I was out of breath by the time I walked into Gareth’s trash heap again. Shocking, but he hadn’t bothered to clean up in the two or three hours I’d been gone. Not that I ever knew him to cleaning up anything in the past 12 years or so.
“So they changed the glitch to internal investigation,” Gareth reported, scraping spaghetti into his mouth from a plate. Of course, he was using a knife instead of a fork. I’m sure all the forks in his place hadn’t been washed in years.
“We knew that already,” I replied, taking a spot on a worn dull brown easy chair. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“Margo sent an email to her superior about three minutes after your visit,” he added, a hint of glee mixed in with chomping. “Some creepy guy was demanding information from her, so she claims.”
That didn’t make any sense. Somehow, still unknown to me, that gal knew my name. Why hadn’t she reported me? Why wasn’t a government vehicle out front right now, scouring the neighborhood for me?
“She didn’t use my name?”
Gareth shook his mass of hair back and forth, tossing his plate onto the floor. The rats would have something to clean up later.
“Nah,” he grunted. “Just some creeper who made her sort of scared. Her super asked if she wanted it investigated and Margo the Meekly replied no. Not even sure why she bothered to make a report.”
We stared at each other for a moment before I knew what he was thinking. “I know, I know. You warned me. Said I should leave it alone. My bad. Anyone looking at the footage?”
Gareth laughed and sat back stretching. Fortunately, he had put on a mismatched sweatshirt and pants, so I didn’t have to gawk at his opened robe anymore.
“The cameras at the Information Repository of the Government of the States are currently down for maintenance,” he replied, sounding as if he were reading it from an official memorandum. “They have been for the past two weeks and probably will be for another two. They don’t have the best techs in the city, you know. I read a report that the tech fried half the cameras trying to take them off-line. The cretin.”
“But they have the footage from whatever Lucy did, right?”
“Yes sir,” he replied, picking up his keyboard. “And they have it stored safely on a drive with triple level protection, so it’s virtually untouchable.”
Damn it. That didn’t help. We needed to see what they saw; we needed to know what they knew.
“So we can’t get at it—”
“Untouchable for the average moron,” he continued. “Their security is pathetic. Two of the three passwords are the same. It’s harder hacking into Anuk’s hard drive than it is to get into anything in station two.”
He pulled up the grainy footage and we both leaned forward to watch the short clip.
“Fellow walks in here,” Gareth said, pointing at the screen, “and goes right for Lucy. If she knows the guy she’s acting like she doesn’t recognize him.”
Thus far all I’d seen was the back of a medium height guy wearing a dark green or blue hoodie. Not only had I not seen his face, he hadn’t even taken his hands out of his pockets.
“Want to get to the part where he shows his face, Gar. This is pretty boring so far.”
“Doesn’t happen,” he replied while focused on the screen. “I’ve watched this three times and you never see his face from any angle. He knew where the cameras were. He was no dummy.”
Lucy reappeared in the shot and slid a piece of paper across the counter. Finally, his right hand came from the pocket and he shoved the paper back in the same pocket. He turned away from the camera and disappeared from view.
“That’s it?” I cried. “Some medium sized white dude gets a paper from Lucy and she’s hauled in?”
“That, brother, is it.” Gareth went back to playing some online game and acted as if I were already gone.
“They think that’s the big kahuna? With nothing to go on, they think Lucy passed State’s secrets to someone that could have been you or me?”
Gareth glanced at me, grinning. “Too short to be me, and way too good of posture to be you. And before you ask, no, I don’t have any idea what the document was. It was upside down the entire time.”
Rubbing my forehead, I fell back in the chair. “These guys are getting desperate. They’re pulling people in for shit like this. God, no one’s safe anymore.”
“They think it was Selmo,” Gareth stated. I noticed he had paused his game and was staring blankly at the front door. His face told me he was concerned.
I slid forward on the chair. “Do you think it was Selmo?” I asked, watching his expression carefully.
Slowly his head rotated until he was staring at me. “I’ve never met the man. Just gotten some emails when he wants shit done. I don’t know anyone who’s ever met him.”
He was an enigma, Selmo Nithiw was. I’d made it clear to my friends, multiple times, that I had never once received anything from the man…if he really was a man. They all had, most of them at least. But like them, I’d never ran across him in person either.
Anytime something went wrong in the city, the government and their online news bureau always claimed it was the work of Selmo. If they, the government, were to be believed he was the leader of the peebs. The scourge of the Twin Cities. The only thing keeping them from making our lives better.
The truth, of course, was the opposite. If not for Selmo Nithiw the peebs would have no organization. Instead of a unified force going up against the nearly immovable power of the government, there would be small rogue groups here and there fighting the machine. If that were the case, the government would hunt each group down, one at a time, until no hope was left for the ordinary citizen.
Thank God for Selmo – whoever he was.
I hung at Gareth’s place for a few extra minutes while he did a quick search on Lucy’s interrogation. As far as I knew she’d be dead before the end of the day. That was the government’s work ethic at its best: bring in a peeb in the morning and we’ll have them ready for their funeral by nightfall.
But I couldn’t let that happen to Lucy. Not with all the people I knew with the connections they had. There had to be a way.
“Can you get a message to him?” I asked, watching Gareth work through a maze of screens trying to get the latest information on my friend.
