Rebecca woke from a heavy slumber that dragged and clawed at her consciousness like a beast unwilling to release its prey. Her head was throbbing but she managed to push herself upright with a groan. Where was she? What happened? As the last threads of unconsciousness slipped away, she remembered. She'd attacked the protected Peacekeeper but hit up against a wall made of searing fire. She hadn't broken through; she'd failed. Where had she gone wrong?
"You're awake." Jason came into focus. He sat on the edge of the small bed Rebecca was in, shoulders slumped, playing with a scrap of paper in his hands. The bed was Tracey's; they were back in her house. "That's good. You're tougher than you look."
Rebecca wiped the back of her hand across her nose and it came away with a trickle of blood. She stared at if for a moment. Right now she felt anything but tough.
Rebecca didn't know, so she didn't answer. Instead: "Where... where are Bruce and Tracey?"
"I don't know where Tracey is and I don't care," said Jason. His jaw tensed. "Bruce... Bruce is dead."
"He's..." Rebecca felt her stomach tighten. Bruce had been right there beside her! "How?" she managed to choke out.
"He gave you to me after you passed out. Then he took a Control and pretended he was the one trying to jack the Peacekeeper. So they shot him. Stupid bastard..." Jason stood up and drew in a sharp breath, turning his back on Rebecca. "He was always loyal, rarely questioned, always did what I asked him. But I didn't ask him to do this! What good did all that loyalty do him!?" He spun back around. "I couldn't stop them shooting him this time!"
Rebecca blinked back tears from her eyes. Jason was blaming himself. Perhaps he felt had to - he'd brought her here. But it wasn't his fault. "I don't know what happened, Jason. It was like something was trying to shred my brain, then I woke up here..."
"That's what happens when you try and break through protection. Usually you realise it's there before it hurts you. But if you're foolish enough to think you can get through, or some idiot has told you you can..." He shrugged.
As if it was the sort of thing that could be dismissed with that simple gesture. It couldn't. "It's my fault Bruce's gone; I'm sorry," Rebecca felt her voice catch in her throat and tears wet her cheeks.
Jason sat back down on the bed beside her. "This wasn't your fault," he said firmly.
Rebecca wiped a sleeve across her eyes. "Of course it is! You said I could break through the protection and I didn't. I failed!"
Jason was quiet for a long moment. "I know," he finally said softly. "That was because I lied to you."
Rebecca drew in a breath; her tears were forgotten and dried up as she stared at Jason, hard, for a long moment. When she finally spoke, her voice was cold. "Why?"
Jason didn't look at her, his attention instead on the scrap of paper he still held. "Are you really surprised?"
"Why?!" Rebecca demanded again. "If I can't hack protection then how am I supposed to free this Controller of yours?" She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, leaned forward and tried to catch Jason's eye. "You told me I was this super powerful Controller. That you'd come for me because I was the only one capable of hacking through protection. Why tell me that if I can't?"
He still wouldn’t look at her. “Jason!" Rebecca grabbed him by the coat sleeve, dragging at him in an attempt to get him to look her in the eye. Why the hell would he lie to her? Why when it had caused her to do something so dangerous? She’d had no hope of taking down that Peacekeeper. She'd nearly fried her brain. And Bruce had died. Maybe she could see how Jason could treat her, some tool in a plan, with such contempt. What was she to him? But that he had put Bruce in danger rattled her to no end. "I trusted you,” she growled. “And so did Bruce. If he'd known..."
Jason pulled away sharply. "You don't think I know that?!" He stood to his feet and began to pace the small house, the morning light that filtered in caught on the dust motes that were tossed up at the movement. "It worked though, didn't it? That's what they teach you in the City, isn't it? That you need to be truly exceptional to get the best jobs? So that's what I used to get you to come to the mines. But don't worry about not being able to break through protection. You're still better at controlling things than me.” His fists tensed at his sides as he paced and he gritted his teeth. “You have to do very little to be considered a hero, you just need to be in the right place at the right time. I can't even save my right hand man but the whole resistance thinks I'm going to save the bloody world. Look at me!" he threw his hands wide and gestured down at himself. "I can't even stop a speeding bus unless I blow the whole thing up!”
Rebecca gripped the edges of the bed, blankets balled up in her fists. Jason's pacing was like that of a confused tiger. She no longer knew what this man wanted; and she didn't know what would happen if she chose not to go along with it. "What does that have to do with anything?" she asked, trying to keep the tremor from her voice. "So what did you want? Did you just think you could grab some random girl; someone you thought would look good as the world's best Controller? Some poster girl for your resistance? Are you going to take me into the mines just to get me killed? You want a martyr?!"
"So what am I here for?"
“The plan was like I told you before. There’s a Controller fused to one of their machines we need to release...”
“Enough with the lies, Jason! I can’t break through protection so that’s not going to work!”
