For several days after, Riley went about her own investigation as usual. DedSec was quiet; she hadn't heard anything from them since being asked to retrieve that information from ProviBlue. A part of her was…disappointed? that they hadn't contacted her since, but the other part knew it was foolish to think they'd be as invested in her as she was with them. They probably had dozens, if not hundreds, of other business partners they worked with. Realistically speaking, Riley might be the least of their concerns.
Her promise to post support on her blog page took a little longer than anticipated to fulfill. The basic outline had sat completed on her computer for two days, untouched until Riley finally worked up the motivation to finish it with the finer details. Not because she was being lazy, but her lead into Zaferi's CEO had taken her further and deeper than she'd anticipated. Her weekend had been spent attempting to hack into various databases and information servers she could find, trying to connect the dots between each company and their dirty secrets. This left room for little else.
When she'd finally posted it the night before, polishing and combing through each sentence to ensure nothing was misspelled, Riley had sat back watching her views slowly climb for awhile. Normally, she got about one quarter of the number of views as comments. But this time, even after 30 minutes, there wasn't any sort of feedback besides the scattering of likes and shares that were normal.
Then, one by one, comments began to come in, as if everyone else was waiting for the others to say what they felt first. Ones, then twos and fours, began to express that they too agreed with the message DedSec was trying to promote. Most tentatively aligned themselves with the hacker group, but tried to emphasize that they didn't approve of all of their methods. Riley wasn't surprised, nor concerned with this initial response. It wouldn't be until Riley had several posts supporting the group that people would feel a bit more comfortable stating their opinions. When it was clear you weren't the only one with an opinion, the fear of retribution for voicing it grew smaller.
Riley was satisfied she'd fulfilled her end of the agreement for the time being, knowing that the next week would require another affirmation. The continued positive reinforcement would slowly begin to make people start thinking about her claims and opinions seriously. It was how people worked.
Riley wasn't sure what the appropriate thing would be at this point. Could she freely contact DedSec? Were they not that trusting of her yet? They didn't exactly specify how often she could get in touch with them or for what reasons. Riley had always been a little awkward when it came to interactions like this. She didn't want to assume things or accidentally overstep boundaries. Of course, most of the time it just ended up making her look ridiculous.
So it was both a surprise and a small relief to find a little box in her mail after work that day. Taking it, then gently shaking it to try determining what it was, the brunette stepped through the door to her apartment and set her things on the counter. Pants was once again demanding attention, but she ignored him temporarily, too occupied with the gift she'd received.
There was a tiny envelope attached to the front, and the message 'Turn Me On ;)' was written on the card inside. Reading it with an amused expression, she ripped open the wrapping and inspected the box inside.
It was an earpiece, very similar to the one she had connected to her audio recorder, but this was smaller, sleeker, and much more expensive by appearance alone. Turning it every which way, she clicked the little switch on the side and nestled it in her ear.
"Yo, Riley." A female voice said, causing her to jump in place.
"Uh…hello?" She inquired, not sure who she was speaking to. She wasn't familiar with any female with DedSec.
"Shit. Forgot I haven't properly introduced myself before. I'm Sitara, DedSec's-"
"-graphic designer and kick ass brand creator." Marcus interrupted over the channel, recognizing his voice. "Without her, we wouldn't have a name or a face."
"Well, let's be honest guys." Riley recognized Wrench's voice next, his mask still making his voice sound tinny and robotic. "I could always provide the face of DedSec. You know, as an alternative."
Sitara chuckled proudly. "Sure, Wrench. I've worked years to get this group where it is. And since you'll be doing a lot of positive marketing for us, Riley, you and I will be working together pretty closely."
"Cool. I've already written and published the first blog post, too, so you should see some more positive support coming along." Riley smiled, walking towards her bedroom with her stuff. Pants followed after, still angry he hadn't been fed. That cat was never satisfied.
"That's what I like to hear." There was a moment's pause, before she spoke up again. "Well? Aren't the rest of you going to introduce yourselves?" Sitara stressed kindly. Riley almost laughed, familiar with the awkwardness of a greeting between strangers.
