Kerry leaned back in her chair, balancing her keyboard on her lap as she typed out a spurt of emails dealing with two of the minor projects she was supervising along with the ship one. In the time since she’d gotten back from lunch with Dar, she’d gotten a lot done as well as felt her earlier aggravation dissipate.
She had noticed, recently, that Dar’s presence tended to do that to her. It wasn’t anything her partner did or said, particularly – but if she was angry or upset, hanging around Dar just made her feel better. Even when she was hurting; if she had a headache or a bellyache, she’d curl up with her head in Dar’s lap and it would all just go away.
Why was that? She wondered idly. It had been really noticeable that afternoon when she’d come down for lunch. She’d been steaming as she stepped off the elevator – but when she spotted Dar heading her way, her blood pressure had dropped and the knots in her gut had eased the minute they came together.
Ah well. Kerry shook her head a bit, and went back to her typing. Certainly, Dar wasn’t around to make her feel warm and fuzzy right now. Her partner was stuck in the downstairs closet again, testing her new program.
Which reminded her. She hit the button for a new message and addressed it to Mark.
Hey – Dar’s testing some new code downstairs. So if you see freaky things, it might be her.
She hesitated a minute, then continued.
Sorry I went off today. I should be used to the talk by now, but when it comes to Dar, I never am. Thanks for letting me know about it.
She hit send.
A small box popped up in one corner. Hey.
Kerry grinned. Hey.
Do we have marshmallows at home?
Marshmallows? Kerry nibbled her lower lip thoughtfully. Marshmallows had never been a particular favorite of hers, since she found them relatively tasteless and preferred to squander her calories on something more appropriate such as chocolate. I don’t think so.. why?
There was a faint pause before the answer, and then it popped up. I want rice crispy treats.
A new message popped into her inbox. Kerry clicked on it while she considered what she should respond to that request with.
Hey, Kerry –
No problem, I know big D’s A number 1 on your list. Thanks for telling me she’s down in the dungeon – I haven’t seen anything yet but with her you never do until it’s too late.
Oh, that’s not really true. Kerry shook her head back and forth. Sometimes she’s just very very obvious.
Anyway, sorry all that stuff got dredged up. People just talk shit because it’s how they make themselves feel better about not being you guys.
Kerry read that last bit a few times, then shrugged. Personally, she just viewed the talk as venal human nature. It was easy for her to rationalize it that way, but far more difficult for her to ignore it when it was directed at Dar, and not at her. For herself – she’d been talked about since she was old enough to realize what that meant.
She keyed the instant message box and typed a reply. If you swing by Publix on the way home, I’ll make you some. She hit enter, and then typed another message. I hear they’re really good when you dip them in hot fudge.
The answer came back immediately. Why not? You are.
“Yerk.” Kerry muffled a squeak. You are such a punk. They could be random logging this, y’know!
Yeah, and? What are they going to find out, we’re lovers? Whoohoo.. news flash.. call Panic Seven. Kerry wrinkled her nose and grinned again in acknowledgment. How’s it going?
Kerry reviewed her inbox and sighed. There were a number of mails backed up waiting her attention, and she knew she had to plow through them if she wanted any chance of getting out of the office early the next day. Eh. I’ll be here a while.
Surprisingly, an answer came right back again. Me too. How about we meet for a romantic dinner over a pile of cat five later on?
She simply regarded the note for a while, a fond look crossing her face. I love you. She typed back, hesitating, and then just hitting send. Really, was there anything that needed to be added to that? She clicked back on her mail and continued to type, justifying for the nth time why new computers had to be budgeted for and not just plucked out of a non-existent it genie bag.
She jumped, and then looked at her screen. Gopher Dar was back, peeking around her email program and waving. “Oh, my god, she got it to talk! C’mere, you little rascal.” Her mouse pointer chased after the critter, and she poked him in the tail a few times. “Aggghhh.. gotcha!”
Far from being disturbed, Gopher Dar turned and waggled his behind at her, then somersaulted over and ended up sitting down. “I llooooooooovvvvvvveeeee youooo……” He warbled. “Youurrreee the best!”
“Oh, my god.” Kerry repeated, biting her lower lip. “You are so amazing sometimes.” She continued, in a softer voice.
Her office door opened, and Mayte poked her head in. “Did you call for me, Kerry?”
“Shh.” Kerry admonished Gopher Dar. “No, I was just talking to myself.” She directed her attention to Mayte. “Sorry – I’m trying to get some of this mail cleared up. Did you need me for something?”
Her assistant entered and walked over to her visitor chairs, sitting down on the left hand side one. “I have a little question for you.” Mayte said. “I really want to understand more about what we are doing so much of the time. Could I ask you which class I can take? In my school, we did a lot with software, and programs. We did not do so much with the networks.”
Ah. Career advice. Kerry gladly turned her attention from her mail, though reluctantly from Gopher Dar, and focused on Mayte’s slim form. “Well, I can fully appreciate how you feel, Mayte. I had some experience with infrastructure before I started here, but it’s been a learning curve for me too. The best person to really ask about that is Dar. She’s the expert.”
Gopher Dar chittered softly. Kerry clicked on him. “You hush.”
“Excuse me?” Mayte gave her a puzzled look.
“C’mere.” Kerry motioned for her to come around the desk. “Want to see something really cute?”
Mayte willingly got up and circled the desk, peering over Kerry’s shoulder. “What is that?” She asked, as Kerry chased the little critter around the screen. “Oh, look! Que Linda!”
“This is Gopher Dar.” Kerry pinned him down by the tail, and watched his tiny feet scrabble. “He was talking a minute ago.”
Mayte gave her boss a faintly skeptical look. “Si?” She asked. “But what is it? Where does it come from?”
Gopher Dar sashayed across the screen, doing a little dance. He had on a tank top and shorts, and incongruous rubber boots today. “Keeeeerrrrry…” He warbled.
“Oh!” Mayte covered her mouth.
“He comes from Dar.” Kerry explained. “It’s a program of hers that she works on when she’s not doing anything else, and every so often she sends this little guy over here to interact with me.”
Mayte leaned a little closer. “Wow.”
Gopher Dar waved at her. Then he did another little dance.
“He really cheers me up most of the time. “Kerry smiled. “And it’s an amazing program – it’s different every time. She puts different clothes on him; he does different things… her talent as a programmer is amazing.”
“He is blushing.” Mayte noted, with a grin. “So cute.”
“So, anyway… as I was saying, Dar’s the expert on what makes this place tick. But I think she’d agree that you should take a basic class on networking fundamentals to start with, and get the terminology down.” Kerry flipped over to a different screen, and called up a browser window. “We’ve got classes internally... here. Look at this set first.” She pointed.
“Ooooo...” Gopher Dar warbled approvingly. “Gooooooddd.”
They both started laughing. “Kerry, that is so adorable.” Mayte said. “And it is nothing serious – it is just for fun, yes?”
“Sure.” But Kerry suddenly wasn’t so sure about that. Gopher Dar had started making more and more frequent appearances lately, and she wondered if working with the little guy wasn’t Dar’s way of exercising her programming chops to ease her growing restlessness. “Is that not clever, or what?”
“Absolutely.” Mayte agreed. “I wish I had one! It is like a little friend. I think my cousin found a little cat program something like this, but it was not nearly so smart. It went to sleep, and it made a purr, and that kind of thing.”
“I’ve seen that.” Kerry said. “They have a puppy, too. But nothing like Gopher Dar.”
