It was New Year's Eve and Emma was very ready to have her baby, two weeks past her due date now and bursting out all over. She wasn't worried (much) about the progress of the pregnancy, because she believed Peter's mother when Angela had made a Christmas gift to all of them of a dream she'd had – the child would share a birthday with Noah Petrelli and the birth would be long, but otherwise uneventful. But what she was worried about was the complicated world her daughter Alisha was being born into. It wasn't a world Emma understood – not even the shameful events that had led to her uncle and father being the same person. One of these days, she knew, her child was going to ask for explanations. She wanted them to be better than the evasive ones her own mother had supplied.
She set aside the book she'd been reading most recently (having chewed through Activating Evolution and ending with more questions than answers). This latest was the history of the 1960s jazz scene in New York, as she tried to come to terms with the world her father Chris Coolidge had been living in, to understand why her so very sensible mother had taken her brother as a paramour. Chris was long dead and her mother wouldn't explain herself, but Emma happened to be sitting across from a man who was an expert on motivations. She asked, "How did it all begin?"
Maury snapped his attention from whatever it was he'd been contemplating. "What?" He'd been assigned as one of her two bodyguards (the other being Peter), a necessity she'd argued against but lost. The anniversary of Noah's traumatic birth had made both Gabriel and Heidi very anxious and the only way they'd leave the house was if proper protection was in place for both she and their youngest son Noah. That was how she'd ended up across the living room from Maury Parkman, watching him fondle an unlit cigar and stare off into the distance until her question pulled him out of it.
Peter was curled up in an easy chair with little Noah wedged between him and the arm of the seat. The nearly one-year-old had fallen asleep there after playing to exhaustion in his uncle's lap. Rather than move him, Peter had telekinesed over a laptop and was now streaming a report sent to him by Micah on some Company business. At her question, he raised his head to look between them.
Emma repeated herself in case she hadn't enunciated properly. "How did it all begin?"
"Specials?" Maury said, probably having plucked the subject from her mind. She nodded. "You mean all the way back? She nodded again, although her initial question had only been about the factors that had influenced her immediate family and perhaps that of Peter's. But if there was more, she wanted to know it. "How did specials begin?" Maury laughed a little. "You do like the big questions, don't you?"
Emma waited, pushing her book a little further away on the end table next to the couch to make it clear she wanted to hear him instead.
Maury sighed and put the cigar down. "All the way back, huh?" She nodded, leaning forward with interest. "Okay." He shot a look at Peter, who looked interested as well. Even though Peter's curiosity about abilities was notably limited, it was a more intriguing topic than Company work. The old telepath leaned back, assessing his audience and then letting his thoughts turn to the subject. 'Why am I here?' was the real question she was asking. It was one of those fundamental ones people always asked, along with 'where did I come from?' and 'what's my purpose in life?' Maury didn't have the answers to those, mind-reader or no, but he did know a lot about the events that had led up to this point.
"I'm not sure how far back abilities go. Earliest evidence I've heard of is from ancient Egypt." He rubbed at the scruff on his chin, casting his thoughts back to lively debates and arguments back in the 60s, before either of his listeners had been born. It felt weird to realize not only were they here now, but that members of the next generation were already among them. Back then, he'd been a young man with as many questions as thoughts. No one had told him the story of how they'd come to be. He'd had to scrabble it together from clues and then hoarded the knowledge like the most valuable commodity. At this advanced stage of his life, there wasn't much benefit to keeping those things secret anymore.
"The first we have is some inscriptions about how the pharaoh had a man killed for possessing one of the 'god's' powers. They didn't think of them as normal people with abilities, the way a lot of folks do nowadays. What they could do was direct evidence of the divine and the supernatural. The people with abilities were revered, and given the animal-based religions they had in the day, they each picked an animal spirit, a totem, to represent them. Like a sports mascot." He smiled at how little the psychology of people had changed over the last three or four thousand years. He gestured loosely. "You can see them in the hieroglyphs they left behind – the bodies of men and women with the heads of an ibis, a jackal, or a hippo, maybe a cow. They had a whole religion around it and we have a bunch of signs that the people they were worshipping were like us – 'special'," he said, using the word that the latest generation seemed to favor.
"What happened to them?" Emma asked.
He shrugged. "If they weren't immortal, then they probably just died. I suppose it stopped breeding true at some point. They knew abilities were passed down genetically and you can see that in the way the royal family propagated itself. They married brother to sister, father to daughter, mother to son. And cousins, but the closer the better. I'm not sure how healthy that is in the long run. A lot of people tell me it's not. All the domestic animals we do that with … well, apparently it's really tough to keep a line pure and strong at the same time. And if I know anything about human nature, I'll bet that the breeding wasn't as closely controlled for the pharaoh's lineage as it is for English Spaniels." Even in the Founder's little claque of specials, infidelity had been the rule rather than the exception. Arthur's theory was that their nature as superior beings came with a drive to spread that gift to others, at times more literally than others.
