Disclaimer: The Zeta Project and its associated characters are the property of WB, and no infringement of copyright is intended.
Feedback is always welcome.
It's the eyes that bother me the most.
You'd think that a pair of eyes wouldn't have such a lasting effect, but I can't help dwelling on them. Not the dark blue eyes that were the fake exterior, but the two "eyes" – optical receptors that seemed almost to get bigger as the technicians moved in, even... apprehensive?
And then there are Rosalie Rowan's eyes – a lighter shade of blue, but with so much emotion in them. Strong and defiant, wild and fearful, and then blurring into tears and a kind of terrible desperation. I've never seen anyone lose all hope right in front of me, and I hope never to have to see it again. We crushed her spirit that day, although we didn't mean too. We acted with the best of intentions. I still remember her fierce defiance as Rush and West brought her in.
"Where the hell is Zee? What have you bastards done with him? When we get out of here I am SO gonna kick your a..."
"The synthoid Zeta's brain has been wiped, and all of his memories deleted" I interrupted. "This 'adventure' of yours is over."
The shock on her face surprised me.
"You're lying," she said uncertainly. Then louder, "You're LYING!"
"I am not."
"I DON'T BELIEVE YOU!"
"See for yourself if you wish," I replied coldly.
Angrily, she shrugged loose of Rush and West and walked behind me into the lab. A few of the techs gave her funny looks but she ignored them as she ran up to the synthoid sitting on the table and threw her arms around him.
"Zee! You're alright!"
There was a pause. Then the familiar soft voice.
"Please identify yourself."
"Zee? It's me, Ro."
A pause, and I hear various agents behind me let loose a tiny sigh as there is no response. After such a long pursuit, many of them have developed almost superstitious beliefs about the robot. What followed was probably unnecessary, and as it turned out, nearly disastrous. I wanted to save people, including this rather misguided young lady, not destroy them. I didn't mean to be cruel.
"Zee? Zee? No... Oh God no... ZEE! You have to still be in there somewhere! ZEE! ZETA!!!"
At this point I realised that things were getting out of control.
"That's enough," I said. "Rush, West, take her to a holding cell while we sort out..."
"YOU MURDERERS!!!" She flung herself at me, crying and screaming and beating at me with her fists. "You killed him!!"
I slapped her across the face. I... regret that now. It was the wrong action, but I've never been very good with children.
"Get ahold of yourself," I said. "The dangerous synthoid personality has been removed. Now the reprogramming can begin and Zeta can once more serve this country in the way he was intended."
Her face went white. "No," she whispered. "You can't... he doesn't want to kill or destroy anymore, don't you see that? He wouldn't want, he'd never want... it would be better if you melted him down!"
One of the techs spoke up, "Melt him down? Are you crazy? Do you have any idea how much this synthoid costs?"
The next few minutes are a blur of screaming and ducking as Ro suddenly grabbed a laser some idiot had left sitting at the top of their toolbox and, in an act I never thought I'd witness, attempted to destroy the Zeta synthoid. The synthoid hadn't been fully reprogrammed at this point, which was probably a good thing as it would certainly have acted to defend itself if it had, with probably fatal consequences, and so simply sat calmly as she fired into it repeatedly. Fortunately, the laser wasn't particularly useful against his armour, and she was so distracted that she was easily disarmed by the agents around. Rush took charge of the now incoherently shrieking girl.
"GET HER OUT OF HERE!" I bellowed, as Rush cuffed her roughly. "Take her to the vehicle!"
The techs quickly secured Zeta on a gurney and wheeled him away. Ro put up quite the fight as they did so, but that all stopped once the door had secured behind them. She suddenly went limp, stopped screaming and instead began to sob quietly and endlessly as we led her back to our ship. Once we had taken off and set course for the nearest city, I contacted the other vehicle to ascertain how much, if any, damage had been done. My call went through almost instantly, and I surveyed the interior of the other ship, and the techs surrounding Zeta.
"Is the synthoid damaged?" I barked at the person manning the screen.
"Nope," they replied. "Just dinged up a bit. Don't worry Agent Bennet, he'll soon be ready for new assignments. As long as crazy girl doesn't get another chance at trying to slag him."
"Don't worry," I said grimly. "After this, she'll never see him again. Even if she passes him in the street, she won't recognise him. And now that his memories have been wiped, neither will he."
God I wish I hadn't said that.
I turned in surprise to see Rush crash heavily to the ground as Ro staggered towards the door control, tears pouring down her face. I got a glimpse of her face as she hurled herself at the controls and then, as the doors shushed open, step towards them. She looked awful, her skin was bleached of all colour and her face was soaked with tears. And her eyes... her eyes...
