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[personal profile] wonder_city
Goodness, these are getting long.





Deny Everything

Absolutely the only reason I agreed to meet with Sara West (her request, and also the government's) was because Ruth needed an excuse to get into orbit—to dispose of Jane Liberty's body before too many questions started getting asked. So Ruth boosted me and my little lifepod (the one she'd brought me home in) up to New Alcatraz. I was wearing my alien technology that let me leave the house and retain my sanity, but I left my dog in the bunker. Orbit just doesn't agree with her, poor thing.

"Ms. Scott, thank you so much for coming!" exclaimed a stocky black woman with a gaze of steel and a mind to match, coming forward and offering a bow rather than a handshake. Did her research: one point. "I'm Jameka Hayes, the warden here. I was very excited when Dr. Thomas told me you'd agreed to come. I'm a great admirer of your work—my sister's boy is autistic, we've both read all your papers."

"Thank you so much, Warden Hayes," I said, returning the bow with a smile. "I hadn't heard that you'd taken Warden Vanderbilt's place. It's good to see someone like you in the position." We both knew I meant "a black woman for a change", but I was being polite, given the mixed group of corrections officers nearby, closing up the lifepod and putting a temporary seal on it. I could feel their hostility toward all three middle-aged black women in the room, and more than a little fear of me and Ruth. At least one man was just barely staying continent, actually.

"I know she's in good hands now," Ruth said, moving toward the airlock with a wave. "I've got some errands while I'm up here."

"Thank you, Ruth," I said. "I'll let you know when I'm done."

Warden Hayes turned with a beckoning glance, and I fell into step with her, walking down the long hallway from the docking bay. I was here professionally, so I couldn't take my usual medications, and the headache from the pressure of a few hundred unhappy people was already starting, despite my pretty little alien trinket.

"Thanks for coming," the warden said. "She's been very insistent that she needs to talk to you."

"I have no idea why," I said, flexing my fingers inside the thin, tight gloves Ruth had insisted I wear. "She and I were not on cordial terms during my imprisonment."

"Well, the government needs you to evaluate her," the warden said. "She probably wants to suss you out before you do it."

"Oh, I plan to do the eval right now," I said. "Because I'm not coming up here again."

"Ah," she said, giving me a side-eye. "I'll need to give you the evaluation forms, then."

My turn for giving a side-eye. "I was under the impression that I was evaluating her paranormal status, not her psychological status."

"Are you not an LSW?" she said.

"Psychologist," I said. "Licensed for practice only in Pennsylvania."

"Technically, your license extends here, you know," the warden said, her slightly friendly expression fading to unimpressed.

I sighed. "If you can't get any other psych people to go in the room with her, I guess I can handle it, if she's willing. But I don't know that she'll be willing. As I said, we were not cordial."

"Our usual professionals will definitively not evaluate her," the warden said with a grimace.

"This is where I would usually curse, except I'm too professional," I said with an edge to my voice. The headache was turning into an all-body misery.

"Here we are," the warden said, almost vindictively. Oh, we were not getting off on the right foot, were we? Or maybe… yeah, she really didn't like Sara West herself, I could pick that up right off, and she was more than a little afraid of her. All right, I'll give the warden as much of a pass as I give anyone who works in law enforcement—that is, not much.

I submitted to a body scan with the goddamn naked scanners. The warden dismissed the man behind the scanner and handled it personally, which was a courtesy I didn't expect. She also made a show of remote-archiving the scan and deleting it from the immediate device for me.

Well, yes, I was doing this woman an enormous favor.

I touched my hair as if to adjust it before going in. I was just anxiously checking to make sure the invisible hairnet—also provided by Ruth, because space does not agree with natural hair, or at least MY natural hair—was still in place and not disrupted by the scanner. All set.

Sara West was sitting in the center of the plain white room, a single spot of color in her orange jumpsuit. Her hair was limper than before, her skin paler and more translucent than before, and the dark circles under her eyes were enormous. She looked like someone coping with the initial hopelessness of a terminal diagnosis when she raised her gaze to mine.

I sat at the table across from her. There was a transparent force field between us, I knew, and no other feature in the room.

We stared at each other for a moment, her in her orange jumpsuit, me in my high-end custom charcoal-grey suit and autumn-leaf-gold blouse. I reflected on the reversal, and knew she did too.

"Hi," she attempted with a wan smile.

"I understand you requested a meeting with me," I said, brusque and businesslike. "I also need to tell you that I'm here at the government's request to evaluate both your paranormal status and your psychological status."

