Hey guys, here's our next chapter - finally. We're bringing you some meaty reveals and, by special request of our favorite reviewer, a little look at Antonio Pope in the commentary. Share and enjoy! (Oh, and please review, even if you're only dropping a line to say if you like it or not - we don't want richierich getting lonely.)
Dr. William Anthros was not, if he could help it, an idle man. Finishing the household chores had taken him a good while, but after that, he was at a loss for further action without Becca present. It was then that his laptop became propped on the living room table and work quickly reasserted itself with a phone call to the Wolf Creek labs. Will knew the call had taken more than a few minutes when he caught himself pinching the bridge of his nose.
"Another thing," Karl Jaworsky said, for what Will felt was the fifteenth time. "Your report, it makes note of traces of Iridium. I see you mention that in files about anthrocytes - is cute name, by the way - but I am not 100% sure I understand why it is included. There must be easier and cheaper materials, no?"
"Not if we want to avoid cobalt toxicity," Will replied, rubbing his eyes. "And rhodium is even more expensive than iridium. We need it for self-assembly catalysis."
"Logical conclusion is that terrorists use same method as you to build their weapon," Jaworsky said. "They get technology from this Sara Corvus person? Who is she, did she work in this place?"
Will ground his teeth at the mention of her name. "Yes, she worked at Berkut for a while. Part of what makes her so dangerous."
"She is a suka," Jaworsky chuckled. "I teach my daughter not to sell experimental nanotechnology to terrorists, for certain."
There was a stony silence from Will's end of the call that Jaworsky didn't need to translate.
"You have history?" Jaworsky asked. "Perhaps you once trust her? I see it often, young scientists who think about science and forget people are people. She sell out your work, yes? It hurts."
"She murdered my father," Will said as flatly as he could manage.
The silence from Jaworsky was either borne of shame or respect; Will couldn't quite tell which. "I am sorry for that," Jaworsky said, finally. "I do not intend an insult to your father or you. I am sorry." Jaworsky sighed. "We will catch her, Doctor. We will stop her."
Will looked over the schematics of the dispersal machine on his screen. "Yes, we will." His eyes drifted down to the bottom right corner of his screen, where it was revealed that it had been more than an hour since he last saw Becca. Oh, damn. "Jaworsky, I have to cut this short. We'll talk more in an hour."
"Yes," Jaworsky said. "Until in one hour."
Will disconnected and immediately called Berkut Operations. "This is Anthros, connect me to the duty officer."
A few seconds of dead line later, Ruth Truewell answered the call. "Operations, go ahead."
"I was hoping to talk to Nathan," Will replied. "Is he on duty?"
"Ambrose is on coding duty and not available," Truewell said. "I'm running ops. What's your situation?"
"Where is Rebecca Sommers? I'm supposed to be watching her, but she went out to the market and I haven't seen her since."
"She didn't stop at the market," Truewell replied. "She's gone on to the UC Berkeley library. We have a shadow team outside and camera access. She's safe and sound, William."
Will could hear Ruth judging him from the other side of the line. Good job watching your girlfriend's daughter, Anthros. I can see how much this matters to you. "Thank you. I'll head over there now to pick her up."
"How are you going to explain that you know where she is?" Truewell asked. "She did lie to you about where she was going, didn't she?"
"Yes, but -"
"You could just ask her where she is," Truewell said.
Will thought about that for a moment. "No, she would just think that I'm spying on her."
"She's a teenager," Truewell replied. "You're worried about her safety. It's the most natural thing in the world."
Will sighed. "Do you have eyes on her?"
"Not right now, she's in a part of the library without camera coverage. She'll be impossible to miss coming out, though. We've had a team go over the building last week. It's as safe as any other public place."
"I'll call her right now," Will said. "Thank you for keeping an eye on her for me."
"Jaime is fine, too, by the way," Truewell added. "Everything's under control."
"All right," Will said. "I will talk to you again later, Truewell."
With his first phone call concluded, Will started off the couch. Jaime had left Becca's cell phone number written on some post-it or another, and it was time to find it. For once, the obvious suspect proved the correct one; Will found the note stuck to the fridge door, ripped it off and typed the number into his cell.
I should put that on speed dial, he thought.
The number complete, a moment's hesitation on what exactly to say allowed another thought to race through his mind, beating the "Hit the call button" idea to the finish line by a nose.
"She's deaf," Will said to himself. He sighed to himself and finagled the phone into opening a new SMS for editing. Looking like a fool: averted.
It took fifteen minutes for Sara Corvus to tell her story, or at least the parts of it that she was willing to share; Becca paid attention, if only to snatch up whatever information could be used to explain what had happened to her sister. Frustratingly enough, Sara's tale was about her life before all this: her last deployment to Iraq in 2004 as leader of a bridge survey team near Fallujah. That seemed to line up with what she had read of Sara's "death", though, which was really just a smokescreen for Bledsoe to have her abducted under the cover of an emergency medevac. Becca couldn't help but worry about how they managed to abduct Jaime; and what horrible accident - or not-so-accident - had happened to Jaime if that was their preferred method of "recruitment". But this was where Sara stopped telling, and once again Becca was left to figure out how to go from there.
The latest staredown between Becca and Sara ended when both their looks were drawn to Becca's cell phone slowly inching across the table between them. Becca felt a flush of embarrassment; partly because she did not need any interruptions in digging the truth out of her recalcitrant informant, partly because she knew from Jaime's rants how disruptive cell phones could be in a library. She grabbed the phone and looked back at Sara, waiting for her gaze to refocus on her - an automatic courtesy to other lip readers.
"I have to take this," Becca said.
She opened the message with a few key presses; she did not recognize the number, but the writing was a dead giveaway even before the name at the end.
Hello Rebecca, you left home more than an hour ago and I have not heard from you. Please tell me where you are, and I will come pick you up. Will
Becca shook her head. "Took him long enough," she said, and quickly composed a reply. I'm fine, decided to go to the library after all. Later.
"Who's that?" Sara asked. "And just to make that clear, you are not bringing that cell phone into a meeting with me again. You don't know what they've done with it. At least turn it off and pull the battery."
"Just my sister's boyfriend," Becca said. "Will Anthros, he's a roboticist and doctor in the city."