A male cleared his throat. "We met at the pier before, but we weren't properly introduced. I'm Marcus, newest addition to the group." He had a kind voice, and the brunette nodded, changing out of her work shirt and into something more comfortable.
She laughed. "I remember you. You scared me half to death shutting off my electronics."
A few others laughed on the comm, including Marcus. "Yeah, sorry again about that. Just had to be sure you weren't calling for a swarm of back up or something."
"No harm done." Riley said, pushing past the door to her bedroom and watching her feet as Pants rushed past her.
Another voice, this one softer and also kind, spoke next. "I'm Josh."
"…AKA, the one and only Hawtsauce." Marcus added when it became apparent there wasn't anything else to follow after, and Riley's eyebrows rose.
"Oh, I've heard of you! You've done some awesome stuff for research foundations and medical institutes. I really respect your work, Josh."
"Thanks." It seemed he wasn't much of a small-talker. That was ok. He was nice enough. Riley wandered back into her kitchen to feed Pants. He nearly tripped her, weaving in and out of her legs as she walked.
"Pants, you've gotta stop that." She lectured him while opening the fridge for his food, forgetting there were several other listeners in her ear.
"Pants?" Wrench questioned, confusion rife in his tone.
"Uh, heh, sorry. Pants is the name of my cat. He's very persistent when he's hungry." She shot the feline a piercing glare, but he was unaffected. The cat even had the audacity to sneeze innocently in that damned cute way he always did. Riley resisted the urge to hug him, the bastard.
Sitara made an 'aww' sound. "That's adorable. I'll have to meet the little guy sometime." Riley couldn't help but laugh in response.
"Just don't be disappointed when you find out he's not little anymore." Sitara chuckled again, but Riley took the opportunity to ask the question she'd been wondering about. "Listen, not to sound ungrateful or anything, and it's been great getting to meet you guys in a sense, but I was curious why you gave me this earpiece?"
"Really? What kind of partners would we be if we didn't have a convenient way to communicate?" Marcus emphasized, and Riley felt a little silly for having asked. "If we're gonna be working together, it's best we are all in the know."
"I suppose that makes sense." She figured, dishing out Pants' food in his bowl and setting it on the floor. He made a beeline for it and immediately began eating. "It surprised me is all. We only just started working together."
"Having resources closer at hand is a more efficient system." Josh explained logically. Riley could faintly hear the quiet tap of computer keys in the background. "Why wait around to use an asset when it's available now?"
"See? Logical." Sitara sounded really sure of herself. "This channel is exclusively for the group, but you can set up comms with specific people during ops. We can show you how to set that up later."
"Awesome, thanks." Riley said, pulling out a take-out menu for one of her favorite Chinese food places. Microwave entrees didn't sound so appealing right now. She was feeling fancy tonight.
Josh's typing increased again. "I'm packaging up some data for your investigation as we speak. You'll have a USB in your mail tomorrow morning."
"What does it contain?"
"Everything we have on our previous targets; New Dawn, HMP, Haum, and some smaller-name companies from awhile back. I wasn't sure what exact information you needed. I figured I would just send it all."
"Oh…wow. That's incredible. I didn't realize you'd send so much." She shook her head, feeling a bit overwhelmed. She'd expected bits and pieces, to be honest. Not a whole data dump. Not that she was complaining…Riley could just see her investigation soaring forward at an accelerated rate.
"Why wouldn't we?" Wrench asked. "We want to see these fuckers taken down just as much as you."
Riley supposed that made perfect sense. They'd want her to spread the word just as much as they did. The more exposure, the more validity it puts on DedSec's claims. If they could get a mob-mentality going with the info, and get more and more groups to start spreading it around, it would force news stations and 'legitimate' sources in the media to acknowledge it's genuineness.
"And feel free to contact us anytime. For whatever reason. We won't bite." Sitara promised, her smile practically audible in her tone.
"Except maybe Wrench, but, that's what the mask is for." Marcus commented nonchalantly, and Riley heard Wrench scoff.