She stared at me for a long moment, like she couldn't wrap her head around my words. Then she said, "Well, I can tell you my paranormal status: zero."

"Oh?" I said, raising an eyebrow and pulling out my notebook and pen. I'd been there, mentally at least, when Jane had made her entirely normal. I knew that was Jane's intent, at least, but Jane had been pretty fucking advanced in her dementia. So far, I had carefully stayed behind my most significant mental shields… but I had to admit that the sticky pink bubblegum feeling she usually gave off wasn't present.

She looked around at the blank white floor and the blank white walls and the blank white table before focusing on the tiny grids that were the microphone and speakers embedded in the table: anywhere but at me, what she perceived as a person-shaped spot of darkness in front of her. I let her wander, let her sit in silence.

Finally, she said, "I can't feel anything." She looked at me, finally, with an expression of appeal similar to one I'd last seen on my dog's face when she wanted food.

I said, trying to prod her into more clarity, "You, yourself, cannot feel anything within yourself? Or from outside yourself?"

"Both," she said in a hollow voice. "When I got the news that Mr. West had filed for divorce, that he was saying that I abused him with my power and got him to go along with the aliens' plans, I knew I should be angry, or upset, or something. But I just… wasn't."

Somehow, the fact that Mark West was pulling the Flag Defense on her didn't surprise me a bit. (The superhero known as the Flag had been married to Lady Justice. When he filed for divorce, his case included an accusation that her power to compel people to tell the truth was "extreme mental and emotional cruelty". Since her power was not controllable and he knew about it when he married her, it shouldn't have flown, but in my experience, when white men with enough money and/or popularity whine about something, they tend to get their way.)

I would be talking to Ruth — there wasn't a way on Earth I was going to let that shitheel get away with his crap by pinning it all on this pathetic woman. She was a mass-murderer and co-conspirator to world domination too, don't get me wrong, but he was the mastermind, and I'd be damned if I'd let him walk free.

Meanwhile.

"What you're describing is a symptom of loss of power that I've seen in the literature," I said, not adding that it had been specifically described in nearly every case where Jane was used by the government to remove a criminal's powers. "You've lost a part of your body, really, and you need to think about it that way."

She nodded, but then said, slowly, "But what if I've never actually learned to feel things on my own? What if I've always just depended on other people to feel things for me?"

That was a bit of complex thinking I hadn't expected from her. I made some notes. I all-capped and underlined DEPRESSION on the page.

After a bit more silence, I said, "I'm not here as your counselor or therapist. I'm here to evaluate you, and to hear whatever it was that you needed to say to me. I'll be talking to the warden about your need for a mental healthcare worker, however."

Her eyes went wide—she could feel surprise, in any case—and she said, "You want me to see a psychiatrist?"

"I do think you need someone dedicated to your care," I said. "And such a person may be able to testify about you in court."

"I see," she said, and returned her gaze to the tabletop.

"Will you allow me to probe your mind for any sign of your paranormal powers?" I said, speaking clearly for the recording devices. "It is a highly mentally invasive exploration, and I will be able to perceive your thoughts, some of your memories—in general, the memories you have been or are currently thinking about—and some of your emotions."

"Yes," she said, raising her chin and giving me an almost regal look with those colorless eyes.

"I am beginning the investigation now," I said, and dived in.

What a bleak grey tangle that was. Mostly, I saw her children again and again, and Mark West was a distant, stern, paternalistic figure—almost an abstract concept. I could see where the memory of how her empathy worked and felt ended abruptly, and where the hollow amputated feeling began. She was completely off-kilter, as one might expect, and terribly confused and resigned because she couldn't read the faces of other adults. I suspected that she would be able to read the faces and actions of children—she had spent a lot of emotional energy on responding to her children. But she had apparently always relied heavily on her powers with adults, and she knew that faces and body language were sometimes entirely at odds with adult emotions.

Damn me, but I felt sorry for her.

This would have been so much easier to deal with if she'd still had her powers. I could still be angry, and outraged, and coming at her from my moral high ground. But now she was just miserable, and I would never be able to convey the profound depth of her misery to anyone else.

I wondered about all the other people from whom Jane had removed powers over the years. I wondered how many of them had killed themselves, given the first chance.

I started to write, Suicide risk, in my notebook, caught myself at the first "i", then scratched it out very thoroughly. I wasn't sure she actually was. Until, perhaps, she got a verdict that meant she would never see her children again.

Not that she ever would, verdict or not.

