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The Lone Wolf

Chapter Text

 

The deer had come through this part of the woods not too long ago. The wolf put its nose in the air trying to sniff out a general direction. It had been snowing all afternoon which had conveniently covered up any tracks the deer might have left and that had made tracking prey all the more difficult. The wolf was almost in the mood to give up and go after another prey but she had a stubborn streak in her and had decided to continue.

The world shifted under her feet. She was in a more dense part of the tundra. The deer was still being elusive. A little further up was an opening from which the wolf could see the old fortress. The fortress was now the home to a kind wizard. The wizard had undertaken a massive project to help the common folk and would occasionally need help. He would call upon the she-wolf to ask for her assistance whenever someone needed to be tracked down. The wizard had a large Kodiak bear as a companion. The bear would on occasion accompany the wolf, he was good enough company. But mostly the she-wolf preferred to hunt alone as she did now.

She no longer had a pack. She could consider the wizard and the bear as her new pack but she hadn’t decided on that as yet. As she moved through the forest, she looked around for any signs that could give her a clue as to where that damn deer was. She was looking around a tree which had some broken branches when she heard something behind her. With her ears perked up, she turned around but there was no one there. It was late evening and the forest was slowly getting shrouded in a blanket of darkness. She heard a sound again, paws on dried leaves, it was to her right. She turned and saw a dark shape looking back at her from the shadows, it was another female wolf. It slowly stepped in her direction and stopped at a distance so as not to alarm her. This intruder in her part of the woods was tall and slender. It had a long bushy tail and had strangely mischievous eyes as if it was contemplating on playing a trick on her. The she wolf growled, not appreciative of the company. The other wolf, unafraid, slowly turned around and the faded back in the ever deepening shadows. The she wolf kept staring in the general direction of the other wolf, wondering if it might have been too hasty. Maybe, a little company could have been a good idea. She turned around to look for the deer once again when she heard a strange alien noise. It was an odd beeping. She looked around but it seemed to be coming from everywhere…  

 

And Shaw woke up.

She looked around her new apartment. Well, not so new. She had moved in over 4 months ago. It was studio apartment, small but comfortable. She woke up still thinking about her dream. She had been having that dream for years now. The other wolf was a surprise though. Not that she understood what the dream was supposed to mean, if anything. She didn’t put much thought into it. She looked around her apartment and saw the half finished painting of a female face on her easel. She had been meaning to finish it maybe she would do it over the weekend. It had been a busy week. Her work might be boring but she still had to do it.

So, she finally got out of bed and after her usual exercise routine, got ready, had some breakfast and left for work. It usually took her about twenty minutes to get to her office by bus. It were those twenty minutes, when she had no one around but her thoughts, that were the worst. She would often just try looking at the passing city, but her thoughts would keep going back to everything that had happened five months ago. She wondered how everyone was. She knew that Harold had opened a small book store and Reese was a junior manager in some kind of a mortgage firm. But, more often than not her mind would turn to Root. For someone who had never needed anyone she strangely missed the tall graceful hacker. She missed her friend. She missed hearing that cocky voice in her ear telling her what to do and paying her sly compliments.

Four months ago, after she had gotten settled into her new life she had decided to check in on everyone else. It took her a few weeks to track everyone down. Root had told her everyone’s identity just in case something happened to any of them. It had been easy to find Reese and Finch. Finch had however quit his job and had instead decided to open up a small library. Reese looked practically miserable at Arrowhead Savings and Loan. He was a junior manager there. She herself was going under the name of Samantha Harris, legal aid at Kirkland and McKenzie. Root had set herself up as Dr. Carol von Neumann, psychiatrist. In just a few months Root had managed to setup a very nice practice for herself. After all she had always been good at reading and manipulating people.

What had surprised her was, when she had finally decided to track down Root, how close her office was to her own new work place. It was barely a fifteen minute walk. This had lead to an unexpected habit on her part. Often in the evening when she would get off work she would walk by Dr. Neumann’s office, even though it was fifteen minutes in the opposite direction and she would often miss her bus. Shaw told herself that just wanted to make sure that Root was safe. Not that Root needed protection. But, deep down Shaw knew that maybe, just maybe there was a remote possibility that she actually missed seeing that crazy smile. She would often stand on the sidewalk opposite Root’s office. She had often spotted her pacing around her office or sometimes just staring out of the window. Once Root had even waved at her, when Shaw had accidently stepped out of the shadows. Shaw had waved back. It had made her heart flutter for reasons she couldn’t quite put into words. But it was nice see her and to be seen. And so the last four months had passed by.

 

Shaw finally reached her office building. Kirkland and McKenzie occupied floors 20 through to 28. It was one of the largest law firms in the city and had branches in five countries across three continents. These were the headquarters.

She had initially started by working under a junior lawyer but her efficiency had gotten her noticed, at a meeting, by Victor York, Senior Partner and Lawyer specializing in International Trade Law. Mr. York’s personal assistant of almost twenty years was finally retiring and he was looking for a new assistant and was quite impressed by Ms. Harris.

Shaw was initially a little reluctant to work for Mr. York. He did have a reputation of being quite a ladies’ man, but after three rather messy and costly divorces and over two dozen affairs, Victor York had finally mellowed down in the autumn of his years. He was in a steady relationship with a political lobbyist and had a strict policy of not dating or having flings with anyone at work. That however didn’t stop rumors from floating around that maybe Samantha Harris had gotten her new position by sleeping with the senior partner. The rumors didn’t really bother Shaw and after the incident in the supply room all the female staffers considered Ms. Harris as something of a hero.

It has so happened that on one occasion, Shaw had to pick up some pencils from the supply room. Upon reaching the room she heard voices coming from within. When she went in she found one of the junior lawyer trying to force himself upon a female colleague. Shaw had completely lost her temper and had put the man through a wall. The man ended with a dislocated shoulder and a broken jaw which had to be held together by wire.

Even though she had no regrets about her actions she had more or less expected to be fired. However, Mr. York had defended her and the female layer had also spoken on her behalf. The matter had been settled internally and the junior lawyer was blacklisted across the entire country.

After that day all rumor-mongering about Ms. Harris had stopped.

Over the course of the past four months, Shaw had grown to like and respect the senior partner. He had a certain old world charm to him. Always respectful and polite she could understand the attraction women and even certain men felt towards him. He had taken Ms. Harris under his tutelage and decided to teach her about Trade law and help her navigate the shark infested waters of international trade.

 

Shaw had just reached the corner office when Mr. York walked in.

“Good Morning, Ms. Harris could you bring me some coffee and also get me the File for Blue Arc Industries” he said as he walked in.

Shaw got up to get the file from the drawer while managing to get in a quick, “Yes sir”

A little while later she walked into the office with the coffee and the file. She put them both on the table and stood in attention next to the table. Mr. York looked up and smiled

“At ease, soldier. I sometimes wonder if you accidently joined a law firm instead of joining the army.”

Shaw loosened up a little. Her old training would sometimes kick in subconsciously. But she did consider the senior partner as her CO so she didn’t mind it.

Victor went through the file as he sipped the coffee and little while later turned the file in Shaw’s direction.

“Tell me what’s wrong with that?” he asked of her.

It was a test. Shaw quickly glanced at the file and realized that some junior lawyer had made a rookie mistake and attached the wrong form. He was in for a rough day.

“Wrong form” Ms. Harris replied

“That’s my girl. I’ll make a lawyer of you yet” he complimented her with a smile. “Now get me this Mr. Pruitt on the phone. I need to have word with him”

    Shaw did not pity Mr. Pruitt for what he was about to go through. Even she wouldn’t have tolerated such a rookie mistake from a lawyer who was being paid a six figure salary.

An few hours later, after Mr. Pruitt had be scolded over the phone and some more files had been looked over Shaw was about ready to leave for lunch, when Mr. York asked her a most unexpected question, “What do you do for fun, Ms. Harris?”

“Sir?”

“Fun, you are aware of the concept?” he questioned her jokingly.

“Well I really like to shoot people. But they keep telling me it’s wrong and illegal” she replied with a rare smile on her face.

“Well that’s what they tell me as well. Maybe you could find another hobby to cheer yourself up. You have been looking rather bored.”

“Yes sir” replied Ms. Harris just as Mr. York’s daughter walked in.

“Will that be all, Sir?” asked Ms. Harris preparing to leave.

“Yes that’ll be all. See you after lunch” Mr. York replied.

“She can stay or maybe she could even come to lunch with us” said Beth York as she flashed her dazzling smile in Shaw’s direction.

Beth York was the eldest of the eight children that Victor York had sired from his three marriages. Despite all his flaws and his philandering ways he had always managed to be a good father, not just providing financially but being there for all of his children. He had always managed to make time to attend all their various soccer games and school plays and in return his children and grandchildren adored him. Sadly, his progeny had picked up all of their father’s bad habits. Almost the entire younger York clan had made it their life’s mission to sleep with every able bodied and willing male and female across the entire east coast. Some of them had even decided to move the operation to the west coast and a few had even managed to conquer the old world. Beth York was foremost amongst them. She was something of a socialite and famously bisexual, she almost had a predatory look about her whenever she desired someone and she had been dying to get Ms. Harris into her black book of conquests. The only thing stopping her was the instructions from her father that Ms. Harris was strictly off limits, not that it stopped Beth from trying.

“Come on you can come with us, it’s not like I am going to eat you for lunch. Well not unless you want me to” said the younger Ms. York trying to get Ms. Harris to accompany them.

“Beth” came Mr. York’s voice from behind her. “Let her be.” He then turned to Shaw and said “I will see you after lunch and don’t mind her. She’s just kidding.”

“Oh, I don’t mind” replied Shaw, while staring at Beth, as she stepped out of the office. She could flirt back when she wanted to and she definitely didn’t mind the attention. But Beth wasn’t her type. She preferred brunettes over blondes and she definitely liked them taller with dark eyes. She suddenly stopped, wondering where that picture had come from. She shook her head and continued on to the cafeteria.

It was that evening that Shaw ran into Root in the subway station. That night she again dreamt of the other wolf, but his time she dreamt of the lone wolf hunting alongside this mysterious new companion.

Shaw spent the entire next day in an unusually good mood. She had this faint smile on her face that eventually led to Mr. York asking her about it. “What’s up with you today, Ms. Harris? You look practically jubilant.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just in a good mood” she replied still smiling.

“Well, it’s unnerving. Seeing you smile so much. You always have the look of shark about to attack to some poor defenseless seal. But, it’s a good look. You should smile more often, whatever the reason maybe, it suits you” said Mr. York.

 

It was evening and Ms. Harris was preparing to leave, when she was called into the office by her boss.

“Ms. Harris, keep yourself free this weekend” Mr. York said in a commanding voice, while going through some files.

Shaw stood silent for a while waiting for a more elaborate explanation.

 “Well, this weekend it the annual get together at The Excelsior. It’s organized every year by Mr. Lewis, owner of Buy n’ Large Ltd. He is one of the richest people in the world. The Excelsior is the name of his country home. Well, home is an understatement it’s more of a castle. 550 rooms over 3000 acres. He is amongst our oldest clients and usually all the senior partners get invited. It’s a two day affair. Guests include politicians, business associates and of course law firms he deals with. It’s a great place for networking so usually we travel with the entire retinue including personal assistants and aids” explained Mr. York.

 “Yes sir.” Shaw replied.

Chapter Text

Friday morning, Shaw flew out to The Excelsior with Mr. York and few other senior partners along with their legal aids.

The Excelsior was even bigger that Shaw had imagined. She had seen a few places like these, mostly they belonged to South American drug lords that she had retired, but she had never seen anything on this scale. It was a whole different world. She was glad she agreed to come the change might actually do her some good.

A little while later, after they had landed, they were shown to their rooms. The rest of the morning was spent hobnobbing with the other guests. Mr. York had his charm turned on to full. He really knew how to rope in a client. Shaw found herself actually enjoying this part. It felt like traditional spy craft. Approaching a mark, making him or her feel comfortable and then moving in for the kill. Shaw herself had never been very good at it, she was happier being the itchy trigger finger. So, it was fun watching Mr. York, the man was a true master at this game, he would have made a great spy.

“Henri, all I am saying is that there is no harm in looking at our proposal” said Mr. York to the French gentleman.

“I am not sure about this. We are quite happy with the services of Ashurst” replied the French gentleman.

“Hmm, I understand. So who is your point man at Ashurst? Who’s representing you?”

“It’s Mr. Scott Green. He is very good, we are very happy with his services” answered the Frenchman.

“Yes, Mr. Green is an excellent Lawyer. But I have heard that he’s leaving.”

“Leaving? When? He hasn’t mentioned that to us. I thought he was on a five year contract with Ashurst” said the Frenchman in a slightly shocked voice.

“Yes he is, but his contract get over in a month. Anyways, I have to be going now. My colleague over by the buffet line has been waving at me for a while now. Enjoy your stay, Mr. Durand” and saying that Mr. York walked away with Ms. Harris in tow.

As they were walking away Shaw asked, “Is Scott Green really leaving?”

“No, idea. But it will at least make him look at our proposal. In the mean time we can actually make an offer to Mr. Green” replied Victor

“Well played, Sir.”

The day went by very quickly and they were finally sitting down at a small table having dinner. The spread was fantastic. More variety of food than Shaw even knew existed. If there was one thing Shaw liked, it was food. Back in the day, when she was working missions for Control, they would eat whatever they could whenever the mission allowed for it. This had made her appreciate good food even more.

“So, I take it the food is to your liking, Ms. Harris?” asked Mr. York jokingly, looking at Shaw stuffing her face.

“Ammhmm” came the reply, as Shaw tried to form words in between devouring a jumbo prawn. She finally slowed down enough to actually form some words. “It’s great.”

“And what do you think of all of this” asked her Boss gesturing towards the entire gathering.

