Auset opened her front door cautiously and peered inside for anything suspicious. Nothing. Everything was as she had left it the previous day. The previous day, she thought as she walked over to the mattress and threw her coat down onto it. You spent the night at that girls house without trying to put the moves on her? That's gotta be a first. It wasn't that she hadn't wanted to, oh she did very much, it was just that she felt totally at ease with how things were going on their own. Nothing was terribly awkward, not even having slept all cozy-like with Reese which had admittedly been one of the best nights sleep she had gotten in years. Everything just felt...right. That's why she couldn't bring herself to actually hit on her. This was someone who she could definately get attached to, and that she couldn't allow.
She then noticed the blinking icon on her computer that indicated new mail. "That must be the details," she said aloud. "Open mail."
The email was a package of materials that had some serious encryption done on them. After dealing with that, before her on the monitor was a letter detailing what job was to be done exactly, blueprints for a corporate building downtown, and an address. She read the letter first.
"A company that shall, as always, remain nameless, has expressed an interest in knowing the inner workings of a rival company called INSTEP Technologies. Your job is to get as much background on the CEO's, who are believed to be associated with organized crime, so that your Host Company can expose them and take them out of competition. In addition, and this is the most important thing, the Host Company believes that INSTEP has hired a hitman to take out their own higher-ups. Mostly I think that this is paranoia on HC's part, but I suggest you look into it anyway. There's a fear that this ' hitman' may actually be someone they've hired specifically for sniffing out people like--well, like you, who might try to do exactly what you're going to be trying to do.
Seeing as this job involves members of organized crime, I suggest you focus all of your attention on it and use as much caution as possible. We can't have you getting liquidated, now can we? Your contact is the address listed below. You are to take all information you gather to that address, where a representative of the Host Company will be waiting to collect it.
Payment will be given as follows: You will be paid $10,000 at the beginning and another $25,000 upon completion of your task. The money will be transferred to the account that you use for such occasions.
Have fun, Hawk, and try not to get into too much trouble. You know how to reach me if you have any questions or need any assistance.
Shitshitshit. Auset was about to swim in some seriously fucking dirty water. Organized crime and the possibility of a hitman hired to kill people like her. To top it off, on-site work would be required. She hadn't done on-site work since...well, since the Cirran fiasco.
Cirran Networking Corporation was a computer networking company on the rise. Auset had been hired by an IS company that was interested in buying CNC out, but first wanted to make sure the security was tight and that when they introduced their intranet, it would be safe to say that their own security would not be compromised. Part of the job required her to make an on-site visit to CNC's security offices so that she could run a diagnostic on their system to make sure that all was as it should be. Normally, this type of job was done legitimately by the buying company during the takeover, but her employers and the company they were interested in were less than legitimate enterprises. Sneaking around behind each others backs was commonplace, but highly dangerous if one was caught.
Auset was too good to get nabbed by the security piss ants at CNC though. She took more than the usual precautions before going in and was halfway through with what she was doing when out of nowhere, the shit hit the proverbial fan. Three very large, very heavily armed men burst through the door of the security office to find a very stunned Auset hunched over a glowing console. Reflex alone prevented the hacker from being immediately shot in the head as she quickly ducked under the desk and rolld towards a black duffel bag that contained her 'tools'. As the three men shot the holy hell out of everything in the room, Auset plunged a hand into the bag and brought out the first blunt and heavy object she found--a DOD standards manual.
"Damnit!" she cursed under her breath as she tossed the book aside and waited for the over-enthusiastic thugs to stop shooting. In the midst of the chaos, she heard a voice, distinctively female, shout out a command that made the men stop firing.
"For God's sake, you assholes! You're not supposed to turn the whole fucking place into swiss cheese! Stop firing!"
Auset froze. The voice was way to damn familiar. But that couldn't be right, why would...?
"Cally?" Auset said, her tone that of complete shock. She had gotten to her feet and was staring, disbelieving, at the blonde headed, brown eyed figure of her girlfriend (of one year) who was apparently in control of the three thugs that stood around her, weapons brandished and still smoking.
"Hello, sweetie. Surprised?" Cally asked in a coolly condescending tone. She grinned maliciously and took a step back. When Auset only stood there, blinking and saying nothing, the blonde spoke again. "I'm terribly sorry this all had to work out like this, but I'm afraid that my employers weren't too keen on the idea of you snooping around in here."
"You're employers?" Auset asked, stunned. "Oh yes, I must have forgotten to mention that I've been working for CNC for about a year now. They pay good money to girls who can run their security ops as well as I can. So naturally when you informed me that tonight's job would be taking you to my very own workplace, I had to do something!" she mocked her.
