Title: "Up and Apart"
Rating: PG (language)
Characters: S. Flynn and J. Bradley
Summary: Even the closest of brothers grow up...and sometimes grow apart.
Disclaimer: Monolith Games and Buena Vista Interactive came up with Jet, Disney proper owns the rest.
Note: This is an attempt to do a canon mash-up between 2.0 and Legacy, so I've had to fudge some details in regards to the fate of Lora Baines-Bradley. This also postulates that 2.0 and Legacy both happen in 2010.
When they work together, it's the closest someone can get to being a single mind in two bodies.
"Security guard on seven," Jet whispers through his microphone. "It's going to switch over to camera three-delta for about five seconds. That's all the time you'll get."
Strangers mistake them for brothers. Vicious rumors speculate they actually are. They're ten months apart in age with near-identical sets of cobalt-blue eyes, a connection with computers that freaks out seasoned code jocks, and a knack for trouble that's landed them both in the LA County lockup a few times.
And tonight is theirs; The Great Flynn Show, Version 2.0, coming once a year to Encom HQ with surprise guest Jethro Bradley...
"Got it," comes the thin whisper.
Time to give Thorne something else to worry about. Routing the signal through an anonymous filter application and remote-accessing the terminal of one of the guys in Facilities who forgot to log off. No matter how good the security systems you can put in a computer, the end user is still the weakest link in the chain, especially the type of end user who considers computer illiteracy to be a source of entirely misplaced pride. Just remote in, use the administrator password they never bothered to change, and...
"I'll give them a distraction. Running an unexpected test on the fire alarm system."
He can hear Sam's sniff through the Bluetooth. "How cliche."
"Hey, if it works."
They grew up together and discovered all the usual ways a pair of boys could find trouble. From daring each other into sneaking into an abandoned factory at age eight (which ended with a broken arm for Sam), creating fake IDs to get backstage at a Zeromancer concert, and egging each other on in a street race between his BMW and Sam's Ducati (which landed them in the LA County lockup, but Jet is still a little proud of the fact he won that race). After Sam's grandfather died and his grandmother's health declined, he and Jet lived in the same home from age fourteen to college. Sam went Caltech (and dropped out Junior year), while Jet graduated UCLA. During the summers and breaks, they were back to being a pair of kids looking to see how far they could push themselves and each other – always in sync, always a team.
Six months prior, Jet apparently traded in his hell-raising days for a steady paycheck and adult responsibilities. He hadn't wanted to work in the same company as his father, but with the economy being in the skids, he swallowed his pride and got a job coding levels and drawing concept art for Encom's game division. He focuses on his job and has even come to really enjoy it.
It's the rest of the company that makes him grit his teeth. He's slow to anger. That part he gets from his parents. Dad puts up with too much bullshit up in the boardroom, where the executives trot him out like some old mascot and call him obsolete behind his back. Jet wants nothing to do with the power-jockeying and backstabbing. Dad just can't get that. After Mom's accident and permanent relocation to DC, it just kept getting worse between them. They can be in the same room sometimes and feel like they're on different planets.
A distant part of Jet knows what he's doing would really upset his dad, but he pushes that down for the moment.
"Sam, where are you?"
"Maintenance Stairwell." Sam's breath is quicker now, and there's the sound of tennis shoes on concrete. For as many times as he's done this, Sam hasn't figured out how to sneak around properly. Good thing that old stairwell is made of concrete and doesn't have cameras. Facilities keeps talking about installing them, but then everyone forgets.
"Watch the noise," Jet warns. "They'll hear you even through the wall. What floor?"
Jet does the mental calculations. Why was this so much easier last year?
"Deepak is burning the midnight oil, so you might get caught. Try floor nine. No one's working there, and if you use that key you stole on five, then the closet just left of the stairwell has a janitor's cart. All the better if you want to look like you belong there."
"Did you memorize this building or what?"
"You want that answer, Sam?"
Silence. Guess Sam didn't want the answer.
After he started working at Encom, Jet went looking for all the places where he could take a laptop or sketchpad and not get interrupted. The downside was that the office gossips took advantage of the same places. They'd forget he was there, and Jet would learn things in lowered voices and snide words; mergers and acquisitions, a build that was going out to the customer with critical bugs just to get it out by deadline, people who were shopping their resumes under the boss's nose, who was sleeping with who...
When the rumors loop back to the people he loves, it hurts. Every laughing dismissal of Alan Bradley as a clueless old fossil, every mention of Roy Kleinburg as a pathetic loser spinning wild conspiracy theories, every time some old-school programmer or developer sighed and said Old Man Gibbs would be spinning in his grave, and especially when those rumors about his mother, father, and Uncle Kevin come up...
