The smell of coffee brewing wafted up to Auset's nostrils, slowly pulling her into consciousness and out of a rather pleasant dream. Annoyed at having been disturbed from such a rare occasion as a nice dream, the dark-haired woman grumbled and sat up in the bed. She nearly reached for the gun that hadn't accompanied her on the trip when saw a figure in the room with her.
"Morning," Mary greeted her brightly from her position near a pot of coffee that was percolating its' little heart out. A dark eyebrow rose in perturbed annoyance.
"What are you doing?" Auset growled.
"Thought I'd come over and put some coffee on to help you start your day off on the right foot."
"What if I prefer the left foot?" the hacker mumbled as she hauled herself out of the bed and padding off towards the bathroom. Not having heard the comment, Mary continued watching the black liquid accumulate in the pot and patiently waited for Auset to finish up whatever she was doing.
After showering, brushing her teeth and haphazardly applying a few bobby pins to her hair Auset reemerged from the bathroom in nothing but a towel. Mary looked up from pouring steaming liquid into a mug and almost dropped it when she noticed that the other occupant of the room was parading around in nothing but a towel. She swallowed hard as her eyes couldn't help but take in the incredibly well-toned and, well, sexy form of the hacker as she casually milled about in search of clothing. Mary thought northerners were supposed to be pale all-year-round but this woman was anything but, her skin bronzed and healthy. Auset looked up then and noticed the appreciative stares she was getting. Not one to be vain but also not one to be completely oblivious to her personal appearance, the more manipulative side of her brain had decided to join in with the mind games and see how Mary would react. The tactic appeared to be somewhat effective.
"Do you mind?" Auset inquired nonchalantly as she began to remove the towel so as to be able to get dressed. Mary snapped out of her reverie and looked away as her face reddened and she busied herself with inspecting the contents of the coffee mug more closely.
"So, what's the plan for today?" the hacker asked as she finished pulling a dark gray tank top over her head. Mary walked over and handed her the cup.
"You're to meet with our CEO briefly and then I'll show you to the work station that you'll be using. I'll have your instructions ready by the time your meeting's over."
Auset collected her things and followed the brunette out of the building and next door to the offices. Mary showed her to a small office where she was to wait for the CEO.
She situated herself in a comfortable leather armchair and surveyed the room as she allowed her thoughts to wander.
"This is it, the final job," she thought to herself. "After this I somehow have to get all the way out. Yeah, right. If you don't get killed first. You got into this of your own free will and knew very well that most people never got out of the game once in. Hell, I never really thought I'd ever want out. After everything with Logan, and then juvie...bastards had to pay, right? Learned some valuable lessons from all that, eh?" Her eyes narrowed in remembrance. That one year, the year from hell, was what had finally and totally changed her into what she was. "Can I ever really hope to get away from that, from myself? Or am I too far in...?"
The world does not allow you time to mourn. You have to suck it up and either do something about it or just let it go.
Letting it go would be the wiser option of the two, but Auset was not capable of Forgive and Forget. She had to make sure that the guilty party did not walk, and she almost always did. She'd allow her mind to focus on one goal and one goal only until it was fully accomplished--and even then she'd occasionally go back for leftovers. This was how she had operated ever since that day...
The day Logan went in for the procedure, she remembered hugging him briefly and then lightly punching him in the shoulder as she assured him that, "You'll be back in no time. Give the nurses hell, eh kiddo?" And then he was off to hospital accompanied by their mother, fully expecting to return a few days later.
The next morning, around the time Logan was to be in surgery, Auset sat in class trying desperately to pay attention. She already knew all about the subject being discussed and could easily ace the class without ever paying attention to what the teacher said, but Mrs. Velanz had warned Auset that if she allowed her mind to wander anymore, she would fail her.
Auset was having an especially hard time paying attention as her thoughts were mostly worried over her little brother. She was doing her damnedest to keep her eyes trained on the teacher, but eventually gave in to the overwhelming need to daydream--to leave her physical location. She drifted out the open window and into the pure blue sky of the perfectly sunny day. She lingered over the sprawling branches of a maple tree and breathed in the scents of early fall. The air currents cradled her in their drafts and she relaxed fully, experiencing for the first (and last for a long while) time in her life pure contentment. All was well with the world for Auset in that one, brilliant moment.
And then the classroom door opened and one of the women from the guidance office poked her head in. Her eyes scanned the room and then fell on Auset's face, her countenance betraying some tragic knowledge lingering just behind her lips. Auset knew then, in the depths of her soul that had not yet been acknowledged by her mind, that something terrible had happened--that Logan was dead and that life as she knew it would never be as it had again.
She barely remembered feeling much of anything at the funeral, just an empty sort of numbness and this eerie calm that had settled over her brain. Her mind had a goal, one that she would do whatever was in her power to achieve, and already she was formulating a plan. As they lowered the coffin into the dusty earth and the sobs of her mother faded further into the background of what she heard, no tears fell from Auset's ice blue eyes. She stood rigid and unmoving, staring hard at the impersonal box that would forevermore contain the body of her only friend; her brother.
