Part 9...
by Emily Mills

Comments welcome at: batgirl@agog.net

A little red light began flashing ominously from the hard drive tower and the whole system froze. A man seated at the desk with the offending computer nervously tugged on the knot of his tie and glanced around at the other cubicles nearby. Everything in the office was as it should be, no one had noticed his malfunctioning computer yet and this was good. Ross, a middle-age, middle-weight, middle-management employee at Pharmatech had been having a very bad day. And, from the looks of the ERROR message that continued to pop up on his screen every time he tried to access the main database, the prospects for it getting better were slimming.

Ross grumbled in frustration and did the only thing he could think of to force the machine to come back to its' senses: he swatted the side of the monitor with his right hand. Minus the dull thud that reverberated off the walls of his cubicle, nothing else came of the action. The ERROR window continued to loom menacingly on the screen and the little red light kept up its' flashing.

"Stupid, no-good piece of trash," the worker cursed under his breath. He loosening his tie yet again as a few beads of sweat began accumulating on the tip of his nose.

But then he heard the woman in the next work station over groan and hit her computer. Ross leaned back in his chair and looked around the office again. This time, however, most of the other workers were also cursing their suddenly frozen computers. Good, it's not just me. They can't fire all of us.

But what Ross didn't realize was that "they" wouldn't have to fire anyone. There would simply be no jobs for them anymore in about two hours--not even for those in charge.

A slim figured woman with a pointed nose and chestnut brown hair pulled back in a bun so tight it made her look as though everything amazed her, strode purposefully into the center of the large room where the din was steadily increasing. She cleared her throat and almost immediately a hush fell over the space.

"Attention please everyone. There seems to be a major glitch in the central network backbone. We have our best people working on it as I speak, so please just relax and take a break until we get everything back up and running." Her calm outward demeanor seemed to put all of the workers at ease and they began shuffling off toward the break rooms in search of some nice, black coffee. The woman spun on the heel of her gray pumps and headed back into the room she had come out of.

Door shut firmly, she walked over to the seat she had previously vacated around a large meeting table. There were three other people assembled in the room along with her, the two sitting looked as nervous as the workers outside had but the woman who stood at the head was

"Cool as a cucumber." The pointy-nosed woman observed of her superior, who stood leaning casually against the table. The other woman grinned, dark eyes twinkling.

"Mm. Always, Valarie," the executive purred, her low and raspy voice almost tickling the eardrums of those in the room with her. Valarie sighed deeply and patted her hair bun with a careful hand. The other two seated across from her, a short and rather stout man and another man of average stature, sat motionless and dared not speak. The woman pinned them with her deep gaze and smirked, shaking her head condescendingly at them. They just shrunk further back in their seats, very much aware of who was in charge here. Valarie chuckled ruefully and looked back to her superior from the cowering forms of the men.

"Hunter, how do you do it?" she asked sarcastically. The woman in question turned her head to face Valarie, her almost maniacal grin still spread across the slightly rugged features there, and hoisted one brown eyebrow.

"Trick of the trade, my sweet. Trick of the trade."

"Yes, well, what tricks have you got to get us out of this mess?" Valarie went on, examining her well-manicured nails with half-hearted interest.

"With Sera and Mary in jail for the moment, we're on our own really. I do have our computer people on the job right now, but if they don't come up with something soon.... I'd be willing to bet that this is the work of that Passaris woman he brought in the other day to work on the system." Valarie looked up from her nails at the remark but kept silent. "Something about her never did feel right. If you ask me, the old boy's soft spot for her has blinded him to the fact that she loathes him and his work now. 'Course he never listened to my warnings about her, but if this little mishap is her doing--and it is--maybe he'll finally believe me. No matter though, I don't plan to be working for that walking hard-on much longer."

"Surely you're not thinking of--"

"Quitting?" Hunter cut the other woman off. Valarie shrugged. "I certainly do. I've got my own plans. But, in the meantime, let us focus on the problem at hand." She was about to go on when the door burst open and one of the technicians who had been working on the computer problem practically tumbled into the room. "Yes?" she drawled. He blinked a few times and then seemed to remember what had been so important.

