Hackers, much like the Illusionists and Prestige artists of the past, each had their fame creating signature tricks. The tricks, of course, were measured by the effect they had, as, like the magicians, no hacker would tell exactly how theirs worked. Mouse's trick was, as far as she knew, very unique. Although she'd made a name for herself as one of the premier hackers, she actually wasn't one. She had considerable skill in maneuvering her way around inside any computer, once she was past the security. Getting past that security, however, was where she differed from her competitors. She'd never acquired the skill they had on the subject. Where they could sit in their basements, surrounded by hardware and empty pizza boxes, dressed in dirty t-shirts and boxers, and remotely dance past the most sophisticated security and passwords, Mouse had to take a different approach. An unintentional giggle escaped her lips as she pictured in her mind the stereotype. It was most likely very few hackers actually fit the movie-like description, but it was fun to think about. She very carefully maneuvered the pane of glass out of the way, suspended as it was now by the coated wire ropes, rather than the aluminum mullions and silicone caulk it was moments ago. She squeezed her small frame through the opening and onto the sill, She looked around for the cameras. As usual, they were pointed toward the many cubicles; the bureaucrats worried more about their own people than they were of someone sneaking in through the sixth floor window. No, Mouse's special hacker trick was that she wasn't one, as people thought, but a burglar. She made her way along the aisle next to the windows, her entry point calculated to keep her out of the view of most of the cameras. The less she was exposed to them, the less footage she would have to wipe later on. Every time she had to wipe images from the computers, it left a tell-tale clue which someone could find if they were seriously looking for it. Of course, her facade as a hacker had so far kept them from looking for evidence of a break-in, a ruse which had worked very well so far. Misdirection, just as the magicians used so well. She would leave her little calling card in the systems, keeping them from looking for evidence of a more physical nature. Mouse let herself into the office of the head of Computer Security, one Charles Shruver. He used to be a hacker himself, who'd gone by the nickname SlickStar. He was a particularly odious egomaniac, whom many of the people still plying their illegal skills, hated with a passion. They left him alone, though, because he was still one of the best, and he delighted in catching them. He didn't turn them in, usually, but blackmailed them into doing jobs for him and his company. Mouse stopped, just inside the threshold of the office, sensing that something was wrong. She crouched there for several long seconds, trying to ascertain what it was setting her off. There was the smell of some kind of cleaner, more powerful than she was used to in an office environment. Underneath the smell were a couple of other smells. She couldn't identify them, due to the overpowering presence of the cleaner. She almost heeded her senses and turned around, then and there. She would have, if this job weren't so important. On Shruver's system, somewhere, was evidence which incriminated a friend of hers, a hacker with the moniker of OmnIceNts. Despite the grandiose nickname, OmniceNts was a noob who'd gotten trapped in one of Shruver’s mousetraps. Mouse had told him she would get him out of the trap, and she didn't like going back on her word. She slowly crept into the dark room, the underlying smells tickling her with their odd, but, so far, unidentifiable familiarity. One of the smells made her think of copper, of all things. Sparklers and copper. Mouse sat at the desk and began working the thin gloves she always wore from her fingers. She much preferred the feeling of fine, thin leather, but the rubber impregnated cloth of the cheap, black work gloves gave her much more tactile control. She took a deep breath, preparing herself, then laid her fingers and palms down on the keyboard in front of her. Shruver Remnants of Shruver's thoughts cascaded into her. Charles God, that new receptionist is hot, I'm going to have to hit that Have to fire that asshole sometime soon, he's screwed up SlickStar Hold still, baby, you'll like this, hold still Asshole deserves this, thought he'd get past me DeusExMechan1c No, no don't, you can't Mouse lifted her hands from the keyboard, shutting off the images and feelings which were rushing into her head, and quickly redonned her gloves. Shruver was a sicker individual than she'd previously thought, and working for him must be a nightmare, especially for women, who, according to what Mouse had just picked up--before she got the password she was hoping for--risked being raped. This was Mouse's true trick, the one which allowed a burglar to pose as a hacker. She was a psychometrist, able to pick up the information she needed by touching the keyboard of the computer she wished to break into. It was a psychic ability which often gave her trouble if she inadvertently let her skin touch something that had soaked up a lot of psychic feedback or energy. "I was right," a male voice said from over by the door. Mouse spun, her heart beating dramatically faster, to see a man leaning against the jamb. He was mostly just a silhouette, but she could see enough to know she'd never seen him before, and that he had a pistol in his hand, held almost carelessly. Suddenly she knew the significance of the sparkler smell she’d caught upon entering the office. He'd fired the pistol already, and in this room. "I told Shruver you were different, ever since I discovered you never answered any messages from the same place, or from the same computer. He was convinced, despite the fact I pointed out at times you answered from other hackers computers, that you were just redirecting the signal, so you appeared to be using their computers. But you were, weren't you? Sitting in other hacker’s chairs, using their computers, sometimes to talk to the very ones whose seats you were stealing." Mouse didn't ask who he was, though she really wanted to know, she was just trying to figure an escape route. She already knew the layout of the room they were in, as well as the ones beyond, so she knew she couldn't escape him, not with his gun at hand, though she did wonder why he'd fired it already.... Then