Thanks for the Memories

April 16, 2016:

Caitlin enters the psychic induction device built to train her, and meets the ghosts of her past.

Caitlin's Brain

Characters

NPCs: Alex Fairchild, Billy Wintergreen

Mentions: Slade Wilson

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It had taken some doing for Alex to find Caitlin's mysterious 'benefactors'.

The delay had been purposeful. For one, certainly, Alex had not wanted his adopted sister to follow this latest chapter of her personal story as it unfolded. The exposition about her status as a clone had wounded her greivously, and it was clear that while Caitlin didn't blame Alex, he was guilty by association.

Needless to say, things were strained.

And the financial cost, unknown to Caitlin, was not insignificant. Even by Alex's standards. Delayed shipping. Transnational flights. Shell corporations. All monumental efforts even to a maestro gun-runner, moving parts and pieces from around the world.

All to produce the device sitting in the corner of Caitlin's storage unit. It was a hulking, ugly machine, a demented steampunk version of a salon's perming station. Blinking lights, cables tapping illegally into high-voltage wires, coolant directing up into holes cut in the ceiling— it'd taken Caitlin most of a week to reassemble the components, even with the instructions provided. She hadn't been sure it was meant for her until she'd assembled the chair and discovered it was intended for a curvy woman who could tip 300lbs on the scale.

Staring, Caitlin realized she was dithering on the edge of movement, clutching a spanner wrench so hard in her hands she was bending the tool-grade steel. Haltingly, she moved towards the seat, pulling the arm rest out, and settling into it. Oddly comfortable, oddly familiar— something atavistic working at her, dim memories of this very chair.
With a shudder, Caitlin pulled down the hypno-induction screen, leaving her field of vision nothing but glittering green and red lights, and hit the 'access' button.

It was his voice she heard first. Familiar as a favorite melody. Shuddering glee and apprenhension filled Caitlin's chest. She opened her eyes and cast about, finding herself in an area of endless white light, and facing a face she knew as well as her own. Rugged, a few scars, a short beard perpetually a half day from being properly filled out. Her father. Alex Fairchild.

"Daddy!" Caitlin shrieked, leaping from the virtual chair. She took two running steps- then stopped in the virtual field. Alex didn't respond. Not remotely. She twisted her fingers in a gesture of frustrated contrition. His voice went on, a familiar drone lacking any paternal affection.

"The M-249 light machine gun is fabricated in Belgium. Chambered in 5.56mm NATO. Fires from an open bolt and is air cooled…"

"Hello, Caitie."

Caitlin spun around at the new voice, off to the side, and covered her mouth at the fellow standing there. William Wintergreen. Alex Peabody's father. Her uncle. Father? It was suddenly so unclear. But there he was, dapper as ever— perfectly poised. A bit younger than she remembered. But… then again, there are some age lines around his eyes she'd never had noticed as a child. It was a strange thing.

Still. Family. Caitlin hit him with a hug that would probably have killed the fellow if he were still alive.

"Uncle Billy, I'm so confused," she sobbed, against his unruffled, unmoved virtual avatar. It didn't quite feel real. But she needed it to. So it does. "Why won't daddy talk to me? What is this machine? Is that Slade guy— is he telling me the truth?"

A comforting hand touched her shoulder, and she looked up at Billy, abruptly just a little tousle-headed girl again in her mind. Therefore, she was one, here, in this virtual environment.

"I'm not your Uncle Billy," the dapper fellow said, in a reassuring tone. "Not really. He's been dead for some time by now, I think. I'm… I suppose you'd call me a ghost in the shell." He looked from Caitlin to Alex, then nodded at the fellow still droning on about machine guns. "Come. Let's sit somewhere familiar."

The world shimmered around her vision and turned into a place Caitlin thought she knew intimately— the old farmhouse living room, where she'd lived out her days as a child. At the time, it had seem so real, the memories so vivid. Now, fully aware, Caitlin spotted all the little flaws and incongruities in the virtual environment. Old photos of blurry-faced strangers. Windows where the outdoors was limited to a narrow range of vision in clearly static summertime. Hallways that led to… nowhere. Able to walk and examine the room in detail, Catilin was overwhelmed by how… cheap it all seemed.

