Riley made it to the bottom of the stairs of the hackerspace the next afternoon, and Sitara noticed her entrance first. "Glad you could make it." She said, gesturing with her hand from her seat on the couch. "Come on over. It's almost time for the launch."
The brunette smiled, setting her stuff by the lockers and approaching the back of the couch slowly. Sitara and Josh sat below on the middle two cushions, greeting her with smiles and nods. Sitara's, in Riley's opinion, was much too devious and all-knowing to be entirely innocent. Marcus had probably said something to her about her newfound relationship with Wrench. The thought alone threatened to make her break out in a deep blush. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that gossip traveled fast through the hacker group.
"How's it feel to be filthy rich now?" She asked with an amused grin, and Riley shrugged.
"Well, you know. It'll take a while to get used to the fact that I don't have to survive off of microwave meals anymore, but I don't think I'll be dining on caviar every night if that's what you're asking."
Ray had finalized the transfer of cash over to Riley that morning, texting her to let her know it was done. She'd confirmed it on her bank account app, still feeling slightly surreal to see all those zeros behind that first number.
"Good. We don't want all that cash getting to your head." Sitara joked, winking to let Riley know she wasn't being serious. The brunette smiled back, aware it was just a jest.
Ray wandered up from the back of the hackerspace, beer in hand to enjoy while they watched. Her gaze circled the room, and she saw Wrench was over by his workspace tinkering with what looked to be a computer motherboard. Hearing Sitara call out, he looked up, seeing the brunette come closer. His happy expression flickered over his mask and he gave a little wave. She smiled, returning the gesture.
All of the screens on the wall facing them were set on the same news station, which was airing the rocket launch. Galilei had launched several other rockets previously, and this was the last of the scheduled ones to go. Marcus and Ray had acted just in time to install their backdoor onto the motherboard.
"Where's Marcus?" Riley asked, not seeing the hacker in sight even as the rest of the group gathered together around the screens. Surely he wouldn't miss the launch?
"He's on his way." Josh said.
He'd seemed pretty excited about it the day before. There was only about five minutes left on the countdown. He'd better hurry. Even as she had the thought, they all heard the door upstairs slide open, and Marcus rounded the bottom of the stairs a moment later, taking out his headphones.
"The man of the hour!" Wrench announced, meeting Marcus halfway into the room and wrapping an arm around him in a friendly manner. "Come on, Wesley Crusher. The launch awaits."
"Bitch please, I'm clearly Sisko." He retorted, breaking off from the side hug and taking his place on the last available cushion on the couch.
"Jake Sisko?" Wrench asked in an amused tone.
"Captain Sisko." Marcus clarified with emphasis, and the others made more room so they each could sit comfortably. Ray pulled up one of the folding metal chairs from the table and set it beside the couch.
"We're a few minutes away from having Blume at our mercy!" Sitara cried with excitement, her leg bouncing up and down from nervous tension.
Wrench took his place beside Riley, eyes watching the screen gleefully. "Ooh, we're gonna cook the shit out of their goose!" He said, and the brunette chuckled. The conversation continued on, saying how Blume never should have taken DedSec on in the first place.
Riley watched the masked hacker out of the corner of her eye, unable to help the smile that was forming. She really thought she'd be exhausted, but just standing beside him seemed to give her energy. She hadn't gotten a lick of sleep the night before, too distracted from thinking over the day's events. Even while laying in bed, dosed up with a bunch of sleeping pills to try knocking her out, she'd squirmed pleasantly in place under the covers, thinking about their kiss.
Well…kisses, technically. It had been a lot more than just one. In fact, Wrench hadn't made any further progress to Marcus' bike because they'd both been too giddy and distracted by each other to really do anything meaningful. They'd spent the evening sitting close together and talking. With random make out sessions in between after they caught each other glancing at the other's lips again.
Riley felt her cheeks starting to heat up. Additionally, Wrench must have felt her staring, because he turned his head to regard her. When they caught each other's eye, Wrench flashed her a wink. Her smile widened, and she dared to brush her hand against his behind the couch. Thankfully everyone else's attention was rapt on the screen, giving them a small amount of privacy behind the couch. Wrench glanced down at their fingers, which brushed together briefly.
Instead of letting it go, he reached for her hand and intertwined their fingers together. His mask flashed a quick heart icon, before returning to his happy expression. Riley squeezed his hand gently. It was nice being able to finally express her feelings like this, instead of hoping they didn't show through.
They were both distracted when Josh started a countdown. "T-minus 20. 19…18…"
"17. 85. Qwerty. Googolplex." Wrench interrupted impatiently. Why would anyone start a countdown at 20? "Just imagining that data load is enough to get me to half mast, and touching cloth, at the same friggin' time!"