the other smell, lurking below the smell of whatever noxious cleaning fluid he'd used, made itself known to her conscious mind. The coppery smell was the smell of blood, and her mind, so fond of trivia, informed her blood only had that smell when it was fresh. Soon, it would be turning sickly sweet. Her eyes darted around quickly to see if she could detect where the body was. "Oh, our host is no longer present," the man by the door said. "He's waiting out in one of the cubicles for you to drag him out to the elevator." "Why would I do that?" Mouse asked. He waved the gun nonchalantly. “Who knows, you were trying to hide the body after he caught you burglarizing his office,” he said. Mouse didn't feel it was worth the effort countering the argument, being they both knew it for what it was. "Take the gloves off," he said. "Why?" He pointed the gun and Mouse took her gloves off. She doubted he could see the glare on her face past her mask, not that it would hurt him in the least anyway. "I wonder why you break into places to do your work. I've been following your exploits and know how good you are. You didn't search around his desk for anything containing passwords; otherwise I wouldn't have to instruct you on the next step.” “Which is?” ”Open the drawer." Mouse glared at him momentarily, until he emphasized with the gun again. She opened the drawer, an impotent glare still on her face. He'd already proved he'd use the weapon. "Reach inside." She did, and her hand immediately encountered the pistol waiting within. Her fingers, being bare of the cloth which kept such things from happening, touched the metal and her mind was flooded with images, thoughts and emotions.... No, that wasn't completely correct. This man, whom she now knew--courtesy of those images--to be the very person she'd come here to extricate, exhibited no emotion whatsoever, when he shot Shruver. Mouse watched the event, helplessly, through her handy-dandy psychic cam, and discovered OmnIceNts had instigated the entire thing, in an effort to discover, for some reason, who Mouse was. OmnIceNts wasn't the noob he'd posed as. Curiously, though, she couldn't pick up on his true identity, which was usually the first thing she picked up. Many names swept past and over her senses, but none of them had any more authenticity to them than the hacker name OmnIceNts did. When events and thoughts swept up through her hands and into her mind, they never took as much time as they did in the first place, taking only a bare fraction of the original time. It was obvious, judging by his wondering why she chose to break in, the man she knew as OmnIceNts didn't know about her psychic ability, so, once she was free of the experience of reliving his treachery, she stared at him. "Pick it up." Knowing she was providing him with incriminating fingerprints, but unable to refuse, she did. She doubted it was still loaded, but it was worth a try. She quickly pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. Mouse was surprised the gun actually fired, spitting fire in his direction as it nearly twisted out of her hasty grip. He didn't even flinch though, and chuckled in a cold, meaningless way. "Very good," he said. "Now I won't have to tell you to do that. There was one blank in the chamber. Now you have the required powder on your hand for the police to find once they pick you up." Great; way to go dunce, you should have figured that out, she thought. "Why?" Mouse asked, the question more for everything that had happened, not just the nice frame he'd constructed. "I have some work for you, of course. A little outside your preferred MO, and not at all like your chosen idealistic crusades, so I needed a little leverage." "So, the mousetrap I'd thought you'd been caught in, was intended for me all along." "Quick, aren’t you." "You planned on killing Shruver from the start?" "No one will miss the odious worm, believe me. Now, shall we? You have an appointment with some men in uniforms." "How am I going to work for you if I'm in Prison?" "You won't be in there for long, just long enough for them to process you and the evidence, tying you indelibly to the crime." He then gestured with the pistol he'd kept for himself. Mouse judged him to be perhaps two hundred pounds and about six-foot two or three inches tall, almost a hundred pounds heavier and over a foot taller than she was. Her mind worked furiously as she tried to think of a way out of this situation. He could easily manhandle her, given the great difference in physicality, despite her training. She held up the gun. "You want this, or are the police going to take it from me." "Sensible attitude. You can give it to me," he said, holding out his left hand. She walked up, as if to put it into his hand, but grabbed his sleeve, pulled herself up, and launched a kick at his face. Her left foot, as he dodged out of the way of the right, struck the gun from his hand. She felt good about having succeeded in the maneuver, for about a half a second; then she hit the door jamb very hard after he grabbed her leg and twisted. Brilliant, he knows martial arts too. Mouse rolled out into the aisle through the door, with the intention of running, but he grabbed and lifted her up. She launched a swift snap kick to his side, followed by an opposite elbow to the inside of the arm holding her off the ground. He blocked the kick, ignored the elbow, and slammed her into the wall behind her with enough force it knocked the air out of her lungs. Mouse reached up and grabbed his wrist, and though she was getting dizzy from the blows she’d received--as well as disoriented by the sensations she was picking up from the bare skin of his wrist--kicked with both feet into his abdomen. She was momentarily gratified to hear him utter a grunt of pain, but he recovered quickly and slammed her in the side of the head with his free hand. It felt as if he'd hit her with a wall instead. She was stunned, unable to move or think. There seemed to be three or four of him as he stared into her face where he was holding her against the wall. Three or four faces playing kaleidoscope in her increasingly blurry vision. "We'll improve your fighting skills later, little Mouse," he said through the ringing and rushing wind. Then he looked off to the side. "Ah, judging by the red and blue lights in the window, I would say your dates are here." He made a quick movement, which seemed to happen too fast to follow, as well as in slow motion, and then everything ceased to be.
