Call the Bluff, Event File 03

File Tag: Mission Evaluation

Timestamp: 22:00-11-2-2155

By the time he reached his own base it was late. He’d spent most of the day trying to figure things out at Sector, and he still hadn’t come up with a way to tell the crew what he’d gotten them into.

“Look out!”

A splatter of bathtub-hot, dirty water rained down from the ceiling as Aidan opened the base entry door, along with some of Janice’s foulest cursing. Metal squealed, and the sheet of water shut off abruptly.

“I’ll fucking kill the little pissants! I’ll fucking sell their asses to the organ market and make the rest into motherfucking dog food!” Janice’s head appeared upside down through an open ceiling tile. “Aw, fuck a donkey with a dong, sorry Aidan! You okay?”

Aidan blinked up at Janice, adding soaked to the bone to freaked out and tired in his state of mind list. Great.

“What happened up there?”

Janice rolled her eyes. “Dilly and Donny was helpin’ Dozer clean, an’ Donny dropped a coupla’ cleanin’ rags in the sink. They went down the drain, an’ guess where they ended up in the water reclamation system? Cloggin’ up all the overhead pipes where the pressure’s low. Have it fixed in a couple hours… Damn, you look like somethin’ took a chunk outta you.”

“Yeah. Something did,” Aidan muttered. He sighed and pushed sopping hair out of his eyes. “We’ll have a briefing after duty tomorrow.”

Janice watched him walk away with worried eyes. Then she shook her head and got back to fighting with pipes.

Aidan scrubbed with washing powder in a stall of the men’s showers until the scent of reclamation water no longer clung to his skin. He used as little water as he could to rinse off, watching it sluice over the long scars on his legs and spiral down the drain. Too bad he couldn’t wash off the fear with the grime. Pulling his clothes out of the wash-dry unit in his stall, he fought his way into them.

For the first time that day, he stood still and let everything set in. The ache inside his chest pressed like a vice. He hadn’t slept the night before on account of it. He knew from experience that he’d never get to sleep like this and using pills to knock himself out was a bad idea. He’d watched people go down that road before, and it didn’t end anywhere he wanted to be.
He knew he ought to sit down and talk this over with Omi. Get his head on straight. But just for a little while, he wanted to stop thinking of what he’d seen.

Okay, no pills and no talking.

Well, I do have one other option these days.

Finally, Aidan got his feet to move.                                                                                                    

    *********************************

“It’s open!” Kevin’s voice called through the thin plastic of his door. Aidan slid it to one side, giving it a shove when the panel stuck on its track.

“When did you get in?” Kevin asked, glancing up from his reading with a smile. “Did you eat at Sector? You missed dinner here, I’m afraid.”

Aidan shook his head. “I’m not hungry. Can I stay for a bit?”

Sitting up, Kevin gestured to the bed in one of those unconsciously graceful gestures Aidan loved to watch.

“Feel free. You look done in, by the way.”

With what felt like all the energy he had left Aidan crossed the room, unlaced his boots and flopped on the bed. He met his boyfriend’s inquiring eyes with something like a smile.

“Been home about half an hour. Just got out of the showers. Janice doused me with reclamation water when I got in the door.”

Kevin cringed. “Oh dear… Damian’s remanded the kids to helping in the kitchen under Andrea’s eye for the foreseeable future, if that helps at all.”

Slowly, his smile faded as he watched Aidan’s face. Reaching over, he tapped his tab, then put a hand on Aidan’s knee. Soft music began to play.

“Unless it was raw sewage, you seem just a touch overly upset by it. Janice isn’t concerned about damage to the systems, if that’s what you’re worrying about. It really wasn’t as catastrophic as it seemed.”

“I’m not worried about the pipes,” Aidan replied. “I’m worried about the mission Magnum gave us.”

In the background, an artist with an earnest voice was singing something about carrying on when you felt lost, soothing and uplifting at the same time.

He wished he could snag seconds like these and live inside them.

“What’s playing?” he asked quietly. Kevin stroked his hair with absent fingers. “This? It’s ‘Carry On’, one of the last pre-dissolution bands that was worth anything did it. They called themselves ‘Fun’ oddly enough.  I’ve always liked it for bad days.”

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed, his voice odd in his own ears.

For a moment they sat in silence. Aidan listened to the music. Carry on, the singers chorused. The words of the song poked pinpricks into his numbness.

“So, this mission?” Kevin asked softly.

Aidan sighed and pulled up the mission files he’d been given on his tab, handing it to his boyfriend.

Kevin adjusted his glasses, studying the screen. “What is it? If it’s more new ID entries I can take the hard copy in, have them uploaded to one of the NatBank computers we can access and be back in the afternoon.” He glanced up. “But you look like this is something bigger than that…”

Aidan closed his eyes. “Read it?” he murmured.

