With a special thanks to Kristin, Babs Yeruncle & Hart.
Without whom there would have been a long delay
for editing and getting this piece out.
(Authors note: Some of the dates were off track in Merry #1. With luck that should not happen too much. Sorry, I missed it on the edit :} Mea Culpa)
Friday, October 13, 2006
There was no real light to awaken me, just the pressing call of nature. It wasn’t necessarily cold nor was it really warm in the sewer tunnel. Fortunately, or unfortunately my dad had taken me camping a few times in rustic areas. I made up a new rule for myself. “Crap or what not goes on the left side of tunnels” so you don’t have to run through it. Don’t confuse the two sides.
I made my way back to my pile of blankets. I was glowing brightly so light was not a real problem. Breakfast was five power bars and a Coke. It had filled the hole mostly but damn, that was over fifteen hundred calories. I was still hungry so I found the two chocolate bars and finished them off as well. I sat on my blankets, and toyed with the large knife. Dumb, leave your weapons out of reach and you get fifty push ups, said a note in the Ranger Handbook.
I groaned at the thought, crud if I didn’t toughen up somewhat, I was going to be rat bait. I tried my gym teacher’s version of the push up and noted that my hips didn’t work that way anymore. “If you can’t do a regular push up like a man, you can do pussy push ups. Like a ‘girl’.” The coach was fond of his manhood. Screw him. Having both knees on the ground was less painful though fifty was still a large number.
I was hardly panting when I finished. “Great, so I can do more pushups as a girl than I could do as a boy,” I commented to the sewer. I rolled over and looked up, light was faintly drifting down through the holes in the manhole cover. I checked the PDAs clock it was nine thirty in the morning, fine. Well I had a good nights sleep; but I can’t move out and abroad until three o’clock, possibly noon. If you can’t go up then go down.
I spent a few minutes looking over the map of the sewer then turned the PDA off. I put the GPS card into the satchel as no satellites were going to get through this much rock. I did a few basic stretches. After which I put everything away. I kept the big knife out of the pack and stuck it in its sheath, and tucked it into my pants at the small of my back.
Since I was not planning on running into any cops in the sewer system I figured at-hand was better than out-of-reach. I pulled the jacket on but left it open. I picked up this, that and basically made sure I had my stuff. Most importantly I had my spike. Ok so I have screwy sense of priorities.
I re-arranged the hilt of the knife from where it was not digging into my back. One thing I had learned last night was that running with all this gear was a pain in the butt. I wasn’t too concerned with the robber getting at the shopkeeper. I just hoped the shopkeeper was vague about what had happened and who had done it. Don’t kid yourself, you didn’t check for security cameras. That inner voice was getting to be a real pain in the ass, even if it was right.
Ok, a day of spelunking was in order; I stayed down the right side of the tunnels, out of the mess. I had a niggling hunch that I was missing something; eventually I might have this life I could get back to as a ‘girl’. I was really beginning to hate that voice in my head. Ok so talking to yourself is a sign of insanity, what else is news?
A ladder, up or down? I flipped a mental coin and went down. Down, down and more down. Who the blazes makes a three story ladder that goes down to um, hell? This had to be so much deeper than the subway was. Finally I hit bottom or an approximation of bottom, actually I think I hit bottom a few days ago, maybe. It was a wide cavern and from what little I could tell of it, it went on and on and on. I had nothing better to do, so I went with it. Idly I noted rows and bundles of power cables and junction boxes, odd perhaps but not a threat.
After a time it seemed to grow lighter in the cavern, at least to my eyes. I was not exactly certain how anyone else would view the massive lines of power running down the length of the cavern. Left said or right side? On the left side I could step in crap, so right side it was. Mentally things began to grow hazy, although I had a direction to walk in. Somewhere along the way I knew I was humming. Literally, that voice in my head thing again. I was good and drunk, no tequila necessary. No don’t ask, I may never touch the stuff again.
Each step that I took felt like it was taking hours and longer to happen; to my eyes, everything was becoming solidly blue and white. The white light that was radiating from the power lines and was overwhelmingly intense that it felt my eyes were burning into the back of my head, eventually something was going to have to give. All that white was not going to give, so I had to. My view of Cyberspace had been changed somewhat by the Light Cycle speedster. “Function or effect is a matter of will.” That was from the Whateley Meditation and Powers Guide.
I sat down, reached into the satchel and turned the laptop on. “Damn it Jim I am a Programmer not a Wizard.” I shouted into the dazzling light, “All this white goes NOW!” I pushed with something and my world was now only blue. Much better. I gave it a horizon, a black space with moving stars. “I define this subset, as World.” I leapt up into that space; I waved a hand “Hello World.” At my wave the text in fifty foot tall letters was repeated all across my sky.
I commanded the laptop to “/traceAllRoutes”, suddenly all the lines that flowed across my world were blue. I was nude and blue as well. While this may not seem like a problem; I wanted clothes. Someone was all ready doing Tron, that was a limit he put on his world. Obviously he had more practice, as his world wrote itself onto mine. I didn’t want limits. Limits were something other people had, my world, my rules, no limits. I created a subset of rules, your worlds are a subset of mine. “All your bases belong to me.” That felt right.
Perhaps I was drunk or something, I didn’t care. Yori from Tron had looked good. I discarded the circuit patterning and helmet, and then I used shades of darker blue to highlight the bodysuit. I gave it a belt and hung my spike from it. I added the half tunic from the movie I embellished the half tunic with a thick jagged blue lightning bolt.
My hair was as messy as it was in the Outside; hmm I needed to define the outside, ok that felt weird. “Translation is codified by desire.” My hair would be perfect in my world, as I saw it. My world was empty of people though there were others out there and I didn’t want to share it with just anyone.
NEXT were my allies, maybe not the best of allies but they could have left me in a drug-induced coma. I reached to digital version of my semi-dormant PDA. It was cumbersome and would look better as a bracer like in Predators. I suited it to my new form, it flowed and reformed on my left arm as an armguard with a set of blades that I could extend and retract.
I selected a node and host. I touched the node and pushed; I was there. I stood before a door, after a bit I gave it four knocks. It did not open, “Fine.” I took my spike and slammed it into the door, the door shattered in a shower of broken bytes. There were many lines that led from the door. As I stepped through the doorway, I could hear an annoying jangle of alarms. If I wanted noise there was music. “/silenceAlarms.” The alarms obliged and quit. “/findFriend Tammy.”
One line illuminated, so I tapped it with a toe, “/chatRoomInvite Tammy.” I created the chat room, opened a door to it and sat down in a recliner. A handy projector put text on one wall, I told the door it was private.
Tammy was long in coming to the room. I flicked through the newsgroups, “/findReference Chad Wilson” I was not too surprised to find myself listed in Alt.Palm.Theory.Moderated. Also I was found in Alt.Mutants, Alt.Mutant.Die.Die.Die, and Alt.AI.Unmoderated and of all places Alt.Mutant.Hero.
I was annoyed at the A.M.D.D.D. one, but I left those morons alone; they had the same mentality of Alt.Discussion.StarTrek.Westly.Die.Die.Die. I lurked through the A.P.T.M and the others. Tammy was taking w-a-y too long. I told the wall to access her terminal. I told it to display me in ‘out time’ on her monitor. “Hello Tammy.” I spoke to the air.
I found that she had a web cam, I reached into her computer and turned it on. She was in a pale green blouse that looked so much better than the corporate rat suit she was wearing when I had last seen her; but she looked shocked when I went “Knock, knock.”
“Hello?” She typed.
“Tada, it’s Merry,” I addressed her image.
“Did you just blow through a Firewall?” she typed again.
“Hey, I knocked four times, please turn your microphone on,” I complained.
“Let me look at the event log ok?” She typed and moved her mouse around.
I gave her back half of her screen, “Go ahead.” I let her do her thing. She had some interesting expressions most of which bordered on shock and amusement.
“Merry, just where are you?” Finally a voice.
“From last night’s location beacon, I am down the sewer drain that was in the park, about a quarter of a mile along it. Then I went down about three stories worth of ladder into a long assed cavern. I went right at that point. It is a long walk and there are lots of heavy assed power lines down here for some reason. I learned a few things about myself.”
“Oh?” her voice sounded odd. I really needed to work on that translation protocol.
“Yeah, if I am all charged up and if I am near a very fast computer. The level of control I have over events and my environment in Cyberspace is downright unreal.” I sighed, “I also have a real problem; I’m also vulnerable as hell when I am in Cyberspace. I cannot monitor my outside body. I can get out, I think. Unfortunately, my body is playing vegetable at the moment, and I cant ‘feel’ it or even sense it for that matter.”
“Not good.” Her voice was distorted so maybe she just needed a better mike.
“It gets better, I don’t need a direct connection to the Internet to access it.” I sighed. “I just have to be near a network and have something more powerful than a PDA to enter it.”
“Any idea on why?”
“I think the processor or something acts like a booster, or a super charger.” I shrugged. “The effect with the PDA is much less potent. It does have a range though. I have to be within a yard of the laptop which has to be on.”
“Ok I am looking at the time on the ‘knocks,’ and the time the Firewall went down. Sweetie if I remember right the laptop’s clock runs at about ten gigahertz.”
“That sounds about right. Are there supposed to be any power lines and a network down here?” I looked at my armband, “I don’t see any listed for this area.”
“Checking my copy.” She frowned, “No I have the same information. Also we need to get you something much slower or find a way for you to slow the clocks or both. You may be risking burning out at the speed you are doing things.”
“I have another problem; I can’t get enough food without raising a red flag some place. I checked out one of the books Bill gave me. Not a lot of relevant information, but I am some sort of Energizer.” I gave her a look of annoyance. “I know I am out here with the lions, but the logistics of keeping me physically on par are screwed up.”
“We didn’t have time for a full battery of tests.”
“I gathered that. The Rangers Guide, from Bill, has the typical ‘human’ Ranger needing over nine thousand calories for an active day. I had five power bars, 2 candy bars and a Coke for breakfast and I was still hungry.” I looked at her, “See my problem?”
“That is roughly eighteen to nineteen hundred calories. Less than a third or less of what you likely need,” she frowned.
“Which brings me to last night. I had to eat a lot of burgers and fries before I was full. Not to mention having some bad luck with a robber in a used bookstore,” I sighed. “Maybe there was a surveillance system; I didn’t look for one at the time so I don’t know. I zapped the gunman after blacking out the store. I ran like hell afterwards, though I may have left prints on the outside door.”
“You are not a trained field agent kiddo,” she pointed out.
“No kidding, I bet Bill is laughing his ass off.” I said with a frown.
“Merry Candice Powell, you can stop that right now,” she looked at the camera rather sternly. “Bill is very happy with you. He will be happier still once he knows you caught your own mistakes.”
I smiled; my dad had only been happy with trophies. “Ok. I can handle everything but the food problem without blowing my cover any worse than I may have or ending up nonfunctional from starvation.” I sighed, “What is it with this cavern? I can possibly get out on my own but I don’t think it is supposed to be networked or powered like this.”
“Ok, we’ll get a reconnaissance team on it once you give us a location burst when you get out.” She looked at her clock, “The laptop batteries should be good for another solid four hours. Maybe less, we don’t know if you can affect the drain or not. If you don’t give us a burst by six hours from now, we’ll send a very large team to get you out.”
“I need a way to monitor my body with the laptop, I can tap its files with a snap. It should be able to give me some data, in here.” I waved around the pseudo room. “Also I am gonna have to eat badly. I can do the burger thing and power bar bit a few more days, but it is going to get freaking obvious.” I gave her a look. “I know my body is tougher some how, but dumpster diving for food is really gross and not too helpful either.” I held up a hand. “I’ll do it if I have to, but jeeze.”
“We could pull you out.” She offered.
“Not yet, I would hate to break up another office pool.” I winked, “Make them earn it.” I frowned, “On the other pool, have they broke it yet?”
“Not yet.” She grinned, “I am going clean up.”
“Right, something odd about the Alt.Mutant and Alt. Palm Newsgroups. I am not sure what, just a hunch. I don’t think I have been dead long enough for a major conspiracy theory to be underway.” I shook my head. “It just feels wrong.” No kidding, I thought, people should not speak ill of the dead.
“I’ll have it watched. I’ll also kick the science and food people for you. Though I can’t put guarantee on the taste.” She smiled. “If they manage to make it edible there’s probably a market for it.”
“More profit to us.” I waved. “I gotta see if I can get out; if I get clear I will try to not blow the Firewall down in two days. Expect me or let the programmers try to keep me out.” I offered a wicked grin, “Make money.”
“Ok Merry, be safe and good luck. I have to inform Willard now.” She smiled and waved.
I broke the connection, sheesh what a mess. “It looks so easy when you are on the other side of the screen,” I quipped.
I closed the chat room and tapped the node map on the armguard. Then I thought about it some more, I did not need to go back to exit the net. With that thought I was back in the laptop and in an area filled with a heavy blue glow with a lot of white light. I studied the light. Ok so it was not so much white as it was a very bright light blue. It seemed that my spectrum in cyber-space was limited from very bright blue to very dark blue that approached black. I sat up and pushed the power button on the laptop turning it off.
I was back in the real world, if you could call this real. I made a mental note that black lights were ever so out, if I ever got a room of my own to decorate. The magic portion of the book had mentioned something about centering, grounding and shielding before I jumped ahead a few chapters. I closed my eyes, but the white was still overpowering.
I took a breath and pushed against all that white. “Envision yourself in a bubble that separates you from what ever is bothering you.” said the book. I gave it a shot as bubbles were not my thing; though it did make the light slightly dimmer.
I pushed with something and the bubble darkened like a set of polarized sunglasses. The light coming off of the power lines was reduced to small thin lines, bright but bearable. As I opened my eyes the light wavered from bright to unbearable and back again. After a bit of trial and error I found I could move and keep the bubble up. It took a lot of effort and did nothing to keep me from glowing; yet I could walk very very slowly and keep it up.
“This is going to take a lot of practice,” I complained to the cavern. I must have walked for what seemed like an hour before reaching a metal door that was set in cement. By that time my head was starting to seriously hurt. I reached for the door and a flash of electricity arced between my hand and the knob.