Sara said nothing. Her face, on the other hand, said a lot. That controlled non-expression she had maintained for most of their meeting was gone in an instant, replaced with what Becca could only call rage; her lips pressed together until they were thin red lines, her eyes narrowed and her eyebrows nearly collided. But the expression was more than her face; it rippled down her neck, tensing muscles all the way into her hands.
Becca raised an eyebrow. "What, he kill your family or something?"
Sara's eyes went wide, as if she had just noticed that Becca was still sitting across from her, before her gaze instantly dropped down at the table. Her cheeks flushed red and her hands balled into fists as she muttered something through a pursed grimace that Becca couldn't read.
Becca leaned over onto the table to try to get into Sara's sight line. "Hey, Sara? I can't read your lips if you look at the table."
Sara took a few deep breaths, then looked back up at Becca. "Yes. Right."
"Seriously, what's your problem with Will?" Becca asked.
"Don't ask," Sara replied through gritted teeth.
"He's dating my sister, and -"
"Just drop it," Sara growled back, turning her scowl on Becca for an instant. Becca could have sworn her heart skipped a beat before Sara looked away again and shoved whatever it was back down just as quickly. She folded her hands together in a mostly futile attempt to regain control over herself, then looked back at Becca, more composed but still barely containing her anger. "How long has your sister known him?"
"Uh, maybe eight or nine months?" Becca said. "They met at the bar she used to work at."
"That explains your sister's recruitment," Sara said. "It wasn't random. They've been watching her. Probably started a year ago, maybe longer. And Anthros had his hooks in her from the beginning." She sighed. "This will be harder than I thought, and it wasn't easy to begin with."
"Whoa, whoa, hold up," Becca said. "Will? That is - he's just a professor at Cal, not some secret agent. And he might be kinda...thick, emotionally, but he really does care about Jaime. It's really kinda embarrassing how hard he tries. No way is he involved in this."
"William Anthros isn't just a part of it, Rebecca, he's responsible for all this," Sara replied with a sneer. "He picked me and he picked your sister. Even if he really loves her, it's just another way for Bledsoe to manipulate them both. You shouldn't be so quick to defend your friend William, Rebecca. You don't know know what he's done to Jaime. And me."
"Then tell me, instead of all of this dancing around the reason I wanted to meet you here," Becca shot back. "What's the reason for this hate-on you have for Will and Bledsoe? What did they do to you, and what are they doing to my sister?"
Sara leaned back; Becca could see her calculating her next words before she leaned forward and spoke. "They kidnapped me and experimented on me. Your good friend 'Will' Anthros cut me open and turned me into their private bionic killing machine. The only choice I ever got was to do what Bledsoe told me or die. They forced me to go out and kill people for them, Rebecca. Fifteen people," she said, emphasising each word with a stab of her finger onto the table. "Who knows what they had done - maybe just gotten in Bledsoe's way. And who knows how many others I'm responsible for."
Sara took a few breaths, while her unblinking eyes seemed to focus on something that was far beyond Becca. The young girl's eyes, however, were hanging on Sara's lips, raptly focused on not missing a single word.
"Eventually," Sara finally said, "I escaped. I went through a dozen of their men on my way out. They had reinforcements, of course. They chased me, ran me down and put rounds through me until they were sure I was dead. That's why I have to be so careful, Rebecca. Bledsoe thinks I'm dead and that's the only advantage I have. Everybody else...they think I died four years ago in Iraq. If I ever called my parents and told them that their daughter is still alive - or contacted any of my friends - I'll get to watch them be killed before they drag me back to their hole and cut me apart to figure out where the hell their little science project went wrong." Her eyes drilled little holes through Becca. "Does that answer your questions, Rebecca? Or should I get into the details?"
Becca didn't know where to even begin. She kept her stare at Sara's lips for a second longer before looking down at her computer. "I - What did they do to you?" She started to tear up. "What are they doing to Jaime?"
Sara said nothing; instead, she simply slipped her right arm out of her jacket. It was Becca's first good look at Sara's build, which compared favorably with a cage fighter - her arm, at least, was more than big enough for it. However, where such a cage fighter might sport the usual cliche barbed wire tattoo going around her bicep, Sara's arm had a pink scar going all around the top of her shoulder and down through the armpit. Then Sara moved her arm around, and it took Becca a few more seconds to wrap her head around the undeniable observation that the two edges of the scar were moving past each other - it was not a scar at all, it was a seam. Sara's encore was equally silent and minimalist. She grabbed one of the off-white library pens from the table and snapped it in half like a twig between three of her fingers.
The barrage of unbelievable information and sights finally proved too much for Becca to handle. She simply sat there, staring at Sara's arms, and slowly shifted her gaze up to Sara's face. Out of the hundreds of questions battling for space in her head, only one managed to get out. "H...how?"
"This is a library, Rebecca," Sara replied. "Your friend Will is a published author. Look him up."
Becca nodded slowly and logged into the UC Berkeley reference system. A search for "William Anthros" pulled up easily two dozen papers, though none more recent than 2003. Still, just scanning the titles painted a picture of the scope of Will's ambitions. Protonic circuitry for biological interfaces. Shaping electroactive polymer interaction through kinetic modeling. Building a better retina - a conjectural CCD-nerve-translator. Self-organizing nanomotile molecules - remote power, central control, arbitrary payload. Towards a programmable immune system. Her throat choked on the last title. Practical bionics - a challenge to medical ethics?
Becca's eyes widened when she looked back to Sara. "How is this possible? Why are they doing this to Jaime? What did they do to her?"
Sara squinted and rubbed her temples as Becca seemingly regained her ability to barrage her with questions. "Again, one at a time - I don't know why they picked her -"
"What?" Becca asked. "What are you - I don't know what you're -" She shook her head. "No, it doesn't make sense - why would they do this to Jaime? What could Bledsoe want with her?"
"What do you think, Rebecca?" Sara said. "Bledsoe lost his weapon when I escaped. He saw a chance to get a new weapon in her. And now they're trying to make her into me."
Becca gasped. "That's - someone has to stop them! We've got to tell the police, the FBI, someone. Someone has to be able to get her out of there!"
