TITLE: Good Neighbours
SUMMARY: Jake has to suffer the company of his worst enemy.
NOTES: Written for Lithium Doll for the Jake 2.0 ficathon 2.0.
SETTING: Post-series, after an imagined finale not based upon the 3 unfilmed episodes.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine, no profit, yadda, yadda, yadda.
"Not that I believe in God, but if I did I'd sure take this little twist of fate as proof He has a sense of humour."
The man in the next cell spoke blandly, as though he lacked any feeling behind the words at all, but Jake knew better than that. Even through the blurring of his control caused by whatever adjustment they'd made to the nanites, he could sense the changes in his neighbour's pulse, breathing and scent. Hate, and vicious amusement. He could have figured that one out, though, if they'd managed to turn the nanites off.
"Stow it, DuMont," he groaned, collapsing back on to the narrow bunk where they'd thrown him with an arm over his face. He was vaguely aware that DuMont was still talking, but he didn't hear a word. He lay back and waited for the shocky weakness and muscle tremors caused by the guards' cattle prod things to dissipate.
After what could have been five minutes or half an hour, anyone's guess since the cattle prods had stopped his watch even before it had been taken from him, events caught up with his thinking brain. He rolled the brief exchange over and over in his still-sluggish thoughts and came to an undeniable conclusion regarding the most appropriate response. "Shit."
"My guess would be that if I were you, I'd be finding this situation one of life's more humiliating experiences right now." The fog in his brain was clearing, and the infuriating sing-song tone floated through to his ears despite his best hopes to ignore its existence. Jake supposed he would have to deal with this sometime, sooner or later. It felt marginally less pathetic to deal with it sooner. He sat up. Nerves in his back 'twanged' where the prods had made contact.
"You know the NSA," he sighed. "Employee benefits, great retirement plan..."
"Yeah. Definitely working towards that 'Employer of the Century' award." DuMont stared at him unblinking, in that way he'd never admit freaked his shit out. DuMont's eyes were pale in a paler, crooked face. It told unmistakeably on his body that he had been incarcerated a long time now, the brief violent interludes of his escape attempts notwithstanding. His complexion looked like he'd seen the sun about as often as Dracula. His limbs looked like sticks, and the impression was only enhanced by the way he sat cross-legged.
He sat near the bars, facing into Jake's cell so that it was pretty much impossible to ignore the bastard. After he'd held the stare long enough to establish that yeah, he was well and truly a freak, he added a brief little wave and a "Hi, Jake."
Apparently he felt he was somehow neglecting his social duties.
"Hey, if it isn't my best buddy Kevin." Jake made efforts to ensure his own voice came out as a laconic drawl. "Been a while. How're those cunning escape plans going? 'Cause, you know, kind of a vested interest there myself--" He let the quip hang. It died on the air. a bit too obviously forced.
"Fancy," DuMont said with dark relish. "All you've done - served God and Country like a good little droid - and you end up right here next to me."
Jake's frustration forced him to action. Not that there was a lot of action he could take, but he stumbled to his feet and lurched to the front of the cell, examining his prison. The knowledge of his nemesis' silent, watching eyes grated on the back of his brain. Finally his frustration burst its restraints; "What are you doing here, DuMont? This place - this place is for freaks like me, not--" He scowled and paused. "Not freaks like you," he finished sourly. "Unless the government grew you in a vat. Which, actually, would explain some stuff."
"Now, now. Is that any way to talk to your old buddy?" DuMont said mildly. He didn't answer the question, but Jake, when he considered it, figured he knew what the answer was. The NSA had probably been more concerned about putting DuMont in a cell he wouldn't escape from, after everything that had happened last time, and the time before that. No NSA directors to seduce in here; here, they took the sorts of special precautions that could contain an obsolete nanite-enhanced super-agent.
He thought he caught a glint in DuMont's eyes, as he turned away determined to ignore him, of the hatred he knew the hacker bore for him. It was distracting to imagine himself hated that much, and even more distracting the way the guy could wipe his face blank of it in the space of an instant, but he tried to concentrate less on the neighbours and more on the state of his new home.
It was an approximately fifteen foot square box, with bars on three sides and a wall on one, although that too had bars covering it. The wall was a foot away on the other side of them. There was a gap the same width between DuMont's cell and his. Small mercies. Both cells had sanitary facilities which left no room for modesty, a bunk, and no sign of anything electrical at all. An empty cell adjoined his on the other side. Further down past DuMont, three out of four further cells looked empty, and he could only just make out the huddled shape in the second furthest away.