Ker-Zapppa! I swore with lots of enthusiasm shaking my hand like it was on fire. It stung like I had purposely scuffed a carpet with my shoes then touched a person; you know that fun game you did to your friends and siblings? Man oh man did it ever hurt. I pulled out my spike from the coat pocket and touched the door with it. Another bright flash and the door suddenly developed a white-hot glowing spot on it where I had touched it with the spike. “Figures.”
I put the spike away then put my gloves on and turned the knob. Cooler air rushed in and I could hear something rumbling. I was in a lined concrete tunnel with intermittent lighting. The door was glowing red on the opposite about where I touched it with the spike. I closed it careful and studied the red dot for a moment, the metal had sagged and dripped down leaving a small hole open in the door.
I guess I am blessed in that I was not seeing after images of the sparks. “Great I have a new employment opportunity: human arc-welder.” I looked back and forth for a bit there was a pair of three rails in the right and left sides of the tunnel. Subway definitely the subway, I scrunched up by the right side of the door and waited. A few minutes later a subway car went by in a rush of wind.
Depending on where I was on the line, you could bet I had another five to ten minutes of relative solitude. My head was pounding and I could still see two semi-bright white lines that trailed along the floor. They were the power rails for the two subway lines. That answered the question of where they got the power in the power lines from, just a bit of creative rewiring and you had a free source of power. Eventually I found the subway platform and crawled up and out.
Much to the amazement and chagrin of the SEPTA Transit Security guard. He helped me to stand up and asked the obvious questions of;
“Are you nuts?” Followed by “Are you ok?”
I just pulled my shades on and then I answered him. “Yes to the first, no to the second.” My head was pounding and my stomach felt like it was on fire. He followed me like a puppy as I made it to a burger counter. He was jabbering into his walkie-talkie, all the way.
I stood up to the counter. Imagine if you will, a punk rocker looking girl, wearing black wrap-around sunglasses, more than slightly disheveled looking and dusty. I must have looked pretty rough because the lady behind the counter looked like she had seen the lowest life form on the planet.
Before I could place an order she said. “No money, no food.”
I took out my wallet with very unsteady hands and selected a twenty. I placed it on the counter. “Just give me as many burgers as it will pay for.”
“Christ you’re an addict too?” That was the transit cop.
I turned a semi-glassy stare upon him, shades are great for concealing expression, I just looked at him.
“Look” he said, “you don’t have any reason to throw your life away like this.” He looked at the lady behind the counter. “Get the girl her food.” He looked at me and shook his head, “If the drugs don’t kill you turning tricks for money can. AIDS is very real, young lady.”
I looked down at the floor of the station; I sure as hell could not tell him the truth. He and the lady had painted me as a teenaged, crack-addict, homeless whore. Inside I was outraged, outside I just let a blank look fill my face. “Can I just get my food and go now?” All those sermons and lectures from dad were good for something I suppose. I choked back a sniffle. Ok dad wasn’t father of the year, but hell, he had been my dad. It must have helped my performance.
“Sorry kid, can’t let you go, I have take you to the office,” he looked genuinely upset.
I grabbed the burger bag and all the lights died. Damn good timing, I thought to myself. So I took the chance to make a clean break and sprinted to the sunlit stairway. I was getting good with running; though if you asked me, whoever invented stairs needed his ass kicked. I left a trail of pandemonium as I pushed past people who were blocking my way up. I took a moment, to read the sign Twenty-second Street Subway. “Yay.” I muttered absently to a passing commuter who was givining me a very dirty look. I was deep in the heart of downtown Philly. I turned into the nearest ally and walked a block or so until I could crouch down behind a dumpster.
Safely hidden, I could eat. So I did, all four burgers disappeared in short order. I felt slightly better, though I still had a hole to fill and a monster of a headache was thundering in my head. “You are how people see you.” That was one lesson the minister drove into every sermon. Over and over again. Man was I so screwed. That person is not you, offered that annoying part of my head. Yeah, right.
Friday (dusk),October 13, 2006
“… God hates me.” I wandered aimlessly from alley to alley, farther in or farther out of it. It depended on how you had to look at it; outside I seemed to be doing fine. Inside I was feeling every moment and so very down. I passed other homeless people, I nodded, they nodded. I kept going. I was still hungry and I had to do something about that, and soon. After a long time of walking, I huddled against a dumpster amongst a row of trashcans. I sat there and stared blankly at the shadows for a time.
“Hey kid.” That was a voice from across the alley. An old man who was missing the lower part of his arm stepped out from his own set of shadows. “You ok?”
I looked up at him, we were pretty much dressed alike, though he had me beat by a few stains. “If I said yes, would you believe me?”
He crouched down, out of reach and shook his head. “Bad day.” It was a statement, not a question. “Hungry?”
I nodded and he stood up. “Can’t have that. Come on.” He turned after a few steps and said, “Well, you hungry or not?”
I got up with a groan, “Ok, I am coming.” We went several blocks, with him occasionally calling out greetings to others. He almost seemed happy to be homeless or he just was doing better at it than me. “Where are we going?”
“St. Michael’s, they have a soup kitchen going. Not the best food; though by the look of you, any food is going to seem good.” He frowned. “You’re awful young to be out here. Not that you’re alone in that by any stretch.” He shook his head, “Lots of kids now-a-days.”
“Do they ask a lot of questions?” Food sounded good but I did not need a repeat of the subway.
“Sometimes, sometimes they preach at ya. Not sure which is more annoying. Some days they can get you a bed for the night.”
“Got my own bed.” I said doggedly.
“Yeah I suppose you do,” he chuckled. “Still they are ok people. Father Pete is older than me and sometimes seems twice as cranky. Don’t believe it for a second though, I never seen him hurt a fly. Unless the fly was fixing to hurt a kid, then. “ He grinned. “Then you should have seen the other guy fly.” He laughed, “Father Pete then asked him for his forgiveness, he said that he didn’t want to have to beat it out of him.”
I had to laugh. “He sounds like a good person.”
“Oh he is one of the good ones alright.” He led the way up the stairs and into the church. It was one of the oldest churches in the city, not as fancy as some, but it looked like it was taken care of. A bit of the ways inside he turned and went down a flight of steps where the homey smell of soup was wafting up.
The basement was not much to look at; mostly bare tile and support beams, even though it was clean and well lit. It was also crowded as there were many people sitting at the long rows of tables. Even among the unwashed masses of which I was a part and parcel, the soup called my name. My stomach answered with a roar.
“Come on let’s get a bowl.”
He led the way to the counter of the kitchen where short thin man with a faded black suit and clerical white collar was serving up soup. “Find another stray Thomas?” He waggled his bushy white eyebrows at my guide. I had a hard time picturing him throwing anyone anywhere.
“Yep, she’s a shy one though.” He tapped me on a shoulder, “You do have a name?”
“I’m Merry.” I was eyeing the soup bowls. They were large but I was betting I could easily put three or four of them away. Don’t give yourself away. Damned voice.
“A last name?” That was Father Pete.
I just looked at him for a moment. “Not this week, I could make one up if you want?”
He put on a sorrowful expression, “You would lie to old Father Pete?”
I sighed, “Sometimes a lie is all we own.”
He shook his head, “Get some soup in ye, maybe you will want to talk after a bit.”
I took a bowl, picked up a spoon and then I found a chair away from everyone else. I set the bowl and spoon on the table. I dropped my pack and let the satchel, with the laptop in it, slip into my lap as I sat down. I bowed my head, and reached a gloved finger to the laptop. As quickly as I could, I tapped the power button then triggered the location burst and turned if off again.
I looked up just to see someone grab my pack and start to run away with it. “Hey!” I shouted and tried to stand up. Tried mind you. My satchel got hung up on the edge of the table and I fell over my own feet as I turned to try and follow. On the floor and unable to give chase, I groaned in frustration as the thief made his way up the stairs. To make matters worse, my bowl of soup was spilled out on the floor as well. Ok, my day had jumped from bad, to ok if not semi-hopeful, then back to down right shitty. Somewhere in my head the ‘I’ve had all I can take’ circuit breaker tripped and I broke down and cried.
Sobbing and unseeing I let some one guide me to a different chair. I was clutching my satchel to my chest as if it were all I owned, well that much was true. So much for my bedroll, toilet paper, other personal supplies and the books from Bill, though if I had to choose what was the more painful loss; it was the books. I cried and people made soothing noises, sometimes ‘all’ we own in life is a lie. Lie hard and well enough and it can become the truth. Just like in the movie “The Postman.”
Eventually I calmed down and they gave me another bowl of soup, a refill later and a glass of water and I was feeling slightly better. It still wasn’t enough food but it helped. For a long time I sat there wondering why the lights had not gone out. Shock, you idiot or, I checked, yeah the bubble was sort of intact. Thinned out and bare in places but still there, score one for the good guys. I smoothed it out best as I could, I was so tired and my head still hurt in an ugly ‘there goes the world’ bad way.
Someone was calling my name. “Huh?” I looked around, no not me some other Chad. You are ‘Merry’ lock it in your head. Be Merry and get used to the fact that Chad is dead. Dr. Palm had effectively killed him; that in its self, really pissed me off. Bad enough he killed my family he had killed everything I was. Just not who I could be, that was his mistake and I was going to make him eat it. Somehow, sometime, someday. Count on it. “Revenge is mine, thus sayeth the Lord.” The Lord, I pointed out to the voice in my head, could get in line.
Father Pete would not let me leave, he said I was staying the night at the very least. I don’t think I ever want him mad at me. I have never seen a ‘Man of God’ in a biblical rage, one that seriously meant it. I have seen a zealot’s rage in my old church. Somehow the story of Father Pete throwing the man seemed more plausible. He muttered from time to time. “Stealing in the house of God, the poor man is going to go down for that one.”
He tried to get me to talk, to open up as he put it, but I just shook my head. After a time he went about closing down the kitchen and putting things to rights. I helped, I picked up the chairs, put them on tables, swept then mopped. It was something to do and I did not feel up to running any more today. My battery was on low, tank was empty, however you call it, and I wasn’t going to be doing any gymnastics tonight. Gymnastics were Joni’s game, so much for her taking the Intercity Games this year.
Finally, we went upstairs and locked the front doors. We walked by a pair of closet looking doors. “If you can’t talk to me outside of the Confessional, can you do it inside of it?” he asked softly.
I shrugged, “I am not Catholic Father.”
He chuckled, “Truth be told lass, a lot of Catholics are not either. Come on, give an old man something to do.”
I had to smile, “Ok you win.”
We went into our respective boxes and closed the doors. “First I say, ‘How are you my child?’ Then you say, ‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned’, then we talk. Easy yes?”
“Okay, I suppose.” I was doubtful.
“How are you my child? That’s your cue.” He made it seem like a game.
I took my lines from the movies and did as best as I could remember. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was to my barber about two weeks ago.”
“I knew I was in the wrong profession,” he joked through the little screen.
From there I went on to tell him everything, well most of it. I left out a few parts, mostly I covered what I thought was safe. The PALM AIs and my being a mutant boy, now a mutant hermaphrodite, fairly poured out of me. I took off my shades and waved a bared and glowing hand at him through the screen when he asked for some proof. I told him about my playing goddess in Cyberspace. He didn’t sound to keen on that, but he let me ramble on.
“Well Merry, is quite a fix you are in. I am not sure I like your friends, and you are close to being a bit as blasphemous as Satan himself, but I can tell you a few things.”
“Oh?” I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“God didn’t make you what you are with out his own reasons. I have quite a mind to go punch out your ‘old’ minister and teach him the error of his ways. I expect I will have to settle for praying for him. The Pope himself might approve of it though.” He crossed himself.
I giggled softly as my head was still pounding.
“Mind you, you need to watch your own bit of pride or it’ll catch you in your backside. I can’t say I like your Cyber-self’s attitude. You read any of the old comics?”
I nodded through the window.
“Well then I’ll spare ye the lecture on power and responsibility. Heavens above you’re taking on a big risk for a lot of people who may never know who you are. I know I may sleep better knowing you are out there. But your methods lass; you can’t fight evil with evil, but a sword in its self is not evil. Come out and humor an old man. Oh and you can relax this bubble of yours, I am guessin’ its part of why your head hurts. Besides this old church pops a fuse all the time.”
I let it go and he was right the headache faded somewhat. He led the way to a room behind the altar, with a pause to cross himself. He took a moment to show me how to do it. “You should always pay proper respects.” With that we went back into his bedroom, where he had his own separate altar. He crossed himself and he glanced at me expectantly, so I followed suit. He had a sword and a cup beside a bible on the altar as well.
“Kneel lass.” I was puzzled but did so.
He took a moment to put on his mark of office, a long purple and white length of cloth, and he dabbed his fingers into the cup, “I christen thee to be Merry Candice Powell. A good an’ Christian lass. If’en I don’t say so myself. Do you promise to serve and protect others, only occasionally back sliding as to teach Evil the proper error of its way?”
“I do.” Hey it seemed the right thing to say.
He picked up the sword, “By the Power and Authority of his Blessed Church I dub thee Merry Candice Powell, creating thee a Knight of the Church” He touched both shoulders of my shoulders with his blade. “Do try to stay in the light, lass.” His eyes twinkled and he smiled.
I blinked a few times and my world went sideways.
Saturday, October 14th, 2006
I awoke in a strange bed; this was a slightly annoying trend I had noticed lately, though it was not always the sign of good things to come. I looked around, it was Father Pete’s room. Part of my mind barked in an amused tone; not even Catholic for a day and you are in a strange mans bed. Not that I was going to distrust him, though the humor did not escape me.
My boots, gloves and shades were on a chair off to the side. My long knife was resting in my hands. Beside a pitcher and a cup sat a stack of sandwiches; a letter was also there as well. My satchel was under my head like a pillow. Good.
I devoured a large portion of the sandwiches while I deciphered his letter. Father Pete may not admit to age, but his handwriting was old-school calligraphy.
I had to go out of town for a bit, as something has come up. Typical clerical mumbo jumbo, I expect I will be bored. The things I do for my God. Sister Claire will be running the soup kitchen; Saint’s preserve us all. I told her you had a tapeworm. Sorry, as it was the only excuse I could think of, that and your eyes are ultra sensitive. She thinks you are my niece, she is a sweet old lady do not disabuse her of the notion. Your family is having a rough time with your dad drinking and all that. When things got too bad you ran here.
