2010-02-20: Audibility

Starring:

Max_V4icon.png Erin_V4icon.png

Date: February 20, 2010

Summary:

The Protocol want answers. Erin's reluctant to give them up… But her negotiation skills are top-notch!


"Audibility"

Erin's Cell - Building 27

Thusfar, Erin has stubbornly refused to give away anything she knows. What she can do, names of other Evolved she knows and where to find them - especially the names of people like Caleb, who are family. She's also refused to settle down at all, which means she's still alone in a cell instead of with the prisoners in the barracks. Erin doesn't get a collar. She's hooked up to an IV, which provides nourishment, sedative, as well as the solution which keeps her power in check.

The Protocol knows that she can create viruses. Potentially powerful ones. However, like anyone questioned, the true extent of that power is a mystery. How often can she use it? Could it, perhaps, create an extensive, spreading plague? That's stuff that's only been speculated upon, and the true answers lie with the person who can use the ability.

Or maybe they're just hoping to wear her down until she cooperates. This one has been particularly uncooperative.

She's still in the same place in the empty cell, sitting in an uncomfortable chair with her arms and legs shackled. She's tried to maintain at least a little bit of good humor to keep her sanity, but it's harder and harder to do so when her temper is just about to explode at the slightest provocation. She doesn't want to be here - duh - but she wants to make sure that everyone here doesn't want to be around her.

Erin is not a good singer. She's using that to bother the people who have to listen to her. Despite no audio feed being relayed through the cell to the grunts watching the cameras, she's been damned loud. The hoarseness in her voice from the cold she's acquired is grating. After growing tired of the 'bottles of beer' song, she's switched to another.

She's been singing 'The Song that Never Ends' for four hours now.

—-

Max shuffles the stack of papers in his hands and scans a sheet as he strides down the hall with two uniformed guards in tow. When they reach the door to Erin's cell, one of the guards opens it and holds it for Max. The tall scientist passes off his paperwork and strides through the entryway. He's just had a fresh shave, trim, and haircut, once again returning his hair and beard to a neat, severe state. His suit is freshly pressed as well. It's a sedate, dark gray affair with a matching tie and a crisp white shirt. His shoes and gloves are made from supple black leather. He's smiling, but there is no warmth or humor in the expression.

He straightens his tie and assumes the military 'at ease' posture: legs shoulder width apart, hands loosely clasped at the small of his back. His eyes roam over Erin with clinical thoroughness. He waits for her singing to cease, then a few more seconds for good measure. "Are you ready to cooperate, Ms. McCarty?" he asks, his voice quiet and even.

—-

Oh, hey, company! When Max walks in, the singing does, indeed, stop. Erin doesn't really have the inclination to smile, so she just glares. It's an expression she can fit a lot of emotion into, like hate; anger; determination; and certainly a lack of cooperation.

"Are you? I'm not tired yet. I'll keep singing for hours." She's exhausted, which is something she just can't hide. Not only is she having a decent sedative pumped into her, but the dark circles under her eyes betray the fact that she really is tired. She's slept now and again to recharge, but only when she's reached her limit.

It looks like she's been uncooperative with at least one other, too. There's a bandage across a small gash just above her eyebrow. Don't ever let Cody Baker headbutt you. It hurts. "'cuz I think you're just here 'cuz your ears are bleedin'." She tugs on the chain, holding up her arm as much as she can. "Just let me go. I promise I'll stop, if you do."

—-

"Mhmm," Max replies non-committally. "I'm afraid I can't oblige. I still need you to answer my questions. So we'll see how you feel in… Say… Sixteen hours." His smile widens a fraction as he leans forward and turns one of the valves on Erin's IV unit, cutting her off from the sedatives and nutrients, but not the suppressing solution. "Have a good night, Ms. McCarty."

Without another word, he turns and leaves the room. The door is closed behind him by one of the guards. "Turn on the lights and noise," Max says over his shoulder, addressing them both as he walks away. "And don't let her sleep. I'll be back for her tomorrow."

One of the men rests a hand on the control panel next to the door. He hesitates for a few seconds and then pushes two buttons in quick succession. In response, Erin's cell is filled with 130 decibels of screaming, wailing noise and a painfully bright light that strobes erratically. It goes on and on. And on.

And on.

—-

At first, it's almost easy to ignore. Then, a few hours later, the sedatives fade from her system, and the noise becomes really irritating.

Patterns begin to show up in it. She recognises certain squeals and wails that she's sure she's heard before, mixed in with the mechanical sound - faint, though after a half dozen hours, she can hear it all too clearly - of the equipment used to mix the sounds together in the first place.

She can close her eyes, but the light is still there. Sleeping is really not much of an issue, because the noise is too piercing to ignore. Ten hours in, and she's starting to lose track of where she is in space - all she can hear is the repeated screaming, and all she can see is the flashing lights. It's almost as if she's weightless, except for the hard, painful contact she has with the shackles and the chair.