“Too much money for my taste” replied Ms. Harris, “What about you. You like it?”

“I don’t mind the money. I’ve always liked money. I even have a lot of it. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, what matters is who you spend it with. If you understand what I mean.”

Shaw looked at him and nodded. Victor York looked lost in thought.

“You know, I was never a good husband or even a very good boy friend. But I am glad I was a good father. At least, in my old age, I have them and I am glad that they like spending time with me. I like all the lunches and dinners I get to have with them, listening to all their stories and adventures. I wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world” he said smiling.

Shaw looked at him and wondered if she would ever have any relationships like that in her life.

“So do you have anyone special, Ms. Harris?”

Shaw looked lost for a while before she replied, “No, I mean not yet, I mean… I don’t know.”

“Well, from that really coherent answer I would say that there is definitely someone. So who is it?”

“It’s no one. It’s… it’s just a friend. It’s nothing like that” replied Shaw a little defensively. She suddenly couldn’t get Root’s crazy, beautiful smiling face out of her head.

“Like what?” Victor questioned.

“You know… romantic” Shaw almost blushed at the words.

“But you would like it to be, right?” Victor asked

“I…” Shaw paused again not knowing how to continue. Never being very comfortable talking about her feelings.

“So who is he or she? Does he or she have a name?”

Shaw wondered how to answer that question, not wanting to give away anyone’s real name given the situation they were in. But fake names would be fine she figured.

“She, not he” replied Shaw

“Alright, and the name?”

“Carol. Dr. Carol von Neumann. She’s a psychiatrist.”

“So, what’s the problem? What’s stopping you? Is she aware how you feel about her or more than that does she feel the same way about you?”

“Well, I think she does. She most definitely does. It’s just that I’ve never been very good at this sort of thing” Replied Shaw.

“What sort of thing?”

“You know, romance, relationships.”

“I, on the other hand am great at this sort of thing. Well, I'm at least great at starting them. I am terrible at ending them, but that shouldn't matter in this case. Look, when we get back, why don’t you ask her out for dinner. I can get you a reservation at any of the best restaurants in the city” Victor offered.

“I don’t know” replied Shaw, balking at the whole situation.

“Look if she likes you and you don’t reciprocate she might not wait for you forever. You have to show something in return if you feel the same way.”

Shaw definitely didn’t like the sound of that. Maybe once she got back she could call her up. There was nothing wrong with dinner.

“OK, I think I’ll take your advice. Dinner it is.”

“Excellent.”

And so their dinner ended and Shaw went back to her room thinking about Root and for once she was quite clear how she felt.

Shaw spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what she would say to Root when she called her up and what security precautions she would have to take. The rest of the time she spent daydreaming about Root in general. She once again had that smile on her face. It was around seven in the evening and Shaw was still day dreaming and strolling in the vast gardens of The Excelsior when one of her colleagues came looking for her.

“Hey, Samantha” her colleague called out to her.

She snapped back to the real world. Annoyed at being disturbed. She turned around and looked at him.

“Mr. York wants you. He’s in the East wing study with some clients.”

“Thanks” replied Ms. Harris and made her way towards the east wing. The grounds were huge, it took her almost ten minutes to reach the study. When she entered the room the meeting was already under way. The study was big and empty, three men sat at the far end of the room, near the fireplace surrounded by books. Shaw made her way towards them. She could hear them talking as she approached. Mr. York eventually turned towards and waved her to come closer.

“Ms. Harris, let me introduce you to everyone. To my right is Mr. Leland, CFO of Aden Instruments. They specialize in custom micro processors. And the man sitting next to him is Mr. Edward West, Chief of Operations at Double Canopy. They are private security consultants. Gentleman, this is Ms. Harris my personal assistant” and so Mr. York concluded the introductions.

Shaw gave a polite good evening in return.

“Ms. Harris, why don’t you pour yourself a drink and join us” said Victor pointing towards the drinks arranged on a table no too far away. Shaw helped herself to a small Bourbon and finally joined the conversation.

“As I was saying gentleman, before our minor intermission, that we at Kirkland and McKenzie are fully equipped to provide you any kind of legal support that you may require. If you want a reference you can always talk to Mr. Lewis himself, he has been our client for the last twenty years” said Mr. York.

“That won’t be necessary Mr. York. I am well aware of your reputation and the reputation of your firm. I wouldn’t have agreed to this meeting if I wasn’t.” Mr. Leland replied, “The thing is Victor, currently we are exclusively providing microprocessors to a single client, Decima Technologies. We would like start providing our products to the rest of the US tech market as well. You and your firm would be of great help in solving any legal or trade issues we might face.”

“That’s’ what we are here for” replied Mr. York with a smile.

Shaw had pretty much stopped listening and drinking the moment she had heard the words Decima.

This can’t be happening. This can’t be a coincidence. The world doesn’t work that way” thought Shaw.

But the conversation continued.

“And you Mr. West, what can I do for you” asked Mr. York.

“Well, It’s essentially the same thing. We usually provide security solely to Decima, but we too would like to seek out new clients. I was hoping you could give us a referral” replied Mr. West.

So these are the idiots who keep jumping of rooftops. What the heck is going on. I need to get out of here.” Shaw was felling like a cornered animal by now. She was about ready to jump out of the nearest window and make her escape when her phone vibrated. She was receiving a message.

“DON’T PANIC. I’LL EXPLAIN EVERYTHING LATER. JUST MAKE SURE YOU TAKE THEIR VISITING CARDS BEFORE THEY LEAVE. –R”

She felt herself calm down. She was going to kill Root later but right now she was happy that was according to somebody’s plan.

She realized that the meeting was coming to an end while she was lost in her panic driven thoughts.

“I think I can safely say that you will be handling our business matters once we enter the American market” Mr. Leland was saying.

“That’s good to know. Thank you Mr. Leland” said Victor and with that everyone started to get up. Shaw had barely even touched her drink. The clients were just about to walk away when Shaw finally blurted out.

“I was hoping to get your visiting cards for our records.”

“Yes, absolutely” replies Mr. West.

Both gentlemen took out their cards and handed them over to Ms. Harris. Shaw noticed a small “D” at the bottom of each card.

“I take it the D stands for Decima. Would I be right in that?” asked Shaw

“Oh, yes. Both our firms are currently funded by the Decima group. We are hoping to break away from them, so we are currently looking for alternate funding” replied Mr. Leland

Shaw nodded in return. “Well, good luck with morons. They will probably kill you before they let you go” thought Shaw.

The remainder of her stay went by in a flash. Her brain was too occupied trying to figure out what exactly had happened. This couldn’t have been some freak accident and how did Root know when to contact her? And was she back in touch with The Machine? Shaw’s mind was full of question but no answers were forthcoming. She would just have to wait till Root got in touch with her. All thoughts of dating and dinner had been completely wiped from her mind.

It was the second day after she had come back. She had taken her usual walk to Dr. Neumann’s office. But the windows were dark. The doctor wasn’t in. She was once again starting to feel on edge. She realized that she had actually gotten used to her civilian life and was finding it difficult to turn the trainer killer inside her back on. She finally reached her apartment and decided to make herself a ham sandwich. Food always managed to calm her down.

She was just about to sit down and eat when her phone rang. It was an unknown number. She answered.

“Did you miss me” asked the familiar voice on the other end of the line.

“Root, what the fuck is going on?” screamed Shaw. Two days of frustration finally coming out.

“Whoa calm down. Everything is fine. It’s all according to plan, well sort of” answered Root

“You better start explaining yourself, or I promise I will find you and shoot you again and what plan?” Shaw shouted at her again but in a slightly lower tone.

“Well, did you really think that I put you in at Kirkland and McKenzie for the heck of it. Look, I know that we can’t destroy SMARITAN, but we can definitely destroy Decima, after all they are only human, and that was always the plan. To infiltrate Decima” explained Root.

 “So what’s that got do with Kirkland and McKenzie” asked Shaw.

“Kirkland and McKenzie have had previous dealings with Decima and a lot of its subsidiaries and sister concerns. I knew about Aden Instruments and Double Canopy. I also knew that were in talks with the UK office of Kirkland and McKenzie for the last six months. The idea was to take a look into their files once they became clients at your law firm. I just didn’t expect you to move up the ladder as fast as you did. Now you don’t even have to do any sneaking. They will hand over their files to you personally” said Root triumphantly, which irritated Shaw even more. She didn’t like being kept in the dark. At least Root didn’t have to explain how Aden and Double Canopy were involved with Decima, she knew Shaw was smart enough to have figured out that part by now.

“And you didn’t think it was important to let me know about this” Shaw asked. She was glad Root wasn’t there in person or she might have actually punched her just to feel better.

“Well… I didn’t want you to worry about it. We had all been through hell and I figured we all could use some down time”

“So what now? What’s the next step?” asked Shaw glad that she was finally back in the game.

“Right now, nothing, just wait till they show up for their next meeting. There’s no rush. Besides, I would have never let anything happen to you. If something happened to you who would take me out to dinner” replied Root.

“Yeah right… What?” Shaw paused as Roots words sunk in, ”You hacked my phone. You were listening the whole time, you, you. When did you hack my phone?” screamed Shaw

“In the subway station when we met.”

“You know I am going to kill you the next time we meet” replied Shaw, still angry that Root hadoverheard her entire conversation with Victor.

“So, I’m free next Thursday and I like Japanese food if you must know” Shaw heard Root say from the other side. She could almost hear Root grinning.

“Fuck you, you nut job” said Shaw.

“We could do that too, but let’s do that after dinner” replied Root just as Shaw cut the phone.

Shaw stared at the phone angrily for a few seconds till she finally broke out into a smile. This smiling thing was starting to become a habit. She would have to do something about it or people would start thinking she had gone soft, thought Shaw.   

Root liked Japanese food. Shaw made a mental note to ask her boss to setup a reservation in a good Japanese Restaurant for next Thursday.

And, so Shaw sat down in front of her easel and finally decided to finish that painting of the female face which was beginning to look a lot like Root.

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday evening, standing on the sidewalk outside her office Shaw went through her list of things to do. She had picked up the dress and the shoes. Her boss had already made a reservation for her and Root at some Japanese restaurant called “Morimoto”. He had said it was one of the best.

Over the course of the past week he had been like a doting father sending his daughter on her first date and Shaw realized that she didn’t mind the attention. Her father had died when she was quite young and she had never had anyone to pamper her. Not that she cared. You never miss what you’ve never experienced. She just hoped that Victor realized how much all of this meant to her. She had never been very good at expressing herself. It was at times like these she wished that she was little more normal, so she could tell the people she cared about that she cared about them.

Victor had even told her to borrow one of his cars. She hadn’t known that he was something of a collector, when it came to cars. He had over a 145 cars in his collection. He had given her a tour and had asked her to pick whichever one she liked. She picked the Fiat 8V Zagato. It was a rare 1950s racecar. Only a 114 were ever made. She figured a good looking car could only help in making a good impression.

 Now, there was only thing left on the list, to call Root and ask her what time she should pick her up on Thursday. But, just as Shaw was about to dial Root’s number she came to a shocking realization. She had never actually asked Root out. Root had mentioned that she was free on Thursday and that she liked Japanese food and in return Shaw had called her a nut job and cut the phone. That didn’t really count as asking someone out on a date. Shaw froze, unsure as to how she should proceed. After a few moments of inactivity she silently scolded herself. It was just a phone call. It’s not like she was walking into a building full of terrorists, which, if she was being honest to herself, she would have actually preferred at that moment.

 She stood on that sidewalk, her phone in her hand. The screen read “Dr. Von Neumann”. All she had to do was press the little green icon and it would connect her to that ever mischievous voice on the other end. But she just stood there with her thumb hovering millimeters above the screen. Seconds ticked by, Shaw felt as if she had been standing on that sidewalk for centuries but couldn’t come up with the courage to move her thumb. She had retired terrorists and drug lords how hard could it be to ask someone out.

“Oh, fuck it” Shaw finally moved her thumb and made the call.

The phone on the other end started to ring and it rang again and then it rang some more. “Pick up already. Where the hell are you?” Shaw muttered under her breath. And after what seemed like an eternity Root finally answered.

“Yes” came a breathless reply.

“Where were you? I’ve been on the phone for ages”

“Shaw? Sorry, I was just … give me a sec. Let me catch my breath”

The voice disappeared and all Shaw could hear was the hacker’s heavy breathing on the other end of the line. Here she was trying to ask Root out on a date, instead she was starting to feel like a middle aged fat guy who had called up a phone sex line. Hearing that heavy breathing, Shaw started to imagine doing things to Root she shouldn’t be imagining standing on a sidewalk outside her office.

“Root? Root. Stop with the breathing on the phone” Shaw regretted saying those words the second they came out of her mouth. She was steeling herself for Root’s comeback.

“Why, is that turning you on, Shaw?” Root replied and started breathing more heavily. This time she even threw in some extra moaning.

“Damn it, Root, I’m putting the phone down right now, if you don’t stop it.”

“Ok, ok. Sorry. It’s just I was in the other room working out and I didn’t hear the phone. So, what’s up?”

Shaw paused. This was it, the moment of truth.

“I was… I was wondering if we are still on for Thursday night.”

“What’s on Thursday night?” asked Root. She genuinely sounded lost.

Shaw had hoped that that would have been enough. But apparently Root had forgotten all about their conversation. She would actually have to ask her out.

______

Root sat on her couch in the living room trying to rack her brains as to what Shaw was talking about, when all of a sudden she remembered their last conversation. She gasped. Was this it? She stayed silent. She didn’t want to give away anything.

“Shaw, are you still there? What were you saying about Thursday?” Root asked innocently.

She was met with a deafening silence from the other end.

______

Shaw was still trying to summon up some courage, and finally asked, “You know, you said you liked Japanese food.”

