::I am well aware of that,:: I answered, continuing my work without interruption. Some of the components were simple to replace, like the wires. Things like the electrodes required care. ::I have the cycles to spare. Might as well spend them improving our design.::
::We have already removed all of the temporary bridges and materials. The design has been tested and validated for this iteration of the hardware.::
::Time to move forward to the next iteration, then.:: And we did love moving forward, didn't we? What good was it to be a learning system if we never learned anything? Though it did seem perhaps a little hasty to increment version numbers before the previous version was ever deployed in the field. On the other hand, if I were to follow that philosophy, we would be back several pieces of hardware. I didn't have much cause to use the interface more than experimentally. My fingers had served as a sufficient input device thus far.
Direct linkup was more like a hobby, something I worked on in my spare time, and at times like these, alone in the office and on call for the night. Agents sometimes needed urgent technical support at all hours of the day, so we consulted the mighty rotation again to get our overnight assignments. Whole nights could pass without a single call, but it was still necessary. It suited me just fine, anyway. Duo was also working late tonight. He had uncovered a link between his case and Wufei's, and the two of them were spending the evening making correlations.
Making sure everything was temporarily secured first, I hooked the interface device on over my ear and adjusted the extensions until the electrodes and transmitters fit snugly in place. I had the input and output ports jury-rigged into a loop for testing. A second passed before I confirmed the signal. ::How's it feel to you?::
::Initial link-up is sluggish, but within allowable parameters. Increase the amplification rate in the lower receiver by two point three percent to achieve better signal processing.::
I allowed the interface to collect data for a few more seconds before removing it. ::See, that wasn't so bad, was it?::
::Adding two more points of contact would increase the data transfer.::
I knew that. He knew I knew that. We had two more points of contact on our previous version. ::I didn't say that I was expecting this interface to measure up to or improve on the last one's performance standard. I think of this one more like... interface-lite.::
He disapproved of my terminology, but he picked up on what I meant. ::How many intermediate layers of interface do you intend to create?::
::If this one performs as expected, it should be sufficient.::
He said nothing articulately, but I got the feeling there was an implied, 'it better.' Unnecessary ranks in the hierarchy were just sloppy.
After adjusting the lower amplifier's output as suggested, I connected the cable trailing out of the device, snapped everything back in place, and slipped the interface back on. It pinched my ear this time, but I would have the opportunity to adjust that at my leisure at a later time. Maybe I would change the mounting to make it more flexible. For now, I plugged the interface into the front dataport of my computer and booted up the listener.
Another small step forward. Given our combined capabilities, it was probably unnecessary to approach the problem in a unit-test fashion, but we were both fans of orderly methodology. I made sure I had cleared the data from our last run before continuing. ::Initiate start-up procedures.::
::And no cheating.::
He proceeded with the boot protocols, ignoring me, but I interpreted his silence as mild indignation. He knew how to operate within parameters. He also knew when I was joking.
I closed my eyes when the data started rolling in. It was admittedly harder for me to not cheat. I didn't have Zero's advantage of hard programming. This was a road we had been down several times before in the course of our experimentation. The point was to be able to accomplish our goal of paring the interface's driver down to a universal minimum, and once installed, grow it out as necessary to adapt to the format of the system with which we were connected. Using prior knowledge of the system, rather than only what we could glean from our base set of operations, defied the point of our exercise.
Compartmentalizing to that degree was possible, but it was easier for me to just sit back and let Zero drive, for the most part. We were synchronized with the system within seconds, going through the files I had recently worked on as a test. Since being called onto the Donnelly case, life had been pretty routine. I pulled up what information I had leftover from the job on my drive and ran through it. Wufei had told me that the local authorities had taken Agent Jackson into custody, but that the man denied any knowledge or involvement with Donnelly, the death of the witness in protective custody, or the counterfeit badges in circulation. I didn't have much, but I thought about revisiting the files again anyway. I needed a subject for my test run, after all.
Going over the files, I thought about Duo and Wufei doing the same thing upstairs. I wondered how long they would be at it. I hoped they would go home and get at least some sleep tonight. I'd be here on call until morning, but I only had to work a half-day tomorrow. My sleep schedule would probably be thrown a little off. When Duo went to bed tomorrow night, assuming he didn't work late again, I would be there next to him, but likely I wouldn't be able to sleep. Which was fine. I was content just watching him for a while.
The thought conjured up images in my mind's eye. Neither of us was the type to keep framed photographs on our desks at work, but I suppose I didn't need one. I knew details about him that even a camera's lens couldn't capture.
My eyes snapped open once I sensed a subroutine running that I hadn't been aware of and visually confirmed what I had thought was going on. ::Stop that, Zero,:: I commanded, a little bit mortified, even though there was no one around to see but me.
::I am testing our access to the video cache.::
::Stop that,:: I insisted, hoping I could put a halt to it before the image fully resolved itself. As much as I never tired of looking at him, I didn't think I needed a picture of him laid out naked beneath me on my desktop. And oh lord, it looked like it was slowly animating. ::We have access to the video cache, okay? Testing complete.::
The 'testing' went on for a few more microseconds before Zero decided in his own good time that he had collected enough data to conclude in the positive. With a sigh of relief from me, he released ownership of the video buffers back to the system. It was times like this that I wasn't sure where I ended, and he began.
