Aces and Eights, Event File 03

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Event File 03

Event Tag: Security Measures

Timestamp: 2-4-2157/ 2-6-2157

                                                                   

     

Tweak, I could use a hand. Got any spare time?”

“Yeah?” Tweak asked, turning in her coding chair and pushing her headphones off one ear. Kevin gave her a tired little smile.

“This contact has me jumping through ridiculous hoops to get in touch. Lend me a little expertise?”

Tweak glanced at her screen. She’d kicked the Corps hacker who’d been sniffing around Sector off the GreyNet and plugged his hole, her work for the base was done, and all she really had to do was a couple consults. Those could wait. She shrugged, pulled her headset off and stood. “Yeah, sure. What’s up?”

“This contact’s truly impressive level of paranoia,” Kevin explained as they walked, staying close to the wall and leaving Tweak most of the room in the hallway. “Wait until you see this. I still can’t believe the seed bank has a maintenance team, but that’s who is driving me up the wall trying to touch base. Mainly I’d like help automating this sign-in so I can get to my specialty, which is actually talking to the contact.”

Tweak dropped into his chair, studying his screen. The interwoven levels of security were a surprise. “Hunh.” She blinked. “Wow.”

“See what I mean?” Kevin asked. Tweak nodded. “Yeah. These people are c-crazy worried ‘bout s-staying hid. Already on a VPN, using the psiphon. S-scrambling their ISP’s. And now they’re b-bounce the c-c-communication through the mesh one m-more time before dec-crypting? Encryption’s t-triple too. D-damn. Who are they?”

“People who appreciate privacy,” Kevin replied with a shrug. Tweak shot him a look. “Well yeah. Duh.” She tipped her head, studying the screen. “G-good ideas. We should do s-some of this. All the b-bounties out on us right now.” Those had been on her mind a lot lately. So many people wanted a piece of them. The cash offers out to bounty hunters contracting with EagleCorp were off the charts. Of course, the assholes didn’t actually know who they were looking for: they were just told to find the base that had taken down the Viper Drones. Another set of bounties was out there for tracking the people who’d fucked over the Citizen Standing Scores, and there was one out on the people who’d put out the Supply Chain Vids. The dumbasses couldn’t even figure out that it was the same people doing all those things. Ninety percent of them couldn’t figure their way out of a paper bag.

But the thought of the cash being offered still freaked her out. More security measures on their communications might help her sleep better.

Kevin sighed. “Could you get me a setup that will allow this conversation to happen in a reasonable amount of time? Please, Tweak. It’s important.”

Tweak tipped her head, eyeing him. He really looked like he meant it. He looked a little freaked, too. “Okay, yeah. Gimme…maybe an hour? Two, tops.”

“Can I help at all, or would you prefer to work in peace?” Kevin asked.

Tweak waved a hand absently. “Leave. Call you when I’m d-done.”

“Fair enough,” Kevin agreed, turning away.

Tweak bit her lip, an idea blazing across her mind. “Hey, Kev. I do this. You t-trade me?”

“What are you looking to trade?” Kevin asked, turning back like he was wondering if she was going to ask for something crazy.

Tweak crossed her arms, nerving herself to get the words out. “Billie. Wants to d-date Topher. But she’s s-scared. I s-s-suck at helping people feel b-better.” She gave a quiet laugh. “Suck balls.” Carefully, she raised her eyes, half expecting to get told off. “Help?”

Kevin gave her the kind of smile you give a doctor who’s giving you a shot. He pulled his extra chair from its place against the wall, dropping into it. “Well, I’m happy to help if I can. Topher actually asked me for advice already. First off, you aren’t going to get after him, are you? He is a gentleman, and quite considerate. You don’t have to worry about Billie if she’s dating him, and Dozer, Aidan and I will all have words with you if you break his nose again.” Lowering his head, he looked at her over the rims of those weird old glasses. “Are we clear?”

Tweak snorted. “You’re a fucker, CES.”

“Only selectively,” Kevin replied lightly.

