What Is and Isn't Real


bob_icon.gif elle2_icon.gif

Scene Title What Is and Isn't Real
Synopsis Elle confronts her father about the experiments that were performed on her as a child by Dr. Zimmerman and requests some time to think about what affect it might have on her future with the Company.
Date July 21, 2009

Fort Hero — Bishop's Office

It's clear that Robert Bishop hasn't been operating out of this office for very long. Much of the office is clean but lacks a sense of refurbishing, and hasn't quite shaken the musty basement smell that much of the facility has. The old wooden desk and tile floor at least have wiped down and some of the director's personal effects strewn about the room, even if the office's furnishings look old and worn. Bookshelves stacked with cardboard boxes for paper documents are labeled cleanly with black marker by last name and a serial number. Atop Bob's desk is an old monochrome screened IBM PC desktop that looks as outdated as its tan plastic case and cathode-ray tube monitor indicates. While, adjacent to Bob's desk, is an aged and weathered portrait of Ronald Regan - clearly not everything has been brought up to date yet at the facility.

These past few days have featured a whole, minor succession of incidents where Elle is Somewhere She's Not Supposed To Be. In this case, it's wandering around on the outside the medical wing, even with her insistence that there isn't anything wrong with her — thank you very much, doctor. She has a freshly bandaged head to show for her recent rendezvous with Gillian's uncontrolled empathic mimicry, not to mention horrible soreness all over due to the remnants of electrical burns. An odd type of injury to have, that. One the electrokinetic understandably isn't used to.

But at least she can walk, and fairly swiftly at that. There's no limping involved in her gait as Elle makes the long, silent journey down the hall to where she knows her father's new office is, but Bob might notice an uncomfortable grunt or two approaching outside his door before any knocking actually occurs. Raising her hand once she gets there, she gives the wood a solid ~rapraprap~ with her knuckles before letting her arm fall to her side. As she waits, she chews her bottom lip, slowly and thoughtfully.

Inside his office, buried beneath a stack of paperwork compromised of questionable legalese, Bob Bishop lifts his head, removes his glasses and rubs his fingers along the bridge of his nose. It's been a long day, and he can feel the symptoms of a migraine beginning to settle in around his temples and the space behind his eyes even as he squeezes them shut and blows out a sigh through his nostrils. Although he does not rise from his seat behind his desk, he leans back in his chair to relieve some of the pressure building in his spine and is rewarded with a succinct pop somewhere near the base of his tailbone.

He doesn't know who's standing on the other side of the door, but the familiar-sounding knock gives him a fairly good idea of who it might be. Inevitable, really, given the circumstances — it was only a matter of time. "Come in."

The door opens a decent-sized crack, just enough to allow a single person to slip through, which Elle obligingly does when she's called in. She takes her good time shutting it again behind her, gaze lingering on the handle before she slowly moves it away, simultaneously turning around. The last sliver of light from the hallway is finally gobbled up with a heavy -click-. Once that's done, she takes in the amount of paperwork the Company's director is buried under with a single glance — but unlike previous occasions, she makes no inquiry as to whether she's in the middle of interrupting something important. Instead, she only says: "Dad."

Her left hand, which had been by her side to begin with, moves an inch or two farther behind her back. The corner of a black VHS tape can be glimpsed, briefly. Time for it? Pretty soon, but not yet.

Bob places his glasses back on his face and sets aside the pen he had dangling between two of the knuckles on his left hand. Copying his signature onto the dotted line several dozen more times is something that can wait, not that he enjoys making a habit of procrastination. Bloodshot eyes move from Elle's face to the videotape she holds in her hand — who uses that format anymore? — then drift back up to settle on the shape of her mouth as though examining it might yield the reason for his visit.

He does not suspect. Not even a little. "Elle," he murmurs, forcing his lips to form something that resembles a wavering smile, "sweetheart."

Elle's response to this is — nothing, at first, which in itself is a little abnormal. She moves forward a step or two, feet choosing spots to plant themselves with carefulness, her lips pressing together into a determined line. There's a sense of observant watchfulness in the way she's conducting herself, a possibly obvious indication that something's up if Bob bothers to pay any attention to such details.

