episode five, part two of the unleashed series. in which bryce larkin has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. guest starring carina, and a scattering of OCs and people the audience is led to believe are OCs but in actuality are not. it's all in the details. ~7K.
warnings: physical violence, very mild torture of an individual who probably deserved it, needles.
author's note: this is pretty much 2.5K of straight action and 5k of OCs interacting with each other and the POV character, with the rationale that certain plot threads from last episode needed to be explained in detail. i know there's a lot of names thrown around. you will see them all again, and they will, eventually, if i ever finish this story, be important. try to bear with me and be comforted by the fact that the next part is 100% easier to write and read. also, obligatory sidenote: my intersect is not the show's intersect. please delete all canon knowledge of it.
Ward County Eastbound
Interstate 20, 13 Miles West of Monahans, TX
11:50 AM; Sunday, April 12, 2009
Bryce knows to expect Carina at the rest stop off of Exit 83 from the text he received, sent from a burn phone forty minutes ago while he was still idling in a car outside of Odessa, but, regardless, he sees the evidence of her presence in the knocked-out cashier, posed behind the counter of the convenience store just off the main entrance.
He pays for his coffee - iced, to counteract the mercury that’s snuck up into the eighties sometime in the last few hours - and, as an afterthought, a roll of duct tape he spies on a rack nearby, with cash, a few bills thrown down with not much in the way of care so that he doesn’t have to look too closely at the guy’s face. The man is somewhere on the wrong side of his forties, balding, with a paunch and a surprisingly well-kempt mustache, and his eyes are wide open.
Bryce doesn’t know why that was necessary, or even what he did to warrant whatever damage was dealt to him, but hazards a guess that Carina didn’t want any witnesses to her arrival or her departure, even if said witness has no idea she’s supposed to be fifteen-hundred miles away on an op up in California wine country.
When he gets back in the car, Carina is in the passenger seat investigating the contents of his glove compartment.
“It’s a rental, you know,” he says, by the way of hello.
She smirks at him, a copy of the rental agreement in her hands. “Yes, and I’m sure Mr. Nicholas Paxton will be driving this right back to Dearborn in - oh dear. I hear those late fees can be a nightmare.”
The duct tape gets tossed into the back, landing roughly where the bag with the rope is, and she liberates the coffee from him without asking, working the hem of her dress up with one hand and producing a vial of sodium amytal from a holster next to the one she keeps her knife in. One of her knives. He smiles his thanks and tucks it away with the injection kit he hasn’t had reason to use since Shanghai.
“Alright. I did my part,” she says, when she’s grown tired of waiting for him. He likes to drag things out, likes the way she squirms. The only time Carina is truly ever anxious isn’t when there’s a gun pressed to her temple, it’s when someone knows more than her. He thinks this is a bad business for her to be in, if she wants the whole picture every time, and not just the edges of it. “It’s your turn.”
If he were still CIA, this would be the part where he produces a sheaf of papers, a dossier telling her everything from where the mark grew up to the places she likes to frequent for lunch. Instead, he has what he thinks is her name, maybe a guesstimate as to her age, her training. Camp Peary, probably, maybe Quantico, although her moves don’t speak to the mix of Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu that tends to signify MCMAP, standardized and now taught outside of the Corps; rather, he reads elements of Krav Maga there, and something else a little more specialized. Vovinam, perhaps. He’s never been choked out by someone’s thighs before, but he’s seen the basis for it there.
He hands Carina the photos he took with the disposable camera yesterday. They’re from a not insignificant distance, across and down the street a bit, and they primarily detail a building, large, three stories of stone, brick and glass block. The windows and doors on the first floor are boarded up with slabs of wood, all save for a door on the west side that stands, locked, behind ten feet of chain link fence. In three of the photos, there’s a woman he knows as Greta and, alternatively, Erika, standing out on the curb in front of the building. She has a phone pressed to her ear and she looks, for the most part, disinterested in whatever is being said. Her hair is down and, if you squint, you can see keys sticking out of her pocket, not to the door but, judging by the size and design, to a pair of handcuffs.
“She’s been holed up in there for the last day and a half,” he tells her, and Carina hums in what sounds like professional admiration. “Last place I saw her otherwise, she was leaving a diner in Barstow. She had a tail then.”
