Dollhouse

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Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
It's been three days in the making, but here it is: the epic first part of Dollhouse.



"Nothing is what it appears to be."

Caroline was having a hard time reading Adelle DeWitt. Usually she was good at that, but she could practically feel the lens of the security camera of the swanky board room looking at her back. She was sweating, and she was tired. God, why was she so tired these days? It was all that running. But Adelle had caught her. DeWitt was pretty enough, early forties with dark, wavy hair that stood high on her head. Her tongue added a clicking noise to her posh British accent when she was annoyed: and boy, was she annoyed.

"It seems pretty clear to me." Caroline retorted. She was proud that her voice didn't break.

"Because you're only seeing part of it. I'm talking about a clean slate."

"You ever try and clean an actual slate? You always see what was on it before."

Adelle pointed her lips into a smile without showing teeth, the smile of a weary mother. Despite the smile, Caroline got a hint of deflation. "Are you volunteering--?"

Caroline scoffed. "I don't have a choice, do I? How did it get this far?"

"Caroline, actions have consequences." That smile was still plastered to the bitch's face. Seeing it again made Caroline jump to her feet.

"Oh God, you're loving this, aren't you?!"

Adelle widened her eyes a fraction. "I'm sorry you don't understand what I'm offering here. But what we do here helps people. If you become a part of that, it can help you."

"Right. You're just... looking out for me."

"Perhaps better than you have." Adelle replied acidly. "We can take care of this mess. After your five year term, you will be free to--"

"I don't deserve this! I was... I was just trying to make a difference. Trying to... take my place in the world, like she always said, and now I'm ..."

Caroline sunk into the chair. Defeated. "I know," she said. "I know. Actions have consequences."

Adelle leaned forward so her words were merely a whisper.

"...what if they didn't?"

*

ONE YEAR LATER

Naomi loved the roar of the engine beneath her, the bright lights whizzing by as the motorcycle shot down the street. Matt was at her side, but there was no way he was winning. Not this time, not ever.

But Naomi caught a glint of red in her eye and saw Matt's bike speeding beside her own. He was gaining, and fast. Naomi saw an alleyway. It was reckless and stupid, but Naomi liked winning. She swerved into its red-bricked jaws, hoping to God it would prove a shortcut.

For a moment, she thought it had payed off, until she felt the wheels skidding. She lost her balance and the bike toppled. She barely hopped out of the seat and stumbled onto her feet before it clattered onto the sidewalk. Her leg scraped off the bike, but the thick leather protected her. She cursed and picked the metal beast back up. As she swung her leg over, Matt zoomed by, whooping. Naomi cursed. She pushed her helmet off her head, letting her tousled brown hair spill over her shoulders. She threw the helmet to the ground, not caring when the visor shattered and started driving.

After a few seconds breaking some serious speed limits, Matt entered her line of sight. She pushed harder, urged the bike to move forward. If she lost her balance at this speed, she was dead, but that thought just fuelled her further. They turned, and the curve helped her get a leg up. Neck and neck, Matt and Naomi saw the party lights coming into focus. People whooped and yelled for Matt. The two bikes roared through the huge oak doors, down the wide corrdidor and screeched to a halt on the ballroom floor. Music roared, party guests cheered and the "Happy Birthday, Matt!" banner fluttered from the wind.

Matt laughed and pulled his helmet off. Friends tried to talk to him, but Naomi pushed by. "No way, no way! you cheated!"

"What I do?" Matt asked innocently. His black hair was ruffled and his thin moustache was in a semi-circle, his mouth open.

"Something. That will prove to have been cheating. This isn't over!"

"Oh my god, you are a sore loser!"

"Wouldn't know, I never lost."

"That's ok, the first time you're always... a LITTLE bit slower--"

"Oh wow, that's funny coming from a cheater. Who's also a little bitch."

"Sure you didn't let me win?"

Naomi rolled her eyes. "Two outta three."

"Nah. Let's just dance."

*

It was at least three songs before Matt dragged Naomi off the dance floor. She appreciated that her dress was short enough to wear under her leather clothes for the motorcycle, and Matt's friends seemed to appreciate it to.

"You having a good time?" Naomi asked, panting.

"The best. Listen, uh, I know at the beginning of the weekend, we said no strings--"

Naomi grinned. "We also said no ropes, and look how long that lasted..."

Matt smiled. "Yeah, I remember. I remember it all. I always will."

"What, like I'd forget?  You think this is a normal weekend for me?"

Matt's eyes dropped to the floor. "Maybe?"

Naomi suppressed a laugh. "I had no idea you were a moron."

Matt's hand disappeared into his pocket. "Look, it's... it's little, it's stupid, but... I want you to have it."

His hand resurfaced and took with it a silver necklace with a heart on it. He passed it to Naomi, and she couldn't help but smile. "You're an amazing guy, Matt."

"When you say it, I almost believe.."

"Thank you. For everything." She cupped his face in her hands and kissed him lightly. As she pulled away, Matt checked his watch. 

"It's getting late."

"You're not getting out of another dance--"

"Of course not. I'm just gonna go grab a drink. "

"Okay."

Matt smiled and disappeared in the sea of people. Naomi went to walk back to the dance floor, but then she remembered something.

It was time.

She left the building, twirling the necklace between her fingers. Sunlight was beginning to shine over LA. she walked down the road until the black van materialised. The door slid open. The man was sitting there. Early 50's, light brown skin and receding hairline. Big-built, a gruff man's man if ever there was. Boyd. That was his name.

"You ready for your treatment?" he asked.

"I think it's time."

Boyd helped her into the van. "Did you have a nice time?"

Naomi shrugged. "I met a guy..."

The door slid shut, and Naomi felt the wheels turn.

*

Naomi got out of the van, flanked by Boyd and the driver. They were in a vast underground parking lot. Boyd lead her to an open elevator, all fancy polished wood and carpet.

"Hey, you think you could take me back to the party after my treatment?" Naomi asked Boyd.

"I'll wait right here."

Naomi smiled. "You're good people." The doors shut, leaving her alone.

Upon leaving the elevator, Naomi was lead into a strange room. It was pretty bare except for a changing curtain. An Asian woman handed her a tank top and pants. Naomi stepped behind the curtain and began undressing, telling her story to a complete stranger.

"Maybe I shouldn't go back. The last thing I want to be is clingy, but you know when you just... you meet someone and... you know?"

The woman smiled and nodded before leading her into a small room, decorated only with a bunch of machinery and a strange looking reclining chair. A new man was there. He was very young, maybe mid-20s, with sandy blond hair, a long nose and a frankly huge chin. He was wearing a godawful shirt. The whole time, Naomi didn't stop talking.

"If I'm wrong, I'll know. I mean, Matt can't lie to save his life. If he gives me that look, I'll walk away. But I don't know, I think... he feels it, too. I think I found something real." As she finished the tale, she was led by Boyd into the chair. She rested her arms on the odd armrests - like coasters with light that pulsed beneath her palms - and caught her breath.

"I'm glad." the new man said. "This is gonna pinch a bit."

The man disappeared behind a computer as the chair reclined. Naomi looked around nervously before a jolt sent her body rigid. Her brain was on fire, but she couldn't scream, things were being torn from her head, memories, her childhood, friends, school, life, Matt, everything was being scrubbed away and then--

Echo sat up in the chair. The tall man, Boyd and the computer man, Topher, were standing looking over her.

"Hello, Echo." Topher said. "How are you feeling?"

"...Did I fall asleep...?"

"For a little while."

"Shall I go now?"

"If you like."

He smiled, and Echo smiled back. As she stood, something caught her eye. Something shiny was on the floor: a silver necklace.

Echo hadn't seen it before. She gave it one last look before leaving the room, wondering what to do with her day.

*

"The world is a very simple place." Adelle said. "At first. Then as we grow up, it grows around us. A dense thicket of... complication, and disappointment. Unbearable for some. And even for the luckiest of us still sometimes more than we can handle... less than we'd hoped. I know you've heard colourful rumours about what an Active is. Robots, zombie slaves, mostly people think they're just very good liars. They are, of course, quite the opposite. An Active is the truest soul among us."

"It all seems pretty clear to me." Mr. Dreyfuss said. They were both sitting in Adelle's skyscraper office, overlooking even more skyscrapers and little else.

"Does it?" Adelle asked, pouring some more tea.

"Whatever I want, right?"

"Within reason, yes."

Dreyfuss raised an eyebrow. "Reason? Well, the kind of money I laid out, just for the background check alone... well, I was under the impression that reason wasn't gonna be a factor."

"Where reason applies, is in the safety and well-being of our Actives."

"I got no interest in hurting anybody. I don't object to a little adventure, I'm a physical fellah--"

Adelle smiled, nodded. "Everest twice, I got that from Newsweek. Our Actives can keep up."

"You sure?"

She nodded. "The personality imprint extends to muscle memory as well. Whatever our Actives are called upon to do, they will, in effect, have spent their entire lives preparing for it."

Dreyfuss shrugged. "Doesn't seem possible."

"Would you be here if it did?" Adelle asked.

Dreyfuss sighed. "Suppose I just want someone to pretend they're in love with me--?"

"Then you are out of luck. If you engage an Active, then he or she--"

"She!" he exclaimed. Then, muttering "She..."

Adelle widened her eyes. "Then SHE will see you and totally, romantically, chemically... fall in utter and unexpected love with you. The imprint will make her your exact match, the girl who's waited her entire life to meet a man like you. Not the money: the man."

"And we're alone? I mean assuming that there's an... amorous side to the engagement... do we got the whole staff listening in on our business?"

Adelle was slightly taken aback. "Of course not. That's the point."

"But if you're supposed to protect--"

"A Handler monitors an Active internally for signs of danger or stress. If your engagement involves criminal activity, then the Handler might listen in, yes, but otherwise he has no idea what's happening. Nobody knows. This couldn't work any other way."

Dreyfuss finally looked interested. "The - what do you call 'em, Actives? - she knows. She's got all the secrets, you really telling me that she... forgets?"

Adelle smiled. "The moment the engagement is over, she will have an overpowering urge to return to our facility," she said. "Where she will be wiped of all memory of the event. What happens is always and only between you and her. Do you see? You're a man who can have everything he wants. If what you want is a girl to dress up like a cheerleader and ask you how big you are, you can hire a thousand women to do that quite convincingly for the price of one day with an Active. This is not about what you want. This is about what you need. An Active doesn't judge. This will be the purest, most genuine human encounter of your life. And hers. It is a treasure. One I can guarantee you will never, never forget."

*

Topher opened the doors of his office to see Boyd standing there. "Everything go all right with the wipe?"

"Why don't you just ask Echo?" Topher suggested mockingly. "Oh, that's right. Because she can't remember."

Boyd specifically remembered hating Topher to begin with, and not much had changed.

"Of course, it went all right!" Topher continued. "Imprint's gone. The new moon has made her a virgin again. Is there some reason it shouldn't have?Something happen during the engagement?"

Boyd shrugged. "I think she finally met the right guy."

Topher giggled. An actual giggle. "You're so jaded, and at such a middle age. She had fun, right?"

Another shrug. "She thought so."

"There's nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so, man friend. We gave two people a perfect weekend together. We're great humanitarians!"

Boyd leaned against the window of Topher's office and looked into the LA Dollhouse it over looked. The decor was reminiscent of Japan, with the polished wood and sliding doors, much like a spa. The mindless Dolls, or Actives or whatever they were called, roamed free. One of the handlers was leading Echo to a massage table.

"Who would spend their lives in jail if anyone ever found this place..."

Topher joined him at the window. "We're also misunderstood... which great humanitarians often are. Look at Echo. Not a care in the world. She's living the dream."

"Whose dream?"

"Who's next?"

*

"Ow!" Echo moaned as Doctor Saunders bent her leg.

"Yeah," she said. "this feels very tight. I think you fell on it with something heavy."

Echo thought hard. "I don't remember."

"Well, it's gonna be fine. And your blood work and internals are all shipshape. I'll just ask one of the staff to work on that knee. Would you like a massage?"

Echo smiled. "They're relaxing."

"Yes. I'll set that up."

Echo liked Doctor Saunders. She was nice. She was pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair that was all wavy and bouncy. Echo didn't understand why she always stayed in this dark office, filled with shelves and dusty old files.

"I don't remember what fell on me." Echo blurted out. She wasn't sure why.

Saunders' eyes widened. Sshe loomed over Echo, suddenly interested. "Does that bother you?

"...should it?"

Saunders sighed. "We'll look after you."


As Saunders leaned in, the light showed those strange lines on her face. One slashed across her forehead, another across her nose and the third up the side of her lips. Scars.

Echo motioned to touch them."Does someone look after you--?"

Saunders backed away, hitting her desk. It rattled, and a pen fell off. "Why don't you wait in the massage area, and I'll call for someone to work on that knee." Saunders didn't look her in the eye. She bent down to pick up the pens, and didn't say goodbye as usual.

Echo left the office and walked across the floor of the Dollhouse. Some of her friends were doing yoga in the center by the small pool. Some were in the art corner, painting and clipping leaves from their plants. There were others at the gym, lifting weights and running on the treadmills, and half a dozen or so were leaving the pool and heading for the showers.

Echo was about to walk to the massage area when she saw the light.

A flashing blue light was coming from upstairs, from the Topher man's room that overlooked the Dollhouse. She had heard them call it the Imprint Room. Echo looked around. No one was paying it any attention.

Slowly, hesitantly, Echo began to climb the stairs.

She pulled open the doors of Topher's office. There was a lot of computers, a sofa, video games, pinball, a refrigerator: it seemed like a little boy's room. There was another window overlooking the people below, but the light was coming from the Imprint Room, adjoined with the office. The blue light was pounding against the doors. Echo tilted her head. The light had neer been here before.

She opened the door.

It was the room with the chair, she knew that, and Topher was there, but there were more people, rushing round as the computers beeped and the woman in the chair screamed. She was a beautiful woman, around Echo's age, with long, dirty blonde hair, bronze skin, sharp cheekbones and perfect oval eyes. She was naked except for bandages that covered chest and her hips, acting as a skirt, and wires stuck to her sweaty body. She looked directly at Echo, her face straining as if to say something she couldn't...

"She's not asleep." Echo said. All the men stopped and looked at her.

"Woah!" Topher exclaimed. "What...?Just keep mapping the tissue," he told his scientist friends, and gave Echo a push back into his office. He came with her and closed the doors. The blue light still pulsed.

"Hey, Echo. What are you doing here?"

"She hurts." Echo observed.

Topher nodded. "She does. That's because it's her first time, and, uh, we have to do more extensive work on her."

Echo was confused. "Work?"

Topher sighed and covered his face with his hands. After a second, his face resurfaced. "We're making her better. In a little while, she'll be strong and happy, and she'll forget all about this, and you... will have a new friend living with you. Her name is Sierra."

"Sierra." Echo said dreamily. The word sounded nice.

"Mm-hmm. Hey, aren't you supposed to be getting your physical with Dr. Saunders far from here right now?"

One of the helper women patted her on the shoulder. "We're ready for your massage, Echo."

Echo turned to Topher. "Something fell on me." she beamed.

Topher smiled. "I bet it was something great."

*

"Agent Ballard," the man asked. "You were assigned to case designate 'Dollhouse' over 14 months ago. How would you describe your progress to date?"

"Slow." Ballard said. He didn't like performance meetings. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like this particular meeting any more than he should.

"I'm actually very impressed by what I see here." the man replied, opening Ballard's file. "You've physically threatened a senator, disrupted a seven-year human trafficking investigation, been arrested for trespassing on Prince Amoudi's yacht. The only legal action you've successfully followed through on is your divorce." He leaned forward, hands clasped. "Paul, let me ask you: after all this, do you think the Dollhouse really exists?"

"I know it does."

"You've seen it then? You could, like, take us on a tour? Look, we all know this assignment is a joke--"

"If it's a joke, then pull me off it." Paul said, losing his patience. "Except you can't, because someone bigger than you thinks it isn't a joke."

"I'm a billionaire." the man said hypothetically. "I can hire anybody for anything, and I'm gonna go to an illegal organization and have them build me, program me, what: the perfect date? Confessor, assassin, dominatrix, omelet chef? I'm paying a million dollars for that? I can get that. I have everything I want.

"Nobody has everything they want. It's a survival pattern. You get what you want, you want something else. If you have everything, you want something else. Something more extreme, something more specific. Something perfect."

"Put it like that, it doesn't sound so bad." 

"The only way to imprint a human being with a new personality--"

"Which we've yet to prove possible--"

" --is to remove their own. Completely. We're talking about people walking around who may as well have been murdered, which to me sounds pretty bad."

"Is that why you interfered with the Russians? The Borodin case?"

"They're the top of the heap in human trafficking. If people are disappearing--"

The man jumped to his feet. "That is an ongoing investigation! All right? We have a chance to dry up a major pipeline of girls being smuggled into this country, and you do not jeopardize that for a fairy tale! You will stay out of everyone's way, and you will stop pissing off powerful public figures without any evidence! You've been out of line, Paul. You have to back off. You need to keep away from the Borodin case. Do you understand? Are you able to back off?

Paul sighed. "That won't be a problem... sir."

*

Topher walked into Adelle's office to find the lady herself sitting on her couch, reading a file. The head of security, Laurence Dominic, 40's with poufy silver hair, stern face and pressed suit, stood a little but behind her.

"You wanted me?"

"Echo's been booked." Adelle said. "Has she been wiped?"

"Completely. I removed the Naomi imprint 'bout 2 hours ago. Echo's blankety-blank. What's the case?"

Adelle rose an eyebrow. "If only your security clearance was up a level or three. Just prepare an imprint. I think Eleanor Penn should do."

There was a knock, and Boyd entered the room.

"Mr. Langton."

"You needed something, Ms. DeWitt?"

"Echo has a case."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Which would be...?"

Adelle glanced at Topher, who smiled. She rolled her eyes. "Mr. Dominic?"

"The situation is a kidnap and ransom," Dominic said. "12 year-old girl named Davina Crestejo. The girl's supposed to be exchanged for $5 million, which her father is willing to pay--"

"And we are going to help him do that."

"Kidnapper's Latino, probably Mexican, refers to himself as 'Mr. Sunshine'. This is a high risk engagement so you'll have both eyes and ears this time. Audio off a wire, and we'll tap you into his security vid on the house and grounds."

"Anything goes wrong, you extract Echo immediately." Adelle said. "Her purpose is to facilitate the exchange, nothing more. No one is to be brought to justice We'll skip any ex-cop heroics, if you don't mind."

"Not a problem." Boyd said. "My only priority--"

"--is Echo," Adelle finished. "Good."

"So: who does she think she is?"
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
A maid opened the door, and Eleanor Penn walked into Gabriel Crestejo's mansion, pushing her spectacles up her nose. It was all glass and sculptures. She saw 3 different security systems in a matter of seconds. The maid disappeared as a man in a dark suit half-way up the stairs spoke into a Walkie-Talkie. A few seconds later, Gabriel Cretejo came down the stairs.

"Mr Crestejo?" Eleanor asked.

"I'm sorry, who are you?"

"You asked for me. Eleanor Penn. I'm here to help. Our mutual friend referred me."

Crestejo's forehead creased. "I'm sure he did. I'm a little surprised, though, that he sent you."

Eleanor shrugged. "I'm good with people. I put them at their ease."

"In my experience, a beautiful woman never puts anyone at their ease." Crestejo replied. "Fatherly types do that. They're warm and comforting, make people feel safe. A beautiful woman distracts people, makes them nervous, or jealous. I can't afford that. Not with what's at stake here. I think our friend sent the wrong person."

Eleanor strode to a metal sculpture of two lovers, intertwined. "Fatherly types."

"Like Edward James Almos. I hope there's no offense.l

"None taken." she turned back to him. "And I'm not leaving. You can hire someone else, give them my fee, but I'm the one best qualified to save your daughter. I've been doing this my whole life. Just this. You want people to feel comforted? We're past that. These men are stone professionals." Eleanor looked around at the high ceiling and fancy decor. "They took her from your house. Not on the way home from school, or in the park... they came inside your house, your seriously fortified house, in order to tell you that they could." She strode back to Crestejo. "I've dealt with the others... amateurs, men with a grudge, or an urge. You want a professional, a man who knows the business. Knows how high the stakes should or shouldn't go. The percentage of successful negotiations goes way up."

"And what's the percentage?"

"Not a hundred." She motioned to a room down the hall. "Is her room in here?"

Crestejo sighed. "I'll show you. "We haven't touched anything."

*

"Glasses, Topher?" Boyd said into him phone.

"She's nearsighted." Topher said exasperately.

Boyd sighed. Being stuck in this van all day wasn't doing wonders for his patience. "Is that supposed to make people take her seriously? Like the librarian thing is gonna hide the fact that she's--"

"Am I speaking Urdu?" Topher said. "She's nearsighted, Boyd."

"You can mess up her eyesight?"

"I can mess up the neural connections to her eyesight. Make her brain process the information it gets any way I want. As, for example, blurry."

"But why would you? Why handicap her in a job like this?"

Topher gazed down into the gym. The new Active, Sierra, was running on the treadmill. Her first examination.

"You see someone running incredibly fast, the first thing you gotta ask is, are they running to something, or are they running from something? And the answer is always both. So these personality imprints... they come from scans of real people. Now, I can create amalgams of those personalities, pieces from here or there, but it's not a greatest hits; it's a whole person. Achievement is balanced by fault, by... a lack. Can't have one without the other."


Topher looked across the House to Doctor Saunders' office. She was pulling open the screen door to sign something for a delivery man.

"Everyone who excels is overcompensating. Running from something. Hiding from something."

"The past?"

Topher shrugged. "Sometimes."

"So what's in the past that you gave Echo?"

"That's her business, Boyd. She's right for the job. She's spent her life profiling and negotiating with kidnappers. That's the person they needed, so that's who Echo is. The expert."

"Who's nearsighted?"

"She also has asthma," Topher added meekly.

*

"Is this Mr. Sunshine?" Eleanor asked. She had put the phone on speaker immediately. Gabriel was leaning on the desk, listening intently.

"Where is Gabriel?" said the man on the other line.

"He's right here." Eleanor said. "My name is Eleanor Penn, and I'll be handling the transaction."

"I told him no cops! Put Gabriel on, I'm gonna cut his little girl so he can hear--"

Gabriel went to lunge at the phone, but Eleanor held up her hand, signalling to stop. "He can hear." she assured him. "I am not a cop, I'm not FBI, and I have no interest in justice. I'm here only to facilitate a private transaction and make sure no one is hurt during it."

"No, you're a federale! Think I'm stupid?"

"I think you knew Gabriel wouldn't call the authorities if you took Davina." Eleanor said calmly. "Which was not stupid. But Gabriel can't do this alone. He's afraid, and angry, and he knows those emotions are of no use right now. So you'll deal with me, and everybody will get what they want. You may call me Miss Penn."

"I may?" the man replied roughly. "I call you Miss? I think I call you Ellie, since we're becoming such good friends."

"I will not answer to Ellie. You may call me Miss Penn."

"Oh, so you're the schoolteacher now, huh? What, you gonna rap my knuckles if I'm bad?"

"It's unlikely."

"You telling me how it's gonna be?!" the man said, now raging. "Al diablo contigo y to nombre! I have the girl, okay? I make all the rules."

"You want five million?" Eleanor asked.

"That's right."

"Let's make it eight."

"What?"

Gabriel's mouth dropped open. "Eight million." Eleanor repeated. "That's two million apiece. Call back in 40 minutes and let Davina talk to her father."

"There's no way you're just gonna give me an extra three mil--"

Eleanor hung up, and looked at Gabriel to see his astonished face. She shrugged. "You have the money."

"It would have been polite to ask."

"They have to get used to doing it my way. Right now, they're getting very used to it."

"Or they think she's messing with them--" one of Gabriel's bodyguards observed.

"I am." Eleanor said simply. "But you'll give them the money. You have to get used to doing things my way, too."

The guard tried to argue with Gabriel in Spanish about her, but Eleanor interupted. "The last time a family's head of security let their daughter get kidnapped, she was recovered in three days. His body never was. Speak out of turn again and I will scold you."

Crestejo sighed. "How'd you know there was four of them? You said "2 million apiece." Guy didn't blink."

"You heard him not blink? Four's the median number in these cases: three guys with ambition, one with information."

"What more can you tell me about them?"

"I'll tell you when it's useful for you to know it."

 "They better put her on."

"They will." she checked her watch. "In 38 minutes."

Crestejo sighed. "You're the boss, Ellie."

She raised an eyebrow.

"...Miss Penn..."

*

Lubov felt the gun on his neck and let out a small yelp. Paul admitted to himself getting him at the urinal probably wasn't the best decision, but he was surrounded everywhere else. Paul instantly pushed that thought out of his head at the sound of water, that probably wasn't water, hitting leather.

Lubov was a burly man in his late 20's, with poufy black hair and bad clothes. He would've been handsome if it wasn't for the awful smell, the endless partying and the fact he was a criminal.

"You're about to make a very bad mistake..." Lubov said in his thick accent, voice constantly changing pitches.

"Dollhouse."

"...what?"

"Dollhouse." Paul repeated. "Say it."

Lubov shrugged. "Dollhouse?"

"Say it again."

"Your brains are--"

Paul thumbed the hammer.

"Okay, dollhouse! Doll freaking house! I'll keep saying it, it's fun to say! Dollhouse, dollhouse, dollhouse, dollhouse!"

"You see the Borodins, you say it some more."

Lubov raised an eyebrow. "You think you want to mess with the Borodins?"

"No, but they supply girls, some of them very high-end, to fine, upstanding clients. There's one client I'm interested in. Find out who's connected to the Dollhouse, the Borodins won't be touched and you'll never see me again."

"I haven't seen you yet..."

"You will." Paul removed the gun, but Lubov still didn't turn around. "Wash your hands." His eyes dropped to the floor. "And your shoes."

*

"Hello." Eleanor said.

"You got eight million for us?" the man said.

"That's right."

"If it's that easy, I think we gonna make it an even ten--"

Eleanor hung up.

"What are you doing--?" Gabriel began, but Eleanor held up the hand, signalling silence. A moment later, the phone rang again.

"You hang up on me again, I chop her up right now, and I'll use her for bait!"

"Is Davina ready to talk to her father?" Eleanor asked, unfazed.

"You got one minute." Then the voice shifted to that of a small girl. "Papi? I'm scared--"

"Mija? Mija, I'm right here."

"Papi, I'm sorry."

"No, no, no, mija, it's not like that. You just do as the men say, I'm gonna bring you home. It's okay, it's gonna be okay--"

"I'm scared."

"All they want is money."

"They yell at me. Except the one with the mask, he doesn't talk. It's dark in the room, but I can hear the--"

"Davina," Eleanor interrupted. "I'm a friend of your father's. I need to know if they're hurting you."

"Not much. But they push me around."

"Did they feed you?"

"A little. And they wouldn't let me use the bathroom at first, but then they did. It's the small kind--"

"Your father wants to tell you something."

Looking at Gabriel, he obviously hadn't. "I, uh... I, uh, I want you to be strong, Davina. Remember that I love you, and I will never let anything happen to you."

"I love you, Papi."

"Please put the man back on." Eleanor asked.

There was a brief shuffle of noise on the other line as the phone was passed back. "The money tomorrow." the man said. "I call you at noon to tell you where."

"And she'll be there." Eleanor said.

"Maybe."

"There are only two ways for this to go: either everybody gets what they want, or nobody does. We will not pay if she's not there."

The man hung up.

"You told me you're good with people!" Gabriel exclaimed, stalking out to his office's balcony.

Eleanor followed him out. "I misspoke. I'm good at people."

"She was trying to tell me something!"

"And I needed her not to. Suppose they figured out what she was telling you before you did? Do you think this would endear her to them?"

"But if we could find her before they do something--"

"And what, rush in with tear gas? These people don't handle surprises well. They get their money or they dig a hole. You have to trust that I have done this many, many times."

"I have to trust that... right." Gabriel looked well and truly pissed off. "Yesterday, you weren't a nurse or a clown in the circus."

"What?" Eleanor was confused. This had never happened on a case before...

"You're the best, the best one they could send." Gabriel drawled, wandering around her in a circle. "Why is that? What makes you so good at this?"

"I don't have any hobbies--"

"No, no, no." Gabriel said, as of he had a different answer in mind. "You have to do better than that. You have to make me believe, believe like you believe. Who are you?"

"You want my résumé? I studied psychology, forensic science, profiling from former instructors at Quantico, been licensed seven years. Handled over 12 negotiations."

"Why, why, why?" Gabriel's face told Eleanor he was crazed. "What made you  do all those amazing things? Did something terrible happen in your childhood? Did horrible men come and snatch you away--?"

"Yes."

This shut him up, but only for a second.

"You were kidnapped."

She nodded. "When I was nine."

"How long did that--?"

"Three months."

"And they did things to you. Unprofessional things."

"Is this helping you in some way?"

"You don't remember? Maybe it's all made up--"

"There was one." Eleanor began. She really didn't want to discuss it, but she couldn't find another way to end the conversation. "He got rid of the others after they were paid and..."

"All the terrible memories these men put in your head." Crestejo mused. "Why would they do that?"

Eleanor shrugged, shaking. "Sometimes the bad things just happen and no one can protect you from them..."

Her breath rattled. She could feel the beginnings on hyperventilation coming on. She plunged a shaking pocket into her suit pocket and thrust her inhaler to her lips. Crestejo held put a hand to steady her, but she pushed it away.

"I'm okay." she wheezed. "I'm fine, I'm okay..."

"I'm sorry--"

"Forget it. I-I'd like to get some sleep... We've got a long day tomorrow."

Crestejo nodded. "I'll have Maria make you up a bed."

Eleanor gave him an uneasy smile and nodded. She leaned against the balcony as Crestejo rushed from his office. She was still shaking. She took another swig from her inhaler of three.

*

"You look better than on the phone, chica," the man said. He had called at noon, telling them to meet on the docks. He was a fairly average Latino man, standing alone. No other people in sight.

"It's still Miss Penn." Eleanor said calmly. She was wearing her very best pants suit, Gabriel Crestejo at her side.

"Me disculpo." the man said. "The money."

Eleanor raised an eyebrow. "Please, this is not your first time."

The man rolled his eyes. "Come on," the man yelled in the direction of a nearby yacht." "Let's go, let's go!

Three men emerged onto the pier, carrying a bound and gagged, squirming girl in blue pyjamas between them.

"Davina!" Gabriel cried. "Davina, it's okay, Papi's here!"

The man motioned to the bags in Gabriel's hands. "We take that on the boat, your daughter steps off. You don't move towards her until we are away."

Eleanor looked to the men holding Davina. One was wearing a leather mask, and the other was a gruff, ageing man with a silver hair and beard. He looked... heavy...

Oh God. No...

Eleanor coughed, a coughing fit that spiralled into wheezing. She tried to reach her inhaler, but all her energy had gone. She toppled into Gabriel, who lowered her to the ground, shocked.

"This is maybe your first time...." the man said, fingering his inside pocket, most likely for a gun.

"It's just a condition... we're not making trouble." Gabriel said. Eleanor could feel her heartbeat rising. It couldn't be him...

"Are you trying to blow this?" the man exclaimed.

"Don't let them on the boat..." Eleanor wheezed in Gabriel's ear.

He looked confused. "You said that's the way it is--"

"They're not gonna give her back..." she said. She would've screamed if she could. Why wasn't he moving?! "He's not gonna give her back--"

Gabriel finally looked up. The man was backing up towards the boat, gun in his hand. The money had found its way to the boat.

"No, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait!" Gabriel yelled. "She gets off first!"

"Get the hell back!"

"You give me my daughter!"

The man fired. Gabriel took a bullet in the gut. He whirled and fell down beside Eleanor, blood leaking freely. The man turned on his heel, but a bullet from an unseen gun put him down. The three remaining men, frightened retreated to the boat. Eleanor tried to get to her feet and failed. The Yacht left the pier in a flash, Davina's screams quelled by the tape on her mouth.

Boyd was on his way to her in seconds: she realised he had shot the kidnapper. "We need an ambulance!" he yelled into his phone. "The client is shot!". Eleanor's breathing was still rattling, but relatively under her control. Boyd came within the last few metres, Eleanor turned to Gabriel and stuck her hand in his wound, sobbing. He had lost consciousness.

"Is it bigger than your thumb?" Eleanor wheezed. "Is it... is it bigger than your thumb..."

Boyd asked, trying to replace her hands with his own. "Echo! Miss Penn, look at me!"

Eleanor looked at him.

"You can't fight a ghost..."

Boyd didn't understand. "Are you ready for your treatment?"

"You can't fight a ghost..."

*

"It's so dark." Eleanor said. It was dark in Boyd's van, but that wasn't what she meant. "Of course it's dark. It's better. You don't see, you don't make a sound. You forget his face.."

"Whose face?" Boyd asked.

"He's all thumbs..."

"What happened on the dock? What went wrong--?"

"He doesn't give them back."

"Who, the man in the mask?"

"He's old now. He's the same age. I am proportionately similar to a girl, a small girl..."

Boyd finally seemed to realise. "The older man." he said. "You know him. He's the one that took you, they never found him.

Eleanor gave a tiny nod. "He said he was a ghost. You can't fight a ghost... but he was heavy, the weight of him... Ghosts aren't heavy. Ghosts are sheets with holes cut out..."

"He took you away. And now..."

"It's unprofessional--"

"He's taken Davina."

"She's proportionately similar to a girl. He won't touch her until he's taken care of the others."

"The other two men?"

Eleanor stood up. It was time to get back to work. "They'll be dividing the money and make sure there's no tracers, no dye pack. They'll get excited. They won't see him coming. Six hours."

"Before he kills them?"

"And takes her away."

"On the boat?"

She shook her head and took the map they used to get to the docks from her suit pocket. "It's been seen. They were planning to beach it anyway."

"It's a Houlberd, 30-footer. It's got a decent range."

"And it was riding high."

"They haven't bothered to fuel it, good," Boyd said. He took the map and spread it on his lap. "Let's place them anywhere from here... to here. Still a lot of choices."

"I'm missing something... the man on the phone, what did he say? The mask."

"Only one man wore a mask."

"Because she knows him. He doesn't just have information. He's in her life. We find him, we find the ghost."

The van stopped, and she and Boyd got put in a huge underground parking lot.

"How does she know him?" Boyd asked.

"Something the other one said. We need to do my treatment now, and we need to do it fast." She strode into the elevator, followed by Boyd.

"Miss Penn--"

"Come on, Langton," Dominic said, appearing from nowhere and holding Boyd at bay. "A client's in critical, weapon's discharged. You think I'm gonna let you hold her hand while Topher scrubs her?"

"Two minutes."

"You have any idea of the crap that's raining down on us?" Handler intervention triggers an immediate debriefing to make sure that we weren't exposed. -

"We're close," Eleanor said, walking into the elevator. "As soon as I finish my treatment, we'll find her. He won't do this again."

The doors shut, leaving Boyd with Dominic.

*

"Barging in here isn't to help your situation, Mr. Langton." Adelle barked as Boyd came into her office.

"Echo can find the Crestejo girl!"

"I'm sorry," Dominic said, walking in after Boyd. "He's faster than you'd think..."

"You cannot wipe her right now." Boyd said.

"I can do any damn thing I see fit! Echo botched the engagement, she jeopardized this entire operation--!"

"You botched it, Miss DeWitt!" You gave her the memory of an abused girl, and you put her face to face with her abuser. She recognized one of her kidnappers, she can find him again. She's the only one who can."

"Ma'am," Dominic said. "We need to distance ourselves from this. We don't know if the client's going to live. This is becoming news.

Adelle almost seemed regretful. Almost. "I'm sorry, Mr. Langton, but this is complicated."

"No, it isn't. Echo's in pain, but she's the right girl for the job, and she knows the territory. She can find Davina before that man lays a finger on her. You wipe her, you've lost all of that."

"We do not have a client!"

"We have a mission!"

Adelle was taken aback for a split second before sticking a smile on her face. "We prefer to call them engagements. You have not been here as long as some of the others, so I will overlook the error."

"I've been here long enough to know that you like to tell yourself what we do helps people. Let Echo help this girl."

Adelle bit her lip. She was thinking.

*

Boyd ran for the Imprint Room, hoping to God Topher hadn't wiped her yet. He had gotten the go-ahead, but if she was Echo again--

He reached the room to see Echo sitting up in the chair, Topher at her side. Boyd sighed. He was too late--"

"Where are my glasses?"

Topher passed them to her. Eleanor, not Echo, slipped them on.

"I know how to find her."

*

"It was the first call." Eleanor told Boyd. "The kidnapper said, 'You're the schoolteacher now'. He stressed 'you're', like there's already a teacher in the mix."

"The one in the mask?"

Eleanor nodded. "Check her school. See who's missing. He's been close to her. He's probably not Latino."

A previously unknown man walked up to them both. "Ms. Penn, I'm Lawrence Dominic."

"Security contractor?"

"Yes, ma'am. I have a chopper standing by."

"I'll need a radio contact while we're en route."

"That'll be Mr. Langton. He's staying here."

Boyd obviously hadn't been told this. "She needs backup."

"Not from you."

"I'm her handler!"

"Miss DeWitt will decide what you are." Dominic started walking, and Eleanor reluctantly left Boyd.

"James Shepherd," Dominic confirmed. "Caucasian male, out sick twelve consecutive days. Has a sister with an isolated house six miles from the dock."

"I'm going to need a clean and quiet touchdown with zero chance they'll see or hear our approach."

"With respect, the last time you went head to head with these people, you folded. My man's fully--"

"Your man gives me ten minutes, or Davina will die."

Dominic said nothing.

*

"How is she?" Boyd asked Topher, hovering over a computer that showed Echo's readings.

"See the blue areas?" Topher said, motioning to her cerebral patterns. "That's fear."

"It all looks blue."

"That's where I'm going with this. Uh, the persona we developed? Bunch of different people--"

"Yeah. And one of them was abused by the guy she ran into."

"I know."

"Yeah, I looked her up. She killed herself. Last year. She never got away from him."

"What are we playing at...?"

*

"I'm alone." Eleanor said, rapping hard. "Please open the door."

The house was more of an abandoned shack than a house. Overgrown fields surrounded it as far as she could see. Middle of nowhere.

Shepherd, or Mr. Sunshine, opened the door and pulled her in. The man from the phone was at the table counting money, while the Ghost emerged from the kitchen. Eleanor averted her eyes as soon as she saw him.

"Who knows where we are?" Shepherd demanded.

"Everyone's going to know very soon, Mr. Shepherd," Eleanor said, with only a hint of fear. "You left a wide trail,  but that's not your problem." Finally, she turned to the Ghost. "He is."

"Hell you on about?!" he said gruffly, causing Eleanor to take a step back.

"Soon as that money's counted," she continued. "He's going to kill both of you.

"You think we fall for that crap?" the Ghost said. "Turn us on each other? You tell us how long till they come, you talk," he ordered, grabbing Eleanor's chin. "Or I find something to stuff that mouth up."

"I think I'm a little old for you," Eleanor spluttered, and she slapped his hand away. "The man that shot Mr. Crestejo is dead. You will be identified as the ringleader. You two haven't killed anyone, you can let me leave with Davina and get out of the country very rich men."

"The girl's not here--"

"She's in the fridge." Eleanor said, speaking from experience. "You unplugged it and pulled out the shelves. You had to rope it shut, of course, 'cause these days, they don't lock."

"We were gonna tell people where she was--" Shepherd began.

"You were gonna die." Eleanor said. She turned to the Ghost. "'Cause there's something this man wants even more than eight million dollars..."

He was royally pissed off now. "Shut your mouth--!"

"Hey!" the only unnamed kidnapper said. "Lady seems to know a lot..."

"I know everything." Eleanor said defiantly, looking the Ghost straight in the eye. "All the girls he kept, till he was through with them. Till he got bored, or just... broke them down. I even know about the one he dumped in the river before he was sure she was dead."

The Ghost had finally caught on. All of them have. "It's over." she finished. "You can't hurt me anymore."

The Ghost slapped her hard across the face, sending her glasses flying. Blood oozed from her forehead and her cheek was on fire, but she just looked at him again.

"You can't fight a ghost."

The Ghost lunged at her but, with a deafening sound, Mr. Shepherd and the kidnapper put dozens of bullets in his chest. Eleanor took this opportunity to run to the kitchen. She dived down beside the refrigerator and tugged mightily at the ropes until they snapped. She pulled open the door to see Davina, wearing filthy pyjamas, eyes wide."

"We're going now."

She took Davina in her arms and walked from the kitchen.

"Go now." Shepherd said. She nodded. On her way out of the room, Eleanor took one last look at the Ghost, on the floor no longer breathing, covering Davina's eyes.

She didn't make it to the door before it was kicked open.

A beautiful Nepalese woman with dirty blond hair, sharp cheekbones and bronze skin dived into the room, filling Shepherd and the other kidnapper with lead in a matter of seconds. Eleanor fell to the floor in shock, Davina with her. After a moment, the woman looked at her, eyebrow raised.

"I told you to wait."

"There were shots." the woman said simply. "We made a call."

"We were coming out!"

"Is she injured?"

Eleanor looked to Davina. "Are you hurt?". Davina shook her head frantically.

The woman shrugged. "Then get over it." She inspected the table. "The money's here." she called. Within seconds, a team of men in suits were swarming the house. "I want it bagged, and our presence swept in three minutes." a man tapped the woman on the shoulder.

"Sierra, would you like a treatment?"

"After this train wreck of a mission, hell yes."

Eleanor followed them out of the house, Davina clinging to her. "You're okay." Eleanor said. "You're okay, okay? You're free. You're free..."

*

"Oh, no, no, no, no, no, get that thing out of my face!"

Echo sounded so lovely when she was annoyed. She sounded lovely even when she wasn't. Echo was always lovely. Alpha missed her.

"It's for the video yearbook," the man filming said. "Say hi to your mom."

The teenage Echo sighed. She was sitting by her school water fountain. "Okay. Hi, Mom! Are we done?"

Alpha was glad he had found this video it was a poor substitute, but just seeing Echo reminded him of how much he missed her...

"Is there someone you'd like to say good-bye to?"

Teenage Echo screwed her face up in thought. "Ditra and Meg, life without you will be meaningless and bleak, my dormies. Oh, and the girls of Sigma Tau, sisters forever. Let's hope those venereal diseases make you all sterile, you snobby-ass pack of hoes!"

