Winds of Change

Part 15

Dar watched the lights go past through the window of the hotel room, idly listening to Kerry talking to her mother in the background. It was dark, and they’d just landed a half hour prior and now it seemed that a sushi dinner was in her future with a senator and probably some aides.

That was all right.  She didn’t even mind the thought of spending some time with Kerry’s mother, at least it would keep her mind off the stresses of the day and keep her from thinking about their morning presentation tomorrow.

“Okay, we’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.” Kerry concluded. “Bye mother.”

She hung up and came over to where Dar was sprawled, perching on the arm of the chair she was sitting in. “We’re going to that little Japanese place I told you I went to with her the last time I was here.”

“Sure.” Dar amiably nodded. “Round of saki and a platter to share is just about what I’m in the mood for right now.”  She let her head bump against Kerry’s hip.  “Don’t even mind that it’s with your mother.”

Kerry chuckled. “Yeah, the world sure has changed.”

“You going to tell her your name has?”  Dar inquired.

“Oh hmm… you know I sort of forgot about that.” Kerry said. “What do you think her reaction’s going to be?”

Dar thought about that for a minute. “Damned if I know.” She responded. “On one hand, she’s pretty up on the whole family thing, but on the other hand…”

“She was married to my father and changed her name to his.” Kerry said. “So yeah, she shouldn’t have much to say about that, but sometimes my mother is oblivious to hypocrisy.”

“Up to you, babe.” Dar folded her arms over her stomach.  “I’ll go along with whatever you tell her.”  She half closed her eyes as Kerry gently ran her fingers through her hair “Today sucked my brain out. Hope it soaks back in overnight.”

“C’mon.” Kerry got up and plucked Dar’s sleeve. “Its only a couple blocks from here. Let’s walk over.”

So they did.  Dar zipped up her leather jacket and stuck her hands in her pockets, following Kerry out the front door of their hotel and out onto the sidewalk. 

It was cold and windy, but as Kerry had promised the walk wasn’t long, and in under ten minutes they were turning in to the entrance of the restaurant, Dar pulling the door open and standing aside to let Kerry precede her inside.

“Thank you.” Kerry said, hooking a finger into one of Dar’s pockets and pulling her along as they entered the small restaurant and stopped at the seating station. “Hello.”  Kerry greeted the young woman standing there. “I’m expecting at least one more person, so maybe a table for four?”

“Yes.” The woman picked up some menus and gestured to them to follow her.  She led the way through the mostly empty restaurant to a lacquered table in the center. “Okay?”

“Fine” Kerry took a seat and picked up the menu as Dar went around the table and sat down to her right.  “Can we get two glasses of white wine to start?”

“Yes, sure.” The waitress whisked off to the bar.

Dar leaned back in her chair and looked around.   The restaurant had booths around the edges, and a square sushi bar where five or six patrons were seated with plates in front of them. It looked like a thousand other sushi joints she’d been in but the customers here were a touch more conservatively dressed and there was no big fishtank.

The restaurant door opened and Kerry’s mother entered, with an aide at her side. Dar lifted a hand in greeting, gently nudging Kerry’s knee under the table. 

Cynthia Stuart brightened, then evaded the hostess and came over to the table, slipping her fur lined jacket off and settling it on the back of the chair   The aide remained behind, slipping past them and taking a seat at the end of the sushi bar.   “Hello there.  Kerrison, Dar, how nice it is to see you.”

Kerry felt the slightly squirmy discomfort of not knowing exactly how to respond, but she stood and took her mother’s outstretched hands, giving them a squeeze. “Hello, mother.  Thanks for agreeing to subject yourself to sushi again for our sakes.”

“Oh, but it’s no sacrifice.” Cynthia released her and sat down,  settling the small white napkin on her lap. “I have been coming here quite often since your last visit.  I do quite enjoy it now.”

“That’s really cool.” Kerry responded. “I’m glad I introduced you to it then.”

Dar just cleared her throat and kept quiet, feeling more than just a little zoned after the long day.  She listened to Kerry and her mother exchange pleasantries, content to sip her wine, and ponder the menu.

“The intelligence committee is so looking forward to hearing you speak tomorrow, Dar.” Cynthia caught her attention away from the unagi.   “There has been quite a lot of debate about this new program of the administrations.”

“I can imagine.”  Dar said. “Hope they feel the same way after I stop talking. I tend to get pretty technical.”

“Oh I’m sure it will be fine.” Cynthia protested, then paused, seeing the wry look on her daugther’s face. “Won’t it?”

“There is no doubt, Dar does get technical.”  Kerry said. “But it’s a really technical subject so I think you’ll all have to muddle along.  I’ll be there to translate for you though if you want, mother.”

“Oh.” The senator blinked a little. “Yes I’m sure it’ll work out just fine then.” She said, in a determined tone. “It’s quite amusing you know.” She added, with a smile.  “There were some of my colleagues who were fit to be tied about whole thing until the president showed his support.”

“They probably swallowed so much bile they turned the color a salamander.”  Kerry smiled briefly, looking up as the waitress returned for their order. “What’s it going to be, Dardar?”

“Mm… spicy tuna roll and a chef’s choice.” Dar said, after a pause.  “And some hot green tea, please.”

“Same.” Kerry stacked her menu on Dar’s and leaned back a little, as her mother ordered and the waitress zipped off.  “How’s Angie doing? I got an email from her the other day, sounds like she’s having some fun with the kids.”

“It’s been quite active.”  Cynthia said. “She and Brian have just finished some house hunting, and I think they’re going to make a decision soon.” She said. “Though I have enjoyed having the children around the house, it’s right for them to want to start their own I think.”

“Given Kerry’s tendency to smash your furniture I’m sure it’s probably safer that way in the long run.” Dar remarked, ignoring the droll look she was getting from her partner. “I think that was the only comic relief to be had that night.”

Cynthia looked uncertain, then she smiled apparently deciding Dar was making a joke.  “Yes, that was a terrible, long, and stress filled day.  I hope I never see another like it.”

“Oh, me either.”  Kerry agreed at once.  “Never want to go through  that again. I think that’s one of the reasons Dar and I decided to participate in this new program.  Maybe something we can do can prevent that.”

Her mother was nodding already as she was speaking. “That’s exactly what the administration said in the proposal.  That we had to find a way to make the technology work for us to give us a way to stop this sort of thing before it happens.”

“Well, that’s the idea.”  Dar said.

“You can do that then?”  Cynthia inquired.

“Dar can do pretty much anything when it comes to technology mother.”  Kerry took a sip of her wine. “I’ve gotten a whole new appreciation for that after the last month of us starting up our own business.”

Dar produced a charming smile at that. “Flatterer.”

“Not really.” Kerry said. “All these people are calling us, wanting all these different things and Dar is just like, ‘yeah, I can code that, no problem.” She flicked her fingers in a throwaway gesture.  “Want an accounting system? I got that, no problem. Do we need a customer database? Give me a minute I have that on a hard drive here somewhere.”

“Ker.” Dar started laughing.

“Sweetheart, it’s just true.”  Kerry mock sighed. “Somehow ILS had you so busy being management they forgot to take shameless advantage of you as a programmer.”