"The ..." Emma made a sign for incest, uncomfortable with speaking the word out loud even though Noah was asleep and his vocabulary was rudimentary at best. "It happened even back then?"
"Yeah. And I think that might be where our person got the idea."
"Our person?" Emma paused, but there was only one entity she knew of who Maury persistently refused to name. "You mean Lilith?"
Maury smiled, embarrassed a little as his habitual avoidance of the name. "You know, once upon a time we thought that saying her name drew her attention, but yeah, Lilith. Selective breeding of people for abilities was her idea, but it wasn't a new one. People have been marrying up animals and people with the goal of getting better traits out of the progeny since the beginning of civilization. Plants, too. Some of the earliest writing we have is about picking which seeds to save and the Egyptian writings are explicit that the royal family wanted their kids to inherit their 'divinity'. At some point, though, it didn't work and I don't know why. Egypt wasn't the only place it happened, either. You can find some pretty damning evidence in India, China, and northern Europe. Some more speculative in Mesoamerica. If we could get the Dalai Lama to share, we'd know a lot more – he's a special, with an ability that's a match for that person … eh, Lilith's. Some people have run their mouths about the Judeo-Christian prophets, but I don't know about any that for certain. Just because people report miracles or UFOs doesn't mean anything really happened."
Peter snorted softly at the strangeness of Maury believing in the abilities of the Dalai Lama and various Egyptian gods without a problem, but balking when dealing with his own faith.
Emma asked, "What about time travel? Didn't anyone ever go back to see for sure?"
Maury waggled his head ambivalently. "You know, time travel's not all that different from painting the future or having prophetic dreams – you don't get to pick where you go or what you see. A really powerful traveller can force it, but doing that screws up the grey matter. They're trying to plow upstream, direct against the current of history, and that's more than a human being can process. It would be like Gabriel trying to use his telekinesis to stop the Earth from rotating – just not possible. He'd give himself an aneurism first. So we can't send someone back to 1865 to stop John Wilkes Booth from shooting Abraham Lincoln, much less to see if Moses really parted the Red Sea. There's too many events downstream that would change. All that weight and momentum of history against the fragility of the human brain? The brain gives way first.
"It doesn't work. We've played around with related powers. There's one that lets you paint the past, for example. Might not seem the most useful, but it's sure interesting. Then there's object-reading, like your husband has." Maury paused for a moment, confused by her thoughts. "No, I meant the other guy. Gabriel." Another pause. "Well, yes, he's not your direct husband, right. Whatever. You young people and your hippy free love," he laughed jokingly. "And anyway, Peter has that ability, too, I think." He glanced over to see Peter bob his head briefly. Maury went on, "None of those powers go very far back – a few years normally, maybe a few decades for a vision that's really important and personal. It ain't gonna get you to Bethlehem."
"So … what do we know for sure?"
"What we know is that around 1500, the man we call Adam was running around. Hiro Nakamura left contemporaneous writings confirming it, but the main source of information is from me getting inside his head – Adam's head, that is. No one's sure how old he is, not even Adam."
"Is, or was?" Peter said, tilting his head to one side.
"Oh … well … he lived for so long," Maury said drily. "Was. Anyway." He turned back to Emma, ignoring Peter's narrowed eyes and continuing, "Adam's earliest memory was of waking up on the western shore of Japan after a storm, washed up with planks and crates. He didn't bother to check them for writing and he's always regretted that. He had reason, a lot of reason, to believe he'd regenerated extensively. Part of that reason was his lack of personal memories. He still knew English and a few other languages, along with a little history and vague memories of places he'd been – nothing specific, though. He staggered inland and sold his services as a mercenary. He didn't know he could regenerate at the time. Hiro showed him that later. Adam just kept thinking he was having miraculous escapes and injuries that weren't as bad as he'd thought at first blush."
Maury toyed with his cigar again, thinking back through all of the immortal's many memories. "We had him … in a cell at the Company for nearly thirty years. The incarceration wasn't a big deal for him, but the Company … we ... did some things that were beyond the pale." He rolled the cigar back and forth between his fingers. "Vivisection, killing him a lot, but most of all, the utter lack of treating him like a person who had any dignity or right to it. We shunned him, ostracized him, cast him out even though we kept him there in a cell and made him deal with our disapproval of him day in and day out. They brought me in to sort him out, because he got to where he wouldn't cooperate, wouldn't talk, wouldn't do anything but lash out.