"Oh, that's definitely going in. So, what are you planning on doing after graduation?"

"Yeah, I probably should have thought about that!"

Echo was wonderful, but what a por substitute this was. This was before Echo was complete. This was when she was Caroline Farrell. Echo was better now. But she still wasn't perfect.

Alpha picked up the envelope and wrote the message on the front:

'Paul Ballard: Keep Looking'.

"I'd like to take my place in the world," Caroline continued. "Like Mrs. Dundee taught us. Global Recovery, Doctors Without Borders. The world is in need of some serious saving.  And I want to travel! Travel around the world as I save it, in a private jet that I pilot and design! Okay, go ahead and laugh, yearbook monkey, I know, I'm such a cliche. What can I say? I want to do everything. Is that too much to ask?"
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
THREE MONTHS AGO

Laurence Dominic raced down the stairs, followed by the Dollhouse's security team.

"Secure the exits," he ordered. "Anyone tries to breach, shoot then in the head twice!"

The team spread out amidst the employees and Actives running around in hysterics. Dominic nearly stepped on the corpse of an Active, brutally cut to pieces.

"Topher? Topher!"

Topher turned around, looking shellshocked. His sweater vest was smeared with wet blood. "Guns," he said, trance-like. "Can I have one?

"What happened?"

"Yeah, that's... uh, that's the thing, happened. He just--"

"Who?"

"Doc Saunders looks like a jigsaw puzzle, and what he did to Samuelson--"

"Who?!"

"Alpha." Dominic turned to see Adelle standing there. Her hair was askew and she looked worried, but was otherwise alright. "It appears we've had a composite event."

"Wh-? He gets wiped after every engagement, like all the rest. How could he composite?"

"Can't," Topher babbled. "Shouldn't. Did..."

Dominic heard static on his radio. He took it from his pocket long enough to hear one of his men: "Target acquired."

"Where?!"

"Level 3, corridor 37. Target-""

Rapid gunfire filled the room. The man gave a short screen before the radio returned to static.

"Move out!" Dominic told the guards in the room. He took his gun from his holster.

"Seriously," Topher said. "Gun?"

Dominic raced after his men towards the showers, quickly gaining until he was in the lead. He ignored the dead bodies strewn at his feet and turned into the bathroom area. It was a huge, circular, curtained off area in the center of the room. Shower nozzles hung from the roof, and the steam rooms lay beyond a few doors around the room. Dominic edged towards the shower, but his men had stopped moving. Blood leaked into the drain. Six or seven Actives lay dead, bodies cut up.

All except one. Sitting in the middle was Echo, wet, naked and drenched in blood.

"They won't wake up," she observed innocently.

The guards lowered their guns. Dominic raised his radio.

"Negative contact. Continuing sweep."

They left, leaving Echo to wonder why her friends wouldn't wake up.

*

"In their resting state, our Actives are as innocent and vulnerable as children," Adelle said. She was in her office with one Richard Connell, a handsome potential client. "We call it the tabula rasa, the blank slate. Now imagine the imprint process filling it, creating a new personality. A friend, a lover, a... confidant in a sea of enemies. Your heart's desire made flesh. And when the engagement has been completed, all memory of you and your time together will be wiped clean."

Connell seemed genuinely impressed. "Neat trick."

"Tricks are illusions, Mr. Connell, constructed to deceive. What we offer is truth."

Connell raised an eyebrow. "Rare commodity."

Adelle smiled. "Hence the exuberant price tag."

Connell sat forward. "I've been with a lot of women, Miss DeWitt. That's not bragging. That's just what you would call truth. And not one of them turned out to be who they said they were. Your services may be expensive, but at least this time, I'll be the one telling the girl what to lie about."

"Oh, she won't lie to you, Mr. Connell. Everything you want, everything you need... she will be. Honestly and completely."

Connell chuckled. "That will be something new."

"There is, however, one small problem."

"I thought everything was good with the background check..."

Adelle shook her head. "That's not our concern." Adelle stood from the couch and walked to her bar table, where she scribbled something on a notepad. She handed it to the now risen Connell. "Your engagement has been flagged as a moderate risk to our Active. Nothing serious. Our company policy requires a small additional fee against any unforeseen complications."

Connell looked at the paper and laughed. "Small, huh?

"To my employers, very."

"Well... if this girl's everything you promise, it will be worth it."

"Just make sure you return her safe and sound. Otherwise there will be additional costs."

Connell chuckled. "I'll keep it low-key."

*

Jenny helped Richard pull the raft onto shore, pushing her damp hair out of her face. The water's foam had leaked into her boots.

"Not bad," Richard panted. "Not bad."

"You should see me on a five," Jenny said with a wicked smile.

"I thought that was a five."

Jenny shook her hair, causing her wet hair to whip across her collarbone. "no way! Three, three and a half, maybe. If it were a five, I'd be fishing you out of the drink."

Connell laughed. "You think so, huh?"

Jenny grabbed his neck and smushed his lips against her.

"Huh," she muttered, and kissed him again. "And so. Now get your ass moving before I leave you for the wolves! Or whatever they got around here that eats guys who can't keep up."

"Yes, ma'am."

An hour later, Jenny and Richard were scaling a cliff face. Jenny deliberately plastered a worried look on her face.

"You know what they say about looking down?"

"Don't?" Jenny had checked a few moments ago: they were very high.

Richard nodded. "Really don't. Are you okay?"

Jenny nodded. "Yeah."

She grunted and gave a small jump to reach a rock, but her fingers slipped off the rough surface. She let out a scream as she fell.

"Jenny!"

Jenny's line caught and, with a jolt, she stopped falling. "Oh, God!" she yelled.

Richard's face was priceless, exactly what Jenny was hoping for. She couldn't help it: she erupted in laughter.

"Oh, God," she said in between hysterical laughs. "The look on your face!"

Richard sighed and smiled. "Oh, that's not funny. You know how much trouble I'd be in if you went splat?"

Jenny smiled. "Yeah. My brothers would kill you!"

"Quit screwing around."

"All right, wuss. Come on. Let's race to the top."

*

"Everything looks beautiful from here," Topher said into Boyd's headset. "Vitals are right online."

Boyd was in his favourite place on Earth: the back of the Handler van. In the woods. With nothing to do but talk to Topher.

"What about her adrenaline?" Boyd asked.

"Uh, it's within engagement parameters," Topher said on a muffled voice. Boyd glanced at his watch. This was when Topher ate his sandwich.

"Are you sure? She's elevating toward redline."

There was a slurping spud as Topher sucked the remnants from his juice box. "Relax, Mountain Man. I've been reading the squigglies long enough to discern the diff between excitement and 'Sweet mother, I'm gonna die.' She's fine. Hey, go soak up some nature, okay? Like, uh, smell the honey, hassle a grizzly. Leave the science to the science guy."

"Well, how about clearing up my signal, Professor?" Boyd said gruffly, looking at Echo'e readings. "My displays are crap."

"You're in the middle of 'Why Would Anyone Want to be There?', what did you expect, HBO?"

"Can't you retask one of the auxiliary satellites, give me some more coverage?"

"What's the magic word?"

"Please," Boyd said through gritted teeth.

"I was actually looking for 'abracadabra.' But that'll do. Okay, retasking satellite... 7115. It's gonna take a few to move it into alignment."

"Thanks."

"Anything for you. 'Cause I love you. Deep, deep man lo--"

Boyd turned off his headset.

"The woods," the driver said.

"Yep."

"I hate the woods."

"Yep."

*

Paul Ballard pushed open the door of the shack. A handful of FBI agents were scattered around, gathering evidence and the like. Detective Tanaka, a short, angry man in his 40's, was looking at the fireplace.

"Doesn't add up, does it?"

Tanaka whirled around. "Ballard? Hell are you doing here? This is a straight kidnap."

"What doesn't add up?" another agent, Shaw, asked.

"Yeah," Tanaka said. "Why don't you give us the inside view on how this all... leads to the Dollhouse? Or alternate plan: why don't you just let us do our jobs?"

"Doesn't add up, does it?" Paul repeated.

"Not all of it," Shaw said.

"We got three pros come up from Mexico and a disgruntled science teacher," Tanaka said. Paul bet down to examine a bullet hole in the wall. "They take the Crestejo girl for ransom, they fall out and makes everybody's life easier."

"But the money's gone," Paul pointed out.

Tanaka shrugged. "So, there's a fifth guy, and he's right now loving life."

"He the one packing the cannon?" Paul asked, pointing at the large hole.

"He'd have to be." Shaw replied. "That weapon's not here.

"Fifth guy took it." Tanaka finished.

"After he blows the door in? Which is funny. He's in the room with his buddies, then he has to blow the door in?"

Shaw shrugged this time. "So, no fifth guy. You think Crestejo sent someone after them?"

"Well, he swears he didn't."

"Hey, tell me you didn't go near my vic." Tanaka said, trying to sound threatening.

"I just hear the talk. Crestejo's an interesting guy, though. Fits a certain profile."

"Yeah, I know. He's rich, he's respectable, but maybe he's got a kinky side he doesn't want anyone to see, so he goes to the world-famous Dollhouse and hires himself a pretty lady to groove his move and then forget all about it. They can do that, you know, with science."

"That's what Davina called her."

Tanaka looked confused. "What?"

"Crestejo's daughter. She said the pretty lady came and saved her."

"You did talk--!"

"Shaw, we got any pretty lady prints?

"We got the dead guys and the kid, no one else."

Tanaka looked like his eyes were about to pop out of their sockets. "Will you stop humouring--"

"--And a couple areas definitely wiped down."

"So, what?" Tanaka snapped. "The Dollhouse sends one of its brainwashed beauties to-to take out a kidnapping ring? That's a full-service organisation!"

Paul bent down to look at a pair of badly beaten spectacles lying at his feet.

"It's the little girl's, right?" Tanaka said.

"I'd check it out." Paul advised.

"Hey, Agent Ballard thinks we should investigate! Thanks for the tip. Why don't you just leave us to go find your pretty lady?"

Paul walked out the door. "I will."

"Be careful." Tanaka taunted. "Looks here likes she's pretty bad-ass."

*

Jenny admired the tip of the arrow. "Carbon shaft," Richard said. "Three-blade broadhead."

"Damn--"

"Shush! You'll scare away lunch."

"Uh, you couldn't have packed a couple of sandwiches?"

"Oh, sandwiches don't give you a run when you try to eat them. They just lay there waiting for mustard."

Jenny shrugged meekly. "I like mustard."

Richard laughed. "Here." He handed her the bow. Jenny sighed as she took it. "All right? You're gripping too tight here. Here. Relax your hand. You want the riser to just rest there, pressing against your palmer crease."

"Sounds dirty."

Richard laughed again. "It's your lifeline, in your palm. You grip the riser too hard, your shot'll torque."

Jenny looked at him. "You're pretty good at this, aren't you?"

Richard shrugged. "My dad taught me. He was a big believer in, uh...". He slapped his hand to his bicep.

Jenny's eyes widened. "What? Was that a salute? Do I have to learn a salute?" She brought a fist to her shoulder.

Richard laughed. He sure liked to do that. "It's, uh, shoulder to the wheel," he said, reaching into his pack. "Do the work, earn your way. If you can bring down something bigger than you, with just this, you proved you deserve to eat it. If it gets away, it proved it deserves to live, and you go hungry." He walked back to Jenny and strapped something leather onto her wrist. "Dad thought we all take too much for granted."

"And you?"

"Oh, I appreciate every moment. Particularly this one."

"I'm not the first one you've brought into the woods, am I?"

Richard smiled uncomfortably. "Uh... no. But so far... you're the only one that hasn't been a disappointment." He stroked her hair and leaned in close. Jenny was about to push her lips to his when she saw something in the distance.

"Richard...." she gasped. Richard looked up to see a deer a short distance away. He jumped behind Jenny to help her with the bow.

"What do I do?"

"Extend your bow arm." he ordered frantically. "That's right. Now, draw back. Keep your elbow high. That's right. Never take a shot unless you're sure it'll put your target down. Aim for the flank, right below the shoulders. Now just release."

Jenny released.

*

Jenny fell down beside Richard in the sleeping bag, panting but somehow laughing at the same time.

"Is there anything you're not good at?" Richard asked, laughing.

Jenny gave a wicked smile. "I think that little thing I did with my tongue could use some work..."

"You really are the perfect woman."

"Not too shabby yourself."

"You don't slow down, do you?"

"Oh, I like to live. A lot. Let's see who finishes first this round. I might even let you win."

"I'd like that. You have no idea how much, but, uh, you need to get going."

Richard crawled out of the sleeping bag but still had to crouch a little bit as not to hit the tent roof. He slipped his trousers on. Jenny sat up, hugging the sleeping bag close to her. "Going?" she asked. "Where?"

"There's just enough daylight left to make it back to the main road," he said, pulling on his vest. "Might even flag a ride out of here before I catch up."

Jenny raised a confused eyebrow. "Yeah, okay. Am... am I missing something?"

He didn't reply.

"Richard?"

"You need to stop talking now and start running." he said, looking at his watch. "I'll give you a five-minute head start..."

Richard grabbed the bow.

"And then I'm coming after you."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
THREE MONTHS AGO

"Welcome to the Dollhouse, Mr. Langton," Adelle said. "You come highly recommended."

Adelle approached Boyd on the Dollhouse's main floor, flanked by the Head of Security, Laurence Dominic. Many people were rushing around, cleaning up the bloody messes.

"So the stories are true," Boyd said. "Programmable people made to order."

Adelle looked uncomfortable. "It's a little more complicated than that."

"I figured it might be."

Adelle led the way towards the small yoga area in the centre, a large wooden platform with a surrounding stream. "Science is very rarely exact, Mr. Langton. Being on the cutting edge invites a certain element of risk."

"Which is why you're here." Dominic finished.

"In the light of recent events," Adelle continued. "We've decided to engage individuals with a more, shall we say, intensive background? If you're amenable to the terms of your contract you will be assigned to Echo, one of our most requested Actives."

"What happened to her last Handler?"

"You're standing in him."

It was a new voice. After glancing at the ground to find his shoe in a patch of dried blood, he looked to see a woman approach them. She was pretty, with wide eyes and wavy, shoulder-length brown hair, but her face had been severely lacerated, and recently, with stitches woven between scarlet splits in her skin.

"This is our resident physician, Doctor Saunders." Adelle said. "Mr. Langton will be replacing Mr. Samuelson."

"Good. Does that mean I can get his body out of my office?"

"We'll take care of it." Dominic said.

Saunders gave a tiny laugh. "Right. Right, everything's under control." She turned back to Boyd. "It's nice to have you on the team. Watch where you step." She turned and returned the way she had come, lag coat billowing slightly after her.

Boyd turned back to Adelle. "Her face--?"

"Doctor Saunders is still... recovering."

"Same guy who killed Samuelson?"

"She was more fortunate."

"I wanna see Samuelson's body."

Adelle raised an eyebrow. "You really don't."

"Show me."

*

Dominic ripped the sheet off Samuelson's body to show an ageing man with deep cuts spread all around his body.

"Samuelson," he said, introducing Boyd to the corpse. "He was a good man."

"Not good enough."

"What do you make?"

Boyd lifted the sheet slightly to examine the body further.

"Single blade, non-serrated. Ten to twelve centimetres. Tendons and the extremities were severed first to disable him. Then the real work started. He knew exactly where to cut to cause maximum amount of damage. And pain. Whoever did this took their time."

"Eight seconds." Dominic said simply. "That's the timeline we've been able to piece together."

Boyd was astounded. "These cuts are meticulous, almost surgical. Wouldn't of thought it was possible to carve up a man like this so fast."

"It isn't, unless you've been imprinted with the necessary skills."

"You telling me you programmed one of your Dolls to be Jack the Ripper?"

"Not my department. All I know is that Alpha accessed multiple imprints, personalities that should've been erased. And one of them did this. And slaughtered everyone around your girl before pulling a smoke and mirrors."

"So... why didn't he kill Echo?

*

Jenny rushes down the rock face


*

"You don't write, you don't call: you're starting to hurt my feelings."

Paul distinctly heard Lubov nearly drop his phone in surprise. "How did you get this number?"

"I'll always know your number, Lubov, and where to find you."

"What do you want? Why you bothering me, huh? I am honest citizen."

"And I'm the Easter Bunny. Dollhouse, start hopping."

"I already told you, I don't know any Dollhouse!"

"Then find another honest citizen who does. Don't make me come find you."

Paul hung up the phone and walked towards his desk. Two agents were standing by a mail cart.


"Hey, uh, Ballard," one agent said. "We got a call: couple of kids found a house in the woods all made of candy and gingerbread: thought that might be up your alley..." Both agents erupted in laughter.

"Oh my God," Paul said flatly. "that's hilarious."

Paul sat at his desk to see a large brown envelope with his name on it.

"Who'd this come from?" he asked.

"Oh, uh Granny left it. Man, her teeth looked big!"

Paul rolled his eyes as more laughter filled his ears. He opened the envelop to find a picture. It was of a pretty girl with shiny brown hair smiling. She was younger, probably in High School. He turned it over. A name was scrawled in ink:

"Caroline."

*

Jenny kept running, and she didn't stop.

Richard had apparently become Norman Bates overnight. Or he had probably been all along. Hunting people with arrows? She had barely gotten on her boots, khaki pants, red tank top and favourite cashmere sweater on before she had darted from the tent. If only she could remember which way to the road...

She slid to the bottom of the steep hill, leaning on a log as a stitch drained her energy. Had she been here before? She couldn't--

A searing pain shot through Jenny's leg. She yelped and looked down to see an arrow jutting from the log. It had scraped across her thigh, creating a thin, stinging cut. She put her hands around it protectively before she could think: Richard had just shot an arrow at her. He had found her.

Jenny darted away, her leg burning. Another arrow burrowed into the log, right where her chest had been. She ran further into the forest, not caring where it led, just needing to get away from him...

*

"Satellite retail coming online." Topher said in Boyd's ear.

"When?"

"Uhhh... anytime... nowish?"

Boyd's display on the computer monitors sharpened, but he barely has a moment to enjoy it before the driver knocked on the glass. "We got company."

Boyd stepped out of the van. A park ranger was pulling up in his police car. Boyd walked to the driver, pulling a map from his pocket, and plastered a smile to his face.

"Alright," the driver said, smiling. "looks like we're there."

"No, I'm telling you, we're not there. We're... somewhere over here. There is where we wanna be, here is not there!"

"Scuse me." the cop said. "This area's restricted. No vehicles off the main road."

"Sorry, uh, we're completely turned around," Boyd said. "do you mind pointing us in the right direction?"

The cop eyed them suspiciously. "What you fellas doing out here?"

"Local news. We're shooting B-Roll for a piece about the push to open up the area to more logging."

"Got some i.d. to go along with that story?"

"Sure." Boyd took an i.d. card from his pocket. On it was his picture and the words 'Thomas Crehan: Assocoate Producer'. He passed it to the cop, who glanced at it before handing it back, smiling.

"Can't be too careful Mr. Crehan. Being so far off the beat tends to attracts a certain unsavoury element."

"No worries, officer." He turned to the driver. "We couldn't be more savoury."

The cop whipped out a pistol with a silencer and shot two bullets into the driver's chest. His face slackened and he slid to the ground, leaving smeared blood staining the van's black shell. Boyd turned, shocked, to find the gun pointed at his chest.

"Good to know."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
THREE MONTHS AGO

Topher approached the new man, Boyd Langton, on the balcony overlooking the Dollhouse. He was watching his new Active, Echo, do Yoga by the pool. Topher smiled. "The new Samuelson." Boyd turned to him, "You're bigger than the last one. Topher. The man behind the grey matter curtain."

"So Alpha's one of your achievements." Boyd said gruffly. Topher cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"Yeah... yeah, that, uh, was an anomaly. There's unpredictable remainders, we're still working out the kinkies--"

"Like the blood, the screaming, the dying?" Boyd asked, raising an eyebrow. "Look at 'em: bunch of helpless children. Did the ones Alpha slaughter even put up a fight?"

"They... wouldn't know how. Not without an Imprint." Topher typed in midair to demonstrate.

"So why not default them with Ninja skills or whatever?"

"We tried that once. Blood, screaming, dying..."

"Alpha..."

Echo approached the yoga instructor, probably informing him of where she was going, before walking away, smiling a dreamy smile.

"So what do you think of your new girl?" Topher asked.

Boyd scoffed. "She's not a girl. She's not even a person, just an empty hat... til you stuff a rabbit in it."

Boyd left the balcony, leaving Topher feeling deflated.

"Abracadabra..."

*

"Uhhhh, are you getting this Mountain Man Friend?" Topher said.

"Yeah," Boyd said. "I'm getting it."

"Ok... uhhh, do you see these squigglies? These are the not-so-goods, what the hell's going on over there?"

"Everything's fine."

Everything was not fine.

Boyd was sitting in the van, the cop digging his gun's silencer into his temple.

"You sure?" Topher said, worried.

"Yeah. Except for the gun pointed at my head--"

Boyd batted his hand at the gun, knocking it away. The man panicked and fired, sending a bullet into Boyd's computer. He heard Topher yell his name before he disappeared in a sea of static.

Boyd pushed the chair away and dug his hand into the cop's shoulders, his shoe scuffing the gun. The man dug his hands in similarly and they both pushed, knocking each other into the van's walls. Boyd's head whiplashed as he clunked against the hard metal. He batted his hand at the man's elbow, sending it folding and he hooked him in the gut, then again with the left. He tried a hooking punch to the face, but the man blocked and countered. Boyd's head snapped to the side and he tasted blood. The cop ploughed into him, sending him crashing into the back doors, but Boyd's arms were free and he sent two elbows into the cop's spine. The cop fell to his knees, and Boyd threw him like a ragdolls into the wall. The cop recovered and sent Boud staggering into the other wall, before grabbing his shoulder and throwing him at the wall opposite the door. Boyd stuck out a hand, but the man grabbed it and pushed his own palm against Boyd's face. Boyd's head nearly snapped to the right and he struggled to keep it in place. Boyd wrapped his hand around the cop's, who dug his other hand into Boyd to steady himself. Boyd slammed his forearm into the cop's arm, knocking him off balance. Seeing his chance, Boyd wrapped his hand around the cop's head and dropped him onto his knee, winding him, before slamming him into the van wall, headfirst. The cop fell to the floor and Boyd wrapped his arm around his neck, engaging a sleeper hold. The cop struggled, his hands clawing at Boyd's forearm, but after a few seconds, he collapsed still.

Boyd lay him down slowly, beaten and winded, to the floor.

*

"He's a threat." Dominic said. He had pulled up a file in Adelle's office he wished to discuss.

"Agent Ballard has been groping blindly for quite some time now." Adelle said. "He knows nothing."

"I know his type. Guy like this, something gets under his skin, he's not gonna let go until it's scratched out."

"And how would you suggest we handle this?"

Dominic didn't even blink. "Neutralise the risk. Before it becomes untenable."

Adelle rose from her desk and strode towards Dominic. "Authorise a kill order? On a Federal Agent? I think you overestimate his abilities."

"Even a blind dog could find a bone if it digs enough holes."

"All the appropriate measures are being taken. Thank you for your concern, Mr. Dominic--"

"With respect, ma'am, I don't think--"

He was interrupted by Adelle's office door flying open. Topher rushed in, looking anxious.

"Uh, hey, uh, sorry... I think we have a situation. The kind you need to shoot at."

*

Jenny cursed under her breath. She had finally reached the boat she and Richard had used yesterday, only to find it washed up on the shore, deflated with a huge rip in the side. Richard obviously didn't want her going anywhere. She looked around at the surrounding trees and cliffs. No Richard in sight.

Still cursing, she abandoned the boat, running deeper into the woods. There was no time to break down, just had to find another way out. If she stopped, he'd find her.

Jenny stopped in her tracks, collapsed against a tree. Just up ahead, there was a small ranger station, a cabin from which the rangers operated. It was small, but they were sure to have food, water and, most importantly of all, a radio.

She darted for the house, letting the remnants of her energy go. When she reached the house, she realised her pants were ripped, her sweater filthy, her hair a damp curtain of sweat. She must've been running all day.

Jenny pushed open the door and closed it immediately behind her. "Hello?" she said hoarsely.

The cabin was small, probably one room but for a closet and a bathroom. It had a desk, two bunkbeds and a few other things: but worst of all, Jenny was alone.

She ran to the desk to look for a radio. What were they called? CB Radio? It didn't matter, as there was no radio to speak of. Something caught her eye. A canteen was hanging from the bunkbeds. She raced across the room, put it to her lips and began to drain it, but she was interrupted halfway by the radio static.

At first she thought she had just imagined it: after all, there was no radio. But there it was again. Jenny looked around.

The closet.

She walked hesitantly to the door, not wanting to enter horror movie mode: she was kind of a final girl right now already. She brushed the knob with her fingers, getting a grip, pulled, and swung the closet open. A ranger was standing there. Jenny was relieved, until he began to fall and she saw the bullet in his forehead.

Jenny screamed as the body collapsed on her. She fell to the rug, where she tried desperately to push him off. With some effort, she wriggled out from beneath him, stared at the body, making a wheezing noise. Then she heard the static, and saw the radio of the ranger's belt. She reached for it hesitantly and, when she got close, snatched it from his belt, stood up and pushed the button.

"Hello?," she cried. "Is there anybody out there? I need help, please, somebody?"

"Hey baby," Richard said on the other line. "Guess you found Ranger Bob, huh?"

Jenny nearly collapsed on the floor again. "Why are you doing this?"

"'Cos I wanna know..."

"Know what, you sick son of a bitch?!"

"If you deserve to live. If you've earned the right."

Jenny would've laughed if she could. "You know what gives someone the right to live? NOT HUNTING THEM!!!"

Richard chuckled. "That's it. Shoulder to the wheel! Prove you're not just an Echo."

Jenny could hear him do the arm slap that came with 'Shoulder to the Damn Wheel'. "You want proof, you psycho?" she said ferociously. "How 'bout this: I'm gonna kill you! Will that prove it?'! I'm gonna..."

Jenny coughed. It hurt. She coughed again, a cough that turned into a gag. Her throat was on fire, she nearly heaved.

"You don't sound to good." Richard said sympathetically. "Hey... you didn't drink from a canteen in there, did you?"

Jenny looked at the abandoned canteen dripping water, and how the water was a murky colour.

"'Cos... that would be bad."

*

THREE MONTHS AGO

"Is it time for my treatment?"

"Yes." Topher said, leading Echo into the chair. "But this is a very special one, Echo. This one won't pinch like the others you... don't remember..."

"Hello," Echo said to Boyd, who was sulking in the corner. "You're tall!" 

Topher chuckled.

"Do I have to be here for this?" Boyd asked.

Topher nodded. "Handler-Active Imprint requires a direct line of sight, so she needs to be looking  into those dreamy brown eyes when I wave my magic wand."

"Then what? Me and special needs here become buddy-buddy?"

"Hey," Topher said. "This isn't about friendship, Man Friend. It's about trust. From this point on, Echo will always trust you, without question, or hesitation. No matter what the circumstance. You're about to become the most important person in her life."

Boyd glanced at Echo. "Let's jut get this over with."

"Hey, this is art. It's not an oil change. Rush the brush strokes, you'll get a clown on black velvet." Topher passed Boyd a sheet of paper.

"What's this?"

"It's your script. Cal and response, neural lock and key." He walked to the computer. "All right Brando, let's see what you got."

Boyd cleared his throat and looked at the paper. "Everything's going to be--"

"Oh, wait a sec, uh, take her hand."

"What?"

"Hold her hand." Topher threw his hands up apprehensively. "Tactile proximity enhances binding protocol! Ok? And... take two."

Boyd leaned in and gingerly touched Echo's hand on the armrest.

"Everything's going to be alright." He read aloud.

"Now that you're here." Echo replied dreamily.

"Do you trust me?"

Echo spoke as if he should already know. "With my life."

*

"How ya feeling, sweetness? Little funky right about now?"

Jenny stumbled down the steep hill. She could barely hear Richard on the radio taunting her: it was like he was a mile away. Her eyelids were heavy, her head pounded, her stomach churned.

"Don't worry, stuff's not gonna kill you. Guy I got it from said it would just... put a spin on things. So what do ya say? You spinning yet?"

Jenny stopped moving, but the world kept turning. Her vision was blurred, everything just colours mushed together. Then, across what appeared to be the river, was a strange new shape, bright green and blue. Clothes?

A person.

"Hey!" Jenny said. "Hey, wait!" It sounded like a scream, but it probably came out a mumble. She raced towards the shape, stumbling and nearly falling face first into the river. "Wait! Hey!"

She reached the shape. Now that it was close, she could tell it was a person, a woman. But it kept walking away from her. Jenny grabbed her by the arm and whirled her around.

Standing in front of Jenny was another Jenny. She looked younger and was wearing different clothes, but...

"Oh, no, no, no, get that thing outta my face!" the new Jenny said, laughing. Jenny, the real Jenny, backed away and stumbled over a log. She yelped, hit the ground, and the world turned. She was rolling, falling, and then the river enveloped her.

*

Boyd put the final wire into place. The computer screen blurred and then finally came back online. He heard a spluttering sound and turned to the the cop, now tied to a chair at the back of the van. He had stirred. Boyd took the pistol with the silencer in his hand.

"How many?" he said simply.

"W...What?"

He pulle the trigger, sending a bullet into the cop's thigh. He screamed and writhed in pain, tearing furiously at his bonds.

"How many men between me and the girl?!"

"I don't know! I DONT KNOW, I SWEAR TO GOD!"

Boyd shot him in the other leg. Much the same reaction.

"I don't think he's listening..."

"A guy hired me over the phone!" the cop cried. "I NEVER MET HIM! I was just supposed to get you to stall the response team!"

"And then put a bullet in my head."

"Hey, i-it's business. Don't take it personally, dude..."

Boyd smiled. He whipped the butt of the gun across the cop's face. His head snapped to the side, blood flew, and the cop lay still.

"I don't."

*

Jenny woke up. She tried to take a breath, but instead found herself heaving water from her lungs. She wasn't in the river anymore. She looked around. She was surrounded by some sort of circular glass, covering the dark room. The ground was wet. A dozen nozzles hovered over her. She was in a giant shower. Then she noticed the other figures around her. They were naked and unmoving. Each was covered in deep cuts from head to toe, dead.

"Wake up."

Jenny turned around. A man stood there, his face covered in shadows. Something in his hand glinted in the light. A bloody scalpel...

"Wake up!"

Jenny woke up on the river bed, coughing up water. She wasn't in a shower. She was in the woods. It had all been a dream, not that this was much better. Richard had been ordering her awake on the radio.

"Oh, you're doing great, baby!" he said. "Don't quit on me now!"

Jenny crawled to her feet and looked around anxiously. She spotted him on top of the cliff face a few hundred metres away, staring at her through his binoculars.

"Do you need a minute? Cos I don't wanna rush you."

Jenny glared at him, and then ran for her life.

"Alright. We'll rush."

*

"Hey neighbour!"

Paul turned around. He had barely gotten his key into the lock before the door opposite had flung open. His neighbour Mellie was standing there. "Off early?"

Mellie was a pretty girl, short and curvy with brown hair and perfect white teeth. She was wearing a sundress, holding a plate of lasagne.

"Just swinging by for a bite," Paul said. "Then back to it."

"Keeping our streets safe." she giggles. "I should thank you. You know, by... thanking you... you wanna have some lasagne? I have leftovers."

Paul looked at it. It looked delicious, but was noticeably uneaten. "You know it's only leftovers if you've already eaten some, Mellie."

Mellie laughed awkwardly. "Oh, no, I, uh, made another one that I... it's really good."

"Rain check?"

Mellie nodded. "Totally, yeah, anytime. Just knock, I'm always-- ooh, um, pretty. Who's she?"

Paul looked at the file in his hand. The picture of the girl, Caroline, was held to it with a paper clip. "Nobody. According to the FBI database. No record of her."

"Is she in trouble?"

"Maybe. Or just got caught up with the wrong people. Either way I'll keep looking til I find her."

Paul gave Mellie a fleeting smile before walking into his apartment and shutting the door. Mellie stared after him.

"Lucky girl..."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
In reply to this post by Illyria
Jenny slowed to a jog, panting. She was sweating: she peeled off her damp sweater and threw it into the bushes, leaving her chilly in just her thin burgundy tank. There wasn't, however, much she could do about her legs, which were roasting to death in a pair of khaki pants. She tried to speed up: Richard would find her in a few minutes if she didn't.

She heard a noise. Maybe it wouldn't take five minutes.

Jenny dived behind a tree, her heart racing. Something scuffed against her boot: a thick branch. She picked it up and held it to her chest. The noise was getting closer. Closer...

Jenny screamed and swung the branch ferociously. Someone caught the branch, but it wasn't Richard. Jenny was taken aback, tried to prise it free--

"Wait!" the man said. "I'm not gonna hurt you!"

"Do I know you?" she said, her voice brittle.

"Everything's gonna be alright."

Jenny stopped breathing do quickly. Her body relaxed. She let go of the log. Words were flowing out of her lips without her thinking. "Now that... you're here..."

The man... Boyd... threw the log down. "Stay close. I'm gonna get you out--"

A whooshing noise cut him off. Boyd screamed as an arrow tip jutted out of his side.

"Ok..." he murmured.

*

Jenny tried to run fast, but it proved hard with her supporting Boyd's weight. He winced for the umpteenth time.

"We gotta stop." Jenny said.

"No!" Boyd protested gruffly.

"You got shot with a freakin' arrow! We keep moving, you're gonna die."

"If Robin Hood catches up with us, we're both gonna die." Boyd shimmied free from Jenny's arm and leaned against a nearby tree trunk. How he looked, his name, the things he said, it was so familiar.

"...how do I know you?"

Boyd looked at her. "We met awhile back."

"I feel like... I can trust you, but... but I don't remember..." Jenny massaged her temple, held a hand to her stomach.

"You ok?" Boyd asked.

"There was something in the water. Richard put something in by water..."

"He poisoned you?"

"He said it wouldn't kill me, but I've been seeing things..."

"What kind of things?"

Jenny saw no point in lying. Not to Boyd. "A girl that looks like me but isn't. Dead bodies in a shower. And a man standing over me holding a knife but I can't see his face, I don't think he has one! Are you here, is this... is this real?"

Boyd nodded. "I'm here. And yeah." He motioned to his wound. "this is real."

"He's gonna kill us... he's gonna find us and he's--"

"Hey. Hey!" Boyd grabbed her arm, and she looked at him. "Everything's going to be alright."

Jenny was about to feel safe, but... she didn't let herself. She looked around: Richard would be on them soon. And even if they did escape, or Richard put them out of their misery, what was to stop him doing this to another girl, another dozen?

"No it isn't."

Boyd looked confused, shocked. "Did... did you hear what I said? Everything's going to--"

"Everything's NOT gonna be alright! You don't get to live just because you deserve to, you have to prove it! You... you have to put your shoulder to the wheel!"

For the first time, it all made sense.

"You wanna speak English?" Boyd asked. "I'm kinda bleeding to death here..."

"He's not gonna stop. Unless he's dead."

"You can't go after this guy. You don't have the right impri-- you don't have the right training."

"I'm a fast learner." Jenny said through gritted teeth.

"Jenny--"

"Do you trust me?"

Again, he looked like this wasn't supposed to happen: like it couldn't happen. "What?"

"Do you trust me?"

"...With my life." He winced as he slid a pistol with a silencer out from the back of his belt. "You know how to use this?"

Jenny took the gun and nodded. "Four brothers. None of 'em democrats. But you should keep this. If Richard finds you, he'll--"

Something caught her eye. Boyd had another gun in his hand.

"You didn't think I'd give you my only gun, did you?"

Jenny gave a faint smile.

*

Richard stook a fresh arrow into the bow. That was the third time he had heard a noise. He looked to the nearby tree. He sidestepped, whirled around, ready to fire.

Nothing there.

"Didn't think it'd be that easy, did you?"

It was Jenny on his radio. But she was near. He looked around, but she wasn't in sight. He put the radio to his lips.

"I'd be disappointed if it was. How's your buddy holding up? He was losing an awful lot of blood."

"Not as much as you're about to."

There was something confident about her tone. Richard didn't like it. "What're you gonna do, throw rocks at me?"

"No." Jenny said, her voice piercing. "I'm gonna shoot you with the gun my buddy gave me. You're playing MY game now. Toss the bow and get on your knees, or I blow your freakin' head off."

Richard smiled a little. "My Dad woulda really liked you. I'm still gonna kill you--"

Within a millisecond of hearing the whizzing noise, a bullet slashed his bicep open, as a parade of a million more bullets burrowed into the tree. Richard rolled to safety in time to spot a blur of red and dark green: Jenny, up the riverbank. He aimed, but his arm wavered, and she just kept moving.

Richard got to his feet and ran.

*

Jenny ran up the slope into a clearing just above the river, but she wasn't going to stop there. She was gonna run to a good vantage point and put a bullet in Richard's brain. She gave a quick look back. He wasn't here yet but he would--

Jenny was stopped in her tracks by another her.

It wasn't the one from the river, the younger one. This was was the same age, but was wearing all black and looked beaten and tired. "I just wanted to make a difference." she murmured regretfully. Jenny just stared at her. How could she be the same girl, have the same face, but not remember...?

"Hey, baby. Little piece of advice. You don't want the big bad wolf to find you, you should really turn off your Walkie."

Jenny returned to the land of the living. The other Jenny was gone, she frantically reached for her Walkie...

A noise.

Jenny whirled around, aiming the gun single-handed. Richard was just a few metres away, bow pointed.

He smiled. "Is this the best date ever or what?"

"Put it down." Jenny ordered. "Or I put you down.

Richard laughed as she stood uneasily. "Look at you. You can barely stand up. Probably wouldn't be able to hit me even if you did pull the trigger."

Jenny whipped her second hand up to the gun, steadying it. "You really wanna find out?"

"I admit, I'm curious. Concerned, but curious. Then again: you shoot me, you get an arrow in that pretty little chest."

"How's that arm holding up?" Jenny said, noticing the bloody, shaking bicep. "Maybe I'm not the one that's gonna miss."

He smiled again, nervous laughter. "I'll tell you what: why don't we ease up? We'll call it a draw."

Jennu scoffed in disbelief. "You'll let me go?"

"Sure. No harm, no foul."

"You poisoned me, and tried to shoot me with arrows!" Jenny nearly screamed.

"Ok, so... maybe a little bit of harm. Look, how about this? On the count of three, we both back off. Deal?"

Jennh gave a faint nod. "One..."

"Two..."

Jenny slowly lowered the gun. Richard's bow fell by his side. "Three." she finished.

Jenny whipped her gun back up. Richard whipped his bow back up.

Richard fired and Jenny fired.

Richard rolled as soon as he fired, and Jenny sidestepped. The bullet buried into Richard's hip, which made him yell and ruin the landing. Jenny didn't get hit, but the arrow knocked the gun from her hands. She fell into the dirt and saw Richard scrambling for his bow. She screamed and plowed into him. She fell on top of him and the bow and arrows scattered.

Jenny left hooked him in the face, right hooked him, left hooked, right hooked, not letting him get in. She grabbed his hair and planted a downward fist into his face. Again. She went to right hook, but Richard got their first. She was knocked back into the dirt, her teeth rattled. She tried to crawl away, but Richard grabbed her boot and flipped her over. He dug his hands into her neck and began to close up her throat, strangling her. Jenny struggled, beating against his arms, but they stayed in place. Richard laughed manically, cackled. Jenny's vision blurred and the three Jennys were there. But she remembered now. They weren't her. There was Caroline, a younger Caroline and now one of them who looked Jenny's age, wearing a simple black tank top and pyjama-like pants, face plain in simple serenity.

"I try to be my best." Echo said. She looked at the ground beside Jenny, who agonisingly turned her head to look.

A single arrow.

Jenny abandoned Richard's arms, grabbed the arrow and plunged in into neck.

He screamed and stumbled off, collapsed against a log, holding his bloody neck. Blood was flowing from just under his ear, running through his fingers. Jenny took a deep breath, allowing air to flood her lungs. She got to her feet and stared at him.

"Wow," Richard gurgled. "That really hurt!"

"Good." Jenny said bitterly, allowing the arrow to drop between her fingers.

"You said you were gonna kill me. Good thought to follow through on... She was right about you. You really are special."

"What're you talking about?"

He smiled, his eyes becoming unfocused. "Shoulder to the wheel, baby." He slapped his arm. "Shoulder to the wheel..."

His hand fell, smearing his arm with blood. He slackened, stop breathing.

Jenny looked at him for a moment, turned on her heel and went to find Boyd.

*

Echo woke up. The chair moved up, putting her in a sitting position. Topher was there, but so was Boyd, with a few fresh wounds on his face. Echo noticed her own hand was scraped.

"Did I fall asleep?" she asked.

Boyd walked to her and held her hand in his.

"For a little while."

*

Adelle stormed back into her office, Dominic behind her, and made a beeline for the bar. "The background checks are supposed to prevent this sort of thing! How is it that you missed the fact that Conell is a psychopath?"

"Because Richard Conell doesn't exist." Dominic said, handing her a file. "Nothing in his jacket was real. His entire background - from birth, to college to his referral here - all of it was fabricated. I've never seen anything this intricate."

Adelle massaged her temple. "What about the man Langton subdued in the van, have you interrogated him yet?"

"He was dead when we got there. But not from his run-in with Langton."

*

Boyd looked at the ranger's body as Doctor Saunders lifted the sheet. He was covered in multiple cuts. "That's not the way I left him."

"The GSWs were non-fatal." Saunders agreed. "Painful, but you avoided the major arteries."

"That was the plan. What about these other wounds?"

Saunders circled the table. "Caused by a single, non-serrated blade. Approximately 10 centimetres in length. The lacerations are precise, almost surgical."

"I've seen this before... Alpha."

"That's impossible," Saunders said immediately, as if she was expecting it.

"Isn't that what we do here?" Boyd pointed out. "The impossible?"

"Alpha is dead! After he... after what he did... they tracked him down and put a bullet in his brain."

"And they'd never lie to us about something like that. Would they?" Boyd pointed out. Saunders turned away, uneasy, but Boyd continued. "Alpha could've killed Echo when he escaped, but he didn't. A wake of bodies, but he left her alive. Now, someone hires some nut job to hunt her down in the woods. Maybe it was Alpha: maybe not. Only thing I really know is: it all leads back to Echo."