"You....you ratted me out?" Auset rasped. Her insides felt as though they were tying themselves into a billion knots and threatening to snap. A blinding rage was building in her mind, covering her vision in a dark haze. She clenched her fists, dgging her nails into the skin until it almost bled.
"Terribly sorry, love," Cally teased. "Take care of her, fellas."
The three men moved carefully towards the quietly seething woman before them. Just as one of them reached out a hand to grab Auset's shoulder, she ducked out from under his reach, kicked out a leg and knocked his feet out from under him. He hit the floor with a resounding THUD, just as thug 2 and 3 came to their senses and lunged at Auset. The agile woman rolled out of their reach and then sprung to her feet and delivered a roundhouse kick to thug 2, effectively breaking his jaw. Thug 3, being slightly more athletic than his wounded comrades, opted to throw a punch that landed on the girls abdomen and knocked the wind out of her for a moment. He took the opportunity to remember his gun and brought it around to shoot Auset in the thigh.
She felt the white-hot pain blossom in her left thigh, which at least took her mind off the fact that she couldn't breathe. Auset forced herself to shake off the punch to the gut and raised her head to see thug 3 ready to shoot her again. Frankly, she couldn't let that happen. Mustering up her reserves, Auset grabbed him by the forearm and twisted, causing him to drop the gun and scream in pain as the bones broke. The hacker grabbed the gun from the floor and pointed it at his head. She glanced over his shoulder at her girlfriend, or rather, ex-girlfriend, who had been watching all of this happen from the safety of the doorway.
"You fucking bitch!" Auset screamed, eyes filling with tears she had tried to keep unshed. As she screamed, thug 3 shifted as if to take the gun from her and Auset squeezed the trigger.
Her world went silent. She didn't even hear the man's body falling to the ground before her, or the sharp intake of breath issued from Cally, who was for a moment completely frozen with shock. A thin wisp of smoke curled up and out of the barrel of the gun that Auset still held tightly in her grip, pointed forward. She blinked and without thinking, turned and shot the first man she had knocked over in the chest. Without a sound, he slumped over and died as well.
"Shit Auset. You're crazy," Cally whispered, her voice eerily calm. Auset turned her attention to her betrayer who stood rigid in the doorway.
"If I were you, I'd get the hell out of here before I fucking kill you." Her voice was cold, devoid of emotion, though internally she felt like something was ripping her in two. Cally took the hint, winked, and then turned tail and ran out of the building, leaving Auset with the bodies of the two men she'd killed and the one who was now cowering by the wall and clutching his broken jaw.
"If you'd like to go on living, I suggest you forget everything about me," the hacker suggested calmly as she inspected her wounded leg. Blood had soaked a good sized circle in the pant leg of her jeans around the bullet hole. The man nodded his head vigorously in agreement and then proceeded to pass out.
Auset stood still for a moment, her glance going back and forth between the gun she still held in her gloved hand and the two dead bodies on the floor beside her. She was completely numb
The pain in her leg made itself known once again, which brought every other thing she had been refusing to feel come crashing down on her. She dropped the gun and hunched over, retching violently onto the floor at her feet.
"Leave, Auset. You need to leave," she ordered herself. Shaking off the desire to sob herself into oblivion, she collected her things and made a quick exit from the building.
After having her wound tended to by a "doctor friend" that Sera put her in contact with, Auset set about methodically and thoroughly ruining Cally's life. Another delicate thread had snapped inside her that night, one more as a result of a series of rather unpleasant events in her life. Again she would get even, but this time she wouldn't get caught--and she didn't. Auset ruined Cally financially, got her fired, and then on a final destructive whim she personally helped set fire to Cally's house. It had all been quite satisfying, in a shallow and unfeeling kind of way.
Cally had skipped town immediately after that, allegedly vowing complete revenge on Auset.
Auset retreated further into a world comprised only of her apartment, her work, and her one friend, Ash. She swore never to do on-site work again, but more importantly, never let herself get attached to anyone again.
Now Sera was asking her to do on-site work--work that involved organized crime. He was really pushing it this time. She leaned back in her chair and stared hard at the ceiling. "You're only twenty-one and you already feel too old for this kinda shit," she chuckled half-heartedly.
Reese was still sitting at her computer, hammering away at the keys, when the phone rang and she picked it up to hear Auset's distinctive contralto on the other end.
"Hi," Reese answered, a smile creeping across her face. "Long time."
"Heh, yeeah, sure," Auset chuckled. "Um..."
"Would you like to come over for a bit? I've got some noodles cooking," Reese offered.