Carina lingers on the fifth photo in the stack, a singular shot of the building taken at dusk, in which there is a glimpse of someone’s profile just visible in the large paned window that wraps around the western corner of the third story. The figure is obviously over six feet and stands quite a bit broader than the woman in the rest of the photos could hope to. “I think I know what happened to her tail.”
“You noticed that too,” he remarks.
“What kind of car does she drive?”
“She doesn’t.” Bryce took shots of the bike outside of the diner, and he hands her those too. A matte black BMW, well cared for, sure, but nothing that’s going to work for dragging a hostage across county lines. “So either she stole his car, or she made him come to her.”
“Strange that he’s still alive,” she says. The pile gets shoved off into his lap, having seen her fill, and when he frowns at her she quirks her lips, reaching up to knock his fedora off-center with a flick of her wrist. It exposes the bruise on his right temple, the result of hitting his head when he went down back at the cabin, and her smile spreads like she knew it was there. “You don’t wear hats,” she tells him. And then, “What do you want with her?”
He thinks on that, for a moment, weighs the information he can give her and what’s better left played close to the chest; shrugs. “Answers. Real ones, this time. Who she works for, and what they want with us.”
“And what do you want with me?”
“I need a face she hasn’t seen before.”
“You must be running out of friends, Larkin, if you’re calling on me to play damsel in distress,” she notes, and then reaches for her bag. Carina prefers to travel light, but he’d noticed it at her feet when he got in the car, and from it she produces a thin manila folder. He recognizes the coding on its contents as NSA, of all things. “Three years ago a CIA operative posing as a State Department employee in Yemen was killed in a car accident. No foul play was involved, and they never wound up retiring her legend.”
Twenty-five year old Erika Gibbons of Garland, Texas stares back at him, smiling wide in a reprint of her ID photo. She’s pretty enough, with short brown hair that just grazes her collarbones, and small rectangular wire rimmed glasses. Better suited for analytical work, as far as first impressions go, but you’d be surprised what contacts and a little eyeliner can do for less.
“Not a great physical match,” Carina says, dismissively, and he agrees. Wrong height, wrong body type, wrong hair and eye color. Gibbons is of European descent, whereas Greta’s features indicate Eastern Asia. It’s not a cover built to withstand much scrutiny before it collapses, which means she’s an amateur or she wanted him to poke holes in her story.
And she isn’t an amateur.
“There’s no Greta from Heidelberg, either, although there’s a support officer on temporary duty in Zagreb with the last name of Stojanovic. Your girl’s a ghost.”
He can see the other file in her hands, the contents even thinner, and he appreciates the effort but waves it off before she even tries offering it to him. There’s nothing there for him to use, and Carina nods like it’s what she expected. She slips the folders back into her bag and he remembers his manners enough to say: “thank you. I’m sure you cashed in more than a few favors.”
Carina laughs. It’s not overly friendly, but then she rarely is. “No, but you did.”
“Then we’re even.”
“You’re forgetting Cartagena.”
“As I remember it, you broke three of my fingers in Cartagena,” he points out. “On my right hand.”
She shrugs, unperturbed. “You ruined my dress. Brain matter does not come easily out of Italian silk and, besides, I’ll tell you when we’re even.”
Bryce has no trouble believing that.
They make plans on the way back to Odessa.
He wants Greta, not the building, not the contents of the building, so it makes sense to remove her from the area entirely. It’s why he has the rope, the duct tape, the sodium amytal. There’s no safe house that he can go to, but a forty dollar a night motel that takes cash and doesn’t ask any questions is just as good for his purposes.
Carina washes off her makeup in a gas station bathroom and wets her hair so that it dries messy instead of flat-iron straight. She relieves a woman of her car keys while he’s filling up the Jeep, and then liberates her duffel bag from the trunk of her sedan while she’s in line at the corner store, buying a pack of cigarettes. It’s filled with clothes that are reasonably her size, but they’re still on I-20 by the time Carina makes her peace with the floral patterns, changing into something light and flowy in the backseat and then climbing back over the console with a cat-like grace. The length of the hem, the lack of give in the material, restricts her access to the knives on her thigh and at the small of her back, and he can tell that irks her even if she swallows any complaints. He isn’t supposed to know all her hiding places, even if he’s felt the handles under his palm through layers of spandex and leather.