*

Echo decided she wanted to go swimming. She was heading for the pool, padding across the Dollhouse floor, when Mr. Dominic appeared in front of her.

"Sorry," she said, going to walk around him.

"Are you?"

She paused. "Am I?" she asked, confused.

"Sorry. Are you really sorry?" he said, looking down at her mockingly. "Awful lot of people seem to end up dead around you. How's it make you feel? Oh right: you don't. Unless we tell you how. And what, and when."

Echo had never seen Mr. Dominic act like this. She shook the confusion from her head. "I'm going to swim in the pool." she informed him, smiling.

But he kept going. "If it were up to me, I'd put you in the Attic. Or the ground." At Echo's blank look, he laughed. "Yeah, like talking to you's gonna make a difference." He leaned in close and wagged his finger in her face. "There's nobody in there!"

He left, leaving Echo standing alone. She looked after him. She remembered...

What did she remember? She didn't remember... anything, but this...

Echo slapped her arm.

Shoulder to the wheel...
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
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==Engagement 3: Stage Fright==

"You shouldn't have taken the arrow out," Doctor Saunders said with a concerned tone, walking from her desk. "You could have bled to death. And a broadhead arrow does more damage coming out."

"I'll remember that next time I'm being bow-hunted." Boyd said gruffly. His hands were going numb after an age of holding them up while Saunders inspected his wound.

"But you're healing nicely." she said, somewhat regretfully.

"So I'm certified?"

"I really would recommend you take a few more days, Mr. Langton." she said with a hint of pleading.

"You know you can call me Boyd."

Saunders looked akward. "Is there a reason I'd want to?"

"Look, if you don't certify me, and Echo gets sent out again, she could end up with some stranger as her handler." Boyd pointed out.

"...we're all strangers to them."

Boyd got up from the table and pulled his shirt back on. "She's my responsibility. And we both know there's someone out there. Someone who wants her dead. The word from upstairs is it can't be Alpha."

Saunders sighed. "You're certified."

"Thank you."

"And do keep a close eye. Someone else is watching."

Boyd raised an eyebrow. "Someone always is."

*

"Did you forget your key again--?"

Mellie stopped talking when she realise it wasn't Paul. A man with his hood up was at Paul's door. His back was to her, but she would bet money that he was picking the lock.

The man jumped, pushed his hood down. "Oh, I startle you, you startle me!" he said in a thick accent.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm, uh, a friend of Paul."

Mellie raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"An old friend from, uh ... Navy." Paul wasn't in the navy: the man clearly saw it in her face, because he rushed to correct his mistake. "Friend from Old Navy. I did retail before. He would buy slacks. He told me he would be home."

"He should be back soon."

The man smiled. "You're a friend of Paul, too? Good friend, yeah? You're waiting by the door?"

Mellie shifted uncomfortably. "No, I just happened to... We're not..."

The man leaned to look inside the apartment. "You're making coffee in there?" He indicated himself. "Enough for two--"

"Did you want to leave him a message?"

He smiled again. "Here." He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to her. Tell him to meet me Friday night at this place. Not at work. He comes by my work, he bothers me... and my bosses get very mad."

Mellie lifted her eyes from the card to stare at him. "At Old Navy?"

"You give him card--"

"Bye."

She couldn't close the door fast enough."

*

"Hello, Biz." Adelle said warmly, stepping into her office.

Biz, a middle-aged british man who reeked of style, turned away from the window and smiled a dazzling smile at her. As usual, he was wearing sunglasses indoors.

"Aha!" he said, pulling her into an embrace and planting a kiss on her cheek. "I did try to respect your no-sunglasses rule, but what is this, a greenhouse?" he motioned to the large window of the skyscraper office. "I'm photosynthesising here."

"All right." Adelle strode to her desk and hit a button on her controls. Blinds folded, dimming the light.

Biz took of his sunglasses. "Ah. Bless." He made the sign of the cross in Adelle's direction.

"I didn't know you were in town." Adelle said.

"Rayna's at the Henry Fonda."

"Not the Forum?"

Biz walked to the bar and poured himself drink. "It's the pre-release. You know, the intimate evening gigs. Remind everyone that she's an artist. Actually sings the damned songs. We do the stadiums in the summer."

Adelle had heard a great deal about Rayna, a popstar Biz managed. Or at least, tried to. "Sounds exhausting." she said, sinking onto the couch. "I can have the twins freed up in a day or so if you need to unwind."

"Someone's trying to kill Rayna." Biz said in a deadpan voice. "And to my utter amazement, it isn't me."

"Kill her? Are you certain?"

Biz sat down opposite her. "Did you hear about the accident in Kansas City? Flash pot with a double charge. Girl on fire."

"It wasn't an accident?"

"Actually, it was, yes. We changed up the choreography that day. Should have been Rayna standing there."

Adelle was intrigued. "Was that the only time?"

"No, we had a lighting rig come loose in Philly. Got tangled up in the flies."

"How's Rayna dealing with all this?" Adelle asked, picking up a weird diorama-collage of Rayna images that Biz had brought.

"I'm worried about it. She seems erratic, disconnected lately. Even moodier, if that is physically possible. Here. Have a look at this." He handed her a stack of letters written on red paper. "Rayna's had stalkers ever since she was singing for the Mouse, but this guy..."

Adelle scanned the letter, and was not happy with what she found. "And to think, some people don't believe in everlasting love. Meanwhile, Rayna needs to be protected and not by bodyguards."

"Oh, she hates those guys." Biz agreed, shaking his head. "Yes, feels like a prisoner, blah-bliddy blah blah blah. Anyway, this guy can dodge them. No what she needs is someone by her side that she likes, she trusts, and will protect her without even knowing she's supposed to."

"So there's a risk?" Adelle said. After reading the letter, she went to the bar, needing a good drink.

"Absolutely. She's got to be willing to take a bullet for my girl."

Adelle refilled Biz's glass. "I will try to make sure it doesn't come to that. What we do need is a credible reason for our Active to be in Rayna's life."

"Yes, well, as it happened, we do have an opening..."

*

Doctor Saunders strode into Topher's office, file in hand. As usual, he was at his computer. "You sent Echo out on a high-risk engagement?" she asked, outraged.

"Doctor Saunders!" Topher said cheerfully. "So good of you to annoy me!"

"I had her flagged for romantic or altruistic engagements only. Does anybody read these?" she asked, holding up the file.

"Her last romantic engagement turned out to be extremely high-risk." Topher pointed out. "Maybe her engagement with Rayna will turn romantic. Ooh..." Topher zoned out, giggling.

"She's a bodyguard?"

"She's a singer." Topher corrected. "Persona and parameter: two separate elements. Persona: she's a struggling singer who just got her first break. Yay! Parameter: she must protect Rayna, which she will do instinctively and unconsciously at all times."

"So she doesn't even know she's a bodyguard. And this makes what better?"

Topher took a square piece of machinery coated in metal - he dubbed it a Wedge -  from his computer and put it into a nearby machine. He walked into the imprint room, forcing Saunders to follow. "Who do you want? Someone who's paid to protect you or someone who wants to protect you? This is the beauty of what we do."

"And what about Boyd? He's not up to any serious physical threat."

Topher froze at one of his machines and turned to look at her curiously. "BOYD? What, are you guys buddies now? Oh, God, of course you are!" he said in some sort of realisation while taking the Wedge in his hand. "You both disapprove of everything! You're gonna get married and have scowly babies!"

"Don't be an idiot." Saunders warned. Topher laughed befote mimicing a baby crying, agitating her further.

"Not to stress," he said, sticking the Wedge into the slot behind the inprint chair. "We're sending in backup anyway."

The door opened. Saunders turned to see Sierra with her handler, Joe, a tall man in his forties and a bad suit, walk in.

"Would you please have a seat?" Topher asked her.

Sierra smiled and obeyed.

*

"All right, stop, stop, stop!" Rayna said. "That's what I was talking about. You guys gotta come in tighter on me on the eight." she told her backup dancers. "You move in any sooner than that and I'm gonna be steppin' all over you like a hot mess, okay? It goes boom, pop, and seven and eight. Hit that. And five, six, seven, and eight."

Jordan watched them dance. Even at this tiny studio, Rayna was wonderful. She was beautiful, tall and skinny with chocolate-coloured and dazzling teeth. It was a shame Jordan and her felloe backup singers - a nice girl called Amy and a slightly bitchy girl called Tanya - were confined to practising by the clothes rack. Jordan was freezing to death in a bra and jeans, working on her harmonies while a stylist hemmed her jeans.

"Okay, you know what, that's fine, but Jordan, softer on your consonants." the coach advised.

Jordan nodded. "Okay, I haven't seen all the lyrics yet, so I'm kinda flying blind here."

"I need a lyric book for the new girl now!" he yelled to no one in particular. A moment later, he went to look for himself.

"They're not very good lyrics." Amy pointed out. "A lot of "ooh"s and "ah"s?"

"Yeah."

"Try not to move, please." the stylist asked.

"Oh, sorry."

"So is this your first big tour?" Amy asked.

"Big one? Yes. I've been working a lot, but nothing like Rayna Russell. I mean, this is the dream gig."

Amy and Tayna shared a knowing look. One that said Jordan would change her views soon.

A group of tall, muscular men in the corner caught Jordan's eye. "What's up with all the muscle?"

"Oh, you heard about that "accident," right?" Amy said.

"Yeah..."

"Well, first there was three bodyguards." Tayna said. "Now there's eight, plus a whole security staff."

"And they don't bring in her fan mail anymore. What I hear, it goes straight to the police."

"Stop, stop!" Rayna said to the dancers. "Let's do it one more time from the top!"

"And what about her?" Jordan asked. "Diva or DIVA?"

"Ugh." Amy groaned. "It depends on the day. I mean, she's the real deal. She's earning it."

The singing coach returned, lyric book on hand. "All right, ladies, here you go." he handed it to Jordan. They began practising again, but only for a moment before Biz walked over. The coach silenced them and turned to him.

"We had to replace the monitor board, so you're gonna have to get there earlier." Biz told the coach. The coach, looking thoroughly annoyed, rushed away. "Thank you. Hello, girls." he said. They all gave him a cheerful 'hi' and a small wave.

The stylist stood up, holding a sparkly tube top. "Bra off, please. Try this on."

Tanya chuckled. She and Amy rushed away.

"Wh-? Should we, uh, go to the bathroom or...?"

The stylist gave her a sympathetic look. "Honey, you've got three quick changes during the show. They're all gonna see your stuff now or later, so you might as well get used to it."

Jordan looked around awkwardly. No one was really looking at her. She stuck a smile on her face, slipped off her bra and hurriedly squeezed into the top. It covered only what Jordan really needed covered. "Is it always this crazy?" she said to herself.

"Okay, stop!" It was Rayna. She was looking at everyone in the room, furious. "Stop! Who's eating a mint? Somebody is eating a mint! Okay, I- I can't breathe!"

"And I think we're done here," Biz said, strolling over. "Rayna, darling, let's get you over to the venue. Yes, indeed..."

Jordan realised she was by the door, and pretended to shift her top around to avoid Rayna's eyes.

"Hey," Rayna said, causing Jordan to look up. "Now that you're done flashing everybody, you want to roll with me to sound check? We can go over your harmonies in the car."

"Cool with me!" Jordan said, beaming. The stylist passed her a jacket, which she hastily put on, and followed Rayna out the door.

She was faintly aware of Tanya saying "Well, looky who's pick of the week!"

*

Cut to a fly over of the city, to an establishing shot of a nice-looking building. Inside, there is a pool where there is a party going on. Pan over to the clothed section. Paul is making his way through the crowd. He spies Lubov looking over the railing at the city. He goes to stand next to him.]

Paul pushed through the crowd until he reached the railing at the edge of the roof. Lubov was leaning on it, looking over the city. A party was raving on the roof just metres behind them.

"Nice view." he said.

Lubov chuckled. "Yeah, look at all the pretty lights, and, uh, the people look like ants and I can see my house from here. You trying to get me killed?"

"I wasn't followed." Paul said, somewhat resentful.

"Yeah, yeah, you cannot be sniffing around the family and talking to me! The Borodins see us together, we both get a death, and I don't get the nice one. Besides, the family's clean on this."

"They traffic girls." Paul pointed out.

Lubov shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not, but they don't brainwash them."

Paul rolled his eyes. "I thought you got something I could use."

"Yeah, yeah, I did what you asked. I start throwing the word "Dollhouse" around, my people, they look at me like I'm tourist. I can't afford that!" Lubov turned on his heel and started to walk away--

"Maybe you're too small-time."

Lubov stopped. He turned around, sheer annoyance on his face. "It's a myth, okay?! It's an urban legend: young people having their personalities replaced so that they could be the perfect date?" he laughed. "It's- it's alligators in the sewers."

"I've heard this song." Paul said, shrugging. "It's not my favourite."

"You got no leads." A couple approached to sit down near them. Lubov screeched and shooed them away before collapsing in a chair. "Anything you think you had led you to me, and I'm a dead end."

"You don't know what I got."

"What you got is the nicest version of "fired" the BI has. See, you don't know me, but I checked you out plenty, Agent Ballard. You don't close. The Van Dynes, Illinois Gun Club; Bureau takes pity, gives you the one job you can't blow because it doesn't exist!"

"The technology exists."

Lubov massaged his forehead and rejoined Paul at the railing. "It... somebody made a monkey tango, right? It doesn't mean it's being used on people."

"It does." Paul said. "It means that."

"How do you know?"

Paul didn't say anything for a moment, just looked down at the cars, before continuing. "We split the atom, we make a bomb. We come up with anything new, the first thing we do is destroy, manipulate, control. It's human nature."

"...Yeah, people are mostly crap. I don't think there's a Dollhouse. I hear different, I'll get word." Lubov pulled away from the railing, began to back up. "Personally, I wish there was."

"How come?"

"So I could sign up! Wipe all of my terrible burdens away."

Paul gave a tiny smile. "Keep you in mind."

Lubov began to get eaten up by the crowd. "I start over, I wanna be Doris friggin' Day."

*

"Right, so, I know this isn't my place," Jordan said. "But I was just walking off my nerves, and I noticed there's no security by the freight elevator. And it seems like somebody could get in there. You know, if you're worried about a homicidal fan or something."

Biz seemed to consider this for a moment. "Good eyes, Jordan."

"Sierra should come into play in a minute." Topher told Boyd in his ear.

"I'm glad they double-tracked this. Who's handling her?"

"Joe Hearn. You won't like him."

On Boyd's computer monitor, a stage hand warned that the curtain would come up in fifteen minutes. He shifted awkwardly in his van's chair. "Echo's on in 15. Okay, okay..."

"Oh my God!" Topher said. "Are you NERVOUS? Opening-night jitters? Your little girl out there on the big stage?"

"On the stage where the last little girl caught fire?" Boyd pointed out.

"...A fair point."

"I mean, her singing's not a problem. It's not, right? I mean, she is a good singer. I think she's good. She wouldn't freeze up?"

Topher chuckled. "She'll be fine, Mama Rose. What's the deal with Rayna? You got the inside edition. Is she cool? What's she like?""

"If you like shallow, vapid, narcissistic girls."

"Really? Shallow? She seemed so earthy and normal with Katie Couric. You just can't trust people anymore." Topher pulled a Wedge out of the machine. "You think you know someone..."

Topher turned back to the Active in the chair. Male, with poufy black hair, well-built, normally handsome but looking worn out at the moment. Victor.

"Hello, Victor. How are you feeling?"

Victor looked around at his surroundings, confused. "Did I fall asleep?"

Topher looked at the Wedge label: Anton Lubov. From the Ballard case.

Topher was just glad the accent was gone.

*

Jordan walked close by Rayna. "Deep breaths help to prevent pre-show barfing." Rayna advised. "Biz taught me that trick when I was 12."

This didn't help Jordan. She had some serious butterflies. Just then, they were joined by Biz and a new woman, with bronze skin, dirty blonde hair and sharp cheekbones, wearing glasses that magnified her eyes to a huge size.

"Rayna, this is Audra, winner of the number one fan contest." Biz said. "She flew all the way in from Australia."

Rayna barely looked at her. "Oh, hey, sweetie, I'd love to hang, but I've got a show to do, you understand, right?" She said all this in about 3 seconds.

"Of course," Audra said in a thick Australian accent, followed by a chorus that included at least twelve "Oh my God"s. She and Biz stopped moving as Ratna and Jordan got closer to stage left.

"That was weird," Jordan said. "Weird adoration."

"No, what's weird is that I don't even notice it..."

*

Jordan stuck close by Rayna's side as they disappeared in a sea of partygoers and bodyguards. "Are you sure this safe?"

"This is my party." Rayna said, waving at a nearby dancing couple.

"You know all these people?"

Rayna rolled her eyew, smiling. "Girl, relax. We're surrounded."

"I know..." Jordan said to herself.

They were both led to the VIP section, which gave them a good view of the rest of the club. The fan girl, Audra, was sitting at their table, sipping from a tall glass. Rayna looked at her with pure fury, but Audra hadn't seen her. "What in the hell is this skank doing at my table?" Rayna said, her voice beginning to rise. "I told you--!"

"Rayna!" Biz said, appearing over her shoulder. "You remember Audra, yes, winner of the online video contest? She's your number one fan."

Audra stood up and beamed. Rayna smiled before turning back to Biz. "Why do you always try to hurt me?" she snarled through gritted teeth.

"Be a saint." Biz whispered, and he bowed out. Rayna looked as if she might explode before she stuck a smile on her face and turned to Audra.
 
"Hey! You have no idea how much it means to me that you're here tonight."

"Oh. My God." Audra said, dumbstruck.

"Have a seat."

"Oh..."

All three sat on the bright red couch. Someone brought them drinks in a minute.

"Uh, I just have to say you are so beautiful and talented and you saved my life." Audra said at the speed of light. "I had your first CD before any of my friends, and, you know, I- I told them..."

"Okay, okay, slow down." Rayna said, still smiling. "Listen, sweetheart, you can just hang. Okay? Turn off fan mode and turn on, um... What's your name again?

"Audra--"

"Turn on Audra mode!"

Audra looked deep in thought. "Audra mode. Okay..."

What are you drinking?

Audra looked to her glass. "Oh, it's a Shirley Temple. They're delicious. Plus, I'm a lightweight, and I want to be able to remember every single detail of my time with you."

Jordan nearly snorted into her glass. "Oh, geez..."

"Well, you're making us feel like alcoholics over here." Rayna said. "Why don't you have some champagne?"

Audra nodded. "Okay." Rayna raised her hand and a glass was in Audra's hand the next moment.

"Unbelievable." Jordan breathed as the server scurried away. "I mean, is it always like this? People just do whatever you tell them to?" Raymond gave a "what're you gonna do?" look before sipping some more champagne. Jordan leaned across the couch to Audra. "If she wanted you to take off your clothes and run down the street right now, just for kicks, would you do it?"

"Oh. um, with or without my undies?"

Jordan and Rayna burst out laughing. Audra giggled awkwardly, and Jordan had a feeling she didn't mean for it to be funny...

A second later, a huge, intense guy was storming towards them, reaching into his jacket for--

a gun.

Jordan was on him in a second. She shoved him in the chest and he flew backwards over the railing, hitting the floor below hard. As he stirred, Audra and Rayna joined her at the railing, eager to see what was happening.

The man, still glaring at Jordan, reached into his jacket and pulled out the remains of a camera.

A photographer.

"Oh." Jordan muttered awkwardly. "Whoops."

"Damn, girl!" Rayna exclaimed, as security dragged the photographer out the door. "You need to chill."

"That was so cool..." Audra said in awe.

Jordan shrugged. "I'm a Southie..."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
This post was updated on .
Paul had rushed over within 20 minutes of getting Lubov's call.

"So, Agent Ballard: maybe I got something for you after all." he had told Paul. "It used to be called the Devonshire Hotel. You know, big noise back when Hollywood still had its dignity."

"If it's abandoned, what am I looking for?" Paul had countered.

"The basement. If people were being held, they probably would have been down there. Hey, I'm getting this third-hand. I still think it goes nowhere."

"Then why call?"

"Because you inspire terrible pity. Watch your back." He had hung up a second after.

Paul kicked his way into a chain-link gate and looked cautiously around with a flashlight. The basement was cold, dusty and damp. There were a few mattresses around, probably from homeless people spending the night...

A noise in the corner caught Paul's attention. Paul whipped his gun from his holster and approached cautiously. After a few seconds of tedious scanning, he lowered his gun. Nothing.

Something slammed into Paul's back, sending him into a concrete column. He went face first, feeling a tooth crack. Though his vision was blurred, Paul could see three men, one holding a two-by-four.

"You wanted to mess with the Borodins?" the one with the board barked.

"Actually," Paul mumbled. "I didn't."

The man swung the board again, but Paul dodged, kneed him and snatched the board from his fingers. He swung the board across the man's face, sending him to the floor. The second man stepped forward, but Paul sent him down in a second.

He was about to start on the third man before he felt the bullet rip through his torso.

The bullet rotated within, ripping something important to ribbons. Paul felt as if his stomach had been torn out. He fell to one knee, gasping.

"Idiot." the third man said. "What an idiot to come here alone. Do you know who we are? We are the last faces you see..."

Paul flung himself forward onto the man's arm, diverting the bullet into the man's leg. As he screamed, one of his fallen comrades staggered to his feet and whipped out his gun. Paul whirled the wounded one around, using him as a human shield as his companion riddled him with bullets. Paul threw the body down as the clip emptied and Paul used the opportunity to beat the crap out of him. Paul abandoned him after hearing a cracking noise before slamming the board into the final man's face. He folded, and Paul flipped him over, straddling him."

"What do you know about the Dollhouse?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

Paul right hooked him, knocking him unconscious, before staggering to his feet. "No one ever does!"

Paul's hand went to his stomach: the adrenaline had made him first about the gunshot wound. He reached into his pocket and fumbled with his phone. He was faintly aware of a woman asking what his emergency was before everything went black.

*

"What?!" Rayna barked through the door.

"It's me!" Jordan said reassuringly.

Rayna swung the door open.


"Hey."

"Get in here." Rayna said, beaming.

Rayna's dressing room was small, but lavishly decorated. A table overflowing with orchids caught Jordan's eye. "Damn, girl!"

“Oh, aren't they gorgeous?” Rayna gushed, breathing their scent in. “You know orchids are the symbol of pure affection.” She took a deep breath. “Yes…”

“Wow. You sure have a lot of them.”

Rayna shrugged. “They help me relax.”

“Nice. I could use some of that.”

Rayna sat at her vanity table. Jordan joined her, perching on the polished wood. “Have you ever felt so unbelievably alive?” Rayna whooped. “This is going to be the best night of my life! I am ready. I am so ready!” She took a sip of from a blue bottle. “Go ahead. Right there.”

“Oh, thanks.” Jordan said getting off the table and heading for the table as Rayna started humming. As she reached for the ice bucket, she noticed a pile of red letters on the table. “Hey, I thought you weren't getting fan mail anymore…” Jordan quickly scanned the top letter. “Whoa. These people think they actually have a relationship with you…”

Rayna tousled her hair in the mirror. “Comes with the territory,” she said, shrugging it off. “My music touches people, so they want to touch me back.”

“Shouldn't the cops be getting all this stuff?”

“Oh, those are old.”

“This one isn't.” Jordan said, flipping through the pile. “It mentions last night's show. These are all from the same guy…” Suddenly, it dawned on her. “It's him. The one they're all afraid of. You're communicating with him?!” She turned to see Rayna standing up, eyes wide and fiery.
“He's my number one fan. Audra's a sweet girl, but... she's got nothing on him.” She daintily.

“Yo, he's not a fan. He's insane!”

In a flash, Rayna was inches from Jordan’s face. If possible, her eyes grew wider. “What do you know? You're a background singer, a wannabe: a nothing!”

There was a knock on the door, a voice warning it was three minutes till curtain.

“Show time.” Rayna said. “The biggest show ever…”
She threw down the letters and exited, Jordan right behind her.

“Don't do this!”

“This is what I do!”

“He's gonna kill you. I think you know that.”

“You have no idea what it's like.” Rayna warned, pushing past a stagehand.

“You can't go out there!”

“You don't tell me what I can and can't do!” Rayna stepped up a ladder and got into a large cage prop.

“You want him to shoot you. On stage. Tonight. You're crazier than he is.”

“I'm not crazy.” Rayna said, as the cage rose through a trapdoor onto the stage. “I just want to be free…”
Jordan looked after her as the cage rose upwards and out of sight.

*

“Biz!” Jordan yelled, running down the hall. “Biz!” She grabbed a stagehand by the arm, whirling him around.” You need to stop the show. Rayna—“

“Jordan, get your ass stage left--!”

“Where's Biz?”

“I'll take you there myself.”

He went to take her by the arm, but Jordan slapped his hand away. “I will smack you.” she snarled.
They wove through the crowd of people. Jordan could hear Rayna, talking to the audience on stage.

I want you to meet somebody special. And this person... reminds me why I do what I do.You know who you are. Come on. Show yourself…!

“Wait!” Jordan said, pausing at stage left. She could see Rayna, looking around eagerly…

Give it up for me number one fan!

Audra appeared on stage, to much cheering and whooping. A stagehand brought her a mic. Rayna had obviously given up.

“This is Audra!”

“W-what’s up, Los Angeles?” Audra said timidly.
Jordan raced backstage, wove through the crowd before finding Biz, watching from stageright.
“He's here.” Jordan panted. “I feel it. I know it.”

“ Stop the show.” Biz said immediately to the nearest bodyguard.

The bodyguard looked shocked. “Because the background singer said so--?”

“Do it!”

“There's no way psycho got through security! You know how many extra guys I hired just for tonight? Huh? Just relax.”

Jordan looked to Biz for support. He looked back regretfully. Jordan turned and started up the stairs onto the stage

“Hey, wait a minute--!” the bodyguard said, trying to stop her. She kneed him in the groin and continued. Another went for her, but Biz stopped him with a word she didn’t hear.
Jordan was nearly blinded by the spotlights and deafened by the cheering. She stayed to the shadows at the front of the stage and tried to scan the rafters, but it was too dark. Something big and bulky caught her eye; a spotlight, right next to her. She grabbed hold of it and shone it in the rafters. Everything was fine until she saw a man, with sallow skin and fiery head, pointing a sniper rifle…

“Rayna, get down!” Jordan screamed as a gunshot rang. There was immediate panic, and Jordan plowed into Rayna, sending them both to the floor as another round was fired. Security was on them in a second, and Jordan was lifted from the stage in a sea of black.

*

Jordan and Rayna were shoved into the latter’s dressing room, the door shut behind them. Jordan had a feeling they were standing outside the door, not that she cared.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Rayna screamed.

“ With me?” Jordan exclaimed apprehensively.

“You shut down my show!”
“I saved your life!”

“You've got no understanding of my life.”

Jordan could feel a migraine coming on. “Okay, are there any drugs you're not on? The guy was about to put a bullet in you, which, PS: also stops the show!”

“You disappointed all those people. I was gonna give 'em a show. Now all they'll say is I didn't give 'em a finish.” Rayna lamented, voice full of disappointment.

“They don't want to see you die.” Jordan said, trying to get her to see sense.

“Did they grow you in a lab? Do you know anything about people? They'd love to see me die. Eighty years old they'd be talking about tonight-they was there when…”

Jordan took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice level.”Rayna... you are not okay, okay? You are having a breakdown. Not a shave-your-head, flash-your-junk whacky phase. You are truly unwell.”

Rayna shrugged. “So he puts me out of my misery.”

“What misery? What have you got to be miserable about?”

Rayna stuck a smile on her face. “No. Right,” she said sarcastically. “Uh... I got to be happy! I got to be grateful. I got to be rebellious-but just enough to give me cred, so people know I'm not a factory girl. But I am.” She looked a little girl when she said that. “I don't exist. I'm not a real person. I'm everybody's fantasy. And God help me if I try not to be. No, you weren't grown in the lab; but I was.” She took a deep swig from her bottle. “Been singing for my supper since when and before when and for everybody else! God put this voice in me and forgot to make it mine. I don't feel it. I don't feel anything. For a long while. But I know he's out there, the reaper, and any minute now... “her voice went soft. “Boom. Freedom. There's your rush. There's your joy. I can hear. I can hear myself.”

“ I think you hear yourself just fine.” Jordan said. “Maybe you want to listen to somebody else, like, say, ever. You don't like your life, change it.”

“They won't let me!”

“You make them let you! You're feeling pain, but all you're doing is spreading it around. God, the last thing I ever thought you'd turn out to be was weak.”

Rayna’s face contorted with that immediate rage she loved so much. “I want you out of here. You say anything to Biz, I'll tell every psycho fan I got right where you live and you won't last a day!”

Jordan gave a small chuckle. “Oh, this gig was supposed to change everything for me. And now I'm thinking it did.”

Rayna grabbed Jordan’s bicep. “Get your scrawny ass out—“

Jordan yanked her arm free and shoved Rayna against the wall. “You can fire me, but, bitch; don't think you can take me. Have fun with your fan.” She snarled.

Jordan stormed out, slamming the door.
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
Jordan walked into the studio, the one where rehearsals had taken place, to see it bustling with activity. Stagehands were packing up and leaving, bodyguards were searching everybody and Rayna and Biz were up on the platform above, both staring intently at something out of view. On her own ground level, Jordan saw Amy was watching them too. She approached her, confused. "I came to get my stuff--"

"I thought something might have happened to you too." Amy said. For a moment, Jordan was afraid she would hug her.

"What do you mean?"

Amy motioned to Rayna and Biz up above. "Seems like it wasn't such a good idea to be seen out with Rayna..." Jordan looked at them both before making her way up the stairs.

They were both standing rigid, looking at a laptop screen. A pale man with red hair was on a video feed - the man from the rafters. The crazed fan. "Look what you've done, Rayna." he was saying. "You messed it all up. And I want to be able to forgive you, but... your actions lately... " He held a gun into view and stepped back, revealing Audra, bruised and snivelling, tied to a chair. Rayna gasped as he planet the gun against her head. "Who is this? Why her? How is she your number one fan? You gave her what was mine. And I know you said we could never meet in person because it... because it would diminish what we have. It would ruin our moment. Now, you will come meet me in person, and I will not shoot this girl in the brains."

"Lunatic..." Biz breathed.

"I kill for you, you die for me." the man continued. "That was the deal. I want to fulfill my part, Rayna. You have my number. Call me."

The video froze, leaving a terrified Audra in view.

Biz slowly turned to Rayna. "'Call me'"?" he repeated. "You did this?"

Rayna lifted her previously bowed head to look at him. In a flash, he backhanded her across the face. As Rayna screamed, Jordan shoved Biz into the wall, slamming his head off a pillar. Rayna scurried down the stairs and disappeared.

"Ten years." Biz said regretfully. "Never done that. She wanted this. All of it. Otherwise, I never would have--"

"Getting what you want may not be the best thing for a person." Jordan pointed out.

"You're supposed to be with her."

"She fired me."

Biz seemed concerned. "Does that make a difference?"

Jordan considered it. "No. I don't know why, but... even after everything that's happened, I..." The image of Audra caught her eye. "I have to help her."

She made her way down the steps to the now empty floor. Biz watched her go.

*

"Sierra has been kidnapped." Dominic said.

Adelle was too shocked to enforce the knocking rule. "Echo?"

"On task. Still protecting Rayna."

She nodded and he turned to take his leave--

"Are you a fan, Mr. Dominic?"

He stopped, puzzled. "I'm sorry?"

"Rayna," she explained. "Do you like her music?"

"I... I don't know if being a fan has very much to do with that. Not at the level we're dealing with."

"No." she said. "Get the girl. Close it out."

He left. Adelle poured a drink and sat by the phone.

*

Despite her hatred for her, Jordan couldn't deny Rayna was an excellent dancer.

She was here in the studio, alone, moving gracefully in and out of the shadows. She was almost sad to interrupt.

"What are you doing?"

Rayna jumped, stopped. "You scared me."

"I scared you? After all this, I scared you?"

"Why are you here? I fired you."

Jordan stepped out of the shadows and into the shaft of moonlight. "Look, I'm not here to fight, Rayna. I'm sorry for the things I said. I just want to know how I can help."

"You can leave."

"Then what are you gonna do?"

"The show must go on..." She began practicing again. It wasn't as amusing this time.

"You can't be serious! This isn't just about you anymore, Rayna. Someone else is in danger."

Rayna stopped again. "We called the police. What else do you want from me?"

"You know this guy. You know what he's capable of. You could stop him from hurting Audra."

"I can't stop him."

"You could try. She's your friend."

"She's a fan. She'd want me to continue."

Again with the practicing, but it only lasted a moment.

"Rayna... I know you don't feel anything, or think that you don't, but you will. You will if you do something to save this girl. And you will help this girl." Jordan retreated back into the shadows on the final sentence.

"What makes you think--"

Jordan grabbed the folding chair by the leg and swung it into the back of Rayna's hand. She crumbled to the ground, unconscious.

"Friends help each other out."

*

Dominic burst through the lab door and grabbed Topher by the collar. Despite the chorus of "Whoa!"s, he yanked him from his chair and slammed him against the wall.

"Hey-hey-hey-hey! Ow--!"

"What the hell's the matter with you?" Dominic spat. "Are you doing this on purpose or you just terrible at your job?!"

Topher looked puzzled. "Uh, neither. Doing what?"

"Echo's off-task. Your little brainchild just backfired."

"Okay, okay, first of all; ow. Secondly, Echo's hardwired to protect the client. Now, sometimes these things play out differently than we anticipate."

"You better check your tech! Echo is off task, and Sierra was pretty crappy backup considering she got kidnapped--!"

"That's enough!" Topher said, finally freeing himself from Dominic's grasp. "You're in my house, Lawrence! Of the two people here, one of us is a genius and the other is a security guard in a very lovely suit."

"All right, genius. Tell me why Echo would kidnap the girl you programmed her to protect and bring her to the man who's trying to kill her." He held up a recorder. "This was found on the stalker's machine." He pushed the button, and Echo's voice began playing: 'Hi, fan number one. My name is Jordan. I have Rayna. I want to make an exchange. No funny stuff. I'll meet you where the original plan was supposed to go down. Then you can have her.'

"Wow." Topher laughed in chagrin as Dominic stopped the recorder. "That does sound kind of bad..."

*

The crazed fan led Audra across the catwalk towards Jordan and Rayna, gun in hand. Jordan had Rayna in a headlock, her whimpering stifled by the tape over her mouth.

"Hey." Jordan whispered to her. "You wanted to die. This would be a 'careful what you wish for' moment."

"Let her go!" the fan warned as he and Audra approached.

"And let her fall to her death? But then I'd have nothing to bargain with!"

"You drop her, and this girl will have a big hole right in her head." he put the gun to Audra. "This girl for Rayna... now."

"How 'bout this? You let Audra go, throw the gun down there, and I will hand you Rayna. You can do whatever you want with her. Because, honestly, I don't care if Rayna lives. She wants to die and you want to kill her. So, basically, nobody wants Rayna to make it to tomorrow."

"I do..." Audra said meekly

"It's not about killing her." the man continued. "It's about giving her what she wants."

Jordan nearly grinned. "Then this is a big, magical moment for the two of you--"

"Shut up!" he said. He pushed Audra roughly to the catwalk floor, still pointing the gun at her. "You can't possibly understand what we have together."

"True. Maybe Rayna can explain."

Jordan ripped the tape off. The man flinched as Rayna screamed.

"I'm so sorry." Rayna blubbered. "Please let me go, I don't want to hurt anybody. Please, I'm sorry! I... I don't want to hurt anymore..."

"That's really up to him. He decides your fate, right?"

"No, please, he's crazy!"

The man looked like he had gotten hit by a bus.

Jordan shrugged. "I guess it's not love after all."

"She doesn't mean that..." the man breathed.

"I'm sorry." Rayna offered.

"Rayna, I would never hurt you--"

"God, now you're changing your story, too?" Jordan said, exasperated. "Can we hurry this up, because I am so sick of this little episode we got going on here--"

"Shut up!" the man screamed. "I-I could kill you and have both girls. I could kill everybody!"

"No!" Rayna yelped.

"She doesn't seem to like that idea..."

"SHUT UP! Shut up, I will shoot you!"

Jordan shoved Rayna forward a little so she was leaning over the railing. "And then I'll let her go." she warned calmly.

Rayna screamed again. The crazy fanboy threw his hands up.

Jordan rolled her eyes. "You don't want to die. You don't want her dead. This is way too confusing!"

Jordan shoved Rayna off the platform. Rayna screamed, the man yelled, raced to where she ha been pushed--


Rayna stopped screaming. The rope clasping her hands had been secured to a pipe. She was dangling a few metres below.

Jordan took the opportunity to beat him away. She disarmed him in the process and pointed the pistol at his chest. He stood frozen with fear. Jordan almost pitied him. She pistol whipped him across the face and he went down.

Jordan tucked the gun into the waistband of her jeans before bending down to help Audra to her feet. She stood and toppled a bit. She yelped and Jordan steadied her.

"Is Rayna okay?" Audra asked after a moment.

Jordan peered over the railing. Rayna was still dangling, looking up at them with wide eyes.

"Please don't let me die!" she begged. "I want to live!"

Jordan began pulling the rope up. "I know..."

*

"I will have quite the story to tell when I get back to Brisbane!" Audra said as she and Jordan exited the theater, back to her old sunny ways.

"What do you mean?" Jordan asked. "This is what every day is like in America!"

"Well, part of it was dreadful, but it was by far the most exciting, fulfilling, wonderful day of my life!"

Jordan laughed. "You're the scariest one of all."

"That's all I need: you rubbing off on her."

Jordan turned around. Two men in suits were standing, waiting for them. One was Boyd: she didn't recognise the other. He was the one who had spoken.

"Who the hell are you?"

"Audra," he said. "Time for your treatment."

Audra have Jordan a final smile before leaving with the man.

"What's wrong with him?" Jordan asked Boyd.

"Are you ready for your treatment?" he said simply.

"All right, but can I kick that guy's ass first?"

Boyd smiled. "I will seriously consider it."

*

"She's a risk." Dominic said. "An increasing risk."

"She had control over the situation." Adelle pointed out, growing irritated.

"But we can't control her. I'm recommending that we send Echo to the Attic. Before someone else ends up dead, or worse, she compromises this organisation."

"I believe she acted in our best interest--"

"She went off mission!"

Adelle turned to him, eyebrow raised. "In fact, I believe she did quite the opposite. She stopped the person who wanted Rayna dead. It just happened to be Rayna herself, and by quite literally dangling the threat of death in front of her, she prevented Rayna from ever being a danger to herself in the future. Echo took the mission parameter--"

*

"And did even better." Boyd said. He was gazing at Echo painting a picture on the Dollhouse floor, Saunders at his side. "She seems to have the ability to think outside of the pieces that we give her and then create--"

"Create a new approach to the problem." she finished.

"It's impressive. I don't know what it means, but it's impressive. She really is special."

Saunders' face darkened. "Special isn't always a good thing here, Boyd."

"DeWitt's a businesswoman. Is she really gonna harm her best Active?"

"Echo wasn't always the best."

"You're talking about Alpha.

"I'm just saying; sometimes the best thing to hope for is good enough."

*

Mellie raced down the hospital hall, flowers in hand, ducking between visitors and staff until she reached the room number. An imposing guard was standing outside the door. She could see Paul threw the window, turned away in his bed.

"Excuse me--"

"You can't be here ma'am--"

"No, please, I need to see him."

"Are you family?"

"N-no, we're neighbours--"

"I'm sorry ma'am, but I've been instructed its family members only."

Mellie looked anxiously at her ruined bouquet.

*

Echo stood from the painting area and walked across the Dollhouse, wondering what she would do next today. She saw Sierra walking towards her, smiling. Echo went to walk to her, and two people caught her eye: Boyd and Doctor Saunders were watching her. Echo tried to shake it off. She was nearing Sierra when she saw the handler man, Mr. Hearn, talking with another group of men. He was staring intently at her. Sierra was moments away...

Echo gave the slightest shake of her head. Sierra bowed her head and walked on. They passed each other.

Not now. Not while everyone was watching.

Not yet.
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
==Engagement 4: Gray Hour==

"Good day." Echo said.

Sierra smiled and padded across the lunch area to Echo's table, tray in hand.

"I wasn't certain where to sit." Sierra said, slipping into the other seat. They ate in silence for a moment.

"I swam thirty laps today." Echo said.

"Good for you." Sierra said, smiling.

"I'm tired now."

"It's important to exercise. I try to be my best."

More silence.

"Are you?"

"Excuse me?" Sierra said.

"Are you your best?"

"I'm... not sure how to know that."

"I think if you always try, that's best. Right?"

She turned to Victor, who was sitting in the third seat, for an opinion.

"Every day is a chance to be better." he offered.

Sierra smiled and continued eating. Echo didn't.

*

"They're eating lunch." Boyd agreed.

"They're eating lunch together, man friend." Topher said, pointing at the lunch area from his office window. "Same three. Even the same table. They're grouping."

"Are you saying they remember each other?"

"No, no, no, no! NO. The wipes are clean. This goes deeper than memory into instinctual survival patterns. Flocking. Whole mess of sparrows turning on a dime. Uh, salmon trucking upstream. This isn't a book club, man friend. This is the herd."

"They're not bison, Topher."

Tooher shrugged. "They're a little bit bison."

"Well, they didn't used to be."

"They volunteered for this." Topher pointed out.

"So we're told. The Powers That Be could be making it up. We don't know the 'people' down there. They're programmed."

Topher smiled. "That tie keep you warm?"

"What? No."

"No: it's what grown up men do in our culture. They put a piece of cloth around their necks so they can assert their status and recognise each other as non-threatening kindred. You wear the tie because it never occurred to you not to. You eat eggs every morning but never at night. You feel excitement and companionship when rich men you've never met put a ball through a net or over a goal line, you feel guilty and a little suspicious every time you see a Salvation Army Santa ringing his bell, you look down for at least half a second if a woman leans forward and your stomach rumbles every time you drive by a big golden arch even if you weren't hungry before. Everybody's programmed, Man Friend."

"Don't call me that."

"We're not friends?"

Boyd looked to the window. At the mindless herd below.

