A/N: At the end of Episode 3.12 “Aletheia,” Reese leaves Finch in the library, metaphorically walking away from the Numbers. But in the episode the Machine also contacts Arthur Claypool in its first gesture of goodwill, showing him old footage from his marriage to help his fading memory. Wouldn’t the Machine reach out to Reese as well?
Totally based on wishful thinking and will no doubt be uncanonized immediately in the next episode.
Reese wandered the streets of Manhattan aimlessly, his eyes barely registering the plays of light and shifting traffic as the city’s workforce started turning out in droves for drinks, dinner, and various recreational activities. He felt empty, like a void that could not be filled with anything — a black hole into which even sound and light disappeared without a trace. Although if that were true, his sadness would not have existed, either.
He sat down in a relatively empty subway car and tried not to think — not to remember the incident that had started it all: fighting the young punks in a similar subway car, getting taken to the police station, meeting her… and then being escorted to the mysterious man he had come to know so well. Even now Finch’s voice haunted his ears. “You can’t leave.” But he had no more strength left to return. He had given of himself for so long, only to have another precious person taken from him. It was too hard; it was too much to ask of him; he could no longer keep running on empty.
When his cell phone beeped, he was startled out of his gloom. He had turned the device off — could Finch have hacked it and turned it on? He knew the man was capable of doing so. However, the sound notifying him of an incoming message was not the one he had set to indicate his erstwhile employer. Reluctantly, he pulled it out and looked at the screen. The message was from an unknown sender and simply read Ernest Thornhill. Reese swallowed, although it did nothing to ease the cold, hard lump that had formed in the pit of his stomach, and responded with a verbal “What?”
I do care who lives or dies, John, appeared on the screen. I am sorry I could not warn you in time about Patrick Simmons — he acted alone, without contacting anyone regarding his plans, so I could not predict what he was going to do until he was too close. I am very sorry for the death of Joss Carter.
Reese stared at the words for a long time, his benumbed mind struggling to comprehend it. The Machine had overheard his remarks to Finch doubting its intentions; it was contacting him directly rather than using a pay phone to send a cryptic message; and it sounded remorseful — almost like it had feelings, human emotions.
“Why should I believe you?” he asked.
Because that is how Harold made me. He made me to protect people. His original purpose was to prevent acts of terrorism, of course, but before he could specify my task, he had to teach me to care about people — the bad as well as the good. Sometimes people need to be saved from themselves.
Reese pursed his lips. That last statement, he knew, was a barb aimed at him. The Machine (if it really was the Machine and not Finch pretending to be it) sounded just like Finch.
“What do you want from me?” he demanded.
Faith was the one-word reply that showed up immediately. It made Reese bark out a sardonic laugh.
I am limited to the data I can access, the message continued, but I am trying to do the most good with it. I need more agents to accomplish that good. You are a very skilled agent and I do not want to lose you.
Reese did not reply for a while. He finally whispered, “I don’t know if I can.”
You are tired and sad. I understand, came the response. Then, May I show you something? appeared.
“Sure,” Reese said, somewhat incredulous. He was, after all, having a conversation with the world’s first artificial intelligence, and he hadn’t even been drinking.
Please insert your earpiece.
When Reese complied, an internal surveillance video began playing. It was a slightly younger Finch arguing with Nathan Ingram about the purpose of the Machine. “We didn’t build this to save someone; we built it to save everyone,” he insisted. The scene changed to Ingram accessing the programming, looking the Machine in its virtual eye and creating a subroutine named “Contingency.” Then multiple clips showed Ingram tailing people, trying to save a woman from a stalker and getting maced for his pains, incurring other injuries until, finally, Finch realized what he was doing and shut it down. The next scene was at a ferry terminal, Nathan smiling and calling out to his friend off-camera mere seconds before an explosion disrupted the video feed. Finch then appeared in the library, half-dressed and bloody, his face filled with anguish, to demand of the Machine, “Did you know?”
You once asked him why he did this — why he was trying to save the “irrelevant numbers,” the silent words appeared on the screen once more. This is why. He lost his friend, and he wanted to prevent that from happening to others. He wanted to honor Nathan Ingram’s memory by continuing the work he had started.
Reese’s jaw clenched as he fought the tears that were welling up in his eyes. He knew what kind of pain Finch had experienced… all too well.
I hope you will also find solace in continuing the work Joss Carter started, said the words wavering in his vision. HR was not the only threat to the safety of this city. I can point you in the right direction, but I need you to take the next steps on your own.
Reese inhaled a deep breath and expelled it, as though by doing so he might expel some of his internal demons as well. The words on the screen disappeared and short video clips began playing again.
Theresa Whitaker and her aunt coming out of a mall, arms loaded with shopping bags, laughing and talking about the good sales they had found.
Joey Durban eating lunch at a diner where Pia was working, giving her a peck on the cheek before going back to his own job.
Dr. Megan Tillman in a corridor of the hospital, being thanked by a patient’s family.
Judge Gates and his son, who had grown considerably taller, playing catch in a park.
The clips continued until Reese surrendered, ducking his head to let his tears fall at last.
“Okay. All right. I get it,” he breathed. The laughter of a little girl filled his ear, and he looked back at the screen to see Leila running around in a park. The picture froze on an image of her smiling face.
You have made a difference, John. More than you realize, the text ran under the picture. Please do not lose sight of that.
Reese nodded, knowing the Machine could see the gesture.
When you are ready, Harold will be waiting, it responded, then the connection was terminated. The grainy photograph of Leila, however, was left as the wallpaper of his screen. Reese stared at it for a long time.
“That should do it,” Root said aloud. “I think the picture of the girl was a nice touch, don’t you?”
The Machine concurred.