“Your Controller was a complete flop, Julien. He got himself killed and lost your Peacekeeper. But that's all you can expect when you take your Controllers from worker stock."
Julien scowled back at her. It didn’t faze Valerie. She knew the cogs were turning in his brain. He was an overgrown brat but she didn't think him entirely stupid.
They were in a plush room in the interior of the main control tower. Julien's private office. It was in stark contrast to the dingy, mud brick buildings that surrounded the main towers. Clean, the penetrating red dust did not make it past the building's seals. One side of the room was completely taken up by a wall of monitors and associated equipment. From here, Julien could keep an eye on the mine and the people he managed. The screens currently showed a number of images of the larger mining machines going about their monotonous tasks.
"You should have taken better care of him!" Julien snapped.
"I wasn't his baby sitter. He was in charge. He was the one who failed you."
Julien let out a sigh. "I suppose. Now I'm going to have to find another Controller. Do you know how hard that is? You think they'd be happy, wouldn't you? If I pulled them out of working the mines. Instead they just destroy my new Peacekeepers!"
"You don't need to look for a new Controller.”
Julien watched her for a moment, then he smiled faintly. "Yeah?"
"I'm a Controller."
"You're also responsible for Jason Gray still being around today."
"But," Julien continued. "I do like the convenience. Who knows, perhaps you will do better with a second chance."
"I intend to."
"Then congratulations, you have a new job as lead Controller. On probation, of course."
"Of course,“ Valerie smiled faintly. That was all she needed.
"Don't stuff this up again or you'll regret it."
Valerie simply nodded. But she did not fear the threat. There was nothing Julien could do to her, nothing she would allow.
"In fact, there is something, someone rather, I would like to show you," Julien continued. He sauntered across the room and hooked his arm through hers.
"A rebel. We've had her here for some months. She has told us some interesting things under coercion. Perhaps something you would like to play with. Consider her a congratulatory gift in honour of your new position. She may even help you in your pursuit of Jason Gray. You do, after all, have much to make up for in that regard. Come, I’ll show you.”
Valerie allowed the younger man to lead her out of his office. She didn’t react to his constant hints at her past failures. That wouldn’t get her anywhere. Not at this point in time anyway.
Nick woke with a start, sitting bolt upright with a gasp, sweat-soaked and breathing heavily. Despite his exhaustion his sleep had still been troubled and he felt as if had only closed his eyes for a few moments. As memories of the previous day began to flood his waking mind Nick moaned, then flopped back down onto the thin mattress beneath him and pressed his palms against his face.
A shudder ran through him and he sat up again, blinking away sleep along with the tears that had sprung to his eyes. It was morning, the dim light of dawn barely bringing a soft glow through the windows and to the sleeping bodies about him. Most people’s homes had been destroyed and these had taken shelter in the open space of the main hall. Rows of mattresses lined the floor and most of the tables bar the heaviest had been moved to the side. Faint sounds of movement reached Nick's ears, as well as the sound of someone quietly sobbing.
Nick checked his watch. It was ten past five. He would not fall back to sleep now and despite the fatigue still resting on his shoulders like a heavy mantle, he didn't want to. He slipped on his boots as silently as he could, pushed himself to his feet and began to make his way through the rows of mattresses.
He exited the building and walked towards the dock, rubbing at his eyes. The steady thrum of the Leviathan's engines reached his ears. Conrad was probably warming them up.
Only he wasn't. The Leviathan was already lifting into the air, pulling away from the dock and chugging quickly towards the gap in the cliff face. For a moment, Nick couldn't quite comprehend what he saw. They were leaving. Without him.
"Bec!" The sound of his own voice roused him from his stupor and Nick broke into a run. He rushed to the end of the dock and only halted when he came to the very edge. "No, stop! Don't take her!"
The Leviathan only moved faster, powering ahead and disappearing through the gap in the cliffs.