"We're not men."

*

"The problem is not insurmountable." Adelle told Mr. Diakos.

"What problem?" he asked, in that thick accent of his she couldn't place.

"Upon review, your engagement was flagged as having certain special requirements."

"Before, you tell me no one gets to know what I'm asking for."

"That's correct." she agreed. "However, our computers do calculate possible risks to our Actives."

"But you... you don't know--"

"No one knows the details of your engagements but you."

She was interrupted by the phone on her desk ringing.

"Excuse me, I'm very sorry..."

She strode to her desk and picked up the receiver. "DeWitt. Yes, sir, of course I understand your concern. Our main goal now is to conclude this matter as quickly as possible..."

She eyed the file marked "Anton Lubov: Victor" on her desk. A picture of Paul Ballard poked out of the side. She pushed it back in. "Yes, the less time we give him to spin his own theories, the better, I think. Well, he needs closure. And we are the experts at giving people what they need, aren't we? Yes, sir, I'll keep you in... formed. Goodbye." she put the phone back down and turned to Mr. Diakos. "I didn't offer you a drink. Tea or something stronger?"

"These computers, they say I have to pay more, I pay more." he said, somewhat desperately.

"You're very understanding, Mr. Diakos. This way, please. Judith will handle the details."

She followed him to the door and opened it for him. He paused in the doorframe. "It is not for me, you know. This night... is a gift."

"You're a very generous man."

She closed the door after him. Echo would have some fun tonight. Well, whoever Echo was...

*

Taffy giggled and nibbled on a cherry from her glass. She was wearing her best leather outfit in a swanky hotel, her legs draped over a handsome man named Vitas. His two friends, a stuffy old guy named Cyril and a nerdy young guy named Walton, were sitting across from them, but Taffy was here for one thing only, and it wasn't them.

"If I had an uncle who'd get me her for my bachelor party, I'd get married, too." Walton said.

"She's very... comfortable with herself, isn't she?" Cyril replied.

"Yeah. Uh-huh."

"Taffy, baby, I'm going to have fun with you tonight." Vitas said.

"Anything you want!" she agreed. "It's all blue skies!"

A moment later, a balding hotel manager approached them. "Gentlemen. Ma'am."

Taffy smiled. "Sir."

"Perhaps you'd like to take the party up to your suite?" he offered.

"Awww!" Taffy purred, nuzzling Vitas' chin with her own.

"I'd be happy to send up a complementary bottle of champagne."

"Oooh!" she said, suddenly ecstatic.

"Make it two bottles and you got a deal." Vitas said, with a slight edge.

The man nodded. "Two bottles it is, sir."

Taffy squealed with excitement.

"Let's go." Vitas said. He got up and jumped over the couch to the table behind. Cyril and Walton followed him on the floor as Vitas landed. Taffy followed his lead.

"Wait for me!" Taffy teased, swinging her leg over the sofa. She stepped on the table and stumbled in her six-inch heels. Vitas smiled and picked her up. They disappeared up the stairs, Taffy's whooping severely annoying the guests.

*

"Help!" Taffy screamed. "Someone help me!" She ran down the hall, banging on every door she could reach, nearly tripping over her damn shoes. Vitas was striding down the hall after her, shirt unbuttoned, holding a champagne bottle. "Please! I need help!"

"Taffy, come on!" Vitas said, getting ever closer. "We're just having a good time!"

"Somebody, please!" she sobbed, limping along. She could hear Vitas' pal coming out of the room. "Where is she?" he was saying, laughing. "Grab her, man!"

They were metres away. Vitas was about to be within grabbing distance when the manager from downstairs turned the corner. She slammed into him, weeping. "Please! Help me! They... they hurt me. Please!"

"Ah, crap." one of them said. Vitas and Walton backed off and retreated to their room.

"It's okay. You're safe now." the man said, leading her into an elevator. He put his key into a slot and it began descending. Taffy caught her reflection on the button panel. Her leather skirt was ripped, her red blouse ruffled. Her hair had been yanked out of its styled home and her lip was bleeding.

The elevator opened in the bustling kitchen. The man - his name tag said Gerry - led Taffy through the crowd, a reassuring hand on the small of her back.

"Where are we going?" she asked meekly. "I shouldn't be here..."

"Don't worry." Gerry said. "Those idiots didn't follow us. Even if they did... nobody's getting through here."

They arrived at a door. He entered a code into the nearby keypad and the door spring ajar with a buzzing noise. Taffy followed him in to a small office space.

"See? Everything's fine. Why don't you sit down--"

"That was not okay," she said. "I mean, I know who I am, and, and what I do, but I didn't sign up for that. And I really have to go. Is there a backdoor? I have somewhere to be..."

Gerry went to a drawer and pulled from it a large stack of dollar bills.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I understand you've had a difficult evening, ma'am--"

Taffy scoffed. "Yeah?"

"We deeply regret any... indignities you may have suffered." he continued, placing the money on the desk. "But it's hotel policy, in these instances, to offer a one-time payment to, uh, compensate you for--"

"You want me to let those freaks off the hook? Fine, they're off the hook. I just want to go."

"You feel that way now." Gerry insisted. "But tomorrow or the next day you may change your mind. We feel it's in your best interest--"

"I'm leaving." she said firmly, turning for the door.

"Ma'am; that's $10,000."

Taffy froze. She turned to look at the stack of bills. Gerry smacked a piece of paper next to it. "Now all you have to do is sign this piece of paper stating you will not pursue legal action against the hotel or the guests in question... and you walk away."

Taffy walked to the desk, placing her purse down, fingered the stack lightly. "With... that."

"$10,000." Gerry assured.

"I just take your $10,000 and disappear?"

Gerry chuckled. "Yeah. You could be free. You can go anywhere."

Taffy looked him in the eye. "No, thanks." she grabbed her purse, knocking the money to the ground, and turned on her heel for the door.

Gerry bent down to pick it up. "I just want you to think about it--"

Taffy turned and plunged her knee into his face. He stumbled and fell against the filing cabinets, his nose gushing blood. He slid to the floor, out like a light.

Taffy dug around in her purse until she found her bluetooth. She hooked it on her ear and pushed the button. "I'm in."

"We're in position." Vitas said on the other line.

"Door code's 489-374-83."

She looked to Gerry and smiled. "Blue Skies!"

*

Vitas, Walton and Cyril appeared a few minutes later. As they were getting into position, Taffy slid her leather pants down from inside her skirt before removing the skirt, but keeping the heeled boots. She was pulling the blouse over her head when she caught Walton looking at her.

"They're called breasts." she informed him. "And yes, they are exceptional." She buttoned up a black shirt. "You can mention that when you blog about this later."

"I wasn't gonna blog about it." Walton said resentfully, but he went back to moving the filing cabinet before opening his laptop.

"So, boss, what do we really call you?" Vitas purred as he set up the explosives.

"You really call me Taffy. And the client's the boss. He put together this merry band of thieves. In his infinite wisdom, he decided that... well, guess I am the boss of you."

Walton looked to the fallen Gerry. "Well, not taking him out's your first mistake."

Taffy strode to Gerry, stuck a syringe in his neck and pushed the needle in. She threw it to the ground before slamming Walton against the wall, arm against his throat. "I figured out on my first job when a little creative thinking on my part almost got me not paid: never second-guess a client. And wear comfy shoes. Our client's paying premium for no-kill. He gets no-kill. Okey-dokey?"

"I-I-I think you're hurting him." the old guy, Cyril, said, finally piping up.

"You're very astute, professor. It's a good thing this is a no-kill job." she snarled at Walton. She let him go and he gasped in a lungful of air. "You could have been in trouble there."

"Uh, yeah, right." Cyril babbled. "Shouldn't we go far away now?"

Taffy spoke up, all the while fixing her makeup. "Here's how this is going to go: in sixty-four seconds, the high-security building on the other side of that wall is going to be shutting down their motion sensors, infrared sensors, security cameras; we will be in a Gray Hour. In the one hour it takes them to revolutionize their security system and make it impenetrable, we penetrate."

"Uh, excuse me," Cyril said. "If their system is down, they must know someone is going to try and break in."

Taffy rolled her eyes. "That's six seconds we can't get back. Inside security: five guards, each with GPS tracking devices implanted in their badges. The guards will be focused on perimeter threats. They're not allowed to go on the vault floor during Gray Hour for security reasons." she turned to Walton. "You have 'em yet?"

"Not until we're inside. The-the sensors don't pick up anything..."

Taffy looked at her watch. "Fifteen seconds. You ready to go boom?"

"Ready." Vitas said, readying the detonator. Everyone took cover.

Walton looked up. "We gotta sync our watches--"

"Uh, sweetie, you're on Taffy Standard Time now. And three, two, one. Go!"

A loud bang accompanied the opposite side of the wall blowing in. They stumbled for cover, coughing, and examined their fine work.

"A hundred people must have heard this." Cyril gasped.

Taffy ignored him, stepping through into the tunnel.

"Upstairs, they're just thinking a truck rumbled by." Vitas said. Taffy noted he was beaming. "I am the best, my man!"

"Bladdy blah." Taffy said. "We're all the best, braggy."

Taffy stopped in her tracks. Just metres away was a huge vault door.

"So pretty..." she murdered. She placed a tentative hand on it, placed her ear tI it, and began to turn the lock.

"Hey," Vitas said under his breath to Walton. "If she's the best, funny I've never heard of her."

"You've heard of Bonnie and Clyde, right?" Taffy half-yelled across the room, having easily heard them.

Vitas smiled. "Are you Bonnie?"

"No. I'm not that stupid. Bonnie and her gun-crazy beau - you know what they wanted? It wasn't to be the best. Best-ness means a quiet, head-down kind of life. No, Bonnie and Clydie: they wanted fame. Notoriety. And boy, did they get it. They also got dead. I'll pass on that. When this is over, feel free to forget I exist. Now, just keep it down while this little darling and I get to know each other better."

Walton's computer made a beeping noise. "Uh, coming online. Two secs. I'll see the guards."

Cyril stepped forward, jaw hanging open in awe.

"What?" Walton asked.

"Wow..."

Walton looked up. The vault door was wide open.

"She's in."

"Damn!" Vitas said, jumping in after her.

"Damn..." Walton agreed half-heartedly.

"Tick-tock, boys." Taffy called.

Cyril and Walton joined Taffy and Vitas in a vault full to the brim with art. Paintings, sculptures, carvings, even framed Lino prints: there was at least a hundred of everything.

Cyril was acting like it was Christmas. "Oh. Hey, this is... Oh. Oh, my God. There are rumors of secret vaults used by top museums to store the world's most controversial works, but--"

"Yeah," Vitas said, motioning to a painting. "Piccolo Boy here is shocking."

"Oh. Yeah, Piccolo Boy, as you call him, was recently stolen from a private collector in Paris." he laughed. "Valued at $17 million."

Taffy shrugged. "Whatevs." she disappeared into one of the vault's side rooms.

"So, we're stealing stolen art?" Walton asked.

"Well, some of these works are merely of questionable provenance." Cyril answered. "Yeah, high-quality counterfeits. Antiquities which are my particular forte--"

"Hey, old stuff expert?" Taffy called. "Old stuff's in here."

Cyril followed her to a vast array of sculptures.

"Thank you, gods," he breathed. "And goddesses..."

Taffy checked her watch. "Gray Hour's now Gray 45 minutes." She took out a folded piece of paper and showed it to Cyril. On it was a sketch of a marble tablet. "This is what we're here for. Find it, tell me if it's the real thing so we can pack it up and get the hell outta here."

"I thought it might be this." he said, nodding. "Why else would I have been chosen?"

"Chosen for what?" Vitas pushed. "What are we taking out of here? Huh?"

"The Parthenon." Cyril said simply.

"...Isn't that kind of big?"

*

Paul gave his front door a gentle push. Even this tiny action caused his ribs to burn. He limped to the small apartment's coffee table and popped his pill bottle lid. But froze. He put the bottle down and, with a terrible pain in his side, whipped out his gun, stood up, and turned around. 

"Don't do... don't shoot me!" Lubov pleaded.

"How'd you get in here?" Paul demanded.

Lubov emerged from the shadows, holding a lock. "Your -your locks are for crap."

Paul massaged his wound. "Get out."

"You got to help me. Put me in Witness Protection, uh, get me out of town."

The gun chamber clicked.

"Just listen to me!"

"The last time I listened to you, I got a hole through the gut."

"I-I didn't set you up!"

"You sent me to an ambush!"

"They were going to kill me!"

"Who is she?" He stormed towards Lubov, shoving the picture of Caroline into his face.

"A-a pretty girl..."

"She is a pretty girl. Pretty and lost. You know lots of girls like that."

Lubov shook his head. "Not her."

"Is she the reason they want me dead? Her name's Caroline. Bells ringing?!"

"No! I-I gave you a tip! Somebody gives it to me, I give it to you, that's how it works."

"Who gave you the tip?"

"Boom, you get shot, my old, nice life, over. I can't call my friends, I can't call home. I don't have any money."

Paul slammed Lubov into the wall, yelled in his face. "Who gave you the tip?! Was it her?!"

"A voice on the phone! A-A man. Not old, not young. Uh, accent. Sounded Georgian maybe. Russian Georgia, not Sweet Home Georgia..."

Lubov panted nervously. Paul realised his gun was digging into his chest. He retreated, and Lubov unflattened himself.

"Alabama..."

"Wh-What do I know? It's confusing, this country. The Borodins used me to get to you. That means they know I talk to you. The FBI! I am a dead man already if you don't help me."

Paul put his gun back in his holster. "If I help you... I never hear from you again. Never. As in ever."

Lubov nodded, eager to please. "Never ever."

"Stay here. I'll see what I can do."

Lubov sniffled.

*

"And this is one of the missing Elgin Marbles." Cyril laughed, looking at the marble tablet in Vitas' hands.

"Yeah?" Vitas asked, bored.

"Okay, but we're looking for a frieze fragment, not a metope panel."

"Over their heads, Professor." Taffy said flatly.

Cyril sighed. "The Elgin Marbles are, uh, large sections of the Parthenon's marble friezes and statuary, stolen in the late 19th century."

"So we are stealing stolen art, basically." Walton said.

"Not technically. You see, the Turks, who controlled Athens at the time - they granted Thomas Bruce, the Seventh Earl of Elgin, permission to remove the marbles, so, uh..."

"So, Greece hired us to take this one back." Vitas said.

"Client info is confidential." Taffy warned.

"Explains why we got hired through middlemen." Walton murdered.

"And the no-kill order." Vitas observed. "Things go bad, they don't want some kind of international incident."

Taffy turned to look at them all. "When a client doesn't say upfront who they are, finding out's usually not healthy. How 'bout we stop speculating?"

Walton looked back to his laptop. "All right. The guards are rotating down to the lower floors."

Taffy examined her watch. "They're not coming down here. At least not for the next 34 minutes."

"Better be right." Walton said.

Taffy glared. "I am."

Walton glared back before walking away.

Vitas appeared over Taffy's shoulder. "It's nothing personal, his thing with you. If I were in charge, he'd be an ass with me, too, so... Want to grab a drink after this?"

Taffy looked at him, smiled teasingly. "Ask me when we get out of here."

He smiled. "Will do."

"Hey!" Walton yelled behind them. "Where are you going with that?"

Taffy and Vitas whirled around. Cyril was making a run for it with a large tablet wrapped in black.

"Hey!" Walton yelled, running after him. Cyril pushed a button on the wall, and the vault door started closing. Walton made a grab for him, but Cyril grabbed an antique sword from a rack of them and sunk it into Walton's gut. He screamed and backed away.

"No, don't!" Taffy yelled, running towards them, Vitas right behind them. "Don't let that close!"

Cyril slipped out of the vault and out of sight. "Stop the door!" Vitas screamed.

Just as they reached it, the vault door shut.

"Bastard!" Vitas said, clearly wanting to kick something. Taffy was about to kick him when Walton, with his strange moaning noises, caught her attention.

"Hey, are you okay?" she asked, she and Vitas helping him to his feet.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." he winced. "Peachy."

"Over here." Vitas led the way.

"You're gonna be fine." Taffy said as Walton groaned. "I can get us out of here."

"The alarm comes back up in... In-In what?"

Taffy checked. "31 minutes."

Vitas made a moaning noise.

"Not gonna be a problem." she assured. "Just got to make a quick call."

She took her phone out and rang her secret weapon: Boyd.

"What's up?" a gruff voice said.

"It's me."

"How in the hell are you getting reception down here?"

Taffy waved him to silence. "I got a double-crosser coming your way. Probably the southwest corner of the building. He has what we came for. Black bag. You're gonna have to complete this job for me. I need a happy client."

"I'm on it." Boyd said. "Everything all right in there?

"We're locked in. My tech guy's gonna need medical, but I'm fine, and I can get us out, which is irrelevant if the job's a wash."

"I'll finish the job. Just get out of there."

"Thanks. See you in a few--"

A high-pitched, staticky, squealing noise filled Taffy's ears. Her mind was on fire. She wanted to scream, but couldn't find her voice, her head was splitting apart, things spilling out, being ripped apart, she was falling away, empty...

Her arm dropped limply by her side. The phone fell from beneath her fingers. She looked at the two men stating at her in the room full of strange pictures.

"Did I... fall asleep?"
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
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"Neuromodulator is your friend." Topher said. "And I don't mean friend from kindergarten you see twice a year. Neuromod is your BFF. Brain mapping requires--"

"Pizza squares, ice cream bites, beef jerky?" Ivy said, reading from a list on the fridge. "Okay, you may be the boy-god of all things neuro, and I do worship at the altar of your genius, but I am not getting you all this stuff." Ivy was Topher's assistant. She was a young Asian girl, fresh from university. She would've been pretty to Topher, but she was too short, had too many piercings and never wore any other kind of thigh-high boots.

"Ivy, babe. Add juice boxes."

Ivy rolled her eyes. "You're privilege-abusing."

"Do you want to know how to avoid spandrels when aligning rigid designators?" he asked.

"...Grape or apple?"

"Humility is part of the learning process. I break you down, then I build you back--"

"Topher." Ivy said, pointing at a nearby computer screen. 

Topher looked. "Uh-oh."

*

"Shall I go now?" Echo asked, rocking slightly.

"What's wrong with her?" the younger man, Walton, said. Echo was sitting in a fetal position, wide-eyed.

"Hysterical Woman Syndrome?" the older man, Vitas, said.

"Five minutes ago, you were kissing her ass."

"Five minutes ago, we were on Taffy Standard Time." Vitas looked to a phone in his hand. "It's a private number. It's not letting me dial out."

"Shall I go now...?"

"Yeah. Let's go! Get us the hell out of here!"

Vitas threw the phone on the floor.

Echo noted it was flashing.

"Do we know how long?" Walton asked.

Vitas threw off his jacket. "Not long enough. I've dated my share of crazies. I know how to deal with this." He squatted down in front of Echo. "Taffy?"

Echo flinched. She didn't know a Taffy-

"Hey, I'm not saying this isn't cute. It's adorable--"

"Shall I go now...?"

"But the sooner you open that door, the sooner we can go get that drink. So, let's do it."

Echo whispered, terrified. "Shall I go--"

He slapped her across the face. Echo fell over, gasping. She looked at him, scared.

"Now?"

*

Cyril ran from the emergency exit and began his way up the ramp to street level. He paused for a moment to suck in some air.

"Give me the bag."

Cyril looked up. A large, gruff man was standing at the top of the ramp in the shadows.

"Who are you?" he asked, heart racing.

"The bag." the man repeated.

"I-I can't do that."

The man started walming towards him. "Give... me... the bag."

"I've got a buyer who... He pays me twice as much as whoever, so..."

The man pulled his gun out.

"Okay, okay! You an' me - we go in together. 'Kay, 50-50?"

The gun clicked.

"I'm gonna drop this..." he warned.

"I'll shoot you."

"This is the Parthenon. This is a piece of the Parth... Do you know how much that's worth? That's millions. That's... I'm gonna turn it into dust, I swear to God!"

The man didn't even consider this. "You drop it, I shoot you. Then you don't get paid or breathe."

"Yeah. Okay..."

He slipped the tablet into the man's hands and, as soon as it left his grasp, ran. He only got a few metres before a searing pain shot through his leg, accompanied by a loud bang. Cyril tells and collapsed on the ground, clutching his leg.

"You shot me!" he said as the man approached.

"Barely." the man said, and dragged Cyril up to the street.

*

"I don't know where Boyd is." Topher told Adelle. "Handler-Man is MIA, and Echo's vitals are..." He lifted up a piece of paper. "Th-This is the chart? They're off it!"

"Boyd checked in with Central eight minutes ago." Dominic said, emerging from behind Adelle's desk. "Apparently, a member of Echo's crew absconded with the target item and locked the rest of the team in the vault. Explains the change in vitals."

"This is a special skills felony engagement." Topher continued. "I wove more than one thread of unflappable into that tapestry. Okay? Echo could have an exploded belly bomb, and her heart rate shouldn't go past 65 beats a minute."

"Maybe you made a mistake in the programming." Dominic suggested.

Topher looked like he had just run over a puppy.

"Something's wrong." Adelle said. "I'll initiate contact."

"Uh... yeah. Echo's not picking up her cell." Topher said meekly.

"You reached out to an Active during an engagement without my say-so?!"

"It's the adrenaline. It makes me forget my protocols and 'q's."

"Echo was talking to Boyd when her vitals spiked." Dominic said. He hit a button on Adelle's remote and a recording began playing on her office's television.

"--Which is irrelevant if the job's a wash."

"I'll finish the job. Just get out of there."

"Thanks. See you in a few--"

A high-pitched squealing filled their ears. "What was that?" Dominic asked.

"Play it again." Adelle ordered.

He did. Same static. M

Topher stepped forward. "That's not... Uh-uh. That didn't happen. How do I know that didn't happen? Because that can't happen."

"Topher, what can't happen?" Adelle asked.

"This goes nowhere good." Dominic mumbled.

"I'm pretty sure... I'm kind of positive, actually, that something happened. The exact same thing happened, except without the chair."

"You've stated that remote wipes aren't possible!"

"I've said they're untested. I've said they're a very bad, bad idea. I've said I can't do them."

Adelle looked like she wanted to throttle something. "How do we undo it?"

"We... don't? Somebody out there figured out our frequency, hacked into our call, and that's not even the hard part. I mean, we're talking about someone... I could not have seen this coming. This is not my fault."

Adelle sighed and sank into her chair. "All right. We'll parcel out the blame later. What matters now is the reputation of this company. We have an engagement to complete."

"I'll confirm that Boyd retrieved the target item." Dominic offered.

"About Echo," Adelle asked. "How bad is it?"

Topher ran his hands through his hair. "Being wiped is not unlike being born. It's traumatic. I mean, in here, we minimize the trauma with throw pillows and perfectly crunchy lettuce. There's no conflict. But out there it's all... fluorescent lights and forceps. Right now, Echo is experiencing extreme sensory overload. And that could lead to a coma state. Or it could turn her into Carrie at the prom. Either way... we have to help her. She can't help herself."

*

"Okay," Vitas said. "Now you say it."

"I'm...Taffy..." Echo said slowly.

"And..."

"...I know how to get us out of here..."

"Yeah, good. What else?"

"...I try to be my best..?"

"You are the best." Vitas said, eyes wide. "You remember? Bonnie and Clyde?"

"Are they here, too?"

Vitas inhaled deeply. "Okay, all right, let's rewind a few minutes. You were talking on this." He held up a phone.

"I was talking on this..."

"You were talking and you said that you could open the door."

"...I know how to open the door?"

"Yes, good. So, open it."

"...I try to be my best?" she whispered.

"Yeah.," Walton said monotonously, bloody hands covering his wound. "Taffy's gone, man. She's not coming back."

*

Adelle strode into the Imprint Room. The chair was lifting up to reveal Sierra, wearing a black shirt, leather trousers and impossible high-heeled boots.

"Hello, Taffy. I'm Adelle DeWitt. I need your help."

Sierra smiled. "Blue skies."

*

"Lots of people would die to see this stuff." Walton said. "Now it looks like we're going to."

Echo looked at a picture of a green woman with many faces, all crashing together. "This one's broken."

Walton smiled a little. "Yeah, look who's talking."

Echo brushed her face lingeringly.

"On the inside." Walton clarified. "So, you like... art?"

Echo stared intently at the woman. "It doesn't look right."

"It's not about looking right. Art's about feeling right and you... have no idea what I'm talking about."

"She makes me feel... funny."

"Well, that's 'cause these other guys... they painted what they saw. But this guy, he painted what is. That's what art's for: to show us who we are. And this one-it's saying how we start off whole, then somewhere along the line, the pieces start to slide. We get broken."

"...That's sad..."

"No, it's weak."

Echo turned around. Vitas strode in with a duffel bag. "You can either get broken or you can be the one doing the breaking. No mystery which way you went."

*

"Ten months of research" Taffy said. "Blueprints, security systems, police response time. The Parthenon job was supposed to be mine."

"And now it is." Adelle said.

Taffy circled Adelle, flipping her boned hair out of her eyes. "You were running two ponies all along."

"It was the client's decision."

Taffy began circling Dominic. "Hey, I figured out on my first job, when a little creative thinking on my part almost got me not paid: never second-guess a client. And wear comfy shoes. But I had to learn how to lap-dance--"

"We'll pay double your usual fee to extract the team." Dominic said.

"Getting sidelined by some girl at the last minute - my feelings are hurt."

"I assure you that Echo is not 'some girl'" Adelle said. "You and she are cut from the same cloth."

"I've never gotten amnesia during a gig, but whatevs." Taffy said, sitting on the sofa.

"Three of your peers are locked in that vault with nothing between them and a SWAT team but you. There is no balm for a bruised ego like saving the day."

Taffy leant forward and smiled. "I'll need to see the cash."

"We're a bit pressed for time..."

Taffy's smile disappeared.

Adelle stuck a smile of her own on her face. "...Of course."

*

"This remote wipe," Topher told Ivy. "It's not about just creating five seconds of noise. He had to break into our system, which is impossible. He had to get Echo's cell number. He--"

"Or she." Ivy said.

"Or they. It has to be a 'they.' I mean look at this build." He said, motioning to the monitor. "It's not even science. It's art! You saw the firewalls."

"There are many." she agreed.

"I defy another programmer to put that much neurotrophic factor around each and every personality component. This isn't a lone gunman. This is a conspiracy. A gigantic, multi-pronged, conspiracy."

Ivy stared at him intently. "You need to take something."

Topher shook his head at her, grabbed the phone and dialed Boyd's number.

"What is it, Topher?" Boyd asked. 

"When you took Echo out tonight, did she seem normal?"

"Yeah, why?"

Topher's eyes widened. "You don't know..."

"What's going on?"

"Echo's been wiped. Remotely."

"What--?!"

"It's not my fault!"

*

"Mr. Langton?" Adelle said into the phone.

"I talked to Topher."

Adelle nearly cursed. "If there were anything you could do, I'd already have you doing it."

"I didn't think remote wipes were even possible."

"Neither did we. You retrieved the target item?" she asked as Dominic showed the money to Taffy, who nodded her approval.

"Yeah, I got it. So how are you planning on getting her out of there?"

"We're working the problem."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I'm hopeful of a happy outcome."

"And if the outcome isn't... happy?"

Adelle sighed. "Then you should prepare yourself."

Boyd hung up, adelle returned to Dominic and Taffy. "We believe, with the right equipment," Dominic was sayng. "You could get inside the building through the roof."

"Oh, sweetie, equipment's not the issue. The Gray Hour is going to end in nine minutes. We won't even make it out of the parking garage." Taffy walked to the bar and poured herself a drink. "But if this Echo chick is as good as you say, brain fry aside, I don't need to get inside. All I need is a phone."

*

"I like sky." Echo said. She had sunk down next to Walton, who was growing ever paler, and was now observing another painting.

"Yeah, the blue kind." he said. "You mentioned."

"That's a mountain." she said, pointing.

Walton sighed. "Yep."

"...what's my name?"

"Taffy."

Echo looked at the mountain. "When I'm there, my name is something else.."

"Hand me that bag." Walton asked. Taffy dragged the duffel bag towards them. He began digging through it.

"What are you looking for?" Echo asked.

"A way out of here."

Something shiny caught Echo's eye. A silver canister with a ring on top. She out her finger in the ring--

and Walton snatched it from her hand. "Not to play with." he said sternly, sticking it in his pocket.

"There's an air duct back here." Vitas called from somewhere behind them. 

"He's gonna find a way out of here." Echo observed.

Walton shook his head. "Vitas isn't gonna open that door." He opened a case with a syringe in it. "And I'm not gonna open that door. And you're definitely not gonna open that door." He indicated his computer. "They are gonna open the door. They're gonna take us to prison."

"What's prison?" Echo asked.

"...It's a place with no sky."

Echo looked at the mountain picutre's sky, worried.

"We're bad guys. When bad guys get caught, we don't get to see sky."

"I'm a bad guy?"

"You... are a talking cucumber." he said. He put the needle to the hand. "And I... am too broken to fix..."

In a flash, Vitas appeared and snatched the syringe away. "Oh, no, no, no, no, you don't get to take the easy way out! I'm lifting the no-kill order." Vitas grabbed the duffel bag and took a machine gun from within. "When those doors open... we're shooting our way out."

*

"Yumia Takahashi." Topher said.

Ivy joined him sitting on his office floor, juice box in hand. "You think he's one of the prongs in the mutli-pronged conspiracy."

"He's always gunning for my job, he loves the beach..."

"Here." she said, handing him the juice box. "You really think a programmer in Tokyo is going to remote-wipe Echo in Los Angeles to steal your job?"

"He shows DeWitt his mad skills, suddenly Topher's no longer 'Number One Son'!"

"Echo could die. That is not a plan for career advancement."

Topher sighed. "Anyway, Takahashi's a hack. There's only one person I know who could achieve a remote wipe. And he's dead."

Topher stared at his juice box.

*

"You know, this only works if she answers." Taffy pointed out.

"Dial again." Adelle ordered. "Keep dialling."

"I'd like to go over the plan again." Dominic insisted.

Taffy smiled at Adelle. "Nervous Nellie. He's actually kinda sweet. Okey-dokey: the vault door contains a whole mess of glass re-lockers. If somebody, me say, drills through the door from the inside, the glass breaks. Presto, alarm goes off, whole other mess of locks are released. No getting out."

"You bypass the glass." Dominic said.

"Resin. Makes it crack rather than shatter. If you do it right." she looked at her watch. "Well, this is about to be a giant anticlimax. Ten, nine, eight..."

"Dial again." Adelle said.

Taffy rolled her eyes and dialled again. "Seven, six, five..."

*

"Four," Vitas said. "Three..."

"Two?" Echo asked.

"One. It's over."

"I don't like this room anymore." Echo said, worrying. "Where are the better rooms? Oh... I have something in my pocket!"

She reached in and took the phone out, and showed it happily to Walton. "Look."

*

"It's over?" Adelle asked.

"It's almost over." Taffy informed her. "The security system's going back online one device at a time. The vault door, then the heat sensors, then the motion detectors. If I can get the vault door open before the motion detectors reactivate, we're all good."

Taffy stuck the phone on the dock, converting it to speakerphone.

*

"Is this the chowderhead?" a voice said in Echo's ear.

..."I don't know."

"Clearly, yes. Here's the dealio. I can get you out of that vault if you do exactly as I say. Can you do that?"

"I think so." Echo said.

"Underwhelming, but let's give it a go. You should be carrying a vial of resin. Bra's a good place."

Echo stuck her hand in her bra until she came out with a small vial. "I have it!" she said happily. Then you've also got a nozzle thingy tucked into your boot. Lipstick-like."

Echo rooted around in her boot as Walton and Vitas watched her. "Yes!"

"Screw one thingy onto the other thingy, and you're gonna need a drill." the voice said.

"She says we need a drill." she told the others.

"Who's 'she'?" Vitas asked.

"I don't know." Walton said. "But I'd give Taffy the drill."

"This is fun." Echo said as Vitas handed her the drill. It was heavy. "Are you having fun?"

"No."

"Go to the door." the voice said. "You'll want both hands." Echo put the phone on the floor and went to the vault door, still in hand. Vitas picked it up and out it on loudspeaker. "On three, start drilling into the door. Doesn't matter where."

Echo put the drill into position. "Ready."

"I'm going to close my eyes and pray to God that when I say stop, you will stop. One... two... ...three... drill!"

Echo began drilling--

"And stop. Spray the resin into the hole - three squirts. Count 'em out."

Echo began squirting. "One, two... three."

"Put the drill on the hole." the voice said. "Turn it on. Now this is the important part. Do not move your hand. Don't think about it. Do it."

Echo looked to Vitas. He just raised his eyebrows. Echo turned back to the door, put the drill in place, and began drilling.

A second later, the lights went out and a loud alarm started whirring.

"Is that good?" she yelled over the noise.

*

"Chowderhead!" Taffy said. "Talk to me." she turned to Adelle and Dominic. "This wouldn't have happened if you didn't give my job away."

"What's the police response time?" Dominic asked.

"Seven minutes. Guards inside, less. Six minutes, fifteen seconds less."

On the phone, someone called Echo a stupid bitch before the line went dead. Adelle bowed her head, silent.

"Taffy," she said after a moment. "Thank you for your services."

Taffy raised an eyebrow. "That's it?"

Adelle nodded. "Mr, Dominic will take you down for your treatment."

Taffy took the briefcase full of money in her hand. "Thanks for the cash. Good luck with the girl."

"I'll notify Boyd." Dominic said. "He may have to neutralize her."

"No. I'm beginning to suspect he hasn't the proper distance. Send down for Ramirez and Hutchins. Put them on standby."

"...I'm sorry."

"Me, too."

Dominic followed Taffy out the door.

*

"The guards are closing in." Walton warned, staring at his laptop. Through the darkness, Echo could see he was still white as a sheet. Vitas was moving a bunch of crates to block the vault door. "Remember, your hands go over your head."

Echo out her hands over her head.

"Okay. Why?"

"Because you don't want the guards to put a bullet in your chest."

"Don't listen to him." Vitas said. "Take this." He handed her a gun and dragged her to the crates. "Get up. Point it at the bad guys and you squeeze the trigger."

"Aren't we the bad guys?"

"Down." he said. They both squatted behind the crates. "Remember what I told you? You get broken or you do the breaking."

Slowly, the vault door opened. Just metres away, a dozen guards ran to the walls for cover, guns at the ready.

"Come out slowly!" one called. "Let me see your hands! Let's go!"

"Start shooting," Vitas said. "Now." Echo realised he was pointing his gun at her. "Or I shoot you."

"I-I'd like to go now..."

"Let's see your hands!" the guard called. "There's no way out! Drop the weapon!"

"Do it." Vitas said.

"Building perimeter is locked down! Hands on your head!"

Echo bowed to her head, scared. Something caught her eye. The duffel bag was at her side, and the syringe was lying on top.

"Do it now!" Vitas screamed. "What are you waiting for? Do it!"

Echo snatched the syringe and stuck it in Vitas' neck. He screamed and fell over, his gun firing rapidly. The guards fired back, but Echo didn't see who was getting hit. She turned and ran for Walton, fell down at his side.

"Around the corner." he said, taking the strange canister from earlier from his pocket. "You can get out." With great difficulty, he stood, and chucked the canister at the guards. It went off with a bang, smoke shooting out. "Go." he ordered, wincing. "Go now; they won't be able to see you."

Echo didn't move. She couldn't just leave him here.

Walton deserved to see the sky.

*

Boyd shot the keypad and the door opened without complaint. Inside was a normal office, with a gaping joke in the wall. He was about to climb through it when he saw two figures emerging from the shadows.

Echo. Supporting a young man, who looked wounded.

"Are you okay?" Boyd asked.

"He's broken." she said. "Can we fix him?"

Boyd nodded. "We'll try." He threw the man over his shoulder and motioned for Echo to follow.

"I'm not broken." she said.

Boyd looked at her. "No, you're not. Come on. Let's get out of here.@

Echo took a lingering look at the hole before following.

*

"What took you so long?" Lubov raged as Paul walked in the door. "There's a car out there. Two guys, motor on, fifteen minutes at least."

He followed Paul to the kitchen. "This is west Hollywood." Paul said. "Two guys in an idling car isn't news."

"So, who am I gonna be? Uh, John Smith, maybe? I got a good American accent."

"You're gonna be Anton Lubov." Paul said, pouring water in a kettle.

"I d- I don't get it."

"I may have misled you about the "me helping you." I needed you to stay put while I put you front and center on every 'be on the lookout' list from here to New York. If you try to leave Los Angeles by plane, train, or automobile, the FBI is going to be all over you. We won't be discreet. I'll personally drop you off at the Borodins' doorstep, make sure they know we're friends."

"Are you crazy?" Lubov said, voice filled with hysteria. "You want me to die?"

"I don't want you to die, but if you do, there's a lot to learn from a dead body. I know how the Russians kill. I know their favorite weapons. I know where to look for bruises. I know which body parts they like to chop off and what message they want a body to send." he said flatly.

"I tried to help you..."

"If your body turns up and tells a different story, well, then that'll give me information, too."

Paul pointed to the door.

"The FBI doesn't work like that..." Paul pushed him out of the kitchen and to the front door. "You ca- you can't do this!"

"I'm a screw-up, remember? My CI shows up dead, nobody's gonna blink. Nobody's gonna care."

Lubov froze in the doorway. "You put on your mean face, act tough, but you will care, Agent Ballard. That's your problem."

Paul shut the door.

*

Adelle fingered the tablet lightly, smiling. "Michelangelo believed his sculptures already existed inside the marble, waiting to be freed." she mused, before looking to Dominic. "We should get this to our clients' first thing in the morning."

"And the antiquities expert?" He asked.

"They can have him, too." Adelle said bitterly.

Dominic opened the door to see Topher standing there. Adelle nodded for him to come in as Dominic left. "So..." he said. "I put Echo through every test I could think of, which is a lot. The remote wipe didn't do any permanent damage, so... phew."

Adelle sat down. "Whatever happened... in Echo's head in that vault - it's gone?"

"She's fresh as morning dew. No pesky human evolution bits lingering around."

"Well done. I believe Victor has completed his debriefing. He's ready to be wiped."

Silence.

"It was Alpha, wasn't it?" Topher blurted. "Nobody else could come even close to pulling off a remote wipe. He's alive. He's out there."

Adelle slid a piece of paper across her desk. "You'll need to sign and initial at the bottom."

Topher stepped back. "Is this...? Am I fired?"

"I'm upping your security clearance." she said flatly.

"Does that mean... I'm right? Alpha's alive? He's out there? But after the... incident, you told us security tracked him down and, you know..."

"Our influence in substantial, but Alpha, with his gifts - gifts we gave him - finding him, confining him; we're not all-powerful."

"I'm scared. I'm scared like a little girl."

Adelle looked at him. "Sign and initial at the bottom." Topher grabbed a pen. "I'll tell you what I know about Alpha. You'll tell me how he did this and how we can keep him from ever doing it again."

*

When she got back, Echo went swimming. She swam for hours, sometimes just sinking to the bottom of the pool and sitting there until she needed to come up for air. When she was done she took a shower. As she was drying off, getting ready to go to bed, she looke in a mirror. It was covered in steam from the shower. She traced her finger on it lightly. Drawing. A woman with many faces, smashed together. Art.

Echo caught a glimpse of herself through the steam. She wiped it away and looked at her face. She remembered the mountains and the sky.

Prison was a place with no sky.

Echo looked up. There was no sky here.

Was this prison...?
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
"Happy?" Senator Boxbaum said. "No, this is something quite apart from happiness. Call it a kind of bliss, an unquestioning serenity. True happiness requires some measure of self-awareness. We're talking about people here who have their very wills taken away."

Adelle raised an eyebrow. "Imagine such a thing." she said dryly.

"The irony of bringing this to you, Adelle, is not lost on me. I promise you."

"It's not the irony that concerns me. You're asking me to place an Active with a federal agent."

"Indirectly, yes."

"I don't wish to be vulgar, but one of the many benefits of having you as a client is that you help us avoid entanglements with federal agencies. Senator."

Boxbaum chuckled. "It's the ATF. You been running guns? Besides, your Actives won't be working with the government. One of your security guys would liaise. Your Active you would be perfectly safe. "

"In a fanatical religious cult." Adelle pointed out.

"Adelle... This is an election year..."

"Ah." Adelle said, realising.

"I got the family value voters on the right, the women's issues constituency on the left all coming after me if anything untoward is going on behind those compound walls. The ATF is convinced there is. Now, we have a very narrow window on this warrant. If the government sends in some wet-behind-the-ears Quantico undercover graduate, these people are gonna know about it. I need the real thing. I need a true believer."

*

"I can't help you." Loomis said, dodging between people in the hall in an attempt to escape Paul.

"You're the only one who can." he said.

Loomis stopped and looked at him. She was a pretty woman, with dari skin and a shaved head. "Aren't you supposed to be shot?"

"I lived."

"I see that. Shouldn't you be recuperating?"

"Come on, Loomis. You scan the face, you look for a match. Computer does all the work."

"Have Carter run it through NCIC." Loomis said through gritted teeth.

"I already did that."

"And you didn't get a match?"

Paul shook his head. "Nothing."

"Well, I don't know what you expect me to do--"

"We both know your clearance rating opens up databases Carter can only dream about."

"Then you know I've got plenty of faces to scan for people much more impressive than you."

Paul smiled. "But not as charming."

Loomis gave the most deadpan face known to man. "Was that flirting?"

Paul stood awkwardly. "I think so. It's been awhile... Did I mention I was shot?"

Loomis grabbed the file. Paul smiled as she left.

*

"I don't like it." Dominic said, accompanying Adelle across the Dollhouse floor.

"Good, it's your job not to like it, Mr. Dominic," Adelle said. "But Senator Boxbaum is more than just a valued client. He's a well-placed asset. Denying his request would have a steeper downside than acquiescing."

"It's not the job. I'm confidant Langton can handle the ATF. It's Echo." he insisted. "Her field response has been wildly erratic lately."

"She's demonstrated a... talent for adaptability, which is precisely what is required in this instance."

"They shouldn't be adaptable." Dominic pressed. "They should be predictable. If Alpha didn't teach us that much--"

"You don't like Echo, do you, Mr. Dominic?"

Dominic looked uncomfortable. "It's not that I don't like her. It's sometimes I worry you do."

