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Written Jan 29, 1997.
(c) Kerrin Watter, 1997.
The first time it had happened, she'd believed. With all her heart and soul, she'd wanted to believe, damn it! She remembered lying on the floor, her hands restrained when a face appeared at the door. The tall figure had come in quietly, removed the ties that bound, and had taken her away.
The memories were faded mostly into emotions - the sheer elation and relief of freedom. The gratitude to her rescuer, her hatred for those in the camp. Then two hours later, the image had shimmered, and she'd heard The Voice say: 'End program.' She watched the implanted image fade, as the cell resolved around her. She was still bound, still lying on the floor, the door was still shut.
<<Bitterness>> It was all she remembered. Just pure emotions.
The second time, she'd also thought it real.
The sounds of the fight had lasted for an hour at least, and she focussed on each one, trying to discern whether this was real. She barely dared to hope, yet there was some. A glimmer, almost childlike in its belief, that yes, someone was finally coming to get her out.
The emotion flooded through her as the shadowy figures moved through the hallways. She watched the steady stream of people leaving the building, some obviously its former residents.
<<Here>> she screamed in here head. I'm here. Find me, please.
What if they don't find me? What if I'm left behind? What if-
The door opened, and someone rushed in.
The person said something, then left at a run.
Then, after five minutes,
The door burst open again and two people ran in, this time bringing bolt cutters. Her hands were freed, and they helped her up and out of the cell.
<<Relief relief relief>>
She wasn't sure how long the second time had lasted, maybe a day, maybe a week. Time was irrelevant. But she had believed, up until the end.
She had a memory - pictures this time, not just feelings, of walking outside, in the fresh air.
She swore that she could feel the grass under her feet turn to concrete as the image shimmered and faded without warning.
She heard The Voice, and sobbed.
A hole blew out in the side of the wall, and she stared at it, not flinching. This was not real. This was not freedom.
<< >> Nothing.
This time, after three weeks, she still did not believe.
"Perfect," The Voice said to his colleagues.
"You have just witnessed the breaking of the human spirit. The loss of hope."
"Shall we continue, sir?" someone asked as they watched the holographic image that was being fed to the woman on a nearby screen.
"Another day," The Voice replied. Maybe there was still a little hope left in her.
She looked around her - the room was so real. Maybe? No, it couldn't be. But it had been so long-..
She gripped the plush bedspread in her hands, crushing the material, probing each sensation for truth. It felt so real. Maybe, just maybe-..
The men watched the holographic image, noting the change in her expression. The lips twitched, and a small smile hesitantly began to form. This was the beginning of hope. Their eyes then swung around to her body, strapped upright in a chair. There was no movement - the muscle relaxants took care of that. The straps on her head held the electrodes in place, which stimulated the optic centre in her occipital lobe, and the memory strip. They were placing the memories there, the basic scenery, and she was filling in her actions.
"Time to transfer," The Voice said, as he read the results from the medical chart, and kept one eye on the screen. She was moved back to the cell, as the hologram showed a smile appear.
The screen flickered and changed, and she suddenly felt the cold floor under her.
The emotion was there before she heard The Voice.
<< >> Nothing.
She was broken.
She saw the face appear outside the door, peering through the perspex panel. She didn't even register it.
Let them try. They won't do this to me again.
He walked in, noting her lack of response, lack of anything. He walked closer, and spoke softly, not wanting to frighten her. She didn't move. He placed his fingers on her neck, checking for a pulse - yep, she was alive.
"Ma'am, can you hear me?"
"Ma'am, are you hurt? I need to get you out of here."
Sam Guthrie stood up, and walked out of the room.
<<Satisfaction>> They Can't fool me.
"Hank? Ah need you down here right away," he said into his communicator.
"What is it?"
"A young woman, non-responsive. Alive, but - she looks catatonic, Hank. Ah don't know if she's hurt, but I'm afraid to move her."
"Standby - I'll be down soon."
Hank arrived, and helped move the woman onto a trolley for transport. Sam moved her outside while he searched the adjacent room for a sign of what had happened to her.
There was nothing.
"So what do you think?"
Hank looked around his lab, at the medical chart in his hand, and shook his head.
"Physically, she's fine. Well, malnourished, but nothing irreversible. There are marks on the skull, but I'd need to do a CT or MRI to check what's been going on. And I don't think she needs that at the moment." He stopped and looked at Jean. "Anything?"
She shook her head, her face sad.
"Her mind's a mess, Hank. I don't think she knows up from down at the moment. But what did this? There's no psi-trace, but we Can't rule it out yet."
"Did she say anything?"
"No. She wouldn't even initiate activities. I had to tell her to do basic things, Hank. She's just totally cut off. It's like she has no will left." She stopped, and her face was dark. "I'm even frightened to do a psychic probe - I don't know what it would do to her. How can people do this, Hank? How can someone purposefully do something like this?"
His face showed his answer, and he reached out a comforting hand.