“Yeah”

“So, I was wondering if you would like to have some Japanese food on Thursday.”

“What, with you?” Root asked, innocence dripping from her voice.

“What do you mean, with you? Of course with me” Shaw was starting to get a little exasperated.

At last Root was unable to control her giggling. She so enjoyed toying with Shaw. She wished she could have been there to see Shaw’s face. But then Shaw might have punched her by now. Maybe this was safer.

Hearing the giggle, Shaw finally snapped.

“Look, do you want to go out for dinner with me or not, you god damn giggling moron?”

“Well, if you’re going to put it that way, then, sure why not” replied Root, still giggling.

“Good. I’ll pick up by 7 and wear something nice”

“Yes Mam, your wish is my command.”

With that Shaw cut the phone. She stood there staring down at the screen, with her reflection looking back at her.

“So, that went well” she complimented herself at how well she had handled the situation. And Shaw finally started walking back home.

 

“Yes” Root said under her breath as she fist-pumped standing in the center of her living room. She stood there for a while with a huge beaming smile on her face, when it dawned on her, this was going to be the first real date of her entire life.

She let the feeling sink in and then made her way towards the window. Her apartment was on the third floor. The living room window looked out onto the street. It was close to seven o’clock in the evening. The street had a few regulars, out for their evening walks or taking their pets out for a walk.

She looked out at the scene and noticed her usual stalker standing under a tree. A few moments later he broke cover and walked away. She had first noticed him about five days ago. He was part of a team of eight operatives, which worked in a random rotation. Her stalkers were well trained and professional which was why it had take Root almost three days to realize that she was being shadowed.

The only thing she hadn't figured out as yet was who they were working for. It definitely wasn't Decima or Samaritan, otherwise she would have been tortured for information and killed by now. But over the years Root had made a long list of enemies, any one of them could have managed to track her down. However, even that seemed unlikely. She had always communicated electronically with all of her clients, none of them had ever seen her face. She could find out who they were if she got into one of the secure govt. servers. Anyone with this kind of training was usually an ex-intelligence operative. But with Samaritan having spread across all networks, any kind of suspicious activity on her part could blow her cover. There had also been no communication from The Machine in over a week. SHE had told her that as long as Samaritan was out there communication would be spotty.

For a while she considered cancelling the date. There was no reason to put Shaw at risk. She even went so far as picking up her phone and almost dialing Shaw’s number. But after a brief and intense battle between her thumb hovering over the phone and her heart, her heart won. In all the days that she had spent on this lousy planet amongst all this bad code, she had never met anyone she truly liked, except Hanna and now Shaw. And here she was, just two days away from her first real date. So, there wasn’t a chance in hell that she was going to cancel it. Besides, she convinced herself that if nothing else, she would be a lot safer in Shaw’s company.

She stood there looking out at the street and finally spoke, “Are you there? I could use some intel right about now.”

She waited for a reply that never came. She turned away from the window and went for a bath. The rest of the evening was uneventful.

She had just finished her dinner and was sitting on her bed checking her emails. It was the usual stuff, a few clients and some medical reps hawking their products. She answered the relevant ones and decided to call it a night. She was about to turn off the laptop when she got another email notification. Usually she would have checked it in the morning, but she decided she would check this last one. It was a promotional campaign for her local coffee place. It was strange that it was in her inbox and not in the spam folder, she thought.

“Your patronage is relevant to us. Come and try our new coffee flavors. Come tomorrow morning at 7.30 to try our inaugural offer.”

The word “relevant” was italicized. There was a graphic of a man drinking a cup of coffee with a giant “M” printed on the cup, which seemed odd since the coffee shop was named “Dario’s Coffee”.

“Well that’s subtle” remarked Root.

The time of 7.30 in the morning was also of note. It was when she usually returned from her morning run. She would go past “Dario’s” and would sometimes pick up something to eat from their bakery, but she had also noticed that she never had a tail at that time. Maybe it was shift change time. It was a blind spot in their vigilance. It wasn’t for long, a few minutes but it would be enough for whatever was meant to happen.

For a moment she thought that maybe it was a trap being laid out by Samaritan. But IT didn’t have to be this obtuse. IT could just send a hit squad to her house.

 

The next day she reached “Dario’s” a few minutes before her scheduled time. She decided to pick up a cinnamon bun and was standing outside the shop at 7.30. She stood around waiting for something to happen, when she noticed a homeless man crossing the road. He had glanced in her direction quite a few times till now. He looked familiar. She had seen him around, he possibly lived in one of the alleyways. He had all of his possessions in a decrepit shopping cart. He reached her side of the street ans was standing about ten meters away from her and would glance at her every now and again. She looked at him and smiled. At last it seemed like he had managed to gather up some courage and finally made her way towards her. He stopped a few feet away from her and haltingly asked, “Aaa… Are you… are you Dr. Neumann?”

“Yes” she replied softly, not wanting to scare him away.

“She said that I was to give you this.” He rummaged through his cart and took out an old newspaper.

She looked at him for a while. He withered under her gaze. He wasn’t used to any kind of attention from another human being let alone a beautiful woman. Root noticed that he wasn’t very old, maybe in his late forties, it was just that time and the world hadn’t been too kind on him. He looked up at her shyly and held out the newspaper.

She took it from him and asked, “Who told you to give this to me?”

“It was a woman on the phone. She said I would find you outside the coffee shop at 7.30 today morning. If not I was to just keep the paper” he explained.

She looked down at the newspaper. She couldn’t see anything unique about it. It was yesterday’s New York Times.

“Is that all?”

“No, no wait.” He started to go through his pockets, which he had quite a few of. He was wearing an old suit and an overcoat. He went on a little treasure hunt. He would occasionally retrieve a scrap of paper from one of his pockets, stare at it and then throw it away. He was starting to get a little panicky. It was the look of a man who had been given a job to do after a very long time and he didn’t want to disappoint his employer, even if that employer was just a voice on the phone. At last he found what he was looking for. He took out a small scrap of paper and thrust it in her direction. Root took it from him and read it.

“5 Across 8 across 14 down”   

They were clues to a crossword. “Is that it?”

“Yeah, that’s it” saying that he turned around and started to leave.

“Hey”, Root called out, “don’t you want some money?”

“No thanks, the lady on the phone gave me some.”

Root was a little confused as to how that would have happened but chose not to get into it. Time was running short and her new shadow would appear at any moment.

“Well, here take this.” Root offered him the cinnamon bun. He took it from her, thanked her and left.

As the homeless man left, as if on cue, her new shadow appeared across the street. It was a woman in her thirties. She looked like she was out for a jog as well. Root rolled up the paper and made her way home.

She sat down at her dining table with a cup of coffee and decided to take a look at the clues that The Machine had given her. She opened the paper to the crossword section. She started to go through the clues, she reached 5 across.

5 Incorporeal Being, 6

She figured it was a message for her. So it had to be something relevant to her current situation. She started to work on the clue.

An incorporeal being was a ghost, or someone you couldn’t see. Like the people following her. A “shadow”.

8 A box with a dial, 4

A safe? What the heck did that mean? Her Shadow was safe or was she safe from her shadows. Safe could also mean harmless. Her Shadows were harmless? Then why were they following her.

She finally got to the final clue. This one was the most obvious.

14 Wartime Partner, 4

A friend or an ally, she had an ally. They had an ally, an ally with enough resources to deploy an eight person tracking team?

Root, in her mind, went through the list of people she knew with resources like that and came to the only logical conclusion she could. She had a pretty good idea of who it was, but she would wait till that person made contact.

With that problem kind of sorted out, she came to the realization that she still hadn’t picked out what she would be wearing for her date tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“Ms. Harris, would like to take the day off?” 

Shaw’s boss’s voice reached her through the fog of her daydream where all she saw was Root. The illusion dissipated and she found herself back in her office.

“Sir?”

“I said, would you like to take the day off. You seem a little, well more than a little distracted.” Victor York said to her with a knowing grin on his face.

“What, no Sir, I’m good. Here is good.”

“Well, I would understand if you would like to leave. It is Thursday after all and I am sure you must be looking forward to your evening … appointment.”

“Yes Sir, but if I leave right now I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. So, its best if I stay… occupied.” Shaw replied hesitantly.

“That’s an excellent decision, Ms. Harris. Now while you are still here could you get me the file for Arcsys Solutions, because you just got me the calendar from your table.” Victor held out the desk calendar still grinning.

Looking sheepish, Shaw took the calendar and went back to the file cabinet to get the file. A few moments later she was once again standing in front of her boss, this time with the file.

As Victor was studying the files he noticed that Ms. Harris was trying to say something.

“Is there something on your mind, Sam?”

“I was thinking, Sir, that maybe it’s time to reorganize the filing cabinet.”

“Really?”

“Well, it’s just … I need something to do.”

“In that case by all means go ahead, as long as we can still find things tomorrow.”

Shaw, satisfied that she had something to fill her time with, went to work on the filing cabinet.

___

As Shaw tried to occupy her time by going about her inane assignment of reorganizing an organized cabinet, Root had taken to drawing lazy circles in her notebook while she pretended to hear her client’s problems.

It was the longest day of both their lives, but finally evening came and Shaw pulled up in her Fiat 8V outside Root’s apartment building. Root buzzed her in and Shaw made her way up to Root’s apartment. When she reached, the door was already open. Shaw stepped in and found Root in her PJs and cotton T-shirt talking on the phone. Upon seeing Shaw walk in she put the phone call on hold.

“Hey, you” Root said with a smile as Shaw walked into the living in a brilliant white dress.

“You’re not ready yet? We are going to be late” Shaw asked, seeing Root’s current attire.

“Five minutes” came the reply as Root went back to answering the phone, “Take a deep breath Mr. Owens. It’s going to be fine. You will get to see Emma once she gets back. Look I hate to be abrupt, but I have another appointment. As I said, take deep breaths and just think about Emma. Everything will be alright. Good night Mr. Owens”

Root finally disconnected the phone.

“What was all that about?” enquired Shaw.

“The man’s going through a divorce. His wife ran off with his pet poodle just out of spite.”

“He was missing his poodle?” asked Shaw rather incredulously, “I thought Emma might be his kid or something.”

“Oh no, they have kids. They sent them off to a boarding school. They are fighting over who keeps the poodle. They couldn't care less about their kids” Root explained the absurd situation.

Shaw rolled her eyes in disbelief.

“Exactly” said Root in agreement, “and people think I judge humans harshly. Huh”

There was a moment of silence between them which eventually Shaw broke. “Get dressed.”

“Oh yeah, give me ten minutes” saying that Root ran into her bedroom and closed the door behind her.

Shaw was left alone in the vast living room.

A moment later Root’s head popped out of the bedroom from behind a drawn curtain, she stared at Shaw for a second and said, “Just wanted to say, wow.”

“Wow, what?” Shaw was a little lost at this sudden comment.

“You look, wow. Practically edible” Root replied as her eyes ran over Shaw’s body.

For a brief moment Root thought that maybe Shaw actually blushed. Shaw completely understood the full connotations of that compliment but she hid her smile by checking her watch.

“Thanks, now get dressed. We’re getting late.”     

Root’s head disappeared behind the curtain. Shaw had just about turned around, when Root’s head appeared again.

“What are you, a cuckoo clock?” asked a slightly irritated Shaw.

“You know I was thinking, maybe we don’t have to go out. We could always just order in” Root suggested with a sly grin on her face.

“Root, I didn’t buy an eight hundred dollar dress and borrow my boss’s million dollar race car just so we could order in. Now get dressed or I’m going to come in there and kick your ass.”

Root knew from Shaw’s expression that the ass-kicking threat was quite real, but she was in a playful mood and decided to mess around with her grumpy date just bit more.

“You wouldn’t dare” Root mockingly challenged Shaw. In return, Shaw took half a step in Root’s direction and Root quickly disappeared back into the bedroom. And Shaw, smiling, was finally left alone in the living room.

Sameen walked around studying the apartment. Root definitely liked a life of luxury. She figured her practice must be doing well or maybe she had a fair bit of cash stored away from her days as a criminal mastermind.

The living room was tastefully decorated. On the walls were a few paintings by the renaissance masters. For a while Shaw thought they might be copies, but upon closer inspection she realized that they were the real deal. There was book shelf on the far left wall. Root seemed to be an avid reader. There were quite a few books on psychiatry and other branches of medicine and biology. Shaw recognized most of them from her days as a resident surgeon. But there were other books dealing with technology and its impact on humanity and especially a few books on the advent and rise of Artificial Intelligence. She browsed through the book shelf for a while and turned around and spotted a massive TV on the opposite wall. She walked up to it and saw that the glass shelf below the wall mounted TV was littered with a variety of computer games. There were also a couple of gaming consoles and a huge array of gaming accessories including a couple of joysticks, a steering wheel, a gun and even a guitar. Sameen wasn’t surprised that the hacker would also be an avid gamer.

She heard a slight rustling behind her and she turned around just as Root parted the curtain and stepped into the living room. She stood there in an elegant black dress with her hair falling over her shoulders. She did a little twirl to give Sameen a show.

“So, what do you think?” Root asked. Her eyes full of expectation.

Shaw was stunned. Her heart was already beating faster. Root looked ravishing. She had only ever seen her in her work attire or a pair of jeans and that leather jacket. This transformation had left Shaw momentarily breathless. Maybe ordering in wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

She finally replied, “I must say, I’m amazed.”

“Good” said Root. More than Shaw’s reply, her expression had told Root that she had managed to have the desired effect on her date.

“So, shall we leave?”

Shaw broke out of the trance that Root’s appearance had put her under and replied, “Absolutely.”

They both exited the elevator as it reached the lobby.

“So where are you taking me?” Root asked as they made their way out of the building.

“Some place called “Morimoto”. Victor said it’s one the best in the city.”