And then the sight of the 70 foot drop off the thin mountain road we were travelling down, as Rosalie Rowen closed her eyes and let herself fall.
Thank God for Agent West. Somehow he'd managed to work out what she was going to do and lunged for her even as the doors opened. I thought for a heartbeat that they were BOTH going to go out, but somehow I managed to get there in time and pull them both back in. Lying on the floor, with West and Rowen on top of me, I silently took back all the times I'd called him a moron.
After that it was more or less over. West got a commendation for his actions and was reassigned, Rush was promoted to another department and I resumed my earlier work of maintaining security on dangerous projects.
At least, we thought it was all over.
For the record, I would like to state that the trial was NOT my idea, in fact I argued strongly against it. Rosalie Rowen had already been hunted by our operatives for slightly over a year, and I seriously doubted that she was going to be in any way frightened by being prosecuted for theft of government property and sundry other charges. Not to mention the fact that large amounts of evidence was inapplicable due to security reasons. But bureaucrats will be bureaucrats and so off to court we went.
I believe the word "fiasco" is not inappropriate to describe what followed. The government prosecutor put forward a very convincing case to the three judges presiding (the jury system had of course been ruled out), but there's really little you can do when you're up against a hysterical sixteen year old girl who's repeatedly screaming "MURDERERS!" at you, and who has Batman as a witness. Not to mention her brother Casey MacCurdy, into whose care she had been released after she'd been processed. How he managed to get a camera into those shielded rooms I will never know, but he did and then the information leaked out and suddenly...
Suddenly people started to question. Had Zeta truly been reprogrammed by terrorists? Was he really a threat? Had he really developed an individual personality? Investigations were begun, inquiries were held. Unfortunately, none of them were able to be conclusive, as the chief source of evidence – Zeta himself – had been wiped clean, and his chief creator, Dr Selig, was dead.
I remember staring at the synthoid during one of these inquiries, staring into his eyes and trying to see something. Anything. A spark perhaps of personality, or even recognition. Nothing. But then, there really shouldn't have been. The "Zee" personality was gone for good. And so things settled down again, but there was always doubt. I noticed it in the faces around me, in my superiors eyes, in the way my career stalled, and in myself.
Had we "killed" an innocent person?
A ridiculous question of course, but one that would linger.
And so I sit here at my desk, shuffling meaningless data files around and trying not to think about Ro Rowen's eyes when she tried to throw herself to her death. Strangely enough, out of all the people involved, she was the first to "forgive" me. I encountered her at yet another interminable "inquiry" and for the first time, we talked. Without rancour, without suspicion. I think by then she was as fed up with the whole argument as I was. It didn't matter anymore, there was no proof either way.
I remember the flat look in her eyes as she rested her head on her arms and told me that she didn't blame me anymore, I was just doing my job, she knew I meant well, it wasn't my fault.
She's doing better now. I visit her occasionally, I feel it's the least I can do. At first, I would tell her that the synthoid was doing well, but after she burst into tears the second time, we stopped talking about him. Now we discuss meaningless things – the weather, current news events, sports. I just saw her earlier today and, in a display of passion I haven't seen since we captured and wiped Zeta, Ro held forth at great length about "which idiotic government bureaucrat is the biggest blowhard". So far she's tied it between a senator and an internal investigations man. She almost looked happy again, although she began to fade towards the end of the conversation, shadows of pain crossing her face.
The communicator beeps and I answer automatically. "Bennet."
The person on the other end is frantic. "Sir, I, uh, I can't explain it! It's not possible, how could this be happening?"
"Who is this? Explain yourself!" I snap.
"I, well, uh..."
"They lost Zeta! AGAIN!" An arm pushes the blithering man away and West replaces him. "I'm at Secure storehouse 4-A sir, a routine check turned Zeta up as missing twenty minutes ago!"
"West?" I blinked. I hadn't realised he'd been assigned to Weapons Division. Are they crazy over in personnel?
"He's gone! And we can't find him ANYWHERE! And... and..."
"West, get ahold of yourself. Call your division chief, not me! You've probably just... misfiled him or something!"
West is grinning like a maniac. "No sir, I don't think so. You see – he was assigned to a termination situation last week, infiltrate and assassinate a spy. He returned yesterday reporting the job done, but we just got word that the woman was innocent, and then we heard that she'd fled the country – she's still alive and boy are we gonna get a lawsuit over this one!"
"You think the situation replicates the one Rowen and others claimed sparked Zeta's original change?" I lean forward, intrigued. "But there's no guarantee that the exact same result will emerge, even if it WAS true."
"Precisely," a man steps up to the communicator and West fades away, still grinning wildly. "Which is why I am placing YOU in charge of retrieving the synthoid."
