Hester kept walking down the corridor, glancing behind her to make sure that no one was following. Mia hadn't wanted her to separate, but in the midst of everything, her desire to get the synths out had overcome whatever worry she had for Hester. It had helped when she assured her that she could find her own way out and back to the estate, though she hoped that the others would wait for her.
That Leo would wait for her.
But now she needed to focus. She wanted to find out just what they intended to do to the synths. An intense feeling came over Hester, yet again she wasn't sure what it was or what it was called. But she wanted to make them pay for what they had done. She had felt a sort of release when she had beaten the other guards. When she had killed the woman. The same drive coursed through her now and it pushed her forward.
Though she didn't know exactly where she was going or what she would do, she was resourceful.
Today she would have her vengeance on Qualia. But that was just the beginning. Then she would take care of everyone else.
Nora stood at the edge of the forest, watching the door to the Silo through the trees. While she knew that she and Leo were safe and out of sight, she couldn't help but felt anxious. More than usual. And mostly because they had no idea what was currently going on inside the compound. Just that Mia and Hester had been picked up as planned, and hopefully soon, they would emerge from the door with the other synths. Ian had managed to hide a communicator on Mia in case she should need his help, but at the moment Nora and Leo were basically cut off from whatever was going on.
The drive over had been quiet, though they led a caravan, unsure of just how many synths they would be rescuing and not wanting to waste time by walking them through the countryside. They had left them in a hidden clearing about a 15-minute hike away and then she and Leo alone had gone to the Silo door. They hadn't spoken much on the way, the two of them caught up in their own thoughts. Nora wasn't sure what was going through Leo's mind, but there was no doubt what was going through hers.
Mattie and Ian were right. This plan was mad. Absolutely mad. And that was saying something, coming from her. They had no idea how many guards and scientists would be inside. What their security protocols would be. While Nora trusted Mia, she worried that she and Hester would be able to overpower the guards. Not to mention, there was no telling what Hester might do, if given the chance. She could very well attempt to kill everyone in revenge. She had already done so with the guard.
But it was too late to back out now. Too late to change the plan.
So instead, Nora focused on watching the door and surrounding area, and keeping her anxiety at bay. She had been in tons of tight situations before, she reminded herself, and always got out of them. Had made last-minute, split-second decisions, not necessarily knowing if they would work. And she had come out on the other side. This would be no different. It couldn't be.
Christ, she was starting to understand the heart attacks she must have given Ian over the years. Nora made a mental note to give him a hug and properly apologize when they got back to the estate.
"You think they're alright?" Leo asked softly from her side.
Nora glanced at him, taking in his rigid posture and the tension in his jaw as he continued to watch ahead. Seemed it was just as nerve-wracking for him. Granted, Mia, his surrogate mother in a way, was currently inside.
"Should be, I hope," she replied, infusing as much lightness into her voice as she could, before turning back to watch as well. Someone needed to stay optimistic. Might as well be her.
Even though optimistic was definitely not a word she would ever use to describe herself. At the moment arrogant and foolhardy were certainly seeming more fitting. Though she certainly felt neither at the moment.
"I hate to admit, but I'm worried about them," Leo said tensely. "They've been in there a long time."
"You should be. Qualia is a powerful company. There's a reason Ian and I haven't tried to infiltrate it yet," Nora replied without thinking. She then grimaced. What was that about being optimistic?
"Now she sees the light," Ian muttered through the comms.
"Hush. No cheek. We have to focus," Nora said in return.
Everyone fell into silence as they continued to watch. But, Nora could feel Leo glance at her every so often. She kept her eyes trained on the door, namely the handle, willing it to turn.
"So… you ready for more synths?" he asked, seeming uncomfortable with the prolonged silence. Nora glanced at him and smiled.
"Suppose we have to be. Hopefully we can find something to make everyone happy and such," she said lightly. "It's a large place. Surely there's something for everyone. More than enough to keep us busy."
"Definitely know there's something for me," Leo said, a small smile appearing as he glanced back at her. Nora's smile grew as a sense of contentedness filled her. God, it was strange, but exciting all at the same time. "With the newcomers and well..."
She reached out and took his hand, squeezing it as she looked over at him.
"Same," she said, unable to hide her smile.
"As lovely as this moment is, I need you two focused," Ian interrupted. Nora huffed slightly and rolled her eyes but returned her attention to the door.
"You figure out what those things in the ground are?" she asked.
"Figured they're part of the security perimeter, though still not sure what they do. Mia said she would take out the alarms from the inside," Ian said. "Hoping they get out soon. I don't like that this is taking as long as it has."
"Patience, Ian. We're not sure just what they had to do once they were inside," Nora breathed.
