Curiouser And Curiouser


matt_icon.gif melissa3_icon.gif

Scene Title Curiouser and Curiouser
Synopsis Unknown to Melissa, Matt Parkman decides to take a trip through her mind, and is surprised at what he finds.
Date October 1, 2010

Department of Homeland Security Facility

Not too unlike the cells of Primatech's notorious and ill-conceived Level Five, the room in which Melissa Pierce has been installed is marked by its concrete drabness. It has all the prison-fittings she's used to - bed, sink, and toilet, and a heavy door opens to a hallway vein. But unlike other cells, there is no way for Melissa to look out on her fellow inmates, if there are any. The eight foot by eight foot room is a world unto itself.

On one wall hangs a mirror. It stretches for the entire width of the concrete blocks it's been fixed to, and is centered along it's height while only being about half as tall as the space is high. The sink and toilet are fixed to one side of it, keeping one from being embarrassed at such a self-sight. The mirror big enough to give the illusion of a roommate - the illusion of a larger space. A cell with a 'window' that only looks in on that same cell is a strange cage indeed.

What Melissa doesn't know is that on the other side of the mirror stands an observer who has been watching her for a significant portion of her morning. He watched her eat the food brought down from the facility's staff cafeteria on a tray. He's watched her metaphorically bounce about the small space with the same frustration that she exhibited earlier. She's had no testing today - or, at least, no testing that involved her using her ability. She's been left by herself in the cell, barely spoken to and barely acknowledged. Perhaps in some office high above her, technicians are wheedling out the best way to gauge the ability of a pain manipulator.

It would be wrong to assume that Melissa hasn't been tested already, though, for the observer does just that. He tests her by listening to her thoughts when they are the only thing to keep her company. He tests her by slipping in among those thoughts and searching beneath their surfaces, like a careful child hunting for mushrooms on a crisp early autumn day.

While Melissa very obviously doesn't want to be where she's at, she's been a model prisoner. This time. Polite even. She thanked the guard who brought her meal but hasn't otherwise spoken. There's little point in talking to an empty room, and she has nothing to say to the people watching on any camera that can't wait.

She's spent equal amounts of time laying on her bed, staring at the ceiling, and pacing around the small space. It just isn't in her to remain idle for too long at once. If she tried she'd just get really grumpy, really fast. So she's paced and thought. Most of her thoughts have been centered on her family. Not Jason, though he's been in there as well, but the people she lives with. The mismatched group of people she loves. And the people she's terrified of doing wrong by or hurting. If only she'd remembered that Parkman was a telepath before letting Jason bring her in. If her attempt at pleasing her uncle gets them in trouble, she'll never forgive herself or Jason. But mostly herself.

The de facto families of people on the run all too often become people they have things in common with. People who, in order to protect themselves, will protect others like them. On the other side of the mirror, Parkman narrows his eyes and leans forward slightly, searching the mind of the woman on the other side of the glass for what she knows about these others. She turned herself in, not them. And if they can get leads on other fugitives from justice, even if they only serve to further blacken the Company's name rather than take up space in a permanent correctional facility, well, that's fine too.

When it comes down to it, Melissa doesn't know much about the backgrounds of those living with her. Kendall's just a scared kid whose parents didn't want him. One she just lost and went through extreme measures to get back and who she loves like the brother she never had. Ling, who's uptight and prickly, but who there when Mel needs her. Someone who was done wrong by one of the Institute's scientists. Edgar, another Moabite, who's sweet and protective and scared.

They're people who have little in common, but who have bonded, one by one, until they became a family that worked. Something she never had as a child. And she would do anything to protect them, including die.

It's when Parkman is sifting through the memories Melissa has forged with these people that he finds it. It's like walking down a hallway covered with family photos and finding a frame that encircles not a photograph, but a miniature door halfway up the wall. In this hallway, Parkman stops to study the oddity. It's not something he's seen before, but it's clearly foreign. He studies it, running his hands over the ebony frame, the dark wood of the door, the tiny brass knob. He tests it, but it doesn't open.

But with the resistant click of the tumblers, it becomes clear what it is. Parkman has seen it before, but only because he has been on the other side of it. He's placed similar things in similar hallways, though none were ever this permanent. Still, they had a similar feel, as fleeting as they were by comparison. This, this is of a masterful, time-bomb time permanence that both frightens and fascinates him.

He was never a master locksmith, but neither is the door held fast by any conventional sort of lock. All the same, Parkman presses an illusionary ear against this metaphorical door and tries the knob again, his eyes nearly shut and his bottom lip pulled in under his teeth as he concentrates. Someone like him made this thing. Someone like him should be able to unmake it.

