'Find that one person who connects you to the world and you become someone different, someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?'
The city never sleeps.
The dark night broken by the lights of the big city, casting shadows across a white ceiling. Root watched the rain, eyes fixed on the wide floor length windows as she lay on her side, the rain distorting the lights and twisting what she saw.
She shifted, turning her head and steadying her dull gaze on the long shadows across white paint as the wind of the storm tore against the windows.
Why was she here?
Let’s start smaller.
What are you going to do now?
She closed her eyes. That didn’t seem much smaller: there were lots of things to be done. Too many things.
Root opened her eyes, shuffling under the thin white covers and pushing her legs out from under them before sitting up. The hairs on her body prickled as the cold air hit her warm skin but she took no notice, padding lightly across the room that was not hers.
The covers rustled but Root did not turn around, bending over and picking up the discarded pieces of her clothing, sliding them on: shaking her deep blue dress over her figure, picking up her shoes and clutch.
She headed for the door.
She didn’t want to be there. Her body had brought her anyway.
The rain hit her hard as she stepped outside, flattening her hair: soaking her through as the wind worked in tandem battering her dress against her legs.
It was cold: it registered dimly under the soles of her bare feet on wet concrete, in the way her hair stuck to her face and the way her dress stuck to her skin.
She let it fall, let it tear at her skin in a harsh burn: scalding ice wiping away the evening she never wanted to have. An evening that had brought her nothing she was looking for but somehow she knew she had needed it anyway, despite how empty it had felt.
She stood motionless. She couldn’t hear the city: feel it. Not anymore.
Root looked to the black sky for just a second rain pummeling her like ash and she breathed against the blistering cold.
She started back to her apartment.
Her apartment. Root never thought of it as her own: it wasn’t hers it was Sameen’s. Root had bought it. She didn’t know why. She needed a place to live.
Root tossed her shoes to the floor, not much caring where they fell as she headed for the shower. The cold rain dripped onto the stone floor as she shed her clothing once again, leaving a damp trail to be picked up later.
The shower was burning, a welcome feeling as she stepped under the water. Too much water for one morning, burning the unwanted touch from her skin like acid and she bowed her head under its pressure, closing her eyes.
If water could burn deeper.
Why was she here?
That was a big question.
What are you going to do now?
She raised her head from under the weight of the water stream and turned off the shower, reaching blindly for a towel.
'Everything that happened. That her name now?’
‘You said you didn’t want to talk about Ms. Shaw.’
Sleep seemed a distant possibility, lying beneath her covers head deep in her pillow. She closed her eyes, trying to force her weariness to overtake her but each time her body fought, not letting her give in and close her eyes.
A rare 24-hour window with no missions: just an identity and a life to live. The Machine did this every few weeks: Her idea of rest supposed Root, but she thought so with no bitterness. She did care, in Her own way.
Root shifted, flipping and laying on her other side trying to get comfortable. She glanced at the clock on the side table: 04:06. Three hours sleep left: not much time at all.
‘Where have you been?’
Root tosses the bag from her shoulder and the wig from her hair, shaking out her own brown locks in an attempt to regain some form of style to them.
Root hums lightly, walking over to where Shaw sat on the bench.
‘Claire Keyes: corporate attorney,’ grins Root, sliding on the seat next to Shaw, ‘never lost a case.’
Shaw rolls her eyes.
‘You’ve never set foot in a courtroom.’
Shaw shoots her a look.
‘Let me guess: fraud.’
‘Corporate blackmail,’ Root leans in close, ‘jury duty.’
Shaw swats her away as Root keeps her eyes wide and doting. Shaw makes a point not to meet them.
‘And how have you been Sweetie?’
‘Hungry. Cold. Bored.’
Root pulls out a phone from god-knows-where in that suit and sends a short text, Shaw’s eyes following her fingers.
‘Harry will pick you something up,’ explains Root lightly, ‘as for the last two-‘
‘Don’t. Even. Think it.’
Root’s eyes shone with mirth.
‘Too late,’ she smirks and went in for the wink. Well, what Root thought was a wink but it did things to Shaw. Nice things. Things that meant she wasn’t ever going to tell Root that she couldn’t wink because then she’d stop doing it.