Then again, it might just breeze right over his head. It wouldn't be unheard of. "…There's something I want to know." Regardless of whether it does, her gaze never leaves his face.

Conversations that start like this never end well, at least not in Bob's experience — and you don't survive raising a teenage girl without learning a thing or two about feminine behaviour. He raises both his eyebrows at his daughter and brushes a palm over the crown of his balding head, either in a nervous gesture or simply to occupy his hands as he braces himself for what is inevitably coming next. It falls back to the surface of the desk, fingers settling idle upon the edge of a golden letter opener shaped like an eagle's feather. "What's that, pumpkin?"

It's meant as a term of endearment, and as usual, like the sweetheart before it, it falls a little flat.

And just as before, Elle refrains from answering Bob's question directly. She does bring the tape out in front of her when he refers to it, idly turning the battered object over in her hands. The charred, rectangular label on its front that had once read Electrical Output Tests 1-8 has been completely overlaid with a white, blank one; as such, there's little to indicate its contents. It might be Fantasia 2000, for all he knows.

"You wouldn't ever lie to me. Would you, daddy?" The question is phrased like an afterthought; she tilts her head while still looking downwards, as though preoccupied. There's something in her voice, though quiet, that implies she would really like an honest answer plz.

The tip of Bob's left index finger taps against the letter opener's point, just once. He studies her facial expression in silence for several long moments as his grows gradually stonier, chilliness creeping into his eyes. That's not a tape in Elle's hand — it's an elephant in the parlor. "Of course not," he says at the end of the pause, and while it's a lie it might not be an obvious one. Sincerity is etched across his furrowed brow. His jaw sets like a vice. "Is something wrong?"

There's several, dreadfully long moments where Elle just looks over at her father— looks— not even as though making any attempt to discern whether he's telling the truth. Her lip curls, and she heads over in the direction of where the office's little TV is shelved above a VCR. "There's something I want you to see," she curtly tells him as she turns both devices on, slips the tape in, adjusts dials. While it might not be wise to keep her back turned, she does keep the screen shielded from his view for as long as her body's blocking it.

Only when she's done, and it doesn't take long, does she pull away a little. One of her hands hovers on the remote, ready to transform the blank blue screen at a touch. "Maybe then, you'll wanna answer my question again."

Bob experiences a sinking feeling in his gut that snakes its way through his bowels and causes the muscles in his stomach to involuntarily clench. Just as he suspected who was standing on the other side of the door when Elle first knocks, he thinks he knows what the contents of the videotape might include. Hope springs eternal, however — there are any number of things she might have found in the Company's archives, some far worse than others. "Go on, then."

Elle obliges without another word. As she aims the remote at the television, the video starts up with an audible whirring — plus a low-pitched scratching noise or two. Ew. The tape's obviously been through the wringer, wherever it's been through. Undaunted by this, she keeps her arm upraised, fast-forwarding until she's reached a portion where she knows both visual and audio are reasonably clear.

The quality hadn't been great to start with; now, even professionally repaired, the sound is still somewhat difficult to understand. Grainy footage flickers to life in full color, and a staticky voice intones from somewhere in the tape's background — "—lectric— —tput Test Thr—, Observ— —ctor Lewis Zimmerman, Observing Agent Noah Bennet." Ah, there it comes. As the camera zooms in significantly, the location becomes obvious: one of Primatech Research's underground, concrete holding cells, glass paneling covering one side. The cell is completely bare, save for a single chair in the center seating a girl of no more than seven or eight. Machinery surrounds her.

Bob, of course, will know what comes next. There is silence at first, the girl unmoving save for a few seconds of mute, ragged breathing. As though something had jerked her into action on a signal, however, streaks of electricity begin volting out of various places on her body, wildly hitting the equipment to either side only to be instantly absorbed. As it goes on, the girl's head tilts back, mouth opened in a soundless shriek.

Off to one side of the screen, Elle watches Bob as calmly as she dares, her arms folded.

Bob's expression undergoes a slow metamorphosis as the scene plays out across from him, the television screen's luminous silver glow reflected in the lenses of his glasses. The light casts his face in strange, alien hues, masking the redness that flushes through his cheeks while drawing attention to the droplets of sweat prickling across his hairless scalp. He isn't just angry — he's furious.