"Only if I'm pissed enough." He muttered, causing Riley to laugh under her breath.
"Well, it was great meeting you guys, but I should get back to my own investigation. There's a lot I have to sift through." She said, not wanting to make things awkward by remaining on the comm channel for an extended period of time. It would take a little bit to get used to using it, she knew, and they were still practically strangers to her. Things would get too awkward too quickly at this rate.
"Sounds good. Just tune into this frequency to reach any of us when you need to." Marcus said.
Riley thanked them all and turned off her earpiece, letting the silence return to the apartment. It was strange having so many people to talk to so suddenly. Most of her investigation had been solo, staking out locations and posing by herself to gather information. Having all these new people to interact with was refreshing.
The cafe was always strangely busy this time of night, Wrench thought, leaning against the wall behind him from the corner stool. Most of the usual customers knew to just leave him be, simply because the mask tended to scare people away. He didn't mind, though. It was half the reason for wearing it; keeping others at a distance.
Wrench alternated between staring out the window at the passing people, and peering over at the waitress out of the corner of his eye. Cara spoke with another table, her tray in hand carrying a few plates of food. Her brown hair was always worn down, over one shoulder. She'd toss it there out of her face while she worked.
Her small butterfly tattoo peeked out from under the hem of her shirt, and he'd always meant to ask about it. However, he'd never gotten around to working up the courage or…hell, he didn't know. He'd just never asked. When it came to things like this, Marcus was always much better at it. Girls were always so complicated. It made Wrench nervous. Maybe today would be different and he would finally actually strike up a meaningful conversation. And maybe-
The bell attached to the door jingled as it was pushed open. A man dressed in slacks and a polo walked in, eyes scanning the room until he lit upon Cara. Wrench watched him smile to himself, then walk quicker towards her. The hacker's fingers curled on the counter, both in an attempt to cool his rising disappointment, and to distract him from the kiss the waitress and the man shared across the room.
The eyes on his mask turned into asterisks by themselves, the most neutral expression he could maintain at the moment in time. He turned his attention back towards the window, willing the man out of his mind. Cara laughed at something he said. That sweet laugh. But the sound hadn't ever grated in his ears the way it did now.
They carried on a conversation, distracting her from work, for several minutes. Wrench refused to look back at the both of them, knowing it would do more harm than good. He resorted to spinning and inspected the long-empty cup of coffee he'd ordered after first arriving.
It wasn't even Cara's fault. Wrench hadn't stepped it the fuck up and talked to her in the first place. It wasn't like they were even in a fucking relationship, but Wrench had played with the thought. He had a goddamn picture of her at his workspace. It still hurt, and he couldn't stop the anger directed towards the both of them.
The sadistic side of him wondered how he could ruin their relationship. It would only take a few fake Facebook message chains, a couple screenshots, some pictures from the internet, and voila. No more boyfriend. It wouldn't even be that hard. Child's play. Maybe ten minutes at most with a laptop. He should have been more ashamed of thinking along those lines, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
Wrench heard the bell jingle again, and the man walked past his line of sight outside the cafe, heading away down the sidewalk. Wrench sighed quietly to himself, not sure what to do with the information he'd discovered. One thing became obvious, though. He'd have to find another place to frequent. This one wouldn't do anymore.
The bell jingled again, and this time a woman stepped through. Her long brown hair was tangled and unkempt, and Wrench cocked his head upon seeing the batman pajama pants. She glanced around before heading towards the coffee counter. Wrench couldn't see her face, but she nearly looked homeless with the old hoodie thrown over an old t-shirt.
The woman placed her order with Cara then turned. Wrench's eyes took on two exclamation points, surprised to see Riley here. She instantly recognized him, her tired expression perking up with recognition.
She took a step towards him, then paused. Somehow, he could tell she wasn't sure if she'd be welcome. He gestured for her to come over, and she smiled with a nod.
"If I'd have known I would bump into someone who actually knew me, I'd have worn something a little more appropriate." She joked upon approach, looking down at her own pitifully unstylish ensemble of an outfit.
