2007-09-29: Under Rug Swept



Guest Starring: Agent Murphy

Summary: The Company brings in their retrocog to shine some light on exactly what happened on Level Five. She uncovers a conspiracy.

Date It Happened: September 29, 2007

Chapter Two


Under Rug Swept

Level Five

The Company is in a state of disarray, with some agents in outright panic. Mara Damaris? Well, she's enjoying ice cream outside of the Kirby Plaza branch of the secretive company, nestled surreptitiously against against the side of the building. Even babysitters-slash-bodyguards need breaks once in a while. She'll bring a pint back for Mohinder and Molly, honest! Just… later.

The man who comes hurrying up to Mara is a young, lanky thing, with clothes that don't quite fit and an anxious look on his face. "Agent Damaris?" He almost doesn't sound sure of himself, as if he isn't quite convinced that this is the woman he's looking for. "Murphy." Sticking a hand out to shake her hand, the young agent looks like an eager, nervous puppy.

'Agent' is not a title Mara gets addressed as much. Spoon stuck in her mouth, she shakes Murphy's hand and then retrieves the utensil to speak. "You've got the right woman. What can I do for you?" Her expression is somewhat skeptical, but she tries to stay pleasant enough.

Flashing her a swift smile, though it's fraught with uncertainty, Murphy casts a glance back over his shoulder. "Assignment," he states quickly, rocking on his heels as he turns back to Mara. "We're needed down at the Hartsdale facility. Bennet's orders. There's a car waiting for us around back."

"Bennet? What about the Walker System?" she asks, because Mara doesn't admit that she's watching over a little girl to anybody who isn't on a need-to-know basis. She doesn't know whether or not this kid needs to know. "All right. I'll call my partner on the way there." The remainder of the ice cream is tossed in the rubbish bin as she heads for the back and the waiting vehicle.

Hurrying to keep up with his new partner, Murphy straightens his jacket and strolls alongside Mara. "Someone was sent to relieve you until you get back. We shouldn't be too long. Here," he says, pulling something out of his jacket and handing it to Mara: an envelope, sealed, bearing Noah Bennet's signature over the seal. "It's for validation purposes. Protocol, you know. The car's just over there." He motions to an unmarked vehicle, waiting with a driver already inside, then jogs to be the first to reach it. Young and awkward as he may be, he pulls open the side door and motions for her to step in.

Mara climbs into the waiting car, buckling in before she pulls her cell phone from her pocket to press speed dial 6. "Suresh. I've been reassigned. I'll be in touch." She flips the phone closed before her partner can ask any questions. Then, she opens the envelope, tipping it toward herself and away from the prying eyes of the other agent.

For his part, Murphy is the very picture of obedience and standard operating procedure. Once in his own seat, he buckles his belt and keeps his eyes forward, allowing Mara to read over the assignment privately. It doesn't matter that he already knows what their assignment is, which might explain how jumpy he is. The driver heads off, driving as quickly as he can and still maintain safety, and closes the privacy partition between their seats and the front of the car. "Preliminary reports are bad," Murphy explains, sounding conflicted about whether he ought to be intrigued or solemn. "Level 5's been secured. We're supposed to go in and make sense of what happened down there."

"We?" Mara peers curiously to the other agent. "Or are you just there to catch me when I fall? I'm assuming if you've been assigned to me, that means you don't have an ability. They weren't stupid to put two cogs in a car together, were they? No. Can't be, if this is Bennet's job."

"No ability," Murphy confirms, shaking his head. That doesn't quite explain what a scrawny man like him is doing going down into the belly of the beast in quite this way, however. After a moment of silence, he explains, "I'm not like you. I have run-of-the-mill genetics. My memory is as close to eidetic as you can get without venturing into superhuman, though. I'm going with you to record."

"I see. So you're going to listen to every word I babble as I watch whatever happened down there play out in front of me. Or as I watch what will happen there." Mara nods slowly. "Makes sense." She turns to regard Murphy and grins. "What did you say when they told you they were partnering you with the crazy Psychometer?"

Returning Mara's glance with a smile, Murphy offers a helpless, noncommittal shrug in reply. "With all due respect, agent, we're going down to Level 5," he says, his tone almost apologetic. "Crazy is relative. You and I will be the sanest people down there, by far." He pauses then, just for a second, and adds: "I don't really listen to office gossip."

