"You look like someone who could use some pain in their life," the dark haired dominatrix purred. Her black leather outfit revealed enough to show her fitness and the man walking beside her decided against challenging that thought. A small leather whip kept smacking into her gloved hand as she gave a lascivious grin and licked her lips.
"I do, do I?" he replied in a deep husky voice. "How about after your treatment?"
"I guess you can be spared for a few minutes longer but don't think this will be the end of it. When I'm done with you, pain will be your best friend." She swats him on the leg with a wink . "Just a little taste."
Rubbing his thigh the man leads the woman into a wood paneled elevator that is already occupied by a person with pajamas. The dominatrix starts to undress and don them as the doors close.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while."
"Shall I leave?"
"If you like."
Echo scooted to the edge of the chair with practiced precision and firmly planted her bare feet on the gray carpeting underneath. Swiveling her body to one side she looked in a daze to each way then pushed herself up and walked toward the exit door on her left. Before entering the next room beyond it Echo looked back at the man with sandy blonde hair which looked like it hadn't been brushed in days. He certainly doesn't look his best, she thought. Then aloud, "I think I will go for a swim. I like swimming; it keeps me at my best."
Topher threw a withering glance at the newly wiped active and said in a dismissive tone, "Sounds great, have fun." He turned back around to chastise the pretty short girl with black hair, Ivy, about his recent juice selection.
"I will," replied Echo.
She continued on her way through the doorway and into the expansive atrium decked out in what she heard Paul say was "feng shui millennial chic". She then headed downstairs and down the side hallway to the changing room to put on her swim suit. However instead of actively swimming she would meet with Paul to check in. This had been their routine for nearly a year after Alpha had dumped dozens of personalities into her head at once. The overload was bearable at times causing severe headaches and at times nosebleeds but Paul was always there to make the pain lessen. Descending the grand staircase in the far right of the room Echo nearly ran into Victor at the base while still in her reverie.
"I'm sorry, Echo. I didn't mean to run into you. I am waiting for Sierra to return from her treatment. Have you seen her?" Victor was noticeably worried over the whereabouts of Sierra which should not have been possible were he 'normal' like the rest of the actives in 'doll' state. But then again, Echo wasn't normal either.
"Hello, Victor. I did not see Sierra on my way back from my treatment but if I see her I will tell her to find you." Echo looked at the handsome Victor's face and saw instant relief. Seeing Victor and Sierra happy pleased Echo, more than it probably should have. Victor smiled and thanked her before resuming his vigil near the end of the stairs, waiting. Echo continued on towards the swimming pool.
Staring up from her seated position at the bottom of the pool, arms encircling her pulled up knees; Echo began to think of what she was going to tell Paul. He was her handler, of course, and he would know the mission specifics as far as what DeWitt had arranged for but there was a second mission of which only she and Paul knew. Losing herself once again to her thoughts she barely noticed when Paul walked into the room and stared down with a smug smile. Echo blinked and came back to herself as she pushed off the bottom of the pool to surface. Breaking into the open air Echo inhaled deeply after holding her breath for so long. "Hello Paul."
"Hello Echo. How was your treatment? Still want to make me pain's bitch?" Paul liked to joke. No not joke, use sarcasm, and a lot of it. He knew the treatments were usually painful and eventually everything that was supposed to be wiped tended to come back.
"You're a comedian Paul," Echo replied. She swam over to the shallow end then up the ladder to fetch her towel so she could dry off. Glancing at Paul, Echo noticed he seemed upset. No, not upset, concerned. Concern seemed to be his default mood lately and could be seen by the lines forming in his forehead above those piercing blue-green eyes. Echo tried to be her best and not make him worry so yet she didn't think that was enough. He will worry about me until Caroline is back and the rest of the dolls are safe, she thought. But perhaps what concerned Echo the most was that if Caroline came back, what would happen to her; to Echo? She is who she is and regardless of what Alpha said about Caroline being the weak, feeble person who gave herself up to DeWitt. Echo couldn't give up on finding Caroline but that didn't mean she wished her own existence as Echo to end.
"Echo? Did you hear me?" Paul interrupted.
