Chapter 7: We Are Being Watched (5x09 Sotto Voce)

John had finished giving his statement to the precinct captain about all the events of the night and she finally let him go. He exited the interrogation room and slowly walked through the devastated bullpen. Under the morning light, the extent of the damage was even more striking. A paramedic was taking care of Lionel who was sitting on a chair in the middle of the trashed bullpen. Even while mad at John, Lionel had not hesitated to jump on Easton to prevent him from shooting his partner. It reminded John of the time Fusco had jumped in front of a shooter to prevent that kid Darren from getting shot and took the bullet in the butt. This time, luckily, the bullet had only grazed his shoulder. It could have easily been a lot worse.

Lionel was a damn good friend.

If you had told John five years ago that he would feel hurt being rejected by Fusco, John would have laughed it off. And yet, here he was, afraid to lose one of his most loyal friends, and pondering what the best course of action was. Lionel had a good life out there. His son was entering high school, he was the star of the precinct bowling team and he had turned his reputation around so well that now all the rookies were looking up to him. Lionel was also the only one of all John's friends that wasn't presumed dead and living under a fake identity. By keeping him out of the AI war, John just wanted to protect him. Lionel's friendship meant a lot to John and he truly didn't want to lose it. Yet, he would still have been prepared to lose him as a partner, if that was the price to pay to keep Lionel alive. Except, Lionel was a stubborn man and he was making it very hard to be protected. No matter what John did, Lionel seemed determined to run head-on into the face of danger.

The truth was, there was nothing John could do, or say, or even hide, that would prevent Lionel from being Lionel, a zealous and tenacious detective, and a loyal friend. In the end, Lionel had more than earned his place among the team, and he had earned the right to decide whether or not he wanted to be part of it.

Crossing the bullpen, John walked to the coffee corner by the staircase. The coffeemaker was a rare survivor of the night's shootout. It was miraculously unscathed. John made two coffees. One black for himself, and one with cream and no sugar for Lionel.

"How's your arm?" he asked his partner as he handed him the cup.

"Gonna take more than a bullet to keep me down," Lionel replied, with a hint of defiance.

"It's time we had a talk, Lionel."

Intrigued, Lionel followed John to the rooftop of the precinct.

"So what are we doing here?" He asked. "You're not gonna propose to me, are you?"

But John didn't seem in the mood for jokes. While leading Lionel to the farthest corner of the rooftop, he held out his hand. "Give me your phone."

He took Lionel's phone and, without any warning, threw it over the roof, down into the street below.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Lionel protested.

Ignoring his protest, John grabbed Lionel by the elbow and pulled him into the corner.

"You never know who might be listening," he said.

"It wasn't even turned on!"

John remained silent, as he simply looked at Lionel, serious and surprisingly solemn. Lionel felt it was an important moment.

"What's going on?" he asked again.

"Those questions you've been asking? You deserve answers."

John looked away, at an invisible point above Lionel's head, like he always did when Glasses was talking to him via his earpiece.

"These days, even the precinct's not safe," John answered to Harold. "So maybe the best we can do is trust each other."

He looked at Lionel and gave him a friendly smile. Lionel's heart was beating very fast in his chest. This was it, he was finally going to know John and Glasses' secret, know how they were able to predict which people were about to get in trouble.

"There's a system listening through every microphone, watching through every camera," John started.

Lionel frowned and stared at John, dumbfounded. He wondered for a moment if John was pulling his leg, but John looked dead serious.

"A system? Like some sort of super computer?"

John nodded. "Finch built it. He calls it The Machine. It's spying on everyone to predict and prevent terrorist attacks, but it sees all premeditated crimes. So the government works the relevant side, terrorism, and we work on the irrelevant side, everyday people. When the Machine sees something, she sends us a social security number. You know how the rest works. We investigate, save the good guys, stop the bad guys. But it's all illegal and it has to remain a secret, for everyone's sake. The government would never let us do our work if they knew the Machine was communicating with other people. And you can imagine the outcry if the existence of the Machine became public…"

This sounded completely nuts, and yet, weirdly familiar. "Hold on," Lionel said, "I've heard that story before. That guy… Beck? Peck?"

