The Divide


bella_icon.gif joseph_icon.gif

Scene Title The Divide
Synopsis Bella makes a break-through.
Date February 1, 2010

Secret Research Facility

The tests have long since blended together, the time spent under the soft thrall of Refrain spreading like a viscous puddle over the subjects' waking hours, making past and present mingle to the present's detriment. The past provides variety, a seeming reality, moving from memory to memory of real places, while the present is a constant repetition - wake up, eat, roll, scan, test, dream, roll sleep, wake up…

Even the variations of the present are used to inflect the past. For any veteran Refrain user, it's clear that what they're now being given isn't exactly fresh-out-of-the-package. Multiple needles, or needles filled with emulsion, needles that make the trips down memory lane feel more like rocket-rides or tour bus routes or even movies view from the frontmost row, all the way to one side. It's not just Refrain they're having shoved into their veins, it's other things, things a good hearted Pastor may not be able to easily identify. He hears the names, though. Lisdexamfetamine, benzphetamine, methylenedioxymethamphetamine, methamphetamine. With each iteration and permutation, there is a general trend: awake experience and dreaming memory are pushing towards one another.

Today should be no different, on would have to assume. It starts as it always does, with a knock on the door from the gigantic assistant, Dema.

It's not a wall Joseph particularly wants to crumble. The divide between memory dreams and wakefulness. But there's a lot of things he wants right now, and isn't getting. He doesn't have want for a Bible — that's been an addition for a while now, along with other texts, but it's the good book currently opened and face down on his chest as he lies the wrong way around on his cot and contemplates the ceiling. "Enter," he tells the room at large, without particular enthusiasm, when the driving sound of the knock fills it.

In truth, he's a little enthusiastic. It's a marring streak of a feeling, disjointed from everything else. Superficial, artificial, Joseph doesn't know. He's not looking super deeply. Even as Dema goes to open the door, he's setting aside his Bible and levering himself up to sit, bare feet finding the floor.

The dream-walking giant enters the room with his usual affect of helpless apology. Even Joseph's enthusiasm only serves to increase his rather evident, if silent, sense of guilt. Dema carries a tray of food, a light breakfast. He sets it on the floor next to Joseph's cot, stooping low to place it before rising up again and folding his hands before him.

"If you will please eat quickly, she would like today's test to begin shortly," Dema says. He spies the Bible, looks like he might want to say something, but then holds his tongue, remaining silent and waiting for Joseph to feed himself.

They should get tables in here. Probably could, if asked, maybe on occasion. The idle thought sparks, dies, Joseph picking up his breakfast and obediently going to task with it, settling the tray comfortably on his knees. He's not looking at Dema — most days, the orderly is treated a bit like moving furniture, or an inevitable event of some kind — but after a few mouthfuls of food, and the edge of hunger peters off (which is a rarity, being hungry), he takes to glancing up towards the man.

Wry, Joseph asks, "Happy in your work?" It makes sense that in his own (former?) line of employment, a guilty conscience is reasonably detectable.

Dema doesn't seem surprised at the question, but he doesn't seem ambivalent about it either. Instead, he takes a moment to consider. Finally he shakes his head. "This work does not make me happy, no," he replies, "Not all work is happy work, though. It is just the only work." He glances over his shoulder, at the open door, then moves to close it. Joseph may have come to some agreement with the project director, but he's still an established flight risk. Dema turns back to the pastor. "Are you wanting anything? Another book? Pencil and paper?" Taking requests and asking after general well being form the lion's share of conversation with Dema.

"How about a letter?" The question is directed at his food, as if Joseph were reluctant to see the response he gets. The scrape of his fork against cutlery acts like punctuation as well as a signal he's not far from finishing off his meal, although now— he gives up early, setting fork in favour of taking a sip of water. "It won't be like you can't read it for anythin' you wouldn't want in there, and I figure maybe folks'll be worried by now, won't they?"

He stands up, now, tray in his hands, and partially offered out again. "There's other work," he adds, flatly. As if Dema's answer were disappointing, or dismissed in some way. An excuse that doesn't add up.

This is something Dema would have to consider carefully if it were in any way, shape or form his decision. As it is, he can only nod and reply, as he always does.

"I will tell the Madame," Dema says, "When you are done eating, we must go." No pressure or anything. A momentary pause passes, a silence, before Dema speaks again. "Not for me."

