Satisfied that he had been alerted to the threat on his flank, I turned the main thread of my attention back to the center of the battle. Ground troops were advancing on my position, so I triggered the scripted surprises I had prepared for them around my perimeter. A yelp from across the room let me know the results of that encounter.
"Yuy," Joel called through the headset. "Could use some cover while I take on Frasier's horde."
"Acknowledged." I diverted some resources to his sector and sat back for a moment to watch the ebb and flow of the deployed forces surrounding me. I saw an opening in the northwest, but no one taking advantage of it. A pity. Securing a corridor through the pass would have made the battle Joel was conducting unnecessary.
My mental proximity alarm went off, but it stood down after a moment once the intruder had been identified. "Hey, babe," he said, ruffling my bangs in greeting. "It's not quite six, yet. Still company time, isn't it?"
"Training exercises," I explained blandly, muting my headset's receiver.
"Is that what they're calling it these days? Awfully... 'colorful' for a training exercise. The sound effects are a nice touch, too. Wish I got those."
I activated my mic again. "Russ. Someone's tunneling under your shield."
I flipped my comm off again. "See? Russ is getting good training in realtime apps. It's a skill he needs to work on, actually. He's much better off-line."
Duo poked a finger at the side of my head. "You're still playing computer games, Yuy."
"Hey, you have your training exercises, and we have ours. And to be more accurate, we're testing Frasier's mod. We add to the rules of engagement every minute or so. Makes life more interesting."
"I don't get how you'd have any gameplay left in the end, if you just keep restricting yourselves more and more." He complained, but that didn't stop him from watching the game progress across my monitor.
"I wouldn't call them restrictions." In fact, it was time for another rule change, and the updated text scrolled into being along the top of the screen. Oh, that was a good one. I set about dumping my suddenly detrimental resources where I could, and decided I could afford to take a small hit from making sure that some went into being a bomb for the architect of my sudden flurry of activity.
"When are you going to be done here?"
I knew the time without having to glance at the countdown in the corner. "Game's almost over. We play for time to keep things under control." Sounds of excited activity from the other side of the office increased as they attempted to gain an advantage in the final half-minute. "Or maybe just to increase the pressure," I conceded, targeting their base while they were occupied trying to take the lead. With six seconds left in the game, wails of outrage and oaths of vengeance rose from the other team, and I allowed my satisfaction to show with a slight curve of my lips.
Duo ruffled my bangs again. "Nicely done."
I pulled off my headset, exited the game, and gave him my full attention. "Do we have plans for the night?"
"Trowa's back. Told him we'd get dinner with him and Wufei after he finishes his debriefing."
I nodded to make my acceptance of the plan official. Trowa wasn't always in town. "I'll pack up."
Frasier poked his head over the wall of my cube and grinned grudgingly at me. "Good game, man."
The world would be a lot more civilized if people would shake hands with their opponents and praise them after a battle in real life. "Your mod seemed pretty airtight to me, except for that exploit you already know about."
"Yeah, I'll fix that as soon as I can. Then maybe we can try it again next week."
"If we have nothing better to do." Duo was quite right in saying that the business day had not quite ended yet. It was simply fortunate that this Friday afternoon had been free. Our department got enough work to keep us busy, but not so much that we couldn't keep up with it. Sometimes that diligence paid off.
Trix's head popped up beside Frasier's and she glared at me. "Damn you, Yuy."
I accepted the curse with a smile. "Nice try, Trix. It was a good play, but it came too late."
"Not my fault I came up last in the rotation. Do you know how long I'd been sitting on that, just waiting for it to be my turn?"
"Maybe next time."
"How about right now?"
I shook my head. "Sorry, I've got plans."
She eyed Duo, acknowledging him for the first time since coming to my cube. "Come on. Who would you rather hang out with? Him or us?"
Duo smirked a little too toothily, and I kicked him in the side of the foot as I stood up before he could say anything I just didn't want to deal with. "Sorry, Trix. Maybe next time."
"Fine." She dismissed Duo with a little toss of her head. "Have a good weekend."
