Title: If Not For The Life That Was
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: She doubts the truth all the time, now. And there are no more red envelopes in her purse to provide her with convenient answers. 1800 words.
Spoilers: Push (2009)
Notes: For Damkianna, in the Rarewomen 2013 exchange. It was Abraham Lincoln who said the quote at the end; the other quotes are from poems by Robert Frost. Also references a few facts from the Push graphic novel.
In a world defined by Division, where nothing is ever certain and the only thing more malleable than the future is the fabric of the mind, Kira has no way to be sure whether she's the hammer and the anvil or the metal being reshaped. The only thing she can be one hundred percent certain of is that she stands at the pivot point of that world now, and that her every move on its stage generates a degree of TAP she would never be able to muster outside it.
Temporal Alteration Phenomenon: the phrase Division uses to describe unforeseen changes that cause future predictions to lose their integrity, a cute little acronym for a world-shaking concept. For an organization that bases its every move on the visions of its many Watchers, and which has no true opponents except for the others of its kind, the ability to destroy that foundation on command is worth even more than the syringe full of RS-16 she'd turned over to Nick and Cassie.
... Not that they actually seem to believe she stole it, anymore. After all, her brief flight to Hong Kong had exposed several of the American Division's enemies and removed at least one of them from the map; she could hardly have done better if that had been her intention.
It's still a struggle to remember sometimes that it actually hadn't been; that that had been Carver's goal.
Kira remembers fighting as they'd strapped her to that gurney, holding tightly to her memories of freedom as a bulwark against Carver's insistence that this is all you're good for, now. And she remembers rolling off that gurney to run, snatching a syringe as she fled with some vague idea of finding a free Stitch who could tell her what had been done to her. But she also remembers two years of service as Carver's partner, the pride in being known as half of Division's hottest team ... and the detachment that had filled her when she'd watched Nick fatally inject himself rather than surrender.
One the one hand, the Kira Hudson who had loved and plotted and been made a victim twice over; on the other, the Kira Hollis who'd volunteered for the treatment and felt only pity for the waste of so much potential. Which is the more real? The photograph Nick left with her was one kind of proof – but Carver had been thorough, too, and even her method of acting on Nick's proof had been more Hollis than Hudson.
And there's one more thing to consider, as well: as far as Division's records are concerned, she is Agent Kira Hollis, with exactly the history Carver had described. So when she showed up with his body, saying he'd turned traitor? She'd had the benefit of the doubt on her side. He'd played by his own solitary rules long enough that only a few of his superiors have dared question her since her arrival – and she's strong enough now to Push them all to other conclusions, even over video communications.
She doubts the truth all the time, now. And there are no more red envelopes in her purse to provide her with convenient answers. Just that one picture, with its legend: "KILL HIM. See U soon, Nick."
The first had been easily accomplished, and obviously necessary in any reality. But the second... Kira dismisses the guards accompanying her with a quick glance and a Pushed assurance that she has all the authorization required to go where she pleases, and slips into a hospital room not so far from the one where she'd been reborn. She's decided to take steps to discover the answer to that on her own.
She's seen pictures of Elizabeth Holmes from when the Watcher had been Kira's age; she had been blonder then, with enviable skin, an easy grace in her movements, and a drawing talent that fell short of her actual ability, all traits that she had passed on to her daughter. She'd been a darling of Division in the early years when they'd still pretended to work for the government; the things she'd Seen had been at the root of dozens of missions. But one day, one of Division's key operatives had discovered that everything he'd believed about himself, from his name to his devotion to the cause, had been Pushed on him... and twenty-seven other Division operatives had rebelled at his word.
Elizabeth had been one of those rebels. It had taken Division more than a decade and a half to track her down. So when they'd finally managed to corner her and take her in, they'd made absolutely sure that she would never have the initiative to try again.
Or so they claim. But half the people who'd assisted Kira in Hong Kong had remembered timely messages dictated by Mama Holmes... and there is also the curious coincidence of Kira's escape from this facility that first time. Kira has to wonder, as she stares at the bowed head of the woman slumped in the room's chair, picking idly at the thighs of her scrubs and gazing into space with glassy eyes: how much of the brilliant Watcher has actually survived all the years of Division hospitality?
