Categories > TV > Life On Mars0 Reviews
"Usually it had just been little things: moments when he closed his eyes or wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, when he would remember something that had never happened." - Sam Williams...
Notes: Many thanks to sunnyrea at LJ for beta-reading this.
It had started before the accident.
Usually it had just been little things: moments when he closed his eyes or wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, when he would remember something that had never happened. He’d been young and hadn’t thought much of it, because he was always thinking about things that hadn’t happened, and these flashes, though vivid, were too mundane to compare to his more exciting fantasies. He didn’t remember most of them.
There were exceptions. One such occasion stood out in his mind. It was during the war, after his father had left to fight and his mother had taken him to stay with her sister in Derbyshire. He could remember coming in from the back garden – wiping his boots on the mat this time so that his aunt wouldn’t yell at him – and finding his mother sitting primly on a floral settee, weeping. She tried to stop when she saw him, but couldn’t quite manage it. He ran over and embraced her, and told her that it would be alright, because they would win in the end.
He said it because he knew it was true. He remembered sitting in a classroom, bored to tears, listening to a teacher drone on about names and places and people he didn’t care about. The details were lost, but the message that had come across was quite clear. We won.
Except that he hadn’t started school yet, and he’d never been inside that classroom. But it wasn’t confidence or patriotism or even hope behind that statement. It was simply truth, a fact to be recalled and recited. Somehow he’d recognized that when they said /won/, it meant /win/. His concept of time and history was not well-defined at that point, but for that brief precocious moment, he had understood.
Of his first month in hospital, he remembered nothing.
Well, almost nothing. There were flashes, voices, smells – all too brief to form a coherent whole, and too insubstantial to make sense of. But they weren't like dream-images, slipping away from the waking mind. They were like letters plucked at random from a novel – definite things, but with no life or meaning of their own.
Then he woke up.
He kept sitting up on the bed, impatiently, like a wound spring, ready to jump away as soon as it was allowed. He'd been stabbed during what he'd expected to be a routine inquiry, by some low-level gangster. He didn't need to be laid up right now; he had far too much work to be getting on with. His mother was there, fussing so much you'd think his arm had been hacked off. He'd got the stitches, but the doctor wouldn't let him leave just yet…
Sam blinked. He was lying in a bed in a room that smelled like ammonia. Unpleasantly salmon colored curtains were drawn up around his bed, and he could hear nothing to indicate that there was any activity beyond them. His little sister was sitting cross-legged on the end on his bed, a book of nursery rhymes propped on her lap. She was blonde, like their mother, and wearing a shapeless red dress that clashed badly with the pink of the curtains.
Sam tried to speak, but his throat was dry and his tongue was about as responsive as a dead slug, so the sound he made was a wordless rasp. He reached for the glass of water sitting at his bedside table, which was so inordinately heavy that he nearly dropped it. His sister turned a page, but said nothing. Her profile betrayed a small, strange half-smile on her lips.
After a few sips, he tried to speak again. But when he opened his mouth to address his sister, he realized that he couldn't recall her name. Horrified, he just stared at her, though she continued to ignore him in favor of her book. Had she been on the bus?
The thought jumped at him from nowhere. The coach. They'd been waiting for a coach, on their way to visit Aunt Dorothy in Cheshire. And then… What had happened? Where were his parents?
"Dead," said his sister, matter-of-factly, turning another page.
He put the glass back on the table, but it slipped from his shaking hands and clattered to the floor. A transistor radio flicked on of its own accord, filling his little partitioned corner with loud static.
"When the boy wakes up," said a voice on the radio.
"The boy isn't /asleep/. He opens his eyes, sometimes he even sits up, but he doesn't respond to any stimuli. I fear his brain has been irreparably damaged."
"It's like a waking coma. We must give him time; it was a horrific accident, but he may yet snap out of it. Come back to us, Sam. There's a good chap."
Sam squeezed his eyes shut, willing the radio to stop. When it obliged, he opened his eyes again. His sister's face was inches from his. He jerked backward, startled; he hadn't heard her move.
"Poor thing. Alone but not alone, even in your own head."
"What're you on about?" he said, trying to back away. "Have you gone mad?"
"Not gone mad, gone dead."
"You're not- you can't be-"
"You've got to choose, Sam. Are you the empty shell in the full room, or the full mind in the empty cell? Who are you when the lights come back? Don't misplace yourself in the dark."
"In the dark?" he said, and it was. Everything was gone, vanished into sudden blackness.
The radio, no longer visible as anything more than a formless shadow, crackled again. A woman's voice yelled, "Sam, help us!"
