How You Experience the World


bella_icon.gif tamara_icon.gif

Scene Title How You Experience the World
Synopsis Bella Sheridan at last meets Tamara in a controlled environment, and begins studying how she ticks.
Date January 25, 2011

The Commonwealth Arcology

A subterranean park is a remarkable thing.

Lit as brightly as an above-ground midmorning, with the advantage of central heating the snow-covered city environs lack, the rambling space is a peculiar juxtaposition of verdant greenery, concrete boundaries, and metal rafter beams. A steel walkway is suspended above palms, ferns, and a carpet of moss speckled by small flowers in blue, pink, and white, but Tamara long since abandoned it for the 'ground', preferring to hunt through the foliage for some unknowable thing.

The blonde girl, made skinnier by a month's worth of IV nutrition and inactivity, doesn't quite have the energy she might as she pokes through the garden, destination changing at the whim of fickle attention. Her hair still cropped to shoulder length, she wears jeans and a loose bubblegum-pink tee, printed blue and orange butterflies floating above its stitched hems. Sandaled feet have accumulated a fair amount of dirt from her wanderings, but the young man serving as Tamara's shadow and current keeper gave up any hope of preventing that some time past. He just watches in bemused interest as the young woman plucks a fern frond from its parent plant, running the stiff blades through her fingers.

So this is what Bella's taxes go towards?

Don't get her wrong, it's impressive as all get out, and the air is so strangely fresh down here, so merciful to her mucus membranes, that she can't be but thankful. But, seriously? Just how patchy is national healthcare? How badly floundering is social security? And much money is spent on this, what the eminently practical (okay, just nasty and critical) Isabella Sheridan can only consider a vanity project? An opportunity for government funded mass murderers to get a breath of fresh air, even once they unleash the next routine apocalypse.

But Tamara seems to be enjoying herself. So that's something. Forced down to her bottom layer of blouse by the unexpected greenhouse heat, Bella has tied the arms of her green sweater around her waist like a 90's throwback, low heels clicking lightly against the metal walkway as she traverses the strange space for the first time. She tries very hard not to be impressed. She tries, instead, to focus on the behavior of a familiar but now finally named and notarized individual. Tamara Brooks, pre-cognitive. That would… explain things.

Some things, at least.

Descending from on high, though with no intent angelic, Dr. Sheridan arrives on the verdant lower level and makes her way over to Tamara's handler. A clear of the throat announces her presence.

The seeress' shadow looks up in some surprise as the psychiatrist clears her throat. Tamara doesn't. She folds the frond neatly in half, along the axis of its length, one blade carefully matched up at a time. That's not nearly the same as being unaware of Bella's presence, however, and a few moments of quiet study reveal that, every so often, the young woman's blue eyes flick up away from the green leaf. They glance shyly in Bella's direction, looking at the woman from the edges of her view. It's not the warmest of welcomes, but Bella never has received that from Tamara in any case.

"There's birds," she finally says, averting her gaze from Bella; looking down towards the imported soil beneath her feet, the mosses scuffed by her own earlier passing. "Raining feathers." It's not entirely clear whether those words are meant for Bella or for Tamara's keeper, but her fingers leave off folding the frond and begin picking at the blades in what seems a nervous fidget. "All different colors."

"Dr. Sheridan, from the New York branch," Bella says, addressing Tamara's shadow, but keeping her gaze on the girl herself, observing, for the first time, with more than hobbyistic interest. A finger comes up to tap the laminated ID badge on her breast pocket, confirming her name, title and affiliation. "I'd like to be alone with Tamara, if you wouldn't mind," a pause, very brief, in which she redirects her address to Tamara herself, "and if Tamara herself wouldn't mind."

"It's my job to watch her, ma'am," the earnest young man says apologetically. He looks down at the girl in turn, a moment later continuing with the addendum, "But I can probably hang back a bit. If that's what you want, Miss Brooks?"

Despite the fact that they've both addressed her, Tamara doesn't speak up in any haste, seemingly preoccupied with toeing the ground beneath her left foot. She pulls the rough frond between her fingers, then turns and pushes it upon her shadow. Whether she'll really want it later is an open-ended question, but he takes both the torn bit of foliage and the implied direction, pausing to look between the two women before retreating towards the nearest supporting column.

Tamara folds her fingers together, only to unlace them a moment later and tuck both into the pockets of her jeans. As if with some resolve, she turns to face Bella squarely, lifting her gaze to meet the psychiatrist's blue eyes. She doesn't say anything now, but tips her head in what appears a silent prompt.