Down the street from the building Greta’s holed up in, parked under the sign for a pawn shop that does enough business to keep his car inconspicuous, she slicks on dollar store chapstick and tells him that he should work his way up the back alley on the east side of the building from the next street over. She’ll move Greta into position, make sure she doesn’t see him coming, make sure no one else sees them going. They don’t know what else lives in that building, just like they don’t know if the man in the photo is actually a friendly, so it’s best to stay out of sight of the windows, if they don’t want any more trouble than they already have on their hands.
“You never told me where you stashed Chuckles,” she says, while he brass checks his weapon for the second time. He doesn’t intend to use it, but it’s better safe than sorry, and he wouldn’t quite put it past her to tamper with it in order to make things more interesting.
“Probably because it’s none of your business,” he shoots back, rather than give her an actual answer. He’s not thinking about Chuck on this trip. It’s too easy to get preoccupied by what’s waiting for him back in California, the onslaught of confusion and frustration from the partner he left behind without a word as to where he was going. It’s too easy to think about not going back at all, just leaving him there for his own good, his own safety.
Chuck’s very good at any number of things, but he’s shit at finding people who don’t want to be found, and Bryce has always been good at blending in. All their contacts are Bryce’s contacts, and if he ditches him now, goes solo -
So, he doesn’t think about Chuck if he can help it, and he talks about him even less, especially when it’s Carina doing the asking.
“I can’t imagine he enjoyed you running off to fulfill your revenge fantasies without him,” she prods, with no regard for the weapon in his hands. Her eyes are focused squarely on the mirror in front of her, and she can tell by the angle that she’s trying to get a better view of the contents of the paper bag he’s stashed the rope and the tape in. He’s not sharing and, evidently, she didn’t think to go through it when she broke in back at the rest stop.
“You know what I can’t imagine?” He pretends it’s a question that’s anything but rhetorical, like it’s something has the freedom to say no to. She holds the mirror steady, her hands steady, the curve of her mouth steady. “Why someone who got caught aiding a couple of fugitives not only didn’t get dragged in kicking and screaming by her agency, but got promoted up into some cushy detail with Napa’s Special Investigations Bureau.”
If she’s surprised that he knows specifics, she doesn’t show it. “NSIB needed a fed to oversee their operations for a while. They’ve got a meth problem, and I come highly recommended by several regional directors.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
She snaps the mirror shut, cuts her eyes at him. “So it’s different when you’re doing the asking, then?”
“You know why it’s different,” he says.
“And if I’d sold you out to save my own ass, you’d know it because you’d be in handcuffs. Just leave it alone. You won’t like the answer anyways, and since I’m the one doing you the favor I’d really prefer to skip the lecture if it’s all the same to you.”
He can’t afford to get on her bad side right now, so he drops it. Tells himself he can always come back to it later, when Greta’s been dealt with and he’s got less to lose. Right now, he needs her, and she knows it. “Fine. I’ll get into position and wait for your cue. The second she’s out, we go.”
Ever the consummate professional when she wants to be, Carina nods. She’s still carrying a burn phone with his number programmed into it, but it’s a far cry from the kind of comms she’s used to working with, miniature earpieces and gadgets worked up by R&D. Bryce is becoming more and more accustomed to making do with whatever he can scrounge up at Radio Shack.
She gets out of the car in the parking lot of the pawn shop. A little ways down the street, there’s a hole-in-the-wall cafe with outdoor seating, and facing south gives her an adequate view of the front and east sides of the building. It’s not preferable, but it’s what’s available, and he watches her work her way down the sidewalk for a beat before he drives around the corner.
The alley feeds out across from a dry cleaners, but the lot adjacent to it is empty save for some rusted out fencing, a sign hanging off it haphazardly promising the development of a drugstore, due for completion roughly two years ago. He parks alongside it, admiring the sheer amount of graffiti it’s managed to collect, and then checks his Glock again. He keeps a spare taped to the inside of the console, and he checks that too, only to find it missing, strips of black electrical tape hanging loose and clinging at the corners. He has no trouble imagining where that went, although he wonders when she took it and where on her person she managed to hide it. It bothers him probably less than it should, and he crumples up the tape and checks in with Carina.
Still nothing, she texts back, seconds later. Patience, Larkin.
He stares at the message for a beat longer than he needs to, and then starts scrolling through motels in the area, looking for the ones without reviews, that aren’t heavily trafficked or very well known. He makes note of the one he needs, and is in the middle of strapping the tranquilizer he brought to his ankle when his phone buzzes again, on the seat next to him.