Kevin’s hand stroked his hair. “That bad?”

Aidan allowed himself to lie back on the bed, weariness pressing down on him. “Pretty much.”

Eyes closed, Aidan heard Kevin draw in a breath a little while later. “Good God above.” Kevin’s voice had an awed note.

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed quietly.

“And they think we can pull this off?”

“Yeah,” Aidan agreed, his voice cracking on the whisper.

“What’s in these vids?” Kevin asked softly.

Aidan closed his eyes, opened them again quickly. He didn’t want to see the things those words brought up in the dark behind his eyelids.

“We’ll watch them together tomorrow. I’ve got a base-wide debriefing set. I’m going to have Billie take the kids until we’re done.”

Kevin glanced at him. “Billie? Really?”

Aidan nodded. “This stuff is a brain fuck. I don’t want her or the little guys seeing it.”

Kevin nodded, his face taking on that distant look. “I see.”

There was the rustle of sheets, and Kevin’s body traced his. Long fingers stroked his hair.

“Well, sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.”

“What’s that mean?” Aidan asked quietly, feeling the pressure in his chest beginning to ease.

“In less exalted terms, it means we’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
Aidan nodded. “Yeah. Um. Kev?”

“Mm?”

“Can I stay here tonight? I’ve got to get some sleep, but… I’m having some trouble.”

Warm arms wrapped around him.

“You don’t need to ask, Aidan.”

“Thanks.” Aidan whispered against his skin. “Help me figure out how to tell everybody about this in the morning?”
“Of course.”

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

The vid screen was already loud when Aidan and Kevin stepped in the next evening, some crazy drone-racing tournament thing on the screen. Sprawled on the couch and the floor, the crew had segregated itself into two teams and was taking turns to groan and cheer for their favorite. Alice’s latest knitting project uncoiled like a deformed snake across one arm of the couch. On a desk chair in the back of the room, Tweak sat and watched with what looked like mild amusement. It was hard to tell with her.

“Hey guys, when’s halftime?” Aidan called into the racket. Sarah glanced up, spotted him and grinned. Snatching the controller, she waved it, pausing the program.

“What’s up?”

Aidan tried for a smile. “I want to get that debrief out of the way. We got assigned a pretty big mission. Billie? Can you take the kids?”

With a quick smile, the teenager gathered Tommy, the twins, and Henrietta.

“We, as in all of us?” Lazarus asked once the children were gone. Aidan shrugged. “At this point, no idea. Maybe. But we’re all going to want to see this stuff. I’m not going to say anything, I want you guys to get your own perspectives first. But heads up, this stuff’s a brain fuck. Seriously. If anybody wants to give it a miss, now’s the time to head out.”

Nobody moved.

“Now that you’ve got us in suspense, you going to let us see?” Damian asked patiently. That brought a grim smile to Aidan’s lips. Taking a seat beside Kevin, he brought the Folder’s table of contents up on his tab and sent it to the main vid screen. That done, he braced himself. Kevin’s arm laid itself gently across his shoulders.

This time, he watched the faces of his crew as the vids played. He saw the shock first. Yvonne’s jaw dropped open. Topher stood up for a better look, craning over Alice, which got him inadvertently stabbed with one of her knitting needles. Quiet curses hissed around the room. Kevin’s arm tensed against him.

By the halfway point, Andrea had tears tracking down her face, and so did Liza. Blake had scooted down the couch to sit beside the personnel officer, gently rubbing the younger woman’s back and murmuring something meaningless and comforting. Dozer’s fists were white-knuckled on his knees.  At his feet, a stone-faced Sarah sat with her shaking wife. Yvonne would occasionally bury her face against Sarah’s collarbone before forcing her eyes back to the screen. Blank-faced, Lazarus rhythmically flicked a folding knife open and closed as he watched.

Behind the couch, Tweak was pacing, eyes glued to the screen. The squeak of her boots was a monotonous counterpoint to the sounds on the vids.

The look on Kevin’s face could have frozen nitrogen.

“Holy Christ fuck me sideways on Sunday.” Janice whispered when the texts flicked on to replace the vids.

“Nobody’s going to believe any of this,” Damian stated, his voice flat.

“Nobody can fake proprietary blockchains and everybody knows it. And there’s unbelievable amounts of proof. This thing’s a terabyte.” Aidan replied quietly.

Studying the page floating in the air, Janice’s eyes narrowed. “Okay, that’s serious an’ all. Now what’re we doin’ with it?”