"Shut up," Sara barked. Becca bolted upright and sat frozen in her chair, afraid she had crossed some sort of line. "Just for a moment, Rebecca, please," Sara said, her voice softening again as she continued to massage her forehead. "You're not getting the message here. Bledsoe and Anthros have enough resources to make this technology real. To make people like me and your sister disappear. They are plugged so deep into the system that they don't even have to try to get away with murder. What the fuck do you think a few beat cops or even the fancy fucking FBI can do about that, huh? Look at me. You need me and I need you. We have to stop them. Together, it's a long shot. Any other way? They're going to fucking bury us. Do you understand me?"
Becca looked down at the picture of her and Jaime she kept uncovered on her netbook's desktop. Her fingers hurt from gripping the table, but she knew that Sara was right. They were able to kidnap Sara, and keep Jaime and her under their thumb without anyone noticing. If Jaime was to stand a chance, Becca would have to take them on herself. She sighed, and let go of the table. With the truth of the situation finally out, Becca managed to put her out-of-control mind back in order. Her world had turned upside down, but in that inverted world, things made sense again. Will brought Jaime into this program. She's been implanted with this bionics stuff. And now, Bledsoe and Will are trying to make her into some kind of super-soldier, they can make us both disappear, and that's why Jaime is so scared.
Becca nodded to show her comprehension. "Okay, then. What do I need to do?"
"Right now? I need you to stop digging into things from your home. I can arrange for a safer method. We have to create some breathing room." Sara sighed. "It's a risk, but Bledsoe's men know you've seen them. So, I want you to tell Jaime about the men following you. Don't accuse her of anything. As far as you know, they don't have anything to do with her, they're after you and you're scared. Got that?"
"Right," Becca said. "And I'll let her know that I'm here to help her out -"
"No," Sara said. "Nothing is wrong. Business as usual. If she's in a bad mood, sure, cheer her up. But you don't know anything that could be troubling her. This is important, Rebecca."
"And you know what's more important? Making sure that Jaime knows that I am there for her," Becca shot back. "She is all alone right now, and she needs me. I will not just sit by while she is terrified and alone."
"Yes, you will," Sara growled. "If you tell her, Bledsoe will know -"
"She's not going to tell them!" Becca shouted. "She's my sister -"
Sara's arm shot forward; her hand clamped onto Becca's shoulder and pushed her down into her seat. "Rebecca," Sara said. "Shut up. People will hear you. And I'm talking. Listen to me." Becca winced and whimpered as Sara's hand closed on her shoulder. Sara's eyes widened, and she quickly withdrew her arm again. With no idea how to go from there, she looked around again, then back to Becca. "Sorry." Sara stopped speaking and just stared at her.
Becca rubbed her shoulder a few times, then looked back at Sara and nodded. "I'm okay. Just surprised me, that's all." She flashed a small smile at Sara. "Well?"
Sara nodded; it seemed to be a safe gesture to make. After a second, she got back on her train of thought. "I know you care about your sister a lot, Rebecca. But she's not just your sister anymore. She's stuffed full of military-grade hardware. If they did to her what they did to me -" Sara trailed off and took a deep breath. "They cut off my arms and my legs. Tore my eyes out. Carved my chest off to reinforce my ribs. I don't have any real skin left, it's all fake. There are billions of tiny machines in my blood that will not let me die, no matter what happens to me. And do you know what I see? The system showing me exactly what I need to do to kill you, right now, as efficiently as possible. I'm a brain and some bones and organs. They took everything else."
Becca had stopped breathing when Sara got to Bledsoe's people removing her eyes, and only when Sara had finished her rant did she finally take a gasp of air as her stomach bent itself into a bowline. "And..." Becca placed a hand on her stomach to try to settle it down, but pushed forward regardless. "And this was because you were blown up? What - how did they get Jaime?"
"I don't know," Sara admitted. "Was she gone for more than a day recently?"
She thought back to the first time Jaime disappeared. "She...she disappeared for a day or so a few weeks ago," Becca said. "She didn't come home from a date with Will, she wasn't there in the morning and she didn't pick me up from school. It was the first time she ever left me alone for more than a few hours without telling me."
Sara looked down at the table. "It must have been then. They cut her open and send her back, good as new." Sara hesitated for a moment as Becca's gaze drifted off of her lips while she tried to process the horror of her sister being cut open and put back together in a night. "Rebecca?" She didn't respond, and it took a moment for Sara to realize that Becca couldn't tell what she was saying, as she wasn't looking at her anymore.
Sara waved a hand in front of Becca's face, and her attention snapped back to Sara. "Huh? What?"
"I need to know how your sister acted when she back home that night," Sara said.
"Uh, she was fine, she said her phone was broken..." Becca scowled as she concentrated. "And that Will's cell phone didn't have my new number. I said she had work soon, she said it was fine and then we ate dinner before she left. I think she quit Finnegan's Wake that night, too."
Sara nodded. "Cutting ties, just what they'd order her to do. When did you first notice how scared she was?"
Becca's eyebrows shot up again when Sara mentioned "cutting ties". "Two days later," she warily replied. "She went missing all night again, and we had a big fight, but when I demanded to know what Bledsoe was having her do, she broke down and tried to push me away, and she looked so scared..." A few tears appeared in the corners of her eyes just thinking about it, but she wiped them away. "That was the first time I knew something was wrong."
"You're right, something is very wrong, Rebecca," Sara said. She leaned in towards Becca. "You can not tell Jaime that you know any of this. In fact, nothing you've told her or shown her since they sent her back is safe." Sara's gaze bored through Becca. "Look into my eyes."
Becca looked up. Within seconds, Sara's eyes went from blue to brown to green and back again. "I'm recording everything I see and hear. Every time I came back from a mission, they pulled the recordings and went over them with a fine-toothed comb. Everything your sister sees, everything your sister hears - it will all be reviewed by people who are trained to look for suspicious details. Whatever you tell her, you tell to Jonas Bledsoe. She's not just your sister, Rebecca. Whatever privacy you think you have when you're with her, whatever secrets you share with her, it's all gone now. They took her away and sent her back as a walking surveillance platform for them. We have no room for error. If they ever find out, they can flick a switch in her brain, shut down her emotions and make her perfectly obedient, and your sister won't get to think - she'll kill you without hesitation. When she seemed okay to you the night she came back, that was because they were already using the controls to keep her docile. It sounds like they took her off them for now, but trust me, if they find out about this, they will give the order. Your own sister will kill you, and she won't be able to stop herself."
