Vertical and raised- as though someone had not only slid a scalpel down the back of her neck but then sutured it back up again- badly, it shone in the early light streaming through the window of their bedroom. Carefully, quietly, so as not to wake her, he leaned close, studying it, lightly trailing a finger along its length.
Definitely an old scar, but... where had it come from?
Zane racked his brain, trying to remember if there had been any form of neck surgery listed in Jo's medical records; it wouldn't be surprising- she had done three tours before being honorably discharged, and from what she'd been willing to divulge, she'd arrived back stateside in pretty bad shape. She shifted onto her back in her sleep, snuggling into his chest, and he lost sight of the scar. With a sigh, he slipped out of bed, changing into a pair of sweats, running shoes and a tank before returning to the bed and kissing her softly. "I'll be back, Jojo."
He returned to find her up and dressed for work, sipping coffee at the breakfast bar that separated the kitchen from the living room. She was sitting at the breakfast bar working on something on her tablet. She muttered under her breath, something that caught him off guard, and he stopped, coming back down the stairs to watch her. "Define perverse instantiation-"
He opened his mouth to speak, but stopped, seeing the light indicating her bluetooth was on. After a moment, he shook his head and headed back upstairs. Once he'd showered and dressed, he joined her, kissing her sweetly as he took a seat beside her; she no longer had the bluetooth in her ear. "Hey, Jo?"
"How did you get the scar on the back of your neck?"
Her brow furrowed, and she lowered her cup, swallowing before her tongue darted out to lick at her lips. "I'm sorry?"
It was his turn to raise an eyebrow. "The scar? The... oh... inch long scar on the back of your neck? How'd you get it?"
"Ah... babe, I don't know what you're talking about."
"Okay." He sighed and grabbed his PDA, getting up and moving behind her. Gently pushing her ponytail over her shoulder, he took a quick photograph of it, and then handed it to her. "See? Right there." She frowned, studying the photograph. There definitely appeared to be a scar down the back of her neck.
"I... I didn't even know that was there." Subconsciously, she reached up, her fingers brushing over it out of curiosity. Zane rinsed the cups and put them in the sink before grabbing the messenger bag he'd taken to putting the research he wanted to look over at home in, and slinging it over his shoulder. He held out a hand.
"We don't have to be in for another hour-"
"I know, but Allison is already in, because she always gets in early, and I would feel better if she would take a look at. Especially since there won't be that many people in the infirmary, which means you'll be in and out in no time. Please, Jojo?"
It was only a moment's hesitation, before she reached for his hand.
The good doctor tore herself away from her conversation with Carter, who'd come in to work with her before going to the office. The older couple sat at Allison's desk, chatting softly about their plans for the weekend- taking Kevin and Jenna up to Portland to get away from the craziness. They were considering asking Zane and Jo to come with, deciding the couple definitely needed a vacation, and since they were making it a family outing, and Jo and Zane were definitely family- no matter if it was even just a day or two- after what was being called the 'Collins' fiasco' two weeks earlier.
It had been a typical day at Global- Rockwell Industries, everyone had to keep reminding themselves- and Jo had gone down to Section Eight, calling on Carter for backup as she tried to remove one very irate and paranoid Doctor Collins, after receiving a complaint from Doctor Ming in the lab next to his about sonic waves or pulse waves or something like that going through her lab from his. Seeing as many of Eureka's prominent citizens were either from an alternate timeline or knew about an alternate timeline, Collins', an older man who'd been working on the ability to pull memories from parallel universes and alternate timelines, and transplant them into the subject's head in the hopes of making them a more rounded person or some sort of spiel- Jo had only half-read the complaint report- project was one none of them were too thrilled about, and so Jo and Henry kept a sharp eye on him, but didn't bother to shut the project down and redact him.
Jo, however, really, really wanted an excuse to redact the man; her life had been thrown into enough chaos thanks to a timeline change, and though it had since smoothed out and things were on track, she didn't particularly want another mess to come about from another scientist who just couldn't leave well enough alone. She had to remind herself that it was all theoretical, of course, which should have made her feel better. Or so they thought.
"In order to understand other universes, we need to be able to pull the memories from those of us living in alternate or parallel universes and meld them with our own, that way we can better understand the mistakes made in their universes and prevent those same ones from happening here."
Jo had been the first one to arrive on the scene, her team was on standby; she was planning on getting Collins to cooperate first, and so would have no need for her team. There was no point in going in guns blazing, especially if they didn't know how unstable whatever he was working on was; if needed, she would send out the signal for her team to come down, but right now, she wanted to see if she could diffuse it herself. It was an approach she had taken to using ever since Grant had bought the town, and nine times out of ten, it usually worked. According the Carter, she should have been a hostage negotiator.
"Doctor Collins, I need you to shut that machine down and come with me, now."
Collins had been messing with dials and buttons when she entered the lab. Before she could even get her handcuffs out, he'd hit a switch, slamming the doors shut and locking them in together; somehow, he'd put a false virus into his system, which automatically alerted the entire building's system to a breach of security, which automatically sent the entire building into evacuation and lockdown.
A supposed virus had been detected- unclear if it was real or fake- and as a result, the building had been evacuated. Zane, after getting the majority of others out of the building, had rushed to Henry's office with Carter, Fargo, Grace and Allison, and had immediately begun working on a feed into the lab with Fargo's help, knowing Jo was still with Collins. They'd managed to patch into not only the cameras and audio, but Jo's Bluetooth as well, and listened as she tried talking Collins down, saying she really didn't want to have to use excessive force if she could get away with it.
"You don't understand, do you? None of you do! I've finally figured it out! After all these years, all this time, I've found the point where they all converge!"
"What do you mean converge, Doctor Collins?" Jo's voice had been steady, and Zane and the others had watched on the plasma computer screen as Jo stepped towards the man, hands up to show she wouldn't harm him. Zane had then gone back to trying to override the false virus, with no luck. In the lab, Collins had turned to his machine; his voice taking on a tender, almost loving tone.
"The point where all parallel universes and timelines meet, Director Lupo. With this point, I can pull the memories of a person across all universes and timelines in which they exist, regardless of whether they are the same person or not. Just because you go by a different name, does not mean your DNA changes. DNA is the same, the cornerstone of a person across all timelines and universes."
Knowing if she just shut it down by way of the console, she'd have a fight- possibly a bloodbath- on her hands, Jo headed straight for Collins. There had been no point in her trying to get the doors open; they wouldn't open until whatever threat was out had been contained, and so had gone for the easier of two targets.
He fiddled with something on the machine; standing before it, Jo didn't know what exactly it was, and up in Henry's office, no one could get a clear look at it, and Zane had watched as Jo stepped closer to the frazzled doctor, cautiously and slowly reaching for his wrist-
"Come on, Doctor Collins, you've proved your point, and I will personally make sure Henry looks it over and gives you adequate funding to continue your research, but right now, it's time to turn the machine off." Zane had been proud of her; the calm, gentleness of her voice soothed him, if not Collins. She would make a wonderful mother when they finally reached that hurdle.