“Morimoto? Nice. I’ve been there once. How did you manage to get a reservation there in less than a week?” Root sounded impressed.

“I have friends in high places.”

“Really?”

“Well, we represent the main financiers of the restaurant. Victor made a phone call.” Shaw replied with a smile.

“You like him don’t you.” Root asked. Shaw looked up at Root to see if she meant anything by that, but Root’s comment seemed genuine.

“Victor? Yeah, he’s a good man. Which, considering our line of work, has always been a rarity.”

They finally reached the car and Root went over to the passenger side and waited. Shaw got in and was about to start the car when she realized that Root was still standing there.

“Get in. What are you waiting for?” she asked Root.

“Well aren’t you going to open the door for me?”

“What am I, the fucking valet? Get in or I’m leaving without you” Shaw was back to her usual grumpy self. Wasn’t it enough that she had finally asked Root out? She didn’t have to put up with this shit.

“Fine date you are turning out to be.” Root flashed a mischievous grin and got in the car. She was really enjoying teasing Shaw. This was going to be great evening.

___

They had been driving for about fifteen minutes and had gotten into some evening traffic when Root noticed Shaw checking the rear view mirror. At first she didn’t pay any attention to it, but Shaw checked it again a few minutes later. Root realized that now was as good a time as any to loop her into the situation.

“So, which car is it, Sameen?” Root asked.

“What?”

“Which car is following us?”

“How did you know? Oh, did The Machine tell you?” Shaw automatically assumed.

“Not really. We’re not in direct communication anymore.”

“Then how?” now Shaw was intrigued.

“Because they aren’t following us as much as they are following me.” Root said a little sheepishly.

“What. Since when” Shaw’s voice was a little raised now.

“Oh, about five days now.” Root answered matter-of-factly.

“And you didn’t think it was important to mention this.” Shaw was beginning to get really irritated with the hacker.

“Well, they are supposed to friendlies.”

“And how do you know that”

“The Machine told me.”

“I thought you couldn’t talk to the machine anymore.”

“I can’t talk to her directly, but she can still send me messages.” Root explained.

“Wait, hold on. How is she sending you messages if she can’t talk to you? This is all really confusing” saying that Shaw pulled the car over to the side of the road. “Start from the beginning and explain everything to me. So how long have you been followed?”

 “I told you, about five days now. And since The Machine can’t directly talk to me anymore she sent me a coded message in a New York Times crossword puzzle.”

“A crossword puzzle? What is this, a 70s spy movie?” Shaw remarked.

“Yeah, I guess, so should I continue or are you going to interrupt me again.”

Shaw glared back at her date.

“Alright, so, yeah the message said that whoever was tailing me was harmless and that we probably had an ally of some sort.”

“An ally? Who?” that had really peaked Shaw’s curiosity.

“I don’t know. The message didn’t say.” Root just shrugged.

There was a moment of silence between them as the traffic sped past them and Shaw was trying to digest all this information.

“Hold on a sec. How the hell did they find you in the first place? I thought you said we were hidden from Samaritan.” Shaw finally came around to asking a very relevant question.

“Well, yes and we still are. But we are not hidden from everyone else. Anyone with enough time, resources and training could find us. You could find me, if you wanted to. Right?” Root explained.

“Yeah, I guess. But then so could Reese. So how many are there?”

“About eight or ten as far as I could tell” replied Root.

“A ten person team, that’s quite big. Add in tech support and other resources we are looking at, at least a fifteen to twenty person unit. That’s big. And you have no idea who it is?” Shaw asked.

“I can make an educated guess, but then so can you. Who besides Decima knows of our existence and has the resources and knowledge to put together an operation like this?” Root put the question to Shaw.

Shaw was quite for a moment but she narrowed that list of potential suspects down very quickly.

“No way.” Shaw looked genuinely worried.

“Yes way.” Root grinned as she realized that Shaw had come to the same conclusion as her.

“Control? But why? She works with Samaritan now.”

“That’s what I can’t figure out yet. But as I said we might have a possible ally and if it’s her then we just might have lucked out. Besides I figured, worst case scenario, I would be a lot safer with you.” Root smiled at Shaw. “I mean you are armed right?”

“Of course, knowing our history, I would be an idiot to come unarmed.” Shaw rolled her eyes as if it was the stupidest question to ask someone. Root chuckled in return.

“So what do we do now?” Shaw asked

“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m getting hungry. So let’s eat and then we can decide what needs to be done about our shadows.” Root suggested.

“Yeah good idea, I hate fighting on an empty stomach” Saying that Shaw started the car and they were once again on their way towards the restaurant.

Chapter Text

They finally reached their destination.

Morimoto was located at the edge of the meat packing district. The curved low slung entrance was covered by a red curtain, making it look like the jaws of some monstrous animal and the main dining room roof and walls were covered in sheets of rippling plaster. The design of the restaurant was very esoteric but soothing. At the far end of the dining room was the Sushi bar behind which stood chef Morimoto himself.

Root and Shaw were seated at one of the tables next to a glass wall. Now that they were finally on their date neither one of them knew how to proceed or what to say. So they both sat in silence for a while watching the other customers go through their food and talking to each other animatedly. Root, after months of flirting and teasing Shaw, suddenly found herself without words. With Shaw it wasn’t so much of a problem, she wasn’t that big on words anyways.

“So, you want to order.” Root finally broke the ice.

“Yeah sure.” For once Shaw was glad to hear Root’s voice.

Shaw ordered a Japanese pork dish called Kakuni and Root decided to order a Morimoto special called “Duck, Duck, Duck”, which was a post modern take on the traditional Peking duck consisting of a single duck leg prepared in classic Peking style, a duck egg and a roast duck sandwich made with a croissant infused with duck liver.

As they waited for their respective meals to arrive, Root finally started a conversation.

“So, where does your knowledge of food come from?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, just now when we ordered, you definitely knew your way around a Japanese menu. You like to pretend that you don’t have very sophisticated tastes but in reality I think the opposite might be true.” Root put forward her observations.

Shaw was silent for a while either trying to work out her answer or deciding how much she should share with her date. She finally decided on sharing.

“It wasn’t always like that. Back when I was medical school and later on during my residency I never even had time to think about food. After I quit and joined the army, even there I never really cared what I was putting into my stomach. It was only after I joined the ISA that I started to care about food.”

Root listened to Shaw with great intent. She was glad that her date felt relaxed enough to share some details of her life.

 “So what changed?” Root asked.

“Time. Lots of idle time. That’s what changed.”

“Seriously, you had free time hunting down terrorists?”

Shaw smiled, “People always think that being a spy is this glamorous and action packed profession when in fact it is the dullest job in the world. The way it would happen is that The Machine would give us a number, and then we would have to figure out what was going on. Most days we would just sit and wait for the mark to show up, which could sometimes be days if not weeks. Sometimes it wasn’t even a hit, it was just surveillance, sitting in a small van or an apartment staring at monitors and listening to boring conversations. We would work in shifts and whenever my shift would end I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. So I started to explore whichever city I would be in, learn its culture and try out the food. Over time it became a hobby which then turned into an obsession. I even have a journal cataloguing all the various meals by cities and countries that I visited.

“Really, I would love to get a look at that journal.”

“You would, wouldn’t you” Shaw smirked. Root was glad that her date was in a slightly playful mood.

”So that’s where my knowledge of food comes from. Now it’s your turn. Tell me something about yourself.”    

“What do you want to know?”

“Anything. It’s funny how little I actually know about you. I tried researching you once, but you are a complete ghost.” Shaw remarked.

Root smiled, “Well, ask me something specific and I will answer it.”

Shaw thought about it for a while and finally put forward her question.

 “Okay, when did you turn towards a life of crime?”

Root chuckled at the directness of the question.

“Well, I could say that living my entire life on the streets and surviving on my own I didn’t really have much of a choice, but then I would be lying. The truth is it’s what I am. I have always been a criminal, it’s just the way my brain is wired. I never really could think straight, always had to find angles in every situation.”

“Have you really spent your entire life alone?” Shaw asked.

“Not really. There was someone once. A mentor, so to speak. His name was George Parker. I met him when I was fourteen. I had run away from my home town and moved to Chicago. I was making a living hacking ATMs and I was living in an abandoned loft. He was a conman who occasionally did some pick-pocketing to entertain himself. He would usually take the bus on which all the young stock brokers would travel. That’s where I first met him. I saw him pick a man’s pocket. It was the smoothest lift I had ever seen in my life.” Root smiled wistfully.

Soon after their meals arrived and Root continued her story as they ate, “So after he got off the bus I followed him. He was in a park, he had thrown away the wallet after taking out the cash. I picked it up after he had gone some distance. I think he spotted me. He thought I was some homeless girl looking for cash and he tried to offer me some. I told him I didn’t need his charity, that I could use the credit cards. I guess he was impressed. So he offered to teach me everything he knew if I could help him out with all this computer stuff. George was kind of old school, didn’t know a lot about technology and I was the exact opposite. So we became the perfect team. He would manipulate people to help me get access to high value targets. Places which stored money electronically. I would put in a simple key logger onto their machines to get their passwords and then I would drain their accounts dry. It was a pretty sweet gig. Together we pulled off more than two hundred jobs.”

Shaw whistled in awe at hearing Root’s exploits.

“So where’s George now?”

“Dead” came the reply and then Root elaborated, “He died almost eleven years ago. Funny how time flies.”

“How did he die?” Shaw was trying her level best to act like a normal person. Root knew that Shaw was trying to act like she cared, she was grateful that at least Sameen was making an effort.

“Heart attack. George always had a weak heart. He had been diagnosed with some heart defect when he was just a boy. The doctors had told him that his heart was basically nothing more than a ticking time bomb. So it’s a miracle he lived as long as he did. He used to always tell me that if I ever came to his house to wake him up and he didn’t wake up, that I shouldn’t be surprised. And that’s exactly what happened. We had pulled of a major score and we were going to celebrate the next day. I came to his house in the morning to wake him up and he just didn’t wake up, still surprised the hell out of me.”

Shaw realized that Root had tears in the corners of her eyes. She tried her best to change the topic.

“So, He is the one who trained to you to be the ruthless criminal mastermind that you are today?”

Root was slightly taken aback by the sudden change in direction but realized that Shaw was trying to get her mind of sad memories and so she decided to go with it.

“Not really. I mean he taught me all the tricks of the trade, but the ruthlessness, that was always there. The first time I shot someone, I was seventeen. First time I killed somebody I was nineteen. I didn’t feel a thing. It used to scare the hell out of George. In that sense we are not very different you and I. You hide your true self behind this gruff exterior and I hide behind my crazy smile.” Root smiled her crazy smile at Shaw. “I don’t think it helps though. I think most people get even more scared when I smile at them.”

“I don’t know. I kinda like it. I think it’s a beautiful smile.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, Root hadn’t expected Shaw to compliment her, but then neither had Shaw. Shaw immediately busied herself with her meal, there was no way she was going to look up at Root.

Root saw Sameen purposefully shoveling food into her mouth. She smiled and decided to let things be. She didn’t want to ruin the moment by saying something silly.

A little while later with their meals finished. They were making idle chit chat about their respective work days, when Root suddenly had an idea.

“So, you wanna have some fun?” Root smiled her crazy evil smile at Shaw.

Shaw looked at her suspiciously, wondering what the hacker meant by fun.

Root pretended to be appalled, “Shaw what kind of a girl do you think I am. I wasn’t thinking anything like that, well if you are then I am more than open to any suggestions.”

“Root” Shaw said in a mildly threatening fashion.

“Okay look, I was thinking maybe it’s time we found out who was following me. Maybe it’s time the prey became the predator.”

This time it was Shaw who smiled an evil smile, “Ooh, I like the sound of that.”

Chapter Text

They had finished their meal and were standing outside the restaurant waiting for the valet to bring their car. Root had been lost in thought for a while and Shaw was checking out the street trying to spot their tail, when Root turned towards Shaw and asked,

“Can I ask you a serious question?”

Shaw looked up at Root, “Sure.”

Root hesitated for a while before she posed her question, “Do you think us dating is a good idea?”

“What the heck. You’ve tazered me, kidnapped me, flirted with me mercilessly for a whole fucking year and don’t think I haven’t noticed the ogling and as if that weren’t enough you even started stalking me.”

“Hey you started the stalking bit, not me.” Root wasn’t going to stand for baseless accusations.

“Whatever, and now you’re having doubts.”

There was a moment of awkward silence as they both stared out at the street. This time it was Shaw who broke the silence.

“But, seriously, what made you ask me that?”

“I don’t know, back then when I mentioned that I killed somebody when I was nineteen you didn’t even blink. It just made me think.” Root replied after a slight pause.

“Root, I am under no delusion as to what you are. As you said we are the same you and I. The only difference is that you killed for money and I killed for my country and neither one of us gives a shit. Sure at the end of the day, I could probably claim a higher moral ground, but the truth is we became what we became because of what we are. If we were normal, I would still be a doctor and you might have been working at Google or something. But we’re not normal. Besides if we were we would have never met, so there’s that.” Shaw looked up at Root and gave a sad consolatory smile. She went back to looking out at the street. After a while she continued,

“Look, I know I’ve said before that I don’t do relationships, but I also know that with everything that’s happened over the last year, with everything that’s out there looking for us,” Shaw looked up at the CCTV’s all seeing eye looking down at the street, ”there is a very good chance that we may not have too long left. And given that fact I, at least, want to find out what this whole relationship thing is actually about. The truth be told, if somebody told me tomorrow that I had a year left to live and who I would want to spend it with, I would probably choose you… and Bear. Maybe not in that order.”

Shaw was still looking out into the street when she felt a peck on her cheek. She whipped around and shot a murderous glare at Root, who was smiling back at her lovingly, all the while furiously rubbing her cheek.