“Well, isn’t that nice?” Cynthia rallied gamely  “If that’s so, then I think this project will be successful. It would be nice to have a political scene become something useful for a change.”

“We’ll do our best.” Dar said.

Cynthia nodded. “And how has it been going with your new business?” She asked.  “It must be strange after working for that other company for so long, for you Dar?”

“A little. We’d already tendered our resignation though.” Dar said. “So in the end it was just annoying with all the garbage going on.”  She leaned back as the waitress returned to deliver their sushi. “After all that time, it would have been nice to have a graceful exit.”

“Many of my colleagues feel the same.” Cynthia said. “And very often end up being chased out of their offices by newcomers with very little ceremony.”

“Wonder what that’s like at the White House?”  Kerry mused. “That must be really weird.”

Dar wielded her chopsticks, tapping the tips together.  “Wonder if they do things like leave an old fish in a garbage can in the Oval Office.”

Kerry snickered.

“I’m sure they don’t.” Her mother frowned. “After all, these are professional people.”  Then she paused in thought.

“Thinking twice about that?” Kerry’s eyes twinkled a little. “But seriously, I think in the past even though there was a lot of head bashing and competition there was a sense of .. um.. “

“Decorum.”  Dar supplied.

“Yes.  That you didn’t always get to hear exactly what everyone was thinking.” Kerry nodded. “That’s faded.”

Cynthia slowly nodded.

“But anyway.. “ Dar paused, as her phone rang. She pulled it out and glanced at it and then gave Kerry an apologetic look as she stood and pushed her chair in. “Be right back.”

“Oh boy.” Kerry watched her step outside, and exhaled.  “I’m sure that’s not good.”

Her mother eyed her warily. “Is there something the matter?” She asked in a diffident tone.

Kerry used a piece of sushi to give herself a moment to think about answering. Then she swallowed. “Where do I start?” She answered wryly.  “So much has happened in the last month. But what Dar’s worried about right now, and me too, is that our former company is kind of in the crapper.”

Cynthia’s eyebrows lifted. “Kerrison.”

Kerry chewed another piece of sushi and swallowed it. “Actually I was going to say it was a Technicolor clusterfuck but I thought you’d freak out.”

Her mother stared at her, chopsticks half lifted in one hand.

Kerry winked at her, then went back to her plate. “Want to hear the details?”

**

Dar waited for the door to swing shut behind her before she answered the call . “Dar Roberts.”  She leaned against the wall of the restaurant, watching the cars go by.

“Hey Dar, it’s Mark.”

“Hey.”

“So listen, I know you guys are up in DC, but that skanky guy called me again.” Mark said. “Only this time, he wasn’t slimy, you  know? He was just scared shitless.”

“Well, that’s better than slimy, I guess.” Dar hitched one knee up. “So what’d’ he want now?”

“Yeah I thought so too, about him being slimy. Anyway. What he said was, okay, so, no bull, he’d be very grateful to any information me, or you, would be willing to give him to get this fixed.”

“That is better than slimy. It’s borderline honest.”  Dar responded. “So, I assume you told him the obvious – put things back?”

“Sure.  He didn’t go so far to say he’d tanked the repository, but he said it was down, and far as he knew, unrecoverable.”

“Idiot.”

“Yeah.”

Dar studied the road in front of her.  “Shit.”

“You came to the same conclusion I did, then.” Mark said, with a mournful tone.  “Hey, you’re pretty close to Herndon, right?  That’s got both sides, you can get to everything.”

Dar considered walking.. no, being walked into the control room and seeing all those people again and it made her stomach churn. “I don’t want to go to Herndon.”  She said. “I don’t want to put my hands on a keyboard, matter of fact.”

“Dar, theyre not going to be able to fix that shit.” Mark said. “We both know it.”

“No, I know.”

“So?” He said. “Like, no offense, Big D, but I really want to get this crap to bed.  I don’t want it hanging out over you, or me, you  know?  I’m done with them.”

“Okay.” Dar exhaled. “You can call him back, and tell him if he’ll send me the current configurations of all the master routers,  I will look at them, and make whatever changes seem reasonable to me, and send them back. See what he says to that.”

“Unless his brain’s migrated back to his ass I bet he’ll cry like a baby.” Mark said. “Okay, send you what I get if he even knows how to pull them.”

Dar nodded to herself. “Okay. Talk to you  later, Mark.  I’m having some dinner with Kerry and her mom.”

“Ah.. huerm..  have fun?”

“Yeah. Bye.” Dar closed the phone and folded her arms, trying to decide how she felt about the new development.  On one hand, it seemed like some sense was returning to the situation, but on the other hand she thought there was still an opportunity for her to get screwed in the process of trying to help. 

After all, trying to help on the island hadn’t ended up too good for her, had it?

Dar sighed, and pushed off the wall, heading back into the restaurant. Maybe she could get away with providing the minimum of help  - or – she wondered if she could just look at the configs, and send them back saying they were hopeless and she couldn’t fix them.

Dar paused, with her hand on the door, and watched her own eyes reflect back from her from the outside surface.  She gave herself a wry, knowing, smile, then opened the door and went back inside.

**

“Ah am some pissed.”  Andrew sat squarely in the chair on the porch, arms folded. “Ceci, ah know no good deed done go unpunished but Jesus P Fish.”

“Yeah.” Ceci was in the other chair, and a tray with rum punch sat between them.  ‘Dar didn’t deserve that. She did the right thing helping out that kid.”   She hand one knee hiked up and her arms wrapped around it.  “I’d have done it. You would have too.”

“Jackass.”

“He would probably have invited us for dinner.” His wife sighed. “Instead of being so stupid as to wave a red flag in front of us and threaten to evict us from his preciously pretentious rock pile.”

“Kids should go live on down in that little place in the keys.”  Andrew stated. “Aint a right place for Dar here anyhow.”

Ceci smiled. “It fits them better.” She agreed. “But that’s one hell of a commute, you know? Especially in weather.”

“Mmph” Andrew grunted softly.  He reached down and picked up Mocha, who had taken a seat on one of his boots and set the puppy on his lap. “Cute little thing.”

“Yap.” Mocha seemed to enjoy his new perch, his small pink tongue emerging as he looked around.

“He is cute.” Ceci accepted the subject change.  “I wonder what made Dar decide to get another one?” She gingerly patted Chino on the head.  “To keep this one company?”

“Could be.” Andy said. “Social critters.”

Chino wagged her tail.  Then she got up and walked over to where Andy was seated, putting her nose up against Mocha’s nose and giving him a lick.   She moved past and went to the edge of the porch, standing up and putting her paws on the rail and peering out over the ocean.

Ceci regarded the animal, watching her upright but folded ears twitch as she sniffed the ocean air.  She’d never considered dogs to be interesting, but now, having minded Chino so many times she’d come to the conclusion that there was some kind of intelligence in the beast that surprised her.

When the big dog looked at her, there was definitely something going on behind those soft, brown eyes. Thoughts, though not human kinds of thoughts, but thoughts none the less.  “Hey there Chino.” Ceci waved at her.

“Growf!”

“Dar said they had been bringing these two into the office with them.” Ceci remarked. “Must be cozy.”

