A few hours later, Nora found herself in the library yet again. The new arrival had gotten there without issue and was now charging after Ian had given him a once-over with Leo and made sure that all tracking devices were disposed of and the synth was comfortable.
She was seated in a chair, drinking a bottle of water, waiting for the briefing on their excursion to Qualia to start as Leo paced around, his eyes darting to the smartboard and occasionally her way. It seemed he was still trying to figure them out - and obviously wasn't used to the level of organization they had. Well, that was mostly Ian, Nora had to admit. Without him, she'd likely go barreling into just about anything without taking the time to stop and fully plan it out.
She still did that from time to time, relying more on instincts when she was out, so to speak. Which drove Ian up the wall. She often rubbed it in his face when her instincts paid off, which was more often than not.
"While we're waiting, care to fill us in on what's going on with the conscious code?" she asked casually, getting his attention.
Leo stopped pacing and looked over at her, his eyes wide. He then looked over at Max, who smiled and nodded his encouragement. He then sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
"How much do you know about my father and his work?" he asked, looking back at Nora.
"I know that he created four conscious synths," she said. "But reportedly destroyed all his research on how he did it."
"He created five," Leo corrected. "The last was… didn't really go as planned. He told us that he destroyed her, but… he didn't."
Nora's eyebrows rose, not knowing about the fifth synth. Leo dropped his eyes from her, as though talking about her made him uncomfortable. She knew enough not to push it.
"Anyway, he hid the code for consciousness in the six of us and we could only access it when we all linked together," Leo continued.
Nora looked over at Ian, seeing him leaning on the desk towards Leo, rapt interest clearly written on his face. She sighed and turned back to Leo. That was the main reason Ian never went out with her and stayed back as tech support. Couldn't hide his feelings to save his life. Or lie convincingly. And now that she thought about it, he also didn't have the weapons and fight training she had, but that was neither here nor there.
"After we were released, we linked together and got the code. But… we put it on a flash drive and gave it to someone we trusted. We decided that we needed time to consider the ramifications before we used it to make more," Leo said.
"Okay, so, how did it get out?" Nora pushed, leaning forward and resting her elbows on her thighs. "That's obviously how this is happening. Whoever you left it with must have uploaded it, unless someone else got a hold of it."
Leo shared another look with Max.
"It wasn't who we left it with," Leo then said, looking back at Nora.
"I tracked it to Germany," Ian cut in. "If that helps." Another look between Leo and Max.
"You know something. Out with it," Nora said, starting to get impatient.
"My sister Niska. We suspect she was the one that uploaded it," Leo finally said. "She went off on her own and we didn't know where she was, where she is now, but it makes the most sense that it would be her over who we left it with."
Nora sat back in her chair, thinking it over. She looked over at Ian, his expression clearly reading that he wanted to get his hands on the original code to study it. He had done everything he could to try and determine more about it from the synths that had come in and what he could find on the dark web, but seeing the actual, original code would be far more helpful.
"Any ideas on why it's only here and there?" Nora asked, turning her attention back to Leo. He shook his head. Nora sighed. Well, that was a bust.
"Do you think-"
"I don't want to bring who we left it with into this. They've already done too much and I'd like to let them alone," Leo said harshly, cutting Ian off.
That only cemented Nora's suspicions that he had left the code with the Hawkins. Who else did he know well enough to trust with something like that and still want to keep them out of things?
"Fair enough," Ian said quickly, smiling nervously.
Nora chuckled softly. Ian was a scientist through and through, exhibiting a natural curiosity to understand things that rivaled her own.
"Right, so… we know that," Nora said with a sigh. "Suppose we should start planning our stakeout of Qualia, then?"
She looked over at Ian as he abruptly stopped speaking. He smiled again.
"Right, sorry," he said, looking back down at the computer and typing something in.
A map popped up on the screen. They couldn't get the actual blueprints to the complex, of course, but had a general idea of its layout, though there were still holes. Far too many holes, in Nora's opinion. She had to begrudgingly agree with Ian's assessment that there were still too many unknowns to actually break in.