Her fingers had locked around his wrist, but before anyone knew what was happening- and certainly before Jo realized what was happening- Collins had turned, striking. He grabbed her wrist, yanking her close. "You don't understand, Director Lupo, I can give you back your memories, all of them, from every timeline, or, better yet, I can give you back your memories from a specific timeline. How about I do that? One specific timeline, huh? And then you will finally remember everything you have forgotten, everything you caused," He'd grinned at her, wolfish and frightening. "Becca."
"What are you-"
And before anyone could speak, before Jo could fully react besides three words, Collins had pulled a small gun that looked similar to what was used in the Medical Bay to give shots, out of his pocket, and yanked up the arm of her jacket- "It won't hurt, I promise. I figured it out, Becca, your serum, your radiation serum. Just a touch of black blood before you go between the points, and you'll remember everything."
Smoke began to appear, and Jo swung out, but it wasn't enough; Collins tightened his hold on her arm, pulling her closer despite her fight, slamming the needle into the veins in her neck-
And then he was staggering; she kicked at his shins, yanking her arm free and stumbling back. The gun dropped to the ground, as a chase ensued around the lab; Jo darting and zigzagging as much as she could around the console and Time Converger thingy as Carter called it, and Collins following, something else in his hands that was too small no one could see. Immediately Henry contacted her team, and they hurried back into the building, headed for Section Eight. Carter had dashed from the room, intent on helping his best friend, calling Andy as he went; Zane would have followed, but he couldn't make his legs work, couldn't tear his eyes away from the screen, and he and Fargo couldn't risk losing the comm's connection with Jo, given the interference from Collins's device got worse the closer to Section Eight one got.
So he, Henry, Grace, Fargo and Allison settled for trying override the virus, keep in contact with Carter and Jo's team and establish contact once again with Jo, all while watching the screen, hearing the footsteps, seeing the smoke rise from the machine in the center of the room as it seemed to overheat. No one was sure what exactly it did or where one went if they went through it; everything Collins had been working on had been theoretical, and the possibility of practical wasn't even ready to be considered; the machine he'd built had never meant to be turned on, at least not now.
"Jojo? Jo, can you hear me? Jo! Answer me!"
They watched as Jo skidded to a stop in front of the machine. It reminded Henry of the device Diane Lancaster had built in the original timeline, in the hopes of joining her husband Daniel, just smaller. They watched as blue light pulsed and crackled within it, all meeting at a center point. Immediately, Jo began looking for a way to turn the machine off; unlike Lancaster's device, there was no lever to pull, and no one was sure exactly how Collins had turned it on. It had been on when Jo had entered the lab. "Doctor Collins, I need you to turn this machine off, now!" Jo had cried; she searched for a specific lever or button that would stop it. She reached for something, but whatever she touched sent a pulse through the lab.
Zane was trying his hardest to override the system, but it was taking longer than expected, for Collins' machine was overloading all systems; they had lost contact with Carter and Jo's team once they reached Section Eight, and Henry, Grace, Fargo and Allison were trying their hardest to speak to Jo, though her connection kept dropping and returning. "Jo! Damn it, answer me!" Zane snapped, but there was only shouting and static on over the speaker.
And then, everyone's hearts stopped as they watched Jo, back still turned to Collins, was pounced on by the scientist. Out of instinct, Jo reached in front of her, trying to grab onto the rims of the machine as they stumbled forward into the crackling light. They disappeared completely for the briefest of moments, like Alice thought the looking glass, before returning. "Where did they go?" Grace cried, as Allison tried to call Carter and tell him what had just developed.
"I don't know! I don't see them!" Fargo cried as he and Zane continued to work on the virus. Henry struggled to get help Grace get the comms back up, but it was no use. Any communication was gone at that moment.
And then, suddenly, they both stumbled back through the light. It was mere seconds that their bodies had disappeared into the light, but in those few, fleeting moments, Jo looked haggard. Allison noticed that Collins' lab coat was ripped and his hair was a mess, his body skinnier than normal, Jo's jacket was completely gone, her blouse shredded and barely hanging together on her small frame. Her hair was falling out of its ponytail, and both appeared gaunt and sickly. Everyone in the office watched as Collins grabbed Jo by the shoulders, holding her up as he shook her. She tried to fight him off, but didn't appear to have the strength anymore. "Do you understand now, what I have been trying to do? What I've succeeded in doing? We have it back, Becca, we have it back, and now we can fix her! We can merge them both to make one sentient being that follows our command! We can succeed where once we failed! Say the words and activate her! Say the words!"
She shook her head. "I don't know the words, Doctor Collins! I don't know who Becca is!"
"You are Becca! And ALIE is our creation! Ours! She's there, in your head, part of your mind now, and all you need to do is say the words to activate her!"
"I don't know them, I'm sorry!"
He reached up, taking her face in her hands. "Ascende superius." Two words that meant nothing to anyone who heard them, but they meant something to Jo, even if she'd never heard them or before. And then, the most horrifying sound any of them had ever heard rang out.
Loud, high-pitched and earth-shattering; it echoed in Henry's office, in the lab, out of the heavy steel doors and into the hall of Section Eight, through the rotunda and out of the building, even into the heart of town. It was one of heart-wrenching, blood-curdling, catastrophic pain-
Nearly toppling Henry's desk, Zane had bolted out of the office, headed for Section Eight upon hearing that scream, Henry and Fargo hot on his heels. Back in the office, Allison and Grace watched Jo collapse in a heap by the machine, unconscious, and immediately, Allison called for her team to get down to Section Eight. Collins, seemingly satisfied that he'd gained the upper hand, shut the machine off.
Almost instantly, the doors opened and members of her team rushed in with Carter; Zane, Henry and Fargo followed. The three men rushed to Jo; Zane got to her first, pulling her into his arms, as Carter arrested Collin. The man struggled for several minutes, before he relented. Something dropped to the floor, and Zane turned at the noise.
A bloody scalpel.
Collins, realizing he wasn't going anywhere, finally relented to being cuffed; self-satisfied smirk near splitting his face. Allison's team finally arrived, Allison and Grace following. Zane turned his focus back to Jo as Allison reached them, dropping to her knees beside them, portable defibrillator in her hands, just in case. "Jo! Jojo, wake up for me! Jo!"
"Her heart's stopped! Zane, you gotta move!" Instantly, Fargo and Henry began working on her as Zane numbly stood and backed away. Once standing, he turned to Collins, who was being led away in handcuffs by two of Jo's team as Carter read him his rights. His gaze moved to the scalpel on the floor, dipped in Jo's blood. Not only had he shot her up with something, but he'd cut her somewhere as well.If I lose her... if she dies...
He stalked towards the man, murderous intent sparking in his blue eyes. Grace, who'd been focused on collecting the research for an inquiry, stopped, turning to Zane as he stormed past. "Zane?" She handed the notes she'd collected to one Jo's second in command, Rowley, and followed him. "Zane! What are you-"
Even Allison glanced behind her as Zane's voice rang out in the lab. "You bastard, what did you do to her?" He'd grabbed the man's shirt, yanking him close. Collins laughed dryly.
