JUNE 10th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 15.05 local time.
The progress bar on Louise’s screen moved slowly. She looked around the room while she waited. There were giant screens everywhere. Lots of desks. There even was a glass wall.
“At least some things are the same,” Louise thought. She felt surprisingly at ease in this room, despite the guard by the door. This one wasn’t armed, luckily.
She and Hobbs had arrived here about 7 hours ago. Louise had been inspecting machines since, looking for any signs of software or hardware that could have been linked to the attack.
She hadn’t run into anything yet. That didn’t surprise her. The challenge was finding the small inconsistencies. Had any software been deleted recently or was there hardware missing or replaced? Those were the breadcrumbs that would lead to the evidence.
While she was going through the logs of the terminals, Hobbs was walking around the building with Woodward. He was looking for any signs of recent renovations or other changes.
Not having Hobbs around made it easier for Louise to focus. Keeping secrets from him was exhausting. As expected, Hobbs had been furious when he had heard Lucas wasn’t joining them for this first inspection.
Woodward had handled the situation calmly. No matter how many times Hobbs had demanded Lucas should join them right now, Woodward had just repeated it wasn’t possible. After a while, it had been time to leave and Hobbs had given up.
Louise doubted he would let this go, though. There was a big chance he would want to discuss a code red. That meant they would tell the teams back home the rebels weren’t cooperating. Extraction procedures would be set in motion immediately.
The Global Council also would start the retaliation attacks soon after, Louise assumed. The stealth drones would probably be on their way before Hobbs and Louise had even left the territory.
They would bomb the most critical network infrastructure. The people working at those locations would most likely die. The Fireblue network would go down completely. Possibly for good.
Louise knew the bombing would happen sooner or later, even if she couldn’t find evidence the rebels were behind the attack on the Global Coalition. Michelle had told her as much. “Just a PR play,” she had said. Louise frowned thinking about it.
She didn’t like the idea of a counter attack without the evidence to support it. She wanted to find something here. If she did, she would at least know for sure the rebels had brought this on themselves.
Maybe Louise could convince Hobbs it was too early to send a code red today. She wanted to buy some time. “He’ll definitely want to go to code red if he finds out I’ve been hiding encounters with Lucas, though,” Louise thought. “He’ll think I’m compromised.”
Dread settled in Louise’s stomach. She never should have allowed Lucas into her room. And after finding out about Biden, she should have forced Lucas to talk to Hobbs immediately. Now, instead, she was stuck hiding things until Lucas came back tonight. That is, if Lucas even came back as promised.
“Shit…,” Louise whispered, feeling increasingly frustrated. She got up swiftly, startling the guard. “Sorry,” she said, despite the instructions not to talk to anyone. He gave her a long look but didn’t reply.
Louise turned her back to him and stretched her arms to work out the kinks in her neck and shoulders. She rolled her head a few times, annoyed at the snaps and cracks she heard. She let out a deep sigh.
Why had she allowed Lucas to put her in this position? She was now hiding two secret meetings with Lucas and important intel about one of the most prominent rebel figures, Monique Biden.
Was there still a way for her to come clean without serious repercussions? She didn’t think so. She could either fess up, which meant severe consequences for the rebels and, no doubt, herself. Or she could keep lying and hope Lucas would return and tell Hobbs about Biden’s death tonight.
“What’s your status?” Hobbs asked, walking into the room, surprising Louise. She turned to face him, her hands in her sides in an attempt to hide her nerves. Woodward followed Hobbs into the room.
“I was just about to take another look at the hardware logs,” Louise said.
Hobbs put down his equipment. He turned to Woodward. “We’ll need some time alone to work on our report before we head to the transmission location.”
Woodward spoke softly. “Not here. There’s an office you can use at the transmission site.”
Hobbs walked around the room, randomly waking up screens by touching them. “Okay.”
“I need at least two more hours,” Louise said.
Woodward pulled up a chair and sat down, crossing his arms. “You’ve got until 4PM. Those are the rules.”
That was less than an hour away. Louise knew there was no use arguing, though. It would only give her even less time. She walked back to the terminal she had been working on before. She needed to take a good final look at those logs before they left.
“Come on spidey sense,” she mumbled to herself as she sat down. “Tell me where to look because I’m running out of time.” She froze. “Shit, did I say that out loud?” she thought. She glanced around the room, embarrassed.