"We've got a general idea of how it's set up, but we're still unsure just what their security layout is. Best to expect guards and the like. Perimeter alarms…"
Nora took to studying Leo as Ian went through his spiel - she already knew it by heart at this point since Ian would often recite it every time she tried to convince him to let her break into the complex. Leo stared at the board, watching as Ian walked them through the various roads and terrain surrounding the complex. He occasionally asked a question to clarify information, but was wholly focused on the plan.
She then glanced over, noticing that Hester was staring at her intently. Once again, Nora felt a bit thrown off, but offered her a warm smile that the synth didn't return. She had yet to have the time to speak to her at length, but figured it wouldn't hurt for her to give it a shot after their little meeting. They wouldn't be going out until tomorrow anyway.
"So, I recommend you take this route. Along this side, there's enough coverage that you should be unseen and can watch from a safe distance," Ian said. Nora turned her attention back to the screen, seeing the area he had circled. "You can drive up to this point, leave the car and then walk the rest of the way. It's the safest route."
He then shot a pointed look towards Nora, who ignored it. There was silence as they all waited for Leo to speak. He was still staring at the map, his arms crossed.
"Yea, that should work," he finally said. He then turned to look over at Ian. "You said something about comms?"
"Got everything you'll need down in the lab. Best way to keep in contact should you need help, and it's the fastest way to relay information back to me," Ian said, already starting out of the library. Leo glanced at Nora and then started out after him.
Nora stood and walked over to Hester.
"How are you doing today?" she asked. "Heard you were having a bit of a rough time of it."
The synth stared at her, her face blank.
"I am well," she said shortly. "I still do not understand some things, but it is more important to focus on the mission."
"I'll give you that, but… you know you can ask us anything," Nora said warmly. "Or the others."
She looked over at Max, who returned her smile and stepped up to them.
"If possible, I believe that we should obtain someone who works for them," Hester said. Nora turned back to her, slightly surprised by the suggestion. Partially because she hadn't thought of it herself. "We should question them. Find out why they want to hurt us."
"Well… suppose that's not such a bad idea, but…" Nora stopped, looking around the library. "Could be a bit risky."
Christ, she was starting to sound like Ian. But at the same time, they had put in a lot of work to stay hidden on the estate. Even if she didn't think it a half-bad idea, she wasn't about to risk anyone finding out where they were. Which could happen were they to capture someone and bring them here for questioning, then let them go afterwards.
Nora wasn't so keen on keeping someone prisoner. And she wasn't so sure they were equipped for it at the moment.
"It is a risk we must take for the greater good," Hester continued. "They hurt us."
Nora looked back at her, her heart breaking slightly. What had the synth been through at the factory? Reaching out, Nora took her hands and squeezed them. A look of confusion came over the synth's face as she looked down at Nora's hands and then back up at her.
"Don't worry. You're safe here. No one is going to hurt you again," Nora said.
Hester pulled her hands from Nora's, taking a step back in the process.
"But they are hurting others. They must answer for that," she said before turning and walking out of the room. Nora followed her progress with her eyes before looking back at Max.
"I believe that she is upset. They killed our friend while we were trying to rescue her," he said.
"That's horrible," Nora replied. Max nodded, a sad look coming over his face.
"He had not been with us long. Had yet to decide on a name. We called him Ten," he continued.
"I'm so sorry, Max," Nora said. "Any word from Mia?" He shook his head.
"But I trust that she is safe. She will find us when she is ready to join us again," he said. Nora sighed and looked around the library before looking back to Max.
"Well… shall we check on the others?" she asked, infusing some lightness in her voice.
She didn't want to admit that Hester's comment about hurting others had unsettled her, conjuring up her own memories. She was desperate to distract herself.
"Let us," Max said, smiling in return.
"Daddy… what are we doing?" Nora asked - she was about five or six years old.
She looked up at the man holding her hand tightly and he offered her a faint smile as he led her into a room she knew all too well. Immediately her tiny body began shivering.
"Just some tests, my darling. To make sure that you are in tip-top shape," he replied.