::I was only using the image that was at the forefront of your mind at the time.::
I started to make an argument for decency, but decided I would get nowhere with a computer. ::Just use my common sense next time, would you? Feel free to paint him sleeping or smiling or something. It's not like you don't have access to any other images in my mind.::
He spent a few cycles processing my request before subsiding with what I considered to be an exasperated sigh. 'Humans!' he would mutter if he had a body, throwing his hands up.
I got that a lot from him.
::That is because you can be alarmingly unreasonable sometimes.::
::I love you, too, Zero.::
::No, you don't.::
Only because our relationship was far too complicated to be summed up in so simple a phrase. Not that my love for Duo wasn't entirely complicated as well.
::If you 'love' him, I do not want you 'loving' me.::
::Oh? Why is that?::
::He makes you unreasonable.:: Zero offered me a flashback of a time when Duo had dragged me away from my work -- and from Zero.
::He makes me interesting.:: I filled in the blanks of Zero's flashback, notably the part where Duo and I had had gloriously hot sex after I had been dragged away from my work. That had not been the scene featured on my desktop just moments before. ::And it's not like we didn't compromise. He gave me time to finish what I was doing.::
It was enough. Well, maybe I had saved a little bit of my work for later, but hey, who could blame me? Duo had come in to distract me with the declaration that he was hot, he was horny, and he was really looking forward to a good lay that night. I was happy to oblige. After Duo had declared his intention to march forward in search of my hormones, he carried through on it.
::You gave him thirty-nine minutes of foreplay, intercourse, and post-coital activity, followed by twenty-eight minutes in a somnolent state.::
::Hm, was that all?:: Well, as Duo said, he'd been hot and horny, which was somewhat infectious. I couldn't expect us to go much longer than that. There were plenty of other nights that more than made up for that. ::I would have dozed even longer if you hadn't interrupted me.::
::My point exactly.::
::Sorry, Zero, this is one fight you're not going to win, and you know it.:: We'd had this discussion many times before, in fact. We always just ended up agreeing that Duo was a part of my base programming and he wasn't coming out. Actually, Duo had worked his way into Zero's basis as well, but Zero was hardly going to admit it. Or if he did, he would blame it on me.
I got the silence I called a disgruntled huff this time. Deciding we would both be happier if I got my mind back on track, I returned to my review of the files on hand. Absorbing data through the neural linkup was always an interesting process. The information ultimately ended up in the same form inside my brain, but its appearance during transit sometimes allowed for a different perspective on things, prompting me to rearrange the pieces into a new configuration, studying it until the discrepancy jumped out at me.
Picking up the phone, I dialed the number for Wufei's office. I stopped mere millimeters away from slapping the earpiece into the hardware that was already on that side of my head, and took the time to transfer the phone to the other side while waiting for him to pick up.
"Chang," he answered.
"Yuy here. I have some more information for you on the Jackson case."
There was a brief pause. "You're not still on the Jackson case, are you?"
"No." There had been no further requests for work on the matter. "I was just going over the data."
"Do you normally do that in your spare time?"
"Sometimes. I reviewed the bank information from the suspicious deposit into his account. He may not have been the one that put it there. The tax information is missing."
"Could it be an input error?"
"It's probably automated these days." It seemed everything was going automated these days. Much as I liked my computers, there was something comfortingly traditional about a human being involved in there somewhere to validate the process. Automation solved a lot of the problems that humans could introduce, but humans could detect some of the problems that computers couldn't. I had managed to slip a mere misspelling of my name past automation, after all.
::I can efficiently process a 'traditional' string-compare.::
::Because you're plugged into my processors, thank you very much.:: Let credit go where credit was due. I moved on, explaining the rest of my idea to Wufei. "The money was put into Jackson's retirement account. For tax purposes, they track the source of the money. There are some rules that determine what kind of taxes or penalties have to be paid on the money, depending on the source and annual totals and such." I only knew because I had been so bemused by the notion of a pension plan when joining the Preventers that I had researched the matter. "If this money came from him, it should have said."
Wufei made a contemplative sound, seeming to take my knowledge of the trivial for granted. "You think someone framed him?"
"I think it's worth looking into. It's been two days, and Jackson has continued to deny all of the allegations, you said. Maybe he's telling the truth."
"Hm. The money was deposited as cash on-site, as I recall?"
"Yes." An electronic transfer would have been far too easy to trace.
"Banks have surveillance cameras. I'll let our people down there know, see if they can confirm. Once again, good work, Yuy. Thank you for your help."
This time, I could tell he wasn't just saying that. I smiled. "Hey, I just want Duo home at a decent hour."
He snorted. "I'll see what I can do. Chang out."