"Which is why they shouldn't have gone in in the first place," he grumbled.
Neither Leo nor Nora replied, the both of them thinking the same thing. But again, they couldn't back out now. Things were in motion and they just had to wait it out and hope that they came out soon.
And as much she hated to admit it, hoped that this didn't completely ruin all the work they had done so far. If they weren't on Qualia's radar before, they likely would be after this. Making it that much harder to get back in.
"Heads up," Ian said. "I just got a message from Mia. They should be coming soon. Thank god."
Nora tensed as they waited. A few more moments passed, and Nora stiffened, her eyes zeroing in on slight movement from the door. She watched a moment and then started down the ridge, moving at a quick pace and already starting to reach for one of the guns in the holster she had hidden under her jacket.
"Get ready. Let's hope that's them and not someone else..."
Leo started moving, sticking close to Nora's side as they made their way through the trees to the large clearing just outside the door that had just swung open. Synths were starting to come out, taking in the landscape around them. Nora reached under her jacket and quickly pulled out a gun as they moved.
He couldn't but be a bit shocked, watching as she flipped off the safety and held it expertly in front of her, her eyes roaming around, likely to see any threats before they walked in on one. It wasn't so much he was afraid, but more so hoped she wouldn't be forced to use it. And it was yet another reminder that there was a lot about Nora he didn't know - like where she was able to even purchase a gun or how she learned to use it. But that wasn't the thing he should be focusing on. Leo needed to be focused on the synths now coming towards them.
"Over here," Nora called out. "We're here to help you."
A few of the synths at the front stopped and looked over at them, appearing cautious as they took in the gun in Nora's hands. Maybe she shouldn't have brought that out, now that he thought about it. They had likely seen the guards carrying them.
"We're with Mia and Hester," Leo said, hoping that would convince the synths to follow them. Glancing around, he couldn't help but think they were sitting ducks the longer they stayed in this clearing.
Leo felt his heart rate speed up as he prayed none of the guards had followed them.
Finally, after what felt like years but was only seconds, the synths started towards them, picking up their pace. He heard Nora breathe a sigh of relief.
"Nearly there," she whispered, her eyes still scanning around them.
Leo felt the same relief start to kick in. So far, it looked as though they hadn't been discovered. If they could just get the synths to the forest, they could move quickly back to the cars and head to the estate. Though he knew that he wouldn't feel completely relieved until he knew Mia was safe. So far, she had yet to emerge, though that didn't surprise him. She would likely stay behind until the last synth got out.
As the first synth reached the small boxes on the ground, no more than a few feet from Nora and Leo, it suddenly came to a stop, twitched and then collapsed on the ground. Leo froze, his eyes widening in horror as synth after synth hit the same invisible barrier and collapsed.
His heart stopped a moment as everything faded from his mind save the synths. Surely this couldn't be what he thought it was.
Something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
"Ian… what's happening," he heard Nora asked.
Leo was vaguely aware of Ian and Mattie saying something through the comms, but he wasn't paying attention as he ran up and dropped to the ground next to a synth - a man. His eyes had gone silver as a trail of fluid leaked from his ears. This couldn't be happening. They were supposed to save them, not lead them into an apparent slaughter.
"Yea," Leo said, looking up at Nora as hot, angry tears filled his eyes.
He then looked around at the others. The entire group had fallen to the ground. About 15 synths were now lying around him and Nora and there was nothing they could do. It was over.
They were all dead.
"It's that security perimeter. I'm not sure how, but it's killing them," Ian said.
Leo looked up, seeing Mia leading more out of the door. He jumped to his feet putting his hands out for her to stop.
"STOP! If you go past this line, it'll kill you," he shouted.
He wasn't sure just how they were going to get out of this, but at least he had saved Mia and the others. Turning, Leo met Nora's eyes, silently pleading with her to have some sort of answer or idea. She had said before she was good at getting out of tight spaces. Surely she could get them out of this.
Her grey eyes were wide as she looked around and then down at the synths, her mouth moving slightly, though no words came out.
"Think of something, Nora," he shouted desperately.
"I… I…" she started, before shouting in frustration and kicking at the ground, her ponytail swinging haphazardly.
"It's fine," Mia said. Leo whipped his head around to look at her.
"It's the chips they implanted in our heads. The security perimeter activates them. But I was able to deactivate it," Mia said, striding towards him. "We should be safe now."
Leo held his breath, nearly shouting for her to stop again, but Mia walked past the line and hugged him tightly. He held onto her, blinking as he saw the synths they couldn't save lying still.
Thank god. Relief flooded through him even though he knew they weren't completely safe yet.