Don’t let her give you any weird medicines, just nod and say you are allergic, and more soup please. Her potato soup is Devine, though. You are expected to show up frequently. So you will be able to crash here, rather in one of the extra rooms on occasion. Feel free to run amok in my library it’s not all, boring biblical stuff.
I set out a school uniform for you; it should be a close fit. You should clean up well and look like any of the other rich Catholic girls that I see running around outside of school hours. You needed some extra range of movement so I took the liberty of penning a few notes to various people who owe me favors in town.
I put an official get out of school note in a handbag for you. The truant officers may not like it, but they know me at the police station so you should not get bothered, overly much. If you should want to, take a day off of saving the world and go see a show. At the worst, you may have to spend a boring day in the Saint Ignatius school library stacking books. Friar Mathews owes me for a chess wager. Be wary if ye find his chess board, as he’ll try to sucker you into a game.
Some days it is good to be ‘the’ Old Irish Priest as I have dirt on the younger ones. It should cover you once or twice, by then I should be back. Take some time to learn the Rosary, the Saints, and say a few Hail Mary’s for good measure. I left a Rosary and a few SEPTA tokens to add to your bag.
Sorry about the ring, forgive this old man for his presumptions, but it suited you. It bears the battle standard of St. Jehanne le Pacelle (That’s French dear.) and has been in my family for ages. While I have no children to pass it on to, it would do this old man proud to see you wear it. I also gave you a Saint’s medallion of hers, so you have more costume stuff.
Though it won’t hurt you to wear it all the time either lass. Fight the good fight. An’ be telling those friends of yours I’ll kick their backsides for them if they get you hurt.
(It’s Latin lass, look it up.)
Father Peter Darcy
PS. I do expect to see ye in Mass as permits Dame Merry. Do stay unscorched. I took the liberty of registering your Baptism and Confirmation in the Church records. Post dated of course. You can get copies as needed for school as I expect you will be going to school eventually. Consider it another layer for your protection. I’m having the church records sent to the Vatican for official storage so your new life Merry is going to be ‘very’ official if not fireproof. Hah.
PPS. You are as listed on medical absence for treatment of the tapeworm. You have a very rare allergy to the standard medicines so the treatment time is a few months. If you are up and about just say it is a good day; its on file at the school nurses office. Take the day off and enjoy it. A knight takes care of his weapons and your body is part of your arsenal. Save the world when you are feeling better.
I had a glass of orange juice from the pitcher, then a few more. I had a day free. Wow. Now that is a gift. I located his bathroom. In side was a huge cast iron tub. I had a theory if I could keep stuff out I can keep stuff in. I desperately wanted a hot bath. I chased about for a few moments, and drug everything into the bathroom. With a prayer I made my bubble fit my skin. I turned the water on and stuck my hand under the flow; there was a slow draining feeling so I made my bubble thicker. Finally the draining feeling tapered off to what I thought I could bear. No long showers or baths anytime soon. Crud.
Still the last real bath I recalled was the shower at John’s. Even then it was brief, if not amusing as, it wasn’t every day you could shower and fall into the arms of a cute guy. I let the tub fill and I brushed out my hair; I put a chair under the doorknob, like in the spy films and then shed my clothes. I glanced at the ring, two angels kneeling presenting a fleur-de-lis, simple gold work. I rotated it so the embossed art was under my finger, must keep it low key.
I took my large knife into the tub with me. Paranoid, well not if they are out to get you, and well they were. Whoever ‘they’ were. Clean, oh graciously clean, God thank you for Father Pete. I washed everything and got out; no sense in killing myself by accident, people wanted to do that for me. On that somber note I drained the tub and let my bubble go.
I toweled off and stretched a few times then made sure my long knife was dry. I checked all my weapons. No melting on the spike, braid and ring. Hmm, once I get a super conductive sword and add some training and watch out. The folding blade was clean and sharp. The Laptop and PDA would need a charge, but that could wait for tomorrow.
Stockings and a skirt are just another costume right? Get on with it girl. I put on the rest of the outfit, white shirt, a black tie and over it a vest. Over the left breast, with some gold thread work was the logo for St. Ignatius, I presumed. I combed, then tied my hair back; I swear it was half a foot longer. I tried on the black beret, and looked in the mirror. A very exotic, rich Catholic schoolgirl looked back. I found a pair of shoes black with brass buckle that fit; ok I could live with being an inch taller. Though I didn’t rank them well for running if I had to.
Now where to put my weapons? The folding blade could go in the top of a stocking and be hidden by the skirt. I placed the long knife back in its sheath. I doubted the police would let me carry on a belt. I tucked it in the belt of the skirt and gave it the once over. Very roguish if not entirely legal, so I took it out of the belt; for a moment I studied the scabbard. It had two holes for a cord to tie it in place on the outside of a leg or belt. Upside down the snap would keep the dagger from falling out. Cord, I needed a cord. Dressed and semi-armed I raided Father Pete’s study cubby.
I found a roll of twine that I could braid into a rope and tie it so the blade hung upside down under the skirt. No it was not exactly handy but it was workable. I returned to the bathroom mirror, I could put the ring and spike in the satchel. I draped the satchel so I could reach the ring with my right hand. The satchel was slightly scruffy looking but I could blame that on slumming around. The cell phone and PDA fit in the black purse with the wallet.
The shades would handle my neon baby blues, so cool is still ‘so cool’. Even if you are dressed like a schoolgirl, you are one dummy; get with the program. I removed the beret long enough to drape my Saints medallion around my neck. I let it hang out as I was devout but deadly. So be it. “Commando Powell reporting for duty,” I told myself when I put the shades on. I burst into a set of giggles and looked at my other clothes and boots. I was going to have to get some more clothes, a bedroll and a pack.
A trip to his bookshelves turned up a small book on saints, elementary Latin, Catechism and the story of Saint Joan of Arc. I went to his altar and crossed myself. Part of me longed to pick up his sword, but it was ‘his’ sword. Right, I know what I want for Christmas.
I exited his room and passed through the rectory into the main chapel. I noted that Sister Clair was praying so I did my best to not disturb her. I was not exactly successful. A floor break screeched when I stepped on it and she looked up “Ms. Powell I presume?” She asked.
I smiled brightly and presented myself for inspection “You must be Sister Clair.”
“Such a proper young girl you are. Have you tried Tea Tree oil and honey?” She asked.
“Yes sister, it gave me a bad case of the hives. I was itching every where.” I frowned and hung my head, “These medicines are making it difficult to do anything.”
“You are home schooling at the moment then?”
“Yes Sister, but I am falling behind. I had to borrow a few books from the Father. I am looking at retaking Elementary Latin all over again.” Some truths are easy to tell, ”Please pray for my father, Sister. Things are not going well at home.” I sniffed and let a tear drop, that was easy, things at home could not be much worse than everyone being dead.
“Father Pete had said your father was drinking again.” She waved to the cross, “I’ll light a candle for you child.”
“Bless you Sister.” Mentally I was wishing my old church was this friendly, this is your church now. You are expected at Mass remember? Chided the voice in my head.
“Dinner starts at six and runs on until we run out of soup or fixings. I expect you back by Ten or you will get to clean the Rectory tomorrow.”
I gave her a hug, “Yes Sister.” Then I stepped back and smiled shyly. “Sorry Sister.”
She smiled, “That’s ok dear, these are trying times and a hug never hurt anyone.”
I walked quietly out of the rectory and down the aisle to the open doors that faced the street. I turned and waved to the Sister and went outside. I barely remembered to cross myself at the Mother and I kissed my medallion for luck. I set myself on guard and went out into the day.
I loosened up on my bubble and let some power filter in; I checked the area for odd blobs of blue or things that seemed out of place. Now that is odd, a homeless person had all sorts of blue on him. I walked down to the bus stop and studied him from behind my shades. A closer look as I passed by. It was Bill! I turned and dug at my purse for a bill, in a loud voice I said, “Sure, here take this.” I crouched, to hand it to him. “What’s up?” I hissed.
“Information, two blocks then down the alley, gray van.” He whispered then said, “Thankee young miss, God bless.” I shut my purse and went down the road. At an easy slow walk. Grrr, heels. Ok I had to buy something dressy but that I could run in. Two blocks later and down one alley way was the gray van. I stepped up and tapped a window.
A door slid open and the electronic breeze from inside nearly set my teeth on edge. I toughened up my bubble and entered. Can you say spy van? “Cool toys.” Tammy turned and gave me the slow once over, her eyes were slightly hungry looking, very interesting. Once inside I slid the door shut.
“We have to pick up Bill a few blocks away. Procedure.” She looked me over, “Armed?” I flashed her the two blades under the skirt and she blushed. She was dressed in semi tactical clothing, deep blue coveralls and a tool belt, the coveralls were open and a gun was semi visible.
“Got food?” I asked.
“More power bars and a few Jolt Colas.” She handed me a sack, “Eat, drink.”
“And be Merry.” I finished for her. “I know, this being Merry is taking some adjustment.” The drive to pick up Bill was convoluted, but it gave me time to scarf a few power bars and a Cola.
“What happened at the soup kitchen?” she asked.
I frowned, I must have been extremely out of it to miss Bill in there or he’s much better at not drawing attention than I am. “I was too drained, tired and stupid on top of that. My backpack was stolen then I broke down somewhat. Sorry.”
“Merry quit apologizing. None of us were quite prepared for last night.” I was about to ask about that when she held up a hand to stop me. “Wait for Bill.” She pointed at the power bars. “Eat.”
Ten minutes later we picked up Bill and were moving again. He looked tired. “Kid you are doing damned good. When we get you some real training I will be so much happier.”
I waved a power bar at him. “These are getting old.”
“I heard that from Tammy. The network security techs were a bit blown away too, teach them to underestimate an attacker,” he chuckled. “I have two grand in the pool that says you can pop their fire wall again.”
Tammy interrupted, “We need you to back to the tunnel with a team tomorrow. Fully tactical, and guarded.”
“We have teams securing what we are calling ‘The Lab’. It’s not pretty and I don’t expect you will enjoy it. However, we need you to bust the decryption and security on a pair of computers we have isolated and locked down.” That was Bill.
“Ok, were you able to cut the power down to a workable level?” I did not want a repeat of last night. I eased back on my bubble, breezy but less stress for me.
“Yes and we will have a special team on call that will do nothing but get you out if we need to use that much power to run things.”
“Fine.” I waved to my current attire, “I’ll need something more suitable to wear.”
“Nice outfit, whose idea?” That was from Bill.
I explained what Father Peter Darcy had done, it took some time, but Bill didn’t seem entirely displeased.
“So your identity is going to be established at the Vatican, nice. Father Pete is a cagey old sun-of-a-gun and a bit of a romantic. So how do you feel about being a Knight of the Church?” he asked.
“It’s real?” I was trying to avoid cola up the nose syndrome.
“From what we can tell, very much so. The Vatican is poaching on my turf again, Bill,” Tammy complained. ”But we can share,” she looked at me. “As long as it doesn’t wreck things for you?”
“I am all for profit and a safer world,” I replied. “Does that compromise me?”
“Yes and no. We do share intelligence on occasion. We’ll arrange a profitable deal, for both sides.” Tammy was looking slightly lost in thought.
Bill winked at me, “Tammy will twist their tails. But we’ll all come out with more money. Once the Vatican commits to a team, that team is doubly blessed as it were. We get to skip on a lot of the more tasteless side of things, though, we will also get some of the uglier jobs.”
“Yes, one good thing with the Vatican, you can sleep better with yourself at night. If you don’t get nightmares.” Tammy interjected.
“Still want to hang with the crazy computer kid?” I asked Bill.
“It won’t be a dull ride I can imagine,” he looked around. “Things were getting too quiet.”
“You like this sort of thing?” I asked. It felt like my eyebrows must have climbed over the tops of the shades.
“When you have been doing this for a while; you either like the adrenalin rush too much or you have a personal grudge.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Personally if I am not moving at full speed facing certain death or broken bones, I am not alive.”
“Which is why you don’t get to drive. Ever,” said a voice from the front of the van. “Almost there.”
The voice was slightly familiar. “Do I know you?”
“I was your pilot. I would kiss you for saving our collective butts, though I would prefer to remain standing.” He waved a hand at the mirror and was back to driving. “They had an attack helicopter and were going feed us a missile just before you dropped them. Just call me ‘Motor’ and we’ll be cool.”
There turned out to be a nondescript warehouse on the outside. On the inside, when we drove in, it looked like a small army had camped out. I stared out the window, “Planning a party? There were enough people with initials on the back of their jackets to partially fill the alphabet. FBI, CIA, NSA, OSI, HLD, OUC12, oh yeah, US MARSHAL and ATF too.
“We had to invite the Feds. It’s messy and it is big.” Tammy didn’t look too happy at the prospect. “If any one asks your name; it is ‘Circuit Breaker’, or ‘Breaker’ for short. Don’t let them intimidate you and don’t take any cards. Bad enough the Vatican is poaching on my turf.”
She pulled a black blazer with the letters WIZKID in yellow on the backside of it ‘Breaker’ on the front left side and handed it to me. “For official gatherings, like this, we like to follow the Federal Dress Code. She rolled her eyes, “If anything it annoys them. You did you see the jacket with OUC12 on it? That is Official Unattached Civilian Twelve, now there is a man with style; we’re borrowing his joke.”
“Who does he work for?” I asked.
“Himself, though he used to work with Amelia Hartford a while back. They a bit of a falling out though the poor sot is still in love with her.” She had a wistful look on her face.
Bill grunted, “He’s a tactical wizard and a fair hand with computers himself. First name is Alex. We try to keep things simple, first names or code names only. I’ll catch up to you after a bit as I need a shower.” With that, he slid open the door and strode off.
I pulled on the jacket and zipped it up. “Ok so what’s up?”
“We have to show the Feds that waiting for you to be available for tomorrow is vital. Sorry to put you on the stage so to speak but they are very clumsy. We want a professional to break the security and encryption so we have to show that we have one. You can leave your purse and satchel in the van it will be safe.”
