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Too Little Too Late

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“Good morning, Shaw.”

 

The greeting came right when Shaw roused from sleep and not a second before or later. The multiple gadgets scattered inside the room must have picked up the change in her heartbeats and breathing pattern. She did not mind the detail; it was too early for that. (She really did not want to think about how creepy it was to be monitored while she was sleeping, even when it was done with her unstated consent.)

 

“Mornin’”

 

Without opening her eyes, she rolled over and landed on the floor, catching herself on hands and knees. Then the morning workout began. Seventy five push-ups—twenty five with both arms and twenty five for each arm—and fifty sit-ups later, she was ready to start her day.

 

“Blood pressure 130/85. Heart rate 98 per minute. Respiration rate 37 breaths per minute. Please rehydrate.”

 

“Will you ever stop that?” Shaw rolled her eyes out of habit. Her feigned annoyance turned into worry when no reply came. “Are you there?”

 

“Always.”

 

There was a rush of relief, followed closely by the pang of grief Shaw still did not know what to do with. People said time would heal any wound, they never said it was just for physical ones. Thus Shaw was left in constant state of confusion and pain ever since that happened. No matter how many people she assassinated, missions she completed, and food she ate, it stayed looming over her. The uncomfortable sensation lurked out of dark shadows in the night and weighted her shoulders like a persistent ghost over the day.

 

“I’m gonna take Bear for a jog,” Shaw informed as she put on a hoodie over her tank top. “Anything I should know beforehand?”

 

Then Root went on, from simple weather forecast to odd facts of the people they encountered on the street. Shaw never quite liked the sound of Root’s voice. Now that it was constantly in her ear, she both hated and missed it. It was useful, though. The nonsense diverted Shaw’s mind off other things she did not want to remember about. There was no moment of silence; she would not be able to deal with it.

 

When she came back to the safe house, she refilled Bear’s bowls with food and fresh water before taking a much-needed shower. It took longer than usual because she was mindful of the healing scar on the back of her right ear, where she had her own implant placed through a surgery—pretty much like Root had but without the prior unnecessary stapedectomy. It felt so weird to have Root’s voice resonating seemingly from inside her head. She had to stop herself whenever she instinctively tilted her head to the right (just like she did at the moment).

 

“She said we have a new number,” Shaw spoke without preamble as she barged into the other bedroom, where Reese was laying on the hospital bed. “I’m off to Alaska. Doctor Calder will be here later to check on you.”

 

Reese nodded. “Stay safe, Sameen.”

 

“Don’t—“ Shaw choked. The hand she used to check Reese’s IV port was gripping into his arm tightly. It hurt him, but his expression stayed neutral and he waited until she realized what she was doing. She did, eventually. “Don’t call me by that name,” her voice wavered with anger and she was visibly shaking.

 

Reese did not apologize, knowing it would worsen the situation. “Just don’t act reckless.” Because you are all alone out there was the part he left unsaid.

 

Shaw nodded back stiffly before turning on her heel and walked out of the room. She could not give Reese her word. The life they led was putting them in danger; every second could be the last. Samaritan was on the run. It no longer held a big threat for their existences, but they still have numbers to take care of and Shaw was practically the single person capable of doing the work at the moment.

 

There were no backup. Finch had vanished after the ordeal; he could not handle the loss. Reese was recuperating; it was going to be a long one since he suffered multiple gunshots and losing half of his left lung. Root was dead. Only Shaw left, with the constant chatter of The Machine—using Root’s voice—in her ear.

 


 

Samaritan, unfortunately, took after the man whom activated it more than its creator. Greer, with his arrogance in believing a machine could rule the world, was not a good role model. Samaritan might have hundreds of facility all over the world, but its main core—the one stolen from Arthur Claypool—was saved in Decima’s headquarter. With mere seven people (and just four were actively hunting it), it determined staying close and protected by its assets as the favored course of action. It had not calculated the possibility of the three inactive people to plant themselves inside as legitimate staffs.

 

Surprise attack was the plan. Reese and Shaw would strike head on. Their main priority was to get Root and Finch into the top floor where Samaritan’s core was located. Instead of setting The Machine free and changed it into a sword, Finch would cripple Samaritan like he did to Her. It would not stop its system entirely; as it had several backups it could hide at, but then the dormant herd of viruses Root had designed with her band of nerds would give chase and damage every code they could get into. What happened next would be a war between the A.I.s. It was supposed to be that simple.