Instead Shaw settled for an unresponsive stare, one that Root-much practiced in the art of Sameen Shaw- took in her stride.
She settles back against the bench, noting Shaw’s own stiff posture in the dim light as the silence settles over them like a blanket, smothering their thoughts.
‘How long?’ asks Shaw lightly enough but didn’t try to meet Root’s eyes, staring straight ahead.
‘Few hours. Maybe the night. She hasn’t told me.’
‘She doesn’t seem to be telling you much,’ observes Shaw, bite to her tone.
‘I know. Just seems like you’re flying blind. ‘
‘Compared to before? Yes.’
Shaw looks over her shoulder at Root, seemingly relaxed on the bench but eyes always alert and fixed on Shaw.
‘Careful Sameen, I might almost think you care.’
A gentle chide: a steer into safer territory. Shaw holds her gaze for several seconds longer than necessary telling Root everything she needs to know before her eyes fix forward again.
‘Don’t flatter yourself.’
Root laughs lightly though it holds no substance. She sits up slightly, coming level with Shaw’s straight posture and studying the woman’s profile like a sculptor memorizing each detail. If Shaw noticed she didn’t mention it, nor force it to stop. Root reaches out, tucking a strand of Shaw’s wayward fringe behind her ear that absolutely did not stay there and let her hand trail down Shaw’s jaw softly, before leaning in and placing a gentle kiss to her cheek.
‘I’ll always come back,’ whispers Root, lips brushing Shaw’s skin and just for a second Shaw lets it lie and Root felt her relax just this once. And then it was over, Shaw stiff as a board and harshly shoving Root away.
‘Next time bring a steak.’
Root opened her eyes from the dream-unwelcome recollection- waiting as they focused on the ceiling above and stilled her erratic breath. It was daylight; gentle sun piercing through the white blinds and Root steadied her breath before slowly sitting up and swinging her legs off the edge of the bed.
She tilted her head slightly, waiting to hear a voice. None came. She wasn’t expecting one but old habits die hard and she was always hopeful. Even now.
Silence seemed to follow her like dense fog: some self-imposed, some necessary and some she didn’t like to think about too much.
Even after everything that happened she still waiting for Her to speak. A whisper in a newspaper, a magazine article: remnants of a map left in a trash can or the dull hum through an infomercial. Root kept listening because she had to: because if they lost then it would have been for nothing.
She padded to the kitchen and switched on the radio- something she had brought in to fill the space left behind- and barely paid attention as she brewed her black coffee, hair hanging over her face.
Ah. There it was, a light beeping just below the surface amplified by her implant courtesy of Her. Root scrambled for a pen and paper, scribbling down the necessary information and times before setting the pen down.
20 minutes until her next change: Donna Harrison, journalist taking a flight to the Peoples Republic of China.
Memorizing the information she reached for a lighter, setting the paper aflame and watching it burn. She turned off the radio, the noise only nuisance now, before dressing in appropriate attire and heading swiftly out of the door, coffee forgotten on the side.
Their captive wakes, head shooting up from the table as he takes in the scene: his captors casually eating Chinese.
‘Best in the city’ intones John, holding up a roll.
That seemed to set his mind in gear as he tries to run, stopped by the cuffs around his ankles and he trips, falling to the floor.
‘They sent you. They sent you to get me.’
He spoke like a man who’s realized his paranoia wasn’t paranoia at all.
‘Right idea wrong Machine.’
‘Not helping Ms. Groves.’
Root looks scolded, shrugging her shoulders slightly but she says nothing, content to eat her food and watch events unfold.
‘Who are you people?’
This is John’s territory.
‘The only ones keeping you alive.’
‘You almost killed us.’
‘It was a little fender bender.’
‘Answer our questions and you will be released,’ demands Finch. He can be threatening when he wants to be, and it vaguely crosses Root’s mind that intimidating a scared man might not be the best way to convince him they’re the good guys. Still, he’s taking it pretty well.
John pulls him up and puts him back in the chair. They seat themselves back around the table as Harold takes charge.
‘Why did you need to see those meters?’
‘The company was using ten times the power that it’s ever used before. Wasn’t being used by the servers inside: it was powering something else.’
‘Quite a leap to jump to an AI.’