Tweak rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t help a little bit of a smile. He was such a dweeb, but his big brother act was sweet. “I’m n-not gonna touch T-topher,” she promised. “But B-Billie’s s-s-scared. R-real s-scared.” She glanced down at her hands, not sure if she should rat Billie out on how much shit her fucking uncle had left her with. She still wished she’d been around when that was happening. Billie had just stabbed the fucker once, and that had landed her in jail. Tweak would have done a whole lot more to that fuck.

Then again, if the guys knew what Billie was going through, they could help. They were good at that.

“Older g-guy messed her up when she was a k-kid,” she admitted. “Bad. Heads up.”

“I’d guessed as much,” Kevin agreed quietly. He leaned back in the chair, crossing his arms. “I imagine encouraging her to give it a try is a conversation you’re really best suited to; after all, she trusts you.” He sighed, pulling off his glasses and reaching for the little cloth he wiped them down with. “It’s times like this that I really miss Andrea,” the CES man murmured as he worked. “We could have sent Billie to her and seen her work her supportive magic. She was always so good at handling these sorts of situations.”

“Billie liked her a l-lot,” Tweak agreed quietly, feeling something tug inside her. She’d really liked Andrea too. She missed the friendly cook.

Kevin didn’t say anything for a second. Then he raised his head, giving Tweak a small smile. “Well, we can try this: I’ll send Topher some articles I’ve got on dating someone who’s endured abuse. That will help them get off on the right foot. And we’ll schedule a four-person game night to move things along. We can act as their mutual wingmen and relational training wheels. Once they relax, we can slip away and leave them to get on with it. How does that strike you?”

Tweak tipped her head first to one side, then the other, as if the idea was a marble she was rolling around. It was actually a pretty good plan. “Y-yeah. Sounds good. When?”

“After you’ve had a chat with Billie and gotten her feeling a little more confident?” Kevin suggested. Tweak pulled a face. She’d been so sure the guys would take over here.

“Yeah.” She frowned, her fingers plucking at her bandages. “C-crap.”

**********************************************************************

She waited until after duty, when they were getting ready for bed. To keep her hands busy, she decided to make it a bandage changing night. Carefully, she unclipped the ends of each bandage where they were held in place along the backs of her hands, while Billie got into pajamas. She unwound the heavy swathes of white.

“Hey. Billie?” She asked as she worked

“Yeah?”

“You and Topher. You should do it. Date.”

The last layer of bandage slid off her hand, displaying her caramel-colored scales. She slowly unwrapped the layers further up her arm, watching her snake-like scales shift color up from caramel to buff.

“Yeah?” Billie whispered. “You think?”

“He’s cool,” Tweak agreed as she pulled her dirty bandages off and dropped them in the laundry, “chill. So why you so freaked?” She unrolled a clean set.

Billie stared at her hands. Her words came out as whispers. “Tweak… I…I think I might be too broken for this…”

Tweak methodically clipped the new bandage on her right arm in place at the shoulder, giving Billie time to get herself together. When she raised her head, Billie was still staring at her hands, dark fingers picking at the blanket.

“Billie.”

The taller girl raised her eyes. Tweak waited until her oldest friend was looking at her before she spoke. “That? That’s bullshit. Nobody too broken. You looked around this dump?”

Billie sniffled, looking away. “M-maybe…”

“Maybe? Maybe?!” Tweak demanded, her voice rising into a squeak of irritation. “Maybe shit.” Standing, Tweak sucked in a breath and touched Billie’s shoulder. The sensation zinged up her arm as she spoke. “Billie. There. Are. Two Chicks. Fell in love on this base. There is. A guy. Born with no dick. Fell in love. With a guy. Who’s CES. On this base. He. Runs. This. Base. There is a chick. Born with a dick. Calls the shots. On this base. They did good. On this base. So. Can. You.”

Billie winced and shook her head, shrinking away from Tweak’s touch. “I just…I can’t…being with guys…you know what he did to me…I can’t…I can’t not see that…I’m scared I’ll see that and freak if Topher and I do…y’know.”

