This fic is based off the USA sci fi series The 4400. (Look, Amber-- whee! ^_~) I can't believe I've actually written a fic-- small thought this is-- for it, despite the fact I love the show. I don't know why, really... *shrugs* I don't know if this sucks or not, and I think the ending is a little weak but, in the end, my muse and Maia Rutledge won out. This is a character piece, for said Maia, taking place sometime during the pilot episode.
I don't know if anyone (aside from Amber) follows the series, or will get any enjoyment out of this fic, but I thought I'd post it anyway. It's something.
Playing For Marbles 1/1
by Meredith Bronwen Mallory
In Quarantine, no one asks 'where are you from?'-- at least not straight off. It's not what Maia's father, an advertising agent, would have called an 'appropriate opening line'. Even now, narrow chin held between her small, soft hands, Maia smiles, because she can hear Father's voice so clearly. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine the din of people talking and crying and asking questions was just the clink of glass, laughter, the murmur of soft conversation. She would be upstairs, tucked in under her fluffy white comforter, watching the hall light shift with the shadows of people Mother and Father were entertaining downstairs. 'Where are you from?' was a good opening line then, before the white light and the chilly, crowded Washington lake-bed. Getting people to feel at ease was always important, Father said-- people like to talk about themselves. It's just the same, here.
Except here, trapped by the glass and gray walls and surreptitious glances of inkhaki-clad guards, they ask, 'When are you from?'
Maia Rutledge is from 1946. She tells herself this in her head, much as a POW might repeat their address over and over, or turn his sweetheart's full name into a type of religious chant. Now she is in 2003, which sounds like some type of code, or an emotionless city-of-the-future that she used to see in the pulps. 'Trash', her mother called them, but Maia couldn't help but be drawn to the bright, lurid colors of Astounding, Weird Tales, and Galaxy-- she read them while Mother was in line at the Deli, small shoulders hunched over to hide. But Two Thousand Three is not the name of a robot city, or a distant, unimaginable star-- it's the year, and all the khaki guards and white-smocked scientists let it roll off their tongues with ease.
Matter of fact.
Everyone in Quarantine wants to read the newspapers and magazines-- there's hardly enough to go around. Sometimes there are little scuffles, a raised hand or voice, and a guard will usher the losing party away. There are TV's, too, always crowded around by knots of wide-eyed people and, though she was at first fascinated by the vibrant colors, Maia shies away from them, now. Sometimes, if the scene before the curved glass is dark, she'll see the faces of returnees reflected back, anxious, unbelieving and lost. Instead, Maia helps herself to a torn corner of newspaper, and very carefully does the math.
It's in her borrowed corner, tongue caught between her tiny teeth and stubby pencil quivering over the large '57', that Maia first sees Diana Skouris. The Lady, Maia calls her in her head. She walks so purposefully, this Lady, folders held in one arm, that Maia can't help but watch her, taking in her tailored suit and pinned hair.
'Now there's a gal who knows where she's going,' says the echo of Father's voice. Maia smiles a little at this, balling the scrap of paper and its terrible 57 into a wad and shoving it away. Maybe she sighs, or maybe the paper makes more noise than she thought, because the Lady's eyes change from looking inside herself, to looking at the Quarantine hall, and her eyes are right on Maia. Her eyes are very blue, the little girl thinks, and listens to the click-click of low heels as the older woman nods, smiles, and turns away. It's the smile that lingers in Maia's mind, because it is so rare; there are always people looking at her, looking through her, talking to or about her, but they are scientists, and they never smile. Among the Others, the returnees, Maia will sometimes get smiles, or the occasional hug, but there is always a bitter tinge to their lips, or a grip too tight in the comforting embrace.
There is something in Maia's head, then-- something worse than the numbers, or the heavy, bloated certainty of never seeing Mother or Father again. When Maia was six, her cousin died of polio; she stood in front of the small, angel marker and stared at the stone words so long that they melted and blurred. Nothing could change those words, though, and nothing can change what Maia knows now; that the Lady, with her nice smile and very blue eyes, will get a phone call tonight. From her own Father, who inspires in the Lady feelings Maia can slightly relate to her own mother-- and this call, like Mother's distracted 'that's nice dear' or pat on the head, will hurt. The Lady will make strong coffee and eat cold pizza and cry a little into the sink.