"Virus...in the whole system. It's deleting everything and we can't stop it or figure out where it came from."

Everyone in the room sat in silence for a moment, pondering the situation, as the tech stood nervously at the door. One of the men at the table sat forward in his seat and looked at Hunter's torso, refusing to meet her cold stare.

"Perhaps we should call over someone from Ops at Detrimus. They might have a better chance of fixing the bug," he offered meekly. The executive thought about this and then nodded her approval.

"Good idea," she began. The man fairly melted back into his seat, he was so relieved. "Mitch," addressing the tech, "Call up Ops at base and have them send someone from a local branch on over. Tell them it's an emergency."

"Right away, boss," he affirmed, almost saluted, and then scrambled back out of the room.

"It's a good thing we have Sera's other companies to borrow people from. Otherwise our rather inept computer staff here," Valarie started up, leveling an accusatory stare at the two men. "--would've stood by and watched while the whole damn company got deleted. As it is, we've probably lost some important files."

The man on the left gulped. Hunter almost giggled, but it was more in her nature to cackle and so she did. This just made the men even more nervous. Valarie was sure that if she checked under the table just then, there would be two wet stains on the floor beneath the men's chairs.

Two hours ticked by, but finally a crew from Detrimus Ops' local branch came into the building and began checking out the malfunctioning systems. Valarie and Hunter wandered around and loomed over the technicians' shoulders. After a short five minutes passed, one of the workers, a very short man with pleasant dark features, shot up from his former position crouched in front of a terminal and shouted,

"It's dead!"

All eyes were on him. Everyone stopped what they were doing and he went on.

"The whole damn thing," he went on, exasperated. "All of it. Everything's been wiped out."

"And this means...?" Valarie questioned. Hunter already knew, though, and was standing quite still as she formulated a plan of action. Sera was going to be pissed. But really, if she did this right, it wouldn't affect her at all.

"It means," the man continued, "that this whole company no longer exists, digitally speaking that is."

A few of the workers poked their heads out of the break room at the news, mouths agape. Hunter pinched the bridge of her nose with a thumb and forefinger and was silent for a moment as she ran some ideas through her head. Valarie had gone quite pale at the news and was fidgeting nervously. She hadn't thought that the whole damn company would get deleted.

"Did you...figure out who put the virus in?" Hunter finally spoke, eyes still closed. The tech shook his head and threw his hands into the air.

"No trace. Absolutely no trace. I've never seen anything like it before."

Valarie wasn't positive, but she thought she heard Hunter chuckle. Some of the workers had now wandered out of the break room and were mixing with the technicians, asking questions about what exactly had gone down. No one looked very happy. No one except for Hunter, anyway, as a rather ironic grin spread over her face and she continued to chuckle softly.

One of the more agitated looked workers grunted and kicked the wall.

"This is NUTS! What the hell happened here? What are we supposed to do?"

"Calm down, for one," Valarie replied, trying to hide her own nervousness and at the same time get the very addled looking employees to keep from rioting. "Everything will be fine, OK? It's just going...to take longer than we thought, is all. You can all take the rest of the day off..." she noticed the uncertain looks, "...with pay." This seemed to satisfy the group and people began grabbing their bags and heading for the doors, all the while mumbling angrily to one another. Valarie took a deep breath and was thankful that at least no violence had erupted...yet. The thing was, if everything really was just, poof! gone, then it would certainly take more than a day to fix it, if indeed they could. She glanced over to address Hunter and had to stop and shake herself a little when she realized the woman was gone. "Where the...?"

Hunter had ducked out of the main room while Valarie was courageously handling the upset employees and headed for her office. There was a back way out of the building that she planned to make use of after gathering everything she would need, so as to avoid being seen. She would have to be fast. Packing her own bag first, she then moved into Mary's office and rifled through some of the hardcopy files there. Satisfied that she had what would be needed, Hunter walked quietly out the back entrance and toward a large, red Impalla, her boat of a car. She was finally free of Sera and therefor free to execute her own plans. Seated in the oversized leather seat, Hunter started up the car and adjusted the rear view mirror so that she could see her own face in it. The ex-executive winked at herself and then pulled out into the Dallas traffic.


