Riley didn't waste her time getting back into the action. After a few more days of enjoying the ability to sleep in and not have to go to work, she deemed herself fit enough to return to the hackerspace to take up her mission once again. It felt…freeing…to not have to slog through a day dealing with customers and their loans all day, instead heading to a secret headquarters for a rogue hacker group for work. All she could focus on was what she wanted to do, not what her front of a job deemed her to.
Wasn't that strange? It certainly was exciting. Feeling like maybe she could surprise the others by not telling them she was coming, Riley took her painkillers—the pain was still fairly strong, since her cracked ribs would take a few weeks to heal properly—and went to take a shower. Doing so with the cast was a hassle, but she wouldn't be able to have it taken off for at least five or six weeks according to the doctor. Oh well. They knew what was best.
She felt like wearing her hair down for once, and didn't bothering putting it up in a ponytail like she normally did. Then, with a touch of makeup to make herself feel better—some spots of her face still had lingering bruises from the Bratva attack—Riley smiled to herself in the mirror. For once, despite having no job to do and still with the impending deadline of figuring out how she wanted to stay in San Francisco, she felt happy. Really…actually…happy. No deadlines or looming assignment to worry about. No stuck-up coworkers or policies to follow.
It was so liberating.
Her new colleagues and friends were miles better than those at ProviBlue. Riley actually liked spending time with them, for one. And was genuinely interested in getting to know them better.
Grabbing a few more things, she made sure that Pants was fed and well cared for, then left to go to the hackerspace.
Marcus stared at the masked hacker incredulously. "…You're serious?"
"Does it sound like I'm joking?" Wrench replied with equal signs on his mask, displaying his irritation. Did he ever joke about things like this?
"No, but you've gotta be kidding me." Marcus shook his head as they approached the door to the hackerspace, showing how disappointed he was. "That was the perfect opportunity."
Wrench spread his hands wide, trying to defend himself. "It didn't feel like the right time at all!"
After inputting the code to the door, they waited for it to open, and Marcus turned to his friend while ticking down his fingers. "The two of you, alone? You saved her life? You showed her your face? What part of that didn't scream 'the right moment' to you?"
"I'm…I don't know…It just didn't, ok?"
If this were any other situation, Marcus might have felt bad for putting him on the spot like this. Wrench was obviously inexperienced in everything associated with relationships, but come on. At some point, common sense and just plain romantic tension had to come into play. Any guy could figure that much out. The door opened and they stepped inside.
"Also…why the hell didn't you tell me this the day of?" The hacker stood off to the side at the top of the stairs. He crossed his arms, tilting his head in mock anger. "Here I thought we were friends that shared everything to each other."
"We are!" He assured quietly, not wanting to alert the others downstairs to the conversation. This was just between them. "I just…forgot?"
Marcus seemed unconvinced. "Uh huh. We're gonna have a talk about that later. But honestly, Wrench. I'm trying to help you out here," he spread his hands with a pointed look, "but you have to learn to help yourself."
Wrench didn't know what to say to that, instead pacing in a small circle as he thought through his emotions. Marcus waited as he sorted them out, knowing he'd say something when he cleared them. "I know I'm probably an idiot for it but…fuck, Marcus, I really wanted to just kiss her right then. You have no idea…" The anarchist leaned against the wall, his mask turned upward to look at the ceiling. It switched to an expression of dejection, feeling like he'd fucked up no matter what he would have done.
Marcus felt a bit of pity. Wrench was obvious way in over his head here, but he was glad that his friend was able to openly admit it now. "Then why didn't you?"
He sighed, shaking his head. "It felt like I would have been taking advantage of her or something…or-"
Both hackers were startled as the door to the hackerspace opened suddenly. Wrench's mask flashed exclamation points and Marcus backed away from the entryway as Riley stepped through, looking up with her own surprise to see them just inside the entrance. "Oh, hi guys."
"Riley, nice to have you back!" Marcus perked up, offering her a quick hug. He was gentle, remembering about her injuries. She smiled and returned it, glad to see her friends again.