"Your objections have been noted, thank you, Mr. Dominic."

Adelle left him and took a beeline for Doctor Saunders' office. Echo was there, sitting on the examination table, Saunders at her side. Topher was in the corner at a computer.

"Hello, Echo."

Echo beamed. "Hello." she said brightly. "I had an EXAM." the word sounded alien to her.

"That's good. Would you like to have some lunch now?"

Echo nodded. "I would."

"She shouldn't eat." Saunders said. "Not before the surgery."

"Echo." Adelle said, stopping Echo in the door. "Why don't you go have a massage?"

Echo smiled. "A massage would be relaxing." She left, closing the door behind her.

"If she were any more relaxed, she'd be ooze." Topher observed.

"So, it's doable?" Adelle asked.

"It's... experimental." Saunders said. "And highly invasive."

Adelle looks to Topher. "But doable?

"The actual procedure isn't much more complicated than laser eye correction." he looked at Saunders. "It ain't brain surgery."

"Actually, it IS brain surgery." she said. "We're going to be turning Echo into a human camera, and in order to do that, she's going to have to be made blind."

"Not permanently... In theory." Topher said meekly.

"So, this is it?" Adelle said, leaning over the computer.

"Yes, uh, the latest in CSEVP. Cortical stimulation for evocation of visual perception."

"Brain camera for the blind." Saunders said flatly.

"...Or that."

"And this is what she'll be seeing?" Adelle said, pointing at herself on tue screen.

"Well, this is what the feds will be seeing, only less clear once we get it inside of Echo. We'll be using her eyes as lenses. The image will bypass her own cortex and be broadcast directly back to the ATF. Echo herself will see no evil."

"There have been instances of this technology causing aneurysms and, in one case, death." Saunders said. "It's possible one good sneeze could being on a seizure."

"Or even worse." Topher said. "A SNEEZURE."

"The risks have been determined to be within the acceptable margins." Adelle said. "How soon can she be ready?"

"I'll need 24 hours." Saunders told her.

"Good. Clock starts now."

*

"This is our target." Agent Lilly, a middle-aged man with greeting hair, said. "Calls himself Jonas Sparrow. Real name: Nathan Allan White." He passed the mugshot around the cramped, damp cottage to his fellow ATF agents. "36 years of age, he spent most of those years in federal prisons. Last time he was inside Sparrow claimed a conversion experience. Upon release, he joined up with the Zion Ranch. Formed a splinter group. They grew in number... and set up shop here."

"What kind of shop?" one of the agents asked.

"Given Sparrow's history, it could be anything from gun running to human trafficking. One thing I can promise you: he is not up at that ranch putting hay in a manger."

Everyone chuckled, except Boyd. Boyd didn't find it particularly funny m

"Our problem has been we haven't been able to show cause for a warrant." Lilly continued. "Until now. Sparrow never leaves the compound himself. But once a month, he sends some minions into town to buy supplies. They go in groups to watch each other. Well, someone wasn't watching closely enough, because one of the faithful managed to scribble this on the back of a shopping list." Lilly held up an evidence bag with a shopping list in it. On the back of the sheet, the words 'SAVE ME' were scrawled. "'Save Me'. These two words have opened a crack in the door. A very small crack. A judge has agreed to let us do a sneak-and-peek. We have 48 hours to show cause for further action. Then the door shuts again."

"48 hours to penetrate a closed group?" another agent asked. "To gain their confidence, to get inside?"

"I'd like you all to meet Boyd Langton." Lilly said, alerting everyone to Boyd's presence in the room's corner. "Private contractor recommended to us by Senator Boxbaum. He's been vetted at the highest level. I'll let him tell you what he does."

"Hi," Boyd said dryly. "So, what I do is I work with an extraordinary young woman. She's not a law enforcement officer. She's not an undercover agent. She's just a girl. She's going to help us. Her name is Esther Carpenter, and she knows these people. She knows them like she knows herself."

"What, did she escape from a cult?" a male agent asked.

"No. She didn't escape from anything. Esther's talent is not in getting out, but getting in. And because of this talent, because of who she is, that is what she will do. She will not arrive there a stranger or an intruder. She will walk through the gates of the compound... and she will be accepted as one of them."

"How?" a female agent asked.

"Through a miracle."

*

"I can feel the sun." Esther said. "We're headed south now. You made the turn. It means we're getting closer. I really want to thank you for going out of your way."

Boyd looked to the passenger seat, where Esther was sitting. She was wearing heavy, woollen clothes with lots of holes and patches, and a cane was spread across her lap. Her eyes were glazed over, and her hair had a slight frizziness to it. Boyd was so used to seeing Echo's hair all sleek and wavy. "It's not as far out of my way as you might think. I admire your courage. Hitchhiking across country."

"Because I'm blind?"

"Nah, 'cause you're a girl."

"I'm a girl?! Wow, I've been blind longer than I thought." Boyd smiled. "Do I hear a smile?"

"You do." he assured. "So, you weren't always blind?"

"No," she said. "The Lord saw fit to take my vision when I was nine." Her smile faded slightly.

"The Lord, huh? And you don't blame Him?"

"Blame Him? No, I praise Him. Saul of Tarsus made it all the way to Damascus after he was struck blind, and he became a new person."

"You want to become a new person?"

Esther's smile grew wider. "More than anything."

Boyd stopped the car next to a chain link fence. Within the fence was a small compound, comprised of two dozen bleach-white wooden houses and a few barns. Men and women bustled about in pale white shirts and skirts, looking impossibly happy. "Are we here?" Esther asked.

"I think so. There's a gate. It looks like it's open. I could walk you there."

"No, thank you. I made it this far. Is the path close?"

"Open the door; you'll step right on it."

Esther opened the door, but paused to place her hand on Boyd's shoulder. "Thank you. And God bless you."

Esther felt her way out of the car. Boyd drove away.

"Hello?" Esther said, her cane clanging against the Gate's entrance. She walked down a dusty path. She could feel the people's eyes on her. "Hello?" she repeated. She could feel their presence now in coming in close. "Please." she said. "I know you're there."

She stopped as her came hit a shoe. She raised her hand to the vicinity of a face and found a cheekbone, strong, covered in stubble. She ran her hand across the face. "Jonas Sparrow. I'd know your face anywhere."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
"Esther Louise Carpenter." Jonas said, reading Esther's ID. "From Raymond, New Hampshire." He waved his hand in front of her face. She didn't react. "A blind hitchhiker. And you got all the way here by yourself?"

"I was led." Esther informed him. "By God."

"And was that God in the car that dropped you off?"

Esther laughed lightly. "Just one of his instruments."

"Who told you about this place, Esther Louise Carpenter?"

You did.

Jonas shook his head. "I've never seen you before."

"But I've seen you." Esther said. The crowd was listening to her intently. "You appeared to me in a vision. You spoke to me. You said a place had been prepared for me. You told me to walk out my door, to not be afraid. You said, 'Come to your brothers and sisters at the Temple.'" A single tear rolled down her face. "You said I would be carried here... as if on the wind. And then you took my hand..." she couple his cheek. "...and you held it to your face...so that I would know it."

The crowd broke into a chorus of 'Hallelujah's "Amen." Jonas whispered.

*

"You broke in?" Paul said into the phone. "Okay. So then here's what I want you to do: bring the drugs to this address. You ready? 9000 Temple Street. Downtown. I'll see you then."

Paul hung up and say back to see Loomis standing over him, eyebrow raised.

"That was my neighbour." he explained. "I forgot my pain medication at home. She's gonna run it town here for me. Please tell me we've made some progress."

Loomis dropped the file on Paul's desk. "Sorry. I tried every biometric I know. Your Caroline doesn't exist. I'll leave it active and in the system, at least for now. If I get any hits off the face recog, I'll let you know."

She walked away. Paul looked to the desk to see the picture of Caroline, looking up at him. He looked at it for quite some time before he got back to work.

*

“Doctor?”

Topher slipped into Doctor Saunders’ office, looking visibly unsettled. Saunders raised an eyebrow. “Topher?” 

“Hello.” 

“…Hello.” 

Topher cleared his throat. “So listen. Here's the thing. I was looking, glancing… the security feed... I noticed... Victor.” He held his arms out to see if she understood. 
“You noticed Victor?” 

“Mm-hmm. In the shower and he's... naked.” 

Saunders raised the other eyebrow. “Victor's naked in the shower.” 

Topher nodded furiously. “Right. Anyway, he seemed to be having a kind of... man reaction.” 

“A what?” 

“A, you know, reaction that a man person might have in the... you know, the... naked part. Shower. Victor.” 

“Victor had an erection?” 

Topher winced, as if the word hurt him. “I prefer man reaction.” he wheezed. 

“Why? 

He shrugged. “This is a problem. This can't happen. It shouldn't happen. When they're in their Doll state, there's a limp... ness…” 
Saunders took a file from the shelf. “Well, I warned about something like this.” 

"When?"

“His last engagement was with Miss Lonely Hearts.” The secretive client was notorious in the Dollhouse; most thought she was a dirty old lady. 

“So?” Topher said. “That shouldn't matter. I mean, okay, it was a romantic engagement, but he was wiped.” 

“This is the eighth time he's had that exact imprint. I've cautioned against repeated imprints in the same Dolls, haven't I?” 

Topher shrugged. “I don't know.” He pointed at the file. “You put it in one of those reports?” 

Saunders nodded. “Of course.” 

Topher looked as if the case had been cracked. “Okay! Well, nobody reads those.” 

Saunders resisted the urge to hit him. “How many times has this happened?” 

“I don't know!” Topher said apprehensively. “I wasn't looking for it.” 

“Well, now you're gonna have to.” She said, handing him the file. “Let's start with the last three months of shower tapes.” 

Topher looked horrified. “We're actually gonna sit down and... look for the...?” 

Saunders sighed. “Man reactions.” 



“This is Sister Emma.” Sister Kris told Esther. People were standing in a circle to be introduced to Esther. 

“Hi.” Esther said. 

“Sister Annabelle, mm-hmm…” 

“Hello.” 

“Oh, this... is Iliya.” 
“Hello.” Iliya said. 

Esther went for his face, but instead brushed off his suspenders. Iliya was tall. “Hello, Iliya.” She said as he guided her hand to his cheek. “ It's a pleasure to meet you. And what a handsome face!” 

Iliya laughed. “Thank you.” 

“Iliya was with us at the Zion Ranch in Texas.” Kris told Esther. 

Esther’s hand found Iliya’s steady heartbeat. “You were unhappy there.” She said. 

She sensed him nodding. “Things happened there that should not have happened.” 

“Jonas led us out of that place.” Kris said. 

“He saved us.” Iliya agreed. 

“Esther?” She heard Brother Seth’s voice. “Jonas would like to see you.” 

Seth took her hand, and Esther smiled as she was lead from the room. 



“Another female,” Agent Doggett told Agent Lilly, showing him a fuzzy still from Esther’s hidden camera. “Approximately 29 years of age. Let's tag her femme eight.” 

Agent Lilly stuck it to the board. “Could be Andrea Parker from Florence, Texas.” 

“You have some names?” Boyd asked, approaching the board. 

“A few.” Lily said. “Been watching these people a long time.” 

“Any idea who our cry for help came from?” Boyd said. “Be nice to know who our ally on the inside is.” 

Lilly shrugged. “Yeah, it would be, but we can't presume any allies.”

“Damn it!” 
Lilly turned. Agent Reyes, at a computer behind him, had said it. She was looking at blank screens. “What happened?” Lilly asked. “We lose our signal?” 

“The signal's still there.” she said. “I'm just not getting—“ 
She was cut off by a flare of eerie light shining in the grainy darkness. “What the hell?” 
The lessened. Agent Lilly and Boyd were met with the sight of cache upon cache of weapons. 
“You getting this?” 

“Oh, yeah.” Lilly said. “I'm getting it. That's an arsenal.” 



Jonas watched as Esther didn’t react to the torch shining in her eyes. “I'm gonna ask you some questions, Esther, and I want you to be truthful with me, okay?” 

“Of course.” she said, smiling. Jonas eyed her closely. No pupil dilation. 

“You work for the government?” he asked. 

Esther looked confused. “What?” 

“The federal government.” he clarified. “Did they send you here? 

Esther shook her head. “No. Of course not.” 

“And you're not with law enforcement of any kind?” 

“No.” 

Jonas sighed and switched the light bulb on, releasing them from pitch blackness. Seth stood awkwardly, watching them. “I wanna believe you, Esther. I want to believe everything you say. It's a beautiful story... but the serpent also had a beautiful story and the woman was deceived, and the man was corrupted, and they were forced to leave the garden.” 

Esther considered this, but ultimately replied with “I don't understand.” 

Jonas walked to the wall and retrieved one of the many hidden guns from the stack. Seth gulped. “I do not come into this garden a pure being, Esther. I come to it the way Adam left. Broken.” He loaded a bullet into the gun. “Corrupted. Impure. But those whom I shelter: they are not corrupted by it. They have not walked in the world the way I have. They have not seen the things that I have seen.” He shut the gun. “And against this world they are defenseless. So I will protect them. And any who seek to harm them, to foul this garden…” 
He stuck the gun between her eyes. 

“...shall fail.” 
Esther didn’t move. She didn’t know it was there. “Iliya told me that you saved them.” she said dreamily. “All who are here are blessed.”

Jonas looked to Seth and sighed. He knelt down in front of Esther. 

“Welcome to the Temple. ‘Esther: she who was born for a time such as this.’ Welcome.” 
He planted a kiss on her forehead. She reached for his hand, but he was already gone. She grasped at empty space. Seth was left to remove her from the weapons room. If anyone knew… 
Esther looked in his general direction. “He is a great man.” 

“Yes.” 
For the first time, Seth wasn’t sure. 



“Paul?” 
Paul stood up. Mellie was at the other end of his desk, holding a casserole dish. “Mellie. Hi. 

“I hope I got here fast enough.” she said worriedly. “You're not in a lot of pain, are you? Oh, here's your prescription.” 
Paul stood up as he handed her the bag. She smiled and held out her dish, wrapped in Clingfilm. “Also, some leftover manicotti.” 

Paul looked at the manicotti. Not a bite taken, as usual. “Thank you. I really appreciate this.” 

“Oh, no big, I've been meaning to come down here anyway.” 

Paul raised an eyebrow. “You've been meaning to come down to the Federal Building?” 

Mellie looked awkward. “Well... you know. Oh, uh, some guy in the hall asked me to give you this.” She handed him a large yellow envelope with his name scrawled across it. 

“Some guy in the hall?” Paul asked. 

“Yeah, I was asking directions, and he heard me say your name.” 
Something struck Paul. He picked up the envelope that had brought him the picture of Caroline. Same handwriting. 
Paul nearly dropped the manicotti. 



“I'm right, aren't I?” Paul asked Loomis frantically. “Both were written by the same person.” 

“Give me a second—“ 

“And no postmark on either one!” Paul turned to Mellie. “Mellie, describe again the man who gave this to you.” 

Mellie flinched. “Uh, sure, he was maybe mid-20s, um, not overly tall. Cute, brownish hair…” 

Loomis opened the envelope. “Did he have a cart?” 

“A cart? Uh, yes, yes, there was a cart there. I remember that.” 

Loomis plunged her hand into the enevlope and took out a shiny disk. “Was there mail on the cart?” 

“Uh, yeah, a lot of mail…” 

Loomis glanced at Paul. Little Stevie from the mail room. Short, cute, brown hair. Too lazy to walk to your desk.” 

“Oh. Well, that little bastard.” 

“Still, though, you're right: the handwritings match, so whoever sent you the photo sent this to you, too.” 

Loomis put the disk in the drive of her computer and hit play. Paul was taken aback when Caroline, Caroline from the picture, appeared 

“Okay, hi, Mom. Are we done?” she said to the cameraman. She was wearing the same clothes as in the picture. The same day. 

“Is there anyone you want to say good-bye to?” the cameraman asked. 

“Wow,” Mellie said weakly. “The photograph didn't really do her justice, did it...?"


"This is real." Paul breathed. "I mean, this is who she was - just a girl..."

"Just a girl with a potty mouth." Loomis said.

"Someone wanted me to see this." Paul said, grabbing a pad and pencil. "Can you roll it back?"

Loomis rewound to the very beginning. Paul began a transcript.

"Okay," Mellie said. "Well, uh... I should probably get going..." She had been forgotten in the corner.

"Okay," Paul said flatly. "Thanks again, Mellie."

He didn't even look up as Mellie left.

*

"Let's roll that back, please." Saunders said. "I believe I spotted a tumescence at 3:21:04. Tell me what you think."

Topher hit the rewind button numbly. "Yeah," he sighed. "It's not oak, but it's on its way to wood. Are we done?"

"Go to Wednesday the 23rd, please." Saunders asked, scribbling something on her clipboard.

"You know, I could burn these and you could just take them home..."

Saunders glared. "Go back. There. Mm-hmm. Wait, freeze that--"

"I will not!"

Saunders sighed. "Of course. If it'd been a snake...

Topher looked at her.

"...Please pretend I didn't say that. G-Go back to 17:57:09. Can you zoom in to his face? Now jump to 24:25:14... Freeze!"

Topher froze. Victor was in the shower looking at something to his right. A fellow Active, a girl with blonde hair...

"Well, I guess that rules out Miss Lonely Hearts. It's not residual imprinting; it's her. It's Sierra."

"What?"

"It only happens when she's there, and it started not long after she arrived." Saunders informed him. "She's the new element that's been introduced to his environment, the catalyst to his physical response."

"He likes her?"

She sighed. "Yeah..."

Simpleton.

*

Boyd approached as Agent Lilly showed Agent Reyes a schematic. "When we breach, forward team here." he said. "We need to secure that arsenal."

Boyd approached as Reyes departed. "You're going in now?" he asked.

"Soon as my warrant comes through. Just waiting on the judge."

"Then I need to extract my associate."

Lilly chuckled. "Sure. Why don't you go knock on the door, let 'em know we're coming? Are you nuts? Your girl stays put. She's my eyes in there."

"She served that function." Boyd said, voice rising. "She's provided enough evidence for you to keep your case alive. Now I would like to do the same for her. In my judgment, this action is premature."

"Your judgment? Look, I was told not to be too interested in where you and the girl really came from. No problem, I'm not. What I am interested in is putting Nate White - or Jonas Sparrow or whatever he's calling himself this week - back where he belongs: for good this time."

Something occurred to Boyd. "You know this guy."

"Yeah, I know him."

"No, you KNOW him."

"Huh. You used to be a cop. Me, too. Twelve years, Laughlin PD, and back then, he wasn't calling it a church and they were mostly underage girls. We put him away for what was supposed to be forever. Forever turned out to be just shy of two years. Some judge decided he didn't like the way we handled the evidence. So when this judge calls... I'm not waiting."

Lilly stormed away. Boyd retreated to his van and immediately called Dominic.

"This is Langton. I need your okay for a forced extraction."

"Echo," Dominic said. "She's glitching on a government job. Damn it..."

Boyd didn't understand. "Echo is fine. She's performed perfectly within parameters."

"Then what's the problem?"

"Agent Lilly. He's about to release the hounds of hell on that compound. Echo's imprint will not have prepared her for this--

"Do nothing."

"What? If you're worried about a glitch--"

"No extraction. Authorisation denied."

He hung up a second later. Boyd stared at his phone in shock.

*

Jonas projected his voice to speak to the chapel, full to bursting with the citizens of the compound. "In our book, the story of Esther is a story of a woman. Her father died when she was still in her mother's womb. Her mother died in childbirth. What was so extraordinary about the Esther of the Book was her unique vision. She could see things no one else could. This was the essence of the Esther of the Book-her ability to... penetrate secrets, to pierce the darkness, to find truths others could not." Jonas looked to Esther, utching close to Kris in the middle row. "Our Esther, it seems, is no different. She says I appeared to her in a vision." Everybody chuckled. "All right. You all know me. You know that I make no special claim to revelation. I'm just a man, weaker than most, but my faith is not weak, and I see this place and all of you through Esther's eyes - her amazing eyes, which see things no one else can -that faith is only strengthened. Brother Seth, would you bring our sister forward?"

Seth waded trough the sea of people to Esther's side. He held out his hand. "Sister?" She clumsily took his hand and he led the way up to the altar. Jonas turned to her.

"Esther Carpenter, are you prepared to forsake the world of men, to give yourself, your life, your fidelity, and your industry to your brothers and sisters of the Temple?"

Esther smiled. "I am."

Jonas made the sigh of the cross on her forehead. "Return to the garden. A new beginning."

Esther was in a sea of hugs from her new Brothers and Sisters. There was cheering and clapping...

all until the flash.

A flash of light from the chapel's window, accompanied by a loud metallic click.

Jonas' jaw tensed. Someone had hit the trip wire.

"Nobody move." he ordered. He darted to the fuse box and flipped a switch, sending the chapel into darkness. He grabbed Seth by the arm and half-dragged him to the cellar.

"Jonas?"

"Seth..."

Jonas took a gun from the nearest container. "I need you with me."

Seth looked tentatively at the caches. Eventually, he grabbed a gun. "I'm with you, Jonas."

"Come on."

They returned to the chapel, where the people had meshed into one scared sea of bleaches white. "Brother Seth, guard the window."

Seth did.

"What's going on?" Esther asked Kris. "I don't understand. "What's happening?"

Jonas was at her in a second. "Was this you?" he spat. "Did you bring them here?"

Esther flinched in surprise. "I don't understand..."

Jonas slapped her across the face, hard, and Esther collapsed beside the pew, cheek burning. Jonas dragged her to her feet again. "Did you do this?" he snarled. "Did you bring the wolves to our door?"

Kris yanked at Jonas' sleeve. "Jonas, no, she's our sister..."

Jonas shoved her into the nearest person and whirled a disoriented Esther out of her reach. "Stop it." he ordered. He turned to Esther. "The truth this time, Sister."

He raised his hand, but Esther grabbed him by the wrist and held it steady. She looked at him and--

She looked at him. Right at him.

"It's a miracle." she breathed. "I can see..."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
"This is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms." A man called through a bullhorn. The compound residents sat huddled together on the floor of the house across from the chapel, listening. "The compound is completely surrounded. For your own safety, come out with your hands in the air."

Esther clung to Sister Kris as Jonas and Seth circled the chapel, holding rifles. "This is worse than Zion Ranch." Kris breathed. "Why does he have guns?"

Jonas sat on the ground. Seth joined him. "Jonas. You must speak to them... to your people. They're afraid."

Jonas looked at Esther as he spoke. "Do you believe it, Seth? Do you believe in her?"

"I don't know. I don't know what to believe. We took her into the dark; you put the light in her eyes. There was nothing: no physical reaction, no change. How do you fake that?"

"And yet she sees."

Jonas crouched and waddled below the windows to Esther. Kris was whispering soothing words in her ear as she dared at the bright colours. She saw Jonas approaching and shrank back.

"Esther." Jonas said softly. "Those men outside - I know you didn't bring them. I know you were telling me the truth. They have come to destroy us, to raze the garden and to salt the Earth... Esther, before I looked into your eyes, and I saw nothing, and so I believed. And I look into them now... and I need to know... was this a miracle?"

Esther considered this. "I was blind, but now I see." she said, simple and fragile.

Jonas stuck a supporting smile on his face. "Then you were brought here for this purpose: so that I might know what to do." He kissed her hand. And now I do."

He stood up. All eyes fell to him.

It is true." Jonas said. "Below us is a cache of weapons Brother Seth and I have hidden there in the event that this day should ever come. I prayed it would not, but I always knew that it would. The darkness cannot abide the light. And yet I now believe my prayers were answered. Esther was sent to us in advance of these men: a demonstration of God's power. So you will not take up arms. You will not have to. Come with me."

He held out his arm, leading the way back to the chapel.

*

Boyd stick to Lilly as they circled the words. The ATF Agents were owing in: Esther's camera had gone flat.

"You've got no way at all to communicate with her?" Lilly asked.

"No." Boyd said dryly. "I really don't."

"So my inside man is worthless is what you're telling me."

"She was never your inside man!" Boyd barked gruffly.

"Oh, she's just another one of them?" Lilly said. "Fine. That's how she'll be treated."

"Look, you do have someone on the inside: whoever sent up that cry for help. We should try to put a name to that, then at least maybe we can form a strategy."

"We are not going to do anything. You are not a part of this, not anymore--"

Lilly was cut off by the rumbling of engines. Boyd turned to see van upon can for news channels accompanying the newly-risen sun.

"Oh, great..."

*

Paul watched Ye clip at least 70 times before he emerged from the room. All other agents were crowded around the office TV, watching a news report. 

"We now take you to our affiliate KPJK with this breaking news." A female reporter said, before the feed was transferred. A male reported appeared in a desert-looking area.

"A religious cult know as the Children of the Temple. This was the scene today in Pleasant, Arizona--"

"What's up?" Paul asked a nearby agent.

The agent shrugged. "Waco 2... maybe."

"--where agents from the Bureau of Alchol, Tobacco, and Firearms surrounded this remote compound. Attentions here are high with the presence of the armed agents. The cult leader was seen moving from one building to another. He's wanted by federal authorities on unspecified charges."

The footage cut to a few dozen people in bleach white clothes running from a chapel door, looking terrified. Then, a woman stopped, looked at the cameras. 

Paul nearly fell into a chair. Brown hair, slightly frizzy but shiny. A pretty face. Dark brown eyes. Slightly older, but still beautiful. Still definitely her.

Definitely Caroline.

*

"I didn't see who wrote the note, now." the shopkeeper told Boyd. "It could have been any one of 'em. There was a bit of a mishegas going on up at the front of the store at the time."

"What kind of mishegas?" Boyd asked.

"Well. Jesse Dillard - he's a mechanic across the way there. He followed 'em in here and he tried to, uh, provoke a thing there."

"Why?"

The shopkeeper chuckled. "Well, I mean, they are kind of odd, you know. But, uh, you know, there's been a lot of rumours about what's going on up there at that compound. Now, I never believed any of 'em until I saw that note."

"Anyone check the security tape?"

"Well, nothing was stolen and nobody asked."

Boyd was perplexed.

*


"We think he's moved everyone into this outbuilding here." Doggett told Lilly.

"No, that's not where he's got the guns stored."

Boyd stormed up, interrupting, but Lilly continued. "Still, doesn't mean he can't get to them. There could be tunnels, underground access."

"If there were tunnels, why didn't he use them to move his people?" Boyd sad roughly. "Why herd them out in broad daylight?"

Lilly and Doggett exchanged a peeved off look. "Will you give us a moment, Carlos?"

"Yeah."

Doggett disappeared. Lilly turned to Boyd. "Okay. You want to go in there and get your girl? I'm open to letting you do that. Under a couple of conditions--"

Boyd slammed him against the car door. "How about these conditions? You stay the hell out of my way and maybe I won't tell anyone it was you! You knew he sent his people into town once a month!" He held up a grainy security camera picture of Lilly in the store. "You were waiting. You ginned up tempers. Started rumors in the town. Created a diversion, and then you wrote that note. That's how you got your warrant. Nobody ever asked to be saved. Not by you."

*

"You're witnessing the wonders of the most high, Brother Seth." Jonas told Seth. "Do not lose faith. Now go. Go."

Seth took a moment, ten left the chapel. Jonas approached Esther, bible in hand.

"Esther? Can you, uh, read? Sight-read?"

"It's been a long time.. I was nine... Yes." she decided, taking the bible.

"Read that for us." Jonas requested, pointing to a passage.

Esther screwed up her eyes. "Then... Nebuchadnezzar ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than normal... and commanded the strongest soldiers in his army to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace... the furnace was so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took them up..." Esther paused. She was slowly realising something. "K-King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his men 'Weren't there three men that we tied up...and threw into the fire?' And the King's men replied, 'Certainly, O King.' And the King said, 'Look! I see four men walking in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.' Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted 'Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the most high God, come out!' So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out of the fire, and the King saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies... nor was a hair on their heads singed... Their robes were not scorched and there was no smell of fire upon them." as Esther finished, Seth teetered the chapel, looking somber.

"We have witnessed more than one miracle these last days." Jonas announced. "Prepare yourselves for the next."

Esther smelled smoke. Seth had lit a fire.

*

Kris was the first uo.No, no, no! I-I want to leave--!"

"Kris!" Jonas said, stopping her. "Kris, wait! Everyone, wait. Lose your faith, and you will perish. Those flames can't hurt us. They'll protect us. Only the unrighteous will be consumed."

People began to cry. Jonas led Kris back to her seat. "It's okay. Come. Sit." he turned to Esther. "Thank you..."

Jonas returned to the Altar, sat down, and awaited the flames. People began furiously coughing. Esther rushed to the Altar. "Jonas. Jonas, you have to let them leave here. You have to tell them to!" she said frantically.

Jonas stood and took her aside. "Esther, where is your faith?"

"This isn't right. You can't force a miracle--"

"'And he saw that the flames did not harm their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed, and there was no smell of fire upon them.'" he quoted.

"These people are gonna die from smoke inhalation before the flames--"

Jonas slapped her again. She reeled, slipped, and fell at the foot of the Altar.

"If that's what God wants. You pray." He turned to the flock. "Let us pray."

Everyone knelt and closed their eyes. Jonas did the same. As they did, Esther scrambled to her feet and grabbed a nearby candlestick. She whipped it at Jonas' temple and he fell down, unconscious. "Go!" she ordered the people.

"Esther!" Seth exclaimed, shocked. No one moved.

"What is wrong with you?!" she yelled. "You people are dying!"

Seth ran to Jonas' side. "What have you done?!"

"Start taking these people out of here! He swore to protect them! If he won't, we have to. Seth..." She crouched down and looked him in the eye. The blind girl is looking you in the eye. Do you know what that means? It means God brought me here. He has a message for you. And that message... is MOVE YOUR ASS! Go! Come on!"

Finally, people started moving. Running. Escaping. Esther led them out the door but paused herself when she saw Iliya, praying, as the flames licked the tapestries. She ran to him. "Iliya, we have to go!"

"Where will we go?" he asked weakly.
I
"I don't know, but outside is life. In here..." she shook her head "No."

"How can you doubt after God restored your sight?"

Iliya", I don't think God let me see again so I could just watch."

Ilyia glared at her. Then he spat on her cheek. "Our home is gone."
Esther wiped her cheek with her sleeve, slowly. Then, she right hooked him, knocking his tooth out. Seth appeared in the doorway. He hooked his arm under Ilyia's torso.

"You got him?"

"Yeah. Come on, Iliya..."

Okay, go! Go!"

Seth and Ilyia exited as the flames spread to the pews. Esther was about to follow when she heard a gun cock behind her. She turned to see Jonas with a gun pointed at her head.

"'And he commanded them to purge the evil from their midst'..."

He raised the gun, reached for the trigger...

and half a dozen bullets pelted across his chest. He fell down, dead. Esther turned to see a masked figure clad in black, holding a gun. The man removed his mask.

It was Laurence Dominic.

He was not offering Esther a treatment.

Dominic grinned. "Our trouble ends here."

He knocked the butt of his gun forward, and everything went black.

*

"Of course we won't stop until we're sure we've found everyone." Agent Lilly told the reporter, as the chapel burned to the ground. "But... the grim fact is we don't think there are any more survivors..."

The reporter's mouth dropped open. Lilly frowned and turned to see Boyd, wearing an ATF uniform, carrying his girl Esther from the flames, mask on her face.

Lilly looked to the ground. He turned back to the camera awkwardly.

"Thank God..."

*

Paul pulled up to the wreckage the next morning. Several agents were analysing every scrap of burnt wood. Paul left the car and approached the first agent he found. His nametag said Lilly.

"You the AIC?" Paul asked.

"I was." Agent Lilly said flatly.

Paul stuck out his hand. "Special Agent Ballard. FBI."

Lilly didn't take the hand. "FBI. Little late to the party."

"I see that. The people you took out of here-where are they?"

"Being debriefed and then released."

"Where?

"Look, another agency has a problem how this went down, you can take it up with my superiors. I'm not gonna hand you the knife."

"What? No."

He pulled the picture of Caroline from his pocket. "I'm looking for this girl. She look familiar?"

Agent Lilly looked at the picture. "She could be anybody."

"Look, unofficially, before you release these folks, just let me talk to them."

"I don't do things unofficially. Get a warrant."

Agent Lilly vanished to the charred remains. Paul stood, watching as the last flame died.

*

"So, tell me, Mr. Dominic, how was Arizona?" Adelle asked as they strode from Topher's office. "I understand it's a dry heat. You requisitioned a company jet last night."

"Echo was glitching on a government job. I felt I should be on-site in case measures were called for."

Adelle smiled. "I see."

"As always, just trying to protect your interests."

She looked at him. "I'm touched."

She wasn't.

"If I may," Dominic said as they reached the elevator. "Echo has been exhibiting the same signs Alpha did before his composite event. Now, if you're not willing to send her to the Attic--"

Adelle blocked the door. "Don't gamble on what I'd be willing to do, Mr. Dominic. Take the stairs."

The doors closed, leaving Dominic alone.

*

"Hello, Echo." Topher said as the chair rose. "How are you feeling?"

"Did I fall asleep?" Echo asked dreamily.

"For a little while."

"Shall I go now?"

"If you'd like."

Echo stood. She walked out the door and began to make her way across the carpeted catwalk overlooking the Dollhouse--

"Echo?"

Echo turned. Doctor Saunders was there.

"How's your vision? Can you see okay?"

Echo looked over the railing. Mr. Dominic was walking across the Dollhouse. She stared at him.

"I see perfectly."

*
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
==Engagement 6: Man On the Street==

Paul looked from the page to the computer screen, jaw agape.

"No. It can't be that easy..."

Tanaka walked into the file room and snatched the file from his hand. "This is my case!"

Paul shrugged. "You closed it."

"What, you come in my house, dig through my garbage, too?"

Paul nodded. "You're out of hand cream again."

Tanaka looked to one of the monitors, playing the Caroline tape. "This the alleged victim? Guy said she had a face. Damn. No wonder you're foraging for hand cream. Had a million bucks, I could blow it on that."

"Did you track this payment from Crestejo?" Paul asked. "The Mayfair Fund?"

"Told you to stay out of my soup, Ballard--"

"Afraid you'll have to reopen the case? Act like a federal agent for five minutes?"

"This is my report. If there is some giant conspiracy that's sucking the brains out of nice, young people, this bit of trim that you're chasing is A: effectively dead, and B: a whore. A mindless whore, just your type. No disrespect. I'm sure she still has a heart of gold--"

Tanks yelped as Paul slammed him against the glass door. The people at desks outside stood in alarm. "What happened there, Ballard?" Tanaka grunted. "I strike a nerve?"

"Yeah. Felt like this!"

Paul ripped Tanaka's arm behind his back. Tanaka screamed bloody murder. Paul released him as an intern ran for a supervisor.

"You are not long for this world!"

"I think you'd better lie down." Paul advised.

"I mean it. Someone's going to put you down. And I pray to God I'm there to see it!"

*

Victor looked up from his cucumber as Sierra padded by. Echo noted that she didn't sit with herself and Victor, instead opting for a secluded table a few metres away. Echo didn't think too much of it, but Victor looked pensive.

"Sierra is alone." he noted.

Echo considered this. "I like to be alone sometimes." she pointed out.

Victor nodded. "It's peaceful." Echo was about to return to her food when Victor continued. "Sierra sits with us most days. Am I wrong?"

Echo looked at Sierra. "When we go to sleep, I hear her..."

Victor looked to Sierra longingly. "Maybe she didn't see us."

Victor stood and made his way to Sierra. Echo watched. He placed his hand on her shoulder and parted his lips--

Sierra took one look at him and let out a bloodcurdling scream, fell from her chair and crawled away, screaming, not stopping for air. She crawled into a fetal position and rocked, still screaming. The Dollhouse staff stopped and turned, ran for help.

Echo put her fork down. Victor looked around, wondering what was happening.

*

Doctor Saunders stood from her seat and gave a comforting look to Sierra, lying in a thin robe on the exam table. "Do you feel uncomfortable at all?" she asked.

Sierra shook her head. "No. Should I?"

"No. Did Victor upset you? Do you remember?"

"Victor wants to pretend." Sierra said simply.

Claire felt something in the pit of her stomach. "'Pretend'?"

"He pretends we're married."

Claire's' breath rattled. "I see..."

The door opened and Boyd walked in, accompanied by Joe Hearn, Sierra's handler. He nodded to her, and Sierra walked out. "Something's up?" Hearn asked.

Saunders removed her latex glove. "Yes. Sierra's had sex."

Hearn shook his head. "No."

"You know for sure?" Boyd asked.

"Her last engagement was with the governor's niece at a children's cancer ward."

"I examined her post-engagement anyway." Claire said. "This happened while she's been here."

"What did she say about Victor?" Boyd asked Claire.

"That he liked to play."

Hearn's forehead creased. "Wait, the Dolls don't have sex drives. That's part of the deal, right? What do you guys know?"

"Since when do you care what happens to her?" Boyd said gruffly.

"Since I was hired to! Just because I'm not Andy Griffith with these guys doesn't mean I want to see them abusing each other. If Victor's off-program, then he could be Jekyll and Hyde-ing just like Alpha did."

"We can't jump to any conclusions." Claire reasoned.

"No, but we can go to the videotape."

"How long has she--?"

"Two days. If Victor was alone with her, it won't take long to find."

"Mr. Hearn," Claire said. "When you figure out what happened--"

"Then I go to DeWitt. If Victor is playing doctor when not imprinted with an M.D., then he goes to the Attic."

Hearn left, slamming the door. Claire approached Boyd. "Victor wouldn't..."

"She did scream when she saw him." Boyd pointed out. "And we both know he's been focused on her."

"There's a difference between being attracted to someone and hurting them. "

"Has she shown any other sign? Anything you can remember?"

Claire heard a noise. Echo was standing in the doorway. She didn't know how much she had heard, but Echo just looked at the floor. 

"When we go to sleep... when we go in the pods... Sierra cries."

*

"Am I right?" Paul asked Loomis. "I'm right, right? Am I right?"

Loomis sighed over her computer. "Tanaka's going to the director. You know he threw up after you pulled that Vulcan grip crap. And yes, I think you're right. This is the Crestejo account." she pointed at the screen with her pen. "Big payment to the Mayfair Fund, which means nothing. Mayfair is a hedge, and it's spread thin."

"But that payment went in right when his daughter was kidnapped." Paul said.

"And you still think he hired the Dollhouse to get her back."

Paul nodded. "I surely do."

"Now you have a similar sum transferred to the Mayfair Fund from Q-Field. And this is the fun part: you have the same amount, from Q-Field to Mayfair, every year on the exact same day."

Paul handed her a file. "Q-Field is a subsidiary of Redwing, a majority share of which is held by: Joel Mynor.

"And Joel Mynor is on your list of potential Dollhouse clients." she said. "Man, even I know about this guy. He's that Internet mogul. He created Sorceress, E-Tilites, Bouncy the Rat - my kids fiercely love Bouncy the Rat."

"Dotcom billionaire with serious commitment issues, who shows up at every charity gig with a fabulous nobody on his arm. I've liked this guy for a while."

"You ever thought about asking him out?" Loomis joked.

"I'm never going to get to Caroline. Whoever she is, the Dollhouse has buried her. I've got to get to them first, and Joel Mynor is my ticket. Whatever he's paying for, it's happening soon. I need everything on him."

"You mean everything admissible by a warrant that you got, because anybody in the whole wide Bureau believes you're not insane."

"I mean help me out."

Loomis smiled. "Getting shot didn't even make you pause, did it? I'll help you. The director sees what we're up to, he's going to help you OUT."

*

"So the one fund got transferred to the other fund, and that's the same as the other other fund, and that's all important?"

Paul smiled at Mellie. "That's it. Exactly."

"You have a very glamorous job."

Paul lifted his Chinese takeaway box. "How do you think I can afford to take you to all these fancy places?"

"Hey, this is the nicest offer I've had this month. Or last month…"

"Weren't you, um, seeing someone? Rick?"

"Dick." she corrected. 

"Really? I thought it was Rick."

"Oh, his name is Rick…"

Paul winced. "Ooh…"

"He said he didn't see me as ‘a long-term investment.’ Said he wanted to, uh, ‘dump the stock before it went public.’ He talks like that. He works at a doughnut shop."

"...what a Rick."

Mellie laughed, and then shrugged. "Yeah. Hey, I get that I'm not the gold standard in L.A."

"Please, you're gorgeous!"

Mellie shifted uncomfortably. "But I do have access to important government information that I don't understand." she said brightly. 

"It boils down to this: today was a slightly better day for the good guys than it was for the bad guys. Just one more tiny step to get me closer to bringing her in—"

"Them." Mellie said immediately. 

"What?"

"Bringing ‘them’ in. You said ‘her’."

"Oh. Well... ‘her’ is being held captive by ‘them.’ Along with a lot of other people, if I'm right. So if I really catch my client in the act tomorrow with a Doll, I'm closer to freeing them all. Including, but not limited to, ‘her.’ Is that fair?"

Mellie shrugged and stared at the bottom of her takeaway box. "It's your job."



"We're all clear in there."

"Okay," Joel Mynor said. "I don't want to see anybody in the house or around the house, and that includes the boys." 

"They get it. You'll be very much alone." 

Joel nodded. "All right."

He watched as the head of security retreated around the side of the house. Joel stood on the lawn for a few more minutes, dodging the sprinkler, until Rebecca arrived. 

She pulled up in a small blue car. She was wearing a floral dress, her shiny brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her beautiful face full of worry. "Joel?"

"Hi, honey."

"Are you okay? You sounded so serious on the phone…"

"I'm a serious guy."

She kissed him. "You're a dork. Louanne's covering for me, so this can't take forever."

"You may have to owe her one. I did something."

"Something bad?"

He chuckled. "No. Something very, very good…"


Paul lay the unconscious security guard down by the pool and slipped into the house. He crept along, gun in hand, and passed a downstairs bedroom: a king size bed, covered in rose petals. 

"Oh, Joel…"

A voice. A woman's, from down the hall. A man's voice spoke as Paul approached the kitchen door. 

"The oven, uh, gets food so hot, it actually goes through this thing called the ‘cooking process.’ It's very scientific. Um, and I think there's something in the fridge…"

Paul turned into the kitchen, raising his gun. The open fridge door blocked most of his view, but he could see Joel Mynor, a short, heavyset man with a small face and a tuft of brown hair. Joel's face dropped at the sight of Paul. 