"I'd like at least the semblance of privacy," Bella informs the handler, dryly, "a little distance would be nice. Out of conversational earshot. You can feel free to retain your line of sight." This, as far as Bella is concerned, is the limit of her interaction with Tamara's shadow. The blonde stands ready, it would seem, and Bella recognizes her attention as valuable. A consciousness as scattered as Bella imagines Tamara's only coalesces for so long.

"Tamara," Bella says, addressing her interlocutor with a steady gaze and clear but conversational enunciation, "this isn't the first time we've met. Do you recall our other encounters? Do you remember me?"

A blink of blue eyes morphs into the gathering of a frown equal parts uncertainty and concentration. The girl looks down, apparently in thought, then a moment later slants a sideways glance back to the doctor. "You're Bella," she says, but without confidence of it being the right answer. The statement itself is correct — yet she's pretty sure it's not what Bella is looking for.

Tamara steps back a bit, a pensive little motion. "We took a walk." Which they didn't, unless a long ago quest for an umbrella counts. She fidgets in place a little more before pulling her hands out of her pockets, pushing blonde hair back that isn't long enough to need it. The seeress starts walking, moving onto one of the garden's graveled paths. "Sometimes two. I think," she amends with another frown.

Behind them, Tamara's shadow detaches himself from his post, tailing them at a polite distance.

Mental notes are scrawled out in concise cerebral jots. Bella is already silently bemoaning her lack of attentiveness in previous conversations, her failure to recall details that might now be so very, very helpful. Of course, she can't really blame herself. There was no way she could have known. If anyone is at fault it's Tamara! She could have told Bella to pay more attention. Instead she spouted word salad and…

But no, she can't treat it as meaningless, loose associative babble now. Tamara has become an object of no small interest. Her malady is extensive; the briefest of encounters lets even the layman know. But what relation does her disorder have to her SLC expression? This is the heart of Bella's entirely professional endeavor, her own invented speciality.

They took a walk, Bella notes. Sometimes two. The uncertainty is either one of memory, or one of foretelling. The tense suggests memory, however distorted. Evolved ability suggests foretelling. "And where did we walk?" Bella asks, falling into step beside Tamara.

That Tamara glances back towards their shadow might be another clue to interpretation — unless she just wants to be sure he's following. "Not by the birds," she answers, looking forward again. "And not on the carpet." Her steps slow a moment for the girl to lean down, scooping up a scarce few bits of fine gravel, rolling them back and forth between her fingers as she resumes forward motion. One by one, the blue and gray examples are worked off the edges of her hand, until only a few black-and-white granite bits remain.

"Do you like the trees?" the blonde asks curiously, glancing over at Bella. "All big elephant's ears. Sometimes you can almost pretend there's a breeze, from them all flapping at once." She falls quiet, sandals scuffing against the gravel. After a moment, Tamara turns over her hand, letting the bits of rock slip out of her grasp one by gradual one.

"I like the trees themselves," Bella answers, hands coming to clasp behind her as she remains just a bit behind and to the side of Tamara, doing her best to catch as much of the young woman's mannerisms and expressions as she can without looming, "I don't know about the set up. It's… a feat. Why do you ask? How do you feel about the trees? Do you often pretend there's a breeze?"

In truth, the specific questions and their answers aren't to any directed purpose. Bella is feeling out the quality of the interaction, trying to get a sense of the grammar in use, the fixations. Hints, clues, cognitive landmarks. Things you need to navigate in uncharted territory.

Opening her hand, fingers splaying wide in the absence of further contents to restrain, Tamara looks down at the play of tendons and muscles beneath skin as if it were an entirely foreign thing. Her attention is diverted by Bella's queries, the girl's hand dropping to her side when she looks back towards the psychiatrist. That frown comes back, the pensive expression which implies Tamara is sifting interpretation out of her words with just as much difficulty as Bella in her own turn. "You don't like feet?" she ventures, frown failing to lift.

The girl glances away from Bella, then a moment later her focus visibly shifts farther still, towards an outcrop of blue-gray stone and its nearby iron-framed wooden bench. One sandal scuffs against gravel as she makes a slight course-correction, moving towards these things; it's all but inevitable that Tamara chooses to perch on the rock. She rubs her hands over her face, then folds them, elbows braced against knees and chin on the back of her hands.

Her avoidance of the psyche-plumbing questions may or may not have been deliberate.

Cute. Bella is left to wonder if this homonymical misinterpretation of her words is purposeful. The lack of further answers suggests an attempt at diversion, but the lack of visible avoidance amidst Tamara's efforts to parse Bella's words suggests it's just a happy coincidence. Either way, it's not as if Bella's prone to put Tamara on the spot over it. She gives a small smile. "I dislike feet made of clay," she answers, casting out her own cryptic referent, "and I dislike being in the shadow of falling giants. I don't imagine I'm alone."