"So if this bug will basically delete the whole company, how will that be damaging to the rest of Sera's 'empire'?" Reese continued. Auset smirked and stretched out her back a little.

"Well, before the bug gets to work, another program will seek out and copy any files that contain the more damaging evidence against Pharmatech and then send them off to the FBI." Reese's face took on a look that said oh shit and Auset went on. "Since Pharmatech is, of course, directly linked to Sera's main corporation, Detrimus Enterprises, the feds will trace it all right to him. That will give them a reason to dig around in all of his other dealings as well. And then, boom."

"I guess so," Reese agreed, impressed and a little shocked. The dark-haired woman shrugged and then stood up, offering to take the now empty plates back into the kitchen. "Let me help," the writer insisted and Auset accepted silently. The two washed their own dishes and then raided the refrigerator for a drink. Auset noticed, much to her relief, that as Reese was about to grab a bottle of beer she blanched and then caught herself, opting to have a glass of the same cranberry juice that the hacker was drinking. Without saying anything, Auset poured them both a glass and then they returned to the living room, where both seated themselves on the mattress. Auset sat with her back against the wall, window directly overhead, and Reese sat just across from her. Another semi-uncomfortable silence drifting through. Auset just stared at her crossed legs. Reese cleared her throat nervously and looked up at the somewhat shadowed features of her friend's face. She is...beautiful. The writer had to force herself not to blush just at the thought. She carefully studied the planed surface of Auset's face; the pronounced cheekbones and sculpted black eyebrows, the wonderfully messy short black hair, and most importantly, the unimaginably cerulean eyes. The final glow of sun as dusk began to settle reflected off of them and the sense of depth Reese got was almost breathtaking.

Finally, after finishing her appraisal, Reese decided to just gird her loins, so-to-speak, and asked the question that had been hounding both of their minds all day.

"So...ah...what about that kiss?" she chuckled out nervously.


Auset was sure she should probably say something. Anything. One word would do! But it was as if her tongue had suddenly cemented itself to the inside of her mouth and, for the life of her, all that she could do was stare a lot and maybe blink...if she was lucky.

Reese was waiting nervously for some sort of response. She was a little worried that her friend either hadn't heard her or was simply going into a state of shock. The blonde cocked her head to one side and gently poked Auset in the shoulder.

"Well...I...uh," the hacker stuttered, seemingly pulled out of her stupor for the moment. She was suddenly very nervous--so uncharacteristic of her, really--and her usual penchant for few words had suddenly turned into a complete inability to speak. For once in her life, Auset was worried about getting involved with someone because for the first time in a long time, she really cared for the person. Everyone else had merely been a...distraction, a conquest even. But Reese, no, she really cared about her. And because of that, Auset was very reluctant to step over the line and truly involve Reese in her world. Well it's a little late for that.

Auset was also quite hesitant to open herself up again and risk getting hurt one more time. Was it worth the trouble? Looking into Reese's sanguine and trusting eyes, the dark-haired woman really wanted to believe that it was worth it. But, more importantly even, Auset wasn't entirely sure that her affection was returned. Sure, Reese seemed to like her well enough. Amazing. But, well, Reese had only dated men before--perhaps the kiss had been nothing at all.


Maybe she'd misread everything. Like she would really care about someone like you. She's probably about to shoot you down and tell you that the kiss was a mistake, something she did because of the drugs--


Reese's amused shout finally snapped Auset out of her thoughts. The blonde was smirking at her, laughing quietly with green eyes sparkling.

"Uh...sorry, what?" Auset answered stupidly. Reese let out a full chuckle and poked the woman's shoulder again.

"Are you all right?"

"Um, yes, I guess...you caught me off guard?"

Reese was beginning to wonder if Auset really didn't want to talk about what had transpired between them earlier. Maybe she wanted to forget about it all together. Maybe Auset had done it out of pity, or just didn't mean anything by it--but it sure had felt like it meant a great deal. What the hell is going on in that woman's head?

"I'm sorry Auset, I shouldn't have--"

"No, no," the hacker cut in, finally coming to her senses when she noticed the supremely disappointed look on Reese's face. "Don't apologize. It's all right." She scratched her chin. "It's more than all right, with me, I mean, are you...?"

