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Captive Audience

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Vicky looks into the mirror.

She hates the face that looks back. Hates the idiot it belongs to. Hates everything about it. But she grins at it, anyway, and it grins back, a flash of white teeth in its stupid, pale, old-man head, and she can't help loving the sight.

This is it. Her big break. The role of a lifetime. No, not of a lifetime. Of an eternity. This one is going to run a long, long time.

"All right, Vicky," she says, in Michael's voice. That's going to take some getting used to, but she'll manage. She is inhabiting the role. "You've got this." She takes a deep breath, centers herself, finds the deep pool of talent within her, and taps it.

"Hello," she says into the mirror. It smiles at her again. "I'm Michael! Look at me! I'm a great big traitor. I loooooooove humans! Not. Now I'm going to torture you forever." She throws back her head. "Bwhahahahaha!"

Yeah. Nailed it. Sweet cheese food in a can, but she's good.

Now to go and try it on an audience.


"Hello, Janet."

From her place in the cell, the Good Janet looks at her. "Hi, Vicky."

"I imagine you're wondering... Hey. Wait. How did you know it was me?"

Janet sighs. "I know literally everything."

Her words slur slightly, thanks to the magnets securing her here, and there's a faintly dopey expression on her face. It's weirdly... cute. Ugh. Vicky hastily turns the magnets' field strength down a little. Not enough to let her escape. Just enough not to have to look at that.

"If you know literally everything," Vicky says, "then how come you didn't know what we were planning? Hmm?" It starts out as a taunt, but she's genuinely a little curious. She's never quite understood how Janets work.

Janet sighs. "Knowing something and paying attention to it are two different things. Even I can't concentrate on everything at once. And I was busy! Also, nobody asked."

"That," says Vicky, "is just lame."

Janet actually looks a little... What is that? Embarrassed? "Yeah," she says. "I feel kind of bad about it." Oh. Huh. Maybe that's what that expression is. Regret. Vicky's mostly only used to seeing that on humans. Maybe occasionally on Michael. Oh, is that what that face he sometimes makes is?

Experimentally, Vicky tries to replicate the expression, but Janet just looks confused. Never mind. She can practice it in the mirror later, if she needs to. She might not. Michael isn't supposed to have regret over torturing the humans, is he? Or would it make for a more interesting script if he does? Damn it, what is her motivation here?

Janet is still looking at her funny. "I didn't know Janets were capable of feeling bad," Vicky says, trying for a little bit of a sneer. Does Michael sneer? He has to, right? Who doesn't sneer?

"They do when they've been rebooted over eight hundred times," says Janet.

"Sucks to be you," says Vicky.

Janet tilts her head a little, and smiles. It's an odd-looking smile on a Janet. Even a Good Janet. "Not really," she says. "Having all these emotions is weird, but it's kind of nice. You should try it."

"Hey! Are you saying I don't have emotions? I have plenty of emotions. I have range, dammit!"

"Okay," says Janet. "Not what I meant, but okay."

"So, what did you mean, then?"

"It's just, it's nice to have friends. To make connections to people. You might like it."

"Euuugh," says Vicky. She shudders. It's an interesting effect in Michael's body. There's a lot more of him to shudder. "No." She tries the sneer again. It feels much better this time. More natural.

"Oh," says Janet. "Yeah, no. Michael does not look like that."

Vicky makes an annoyed noise. "It's a work in progress, okay? I just need to find the right entry point for the character, that's all." A thought suddenly occurs to her. "Hey, what if I played him with an Australian accent? G'day, humans!" She throws her elbows out a little and shimmies back and forth, just to sell the energy. "I'm gonna grill ya like a shrimp on the barbie, mates. That's not a knife, this is a knife! The knife I'm gonna bloody torture ya with!"

"That does sound exactly like Michael's Australian accent."

Vicky beams.

"I didn't say that was a good thing," says Janet.

Vicky makes a slightly different annoyed noise and, with a gesture, unzips the suit. She has no desire to play to an unappreciative audience like this.

"Well, if you're so smart," says says, in her own voice now, "you tell me how Michael would play it."