"She will return to her rightful place as one of us soon." Zane didn't bother asking for an explanation, he simply swung. The asinine bastard went down instantly, victim not of a bullet or taser, but a damned good right-cross.
Now though, two weeks later, the Carters looked up to see Zane dragging a very reluctant Jo into the medical bay. "Zane? Jo? What's going on?"
"I noticed it this morning. I don't know where it came from, and Jo said she doesn't remember ever having it."
Jo rolled her eyes, but didn't say a word as she let Allison examine the back of her neck. "It's some sort of... scar." Carter said, leaning close.
"Thanks, Carter. Zane already established that." Jo muttered, her dry wit beginning to appear the longer she sat here, being looked at like a bloody lab rat. Jo sat on the edge of the bed, Zane sitting in a chair by her side, playing with the fingers of her right hand, listening intently. He seemed exceedingly interested in what Allison had to say, and kept glancing at Jo on occasion, blue eyes filled with concern.
"It's scar tissue, but..." Allison sighed, pulling away. She tugged the table with her tablet on it closer, and punched in something, bringing up a holographic screen. "It all depends on the size of the wound; smaller wounds start to develop scar tissue within a day, while larger wounds can take weeks or even a month or two to grow. A scar of this size, would take a few days to a week or two."
"So it's right on par with normal developing scar tissue, then." Zane replied. "It's been two weeks." Allison nodded, silent. Something wasn't right; she could sense it, she just didn't know what it was, but it had to do with Jo and the incident two weeks earlier.
"But it's not common for scar tissue to appear without a wound, Zane, and as far as we know, there was no wound on Jo's neck when she walked into that lab."
"I'm sitting right here, you know." Jo muttered, and Zane squeezed her hand.
"There wasn't anything on the back of her neck that day. I know because-"
"Zane, we really don't need to know about your-"
Zane glared at him. "We went rock climbing Saturday at Groves Park, not far from lake Archimedes, and I'd gotten to the bottom of the cliff face before her. She got down fine, and when I went to help her retrieve the line, there was nothing on her neck. And I mean nothing. I know because she had her hair up in a bun and I could see her neck clearly. And then this morning," He gestured to her neck.
"I'm still sitting here." Jo huffed, crossing her arms.
"Look, all I'm saying, is it's like this developed overnight."
"Could it be from what happened in Collins' lab?" Carter asked. Everyone turned to him. "I mean... in regards to the machine? You both said that he and Jo- at least, their upper halves- disappeared for... seconds in the waves of that machine of his. Could it be a burn of some sort from passing through that machine?"
"But it doesn't look like a burn scar, Carter, it looks like a scar from a scalpel."
They will never understand the importance of what we need to do. She felt her breath hitch at the voice, her dark eyes darting around quickly before closing. Great, now she was hearing voices. How tired was she?
"Maybe it's just a birthmark? Or... maybe I've had it all my life, and never realized it until now." Jo finally spoke up; she reached up, rubbing the back of her neck with a groan. She had a headache, and it was getting hard to pay attention.
"No. I know every inch of your body," Zane started, and Carter made a disgruntled noise. "The back of your neck has been as smooth as silk until today. Whatever caused this, decided to show itself today, unless..." He stopped. "There was a bloody scalpel on the floor by your body; it had been in Collins' hand. Could he have used it on you?" He turned to Carter.
"I'll have Henry run tests on it." The Sheriff replied, even as Jo rolled her eyes, hand never leaving her neck.
"Babe, you're being paranoid-"
"How am I being paranoid when a mysterious scar suddenly appears on the back of your neck? Tell me, Jojo, how is that being paranoid?"
"All right, that's enough, both of you! Cool it!" Carter snapped, stopping any further argument. He watched Jo roll her neck, hand never leaving the spot. "Got a headache, Jo?"
She snorted softly. "My head's killing me."
"It could be a result of the incident that day. Headaches and general body aches are common for weeks after the body suffers a... jolt like you did." Allison said, pulling up Jo's medical report from that day after handing her a couple painkillers, but the younger woman waved them away. "You suffered a very severe trauma. It's not uncommon for the body to take time to recover." She quickly scanned the records, finding nothing. "Other than the spot on your arm, there wasn't much that we could find-"
"Well, I mean, besides her going unconscious." Carter replied gently, rocking back on his heels, hands in his pockets. Jo glared at him, and then sighed.
"I'm fine. I promise. I just need to take a moment to get my head back on straight." Zane and Allison shared worried looks, but Jo hopped off the bed, glancing at each in turn. "See? I'm fine. My headache will go away, I just need to give it time. And maybe get a cup of coffee." She added, almost as an afterthought.
"Babe, I really think-"
"I'm fine!"She snapped, cutting both Zane and Allison off. Then, she glanced at Carter. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stop by Cafe Diem and get a cuppa before returning. Okay?" Before either could respond, she stalked off, leaving Zane, Allison and Carter to share worried glances.
Six a.m. on the dot.
She wasn't supposed to be at work until seven. Well, technically, eight, because Allison had pulled the, 'Jo's still recovering from the incident two weeks ago, and needs to take it easy, so she'll be in an hour later, on doctor's orders,' line with Henry, who'd been concerned, and so agreed. So, if she wanted to look at it, she didn't need to be at work for another two hours, giving her time to kill.
She'd gotten her coffee at Cafe Diem and returned, trekking up to her office on Level Four. After checking her email, she sat back, closing her eyes and telling herself to relax. The caffeine helped her headache some, but not a whole lot. It still felt as though something were pounding its way through her brain, starting at her brain stem and working its way up.
A sigh escaped her; she had two hours until she had to sign in and be productive, and she really didn't want to have to sign off on incident reports today- especially not the one involving her, but she figured the sooner she got them done, the better off her day would be. She sat up, eyes snapping open. The folder holding her incident report sat before her, and after taking a sip of her drink, she opened it.
It was as cut and dry as she could remember; insubordination coupled with assault on the Director of Security, with intent of major bodily harm. Though it left out the part about them both disappearing into whatever Collins' time portal thing was, which was good, she guessed. On the last page, was where she needed to sign, above the typed,
Director of Security, Josephina Lupo
She hated being called Director; it was much too formal and filled with too much bravado and pride. She much preferred 'Head' or 'Chief', but on formal reports such as this, it was needed. But that didn't mean she had to like it. Could be worse, it could be-
She shook her head, her headache getting worse. She grabbed her cup and took a sip, setting it down with shaking fingers, before standing. Thank God there was a sofa in her office; she definitely needed to lie down.
After removing her jacket, she stretched out on the sofa, one of the pillows beneath her head, and threw her arm over her eyes; told herself that she had a little under two hours, and that a short nap might help with her headache. She'd set her PDA to silent and left it on her desk, hoping everyone- namely Zane and Carter- would take the hint and leave her be for an hour or so.