After running down all the little thought conduits as thoroughly as I dared, I withdrew my mind and spent a few moments shaking off the remnants of her misery, like Floribunda coming in from the rain. Then I said, again extra-clearly for the microphones, "I detect no signs of your paranormal ability. I believe that Jane Liberty removed your power completely."

She slumped and looked at her hands, folded in her lap. "Yes," she said.

"I have enough information for my evaluations," I said. "Was there anything else you wanted to say to me?"

She didn't look up—I could tell that my examination had exhausted her at least as much as it had me. I was thinking longingly of the medications set out carefully in preparation for my return home, trying to function around the pain and pressure inside my skull.

"I heard her," Sara West mumbled, then said more clearly, "I heard Jane Liberty say something about my children."

I remembered. I remembered that she'd said they all had the power, especially the baby. I'd been remembering every day and every night.

Without permission, I popped into contact with Sara West's mind and told her, Don't say it out loud.

There was a jumble of confusion in her head, and I said, aloud, "What?" while saying, inside, Renata Scott, in your head. No one has told the government about your children's powers yet. For god's sake, don't say it out loud.

After a moment, she shook her head and said, "Nothing." With more discipline than I'd expected, she thought, clearly through the fog, No one's told them?

Some of us will make sure your children are cared for by people who understand their powers, I said. And who will not hand them over to the government to be turned into weapons.

Her eyebrows rose, and something a little like hope ricocheted in the echoing horror of her mind.

There were things she could feel, after all.

You? she thought at me, raising her gaze to me again.

I sighed and closed my notebook. I'll help teach them to contain their powers. But no, not me.

Please, she thought.

I was not going to take care of a white woman's children. Especially not THIS white woman.

No, I thought back to her, but I did make it a fairly gentle refusal. I'm soft, I know. But then I withdrew from her mind and shook my head firmly in response to her pleading look. She sank forward to put her head on her arms.

"I'll be going, then," I said, standing. "I'll be certain to let them know that you are no longer paranormal. They may choose to transfer you to a federal prison, or another global prison, but back on the surface. At least your family could visit you then, even if you'd probably be in solitary for your protection."

"I'm in solitary now," she said tonelessly. "I get my meals from robots and it takes an hour by shuttlecar to get in from and out to my cell."

Oh, of course. I realized that she must be in one of the isolation arms to keep her as far from everyone else as possible.

She roused herself to stand. "Thank you for coming," she said, putting on a tone almost as if I were leaving her living room.

I gave her a short nod and turned to the door, which opened with gratifying rapidity.

During the security checks on my exit, I reached out to Ruth briefly. She had just sent Jane Liberty's coffin on its final journey—I purposely avoided knowing where that was—and confirmed that she would be returning soon.

In the meantime, I accepted Warden Hayes' offer of tea in her office, which was offered with more hospitality than I'd hoped for, given how cranky she'd been about Sara West.

When we were seated in her office's comfortable chairs, drinking tea and being very civilized to each other, she asked, "So…?"

"Jane Liberty removed her powers, without leaving a trace," I said, shrugging. "There's absolutely no activity there."

"So she was telling the truth?" the warden said, raising her eyebrows. "I'm surprised."

"I suspect she's not used to lying," I said, and sipped my tea. "There were probably consequences if she did and got found out."

"Did the husband abuse her?" the warden asked with mild interest.

"I didn't really go digging in that particular aspect of things." I gave her a small smile. "Not part of my job description."

The warden nodded. "What about her psychological state then? I've read the case histories of Jane Liberty's previous… subjects, just like you probably have. Do I need to have this woman on suicide watch?"

I thought about my scratched-out almost-note. "I wouldn't put her on an active watch, but I would certainly be vigilant for any change, especially if she gets any bad news about her children. And you can bring her in from isolation, even transfer her to the surface to get her out of your hair."

The warden nodded again, face carefully blank. I could tell from her loudest surface thoughts that getting rid of Sara West would be an immense relief to her and her staff, and she was making a mental catalog of all the paperwork she'd have to wade through for that transfer.

I heard her watch-communicator buzz. She glanced down at it. "Ah, well, your ride is here," she said, and I could tell she was relieved I was leaving too.

I set aside my cup, stood up, and gave her a little bow. Then I pulled a small device from the Gold Stars out of my pocket and waved it over the cup. It emitted some sort of noiseless something that would, Ruth told me, annihilate any traces of my DNA on or in the cup. I tucked it back in my pocket with an apologetic shrug at the warden, whose smile had frozen.