Jason pushed a hand through his hair and drew in a breath. “You can this one. Protection works to keep an undesired Controller out. But it has to be keyed to allow a certain Controller to control their machine. That’s why Julien could control his Peacekeeper but you couldn’t. It’s linked to your DNA, or the electrical signals in your brain... Sarah could explain it better than me. She explained it to me first, and I expect she’s been regretting it ever since. But that means there’s a loophole. Sarah told me someone with similar electrical signals could get in. A close relation." Here he paused, and swallowed hard before he continued. “Someone like a daughter.”
Rebecca stared. “What?”
“She’s your mother, Rebecca. Only you can get her out.”
Rebecca’s head was pounding with a myriad of thoughts and arguments. She shook her head and rubbed a hand across her face. “No, you’re lying to me again...”
“She’s been stuck in that bloody machine for over ten years, you can’t just leave her!”
“You’re lying. Why would you keep this from me?!”
“I tried to tell you!” Jason burst out. “I showed you her photo and you didn’t even recognise her!” His chest heaved and he held out the scrap of paper he’d been clutching so tightly.
Rebecca blinked. "When...?"
"Back in the City!"
It took her a moment but she remembered. He'd shoved a photograph at her in the very first moment he’d met her. He was right. She had looked at it for mere seconds then brushed it away without the faintest stirring of recognition.
“Jason, I...” Rebecca swallowed. Her head was spinning again but not as a lingering effect of hacking the protection. “She left us when we were very young. I don’t even remember her. Dad never really had any photos... if you’d explained to me...”
“Do you know how hard it was for me to show you this in the first place?” said Jason. His voice was subdued now. He tucked the photo back away in his coat. “I knew you hadn’t seen her in years. She did help develop the Control, but when she saw some of the things that it was to be used for, she couldn’t handle it. She left and joined the resistance. Until ten years ago when they nearly wiped us out. Valerie caught her and for gods know what reason used her as a... as a circuit in those fused Controller monstrosities.” He squeezed his eyes shut and drew in a breath. When he spoke, his voice grated. “She was a good friend, Rebecca. They fused her to a machine, worked her constantly for ten years. I can't comprehend what that would do to someone. That’s why I came for you. I’ve looked for ten years for a solution and this is the only one I could come up with. That’s why I risked going over to the City to retrieve you. I have to get her out of there; I can’t leave her behind.”
"You still should have told me. I would have..."
"Every time the subject of mothers has come up you've made it pretty clear how you feel."
"She left me and Nick!" Rebecca shouted. "I barely even knew her!”
"She didn't have any choice!"
Rebecca leaned back and folded her arms. “Yeah, well you'll never know what I would've done, because you didn't tell me. What do you think I am, Jason? I’m mad she left me and Nick, sure. But what you just described... I wouldn't leave her in something like that. No matter what I thought she’d done to us.”
Jason’s shoulders slumped and he ran a hand across his face. “Gods, I should have told you. It was just too hard to talk about. She's only there because of me... Sarah told me to tell you. I should have listened to her, but as usual, I had to do my own thing. If you'd known you couldn't break through the protection you never would have tried. And Bruce wouldn't be dead."
The silence between them stretched. Rebecca scuffed a boot across the dirt floor. Her head was clearing now, at least from the haze of unconsciousness. It still spun from the information she had just received, was still trying to digest. "So what now?" she finally asked.
"I think that's up to you," Jason said quietly, "I can't make you go after her if you don't want to."
She wasn't sure why, especially after everything that had just happened, but Rebecca believed him. Forcing her to go rescue her mother would be foolish; it would be too easy for Rebecca to give them away. But what if they got caught? These people had killed Bruce. Was it too dangerous? Or would giving up now make Bruce's sacrifice a waste? The revelation that she did not possess some unique power had shaken Rebecca's confidence. If they came up against one of the new Peacekeepers she’d be unable to fight it.
Jason sat down on the bed beside her. ”Well?" he asked. He looked immensely tired. “Either way, it’s up to you. If we stay or if we go…” He swallowed hard at his own words. “But I need a decision now.”
The front door flung open. Rebecca started to her feet, but almost immediately relaxed. Tracey stood in the doorframe, out of breath and eyes wide. But she was alone.
"Thank gods," she said breathlessly. "You've both escaped."
Jason stood to his feet as the woman entered. Every muscle in his body drew up tight.
"I'm glad you're both okay,” Tracey said.
"Really?" Jason heard his own voice grate. He moved towards her, his feet felt heavy but it was as if he drifted to her with only a thought.
"Yes," Tracey said. She took a step backwards. "I just..." She couldn't hold his gaze and instead looked about her house. "Where's Bruce?"
As she said the man's name Jason’s rage burst forth. He was across the room, pinning Tracey to the wall, his fingers wrapped around her throat. "You bitch! How much?! How much did you sell us out for?! How much was his life worth?!"