“Him who?” he grunted, not bothering to even so much as peek my way.
“Nope,” he replied curtly. “It doesn’t work that way. You never contact him, he contacts you.” I saw him wink at me. “Unless you’re some lowly glitch; then you probably never hear from him at all.”
I gave him a grunt and glanced back at the screen. “I’ve gotten stuff from him before,” I answered, defending my wounded pride. “Maybe not as much as the rest of you, but a little.”
“You’re an errand boy, Trent. But fear not, we can’t all be the clean-up hitter on this team. Some of us have to play other positions. Others,” he nodded at me, “get to warm the bench.”
Yeah, same old crap. We’d been over this a thousand times. The problem was that I had no marketable skills. Gareth was a first-rate computer geek. Ever since I’d known him, he was always on a computer. His ability to hack into any system thrown his way made him a god…even if just in the eyes of his friends.
Anuk managed people. I guess she was what they called a people-person. Everyone liked her and she had a way getting anyone to do what needed to be done. Even in the face of a crisis, she performed her duties as if she were a conductor of the world’s most dysfunctional orchestra.
Our friend Stevie could get into any building in the world. Stealing was more of a hobby than a vocation for him. If anyone needed anything, Stevie had a knack to made it happen. Somehow, he never got caught. It must have been those boyish good looks and charmed he possessed.
Riley was our secret weapon. Acting mostly as a go-between for Selmo and our gang, she also had access to people none of the rest of us could ever get near. At five-three, weighing maybe 100 pounds, her slim figure and beautiful smile made people open up. She couldn’t hurt a fly, but the information she received from others gave us the opportunity to do all the hurting the government could take.
That left little room for me: Trent the glitch. A skinny, slouched over, unemployable nearly 30-year-old moron. I knew most of the names that Gareth gave me came somehow from Selmo himself. It didn’t bother me I didn’t have to work for my prey. If the man wanted them glitched, who was I to argue.
As far as the rest of my gang was concerned, I’d never received or accomplished, an important task in my adult life. I was a mindless, wandering little bitch that did whatever the grand puppet master told me to do. But my day was coming. I could feel it in my soul. Wouldn’t they all be surprised if I managed to pull off something big…with little to no help from them.
“You’re daydreaming again, dude,” Gareth said, bringing me back to the present. “You always get that stupid smirk on your face. Like you just won the Olympics of jerking off or something.”
“Collins had a folder with four names he claimed they were watching,” I said. Staring at Gareth, my face tightened. “You were one of them.”
“BFD, buddy,” he replied. “We planted that initial hack attempt from a bogus URL so they’d keep busy watching in the wrong place. And that was two months ago. How clever are they if they’re just bringing it up now?”
I simply shrugged and looked away. That had been the plan all along. Give the government a bone, see if they’d bite, and fake them into watching for a breach. It worked fine.
Gareth knew they were watching him all along. Whether they ran electronic or backdoor surveillance, he always spotted them. So, he and Anuk and I decided to give them what they wanted. That way someone somewhere in station two would spend hours watching for an attack that was never coming. At least not from the spot they watched.
“Who else was on the list?” Gareth asked, setting down his keyboard and leaving the room. “Anuk, Riley, Stevie?”
I recalled the names instantly – something I was actually good at. “Nah, well yeah. Trevor and that old creepy woman Shelia. But your and Riley’s names were on the list too.”
Gareth reappeared sporting a broad grin and a bottle of water for me. “I hear that’s who Selmo sleeps with, Shelia. Thinks it’s true?”
Now it was my turn to laugh. “I don’t know how old Selmo is, but Shelia’s got to be 50. I don’t think so, Gar.”
He flopped back into his comfortable spot. “Everybody needs a MILF. What has Trevor been up to? I haven’t seen that creep in a while.”
Taking a sip of water, I thought about Trevor Stiles. He was a troublemaker, plain and simple. If I did pointless errands for the cause, his job was a complete mindless task.
“Trevor led that protest last month up on the north side,” I replied. “Didn’t get very far, but it was quite a mess while it lasted.”
Gareth lit up like a child at Christmas. “Oh, the one where they poured gallons and gallons of animal blood on those riot police from the overpass? That was so cool. I saved the government feed from that shit show. It was righteous, man.”
Righteous didn’t describe the treatment the protestors received from the State’s finest military enforcers. Rumors were 47 people were taken in that day. Though the government never said a peep because the government never acknowledged the protest ever happened.
“Trevor and some others got away,” I whispered. “Twelve protestors met their fate at the zoo the following week.” I glanced somberly at Gareth. “Message received I guess: don’t screw with the government.”
“Yeah,” Gareth replied quietly. “Lions and tigers got to eat too, I suppose. But that’s why we stay at them. They can’t run our lives like they try to do. We have to break them, Trent. Victory or death.”
True, but how many more had to die before our side won? One hundred, one thousand, more? Was that our fate eventually? Getting caught in a trap we should have easily spotted, but were too caught up with ourselves to realize it until it was too late?
Slapping the keyboard back on his lap, Gareth’s long skinny fingers sailed across the keys. “What do you say we see what’s new with Lucy?”
Staring at the TV, I nodded absentmindedly. Yeah, I thought. Let’s see what her day looks like. Maybe her last day of this hell.
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