Zane was checking over his schedule on the way down to Section Five after having taken Jo to see Allison; after she'd left, he and the Medical Director had bounced ideas off each other, trying to figure out what could have caused the scar on Jo's neck. It was no surprise they'd come up empty; there wasn't much to go on, and neither Jo nor Collins could or would say of what they'd tumbled into that day. The machine was currently in a secure lab in Section Five, waiting to be dismantled, which Zane told Henry he'd do himself. With a sigh, he dialed her number, but got her voicemail.
"Hey babe, look, I just wanted to apologize for being such an ass this morning and forcing you to see Allison, especially when we can't find any reason for the scar. I overreacted and I'm sorry. I guess... I guess I was just so scared that I'd nearly lost you two weeks ago that I'm being a little... okay, a lot overprotective. I'll work on toning it down from now on, I promise. Anyway, I'll see you in an hour or two, enjoy your coffee and tell Vincent I'm sorry I didn't come in with you, but I'll be there for lunch. I love you."
He hung up, slipping the PDA back into his pocket and returning to his schedule. He tried to ignore the knots twisting in his stomach; something was telling him that there was something massively wrong with Jo, but he couldn't figure out what.
"No! Stop! Wait! Don't do this!"
She couldn't move; her arms and legs were bound to something; the white linen dress she wore was a size too big on her small frame, and her hair was loose around her shoulders. She struggled against something, only to realize that what she was bound to was a stake.
"Try it again, please! You're making a mistake!" In the dimness of the area, she could see people making their way towards her, lit torches providing the only light. The people wore hazmat suits, the light from the flames danced off the plastic visor of their helmets; even in the dim light, she could see herself, see the desperation in her own eyes as she pleaded and begged for her life.
A scream escaped her throat as one of the men lit the pyre beneath her feet.
It rang out through the building, unlike anything anyone had ever heard before. Those who had already clocked in and were working stopped what they were doing to listen. Silence fell, the screams the only sound in the entire building, as people looked around for the source of the sound.
Zane, midway to his office in Section Five, froze, hearing the sound. Those screams... he'd heard it before... he knew that scream...
The moment two weeks ago, when he'd witness Jo screaming in pain before collapsing in Doctor Collins' lab came flooding back and he instantly knew who it belonged to. Without a second thought, he took off; dashing back through the halls and onto Level Four. He crashed through the door of Jo's office, to find her sprawled out on the floor, screaming in fear.
"Allison, it's Zane! I'm in Jo's office, I need your help! I can't restrain her!"
"I'm on my way!"
He hung up, returning to his place beside the sofa. Out of its customary ponytail, her hair hung down her back and shoulders, obscuring her face as she crawled away from him. She'd removed her shoes, and sat barefoot on the floor, before him. The gun and holster she normally kept at her hip sitting on her desk where she'd left them along with her PDA and jacket. Her eyes were open, wild, but unseeing, and she held her hands behind her back, as though they were bound by some invisible force.
Unbeknownst to Zane, Allison had called Henry and Carter, who was rushing over from the sheriff's office with Andy. Zane's only focus was on Jo, and getting her to calm down enough that he could touch her. "Jo, babe, it's me. Jojo? It's Zane. Look, I don't know what nightmare or night terror you're having, but you're safe. You're at GD and you're safe." He hoped his deliberate slip up of the company name would be enough to snap her out of whatever this was-
She screamed again, the sound echoing off the walls.
They carried her, bound, up the pyre, tying her arms tight around the stake behind her. She knew exactly what was going to happen; it was what the mythical Joan of Arc had been subjected too, what hundreds of heretics in the reign of Bloody Mary Tudor had faced; burning at the stake. But those instances... they were history, myth, left over from a time and a world that had not seen devastating destruction at her unintentional hand.
"Please, let me go! I'm begging you! I can save you! I have something that can save you! Please!"
Every time he moved closer, Jo scooted back further, until he finally just decided to stay put, realizing that he was doing more harm than good. He heard footsteps down the hall, and soon the door slid open; Allison and one of her assistants entered, followed by Carter and Andy; Henry brought up the rear, having been alerted by Allison. They crowded in the doorway, and Zane turned back. "I came in and she was on the floor screaming, like she's been tortured or..." He stopped, turning back to her as her screams died down and she began pleading again.
"Try it again, please! You're making a mistake!"
She could feel the heat from the flames beginning to burn her feet. The soles would quickly turn black as the nerves died and the flames rose higher.
In her frenzied state, she could see the men standing below her, watching as the flames curled higher, as they began to lick at the hem of her dress, charring the fabric and kissing her hidden skin.
Carter glanced at the others before stepping forward; he'd seen elaborate stunts pulled before to gain attention, and while he didn't want to believe Jo was doing so, he couldn't rule out her odd behavior as being nothing more than a ploy. All he'd had, from the moment he left Rockwell, were silly disputes and dramatic arguments that had now real weight, and it wasn't even eight a.m. yet. He helped Zane to his feet, pushing him back towards the others, even though Zane wouldn't move. "I got her Zane." Once the younger man relented, he went to his best friend. "Come on, Jo, enough playing-"
The man directly below her slid his torch into the pyre; more flames began to appear. She struggled, straining against the stake, in attempt to get away.
"I can save you! I can save all of you!"
The flames began to climb higher, reaching for her hips. It was so hot, so painfully hot. They watched her, as she struggled and fought against her restraints. They had turned down her serum for a second time, after the first supposedly failed-
That caused Carter to pause. He turned to Zane, who simply shook his head, even as Henry held him back. Behind them, Allison and her assistant were working on getting a sedative and restraints ready, just in case they needed to use them; they prayed they wouldn't have to. Once done, she nodded to the other woman. "Go prepare a bed!" The woman dashed off, and the doors slid closed behind her. Henry hit the small switch just behind the sofa; the door sealed, locking them all into Jo's office. Whatever Jo was suffering from, the four of them could handle it. "I've got a sedative ready! We need to try and restrain her!" Carter hurried back and took the restraints; the four titanium bracelets were similar to the ones they'd used on Zane in the other timeline. "They should be able to hold her, Carter!"
The sheriff nodded, turning back to Jo. He handed one of the bracelets to Zane, who glanced at him and took it; he hadn't moved, not wanting to scare her even further. "Can we wake her up first?" Carter asked; Jo continued to strain against an invisible enemy.
"If this is a night terror, we won't be able to pull Chief Lupo out of it, Boss." Andy said, brows knit as he watched Jo. "She'll have to come out of it on her own." He did move closer however, so that he was blocking one side of escape, but it was soon evident that Jo was not even remotely interested in escape. If anything, whatever nightmare had her in its grip seemed to be keeping her fairly sedentary. Andy knelt down, reaching out a hand to touch her face, but she pulled away, banging her head hard against the front of her desk that no one realized she'd backed herself into.
She let out a shriek; another torch lit the pyre, more flames continued to crawl towards her. The first ones had reached her waist; she could feel the lower half of her body numbing as the flames continued to lick and bite at her body.
"I've got a bed on standby in the psychiatry ward if we need it, and one in the infirmary as well." Allison said, and Zane's head snapped back to look at her.
