A small detail had to be changed from an earlier chapter. The last action Rev's team took was a year ago. The reason they haven't attempted a big break thus far will be explained in the chapter after this one.
Vance and Kate stood before a computer screen. The rest of the hackers stood by their sides, surrounding them. Some of them looked angry, others were disappointed. Vance hung his head in shame, unable to meet the sea green eyes on the monitor. Everyone stood in silence, waiting for the judgment of their leader. Rev's eyes stared between the two of them for a long time before a sigh came from the speakers. "What have you done…"
Vance flinched at how shameful his friend's voice sounded. "It wasn't me," he whispered, but his voice was broken.
"Wasn't you?" Rev's voice rose. "It may not have been your idea, but you certainly didn't try very hard to save him."
Vance was going to argue, but he couldn't. Everyone here already knew it was true. "You'll be on chore duty until I say you can stop. Which won't be for a while. You're also forbidden from leaving the base until further notice, is that clear."
Sea green eyes fell on Kate. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
"You've changed," she spat back.
"In what way?" The voice became quiet. "How have I changed?"
"For the past few weeks you've been…" she trailed off, her anger fading slightly as she looked down at her feet.
"Distant, I know. I was planning our next move. And, honestly, I've been like this for a lot longer than a few weeks. I've been like this for the past year. Ever since…" Rev looked down from the monitor. "I was mourning. But I've still been working towards the same goal. I've kept in touch with all of you. I've continued planning and plotting. I've just reduced social calls." Rev sat back in a swivel chair. "You just wanted to blame my behavior on someone. My distance wasn't his fault. It was my own fault. I needed to get a handle on everything so that we don't have a repeat of what happened last time. I just didn't realize that you were so dependant on me that not talking to you every day would turn you into a murderer."
"I didn't kill him!" she yelled.
"No, but you should have. It would have been better than where he is now." There was another silence. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you, Kate."
"Erase my mind and throw me out?" she suggested.
"Of course not. Why does everyone think I'm going to do that?" Green eyes looked back at her. "You're being cut off from all computers. You will be confined to your room and everyone, including myself, will check up on you until I can confirm that you won't betray us again."
"What if I don't want to be here anymore?" she said, challengingly.
Rev looked down. "Then that's your choice. You're free to leave."
"I could tell everyone where you are. I could tell them who you are too."
"What would that accomplish?"
She was quiet. "I…"
"Nothing. You'd be throwing away everything we've been working on. All of those people we vowed to save will rot in that hell. Humanity will continue to be a herd of sheep walking into the slaughter house. You'll be destroying their only hope of survival."
"You think too highly of yourself," she said, her voice a vicious growl. "I used to believe you could save the world. That was back when we were young and stupid. I would have believed anything you said back then. But after last year, I know you're all talk. That whole ordeal was your fault." Her eyes narrowed into slits of blue ice. "You're nothing. You can't stop them. None of us can stop them. Not even your new boyfriend can help them now. We're all doomed to live under the control of the NETWORK. And maybe it's better that way."
Rev stared at her through the monitor in silence.
"I can feel them pulling at me. When I'm asleep is when it's the strongest. The NETWORK is trying to connect to us wirelessly, assimilate us back into the system. It's getting harder to fight them off." Her voice began to shake.
"Is anyone else experiencing this?"
Everyone was silent. Finally, Ellie spoke up, "I've never had that problem. Rev's always kept us protected from them."
Kate looked to Vance desperately. "You've felt it, right? You must have."
Vance shook his head. "The NETWORK can't connect to us out here, Kate. We're out of range and we have massive amounts of protection on our minds."
She looked around, her eyes wide and wild like a caged animal. "None of you can hear them? They come every night!"
"Kate, just stop," Vance said, looking at her sadly. "You sound like you're losing your mind."
"I'm not!" she yelled, backing away from him and the computer. "There's nothing wrong with me!" She began to panic, her breath quickening and her eyes widening.