And people all across the country think Secretary Parkman isn't a decent sort of guy.

Melissa knows about those oddities in her mind. Kaylee told her there were three, but she wasn't able to tell her what they were, and she couldn't undo them. But they absolutely terrify her. She doesn't trust Rupert, and she trusts implanted suggestions by him done on the sly even less.

While Matt stands on the other side of the window, Melissa lays back down, rubbing her hands over her face before she stills, and frowns. Something…odd…just happened, but she can't figure out what, or what it felt like. But it passes, and she shakes her head, convincing herself that it was nothing. Paranoia from being in lockup, probably.

Like an eagle scout untying an expertly crafted knot, Parkman is able to get the lock to turn over. The door falls open before he can move his head, and the whisper of a man's voice slinks out of the darkness beyond the brief threshold. Parkman shakes his head and blinks, but when he turns his head, there is no evidence of the oddity, save for a bare spot on the wall. He knows that he just erased something, like a surgeon removing a cancerous, encapsulated tumor. He remembers that part. But in removing it, whatever exactly it was, it's…

It's disappeared.

Maybe that's normal. Without a place to linger, what is a thought, anyway? It has no physical form, and Parkman had no way of attaching a metaphor to it as a lens in order to inspect the thing. Still, it would be a lie to say he isn't ruffled to some degree after the encounter with another person's - another telepath's - creation.

Taking a deep breath to center himself, Parkman continues down the hallway in his study of Melissa's memories with the people she shares the Little Green House with. When he stops at a snapshot, taken as if from a camera embedded in Melissa's eyes, he's able to dip in and see her version of the events in motion - turning the photograph into a window.

The memory is one that takes place in Melissa's living room, with another woman. Ling. The room is dark, it smells of butter from the popcorn sitting in a bowl between them. And they're watching a movie. Hot Fuzz. Melissa's laughing, enjoying the movie, and she glances over to Ling, catching a smile that the woman tries to hide. And that smile has Mel grinning, even as it ties the two together more tightly as family. Expanding Ling's horizons while doing something that Mel loves.

Many of the memories are as benign as this one - testament to what amounts to a normal life when you're on the run from the authorities and able to carve out a safe enough place to hide. But Parkman stops himself from examining any more in detail when he spies another oddity further down the endless hall. Maybe because he's already seen one, this second misplaced object is easier to spot. A small part of him, thrilled by the concept, is almost searching for them. Or maybe it's like getting a new car and suddenly seeing others every time you go out.

Parkman jogs up to it, but when he gets closer, his approach slows to a careful creeping, his head tilted as he squints a red phone resting on a shelf behind a glass. It's not unlike the phones that rest in Hollywood depictions of military strategy centers and missile silos. But the glass has no catch, no way of being opened. Frowning, Parkman presses a palm against the surface.

The texture of it is unmistakable. It's carries the same strange yet familiar feel as the door had, but Parkman hesitates. He's pretty sure, having already untangled one knot, he could make quick work of this one…but if it is anything like the first, he won't have the chance to potentially discover exactly how it was done, and how it differs from his own brand of suggestion.

This time when that weird feeling surfaces Melissa sits up and frowns. She still doesn't know what it is, but it's not something she normally feels. "Someone there?" she calls out, glancing towards the door, then the mirror. Her legs swing over the side of the bed, but she doesn't rise, and nothing more gets said. Yet.

Parkman scowls at his hand against the glass and shakes his head. No. Being curious to that degree will only lead to dangerous places. Aspects of his ability he'd rather not explore. Dark, unexplored unknowns that should remain in shadow and never be touched by the beam of an adventurous flashlight. He brings his hand back and curls it into a fist, only to slam it forward again and break the glass.

Shards slice his skin, and for a moment, he winces with the pain of it. But he knows it isn't real - he's put himself in Melissa's mind. Everything here is a projection of her or what someone has placed in her. As soon as he asserts this fact, the pain, the glass, and the blood that had started to well up vanishes like a dream upon waking.

But the phone is still there. Whatever he's done, the suggestion, though slightly less embedded, remains. With a tentative hand, he reaches inside the wall and pulls the phone out, staring at the rotary dial. With the base in one hand, Parkman slowly lifts the receiver from it's cradle. He looks at it, then places it to his ear. His eyes go wide as soon as the plastic touches his skin, and his hand opens to let the receiver fall.

But it never touches the ground.

More of that feeling. Like just after watching a scary movie, then driving down a secluded road on a night with no moon. A nagging feeling that something's wrong when it couldn't actually be wrong. "Hello?" she asks, rubbing at the back of her neck, even if she feels…better, somehow. It can't be that feeling disappearing. It's still there.