And that night she had gone about finding every incriminating document on the company that had made the tainted drugs that killed Logan--and then mass-mailed them out to all the major news networks. Then she went through and destroyed the financial databases, the bankroll, and anything else she could get her electronic hands on. Computers were such a wonderful invention, she had thought to herself. You can do heaps of damage without ever having to leave your seat.
Auset had pulled the whole thing off seamlessly. She was ten-times smarter than the average 16-year-old, which was why she had been so bored in school, but the drug company had the money and the means to have her traced. Two days after she'd done the hack, the police had knocked down the door of her house and arrested the quietly seething teenager while her mother simply stood by and watched without saying a word. The judge had decided that as she was a juvenile, she would be sent to a juvenile detention center until she turned 18 or until her mother posted bail. Her mother decided that some time in the detention center would do her unruly daughter some good and so opted to leave her there for at least a year.
Auset had expected as much. She said nothing during her trial and even less when they delivered the verdict. When they had loaded her onto a bus, wrists handcuffed and dressed in a fetching gunmetal gray jump suit, she had merely scowled at anyone who looked at her.
In the end there was some satisfaction to be had for all her efforts. A few days after being incarcerated, Auset watched with grim pleasure as the story of the drug companies corruption had broken on the news. The police eventually nailed those responsible, but because Auset had messed with more than just the files that pointed to corrupt operations, her sentence remained as it was.
She didn't care. So long as the bastards responsible for Logan's death were behind bars too, she was content to stay where she was. There was no reason for her to go home.
The door shut and caused Auset to snap back to the present. Thinking about that year would not do her any good, she needed to focus.
The man that entered the room was all-too familiar and Auset steeled her expression as she watched the dark figure stroll towards her.
"Sera. Why am I not surprised?" she asked coolly. The goatee'd man grinned and took a seat across from the hacker.
"Are you ever?" he quipped. "So good of you to come all the way down here on such short notice. I was afraid maybe you wouldn't want to leave your little blonde all alone so soon." Auset narrowed her eyes slightly but didn't speak. "What, nothing to say? No insults? I'm disappointed!"
"Yes, well, sorry about all that nasty business back up in Chicago, but you know how things work. I can't very well have you turning do-gooder on me so I had to do something."
"You hired Cally," she growled as long fingers dug into the fabric of the chair. Sera smiled again and titled his head a little.
"Yes, I did. I knew she'd be just the one to get under your skin, remind you of why you need to stay in this line of work. Unfortunate that she's such a loose cannon, but you make due with what you've got. Once I heard that not only were you designing a program that could do serious damage to my operations, but that you were also thinking about getting out and going legit--well, you can imagine how upset I was."
Auset inhaled deeply and kept her blue eyes trained on Sera's own brown. That desire to draw and quarter him had returned with a vengeance and she was struggling to repress it.
"How exactly would Cally fucking with me and my friend help convince me that I needed to keep working for you?"
"Well, she's a good example of the type of folks we put out of business--those sloppy but psycho idiots that think they can take over the whole damn world or something. You do want to make sure that someone like her doesn't get too powerful, now don't you?" he asked, now standing and leaning casually against the arm of his chair. "And I'm willing to bet that you'd really like to get your hands on Cally as well. Prison just doesn't seem like enough punishment for her. Of course, you're more of an expert on prison than I am. Don't forget that I was the one who took you in after you got out," his voice lowered, becoming more serious. "What kind of person would you be if you turned your back on the man who helped make you, who took you in when your own mother wouldn't."
Auset's fingers were digging into the chair now and her jaw was clenched tight. She couldn't allow him to drag her back into that world, that darkness. There was still a huge part of her, the habitual part, that wanted so much to exact delicious revenge on Cally. Her original decision to get into this line of work had been based on the idea that she could continue to make sure that companies like the one that killed Logan never did that to anyone again. She had come so far now though. She couldn't even be sure that everyone she had wrecked had been the bad guy and not the people who had hired her. It would be so easy to just give in to Sera, to just give in to what she had known for so long. For now, however, she decided to simply get this last job done and then wait until her contract was up in September. She could deal with everything more properly once she was back home, Sera was too distracting.
He was also staring at her, waiting for some sort of response.
"You've always been such a talker," the executive joked.
"I'm here to do a job because I'm on contract. I think it would be best if I got started now."
"Oh yes, how rude of me to keep you from your work," Sera responded brightly, slapping a hand on his thigh. "Mary has your instructions waiting for you. She's quite the woman, you know. Very professional, very efficient. Made a good addition to my team. You two been getting along OK?"
"Famously," Auset deadpanned. She stood and walked towards the door as Sera followed close behind.
"I'll be talking with you again soon, my little hacker," he said as Auset moved off down the hallway without looking back.
