Here is Chapter 18 of The SubVersion Complex. This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ EIGHTEEN ╚
Daniel glared at Mr. Vickers. “I only ever did to her what I told you,” he snapped. The older man glared back.
“Which was quite enough, if I recall. I never authorized you to blackmail this woman or anyone else for that matter!”
Anna's head spun as she tried to process what she was hearing, but in another moment she knew her knees were going to give way from beneath her and she fell into a nearby chair without being asked. Mr. Vickers knelt beside her and pulled a quilt from the sofa. “Here, wrap up in this, your teeth are hammering.” He tried to smile at her.
Daniel, now agitated, knelt on her other side and looked her in the eye. “You said you had some success with my numbers.” When Anna nodded he continued with more passion, “Well? Did you find them? Both of them?”
Anna nodded but couldn't say anything. She opened her mouth to explain but her voice died and she was left to move her jaw in vain. Daniel moved closer to her; Anna could again feel that masculine warmth and dangerous tension near her face and she retreated into the chair. “What did you find, Anna?” he asked. “Tell me!” Mr. Vickers attempted to pull Daniel away but the younger man shook him off violently. “Let me do this, Father!” he growled.
“Father?” Anna finally managed to blurt. Daniel ignored her and repeated his question.
“Tell me, did you find them?”
Daniel's voice rose. “The woman? You found the woman too?”
She nodded again, wilting.
“Is she alive? Dammit, tell me she's alive!”
Anna began to tremble from head to toe. Her breathing quickened, her heart pounded in her ears. “No,” she gasped out in a hoarse whisper.
A fearful transformation overtook Daniel. It was as if a bright fire in his eyes had been quashed and all that remained were the freakish charred remnants. His breathing turned ragged, and she could see him fighting back hot tears. “You're lying,” he whispered.
“I watched her die,” Anna replied weakly, her eyes filling with her own tears. “She was thrown into an incinerator and was burnt up.” Her heart felt near to bursting with grief for the poor man. “She's dead.”
Even Mr. Vickers was taken aback. He and Daniel exchanged appalled looks, then Daniel looked away, fighting a powerful maelstrom of emotion. Finally the younger man stood and paced the room while Anna and Mr. Vickers watched him warily, unsure of what to expect next.
“Are you sure she's dead, I mean could there be some mistake?” Daniel stammered brokenly. Anna shook her head.
“There was no mistake. Neville found her and sent her to the incinerator,” she whispered back. “He said she had been frozen one too many times to be of any more use . . . “
Daniel clawed at the air. “Neville, that sickening beast,” he exclaimed. Then he turned on her with a fierceness that truly frightened her. “And you did nothing to stop it? You were right there and you did nothing?”
Mr. Vickers turned to him. “You don't know that, Daniel.”
Daniel waved him away. “Let the bitch speak for herself, Father.”
Mr. Vickers stood, and his old frame shook with anger. “That's quite enough, Daniel.”
“Like hell it is,” Daniel replied. He pointed to Anna. “She's the reason for all of this, don't you see? Her work is what industrialized all of this horror, the Versions and the SubVersions and all of it!” His demeanor turned suddenly calm, but Anna knew better than to relax. She was proven correct when Daniel pulled his own pistol from his belt and dispassionately held it against her head. She stifled a scream and shied away.
“This whole damnable business is her fault, it's on her head. Would it not be just to take her head for it?” Daniel remarked coldly. “Eh, Father? You're always spouting about justice and mercy, you tell me what you think! Then perhaps I'll decide not to pull the trigger.
Anna saw to her surprise that Mr. Vickers had slid between her and the barrel of the gun. “Daniel, this woman is special to me. But even if she wasn't I would still stand between you and the commission of a grave crime against your own soul and this woman's body. She deserves to be shot just as little as you do.”
Daniel threw up his free hand in exasperation. “Is there no justice in this world? What would be so wrong about blowing her away for her crimes?” he cried. “She is HomoGen! She is the enemy!”