Go, it says.
So he does. Doesn’t lock the car, but takes the keys out of the ignition and pockets them, fitting his gun into the back of his jeans. A middle-aged woman holding the hand of a small child frowns at him when she steps out of the cleaners, clocking the displacement of his clothes with knowing eyes and picking up her pace. He left his hat in the car, along with his sunglasses, figuring them for things that would only get in the way if this gets messy, but he’s regretting that now.
The alley provides a decent amount of shade and cover from the street, a narrow strip of asphalt that lies in the shadow of the abandoned wreck of a building she’s holed up in. There’s a wooden fence separating the rusted-out one from the greenery that’s started to grow, weeds and moss mostly, and it effectively boxes him in, leaving him with little in the way of light. He listens to the sound of cars passing on either side of him, to the sound of a dog barking somewhere off in the distance, and gets about three-quarters of the way down before he realizes that what he should be hearing is voices, the thread of conversation, whatever story Carina’s worked up to get Greta’s attention.
He makes a grab for his gun, a creeping feeling making it’s way up the back of his neck, and his fingers just graze the grip before his arm is wrenched behind him, nearly clean out of the socket. He grits his teeth against the burst of pain, and kicks out blindly in retaliation, swiping at nothing and upsetting his balance in the process. There’s a sharp bark of laughter from behind him, and he gets a glimpse of dark hair in his periphery before he feels his right knee give out, his assailant’s foot colliding with the side of it at a downward angle. He goes down, lands on all fours in the muck of the alley, propelled forward by the release of his arm and the shove that follows, and when he looks up it’s to see his own gun trained on him.
“If I were you, I’d just stay down,” Greta says, circling him with a nonchalance that says she’s not interested in shooting him but will if he forces her hand. He calculates how quickly he can take her down with a knee that won’t hold his weight, and decides he doesn’t like those odds, not with her finger lying that heavily against the trigger.
Bryce splays his hands out on the asphalt, in lieu of lacing his fingers behind his head, sensing his shoulder might not agree with that course of action and, anyways, his knee certainly won’t enjoy the balancing act. Greta doesn’t seem too terribly bothered by his method of choice, disappearing into his blind spot, somewhere just behind and to the right of him. He’s not craning his neck to see. No sudden movements and all that. “How’d you know?”
“That you were in this alleyway or that you found my safe house yesterday?”
“How chivalrous of you.” There’s a pause, the sound of velcro tearing, then: “I’ve got access to every traffic camera within a five-mile radius of here. It’s not exactly a major metropolitan area, but you’d be surprised what that buys you. And I’m pretty sure you can figure out the other one on your own.” Her footfalls close in on him; boots, good quality ones, the steps too heavy for her lean frame otherwise. “Agent Miller sends her regards, by the way. She said to tell you that you’re even now. I’m assuming you know what that means.”
He does know what that means, and he’d even expected the betrayal a little, in the back of his mind, but he doesn’t get a chance to tell Greta any of that before she crouches down next to him, and he feels a needle slide home in his neck, careful to hit vein rather than muscle. A tranquilizer, probably, and he takes some small comfort in that as his vision turns fuzzy, his arms going out from under him and the asphalt coming up swiftly to greet him.
It’s the sound of metal restraints that wakes him. They aren’t his, but it takes a moment of flexing his fingers, of telling his brain move, before that registers.
“Was wondering when you were going to come to,” a voice says, and he blinks, once, twice, until his eyes are willing to focus. Twenty feet or so from where he sits, cuffed to the arm of a wooden chair that’s seen better days, bound at the ankles with rope - his own, he’s willing to bet, for the sake of irony - there’s a man dangling from the ceiling. Maybe dangling is the wrong word. He is, ostensibly, still on his feet, but the length of chain wrapped around his wrists and bolted into the ceiling runs an inch or so short and it’s forcing him up on tiptoe. Bryce isn’t sure how long he’s been there, but he’s willing to bet that the mildly accented man in front of him, stripped down to his undershirt and a pair of slacks, is the same man whose profile appeared in that photo.
Which puts him on the third floor, facing west. The placement of the window seems about right and it gives him some idea of the layout of the building. Open-floor plan, not many interior walls that he can see. Warehouse space, then, and not office. He wets his lips and tries to force some feeling back into his legs. “How long was I out?”
