"Are you sure you don't need help?" Riley asked, looking down at Wrench from her perch on top of the roof. Hands on her hips, she watched as he struggled to lift himself up the edge. Arm still bandaged thanks to her handiwork, it seemed to be giving him more trouble than she originally expected. It must have hit an important muscle. The masked hacker below swore beneath his breath again, just loud enough for her to hear.
He tried again, reaching up and grunting from the pain in his arm from lifting himself up about a foot. The rifle at his backHowever, the pain was too much and he dropped back to the ground. "Fuck this wall…"
This was ridiculous. Riley reached down, offering her a hand. "Wrench, just take my hand. At this rate, Marcus will get there and leave before we get in position."
"I can do it." He said, and she raised a brow.
He grumbled a bit more, but finally conceded that he couldn't do it himself in this state, and grabbed her hand with his. The brunette braced her feet against the edge of the roof and leaned back as he jumped up. With her weight as leverage, Wrench was able to climb up beside her on the roof.
"There, see? Not so hard." She said, and he sighed.
"Yeah. Just fuck this gunshot is all." He said miserably, his pride slightly wounded from needing help getting up a simple building. It wasn't even that high! Fuck Sons of Ragnarok…
Ignoring his wounded ego, Riley lead them over to where they could oversee the opposite block. The bar where they knew Lenni was was directly across from them, and Wrench picked a spot behind some smoke stacks to keep at least semi-hidden. The distance would be the biggest cover, but on the off chance she looked over, they wouldn't be the only obstructions to the roof line.
"Are we sure that's going to pick up the data?" Riley asked, gesturing to the rifle that Wrench unslung from his back. He shrugged.
"Well, I've tested it out a few times, and its worked before. So…yeah." He concluded with a happy expression, just happy he was able to actually field test it. He neglected to mention it hadn't seen use outside of his garage, but she didn't need to know that.
Still doubtful, Riley sat beside him and watched as he set up the rifle to aim towards the bar. He lined up the scope with the door, seeing her inside from the windows. Marcus was already on his way, but the real trick would be getting her outside where his RFID reader could reach.
"How are we going to get her to come outside?" Riley asked, but the gods must have been listening, because she pushed her way through the door and leaned against the wall, smoking on her e-cig.
"Well, that was easy." Wrench said lightly, reaching up to turn on the comm channel. "Hey, Marcus. Lenni just stepped outside. Better hurry."
"Almost there. Pulling up to the parking lot now."
Even as he finished speaking, they both became aware of the loud rumbling of a motorcycle approaching. It grew louder, until Marcus came into view further away. He parked his bike in one of the spots, climbing off and walking towards the entrance of the bar.
Wrench and Riley watched as they met just outside the door. Lenni crossed her arms and stepped away in irritation, pointing at him a few times for emphasis. Marcus had turned off his comm channel, so neither of them could hear the conversation, but the mood was obvious. Lenni wasn't happy.
Wrench rolled his shoulder, trying to ease the discomfort of his arm as he lined up Lenni's arm in his scope. "Alright, stay still for me…" He muttered, trying to keep the chip in her arm lined up.
Riley watched from her perch beside him, seeing her talk animatedly, constantly moving and shifting and turning so her forearm was never in view for long enough. Marcus tried placating her, his body language and posture much calmer than Lenni's. But she wouldn't be calmed.
Wrench shook his head with a small sigh. "Too bad this isn't a real gun, huh?"
Riley gave him a pointed look, and he saw it out of the corner of his eye. "What? I'm kidding." He said with a shrug, leaning forward again to scope out her arm. He glanced her way quickly. "Kinda."
Riley elected to ignore his comment, instead watching as Marcus secretly tried to hold his phone under her arm to get the chip data himself. It was part of the ploy. She'd be suspicious otherwise.
Lenni raised her arm up away from his phone, keeping it there for several seconds. Wrench jumped on the opportunity, sighting in the small bump in her arm with the scope. However, just as it was ready to read, she held it to her chest. Kicking the ground in front of Marcus, the message behind it was obvious. Go away. Hanging his head in pretend shame, the hacker slunk away in defeat.
