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Alien Devil’s Wildcard: Chapter Two

Alyssa

As if my day could get any worse.

The massive Vinduthi towered over me, accusing me of stealing. It was just the icing on top of what was already a shit day.

Starting with a bang, and I mean literally. The first thing I heard that morning was the pounding on my door I’ve heard time after time. Desi, looking for his girlfriend, or Romana, looking for her pimp. Whatever the reason, a kick or a bump or someone passing out drunk was the most common feature of every morning.

That morning, when I stepped straight into filth before I even made it out the door, it was just business as usual. Somehow my door frame in what can barely be called an apartment was the ideal location for a vagrant. That day was no exception.

Then after a credit misunderstanding at the baths, I ended up taking the most frigid shower of my life. I arrived late, got chewed out by my boss, banged my elbow on a passing money cart, and forgot my lunch.

So yeah, shit day. As if it needed any competition, I, the first person who tried to figure out what was going on when the machines started to fritz, was somehow accused of being behind it all.

Sure, I didn’t have a background in tech. But I’d been learning as I went, studying late into the nights. Anything to keep this job.

And now this had happened.

Just my luck.

“Well, Alyssa?” Sakkar stared down at me, taking my breath away and pissing me off all at once. Whatever question he asked me was long gone from my memory as his dark yellow eyes pierced into mine.

“What was the…?”

“Are you aware of what would happen to you if you were caught stealing the casino’s money, data, or even a hand towel?”

Gulping before I could answer, I managed to squeak out a reply. “Jail time?”

“Jail would look adorable compared to what I could do to you.” He took a step closer, bending at the waist to hover his face closer to mine. I could feel his anger rising.

He was so close. I felt his breath on my neck, and my pulse quickening thinking of the heat moving inside of him. I saw it, dancing inside his gray skin in the orange-colored signs that swirled across his body.

I was too close to this heat. It radiated.

“I had nothing to do with this, I swear,” I said, unable to stand his proximity in silence any longer. “I’m just a floor tech doing her job. Like any other day, sir.”

“I’m just supposed to believe that?” he scoffed. Standing up now, I caught him looking down as if unsure what to do with me. Kill me? Keep me? It was a coin toss.

I lost all air in my lungs when I felt his grip on my elbow. He was firm but careful. I knew he could easily break me with one wrong move.

“Okay, tech. Which machine did you first notice acting up?” It was like a snap to the face, and within a blink, my brain jumped back into work mode.

“Over here, number 788.” Motioning to the back near an emergency exit sign, I followed the man to the initial scene of the crime. “Looks pretty ordinary to me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said. Stepping closer to the door, he pushed it open with ease. The alarm that should be blaring was dead silent. “That explains how they got in.”

“Or out,” I offered, happy to hear some evidence in his mind that maybe I wasn’t the mastermind behind everything.

“That explains why this one was the first to go off. It was the last one they programmed to receive the hack.”

“Why every other machine, though?” I asked.

“Any number of reasons. It could be that they just aren’t very good. Could’ve been strategic.”

“I’m just wondering out loud,” I said. “Cause if I wanted to steal something, what’s the point of only stealing part of it?” I realized too late they were the wrong words to say. His eyes, deep-set, crossed my face for clues I hoped like hell I didn’t give him.

“Interesting words for someone who stands accused,” Sakkar said, eyeing me again. I felt every fiber of my body begging me to bolt, but it just wouldn’t. These Vinduthi were notoriously fast. And smart. And could practically see through walls.

 There’s no way I would measure up if I dared to cross him. If I wanted to keep my skin, I had no choice but to jump at his orders and hope for the best.

But that didn’t mean I had to be silent. “If my name’s involved in this, I want to help.”

I could see he wanted to relent. I knew I was just a worthless human to him. All these aliens saw us that way.

But this useless human had nothing to lose. I wasn’t about to just sit at home knitting while some unknown criminal stole thousands of gigs of data in my name.

“Then show me that percomm again.” Did his yellow eyes soften, or was I seeing things? It was a start, and a girl’s gotta start somewhere.

I handed it over, and he grabbed it from under my palm to receive it. Strangely, a cold shock hit my system the second we touched. Five seconds prior, I wasn’t sure if he was going to kill me. I couldn’t figure out what was happening.

We got closer to #788 with my percomm to see if there was any link. Using a backdoor connection, he paired our devices and brought up a command bar I didn’t know existed in my server.

“How did you –?”

“Never mind that,” he briskly interrupted me, pointing at his screen. “Look at those markers.”

“They’re identical to the machine’s.”

“Exactly.”

“Any idea where they came from?” I had my own agenda while sleuthing with him, of course. I had no idea why my percomm was used in this scam, but I wouldn’t go down with it.

“Other than your comm?” he asked, eyebrows raised. Damn, I almost had him. “Your comm doesn’t say anything different, actually. To any ordinary tech, this would look like a problem coming from the machine.”

“And from the machine, it looks like a problem coming from my percomm,” I said, finishing the thought for him. “What about the door?”

“Whoever entered the casino could’ve slipped these hacks in months ago. Your percomm was just the remote signaling device they used to initiate the process. All someone would have to do would be near enough to your handheld to signal the op.”