"Yeah, the accommodation pretty much sucks," DuMont drawled. "I asked for room service, but that was two months ago and they're yet to show up. I intend to write to the manager when next they let me have a pen. I think they expect I'll stab the guards with it and make a daring escape."
Jake didn't reply, but he knew he couldn't ignore DuMont forever. Unless he could point out to the guys in charge of this bunker what a phenomenally bad idea it was putting the two of them anywhere near each other.
"Hey!" He tugged at the bars, testing them. Either they'd been reinforced or the job they'd done on the nanites after they'd put him under served to cripple his strength as well as the rest. He ran his fist along the bars, creating an echoing metallic din. "Hey! Hey, c'mon, I know this guy! I put him in here. This is cruel and unusual punishment - you gotta find me another cell. Hey--!"
But the guards had gone, and the camera high on the walls outside the cells either didn't pick up sound or he wasn't making any that interested them. He continued for several minutes anyhow, relating all the reasons he shouldn't be in the cell next to DuMont, which eventually degenerated into all the reasons he shouldn't be in a cell at all, and "I saved this Goddamn country twice, you assholes!"
None of it did any good. After about half an hour with the final reserves of his strength expended, he turned and sagged back against the bars. Feeling exhausted and battered, he slid down them slowly till he hit the floor, and buried his head in his knees with a defeated 'whump'.
"So what happened to you?" DuMont asked, on the second day. They'd kept a civil sort of silence all morning - assuming it was morning and the lights-out period in this place wasn't just some way to mess with their heads - but Jake had been aware of the pale eyes of his nemesis watching him unblinking for the last few hours. He wasn't sure what would fascinate DuMont so much about him, but then it wasn't as though there was an awful lot to look at in this place. The intensity of the gaze had been deeply unsettling at first, but he supposed he was getting used to it. He supposed he'd have to. It was apparent that they were going to be seeing a lot of each other. "Apart from the obvious 'our friends in the NSA'."
Physically Jake felt better than he had done the previous day. He didn't seem to have the recuperative powers accorded by the nanites at full function, but they remained slightly higher than the norm nonetheless. The last threads of the drugs they'd used to keep him out while the adjustments were made had left his system and the wrenching effects of the cattle-prods had reduced to a few muscle aches. The cotton-woolly feel that the tampering had given him in place of the nanites' usual sharp clarity of function was a frustration he couldn't seem to keep from his constant notice, though. It bothered him like an itch. And overall he felt weak and resented it.
He still didn't feel much like telling his sorry story to DuMont, either, who he knew would take nothing but pleasure in it.
"The nanites were designed originally to enhance trained agents and soldiers. Di-- the scientists finally cracked it, perfected the nanites, and injected them into a bunch of trained agents." Diane had been so jubilant when she made the breakthrough. He'd helped her celebrate with a bottle of wine over at her place. Neither of them had envisioned the consequences, or the swiftness with which events moved to bring them about. After all, he was a trained agent now. He'd done things... he'd proved himself. But even without Valerie Warner in charge, the brass seemed to be blindsided by what he'd used to be. "So apparently I am a ZX Spectrum," he concluded grimly.
"Thrown out on the scrap heap," DuMont drawled, undeniably gleeful. "Must be quite a fall, golden boy."
"I was never that," Jake said angrily.
Diane would find a way, he told himself. Diane and Kyle and Lou understood and valued him as he was. And he could do things with computers that those guys - the commando types they'd chosen - couldn't begin to understand. Of course, every one of those guys had wiped the floor with him physically, but what the hell did anyone expect?
He felt a pang. He knew Diane would try, and probably never stop trying... and guilt herself all her life for her failure, if she didn't succeed. He had a lot of faith in her, and in Kyle and Lou, but he'd also learned to have a generous amount of cynicism regarding the NSA in general. There was a not inconsiderable chance she wouldn't succeed.
"Oh, I don't know. Stronger, faster, blah, blah, blah," DuMont was saying dryly. "Till they replaced you with the new best thing, anyway."
"They're not better, they're just different." Defensively, Jake echoed Diane's outraged judgement. "And I've got the new nanites too, now. They'll realise in time. This is temporary."
"That's a pretty lie."