"Does anyone disagree with her punishment?" Rev asked. No one spoke up. They were all ashamed of what she had done, and the punishment wasn't nearly harsh enough for her betrayal, but none of them could bring themselves to condemn her to a worse fate. They were all friends with her. Or they had been before this. "Kate, would you like to leave or stay here?"
She grabbed onto her hair, pulling at the blond strands. "I…" She looked around at everyone.
"Please stay, Kate," Rev said, quietly. "I want to help you."
She looked at the screen, then nodded. "Just get them out…"
"I can try."
Lee's hands shook as adrenaline pumped through his body. He felt Lesa's grip tighten around his arm. The other prisoner who stood by his side grabbed his other arm to help restrain him. "Let go of me," he whispered, his voice broken with rage.
"Calm down, Lee," Lesa said, trying to make eye contact with him. "Don't stir up trouble."
"How can you just stand here and take this? That girl was just shot!" Lee's voice rose, attracting the attention of the Scanners standing nearby.
"Someone is shot every week. We can't stop it. Trust me, we've tried."
Rage continued to simmer in Lee's chest. He yanked his arms out of their grip and picked up the rock. He flung the rock down, hitting one of the Scanners right in the helmet. All of the Scanners in the area drew their guns and ran towards him.
"Now you've done it," Lesa whispered and took a step back from him. The other prisoners began migrating away from him as the Scanners drew closer. Lee reached down and grabbed another rock, but as he raised his arm to throw it, he felt a shock from one of the Scanner's stun guns. His body jolted and convulsed before he dropped the rock and fell into the rubble. A steel toed boot connected with his ribcage, cracking a few of the bones and knocking the air out of his lungs. Lee coughed, trying to catch his breath. The next hit landed on his injured shoulder.
The Scanner drew his gun and held it up to Lee's head. "Don't move!" he ordered.
Lee spat on the man's shoes and looked up at him, defiantly. The Scanner was about to pull the trigger when another Scanner placed a hand on his shoulder. "We have direct orders not to kill this one," she said.
The man grunted in displeasure and looked back down at Lee. "Do we have any orders to not teach him a lesson?" he asked.
"Nope, lesson teaching is fine," the woman replied.
The man's boot connected hard with his face. Lee brought his hands up to protect himself, but he felt another impact in his spine. He knew he couldn't fight them off, and no one was coming to his rescue, so he laid there, curled up in the fetal position, taking each of the hits without complaint. For the most part, he was just trying to protect all of his vital organs. There was no need to put Lesa through another week of caring for him.
After a grueling session of bone breaking beatings and endless derogative, offensive, and demoralizing slurs, Lee was finally left alone in a pile of blood stained rubble. Lesa walked up and kneeled by his side. "Lee, are you awake?"
"Yeah," he managed to choke out. Speaking required breathing, and breathing was something he was finding very difficult at the moment.
"Damn, look at the mark on his head," he heard a boy mutter. "You think he has a concussion?"
"I'm sure he has a lot more than a concussion," Lesa muttered as she pulled Lee's hands away from his face.
"Is he gonna die?"
Lesa gave a small laugh. "Not likely. From what I've heard about him, he's pretty durable. Help me get him up." Lesa and the other prisoner held him to his feet.
Lee swayed and nearly fell over, leaning on the two of them for support. "I hurt all over."
"Get used to it. This happens pretty often," Lesa said with a grim smile.
"I think I need to lay down…"
Lesa smacked her hand against his chest. "Man up, soldier. We've still got a few hours before we can go to bed."
Lee grunted in pain. "You're kidding." He wanted to still be angry, but the Scanners had stomped that flame out of him. He looked down at the body of the girl and instantly felt nauseous. He let go of Lesa and knelt down on the ground, trying not to get caught in a fit of dry heaving again. "I hate this place…" he muttered and held his head in his hands, pulling at his hair.
"Everyone hates this place," she replied as she got back to work on breaking stones.
"How are you all still sane?" he asked, looking up at her.