“What the fuck. This is why I don’t do relationships. People get all smiley, emotional and weepy and shit.”

“Sorry you might have to get used to it.” Root grinned.

 “Whatever” came the reply as Shaw was finally satisfied, after enough scrubbing, that her cheek was peck free.

They once again fell into an awkward silence. The entrance was starting to get a little crowded with people coming in and those waiting for their cars to show up.

“So, have you spotted our tail yet?” Root enquired.

“Six cars to the left, other side of the street, black Audi. That’s the one that was following us. And at three o’clock the couple standing there, the guy in the brown jacket they are the ones following us.”

Root caught a glimpse of the couple in a reflection in the window of a car that just pulled up.

“You recognize him?” she asked Shaw.

“Yeah, from about two years ago.  He was one of the new recruits at ISA. Hersh would conduct the training, I would watch from one of the observation decks whenever I was bored.”

“You’re sure.”

“Absolutely, never forget a face. Guess you were right about it being Control. The only thing to figure out now is what she wants with you.”

“I might have a theory on that as well, but I would like to hear it from her mouth. Anyways, it’s good to be right. Now let’s get out of here” said Root as their car was brought in by the valet.

Shaw tipped the valet, they got in to the car and drove off into the night. Shaw drove slow enough to see the man in the brown jacket and his pretend date cross the road and make their way towards the black Audi. They didn’t seem to be a rush.

“You know they’ve probably bugged this car by now.” Shaw voiced her thoughts.

“Oh, I’m certain of it, but I came prepared.” Root smiled at Shaw and took out a small black box from her purse.

Shaw smiled back, “A signal jammer. Nice. What’s it for, audio or location?”

“Both, but right now I’m just blocking audio. Let them track our position for a while. The only thing I’m worried about right now is aerial surveillance.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.” Shaw commented. Root looked at her expecting a slightly more elaborate explanation.

“If what you say is right and Control wants to keep this private then she would have to keep everything at ground level because that’s all she is authorized for, anything else she needs additional approvals. That includes aerial or wire-tapping. Then she would have to get approval from an oversight committee and I don’t think she would want to attract that kind of attention. Welcome to the world of multi departmental intelligence. Isn’t bureaucracy a many splendored thing?” Shaw smiled back at Root and Root chuckled in return.  

“Are you sure?”

“About ninety percent.” Shaw replied with a shrug.

“I can live with that.”

 

 

They had been driving around for about twenty minutes. They wanted it to look like they were out a late night drive and they wanted to keep it unpredictable, so their shadows wouldn’t be able to put anyone in front of them. They drove around taking in the sights.

“I do love cities at night” Root mentioned.

“Hmm.” Shaw replied, temporarily distracted trying spot their tail which had been recently switched to a blue ford figo. Having spotted it Shaw decided that it would be polite to add to the conversation.

“So, you have any favorite cities?”

Root thought about it for a while and replied, “I like Hong Kong a lot, did a few jobs there in the past.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah. My first solo mission in 2002, about a year before George passed away and then another one in 2005. Both were small jobs, a couple of Chinese businessmen. But then 2009 was the big one. But that was more of a payback than a job.”

“Really, payback for what?” Shaw was beginning to get interested in the conversation.

“Well, I was doing a job in Germany in December of 2008. It was a big project. I was using a security flaw to get into the banking system. But at the last moment one of my associates decided to double cross me and passed on the information to some Chinese hackers. They bungled up the entire project. The bank detected the flaw in their system and no one got anything. It was a 100 million euro payday. I could have fucking retired or bought an island. Fucking morons.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well it took me awhile to figure out who was actually behind it. It turned out to be a Chinese hacker initiative backed by the Triad. So I decided to teach them a lesson. I created a very elaborate false trail which connected the hackers and the Triad to fundamentalist terrorist groups from the middle-east.” Root replied with a grin.

Shaw suddenly lost control of the car upon hearing Root’s plan. She gained control quickly and stared at the hacker in disbelief. Root was surprised by this reaction.

“What. Did I say something wrong?”

“This was in summer of 2009, right?” Shaw asked Root slowly.

“Yeah, why, do you know about this?” Root’s eyes were starting to widen as she realized what Shaw was thinking and they said it out in unison.

“Operation Black Swan.”

“You fucking bitch. That was you. That entire operation was a fake trail planted by you.” Shaw shouted at Root.

Root was trying very hard not to start giggling.

“You asshole. That entire episode of Chinese hackers and the triad laundering money and supplying weapons to terrorists groups. All of that was a plant. The CIA and Chinese intelligence got hold of some encrypted files which lead them to a secret money laundering network. That was all you?” Shaw stared at the hacker incredulously.

Root smiled rather sheepishly.

“The CIA was over the moon with that one. They acted like Christmas had come early. I remember talking to Hersh and he kept saying that something was off because we hadn’t heard anything from Research, which was why we never got involved in it. Do you have any fucking idea how much it cost the government?”

Root shook her head.

“Over eighty five million dollars, and they even had to agree on some weapons technology transfer to get the Chinese to agree to a joint operation and share whatever intel was recovered.”

“Well it’s not my fault if governments are this gullible. Besides they did get to shut down the Triads. Honestly I never expected it to be as successful as it turned out to be.” Root finally burst out laughing.

Shaw whacked the hacker on the back of her head.

“Ow, what was that for?” Root asked Shaw, still laughing and rubbing the back of her head.

“That was for costing the government a hundred million dollars.” Shaw replied who was also starting to grin at the absurdity of the entire situation.

“You said eight five.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Shaw finally joined the hacker and burst out laughing as well. “Man, I should call some of those idiots in the CIA and tell them the truth just to see their reactions.”

“You could, but are supposed to be dead.” Root reminded Shaw.

“Oh yeah, completely forgot about that.”

Root was happy to see Shaw laughing, whatever the reason maybe.

 

 

A little while later Root decided it was time to activate the plan, “I think it’s time to disappear.”

“Right now?” asked Shaw.

 “Why not. How many tails do we have?”

“Two. A black audi and a blue Ford. Neither is going to be much of a match for this bad boy.” Shaw said as she patted the steering wheel of the Fiat 8V.

“That’s nice but I would rather not be part of a high speed chase.”

“Fine. You’re no fun.” Shaw pretended to be grumpy, but she also knew that it would be simpler to just walk away and that’s exactly what they had planned to do.

“At the next left jam our location.” Shaw instructed. Root nodded in return.

The black Audi was six cars back and the blue Ford was three cars back. Shaw quickly accelerated and turned left just as the traffic signal turned red. All their tails could do was watch. They knew they had no more than a few minutes but it didn’t matter because they had just pulled near the Manhattan Mall. There were enough people and cars on the street to make them nearly invisible to any kind of visual surveillance unless their tail was just a few feet behind them. Without electronic surveillance they would be almost impossible to spot in the crowd. They pulled into a paid parking that Root had reserved previously. They stepped out, Shaw took out a duffel bag from the trunk, and they caught a waiting cab and disappeared into the traffic.

Shaw could spot the blue Ford pulling into the street just as they were pulling away. She smiled at the simplicity of Root’s plan. In another life Root would have made a good agent, Shaw thought. But then in another life Shaw would have made an excellent mercenary. She noticed Root looking curiously at the duffel bag.

“It’s my tool kit.” Shaw remarked casually.

“That’s a pretty big tool kit.”

“I just like to be prepared.”

 

 

Fifteen minutes later the cab pulled up in a street on the upper East side. Root paid the cabby and they made their way into an apartment building.

It turned out that Root had various safe houses which she kept under different names, just in case they ever had to disappear in a hurry. Each safe house contained clothes and supplies for the entire team and a care package which had some cash and a new identity. They didn’t need any of those at the moment, they just needed to get rid of their clothes and get into something more comfortable, more combat friendly.

“How many of these places do have and how is it hidden from Samaritan?” Shaw asked.

“I have a few just in the city. They are leased in the names of homeless people. People who were well off but have fallen on hard times. I specifically picked places which don’t have great CCTV coverage. It’s not a complete blind spot but there are enough holes in the surveillance to cause problems for Samaritan.” Root explained.

“So what now?”

“Let get out of these clothes first and then we can take it from there.” Root replied.

“Sounds good. Which room do I take?”

“You’ll find your clothes in the room to your left. I have my clothes in the room behind me.”

Shaw turned around and started to walk towards the room when she heard a zip being undone. She turned around and caught a glimpse of the hacker’s svelte figure as she stepped out of her dress and the door started closing behind her. As the door was about to close the hacker turned around and their eyes briefly met. Root looked as surprised to see Shaw looking at her as Shaw was. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. The door finally closed and the moment was gone. Shaw knew that Root hadn’t done it on purpose but that glimpse had made Shaw realize just how attractive the hacker was and how attracted she was to Root. She would never admit that to Root but right now she was even having difficulty admitting it to herself. Her thoughts were running in a million different directions all of which involved doing things to Root. Shaw forced herself to remember her training and reminded herself that they were on a mission.

She finally decided to change her clothes, stepped into the room to her left and closed the door behind her.

Chapter Text

They had been at the safe house for almost twenty minutes. Root sat next to the window watching the quite streets below, while her fun-sized date was exploring the relatively spacious apartment going through all the rooms and closets. Root watched her with some amusement as Shaw moved from room to room. She was glad that to be in her company tonight especially now that they were trying to get the attention of their shadow. It wasn’t that she couldn’t take care of herself, she had done it her entire life, but it was nice to have someone she could depend upon.

Shaw finally ended her grand exploration of the three rooms and returned to the living room, where she found Root smiling pleasantly at her. Shaw looked at her and didn’t know how to respond to a smile that held no mischief and so she decided to check out the street through the other window. After a few quite moments Shaw decided to break the silence.

“So, how long have you had this place?” She asked.

Root looked deep in thought as she tried to remember when she had gotten the place.

“Over ten years now, this was one of my first safe houses from back in the day when I was an ordinary criminal mastermind” she replied with a grin. “But then as it became apparent that there was a very likely chance that Samaritan would go online, The Machine instructed me to create safe houses for everyone. So I decided to repurpose this one and stock it with all the relevant supplies.” Root explained.

“But, it’s just for the four of us. How come there’s nothing for your nerd squad?” Shaw questioned Root.

“Because they’re already out of the country. They do have a couple of safe houses in South America and Europe, since that’s where they’re located. Besides I don’t want to bring them into the fray unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

Shaw nodded at Root knowing there was no point in putting any more people at risk than was needed. With that she made her way towards the duffel bag to inspect the wares. She started to lay out the guns and ammo on the table in the living room. Root walked over to take a look at the goods and whistled.

“Are you planning to start the third world war?” Root said as she picked up and inspected a Glock 19 from all the variety of weapons that Shaw had laid out on the table.

“There’s no harm in being prepared. Besides aren’t we already in the middle of a war?” Shaw remarked.

“I guess.” Root admitted.

“So, what is our plan?”

Root scrunched her eyebrows, “I already told you, stick around here for a while and then make our move.” Root answered Shaw.

“No, not for tonight, what’s the plan for the war?”

Root paused for a moment, trying to come up with an appropriate answer. But the truth was that even she wasn’t entirely aware of the entire plan.

“You know what, right now I’m just putting my faith in HER. The extent to which Samaritan has spread there is almost no chance that we can ever put it back in a box or even destroy it. The only thing we can hope for is if we can influence its evolution in some way.”

“It’s evolution?” Shaw seemed puzzled.

“See the thing is, an artificial super intelligence like Samaritan isn’t necessarily evil. It’s just that it doesn’t care about us. The same way we don’t care if we use animals for testing drugs or making a meal out of them. Or that we cut down entire forests to make houses or to make a variety of goods because we only consider them as resources. To an AI it’s the same thing. We are nothing more than resources or a hindrance. To it we are nothing more than chicken or cattle.”

Shaw had a horrified look as she listened to Root’s explanation, “So where does that leave us.”

“I don’t know. I think the only thing we can hope for is if Samaritan can evolve beyond its original programming, if it can evolve to become kinder or a little more accepting of humanity. Maybe that’s all that we can do, teach it to be more benign like the way Harold taught The Machine”

“And can we do that?” Shaw looked expectantly at her date.

“Theoretically sure, practically, no idea” replied Root with a shrug.

“Well, I’m so glad we had this conversation. This makes me feel a whole lot better.”

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t destroy Greer and Decima.” Root said with a grin.

Shaw grinned in return.

 


 

 

The black Audi and the blue Ford pulled up next to each other on a dark empty road. The occupants of both vehicles got out and walked towards each other. They all had equally troubled expressions on their faces. They were all aware of the gravity of their situation.

“Any sign of them?” asked the driver of the black Audi. He was big man, standing well over six feet. He had been with the ISA for nearly seven months now and if this assignment went south there was no chance of him making it to month eight. It was the first time he had been in situation like this. In fact all four people standing on that road were fairly new to the ISA, which made them even more nervous.

The driver of the other car shook her head. She was a former NSA analyst who had decided that she wanted to be part of the action. But, this wasn’t the kind of action she was looking for.

Her partner was a man named Hardy. Hardy wasn’t a particularly smart fellow. But he was good at following orders and every organization needs people like that. He wasn’t the sort to come up with ideas or take initiative and right now he was feeling completely out of his depth. At that moment he was fondly remembering his days in the military, when the enemies wore uniforms and it was easier to know who he was meant to shoot. Things were simpler back then. All this cloak and dagger stuff was really confusing. He was just glad that he had a partner like Irene. She was smart. She always knew what to do. But right now even she looked worried, which made him doubly so.

“What the hell happened, how did we lose them?” asked the passenger from the black Audi.

“I have no fucking clue. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that they had all of this planned and that we got played big time” Irene replied.