‘Stock market flash crash, cyber attacks, traffic lights changing…’ Root lets the rest of the explanation fade on her ears as she stands up.
She needs to leave. Now. Or shoot something. Or maybe cry. Two words stronger than any bullet slipped from his tongue like they were nothing. She’s not sure what’s worse: the words or the fact that he has no idea of their significance.
Finch and John remain preoccupied with their part-time captive seemingly unaware of her presence; the only place left to go is the space of the next room.
She can still hear the man speak as she reaches for Finch’s laptop and begins to type.
The journey is long and tiring but she doesn’t sleep, eyes open for any and all possible attacks. Her right arm rests in a cast: apparently Harrison had been in an accident not too recently and Root was happy to take that in her stride, assuming there must be some reason behind the handicap.
The flight gave her time to find out the details: a little digging put her on the trail for a silicon microchip with immense processing power held in a factory location not too far from the airport. Her return flight was scheduled 24 hours after landing: a narrow time period but not impossible, especially with Harrison’s recent research for an article into the development of smaller processors.
She knew what needed to be done and knew what she would have to do: she would have the chip in three hours she thought, as she shifted back into her seat and looked outside at the bright blue sky. Then it would be back to New York and another identity.
She sighed softly, feeling the weariness seep into her bones like a leech and each day it became harder to push on, a single thread of determination to save the world pulling her along.
‘Would you like anything to drink?’ inquired a polite hostess.
Root turned to look at her.
‘Would you like some ice with that?’
‘No. Thank you.’
She smiled lightly but felt it as more of a grimace. She took the drink, returning her attention to the window and taking a gentle sip, wincing at the burn down her throat.
The factory was large and heavily fortified and she knew backup would have been preferable but, she thinks, there’s no point wishing for things you can’t have.
She takes another sip, bigger this time.
‘You should’ve let me kill her.’
‘Killing her won’t bring Shaw back.’
She looks up at him.
‘You’re right I should’ve let you kill her.’
She’s not an idiot.
Root strode through the Research and Development labs of the factory confident her progress wouldn’t be stopped. The lab staff had been evacuated and the security was surprisingly lapse.
She kept her eyes focused around her, glancing through glass screens for any sign of resistance as she made her way through a supposedly locked room and reached a large safe-like structure.
‘That explains the lack of security,’ she muttered, looking for a way in.
It was new, electronic keypad with passcode, and Root searched the room for some kind of hint to the code. Trawling through desks and filing cabinets she found nothing, chucking several sheets to the floor: she didn’t have long left before someone realized the system had been tripped.
Root took a deep breath, looking up at a security camera in the corner.
‘Please,’ she asked, emphasizing her need in the word: a request.
Root turned and fired shots at the door of the safe; the clang of metal against metal echoing in the room above the noise of the alarms and the bullets ricocheted off the door creating sparks. Root held still for a few seconds, gun raised hand clenched tight around the grip before turning back to the camera.
‘If you don’t help me I can’t get whatever it is you want. Unlock the safe.’
Root waited, patience lacking, before she heard the click of a lock and she smiled.
‘Thank you,’ she said sincerely enough, and she quickly picked up the small chip, the only thing in the large safe, before heading out.
Her exit was less than smooth as she reached the stairs, shooting at the guards running up to meet her. Hitting two and missing the other she cursed as she ran out of bullets, running the opposite direction.
She wasn’t expecting any and felt little surprise when no answer came. She slid behind a lab bench as shots fired her way and quickly scanned the room from her vantage point. Her eyes zeroed in on an emergency back route and she stood up, crouched slightly as she ran for the exit chip firmly in her hand.
Shots echoed on the metal door of the stairway as she closed it behind her before taking the steps two at a time down onto a busy street.
Shaw emerges from the subway car to greet Root, her eyes scanning her body assessing the bloodstains that mar her white clothes.
‘Run in with Decima,’ Shaw is already striding over to her med kit and Root doesn’t need to be told as she moves to sit on the bench, ‘took a bullet to the side. I don’t think anything major was hit.’
Her tone is light though the pain is evident in her voice. Shaw grunts her understanding, kneeling in front of her and gesturing the top to be removed.
‘How did they find you?’