The phone. The broken glass. The hole in the wall.

All are gone, leaving Matt standing wide-eyed and tense in the middle of the hall, surrounded by snapshots of memories that don't belong to him. Again, he feels that same strange disorientation. That same niggling disappointment. It's harder to shake off this time, but Parkman forces himself to let it slide. For all the mucking about he's doing against this woman's will, he's clearly doing her a favor. In the long run he may not be able to decipher what these suggestions were, but he will at the very least be able to recognize them in others.

A smile curls into one side of his mouth. Apparently Homeland Security is in the business of fighting mental as well as tangible terrorism.

The inexplicable tension that Melissa feels only grows steadily and steadily more disturbing the further down the hall Parkman moves, though he doesn't look any of her thoughts or memories. He's searching, and his focused quest feels to Melissa as if someone were turning the handle on an invisible, silent jack-in-the-box.

But for all his hunting, Parkman needed only to look.

With the feeling growing more noticeably, Melissa stands up, fingers running through her hair as she starts pacing again. This time it's not just burning off excess energy, but nervous pacing. She's not sure what's going on, but it's starting to worry her. Or more accurately, it's starting to freak her out. Her mind starts dreaming up all sorts of scenarios for what could be causing this. Rupert, planting more suggestions. Something being pumped in besides air. Whatever it is, the part of her that worries just wants it to stop.

The trouble with anything in the realm of the mind's eye is that it is all so subjective. What is seen as one thing by one person may look completely different to someone else. But they are all shadows on the same cave wall, cast there by the same fire.

But when Melissa's imagination starts to run wild, the walls of this carefully constructed means of navigating her memories shake, rattling the pictures in their frames and threatening to bring the ceiling crashing down on Parkman's head.

But he doesn't cower. Instead, Parkman closes his eyes as tightly as he can and sets his will against Melissa's. She may be the master of her own mind, but he is not an easily extricated houseguest. The effort to push those fantasies away draws sweat from Parkman's brow and undoubtedly a trickle of blood from Melissa's nose.

And so, at the end of the hall and beyond a door with a sticky handle, Parkman isn't too terribly surprised to find himself in a place that couldn't be fully contrived by Melissa's conscious or subconsciousness. The room is clearly in a basement, but a mid-morning light spills in from thin windows near the ceiling. Small wooden chairs are scattered about, along with an odd assortment of toys. From the storey above comes the muffled sounds of people talking - no, chanting. But the little boy crouched by a dollhouse, the hinge holding the complimentary cross sections wide open, doesn't seem to mind being left out of it. He's dressed in a medium blue button up shirt, his reddish blond hair sticking out oddly from beneath the circle of the kippa that's far too large for him, but that's been pinned in place.
Parkman steps to the side of the door, his hands braced against the wall behind him as he watches the child playing. The boy doesn't look at him, but starts to hum a tune all too familiar to the government official. And despite the fact he's fully away it is his own projection being used to interpret whatever oddity is here within Melissa's mind, the image is still rattling in all it's mystery.

Though her mind was imagining all sorts of horrible things, Melissa didn't really expect anything to happen, not really. So when she feels a bit of warm wetness on her upper lip, and fingers come away in blood, she freaks out a little. "What the hell?! Whoever's there, stop doing whatever you're doing! I'm not even trying to use my ability and my nose is bleeding!" she calls out to whoever might be on the other side of that mirror, her brow furrowed in concern.

"Hmmm mmm, b'teremmmmy'tzirmmmm'ra, hhhmmm hhhmmmmm hhhmmmmMmMm!" The few words that can be made out are simply whispers in between much louder humming. He's still memorizing all the words. "L'va-do! y'im-lokh-no-ra!! Hhmm hhmmmmh mmhmhmmm!!" Holding a little toy soldier in his hand, he marches it up the stairs to the second floor of the dollhouse.

"pchchhkkk pcchhkk eh-eh-eh-eh-eh!!" The little man tumbles down the stairs and the young boy does a small squeal of death for the fallen soldier. When it's finished dying, Reuben picks up the toy and blows it off, then brushes over its face with his hand.

He's blatantly ignoring the man at the door. It's obvious by the way his dark brown eyes slide to the corner and the small tilt of his head, when he realizes he's being watched, he turns his back fully on the official and begins singing his song again.

Melissa's cries fall on deaf ears. Her petulant look is seen only by blind eyes.