Bella doesn't take a seat when Tamara takes her perch. She remains standing, though one hand comes to rest on the back of the bench. "I'm sorry that you're here," she says, dropping previous lines of inquiry, talk of trees and breeze, "but I was hoping I might be able to visit you occasionally, so we could speak. I could— be helpful to you. If you wanted anything, needed me to speak on your behalf, I could do that. But we'd have to talk, and when I asked you questions, I'd like you to answer. Does that sound okay to you, Tamara?"

It's difficult to speak simply and clearly without sounding patronizing, but Bella's not bad at it, at least on the level of tone. She keeps her gaze steady, her voice even and amiable, reasonable and sympathetic.

Watching Bella come to a halt beside the bench, Tamara tips her head to one side — then shakes it, though not with the force of negation. Unfolding her hands to brush her hair out of her face, tucking the short strand rather futilely behind her ears, the girl regards the psychiatrist with a crooked smile. "You wanted to talk," she tells Bella, not that the woman needs to be so informed. "I know."

It's not exactly a yes or a no, but it's an implicit answer all the same. One hand comes back up to her face, politely covering a small yawn. Tamara then lets them both fall to her lap, fingers idly rolling the hem of her shirt back and forth. "What did you want to talk about?"

"About you, about how you experience the world," Bella answers, and honestly. There are, of course, motives ulterior, swarming darkly like spring tadpoles beneath the surface of a thawing pond. But Bella has divested herself from dedication to the Institute agenda enough that she considers this the most honest answer in her case. What else may come of what she learns, what Mephistophelian deals or exploitations, are secondary to a simple desire for knowledge.

"You see the future. Or, rather, futures, as I'm taken to understand there are quite a lot of them," Bella states, quid pro quoing Tamara's knowing, "that's fascinating. It fascinates me. I want insight, if you're willing to give it to me. But we will have to cooperate, you and I. So you are within your rights to ask for things in exchange. To set terms and limits."

As Bella explains her intentions and offer, Tamara breathes out a heavy sigh, shoulders slumping down. She casts her gaze down towards her feet for a bit, toes wiggling within the loose confines of the sandals, then looks back to the older woman. Head canted slightly, her expression conveys a rueful sort of resignation. "You want the pieces together," the girl translates, a shade glumly, perhaps over-simplifying. Blue eyes flick aside, staring out into the park with a lack of focus; zoning out, perhaps, or attention cast inwards. Elsewhere. It lasts for the space of several seconds, before the girl shakes her head slowly, palms rising to rub wearily at closed eyes.

"Maybe," Bella admits, brows dipping together, "but not your pieces. I am not interested in 'curing' you. I am interested in having conversations with you," she smiles, a touch coaxing, "I like to think I'm a worthwhile conversationalist. If not someone to look forward to, than at least not someone to dread." There is a moment in which she thinks, though for no more than a mad instant considers voicing, that hers are far more tender mercies than the alternatives — Bella very much likes to think herself above the usual Institute vivisectors. "What I piece together will be on my own time. If you end up wanting to help me… that would be wonderful. If not, as long as we talk, I'll be happy."

"The questions," Tamara says after a moment, not a prompt, but said with an inflection approaching clarification. Except that whatever that clarification should have been evidently slips away, gone beyond her retrieval. Her head drops, apparently under the weight of weariness; her shoulders lift, catch, and fall in the characteristic fashion that accompanies a yawn. "There was plenty of sand," she observes, looking back up. "It only fell one speck at a time."

The conversation, clearly, is doomed to wander.

Well. Bella will just have to brush up on her free association. Who'd have thought she'd be forced to recourse by psychoanalysis. Not that she'll be looking for Oedipus in here. No Jungian interior saints. She's looking, in effect, for Tamara. Some means to know what it is she's saying. Maybe even to talk back.

And in a moment, she thinks she has it. "Are you talking about your perception, here?" she inquires, trying and failing to pull back a bit of a swoop, "You mean, like an hourglass, right? There's a single point all the sand falls through?"

The girl's brows knit together. "You say —" But thoughts shift all too quickly, directed and redirected by ever-changing context; the statement falls aside unfinished. "If you turn those over, the sand comes back. But water never does. Ghosts stay ghosts always." An expression that had gone more chipperly open morphs into what looks to be pensive bemusement, as if Tamara is suddenly doubtful of her own statements. Or perhaps their relevance to their recipient.

Lifting her hands to her face, the blonde rubs at her eyes, drawing in a slow breath. Then she looks hopefully up at Bella from between parted fingers, apparently checking for comprehension.

