June 13th, 2061. San Francisco, Fireblue territory, North American Province, 06.55 local time
“Finally,” El snarled at the guard who led Louise into the bunker. She was sitting at a conference table. “What took you so long?”
She pointed at a chair. Louise assumed the gesture was meant for her. She shuffled to the table and sat down across from El.
“Ma’am, she has no clearance. We had to make sure she wasn’t armed,” the guard answered, sounding a bit stunned.
El waved at him dismissively. “Leave us.”
Her mood certainly had not improved in the 10 minutes or so it had taken to search and scan Louise. They hadn’t found anything on her, of course. The terminal was still in El’s office after all.
“Yes, ma’am,” the guard said nervously and stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
The sudden silence in the room was deafening. All Louise could hear was the humming of the ventilation system. She felt her mouth go dry. El closed the notebook that had been lying in front of her.
“I’ve been sitting here, thinking,” she said, more calmly than Louise had expected. El had an uncanny way of going from genuinely upset to perfectly composed.
Louise put her hands on the table. They were trembling again. “I know I have a lot of explaining to do,” she said with difficulty.
El picked up one of her old-school pens and fidgeted with it. “I have a question I want you to answer first.”
Louise looked down at her hands. “Okay,” she replied.
Much to her surprise, El got back up and walked around the table. The sound of her heels echoed in the bunker. She pulled back the chair next to Louise and sat down.
“I need you to be completely honest with me,” El stated.
Louise shifted in her seat, turning towards her. There was no anger in El’s eyes. If anything, she looked uncertain. Louise nodded slowly.
El searched her face for a long moment. She straightened and closed her eyes briefly as if urging herself to continue.
“Okay,” she said finally, her voice slightly less steady. “Let me be blunt. Why did you have sex with me?”
Louise’s lips parted in shock. She blinked a few times before she stammered, “W-what?!”
El ran a hand through her curls. “Why did you have sex with me?” she repeated.
“Because I’m in love with you,” Louise thought. The words had popped into her head out of nowhere. Her cheeks started burning.
This was a question she had not seen coming. She had been ready to talk about Hobbs, Michelle and the Global Coalition’s plans. That would have been a difficult discussion for sure. But this? This was impossible.
She moved her hands to the edge of her chair to hide that they were shaking. El rested her elbows on the table. She took in a deep breath. “I’m asking because…” She stopped.
Louise’s mind was struggling to come up with something to say. Something other than the truth that was still echoing in her head. Her heart was drumming in her ears. “Just say it, just say it, just say it,” it seemed to be singing.
“I really need you to say something,” El said.
Louise swallowed nervously. She wasn’t even sure her voice would still work. The back of her throat felt like sandpaper. “I didn’t expect this question,” she finally managed to stutter.
El’s shoulders dropped. Louise knew she had disappointed her. She balled her hands into fists. Telling El the truth was just not an option, though. She simply couldn’t.
Being honest about how she felt would ruin her, she instinctively knew. She was already a traitor. She had slept with the enemy after all. But admitting she had fallen in love on top of it, was one truth she would never confess to anyone.
“Okay, you know what,” El sighed. “Never mind.”
El pushed herself up a little too quickly. She almost tripped over the legs of her chair. Without thinking, Louise grabbed her arm to help her keep her balance.
El spun around, pushing Louise’s hand away furiously. “Do not touch me!”
Louise stood up and reached for El again. “No, no,” she pleaded. “Wait.” She managed to grab El by the shoulders.
El tried to wrestle herself out of Louise’s hold, but Louise was clinging on for dear life now. “Please,” she begged. “I can’t say it.”
This gave El pause.
“Can’t say what?” she asked, her eyes searching Louise’s.
“Don’t make me say it out loud, please,” Louise whispered. She lifted her hand and stroked El’s cheek. El let her.
“I don’t understand,” El said. The corner of her eye was twitching again.
Louise blew out a shaky breath. She thought her knees would buckle any moment. “If I tell you, I won’t survive it,” she blurted out.
El arched an eyebrow. Louise got goosebumps from embarrassment. That sounded way more dramatic spoken out loud than it had inside her head.
“I mean,” she tried again, “If I tell you, it’s real. But…” She ran her fingers through El’s soft, bouncy hair. “It will hurt too much.”
Louise felt a chill run up her spine. This was her real story, she knew. She had fallen in love for the first time since Michelle. But she knew her heart would be broken again. And it would happen very soon.
El covered Louise’s hand with her own, leaning into the touch. “I need to know if this is real,” she whispered.
“It was,” Louise replied.
El froze. “Was?”
Louise sniffed loudly. “It is! It is real,” she hurried to say, “But…” Tears stung her eyes.