Riley's eyes widened imperceptibly, and she forced her eyes to stay on the screens. As perverted as it was, she couldn't help but be curious to look. Did that make her a bad person? Whatever the answer was, she didn't have time to think about it, as the countdown finally reached 5 seconds. Then the rest of the gang started calling it out together.
"Tres, dos, uno!"
The rocket's booster ignited, sending plumes of smoked roiling underneath it in spectacular fashion. Slowly, then faster, it lifted off the ground up towards the sky. The cameramen filming kept the focus on the rocket as it ascended.
"Happy new year!" Wrench said as they all cheered together. Riley watched as it soared higher and higher, the rocket slowly getting smaller in the camera as it rose to a height even the zoom couldn't fully reach.
Finally, the news station cut back away to the anchorwoman, who was reporting on the story. The gang stood from their chairs and mingled, talking about the launch. Both Wrench and Riley reluctantly pulled their hands away, not wanting anyone to comment on the fact that they'd been holding hands. She knew Wrench was a shy person when it came to this stuff, and Riley herself was pretty private in her own love life. They didn't want to be displaying too much PDA, especially with a relationship this new.
The rocket took about 10 minutes to reach orbit. Marcus worked at his laptop, trying to access the backdoor they'd installed onto the rocket. They weren't even totally sure if it would work, but this was the defining moment. The others were crowded around to see. The air was tense, the DedSec gang waiting with bated breath to see if the hack would work after all. If it didn't, at least they'd tried to access whatever Galilei was so tight-lipped about. If it did…
They all watched excitedly as the device pinged, and Marcus smiled with pride. The gang let out shouts of surprise and relief. Wrench in particular was pumped.
"Yes!" He turned to Riley and high fived her, and she smiled wide. It had worked! They were in! Then, he turned back to his friend. "Marcus, you beautiful bastard." He wrapped the hacker in a hug from the side, pulling him closer and making loud kissing noises.
"Ok, alright. Ok!" Marcus pushed insistently at him with a chuckle, eyes never leaving the screen as the data began to pile in. Sitara brought the laptop closer to her face, eyes scanning the screen.
"Guys…guys! Look." She turned the screen to show the rest, and they all went quiet as the sheer amount of data began to transfer to their devices. They hadn't expected this much, though with all the secrecy surrounding why the rockets were even being launched, they hadn't known what to expect at all.
"It'll take forever to get through all this." Josh supplied helpfully, now fully focused on his own laptop. Other than Wrench and Riley, the gang dispersed from around Marcus and took up their own places at the table.
The brunette shook her head, perplexed and astounded all at the same time. Maybe they'd gotten into a lot deeper plot than they could handle. But…no way, DedSec could take care of any issue, solve any problem. This was just a lot higher of a hurdle than they'd anticipated needed leaping.
"Focus on why the satellites are in play…Ray?" Marcus asked, gesturing to the older man. He obviously knew more about these things than them. Perhaps his more experienced eyes could discern some more meaning from it than they could.
"Yeah, already got eyes on it." He reassured, focused on the laptop in front of him. Then, within seconds, he leaned back in his chair and stared in surprise at the screen. "Holy loving fuck…It's a backbone."
Well. This was a new and terrifying revelation. If this is what Galilei was so quiet and secretive about…it was much worse than they'd thought. The others seemed to have the same thought, all taken aback by Ray's discovery. "A satellite backbone?" Marcus winced in both amazement and confusion.
"What about the latency? There's no way they can match the speed of fiber optics." Josh shook his head, not understanding how this set up was possible.
Sitara huffed out with a humorless smile, interpreting the transfer speeds and the diagnostic data she was running. "If I'm reading this right…they are. Blume did it. They're bypassing the undersea cables with satellites."
"It's a wonder they were able to keep this out of the public eye. I mean, this is completely new stuff. Surely someone would have leaked it." Riley said, and Josh caught her eye with a nod.
"Not just new. This is a quantum leap in tech. I mean, if it works, it'll take hackers years to catch up."
Marcus smiled, already working on skimming the data for some sort of compartmentalization in the system, some way to figure out some sense to what it contained. "Not for us. We're already in." He pointed towards Ray again. "Eh, who's on Blume's client list?"
Ray turned back to the data and spent some time looking through what they found. The sheer size made it difficult to pinpoint a specific database. But before long he was listing off names. "Ok, we've got Nudle, and !Nvite, we got Tidis, Galilei…" As he went down the list, Ray grew more and more concerned. "We've got the…the Government! The New York Stock Exchange!"
Wrench interrupted with a hand gesture. "Wait, so all these companies just agreed to up and funnel all their data through Blume?" His mask displayed two circles, expressing his doubt. "Does anyone else find that suspicious?"
"All that data at Blume's fingertips. That's like…the world's most powerful monopoly." Marcus muttered, waving at the laptop as reference.