But there was nothing he could do; he couldn't move for fear. He cowered under his scratchy sheets, and closed his eyes, willing the lights to come back on and dreading what he'd see when they did.
Of his second month in hospital, he remembered more than he cared to. He was alone- his only company the voices on the radio and the girl who wore his sister's face. His dead sister's face, as he'd learned from the distant doctor's voices, if those could be trusted. His sister, his mother, his father, and a host of other travelers had perished in the coach crash that had sent him here. Wherever here was. Sometimes he thought he was dead as well, and this was a holding place for his soul that only looked like a piece of hospital.
The rest of the hospital did not lie behind the salmon-pink curtains. He'd pulled them back once, hoping that he would find real, living doctors and nurses, something other than the phantom voices on his radio.
He'd found himself walking through a long, dark tunnel, with train tracks under his feet. A circle of dim sunlight lay in the distance. In his periphery vision he could see the traces of a strange white light shining behind him. There was a man up ahead as well, wearing a non-descript brown uniform and staring at something in front of him that Sam couldn't see. He was holding something, and his arm was bent so that it pointed to the ceiling. It looked like a gun. He was starting to back up, towards Sam.
Sam was sure he'd never seen the man before, but he seemed eerily familiar. An unfathomable terror seized him. He did not want the man to turn around. He could not bear the thought of seeing this man's face.
So he ran, back in the direction he'd come from. The last thing he heard as he moved from tunnel to light to curtained cell was the sound of gun-shots. But it was only his blasted radio again. He turned it off, praying it would stay off this time, and knowing it wouldn't.
After that, he was too afraid to try venturing out again. Being alone in the silence was slightly better than visitations from the girl or the voices, though it offered little solace. When he was alone, he curled in on himself and took comfort in memories which belonged to him, even if he'd never lived them. He dared not dwell on his own past, which was too full of things he'd lost.
In his third month in hospital, there was marked improvement.
One morning he woke up, and knew it was morning. Before, there had been no way to mark time. The lights went off and came back, but they did so without any measurable pattern. On that day, however, he opened his bleary eyes and saw sunlight, streaming in through a window in front of him. A nurse was humming to herself as she drew the curtains back. Her ginger hair was streaked with grey and pulled into an untidy bun at the base of her neck. She took no notice of him at all.
It took all his strength to open his mouth and it hurt his throat to speak. His voice was quiet and raspy, and all he could manage was a single word. "Ma'am?"
The woman jumped. "Why, Master Williams! You gave me such a fright," she said, raising her hand to her chest. "You've not said a word for going on two months now."
She approached the bed and put a hand on his forehead. "Clammy. You look pale as a ghost, poor thing. I must go and fetch Dr. Hart at once. He'll be right pleased. We'd nearly given up on you. Is there anything I can get you when I return, love? I know this must be quite a shock."
Sam shook his head. There wasn't anything he wanted that she would be able to find.
Over the next few days, he learned many things. Or rather, he was told many things, some of which he knew, though he hardly thought he could explain how he knew them. They told him of the crash. They told him how long he'd been in hospital. They told him about his condition. They told him about his family. He didn't cry. He hadn't cried before out of disbelief, and he couldn't cry now out of numbness.
He learned that he was in the children's ward. They'd put up the curtain because he worried the other children with his staring, empty eyes. The boy in the bed next to him said that he'd looked more like a dead person than a sleeping one.
They had questions for him as well, the ever-present doctors who hovered and poked and prodded and never left him alone.
Dr. Hart and Dr. Gray stood by Sam's bedside in their identical white coats, staring down at him with identical expressions of professional interest. "Do you remember anything about the accident, Sam?" asked Dr. Hart.
Pain. A horrible, piercing pain had shot through his arm, like his sinews were on fire beneath his skin. People all around him were making noise – talking, shouting and cursing – jostling each other, trying to push open the windows. He knew he was too old to cry, but he couldn't help it. His mother put her arms around him and held him close, so tightly that it hurt. She stroked his hair and murmured that he would be fine, that everything would be okay.
"No," said Sam. "I don't remember anything. I don't even remember getting on the bus."
The doctor turned to his colleague. "Trauma induced psychogenic amnesia." He put his hand on Sam's shoulder in what he must have felt was a comforting gesture. "I know this must be very what difficult for you, son. You may never remember exactly what happened, but that may be easier for you, under the circumstances."
Sam nodded, mutely. Don't call me son, he thought. I'm not your son. I'm not anybody's son anymore.
