June 13th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 05.55 local time
Louise wished she could lock the door behind her. It would raise too much suspicion, though. She pulled at the elastic band that was keeping her hair in a tight bun. She shook her hair loose.
She rested her back against the door and let her head fall against it with a soft thud. She looked at the ceiling before taking in the room. Apart from a closet, a table and the bags with their gear, there wasn’t much to see.
All of their stuff was there, ready for her to grab it and leave. Louise couldn’t do that until she had a plan, though. The problem was that she didn’t have a clue what to do. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.
“Start with the facts,” she thought and pushed herself off of the door. Her arms and legs were feeling heavy. She found her terminal easily, got it out of its case and opened the file with the instructions.
“Rebel media reports death MB. Unverified. Corroborate network monitoring room theory further. Code 5b. Code 7b.”
Louise reread the last line.
“Code 5b. Code 7b.”
She had no idea what those codes meant. At first, she thought it was the stress playing tricks with her memory. After a few moments of going through everything she knew, she realized she just had never been briefed on this.
Louise put the terminal down on the small table against the wall. “Fuck,” she cursed under her breath. Hobbs really did know more than she did. He knew what to do after reading those codes after all. That much had been clear.
She started pacing around the tiny room. So Hobbs was in cahoots with Michelle. Was this why Louise hadn’t been allowed to bring her own team and was stuck with Hobbs instead? Why send her at all then?
Louise stopped pacing. Michelle had probably picked her specifically for this mission. Louise was an expert. Her word would have credibility. But Michelle still had power over her and she knew it.
Michelle had to be confident Louise would obey any orders and stay quiet. It made her want to throw up. She held on to the table to steady herself.
After a few nauseous seconds, she pinched the skin between her thumb and index finger. “Snap out of it,” she told herself. Michelle had made a big mistake. Louise wasn’t going to go down quickly.
Time. She had to buy time. That was her first goal. If she went to that inspection site and found evidence of recent renovations, Michelle and Hobbs would probably have what they needed to go ahead with whatever they had planned.
“What if I can’t make it to the inspection site today?” Louise thought. “I can’t take pictures or create fake ones if I’m not there.” She ran both of her hands through her hair. Sweat prickled on her forehead.
If there was no inspection today, there was no new evidence. Not even fake evidence. Hobbs was still in the hospital after all. It was the only thing she could come up with to cause a delay.
“Can I pretend to be sick?” she wondered. No, that wouldn’t be credible at all. “Break my arm or leg somehow?” No, too much of a coincidence after Hobbs already got hurt.
“The weather!” she said out loud. Could she say there was flooding? That was a credible reason to delay the inspection, right? She frowned. Except she would need several other people to lie. And there hadn’t been any rain tonight.
Louise groaned. She wasn’t getting anywhere. She was a lone wolf now and had never felt more isolated. Plus, she was completely powerless here. Very little was under her control.
She pursed her lips. There was one person with a lot of power in this building, though. Someone everyone would listen to. El! Louise bet El could make anything happen.
What if she asked El to cancel the inspection? Surely El could find a way to stop it from happening? Louise would just have to convince her there was no other way. Could she do it without revealing too much, though?
Louise was about to put the terminal back in its case but stopped. Something told her to keep it with her. “My spidey sense,” she thought. Louise tucked the terminal away, under her shirt and against her back.
It was a slim device and no one would notice, she hoped. She would find a better hiding place later. First, she had to find El and get her to talk to her in private. It was her only chance at stopping this inspection from happening.
Louise quickly found El in the lobby. She was talking to Woodward. Stucky was no longer with her.
El looked up. “Is Hobbs okay?” she asked. Woodward crossed his arms after meeting Louise’s gaze.
“Eh, no, he’s not. Delicate matter, though. Can I talk to you for a moment? In private?” Louise improvised, rubbing the back of her neck.
El’s eyes darted back and forth between Louise and Woodward a few times. Woodward’s lips parted but Louise doubled down before he could start protesting.
“Just one moment in your office? Please?”
El’s light eyebrows shot up and she finally shrugged uncomfortably. “Okay.”
She gestured for Louise to follow her. Louise hurried after her, praying Woodward wouldn’t try to stop them. She held her breath until the door of El’s office closed behind her.
