After knocking and then waiting for a brief moment, the screen door opened on the very relieved looking form of her brother.
"Reesey," he sighed happily and moved forward to embrace her warmly. Reese returned the hug and then followed him inside.
"Good to see you again, Andrew. Is Ione here?"
Andrew motioned for her to enter the living room, where a young girl sat on the couch looking tired but pleased upon seeing Reese come in.
"I'm so glad you came," the pleasant-faced girl beamed as she stood and hugged Reese as well. Her features looked drawn and tired, older than her mere 16 years of age and the dark brown tresses on her head were pulled back haphazardly into a loose ponytail.
"How are you doing?" the blonde asked quietly as she took a seat on the couch next to the younger girl.
"Oh, just great," Ione joked half-heartedly. "Andy's been really good about all this though. I just...I just want it to be taken care of. We were stupid and now we have to pay the price."
Reese placed a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder and smiled up at her brother, who was staring sheepishly down at his feet.
"We'll do this today, if that's all right with you both?"
Both nodded their heads in agreement.
"OK, then we go to the clinic and set it all up. I don't imagine they'll schedule you for any later than tomorrow and I'll sign off for it." Here Reese noticed a few tears sliding down Ione's cheek. She drew the girl closer to her. "I can't imagine how hard this is going be for you, but I want you to know that both of us are here whenever you need us, OK?"
Ione nodded slightly and lowered her head into waiting hands. Andy stepped forward then and took her into his arms as he looked beseechingly to his sister.
"We should go," Reese offered quietly. The three got to their feet and made their way out to Andy's old gray Buick. Reese took the driver's seat and had her brother sit in back with Ione. The drive to the clinic, which was located in the outer-most part of the opposite side of town, was spent in total silence. Reese stole occasional glances into the rear view mirror to find Ione staring dejectedly out the window and Andrew looking nervously at her. Reese's own stomach was in knots so she could only imagine what they were going through--especially Ione.
The writer pulled the car up and parked it in the tiny lot behind the clinic and then shut off the engine.
"You ready?" she asked softly, turning her head so that she faced the couple in the back seat.
"Ready as I could be," Ione choked. Andrew helped her out of the car and they made their way into the back entrance where they found themselves in a lobby. A woman who was seated behind a desk on the other side of the room looked up at the three people who had entered.
"May I help you?"
Reese stepped forward. "Yes, we're here to, ah...make an appointment."
"Which one of you will be undergoing the procedure?" she asked, using a finger to push her glasses back up onto the bridge of her nose. Ione took a tentative step forward.
The woman took all the necessary information and had Reese, being that she was over 18, sign for and pay for it all. It was most of the money she had in savings. Andrew had sworn that he would pay her back, but it would be slow going.
After the receptionist told them all to take a seat and wait while she took the forms into a back room, they continued not to speak much. Reese could feel the hollow pit that had begun in her stomach that morning start to spread. This is such a shitty situation, she thought to herself. And from the terrified, sad look on Ione's face, Reese was not alone in her assessment.
The receptionist returned after a seemingly endless fifteen minutes and approached the group.
"The next opening is for tomorrow at eleven AM, is that all right?"
Reese turned her glance on Ione and Andrew, who both gave the affirmative to the question.
"OK then, we'll see you then," she said and then address Ione specifically. "Please refrain from consuming anything other than water until the operation tomorrow."
All three of them were numb and silent as they exited out the same door that had come in through and then climbed back into the car. As much as Andy clung protectively to Ione, she could tell that the girl was far from being at ease. They should do something today that might help take all of their minds off of this particularly grim subject. What they would do Reese wasn't sure of, seeing as she couldn't exactly hang out at the house or go anywhere very public. The last thing they needed now was for their father to find out. Then she had an idea.
"Let's go somewhere to relax," was all she offered as she steered the Buick off down a side street that lead off into the countryside surrounding Flora. Andrew knew where they were headed. It was the one place he and his siblings, especially his sister, had always escaped to when things got really bad around the house.