"Sounds good. I'll...ah...be there in a few."
"Okay. See ya," Reese finished and hung up. She was fast learning at least one thing about Auset; she was a woman of few words. It worked out fine though, as Reese had no problem talking enough for the both of them.
Noodles were a meager offering, but it was the best she could manage with such a tight budget.
Auset opted to take a cab over to Reese's loft, not wanting to have anyone see her in the new sports car and associate it with her from then on. She liked it too much to bring that fate down on it. As the cab turned onto Reese's street, Auset looked around and realized that, according to the address Sera had given her, the contact spot wasn't far from here.
The cab pulled up in front of the tall brick, ex-warehouse building that had been refurbished to house a number of decent lofts. Reese's was on the second floor and had a window that overlooked the street where Auset was standing. From where she was, the dark-haired woman could see the light was on in Reese's loft, and music could be heard drifting softly out from it and into the warm late-afternoon air. Auset grinned as she recognized the tune as that of a song by one of her own favorite groups, Portishead.
Reese absently stirred the noodles that were slowly cooking in a pot on her stove as she listened to the music coming out of her stereo. She heard a car door close out front and sauntered over to the window in time to look out and see a cab speeding off down the road. A jolt of anticipation shot through her. She went back to stirring the noodles and listened as someone ascended the stairs toward her loft and then stopped briefly just outside of the door. Then they knocked. Reese practically disabled her cat, who had been hiding under her bed for two days straight and refusing to come out after a run-in with some bad catnip, as she tripped over it while attempting to get to the door.
"Damnit, Eph! NOW you decide to come out of hiding?" she cursed at the unsuspecting cat as it meowed unhappily at her. Finally, Reese got to her door and opened it to find a mildly amused Auset waiting there.
"Problems?" the taller woman inquired with a raised eyebrow. Reese motioned her inside and chuckled.
"I tripped over my cat while I was trying to answer the door is all."
Auset looked over at the little calico who was sitting on the floor, licking its hind-quarters. "You have a cat? I didn't notice it when I was here before."
"She's been hiding under my bed for the past two days and refusing to come out. Poor thing got into some bad catnip that a neighbor left out for strays and proceeded to tear around the entire loft before bolting under the bed and staying there. I hadn't noticed that she had decided to come out when I went to let you in and so I tripped over her," Reese finished with a glare at the offending feline. "Her name is Ephiny, and don't ask where I got that because I have no clue. I think I heard it in a dream or something."
Auset just chuckled and reached down to pet the cat's head. It glared at her for a minute, unsure of what she thought of this invader on her turf, but quickly decided that turning down a free scratch was silly and began purring quietly.
"Hungry?" Reese asked and walked back over to the stove where the noodles waited patiently in their container.
"Sure, smells good," the hacker answered and strode over to stand behind the shorter woman and sniffed appreciatively.
Reese poured the noodles into two bowls and brought them over to the table where she had already set out utensils and glasses of water. "I have some beer in the fridge too if you're interested," she offered as she removed one bottle for herself.
"Nah, that's OK. Thanks though," Auset said and took a bite of the noodles, which were coated in a garlicky-buttery sauce that she decided was very good. She looked up then and caught Reese staring, at which point the blonde quickly averted her eyes and stared at the bowl in front of her. Auset noticed that she was blushing again.
Clearing her throat slightly, Reese spoke. "Um...Dade has some friends who are in this pretty good band. They're playing down at Navy Pier tonight at nine, if you're interested?"
Auset considered this for a second, and upon realizing that she had nothing else to do besides make a quick stop at the contact place to pick up her advance, decided that, "Yes, sounds fun. I just need to stop by this place nearby at 8:30 to pick something up for work, if you don't mind?"
"No problem!" Reese said happily. "We can just, ah...sit around and chat until then."
Normally, Auset would have looked down on such a proposition, 'chatting' not usually being her cup of tea, but the prospect of just sitting around and talking to this girl actually sounded...well, appealing. She smiled and proceeded to slurp up a noodle.
"Ya know," Reese began, still working on her food. "It occurred to me that I've not known you for even a week, and yet I keep having you over to my loft and I feel as though I've known you for longer but I hardly know you at all!" Well that was a mouthful. Way to get it all out in one shot.
Auset stopped chewing and stared at the bowl. "What do you want to know?" she asked, gracefully leaving the subject of Reese having said something about knowing her for longer for later discussion. Truth-be-told, the hacker honestly felt like she'd known her for years. It was eerie.
"What is your job, exactly. You've mentioned working before, but now what it is that you do."
"I'm a computer security specialist." A nice way of putting it.
"Oh, huh. Sounds...um..."