"I'd like you both to turn around very slowly." He ordered to Joel and the woman hidden from view. "What's the matter, Mr. Mynor? Did you two want to be—"

The fridge door closed. Looking at Paul, wide-eyed, was the elusive Caroline. 
Paul lowered the gun. "alone…?" he finished.
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
"Okay," Joel said cautiously. "Whoever you are, I think you've made a mistake."

"What's happening?" Rebecca breathed, backing up towards Joel. 

"Caroline?" the man said. 

"Okay," Joel said. "You've definitely made a mistake…"

"What do you call her?" the man asked, voice rising. 

"Please put the gun away." Rebecca begged. "My name is Rebecca Mynor, this is my husband Joel, we just bought this house!" She turned to Joel, something occurring to her. "We did, right? You didn't just break in to impress me?"

"No, it-it's paid for, this is all a big mix-up. Please, tell us your name!"

"I'm Paul Ballard. I'm with the FBI."

"I knew it…" Rebecca said faintly. 

"What?" Joel asked. 

"It's… PORN, isn't it? The Internet venture that suddenly pays off! You did porn! My husband does porn!"

"No," Joel said desperately. "I don't do porn!" He looked at the man, Paul. "You're in huge trouble!"

Paul had eyes only for Rebecca. "You're name is Caroline. You don't know this, but you're being fooled. You're being used…"

"Okay, I'm giving you one last chance to leave—"

"Joel, please don't make him angry!"

"I would never hurt you—"

Paul went still as a man in a suit appeared and jammed a taser in his gut. He shuddered before going rigid, collapsing on the ground. 

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Mynor." The man said. "He attacked one of our men…"

"Who is this?" Rebecca said hysterically. "You know this man? Is this a PORN man?!"

"No, there's no porn!"

"Don't yell at me!" Rebecca yelled as the suited man took the taser heads from Paul’s ribs. 

"I'm not yelling at you, I just—"

"I don't like this house…" Rebecca said faintly. 

"Sweetie—"

"I—"

Rebecca screamed as Paul hit the suited man with extreme force right before he chucked a new man with an earpiece and taser over the worktop. Joel made a run for it before Paul kicked him in the ribs, sending him down. Rebecca yelled his name as another man came in and attacked Paul. As they struggled and Rebecca nearly fainted, Boyd appeared from nowhere and grabbed her by the arm. "You need a treatment." he said frantically. 

Boyd half-dragged her from the room as chaos raged, she didn’t know what was happening, where was Joel, who was Paul—

Rebecca skidded to a stop at an open doorway. A huge bed with rose petals. She gaped at Boyd, pointed indignantly. 

“PORN!!!” 

Boyd dragged her from the house, leaving the fight behind.

*

Joel lifted himself to his feet as Paul dispatched the last of the security guards. Paul heard him and whipped around. "Hope you're not thinking about leaving, Mr. Mynor."

"Can I assume none of my security guys need an ambulance. Or a hearse?"

"They'll be fine."

"Why don't you, uh, tell me what you're looking for?"

"I found what I was looking for." Paul said.

Joel sat at the kitchen table. "Really? Figured you'd be a lot happier right about now."

Paul wasn't happy. He had found what he was looking for, but Caroline would've been whisked away by now. "Tell me about the Dollhouse." he said simply.

Joel laughed "The Doll... Uh, it's pink and it opens up and there's teeny furniture, and you put the boy doll on top of the girl doll and we learn about urges--"

Paul violently overturned the table, slamming it into the wall and splintering two of its legs. He grabbed a chair and plonked himself down inches from Joel. "What's her name?"

Joel sighed. "Rebecca: she told you."

"Really? How do you know Rebecca?"

We've been married for seven years.

Paul chuckled. "So that's your fantasy? All the money in the world, the most elaborate, high-class underground organization ever designed, and you just want to play house? I guess the rich really are different."

Joel leaned in. "Why: what's your fantasy?"

"Oh, I'm okay right here in the real world, thanks--"

"No, no, you have a fantasy. We all do. We need it to survive, and I think your fantasy is about my Rebecca."

"Her name is Caroline."

Joel scoffed. "Right."

"A few years ago, she was a student, and then she had her identity ripped from her so she could play love slave to every loser with a wad of cash."

Joel smiled gleefully. "But then the brave little FBI agent whisked her away from the cash-wielding losers and restored her true identity, and... she fell in love with him!"

Paul shook his head. "It doesn't go like that."

"I saw how you were with her. It was... it was almost cute!"

"We're not here to talk about me."

"Hey, I don't have to be here at all. I mean, you're not going to arrest me. Pretty sure you're not going to kill me, so... if we're going to talk, we're both going to talk." Joel strode from the fridge and grabbed a bottle of champagne, accompanied by two glasses. "I mean, she... she changed things for you. So you're the head of this FBI task force to uncover the Dollhouse, and you're working hard, you're chasing leads, you're cracking skulls, but it's just work. And then you meet this girl or you... you see her somewhere, huh? Caroline? And suddenly...it gets personal." He popped the cork and poured champagne into the two glasses. He held one out to Paul, who shook his head. "Tell me you haven't thought about it. You know, her... her grateful tears, her welcoming embrace, her warm breath. Are you married?"

"Was.

"Oh, that's... Is there someone in your life right now?"

"This is getting old..."

Joel shook his head. "Of course not. No, there's no room for a real girl, is there, when you can feel Caroline beckoning" He chuckled. "You know, I have to say I-I think your fantasy is even sadder than mine."

"Won't know until I hear it."

"Well, it didn't involve drinking alone..."

*

"Victor," Claire asked. "Can you tell me about Sierra?"

"Sierra is beautiful." Victor said flatly, smiling as the machine scanned his retina.

Topher wasn't convinced. "There's a lot of beautiful girls here, bro, it's pretty much the idea. Beauty."

Victor shook his head. "Sierra is different."

Claire was perplexed. "How is she different?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Victor, do you remember being in the showers with Sierra? You were watching her? How does Sierra make you feel?"

Victor thought for a few moments.

"...Better."

Boyd watched from just outside the doorway. Standing next to him was a small, weasel-like man named Bicks, who had wiry hair and reeked of musk.

"I can't believe this." Bicks moaned. "I'm filling in for Ramirez for a week and my Active invents rape?"

"We don't know what happened yet." Boyd said calmly. "Victor might have just triggered a memory."

"Well, Hearn's out for blood."

"Hearn hasn't found anything on the tapes. Nobody has."

"How is that even possible?" Bicks said, pointing at the camera in the top corner. "Every square inch of this place is monitored. If two Actives are going at it... What do you think DeWitt'll do? You think she'll come down hard? It was probably just a mistake. These Dolls, they're smiling all day. Then Sierra's crying in bed? Why always then? Maybe she's broken."

Something occurred to Boyd. Always in bed. Never elsewhere.

"You figure she's broken?" Bicks asked.

Boyd turned to leave. "They're all broken."

*

"Rebecca was amazing." Joel said, staring into space. "She was a nurse and... I was a basket case, so you know, not a... not a bad match. I was the guy with the almost great idea - Floogle and Blahoo and Facebooger, I was just always one step behind, and... she was cool with it."

"And did she look exactly like Caroline?" Paul asked mockingly.

"No, but - eat it, F-Bitch-I - she was beautiful and she knew it and... she loved ME. I mean, I had been..." He sighed. "I had been given a gift."

"And now you're hiring zombies."

"You know Rebecca's dead." Joel said flatly. "Because you've done one iota of research in between beating up licensed security people. Right? And you know I don't live in this house."

Paul nodded. "Place is empty. Shame: big place."

Joel scoffed. "This place? This place would fit in my bathroom. I mean, this place could fit in my guest bathroom. All right? I mean, I finally got one step ahead."

Paul smiled. "'Bouncy the Rat.' Kids love it."

"Ooh, they do. I mean, long story - still kind of long - my first cheque had more zeros than the Luftwaffe."

"The Japanese." Paul corrected. "They had the zeros, not the Germans."

Joel sighed. "It was money. All right, it was roll-around-in money and Rebecca had no idea. She'd been supporting the both of us for years, I mean ridiculous hours. We were living in a one-room shack, and I knew this house was exactly her type. I paid cash and I called her up. I said, "Meet me at this address, it's really important," and she was worried, you know, I could hear it. Sh-She probably thought this was a police station or something, but... you know... thinking about the look on her face when she saw this place and I told her it was ours..." Joel's face slowly fell, hos eyes went to his feet. "Sanitation truck... sideswiped her car... three blocks from here, and I heard the impact and... they said it was quick. I guess that, you know, they always have to say that. Right? But she never got to see this house, and she never knew I made good. So every year on this date, I pretend she does. You know, I get to see that look on her face and I get to show her our extraordinary home."

"And then you sleep with her."

Joel smiled, shrugged. "It is a fantasy."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Mynor. It doesn't make you anything other than a predator."

"Well, I'm sure I'm in need of some serious moral spankitude, but, uh, guess who's not qualified to be my rabbi."

"Well, I'm perfectly happy to let a federal judge--"

"Throw you in jail, hmm? I mean we got trespassing, we got assault, and what you've got is a girl you're obsessed with, who I think we can both agree is not here. I mean, this is not "beat up the geek," big guy. This is the Internet establishment. You put me in front of a judge, he'll take you down. He'll throw the Kindle at you."

Paul looked up as sirens wailed in the distance. Joel laughed.

"Oh... oh, I-I think one of my guys must have called 911. Um, do you want to stick around, see who gets cuffed or...?"

"This is all going to come apart." Paul said, rising from the chair. "You might not be punished and I might not be alive, but this house will fall."

"The first hurdle in my business is the people who will not accept the change that's already happened. Go. Go live in your real world. If you ever did."

Paul scowled, but left as the sirens neared. Joel raised his wine glass to the air.

"Happy anniversary..."

*

Boyd followed a stray Active down the corridor leading to the Pod Room. At the curve leading into the room was a blue sliding door, flanked by two vases on podiums. The Active admired it for a moment before heading for bed. Boyd looked at the ceiling. No cameras. He took out his phone and quickly dialled.

"This is Boyd Langton for Mr. Dominic... Yes, you need to take Victor off the floor. I'm sure. Isolate him... and his handler."

*

Echo found Victor sitting alone under the main stairway. She approached him slowly and sat beside him.

"I did something bad." he said guiltily.

"What did you do?" Echo asked.

"Nobody will tell me..."

One of the helpers approached, flanked by two guards.

"Victor, I need you to come with me, please." the helper said.

"Where?" Victor asked.

"I need you to come with me, please." she repeated in a higher pitch.

Victor stood. The guards lead the way. Victor looked at Echo. "Why did Sierra scream at me?"

She didn't get to answer before he was whisked away.

"Who authorized this? I didn't rape the Doll. Lawrence, Lawrence, I didn't so this!"

Echo looked up. The new man, Victor's friend Bicks, was being dragged away by Mr. Dominic and a few other men. "You know me, man. I wouldn't do this, man. Come one, you know, I didn't do this! I didn't do this!"

Echo saw Boyd and Mr. Hearn were watching too. She approached them cautiously as Bicks disappeared.

"Where are they taking Victor?" we asked.

"Why don't you go paint something?" Hearn said. "Nice work, man." he said to Boyd before departing.

"Where are they taking Victor?" Echo repeated to Boyd.

"Echo, I'm trying to protect Sierra."

"Sierra cries." Echo said.

Boyd shook his head. "Not anymore."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
"Is this enough?" Mellie asked, holding up the ice.

Paul nodded. "Thanks."

He went to the kitchen and wrapped the ice in a cloth. Mellie looked at him over the counter. "Are you, uh, always gonna show up bleeding? 'Cause it's kind of funny how I'm not getting used to it..."

Paul held the ice to his shoulder and joined her in the living room. "It was her."

"You met Caroline?" Mellie said, eyes wide.

"I saw Caroline. I met Rebecca. And I let both of them get away."

"So, it's all true...?"

"I knew it was true. I just didn't expect... If it had been anybody else, the jail cells would be full, and I'd be busy writing the great American arrest report. I never thought it would be her."

"Did you get the guy? The... john, the... client. What are they called?"

"I talked to him."

"And?"

Paul looked at her anxious face. He dropped the ice, leaned in, and kissed her, wrapping her in a tight embrace. Mellie squirmed as the ice touched her back, but she held on, kissed him back--

And pulled away.

"And you kissed him?" she breathed, confused.

"I'm sorry--"

"I'm not, I mean, I am, I- I mean you are, don't do that, don't inflate the stock before you dump it, uh..." she gasped for air. "Uh... don't think about her and kiss me."

"I wasn't," Paul said. "I..."

"Forget it." Mellie said, waving her hand. "I think it's best we forget it. Would be stupid, anyway. We're neighbours, we should just..."

"We should be neighbourly." Paul suggested.

"Great! Yes! Neighbourly." she punched him playfully. "Can I borrow a cup of sugar?"

They both laughed nervously.

"Like that... so why don't you tell me about today."

Paul nodded. "The guy's name was Joel Mynor."

Mellie beamed. "Joel Mynor? From Bouncy the Rat? He was on the cover if Wired!"

"You read Wired?"

"You can see the cover in stores. Brownish hair, pudgy, kind of cute?"

Paul forrowed his brow. "I don't remember him as cute..."


*

Sierra walked down the corridor to the Pod room but stopped at the sliding blue door. The silhouette was there. She pulled the door inside and stood next to Mr. Hearn.

"Do you trust me?" he asked.

"With my life."

"Do you want to play the game?"

Sierra shook her head. "No."

"But... you remember to be very quite during the game, right?" Hearn said softly.

Sierra nodded. "'Noise is upsetting'." she quoted.

Hearn's hands went to her belt. "Lift up your dress."

As Sierra grabbed her hem, Mr. Langton appeared and right hooked Hearn in the face, causing him to stumble back against the glass door, which shattered under his weight. He collapsed on the carpet, crumpled on a bed of powdered glass.

"That wasn't quiet." Sierra observed.

Boyd looked at Hearn. "Wasn't meant to be."

*

"Why didn't you tell us you were setting up Hearn?" Adelle said, staring out the window, her back to Boyd.

"He had to be clear." Boyd explained. "He had to be flush with success, or he'd never have tried again."

"You will never take action like that on your own again inside these walls. Am I clear?"

Boyd nodded. "You're clear."

"...A bonus has been wired to your account."

"I don't need a bonus--"

"Well, I need to give it to you. That's all."

Boyd bowed out. "Ms. DeWitt."

Mr. Dominic opened the door for him. Adelle sighed and collapsed in her chair. "What do we do with Hearn?" he asked.

"I'll let you know." Adelle said flatly.

"And you saw the other thing, the tap?"

Adelle clicked a button on her keyboard. A clip from the hidden camera in Paul Ballard's apartment began playing. He was talking to his neighbour about Wired magazine.

"Ma'am, do you have an exit strategy?" Dominic asked. At Adelle's glare, he continued. "We have a handler abusing an Active, a federal agent interrupting an engagement, spilling his guts to the nearest civilian. I take much of that as my responsibility, but the higher-ups will target you if this all goes south."

"Your concern is touching, but my bags are not packed. You will bring the handler to me. And as far as the intrepid agent... tell Topher to prep Echo. I think they're ready for a second date."

*

Topher stared intently at the computer screen, playing with the imprints. "Oh-ho. You're bad. Mmm. You're a naughty girl." He hit the keyboard. "Oh. Okay. Uh... but you're not that girl. That girl has control issues that don't mesh well with the enhanced combat skill set."

Ivy appeared iver his shoulder. "You can re-cluster the inhibitors to offset the dissonance. Don't we want aggression?"

"And precision. I need a soupçon of rage. Hmm? Not a whole tasting menu. Mmm." Topher froze. "And now I'm hungry." he sighed. "Find out if the kitchen has the almond-crusted salmon."

Ivy sighed, but nodded. "I live to serve lunch."

She departed. Topher bit a few more keys before marvelling at his creation.

"Uh-huh. And hello, gorgeous but deadly!"

Topher hit the enter key and, a few seconds later, the imprint was saved onto the Wedge. He took it from the slot--

"Topher?"

Topher jumped. Boyd was in the doorway. Topher groaned. "I'm in my process! I'm..."

He moaned again, but followed Boyd outside of the office, shutting the door.

"What's the scuttlebutt?"

"Echo's been engaged."

"Well, that does happen..."

Boyd glared. "I'm not on it. I'm on hold."

Topher chuckled. "Yeah. You put another handler through a plate glass window, big guy. That's 48 hours chill time, min."

"What is she doing?"

"Echo? Oh... life coach gig. You know, remind some doctor why he helps kids who have, you know... gross kids..."

"They don't think I can handle that?"

Topher laughed awkwardly. "Uh, not everything is about you, Infinite Ego Man. You know, you did nail the guy who was messing with Sierra. You should go out and get drunk and beat your chest. Echo will be here when you get back. Hey. How did you figure out it was Hearn, anyway? Is it a cop thing? Reading people?"

Boyd shrugged and departed. "You do the work." he finished before descending the stairs. Topher looked after him. 

"Well... Good work..."

*

"Can you imagine at all why it is you are not dead?" Adelle asked Hearn, beaten, bloody and tied to a chair in the centre of her office. Dominic stood shortly behind him.

"You probably got something worse planned." Hearn mumbled through his split lip. "You gonna erase my brain, turn me into one of your fantasy boys?"

Adelle raised an eyebrow and leaned against the window. "I find it a bit sad that you think of yourself as a candidate for anyone's fantasy."

Hearn smiled, despite it all. "Ah, you know you're a little sweet on me--"

Dominic swatted him hard across the temple with a resounding collision to the skull. Hearn screamed and went still, breathing heavily. "You think I'm gonna beg?!" he spat. "You want to kill me? You want to put me in the Attic? I can't stop you. The jig is up."

"How many times?" Adelle said. "I can find out, but I want to hear it from you."

Hearn panted, but eventually spoke. "Four."

"You're disgusting." Dominiv snarled.

"Don't give me that! You put her under dome fat, old emir, it makes it better because she thinks she's in love for all of a day? We're in the business of using people!"

"You understand less about this business than you think." Adelle countered.

"And you don't get how it actually works down there! You put a bunch of stone foxes with no willpower and no memory running around naked! Did you think this wouldn't ever happen?!"

Adelle considered him for a moment before retrieving a file from her cabinet.

"Did it make it better?" she asked. "That she didn't struggle?"

"No." Hearn panted. "It made it easier."

Dominic looked ready to strangle him. "Mr. Dominic," Adelle said. "Would you leave us?"

"Ms. DeWitt, I--"

"I'll be perfectly safe. Please."

Dominic gave a parting death glare to Hearn before walking out.

Adelle strode to Hearn and looked down at his pathetic, crumpled form. "We are in the business of using people. The question is, what is the best use for someone like you? This woman is a problem for us." She handed him an open file. Inside lay a picture of Paul Ballard's lovesick puppy, Mellie. "She's learned too much about the organization. It wasn't her fault, really. I need her killed and it can't be clean. This is your chance to avoid the Attic. You may even consider it something of a promotion. After all, this one will... probably struggle."

*

Mellie let her head fall against the pillow. "My God. You're so... neighborly."

Paul chuckled and kissed her again before rolling to the other side of the bed, clutching his stitches.

"So." he said. "Can I borrow a cup of sugar?"

Mellie laughed and pulled the sheet around her. "I don't think I got any sugar left." She fell silent for a moment. "I'm not gonna freak out on you."

Paul was clearly confused. "Uh... good?"

"When you tell me this is all a mistake, and we should forget it ever happened." she clarified. "I'm gonna be very cool. You're gonna be bothered by how cool I am."

"What if I don't say that?"

She shrugged. "I'll still be cool, but not as cool."

"What if you tell ME it was a mistake?"

Mellie smiled. "Oh, God, you're gonna be so clingy! Weeping and moping. Texting me? It's too embarrassing!"

"I am not a piece of meat, you know. I have a heart!"

Mellie laughed and curled up next to him. "Blah, blah!" They lay there silent for a few moments. "I was thinking about Caroline."

Paul looked at her. "Well, I wasn't!"

Mellie laughed again. "I believe you. And... I believe you should find her. I think what they're doing is wrong. And I don't love seeing you get beat up and shot, but... I think your work is important."

Paul stared at her for a moment. "Then help me out."

Mellie's eyes widened. "Is this the part where you dress me up and use me as bait? Because those movies never end well."

Paul sat up. "It's the part where I run down to Tiki Port and grab us dinner and we go over my files and you give me your perspective on some stuff. Might see something I didn't."

"You think I'd be helpful?"

Paul nodded. "Yeah."

Mellie smiled. "That's the sweetest thing you've done for me all day."

"Well... what about the, um... the other things?"

Mellie laughed and lay back down. "Fetch me spring rolls. Then we'll bust this case wide open!"

*

"And some beef chop suey, okay?"

The man nodded and stepped out from the Tiki Port desk. Paul stood in the cramped space draped in red and purple silk and lit by candles. Paul watched the man go. He pushed open the kitchen door and Paul got a reflection of the kitchen. All steam, pots and pans...

And a beautiful girl with shiny brown hair and wide brown eyes.

Paul blinked. The door had shut. He looked around cautiously before pushing the door open. The restaurant kitchen was barren, all the cooking meals abandoned. The man who had entered wasn't here, nor was anyone. Paul stepped hesitantly forward, lifting his jacket and reaching for his waistband--

Caroline grabbed the gun and twisted Paul's arm behind him. She held him from behind and jammed the gun into his temple.

"Whoever you are, I don't want to hurt you." he said calmly. "I swear, I don't want to hurt you."

"I know." she said.

She spun him around and sent him onto his back with a punch to the jaw. She grabbed a knife and towered over him.

"I'm counting on it."
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
Paul scrambled to his feet and peeled his jacket off. He flung it at Caroline - or whoever she was - and she flinched. Paul reached for a weapon, but Caroline swing a few punches. He blocked and swung her into the counter and dodged her swipe with the knife. Paul slammed her wrist on the counter and the knife fell, but she beat him away, ducked under him, and shoved him into the counter, hitting his sternum with a spin kick. Paul faltered, Caroline grabbed a pot and it struck, landing at his feet. Paul regained himself and chucked a flying pan towards her head but Caroline ducked and blade kicked him, sending him sprawling over the counter. Paul scrambled up as she grabbed a pasta pot, yanking open a freezer door to guard himself. It shattered on impact, glass rained down upon Paul, but he was out in seconds and finally got a kick to Caroline's gut. She folded and Paul tackled her, Caroline fell over Paul's shoulder, and they slammed against the back door, which flung open into an alleyway. Paul threw her down on the hood of a parked car and readied a punch, but Caroline smacked either side of his head, dazing him, and she sent him flying into the far wall. She jumped to her feet, they punched, blocked, countered, she ducked and hooked around his leg, flipping him. He fell to the ground with a crack, his legs slamming off the car hood. Caroline kicked him in the gut but Paul backed off and was on his feet again. They sparred, Paul got a few good hits in, but Caroline stuck her boot in his stitches and twisted, ripping a few open. Paul spun and shoved her onto the car hood. He jumped up to hit her, only to be kicked off. He slammed his palm into her face and pounced, raising his elbow, clenching his hand into a fist. Paul got a glimpse of her terrified face and his fist froze.

That was his mistake.

Caroline's face dropped the terrified act in a flash and knocked him back, kicking his legs out from under him. He hit the ground face first. She propelled herself to her feet and stabbed her heel into the small of his back, Paul heard the gun click...

"The Dollhouse is real. They know you're after them and they are going to have you taken off the case. That's why they sent me."

She removed her boot. Paul struggled to his legs, panting. "Why are you telling me this?"

She looked at him. Whoever this was, it wasn't the real Caroline. Just her body. "We have a person inside. This person corrupted the imprint while the programmer wasn't looking, added this parameter."

"Is this the person that sent me the tapes and pictures?"

Caroline shook her head. "No. This is their first communication. Security inside is very tight."

"Where is it?"

"You can't know that. You're going about this the wrong way."

"I have to take down the Dollhouse--!"

"There are over 20 Dollhouses, in cities around the world." she said. "They have ties to every major political power on the planet. You cannot possibly stop them alone."

"You're going to help me?"

"The person that sent this message is."

Paul's ragged breathing slowed. "Why?"

Caroline's eyes bore into him. "The Dollhouse deals in fantasy. That is their business, but that is not their purpose."

Paul's brow furrowed. "What is?"

"We need you to find out. We'll contact you again, if possible with this same body. But you have to let the Dollhouse win. Make them back off. You have to trust me."

Paul heard footsteps. A man ran up the alley, holding a gun, Paul caught a glimpse of a police badge--

Caroline stuck the gun in Paul's gun. She whirled around, screamed "He's got a gun!" and pressed Paul's finger into the trigger. A bullet shot from the barrel and hit the man, who fell into the shadows.

She turned frantically to Paul. "You have to go: NOW." Paul went for the cop, but Caroline stopped him. "He'll live. You'll be blamed. The engagement is complete; they'll never know I spoke to you."

"No--"

"You have to go. They don't want to kill you, but they will protect the information."

Paul turned. The man who had taken his order had poked his head out. "Call an ambulance!" Paul ordered. "Officer down!" The man scurried away. Caroline looked at him urgently. "Go!" she yelled.

"You can't just--"

"They will protect the information. They don't want you dead. But anyone else..."

Anyone else. Anyone else with the information...

"Mellie..."

Paul abandoned Caroline in the alley, no longer caring, and ran for his apartment.

*

Mellie placed the files on the desk and was going to go to the kitchen when she heard the lock in the door clicking. She smiled and went to the hall. Paul was here--

Th door burst open and a man clad in black threw Mellie to the ground. A second later, he slammed her against Paul's counter, Mellie gave a muffled scream, reached for any kind of weapon, but then the man tossed her like a ragdoll over the couch. She hit the rug and tried desperately to crawl away, screaming, tears flowing, but the man grabbed her by the ankles and dragged her across the floor towards him. She screamed, using the last of her air before the man wrapped his hands around her throat and began strangling her. She writhed and slammed against his arms. She peeled the mask off his face. A middle-aged man, face seriously beaten, spit flying. Mellie was faintly aware of the phone ringing as she ran out of air. Paul was calling, trying to save her...

The phone went to the answering machine. A woman spoke. A British woman. The man froze, his hands stopped strangling.

Mellie knew the voice. How was that possible?

""There are three flowers in a vase." Adelle DeWitt said simply. "The third flower... is green."

Mellie gasped. Her head stung, mind in tatters, things being torn away in a flash, everything, and then--

Mellie went away.

November looked at the man and slammed her palm into his face. He fell back and she got to her feet, grabbed him by the scrotum and slammed him against the wall. He tried to beat her off, but November countered easily and threw him to the ground. His chin hooked on the coffee table and November slammed her foot into his neck, which snapped with a sickening crack.

"There are three flowers in a vase." Adelle said. "The third flower... is yellow."

November felt memories being stuck into her skull like hot needles. She would've screamed, but then she went away...

Mellie looked around, dazed. What was happening, where was she...?

She looked at the floor. The man, the one who had attacked her seconds ago, had snapped his neck in the coffee table. Mellie took one look at him and went into hysterics, crawling away, curling into a ball against the wall, weeping...

Paul appeared a moment later, gun raised. He crouched beside her, made sure she was alright. He examined the body cautiously before returning to her side, embraced her as the sirens filled her ears...

*

"I understand," Dominic said into his phone. "Thank you. We'll talk soon." he hung up and turned to Adelle. "Agent Paul Ballard was suspended of duty pending an investigation into the shooting of Officer Hardin. Accusations of violent paranoia, the attack on Mr. Mynor's bodyguards, the feud with the Borodins, as evidenced by the break in at his apartment."

"Hearn's fingerprints?" Adelle asked.

"Came up Russian. A floater, not linked to anyone with power. It's all tied together, ma'am. With a pretty bow."

"And our sleeper Active performed perfectly." Adelle added.

Dominic nodded. "I replayed the tap."

"More than once? It did not lack for poetry. Bring her in so Topher can run a diagnostic."

"Are we pulling her?" he asked as they entered the elevator. "Now that Ballard's off the case?"

"No. A man like Ballard doesn't take himself out of the game just because of this. Besides... she loves him."

"You played a good hand, ma'am."

"I played a very bad hand very well. There is a distinction."

He nodded. "Of course."

The doors opened onto the upper deck of the Dollhouse, down the catwalk from Topher's office. They strolled towards the stairs. "I want you to contact your counterparts in all the other houses, tell them about what happened to Sierra."

"That won't look good for you." Dominic pointed out.

"It can't happen again." Adelle replied resolutely. "Anywhere."

Dominic leaned over the railing. Down below, Sierra was sitting on a couch, reading a book. "She's all right?"

Adelle looked to Sierra, slightly pitiful. "Topher did everything he knows to remove the experience. Ignorance, in this case, truly is bliss."

"I don't think they're as ignorant as they're supposed to be."

Adelle looked to the floor. "No. We're working on it."

Dominic departed, and Adelle made her way down the stairs to the Dollhouse floor. Victor approached Sierra, who smiled, and he sat. Adelle noted Boyd and Doctor Saunders watching from above as they read.

Adelle made her way to the art area. Echo was sitting, legs folding, wearing an apron over her tank top and trousers as she painted.

"Hello, Echo." Adelle said, sitting across from her. "You've drawn a picture. It's very good."

"It isn't finished." Echo said simply.

"The picture?"

Echo lifted the page. She had painted a nice, suburban house, with a lawn and sprinklers. Standing next to a small blue car was a short, heavyset man with a tuft of brown hair and a slender woman with a shiny brown ponytail wearing a floral dress.

"It isn't finished."

Adelle stared at her. "...You'd like it to be finished?"

Echo looked at the house.

*

Joel stood on the lawn, dodging the sprinkler, until Rebecca arrived. 

She pulled up in a small blue car. She was wearing a floral dress, her shiny brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her beautiful face full of worry. “Joel?”

“Hi, honey.”

“Are you okay? You sounded so serious on the phone…”

“I'm a serious guy.”

She kissed him. “You're a dork. Louanne's covering for me, so this can't take forever.”

“You may have to owe her one. I did something.”

“Something bad?”

He chuckled. “No. Something very, very good…”

*

Dollhouse has gone on midseason break and will return in January. Not that anyone is reading this...
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
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==Enagement 7: Echoes==

ONE YEAR AGO

"I'm going to make you an offer." Adelle said.

Caroline glared. "I told you all I want is to be left alone."

Adelle tilted her head. "We both know we're past that."

Caroline laughed soundlessly. "Gee, what gave it away? The big, black van? Or the being held in this room for two days with no frickin' idea where I am?"

Adelle leaned forward. "My offer is this: Your life... for your life. I get five years, you get the rest. You'll be free."

Caroline scoffed quietly. "Is that you talking? Or the Rossum Corporation? Why me? Why did you pick me?

"Caroline, you picked us. This is a good thing, Caroline."

"I know what I saw! What started this."

"You and I have been doing this dance for almost two years." Adelle said tiredly. "I thought you'd have learned by now..."

Adelle poured herself a cup of tea.

"Nothing is what it appears to be."

*

Clive Ambrose dangled the vial of bright green liquid in Adelle's face. "That is one of only two existing vials of our most promising new memory drug. The other vial is missing. I don't need just one Active on this. I need an army."

Adelle leaned back and looked at Mr. Ambrose, a man in his fifties with a grey, receding hairline. "I've already rearranged the schedule. The boots are as good as on the ground."

The door clicked open and Topher slipped in, looking worried. "I-I-If this is about Foxtrot speaking Mandarin instead of Cantonese, it was a very--"

"Topher--"

Topher's eyes drifted to Ambrose. "...simple..."

"This is--"

"Clive Ambrose." Topher exhaled. "Co-chairman of the, uh, Rossum Corporation, third richest man in the country, nominated for a Nobel Prize." he chuckled. "I might throw up!" his eyes widened. "That's a compliment! Something really bad happened?"

Adelle nodded. "There's been an incident at Freemont College."

Ambrose showed a picture of a young man, stripped to his boxers, lying on the floor with a head wound. Looking dead. "Owen Johnson. He was a grad student at one of our premiere labs."

Topher gulped. "But not anymore."

"Owen ingested a psychotropic modification of aphenethylamine compound."

"One of the memory drugs Rossum's got in R&D?"

Ambrose held up the vial. "N-7316. It breaks down natural inhibitions in the hippocampus in order to awaken sleeping parts of the brain. We're still in the experimental stage. Phase one of N-7316 manifests like a recreational narcotic. Giddiness, light hallucinations."

"Munchies?" Topher chuckled. He immediately shut up at Adelle's death glare.

Ambrose was unfazed. "Phase two apparently manifests as a complete loss of impulse control."

Topher shrugged. "Could be phases, could be... a little thing I like to call body chemistry. We're all our own little cesspools of hormones, enzymes, chemical reactions. It's the same as any drug-heroin, cocaine, caffeine, how your body reacts depends on a multitude of indefinable factors. You snort horse once, don't like it; you go back to your organic tea, have a nice life. I do it once-Whoo!" he laughed to himself. "I'm doing two bags a day for 20 years." He pointed at Ambrose. "One toot for you, adios, amigo. That's what's so exciting about drugs!" Tophet caught Adelle's look. "Not that I'd know. We do biweekly drug tests. Just pure scientific observations."

"How did the drug find its way into the general campus population?" Adelle asked.

Ambrose shook his head. "We don't know. Maybe Owen was selling it. Maybe he or someone else put in the soda machine in the dining hall. One vial is enough to take out the entire student body."

"No antidote floating around, I'm guessing." Topher said.

"Right now, the best we can do is sedation. We're hoping you can help us do better. While you work on an antidote, a team of Actives will secure the campus and try to locate the missing vial."

"Oh, right. They'd be immune."

Ambrose's forehead creased. "How did you know that?"

"Well... All right, this baby attacks the inhibitors in the hippocampus to break down the repressed memory blocks, right? Actives don't have 'em. Stuff would bounce right off."

"Think you can help us, Mr. Brink?"

Topher shrugged. "Well, I can't hurt!" Again, at Adelle's look, he stopped laughing. "Prob-Probably..."

Ambrose handed him the vial. Adelle led Topher to the door.

"Start with the imprints and get the Actives in the field. If you need any extra help--"

"Cool." His tone indicated he didn't need help.

"Echo's on an engagement, right?"

Topher nodded. "Yeah, old client, new fantasy. I should call her back in?"

Adelle shook her head. "No. She can sit this one out."

*

"So," Matt asked. "What do you think?"

Alice stroked the blood red of the motorcycle and smiled. "Wow, I've never seen anything like it. It looks like a dragon. Is that stupid?"

Matt held out his hand, holding a matching helmet. "Here."

Alice shook her head. "Oh, no, thank you."

"Alice, you're gonna drive this bike."

Alice raised an eyebrow. "I am?"

Matt nodded. "Yeah. You're gonna do a lot of new things today."

Alice stood silent for a moment. Then she beamed and grabbed the helmet. "Okay!"

Matt held her close. But Alice only had eyes for the dragon.

*

Mellie nearly laughed when she found Paul in his kitchen. "You're making breakfast?"

Paul looked up from awkwardly frying the eggs. He nodded. "It's kind of late, but since I'm a gentleman of leisure, and you've taken up professional sleeping..." Mellie went for the coffee pot. "Didn't know I could cook, did you?" Paul asked.

"Nope."

"Good. Then you won't be disappointed when you find out I can't."

Mellie abandoned the pot and walked to him. "Paul, listen - take those off 'cause they're done - and listen. I'm a grown up person. We got... impulsive and, five minutes later, someone nearly killed me in your apartment. I know you feel an obligation--"

"That's not what I'm--" Paul started.

"Hey! I don't think you don't like me. But we don't fast forward to the honeymoon just because I had a bad day."

"I like taking care of you." Paul said it as if it was obvious.

"I'm glad. I think you're dreamy. But in my dream, I'm stronger than you know."

"I think you proved that when you--"

"That was luck." Mellie said, brushing it off. "I'm not a prizefighter. That Russian thug had two left feet."

Paul shrugged. "I wish he had. It would have been a lot easier to ID a guy with two left feet."

"They did ID him." Mellie pointed out.

"They got a name, which I guarantee you wasn't his. I took a set of prints myself, though. Got a friend who can access a few databases outside of the bureau's reach. The Dollhouse found this guy somewhere. Professional killers are made. They're trained..."

Paul stopped. He hadn't noticed Mellie had returned to the coffee pot.

He sighed. "I'm sorry. You don't want to talk about this."

"You're off the case..." Mellie replied meekly.

"Officially."

"They suspended you!"

"So far as the Dollhouse is concerned, I'm not a threat anymore! This is the perfect time--"

"You can't drop it?" she whispered.

"You... said you thought this was important..."

"And they tried to kill me!" she said resentfully.

"Mellie, I promise you--"

"You can't promise! It's blind luck that I'm not dead already. What you can do is drop the case. Let someone else handle it!"

Paul didn't speak. But his face said it all.

"Yeah." Mellie sighed. "You love taking care of me. I think you know your way across the hall."

Mellie turned and left. Paul stared at the eggs.

*

Laurence Dominic stepped out of the van onto the lawn of the Freemont College campus. "Let's go!" he ordered. "You guys are up there!" A group of his men swarmed the campus in seconds. "Come on, let's move it! Energy! We're gonna do the grid."

From another van emerged Victor, wearing a nice suit and an earpiece. His imprint was called Agent Tom Willick.

"All right, guys." Victor - or rather, Tom - said to his men. "Everyone knows where they're going? Six guys and girls - women - searching this campus top to bottom. I want that other vial."

As Willick's men dispersed, Sierra, imprinted as one Doctor Claudia Gawa, appeared at Dominic's side, wearing a white lab coat, hair in a bun. "Tom," Dominic said, approaching him. "This is Doctor Gawa from the Center for Disease Control."

"Super. I haven't heard a good flesh-eating-strain-of-something horrible story in a while."

"Yeah," Doctor Gawa said dryly. "I've got dozens."

"Hopefully today won't be worth talking about. Let's find these kids and get 'em better."

"I've got you set up at the Kappa Zeta Chi House." Dominic told Gawa. "And Tom, you'll be running the grid."

"Uh, the grid's taken care of." Tom said. "I'll be too busy rounding up our day-trippers to look under mattresses."

"That's my call." Dominic said firmly.

"Actually, it's mine."

Tom took out his shiny gold badge from his pocket. Dominic stared at it. "You're NSA?"

Tom nodded. "Which outranks Rossum private security by more than a whole bunch."

Dominic cursed Topher under his breath. "All right, fine, I'll stay here and be the communications command post."

"First, have someone show Dr. Gawa to Kappa House. You good?" he asked Gawa.

She nodded. "Yeah. I've always wanted to go to a frat party."

They dispersed, leaving Dominic alone on the lawn.

*

"Are you sure you're okay?" Alice asked, glancing at Matt tied to the bed.

He smiled. "I'm okay, if you're okay."

"I'm great! Is that terrible?"

"No, it's wonderful."

Alice exhaled and went to the TV. "I'm not sure how to work this, but.."

She picked up the video camera. What was seen on the camera was seen on the TV. "Oh, God, what if somebody sees it?"

"Only us." Matt reassured her. "Okay? My life on it."

"I never thought I'd--"

The screens went black.

"Oh, I've lost picture, sorry..."

"No, just, uh..." Matt tried to motion at the TV despite the ropes on his wrists. "On the side, there's a button..."

"Oh..."

Alice hit the button. The TV screen opened on a news report. There was a large building: the caption said Freemont College. Alice sat on the bed and listened.

"--The tragic suicide appears to be a case of a stressed-out student who didn't know how to ask for help. Freemont College officials have said that counseling will be available on the campus throughout the week..."

Alice stared at the college building. Freemont College...?

"I have to go." she said. "I have to help him." She stood.

"Alice, is everything all right?" Matt asked. 

"I'm terribly sorry. I have to go."

Matt laughed. "Yeah, very funny."

"I have to get him out of there..."

Alice disappeared into the hall.

"Okay," Matt said. "It's... it's not actually that funny! Alice?"

Matt heard a click. He sighed. "That was a door..."

*

"Are you comfortable?" Topher asked November.

"Yes," November replied, looking up at him from the chair. "Thank you."

"I'm gonna give you a shot. And then I just need you to sit still for a while. Can you do that?"

"If you like."

"Just think about pretty things." Topher advised. "Rainbows."

Adelle rolled her eyes from the corner. Topher glanced at her. "She's immune, but dosing her will help me find an antidote." he explained.

He put the needle to November's skin and pushed on the plunger. Her face strained for a moment, but then returned to its serene blankness. Topher put the syringe down and pulled off his gloves. "All righty. Let's see exactly what this stuff is doing so we can undo it. This may take a while. Be patient." He rushed to one of his computers.

"What shall I do," Adelle asked. "Think about rainbows?"

Topher shrugged. "Go for it."

"Or shall I think about how that glorified dog's body, Clive Ambrose, can't keep his affairs in order?" she suggested, angrily passing a stress ball between her hands.

"Oh." Topher said. "You could have said no..."

"The Rossum Corporation is why we exist. And I believe in the work we're funding. I also believe that the only reason I don't have Clive Ambrose's job is because he couldn't handle mine."

Topher smiled. "Ooh. So, now we're sharing." he giggled.

"Can you just figure out a way to keep people from killing themselves on this drug?" she suggested. "We have more than a few in the early stages, and sedating then is hardly a cure."

"It'll buy me time." he replied. "As long as we keep the place locked down and don't have any more X factors, then here I come to save the day." He laughed again. Adelle pointed at the computer. "Yeah.." He began typing but paused. He looked at Adelle. "Can you get me a juice box?"

*

Alice threw her leg over the motorcycle and dismounted onto the sidewalk. She looked at the huge collection of buildings that made up Freemont College. Alice had never been here, not in her life.

Except she had. But how...?

"Are you lost?"

Alice turned around. A handsome man in a suit was standing there. He held up an NSA Badge: Agent Tom Willick.

"Hi." she said. "Um... no."

"Do you go to Freemont?" he asked.

"Um... I don't know." she said truthfully. "Th-There's parts that seem... I-I-I don't know..."

The Agent put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "You can come with us." as she followed, she heard him say "We got one more" into his Walkie Talkie.

