A loud heavy banging sounded on the door, startling me out of the methodical daze I’d fallen into. I jumped at the noise, and a stabbing pain pierced through my hand.
“Ow, fuck!” I exclaimed softly, attempting to keep my voice low enough for those at the door not to hear.
Glancing down at my hand, a dot of blood slowly formed on my index finger, where the needle had just punctured it. I brought the finger to lips and sucked on the tiny stinging wound as I glanced towards the monitor displaying the camera feed from the door to my little one room apartment. My lips turned down into a scowl as saw who it was, annoyed but very much unsurprised. Jack. I’d only seen him once for the two weeks we’d been in Sofia, Bulgaria. It was, as far as I was concerned, once too many.
I let out a soft sigh and quietly stuffed the small incomplete black-cat plushie along with the thread and needle from my hands down into my shoulder bag, which was shoved under the bed. I wasn’t sure what Jack would do if he ever caught me making plushies, assuming he didn’t already know about it. It was not a distinctly boyish or manly activity, not that I ever cared. It was a huge help with stress, and I’d always had a soft spot for plushies. But one never knows with Jack.
“Open the fuckin’ door Nyx!” He yelled, followed by another clobbering of his fist against the door. “I’m not fuckin’ waiting this time.”
After quickly turning my two monitors off I walked over to the door. Leaning up against the wall, I asked, “What do you want Jack?”
“I want you to open this fuckin’ door, Nyx.” His voice grated out with what I picked out as possibly a slight slur.
An angry and potentially drunken Jack was not something I could reasonably handle. I didn’t want to open the door if I could avoid it, as chances were, some amount of violence would result. “I don’t have anything for you Jack. I told you I’d call you when I did.”
“No shit you little fucker.” He twisted the door handle. “Nyx.” His voice held an edge of warning.
Fuck. “I’m getting it, I’m getting it.” Asshole.
Once the third lock was unbolted, the door pushed forward, making me take a step to the side only to then get shoved off balance by Jack trudging through, his elbow jabbing into my shoulder. The scent of booze followed in with him, along with the two large goons striding just behind him.
“Umm, would you like a drink?” I asked as I caught my balance and brushed my dark bangs out of my face.
The goons began slowly strolling around the small studio room, while Jack gave me a scowl and then walked over to my fridge. “Nyx,” he said, opening its door open and bending slightly over. “What the fuck am I doing in Bulgaria?”
“Umm…” I winced as two wine bottles were shoved out and thumped down to the hard floor, thankfully bouncing rather than busting open.
“No no, do explain it to me Nyx. What. The Fuck. Am I doing in Fuckin’ Bulgaria?” With the edge of the counter he popped open one of the few bottles of beer I’d had stuffed in the back and turned to face me as he began gulping it.
“T-the boss told us to come?”
He let out a satisfied breath as the bottle top left his lips. “I seem to remember you volunteering for this job. And after two weeks? What have you gotten done? Fuck all.” He glared down at me and my eyes shifted away from him, only to then spot the large guy to the right precariously leaning against the small desk that held my monitors and desktop. “I’ll tell you what I’m doing in Bulgaria, Nyx. Throwing away fuckin’ money and babysitting your sorry little punk ass while you sit in here fuckin’ around.”
He took another gulp before I found my voice enough to speak. “You know this stuff takes time, Jack. We’ve done this enough now that you know this isn’t something you can just do in ten minutes and be done. This isn’t some stupid CSI show where you just spend 2 minutes hacking into some government database and suddenly you have all the information you ever needed. I’m working on it.” By the end my voice was firm, but I found myself shrinking back a bit when he set his beer down and began stepping towards me.
When he spoke again, his voice was low and almost calm. “Are you trying to pretend we’re all stupid, Nyx? You’ve never volunteered for anything. You know that we know that the only reason you’re here is in some vain hope that somehow, you’re gonna get away.” The rotten smell of booze in his breath waded across my face as he poked a finger hard into my chest. “Well, there was nowhere to run in America, and we both know you aren’t gonna run here either. The elves and fairies up in fuckin’ fairyland aren’t coming to magically save you, Nyx. Now you’ve had your little two weeks’ vacation. Stop fuckin’ around.”
The back of his hand slammed against my cheek and jaw, and I felt the brief moment of weightlessness before pain arched through my shoulder as it thumped on the floor. A sharp sting throbbed through my cheek and I could hear my heart pumping through my ears. A hand grabbed a fist of my hair and started pulling me upward. My own hands clawed up around Jack’s arm in a desperate attempt to stop him as the hair ripping pain shot through my skull. I could feel tears already beginning to drip down my face as I peered up into Jack’s grey eyes.
