As Someone Else


broome_icon.gif df_cardinal2_icon.gif curtis_icon.gif

Scene Title As Someone Else
Synopsis Curtis Autumn is given a choice on how to live his new life, but is free will really just an illusion?
Date January 27, 2011

"If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?"
— Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club.

Two months have passed since the riots of November 8th, 2010. Two months ago a notorious terrorist named Ashley Williams was finally apprehended by the United States Government following a brutal confrontation with masses of panicked and crazed rioters driven mad by the persuasive powers of one Rupert Carmichael.

Ashley Williams is gone.

Curtis Autumn is a man who lost his grandfather by an act of terrorism from Messiah, the very group that Ashley Williams was a member of. General Sebastian Autumn was murdered by none other than Claire Bennet, the young woman who was part of a team that saved Williams' life when the Commonwealth Institute came to apprehend him in the beginning of 2010. Unknown to either Curtis Autumn or Ashley Williams, these two men were in fact one in the same.

Curtis Autumn volunteered for the clandestine CIA memory alteration project codenamed: SOMNIS. His consciousness, memories and identity were overwritten with that of the man who would become Ashley Williams, a new life, a new face, all for the efforts of infiltrating anti-government terrorist organizations from the ground up. Williams was created, an artificial persona based on a man in a vegetative coma. Fragments of memory, life and identity were fused together thanks to the efforts of one Doctor Simon Broome, and his ability to manipulate, dissect and rearrange memories as well as — apparently — imprison them.

The Institute team trying to abduct Moab Escapee Ashley Williams was not, in fact, trying to abduct at all but recapture a lost CIA operative that needed to be returned to his original factory settings as it were. This is what Curtis Autumn has learned in the two months of his relative freedom, isolated from society by a half mile of concrete and steel, in an underground community of scientists, soldiers and prisoners known as the Commonwealth Arcology.

Life, here, has involved re-adjusting to a life that Curtis only blurrily recalls. Weeks have been spent going over photo albums, reading emails, watching blurry graduation videos from Westpoint on old and dilapidated VHS tapes. No face-to-face contact with Curtis' father has been allowed, though phone conversations have been awkward utterances of 'dad' in ways that seem forced. Returning to the life of a soldier-son and patriot after being Ash for so long has left lingering impressions of the old murdered in the back of Curtis' mind.

But the Institute have not been inhospitable hosts, nor have they been uncaring. Accomodations at the Arcology have been spacious, luxirious and nothing at all like a gilded cage many would consider it. Being as large as it is, it is like living indoors, even if the UV lamps and simulated sunlight do stave off cabin fever from setting it. A live-in illusionist in training changes up the "setting" on days when he is in scheduled practice, giving Curtis the opportunity to be 'outside' in seemingly real environments.

The gym has seen frequent use, the firing range has proved that Curtis has not lost anything in his physical capabilities. Constant testing, MRIs, blood work and psychological evaluations have been helping reinforce the identity of Curtis Autumn and separate fact from fiction.

All this time here at the Arcology has left Curtis with a sense of self that has slowly been stitched together. Every psychological evaluation, physical, and MRI has led up to this day, one that he has been training for and hoping for since awakening to this strange new world that is his true life.

The day he gets to leave.

The Commonwealth Arcology

January 27, 2011

"Someone once told me, everything lives to be free."

Dim simulated sunlight filters through vertical blinds covering a window that looks out into a panoramic backdrop of a faux city skyline, a matte painting that when viewed through the slatted blinds feels real. The conference room on A-Ring belonging to the Institute's executive staff is spacious, today populated by just a small handful of individuals seated around the circular glass table.

Standing behind one chair, a man that Curtis Autumn has only passingly seen before spoke that quote. He's a tall man, broad-shouldered and athletic in the way Curtis doesn't need to exercise to be. Short, medium brown hair is trimmed clean and dark eyes stare down at his muted reflection in the table as if unsure of who it is that is staring back.

"No truer words have ever been said, Curtis, and today's the day you get to live." Hands braced on the back of his chair, the darkly-dressed man in his pinstripe suit carries himself in a familiar manner, but not one that Curtis can recall. Simon Broome, on the other hand, is much more readily recognizable. The grandfatherly and long-faced old man in his ink-black suit sits at the table, hands folded together over a thin stack of paperwork and a blue folder.

This is his last review before the Institute determines whether Curtis has adjusted enough to go back outside and live his life again.

It is an important occasion.

