Author's note: New chapter! As always, reviews are much appreciated. Huge thanks goes to the wonderful belladonna78 for editing!
Chapter 2 - Treadstone Meets Outcome
"That wasn't normal."
Heather Lee sat back in her heavy office chair opposite Dewey's desk. She looked down at the small placard that sat proudly in the foreground of the mess of mission reports and authorization documents that he called his workspace. It read Director Robert Dewey. Director. Now wasn't that a nice title that would suit herself quite nicely? Dewey was old. Outdated. He relied on the smarts and innovation of Aaron Kalloor to empower his efforts in amassing a truly central intelligence.
"Pardon?" He said, looking up from a report Heather doubted he was even reading.
"The way the asset behaved, I mean. He stayed and waited to get that last shot in, and I'm convinced that if we weren't choking him with his own leash, he would've killed the police who came onsite and then waited to get another shot at Bourne."
Dewey frowned and went back to his report. "Well it's a good thing he's on a leash then, right? This is why we still need these programs, Heather. You need to get with it."
"Do the asset and Bourne have history?" Heather asked the condemning question. The query seemed to drop onto Dewey's desk with a force that would have made a medium sized hole in the mahogany, had her question been a physical object. His forehead crinkled as he raised his eyebrows. He sighed and leaned forward, folding his hands on top of his report, which Heather was now absolutely sure he was not actually reading.
"Why do you need to know?" asked Dewey.
"Why don't you want to tell me?" she countered.
"Because it's not important."
"Bullshit. If the asset is getting emotionally involved, it could jeopardize the whole operation. I can't run point on this operation if my people have secrets," Heather glared at Dewey.
"He's not 'your people', he's my people."
Heather shook her head. "You gave me full operational control. Your people become my people."
"If you can't handle secrets then don't run point. I'll put someone else on this," Dewey said cheerfully.
"You can't. I'm already neck deep into this. No one knows this mission like I do now."
Dewey stared straight at Heather. She stared back, gaze unwavering, determination shining brightly in her eyes. His resolve finally gave.
"You're persistent," he quipped.
"You noticed," she quipped back.
He gave a slight grin before speaking again. "The last time Bourne surfaced years ago he exposed the Blackbriar program. Had to shut everything down, including a deep cover mission in Syria. The asset was blown and later tortured. Took us two damn years to get him out. History? That's a mild way of putting it."
"So you think Bourne wants to go public again?"
Dewey shook his head. "I have no idea why Bourne is back. But he's going to tear us apart, one way or another, and we have to stop him."
"Have you heard of operation Outcome?" Cross asked Bourne.
Here he was, face to face with one of the CIA's newer generations of hitmen. Years ago he had read a bit about Outcome in the papers a few months after deputy director Noah Vosen, director Ezra Kramer, and Dr. Alfred Hirsh were arrested and indicted for treason, among other things. Rumor had it, these assets were not only exceptionally trained, but they were given medication that permanently enhanced their physical and mental strength. He had fought the entirety of Treadstone and Blackbriar with relative ease, but he felt slightly uneasy facing this new breed of genetically enhanced Blackbriar upgrades.
"Rings a bell," Jason replied casually. "I thought the program was shut down and all the assets tied off."
"Not just the assets, Jason." Aaron looked at Marta. "They tried to take out the scientists who made the program possible, but thanks to her, we made it out alive. We've been on the run ever since." Marta smiled as Aaron put his arm around her.
Jason found the heart to return a weak smile. They had achieved what he had found to be almost impossible. To be completely free of the system, off the grid and left alone. To be honest with himself, he was almost jealous.
"I think I should check on Nicky," Marta said.
"Sure thing, Doc." Marta got up and began walking to the back end of the boat.
"What happened after you left Outcome?" Jason asked.
"A few weeks after we left Manila, they sent another asset after us. I think he was LARX. Managed to get rid of him and lose my tail, and we went back into hiding. About seven years later, I run into Nicky Parsons asking that I give her any information I might have on Outcome or Emerald Lake, as well as any files Dr. Shearing might have regarding the chem side of the program, with the NRAG. My guess is she was trying to gather as much information she could from anyone else who left the beta programs without directly hacking the CIA mainframe and drawing attention to herself."
"And you trusted her? She was former CIA," Bourne questioned.