Most people would crack. Erin would like to. She refuses to cry, refuses to struggle, refuses to let this get to her, even if she knows it's going to. Twelve hours in, and she starts having a small panic attack every time the sound re-loops. Thirteen, and she blacks out for several long minutes in the throes of a photosensitive seizure. Fourteen, she cries - finally. It's not so much out of desperation, because she's stubbornly refusing to allow that to happen, but out of determination. It can't go on too much longer, right? Despite the fact that she really has no sense of time passing, she knows it has to end eventually. Sixteen hours isn't forever! and that's what gives her hope.

Fifteen hours in, and the sound has finally gotten to her. It's so ingrained into her brain now that she's starting to shut it off. Where that might feel better - the screaming and wailing is getting distant - it means that her body is starting to compensate for the stress. That's never good.

—-

15:58… 15:59… 16:00…

Max looks up from his watch. Amiga, naturally. He's also wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses that look expensive. He fits a set of plug into his ears, works his jaw to acclimate himself, then signals the guard with a subtle twitch of his fingers. One of them opens the door and Max steps inside. It's very quickly closed behind him to wall in the light and noise.

He doesn't seem bothered by the barrage of sensory input. Outwardly, anyway. It's hard to tell through those sunglasses. He assumes the same stance: feet shoulder width apart and hands clasped behind his back. And he waits. And he stares. And he doesn't move.

At all.

—-

It's probably good that Max has earplugs in. Not that he'd be able to hear over the cacaphony of noise, but Erin's screaming every name in the book at him. The way she sees it, she can either beg for him to turn the noise off - and Erin doesn't beg - or she can use her time more wisely. Insulting someone's mother repeatedly while chained to a chair is pretty efficient, right?

After awhile, even that stops, though. She's too tired, and the cold is starting to completely overtake her system. With no way to cure herself or fight it, she sinks into a coughing fit, almost appearing to forget that there's anyone else at all in the room with her.

—-

One gloved hand is lifted. The guards can see it on the CCTV unit. They cut off the light and noise.

Max takes his time removing his earplugs and his sunglasses. When everything is tucked into his suit pockets (a new suit, this one black and very well tailored), he smiles congenially at Erin. "Hello again, Ms. McCarty. I trust you had a pleasant night?"

Same tone. Same stance. These things remain static, as always.

—-

The lack of noise is almost as bad as the noise itself. Erin finds it hard to focus without the flashing lights now, and feels… strangely heavy. Grounded, as her sense of space returns. For awhile, all she can do is stare, eyes blank, and expression relaxed; the only movement she makes is involuntary - shaking, the occasional jerking, and the cough that just won't relent.

It takes a fairly long span of time for her to reconnect with the world enough so that she can speak.

Her eyes abruptly meet Max's.

"Hha, ha. Ha… Heh Hey, gorgeous. Couldn't stay away, huh?" Bravado. Clearly, Max's methods have gotten to her, though, with the way she's trembling. The chains make an incessant jingle against the floor with the minute movements.

Whenever Erin speaks, her voice is nearly gone. "If you wanted an autograph, you could have just said so in the first place."

—-

Erin is inspected from head to toe once again. There's no shame, no hesitation. Max is brisk and businesslike. He meets her gaze unflinchingly. "If you answer my questions, I'll start your nutrients and have someone bring you a cup of ice chips. If you refuse, I will leave. I will turn on the lights and the sirens again. I will turn them up by 250,000 candela and 20 decibels, respectively. And I will not come back for another twenty hours."

He doesn't ask for her cooperation again. The question is implied. While he waits, he stares. And he smiles that same bland, benign, insincere smile.

—-

She's not sure she can take another round of the noise, especially not if it's that long Sure, it's only four more hours than last time, but twenty seems like a much bigger number.

Just say yes. Just answer his questions. Get it over with. Save your sanity and damn your pride. That would be the worst part of all of this. Erin's just too proud to let herself be beaten if she has any say. Of course, she's not trained in dealing with torture, and she logically knows that if the sound and lights return, she might never see the world the same way again. It's already different to her.

Weighing her options and without any fanfare or pleading for relief, she settles back in the chair. She'll decide if she wants to answer the questions after they're asked, not promising that she'll tell them anything they want to know if they please leave her in peace.

"I can't read your mind. You're gonna have to ask."

—-

Start with something about the subject. Something small. Would-be heroes are inherently more likely to give up themselves than they are to give up others. And so Max will work Erin. Slowly.

"Tell me more about your power," he requests, his voice still calm and friendly despite the circumstances. "I know you can create virulent organisms. What are your limitations? Answer this one question for me and you'll get your ice chips."

—-

What? Seriously? "You coulda asked me that before you turned the god-damned sound on," she 'screams.' Or, rather, she would scream it if her voice would allow her to. All that for nothing! Would she have told Max before? Possibly. More likely, she would have told him to go to hell.

It does occur to her that they want to use her as a weapon, and learning more about her power is dangerous. The more they know, the more they can exploit it. But seriously, why wouldn't she just say? It's not as if they wouldn't eventually find out anyway. With all the needles they've been poking her with, she's sure there's a test out there to determine exactly what she can do.