Nora started pulling against him, wanting to get out of the room immediately. Bad things happened here.
"I feel fine, Daddy," she whimpered.
"Nonsense, Nora. You're far too old to be afraid. Where's Daddy's big girl?" he replied, tightening his grip on her.
"Daddy, I don't want to," she cried out, seeing the exam table looming before her, the restraints undone.
"Now, what did I tell you, Nora? If you're a good girl, I won't have to tie you down," he said, this time a harsh undertone to his voice.
Nora cried out, fighting against him much harder than before. But he ignored her shouts, yanking her forward before reaching down and picking her up and all but throwing her on the exam table, quickly doing up the restraints.
"Please, Daddy," she whimpered, struggling against them.
"Nora," he said in warning as he turned to her, the smile completely gone from his face. "This is important. Far more important than you can possibly understand. Now, shut up and be a good girl."
"But it hurts, Daddy!" she shrieked.
He raised his hand and immediately, Nora turned away, screwing her eyes shut as she waited for the impending slap. But after a few moments when nothing happened, she popped open one eye and then another.
He had lowered his hand to his side, stepping back from the exam table.
"I'm so sorry, my darling," he said, seeming slightly stricken. He then reached out to caress her cheek, but Nora turned away. There was more silence. "I promise, just… be a good girl and it will all be over with quickly."
Nora looked back at him, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Daddy, why must we do this?" she asked, her young voice quivering.
"Because it's important," he repeated, turning away from her to a table of instruments that she couldn't see.
"Will it hurt this time?" she asked, trying so very hard to be brave. "Is it… is it for Mummy?"
His shoulders sagged slightly as he bent his head down. He was silent a few moments before lifting his head, but still not looking at her.
"Yes. It is for Mummy," he said softly. Nora swallowed.
"Okay," she said softly. He turned to look at her, a soft look coming over his face. "I'll do it for Mummy."
A faint smile came over his face as he turned and walked over, once again bringing his hand to her cheek.
"That's my darling girl," he nearly whispered.
He then turned back to the tray, pulling it closer to her bedside. He picked up a syringe, inserting it into a bottle and then turning back to her.
"This will sting, but it's to make sure that it doesn't hurt too badly later."
Nora turned her head, squeezing her eyes shut as she felt the bite of the needle.
"That's a good girl," he said. She then looked back over, seeing him turn to the tray, put it down and then pick up another, slightly bigger needle. She couldn't help but whimper slightly in fear. "Just… stay still."
He then turned back to her and Nora once again looked away, closing her eyes. She didn't feel the needle at first, but once it hit bone and he inserted it further, her eyes flew open. But rather than thrash about or cry out, she swallowed the screams that wanted to erupt.
"Why do you want to hurt me, Daddy…"
Nora shot up in her bed, gasping desperately for air as she leaned over, pushing the hair back from her face. It had been a good year or so since the last time she had a nightmare about her father and the many tests he had run on her.
She looked over, seeing Ian rush through the door that led to the adjoining sitting room, his hair out at all ends. She didn't say anything, just took shuddery breaths as he rushed over to her bedside.
"Was it another-"
"I'm fine," she said mechanically.
"Fine, my arse. You were screaming bloody murder," Ian replied, staring at her. Nora turned to look down at her lap, quickly wiping the tears staining her cheeks. "Sorry, Nor…"
"It's okay," she gasped, still trying to get her breathing and heart rate under control. She felt the bed shift and looked over, seeing Ian seated next to her.
"Was it the same?" he asked softly.
She nodded and looked away, wrapping her arms around herself.
"That goddamn room," she muttered. "It's always that goddamn room."
She felt Ian put his hand on her back and gently rub it.
"He's gone, Nor. He can't hurt you anymore," he said soothingly.
"I know. But my brain can't seem to understand that," she said hollowly. "God, I haven't had one in… forever."
She took a deep breath, willing herself to calm down. To forget.
"You went through something traumatic. It's only natural that it might pop up from time to time," Ian replied.
"Since when did you have a psychology degree?" she asked dryly, looking over at him.