"Actually, I didn't run into her. She found me. We were in hiding and she gave me a tip about an Ironhand asset that had been given my location and a kill order. There were about a dozen ground teams in play, made it nearly impossible for us to escape even with the intel she gave us. She saved our lives. You could say I felt a little indebted to give her what information I had. Not that what I had was any good to me anyway. Marta managed to retrieve some of her work back when she was with Sterisyn-Morlanta."
"How did you find us in Greece?" Jason asked.
"The same Ironhand asset who found you two last night was the same one who found me. I had been playing cat and mouse with him over the last few years. Sometimes he would show up on the grid and I'd try to chase him down. Last night was lucky. His passport popped up in Athens and next thing I hear, the radio waves are buzzing with the kill order for you and Nicky. Unfortunately I got there just as Nicky went down. Nicky got to the hospital and it took a while but they stabilized her. Marta managed to get her out while I grabbed you from the police station."
Jason couldn't believe his luck and was nearly speechless. "Thank you," he managed to say in a whisper. "This boat is yours?" he asked.
"A friend let us use it. Told him we were going on a small vacation. Athens is lovely this time of year, with all the riots and whatnot," Aaron smirked.
There was a sharp knock behind Jason, and he turned around. Marta was peering over from behind a corner.
"Jason. She's awake."
Nicky's head swam and her stomach felt like she had swallowed the very fires of hell itself, even though her whole body felt cold. When her eyes first opened to the bright lights overhead, she saw double. A few hard blinks and deep breaths restored her vision. The door opened and in walked Marta.
"Marta?" Nicky asked, her voice low and raspy.
"Hello, Nicky. Are you up for talking?"
Nicky swallowed hard and nodded her head slowly. Her neck felt awfully sore, and even that small movement sent her headache rushing back. She closed her eyes and pressed further back into her pillow. "Yeah, I think I can talk."
"Do you remember what happened to you?" Marta asked.
Nicky thought for a moment before responding. "Syntagma Square. Uh, we were on a bike. Jason switched seats with me and then he got hit. Then I got hit. I was on the ground. I think I remember hearing a third gunshot. "
"Jason took that one for you," Marta said quietly.
"He what?" Nicky shook her head and closed her eyes again. In her mind, she knew that Jason had taken it for her, but hearing someone else say that meant it was real. What was he thinking anyway?
"He shouldn't have."
"What?" Marta returned, slightly stunned.
"I signed up for this. I know the risks of being a whistleblower. I know what this could cost."
"So did he when he took that bullet for you."
"I dragged him into this. All I wanted was for him to find peace, not put himself on the line for me. That doesn't accomplish anything." Nicky reached out for the remote that controlled the cot, but it was too far out of reach. Marta held it out for her and she grabbed it.
"Is that why you do this?" Marta asked. "Running around, hiding from the CIA, leaking a few files here and there. Bringing down the programs so that he doesn't have to run anymore?"
"Where is he?" Nicky asked, dodging Marta's question. She pressed one of the buttons on the remote and her bed began to slowly tilt forward, bringing her into a more comfortable sitting position. She groaned as her wound tugged at itself.
"I'll get him."
Jason stood in the doorway, mouth twisted into a half smile. It had been years since he had seen Nicky, and on the first day they reconnect she nearly dies right in front of him. When faced with the possibility that their meeting in Athens could have been the last time he saw her alive, he realized he had felt something he rarely ever felt: fear. A million gunshots could sound off in his ears, and he would march on, unfazed. A highly trained asset could be bearing down on him in a speeding SUV and he would keep his cool. No, this was a different type of fear. Not fear for himself, but for someone else. He hadn't felt this fear since India. India.
"Hi." Jason said softly.
"Hey." Nicky offered back with a weak grin. She looked on edge, despite the way her disheveled hair fell about her shoulders.
Marta leaned against the doorway next to Aaron, inclining her head towards the living room, hoping he would get her hint. Aaron's eyes lit up in understanding, smirking.
"Aaron, don't you have to check on the, um-"
They both spoke simultaneously. God, we are so obvious, Marta thought to herself.
"We'll be outside." Marta said quickly, gesturing with her thumb. Aaron nodded enthusiastically, and pointed with his thumb, but in the opposite direction. He looked at her and quickly realized his mistake, putting his hand down and pointing vigorously in the correct direction. Nicky nearly burst out laughing at the couple's awkward attempt to give them some space. Marta and Aaron walked off slowly. Nicky looked up at Jason.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Like shit." Nicky replied flatly.
