Author's note: I know it's been 84 years, so I won't keep you long, more from me at the end. I just wanted to thank Ellster for beta-reading and making this story better. The character Skye Holt is my own, the best introduction to her is probably my story Dunn and Dusted, but this one works without prior knowledge too. Time-wise this is set between Rogue Nation and Fallout. I hope you'll enjoy it. I'll post a new chapter every day. Cheers x
Coalmines and Canaries
Someone had entered the flat. She had heard the front door close, then voices. Her brother, and a woman. Which was unusual. He hadn't told her anything about visitors. Maybe a neighbour had come over for some reason? But that had never happened before either. She stood up from her computer and left her room.
"Where are you going?"
"Sshh," she said, and held a finger up to her lips. She wasn't entirely sure why, she just wanted to see who had come in. "Wait here." She pushed him into the closet. He smiled, like it was a game. "I'll be right back."
He just mimicked her gesture of putting a finger to his lips.
She nodded brightly, then carefully proceeded to the kitchen on her own. She didn't turn on the lights, just peaked around the corner to get a look.
She saw the woman first. An elegant dress too nice for this part of town, long legs, short black hair styled in a flattering fringe that accentuated her facial features. She was reaching for something.
A green shimmer flickered over her face as she watched from the dark. She wasn't sure why, but she felt completely frozen. Goosebumps coated her body as the woman calmly said her brother's name.
He turned around.
And the woman fired a single shot.
She watched her brother fall backwards, moan once, and that was it.
A flash illuminated the kitchen further. The woman had tucked her weapon away and taken a picture. Now she bent down and picked up the dead body.
She stopped watching. She wanted to cry, but couldn't make a sound. She just felt utterly cold. As silently as she could she made her way back to the closet.
She didn't want to be alone.
Yusuf and Luther looked up from their computers, to see Skye enter their hacking cave.
"Did our intern quit again?" Yusuf asked grinning, happy at the sight of fresh food.
"He didn't need much convincing to trade the job for one shift. You should open a window," Skye greeted them. "BLT as always?"
Yusuf nodded eagerly.
"And ham and cheese for you."
"Thanks, kid," Luther smiled.
She placed two large boxes she had been carrying along with the sandwich bags on the table. "These are spandauer, cinnamon rolls, and apples. You can fight for it."
"Apples as in apple pie?"
"No, apples as in apples. You need some vitamins."
"We love you," Yusuf said earnestly.
"Morning," Benji said sleepily when he entered the main room of the secret safe house. His foot met an empty soda can, which rolled over and hit a precarious stack of similar cans that subsequently toppled to the floor. He just sighed, circumvented the chaos and went to the desk.
"Morning," Luther and Yusuf answered in chewing unison.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" Benji asked cheerfully when he spotted Skye. She looked smart in her light grey blouse with the small colourful hummingbird embroidered near the left shoulder. It made him very aware of his four-days-old shirt. When she presented him with a sandwich, he kissed her on the cheek.
"Just waiting until the call for my next mission comes through. Any day now, I can feel it." She took a seat and helped herself to a spandauer, probably her personal favourite of Danish pastries. "Unless you mind company for a lunch break."
"You mean breakfast," Benji said, already firing up his computer.
"Dinner, in my case," Luther said.
"We're working shifts," Yusuf explained, "so that someone's always on him. Zhen and Crover are asleep right now."
"Wow, they're going all in on this one," Skye said impressed.
"They would," Yusuf said and combed a hand through his thick black curls. "Thorpwind Funds was just the beginning. Just think of all the money involved. He's this close to satellite access, and then we're toast."
"Can't wait to find him," Luther said. "He'll get recruited on the spot."
"Yeah," Benji agreed, sounding dismayed.
"Jealous?" Skye teased him.
"He's good," Benji said. "Really good. And I've been on him for so long now that they've assigned me a team. And still nothing."
"Are you getting closer?" she asked.
"We're certainly close," Yusuf said vaguely.
Benji turned to Skye. "What do you think of when you hear forty?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Here we go again," Yusuf mumbled and rolled his eyes.
Luther chuckled without looking up from his screen.
Skye ignored them. "Forty like the number?"
Benji nodded. "Yes."
"Just say what you think."
"Mh. Forty..." Skye mumbled it a couple of times, switching first accents, then languages. "Fyrre, quaranta, quarante..." Then she shook her head. "Nothing, sorry. Just a number."
"Told you," Yusuf chimed in.
"Mh," Benji said, then realised she was waiting for an explanation. He motioned at the computer. "The guy we've been following – in all of his work there is this forty, randomly inserted somewhere. I can't make any sense of it. I'm thinking it's just some sort of signature. Like a tag."
"I told him tags don't have to mean anything," Yusuf said. "And two numbers that happen to show up are probably random code."
"You're just upset because we don't get to tag anymore since we're on government business," Luther grinned. "But tags have gone out of style anyway. The last people who could pull them off were the Canaries, and they all died or disappeared."
"Who were they?" Skye asked curiously.
Yusuf, Luther and Benji stared at Skye collectively until Luther had the mercy to say something. He shook his head. "Oh, kiddo."
Yusuf turned to Benji. "How can you live with someone who doesn't know that?"
"Will someone enlighten me?" Skye interrupted.
"Seriously, how have you not heard of them?" Yusuf continued incredulously.