That's why he was here. After all, Sam's annual stunt was never overtly malicious, just a little prank on the people in Encom who had traded innovation and imagination for what was profitable and cheap. Those who understood approved, those who didn't were the intended target. Not much different than slipping a picture of Bugs Bunny in a dull professor's tedious slide show.
Still, there was that part of him that knew this was a bad idea. No matter how much fun the annual prank was, it didn't change anything. If Sam really wanted to change things, he could just waltz in with his majority share and start laying down the law.
"Jet, quit daydreaming. Can you access the workstation in cube 9143?"
"9143?" Kolowski's desk. Guy had been working for Encom since 1995, crawled his way to middle management, and was as clueless as it got. He was the kind of money-focused, business-school cliche that upper management loved, but would never be dumb enough to promote higher. "Sure thing. Three cheers for picking that one."
As the remote access protocol brought up the login for Sam, Jet let out a sigh and rubs the back of his neck. In the movies and TV shows, the "voice with an Internet connection" worked out of an unmarked van somewhere in the parking garage, not sitting in a smoker's shed with a laptop and smartphone, both loaded with a ton of home-brew hacking apps. It reeks of stale cigarettes and rotting lunches in here. Their bikes are parked down the street, all the better not to be obvious, but it will make quick escape a real pain.
"I'm trying to brute-force my way into the server. Little help here?"
"Working it," The algorithm was like a slot machine, twisting through the encryption like a paperclip sliding tumblers in an old lock. "We're good."
"Uploading. You wanna know what it is?"
"Less I know the better. I'll find out when everyone else does."
He can almost see Sam's disappointment. "Jet..."
Jet's already feeling antsy. He really shouldn't be doing this, but Sam is the one guy in the universe who fundamentally gets it. They're both walking in their fathers' shadows, recreating a drama that played out well before they were born. They both have this love-hate relationship with Encom and all it gives and takes. No matter how much they try to pull away, the legacies and the company pull them back.
Jet adjusts his glasses and dares to look up. Shit – security guard by the door. Quickly, he slams the laptop closed, and crouches deeper in the shed, beneath the ugly green metal panel. He sucks in his breath and hopes he wasn't spotted. When he dares to look up, the slightly paunchy guard has pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
Oh, great. The guard turns and Jet knows it's his only shot. Taking a deep breath, he mentally calculates the distance to the dumpster. Sam's squawking into his earpiece, but Jet is focused on the guard.
It took many teenaged nights of crawling out windows and crashing concerts to figure out the proper way to sneak. The trick is to wear soft-soled shoes and move as slowly as you dare. Duck, deep breath...Go!
By the time the guard turns around, pack and lighter in hand, Jet is already behind the dumpster.
"Bradley, where the fuck are you?"
"Shh!" Jet whispers.
The guard strolls into the shack and puffs away. The second part to sneaking around is to wait for the right moment. All the tricks to minimize noise aren't any good if they're looking your direction. As long as the guard doesn't look directly at the dumpster, Jet is okay.
From here, he could see who it is - Amos Washington, the guy who usually worked the late shift, came out of the Gulf War with nerve damage, and spent years sick. Now, he was working Encom at night to try and pay his bills while arguing with the VA all day. Thorne treats him like an afterthought because the night shift wasn't considered important.
Jet feels his gut twist. Amos wasn't a friend, but he wasn't anyone Jet wanted to cause trouble, either. Even if he and Sam got away with this, would Thorne fire Amos as retaliation?
After Amos finishes his cigarette, he stretches and walks back in the building. Jet puffs out a breath. That was way too close. Before he worked here, he could hang around with a laptop and not get recognized. Now that people saw him around Encom's campus and knew who he was...
This whole stunt? Phenomenally bad idea.
He has the mental image of his father staring at him over his spectacles, and the words "Jethro Eugene Bradley, I'm very disappointed..." When it comes to his dad, "disappointed" covers a lot of things other people use four-letter bombs to express. And as much conflict he has about walking in his father's shadow, Jet doesn't want to hurt him.
With a sigh, he sinks down to sit on the ground. "Sam, you live?"
"Yeah. And file's loaded. Thanks for nothing."
"Shut up," Jet mutters.
"Never fucking mind, then. I'll find the way out myself."
"Sure, cop an attitude." He loves Sam, but God, he can be a dick sometimes. Jet sighs and pictures the building layout in his head. "Maintenance stairwell, cross five, and then down to the parking garage."
"Use the smart phone app," Jet grumbled. "And meet me back at the club."
Jet turns off the earpiece and shuts off the laptop. If he hurries, he still had a clear shot to the bike.
Sorry, Amos. I hope Thorne doesn't fire you, because this isn't your fault...