The mother who'd held him during the accident smelled like the Beauvoir perfume she'd got from her sister. She had been wearing a floral blouse that felt smooth and warm against his cheek when he'd leaned into her embrace.
He didn't know her. They had never met. She hadn't been in his crash, and in her own, she had held someone else, not him. Someone whose eyes he could look through. There was a mind inside his with memories he sifted through, like a database he could search. He wasn't sure what a database was, but it felt like the right word to use.
These images, this other life in his head, had simply been a part of him for so long that he hardly gave them any serious thought. Sometimes they scared him a little, and sometimes they made him smile. This was the first time that he had ever resented them.
He couldn't remember what his own mother had worn when she stepped onto that coach. He couldn't recall what she smelled like. He didn't like her hugging him in public, because it was embarrassing. He didn't know what her last words to him had been. He'd forgotten her last moments. While he'd been in hospital, lost to the world, his parents had been put in the ground, and he would never see them again.
The boy in his mind still had a mother. It wasn't fair.
Whatever his affliction was, he’d never thought of it as an affliction before the accident.
In the years that followed, he began to wonder if it was all connected: whether his mental breakdown, the strange nightmare he'd lived in the hospital, and the things he'd seen and heard, were all connected to the visions that had always been in his head. But if they were all connected, if they were all part of the same complex puzzle, then he was missing too many of the pieces to make sense of it.
It was frustrating when he thought about it, so he tried not to. That was odd, because normally he liked puzzles. It was the second reason he had become a detective.
The first reason was because of the things he sometimes glimpsed, of police work that seemed like magic. Computers and DNA and forensics and hidden cameras and all manner of amazing things that he didn't always understand. If this was the world that was coming, he could help create it. It was a world of method and procedure and order, and if that was the framework required then he would help build it, while he waited for technology to catch-up. He preferred to live in a place that was neatly ordered.
That was the reason, and he could admit it to himself even though he knew he shouldn't.
The visions or memories or whatever they were, had never seemed harmful in and of themselves. Their origin and meaning were a mystery. Perhaps he could see the future, and had simply invented a place for himself in it. That wasn't the most rational explanation. The most rational explanation was that he was insane. He'd always been mad, and after the accident this had been realized and diagnosed and cured.
Almost cured, anyway. At least there were no little girl ghosts haunting his subconscious. He could no longer sift through the memories at will, but they still came to him, unbidden, stirred up in moments of déjà vu.
"DI Tyler, are you alright? Sam!"
The blow to his head had left him a bit winded. His arm seemed to be bleeding as well. "I'll be fine, just go after him. I'll go this way and see if I can head him off."
"You've a great gaping hole in your arm, sir," said DS Roy, offering her hand to help him up. He looked down at the wound, feeling rather dizzy. "And you look like you've got a concussion, as well."
"Yes. Right. There's armed backup blocking off the alley, so you go that way and try to head him off. I'll call an ambulance."
Sam was lying on moist grass, clutching his side. Somewhere outside his current range of vision, DS Bolger was grappling with Kenneth Hardy, a low-grade gangster who made up for in viciousness what he lacked in mental capacity. Their voices sounded distant to his ears.
"Oi, Charlie. You'd better see to your young man there…"
"Piss off, Ken…"
He must have blacked out for a moment, because when he opened his eyes, DI Morgan was kneeling beside him, worry in his eyes.
"DC Williams! Are you alright, Sam?"
"I can't feel anything…" said Sam.
"You're in shock. I'll radio in for an ambulance."
"What happened to Hardy?"
"Got away," said DS Bolger, dully.
Sam tried to sit up, and immediately decided that feeling things was highly overrated. He moaned and collapsed back on the grass.
"Be still. Hardy's no doubt crawled back into one of Maguire's hide-outs for the time being."
"I'm sorry I let him slip away, sir," said Bolger, staring down at his shoes.
"He would have been useful for putting away his boss, but he's small time. Remember that. We've got to keep our eye on the prize, and that's Maguire," said Morgan. "Right. I've got to call an ambulance, you stay with DC Williams."
Sam's head was reeling but his mind was whirring. There was something wrong here, but he couldn't quite grasp it. The sergeant kept glancing nervously at him, as if afraid he'd get the blame if Sam copped it.
Blame. "Charlie," he said weakly. "How did he know your name?"
"Hardy. He called you 'Charlie.' How did he know your name?"
Bolger coughed, and blinked. "Knew him from school, didn't I? Lived on my block, he did." But he looked away from Sam as he said it. There was something off.