His fingers curl around the letter opener, knuckles bulging beneath his skin, the tendons in his wrist and the back of his hand so taut that they resemble thick cords of wire stretched to their snapping point. One hand balls into a meaty fist, pounds against the desk's surface with enough force to rattle glass and reverberate like thunder through wood. "That's enough," he spits. "Turn it off."

It's pretty much unprecedented for Elle to disobey an order from Bob, much less a direct and wrathful one. Nevertheless, she lets the video play on just far enough to catch another vital scene, her own breathing gone rather odd and defensive. Once the child's electric fit is done, once all signs of struggling against the restraints are over, two vaguely-defined figures enter through the doorway. One stays standing well back, the tip of a pen visibly moving above a clipboard, but the other…

"Tell me this isn't real," the full-grown Elle says, more suddenly than she had intended. On the screen, a Bob with a much fuller hairline lays a large hand on the girl's shoulder, his shadow falling over her.

The agent's own eyes have something pleading in them, thumb searching for the pause button and finally pressing it. "Tell me I knew about it. Or that somebody else lied to me. Anything."

Releasing his grip on the letter opener, Bob rubs his hands over his face and feels the sweat gather between his fingers, smeared across his temples and the bridge of his nose. His head hurts, his eyes are wet and his naval cavity is painfully dry. This is not a conversation he should be having with his daughter on only a few hours of sleep. It isn't a conversation he should be having with his daughter, period.

"Of course it isn't." Defensiveness seeps into his tone and rubs coarse the edges of his low voice. "Illusionists, shapeshifters, technopaths—" There could be any number of explanations, in theory. If Bob was a more religious man, he'd be praying that Elle has never heard of the term Occam's razor — or if she has, then that she doesn't know what it means. "Your training's taught you better than to believe everything you see, hasn't it?"

Rhetorical question. The next one isn't. "Where did you get that?"

"Why would someone go to all that trouble?" Whether she's familiar with the concept of Occam's Razor or not, Elle did inherit an IQ at least a few degrees above room temperature from her father, one would hope. The experiments had damaged her brain, not made her retarded.

"Someone showed it to me. And even someone made it to fool me— my god, dad, there's been so many things that I don't even know how I put with. The tape's just one part of it." Odessa, coming to the revelation of what a manipulative bastard her guardian had been; Noah, explaining that the experiments might not have been the worst thing to happen to her after all; Arthur; Peter.

She takes a single step closer to the desk, blue-eyed gaze leveled and intense, arms still folded to conceal how much she's trying not to shake. "How could you do it? To me?"

"All I've ever done is protect you." Finally, Bob rises from his seat behind the desk, both his hands braced against its surface for support. He towers over her, not unlike the shadow of his younger self depicted by a grainy smattering of pixels on the television's screen. His eyes flick from Elle's face to the picture and then back again. "Yes," he breathes, "it's true, but you'd have died if Zimmerman hadn't—"

The man's mouth snaps shut, tongue worming against his teeth behind his lips as she grapples with words and struggles to articulate. When it opens again, he speaks very clearly, each word enunciated with a surgeon's precision. "You're as much a danger to yourself as you are to others, Elle. I was told that we'd lose you if the Company didn't intervene and adjust your learning curve. It's not something I'm proud of."

"Hadn't what?" Elle interjects weakly, aware of the degree of numbness in her mouth. She stops short, as though unwilling to come an inch closer to the person looming above her for fear of contracting some horrible disease. "He resigned after what he did to me, dad. What you made him do. If what happened to me was such a good thing, then why did he pack up and leave before he could finish?"

Slipping loose from its folded position, one hand curls into a loose fist, nails pressing painfully into her palm. "I want to believe you just wanted the best for me. I did believe it, and I still really want to." There's an aghast pause; but. There's always a but. "You could have— explained some of it to me? Talked to me. I might even have understood. Instead, you just took almost five years worth of memories."

Swallow. "Do you think I'm dumb?"

"You are if you don't realize what kind of an effect those memories would have had on you if we'd allowed you to keep them." It takes a painstaking amount of effort for Bob to keep his voice steady, to keep it from splitting throatily down the middle. "Zimmerman was a grown man and he resigned. What do you think that knowledge would have done to a child?"