"I don't give a shit about your opinion."
DuMont raised his hands and sucked air through his teeth in a disapproving gesture that grated on Jake's nerves. He decided that another bout of ignoring DuMont wouldn't suck, as a way to pass the time.
Indeed, time seemed to pass indeterminately slowly in confinement. He'd been a prisoner before, and not just of the NSA. But those other occasions - a couple of missions gone wrong - they'd always had the distracting immediacy of the threat of death and/or torture, any boredom lost within the overriding fear. He wasn't afraid for his life here, and he was anticipating having to wait days, weeks, even months for anything to happen... if anything ever did happen at all.
Since he'd been put in the cell he'd slept, once, and eaten twice. The guards who brought the food hadn't been interested in his protests when he reiterated them face-to-face. He'd memorised the cracks in the ceiling, and made several hopeless efforts to drive the wooliness from the nanites, exchanged insults with DuMont a couple of times, and tried desperately, unsuccessfully, to pry some conversation out of the huddled bundle in the cell further down.
How many more days here was he going to have to fill? He turned the question over in his mind with a pervasive sense of dread.
By the third day they were quoting Star Wars at each other.
Which, yeah, was kind of annoying because it was DuMont, but was also the inevitable conclusion whenever and wherever two geeks were put in close confinement together for any length of time. Although the fact DuMont had apparently liked Return of the Jedi better than The Empire Strike Back only reinforced the fact that he was, obviously, evil.
Every so often, it was like they would remember how much they really didn't like each other, and when that happened the conversation dried up and they regarded each other sullenly or in resentful sideways glances, and paced their cells, until Jake could no longer hold in his plaintive cry of "But it's got Ewoks!" and then the whole thing would start up again.
By that time, DuMont knew that the NSA had hobbled the nanites, and a few other embarrassing details that Jake could've sworn he would never in his right mind have confided to his evil arch nemesis, of all people. But then maybe neither of them were in their right minds, in here, and DuMont had seemed so genuinely fascinated, and Jake was at heart a sociable animal.
And they had a lot in common, after all. Well, apart from the whole thing where DuMont had lived like a king for several years off of using his powers for the Dark Side, while Jake had scraped a somewhat pathetic living sharing an apartment with Darin.
It didn't change anything, he told himself sternly. He still loathed DuMont and everything he stood for. It just made it really hard to be actively hostile about the fact when the guy was the only conversational company he had.
It was, or at least he thought it was, fairly late into the afternoon on the third day when DuMont, already seated at the bars, leaned close and gestured unmistakeably for Jake to come closer.
Jake did so only with reluctant caution. It didn't matter that they were both locked up, he still didn't quite trust the guy not to try and kill him just so he could tick it off on his list of life goals, or whatever.
"They don't have audio surveillance," Jake said, after he'd stopped what was still clearly further away than DuMont would've liked. He'd spent a lot of energy and concentration trying to determine the yea or nay of that question on the second day following his first frustrated attempts at communication. It was hard to push the nanites to do anything anymore, but he thought he'd gotten it eventually.
"They jinxed your Jedi powers, young padawan, how the hell can we know that for sure?" came the aggressive sarcasm of the response.
There was a moment while they both waited, but Jake wasn't going to move closer and the guy was just going to have to deal. With a delicate snort of disgust, DuMont pressed his face into the bars and said, with an intensity that was almost manic, "If we worked together, we could get out of here."
"Whoa!" Jake sprang to his feet, hands raised palms-out as if he could physically push the suggestion further away - much further. Escape would make him an enemy. Right now he was just... misunderstood. "DuMont, my friends are gonna get me out of here. Which, let me think..." He made a great play of calculating on his fingers. "No, you don't count among them."
DuMont ignored the latter comment. "Even you're not that naive. The friendsiest friends in the whole wide would couldn't get you out of this one, Foley."
"DuMont, I'm really not about to give up on them after three days."
"Three hundred days wouldn't make any more difference." DuMont wasn't making any efforts to keep this quiet now, standing and stalking round his cell like a predatory animal, whirling on Jake as he spoke with force, and Jake wondered if he'd believed they had them under audio surveillance at all, or if it was just an excuse to get in his face. Ever since the guy had wiped his memory, he had a few personal space issues with DuMont, who liked nothing better than to screw with your head if he knew he could get under your skin. "How long do you think it would take?"