“Dropping it into the user profile of every client on the Social Feeds before New Years’. In a form the Corps can’t delete,” Aidan stated simply, numb with the words he was speaking.

The room exploded. Everyone talked at once, drowning one another out. Aidan stood, took a couple of deep breaths and waited for the noise to die down.

One by one, the crew saw their commander standing quietly and shut up. When the room was quiet again, Aidan spoke.

“It’s a big job. Hell, it’s insane. It’s already killed a couple other bases. But it’s our job now.” He drew another slow breath, let it out. “So, help me out here guys. How are we going to do this?”

The crew glanced at one another for a heartbeat.

In the silence, Tweak’s boots squeaked. Walking to the front of the room, she studied the holographic screen, tapping one foot slowly.

“Lotsa work.”                                                                                                         

“Yeah.” Aidan agreed. Tweak turned to stare at him. She glanced around the room. Then she gave Aidan a knife-sharp grin.

“This’s gonna end them.”

Aidan returned the smile. “It’s a start.”

The talk in the room revved up again. This time, it went on for hours.

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

Late in the night, Aidan rolled over in Kevin’s bed. A moment’s panic shot through him when he found a cold hollow in the sheets.

Sitting up, he looked around the room, instinctively pulling the sheet up to cover his chest as he did.

Kevin sat against the far wall in his boxers, knees drawn up, his tab reflected blue from his glasses. The screen had been set to its lowest brightness, giving a ghostly luminescence to Kevin’s pale skin.

Aidan blinked sleep out of his eyes. “Kev?”

Kevin’s head rose slowly. Pulling his ‘buds from his ears, he gave Aidan a lopsided smile.

“Did I wake you? Sorry about that.”

“What’re you doing up?” Aidan asked quietly.

Kevin shrugged. “Oh, you know. Trying to soothe the savage beast.”

“Hunh?” Aidan asked blearily. Kevin gave a breath of laughter. Standing, he set his tab and glasses on the bedside table and curled up against Aidan again. The orange night-cycle lights were just enough to make him out by.

“It’s my turn to have trouble sleeping, that’s all. Go back to sleep.” He kissed Aidan’s temple. “I’m fine.”

“Yeah, but you’re up…”

“Just trying to stop thinking, that’s all. Nothing you need to worry about.” Kevin’s words were light, but there was a brittle note in his voice. Aidan pulled him a little closer. “What’s up?”

Kevin was quiet for so long that Aidan thought he might have drifted off. When he spoke, every word was said with effort.

“It’s idiotic and I know it, but… my parents ended the Aberrant Progeny Policy. There really were angel investors and placement for aberrant babies — I — I mean, for special needs kids. I keep thinking that if — if I’d stayed, I could have stopped…that.”

Aidan rested his head against Kevin’s chest. “Kev. You would’ve been dead if you’d stayed in Cavanaugh. They would’ve killed you.”

Kevin sighed. “I know. But I still… I don’t know. The old White Knight Complex kicking in again, I suppose.”                                                                    

Aidan heard the strain in Kevin’s voice as he changed the subject.

“When we pull this off, we are going to throw the mother of all parties.”

Aidan gave his man a lopsided smile. “So, I guess you think we can do this?”

Kevin smiled grimly. “Between myself, Tweak, Jim and Yvonne on the technicalities and everyone else at our backs, I think we can give it a damn good try. A few of us had friends in Rolling Thunder, especially in the mission team that was captured. Johnny Red was an amazing tech, and Candace was a logistics colleague I admired. If nothing else, we can do this for them.” His sensitive mouth set in a thin line. “We’re all tired of losing friends to the bastards. It’s time we made them pay for what they take. Besides…” Kevin sighed, trailing off.

“Yeah?” Aidan asked quietly.

Kevin slowly waved a hand, encompassing the situation in a vague circling gesture.

“The kind of fighting we’ve been doing isn’t getting us any closer to our goals. Decry the Corporations, send out docs and pics as fast as TechoCo can take them down in the Social Feed, embarrass and expose Corporate cronies. Smuggle refugees, survive, repeat. That’s all we do, and the poor saps on the Grid are caught in the crossfire. We might change a few people’s lives, but we’re not addressing the causes of their suffering.” Kevin’s grey eyes glittered, voice growing tight as he spoke. “It feels as if we aren’t doing anything effective, and that terrifies me. I want to do something, change something. This could really change the way people think. If we can pull this off… how phenomenal would that be?”

Aidan stared at him for a long, long moment. “You think we can? A lot of people couldn’t before us.”

“I think we have to try.” Kevin replied in a murmur.

Aidan nodded against his chest. He let out a long, slow breath.

“Okay. In the morning we give it a try. Right now, get some sleep.”