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Echoes of the Past (Holographic Businesswoman Remix)

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"No, the other coaxial node!"

The former operative gave a sigh as he shifted his attention to the other node. He was a competent electrician and computer systems specialist--there was no skill which was not useful in his line of work, which was, essentially, miracle-working--but this was beyond even what he could handle. Which, unfortunately, required bringing in outside help.

Even more unfortunately, it required Mr. Universe. No one else had the knowledge necessary to complete this task. No one else could be trusted.

The operative re-connected the wires as he had been instructed. "Now?" he asked, glancing at the stream of information on a nearby monitor.

"Go for it," Mr. Universe agreed. "Now just use a Paisley algorithm to re-route the holographic processor to the firmware on the external drives, and you should be good to go."

The operative nodded, quickly executing the command on the sophisticated machine. He skimmed description files for the list of drives, then found one which looked promising.

IMPRINT:\BRAVO\dir\HY47432.75~A       DEWITT, ADELLE       Director, Dollhouse, Los Angeles
Dollhouse. There was that word again. What it was or what it had to do with what had been done to River Tam, he couldn't be sure, but all his avenues of inquiry had ultimately led only to whispers of this legendary place in the last centuries of Earth-that-Was.

Dollhouse.

Having transferred the holoprocessor's control to the drive marked DEWITT, he flipped the switch which would boot the system.

There was a microsecond's worth of lag before a woman appeared in front of him, tall with black hair and white skin, dressed in sharp professional clothing circa the 21st century. She blinked, looked around, and seemed to recognize the holographic projectors which surrounded her. The sides of her mouth wrinkled, but if the resulting expression was a frown or a smile, he couldn't quite say.

"Awesome," came Mr. Universe's voice across the link. "Talk about a hot GUI."

"I'm a hologram," DeWitt noted in an Earth-that-Was accent consistent with the apparent era of her clothing, ignoring Mr. Universe's aside. "How drole." After another moment of surveying her surroundings, she added, "What year is it?"

When he told her, she just nodded. She poked herself in her side, the finger being gently stopped by her own flesh, then reached out towards him--her hand passing right through his face. "Were there no Actives available," she asked, "or is there something to be gained from keeping me in this incorporeal state? I can certainly think of quite a few instances where this would have been useful."

He blinked. "Excuse me?"

DeWitt just rolled her eyes. "You obviously called my imprint out of mothball oblivion for some purpose. What is it?"

"I have a friend," he answered. "Something was done to her brain, something involving the Dollhouse." He brought up the scans of River's brain showing her severed amygdala.

She glanced at the scans briefly. "I am a businesswoman, Mister--?"

"Book," he answered. "Shepherd Derial Book."

She seemed to understand the implication of the honorific, even though it would not have been in common use in her time. "Then we both know what it is to ask someone to give oneself up completely, to be born into a new life, Shepherd." Her gaze was hard, piercing, unrelenting.

Book had been what he had been long enough to not squirm under it, but after a minute the silence became too deafening. "Can you help me?" he asked.

"As I said, I'm a businesswoman. So the question is, how can you help me?"

Book processed this. "And the answer?"

DeWitt graced him with a smile. "I do not particularly cherish the idea of being on-call to the centuries."

This surprised him; if anything, he would have expected her to ask him to keep the program running. "You want me to destroy the drive?"

DeWitt nodded. "I am sure you can understand what it is like to fear eternity more than oblivion, Shepherd." She put just enough emphasis on his title for him to know that she understood him, recognized him for what he was all the way down to his core." She examined the scans. "I'm assuming the imprinting technology has been lost?" she asked.

"Imprinting technology?"

"They must have had a way of copying information directly from the brain to electronic storage, and vice versa," Mr. Universe chimed in helpfully. "That's how they would have made our holographic woman here. The process must have been left behind on Earth-that-Was; compared to that, what happened to the Tam girl . . . well, it'd be like reprogramming a computer by taking a sledge hammer to its hard-drive," Mr. Universe noted. "Neither elegant nor precise, but occasionally effective."

"Can it be reversed?"

"I don't know," answered Mr. Universe doubtfully. "You'd need a hell of a surgeon, and . . . someone to manipulate the data. It'd take a gorram genius to be able to do it--I don't think I could do it, even if I was familiar with the process."

"There'll be imprints in the database you found mine in who'll be able to do if anyone can," DeWitt responded. "Claire Saunders and Topher Brink. The latter not being good at pretty much anything but his job, but they're the geniuses you need."

Shepherd Book nodded and stepped away from the console, stepping over the cold corpse of his fellow ex-operative at his feet. Impaled upon his own katana, the authorities would rule his cause of death a suicide, and never stop to ask themselves if someone else might not have been in the room with him. The Parliamentary Cabinet for Martial Action would know better, of course, but the time PCMA realized what had happened, Book would already have made the necessary arrangements to protect the information he had uncovered. Nor would they be able to identify his as this ex-operative's assassin.

This is why faking his own death on Haven, as well as Mr. Universe's, had been absolutely neccesary. Nothing else would have granted him the freedom necessary to fully investigate what had happened to River.

"It was nice doing business with you, Miss DeWitt," Book said, this being one of the few times in his life when he was telling the truth, and shut down the projector and booted down the external drive, making sure to keep the firmware intact. He might have need to do business with her again.