JUNE 11th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 19.30 local time.
“Alright, we have a strong signal,” Hobbs said quietly.
Louise scanned the bushes and trees around them. They were at the transmission site again, about to send in their second report. It was another beautiful evening but she wasn’t going to let herself be distracted. “Good. Let’s get this thing going before we get interrupted.”
Hobbs looked over his shoulder at the building where Eleanor and Woodward were waiting. “Why are you so on edge tonight?”
“I think the guard noticed me sniffing around that room. That means they know too.” She nodded in the direction of the old observatory.
Hobbs pushed himself up and walked around the terminal and satellite dish. “Everything seemed normal on the way over here.”
Louise blew out a frustrated breath. “I’m telling you. That room was newly installed. It also happens to be just like ours at the army base. This can’t be a coincidence.”
Hobbs inspected the cable that connected the dish to their computer. “We put it in the report. We can’t do much more until we can prove there’s a pattern.”
Louise scratched her cheek. “I bet that room yesterday had new flooring too.”
Hobbs looked at her. “But you didn’t notice it at the time. We need to be sure.”
Louise grimaced. “I’m sure we’ll find more of the same tomorrow. They’re showing us exactly what we expect to see. That way, we don’t find out what’s different. There has to be another room somewhere. We need to find it.”
Hobbs pointed at the terminal. “Let’s see if we get any new instructions based on yesterday’s report. There could be information in there that can help us.”
Louise walked over to the computer. “Yeah, okay. Ready when you are.”
“Go ahead,” he said.
Sending their report to the teams back home only took a minute. Hobbs and Louise watched as a new download progress bar popped up on the screen immediately after.
“There we go,” Hobbs mumbled.
Louise’s throat grew tight. Had the teams found evidence of the death of Monique Biden? Or was it a ruse? And what about the destroyed roads back in the desert? Had that been a lie too? Was she about to find out she had been duped by Eleanor Lucas time and time again?
“That was fast,” Hobbs interrupted Louise’s thoughts.
She looked at the screen. The file with the instructions had already been downloaded. Hobbs leaned over and opened it. Louise immediately saw there wasn’t much in it.
“MB unconfirmed. Roads destroyed. Cause unclear. Proceed as planned,” the instructions said.
Louise didn’t know if she should be relieved or frustrated. “Well, that’s helpful,” she mumbled sarcastically before she could stop herself.
Hobbs looked at her, his eyebrows raised. Louise ignored him. “Let’s get going,” she said, barely able to contain her temper.
He stared at her for another moment but then turned to start dismantling the satellite for the night.
Louise briefly closed her eyes before she shut down the terminal and put it in its case. “Focus, focus. You can’t afford to show things are getting to you,” she told herself.
Hobbs folded up the satellite. “Let’s go straight to our rooms when we get to the residence.”
Louise pursed her lips, holding the terminal case in her arms. She thought of the hurt look she had seen in Eleanor’s eyes a few hours earlier.
“Lucas likes you, you know,” Hobbs whispered out of the blue.
Louise almost dropped the terminal. “Excuse me?” she replied, barely managing to keep her voice steady.
Hobbs pushed himself up. “She kept looking at you in the rear view mirror on our way over here.”
Louise squeezed her arms around the case tightly. She hoped her cheeks didn’t look as flushed as they felt. Did Hobbs know what had almost happened between her and Eleanor this morning? Had he seen them in the woods?
“You didn’t notice?” he asked.
Louise almost said ‘No,’ but she knew he wouldn’t believe her. Of course she had noticed. Eleanor had been anything but discreet. Her pleading eyes in the rearview mirror had been hard to resist, actually, despite Louise’s resolve to focus on her duties.
“Yeah, of course, I just didn’t think it was because she…,” Louise didn’t finish her sentence. She couldn’t quite bring herself to say the words ‘like me.’ She feared her expression would reveal how shy the thought made her.
Hobbs took a step closer. He glanced around before he whispered. “You could use this to our advantage.”
Louise clenched her jaw. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!” she bit back.
