Chapter Twenty-Two: Tremendous Ruin
“Truly, to tell lies is not honorable;
but when the truth entails tremendous ruin,
To speak dishonorably is pardonable.”
-Sophocles (496 BC - 406 BC), Creusa
The chairs were always uncomfortable. There was probably some sort of regulation about it. He supposed it made sense; the agents were always supposed to be on guard, so there was no point in letting them feel comfortable.
Right now, though, Riley’s nerves were jangling like too-tight guitar strings, and the way the seat dug into his back was making it worse. He didn’t want to look suspicious, but he couldn’t help glancing around now and then to make sure no one was watching him. It was stupid, of course. Acting like he had something to hide would give him away.
All this sneaking around was really getting to him. Riley was a soldier, not a spy. He was at home in some far away jungle with big weapons, chasing after monsters. He’d never been any good at morally gray.
From everything he could see, this was going to end up just like the Initiative. After what had happened, there had been an implicit promise that the government wouldn’t try something like that again. Riley guessed that was why there hadn’t been much experimentation done on the captives. They didn’t want to risk creating another Adam.
Riley couldn’t help but feel a little torn. He knew people like Dawn shouldn’t be hunted down just because they had special abilities, but some of these people were obviously dangerous. Sylar was an obvious example, but almost half of the targets had used their abilities to commit crimes of one degree or another. Clearly the normal police couldn’t deal with them, so it made sense to create a special agency.
As simple as it would be to convince himself that Building 26 had to be shut down, Riley didn’t truly believe it. He had a duty to protect all Americans, not just Buffy’s little sister. Denko was a loose cannon, but with someone else in charge, the program could be a good thing.
He couldn’t let them get to Dawn, though. She was a just a kid. Besides, these people didn’t know anything about the supernatural, and Riley was anxious to keep them from finding out. When he’d been reassigned to this project, his orders had been very clear on that front. Building 26 dealt with people who had abilities resulting from genetic mutation only. They had no jurisdiction over the supernatural, and Riley was expressly forbidden from reading them in.
That gave him a little cover for what he was doing. Dawn’s cover story had been quite impressive, considering, but it wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny. The agency hadn’t taken much time to investigate its targets’ pasts yet. It had all been thrown together so quickly, and things had started to go so wrong, that all their resources had been devoted to tracking down and capturing targets.
That would change soon. They’d captured, or recaptured, most of the targets. The only ones left were those that were actually aware of the attempts to capture them, and were actively evading the agents. Dawn was on that list.
The remaining targets would be harder to get, not just because they’d lost the element of surprise, but also because they tended to be more powerful. Denko had learned from his past mistakes. He wouldn’t just be sending in teams with tasers anymore. For the more dangerous targets, he’d do his homework and come up with an actual plan.
That meant they’d be looking into the targets’ backgrounds for anything that could be used against them, and Riley knew that as soon as they started to investigate “Mary Collins” they would find out she didn’t actually exist.
That was why Riley was creating her.
It was harder than it sounded, but Riley had very high clearance. He could fill in the details of her fake life, from report cards to medical records. It was taking time, of course, especially because he had to hide what he was doing, but it was going alright.
If he was found out, he could always tell his superiors—the ones that knew about the supernatural—that he was just trying to keep the two secrets separate.
He doubted it would work, but it was worth a try.
He finished up with what he was doing and logged out. It was getting late, and he could do with a cup of coffee. He stood, intending to head over to the coffee shop down the block, when he felt someone standing behind him.
He froze instinctively, realizing a second later that the involuntary motion would only reinforce any suspicions about him. It was too late, though. He should have been more careful.
It was Bennet. His voice was level, betraying nothing.
Riley forced his face into a similar mask and turned, hoping the man hadn’t seen what he was doing. It could be worse. He knew Bennet’s daughter—and apparently she was actually Petrelli’s daughter—was one of them. If he recalled correctly, she could heal herself. Not exactly a dangerous offensive ability, but she’d also been held responsible for the disastrous plane crash.
At least it meant Bennet was less of a fanatic than Denko. There was something about him that freaked Riley out, though. At least he could understand where Denko was coming from. Petrelli was easy to figure out, too—he was a typical politician, just trying to further his career at any expense.