His little hacker. Sera had been the one who had helped hone her skills and he wasn't lying when he'd said that he helped make her. The man had been the only one to offer her any sort of guidance or comfort after she had gotten out of that horrible place. She was a cold, hard shell when her mother had finally posted bail and it had driven most everyone away. It was all she knew though, the only way she had been able to survive in there, and no one had understood except for Sera--or at least he had done a good job of pretending to understand. He had put her on a path, albeit the less friendly one, but it had at least given her direction. She needed a way to vent all the feelings that had been gathering during her stay in juvie.
The place smelled of floor polish and metal. Perceptive eyes took in the whole of her new surroundings and remained cold and sharp as different people curiously eyed the new inmate. Auset had been kept in a holding cell for one week as a sort of adjustment period, but was now being led to her bunk; her new home. In juvie, you didn't get a whole cell like in adult prisons. You got a bunk and a footlocker that was next to a whole bunch of other bunks and footlockers, and therefor privacy was pretty much unheard of. The dark-haired teenager sat down on her bed and stared at the wall, trying to decide what exactly to do next. The whole wing was silent, everyone staring at the new girl who had not said a word since arriving. After a few moments, however, girls began to go about their business again and Auset heard the coughs and scuffling of feet that signified this.
Apparently some of the others had not given up on the surly newcomer and Auset sensed their presence as they walked up behind her. She did not turn to look but simply waited for one of them to say something.
"Hey you," one of them said.
She did not move.
"Hey...bitch, I'm talkin' to you."
Slowly, she turned her head and allowed her piercing blue gaze to pin the girl who had spoken. She was a fairly tall girl, stocky but well-built, and had dirty blonde hair that was pulled back in a tight ponytail. This one was clearly the leader of her little clique, as the other two girls stood on either side of her and a step back. Auset narrowed her eyes and glared.
"What the hell do you want?" she grumbled. The girl looked taken aback for a brief second but then took another step forward and returned Auset's steely gaze with one of her own.
"I'm Liz. I run this wing and if you got a problem with that...too bad. You stay the fuck out of my way and do what I say when I say and we won't have any problems, OK you little British fuck?"
Auset clenched her jaw tight and balled her fists as she slowly stood up and faced off with the other girl. They were nearly equal in height and Liz's fierce pride almost seemed to outdo Auset's own. The hacker was new, however, and young. She wasn't really looking for trouble on her first day.
"I'll stay outta your way if you stay outta mine," she growled. The two other girls looked astonished that someone had spoken in such a manner to their leader, but Liz merely grinned and snorted.
"Watch your back bitch," Liz stated flatly and then turned and walked back to the other side of the room, followed closely by her cronies. Auset raised a black eyebrow and frowned, unsure really of what to expect in this place. She knew that she did not like it at all--being confined like an animal, told what to do, what to eat, when to shit, what to say. It went against how she was built.
She lowered herself back onto the bed and then took a book out of her footlocker, opened it to the marked page and then read.
Reese opted to take the alley that ran along behind the row of shops that lined the main road. There was less chance of being spotted that way and the alley, she knew, ended just two blocks from the house.
As she strolled along behind the stores, past trash bins and broken pallets, she noticed a shadowed figure of someone leaning against the inside of the backdoor niche to one of the shops. She approached somewhat cautiously but almost laughed out loud as she recognized the person as a friend of hers from high school.
"Reese! What the hell are you doing back in this shithole?" the short, red-headed man asked happily as he spotted his old friend.
"Ryan, hello to you too," she joked. "I'm back to see Andrew--just for the weekend though. Then I'm out of here."
"Ah," he nodded. "Well that's OK then. How's the big city treatin' ya? Get mugged yet?"
Reese chuckled and shook her head.
"It's great, Ryan, you ought to get out of here yourself, come up north or something."
"Love to, but you know how it is. I don't have the money and I didn't have the grades like you did. Thus is the curse of Flora," he declared dramatically.
"You're smart enough, I don't understand why you just didn't do the work. You could have gotten a scholarship for acting."
"Mm," he grunted non-committally. "Well, c'est la vie. You're avoiding the ole man this trip I take it?"
"Yeah," Reese affirmed and sighed. Ryan took a cigarette out of its' pack and held it between his lips as he removed a lighter from his pocket, lit it, and then touched the flame to the tip of the cigarette. He inhaled deeply and the cherry burned red and crackled as it ate away at the tobacco.
"You say hello to your bro for me, k? And if you have any problems," here he placed a kind hand on her shoulders. "let me know."
"Thanks Ryan," Reese said quietly as she gazed down at her feet.
"I mean it Reesey," he continued, his voice becoming steady and grave. "He lays a hand on you--"
"Yeah, I know. Hopefully I can just avoid him this time. I gotta go. I'll see you around though."
"OK. I work here," Ryan pointed to the building behind him. "Stop by."
"Be well," she finished and moved off down the alley again. Ryan leaned back against the wall again and took another drag off his cigarette, watching as the smoke he exhaled circled up around his head and disappeared into the air.
"Good luck, kiddo," he said to himself before stubbing out the cigarette on the sole of his shoe and slipping back inside through the door.
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