"You should," Mara turns away to watch out the window as they speed toward Hartsdale. "There's truth to every rumour. You can learn a lot by paying attention to office gossip."

Considering her words for a moment, Murphy watches her with a curious expression, gauging her sincerity. "Maybe so," he concedes, nodding once. "Maybe so. Now, about the Hartsdale facility. Initial reports…"

The remainder of the ride to Hartsdale is filled with details about the attack on the facility, at least as much as is currently known. In addition to extensive damage and three inmates escaping, there are questions left unanswered and employees missing in action.

When they arrive at the Hartsdale building, Company-supplied crews are busy performing search and rescue duties. None of them acknowledge Mara or Murphy, truth be told. The building is still standing, and one can presume they wouldn't be allowed inside if there were questions about its integrity. Leading them to a side door, Murphy says, "We'll take the stairs down to Level 5. We shouldn't be seeing any inmates. Only one wing was attacked; the rest are locked down."

Mara listens to the reports with keen interest. Every bit she knows in advance will better prepare her for what she sees. Once inside the building, she's got her hands stuffed in her pockets. She's not about to touch anything right away. Not until they get down the stairs and to their destination. But the further they descend the staircase, the more unsettled the woman becomes. "I can feel it. Terrible things happened down here. It's almost suffocating."

The further they descend towards Level 5, the more the stairwell reflects what must have happened below. There are stains on the floor and walls, though a cleaning crew has clearly done their best to hide them. On the last set of stairs before the landing at Level 5, the railing is mangled and ruined by corrosion of some kind, and there's an acidic scent in the air, mingled with industrial cleaner. It's an unpleasant experience even for Murphy, who wrinkles his nose at the smell. "It's only going to get worse," he says dismally, swiping a keycard and punching in a code at the security door. He holds the door open, ushering her inside.

"I'm so going to kick Bennet in the shin for this. At least." Tucked safely away inside the pockets of her blazer, Mara's fingers tremble. She doesn't want to do this. She knows she has to do this. "This is serious shit if they've left us down here by ourselves." She presses her lips together, attempting to hide her apprehensive expression behind curiosity. "You're young. Either you're somebody important's kid, nephew, cousin, what-have-you, or you're expendable. Which is it?"

Finally, Mara elicits a smirk from the young man, and Murphy ducks his head out of embarrassment when his composure falters. "Nephew," he confirms with a curt nod, his tone dismissive. "They sent some agents down to secure the wing earlier today. The others are locked down and guarded. We're only alone so that no one gets in our way." Besides, everything is… eerily quiet. "There's no one left in this wing."

"Nephew." Mara nods slowly. All right, Damaris? Now what? You've exhausted every possible avenue to delay this process. "When this is over, I demand orange juice. Same principle as to the aftermath of giving blood." She slides her hands out of her pockets and flexes her fingers slowly. "Where would you like me to start?"

"Orange juice, sure thing." Shifting his weight anxiously between his feet, Murphy watches the detective carefully, waiting for… well, he's not even sure what he's waiting for. He's just pretty sure he'll know it when he sees it. "I think they want you to start here. Find out who went inside, if you can." Taking on an apologetic tone, he adds, "I don't really know how this works or how much you can see. There's some confusion about who went in and who came out."

"All right. Come over here and put your hands on my shoulders." Mara reaches out toward the wall near the door. "Jesus Christ. You are so damn skinny. Don't drop me, okay? I don't want to explain to Bennet how I got a concussion. And you don't want me explaining it to him, either. Because he isn't going to care whose nephew you are." Once she's sure he's going to catch her, she reaches out for the wall. She's not on the drugs Mohinder developed for her, so passing out is inevitable. "God," she murmurs with her fingers hovering just over the surface, "it makes my skin crawl. This isn't going to be good." With a deep breath, she closes her eyes and presses her hand down.

Closing the distance between them, Murphy reaches out to dutifully do as he's told, bracing himself in case she falls. "I'm stronger than I look," he insists, with very little conviction in his tone. He doesn't even try to refute the threats about what might happen should he drop her. When Mara reaches out for the wall, the younger agent draws in a sharp breath, steeling himself.