Consciousness returned like a shrieking Banshee, accompanied by the random images she picked up through her bare skin against the carpeted floor. There was nothing concrete enough to even form images or coherent thoughts, given that the stray psychic energy which had lodged into the carpet came from many different people and the fibers couldn't hold onto them for any long period. Before moving, she quickly assessed--as well as she could from her prone position--the situation around her. She was lying next to a body, probably that of Shruver, and she could see under the wall of the cubicle as her assailant bent down and picked up his pistol from where it had fallen. He appeared to be moving a bit stiffly and needed to steady himself by leaning one hand on the wall. So she had hurt him a bit after all. It had seemed as if she'd been fighting a tree. Or a brick. But she'd hurt him. Good. Mouse could hear the sounds of people outside the offices. It sounded like the police, rushing into an unsecured crime scene. This crime scene. She couldn't have been out very long, probably less than a minute, just long enough for him to drag her over next to the body. "Well, goodbye, little mouse, I will see you shortly," the man said before he turned and walked away, to who-knew-where. How was he going to get by the police? Surely they’d search the whole office, even if they did find me. Mouse counted to three, and then rolled away from the body. Pain lanced through her as she did, reminding her Mr. Brick had hurt her worse than she'd hurt him. She blocked the pain out as best she could and rose to her hands and feet, scuttling between cubicles as the door to the offices opened up, letting in the boys in blue. Mouse kept low, fighting not to fall unconscious again, as the cops made their way among the labyrinth of cubicles, searching for the body, though she doubted they'd been informed that was what they were looking for. Mr. Brick had obviously called them, doubtless as an anonymous caller, telling them he'd heard a shot. A shot he had fired himself, but was now pinning on her. She'd lost the gun so conveniently storing her heretofore unknown fingerprints during the short, painful fight. There was no way to retrieve it without just handing herself over to the eager boys with their flashlights and guns. Soon her prints would be fed into the system, and she would be caught nicely in Mr. Bricks mousetrap. Whether she was in custody or not, those prints, on the murder weapon, would be all the leverage he needed to make her do whatever he planned on her doing. Asshole. Her mind was already subconsciously working on plans to get back at him, but they would be moot if she couldn't get out of this building, minus handcuffs. Actually, handcuffs would be alright, they were escapable, but many of society's uniformed protectors now used plastic zip-ties instead, which, without tools, tended to be a bit more bothersome. Mouse ducked quickly into a cubicle, and under a corner of the desk it contained, careful not to touch any of the metal parts, as one of the cops rounded a corner. She imagined the beam of the flashlight whooshing overhead with a light-saber like sound as she hid. The light played around in the cubicle momentarily, and she was afraid it would find her, but then it moved away abruptly as someone else, next to the cubicle she'd originally lain in, shouted out the word "Body". Mouse was thankful the cubicle walls didn't go all the way to the floor as she rolled under and away from the unattended circle of light on the floor as the cop listened to the one who'd made the discovery. Then the light did a quick once over where she'd just been, before the cop ran over to join the others next to the corpse. Mouse made her way over to the aisle on the other side and risked discovery as she scuttled quickly--and quietly as she could--for the window still open on the other side of the room. "Search the room," a familiar voice said from behind her, "She's got to still be here." Mr. Brick sounded a bit perturbed to find she wasn't still lying next to her "victim". So, he was either posing as a cop, or was one of them, explaining, of course, how he was so confident he could get his hands on her once she was in custody. Great, this just kept getting better. Balls of light danced all over the walls as the cops looked around with their flashlights. Mouse crawled quickly across the floor, keeping low, toward the window which--hopefully--meant escape. She heard the sound of footsteps, running her way. It was doubtless Mr. Brick, as he was the only one who knew how she’d gotten in, in the first place. She quickly fished out her remote control for the descender sitting at the edge of the roof overhead, stuck her hand out the barely open window and pressed the button. She didn't pause to listen to the rope going upward without her, but quickly rolled across the floor and under the nearest cubicle wall. Escape from the building now was very doubtful. Mr. Brick ran up and looked out the window. "Lock down the building, she made it to the roof. You two, up the stairs. You, get the elevator. I want this little bitch in custody immediately!" Little bitch? Who just fooled you, Mr. Brick, you prick. Mouse looked up at the ceiling tiles and smiled. Should be fun.