"He hadn't gone crazy, you see," Maury said, circling his finger near his temple. "Not the same way we understand mental illness today in terms of unbalanced neurochemicals and such. Regeneration prevents that. But when the rational, sane, mentally stable response to your environment is to remove yourself from it … well. I had to go in there and bring him back and the only way to do that was to make 'back' somewhere he wanted to be. The main problem wasn't in his head, it was in mine. And that of the other Founders." He glanced over at Peter, who had put aside his laptop and, with one hand on baby Noah's leg, was watching Maury intently.
"How's that?" Peter asked.
"They had to quit hating him. We, that is. People can't survive as an object of hate. Worst punishment possible in most ancient societies wasn't killing someone, it was shunning them. He couldn't take it. He had to have at least one person who understood, who empathized." Maury rolled the cigar pensively between his fingers and looked to the former empath. "You know what I mean, Peter."
"How did that happen?" Peter asked softly, projecting his thoughts so Emma could hear him without watching his lips. "It was you who gave him that connection, right?"
Instead of answering, Maury sighed and said, "You know what pisses me off? No one wanted to know that. They didn't want to know what I'd had to do. They didn't want to know who Adam was or what had happened to make him a man who thought wiping out most of humanity was a good answer. They just confirmed every reason he'd ever had in how much not a damn one of them gave a shit!" The cigar broke between trembling fingers. This was something Maury had never shared with anyone – his reasons for siding with Adam, along with Daniel, Bob, Carlos, and Paula. But they were all dead, even Adam, despite Maury's unintentional slip of the tongue and deliberate vagueness with Peter. Maury was the only one left from one side of a feud so few knew about, but had nearly torn the world apart several times.
"I understand," Peter said simply and Maury's head pulled around to him after he finished brushing off the stray tobacco leaves. Maury probed to see what it was Peter thought he 'understood'. In a moment, he could see it. The world had abused Gabriel and neglected him, creating a man who could casually murder. Deed accomplished, Gabriel was then held to task for the sins he'd never wanted to commit – for being the person everyone in his life had made him to be. It was such a disgustingly elegant and simple trick, leaving all of the perpetrators guiltless while they blamed the instrument of their inhumanity. Peter saw a parallel between Gabriel and Adam, between the world who framed Gabriel and the Founders who were too afraid to look into Adam's motivations.
"You saved yours," Maury told him.
"That's just because I'd seen it before," the old man grumbled. "You're right – same pattern. But him killing my son was hard for me to deal with."
Peter nodded. "Was that … was that the beginning of the rift between you and my father?"
Maury snorted. "Not really. There were a lot of things. Your father was always fine with pushing people harder than they could take. If they broke, he didn't care. Everything and anything was possible with abilities."
Peter's eyes widened, as he'd said something very similar to his mother when he'd set himself on the course of getting Nathan 'back' from Sylar after that fateful Thanksgiving. "And you didn't agree?" It was weird and startling to see Maury as the moral one here.
"Given that I was usually the one tasked with putting people back together … it wasn't that I didn't agree, but that I couldn't ignore the impact of what we were doing. My own son ..." He shook his head and then gave an example. "We had a program for a while, a school for the kids of specials where we thought we'd train them up in their abilities so they'd be comfortable with them – a sort of 'school for the gifted'. Didn't work. I used telepathy to try to augment their learning, make them focus, concentrate, and hopefully tap into their powers early. Instead, it fucked them up. Gave Matt some sort of dyslexia. Gave one of our youngest girls a split personality. They started to disintegrate, because you can't heal with a scalpel. I quit, walked out, but your dad thought those were acceptable casualties. He was always okay with certain costs and losses."
"What did my mother think of that?" Peter asked, leaning forward with an odd intensity in his eyes.
"She was against Adam's plan from the start. So was Arthur, but for different reasons – you can't have a new world order without anyone in it. Angela's motivations stemmed more from the apocalypse she was always trying to avert. Her ability would show her disasters we'd try to avoid and Adam's was one of them. For a while, her goals and Arthur's were the same, but as the years went by, they diverged. Whenever she'd try to oppose him, he'd fix her with mental commands. Like I said," Maury shrugged, "with Arthur, losing her was just as acceptable a casualty as Nathan or you."
"Why didn't she see that in him?"
Maury smiled sadly. "Peter, it is a lucky thing for men that women don't see us as we are." Emma rolled her eyes at the casual sexism and Maury went on with a nod to modern sensibilities and the family of his companions, "Or our partners. Love blinds, regardless. But in any case, in the early days of our little group it was Charles and Bob and Angela and a few others. They tried to accomplish things the soft way and honestly, it didn't work. There's a level at which force needs to be applied and I'm not trying to defend your father – I think he went overboard – but he brought a mentality and a severity to the group that got things done. That was attractive." He sighed. "I think your mother doubted herself a lot. She went through a period of being addicted to sleeping pills and even in the beginning, your father was good at twisting things around."
On that depressing disclosure, the group was quiet for a while until Emma said, "So there were Egyptians and different ancient groups, then Adam several hundred years ago, then the Company. Was there anything in between?"