"I'm done," Joseph states, that same blunt dismissal, now holding out the tray for Dema to take. It could be seen as brusque, sullen, or simply helpful. Can't keep the Madame waiting. A minor tremor has the porcelain on the tray shiver just fractionally.

Dema takes the tray, but just sets it on the floor, to the side, then steps back and opens the door, reaching behind him so that he needn't turn his back to Joseph. It's remarkable how this being protocol changes the tone from that of personal suspicion to one of general procedure. Nothing personal. Don't blame me. Classic Milgrim stuff.

Dema motions for Joseph to exit, to take the all-too familiar walk to the MRI room. And, just like clockwork, Dema begins his quick briefing. "Today is Refrain and amphetamine," like it's some sort of restaurant, and Joseph's hearing the prix-fixe menu. "I will be in your vision to confirm what you see, but please be truthful in what you are seeing. Answer all questions."

He follows, and doesn't seem— not today— to be eager to make his escape. His arms fold across his chest and he studies the hallway floor that goes by beneath his feet as Dema talks, and Joseph's brow furrows at the combination spoken. "As long as she don't expect nothin' from me afterwards," he mutters, double-negative more or less ignored. "At least Refrain don't have a comedown." There's a bar of normalcy that's been reached. More institutionalisation than particular cases of Stockholm syndrome, but either way, there's a routine. Joseph's fallen into it.

It is easier to bend than to break, after all. Joseph's world is very small indeed, now. The MRI room is as it always is. Tablet, machine, tray, camera. And a radio, meaning the project director, the Madame, will be present in voice as well as vision. The door behind them is locked, a very basic precaution it took Joseph's near escape to put in place. Dema doesn't give directions beyond moving to the side of the slab and touching it's edge. The radio buzzes into life as the camera swivels onto the pastor.

"Hello, Joseph. I hope you ate your whole breakfast." The mild concern and well mannered syntax makes the distorted voice of the director all the stranger.

The displacement of voice and vision is as jarring as the electronic sounding syllables themselves. A voice over here, being watched from over there, and Joseph steers a look up towards the cycloptic black eye glinting down at him, self-consciousness setting in like a chill. "Yes ma'am," is just as polite, words out his mouth before he truly thinks about them — sparing her the snippiness he subjects Dema to, for whatever reason. Maybe he wants to talk to her less, which would imply he wants to talk to Dema more.

In any case, Joseph approaches the slab, grimly familiar with the room and its procedures. Still, he doesn't leap through pre-established hoops, glancing towards Dema as his own fingertips set down on the edge of the MRI bench, then towards the radio.

Well worn, this procedure. Restraints on, not, as he's been told, to keep him from making trouble, but instead to prevent him from hurting himself should he have an 'adverse reaction'. Which is to say, they don't want him to be hurt more than is necessary, more than the tests risk hurting him. There's no hate here, none of the sadism of Humanis First. It's… clinical. Let the philosophers determine which is worse.

The great round mouth of the MRI draws the pastor in, a routine morsel. It hums with hunger, then clicks with satisfaction as the first pictures of his brain are taken. Meanwhile, Dema prepares the needle filled with the latest cocktail. He's always precise, but detectible in his bearing is a tension that suggests this test has some significance. He doesn't want to risk screwing it up in any way. Joseph feels the Russian giant's hand touch lightly at his arm. "When you see things, talk. Tell us what you see. O.K.?" The letters carefully enunciated - Dema is always delicate with English idiomatics and parlance.

Joseph feels the cold touch of a swab, a disinfectant kiss, then the barb of the hypodermic then…

New York peers greyly in through a windshield, golden wedding ring glinting merrily on his hand in contrast as he navigates streets, the unfamiliarity of which makes his heart turn in anxiety even if, by now, he knows them well.

The restrains jostle a little as if Joseph were attempting to set his hands on the steering wheel he sees in front of him, the confusing dichotomy of the present day pressing in around him in numbed feeling and the vivid reality of a relived memory vying for attention. Heart beginning to hammer, and he's not sure if that's from uppers or euphoria, but it draws him back into himself, or seems to.

"Uh…" His voice is wavery, but present. "It's— ss… I'm driving. Some— someplace." He can hear his own voice, hollow and distant. Easy to not try, and lapse into the then as opposed to the now. Anticipation, muted excitement, blissful ignorance.