‘Think it’s good.” Andy said, after a reflective pause. “Dogs love those kids, and no politics about it.”  He held his hand out and Mocha put his paw in it, then turned his head and looked at Andy. ‘Crazy things that happen to them, that’s all right.”

“Yeah.” Ceci leaned her arms on the chair and regarded the horizon.  “We going to go talk to that guy, Andy?”

Andrew pondered that in silence. “Ah am not sure talking will do much for the situation.”

“Well, you could be right, sailor boy, but I’m not really in the mood to be put in jail tonight, and we promised to watch the dogs until Dar and Kerry get back.”  Ceci pointed out.  “So maybe we could try talking first, and then, after the kids get back, find other ways.”

“All right.” Her husband agreed. “We can go have us some pizza pie anyhow.”

“We can take these dogs for a walk over there and sit outside.” Ceci warmed to the plan. “We’ll look like a total set of snoots.”

Andrew gave her a very droll look that reminded Ceci strongly of their daughter and she grinned. “Okay well, a pretend pair of snoots.”  She got up. “Let me go get the leashes.”

Chino’s ears perked.  She went to the sliding door and stood waiting, her tail lashing back and forth.

“That dog understands what I just said.”

“Yeap.”

“Is that normal?”

**

Kerry stood with her hands on Dar’s shoulders, peering over the left one as her partner studied a series of printed pages in front of her. “Is it a mess?”

Dar settled back and folded her arms. “It’s a mess.”

“Ah huh.”

“They all have to be rebuilt.” Dar said.  “It’s a lot of work.”

“You don’t want to do it?” Kerry guessed, leaning forward a little and pressing her body against her partner’s.  “Well, let me rephrase the question. Of course you don’t want to waste your time fixing someone elses screw up.”

Dar sighed.

“But you don’t want to do it just because you don’t want to do it.” Kerry clarified.

“I don’t.” Dar admitted. “I keep looking at these and knowing what effort was put into designing them and the thought some moron just screwed them up is making me nuts.”

“Well, hon…”

“Yes, I know. I offered. We should make it a rule that you stand next to me when I’m on the phone with a roll of duct tape ready.” Dar pushed the sheets aside and pulled over her laptop. “Let me get started on this.”

Kerry just kept up her massage, reasoning that no words were really appropriate.   She glanced over Dar’s shoulder as she started to setup a work session on the large, crisp screen, her body relaxing after a few minutes as she pecked at the keyboard.

Dar was a fast typist.  She seemed to not need a connection between her eyeballs and what she was typing and it was a little odd to Kerry to watching those flying fingers and not hear the rattling smack of their older style keyboards.  “These laptops are a lot quieter.”

“They sure are. Softer on your fingertips too.” Dar nudged one of the sheets over with her elbow.  “I could probably work on this all night and not keep you up.”

“Like I would let you?”

Dar glanced up over her shoulder and smiled, and got a kiss on the top of her head. Then she went back to typing. 

“Can I help you with the setup?” Kerry asked after a few minutes of quiet. “I can see what you’re’ doing there, Dar. Send me the rest of those files and I’ll get them ready for you.”

Dar opened up her mail program without even a grunt of protest and Kerry went over to get her own laptop, settling in the round, almost comfortable hotel chair next to the desk and flexing her hands.  “Glad we picked a hotel with wifi.”

“Maria put it in our travel profile.” Dar answered absently.  “Wifi, room service, and big, fluffy king size beds.”

Kerry looked up over the screen of her laptop, one eyebrow lifting.  But it seemed Dar was serious, so she just chuckled and shook her head.

She retrieved the files from her mail, and opened them, placing them onto her desktop while she prepared to work with them.

Plain text files. There was nothing complicated about the configuration in that sense. It was just something edited in a text editor, full of lines of cryptic commands that made the routing system work.

But they were exact and unforgiving.   Kerry sighed. “Are you commenting these?”

“No. Fuck them. If they want to know why I do things the way I do them they can read the design archives.”  Dar said, in a cranky tone. “Unless they deleted those too.”

“Want some hot tea?’

“Meh.”

“How about some ice cream?”  Kerry tapped at her keys. “Or a milkshake?”

“That has possibilities.”

**

Ceci and Andrew were tucked into an outside table at the Italian restaurant on the island, with both dogs sitting patiently nearby.  “Do you suppose that fellow is going to come out and meet with us?” Ceci nibbled on a breadstick, looking forward to a vegetable lasagna and some minestrone soup.

Andy shrugged. “Knows what’s good for him he won’t.”  He said picking up a frosty mug of root beer and taking a swallow of it. “What the hell’s he going to say about it, Cec? “

“Well, maybe he’ll reconsider how unwise it was for him to threaten the kids.” Ceci reasoned. “I mean, you can say a lot you don’t mean in the heat of the moment.”

Andy was quiet for a moment then he nodded. “True thing.”

“Well if he doesn’t, we can just take a walk around the golf course and enjoy the weather.” Ceci decided as their dinner was delivered.   She had taken her first spoon of soup when the door to the restaurant opened and a stickily built man came out and approached them. “Ah.”

“You people want to talk to me?” The man said, stopping at the table. “Jim Beakman.”

“Have a seat.” Ceci indicated one of the empty ones.  “Thanks for taking the time to chat. I’m Cecelia Roberts, and this is my husband, Andrew.”  She waited for him to warily take a seat. “We’re Dar’s parents.”

Andrew had picked up a piece of his pizza and he was chewing it, content to let Ceci do the talking for the moment.   He knew the man vaguely, from seeing him around the island, usually on a gas powered golf cart. 

Looked like a construction type of man.  He was heavily built, and had dark hair, with hard, intent eyes and big, squarely made hands.  Acted like a fellow who’d been in charge of things with no contesting it for a good long time.

Andy had known men like that, long timers, in the service.  Fellas who had gotten used to command, and had carved themselves out a patch where their word was law.

He smiled a little.  None of them had much liked him, and he didn’t figure this feller was going to end up liking him either. 

‘You must be real proud then.” The man said.

“We are.” Ceci said, aware of the sarcasm but answering at face value.  “You always hope for the best for your kids, but to have Dar become the very successful and stand up person she is makes me very gratified, as a parent.”

Beakman regarded her. “So you don’t care she’s gay?”

Right to the point.  Ceci rather liked that. “No. Why would I?” She responded. “I don’t want to sleep with her. She’s my daughter. That would be horrific and probably immoral and perhaps even illegal in Broward County.”

Andrew chuckled.

“You really don’t care?”  He turned his attention to Andrew.  “Bet you would care if she was a boy.”

Andrew chewed his pizza thoughtfully.  “No point in wondering, cause she aint’.” He said. “But ah probly woulda gotten into a half ton more fights over it if Dar’d been a boy.”  He added.  “Aint’ so bad the way it turned out. “

The construction  manager shrugged. “So what did you want to talk to me about?  She ready to back down on the threat she made against me?”

Now it was Ceci’s turn to dryly chuckle and she did. “Dar never backs down.   My reason for wanting to talk to you is to ask you what the hell you thought you were doing threatening her, and Kerry, with eviction.” 

He studied her warily.