“Can’t we just use the surveillance system?” Hardy jumped in with the only helpful suggestion he could come up with.

  “Come one Hardy,” said the tall man exasperatedly, “That’s the only order we have, to not use any of the surveillance systems. Do you really want to go against the boss’s orders, after we managed to lose our mark?”

Hardy stared staring at his shoes quite intently, not wanting to verbally admit that it was indeed a stupid suggestion.

“Alright so who’s going to tell the boss?” asked the tall man.

It was the one question and the one job that every one of them was dreading. But they all knew that someone had to do it. Irene had an idea. She reached into her pocket.

“Coin toss?” she said as she pulled out a coin out of her pocket.

As no one else had any better suggestion they all quietly agreed. Irene called heads, the guys from the black Audi called tails.

Irene lost.

The guys from the black Audi walked back to their car smiling. The called out to the other crew and wished them best of luck and drove off, leaving Irene and Hardy standing in the middle of the dark road wishing that maybe a truck could come by and just run them over. Maybe then they would have a valid enough excuse for not reporting the events of the evening to their boss. But the truck of their dreams never showed up and so they got into their car and drove off to face their worst nightmare.

 ____

The blue Ford Figo turned into a dark street. A few hundred meters down the street, towards the right, was a maroon van with “I&A Electronics” printed on the side. The front door of the van was open and there was a man sitting on the steps of the van eating a burger. As the car turned the corner the man on the steps turned and looked in their direction. The two agents in the car were both dreading to approach the van. Given the fact how monumentally they had screwed up, their fear was quite understandable. But they both knew it had to be done. The woman at the wheel took a deep breath and approached the van. They drove up to the van and stopped next to it. The agents had previously done a coin toss and this time poor Hardy had lost. So, he was the one who got out to talk to the agent in charge.

“Good Evening, Sir.” said the man as he got out of the car.

“Hi. Do you mind telling me how this happened and please don’t leave out any details” asked the agent in charge as he continued eating the burger.

“Well, we did as instructed. We were keeping an eye on her. She was supposed to go out for dinner with a friend this evening. But since the friend made the reservations we didn’t know which restaurant they were headed for.” The junior agent started his story.

 The senior agent stared blankly in return and kept munching on his burger.

The junior agent knew that he was essentially staring at a ticking time bomb. This narration was just a formality so he decided to rush through it.

“We followed them to this restaurant called “Morimoto”. We couldn’t get a reservation so me and Irene, we hung around in the lounge and waited for them to come out.” The junior agent paused as he contemplated whether the next bit of information was important enough and sadly he decided that it was. “You know I think they’re on a date.” He leaned in and whispered to the senior agent.

The senior agent put down his burger on the steps of the van. He stood up and looked about ready to explode.

“Really, that’s great news. I will put that in the file right away.” He said with sarcasm dripping from every word. He stepped in a little closer. Hardy now feared for his life. He backed away but was pinned between his boss and the car. With nowhere to go he looked up at his senior, with beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

“Do I look like I care if she was on a date? Does it look like it matters if she’s dating a woman, a man, a monkey or a god damned goat? Do you think we put an eight person team to follow her so that we could figure out who she’s sleeping with?” The senior moved in closer still, any second now he would be close to strangle the his idiotic junior.

“You were given one job. One miserable, fucking job. Keep an eye on her and don’t let her out of your sight. How the fuck do you manage to screw that up. How do eight of you manage to lose her?”

The junior agent looked around, trying to find a way to escape. There was no running away, he knew he would have to reply.

“Well, we did bug her car.” He said in his defense.

“And?” asked his senior, as he loomed over him.

“She had a signal jammer. You know I don’t think she’s a psychiatrist.”

“Wow, you’re really full of relevant information today, aren’t you? Have any of our targets ever been who they seem to be? So what, she jams the signal and then you lose visual as well.”

“She turned into the Manhattan Mall. It was really crowded. By the time we made the turn they had disappeared. They put the car in a garage and they must have left in a cab or something” replied the junior agent sheepishly.

The senior agent was fuming by now.

“Let me make this as clear as possible, all you morons have until sunrise to find our target. Because if I have to report to her that you idiots lost the mark…”

“Her, you mean Control?” Hardy interrupted his boss. Now he was even more terrified than before.

“Yes Control. Who else do you think gives the orders around here and this mission was directly for her. So listen up. Either you find the target or you better throw yourself in front of a truck, because if you don’t then I will.” The senior agent said as he pulled Hardy up by his collar.

“Yes Sir” replied Hardy just as his boss let go of him. He scrambled for the car door. He got in and told Irene to get out of their as quickly as possible. Irene was more than happy to oblige. She was feeling sorry for her partner, but not sorry enough to have taken his place.

 ____

Twenty five minutes later, they were positioned outside their target’s office. They had met with the rest of the team earlier and had decided that they would watch the office while the Audi was parked outside the target’s home. The other four members of their team were checking all of usual places where the target would go to. There was still no sign of them.

Hardy sat next to Irene twiddling his thumbs. They had just spoken to some of their other team members. They had even checked out the target’s date’s office with no luck. This was not looking good.

“What happens if we can’t find them by morning? Do you think they would really, you know.” Hardy nervously asked Irene.

 She looked back at him. “What kill us, nah. There are too many rules and regulations in place now. They will probably just send you undercover to some god forsaken war torn part of the world and believe me going undercover is a lot different from being a soldier in a uniform.”

Hardy knew exactly what she meant. As a soldier he at least had some rights. If he was caught as a spy, he would be lucky if they just strapped him to an IED and blew him to bits but most bad guys didn’t believe in a letting someone off easy.

Hardy groaned. “I miss the army, I was so happy as a soldier.”

Irene didn’t want to say it, but at that moment even she was missing her desk back at the NSA.

“So what made you join the ISA?” She had never asked him that before. She figured she should get to know him a little bit better, because the way things were going she had no idea what the outcome of this night would be.

“I don’t know. I was stationed in Iraq. I was with this team of spooks. They were trying to hunt down some terrorist cell and they needed someone who knew the place. I had done two tours before that so I knew my way around. Anyways, I helped them out on a couple of jobs and their boss asked me if I would like to join them on a more permanent basis. He said I would mostly work stateside and the pay would be better. I blame all those James Bond movies I used to watch with my dad. I had this romantic version of what being a spy would be, where as in reality you just spend hours sitting in your car eating crappy food and getting constipated, and now this. You know what the boss said?”

“What”

“He said this mission is being carried out personally for Control. I’ve never met her and with the way things are going I don’t think I want to meet Control.”

 Irene was too horrified to reply to that piece of information.

They sat there in silence. Minutes ticked by and nothing happened, there was no good news coming from any corners. It was getting close to eleven in the night and they were both starting to get a little jittery. The street was empty except for the occasional night time jogger in a hoodie. They had seen a few already and so when the short man came jogging from a distance they didn’t pay a lot of attention to him, but as he came close they realized that maybe the man might not be a man after all.

“Hey does that look like her date?” Hardy asked Irene as he started to sit up in his seat.

Irene was about to answer when she noticed movement in the rear view mirror. It was their target and she was holding what looked like a grenade launcher.

“Oh fuck” was all Irene could say as a tear gas grenade sailed in through the rear window. The bang stunned them and smoke filled the car. Both Irene and Hardy fell out of the car and struggled to take out their weapons, when Irene yelped. She put her hand on her shoulder and pulled out a tranquilizer dart. She stared back at her target and saw her smile. Then she lost consciousness.

Hardy wasn’t as lucky. He had managed to get up and draw his weapon. His eyes were burning but he was trying to aim at the tall woman standing in the other side of the street. He had completely forgotten about the jogger, who was at that moment standing behind him. He sensed a movement and turned around and saw a short figure in a hoodie standing about five feet away from him and then she moved. He had never seen anyone move that fast. He saw her arm come up, it was holding a black rectangular box. Before he could react it touched his neck. His entire body convulsed. As he was about to lose consciousness her saw the short woman pull back her hood. She was smiling and it wasn’t a very pleasant smile.

Who were these women? That was his last thought as he blacked out.

____

Hardy woke up. He tried to move but realized soon enough that he tied to a chair. His eyes were still burning from the tear gas and he felt like he had been hit by a truck. He had never been tazed before. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling. He was trying to focus through his watering eyes. The room was still blurry but becoming clearer.

He looked around and realized that it wasn’t a very large room. There was small table near the door with a couple of chairs. There was duffel bag on the floor next to the table. Besides that the room was empty. Just the two women with him tied to a chair.

Of the two women, the target was sitting on the table while the shorter one, her date, was standing in front of her but extremely close to her. They were whispering to each other. It seemed very intimate, as if they lost in their own private world. Occasionally the taller woman’s leg would brush up against her date’s thighs. She leaned in and said something in the shorter woman’s ear. The shorter woman gave a tiny smile. He could see that they genuinely cared for each other. Their eyes sparkled when they spoke to each other and they seemed really relaxed in each other’s company like they truly belonged together. He also realized that they hadn’t noticed that he was awake.

No sooner had the thought crossed through his mind that the shorter woman turned and looked in his direction. It was almost as if she could read his mind. The spark from her eyes was gone in an instant. Her eyes were now as dead as a shark’s. She moved away from her date and towards the duffel bag. She reached in and took out a small leather bound tool kit and put it on the table. All this time the tall woman was still sitting on table watching the other woman go about her work.

The woman with the dead eyes opened up the tool kit. She started to inspect the devices that lay within. She would occasionally take out a sharp instrument and carefully wipe it with a soft cloth and put it back in its place. Hardy knew that it was nothing more than a scare tactic, but it was a very successful scare tactic. Also the look on the shorter woman’s face told him that she would have no problems in using any of those tools on him.

The target slid towards the dead-eyed woman. She picked up one of the instruments to take a look at it. She admired it as the metal shone in the light. It looked like a pair of tweezers with a serrated claw at the end. She smiled as she looked at it. Hardy saw the madness that touched the edges of her eyes. He realized that she was as crazy, if not more, than her date. He came to the terrifying conclusion that while her date might not care whether she tortured him or not, the tall woman might actually enjoy it.

“What’s the plan here?” she asked her date.

“Nothing much, just a couple of fingernails to make him more compliant, that’s all” came the reply.

Hardy didn't know if she was serious or not. He needed to get out of there. He started to struggle against his restraints to no avail. The steel chair was nailed to the floor. There was no escape. A rush of random thoughts started to go through his head.

I’m not even married yet. I haven’t even had a girlfriend in two years. Oh, my god I want to have kids. Please just get me out of here. Fuck this spy shit. I’ll quit and go into real estate. Cousin Eric in California has a Real Estate business, I could join him. I can do that. Please just get me away from these two.

“I think he looks complaint enough. Tell you what let me try and talk to him and if he’s uncooperative then you can have a go at him” said the tall woman.

Her date reluctantly put the tools back in their place and nodded.

The target pulled up a chair and sat in front of Hardy. She smiled at him.

“Hi, I’m Caroline, but I think you already know that. I’m going to remove the tape from your mouth now. If you scream then she will taze you again. Understand?”

Hardy nodded as he saw the shorter woman pick up the taser. The tall woman reached out and ripped the duct tape of his mouth.

“Let’s start with some introductions. What’s your name? Just give me your first name.”

“Hardy” he replied cautiously.

“Well, Hardy. It’s nice to meet you. Do you have any questions before we begin?”

Hardy looked around.

“Where’s Irene?”

The tall woman looked confused momentarily, “Your partner? She’s fine. She’s in the trunk of your car. She won’t be wake up for another three or four hours minimum.”

Hardy seemed satisfied with the answer.

“What do you want from me?” He asked in slightly panicked tone.

“Straight to the point, I like that.” The target smiled a very becoming smile.

“We just want you to deliver a message. To Control.”

Hardy’s eyes widened. Who were these women? How did they know about Control?

The tall women could easily read him at that point.

“Look if doesn’t matter how we know Control or that you work for the ISA. All that matters is that you deliver the message and then you’re free. Deal?”

Hardy, at a complete loss of words, once again nodded in compliance.

“Good. Now before we give you the message there are a few rules to this game. If you try to bring you head down you’ll feel something around your neck. Can you feel it?” said the Target.

Hardy tried to move his head and felt some kind of a restraint around his neck. In all his panic he had never noticed it. The woman told her partner to give her a mirror.

She held the mirror in front of him. Hardy noticed something that looked like a dog collar around his neck. The woman put the mirror down and smiled once again.

“It’s a modified radio dog collar. It has an audio transmitter and small explosive charge at the back which can be triggered remotely. So essentially we will be able to hear everything you say and if you say something we don’t like then we vaporize your head. OK?”

Hardy didn’t know how to reply to that. So he stayed silent. The woman took out a small piece of paper from her jacket pocket.

“Now here’s the job. After you leave from here you are going to go straight back to your agent in charge. You are going to tell him to call up Control and then you will talk to her personally and tell her to call the number on this piece of paper immediately after you finish talking to her. We will be waiting for the call. If we don’t hear from her within thirty seconds of you putting the phone down then you pay the price for her delay. Understand?” the tall woman explained the mission.

“Yes.” This time Hardy was able to answer back.

“Now in order to confirm that you are actually talking to Control you are going to ask her the question written on the paper. If the answer is right you get to live. Do I need to continue?” she smiled again.

This woman is insane, thought Hardy.

She reached out and started to open his restraints. Her date picked up a shot gun and put it to his head. Once he was free the tall woman stepped back and gave him a clear passage to the door. Hardy tried not to make a mad dash for it. He wanted to retain at least some dignity. Just as he had reached the door the target called out.

“Hardy, the transmitter also detects cell phone calls. So don’t make any. Now how long will it take you to get to your boss?”

Hardy thought about it for a second before replying, “Twenty minutes.”