Well, there's a way to test for that. Kira doesn't introduce herself, or in any way announce her presence. Instead, she forms a deliberate thought: imagining herself stepping forward to lay a hand on the woman's shoulder, turning her so Kira can look into her eyes.
Elizabeth flinches not half a second later, but slowly turns her head without any actual physical prompting. Kira frowns more deeply, sparing a moment to worry that the woman's mind must be gone, if she has no fear of being Pushed...
...then gasps, as she catches a glimpse of the milky film clouding the woman's corneas. No wonder the woman has managed to resist her captors for so long; no wonder she can maintain her focus so clearly, and so far into the future, if she's always known that one day it would be the only kind of vision she'd have.
"It is you," the woman says, cheerfully. "Then Jonah's son did find you. And my daughter found him. I thought so; the preponderance of futures has always pointed in that direction. But it's good to finally find out for sure."
"Nick," Kira says, blinking. "And Cassie, you mean."
Elizabeth clucks her tongue, still staring sightlessly at Kira with uncanny accuracy. "Yes. They've done their part, then. So now the choice is yours."
"What choice do I actually have?" Kira replies, shaking her head. "Tell me that. What good would it do to be a foot soldier in this war? When I have all the power I need to change the course of it right here."
Elizabeth Holmes raises her eyebrows, and ignores Kira's question as though she hadn't heard it. "Do you know, I've never actually been able to See this conversation? I can See so many outcomes; bloody and peaceful, shadowed and bright. But not what to say to convince you which to choose. You're powerful in all futures, you see; Patient Zero. Where, and how, you act next will shape the fate of us all."
Kira remembers Carver using that term once, through a haze of distortion: Patient Zero, as though she were the index patient for some new infectious disease outbreak. She also remembers what type of drug he'd stabilized her with: an immunosuppressant, the kind used to prevent a body from rejecting foreign tissue. She's been trying not to think about the implications of those terms, about the likelihood that she'll need further medical intervention – or that half the reason Carver wanted her back so badly might have been to use her not for her gift, but to give it to others. She shudders, trying to figure out whether that makes it more or less imperative that she stay.
"Two woods diverged in a yellow wood," she quotes, softly. Reading – especially poetry – had been one of her favorite ways to kill time while hiding from Division, before she'd run across Nick at Coney Island. She hadn't remembered that until just now, though; an old memory that had still been obscured by Carver's attempt to reprogram her. Literature had no place in a Division commando's mindset, she supposes.
But is a little art – even a little happiness – worth sacrificing so much power for? She can reach out to anyone from here, divert whatever resources Nick and Cassie might need, torque any Division actions she doesn't like.
"And sorry I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood..." Elizabeth whispers in turn. "But of course, maybe you could travel both, if you controlled both travelers. Henry certainly gave it a try, and your abilities are much more powerful than his. He was an idealist too, once, you know."
She knows it's a manipulation: a reminder of that absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Does it? Has anyone with Kira's level of power really ever had the chance to put it to use...?
She feels her pupils blow wide, instinctively, at the thought...
... And a shudder of instinctive revulsion works its way up her spine. No; she knows what choice she has to make. She always has. She just hadn't yet worked up the courage to.
"I could take you to her," Kira offers, extending a hand in Elizabeth's direction.
Elizabeth takes a sharp breath, then reaches up to clasp that hand, her grip weak but sure. "Thank you, my dear. But – there are too many options out there; it's too hard to Watch where I put my feet. Tell him I'll send more help, as I can. And tell her – she'll be everything I never was. All she needs is practice. And no more alcohol until she's at least eighteen! It doesn't affect her properly, yet."
Then she turns away, even as Kira opens her mouth to reply: the door is creaking open, admitting another Division agent.
"And miles to go," Elizabeth murmurs.
"Agent Hollis?" the intruder blurts, frowning in surprise.
Kira turns to face him – and commits to her choice. "And miles to go," she echoes, letting her pupils blow wide again with the exercise of her power.
Her second escape from the facility is considerably easier, and better supplied. As is what she leaves behind: an agency full of people who believe - truly, this time - that they're meant to act in their country's best interests, not their own. Let the other Division bases convince them otherwise – if they can.
Who was it that said, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"
If Kira has anything to say about it, by this time next year, there won't be any enemies at all.