"You, too," I answered as I left the office, sweeping Duo along in my wake. Of course I always enjoyed seeing Duo, but sometimes I had a bit of an uneasy feeling in me when he visited me at my desk. Even after three years, he was still questioning my decision to turn down a position as an active field agent.
He couldn't resist bringing the matter up once we were safely out the doors and heading back to his office, where presumably we would meet up with the others. "Playing computer games, huh?"
"Sharpening our skills," I answered mildly. I would have to remind the others not to get too hasty in the end, even if they thought the prize was near. It could lead to one's untimely demise.
"I tell ya, tech support's probably the only department in the building that could get away with that."
"Guess I'm lucky to be with that one department, then." Against my better judgment, I let an edge seep into my response, but not wanting to continue this any further, I changed the subject. "Any idea how Trowa's mission went?"
He resisted my shift in topic for a whole three seconds before yielding to it. "Well, he's back in one piece, so it couldn't have been bad..."
I was reviewing the logs when my CO's voice rang out across the office. "Yuy!"
"Sir!" While shouting out messages for the entire office to hear chafed at my sense of security, not to mention etiquette, I had to admit that it was efficient. Cubicles were intended for better communication, after all.
"You're up!" he hollered back.
I shut down my files, stood, and strode down the walkway to the boss's office. I had one of the longest walks out of everyone because I had secured a piece of prime real estate in the back corner of the suite, but I certainly didn't mind it. I liked my seclusion. It even had a convenient escape route right next to it. I'd already figured out how to avoid tripping the emergency exit alarm.
"Oooh," Frasier cooed. "Yuy's goin' to the principal's office! Someone's in trouble now!"
I flicked the bobble-head toy on top of his cubicle wall as I walked by. We had a solid team put together, but sometimes, they could be a bit juvenile.
His assessment wasn't entirely incorrect, however. There probably was trouble somewhere. No, there was definitely trouble somewhere. The world was nominally at peace, but there were still plenty of hot spots. Our assignments were typically handed out to whomever was available at the time, loosely based around a rotation. It wasn't my turn, which meant someone had asked for me, or the job was important enough to require me. That could have been because of my particular skills or my clearance.
I stepped into Schafer's office, but he didn't motion for me to shut the door behind me. He had only a short message for me: "Head on up to fourteen South. There's an Agent Wallace with work for you."
With a nod, I left and did as I was told.
When I arrived in that section, I consulted the roster in my head and located her office without having to ask. This time, I was instructed to shut the door before taking my seat.
"Agent Yuy. This is my partner, Agent Furikawa." I nodded to the man at the other desk before she continued. "There's been some trouble down in the African continent lately."
"The internal power struggle continues," I commented, acknowledging my familiarity with the subject. That was where Trowa had just come back from last Friday. He had given us a brief summary of the situation down there over dinner.
"They've been going it for years, now. As long as it was pretty self-contained, we were content to let them fight it out and just make sure they didn't get too carried away with anything. Well, now they've gotten carried away." She flipped open a file and slid it across the desk to my side. The folder was opened to a photograph of a Preventer's badge. "It's a fake."
"There's no number on it," I observed. Trowa had failed to mention this over dinner, but then, it hadn't been a debriefing. Besides, this was big. While we trusted each other with our lives and few other important things, we did have a strong belief in operational security. This wasn't the sort of thing one talked about casually.
Furikawa scowled. "But other than that, it's damn authentic. Someone got a hold of a legitimate badge and used it as a template. We've had people working on this non-stop since we uncovered it. The bad guy we snatched this off of had been using it to gain access to apartments, offices, whatever. He got into the home of one of the mid-ranked players down there and slaughtered the guy's family just as a warning. Ended up killing the guy later anyway, even though he was in protective custody." He paused for a few seconds. Respect for the fallen, I suppose. "He's gotten into at least one office and obtained confidential information. And so far, we've found two incidences of impersonating an agent to exchange 'favors' for not getting into trouble for illegal activities."
"Do we have him in custody?" I asked.