“You’re what, Nyx? ‘Working on it?’ Not looking for a way out? Well, how about this. Let me tell you what’s actually going to happen if you don’t get it together.” He said with a sickly smile. “There’s this nice little burger place I’ve been going to the past couple weeks. The burgers are unfortunately rather mediocre. But, I imagine they make rather a lot more of their money from their other business. Of course, they move girls mostly. But a cute little thing like you?” His fingers pinched my cheek as he grinned. “I’m sure they could make room.”
“You- you wouldn’t.” He wouldn’t. No, he couldn’t. The boss, Reeds, wouldn’t just let him sell me. I wasn’t sure that they even sold boys into slavery like that.
“I would. And imagine how disappointed Mr. Reeds would be. His favorite little hacker suddenly disappearing, running off after he so generously allowed him to visit Bulgaria. I’m sure your sister would be sad to hear that you were missing as well, assuming Mr. Reeds let her know before...”
The gesture that followed had said more than enough. They had told me plenty before what they could do to my family, friends, or even mere acquaintances if need be. There was always someone they could grab. The threat may have felt cliché, but no matter how cliché or ridiculous it seemed at times it was also notably effective; I owed a debt, and they wouldn’t release me until it had been paid.
I glared up at him. But the familiar feelings of resignation and defeat had already started to work back into me. He smirked, released my hair with a small shove against my head, and I tumbled in exhaustion to the floor.
“Now are you gonna be good and get to work and stop fuckin’ around with those stupid dolls and whatever else it is you do in here?” I heard him ask.
Slowly collecting myself off the floor to my knees, I nodded, and when the door slammed shut from their departure, I couldn’t help the sob that formed in my throat.
I hadn’t been lying when I told Jack that hacking takes time. Of course, he knew that, and he knew me. He knew I was full of shit when I pretended I’d been working diligently on trying to find information on the Bridge and whoever the people were coming through it. The Bridge, Portal, and the fifty other names I expected it had been called, an object people were saying was a bridge to another world, had appeared just a few weeks ago not far from where I was in Sofia. The world was scrambling to find out what they could about it along with what was on the other side. Like most everyone I had been curious about it, so when Reed mentioned he was looking for information on it, I unexpectedly, even to myself, volunteered to come to Bulgaria and find out what I could.
As curious as I was though, Reeds didn’t deserve to get his hands on whatever information that might be dug up. But Jack was now very blatantly forcing the issue on my procrastination with his visit several hours prior.
I sighed as I looked at the clock. Nearly 11pm. With a bit of quick math, I noted that it was going on 4pm in DC. It was time I took a different approach to what I had been doing before. I had already been working through getting access to a few private emails and accounts of rather low-key individuals from the States and UK who were involved in Bridge-related projects. It might be time to start looking into how secure the private emails of some of the governing officials were. That, along with a few other ideas I had would hopefully bear something interesting. Assuming I didn’t end up headed to prison or tied up in Jack’s trunk before then.
If I was going to do this right, I was going to need to buy a few things, which means I needed some money. Grumbling to myself, I picked up one of my cheap burner phones, and setting it to appear as though I was calling from a DC number, I made a call I had been rather intently avoiding.
After four rings someone picked up. “Hello?”
Putting on the best professional bank representative impression I had, I answered, “Hi, this is Aaron Fielder calling from First Start Banking, could I please speak to Rebecca or Harold Robins?”
“Yes, this is Rebecca Robins.” The lady replied.
“Mrs. Robins, we’ve recently had a purchase on one of your accounts that was flagged as suspicious and have temporarily frozen the account. Has anyone with access to your bank account made any recent purchases in Bulgaria to your knowledge?”
“Well, my husband is currently on business in Bulgaria, so it was likely one of his purchases. Usually he deals with this sort of issue when it comes up.”
“I’m very sorry ma’am. I believe I’ll be able to resolve this quite quickly then. Do you mind if I ask you a few security questions to confirm your identity?”
I spent that night and most of the next day in front of my computer.
Getting access to the Robins’ bank account had a few different benefits. It allowed me to get ahold of the money needed for a couple not-so-free hacking tools that I had been wanting, as well as anything else I might end up needing. It, along with Rebecca’s unknowing assistance, gave me starting points for getting into the Robins’ home computer, emails, Harold Robins’ laptop he had with him in Bulgaria, and his various online accounts and social media. It also could be used as one of many points of leverage against Harold if I needed to get any information from him personally or to potentially use him to compromise other systems.