"We're not, trust me. A lot of people have lost their minds. I'm sure Rust will be the next one to go insane. Hope is the only thing that keeps us going."
"Hope for what? That you'll be saved?"
"Why don't you try to save yourself?" he asked, his nausea subsiding.
"We've tried," she said as she raised the hammer over her head. "And we've died."
"And you believe Rev is going to save all of you?"
She looked down at him. "Yes. Do you not?"
Lee looked up at the sky as the sun began to dip behind the wall. "I'm really hoping she can…"
Lee was barely able to stand, much less work, so he sat beside Lesa as she pulled his weight. The Scanners didn't bother him again, besides the occasional rude comment. They were probably worried they would kill him if they tried to beat him again.
An hour later, they were all lead to a mess hall where they were each given a single bowl of… 'food'. Lee sat close to Lesa and stared at the substance on his spoon. "Are you sure this is edible?" he asked.
"No, but sometimes this is the only meal we get a day, so you'd better eat it," she said between mouthfuls.
Both the consistency and flavor resembled wet, pureed cardboard. Lee looked around the room, noticing the age difference between all of the prisoners. Some were older, maybe even in their mid forties, and some barely looked like they were in their teens. Lee played with his food, not very interested in eating.
"You're going to want to eat that," Lesa said. She had already finished her own.
Lee put his bowl in front of her. "I can make it a day without food."
"It's been more than a day since you've eaten, Lee. You've been unconscious for a while."
"I'll eat tomorrow," he muttered quietly, looking at a small girl sitting with a woman who looked like she could be her mother.
Lesa sighed, but took the food anyway.
A blonde teenage boy came up and sat across from Lee. "You're him, right?"
Lee looked at him. "Who?"
"Yeah, that's me. But I'd prefer you call me Lee, if you don't mind."
The boy smiled. "Great. Do you know the plan?" he asked eagerly.
"Not yet. I'm going to be informed of what to do soon." Lee felt a weight crush down on his shoulders. The people here were expecting him to safe them. He wasn't sure he could handle so much responsibility. The idea of failing frightened him.
He chatted with the boy for a while longer. He learned that his name was Felix and that he had been here for two years.
"You seem really cheerful despite what just happened," Lee commented.
The boy looked down, his eyes distant. Lesa hit his arm. "Shut up, Lee. You're being insensitive."
Lee swallowed and looked at the boy. "Sorry."
The boy nodded. "Everyone has to be strong here. If we mourned every death, we'd be sad almost every day. I don't think we could handle being sad every day," he said quietly, then got up and left.
Lee sighed painfully, his broken ribs restricting his breathing. "I'm an ass."
"I've noticed." After she finished eating, she got up, dumping the bowls into a large bin. Lee limped after her. After a few painful minutes, Lesa held onto his arm and supported him as they walked back to the building where they all slept.
He heard the voice of the robotic woman over the loud speaker. "I hope you all had a productive day," she said, all to cheerfully. "All of you darlings go to sleep, now. You have to get up early to start another productive day. Remember the rules, and, above all, obey."
Lee looked around at the prisoners as they rolled their eyes, mocking the loudspeaker.
He laid down beside her and shifted until he found a position that didn't cause excruciating pain. Beside him, he saw Lesa's chest rise and fall rhythmically as she tried to get to sleep. He reached over and wrapped an arm around her thin frame, trying to keep her from freezing.
He eventually managed to slip into a light sleep, but, like most good things that happened to him lately, it didn't last long. In the darkness of midnight, Lee was dragged off of Lesa by two heavily armed Scanners. He tried to struggle and call out, but one of them held him still as the other held a cloth over his face, causing his vision to black out. When he came to, he was laying on a metal table in a familiar stark white room. The face of the programmer loomed over him.
"Welcome back, Lee." The man's smile cut like shards of glass. "I hope you're ready for another interrogation."
Lee is either very resilient to pain, or he was exaggerating on how many bones he's broken.