"That tends to happen when you get shot. Trust me, I know." Jason almost laughed.
Nicky smiled weakly.
"You don't have to thank me."
"In the future you shouldn't try to save me." Her gaze drifted off and she stared into nowhere in particular. "For your own sake," she added.
Jason folded his arms across his chest. "It's for my sake I did save you."
"You could've died."
"Wouldn't be the first time," he said nonchalantly. "My entire life, I've run that risk."
"But still..." Nicky took a deep breath. "Everything I've done these past ten years is so that I don't have to run anymore. So that fugitives like Aaron and Marta don't have to run anymore. So that you don't have to run anymore."
"You feel responsible, is that it?" Jason pressed.
"For them? Partly. You? Completely."
"You're not responsible for them. Or me. I chose this life," Jason said definitively. He could tell Nicky was determined to bear the blame for who he was and what he had become, but he was equally determined to not let her. She had started down a self-destructive path, carved out with the shards of Jason's broken life, hoping it would lead her to redemption. But for ten years, she had barely gotten anywhere. Program after program would spring up, ready to take its fallen predecessor's place. Ironhand was the tenth iteration, and whether or not it went down, Nicky would continue to fight it, pull at the loose threads until the horrifying tapestry unravelled itself to the public.
"I'm not like you, Jason. You can forgive yourself because you can't remember. I remember everything I've done. I won't forgive myself until this is finished."
"They will never be finished!" Jason almost shouted. Nicky looked up, startled. "Ever since Treadstone shut down, nine new programs have come up. I've been on the run for a long time now and they will never give up hunting me. Only one thing matters: survival. That's my victory. If I can stay alive, I've beaten them. I'll continue to beat them. But shutting down the system completely? It's impossible."
"If surviving is everything to you, why risk your life for mine?" Nicky challenged, raising her voice.
"Why would you risk your life trying to set me free?"
Nicky scoffed. "You really don't remember? Anything?"
"Why do you keep asking that?"
Her face fell and she looked hurt. "Because if you could remember, you wouldn't need to ask why I would risk my life for you."
Jason felt like his very mind was tugging at a memory in a physical way, but he could only draw blanks where memories were supposed to be. He had had this conversation with Nicky before. She knew him, and he suspected their interactions weren't limited to her giving him orders in Paris. She seemed familiar with him, to him. But for her to risk her life for him? Jason opened his mouth and started to search for words, but Nicky cut him off. "If you want to give up and hide, that's your choice. I can't force you to help me. But before you hide and have your victory, go to Larissa Railway Station. There's a locker with all the black ops files on a flash drive. They mention your father."
Jason's eyes narrowed. "I told you, he was just an analyst. He was killed in a terrorist attack."
"That's not all." Nicky shook her head. "I don't know what else, but there was more to him than that. Please, just take a look. It's important."
She looked hurt, and not just from her gunshot wound. Twice now, she had asked if he remembered anything, and he was frustrated he still could not. Jason looked away and ran a hand through his hair. "Look, Nicky, I'm sorry I-"
"It's okay." She sounded calm.
Jason looked back at her. "After the crash, when you were on the ground," he began slowly, "you asked me to 'remember us'. What does that-"
"Don't worry about it," she said quickly. Their eyes met. "I was dying. I don't know what I said." Jason was about to protest and remind her that she still had the presence of mind to give him her locker key, but from her face saw that she wasn't ready to discuss whatever it was she meant.
"I can't take them down alone. I'll need your help to do it."
Jason reached into his pocket and pulled out the key. He turned it over in his hand a few times.
"Locker number 1394. Find the truth," Nicky said.
Jason walked through the station to the lockers. A row of security cameras kept watch at the entrance, but he quickly blended in with a large tourist group as he moved through to the 1300's row. His eyes scanned the hundreds of lockers and found number 1394. He inserted the key and opened, the rusted hinges squeaking in protest.
A sinking feeling materialized directly in his gut when he looked inside. He stuck his head inside the locker, examining the walls, behind the door hinge, fingers pressing into the back to look for a false bottom. He stood back and made sure the number he had was correct.
Everything was in order, except for the one problem that the locker was completely empty.