I looked at the light jacket; there was no way was it going to hold the spike. “We need to work on getting me some compact weapons that have a bit of range or reach. I love the spike, but it’s not the easiest to conceal.”
“We’ll work on that, although it may take a few days.” She shrugged, “Legal ones or?”
“Both, I need flexibility as I can’t exactly wear a sword and a schoolgirl’s outfit. The knives are not exactly handy though I can get to them.” We got out of the Van. “Is there a pool on this demo?”
She laughed, “Of course, I plan to clean up.”
“Good, what is it based on, time or results?” I asked.
“Results. Poor bastards won’t know what hit them.” She had a predatory smile. “They supplied the security and encrypted file. The file is called Box. It has a simple text message in it, all you have to do is extract it and display it to win.”
“What sort of stakes?” I asked.
“Well most of them will not go above a million, though if you want to put a million down on a win, some sucker will try and take you up on it.”
“Easy money.” I quoted, “Get me settled, and put a million out there in my name to win. Just let me know when the betting has stopped.”
She guided me to a small room with a recliner and a Next Terminal sitting beside it. “This has the same files and processors as your lap top. The network is this PC, a server and the target computer. Both are shielded by Faraday Cages, so there is no electrical interference. You have a two-twenty volt power outlet over there“ She pointed to a wall not far from the pc. “So you have ample power, I think. Also, the room is shielded so you won’t fry the Fed’s toys though we did warn them it was possible.”
She pointed to a light bulb. “When the red light goes on, kick their butts.” The she left and yelled. “Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.”
I dropped my bubble then rubbed my forehead to ease the slight twinge that already was growing. This bubble bit is a pain in the neck; I hope it gets easier someday. I reached out to the power line it was warm though a bit rough. Must be generators off the grid; I pondered that while allowing the power fill me up. I looked at my hand. I had a slight blue glow, not over powering just warm. I located the power switch for the PC; someone had put it on top of the tower for easy access. “Nice.”
I was almost bored when the red light went on. I slapped the power button on and then I sank back into the recliner cushions. “Show Time.” I quoted. Blue light washed over me as the PC came online. I gave it a quick scan, it was a virtual duplicate of my laptop.
I dove into it and changed my avatar; I added a sword. Hey I was a knight after all. “Enough playing around” I told myself. I looked down the network and went to the front door leading to the protected computer. I tapped it with my finger watching it bend and flex. Jeeze, NEXT’s firewall was so much sturdier. I drew my sword, hah. I am no samurai but one easy overhead chop cut right through the door.
Cute, they had a harder door behind it. After doing this three times. I was getting bored. I sheathed the sword and took my spike and hoop off my belt. I slammed the spike into the door, took a step back and focused my annoyance down the line. “/batteringRam execute.” Light flowed down my cable to the door. It pulsed three times, and then it blew that door through the next five. I coiled my spike and hoop and put them pack on the belt.
I was humming the MAME retrocade theme from Tron, when I located the file. It sat on a flat vista and was shaped as a box; on the side it was labeled: This side up. Naturally, the arrow was facing down. “Cute.” The box had a solid bluish chrome effect, with no openings. I had it lift up and spin on its entire axis looking for any discrepancy. The only oddity was the labeled side. I popped the blades out of my armguard and punched the blades into the arrow. I gave it a half twist then pulled back. Streamers of blue light were wrapped like spaghetti on the two blades.
I let the blades retract then I spent a few minutes pulling until a large knot popped out of the box. For a bit I poked and prodded it, absently I noted that I didn’t have to unravel it; I just had to get the prize out of the middle of it. Who said the History Channel wasn’t good for anything? I drew my sword and like Alexander the Great, I cut though the knot. A slip of paper fell out.
It said, “King Darius took to flight and the entire Persian army disintegrated.” How fitting I thought. I sent the text of the file to the screen and I went out.
I could hear some people cheering as I slapped the computer off. I spent a moment collecting myself and then took a moment to spin my bubble up and around me, dimming the power lines. Food, food sounded like such a good thing. They had better have something better than power bars or I was going to mutiny. “Arrr matey ahoy!” Me pirate. I arose from the recliner and walked out.
Outside of the room I was greeted by some frowns, a few slack jaws and a row of geeks dressed in NEXT t-shirts doing the wave and shouting “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” I gave them all a dazzling smile and blew a kiss to my fan club. Alex was giving me a thoughtful look. He had classical Roman good looks, brown almost bronze hair, nicely tanned and seemed to be larger than life in some way. I filed him away as probably attached, but hey, he had a nice body.
I announced, “Hope you enjoyed the show, I would like real food now.” The geek squad formed up and led me to a large buffet, for the next half hour all I had to do was point and they would fill my plate. After a time my hunger slacked off and I became aware of Alex standing not too far from the table.
“May I sit?” He was looking amused.
“Sure, plenty of food, if you have not noticed.” I toyed with a few scraps of bread.
“I am impressed,” he commented. “It took me three days to write that encryption routine a while back and you broke it in less than a minute.” He looked bemused.
“I was a bit surprised by the multiple security fire wall bit,” I admitted.
“Not my work, though I was surprised that they didn’t do better.” He looked at the buffet thoughtfully, and had one of the geek squad members fill a plate for him. “So where did you learn how to do that; any special school?”
“Nope it’s all natural talent, plus some hard work a while back.” My headache was back in force; I eased back on the bubble, they were warned that things could go pop.
“I’ll bet. I am thinking I will be a bit redundant tomorrow.” He studied me. “How old may I ask?”
“Fifteen.” I took a sip of the cola, it was diet. Yuck.
“If you need a job?” he offered.
“Ha,” I held up a hand. “Please no, Tammy is very annoyed by poachers as it is.”
“Darn.” Though he smiled. “Well I had to try. It’s not every day you find someone so gifted.”
“That’s me, Ms. Popularity. It does have its down side though.” I could see Tammy arguing with a crowd of men in suits.
“So what are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“Well originally I had some shopping planned. You can never have too many clothes.” I waved a hand at the gaggle of people that were encircling Tammy like a pack of hungry sharks. “Though I am betting folks may want to try and move faster,” I frowned. “I was supposed to be resting.”
“I know how that goes,” he offered by way of consolation.
“So you are going to be my computer back up?” I asked.
“Yes, I get to wade through everything you unlock,” he looked happy and concerned at the prospect. “You remind me of a friend, she has a way with computers as well.”
“Well perhaps I’ll get a chance to meet her some day,” I took another sip of the soda and debated on desert, something with lots of calories.
“Perhaps, all of us heavy duty computer people tend to move in the same circles.” He smiled, “Sometimes its nice.”
I tipped my glass towards him, “I can imagine.”
“Are you in school at the moment?”
“Nope, I am doing some home schooling while things even out. Latin is going to be a repeat though.” I sighed and toyed with my medallion.
“Ah a Catholic school.” He smiled.
Looks like a duck, talks like a duck, it’s a Catholic schoolgirl. “Yes, though I am dealing with a medical problem at the moment.”
He looked concerned, “Is it going to cause a problem?”
I shook my head, “No, its more embarrassing than anything.” That’s for certain.
“Ah, do you always wear sunglasses?” He asked.
“Yeah, my medicines make me a bit photosensitive, they keep me from having a real headache by wearing them.”
“Sounds like me after a few days of heavy duty programming.” He worked through some of his meal while I chose a slice of devils food cake.
Tammy came and joined us at the table. She was, and yet was not smiling. “Well I cleaned up on the office pool, Breaker.”
“Oh?” I raised a brow.
“Evidently your display motivated the tech boys, so now we know. We can expect it to be cracked in the next few days. If it’s not been already.” She smiled. “I did make a bundle.”
“What, if I may ask?” asked Alex.
“Um.” I looked over at Tammy.
“We lost an operative who was an exceptional programmer. He left us a legacy of sorts, though it was heavily encoded and encrypted. Unfortunately, it seems that Dr. Palm, is as not as dead as we could hope.” She watched his expression for a moment. He was pale.
“We saw his body, the autopsy,” he shook his head.
“A few days before he was found dead, our agent had successfully neutralized a PALM AI attack on a Chinese weapons research laboratory. With luck some of his tools may prove useful, unfortunately they may have been compromised. Breaker here was his protégé of sorts; so we hope she can provide us with additional clues.” Tammy took a sip of water.
It felt rather odd to listen to your dead ’self’ discussed at the lunch table; heck I even missed my own funeral. I shivered and leaned back in my chair to think.
“One exciting thing was that he had managed to recover a large portion of a PALM AI. So we have our teams on that as we speak.” She seemed very happy about that.
“He must have been something exceptional indeed,” he looked at me, “You were very fortunate to have such a teacher.” He looked back to Tammy; “I am willing to waive my usual fees, if as you say he is still alive somehow.”
“Oh he’s alive in one fashion or another.” I must have sounded bitter as I gave a sigh and pushed my half eaten cake away.
“You sound very certain, young lady,” he sounded slightly dubious.
I glanced over to Tammy; she shook her head ever so slightly. So I shrugged. “Where there is smoke, there is fire.”
“There is something you are not saying,” he studied me. “You are tense and slightly angry at not being believed.” He inhaled then exhaled slowly, glancing about the room. “Interesting,” he commented half aloud. “Everyone who is not focused on outside security is focused on her,” he looked over at Tammy.
She laughed, “A very astute observation.”
“She’s either very dangerous or very important,” he looked at me. “You know Dr. Palm is alive, or someone like him is.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Damn.” He looked at Tammy, “How can you risk losing her to all these Federal types? I am sure they would love to keep her under their collective thumbs.”
I frowned at that; part of me was slightly fatalistic in that I was sure my ‘normal’ life was over. Playing exclusively by the rules did not sit well with me. Seriously, if I ever wanted to be a mere corporate drone; there was always Microsoft.
“Not by choice, we had an internal security matter that we are not entirely sure is completely closed.” That was Bill as he joined the table. “You never truly appreciate a shower until you have missed one a few days.”
“They are working on a place for me,” I explained. “Besides I would rather be useful than trapped someplace with limited options.”
“You got the news kid?” Bill directed at me.
“Yep. The exact time he’ll break it is questionable.” I shrugged. “The biggest problem may be some of the computer intrusion stuff. That and the encryption source files.”
Tammy looked at me. “You sure?”
I closed my eyes and tried to remember what files and commands I was using that night. “We may have to give part of it to the Feds too; though only if ‘absolutely’ necessary. I am fairly sure we don’t want the Feds traipsing willy-nilly through every system they wander across.” There were a few murmurs of assent around the table.
I rubbed my eyes, “Look for a folder called Door Breaker especially if there is a log file that is inside of it. If he used it on The PALM AIs, the log file should tell where the last node the Trace Route stopped at.” A yawn leaked out from behind my hand as I tried to cover it.
Bill looked at me, “You sound tired.”
“I was going to take the day off. Then we had today’s little show,” I sighed. “A nap would help.” So much for my shopping spree; I shook my head, “If someone calls my ‘Sister’, we can probably go in tonight. I can tough it out if need be.”
“The Feds are a bit antsy about things,” he studied me. “You sure kid? It would help.”
“As long as folks can get me out if things go to hell. I will need a change of clothing though.” I looked at Tammy, “I will also need a faster terminal just in case and some monitors.”
“Visual or medical?” She looked a bit worried.
I smiled, “Both, I may want some advice while I am in,” I grinned at Alex. “Besides he might want to see the show.”
The only thing better than four hours of sleep is eight, sadly only I got four hours and a solid meal. The solid meal did help; that and several cans of cola. The Feds were delighted that we were going in a day earlier, Bill on the other hand, was a bit close mouthed about it.
I got my own nifty blue jumpsuit, a pair of insulated gloves and boots. For some reason my wearing knives had weirded the Feds out. Though I did have my spike, under the freaking jumpsuit. I was not even allowed to carry my own satchel. I did keep my shades on; I was going to have to have words with Tammy, any future relations with the Feds was going to have to include my being armed. Damn it I was a Knight and not a sword in sight.
Call me odd, but being without my knives made me feel naked. What do you call an unarmed Knight? Ok, so I was not exactly unarmed. I had a marginally, ok mostly-uncontrolled, power tied to electricity. Which was only helpful if I could touch my enemies; I was highly doubtful I could get them to stand in a puddle of water for me.
Alex regarded me with some amusement, so I walked over to him. “This bites, how did you get the Feds to allow you to carry a weapon?”
“So that’s why you are so wound up?” he asked.
“Mostly, it feels so strange that I don’t have any easy to get at weapons. It’s bad enough that I have a sign floating over my head that says ‘Free Lunch’. But I also have to trust folks I don’t know to ensure I am safe. Does that sound odd?”
He laughed, “Nope sounds like you are perfectly sane.” He shrugged, “I doubt you will ever feel comfortable without a weapon handy though.” He shook his head “If it’s any consolation all these macho Federal Types will go nuts trying to make sure if something happens you will be safe.”
“Lovely, did they learn anything from the files?” I was curious.
“Well your teacher was very methodical and very careful with his identity, almost obsessively so. Very complex, very compact code. The Door Breaker intrusion code files are a mean piece of work, I am not sure that I would want very many people to have it. The tech people are drooling all over themselves,“ he laughed. “Though the other group is not very happy.”
“The other group?” I prompted.
He frowned, “They are going through the trace route and the AI samples. I didn’t believe it myself but the time stamps and such confirm that it was alive as of less than two weeks ago. So either he’s not as dead as I’d like, or someone is using his work.”
“Either way it is major bad news. So what is the hold up on going to this lab?”
“Some big shot Fed is on his way. He is one of those unhappy people. Secretary of Computer Security or some such nonsense it must be his election year.” Alex did not sound happy.
“Ok, I’ll go find some way to kill time. I am sure people will know where to find me.”
“Yeah, I am sure they will. Rest while you can.”
I nodded and made my way to ‘our’ van. As I slid open the door, the sounds of classical music that were playing over the van’s speakers fell out. Motor looked back over his shoulder, “Need anything?”