"Let's go tell the others."
It was over a week now. For some reason, it was easier to count how long it had been. Maybe because I'm getting used to it, she thought. She walked to the shower, and scrubbed herself, taking no delight in the feel of the water on her skin. She then dressed and went down to breakfast. Time to play the charade.
"That's it - I'm certain that's the reason," Cable stated, and Jean nodded.
"That's ridiculous - not believing this is real. How could anyone-." Scott began, but was cut off by Hank.
"It's possible, theoretically, anyhow. To implant memories - well, stimulate old ones, and then have the person relive it. It's like a dream - you can feel everything, see everything, and while you're in it, there's no way you can tell whether it's real or false."
"Crazy? Yes. I don't have all the answers, Scott. Even this - it's just a guess. I just don't know!" Hank's voice had risen to an angry growl, which he immediately stopped. Anger he could not afford.
"How many times did you say she relived her rescue?" Ororo asked.
"At least seven. Maybe more. At the end, she refused to believe. It was her way of keeping her sanity," Jean replied.
"What's left of it," Cable muttered darkly.
"So she thinks this is a dream? That we're not real?" Sam asked.
"How long until she decides this is reality?"
"Maybe never. But the question is - can we tell her? What would that do to her?"
She washed up her breakfast dishes, and placed them on the draining board. Her eyes stared around dully, not even taking in her surroundings. She turned to go, and caught her hand on the edge of the bench. The unexpected pain flooded through her body, and she watched in fascination as the blood formed on her split skin. This was impressive.
She sniffed at the blood, and then rubbed at it with her finger. It was so real! The Voice had outdone himself this time. She raised her fingertip to her lip, her nose wrinkling at the coppery taste. She stood for another minute, and the pain didn't recede. The wound didn't heal. Perhaps there was a way-..
She shook her head, disgusted. That was almost the beginning of Hope. But maybe-..
She looked around, her eyes more focused. If The Voice realised what was going to happen, then she'd end up back in her cell. But not if she was quick. And if it didn't work? Either way, she'd know. Either way, she'd be Free.
Her hand grabbed the handle of a knife, and she stared in satisfaction at the long serrated blade. She dragged it across her left wrist first, her skin harder to cut through than she thought. The cut was nice and deep, she noted, and then she cut through her right wrist as best she could.
The blood splashed across the kitchen floor, as the knife dropped from her useless hands.
Cable and Jean lifted their heads at the same moment, and a message flashed between their eyes.
"Hank, grab a med kit and follow me," Cable yelled as he sprinted towards the site of the emotions.
"Just do it," Jean demanded, her long stride keeping her just behind Nathan.
"My god." Jean stared in horror as Cable held a cloth to each of the girl's wrists. His hands were red from her blood, as he tried to stop the bleeding. Hank pushed Jean out of the way as he and Nathan moved the woman into the infirmary.
She awoke, her head fuzzy, and a dull throbbing in her wrists. She looked down, and saw the bandages that covered both her forearms.
She laughed, a harsh self-mocking sound, the first she had made in months.
So she hadn't escaped. She was still in The Dream, as she thought of it now. But she wouldn't let them win - oh no. No matter what , they would not make her believe.
"I say we tell her," Scott argued, chilled by the laughter that had just come through the room.
"What if she is mad? If her mind has truly broken?" Ororo asked, ignoring the glare from Cable and Jean.
"I don't think so," Jean said, answering both questions. "If we just tell her, I don't know what would happen. Maybe she'd get better, maybe she'd regress more."
"And I believe that her mind's still there, Ororo. She's just protecting it the best she can," Cable said. He wasn't enjoying this. There was someone in that room who desperately needed help. And none of them could do it. With all their varied expertise, powers and skills, they were helpless. Truly helpless.
Cable sat with the woman in the shade under a tree. he'd done this ever since her attempted suicide, trying to get her to trust, showing her what was outside the mansion. He didn't know whether it would make her worse or not, but he had to do _something_.
It was also a routine. It helped her count the days. To notice the little differences in each one. The days that certain people slept in, the days that others cooked. She was almost relaxing, not believing, but relaxing.
Why not enjoy it? a little voice in her head said. Use them, as they use you. You don't have to believe, but you can enjoy it.
But won't that make it harder to take when I go back? another voice asked, just as quietly. Is it worth it?
Cable stood up and left after a while, still adjusting to reading emotions from the woman, not surface thoughts. The thoughts were there, he knew, but well hidden, deep. The emotions were easier to feel.
He walked back to the house, where he watched her from the kitchen window. He felt a soft hand on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes, taking comfort in the woman's touch.
"Hey Dom," he said.
"How're you doing Nate?" she asked, her eyes on his face.
"I'll be fine."
"You're stating the obvious," he countered, and softened the words with a smile.
"How is she today?" Dom asked, changing the subject.
"I don't know. Isn't that funny. I'm supposed to be this all powerful psi, and I don't even know how some silent woman is." He felt the anger, and the rage, and the disgust at himself for not being able to do anything.
