“Shaw’s missing,” the words had hung in the air. “The Brotherhood is behind it.”
The fact it was John calling her only made things worse. “No, it can’t be, She would have told me,” Root argued. “She would have told me,” she repeated, the silence in her ear sounded an awful lot like an admission of guilt.
“We’re going to find her,” John stated unwaveringly, his voice deep with something unfamiliar to Root; compassion perhaps, pity or concern… perhaps all of them, and the reaction within her was so negative she had to force herself not to say anything (not yet at least). John continued, “I just— Finch thought you should know.”
She clicked the phone off, stared into the distance, eyes glazing over in a way they hadn’t in a long time.
(Root remembered the nightmares after Hanna; remembered waking up drenched in sweat, screaming. Most of all, she remembered her mother shushing her. People leave, Samantha. That’s what they’re good at. All they’re good at.
Root had argued once; Hanna didn’t choose to leave - no, Samantha had argued it. Root was only being born back then. Root wouldn’t have wasted time arguing semantics with someone like her mother. Either way, the argument hadn’t gotten far.)
“You had no right!” She shouted into her phone, tears began to stream down her face.
Irrelevant threat. 77% chance of system survival without asset. 92% chance of increased risk to existing assets in case of retrieval attempt.
Root’s manic laughter died at her lips. “It’s a trap. You’re telling me it’s a trap. Of course it’s a trap!” The Machine had always taken different shapes in her mind; she’d never expected it would take the shape of the small town Librarian. “I have done everything you have asked me to; she is not irrelevant. Tell me everything you know,” she demanded, wiping at her face and nose.
There was a pause, five or ten seconds at most, but it felt like an eternity before She spoke again.
Downloading last known location of asset.
Root had been in Boston when she got the call; she crossed into Manhattan less than three hours later.
“Tell me where she is,” she demanded as she held the Brotherhood member by jacket, thirty-five stories up. It was the fifth member she’d uncovered, and so far they had all been uncooperative.
“I don’t know!” he shouted, desperately trying to grasp her jacket or any part of her he could. “I just got a text with the chick’s picture and the payoff.”
Root pulled the man back, dropping him on the floor of the terrace. The Brotherhood was no well-oiled machine; she figured this was more of a crime of opportunity than planning. The Machine had mentioned Shaw blowing up one of their distribution venues the previous day.
The idea that there was almost no premeditation wasn’t a comfort; there had been enough for the Machine to have picked up on and told her. “Show me your phone.”
“You can’t trace it back,” the man pointed out as she pushed him into the apartment. “It’s a burner.”
“I’m not tracing it ,” she offered.
She plugged one end of the cord into her phone, the other on the man’s; within seconds she had traced the SMS back to its origin device - which was off as she expected, but it gave her enough data to pull up all SMS phones the bounty had been texted to.
Cross referencing the triangulated positions with last known whereabouts of asset.
Root couldn’t watch; she just closed her eyes until her phone vibrated with a license plate and a slowly moving needle on a map. She took a deep breath before she turned her attention back to the Brotherhood’s member.
“Thank you for your cooperation, but I can’t have you alerting your friends about our meeting,” she explained before shooting him up with a sedative.
The clock was running out; she was painful aware of it.
She called Harold with the information; disconnected the call when he advised her against going in by herself.
When the explosive charge she set at the end of the bridge went off, the Brotherhood member driving the vehicle just barely managing to brake in time. Root watched as the car spun out of control on the icy road, going over the protective sidewall and falling on the cold water below. Root didn’t flinch; she’d already known the odds.
Survival chance diminishing. High risks: - drowning - hypothermia - blunt trauma.
Root heard the approaching sirens; she managed to make out John and Lionel in the first approaching squad car, right before she plunged into the near freezing water of the river.
Implant failure imminent. CommunCATion unrELIAB__ at thIS DE__H.
(Root had liked swimming once, back when she had been someone else; Hanna had been the real swimmer, tall form unbearably gracious in the school pool. She remembered the trophies in Hanna’s room, proud parents on the stands. Sam had never gotten good at it: no money for private classes, no reliable adult transportation to meets; but she would walk to the school pool during the summer, two miles back and forth under the unforgiving sun of Texas.
Her favorite part of it was how quiet everything was underwater; how she could stay perfectly still for what felt like an eternity, not a worry in the world. She hadn’t liked coming back up for air, the sounds assaulting her senses, the smell of chlorine everywhere. But sometimes, Hanna would come by and show Sam what her coach had taught her that week, and they would practice for hours. On even rarer occasions, Hanna’s dad would invite Sam for dinner, and she could get a glimpse of what normal life was like; what normal families looked like.)
Root wasn’t thinking about white picket fences as she swam towards the vehicle; the light from the sky above was fading at this depth, but she could still see the Brotherhood member struggling with his seatbelt. The car stopped at the bottom, on its nose in an admirable balancing act. Root focused on the still form in the backseat.
The rear window barely protested against the heel of Root’s boot, but it didn’t break evenly, just tiny fractures along tempered glass. Holding her breath was starting to cloud her vision but she continued until there was a hole large enough. The air bubble from inside the car moved past her and she knew they were now on borrowed time.
She was never as grateful for Shaw’s smaller frame as she was in this moment; she kept a tight grip around the smaller woman’s middle as Root tried to swim with just her three remaining limbs.
Root felt a burning deep in her chest, lactic acid building up in her legs. She gasped involuntarily, feeling the cold water invading her lungs before she held her breath again. Her hand reached something different, cold and harsh, and it wasn’t until she felt something clasping her hand that she realized it had been air. Finally air, and John’s hand had clasped hers at the riverbank, the large, almost lanky frame of the man she’d always made fun of was able to effortlessly pull her weight and Shaw’s out of the water.
Fusco looked— she wasn’t sure what he looked like when he wrapped the woolen blanket around her; she wasn’t sure because no one had ever looked at her like that.
(Something inside of her knew it was how people should have looked at her - at Sam - after Hanna, instead of the questioning eyes or the insults or the skepticism.)
John began CPR as the ambulance sirens got closer and closer. “A hospital— it wouldn’t be safe for her, for any of us,” she tried to say between chattering teeth.
“These are some of our guys, they’ll keep it quiet,” Fusco reassured her. “Where’s the driver?”
She shrugged, because there was distinct possibility he was stuck in the car still, and even if he wasn’t, she didn’t care. If he were dead, she would considered a small price to pay; if he were alive, she would find him.
“No chance of a witness statement then, let me guess,” Fusco asked, flipping his notepad open. “I’ve been writing so many fake reports, I could be the next Stephen King.”
Root was spared the need to reply to Fusco when Shaw’s chest surged, John quickly turning her over so the water got out.