Gopher Dar had lain down on his side, and was simply gazing out at her. Kerry resisted the urge to reach out and scratch his nose. “So. Does that answer your question about classes?’
“Si, yes it does.” Mayte eased out from behind Kerry’s chair and came to stand in front of the desk again. “I will look at that website and sign up for one today. Is it all right if I make it at the end of the day, and go after we are done here?”
“Sure.” Kerry agreed. “But think about it –sometimes people do class better in the morning.” She paused, and a wry grin appeared. “Not that I was one of those people, but you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know.” Mayte agreed mournfully. “Mama has to pull me out of my bed in the morning. So I think the afternoon is better.” She turned to go. “Thank you, Kerry, and also for showing me your very cute friend. It is a very good program.”
“I think so.” Kerry gazed affectionately at the little creature. “I work on him a little sometimes… every once in a while I send him back over to bother Dar. She gets a kick out of it.” She looked up. “But I’m not in her league when it comes to that.”
“She is very talented.” Mayte smiled. “You are very lucky, I think.”
“I’m very lucky, I know.” Kerry gave her a little wave, as she left. “I do know that for sure.” She returned her attention reluctantly to her mail, almost hoping that Gopher Dar would come up with something else to distract her.
Which sucked, actually, since she had to get her damn mail done. Kerry frowned, focusing on the next page of complaints.
Ah. An even more welcome distraction. Yes, Gopher Mom?
You tied to that desk?
Kerry drummed her fingertips on her keyboard. You got a network connection for my laptop down there? Say yes and I’ll go keep you company in your pile of cat five.
Gopher Dar got up and started scooting around the corner of her screen, beckoning her to follow. Kerry clicked on him, waiting for the message to come back.
C’mon. I’ve got a nice dusty piece of concrete with your name on it right next to me.
Ah, it just didn’t get any more romantic than that. Kerry closed her mail and stood up. Be right there. She typed into the screen, before she closed down the desktop and grabbed her brief case. “But you know.” She remarked to the empty office. “Only love struck nitwits with zero sense would trade a nice comfortable leather chair for a piece of dusty concrete.”
She shouldered her laptop. “One nitwit, en route.” Kerry headed for the door, giving her new boxing dummy a wink as she scooted out of the room.
The soft sounds of new age echoed against the concrete walls, interrupted erratically by the patter of keystrokes on two keyboards.
Dar was seated on the ground between two tall racks, her long legs extended under them as she leaned back against a third. Kerry had taken a position right next to her, sitting cross-legged on the hard concrete with her laptop balanced on her knees.
Neither of them was talking. Both of them were concentrating on what they were doing, and yet the atmosphere in the small room was one of total, absorbed, contentment.
Kerry clicked send on her mail, and reviewed her inbox. The stack of messages she’d needed to take care of had decreased by over half in a surprisingly short amount of time, and she was beginning to see the light at the end of her email tunnel. “Know something? We should work down here more often.”
Dar finished typing a line, and grunted. “Uh huh.” She compiled the program she’d just finished, and opened a run window, starting the program and watching the results as it executed. “Ahhhh…”
Kerry rested her cheek against Dar’s shoulder and peered at the screen. “Working now?”
“Uh huh.” Her partner agreed. “Hang on to your socks. I’m gonna run it against the backup router.” She clicked over to a different screen and pulled it to one side, adjusting a monitoring parameter until she was satisfied with it. “Okay.”
It was fun and interesting watching Dar work. Kerry waited for her to start the program again, and then switched her attention to the monitor. The gauges jumped and fluttered, indicating *something* was going on, but it was hard to tell what effect the program was having.
So, she remained quiet and waited for Dar to comment on it. She’d been acceptably competent at the programming she’d done in school, but it had never been a passion of hers, and this was not only complex, it was cryptic in a way that only Dar could be.
“Eh.” Dar folded her arms and regarded the screen.
“Is it doing what you want it to?” Kerry hazarded.
“No.” Her partner replied. “But it’s doing something useful, which I hadn’t anticipated.”
“Hm. Is that good or bad?”
Dar rested her head against Kerry’s. “I don’t know yet. Give it a few minutes.” She studied the screen. “See here?” She pointed with one long finger. “I wanted it to analyze the headers and determine multiple instances of same sender, but what it’s actually doing is logging out of sequence packets.”
Kerry looked at the screen, then at her partner. “That’s useful?”
Dar nodded. “Yeah, because that’s a symptom sometimes of a dictionary attack – something just throwing guesses at the router and masking its own IP.”
“Ah hah.” Kerry murmured approvingly. “So that’s progress.”
“Mm. At least it’s not crapping out every six seconds now.” Dar agreed. “How’s your mail coming?”
Kerry snuggled a little closer. “Fine.” She said. “I knocked out a lot of it… its really nice and peaceful down here... I can see why you decided to do the test this way.”
“Mmhm.” Dar nuzzled her hair a little. “And it’s perfect now.”
Aww. Kerry figured if she had a tail, it’d be wiggling big time. Ridiculous really, since they were sitting on a dirty concrete floor surrounded by humming network gear in a room that stank of damp stone and electrons.
But who cared? “So, what’s next?”
Dar left her program running, while she called up her coding screen and made a few corrections. “Take another baby step, that’s what.” She cleared her throat a little, and continued pecking away.
“Mm.” Kerry shifted and set her laptop aside. “I’m going to get a soda... interested?” She waited for Dar to nod, and then she got up and stretched, reaching down to ruffle her partner’s dark hair. “Be right back.” She stepped carefully over the cables on the floor and pulled the door open, escaping from the small room into the hallway that led to the lobby.
It was after five, and the building was quieting down. The café on the ground floor was closed, and the cleaning people were beginning to pop out like night owls, starting the task of scouring the place. Kerry walked across the mostly empty lobby towards the ground floor break room, giving the guard a wave as she passed his desk.
“Hey, Ms. Stuart.” The man waved back. “You still here? Thought you were gone for the day – Michael passed by your office and said it was closed up.”
“Nope.” Kerry shook her head. “I’m working on a project in the main telco room.” She pointed back the way she’d come from. “Probably be there a while yet. Was someone looking for me?”
“Yeah.’ The guard said. “Matter of fact – a lady came to the front guard desk over there and wanted to talk to you. That’s why Michael went up.” He got up and met Kerry as she slowed down. “Here. She left a card.”
Kerry took it, cocking her head a little in puzzlement over the name. It wasn’t one she recognized, and she certainly had no idea what a real estate agent would want with her. “Um... okay.” She half shrugged, and stuck the cardboard slip into her back pocket. “Thanks... I don’t think I’m in the market for what she’s selling, but who knows?”
The guard shrugged also. “Have no idea, ma’am.” He cleared his throat. “Ah, do you know if Ms. Roberts is here too? I saw her car still outside, but her office is closed up.”
“She’s here.” Kerry turned to continue her task. “We’re working together on this project. You need her?”
“No ma’am.” The man shook his head. “Is that the security zone in the inside corridor?”
“Yep.” Kerry started to walk off. “We’ll be there if you need us.” She continued across the marble tile floor and into the inner hallway, pushing open the non-descript door and crossing from public splendor to linoleum tiled plainness in the space of a step.
It reminded her of the ship, a little. The difference between the passenger areas and the crew. Kerry stopped in front of the big soda machine, reviewing her choices. “Ah.” She popped some coins in, and selected a button, waiting for the bottle to drop before she applied more coins, and made a second choice.
The bottle rattled down, and she opened the bottom flap to retrieve Dar’s Yoohoo and her own root beer. Whistling softly under her breath, she headed back out to the lobby.
