It took hours for Rebecca to finally catch Jason alone. She had waited too long. She needed an answer and she should have sought it ages ago. Before what had happened to Refuge. Before what had happened to Steph.
It still ate at her. She had intended to get to know Steph. For Nick. That chance had been snatched away. And Nick had lost someone he cared about, obviously deeply.
Initially, the trip to below had held some degree of wonder and curiosity for Rebecca, despite the angst of losing her job and being kicked out of home. But not anymore. And so what if she’d lost her job? What about what had happened to Steph? To these people here? To Nick? What the hell had she been whinging about?
It was late in the evening by now. Long after dark. The bulk of the remaining rebels were now camped out in the main hall. Jason had spent his time wandering between groups and giving instructions and assistance. Rebecca had left him alone, though she desperately wanted the answer he had promised her aboard Leviathan on their initial arrival at Refuge. She couldn't interrupt him, though she had kept an eye on him whilst she helped unload and rearrange supplies.
It was only when the man eventually managed to pull himself away from the demands for his attention, disappearing up a flight of stairs leading to the hall's roof, that Rebecca followed him. He was chasing a moment of reprieve but that was something she had no qualms about interrupting.
"Why did you bring me here?"
On hearing her voice, Jason turned from the low wall that encircled the roof. She couldn't really see his face in the darkness, but the faint orange glow of fires still burning in some of the buildings behind her provided enough ambient light to see by. The glow revealed no details, but gave a hard edge to everything it touched. Jason folded his arms. "You're very keen all of a sudden."
"And why shouldn't I be? You dragged me down here, right into the middle of all this!"
"This wasn't supposed to happen," Jason said coldly. "Refuge is supposed to be safe. I don't know what happened."
"I, I know," Rebecca sighed. "But you brought us here. Nick would have never... he wouldn't have lost Steph if we'd stayed in the City. If you'd never came for us. For me."
Jason looked away at her words, at some point off to her left. ”You want to go back to the City?”
Rebecca blinked, the question catching her unawares.
"Would you rather you'd never learnt what goes on down here?" Jason continued, louder now that she hadn't immediately replied. "Because this is the sort of thing that happens."
Rebecca stared at him for a moment longer, and when she finally replied she found she believed her answer: "No."
Jason let out a pent up breath. "Good. Maybe there's hope for you City folk yet."
She wasn’t going to let him distract her with snarky comments. She wouldn’t back down this time. This had gone on long enough. “You made me a promise, Jason. You said you'd tell me exactly why you brought me down here. I need to know what that is, right now. If whatever it is can help out with what happened here, can help Nick..."
"Whatever we do, it won't bring Steph back for your brother."
"I know that."
"Okay, okay..." Jason turned away, looking out over the smouldering remains of Refuge. "There's that much damage here, I should stay. But we might not get another chance. And if they've found us... we could really use her help. She could definitely help."
"Who?" Rebecca demanded, though she was sure Jason was only talking to himself. "You told me you needed me to rescue someone. She can help?"
Jason didn't answer. He just stared out at the smouldering remains of Refuge.
"Jason! You brought me here! I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.”
"Alright, alright..." Jason ran a hand through his hair, then leaned heavily on the low wall encircling the rooftop.
Rebecca came and stood beside him, folding her arms along the top of the wall, leaning forward to catch his gaze. She wouldn't let Jason ignore her.
But he wasn't. "There's a mine," he began. "Galilee. It supplies all your City's energy needs, material for all your bloody cars..."
"No, that comes from... somewhere in the valley… outside the City…“ Rebecca finished lamely. She didn't know where in the valley. Just that some of the car factories were out there.
Jason watched her out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing.
It wouldn’t help if she distracted the conversation either. ”That's what they told us anyway. Obviously it was a lie. I’m sorry, go on…“
"I'd planned to attack the mine."
"What?" Rebecca exclaimed. She had no idea of the size of this mine, where it was, or how many people worked there. She didn’t need to. With the state Refuge was in such a move was beyond reckless. "You'll kill everyone you've got left!"
"No," Jason said firmly. "I can't drag them into this, not now. It'd just be you, me, and Bruce. In fact, if might be easier without a small army."