As Sara spoke about the depths of Jaime's...violation seemed to be the only appropriate way to describe it, Becca felt more and more light-headed and ill. They took my sister away, and sent her back as a...hostage-spy-person, Becca thought. By the time Sara got to the mind control, she already felt herself gagging. "I'm going to be sick," Becca said, and bent over in her chair, hugging her stomach and squeezing out tears.
Sara nodded and rose from her seat, taking a few steps as she talked. "Come on. Keep it together. I'll take you to the restrooms." Becca gagged; Sara quickly grabbed a trash can and shoved it under Becca's face just in time for her to empty her stomach into it. When Becca finally, mercifully found nothing more to retch, Sara handed her a napkin to wipe her mouth with and let Becca brace herself on her shoulder for a moment.
"Welcome to my life," Sara said.
Becca spit a few times and wiped her mouth with the napkin. "Thanks, Sara," she said while still hanging onto Sara's shoulder. Becca looked up at Sara, and instead of at least the glimmer of doubt Sara was expecting, there was nothing but fire and determination in Becca's eyes. "So, when are we rescuing my sister?"
"With your help, very soon," Sara said. "But you need to start doing what I tell you and stop second-guessing me every step of the way. There are no grades for enthusiasm, Rebecca. We have to make smart moves. And right now, that means quieting things down and reducing your profile. Got it?"
Becca nodded. "Right, no more Googling Bledsoe at home. I can focus on some other stuff for right now, but soon, Sara, I want the whole truth on what's going on, who you're working with, what's really going on with Bledsoe and Will, everything. I won't just sit back and watch my sister go through Hell, you either give me something to do or I'll think of something myself."
"After hearing what I just told you, I think most people would rather know less," Sara smirked. "I can't tell you much about what I'm doing yet, I need to talk with the others first. Trust me, I know exactly how much you want those fuckers to go down in flames. We're going to make our move very soon. All I'm asking for is a chance to plan this and to bring you up to speed on our operation." She looked around. "I've already said a hell of a lot I shouldn't have. You never know who's listening when you're in a public place. The next time we meet, it'll be in a safehouse."
"Right, cool," Becca said. She started to shut down her netbook, and while it finished that, she looked back across the table at Sara. "So, err, how are we getting out of here? I'm sure Itchy and Twitchy outside are watching the exits."
Sara's face wore a thin smile. "Clever girl. You're familiar with the building. How many exits do you know?"
"There's a lot of exits," Becca started, then stopped in thought for a moment. "Ah! Moffitt! You can exit through there!"
Sara nodded. "Another building. Good, they're probably focused on covering the exits from the library itself. You should take a different route back to the train station, too."
"How should I get to the station?" Becca was suddenly very excited about the possibility of some spy action. "What should I watch out for? What do I do if I think I'm being followed?" She thought for a moment. "Wait, can I just hitch a ride with you, if you drove here? You pick me up on Telegraph or something?"
"One question at a time, Rebecca - we talked about that, remember?" Sara said. "Walk a different route, Berkeley has an easy layout for pedestrians. Watch out for black late-model SUVs, they're not too common around here and Bledsoe's not that original." Sara pushed herself away from the table and rose from her chair. "If you think you're being followed, your best bet is to find a crowd to lose them in. And I won't be giving you a ride. Let me be honest with you, Rebecca. I don't think you will lose your shadows that easily. If they see you get into a car - if they see me - then we're all done. I won't take that risk."
"Right, operational secrecy, top secret, all that good stuff," Becca said, standing up herself.
"We will no longer use your cellphone," Sara said; she reached into her jacket and pulled out a small package. "This is a disposable phone. Registered to a false name, prepaid in cash, it can't be traced back to either of us."
"It's a burner phone, yeah, I know, I watch TV and stuff," Becca said. She stuffed the phone into her bag with her netbook. "Where's the charger?"
Sara frowned. "...I think I threw that away with the packaging. Sorry. Can you figure it out? I'll get a new one, if that's a problem..."
Becca smiled. "They always forget the charger on TV, too. Don't worry, I have a few at home. So, what's the plan, Double-Oh-Corvus?"
Sara mirrored the smile despite herself. "I'll call you to set up the next meeting. Have the phone with you at all times, don't use it around Jaime. If you think someone's about to take it from you - smash it. Any questions?"
"Yeah," Becca said. "You've got bionics, right? And presumably, you're working with someone who can make more, just to keep yourself going, yeah?"
"What are you getting at?" Sara asked.
"Well..." Becca smiled sheepishly. "They're kinda cool, if you take out the whole 1984 Enemy of the State surveillance-mind control creeptasticness out of it. Do you think I could maybe get hooked up with some new ears, or maybe some kickass robo-legs..."
Sara's facial expression took a detour through horror before arriving at anger. "You don't know what you're talking about. These 'kickass robo-legs' are all I have left because my real legs are smeared over a side alley in Fallujah. Do you want parts of your body blown off, too, or do you prefer a psychopath with a bonesaw? Either way, no, that's not going to happen. It's bad enough that your sister and I got screwed up. I will not let this happen to anyone else. Do you understand?"
Becca put her hands up in the air in mock-surrender. "Okay, okay, jeez. I was just thinking that it'd be cool to be all spoon-bending badass, maybe hear stuff again. Sorry."
Sara maintained her anger until Becca mentioned hearing again; at that, her expression softened a little. Instead of more shouting, she just shook her head. "It's not worth it," she whispered.
Becca wanted to argue that particular point, but the equal parts sad, scared and traumatized look on Sara's face shouted I've got a lot of issues about my bionics to Becca, and she didn't want to provoke another shouting match - or make Sara break down in tears. "Yeah, okay, maybe later, then."
"Let's save your sister first," Sara suggested. "You can daydream later. Any questions - about what to do and when we're meeting, please."
"Nope," Becca said. "Just talk to whoever you have to talk to fast. I'm not planning on waiting around while you and whoever else you're going to talk to decide how to brush me off."