Bit by bit Bella recombines the information she has gathered, rechecking her assumptions. It’s not that she doesn’t think she understands… it’s that she’s not sure if she understands correctly. Like any good fortune teller, Bella notes with interior dryness, her statements are vague enough to demand interpretation. But Tamara is no fraud.

“Moments that pass are lost, then?” Bella says, hoping she is barking up the right species of tree, if not the specific tree itself, “don’t you remember them? Do you remember how this walk started?”

Blue eyes flick down to sandaled feet and the gravel beneath them; briefly over to Bella’s own shoes, the path stretching off into distance, the stairway the woman had walked down. Puzzle pieces somehow gathered and associated, but fit together

Tamara’s brows knit together, lips thinning with her concentration. She reaches up to tuck pieces of hair behind her nearer ear in a fidgety manner; doesn’t quite look to Bella, gaze averted just that telltale bit as the girl points towards the base of the stairs. “Over there?” A question, a request for verification — as might occur in a classroom, the student expecting teacher to confirm her best surmise.

So Tamara is guessing. Which means, simply, that she does not know for sure. Is she piecing together the answer out of depleted memory? Bella’s lips quirk as she tries to figure her next line of questioning. Precognition, if that is indeed what this young woman possesses, comes in a variety of forms and expressions. Visions, paintings, cryptic babble. This last, true to seerish antecedents, seems to be Tamara’s chosen form, but why the tangled meanings? She doesn’t seem to be being coy. The cryptic must therefore be a symptom of the precognitive effect itself.

“So you don’t know for sure?” Bella says, before amending, “that’s fine, the only right answer is your honest answer. But, why do you think we came from there?” she lifts a hand to indicate the place Tamara herself offered.

She looks at Bella now, eyes slanted obliquely sideways, her brows drawing down in consideration. By subtleties in the lines drawn across the girl’s face, it’s not the answer she muses over, but the question itself, as a gift horse might be dubiously regarded — or the temptation of a choice known to be unwise.

The corners of Tamara’s lips tug down in a grimace of weary distaste, one hand sketching a deflective gesture even as she hops to her feet and starts walking. She cuts across the graveled path and sets out into softer grass, where her sandals make no discernible noise.

The query goes unanswered.

Well that doesn't give Bella a great deal to work with. Or, at least, nothing easy to work with. She peers after Tamara as she veers off the path, and into the (comparative) wild. Bella refuses to indulge in further allegory, even as she steps into the grass herself, giving careful chase.

A series of quick steps and she pulls up alongside Tamara, eyes leaving the young woman only occasionally, to check that her path is clear. "I'm sorry if that question was unpleasant to you. Could you explain why you found it so, so I can avoid similar missteps in the future?" Bella is herself a little embarrassed at how heavy-handed this formulation is — she dislikes the idea that she might be talking to Tamara like she's stupid or a child. But she needs to be sure her interlocutor is following, something hard to be certain of with a young woman who may not know where she just came from.

Arms wrapped close about her torso, Tamara walks forward with neither haste nor apparent destination, course drifting in a way that suggests a lack of attention paid to her immediate situation. That her head is ducked, blonde hair fallen forward on either side, reinforces this impression. It would matter if she seemed likely to walk into anything; she doesn’t.

Silence wears long, with an undertone of wind whispering through trees, broken once by the graceless sound of their polite shadow crossing a graveled path. It extends until the girl abruptly halts, face lifting to cast a sidewise glance at Bella. “What is to explain?” she asks, with an intensity that makes it anything but a light query — or, for that matter, a deflection. No, this is the kind of earnest question meant to provoke thought. The kind of question a philosopher might cherish for years.

“What is why?”

“To explain. To… account for. To communicate to me what thoughts you had that led up to your answer,” Bella knows she is skipping a step here, that she is referring back to her question twice previous instead of the one immediately, but she’s interested much more in Tamara’s reasoning than her feelings. Callous, maybe, but Bella imagines it as being for Tamara’s good. Imagining herself in the younger woman’s place… she thinks she must be lonely.

Though she doesn’t seem to act so much like it. But all the more reason to understand the specific manner of her cognition.

“Why is what comes before. It’s the cause of the effect. The intention producing the action. The reason for something.”

The girl tips her head as Bella answers, a slow smile blossoming across her expression. Weary affirmation dips Tamara’s chin in a nod, as though Bella were the student with the right answer. “Yes,” she says quietly — and then she says nothing more.

Reaching out for Bella’s hand, Tamara turns back towards their trailing shadow, at his discreetly watchful distance. “Let’s go in,” isn’t a statement that leaves much room for refusal; not when the one saying it looks as tired as Tamara does.

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