and laugh – stupid humans!
Roma had merely glanced at him from across the table, as she did now, her face somewhat disbelieving, and, as he'd just done, moments before, he'd laughed.
A thing! Not even a real thing! Unbelieving! How funny was that!
Though the medication, he conceded, did, at times, tend to skew his typical notion of funny, and, to be honest, the whole bloody Made Real thing could really mess with a person's grasp on reality!
Once, he'd tried to mentally plan out the steps and phases of this new, experimental renewal procedure.
But once was enough.
He wondered, though, if Jarod, or Kyle, or even Alex – trained Pretenders, all of them – would have had better luck, or, as it were, success.
Which lead to, by a huge sidestep: At whose incitation, and intervention, had he been scheduled – and shipped – for renewal?
These questions didn't seem to bother Roma, however. She'd told him that they were inconsequential to the task at hand, if memory served correctly.
Which it had no reason to.
A big, shiny, gold star to his medication!
Or a banana, peanuts, whatever!
Across the table, Roma's expression remained unchanged, impatient, and a little unimpressed – waiting for the real fireworks.
Which was a little – too much – like the face she'd kept, impassive and dull, during all of his Made Real regression sessions, and for which he wanted, all the more, to laugh harder, but it – the joking, reflective, contemplative mood – was gone now, just as if, like Roma, like the diner, like everything around him, it had never been real, but only an imagined reality!
Like this room, like everything – save himself – inside this room, this empty room. Imagined. Unreal.
That was him. He was like that, he thought. Like this room. He was exactly like this room. This empty room. He was an empty room. And all of these feelings – well, they were just imagined, unreal.
Didn't, couldn't last.
Because they weren't real.
They'd never been real, never been there, to begin with.
That was how it was.
Ashes to ashes, flames to flames.
And all gone away. All gone away to dust.
And the dust to nothing.
And the nothing to nothing.
He wasn't allowed to see Roma after that.
After the seizure.
For such a long time, at least.
There was something more to that.
In his dreams, there was always something more to everything.
He was still allowed dreams, for now.
He did miss Roma, he thought, in a dream. Which was a particularly strange place for such a thought, and did not incline one toward the total and undeniable validity of such. But that was where he thought it. And it was true.
As if by magic, he thought, a cleverly constructed reality/ruse, that was Roma. She wasn't real, except in his mind, in the memories that his mind kept.
Except, sometimes, he thought, that that was all that really mattered.
Who was he to say that he was real? That his mind was real? That his memories were real? That any of anything was real?
Maybe, maybe nothing was real.
Not even life.
Maybe he wasn't even alive.
Maybe there wasn't even any such thing as he.
But there it was, real or not, all of those memories, and how many, how many of them could he count, and count Roma in them?
To him, she was as real as anything else had been in his whole life.
Not that she would understand this if he were to – stupidly – tell her this.
Still, he thought, it would be nice, before the end – ashes to ashes, flames to flames – to do something nice for her, something that said he'd appreciated her friendship, irrespective of the fact of whether the sentiment would be lost on her or not, which, he knew, it would be.
She was not real.
But what did he care?
It wasn't as though they were real feelings. They weren't his feelings! They were merely what he had perceived proper, or whimsical, suitable. Rationally, he told himself, it was entirely possible for him to be able to empathise with something that he had not ever actually experienced himself.
And that was him.
And if it wasn't… then…
It was appropriately entirely upsetting to think that someone would intentionally take all of that away from someone, for whatever reason.
Because, even when we died, it wasn't the same. It was just different.
But… he couldn't…
Or was it conceive?
Of such a thing, of such an act, such an injustice.
It wasn't the same, because, afterwards, he still had to live.
And there it was:
It was real!
It would happen!
And that would leave him, what? Again! The victim! And… and… he wouldn't even have a choice! Because he wouldn't remember!
And he'd promised. He'd promised… never to let anyone hurt Bobby again. He'd promised.