"No! No, wait!" Nick doubled back. The Pegasus was parked further back, nosed up against a mooring for smaller vehicles. Nick leapt in, started it, and put his foot to the floor. He sped towards the gap in the cliffs. By now the Leviathan had passed between them and out of sight. But it wouldn't be hard to track. It was huge. He would find it again as soon as he left Refuge.
Nick pulled out into the open air and then slowed. The Leviathan was nowhere to be seen. It couldn't have been out of his sight for more than a minute!
Nick sped around in circles, trying in vain to locate any sign of the larger vessel. There was none. And he had no idea where it was heading. Hell, this was a rebel ship. It had avoided Peacekeepers for years. What hope did he have of following them in a souped up street car?
Nick sunk back against his seat. His breathing was jagged, coming in gasps. Rebecca had said they were leaving at six!
How could she lie to him?!
How could he have been so stupid?
Nick pounded a fist into the steering wheel and cursed.
Nick drove the Pegasus around, aimlessly, for nearly twenty minutes before he returned to Refuge. He found Sarah standing on the edge of the dock, staring out in the direction the Leviathan had departed. She couldn’t not have noticed the Pegasus' approach, but she didn't even acknowledge Nick until he pulled up and stepped out onto the dock beside her.
Sarah looked him up and down, taking in his flushed face and heaving chest. "So Jason lied to you too?"
Nick shook his head. "No. Rebecca did."
Sarah let out a huff.
"I can't lose her, after Steph... I can't believe she lied to me! Why did I even agree to this in the first place? Back in the City.... I never should've listened to Jason. I should have just told him to leave my sister out of this. Then none of this would have happened!"
Sarah grabbed him firmly by the shoulder. "Nick, nothing's going to happen to her."
Nick drew in a breath as he tried to steady himself. He'd failed Steph. He couldn't fail Rebecca too. "And how do you know? Do you know what Jason has planned; where he's taking her? If he does anything to her..."
"He won't. Look, I know Jason hasn't exactly made his way into your good books. But the last thing he wants to do is harm Rebecca. At worst he's just not thinking. He's lied to me, and he's taken off now, of all the times to go and do something like this, right when Refuge needs him the most. He's going to wreck everything he's built here, just to save Sam."
Nick didn't care about everything Jason had built. "I just want Bec back. Where did he take her?"
"I'm going to go get her!" he shouted back at her. His hands balled up into fists.
Sarah looked at him over the top of her glasses. "And how are you going to do that?"
"In the Pegasus! Just tell me where to go!"
"You'll get lost. And that Pegasus might be a powerhouse but it's not built to fly down below. Not without a few modifications anyway."
“So help me make those modifications!"
"I could. But it'll take time. And I don't want to make them if you’re just going to run off and get yourself killed.”
"So come with me."
Sarah paused for a moment, watching him. She was considering it. He was getting somewhere!
"Please. If you're worried about Jason too, we can go and find them. But you have to tell me what's going on. I don't get what Jason needs her for. And why she’d lie to me..."
"Jason told me he'd told Rebecca who he needed her to save. I can only assume that was what convinced her to run off so quickly."
"So who? Who’s Sam?“ Nick pressed.
“Jason should really tell you…”
"Jason's not here, is he?!"
"You're right," Sarah admitted. “Jason’s being an idiot, but that doesn’t mean I have to be too.” Sarah drew in a breath and paused, choosing her words. “Nick, he's taken Rebecca because the woman he wants her to rescue, Rebecca's the only one who can do it. Your sister can break through the protection keeping Sam trapped. Because…”
“Yeah, Bec told me that. But Controller's can't usually do that. Are you telling me she's some super-powerful Controller?"
"No. She can't just break through any old protection. Only this one. That's why Jason went to so much trouble, why he went all the way to the City to find her."
“So what's so special about this one? And about Bec?"
“Jason needs Rebecca, specifically, because she and Sam are related. If you were a Controller, you'd be able to free her too. Nick, Jason needs Rebecca to rescue your mother."
His mother was alive. Down below. It was difficult to take in. His father had lied. Said she was long gone. Not that this surprised Nick; finding out his father was a liar. He'd left them, just as their mother had. Left him to look after Rebecca. And whilst Nick didn't regret helping his sister through those last few years before she became completely independent, he still blamed his father for dumping it all on him. He’d been barely an adult himself!