"It's honestly nice to be back. I was getting bored sitting at home all day." She admitted, finally turning to Wrench who stood off to the side. Her smile grew a little wider. "Hey, Wrench."
"Hey." He said casually, quickly switching his expression to one of happiness for her benefit. He didn't want her thinking anything was wrong, or that he'd been talking about her. No way. But he also didn't indicate he was up for a hug either. He didn't know what he'd be feeling if he actually did so. Better to keep a bit of distance until he figured this all out for himself.
"Sorry if I'm interrupting anything, I'll just scoot past you." She said, feeling like she wasn't welcome to whatever conversation had been taking place before she arrived. The two of them seemed to try playing it off like she hadn't, but Riley could read social cues well enough to get the situation.
"No worries. Oh, and you should probably talk with Josh." Marcus responded, clasping his hands together with an apprehensive expression.
"He dug up some data you might want to know about." Was all he said. She flashed them both a confused but grateful smile, walking down the stairs when Marcus moved out of the way for her.
They both watched as she reached the bottom of the stairs, before looking back at each other. Marcus raised his brows and jerked his head where she'd walked off to, but Wrench sighed again, shooting another glance in her direction. Marcus rolled his eyes. Ok, this had to stop. He pointed at Wrench for emphasis, whispering his next words.
"I swear to you, if you don't tell her soon, I'll fucking do it for you." Then, he pointed towards the hackerspace with his thumb over his shoulder. "Get your ass down there and do something about Riley. I can't stand seeing you two constantly miss each other like this."
Wrench looked back at him. His mask flicked over to wide circles. "You wouldn't dare."
"I would, bitch. Try me." Was Marcus' reply, one eyebrow raised in challenge.
"…" He stared by with a blank expression.
Marcus waited for Wrench to realize that he indeed would do something about it if the anarchist didn't. He wanted what was best for both of his friends, and because it was so painfully obvious that they were both what was best for each other, Marcus felt the need to knock both of their heads together to get them to realize it. Maybe even lock them in a small room until they finally confessed. At this rate, he might just have to turn to such drastic measures.
It didn't take Wrench long before he came to the same conclusion, and with a frustrated shake of his head, he walked past Marcus to descend the stairs to the hackerspace. He let his friend get a head start, knowing he probably wanted some space now. You could only push The Wrench so much before he starting pushing back with less and less restraint. Marcus didn't want to cross that line.
After greeting both Ray and Sitara on her way to Josh, she approached the green-hooded hacker and smiled. "Hey Josh." She said, and he glanced back at her in surprise, obviously not expecting to see her.
"You're back early." He said with a pleased smile, rising from his chair. He too closed in for a soft hug, and Riley felt a surge of pride. She wasn't quite sure where her and Josh stood relationship-wise. He didn't talk much and seemed to keep a respectful distance to everyone, but this hug was pretty reassuring that they'd at least gotten to be good friends. He was a complicated person, but really when she thought about it, he wasn't all that hard to figure out.
"It seems everyone forgets how impatient I can really be." She said jokingly, returning the hug with as much strength as she could manage without causing her pain, and he let her go. "Marcus said you had some data I'd want to look at."
"Yeah." His smile fell a little, returning to his seat and tapping away at the keys. Within a minute or so, a text message window popped up, with several messages displayed. "After your attack, I looked into the Bratva to see if I could find who they'd been working with. And, well…" Josh leaned to the side so she could see.
Riley leaned in to take a closer look, eyes skimming through the messages.
I'm told you're the person to go to for a hands-on approach to solving problems.
And who told you this?
A good friend of mine, who just so happens to be very wealthy.
Alright, I'm listening.
I've got a potential problem sticking her nose where it doesn't belong. She's hired out to a news station, so you can see why I have to keep my hands clean of this. I want this kept under wraps, out of the public eye. No connections whatsoever.
You want me to do a little persuasion, is that it?
Not quite yet. But, I'd appreciate getting your cooperation if and when the time comes.
I can be quite reasonable when the need arises.
"Who are these two people?"
"The original recipient was Isaak Yanovich, a Bratva member. The other is Dušan Nemec."