"I think I've told you enough to show that I'm serious about working with you, Rebecca," Sara said.
"Talk is one thing, showing is another," Becca said. "Just...make it fast. For Jaime. Okay?"
Sara nodded. "I will. Now get out of here before your shadows become impatient." She checked her watch. "I have to go. Good luck." Leaving Becca no opportunity to respond, she turned and walked off, disappearing into the stacks in seconds.
"Good luck," Becca said to the space where Sara was standing, and didn't move. The whole world seemed to be suffering from a serious reality deficit, like she had fallen through the cliche rabbit hole and into a strange new place where her pacifist sister was a part-robot assassin and shadowy government agents were watching their every move through her eyes. God, this whole thing is such a trope, Becca thought even as her mind struggled with the panic of the situation. Even the whole "paralyzed by fear" thing. Well, let's break the mold one bit at a time, starting with getting the Hell out of here without being seen. She took a step towards the table, picked up her bag and started walking towards the Moffitt building on the other side of the stacks.
The slow and winding route that Becca took through the library to avoid the cameras (just like she had watched Sara do it) gave her time to think more about what all of this meant, to herself, and especially to Jaime. Bledsoe was obviously a grade A evil bastard if he really did kidnap Sara and did to Jaime what Sara claimed he had done. Becca knew her sister was strong, stronger than anyone she knew, but she had to wonder how long Jaime could hold out against someone who could turn her own mind and body against her. That, more than anything, was what convinced Becca that Jaime couldn't wait. She needed to know that backup was here, that Becca was there for her and was working to figure something out, because otherwise she would have nothing to hold onto when Jonas Bledsoe started to turn the screws on her to...do whatever it was he wanted her to do. No matter how strong Jaime was, she would have to give in, lose herself and start killing people for him, just like Sara did. Sara made good points when she told Becca to wait for her to be ready, but that look of fear and dread from a few weeks ago still haunted her. She wouldn't let Jaime live like that a moment more than she had to, no matter what anyone told her to do.
Not that she could entirely trust Sara. Sara openly admitted that she had killed a whole bunch of people, most of whom hadn't done anything wrong. Becca also remembered the Stranger Danger lessons from elementary school, and even though she was careful to meet Sara someplace she knew really well and could get help in quickly, she still knew that she was taking a big risk meeting with some random person from the Internet, especially with what she was poking around in. If "Oscar" had turned out to be some kind of trap, Becca would be dead or in the back of a van already. Not that Sara was necessarily not out to get her - who knew who she was working with or working for? - but at least she seemed concerned about Jaime's safety and was actually helpful once Becca started to drag information out of her. Unless, of course, she was just straight up lying to Becca about who she was to use her to get to Jaime. Becca shrugged at that thought. If that's true, then I'm already fucked.
But one thing that certainly was true was that bionics technology existed. What Sara did with that pen and what her arms looked like didn't make any sense unless bionics were real. Alongside the fear for Jaime and her own safety and the determination to save her sister, Becca felt the excitement of what the technology meant, and what she could do with it. She already recognized the systems for monitoring and controlling the bionics themselves, and while the fundamentals of the interface still eluded her, it didn't seem like something that was beyond her grasp. She had copies of all of Will's papers in her netbook, and her head was already filling with possible applications for the tech - including what she might have done to herself. She was polite with Sara's objections - and didn't want to send her into a screaming rage or have her break down in tears in the middle of their secret library meeting - but Becca knew that Sara was wrong. It sounded for all the world like being hooked up with bionics had been a horrible violation and was more traumatic than Becca could imagine, but that was Sara. Becca, more than anyone, understood the upsides of this technology. Even more than wanting to be as strong and tough as Sara was, Becca wanted to hear again. Cochlear implants couldn't even come close to what she had lost, but here in front of her was an opportunity to get the real thing back. As she walked into the Moffitt building lobby and looked through the darkened glass for her followers, she dreamt of hearing her sister's voice again. And if that meant going through every bit of pain and effort that Sara did - then that's what Becca would do.
In what was turning out to be a very bad day for Sandra Caulfield's developing ulcers, the FBI agent had barely gotten to sit down with the arrested mercenaries or the mole before the next call came in: a serious shootout in Oakland - one with the missing Spanish embassy Jaguar XJS at the scene. That, of course, couldn't wait, so a few minutes later the motorcade was rolling again. Caulfield spent the ride going over her interview strategy with the suspects. She would have to call Pope and ask what great insights, if any, his second search of the initial crime scene had produced. When the convoy rolled up to the perimeter of yellow tape, she was first out of the car, her eyes locked onto the nearest police officer while her hand made a reflexive grab for her FBI badge.
"Special Agent Sandra Caulfield." She paused for the officer to check her badge and ID, in case the squad of federal agents behind her wasn't enough. "I understand this incident involved a Spanish embassy Jaguar?"
The Oakland PD cop nodded. "Yeah, it's shot and beat to shit. Wonder anyone got out of it alive."
"I'm currently investigating the disappearance of the man last seen with that car, and possible attempts on his life." Caulfield put her badge back in her jacket. "I'm taking over the crime scene, I need all forensics forwarded to the FBI field office instead of Oakland PD -"
"Excuse me, Ma'am, but Special Agent Pope has already commandeered the scene," the officer said.
Caulfield's blood instantly flash-boiled. She slowly looked back up at the officer, her face frozen in a furious grimace. "...who has taken over the scene?"
"Special Agent Pope," the officer said. He turned and pointed over to the smashed semi-truck trailer. "He's over there."
Caulfield followed the officer's finger, and sure enough, there was Pope, poking about the dozens of shell casings and the remains of the Jag.
"But he said you might be coming, so go ahead," the officer added.
Caulfield simply stared at Pope in blind rage for a few seconds before flipping the tape over her head and stomping past the officer on her way to Pope.
Pope saw Caulfield coming and waved to her as she approached. "Hello, Sandra," he began. "I didn't find anything new at scene of the first shootout. Have you had time to interrogate the prisoners yet?"
Caulfield grabbed Pope's arm and dragged him away from the FBI crime scene techs working over the scene. "What the fuck do you think you are doing?" she hissed at him. "Special Agent Pope? I should arrest you right now for impersonating a federal agent - this is not what I agreed to."
