“OK. T. We got all the cards programmed. I still can't believe it went down like that.“ Winston said to Taylor.
Pleased by the compliment, and with himself, Taylor beamed. It felt good to hack the network at the TransClarion building. He used passwords gleaned from the data they had stole from Gracie Mansion. It was like getting the first knockdown in a boxing fight. Taylor was striking a blow at the people who had struck at him, at his family and friends. It was vengeance in the doing. They had no idea Taylor was inside their network, though he was sure he had gotten out clean, still he worried. It had been too hard, and that shocked him. With the inside access granted from the cached passwords Taylor had hooked into the network as if he were a legitimate user, a high level one at that. Nothing he did would alert the system as unusual. The hardest and most time consuming part had been the slow, at least relatively slow, fishing from login to login until he had the highest level of access possible, the necessary access to the card magnetizing software. To get the codes necessary to imprint access cards, giving him the keys to the building.
Too bad I don't have one like my mother's when I broke into Willow Prep. This would have been so much easier.
Even better, they found something unexpected on the TransClarion servers. A short memo from two people inside the management company that controlled the leasing, maybe even owned a stake in the building, the company controlling the access tech apparently. It didn't take much effort to find this company was owned by TwinStar Communications. Both of the correspondents in the memo were only marked as “P.“ The memo was shocking, because it was about Taylor.
Target baited. Expect arrival Sunday as scheduled. Surveillance established at target residence will contact if backers are flushed. Command has been briefed. All resources on alert, ready for mission status. Once target has been acquired, interrogation will provide remaining details necessary for offensive response.
The memo had a chilling effect on both Taylor and Winston. The writers of the memo were planning on capturing Taylor, whomever these two instances of “P.” were. They would use Taylor to flush the Society out, maybe torture him for information. Which Taylor and Winston took to mean these people assumed some agency was behind Taylor. They agreed it proved little – it did not mean the necessarily knew about the Society. Taylor was breathless at the scope of what he, what they, had become engaged. Torture? Resources? Mission Status? What the hell is all that? The whole thing began to feel unreal again, and yet at the same time, somehow, all too real. This is America, after all, and people, American citizens no less, particularly teenage ones don't get tortured, kidnapped or surveilled by communications companies and big city Mayors. The idea was silly, but still, it was there, and now he had proof.
Once they read the memo it made what they were planning to do seem more than necessary. Required and decidedly appropriate. For Taylor, it became the only option. Either he attacked and defeated the company behind the firewall, TwinStar, and the Mayor or the Society could stop what they were doing. In the latter case, Taylor suspected TwinStar would likely kill him and the others. Maybe they would torture him during an “interrogation.” He had no allusions he could stand up to torture.
Of the five of them, and the two adults, Helen and Tate, the only one who Taylor believed could think to stand up to torture might be Lou. And he somehow believed she'd never allow herself to end up in such a position.
The next day, when Winston and Taylor got dressed and Taylor borrowed some of the other boy's clothes: black gear, which he packed into his backpack, to use for the mission. They had both gotten some sleep, done some more mining in the data, gone over plans again and again, eaten a very uncomfortable, forced meal with Winston's step mom and now it was time to head to Chatham House for the final planning session. They were going to spend all Saturday night there. Winston had already dressed himself in some of the black gear both boys would wear into the TransClarion building.
“Man, T!“ Winston exclaimed. “I always get a rush when I get dressed before a good smash and grab.“ The other boy flicked his arms outward in a gesture of brashness and confidence.
“Totally.“ Taylor replied, mollified that he wasn't alone, but not certain he felt the same amount of confident rush Winston did. Fear crept back in, crested over Taylor's confidence and excitement. The surreal, heightened anxiety of knowing what he was about to do was similar to how he had felt before his late-night jaunt into Willow Prep, only multiplied greatly. He had to put stern effort to keep from visibly shaking. No matter how much he thought through how logical each step seemed, how necessary each felt Taylor couldn't let the anxiety go. It's unreal I'm about to break into the TransClarion building! He corrected his own thoughts. I'm not actually going to break in, not initially. The others will be doing that. Taylor would be walking up to the front lobby and simply taking an elevator right up. He at least had been invited.
“OK. Got everything?“ Taylor asked.