That got her attention, and certainly wasn't what she'd been expecting. But…well, she supposed it wasn't too surprising now that she thought about it. That man seemed to have his hands dipped into everything here in Silicon Valley. But…what did he want with her investigation? "Nemec? How is he involved?"
Josh shook his head, pointing to the screen where another screenshot of text messages appeared.
Don't think for one second I don't know about the spies you've sent to tail her.
What does it matter?
I want this done at a specific time when the circumstances require it. For now, she's useful. Call them off now, or the deal is finished.
That's not much of a threat. You've payed us partially in advance anyway.
And if I added another $50,000 to the pot to ensure it gets done right?
See, this is what I like about you. You know how to negotiate properly.
And the spies?
They'll be called off.
See that it stays that way until I give you further instructions.
Then, after that one:
We've reached a point where your service are needed.
About time. I've been anticipating that payment.
Do it discreetly. If you can find the data, do so, but the more important thing is to send the message for her to stop. Scare her a little.
Why not find a more…permanent solution?
There's no need. Just get it done, and don't get any ideas.
Riley straightened up, processing all of that. Josh tapped out of the message and next pulled up a few email windows. He turned to look up at her, a pained expression on his face.
"After finding those, I looked into Dušan's communications and everything I could get my hands on. I wanted to see how he was involved. That's when I found these emails. You won't like what they say."
She frowned, trying to gauge what he meant by that. To her disgust and dread, it was addressed to her boss, Bill. Based on the dates of the email, it was sent prior to the text messages to the Bratva.
To whom it may concern,
It has come to my attention that one of your agents is currently investigating businesses in San Francisco, one of which I happen to be associated with. I'm sure this news may be alarming to you, but there is no need to panic. I'm not out to expose your agent, or even do her any harm, despite the admittedly awkward and legally troubling position she might be in. There are many other companies that would seek to prosecute her for her actions immediately.
However, I'm not interested in that course of action, if it can be helped. I'm positive you and I can discuss this civilly and come to some sort of…agreement. After all, a news station caught up in a scandal is sure to have an audience questioning their authenticity.
Please do not misunderstand, however. I will make sure this matter is taken care of regardless of your participation. I only want to extend the invitation for you to do so on your own terms that would benefit everyone involved. Consider this my only offer.
Should you wish to have this matter taken care of, contact me anytime at my information attached.
She stared at the screen, slowly going through the information that was presented to her. Things were beginning to click into place, slowly. Maybe Bill refused the offer, and that was why Dušan had sent the Bratva to attack. Maybe Bill had tried calling off her investigation for her own safety, in an attempt to get her out of San Francisco before anything could happen to her. Assuming he had only done so to look out for her, Riley smiled a little.
Ray came up beside them, holding a laptop with the screen facing him. "There's more." He admitted in his gruff tone. Riley watched as he spun the device to face her, and she saw various banking information. Ray explained quickly so she wouldn't have to sit there and interpret it for herself.
"The Tri-Valley Herald received a mysteriously large donation of $500,000 within the past month from an anonymous source. Of course, anonymous doesn't mean much to us, so we did a bit of digging, and-"
"It's an off-shore bank account affiliated with Blume." Sitara jumped in, sauntering up to join the conversation. Her arms were crossed, and she tried looking as sympathetic as possible. "When you put two and two together…" She trailed off, leaving the rest up in the air.
The hope she'd felt after reading the email instantly shattered, and a sick feeling of disgust replaced it. She couldn't fucking believe it. Swallowing down the list of expletives that would have followed, Riley glared at the screen Ray continued showing her silently.
"There was one other email chain I found." Josh interrupted from his desk, and she leaned closer to see. She had a feeling her mood was about to sour further.
I trust you've kept your end of the agreement?
Yes, everything should be fine now without raising suspicion. She's definitely upset, but I know her. She'll follow my directions without much complaint. The matter should be taken care of.
Wonderful. I've followed through with my end, and you should see the results deposited by the end of the day. It's been a pleasure working with you.