Ash is not gone. Not really. You cannot have the memories of two different people in your mind without recalling what it was like to be the other person. However, they are seperated. Curtis knows what memories are his own, and what memories were those of Ashley Williams. He also knows that he is not Ashley Williams. Ashley Williams was an uncaged animal. Curtis, is a trained animal. The difference, is obedience, and loyalty. Ash had loyalty, but not in the same fashion as Curtis.

The weeks have been both hard and easy. He's not had to do anything strenuous physically, or mentally really, other than wait. He has had to sit, and wait. For weeks now he's waited. Going through test after test, seeing doctor after doctor. Every test wearing upon him. The doubt of the people involved around him. But he's endured them all, and proven himself through them. He's not grown duller in any of his combat skills. If anything he's grown stronger in them. Survival will hone your skills to a razor edge. And that was his life as Ash, survival.

He sits now, at the conference table, his back ramrod straight, even though that still feels odd ocasionally, the military precision of everything. He sits with his fingers laced together, and his hands on the table in front of him. He's dressed in a simple pair of black slacks, and a black knit sweater. His eyes track over to Broome as the familiar but not familiar man speaks, watching the older man's expression before turning his attention more fully upon the speaker. "Everything lives to be free sir. But very few ever truly are. It's the illusion of freedom that keeps them going. The idea that they are free, even though they are not. They are simply flying in a well disguised cage." He offers a tight smile, though it fades quickly enough from his features, and he settles his back against the back of the chair.

"What happens to me after this? I know that I don't go about my life free to do what I wish. I'll be watched to make sure that I'm not going to falter back into Ash. I'll be observed to make sure that I, as a part of this project, am a success and that the process can be repeated successfully, if it has not already been done so. But… where do I go from here? Back to the Marines to serve? Frontline perhaps? Or will I be working for the Institute?"

"You seem to have some preconceived notions of what it means to be let go," the unfamiliar man in the suit explains, letting his head slant to the side, as he leans back in his chair. "Some right, true. Others— well… what happens to you next is your choice, actually. We have some opportunities for you, but as it stands there's a certain line that needs to be decided, and that line is what you're morally comfortable doing with your new life."

Offering an askance look to Doctor Broome, the unfamiliar man seems to goad on for the Doctor's opinion. Simon seems distracted, tired, worn down by something. "I think you can handle this for now," Simon admits in a hushed tone of voice, clearing his throat afterward and leaving the floor open. It's with a thoughtful look afforded to the old Doctor that the stranger decides to turn his attention to Curtis again.

"We are going to keep an eye on you, yes. Nothing that you'll notice, or that will impact your life in any way. What I have available to you are options, two of them. One puts you back in the field where you're familiar with things, though acclimation won't be easy. The other involves your desire to go down the rabbit hole a little…"

Clearing his throat, the dark-eyed stranger slouches forward in his chair, folding his hands in front of his mouth. "I have an opening for you in FRONTLINE that I could fill immediately. Alternatively, if the idea of the black suit isn't for you… or if you think there'd be too much personal friction with what happened as Ash…" His eyes avert to the table. "I have a special project I could bring you in on."

Curtis lets one eyebrow slide upwards at the interesting man's words in regards to his future and his preconcieved notions. No interuption is offered as he seeks advice from Broome, and is given none, a fact that sparks some curiosity in the soldier's eyes. His nostrils flare a little bit as he breathes in, but doesn't relax, back remaining completely straight, and his body rigid.

When the suit finishes it takes a minute or so before Curtis speaks or responds. "Acclimation is… unnecessary to follow orders, and it will come wiht time just like any other assignment. In the mean time there are orders to be followed." The man does give an almost insignificant shrug of his broad shoulders before continuing. "I would imagine Frontline is where I was supposed to be. Had I been retrieved when I was supposed to have been. I would imagine my Grandfather would have had me assigned to serve beneath Lt. Spalding, and eventually command my own team." His jaw tightens slightly at his own mention of his grandfather and what his wishes would have been.

"There would be no personal friction. I could pull the trigger on any member of Messiah that I previously worked with if that is what you mean. I'm a soldier, have been since the day I was born. I've executed women, children…. and done terrible things in the name of my country so these people can enjoy what freedoms they are allowed. Putting a bullet in a terrorist would be no different. Would I be remorseful for having to do it? Most likely. I did after all call them friends in another life. But I would do it none the less." He pulls in a slow breath, holding it, before letting it go and speaking again.

"As to this special project… would it be possible to partake in both? I've been sitting here for two months. I'm eager to get back into things. And if it's possible to do them both, then I don't see any reason not to do so."

