Altered Realities

Beverly Barlowe smiled to herself as she rewatched recorded memories of the alternate reality being experienced by the kidnapped Astraeus crew. "So predictable," she murmured as she saw Allison stand frozen on the stairs of SARAH, gazing in shock at the sight of Carter and Jo Lupo kissing.

When the system being used to manipulate the Astraeus crew's perceptions was designed, certain aspects of a virtual Eureka were pre-programmed by Consortium scientists. Most significantly, the idea that Eureka had been taken over by DOD owned AI's was planted in the crew's minds to stimulate an "us versus them" mentality. The goal was to leverage the crew's newfound suspicion of the DOD to undermine the government's control over Global Dynamics, opening the door to a Consortium takeover.

For the faux Eureka to be convincing, though, the crew members had to become emotionally invested in the storyline constructed around it. That could only happen if the "people" populating the virtual town behaved in ways that resonated with each individual. To that end, the system was designed to allow the crew to mold aspects of the imagined narrative to fit their shared perceptions of town's real residents.

Initially, the assumption had been that each crew member would create their vision of an idealized Eureka, where problems faded away and love conquered all. They didn't. Instead, fears—especially unacknowledged ones—drove the plot for most crew members.

Having been a therapist to many of the captured crew in the past, Beverly wasn't surprised at the neuroses which surfaced. More than a few crew members were suffering through a Eureka in which they were ridiculed for any number of social failings. Others found themselves struggling to understand even basic concepts of subjects they'd mastered in real life.

It was all entertaining, but seeing Allison's worst fear enacted in real time was what amused Beverly the most. She'd always felt that Allison's calm demeanor served to hide a host of insecurities, especially about the men in her life. Even so, Beverly had always envied Allison her relationships, first with Nathan Stark, then with Jack Carter. And with her children, although even Beverly wasn't callous enough to be happy at Allison's pain on being introduced to her own daughter as if they were strangers. But seeing her "lose" Carter to another woman? That was delightful.

Beverly's smile faded as she considered the woman who Carter had been lost to. Had the thought of him falling in love with his former deputy started with Allison or with Lupo's ex, Zane Donovan? Zane was proving to be more of a potential risk than they'd realized. Clearly the strongest willed person in the group, he had already demonstrated an ability to mentally push against the boundaries of his virtual universe. If that continued, she might have to shut him down, thereby losing a potentially valuable tool in the Consortium's arsenal.

Beverly had left Eureka before Zane arrived, so didn't know him well. Yet given his history of challenging authority, she'd counted on him being more than willing to fight DOD influence over Eureka. But she hadn't counted on Zane having any deep emotional ties to the town he'd been paroled to. In that, she'd underestimated his feelings for Jo Lupo. As, apparently, had he, since it seemed his version of Jo didn't know that he loved her.

Maybe he hadn't known himself—or at least hadn't been confident enough about whether his feelings were reciprocated to act on them. Either way, he'd left for Titan without resolving the issue. His obvious fear that he'd lost Jo to a more mature relationship made his behavior in the alternate reality unpredictable. That made him a danger to the Consortium's plan.

Beverly's eyes moved back and forth between Allison and Zane, lying in adjacent beds. She sighed—if she had to lose one of them, she'd have preferred it be Allison. Her hand hovered over a control panel with an array of buttons, each labeled with the name of an Astraeus crew member. Every button activated life support functions for the person it was devoted to. Press on, the person lived. Press off, they'd eventually die.

Her fingers came to rest on the button labeled "Donovan," then slipped away. She looked again at the playback monitor, stopping the action on a scene between Zane and Lupo in the Global Dynamics rotunda. Tone deaf to Zane's mood, Lupo suggested that they could be friends. Anger flashed briefly in his eyes, only to be replaced by defeat. His shoulders slumped as he walked away.

Zane was mad at Carter and Lupo, yes, but Beverly would bet he was even angrier with himself. That could make him reckless with his own safety, a perfect attribute for a human weapon.

She smiled as the playback resumed, confident that she would succeed in bringing Eureka down using its best and brightest. And if it caused them and their loved ones pain along the way? Well, that was small recompense for the pain she'd suffered at their hands, from being labeled a sociopath to languishing in Guantanomo.

Yes, Beverly thought. This was going to be fun.