Of course, Lenni being Lenni, she couldn't resist one last passing insult. Holding her arm up in the loser sign on her forehead, the RFID chip was exposed again, and Wrench finished the data scan.
"Got it?" Riley asked as he eased up on the scope. He held up a fist, winking quietly. "Hell yeah." She said, returning the bump excitedly. She had almost been scared it wouldn't work.
She scrambled back from the roof and stood, making her way towards where the car had been parked. Wrench slung the gun over his back. Turning back towards Lenni, who pushed back inside the door to the bar, he held up a finger gun in her direction. Eyes displaying his amusement, he made a quiet gunshot noise, before turning and following after the brunette.
"Here's to motherfuckin' DedSec!" Marcus shouted, and the party attendees cheered, raising their glasses to the toast. Riley lifted her own beer and drank a long swig, celebrating with the rest of them.
After grabbing the RFID code from Lenni, Marcus had successfully broken into Prime_Eight's bunker and lifted the lock on their servers. Now, in pure DedSec fashion, they were throwing a party to celebrate. The old Prime_Eight bunker made a great new hackerspace for the local sect of hacker enthusiasts. This was a way to break it in and give it the official DedSec seal.
The old Prime_Eight graffiti was spray painted over and the familiar skull logos littered the walls now. It was great, but Riley couldn't help but feel the San Francisco HQ was the only DedSec location to her. It felt more like home.
The music was turned up full blast, the vibration echoing through the concrete walls. Dozens of bodies pushed into the small space made it hot and overwhelming. Riley had been able to snatch up a spot on one of the few couches, and she watched the crowds dance.
Marcus was over in the corner, talking to several women. She smiled, wondering which one of them he had hopes of taking home. He was making a bit of a name for himself within the DedSec community. Lots of girls were always flocking towards him at these things, she'd noticed.
A body approaching her made her look up, and a strangely familiar male face stared down at her with a smile. "Riley! It's good to see you again."
Where had she seen him before? It took a second or two, but she finally recognized him. "Nick, right?"
"Yeah, that's me." He muscled his way onto the couch next to her, giving her a look. "You didn't call."
"Oh…yeah…" This wasn't exactly the conversation she'd wanted to have that night. Or ever. Riley put on as nice as smile as she could, rubbing the back of her head. "About that…"
Nick laughed, holding up his hands to ease her worry. "I'm kidding! I'm kidding. No hard feelings, though. Really."
His smile lead her to believe him, as there wasn't any hurt or anger in his eyes. Riley relaxed a bit more, knowing that he didn't blame her for not having an interest. The awkwardness melted away.
He gestured to the party. "Pretty nice place, huh? Prime_Eight might be a bunch of assholes, but they've got some nice digs and style. Nice tech, too." His eyes lit upon the large computer screens that they'd moved to the edge of the room.
"Oh yeah. Of course, the bombs it could have done without…" She said, and they both laughed.
Over at the ping pong table, where a rousing game of beer pong was being waged, the crowd cheered loud over the music, and Riley heard the familiar tone of Wrench's mask as he joined in with them. She spotted him between the people that walked in front of her. His enthusiasm made her smile.
Nick must have noticed her staring. "Oh, I didn't know you came with a date." He said, tilting his head in confusion. "He didn't ditch you, did he?"
"Hmm?" She frowned in confusion. Nick jerked his head over to Wrench, and his meaning became clear. Riley seemed to catch herself up on the word 'date,' and she could feel her cheeks attempting to blush deeply. "O-oh! Uhh…no, nothing…like that. Heh. I mean…not, not the date thing. Or the ditching. Neither." She stuttered out, feeling mortified that it had actually come out of her mouth so terribly.
Nick laughed and nodded slowly. "If you say so." He stood then, sighing loudly. "Well, I'd best get back to my own date. She wandered off somewhere and I'm trying to find her. Wish me luck." He rose from his seat and shimmied his way through the crowd until she lost sight of him.
Riley smiled, glad he was courteous about her not being interested. She might even get a friend out of all of that. Ruefully, she wondered if Dan from work would ever get the hint, then decided that he wouldn't.
