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19 February 2009 @ 02:41 pm
Dollhouse Fic: Trap Doors  
Written for dollhouseflash Challenge #001 – Control

Title: Trap Doors
Pairing/Characters: Echo, Topher, Adelle
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Ghost
Summary: Topher's just as trapped as Echo just in a different way
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ

A familiar chime calls: bedtime.

But Echo's feet do not automatically turn and head for the bedchamber.

She watches the others file past as she leans against the metal banister. It's cool against her arm and that draws her attention away. Cold. It occurs to her that she's never cold here despite bare arms; her bare feet walk over warmed wood and tile.

Shower, nightgown, bed. It's the same every night and has been since... Echo's not sure when, but that's just the way it is. The question of how long still niggles at the edges of her thoughts though.

The lights begin to dim. She's hesitated too long and some instinct hustles her to take a place at the end of the queue heading into the chamber.

She slips into her compartment on autopilot, already anticipating the sweet scent that's piped in to soothe them into sleep.

She needs it tonight. Some trouble lurks in the back of her mind, some hurt tightens her chest. She will have to ask the doctor about that.

The sleeping compartment that should be her nightly respite feels suddenly too small, her nightgown too insufficient.

And then the compartment door begins to close.

Her chest clenches violently, choking her breath. She gasps, frantic, heart racing. She wants out, but fears getting in the way of the automated cover, getting caught, trapped, hurt.

She watches, paralyzed by an inability to act and wild-eyed with panic, as the cover glides into place and locks her in with a quiet click that reverberates in her skull with horrible finality.

Once it's shut she flails, rails against the tiny confined space that feels too similar to a coffin in too many ways.

There's no air... No air... Can't breathe...

Lightheaded, vision spinning, world swirling tilting whirling... She should call out, but there's a hollow feeling inside when she thinks that no one will hear, no one will come.

The sweet scent swells in the compartment and she turns gasping towards the vent, sucking it in as if it's the life-giving air she so desperately craves.

Her heart pounds in her chest, every muscle is taut with terror and sleep is but a dream that she prays will replace this nightmare.

Out... Out... Someone please come get me out... Please...

She struggles to regain control, but this fear... It floods her and she's drowning, dying.

The sweetness is sickly strong, almost wet in her mouth now as she begins to fade, both grateful for and fearful of the oblivion claiming her.

When I wake up, the door will be open.
When I wake up, the door will be open.

She repeats the words to herself desperately, like a mantra, and they consume her thoughts as she begins to drift away.


"Damn it!"

Topher types furiously into the console, upping Echo's sedative gas until her bio readings stop spiking wildly and finally show her losing consciousness.

"The imprint had the claustrophobia, not Echo! It should be gone! It should all be gone!"

Rushing, he retrieves the drive with her last imprint on it and shoves it into the reader at his desk, bringing up the results of the last wipe on his screen, searching frantically for what could have gone wrong.

"Everything all right?"

Topher bolts up at the sound of Adelle's cool voice unexpectedly behind him.

"Yeah! Everything's fine! All Actives in bed and accounted for."

Adelle gives him a calculating look, piercing eyes boring into him, scrutinizing. Topher forces a plastic smile and hopes he looks normal enough to pass this impromptu inspection. Her eyes cast over his displays, but at this point nothing looks out of the ordinary.

"Very well then. Carry on."

He doesn't let out the breath he's holding until she's gone.

Bringing up the Actives' scheduling program he quickly deletes Echo's morning massage and replaces it with a treatment session.

He needs to get out, get some air, clear his head.

He starts to make his way out of the building, nervously picking up his pace once he's within sight of the exit door.

"Oh, Topher? A word. In my office."

Adelle's voice halts his feet, but not the increasingly rapid heartbeat in his chest.

With one last longing glance at the door, he turns and follows, obedient.

Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on February 19th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
New fandom! (I get to say that again because my first fic in this fandom was a crossover.)

Okay, this is officially my first straight up Dollhouse fic. I got this bunny long before Romeo Haunted, but I wanted to take some time with it, let it stew in the back of my mind before I tried writing it.

I confess I am claustrophobic, but even my slashwife - who is not - had a reaction to the lids closing on the sleep compartments over the Actives. Gah! (Side note: a place that big and they only get tiny twin bed sized compartments for their most prized personnel? Jeez, you get more room in a sleeping compartment on a freaking *train*!)

I also had to note that they most certainly must have a crazy ass heating bill for that place. The actives walk around in sleeveless tops all the time and bare feet aren't even a deal at all. I suspect in-floor heating. Pricey, but explains the lack of carpet.

Finally, the idea that imprints have faults (poor eyesight and asthma) made me think a) what if one of Echo's imprints was claustrophobic and b) what if some of that phobia remained after she was supposedly wiped? She'd be terrified of her once peaceful bed. That and Topher would be terrified of Adelle finding out. This isn't the kind of job where you quit and take your knowledge to a competitor. Topher's likely to find himself the victim of a wipe if he tries to give his notice - or worse.

