Marcus was in a t'ai chi ch'uan session which Stanley led, it was almost over, just a few more postures and it'd be over. Now it was official, Marcus Sewell might as well have been with The Providence from the start. He meditated and did t'ai chi like a good little officer, roped into this morning ritual first by Judah and now General Stanley. The colonel admitted to the benefits of the routine though, he wasn't so obtuse as to deny it had a calming, centring effect on him. He understood why Providence officers did this, for an hour every day they could totally detach from the world in which they lived. A group therapy session conducted in companionable quiet, that's how Marcus saw it. Though it was over for now, he felt himself floating slightly above reality. An infinitesimal fraction of the sensation he had experienced being one with the blue fires of that strange reality Angelene communed with.
His fellow commissioned soldiers wandered off the green in front of the university's Rectorat; he lingered a bit longer than the others. It was still too early for any student to be out on campus; Marcus didn't see why he should rush back to headquarters. So instead he admired the refurbished façade and pristine lawns of the Rectorat, the university's main administrative building.
The building itself wasn't some staggeringly beautiful example of indulgent architecture but rather of practicality. Sturdy, oblong columns supported a simple stone structure; a lattice grate patterned the actual front of the building, broken up by solid slats and an entrance which jutted forwards of the columns. A well-kept, unworn set of wide steps led up to the entrance doors. If the university had been in a state of disrepair, as it had before III Corps' arrival, then this entire package would have come off as clumsy and ugly. Marcus started, torn from his musings, and realised what thought his mind had wanted to voice – 'Thank god for Providence.'
Philip had journeyed to Marcus' tent, some weeks ago he had discovered Marcus to be a keen chess player. Apparently two years on the road to New York had given Marcus far too much time to develop many hobbies. Marcus said it was become a serial hobbyist or learn how to make a noose; Marcus had been joking, but he'd spotted how uncomfortable and tense Philip became. He had decided to avoid any more suicide references around Philip, though he knew he had to confront Albion at some point. Now was as good a time as any, the hour was late since both men refused to declare it a stalemate. “Phil, have you ever tried to kill yourself?” Marcus congratulated himself for his tact or rather his complete lack of any whatsoever. He lost all sense where Albion was concerned, more interested in the answers themselves than how to gently coax and subtly lead.
“Ah...” Philip's shock was such that he flinched a little, his hovering hand knocked over some pieces, “What?”
“I've been meaning to ask. You might not think it, but I remember things, small things. I joked around about making a noose for myself and you had a look on your face. Which means you knew someone who killed themselves or you've tried,” Marcus studied Philip's face, he watched for anything that would give the game away.
“I don't know what you mean by a 'look',” and there it was, the flicker of an expression, a flash of fear, Philip had just lied, “I have never tried to end my life.” No need for that 'have', 'I've' would be simpler – then there's 'end my life'. Why not just say, 'kill myself'?
“Looks and words, Phil. I didn't get by for eleven years without learning to read people better than a boy just out of puberty,” Marcus leaned back, he wanted to make Philip sweat, the longer he let silence reign the more nervous Philip would become. This worked on Will, all Marcus had to do was sit back and keep his eyes on his son, and soon enough Will would be speaking just to quash the uncomfortable quiet. Philip sighed warily, he finally decided to meet Marcus' patient gaze. “The genetic trait that coded for the survival of transhumans when The Flash happened is called PSC-2 or the Providence gene,” Philip began slowly, he used some medical jargon to try and distance himself.
“And what does this have to do with you trying to kill yourself?” Marcus broke apart Philip's attempt at detachment.
“I'm getting there!” snapped Philip, he calmed himself then continued, “PSC-2 is autosomally recessive so two recessive alleles are needed to code for it. If only one is present then it's PSC-1. PSC-1 individuals did not survive The Flash or came out wrong-”
“Exactly, they came out wrong. Nobody, and I mean nobody who was PSC-1 should have survived The Flash...but I did.”
“You're not...no, no, you weren't transhuman?”
“Not really, and my parents never let me forget it. I'm an impurity in the gene pool, a weakness in the stability of humanity because I have a gene which should have been purged.”
“Your parents can't ever have said that you.”
“Not in as many words, it's always there though; 'statistical error', 'unaccountable anomaly' or my personal favourite: 'genetic disappointment'. I think I was sixteen when I went to my bedroom, tied a rope with some sheets and took the plunge. I still believe to this day that if it had been my parents, and not my sister Kate, who'd found me – I might be dead right now,” there was so much bitterness and self-hate wrapped up in that statement, as if Philip was disappointed in Kate.
Marcus had had enough; he stood up from behind his desk and walked around to Philip. He drew the intern into an embrace he saved for when Will had looked like the world was about to end. Philip was somewhat reluctant to put his arms around Marcus until the colonel squeezed a little tighter, the embrace was returned. “Don't you ever try that again. Do you hear me? You're not a 'statistical error', you're a miracle! If my son had been the sort of anomaly you were, I would be thanking every god out there,” Marcus tried to draw away, surprised to find that Philip was now reluctant to let go, Marcus eventually managed to grasp his shoulder and stare into Philip's eyes. Tears ran down the young man's face, the emotion behind them was one of pure catharsis. Marcus had that same surge of paternal duty charge through him and he just had to hug Philip again.