"What do you mean in the psychiatry ward?" Zane demanded, climbing to his feet and rounding on Allison. Henry stood back, watching Jo curiously, as Carter and Andy flanked her, but didn't move to touch her.
"Zane, it's just until we can get her to calm down, if the sedative doesn't work. A precaution; a way to make sure she's safe before I examine her-"
"You want to put my fiancée in the psych ward, Allison! There's nothing wrong with her!"
"Are you seriously saying this is normal!" She replied, gesturing to Jo, the sedative in her hand. A moment passed, and things seemed to calm down; Jo seemed to calm down, before she started to sob, her pleading beginning again. The sheer terror on her face alone worried everyone.
"P... please! I can save you! I can save all of you! With my..." She stopped, searching each helmet-covered stare for even the barest hint of compassion, even as the flames reached just below her breasts. She choked on a sob.
Allison moved around Zane, to join Carter, but Henry remained back, arms around Zane to keep him back, even though the younger man's struggle was weak, for he knew Carter and Andy had the situation as under control as possible. Jo's head snapped up to Allison, gaze darting to the gun in her hand.
It was another torch, moving down to light her on fire, even more than she already was.
"No! With my... with my serum, you don't have to live in the bunker anymore!"Her voice choked on 'bunker', as she glanced around at each of them, trying desperately to get them to see reason. "Please! The Flame can change everything!"
Zane turned to Henry as Allison, Carter and Andy paused. "The flame?" The director shook his head. It was almost as though she were having a breakdown of some sort. Could it be from the stress of work? Or from the incident two weeks ago? A breakdown caused by the trauma of the incident?
"No!" She struggled against the Carter and Andy, who had each grabbed her shoulders, trying to pull her arms forward; Jo was normally strong, but this... she not only fought against whatever she believed to be bound to, but them, kicking out and tossing her head, banging against her desk, her screams echoing off the walls.
"We can't restrain her until she releases her arms, Allie! And we can't get her to release her arms!" They struggled for several minutes, before finally, Andy managed to get a hold of her arms as Carter grabbed her legs. They pulled her forward, away from the desk until they were in the middle of the room, shifted her onto her side, even as she continued to struggle, and shove her torso down onto the floor. As Andy held her torso down, Carter straightened her legs until she lay unwillingly prostrate against the floor of her office. With great effort, the two managed to get the restraints around her wrists and ankles; they beeped on, the green lights indicating they were locked into proper place appearing. Glancing at Andy, Carter nodded, and then both stood, each taking an arm to help Jo up.
She was sobbing and screaming, her hair wild and disheveled about her face. She leaned away from Andy and Carter, gaze locked on Henry and Zane, but not seeing them. Another scream escaped her throat, and she fought against Allison, who was trying to inject the sedative into her vein, only she wouldn't hold still. "Jo, stop!"
The three fought with her, but even restrained, the Security Head was strong. Giving up on the veins in her arm, Allison raised the gun and pressed it against her neck, even though Jo fought and squirmed. When finally, Allison managed to get the sedative injected, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. "I gave her the highest dose I could that wouldn't kill her, but given that she's been at this for we don't know how long, and has been resisting the entire time, it could take a bit before it starts to work." As she pulled the gun away, Jo's painful screaming turned to words- words that told everyone just how deep into this nightmare she was.
The flames reached her neck, blazingly hot and painful. She could no longer feel her lower body at all, and her upper body was going numb as well as the nerves began to die. Her throat began to dry; despite the numbness, she still struggled desperately to break free of the restraints. As the flames continued to lick higher, burning her face and beginning to ea at her hair, she tried one last plea-
"You think he's saving you, but he's killing you!"
She let out one last scream as the flames finally engulfed her.
The first thing she registered was that the pain in her head was gone. As her eyes slowly opened, she found herself staring at the overhead lights of the infirmary.
The infirmary? What was she doing in the infirmary? And why did every part of her body feel like it was... burned?
She felt something in her hand, and squeezed; it hurt to move her hand, it hurt to move at all. Every part of her body hurt, and slowly, she turned her head; Zane sat beside her, holding onto her hand. "Zane?"
He looked up. "Jojo? Oh, thank God!" Before she could say anything else, he was gone. "Allison!"
"What... happened?"As she reached out for him, she stopped; titanium bracelets were on her wrists. "What the..." She had cottonmouth, and her throat felt like sandpaper. Zane quickly filled a small cup with water, and helped her sit up. She sipped it slowly to keep herself from getting sick. She handed it back, and he set it on the table beside her.
"Thank God, you're awake. You had us worried, Jo." Allison chided gently. Jo turned back to look at her; she didn't say a word as Allison examined her, letting the good doctor do her work. "We were afraid we'd lose you, for a while there."
"Wh... what are you talkin' about?"
She watched Allison glance at Zane; an entire conversation passed between them in a matter of minutes, one she wasn't privy to, even though she was the subject. A moment passed, before Allison sighed, and took a seat on the other side of her. The good doctor took a deep breath, before she spoke. "Jo, what do you remember of this morning?"
A moment passed, before she sighed. "I took a shower, had coffee with Zane; he brought me in here so you could look at my neck..." She stopped. "And then... afterwards, I... went down to Cafe Diem and grabbed a cup of coffee and a muffin from Vincent. I ate the muffin on the walk back. Slipped into my office. I had a splitting headache. Looked through a couple incident reports, and then... laid down on the sofa to take a nap, since I had two hours before I could clock in." She bit her lip. "Last thing I remember is... falling asleep. Why?" Allison cast a glance at Zane. "What are you not telling me? Allison?" She turned to Zane. "Zane?" Silence fell. "Zane, we agreed we would be honest with each other."
"I think you need to rest first-"
"No, Allison." Jo bit, head snapping meet the doctor's gaze. "If I did something in the... however many hours before I woke up here, I need to know. I deserve to know." The older woman glanced at Zane, who sighed. He released her and pulled a thumb drive from his pocket; picking up the tablet sitting on the table, he logged into it and inserted the drive, before handing it to Jo.
"Just press play."
She did, and watched in silence as she went about her morning, taking a seat at her desk, scanning through the incident report, before getting up and moving to the sofa. She stretched out, tucking a pillow beneath her head. Twenty minutes later, she was out. Okay? So I stretched out on the sofa in my office and fell asleep, big deal. I had a massive headache and I needed the sleep-
Not twenty minutes after falling sleep, though, she began to writhe and thrash on the sofa, holding her hands behind her, still obviously asleep. She turned the audio down, but could still hear what she was screaming.
"Please, let me go! I'm begging you! I can't save you! I have something that can save you! Please!"
She started in surprise, watching as she continued to scream, to thrash, until she toppled off the sofa. Instead of staying where she was, or getting up, she scrambled backwards, as though trying to get away from an unseen enemy. Her screams continued to echo in the room. She kept expecting herself to snap out of it, to wake up and realize it was just a nightmare, but she didn't.
"No! Stop! Wait! Don't do this!"