“Don’t know, mate. You were unconscious when they brought you up here.” Bryce notes the use of the plural, but swallows the question on his tongue in favor of watching the man curl his fingers around the chains and pull himself up. His feet leave the ground with a good six inches to spare, but the chains don’t budge even when taking on the brunt of his weight, and he doesn’t look like this is new information. Mostly, the action appears designed to relieve the pressure on his arches, his calves, and when he lets himself back down he grits his teeth. “What did you do to get on her bad side anyway?”
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” he replies, which is not untrue so much as it’s a more simplified version of the facts. He doesn’t know this guy. He’s not about to spill his guts to him. “What about you?”
“We’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch.”
Bryce raises an eyebrow. “Boyfriend?”
“Something like that.”
There’s a loud pop from somewhere down below, punctuated by a peal of laughter and someone shouting fuck. The man merely rolls his eyes, and Bryce takes that as commentary on the frequency and nature of - whatever it is that’s happening.
“Name’s Jonathan, by the way,” the man offers.
“Bruce,” he replies, in kind. Close enough to his real thing that he’ll instinctually respond to it, but different enough that he’s in no danger of exposing himself should ‘Jonathan’ turn out to be an operative masquerading as a harmless civilian.
Greta claimed to be ex-CIA working for an organization made up of rogue operatives and if she’s got a guy tied up then it’s not unreasonable to assume that he’s a fed, maybe outsourced from a foreign agency, maybe not. The accent - British, although he’s always been terrible at picking out regional variations - makes him lean towards MI6, but even that’s not as much of a giveaway as it once was. He doesn’t need that kind of attention.
He asks: “Any idea what they’re doing down there?”
“Yeah, word to the wise: I’d try very hard not to find out.”
Whether he’s speaking from experience, Bryce isn’t sure. Aside from the muscle strain and what’s bound to be mild exhaustion, he doesn’t seem that bad off. Certainly not like he’s being used for target practice, and Bryce is wondering about things like dehydration and whether or not his knee is going to give him trouble should he figure out a way out of the ropes when there are footfalls on the stairs leading up to their floor.
He watches Jonathan carefully, looking for signs of nervousness, of fear, but instead what he gets is faint amusement. The woman who enters isn’t Greta but an inexplicably younger approximation of her, with dark bone-straight hair that hangs down to her shoulders and darker, lined eyes that she rolls when Jonathan calls her darling. Otherwise, she doesn’t spare a glance to either of them, making a beeline for the desk that takes up real estate in a darkened corner and flipping on the lights.
Bryce had clocked the area as a makeshift war room earlier, having noticed the whiteboards hung up behind it and the excess of monitors - four, to be exact - strewn across and, in one case, to the right of it, but seeing it lit up and glowing artificial blue gives him a better idea of the extent of the setup. Security feeds on at least one of the monitors, with vantage points covering all sides of the building, and the schematics for a weapon that looks to be using a paintball gun as its base up on the board. Below that sits a crudely drawn layout of the top floor of the National Reconnaissance Office, done up in red marker and labeled in an illogical mix of French and Spanish, and he tries to think up a motive for that, only to come up empty.
Jonathan starts humming something that sounds suspiciously like the chorus to an overplayed pop song by a late-nineties boyband, getting progressively more blatant about it the more the woman ignores him until, finally, she gives in and narrows her eyes at him, fingers refusing to still over the keyboard.
“I can kill you before she gets back, you know,” she warns, her voice both accentless and devoid of all emotion. In that way, it’s less a threat and more a statement of intent. “She won’t care if I tell her you tried to get out.”
“Charming, isn’t she?”
Bryce takes pains to keep his expression neutral and his mouth shut, sure now that he’s dealing with a professional. Put a civilian in chains and they tend to resort to begging, to bargaining; put someone who’s been through SERE training, or its international equivalent, in chains and you get a lot of shit-stirring and antagonism.
“You can’t kill him,” Jonathan continues. “And you hate witnesses.”
“He doesn’t have to be dead.”
Bryce isn’t sure what’s more disconcerting: the complete lack of inflection in her voice or the taser that appears in her hand when he looks over to gauge exactly how serious she is. The laser sight is hovering over Jonathan’s chest, rather than his own, the other man’s jaw tensing like he’s finally realized that his shit is in the street.
He’s okay with that.
Greta, on the other hand, isn’t.