"But me? I know I'm a Controller... but I can't possibly be that good... how would you even know..."
"You’re not!" Jason snapped. “I mean, you're probably better than me. Which doesn't really say much. But that's not the reason. Look, there's a reason we don't have many Controllers here, Rebecca. Me, Conrad, a couple others. Out here, no one really wants to find out if they're one. If you're lucky you get given a Peacekeeper and you get to blast everyone who opposes the System or who doesn't meet their quotas. Or you get to fight for us, and probably get yourself killed. Or you just get killed…
"But a few years back they were doing experiments. They..." Jason swallowed. "They took some Controllers and they fused them right into some of their mining machines."
“Fused them?” Rebecca frowned. “Why?"
"Damned if I know!" Jason snapped. He ran a hand across his face and leaned heavily on the wall. "I mean, we can control machines from outside of them," he continued, lowering his voice. "So maybe they thought why not just hardwire the control system right in there. But I can't see a human mind being a better option than just a computer to run a machine. A human isn't a computer, they're not built for it. They're not just some piece of equipment..."
"The woman you want me to rescue is in one of those machines."
Jason looked up at her.
"... and she is important to you..."
Jason swallowed. "Yeah," he finally said, his voice thin. "That's why I need you."
"But to do what?! How am I supposed to free her?“
Jason drew in a breath, opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, then turned away and began to pace the roof.
"Jason!" He was dragging this out and Rebecca couldn't understand why he wouldn't just tell her. "I can't help you if you don't tell me something!"
"Because..." Jason raised his voice. But then he seemed to reign himself in, turned and looked right at her. "Because you're the only one that can break through the protection."
Finally, they were getting somewhere! "Protection? You mean like the bracelets?" Rebecca held hers up.
"Yes. I mean... no. It's the same technology. Only bigger. The big mining machines usually have it fitted. It's like the Leviathan... they're really the only things big enough to warrant putting aside so much space for the protection. I suppose it keeps people like me sneaking in there and just destroying all their expensive equipment with the Control. Luckily, something like a Peacekeeper won't have it, because then they'd be twice as large and probably absolutely useless, thank gods."
"And the bracelets..."
"Well the nanites in your body are so tiny..." Jason waved a hand dismissively. "Ask Sarah; she understands it better. And it's not important now. That's why we need you."
Rebecca frowned. She glanced down at the thin band of metal encircling her wrist. It glinted briefly with reflected firelight. "You're sure? How do you know I can do this when no one else can? I mean, I could try breaking through one of the bracelets..."
"Don't go poking around with the bracelets!" Jason snapped, his voice rising in volume again. "No one likes their nanites being messed with. It isn't pleasant, trust me!"
"Alright!" Rebecca held up her hands. "I just don't understand how I'd be the only one able to break through protection, and how you'd know..."
"Do you think I spent ten years to get to this point if I wasn't sure you could do it?!” Jason exploded. "That I'd go all the way to the City for you, that I'd let this happen to Refuge?"
Rebecca took a half step back and held up her hands. This was still the same man who'd shoved her in a car back in the City. "Okay, okay..."
Jason drew in a sharp breath. His shoulders slumped. “I just want to get her out. Sorry..."
So she could break through protection? Rebecca fiddled with the bracelet on her wrist. How had all this happened so quickly? It had been less than a week ago when she'd still been stuck in her cubicle, worrying about how boring and unfulfilling her work was. Asking stupid questions.
"So, what is it?" said Jason. His voice brought Rebecca out of her thoughts. "Are you going to help me, or not?"
She had been dragged down here against her will. But was she any worse off? It seemed she had the chance to do something that would actually make a difference. She might be able to do something that would stop something like this happened to Refuge again. Happening to Nick.
Rebecca pushed the bracelet around her wrist, and swallowed hard. "Alright," she said. She looked back up to meet Jason in the eye. "I'll do it."
Jason told Rebecca when to be ready in the morning, and then told her to go and get some sleep. He knew he would be getting none tonight but that was no reason why she should be subjected to the same. And if she went to get some sleep, that meant she’d leave him alone and he could finally get some precious few moments to himself. He was far beyond his capacity to deal with the onslaught of emotion from the people he'd sworn to protect. All he needed was a moment, that perhaps would be enough to face them again.