“What is it sir?” Riley responded, glad to hear his voice stayed level.
“I’d like to have a word with you in my office,” Bennet said, still impossible to read. That was what he hated about Bennet. It was so hard to tell what he was thinking.
He turned without waiting for an answer, and Riley fell into step behind him. He straightened his back, refusing to be afraid. There wasn’t much they could do to him. Just yesterday, he’d sent his wife and son out of the country. Sam was a damn good agent. She and Alex would be fine.
He’d told her as much as he could, and while she had hated being sent away for her own safety, she understood that someone had to protect Alex. They would disappear for a while, until it was safe. If everything blew up in his face, Riley might end up joining them.
That was looking more and more likely, Riley thought as he followed Bennet. The man closed the door firmly behind him after he entered the office, then shut the blinds.
Bennet walked to his desk and sat behind it, then gestured for Riley to take the seat in front of it. It was another of those deliberately uncomfortable chairs.
Riley sat, his stomach twisting with unease. He knew Bennet’s actions were calculated to thrown him off balance, but knowing that didn’t make him any less nervous. He noticed that Bennet had set his gun on the desk, where he could reach it easily.
They both sat silently, watching each other, until Riley couldn’t take it anymore. “You wanted to discuss something with me, sir?”
“Yes,” Bennet said. Riley waited. “Tell me about Mary Collins.”
“Sir?” Riley asked, feigning confusion. “She’s a target we’re tracking. A student from Seattle with telekinesis and telepathy. But you already know all that.”
“Don’t try to lie to me, Finn,” Bennet replied evenly. “I know telepathic control doesn’t last this long, and I know she’s not in DC, so you know exactly what you’ve been doing. You’re creating a false past for her. Why?”
Throughout this, Bennet’s tone had remained civil, but behind his glasses, his eyes were hard as granite. Riley felt very out of his depth. Well, the best lies had some truth in them.
“There is information in her past that is classified. I was specifically instructed not to let anyone at Building 26 become aware of information pertaining to an operation I was involved in. After I encountered her, I discovered that she had a connection to this operation, so I had to conceal it.” It wasn’t a very good story, but it had the benefit of being true, at least in part.
“She killed several agents,” Bennet said. “She took you hostage. Why are you protecting her?”
“I’m not doing this to protect her,” Riley protested, trying to keep his voice from rising. This was not a conversation he wanted overhear. “This operation I was involved in, it went bad. Really bad.” He didn’t elaborate, but he could tell Bennet knew what he meant. “I’m trying to stop that from happening here.”
“Those are your orders?”
It was a simple question, but a loaded one. If Bennet knew the right people, he could find out exactly what Riley’s orders were, and they didn’t involve going behind his CO’s back. “Not exactly, sir. I was assigned to this unit because I had experience with… this sort of thing.”
“But you weren’t ordered to interfere.”
“No, sir,” Riley admitted.
“Are you reporting back to anyone?”
So Bennet wanted to know if he was a spy. It was a reasonable assumption. It was what Riley would think. “I was told to contact my old CO if anyone here got wind of… of stuff I can’t talk about. Other than that, no sir.”
“And have you?”
“Have you contacted this man with your information about Mary Collins?”
Shit. He hadn’t said a word, of course, and if his CO found out he’d be furious. “I can’t tell you that, sir. Classified.”
“I think you haven’t.” Bennet said softly. “I think you have a personal stake in this, Agent Finn. I think you know a lot more about all this than you’re telling.”
Riley remained silent, his eyes fixed on a point just above and to the left of Bennet’s head.
“What do you think of this operation, Finn?”
Riley feigned confusion. “Sir?”
“Do you think it’s a good idea? Do you think Denko’s handling it the right way?”
Riley met his eyes. He couldn’t discern anything there that might help him. But he needed allies, badly, and he knew Bennet didn’t like Denko. “It’s not my place to say, sir,” he said, letting his tone speak for him.
“I see,” Bennet said. “Well, I don’t think you’re doing any harm. No need to mention this to Denko just yet.” The threat was implied, but Riley heard it very clearly. “Perhaps,” he added, “we can be of use to each other.”
Riley sighed. “What do want me to do?”