And besides, she rationalises, if they know how to use it, they'll be more careful.

Plus… If her dream is any indication, she'll be dead before they can.

The smile Erin offers is serene. Death isn't a comforting thought, no, but at least she can safely answer this question without worry. "I have to know what a virus looks like to make it. I've studied them. I have books, I know what they're look like, what they're made of." She's not saying too much, but it's decent information. There's nothing she can't create. "And I can destroy them. Any of them. Even ones I didn't create. It's like I can feel them." She's the reason the virus that effected Evolved was eradicated, even if she didn't cure everyone on her own.

—-

Max raises his hand again. One of the guards opens the door and passes in a plastic cup. Max takes it and holds it up in front of Erin's mouth. As promised, it's full of partly melted ice chips. A small thing, this demonstration that good behavior will be met with the promised reward.

After too short a time, the cup is withdrawn. "I will reward you for good behavior with small things. Turning on your nutrients. Allowing your face to be washed. Permitting you to sleep for an hour. The punishment for refusal will remain the same. Twenty hours. Now. Here's another easy one. Answer, and I'll turn your IV on." He pauses to lick briefly at his lips. "Are you able to create unique organisms? Ones tailored to a specific purpose?"

—-

Erin glances at the IV. She needs something nutricious desperately. In the sixteen hours she was alone in here with nothing, she just got sicker and sicker. The ice is so welcome that she takes as much as she possibly can, but then it's gone, and she's left with a fever that's barely been eased.

The next question is… difficult. She thinks she can, but she doesn't want to answer. Honestly, she's almost positive she can make a completely new virus that can do what she want it to do, but again, they could use that to create something so horrible that it could destroy everything. Still, Erin gets the feeling that this guy would know when she's telling an outright lie.

"Yes," she responds. There's a long pause, as she hesitates to say anymore. But there is more. Fearful of waiting too long, shaking almost to the point of initiating another panic attack, she goes on. "Not entirely. But enough so that if you've had something before - chicken pox, polio, scarlet fever, whatever - I can change it so that the immune system won't recognise it. I could infect someone again."

Erin's an actress. She literally lies for a living. It'll sound reasonable, convincing at the very least. To add some credence to her words, she allows herself to beg, very quietly… "Please. Please turn on the IV." It's almost a whisper.

—-

Max pauses to consider Erin's response. Interesting. His only outward display of emotion is a slight raising of his eyebrows. As promised, he turns the nutrient drip back on. He also offers her another brief sip from the cup before pulling it away. One gloved hand reaches out to take Erin's chin and hold her still. Max's fingers are hard and unyielding beneath the leather. He leans close, his face no more than a foot away from hers. His eyes are piercing and merciless. "Think very carefully before you answer this next question," he rumbles. "If I protect your family from my organization, will you work with me to create a set of viruses?"

—-

At least this guy's as good as his word, which means that if he says he'll turn the noise back on, he will. That scares her. Again, she glances over to the nutrient drip, watching as the combination of sugars starts meandering its way back into her blood stream. It's not enough.

She knows she's going to die anyway. Erin slouches as much as the chains allow, sighing. Where's the threshhold of her tolerance for this? She could lie, say she'll work with this guy to create a supervirus which no one will be able to survive. That's what they want from her, isn't it? That's why she's here. To sell her to someone who will turn her into a terrorist. All she has to do is say 'yes.'

Stretch it out. "You didn't offer me a reward. Seriously, I don't even talk to my family. What would I need to save them for?"

She cares about them all. But it's true; that could be corroborated with anyone in her family, so it's not a lie.

—-

Max pauses and cocks his head to the side thoughtfully. Normally he doesn't negotiate. At all. He senses this is time for an exception.

"In addition, I won't ask you to give up any information or offer any other assistance of any kind. You will help me in the lab. That is all. Don't test my patience, Ms. McCarty, unless you fancy having twenty hours to reconsider." Max releases Erin's face and straightens. He immediately resumes his previous stance.

—-

Max is wise. Erin is smart. When the two collide, that's where you get negotiation.

She's also going to take what he's just said literally, in her own mind. It makes saying 'yes' a lot easier if he's asked her to assist her in the lab, and she agrees with the understanding that she'll be lighting fires and fetching petri dishes, or whatever the hell he does. That last little bit said nothing about creating viruses.

She knows that's what he means. But Erin will be keeping her conscience clear. And saying yes… Well. It gets him off her back. For now. And.

"Well, it gets me out of here," she says, looking up at him as he stands. "I think you're a fucking bastard, just for the record. I mean, if all this is just you trying to get a good lay, you can forget that. I only do that with people I like. And, no collars, no solution, nothing. You give me your trust, and I'll … help you in the 'lab,' Doctor Horrible."

—-

"No solution," Max agrees. "But you'll have to accept a collar before you'll be let out of this room. I'll let you think it over. Without any… extra incentive from the light and noise generators. I don't think you'll get a better offer." As he speaks, he lifts the cup for Erin and lets her sip one more time. Then, still smiling that unsavory smile, he turns and lets himself out of the room.

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