A strange sound intrudes, gravelly and unpleasant. The project director's voice. But Joseph can't make out the words. Then Dema's voice floats in from far, far away, not terribly urgent, but insistent, and clear. "Where are you driving, Joseph? What do you see as you drive?"

Uncertainty catches his breath, hands curling at his sides, but Joseph tries to pull free of rising anxiety and try to answer instructions. As if his memory-self were heeding it, he leans forward to peer up at the sky as if judging the weather, before rounding around that gaze to take in the new/old setting of this corner of the city. "Gr-Greenwich Village," he stammers out, voice small but still audible, even if a long and static delay stretches between Dema's voice and his response. "I'm— oh…"

Oh. Grey brick, rising up tall towards the sky though not as much as an apartment complex a few buildings down. Black iron fencing, black doors locked, a feeling of abandonment all the way up the cement cross. In the MRI machine, he swallows. "My church. Drivin' to my church. The first time."

Another gravelly sound from elsewhere, from the world outside this vision. Then nothing, then, intelligible now, the project director. The dissonance of her intrusive whisper in this fond memory of first arrival is uncanny, but at least her words are slow, and kept apart from the immediacy of the recollection.

"I want you try and recall the next thing that happens. I want you to try to move to a later memory. You know this is a memory, Joseph. Try and control what you're remembering." The project director's tone, what Joseph can discern of it, is firm but gentle, like a parent guiding a child's lesson.

But he doesn't want to go forward, not with the car cruising to a halt, climbing out of it and turning the key to place over against his palm. The present tense melts away, with the unpleasant feeling of where he'd been needle prodded, the restraints on his wrist which Dema had to talk him into on at least two occasions, focusing instead on the feel of cold metal against his hand, the shape of the key pressing into skin before he's moving towards the cement steps.

Up, one at a time, touching his other hand to the wooden doors, a feeling of ownership and pride and then less patient as he goes to unlock the door. Stubbornly, Joseph remains silent, riding it.

The director's voice isn't so gentle the second time. "Joseph," she says, "Please comply with my request. We made an agreement, by which you consented to cooperate. Please don't go back on your promise to me. I would be very disappointed." Still that parental aspect, reaching him from outside the sensearound memory.

Joseph's mouth opens to respond, but it never comes, teeth clicking shut together and pulling away all the more from that condescendingly kind voice reverberating in his head. He doesn't say no, he just resists by doing nothing at all. He wants to see. Desires it like the tine frission of anticipation he feels before the needle stabs into his arm, and he eases out a sigh as the doors push open. The church is not at its prime — the carpet needs cleaning, the dust needs to be wiped away, but he can see it, what it could be, even if he knows what it will be.

No. He denies himself recalling what will be and let's himself experience this introduction, entering the dark church and glancing up at the mid-morning beams of light sharding through the windows.

"Is he…" the radio hisses from where Dema holds it, near the entrance of the MRI - not too close, since the magnetism would tear it apart. "He's conscious still." She's not talking to him. She's barely talking to Dema. He's getting a brief glimpse of the unpresented director, not that he'd be paying much attention, not with his new church to take care of.

"Well," the director says, loudly and clearly, "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I forgot I wasn't making a agreement with a real man of god. I was dealing with a drug addict. A weak willed, pitiful man, ready to break any promise, betray anyone at all, just to enjoy his fix." The voice is sharp, full of loathing. This no longer feels clinical. This is sadistic. "No dignity anymore. Maybe once. Maybe the first time you realized you were an addict, there was still some left. Realized your weakness, how far you'd fallen. I bet you buried that down deep, though. Pathetic."

Dissonance between the words echoing through his skull and his slow wander through the church, a hand resting down on the back of the pew as he goes to take a seat, aisle-side and towards the back, allowing the wider worship hall to extend out before him, its clean geometric shapes and symmetry. Dream-side, there's no physical response — there can't be, a relived action, hands clasping one over the other against the back of the seat in front of him and letting his forehead rest there in meditative prayer.

"I just— "

Argument, now, forcing himself to acknowledge where he is, voice thicker, an edge in it. "I just wanted to see it again. Remember it." How can he explain? He has a lot of good explanation, but what it comes down to—

Panicky, the memory shifts forward several hours, and Dema can see things change. Night falls, and he stands on the base of steps to regard a different angle of the midnight church. The doors are opened just a little, enough to light up the silhouette of a tall man with a gun leveled at Joseph's torso, twin eyes of bright blue, unnatural, staring at him unblinkingly. There's a soft sound of surprise from the MRI, Joseph jerking his hands and ankles against the restraints.

