Jason opened his eyes to a white blur. Blinking only brought on a blinding headache. As he began to fully wake, shapes began to form and become solid. None were recognisable. On this realisation full consciousness came rushing upon him.
How could he have allowed himself to take so long to wake up?! Heart pounding, Jason pushed himself upwards and felt his body protest. He ignored it. He had to immediately take in the situation and figure out where he was.
About him the room came into full focus. It was small and white. He was lying on a bed. Jason felt a tug on his left arm. He was tied down! He yanked his arm away from the resistance but only succeeded in sending a sharp pain up it. He drew in a quick breath. His arm was pinned to a tube. What had they put in him? Please not the nanites. He tugged the tube again and dug at where it disappeared into the vein in his arm.
"Oh, you're awake." A young man dressed in a white uniform and short cropped, red hair stood at the bottom of his bed.
Jason gripped the edge of the bed, every fibre of his being ready to defend himself. "Where are my clothes!?" he demanded.
"They're... we've put them someplace safe. I can get them for you if..."
"And my gloves!" Jason snapped. "Where are they? And what is this place? Where have you got me? What do you want?!"
The young man took a step backwards. "You're at the hospital, sir. Please, you need to calm down. You were in an accident so I can understand if you're confused. But I assure you that you're perfectly safe now."
Jason's mind reeled as he tried to remember what had happened. He'd been trying to prove to Rebecca he was a Controller... He groaned, holding a hand to the side of his face. He'd let himself get carried away. No wonder he was in trouble! Whatever was going on here had to be bad. He was alive; they hadn't killed him. Yeah, definitely bad.
He knew it would do little good, but all he could do was make as much noise as possible. "Then bring me my gloves!"
"First you need to calm down," the man continued. "Or we'll have to sedate you..."
Jason gripped the bed tighter. What did they want with him?! On the surface this man did not appear dangerous but he also seemed to think he had control of the situation. This would have been fine, if Jason had had any idea where he himself stood. He was sweating hard, his heartbeat racing, and he did not know how to get himself out of this before they made him give up everything he held dear. He wasn't ready for this.
And then the door to his white room opened again.
"Where are my clothes?!"
Rebecca could hear the ruckus from all the way down the hospital corridor. She cringed. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. Of course her options were severely limited at this point.
"I hope you can get him to settle down. We've already had to sedate him once." The nurse who escorted her was a dark haired lady of about middle age, and Rebecca found her just a little bit scary. She moved down the corridor at such a pace that Rebecca had to push herself to keep up. Luckily, she'd managed to procure a set of tennis shoes from the lost and found at the front counter. At least she wouldn't step in anything.
"First you need to calm down." The voice Rebecca now heard was a timid, stammering male voice, much quieter than Jason's. It's owner sounded like he was very much trying to take back control of the situation. "Or we'll have to sedate you."
The female nurse pushed open the door to one of the hospital rooms and stepped past her struggling colleague. "Now settle down," she said sharply. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps if you saw a familiar face you'd feel more comfortable. Your niece is outside and..."
"Um hi, again... uncle." Rebecca slid in through the door and placed herself so it would be impossible for Jason not to see her.
Jason was in the single hospital bed in the middle of the small, white walled room. He looked just about as scruffy as he had the day before, only now he wore a hospital gown. The man was tense, gripping the edges of the bed, but when his eyes fixed on Rebecca he seemed to relax.
Rebecca really, really hoped she was doing the right thing. The police had been unable to help her. She needed to figure out what was going on. It was frustrating enough not knowing what was going on at work! But work had never nearly gotten her killed by some robotic monstrosity.
"Are you happy for me to leave you here?" the female nurse asked Rebecca. She eyed Jason suspiciously, as if daring him to do something she didn't like.
"Yes, thank you," Rebecca replied. "You can leave the door open though. And could you bring his clothes for him, please? They're... important to him..."
"I can get them," the young nurse nodded eagerly and left the room.
The female nurse stayed for a moment longer, but then she too slipped out the door. Perhaps she had convinced herself Jason would not be causing any more trouble. Rebecca hoped that was the case.
Jason watched Rebecca intently. His eyes were a brilliant blue and seemed to drill into her. But she'd come this far, she wasn't going to let him intimidate her. She was planning on keeping her distance though.
