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Chapter 18

They left their gear at Tracey's house. Tracey gave Rebecca a heavy work jacket of hers. It was old, worn and covered in the all penetrating red dirt. It was supposed to help her fit in with the other mine workers. She had nothing that would fit either Bruce or Jason. Not that Jason seemed to want to give up his coat, at any rate. He ended up tossing it to the dirt floor and giving it a good kick through the dust before he put it back on. Rebecca wasn't sure if that made it look any daggier than it already was. Bruce simply pinched an oversized jacket from a neighbour’s front door as they passed by. As well as this, Tracey give Rebecca and Jason a pair of riggers gloves each, effectively hiding the single Control they each wore on their hands.

"Don't draw attention to yourselves," Tracey warned them, despite her precautions. "I'm not losing my head for this. And you don't want them taking yours either. Be careful."

Rebecca readjusted the ill-fitting jacket as she followed. "So what exactly is this demonstration?" she asked. "Why would they want to show you these new Peacekeepers?"

"Not the City, Rebecca," Jason quietly reminded her. "Everyone here knows they’re being taken advantage of. Why hide it when you can show off exactly how they can kill you if you get out of line?”

"Also stops people doing stupid things like getting dragged into resistance groups," Tracey muttered.

As they neared the centre of town the volume of people in the dusty streets increased. They were heading in the same direction, and Rebecca kept close to Tracey, keeping her head down as the others did. A few Sentinels stood at street corners as they neared the centre of the town, and Rebecca saw at least one other Peacekeeper. It's Controller stood beside it. He stood out from the dreary dirt clad workers in an only faintly dusty grey uniform.

Tracey led them to a square in the centre of the mud brick town. A wide open space, lined only with the same red dirt. A crowd had already gathered. At one end of the square, in front of the crowd, was a raised brick platform. Around it were a half dozen more men and women in grey uniform. But there was only a single Peacekeeper, its bright white hull in sharp contrast to the dust encasing everything else. It was slumped motionless, arms hanging by its sides, sitting in the centre of the platform like a sleeping giant.

Following Tracey's lead, they all slipped quietly into the back of the crowd and waited. They did not need to wait long.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" A young man with slick black hair took to the platform, just to the right of the silent Peacekeeper. He wore the grey uniform like his counterparts, but his bore next to no dust at all. Only the base of his boots were stained in the red ocher.

"You are the second group of people to see this marvel of engineering. I'm sure you've heard from your friends who saw it before you, and I am sure by now the rumours have spread of the resistance's demise at this machine's hands..."

"Bastard..." Jason spat.

"Shh!" said Tracey.

"You want Rebecca to try and control that Peacekeeper?" said Bruce. In the close press of the crowd, Rebecca could feel that big man shift uncomfortably beside her. "It most likely belongs to the Controller on the platform, won't he be able to sense her messing with it?"

"It depends on the Controller," said Jason.

"Julien's an idiot. He's in charge of the mines. He can give you life or death with a snap of his fingers but when it comes to controlling he's all show. This guy I knew who was a Controller, before they found him and conscripted him, once told me he didn't think he was too skilled. If Rebecca is good Julien won't pick her up. That's what we want to test, right?"

"That's what you want to test," Jason corrected her.

"This is getting worse and worse," Rebecca said. She could feel her heart beginning to race again. "He could realise I'm messing with it, doesn't that bother you?"

"You want me to help you get into the mines. That bothers me," Tracey said, her voice low.

"Well, this is bothering me..." Rebecca muttered.

"This new breed of Peacekeeper will keep you and your families far safer," Julien continued. "You need not worry, unless, of course, you harbour sympathies for the recently demolished resistance..." He radiated confidence in stark contrast to his subdued audience.

"Look at him," said Tracey. "He's way too busy talking, revelling in his power, he won't even notice."

"And what if he does pick her up?" Jason pressed.

"If she's as good as you say she'll be fine. And I'll be more than happy to assist you with your mission.”

Jason glanced sidelong at Tracey and scowled. "At least it doesn't have protection..."

Rebecca was barely listening. This was why she was here. She'd been dragged all the way out here, almost against her will. She'd lost her job. But what was that to her anyway? What in comparison to all she’d seen in just short days? She'd learned she had this incredibly ability, something she could actually make a difference with. She was scared, sure, but she couldn't let that stop her. It was foolish to think seeing how powerful she really was would not be without some risk.