"Sandra," Pope said, bemused at her dramatic gesture, "we both know you won't arrest me. Besides, you need our help to find Valdez. I'm merely expediting the process - and you could be interrogating people instead of trying to babysit me. That would get us the results we need much quicker."
"Forget babysitting, I'd get a fucking impartial UN observer to watch you if it was up to me," she spat at Pope. She looked around for someone. "Where's Nick? You didn't have him put in some black ops hole, did you?"
"Be serious, Sandra," Pope replied, now seeming more mildly annoyed. "Special Agent Eaton is keeping an eye on me, as you ordered, like a good little agent. Right now, he's examining the southern yard, where most of the shooting occurred. There is some blood there that will no doubt give us valuable information about the people involved in the shooting. Now," he concluded, "how is your part of the case going?"
Caulfield sighed and looked down at her feet, then met Pope's gaze again. "Nothing much yet, still waiting on Agent Ballard to be processed and his attorney to consent to an interview, same with the team at the intersection."
Pope's smirk told her all she needed to know about how he would have handled those pesky legal barriers. "I'm afraid I have to play the national security card here, Sandra," he said, hardly apologetic. "The contents of the trunk need to be shipped to a secure facility immediately. Your Mr. Valdez is involved in...something very serious. That makes it vital that we redouble our efforts to find him." He placed his hand on the trunk lid, clearly implying that she had no business looking inside the embassy car's trunk.
"Whoa, hold on, you can't just take evidence from this investigation off to whatever secret base you're from now," Caulfield said. "Bledsoe sent you here to help with my investigation, not steal evidence. You either tell me what's going on, what's inside there, why and how it's so important and what it has to do with our case, or I call Bledsoe and we find out what he thinks about you stepping all over our case."
"Do you really think that I do anything the old man does not agree with?" Pope replied, straightening his back to loom over Caulfield. "I thought you were smarter than that, Sandra. You may have called him, but we are not helping you clean up your fuck-up just as a personal favor to you. There are bigger things at stake than the diplomat or your career. Now, I would greatly appreciate it if you stayed in your lane, worked with me as I've asked you to, and not interfere with my actions. You know better than to become a part of the problem." Pope took a step towards Caulfield. "Am I making myself clear, Sergeant?"
Caulfield tried to keep eye contact with Pope, but the staring contest only lasted a few seconds before Caulfield broke gaze. She knew that Pope wasn't bluffing, and if Bledsoe backed his actions, she couldn't stand in his way. "Yes," she said, defeated. "Yes, Sir."
Caulfield turned and walked away from the car, motioning for the FBI techs to leave it alone while Pope snapped a few quick shots of the metal case inside the trunk with his phone. With the scene hastily documented, he dialed Bledsoe's number, waiting for the click on the other end.
"Confirm crypto," Pope said. There was a moment of silence.
"Confirming crypto five-zero-two-Golf-zero," Bledsoe said. Pope lowered his phone and looked at the display; Bledsoe's sequence matched his, authenticating the encrypted connection between the two phones.
"Go ahead, Major," Bledsoe said.
"Sir, I have reason to believe that Mr. Valdez is in possession of Millennium technology," Pope said, looking around to make sure nobody was close enough to listen in.
"Details," Bledsoe barked. "Now."
"I found a carrying case bearing Millennium inventory coding in the trunk of his car," Pope said. "The contents are missing, I believe Valdez took them when he escaped the scene. This is likely what he was smuggling into the country - and what the assailants are after. I need a priority retrieval and a secure lab for analysis prepared at once. Agent Caulfield is apprised of our intervention. Current objectives remain in play."
"Are you messing with me, Major?" Bledsoe said. "There should be no Millennium technology left, period, and now we've got an entire case of gear on US soil, whereabouts unknown? How in the hell did this fly under our radar? I need that gear found yesterday, Pope. You make sure that nobody gets close to the car until I get there. Go with the dirty bomb routine."
"And if anyone does not comply?" Pope asked.
"Detain them as risk to national security," Bledsoe said. "Zip-tie Sandra's entire team if you have to. Anyone who interferes is going away. Make sure she understands that."
"I have already made that clear," Pope said.
"I want you to forget about the girl and the file access, these are secondary now," Bledsoe said. "Your priority is securing the Millennium gear. And I want Valdez brought in for interrogation. I don't care if he's in FBI custody or about to board a diplomatic flight back to Spain, you bring him to Wolf Creek for questioning. If someone out there is dealing in their technology, we're looking at another arms race. I won't let that happen."
"What if that someone is Sara Corvus, Sir?" Pope asked. "Anthros may be fixated on her, but it doesn't mean he's wrong."
"That's our worst case scenario," Bledsoe said. "If it is her, don't hero it. Engaging her on your own is suicide. Be careful and keep your scrambler ready, just in case. I will authorize a Tin Man deployment with override if necessary."
"Can we still keep Tin Man on her current mission parameters under these circumstances?" Pope asked. "There's little threat of Corvus showing up at the hotel, but the situation might still go kinetic."
"Consider that location secure," Bledsoe said dismissively. "Sommers and Ginsburg can handle it."
"And what's our information policy towards Tin Man and Ginsburg?" Pope asked.
"Mission compartmentalization remains in effect," Bledsoe said. "We shouldn't distract them. I trust that clears everything up?"
"Yes, Sir," Pope replied. "I will wait for you here."
Pope hung up the call, stashed the phone and cleared his throat.
"May I have your attention, please, everyone," he projected, raised his hands and then waited for both the nearby cops and Caulfield to look at him. "We have a potential radiological threat inside this car. I'm going to need you all to step away and keep away from the vehicle in a radius of 100 feet. Help is on the way..."