SlickStar: Hey, buddy, have to talk to you.
Jerry looked at his screen, surprised. One, he really hated SlickStar and would never consider him a “buddy”. Quite the opposite actually. Two, Jerry had secured his system against SlickStar ever getting into it. The asshole--capital A on that one--was good, but not that good. Jerry got ready to enact some counter-measures when the second trans from SlickStar appeared.
SlickStar: Have to keep this brief, too much chance of trace. Will contact you from different comp in ten. I’m not who you think I am.
Huh? Jerry just stared at his screen for a moment before he launched into action. He ran a trace of the trans but didn’t get very far. The computer the message had been sent from turned off halfway through. Ten minutes could be a very long time if you were waiting for something to happen, which Jerry now was. He hadn’t had any communication with the scourge, SlickStar, in over a year, ever since the asshole had tried catching him in one of his infamous mousetraps. Didn’t catch MysticMan though, did ya? Prick. But this, despite the fact the original trans had come from SlickStar’s computer, didn’t feel like the egomaniac’s style. But, if it wasn’t him, who...? Mouse. Had to be. She was famous for shifting her signal around so it looked like she was sending messages from competitor’s computers. She’d even done it with Jerry’s computer one time. He was still trying to figure out how she’d done it, especially since his computer had been off at the time, just like SlickStar’s.... But, SlickStar’s had been on and was shut off during Jerry’s trace. How did Mouse do that? If it was Mouse.
Edward.Norman1958: Have to be quick. Will contact again shortly. Check news of two days ago, story in financial district.
And the mysterious person was gone again. Like before, when Jerry ran the trace, the originating computer turned off during the trace. Jerry got on the internet, searching for events which had happened in the financial district during the time the person specified. Charles Shruver, whom Jerry knew to be SlickStar, was murdered and the perpetrator was still at large. The police were hunting for an unknown woman, described as being about five feet tall, dressed as a ninja, who had broken into the building through a sixth floor window. Well, that proved the person who’d contacted Jerry wasn’t SlickStar, who was now dead. What the hell was going on?
Grace.Ogata: Give me an encryption code for my next contact.
Jerry quickly typed a code in response, before that computer, as well, turned off. Whoever he was talking to, seemed to be going from computer to computer, in an office building, while it was deserted at night.
M.Bowers: Good, now we can talk for a short while. Do not use any names or words the Big Boys listen for. MysticMan: Pretty paranoid, aren’t we. Who the hell are you? M.Bowers: Just wee little me, searching for cheese.
It was Mouse. But that didn’t make any sense.
MysticMan: Why the runaround, little rodent? Why not just use encryption in your first message? And where the hell are you? M.Bowers: Can’t answer the last question, too risky, even with encryption. Let’s just say I’m trapped in a dead-man’s rodent trap. As for the first question, I never learned that trick. MysticMan: What? Encryption? Bullshit. Every hacker worth anything knows how to do that. M.Bowers; Have a confession to make, and only because I trust you. You’re one of the few I do. I’m not a hacker.
Jerry was dumbfounded, and just stared at the words for a few moments.
MysticMan: What do you mean? Is this a joke? You’re one of the premiers. The way you bounce your signal around alone earns you cred. M.Bowers: I haven’t the slightest knowledge as to how to bounce a signal. MysticMan: What the hell are you talking about? You do it all the time. You even did it to me, made it look like you were using my computer. M.Bowers: It looks like I’m using other people’s computers, because I am using other people’s computers. MysticMan: Bullshit. M.Bowers: I really liked your mahogany leather executive chair, real class.