He'd promised so many things. To so many people. Stupid, stupid promises! Unrealistic promises! And all of those promises, it didn't even matter if they were lies, or not, because, now – soon – they'd all be made unreal. But, they wouldn't be undone. No one could undo what was done. It was all in the mind. It was all just a frame of mind.
And then, all of those promises, like wishes – like fairies – with no one to believe in them, would die, would all go out, all go to dust, and the dust to nothing, forever and ever, or for as long as that was.
But, oh, who was to say that what happened wasn't meant to happen? Because, after, after the happening of what happened, something else would happen. Something always happened. And on and on, forever and ever.
If he could have told Bobby just one thing, it would be that.
Ever the grown-up, he thought, but the sarcasm wasn't there. Not any more.
If he could have stood beside Bobby, he'd have put his arms around him and held him, because then he wouldn't have had to have said sorry.
Because Bobby would have understood.
Roma sat in her usual seat across the table from him in the booth in diner, and though Roma seemed no different than usual, the diner seemed somehow smaller, or perhaps it was just in his mind, which was frantically, illogically struggling to recall everything, anything it could about this place, and fold it neatly and tuck it away, away where no one would ever find it, or think to look for it.
And if he did find somewhere just like that, he wondered, would he think to look in the right place to ever find it again.
Roma watched him, as usual, from across the table, and though he felt, most of all, like crying, just for a moment, though he'd decided that he absolutely would not cry, looking at Roma, it was clear that he wouldn't cry, not in front of Roma, because then, if she'd been real, that would upset her.
And, if she were real, he wouldn't want to upset Roma too. It would be like a bad omen, a foreshadowing of what was to come, and he didn't need any more reminders of that.
Roma, who was suddenly beautiful, except, she'd always been beautiful, hadn't she?
So he smiled, and got to his feet. This was the end, after all! After this, something else, but not this, not ever again, nothing like this. That would be nothing he would know.
Roma turned to him with a frown. What are you doing? the frown seemed to say. What now?
Lyle held his hand out to her, politely, but she ignored the gesture, and stood on her own, and stepped away from the booth and the table she'd been sitting at moments before.
Grinning, he stepped up to her and, leaning closer, asked in a low voice, "Wanna see something cool?"
Which really wasn't very sophisticated, but he didn't care. Not anymore.
Velvette, sitting behind the counter where she'd been alternately pouring over the accounting and a glossy magazine, narrowed her eyes at him. Ever since that comment on her name, she'd been frosty and untrusting to him.
Though she can't have seen Velvette's icy glare, Roma reached her hands up in little balled fists and folded her arms tight across her chest, as though a cold wind had suddenly wrapped arms around her, and had left nothing in return – not at all like a real embrace – but a stolen warmth, a sudden coldness.
When Lyle looked into her face, however, she was no longer glaring at him, for once, she seemed resigned, too tired to glare.
If she'd been real, it would have been nice to put his arms around her.
He didn't do that, but he shot her a wink – across the diner, Velvette looked ready to shout, or laugh; Roma, dubious, he was going to do something, likely something stupid, whethere she agreed to it, or encouraged it, or not – and clicked his finger and turned smartly on the spot.
No more Velvette.
No more diner.
Roma's eyes seemed to refocus, and she looked about her at everything that was suddenly not the same.
"How cool is that?" Lyle enthused, impressed with his achievement.
Wide-eyed, Roma returned her attention to him.
Lyle winked at her. "Nah," he told her, leaning closer, and glancing suddenly at the watch on his right wrist, "preset." He tossed his head. "Good watch, though. Awesome watch!" Then, grinning, he held his hand out to her again.
And this time, dressed for the occasion, in her peach-coloured dress, though not strictly an evening dress, none the less beautiful, and – oh goodness – her slightly grubby white sneakers, standing on polished wooden floorboards in the centre of a large, decadent, old ballroom that Lyle had only ever seen, but had never visited, her hand trembling, she took his hand, which wasn't a bit unsteady.