“Just getting some reading material, we are waiting on some big wig Federal type.” I located the thin book on the rosary and the prayers involved. I spent some time listening to the music and reading the book. I dug out my rosary and smelled it; yes it smelled like real roses. Fortunately the litany of prayers was translated into English as well as Latin or I would be in serious trouble. I blinked in bewilderment, as I had never expected that the Rosary was so complicated, this was going to take some work.
I fumbled my way through it a few times; luckily memorization was always one of my strong points. By the fourth time around, it was fairly locked in place. Though I was going to have to spend time remembering how many at what place and what prayers went with what day. I figured it would be a good way to kill time and it was somewhat calming. In some places they actually consider the Rosary a sword; for some reason that felt ‘right’.
I dove back into my studies just in time to see a pair of lights wash the van. They knew where to find me when the time was right so I sat back with my eyes shut and listened to the music for a long time. Motor was playing some sort of racing game on his Gameboy, the slight screeching sounds in counterpoint to the clicks of his driving. Eventually; Bill tapped on a window and motioned for me to get out. I put my gloves on, though I wrapped my rosary around my left wrist as a decoration.
Bill escorted me though a row of chairs to where a table was set up conference style. We joined Tammy at one end of the table; I smiled at the various place markers. We were listed as ‘Tech Support’, I suppose the Feds wanted to cover up what we really were or add a layer of plausible deniability to the event. Once seated, we waited for the chief idiot to show up; I could see that meetings like this were going to be the bane of my existence.
When he arrived, I could tell by the glare he gave me, that we were never going to be buddies or pals. Fine with me, as the various knots of people stood up so he could sit down. I remained sitting, so there were no brownie points for me. Besides, I had already done my dog and pony show once today all ready. Official note to self: any work we do explicitly for this blow hard we charge double.
The saving grace about sunglasses is that they conceal a lot of expressions. The odd thing how was I supposed to effectively roll my eyes at someone? Considering I lacked a visible pupil or whites for that matter. After a time, I pondered getting up for a snack. Unfortunately, sitting idly by has never been one of my strong points. That changed when I started to take in some of what he was saying. Drone, drone, God Damn, drone, drone. After the about the sixth time I stood up, I was very annoyed. He looked at me and asked his most stupid question of the day.
“What the God Damned hell is a kid doing here?”
I slid my chair back and walked very slowly to the head of the table where he was sitting. Where he asked the same exact question, again. At which time I slapped him with a gloved hand, hard.
“That was for Blasphemy.” I calmly stated to him as my handprint started to glow red on his face.
As he sat in shock, or in awe of my shear audacity, I pulled him to me face to face, by his tie. “I am here because I am needed, you on the other hand, are not needed here.” I pushed him back into his chair. “Take note Tammy, any further dealings with this man, will be at double or triple what my standard fee is.” I looked at the various knots of the group. “Anyone else have a problem with my being here?”
A vast silence settled on the room. The Senator was about to stand up and say something when it looked like he was kicked under the table from two different sides. I studied the acre of people at the table; everyone but Alex, Bill and Tammy looked worried. Those three looked like there was a round of cats missing their cream.
“Good,” I addressed the man at the head of the table. “Quit trying to assess blame and get on with fixing things. Or I am sure your boss will be getting lots of interesting memos.” I rested my left hand on the table in front of him, my rosary rattling loudly on the tabletop. “Remember this is an election year. Choose wisely.”
I walked back to my chair and sat down. “Now where were we?” I smiled at everyone at the table. It was not my “let’s be friends” smile. It was my, “I’ll tear you a new one if you annoy me” smile.
Tammy had scribbled me a note. “I think you have their attention.”
I borrowed her pen and wrote back. “Well you did say not to take any crap from anyone.”
There was a whispered conference at the Sectary’s end of the table, where the senator turned even whiter. I thought the scarlet handprint made a lovely counterpoint to the paleness of his flesh.
Bill stole the pen and jotted a quick note. “You are not cut out for a role in politics, other than hard ball.” He drew a happy face.
Alex blew me a kiss. Though he definitely was thinking hard. Finally he held up a small card, “How many digits?”
Tammy held up her own small card. “Lots.” She turned a predatory gaze on the various agency leaders. They looked very uncomfortable under that gaze.
While I don’t think Father Pete will have any penance for my slapping the Secretary or any politician for that matter. He might have a few words with me over enjoying the rush of power I had when I did it. Oh well, “Hail Mary…”
Sunday, October 15th, 2006. 0:01 am
In politics, it is important to note, if you want things done slowly do it by committee. If you want it done fast, send in the Marines or Army. If you just plain want it done, you hired professionals. If you wanted the professionals to move faster, you got a fifteen-year-old girl to tell them how much her fee was going to jump if they kept screwing around.
Of course the girl in question had to worry about developing an ego the size of a planet. That and she was still not sure she was a she or a he for that matter. Then there is the freaky weird mutant powers bit that might kill her or not. You add one dash of evil megalomaniac out for her destruction, add a dash of Knightly Mysticism, one part heavy survival instinct, and you get. Me.
I did make a point to mention my time in the sewer to my new friends, who told a few of their friends, and so on. Which is why no one was walking on the left side of the tunnel. Well almost no one, just a ‘someone’. One more thing to atone for. Darn. Karma, sure, my dogma ran off with your car, ma.
By now I was as close to being the darling of the intelligence community as a girl could get. If I had known I could have had that effect, I would have been slapping politicians a long time ago. All I had to do was whisper the word ‘Blasphemy’ to get a smile.
There is a theory on why Earth isn’t invaded by aliens at the drop of the hat: all those Anime television shows with schoolgirls having super powers. Think about it, would you want to come to a world where they show training videos to their children on how to defeat space monsters by using magical or mystical scary powers? That and all those Godzilla movies.
Where am I going with this? Well it is one way to keep your mind off the fact that you are miles underground and off to undo nefarious things that have been done. Yep I was that bored. Part of me was concerned that I was getting used to the dangerous aspects of my current lifestyle. Admittedly it is very nice to be treated with respect rather than distain for a change.
After the three-story tall ladder, I had a few more converts. The first time around, I had done it with a full backpack, a satchel and nowhere enough food; me, all one hundred and some odd pounds of me. ‘That’ simple climb had impressed people, though I didn’t get it. Climbing down the ladder was simply just something that I did; because I had nowhere else to go at the time.
They say life is a pass or fail course, stop living and you fail. Thus far I was getting straight “A’s”.
As such, Tammy had a stack of cards from all the various Agencies that was about an inch to two inches thick. It was rather flattering, though my ever so carefully planned anonymity was in tatters. I took pride in the fact that I had never been caught hacking as Chad, and that even with the folks looking over my work, no own knew it was Chad or me for that matter. Eventually I was going to have to ‘play ball’ with the Feds if only to have some sort of life.
Though I supposed that I could just electronically disappear. Unfortunately living an underground lifestyle hiding from everyone didn’t sound like any fun. One of these days I plan to grieve for my loss of freedom; ok I am getting moribund. A sewer will do that to you even if it has been illuminated, scoured by all sorts of security peoples and deemed perfectly safe.
The new part of the journey was away from the subway. We could not use the subway yet; though I am not sure what the SEPTA people will do when a few hundred Federal people swarm out. Personally I plan on getting a burger or four. Though I may have to pass on that; the whole maintain your ‘cover’ thing. I am not sure how the Feds will react if they figure out the Vatican beat them to the punch.
Profit, a safer world and peace of mind, well mostly.
One wall of the cavern was lined with body bags, filled ones, it looked like about one hundred. I crossed myself and kissed my Saint’s medallion. “God have mercy. Amen.”
The echoes of “Amen.” chased off the feeling of despair that was building in me. Right. Whoever did this was going to pay. With luck, whatever was in the computers that were waiting on me would give the Feds enough ammunition to put the killer or killers away.
Bill didn’t look too happy, “I was hoping they would have completed that part of the clean up. You didn’t need to see it.”
“We don’t always get what we want, just what we need.” I pointed back to the Senator, “Do you think he will forget that?”
“No,” he answered.
“Then maybe some good will come of it. Come on. Show me where to work my magic,” I put a faint smile on. “I want to nail who did this.”
“You’re in good company kid. I think everyone who has been down here is of the same mind.” That was Alex.
Bill lead the way to an entryway that was, for a lack of a better word, encrusted with cables and wiring harnesses. I took a moment to study them, T1, T3, fiber optic, LAN and a host of power lines. I counted my blessings that the power had been cut and the Internet was ‘down’, down here.
From just using my eyes and looking the only thing ‘up’ was some parts of a LAN. “Do we have people tracing the LAN?”
“No, why?” he asked.
I watched the pulse of the wires, “If the only thing live are two computers there is an awful lot of network activity going on.”
“You can tell just by looking?” Alex asked watching me closely.
I raised my shades and looked him. “I am not just another pretty face.”
It took a minute for him to catch on then he smiled. “You are in the wrong field, with a delivery like that you should be a movie star.”
“Just wait for the encore,” I pulled my bubble in tighter and walked into the blue filled room. ”It gets better.”
The tech team had been busy while we waited for the Secretary to get things figured out. I was just thankful for my nap. A set of medical techs guided me to a futon and started to attach sensors, a nurse hooked up my EKG, while another medical technician put clear gook and wires into my hair pressing them in slightly to make contact with my scalp. I was beginning to feel like the Bride of Frankenstein.
I looked over to Alex where he was sitting down and firing up a massive NEXT workstation. “Only the best for this team,” was his comment.
I lay back and a tech handed me a blockier form of my laptop. “You can scale down or speed up the four micro processors as needed, we will be monitoring your health, it things are reading too off of normal, we pop you out.” He looked happy.
“Are the Door Breaker and other files on board?” I was looking forward to consciously using them.
“Yes, everything is awaiting your command.” He was grinning like a loon.
“Get some good data.” I looked over to Alex, “Cross your fingers.”
I let my bubble pop and I pushed the button.
The transition was a bit smoother for a change; I could get to like this. I checked the file system and then the processors, speeding them up and down. Yep, I had a turbo charger; I let things run at fifty percent while I set up my links to Alex and established my avatar. I bet he was going to be surprised when I dropped in on his desktop. Did they set up a cam and sound? I looked in his computer where I found the camera feed; everyone was frozen and unmoving.
Just because you are moving a thousand times faster than most people ever do, and then some, everyone else is stuck real time. It had some uses; I was able to set up his computer for talking, work on my income tax and solve a few unsolvable problems. Ok I didn’t do taxes, because I don’t have to pay them yet; being a minor does have its advantages. As for the problems, I didn’t have them yet. Ok, I didn’t have more problems.
I took some time to run diagnostics; I also pinged the two computers we would be searching. Then I studied the amount of data going back and forth between them. It had the same feel as a hamster in a Habit Trail being watched by an eager cat. I sped things up and watched it for a while; yes something was going back and forth: a large amount of data, identical in each pass, going back and forth from server to server. I brought up the AI code samples from my first surprise encounter with the PALM AI while using my gifts. Match, pause, match.
I exited and spoke. “Well folks, we got a problem, of sorts.”
Alex and Bill spoke at the same time, “What?”
“If I break the door we might have something come through, and it’s not friendly.”
“What did you find?” asked Alex.
“Anyone ever capture a live Palm?” I looked around and announced, “I need a cola.” My throat was very dry; I guess I was that nervous.
“The best we ever did was to stop the infected systems and retrieve parts of the code.” He sat back, “You have a plan?”
A tech located a can and straw for me so I could stay reclining. I sipped some of the cola. “Sorta, can we stop its clock?”
“Well it’s running back and forth between the two systems. It will either be stuck on one, the other or in the middle. If we trap it in the no-clock system, it’s frozen in time. If it’s in between complete movement, it is decapitated and we can look at both ends, either way we have a completely inert Palm for our dissection. Worst case it is still awake and trapped in the active clock server.”
“Which we can stall out and dissect, too.” He shook his head, “Where were you when we were first doing this?”
“First or second grade.” Getting beat up by the various bullies, said the annoyed voice in my head. “I can rest here, if you can find us a hardware guru it’s probably our best shot for a while.”
“Ut oh, brace yourself we got company.” That was Bill.
About that time I could hear the Senator in mid-rant. I hastily put my bubble back up. I did not want to blow all the hardware.
“… And another thing.” He paused. “Why is she laying down, and why the Fuck is she glowing?
I discovered another use for the Rosary; it made me stop from jumping up and doing something very rash. So I lay there and went through the prayers; no, not all as there are some hundred and three of them. I only had time for just a few, though I finally seemed to have the prayers down.
Not taking the silence from everyone as an answer, he reached down and grabbed my hand, big mistake. Never ever grab someone that is glowing, it tends to make you fall on your face. I laughed and looked over to Bill, “I am amazed you waited for something to happen Bill.”
“Hey kid, I didn’t want to. I figured you had something up your sleeve, again.“ He walked over and checked the Senator’s pulse. “He’s awake, by the way.”
I rolled to one side trying not to dislodge any wires. “Good. Senator, you are so fired. Right now you are looking at battery of a minor, some major lawsuits and a swift trip to jail; if you are lucky. I have a roomful of witness’s who will be more than happy to testify against you. Then if you are Catholic, I expect you will be excommunicated.” Ok, so I was bluffing a tad on the excommunication bit. “I hear the Papacy is really down on child abuse.”
I rolled back, “Alex, Bill, can you find some one to remove this piece of trash from the room?”
“I think I can find some one who would to love take it out.” Alex chuckled savagely. I had the feeling he and the Senator had crossed swords at one time.
“Good, please make it so and please find that hardware jockey. I would so like to sleep in a real bed tonight.” I made myself comfortable on the futon while he went to round someone up.
While the Senator was cuffed, arrested and drug out by semi-murderous looking Federal Marshals, I lay there and did my best to look like your typical innocent Catholic schoolgirl. It was tricky, as I didn’t have the skirt on. The glow only slightly threw the Marshals, but since I was hooked up every which way but loose it was fairly obvious that I didn’t jump up and punch the Senator. It also helped that I didn’t say or do anything except pray when he came in; and people think that prayer isn’t good for you.
I wasn’t a big fan of the current President, but I know he did not want an outraged mob of Catholics on his case. He had enough troubles cleaning up after the Storm so to speak. Hopefully; at minimum, the Senator was going to be out of his job. Kiss one element of government stupidity goodbye, I hope they put him in a cell next to McKitrik. He would appreciate the irony in that.