And she was doing this for Nick. And Steph. This was it. She was either in or out. No more pretending this was all happening against her will. She'd been dragged below, but she'd made the decision to come to the mines herself. She would make the decision to take Tracey's ultimatum and fully commit herself to this mission as well.

Rebecca closed her eyes briefly and activated the Control on her hand, beneath the rigger's glove. But she barely felt the Peacekeeper; it was like its systems were hidden behind a wall of haze. That was strange. Perhaps she just needed to be closer. With a low, determined growl she pushed past Jason and started moving through the crowd.

"Rebecca!" Jason whispered harshly behind her. But she wasn't turning back now.

"Now look what you've made her go and do," Jason growled.

"Really?!" Tracey hissed.

"I'll go after her," said Bruce. He began moving cautiously through the crowd, trailing Rebecca.

Jason drew in a gulp of air. He could feel his body tensing, his hands balling into fists that he had to force to stay at his sides. This was risky enough without having to play games for Tracey's trust. "You'd better help us after this."

"If she can take this thing down I'll do anything for you."

"It's just a bloody Peacekeeper. I'll do whatever I can to secure your help but I don't understand why you want her to do this. I could take that thing down. It doesn't prove she's strong enough to stop us getting caught."

"Not quite," Tracey whispered. She leaned over towards Jason, so he could hear her easily without having to raise her voice. "I got the spoilers from a friend who was on day shift and got to see the first demonstration..."

Julien waved a hand behind him. The Peacekeeper came alive like a puppet on invisible strings. It pulled itself fully upright. Then its white hull rippled as the nanite infused metal responded to the Controller's commands. Within seconds it had changed shape, becoming the crisp clean form of a flying Peacekeeper. It's rotors whirred, pushing air towards the ground and over and through the crowd in a rush of red dust. It slowly lifted off the ground.

"Seriously, what is this guy's deal?" Jason snapped. "It's just a fancy new Peacekeeper. It just hunts down innocent people and kills them." He could feel his hands starting to shake. All he wanted to do was take control of that Peacekeeper and smash it into the ground, or preferable smash it down onto Julien and the other Controllers around him. They were responsible for everyone who had lost their lives in Refuge.

But Jason kept himself in check. Rebecca was more than capable of smashing the thing. Let her do it and then Tracey would help them. It didn't matter that such a blatant attack was likely to be noticed; they would never know where it had come from. They would not be expecting a Controller among the subdued mine workers.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Julien said from stop his perch. "And to any of you closet Controllers out there let me explain the upgrade this baby has that will allow us to turn any last shred of remaining resistance to dust. I'm sure you are all aware of continuous miners and other heavy equipment we have; the ones so important to the good of the Galilee and the great City itself? The ones we protect to stop rebel Controllers from taking them over and destroying all our hopes of survival? Well, my friends, this Peacekeeper is protected by that same equipment, a smaller better version, of course. There is no way a Controller, bar me, can take this machine."

Jason felt his blood run cold. He turned to Tracey. "They've fitted them with protection?!'

Tracey gave him a crooked smile. "What are you so worried about? You said your girl could break through the protection, am I right?"

Jason stared at her, for a moment too stunned to fully process the look she gave him. And then he realised he didn't have time to. He spun back towards the front of the crowd, searching for Rebecca. He couldn't see her anywhere. Fighting panic, he began to push his way through the crowd.

What was going on? It had never been this difficult before!

Despite pushing her way through almost to the front of the crowd Rebecca still couldn't find her way into the Peacekeeper's systems. She knew they were there but she could see no detail. It was like every time she reached out she hit up against a solid brick wall.

"What are you waiting for?"

Rebecca almost jumped at the sound of the voice in her ear, so great was her concentration. Bruce had made his way up beside her, leaning down slightly so she could hear him.

"I don't know!" she hissed. "I'm having trouble getting through..."

"Amazing, isn't it?" Julien said from stop his perch. "And to any of you closet Controllers out there let me explain the upgrade this baby has that will allow us to turn any last shred of remaining resistance to dust. I'm sure you are all aware of continuous miners and other heavy equipment we have; the ones so important to the good of the Galilee and the great City itself? The ones we protect to stop rebel Controllers from taking them over and destroying all our hopes of survival? Well, my friends, this Peacekeeper is protected by that same equipment, a smaller better version, of course. There is no way a Controller, bar me, can take this machine."