"What? Um, no I'm sorry. I was just thinking about Caroline again," Echo responded.
"Any headaches this time? You really should let Topher take a thorough look at you to try and stop them. You can't keep pushing them off with as bad as they are," her handler said.
"Don't worry about me Paul, this last engagement only had me going between two personas. When I can't take anymore, I'll go see Topher about the headaches. Now, do we have our next engagement?"
"Not yet, but DeWitt has asked to see me about one tomorrow morning. So please, rest up and try not to be anything less than…"
"…my best. Got it. I will see you tomorrow," Echo said as she pulled the towel around her chest and headed for the showers.
"Mr. Ballard, may I get you anything?" Adele DeWitt asked as she crossed her large office to the wooden credenza where an assortment of liquors stood. Taking note of his head shaking she helped herself to a nice pour of vodka. Replacing the glass decanter's stopper she pivoted back and invited Ballard to take a seat opposite her on a sofa in the sitting area.
"Well," DeWitt began as she took a swig of her drink, "Echo has a new engagement, the parameters of which are in the file on the table in front of you. Please review them and have Echo ready to leave by the time noted. The engagement is, shall we say, nothing Echo can't handle but may be slightly uncomfortable for you." DeWitt paused to see Ballard's face start to contort and reveled in it. Continuing, "She is to infiltrate the FBI and plant several false files regarding numerous clients of ours. It has come to light that perhaps the FBI might have attained too much information regarding the Dollhouse during your investigations. It is her job to protect our clients as well as our interests while throwing the FBI off course. I don't need to remind you Mr. Ballard that you now work for me and any indication that you give of making me think otherwise would be detrimental to you. I shouldn't need to be more specific than that."
DeWitt placed her glass on the table and pushed the case file closer to him. Meeting his eyes with her cool gaze and slight smirk she reclined, drink back in hand, and crossed her legs waiting for his response. She fancied a good row with Ballard and yet he always disappointed her usually preferring to just accept her terms and carry them out; leaving almost as soon as she was finished briefing him. Today would be different though, she thought as she waiting for him to finish scanning the files and indulged herself with another sip.
"You've got to be kidding me?!" was his response.
"Mr. Ballard, I can assure you this is no joking matter," DeWitt spat back. "Did you think that your investigations against the Dollhouse or any of its actives would never be questioned? I assure you Mr. Ballard that your past actions are a threat to this institution and they will be rectified. Be pleased that it involves only one person and some files and not the entire branch office." DeWitt lost her smirk while settling on a harder countenance that she hoped would convey her seriousness.
Ballard's face was a picture of conflicting devotions. His time with the FBI had been one of distinction until he started looking into the Dollhouse. Towards the end, his career was in shambles if not destroyed and all for what? Some girl named Caroline? His actions necessitated the need for Mellie and Anton Lubov or November and Victor respectively. Were it not for her actives misleading Ballard his antics would have proven much more troublesome than they had. It was only good fortune that Agent Dominick was apprehended as the leak that gave, then Agent Ballard, the lead that would get him to the Dollhouse. DeWitt spared a moment of thought to mourn for her late associate's indiscretion and took another drink appreciating the burn that followed.
"You want her to kill a FBI agent and have it pinned on another! Do you know how wrong that is? Can't you just pay her off? I can't imagine that Rossum doesn't have enough money to do that!" Ballard's face was red with anger, a slight sweat starting to glaze his expression, his blue-green eyes becoming instantly hard and cold.
"Yes, and Echo will do it gladly. Or whoever Mr. Brink decides to make her will. Rossum doesn't payroll for briberies or silence, something you should keep in mind next time you decide to go rogue. Actions have consequences Mr. Ballard and it's time you learned that. Now, if there are no more questions the clock is ticking so I suggest you go prepare." Standing up DeWitt placed her glass back on the table and stalked back up the raised dais where her desk was perched. It was days like this she was glad that no one could see her face once she sat down.
"You see Ivy, the brain is like this great complicated computer that can outperform any known fabricated drive in existence! One little change here and the whole thing could go kablooey!" Topher made an exploding gesture with his hands. Ivy just stood there, dark eyebrow arched and a bemused expression.