Very special thanks to beta melissima for her assistance with this fic.


Emma DeMarais
trovia: skytrovia on February 19th, 2009 10:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is awesome. I think this is the best Dollhouse fic I've read so far. I like that clever parallel between Echo's claustrophobia and Topher's situation. It was a great insight into both character.

I thought of claustrophobia too when I first saw those coffins. And I'm not claustrophobic at all. Quite the contrary (I have a tendency towards agoraphobia... uncomfortable in open spaces). I'd sleep like a baby in those beds. But I doubt that all dolls share that sentiment.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 19th, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! /is very flattered/ The fandom being less than a week old on canon there's not much fic out there yet, but I really wanted to get one or two of mine in during this period because it's rare I get in on the ground floor of a fandom, much less a *Joss* one!

How interesting that even an agoraphobic recognizes the potential for claustrophobia in those beds! There's a denning instinct and there's putting animals in cages. The Actives, IMHO, are more in the latter situation. I can totally see an agoraphobic wanting to den, but the big difference is, you can get out any time you want...
trovia: my sexy geek glassestrovia on February 19th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
Agreed. The notion that those doors can't be opened from within is very frightening. Not a chance I'd be comfortable about that. It makes a nice, subtle point about the environment of the dolls though, methinks.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 19th, 2009 11:17 pm (UTC)
Okay, you just made my chest clench with that sentence. (Breathe... Breathe...)

P.S. Who is that in your icon? I love the idea of sexy geek glasses. /adores Garcia the sexy geek on Criminal Minds/
trovia: my sexy geek glassestrovia on February 19th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Gah, I'm so sorry! I wasn't thinking. It's very late at night at my place.

That's one of the Model 6 Cylons on Battlestar Galactica 2003, who are all played by Tricia Helfer. It's the only copy of the model who has glasses (the others all wear slinky dresses), hence the joke. :)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 19th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
I thought it might be her, but I didn't recall her wearing glasses (I've only seen the slinky dress versions LOL).

And NP. One never knows what will trigger, you know? I mean I wrote this fic and got through it fine (well mostly - some of the sensations were mine only intensified) but there's something about it being introduced apart from oneself that makes it seem more pronounced.

Last year I wrote a fic with much more extreme claustrophobia in it: two bouts - one of them deadly. Now *that* was a true test. I still need to open the window and breathe deep when I review that one. /opens window/ /breathes/
trovia: methostrovia on February 20th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)
I'm in awe in the first place that you write fic with potential triggers. I've got a couple of subjects I avoid like hell in fic because they'd just make me too uncomfortable if written well.

but there's something about it being introduced apart from oneself that makes it seem more pronounced.

It's when it's unexpected, no? It's easier when you see it coming.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 20th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)
I've been called a "challenging" author and that's about right. I go out of my way to hit topics that are uncomfortable, edgy or just plain out there. (I'm allergic to schmoop. I like angst and love being thought provoking.) I view writing as potential catharsis: for me and for some readers. Part of what makes writing powerful IMHO is its ability to make people feel, ergo me trying to write topics/storylines that affect people.

FWIW, it's not just unexpected - it's too capricious for that. I think it's when I've established a particular conversation is safe (i.e. with someone who gets phobic behavior) and *then* a trigger is introduced. In a fic where I talk about claustrophobic reactions I tend to expect claustrophobic related comments ergo not unexpected. /shrugs/ But it's all conjecture. One cannot predict with total accuracy when a phobia will be triggered...
trovia: methostrovia on February 20th, 2009 11:52 pm (UTC)
Well, you're a better person than me then. I also don't like schmoop a lot but I'm not enough of a friend of humanity to subject myself to triggers just to challenge readers. :) I'll gladly tackle tricky issues but I'd rather research a subject foreign to me. Other writers can take care of the rest. They usually do a better job than me with these anyway. I've tried writing fic about people with chronic depression. It sucked. ;)
juliet316: Waterjuliet316 on February 19th, 2009 11:06 pm (UTC)
*delurks; shudders*

Yeah the claustrophobia was in the back of my head too when I caught what little I could of Dollhouse last week (forgot it was on and only caught the last five - ten minutes. Awesome 5 - 10 minutes though). Honestly what if one of the Actives had a previous fear of enclosed places. What do these people do in that instance?

Poor Topher in this instance. Caught between a rock and a hard place.

Brilliant story.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 19th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you for delurking to comment! /puts out platter of cookies for you/

You can't watch it on Hulu.com or anywhere online? You really need to see it. I admit the first half was a bit slow, but the second half made it worthwhile. I'm really looking forward to the next one.