"There's a few disconnected occurrences here and there, but nothing had a bigger impact on where we are today than Lilith. Adam ran into her in the 1850s. It wasn't the first special he'd come across – he'd seen a few of those, but it was the first one he'd seen who might stick around like he did. Adam was in America at the time. He'd just lost the love of his life – was with her nearly sixty-five years, longer than most people lived – and a friend was trying to hook him up with young women. The lady he was introduced to had a checkered past and a child out of wedlock, but she was rich, widely traveled, smart, and sexually unrestrained – not the usual combination, but his friend knew Adam well enough to know they might hit it off famously.
"They didn't, but they became good friends and palled around for a year or so, finding out they had more in common than Adam's friend had suspected. Adam wanted to love her, desperately, and for a while he was in love with the idea of loving her – another immortal, someone he'd never lose. But it didn't work. They had sex, don't get me wrong, and they could have been as loving a couple as a lot I've seen, but they'd both lived long enough to know what did it for them and it wasn't one another – for whatever reason.
"At that point in time, Lilith only had one ability and Adam was pretty sure of that. She could possess people and that was it. She confessed to Adam that she'd been born around 1800 and had burned through a couple bodies in the process to getting where she was now. She was smart enough not to give details of her power, but it was clear she had no natural born body of her own she was tied to and that she could survive the death of her host just fine. That's an incredible power, but it's not beyond the ken of a really accomplished telepath or psychic. Like I said earlier, the Dalai Lama does the same thing."
Peter asked, "So … he's … that stuff about the Dalai Lama's spiritual transference is true?"
Maury's brows lifted at how Peter put faith in his God without proof, but questioned someone having an ability he'd personally seen in action. "Did you ever doubt Adam's age?"
"There you are. Yeah, it's true. But like I said, he doesn't want to talk to us about his ability. He's a little too wrapped up in spiritual fulfillment and peace and harmony and all that crap."
Peter snorted and laughed, then cut himself off when Noah squirmed next to him. They all observed a moment of silence as the toddler stretched and yawned adorably, then settled into a new position, burrowing against Peter's outer thigh.
Eventually Maury continued. "Actually, the Dalai Lama is a good example of something you two know as well as anyone: having abilities doesn't make you not a person. You've still got goals and intentions and all that, loved ones and enemies, prejudices and maybe even superstitions. Mr. Holy Harmony there has his own mission in life, or lives, or whatever. Adam never really settled on one, which was why he wasn't meshing up with Lilith too well. She had her own goal. She lost her son to disease within a few months of meeting Adam and ever after she was obsessed with the idea of having a family of people like her. Maybe talking to Adam about all the women he'd married over the years had an influence on her. She was the one who knew about the Egyptians. I don't know where she got that piece of information, but she told Adam, who told the Company Founders, who were able to verify a lot of it, so it seems to be true.
"That's so stereotypical," Emma complained. "A woman wanting a family."
"Says the woman so pregnant we ought to be thumping her belly for that hollow sound watermelons make when they're ripe," Maury shot back. Emma frowned at him and Maury went on, "You know what's also stereotypical? That you're assuming she's a woman at all. According to Adam, she'd just left twenty or thirty years of being a man and she'd mentioned men before that whom she'd possessed. She was presenting as a woman when Adam met her, but I've seen her in more male forms than female over the years. The only reason we all," Maury paused for a moment, "and by 'we' I mean the Founders, call her female is because Adam did. And I think the only reason Adam did was because he wanted to be in love with her and couldn't imagine having that feeling for a man."
Peter dipped his head and Maury, currently the recipient of all of Emma's attention, declined to shoot the younger Petrelli a look. He hoped Adam had found a little human connection after getting out of that prison. He'd certainly needed it and Peter probably had, too. But obviously it hadn't lasted, whatever they'd shared.
"Maybe that's the real reason why it didn't work out between Adam and her – because maybe at some level it was Adam and him and Adam wasn't that way for anything long term. She had the idea of getting more specials in the world and to do that, she started trying to locate the ones who were already out there. It was only a few years later that she and Adam parted ways, but they kept in touch by letter for a while. She could hook people up with who she wanted by the simple trick of hijacking their body for a bit, getting it on with whoever she thought was a good candidate, and then bailing out to pull the same trick on the next victim. Black out periods and hysteria were kind of a fad in psychology at the time. It makes me wonder."
"She was a body snatcher," Peter said with a curl of his lip.
Maury nodded. "Around the turn of the century, Lilith picked up another ability – pretty much Molly's. Don't know how she got it, but it wasn't the only time she picked up something new and kept it when she transferred from body to body. As decades passed, she quit sending letters and because she could telepathically contact Adam at a distance. After a while, she could detect specials and then she seemed to develop different powers of precognition and understanding probabilities … maybe other stuff. It wasn't like she blurted out everything she could do to Adam, who was off living his own life for most of this. He was happy about having a pen pal through the decades and they stayed aware of one another's projects, but they didn't work together much.