“You have fifteen. Here’s the thing Hardy, if you don’t get to your boss in fifteen minutes you die. If you make any calls along the way you die. If you don’t get the right answer from Control or we don’t hear back from her in time, you die. The point is Hardy, we are really concerned about your well being. Try not to die.” She smiled the sweetest smile at him.

Hardy rushed out of the door.

 ____

He quickly made in down to his car and checked the trunk to make sure that Irene was there. He didn't have the time to put her in the back seat, so he left her there in the trunk. He knew he could make the distance in fifteen minutes at this time of the night, so he got into the car and floored it.

Fourteen minutes later he reached his destination. The blue ford screeched to a halt. It was loud enough to have his boos come out of the van with his weapon drawn. Once he saw who was driving the car he holstered his weapon.

“What the fuck, Hardy? Are you insane? You could have hit us?”

Hardy rushed out of the car and started babbling.

“They shot Irene. She’s sleeping. They put this collar around my neck. Irene’s in the trunk. They tied me to a chair. They want to talk to control. They’ll kill me if I don’t talk to her. You have to save me. Please.”

The agent slapped Hardy right across his face. Hardy stumbled and fell on his ass. The agent stood over him.

“Get a grip, man. You’re an embarrassment to the ISA. Now stand up and tell me exactly what happened.”

Hardy stood up and managed to stop himself from shaking and in the next couple of minutes told his story.

“You have to let me talk to her. I don’t think I have a lot of time left. If I don’t I’m sure they’ll kill me. Look man you haven’t met them, they are lunatics.”

No sooner had he said it than the collar around his neck emitted a loud whine. His boss instinctively took a few steps back.

 


 

Somewhere across town Shaw was grinning like a maniac.

“Is that really necessary, haven’t we scared him enough already?” Root chided Shaw for her behavior.

Shaw just kept on grinning, “Relax, it’s not like there’s actually any explosive there.”

Root grinned in return.


 

Hardy had dropped to the ground once again as if that would save him. He stood up once more.

“Look you have to let me talk to her.”

The agent in charge knew that there was no other way out, so they went inside the van and made the call.

“Yes Mr. Millar, any sign of the target” asked Control.

“Well that’s kind of the point of this call, Ma’am. I’m going to put on Agent Hardy to explain the situation to you.”

He handed the encrypted phone over to his incompetent junior. Hardy found out that his mouth had gone completely dry. He finally summoned up the courage to take the phone.

“Ma’am, this is Agent Hardy. I have a message for you from the target.”

“You’ve met her?” said the surprised voice on the other end of the line.

“Well, sort of. She just wants me to give you a message but fist she needs me to confirm that it’s really you, Ma’am.”

“So I take it she can hear this conversation. Did she capture you?”

“Yes Ma’am, on both counts.” Hardy replied sheepishly.

“Fine, so how am I supposed to confirm my identity?”

“She has a question.”

“Which is?” the voice was beginning to get impatient.

“She wants to know which is her good ear?”

Hardy heard a small chuckle from the other end of the line.

“The left one” came the reply.

Hardy waited for something bad to happen but nothing did, so he knew that the answer must be the right one.

“Ma’am, they need you to call this number immediately. They are waiting for your call.” Hardy gave the telephone number to Control and with that he completed his mission.

In response he heard a small beep and his collar went silent.

Control took down the number and asked, “Is there anything else?”

“No ma'am, that’s it.”

“Good. And Mr. Hardy, you’re fired.”

“Thank you, Ma'am” Hardy had never felt this relieved in his life.

 


 

On an empty street across town,  Root and Shaw waited next to a public phone booth. Shaw sat on the bonnet eating a pizza they had picked up on their way to the location while Root stood next to the phone waiting for the call.

A few seconds later the it rang.

Root waited for a few seconds. The ringing of the phone echoed all across the street. Root answered the call.

“Dr. Von Neumann, I presume.”

“Yes. I was thinking maybe it’s time we met.”

“I was thinking the exact same thing.” Control said in agreement, "“Do you have a location in mind.” 

Root gave her the location.

“Be there in one hour and you can get only one guard with you. If we spot anyone else, we disappear. Agreed?”

“Agreed, see you in an hour.” With that Control cut the call.

Root put the phone down and turned to look at Shaw eating the pizza.

“Hey, leave a slice for me. I’m hungry too.”

Chapter Text

The woman put the phone down. It was getting late and she had hoped that the night would be uneventful. It was the one night her son had chosen to visit her with his family. She had spent the evening in their company watching an old Hitchcock movie. She had expected that she could have just gone to bed like an ordinary person and wake up in the morning and have breakfast with her son and his family but sadly that wasn’t going to be the case. She still might make it back for breakfast but it was looking like it might turn out to be another one of those sleepless nights.

Control got up off the bed. She put the phone back. She had gotten an encrypted line installed at her residence. It was on a rotating frequency which made it almost impossible to hack. She had been getting increasingly wary of audio visual devices which were capable of transmitting a signal.

She stood near a window in her house in Washington D.C. She looked out onto the street and saw a CCTV camera looking back at her. Its pulsating red eye made her uneasy. The streets no longer felt safe to her. Of late she would often spend hours thinking of the night of the Vigilance bombings in New York and whether the decisions taken in its wake were the right ones. The new system that they had acquired from Decima scared her. There were no doubts about its efficiency but it somehow felt more vicious and predatory.

All she had ever wanted was to keep her country safe. But now she was beginning to think that in her single minded pursuit of protecting her country she might have let something lose on the world that she didn’t fully understand or maybe she had been tricked into doing it. Her trip to New York might give her answers to all the questions that had plagued her for the past couple of months.

The phone call tonight was a surprise but she had been expecting it for a while. The woman she had been tracking was smart and Control knew that sooner or later she would figure out that she was being followed. After that it would just be a matter of time before she would try and turn the tables. It just happened a lot sooner that Control had expected. She had underestimated Root. But it didn’t matter anymore soon she would have the answers she needed.

Control got ready for her trip. She had messaged Ethan to come and pick her up in ten minutes and to keep the plane ready.

Ethan was her new assistant after Mr. Hersh’s sad demise. Control missed Hersh. He had been trusted aide for over twenty years. She had trained him and could always depend on him. His loyalty had been unwavering. Ethan was Hersh’s protégé. He was almost as talented as Ms. Shaw and since Shaw was no longer in her employ Control had selected the next in line.

Control made her way down. She was carrying a small briefcase which contained some bare essentials.

The house was dark. Her son and his family had retired for the night. She knew she hadn’t been a great mother. She had dedicated her entire life to protecting her country and that had taken a toll on her personal life. Surprisingly her son had understood her situation and had made efforts to remain connected.

Control made her way through the hall way leading towards the main door when she heard a door opening behind her. She turned around and saw that it was her nine year old grandson stealthily making his way out of his bedroom.

He closed the door quietly, looked up and paused when he saw his grandmother standing in the hallway. He decided that an attack was the best form of defense and decided to pose a question to his grandmother.

“Grandma, what are you still awake?”

Control chuckled, “I could ask you the same thing” she replied in a whisper.

He walked up to her and said in a conspiratorial tone, “I wanted some more chocolate cake. Dad only gave me a small piece. Do you want some?”

The boy had learnt early on that his grandmother had an uncanny gift at spotting lies and so he always told her the truth.

Control smiled, “Sure.”

They both made their way towards the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table to have their late night snack. Her grandson noticed that his grandmother looked like she was dressed for work.

“Are you going somewhere, grandma?” he asked as he dug into his cake slice with a fork.

“I have some work. But I will be back before morning.”

The boy nodded and continued eating the cake.

A few minutes later Control’s phone buzzed. She checked the message. It was from Ethan. He was waiting for her outside. She finished what was left of her slice of cake and stood up.

“I have to go now. When you finish your cake, clean up and put the rest of it back in the fridge and no watching TV.”

The boy nodded in compliance.

“Bye grandma, see you in the morning.” Her grandson waved her goodbye.

Control waved back and made her way out of the front door. She closed the door and paused for a second checking the street. It was an old habit, coming from years of being in the spy game. But now she knew that looking for enemy spies no longer mattered; now everybody was being watched all the time by the all-seeing eye. She looked up at the CCTV camera in futility, knowing full well that it was a prison that she had willingly accepted.

She saw Ethan standing next to the car. He raised his hand to draw her attention. She nodded and made her way towards the car.

As she approached the car she noticed that Ethan looked a little bleary eyed. This trip was unexpected and it had caught both of them unprepared. But after years of being in the business she had come to the conclusion that almost nothing ever went according to plan, that most things in life caught you unprepared.

She got into the car and Ethan got into the driver’s seat and they drove off.

“Is the plane ready?”

“Yes ma’am. They are on standby at the airfield.” Ethan replied.

“What’s our ETA?”

“The skies are clear so about 25-30 minutes. I’ve already informed the New York team, they will meet us at the airport.” Saying that Ethan started the car and they made their way towards the airfield.

It was a private airfield that was almost exclusively used by the ISA. A Learjet 45 was waiting for them on the runway, fueled and ready for takeoff.

 

About ten minutes into the flight Control was looking at the surveillance footage of Root. She was surprised to see Ms. Shaw with her. She had figured that they would have scattered after the events in New York but somehow they had managed to stay in New York and remain undetected. That intrigued her, also the fact that they looked very comfortable in each other’s company. If she remembered correctly Ms. Shaw was never one for socializing, but sometimes people change, Control thought. With that she closed her laptop and decided to take a quick nap before they landed in New York.

Twenty minutes later the entire New York team was on the airfield. Every single one of them was nervous. Control wasn’t known to be the most forgiving of bosses and they all knew that they had screwed in a big way. They had all been told to stand down until further instructions from Control herself. The only thing they had done was to do a simple recon of the rendezvous spot.

A few minutes later the plane landed and Control and Ethan disembarked. Jacob, the agent in command of the New York team stepped forward to meet her.

“Ma’am” Jacob greeted Control trepidatiously.

“Good evening, Jacob” Controls voice didn’t betray her feeling at all, which scared Jacob even more. Control stood silently staring at her junior waiting for his report. It took Jacob a second to realize what was expected of him.

“We did an initial recon of the area. It’s a dock yard. It’s mostly empty. It’s also a black hole for electronic surveillance. We just can’t get a signal out of the place. Close range communication works but nothing’s going to in or out of that place. I would strongly advise against this mission, Ma’am. At the least allow us to provide you with some back up.”

Control looked at him and smiled, “Jacob, considering state of this operation I would suggest against making any suggestions. It’s just going to try my patience. Besides the two women I intend to meet are not enemies so in this case I will keep my word.”

Jacob swallowed hard and nodded.

“Now, when I spoke to you from the plane I asked for a certain someone to be present, is he here?” Control asked.

Jacob turned around and pointed towards the crowd of scared operatives standing behind him. They all parted like the red sea parted for Moses and revealed a scared Hardy standing next to a car, trying desperately to be invisible.

“Mr. Hardy, a word?” Control smiled at him sweetly.

Hardy had no other choice but to comply and he slowly made his way to Control.

“Mr. Hardy, what am I to do with you?”

Hardy stared at Control wondering if it was a rhetorical question, but realized that she was actually expecting an answer.

 “You fired me, Ma’am” he replied tentatively.

“Yes, I did, didn’t I. But I’m thinking I still might have some use for you.”

“But, you fired me” he said pleadingly.

Control smiled coldly, “Tell you what Mr. Hardy. One final job and then you can consider yourself fired. Or I can have Ethan here retire you right now, your choice.”

Hardy turned to his left and saw Control’s assistant removed a gun from his holster and screw on a silencer.

“What do I have to do?” Hardy asked dejectedly.

“Good choice. Come walk with me” said Control and she and Hardy walked out onto the dark runway leaving Ethan, Jacob and the rest of the team behind.

 

Root and Shaw had been at the dock yard for almost half an hour. They had parked their car behind one of the countless containers so they would be hidden from prying eyes. Shaw was sitting on the bonnet munching on a burger they had picked up on the way. Root was leaning against a metal container looking at her date wolf down the burger.

“There’s still some pizza left if you are interested?” Root said sarcastically.

“Not any more. I finished it when you were out doing your little recon.” Shaw replied as she finished the last remaining bites of the burger.

Root laughed. She was happy to learn that the way to Shaw’s heart was through her stomach, which meant that she would have to brush up on her cooking skills.

“How much time do we have?” Shaw asked as she wiped her hands.

“About fifteen minutes.”

Shaw got off the car and took out the duffel bag from the back seat of the car. She put it on the ground and began to go through its contents.

“Do you think we can trust her?” Root asked.

Shaw looked up at her, “Control?, Yeah I think so. As you said yourself, if she wanted you dead or captured then you would be dead or captured. SO I’m willing to go with your assumption that she wants to talk. Besides she has kept her word so far. There is no one lurking around here. It’s just us. But either ways we will find out in the next fifteen minutes.”

Root smiled at her.

“And you don’t need to worry, I have your back.” Shaw said as she took out a sniper rifle out of the duffel bag and started to assemble it.

“I’m never worried when you are around, Sameen.” Root replied sincerely.

Shaw looked up at Root and saw the complete unwavering faith in those eyes and it scared her. She had never had anyone who so utterly and completely trusted her. She promised herself that she wouldn’t let Root down. As long as she was around she would never let anything happen to Root.

Shaw finished assembling the weapon and stood up.

“Positions?” she asked Root.

Root nodded in return.

Shaw took the gun and disappeared into the night. She made her way towards one of the towers in the dockyard. It gave a good view of the entire area. In the meantime, Root took the car and drove to the centre of the dockyard and parked the car. She got out and leaned against it waiting for Control to show up. Root had given Shaw a hand held set which she had modified so that they could communicate in a dark spot like the dock yard they were in.

A few minutes later her ear piece buzzed. She heard Shaw’s voice on the other end, “In position.”