"They've got protection," said Bruce.

Rebecca drew in a breath. "That's what's wrong!"

"Damn it..." Bruce grasped her by the shoulders. "We should go."

"No, this is what Jason said he wanted me for. He said I can break through protection. I must just need to try harder."

Bruce turned to her, a tentative smile playing at his lips. "Yeah?"

"He didn't tell you?"

Bruce shrugged. "He's been very secretive about this whole thing; he only ever really discussed it with Sarah. He trusts her, despite how much they fight."

"... but you came on the mission."

"I know Jason knows what he's doing. I wouldn't even be here if it weren't for him, so I can stand a bit of secrecy on his part. "

Rebecca drew a steadying breath. "This is still dangerous, isn't it?"

"This whole job is dangerous," said Bruce. "Everything we do. You just have to learn to live with it. But," his tentative smile grew into smirk, "if you think you can do this... Go on; it’ll sure as hell take the wind out of their sails." He winked at her. "Let's give them a real demonstration. I'll watch your back."

Rebecca grinned back at him. The man was huge; having him promise to watch her back more than boosted her confidence. Simply his encouragement and having him standing there right beside her made her feel safer and stronger. "Okay, let's do this."

Rebecca drew in a breath and reached down with her free hand to grasp Bruce's. She felt him squeeze hers back. Then she closed her eyes, concentrated on her Control, and then on the Peacekeeper before her, shrouded in its shimmering field of protection. All she had to do was smash through that and then she was sure she could control it.

Putting every mental weight she possessed behind herself Rebecca threw herself against the protection.

Jason had made little headway through the crowd when he heard the brief splutter of the Peacekeeper's rotors. The people about him gasped as it wobbled slightly in the air. But then it righted itself; it did not fall. Jason never expected it to. Not after Julien's final announcement.

How could he have been so stupid?! Why had he lied to Rebecca?! Julien's announcement that the new Peacekeepers had protection would not faze her. She'd just throw herself at them none the less. That's what she'd done. Gods, she was just like Sam!

Up on the platform, Julien was in his element. He spun about to face his Peacekeeper in response to its brief bout of distress. But far from appearing surprised, Julien had a grin plastered across his face. "We've got a live one, boys!" he shouted to the half dozen Controllers accompanying him. Then he turned back to the crowd. "Today is your lucky day, ladies and gentlemen. Do you know what that was? That was a rouge Controller trying to take over my Peacekeeper. Mine! Do you know how that makes me feel? Violated! But I bet they weren't counting on the protection..."

Back to his Controllers. "Find him! Find that Controller! Look for anyone who can barely stand; they won't be looking to well after hitting the protection."

The people around Jason suddenly surged backwards like a nest of ants that had been disturbed. It was all he could do to hold his ground. Why had he told Rebecca all that garbage about the protection!? Jason cursed himself, even as he looked about frantically for either Bruce or Rebecca.

Behind the fleeing crowd the Peacekeeper landed back on the ground, regained its humanoid form, and began to scan the crowd, searching for the rouge Controller. No one would want to be near the machine when it found who it was looking for. And Jason still saw no sign of his companions. The longer he stood stationary the more obvious he would be should one of the Controllers look his way.

He was on the verge of panic when a body was shoved at him.

"Get her out of here," Bruce growled. The big man took a moment to steady Rebecca's slumped, unconscious form next to Jason, making sure the other man had an arm firmly around her.

"Bruce..." Jason began. "I'm sorry, she... she can't break through the protection..."

"Figured that." Bruce reached for Rebecca's hand, slipped off the riggers glove and then the Control, and put it on his own hand.

"What are you doing? I need you to help me move her."

Bruce looked him in the eye for the briefest of moments. “Sorry, boss." Then he turned and pushed his way, easily, through the flow of people around him, heading straight for the guards and the Peacekeeper.

"Bruce! Get back here; that's an order!" There was no way he could have heard but Jason doubted his right hand man would have listened anyway. The crowd was thinning out and he and Rebecca would soon be noticed. He drew in a sharp breath, then with a growl hoisted Rebecca around and hauled her along with the flow of people.

"Long live the resistance!"

The shout rang out loud and clear. Jason glanced over his shoulder. Bruce stood on top of a crate, now well clear of the crowd, waving his useless, gloved hand in the direction of the Peacekeeper.