“Cool it, Ash,” she says, stepping into the metaphorical crosshairs of the laser without a care in the world. Her tone does a good job of disguising an order as a suggestion, but the woman she’d called Ash - short for Ashley, he assumes - doesn’t drop the taser until Greta tosses a flash drive her way. “The crew from Portland’s in. Send Yaniv a thank you for doing your fucking job fruit basket or something.”
“Yaniv’s in Haifa until next Thursday.”
“Men.” She punctuates her apparent exhaustion with his gender by kicking at the leg of his chair, casually, doing a slow circle around him that serves the dual purpose of looking intimidating and allowing her to check that his restraints are still secure. They are. The only way he’s getting out of the cuffs alone is going to involve broken thumbs, and there’s a lot you can’t do without your thumbs. “Send it to his ex-wife then. She’s the one who pulled strings with their wetworks guy anyways.”
“If they were good at their jobs they wouldn’t need a wetworks guy,” Ashley mutters, under her breath, plugging the drive into a USB port on one of the monitors he can’t see the face of. Her eyes light up a second later, and then she’s lost to a flurry of typing, her fingers moving faster than his could ever hope to, even during the two years he spent at Yale dabbling in computer science.
“You’ve seen their security roster,” Greta continues on, unperturbed. “Not everyone can take out nine guys all by their lonesome, right Heath?”
She addresses that to Jonathan - Bryce can tell because she slaps a hand against his chest, in a manner that could be considered playful if it didn’t also unbalance him enough that he struggles anew to keep both feet on the ground - which is strange, and also pretty solid confirmation that the harmless civilian act is just that. If he had any doubts before. “I thought you said your name was Jonathan.”
“Really, dude? That’s even worse than the last one.”
The other man - whoever he is - shrugs as best he can with both arms overhead. “He doesn’t look like a Bruce either.”
“Yeah, good call there,” she replies, and then moves behind him. Bryce watches her fish the keys he’d seen earlier out of her pants pocket, and notes the zippers running diagonally along the top of them, cutting through skintight black leather, no doubt to keep prying hands out or at least make them more immediately noticeable to her. She starts in on the chains around his wrists, undoing them lightning fast, and without anything left to keep him standing the man drops ungracefully to his knees on the concrete floor.
Bryce doesn’t imagine she did that just so she can watch the guy walk out the front door, and he doesn’t seem to hold any illusions about fighting his way out either. She pockets the keys again, and pulls out her sidearm. He doesn’t know where his Glock got off to, but the SIG she brandishes looks custom to his eyes, and he glances up at the schematics on the board, the drawings below of weapons he doesn’t recognize, and Ashley’s role in this little organization starts to crystallize for him.
Not only is she the hacker, she’s the in-house op tech creator.
It would explain how Greta acquired Erika Gibbons’ legend, and how any search of Carina’s would have turned up empty. Ex-CIA likely means cyber-security, and it wouldn’t exactly be mind-blowing for her to have built herself a backdoor through which to wipe her file, and the files of the people in her organization, once she got out.
“Come on, buddy, let’s go,” Greta says, nudging the man in the ribs with the toe of her boot. The movement looks surprisingly gentle, although less so when she hauls him up by the back of his shirt, forcing him to get to his feet whether he wants to or not. “Time to face the music.”
The man groans, trips once, and then rights himself again with the muzzle of Greta’s gun pressed into the small of his back. He doesn’t say a word in his own defense, nor does he protest being manhandled, just throws a nod and - when she doesn’t look up - a smug always a pleasure Miss Otero in Ashley’s direction before Greta shoves him towards the stairs.
Ashley ignores him, and when the sound of their footsteps fade she starts cycling through the video feeds at her disposal. The view of the street facing north, displayed on the sole monitor he has a clear shot of, switches to one of the room where the second story staircase lets out, and he catches a glimpse of Greta pacing on the periphery, clearly mid-conversation and gesticulating wildly with her gun still in hand, before it turns towards a non-descript wall somewhere else in the building. There is a hole in said wall roughly the size a .45 caliber bullet makes upon entry, and the only thing he finds reassuring there is that there’s no accompanying blood splatter anywhere that he can see.
“You’re being an idiot.”
Bryce’s gaze snaps back to her. “What?”
“You could’ve just left well enough alone. Stayed in California - “
“How do you know about California?”