Dar had set her laptop down, and she was now walking around, stretching her body out and easing the stiffness from sitting on the ground for so long. Above her head, the cable ladders stretched to either side, bearing their weight of multicolor strands.
Experimentally, Dar reached up and grasped the ladder bars, pulling her body up and letting the metal take the weight of her body for a short time.
Satisfied the structure wasn’t going to collapse, she took a better hold, then lifted herself up again and got her legs up over the top of the ladder, hooking them securely through the rungs.
Then she released her arms and hung down, letting her spine relax. “Ahh.” She let her hands dangle as she flexed them, feeling the soft pops as her vertebra eased into place. It felt good, and was something she hadn’t done in a long, long time.
Since the weekend she’d spent in this very room upgrading every piece of equipment in it, in fact. Dar swung back and forth a little, enjoying the motion and the memories. She’d just been a tech then, before she’d decided to move into management.
Looking back along that curve now, Dar found herself wondering a little if that move had been the right one after all. Here she was, years later, right back in this closet doing something she could have easily paid an entire roomful of programmers to do instead of getting involved.
So why was she doing it? Just to have something to do and stay out of Kerry’s way? Dar grimaced. Oh that was an attractive thought. Maybe she’d let herself be promoted past her competency, like she was always accusing Jose of.
Ah, Dar. She sighed at herself. You can’t really complain, can you? After all, if you’d stayed a grunt, chances are you’d never have met Kerry, right?
No, probably not. Dar swung back and forth a little more, and thought about how much more she’d gotten done after Kerry had joined her today. She’d been less restless, and more focused, and suddenly it occurred to her that the more she separated herself from her partner and her projects, the antsier she tended to be.
It was so obvious, once she’d thought of it that she almost slapped herself on the head. “Damn.” In her efforts to distance herself from Kerry’s efforts, and let her partner fly on her own – was she sending herself down the stupid path?
Didn’t they really work better as a team?
The outer door opened, and she was graced with the sight of her lover from an interesting perspective. “Hi.”
“What are you doing?” Kerry walked in, let the door shut, and set the sodas down before she came over to where Dar was hanging like a bat. “You have no idea how funny you look.”
“Just stretching.” Dar said. “It’s good for your back.” She reached out and gave Kerry a poke in the belly. “Join me?”
Kerry studied her, and grinned. “If you say so, honey. I’ll take your word for it. Last time I did that, I fell out of a tree and my mother nearly had me hogtied for a month for it.” She admitted. “Wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Dar reached up and caught hold of the bars, reversing her position and letting herself down onto the ground again upright. She reached around Kerry to pick up her Yoohoo bottle, ending up in an intentional hug as Kerry bumped up against her. “You’re always a pretty sight.”
The blond woman wrapped her arms around Dar and gave her a powerful squeeze. “And you’re the best thing my ego’s ever, ever had.” She sighed. “Dear god, you make me feel ten feet tall sometimes, Dar.”
Dar nodded a little to herself, and accepted the fact that her judgment had been off. It happened sometimes, but in this case, she had an idea of what to do to correct it.
“Mm.” Kerry hesitated. “Dar…”
“I think I like it when we work together.” Dar commented casually. “Even when we’re not on the same project. I like having you here.”
Unexpected, but startlingly identical to the words that were running through Kerry’s mind as well. “Wow.” She murmured. “I was about to say the same thing.” She let her hands rest on Dar’s waist. “You know something? I think that’s why I’ve been so rattled over this ship project.” She looked up. “Dar, I don’t need you holding my hand on it...” A sigh. “But I want you there… I want us to beat them. Not just me.”
“All right.” Dar leaned her forearms on Kerry’s shoulders and touched her forehead to her partner’s. “And I want you guiding me on this security package. I need your judgment.”
The concrete and steel suddenly became magic, framing the moment indelibly. Kerry felt an impish grin forming on her lips, smothered a moment later when Dar kissed them.
She sincerely hoped there weren’t any cameras.
“Urgf.” Kerry took a breath, and continued her sit ups, the roll of thunder percolating into the island’s gym. Behind her, she could hear the soft clank as Dar did leg presses, and she resisted the temptation to move from her current exercise to that one.
Sit ups were definitely not her favorite things. They made her back ache, for one thing, and since she was now using an incline board, they were just plain hard to do.
Still, she kept them up, resolutely closing her eyes and concentrating on the positive results she knew she’d get by completing her self imposed sets.
The rain outside had canceled their morning run, and they’d decided on a work out to replace it – possibly suffering from some mutual guilt brought on by consuming an entire baking pan full of Kerry’s promised rice crispy treats the night before.
With fudge. Kerry blinked her eyes open, scattering a fine mist of sweat as she regarded the stolidly boring ceiling. She let her back rest against the padded surface, breathing deeply as she waited for the burning ache to dissipate from the muscles that lined the front of her stomach.
“Uh?” She grunted.
“Just resting.” Kerry extended her arms over her head and stretched her body out. Her bare legs were hooked around supports at the end of the board holding her in place, and she flexed her thighs a little, watching the skin tighten and relax.
“Thought you didn’t like doing those.” Dar commented.
“I don’t.” Her partner readily admitted. “But I do like having a six pack.” She patted her belly. “Do you know how horrified my family would be if I told them I did?”
Dar merely chuckled.
“When I went home the first time.” Kerry said. “I took my shirt off in front of my sister, and she started teasing me about being She Ra. You remember She Ra, Dar?”
“Uh huh. I used to have a plastic sword, and everything.” Kerry chuckled. “Until my parents found it and threw it out.”
They both stopped chuckling. Dar cleared her throat. “I think… I first started to be aware of the way I looked when I was around thirteen or fourteen or so.”
“Mm?” Kerry took another breath, and started in on her sit ups again. “Puberty?’ She grunted.
Dar got up and went to the free weights, picking up a triceps bar and starting some curls as she walked over to be nearer to Kerry. “Yeah. Killer growth spurt.” She said. “I grew... almost five inches in a year and my whole metabolism went nuts.”
“Uh huh.” Kerry agreed in sympathy.
“I started eating like a horse... and I figured if I didn’t working out, it was all gonna stay on me like it was on a lot of my classmates.” Dar related. “So I did.”
“Yeah.” Dar chuckled. “Except I went to the base gym, and worked out with the all the guys. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to use the same weights they were using, and my mother walked in on me one day while I was dressing and nearly had a fit at what I looked like.”
Kerry snickered, but kept crunching.
“Hey, I thought it looked good.” Dar mused. “And the guys all sure respected me.”
“I bet.” Kerry finished her second set and pulled herself off the board, escaping gratefully to the lat pull down machine. It was angled perfectly so that she could see Dar while she was doing the exercise, and she studied her partner’s body as she started the new routine.
Dar had definitely grown into her height. Her shoulders were broad, and rounded with muscle, and that extended down her arms to corded wrists that were currently tensed as she did her curls. Yet, her skin fitted over her body in supple curves, never giving the impression of a bodybuilder’s starkly ripped muscularity at all.
Kerry liked that. She liked the impression of strength Dar had, without looking at all masculine and she’d consciously or unconsciously pattered her own aspirations in the same direction. She’d first started noticing a difference a few months into their relationship, before she’d moved in permanently with Dar.
It had all started with a shirt. She’d been dressing for work one day, half in the dark of a very early morning when she’d pulled on a silk blouse she hadn’t worn in several weeks and found the sleeves binding uncomfortably around her upper arms and shoulders.