‘I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been,’ replies Root off-handedly and Shaw frowns.
‘It’s fine. They cornered me in an alley: had no bullets left,’ her voice trails into a pained gasp as Shaw wrenches the first bullet out, dropping it into a petri dish.
Shaw doesn’t look up as Root’s hand grips the arm of the bench with white knuckles against the pain, exhaling a breath of relief as Shaw pulls back slightly, reaching for the white spirit and a cloth.
‘Where was She?’
Root looks down at Shaw who was pouring the spirit into the cloth; Root tenses as Shaw cleans the wound. Shaw didn’t let up and Root struggles to remain still against the pain before finally she answers as Shaw left her wounds alone.
‘You know She can’t speak to me as much Shaw.’
Shaw’s jaw tightens but she says nothing, reaching forward to stitch the wound and Root watches her hands work, enjoying the way her fingers gently brush against her skin as Shaw works the needle.
The two sit in silence as Shaw works and Root doesn’t look to break it, content to let Shaw continue, feeling the tension radiating from her in waves. She knows Shaw will speak when she wants and Root will wait to hear it.
Shaw gives the thread one final tug, cutting it off before dropping the needle.
Root looks at Shaw who busies herself readying a dressing.
‘I can’t take backup every single time: John has to cover the numbers Sameen,’ reminds Root gently and Shaw’s jaw begins to cramp.
Root expects her to continue: to argue and fight but instead she dresses the wound, placing a cover over it with care that doesn’t go unnoticed by Root before she stands, hands covered in Root’s blood and heads into the subway car.
Root watches her with curiosity, following as she reaches the weapons locker and opens it before returning.
She doesn’t say a word, setting down ammo next to Root on the bench- ammo that Root’s eyes stare at with a certain intensity- before she moves to go and find some water to wash her hands with.
‘Keep them dry,’ she calls over her shoulder in a gruff tone, ‘change the dressing every 72 hours.’
Root hid the chip into the bandage of her cast before making the plaster covering, waiting on the balcony of her hotel room for it to set. She watched the bright lights of the metropolitan city shine in the still, humid air: so different from her home but harsh, like she wasn’t welcome. She didn’t want to be here.
She took a sip of her cocktail. She had ordered room service and the remains of a half eaten steak rested on the small metal table: she had lost interest.
She sat until morning, falling asleep in her chair until she was woken by her phone: an alarm she was sure she didn’t set. Stretching out slightly she walked out, grabbing her jacket form the bed as she left the room not bothering to change her clothing.
The ride to the airport was slow, traffic delaying the journey. Root wondered lightly about the chip knowing She was collecting things. For what, she didn’t know. She supposed she’d find out.
Root barely made it in time, rushing through security with the chip securely hidden. She didn’t worry: she trusted Her to know the plan would work and settled into the first class seat ready for the flight, back and neck stiff from her awkward sleep the night before.
The plane stood at the gate and Root watched as passengers boarded, passing through the first class cabin as a brief flash in Root’s life. She wondered how many would be numbers one day: digits that compelled Root to save their lives.
She wondered how many deserve it.
' My plan does mean too much to kill her. If you do, my program will fail. This could be a real weapon it’s worth risking my life.’
‘No. You’re too important.’
‘My value to the Machine is irrelevant.’
‘You’re too important to me.’
The two seem frozen in time and Root wishes he would just listen to her for once.
‘The Machine didn’t tell you to do this?’
‘She told me not to.’
Her voice is soft with the weight of her decision. She will do this. She has to. Harold looks away, reconciling that his creation is trying to save one he loves again: reconciling that Root is trying to kill someone he cares about again.
Root watches his eyes search the floor and struggles to find her own words.
‘I…I thought I could sacrifice everyone I really did. Win some lose some right? It’s for a good cause but…but it turns out I can’t lose you Harold. Not you and Shaw.’
‘Samaritan may have found the Machine.’
‘If that were true we’d all be dead,’ chimed Root as she entered the subway car.
‘What happened Ms. Groves?’ asked Harold, full of concern and Root looked down at the fake cast on her arm like she’d only just remembered it was there.
She walked over to the nearby cabinet, hitting it hard on the metal and letting the plaster fall away as she revealed a microchip embedded in the bandaging.