"Considering it's…" he checked the time, "nearly midnight, I think you have a pass."
"Sweet." She replied neutrally, sitting on the stool beside him. Then, she released an exhausted sigh and rested her head on her crossed arms. "So, what are you doing here anyway?"
"Eh. It's a nice place to think. And the food is average here." He answered vaguely. It would hardly be a good idea to tell her he was stalking a waitress. Her eyes had closed, and she looked asleep already. Wrench nudged her in the arm, eyes turning into question marks. "I could ask you the same thing, you know. And in case you weren't aware, beds are much more comfortable to sleep on than counter tops."
That got a tired chuckle from her. "I was in bed, but not sleeping." She tried sitting up a bit and rubbed at her eyes, smudging the already smudged make up even more. Wrench was careful not to laugh at her raccoon eyeliner and spotty foundation.
"I'm sifting through the USB's of data that Josh sent over. It's taking more time than I thought it would." She went on to explain, then gestured at the cafe around them. "Needed to get up and about or I'd actually end up falling asleep. Figured I'd try this place out since it isn't far from home."
Wrench shrugged, understanding. "We are nothing if not thorough." He said proudly, a happy expression marking his face. "Are you seriously trying to get through all of it in one night?"
"Well, I'm nothing if not stubborn and impatient." She joked, looking up to see his amused emoticons. Then he looked over her shoulder, and the '^' symbols were replaced with three dots before he looked back out the window silently. Arms crossed defensively. Riley frowned in confusion, then turned to see the waitress approaching with a cup of coffee.
"Here you go." The woman said, setting the cup in front of her.
Riley nodded with a quick smile. "Thank you."
She wandered back over towards the front of the cafe, leaving Riley to turn her attention back to the masked man sitting beside her. The tenseness of his shoulders was worrying, and Riley quickly connected the dots.
"Something between you and her?" She asked, subtly sticking a thumb towards the waitress. Wrench gave her a glance, dotted eyes turning into the default X's. As if trying to mask the fact that he was upset. She could tell he was still mildly uncomfortable.
The brunette raised a brow. "Then what's the matter? You got all distant for a second there."
Wrench seemed unable to come up with an answer, glancing around as if searching for one. Ultimately, he sighed and threw up his hands in surrender. "I don't know. Figured I had a shot at something, but that shits out the window now."
Riley looked back over at the waitress, then at Wrench again. "She reject you?"
"Not exactly, but…fuck, whatever. It's my own damn fault anyways." Wrench wasn't even sure why he was talking to Riley about this. Hell, Marcus didn't even know about his forays to this cafe to see Cara.
She took a long sip of her coffee, nodding silently as she thought about what she wanted to say. "Well," she started, setting the cup down again, "did you try talking to her? Getting to know her?"
"…no. I-" His eyes turned into irritated slashes, frustrated that he couldn't quite put it into words. Riley picked up on that quickly, jumping in.
"Then, yeah, that's your fault." Wrench gave her a piercing look, but she continued. "I know that's super blunt and kind of cruel, but honestly, it'll give you incentive to work up the courage next time. Right?"
Wrench was silent. She watched as he glanced over her shoulder, eyes slanting sideways in that direction, no doubt to look at the waitress. "Maybe." He eventually said, turning back towards the window. Riley could only see half of his mask this way.
She sighed, sipping at more of her coffee again. "I'm sure you didn't come to this cafe looking for dating advice, so I'll shut up about it. Forgive my nosiness."
"I…don't mind. Just don't bring it up to anyone." He requested.
Riley rested her head on the counter again, groaning from both sleep deprivation and now her growing hunger. Movement caught her eye, and she looked up to see Wrench standing from the stool.
"Leaving so soon?" She asked, and his eyes turned into exclamation points.
"Figured I'd leave you to your coffee. I know how long nights go. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself for awhile, am I right?"
She opened her mouth to deny it, but he told the truth. She'd been looking for caffeine and nothing else. No companionship or social interaction. But she'd also been having a nice time with Wrench. At least, the few minutes they'd been talking. It was rude to just drive him out of the cafe, too. "Yeah, I guess. I just feel like I'm kicking you out of your favorite spot to think."
