Adam watched the cold, snow covered tundra pass beneath as Malik flew them towards a small concrete installation on the outskirts of Kazan, Russia. When she picked him up from the roof at Versalife, she had received coordinates from the anonymous hacker and had to fly up and around the eastern tip of China before heading west. He had slept as best he could in the VTOL, but his mind was too restless. There were endless questions – who were these people? What were their goals? Malik brought them down onto the tarmac outside a circular, unmarked concrete building. The land was flat and loggers had cleared the forest around the facility years ago, but tattered blades of straw-colored grass were trying to reclaim it. Beyond the short clearing, still farther from the building, was a thick forest with leaves of fading yellow and burgundy still clinging to the branches. As Adam stepped down from the plane, he saw a hangar opening in the side of the building which he hadn’t see from overhead.
“Jensen, think they’ll let me refuel?” asked Malik, stepping out of the cockpit and scanning along the runway.
“They’ll have to. You need to get back to Sarif Industries as soon as you can. It’s bad enough Freya and I have gotten wrapped up in this business.”
“I appreciate the concern, Jensen, but even if you never come back to Sarif Industries, I’ll lend you my wings whenever you need them,” she said fiercely.
He smiled and thanked her, turning away from Malik and towards the windowless building. As he neared it, he tried to scan for life signs but got no response, even when he was close enough to see several people inside. They must have a signal jammer. Once inside the hangar, he was surprised to see a familiar face that wasn’t Freya’s by one of the stealth jets.
“Quinn?” Jensen started incredulously.
“Please, that’s not my name anymore, bratan. It’s Anton. I see you made it out of Panchaea. Janus said we’d be seeing you again,” he started, shaking Jensen’s hand firmly in solidarity.
“Janus?” asked Adam, confused.
“As ingenious as I was at getting you out of that Belltower facility, it was nothing compared to Janus. He is the real brains, and the money, behind our operation.”
“And what exactly is this operation?” asked Jensen, only to be answered shortly by a woman’s voice coming from a stairwell to the right.
“We are the Juggernaut Collective,” answered Shivana, the tall Trinidadian woman who had escorted Freya safely out of Sarif HQ. “The only real resistance to the Illuminati.”
Behind Shivana, Adam saw Freya, still wearing a Sarif jacket, her hair messily tied up behind her. When she met his eyes, relief washed over her face but she stayed a slight distance away, not walking ahead of Shivana. He retracted his optics display and looked back at Anton.
“The man with the computerized voice...Janus, I suppose. He said something about decoding the information I extracted from Page’s terminal. Also, my pilot needs to refuel.”
“Here, I’ll take you down to the base. Hey, Dmitri!” Anton shouted at the plane, addressing a blond haired man who was still inside the cockpit a few meters away.
“Yeah, what?” he stepped into view and lifted up his orange noise cancelling headphones. He was a stocky man and wearing a black and silver flight suit and black ankle-high lace up boots. The design was similar to Malik's suit, but compared to her precise, deliberate demeanor, Dmitri wore them casually like a mechanic's overalls.
“The Sarif plane needs to refuel. Can you help them out with that?”
The man gave him a thumbs up and muttered something in Russian before heading over to a fueling car around the corner from the jet. Adam finally took a moment to look around the ground level of the facility. It almost looked like an old Soviet air field – some steel girders were protruding across the ceiling and the lighting was achieved by rows of incandescent light bulbs tacked along the walls on single cords. Beside the stairwell was a large flood light on a stand connected to a generator which was loudly whirring away.
Adam followed behind Anton down the steps into the lower level, stepping carefully in the dark and watching Freya and Shivana out of the corner of his vision.
Silently he commed Freya, “What happened in Detroit? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” she replied, “but Belltower stormed Sarif HQ right as we were leaving. I don’t think Wayne made it out.”
He frowned, “That was awfully good timing." He had grown quite suspicious of anything that seemed too conventient. "Have they told you anything?”
“A little... I think they were waiting for you, but I did show them some of the data I pulled the other day. You’ll see soon, they have a really high tech operation here.”
As soon as she said that, they came down into the next level, which was illuminated by a cluster of computer screens and server towers. Thick cords fixed to the ground with electrical tape crisscrossed their path as they connected like arteries between the adjacent terminals. There were at least eight stations and one central command center with two small screens on either side of a huge glass panel that reached as high as the ceiling. Projecting up from the table, the panel showed a blue outline of the continents, and several green dots representing satellites were moving over the land along dashed-line trajectories. A Chinese man sat hunched in front of the screen, typing away furiously on two different keyboards simultaneously. There were at several different data cords connected into the back of his head and neck, and the speed at which he worked was more machine than man.
“Hey, Jie, we have visitors,” announced Shivana, stepping aside to let Freya walk up beside Adam.