Tweak drew back, watching her friend, her annoyance cooling into a pang of guilt. “Shit. Thought you were j-just being chicken. D-didn’t …still?”

Billie nodded weakly, meeting Tweak’s eyes for a second. Then she hid her face in her hands.

Tweak was still for a moment. Then she brushed her fingertips over Billie’s fuzzy hair. “Hey. Billie. You can call me a s-shithead if you want.”

Billie shook her head. “You were jus’ tryin’ t’help…” she mumbled between her fingers.

For a moment, Tweak sat still. “Yeah…but I kinda suck.” She didn’t know what else to say.

After a few minutes, Billie got herself together. Tweak watched as she raised her head.

“You like him? Topher?” She asked quietly. Billie nodded, smiling weakly. “Yeah. He’s funny. I don’t get all tense with him. It’s…nice.”

Tweak nodded. “Okay then. Don’t do the whole thing. Just s-start d-dating. First d-date. You. Me. Him. Kev. Games in the rec. Give me a s-signal. You w-want us to stay, you put your controller down on the c-couch. Y-ou want us to l-leave, you put your controller in your l-lap. Works?”

Billie stared at her for a moment, eyes wide and black and frightened. She swallowed. Then, tentatively, she nodded.

“That sounds good.”

Tweak bobbed her head. “Kay. We’re on.”

**************************************************************************************************

Two days later, the screen fizzled to life, the fantasy questing game swirling with color and music. ‘Build your adventurers’, the game’s high-toned female prompter suggested as the avatar-build screen came up.

Tweak decided to be lazy, and selected one of her saved builds; a huge barbarian with a hammer. There was nothing like hitting things with a hammer to blow off steam.

Kevin had an elfin cleric who was even skinnier than he was; he added a ceremonial bell to the spellbook his character carried, and called it good.

Billie stared at the screen in bewilderment, then glanced at Tweak. She gave her friend a smile, then nodded in Topher’s direction. “T-topher. Wanna say how the different c-character types w-work?”

“Sure,” Topher agreed with a quick grin. That was all Tweak had to do. After that, Topher geeked out all on his own. He walked Billie through all the character abilities and what made a character fun to play, showing Billie how to put her avatar together. She ended up with a naiad rogue who shot ice arrows, which was pretty damn cool in Tweak’s book.

They started off a little stiff, but pretty soon the game had everybody laughing and goofing around, even Billie.

Kevin’s character got eaten by a dragon after an hour, and he groaned. “I suppose I’ll bow out gracefully. Where in God’s name did that thing come from?”

“Maybe look up next time you try stealing dragon eggs,” Topher chuckled. On the screen, his avatar grabbed another golden egg. Kevin clucked his tongue. “Yes, well, since the lizard’s had her way I suppose I’ll let you lot finish up. In fact, if Tweak steps out as well you two can take the side quest we unlocked.”

Billie’s eyes widened for a moment. She glanced at Tweak. There was fear in her face, but there was excitement too.

Tweak gave her a thumbs’ up. Billie smiled a little as she set her controller down in her lap.

“Yeah. We can do that.”

Tweak opened her mouth to say more, when Aidan stepped into the room. He was grinning like a lotto winner.

“Hey, Kev? You busy?”

“Not at the moment, in fact I’m recently deceased.” The logistics officer stood and crossed the room, taking Aidan’s hand. “What’s—”

Aidan leaned in and muttered something, looking happy as a kid with a new toy. Now Kevin was grinning too, and now they were hugging. Tweak figured she got to call them on it when they started kissing.

“Hey. Guys. G-get a r-room.”

Kevin flipped her off without breaking the kiss. Then Aidan was pulling him into the hall.

Topher blinked. “Hunh. Guess something’s going right.”

“Yep,” Tweak agreed, standing. “Lots. Side quest. Have fun. Bye!”

Leaving the room, she realized she was smiling.

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