Another person came over, and Ray pointed to the cushion beside her. "Is this seat taken?"
"Nope." She scooted over a bit to give him more room. He turned and sat down slowly, groaning while doing so. "I didn't really expect to see you here." She blurted out before she could stop herself. Hopefully he didn't take it in a rude way.
He smiled, and nodded. "Me neither. I'm gettin' too old for these things." He lifted his beer bottle. "But…not for these. Here's a tip for when you're my age. Never pass up free alcohol." Then he took another swig.
Riley nodded, unsure of how to respond, or even what to say to him. She had yet to really get to know him or meet the man face to face since he'd joined. He was always off on his own secret missions while Riley was around.
A long pause stretched between them, before Ray seemed to collect himself. "My bad, it just occurred to me that we haven't really met yet. I'm Ray." He held out his hand to shake, and Riley took it courteously.
He nodded. "Ah, Riley, that was it. Couldn't quite remember your name from Swelter Skelter. Kept thinking it was Rachel…or something."
"Well, I wouldn't blame you. That night was a bit…crazy." She finished, unable to come up with a better word for it. He laughed and shook his head.
"Yeah, well. That's the way it is." He turned back towards her. She couldn't help but feel like he gave off that comforting vibe that offered his knowledge to anyone who cared enough to ask. As he talked to her and the legend surrounding his name started to fade away into the real person, the apprehension she'd carried started to disappear. He wasn't as intimidating as she'd made him out to be in her head.
"If I can admit something freely here," He started up again, grimacing a little when he looked her way, "when I agreed to come on board with DedSec, I did a little digging of my own on who I'd be working with. And your file had me wondering about something."
Riley paused, hoping he wouldn't mention her father. It wasn't really something to talk about in public like this. Nor with him, specifically. She barely knew him. Nodding silently, she gave him the go ahead to continue. She might as well listen to what he had to say.
"You didn't go to that community college in a field where you could learn coding, and neither of your parents were in any sort of position where they had experience with it. So, I'm wondering, where did you learn your stuff from?"
She felt a wave of relief, and she shrugged. "I used to live in New York, and my best friend was really into hacking. He started when he was young, and taught himself. He helped me learn a lot of what I know."
"Any particular handle he went by?" Ray was narrowing his eyes, as if waiting for a specific answer. She frowned.
"Uh, yeah. He went by Cyph3r."
Ray thought about it for a moment. "When's the last time you were in contact with him?"
The question caught her off guard. What did this have to do with anything? Did Ray know him? "Hell, it's been…years, for sure. After my dad-" She caught herself before continuing, "-died…I moved with my mom to another part of the state. I never saw or heard from him after that."
"Huh." He looked down at the beer in his hand, as if debating whether to tell her what was on his mind. "Well, I've heard of your friend. And you should hope never to hear from him again, Riley. For your own good."
The brunette frowned, staring at him. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Ray looked uncomfortable relaying the information to her, and he gestured outwards with his beer bottle. "He's a notorious black-hat, only in it for himself. I've heard of people working with him only to be double-crossed and backstabbed later."
Ray huffed humorlessly. "Hell, the kid's responsible for dozens of ransomware schemes, he's been known to funnel data to terrorists overseas…you name the crime, he's probably dipped his fingers in it."
She shook her head. "That doesn't sound like him at all. It could be another person? Posing as him?"
Ray sighed, straightening in his seat. "His name is Jack Carter. Born in Upstate New York to a couple of equal rights activists. Has a birthmark on his left arm in the shape of a star. Mild diagnosis of asthma-"
"Ok!" She said, wanting it to stop. She sighed, shoulders slumping. The mild buzz she'd had from her beer had vanished completely by now. "Ok…so maybe I didn't know him as well as I thought…"
"Oh, I'm sure he wasn't lying to you, RIley. Kid was probably genuine when you knew him." He said, drinking the rest of his beer bottle in a few sips. He let out a satisfied 'ahh' and wiped his lips. "But people can change a whole lot in the span of several years. He's not the same person you once knew."