The man froze and then typed a passcode to lock each screen before spinning around to face them. Jensen was stunned at the level of cerebral augmentations he had. Instead of subtle realistic eye augments like Jensen’s, he had replaced each socket with a lidless metal apparatus containing red laser optical readers. Presumably it made his hacking more streamlined as he could manipulate data and interact with the network more directly. His hands had also been replaced up to the wrist, but had a porcelain hue so they appeared less dramatic, more human.
“Jensen, Adam. Pritchard, Freya,” he said plainly, looking at them each in turn as he stated their names. His mind still seemed in another world. He jerked his neck to face Adam, head tilting slightly. “You have something for me?”
Jensen took one step back defensively. He couldn’t help feeling uneasy around the man. If he acted more human it wouldn’t have bothered him as much, but it was a little too close to the ideal that Sarif always spoke of. More than human.
“Ah, I have made him uncomfortable. Please, sit,” Jie said politely, gesturing to one of the chairs at an adjacent desk. Adam looked at Freya and sat himself down, his black prosthetic hands resting uneasily on his knees. Jie stood and walked around back, an amused grin on his face.
“Is something funny?” Adam asked.
“Just admiring Sarif’s fine engineering…” Jie said softly, reaching forward to open one of Jensen’s access ports.
“Woah, hold on,” Jensen stood up abruptly, raising his hand between himself and Jie.
Freya immediately recognized his reaction and interjected, “Can’t he just transfer it to a secondary device?”
Adam imagined that if Jie still had eyebrows, they’d be raised. The slight crinkle at the top of his forehead suggested as much, as well as the way he paused with his lips just slightly apart. “So slow, so slow! Why take two steps when you can take one? But as you insist. Such a shame…I should love to see what your neural network looks like…”
Jie turned around and picked up a rectangular black device the size of a brick with two pinpoint blue lights and a knobby, frayed black cord sticking out of the shorter end. To Adam’s relief, Freya seized Jie’s wrist and took the storage canister out of his hand.
“I’ll do it,” she stated, more a command than a request. Jie’s translucent red optical lenses darted excitedly back and forth, as if her actions were a puzzling conundrum in human behavior. She frowned at Jie as if scolding him and then stood beside Adam, carefully placing the connector. “Okay, Adam, you should be able to see the drive on your HUD.”
He nodded and she felt the whirring of the device between her fingers, indicating it was receiving the data transfer. As the transfer was completing, he heard the mechanical, overly filtered voice of Janus comm through.
“You still resist embracing what it is to be augmented…” the voice mused.
“I would have been fine with staying human. This race to become more than human... when do you reach the point when you stop being human altogether?” he countered, frowning. Freya removed the port and handed it back to Jie who eagerly hooked himself up to see what he had been brought.
“You were gifted with the ability to become more than any of us, to surpass the biological limits awkwardly developed through time-consuming evolution. To ignore such potential…”
Adam didn’t respond to the last comment and watched as Jie excitedly scanned through the information. Anton and Shivana drew closer as well, the four of them forming a semi-circle around Jie. His eyes stared off now and then, alternating with darting in all directions unpredictably. Shivana couldn’t sit still – she was compulsively gnawing on her lip and tapping her artificial foot on the concrete floor as she waited. Suddenly, Jie burst out laughing. A loud, boisterous laugh that seemed uncharacteristic for him.
“Jie?” asked Anton cautiously. “Jie Chang.”
“It is such a beautiful algorithm! Ah, I have not had a challenge like this in ages. Mr. Robert Page takes no chances. But he has not dealt with the likes of me, no sir, he has not,” Jie said cheerfully, almost unaware of those waiting around him. Seeming to remember himself, he returned to his earlier composure.
“I will need some time to… coerce this data to reveal her secrets… I promise you by tomorrow morning she will be putty in my hands…but for now, I must focus.”
Jie turned and sat back on his command chair, facing the screens. He unlocked the side computers and in unison, the screens synced with his neural hub. Text indecipherable to Jensen fired down the panels, but Freya stared in awe his superhuman technical skills.
“If I were half as good as Jie, I would have had that Versalife data unwrapped in an hour, tops…” she murmured to herself.
“Don’t beat yourself up, dyevushka,” Anton said warmly, putting a hand on Freya’s shoulder. “Besides, if you hadn’t opened that door, Jensen wouldn’t have been there to use the key Janus had for Page’s terminal.”
The four of them stood watching Jie for a moment longer until Shivana sighed, “Well, he’ll be no use ‘til tomorrow. I’ll show you to your quarters.”
“Wait, I still have some questions,” Jensen said.
“I imagine you have several. Like I said, Janus is the brains of our operation. We don’t know much about him, or her. None of us have even met Janus in person, but he’s our main financier.”
“How can you trust him?” asked Jensen suspiciously.