“Daniel.” Mr. Vickers voice was soothing but firm. “You are grieving. But you will not grieve with a gun in your hand, nor will you threaten Annalise with any more violence. You will not.”
Suddenly Anna found herself exasperated with Daniel. She astonished even herself by pushing Mr. Vickers aside, grabbing the gun and placing the muzzle against her forehead. “No, it's all right Mr. Vickers. Go ahead and kill me, Daniel. Go on, do it. Pull the trigger. Talk about me like I'm not here and have no say, blow my brains out. I am the cause of all your problems, I am sure. I'm not sure why I care to live anyways, go ahead!”
Daniel was taken aback even in his rage. “Why?” he asked.
“Because I've seen enough today to make me doubt there is anything good left here or in you or anywhere else. So pull the trigger!” Anna's voice exuded desperation.
“That's enough, both of you!” Mr. Vickers said, quietly but in a voice of authority. He gently grasped the gun and pointed it away. To Anna's dumbfounded surprise Daniel let the gun drop completely into the older man's hand and then walked away towards the fireplace.
She watched Daniel grasp the mantelpiece and put his forehead against the wood. What was passing through his mind she couldn't know, but she did see several tears land on the hearth below and her heart again went out to him. Her anger had been brief, and all the feeling she had left for him was sorrow. She then remembered Sonya and her pulse intensified. All was not lost. She cleared her throat. “Daniel?”
He turned slowly to glare at her. Nothing daunted, she continued. “Your daughter, Sonya. She's alive. She's alive, and I spoke to her.”
A change occurred immediately. Hope visibly returned to the grief-stricken face and he approached her cautiously yet with unmistakable excitement. “You spoke to her?”
Anna nodded. “After a fashion.” She swallowed. “They -they're using her for an experiment.”
Daniel stood still, waiting. Whether it was patience or pent-up fury that kept him rooted to the floor she couldn't tell, but he waited nonetheless. Anna continued fearfully. “It's the project that they originally hired you for, the reason they took your brain scans. They built a system that used your scans to interface with other human brains via a special computer. Except,” she swallowed again, “that the heart of the transfer computer is a person.”
“Sonya. She is the computer. And I spoke to her through the interface.”
Behind the mask of his face Anna detected a hint of dismay, and Daniel stood for a full minute with his arms crossed, breathing slowly. He then roused himself, rounded the bend to the hallway and shut himself in the nearby bedroom with a slam.
Anna shivered and sighed a long sigh of relief. He was gone, at least for the moment, and now that she could relax a powerful exhaustion seeped into her bones. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the chair, pulling the quilt closer around her clammy body for warmth. The quilt smelled good, a kind of delightfully shabby grandmother type smell, and she buried her face in it and breathed slowly.
“That was my wife's,” a voice said, and Anna felt a warm hand on the back of her head. She tensed, then relaxed at Mr. Vicker's touch. Somehow his was the first touch today that she trusted, and she let his hand rest where it lay until she turned to look up at him.
“I'm sorry she's gone,” she whispered.
“And I as well,” Mr. Vickers replied, sitting down in the chair opposite her. He looked even older than usual today. He folded his hands in his lap and looked at them for a minute, then his eyes flicked back up to her face. “I can only guess the kinds of questions you have for me right now, and you deserve the answers to them.”
She did have questions, and they threatened to jumble together as she tried to decide which to ask him first. However, she decided to save the most obvious one for second and ask him the more burning one first: “How did you know?”
Mr, Vickers' brow furrowed. “How did I know what?”
Anna's pride suddenly threatened to choke off her explanation, but she forged ahead despite her discomfort. “You said . . . you've warned me for years that I would regret what I did one day.” She paused, hesitant. “Because I- I do regret it.” She stared back at him, straight into his soulful eyes. “How did you know? How did you know that . . . that I was not happy?”