Things drug on long enough that I was forced to use the port-a-john. Not recommended if you are all wired up and in coveralls. Use your imagination; the reality is just as annoying or amusing depending on where you are sitting. Various people of authority looked very angry and a bit happy to have a target to vent it upon. I am not sure I want to mention it to Father Pete. He’d either strangle the Senator personally or find out if he was Catholic and really do something very drastic.
I did my best to doze while the techs ran around and did their thing. It gave the medical techs a chance to work over data; make adjustments and feel useful. I think I was checked on by everyone of note or thought they were of note. There was a bit of shouting that I wasn’t exactly present for. It seems the Official Secrets Act was being invoked concerning whom I was, and what I could do, not to mention all the very secret stuff in the room where I was resting.
Bill was not exactly amused when someone came in and officially Federalized us. I got to practice my new signature a few dozen times. They were a bit miffed to find out that I was a runaway and that my parents were scum, then again I found it odd too, oh well. In the end they said I was going to end up with a new guardian or something. Ok, I think the Karma may have found me. Who am I? What clothes am I wearing? What name am I using? This is so annoying. If you see me, let me know.
The technician was summoned. He had a nametag labeled ‘Aladdin’. He was about two fifty give or take, and had an infectious smile. Disheveled black wavy hair and a pair of John Lennon glasses, not to mention every tool unknown to man in his tool belt. “I hear you have a genie you want trapped in a bottle?”
“Nice, very nice, can we keep him?” I commented from the futon.
“Not likely, he’s got a gift with computers, hardware wise. About like your software skills.” Alex was laughing as he pointed to the various computers.
I blinked, “Nice to meet you, I’m Breaker.”
He offered me a hand.
“You don’t want to do that,” warned Bill.
“Oh?” he asked.
“Yep she has an electric touch. Lookee, but no touchee.” It seemed that Bill was amused by something.
Aladdin pulled out a tool and waved it over me, “Ouch, I can see that. She’s got about three hundred volts in some sort of ambient field. Energizer of some sort?”
“Yes, and the diet to go with it,” I sighed loudly.
He laughed, “At least you don’t have to worry about putting on extra pounds like I do. Enjoy it kid; there are worse things to deal with than eating immense meals. I have a few friends, well never mind, lets just say they make your problem look slight.” He produced another tool and looked at the two computers, “My, my, very busy aren’t they.”
“Pick one and put the brakes on it maestro. You can’t make a mistake other than killing the power keeping the memory fresh,” Alex smiled as he sat back down.
“Oho an easy task, for a change.” He cracked his knuckles; it sounded like something like that should inspire screams of pain. “Usually they call me in to fix something unfixable.”
“My sympathies;” I offered. “So far I have been doing a lot of breaking. Not much fixing.” Well aside from some bets, part of me commented.
“That happens, don’t let it get you down. If I had a dollar for every gadget and gizmo that went poof because I made a mistake.” He lifted a cover off. “Well I wouldn’t be rich, but I would not be poor either.”
“I do hope you are getting paid for this excursion into the pits of hell.” I waved a hand to my environment.
He laughed, “I don’t climb down that big of a ladder without a hefty pay check. Trust me,” he smiled wickedly, “It sure beats TPS reports.”
That got a laugh from everyone, even the Feds guarding the door. The atmosphere had lightened; either that or I was getting punch drunk. It was way past my bedtime, how nice.
“Ok, I got a switch installed that will take out the clock and leave the system powered up. Say when,” commented Aladdin with his hand in the computer.
“When.” That was Bill; drat he beat me to the punch.
“Well it’s not burning up, so I guess it worked.”
“Ok, let’s take a peek.” I tapped the laptop power switch and dropped the bubble. Yes I was planning on keeping this laptop.
The doorway was pitch black and dark, odd but not bad. I took the time study the frozen aspect of the security firewall. I had plenty of time to study the security, so I did. When you are moving at my speed, you have time to do lots of things. Mainly I was looking to avoid any big surprises if I had to try door number two. Fairly fancy security even if it was about two years out of date, though if you have a fifty pound dog on the other side of a screen door, most of the time you are safe from robbers.
Knocking the door down was anticlimactic, as we had missed the monster. I spent what felt like a week crawling through every aspect of the file structure and the kernel of the operating system. What good would it do me, I was not sure, yet, but if the systems were similar I would have the advantage. With luck; I would have a definite lack of rude surprises. I was not happy with some of the data in the file system, it took me a bit to figure out they were medical imaging files, very sick images at that.
I exited, “Well we missed it, but we are ahead. I pushed a command at the laptop, sending a file to the terminals Alex was at. “These are the encryption codes and the Rosetta stone as it were for the files on the ‘timed-out’ server. If you need it. The server is full of medical imaging files and other medical data.” I rose up on my elbow looking at Alex and Bill. “Someone has been playing ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ down here,” I had a good idea what was in the body bags now, photographed, digitized and filed. Yuck.
“I’m not much into biology, but someone was making the frog hop, but it wasn’t a frog they were working on.” I took a breath and eased back down to talk at the ceiling. “One of the files is listed as: Galvanic Muscle Response and Neural Interface. You better dig up a lot of smart coroners, I don’t think you want the public to even get a whisper of this.” I was feeling very cold and it was not due to the fact we were in a sewer.
Bill looked around, “Ok what is she talking about?”
Aladdin was slightly faster on the uptake. “We always talk about getting into the Net, in science fiction. It sounds like she is trying to say the Net is trying to come to us.”
Give the man a cookie, or a dozen. “You can power down the timed out server, we can take it apart and go over it now at our leisure.”
“But, this is impossible.” I noted that Alex was sweating slightly; I guess he figured it out.
I was more than slightly tired. “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, craps like a duck, possibly it is an automaton.” I took a breath, “We won’t know till we find one for certain, but automata were the first steps in robotics. Mechanical wind up toys, then card driven looms, then auto assembly plants all the way up to the Mars Rovers.”
“Remote control humans, or if you want a mundane explanation; the dogs the tics ride on.” Alex picked up where I stopped. “Robert Anson Heinlein ‘The Puppet Masters,’ aliens drop down to earth, hijack the humans and spread all over the planet.”
“Only this time the aliens are sitting in the computer. AI.” I looked over to where one of the techs was sitting. “Find out how many of the corpses were open cranial fatalities.” She looked pale. “No, not personally,” I hastily added. “Just ask someone for hard data.” Even I didn’t want to look at dead bodies; the pictures were bad enough.
“Pull the hard drive and set it up for Alex to play with; I am sure folks will want an adult’s take on things. Then get lots of back up media set up for the big catch of the day.”
“Kid,” he stopped. “I get the point.” He looked down at his feet. “You sound and act lot older than you are.” Bill sounded annoyed.
“I’m accepted because I am a highly talented super geek. I have a trick no one else can do; while it has its advantages the down side is that until I get past twenty folks will only see me as a ‘way-too-bright’ schoolgirl.” I gave everyone a grin, “In the mean time I plan to use my cuteness as a weapon.”
“God help us all, we have created a monster.” Bill laughed.
“Hey at least I am not trying to take over the world, I just want the stock options on it.” I waved a hand in the air, “Taking over the world is too much like work.”
Alex snorted, “Yeah and everyone wants to take it away from you once you conquer it.”
I spent sometime working through the rosary, letting the boys talk shop and talk with other people, while they were setting up stage two. I was one of the boys, wasn’t I? I rubbed my eyes, wet, wonderful. Please God, do not let me blow it. I must be getting better at talking to the voices in my head, or I was going crazy. Going crazier, I amended.
“When did I last eat? Any idea?” I asked aloud.
“About six hours ago maybe longer, time flies when you are having fun. Energizers and food, right. You can’t skip meals like some of us can.” Bill pointed at one of the idle medical techs. “One high calorie meal for her please, we don’t want things to go pop if she is too hungry or weak to function clearly.”
I had amused myself by playing cat’s cradle with the rosary while waiting for my meal. A tech handed me a thick brown plastic envelope, I looked at him, “Ok, what is this thing?”
Bill spoke up, “That is an MRE, also known as a Meal Ready Edible.”
“Or depending on who is handing them out, Meal Rarely Edible.” That was from Alex who was working through a six-pack of Jolt Cola. “If it is Barbecue Beef, hand it back. Trust me, it is one meal they should have never tried.”
I looked at the label, it said that it was a Ham Slice, ok guessed that I was safe. I struggled for a moment to open the darned thing; I really missed my knives. A thought occurred to me, “Hey Bill since we’ve been federalized, does that mean I can carry my knives?”
He shook his head, “Mmm-Breaker, maybe a gun and some odd ID cards not to mention enough hardware and toys to make a some people very uncomfortable.” He chuckled, “Never saw that one coming.” He looked thoughtful. “Looks like we’ll have about three sources of income, this quasi-legitimate status is looking better and better.”
Alex looked up from his personal quest of data. “Not to mention possibly being authorized for deadly force. Expect headaches in that department, a lot of people will not believe it until someone shows up and rams it down their throat.“ He took a sip from his can. “You’ll likely be better guarded than the President whenever you travel outside of secured facilities. That may make your love life a bit complicated.”
I sputtered into my own can of soda, love life. Erg. I bit into the Ham Slice; amazingly even cold it was fairly good. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of my abrupt change from Chad to Merry. I had not even had a girlfriend much less any real friends. This is going to take some figuring out; sooner or later I suppose I would have to figure out where I stood on the whole dating thing. Inwardly I shook my head, and then there was S-E-X. I doubt Sex Ed would cover what I was if I could even touch someone without knocking them down and out.
My parent’s version of ‘the talk’ had been to hand me a thick book entitled, “The Joy of Sex.” No pictures just text then they more or less said I wasn’t getting any. ‘Aye car-rum-ba’, talk about a sadistic act; Tab A, goes into Slot B, C, or even D. Do not play with any of the tabs or slots. I had been a boy so figuring out what Tab A was and how to play with it was very quickly a priority. If you had this Tab and didn’t know it was good for something, you were more in the dark than I was. Slot B could wait for a while.
Bill broke in on my musings. “Oh yeah, your college curriculum is going to be odd to say the least. You get the dubious joy of learning all those laws, legalities, criminal behavior and so forth. All those Federal types are ed-u-mak-kated, you will likely get to add in counter terrorism, operations and other fun subjects.”
Alex added, “I think a change of schools will definitely be in order as somehow I doubt a catholic school is going to meet your special needs.” He looked over at Bill, “Had your group thought about ‘Whateley?’”
“It was brought up a few times, we were more worried about cleaning house and keeping her safe at the time. Though safe is a relative term as you know.” He rubbed his neck, “We have a few people who swear by the place or swear at it.” He grunted and rubbed his eyes. “We can’t exactly keep her on the streets all the time, no matter how many watchers we get.”
“Or how badly we may need her there: one of the test subjects seems to have survived,” Alex was looking upset. “This face seems to be slightly familiar to me, for some reason, so I expect the folks will have to run it by all their most wanted databases.” He turned a monitor to where I could see the face. “If you see this person, run like hell or plan on killing it. Preferably not a headshot but don’t let that stop you if you have to make a choice. I better drag in a few folks and get printouts made so they can start looking.”
He got up and left the room, I looked over at Bill; he was looking at the image. “I am getting you a gun and some body armor lined up, this is getting down right spooky.”
“I thought you said you were getting bored,” I opined lightly.
“Boredom is one thing; I have seen one too many Terminator movies to like the idea of a flesh covered robot.” He waved at the monitor, “Meet public enemy number one. I have a feeling he’ll make the top of the hit parade.” He walked to the door. “I have got to make a few calls.”
I looked at Aladdin who was not looking too happy. “Know anything about this Whateley place?”
“Yep, very exclusive, it will make your expensive Catholic school look tame. Though it is one of the best places in the world to learn stuff not taught in normal schools.” He smiled, “Of course I think you’ll be learning stuff not taught in regular schools for a very long time.”
I thought about the meditation and powers book I had lost. “So Whateley Press is not a fictitious book company?”
“Hardly, though they do not exactly have wide distribution so don’t expect to see them on many bookshelves,” he laughed. “You might find them in New Age shops, or listed under that heading. Most folks will pick up a book from them and wonder what the blazes the author was on.”
“No kidding,” Bill had given me a book on meditation and powers. “I have to think you are right about the substance abuse part.” And then some, my inner voice added. I was going to have to do some very strange shopping eventually.
Some of the alphabet soup wandered in with Alex, they took one look at the monitor, paused and motioned Alex to go back outside for a conference. Aladdin and I looked at each other and shrugged. I really wanted to get on with things, as I was not looking forwards to a three-story ladder climb out of the sewer. I also doubted we were going to walk out with all this hardware once SEPTA got started on their morning commuter rush.
“What’s wrong? You are frowning,” Aladdin said.
“I was looking at the prospects of the long climb out.”
“Ugh, well if its any consolation, they have set up a place for folks to sleep if things drag any further into the morning.” He didn’t look like he wanted to do the climb up either.
“Did they get the bodies out?”
“Yeah, so we are not going to be sharing space with corpses,” he said with evident relief. “Some of those images are bad enough.”
“No kidding, do the images show any of the hardware? I didn’t do much looking beyond the first ten subjects.”
“I don’t blame you. I have never been into horror films, now I doubt I ever will be.” He sighed and stole a seat on the floor, “If ever there was a hell on earth those poor souls found it, I plan on being a regular at church for a few weeks.”
“You don’t go all the time?”
“Nope I get my fill of hell and damnation and go away for a month or so.” He said it lightly. “I worship God, God isn’t a building where you play dress up once a week, pay your dues and go out and do the same old crap day after day, week after week.” He smiled, “Christmas is special though.”
“Unless you get stuck playing a Shepherd year after year.” I was slightly bemused and relieved at the thought of never having to wear a fake beard again.
“Surely you were an angel?” he smiled.
“Hardly, no long blond hair and no where near good looking enough,” I semi groused. “The kids whose parents had real money got the best spots. Professional coaching, hair treatments, makeup and costuming.” Part of me was so happy I was not going to ever do that again. Christmas, alone. Damn.