They all grew quiet, letting the unsettling truth sink in. Blume's reach and influence was much more widespread than they'd originally thought. It wasn't just San Fransisco where it had sank its teeth in. They were dug in throughout the country, thanks to big corporations like this trusting them with their data flow.
Riley felt so much smaller now, realizing how big of a problem this was. For whatever reason, she had unconsciously assumed that dealing Blume a major blow here in San Francisco would be the end of it, but that wasn't the case. This was so much bigger than just them. How were they supposed to keep up? Sure, there were other DedSec groups dotting the country, but they were few and far between. They would need a bigger influence as well in order to combat this system further. Hence Sitara's mission to spread their name far and wide.
Riley's blog didn't feel like it was making much of an impact when put into this perspective, but she was determined to still continue helping in whatever way she could.
Wrench was pacing behind the chairs, a thoughtful expression on his mask, then whirled in place and pointed to Marcus. "Can wee nuke the backbone?"
It was Josh who answered. "No…" He shook his head. "No, even if we could, we still need answers."
Marcus seemed to sense that the morale was decreasing as the full brunt of their task ahead hit them, and he stood, appealing to them with his arms spread wide. "Hey everyone, listen up. Our work is far from over but with this score at least we're on the playing field. So pick a target…!Nvite…Tidis…"
"Dibs!" Wrench interjected quickly, raising a finger.
"…whatever, and start digging." Marcus continued, still addressing the whole group. "Look for shit they're not supposed to be doing, right?"
He got a handful of nods from the others, all agreeing with him. His face was set in determined lines. "Dušan wants to paint us as the enemy? Let's show him what going to war with us really means."
"Yeah!" The group resounded out in unanimous agreement, and they all began getting up to start right into the information they'd gathered. Wrench wandered over to his workbench with Riley only a few steps behind him.
"You want to go after Tidis, huh?" She asked, and he clenched his fists with a giddy expression.
"Hell yeah! Just think…" He spread his hands wide, mask switching to two different sized circles. She could imagine his mind running wild with possibilities. "…robots of all kinds, right there waiting for me to tamper with…I could build anything I want with their technology and schematics."
"Oh really? And what's the first thing you'd make?" She asked, crossing her arms and leaning against his desk. She was really curious as to what insane ideas he had up in that head of his.
He held up one finger, a suddenly irritated expression on his mask. "First thing on the list is a robot that serves as both a refrigerator and a microwave. It's gotta be mobile, so I can grab a cold beer and make leftover Mexican food anywhere in my garage. How this problem hasn't been fixed already is beyond me. It's goddamn 2018 already."
"That's…surprisingly tame." Riley said, raising her brows with a small smile. "I honestly expected it to be a lot more…I don't know…" She searched for the right word. "…destructive."
"And the second thing," Wrench continued on with a now happy expression, "is a mobile tank of sorts. Practically indestructible, plus, compact and fast enough to infiltrate with ease. It will be able to throw grenades and release smoke for cover. I'm also tinkering with the idea of attaching two flamethrowers to the front…"
"Aaannnd, there it is." The brunette said with a chuckle. "That's more like what I would expect from you."
"What can I say? I'm a man of simple tastes." He said, causing her to laugh again. His expression flickered back over to the default Xs, and he tilted his head. "Oh, yeah. I forgot you haven't met Wrench Jr. yet."
He perked up again. "You'll love him. The best robot companion you'll ever meet. And surprisingly good at conversation too."
"I bet." She said, smiling again. Her eyes were beginning to feel heavier. It seemed her long night of no sleep was beginning to catch up with her. She tried covering it with a hand, but Wrench noticed anyways.
"You look like you need a nap." He said gently.
Riley couldn't help but tease him, so she pretended to frown in offense. "Is that some roundabout way of saying I look like shit?"
"No, no!" He rushed to clarify, exclamation points flashing on his mask. It was kind of cute the way he panicked like that. He may call her easy to tease, but he himself was no different. "I was just saying…you yawned…and-"
Riley's laugh cut off whatever he was about to say. "I'm kidding! Don't worry about it. But you're right, I definitely need one." Another yawn threatened to break out, and she shook her head to ward it off.
"Then go home and sleep, or pass out on the couch here if you want. DedSec's not a 9-5 job. You can come and go as you please." Wrench reassured, brushing a few strands of her hair out of her face.
Riley smiled, feeling warm by his concern for her. He was always so sweet, and so patient. "Ok. I think I'll chill at home for a bit, then…I'll see you later?" She hadn't intended it to be a question, but she honestly wasn't sure if Wrench wanted her around all the time, so it had turned into one halfway through saying the words.
He huffed out a laugh, then flashed an affirmative wink. "I sure hope so."
"Catch you later, then." She said, poking him in the chest before turning and heading towards the locker where her stuff was still sitting.