And then the music started, and Roma nearly leapt onto him in fright. Where had that orchestra come from? And all around them, suddenly, the room was full of people and laughter and chatting, shoes scuffing, people just like them, out for an evening of dancing.
And he put his arms around her, and closed his eyes, and, just like her hand, she wasn't cold one bit. "I'm sorry," he whispered, close to her ear, "it's not right, but it's for the best."
Margaret sniffed, the sound suddenly loud in the empty room – the wonderful old music, the dancing couples in their old-fashioned clothes, their beautiful suits and gowns and shoes, with their beautiful hair, and the lovely, old ballroom, all gone – and wiped her nose on the back of her hand.
She'd been so sure, when she'd been offered the choice, when she'd been certain that they would have her, or no one would – work for us, or die – not much of a choice really, so sure that this was what she'd wanted. To see the end of him, like he'd seen the end of Kyle when he'd killed him!
Up until three years ago, she'd never known what that was like. Thinking, believing that she would die, that what she was seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting, that all of it was the end.
There'd been no choice, she knew that. If she ever wanted to see her family again, she would take what they were offering. And she would wait. But then they'd sent her here. That had been six years ago. Three years later, she, and the research team she was travelling with, had been caught in the middle of crossfire between the military and who she, and the rest of her team, had assumed were guerrillas.
She'd thought she was going to die then, the mud mixed with blood, and the mud all over her, and her blood adding to the blood of her team members' in the mud. But they'd found her, and they'd brought her back.
But now she was different. Younger, healthier. More tormented. What, now, would her family think of her? What would her husband think of her? Working for the enemy, working for the people who'd taken their children away from them, and returned one of them damaged goods, and the other in a wooden box! What would her children think of her? Her few friends? Those she'd confided in, and those she hadn't? What would they think of her if they saw her? Would they want her back? Would they take her back?
She stared, eyes wide and wet, at nothing, at her shoes, and at the floor, where she'd almost stepped in the blood from Lyle's nosebleed.
Back then, she'd been sure that she had needed to do this, to start to recover, just a little bit, and to avenge her dead son, just a little bit.
And they'd agreed to her request.
She sniffed again and stepped over the blood and walked toward the door, where she swiped her clearance card – right there, in her pocket, all along – to open the door, and walked out of the room and into the corridor.
She'd hoped, in the beginning, that they'd fail, that it wouldn't work, and they'd have to put him down, they'd have to kill him, because he wasn't a use to anyone, he was only a liability and a danger. She'd imagined all of the people he'd killed, for whatever reason, because it was his job, or because he's just liked the feeling it had given him. She'd imagined all of the blood. But in the end, all of blood was the same blood. Kyle's blood, her blood, her team members' blood, Lyle's blood.
She glanced down at her shoes, inspecting them for blood, and saw that they were clean, expect for her hand, which she wiped on her dress.
In a way, it was worse than dying, she supposed. Dying meant an end to suffering, and she'd wanted him, more than anything, to suffer.
Like her sons had suffered, during all those years of captivity. And she'd suffered, without her sons, her husband, having to keep constantly on the run. Like her husband and her daughter had suffered.
Death was quick, in the end. Living wasn't.
In a way, Lyle had been right, this way wasn't right, but it was for the best.
She stopped at another door and swiped the card in her hand again, and the door opened.
In the end, he hadn't even known who she was, or that she wasn't so cut up about what was about to happen, just disappointed. In the end, she realised she had wanted him to die. But, in the end, this way was better.
She smiled and pulled the door open and stepped through into the adjoining corridor and let the door close by itself behind her.
She would go back to work, back to waiting, but first, she would need to find out who Lyle had bribed and report them, or just give them a good yelling at and threaten to report them, which would mean, for her, a bargaining chip, leverage in her favour, and just possibly, a way out of here, a way home.