“Because while my husband here is not a legally inclined man,  I come from a family with a very very long history of litigation who holds very long grudges.”  Ceci said, leaning on one elbow and regarding him with a cold eye. “And I know just how illegal what you said to her was, even here.”

“I don’t care what’s legal or not.” He responded frankly. “I just care about protecting my family.”

“Wall.” Andrew put down the bit of crust he’d been chewing and dusted his hands off. “Now that there’s something you and I can see eye to eye on.” He focused his attention on the man.  “Cause Dar’s my child. There aint nothing at all in the world I won’t do to keep her safe, and defend her from jackasses making threats at her.” He paused. “Buddy.”

They stared at each other in silence.

Ceci cleared her throat.  “Let me part the machismo for  a moment.” She said. “This is an idiotic conversation.  It’s idiotic that you want to evict my kid because she’s gay, and it’s idiotic that my husband is having to state the fact that he’s ready to shoot you in the head if you keep on doing that.”

Beakman sat up straight and looked over at her.  “What?”

“That is what he was just saying.” Ceci advised him. “We do not play games in this family and we’re more nuts than otherwise.  Really.   So look.” She leaned towards him again. “I don’tknow what you think that either my daughter or the daughter of the late Roger Stuart is going to do to your kid, but just stop it.  It wont’ happen.”

Andrew looked at her, then back at Beakman.”That what you all think?” His voice lifted in surprise. “Dar didn’t say that.”

“I read between the lines.” Ceci muttered.

The ex-seal snorted. “Boy, let me tell you, Dar aint’ got eyes for nobody else but who she’s married to.  She aint’ made that way.”  He shook his head. “If that all was what this here thing was about, nothing but a big old waste of evr’body’s time.

He got up. “Let em go take these here dogs walking.”  With another shake of his head he collected both leashes and headed off down the patio, both animals trotting eagerly after him.

Ceci finished her soup and set it aside.  “So.” She said, to the silently watching Beakman.  “What’s your real problem?  Since Dar’s been living here for a bunch of years and she hasn’t molested anyone yet, and you apparently didn’t care about her lifestyle all that time.”

“That’s right I didn’t.” He said, after a long pause. “Kept to herself, didn’t make much trouble. But now she’s got my daughter all interested in things she has no business being interested in.”

“Huh?”

“Since that other night, now she’s some kind of hero. I don’t want my kid thinking no pervert is a hero.” He said. “I’ts got my wife upset, and we’re not going to risk her running off and getting herself into trouble.”

Ceci blinked at him for a long moment. “Oh.” She finally said. “So the problem isn’t Dar, it’s her.”

“This is my patch.” Beakman said. “You get that?  She belongs here. “

“I get it.” Ceci said, who did.  “So the fact that Dar saved your kid from being raped or worse doesn’t matter.”

He shook his head. “You can call me a shithead for that and I probably am.” He admitted. “But I’m not having her think something like that should make her turn into a freak.”  He got up “I’m not afraid of you people.  I’m not going to have my family chased off my patch. You understand?”

“Better than you could possibly imagine.” Ceci responded. “Had a great great great grandsomething who fought with Washington at Valley Forge, and Andy’s great great grandsomething was a Confederate general in a place that war hasn’t quite ended yet.  I get it.”

He paused and regarded her somberly.

“That’s what Dar’s heritage is.” Ceci said. “So while I do get it, and on some level as a parent myself I have a sympathy for wanting to protect your family, think about evils and the lesser of them before you do anything.”

They looked at each other in silence.

“We’re better friends than enemies” Ceci concluded, lifting her glass of wine and raising it in his direction.

He nodded briefly, then turned and walked away, around the corner of the porch and out of sight.

Ceci sighed. “Well, mother goddess, I tried.” She went back to her plate, shaking her head.  “Complete and utter waste of my time, and a pizza I think.”

**

 “Is that all of them?”  Kerry was lying on her stomach on the bed, her head resting on her arms.  “It’s almost five am, Dar.”

“Couple more pecks.”  Dar glanced at a page on the desk, then back at her screen. “I think I’m getting too old for this all night crap anymore.”

Kerry opened one eye and regarded her partner drolly.  “Let me go order you a bowl of prunes, grandma.”

Dar chuckled and finished her amendments,  running her eyes over the scripts one last time.  “What a pain in the ass this has been.” She saved the last changes and lifted her hands off the keyboard, flexing them and then cracking her knuckles.

“Done?”

Dar assembled the group of new files into an archive and then opened up her email program. “Let me just send these to Mark.”  She attached the archive and sent it on it’s way. “That is, I hope, the end of that.” She announced with a relatively satisfied tone.

Kerry snorted softly.

The light in the room altered as Dar shut off the lamp, and got up from the desk, moving over to join her partner on the bed. “Ugh.”

“Alarm set?” Kerry mumbled indistinctly.

“Yeah.” Dar got the covers over them and Kerry wrapped up in her arms all in the same unlikely motion.  “Let’s hope tomorrow is short and easy.”

“Like me?”  Kerry started chuckling silently as she felt Dar do the same.  “Let’s get through your demo and come back here and take a nap.”

“Sounds good to me.”

**

Dar toweled her hair dry, and regarded her reflection, making a face at herself and sticking her tongue out after a moment.  “I’m  not a morning person today.”

Kerry edged in next to her, dressed in only a towel. “I’m never a morning person.” She leaned both hands on the sink basin and eyed Dar through damp, very disheveled pale hair. “I definitely am too old for all this all night crap.”

“Funny.” Dar drawled. “You kept me up all night just the other mphf.” 

Kerry removed her hastily clapped hand from her partners mouth. “That’s different.”

“It sure was a hell of a lot more fun than editing router configs.”  Dar ran a brush through her hair and pondered if using a dryer was in the cards.   She felt a nibble on her arm and looked down to find Kerry leaning against her, eyes half closed. “Oh, you are tanked.”

“I need some stronger coffee.” Kerry admitted, straightening up and pulling over her toiletry bag.  “I think it’s mostly that I keep thinking about having to sit in the room and listen to two dozen people like my father deliberately misunderstand every single word you say.”

“Just think.” Dar said. “Next week at this time we’ll be picking up the RV and heading out on the road.”

Kerry visibly perked up.  “Boy I can’t wait for that.” She admitted. “Dar, I’m really looking forward to that rafting trip. I just want to flush the world out of my head for a while and see new stuff.”

“Me too.”  Dar decided against the blow dryer.  “Let me go get my duds on, and I’ll call down for some double shot expressos.”

“Oohhhh… that sounds wonderful.” Kerry brushed her own hair out and started to put on the light makeup she now very seldom used.  She listened to Dar ramble around in the outer room, hearing the low whistling.

She got into fresh underthings  and went out into the other room, going over to their joint suitcase and taking out the linen, conservatively cut business suit that had been back in the back of her closet for at least a month.

“Know what I forgot to throw in?” Dar was buttoning the sleeves on her silk shirt. “Hose. Oh well. Guess they’ll just have to deal with my tan.”

“I’ve  never seen you wear hose. You  have some?” Kerry adjusted the belt on her skirt.  “Oh wait, I remember seeing a pair stuck back in the back of your sock drawer I thought they were just  a token.”