It was then that she recognized Zane as he dashed into the room and hurried over to her. He reached for her, but she kicked out, scooting back. Why am I not using my arms? What am I trying to do? Was I trying to... hold onto something? He knelt down, crawling towards her, as she continued to sob and scream.
"Try it again, please! You're making a mistake!"
Mistake? What mistake? What the hell was she talking about? And... more importantly, who was she talking too?
"I can save you! I can save all of you!"
By this point, Carter, Henry, Allison and Andy had come in; the sheriff and his deputy came over and flanked either side of her the bracelets she now wore in their hands. Allison also joined them, one of her sedative guns in hand.
"P... please! I can save you! I can save all of you! With my..." Jo swallowed thickly, glancing at Zane and Allison each of the corner of her eye before turning back to the video feed. They both watched her, gauging her reactions. "No! With my... with my serum, you don't have to live in the bunker anymore!"
A shiver ran up her spine as she heard herself choke on the word 'bunker'; something told her that that word in particular was important.
"Please! The Flame can change everything!"
She furrowed a brow. The Flame? Okay, what exactly was she talking about? Had someone tampered with her coffee? No, she'd only been to Cafe Diem and back. Unless someone had tampered with the muffin- but if they'd done that, then every person would have reacted like she was, and so far, there was no one else in the infirmary but her, so obviously it was just her. And she couldn't see anyone going to such great lengths to dose a single blueberry muffin.
She heard Zane ask Henry what the flame was, but the other man simply shrugged. Carter and Andy then grabbed her shoulders, even as she fought against them. A sob worked its way up her throat as she watched Andy and Carter each grab one of her shoulders, trying to get her to relax her arms. "We can't restrain her until she releases her arms, Allie!"
Tears began to gather and then spill onto her cheeks as she watched Carter take her legs and Andy her torso and gently pull her forward, away from her desk, before shifting her onto her side. It amazed her how gentle but firm Andy was as he held her down while Carter straightened her legs and applied the bracelets to her ankles even as she continued to fight. Both knew they had to be gentle with her, while still doing their civic duty as law enforcement officers, even if the person they were cuffing was a dear friend and fellow officer. Her sobs and screams echoed through the data pad, as Carter and Andy gently lifted her to her feet, and she furrowed a brow, watching as she leaned as far away from them as possible, as Allison came over and injected something into her neck after a brief struggle. Zane, she noticed, smartly, had stopped struggling with Henry and stayed back.
The injection of the sedative seemed to calm everyone. Allison said something about a high dose that wouldn't kill her, and taking time for it to kick in. She, meanwhile, continued to fight, her gaze locked on Zane. Why are you still fighting? What was even happening? Why would I-
Her blood ran cold. "You think he's saving you, but he's killing you!"
The trembling in Jo's hands worsened as her scream- loud and strong and filled with agony- echoed in the quiet infirmary. She dropped the data pad, turning to Zane. Tears trailed down her cheeks, and she struggled to form a coherent sentence. "I... I don't... wh..." He shook his head, and she turned to Allison. "why... Allison... wha..." She swallowed thickly. "What... why..."
She stopped, wincing in pain, and lay back among the pillows. A moment passed, before Allison finally spoke up. "Jo, I..." She sighed. "When we brought you here, after we managed to sedate you, I removed your clothing, as is standard when checking someone in, and-" She stopped, biting her lip as she glanced at Zane. Jo glanced between the pair, once more confused.
"And what? Allison?"
The doctor sighed, taking the edge of the blanket that covered the younger woman and gently peeling it back. Upon discovery, Allison had told Zane that he needed to prepare himself for whatever reaction Jo would have, be it crying, screaming, silence even. He'd simply nodded, deciding it was better that she heard it from Allison than him. She took a deep breath. Jo's gaze moved down, following Allison's movements. At the moment, all she saw was the gown, and then, her gaze shifted down, past the hem, towards her legs...
At first, she couldn't be certain; she pushed herself up, and her mouth dropped in horror.
Her long, slender legs, one of the few attributes she was known for that weren't from her military career or her attitude, were no longer soft and smooth. They were near black, the skin charred. Her gaze shot up to Allison, who hurried to her side. "What did you do to me? What did you do?"
"We did nothing, Jo! We did nothing!" Allison cried, gently pressing her down when she began to resist. Zane stood to help. "I had to cut your clothes away because they were charred into your skin! It took me three hours to remove your clothing because it had all but melted into you!" After several minutes, she stopped struggling, and lay back, tears trailing down her cheeks as Zane stroked her hair and held her hand.
"You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes on, Jojo." He told her.
"Every part of your body was like your legs, Jo. Once I got your clothing off of you, we were able to use Pierre Fargo's graphing treatment for the burns on your face and arms, but the rest of your body is going to take time. It's going to be multiple treatments, but we should be able to get you back to normal soon. So try not to worry, okay?" She gently stroked her fingers through Jo's hair, giving her a soft smile. "It'll be okay."
"Allison." She looked up, meeting Zane's gaze, before beckoning him to the side. "How did she get them? Those are pretty severe burns, but Jo was in her office the entire time-"
"I know, Zane." Her gaze turned back to Jo, who met her gaze unwavering, prepared to listen to whatever theory Allison had come up with. "It's almost like... like she was burned alive."
An endless number of graphing treatments followed for the next several weeks, and over the course of each treatment, the blackness of the skin began to fade and smooth. Allison had focused on Jo's stomach and thighs, seeing as they would be the easier ones to do first, and then turned her attention to her legs, feet and chest. Each treatment left Jo feeling a little better about herself, and soon, all that remained were faint, small burn scars on the soles of her feet.
Doctor Collins hadn't been redacted yet; the investigation into what happened was still ongoing and how Jo's mysterious burns having appeared two weeks after the incident, they believed it was imperative to keep Collins in order to get as much information from him as humanly possible. Which is what Jo was doing, a week after she awoke in the infirmary covered in burns, on her way down to the psych ward where Collins was being held in so she could interrogate him.
She groaned softly, stopping and reaching out to grab the wall. Her headache was back. She'd had it on occasion over the previous week, but had always managed to ignore it. The voices in her head, those were a little harder to ignore. Maybe it was onset Schizophrenia; she was the right age for it to kick in, after all, and she'd been under a great deal of stress lately. After a moment, she shook it off and continued on her way, eventually reaching the ward. With a nod to the guard standing watch, she went to the small cell not far away and pressed the button.
Collins lay on the bed, and slowly, he turned his head. A slick, wolfish grin appeared on his face. "Finally decide to come see me?" He sat up.
"You need to tell me exactly what you did that day, and why it was so important that you trap me in there with you." She was in no mood to play nice today. He studied her, taking in her haggard appearance.
"You've already experienced the first of many; I can see it in your eyes." She glared at him; she wasn't going to play his games.
"First of what?"
"Tell me, Director Lupo," Collins asked, standing up from the cot. "you're a smart woman. Do you believe in other universes? Other... places that run on the same wavelength we do, but that go in a drastically different directions than we do in regards to the decisions we make and the actions of our consequences?"