The club is this hole in the wall clear out in Anaheim. The place is dark, mostly anonymous, and no one asks questions. It's a favorite with celebrities and drug dealers alike – a place to ditch the notoriety for a few hours. Jet's nursing his gin and tonic while Sam's on his second boilermaker.
"And here's to another successful annual check-in," Sam says, downing the shot, followed by a sip of the beer. He pats Jet on the back. Sam's always been tactile. Uncle Kevin was the same way. "Thanks for being at my back, Jet."
Jet says nothing, but returns the gesture. Why does he feel so bad about a success?
"We got out before the cops got called. That's better than last year."
Jet shrugs and pushes his glasses up. "I almost got caught. The guard outside was someone who would have recognized me."
"Did you get caught?"
"No. Ducked behind the dumpster," Jet answers. "Sam, why are we doing this?"
"Why? Seriously, Jet? All the time, I hear about how the upper management is screwing the customers and programmers, and when we actually do something about it, you look like someone shot your dog."
Jet takes a drink. The tonic is pleasantly bitter, and fits his mood. "What we did won't help. Thorne's going to be pissed."
"Let him be pissed. You always said that guy is a petty tyrant with delusions."
"He might take it out on some of the guys who were on shift. It's not their fault – we were the ones who broke in."
Sam shrugs it off. Jet takes a large swallow to buy himself a second to calm down. A screaming match against Sam Flynn won't going to help any more than tonight's stunt will. It's like they've come to a fork in the road. Sam's taking one direction, but it's one Jet won't take with him – not anymore.
"Sam, if you want to change things at Encom, get in and change them. Walk into that boardroom, look those jerks in the eye, and call them on their bullshit. I've had it with this sneaking around. People are going to get hurt."
"I'm dead serious. This was fun for the first couple years out of college, but it's not right. It's a joke. It doesn't change what needs to get changed and doesn't help who it needs to help. Meanwhile, I'll show up at work on Monday and pray I still have a job Tuesday."
"What? Your old man scores you a job as a code monkey and suddenly you're drinking the company kool-aid?"
"I didn't want to work there at first, but I...I like it. I like the game division. They treat me like everyone else and they don't bother with the stupid rumor mill."
"I also know that the suits push you guys to roll out half-finished games, charge the end user fifty bucks for the privilege, and then have them pay three times the amount if they want the downloadable content that makes it playable," Sam fires back. "Do you want to hear the numbers on royalties they stiffed the old Tierra programmers when they bought the properties?"
"Tell me something I don't know," Jet grumbles. "And before you say anything about it; I know they'll probably do it to me eventually."
"Then why are you putting up with it?"
"Same reason you resort to code-kiddie pranks once a year instead of stepping up like you should be doing."
Sam scowls and slams his beer on the counter. "When did you turn into your old man?"
"Don't start. He's been pushing for me to take some level six position and I've had to 'disappoint' him." Jet grimaces. "Not looking forward to that lecture. Might be a moot point after tonight."
"They don't know that you've been my silent partner during my visits, do they?"
"Dad suspects it, but he doesn't have proof," Jet admits. "And I'm a little old to get grounded. But...things haven't been easy since...you know. It's like I'm losing him, and having to lie just makes it worse."
Sam nods and puts a hand on Jet's back, silent support and understanding. "Yeah."
"I guess part of me took the job so that I could keep an eye on him," Jet says.
"Understandable. Someone's got to look out for Alan. Glad you're up to it. So, same time next year?"
Jet winces, and Sam probably felt it. "No."
The hand's off his back, and Jet looks up from his drink to see Sam's face. It's almost physically painful to look into his eyes. His mouth's set in a firm line, trying to cover any sadness with anger. Jet gets it – anger's a lot easier than sadness. He'd like to be angry, too. Mom's accident almost killed her, and the docs in DC can't seem to do anything for her. Dad seems to be drowning in a job that takes more out than it's giving back, and now he's about to napalm the closest friendship he has.
"No, I'm not going to go in with the pranking, Sam, because I need more than that – Encom needs more than that. I need something that actually hits the people who are screwing us. I need something that makes the rumors go away, and to think about something other than Mom's body breaking down on her and Dad trying to kill himself with overwork. I need..." Jet stopped himself. "I need you at my back, Sam."
"I thought I was," Sam says harshly. He throws a twenty on the bar to cover his drinks.
"Don't worry. I'll keep your little secret. Wouldn't want Alan to get 'disappointed.' Enjoy the company kool-aid, Bradley."
Sam marches out the door, and all Jet can do is watch him leave. With a sigh, Jet finishes off the gin and tonic and requests a refill.
Growing up sucks. Growing apart sucks worse.