"Lilith had a lot of involvement in eugenics circles, so it shouldn't surprise you that she was in Nazi Germany for a lot of the build-up to World War II, but it might surprise you that she was more interested in preserving the Jews than the Aryans. Adam was there, too. It was kind of a focal point. A lot of people with abilities, like my family, she pulled out of camps and got us to the US. I didn't know it at the time – I was just a kid. But the Zimmermans, the Liebermans, and the Parczaks were projects of hers. We anglicized to Parkman when we got to the US. Given that none of us knew she was involved and there's no guarantee she was using the same face all the time, we probably talked to her off and on without realizing it."
"Wait," Peter interrupted. "Are you saying that Lilith and Adam caused the rise of Nazi Germany?"
Maury blinked at him for a moment, then laughed a little. "No. Absolutely not. What I'm saying is that like anyone else living around that time, they had opinions that put them on one side of the fence or the other. Check your history – the US was rife with their own selective breeding crap, miscegenation laws, sterilizing different segments of the population. Same for Germany, but a little more intense. Lilith was looking for opportunities to breed people, so of course she went to where it looked like it might be easiest. Adam was just there because he was – no particular reason except that he'd been bouncing around Europe for quite a while at that point."
"She wasn't a Nazi?"
Maury shrugged. "I have no idea, but like I said, the people she was working on at that time were Jewish, not Aryan. Not that she's particularly pro-Semite either. She hit a lot of different racial groups, which only makes sense as abilities show up across all races."
Emma's brow furrowed. "What happened to the people after she possessed them? Didn't they notice? You mentioned black-out periods earlier."
Maury shrugged. "Depended. From what Adam said, the first people she possessed, she rode to the grave. But later on, she got to where she just skimmed. Now whether that's a natural evolution of her own power, or something she could do all along and didn't, or something she picked up later is anyone's guess. But it's clear that by the last half of the 20th century, she could control a person's every action like the body was hers, or she could ride inside of their consciousness so deeply buried that not only did they not know it, but even a telepath like myself might miss it." His dry tone of voice left little doubt that he thought he'd been duped at times. "We also know that some of the people she possessed worked with her willingly and others had no memory of what had happened while under her sway. By the time I was savvy enough to be chasing her, she had more skill with telepathy than I'll ever hope to have, so what state she left people in was really up to her.
"But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was talking about her 'projects'. Jews weren't the only ones. She had others - different groups, different places. Aside from direct possession, by the 1930s she had enough mental power to compel people together, long enough to have the kids she wanted them to have. We've speculated that she had some power of fertility, too, but at some point we'd started to think she had every scary, bogey-man power known. There was just a hell of a lot of coincidences."
Emma put her hand on her stomach. "Like how Alisha and Noah will have the same birthday, Gabriel and Heidi conceived right away, and Peter and I …?"
"Yeah, those sorts of things. You start looking back through history at narrow misses and unlikely events, ships passing in the night and unexpected one-night stands resulting in a kid who has powers … makes you wonder. Triggers off all the superstitious fears a person might have. We started calling it 'Fate', 'Destiny', sometimes 'Serendipity' if we were feeling generous. You see, this was before we got crossways with her in the mid-70s. Before that, we didn't know she existed. We knew what had happened, but the idea there might be one person behind all of that?" He made a rude, disparaging noise. "We wouldn't have believed it if we'd been told. We had to see it for ourselves to really get it. We'd been pulled together to Coyote Sands and then after, it just sort of snowballed – more and more specials came to our attention. Adam showed up with the idea that we put science to work finding out where abilities came from. I think he was working for her then, setting us up to be an arm of her globe-spanning plans. She was riding Chandra in those days."
"Chandra Suresh?" Peter asked softly.
"Yep. He wasn't the same man in those days as the guy you met."
Peter shook his head slightly. "I never met him."
"You didn't?" Maury looked over at him.
Peter shrugged. "I tried. But by the time I found out about him, I was meeting Mohinder."
"Huh. Well, the original Chandra showed up to us in the early 70s and several remembered him from the Coyote Sands. They didn't trust him, but he didn't care. Chandra talked about these trials of testing that had been done on children, two to three years old, trying to short-cut the breeding process and create abilities in them directly. Didn't work. But for whatever reason, he thought it would work to round up a bunch of kids of specials and inject them." He nodded towards Peter. "That's how Nathan got his power. Remember what I said about your dad and acceptable casualties?" Peter nodded. "Most of the kids survived. Not all, though, and that started a backlash. It took a while, because the people Lilith was dealing with had all just sort of coincidentally been okay with letting some weird Indian guy inject their precious baby with an untested compound, but it's really tough to brainwash someone into thinking it's okay for you to kill their kid.