"Topher, I just asked what you thought of the juice selections I got for you. Not of whatever it was you just ranted about for the last five minutes," Ivy retorted annoyed. Her dark hair slipped from behind her shoulder and fell to frame her face. Brushing it back again and readjusting the purple headband she wore Ivy waited for the answer she knew would never come.
"You know, impatience is not a good indicator that you are ready for this job. This job takes immense concentration, a steady mind, genius in fact and oh look a new engagement for Echo," he said glancing at his desktop computer. Pushing a few toys aside from the keyboard, Topher settled into his chair leaving Ivy to ponder what he just said. Opening the files he saw the parameters of Echo's new job and was saddened by what he read. Why always with the killing? Can't anyone just want a harem, he mused. No, because then everyone would actually be happy for a change. Pulling up personality files Topher set to work putting together Echo's new persona, or rather personas. This job wasn't going to be easy due to the nature of the engagement. Part FBI agent, part spy, and part martial arts expert just in case, part computer whiz, and part assassin. The last part Topher really didn't like but it wasn't his job to like it, just make it all cohesive and stable. Triple checking the figures and mind-frame comparisons he loaded a data pad with the necessary information for Ivy to get to work.
"Ivy, please pull these personality wedges and fuse them together to with the included integration ratio. This will be for Echo so I don't think I need to remind you how else to calibrate it. When it is ready come get me and I will have Echo retrieved and imprinted," Topher said all business now. Personalities like the one he just compiled called for a lot less screwing around. If DeWitt ever saw a lackadaisical approach to such a task he'd be in the Attic for sure. Which would be interesting I'm sure but I really don't want to find out personally, he thought.
"Echo, would you like a treatment?" the Dollhouse orderly clad in white queried, his calm and serene disposition aimed at maintaining the peaceful atmosphere.
"Yes, I like my treatments," Echo replied robotically. Excusing herself from the breakfast table with Victor and Sierra where they were enjoying strawberry pancakes, Sierra's favorite and by association Victor's. Echo turned her head to view Topher's office area with a slight look of pondering. The orderly walked away which left Echo to bring herself to the imprinting lab. Adele really should do something about the lack of service her underlings provide, a brief thought strayed into Echo's mind likely the voice and personality of DeWitt's dear and late friend Margaret. The thought was accompanied by a short-lived headache which confirmed she had relapsed again for however long. I've got to get these under control or DeWitt will find out and have me in the Attic, she chided herself.
Making her way up the grand staircase for the second time in as many days, Echo decided to go through Topher's office to get to the treatment room. She liked Topher. She thought he was his best all the time. She wanted to be her best too. Turning the handle to the large office Echo swung the door inside and entered. She noticed several things at once: a poster with the word "Serenity" printed on it; a small fridge that held something called "Red Bull" in it; quite a few small toys strewn about the place; and most noticeably, a large translucent glass panel that hung mid air with a large glowing green brain rotating on it. Topher was sitting at his desk working on another brain that was also rotating in his computer screen, frustration knotting his brow beneath an unkempt mop of straw colored hair.
"I'm ready for my treatment," Echo said breaking the silence and making Topher startle at his newcomer guest.
"Geeze! Echo! What have I told you about just…showing up in here without knocking or wearing a bell or something?" Topher got up from his chair with what looked like a spastic jolt.
"I'm sorry; I did not mean to scare you. I try to be my best. I can go now if you like."
"No, no… come on let's go for your treatment," Topher soothed her as he took her by the arm and led her gently into the imprint lab.
Ivy was running a simulation on the imprint she had compiled into a wedge as per Topher's instructions and Paul was standing in the corner near the elevator door. The look on his face was grim and tight. Echo knew something was going on, she just didn't know what, yet. I'll find out in a minute, she told herself. Taking a seat in the rooms only chair Echo leaned back and was greeted with the automatic recline of the chair.
"Ready for imprint?" Topher asked.
"Ready. Everything looks clear and good to go." Ivy responded.
"Okay… One super kick-ass, FBI assassin coming up!" Topher jested.
The next thing Echo remembered was a brief second of pain then a sudden tide of memories came rushing in to fill her blank mind like a tidal wave crushing against the shore.