"This coming from a guy I had to explain to who Bon Scott is," she retorted.
He made an 'Alright, fine'-face.
"They were a group of hackers," Benji explained. "Really good hackers. Always got into all sorts of high-profile things, mostly governments, but never did anything except tagging. Just to show that they could."
"Drove everyone nuts," Luther took over. "But causing paranoia was their thing."
"And why Canaries?"
"The French secret service managed to pinpoint them to the Canary Islands once. Turned out to be a cold trail of course, they were too good, but they used the islands as code names for the hackers from then on," Benji went on.
"I was assigned to La Gomera myself," Luther said with a trace of pride. "Gave me a good race. Eventually they just stopped. Probably got too hot for them out there, because they had everyone after them."
Luther chose to omit the fact that he had actually found La Gomera – physically at that, not just in the obscurity of cyberspace. He had turned out to be a young guy, still half a kid. Luther had offered him to join the IMF with his skill set, but the hacker had refused. Said he had people to take care of, that he couldn't leave. And Luther had let him go. It had seemed right at the time. To this day he wasn't quite sure whether or not he regretted it.
He quit his musings when the others kept talking.
"The thing is that they caught on to that and used their code names as their tags. Just left random messages about Gran Canaria everywhere. Imagine the insult," Yusuf said with admiration in his voice.
"Not that anything of that matters to us now," Benji said and sighed, looking back at his computer.
"Maybe it's a message?" Skye suggested, getting the conversation back on track.
Benji shook his head. "How can it be a message if its only ever one number? There's nothing else attached to it."
"Is it the word forty or actual numbers?" the Dane asked.
"Numbers," Benji said.
"Maybe it's not a signature, but a dedication? 'For Ty'?"
"Could be..." Benji said thoughtfully, intrigued by this new idea.
"Ty could be short for Tyrone for instance. Or it's just the initial T."
"I think..." The 'you might be on to something' was lost when Benji's fist met the table. "Dammit!"
Yusuf flinched, but Skye didn't. Her eyebrows climbed.
"Four zero," Benji said, equal parts excited and annoyed, as if that explained everything.
"So?" Luther asked, finally looking up at his fellow techie.
"For zero. It's for nothing. As in nothing's gonna come off it. He's mocking me." Benji looked like he was suppressing further cursing.
"But that's also just a theory," Skye said gently.
"No, I'm right. I know it. I found this guy, and I've been on to him for weeks now. Weeks! And he knows I'm there, but still manages to always stay one step ahead. It's pure derision!"
Skye smiled quietly, but stopped quickly before he could see it. Instead she put a hand on his shoulder. "You're gonna catch him. You always catch them."
Benji sighed and slumped back into his chair. "We don't even have an island to name him after. We're working with John Doe and the like." He put down his sandwich and resumed typing.
Skye smiled. The lack of cool code names was a very Benji-esque problem.
"But maybe today is the big breakthrough," he continued, apparently already happy again. "I spent the last two days building a trap for him, and last night it went into action. It went through so many different servers that it just has to find a trace of his IP, and then we might get a location." Benji opened a programme, typed in a long password and pressed enter. "I left it running over night, so now we should have enough data to-"
Benji's screen went black. He flinched. Skye straightened.
"Guys, we have a breach," Benji said.
Skye stayed out of the way, but watched intrigued. She loved seeing Benji in his element like this. Utterly calm, yet alert, hiding his distress expertly because he knew he could do this. Things were happening fast.
"I'm out, too," Luther said at his black screen.
"He's found us," Yusuf said, and already fired up another laptop that had been lying on the ground until now. "I'll trace it on the separate server."
Letters appeared on Benji's screen, white on black, running through several thousand random combinations at top speed before settling on four words that took up the middle of the screen.
The future is Cinister
"He's in our network. Right now. That means we got him." Benji inhaled, but it wasn't out of despair over the breach, it was pure excitement that things were moving. "What are you trying to say..." he murmured, thoroughly mesmerised.
"That he needs a dictionary," Skye said dryly.
Benji smiled, but never looked away from the screen. "No. This is more than that."
The letters changed up again, even faster than before.
Check out Times Square
Skye frowned. "Is it just me or does that sound bad?"
"On it," Luther, who had also moved to an unconnected computer, said.
Benji stood up, went around their desk and looked over Luther's shoulder. Skye followed.
"Twitter?" she asked.
"Fastest way to see if anything's going on," Luther said unimpressed. "There we go. The hashtag is #TimesSquareHack."
"That was quick," she said.
"Try that one," Benji said and pointed.
Luther nodded and clicked on the video. Shaky footage, filmed in portrait mode on an older phone, judging by the quality, showed smog-grey New York sky before shifting downwards. The odd scream could be heard among distressed shouts and murmurs all around. The famous buildings plastered in advertisement screens came into view, and all of them showed the same black screen with white lettering. The future is Cinister. The screens were so dark that the entire square seemed to be in shadow because of it.
That's happening right now, Skye reminded herself. How is that even possible?
"Your phone, love."
Benji's voice brought her back to matters at hand. Her mobile was indeed ringing. "Sorry. Holt?" she answered. "I'm on my way." Skye hung up and pocketed her phone, already heading for the door. "Just when it started to get interesting. I have to go. Good luck, guys."
"You, too," three voices echoed back in unison.