He raised his hands, gesturing for her to quiet down. “Don’t be a prude. I know you play for the wrong team anyway.”
Louise’s nostrils flared. “Fuck off,” she hissed. This was an insult she didn’t have to put up with.
He shrugged. “Just think about it. You know there’s a lot on the line.”
Louise met his gaze head-on, furious he was threatening her again. She wasn’t going to be intimidated by this sneaky, slimy little shit any longer.
“Time to go, Second Lieutenant,” she said coolly. “And I suggest you remember who you are talking to from now on.”
He responded with a cocky smile.
Less than 12 hours later, Louise woke up feeling exhausted after a night of almost no sleep. She hadn’t been able to shake off the unrest after a day of twists and turns yesterday.
For the second time, nobody had said a word on the ride back to the mansion. Louise had done her best to ignore everyone, avoiding gazes and going upstairs the second they had walked into the residence.
Once in bed, half asleep, the voices of Eleanor, Hobbs and Michelle had been playing on repeat in her head. She guessed she had finally fallen into a fitful sleep around 3 AM.
After only 2 hours of sleep, she was dead tired and pissed off at everything and everyone. She threw the cover off of her and put her feet on the floor. Her neck and shoulders felt like she had slept on a rock instead of a pillow.
Louise groaned as she got up, only to notice how loud her own voice sounded in the quiet room. She tilted her head and listened. “Huh,” she thought, “Where did the birds go?”
Only then did she notice the glass of the window rattling because of the wind. She walked over to the window and pushed the curtains aside. She immediately saw it was much darker outside than on the previous mornings.
The sky was filled with threatening clouds. The trees around the garden were swaying back and forth. The ground still looked dry, but Louise had no doubt the rain would start pouring soon.
“Fuck,” she muttered as she leaned against the window sill. Surprisingly, the first thing she thought of was Stucky. “I hope he’s inside.”
Louise scanned the garden and what she could see of the woods for any signs of the dog. If there was flooding on the way, he could drown! She wished she could ask Eleanor if he was safe.
“It’s not my dog. Not my problem,” flashed through her mind. But something about Stucky’s sad eyes had touched her like nothing else had in a long while. “Ugh,” she groaned. She understood pretending not to care wasn’t going to work for her this time.
Louise looked out of the window again. She had never bothered to ask where Eleanor kept Stucky. Maybe she could go down to the kitchen with some sort of excuse and ask the staff about him.
She imagined herself talking to the staff. “Can I have a glass of water?” wouldn’t cut it, she figured. Maybe she could ask for a painkiller for her headache. “Yeah, that might work,” she thought.
Louise was walking to the bathroom to get dressed when a knock on the door made her stop dead in her tracks. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was 5.30 AM.
Louise didn’t have to think long to decide who had just knocked. She didn’t bother wrapping a blanket around her either. “She really needs to keep a better eye on that dog,” she muttered on her way over to the door.
She pulled it open with one swift move. But it wasn’t Eleanor standing in the hallway. It was Hobbs. Louise stood nailed to the floor, acutely aware of her flimsy tank top, short briefs and bare legs now. “Juuuust great,” she thought.
Hobbs’s eyebrows shot up. It pissed Louise off. Hadn’t he been the one calling her a prude last night? Well, she wasn’t. He was the one blushing now, wasn’t he? She figured owning the situation was her best course of action here.
“What’s up,” she said coolly.
He cleared his throat. “There’s a storm coming.”
“Yeah, I know, I looked out of the window,” she replied dryly.
He averted his eyes. “They want to cancel the inspection.”
Louise leaned against the doorframe. “Not a surprise.”
Hobbs studied a painting on the wall. “I told them it was out of the question.”
“What if there is flooding?”
He finally had the guts to look her in the eyes again. “We can’t afford any delays. Plus, the third site is at a decent altitude. ”
Louise nodded slowly. “I’m sure we can avoid the flooding if we hurry.”
His embarrassed expression changed into a surprised one. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
Louise arched an eyebrow.
Hobbs clapped his hands together. “We better leave now then.”
“I’ll be down in 5,” Louise said and slammed the door shut without looking back.