It seemed he was not destined to get even that one moment.
"I just passed Rebecca on my way up here," said a voice behind him. "You told her, didn't you?"
Jason exhaled heavily and turned from the view of Refuge. "What do you want?"
Sarah ignored his tone. She was good at that. "How did it go? Is she still going to help you?"
"Yeah," said Jason, turning his back to her again. He didn't want her to see his face. He'd told Rebecca just enough to get her to come. That was all that was required. He wasn't going to mess this up just because that approach jangled with Sarah's morals.
Sarah let out a sigh. “I’m glad, Jason. I know it must’ve been hard, but I told you it'd be okay. So, what's the plan?"
"We're leaving tomorrow."
"What?" he snapped. He spun back around to face her. "I need to finish this. I've been planning it for ten bloody years, Sarah. And you've argued with me every step of the way! What could the problem possibly be now?"
Sarah came across the roof so she stood barely a meter away from him. She looked up at him, her gaze unwavering. No matter his bluster, Jason could not remember the last time it had fazed her. "Maybe I have. But I've also helped you every step of the way. You wouldn't have thought of using Rebecca in the first place if I hadn't told you my theory. So I think I've got the right to argue with you. Someone’s got to stop you running headlong into trouble.
"Which is exactly what you're going to do if you leave Refuge at a time like this." Sarah thrust her hand out behind her, encompassing the destruction all around them. The destruction barely visible in the darkness but there none the less. "You've got a lot of scared people here. People who have lost loved ones. And you're going to take off on them when they need you the most."
"They'll be okay," Jason growled. "They have you."
"I'm not their leader. You are. This is your responsibility..."
"So is Sam!” Jason’s voice cracked. “I can't leave her in there!"
"It'll look like you're abandoning them," Sarah continued, as if he'd said nothing. "Some of them are already asking how you could let this happen."
"I'll only be gone for a couple of days."
“Assuming you survive.“
"A few days, Sarah! They'll survive! I've left Sam in that thing for ten years. She's... she's the one who should feel abandoned. I'm not going to let that be for a moment longer than it has to be!" Jason drew in a breath and turned away, wiping a hand across his face.
"Jason, I know..." Sarah grasped his sleeve.
He didn't want her sympathy. "I know what they're saying," he said, pulling away. "I've been listening to them all night. I can't stop what's already happened to Refuge. I'm just one man."
"I know that. They do too. But you've been away so much recently, if you leave now, it'll look..." She grabbed him by both arms then, making it too difficult for him to shrug her off. "Jason, for once just listen to me, please. You leave now and you're going to destroy everything you have left here. Refuge, the resistance... what happened today was terrible, but we can still pull out of it. But only if you don't turn your back on everyone here."
"I'm not turning my back on anyone," Jason insisted. Though her words did give him pause. But only for a single moment. He had to do this and he could not afford to second guess himself now. "And everything is not going to fall apart. I'll do this, then I'll come back. With... with Sam. Then we'll be stronger then ever. It'll be okay."
"For you maybe," said Sarah. "I know how long you've worked for this. I know you want to get it done but you're letting your emotions get the better of you."
Jason stepped back, jerking free from her grasp. "Don't tell me about my emotions!" He turned back to the wall and leant heavily on it. Why did she have to make this so difficult for him? "If it were up to you," he said through gritted teeth. "We'd take forever to get anything done and overthink everything! Well you know what? I don't give a damn what can go wrong! You might be able to, but I can't think this through like some cold machine!"
Sarah was quiet for a moment. Without turning around, Jason knew he'd hurt her. Sarah was anything but cold; sometimes she just made too much sense. He swallowed hard and hung his head.
"If that were true," she finally said. "I wouldn't have told you how to crack the protection."
"Too late now, Sarah. Way too late."
For a long moment Sarah was silent, then she sighed. "You know what? I can't argue with you anymore."
Jason frowned and looked back over her shoulder at her. "What?"