“Then that must have been today.” Maybe this would be easier than I thought. “There has to be security footage from today. Can’t we look back and see if someone was in the area acting, I don’t know, funny?”

“Funny?”
            “You know, watching over their shoulder or whatever.”

He seemed reluctant to admit that it was a good, and probably our only, idea. We walked over to the main security desk where that day’s footage was easiest to review.

“See anything?” he asked with a tight smile. His thumb gently toyed with his lower lip when he looked at me to ask the question.

“No, nothing.” But somehow, I thought that was exactly what he wanted me to say.

“Exactly, Alyssa.” He grimaced at my stupidity. “This is a casino during the dinner rush. Everyone looks over their shoulder and acts suspicious. When don’t they? But I guess you’re trying.”

I didn’t say anything. I knew my innocence, and I was just trying to put it forward the only way I knew how.

“Thankfully, I have a better idea.”

“And what’s that?” I asked with my back turned to the now useless plan to get me out of this mess.

“Good old-fashioned hacking.” He seemed proud of himself, and an hour later, maybe it was not unfair to say I’d seen the best coder I didn’t know existed. It was like he was born with a computer in his hands.

“Do you see that?” he asked while waiting for the search term to break through on the screen.

“Yeah?”
            “It’s a neat shortcut I wrote a few years ago. It leads me through the source code disguising my hack as repairware. And just like that.”

I hadn’t noticed it before, but this Vinduthi was hot when he thought he was right about something. When he thought he was in the know, the swagger came out.

“What does it say?” I asked with my eyes concentrated not on the screen but on his gray skin and orange sigils.

“Hmm. Source code source external. Fuck.”

“I take it fuck’s not good.”

“No, fuck’s not good. Finding the source code externally will be a hell of a lot more difficult.”

“Is there anything we can do? That’s right, Mr. High Brows. I said ‘we.’ I’m not useless, you know.”

His face turned to disbelief when I said the words. It took him a second to think it over, but as I was the only person in the room not dealing with the angry mob or watching the fight, I would have to do.

“Okay then, head back to #788. I’m going to ping you a patch with a multiplier. With any luck, we can get it to transfer its data to the other affected machines. Can you do that, Miss Not Useless?”

“No.” I couldn’t help the grin of victory taking over my face. He was going to let me help him. I thanked whoever was listening up there that at least I had a shot of getting my name out of this mix.

“No?” I saw the anger building in him again. He didn’t like to be countered. But I liked to tease.

“Not until you tell me what you’re going to do to me.” Standing a little taller now, I could see the effect on his face. “Are you going to report me? Am I losing my job?”

“I haven’t decided what to do with you yet. For someone with very little technology skills, you managed to do a good job for a while,” he said. “Let’s say I’m going to reserve my judgment till we find the cause and neutralize our enemies.”

“I’ll do whatever you want. And if that doesn’t prove my innocence, then I don’t know what will.”

“I’ll be the judge of your innocence, Alyssa. You can count on that.” The determination in his eyes as they struck mine filled me again with that dread from before. But it was no matter. I had a dog in this fight now, and I wasn’t backing out just yet.

As per his instructions, I made my way back to the slot pits. It was strange seeing all the colored displays dead and silent.

788 lay waiting for me with its control panel still hanging on its hinges. Once I was in place, I connected with Sakkar, my newfound friend. Well, friend was probably not accurate. Enemy? Boss who might kill me? I’d have to work out those distinctions later.

For now, someone needed to make heads or tails of this mess. Somehow these machines synced together, which they were not supposed to do, and started skimming data. They must have sent that data somewhere. It must have come from somewhere, too.

“Okay, I’m back in. Now what?”

His voice over the comm was even harsher than in real life. Tender pricks licked my ears with his gravelly tones. “Log back in.”

“Yes, did that.” I had to stop myself from sounding impatient. Soon enough, a ping dropped on my percomm.

“So, then I guess you know what to do with that?” Dead silence. “I thought so. Find system settings then bring up the command prompt.”

A few flicks of my fingers across the screen, and the command prompt waited with its simple black and gray format. I couldn’t deny how cool it all was and how much I wished I knew more about it. This simple box was the basis for most computer operations and always had been.

“Okay, download the patch and drop it in the command key with the following code.” He read the rest back to me in an indescribable slur of letters and numbers. I was lucky to receive a half days’ worth of training for this job, but what I would give to be able to know it like he did.

“Now enter this code and hopefully, assuming they still hold the connection, the other odd-numbered machines should ‘tell’ us if they’ve received it, too.”

A few keystrokes later on the machine and my percomm, and the old girl brightened up good as new, save for the odd flicker now and again. In another minute, the odd-numbered machines were up and running.

“Okay, we’ll need to reboot all of the machines running this new patch. It’s not a fix, though, just a patch. We can likely expect that whatever this is, it could happen again, and soon.”

“So does that mean I can get back to work?” I asked, hopeful that at least for now my innocence was assured. I doubt he needed me anymore. “I’ll just get back to the floor then.”

“Not so fast, girly.” He sounded stern, voice cracking like a whip. “Until I get to the bottom of this, I’m not letting you out of my sight. And that’s final.”

I scoffed and turned away quickly, not able to say a thing.

Like I said. Perfect shit day.


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