There had been something off about the whole investigation, from the start. Maguire always seemed to anticipate their next move. Last month, when they finally got hold of his right-hand man, a key piece of evidence had gone missing. There had been suspicions, but you didn't make accusations against your own.
He'd have to keep an eye on Charles Bolger. Private investigations were underhanded, but one didn't make allegations of that sort lightly. Solid evidence would be essential. If there was any to be had, he'd bring it to DCI Gale. Morgan would be proud of him. He had taught Sam to despise corruption, as he did.
Dirty cops had to be stamped out, if progress was to be made.
Rumors were percolating throughout the station: a DCI position was opening up, and Sam Williams was the current favorite for promotion. Frank had hinted as much, and that was enough to put an extra spring in his step. But it was a new weight on his mind, as well. That must have been it, the combined effects of the anticipation, that small added stress, which sent his mind on overload, and brought back a face he hadn’t seen in years.
He was walking down an empty corridor, off to fetch a file for a case he couldn’t focus on. Concentration had eluded him all day, what with one thing and another. Then there were footsteps behind him, beating out an odd rhythm on the linoleum. Hoping that it was DC Haley with news on the fingerprints, he stopped and turned his head. His heart nearly stopped.
A small blonde figure was skipping down the hallway toward him.
"Poor little Sammy alone on the green, waits for a playmate who'll never be seen." Her words were chanted, a tuneless song. "You remember how it goes, don't you, Sam? 'When children are happy and lonely and good, the Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.'"
/A Child’s Garden of Verses/. Mum used to read it to them, before his sister could talk.
"Have you been good?"
His hands were covering his ears, as if of their own accord. "No, no, no-no-no-no, not now, you can’t be-"
"You don't have enough friends, do you, Sam?"
"You're not my friend. You're not even my sister. My sister is dead, and you're a delusion, brought on by stress induced, uh, something…"
"You need to make new friends, Sammy. The right sort of friends." She spoke in the authoritative tone she used to use while imparting life-lessons on her teddy bears or for scolding errant dolls.
He lunged after her, trying to grab her, strangle her, bash her skull against a wall, anything to make her stop echoing a voice that he hadn't really heard for over twenty years, anything to stop her wearing a face that had long since rotted away.
She giggled, suddenly behind him.
"Does the bad man say he's your friend? Your new friend will make him sad. He's coming, the friend you can never see. The unseen playmate. Felt but never seen, seen by everyone but you."
"Stop, just stop- leave me alone-" He backed against the wall, digging through his pockets for whatever he could find. A weapon. /Anything/. All he could find was his key-ring, and he pulled it out threw it at her with all his strength. The keys jingled at they hit the other wall and clattered to the floor. She grinned. He leaned back and let himself slide to the floor, defeated.
"I miss you in the dark place Sam. But I'll see you soon." Her smile widened, disappearing into a visage of rapidly moldering flesh, to weathered bone and empty orbits, to still grinning, Cheshire cat teeth... He covered his face with his hands, curling in on himself, surrendering one last yell for it all to stop.
"Are you alright, sir?" There was a steadying hand on his arm. He blinked, surreptitiously wiping his eyes, and looked up. The girl was gone. He let the man help him to his feet, and then looked up, willing himself to meet the stranger's eyes.
"Yeah, I’m-" He stopped, momentarily taken aback by the surge of feeling that hit him when he looked into the eyes of the man in front of him. It was even strong enough to push the little girl from the forefront of his mind.
The man withdrew his hand and quickly looked away, expression a mixture of contrite and annoyed. Sam knew what the man was thinking, and cursed what he assumed was the shocked expression on his face. The Negroes had a rough time of it at the station, and Sam supposed that it paid to be wary of superior officers.
But it wasn’t the man’s skin color that alarmed him. It was the sudden and inexplicable warmth that filled his heart when he looked at this man- an ordinary flatfoot, by the look of him. But the way he felt, well… the closest he could think was that it was almost like seeing one of his parents again.
"Congratulations, Detective Chief Inspector Tyler." The old man’s face beamed at him. It was one of the happiest moments of his life, and he knew that most of it—his whole career, the sort of copper he’d become, all the good things he could do now—that was owed to Glen.
"I can't believe it. Me, a DCI." It had been ages since he smiled so much.
"I never doubted it," said Glen.
Never. Even when Sam knew that he didn’t deserve it, Glen had believed in him. It had meant always knowing that, even when everything went pear-shaped, there was someone on his side.
"Thank you, sir. For everything."
Glen had taken him beyond youthful fantasies of gun fights and high-speed chases and front page heroism, and shown him what it really meant to be a copper. He’d given him the right kind of idealism; something to live up to.