I was talking this over with my roommate because her beta comment to me was wondering if Echo would know what a coffin was in her wiped state. My thought is they don't destroy any language related knowledge - the Dolls can still talk - but they erase personal memory. So any phobias would likely be wiped with the memories. At least that's my take on it. It kind of works since many phobias are incident triggered (a kid has a fear of dogs because they were bitten once for example).

I wasn't sure I could make anyone sorry for Topher (he was a bit of an ass in the episode, but not horribly so, mostly just cocky and thoughtless) but when I looked at his role? He's as stuck there as the Dolls are, just in a different way: he knows it.
juliet316: Amy Leejuliet316 on February 19th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
Cookies! Yum! *grabs*

I'll probably either try to tomorrow at school or hijack my nephew's computer. My current laptop doesn't support the upgraded Flashplayer everysite seems to support.

Yeah, that makes sense. I'm just wondering what if some lingering essence of personality/Memory remains (as Joss has hinted with Echo)? What if some phobia came to light in an Active at one point. Just one avenue of thought.

As for Topher: Probably more has to do with me not being able to watch how he acts in the episode combined with the great writing. I'm sure I'd probably think he was an ass too if I watched more than the last 10 minutes, although his being an ass could hide his true concern/thoughts over the Dollhouse situation. (thinks about a Torchwood character when she thinks of this).

You've got me strongly thinking of writing out and posting a teaser one - shot to this Dollhouse duology I've been thinking about every since I read the sypnosis of this show last year before the Strike happened (I get bunnies fast). But I've got a few challenges/ficathon assignments in other areas to answer first.

BTW, your Supernatural cross was good too.
(Deleted comment)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 20th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
Thanks! I've tried to stay away from series spoilers, but yeah it seems clear Joss is focusing on Echo's development into a more sentient version of herself. I'm intrigued by the idea that cracks might go both ways: Echo seeping into her imprinted personality and echoes of the imprint reverberating in Echo's supposedly wiped mind.

The claustrophobia comes from mine, so definitely the easier part. LOL
catko: dollhouse 001catko on February 20th, 2009 04:58 am (UTC)
I know I already told you this, but I just want to weigh in...I really like this, though it gives me the shivers.

It's so intriguing, Echo's small moves to .. rebel?.. against the programming? The surfacing of the Self (which turns out to be the imprint, scary).

And the parallel in Topher, his rising panic. One mistake and it's life, death, or exposure. Makes me like him better.

Plus the whole idea of bits of more than one personality in the Dolls is claustrophobic; clearly claustrophobia is a theme with all of us.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 20th, 2009 05:05 am (UTC)
Hey there! Thanks for officially commenting. :-)

I hope you like the new version. The essence remains, but I like the rewrites better and the new ending drives the point home more profoundly IMHO.

I'm excited to see, as the episodes progress, this rebellion as you put it - the surfacing of Echo, rising up from the bland sameness of wiped Doll mentality.

Because if all she were was vegetative Doll then why watch? Joss is too evil to leave her like that. Hehehe
mamaboolj on February 20th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
This is a really great story. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed the parallels. And your descriptions of their "traps" is very well done.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 20th, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

There's so little canon at this point, but I really got that sense that this was not a place anyone could just easily quit, which really made me sympathetic to Boyd, Claire and yes, even to Topher.
Lisaobiwahn on February 20th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
Some trouble lurks in the back of her mind, some hurt tightens her chest. She will have to ask the doctor about that.

The sleeping compartment that should be her nightly respite feels suddenly too small, her nightgown too insufficient.

And then the compartment door begins to close.

My heart is breaking for Echo reading this! And then the part that follows? It very much is like being buried alive, isn't it? Just terrifying imagery! And Echo wanting to get out and feeling like she's drowning...gah.

As the cover glides into place and locks her in with a quiet click that reverberates in her skull with horrible finality.

Love that line :-)

I love the end...you take us from one scene to another with beautiful fluidity. This fic makes me more intrigued with Topher's character. I wonder if, given the possibility that he doesn't want to work there someday, he would have a choice in leaving? I wonder just how much control Adelle has over him?
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 20th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for this wonderful comment!

I wasn't sure after the episode if I could make Topher sympathetic, but I really get the sense that Adelle will not allow anyone to threaten her operation. I mean, she's ready to pull the Active to avoid exposure even if it means a young girl is subject to torment by her captors. I'm glad we have Boyd as the conscience of the show else Adelle's Dollhouse might be a very cold world indeed. And with mind wiping technology at her disposal? Yeah, people can leave, but they can't take it with them - literally. /shudder/

It's hard to describe claustrophobia to people who don't have it, but I do like to remind people it's more about feeling trapped than it is about small spaces. The Active's bed compartments? OMG Claustrophobic in the extreme. Automated covers that essentially lock them in for the night? Eep! What a lovely prison they live in, but prison it certainly is.