Bill walked in looking somewhat happier. “I got someone bringing some stuff down; just try not to use the gun until we get some range time at Langley or someplace.” He dropped a heavy wallet on my chest. “Congratulations, kid, on being the youngest and highest paid Special Federal Advisor in unrecorded history.” He chuckled and found his seat. “It’s very real, very authentic, and has enough contact numbers to scare even the most pig-headed of self-important police type officials.”
“Gee and I didn’t get you anything.”
He found that very funny, I looked at the picture on the ID. Well it was me. There must be a rule somewhere that all ID pictures must look like crap, some special filter or something.
“Ah you’re fun, that’s for certain,” he sobered up a bit. “That piece of ID will get you drug into many investigations, drag you across many jurisdictional lines and places you in the short line for boarding any airplane.” He seemed amused by the last bit. “Though I am sure you are never going to lack for steady work even if you only stick to crimes tied to computers. Try to keep the money bit low key; they are going to find it hard to swallow that you’re paid better than they are.”
“Largely you can expect the money to be your only real benefit, other than health insurance, medical and so on.” Said Alex as he re-entered the room. “As it stands, everyone else but you will be in any headlines or even filmed. You won’t get any of the credit or see your name in headlines. More than likely; you will be stuck doing some very dirty work, feel very annoyed frequently and feel unappreciated at times. Try not to deck any more politicians than you have to though; they do frown on that sort of thing; even if it is so justly deserved.”
Aladdin laughed, “I had heard something about that on the way here.”
“Oh yeah, she bitch slapped the Senator. Then he made the mistake of laying hands on her while she was ‘at’ her duties.” Bill was laughing.
“So he’s going down?” I toyed with the badge that had it’s own neck chain, though with all my wires, that was going to have to wait before I could wear it.
Bill sighed, “Yes and no. With luck he’ll to be forced to resign as Secretary and may be censured so heavily that even if he farts wrong they will invent an adequate set of charges.”
“He’ll be standing on the Oval Office carpet in a few hours. I don’t expect the President will be very polite either or happy over the news that PALM AI’s are loose.” He sat down and turned the monitor around. “Not to mention the fact he disturbed a Special Federal Advisor while at her duties. Your apparent age is not going to be a question, much less your level of experience.”
“They do like results though,” Bill suggested.
“So on that note, Aladdin, put the time stop on our genie.” I said.
He rose and bowed, “As you command, my lady.” He spent a few minutes doing his thing while the techs filed back in from their break. I let them play with wires and they re-stuck a few that got unseated in the ‘wait for stuff to happen.’
“Ready?” he asked.
I waved a hand in his direction, “Hit it.”
He did something, then frowned, then did it again. “Ok that is very odd.” He muttered then started looking back in the computer.
We let him spend some quality time cursing and trying this and that. He looked annoyed when finally he sat back down. “Beats the holy shit out of me but stopping the clocks is not having any affect,” he let out a disgruntled sigh. “I do not dare try anything more if you want to keep the system memory powered up.”
I shrugged slightly, “Hey I will settle for not having to fight a two front war.”
“You sure kid? This isn’t like correcting phone records or playing havoc in school system computers,” pointed out Alex.
“Only one way to find out isn’t there?” I looked around, “Ready, set, go.” I tapped the power button and I was away.
I stood at a black door again, though this time it was rippling slowly, like hot roofing tar. Once, I had the dubious pleasure of watching a roofing crew break tar bundles to drop into the burner. The stuff shatters like glass when cold but you didn’t want to keep anything you stuck into it after it was hot.
I gave the clocks a push to speed them up; I watched the boiling motion slow to a crawl. Yes, I was still the fastest thing cyberspace. As the tar slowly bubbled up and popped, for a moment I could clearly see a way into the system. I shook my virtual head; they had such a nice defense until someone put backdoor into it. I cranked the clocks all the way up, eventually someone was going to freak out in the slow world outside but I needed to have the extra time.
The tar like door bubbled up ever so slowly, popped and the hole was wide open so I took a leisurely step through. It only took me a few moments of poking about to find out the commands to shut the security down. Aside from the back door; it was a nice bit of software, I co-opted it and stored a copy to take apart later. I was sure I could make it better if not a lot meaner.
I took a look at my enemy, the PALM AI. “Funny you don’t look a bit like your pictures.” It was making its way around system memory like a snake chasing its own tail. Ok, more like one of the Worms from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, big teeth, ugly grayish blue skin and an attitude to match. I will admit it was fascinating to watch, about like a mongoose watches a snake before biting it behind the head to kill it. I needed a bigger mongoose.
Size as they say, doesn’t matter. David took out the giant with a pebble; offered the voice in my head, I argued back that David had God on his side. I took some time to digest that thought. Ok I needed the right pebble to drop on it. Rock, bump, thump, and dump. “Nah it can’t be that easy.” I looked at the internal system kernel commands. Yes it had a core dump command, it stops all processes and stores all the system for later analysis, including memory and registers.
They used to use a similar bit of code for MUSHes, Multi User Shared Hallucination(s), which were text based online games. The precursors to the Modern MMORPGs, which is not unsurprising since a lot of the MUSHes were based on Unix systems. No player wanted to lose time on redoing the past days’ work, so if something went bump, the system or system operators started a Core Dump. Cackling like an idiot I triggered the system command “/coreDump” followed by “/stopProcesses.” The AI worm fell still like it was pole axed.
I looked out of the system then sent copies of the complete core dump to three awaiting hard drives. While I was waiting I walked the length of the beast, when I got to the mouth, I went in. So now I am trying to play Jonah and the whale? I laughed aloud; well it was close to the truth. The AI was better looking on the outside but if I was going to understand the nature of the beast I was going to see it from all sides.
It was very disorganized compared to some of the code I have looked at and written. It seemed to have started as a worm virus and had lots of very strange odd and ends. I looked at the different blocks or cells that made it up. Whoever wrote this code barely had the concept of Object Orientated Programming down and that was being generous. Count your blessings, opined the voice in my head.
This extra voice in the head was helpful, just slightly unnerving. Right, back to work, I reached back to the laptop and dug through it for a decompiler. The nice thing about a decompiler is that it takes raw software code and turns it into a sort of language rather than a bunch of numbers and symbols. Admittedly you needed to know the language to make heads or tails of it. I had that in the bag. Well mostly.
I looked through the rest of the files on the system while I waited for the decompiler to finish up. Yuck, yuck and double yuck. I probably picked up more about Gross Anatomy than I expect most medical students would want to, emphasis on the gross side of things. You don’t need a demon to make evil, you only had to see humans as objects.
I was smelling smoke when I left the system, not wood smoke mind you, the electrical wiring type, that and burnt hair. “Ouch damn it!” Hot, hot, hot! I gave all the wires on my head a vicious jerk. “Get them off of me!”
“Easy kid, give them a chance,” said Bill from two foot away as he tapped the laptops power button to shut it off. “You are glowing pretty brightly and they don’t want to end up on the floor.”
“Easy he says. It’s not your scalp that is getting cooked.” I shot back.
“Well, what is the verdict?” asked Alex.
“I was only able to stop it, store it and decompile it,” I complained aloud as I rubbed the burned spots on my head.
“’Only’ she says,” Aladdin was shaking his head in disbelief.
My head hurt so I didn’t quite growl. “I didn’t figure out a way to shut it down other than by making the system make a Core Dump. Then I gave the system a stop processes command.” I touched the spots on my head that were burned, just wonderful.
Alex whistled, I wish he hadn’t. “And?”
“It is all there, three copies of the Core Dump, two of the decompile, not counting the drive in the system. My head hurts.” I looked over to Aladdin, “Kill the power, pop the drives, make darned sure they pay you. Oh yeah mark the drives as do not attach to a Unix based system unless isolated off of ‘any’ network. I don’t want to play this game on a bigger network.”
“Any special protocols?” Asked Alex.
“Yeah if it’s on a Unix system the bloody thing could wake up. Personally I would not want to run it via a trace routine either. In fact, much as I hate the idea, view only as a text file or hard copy.” I pushed the mass of tangled and burnt wires off of the headrest of the futon and lay back.
“I think I will have to go with you on that,” Alex agreed. Respect is so nice.
I closed my eyes, “Are we there yet mommy?”
Monday, October 16th, 2006. 03:00 am
Bill and everyone else, more or less cajoled, griped and bullied me into finding a place to drain off the two thousand excess volts that I had picked up while taking out the AI. I shouldn’t be too upset at the medical technicians, how were they supposed to know their equipment was not rated above a thousand volts, much less that anyone could actually survive at those voltages.
Then they made me eat and drink and eat again. I suppose it was their way of looking after me, though all I wanted was the man with the jack hammer to lay off. Part of me was slightly happy that we had missed out on the ‘down’ time of the SEPTA subway. I was also happy that no one was willing to try and carry me up the ladder. Oh I admit I probably could have made the climb, though a large part of me was just so very happy when they let me have a nice dark corner and a bed to sleep in.
Most of the day passed in blessed darkness, with occasional interruptions for more MREs and water. I did discover my hair wasn’t a total loss though I was going to be very happy to get the gunk out of it. Mostly I was guarded heavily and left alone. Fine by me. Though a voice kept invading my dreams, a few times I woke up from nightmares where I was burning. I firmly chalked it up to the prior days medical snafu and rolled over.
Later on I found out that Alex and Aladdin had taken the long climb out and had arranged for the AI and decompiled files to be taken out during the day. My one and only job was to rest and eat, we would catch up with them later on. I admit that I was partly miffed when I found out that they were gone without so much as a “See you later.”
After trying on an assortment of body armor and tactical vests, Bill found something roughly my size. Fortunately or unfortunately my head still felt singed so the Kevlar helmet was out; so was the standard baseball cap. He gave be a dark blue-black scarf and showed me how to tie it in the Special Op’s style. He also reluctantly gave me my own personal defense weapon, with firm instruction to not use it.
Unless as he put it, “Shit hits the fan.” Also I was to be damned sure I was not pointing it at anyone friendly. He pointed out that if I put the selector over to fully automatic and pulled the trigger, almost anything in front of me that was merely human was shredded meat. I did my utmost best to keep my finger away from the safety.
Bill spent an hour showing me how to take it apart, clean it and put it back together. He also made sure I could reload it and could charge it, a fancy word for putting the first bullet in the chamber. Also that I could clear it and load and empty the magazines. I could tell he was looking forward to teaching me how to shoot the thing too, but that lesson was going to be for later on.
“Its only a twenty-two caliber fully automatic assault weapon,” as he put it. “If you have to shoot it, there is a laser to put a dot on the target and just gently squeeze the trigger. Target is,” as he put it, “who or whatever is shooting at you. Or needed killing.”
I tried to point out that killing was evil.
“Kid, stopping someone from murder is not evil. Killing someone who is trying to kill you is not evil. Killing the enemy in wartime is not evil either; usually it is a matter of trying to stay alive. Evil is more a matter for the priests to figure out, or society.” He shook his head. “Sometimes society is wrong, and not so very often the priests, but it has happened too.”
He looked at me, “Ultimately at the end of the day all you can do is hope like hell you did the right thing. I think you will know evil when you encounter it. Like Dr. Palm the AIs and all the people who helped them. Now that is evil.”
I nodded, “I think I understand. I don’t think I will be happy at having to kill anyone.”
“If you are happy with killing, you either just stopped something or someone evil or are just happy to be alive after the fact. If you feel nothing after killing, it is called shock or you have had to kill too many times. Then it is called burn out and well, a very long vacation from that sort of work is required. Or you won’t be able to help anyone, not even yourself.”
“Ugh.” I frowned.
“Yep, ugh. Anyways, we’ll soon be on our way to Langley for a break, and a lot of people asking questions. Mostly you’ll be able to answer them, some of them you’ll have to figure out if they should be answered. I would say that anything about our dead friend Chad is out. NEXT and the Knights of the Church may be something you smile politely and say you don’t know much about them. You wouldn’t even be lying, which may drive them absolutely nuts.”
“What about a lie detector?” I asked.
“It’s a machine, one that runs on electricity. They break enough of them; they will stop pestering you with them. Your lack of iris won’t let them use some other tools on you either. Just relax, smile and occasionally let things go pop.” He laughed lightly, “If it is any consolation, drugs that make you talk, make you babble nonsense, wander from pointless topic to pointless topic and play on the stock market. That and mumble in Chinese.”
“I don’t know Chinese or at least I don’t think I do.” I sat back against the wall.
“Don’t worry about it, you made a small killing on the stock market. Tammy was freaking out watching your account shift and grow, if you figure out how to do that while you are awake and aware Tammy wants some help.” He rolled his eyes.
“How much am I worth?”
“Well if you don’t count the sucker who lost a million to you in the bet a few days ago, about sixteen million, but that largely came from the Chinese Government, minus a small transaction fee. We sorta acted as your agent in that matter, hope you don’t mind?” he said that fairly dead pan.
“Now if you add in all the money owed to you by the good old US of A. for services rendered, not to mention your monthly paycheck as an GS12, and what ever the Vatican drops in your lap. Well, you could live very easily for a very long time.” He laughed, “You really are a rich Catholic schoolgirl, live and enjoy it.”
“Discounting the target on my head.”
“Yeah right, when it is your time, it is your time. Money, protection and all that noise is not going to stop it. You are rich, good looking and aside from figuring out all the small Mouse World stuff, you have a long time to figure out everything else.”
“I’ll buy cute,” I offered.
“Time will tell, time will tell,” he said while studying me.
“I just wanted an ordinary life,” I complained.
“You were never ordinary, just under appreciated. Now I need to go find out when we can blow this taco stand. I am desiring a meal that doesn’t come out of a bag.” He stood up whistling a song; I think it was “Who’s that girl?”
The mass exodus of the lab and cavern took some time. There was a lot of equipment to remove for study and the two computers. I found out about the bodies, the bulk of which were open cranial fatalities, I filed that tid-bit away as relevant but not too surprising. I got to play guard on a bunch of boxes; it supposedly explained my presence without drawing attention. If you have seen the move Aliens or Starship troopers you could easily guess at my body armor. Think Vasquez and you would be fairly close.