Jerry looked down at the arm rest of his chair, stunned. How the hell could she know that? Unless....
M.Bowers: I’m not a hacker, buddy, I’m a burglar. A very good burglar. I know my way around a computer once I’m on the inside of it. But the fancy hacker stuff it takes to get there, I never bothered learning it, didn’t need to.
Jerry felt a sort of mental vertigo as he felt his paradigm shifting. He’d been so sure of what Mouse was, had interacted with her for a long time, depending on that knowledge. But one thing he did know about her, was that, to trick him in this way was not her style. Unless, of course, judging by what was happening, it was, and she’d been playing with him all along. Would a burglar dress all in black like a ninja. Was Mouse called that because she was short, maybe five feet tall? Did Mouse kill Shruver?
M.Bowers: You still there J?
J, what his big brother Alan called him.
MysticMan: How did you know that? How do you break into the computers, even sitting at them rather than going at them remotely? I know some idiots don’t secure theirs with passwords, but mine is. I even have a fingerprint lock. M.Bowers: The fingerprint lock was the easiest. Plenty of stuff in your studio with your prints on them. As for the rest, well, have you ever heard of psychometry? MysticMan: Is that a mental disorder? M.Bower: No, silly, but it can cause some. Psychometrists pick up psychic energy and impressions left in physical objects. Everything stores psychic impressions from the people who use them, some materials better than others. The harder the object, the better the item stores the impressions, kind of like a recordable CD, recording what you’re thinking about, what you’re feeling. The more often you think about something, such as your password, the more readable the information is.
Jerry was ready to type in the word bullshit again, but held off.
MysticMan: Are you saying you are one of these psychometrists? M.Bowers: A very powerful one. I have to wear clothes which don’t let any skin show, for fear of accidentally brushing up against something, that I will pick up way too much information.
Jerry thought about that, which, of course, led to the inevitable question.
MysticMan: How much about me did you learn?
There was a hesitation this time from Mouse.
M.Bowers: I always cut it off as soon as I learn the password. MysticMan: But you always pick up more, such as what my brother calls me. M.Bowers: Yes. MysticMan: That’s rape, Mouse. M.Bowers: No names. He’s listening. MysticMan: Who’s listening? The man setting the traps is dead. M.Bowers: Different man set this one. Someone we thought was one of us, the noob with the extremely egotistic name. You remember him? If you’ll remember, we talked about him and what I was going to do to extricate him from the trap I thought he was in. He isn’t who he says, isn’t what he said. The man is a ghost, posing as ‘The Man’. Now I’m trapped myself, in a very big cage. I know you are upset with me, but I need your help. He’s going to make me do very bad things if he catches me. He was the one who did in the one who used to set the traps, just to get me.
Jerry sat back into the plush chair Mouse knew the color of, absorbing what she’d told him. She’d sat in this very chair and hijacked his computer, had laid her hands on his keyboard and taken a merry little trip through his mind. He wondered what other private stuff she’d picked up. She obviously knew his real name. Hell, she probably knew he had a thing for her. That thing was probably the only reason he hadn’t disconnected from the conversation.
M.Bowers: You still there, man?
M.Bowers: I really need your help.
M.Bowers: I laid my soul out here for you, nobody else knows about me.
M.Bowers: I’m sorry. I don’t blame you.
The computer Mouse had been messaging from shut down. Jerry reached forward automatically, as if to keep her from leaving, but it was too late.