We walked back out to the docking bay in silence. She was thinking about my departure almost obsessively, and I suppose I couldn't blame her.

Ruth and the warden exchanged brief pleasantries, and then Ruth turned to opening the lifepod. The warden and I looked at each other and I said, "Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, Warden Hayes. I hope I've helped."

"The pleasure was all mine," she lied. "And you certainly have helped. I appreciate your coming out here."

I forced one last smile under the pressure of the fear and anger I could nearly smell from the nearby guards, and walked into the pod. Ruth shut the hatch and sealed it.

I rested my throbbing forehead against the cool plastic of my chair after I'd strapped in.

You okay, baby? Ruth thought to me.

That really sucked, I replied. Then, I'm okay. Hating myself for feeling sorry for that woman. An image of Sara West went with that thought, of course.

She's pretty sad, all right, Ruth admitted. And I intend to make sure this Flag defense shit gets exactly what it deserves. We all know who the ringleader was.

The bitch asked me to take her children, I snarled mentally, letting some of my rage slip.

Oh, lord. Look, speaking of those kids, I've been talking to people.

You're about to give me bad news, aren't you?

Not bad news exactly, Ruth said a little sheepishly. But there is no way we can get someone equipped to deal with those kids custody without revealing that Jane said they've inherited Sara West's powers.

Fuck. They're going to the grandparents?

Unless we get them officially declared "Dangerous paranormals", yes.

Which grandparents?

West's. Sara's parents died in a murder-suicide ten years ago, apparently.

Jesus, Ruth, stop making me feel sorrier for her!

Bets that one of the parents had the power and the other knew it?

I'm not taking that fucking bet. So what can we do?

Disappear them.

I actually slapped my forehead inside the lifepod. You want to WHAT?

Look, the Scottish Gynebots have agreed to take them. A whole town of people they can't use their powers on.

Except each other, I noted grimly, thinking about some of the issues my siblings had with me before I went to the institution.

That oldest girl needs some serious intervention before she becomes her mother, Ruth noted. I had carefully avoided those children, both while on the spaceship and since, but somehow that didn't surprise me.

All right. So they have somewhere to go and people to hide them. What are you gonna do about Mark West's overactive legal team? They'd turn the disappearance into a reason he's some kinda martyr.

I'm still working on that.

Shit, it all makes me wish Jane had just fucking snapped his neck.

Rennie, I know that feeling, but…

I know, I know, I don't actually wish it.

We settled into mental silence for the rest of the trip down.

When Ruth let me out into my back yard, I said, "Keep me updated, I suppose." It came out even more reluctant and disapproving than I meant it to. I gave her an apologetic grimace.

Ruth nodded, though. "The whole situation is shit. We'll see what happens."

I hugged her, and she hugged me back. We thought incoherent love to each other, and then I went into my house and took the elevator down to my bunker and my pain medications.

I thought I might try a quick swim before my meds knocked me out. Maybe then I wouldn't have nightmares of tiny Sara Wests filling my home.




Date: 2014-12-13 02:35 am (UTC)
zeeth_kyrah: A glowing white and blue anthropomorphic horse stands before a pink and blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] zeeth_kyrah
Well, that was a painful episode. And of course it becomes clear why all the physical precautions when the DNA wrecker comes out. Ugh. Wanna bet the next generation of government clones is already going to have telepaths in it? Because I won't take that bet, it's a sure thing.

Date: 2014-12-13 02:37 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Aww, I love Renata and Ruth.

At least one man was just barely staying continent, actually.

HAH!

Date: 2014-12-13 02:52 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jinian
Why do I get the feeling that the operative word in "white woman's children" is going to end up being "children", though, Renata?

Also, spinoff Tales of the Scottish Gynebots, please. :)

Date: 2014-12-13 07:52 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Also, spinoff Tales of the Scottish Gynebots, please. :)

Yes!

Date: 2014-12-13 07:02 pm (UTC)
susanreads: my avatar, a white woman with brown hair and glasses (Default)
From: [personal profile] susanreads
Yes, they are getting long. Which is fine, but can you put in a cut-for-length, please?

The Flag defense, of course there is. I just found out where the phrase Twinkie defense comes from, when I saw Milk for the first time.

I thought the gloves were in case somebody tried to take her hand, until the DNA zapper came out.

Yeah, apart from not being able to deal with the powers, Mark West's parents already raised one psychopath (or sociopath or narcissist or something - IANAP).

Scottish Gynebots!!
Edited (forgot a bit) Date: 2014-12-13 07:03 pm (UTC)

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