It wasn't until she and Gracia were back at the hotel that Jaime regained the ability to relax. The mission she had begun as almost a personal favor to Ruth was showing traces of something altogether more ugly, and once again she felt dropped into the deep end of the pool with no lifeguard in sight. But then there was Gracia Valdez, putting a very human face on Jaime's efforts, and that made the day so far seem worthwhile. The diplomat's daughter was on her way to her suite, being escorted by a veritable gaggle of FBI agents, and managed to throw a coy smile at Jaime when she walked past her. The girl needed some genuine human contact Jaime was happy to provide, and hey, if Jaime could make a habit of being able to punch out the bad guys and have them arrested instead of being made to shoot them, then maybe this job had a future. Speaking of the nicer side of Berkut, Jaime was pleased to find Antoine Ginsburg waiting for her in the hotel lobby, wearing a nondescript suit and an alcohol-buoyed smile.
"There you are," he said, holding out his hand to shake. "I saw the video. Nice takedown. You want me to walk you through the rest of the event?"
Jaime smiled back. "You saw that?" She realized who she was talking to a moment later, and the smile dropped off her face. "Of course you saw that, you probably had the live feed," she said and pointed to her right eye.
"Indeed," Ginsburg replied, his smile disappearing for a moment. "I didn't know you had training like that. Where'd you learn that move? Or did you just improvise?"
Jaime's smile returned with Ginsburg's. "Self-defense classes, a bit of karate at Berkeley, and bartending for the last year. Pretty good training in dealing with drunken patrons and FBI agents."
"Good to know," Ginsburg said. "Come on, let's take a look at the ballroom. Do a quick walkthrough, so we know where everything is."
Jaime nodded. "What do I need to look out for?"
Ginsburg trotted off toward the closest elevator; Jaime walked beside him. "Your first priorities are entrances and exits," Ginsburg began. "If you need to move, it helps to know your options, and if you're expecting trouble, it helps even more to know what approaches you need to watch. We'll also be checking lines of sight within the room and obstacles like tables or railings. Everything you have to know to get where you need to be." He grinned. "Sounds simple enough so far, right?"
"Beginning to think that maybe a few extra bionic eyes might be a good idea," Jaime muttered. "How do you manage to do all that?"
"Oh, I'm usually not acting alone," Ginsburg said. "I have a team to back me up. When we have time to prepare the site, we plant video surveillance and other sensors. When we're going in blind, we still have the live feeds from our camera rigs. And it's not my job to sort this out in the middle of an operation, that's what Nathan does back home. This one will be a little more low-tech than that, but you're also not walking into a firefight, so..." Ginsburg trailed off for a moment. "Mostly I just do what feels right and keep Plan B ready."
Jaime frowned. "Great."
"I could give you a lecture on threat assessment and situational awareness," Ginsburg said, "but basically: if it doesn't feel right, get Gracia and bail back to the suite. Better safe than sorry."
The elevator arrived with a soft pinging sound; Ginsburg got on and pushed the button for the sixth floor, with Jaime following before the doors closed.
"Exactly how nervous are you?" Ginsburg said. "Third grade book report, first date with the football captain, 'Oh my God oh my God I'm going to die'?"
Jaime looked at Ginsburg, her eyes conveying to him exactly how nervous she was. "Less that I'm going to die, more that I'm going to get Gracia killed if I screw this up," she said. "It's a lot of responsibility, and I don't think I can do it."
"You handled the mole, you'll be able to handle a couple of diplomats," Ginsburg said. After a moment, he reached under his jacket. "And if anyone does try to misbehave, you give them a taste of this." He retrieved a pistol-looking shape, though even Jaime could tell that this one wouldn't fire bullets; instead of a muzzle, its bulky body terminated in three vertical slots. "Have you ever used one of these?"
Jaime looked at it, but didn't touch it. "I don't even know what that is."
"It's a TASER," Ginsburg said. "Does that ring a bell?"
Jaime nodded. "Yeah, I've seen them on TV."
"And now you're looking at a real one," Ginsburg said. "This model hasn't hit the streets yet, but we got a few prototypes to test. Three probe cartridges means you can shock up to three targets. It's computer-assisted, so it won't deliver more juice than it has to, and it automatically figures out which electrodes to send power through if you hit someone with more than one pair. Dual laser sights, top and bottom, point and shoot. You really can't fuck it up. Go on, take it."
Jaime took the weapon from Ginsburg's hand gingerly, as if it could have gone off at any moment. "Why didn't Bledsoe give me this before?"
"Because the old man doesn't trust weapons that can't kill," Ginsburg said. "It's designed for subduing in a law enforcement situation, and it's good for dark alleys and single attackers, but if you take it into a firefight, you're up shit creek with a spoon for a paddle. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't feel very safe with this as my only weapon, either - three shots, poor range, I might as well be throwing rocks. Also, it's much bigger than your P239, so it doesn't conceal very well. But I had it lying around and you're not very happy with the guns, so I thought maybe you could get some use out of it."
Jaime gave Ginsburg an appreciative smile, and put it in her purse carefully - more carefully than she needed to. "Thanks, Ginsburg. I'm still not a fan of weapons, but one that isn't designed to kill people would be nice."
"Amen," Ginsburg said. "I went Air Force to save lives, you know. Now I'm a little upside down on that count. If there was a better tool for what I do than guns...hell, I would be first in line. But that's kind of the standard soldier answer. You get us on TV in a dress uniform, we all hate war and guns and violence." Ginsburg sighed. "I guess we're all in the wrong profession."
"I don't know, you guys seem to be all about saving lives," Jaime said.
"And who exactly do you mean by 'you guys'?" Ginsburg asked. "There's a couple ways I could read that."
"You, Sage, Calavera, Jordan, you know, your team," Jaime replied. "Your job is to come in and save me if things go wrong, and back me up on these save-the-world type missions."
Ginsburg kept mum for a few seconds. "Well, those are quickly turning into my favorite missions," he said. "I wouldn't mind if it was all we did, but we're not always just backing you up, Sommers. You probably wouldn't like the ops we do without you."
Jaime gave Ginsburg a shocked look. "...like what?"
Ginsburg looked like he was about to unload, but then he bit his lip and turned to look directly at Jaime. "...like the time I was caught on camera violating OpSec. I'm sorry. I've said too much and I can't tell you any more. You need to take that up with the old man."
Jaime stared at Ginsburg for a few seconds, debating what to do next. Instead of pushing for more, she settled on putting her right hand on his shoulder and simply saying, "Okay."
Ginsburg forced a smile. "Enough of that. You'll be fine. If this evening does go sideways, I'll storm the place and bail you out. Deal?"