"Uncle?" Jason finally asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah," Rebecca replied. "I came here looking for you early this morning. They wanted to know if I was any relation. I figured it'd be easier if I just said I was. It was easier than I thought - looks like you lost your ID."
Jason smiled faintly. "Never had one." Then he frowned. "Wait, you only came here this morning? So you just left me out in the street? Charming."
Rebecca bristled. "Hey, I didn't even know you! And I didn't leave you there, I called an ambulance..."
"Not that I should have expected much from someone from the City. Where I come from, you don't leave a wounded man behind."
He was at it again. Rebecca fought down the thought that this had been a terrible idea. "And where is that, exactly?"
Jason eyes momentarily searched the room. "... out of town."
"Where?" Rebecca pressed. "You mean outside of the City? One of the factories, somewhere out in the valley?" Gods, just let him tell her something that made sense.
Jason let out an exasperated huff and shook his head. "We'll talk about it later."
"You're in a hospital now, in case you weren't listening to that poor nurse you were abusing. There isn't anyone watching you or..." She trailed off. Before last night, she wouldn't have thought anyone would come into her apartment and try and kill her.
"Maybe," Jason growled. "But they've taken my gear, threatened me, hitched me up to this thing of gods know what..." He grasped the thin tube that snaked to the inside of his elbow and ripped it away.
Rebecca drew in a sharp breath. She glanced up at the apparatus the tube was connected to. "They're probably just restocking your nanites."
Jason swore. "Great. Look, just as soon as that nurse gets back with my stuff... maybe we've been lucky. If this is just a normal hospital like you say they may not realise who they've gotten hold of. If I can just get my gloves back we should be able to get out. If we run into any trouble I can trash the security systems and..."
"Just like a Controller, right?"
Jason narrowed his eyes. "Yes."
"That didn't work so well with the bus," Rebecca muttered.
"I haven't controlled a bus before! It's not designed for it!" He paused, a frown creasing his brow.
"I suppose it never occurred to you to try it from the kerb..." She couldn't help herself now.
Jason ignored the snide comment. "After the bus - if you just left me in the street - why are you here now?"
Rebecca drew in a breath. That was the question, wasn't it? "Look, I didn't believe you then and I don't believe you now. But on the same day two strange things have happened to me. After I went home, this thing, this machine, suit... thing, came into my apartment and tried to kill me. It was looking for me; it asked for me by name."
Jason pushed himself up to a seated position in the bed. "Was it white? Did it change?"
"Yes! And I could only assume it was something to do with you! If you sent that thing... some policemen were killed and I don't know what else..."
She had been slowly raising her voice but Jason cut over her. "That was a Peacekeeper and it was most certainly not with me. I have no idea what a Peacekeeper would be doing up here." Jason shook his head. "I didn't think anyone had followed me here."
"Well it was in my apartment, so fill me in. That thing was after me!"
"It's a lot to explain and we can't sit around here."
"Look, I don't want to end up losing my job or..."
Jason actually laughed. "I wouldn't be worried about your job, sweetheart. If they're after you you've already lost it and that would be the least of your problems."
Rebecca didn't know how to respond to something like that but at that moment the young nurse returned. "Here's his gear," he said, depositing a pile of clothes into Rebecca's arms before she could stop him. "And do you mind keeping it down? It you two are going to fight I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Rebecca dropped the garments on the nearest chair. Who knew when Jason had washed them last? "Sorry. I'm just upset my uncle can't seem to see the sense in looking both ways before he crosses the road. Thanks."
Jason waited for the nurse to leave before he continued. "I'll explain everything to you but right now we have to get out of here. If there's a Controller after you then they must know I'm after you. We have to get out of here, get someplace safe, and then we can figure out where we stand."
"Oh, so there's a Controller after me now?"
"It there's a Peacekeeper, then somewhere there's a Controller."
Rebecca rolled her eyes. "Look, you're not really in any condition to go anywhere. And I'm not stupid; I made sure that thing didn't follow me here."
Jason held out a hand. "Just pass me a glove."
Rebecca raised an eyebrow but made no comment. She shuffled through the pile of clothing and then tossed a glove at Jason. He grabbed it out of the air and then slipped it onto his right hand.