Ione looked out of the window, puzzled, and asked, "Where are we going?" but before anyone answered, Reese pulled the car off into a clearing just to the side of the road and shut the engine off.
They walked through a lightly wooded area, away from the road, and eventually came to the place in question. The trees fell away and opened onto a small clearing that had a softly gurgling brook running snake-like through it. The forest canopy still covered overhead and made for interesting lighting, splotches of sunlight filtering down and covering the area with dots of gold. No sounds from the city made their way out, only the song bits of birds and the noise of wind as it danced lazily through the foliage. Ione looked around, pleased, and moved on towards the edge of the stream with Andy still at her side. Reese ambled over to a large boulder that hung out over the water and climbed up it, then sat on its' edge and dangled her feet over the smooth surface of rock.
"This is where we used to come all the time when we were little. It was our safe place," Andy explained to his girlfriend as they to found a place to sit near the waters' edge.
"I figured we could all stand for some relaxation, especially you," Reese offered pleasantly, aiming the last comment at Ione, who smiled warmly in response and thanked the blonde woman with a nod of her head.
They all sat there, silently breathing in the calm of the place and trying to forget about the present circumstances. Time passed, and the sun started to show signs that it was approaching late afternoon. Ione was the first to break out of the spell that had descended over the trio. She rubbed imaginary dust from her hands and stood.
"We should get back. This is lovely though, guys, thank you."
"No problem. And you're right, we should probably head back before it gets any later," Reese agreed. The three left the clearing and headed back for the car, glad that they had been allowed to relax and forget, if only for a couple of hours, that life was more complicated than a cool stream and a peaceful grove in the woods.
Her workspace was a glorified janitor's closet. Mary was standing next to the dark-haired hacker and leaning casually against the door frame.
"Sorry it's not so great, but we have limited space around here. It has all the appropriate connections though, so you should be fine. These are your instructions," the executive said as she handed Auset a manila envelope.
"Mm," she grunted and moved into the room to survey what she had to work with. The space was small, yes, but the equipment appeared to be up to par. At least she had that.
"Have fun, tiger," Mary added and then slipped away down the hall back towards her own office. Auset raised an amused black eyebrow at the comment and then went back to getting down to business.
As the minutes ticked by, Auset's fingers becoming a blur on the keyboard as she worked tirelessly at her task, she began to notice something. Something that made her brain jump up and start to take notice of what she was actually doing. At first, Auset couldn't quite put her finger on what it was that bothered her about it. The work was mostly routine cover-up crap that she usually did for the corrupt businesses Sera always seemed to have her working for. But there was something nagging at her conscience with this one. She hadn't been told what exactly it was that this company did, and admittedly she hadn't bothered to think about that.
Pharmatech. OK, look at the other companies they deal with. She scanned over the records. Blue eyes went pure ice as realization dawned on her. It was a pharmaceutical company, and they were selling tainted prescription drugs. She was helping them cover their tracks.
Stunned and pissed off, the hacker leaned back in her chair and stared blankly at the monitor of the computer in front of her. How had she not seen that? Sera knew, the bastard KNEW that it was a company just like this one that had been responsible for her brother's death. Her anger flared. She slammed a balled fist down onto the surface of the desk in frustration over and over until it began to bleed. It was all she could do to prevent herself from storming out and then finding and killing the sonofabitch. She could not allow herself to get so caught up in the rage. There had only been three times in her life when she had allowed the anger to become so blinding that it was like a dark haze and then gone out and destroyed the people responsible. Logan's death, Cally's betrayal, and the incident in juvie....
Three months in, and not a day had gone by where Auset hadn't been harassed or attacked by Liz and her gang. She was wearing out and at that moment, wanted nothing more than to stand under cool currents of water in the shower. It wasn't the nicest facility, the floors were always grimy and the water rarely hot, but it still equaled clean. After her brief workout in the weight room (something she had never done before but was quickly becoming very fond of), Auset padded off to the shower room with a thread bare towel draped over one shoulder. There were three other girls there, none from Liz's gang, and so she decided that it would be relatively safe. The dark-haired girl stepped out of her jumpsuit and walked under a surprisingly warmish stream of water. Pleased by the uncommon temperature of the liquid, Auset allowed herself to get lost in its relaxing powers, leaning her head forward into the spray and closing her eyes while it soaked through her thick hair. Had Auset been in lockup for a longer period of time, she would have never allowed herself such a moment of unguarded distraction. As she would soon learn, it could be very dangerous.