The question was cruelly in earnest. Jake pressed his lips together and bit down angrily. "It could take a while," he snapped, after a minute. "That doesn't mean they're not gonna come through for me on this. All I have to do is sit tight and survive however long it takes stuck in this cell with you. And if you think I'd inflict you on the world again just to get myself out of here--"
"If it weren't for me you'd be going mad by now already," DuMont said sardonically. "Admit it, Jake, we're the same. Even down to the way we've both been shafted by the government."
"You got yourself in here."
He raised his shoulder in a lazy shrug at the distinction. "They recognise that we're both too dangerous to be running loose." The curl of his smile was pleased. Jake realised he'd unwittingly good as admitted to feeling shafted by the NSA, and his voice had been undeniably full of his anger with them.
"They'll change their minds," he qualified, although he knew his voice was all but a mumble, and his words again an echo of Diane's. "Something's bound to make them realise eventually that the new guys are a trade-off, not an improvement."
"And they'll come back to you. To your skill with the technological applications of the nanites." DuMont spoke completely without inflection. "And you'll go crawling right back to them. After this. Even after this."
Put like that, it seemed weak. Hell, it was weak. But he didn't need DuMont's assertion to know that the government owned him.
They didn't have to. He wasn't made a captive by his body any more. The new nanites in his system were stable, even if they weren't currently up to scratch. He needn't fear something going wrong that only Diane could fix. Needn't fear dying. He could be free--
Jake shook the thought away. The NSA were a long way from perfect, but they were still a lot better than DuMont's alternative of self-serving anarchy, that didn't care who or how many it hurt. DuMont was a murderer several times over in intent - if not yet, so far as he knew, in actual deed.
And he could twist your thoughts as easy as breathing.
"Yeah, I'll go back," he said stolidly. "You may not think much of the NSA, but I do good work to save lives." Like stopping nuclear weapons, political assassinations, EMP bombs that would leave the country wide open to terror attacks... None of which he could tell DuMont about.
Did the NSA expect him to observe the confidentiality of the classified information he knew, in here?
They would if he really expected to ever get out of here.
"Yeah, right, G.I. Jake."
"Anyway," he added with a touch of malice. "The last person you'd want to escape with is the guy with the permanent tracking beacon integrated with his nervous system like a neon sign. You'd dump me in a day. And that's supposing your starting premise of the two of us working together being able to get out of here isn't complete fantasy - which I seriously doubt."
As closing statements went, he'd figured it pretty final, so it took him a moment to figure out why DuMont was smiling. He realised then that his ultimate line of reasoning hadn't stemmed from morality, or from loyalty to the NSA.
DuMont thought he had a way in.
Which meant that DuMont thought he really did have a way out.
Three weeks later, they'd exhausted the Star Wars canon and skirted around Star Trek, although neither of them was a fully committed follower and DuMont had actually liked Voyager, reinforcing yet again the depths of his moral corruption. They'd spent the past week verbally designing and running RPGs on the new 'NSA NanoTech' system, which had somehow led to imparting a whole hell of a lot more information about how the nanites functioned, and how he'd used them in any number of past missions, than he ever ought to have told DuMont.
Damn, but the guy was sneakier than a sackful of weasels. Jake couldn't quash some resentful admiration for his manipulative skill, even amongst his frustration and disgust at himself for, apparently, being gullible enough to fall for it every time.
Common ground was all it took for DuMont to get his claws in. He'd found it with his original gang of hackers, with his psycho girlfriend, even Valerie Warner (a common ground which seemed to have been the overriding desire to see him, Jake Foley, strung up, so far as he'd been able to uneasily determine). Once he'd made that connection he could weasel you around to doing exactly what he wanted. And he and Jake, whatever their differences, still had a lot of common ground.
There'd been times - more often than not, in fact, the more time went on - where he'd never have been able to tell that DuMont hated him to the point of wanting him dead. Where it seemed they were almost friends. DuMont, who'd tried to kill him; he could never lose sight of that fact. He'd have to be careful, because he knew there was no way in hell he could ever trust this connection, especially because DuMont himself seemed to have every interest in cultivating it, and somewhere in the past three weeks he'd lost any sight of that underlying hate.
But... there were things that gave him pause, all the same.
In their RPG, DuMont's interest in the nanites shone through unmistakeably. There was something about the way it did that bothered Jake, and not in the manner he'd have anticipated. It wasn't greed that he saw, not quite. There was a desperation in how thoroughly DuMont threw himself into his roleplay.