Then, about a week later as part of the same chain:
I thought I made myself very clear when it came to my instructions, Bill. Riley was to cease her investigation, but here I see her continuing to snoop around in my business practices. I didn't want to have to take things further, but you've forced my hand.
I did exactly as you said. She's impulsive, but I didn't think she'd continue it after I stopped the funding. She's a good person…please, just don't hurt her. She doesn't deserve that.
There was no reply after that email. Maybe it should have reassured her that he didn't want anything bad to happen to her, but right now she could care less. Something did happen to her, regardless, and she couldn't help but blame Bill for it.
Sitara stepped forward, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Riley. I know it probably isn't what you wanted to hear."
Stewing in her own emotions, she furiously glared at the screen for several more seconds. Curling her lip, Riley turned away to put some distance between herself and all the damning evidence. Sitara's hand fell from her shoulder loosely. She missed the concerned glance that the others shared amongst themselves.
Her head shook silently while she ran fingers through her hair. She couldn't. Fucking. Believe. It. Bill sold her out. He fucking sold her out instead of just exposing Dušan's email. How stupid was he? How could he even do that to her? Here she thought he was someone who had the public's interest at heart. Someone who believed in the sort of mission Riley was out to accomplish. That was why she'd gone to work for Bill. She'd seen a kindred spirit and someone who would readily provide her with the resources she'd need to achieve her goal.
She'd trusted him, loyally sticking to her assignment for a year, and this was the sort of treatment she received? He caves in and forces her to abandon everything for a lump of cash? What sort of fucked up karma system was that? Was that all she was to him? Expendable to the highest bidder?
The others left her alone, wandering back to their normal places as they let her work out the swirling emotions on her own. She appreciated it, feeling crowded with them all standing around her. Wrench however, who'd stood back a ways while still keeping an eye on the conversation, watched Riley finally turn and head towards the stairs to the hackerspace. Marcus must have been watching too, because he caught Wrench's eye and jerked his head towards where she'd just run off. 'Do something!' the gesture said, and for once Wrench agreed with him without hesitation.
After searching the inside of the game store without success, Wrench found Riley sitting in the alley beside the building. Her back against the wall and knees tucked close to her chest, she sat there brooding and glaring at the opposite wall. She gave him a cursory glance but then returned to trying to burn a hole into the graffiti flower that was painted across from her using just her eyes.
Wrench said nothing, deciding to sit beside her and wait for her to want to talk. He knew from experience that when he was mad, he wasn't really in the mood to have a lot of people trying to start a conversation with him. It tended to just make the problem worse. At least, in his case it did. Riley didn't seem quite as reactive as him though.
So, instead of trying to make her talk, Wrench waited beside her, letting her know he was there without being intrusive.
In her hands was cradled her media badge marking her as a journalist. It was well-taken care of. No dents on the edges and clear as day. She cherished that badge. But now all she did was glare at it, turning it every which way in anger. He was half surprised she hadn't chucked it against the wall yet or something.
"Everything is so…fucked!" She finally yelled, predictably throwing the badge against the opposite building's wall. It bounced harmlessly against the brick and fell to the ground with a clatter. She let out a pent up breath and leaned her head back against the wall. "I hate this!"
Wrench's mask displayed his sympathy, two dejected slants looking back at her. "It is fucked," he agreed, nodding slowly, "but now you know what's been going on. Better to know than to remain ignorant."
"Maybe." She bit out shortly, trying not to lash out at him, but still upset and needing a way to vent it. He seemed to understand that though, and didn't accuse her of being unnecessarily rude. Riley was itching to hit or break something though.
"I trusted Bill." She said after some time, staring hard at the badge laying several feet away. Wrench glanced at it, but she kept talking. "I told him everything that happened to my dad, everything that happened to me, and he still…" Her nose crinkled in anger, shaking her head with a dismissive gesture of her hand, "just, fucking…sells me off to the highest bidder."
"Riley-" Wrench tried, but she cut him off.
"I mean, I worked my ass off for him for an entire year of my life! A year!" She said, standing to her feet and pacing irritably. Now that she got going, it was difficult to stop. "I could have spent my time doing a million other things that were more worthwhile than working for his cheap ass!"