Dar chuckled. “They are.” She tucked in the shirt.  “I like that teal color on you.”  She studied her partner. “You want to do this demo? You look better than I do.”

Kerry glanced at her reflection in the mirror.   “I don’t think so.” She disagreed. “You look good in burgundy and I really like that shirt.”

They both fell silent as they finished fastening and buckling then Dar looked up . “We done being girly now?”

“Hehe.”  Kerry pulled on her jacket and tugged the sleeves straight. “Hey we are girls” She walked over and straightened the collar on her partner’s shirt. “Are you going to wear your microchip pin?”  She asked. “We can stop in the coffee shop downstairs. We don’t need them to bring something up.”

“Sounds good.”  Dar removed her jacket from it’s hanger.  “I didn’t bring the pin with me. But let me get my earrings.”

Kerry went over and made sure Dar’s messenger bag had all her notes in it, then buckled it shut as the windows took on a pink glow from the rising sun.  They  had the presentation scheduled at the White House, then the grilling from Congress,  hopefully a break in the afternoon, then dinner at Gerry Easton’s.

Then an early  morning flight the next day back home.  Kerry got  her sunglasses and tucked her them into the belt on her skirt, and got the messenger bag  over her shoulder, as Dar finished fastening her earrings.  “Ready?”

“Let’s go.” Dar put the key to the hotel room in her pocket and went to the door, opening it and stepping back to let Kerry go through.  “Mark should be sending off those files right about now.”  She said. “Glad that’s behind us.”

“You think that’s enough information for them to fix the problem?” Kerry headed down the hall to the elevator stack. “Is there anyone even left there to fix it?”

Dar shrugged. “Any competent engineer could apply those configs, and would understand them. I’m sure if they offer enough money they can get some hot shot in there to do it.”

They offered their valet ticket up on the curb, and waited.  Kerry opened the back door and put the bag inside, then went around to the driver’s seat and slid behind the wheel.   She got her sunglasses settled as the valet closed the door and spent a moment adjusting her position.

“Sorry about that.” Dar eyed her. “Should have adjusted the seat when I got out.”

“No problem hon.” Kerry got the car into drive and started off, pulling out and turning right onto reasonably well remembered streets.  “Better for me than you anyway. You always end up cracking your chin on your knees,”

“There’s a Starbucks” Dar pointed. “And it has a drive through.”

“Awesome.” Kerry turned in the driveway.  “Double double mocha?” She didn’t wait for an answer, just rolled down her window as she pulled up to the ordering station.

Dar settled back and took out her Handspring, thumbing through the messages.  She saw a new one from Mark and opened it, reading through it and making a noise of disgusted irritation. “Doesn’t it just figure?”  She said. “I stay up all night fixing that crap and they boot the guy.”

“Huh?”  Kerry turned and looked at her.

“Mail bounced back as non existent.” Dar held the phone up.  “They deleted his inbox.  Can you believe it?”

“Augh.”

Dar shook her head and started typing. “I’m going to tell Mark to find someone.. I don’t care if it’s the god damned cleaning supervisor – and get them those files.”

“Jesus.”  Kerry set the cups down in the console between them and paid for the coffee, then rolled the window back up and pulled back onto the street.  “That is really kind of ridiculous, Dar.  How could that have happened between last night and this morning?”

“We got fired between a Saturday morning and afternoon, Ker.”  Dar finished her note and sent it.  “Actually that’s kind of a relief, because this guy was no good news for anyone.”

‘Hmph.” Kerry headed down the road that eventually lead to the White House. “Yeah, but who knows how long it’s going to take to get it fixed now.”

“Do we care?”

Kerry glanced at her. “Dar, don’t pull that on me. We both know you care.”

Dar sighed.

“Of course you care. You built that whole system byte by byte.” Kerry softened her voice, seeing the sudden tension in her partner’s face.  “C’mon, hon. You put a lot of blood and sweat into it.  You were damn proud of that design, and so was everyone else.”

“Mmph.  I just keep getting the feeling you think I’m an idiot.”

“What?”

“I think you want me to keep way clear of them.” Dar restated her words. “That it was a mistake to work those files.”

Kerry was silent for a few minutes, as she turned into the administrative gate to the executive building. “Yeah, maybe I do.” She admitted, as she rolled down the windows and took Dar’s and her own identifications into her hand.  “Maybe I’m so pissed off at them because of how they dissed you I hope they all go down in flames no matter if some of our customer suffer.”

“Morning, ma’am’s.” The guard took their ID respectfully. “Be right back.”

Dar had relaxed back into her seat.  “Sorry Ker. You’re probably right.’ She rested her elbow against the arm rest and her head against her fist. “It’s like a knee jerk.”

“I know. “Kerry reached over and patted her knee. “Let’s wait until later to fight. We’ve got enough on our plate right now.”

“Go right through there, ladies.”  The guard was back, handing them their ID. “You’re expected. Park in that first lot, and it’s the second gate, right hand side.”

“Thanks.” Kerry smiled at him, then rolled on when the barrier lifted.  “Let’s get this show on the road.”   She drove inside and found a parking spot, then joined Dar in getting out and gathering their things.

It was cool, and overcast, and she was glad she had her suit jacket on.  Kerry followed Dar up the path, and to the gate, which was opened readily to admit them.  “Good morning.”

“Morning, ladies.” The guard at the gate said. “Can I direct you somewhere?”

“No, we’re okay.” Dar said. “Thanks.”

They entered the building and Dar led the way down the hall to the briefing room she was becoming familiar with.  The administrator sitting at the entry desk glanced up, then focused attention on them. “Good morning.”

Dar fished out one of her new cards and handed it over. “I think I’m expected.”

The woman took it and looked at it, then consulted a book on her desk. “Yes, Ms. Roberts, you are.” She said. “You can go on in and set up,  Mr. Bridges is in a briefing right now, but he’ll be back down in a minute.”

She glanced past Dar to where Kerry was patiently waiting. “Are you..”

“With her? Yes.” Kerry said, in a deadpan voice.  She gave the woman and smile and followed Dar past the desk to the big conference room, which was empty and quiet and full of teak furniture and a big screen.

Dar put her messenger bag down and pulled her laptop out,  sitting down near the front of the table and opening the hatch in it where the connections to the overhead projector were.   

Kerry took a seat next to her and simply sat waiting, knowing  enough about Dar’s prep methods not to bug her with inconsequential talk.  She wasn’t fond of public speaking and there was a certain amount of self psyching she had to do in order to do it successfully.

The admin came in and opened up a rollup cabinet in the back, exposing urns of coffee and other liquids. “Please help yourself.” The woman said. “The technical committee is on it’s way down and if I were you, I’d get a cookie first before they get here.” She gave them both a smile and left.

“I don’t think I can get down any more coffee.” Kerry said mournfully.  “My kidneys are going to come out my ears.”

“That’s an attractive thought.” Dar murmured, obsessing over her keyboard.

“I love you too, honey.” Kerry got up and went over to the credenza, selecting a glass and a bottle of fizzy water and bringing them back over to set next to Dar’s elbow.  Then she resumed her seat and half turned as the door opened and people started to file in.

Mostly men, but two were women.  They all had the slight harassed and slightly impatient look of people who had too much to do who were being asked to stop doing what they had to do in order ot listen to someone they didn’t know about something they really dind’t care about.