"Jason!" Rebecca was at his shoulder, dragging on his arm and trying to pull him off Tracey. It made no difference.
Tracey gasped for breath. "I'm... your side..."
"Don't lie to me!" Jason snarled. His fingers dug deeper into soft flesh. "You knew that Peacekeeper had protection. What the hell are you playing at?!"
"Jason, how can she explain herself if you choke her?!" Rebecca was still yanking on his arm, almost swinging from it now so that Jason had to fight against her weight to keep his grip. The ache in his muscles was just enough to give him pause. He relented his grip only slightly.
"Are you working for someone?"
Tracey drew in a jagged breath as the pressure on her airway lessened. "No..."
She was lying. The look she had given him when Julien revealed the Peacekeeper's upgrade had cut right through the naive trust he'd placed in this woman. What had he been thinking? Sure, she had helped him in the past. But he had not seen her in over eighteen months. Anything could have occurred in that time. Had he questioned her? Had he made any attempt to learn if her allegiances had changed?No. And it had cost him. It had cost Bruce his life.
It had been easier to trust her. He’d been so close to freeing Sam. For all his planning and preparation, he’d rushed things at the last minute and nearly ruined everything. But he knew the truth now. He wouldn't make anymore mistakes. His lips twisted into a snarl as he dragged Tracey away from the wall.
Rebecca moved out of his way, eyes wide. "Jason, what... what are you going to do to her?"
It was understandable she didn't know what he would do, because Jason didn't know either.
For the moment, he settled for tossing the woman into the nearest chair. Tracey grabbed at it with one hand as she landed and fought to keep it and herself from toppling. With the other hand she rubbed at her throat, her narrowed eyes fixed on Jason. Fear or anger? Not that it mattered; in Jason's experience these were often one and the same.
"You don't think I know how these people operate? For all the disinterest they show their workers they're very protective of their little pets," he spat the last word with a vehemence that made Tracey jump. "Show me your wrist!" he demanded.
Tracey had regained her voice as well as some of her defiance. "You're deranged Jason. I know you're upset about what happened, but I had nothing to do with..."
Jason grabbed the woman again and pinned her arm, snatched at the bracelet that encircled her wrist.
"I need that!" Tracey hissed as the band snapped.
Jason took it, turned it over in his hands and stared at the back.
"It's just my ID, to prove I've turned up for work in the mines, you know that..."
Jason ignored her. It was only a subtle difference, the identification modified to indicate the wearer was not to be troubled by the authorities. Another number just below the one that identified its wearer. And as he'd expected, there was that number. He'd been right; Tracey was a traitor, but the proof he'd been right gave him no joy.
"So who exactly is 246..." he trailed off. His heart beat faster. He didn't need to ask, Jason remembered that number. Even after ten years. He already knew who Tracey's protector was. "She went into the Purge,” he said, his voice shaking. "How the hell did she survive?!"
But he couldn’t deny the proof he held right there in his hands. Valerie had survived the trip through the Purge. She must’ve followed the Leviathan. She'd found Refuge. And she'd brought back the Peacekeepers. She hadn't died; she was working down below again. Once again destroying everything he held dear.
Jason's hand shook and tightened around the bracelet until its metal edge bit into his skin.
Rebecca's voice jarred into his thoughts. "Jason, just calm down. You don't need to rough her up. I'm sure..."
Jason looked up to find Rebecca had placed herself just in front of Tracey, blocking any attempt he might make to get to the woman. Jason's breath caught in his throat. "Move!' he ordered, taking a step forward.
"What so you can strangle..." It was on that word she shut up, because in taking a step away from Jason she'd stepped back into Tracey's arms, and found one wrapped around her throat, wielding a knife. To her credit she froze in place and didn't struggle.
"Tracey, let her go!" Jason growled. Now he had no choice but to keep his rage in check. Rebecca's life, and her mother's freedom, were in Tracey's hands.
Tracey shook her head. "So you can kill me? I know what you do to traitors."
"You're working for Valerie Chase," Jason growled. "Whatever I could do to you is nothing compared to what she'll do when she's through with you.”
Rebecca's brow wrinkled at the mention of Valerie's name. So she wasn't so terrified out of her wits that she wasn't listening to what was going on. Good.
"Of course you'd say that," said Tracey. "Don't get all high and mighty on me, Jason. Yeah, so I'm working for this Valerie. But where were you, huh? You've been using me and people like me for years. But where were you when I got caught out? You're all safe in Refuge! Well… until now, I guess. But not me. I was lucky they didn't kill me. They stuck me in a cell no bigger than a cupboard..." she trailed off, and shuddered. "So yeah, when they offer me my freedom back and a comfy home to turn you in? Well, why not? Why not!? If that makes me a traitor, as far as I'm concerned, you betrayed me first."