Wrench stood too, noticing that her outburst was drawing attention from the passersby on the sidewalk. A few started to pull out their phones, maybe to film her for youtube or something, but Wrench shut that shit down with a discreet few codes in his phone, shutting off the nearby devices so they couldn't be used.
He turned back to Riley, who walked over to her badge and kicked it childishly across the pavement. It skittered to a stop further down the alley.
"Is that all I am to anyone? An errand girl that you can just toss aside when you're done with me? And fucking ProviBlue…I knew I was gonna get fired but they had the nerve to claim that I wasn't attacked because there wasn't a fucking police report. How fucking pathetic! Fuck Bill! And fuck ProviBlue and everybody else!" She yelled with clenched fists, then winced with a gasp when the excessive movement caused a sharp pain through her ribs.
"Easy there, Riley." Wrench said with concern, walking closer to make sure she was going to be ok. She let out a shaky breath, nodding mutely. Then, he walked over and picked up her badge. There were several scratches on the plastic where it had scraped across the pavement. It didn't look so well cared for anymore. He brushed off some of the dirt that dusted it and walked back to her side.
She crossed her arms, both in anger and to try lessening the pain through her chest, then decided that sitting down might help a bit. She returned to her place against the wall, brooding some more, but also starting to feel sorry for herself. She was still angry, but the doubts and fears that maybe she isn't much at all began to sink deeper. She hated feeling this way.
Wrench sighed and moved to crouch in front of her. She had no choice but to look at him directly. "I know sometimes I say the wrong thing, and you're free to punch me or something if I do, but don't let them get to you like this. You're just giving them what they want."
His mask displayed a glance to the right, and she followed his cue, seeing the small gathering of people standing at the edge of the alley watching them. She looked away, beginning to realize she probably looked ridiculous.
"I know that might sound fucking hysterical coming from me of all people," Wrench admitted shrugging with a toss of his head, "but I'm serious. Don't let them know they're getting to you. That's when they win."
"I'm just so fucking done with all of this. It's infuriating!" She admitted, letting out a heavy sigh. She looked down, feeling suddenly ashamed of her loud outburst. Especially in public. But she was just so pissed and didn't know how to cope with it.
Wrench lifted her chin with one hand, displaying his default Xs on his mask. "You can be angry and scream and cry all you want. You gotta let that shit out, or it's not healthy. Fuck, be pissed! You deserve to be. No one's gonna stop you. Just make sure you brush yourself off and do something about it afterwards. You shouldn't take that kind of shit from anyone."
He held up the badge between them, drawing her attention to it. He'd be damned if he let all this get to her. She wasn't alone in taking these fuckers on. She had him, and the others, backing her up. "And you're not some replaceable errand girl, Riley. I know damn well that you're worth so much more than that."
She stared down at the badge for a while, inspecting it mutely. Wrench was patient, watching with satisfaction as she finally, gingerly, took it from his grasp. She looked at the picture, wiping away a smudge she must have seen.
He looked to the side, seeing that most of the people who'd noticed her outburst had moved on, leaving just a few stragglers staring at their phones. Good. He might fight for their personal freedoms, but sometimes the general populace could really piss him off. Like right now.
"Remember when you offered to hack Bill after he cut my assignment?" Riley brought up randomly, eyes still fixed on the picture, and he nodded. "Is the offer still on the table?"
That was better. A happy expression lit up his mask, and he laughed. "You bet. Why would I pass up an opportunity to cause trouble? She looked up at him with a sweet smile. That soul-killing smile. Wrench felt something in his chest.
"We should get back at him somehow. Will you help me?"
How could he say no to a request like that? In fact, the longer he thought about it, the more he realized he'd do anything to make sure she kept smiling like that. "Fuck yeah."
Wrench stood and held out a hand. She smiled and took it without hesitation, and he hefted her to her feet. Intent on leading them back towards the hackerspace, he kept hold of her hand and she followed behind him without complaint.
Nobody gave them any strange looks as they entered, despite the fact that Wrench knew every single one of them had probably heard Riley's yelling outside. By this point, they were all used to DedSec's shenanigans and no longer thought anything of it. He cast a curious glance behind him, seeing her smiling softly. He turned ahead again, glad she was in better spirits.
