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Accessing archive data…   

2011…

13 December…

Zürich, Switzerland …

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich – the Federal Institute of Technology – one of the top universities on the planet, one specialising in science and technology, a hub of learning and discovery. Tens of thousands of students and staff flow through the campus, trading the latest research notes and the latest gossip, rushing towards deadlines, ideas and opinions pulsing through the crowd.

“I’m… I’m not sure—” 

Violence predicted: 53%

 “Don’t lie to me.” The tall, lanky brunette stared at the trembling professor on the other side of the small café table. “Really, don’t bother. You wouldn’t want to waste my time, and I know you have a lot of very important research to get back to.”

“You don’t know what—”

“I’m tired of people telling me what I know or don’t know!” She snapped, patience wearing thin.

Violence predicted: 71%

“You know nothing,” she continued. “You think you’re smart. You’ve got your nice fancy certificates saying so. Your fancy job. Your titles… But you have no idea.”

“I… I really think,” the professor stammered, “I think it might be a good idea if—”

“How’s your daughter?”

“I… sorry?”

“She gets good grades,” Root shrugs, “Really good grades. Ambitious too. Got big plans for life.”

“How—”   

“I hear she’s a bit of a nerd though. Not a lot of friends,” Root leaned back. Smiled sympathetically. “Reminds me a bit of me.”

Violence predicted: 93%

“Please—” The professor pleaded, hands grasping at nothing in particular.

“Do you think anyone would really miss her?”

“You wouldn’t…”

Root just grins in response.

After a few seconds of silence, the professor breaks down. “Okay, okay. Please.”

Violence predicted: 27%

“I… You’re right. I did some consulting for a couple of government projects. I might be able to ask a few favours. See if—” 

Root jumps up. “I’ll meet you tonight.”

She takes a few steps away, then stops. Looks back. “Your coffee’s getting cold.” The professor spared a glance at the coffee, which was indeed losing its heat in the winter weather. “I wasn’t lying when I said this place has the best coffee in the country.” She walks away.

Assessing situation… 

Probability of detection: high

She slowed once she was out of sight of the professor. Looked up at one of the many security cameras lining the campus.

“I’ll find you. I promise. Just…” She paused. Waited for her breathing to even out. “Just hold on.” 

Assessing situation…   

Danger to asset: critical

Possibility of direct contact… undesirable  

Assessing strategies…

*****

Accessing archive data…   

2013…

29 October…

New York City, United States of America…

“Pause.”  

Shaw paused the grainy video playing on her laptop.

“Rewind.”

Shaw did as she was told.

“Play.” Root stared at the screen, watching the footage of the team’s latest number.

Silence.

“Root?”

Root kept her eyes glued to the screen. Trying, but failing to keep her face blank. “What did you say his name was again?”

“I didn’t.”

“Sameen…”

“Do you recognise him?”

“Who is he?” Root said, her voice rising.

Shaw sighs. Pulls up what they know of the number of screen. “David Lowry. He’s—”

David Lowry. 43. Civil engineer. Never married. No children. Dual USA-UK citizen. Born in…

Root fell back on her couch. Closed her eyes. “It’s nothing.”

“Something you want to tell me, Root?”

Root shakes her head.

“Root, if you’re hiding something—”    

“I’m not,” Root said quietly. “I wouldn’t lie to you Sameen. It was just…”

“Someone you thought you knew?”

“Something like that.”

“Someone,” Shaw cautiously ventured, “from—”

Root turned away. Shaw took the cue, and went silent. After a few seconds, Shaw tried again, “You don’t see anything?”

Root shakes her head. “The camera’s shit. Maybe if—”

“What are you doing?” Finch limped into the cage, a small wrapped sandwich in hand, his features frowning deeply. “Miss Shaw?”

Violence predicted: 40%  

“Um…” Shaw gestured at Root, “I was—”

“Do I need to remind you of the importance of not allowing Miss Groves—”

“My name is Root.”  She rose, towering over the two of them.

Violence predicted: 76%

“I would appreciate it, Miss—”

“Have you ever pissed off a god, Shaw?” Root turned to the former operative.

I am not a god. Reminder to remind analogue interface.

“Well, the ISA did—”

“Because Harry has.”

“Don’t presume—” Finch started.

