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System Restore

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Things went wrong. John’s not even sure when it started to slide from their usual controlled chaos into something... more. He’s positive Root had something to do with it, but they can’t find her, not even with the machine. He loads a second clip into his pistol and re-thinks his phrasing. Especially not with the machine.

“Mr. Reese. Please, hurry...”

The machine is compromised, that’s how Harold put it, with that delicate and almost military term. The machine is compromised, and they need to run. Not run and fight. Run. They’re an exposed nerve now, with nothing to hide them. Their names and aliases, contacts, and in Finch’s case, family members, were broadcast all over the internet two hours ago. Even the fresh identities they haven't used. They’re burned, now with nothing but the clothes on their back and passwords to Finch’s bank accounts that are just a worthless string of letters and numbers. He’s got cash in his apartment, but they can’t risk going there. They need to get out of the state.

Shots ricochet off the wall of the alley two blocks from the library. They left it where it stood with Finch hitting the literal red button that would set the place ablaze as their failsafe. He can see the smoke from here.

Reese shoves Finch forward, torn between keeping himself a body shield and the need to take point. Bear takes care of the issue for him, surging ahead and ripping open the jugular of the woman pointing an uzi at them.

“Mr. Reese, please, listen to me. It’s gone wrong.”

He takes out three guys with three bullets. He’s only got two left in the gun and only one extra clip in his belt. “I got that, Harold.”

“No, I mean, it’s gone wrong,” and he says it in that tone of voice he uses when something bad is about to happen, all forced air through lungs.  

A man in a halloween mask bursts out of a second story window and wrestles Bear to the ground. Bear gets him back, but for the moment, it’s just him and Harold, and they’re fast growing outnumbered. The exit he’d been aiming them for, the chain link fence that led to the schoolyard, is blocked off by an armoured SUV.

“Harold, when I count to three, you need to run.”

“John, whatever you’re thinking--”

He shoves Harold face first into the dirt as a fist slams through the air he occupied a second before. He manages to swing his legs over him in a defending position as he takes out the two fighters, both trained but unskilled, and he only takes one hit to the ribs.

He doesn’t even notice until the second man is down that Finch isn’t struggling to get up like he should be. He’s just laying there, sucking in breath and holding his phone up to his face. It lights him eerily, all blue glow and hollow.

“Finch, we have to move.” Two more mercenaries are closing in, and Bear is still dealing with the first.

“Oh dear,” and Reese recognises that tone of voice too. The breathlessness of it, thinking too hard and fast to worry about limbs.

There’s no time. He isn’t gentle about it; he grabs Harold under the arms and hauls him to his feet. When that doesn’t seem enough to spur him, he bodily moves him forward towards the SUV blocking their exit. If he can take out the driver, they may have a getaway vehicle.

Finch is letting himself be pulled, but he’s not helping. “Mr. Reese, the machine would like us to answer the phone.”

The machine hasn’t contacted them since the firewalls came down and access changed from conservative information given to select individuals, to a free-for-all for anyone with an an internet connection and few scruples. Harold’s computer started to ping, the numbers came in unendingly, hundreds of them, before that stopped too and it was clear that whatever the machine had been trying to do failed. Two hours later the darknet erupted, and they burned the library as they fled.

“What phone,” he starts to say, but the brrring-brrring of a payphone on the corner interrupts him. It’s fifteen feet left of the SUV and will put them in a vulnerable position to reach it.

“Can’t risk it,” he grits out, and shoves them against the wall of a Tarot parlor as baseball bat splinters against the brick. Finch is squirming like an eel and pulling away. “Finch!”

He loses him when the woman with the now broken baseball bat gets him in the jaw, and it takes him precious seconds to fling her off. When he looks up again Finch is at the payphone with it clutched in his bone-white hands.

“Mr. Reese...”

It’s strange that he can hear him so clearly when his voice is just a murmur. He reaches for him just as Harold says, “It’s for you, John,” in a shocky voice that has Reese bracing in case he drops. He holds out the phone, and John takes it on reflex.

“System. Restore.”

He hears static, threads a hand around Finch’s cold fingers, and --