"I know you," said Sameen, looking down. She didn't phrase it as a question, but Root knew that expression. It meant, 'I will make this thing true by saying it firmly.' Sameen dealt with a lot of problems that way, or at least, she had, before Samaritan.
Root shifted slightly on the cracking asphalt, the very little that the cuffs would let her move. The Machine whispered to her: the serial number of the gun Sameen pointed in her face, the angle and distance the bullet would travel, the most probable ammunition and the damage it would do. Root ignored it all, in favour of processing an emotional reaction; feelings were complicated and took up a lot of concentration. Sameen was here, vital and angry, with a red nose from the cold and a beanie jammed over her hair. That was more important than anything. Almost more important than breathing.
They'd caught Root on the roof and dragged her down to a loading bay; the snow in her hair hadn't even melted yet. "Hey, sweetie," she said, with a gasp. "Been a while. How have you been?"
"Awesome," said Sameen, and kicked her in the stomach. Behind her, the Samaritan guards laughed. Things went red and then swiftly black, but it wasn't so bad that it overwhelmed Root's elation. She had searched for so long and now she was here.
Root woke up strapped to a table; Samaritan's people didn't waste any time. The doctors here weren't specialist cochlear surgeons, but they could figure out a bionic implant easily enough, and they set to their task of isolating Root from the Machine with the enthusiasm of gamers with a new console. The procedure wasn't much fun, and the threat of losing the Machine's constant presence even less so. Root distracted herself by watching Sameen prowl up and down the length of the lab, clearly rattled by something she couldn't identify. Whatever brainwashing procedure they'd run her through, it hadn't touched her instincts and now they were firing hard.
"She knows. She knows something's not right," Root whispered to the Machine, so that the last words She heard from Root were hopeful ones. The scientists isolated the thin cable of wire that bypassed her middle ear. Someone behind her asked for pliers, and the Machine rattled panic into her ear.
Root kept as still as she could – no sense in damaging the hardware when broken wires could be mended – and met Sameen's eyes.
"Shhhh," Root mouthed to her and the Machine. Sameen scowled, her hand drifting towards her holster. "It's okay," Root said, silently. "We'll put it all back together again."
"That's a wrap – we can just leave the implant in place," said one of the masked and gloved workers. "Close her up, we're moving her to the facility."
The ensuing silence in her mind was disturbing, and so, so lonely. They taped a dressing in position behind her ear, and then they undid the straps. When they heaved her upright, Root swayed on the table, and it was only mostly a fake-out.
"She shouldn't be this out of it," said one of the scientists, worried. "Should we call it in?" One of them reached for the dressing, as if to examine it again, and Sameen slapped him away.
The scientist ducked with a wounded expression. "Hey, what was that for?"
"For being a moron," said Sameen. "You want her to bite your finger off? She's playing possum." She heaved Root down off the table and dragged her into a wheelchair.
Root hung limp in her arms, and breathed in the overly floral fragrance of bulk-purchase toiletries, the kind that office supply stores sold. "You've changed your shampoo," she said, as Sameen threw her into the chair and tightened the straps over her wrists and ankles. "It's not my favourite."
"It gets the job done," said Sameen, and pushed her through the door and towards a loading bay.
"How do I know you again?" Sameen was sitting opposite Root in the van. It would have been companionable, except that Root's arms were chained above her head and that wasn't the dynamic that the two of them usually embraced.
She'd clasped the cuffs nice and tight, Root found, as she gently flexed her wrists. She'd have to subluxate both thumbs to get out of them, and that wasn't worth the effort, not with Sameen watching her every move.
"You tell me," she said to Sameen. "What did Samaritan leave behind in that head of yours?"
Sameen shrugged. "Nothing that makes any sense."
Root sighed happily at her own memories, remembering on Sameen's behalf. "We had such good sex," she said. "You and me, we fit together just right."
Sameen frowned, as if this was not the answer she was expecting. "I thought we worked together. You're a decent operative."
"Well, that too," said Root. "Like I said, we make a great team."
"You keep saying that," said Sameen. "It's hard to believe I ever cared about anything." Still, when she stood to pace inside the van, she kept her body between Root and the security camera mounted in the corner. When the van swerved round a bend, she planted a hand flat on the inner wall for balance, next to Root's ear. Root felt all the hairs on the back of her neck rise up from the proximity. When she looked up, Sameen's lips were parted. The van levelled out, and Sameen sat down opposite again, her expression impassive.
Root stretched her shoulders and watched Sameen watching her. Things were in motion, and that could only be positive.