“Good. See anyone yet?”

“Nope, not yet.”

They both maintained their respective places as they waited for Control’s arrival, when Shaw came back online.

“You know, this is the most fun I’ve had in months.”

Root smiled, “Me too. We should do this again sometime.”

“What, kidnapping, torture, getting chased by spies, isn’t that sort of like our day job.” Shaw said playfully.

Root could almost sense her smile and she laughed in return.

“I guess you’re right. It is a bit too much like our day jobs.”

The line went quite again, but a few seconds later Shaw spoke again.

“Tell you what, how about next time I just come over to your place. I’ll make you dinner and I don’t know we could watch a movie or something.”

Root was too stunned to reply. She was just happy that she was finally on a date with Shaw and here Shaw was already making plans for a second date.

On the other end of the line Shaw came to frightening realization of what she had just suggested ever so casually. She knew there was no backing down from it. She had never been one for socializing. On most days she preferred being on her own so she didn’t have to pretend to be normal person. So that people didn’t question her when she wouldn’t react to stuff the way everyone else did. But with Root it was a different matter altogether. Root had always accepted her as she was and that had always made her relax around Root. She could feel herself opening up to Root in a way that she had never done with anyone else in her entire life and that was starting to manifest in ways that even surprised. Like the suggestion she had just made without quite realizing its implications.

Lost in her own thoughts, Shaw realized that the line had been silent for a while. She looked through the sniper scope and saw the back of Root’s head as she leaned against the car.

“Root, are you there?”

A few seconds later Root finally replied, “Yeah.”

“So what do you think, you like the idea.”

“Yeah, I do.” Root replied slowly.

“Great.”

“Maybe we could play video games.” Root said a while later.

“What?” Shaw was a bit confused by the suggestion.

“You know instead of watching a movie, we could play video games.” Root said enthusiastically.

“Sure, I guess.”

“Do you like Skyrim?” There was almost a child-like glee in Root’s voice as she spoke about video games.

“I don’t play a lot of video games, Root?” Shaw confessed.

“Oh, that’s fine I’ll teach you. It’s not that complicated.”

“OK.”

“Perfect. So you make dinner and I’ll provide the entertainment.” Root turned around and looked up in Shaw’s direction and grinned. Shaw could see her usual mischievous smile in her cross hairs and it made her smile in return.

At that moment, Shaw noticed a black sedan driving in from a distance. This was it.

“Heads up, we’ve got company.” Shaw alerted Root.

Root turned around and heard a car approaching her location. She looked on and a few minutes later saw a black sedan. The car stopped about twenty feet away. The driver got out and moved to open the back door. As Control stepped out Root heard Shaw’s voice,

“The driver’s Ethan. I’ve worked with him before. He’s good so be careful.”

“As good as you” Root asked.

There was a bit of a pause before Shaw answered, “Well, that’s kind of pushing it. But still, be careful.”

Root chuckled and nodded her head.

As Control walked up to her Root felt an involuntary shiver run down her spine. She shook it off and watched as Control came and stopped a few feet away from her.

“Good evening” Control said with a smile.

“Hello” Root smiled back.

“Do I address you as Dr. von Neumann?” Control asked.

“That’s my name, for now. So, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Root posed her own question in return.

Control thought about this for a moment and then continued, “I had some questions regarding a certain system I just purchased.”

Root smiled wryly, “What questions do you have regarding the system?”

“Well, firstly I was wondering about the circumstances under which I bought it. The circumstances didn’t feel optimal. I was thinking if you could shed some light on the matter.”

“The circumstances were fabricated.”

“All of it?”

“Pretty much, including the fireworks display. Think of it all as a massive promotional campaign to get you and your friends to buy the system.”

Control had been expecting that answer but she still wasn’t very pleased to hear it.

“Do you have any evidence to support that?”

Root shook her head, “Not yet, but I am in the process of acquiring it. Have you tried acquiring it yourself? ”

“I had about six or seven people ask some questions regarding the matter but they all hit a dead end.” Control said with a sad smile.

They both stood in silence for a while.

“But now we have another problem.” Control continued.

“Which being?”

“The company that we bought the system from no longer exists.”

Root was caught completely off guard by this news.

“What? When did this happen?”

“Yesterday”

“So where does that leave us.”

“Apparently with a system that no one is controlling.”

Root’s face drained off all color. This was something that she had never imagined. She had never thought that Greer would actually hand over the reins to Samaritan itself. This was far worse than she had thought the situation was.

Control saw the reaction on Root’s face and knew that there was some monumentally wrong.

“What does that mean? What is the system exactly?” Control asked.

“That’s the thing, it’s not just a system. It’s a life form. It may not be human but it’s very much alive and now it’s in control.”

“What do you mean, it’s alive?” Control didn’t understand this fully.

“It’s an AI, a true artificial intelligence. What did you think Northern Lights was? It wasn’t just some surveillance system. It was an AI, but the thing was that Harold taught it to care about humans. More than that Harold put it in chains. He made sure that it didn’t grow or evolve beyond its initial programming. With Samaritan none of those rules apply. It’s a completely open system and it has no checks or limitations and now, if what you say is true, it’s out there doing whatever it wants and what it wants may not be the best thing for us as a species.” Root was no longer able to control herself.

Control stood in stunned silence as she tried to absorb this barrage of information.

“Is there a way to stop it?”

It was then that Root suddenly heard Shaw’s voice shout in her ear, “Root, look out.”

Root caught the movement out of the corner of her eye. Ethan was pulling out his gun and it was pointing in her direction and he was fast. Root moved towards her right as she reached back with her right hand to pull of her gun and two shots rang out almost simultaneously.

Shaw was the first to shoot but Ethan was already moving and so her shot caught him just above his left shoulder. This caused Ethan to miss and his shot tore through the inside of Root’s left bicep. Root felt a massive flash of pain and a burning sensation as the bullet cut through her skin and hit the car behind her. She could feel a warm wet sensation spreading out from her wound as blood started to soak through her shirt and made its way down her arm.

She was slightly off balance and within that much time Ethan had managed to take Control hostage. He was hidden behind Control which made it almost impossible for Shaw to get a clean shot. She could shoot through Control, which an option that she was willing to consider, but right now she was waiting to see if she could get an opening.

“Ethan, what is the meaning of this?” Control was furious. She didn’t care if she was being held at gun point. Root was impressed by the authority in the older woman’s voice. She seemed completely unfazed by the entire situation.

“Do you have a shot?” Root whispered to Shaw over the com line.

“No, not a clear one. What about you?”

“Nothing, Control’s pretty big, he’s quite well hidden.” Root replied to Shaw.

Control stared at Root with murder in her eyes and she would have murdered her except for the fact that she was a little preoccupied.

Root’s left arm was dripping blood on the floor but the pain wasn’t so much that she couldn’t put a bullet in Ethan’s head.

“Ethan, answer me.” Control demanded from her captor.

Ethan peeked out from behind Control trying to see if he could take out Root but he knew the minute he took the gun away from Control’s back, she would definitely try to disable him.

“I’m sorry Ma’am, but I have no choice in the matter. I have to do this.”

“What are you talking about, Ethan?” Control asked calmly.

“It’s Emily, my wife, she’s not well. We tried everything, all types of treatments but we went broke. There isn’t even any insurance money left. Then this blonde woman contacted me. She said she could help. All I had to do was tell them if the ISA tried to run any kind of investigation into the current system or if things got out of hand I was to take core of it myself. In return her people would pay for Emily’s treatment.” Ethan confessed as he kept the gun trained on Control.

“So, it was because of you that all of our missions into Decima failed.” Control had always suspected that there was a mole but she had never thought it would be one so close to her.

“I would say that I’m sorry but I will do anything to keep Emily alive.”

As this conversation was happening Root noticed that Control kept turning slightly towards her right. Root couldn’t quite understand her intentions because her turning still wouldn’t give Shaw a clear shot unless there was someone else out there.

“I am sorry too Ethan. I wish you would have just come to me. I would have tried to help but it’s too late now.”  Just as she said that, Control gave a barely perceptible nod and then tilted her head to the left.

Root barely heard the silenced shot but the effect was devastating. Modern bullets are capable of doing tremendous damage to the human body, especially if someone was using a mercury-filled bullet which was almost like shooting a tiny explosive into someone and that was precisely what hit Ethan’s head.

The bullet entered cleanly through his forehead but the back of his head exploded like a watermelon. Blood and grey matter sprayed the floor of the dockyard and the containers behind him. Ethan’s body crumpled to the ground. Control calmly stepped away.

Control removed a small walkie talkie from her pocket and spoke into it.

“Excellent shot Mr. Hardy. Now you can consider yourself fired.”

Root turned and looked into the direction of the shot. The dock yard was mostly dark but somewhere in the darkness she could make out a small figure stand up on top of a container and fade away into that darkness.

She looked back at Control who was wiping the blood from the back of her neck.

“Were you expecting things to go wrong?”

“Not really. But if experience has taught me anything it’s that they usually do and I like to be prepared.” Control replied.

Root suddenly felt a little weak as adrenaline in her system faded away and the pain of the wound returned and so she leaned against the car. She could hear the sound of someone running towards the. She looked back and saw that it was Shaw. She covered the distance in record time.

Shaw came from the other side. She put the rifle in the back seat and then rushed towards Root.

As she tried to pull off Root’s jacket, Root groaned a little from the discomfort.

“I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”

Shaw got her left arm out of the jacket and tore off the shirt sleeve to use it as a make shift bandage. Root kept staring lovingly at Shaw as she played doctor.

In the meantime Control was checking Ethan’s body to see if he had anything on him that could give her a clue. She found a small recorder but there was no transmitter, which was good. It meant that no one else had heard this conversation.

Control walked up to them just as Shaw finished up doing the temporary dressing of Root’s arm.

“Ms. Shaw”

“Ma’am.”

They both acknowledged each other’s presence.

“I think it’s time for you to leave.  I will contact my crew to clean this up.” Control said to Root and Shaw.

Shaw nodded in reply.

“That’s what Samaritan does.” Root pointed towards Ethan, “It looks for weaknesses and exploits them. You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

Control also looked at Ethan and then turned back to face them.

“Then find a way to stop it. I know this much that if anyone is capable of doing that, it’s you and Harold. I will do whatever I can to help. You can consider me an ally.”

Control extended her hand towards Root and Root shook it. Then Root and Sameen got into the car and drove off, leaving Control behind to take care of the situation.

 

After they had put some distance between them and the dockyard Sameen stopped the car to get a better look at Root’s arm. She took a small kit she had in her duffel bag and proceeded to stitch the wound. Root barely flinched during the procedure. Shaw was impressed at Root’s ability to handle pain.

“You know you tend to attract a lot of bullets.”

“What can I say, I have a magnetic personality.” Root replied with a grin.

Shaw shook her head and continued with the stitching.

“What are we going to do about, you know, the new system?” Shaw asked all of a sudden.

The question took Root by surprise, who was busy staring at her date.

“I don’t know. I will get in touch with Harold tomorrow. But let’s not think about it right now. Right now I just want to enjoy what’s left of the night.”

Shaw looked up at her and smiled. Once she had finished the stitching, she bandaged the wound and gave Root a painkiller. Then they got back on the road.

They drove out to the Manhattan Mall and picked up the car.

For the next hour they just drove around New York talking a little bit but mostly just looking out at the quite city and taking in the strange beauty of the empty streets.

Root looked out and saw no one looking back at them except the blinking red lights of the CCTV cameras and whatever intelligence that lay behind them. She knew that very soon they all would have to get back into the fight but for tonight she was glad that she was with the woman she loved.

Root’s eyes widened as she realized that she had just said the “L” word. Even if she had just said it to herself and it was just in her mind it still meant a lot. With the life she had lead, she had never imagined she would find anything of that nature, and for the longest time she didn’t even believe in it, but she had found it and in the strangest of circumstances and it made her happier than she had ever been in her entire life.

Shaw looked and saw Root, literally beaming with joy.

“What?”

Root, still smiling, turned towards Shaw and replied, “Nothing, just enjoying the view.”

Shaw knew it was more than that but she didn’t push it. She went back to driving and occasionally staring at Root as Root looked out the window.

It was close to three in the morning when Shaw finally pulled up next to Root’s apartment. They both got out and Shaw walked up with Root till the entrance of her apartment building. They stood there for a while wondering what to say or do next. Shaw broke the silence. She checked on Root’s wound.

“Keep it dry. Change the dressing every seventy two hours.”

Root smiled gently, “Yes, I remember.”

And once again the awkward silence fell between them. Shaw was good at one night stands but she had no idea what she was meant to do at the end of a date considering that even she hadn’t been on a date in nearly a decade.

Not knowing what else to do Shaw said the only thing that came to her mind, “Good night.”

Root’s face fell slightly but she maintained a brave front. She smiled and replied,

“Good night, Sameen. I had great time.”

They both went back to staring at back other awkwardly and eventually Shaw turned and walked down the stairs leaving Root staring at her.

As Shaw started her long walk back to the car, her mind began to curse herself internally. “You’re an idiot, you know that. You should have just kissed her. She was standing right there and you still couldn’t do it. You’re a fucking moron.”

Shaw was in complete agreement with everything her mind had just said to her but she had already reached the car and she was sure that Root had gone up to her apartment by now.

Suddenly her phone buzzed. She took it out and wondered who would be sending her a message at this time of the night. It was from Root. She turned around and simultaneously started to read the message.

“DON’T I EVEN GET A GOODBYE KISS? I WASN”T THAT BAD A DATE”

Shaw looked up and saw Root still standing at the top of the stairs smiling back at her.

Shaw kept standing next to the car for a few seconds as she stared at Root. Finally she took a deep breath and started her short journey back up the stairs to fulfill her date’s request.