“He chose each of us. He invited us to the collective based on our pursuit of the truth about where true power lies. Shivana used to be a member of the Tyrants, but she went rogue when she got tired of staging coups for the Illuminati. Myself and Jie liked to screw with major corporations and government entities by seeing how far we could infiltrate their networks. For us, the truth somewhat fell into our laps. Much like you two. Upstairs we have Dmitri Antonov, our pilot. He left the Tyrants with Shivana. It’s a great story Shiv’ll have to tell you sometime.”
“What about Dr. Kavanaugh? When I went to Interpol in London to talk to Darrow, there wasn’t so much as a whisper about her. I certainly haven’t seen anything on the news, either,” Adam continued.
“She’s here, with us. We safely extracted her and she is helping Janus assemble the information about the extent of Belltower’s involvement in the Hyron project at the RBS,” Anton answered.
“And you mean to release that information to the public?” Jensen continued, pressing further as to their ultimate goal.
“That’s the short of it, yes. But you’re both exhausted, and whatever Jie discovers may well change the whole game plan. I suggest you get some rest, and we’ll all start fresh tomorrow. Don’t you worry none, we take care of each other here,” Anton advised them, indicating to Shivana to show them their rooms. Adam begrudgingly consented.
The Trinidadian led them to the left, out of the tangle of tech and the blue impersonal glow of computer terminals. They went past a makeshift kitchen, which contained many appliances that had been modified by either Jie or Anton for increased efficiency. Freya made a mental note to return at some point and take a closer look at them, especially what had to be the most elaborate coffee maker she had ever seen. Beyond that, Shivana led them down a hallway that had several rooms connecting to it. The original purpose of the rooms was likely interrogation or imprisonment, but they now each contained a comfortable appearing mattress supported on a rectangular concrete ledge on the far wall. Each room was lit with a single incandescent bulb, casting the room in chiaroscuro, and there was a lonely dilapidated bureau in one of the corners.
“Now, I don’t mean to make assumptions, but do you guys really need two rooms? Space is kind of tight around here,” Shivana asked bluntly.
Freya started to answer but Adam beat her to it.
“One will be fine,” he announced succinctly. Freya was secretly relieved. Considering everything, she was worried Jensen would distance himself from her and bury his mind inward. He’d allayed those concerns with just four words.
“Alright then. If you need any food, we have a bunch of stuff stockpiled in the pantry. Just help yourselves. Don’t worry about security – Janus has one of the most secure electromagnetic shields in existence. It’s like we’re invisible,” she smirked.
With that, Shivana left them standing there in the doorway, her footsteps echoing down the cold hallway. Freya pursed her lips and without meeting Adam's eyes reached for his hand, holding the warm prosthetic tightly. She had kept it together so far, but the shock was starting to catch up and reality was cracking at the corners as she stared at the austere concrete walls. She stepped into the room and sat on the bed, trying to get used to the idea of never seeing her Chiron apartment again. Wordlessly Adam sat beside Freya and wrapped his arms around her, gently pressing her head against his chest. As he held her, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing on the sound of his strong, regular heartbeat. As Freya absorbed the rhythmic vibrations, somehow she was able to forget about the thousands of things that were rushing through her mind seconds before. For just a moment, nothing was more important than the stillness in that room, temporary though it may be.
She brought her arms around him and whispered softly, “Sarif’ll be furious neither of us sent him a two weeks notice…”
He laughed, stroking her hair, “I hadn’t even thought about that.”
Adam lied back on the bed, pulling her down alongside him so they were staring at the ceiling. She turned towards his body and reached her arm across his chest, her fingertips tracing slowly along his collar.
“Are you okay?” he asked her, watching her expression closely in the dark.
“I have no clue. It’s too soon to say. I think it’s the right thing to do though, joining with them. Even if we have little real choice in the matter.”
“The alternative isn’t exactly an option,” he grumbled. “But Quinn- I mean, Anton, helped me before. I can’t say that about many people. After Eliza’s message got doctored down, it just became painfully clear how much influence the Illuminati really have.”
“You’d think the existence of Eliza in itself would have been enough,” she said jokingly. After all, she was a secret artificial intelligence program manufactured by the Illuminati for the sole purpose of manipulating the news.
He grinned, “That was a bit of a bombshell. At first I was so focused on how it pertained just to me, with the experimentation at White Helix and the research on my DNA... but this is so much bigger than me, or us."
She nodded in agreement. “Now that we've come this far, we have to ask ourselves what is the point of fighting so hard to uncover the truth if it never sees the light of day?”
“We still have to look out for ourselves. Their crusade doesn’t have to become ours, but I think with everything that has happened, you’re right. Whether we join with them or not, we all have the same goal and need to see it through.” Adam tugged her hair tie free and ran his fingers through her hair, letting her long locks fall onto his shoulder. Kissing her forehead tenderly, he whispered, “Let’s get some sleep. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.”
Freya shut her eyes and let the reassuring beat in his chest and warm embrace lull her into a deep, dreamless sleep.