 

They had not anticipated Samaritan counteracting the viruses by blowing itself off.

 

The explosion sent Reese and Shaw to the floor, so did the Decima’s agents they were fending off. The two suffered bigger impact from the blast since they were guarding the room the self-destruction program had activated at. Shaw shot several rounds to the leftover agents, not caring if it incapacitated or killed them, to cover Reese as he went inside. He came out with Finch and no one else.

 

“Where is Root?”

 

“I can’t find her!” Reese shouted back, one arm propping Finch up while the other busy shooting the guards as he went to duck behind another pillar. There was new reinforcement coming and they were quickly outnumbered. “We should go, now!”

 

Shaw ignored the urgency in Reese’s voice. She slipped out of her current cover and went to crouch in front of Finch, the pillar was big enough to hide all three of them from view. “Finch,” she called a little louder, the explosion had left their ears ringing. “Finch, where is Root?”

 

“Inside,” Finch struggled to answer. “She told me to get out first—“ A sudden hefty cough shook his frame.

 

Shaw saw blood splatter out and knew right away that Finch had internal injury. Being so close to the blast, she was glad he was still alive and breathing. She did not dare to imagine what might happen to Root. Dwelling on the what-ifs was a waste of time. They had to trust each other, they must. They could not afford worrying and going after each other, not in war. War required sacrifices, but Shaw would not let Root become one.

 

“Shaw!” Reese caught her before she could take off. “We are leaving.”

 

“Not without her! I’m not—“

 

“Can you hear me?”

 

Root’s voice coming from her earpiece had startled Shaw, but only for a split second. She could not shake off the unsettling feeling in her gut, though. Root had sounded calm, far too calm. “Where are you?” Shaw hissed between gritted teeth. The bullets in her shoulder blade were bothering her and so did the smoke that was crawling out of the room as fire began dancing inside. “Get the hell out of there, Root!”

 

“Analog interface is unavailable.”

 

It was Root’s voice, but lack of any intonation. Shaw felt her stomach drop. “What the hell are you talking about?” She practically yelled, disregarding the fact that she was giving out their current position to the Decima agents hunting them. “Root!”

 

The very same answer, in the exact same tone, was repeated, “Analog interface is unavailable.”

 

Shaw’s world stopped right there and then.

 

“New analog interface appointed.”

 

From the sight of a nearby surveillance camera, the yellow box framing Shaw’s face changed into a black one with yellow corners.

 

Analog Interface: Shaw, Sameen

Injury Assessment: Nonlethal

Survival Percentage: 76%

 

All Shaw saw was red.

 

There was a blank spot in her memory. She could not recall what happened after discovering Root’s death and then being assigned as the new analog interface. When she came back to herself after being sedated, it was night of the same day and she was strapped to a hospital bed. A pale and tired-looking Finch was by her side, holding a phone to her ear whilst smiling sadly. Later on he shared his limited view of what was happening during her blackout.

 

Shaw had gone rampage. Not the hysterical screaming and messy slaughtering kind of way, though. Even driven by pure rage, she was still a scarily effective assassin. It was not until she left her guard open and a Decima agent shot her, that Reese stepped in—or more like stepped in between her and the bullet aiming for her heart. He was hit on the lung and crumpled under the injury. Shaw recalled seeing Reese started drowning in his own blood and Finch slapping her when she insisted on retrieving Root’s body (even after Root—The Machine informed her about the building imminent collapse within three minutes and four seconds). In the end, the three of them made it out alive. A troop from NYPD was waiting downstairs, along with Fusco, whom was their designated driver for extraction.

 

(Apparently, Shaw had wanted to take out The Machine, too. She blamed Her for not protecting Root and was planning to hunt and burn Her down. That was until She told her, I am letting you go, Shaw in the perfect copy of Root’s voice. Shaw stopped contemplating about doing it altogether; she could not possibly ‘kill’ Root or destroy the only remainder of her. Although it was not without a murmur of how unfair it was muttered under her breath.)