She felt the hand grab her shoulder before she heard anyone approach. When Auset's eyes snapped open, the three girls who had been in the shower with her were gone, replaced by the maniacally grinning figure of Liz flanked by two of her cronies.
"All wet and no where to go," the leader snarled as she forced Auset to turn and face her, completely naked and vulnerable. The younger girl could barely speak from the shock of having been snuck up on and certainly didn't know what move to make. Liz narrowed her eyes and with a twitch of her head, the two other girls moved forward and took hold of Auset. They pinned her up against the cool tile wall, each of them grasping an arm and digging a knee up to hold her thighs back as well.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Auset finally managed to growl as she struggled against her captives. The situation was starting to register in her brain and it did not like the look of things at all.
"I'm not just gonna think it, my little bitch," Liz drawled as she took a step forward and ran her finger down one of the girl's pronounced cheek bones. "I'm gonna do. And you're gonna like it."
Now Auset was positive about what was going to happen. She had to make it stop. In a burst of pure fury, she twisted herself free from her captives and elbowed one in the gut and the other in the face. Having anticipated this, Liz lunged forward and landed a solid crack to Auset's jaw, which sent the girl falling back into the wall. The younger girl raised a hand up to the wounded body part and then drew it back to find blood streaming out of her nose and mouth. The waters still running out of the shower washed it away as fast as it reaccumulated.
The two girl's gathered themselves again and had Auset pinned against the wall once more. Her head and jaw were throbbing and her mind had kicked into panic mode. This was not happening....
The sandy blonde was looming mere inches from Auset's face now with a wickedly please look stretched across her features.
"I'm tired of your attitude. This will teach you not to mess with me ever again."
Liz punched her in the stomach then, effectively knocking all the wind out of the hacker, and the two girls tightened their grip.
And it began. Auset just closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on something other than the pain her jaw and stomach were in--and something other than what was happening to her right then. It wasn't real, it couldn't be. She could take care of herself, get rid of people like this. Vulnerability was something she took to as badly as she took to being victimized. Another cord snapped.
When Liz was finished with her awful business, she punched Auset in the face again and left her lying in the pool of water that had gathered on the floor of the room. Auset just lay there, curled in the fetal position and trembling slightly, watching her blood swirl around through the water that flowed in front of her face. She had no idea how long she was there for, slowly allowing the pure animal rage that was so much apart of her now build into a burning fury, when a guard came in and had her rushed to the infirmary.
The hacker spent the next four days in there, lying in a bed and staring expressionless up at the ceiling. The nurses and doctors took care of the physical wounds, the bruised eye, ribs and cracked jaw, and determined that no permanent harm had been done to her from the sexual attack. When the dark-haired girl would not speak or even respond to them, they assumed that she had gone into a state of shock and waited for it to run its course so they could question her about what had happened.
Auset wouldn't tell them though. She would take care of it on her own, because that's how it had to be. She needed to make sure that she could still take care of her own business and she had to make sure that Liz never touched her, or anyone else, ever again. Period.
When she was released from the infirmary and allowed back to her bunk, Auset wasted no time. Word had gotten around about what had happened. Liz and her crew just smirked at the quietly brooding girl and went about their business, positive that they would have no more trouble from her. Everyone else simply avoided eye contact. Auset's eyes had taken on a permanently deep and menacing glint that made the blue pools fairly radiate with burning anger.
That night, Auset snuck out of her bunk and soundlessly made her way over to where Liz was sleeping. She hovered over the girl's face and just stared at her for a timeless moment, letting the rage build into something very tangible and very motivating. It would be no fun, and very unsportsman-like, to attack her while she was sleeping. Auset decided to wait until exercise period the following day and thus quietly made her way back to her own bunk. She did not sleep that night.