‘Turns out the People’s Republic is surprisingly lax on full body searches.’
She bent down, placing it on the slot on the side of the briefcase as instructed with careful precision before returning her attentions to Finch.
‘How goes the gang war Harry?’
‘Dangerous. I’m afraid it’s only a matter of time before Dominic retaliates.’
She followed him through the subway, coming up behind as Elias and Dominic pop up on his computer screen.
Root watched as Finch dealt with John on the other end of the line, interjecting where necessary but largely allowing things to unfold in her silence, content to hang in the shadows in a rare moment of rest.
A low vibration disturbs the calm and suddenly Finch was pulling away files to a phone kept dormant for so long. She looked at Finch whose eyes stay fixed on the phone and she figures as long as one of them is looking at it, it might not disappear.
‘Shaw’s phone,’ she breathed out.
She can’t… her thoughts run: a relative, an old friend but…this is Shaw. Hope is a dangerous thing but Root can’t help to clutch at it.
‘I have to go Mr. Reese, you’ll have to manage Elias yourself,’ dismissed Harold, cutting him off as his eyes fix on Root.
She answered the phone, clutching at it like a lifeline.
‘Hello?’ she asked. What else is there to say, she thinks, as surprise laced her hesitant voice.
‘Root are you there? It’s me I need your help I-‘
The phone cuts and Harold doesn’t need to have heard what was said, Root’s wide eyes telling him everything he needed to know.
‘Shaw?’ she asked again to a dead phone. Her voice has never sounded so fragile.
She knows there will be no response but she has to try: try anything as she pulls the phone away from her ear, looking at it like a miracle.
'Harold stop this now.’
The neurotoxin was already taking effect as he sits on the side of the bed. Root wouldn’t let this happen: couldn’t.
‘If I’m dead you won’t kill her: there won’t be a need.’
‘Do you really care that much about this woman?’ she demands.
‘If she dies it’s my fault. And I will not be responsible for one more friend’s death.’
Root can feel the tears in her eyes that have been there since Harold walked in but she blinks them back again. She will not cry again. Not here. Not now.
‘Shaw’s not your fault. Even if she does… turn up dead: it’s not your fault. I asked her to help us that day. I did Harold.’
She searches for his eyes because he is not to blame and Root will never let him think that.
‘I suppose we’re both just trying to save one more friend from dying.’
Harold begins to fall unable to support his body and Root lurches over him, falling into desperation as she speaks the words coming out too fast.
‘I..I won’t kill her Harold I give you my word Beth will live. Please. Please believe me.’
‘Alright I believe you…Root.’
Root won’t let go of the phone.
‘She’s alive Harold. We wrote her off for dead but she’s alive,’ she can’t keep the smile from her lips.
‘You don’t know that Ms. Groves,’ warned Finch, his voice low.
‘Except we do I just talked to her on a call, originating from the city.’
She’s so insistent, but this is proof. She talked to Sameen and it feels like light but it registers only now that area code and how close she’s been this whole time and she wonders briefly how long she’s been hiding in plain sight and she has to move now.
Even with this knowledge- the knowledge that she’s been here all along, that Root hadn’t looked hard enough. Had given up- she can’t help the lightness to her features: a thread of hope.
Harold followed her into the subway car.
‘Can we wait for just five minutes and talk this through?’
Root shook her head slightly. No.
‘The last time we had this conversation I actually listened to you. And to the Machine,’ she headed for the lockers, pulling out equipment, ‘I called off my search,’ her voice is so quiet she could be talking to herself, ‘and all this time she needed us Harold. Like she needs us now. Isn’t this your specialty? Helping people when the phone rings.’
‘That call is most certainly a trap.’
Why did everyone think she was an idiot? She would follow that call if it led her to Greer himself and then she would shoot him too. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered.
‘I know. But Sameen’s still alive, and I’m going after her.’
'Your turn,’ indicates Shaw as Root pouts, thinking.
John and Shaw share a look as Root pulls two cards and slams then down.
Shaw studies her face and decides she’s telling the truth, looking down at her own cards. They hadn’t been able to play poker because Root didn’t know how to play: ‘The Machine did all the work,’ she had shrugged when asked how the fuck she’d won all that money in Vegas and Shaw had grumbled about using the Machine as a glorified card counter when she could do it all perfectly well without a sentient computer thank you very much.