Matt stares at the boy. Reuben. His name is Reuben, but he isn't sure how he knows this. The room is familiar yet not - a memory of his own twisted and garbled by the sands of time. He closes his eyes and shakes his head, not to dispel the image but to root himself in the fact that it is just that. An image. An illusion, manufactured by his own mind within Melissa's to understand whatever it is that's here that isn't supposed to be.

He clears his throat and braves a step forward, loosening his tie and slipping his hands into his pockets. "I always liked that song," he confesses in as soft a voice as he can muster, as if Reuben were just an older version of Matty. "Can't say I remember the words, but I always liked it." He nods toward the dollhouse, his eyes narrowing just slightly. "What're you playing?"

Melissa grimaces and a hand holds her head, before she tugs at her hair. "Stop this! What are you doing to me? If this is your way of testing my ability you're going about it the wrong way!" she says, before she stalks towards the mirror. Both hands are planted on it, and she leans into it, nose nearly against the glass. "Stop it!"

Matt is glanced at, but not answered. The little boy walks the soldier up the stairs again, humming the song, but not saying any of the words. His eyes slide toward Matt a few times before he reaches up to the second floor of the house and pulls out another 'toy' or something. It's held tightly in his hand until he holds it out to the large man.

Still nothing is said to the agent but one eyebrow is quirked up, almost daring him to take whatever it is in his hand. His lips are tightly pursed together but on the left corner, there's a slight tug, as though attached to an invisible string. Someone's pulling it and trying to make him smile, but the little puppet can't be controlled like that.

Matt steps closer and eventually kneels down on the exterior side of the open dollhouse. He holds his hand out to accept the toy, positioning it so that the boy can drop it into his hand. The feel of even being near the child has the same texture as the other two irregularities in Melissa's mind, and so Parkman knows whatever is to be unlocked here is close by.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, his voice still soft, but with an edge to it. Reuben, for all his outward appearances, is not a child. He's nothing but a construct. A shadow that looks like a child to Matt Parkman as it dances on the wall of the cave. Shadows don't need to be soothed or cajoled, and just as he was able to turn the tumblers in the lock and break through the glass, Parkman's confident that eventually, he'll solve this puzzle too, if only by sheer force of will and dogged determination.

Still, for all that, Matt has imposed his own subconsciousness within part of Melissa's. The result is the beginnings of a nasty headache for Melissa and a migraine for Matt when he finally ends his expedition.

When the headache is added to the nosebleed, Melissa lets her head drop forward so it rests against the glass between her hands. "Dammit…Did you call the Institute in or something? Why are you doing this to me?" she mutters softly, her eyes closing as she wishes her ability worked on her. And that it wasn't negated at the moment.

It's not a toy that's placed in Matt's hand and the invisible string attached to the corner of the boy's mouth pulls it in a sharp tug as something warm and furry lands in the man's hand. Before Matt has time to react, the little mouse has crawled up the sleeve of his shirt and is making its way at a quick pace toward his shoulder.

A disembodied giggle sounds out throughout the room. It didn't come from the boy, it's not even a boy's voice. That doesn't mean that Reuben didn't find his little joke unamusing, quite the contrary. One index finger is jutted out toward Parkman and the boy begins to emit peels of laughter.

The knee-jerk response is to wiggle and shake, which, of course, Matt does. But the mouse is looking for the quickest way out, and when it reaches his shirt collar and bolts up the back of his neck, Matt slaps a cupped hand down onto the furry little demon and plucks it away. While Reuben laughs, the older man simply smirks in that not-amused way that parents have. He looks from the boy to the mouse that he holds by the tail, the little creature dangling there, squeaking madly in it's attempted to wriggle out of the man's firm and meaty grip.

"I could tell the rabbi about this," he warns, his expression one of contemplative conspiracy. "Why are you here?" he asks again. "What are you doing?"

While no one answers Melissa's questions, she does hear something beyond the sound of her own breathing. The muted sound of a mouse squeaking. Her head jerks up and she looks around, eyes wide. But there's no place for a mouse to sneak in, no sign of any furry little beasties. No reason for her to be hearing the sounds she's hearing. "Great. Now I'm hallucinating. Couldn't it at least be sexy guys instead of mice?"

"I have a secret…" the boy taunts in a low tone. The threat of the rabbi should have had him shaking in his shortpants, but he is staring up at Matt with all the confidence of a bully to its victim. "I have a secret~" He teases the man, reaching up with a hand quicker than a viper's jaw to retrieve the dangling mouse. There's one final squeak before it's pitched away like garbage.

Now Parkman is the rodent and Reuben is the cat. He circles the man, his little shoes clipping against the floor in an even staccato until he comes back into full view, still amazingly cocksure. "I have a secret… and I'm not telling."

