She pressed a finger against the Dialer, forcing it flush against her ear. The outside world was muffled, choked out by the sound of fluttering static. She closed her left eye, her pupil bouncing up and down in the dark — side to side, up and down, side to side. It traced a pattern, directing the static into something meaningful. Something useful.
“The server… ten minutes.”
Rhythmic drops pelted her coat, catching her hood and matching the beat of the static. She stopped on the sidewalk, one boot swimming in a puddle, the other cocked sideways on a chunk of kicked up concrete. Water pooled between her jacket and backpack, sloshing about as she shifted her weight. Her finger pressed the Dialer hard into her ear, her eye still drawing patterns under a lid painted with purple and black.
“We’re ready, we’ll send the signal, then it’s done.”
That’s all she needed to hear.
She darted back to the door behind her, kicking it open with the corner of her boot. It swung open, clanging into a shitty, veteran doorstop, bouncing, and then falling back to close with a thundering, echoing clang. Her wet boots squeaked as she shuffled inside. A window in the metal door let in a melange of light from the street. Purple and pink and blue and white and yellow, all fucked together right there on the floor, an orgy of digital billboards and noble gases.
Liv tossed her backpack on the ground, crouching next to it. Her fingers danced against its spine, finding a zipper and unfurling its contents. A large metal antenna sprung forth from within, a large, bulky metal keyboard falling out the side. A gloved, wet hand reached inside, flipping unseen switches.
“Shit,” she hissed.
A buzz vibrated from the bag, echoed by her earpiece.
She dove in once more, ripping out a monochrome screen attached to something unseen in the bag by a gray ribbon cable and two red exposed wires. She knelt down, balancing the screen on her lap, the keyboard in the floor. The antenna sat sideways, held up by an unseen device in the bag.
“It’s going,” a muffled voice said through static.
She could’ve been salivating. She probably was, truth be told. That’s what it was, to starve. Her fingers tapped against the side of the keyboard. A cursor blinked on the screen. Her finger tapped faster. Then it went to her Dialer, again. She tapped that, too. She tapped the keyboard. The Dialer. The keyboard.
Why wasn’t she seeing it? The data should be coming across now, there was no way it wouldn’t. They all told her this was in range, that her device had all the makings of a legendary piece of kit. She measured the wire herself. Her blood was in those wires, her sweat stained that goddamn keyboard. It was going to work.
The screen filled with numbers. Her heart leapt in her chest, ripping through her ribcage. Her eyes started to tear. Holy fuck. It was all there, it was.
Faster, faster, we’re so close.
59 4f 55 20 42 49 54 43 48 20 57 45 20 4b 4e 4f 57 20 57 48 41 54 20 59 4f 55 20 44 49 44 20 48 4f 57 20 44 41 52 45 20 59 4f 55 20 52 45 41 44 20 54 48 49 53
DID YOU THINK THAT IT WAS US? DID YOU THINK THAT THE TWENTY THOUSAND HOURS WE SPENT CREATING THIS DIGITAL CHARADE WERE JUST A JOKE? EVERY SINGLE BYTE OF THIS NETWORK WAS CRAFTED FOR US. FOR US.
YOU NEVER HAD A CHANCE
She felt her stomach leave her, bile catch against her tonsils.
Liv didn’t know how long the blade had been there, but there it was, frozen steel against her neck. She couldn’t see ’em, but knew she should’ve always felt him there. God damn, she’d been a fool.
“You’re so predictable, like you always were.” The voice was rough, but calm. There was only one person in this room ready to shit themselves, that was clear.
“True,” Liv said.
“Now, you’re going to come with me, and then we’re going to kill you in a way to make your mom proud, right?”
See, that’s the thing. When you’ve got yourself a fight, and you’ve backed someone into a corner, done near made their soul leave their body? Sometimes being near to shitting yourself was the best thing you could be. Sometimes it meant you were about to the only person alive in a room.
Liv threw an elbow behind her, catching a rib. The metal keyboard slipped out of her lap, clanking against the dented floor. The knife slid across her throat — enough to cut, enough to draw blood, but not enough to find purchase of anything valuable. She cocked her body to the left, catching the man’s jaw with the back of her fist. His hands instinctively went to his nose, sending him tumbling back. She rolled to her side, her hand going to her waist.
In a practiced motion, she grabbed her pistol from her holster, pulled her elbow low to her chest and yanked her finger against the trigger. Following the crack, she could hear nothing. Gunpowder stung her eyes and charged through her nostrils. The shock emptied her chest of air.
Her attacker sat bewildered, only a few feet in front of her, blood leaking from his chest, all the gusto and bravado dripping out with it.
She swallowed the bile that had been lurking in her throat, stumbling to her feet, blood dripping down her neck, staining her shirt. She kept the gun in her hand, using her free hand to grab what she could, tossing her screen and keyboard back into the bag. She awkwardly stuffed the antenna half-collapsed back down, zipping it up best she could. With a quick motion it found its way onto her shoulder, and she made it toward the door.
The man’s lifeless eyes followed her, or so she thought.
Her wet hand went to the doorknob, the corner of her eye never leaving his body.
See, even when you’re sure you got someone good, you never let them leave your sight. You never let them get a move on you. Too bad this bastard never got that. A predictable bitch she might be, but that’s how you live in this city. Be predictable.
Shame the bastard had to die for no one’s data.
Maybe next time.