“Huh?” Kerry turned to the mirror in her bedroom and flipped the light on, giving herself a puzzled look in the reflection. Sure enough, the fabric was pulled taut over her upper body, the length draping down over her half bared torso still unbuttoned.
“Great.” She sighed, apprehensively reaching for the lowest button, and matching it with its hole on the other side. To her mild surprise, it mated easily around her waist, easing her sudden fear that her recent change of habits had added more pounds to her frame than she’d realized. “So... what the heck?”
With a touch of impatience, she stripped the shirt off, and let it fall to the dresser, studying her body in the mirror with a very critical eye. What she saw surprised her, and she straightened up a little, squaring newly broadened shoulders and holding her arms out a way, turning them a little as she flexed her muscles.
Holy pooters. Kerry exhaled. Under her skin she could now see visible power, bunching and moving in the lamplight as she shifted. Her shoulders had gained a cap of sinew over them and she could see the beginning shadow of an arch that extended from the points of them to her neck.
It felt very strange, and for a moment, she felt a little scared of the changes. She’d kept an image of herself in her head for so long, hammered in by her parents that this shift was almost as intimidating as the twenty pounds she’d carried home after her first year in Miami.
That had merely ended up being embarrassing. This… Kerry spread her arms out fully, and almost shook her head at the new shape of her outline, the widened shoulders giving her body a very pleasing taper she hadn’t really anticipated.
“Wow.” She finally said, letting her hands drop to her sides. “You know, I think I like this.” She met her own reflection’s eyes and grinned, a touch hesitantly. “Wonder if Dar’s noticed?”
A wink of dawn light peeked through the blinds and she put her hands on her hips, turning her attention to the problem of dressing for work. She walked back to her closet and reviewed her options. The skirt she’d intended on wearing hung there mutely, but she pondered now what top she could put on to go with it.
Long sleeved, staid garments looked back at her, and she frowned. Then her eye fell on a simple, tailored linen shirt with crisp lines and a conservative cut right up to the point where it became sleeveless. “Hm.” Kerry removed it from its hanger and slipped it on, the whispered chill of the air conditioning feeling slightly illicit on her bare shoulders.
It fit neatly, and she put on her skirt, tucking the ends of the shirt into the waistband and buttoning it. She buckled the slim leather belt, then removed her linen jacket from its hanger and put it on. Facing the mirror she observed the effect.
Businesslike and conservative. Kerry gave herself a brief nod, and then she let the jacked slip off her shoulders and looked again.
A grin appeared. She put the jacket back on and headed off to work.
“What’s so funny?” Dar inquired, pausing in her curls. “Am I making faces again?”
Kerry chuckled. “No, I was just thinking of something.” She stood up and let the pull down bar return to its resting position. “Hey, let me ask you a question.” She let her arms rest against her thighs.
“Hmm?” Dar cocked her head in inquiry, the muscles in her arms jumping as she brought the weighted bar up.
“Do you think I look too butch?’
Dar paused in her upswing, the bar ending up pressed against her breastbone. Her nostrils flared, and she made a small snorting sound, attempting to stifle a laugh.
Kerry put her hands on her hips. “What was that supposed to mean?” She cocked an eyebrow at her partner.
Hastily, Dar put down the barbell and walked over, wiping her hands on the towel she had tucked into her shorts. She cupped Kerry’s chin and tilted her head up, regarding her with serious affection. “You don’t look at all butch.”
“Not even with these?” Kerry lifted her arm and tensed her biceps.
“Really.” Dar said. “Just incredibly sexy.” She paused. “Why? Do you want to look more butch?” She asked curiously.
Kerry shook her head. “No, not really.” She said. “I was just remembering something someone told me right after I first move down here, about not falling into the typical gay routine of becoming a .. um…” Her face scrunched a little. “Um..”
“Baby butch?” Dar inquired. “Well, I don’t know... you looked great as a Revolutionary.” She chuckled softly, giving Kerry a pat on the cheek. “But I love the way you look, no matter what it is, Ker. You know that.”
Dar gave her a one armed hug, and then she went over to the incline board, and took Kerry’s place on it. She adjusted the length, and then settled herself in to start her own set of sit ups – the motion relaxed and easy.
Kerry watched her a moment, then sighed enviously and got up on the stair climber. “What do you think... another twenty minutes? We should leave a little early in this weather.”
“Yeah. Sounds about right.” Dar had her arms crossed over her chest, and was moving up and down steadily. “You said you had to go over to the pier today?”
Kerry increased her pace. “Yep.”
“How about we go there, and then take off.” Dar said. “If you drive, I can get the revisions done on my program, and I won’t feel guilty all damn weekend.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They were both quiet for a few minutes, concentrating on their exercising. Finally after several sets, Dar let herself down on the board and gazed up at the ceiling, sweat dripping liberally across her body. “Hey, Ker?”
An equally dewy blond head lifted. “Hm?”
“Any time you want to quit this and become couch potatoes, just drop me an email, yeah?’
Kerry managed a wry chuckle, as she straightened on her machine and took a swig from the water bottle hung by her wrist. “You got it, baby. You got it.”
They both started laughing, the noise echoing softly off the ceiling of the gym.
“All right.” Dar motioned Mark to follow her into her office. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” She walked across the carpet and changed direction at the last minute, going to the small worktable in the corner of her office instead. “Here.”
Mark followed her, and put a cardboard box on the desk. “Sorry to grab you so early, DR, but I heard you were taking off today so I figured I’d better do it when I could.”
“No problem.” Dar perched on one of the two stools behind the worktable. She opened the top of the box and peered curiously inside, reaching in to remove the cellular gadget along with several other miscellaneous bits of hardware.
“Going down south?” Mark asked.
“Yep.” Dar set the cell unit down and leaned forward, removing the battery pack and examining the inside surface. “We’re taking off after lunch. I’m going with Ker down to the boats, and then we’re outta here for the weekend.”
“Ah.” Mark picked up a second bit of technology and showed it to Dar. “This is the remote interface. I took it apart. It’s got a circuit card in it to mask its internal id.”
“Huh.” Dar took it.
“So, I guess after all that crap you guys needed some time out?”
Dar glanced up. “Not really... we just decided to go down. Why?”
Mark looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Just some stuff I heard.” He knew better than to dissemble in front of the ILS CIO. He could get away with it with Kerry on occasion, but those icy blue eyes lanced right through him as Dar’s expression changed.
“Now what?” With a look of disgust, Dar dropped the part on the table. “C’mon, spill it. What bullshit are they passing around this time?”
Mark studied the table, wondering for the nth time how he let himself get into situations like this one. Stolid loyalty to Dar? Maybe. “People are saying you guys are having problems.”
“Problems?” Dar’s tone sounded honestly puzzled. “Mark, we always have problems. Our whole damn job is nothing but problems.”
Mark looked up. “No, not here.” He took a breath. “Like, between you.” He watched Dar’s face, feeling a sense of weird relief at the expression of mild confusion that appeared there. “It made like, no sense to me, you know?”
Dar crossed her arms over her chest. “Is this…” She fished for an explanation. “Having something to do with her black eye? I’d heard rumors some idiots think I did that.”
Dar’s reaction wasn’t what he’d been expecting. Mark fingered the piece of gear again. “No, um… it was more like that Kerry’s mad at you and thinking about moving out.” He said. “And that, yeah, I guess you guys were fighting, and that’s how she got a black eye.”