Rebecca pulled the other glove from the pile and examined it. Well, it wasn't just an ordinary glove. She wasn't sure whether this should disappoint or reassure her. It was a little worn but not as much so as the rest of Jason's clothing. It had circuitry laced through the fabric. Whilst she couldn't tell just from the quick assessment what it was supposed to do, she could tell that circuitry wasn't simply for show. She looked up from her inspection. "What are you doing now?"
Jason held his gloved hand a few centimetres above his body and was slowly moving it down his side. "You're right. They have pumped me full of nanites. And you have no idea how hard it is to get rid of these."
"Get rid of them?" Rebecca frowned. "Jason, everyone has nanites. They pumped you full of them so they could fix you up after that bus hit you. Don't tell me you're one of those idiots who avoid their yearly injections."
Jason didn't look at her but continued his self-examination. "If at all possible."
Rebecca sighed. Something weird was definitely going on but she really hoped this man was not her only hope for answers.
"Well, at least they've used them properly. They've fixed me up," Jason muttered. "It'll have to do; I don't think I'm going to chance playing with these guys."
"You can't. The doctors use a special computer to control them." She looked again at his glove. "Okay, so are you trying to tell me that glove makes you a Controller? Jason, Controller's don't need some sort of device."
"They do. They just don't advertise is." Jason swung his legs over the side of the bed and winced.
"You can't leave; you haven't been discharged!"
"Once the System figures out I'm here, I won't be, which is why I'm leaving now." Jason pushed himself all the way up. At least he didn't look like he was going to collapse on her. He moved to his clothes.
"Hey, wait, I'm still in here!"
"So turn around." Jason seemed completely unperturbed by her presence as he started to strip out of his hospital gown to throw on his own clothes. Rebecca flushed and turned to face the wall. Within seconds he grabbed her by the arm and spun her back around. Rebecca jumped; she hadn't expected him to be ready so quickly. Somewhere during their conversation her resolution to keep her distance from him and been forgotten. But he made no move other than to hold out what looked like a bracelet to her. It too had circuitry laced through it.
"What's this?" Rebecca asked, eying the device suspiciously. She held up her wrist, already sporting the bracelet that contained all her personal details. "I've already got my own ID."
"It'll stop them hijacking your nanites. In retrospect, I wish I'd brought two."
"Jason, no one could do that and if they could it'd be illegal..." Then she remembered the policeman, the one who had collapsed for no apparent reason when the Peacekeeper had reached out for him. Gods.
Jason took her by the wrist. "It doesn't lock or anything. You can take if off at any time you want to. But I wouldn't recommend it."
"Let go of my arm."
Jason paused then let her go.
Rebecca took the bracelet from him and slipped it on. It made a soft beep but otherwise did nothing.
"Now we have to go." Jason stomped out of the hospital room.
Well, it wasn't like she could physically stop him. Rebecca scowled to herself and followed. It didn't take long for them to run into the young male nurse. "Hey!" he said, "you can't leave! You haven't been discharged."
"Planning on stopping me?" Jason snapped.
"I didn't think so." Jason pushed past him and headed towards the lift.
"Sorry!" Rebecca called out behind her as she tried to keep up. Jason really wanted to get out of here.
She caught up with him in front of the lifts, just as one arrived at their floor.
"See?" said Jason.
"I called the lift with the device..." he briefly held up his gloved hand.
"Sorry, I wasn't looking. Are you sure you just didn't press the button?"
Jason huffed and stepped through the opening doors.
Rebecca slipped in behind him. The doors closed and they began their descent. The lift was on the outer wall of the hospital, the outside enclosed with glass. The City sprawled out beneath them; high white towers reaching up to the sky. It was built in layers. At it's middle were the most layers and at its very centre a single spire that towered over the rest. From there the City's height decreased, opening outwards in ever lower concentric rings. It panned out to almost a single layer at the very edges and extending from this were the bridges that joined the glistening hub to the valley beyond.
Beyond the City limits the valley spread out, scattered factories and farmland dotting its surface, and finally, barely visible in the distance, the towering heights of the mountains tipped in white glaciers that fed the valley's many rivers.
Jason followed her gaze. "Bet you think that's the edge of the world." Was he trying to tell a joke?
"No..." Rebecca finally answered, then added just in case it was a trick question: "Just the useful part."
Jason continued to stare out at the City. "Nothing. You've just got a lot to learn."
Rebecca rolled her eyes. She doubted it; she'd graduated just shy of the top of her engineering class. So she didn't bother dignifying Jason's comment with a response.