If you only knew, you smug bastard. She swallowed, lifting her chin. "Depends. Do I believe that alternate timelines exist? No. Parallel universes neither. Do I believe that our decisions determine the outcome of our actions? Absolutely. Where are you going with this?"
"Nowhere." He smirked, and she narrowed her gaze, before shutting her eyes and turning her head. "Headache, Director?"
"Shut. Up." She growled, slowly forcing herself to turn back to him.
"It's an awful thing, isn't it?"
"Guilt." She met his gaze, silent. "It's as fascinating as it is haunting, what guilt can do to a person."
"Are you going to give me answers or are you simply going to stand there and speak in riddles?" She screamed, slamming her hands against the rim of the window. Collins' grin grew.
"Tell me, Director, do you believe that guilt can carry over? That it can cross into other timelines or parallel universes and affect the other versions of the person? Could the guilt of one version of you infect and inflict... oh, say, this version of you, perhaps?"
She narrowed her gaze. "What did you do to me that day?"
He smiled softly. "I injected you with the black blood serum, and then gave you back your memories of our time."
An eyebrow rose. "Black blood? What the hell is that?"
Collins met her gaze. "It's a serum that genetically alters the subject's DNA, which means they're resistant to high levels of radiation; you created it to help people survive the high amounts of radiation left by nuclear apocalypse. It results in exactly what it's called, black blood. You needed it otherwise you would not be able to handle the implant that holds your conscious and ALIE. It would have liquefied your brain had I not injected you with it."
"ALIE? Implant? Black blood? What the hell-"
"Go home tonight, Director, and cut yourself." Her mouth dropped. "And you'll see what I mean."
Letting out a growl, she pushed away from the window, slamming her fist against the comm button, before turning and stalking away; she couldn't think of anything else to ask, and he didn't seem willing to give anymore. She stopped in the doorway, reaching up to feel her head, before continuing on.
Jo clocked out early that night, her headache back full force. She'd let Zane know, and he'd replied that he'd be home in an hour or two; he had a couple things to finish up, and would pick up dinner, if she didn't mind waiting. That was fine, she'd replied, she was going to go home and take a shower and a nap anyway.
So when she slipped into the house half an hour later, she peeled her clothing off as she headed upstairs. On autopilot, she started the shower and stepped beneath the spray. Her supposed interrogation of Collins had blown up in her face; partially because the smug bastard had held the cards, and partially because she couldn't concentrate for this splitting headache. No, migraine, that's what it was. A migraine.
She growled softly; until the incident, she never got migraines. And then the incident happened and all of a sudden, that's all she would experience. Sighing, she lathered the soap over her body, wincing when her palm passed over her neck. After rinsing the soap from her hair and body, she turned the water off and grabbed a towel, wrapping it quickly around herself. In the light of the bathroom, she studied her neck. If she focused, she could see the small and near nonexistent pinprick...
The vial of dark liquid connected easily to the gun, and after a moment she straightened her arm, settled the needle against her skin, and pulled the trigger, inserting the needle and releasing the dark liquid into her veins.
Collins had used a similar gun on her neck; one with a long needle, and a vial of dark liquid-
Black blood, he'd called it.
She grabbed the edges of the counter, forcing herself to take slow, deep breaths. No, it wasn't true; it was just a stun gun, similar to a really fancy taser- she refused to believe that that bastard had injected her with anything. It wasn't possible. It was simply her mind playing tricks on her.
Do you believe that guilt can carry over? To other versions of you?
What a ridiculous idea.
"Go home and cut yourself and you'll see what I mean."
A moment passed, before she rummaged around for a razor. Remembering that the razors they used were laser-based, she left the bathroom, quickly changing into a pair of plaid pajama pants and a tank before shuffling into the kitchen. In the dark, she found a small paring knife, and returned to the bedroom, settling herself on the bathroom floor. Cut vertical, and not even Allison and all her fancy technology will be able to save me...
Something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye, and her head snapped to the side. "Who's there?"
She turned back to the task at hand, taking a deep breath. Holding her arm out, she pressed the blunt edge of the parring knife to her skin and sliced. A flash of red appeared in her peripheral, and she looked up. Her eyes widened. "Who... who are..."
No, this couldn't be possible. She was... staring at herself. The doppelganger knelt down, reaching out to ghost her hand over Jo's head. Her long black hair was pulled back away from her face into a twisted, elegant knot at the back of her head, the loose strands tumbling down her back and over her shoulder. Her makeup was elegant, her lips a dark red. She wore a form-fitting red dress with black trim, and a pair of black stilettos. "You are starting to remember. Good. When you are ready, I will need to return you to our world to finish what we started."
Her voice was husky yet robotic, each word that came out of her mouth formed properly and precisely, void of all inflection and emotion. Her facial expressions and the way she moved also seemed to be very robotic and frozen, from what Jo could see.
"She's not going to finish anything." Her head turned; there was another one of her, kneeling by her other side. She wore a baggy grey sweater and a pair of black skinny jeans with boots, her hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, face void of makeup. She looked tired, as though she'd lived a thousand lifetime. "She's going to to stop you."
Jo glanced between them. Okay, onset Schizophrenia was looking better and better by the minutes. To get herself to focus on the here and now, she dug the knife further into her skin, and bit her lip, arching her back in a physical response to the pain. "I... I don't..." Jo's eyes squeezed shut, and she bit her lip harder, squealing. Once the pain subsided, she opened her eyes, horrified at what she saw when she looked at her arm. Oh... oh my God... Oh, God...
"Jo? Oh, God, Jo, what have you done?"
She didn't look up until Zane was in front of her, pressing a wet washcloth to her arm. The knife fell from her hand, but all she could focus on the were the spots of thick, black blood now staining the bathroom floor.
"Her blood is black, Allison! Black! Why the hell is it black?"
"Zane, calm down! I can't focus on her and listen to you at the same time!" Zane had gotten home from work to find Jo sitting on the bathroom floor in her pajamas, a bloody parring knife held loosely in her grasp, bleeding from a cut in her arm. He'd immediately called Allison- because he'd waved goodnight to her when he'd left, and so knew she was still in the infirmary- and after explaining what happened, she'd urged him to bring her in.
Now, Jo lay in an infirmary bed, two silver nodes attached to each temple as they took readings of her brainwaves; the readings coming out were showing that her brain was working overtime, at twice the speed of any normal brain. Over-stimulation was sending her into bouts of blackout, the cause for the headaches, Allison had determined. Her blackouts were explanation for why Jo had found a bunch of notebooks with work she didn't understand and couldn't read a week earlier. She'd lost whole chunks of time, with no explanation as to how she got to a certain place or what she'd done in that time gap. It eerily reminded Allison of when she'd been brain-jacked by Beverly. It also explained why the few times she'd managed to catch Jo alone, the younger woman had spoken as though she were either figuring out a difficult math problem, or why she sounded so robotic- something that was becoming more and more apparent as the days went on.