He begins to move around the side of the desk, one large hand trailing along its edge as he attempts to close what distance remains between himself as his daughter. While Elle might hesitate to come closer, Bob appears to have no such reservations. "Elle. I'm your father, and I love you. I would never do anything if I didn't believe it was in your best interest. Where did you get that tape?"

"I." Intensely, Elle's eyes stay transfixed on Bob's face as he steps closer to her, and she appears unable to tear them away. In kind, she does take a single step backwards, rather half-heartedly attempting to keep the distance between them constant. "I— got it when I got stuck in the future. Someone showed it to me." Though she doesn't know how much knowledge Bob possesses of the little time-capade she and seven others had taken from Moab, by now he's probably at least aware that it happened, even with being absent from New York and all.

It takes a long, extremely unsteady inhalation for her to collect herself enough to continue. "There were other things, too. Articles in the news; my trial. It was a big deal— there were people who wanted my sentence to be lighter because of. What I had gone through." Ten years from now, it had all come out.

"Then it's a good thing that future has been averted, isn't it?" asks Bob, drawing closer still. "No one's going to trial. No one's going to lock you away in a ten foot cell." As he approaches, he holds out his hands, palms turned toward the ceiling in a gesture of surrender. "What do you want me to do? I'm no Hiro Nakamura. I can't travel back in time and unmake those decisions." And even if he could

"Elle," he says again. "Come here."

"You don't get it," Elle answers with what might be exasperation if the situation wasn't like this, her eyes flashing helplessly. "It's not the trial. It's all the stuff came before it." Past, not the future. 'Ten foot cell' is an irrelevant specification: let's not talk about the younger Bishop's eighteen-year residence in Primatech, shall we?

She doesn't step backwards again, but neither does she make any move to come forward. Bewildered distrust is all over her features, and she doesn't even bother responding to the supplication— or is it a command? verbally.

Bob places both his hands on Elle's shoulders, his grip firm but far from vice-like. Elle could twist away if she wanted to— he's simply banking on the assumption that she won't. As he lifts one hand from her shoulder to skim the back of his knuckles along the slim line of her jaw, he repeats his earlier question, voice growing deathly soft. "What do you want me to do?"

Elle doesn't twist away, but it takes a while for her to not grimly refuse to meet Bob's gaze. His touch on her shoulders, her jawline, seems to awaken some bizarre mix of revulsion and desperation. "I don't know," she murmurs at a normal volume — which sounds loud by comparison.

Now she pulls away, seeming to search for something around the office, if only to take her mind off what is undoubtedly occupying it. "What do you think you can do? I kind of wish I'd never found out." Her hand rests upon one of the unfamiliar bookshelves, clenches. "At least you're not denying it."

Bob lets his arms fall back to his sides, fingers curling into loose fists that flex, working the tension from his knuckles and the tendons in his hands. "I can ask the Haitian to take from you what you don't want to remember," he says in a low, husky tone that implies this is an offer rather than a suggestion. "The tape. What you saw of the future. But that's your decision to make, not mine, not the Company's. You're an adult — you can choose for yourself."

"No." Elle's repulsion increases, her lower jaw stiffened visibly when she turns back around. "Dad, I'm not even sure I want to stay in the Company anymore. All the lies, the — look, I just need some time to process everything." What a dangerous and probably damning thing to say. But there's still a measure of trust, of deeply wanting to trust the man who had brought her up, that she just can't shake. Maybe won't ever be able to.

And that includes being just open enough to share that final request. "Please."

At first, Bob says nothing at all. His eyes are difficult to read behind the lenses of his glasses, and the particular knit of his brow even more so. It's impossible for Elle to know with any degree of certainty what he might be thinking, or whether or not these thoughts will lead to a conclusion that's favourable for her.

With some grudging resignation, he eventually works his lips into a thin line. "Take all the time that you need."

There comes a moment when Elle's brows knit, her own gaze still on Bob, as if she suddenly very badly wants to say something else to him. Her mouth stays closed, though, and finally she does turn to head for the door again. Just as she reaches it, she half-turns to give her father a silent, hovering glance that is part appraisal, part prim and sad disbelief, her hand resting on the doorknob.

Then the knob turns, and she's gone.

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