Kerry was used to the look, she’d seen it enough times in conference rooms at ILS.  She gave them all a brief smile as they settled into chairs, some detouring over to the credenza with low, muttered words to each other.

One of the men had sat down next to her. “You the people doing the new system?” He asked.

“Yes.” Kerry said, extending a hand. “I’m Kerry.”

“Paul.” He took it and gripped firmly. “So is this going to work?”

“It’ll work.”

“Not like everything else lately?” Another man had taken the seat next to him and was leaning against the table.  “Our whole reporting database’s been down for three days.  Last thing we need is some new complicated thing that craps out.”

Dar looked up from her keyboard and peered at him. “The statistical analysis collator? That’s down?”

“Uh oh.” Kerry muttered under her breath as she swung around to face her partner. “I don’t think we’re supposed to know about that.” She mouthed silently.

Dar lifted both hands in a shrug and put them back down. “Is it?”

“Yeah.. you know something about that?” Paul asked. “I didn’t know you people were involved in that.. hell, I’m surprised they don’t have you in a little padded room upstairs getting your kneecaps whacked.”

Dar sighed. “Actually we’re not involved in it. We just know about it.” She went back to her keyboard. “And that’s all I’m going to say about that or I’ll get MY kneecaps whacked by my partner here.”

Kerry looked mildly abashed.   “We used to work for the company who handles that system for you.” She explained to Paul. “So that’s how we know.”

“Oh.” He leaned back in his chair. “So why’d you leave?”

“They pissed us off.” Dar said. “Okay, I’ve got this set now.” She looked up and then stood up, twitching her jacket straight and flexing her hands.  “We just waiting for Bridges?”

“He’s getting a briefing on all the outages.”  Paul said. “He’s in a really bad mood.”

“Oh boy.”  Kerry folded her hands on the table. “Well, hope we can show him something that makes him feel better.”

“Mmm.” Dar made a low noise in her throat. “Is it too late for us to find some coveralls and cross dress? Pretend we’re someone else?”

“You’re the one who said we knew about it.” Kerry sighed.

The door opened and Bridges came in with two aides, and he did, as promised, look like he was in a very bad mood. “Roberts!” He barked, as he came around the table. “What in the hell’s going on?”

Dar put her hands in the pockets of her skirt.  “We’re about to do a demonstration for you.” She answered calmly.  “Want to sit down so I can start?”

The president’s advisor paused and put his hands on the back of the chair at the head of the table and regarded her.

“It’s not my problem anymore.” Dar said, gently. “I know it’s a complete cock up there, but I don’t’ even have any way of thinking about trying to help.”

“Don’t want you to help. I want you to take it over.” Bridges tossed a folder on the table and slid it over to her. “Now. Sign.” 

“We don’t have the infrastructure to do it.” Dar objected, as Kerry pulled the folder over and opened it.  “You’d be in the same state until we could spool up.  Find someone else – I’ll give you some names.”

The others in the room had been watching them, heads turning back and forth like those at a tennis tournament.

“I don’t want any god damned names.” Bridges said. “I’ve already talked to half a dozen half assed nit brained nerd heads and you know what every single one of them told me?”

“They said they can’t do it.” Kerry spoke up, still leafing through the folder’s contents. “And probably some of them at least told you to call Dar.”  She closed the folder and pushed it back across the table. “Unfortunately, we really, honestly, no bullshit, really can’t do it either. You need time and a ton of facility and we don’t have either one.”

Bridges sat down in the big chair and glared at her.

“Really.” Kerry repeated. “I’m not making that up. If I thought we could pull it off, and yank it out of ILS’s hands, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

Dar turned and looked at her, both eyebrows hiking up.

“I would.” Kerry saw the look and suppressed a smile.  “They don’t deserve you as a customer.  They have been absolute morons over the last month. I would take that contract like this.” She snapped her fingers. “But we really can’t do it.”

He steepled his fingers, tapping the ends of them against his lips.  Everyone else in the room was dead silent, very still, just waiting. 

Even Dar stayed quiet, her hands still in her pockets,  eyes slightly unfocused.

“What do you mean, they were morons?” Bridges finally asked. “They do this on purpose?”

Kerry folded her hands on the table, the light briefly catching her wedding ring and reflecting off it.  “A lot of people have asked us that.  No, I don’t think they did this on purpose in the sense that, they were trying to sabotage anything.”

“It’s worse.” Dar spoke up at least. “Someone trying to make their mark made some changes, and it went very south.”

“That so?” Bridges mused. “So it was stupid rather than treason?”

“Far as we know, yes.” Kerry said, in a quiet voice.

He got up. “Go on and give your talk, Roberts. I’ll be back shortly.  Everyone take notes.” He waved a hand at the room. “There’ll be a test later on.”

He motioned the two aides, who had stayed standing near the door out ahead of him like he was shooing chickens and followed them out, slamming the door behind him.

Kerry let out an audible sigh.

“Who in the hell are you people?” Paul finally asked, with a touch of awe in his voice.  “Do you know who that guy is? He could have you sent to Mars.”

Dar switched the screen to her output. “Who are we.” She said. “Well, I’m Thor, God of the Internets and this is She Ra. So I guess Mars doesn’t scare us much.” She got her remote out and moved to one side. “And on that note, let’s get this started. “

Kerry was busy typing a message into her Handspring, shaking her head repeatedly.

**

“That’s how the algorithm works.” Dar clicked to a new screen. “What we did was tried to write the front end to the enterprise service bus so that it was a more natural way for people to interact with the data.”

“What does that mean?” One of the women in the back spoke up. “Do they talk to it?”

Dar brought up the very basic, simple input screen. “I can write a plug in that’ll take voice commands. But right now it’s just keyboard.” She pointed at the woman. “C’mon up here and ask it something.”

The woman hopped right up and came forward.  She put her hands on the keyboard as Dar took a step back.  “Ask it.. what do I ask it?” She looked up at Dar.

“If you were an analyst, and your job was to find something wrong, what would you ask?”  Dar had one hand on the back of Kerry’s chair.  “Don’t look at me. I don’t know what to ask. I’m a systems architect.”

The woman thought for a momeht, then started typing. “Okay.  Tell me about anyone who wants to shoot the President.”

She hit enter, and straightened, looking first at Dar, then at the screen.

A spinning star took  over the middle of it, and twinkled for about thirty seconds.  Then typing started to fill the screen, plain white on black, san serif font.

Email ; Parsed header returns ‘He makes me so mad I want to kill him.”  Content contains keywords: hate, revenge, under the radar, politician, POTUS.   Return extended header?

The people in the room stared at it “Is that real?” Paul asked.

“It’s real in the sense that, I created a database that had random records in it, with different source types.” Dar said. “Its not real in the sense that the thing you’re looking at is a real threat to the President.”

“But.. that’s the kind of thing it would come back with?”  The woman asked. “Really?”

“Really.”   Dar smiled a little at the reaction. “The information I used to make this test database is a dump from the actual internet, scrubbed to remove personal information and then mixed to provide you with some hits to questions.”

“So it wouldn’t really say whose email that was?”