Her several hour nap was much needed. She'd crashed on her couch almost as soon as she entered, tossing her stuff on the floor in the living room and collapsing into the cushions. Couches weren't ever comfortable enough to sleep on until you were utterly exhausted, in which case, they were the comfiest things in the world.
Riley had awoken several hours later, the sun close to the horizon. She checked her phone, seeing it was already past 8. Shit, she'd been sleeping a bit longer than she'd anticipated. The idea of setting an alarm had been forgotten completely. Whoops. Hopefully Wrench didn't think she was intentionally avoiding him.
Too lazy to get up immediately, because the couch felt nice and cozy and at some point Pants had decided to lay down on top of her feet at the other end of the couch, Riley continued laying there a bit longer, just relaxing without any worries.
She took the time to think about the large task they had ahead of them. It would take some time to scrub through that data they'd obtained, and putting together exposure operations to reveal the truth to the city would take even more time. Sitara had her work cut out for her. Riley would try to help as best she could.
As she lay there thinking about a great many things, her mind began to wander to other topics. Random topics. First Wrench, because he was always on her mind. She smiled. Her very random thought that he was just a cutie was most prominent. Hmm, what would he say if she told him that directly? Now she kind of wanted to.
Then to Bill. She had yet to call in her two weeks, but she was too lazy to do it right then. She had a choice few words for him, and she wanted to be completely clear headed when she told him those things, so she'd never forget them or his reaction.
Then…All that data being uncovered had reminded Riley of something. She hadn't checked on her mom in awhile. Normally she tried to keep tabs every month or so, but with all of the things going on the past little while, Riley had just completely forgotten. There were more important things to do, as awful as that sounded.
The more she tried forgetting about it, the more the thought of her mother held on tightly to her conscious. It wouldn't leave her alone, the nagging thought that she was overdue to check how she was. A part of Riley wondered why she still bothered, knowing her mother would never care if her daughter was watching out for her. She seemed unconcerned with her lot in life now, and hadn't bothered looking for her, as far as the brunette was aware.
Staring up at the ceiling a few more minutes, Riley finally reached down and dug her phone out of her bag, unlocking it to navigate to her hacking console. She typed in the familiar codes and commands, watching as her mother's ctOS profile picture pulled up front and center on her phone.
She stared at the familiar brown eyes, trying to see past the awful memories to the person she used to be. She was smiling sweetly in her picture, but she hadn't seen a smile like that in…years. Not since her father…well…it had been years. Her black hair was still curly and short, but the face was gaunt and shallow. Obviously the woman had seen better days in a health sense.
Under employment, it still listed the same customer service, minimum wage call center job that she'd gotten 2 years ago. At least she had a stable source of income, right? It didn't appear that she was earning any raises or moving up in the company, however, because the low salary hadn't budged since she'd been hired.
Riley eyes scanned the superficial information that she knew almost by heart. Age 54. One child. Widowed. Never remarried. They still included the little tidbit about her having used to be a physical therapist, despite the fact that she hadn't practiced for years. One living sister in Georgia. Riley had only ever met her once. Several late payments on her apartment. Evicted from two previous residences.
Riley's eyes were glued to that one, unable to look away. What? When had this happened? Why? With a tap on the attached file, an arrest record and mugshot followed. Breaking and entering. Possession of illegal substances. Suspected substance distribution. Evading police. Assault on an officer. Her brain could picture the turn of events rather well, but still…
The provided mugshot pictured her mother looking grim and even more unhealthy than her ctOS profile. Her eyes were sunken and gray, dark circle underneath them. Her face was more defined, most likely from losing weight. Her eyes looked…almost lifeless. But nonetheless just as cruel as she remembered them to be. Her mother may have changed over time, but not in a good way, and the abuser Riley had known was still in there somewhere.
The brunette didn't know what to feel about it, all the same. This woman was still her mother. They were blood. She'd given her life. Raised her until she was a teenager in a good home as a good parent. It wasn't until tragedy shook them to the core did she change.
A few lines down, she read the posted bail. Tens of thousands of dollars to have her released. And now that Riley could afford it, maybe…
Could she really forgive years of abuse though? Did the years of love and affections before the change outweigh the trauma she'd put her through afterwards?
A part of her still loved her mother…in a way. Riley could recall the ballet recitals she'd attended when the brunette was very young. The times making cookies where more of the cookie dough was eaten raw rather than actually being baked. The trip to the emergency room when she'd broken her arm at 10 years old. Embarrassingly confiding in her mother that she liked David in 8th grade, and the excitement her mother had displayed knowing her baby was growing up.
All those memories…Riley cherished greatly. She held onto those as the only part of her family she had left. Whoever this woman was now…well, was it still even her mother? Would she even recognize Riley if they ever met again? How far gone was this woman?
Did that give Riley the right to turn her back and allow her to rot in jail for however long she was in for?
It didn't feel like there was a right answer here.ns188.8.131.52da2