“Now you took a big risk out there,” El immediately said, her voice strained.
Louise couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or just scared. “I know,” she replied apologetically.
She walked up to the bookshelves she had admired so much last time she was here. “But it’s important and,” she hesitated, “I can’t trust anyone else.”
Her eyes fell on a picture of a young El, holding the hand of a woman who looked like she was in her fifties.
“That’s my aunt,” El said softly as she joined Louise.
Louise picked up the wooden frame, carefully, and ran her thumb over El’s young face.
“So you trust me?” El asked, her voice shaky.
Louise lowered the picture and met El’s gaze. She nodded slowly.
El’s face lit up. Louise would have smiled back if she hadn’t felt like the world was crashing down all around them. She struggled to swallow down her anxiety.
“What’s wrong?” El soon asked.
“It’s not about Hobbs, is it?”
Louise shook her head. Her mouth was dry. She wasn’t sure she could ask what she was about to ask until she heard her own voice.
“Can you trust me? I need you to trust me,” she pleaded.
El put a hand on Louise’s arm. “Just tell me, okay?
Louise stared at El’s delicate fingers for a moment. “We need to find a way to stop today’s inspection,” she finally said.
Her words seemed to echo in the room for a few seconds.
“B-b-ut…” El stammered.
Louise covered El’s hand with her own. “Can you find a way? I thought about breaking my leg or something but it seemed like too much of a coincidence and I’m really not all that good with pain and…”
El interrupted her. “Wow, stop. Wait. What are you saying here?”
Louise’s eyes darted around the room, then landed on her feet. “Right, I’m rambling. Sorry,” she said quietly.
When Louise looked back up, El’s eyes were focused on hers with shocking intensity.
“Are you asking me to sabotage today’s inspection?” El asked, stressing every word.
Louise tilted her head. Her plan did seem somewhat insane now. She closed her eyes in embarrassment.
“Yeah,” Louise replied. “I guess that’s exactly what I’m asking. Help me to stop this mission today.” Her stomach was churning.
El pulled back her hand and took a step away. “That doesn’t make sense at all.”
“I know. I’m trying to help you, though.”
El walked over to her desk. “I don’t understand any of this. What the hell are you talking about?”
Louise put the picture back on the bookcase. “Please, I can’t explain right now. I need you to believe me.” She followed El to the desk. “You cannot let the inspection take place today.”
“What am I supposed to do?” El snapped, pointing at the door. “Barricade the doors?”
Louise lifted her chin. “That’s not a bad idea, actually,” she said slowly.
El bristled. “This is ridiculous.” She put both of her hands on the desk. “If I do anything to stop this mission, your people will say it’s proof I’m a terrorist.”
Louise almost said that’s precisely what they would say no matter what. But she didn’t. Instead, she walked around the desk, joining El.
“Please,” she said, “I will explain everything as soon as I can.” She grabbed El’s hand. “But for now, can you stop the inspection?”
“Why don’t you?” El asked. Her voice was still critical but her eyes were growing softer. “You can cancel it. Hobbs is in the hospital. Make up some excuse.”
Louise shook her head. “He’ll immediately find out and I won’t have a good explanation. It has to be something like the storm. Something that’s no-one’s fault.”
El took in a deep breath, frowning. She glanced at the door. The corner of her eye was twitching.
“Like a lockdown?” she asked after a few moments.
Louise straightened up and nodded vigorously. “Yes!! Exactly like that! Can you make it happen?”
El huffed. “Of course.”
Louise giggled nervously. “How, though? Or why? What would trigger a lockdown?”
El’s brow furrowed as she thought. “A threat,” she said slowly.
Louise put her hand on El’s shoulder. “Can you make one up?” she asked, becoming more and more hopeful.
El arched an eyebrow. “I don’t think I have to, do I?”
Louise averted her eyes, embarrassed. “I meant something else than… my people.”
El snorted, running her hand through her curls. “I can’t believe this,” she muttered as she stepped back.
El then quickly walked over to the door and pulled it open. “Rick! Come in here,” she yelled.
Louise looked up in alarm. “What? El, no!” she whispered in despair.
But it was too late.