If it was one thing he took seriously, it was the standard greeting for Dolls after a wipe. He always found it within himself to wipe the smile off his face and calm his gesturing hands enough to sedately answer their dazed queries. Topher found it helpful to fold his hands behind his back. Unexpected movement tends to startle the Dolls in their resting state. He couldn't wipe the amusement from his eyes though, when they look up at him with their big, beautiful and completely blank eyes and ask, "Did I fall asleep?" One minute they're a badass assassin or FBI profiler then bam, nothing. He felt a little laugh escape. After all these years, Topher still got a little thrill from watching the shift. He would be lying if it said it didn't make him feel just a little bit powerful. "For a little while," he would answer, with a slight hint of a grin. To be honest, Topher liked the predictable exchange. It gave him assurance on a good day and closure on a bad day. It was proof that the wipe went perfectly, that their heads were as blank as their faces. Proof that his work was still flawless. And if there was one thing that Topher took seriously, it was his work.
Every day he looks out over the Dollhouse from his steel and glass laboratory, over the Dolls and the real people. All the time it occurs to Topher how very apt the name Dollhouse is. They are dressed and fed and exercised and kept occupied by disinterested carers, just like little perfect toys. Staring into their eyes was just as rewarding as staring into a Barbies eyes. The Dolls walk and talk of course, they are animated, but the animation is a simple biological reaction. Like any machine, the body will keep on living but it isn't until they are sitting in his chair that they are really alive.
Topher thinks on this all the time. If he wasn't an atheist, he could say he was playing God. Boyd said that all the time- that he was playing God. Mocking him, of course. But really, Topher thought, I'm just the facilitator right? The guide into the unknown. The Morpheus in the Matrix. Topher stood at his rail with a Rubix cube in hand, absently fiddling while he gazed over the House. But you created this technology, thought nagged at him. Didn't you create these dolls? Aren't you a god to them, even if they don't know it? Topher shifted uncomfortably and felt his eyes dart guiltily to the floor. He scratched his head through messy tufts of dirty blonde hair and quickly turned to his computer in an effort of shake the thought.
His thoughts were always with him though, like lots of annoying friends jammed into his brain. Tophers genius came easily to him; it was controlling it that was the effort. The filing of fact and theory and processes into order and recalling them in a way that is coherent was difficult. Often he found that things made sense to him and not to others. Which is fine with me, Topher thought. Explaining things in an 'easier' way always made him feel smug. But in his own head, he could not evade his consciousness. He wondered at his role in this institution. Am I the creator or the facilitator? Morpheus or the Architect? Topher paused. Am I Agent Smith? The thought made him shake his head fervently at his screen. No, no, they're the Agents, he thought, throwing a furtive glance at the suit-clad handler guiding a Doll up the stairs. They're the Agents, he thought as he rose to load the wedge.
When he was alone again, Topher felt quieter. His finger tapped thoughtfully against his cube as he sat at his desk. He thought of Sierra, or Priya, and inwardly flinched. Dragging a hand over his hair to flatten it, Topher shoved the thoughts away. He was sick of moral quandaries, sick of people making him think of good and bad. When did that become a thing for me to decide? Why couldn't they just let him do his job? He spread his hands in questioning wonderment. It wasn't often Topher felt confused, but now his mind was hitting walls. A question rattled around in his head and made him uneasy. The sight of Boyd leaning against his doorframe, hands in pockets and eyebrow raised startled him. "Gah! Must you do that, Boyd?" Topher asked in an exasperated tone. The older man didn't shift from his position as he stared at Topher with that uncomfortable smile. Topher furrowed his brow and edged his seat closer to the desk. "You're regretting last week, aren't you?" he asked. "With Priya and Nolan?" Topher shoved his seat back as he launched himself at Boyd, shushing him with outstretched hands. "Shhh! What are you, crazy?" he hissed. "Why, what other important thing happened last week that I could possibly forget about? I know what you're talking about, no need to go screaming it to the heavens!" Topher glanced down the hallway suspiciously before regarding Boyd coolly. His amused stare only made Topher agitated. He turned back to his desk and gestured Boyd in with a sweeping hand. Topher sat and looked at the man. "What do you want, anyway?" he spoke though the hand covering his mouth. Infuriatingly, Boyd smiled before he answered. "I'm just having trouble believing that covering up one simple murder bothers the great and genius Topher."
Topher glared at Boyd and didn't answer. When Boyd pointed out his supposed lack of morality usually it amused him but the joke was quickly becoming less hilarious. Boyd's eyes regarded him with what Topher swore was enjoyment. The whole process of disposing (Topher shuddered) and covering up the body was too easy for Boyd; he worked with a precision that spoke of practise. Topher had felt less at ease. He grasped his hands to still their slight shaking. Boyd spoke again. "You do realise what you do here, right? You think you're just programming a little game?" Topher couldn't help but bristle at 'little game'. "You have created lovers and teachers and entertainers, but how many assassins? How many sleepers have you created? Hasn't it occurred to you that the kills at their hands are your responsibilities?" Boyd's deep voice was lined with mocking. "This isn't the first death you had your hand in, Topher."