 


 

Shaw hated Alaska. Not the place itself, but the memory it brought to her. Less than a year ago, she had gone to the same state, after stealing a jet, with Root. It had been freezing cold (it still was). Root had leaned over to her on the way back and she instinctively wrapped an arm around her slender waist to bring her closer. She almost laughed at the surprised look Root gave her. I’m not gonna share body heat with you later after you catch hypothermia, she reasoned. Root’s grin turned mischievous then, pulling away slightly whilst saying but then I’ll get you naked with me, before she laughed and snuggled closer, ignoring Shaw’s eye-roll.

 

Now Alaska was just cold and empty.

 

“Do not exterminate him,” there was a short silence. “Shaw.”

 

Shaw chuckled darkly. As if saying her name could stop her from killing the perpetrator. In this business, it was kill or be killed. She had learned the hard way that some people were just too damaged and need to be executed. “You don’t get to make that decision for me. Not when you can’t save her.” She put one bullet straight between his eyebrows and he dropped to the snow, painting the blank white canvas in beautiful red. “Mission accomplished.”

 

The Machine did not acknowledge it with a reply.

 

Within the next hours, Shaw had transported from Nowhere, Alaska, to Nowhere, North Korea. Unlike its neighboring country, it did not have the same fast internet connection. In order to rig the program set to launch the trial nuke missiles tomorrow, she had to get inside the country. It was not an easy feat—people were dying to get out, instead of in—but with The Machine’s guidance, she managed to pass the (surprisingly) unguarded part of the border. By the time night came, she was already by the outer area of Yongbyon, North Korea’s main nuclear facility.

 

Aside from the sneaking in part, it was a rather boring one-woman mission. Shaw was to avoid making any contact at all cost and keep her presence hidden since it required finesse, instead of her preferred brutality. She had set in an abandoned building and went to work, which consisted of connecting The Machine to the facility’s computer system and let Her do the rest. Some codes typing later, they completed the mission—the missiles would still launch but the result would be disheartening (she wondered why she could not just get rid of everyone in the facility).

 

Shaw secured the laptop inside her bag and the room fell back into pitch dark. She blinked several times to get used to the change; her eyes were hot from staring at the screen for far too long. There was no electricity around, not until a few miles away where the active facility was located and even there it was scarce too. The moon was eerily bright and Shaw could see stars twinkling brightly outside the vast window she was sitting under. The darkness and silence and loneliness were suffocating. In haste, she curled herself into a tight ball on the corner, her upper body leaning on the wall whilst knees tucked to her chest.

 

“You can start.”

 

It was not The Machine speaking in Root’s voice this time. It was a recording, the last message Root had left to be delivered to Shaw when the worst came to pass. She received it on the night after they annihilated Decima’s fortress. It was to be deleted right after, but Finch raised objection to the order because it appeared to be the one thing that managed to pull Shaw out of her wrath. Thus ever since, it had been playing on loop whenever she was going to sleep, due to her own request. Finch would not approve of such self-harming and masochism, but he was not there to scold her. This was her way dealing with grief.

 

After fooling herself all day by pretending that Root was just somewhere else doing her own mission, this recording acted as a reminder of reality. It was like a combination of a bucket of ice dumped over her head and hot iron pressed to her chest. It hurt her. However, Root’s voice—the real one—was also the only thing that kept her grounded on earth and not in a crusade of exterminating the rest of humanity.

 

“Goodbye, Sameen.”

 

The shaky intake of breath, the small pause, followed by a long exhale, Shaw noticed them all. If she closed her eyes, she could perfectly picture Root in her mind. Root would be standing in front of her, looking awkward in her own skin and gangly limbs. She would shuffle her feet, or worry her lip, or tug on the sleeve of her leather jacket. Her crazy smile would be nowhere to be seen. She would avoid meeting Shaw on the eye at first. A light blush would dust her cheeks before she looked up and said,

 

“I love you.”

 

Perhaps it was because Shaw hated letting Root have the last word. Perhaps she was simply repeating the words to highlight its importance. Or perhaps it was the reply she never had the chance to say in person. But she always whispered back the exact same words. They were useless, as they would be swallowed by the empty night before dreamless sleep claimed possession over her troubled consciousness, and yet she still said them out loud.

 

“I love you.”