It's a strange feeling, for all Matt's assurance that it isn't real. He sits a little straighter, crouched as he is, following the boy with his eyes and his consciousness as much as he can without physically moving his own mental presence. "I know you know," he says with a sly sort of half-grin, playing into the little boy - the construct's twisted game. "But you can tell me," he says with a little nod, pushing the statement almost as if he would a command into a person. Willing the boy to unlock. Matt's smile spreads across his face, but his eyes are still narrowed in that boyish, scheming way when he adds, "Cause we're a lot alike, you and me.

"I can keep secrets too."

While Matt is playing Cat and Mouse, Melissa is just getting more and more freaked out. Nosebleeds for no reason, random headaches, mouse squeaking. This is so not what she signed on for when she let Jason bring her in. A fist bangs on the mirror and she sounds scared as she demands, "Stop it!"

"You're. trying. to. trick. me." The boy utters in a low voice, each word punctuated by the stab of his plastic toy's bayonette against Matt's skin. Whether it's on his hand or through his shirt, it doesn't matter, the sharp piece of plastic is very good at emulating a pin. If Reuben isn't careful, he could poke someone's eye out. He's been warned before.

Reuben's smirk fades just a little and he narrows his eyes to meet Parkman's challenge. "What'll you give me if I tell you? I'll tell you if you give me your gun."

That pair of meaty hands shoots out to grab the little boy by the wrists and hold him still, to keep the toy soldier's sharp point from sticking. "You want my gun? You couldn't do anything with it. I know what you are, Reuben." Matt almost whispers the last words, bringing his face closer to the illusion and staring the blue-eyed boy right in the eye.

On the other side of the mirror, Melissa's observer stands with his back against the far opposite the one-way glass, his brow cradled in the span of a hand, one arm held across his chest and supporting the other elbow. Sweat pours from his brow and stains the shirt beneath his jacket. Outside in the hall, a somewhat mousy looking young woman peeks through the small rectangular window of the door into the little observation room.

"Tell me your secret, and you can have something better than a gun."

Melissa turns to lean heavily against the mirror, both hands holding her head now, eyes closing. "Why? You said you weren't the Company…So why are you doing this?" she whispers, rubbing at her head, though it doesn't make the pain go away.

The blue eyes grow wide with fright. For the first time since Parkman's been in his presence, he's actually managed to intimidate the child. So much so, that a dark spot start threatening to take form on the front of his pants. "You don't know anything!!" Reuben cries out defensively. "If you knew then you'd know…"

He can't say it loudly, there's too many eyes and ears in the room. Reuben leans in to Matt's ear, cupping it with both of the hands he wrestles from the man's grip. Perhaps it's only because he dropped the toy soldier that Matt actually let him have his hands back. Regardless, once that cup is made, the boy leans in and starts to whisper.

The door opens, and Miriam steps in, her eyebrows knit above the curve of her glasses as she studies the entranced Secretary. She looks from Parkman to Melissa, and then her eyebrows lift high onto her forehead. A moment later, the door is shut with a bang barey audible within Melissa's cell, and the Secretary's administrative assistant is jogging down the corridor as fast as she can go in the kitten heels she's wearing.

But as soon as the words leave Reuben's lips and float into Matt's mind, rooting themselves there, the boy, the dollhouse, the mouse, and the little toy soldier vanish from sight. Matt is left in the synagogue's playroom with only that strange disorientation to keep him company.

If there are more inconsistencies in the signature of Melissa's mind, he doesn't go looking for them. He's tired after dealing with what he did find, so tired that it takes him a moment of quite concentrated effort to pull himself out of Melissa's subconsciousness and into his own little pocket of mental space. He'd crowded her, pushed her aside in an effort to satisfy his own curiosity as much as try and save her from…but he has no clue what.

The headache that waits for him when he lifts his head from his hand is as cruel as an angry landlord. Parkman rubs at his forehead and peers through the glass at Melissa. Melissa. The unwilling, unknowing host to all of this. But the relief, the room she must feel now is something Parkman can only imagine.

Like when the farmer took all of the animals out of his small house in order to find the noise of his wife, children, and parents to be peaceful by comparison.

On his way out, Parkman runs into Miriam again, who breaks off from the guards and medics she's retrieved to see to Melissa. To ensure she's alright, at least physically. It's a blessing Parkman doesn't have to read Miriam's mind to know what she wants, and he's able to hold her off with a simple lifted hand.

"Reschedule everything left for today," Parkman orders in as low a voice as he dares use while still communicating effectively. "And make sure that woman gets set for testing as soon as we can."

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