*

"No, I don't know anything is wrong." Boyd told Adelle, glancing at the tracking device in his hand. "Maybe that's the client's new fantasy. Send a Doll to college."

"Well, which college?" Adelle said into the phone, pacing Topher's office floor.

"Uh, Freemont. I tracked Echo here."

Adelle closed her eyes, wanted to swear. "Oh, please, God, be joking..."

"Why?" Boyd asked. "What's up?"

"Phew!" Topher said to November from the adjacent imprint room. "Your brain rocks!" He held his hand up for a high five. November tentatively placed her own hand against his, mystified.

Adelle did her best to ignore them. "We have a major engagement happening there. Echo cannot interfere with it. Get her out of there quickly. And if you need assistance call Dominic."

Boyd was about to reply when a young, bizarre-faced college girl approached him.

"Do you understand?" Adelle asked in his ear.

"Hold on." He placed his palm over the mouthpiece and stared back at the girl. "Yes?"

"There are mansions in your eyes." she observed. "Did you know that?" She gasped and reached for his face. "You can see the doors!"

Boyd placed his hand on the girl's wrist and gently put it at her side. "Excuse me."

The girl turned and skipped away as Boyd turned his back. "No," he told Adelle. "I definitely don't understand."

*

"I don't think I'm supposed to be here." Alice said as a pretty blonde woman in a lab coat pushed her into a fraternity house. Dozens of students were there, all being tended to by other doctors.

"Sit down." the Doctor said. "I'm just going to give you a little shot. Sit down."

The doctor pushed her lightly onto a seat. "The television made me. I had to come here. A shot of what exactly?"

"You ingested a powerful narcotic." the doctor said, dabbing Alice's arm with a piece of cotton. "I need to make sure you don't hurt yourself."

"Oh, Matt and I don't do drugs." Alice replied, shaking her head. "I have somewhere to be, not here."

"Just relax."

Alice closed her eyes. Why had she come here? Why was she saying nonsense? She was saying things she hadn't planned on saying. Puppet strings. Odd. Freemont, why come here? Alice thought, searched her brain.

A cute man in a lab. "What do they need babies for?" he had said.

Alice opened her eyes. "Rossum."

Alice saw the doctor putting a needle to her arm. She batted her hand away, gasped. "No!" she protested.

"I don't think she wants the shot." a boy next to her said.

"I'm not on drugs!" Alice insisted.

A girl a few seats behind sat bolt upright, screamed. "The window glass! It's coming for us!"

"Fine." Alice's doctor said, massaging her temple. "I'll get you the liquid gel. You, too." she said to Alice's neighbour. She disappeared in a sea of scared looking students.

"Don't worry." the boy next to Alice said. "It wears off. I mean, I'm starting to feel normal again. Sort of. The walls stopped moving..."

Alice looked at him. He was cute, dark skinned with a shaved head, a tad younger than her, green t-shirt. "I'm not supposed to be here." she told him. "I have to save him."

"Who?" he asked.

Alice searched her mind for the cute man in the lab. "I don't know." she concluded. "Him. I have to get into Rossum."

"The Rossum lab? This about Owen? What do you know about Rossum?"

"Just that I have to get into that building."

"You know, I think they did this." the boy said. "Put something in the water, using us as guinea pigs."

"Guinea pigs?"

"Well, yeah, I mean, I'm guessing we're all nice, neat entries in someone's lab journal. You know, us, this many affected, this many hurt... gone. They killed my friend."

Alice didn't reply for a moment. "I have to get to the lab." she eventually said.

"Good luck. I mean, it's surrounded by security guards."

"No, I can get in." she said resolutely. "I just have to listen to myself."

The boy raised an eyebrow. "You're serious?"

"Yeah. I know a way in. I... I think. Which kind of freaks me out..."

"Okay, well, I'll help you. I mean, I know that lab like the back of my hand."

Alice shook her head. "Oh, no. You don't have to do that."

"Well, I'm not gonna let you go in there by yourself. Anyway, it's not just for you. I mean, I want to find evidence, prove they did this, and get their asses sent to jail." He extended his hand. She shook it. "I'm Sam. I think I'm glad I met you."

"Alice." she said.

"We got to get out of here--"

"No! Stop! It's all too big!"

Alice turned around. A hyper-looking woman was being yanked through the doorway by one of the agent men. The man abandoned the tugging and threw the girl over his shoulder. "No! Please! No! Please put me down. Where are you taking me?"

Sam tapped Alice's shoulder. This was their chance. As everyone stared at the dramatic scene, Alice and Sam scurried out the door and down the steps, outside.

"Wow, that worked." Alice said. "Thank you."

"Let's get out of sight, okay? Come on."

They both turned to find a tall man in front of them. He had light brown skin, receding hairline, middle-aged, bulky and gruff. He towered over them, arms crossed. "Would you like to have a treatment?" he asked.

Alice was puzzled. She didn't know this man. "No." she said. She and Sam walked away, leaving the stranger behind.

Boyd Langton watched them go. "Hey. Wow. Did not maintain control of that situation."

Slowly, Boyd began to laugh.

*

A FEW YEARS AGO

Caroline Farrell stared at the picture of Clive Ambrose on the open magazine page. "I don't want to say evil?"

"Yeah." her boyfriend, Leo, said. "Yeah, you really do." He passed the magazine across the dinner table to Caroline's friend Meredith.

"Ugh, the Rossum Corporation is evil." Caroline said matter-of-factly.

"'Minds Matter'?" Meredith read. "Ugh! This guy gives me the heebie-jeebies."

"Clive Ambrose, the face of Rossum."

"Marketing campaign that big? He's hiding something." their friend Trevor said.

"That whole company's hiding something." Leo agreed.

"Yeah, for instance, animal testing." Caroline said. "I mean, monkeys, puppies: they're torturing them."

Leo nodded. "Kicking it Mengele-style, all in the name of science."

"Monkeys should not be guinea pigs." Meredith said.

Leo shrugged. "Guinea pigs should not be guinea pigs.

"Whatever they say in those ads, the ends don't justify the means." Caroline insisted. "I have a plan. I have the beginnings of a plan."

"Is this when you free all the monkeys and they go nuts and bite you to death?" Trevor asked.

"No. This is where we film the monkeys in their cages and put the footage online."

"Yeah," Leo agreed. "Where millions can view it over and over again."

"Mmm-hmm. They'll be shamed into policy changes."

"And we get in how?" Leo asked. "I mean, Rossum's gotta have security."

"I'm working on that part."

"This is not how we used to party." Meredith breathed.

"I spent four years partying in the shadow of that building." Caroline said. "Do you know what they could have done in those four years? How many living creatures they... Ugh! Someone has to stand up. It doesn't have to be you guys. I-I wouldn't ask it. This is just... where I am."

Leo patted her leg. "Yep. That's my girl. That's my Caroline."

*

Laurence Dominic watched from his swivel chair as Tom stalked into the Rossum Building's lab, flanked by two other agents. "None of this is tagged. Get on all of this. James?" he said, tapping a man who had been dusting a computer.

"Nothing yet, sir." James said.

"Well, I don't have to tell you to keep looking, but..."

"Keep looking." they both finished.

"Sure, now you're experts." Dominic said quietly to himself. He took out his gun, removed the clip, put it back in and put away the gun: a game he had mastered over the past few hours."Four hours ago, you were discussing your love for applesauce..." He played another round of the game. Tom approached him.

"Well, my guys have got this fairly well-contained." he informed Dominic. "Fourteen subjects exhibiting erratic behavior, sedated."

He sighed. Dominic froze mid-clip removal. "What?"

We rounded up fourteen..."

Dominic smiled and shoved the clip in, quick as a flash. Tom looked concerned. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. Go on." Dominic began laughing. "Four-fourteen round what?"

Tom leaned in close, arms outstretched. "Buddy? How about we head over to containment?" he suggested tentatively.

"I'm fine."

"Dr. Gawa will give you a light sedative..."

Dominic stormed to his feet and backed away, gun in hand. "Hey, I'm fine!"

Tom put his hands up. "All right. Easy, buddy..."

Dominic pointed his gun between Tom's eyes, glowering. "I know how to solve problems."

"You bet." Tom said, slowly inching forward.

Dominic dropped the scowl for a whiney look: a pout. " Oh, man: this is SO heavy! It makes my arms tired!"

Tom looked bewildered. "Want me to help you out with that? Dominic nodded. "Okay, here we go." Dominic passed him the gun, acting like a big child. He let his head fall. Tom backed off and motioned to James. James approached Dominic slowly. In a flash, Dominic wrapped him in a tight hug. "Hey, wow. It's-it's so heavy." Dominic babbled. "Extremely. Everything's heavy."

"Right, okay..." James said awkwardly.

Tom, severely spooked, put his phone to his war. "Yeah, I need to speak to the person in charge at the security office..."

*

"I see." Adelle said. "Please, do keep me updated. And please, take care of him. Thank you, Agent." She hung up at looked to Topher. "This is unbelievable."

"What part was believable before?" Topher asked from one of his computers.

"The drug. It's not being sold, Topher. The effects are spreading. Mr. Dominic is exhibiting erratic behavior."

Topher looked like it was Christmas. "He didn't take any. There's no way Dom would consciously try to have fun. It could be airborne."

"We'd be seeing a lot more cases on the campus." Adelle pointed out "Beyond even."

"Exposure to a patient, whether viral or through touch..." He touched Adelle's arm to accent his point. "Sssss... That spreads more slowly, but pretty soon, that campus is gonna fill up with wacky time bombs."

"Well, we need to know what it is." Adelle said, glancing at Topher's grip on her forearm.

"Yes, well, we will... when I figure it out."

"And reversing the effect? Are you making any progress?" Adelle asked, indicating the monitor.

"I'm working!" Topher said resentfully. "What are you doing besides... being..."

"Being what?"

"Wait a minute." Topher said, eyes lost in the overhead light. He was looking for a word.

"Sarcastic?" Adelle offered. "Unfeeling? British?"

"It's an animal." he said.

Adelle jumped, looked behind her. "Where?!"

"No! The word!"

"Still, you have to admit, I am... very... British. I don't say hard Rs..."

"You know what I like?" Topher said, his eyes manic. "Brown sauce. What's it made of? Science doesn't know!"

"It's made of brown!"

"Brown... mined from the earth by the hardscrabble brown miners of North Brownterton!"

Adelle fell into a chair. "Oh, my God!" she exclaimed in horrified realisation. "I find lentils completely incomprehensible! What the sun-dappled hell is Echo doing at Freemont?"

"That's got nothing to do with the drug." Topher said. "Which means our problems are huge and indomitable."

"Ooh." Adelle oozed. "I could eat that word. Or a crisp. Do you have any crisps?" she asked anxiously.

Topher's face grew manically excited. "You haven't seen my drawer of inappropriate starches? Come on." he said, leading her away. "Come on, come on. Come on. Ah..."

Adelle threw her head back as she left the office. "Oh, my God: I'm having such a terrible day!"

*

"Well, sorry it's not much, but the, uh, scholarship doesn't cover a decorating fee." Sam apologised, opening the door of his dorm room.

"It's nice." Alice offered.

"So, you used to go to school here?" he asked, exchanging his shirt for a new one.

Alice shook her head. "No. I went back east. I think. I mean, I did. I went to Colby."

"Okay. So, someone you know went here. A boyfriend?"

Alice thought. "I don't know. I mean, I woke up this morning, and everything was normal. And then I met Matt, and... we did stuff. And then, I saw the Rossum Building on TV, and I had to leave, and... and I-I can't really deal with a lot of questions right now."

"Yeah. It's been a, um... weird, bad day." Sam agreed. "Say no more." He sat on the bed next to her, a map of the campus in hand. "Okay, so... we are here, and... Rossum Building is here. The lab is on the second floor."

Alice pointed at the building. "That's where I save him." she said, struggling to remember the handsome man in the lab...

"Well, Alice, I don't want you to expect too much. There may not be a 'him'."

"There might not be the proof against Rossum you're looking for, either, but that's not stopping you." she pointed out.

"Nothing stops me: my mother's voice is too loud in my ear."

"Awww: mama's boy." Alice cooed, nodding to a nearby picture of the mother and son.

"I ain't got no choice. I'm all she's got. So, you remember how to get in this building?"

Alice nodded. "Underneath. That's the way in."

"Okay, you're not overwhelming me with specificity."

She took the map and placed it on her lap. "Lily Foundry. We have to find Lily Foundry."

*

Topher flicked his hair away from his ear to make more room for the phone. "Listen to me carefully. I've got a huge phalanx of machines that go bing, and this is carried by anyone exposed to it. Through touch. It is mandated that you get any Rossum operatives off the grounds and send them back here."

Adelle waved from midair, jumping manically on the trampoline. "Say hi from me!"

Topher ignored her. "Nope, you Dolls, you're..." Topher flung the phone down and sucked in air. He had forgotten: THEY DIDN't KNOW THEY WERE DOLLS! Silly Topher, he thought. He brought it back up, laughing nervously. "By which, of course, I mean NSA, CDC folks... you're safe as houses. Because of the government. They do things. But anyone else who comes in contact with the drug is susceptible... Am I sure?"

Topher stared at his reflection. His hair was sticking every which way, his eyes were wide, his nails nibbled to their beds... and he was no longer wearing pants. "I am fairly sure." Topher lowered the phone. "Secret Agent Victor is so lofty." he observed.

Adelle made her way back to Topher. Rather than going up the small steps from his office's bottom floor to the top one - which, evidently, was only a metre or so higher - she clambered over the banister and collapsed on the ground, giggling. "I have a good story about him!" she began--

Topher's phone beeped. "Hold on, hold on." He stared at the screen, raised it to his ear. "I have a... I have another call." he told Secret Agent Victor. LI have another call. I have a better call!" He clicked over to the other line. "Boyd! Did you find Echo?"

Adelle snatched the phone from him. "Boyd. Did you find Echo?"

"It's all right, Ms. DeWitt. I-I've- I've worked it out."

"Worked out what? Is Echo contained?"

"Just listen." Boyd insisted. There was some fumbling, and then a piano started to play. It was beautiful. Adelle hit the speaker button and held it out to Topher.

They listened together. Adelle had to stop herself from crying. Topher had to stop himself from laughing.

*

Alice led the way out of Sam's dorm, cautiously avoiding a twirling woman who was laughing hysterically. "It's around here somewhere." she insisted.

"You mean SHE'S around here." Sam corrected.

Alice shook her head. "I don't think it's a person. I think Lily Foundry is an IT."

"So, we're looking for an it?"

"Uh-huh--"

"Caroline. Caroline Farrell!"

Alice turned around. The twirling woman had spoken and was now approaching them. "Excuse me?" Alice asked.

"I knew that was you!"

Alice shook her head. "That's not me. I'm sorry."

"Professor Janack." the woman said, indicating herself. "We charted the whole history of the Americas together!"

"Her name is Alice," Sam said. "But have a good day."

"I don't know this person, do I?" Alice asked Sam.

"I don't know, she's... she's tweaked. She needs to be sedated."

Alice gave the woman one last look before following Sam. Behind her, she heard the woman burst out laughing.

"The entrance is here somewhere." Alice said, leading the way down the path.

"Okay, we're nowhere near the Rossum Building, and I checked all the directories for all these buildings, and still no Lily Foundry." Sam replied.

Alice looked to the ground. "Because you're standing on her."

Sam looked under his feet. He was standing on a grate. Engraved on the middle bar were the words "Lily Foundry".

*

"We make choices." Adelle observed, fighting the urge to make angels in the snacks she was lying in on Topher's floor. "I'm well aware that there are forces beyond our control, but even in the face of those forces, we make choices. And then we live with them. And then we die with them. I know why Echo went to Freemont."

"To punish you?" Topher asked, sitting across from her, legs crossed.

Adelle stared at the ceiling. "To let Caroline punish me."

Topher sighed.

"Are you ever gonna shut up about her?"

Topher and Adelle whirled around. Standing in the open doorway of the Imprint Room was November, tears streaming down her face. "Is she what you think about when you're on me? Would you let me die, Paul? Would you be relieved?!"

She squatted down, hands to her temples, bawling. Adelle and Topher stared at each other. "You said it didn't affect them." she said.

"But she's not tripping. She's glitching. She's remembering..."

November stood up. She walked slowly towards them, face blank. Adelle tensed. If she could remember being Mellie...

November stopped walking.

"There are three flowers in a vase..."

*

A FEW YEARS AGO

"Then my odyssey takes me to the city clerk's office, where, it turns out, the counterjockeys aren't opposed to a little 'you scratch my back with a wad of cash, and I scratch yours with sealed planning records.' And voilà."

Leo, Trevor and Meredith watched as Caroline rolled out the blueprints. "Blueprints." Meredith observed. "I'm riveted."

"You are a snide bitch." Caroline counter-observed.

"I know: I love that about me."

"Me, too."

"Well, these look like... really boring building plans." Leo said.

"Yeah, I thought so, too, the first two hours I stared at them, but then I saw..." She pulled one of the pages from the pile and showed it to him.

"Oh. Nice work, babe..."

Trevor put up his hand. "Yeah, I'm totally in the dark here..."

"Well, they put in these utility tunnels here." she said, indicating the prints.

"Yeah, but according to these plans, the room they lead to is empty." Leo said.

Trevor looked like he was beginning to understand. "So, if you wanted to, say, move things in and out of the lab without opening the front door..."

"You'd go in here." Caroline finished, pointing. Leo stood and walked away, looking pensive. Caroline followed him to the corner. "Babe... this is good news. Where's your happy face?"

He turned, looking her in the eyes. "Rossum is seriously powerful, and this just... this just became real."

"Well, it's always been real to me."

"Caroline, I'm just saying you might not want to piss them off."

"Rossum is exploiting animals in the name of 'science,' and God knows what else. I might want to piss them off a real lot." she said. The matter was not up for discussion.

"Okay, okay. Go easy. I'm not backing out."

"You better not back out."

"I'm with you." he said.

"Damn right." she said.

Leo nodded. "Always."

*

Alice pointed at a red pipe. "There. We... we follow the red pipe. I've been here before, but... how can you not remember something and remember it at the same time?"

"I don't know." Sam shrugged, continuing down the tunnels. "That's just this drug making you act weird."

"No. I felt it before. It pulled me here."

He shrugged again. "Well, maybe you're crazy."

"Do you think so?" she asked, slightly insulted.

"What I do think is, when we get in there, we have to look for lab books, uh, logs, chemical samples, proof that Rossum is responsible for this mess."

He stopped talking as they came to a ladder. Alice indicated it. "Right there. That goes straight into the Rossum Building."

"Yeah?"

She nodded. They began their ascension and found themselves in a dark room. "Okay, we're gonna have to move like ninjas from here on out." Sam said.

"We're not gonna have to fight, are we?" Alice asked. "Because I don't even really know how to make a fist."

"Not if we do this right."

They exited and found themselves in a corridor. "Okay, the staircase to the lab is just beyond the lobby." Sam said. "Now, timing is everything." In the corner was a security mirror. Alice saw the reflection of the lobby. A guard was in view. "Just pretend like we're playing a video game and I'm gonna go first. And when he turns his back, then you go."

Sam ran. "I don't play video games..." Alice said meekly to herself. She readied herself to dart--

A cold hand planted itself on her shoulder. Alice whirled around to see a man in a finely-pressed suit, with silvery hair. She was trying to place him, but she barely glimpsed his face before he wrapped her in a very tight embrace. "You. I am so sorry that I tried to kill you!"

Alice patted him awkwardly. "It's okay--"

"No, it's not okay! I tried to burn you to death. Who does that?"

"What's the hold up?" Sam asked, appearing behind Alice.

"He says he tried to kill me." she said. She saw the stranger was experiencing his tongue in his mouth, as if for the first time.

"He's been exposed." Sam realised.

"Oh! Um... it's okay." she said, slowly pushing the man off. "Really, uh, whatever you think you did, I'm over it. You know, uh... water... bridge... under..."

"Please, I'm begging you." the man said, on the verge of tears. "Don't walk away. I just... I need your forgiveness."

"You got it." Alice said, backing away.

"You don't mean it. You still hate me! I can see it in your eyes, right, and you just keep looking at me with them."

"I mean it." she said desperately. "I forgive you."

"Look, the guns, right, the running around, the barking orders: this is not all there is to Laurence Dominic! No, ma'am, this is just my job. I'm not just hard edges. I mean, look at me. Check this suit out. Check this suit out!"

Alice and Sam walked away from the man - Laurence Dominic? - and passed the guard, who was shaking his leg. "No, no. No, no, no, no." the guard protested to no one. "How many times have I told you? He's not a nice doggie. I don't want to pet him."

Sam and Alice decided to break into a run.

*

Doctor Gawa found Dominic feeling his own suit in the lobby. She approached him slowly. "This is so soft..." he observed.

"Mr. Dominic?" she said. "Mr. Dominic. I, uh, hear you're feeling a little under the weather. I think I might have something that might help."

She led him to the guard station, where she found the guard fighting off a dog made of air. "He's not a nice doggie. I don't want to pet him. He'll attack me. NO!"

Doctor Gawa recoiled at the sound of gunfire. When she opened her eyes, Agent Willick and his men were there, at the guard's aid. "Hey." Willick said. "It's okay. It's okay..." He sat the guard down and put the gun on another desk. "All right." he turned to his men. "Everybody with a firearm, turn it in, now. Right here!" He slapped the desk. He turned to Doctor Gawa. "Let's get our friend sedated."

Gawa nodded and began walking towards them. Then stopped. She gasped. She couldn't see, reality was there again, memories she didn't have bleeding through...

You remember to be very quiet during the game, right?

Noise is upsetting...

Lift up your dress...

Gawa felt a hand on her. She screamed, pulled away, and pointed the gun she didn't know she had grabbed. "You stay away from me!"

She froze. Tom backed away cautiously, then stopped. Doctor Gawa went away, he was in a military uniform, screaming at a woman he didn't know, saying words he hadn't said in a time he hadn't lived...

No, it's okay. It's okay. I'm not gonna hurt you. We gotta move now!

Reality bled through for a moment, he took a swipe for Gawa's gun, but then he was back in the uniform, a house in the Middle East, the woman in his arms.

Let's go, he begged, please...

Then Doctor Gawa was there, sobbing and beating at Tom's arms--

Then she was gone, lying in a room tinted blue, a man on top of her.

It's not a fun game. Please, stop...

Tom was in the house, asking her to leave--

Gawa was in the room, crying--

The woman ran, into the path of an explosion--

The man didn't stop, didn't get off--

Tom and Doctor Gawa fell back to reality, on the floor of the lobby. Dominic was mumbling how his suit was soft like a kitty.

Doctor Gawa looked to the floor. Tom was holding her hand.

*

"I don't hear anything." Adelle whispered over her pillow. "She didn't finish the trigger code. She's probably right as rain."

"Go check." Topher suggested, curled up on the floor.

"I am your superior!" she hissed.

Topher nodded. "In every way. Go check."

Adelle glared before climbing up onto the couch and looking through the banister to the office's upper level. November was lying inches from her face. "He dumped the stock. He ran out of options..."

"Help me get her into the chair." Adelle whispered.

"Uh, I can't deal--

"Help me get her into the chair!"

They climbed up the railing onto the upper floor. Topher did it with ease, while Adelle got a face full of carpet. They each took one of November's arms and heaved. "You need to wipe this out of her."

"It doesn't make any sense." Topher insisted.

"Then you make it make sense!" They grunted as they each swung an arm over their shoulder, dragging November towards the Imprint Room. "You think I float around like a balloon untethered to your muck? Flip!" They flipped November onto her back and pushed her into the Imprint chair. "I run this house!"

"No, no. It doesn't make any sense. Except... Active's brains aren't like ours." he said, gripping November's scalp. "I mean, we alter them this way and that, so... N-73... blah, blah, blah...it hit the Actives later, right? And differently. Like... a memory glitch. Which means..." Topher scurried to the computer. "The compound is breaking down into a protease and zipping right through our manmade memory blocks. November glitched to a traumatic memory. I bet the same thing is happening to the other Dolls. Upside is the drugs devolving. A couple hours, it will be gone."

"How do you explain the man who lost his brain down his shirt?"

Topher was getting back to normal, but the mad eyes hadn't left. "Had an extreme dose. Way more than you can absorb. Way more than...he would have taken..."

He stared at Adelle. She stared back as she realised.

"It's a murder."

*

"It's different." Alice noted as she entered the lab.

Sam pulled on a nearby glove and rushed to the fridge cases. "Yeah? What did it used to be like?"

"...I don't know." She turned to see him taking a vial full of murky green liquid from the fridge. "I have to stop him."

"Who?"

Alice was unsure. "Something awful."

Sam took the vial to a sink as Alice wandered around. She watched him place his finger over the tube's opening and turn the vial over. The green ran through his fingers, revealing a smaller vial of bright green within. "Is that the drug?" she asked. "You found it..."

He pulled a cloth out and poured some liquid on it.

Something occurred to Alice. "You found it really fast..." Sam turned towards her, cloth in hand. Alice began backing away. "Sam? What are you... OH MY--"

Sam grabbed the back of her head and shove the cloth to her lips. The foul-smelling liquid seeped in, and Alice got lost in a sea of apologies and darkness.

*

A FEW YEARS AGO

Leo flipped the light switch of the lab and hit the button on the camera. "We're in."

Caroline moved her ponytail from her ear at a sound. It repeated. A howling, from the wall.

"Leo, over here." she said, approaching the cages. At least a dozen varieties of animals, whimpering. Leo approached a jar that held something that looked suspiciously like a fetus. "What do they need babies for?"

"This is Rossum." Caroline said bitterly. "They don't care about souls. Human or animal." She fingered the cage of a lonely monkey. "What are they doing to you?" she whispered. "Are you getting this?" she asked Leo.

She turned to see him at a computer monitor showing a brain. "Babe." he breathed. "You gotta see something..."

"What is it?" she said, trying to see over his shoulder. 

"Science fiction. They're not just experimenting with animals."

"Babe, we got to get footage of--"

She stopped when she caught a glimpse of the screen. She approached cautiously. On the screen beside the brain were pictures of a brain, a fetus and something Caroline didn't recognise. "Are they...? What the hell are they doing?"

Leo didn't look away. "Something really not good."

"I told you Rossum was evil."

Leo passed Caroline the camera. "Here, take this. You get the animals. Let me see what I can find on here."

"Yeah..."

Caroline opened the camera and began filming a sickly dog in the nearest cage. "Look at her. Do we have to just leave her here?"

"Babe, it's not a pet shop. We can't take them with us." he said regretfully.

Caroline fingered the lock longingly.

"Hey! Don't move!"

Caroline whirled around. A guard was entering through the door at the back of the lab."Go! Run!" Leo ordered, and they did, racing out of the room as the guard followed.

*

"What... did you do?" Alice asked numbly. She was relatively sure she was propped against the wall, but everything was swirling and sickly. "Make it stop, please..."

"I'm sorry about this, okay?" Sam said. Through the blur, Alice saw him remove his glove. "I-I didn't want to do this. Any of this."

"All these people... why did you hurt them?"

He held up the bright green vial. "This right here is my chance for something. Owen and me were gonna take this over to Bel Med Tec."

"I-In Switzerland?"

"It's the number two drug company in the world, right after Rossum. You know what they'd pay for this? Billions."

"You're insane." Alice whispered. 

Sam shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."

Alice yelped as her mind grew hot, like red hot pokers in her brain. Images of a girl and the man, the handsome man from the lab, running, running away...

"You're a killer." she managed as Sam turned to leave.

Sam froze. "Listen, Owen was my best friend. And him dying... I didn't want that. I just wanted to get him out of the way long enough for me to get out of town. I didn't know he'd hurt himself like that, okay?"

"He knew what you were gonna do..."

"It was his idea! And then he got scared, said Rossum would come after us. He tried to stop me."

Alice shook her head, barely. "Just because you didn't mean it doesn't mean you didn't kill him. You're responsible."

"You think about it your way and I'll think about it mine. Enjoy your trip."

"No." Alice said, and she meant it. With all her strength, Alice staggered to her feet, nearly toppled over immediately, but held onto a stool for support. She glimpsed Sam's form leaving and she stumbled after him, trying to ignore the other thoughts in her head...

*

Leo tried desperately to pass the camera to Caroline as they ran, the guard gaining quick. "Here, go!"

It left his grasp, Caroline swiped desperately, but it clattered to the ground. For a split second, Leo looked as if he might go back for it.  "Leave it!" Caroline ordered. "Leave it!" Something caught her eye: the guard had a friend.  "Leave it!" she yelled.

"Go!" Leo screamed. She didn't know if he had gotten it, didn't care, just kept running, had to get away. She barely heard the gunshot as it fired, but she glimpsed Leo's hand trying to stem a river of blood--

*

"No!"

Alice stopped running, panting. He had gotten shot. The man she somehow new, Leo, he was shot here.

Alice tore after Sam, not paying the slightest attention to the drug. "You're a killer, Sam!" she screamed. "You killed him!"

She began gaining, closer, closer--

*

Caroline ducked into the broom closet, Leo right behind her. He shut the door, gasping for breath. "I love you." he panted. "And you're gonna be okay..."

Caroline looked to Leo's side. No camera. His T-Shirt was drenched a blood red. "Oh, my God! Come on, we have to get out of here--!"

Leo shushed her. They heard footsteps whizz by them. "Okay, okay..."

"Leo, come on!" Caroline turned the knob and tentatively stepped out, holding Leo's arm...

*

Alice ploughed through the guard station, glimpsing the pandemonium, ignoring the stranger in the suit's apologies for attempted murder, barely glancing at the pretty blonde doctor rocking in a fetal position, just charged through the door out onto the lawn. She saw Sam, grabbed him by the bag and tackled him, sending them both into the ground, Alice on top--

*

"Stay with me." Caroline told Leo, collapsed on the grass, unmoving. "I need you! Leo, please!"

She crawled on top of him, slapped his chest, again and again as blood trickled from his lip, trying to get him to speak or move or do anything except lie there, except be dead...

Caroline felt tears sting her eyes as Leo stopped blinking.

"I'm your girl..."

*

"Leo, stay!" Alice begged. "Please stay!"

Sam pushed Alice off of him and stood. "Get off of me, you crazy bitch!"

He turned to run, only to get a face full of the gruff man's fist. He went down, unconscious, and the gathering crowd quickly began to retreat. Boyd Langton spoke to Alice. "Echo?"

"Mm?"

"Would you like a treatment?"

Alice stared at Sam's unmoving form for a moment. "Yes."

Boyd took her by the hands and hoisted him up. They began to walk, and Alice could've sworn that Boyd had a bright green vial in his other hand.

*

A FEW YEARS AGO

"Ms. DeWitt. I'm glad you could come."

"You seemed quite confident she fits the profile." Adelle said as she stepped out from the elevator into the medical corridor.

"Yes." The man nodded. "She's been through a lot."

"Well, you were right to call."

Adelle strode towards the room, the man following. She pushed the door open to see an empty bed with crumpled sheets and abandoned machines. Adelle hurried to the open window where the curtains billowed in the wind. 

"She was just here." the man said, clearly frightened.

Adelle began to smile. "She won't get far."

*

"Mr. Dominic, please come in."

"Thank you."

Adelle stood aside to let him into the office. They stood a moment, silent. Awkward.

"Would you like a drink?" she offered.

"No, thank you." he declined. After a moment's silence, he continued. "All the Actives have been evaluated and processed. Everything seems satisfactory."

"Wonderful news."

She walked to her desk, desperate to escape the awkwardness. She picked up a heavy handgun and held it aloft. "Yours, I believe."

Dominic rushed forward and took it. "Yes. Uh, thank you." He stepped back again. "The, uh, press is running with the story we sold them. 'Student drugs classmates before committing suicide.'"

"And Echo? I suppose you'll be recommending she be sent to the Attic."

Dominic squirmed. "That's entirely your call, ma'am."

Adelle rolled her eyes. "For God's sake, quit calling me ma'am. We got drugged. We behaved like idiot children. It happens. It's over. You may go."

Dominic nodded and exited.

Adelle opened the security feed. Echo was just wandering the Dollhouse. She paused for a moment. Adelle could've sworn she looked directly at the camera. But then Echo walked, and was gone.

Adelle went looking for a drink. She strongly believed that Dominic went looking for something to shoot.

*

"Were you gonna say anything?"

Mellie looked guiltily at the suitcases in the hallway at her feet. "I just need to get away." she told Paul. "It's not forever."

"I get it. I'm sorry."

"Debbie might crash here sometimes, if you hear a noise. If you need to reach me--"

"You know what? Maybe it's better if I don't know where you are. In case."

Mellie nodded reluctantly. "Yeah. Okay. Okay..."

She grabbed the suitcases and began walking. 

"Mellie?"

She stopped and turned to look at Paul.  He looked intently at her "You know where I am."

Mellie gave the tiniest smile before leaving. Paul shut the door of his apartment.

*

"This should help you relax." Adelle said, pushing the tea across the table. Sam didn't sit. He continued pacing.

"Well, I don't want to relax. I want the hell out of here!"

"I understand--"

"You can't hold me. Y-You have to have cause, evidence!"

"I'm not with the government." Adelle said flatly.

"Well, then who the hell are you?" he spat, finally sitting down.

"I'm someone who can give you what you want."

Sam leaned back. "And what do I want?"

"A new life. A better life." Adelle opened the file on the desk. "Your mother, Antoinette Jennings of 483 Helena Street. I understand she's experiencing some financial difficulties. In fact, she's about to lose her home."

"Do not threaten my mother!"

Adelle glanced at him. "Quite the opposite." She presented him some forms and a pen. "Once you sign these papers, your mother will begin receiving a monthly stipend large enough to solve her financial problems. It will continue for five years, and at the end of that time, you will be quite capable of supporting her all on your own."

Sam looked pensive. "How?" he asked.

Adelle sat forward. "I'm going to make you an offer."

*
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".
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Re: Dollhouse

Illyria
Administrator
==Engagement 8: Needs==

In the dream, Paul opened the door to see Caroline, wearing a black dress and blood red lipstick. "You." was all he said.

"I only have a few minutes." she said hurriedly, rushing into the apartment and closing the door. "They can't know this body left an engagement."

She dashed into the living room, Paul right behind her. "Are we not fighting this time?" he asked.

"I have a message for you from inside the Dollhouse."

"What? Sit back and wait some more while they dismantle my life?" he grabbed her by the wrists forcefully."I could handcuff you right now and bring the Dollhouse to my door. So you tell me: who sent you?"

"You have something we need." Caroline said urgently. "I have something you need."

"And what is that?"

She cupped his jaw and kissed him. Paul reciprocated for a moment before pulling away. "I'm not a client." he said gruffly. "I don't need that."

"You know you do." she panted and kissed him again. He didn't return it at all this time.

"Caroline?"

She looked at him with big, sad eyes. "Save me, Paul."

Next thing Paul knew, they were kissing passionately on the couch. For how long he didn't know. He was eventually interrupted by the sound of his name. He looked up to see--

"Mellie..."

"I guess I took too long getting back." she said, tears in her eyes. "You're already with..." she caught Caroline's face. "Her?"

"I know this is confusing," Paul said. "For all of us..."

"Don't stop, Paul." Caroline moaned. "I need you."

He kissed her again. "Paul!" Mellie exclaimed. She was crying freely now.

"I'm sorry." he said. "I have something she needs."

"She's not even real!" Mellie protested.

"You feel me." Caroline said seductively, ignoring Mellie. She only had eyes for Paul. "Trust that. I need you to finish what you started."

"Caroline doesn't need anything anymore, Paul." Mellie cried. "She's dead!"

Paul stopped kissing Caroline. She looked down to see her corpse, a powdered blue, unmoving.

"No... Caroline?" He patted her face lightly. "Come back! I won't let anything happen to you. Not again!"

"You let them hurt ME, didn't you?" Mellie said. Paul looked at her. Blood trickled from her forehead.

"No! I tried to stop it!"

"How did they know?" she said, blood gushing.

"I'm trying to stop everything!"

"How did they know what we shared?!"

Paul woke up sweating as Mellie's body hit the floor of his slowly-fading dream.

*

Adelle looked at the cramped employees of the Dollhouse gathered in her office.  "We're all aware we've been having recent problems." she began. "Ours is a complicated world. But the world of our Actives must be one of constant certainty--"

"Whoa!" Topher exclaimed, wandering in. "Did you guys start early? I was backing up my primary drives to protect them from... that!"

Topher pointed upwards as the light of Adelle's office flickered. She resisted the urge to strangle him. "As Topher points out, we are currently upgrading our electrical and security systems. We will be instituting other changes as well. We have had an Active go off mission. Another has developed urges, others are still showing signs of cognizance and recognition. Nearly all the Actives exposed to the N-7316 drug experienced a glitch, a random memory thread. This House is out of balance. For the Handlers, the main concern will be identifying behavioural problems that cannot be quelled and reporting them."

"It's easy to become attached to your assigned Active." Laurence Dominic said. "In fact, it's necessary. But don't think of them as children. Think of them as pets."

"Is that supposed to be funny?" Doctor Claire Saunders asked, piping up from her spot in the corner.

"If your child starts talking for the first time, you feel proud." Dominic explained. "If your dog does, you freak the hell out. Any developmental progress an Active makes is dangerous to the House and a possible first step towards another Alpha."

"What about the Alpha that's already an Alpha?" Boyd asked from the couch.

"Whereabouts unknown." Dominic said as the lights flickered again.

"Let's stay on topic." Adelle said. "Topher?"

"I've scrubbed them as much as I safely can." Topher announced. "If we pursued the short-range calcium modulin K2 amplifier, I could advance the protein's corrosion of long-term potentiation."

Adelle nodded. "Done. Whatever that means. Anything else?"

"The sleep cycle." Topher continued, clearing his throat. "The sedative and anti-psychotics we pump into the pods with the O2, the subliminal tone patterns: I THINK I could play with that cocktail a bit."

"Sleeping is there most vulnerable time." Claire protested quietly.

"We could test it out on one chamber if you're stressed about it." Topher offered.

"If you start playing with their meds, it could backfire or damage them--"

"Or solve the problem? I know what I'm doing, Doc."

"So do I." Saunders retorted. "But I also care what you're doing ...to our PETS." she finished, glancing at Dominic.

"I will take it into consideration." Adelle concluded. "I need reports at the end of every shift, detailing your interactions with the Actives. Feelings they express, questions they ask, instincts you observe: everything."

"We can't jump at shadows." Boyd pointed out. "I don't want to report that my Active asked for toast and have her sent to the Attic. We were hired to protect them."

Adelle sat at her desk. "In the field, yes, Mr. Langton." she agreed. "In here, we protect the House. A tide is rising. Until we learn how to turn it back, we pile up the sandbags together. Unless anyone here thinks they have a better idea."

*

That night, Echo went to bed in seconds. She wasn't sure why, and she didn't think about it in her dreams. But soon after, she grew restless, her dreams darker. The voice called to her, tried to stir her. Echo saw her face in a mirror, wearing leather with a bloody lip, collapsed on a pier in a suit with glasses, the voice growing louder, filling her eardrums.

'Caroline. Caroline, wake up..."

Echo went away.

*

She woke up in a tiny bed with blue glass above her. She panicked immediately, not knowing why. She beat against the glass, yelling for help. She ran out of breath and tried to pull the glass down from the top, but yelped as the glass slit her palm open. There was something under her: a pillow. She grabbed it and used it to push the glass down. It slid, allowing her to scramble out. She looked around. A high ceiling, wood-panelled walls, and four identical holes in the floor furnished into beds, just like the one she had emerged from. She heard a panicked voice beneath her. A man's voice, from the hole next to her. She reached for the glass, but it slid down and the man scrambled out. He pounced at her, grabbing her shoulder. "Who the hell are you?!" he demanded.

She slapped his hand away. "Hey, I woke up in a five-stat floor coffin just like you, pal!" He was handsome, burly, with black hair and a square jaw.

"Help! Help me, let me out, let me out!"

They looked around. A woman's voice screamed from another of the coffin beds. The man rushed over, shushing her. "Hey, noise, not helping!" The voice was silenced.

"It doesn't matter."

Echo jumped. Someone had arisen from the fourth pod behind her. He was tall with blond hair: cute in a "dumb jock" way. "They're listening..."

"Anyone hear me over here? Help!"

She rushed to the final pod. "You okay?" she asked, pulling at the glass.

"Who's listening?" the black-haired man asked the blond man. Next to him was the woman he had freed: a bronze-skinned, beautiful woman with dirty blonde hair.

"Aliens." Dumb Jock said numbly, looking around. 

She looked up at the roof as the final woman emerged: cute, round-faced, wearing a purple nightdress. "Pervs behind glass, getting off watching us." she decided.

"Yeah, we're in outer space, right?" Handsome said suspiciously. "We're in the nuthoise, more like..."

"What humans do you know build circular pod rooms with stone cavities and peeping windows?" Jock asked Handsome.

"Definitely feeling kinda lab-ratty here." she said, massaging her wounded palm.

"I'm leaving before the electric shock." the blond woman said in an Australian accent.

The final girl, the round-faced one, backed up into the centre of the room, seriously hyperventilating. "Sorry." she gasped. "It's a defence mechanism. I'm just really terrified..."

"Anybody else got anything better than aliens?" Handsome said.

"I'm serious about lab eats--"

"Maybe we're supposed to be here?" the purple nightdress suggested.

"What for?" Aussie asked. "I didn't do anything!"

"Do you know that?" the nightdress asked.

"I don't remember anything." the girl realised, abandoning her attempt to quell her bleeding. "I mean, I know the days of the week, the capital of Nebraska but nothing... about me..."

The girl looked around. She didn't know these people. She didn't know herself, her own name.

"My guess?" Handsome said. "We're prisoners of some sort. We need to assess the situation, formulate a strategy."

"Run!" Aussie exclaimed. Then, at Handsome's look., "Strategically."

"Yeah, and when they come in with guns, what do we fight with?" the girl pointed out.

Jock ran to the lights on the wall. "We take the glass shade off the light fixtures, splinter them. Use them as shivs."

"Deranged millionaire serial killer." Aussie said, looking at a window above. "That's what I think..."

"That's not stupider than aliens?" Jock spat.

"Hey, watch your mouth." Handsome said venomously, giving Jock a slight push. Jock looked pissed, but the girl held him at bay. "Hey, can we all act like humans, not monkeys?