Liz was sitting around a table with her group and talking boisterously when Auset came outside for the exercise period. It was a beautiful day, but that was all but lost on the determined hacker. Her eyes focused on one target and ushered the body towards it. As she passed by a small rack of freeweights, she lifted one barbell in her hand and continued on her way.
Liz raised her eyes from the group and saw the dark-haired girl who was headed her way. She sneered at her and remained seated, convinced that this problem was well taken care of already.
"Can I help you?" she asked in a bored tone.
"No," was all the reply she got before being completely knocked to the ground by the sudden impact of something metal and very heavy colliding with her face. Auset had swung the barbell around so that it connected squarely with the older girls jaw, and she reveled in the feel of bones crunching under the weight. Her smile broadened when she noticed the massive welt that formed on the side of Liz's face as she cowered on the ground. Every member of her gang stood paralyzed off to the side, not daring to approach the girl with the barbell clenched tightly in a strong fist. Auset growled down at Liz, dropped the weight, and then kicked the girl under the chin with all her force. The leader went sprawling backwards and knocked the backside of her head against a chair. She heaved and tried to crawl, but was overcome by the severe pain that wracked her body and just watched the blood sputter out of her mouth.
Auset watched it too, thoroughly enjoying the sight of Liz totally battered and beaten and hunched against the chair she had hit. The hacker leaned over so that her face was hovering just inches from Liz's and she used a tapered finger to remove a dab of blood from the girl's lip.
"Now," she rumbled, her contralto being put to good intimidating use. "I'm thinking that you'll never fuck with me again, am I right?"
Liz nodded her head with as much enthusiasm as she could afford.
"Good. And lay the fuck off everyone else here too, or I'll finish what I've started here."
The girl's eyes widened in fear and then rolled back into her head as she passed out. Auset grunted and stood upright again, using her hands to dust off the pants of her jumpsuit before simply turning and walking back into the building. Everyone who had witnessed the event just stood in shock, unwilling yet to move and not quite believing what they had just seen. It took a good five minutes before a guard noticed Liz's body sprawled on the ground in the pool of crimson that had gathered around her head.
It was later discovered that Liz had suffered from a broken jaw, concussion, broken nose, slightly fractured skull, and had lost partial vision in her left eye. The doctors said that had one more blow been dealt to her head, she might not have lived. She never lay a finger on Auset, or anyone else, ever again.
Auset was detained by guards and, after being knocked around a little, was thrown into a solitary confinement cell. She stayed there for the next month.
There was moisture starting to build up in Auset's eyes, but she steeled herself against the welling of emotion and prevented any tears from being shed. Not now. She could not afford to think about that. She had to focus on what she was going to do next. How was she supposed to break this contract without getting a contract put out on her life? She needed to find Sera. She needed to make him dissolve the contract and let her go. Auset shook her head. No, hell with that. I'll go anytime I want, I just want to let the asshole know that he's lost me once and for all. I'll deal with the consequences later.
But the smart thing to do would be to pretend that nothing was wrong. Make them think you're still doing the job, she mused, and get to him without anyone else knowing. Less chance of being messed with by a lackey, that way.
Auset forced herself to be calm. She stood and stretched before leaving the room and heading off down the hallway trying to look as unconcerned as possible. The hacker passed through a small room that contained a few cubicles where men and women were diligently working away at having their lives sucked from their bodies, and then came to a kitchen area. Mary was standing near the sink, emptying a mug of old coffee into the drain. The woman turned around and, upon noticing the entrance of the tall, dark hacker, she allowed a sly grin to crease her lips.
"Hello, Auset. Hungry?"
Auset made a decision then. She could pull this off quietly, effecting only Sera and slipping away practically unnoticed, or she could go out with a bang and a flourish, taking out whoever she could along the way. The latter seemed more her style. Auset decided to play. She arched a smooth eyebrow, cocked an inviting half-grin and then replied,
"Yes, actually. I'm famished."
in Part 4