“It would come back with a fictitious name.”  Dar confirmed. “But since it’s a fictitious email, that would be appropriate.  It could have originally been an email from someone who was pissed of at their SO, and the keywords could be from six different other emails.”

The woman stepped back to the keyboard. “Tell me about anything threatening Yankee’s Stadium.” She hit enter, and they all looked at the screen expectantly.

The machine chewed over that for a bit, then started spewing out listings.

1.) Invoice: Industrial: Phosphorous, Deliver to Yankee Stadium, volume plus 1,000 lbs.

2.) Legal: Resident: Lawsuit filed against Yankee Stadium over parking fees.

3.) Email: Parsed.  Text includes ‘going to make a killing at Yankee Stadium’

Enter item to retrieve additional data.

There was a moment of silence.  Then they all exhaled at once. “Holy shit.” The oldest man, who had been standing in the back of the room spoke up. “So that thing can just read all that stuff on the internet and it’ll know all this?”

Dar seemed pleased. “It will.” She said. “This is, of course, a test database. It’s only half a terabyte in size, and this demo program is a very simple model.  The real system will be a lot bigger,  a lot more powerful, distributed, and it’ll probably take longer to return a response because it will be looking at a hell of a lot more raw data.”

She regarded the screen. “But that’s the idea. It also will employ a flexible heuristic framework that will learn over time to know what to look for  - so – eventually it will start suggesting things rather than wait to be asked.”

Dead silence. “W.. what?”  Paul stuttered. “You mean.. it has artificial intelligence?”

Dar nodded.  “It continually parses data, so it will start looking for connections.” She said, her voice getting a touch more animated. “So if it sees, for instance, a pattern of telephone calls between places that also show deliveries of gunpowder, that’s something it will bring up as part of a generated briefing.  Could mean something, might not mean anything, but the operators will have the choice to follow up or not.”

“Humans have to make the real connections.” Kerry spoke up after being silent for a very long time.  “But they can’t look at all this data – it’s like  a firehose.  But  a computer can, and it just tries to find patterns and that’s what it returns to us.”

“Oh my god.” The woman sat down. “I thought this was just an intelligence budget scam.  You actually made this.”

“In two weeks.” Paul said. “You really are Thor God of the Internets.”

“Have at it.” Dar sat down next to Kerry and waved them towards the laptop.  “But remember, it’s just a demo system.  I just wanted to give you all an idea of where we were going with it.”

She slid backwards out of the way and watched in contentment as they all gathered around her machine and started peppering it with questions, the woman finally ending up being the typist.

“Rock star.” Kerry smiled. 

“Meh.” Dar shrugged. “It’s just a test system with a lot of spaghetti code and duct tape in there. They ask it the wrong thing it’ll probably croak.”

“Dar, stuff a sock in it.  I know how long you worked on that. “ Kerry poked her in the ribs.  “You’re a rock star.”

Her partner shrugged modestly, but smiled.

The door opened and Bridges came back in, pausing as he saw the crowd at the head of the table. 

“Sir!” Paul turned and spotted him. “You should come see this! It’s boss!”

“Whoop de fucking hoo.” Bridges said. “You and you, come with me.” He pointed at Dar and Kerry. “The rest of you stay in nerdgasm.” He turned and headed back out, waving them after him.  “Let’s go people.”

“Why do I suddenly wish I was an actual rock star?” Dar sighed as she and Kerry followed him out and the door shut behind them. “And all I had to worry about was tuning my guitar?”

“What?”  Bridges glanced at her.  “Never mind. You two are going to help me solve this problem here and then we can go back to talking about whatever the hell it is that has those goops so excited.”

“This doesn’t sound good.” Kerry muttered.

“No.” Dar agreed.

Bridges led them through two hallways, and up a staircase, then through a padded door and down another hallway, stiffarming everything out of his way until he got to pair of double doors that he grabbed the knobs to and shoved them open.

Beyond him they could hear angry voices, and as they cleared the door and could see the interior of the room Kerry heard Dar make a low, grunting noise that she knew meant nothing but trouble.

It wasn’t really a curse, but it might as well have been one.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about but we’ve got our best…. What the hell is she doing here?” A tall, crewcutted man was speaking at high volume.

“She’s here to help us figure this out.” Bridges said. “Now sit your ass down.”

“Help us? She caused this!” The main pointed at Dar.

“Is that..” Kerry muttered.

“Yes.”

“Leeeet me start texting.”

Bridges turned to look at Dar. “You cause this, Roberts?”

“No.” Dar responded in a flatly calm voice. “Moronic male ego caused this. I had nothing to do with it. Assuming what you’er talking about is the fact that a company I used to work for maliciously and deliberately disrupted your systems.”

“Now Dar.” Jacques stepped out from behind a block of angry bodies. “That’s not really true..”

“Fuck you, it is.” Dar said. “I told you what to do and you didn’t do it.  All of you put pride in front of your customer and from my perspective, that makes you all useless sacks of shit who frankly deserve to be taken into some green painted cell somewhere in the basement of this place and beaten to death.”

Then she stopped talking and sat down, resting her elbows on the big conference table.  “Please get this over with. I have a demonstration to do in a half hour.”

There were very few times that Kerry had been prouder of her partner than she was at this moment.  She quietly sat down next to Dar and folded her hands on her lap. 

“Dar..” Jacques regrouped. “I was just..”

“Shut up. You’re a goat bag. I have no respect for you.” Dar said, in a clipped tone. “I have no respect for any of you,  Be men. You fucked up.  Own it.”

Bridges sat down with a grunt. 

A tall, dark haired man with a green linen suit on put his hands on the back of the chair directly across from where Dar was sitting. “Can I ask who you are?”

“My  name is Dar Roberts.” Dar said.  “Can I ask who you are?”

The man sat down. “You’re Dar Roberts.” He repeated. “Funny. From what I was hearing I expected you to  have a horn and a long red tail.” He said. “I’m Steve Booker.”

“Ah. We’ve spoken.” Kerry spoke up.   “He’s the governmental systems technical coordinator, Dar.”

He peered at her. “I know that voice.  Kerry Stuart?”

Kerry drew a breath, then just merely nodded. 

“You going to sit down?” Bridges stared pointedly at Jacques and the crew cutted man.  “Or do you want me to call the goons to have you dragged down to the not nearly as fictitious little green room downstairs?”

Reluctantly they sat.

“All right.” Bridges leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach.  “I do not have time to screw around with you people any more.” He said. “Shut up and do not speak until I tell you to.” He said, as Jacques drew breath.

“What.” Bridges said, looking now at Dar.  “Is the actual fucking problem, Roberts, since I know deep in my complete lack of a heart that you know.”

Kerry put her hand on Dar’s arm, applying gentle pressure. Then she cleared her throat. “We don’t know specifically what happened.” She said. “Because only the people who actually did it know what they did.”

Bridges rolled his eyes.

“But what I believe happened is that the people that ILS hired to replace Dar, and I, decided to put their imprint on the systems that were in place there, and made changes to them that caused a pretty serious degredation in performance.”

The crew cutted man took an angry breath. “That’s a..”

“Don’t.” Kerry said, sharply and powerfully.  “Stop playing games.  This is the government of the United States you are messing up, and the consequences of that are a lot more important than you understand.”