Ashley rolls her eyes, annoyed with him, annoyed with everyone apparently, but there’s a steady undercurrent of tension in her that wasn’t present before, and he can see it in the way she holds her hands flat against the surface of the desk. “I’m just saying. She was serious about wanting you to join up with us, and it’s not like you’ve got any better offers. It was stupid to jeopardize that.”
There’s something honest about the blunt nature of her words, and it makes him curious. “What about you?” She blinks at him, uncomprehending, and he tries again. “Your organization works off of consensus, right? So what about you?”
She shrugs. “I want a look at the Intersect. I don’t care about you so much.”
“That’s not happening.”
“You don’t even know what it does.”
“I know enough,” he insists.
“It wipes out the explicit memory and uploads to the implicit,” she says, anyways, and he wonders at her wording, at the terms she’s chosen. They speak to a background in neuroscience or maybe psychology, but she sounds more like she’s parrotting them than anything else. “But that doesn’t make any sense because they’re different processes. One shouldn’t affect the other. So there has to be something else to it.”
He frowns. “You want to study it?”
“No, not me. Someone else. I just want to know how it works.”
Bryce doesn’t like the sound of that, but the sound of a gunshot downstairs is something he likes even less. There is a thud and then silence, and Ashley doesn’t so much as flinch, staring at him as if she doesn’t quite grasp what the hold up is on his end of the conversation.
He tries to get his mouth working again but his brain is now more concerned with her use of the past tense in was serious about wanting you to join up, and eventually she goes back to her computers. The steady tap of her fingers against the keys does little to hide what he’s trying to do to his restraints, but she doesn’t seem to care about that beyond a brief glance confirming that her taser is within easy reach.
Greta is back upstairs faster than he’d like.
“Please tell me there’s a cleaner around here somewhere.”
“Boston,” Ashley tells her. “Or Santiago.”
“Next time there’s money leftover from a job and West asks if I want to use it to mod the seats on the Ducati, remind me that what I really want is to put a half-decent cleaner on our payroll instead of relying on the boys’ club to have their shit together.”
“You said that last time.”
“Last time you disappeared for three days and came back with twin Yamahas and a guy named Lucas.”
“But I mean it now.”
She exchanges her gun for Ashley’s taser, tucking that away, and he watches her note the smear of fresh blood across the back of her right hand. It gives her pause, though not for long, and she scrubs at it absentmindedly as she turns to face him.
“Alright,” she says, addressing him outright for the first time since the alleyway. “I’m bringing a non-lethal weapon to this rodeo, but if you try anything she’ll shoot you and she’ll probably start with the kneecaps because she’s deranged like that. Do you think you can behave if I take those cuffs off?”
“Somehow I don’t think no is a valid answer here,” he replies, smartly.
Greta smirks. “Good. You’re learning.”
She severs the ropes around his ankles with a knife she keeps sheathed at her waist and leaves the cuffs hooked to the arm of the chair. He counts three weapons on her, between that knife, the taser, and the watch around her wrist that looks to hold garotte, and when she pulls him up with a hand wrapped around the arm she didn’t try to wrench out of its socket he goes willingly.
There’s no door between the main room and the stairs, owing to the open layout, but there is one just past that, and she takes him through that, down a long hallway, and into a small office that looks like it might have once belonged to the warehouse manager. Most of the furniture has been more or less cleared out, but the plaque on the door, hanging by a single nail on the top-right corner, still bears its former occupant’s name.
Inside, there’s nothing but a corkboard that takes up almost the entirety of one wall, an old desk chair with the leather torn at the armrest, and a low filing cabinet. She directs him to have a seat and then hops up on the filing cabinet which, at her height, leaves her feet dangling about three inches off the ground. The taser sits next to her hip, and it occurs to him that the size of the room makes it near-impossible for him to ever be out of its range of efficacy.
She watches him watch her in silence for a beat, and then leans back on her hands and says, “You wanted to talk, so talk. Pretend your dumb plan with the kidnapping and the truth serum worked or something.”
Bryce hadn’t had the vial of sodium amytal on him when she took him in, had left it in the car with the rest of his tools, so there’s no reason she should have that information. Unless - “Carina tell you about that?”
“She alluded to you being a man with a plan. Wasn’t a bad one either, although your choice in co-conspirators could use some work. Her loyalty seems...flexible?”
“Non-existent,” he admits.
“But you were out of options,” she surmises. “That’s why you need us.”