Shaken, Sam tried to get a hold of himself. Stop acting like a nutter, he thought. Not here, not now. You’re up for promotion, you can’t afford to fall apart. Not for dead sisters or weird feelings or other people's memories. And especially not in front of witnesses.
"Sorry. I’m fine," he mumbled. He stopped again, and then said, "No, I’m not fine. I’m- I’m not sure what I am, but it’s not fine. I can’t keep my head straight."
He couldn't help it, so strong was his instinct that this was a man he could confide in and trust.
"Sir? Do you want me to call someone, or…" he trailed off awkwardly.
Sam mentally shook himself. You don't know this constable, he told himself. He's a stranger and a subordinate.
"No. It's alright. I'm sorry if I alarmed you." There was a very tense pause. "I’d be grateful if you didn’t mention this to anybody."
The constable nodded. "Course not. It’s not my business, is it?"
"Thank you, Constable- er?"
"Fletcher. PC Glen Fletcher."
"Thank you, Glen." Fletcher nodded again and turned to leave. Sam added, "And, Glen, if anyone, uh, if anyone gives you any trouble, you should talk to DCI Morgan. He’s a good bloke, and he’d not let on that you said anything."
He thought he saw Fletcher wince, at this. That was the problem with initiating change, Frank always said – no one ever wanted to be the one to take the first steps.
Sam decided that he might quietly keep an eye on this Glen Fletcher. If he was everything his doppelganger’s memories suggested, then perhaps he would recommend him for DC. Frank would like that. A colored DC – very progressive, and Frank loved progressive. The idea felt right to Sam as well, but not for the right reasons.
It went beyond his inexplicable feelings for the man personally. It felt right, because in the CID Sam remembered but had never seen, there were faces in shades of brown. A myriad of people, in myriad shapes, colors and sizes, and yet all models of starched monochrome professionalism, as similar as they were distinct, were all inhabiting his head. They had existed, or were existing, or would exist, and he wanted so desperately to see them outside of his impossible memories.
It was a place of progress, not a place of ghosts.
He'd not been a DCI long, when he was summoned to the office of his old friend Frank Morgan, on a gray and unremarkable Thursday afternoon.
"Ah, DCI Williams. I don't think I've had the chance to properly congratulate you on your new appointment," he said, standing and reaching across his desk to shake Sam's hand. Sam was well aware of how much he was indebted to him, not merely for the good word he had undoubtedly put in for him, but for helping to shape him into a worthy candidate to begin with.
As long as he'd known him, Frank had always had an impressive level of influence upstairs. An unwavering air of authority and reliability can have that effect on people, even on one's superiors. He kept his department as clean and polished as his shoes, and had been given much leeway to implement new programs, techniques and procedures for the betterment of policing.
Being known as the protégée of a man like Frank Morgan was invaluable, from a career perspective. From a personal perspective it meant that he had earned the respect of a man he greatly admired, which was worth far more. Frank had shown him the way of the future, the tangible possibilities, outside of visions and fantasy.
"To business, then. I have a proposition for you."
"A project. One which I think you'll be quite keen to take part in." Frank pulled out a crisp manila folder with an acronym on the tab, and placed it on his desk.
"Metropolitan Accountability and Reconciliation Strategy." He handed Sam the file. "Do you remember the incident with DS Bolger, when you were still a DC?"
"Shopped him, didn't I? No, I've not forgotten," he said, grimacing.
"How did it make you feel, informing on a fellow officer?"
"I… It had to be done. He'd always seemed a decent bloke. I suppose I felt betrayed. Foolish, at being deceived in him, for being wrong in my assessment of his character. I did what I thought was the right thing to do, as any officer of the law ought to."
"Many wouldn't. There's many who turn a blind eye to corruption in their midst. There's many more who wouldn't even think of hush money as 'corruption.' Your fellow officers didn't take too well to your actions, as I recall." Sam frowned at this. He had no desire to relive those days. "You know it's not changed. If anything it's got worse. You may not want to see it, but you know what happens, right under our noses, when police think that the law has stopped watching them."
"This department is clean."
"As clean as we can manage, yes. But we are the exception, Sam." He pointed to the folder in Sam's hand. "M.A.R.S. has chosen a division, quite far from our standards, to be rebuilt in our image. Complete overhaul. This will naturally be a very complicated process, but can be summarized in three basic steps: infiltrate, destroy, and rebuild…"
Sam was taking it all in with pointed interest. The more he heard the more convinced he was that Frank had come to the right person. He listened carefully to every detail, as Frank delivered the objectives with – well, not with relish, exactly, but with a determination that was almost elated. Finally, they had an opportunity to implement real, decisive change.