John raised an eyebrow. "Henry Peck."

"Yes, he said the same thing. That there was a computer watching everything and all that."

"That's right, and you thought he was nuts…" John smirked.

"Then he disappeared and I never saw him again. Think he's safe?"

John grinned. "Yes, Lionel, he's safe."

Lionel looked around for any camera, suddenly feeling like he was being watched. "So, it's watching us right now?"

John took him by the elbow and pulled him farther toward the corner of the rooftop, pointing to a camera above their head that was looking in the opposite direction.

"Unless you're in a blindspot like we are now, then yes, it's watching and listening, and collecting all your digital prints too."

"Like reading emails and stuff?"

"Yes, Lionel, everything. But that's not the worst part. The Machine is an ally and knows you're one of the good guys. But there's another system, Samaritan, which has fallen into the wrong hands. Some very bad people who are leaning toward world domination. They are the ones working with the government now, and they all want us dead, The Machine and everyone associated with it. That's why we now have cover identities, so that Samaritan can't identify us. Finch is Professor Whistler, and I'm Detective Riley."

"And they're the ones responsible for killing all those people in the tunnel?"

John shook his head. "We believe that it's actually Samaritan's doing, on its own. It seems to have some… great scheme for humanity or something. And it's also getting rid of anyone getting in its way. So, Lionel," he added, pointing a finger at his partner. "One important thing. Do not ever mention The Machine or Samaritan to anyone. Not even between us, unless you're one hundred percent certain that there is no phone, no mike, no camera, nothing digital."

Lionel nodded. "Of course, I promise. I can keep a secret."

John looked down and heaved a sigh. "Look, the reason why we didn't want to tell you is not that we don't trust you. We were just trying to protect you. Samaritan doesn't know you're working with us."

"You know I can take care of myself."

John smiled. "Oh I've learned a long time ago not to underestimate you, Lionel. But Harold and I… We've both lost a lot of people, because of all this. Maybe we got a little too protective. Sometimes it's hard to know what's the best decision for the people close to us… We just didn't want to put you at risk. When we started this, things were a lot simpler. Even HR was a walk in the park compared to these guys. One misstep and we could all wind up dead." He marked a pause and looked back at Lionel with an apologetic smile. "I didn't want you involved in this because I, well, I feel responsible for you. I didn't want to risk anything happening to you."

Lionel didn't know what to say. He wasn't sure what was the hardest thing to process, the idea that there were two machines spying on everyone, or John admitting he was afraid of losing him.

"Damn it, I knew you were going to propose," he cracked, trying to break the gravity of the moment.

John rolled his eyes, but there was a small smile lingering on his lips. He walked to the railing and leaned on it, watching the city around them.

"We've come a long way, huh?"

Lionel leaned next to him. "Thank you," he said, "for letting me know. It means a lot to me. Actually, it has always meant a lot to me, that you picked me. And don't worry, I'll be careful. Who would come and rescue your ass, otherwise?"

John glanced at him over his shoulder and grinned. "Gotta say, you've been much better at saving me than trying to kill me."

"So how long you and Glasses have been doing this?"

"Five years, give or take. I've been doing it just as long as you. I met you on my first job for Finch. That attorney you were working with, she was my first number."

"And how did you and Harold meet?"

"He found me," John said softly. "To be honest, I'm not sure how. I'm just thankful that he did."

"Is that why you quit the CIA?"

"No," John whispered. "But it's why I'm still here."

He didn't elaborate, and Lionel felt it wasn't his place to press on. "Well, I'm glad you are," he said simply.

That seemed to take John off guard for a moment. He turned back to look at Lionel and smiled. "Yeah, me too."

Then he passed his arm around Lionel's shoulders. "Come on, partner, we've got to go. Harold's waiting for us."

To be continued...