"Nah, don't worry about it. I was on my way out anyway." That happy expression returned and he fist bumped her shoulder gently. For a split second, he shot her a wink, then sauntered towards the door. "See you around, Riley."
"You too." She managed to wave goodbye before he left the cafe, the door jingling shut behind him. The brunette watched him through the window until he disappeared from sight. She was more awake than she had been half an hour ago, which had been the goal all along, but it certainly wasn't from the coffee. Staring at the cup she'd barely even touched, Riley wondered why that was. Wrench was really interesting to talk to. Trying to figure out how he was feeling and what was hiding behind that mask intrigued her immensely. He was like a puzzle that needed solving.
Maybe that was it.
Wrench shut the door to his garage, flicking the light switch and watched as the bulbs stuttered to life. He'd have to replace those eventually, but for now it could wait. Each footstep on the concrete left a quiet echo around the large space.
Wrench reached up to turn on his desk lamp, then took off the mask, setting it beside the disassembled pieces of a air soft gun. He let out a sigh, leaning against the edge of the surface and massaging his temple. It felt strange not having the mask there, but in the comfort of having no one around, it was bearable. The cold air help him think, too. The cafe had felt much too hot.
Speaking of. Wrench turned to look at the picture of Cara he'd had pasted there for months. It had been a mild source of motivation and, admittedly, hope of something that could be, but now it did nothing more than put a foul taste in his mouth. More so, it made him feel sorry about himself, and he hated that most. He hated pitying himself.
He thought back to what Riley had said. Would he really kick his ass into gear the next time he starting crushing on some girl? Doubtful. Wrench wasn't that good with change. He preferred simple things. Like blowing shit up and hacking. Change was complicated and uncomfortable and…messy.
All of a sudden, he couldn't stand looking at Cara's picture on his board anymore. He stood and ripped the paper from the wall. Crumpling it up and throwing it away was too easy. He grabbed a lighter from the desk, walking over to an empty spot of concrete in the garage. He crumpled the paper up and set it on the ground, flicking the lighter until the flame caught.
It started small, but grew in size and intensity until the whole thing was engulfed. It crackled and grew black, shrinking in size. Small, blackened flakes broke off and piled up on the ground around it. Wrench watched it burn for awhile, until it began dying down. This was a nice way to burn that bridge. Figuratively, and almost literally. Too bad he didn't have a real bridge he could burn. That would have been more satisfying. And symbolic.
Shrugging, he turned heel and grabbed the mask from the desk and headed towards the stairs to the second level. Upstairs contained a few rooms that were probably intended to be offices of some kind, but Wrench had converted them into his living spaces. His room was at the far end.
It was littered with DedSec graffiti. One of the few things Wrench was proud of and held dear. The bed was a mess of comforters and blankets and pillows, upturned and in disarray. His drawer was covered in computer parts, of which the computer sat upon his desk on the opposite end of the room. It was all a perfectly organized chaos, the walls painted black so he could litter it with more colorful artwork, should he feel the need.
He locked the door behind him and set his phone to charge. As far as he was aware, they didn't have any major operations tomorrow, so it should be alright for him to sleep in a bit. He could use the rest. So could Riley, he thought to himself, wondering if she had returned back home already. He wondered if she was still up looking through the data, or if she'd actually gone to sleep. If she was anything like him, she'd work until she physically couldn't anymore. It wasn't a healthy habit, but it was his way.
Riley. His curiosity lead him to think about her some more as he threw himself into the mess that was his bed. Marcus appeared to have been right about her. She seemed genuine, and truthfully out to stop the corruption. Her personality wasn't so bad, either. There was still so much they didn't know about her, though. Wrench felt it would be fun dissecting who she was. And, it was kind of cute, the disheveled look she'd been rocking at the cafe. Racoon eyes and all.
Maybe she wouldn't be a bad addition to the team after all, he thought as he closed his eyes.ns 126.96.36.199da2