“Think so! Time to go, huh?“ There was a breathlessness to Winston which resonated with Taylor, but also made his nerves jitter, again. He was getting to a point of misery with the up/down cycle of his emotions. It just made him want all the more to get it over and done with, whatever happened. Que sera sera as Mom's friend Maria used to say.
The boys checked their packs and clothes one last time and left Winston's house. The last thing running through Taylor's mind was what his parents were thinking at that moment. If they had called to report him missing by now? If they had done what he expressly told them not to do in his note and called to report William missing? Likely they had done both. What the repercussions of that would be, Taylor couldn't imagine.
At Chatham House everyone had gathered, except for Tate. Consensus had been that Taylor would definitely be searched before being allowed into the building. If they found him with an ear piece, not only would they take it, but they would suspect something of what was coming, if they didn't already. Yet another consensus agreed that the last thing TwinStar or the Mayor should expect were four teenagers and a former NSA agent turned computer teacher along with a sixty-eight year old housekeeper to storm their operation. It was plain foolish.
“Let's do this!“ Winston said excitedly, all out of sync with the nervous quiet effected by everyone else.
“Where is Tate?“ Taylor asked. “Has anyone heard from him?“
No one had. Faces looked worried. “Call him,” Izzy suggested, as Helen brought sodas and water and juice. Taylor dialed Tate's cell. It rang and rang and went to voicemail. He tried several more times, each time the result was the same.
“We have to do it without him.“ Lou said, “Maybe we'll hear from him before we leave tomorrow.“ The others nodded, but Taylor was apprehensive. Still he let the others smooth him over and they finalized their plans, without Tate.
Myth came to Taylor later that night while he was looking over blueprints, trying to memorize the layout of one of TwinStar's four floors in the TransClarion Building.“Taylor?“ she said, bouncing on her toes.
“Yeah?“ he said wearily. He had been at it for hours and was already fading, wanting to lay it down and sleep. He rubbed gently at his eyes.
“You should take this.“ she handed him a small round cylinder about twice the size and width of a tube of Chapstick. It was black and smooth, though the outer casing was pebbled, as though it was meant to be gripped. One end of it was bright copper.
Rolling it around in his hands, Taylor asked “What is it?”.
It felt heavier than it should. “It's a Taser.“ Myth said, her eyes bright with mischief. “It won't incapacitate everyone, but it will stop them for a few seconds, at least, drop them to their knees. If you can get it past the search with it, I thought it might come in handy.“ Myth winked.
“Did you make this, Myth?“ Taylor asked incredulous. “How?“
Myth blushed, “Yeah. I've got three of them. Can't get them as powerful as I'd like, but...“ She started into an explanation of how she had achieved it, and it was truly nonsensical it was so esoteric.
“Myth!“ he said finally, “It's amazing. Thanks!“
Her face took on a somber note. “I think this is gonna work, Taylor. We'll get William back and we'll make sure they can't use those wipers anymore. I know it!“ She sounded so certain, so sure, it was hard for Taylor to entertain doubt. She ran off back to her lab.
The rest of the night passed in a blur. Taylor fell asleep on a sofa in the HQ. Sunday morning he called Tate several more times, but got nothing. The others thought Tate had just decided to duck off, not be a part of something he knew to be highly dangerous, risky. But Taylor knew the teacher better than any of them and he didn't think Tate was that guy. Tate had been too excited. Something was wrong. But every time he tried to say as much the others hushed him. He gave up saying anything further about it, instead just occasionally thinking of it and feeling a sense of missing something, of something crawling just beyond the edge of his vision.
Inside one of the bedrooms on the first floor of Chatham House the time to leave approached. Taylor pulled out his backpack, fished out the clothes he'd borrowed from Winston. He looked at himself in the mirror, and suddenly he was a different person, someone dashing, powerful, edgy, strong, and even handsome. He wondered if this was how Winston felt, once his best friend was all decked out in the black gear. Taylor tucked the Taser into his back pocket. He patted his butt and was surprised to find he could barely feel the thing. It just might make it past a search after all.
Taylor reached the HQ, just in time to see Helen exit from the doorway which led to Myth's lab and he barely held back a laugh. She was also dressed all in black: an ankle length black skirt, a black blouse - baggy and a little sheer, a black knit vest over the blouse. All of it topped with a shiny black beret, at a jaunty angle on her head.
It was comical and serious at the same time. It was clear she had somehow had that outfit ready. She tipped her beret at him.
“Van's ready.“ she chirped through her smile.