Then the lights went out. Sam gasped, but Frank continued speaking as if he hadn't noticed that the room was now pitch-black. This probably indicated that it /wasn't/, so Sam closed his mouth and tried to concentrate on the vaguely Frank Morgan shaped silhouette in the darkness.
A light appeared in the corner of the room, in the form of a small, flickering candle. He didn't have to look to guess who was holding it.
"Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head."
He tried to focus all his attention on what Frank was saying. "…the target is one DCI Gene Hunt. The operative will infiltrate his department by transferring in as his new DI and proceed to…"
"Chip chop, chip chop, the last man's dead."
"Sam, are you alright? You look a bit distracted." The lights returned. Frank was frowning at him.
"No, sorry, I'm not. I was just thinking."
"About the task at hand I trust?"
Chip chop, Sam.
"Yes. Please, continue."
He crossed his arms tightly and listened carefully to the details of the operation. His position would be a difficult one – alone and undercover. But he liked undercover. In a way it was almost soothing, living someone else's life.
"I don't expect an answer now," said Frank, once he'd sufficiently briefed him on the general layout of the procedure. "Give it some thought, Sam. It's not an undertaking that should be entered into lightly."
Sam nodded and reached for the door. Then he stopped.
"I do have one question for you, sir," he said. "There must be hundreds of corrupt officers out there. Why focus on this one?"
"If the operation goes through as planned, we only need make an example of one."
"Is it just random choice then? Or is Hunt a particularly egregious example? I just want to know what I'm getting myself into."
"It's true that there are many suitable targets for this operation. Hunt happens to be something of an ideal choice, I believe. If my sources are accurate – and I have no reason to doubt that they are – Gene Hunt is a man who inspires either intense loathing or intense loyalty in those around him. The latter is troubling, for obvious reasons. We lead by example, Sam. And under his leadership is a department infested with institutionalized corruption, procedural incompetence, and flagrant disregard for the laws they profess to uphold. Hunt is impressive, in his way – he wouldn't inspire such unswerving loyalty in his officers otherwise. But that makes him all the more dangerous. The whole system is sick, Sam. It will never be healthy until men like that have been surgically removed from the force." Frank paused, shuffling the paperwork on his desk. "I think you're the right man for the job. You're a man of principle, not easily swayed. I know I can trust you."
"And if it gets out of hand, if everything goes wrong, I know I can trust you to get me out again." It wasn't a question, but it felt like one. Frank creased his brow, but continued giving him that steady look of his.
"Of course. I never leave officers in danger."
Dismissed, Sam left the office, thoughts laced in trepidation but hopeful nonetheless. Despite his wariness and doubts, he was certain what his course of action would be.
Chip, chop. The quiet, high-pitched voice had returned. Chip, chop.
He ignored it.
Sam had been the one to suggest the cemetery, when Frank told him that they ought to meet somewhere outside the station to discuss the remaining details of the operation.
"We don’t want any news of this operation to get out, after all. One can never be too careful." Sam agreed. It was their modus operandi: never be too careful. Take every precaution, even for an undertaking that threw caution to the wind. There were so many things that could go wrong, and who knew what this Hunt was capable of.
When he’d first looked through the carefully organized and frighteningly detailed M.A.R.S. folder, he even wondered what Frank was capable of. Sam had no tolerance for anything less than complete competency, but he sometimes noticed a certain ruthlessness to Frank’s efficiency. It didn’t worry him, exactly, but it did remind him that this was not a man to be trifled with. That was why he’d told him as much of the truth as he dared; if he didn’t, he might well put the whole mission in jeopardy.
In some ways it had started before the accident, but Sam left out that bit. ‘The accident’ was a better explanation than anything he could come up with, anyway. The coach crash had changed everything for him. It was one of those rare points in time where one could draw a line and point to it and say, "there, that’s where it all started." It wasn’t quite a lie because the accident had certainly caused /something/. It was logical, in a way, and Frank would appreciate a logical lie better than an illogical truth.
He tried to spell it out the way Frank might – cool, clipped tone, no words wasted. Maintaining enough of a distance from his emotions, that was the key. That was key to the whole operation, really. Sometimes progress required a degree of ruthlessness to be achieved. Forming emotional attachments to the people hindering that progress would be counterproductive, and that was the most dangerous threat to his success.