Domino slipped her arms around his waist and rested her chin on his shoulder.
"It'll be okay Nate," she said softly, wondering why it was so important to him, and then realising that it didn't really matter.
Cable let himself take comfort in her embrace, and again wondered at the woman behind him. How she could make everything seem alright, even if only for a short time. She took his hand, and led him from the kitchen.
"C'mon, I've got an idea."
"Are you sure this will work?" Cable asked as he drove the car back to the Mansion.
"No. But it Can't hurt, can it?" Dom replied, as she smiled at the squirming bundle on her lap.
"Guess not," Cable replied as he watched Dom out of the corner of his eye. Her usual controlled expression was changed to a smile of delight as the puppy in her lap licked her face. If it could make even Domino smile, it was worth a shot.
The next morning Cable again walked outside with the young woman, and then stopped.
"Which tree?" he asked, trying something new.
He read the feelings as she slowly raised her finger and pointed. They walked over together, and settled on the ground. After a few minutes, Cable rose and said he'd be back.
He carried the box back, noting no change in her expression or feelings. He set it down in front of her. After two minutes she hadn't opened it, and he undid the top.
A black nose appeared, followed by a wriggly brown body, which worked its way out of the container. It looked first at Cable, and then at the woman, and decided who its' owner was.
She watched the animal jump into her lap, and her eyes winced as it licked her face. How could they do this? How could they be so cruel?
She sat in her room, the puppy curled up on the polished wood floor. The man's words came back to her again and again, as he had left her that morning.
"This _is_ real," he had said softly before leaving.
She found herself wanting to believe his words, then inwardly mocking herself for doing so.
But what if he's telling the truth? This voice hadn't spoken in her brain for some time. It was the last shred of hope that remained. she'd cherished it, not letting it out, keeping it safe. She knew once she used it, it would be gone. It meant more to her than her life. It was the last of her free will.
But what if he's not? The dominant voice, the protective voice, answered. And she understood it - understood them both.
But what if he is? It was so quiet she pretended not to hear it, but she had.
Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
She sat on the ground, tossing a small stick for the puppy. It returned it when it got bored with chewing it, and she'd listlessly throw it away. The puppy bounded over again and stopped in front of her. It's eyes were sad and it gave a plaintive whine. She turned her head, looking for anyone, but she was alone.
She gathered the puppy in her arms, and hugged it until it yelped. She loosened her grip, waiting for the world to transform beneath her feet. She waited for the shimmer.
"Change back, damn it!" It felt like she was screaming the words, but they were softer than a whisper.
"I believe - is that what you want to hear? Then damn it, I believe." She wanted the cold hard floor to materialise under her, she _knew_ that was real.
"I believe. Why aren't you listening?"
"Can't you hear me? I said I believe."
But she knew she didn't.
She watched the sun begin to rise from her window, taking it as her cue to slip quietly from the building. The puppy bounded along beside her as she slipped out the back door, planning on going as far as The Dream would let her.
She watched the sun get higher as she walked further and further. She soon came to a fence, and she turned, following it to a point where she could climb over. She saw a gate in the distance, and walked steadily towards it. As she reached it, the pounding of feet could be heard behind her, and she froze.
"Morning." She turned to see The Man, as she had come to think of him, standing behind her. he'd been jogging, she noticed. This was part of his morning routine.
She looked towards the gate, and he followed her gaze.
"You can leave, if you want. We'd like you to stay, but if you want to go, I won't stop you."
She looked for the lies that had to mirror his words, but saw nothing on his face.
They want you to believe, her mind screamed.
"Your freedom is outside the gate, but it is here also."
"This _is_ real." He held his hands out, palms upwards, as she stared at him. She cautiously began to back up, and walked through the gate.
She gasped as there was no shimmer, no Voice. She wanted The Voice, she realised.
Believe, the quiet voice cried.
I Can't, another answered.
You have to.
The emotions and questions rolled around her head, and she looked around, her eyes panicked. The man moved forwards, and she struck out at him, her action trying to stop his movement and the voices.
Cable's head recoiled, as her fingernails left four deep gashes in his cheeks. The blood began to trickle down his face, and he touched it gently with his fingers.
She watched, and her hands reached out to his face, her fingers smearing the blood. She brought it back to her, and her eyes closed with desperation.
God help me, I believe.
The thought was unstoppable, and she waited for the scenery to change.
She fell to her knees, her fingers twisting in the grass.
Please oh please, just this once let it be.
She looked for the telltale shimmer, but instead saw the man crouch down in front of her.
"It's going to be okay," she heard vaguely, but she ignored it.
"My god - is this real?" she gasped it out, and grabbed at the man in front of her. Her fingers dug into his face as she stared into his eyes.
"Is this real, damn it!" she tore the words from her chest, and flung them around. She gasped for breath, feeling like she was drowning.
She lowered her face into the ground, sobbing. It was real.