“People don’t just offer up their services for no good reason,” he points out. “There’s a catch. There’s always a catch.”
“That’s a very cynical way to look at the world.”
“Says the rogue operative trying to bring down one of the largest intelligence agencies in the world with what looks like two people and some tricked out tech.”
Greta laughs at that. “You’re off by about two dozen. Well - more like three if you count that disorganized mess that Metzger runs and we poach from.”
“The boys club, I take it.”
“Six-hundred-to-one isn’t very good odds.”
“Better than what you’ve got.”
He folds his hands in his lap, tries to adopt her relaxed posture. His knee throbs vaguely, when he moves a certain way, but she doesn’t need to know that. “What is it that your organization wants from me?”
She raises an eyebrow. “Pretty sure you have a partner, at least you did a week ago. Unless he dropped you once he figured out you’d been lying to him which, I’ve got to say, was a dick move. I didn’t love telling the guy about his dead dad either.”
“Yeah, that must’ve been terrible for you,” he says, dryly.
“Probably worse for him. Knowing you spent years lying to him about something that big.” She says it to draw a reaction out of him, but he doesn’t give her one. The line of her mouth sours, briefly, disappointed but resilient, and she drops off her perch, opting to pace. It’s not a nervous reaction. With most people it is, but he’s seen her do it enough to know that’s just how she does her thinking. “You have the one thing we don’t, and that’s leverage.”
“Like I told your friend out there, that’s off-limits.”
“And like I told you back in Nevada, I don’t want the fucking thing. The CIA does, though, and they’ll do a lot to get it. They’ve even got their own task force set up to take you down, although I’m willing to bet not even the people running it have any idea what the Intersect is or why the CIA wants it back. Maybe they don’t even know it exists. If you play your cards right, expose it to the right people, you might gain a few allies on the inside.”
“That helps me. That doesn’t help you.”
“Except it does. We don’t want the whole agency, we just want the guys at the top who think wiping people’s memories in order to create super-soldiers is a good idea.”
“So kill them,” he says.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Because you want to expose them.”
“And having people on the inside would make that a whole lot easier for you.”
“See, now everyone’s on the same page.”
It’s not a half bad plan. For all that he doesn’t know about what the Intersect does, what he does know is likely enough to turn the public against anyone who thought mind-altering technology was a good idea. Worst case scenario, if found out, if subjected to media scrutiny, those people would lose their jobs, and at best they’d find themselves calling the inside of a cell home. In prison, at a black site, wherever. Problem is - “I still end up in jail for murder, probably treason too. Me and my partner.”
“Cut a deal,” she says, flippantly. “You just stopped a bunch of people from being turned into mindless killers, do you really think the government’s going to throw your ass in jail no matter what you did? With these approval ratings?”
“I still don’t know who the right people are.”
She smiles, knowingly. That smile promises misery, though not his own. “I may have some in mind. I’ll have to get back to you on that. Which was the plan, by the way, before you got it in your head to follow me around like a little lost dog. I’m not here to screw you over, and we’d all be better off if you’d stop acting like it.”
“Does that mean you’re planning on letting me go?”
“Oh, do you have somewhere to be?”
“California sounds nice right about now,” he replies and honestly means it, despite what might be waiting for him there. It’s been a long few days, and eight solid hours of rest in a bed not entirely comprised of rusted mattress springs sounds as good as anything else.
“Yeah, I thought it might.” She reaches into her pocket and produces a pair of keys, not to the cuffs from earlier, but to his car. She tosses those to him, and he catches them easily, surprised but not unhappy. “I’m keeping your gun. If you try anything, I will find out and you will not like it. Otherwise, I’ll be in touch.”
It sounds too easy, but she tucks the taser away again and gets up to leave, getting the door open and not even so much as looking back to see if he’s planning on following her out. Either she’s stupid or she’s planning on trusting him until proven wrong.
And she isn’t stupid.
“That’s it?” He asks, baffled.
“Yeah,” she tells him, turning halfway down the hall to look at him, impatiently. “I’ve got dead fed to scrub out of the floors; I don’t have all day to play with you.”
He sees himself out before she has a chance to change her mind.
coming up next time: casey and sarah take a vacation, people previously thought to be dead turn out not to be, and devon's life somehow manages to get worse.
BACK TO INDEX // PART ONE // PART THREE (COMING SOON)