He wasn’t going to A Division to change A Division, he was going to destroy it. It had to be done. Trying to change each corrupt department, one-at-a-time, little-by-little, that would be… inefficient. Frank was right; they needed a definitive blow, a single battle won, an example to prove their point and pave the way to the future. A Division could start anew, built up stronger and better and more just than it was before, as soon as the rubble was cleared. He just needed to keep his head straight in the meantime.
When he’d divulged as much as he was going to, he took Frank to his parents’ graves. The flowers he’d placed there last week had wilted; he removed them and added their replacements. The graveyard was silent, apart from the customary birds, and Sam knew that he was being assessed. They walked on.
They were headed towards a part of the graveyard that he never crossed. He'd never gone out of his way to avoid it, but nevertheless he felt hesitant to do so now. Strange forebodings about innocuous places were familiar to him, however, and if all this led to was an unpleasant recollection, than it was nothing to worry over.
"You'll need to assume a new identity," said Frank, at last. "A new name, a new family… nothing too complicated to remember, but detailed enough to be convincing."
"You mean you still want me to do it?
"Sam, I've never known you to be anything but a man of sound mind. You had a dreadful experience when you were a child, but you've held yourself together since then. Unless you're planning on having a mental breakdown next week, then yes, I still want you there."
They walked on in companionable silence, each lost in their own thoughts, pausing to idly read the names on stranger's headstones.
A name caught his eye, and he froze. He couldn't stop himself staring at it.
"He’s gone away…" said Sam, in a small, quiet voice. The words echoed in his head, and he wrenched his eyes away, trying to block out the gut-stabbing pain that had started when he read the name on the headstone. But when he tried closing his eyes, it got worse, because now he could hear whistling.
He was a young child. A child who had just suffered a crushing disappointment. His soul ached. Until the whistling began. As soon as the whistling started, his heart raced, suddenly light, and he smiled. But he didn’t turn around, not yet, because he wanted to savor that moment. And he would, not only then, but for the rest of his life, he would savor it and store it away in a secret place in his mind, reaching for it for comfort, and locking it up just as quickly, because the longing was too much for him.
"Did you say something, Sam?"
Frank looked at him, a bit concerned. Sam shook himself. "My father," he said, pointing at the headstone. "He's gone away. Left us, me mum and I, when I was four. Never saw him again. It's very painful, obviously, so I don't like to say too much about it, and if you're polite, you won't want to pry." He pointed to the grave next to it. "And that's her, my mum. She raised me by herself, but she'd all these sisters round to help. I grew up in a house full of women. It's why I cook so well." He grinned at Frank, who was giving him an odd, impenetrable look.
"Vic and Ruth Tyler," Frank said, slowly. "Yes, I think that will do nicely. But what about yourself?"
Sam paused, thinking. He knew what he ought to say, but he didn't want to. He didn't want to say that name aloud; the one that was always there, always lurking. More than serendipity had led him to these graves. There was something else, something /here/. He just had to remember what it was. He closed his eyes, concentrating.
It was a sunny day, and there was a fat fuzzy caterpillar on the grass. He reached for it, but Daddy was holding his hand, and the caterpillar was too far away. His daddy kneeled down beside him. "Look, Sammy."
Though very reluctant to take his eyes off the caterpillar, he did as he was told.
"Can you read that, Sam?"
The caterpillar was momentarily forgotten, because this was letters, and he liked letters. "V-I-C. Vic. T-Y-L-E-R. Tyler!" They'd done T-y-l-e-r last week, because that was part of his name too. The recognition made him grin.
"Good! And do we know anyone called 'Vic Tyler?'" said his father, his expression one of mock contemplation.
"That's your name, Daddy," he said, giggling.
"Oh, why yes, it is, isn't it? I'd plumb forgot." A brief tickling battle ensued, which Sam lost, and nearly collapsed in a fit of laughter.
"Do you know who else was called Vic Tyler, son? Your great-great-great-great-great grandfather. This is where he was buried." Sam examined the grave, fascinated at the idea of anyone so great. "See, he had a sister called Ruth."
"That's Mummy's name."
"That's right. She's not related to Mummy, though. But she is related to you," he said, tapping Sam on the nose. Sam didn't understand this at all, but that was alright, because he'd caught sight of the caterpillar again and that was far more important than the silly things Daddy said. They were walking again, getting closer and closer to the caterpillar.
Then Daddy's foot trod on it. Sam's lip began to tremble. He'd stopped paying attention to what his daddy was saying. His eyes searched the grass frantically, but the caterpillar was nowhere to be seen. Hot tears trickled down his face, as he started bawling.