"How did you know it was her?" Emma asked.
"We didn't at first. We blamed Chandra. We'd been researching Coyote Sands for a while and we decided he must have some power beyond what we'd expected. People with multiple abilities weren't unknown to us, so we assumed he had more than we knew of. We went after him for using mental commands to coerce people into letting him experiment on their kids, experiments that killed some of them.
"After we failed to corner Chandra a few times, Adam … more or less came clean with us. What he left out was that he was still occasionally talking to her even while we were fighting her. But he told us the rest of what he knew about Lilith and we organized against her. He had no idea how to kill her. At first, we thought she was mortal just like any of the rest of us, aside from the body jumping. We killed her, or at least her hosts a half dozen times. Never took. At first, we thought we were handling the body wrong – maybe burial wasn't good enough and we needed to cut the head off, then next time we tried cremation and so on. We had all kinds of wild theories. I don't know if I can convince you of how paranoid a person gets when they don't understand how something like that works.
"All in all, it was kind of pointless because she wouldn't stay dead. We'd have done better if we'd tried to talk things out with her, but although different people would suggest that at different points, there were a few too many dead babies and rapey liaisons for negotiations to go very far. By 1977, we thought we'd finally won, but fighting her had caused us to put a lot of energy into trying to come up with super-weapons to use against her."
"Wait," Peter interjected. "What were you guys doing to stop her?"
Maury sighed. "It was a big, frustrating, cat-and-mouse game. We'd track down the people she was working through, like Chandra, the other scientists working on her projects, different employees, and the like. We'd check them for any signs of recent personality shift. We'd go read their minds. When we found her, we tried different things, like I said – shooting, incineration, whatever. We tried locking her up once, but she just bailed out of the body at some point."
"Was this here in the US?" Emma asked, trying to get some context.
"Most of it. And some in India. We thought if we could just get the right abilities, we could stop her. So Victoria came up with this formula and Adam brought her the catalyst."
"What was that?" Peter asked of that mysterious power that had reactivated his own original ability. "The catalyst – what was it?"
Maury's face did something strange – it formed a small, sweet smile while he considered the answer – before his eyes cleared and he focused on Peter. "Love."
"L … love?"
"Love. 'For He so loved the world that He gave his only …' the only life he had to give." Maury watched as Peter blinked at the unexpected Biblical paraphrase, then waited patiently for the old man to explain. "Love of another great enough that you would extinguish yourself for them. And not just that you would, but that you have. Surrender your life force, martyr yourself willingly for another, and your love will outlast you. Adam called it a 'Deeper Magic', but he'd read that out of some idiot book he'd read twenty years before. The thing is, the human soul has a power. I don't think you'll argue that." Peter shook his head to show he wasn't arguing; Emma nodded to show she agreed. Maury was amused, but understood the meaning behind both gestures. "Our abilities come from our souls and they tend to defy scientific explanation. I'm not going to try it now. Maybe someday someone will be able to quantify all of it in replicable experiments, but what we knew for certain was that without the catalyst, the formula was just a mindless mutation. Variations of it included viruses that could kill billions of people. But if you add the catalyst – love, empathy, humanity – and instead of bringing death, it brought miracles."
"'In the end, all that matters is love'," Peter muttered.
Maury smiled a little. "Charles used to say that."
Peter nodded, because that was who had said it to him.
Emma said, "It sounds like magic."
Maury's smile broadened. "And what would you call my telepathy or your ability to manipulate sound?"
Emma cocked her head, lips pursed and hand rubbing her tummy. "I don't like the idea of magic. It's too unpredictable."
Maury shrugged. "Fear it or not, it's here. And abilities seem to follow some logical rules. Just not very many."
With a perturbed sigh, Emma brought the conversation back to something more definable. "Was that Lilith's plan? To have you come up with this catalyst that would let you give people abilities?"
Maury puckered his lips. "No. I know it's tempting to imagine it was all one grand, evil scheme with a single villain orchestrating everything, but we came up with that on our own. Now I'm not going to say it wasn't an arms race. Once we'd found out about her and been unable to get rid of her, we poured a lot of energy into coming up with how to get bigger and better powers."
Peter's mouth dropped open for a moment before he said, "I was born in 1978. My … they said …" He blinked a few times. "They said they said they went to a lot of trouble to get me, that I was bred for this."
"And so you were."
Thinking more on a conversation Peter had had with his father, months before when his father had been stripped of abilities and jailed by the Company, he remembered something else. "He quoted something to me out of that book, about the great evolutionary agency of the universe being love." His eyes met Maury's. "They made me to stop Lilith, didn't they?"
"Well," Maury said, "I can't say I was privy to your parent's plans until recently, but yes, that's true."