“You are liable for this.” Dar said, in the small silence that followed. “What you did, will take ILS down.  You will lose the company.”  She was looking directly at Jacques. “And you will deserve to  lose it.  I am so disgusted by you and what you allowed to happen here I am about to throw up on this table.”

‘Dar..”  Jacques’ face twisted into a grimace.

“We risked our lives for this customer.” Dar cut him off, but in a very quiet, gentle voice.  “And you allowed this moron to knowingly and deliberately put them in jeopardy.”

“You made that system so impenetrable you caused this!”  Higgs stood up.  “Don’t blame this on any body but you you fucking immoral piece of shit!”

“So you did make some changes?”  Bridges asked, in a mild tone.

“To make things better! Sure!”

Bridges sniffed reflectively. “John, get the MP’s up here.” He said. “I want this guy put in lock up.” He turned to Dar, leaning on his chair arm. “Can you fix this, Roberts?”

“She’s not touching anything!” Higgs said. “I’ve got our lawyer coming over here and he’s going to serve the damn papers we’ve been trying to serve to this bitch for two weeks and then we’ll see who’s going to jail.”

“Brook, sit down.”  Jacques said, quietly.

“The hell! I’m not going to sit down, and I’m not going to stand by while my reputation and yours gets tossed in the garbage!” Higgs started around the table towards Dar.  “Wait till I get my hands on you..”

The door opened in front of him and he stopped abruptly, taking a step back as a man walked in with rolled up sleeves and a casual pair of slacks on. “What’s all going on in here?” He asked, looking around. “Oh there you are .”

“Hello, Mr. President.”  Bridges said. “Just having a meeting.”

“With all that yelling?”  Bush seemed surprised. “Hello there, ladies.” He gave Dar and Kerry a smile. “Hey, is this your lady friend?“ he asked Dar.

“It is.” Dar agreed.  “My partner, Kerry.”

“Hi there. Call me George. “ The president extended a hand, which Kerry took.  “I just heard from someone down the hall that your new thing’s really something.”

“Looking forward to demonstrating it to you shortly.” Dar said.  “So far, so good.”

“Well now that’s great.. so what’s all the yelling about?” Bush asked, a touch more sharply. “Something wrong?”

“Just getting some issues ironed out.”  Bridges said. “Nothing too tough.”

“Uh huh.”  Bush nodded. “Well, you all try not to keep Ms. Roberts too long. We’ve got an appointment “ He eyed them, then slipped out the door and closed it behind him.  

Higgs went back to his seat and sat down, looking like he was trying to pass a gallstone.  Jacques leaned back and half hid his eyes with one hand.

“Okay now where were we.  Roberts? “ Bridges ignored both of them. “Can you fix this thing or not?”

“In point of fact, she’s been trying to.” Kerry said. “Except these bimbos keep firing the people she was trying to help.”

“Pst pst pst”  Bridges tapped his  lips. “Roberts?”

“I won’t do it to help them.”  Dar finally said. “But I will do it for you.  Pull their contracts, and after that, you get me access and I’ll fix it.”

“What??????” Higgs yelped.

“Dar, please don’t be so hasty..”

“Done.”  Bridges said, with a brief smile. “Steve, call the GAO and make it happen.  Cut the new contracts to Robert’s company, and mandate the gizmos and gears and whatnot that makes it all up goes to them too.”

Kerry grimaced. “Oh lord. That honestly won’t work.”

“Then go with him and figure out how to make it work.”  Bridges told her. “You’ve got a shitload of your father in you. Go prove it.” He nudged her with his elbow. “G’wan.”

Dar leaned past her. “You keep insulting Kerry and I’m going to tell you to fuck off too.” 

“No, it’s okay.”  Kerry was surprised to find that it actually was. “He meant it in a good way.” She stood up and patted Dar’s back, then circled the table and pointed at Steve. “C’mon.”

“Let’s clear the room.” Bridges said. “Except you, and you and me.”  He pointed at Jacques and Dar.  “John, keep that bozo entertained.” He indicated Higgs. “Move, people.”

Five minutes later they were alone in the room. 

“So.” Bridges said. “Explain to me why you turned into such an idiot?” He asked Jacques.

Jacques merely shook his head. “There becomes a point.” He said, after a pause. “When all the bad decisions make of so much weight, you cannot push them off.”

“You could have.” Dar disagreed. “I told you what you needed to do.”

“You did.”  He said. “But I am only one man, and there were so many on the board who refused to go along with that, because it meant to the world a total failure.”

“And this is?” Bridges brows hiked.

“Now? It is in fact a total failure.” Jacques said. “We will all be cast out.”

“You should be.” Dar said. “You butchered that company.”

“Dar.”

“Jacques, that’s why they pay you the big bucks.” Dar said. “The buck stops with you.  Just like, when I was there, the buck stopped with Alistair.”

“We were very sure we knew what to do.”  Jacques said. “We were absolutely sure we had picked well to replace you.”

Dar regarded him. “You are a moron.” She said. “That guy could no more replace me than I could flap my arms and fly to Mars.”

‘Yes, well Dar, that is the problem isn’t it? You made yourself un-replaceable.”  Jacques said. “I think you knew that. You arranged things so that anyone who followed you would be lost.”

Dar regarded him thoughtfully.  “I did.” She agreed, surprising everyone.  “Not on purpose.” She added. “It’s just who I am.  I’m a leader. An Alpha if you want.” She exhaled, and nodded. “I did things my way.   But you all knew that, and you let me. If that wasn’t what you wanted, then you should have stopped me a long time ago.”

Bridges nodded in turn.

“So yes, I knew I was impossible to replace. I just wasn’t going to sacrifice my life because of that. I was hoping you’d find someone who would study what I did, and then make a plan to make it their own. Not do something as mind bendingly stupid as make some random change then make it impossible to recover from it.”

“So now you will wreck us.”  Jacques said.

“Yes. I can’t let you wreck both the company’s reputation and mine.” Dar said.  “So I will take you down, and force a replacement of the board, and if the company’s very lucky Alastair will agree to take over again until things can be made right.”

“They will not stand still for that.” Jacques shook his head.

“They won’t have a choice. “ Bridges spoke up. “Considering how much of the operations of the government you goat heads are disrupting I could have all of you held as suspected terrorists. You do realize that, right?”

Jacques look at him in startlement.

“You do realize where you are, right?”  He pointed at the desk. “You do realize the guy who walked in here a while back in the chinos and button down was George Bush, right? Leader of the free world and all that crap?”

Dar sighed.

“She gets it.” Bridges pointed at Dar. “If I were you, I’d start catching up before the best thing that will happen  to you and all your Wall Street buddies is they’ll end up in Guantanamo.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “And I don’t even need a warrant.  Your families will never see you again. You’ll never get a lawyer.  You get me?”

Jacques was silent for a moment. “Yes.” He said then. “I understand you.”

“Good.”  Bridges looked satisfied. “Today might end up all right after all.”    He leaned back and twiddled his thumbs, humming softly under his breath.

Dar waited a moment to see if anything else was going to happen, then she pulled out her Handspring and started to type.

**

Concluded in Part 16