The guy really did want to remake himself.
Jake could certainly see how a guy might consider the nanites a route to that end. His own life had changed beyond recognition in the past year.
He would've liked to reject the idea out of hand. It didn't fit with how he needed to view his nemesis, after all that had passed between them. No - it was, it had to be, only the thought of somebody else having the better upgrade that motivated DuMont. The thought of power. Except he kinda understood where a guy could be coming from with that, too. Jake had a pretty good idea what it was like to crave physical power and prowess. DuMont would've been the last waiting to be picked in the sports line at school, as well.
He wondered how much DuMont had to hate himself under that maliciously confident exterior, to want the nanites even when they might kill him. They had almost killed the girl.
Of course, it was always possible that here, too, he was only seeing what DuMont wanted him to see. Vulnerabilities, real or imagined, that were calculated to win his empathy, that would help DuMont to take advantage of him in the future.
At a pause in their RPG to separately regroup and worldbuild, DuMont eventually interrupted the thoughtful silence with, "I think I could fix what the NSA did to your nanites."
"Yeah?" Jake's interest blazed through in the response before he could stop himself. At its worst it was like thinking through cotton wool, or like his reflexes were encased in glue. Sometimes he could barely stand it. DuMont knew that, too.
"How?" Jake asked, suspiciously. "And why? I mean, what the hell would you do that for?"
"A gesture of solidarity. Prisoners together, and all that."
Jake didn't believe him. He didn't believe he could do it, for a start. The last time DuMont had messed with nanites, the end result had nearly killed his crazed girlfriend, and that didn't invoke a vast amount of confidence, for a start. But he'd also need something to interface with the nanites, which in here he markedly didn't have and wasn't likely to get.
"How?" he asked again.
"That's my secret." DuMont broke off a sly tap to the side of his nose for a frown. "Not yet. Soon. Just let me know if you'd be interested. After all, it can't be much fun being half crippled like this after being used to all that power. Strength of ten, leap tall buildings in a single bound, yadda, yadda, yadda."
"It's really not like that," Jake protested. "There were no tall buildings. There won't be any tall buildings." He hadn't ever even managed any small buildings, he might've said, if DuMont's expression of scepticism hadn't given him pause, and he remembered...
"I always wanted to be the hero," DuMont had said, resentfully, in one of his infrequent black moods only a few days before. Spite had replaced his ingratiating - if antagonistic - pally demeanour; and Jake wondered in retrospect if it was the closest to the truth DuMont was ever going to allow him to see.
DuMont might belittle what he was, but he idealised it at the same time in his language and his eyes. Hell, as far as DuMont was concerned he was a goddamn superhero.
DuMont himself had settled for being the supervillain.
He wondered when was the last time anyone had seen under the facade, seen DuMont vulnerable. The guy had manipulated plenty of people in his time, but never before when he'd had to be with them maintaining the charade twenty-four hours day and night. Nobody could keep the mask in place all the time. It reasonably followed that there must have been moments in these past weeks when he'd seen the real DuMont. The only question, Jake supposed, was whether he was right about when those moments had been.
DuMont, if he needed it, could always take his comfort in the fact he could've taught Lex Luthor a few tricks.
He didn't know where DuMont had gotten the parts to do it.
It was one of those things that sent a chill through him just to think about. Even now that DuMont was kind-of-sort-of his friend (except he wasn't, was he? He wanted to kill him. If they hadn't been in here together for four months, if they were outside now, they'd still be enemies, and he'd probably be dead). Even now, he had moments where it washed over him just how dangerous this guy was.
They were in one of the government's most secret storage facilities, in a goddamn underground bunker half a mile beneath Washington DC, with guards who'd stop breathing and asphyxiate on the spot if their superiors ordered them to. There was a huge, highlighted neon alert on DuMont's file forbidding any access to electronic equipment. How the hell had he gotten hold of enough pieces to build the interfacing device? Especially when Jake had been there, all the time, in full view, and hadn't seen him collect anything.
Jake couldn't imagine, and DuMont wouldn't tell him.
The device, end product of all this mystifying subterfuge, looked like nothing more than a collection of random wires attached to a PDA screen about two inches square. It didn't look like it ought to work.