I didn’t want to turn to extortion but would if I felt it necessary. Harold had done work for Reeds once before, though I did not know any of the specifics. I had hopes that that knowledge, my hacking and potential threats, and his work as a U.S. communications specialist, would make him uniquely and easily exploitable.
A yawn slipped out of my mouth. After eighteen hours of work and only a three-hour nap, I was still tired and unsurprisingly hungry. It wasn’t dark out yet, but I suspected the sun was close to setting. A proper shopping excursion was probably out of the question, but I could at least make it to the corner store a couple blocks away and back fairly quickly.
I slipped my shoes on and peered out the peephole before flipping the locks to open it. No one was in the hallway, so I reset my locks and trudged my way down the stairs and towards the store. I didn’t leave my apartment much, and I tried to make sure I didn’t keep to any patterns. Leaving always left me feeling vulnerable. It was when someone would have the easiest time getting into my place, and it meant being out in the open myself. This wasn’t the worst part of Sofia, it wasn’t the Fakulteta slums, but it could still be dangerous. Not that I had been to or knew much of anything about the Falulteta area. Most everywhere has their hated minority that they push into crime and poverty. In Bulgaria it was the Romani people.
I made the mistake of allowing Reeds to decide on where I was going to stay, since Reeds was the one paying for the trip. I thought nothing of it until I arrived to find the small and old apartment building that I’d come to suspect was full of mold. I had no idea where Jack was staying. Possibly some five-star hotel in the middle of the city, or around one of the red-light districts. The one upside to it all was that at least we were not staying together.
The trip to the store was quick and without any incident, and I left with a couple bags filled mostly with energy drinks and snacks. It was on the way back that a strange but familiar sensation began to writhe within me. My legs stopped cold.
That abnormal and creeping feeling of being watched was back. It wasn’t the typical feeling I was used to when going out. Jack, I knew, occasionally had someone tailing me when I left my place. This was different. The first time I’d felt it was three days prior, two days before Jack came by. Sitting at my desk, the feeling seemed to suddenly slither into me causing shivers up my spine. My eyes couldn’t search around the room fast enough. I’d spent hours scouring the apartment, hoping to find a wiretap, a hidden camera, or really anything out of the ordinary that could explain the sensation. But I found nothing. All the while, I was tense, on edge, and half expecting some vile Lovecraftian creature to come slipping and crawling through cracks or from under the door.
And now it was back. I had to force myself to stop repeatedly searching the area around me. It was in my head, I told myself. It had to be in my head. These types of feelings are always just in one’s head. A feeling of paranoia developed from too much time in near isolation combined with continual stress and Jack’s recent threat. There was nothing watching me, or at least nothing that wasn’t normally watching me.
My hand clenched tight around my grocery bags, and I forced myself forward. I just had to make a simple walk back the rest of the way from the corner store and into my apartment. And then if need be, I would lock myself in and not leave it until I was on a plane back to America and far far away from Bulgaria, never to return.
My mind couldn’t help but drift to thoughts of the Bridge. We knew there were people on the other side of it. People who believed they could do magic. But if people could come through it, then what else could as well? I shivered.
The building entrance was just a few steps further. Then, as quickly as it came, the feeling was gone. I sprinted up the stairs in my apartment building, shakily opened the locks to my door, and fled into its safety. Letting out a breath, I took a moment to glance across the room and lock myself in. My bags dropped down to the floor with a rustle as I face planted myself onto the bed. I was going to go mad in this country.
I hated to admit it, but Jack was right. There was no escape here. Why I felt as though I needed to come, I had no clue. It had felt like an instinct, a sort of need that drove me. But after being here for two weeks it seemed more like a fool’s fantasy. The only way out was through Reeds, and he didn’t want something as simple as money. He wanted my services as a hacker.
With that thought, I made my way to my desk, only to find a letter sitting atop my keyboard. A letter with a curious golden wax seal.
I'm going to just apologize now for how slowly I'm writing this, just in case anyone ends up impatiently waiting for updates! I'm generally a slow writer either way, but I'm also taking my time with this story because of the fact that I'm trying to put a fair bit of effort into the characters and setting. Hopefully as things progress I might start putting up content more frequently, especially as I hopefully start to get a better idea of where the story is going. I'm still a bit undecided on that too lol. It'll be an adventure for all of us I suspect!
I've been quite enjoying writing this so far, even as slow going as its been, and hope most of you readers will like it as well! Though I'm sure there is plenty of room for improvement.
As always, feedback is welcome,
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