Sure enough, as soon as the Psychometer makes contact with the wall, she tips back, held up only by Murphy's steadying arms. Beneath heavy lids, her eyes dart back and forth as she watches the past play out. It's ten minutes before she jolts upright with a gasp. "Oh my God. Gray." She pulls herself free from Murphy and hurries deeper into the halls of Level Five. "He was here. He stood right here." She tilts her head and stares at the wall. "And she was here." Slowly, she reaches out. There's a keen light to her eyes. She's hot on the trail and she wants to know the story. She needs to know what happened here. "What did you do, Gabriel?" With a gasp, she crumples against the wall, sliding down to the floor - far too eager to wait for young Murphy to keep up.

As soon as Mara pulls away, the younger agent is scurrying after her. He doesn't dare call out her name or speak at all, lest he interrupt her at work. Canting his head to one side, Murphy listens intently to every word the woman says, watching her carefully as she progresses through the halls.

The scene as it plays out for Mara is tragic. One by one, each of Elle's colleagues flee Level 5, leaving her outnumbered four to one. In the instant where Elle is thrown against the wall, Mara might see, if she looks close, genuine terror register on the woman's face.

Fast forward. The lifeless body of Elle Bishop is lying face-down on the concrete floor, her hair a mess of matted blood. Part of her skull is missing, discarded far from her body. Level 5 is deserted, Sylar the last of the murderers to leave, and every cell is empty. Slowly, in this lonely scene, something begins to change in Elle's features.

Slumped against the wall and still unconscious, Mara starts screaming. It isn't just fear, it's pain and agony. A few brief screams and she's quiet again. Definitely not peaceful, but not quite troubled either. She looks… well, about as confused as one can look while they're dreaming, with their eyes closed.

Murphy simply does not know what to do in this situation. It's apparent that she's alive, breathing, conscious somewhere, on some plane - because dead people don't scream the way she just did. His brow knitted in a frown, he approaches Mara slowly, tentatively. As he moves to check her pulse, his toe nudges one of her hands until her fingers brush against a spot of blood on the floor.

Suddenly, Mara is taken to another place. Daylight, some sunny room of a large house out in the country. It's peaceful here; quiet, serene, the antithesis of Level 5. Glass doors and bay windows look out onto a spring landscape, two large magnolia trees in full bloom. A dark-haired woman, in her late fifties at least, sits at a piano, her fingers barely brushing the keys. Into the room steps Bob Bishop, followed by a small blonde in business attire. The blonde looks to be at least forty-five, and it's clear from the roots that her hair has long-since turned grey. The colour is artificial.

Snippets of conversation: protect, illusion, Sylar, safety, Elle.

Images flash by. The dark-haired woman with her hands over the blonde, eyes closed. Changes rippling over the blonde's form, beginning at the top of her skull and traveling down. The blonde, transformed, twenty years younger and a doppelganger for Elle Bishop. Finally, a tall, dark-skinned man approaching the dark-haired woman from behind, laying a hand on her shoulder as Bob and the new Elle look on.

Everything goes black. There's nothing more to see.

As she did when she came out of the last vision, Mara starts. Suddenly awake, she blinks in confusion at her surroundings.

Welcome to Level Five, Damaris. Think, woman. What you just saw was probably not what anyone expected you to see. And that kid is going to want to know what you just saw. "It happened here," Mara says numbly. "He threw her up against the wall and he… he did what he does. She's dead." It's not a lie. She doesn't say who is or isn't dead. "I need to report to Bennet."

With so many agents tied up with injuries or other assignments, it's really a shame they had to send Murphy. There isn't anything wrong with Murphy, per se, and his memory is every bit as good as he suggested. It's just that, well, you can only remember things you noticed on some level. And there is no level of Murphy's mind that catches so much as a hint that Mara might be holding back on him. Then again, that could be precisely the reason he was sent.

So, like the go-getter pup that he is, he reaches down to help Mara up from the floor. "We'll get you back to Kirby Plaza," he says, sounding appropriately concerned without going beyond professionalism. "I'll call the car and ask for some orange juice." Which, as he leads the way back out of Level 5, to the stairwell, is exactly what he does. He takes the radio at his side and speaks into it, requesting orange juice and cookies (how sweet of him) to their car. Unnecessarily, he says, "You were great."

"Of course I was," Mara replies with a tired smile. Climbing the stairs is a considerably slower process than coming down, and not for the obvious reasons. She's exhausted and it shows. "Bennet doesn't recruit failures." She settles herself into the car and lasts long enough to drink her juice before she's asleep with her head against the window.

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