‘Bullshit,’ calls Root happily and Shaw glares before reaching for the accumulated cards in the pile and turning over.
Her gaze flickers to Root.
Root simply smirks.
‘You believed me. We’d already had 3 queens. I took a risk.’
John looks at Shaw with little sympathy.
‘Fuck you,’ growls Shaw.
‘A risk worth taking apparently,’ smirks Root, leaving a soft peck on Shaw’s cheek and Shaw’s hand comes up to rub away the remnants of the affection roughly like a child.
The Machine won’t tell her where the call originated but she’s not letting Shaw slip through her fingers again.
‘I can’t help you Ms. Grove’s if you insist on this impossible pace,’ she didn’t reply, ‘Root. What are we doing out here?’
He only uses that name when he wants an answer. To make a point. She appreciates it all the same, a name she knows is her own, but her words are addressed to a small camera overlooking the ledge.
‘When you told me to stop looking for Shaw I did. But now I need you to help me. I cant do this alone.’
She didn’t want to but it’s been so silent and she needed to do something so she climbs onto the ledge, ignoring the biting cold and the wind whipping her hair flat into her face praying she won’t fall.
‘Harold taught you blackjack and chess,’ getting up onto the ledge was harder than expected, giving her time to look down, ‘I wonder if he ever taught you how to play chicken.’
Root stood slowly, arms outstretched to keep her balance. Shaw would kill her if she could see this now. Would probably kill her later for it, but she’d always played on a knifepoint.
‘I’m gonna walk across this ledge with my eyes closed until a) you help me find Sameen or b) I fall tragically to my death,’ her words falter slightly as she looked down and Root thinks she might be reaffirming this more for her own benefit than the Machine’s understanding.
A split second and Root’s eyes are closed, walking across the ledge with such care. She thinks she might have miscalculated a little but it’s too late to back out. And she was going to find Sameen before she got anywhere close to dying.
She can hear the Machine’s calculations in her head.
‘You’ve calculated the wind speed so you know how treacherous this is.’
It’s a taunt. This was a gamble: how replaceable was she, and the odds were uncertain. But Root had trust and always played the risky hand.
‘You have to ask yourself what’s worse: the two of us working together, or me taking this next step alone?’
That was misleadingly poetic she thinks as her foot slips and she really didn’t want to die, a speck of splattered flesh upon a New York sidewalk but this was a risk worth taking and it takes faith to do a trust fall.
Her eyes opened as she heard the information through her implant and Root smiled, a genuine smirk for just a flash before she turned to Finch, eager to get down from the ledge.
‘Thanks for playing. Come on Harry, she’s found us a ride.’
‘If you could be any animal what would you be?’
‘Root,’ warns Shaw, comfortable and nowhere near okay with moving. Or speaking. Or talking.
Root leans over and prods her as she sits in Harold’s chair. Confinement in the subway meant a lot of nerd duty, but it also meant this ridiculously comfy chair and Root was now disturbing her sleep in it.
‘Indulge me Sameen.’
Shaw sighs and opens an eye, still managing a glare at full force. Root sits perched on the edge of Harold’s desk thoroughly ignoring it.
‘It’s just a question.’
Shaw closes her eye.
‘Go away Root. I’m sleeping.’
Root picks up a rubber band ball from the desk (how it got there she has no idea) and begin to play with it, pulling off some elastic bands.
‘I think you’d be a cat.’
‘Black haired, reluctantly affectionate, stealthy.’
‘Shut up Root.’
‘Purring when content: you’d make a good cat.’
Root sets down the ball, playing with the two bands in her hand before pocketing them.
‘And you’d be a donkey because you’re being fucking annoying. Let me sleep Root.’
Root laughs lightly, taking no offense and though a retort waits on the tip of her tongue she drops it, knowing it was time to go.
‘Anything for you Sweetie,’ she sings, before standing up straight and heading out.
‘I’ll be back,’ she calls over her shoulder lightly and Shaw cracks open both of her eyes as she watches Root disappear from view.
She thinks she’d be a dog instead.
