Scene Title Nightingale
Synopsis A precog is given an opportunity… and commits herself to a choice whose repercussions will be long in coming.
Date May 25, 2011

The Commonwealth Arcology

Five months since she had rejoined the world of the waking — the now — and all of them spent in the considerate yet controlling care of the Institute. Not that the seeress kept count; the time that had gone by, was truly gone. She had needed that time, this sanctuary, the medical facilities with staff that understood her as well as anyone on the outside of her skull might, and those things the Institute had willingly provided. More than willingly, for doing so had gained them a caged nightingale with at least some propensity to sing.

For five months, Tamara Brooks had been as near to a model guest as she might be: a cheerful, whimsical, and sometimes-fragile girl in a young woman's body. A seer whose symbol-laden paradigm made her answers difficult to interpret, but who still gave answers, irrespective of who did the asking. A captive that demonstrated no tendency to cause trouble, no ambition beyond day-to-day existence, and very nearly no interest in the outside world — save only for finagling a single phone call on a certain day of personal import.

For five months, Tamara Brooks had waged a solitary, subtle, insidious war. Her weapons were innocence, charm, and cryptic misdirection, her battlefield the domains of perception and belief. Moment to moment, day to day, month to month, the sybil projected for the Institute's personnel a hapless, harmless persona, and regardless of whether they indulged or disdained that child, nearly all swallowed the facade hook, line, and sinker. Even the aged eagle, powerful and authoritative despite his flightlessness, failed to look beneath the fragile ingenue she presented; he responded to her with a paternalistic air, gave every indication of believing that lack of memory and fractured awareness necessarily combined to produce one deficient in aspirations.

All would have been easy if those people were her only concern; even if she slipped up once or twice, they would not read ulterior motive into the lapse. Unfortunately, they were simply Tamara's lesser concern.

The shadow-owl… that one was an opponent of an altogether different degree.

He understood.

More than anyone else Tamara had ever interacted with or perhaps ever would again, he could read between the lines. Could account for her foibles and frailties, factor them out, put pieces together in a way that hinted at her larger picture. His eyes were dangerous in their discernment, his authority too great to ignore — he was the reason she could never truly rest. The reason she walked a tightrope line between too wild and too tame, always tracking responses, repercussions, consequences for every action she took, every word she spoke. Would he watch a video clip, read a report? Would even a whisper of gossip wind its way through the grapevine to his ears? One misstep on her part, one moment of too-strong suspicion on his, and her opponent might deduce enough to wholly neutralize everything she strove to achieve.

Tamara ached in a manner that had nothing to do with muscle or bone; she carried a constant, chronic weariness on mental shoulders, one that must remain hidden lest her enemy realize that the sybil was always holding her power in line. Furthermore, on this day, she faced an entirely different challenge. A temptation.

A way out.

A woman as inquisitive as a raccoon had made a promise the sybil could not remember per se, but one whose echo remained etched in possibility right up until probability converged on unity — until the woman opened the door and ushered Tamara from her quarters. A walk around the city, she called it, and a new chapter, that phrase more apt than the raccoon would ever know.

They traversed the building quickly, but the arcology was large; its span gave Tamara time to continue debating her final decision. Strictly speaking, the role she had taken on was not necessary; the tide would wash in regardless of how much preparation she had given to its channel. All she could affect was the quality of the outcome, and many of those consequences played out in distant times indeed, all details save their most general tenor beyond easy perception. Given that, Tamara could return to the city, reunite with those who would welcome her, and rest for a time. Not for too long, because the river flowed on regardless of the sybil's desires, but a reprieve from her current burden nonetheless. That would still be a relief, a blessing. Or —

Or she could continue in the tone that had already been set.

Five and a half years ago, a child had stood on a precipice with a vast landscape of possibility stretching before her and made the fateful, irrevocable choice to sacrifice everything she could have been on the altar of maybe.

Here and now, the young woman that child had become — was still becoming — drew in a deep breath of cool night air unimpeded by any walls or fences, smiled wistfully at the back of her would-be savior, and quietly abstracted herself into concealing shadows.

As she did so, possibilities withered away, dissipating into terminal nonexistence. No longer did the path to freedom stretch from her feet towards the horizon; no longer did the potential of a peaceful respite beckon her forward. Nothing but effort lay ahead of her, an interminable span that began with the tasks she needed to conceal, continued in the misdirecting hints she would leave to be found, and then transitioned to the long con of selling an illusion to an audience perhaps less willing to believe than before. The child Tamara had once been would have failed already, focus subsumed beneath ever-shifting currents. The woman she had not yet become would be better-suited to the task, but the river did not wait on her capability; the sybil as she was now would have to suffice. She could do it, and simply knowing that possibility existed might well account for half the battle.

The Institute had aimed to capture a nightingale, but instead set a fox inside their own aviary.

In the morning, she would be found sleeping in the arcology's park, a whimsical child having done a good turn for the doctor who had connected with her, then retired to her favorite place. There was yet a chance that even the shadow-owl might retain the wool over his eyes — or that if his suspicions were piqued, he might steal only the barest glimpse of what the sybil worked towards, missing its greater implications. After all, she had two trump cards that not even his understanding could impeach.

First, no questions, no interrogative measures, could draw memory from Tamara's shattered mind. What her keepers could not attest from recorded evidence, she herself could never be made to admit.

Second, if there was anything the sybil was good at, it was telling people precisely what they wanted to hear — what they were willing to accept.

She need only continue to walk that tightrope until at last the tide came roaring in and carried them all away.

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