"Mutally exclusive," the stranger admits with a steepling of his hands in front of his mouth. "It's unfortunate, what happened to you. I believe your Grandfather would've wanted you in FRONTLINE too, which is why I'm reluctant to offer you this other position. I can't explain too much of the details, but what I can explain is that it would involve working for a man that I believe you know in passing; Richard Cardinal. Your special project would involve employment at Redbird Security Solutions as a member of their PMC."

Scratching at the underside of his chin, the stranger arches one dark brow. "You wouldn't be able to be in FRONTLINE, there'd be… conflicts of interest. It would see you serving as a part of a military supplemental unit operating across the city, supporting the US Army in handling Martial Law, and… other tasks. It wouldn't be honest work, there'd be some deception involved, and I'll understand if you'd choose to live a more normal life."

Glancing briefly to Simon, the stranger turns his attention back to Curtis again. "FRONTLINE garuntees you a more normal life. But— it isn't your former comrades in Messiah that I'm worried about, so much as the survivors of FRONTLINE's reactions to you. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it, if you're comfortable. The choice, ultimately, is yours."

Curtis listens, and absorbs. All of it. When the other man is done he leans back in his chair, his back finally relaxing a little bit, letting him fit to the chair as he ponders all of what he's been told. "Richard Cardinal knows my face. Which tells me one of two things. He's in on alot of this, and finding out I'm not who I was would be no surprise to him. Or, I'd be going under cover as Ash. However, I really don't think Cardinal would hire Ash." His eyebrows furrow together some, his lips pressing tight as he thinks through everything.

"Not sure why the two things are mutually exclusive, unless of course my helmet were to get knocked off. Or… I would be workin gwith Cardinal as myself. Which would explain a few things." He lifts a hand upwards, running his fingers through his hair slowly, his brow still furrowed. "Though, I am curious as to why you can't go into details on the assignment with Cardinal. After all, you have the ability to remove memories. So if you needed to do so you could simply remove those memories could you not?" He steeples his fingers before laying his hands flat on the table. "You'll have to forgive my indecision. Getting to make them isn't something I'm entirely used to. My life up until becoming Ash was simply… following orders."

"Too much responsibility on either side. You go with the special project, I'll need you to be flexible on where you go, what you do and who you're seen with. FRONTLINE means following someone else's orders, and not working for me anymore." This, here, is the first indication that Curtis has been working for this illusive man at all, let alone at any time in the past.

"It's a matter of a legitimate, normal life in FRONTLINE, or digging your heels in and continuing to live the life you've been living— in terms of risk. I wouldn't ask you to pretend to be Ashley, though, but I also wouldn't ask you to hide who you were from him. It's— complicated. But I need to know that if you opt to go with the special assignment, that you're comitted to seeing it through. There won't, presumably, be much free time to do other things… depending."

Curtis looks somewhat amused actually, a twinge of a smile tugging at his lips, if only for a brief moment in time. He does however look slightly confused by the details regarding his identity. A hand lifts up, and the soldier pinches the bridge of his nose, holding it, fingers causing the flesh beneath their tips to go red, and then white again as he cuts off the blood flow. "From him? Or from anyone that I'd encounter there? There might very well be former allies of Ash's there for all I know. There will almost definitely be people that recognize him."

He stops, and drums his fingertips on the table top for only a quick second. "I really can't accept an assignment like what you're asking without knowing the details. For all I know I could end up in another situation like I was as Ash. On my own, without the Institutes support." Pointing out the Institute's previous failures to recapture him and their losing track of him and everything. "You're asking me to give my up chance at a … relatively normal life for an assignment I know nothing about. So lets have the details sir." His voice is respectful, if a bit edgy throughout the conversation.

"That you're interested shows motivation, that you're hedging for more details on a sensitive matter… shows a little distrust, but I can't blame you." Pushing his seat back, the stranger slowly rises up from his chair, hands folding behind his back and brows furrowed. "The assignment would involve legitimate work for Redbird Security, doing ordinary patrols with the US military and assisting police in events of domestic terrorism. Admittedly if it's Evolved terrorism you'd have to rescind authority to FRONTLINE if they showed up, but— for every pyrokinetic lunatic out there, there's ten crazies with guns."