The facility was a hospital, foreclosed on in the last global financial crisis. Sameen was unhappy here, Root thought. Sameen Shaw didn't jump at shadows, not unless there was a reason.
"They must do some really bad stuff in this place," Root said, in front of the elevator in the parking garage. "You're all ruffled up."
Sameen made that subvocal noise that meant she was annoyed but not enough to hit someone. She thumped the elevator button harder than necessary, though, and something cracked behind the plastic.
For all her jittery behaviour, Sameen didn't even bother to hide the code she punched into the keypad inside the elevator. Samaritan had made her its weapon, but had dulled the edge of her blade in the process.
Sameen didn't seem impressed with this fact, when Root voiced her theory.
"It doesn't sound very flattering," she told Sameen, as she walked beside her down an eerily empty corridor on the eighteenth floor. The ankle cuffs only let her take very small, inelegant steps, but Sameen kept pace next to her without seeming at all awkward. "But it's actually a compliment. Your natural intransigence is an asset." She clinked a few more steps while she thought about that. "And it's really hot."
"I'm not an asset," Sameen said, with certainty. "I'm…" her voice tailed off, and her eyes narrowed, as instinct warred with programming.
"Beautiful," said Root. "You're beautiful. I wish I could kiss you, the way you kissed me the last time we were together."
Sameen pulled up still for a moment. Root stopped moving, too, counting breaths. Sameen's respiratory rate was elevated, and a thin film of sweat beaded up on her forehead. The fight was gearing up. Root grinned, because Sameen fought dirty. Samaritan's programming didn't stand a chance.
"Keep walking," Root said, glancing at the wall-mounted camera. "They're watching you, though this model doesn't deliver audio, so we can probably talk."
"I don't have anything to say to you," said Sameen. "You're dangerous. You'll be so much better when you understand." She frowned as she spoke, the words spilling out easily. She didn't look pleased with their buzzwords.
Root laughed at her expression. "They made you like broccoli," she said. "And now you have to extol the virtues of it to me. Doesn't it rankle?"
"No," said Sameen, but her fingers tightened around Root's arm. "Do you want to fuck?"
Root blinked. It was a rebellion of sorts, she supposed. "Well, I mean, I'm flattered, but there's these –" she held up the chains. "And those –" She pointed discreetly with both wrists at the cameras.
Sameen shrugged. "I didn't chain up everything," she said. "And there's a blind spot just around the corner."
"It's a generous offer," said Root. "But generally, I prefer some preamble." She slowed her pace though, gradually taking smaller and smaller steps, so that the people observing her would project a longer and longer time for her to pass through this blind spot.
"We'll see about that," said Sameen, and Root had to quell a burst of elated laughter because she sounded exactly like herself.
The blindspot was a little alcove in the corridor, an artifact of the merging of two old buildings. The moment they rounded the corner, Sameen grabbed the chain connecting the cuffs, and shoved Root backwards against the wall. Pain flashed across Root's scalp – the local anaesthetic was wearing off – but it was worth it to have Sameen close. Sameen pressed her forearm across Root's throat, enough to make each breath an effort.
She craned her neck, teeth bared, reaching for that place on Sameen's arm, that particular place where the skin was thin and the muscle hard beneath it. She couldn't reach, but Sameen's bicep jumped in response anyway. Sameen made a noise low in her throat, and slipped her hand into Root's pants.
Root gasped and arched her back, more into it than she expected, considering the circumstances. Sameen watched her greedily, taking in every movement and tiny sound.
"Yeah, I do know you," she said, softly, as Root bucked and whimpered underneath her. Root watched too, right up until she came, and even then she tried to keep her eyes open. Sameen was a beautiful blurry darkness in front of her, and everything felt good.
The cuffs clinked as Root flexed her fingers above her head, desperate to touch Sameen. "I want to touch you – let me…" Her breath rasped; her throat would bruise.
"I don't think so," Sameen said with a bitter laugh. She reached out with fingers still slick and thumbed away Root's tears. "I know you," she said, again. "I don't want anyone to hurt you. That's going to be a problem with my superiors."
Root leaned heavily against her as they stepped out into the corridor; her legs were wobbly. Above them, the lights flickered, something that an observer would read as random fluctuations, but Root recognised the code. Sameen was here with her, and the Machine had found them. She was ready to rebuild everything, starting now.
"It might not be such a problem. It depends on your point of view," Root said as they walked on to the future. "I'm really very good at making problems work for me."