Jake had a grim feeling at the back of his mind that he really oughtn't be giving DuMont the opportunity to see if it did work. Three months ago there was no chance in hell that he would ever have calmly submitted to allow DuMont free and easy access to the nanites, let alone stretched his current limited resources to their limit to jinx the security cameras so that DuMont could do so.
But here he was, sitting crosslegged facing the bars, with DuMont as his mirror on the other side, about as close as they could get in their current circumstances. DuMont's face was closed off in intense concentration as he leaned over the device, pushing on a tiny keypad and occasionally squeezing and shifting wires to compensate as the screen flickered.
He really didn't imagine that DuMont was doing this without any gain in mind, did he?
They'd only have a narrow window of opportunity, DuMont had said. He had hooked it up to assorted power cells, and worked out much of the code in advance, but he couldn't predict how long the power supply would last and there were numerous random factors in the programming process, gaps in DuMont's knowledge about the nanites that Jake could not fill. So they had to get this right first time, and work quickly at it.
"Ready?" There was a touch of ironic humour in DuMont's query. As though what he was really asking was, Are you sure you trust me?
"I guess," Jake said. I'm letting you, aren't I?
And willingly, if not without trepidation, he concentrated his interface upon the device, allowing DuMont to connect.
There had always been something vaguely invasive about the thought of anyone interfacing with the nanites, to Jake. Not so much when it was Diane, whom he trusted absolutely, but it made him jittery if any of her technicians had to stand in to run diagnostics.
It was disturbing in itself to realise that DuMont, now, came somewhere in between. DuMont who it was entirely possible could and would abuse the trust to seize the opportunity to kill him. DuMont who he knew far better by now than any of Diane's lab techs.
I shouldn't be doing this...
But DuMont wasn't going to kill him. For four months they'd been one another's only real company. The rules were different in here.
He watched the other man's pale bowed-down head and his thin fingers moving swiftly over the tiny keypad. Inside him, something loosened and shifted.
It was like he could breathe again. A great pressing weight evenly distributed throughout his nervous system had suddenly been lifted. The crystal clarity of his world returned with a rush that was so overwhelming he swayed where he sat and dizzily had to put his hands down to the floor to catch his balance. "Whoa."
DuMont looked up sharply, and if he hadn't been high and quite aware of it, Jake might've put that look down to a flicker of concern. "It worked," DuMont stated, all low anticipatory tension that belied the insistence of his intonation that it wasn't a question.
"It worked," Jake emphasized. He staggered onto his feet, still drunk on euphoria, and grasped the bars at the front of the cell. They shifted under his hands, and he froze.
"Yes," DuMont hissed. "Foley, you can get us out of here."
"No." He raised his hands, denying what he'd just done, and stepped back from the bars. The backs of his knees hit the bunk, and he sat down on it. "No. I can't."
"You just almost did." And which of them was meant to be part machine? he wondered again, as it was barely possible to detect anything but dry matter-of-fact logic in DuMont's voice now, the excitement and fervour of only a moment before evaporated as though he could control his emotions with a switch. But it was still there, underneath.
"No, that's not -- I'm waiting for my friends to come for me. I can't go back to the NSA if I break out of here!" His voice rose desperately and angrily towards the end of his assertion.
DuMont didn't flinch. "They're not coming, Foley. Hell, I'm sure they would if they could, but they can't. Nobody could. You have a chance to get yourself out, though, and if you're gonna stand there and tell me you won't take it, you're an even bigger ass than I always took you for! It's time to let go of this fantasy that things are gonna go back to being the same as they were before. They dumped you in here and they left you, for four months. Nothing's ever gonna be the same again."
"They can track me--"
"And I can disable that. Change the nanites' frequency just enough to lose them. I've done it before."
Kind of the last thing Jake wanted to be reminded of, at that moment. "You wiped my memory!"
"I can do the one without the other." DuMont's expression was earnest to a fault. "We know each other better now... It's us against the system, so screw the system. Look, it's not as if you have to decide today. They aren't going to discover it at once - hell, maybe they wouldn't discover it at all. We have time."
"I won't be a part of your next escape plan."