Jason's hands were balled into fists. His eyes roved the dimly lit home, trying to locate something he could use to his advantage, some corner he could back Tracey into. "You really think she'll make good on any of her promises?"
"It's a risk, yeah. But that's why I wanted to test your little pet with that Peacekeeper. If you'd found someone who could get through the protection maybe it'd have been worth working for you again. But no, you're just as ineffectual as you've ever been! This is your fault Jason, not mine. I'm just doing the same as you, trying to survive."
Jason took a cautious step forward. Maybe if he could get her to back up she might trip over something.
"I'll kill her," she said in response, moving the knife closer to Rebecca's throat.
Jason halted his advance and looked to Rebecca. "Help me out here..." he said quietly.
"She's not a fighter," Tracey said grimly. "You're on your own. Not a bad thing really. You're not a man I'd recommend working with."
Low, well, lower risk options were out. Jason felt his anger build again. "Tracey, let her go!" he shouted. "And help us. Valerie is not going to help you. I know this woman..."
"If I die, then I'll be better off than I was before."
"I never said she was going to kill you," Jason said coldly. "You might not be a Controller. But those mining machines - those ones with Controller's fused to their core - Valerie was the one who put them in there. That's how she operates, Tracey. She'll only kill you if you're completely useless to her. But fail her and it'll only get worse. You're already a traitor to her. Helping her won't make her see you any different. She'll use you out here and then put you back in a little black box and she will never let you out."
Tracey's eyes were wide and her breathing had become rapid and jagged. "I'm not going back in there..." And the knife lowered ever so slightly.
"Move!" Jason barked. And this time Rebecca listened to him. She ducked and twisted out from under Tracey's arm. She was almost out of reach by the time Tracey realised what was going on and made a grab for her.
Jason slipped between them rammed into Tracey's shoulder, knocking her back against the table. It was a sloppy hit, rushed and only meant to get Rebecca out of the way. Tracey recovered quickly and slashed at him with her knife. Jason deflected the blow with his arm, the blade sliding off the thick material of his coat sleeve. Jason finally found the gap he needed and threw a heavy punch at Tracey's jaw. It lifted her further than he expected, but then he'd been tense with a rage that had only been unbridled when Rebecca was no longer in danger. Tracey crashed down, hitting her head heavily on the table edge beside her, and then rolled to the floor, motionless.
Jason became aware of his own ragged breathing, making its way past the sound of blood pounding in his ears. Rebecca was pressed back against a wall, shaking a little, but she met his eyes. "You okay?" he asked.
Rebecca ran a hand over her throat, but there was no mark that Jason could see. Tracey hadn't gone so far as to draw blood. "I.. think so..." she said shakily.
"Good," he paused. "So are we doing this, or..."
"Gods, give me a moment!" Rebecca snapped. She was still rubbing at her throat as she she expected to find some damage that she somehow couldn't feel.
Jason swallowed hard and looked away. If she didn't agree he didn't know what he would do. But he did know that if she refused he'd have no one to blame but himself. He'd dragged her from home, lied to her, nearly got her killed.
"I said I'd do it." Rebecca was trying very hard to glare at him, but she still appeared shaky. "We've come this far already. It wouldn't be fair on Bruce to give up now. And if you've spent ten years working on this, if we don't do it now are we ever going to get another chance?"
"Probably not. Not after they talk to Tracey." He glanced back at the woman lying on the floor, but she was still unconscious. He'd hit her hard enough.
"Yeah, well I'm sick of this already. So we might as well get it done."
Jason let out a heavy breath and closed his eyes briefly. She'd said yes. Ten years. He was so close. "Thanks."
"Not for you. For Mum. Gods know I'm not happy with her either, but you're right, I don't know her. If we get her out she can tell me herself why she left."
Rebecca stopped fidgeting about her throat and pushed away from the wall. "What now?"
"Take this." Jason gave her Tracey's bracelet. "We'll use it to get you into the mine; I'll have to think of something for myself. I was going to ask her the best way to get in but we can't do that now. I've still got some ideas."
Rebecca glanced at Tracey's prone body. "You'd better check she's alright." She made no attempt to do so herself, or even go near her, but that was understandable.
"Alright. Go outside, Rebecca. I'll tie her up so she can't cause us any trouble."
Rebecca just nodded. Then she slipped out the door and slammed it behind her without looking back. Good. Jason didn't need her hanging around.
He knelt down beside Tracey, rolled her over, and pushed two fingers into her throat. There was a pulse but it was faint. For all he knew she was close to death already. She'd hit the table pretty hard on the way down.
"Sorry, sweetheart," he said, as he pulled out his knife. "But it's better if you can't tell them what happened. Better for both of us. You know what they'll do to you. At least this way you won't feel anything."