Mouse retreated to where she could climb back up into the ceiling, but didn’t. She hunched down into a ball and cried. She felt ashamed for doing so, it being the first time since she was about ten, but she was feeling just a bit desperate and desolate at the moment. The guy who’d trapped her, Mr. Brick, had the police watching the building so tightly she hadn’t been able to get out. Mr. Brick was the cat to her mouse. It wasn’t normal the cops should still be watching this building. If they thought she was still in here, they wouldn’t have left before they found her. What was it he thought she would return for? Was there something here he was afraid she would get her hands on? He’d obviously figured out she needed to have physical access to a computer to hack it, but he was just as obviously unaware of the psychic means she employed to do so, though, really, it should have been in the obvious category as well. She had to admit, however, most people were so against believing in such things, they would look beyond the obvious, and invent who-knew-what-ever other method to explain things. But that was all right, it helped to protect her secret. It was frustrating, not being able to reach into his world and discover his motives or intentions, not without actually going to where he was. She knew where he was. It was one of the pieces of info she’d picked up while he was beating the piss out of her, a couple of days ago, through her contact with his wrist. She also knew what he did, though any personal details of who he was still eluded her, but that was due more to his changeable nature than to her ability. He was some sort of psychopath, she knew that much. He had absolutely no feeling for his fellow human beings, who existed for him to use or kill at whatever whim suited him. He'd felt no emotion whatsoever at killing Shruver--though in Mouse’s opinion, Shruver deserved what he'd gotten. But to Mr. Brick, he’d simply been following a step in his plan to capture Mouse. Mr. Brick was some sort of freelance agent, working for some big corporations. He was posing as a Special Agent for the FBI, but that was merely to get him governmental access, a government his true employers were in the process of buying. Though, to tell the truth, Mouse had been surprised to discover it hadn't already been fully bought. She'd acquired quite a bit of knowledge during the brief contact with his skin, but couldn't use much of it, trapped in this building. Did he know she was here? If he did, why wasn't he flushing her out? Maybe he was playing with her, as a cat does with a mouse. Jerry had been her last hope, some help from the outside, perhaps a person to teach her what she should have learned years ago, how to really hack a computer. She really didn’t blame him for reacting the way he had. She might have done the same thing if someone had hacked her brain the way she did his. That was what she really did, when it came down to it, wasn’t it? She hacked people’s brains instead of their computers, just so she could get into the computers. Much more invasive, if you thought about it that way. She didn’t like it, and tried to forget the unwanted information when she got it. But some of it stuck. She knew far too much about far too many people. She possessed information which could ruin people’s lives, should she choose to do so. Didn’t it say something about her that she didn’t, though? Mouse did what she did, to try and right what she saw as a lot of wrongs, to help people against the evil corporations which wantonly raped the world in their pursuit of the almighty bottom line. She’d made money from her activities, true, but a girl has to live doesn’t she? A lot of her compatriots looked up to her for what she’d done over the few years she’d been crusading, not knowing she possessed some of their most private thoughts. That was the thing, wasn’t it? As long as they didn’t know, there was no harm done, because she wasn’t going to adversely use the information about them she possessed. But, once they knew.... The light just outside the office she was in turned on. Mouse quickly sprang from her embryo position to a crouch, ready to run, just as it turned off again. On, then off. Back and forth. The only way for it to be able to do that, was if someone was standing at the light switch and flipping it. But that particular light didn’t have a switch for someone to play with, it was one of the building’s automatic ones. Mouse climbed into the ceiling and made her way to the office, three floors below, which controlled the building’s lighting. The computer there was always on. She quickly scanned the office through a barely lifted ceiling tile, to make sure it wasn’t a trap. The computer screen was blinking on and off, displaying one word, over and over again. Mouse. She went over and typed in “I’m here”.
MysticMan: Sorry, about that. You freaked me out a bit.
Mouse: Don’t blame you. Can you forgive me.
MysticMan: Of course. You’ll warn me, though, in the future, if you’re going to climb inside my head?
Mouse: If I can, sometimes I accidentally bump into something and it just happens.
MysticMan: Wow, that’s got to be a bitch.
Mouse: You’ve no idea.
MysticMan: That person the police are looking for, the short female ninja, is that you?
Mouse: Did they actually say ninja?
MysticMan: I believe the words were “Dressed like a Ninja”.
MysticMan: So, my little ninja rodent, what can I do for you?