Neither Hobbs or Woodward were looking at her. But someone else was. Louise’s pulse picked up when her eyes locked with those of Eleanor Lucas at the end of the hallway behind the glass wall.
50 minutes later, Louise hadn’t gotten much work done and it was time to leave. The moment she had noticed Eleanor, her focus had vanished. Eleanor had quickly disappeared into a room. But it had only taken Louise that one brief moment to see how bad Eleanor looked.
Her face had been even more drawn than this morning. Her movements were slow and without their usual confidence. “And I forced her to come here after the funeral,” flashed through Louise’s mind for the 20th time. “I suck.”
Louise packed up her terminal and got up. Her mouth was dry.
“Don’t even consider leaving anything behind,” Woodward said. “We’ll scan the room for trackers.”
Hobbs snorted but kept his mouth shut. His gaze met Louise’s for a moment, though.
“Everything okay in here?” Eleanor asked, startling everyone in the room.
Woodward immediately took a step towards her. “El, what are you doing here?” he asked, sounding worried.
“I came to apologize,” El said, walking towards Hobbs.
Hobbs cleared his throat, clearly taken off guard. “You violated the terms of the inspection,” he muttered.
“I am here, am I not?”
Hobbs narrowed his eyes. “Yes, but you’re very late.”
El nodded calmly. “Which is why I wanted to apologize.”
Hobbs crossed his arms. “Apologies don’t change anything.”
“I’m sure they don’t, but I believe the circumstances do,” El said.
Louise’s heart started to race. She hurried over to Hobbs’s side. Was El about to tell Hobbs about Biden now? That sure would help. She might not have to talk Hobbs out of the code red after all.
“What circumstances?” she asked, pushing El along.
El frowned at her, looking uncertain.
“Monique Bidden passed away,” she then said hesitantly with her focus back on Hobbs.
He tilted his head to the side.
“I’m sure you can understand this is a shock for our nation,” El added.
“How did she die?” Hobbs asked. Louise’s jaw almost dropped. What kind of rude question was that? Then she realized why he was asking it. He probably thought this was another one of El’s games.
El gritted her teeth visibly. “She fell ill recently,” she replied, her voice no longer calm and confident but shaky.
Woodward stepped in, putting his hand on her arm. “It’s none of your damned business,” he told Hobbs.
Hobbs huffed. “It is our business if she uses it as an excuse to violate the terms of our agreement.”
Louise wanted to smack Hobbs in the face with a chair. But she knew he was right. Or rather, she knew she should agree with him. So she nodded and crossed her arms too.
Woodward wasn’t impressed. He gave them both a disgusted look before turning to El. “Come on, I’ll deal with them. You go home.”
Panic flared in Louise’s chest. El couldn’t leave! Hobbs was still unconvinced. She had to tell him Biden was her aunt. One that she was very close with. Without that information, it would be hard for Louise to claim it was too early for a code red.
Louise would have to force El to tell Hobbs everything. It hurt her to do it, though. “Why are you so upset about this?” she said. She tucked her hands in her pockets so no one could see they were shaking. “Wasn’t Biden just an old lady in a wheelchair by now?”
El looked up, startled. Her eyes held a hint of the fury Louise had seen there in the bathroom of the ferry. Woodward raised his hand to point a threatening finger at Louise, but El pushed it back down. She narrowed her eyes at Louise and Hobbs.
“She was my aunt,” she said angrily.
Louise closed her eyes briefly as relief flooded over her.
“What?!” Hobbs asked. “That’s impossible.”
El sighed. “She was my mother’s half-sister. But I was very close to her.”
Hobbs’s lips parted, but El continued before he could say anything.
“I had to attend her funeral today as our nation’s leader, but also because she was my family,” El said. “I am sure the Global Council will understand.”
Hobbs took in a deep, slow breath. Louise held hers as she waited for his reply.
“We’ll pass on this information along with the report,” Hobbs said, sounding annoyed.
“Until we hear back from the Council, we’ll proceed as planned,” Louise added hastily.
Hobbs nodded, although he seemed reluctant to do so.
Louise picked up a case with gear, her head dizzy from relief. Hobbs now had all the information she had. There was nothing left to hide. “Apart from having El in my bedroom, of course,” she thought, as she straightened up.
She frowned then.
“Since when do I think of her as El?!” she thought. “Fuck.”