They approached the door, and Wrench typed in the code. They waited for the door to open, and Riley took the opportunity to wrap her arms around him in a gentle hug. He was caught by surprise, but it was a pleasant one.
He reciprocated, loosely wrapping his arms around her, relishing this moment. "Anytime."
Riley and Wrench returned to the hackerspace to see Ray surrounded by the other members. He looked up when they approached, and nodded in her direction. "So, what's the plan from here, Riley?"
She stopped, seeing everyone face her, wondering the same thing. She let out a breath, not nearly as upset as she was earlier, but still mad. "I'm not staying with that asshole any longer than I have to. I'll put in my two weeks."
"And where does that leave you, finance-wise?" He followed up, raising a brow. That was the big question wasn't it?
Deciding to be candid about it, she shrugged. "I'll have to start looking for another job as soon as possible."
"You so sure about that?" Sitara asked, a strangely amused smile on her face. Riley tilted her head, confused.
"Is…there another option?" She asked, genuinely curious. Riley couldn't see one. "I can't exactly be homeless, and as much as I love this place, I'd rather not have to live on the couch every night."
Ray nodded, typing away at his keyboard. "As a matter of fact, there is. Of course, only if you want to do it."
"Ok…?" In the short time she'd known him, Riley had come to learn that sometimes Ray liked to be melodramatic when the focus was on him. Maybe it worked so well because of his reputation, but there were times when she just wanted him to spit it out. Like right now.
He gestured to his laptop, and she walked around to the screen to look. "I tracked down all the information used for the money transfer from Blume's account to the Tri-Valley Herald. So, with a little interference of our own, we should be able to take it out of their account and redirect it somewhere else."
"And that somewhere else being…?"
Ray raised a brow, figuring she'd have understood his meaning. "Yours."
"Oh." She blanked. After another glance at the $500,000 that had been recorded in the banking record, the reality seemed to hit her. Ray continued before she could respond.
"Think of it like a severance package. Both ProviBlue and Tri-Valley fucked you over, so why not take a little compensation for it? Blume's the one paying for it anyway."
"You're not really gonna turn away half a million dollars, are you Riley?" Marcus spoke up with an incredulous tone. To him, the answer to that was obvious. "I mean…you wouldn't have to work for years if you play it right."
"We could also track down the portion that went to the Bratva. So, realistically, it would be more than that." Josh added in helpfully.
"And," This time Sitara jumped in, looking proud, "you could dedicate all your time to working with DedSec."
The brunette didn't know what to say. This was all a bit overwhelming. How was she supposed to stay angry when all of this was on the table? "Wow. Uh-"
"You don't have to make a decision now." Ray reassured, waving his hands to calm her down. "And we understand if you want to Just think about it. The offer will be there." And so saying, he rose from his seat and went back to his regular spot in the hackerspace. Riley looked around at the others, but they too dispersed from the table. Only Wrench stayed beside her, watching her curiously.
He shifted on his feet, suddenly unsure what to say. Riley probably had a lot on her mind, maybe she wanted to be left alone, but Wrench still wanted to spend time with her if she'd allow it. "I was, uh, gonna go back to the garage and work on Marcus' bike a bit. Don't know how exciting it'll be but you can come if you want." He stuck a thumb towards the stairs, and she eventually nodded.
"Ok. It might help me take some time to think about everything. I'd love to. Let me grab my bag real quick."
"Sure thing." He said, going to stand by the stairs to wait for her. She wandered back over to Josh's desk, leaning down to grab her stuff. Wrench's eye was caught by Marcus, who waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Wrench shot him two angry slashes, switching back to his happy expression when Riley approached. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah." She said, flashing him a distracted smile. She walked ahead of him, and he gently guided her with a hand. Then, flashing another irritated glance at Marcus, he discreetly flipped him off behind Riley's back.
Marcus smirked and shook his head, but by that time Wrench had already rounded the corner and ascended the stairs.ns 220.127.116.11da2