“More than once.” Root said, unsmiling. “Tell Shaw about it. Tell her about the 43—” 

“How do you know—”  

“My relationship with Her is a lot closer than you want to admit to yourself, Harry,” Root said, moving towards Finch, trapping him in a corner. “Do you want to see what happens when I lose somebody? What I’m like when there’s nobody to—”  

Violence predicted: 97%

“Root!” Shaw grabs her. Pins her on the other side of the cage. “Calm down.”

Violence predicted: 45%

Finch gently dumped the sandwich on the table. “Your lunch.” He readjusts his glasses. “We are going to talk about this, Miss Shaw.” He turns to walk away.

“You’re a coward, Harry.” Root said, smiling coldly. “Father to a god, and you can’t even—” Shaw slams Root hard into the cage.

Finch walks out without another word.

Violence predicted: 1%

Once he’s definitely out-of-sight, Shaw lets Root go. “What the hell, Root. What—”

“You should go.”

“Come on, Root, I—”  

“Go.” Root said, cold, any smile long gone. “I’m sure the Australopithecus could use another caveman to help play hero.”

Shaw hesitates. Grabs her laptop. Slams shut the door to the cage. “You’re a hard woman to like, Root.” She storms off.

Assessing situation…

Danger to analogue interface: critical

Assessing options…

Contacting analogue interface…

*****

Accessing archive data…   

2014…

2 October…

Naples, Italy …

Violence predicted: 100%

 “When you told me you needed me to play bartender, this isn’t what I was expecting,” Shaw said, her voice almost lost in the hail of bullets coming at them from all sides of the room.

“Technically,” Root, crouched behind the bar with Shaw, “I said I needed you and I wanted you to play bartender.” A bottle of vodka smashed behind them, spraying the two with alcohol. “Technically.”

“I was expecting something easy. With lots of drinks. And good tips.”

“And I was expecting—” A entire shelf of bottles came crashing down under the gunfire. “Did you notice the excellent collection of knives the kitchen has?”

Shaw shifted and crawled over Root. Peered out at the row of mafia circling them. “Cover me, and—”

“I was thinking we could have some fun with them later.”

Shaw stared back at her, Root grinning, oblivious to the carnage around them. “You have issues.”

“Not in—”  

“Root!” A grenade rolled over the bar top. Shaw launched herself at Root, shoving her away just before it went off.

“Well,” Root smiled up at Shaw, pressed down on top of her, their faces just centimetres away from each other, bullets and debris flying all around them, “this is comfy.”

“Root…” Shaw said, patting down Root’s jacket, “where is it?”

Root’s eyes darted to the kitchen.

“We had one mission Root—”

“You had one—” 

“One fucking mission. And you lost it!”

“It’s by that excellent collection of knives.”

Shaw stared down at her in silence. After a few seconds, she sighed. “Do you want to get out of here?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” Root grinned. She grabs Shaw’s gun, pulls out one of her own, and jumps up. In a matter of seconds, two guns blazing, she has all the mafia members writhing on the ground. She then turns back to Shaw, grinning even wider. “Happy?”

“That really shouldn’t be hot.”

Assessing situation…

Contact with analogue interface: delayed

*****

Accessing archive data…    

2014…  

2 January…     

New York City… 

Shaw shuffles in her cot. Cracks open an eye. There’s someone at the door. She reaches for her gun.

The person flinches.

“Root?”

The tall hacker shrugs, leaning uneasily against the doorframe.

Shaw sits up. “What’s going on?”

No answer.

Shaw sighs. Pats the side of the cot.

“Shaw…”

“Come before I change my mind.”

Root sits down lightly next to her.

“Bad day?”

Root nods.

They sit in silence for a while, not touching.

“I don’t know what to do,” Root finally says, as quietly as she can. “We’re going to lose.”

“No, we’re…”   

“She’s given me a new identity. On a cruise ship. We could…”     

“Hey!” Root turns to see Shaw glaring at her. “What did you do to Root?”

“What—”

“Root doesn’t give up. It’s annoying,” Shaw rolls her eyes, “extremely annoying, but still. She doesn’t give up.”

Root looks away. “I…” She pauses. “I never had anything to lose.”

“What about your robot girlfriend?”

“She’s not… I don’t know if I can save Her. I don’t—”   

Shaw grabs Root’s wrist. “The hardest thing to do in this world is to live in it. Be brave, Root, live.”

Root stares back at her. “Did… Did you just—”

“If you ever make me quote something nerdy again, I will kill you myself.” After a moment, Shaw adds, “And if you ever tell anyone…”

Finally, Root smiles. “Thank you.”

Shaw flops back down on the cot, although leaving just enough room for a second person. “I’m tired.”