His father scooped him up in his arms, holding him tightly. "It's alright, son. Shh. What's wrong? It's alright. It's not you, it's just another old relative. It's nothing to be frightened of. It'll be okay. We can go home, now..."
He hiccupped and rubbed his eyes. As they walked away, he peeked over his Daddy's shoulder. Despite the unfortunate loss of the caterpillar, he had to smile. There was his name, written on stone.
Sam opened his eyes. He walked a few paces, until he found the confirmation he was looking for. He nodded at the gravestone. "There," he said. "That's it."
Frank followed his gaze. "Yes, that should be perfectly acceptable."
"My name is Sam Tyler," said Sam Williams. No other name would do.
The roads headed to the city center were as crowded and quick-paced as his brain felt that day. When he was young he had sometimes imagined that the world rearranged itself to fit his moods, which was just the sort of childish narcissism that all people harbored, deep down, on the days when it was easier to imagine that reality was an elaborate hoax constructed exclusively for your benefit (or torment, or punishment, or whatever the case may be).
But he was not a child anymore, and this was a world that must be changed by action, not by thought. Thinking otherwise stirred up an old fear that he had never left that hospital room all those years ago; that that was reality and this was the dream.
A shining brown motor cut him off, travelling near twice the legal limit and effectively snapping him out of his reverie. Sam honked at it, heartily wishing that he was driving a marked car. Hopefully some nearby plod would sort the bastard out. There simply wasn't time to go hurtling after an errant speed demon, not when he was nearly running late as it was.
A Division was awaiting the arrival of DI Sam Tyler, transfer from C Division in Hyde. The demotion of rank was unpalatable but necessary. Besides, it didn't matter as long as he knew that he was a real DCI, and soon DCI Hunt would not be.
Sam Tyler. The name had an undeniable place in his reality now. Yet, it was strange, the niggling, unsettling feeling that he'd gone from a child with an imaginary friend, to a child playing dress-up.
"A good name should be chosen above great riches," said a young female voice from the formerly empty passenger seat. His knuckles went white as he squeezed down hard on the steering wheel, trying to keep his eyes on the road. He saw red in the corner of his eye. But he'd been expecting this. "Good names are hard to find, Sam. What do you think you will you think of yours, when at last find it?"
"It's just a name," said Sam brusquely.
"You ought to know better, Sam. You shouldn't take what's not yours,"
"If he exists, I hardly think he'll notice. I doubt he's even been born yet." He chanced a sideways glance, enough to see her smiling.
"Nobody heard him and nobody saw, his is a picture you never could draw. But he's always been present, abroad or at home, when Sam was unhappy and playing alone."
"You know what? Not even you can disturb me today. I've decided to take a proactive approach to my life. I'm not going to let Frank down. I'm taking back my sanity. So you can just sod off."
"You haven't learned your lesson yet," she said, that stupid, enigmatic smile still plastered to her face. He was glad she didn't cross her arms petulantly and sulk, like his sister would have. Things were easier if she played Miss Cryptic Knickers instead of acting like a normal child.
"I'm not going to either. I'm done playing silly buggers with hallucinations. I'm not listening," he said, and turned up the radio.
Sam only looked down for a second, but when he looked back at the road, it was to an oncoming van. Panicking, he swerved sharply, off the road and into an old bombsite. He slammed on the breaks. Jolted from whiplash, he stumbled out of the car. David Bowie's voice followed him out the open door. The girl was already there, grinning down at him. "Lights out!" she said, and they were.
His world went dark. A life flashed before his eyes, but it wasn't his own.
When the light returned, Sam Williams was gone.
There were no more little girls coming out of the telly. There were no more voices on the radio trying to speak to him and call him home. There were no more echoes from the future. A line had been drawn, a chord had been cut, and he was as disconnected from that world as he could ever be. Instead of feeling isolated from two worlds, he was fully connected with one.
A few short months ago, Sam Tyler never would have believed that he could feel so happy here.
It was no longer a struggle to hold on to his sanity. He didn’t have to constantly question everything anymore. Except… Except that there were moments when he closed his eyes or wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, when he would remember something that had never happened. Little things, little flashes, provoked by a word or a smell or something glimpsed in the corner of his eye. A child’s pair of wellingtons sitting on a stoop. A woman weeping on a floral settee, who filled his heart with confusion and concern. A doctor whose grim face spelled bad news on the horizon.
He pushed these to the back of his mind. They were like dreams: the random firing of neurons in an overactive imagination. It was pointless to dwell on such things. He was certain that they meant nothing.