"I want to get us out of here." Jake could almost have believed him; could almost be convinced that the desperation in his voice wasn't for himself alone. "Of course I want to get out, but Foley - Jake - they're not coming back for you because they can't. The NSA doesn't change its mind. Do you think they could ever trust you again, knowing they'd done this to you? You're going to grow old in here; you're going to die in here. Is that just after all you've done for them? You didn't ask for the nanites or for any of this, but you let them take over your life and fought their damn wars for them anyway. You don't deserve to be in here. Don't tell me you're just going to let them take everything away from you--"
Jake buried his head in his hands and groaned. Around him, the air pulsed with life from electrical conduits and computer systems out of reach of the cells, but out of his reach no longer. He could hear the guards exchanging small talk over coffee several corridors over. Hundreds of feet above their heads at ground level, he could faintly sense the hum and vibration of distant traffic.
The world was alive again. The door was open.
And he couldn't, he couldn't walk through.
There was only so long that it was possible to sit in a prison with an open door, no matter how determined - and, oh, he'd been determined. There were all sorts of reasons he couldn't do as DuMont pressed him to, and not all of them were the ones his neighbour confronted in his persistent, if subtle, ongoing debate. But he hardly wanted to live out his life in a cell, either.
His assaulted conscience kept him awake four nights, turning it all over and over in his mind. In a way, it seemed to him that DuMont couldn't have picked a much more effective revenge if he'd intended to. (He didn't think DuMont had intended to.)
On the fifth day, he'd thought about the trust he was placing in Diane to get him out. And about how wasn't that, when it came down to it, kind of a big responsibility to place on a friend, when he could simply walk out of the door on his own?
It was one thing to have faith in your friends, but...
He'd imagined Diane striving to save him; arguing his case with the brass, working tirelessly in her lab as she searched for applications of the nanites the NSA would find irresistible which would require his knowledge and skills to implement them, never giving up on him. Maybe trying until she irrevocably damaged her own life and career. Hell, maybe that had happened already.
It was all too easy to imagine the guilt that would plague her for her continuing failure. In some respects, they were pretty alike. He wouldn't ever stop trying, if their positions were reversed. He'd never forgive himself, either.
All this time he'd been thinking he might have to wait years, he'd been thinking about himself. Was he going to let Diane waste years on him?
His freedom would absolve her, take that weight of obligation away, and give his friend back her life.
Powered by that thought, it had all been remarkably easy. He wasn't Superman, but they had no shortage of time, and an hour or so working at the bars had gained them freedom from the cells. The guards with their cattle prods had offered no significant challenge for him. Automated security protocols folded helplessly before the nanites back at full strength, and no alarms warned of their escape. It would be hours before the alert was sounded.
Jake was surprised by how easy it was - but then he had done this a dozen times before in the secure installations of the NSAs enemies... They'd been right to consider him so dangerous. And they should've listened to him about DuMont.
DuMont should have listened to him, too.
I'm sorry, he thought, against the rhythmic background hum of the engine that carried him through the Washington traffic, but it's not enough reason to free someone who could do as much harm outside as you would. Even if I believed you--
Except that wasn't right, because maybe Jake had believed him.
Or he hadn't disbelieved him.
Or he wasn't sure.
It was absurd to think it possible to live right next to somebody in those kinds of circumstances for four months and still not know them as they truly were... but he did not know.
Half an hour after they'd hit the bustle of the city streets, he'd sent Diane a postcard signed Alan Hergott. He'd booked himself onto an air flight. He'd called 911 and anonymously supplied the information about where he'd left DuMont.
I'm sorry... He sent the thought again into the ether, as though his erstwhile neighbour might hear.
At the end of the day, DuMont had done it to himself. Whatever connection might or might not have been between them, the manipulations he'd resorted to in order to achieve his end of having Jake set him free had undeniably been carefully planned and timed.
What if he couldn't help it?
It was useless to speculate. Once they were free, his options regarding DuMont had narrowed down to one - he was simply too dangerous, and Jake was too familiar with making tough decisions when it came to assessing risk to the public.
DuMont had been patient; he'd waited months. But it would have taken years. Nanotechnology bestowed a long memory; maybe it would have taken forever.
The taxi was approaching the airport, and Jake knew he needed to turn his thoughts away from DuMont, to direct them towards the unknown future waiting for him elsewhere in the world. There was a lot to plan, and he should... He leaned back and crushed the heels of his palms against his closed eyes, as though pressure might erase the image burned into his retinas.
The look on DuMont's face when he realised Jake's intentions was never going to leave him, though it reinforced his decision all the more. Not primarily hurt, or outraged, though it contained both of those things, but instead... impressed.
He wondered if DuMont had realised, behind that look, that he had his revenge after all.