Root looks at her for a moment, then takes off her jacket. Even more quietly, she repeats, “Thank you.”

*****

Accessing archive data…    

2016…      

7 February…    

New York City, United Stares of America…   

“Oh, I don’t like this, Mr. Reese,” the voice of Harold Finch came through his earpiece as the ex-CIA operative made his way deeper into the falling-apart apartment block.

“What’s wrong, Finch?” Reese whispered back.

“Whoever it is that’s after Mr. Murphy, they’re covering their tracks very well. Our number may be involved in something—”   

Reese swings open a door to find the number tied to a bedpost, unconscious and not in a good state. “Found him.”

“Is he okay?”

Reese checks the number’s pulse. “He’ll live.”

“Any sign of our perpetrator?”

Reese looks around the room, at the table littered with various instruments – zip ties, knives, tasers, other dangerous-looking pieces of metal. “There’s a chance they might still be nearby.”

“Please be careful, Mr. Reese, I don’t—”

A door swings open behind him. Reese spins to fire. He doesn’t. It’s Root. “Root?”   

“Oh, good,” Finch sighs in relief, “Maybe Miss Groves can—”

Reese sees the blood splattered on Root’s shirt. The messy, tangled hair of someone who hasn’t rested in a long time. The manic, desperate look in her eyes. “I need to go, Finch.” He cuts the line with Finch. “Is everything okay, Root?”

“Get out of my way, John.”

“I don’t think this is a good—”

Root pulls out her two guns. “Get out of my way.”

“Finch isn’t going to be happy.” Reese doesn’t lower his gun.

“He’s leaving her to die! You’re all leaving Shaw—”

“I’m not.” Reese lowers his gun. Nods at the number. “Can he help?”

“I…” Root trembles.

“You know torture doesn’t produce good intel, right?”

Root lets out a small laugh. Slumps to the ground. “The code is all wrong,” she mumbles. “Incoherent. Unstable. It’s…”

Reese sits down next to her. “We’ll find her.”

“The signals are all—”    

“We’ll find her, Root. No one should have to walk alone.”

*****

Present day

“Your girlfriend’s going to be pissed,” Fusco said as he helped Root back to her feet. “Both of them.”

Indeed, the Machine was chattering away about probabilities of critical injuries in Root’s ear. “That’s why I’ve got you, Lionel.”

“Hey, if you think I’m getting between—” He spotted a predictably angry Shaw storming towards them. “No way.”

Root titled her head and tried giving him doe eyes.

“I don’t fall for that.” Fusco replied, before quickly adding, “Try it on her.”

Shaw marched up to the both of them. “You,” she started, “are supposed to be recovering.”

“That’s not what you said last night,” Root muttered.

“Ugh,” Fusco groaned. “I don’t need to hear this.”

He starts walking away before Shaw grabs him. “And what did I tell you about enabling her?”

Fusco snorts. “Look who’s talking.”

“I…” Shaw opened, then shut her mouth, as scandalised as she can get.

“I’ll get you the doughnuts from the same place again,” Root said.

“Ooh,” Fusco replied, “Get more of the chocolate ones next time.”

‘You bet.”

Fusco grabs their number, who turned out to be the perpetrator, and was suitably handcuffed. “Thanks for the help, Nutella.” He wanders away.

“I don’t believe you,” Shaw sighs, exasperated.

“Me?” Root asks, “Or—”

“All of you!” Shaw turns to the nearest security camera. “Why me? Why do I have to be in charge? What did I do—”

Assessing situation…

Primary Asset Shaw’s leadership skills: high

Primary Asset Shaw’s diplomatic…   

Root snorts, then quickly tries to hide.

“What?”

Root steps close to Shaw, “You’re kinda hot when you give orders.” She steps even closer. “And, besides, you get very well rewarded.”

Shaw rolls her eyes. Sighs. “Just…” She pokes Root’s stomach – right where Blackwell’s bullet hit. Root winces. “Promise me you’re not going to run off on your own again until you’ve healed.”

“I promise.” After a second, Root adds, “But we did—”

Shaw kisses her. Lightly. Stuns Root into silence.

Shaw smirks. “See you at the safehouse, nerd.” She walks away.

Root stands in silence for a few seconds. Looks up at the security camera. Shrugs. “I think my number just came up.”

Analogue interface attempt at winking: unsuccessful   

Assessing situation…

Primary mission: successful

Analogue interface vital signs: good