Mr. Vickers looked back at her mildly, his only movement the rise and fall of his chest. Anna almost thought she saw a smile brewing deep inside him. He cocked his head at her and rubbed his forehead with his fingers. “Annalise,” he began, the smile that she suspected beginning to curl the edges of his mouth, “Annalise, I am old. I've watched many people grow and change, I've grown and changed myself. And if I've learned anything from my observations of people, young and old, that would be that I know when they are unhappy. When someone is unhappy it isn't usually difficult to find the cause, as long as one takes the time and the care to get to know that person.”
Anna frowned, unsure if he had answered the question. “But- but how did you know? Specifically?”
The full-blown smile appeared. “Because HomoGen's work, and Central Admin's work, are fundamentally untrue. You cannot be happy following that which is untrue.”
The concept was so foreign to her that she sat silently, trying to let the words penetrate. Untrue? Why was it untrue? Before she would have laughed in his face at such a suggestion, but now something in her soul resonated to the concept, though she didn't know why.
Mr. Vickers leaned forward towards her and he took her hands in his. “If you really want to know how I know, all you have to do is look around you, and think. You are unhappy because you know deep in your soul that what you do and what you've seen are troubling things. They are not good, they are untrue.” He released her hands. “There is no love in what HomoGen does, and there never will be. And you desire love. I see it with you and Jesse, I see it with your devotion to your job, I see it in everything you do. You want to love and to be loved.”
Anna's breath caught in her throat. One part of her demanded she rebel against his words, that she drive him away. She felt her desire for her work, her memories of HomoGen being pulled away from her and her body screamed that she resist. Then suddenly she heard the Secretary's words again: There is no love in this entire process, and it's about time the charade was dropped.
Adam knew that what he was doing was untrue.
The other part of her found itself listening to Mr. Vickers. “Jesse doesn't love me,” she blurted out. “He never did.”
“Probably not,” Mr. Vickers agreed.
“Did you know the SubVersion complex existed?” she asked, trying to change the subject.
“We had a pretty good idea that the part you saw did indeed exist, and of course Daniel is familiar with a certain portion of it. But we weren't absolutely sure what was going on there until this afternoon. You'll have to give us the rest of the details later of course,” Mr. Vickers said, leaning back again in his chair. “Which leads to your next question: why is Daniel in my house?”
Mr. Vickers shrugged. “He is Verité. So am I.”
Even though she had already begun to guess, the revelation still shocked her. “How could you be Verité?” she demanded.
“Because Verité was my idea.”
Now she truly gaped at him. “Your what?”
“Verité is the brainchild of none other than myself, your father, and your mother,” Mr. Vickers continued. “It exists now partly under my supervision and guidance.”
Anna's head spun. She struggled to hold her rising ire in check and she sat up straight, the quilt falling away from her shoulders. “You run Verité? And my parents used to as well? Then how in the world did Verité justify killing my parents? What sort of rationalizing did they have to do, did you have to do?”
Mr. Vickers shifted in his seat, less with discomfort it seemed than a kind of disappointment. “Annalise, why in the world would we have killed your parents? They were our biggest allies.”
Confused and faltering, Anna continued: “But- it was all over the news! It's what I've been told for ages, the Secretary even corroborated it!”
“And you believe everything the media and Central Admin put out?” Mr. Vickers eyed her. “The Party Secretary, he is a trustworthy and honest man? He has never lied to you before? Annalise, Central Admin denies that the SubVersion complex even exists. Their mission from the first day of Verité's existence has always been to discredit and destroy us, by any means possible. Back in the day a warning came to us, that someone from Central Admin knew that your parents were with Verité and within that same week your parents were dead.” He stared hard at Anna. “Killed with a weapon we didn't even possess at the time. I assure you, we had nothing to do with it. It wouldn't have made any sense.”
Anna shook her head; all of this new information was almost too much to bear. She felt a new anger now, the horrible thought that everything she had ever known was a lie and that she would never know the truth. Mr. Vickers' story rang true, but she felt afraid as her old opinions crumbled to pieces around her. Suddenly her anger could center on no one but herself.
Her next question surfaced and she decided to change the subject again. “Daniel called you 'Father.' Are you his father?”
Mr. Vickers smiled. “In a way, yes. I am a Catholic priest.”