Lifting up a gloved hand to scratch at the back of his neck, the stranger presses his tongue against his cheek. "The assignment would likely pit you against the Institute, in the long term. But it's a risk I'm willing to take, and yes— it's similar to what happened with Messiah and Moab before that. The only difference is… you're not a spy. I legitimately need you to perform a function inside of Redbird Security, and I need Cardinal to be aware of it. However you handle anyone else is entirely up to you, it doesn't affect me or the mission."

Wringing those gloved hands together, the stranger paces the room slowly. "I'd like you to perform bodyguard duties for Mister Cardinal. He'll likely be resistant to the idea, but I also want you to be wholly open and honest with him. You can tell him what you've been up to, where you've been, anything he needs to know." That admission has Simon Broome watching the conversation all the more carefully.

"But if anyone threatens his life, I need you to be ready to execute them with prejudice. Even if Cardinal himself isn't willing to give you that order. His well being is important, and no one is certain to live for very long in this chaotic and unpredictable world of ours. Not even Richard."

Curtis eyes this other man in a very level fashion when he mentions coming up against the Institute. "I see." Curtis leans his head bac k, and his eyes close up slowly. "You are asking me, now… to potentially sully /my/ name as well with this. The Institute is a government sanctioned orginization, and to fight against the Institute is the same thing as what I was doing with Messiah. Only this time it would be my name, not Ash's." he rises to his feet in a smooth motion, not an aggressive one, just needing a bit of space that he can't have a tthe table.

He turns on Cardinal of the future, his eyes settling on the man, wearing Tyler Case's body, though none of that is known to the soldier, and he stares evenly, his eyes focused upon th eother man's. "Why?" he asks in a simple and straightforwards question. "You want me to put myself at your disposal again. To operate under your orders and authority. And to put myself at risk for a mission that really has nothing to do with my service to this country thus far… I want to know why. What is this man to you? And to the Institute? He obviously doesn't know what he means to your orginization and yourself or he'd have no issue to having a body guard, or he'd be here working with you, possibly both. So…. why?" He slides his hands behind his back, standing at parade rest, one hand clasped around the wrist of the other, his body relaxed though instead of stiff.

"That's classified," the stranger admits, looking a bit uncomfortable to have even said that. "What I can tell you, is that whatever it is you do against the Institute, it likely wouldn't be public. It might be, I really have no way of telling what it is he'll ask you to do. Whatever that winds up being— even if it turns you right back here and against me, I'd like you to see it through. But like I said, adopting this assignment would be your choice. There's only two requirements to you doing it:"

Lifting up one gloved finger, the stranger furrows his brows. "One, you do whatever it is he needs as if he were your superior, within reason to your own well-being. Two, you don't come asking me any questions should he tell you more about this assignment than I have. I know it sounds shady, sounds very… cloak and dagger, but you also don't have to do it. I have a roster request for FRONTLINE Unit-01 right here with me…" and to that he motions down to the paperwork near Doctor Broome.

"It's your call, Curtis. You might find out things that make it hard for you to come back here, to even trust me or this organization. But I will tell you this, and all I can do is hope you trust me. What this mission entails, is vital to the future and to the survival of humanity. Beyond that… I have to keep you in the dark. There's some details I can't risk getting outside of this building."

Curtis takes his seat again. The man settling in, and actually leaning forwards, his elbows coming to res ton the top of the table they are all seated at. He sits there, silent for several long minutes, not speaking, and barely moving, his eyes though are alert, and move constantly, flickering to Broome's features, studying them, watching to try and glean some bit of information about wha the thinks of the options before him, then up to the man offering him a normal life on one hand, or potential disaster all over again on the other hand.

After thos long few minutes of silenc ehe leans back into his seat. "If I were to go do this … body guard thing…" He doesn't seem to like the general idea of being a body guard. "What would it mean for my military comission? I have no desire to retire from the Marines. Especially not for some cloak and dagger operation that frankly reeks of the same stuff that I've been participating in for a long while now as Ash. Charmichael's twisting Messiah against the government with the intention of causing mass chaos. This seems pretty similar, only I'm being told about it first and won't be under cover."

"It's not entirely dissimilar, but I guarantee it won't be like anything you've done before. Officially you're already retired from active service, but reinstating you isn't exactly a problem. There's strings we can pull. Even if you went into FRONTLINE you'd need to give up your comission, they may be recruited from the armed forces, but FRONTLINE officers are considered civilians. Your military career is, rather likely, over and done with at this point. But to be honest, the only place you had to go from where you were was behind a desk, or fighting a war in some desert you didn't care about."