Mouse wrinkled her nose as her own, ever present, scent tickled at it. She wasn't going to be able to hide in this building for much longer unless she found a way to bathe herself and wash her no-longer-black stealth suit. She'd already seen more than one person pause in what they were doing, as they wondered where the awful smell was coming from. In other circumstances, she may have been amused as some of them looked at each other, doubtless wondering if the other was the one who smelled, probably followed by the question as to why the other had stopped bathing, and smelled of stale sweat. Mouse had done her best, taking spit baths in bathroom sinks, during the week she'd been trapped in the building, living in the ceilings during the day, staying in touch with the world and the situation about the manhunt for her at night. Mr. Brick turned out to be very good with a computer. Neither she, nor MysticMan had been able to hack his system, or get the cops to leave their perpetual blockade of the building. Mouse wondered what the tenants thought of the storm trooper like presence. Mouse really missed the gloves she’d removed to supply her finger prints. She’d spent quite a bit of time almost paralyzed, when she accidentally touched some hard surface, always the best batteries for stored psychic memory, as she watched, and learned about, the building’s inhabitants. The gloves were most likely sitting in a plastic bag, in the nearest precinct’s evidence goody trove. The more tired she grew, the harder it was for her to control her “gift”, which at times like this, seemed more a curse. She didn’t really want to know this much about total strangers, and so many of them. She spent a lot of time now holding her hands under her arms, as she crept through the building. Not the most efficient way to be sneaky, walking along, through dark hallways, like a spaz. Mouse carefully let herself down into a posh office on the top floor, an hour after the tenant--a blonde who made Mouse jealous of her beauty and poise--left for the day. She'd become master of the buildings security system the second day she'd been here, which was why she knew the Gestapo was still watching the building. Mouse quietly crept across the black marble tiles on the floor toward the back of the office. She had traced some impressive plumbing going into this part of the building and was hoping for something more adequate to her needs than the bathroom sinks everywhere else. Tears came to her eyes as she beheld the shower and tub before her. The bathroom was grander than she'd seen in some high end homes, a glory of slate and marble, and large enough to be a living room for most people--or, in Mouse’s case, half her apartment. She looked at the hot-tub-sized tub longingly, but knew she couldn't risk a good soak. She would have to settle for the shower--risky enough in itself--and be careful doing so, as she could leave no trace. Mouse quickly stripped, then let her hand hover over the brushed nickel knobs, dreading what she might pick up from the metal when she touched it. She held her breath and turned-- hands running over the wet skin of another, water running freely teeth biting firmly, but not penetrating body held up against Mouse let go of the knob, the water a little on the hot side, but she didn't want to touch it again until she turned it off. Miss Blonde was apparently quite amorous in the shower. Mouse grabbed the body wash, and scrubbed her suit as she let the water cascade over her body. She hung the cloth up, where it could drip the water she hadn't squeezed out, then set into washing her short hair, dust and bits of ceiling tile fighting to stay tangled. The water felt glorious, and she wished she could stand in it forever. Mouse forced herself to turn the water off--experiencing again the lusty appetite of the owner. Then, as she air dried, she used the edge of her palm to carefully squeegee the water from the surface of all the marble, working it toward the drain. She dragged a used towel out of a nearby hamper, thanking the powers-that-be it was there--although she got weaker impressions of Miss Blonde’s appetites from the cloth--and wiped all the moisture off the metal fixtures. Then, satisfied she'd taken care of all traces, she settled down into the corner of the shower and waited for her suit to dry, going over the events of the week in her head. What had previously been her strength had become her weakness. Her inability to bypass security without having access to the psychic vibrations items stored up, was trapping her, just as much as the stationed cops outside. That situation, however, was changing. Mouse was slowly learning what her ability had made unnecessary before, she was learning, finally, how to truly hack a computer system. After his initial shock, Jerry--MysticMan--had shown he was quite eager to help extricate Mouse and then go after the man she only knew by the nickname she’d given him. She had other names, but it was as if they just floated around him, none of them sticking. She didn’t even know which one was the supposed Fed he was posing as. She still had to be careful in her communications to the outside. After all, the cat was lurking there, waiting for her to show her head, and he was a very powerful cat. The bruises he'd given her were just starting to fade. A light came on in the office, just outside the bathroom door. Mouse nearly panicked, having nowhere to run or hide. She quickly grabbed her damp suit from where she'd hung it and hopped into the tub, pressing herself against the side nearest the door. Then came the sound of footsteps on slate tiles, sounds which came very near the tub. The shadow of a man was on the wall of the tub across from her. Mouse slowly turned her head and looked up. She could barely make out the top of someone's head over the edge of the tub. One step and a tilt of the person's head was all that would be necessary for the person to see her, lying helpless and naked, uselessly clutching her wet clothing. "Ah, you're here," a woman's voice drifted from the other room. "Yes. This is an impressive set up. Do you use it much?"" Mouse caught her breath and her heart started pounding loudly at the unmistakable baritone of Mr. Brick's familiar voice, right next to her. During their earlier encounter, he hadn't seen her face, due to the hood she always wore. Now, all he had to do was move slightly, and he would see it, along with the rest of her. "Every day. There is nothing like the feeling of water on the skin. Well, almost nothing." Mouse gritted her teeth at the sultriness creeping into the woman's voice, the invitation unmistakable. That was all Mouse needed; for her adversary to discover her when he and his lover tried to have sex in the tub Mouse was hiding in. Brick didn't say anything. He didn't move either. "Have you found her yet? Has she made any