"I'm only trying to help, you know that. And I know despite all your blustering you listen to me, sometimes. Why do you think I keep pestering you? But I'm not foolish enough to keep it up when I know it's going to do no good."
Jason couldn't remember ever winning an argument with Sarah; he couldn't remember her ever giving one up so suddenly. "You know I can't leave her in that machine," he finally said weakly.
"I know, sweetheart. When are you leaving in the morning?"
"So I can say goodbye... wish you good luck..." She shrugged.
Jason still couldn't quite grasp she'd given up. "We're..." She couldn't have. She would start the argument again in the morning. Or quiz Rebecca. And that would be much worse. Rebecca wasn't stupid. It wouldn't take much for her to realise he'd been less than honest with her. "We're leaving at 0600."
Nick almost bowled her over as she reentered the main hall, grasping her by the shoulder with a vice-like grip. "Bec, there you are!”
Rebecca winced and eased her brother’s fingers out of her shoulder. "Yeah, I was only gone for a few minutes..." she began to object. But she couldn't reprimand him for being overly worried about her, not after what had happened to Steph. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Nick shook his head. "But I'm still alive..." He turned his head away at that and wiped a thumb across the corner of his eye. "Just wanted to make sure you're still safe. I don't know what's going on and I'm not sure these guys do either. We need to stick together."
"Yeah,” Rebecca drew in a breath. "Speaking of which, there's something I need to tell you..." She quickly filled Nick in on Jason's plan.
Nick listened to her silently. But his jaw began to tense as she went on, his eyes drilling into her. Perhaps telling him all this now was not a good idea. Still, he managed to keep himself in check until Rebecca had finished. And only then did he speak. "This is ridiculous!" he growled through gritted teeth. "You're going to take off with Jason? After everything that's happened?"
"And just what makes you say it’s so ridiculous?" Rebecca scowled, folding her arms.
"The man is crazy!"
"You saw what happened here; maybe he's got good reason to be."
"Of course I saw what happened. I was here - I saw everything." Nick drew in a breath, rubbing a hand across his eyes again. "But... but this... why? You think because Jason Gray tells you you've got some superpower it's all going to be fine?"
"It's not a superpower, Nick. I can do something with a Control no one else can; I can break through protection."
"Sounds like a superpower to me. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? I can't remember Steph..." Nick swallowed hard, "she never told me you could do that."
"What did she tell you?" Rebecca asked gently.
"She said to trust Jason, but look where that got her." Tears welled in his eyes. "I just want to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to you. I can't lose you both."
It had been a stupid idea. Not because of Nick’s usual level of overprotectiveness. Steph was dead, barely hours before. The pain it had caused him was still roiling barely beneath the surface and it was more visible than he realised, at least to his sister.
"Can't... can't you see where I'm coming from?!" he asked her, almost desperately.
Rebecca looked at him, lost for words, and swallowed hard. She just wanted to grab Nick in her arms and tell him everything would be okay. Not that that would fix anything. He was a mess. "Maybe..." she said, haltingly.
"Good... I... good... look, let me talk to Jason. I'll tell him I have to come too… at least... nothing will happen to you then."
"Wait, you want to come?" Rebecca asked. Her own emotions had been getting the better of her, watching her brother in a fit with himself, hardly able to put together a sentence. She blinked back tears from her eyes. If she let Nick get worked up, heck if she let him talk to Jason, he'd only want to start a fight or simply get in the way. Or worse, he would force them to bring him along. Nick was in no state for something like this. He would just be a liability, or get himself hurt. He wasn't a Controller.
"Just tell me when you leave. I’ll make sure I'm ready."
Rebecca swallowed and looked down at her boots. "We're leaving at six. Just wait for us at the docks."
Nick nodded. "Thanks, Bec." He grabbed her up in a sudden hug.
Rebecca squeezed him back, mentally cursing herself for lying to her brother at a time like this. But he had always been the one to look out for her, un-wanted though that had lately been. It was time that she returned the favour. But Nick would not see it that way, not the next morning. She and Jason had agreed to leave at five. When Nick arrived at the dock he would find her, Jason and the Leviathan long gone.