The frown on El’s forehead deepened. “But you have to leave,” she said quietly, reading Louise’s mind.
“Yes, and soon. We’re leaving early,” Louise replied before taking a moment to consider her words.
El took in a sharp breath. Her hand dropped. Her mouth opened slightly. Her eyes glanced left and right. She was clearly thinking things through. Louise used the moment to study El’s cheeks, her neck, the hummingbird pendant. She tried to memorize every single detail.
“Is this why you asked me to stop the inspection? You don’t want to leave?” El finally asked.
Louise shook her head. She let her eyes rest on one of the white walls of the bunker. It was empty apart from the Fireblue Republic emblem that was hanging in the middle of it. Louise recognized the hummingbird at the center of the image. It was the same one as El was wearing around her neck.
“Not just that,” Louise admitted.
El took a step back. “I think it’s time you tell me what’s going on.”
Louise gestured towards the table. “Maybe we should sit down.”
El pursed her lips. “I’m fine,” she replied, lifting her chin in the air.
Louise smiled sadly. She loved how strong El was. Strong with a touch of stubborn.
“Okay,” she said and stepped towards the wall. She traced the bottom line of the emblem’s frame with her finger. “My leadership is going to retaliate for the attack even though they know you’re innocent.”
“Of course they will,” El immediately replied.
Louise’s head snapped to the side.
El laughed sourly. “You thought I didn’t know that this is all some fucked up game?”
“They asked me to fake evidence,” Louise stammered. El clearly didn’t understand what she was saying here, she thought.
El folded her arms. “Of course they did. I knew we were in trouble the moment I heard about the attack. What a coincidence that it happened just before an election of your Global Council, right?”
Louise slowly turned around, her mind not quite able to grasp what El was implying.
El continued. Her tone was bitter. “Sure enough, your people immediately blamed us. Nothing better than a common enemy after all.”
Louise let herself fall back against the wall. Her legs were feeling weak again.
“I only agreed to these stupid inspections to buy us some time. I knew your Global Council would want to pretend to be civilized. Say they investigated the matter.” El huffed. “It’s all a scam, of course.”
Louise stared down at her own feet. Her sneakers looked foreign to her, as if they were someone else’s.
“I don’t know how you found out where our main network hubs are, though,” El said, her frustration obvious. “That came as a surprise.”
Louise blinked as she tried to remember who had shown her the map with the 6 locations. Michelle had. The information had come from an unknown source. An informant. Or a mole, from El’s point of view.
El moved one of the chairs out of her way. She was pacing around the bunker now. “Allowing your team in gave me time to get some backup infrastructure running.”
Louise looked up in surprise. “The renovations?” she thought. Had El lied to her after all?
El shook her head, apparently reading her mind again. “No, new locations in case you destroyed our existing infrastructure.” She frowned. “They’re not fully equipped yet, though. I need two more days.”
Louise took in a slow breath to calm herself down. She needed a moment to sort through all of this new information.
El walked up to her. Her gaze was super intense. Scary even. “Why are you and Hobbs leaving early?”
Louise placed her palms against the wall, bracing herself. “I don’t know,” she confessed.
El was standing right in front of her. Louise could see the smile lines around her mouth. She forced herself to look up. El’s eyes bore into hers.
“I honestly don’t know,” Louise repeated.
“What did your orders say?” El demanded.
Louise closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know. There were codes I wasn’t briefed on,” she admitted. She felt absolutely useless.
El’s brow furrowed. “And Hobbs?”
Louise lifted her shoulders. “He did understand them. That’s how I knew he and Michelle are up to something.”
El immediately pounced on this. “Michelle?”
Shit. Louise had just made a big mistake, she realized. “The major,” she quickly corrected herself.
El narrowed her eyes. “Why did you call her Michelle?” There was a clear threat in her voice. She put her hand on the wall, next to Louise’s head.
Sweat prickled the back of Louise’s neck. She shut her eyes. The moment in which she would lose El forever had come much sooner than she had anticipated. Maybe it was for the best, though.
El clearly didn’t need her. She had been way ahead of Louise all this time. Their connection must have been as surprising to El as it had been to Louise. It was time to bury it now. Conceal it forever.
The door of the bunker opened with a loud clank. El jerked back, but they had been standing so close to each other that whoever had just walked in would know something was going on between them.
Footsteps echoed in the room. Louise’s eyes registered who had just walked in but her mind wasn’t processing this new information fast enough.
“I said no interruptions!” El yelled angrily.
Louise felt sick to her stomach studying Woodward’s face. The contempt in his expression was evident.
“Your time of bossing me around is over,” he said. “I’ll be giving the orders from now on.”