"And … Gabriel?"
"Their plans for him don't have anything to do with Lilith."
"Yeah, but what about the rest of their plans for him? I know they had them. Have them."
"I'm not going to speak of the future." For several long, tense moments, there was silence.
Emma said, "Can you tell us more of history, then?"
"Of course," Maury said cooperatively. "What would you like to know?"
"You said you thought you'd won in 1977. What happened next?"
"The Company consolidated. We started pursuing a pattern of persecution against specials – anything to drive them underground. We threatened. We isolated. We hunted. We trained an entire generation of mundane and special agents to feel nothing for the people they were after. We inculcated a philosophy that specials were less than human, a danger to everyone."
"But ..." Emma asked, perplexed, "you were specials."
Maury laughed a little. "Yeah, kind of fucked up, isn't it? We did it anyway. We were afraid of what Adam had almost unleashed. We were afraid of all the artificial specials Lilith might have made. We were afraid of all the ones being born that we didn't know about. And then in 1985, we got a rude shock when we found out Lilith was alive and well, hanging out in one of our own facilities. She'd come in to talk to Adam in the flesh, so to speak, and after she was done with that, she went snooping through our files. Adam had the impression she was pissed at him for not telling her she'd finalized the formula. It seemed to be what she was looking for. She stumbled across Charles, who realized who he was dealing with, then she fled when she couldn't immediately convince him to forget it. The chase was on, then. We tailed her back to India and after a lot of adventures managed to corner her as Chandra, and drained every memory and power she had. Or at least that Chandra had, not that he'd ever had any ability other than being able to detect specials."
"He could detect specials?" Peter said, startled by that even though it made perfect sense.
"Yes. Originally. Your father took that from him. I checked Chandra out from one end to the other, destroying everything that he was in a lesser version of what Matt did to Sylar. It was revenge. We were torturing him for having been her willing vessel, though I'm not sure how much free will anyone had in dealing with her. We left him a husk whose major accomplishment was being potty-trained. We thought that his later rapid recovery was because he'd had a lot of friends with abilities. He still had a family, people who knew him, and all that. We thought they'd pitched in to help. He certainly didn't come back fully healed – he wasn't the brilliant scientist he once was. Since then, I've realized Lilith must have lent a hand in putting him back together as much as possible. I saw something similar with Mohinder last spring. It's not like the damage never happened, but Chandra was able to walk and talk and even teach classes pretty soon."
Emma snorted this time. Given the questionable capability of some of the tenured university professors she'd seen in her day, being able to teach class wasn't necessarily an accomplishment.
"Ye-ah." Maury smiled thinly at her thoughts. "We thought she was gone, though – for the second time. It was kind of a problem for us that one trait she never had was vengefulness. You know, you wrong some people and they'll keep trying to wrong you back for the rest of their lives. Her, though? Nah. She was just more careful about the next time. That made it awful tough to tell when she was dead and gone or just off doing her own thing somewhere else."
"Couldn't you use someone like Molly to locate her?" Emma asked.
"Good idea, but it didn't work. We had a guy who could enter people's dreams, but he had to know them first. Molly had a similar limitation. You can't just say, 'Hey, find this person who possesses people, but we don't know who they're possessing right now, or what they call themselves, or who they were born as, or where they've been lately, but we want you to find them anyway.' Or, well, we could say that, but it isn't enough to go on." Emma nodded, seeing the problem. "What we ended up doing instead was investigating and tracking the people she might be possessing and then using telepathy, empathic reading, and related powers to do the final identification. It was costly in terms of time and labor, but it made us really good at tracking normal specials. We built a whole infrastructure around that."
"What else was going on with the Company aside from dealing with her?"
"Well … after the Chandra incident, the Company started taking on a biomedical route. In the course of tracking them down, we'd uncovered a lot of research that looked really promising and we were finally big enough to start employing mundane scientists rather than just working off of Vicki's ability to manipulate organic molecules. Victoria had parted ways with us anyway and Charles and Kaito had largely retired, too, putting their families before the business. Remember those Zimmermans I mentioned? They got hired in to run it. Arthur and some of the others who were still active wanted the Company to go back to figuring out how to enhance and grant abilities. For the next fifteen years, they'd find people with abilities and bring them in for a round of experiments, then wipe their memories and dump them back out. We expanded the organization, built facilities on every continent, recruited and trained heavily, and became the juggernaut you saw five years ago when your abilities first manifested," he said, with a nod at Peter.
"We had two satellites in orbit, we had developed an injectable radiographic or something substance that could be detected from space," Maury went on with a hand wave to indicate he didn't understand the details of the advance but just that it had been done, "and we had this program for bagging and tagging with a big database to track people. We had a really good idea of what abilities were out there, what they were capable of, and how they worked. We'd done things like what happened to Elle – pushed her as hard as possible, traumatized the shit out of her, and left her mentally warped, just to find out how those things worked."