The machine whirled at the sound of the man's voice, weapons raised. The Controllers too stopped their search of the crowd and turned their guns on the apparent perpetrator.

Jason swore. He forced himself to turn around and look where he was going, lest he fall and be crushed by the crowd. Behind him the sound of gunfire erupted.

Miles upon miles of ocean broken only by tall spires of rock stretched out around Valerie. She had missed the open landscape of below. She had spent too long in the City. And she had missed her work below. But she was again trawling the skies, searching for signs of rebel activity. She knew they had dealt Jason Gray a great blow. But that was when he was at his most dangerous.

And that was when she spotted the vehicle. It was bright red. Hard to miss, though there had been some modifications visible to its exterior. Plates of dull grey armour welded to its sides. But despite those modifications, impossible not to identify. It was the same sports car that had escaped her in the City. It darted between the rock spires, a safe but short distance above the raging ocean below.

"Now what are you doing all the way out here?" she sneered. She wasn't more than twenty kilometres from Galilee.

Valerie allowed the Peacekeeper's basic autopilot function to take over so she could free her mind to control the other vehicle. It was tempting to simply destroy it but she had made a promise to Horatio. She didn't know if his daughter was onboard or not. That alliance still served her, for the moment.

Valerie reached out with her mind, then drew back with a sharp hiss. "How the hell does it have protection?!" She knew before the words had escaped her lips. Jeffery. She cursed. Stupid man! She'd watched his Peacekeeper go down and thought it had been completely destroyed. Obviously she’d been wrong. The rebels had gotten their hands on the protection systems. It was the only explanation for how they could acquire the technology so quickly. Like most of the other things they took. Valerie flexed her hand.

So what was she to do now?

Her console blipped, indicating an incoming transmission. Valerie briefly considered ignoring it. But the occupants of the Pegasus had yet to spot her high above them. She let the Peacekeeper drift back from its prey, but kept the vehicle in sight.

"What is it?!" she barked into the communications system.

Julien responded, unconcerned with her irritation. "Jason Gray is here."

She couldn’t have heard him correctly. "Jason..."

"You’re falling down on the job, Valerie," said Julien. "He's here with some girl. Apparently a powerful Controller. Not powerful enough it seems though - she couldn't break through the protection on my Peacekeeper." His voice carried a hint of pride, as if somehow Rebecca Forsythe’s failure was his own accomplishment. It had to have been her. Who else?

Valerie glanced out her cockpit at the vehicle darting among the rock spires below her. "And you know this how?"

"Your little fishing experiment seems to have payed off. We thought we had the Controller, but it was just a diversion. Or so your little fishy tells me. She's gone to see if she can locate Jason."

Valerie felt a twinge of worry. It looked like Julien’s little ‘congratulatory gift’ had proved useful. Turned out she’d been one of Jason’s contacts and more than happy to work for Valerie in exchange for being released to live back in the mining village. Far better than a two by two cell. But that didn’t mean she could be trusted to go after Jason all by herself. ”And do you know where she is now?"

"She's gone to retrieve them. Or at least stall them."

"By herself?"

"This is your job, Valerie. Not mine," said Julien. "You should be back here. Not out patrolling."

"How was I to know Jason would move this quickly?!" She wouldn’t let him ruin everything for her. Not again.

“Get back here and stop him Valerie, whatever he's up to." Julien cut the transmission.

"You useless little shit," she growled at the silent communications system. Julien had no idea how dangerous Jason was. He was content to wait for Valerie to return. And should things fall to pieces guess who would get the blame? She had to move fast.

But she had to deal with the Pegasus first. It had the compact protection technology. But Valerie could not imagine the rebels had the time, nor resources, to build their own devices. They had done what they did with the Control chips. Simply found and retrofitted the device. So this was the only one. Easy to take care of.

Valerie powered up the Peacekeeper and swooped down towards vehicle. "There's some technology everyone can't just be allowed to have."

A wad of blue energy dropped from the belly of the Peacekeeper and rocketed towards the speeding vehicle. The Pegasus swerved at the last possible moment, dipping down towards a spire of rock, and the energy missile slammed into the rock face right beside it. The vehicle spun off, trailing smoke, and crashed down towards the ocean's churning surface.

Valerie banked the Peacekeeper back in the direction Galilee and pushed it to its highest speed.

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