They parked up in front of the Asylum and Root’s glad to have Her back in her ear. Even with the building looming over them, a possible death trap, Root can’t help but find herself falling into step once again with the Machine as she pulls out the shovel from the back of the ambulance and follows the directions given to her.
Root relished the stream of information in her ear, turning back to Finch to explain the situation as she dug for the hatch and led them both underground.
‘Information travels through optical fibre in pulses of light. Which means one percent of any one pulse contains-‘
‘One hundred percent of the data like a drop of blood carrying DNA.’
‘Exactly. Our micro-clamping friend here will bend the wire just enough to leak a little light…’
‘And they’ll never know they’ve been hacked.’
Finch set up the laptop, rushing through the stream of data as Root hovered over his shoulder.
‘This is a cascade of information. Samaritan is doing more than just housing Ms. Shaw in there and we’ll have to crack this considerable encryption.’
‘She’s already accessing your laptop.’
‘I don’t want to control it Harold, I want to set it free.’
Admitting Harold into the psych ward was more than a little satisfying even she wouldn’t deny that. And an effective plan.
Root slid through the hospital, avoiding most threats with Her help as Harold reported a theft and managed to slip inside the security control room.
‘The ninth floor is reserved for the most violent patients. It’s the most secure and it’s the only floor without surveillance cameras.’
‘It’s also the only floor with secure elevator access. This has to be it.’
Root pushed her way through the door, pace quickening.
‘I’m searching the electronic charts for a profile that might match Sameen’s.’
Root ignored him, stepping gingerly out into a deserted hallway, hugging the shadows.
‘Okay don’t lose your head Ms. Groves this might mean nothing but they’re holding a compact Persian sociopath in Room 914.’
Root heeded his words if only for Sameen’s sake, and the Machine’s: this was a mission and she would complete it, though it did not escape her the interesting description afforded to Shaw and she wondered whose idea that had been.
She pressed herself against the wall, watching a guard head into a secure room before continuing forward, following in the guard’s footsteps.
It was a war between her head and her legs, legs willing her to move faster as she tried to push through the maze despite the obvious danger. She stopped just outside a door and peaked in.
She pulled back, breathing heavily.
‘You need to leave Harold. Now.’
‘Not without you Ms. Groves.’
‘You don’t have a choice,’ there was no keeping the inflection of panic from her voice, ‘this is Samaritan’s base of operations: we’re in the belly of the beast.’
‘Tell me a story.’
Shaw groans, hips rising to meet Root’s perilously slow thrusts. Knelt between Shaw’s spread legs, eyes focused on the motion of her fingers Root asks the question with a voice so soft Shaw barely manages to process the words.
‘Root,’ warns Shaw but it comes out closer to a moan and Shaw bites it back before it can develop.
Root ignores it, thrusts methodical and paced.
Root shifts her hand slightly, changing angles and Shaw’s hips rise against the far too gentle movements.
‘Now?’ asks Shaw and she doesn’t know why she’s so surprised: this is Root.
‘I told you one.’
‘You’re calling the debt in now?’ Shaw’s words trail off slightly into a gasp as Root’s thumb joins in briefly, circling softly- far too softy- over sensitive nerves.
‘Sameen,’ Root looks up and Shaw manages to catch her eyes as Root’s movements still.
The moment their gazes meet Root starts up again and Shaw’s eyes are lost to the ceiling.
‘Fine,’ she chokes out, ‘Once upon a time-‘
‘Not that kind of story,’ chides Root softly, eyes still focused on her hands. She’s being so diligent and careful and usually Shaw would berate her for being so slow but this feels good and her hands clasp at the edge of the wooden bench until her knuckles turn white from the elegant torture Root provides.
Her words are stilted as she struggles to think through the pleasure.
‘Tell me a story you believe in.’
Shaw looks down at that but this time all that greets her is mussed brown hair. As if she can feel the gaze on her Root thrusts particularly harshly and Shaw loses concentration, arching once again trying desperately to force more friction.
‘Fuck Root what…what kind of story is that?’
Root shrugs-Shaw can feel the brush of shoulders against the inside of her thighs as she does so- and Shaw sighs.
‘I don’t believe in stories.’