The younger man stared in bewilderment at the older, mouth slightly ajar. The silence stretched through several heartbeats. Boyd scoffed and walked from the office. Topher took a breath and turned back to his computer numbly. The figures made more sense to him.
It wasn't that he hadn't thought of it before. Topher was aware of the Dolls and their actions; much too aware, he monitored their every breath! It was the weight of the decision. Topher had always let it fall to Dewitt or Rossum or the disembodied higher-ups or even just the Dollhouse as the gigantic institution it was. It was them behind the Dolls and the decisions. But it's you behind the technology. Topher sighed. My pride and joy, he thought.
Topher glanced at his glowing machines, illuminate in the dark. Beautiful creations. He knew their every function, crafted the pathways himself, blurred the lines between human psychology, computer programming, biology, engineering... It's a beautiful conglomeration of science into a functional and powerful machine, capable of turning science fiction into reality. Topher had always loved his work, loved to explore and cross boundaries. Loved the look on the Head of Security's face when he demolished the two hour imprinting record to less than a minute.
Everyone was so impressed, and loved him for it. Now he was shunned for it and he couldn't understand why. Dewitt's words rang in his head. "Everyone except you. You, Topher, were chosen because you have no morals." He flinched again and dropped his gaze to his hands. The Rubix cube he held was solved. "Huh," he said.
Topher was still buried in his thoughts when Echo came in for a treatment a day later. Her handler was absent, something Topher was grateful for. He was lost in thought when Echo's vague voice broke the silence for the second time. "Shall I go now?" Topher started and stepped quickly over to her. He kept his voice soft. "If you like..." he responded with a smile. Topher turned to his machines to power them down. Echo was the last of the day and the sun was setting by now. Or at least it would be outside, Topher thought distractedly, glancing at the clock. He sighed, feeling his thoughts settle onto a familiar topic. A question loomed large, struggling to materialise against his wishes. A gentle hand on his back startled him. Echo stood behind him, very close and surprisingly short. Topher fought the urge to step back. "Uh... yes? Echo?" He could hear the uncertainty in his voice.
"You're... not right," she spoke in that Doll voice. Echo tilted her head as she examined him. Topher leaned back and uncomfortably frowned. The Doll hesitantly reached out her hand and touched the side of his face lightly. Her warm touch produced a confusing conflict of urges. "You hurt." It wasn't a question; there was a triumphant definitiveness in her eyes. Topher was unsure how to respond and stumbled over his answer. "Yes... I suppose I do." Topher hated the defensiveness in his voice. Sadness filled Echo's face and she stroked her thumb down his cheek as if to comfort him. Something inside of Topher clamped down and he brusquely pushed her hand away. Surprise replaced the sadness in her gaze. Guiding her roughly towards the door, Topher spotted Boyd watching their exchange from the doorframe. He read amusement in the handlers eyes. Roughly, he passed her over. "Take care of your pet," he snapped, returning to his office. Unexpectedly, before he can stop it, the question emerges into the confused space of his mind.
Although the Dolls had functioned like clockwork from then on, Topher was still lost in a daze. He lay awake on his bed, struggling to keep his eyes open. Nolan's blood came gushing at him every time he closed them. Topher could feel the dead weight of meat in his hands as he sawed through the joints and skin. It seemed to him that his hands were still wet with blood from that night. He rubbed them together in the darkness anxiously. His eyes ached. Scrubbing all the dolls over to make sure they were completely clean had exhausted the programmer. He had focused for days on the new imprints, ensuring they were impeccable. His paranoia ensured he worked tirelessly. Against his will, Topher felt his concentration slipping. His eyelids felt heavy. He whined into his pillow and succumbed to his exhaustion.
Sleep was a paralytic to Tophers numb limbs. He could feel their heaviness even as he dreamed of cutting up Nolan. He was still alive, a grotesque corpse that shuddered and flailed as Topher's serrated blade bit into his rotting flesh. He was panicking, trying to hold down the mottled grey limbs as he fought his nausea. Nolan's eyes were wide open and staring at Topher, mouth open and moving. The sound of his own panting and muffled cries filled his ears, along with the dull thud of Nolans grasping limbs. Suddenly the scene changed and Nolan changed into a Doll, sitting in the chair. Sierra was frozen in the chair, eyes staring up at Topher as he saw cut into her brain, destroying her mind. He cried out and threw himself backwards away from her. Sierra's eyes were still wide and open, pleading with him. "You were supposed to save me..." Her words shuddered in the air and around in his mind, inexorable. "No, no, no..." He covered his ears and fled to the door in escape, only to be blocked by a laughing Boyd. "You killed them all!" he cried out between his laughter. And it was true. Topher looked out over the Dollhouse and watched the Dolls walking carefully, with blood dripping down their faces, their minds destroyed by his machines. He stood paralysed, too numb to shout, run, cry out, cover his eyes, everything he wanted to do. Against the vivid scarlet of their own blood, the Dolls eyes were blank and innocent. He watched with wide eyes the destruction he wrought. A muffled cry grew loud in his ears.
Suddenly he was back in his bed, panting in the darkness of his room. Tophers face was pressed into his pillow, straining into the fabric to muffle his keening.