“Well yeah, I know.” Mark said. “I don’t know where this crap comes from.”
Dar sighed, tossing the bit of technology from her. Then she paused and considered what she was feeling. Impatience, annoyance… “Maybe we should put on a boxing exhibition.” She remarked, with wry humor. “Or... I know. We’ll put on a kissing exhibition in the lobby. How’s that? Think anyone’ll catch a clue we’re not breaking up?”
Mark blushed a little. “Um...”
“I just don’t get it.” Dar gazed thoughtfully at the other side of her office. “We’ve both been hurt before… hell, we’ve spent weeks in slings since Kerry’s started working here. Why all this crap now?” She rested her elbows on the table and shook her head. “Hope Ker doesn’t hear all of it.”
“Me either.” The MIS manager said. “She’s got a mean temper.”
The words made Dar smile a little. “Anyway.” She picked up the cellular device. “Talk to me about this thing. When are its owners coming after it?
Mark gathered his wits and accepted the change of subject. He’d half expected Dar to fly off the handle, or react in some way, and the almost benign indifference she was exhibiting puzzled him. It wasn’t as though he thought the rumors were true – after all, he interacted with his two bosses on a daily basis, and neither of them was great at hiding even minor spats.
Kerry got all nervous when they were disagreeing. She was restless as hell in meetings and she lost her usual even tempered patience when dealing with the staff or the daily problems they often faced. Luckily it never lasted that long, but it was easy to spot.
“I think they’ll be here Monday.” He told Dar. “But the basics are - it’s a remotely accessed cell device.”
“I got that far on my own.” Dar cocked an eyebrow at him.
Now Dar, on the other hand, she’d pull back into her shell, glaring and snapping at everyone. Nobody liked dealing with her when she was like that, but Mark could also remember that nobody had much liked dealing with Dar even when she wasn’t like that most of the time before Kerry had entered her life.
So, he knew usually when they were squabbling. Just looking at Dar’s relaxed body posture reassured him that nothing like that was going on, so now he considered her previous words and wondered himself, yeah, why now?
Why now? “It doesn’t ring like a cell; it just picks up and makes a data link.” Mark went on. “It’s got a processor chip inside with a couple of pretty squiggy routines burned to ROM.”
“Yeah.” Mark nodded. “Subnet scan, mini-sniffer, and that. It’s pretty sophisticated.” He picked it up and looked at it. “I was trying to think of what the hell legitimate purpose it had for those guys developing it.”
“Yeah, I got that too.”
“No wonder they’re coming out here.” The tall, dark haired woman got up off the stool. “What you’re telling me is that this thing was designed to bust networks from the inside.”
“Yeah.” Mark agreed. “Pretty much. The slickest thing is, it pops up on the network, listens for a real MAC address, and then spoofs it, so if you have MAC security turned on, it bypasses.”
“Hm.” Dar juggled the device. “What about these things?” She pointed at the smaller pieces of technology, as she turned her hand and checked her watch. Almost lunchtime. “Anything to tie them back to who planted the damn things?
Mark got up and paced around a bit. “Boss, you sure this isn’t from those Telegenics guys? I mean, the time’s right, you know? I checked with the projector people, and the tech they sent out here is a guy who’s worked for them for like twenty years. He’s pretty clean.”
Dar put the phone down and leaned back. “It’s not them.”
“Boss… c’mon. They were the only ones in there from outside the company in weeks.” Mark coaxed. “I know it sucks to think they got one over on us, but chasing the cleaning people kinda sucks too.”
Dar crossed her arms and visited a dour glare on him.
“Y’know, it does.” After so many years, he knew pretty much what he could get away with. “If we know it’s them, maybe we can do a jive on the guys coming over here, and get them to spill.”
“It’s not them.” Dar repeated stubbornly. “I don’t give a damn how much sense it makes, I’m telling you it’s not them. Find another possibility.” Part of her acknowledged that Mark was right – believing it was Shari and Michelle burned her guts. But another part of her, the instinctive part that understood people at a base level that was telling her that someone smarter than either of them was behind it.
Was it just wishful thinking? Dar got up and went to her desk, dropping into her chair and putting her booted feet up on it. She was dressed down, glad of the excuse of the pier visit to be wearing her broken in jeans and short topped hiking boots.
“Okay.” Mark gave in gracefully and collected his technobits. “I’ll see what else I can find out.” He started to back away towards the door. “Sorry about all the talk and crap.”
“Not your fault.” Dar picked up her keyboard and put it on her lap. “Just tell everyone from me they’re full of shit.”
“Will do, boss.” Mark disappeared and closed the door behind him.
Dar pecked out a few words, and then paused. She half turned in her chair, as the inner door slammed open and Kerry stormed in, green eyes snapping, hands half clenched, to all intents and purposes a thunderstorm halfway to happening. “Hi.”
“Stupid mother mphfing sons of pooters.” Kerry spat out. “Do you want to know what kind of horse manure I’ve had to listen to for the last twenty minutes?”
Kerry was adorable when she was mad, just so long as it wasn’t Dar she was mad at. “Let me guess.” Dar put her keyboard down. “I hit you. We’re breaking up, you’re moving out, and maybe... the sky is falling?”
“Augh.” Her partner sat herself down on Dar’s desk. “I am so pissed.”
“I can see that.”
“Aren’t you?” Kerry frowned. “Dar, this is bullshit!”
Was she? Dar leaned an elbow on Kerry’s leg, and wondered about that. “It’s bullshit.” She agreed. “And I know it’s not true, so while I’m aggravated that people are wasting their time, I’m not going to waste mine by blowing my top.”
“I know it’s not true also.” Kerry growled. “But I want to boot these people, Dar. They have no right to talk about us like that. It’s insubordination.”
True enough. “Do we know who it is?”
Kerry got up and paced around Dar’s desk, still visibly upset. “No one. Everyone.” She groused. “It’s cowardly! No one has the guts to stay something to my face, it’s all damned whispers, or they heard from so and so or...”
Dar rounded the desk and intercepted Kerry, laying her hands
on her partner’s shoulders. “Ker, take it easy.
“I’m not going to take it easy.” Kerry shot back. “I’m sick and tired of people just… just…” She let the words trail off. “Heck!” She pulled a square of cardboard from her pocket and tossed it on Dar’s desk. “See that? Some freaking real estate agent was just in my office, saying she heard I was looking for a place.”
Dar’s eyebrows lifted.
“Augh!!!” Kerry balled her fists up fully and shook both of them. “Dar, I am so pissed!!!!!!”
“Shh.” Dar put her arms around Kerry and hugged her. “Take it easy.”
“We’ll figure out what’s going on.”
Kerry allowed herself to collapse against Dar’s warm body. Her entire insides were tensed in knots, and her anger had really no place to go. “God damn it.” She felt the knots ease, as Dar’s hands rubbed her back. “Someone’s trying to get between us, Dar. You realize that, right?”
Kerry took in a breath. “And you’re not upset?”
Dar heard the catch in her voice. “Of course I am.”
“You’re just not freaking out.” Her partner exhaled. “Like I am.” She leaned against Dar and let her breathing settle. “Sorry.” She felt the gentle pressure as Dar kissed the top of her head, and suddenly felt very tired as the anger drained away.
Kerry was still unsettled as they walked across the parking lot towards the ship buildings. She’d considered putting out a scathing memo, but Dar had convinced her not to, reasoning with her that making a big deal out of the whole thing would just cause more talk.