Wallace shook her head. "He's dead. Got into a shoot-out with local authorities down there. One civilian, two cops, injured. One cop dead."
The authorities down there would not be happy. "Are we looking for the source of the badge?"
"Yes. The force down there said that the guy had an accomplice, maybe even two, so there may be more of these badges floating around out there. They're chasing down leads, but haven't come up with anything solid yet. The thing with the most promise is this." She motioned to a laptop on her desk. "Just came in today. They're pretty sure it belongs to the guy, but they haven't been able to get into it. Security's pretty tight on the machine. Too tight not to have something important on it. Think you can get in?"
I nodded, but added the caveat. "These things take time."
"As soon as possible, of course," Wallace agreed amiably. "We have other leads we can pursue in the meantime, but we think this is our best shot. There are others out there, and they're dangerous. We need to know what's on this computer."
"Understood." I accepted the laptop from her. "I'll let you know as soon as I find anything."
I went in and shut the door behind me. "Why do I always end up tangled up with IAB, Chang?"
He glanced up from his computer's monitor. "We don't let just anybody do the legwork for Internal Affairs, Yuy. These things need to be entrusted to trustworthy individuals."
I smiled. "Is that what you tell yourself to make up for getting caught up with IAB all the time, too?"
"Perhaps." His returning smile faded once the pleasantries were over. "What do you have for me?"
Taking a seat in front of him, I gave him a quick summary of what I had just reported to Wallace. "This guy's laptop. The security on it was mostly proprietary, but it responded to standard decryption protocols, once I figured out what to run them on."
"I don't think they have a sophisticated computer crimes department down in that area."
"You're glad they don't, anyway. Having to allow us to hack the machine for them places the information squarely in our jurisdiction."
"That is convenient," he admitted easily. "What did you find?"
"We got the guy's name. A few of his contacts. Some communications, accounts. I briefed Wallace on all of it. She's going to be working it out with the local authorities. She told me to come see you about what I found on our leak."
"Do you have a name?"
"Not yet. But we can probably get it, or at least narrow down the list of suspects. It's someone local down there. Someone 'official', with more power than just a local police officer. Given the area, it's likely to be a Preventers agent, though the organization wasn't named. Male. Traveled out of the country to Sudan back in April."
"Sudan, hm?" He tapped his keyboard a few times in thought. "Preventer business?"
"I'm hoping so. It'll make the search go down a lot faster."
He accessed the global Preventers database and started entering search parameters. "Hmm, there are one hundred forty-eight people in that office... Seventy-two badges. Forty-three male. And... no missions to Sudan."
"Search the requisitions files from that time. It may have been a 'fact-finding' trip attached to a separate case."
"Requisitions," he muttered to himself as he switched databases. "This will be quite offensive if it turns out he is using our own resources against us."
"Of course he is." He raised an eyebrow at me. "We'd do it, wouldn't we?"
With a faint smile, he granted me a nod of concession. We had certainly made do with what we had. "He must not have expected the case to reach this level. It's easier by far for us to track him through the Preventers system, rather than through the local level, but if the case had stayed local, they would not have been able to track him from this end." The light from the monitor shifted, and he had his search results. "Let's see here... Here we go. One flight to Sudan. No, two. Different people. Same mission."
"Interviewing a source. We can get them both in trouble."
"Or we can narrow it down some more." I gestured at the keyboard, and he ceded his seat to me. I got access to our tools department and started pulling financial information on our two suspects.
Wufei cast me a dry look. "Don't you need a warrant for that?"
"I assumed you would be filling out the necessary paperwork any moment now," I answered blandly.
He shook his head, but pulled the appropriate sheets from his file and filled in the time, subject, and cause, and left the rest for later. "I remember a time when you actually had to go to the bank for these records."
It was a time before the world became a unified whole. Since the end of the wars, global systems had become the hottest thing. It was convenient, but I had to admit, it probably should have been a bit harder for me to gain access to sensitive personal information. It was for that reason, among others, that there was still a large population of hold-outs, unwilling to subscribe to the global community idea. "Mostly direct paycheck deposits, it looks like. Their annual bonuses were tiny."
