The first thing Adelle DeWitt ever said to him was: “Dr. Christopher Brink, I presume.” He’d stood up and extended his hand, smiling nervously. She shook it with a strong grip, which made him nervous that she judged character that way, but she pulled her hand away before he could make any effort to squeeze harder.
“Ah, actually, it’s Topher.”
“Is it,” she says in a mild way that would usually set his teeth on edge, but strangely makes him like her more. “Topher, then. Shall we get on with the interview?”
“Um.” He raises a finger, calling for a pause. He then points down at himself. “I don’t suppose I could get a change of clothes first?”
In the beginning, he watched her because that was his job. He had to make sure his imprint would fully take, that she was integrating well, wouldn’t glitch. But he never stopped watching her. He never stopped watching because she was damaged, and he made her that way, and it makes him wonder about Dr. Rivers and himself, the differences and similarities in their techniques, what it would have been like to know his creator.
But Whiskey doesn’t know her creator either. She doesn’t know she has one. Sometimes, Topher envies her. But not for very long. Knowledge is power, they say, and Topher would buy stock in that philosophy if they were selling it.
Watching Whiskey, though, makes him appreciate his predecessor more than he had. Analogue cables aside, Topher himself is a masterpiece. Doctor Claire Saunders, he admits, is his opposite in every way. Topher is perfect. Claire is broken. He made her that way.
He wonders what that says about himself.
Topher waits three days after Lawrence Dominic is sent to the Attic before he goes to see Adelle about his problem. He’s been skirting it the past year, but fate and coincidence has forced him to face the truth. He’s just not sure how he should put it.
“So, I’m a genius, right?” DeWitt smiles tightly, where last week she would have agreed with him. Topher cuts her some slack. She generally agrees he’s a genius more often than the others. “But beyond being a genius, I’m also perfect. I mean obviously,” he waves his arms, “I have some flaws, but that’s what makes me perfect, it’s what makes me a genius. It’s like- like I tell Boyd. You can’t just throw together a perfect person. They have to have flaws to make them real. Short-sighted, asthmatic, traumatic or sordid past, or, you know,” Topher gestured dramatically at himself “neurotic and amoral with the general maturity level of a teenager.”
“Get to the point, please, Topher,” she tells him, and that’s another flaw, he can never talk about things in a way that other people really get what he’s saying, or maybe that’s the genius...
“What am I gonna do without Dominic?” Topher blurts out, and can tell immediately that was the wrong thing to say.
“We are all affected by Mr. Dominic’s actions, but I assure you-”
“No no no, that’s not- What do I do? Yes, it’s very sad he’s gone, but I mean, what about me? Is there going to be a handler re-imprint? Is it gonna be Boyd? ‘Cause I’ve got to admit, that would be kinda weird. In a bad way. It’d be bad-weird.”
“Topher, what on earth are you talking about?”
And he feels suddenly very small. But he is sure about this. Most of it. “Um, wasn’t Dominic my handler?”
DeWitt looks at him like he’s grown a second head. “Of course not. Why ever would you think so?”
“I trusted him,” Topher admits. “I mean, I didn’t want to come to his rescue when he was trying to kill Echo, and I sent him to the Attic like you told me to, and I know he really didn’t like me, but- I trusted him.” And she isn’t denying it, she isn’t, so he’s right and Jesus that shouldn’t make him happy, should it? He gets off on being right. He wonders if they made him that way on purpose. But Lawrence Dominic apparently wasn’t his handler, which doesn’t make sense-
DeWitt puts her tea cup down, very slowly and deliberately. “I’m going to tell you something that must not leave this office.” Topher nods. She looks at him, and the cold wall she’s been putting up since the incident turns into a face full of sorrow and compassion. Maybe a little pity. He can’t tell. “I trusted Mr. Dominic too. You- decided that on your own, Topher. There was no imprint involved.”
“Oh.” And the world’s suddenly gone a little tilt. His chest hurts. Oh.
“How long have you known?” she asks him.
“Since a couple months before Alpha, you know, went psycho.” And okay Topher, breathe.
DeWitt closes off again. “Ah. I was thinking perhaps that fiasco with the memory drug tipped you off.”
“What, that I reacted like November and not you? Yeah, that was a whole lot of icing on the cake.”
They are silent for a few minutes. Adelle sips her tea. Topher fidgets. “Is that why you suggested using Whiskey for Dr. Saunders’ replacement?” DeWitt eventually asks.
“It gave me the idea, yeah.”
“So what did tip you off?” Topher shrugs in a jerky, uncoordinated manner.
“I spend every day creating the personalities you put in the field. I work just like them. I’m perfect. I’m genius and I’m flawed and I fall into your little world just as Dr. Rivers is retiring? No way. So, after I realized that, I kinda, sorta, hacked the secure mainframe. Also!” Topher points out immediately, trying to draw attention away from his indiscretion. “Who knows all the stuff I do? Biology, chemistry, neurology, software programming, cutting edge technology in every field. I mean, what kind of neuro-scientist knows technology like I do, right?”
DeWitt smiles. “The kind we needed.”