Riley's face fell, but she was still curious. Jack had always talked about making a name for himself. This wasn't at all what she'd expected, but how had he gotten to that point? She was curious. "What happened to him?"
Ray sniffed, then shrugged. "He erased a lot of his file, but from what I can gather, his parents sent him to a boarding school for a summer. Kid changed after that. Lots of disciplinary marks through high school, then graduated from Columbia University with the highest honors and fell off the map for awhile. His most recent activity was in Florida, though. Found his name associated with a smuggling operation down there at the coast."
Riley nodded slowly, still unable to comprehend exactly what Ray was telling her. Her childhood friend…now a criminal? What reasonable person could justify working with those sorts of operations? I mean, Riley worked for DedSec, but it was the good of the people. They might do small crimes here and there but…the more she thought about it, was it really all that different? Was she any better?
Ray must have noticed her faraway expression and realized what she'd been thinking, because he placed a hand on her shoulder and shook gently. "Hey, don't you go doubting what we've gotta do just because of Jack. He's a fucked up psycho in his own right. There's no getting him back. But you're nothing like him. You do this with others in mind. Not yourself."
The brunette nodded mutely, but that still left the small betrayal that her friend wasn't the same as before. He sighed, and shook his head. "Look, I'm sorry for even bringing it up. This ain't the right place for that and-"
"No, it's not your fault." She rushed to reassure him. "I asked and…well, it's kind of better to know than to always wonder…even if it wasn't what you were hoping for…"
The older man nodded slowly, before patting her shoulder once and moving to stand. "Well, keep your chin up, kiddo. From what I can see, this team of weirdos isn't going anywhere, and not changing anytime soon. Enjoy what you've got now, not what you've lost before. Believe me."
Riley watched Ray move off towards the coolers of beer, and she was left with her turbulent thoughts. Suddenly the atmosphere of the bunker was much too stifling for her, and she stood to leave. Her buzz was gone, and her mood was killed beyond salvaging. Or so she thought.
Riley tried to squeeze her way through the crowd of people, feeling increasingly too hot and claustrophobic the longer she couldn't find the exit. There were too many people, the music too loud, and the smell of alcohol too think on the air.
The lights were dim, with only multicolored decorative lights leading her anywhere. Riley couldn't find the exit and felt a sense of despair she couldn't explain wash over her. She hugged her arms to her chest, trying to wedge her way through the people. She didn't notice the tears on her cheeks.
A hand grabbed her arm, and pulled her in the opposite direction. She jerked her head around, startled. She saw the bright Xs of Wrench's mask and instantly relaxed. "This way!" He said over the music, guiding her where he pointed. She didn't question him as to where she was being taken, just let him lead her wherever they were going.
Wrench was taller than her and was a bit more intimidating of a presence. People moved out of the way when he walked, making it a much easier ordeal to navigate the bunker. Riley stayed behind in his wake, blushing slightly when she realized Wrench's grip had moved from her arm to her own hand.
He easily pushed through the door to the bunker and Riley breathed in the cooler, much fresher air of the outdoors. She filled her lungs, happy the stuffiness has disappeared. The brunette expected them to stop once right outside the door, but Wrench continued to walk closer to the shore with her in tow.
They crossed over the street and walked down closer to the water's edge. The waves lapped gently against the shore, and Riley sighed in comfort. She'd always liked the sound of water. Wrench let go of her hand and allowed her to walk a few paces away from him. She squatted by the water and dipper a few fingers in, feeling the blessed chill.
"How'd you know I was trying to leave?" She asked suddenly, turning to look at him. He was slouched casually, his hands in his pockets. At her question, he shrugged with three dots for eyes.
"You were looking a little panicked, and…well, it was sort of suffocating in there anyway. Thought you might want some air."
"Oh. Thank you." She said, and Wrench's eyes switched back to his default Xs.
Riley couldn't help but feel that Wrench was uncharacteristically subdued at the moment. She'd heard him having a good time in there earlier. Had something happened? Was he ok? Or, maybe he was annoyed that he had to deal with her rather than enjoying himself inside.
Was she no more than an annoyance?
Riley looked out over the water, feeling the wind pluck at her hair and face in random bursts. She couldn't help the sigh that escaped her.