"And that," Peter said slowly, feeling his way through how he would have responded in that environment, "was the backdrop for my mother and father … how did you put it? Not agreeing with each other anymore? And then he was using mental commands to make her go along anyway."
"Yep. The Company had become callous and inhuman. Arthur was the chairman and he'd become a really, really frightening man. He'd accumulated so many powers that he put even Samson Gray to shame. The power differential was so extreme that none of the other Founders really had much say in things. He made sure none of us who were still active got too uppity with our opinions. I went back to doing field work – finding people with powers and convincing them not to show them to anyone. Daniel and I ended up working together a lot."
"You and Daniel were close?" Peter asked.
"Platonically. Fraternally might be a better word. He saved my life a lot. He'd gotten tired of playing second fiddle to Arthur's pomposity. Daniel had a little trick he could do with his power that wiped out all of Arthur's commands on a person's mind. After Arthur tried to have Nathan killed and ordered Angela not to know about it, Daniel stepped in and healed her."
Peter nodded, putting it together in his mind. For a long time, he'd harbored a lot of anger towards his mother. Knowing more of her story and how she came by her decisions made so much of it more understandable.
"What about 9/11?" Emma asked. "And the different things happening in the world. Were specials responsible for any of that?"
He shrugged. "Not particularly. You know, we made a difference here and there, but by and large every member of humanity does their own thing and the gestalt moves forward at its own pace. There's no Illuminati running everything, even if there are groups that have more power and influence than others. Specials – they have a lot of power and influence, more when they work together. Halo might have had something to do with 9/11, but it's not like people can't get themselves into wars and terrorism without someone with an ability at the bottom of it. The Company wasn't about to take sides or try to take over an actual government. There were some noises about that when we all got together towards the end of 2005. Several precogs were predicting the same event with a high degree of certainty, which had caused the Founders to pull together a big meeting to discuss it. Even those who had left the Company showed up."
"The bomb?" Peter guessed.
"Heh. You wish." Maury said, amused at how Peter thought things revolved around him. "No. The eclipse. It was going to cause a mass activation, more manifestations than we could predict and intercept. And in the fallout from something that massive, yeah, the bombing of New York was a strong possibility. We spent most a month bashing our brains out about the problem. Your parents and Daniel came up with this 'brilliant' plan to blow up New York City and then Nathan would become president. A lot of people didn't like that. It was too Petrelli-centric. Old grievances were aired. Kaito and Victoria bowed out, Charles was on his last legs anyway health-wise, others took off in different directions. Since no one was sticking around to object, the plan went forward.
"For about two months. That was when, in the course of examining his eldest son for fitness in holding the highest office in the land, controlling the government of the most powerful nation on Earth, Arthur discovered he'd been secretly buggering his baby brother for the better part of a decade."
Peter cleared his throat uneasily and muttered, "It wasn't that long." Maury shrugged at the minor equivocation. Emma looked distinctly uncomfortable with the topic, regardless of exact number of years.
"Doesn't matter," Maury said. "Arthur went off the deep end. Really, he'd handled his wife's infidelities a lot better than his kid's peccadillos." Peter sighed prominently, uncomfortable in how much and how little he agreed with his mother's adultery. "That was when I left. It wasn't like I hadn't had hints between you and Nathan, but really, I hadn't been looking. Paying attention to Arthur and Angela's brats wasn't on my list of things to do and I didn't come around all that often anyway. People entertain idle fantasies all the time and so even though I'd overheard a few things, I'd ignored them. But in the state Arthur was in, finding out that I'd known something and hadn't mentioned it might have been fatal, so I skedaddled."
Drily, Peter said, "I thought he was just angry I was actually graduating as a nurse."
Maury gave him an odd half-smile. "That didn't win you any points, let me tell you. But while I was out, the whole thing fell apart. Next thing I know, you're lighting up the sky the evening after the election. Everything after that was scrambling for damage control. I think you've been more or less in the loop for that."
Peter nodded, but he was looking at Emma, who nodded as well after a moment.
"Our children," Emma said slowly, "are being born into a very dangerous world. How do we keep them safe?"
Maury leaned forward, speaking seriously. "Over the years, the things that have worked are working together, protecting each other, knowing as much as you can, and having each other's backs when the going gets rough. The things my generation failed at, that it looks to me like you guys might get right, are in being supportive, forgiving, and trusting." He smiled, tears dampening his eyes as he thought about all the hate, fear, and unresolved grudges he'd seen. "Like Angela says, we mortgaged our souls for you, to make a world where you could find one another and find love. The debt's paid; invest wisely."
This, dear readers, is the end of the Shattered Salvation alternate universe. Thank you so much for coming with me on this adventure.