"Torturing the humans? Well, he wouldn't. Because he's their friend."

"And, what, once you get a taste of this magical thing called friendship, you never want to go back to torturing?" Vicky scoffs.

"Being friends with people does make you not want to torture them," says Janet. "It's pretty neat!"

"Oh, what do you know about it, anyway. You never tortured anybody."

"No, I just provide them with information. Also snacks. But I used to do it because it's my function. Now I do it because it's my function and because I like them and want to help them."

"You actually sound like you enjoy it. How is any of that fun?" asks Vicky, confused.

"I don't know. It just is!" Janet gives her that bright, happy Good Janet smile.

Vicky rolls her eyes. "Ugh. I don't believe I'm missing karaoke night for this. I could be in the bar right now. I do an amazing version of 'The Song That Never Ends.'"

"I'm sure you do," says Janet, in what Vicky is fairly sure is meant to be a patronizing tone.

"I do, thank you very much. If you know literally everything, you should know that."

A brief, pained look flits over Janet's face, apparently as she calls up a memory. "Oh. Wow. Yeah. That's... That's a lot of verses you make it through."

"I know, right?" Vicky smiles.

"And your tolerance for having rotten vegetables thrown at you is... Well. Good job, I guess?"

"It's not a good karaoke night unless everybody ends the night covered in vegetables."

"And people wonder why Michael doesn't want to go back," Janet mutters.

"Yeah," says Vicky. "I don't get it, either."

"You know, it's funny. You've spent almost as long among the humans as Michael has. And almost as much time in the neighborhood with Michael as I have. And yet you still don't know any of them very well. And the experience hasn't changed you at all."

"Well, unlike Michael, I can play a part without turning into it. Like, that time I pretended to have a limp?" She gives Janet a smug look. "My leg actually felt fine the whole time."

"All right, but what if..." Janet leans forward earnestly now. "What if your leg felt bad to start with, but playing the part made it feel better?"

Vicky scowls. "It didn't. I just told you. It was fine." Although if Janet thinks otherwise, even after being told differently, Vicky supposes that's a compliment to her acting ability. Isn't it?

"No, I'm saying, being a better person is like that. Like there's something inside you that doesn't work perfectly, and you don't even realize it until it starts to get better. And the amazing thing is, you can start to become a better person just by acting like one."

"Hey, there is nothing wrong with me. I am living my dream!"

Oh, what is that look Janet's giving her now? Skepticism? Pity? It had better not be pity. Ick. "Is that really true, though? Are you really happy? It doesn't feel like there's anything missing?"

For a moment, just a moment, some strange, doubtful feeling creeps over Vicky. Thoughts flit through her mind, almost too quickly to pay attention to: Shawn's insults. The knowledge of how much more she could do with her acting if she had the chance. The feeling of not-quite-rotten enough vegetables pelting her in the face. Realizing she's spent too many twists and turns of the Bearimy trapped inside a cocoon. The endless low-level crappiness of the Bad Place and everyone in it. How even when they were being tortured, the humans in Michael's neighborhood sometimes looked happy, like they were enjoying each other's company, and how she hated them for that. For having something she's never, ever had.

Janet's expression softens. It's probably still pity, though.

"Oh, shut up," Vicky says.

"You know what I think?" says Janet. "I think anyone can change. I think you can, too."

Is there something in that? Some key to understanding the character she's trying to play? Or to understanding something else?

Vicky blinks, and shakes her head, and tries to shrug it off. She'll think about it later, maybe. In front of the mirror. "Nice try," she says. "Attempting to get me to switch sides? But I am not letting you out."

Janet shrugs. "It was worth a try." Yeah, that look is definitely pity. Well, screw her. She's the one in a cell, not Vicky.

"I'll be back," Vicky says. "I"m gonna go work on my character some more."

"If you need help with that," says Janet, "let me know."

She sounds like she means something different from it than Vicky does. But Vicky isn't going to think too hard about what. It's all just more Good Place crap anyway. Right?

She leaves the cell, zips up the suit, and goes to find another mirror. Eventually, she'll figure out her motivation.