Root stops at that, eyes drifting upwards and Shaw wiggles her hips trying to get Root to move again.
Shaw looks down.
‘Do we have to do this now?’
Root raises an eyebrow and Shaw knows she’ll cave if it means Root will just keep going.
Shaw manages to roll her eyes regardless.
‘Stories aren’t real.’
‘Not all stories,’ replies Root. Her voice is so soft and gentle just like everything else tonight. Shaw had expected a quick hard fuck on the bench and instead Root was sat between her knees asking her about fucking stories.
Root seems to consider the answer, eyes searching Shaw’s own and eventually she seems satisfied, lower her eyes to her hand once again and starting up just as slow.
‘If you want to be done within the next year you’re going to have to go faster.’
Despite her complaint Shaw’s words are strained: it really does feel good.
‘Tell me a story you believe in.’
Shaw’s eyes are fixed to the Moroccan tile above her head and she closes them for just a moment- perhaps in exasperation, perhaps in thought- before opening them, decision made.
‘There was a girl and she was,’ Shaw paused, trying to find the word in her jumble of thoughts, like she almost thought better of her first choice and now scrambled to find another, ‘nice.’
Root raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything.
‘To look at: to talk to. One day she killed a man,’ Root chuckles at that and Shaw tries to glare but a thumb pressed hard on her clit and her brain lost that anger swiftly enough.
‘She…’ Shaw takes a moment to regain her thoughts, ‘she ran and hid. Not because she regretted her actions but because it made her not nice.’
Root was looking up at her now Shaw could feel the intensity of big brown eyes but she didn’t meet it. Kept going.
‘She was right: she had changed,’ it was getting easier now, finding a rhythm between Root’s even thrusts, ‘and she killed again. A lot actually,’ Root shakes her head slightly, mirth seeping into her features but Shaw didn’t see it, ‘and she stayed away from people. What she didn’t know was that she was wrong,’ Shaw found focusing on one distinct tile above her head helped her focus, ‘that just because she had killed some people didn’t mean she wasn’t nice. The End.’
Root’s eyes stay fixed on Shaw’s face and eventually Shaw had to look down.
‘What?’ demands Shaw.
‘That wasn’t a very good story. What did the girl learn?’
Root raises an eyebrow and Shaw sighs.
‘There is no moral Root: she never learnt she was nice. She still needs to figure it out.’
‘What was the point then?’
‘Sometimes there isn’t a point. A story’s a story.’
‘That wasn’t finished.’
‘Not all stories are finished Root.’
Shaw was looking at her now, eyes piercing and brown.
‘Why,’ asks Root, whispering softly above the seemingly obscene sounds echoing in the subway, ‘why that story?’
Shaw would have shrugged then if she could. Instead she settles on an answer.
‘I believe in it.’
‘Believe in the story?’
Shaw shakes her head.
‘This is a restricted floor doctor.’
‘Sorry…I was looking for an aspirin stash. Lower back thing.’
She fired several silenced shots, felling the two men onto the floor as she continued her quest. Harold might need to get out, but she wasn’t leaving without Sameen as powered through to Room 914.
She slowed, taking in the scene. Screen: repeating phrases. Didn’t take a genius to work out it was some attempt at brainwashing. Hospital instruments: torture. Medical bed: Sameen’s home, she supposed.
And a coat.
Root rushed towards it, picking up the blood stained garment in her hands, studying it like Shaw might grow out of it at any second: as if the mere offence of touching her things might draw her from the shadows. All she found was dried blood and bullet holes she didn’t want to think about.
It was neatly folded but still warm. Placed purposefully, but not long ago.
Root placed it gently back down, rushing to a nearby window and pushing aside the blinds.
Nothing. She could see nothing but a black car in a black night with black figures. One stumbled, shorter than the rest pulled along by the arm and Root felt a rush through her body, hands gripping the window frame in a vice. The Machine whispered in her ear what she already knew and some crazy part of her wanted to jump out of that window and follow, drop everything: the stealth and the war and just run. Find Sameen. Save her.
But she wouldn’t do that. Not just yet. If they couldn’t win the war then what was the point of saving her? Of her sacrifice?
‘You just missed her.’
She would stay. Sameen was alive.
That was enough.
'If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?’