Shifting his weight and turning, the illusive figure wanders towards one of the windows displaying the fake skyline, staring out as if he could imagine a real city to view. "Officially you'd be hired by Redbird Security as a Private Military Contractor, like Stillwater Solutions, Blackwater, any number of military PMCs around the world. The US government hires Redbird out for security details on Staten Island, primarily, with some work on the mainland and Roosevelt Island You'd have a regular day job working backup to the Army operating in the city."

Dark brows furrow, a brief look is given to Broome's silently judgmental figure, then back to Curtis. "It's honest work, and then whatever else comes your way that Richard may need. I guess you could say he and I are working towards the same ultimate goal, protecting people like you and I from people who would abuse us. We go about it different ways, yes. But— " there's an angle of his head to the side. "In the end, we're of the same mind."

Curtis looks well, not stunned, but more despondent when he's told that he's already retired from the military, and that his military career is already over. That is not something he had thought of from the look in his features. The man's lips going a bit loose at the corners, and the crinkle of the skin at the corners of his eyes showing his dissapointment in the bit of news. His lips part to speak, then close, remaining silent, his eyes falling down to the top of the table, and resting there.

The name Stillwater earns a slight sneer from him, but nothing words wise, his distaste for those kinds of groups rather clear on his face.

Once the man has finished Ash's eyes narrow, but he continues to stare at the table, until his gaze lifts and his focus falls upon Broome. "And you sir? What is your say in all this? You've been… personable throughout this whole process of recovery. What do you think?" He's clearly not happy about the whole situation, but the fact that he's still here shows he is considering it.

Broome offers a look up to the figure by the window, then down to the table before his deep and black eyes find Curtis'. "I think you should do what your heart wants. You've been a soldier for a very long time, Curtis, one way or another. Use what you learned, what you felt, and what you care about and… be true to yourself." Simon's expression remains decidedly serious as he adds, a clarifying point. "Whichever self that winds up being."

On making his point, Simon leans back in his chair and folds his hands in his lap, turning his attention over to the illusive man by the window. "Not everyone may agree with whatever choices you make, but the future… no matter how you look at it, doesn't have to be written in stone."

Those dark eyes turn back to Curtis, brow raised. "We all have free will."

Curtis laughs softly at the mention of free will, but he doesn't elaborate on why he laughed, and it wasn't a mocking laugh either. At least he doesn't elaborate right away. He moves to stand, then walks over ot the window, and to the man at it. He looks down into the eyes that once belonged to Tyler Case. "I don't like this. This kind of operation is the exact reason groups like Messiah formed. However… my grandfather, as much as him and I… clashed on alot of things, would not have pushed me towards this… orginization if he had not believed it would be of benefit to our country, and to our future. I'll do it."

He steps away from him and walks back to the table, looking across it to Simon. "And you're wrong. Rupert Charmichael proved you wrong. He robbed thousands of people of their free will. Free will is a myth, an imagination. It is something we tell ourselves we have so that we can sleep better at night in the false knowledge that we control our own destiny."

Looking over to Simon, the specter of Richard Cardinal from whatever long-lost future he hails from arches one stolen brow as if to say, see? He's perfect.

"I think I can safely say that you're ready to move back out and into the world, Curtis. I've taken the liberty of arranging for a residence for you to be set up at the Octagon Apartments on Roosevelt Island. It's a high-class Registered Evolved residency, you'll be there under your own name. I've taken the liberty of putting a classification on your criminal record and military service record through the CIA, no one outside of the defense intelligence agency will be able to pull up anything other than your birth records and that you've paid your taxes."

Turning around from that fake window to watch Curtis, Richard offers him a fond smile in return for his willingness to serve. "You'll report to Miller Airfield on Monday morning for work. You'll be contracted out with Redbird under Colonel Leon Heller, he knew your Grandfather. He's strict, and he's ruthless, but hes the man in charge out there. You'll probably be doing routine patrol work, but there's no telling."

Scratching at the side of his neck idly, Cardinal looks to Simon, who has nothing more to say, and it shows in his dour expression. When Cardinal's focus turns back to Curtis, one dark brow lifts slowly. "When you have time, I'd like you to report to Redbird Securities and tell Richard that you were sent here to be his personal security, and that it's your job to ensure that nothing happens to him, and… well, whatever else it is he needs you to do. He might be resistant, but you need to persevere. If he dismisses you, show up the next day. Eventually he'll come to his senses and realize that you're an asset, not a liability. If he asks who sent you…"

There's a press of his tongue against his cheek, and Cardinal manages something of a wry smile.

"Tell him Ezekiel sent you."

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