Nick returned to the main hall. He really wanted to get to work on the Pegasus. The sooner he upgraded the car, the sooner he could go after Rebecca. But with this new information his head spun. Mum was alive. He only remembered her vaguely. Sure, he'd harboured some resentment when she had left too. As far as he could remember. It had been so long ago. He’d probed his memory. If she was down here… had they been down below already too? Just too young to remember? But if she’d ended up stuck in some machine maybe leaving had never been her fault.
It was too much to take in and he needed to clear his head. He tried to ask for coffee at the bar. But they had neither that, nor alcohol. Not that he needed the latter, if he was honest with himself. It would only dull the ache he felt for Steph.
Nick swallowed hard. And now Rebecca was gone. Jason had taken her but at least now why made sense. Why hadn't he demanded Jason tell him straight up what he wanted her for? If he'd known, maybe he could have stopped her from taking off without telling him.
Deep down, Nick couldn't blame her. If Jason had told him about their mother, he couldn't have said he wouldn't have taken off to rescue her as well. Maybe that’s why she’d left out telling him about their mother, and just made up something about being able to break through all protection.
"And that's why I think we need to leave this place!" A booming male voice brought Nick out of his thoughts. Tobias had taken a stand on one of the remaining tables. He had a small audience. And it was growing. "Refuge is no longer safe. It has been attacked. And Jason Gray is gone. He promised to protect my village too. He failed as he did here. And now the System's Controllers know where we are.”
Nick drew in a sigh. He didn't need to listen to this. Not because he didn't wish to hear Tobias out. He had a pretty good idea what the man had to say; and he was fairly certain he would agree. Instead, he stood himself up, fighting down thoughts of Steph and forcing himself to focus on his sister. Someone he could still save. He would get the Pegasus ready for whenever Sarah was ready to go.
He didn't have to wait very long.
Sarah appeared at the bonnet of the Pegasus barely an hour later. "Nick!" she said, slapping a hand down on the bonnet so that the panelling rung.
Nick hit his head on the chassis and cursed. He'd been tucked away under the car, working. Tucked away from the world. Here was one place he could distract his mind from the incessant thoughts about Steph.
He was in the workshop that they’d taken Sarah’s gun from. But whilst the main hall was the hub of activity, here was relatively quiet. He hadn't been ready to be disturbed.
Nick pushed himself out from under the vehicle. "Come on, I'm working on this as fast as I can! Or you gonna tell me its too dangerous and..."
"Shut up and listen," said Sarah curtly. "I've just figured out what this does."
"Huh?" Nick stood to his feet and wiped his greasy hands on his pants.
"This!" Sarah thrust a black box with wires hanging out at Nick. "I pulled it from the wreckage of that Peacekeeper," she extrapolated, when he gave her a blank look.
"So what does it do?"
"That's what I'm trying to tell you! It's..." Sarah drew in a breath, slowing down her gush of words. "It's protection. It should be much bigger, but it isn't. And they've put it in their Peacekeepers! Even if Jason or another Controller had been here they wouldn't have been able to stop them!"
Nick felt his stomach drop. He ran a hand through his hair. "Rebecca... she's run off with Jason, to the mines. They probably think they'll be able to fight any Peacekeepers they run up against!"
Nick grabbed her arm. "We need to get them. Now! Rebecca..."
"I don't have time to put in all your modifications! We need to leave right now; we can't wait. If they run up against a Peacekeeper..."
Sarah was nodding. "You're right, we'll leave right away. But we still need to be ready. The Pegasus needs one more modification..."
"It'll get there! It doesn't need to be more energy efficient! We don't need weapons; it's fast, we'll hide..."
Sarah shoved the black box into his hands. "This, Nick. This is what it needs. At least if we run up against a Controller we'll have a trick up our sleeve."
Nick turned the protection box over in his hands. "Right. Help me find the best place to put this."