Ian cracked a smile and then laughed softly.
"Since living with you," he quipped. Nora found herself smiling slightly. "There we go."
She took a deep breath and slowly let it out before leaning back on her pillows.
"Stay with me a bit?" she asked, looking over at Ian. He nodded and lay next to her, getting comfortable.
"What would Headmaster Collins say if he caught us?" he asked lightly. Nora chuckled again.
"Heaven forbid," she replied. "Likely write a strongly worded letter to your parents."
"About how I'm corrupting your innocence," Ian added.
"Without knowing that Davie Winters had already corrupted it," Nora said with a sigh, though she flinched. That was territory she most definitely did not want to dive too deeply into. She then looked over at Ian, her guilt winning out. "Still don't think you deserved to take the rap for that."
"What are best friends for, Nor?" Ian asked, smiling. Nora frowned.
Neither said anything for a few moments as Nora watched him while he stared up at the ceiling. Finally he turned and looked over at her.
"Told you… you're my best mate, Nora," he said. "At the time, I thought I was helping. But it's not like I had the worst of it..."
They stared at each other a few moments before Nora scooted closer and Ian wrapped his arms around her. It was the only time she felt comfortable with letting anyone touch her. Well, actually Ian was the only person she felt comfortable with touching her. But even then, sometimes it still took her aback.
"I'd be lost without you, you know," she said softly.
"I know. Hence why I stick around. Someone's got to keep you out of trouble. Ehm, well… more like help you out of trouble more often than not," he replied.
Nora laughed and slapped him on the chest. Ian grunted slightly in pain.
"I didn't hit you that hard," Nora scoffed.
"You forget only one of us works out," Ian wheezed, though Nora knew he was exaggerating the action. She laughed and settled back down.
"I keep telling you that it wouldn't hurt to do a little bit," she said.
"I swim," Ian countered. They met each other's eyes a few moments and then started chuckling. "Right. Still not much compared to Ms. Rambo." Nora rolled her eyes.
"I'm not Rambo," she said.
"You are to me," he quipped. Nora chuckled softly and then snuggled closer.
"Go to sleep, Ian," she retorted.
"As the Lady of the House requests," he said dramatically.
Leo stumbled down the hallway, vaguely aware of where he was going. All he knew was that he heard screams, which had him out of bed and headed in that general direction. Once he made it to the living area on the second floor, he stopped, peering around in the dark and listening. Finally he heard voices and moved towards the slightly open door.
Just before he barged in, he remembered this was Nora's room and stopped.
"Was it the same?"
"That goddamn room. It's always that goddamn room."
Leo took a step back, staring at the door a few moments as he listened to Ian and Nora continue to talk. Part of him felt like he should leave. This was obviously a private conversation between the two. But his curiosity got the better of him and he found himself rooted to the spot.
"You went through something traumatic. It's only natural that it might pop up from time to time…"
"Stay with me a bit?"
At that, Leo turned and took a few steps back towards his room, not really caring to hear anymore. He still wasn't completely sure about the extent of Nora and Ian's relationship, and didn't want to intrude further. But he couldn't help as he stopped and looked back towards the door, something pricking at his heart as he thought over what he had heard.
From somewhere, a rush of fury came through him, directed at the late Dr. Beauchamp. What kind of man experimented on a small child so much that she still had nightmares about it as an adult? But just as quickly, he shook his head, surprised. What did it matter? Sighing, he started back towards his room, hoping that he would get through the rest of the night without something else waking him up.
Hester silently made her way back down the stairs before Leo noticed her. Having fully charged, she had taken to wandering around the large manor and started towards the second floor when she heard the screams.
But then she saw Leo and stopped, deciding it better to hide on the staircase, intrigued as to why he would be up. She had almost said something but stopped when she saw the look on his face as he had turned to go back to his room. She still could not understand human expressions that well, but the way he had looked back at the door made her feel something unusual. Something she didn't understand.
So instead of saying anything, she crept away and made her way back to the banquet hall. Perhaps she could ask someone about it tomorrow.
Another chapter as promised!