"I don't understand, Uncle Billy," Caitlin whined, staring at the dull, endlessly repeating wallpaper. Alex was still in the room, but mercifully silent— she refused to look at him. "It's not you, it's not Daddy… what's happening here?"

"I'm afraid I can't be much help, Caitlin," Billy said, quite calmly. "I'm not precisely alive any more. This is an echo— an overlay, if you will. Alex Fairchild provided the voice and the image, courtesy of a few decades of these recorded virtual-training sessions he provided."

"Overlay?" Caitlin said, weakly.

"Yes. When I found you, you were undergoing psychic induction training. High-technology audiotapes, if you like. Simulations, training montages, history lessons, and so on. You were still in your test tube at the time." Caitlin winced, looking away, but Billy pressed on. "I contacted some friends who helped develop the technology and we worked out a solution to give you… something closer to a childhood while you finished maturing after we found you. Myself, and Slade, and your father."

"My memories," Caitlin whispered.

"Indeed. We formed a digital composite. Myself, Alex, and this house," Billy confirms. Standing, he moved next to Alex, and the images started to blur and overlap. Caitlin blinked, and then there was her father— just as he remembered.

"Daddy!" she cried, and flung herself into his arms.

"Caitlin, it's not—"

"I know. Shut up," she sniffled, not hiding the tears streaking her cheeks. "Just… just let me have this. Just for a moment."

A hand came up to pat Caitlin's hair, and Billy/Alex looked down at her affectionately. "Alex really did love you, you know. He bullied Slade into helping him rescue you. He would have torn the world apart to get you out of that facility."

"Facility?" Caitlin whispered. She looked up at Alex/Billy.

"Yes," the avatar confirmed. "It's located in an abandoned part of Iowa, near a town called Ackworth. A few miles north by northeast." A map appeared in Caitlin's eye, supplying her with the specific coordinates. "It's long since abandoned, though. We … destroyed it fairly thoroughly, rescuing you."

"Oh."

"Caitlin." Heavy hands rested on Caitlin's shoulders, the earnest face of her father speaking with Billy's inflections. "I know I'm not your father, but I want you to know I always thought of you as my daughter. Every time I plugged into this infernal machine, I tried to think— 'what would Alex want?' and emulate him. I tried to give you the father you deserved. He was the best of us- of all of us— and he's one of the few men Slade respected. Even liked. He didn't want this for you. But he didn't want you to be a slave to a machine, or a weapon in the hands of Stormwatch."

Caitlin sniffled and nodded, rubbing her face, then smiled weakly up at the avatar. "Okay. Thanks… Uncle Billy."

The avatar smiled and wavered, falling apart into motes of light. When the light faded, Billy Wintergreen stood in Alex's place. "For what it's worth, your father's still in here as a training tool. You've already picked up a lot of it but considering who's daughter you are, it wouldn't hurt to go back through. It'd be a way to know him. He was.. well. He was the finest soldier I ever met. I'm … well, I'm not really here, unfortunately, but at least I'm someone to talk to if you're terribly bored. But I'd hop by now you'd made some friends of your own."

"I have, Uncle Billy," Caitlin assures the dapper fellow, with an eyeroll and a smile.

"That's a good gel. You look good, Caitie. Just like your dad." Billy squeezes Caitlin's shoulder. "I know if I were still here, I'd be very proud of you. And so would he." He nods at Alex's avatar, then with a smile, disappears in a shimmer of light.

"Okay, dad," Caitlin said, turning to face Alex. "Tell me… about being a spy."

"Spycraft. Espionage 101," Alex started, in that same dull monotone. "When preparing for essential infiltration…"

Caitlin focused on her father's figure, listening with half an ear as a plan started to form in the back of her mind.

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