She knew that was true, but she didn’t have to like it. Kerry booted a small rock across the parking lot, glad of her heavily tinted sunglasses protecting her eyes against the glare. The late afternoon thunderstorms hadn’t built up yet, and the sun was beating down them as they walked, making even her light cotton shirt feel like it weighed a ton.
“You all right?” Dar asked.
“Yeah.” Kerry replied. “Just thinking.”
They both stepped over a parking bumper in unison, and then continued on. Dar looked between the buildings to where the ships were moored, seeing a great deal of activity around them. Cranes had been set up as well, and men were working all over the place. She could hear rivet guns working, and the sound of saws and sledge hammers, beating away at the aged metal hulls.
There was a scent of ozone in the air, from the welding torches being used, and as they moved closer, they could hear the rough voices of the workers calling out. Kerry resolutely pushed her lingering frazzles back and turned her attention to the project, hoping their wiring team had been able to make some progress. “Looks like a mess.”
“Mm.” Dar stepped around a jagged pothole in the road and produced her identification as they approached the door to the pier building. The guard barely looked at it, and then just stepped to one side so they could walk inside.
“Warm and fuzzy.” Kerry muttered.
“Right there with you.” Her partner agreed, taking off her sunglasses as they entered the building’s gloom. She could hear raised voices from the back office, and headed in that direction with Kerry at her heels. They rounded the corner and saw two men at the door to the office, facing off against their security guard and the office manager Kerry had assigned to the building. “What’s going on here?” Dar asked crisply.
The two men turned, and the two ILS employees’ faces brightened when they spotted Dar and Kerry. “Ma’am, I’m glad you’re here.” The guard addressed Dar. “These gentlemen are demanding we give them access to our switches in here.”
Kerry removed her sunglasses, and gave the men a direct stare. “This should be good. For what?”
The two men appeared caught slightly offguard. “We had a report someone in this office was trying to hack in to the ports network.” The man nearest Dar said. “We need to check it out.”
Dar looked him up and down. “Buddy, if I was hacking into your network, you’d never know it.” She said. “You don’t get access to anything. You have a problem with that, have your boss call me.” Digging in her wallet, she pulled out a business card and handed it to the man. “Now, excuse us.”
The man looked at her card, and then gave Dar a dour look. “Lady, we don’t need your permission to go anywhere on this port. I was just being nice. I’m going to stop being nice now.”
“I’m going to call the police now.” Dar replied. “Since this space has been bought and paid for, and isn’t part of the port for the time being.”
Kerry removed her cell phone and dialed it, content to let her partner exercise her kickass gene. “Hello, yes. Can I speak to someone about intruders on my property?”
The man pointed Dar’s card at her. “I’ll go get our security, and be right back. Don’t go anywhere, lady.” He brushed past Kerry and walked out, followed by his silent companion.
Kerry waited for him to turn the corner, and then she folded her phone shut. “Hm.”
Dar edged past the guard and headed into the office. “I’ll check the damn thing. With my luck, it’s in a loop and the bastards think it’s trying to attack them.” She headed for a nearby workstation, sitting down in front of it and keying in her own login.
“Hi, Cheryl.” Kerry stuck her phone back on her belt. “So, other than the goon squad visiting, how are things going?”
The office manager had perched on the corner of one of the staid gray laminate desks they’d stocked the office with. She was a good looking woman of perhaps forty, with ginger colored hair and gray eyes. Dressed in jeans and a neatly pressed, floral shirt, she appeared comfortable if a bit harried. “Oh, well... actually, things are going pretty good, ma’am.”
Cheryl smiled slightly. “Sorry, Kerry.” She cleared her throat. “The wiring guys have been killing themselves to get work done. They’ve turned off most of the AC inside the ship and the other vendors have been giving us a very hard time.”
Kerry entered the office and leaned against the wall. “Deliberately?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s just very close quarters, and everyone wants to get their part done and get out of there. We’re fighting with the electrical and air conditioning people right now.”
Dar half listened to the conversation, as she poked around inside the switch they’d installed in the office. The inoffensive green box was mounted in a rack near the back of the room, with a locked door and sides around it. Dar scanned the contents of it, then abandoned the relatively un-intelligent device and switched to their router instead. “I don’t know what the hell those guys are talking about. We’re not even touching their network.”
She checked the router’s interfaces just to be sure. The piece of gear had been a spare in their office, and only two of the interfaces were in use, but she investigated the others to make sure they were properly turned off, and that no one had plugged something into them they shouldn’t have.
Everything appeared clean. Dar got up and went to the rack, opening its door with the universal key she kept on her ring. She checked the cables on the front then went around to the back and stuck her head inside the cabinet, a warm gust of vented air blowing against her face carrying the distinct scent of electrons to her.
“Anything?” Kerry peeked in the front and peered between the switch and the router at her, the edges of the gear framing her sea green eyes.
“Should we call the cops, Dar? I don’t think those guys are going to take no for an answer again, even from you.” The blond woman lowered her voice. “I really don’t want to be involved in a dockside brawl.”
Dar rested her chin on the switch. “We could call my dad. Then you could just watch a dockside brawl instead of be in one.” She removed her head from the cabinet and closed the door, locking it carefully. Walking around to the front, she extracted Kerry from the rack and shut the front panel as well. “Now that I’m sure we’re clean, maybe I’ll be nice and let them look. But don’t count on it.”
“Huh.” Kerry leaned against the rack. “What would make them think something was coming from here, then?”
Good question. Dar bit the inside of her lip gently. “Did we have the circuit pinned down right into here?”
“Yes.” Kerry nodded. “I could have had it into the central telco closet, but I elected to pay the extra bucks and have them drop it directly into this room.” She pointed to a sedate, locked, gray box on the wall. “There.”
“Nice.” Dar said approvingly.
“Kerry, we did get this today.” Cheryl came over and offered Kerry a fax. “It’s the pre-order shipping list for the network gear.”
Kerry studied the paper. “Good.” She said. “Do we have a completion yet from the wiring guys?”
“No.” Cheryl shook her head. “And my problem is, if this stuff shows up before they’re done, we’re going to have to find someplace to store it all. I don’t think it’ll fit in here.”
Kerry looked around at the interior of the somewhat dingy office. She’d had a cleaning service come in, but the walls really needed a coat of paint in stead of the scrubbing they’d done, and she could still smell the sharp scent of new office carpet underfoot. “We’ll need some place to set the gear up before it goes on the ship, too.”
That meant she had to rent more space. More expenses to charge against the project, which was already expensive and she was under pressure to deliver a price to Quest that was bare minimum. Kerry sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Footsteps made them all look up, but it was only John, the wiring contractor who entered. “Afternoon!” He noticed Dar near the rack and gave her a wry grin. “Should have put in ten percent just for aggravation. My god, those people are a ratchety bunch.”
“The ship people?” Kerry was mildly surprised. “I thought we ironed things out with them?”
“Ah.” John went to the small refrigerator in the back of the office and removed a soda, popping it open and taking a swallow. “It’s the engine guys. They get their pusses into everything in there – want to know what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, what kind of cable… for the love of god, what part of shielded twisted pair are they not getting? Damn chief engineer made me give him a sample this morning.”
Dar and Kerry exchanged looks. “Well, after we arm wrestle the pier people; we can go talk to the captain.” Kerry said, with a sigh.
“Good idea.” Her partner agreed. “Ah, here comes the goon squad now.” She watched through the open office door as a group of men rounded the corner and headed in their direction. The two men they’d chased out earlier were in the lead, with three other men, big guys in jackets, coming after them.