Jaime smiled and squeezed Ginsburg's shoulder. "Deal."
Character Profile: Antonio Pope
Antonio Pope (né Edwards) was born in 1974 in Chicago. Although materially secure, his father's fight with alcoholism strained the marriage of his parents. Antonio quickly latched on to his uncle, Benjamin Edwards, as a role model - an ex-Special Forces soldier whose stories of both heroism and hardship during the Vietnam War left a great impression on Antonio. Antonio grew into a confident and bright young man, playing running back on his school's football team and graduating in 1991 with a 3.7 GPA. With his future wide open, Antonio decided to follow in his uncle's footsteps and enlisted in the US Army with the goal of going Special Forces, but did not get a slot to test out for the Green Berets.
Antonio was assigned to military police instead and resolved to make the best of that, beginning his stint at Fort Leonard Wood in 1992. He soon made a name for himself as both a competent investigator and the big guy you want by your side when breaking up a drunken brawl. Still, his career wasn't quite soaring - until he happened to become lead investigator into an oxycodone smuggling ring on base. Antonio went at it almost completely alone, staking out suspects even when officially off-duty and putting off arrests or even interviews until he was certain he had identified everyone involved. This proved to be a prudent move, as Antonio uncovered involvement from the base commander's wife as a courier. Antonio recognized the opportunity and went directly to the base commander with his findings.
Major General Philips was not enthusiastic about Antonio's visit, to say the least, but the young Sergeant would not be intimidated by the General's clout. When he walked out, he had the General's promise to recommend him for a transfer to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, a team of elite military police investigators. In the subsequent drug bust, Antonio presented his meticulously collected evidence, leading to convictions for everyone involved in the smuggling - except for General Philips's wife. Antonio had carefully concealed her involvement and sworn everyone else to keeping mum about it on the strength of drawing the General's ire. Antonio got his transfer, and the General went down in flames in 2002 for witness intimidation when one of the convicted smugglers finally broke his silence.
Antonio rather enjoyed his time with the CIC, being able to bring his skills to bear on more dangerous game, as it were, but his heart was still set on a Special Forces assignment. Again, fortune failed him, between the three pillars of long assignments keeping him from applying, having to compete with younger and (on paper) more qualified applicants, and the same "needs of the Army" game that had kept him from getting a slot to begin with. His fortune finally changed when a Lt. Colonel Alexander Fort caught up with Antonio in 1998. Fort had taken note of Antonio's applications for Special Forces and had apparently served with Antonio's uncle in Vietnam, but what cinched the deal was Fort's shockingly detailed knowledge of how Antonio had gotten his transfer from General Philips. Fort told him that he appreciated a man who knew how to get a favorable angle on a tough situation, and that he was putting together a special operations team to track rogue arms deals in advanced military technology. Antonio's answer was a plain "Where do I sign?"
After almost a year of being cycled through various training regimens - one of which, Antonio would later realize, was a cultural immersion program run by the CIA - Antonio joined Fort's "Team Sierra" under the fresh identity of 2nd Lieutenant Antonio Pope. Fort immediately put the team to work tracking deals with prototype Russian SA-24 Grinch surface-to-air missiles through the Middle East and South Asia. Antonio proved to be a capable pointman, running down leads and busting down doors where necessary. It soon occurred to him that Team Sierra wasn't exactly legal; when Fort confronted him with that, Antonio flatly stated that he only cared about the mission and that he would gladly lie, steal or kill to protect his country.
Events came to a head during the terminal phase of the investigation when Team Sierra tracked a seller to a Pashtun village near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in early 2001, suspecting Al Queda involvement. On Antonio's go, the team assaulted the house on the outskirts of the village at night, killing two of the men inside on entry when they opened fire at the intruders. With the village woken up by the gunfire, Antonio needed quick results from the men taken prisoner; he had them lined up and told them that they had until the count of three to start talking before he would start executing them. None of them talked, the count reached three - and Antonio calmly aimed his gun at one of them and put two bullets through his skull. Seeing that Antonio wasn't bluffing, the remaining prisoners proved eager to talk to save their lives, allowing the team to locate a shipment of the missiles and have it destroyed with a drone-based airstrike. Still, Team Sierra was sharply divided on whether this mission could be chalked up as a win; most vocally, their intel specialist, Staff Sergeant Sandra Caulfield, quit the team on the spot during the debriefing. Fort intervened on Antonio's behalf, asking Caulfield to keep quiet about the events of the mission; out of loyalty to her boss, Caulfield did so. Still, Team Sierra had drawn too much attention to their operation and Fort disbanded it shortly thereafter. However, his thinking had come to accept Antonio's methods as justified and proper, and so Antonio was the only one he took with him when he started over, assuming the identity of Colonel Jonas Bledsoe to join Project Berkut as Director of Operations.
Antonio's personality reflects John Steinbeck's sentiment that the final weapon is the brain. Beyond his skills and his physical abilities, it's his utter ruthlessness that makes him a dangerous opponent. In his pursuit of the mission, there are no dirty tricks or violations of international law, just tactics that are more or less effective at achieving the desired outcome. Antonio has fully embraced this amoral view of his work and steadily trains himself to that ideal, hoping to achieve a clear-headed, dispassionate view of every situation. His use of words and body language is as efficient as his fighting moves, always aiming to go straight for the target. While there are lines Antonio probably would not cross - he is still human, after all - most people who know him agree that they're far beyond what is generally considered acceptable. Still, Antonio is opposed to "cruelty", which he defines as inflicting suffering out of proportion with the gain. Personal gratification is not an acceptable motivation to him; he acts for the mission and the greater good, and things like ego or revenge just get in the way of that.
As one of Berkut's most senior operatives, Antonio holds records for both successful operations and confirmed kills. His weapons of choice are a Gerber combat knife and his standard-issue P226 sidearm, but he is proficient with most small arms. At Berkut, he does not fit into the already convoluted org chart, being essentially Bledsoe's personal pet operative who is tasked with investigations, solo missions and - infamously - cleaning up after leaks and moles that threaten to expose Berkut. Most Berkut personnel assumes this involves shallow graves and bullets to the back of the neck, and Antonio's in no hurry to confirm or deny that.