Success! Subject responds to memory cues, psychological stressors. A pity she had to be so crude about her tactics. Dema will be able to pick up on what's actually going on in there, but the director is impatient. "What do you see, Joseph?" she says, swiftly, "What are you remembering?"

The transition is jarring, a sense of vertigo engulfing him until the memory skips ahead again like a rock over a still lake. Euphoria feels like a giddying symptom as opposed to true happiness, a warm rush he'd like to sober up from, now. But right now, the snap from darkness and long shadows to wavering bright lights of a bathroom makes him hesitate, the hiss of water through pipes that soaks clothing, the image of Flint Deckard stepping away from him blurred by his frantic attempts to shut off the water.

Lucidness, once achieved, is unwieldy, like a tool he isn't used to. The memory hopskips backwards, as if trying to hone in on something, even if he doesn't want to. There's a syringe lying empty on the tiles where he sits, seen through a lazy gaze before the door cracks open.

"No, I don't— I don't want to— don't want to talk about it," he stammers out. "Somethin' else, let me find somethin'— "

"His activity is spiking erratically," the director says, in that way, again, where Joseph knows he's not being addressed. Dema can be glimpsed maybe in the briefest moments, in a puddle's reflection, as a vague, suggestive shape in grout behind crumbling tiles. It's for his benefit that the director is giving this report. "Joseph! Focus." No longer the tormenter, she's trying to take advantage of his confusion, "The day you realized. The first day. Focus!" Urgent, hardly helping his panicked scatter of memories. It's all so real, so overwhelming, and knowing that it's all a vision is cold comfort when each recalled moment is lived fully yet somehow held apart, offering no escape of any kind, neither in ignorance or forgetfulness. The moment and the memory are both present for the pastor. Worst of both worlds.

He can remember twisting around in feverish regret and sickness in the bowels of the Grand Central Terminal, Abigail out his peripheral and moving on over at a brisk hurry, her hands out to take his, before the memory fragment into something else. Getting closer. The same cement walls, ceiling, floor, maybe even cleaner, and he isn't lying down. Upright. Seated. The medical, padded restraints switch to thinner cold metal, and cement walls shunt aside for the eerie setting of a bedroom, the abandoned den of someone much younger and female than he.

The man Joseph sees in front of him is as much out of place as he is, holding the glowing blue of a syringe as he gets to his feet, pacing around him. There's something at his feet, a bucket, shining gore. "I think you've already learned a few things since you've been here. Maybe more than you know." The voice from a memory sounds just as clear, maybe sharper, as that of Bella and Dema. "That's important for a teacher."

"It is," Joseph responds out loud, spine relaxing against the slab as if he were getting dosed with Refrain all over again. His voice carries dull. "He offered it t'me, and I didn't fight it. Practically said yes. It was days before they let me go — I thought I was a dead man. I don't wanna be here."

There's the smell, too, rotting meat and iron blood.

These faces mean nothing to Dema. He will report the figures, their appearances as best he could recall, but not being a sketch artist or even having a great memory for features, the appearance of people the project director has met, one of whom she has treated, will go undocumented. For the best.

It has worked, though, as Dema's report will confirm. The right stimuli, the right influence, and a subject can be guided to a specific memory. This is something to report, something that will justify the money the director's benefactors have given her so much of, to pay for the space, the equipment, the acquisitions and transport… and of course the crates and crates of blue syringes. Refrain haunts past and present, dream and reality. True to its name, it returns, repeats.

"Enough," the director says, "You've been good to your word, Joseph. Done as I asked. Remember whatever you'd like for the rest of the time. Lose yourself in something pleasant. I appreciate your assistance." Already the director sounds like her mind is on other things, other tasks that must be performed. She has results; the least she can do is let Joseph has his escape.

The feeling that the director's voice and interest both are dwindling doesn't inspire much feeling beyond acknowledgment. Stung, Joseph wants to plea for help— there has to be a chemical, something, that will stave off the drugs prematurely, let him get pulled back into reality. Experience his hangover. Argue, next time. It seems like an awful lot of work, especially when all he wants to do is escape the bedroom more than he does this immediate facility.

Protest dies before it can begin, the corners of his eyes greasy with leaking tears and palms smarting from where he'd dug in his nails. No words, just a sigh, before he sinks back once more. He goes back to his church.

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