attempt to get back in here? It was awful careless of you, you know, setting up your little trap in my building." "One uses the resources one has," Brick said. "I think borrowing is a much better descriptor, don't you?" the woman asked as she sat down on the lip of the tub. Sequins glittered off her backside, hovering inches above Mouse's face. Mouse rolled her eyes. If Brick wasn't the brick he was, Mouse would have bolted, then and there. "I underestimated her," Brick said, though Mouse had to imagine the frustration implied. None of it was evident in his tone. "She disappeared. If I find her, she will make an excellent addition to the team." "If she cooperates." "If she doesn't, she gets raped and killed in prison." "Perhaps a bit of the former before she gets there?" Miss Sultry chuckled, though there was a note of desire in the voice--lovely lady. There was no answer, no indication of what he thought of that, but Mouse almost couldn't stop herself from squirming. Surely they could hear her heart hammering against the porcelain of the tub. The sequin speckled butt left the edge of the tub and Mouse almost let her breath out in a rush, she forced herself to breath out very slowly. "We have to get rid of, or control, the idealistic hackers like her, Morris. The greedy ones we can use, but I fear there will be no turning the others. They have to go." "I will turn the ones I can and use the others to get rid of each other," Brick said. "The timing of all this could have been better. I am in some delicate negotiations at the moment," the woman said as she walked away from the tub, hopefully taking his gaze with her. "That is why sharing certain information would have been helpful," Brick said. Had he turned in doing so? Mouse couldn't tell. "Yes, well, certain information is only meant to go so far downhill. You've come quite a ways, Morris, but you haven't climbed that far yet." The sound of Sultry's voice moved into the other room. Mouse looked up and saw she could no longer see the top of Brick's head. No, make that Morris. She had a name to attach to him now. She searched her memory of the contact with him, and, somehow, the name didn't fit as well as the one she'd provided him with. An alias then, one of the many he used, but was next to useless to Mouse. She wondered if he had a name he considered real. He seemed to be a true chameleon. The door to the office closed, leaving Mouse in near pitch darkness. Mouse waited for a moment, not sure if she dared assume he’d left before closing the door. Her imagination told her he was there in the dark, just outside the tub, waiting for her to crawl out. Then she heard his voice from the other side of the door, dulled enough she couldn’t make out what he was saying. Mouse quickly, but quietly as she could manage, slipped the still damp suit onto her body. The material was cold against her skin and clung tenaciously as she tried wriggling into it, fighting her all the way. She slipped out of the tub and crept over close to the door--the hinge side--and tried to see if she could make out what the couple on the other side was saying. Miss Sultry was obviously powerfully placed in the organization Brick was working for, though, apparently, wasn't above sleeping with the help. She’d handled what Mouse assumed was a quiet rejection well. Judging by the man’s cold approach to humanity, Mouse wondered if he could derive any pleasure from sex. Hell, Mouse wondered if he derived any pleasure out of anything. This little encounter had provided Mouse with some interesting information, however, and she couldn't wait to get to Sultry's computer.
Two mornings later, after the police were drawn away by a decoy hired by Jerry, Mouse sat atop a very different building. She wasn't there on a job, and she wasn't dressed in her sleek black stealth suit. That was going through the wash for the third time. She was dressed in a tie-die camisole over a long sleeved shirt and jeans, a small backpack slung on one shoulder. She was a tourist looking at the vista of buildings around her. She was a little out of place, perhaps, the roof of this office building not being on any map of tourist attractions. There was a screech of tires on the street below. Mouse took a bite of her tofu sandwich and smiled, anticipating the show that was about to start. She imagined another, similar show, was occurring at the building she had no intention of ever stepping foot in again, across town, but Sultry wasn't the target she was interested in. No, Mouse was more interested in a particular cat-trap that had just been sprung. Several minutes after the dark suited men rushed into the local offices of the FBI, they came back out again, a large man who reminded her rather of a brick escorted between them. One of the men in dark suits held his hand atop the brick's head as he helped him into the car. Mouse smiled. Her phone made its little you've-got-a-message chime. She looked at the text message from one of her new BHFs (Best Hacker Friend)
MysticMan: Seems a certain FBI agent was arrested for releasing documents of national security to the press just now, know anything about that?"
Mouse chuckled. MysticMan knew she did, he’d helped her do it.
Mouse: What could I know? I'm just a tourist. What else have you discovered? MysticMan: Digital records of a certain thing you were concerned about are now gone, but the BIBs still have the physical copies. Can't help there.
BIBs, no doubt, meant Boys in Blue.
Mouse: Appreciated. Consider the physical stuff handled. MysticMan: You know, now we're in league with a ghost, certain people should tremble in fear. You should consider changing your name to GhostHack or something. Mouse: Sounds like a bad writer hiring out for memoirs or something. Think I’ll stick with mine, thanks.
Mouse watched the Feds drive away with the captured cat who thought he could catch mice. A cat who would soon join his sultry boss, though Mouse had no doubt both would soon disappear at the hands of their own organization. She pulled out her phone and looked up the location of a certain local precinct. A precinct which held her fingerprints captive. Should be fun.