"Have you decided what you're going to do about your job?" Wrench asked suddenly, causing her to look over at him. However, his face was turned away towards the city, giving her no indication as to what he was feeling. It sounded neutral enough.
"I don't know yet." She answered honestly. She'd spent a long time trying to come up with an answer. Even after hours of debating it, countless pros and cons lists, and a simple coin flip, she really didn't know. "I've started packing small things here and there. That way if I do leave, I've already got a head start, but nothing major if I decide on staying."
Riley expected some sort of answer, but he only nodded silently.
On his end, Wrench felt a deepening dread, that his time with her was short. She'd only be staying for less than a month now, and then he doubted he'd see her again. A few hours might not sound like much, but that sort of distance just to see her maybe once a week? Would she even welcome him following after her? What if she was put on assignment across the country? What then?
Riley's own words from the diner, said in a completely different context and regarding someone else entirely, kept coming back to him. It'll give you incentive to work up the courage next time, right? Well, he supposed now would have been a great time to tell her. Both of them alone on the beach…
Wrench clenched his fist at his side. He couldn't fucking do it. He just…couldn't. There was too much of himself he was holding back, and would she even understand his fears if he tried explaining them? How could he even begin to explain how he felt without the mask on? Would she turn away as soon as he refused to? God, there were too many what-ifs and unknowns that Wrench could barely think straight.
But he had to say something. Staying silent wasn't an option.
"You should stay." He finally managed, daring a glance over at her. Her eyebrows raised, as if unsure of what he meant. "Here, I mean. With us."
Riley looked down, expressing uncertainty. "It's not like I necessarily want to leave, but that's where my job is taking me, Wrench. I don't have a choice."
"But you do." He said. "I mean…you can get another journalist job here in San Francisco, and still be a part of DedSec." He explained, fully turning towards her now that he'd thrown it out there. "You wouldn't need to move and we could still work together."
"It's not that simple…"
Wrench shook his head, intent on pulling his point across. "No, Riley, it is. And with you being a hacker, it makes it even easier."
"…" She didn't know what to say to that, but felt strangely warm to know that he didn't want her to go. It was nice to know that people would miss her if she were to leave. She'd have people thinking about her. People that wanted her close. And the fact that Wrench was one of those people was heartwarming.
Wrench realized that what he said could be taken as a demand, so he backtracked a little. "Don't take that as me making you stay. I wouldn't begin to tell you how to live your life. Just…seriously consider it. All of us want you to stay, not just me."
The very fact that he didn't make her promise to stay, knowing full well she might not be able to keep it, made her extremely grateful to him. Obviously he didn't want her to go, but he wouldn't resent her with a broken promise if she ultimately chose to follow where her current job took her. That was worth more to her than anything. She hated disappointing others.
Riley smiled thinly. "I promise I'll think about it seriously." That was a promise she could keep.
Satisfied that she wouldn't leave without at least looking back, Wrench nodded and stuffed his hands back into his pockets again. Now that he'd said his bit, he didn't want to talk any further. Instead, letting the silence stretch between them. Not in an uncomfortable way, but just to watch the ocean with her next to him. He couldn't have asked for more than that anyway.
"Wrench." She said, and he turned to look at her. The brunette then flashed him a wide, genuine smile, and he couldn't have looked away for the life of him. "Stay just the way you are, ok? Don't ever change."
The hacker's heart clenched a little, rising up into his throat. He didn't know what expression showed on his mask, nor did he care, because just hearing those words was way better than any explosion or customized gun he could ever make in his life. She didn't want him to change? She liked the way he was now? Genuinely? That was more soul affirming than he could put into words.
But Wrench wasn't one to outwardly show those emotions, so used to letting the mask display only what he wanted to. So, he only shrugged and flashed a happy expression. "Didn't plan on it."
Before he could react, Riley had already wrapped her arms around him and was hugging him tight. She spoke a mumbled 'thank you' against his chest, and squeezed tighter. He paused, but finally reciprocated the gesture, glad none of the gang was around to tease him about it. He much preferred to keep this to himself.ns 18.104.22.168da2