"I don't believe that's the information we're looking for."
"Is this where you tell me, I've been spending too much time with Maxwell?"
He snorted. "He would spin some yarn about how the suspects could possibly be disgruntled by their meager pittance, so it was our righteous duty to look into it."
I smiled. His assessment was spot on. "Hm. Jackson deposited a sum of six thousand credits to a retirement investment account two days before one of Donnelly's kills."
"Donnelly's our guy of the laptop?"
"Yes. He killed a witness in protective custody."
"Ah. Pay for a tip?"
"Hmm. That would imply that Jackson is not a full-on 'accomplice', then. A full accomplice wouldn't get reward money like that."
"Six thousand for a man's life." Wufei shook his head. "It doesn't take much to convince a man to betray his loyalties."
As a price for a man's life went, six thousand wasn't too shabby. They'd gone for far less before. "So if he isn't the full-time accomplice... his partner, perhaps? There's no financial evidence of it, but that could just mean that he's not in it for the money."
"Maybe. We can look into it. In the meantime, we can follow up with this Jackson character. If we compile a case against him, maybe they can get him to flip on his collaborators."
"That will be a job for the locals."
He nodded. "Good work, Yuy." He paused, then appended a dry snort. "As if you needed to be told that."
"Praise from you is something to be both honored and treasured," I answered, mocking him with a slight dip of my head, though not with complete irony. I remembered that I was still sitting in his chair, so I stood and returned to the proper side of the desk.
From the lack of a withering glare, I assumed he was trying to be serious. "Between peers, perhaps, but not as token words granted thoughtlessly. I apologize for forgetting for a moment that you are not simply a tech support agent."
I took no offense at the implication against either my job or my department. "Not 'simply', perhaps, but it is what I am."
"I know what the attitude is toward our support teams sometimes," he mentioned curiously. "Does it ever bother you?"
"I know there are some agents that think they're... 'all that', as Duo says, but I've long since learned to stop being offended by the idiocy of others." There were enough idiots around that I would never get any sleep otherwise. Sadly, there were some people that weren't idiots that sometimes thought that way about the non-field operations. Those were the ones that I couldn't dismiss so easily. "I'm sure you get annoyed by their general attitudes enough as it is, even being in the same department and having the same rank or higher as they."
"You have the same rank or higher as well, Yuy," he pointed out dryly. "You're even higher ranked than your so-called CO."
I shrugged. "They gave me the promotion, and then offered me leadership of the department. After I refused, they couldn't very well demote me."
"They should have known better."
Standard procedure was usually to do it the other way around. I supposed they never thought I would turn down the offer. "Was Une one of them, do you think? I know she knows better, but she likes to test the waters from time to time."
"Well, you do have the habit of surprising her."
"Don't we all?"
He conceded the point with a nod. "I'm not sure Une had a hand in the matter. The organization has gotten large enough that no one person can oversee it all anymore. It got that large a long time ago. It's only recently that Une's been more willing to delegate."
"The budget talks are still going on, too, aren't they?"
"Yes, and unfortunately there aren't very many people to which she can delegate the task of those Senate hearings."
"And people wonder why I turn down positions of authority." I had no patience for such things. I would have made a terrible head of the TSRU. There was much more to be done as a high-ranking peon.
A knock on the door sounded. "Come in," Wufei called.
The door opened, and Duo stuck his head in. "Got some follow-up on that... Heero?"
"Reporting," I offered as an explanation. Duo's office wasn't that far from Wufei's. I wouldn't have made a social call on Wufei without also dropping by Duo's office as well. "Chang has me working for him again."
He grinned. "Heh, well if you'd join us up here, Wufei wouldn't be able to order you around anymore."
I grunted. If I had ever had to rearrange the office layout, I would keep all the field agent offices on the ground floors. I turned back to Chang and gave him a brisk nod. "I'm sure I've kept you from your work long enough. Let me know if you need anything else from me."
Our brief moment of water-cooler-like chat passed, and Wufei returned to business. "Will do."
last modified : 4/29/2007 23:34:49 PST