Allison had taken a sample of Jo's blood, intent on discovering the cause behind the darkening color. She had cut deep and lost an amount of blood that required a minor transfusion. Allison stood talking with Zane, but she wasn't- and couldn't be bothered to- listen. Instead, she was watching the woman in the red dress, who stood next to her bed. Her voice was low, soft, for she didn't want to attract Zane and Allison's attention until she had some answers. She reached for the woman, but her hand went through the woman's chest. Her eyes widened. "What do you want with me?"
"I want you to remember who you are and where you belong."
"I don't know who you are."
"Her name is ALIE- Applied Lucent Intelligence Emulator. She's an AI." Jo turned her head, to see the other her standing on the other side of the bed. "Hello, Jo."
"Be- Bec- you're... you're who Collins keeps calling-"
The other woman smiled sadly at her as she nodded. "I'm Becca Franco. I created ALIE. Well, we created ALIE, because you and I are the same person, we just come from two different timelines." She reached out to brush a strand off Jo's forehead, and Jo found the soft pressure of her fingers surprising. "I'm not like her, Jo. ALIE is a hologram."
"So what are you?"
"Essentially? I'm a memory, of a life you haven't lived, because you are in a separate timeline to me. We share the same DNA, but we have lived entirely separate lives. Like your Zane before you arrived in this timeline. I know about the shift because just as you have access to my memories, I have access to yours." Becca's gaze shifted to ALIE. "We- I- created ALIE to care for mankind, and instead, she...she targeted mankind. It was a fatal flaw, one I strove to fix." She turned back to Jo, leaning close. "The chip in your brain stem is ALIE Two Point Oh. It's the neural interface I created, to meld with the brain and work together. ALIE and I, we are both a part of ALIE Two-"
"So... what? You're the devil and angel on my shoulders?" Jo asked, glancing at ALIE, who simply stared at her, and then back at Becca.
"Something like that. Until you completely accept me and my memories; once you do that, then I will fade back into the interface."
"But I'm not you. I'm me, I'm-"
"I know." Becca replied, reaching down and taking her face in her hands. "Believe me, I know, but DNA doesn't change, not even across timelines. And memories... you and Zane Donovan are proof that memories of one person can be shared across timelines and help the other version remember what did not belong to them originally. Please be patient, Jo. Everything will be revealed in due time." She stepped back, and Jo pushed herself up, reaching for the other woman.
Allison and Zane turned, hurrying back to her. "Woah, easy, Jo, easy!" She turned, watching ALIE as she stood behind Allison, watching her. "Jojo, what're you looking at?" She turned back to Zane, confused, before turning back to find ALIE gone. A moment passed, before she shook her head.
"Nothing... I just... nothing."
Allison had kept Jo overnight, just to be safe, but then allowed her to go home the next day, once she determined that she wasn't a threat to herself or others, which she already knew, but it was principle. After letting Jo leave around nine the next morning with Zane, the good doctor went back to her desk. She'd taken samples of Jo's blood the night before, intent on studying it to see if there were any known pathogens that would make a person's blood turn black. Three hours later, she set down her notes, sighing.
She found nothing. Except...
She sent a quick text to Zane, telling him that he and Jo needed to come back, because there was something they needed to see. Half an hour later, the couple returned to the infirmary; Zane held out a cup of Vincespresso to Allison, who smiled in thanks. "So... what's so important you asked us to come back?" Zane asked, as Jo paced the length of the infirmary.
"There are small, trace amounts of radiation in Jo's blood." The Security Director turned to them, brow furrowed. She nursed her coffee, gaze going to the woman behind Allison; she was staring at the diagrams Allison had pulled up, the results she'd found, but none of it was making sense. "It's almost like artificial blood."
"That's because it is artificial blood." Jo's dark gaze snapped to the side as Becca came over to her. "I couldn't very well use real blood, I had to create something that would not only withstand the radiation, but would help keep the body from rejecting my neural interface device."
Jo subconsciously pulled her ponytail over her shoulder, fingers moving to trace the scar on her neck. Becca nodded.
"But how did she get it-"
"I don't know, Zane. This isn't something that GD is working on! It's like it comes from a different dimension entirely!" No one cared to correct Allison's slip. Becca turned to Jo.
"You work at Global Dynamics?"
"It's Rockwell Industries, actually-" Jo corrected, but Becca waved it away.
"If I could have worked anywhere in the world, I would have chosen Global." Her face fell. "I got snatched up by Eligius instead, at eighteen."
Jo cocked her head. "Eligius? You mean the Eligius Corporation?"
Zane and Allison turned at Jo's words. "Hey, Jo, who are you talking to?" But she ignored Zane, focused solely on Becca, who nodded.
"That's... the most advanced private company in the world! I mean... they're looking at building the technology to mine Mars!"
A small smile tugged at Becca's lips. "Why do you think I developed the blood alteration? It was going to be used on prisoners and colonists who would be exposed to radiation from being in space for prolonged periods of time. But I could only make the cells combine in Zero Gravity, so I fled to the Polaris to create it and I succeeded. Because ALIE Two is a neural implant, and admits a small amount of radiation, the serum helps the body to metabolize the radiation ALIE puts out into the blood." She moved closer to Jo, reaching up to brush her fingers against the scar on her neck. "I built ALIE to help mankind. And she turned on it and me."
"I did not turn on anyone. I did as I was programmed to do." Becca turned and Jo looked up to see ALIE standing not far away. She moved towards them, at a leisurely pace, hands folded just beneath her breasts.
"You were programmed to help and protect the human race, not destroy them." Becca scowled, stepping towards ALIE. The other woman's head snapped towards Becca, before turning back to Jo. Brows knit together, Jo glanced at Becca before turning to ALIE.
"Wait... destroy them?"
"Jo?" She jumped, turning as Allison reached out and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. "Who are you talking to?" She turned back.
"Becca Franco." Allison furrowed a brow. "She... she's me from... from another... Doctor Collins... he would know... get him..." When neither Allison nor Zane moved, Jo spoke again. "Please?"
After a moment, Allison nodded, doing as told. "Stay with her. I don't want her leaving if she's going to start talking to people who aren't here." He nodded as Allison left, and Zane turned back to the woman he loved. She ignored him, turning back to the empty space in front of her, and after a moment, he sighed, taking a seat at Allison's desk, deciding to simply watch her. A moment passed, though, before he turned to the computer; hacking quickly into the system, he found the security cameras and focused the two nearest them directly on Jo. Allison wouldn't be happy he hacked her system,but maybe if he could get footage of whoever Jo was talking to, they could figure out what was wrong. Just because he couldn't see them now, didn't mean they weren't hiding out of site, and those cameras could see everything, even if someone was hiding.
"I did not destroy them, I simply solved the root problem."
Becca shook her head. "No you didn't, ALIE-"
"Wait, a minute. What's the root problem?" Jo's headache wasn't getting any better, no matter how much coffee she drank. Becca sighed, turning to her.
"ALIE has one core command to follow." Jo furrowed a brow.
"Okay. What is her core command?" It didn't take Allison and a guard long to return with Doctor Collins; they stepped into the infirmary in time to hear Jo's startled cry. "'Too many people?' What the hell does that mean?"