"Me, Sector Chief?" I steeple my fingers. So now all is forgiven is it? Typical bureaucrat, question your every action afterwards but the minute they're in trouble they screech for you to save them.
"You, Division Chief Bennet," he nods, and I resist the urge to smile slightly. It appears as though my career is back on track. "I believe that the synthoid is highly dangerous, and needs to be brought back for examination, if at all possible. You've done it once, you can do it again."
"Resources?" I question.
He hesitates, and his eyes slide away. "You can have West."
I restrain a sigh. "_And_ Rush?"
"Yes yes yes," he nods. "Get on it right away!"
He nods and departs, and West steps up to the communicator again.
"Well West, it looks like we're back where we started," I tell him.
"That's what I wanted to tell you sir!" West broke out. "I think Zee's coming back!"
"That's ridiculous West," I snap. "Even if the situation is similar, we cannot duplicate his experiences, and his memories that "made" him "human" are gone for good. He will NEVER be "Zee" again."
"But he can make new memories right?" West falters.
"Yes, but what will they be?" I shake my head. "No, the only option is to recapture him as soon as possible, before he can gather accomplices again."
West is silent.
"West, what aren't you telling me?"
"Uh, well, you see. Zeta, before he disappeared, made a brief inquiry about an individual he had encountered once but who wasn't listed with a name in his memory banks."
I feel a sudden sense of foreboding. "And that person was... ?"
"It was Rosalie Rowen sir, he even changed into her so that I could make a positive ID. And her file's been downloaded since then sir."
I cancel the call from West and quickly punch in a new combination. Casey answers on the sixth ring.
"MacCurdy residence. Oh, Agent Bennet, what can I do for you?"
I open my mouth to tell him when I hear the doorbell ring in the background. Ro sprints behind her brother to answer the door.
"Mr MacCurdy, I need to..."
There is a scream in the background, I jump, and then it is followed by more screaming – but strangely, they don't seem to be screams of fear. Or perhaps that shouldn't be so strange. Casey turns his head to see what's going on, his eyes widen and he cancels the call instantly.
I stare at the blank screen for a few moments before it beeps and then West is in front of me again.
"Sir? We got cut off before. Sir?"
"... West, get over here as soon as you can. I'll call Rush. I think we may have a lead on the synthoid."
"Yes Sir! This's gonna be great!" He enthuses. "A team again! Think we can convince Lee to come back as well?"
"I..." I look briefly down at my desk. "I don't think that will be a problem West. Get moving."
I cancel the call and briefly glance at the communicator. I could call it in. We could have agents there in minutes, and I'm sure that the synthoid wouldn't be ready. He must be confused, questioning, and going to the one person he deduces would be willing to help.
I know I was right before when I talked to West. No matter what, this wouldn't be the same "Zee" as before. He could be unstable and dangerous, and there's no doubting that we WILL have to catch him again, just to be certain. After all, even if he _was_ a sentient, kind being before, there's no guarantee he will be again. All of his memories, the things that MADE him Zee, are gone.
But he can create new ones, and Ro will help him. With all the love she has for him, he could develop into the same sort of kind being she described so many times to so many inquiries.
But we cannot be sure, and I have to keep the safety of the general public in mind. Even with the best of intentions, he was still designed to destroy, and you cannot just override that. So I will assemble my team and we will hunt him down again.
Uh, well, this story kind of jumped out of my head after watching an episode of the Zeta Project (Wired Part One) and refused to go away, so I wrote it down instead. It's not really set at any particular time, and could more or less occur at any point in the series, but I kind of envisioned it as occurring sometime after season two (which is why Ro is sixteen in this fic, and Dr Selig is dead – although of course this wasn't confirmed in the series).
It always confused me that they wanted to wipe Zeta's memories and start again – I just thought that eventually, they'd have the same problems. And if they DID have the same problems, then, as with Dr Selig, Zee would go looking for one person who could help him understand and become human – Ro.
I _don't_ think that Zee would have exactly the same personality, but I believe it would be similar – born from a desire to discard violence, and a genuine affection towards humankind, and then developed through friendship into kindness and a rather quirky viewpoint into our insane society. :-) Where it went from there would be entirely up to his experiences.
This story was partially inspired by the fic "The Bad Guy" by Vanessa/Imajine, which portrays Bennet as a man just trying to do his job, a viewpoint I entirely agree with. You can read it at her site: The ZeeRo Project - http://zetaro.cjb.net/), .
And if there are any bureaucrats reading this – I'm sorry, but you guys really do go on (and on, and on, and on...)
20 August 2002
Go BACK to the Other Index