“What the hell’s up with that?” John wondered. “Who are those guys?”
Kerry moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dar, in front of the network rack. If she stopped to think about it, the entire situation was almost sublime in its ridiculousness. Intelligent human beings did not put their bodies on the line for enterprise switches, no matter how expensive they were.
Dar folded her arms, and fixed the men with a cool, blue glare.
On the other hand, Kerry smiled inwardly; smart guys didn’t mess with Dar, either. Watching the group approach, she had to acknowledge that she could almost smell the stupidity in the air.
Her nose wrinkled, and she hoped Andrew had gotten her note.
The scent of acrid, hot oil attracted Andrew’s attention as he crossed over the gangway into the ship. He stopped midway and leaned over the rail, peering down at the green water with a frown. The surface appeared clear, but the smell continued, and he stepped back off the gangway to walk along the edge of the pier.
With all the construction going on around, there were chemicals and stinks everywhere. But to someone who had spent as much time as Andrew had on ships, certain smells always meant trouble, and diesel oil was one of them.
He walked along the ship, pausing to look down between the hull and the water, until he was halfway down. Then his eyes caught a parti-color reflection on the surface that caught the sun in a bad way. The smell was much stronger, and as he knelt down and examined the slick, he also heard a faint grinding sound from inside the ship.
“Wall.” Andy sat down on the concrete and let his legs dangle over the side. “That does not sound like any good thing.”
The surface of the water was shiny with oil, and the slight current was taking the slick forward of the ship, heading out the cut and towards the sea. Boats discharging into the ocean weren’t a rare thing, but he knew cruise ships were watched closely, and fined if they were found doing it.
He kicked his boots against the seawall, regarding the slick. If he looked all the way down the channel, he could see the oily reflection extending past the ship he was working on, past the space between the piers, and on towards the ship Dar and Kerry were taking care of.
Andrew’s brow creased a little. He pushed himself to his feet and walked towards the other ship. The sun revealed the slick extending to the rear of it, as he’d suspected, but as he closed in on the other vessel, he could see that an oily residue seemed to be seeping from it, as well.
Midway between the ships, Andrew stopped and put his hands on his denim clad hips. Several workmen passing by looked at him, but none spoke. He stood there regarding the water, considering his options. “If I saw this here stuff, sure a hell everyone else did too.”
Andrew turned, to see the supervisor near the gangway of his ship. He pondered a moment longer, then turned and headed towards the man, ambling along with deceptive speed until he caught him up. “Lo.”
“Hey, what the heck are you doing out there, looking for fish?” The supervisor asked. “I thought you were supposed to be checking in that new order.”
Andrew leaned on the gangway railing. “This here ship and that one down yonder are leaking oil.” He said. “Them uniforms gonna bust someone up for that?”
The supervisor jumped off the gangway and went to the side of the pier, looking over. “Shit.” He glanced both ways. “I told those guys…. Man, if the environmental people see this, they’re going to pitch a fit.”
Andrew’s pale blue eyes rested briefly on the supervisor’s face, then drifted off again to the water. “Yeap.” He agreed. “Them gov’mint types too.”
“Nah.” The other man shook his head. “They got that paid off… but if one of those mangrove huggers see it… well, crap. Let me go make a phone call. You go get that box unloaded before those damn women show up again.”
Andrew watched him walk off. “Huh.” He slowly started across the gangway again. “Paid off them gov’mint types, didja?” His pocket started beeping, and he stopped, tugging the cell phone out of his pocket and opening it.
Rather than ringing, it was displaying a symbol he’d never seen before. After a moment’s thought, he punched the buttons over the flashing icon, and was rewarded by text scrolling across the phone’s screen. “What’n the hell is…” The words penetrated, and he turned around, heading off the gangway as he stuffed the phone back into his pocket. “Ah swear them little girls get into more hellfire trouble than a humvee full of wet swabs.”
Andrew heard the hail, but paid it no mind. He broke into a loping run, picking up the pace as he headed for the port buildings.
‘All right, lady. I don’t know what you think the rules are here, but let me just let you in on a little secret.” The biggest of the port security men addressed Dar. “You don’t own this place. We do. So step aside and let this guy do his job, okay?”
Dar didn’t budge. “No.” She stated flatly. “I don’t own this place, but I own this gear, and you’re not touching it.”
“We are going to touch it, and you’re going to just move aside and let us.” The security chief stepped towards the equipment in question, clearly expecting both Dar and Kerry to move aside. Cheryl was already standing near the wall away from them, and the security guard from ILS was behind them.
“Kiss my ass.” Dar suggested. “And make sure your lawyer’s on speed dial.”
The security officers shifted, and looked at their leader. Dar was standing in front of the equipment rack, leaning against it in fact, and showed no signs of moving. Kerry was standing next to her, also clearly challenging their authority with her hands balled into fists and planted on her hips.
“C’mon, we need to get this done.” The port technician said.
“I don’t really see what your point is.” Kerry said. “There’s no attack coming from here.”
“Not according to this.” The tech held up a sheaf of papers. “There’s a probe coming from this location, and frankly, I don’t give shit what you think my point is. I think we should call the cops and just have you thrown out and shut down. This is a security area.”
“Is that what you want, lady?” The security chief asked Dar, as he stopped with in reach of her. “Why not just move, make it easy for all of us?” He suggested. “Because the fact is, this is government area, and I can throw your asses out of here if I want to.”
“You can try.” Dar warned, in a soft voice.
“Excuse me.” Kerry finally felt her interjection would be appropriate. “I tell you what. We’ll let you look at our equipment...”
Dar gave her an outraged look. “Kerrison.”
Kerry reached out without looking and put a hand on her partner’s back. “If you can explain to me how it can be affecting your systems when there are no wires connecting us to you?” Kerry finished.
The security officials turned and looked at the technicians.
“Can you explain that?” Kerry gave Dar’s back a little scratch, feeling the shift as her partner relaxed a trifle.
The security chief turned to the port tech. “Can you?”
“Sure they’d say there’s no connection.” The port tech laughed. “They’re not stupid.” He held up the papers. “This trace shows as coming from this location. Can you explain that?”
Kerry stepped forward and reached out for the papers. “Let me see them.”
“No way.” The tech jerked them back.
The security officer turned to Kerry. “Can’t you just let him look?” He asked. “It’s almost quitting time, lady. I don’t want to be filling out paperwork all night, y’know?”
“No.” Dar reasserted herself. “This is a secure network. Nothing goes on it that isn’t our hardware.”
“Okay, then you’re admitting to hacking us. That’s pretty clear. So get them out of here, and let’s do what we need to do.” The tech said. “We’re wasting time.”
“Our time.” Dar said. “But if you throw us out of this room, you’ll be wasting more than that. Your boss better be ready for a very expensive lesson.” Instead of standing back, she now advanced on both the tech and the security guy. “And your boss, if you decide to put a finger on anyone.” She warned the bigger man. “Because I don’t give a damn what rules and what regulations this damn piss poor port runs under, I guarantee if I go high enough up in the chain around here, someone’s going to get FIRED.” Her voice rose with each word until the last one was a shouted bark. “Now get the hell out of here!”
Kerry planted herself squarely behind her partner, her heart beating fast as she hoped the men would back off. Not that she doubted Dar’s threats were real – after all, she knew darn well they were in the right – but the men looked like they were used to getting their way, and she didn’t want to see her lover hurt.
“Wall.” A new voice interrupted the chaos briefly. The men turned as Andrew slipped into the room, ducking around the desk to end up next to Dar. “What’s all the hollering about, Dardar?”