"I thought maybe you just didn't want to talk about it, or maybe it was a mistake," Reese went on nervously, becoming a little frustrated with the whole conversation. This woman sure was difficult to figure out. Thankfully, Reese had been starting to realize that one stood a better chance of understanding Auset by paying attention to her eyes. They said volumes more than her sparse words. Right now, however, the blues were focused on the ground and Reese couldn't exactly study them for a hint as to what the hacker thought about all this. It was complicated enough to deal with the somewhat new-found aspect to Reese's sexual preferences, but now this too?

"It wasn't...a mistake. Not for me, anyway, but if you--" Auset began, absently picking at the leg of her pants.

"Goddamnit Auset!" Reese growled petulantly, throwing her hands up in frustration. Auset just blinked and shut her mouth. "You are the most aggravating person sometimes, you know that?" All of this was punctuated by tiny thuds as Reese punched her forefinger into the hacker's chest. "If I hadn't wanted to kiss you, I wouldn't have done it! Especially since all of this is so damn new to me. I've never felt this way about anyone before, let alone a woman, and you are not helping anything by second guessing everything and assuming that I couldn't possibly care about you!" Reese was on a roll. Auset was speechless. "Look, I do care about you, a great deal in fact. Despite, and because of everything. With you...I've never felt so alive, so like myself...and with you I feel right. OK? Can you get that through your thick skull?"

A police siren started howling from somewhere within the city and grew muffled as the car moved further away. Auset's eyebrows drew together as she pondered something for a moment and then tapped the side of her head with two fingers.

"This thick skull has saved my butt many-a-times."

The tension in the room shattered into a million pieces and blew out the open window. Reese allowed the muscles of her shoulders and back to relax, slumping back in her seated position as a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth.

"You," the writer began seriously, her eyes raised to meet the other woman's gaze, "are such a dork."

The comment was rewarded with a rakish grin, white teeth flashing, deep blue eyes twinkling. Auset wasn't about to deny that accusation.

Reese practically swooned at the sight of that beautiful smile just inches from her own lips and from the locked gazes they exchanged. She would willingly drown in those depths, but Auset broke the spell then, speaking with some of the confidence gone from her.

"I suppose I'm just...I don't want to get you involved unfairly. I don't want you to feel like you're, under any pressure for.... You've already gotten caught up in things I would rather have kept from affecting you."

"But I got you involved in events unfairly too, Auset. Everything in Flora--you wouldn't have had to gone and done those things if it hadn't been for me. But, I am glad you came. You know, we're even."

Auset mulled all this over for a second.

"We've both got messed up lives," the writer continued.

"No kidding," Auset snorted with little humor. Reese smiled and placed a hand on the hacker's knee.

"So why don't we try and work through our messed up lives together?"

Oh, there's that word again, Auset thought. Together. It's absolutely crazy, but I think I would really like it.

And then it was happening again. Auset suddenly noticed that either Reese's face had gotten bigger or they had closed the distance between them. She studied the gentle curve of lips that were presented, a little shyly, for her to explore. But, just as they brushed against her own mouth, it was again the verdant eyes that transfixed her. Forever.

Then all of their surroundings melted away, the noise of the city fading into a rush of sound like waves rolling onto shore. The tentative first touch of lips gave way to a deeper contact, an onslaught of sensation that made both women shudder in its intensity. Tongues gently parted lips and began the exploration of each others depths, slowly coaxing out a full abandonment of insecurities. Reese brought her hand up and cupped Auset's cheek, enjoying the surprisingly soft feel of warm skin. They continued for another few breathless moments until mutually pulling apart, if for no other reason than not wanting to pass out for lack of air. Two hearts beat double time, Auset worrying that hers would just leap from her chest and fling itself across the room. Reese, for her part, was struggling to gain control of her senses, completely unprepared for the flood of feeling that had washed over her. Her whole body felt like it was set on a slow burn and she swallowed in a vain attempt to quench the fire.

"We should do that more often," Reese rasped out breathily. Auset nodded vigorously and smiled what she was sure was the biggest, goofiest grin ever.


Concluded in Part 10...

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