"Boring?" Auset supplied. The blonde grinned sheepishly and nodded. "Eh, it can be sometimes, but it lets me think on my feet and do some problem solving. I like being able to work out my brain. I get my physical workout elsewhere, practicing martial arts."
"I was gonna say; there's no way a computer nerd could have a body like that--" Reese started and then stopped herself quite abruptly, not really believing that she'd just said that out loud. Before she could melt into a little puddle and seep out through the floor boards, Auset chuckled and saved her.
"Well, thanks, I guess." The poor thing looked like she was going to implode. "I was wondering how a writer-slash-waitress could have a body like yours, myself."
"Um..." Reese choked. "I, ah, work out and take kick-boxing. Keeps me sane."
"Remind me never to piss you off and corner you in a dark alley," Auset joked and winked. She took another bite of noodles, effectively finishing off her bowl. Reese eyed the empty dishes and drew in a deep breath.
"We've still got an hour or so to kill. I know a place with a great view, you game?" she asked, grinning slightly.
"Always," the taller woman answered promptly.
Reese lead her guest out of the loft and up a series of stairs until they came out of a utility door that opened onto the roof of the building. The June evening was just cooling off, the sun already below the horizon but still stubbornly throwing colors into the sky which was the dark blue/black of post-dusk.
From their vantage point atop Reese's apartment building, the duo had a rather spectacular view of the city. Auset stood quietly for a moment to appreciate the scene in front of her, which included a certain golden-haired writer who was ambling over to a pair of beat-up lawn chairs that were set up near the edge of the roof. She smiled and then joined Reese in claiming one of the chairs.
"What did I tell ya?" Reese said in quiet happiness. "I come up here at night sometimes just to relax. Sometimes it inspires my writing, too."
"It is all quite inspiring," the dark-haired woman replied, her gaze turned away from the cityscape and on Reese's face instead. The girl blushed upon noticing this.
"How old are you, Auset?"
"I'm nineteen. We've known each other for under a week. Why do I keep getting the feeling that I've known you for longer than nineteen or twenty-one years?" Reese asked nervously. She didn't know whether it was the view or just her own habit to be blunt, but she was suddenly feeling very bold and truthful. She stared at her hands and waited for the reply she was sure would be something along the lines of, "You're nuts," but when it never came, she lifted her eyes to meet Auset's.
"Funny, I have the same feeling. I guess maybe we're nuts," Auset replied with a casually raised eyebrow. Well, it was kinda close to what you expected, Reese thought. She sighed, relieved, and looked back out across the city.
"You have any family?" Reese inquired as she played idly with the tiny silver chain that hung around her neck.
"Mm. Mom. She travels a lot; haven't talked to her in about two years. Dad died when I was two."
At this, Auset inhaled deeply and her gaze steeled. Reese looked over to see her profile, strong jaw clenched and blue eyes fixed on some indeterminable point in space, and assumed that the answer to that question was probably a bit complex.
For a minute, Auset was going to use her usual tactic of ignoring the question when asked about that particular subject. She lost her determination when she noticed Reese looking at her, brow furrowed in concern. Ah, what the hell, right?
"I had a brother, Logan. He died when he was fourteen."
Reese flinched. "I'm sorry, you don't have to talk about it if you don't want."
"No, it's okay. I should. Y'know, after all these years it still hurts just as much as when it happened. I was sixteen at the time. He went in to get his tonsils out, nothing big. But the medicine they gave him was contaminated or something and he had a bad reaction. He died fifteen minutes after they gave it to him. I found out right after that the company that made the drug was at fault...corrupt...and they never took responsibility. I was so pissed..." at this she trailed off and Reese could see the muscles in her jaw clenching. She reached out a hand and placed it over one of Auset's in a comforting gesture. "I always looked out for Logan. We were best friends...and that bloody company killed him!" she paused to collect herself again. "So I went after them. It was the first time I really used my knowledge of computers for something major. But I got caught, and they threw me into juvie for a year."
"Shit," Reese winced.
"Yeah, shit. Mother was so messed up by Logan's death that she just let me sit for a year before she bailed me out so I could finish high school. I never really forgave her for it, and when I went off to university and then dropped out, we just stopped talking. She didn't agree much with any of my 'life choices'."
"For lack of a better way to express what I think, that really sucks, Aus," Reese said sympathetically. "I'm so sorry."
"Thanks." A moment drifted through then, as Reese just sort of forgot to take her hand away from Auset's and they both stared out at the lights now shining instead of stars before them. "I don't think I've told anyone about that before," the dark-haired woman said with a touch of amazement. Reese blinked and chuckled in disbelief.