Kerry relaxed against the rack, reassured now they weren’t going to get bruised in any way. The ILS security guard, apparently emboldened by the new arrival, also came around the desk and stood facing the bad guys as well.
Cheryl slipped around and came up next to her, wide eyed. “Jesus.” She whispered. “What in the heck’s going on around here?”
Good question. Kerry observed the bristling antagonism in the room, and felt compelled to try and circumvent it again, though her first attempt had been a dismal failure. “Okay, folks.” She edged around Andrew’s bulk and got in front of him. “Tell you what. This is going nowhere. How about you show me what makes you think anything’s coming from here, and if it’s our stuff, we’ll let you look at this end.”
Dar actually growled, low and deep in her throat. Kerry decided to pretend she didn’t hear it, and waited for the technician to answer. “It’s the best deal you’ll get. Otherwise, I think we’re really talking police here, because without seeing that, I agree with Dar. You’re not getting access to our corporate systems. No way.”
The security chief decided to take control now. “Give me that.” He reached over and grabbed the papers from the tech, who squawked in protest. Shuffling them, he handed them over to Kerry, holding out a hand to stop the tech from advancing. “Stop it. I’m not missing my beer because of you.”
Kerry glanced at the trace, her eyes flicking over the details as she moved closer to Dar. “Here.” Dar put a hand on her shoulder and read the page as well. “What do you think?”
Dar’s brow creased. The trace without a doubt contained one of their addresses, but… she leaned closer. “That’s not our router.” She indicated the resolved name. “Someone’s spoofing us.”
“It’s an MCI router.” Kerry told him. “The building’s lit with Bellsouth. You should know that.”
The tech grabbed the paper back and looked at it. “No way.”
Dar shifted her position and now leaned her arm on Kerry’s shoulder. “Sorry. She’s right.”
“Someone making trouble for you all?” Andy asked.
The security chief now appeared impatient and bored, rather than impatient and menacing. “Okay, so it’s not them. Let’s get out of here, and you can figure out who it is, right?” He edged away from Dar. “Sorry about that, but you know security’s a touchy subject around here. We got a lot of merchandise going through the port.”
“Uh huh.” Dar snorted. She reached over and grabbed the papers back. “Give me that. I’ve got a lot better chance of finding the damn pirate than you do.” Inside, she was rattled. Seeing their own IP structure in the trace had mad her heart race, just long enough to make her lightheaded before she realized the source wasn’t inside their network.
Someone was taking a lot of time and effort to cause trouble, all right. Question was, who? Was it hackers still trying to embarrass her, or … well, hell, what were the chances some hacker would pick this particular target?
“You can’t have that – it’s restricted information.” The tech protested.
“Yeah, well, she sure looks like she can do more with it than you can, buddy. Move.” The security chief knew when to cut his losses, surprisingly. “Next time you call us, try to have your act together, huh?” He and his men herded the techs out of the office.
Dar folded the paper in her hand in half, sharpening the crease with intense, precise motions. She waited for the men to all leave and disappear around the corner before she half turned to look at the rest of the people in the room. “Hi, dad.” She murmured. “Was I yelling loud enough for you to hear me outside?”
“Naw.” Andy retrieved his cell phone and held it up. “Kumquat sent me a note thing.”
Kerry sat down on the edge of the desk. “What the heck was that?” She looked up at Dar. “Can you trace it, from those notes?”
“I don’t know.” Dar half shrugged. “But I guess I’ll find out.” She added. “I’m sure someone was trying to make it look like we’re doing something wrong.”
Kerry’s eyes darkened, and she narrowed them. “Oh, I can’t imagine anyone would want to do that.” She replied sarcastically. “But Dar, who says they won’t try it again? This location’s so vulnerable.”
Cheryl sidled up, with a worried look on her face. “She’s right about that.” She gave the security guard an apologetic look. “No offense, Charles, but you wouldn’t have stopped those guys if they’d charged in here.”
The guard didn’t look embarrassed. “No, ma’am.’ He agreed. “But I would have called the police. We’re not bouncers.” He looked at Dar and Kerry. “Ah, not that…”
“Why not? I’ve got a black eye... maybe we moonlight.” Kerry remarked dryly.
Andrew chuckled under his breath. Dar gave him a look, then folded the paper into quarters and stuck it in her back pocket. She walked past them to the rack, circling it as she considered her options. The box on the wall was connected to their gear by a set of conduits running through the drop ceiling.
Dar walked over and grabbed a chair, dragging it behind her until it was behind the rack. She climbed up onto it and punched the ceiling panel up, shoving it up and into the framing as she stuck her head up into the dark space.
The rest of the room’s occupants looked at each other. Cheryl gave Kerry a slight shrug, and then she went back to her desk and sat down. The security guard sidled back out to his station in the hallway, leaving Kerry and Andrew standing in the center of the space.
“Long as there ain’t no more hollering, I’m going to get back to mah work.” Andrew said. “Them fellers don’t much like when folks wander off.”
“Thanks for coming over, dad.” Kerry told him. “I just wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
“No problem, kumquat.” Andy told her. “You find anything up there, Dar?”
“Dustbunnies with fangs.” Dar sneezed. “Thanks for asking.” She looked down for a moment. “Thanks for coming over to make sure we weren’t in trouble, too.”
Andrew patted her leg. “No problem, squirt. See y’all later.” He headed for the door, giving Cheryl a brief nod as he passed her. “Lo.”
“Hi.” The office worker waggled her fingers at him. “Bye.”
Dar put her head back up into the ceiling, her eyes tracing the conduit. It moved in an unbroken curve from where it dropped down to her rack, up through the drop panel, was bracketed to the concrete true ceiling, and then dropped back down through the panel to the box on the wall.
No taps, no junction boxes. Dar felt better. She tugged the ceiling panel back into place, then pulled her way along the drop ceiling as she balanced on the chair, it’s wheels squeaking in protest.
“Dar!” Kerry popped up off the desk and grabbed hold of the chair back as it threatened to squirt out from under her partner. “Careful!”
“Ah, with any luck, I’ll fall on my head.” Dar now carefully examined the box on the wall, unlatching it and swinging it open. Inside was an ordinary T1 CSU, with no other lines except the one they were using on it. With a satisfied grunt, she closed and latched it. “Put a lock on that.” She ordered Cheryl, as she turned and hopped off the chair. “No one goes near it, no one touches it, no one does anything do that unless I’m standing here watching. Got me?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Cheryl nodded.
Dar dusted her hands off, her eyes falling on Kerry as she reached for the chair to move it back. Her partner had her fingers resting on the rack, a look of quiet pensiveness on her face.
Sensing the attention, Kerry looked up. “Maybe we should stick around here this weekend?” She suggested.
Perhaps they should. Dar acknowledged silently. There was too much going on, too many loose ends for them to just take off out of town, really. She could see the agreement with that in Kerry’s posture, the slight relaxing of her shoulder muscles that almost, but did not quite seem like a slump. “No.” She was surprised to hear herself saying. “We’ve got a line at the cabin and our cell phones. C’mon.” She tapped Kerry on the arm and pointed to the door. “Let’s go onboard, and get moving.”
Without further argument, Kerry simply nodded, and headed for the door. Dar followed her, wondering if that decision, too, wouldn’t come back to bite her in a bad, bad way.
Kerry half turned as she caught up with her, and smiled, a sparkle entering her eyes. Dar returned the smile, and decided the risk was more than worth the reward.
She was sure of it.