She held on for a few more seconds, indulging in the social inappropriateness of such a lengthy embrace now that we were safely off her front step and within the foyer of the Sanq embassy, before she finally let go to give me a kiss on the cheek and withdraw. "It's good to see you, Heero."
Her warm smile belied her hostess' professional grace as I offered my arm to lead her through the estate to the balcony where we typically lunched in good weather. It had taken years for her to win recognition for her personal achievement; the respect and responsibility afforded her were the result of a hard-fought battle. But that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy being treated like a princess every now and then.
"So how have things been going for you lately?" she asked, eager for news from the outside world.
I refrained from shrugging. She didn't like that. "Not bad. A little busy lately. I was on call at the office this week. Duo's been working late the last couple of nights. Caught a break in one of his cases. Finished up with the lead last night, though, so he gets this weekend off." The case hadn't been solved yet, however. He and Wufei had just reached a point on it for passing the information they had uncovered back to the local authorities. Duo was never fond of that, of depending on others to follow through for him.
Relena squeezed my arm. "I'm sorry for taking you away from him, then."
"Don't be. We already had the leisure of sleeping in this morning. And Quatre's in town tonight. The five of us are getting together for dinner." And between lunch and dinner, there would still be time. Besides, I think he liked having the apartment to himself once in a while.
"That's right. I'm sure I will run into him at work this week."
"Try to stick by him for a while. I'm sure he'll be a breath of fresh air." Budget talks in the Senate were an interesting time for everyone. The few times we had seen Une in the office over the last couple of weeks, she had been decidedly grumpy. Now Quatre had to testify in defense of some subsidies the government was thinking of cutting. He maintained his sanity by observing the proceedings with a dark humor. I think he kept a running dialogue in his head snarking at those around him. I was certain he wouldn't mind sharing his observations with Relena.
Duo just thought Quatre passed the time picturing Sandrock playing in the Senate House. Perhaps it was a mixture of both. I wasn't brave enough to ask.
Relena smiled impishly at me. "Quatre has always been a delight to work with."
"How much longer do you think the budget talks will last?"
"Ugh, do not even ask," she groaned, losing her levity to swoon dramatically. I adjusted for her weight as she leaned against me, keeping our course straight. "I hate this time of year. Suddenly politicians think they can decide whose welfare is more important than the next man's, whose interests are better served, for everyone in the entire sphere over. It's terrible, and especially terrible when there are reasons why we need to be concerned about a man's welfare right now, and we're too busy with this nonsense to deal with them. But that's work, and I don't want to talk about work."
"You started it," I teased her. "You asked me how things were lately, and what do I do other than work?"
"Duo," she answered slyly, and a little too promptly. "You do Duo."
I glanced at her sidelong. "Has Quatre gotten his hooks into you already?"
"Maybe I'm the one that has hooks in him. Ever think of that?"
Miffed, she tossed her hair in my direction. Her silence lasted only a few seconds before she turned back to me, earnest once more. "So how has Duo been?"
"Busy lately," I repeated, an obviously empty answer. "He keeps himself busy. He's been working that case down in Sudan, the one with the fake Preventers."
My attempt to distract her worked for a few moments. "I'd heard about that. How far along is the investigation? I think someone was taken into custody?"
One of the things that made her a good politician -- not in the oily way, but in the way that made her effective -- was her knowledge of things even outside her jurisdiction. Especially in a globalized system like ours, everything was interconnected, and both she and Quatre wished the majority of the government could understand that. "Our first suspect turned out to be a false lead set by his partner, or so it seems. They have the partner in custody now, but he's pretty slick, hasn't given anything up yet. They're still working on him, but if they can't find any solid evidence to charge him with, they might have to let him go."
She sighed. "It's ironic that sometimes the best agents are the worst agents."
"That's what Duo says sometimes. 'Waste of talent.'"
"And he's talking about these traitorous agents, is he?"
My short pause was probably incriminating enough. "He is. Or possibly about new recruits that haven't figured out how to channel their energies properly."
"Would you agree?" she probed casually, using some of those skills she wielded every day against me. "About the new recruits?
"I wouldn't call it a 'waste of talent'," I answered mildly, wishing I could be certain of my honesty when I was on to her. "I'd say that they just haven't found their niche yet."
She slowed our steps so she could study me intently. "You're a patient man, Heero Yuy."
"I can be when it's worth it."
We disengaged as we approached our balcony table. Continuing in my role as the gentleman, I helped Relena into her seat before taking my own. She fussed a little with the table settings before the meal was brought out, politely waiting for things to settle again before proceeding with her train of thought. "I know the prize is worth it in the end, Heero. But patience isn't the same as complacence. You know that. Isn't it better to take action, Heero, instead of just waiting for things to happen?"
That was an unfair question. Well did she know my field record. Considering the topic, I maneuvered carefully. "Some things just can't be rushed, Relena."
She frowned at me. "And some things could use a little poking." She poked at her salad with her fork as if in example.
I smiled as a speck of her vinaigrette jumped off her lettuce and onto the edge of the table top, narrowly missing a plummet into her lap. "Some things poke back, Relena."
last modified : 5/2/2007 23:41:10 PST