I don't want to know this, Maia thinks. Once, on the television, she saw a flickering black-and-white image of bodies, so many bodies, and she had known it was the War-- capital 'W', father cursing, saying 'don't look, honey, don't look'. That picture is still in her mind now, as if she has been carrying it around in her pocket, and she feels heavy, heavy, with all the things she doesn't want to know.
(My name is Maia Elizabeth Rutledge.
I am from 1946.
I just turned nine years old.
I go to Crescent City Elementary and my teacher is Miss Hanely and when it was my birthday she had everyone sing for me before we went out to recess, and then Wanda let me go first at marbles and I won, though I think she let me, and she gave me a blue glass one that's just like the Lady's eyes and it's still in my sweater pocket, right now, in 2003.)
And quietly, quietly...
(There's something wrong with me and the math says 57. Fifty seven, I should be a grandma right now, maybe I should be dead, with an angel marker and my own stone words, can't take it back, playing for keepsies. I know and I know and I can't stop knowing, and I can't make it all go away.)
Maia tilts her head down, as if she is hiding, forehead to knees and arms up around her head, trying to be small. She is shaking, shaking so hard that a tall man comes and picks her up and asks if she is alright. Does she have a special friend here? Anyone she knows? Maia says no, not really-- she tilts her chin up to look him in the eye, internally proud that no tears have spilled. I can hold them in, she tells herself, right up until one of the scientists pokes her finger for blood.
There's a sound then, in the white exam room, like a kitten trapped in a box. It's loud, and it's Maia, and the doctor is saying, 'I only gave her a little prick,' over and over again. Maia cries, cries the way she's wanted to since she found herself standing in the dry lakebed, marble in her pocket and flowers still clutched in her hand. The tears are big and fat, they roll down her cheeks and into her open mouth, tasting like the pier where her Father took her to the carnival once. Absurdly, she wants her Mother, though Mother never held her often, or kissed ouchies away. Now that's she's crying, she can't seem to stop-- all the doctors back away, as if she is some bomb that only Dick Tracey could diffuse.
"It's alright," someone says, and there's an arm around Maia's shoulder, pulling her so that she can rest her cheek on the lapel of a violet jacket. It's the Lady, patting Maia's hair, awkwardly trying to soothe. The Lady is not a mother, Maia knows, but she's trying really hard. "Hey," she says, "it's alright, sweetie. I'm sorry if the doctors were rough with you, I'll talk to them..."
"I'm from 1946," Maia says in her tear-soaked, broken little girl's voice, "Maia Rutledge, from 1946." She says it again, and once more for good measure, because of all the terrible stone-words and gray photos in her mind, that seems to be the only thing simple enough to fit in her throat.
"Diana Skouris," the Lady says, shaking Maia's hand without ever removing her comforting arms from the girl. "From Seattle, Washington."
It's the surprise that makes Maia look up-- look into those blue birthday-marble eyes and see that Diana understands. That you can be from a 'when' as easily as from a where; that Maia is like so many war refugees from the papers of her time.
The Old Country is gone.
They sit there quietly for a while-- Maia and Diana, legs dangling, paper crinkling on the examination table. Maia holds on, lets the older woman rock her gently, and her eyes only water a little when Diana is called away.
In Quarantine, the first question you ask, after the names, is 'when are you from?'. In Quarantine, everyone is always talking, and the television is always on. In Quarantine, everyone wears olive jumpsuits, and little badges with their names. But Maia still has her little gingham dress, and the purple sweater she was wearing when she went to pick flowers in the woods of 1946. Her parents are dead, and so is Miss Hanely, and all the people who used to laugh and toast and smoke downstairs while Maia tried to sleep. Wanda is dead, or a grandmother by now-- but Maia has the marble she won on her ninth birthday... a marble that's shiny and blue, like Diana's eyes.
Always remember-- feedback makes me love you dearly, and do the Snoopy Dance. ^_~
who needs to go read Leigh's OZ fic