"I'm glad you felt comfortable enough to tell me." Maybe someday you can tell me the rest of the story.
"So what about you? What's the family like?" Auset not-so-smoothly turned the attention away from herself. Reese shrugged and looked down at her lap.
"Mom, dad, two kid-brothers. My mom left dad when I was seventeen and I made a point to graduate and move out soon there after. I still talk to mom sometimes, when she's home from digs."
"I take it you and pops don't get along so well?"
"No, not so well. He was kind of abusive. That's why mom left him," she supplied quietly.
Auset suddenly noticed that she was trembling ever-so slightly. The thought of anyone taking a hand to Reese was causing her mind to reel. She wanted to hunt the bastard down and...wait, what the hell? Getting pretty worked up over a girl you just met, aren't you?
Reese heard the growls coming from the woman seated next to her and squeezed her hand. "It's in the past and I'm out of there now. He's an alcoholic."
"That's no excuse," Auset managed to grumble.
"I know, but it helps explain some things."
It did, actually. Right then, Auset decided to keep a closer eye on Reese's own drinking habits. She had noticed them to be a little excessive, but this brought a whole new angle to it.
"I don't have to like it."
Reese was truly flattered by the surge of protectiveness that seemed to have taken over her friend. It was a nice, and somewhat new, feeling to have someone care. Hell, it was a nice feeling all-together to be sitting out on her roof, under the stars, with the woman she had just met that week. Who would have guessed? Reese hadn't even thought about Dade in days, her thoughts mostly being consumed by--
The dark-haired woman looked away from the city lights and straight into Reese's forest green eyes. The moon was throwing silvery shadows over everything, causing Auset's hair to nearly shine.
"For what?" she asked. There was a moment of silence as Reese tumbled recklessly into the deep blue depths, not caring anymore where it took her. She did, however, still possess enough presence-of-mind to reply.
"For giving a rats-ass about my pathetic sob-story."
"It's not pathetic. It's quite valid, and I only wish I had known you then so I could have kicked the holy hell out of your father for what he did," Auset stated very calmly, but with a definite tone that said she would make good on that promise if ever given the chance. Reese chuckled, and smiled gratefully.
This was definitely going to be a problem, Auset thought. You are entirely too attached to this girl, and you promised yourself that you wouldn't let that happen ever again. Only this time, she realized, it didn't seem like she had much say in the matter. It was as if her own stubborn will had been completely thwarted by some unseen force that was hell-bent on bringing the two together. Best to just hang on and enjoy the ride.
"I'd really like it..." Reese began softly. "If I could see you more often. I'd really like to get the chance to know you."
Auset blinked several times and felt her face get warm, something she had not experienced in many years. Damn. "Me too," she replied simply and grinned, giving off an impression of self-confidence that she didn't totally feel. It was unnerving, to say the least, to be so utterly deconstructed by this woman of whom she had known for barely a week!
Another indeterminable amount of time passed comfortably between them as they each sat, lost in thought, before Reese finally glanced at her watch.
"It's 8:05. We should get going so you can stop by wherever first and then we can get to the show on time."
Auset grunted an agreement and slowly lifted herself out of the chair. They walked back down the stairs and to Reese's loft, picked up a few things, and then headed down into the parking garage where the Volvo sat waiting.
"Where is it we need to go first, anyway?" Reese asked as she shifted into reverse and pulled out onto the street.
"It's a house about five blocks from here. I just need to run in and pick something up for work," the hacker replied in a subdued tone. "You can just wait outside while I go in, it shouldn't take me long."
"No problem," Reese said as she navigated the street-lamp lit roads of her neighborhood. They eventually came up on the house that Auset had indicated and the dark-haired woman stepped out of the car and stood by the idling vehicle as she sized up the place for a minute. This was the address Sera had sent her. The house was an old Victorian affair, two-story, with the paint slowly chipping off. There was a rusting sign next to the door that read, "T. Theodore, Attorney-at-Law." Most likely, during the day, this house served as the offices for one of those scuzzy lawyers who specialized in faked injury claims and the like.
"I'll be back in a minute," she told Reese as she walked up to the front door, decided against knocking, and then went in through the ripped screen door.
Reese sat back in her chair and listened to the softly playing radio as she watched the tall, sleek form enter a rather shady-looking building. There was another car parked in the alley that ran behind the house. It looked vaguely familiar, but there were no lights and most of the vehicle was hidden by shadows. She glanced over at the other side of the street from where she was parked. Another car, this one a jet-black Corvette convertible with...bright blue seats? Reese shook her head and chuckled silently. Some people had the strangest tastes.
Back to Part 3