Add the futuristic personal defense weapon and well I looked like something from a science fiction movie. Ok, I was a minor actress’; there were lots of people in body armor that looked a lot more imposing than I did. All I had to do was look annoyed or bored and frown frequently. The really important people were dressed in suits with little wires that plugged into their ears. I let them play their role, I did mine, no hitches expected.
Right. The SEPTA security officer from the other time I was climbing out of the subway tunnel was there. Inwardly I was thinking that someone had slipped up. Three steps past him and I knew for certain someone had.
“Well if it isn’t the teenage crack whore,” was his comment.
A deep silence fell in my immediate vicinity, the kind of silence in the movies where you knew someone was going to get hurt. I kept walking, I was not going to say anything, or do anything. I was being nice and playing my assigned role.
Until he grabbed me by the shoulder and spun me around. “I was talking to you,” he said.
“Really,” I said allowing my voice to affect total boredom. I charged the PDW, it had a satisfying solid, ‘you are in so much deep kaka sound’. “I don’t know who you are, much less do I care. You are interfering with a Federal Officer. Unless you care to end up cleaning urinals in some God forsaken place in Death Valley, I suggest you take your hands off of me and find something convenient to do elsewhere.” I causally wiggled the red laser dot around on his chest.
He looked down and very slowly let go of my shoulder. The other people in body armor were doing their best not to smile. A few of the taller and larger than life ones moved closer, nothing like support in numbers.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“I think she’s the person with a gun pointed at you, and one who gave you very clear and definite instructions.” That was a person who could easily play the stunt double for Wesley Snipes.
Another chimed in, “I would think for a moment what sort of lady wears the same gear as we are and is doing the same job we do. Such a lady is not to be messed with, unless you want to eat your own balls. Got the hint?”
“I got it,” he didn’t look like he was going to buy it though.
I pointed the laser at his groin and drew little figure eights. “It takes less than ten seconds to empty a fifty round clip. At this range I could change your religion or your gender and still have a warm body to kick around for a few hours.” I said this in a flat monotone, “We have plenty of extra body-bags left over, I am sure we could find one in ‘absolute idiot’ size.” I traced the laser from his feet to his head, “It should fit.”
“You can’t do that,” he protested. Some people are just born slow and stupid.
One of the men in suits wandered over, he looked angry though his eyes twinkled. “Ease down,” he was looking at me when he said it.
Yes sir,” I let the PDW rest on its sling and affected a bored bland attitude.
He pointed to two of the larger armored men, “Take her for a walk until she calms down and don’t let her kick your ass this time.”
“Come on Powell, my girlfriend is still pissed at you for my broken arm last time around,” he nudged me.
I sighed and shook my head, “Fine.” I looked at the two men, “Just because you deck a Senator everyone thinks you are a hot head.”
They shook their heads, “Right.” They chorused.
“Great, you buy the beer this time,” I strode around the suit and the moron.
The three of us made our way topside and to a long trailer with SWAT written on one side. Once inside the trailer they all broke up laughing. I pulled the magazine and ejected the chambered round, catching it in one hand. I spared them a glance and put the round back into the magazine. I slid the magazine into a pocket.
“The folks down stairs want to know what was up with the idiot security guard,” said someone who was listening to a radio.
“I was down there a few days ago, I wanted to make sure he was very confused about what he really remembered,” I took a breath. “I found the cavern, and I was not in any sort of uniform at the time.”
“Ah, undercover,” said one of my escorts. “When was this?”
“A few days ago,” I shook my head. “I had skipped a few meals in the process so I was a bit shaky when I climbed out. He got a very odd opinion about me then.”
“Got ya.” He looked at the radio man. “Tell them to pull the video surveillance for the past week and to put some additional pressure on the idiot. We want him very confused and angry.” He then pointed at me, “Find a chair and take a load off, we have some time to kill before we can roll out.”
“Ok,” I found one that had a worn look and plopped down. “So any idea on how long before some dam fool calls the news stations?”
“You know how it is, someone always spills the beans to the press when it may get them a few bucks.” It was his turn to sigh, “You missed the media circus the other morning. Your friend the blasphemer had someone in his office ‘off the record’, leak news about the bodies.”
“Not my friend, so any chance of the Senator doing jail time?” I asked.
“You could wish,” he dropped his helmet to the floor and sat in an empty seat. “That kind will never get jail time, they get to resign for personal or health reasons.” He sounded disgusted.
“Figures,” I yawned, “So he gets off, and everyone else cleans up the mess.”
“Yep welcome to the joyous life of the Federal Service,” he snorted. “Every now and then you get one worth protecting,” he pointed a finger at me. “From what little I know, you qualify. If only for your talent of making idiots step in it.” That bit got a chuckle through out the trailer.
One of the men in the trailer asked, “So how old are you?”
“Old enough to know better and young or dumb enough to do it anyways.” I replied, hey it was a safe answer and misleading as hell. Either they would assume I was much older or peg me as an utter loon; call it verbal dodge ball.
Friday, October 20th, 2006. 4:00 PM
The road trip to Langley was long and boring though the countryside was nice to look at. Fall had struck and while some trees were ablaze in colors others were looking very bare. I was sans gun, though I did have my knives and spike, which made me feel slightly better. I could get used to traveling via a limousine, I just wish I could kill the jolly joker who put nothing but kiddy videos in the DVD storage area. I have nothing against kid videos; I may have opted for blowing up the limo if Barney was in the mix though.
As it was, to the great amusement of the security detachment, not to mention their relief; when we stopped at a Flying J truck stop, I splurged on a bunch of DVD action movies. Not to mention a lot of snacks. Safely ensconced back in the limo it turned into an educational experience.
If you ever want to know how badly Hollywood is skating by on their real life and real world information; watch movies with a bunch of people who do things like it for real. It’s funny to listen to a group of men tell the movie to “Reload damn it.” and “What sort of moron stands up in a fire fight?”
Then there is the bullet counting game, “Ok, he has a Berretta, looks like a nine millimeter, how many rounds should he have? Answer sixteen.” Fifteen in the magazine plus one in the pipe, if he’s a pro. Or eleven depending on the make of the gun. After twenty rounds are fired the man reloads… See the problem?
Needless to say the trip passed much more smoothly once the kid videos were gone. It was nice; I didn’t have to do any worrying I just had to let the detachment deal with that. They did give me crash course in how to monitor the traffic around you for threats, how to use a radio and the more fun things they kept hidden in the side panels of the car. Boys and their toys, I was having a good time.
Though it seems there is a bit of teasing going on behind the scenes. The words “Easy Duty” and bets on how long it would be before I slapped or threatened someone else. It seems that the Office Pool is alive and well in the various agencies, though their stakes are more modest, barring football games. I felt better by finding that out, I was beginning to worry that I had fallen in with the wrong crowd, as my Father had put it. I had been really worried that all those suits made people stuffy. Not so, but they did have their ‘on business’ face down to a science.
Getting onto the Langley Campus is time consuming to some extent. Stop, open doors, pass around badges and repeat. Then considering it is one of the most secure places in the world, it should be almost impossible to break in. Not impossible mind you, no place is one hundred percent secure but Langley is as they put it “Really Dang Close”.
The New Headquarters building is impressive, tall blue marble columns, arches and lots of glass. It had two semi squat towers of six floors each and a wide concourse inside. There were enough data lines and power lines running throughout the buildings that I was more than a bit concerned at about how their toys were going to take a visit from me.
I was directed to a small room where I was finger printed and where they tried to get a retinal scan of my eyes. Tried mind you, my eyes are much more odd than I thought. I had no retinal pattern what so ever, which by all laws of science should be impossible. I guess being a mutant throws out a lot of the laws of science. They took blood for an attempt at DNA filing. That was amusing; in my case I really am a blue blood, neon in fact, though not very noble.
Fortunately my life as Chad, while over, never did involve finger printing. So I was definitely and absolutely stuck as being Merry, I made a note to try and figure out how they stored that information. If it was electronic, well it was subject to my whim. ‘Catch me if you can’ takes on a whole new meaning in Cyberspace.
I was then informed I was scheduled for testing, medical and otherwise tomorrow. I guess it was standard for mutants or the like if they were going to be “on campus”. More pokes and prods, joy. I was only half ways looking forwards to it, how was I supposed to keep my ability to enter Cyberspace out of the recorded computer domain? Well I could always delete that part of the file. Or blow up enough equipment so that they give up on the testing. That has some appeal. Ok, I admit it; I like to irritate some people.
Then I had an official photograph taken. I suppose I will never have to worry about blinking the white dots away after photos any more. Then my height and weight was recorded as well. Eventually they gave me a plastic clip-on ID card, I was starting to become annoyed with the photography gods. Though, maybe I should count my blessings in that they can’t get a good picture of me. In either case my eyes were listed as ‘Intel Blue’… someone had a sense of humor.
The card itself was mostly unremarkable other than it had a magnetic strip, and the words Counter AI Taskforce (CAT) on it with a bar code. Ok, I now had my own bit of official alphabet soup, I guess WIZKID was too undignified or something. It went well with my jumpsuit, though I can’t say that it was good for anything. I abruptly changed my mind on that.
“This is your meal card, access key and all around ticket to go most places on campus. If a door won’t open, you are not authorized for that room. Here, read and sign this, this is your security clearance form.” The clerk handed over a form and a pen, “You must be something hot, not everyone has your clearance level.”
I gave the form a once over; it was a lot of bureaucrateese for ‘keep your mouth shut’. I was not about to comment that anything digital and attached to a computer was pretty much unclassified to me if I wanted to know about it. Fortunately I don’t care to know about a lot of things, so the world can rest easier, perhaps. I signed the form then I settled for a shrug, it speaks volumes if you want to stay quiet.
Soon we were moving though another check point, past a row of people on the way out for the day. I was getting a lot of double takes and odd looks. After the lights flickered a bit, I remembered to put my sunglasses back on and my bubble up. I had to work on my business face I suppose, as it felt like I was scowling at everyone. Once we got to the cafeteria I soon forgot all the odd looks, food was at hand. Ok so part of the scowl was tied to my stomach.
Once I had filled my plate and had found a place to sit I prayed and crossed myself. I was also watching the folks around the table squirm, funny how folks react. I guess folks forget that side of things; Thanksgiving doesn’t come just one time a year. I admit I was thankful I had made it through another day, as life certainly was not normal. Three more plates of food and I had an audience of sorts.
I paused with my fork halfway up to my mouth, I looked at them. “What, never seen a girl eat before?”
“Well brat, not everyone has a sister like you,” that was John.
Wait, that was John… I turned in my chair; yes it was John, click. “John!” Ok I blew a few out a few eardrums on that one word screech. Sue me. I popped out of my chair and gave him a quick but careful hug.
“I am glad to see you too, kiddo.” He was looking fairly tanned if not slightly burned. Though it looked like they forced him into the Federal Dress Code, some people look like they just don’t fit the suit role. John was one of them. He had a CAT security tag as well.
“I hope they didn’t drag you away from something tall and blond.” I looked at Bill who was standing behind him, “You didn’t wreck his vacation did you?”
John turned beet red, interesting. Though Bill answered first. “Nope that was Willard, that scoundrel. I just suggested that it would not hurt to have a medical tech with some experience around.”
“Well, I,” John sputtered a moment. “Sis, you definitely make me feel like I am at home.”
His sister had to be a live wire and then some. I was going to have to make a point of comparing notes with her someday. “Sorry about your vacation, though you look so much more relaxed.” I lowered the sunglasses enough to raise an eyebrow into visibility and aimed it at him. Yep, he turned a darker red. John got lucky, good for him.
“I hear you have been a busy girl, folks are whispering about you as it were.“ He looked at the crowd; they had manners enough to realize that they were being sort of rude.
I shrugged and waved my hands about, “A little this, and a little that. Pulling the rabbit out of the hat, it seems like magic or slight of hand. I had a real dog and pony show as well.”
“I heard. There is an open pool going on, but I suppose they won’t let you rig the pot in your favor.” He smiled.
“Drat, any side bets?” I grinned, “Some poor soul took a bad bet at the show.”
“Too rich for me,” Bill chuckled when he said it.
I gave him a look. “Sure. And how much did you rake in at the show?”
“Enough to keep me in beer and pretzels for a long time,” was his answer.
I looked around the room, “So where is Tammy?”
“Willard drug her off for a few days. She’ll show up after a bit, I think they went to Rome.” Bill chuckled, “She has to talk money with people there. You know how it goes, ever after a profit.”
“Profit, whirled peas and piece of the pie.” I misquoted for the pure silliness of it. Tammy was going to be rich or close to it, on sheer drive alone, if she wasn’t already.
“Something like that.” John looked at the room, “I need to head back to bed, I just wanted to make sure you got a proper welcome to the zoo. I’ll see you at testing tomorrow. Pleasant dreams munchkin.”
I waved a fork at him and Bill, “I’ll catch up on things later on, go get some rest. I am sure some kind soul knows where my room is in this maze.” I eyed the desert tray. “I think I’ll get some cake.”
“Don’t do anything crazy,” suggested Bill.
“What me? Never,” I put on an innocent expression.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” Bill mock groaned. “How am I expected to rest now?”
I tilted my head one side, “Ok, I’ll declare a truce with most people, until tomorrow.”
He rocked up and down on his toes, “Oh boy.”
“Go to bed or make your bets. Shoo.” I waved at them and turned to finish my plate.
I heard a laugh, “They don’t like our stakes, but we have a few lines out,” complained John. “Night sis.”
“I’ll bet, night bro.” Ok, so we look nothing alike, still the fiction of family never hurts anyone. Family. I let out a sigh. Sometimes your friends are your best family, you get to choose them. Oh well there was a slice of cake with my name on it and I wanted a few comfort calories.
There was a general air of amusement somewhere in my mind as I pursued my cake. Tyler Durdan where are you when I need you? I complained in my head. Now placing an order for mischief, mayhem and soap.
Someplace out of real time on the net.
A figure is pacing around raving slightly. “What kind of maniac wrote this encryption code? Two hundred electronic books used as a form of bible code, I should have hired him instead of killing him.” The figure scowled, “If he is dead. You just can’t trust the flesh at times to do the job properly. Then there those loose ends.”