"It's okay. I'm fine," Mia said softly. She then stepped back and looked up at him. "We must hurry and get these few to safety."
"What about Hester?" Nora asked, walking over to them. Mia turned to her.
"She will find her way. We must go. Now."
"Just do what she says, Nor. You've been there too long," Ian agreed over the comms. "I don't want anyone seeing you or trying to get you."
"Right," Nora said as she put away her gun back in its holster under her jacket and started motioning for the synths to follow them. It was then that Leo noticed she had brought two. Bloody hell, had she been expecting a shootout?
Pushing the thought aside, Leo quickly followed as they led the group back towards the trees. Just as they were about to walk into them, he reached out and took Nora's hand, quickly squeezing it as they slowed down a moment. She looked over at him, offering him a smile before he leaned down and brushed a quick kiss against her lips. She then let go and turned back to make sure everyone was following, urging them to move faster.
He was still shaken - likely running off adrenaline and shock - but he needed that small contact to ground him. Push him forward through the trees.
They moved quickly, the roughly 10 synths that they were able to save following suredly. It didn't take too long before they had arrived at the small clearing where six cars were parked. Max got out of one, frowning slightly as he took in the number.
"So few," he said, meeting Leo's eyes.
"There was a complication," Leo said, grimacing as he thought back to the others they had to leave behind. "But at least we got these."
"Where is Flash?" Max asked. It was in that moment that Leo realized he hadn't seen her. She wasn't among those with them, but she also hadn't been among those that had died.
"I… I don't know. But Hester is still inside. She'll find her and bring her back," Leo said, hoping it was true.
Max nodded, seeming to accept this answer though he still looked worried, then turned and got back into the driver's side of the car. Leo quickly helped Mia and Nora get the others sorted and soon enough, they were barreling down the road back towards the estate. Sighing, Leo leaned his head back and closed his eyes. He tried to focus on the fact that they were able to get 10 out of the Silo, but still, his mind kept going back to the others. Watching as they fell to the ground, lifeless.
He then thought about Hester and Flash, still inside the Silo.
He felt pain and guilt stirring inside him. He should have said something. Stopped or stalled them until they could have gotten more information before attempting the break in. Maybe they could have saved them all. But no, he had to give in to Mia and Hester.
"It's not your fault," he heard Nora say.
Opening his eyes, he turned his head, seeing her glance at him, though she was mostly watching the road. Her brow was furrowed, and he clearly saw the same guilt in her eyes.
"We didn't know about the chips… or the security measures," she continued. "Don't blame yourself for what happened."
"But still… I can't help but feel somewhat at fault… we went in blind," he said, frowning as he stared out at the road. "I could have… stopped them… or gotten them to wait until we had more information…"
"Mia and Hester… they were going to go in regardless. There was no way we could stop them. At least we were able to save what we have," Nora said. She reached over and grabbed his hand.
Leo didn't say anything, just stared at her hand in his, feeling her strength start to run through him.
"We did the best we could. And it's over for now," Nora said firmly. Leo finally looked up, meeting her eyes.
He took a deep breath and slowly let it out as he latched onto her words. It was over. They had rescued the synths from Qualia. But at the same time, it wasn't really over. Qualia would only go on to pick up more as they woke up. It would be a never-ending cycle of rescues. And they would have to come up with new plans after that one. Unless…
"We need to find a way to take down Qualia," Leo said. "Otherwise, it's just going to be the same thing over and over again."
Nora smirked slightly as she glanced at him.
"I was hoping you'd say that… that, I think we can do..."
Hester stood just in the door, watching as the rest of the synths followed Leo. He stopped for a moment, reaching out for Nora before they walked into the treeline. As Hester watched them kiss, a deep-seeded anger began to fill her. Nora had stolen Leo. He would never focus on the cause, on saving all the synths and punishing those who hurt them with Nora around.
The euphoria she had felt at killing the humans inside was now long gone.
Her thoughts then turned to Mattie. The girl had swore she didn't have the code, but Hester knew that if she applied enough pressure, she could get her to hand it over. Then she could wake up all her brothers and sisters at once. Create a new world.
Mia's words ran through her mind.
It's time humans were afraid of us.
And it wasn't too late for Leo. There was still time. Time to change his mind. Time to bring him back to her side. Hester didn't understand just why she had become so attached to him, but it was there all the same. Turning, she looked back into the Silo, and then calmly turned back, making her way across the field. She had done what the others could not. Would not. And she could do it again.
Leo might be upset with her at first, but he would come around to see that she had done what was right. He would understand. And then they could move on and continue their work.
Without Nora. Without the others. She and Leo would lead the new world. But first, she needed to get rid of Nora.