Handsome looked across the room to Aussie. "I know you, don't I?"

Aussie raised an eyebrow. "How?" Handsome looked like he wanted to answer, but didn't know himself.

"I think I have to get to the mountains." the girl said. "Everything's ok there..."

"I lost something." the nightdress said. "Maybe it's here somewhere...?"

"They probably want to study our reproductive systems." Jock observed.

Nightdress recoiled. "Sex with aliens?"

Handsome threw up his hands. "Come on: who doesn't wanna put alien guy back in the box?"

The girl shushed him. There was a noise, quiet but there. Part of the wall behind the Jock was made up of glass and through it, she saw several people, them too dressed in pyjamas. "Whats behind me?" Jock asked nervously: everyone was staring.

"It's ok." the girl reassured him "Just walk towards me."

He did. "Someone's out there..." Aussie breathed.

Handsome nodded. "Lotta someones."

The lights flickered for a moment, the filled the room with light. As darkness left, the door to the corridor with the other people slid open.

"It's been very nice nearly knowing you guys." Aussie said. "Good luck."

She went for the door. Handsome rushed to her. "Hey, hold up. You need backup."

They stepped out. Jock followed them. "I wanna know what they look like..."

"I'm not sure I do..." Nightdress said, backing away.

The girl looked at her: everyone was leaving.

"Hey we gotta get moving." the girl said. "I won't leave you behind. Please."

She took her by the arm and lead her towards the others. They emerged in a corridor bustling with the pyjama people. 

"They're people." Jock said. "Like us."

"But so calm." Aussie pointed out.

"Maybe they know why we're here." the girl suggested. 

"See?" Nightdress said. "I think they like it..."

"So do we." Handsome said flatly. "Like it, like them. Got it? What you don't want is to get noticed, so until we know what's going on..."

They nodded and began walking. A woman in a white shirt passed them and smiled. "Good morning Victor, Sierra, Mike. Hi November, your clothes are in the changing room. How are you Echo?"

The girl nodded. "Fine, thank you." The woman passed. The girl looked at her group: according to the woman, the handsome man was Victor, the Aussie woman Sierra, the Jock was Mike, the green nightdress was November, and she, the girl, was Echo.

"That's not my name." she told Victor as they walked.

"Not names, codes." he said. "Military."

Echo was perplexed. "Who uses those besides... Are we government prisoners?"

No one answered. They just kept walking.

The corridor led them to a huge open space. It looked like a spa, with the pond and the sliding doors and the general atmosphere. The people roamed freely. A huge office overlooked the entire area.

"Whoa..." Mike breathed.

"Everyone does look peaceful." Echo said.

"Maybe something bad happened to us." November offered. "And they're helping us heal."

Victor raised an eyebrow. "Well that makes sense..."

"Good morning." a passing employee greeted them. "We're having banana pancakes for breakfast today."

A blonde woman walked by, smiling happily. "I like pancakes." she informed them.

Victor stared at her, face full of worry. "...we're all gonna die."

*

Paul spent all day looking for the bug. A camera, microphone, anything the Dollhouse might've planted. There was nothing under the table, in the lamp shade, he even tore open his cell phone: nothing. He scanned the room with his eyes, looking for any possible hiding place--

There was an air vent in the top corner. Long shot, but he had tried everything else. Paul grabbed a screwdriver and opened the vent in the space of a minute. Inside was a metal box, no bigger or heavier than a bar of soap. He cracked it open: at least a dozen wires and a big shiny camera lens.

Paul dumped it in the trash before checking the next room.

*

"I like bananas." Tango observed. "They're naturally sweet."

"They're high in potassium." Mike said awkwardly. "So's the earths core."

Tango looked confused. "That's not food."

"No it isn't, Mike." Echo said through gritted teeth. The group had agreed to separate for breakfast to avoid suspicion: Echo had wrapped her hand in one of the dining area napkins. "A food that's naturally sweet?"

"Uhhh... Apples? Cantaloupe, kiwis, mango, mayonnaise--"

"Echo?"

Echo jumped. An employee was standing behind her. "Is there something wrong with your hand?" he asked.

"Um, no, it's fine..."

He smiled. "I don't think so. May I see it?"

Echo gave Mike a worried look before offering her hand. He unwrapped the napkin, revealing the dried blood, covering the jagged cut.

"I'm going to need to take you to see Doctor Saunders now." the man said sympathetically. Echo tried to think of something, but she couldn't object without giving the game away. She stood, feeling Mike's eyes on her. Tango went back to her pancakes.

The man led Echo to a sliding door before leaving. She entered to find a dark office, filled with bookshelves and files but lacking in people. "Hello?" she said, voice filled with uncertainty.

"Echo, what's wrong?"

Echo looked to the corner. A woman in a lab coat was standing beside a bookshelf, disguised by the shadows.

"T-They made me come see you? About my hand?"

"Oh no, what happened?"

The woman emerged from the shadows and rushed towards her. She was pretty, with short, wavy brown hair and--

"Oh my God!" Echo recoiled at the sight of three scars slashed across the woman's face. "Did they do that to you here?!"

The woman looked more afraid of Echo than she did of her. "Echo, please, sit--"

"No, I wanna know. What the hell happened?"

"Don't." she whispered, softly but urgently. "They're watching."

Echo glanced at the ceiling. A single camera rotated above the office.

"You work for them?" Echo whispered, sitting on the exam table. "Who are they? Where are we?"

The woman sighed and looked at the floor.

"Please..." Echo begged.

"I'm not your friend in here Echo." she breathed. "I'm sorry. I can't help you."

Echo sat silently as her bandage was replaced. Then the doctor led her out back into the big spa, where they instantly heard screams of protest.

"I'm happy. I'm happy! Guys, I'm relaxed and I'm happy!"

Echo watched as Mike was dragged across the floor, to the stairs that led to the huge office. "I like banana pancakes!" he yelled. "I want to climb the rock wall now! Isn't that what you want?! Tell me and I'll do it!"

Echo tried to go for him as they dragged him up the stairs, but the scarred doctor held her at bay. "Let me help."

The doctor rushed up the stairs as Mike was brought to the upper level. "Help! Somebody help me! Nooooo!"

Echo felt Sierra, Victor and November join her as Mike was dragged into a room adjacent to the big office with the big window. From down below, Echo got a glimpse of black brick walls before the door shut, and Mike was gone.

*

"Mike screwed up." Victor said flatly. "Got noticed. Nothing we could do."

"He might be okay." Echo said, tugging at her robe collar. "The doctor said she'd help."

"She did?" November said hopefully.

Victor stopped in his tracks. "You told her? She knows we're not like the others?"

Echo shook her head. "She warned me. About the cameras." she cocked her head to indicated one above. "Keep walking."

They did. The attendees led them to a room with a dozen nozzle heads in the centre of the ceiling, kept in by a circular shower curtain. Naked people came and went, some in towels or a robe.

"Co-ed showers?" Sierra said, disgusted. "I don't believe it."

"But we have to do it." Echo said sadly.

"So?" November said, surprisingly perky. "No big deal." she peeled off her robe and handed it to the attendee before walking right into the shower.

Victor looked at the ceiling as he approached, peeled off his robe and entered, distracting himself. "Ok, New York starting lineup, 1986, first base, Keith Hernandez, second base, Wally Backman, shortstop Rafeal Santana..."

"Keep your eyes right where they are." Sierra warned through gritted teeth. Victor gave a small nod.

"Mookie Wilson, left field... Hey! It's Mike!"

They all looked. Just outside the shower, Mike was entering an adjacent sauna. They each hastily grabbed a towel and rushed after him. They found him in the small, heated room, smiling.

"Hey pal," Victor said. "You alright?"

"Yes." Mike said uncertainly. "I'm fine."

"Thank god." November said. "What happened to you?

"I had a treatment."

"What?" Sierra asked as Victor closed the sauna doors. "Just a spa thing, nothing bad?"

"Did you see the doctor?" Echo pushed.

"Doctor Saunders?" Mike said. "She's so nice."

Echo was relieved. "I was trying to tell these guys, I think she's a prisoner like us."

"No cameras here." Victor said, scanning the ceiling. "No one's watching."

Mike looked monumentally confused.

"Mike?" Echo said, leaning forward. "Do you remember me? Lab rat?"

Mile nodded. "Yes. You're Echo."

Echo exchanged a worried glance with the other three. "We woke up together, trapped. We were scared."

"...I like sleeping in the pods." Mike said. He stood.

"Wait, where are you going?" November asked.

"I'm going to swim in the pool." Mike said, as if it was common knowledge. He pulled open the doors and stepped out.

"No, Mike, we're all going to leave." Echo said desperately. "Come with us."

"I do thirty laps every day. It helps me be my best."

Mike left. Echo looked at the others. It was clear Mike was one of the blank people now.

"We lost Mike." November said what they were all thinking.

"We save ourselves," Sierra said resolutely. "And we do it now."

"I'm with her." Victor agreed.

Echo looked at the only people she had left in the world and nodded. "Ok."

*

When Dominic entered Adelle's office, she was beside her desk, looking at the view. "Yes, Mr. Dominic?" she asked, not turning around.

Dominic answered instantly. "I was just informed we have four Actives preparing to escape."

Adelle smiled. "Right on schedule."

"Will you at least allow me to brief the in-house security team?" Dominic requested. "The entire staff thinks they're preparing for an exercise two months down the road. They're not ready."

"Every person in this house should always be ready." Adelle said, leaning at her desk. "For anything. Echo, Sierra, Victor and November need real adversaries, real obstacles. Freedom is to be earned."

"We don't even have the power to end this." Dominic protested, voice rising only slightly. "There's no kill switch, we can't shut it down. What if they make it out into the world and decide to shoot up a liquor store or jump off a roof?"

"Don't be melodramatic--"

"We could lose them all. And there's a limit to what I'll be able to clean up after the fact."

Adelle sat in her chair. "I've made my decision." She turned into her desk and signalled for him to leave. The door closed softly a moment later.

*

"I forgot where the sauna is." Victor told the Handler.

"You told me." the Handler said gruffly, leading him to the back of the shower room.

"I like the sauna."

The Handler opened the sauna doors. "Big surprise there..."

Victor grabbed his towel, wrapped it underneath the man's neck and pulled tightly. The man beat and squirmed, trying to prise the towel away for air, but Victor held on. A few moments later, the man lay still. Victor lay him on the bench and dug around in his suit hurriedly before coming across a key card. He grabbed it and gave the pocket a pat before turning to see two females in towels, staring at him.

"...He's very tired."

The girls smiled in realisation. Victor rushed from the room.

He met Sierra outside the room where they had awakened and walked the hall to  a locked door. They waited until a stray prisoner left before sliding the key card over the scanner. It glowed green and the door clicked open. He slipped it into the ficus pot next to the door and they both slipped into a corridor, far different from the spa-like surroundings they had awoken to. It was grey, bland and, most crucially, they were alone.

"So," Sierra said. "The light at the end of the tunnel was..."

"Another tunnel." Victor finished. "Come on..."

*

"No need to be aware of anything but your breath moving through your body..."

Echo listened to the soothing words and watched her child-like counterparts do yoga as she waited for November to appear. Their daring escape was due any minute. Across the pond, the blonde girl from breakfast, Tango, was reading a book as a man in a suit approached her.

"Tango," Echo heard him say. "Would you like your treatment now?"

Tango nodded. "Thank you."

Echo watched as Tango was led up the stairs to the big office and it's side room. That's where Mike got emptied. Now what were they doing to Tango? She was already empty.

Unless that's where they got filled as well.

"It's time," November said, appearing over Echo's shoulder.

Echo looked away. She couldn't get distracted. She had escaping to do.


*

"Come on. In here."

Sierra and Victor crouched down outside a door far down the corridor. "Did something happen to them?" Sierra asked. "What's taking them so long?"

"They're just being careful as all." Victor replied calmly. "We'll give them a little bit more time."

For a moment, there was silence. They each looked everywhere except at each other.

"Why don't you tell me something about yourself?" Victor suggested. Sierra gave a tiny smile. Victor chuckled. "I'm just making small talk."

"We don't remember anything, remember?"

Victor shrugged. "Sometimes I feel like we do."

"The Yankees?"

Victor nodded. "The Mets, but whatever. And you."

Sierra raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? Can you tell me anything about me?"

Victor shook his head. "I just got this feeling in my gut that... something bad happened to you."

Sierra shrugged it off. "Probably the same 'something bad' that happened to all of us."

"I don't feel that way about anything else. Just you. Is there any part of you that finds me familiar?"

Sierra smiled and opened her mouth, but was interrupted by the sound of footsteps.

"It's them!" Victor said.

"Thank god..." They scrambled to their feet as Echo and November turned the corner.

"Nobody saw us," Echo said, skidding to a halt. "But who knows what the cameras got..."

"Or who's watching them." November added. Echo passed Victor the key card. In a few moments, they slipped through the door down another corridor. There were voices in a nearby room.

"Sophie. You're off too?"

"After a few hours of paperwork to wrap up the client's file..."

Echo, Sierra, Victor and November put their backs to the wall and approached the door. Echo peeked through the glass to see a gruff, burly man talking to a short woman in a suit. The woman was fiddling with the lock of a metal gate on the wall. Echo noted how the gate covered a shelf full of weapons.

"What kind of engagement were you on?" the burly man asked the woman - Sophie.

"'I can't believe you're cheating on me with that perfect woman you just met. Now I get everything in the divorce.' Easy stuff." Sophie said. "Seems tame next to the crap you've been dealing with."

"Echo's alright." the man said. "They're just giving her a few days downtime. I can use the vacation."

Echo's eyes widened. This man looked after her...?

"If you ask me, she's not gonna last." Sophie admitted.

The man shrugged. "I haven't given up on her yet."

"Look, Boyd," Sophie continued. "You're a classy guy, but you really shouldn't get too attached. It's like Mr. Dominic said: they're pets. Even a good dog needs to be put down sometimes."

Echo felt one of her fellow escapees nudge her. Reluctantly, she ran on.

*

"Stairwell ends this level." Victor said as they raced up. "There's gotta be another."

Victor halted. Sierra had stopped walking down a flight. He rushed down towards her. "Hey, hey, hey. What's wrong?" Her face was blank, miles away. He cupped her face. ""Look at me. Look." She did. "Tell me. What's wrong? Keep an eye on the hall." he ordered the other two above.

"I remember." she said. "Men. They had guns, they took me away." her eyes widened. "I remember the man who put me here."

"Then we'll get him." Victor promised. "Understand? I will get him. But you gotta be strong for me now and go with us, so you can help me find him."

Sierra nodded. Victor offered her hand, and she took it. He led the way up to November and Echo, standing in another corridor.

"Still no windows." Echo noted. "We gotta be underground."

"We need to find another way." Victor said.

They froze at a noise down the hall. People talking, nearing. Echo led the way into the nearest door. They entered a huge room, full to the brim with rack upon rack of clothes.

"This just keeps getting weirder and weirder..." Victor said under his breath.

"Whoa!" November looked around, astonished.

"What is all this for?"

"Us." Echo said. She grabbed the nearest tag. "These all say 'Echo'. There's a rack for each of us."

"Yeah there is." November said, smiling as she grabbed a floral sundress.

"We can blend in more now." Victor said, scanning for his rack.

Echo slipped on a black shirt. "This fits perfectly..."

"Maybe these are clothes from our former life." Victor said. From his rack, he pulled a hanger containing a pair of jeans with breakaway legs and a bright red thong. "Nevermind!" he exclaimed, stuffing it back in. "Let's go. Right now!"

"Wait, I thought we were getting changed first." Echo said, barely fastening her jeans as she followed Victor. They emerged near the door to see November, bending over an abandoned stroller, misty-eyed.

"I have a daughter." November breathed. "Katie."

Echo and Victor exchanged an awkward look. Echo patted November's shoulder. "Okay. We'll get you out of here."

"What's wrong?" Sierra asked, appearing in a purple top and jeans.

"She has a daughter." Echo informed her.

November looked up at all of her. "Please help me find her. I don't know where she is..."

Echo, Victor and Sierra were saved from
answering by approaching footsteps. "Someone's coming." Victor said urgently. They split, Echo and November racing down one aisle, Victor and Sierra the other. Echo pulled a dress out of the way as she heard the door open. She scurried into the folds of the clothes, followed by November. A man in a suit approached and took a few hangers directly above Echo's head. Then, the steps receded. The door closed.

A moment later, the four of them exited  and rushed down a hallway to an elevator with a scanner beside it. "Who has the card thingy?" Sierra asked.

Echo tool the card from her back pocket before running it over the machine. November and Victor approached from behind. "What did you just do?" Victor asked.

"Callng the elevator." Sierra said, wondering what the problem was.

"What if somebody's in it?"

"We don't have a choice, do we?" Echo pointed out.

Sierra nodded. "Go up or go back. Anyone going back?"

There was silence. They waited anxiously as the groaning grew louder. The seconds dragged by.

Them the doors opened, and the elevator was empty. Relieved, they piled in and hit the button. When the doors opened, they were in a sprawling underground car park.

"I can't believe we made it." Sierra breathed.

"Start checking doors," Victor ordered. "See if any of them are unlocked."

They split up but stayed in close proximity, pulling at every door handle.
"We need to tell someone about what's happening." Sierra said. "Should we call the police, the FBI?"

"For all we know this is the FBI." November replied.

"What about everybody else inside that needs help?" Echo pointed out.

"We do nothing," Victor said. "Until we understand what this place is and who we can trust."

The argument was silenced by the sound of tires screeching.

"Guys," Sierra called, looking to the entrance. "A car's coming!"

The four darted for a nearby SUV, crouching down behind it as an identical vehicle came into the car park. From the SUV, out stepped a bored-looking woman in a suit and a man in a military uniform.

"When you wear the uniform, you got to push it all down, bury it." the soldier drawled. "It never happened, right? The good guys lost one today. I had to watch a man die, and I'm just supposed to make it disappear?"

The woman opened a box on the wall and placed the car keys on a hook. She closed it and led the way into the elevator. They were alone again.

"Guys," Victor said, emerging from the SUV. "Wait here." He rushed over towards the box of car keys.

"Did you here that?" November said. "Someone died..."

"He said he was one of the good guys." Echo said hopefully.

"But he went in there." Sierra noted. "How do we know who to trust?"

"We trust each other." Echo said. "We figure this out together. We start with what we know. You know your name's not Sierra. And the guy that put you here, what's his name?"

"I-I don't know..."

"No," Echo said forcefully. "You do know. What's his name?"

Sierra bowed her head in thought. "His name... his name..." She stared at Echo. "His name is Nolan."

"See?" Echo turned to November. "And you know Katie, your daughter. And you're gonna think hard and remember where to find her, right?" November nodded. "And I know a mountain house. It's safe there. I need to go there..."

"Guys!" Victor called, jangling some car keys. "Look sharp, wheels up!"

They ran to the SUV, Victor in the driver's seat as they approached. Sierra slipped into shotgun and Echo and November piled into the back. Victor was about to put the keys in when the elevator doors opened.

"Look out!" Victor hissed, and they all bent down, hopefully out of view. Echo peaked over Sierra's seat to see another suited man exit with a woman dressed in the clothes of a burlesque performer. She babbled a bunch of French to her Handler. "You know I don't understand when you speak French." the Handler said tiredly, taking some keys from the box and leading her to the nearest car. As she raged some more in French, Echo saw her face.

"That's Tango..."

She lifted her head as Tango drove away with her Handler. 

"Let's get out of here." Victor said, turning the key.

"Wait!" Echo said. She opened the door and jumped out.

"What you doing?" November asked. "What's wrong?"

"Get back in the car!" Victor said urgently.

"I can't leave." Echo told them. "Did you see Tango, that sweet girl? That is not a costume warehouse we just busted out of, that's a people warehouse!"

"You have to come with us." November insisted.

"The army guy they brought back? They're doing it both ways. They make people go out and do terrible things, and then bring them back and make them go away."

"And you'll be putting yourself back in there." Sierra retorted. "You didn't fight to get out for nothing."

Echo smiled sadly. "Not nothing. You guys are okay now. I go back in knowing that."

"This thing, it's too big." Victor said. "There's too many of them, they got guns, what do you think you're gonna do?"

Echo shrugged. "Try and make a difference."

She gave them one last look before marching into the elevator. The car drive away. The elevator doors closed. Echo braced herself to re-enter Hell.

*

"Echo!"

Echo paused. She stopped bashing the grate holding the weapons at bay with a fire extinguisher and turned. The woman she had overheard, Sophie, was standing in the doorway.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, stepping in. Echo saw her reach for her Walkie Talkie.

"Don't touch that!" Echo ordered.

Sophie retracted her hand. "It's ok. I'm just gonna call Boyd. Remember Boyd, your Handler? You know him. You trust him..."

"I said don't touch it!" Echo warned as Sophie reached for her belt again.

"Okay! I'm a friend of his. Maybe I can help? Do you know what you need?"

Echo motioned to the weapons. "Give me the key."

Sophie "No one here wants to hurt you, Echo. I don't want to hurt you. I'm just gonna tell Boyd you're here and he'll come and take you for your treatment? All right?" Sophie unhooked the talkie and put it to her lips--

And Echo pulled the trigger of the fire extinguisher, blasting Sophie with the white powder. Sophie ploughed through and slammed the extinguisher against the grate, trying to prise it from Echo's grasp. She dug it into Echo's side and got a hold on it, lifting it and slamming it into Echo's hip. Echo went down onto a black chest and Sophie dived for the fallen talkie, but Echo half-fisted her in the back of the head, sending her against a table. Echo grabbed her collar, but Sophie flipped over the table, sending Echo sailing. She connected hard with the floor, but spotted Sophie sprawled a few metres away. They both scrambled to their feet and Sophie dived at her, but Echo turned her hip, leading Sophie into the wall. Sophie regained herself and punched, but Echo blocked once, twice, but Sophie kicked her in the gut and Echo stumbled backwards into a pillar. Sophie went for a right hook, but Echo ducked, forcing Sophie to connect with the wall. Echo tackled her and sent her into the table. She grabbed her from behind, but Sophie turned and sent an elbow to Echo's face, sending her to the ground. Echo spied the forgotten talkie on the floor: so did Sophie. Sophie darted, was gonna get there first, but Echo felt something against her elbow: the fire extinguisher. As Sophie reached the Walkie, Echo flung the extinguisher into Sophie's path. Sophie tripped, left the ground and collided chin first with the linoleum floor, unconscious.

Echo, panting, got up and went to her. She turned Sophie over: her face was bruised and gushing blood, possibly a fractured jaw. Echo grabbed a towel from the table and gave Sophie a hasty wipe of fingerprints, took the talkie and dug around in her pockets until she found a set of keys. She unlocked the grate and swung it open, grabbing the first handgun she saw. Giving Sophie a last glance, she ran for the way she had came.

 *

"You Jimmy?" Paul asked, approaching the counter of the dark, dingy electronics store.

"Good day to you too." said Jimmy, a weaselly thing in his late 20's, shrouded in darkness.

Paul placed the metal capsule on the counter. "Ever seen one of these?"

"Yeah." Jimmy said, without looking up. "Just now. On the counter in front of me."

"I really hope you don't wanna pretend you don't butter your bread this way, 'cause I'm not in a mood that's gonna care."

Jimmy shrugged. "I'm just trying to figure out what kind of business you think you got here."

Paul grabbed Jimmy by the collar and slammed his face into the counter, inches from the capsule. "Look at it. Look!"

"Any closer, and it'll come out of the back of my head." Jimmy protested, his voice muffled by the wood. Paul released him and, after a short glare, Jimmy put the capsule under a magnifying glass and began poking at it with a metal tool. "These don't even exist yet." he breathed.

"Meaning what?"

"Meaning if me and everyone else I know powwowed, we still wouldn't figure this out. It's gorgeous..."

Paul rolled his eyes. "Can I trace where it was transmitting?"

Jimmy nodded. "Absolutely. If you were E.T. It inverts the frequency into white noise. The only way you could find it once it hits the universe is to know exactly which speck of dust you're looking for and tune in on it."

Paul sighed. "What about scrambling it?"

Jimmy raised an eyebrow. "Someone put this on you, huh? You're gonna need an RF detector, SMART scrambler and frequency jammer. And to believe in God, 'cause I don't care how big you think you are: they're bigger."

*

"I can't remember which way to go until I see it, but... I'm pretty sure we're almost there." Sierra said.

"You've been saying that for 20 minutes while I've been circling." Victor said.

"I know, I'm so sorry..."

November looked out the window as they spoke. They passed by a corner shop, outside of which a mother was picking up a little girl from a stroller...

"Stop the car."

"What?" Sierra said, looking back into the car at her.

"I know where Katie is."

"You do?" Victor said, eyes on the road.

"That's wonderful!" Sierra beamed.

"Let me out here." November asked.

"Can I take you there after I deal with this guy Nolan?" Victor said. "She says we're almost there."

November shook her head. "I'm going alone."

"We can't just leave you here!" Sierra protested. "Until we figure things out, we should stick together, help each other!"

"I remember my life." November said.

"You're sure?"

"Yes."

Sierra sighed. "All right then. It's why we left. We decide for ourselves now."

Victor pulled over and November exited the car. "Good luck." Sierra said.

"You too." November replied.

"I hope its easy for you to go back home." Victor said. "Whatever it is."

November nodded and gave a small wave as they drove away.

*

"Well let's get a tail on her." Dominic ordered before hanging up and turning to Adelle. "November separated from the group."

Adelle just stared at the security feed. "Is that an Active leaving Doctor Saunders' office? Rewind it..." she grabbed the remote and rewound the footage. In Saunders' office, Echo was hastily scanning a file on the desk before she rushed out. "Oh, my God..."

"She was in the car." Dominic insisted.

"Apparently she's got one step ahead of us. I should've seem this coming. This is Caroline. Minus the memories, but it's her. And this is exactly what Caroline would do."

"Try and take us down by herself? You want me to call it in, round her up?"

Adelle shook her head. "No, there's no harm in letting this play out. Caroline never was very realistic. Apparently this is exactly what--"

At that moment, the lights flickered for a moment before going out completely. The feed went black.

"Damn!"

"Stop her?" Dominic suggested. 

"Immediately please." Adelle said as she sat at the desk.

Dominic put his Walkie Talkie to his lips as he left the room. "This is Mr. Dominic. We have a rogue Active. Check the power room first..."

*

"Topher." Adelle said. "Status."

Topher stared out at the Dollhouse main floor. The Actives walked around in pitch black: Topher held a glowstick close to his chest. "Hard to see." he said into the phone. "Some confusion."

"Are the Actives afraid of the dark?" Adelle asked.

"Who knows? They've never seen it. We always leave the lights on. Is this that power thing from yesterday, or..."

"Echo."

Topher nearly laughed. "Really? Did she cut the mainline or did she go for the--"

"Can you find her?" Adelle interrupted.

Topher shrugged. "I'm looking out the window, but am hindered by a lack of illumination."

"Just be ready when they bring her in."

"To do what ? No power, no chair, no wipey. I am, BTW..."

"Am what?"

"...afraid of the dark..." Topher heard a beeping. "Hello?"

Adelle had hung up. He tossed the phone onto the desk, turned towards the Imprint Room--

and jumped as a figure appeared in the shadows, holding a gun. He tried to get a look at them, gasping.

"...Echo...?"

Echo stepped forward, shook her head and pointed the gun at Topher's head. "Not anymore."

*

"We are experiencing a temporary interruption of power." the woman said over the intercom. "We assure you there is no need to worry. Everyone please gather calmly on the main floor."

"We should probably go downstairs like everybody else--" Topher suggested, inching for the door. He stopped when Echo jerked the gun. "I-is that blood on your hands?" he asked, squinting against the dim light. "It's kind of dark, I was hoping that it was--"

"Tell me what you do to people in here." Echo demanded. "They come in one way and when they leave, they're something else."

"Uh... it's complicated, but... I use a process of epifluorescent light--"

"Make it simple!"

"Simple, right!" Topher cleared his throat. "I put them in a chair and I program them."

"You can't program people." Echo snarled. "We're not friggin' computers!"

"Not that different. O-our brains are natural motherboards. Everything we think, feel, do, electrical impulses fired by the brain, I just hack the system!"

"What year is this?"

Topher hesitated. "2009."

Echo'e eyes widened slightly. "How long have I been here?"

"Uh... A little while..."

"A day? A month?"

"Kind of... more."

"My head: why I don't remember things, YOU'VE done it to me. You put me in this 'chair'."

"Uh, it's--"

"Where?" she asked.

"It's..." Topher motioned to the doors behind him, leading to the Imprint Room. Slightly ajar, Echo saw an oddly-shaped, metallic, silver chair.

Echo raised the gun. "Show. Don't tell."

*

"Priya?" Nolan Kinnard said as he opened the office door. He was a skinny man in his forties, brown hair showing grey, face getting lines. "I'm surprised. And confused, is this some kind of frequent buyer reward or--"

Sierra nodded to Victor. "It's him."

Victor pushed him roughly back into the office. He and Sierra followed.

"Whoa! Hey, what's going on? A little blackmail, maybe? I wouldn't put it past you people..."

"What you did to me, putting me in that hell," Sierra spat. "What did I ever do to you?"

"You said no." Nolan said simply. "And nobody ever says no to me."

"Because I wouldn't have sex with you, you took away my whole life?!"

"Do you have any idea how much trouble that was? I mean, all the strings I pulled, and the palms I greased, I could've bought Pierre Island. But... owning you is better than real estate--"

Victor right hooked Nolan across the jaw. He fell to the floor, holding his bloody lip, and laughed. "So, uh, you're not her Handler?" Nolan joked, getting to his feet.

"We got out of that freak show." Victor said. "She's never going back."

"Ah! I get it: you kids hopped the fence. Eh, doesn't matter. You don't exist anymore."

"I'm more of a person than you." Sierra snarled.

Nolan smiled. "Honey, you're programmed to give me and anyone else whatever we want, whenever we want it, which..." He stepped forward, but Victor held him at bay. "You do with pleasure. And sometimes, you even beg--"

Victor backhanded him in the temple. He went down again. Nolan brushed it off as he stood. "Okay. I can afford one hell of a security system, so... I have one, all right? Folks were on their way to grab you up before you hit the elevator, so: Go."

"We gotta go." Victor said.

Sierra stepped forward, eyes tearing up, and glared at Nolan. "You will see me again." she promised.

Nolan smiled. "Yes. And I look forward to it."

They gave him one last look before running from the room for the elevator, but the doors slid open and two burly men in suits appeared. Victor and Sierra turned on their heel and ran down the corridor before disappearing down the stairwell.

Nolan watched them go, smiling. "It'll be even better now..."

*

Echo stared at the Wedge in her hand, gun still focused on Topher. "You put this in and it makes us whatever you want?"

Topher shrugged. "Yes. I mean, you have to have power to do that, electricity, which we don't, so we can't. You should put that down..."

"This is seriously screwed! What the hell's wrong with you people?"

"We're good people!" Topher insisted. "Nice people! We help people become better people by giving them what they need. I don't usually do the sales pitch..."

"You murder people." Echo snarled. "You gut them and use their bodies as playthings! Who was I before you killed me?!" She stalked forward, gun raised, forcing Topher against the wall.

"No no no! You are not dead. Clearly! You... you volunteered..."

"You're lying!" she yelled, jamming the gun into his chest.

"Okay: you don't have your memories! I didn't give them to you, so you don't remember that!"

"In there." she said, indicating the chair. "Last time you put me in there, you made me what?"

Topher paused as the room flooded with light. He turned off the glowstick and threw it onto the floor. "You, as you were when you came here, only without memories, which you will get back when your contract is up, and you leave here and go and do whatever you want. Grow a belly, sew a quilt, spend that TRUCK of money you made having just the time of your life!"

Echo scoffed. "Yeah: this is fun!"

"Isn't it?"

"Why am I not like them?" she asked. "The rest down there, what they're like when you're not pimping them out?"

Topher shook his head slightly: he didn't know. "We're running a test on you."

"I remember a mountain." Echo told him. "Somewhere peaceful. Beautiful. I feel happy there. I want to go there. Is that real? Or is that part of your test?!"

Topher tilted his head. "Real."

"How come it's there if you didn't give it to me?" Echo pointed out.

"It's coming from you." Topher insisted. "It's what you need. I have your memories. You can have them back."

Echo began to drop the gun slowly. "You can do that?"

He nodded at the newly-arrived lights. "Totally."

"But I have to go in there." she said, motioning to the chair.

"Well, yeah, but..."

"Okay." she said.

Topher smiled. "Okay?"

Echo flung the gun back up and aimed it between Topher's eyes "You first."

*

"Who are they?" Sierra squealed as she and Victor bounded down the stairwell.

"Maybe Nolan's guys." Victor panted.

"What do they want?"

He shrugged. "Take us back, probably."

They both froze as a bullet whizzed by, barely missing Sierra's head.

"...Or kill us."

They ran down to the bottom floor and emerged into a car park. They flattened against the wall as a police car passed, sirens blazing. It didn't see them. They ran and hid behind the nearest car.

"That's the only way out." Sierra said, indicating the way the police car had gone. Over her shoulder, Victor spotted a utility closet.

"This way." he said, helping her to her feet. They ran in, shut the door and crouched down behind some forgotten boxes. They held their breaths as they heard the stairwell door open.

*

Echo stood behind the chair, Wedge in one hand, gun in the other, the latter focused on Topher as he was forced into the chair. "Hey, it looks like it fits!" she exclaimed as she jammed the Wedge into the slot.

"You can't imprint on top of a fully functional brain," Topher insisted. "It'll implode!"

"Oh, is that why you keep us so simple?" Echo mockingly.

"Yes, yes!"

"Does it hurt when you do it?" she spat.

"Pain in nothing more than nerves talking to your brain. Look, I'm just the science guy!"

Echo nodded. "Up here, looking down on everyone, playing God!"

Topher began hyperventilating. "I can help you with anything you want, you just have to tell me!"

"I want you to let them go." she said slowly.

Topher's eyes widened. "I-I don't have that kind of power..."

Echo pushed the biggest button and went around to the chair, which glowed blue. She jammed her gun in Topher's sternum, stopping him getting up as the chair reclined towards the blue light of the Wedge machine. "I'd pick the chair!" she yelled. "It's just a treatment!"

"No no no!" Topher begged as the chair neared the blue, preparing to turn his brain to mush. "I can't, I swear I can't!"

"I can."

Echo whirled around, gun in hand. Standing there was a prim and proper woman with raven hair, staring calmly. "Stop the imprint please." the woman said calmly in a higher-class British accent.

Echo turned on her heel and fired two rounds into the Imprint machine, which spluttered as sparks flew. Topher scampered out and to the safety of the corner. "My chair!" he yelled, gaping at it.

Echo turned to the woman again. "Did I just kill someone, or should I aim this at her head?"

"She doesn't really understand--" Topher began.

"You wanted to forget." the woman said.

"Who are you?" Echo demanded.

"Adelle DeWitt. I am responsible for this facility and everyone in it."

Echo glared. "Then you are one SICK BITCH!"

Adelle smiled slightly. "I eased your suffering."

"Is that what you think you're doing here?"

Adelle raised an eyebrow. "I'm certain of it."

"Taking away basic human rights, free will? My right to choose, feel, remember?"

"All relinquished by you to our care and discretion." Adelle said, stepping into the room.

Echo's gun didn't waver. "Tell me why I would."

"I can't. I would be breaking a promise I made to you. All I can say is that... you couldn't live with the consequences of your own actions. And you no longer have to."

"You're letting us all go." Echo ordered.

Adelle smiled. "You're free to leave. Who are you to decide for the others?"

"Something you should have been asking yourself." Echo replied.

"I made the same promise to them, to protect them from the unbearable truths that brought them here. I won't return those memories."

Echo turned and fired a round into the computer. She whipped back around and glared.

"So we agree. No one gets in the chair." 

*

November pushed open the gate of the school playground and stepped in. All around, children in uniforms danced around, throwing balls and playing. November watched them and smiled. She walked across to the other side and opened the next gate, that led to the place just beside the school.

As she walked, November passed headstones, some both old and worn, others new and crisp. She didn't keep track of how long she walked, but she knew where she was going. She reached the end of the graveyard and knelt down in front of the tiniest headstone of all:

BELOVED KATIE

IN GOD'S CARE

November ran her finger over the letters etched in stone and weeped, for she knew they could not be changed. 

That her daughter could not come back.

*

"They'll be back." Sierra said flatly, as the guards' footsteps faded.

"Maybe." was all Victor said.

"I'm sorry." she said. "This is all my fault. If you didn't want to help me, this wouldn't have happened--"

"Exactly." Victor said, taking her hand. "When we were in that place, when we were like what Mike turned into, what the rest of them were, empty... I remembered you."

"What...?"

Victor stared at a nearby crate. "It's like... I'm stuck inside my head somewhere, and some part of me sees and feels... It's like a bad dream I can't get out of. I... I can't talk, I can't move. I can't be stronger than what's taken me over, but I'm there."

Sierra felt her eyes tearing up. "That's awful." she said, voice breaking.

Victor looked at her again. "Somebody hurt you. Like Nolan. I could see it happening... Oh god, I could see his face, but I couldn't stop it."

"I trusted him." she said bitterly. Tears flowed freely down her face. "Why did I trust him?" she asked desperately.

"I'm sorry..."

"Wait." Sierra said, something occurring to her. "Wait, you wait for me, when we go to bed at night, to make sure I'm okay. Right?"

Victor nodded, smiling.

Sierra cried harder. "What have they done to us...?"

"Down this way!"

It came from outside: the guards were coming round again.

"I don't know which to hope for." Sierra said, breathing heavily. "Feels like dying either way."

"No." Victor held her by the shoulders, looked into her eyes. "We'll look for each other like we always do. And we'll finish this. We will."

They nodded and looked at each other for a moment. Then they kissed, and they never wanted it to end.

*

Adelle looks out through the shutters at the wandering Actives.

"You can't take them outside as they are." Adelle insisted. "They'll find the stimulation, the conflict, entirely overwhelming."

Echo approached. "They'll do just fine. Your unbearable truth, lady? You're not as important as you think you are." she raised the gun. "Next one goes where your hear should have been. Now show us out."

*

Echo kept the gun trained on Adelle's spine as the Actives walked down the tunnel. Sunlight was close. Doctor Saunders walked out too. Echo didn't want to leave her in that place. And now they were free, the lost souls had begun to trickle out. Slowly, Echo felt a smile creeping on.

As Echo reached the entrance, something felt wrong in the pit of her stomach. She stopped, metres from the way out. Then, gracefully, Echo fell to the ground.

Adelle turned and looked down at her pitifully. A dozen men in black suits appeared and led the people back inside, back to the prison. One took Echo in his arms. Freedom was so close...

Before she fell asleep, Echo saw the sun, but then it was replaced by darkness.

*

YESTERDAY

"A tide is rising. Until we learn how to turn it back, we pile up the sandbags together. Unless anyone here thinks they have a better idea."

Adelle turned away from the gathered crowd, itching to reach the bar.

"We give them what they need."

Adelle turned back around. "Doctor Saunders?"

Saunders looked around awkwardly at her co-workers as they stared at her. "Closure. If Actives have particularly poignant or reoccurring experiences, these can cause desires, emotional needs, or reactivate old ones that existed before they came here." she said, standing up. "Open loops. If they were able to close those loops, to get some sense of resolve..."

"You're recommending we allow them to take a self-guided journey." Adelle finished.

"Just the priority cases. Let the tide come in." She shrugged. "It's the only way to wash it back out."

*

Boyd stared out the window of Doctor Saunders' office at the catwalk above. He could faintly see the blue light of the chair: Echo was being wiped. "Has the tide turned?" he asked. "Are they better now?"

Claire leaned on her desk behind him. "Each Active's brain was programmed to release a sedative the moment they felt closure. They're all back with us, so I have to assume they've resolved the issues that caused them to glitch."

"November needed to grieve for her daughter, I understand that. And Sierra, she needed to confront the man who took away her power..."

"One of them, anyway." Claire said, smiling faintly. "As I recall, you confronted the other one..."

"And Echo. She wanted to free us all. What about Victor? He wasn't going back to a trauma or need from his past."

Claire gave a full smile at these words. "He had a more present need."

Boyd turned to her, realising. "He needed to get the girl."

Claire shrugged. "He's in love."

Boyd gave a small smile. "When Echo was leading them out... I would've like to have seen that. Even if it was all a game. Your game." Boyd said, turning to leave.

"Do you think I had fun?"

Claire's small voice made him stop: he had obviously sounded more venomous than intended. He looked at her. "I don't know you very well."

"You have to look after Echo. I have to look after all of them. She wasn't leading them to freedom, she was leading them to a world of terror and chaos that would've destroyed them."

Boyd shrugged. "She's not leading them anywhere anymore."

"You should be grateful." Claire said.

"Yeah? I'll work on that."

This time, Boyd did leave, and no words were said to stop him.

*

Echo and Sierra were the last to enter the Pod Room that night. Echo cast a glance to Sierra, who was smiling upon seeing Victor waiting for her from his bed. They all entered their pods without a sound. Echo lay down and fingered the bandage on her hand, realising her face was brushing against dried blood on her pillow. She didn't think anything of it. Victor, Sierra and November went to sleep almost immediately. But Echo was restless. Eventually, she closed her eyes and didn't open them.

As Echo became lost in darkness, she realised it would be a long time before it would be her turn to feel the sun on her face.

*

Paul clicked the memory card into place, finally reassembling his phone. He turned it over and hit the power button. A voice alerted him he had a new voice message. He hit the button, expecting Mellie or Loomis--

"Paul Ballard, this is... You don't know me, but I have a file, and your name is in it, and I think we've met. I know it sounds crazy, but we're here, somewhere underground. I'm trying to get everyone out, but if I can't, please... Please find us."

It dawned on Paul in seconds that he had just heard Caroline. She was alive. She was in the Dollhouse. Trapped, but fighting back.

She was lost, but she was not gone.

*
Donna: What happened? Do you want to talk about it? I have ice cream!

Harvey: It's 8.A.M.

Donna: Which is why God made Chunky Monkey. It has chocolate and bananas. Bananas are part of a healthy breakfast. And who cares about bananas? It has chocolate!...Okay, you caught me: I don't even eat the bananas.

--Donna and Harvey, "Suits".