When Caleb had wisely noted during the noon meeting "It's not the best idea to send our top two organizers and both of our 'freelance consultants' out on the same raid," there had been a silent moment. Sending Mike, Julie, Ham and Chris together into a possible battle could conceivably leave them leaderless and without the useful connections and resources – not to mention training and strategy assistance – they'd only just achieved. A wise idea it was of course, but it raised the kind possibilities that none of them liked to consider. Taking one's own risk was one thing, but thinking about another's... well, that gave them pause.
"Julie, why don't you stay here this time," Ruby suggested. When Julie was about to protest, Ruby added archly, "You make better coffee than any of those tough guys. And if Willie and Angie are going to get to work right away, they're going to need lots of coffee."
Willie corrected, "I do not drink coffee, Ruby."
"Good, more for me," Angie declared.
According to the plan Mike, Caleb, Chris, and Ham would park the "custom mercenary" van around the corner, where the hedges and ornamental trees would provide some cover. Ruby, who would be "working" at the party, would take the passes from the safe in the upstairs study while she was "tidying up", and at the appointed time pass them to Donovan through a window in the wine cellar (after disconnecting its alarm jack). She had a fifteen second window of time to reconnect the alarm and return to work. Twenty minutes later she would return to the wine cellar and take back the passes, returning them to the safe later in the evening. She knew from her frequent presence in the house and from overhearing the many conversations between various Visitors and members of the household that the safe was seldom opened except to take out the passes at times of Visitor events that required them. If any trouble arose, Ham and Chris would offer firepower backup.
In the new rebel camp, the Old West existed cheek by jowl with a 1930's auto repair garage and a full-length, modern Amtrak passenger train that had been converted to housing as more rebels joined the camp. In the small compartment she and Angie now shared, Ruby was putting the finishing touches on her "work" makeup when she heard a knock at the door. She barely paused as she glanced in the mirror to see who was there.
"Why Mr. Tyler, what can I do for you? I believe your friend is still hard at work with Willie."
"Which is where she belongs. Okay if I come in for a minute?"
"Of course. I hope you don't mind if I continue 'fixing my face'." Ruby continued to apply a little nose putty and foundation, and darkened her eyebrows to match the wig she'd be putting on.
"It looks just fine to me," Tyler assured her with a smile as he sat down on a nearby chair. He liked Ruby; she was as straight-up as they came. She knew exactly what she was doing and what the risks were, and the reasons she did them she didn't need to explain to anyone. He'd heard she was handy with an Uzi as well, and that really impressed him.
She returned his smile in the mirror. "Now Mr. Tyler, you didn't come here to charm an old lady."
"I'll charm whoever I can." He let her finish her makeup before he continued. "I don't think I have to ask you if you're clear on everything for tonight."
She turned in her chair. "You're right, you don't. So why are you here?"
"Maybe I wanted to remind you to be careful." She gave him a narrow look so he noted, "I guess you don't believe I have it in me, do you?" Why should she? He was beginning to wonder himself why he'd come when she put her hand on his arm.
"I believe you have a great deal in you that people don't see because they don't bother to look closely enough. Though I suppose in your line of work that's for the best, isn't it? That must be why you try so hard to be stern and forbidding."
"It usually works," he noted wryly.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ruby admitted with a sigh, and squeezed Ham's arm briefly before letting go. "People deserve to have someone who'll bother to look closely enough to see what they have in them. Even you, Mr. Tyler, no matter what you've done that you wish you hadn't. Maybe you should try harder to know when to," she gestured at the table strewn with cosmetics, "remove the makeup?"
Understanding her perfectly, Ham regarded Ruby with an open expression. "I'm working on it Ruby. I'll let you know how it goes."
"I think Angie will, too." Ruby laughed at Ham's sudden awkwardness. "Why, you look just like a young man who's snuck in after curfew." When he relaxed, and even looked a bit sheepish, she suggested gently, "You both deserve to have someone who bothers to look closely enough to see what you have 'in you'. The way things are now, to waste any chance for that would be tragic."
They regarded one another silently for a moment, the hardened mercenary and the determined old lady, then Ham surprised Ruby by leaning down and kissing her cheek.
"Like I said, I'll let you know how it goes. We'll be watching your back tonight."
When he'd left Ruby settled her wig on her head, and her kerchief on top of that. "That makes two of us," she declared, and gathered her things to leave.
Julie set two mugs of fresh coffee on the table in the makeshift computer lab at the back of the saloon and sat down with Willie and Angie.
Angie was itching to jump on the copied passes as soon as the raiding party brought them back. She looked at her recently-acquired watch for the tenth time in the past few hours. Or maybe it was minutes.
"How long do these things usually take?"
Julie pushed the mug closer to her. "As long as they take. And no, you don't get used to it." She patted Angie's arm. "They've done this kind of thing a lot, they'll be back before you know it." My lips to God's ears, she added silently.
She thinks I'm angsting over Tyler, Angie thought to herself. She'd be ashamed to admit she wasn't all that concerned about his welfare; from what she knew so far he could do this kind of thing in his sleep, though she figured he wouldn't even blink until it was over. No, she was terrified that what she'd learned in her work with Willie regarding the symbolism of the Visitor language and its modification according to the context it was applied in – everyday, scientific, strategic – would evaporate from her brain if she waited too long to use it. Never mind that Willie would be right here to help, Angie wanted to use this new information right away to hardwire it into her memory as soon as possible. It had been a lifetime since she'd learned something absolutely new, and she was loving that, in spite of the situation.
"Sure, I just want to get started," Angie drummed her fingers on the table in frustration. She'd already drunk more coffee in the past few hours than she usually drank in several days, and it was beginning to show.
"Perhaps you should switch to decow," Willie suggested helpfully.
"Huh?" She'd been doing pretty well with Willie's tenuous grasp of English, but in Angie's currently wired-yet-exhausted state this one had her stumped.
"I think he means 'decaf'," Julie covered her smile politely. "Right, Willie?"
He nodded. "Coffee, without caffeine."
"Decaf, not 'decow'", Angie agreed with a wide grin. "That's okay Willie, your English puts my grasp of your language to shame." She looked at the mug and pushed it away. "And point taken."
Several hours later Willie had gone to feed the lab animals and Julie was checking in with Robert regarding the latest tests for a chemical agent that would affect the Visitors. Angie was nearly dozing at the table, and started so violently she almost tipped her chair over when Ham stormed in and slammed two copied passes on the table.
"Here," he glowered in a hard voice, "they'd better be worth it." He stomped out without another word, shoving past Donovan, Chris, and Caleb. Julie was running down the hall toward them, and as she passed Tyler she knew something had gone very wrong.
Angie was out of her seat. "What was that about?" She examined the passes, noting that the different colors denoted two security levels. "What did he mean, 'worth it'?"
She could see Donovan talking quietly with Julie, whose eyes widened as she covered her mouth with a gasp, then leaned her head on Donovan's shoulder. Chris looked grim faced, saying nothing as Caleb approached Angie. His stricken look made her feel queasy.
"What?" she asked. "You're all here, the passes are here, it must have gone okay, right?"
He was shaking his head. "Everything went as planned, Ruby got the passes and passed them to Donovan, and we got them copied and he got them back to her. But someone must have followed her back to the wine cellar the second time. Donovan heard someone yell 'what's going on there?' and Ruby told him to run, and slammed the window shut before he could try to get her out. He saw a disruptor flash, heard Ruby scream, and saw a couple more flashes. Then he ran like hell back to us, and we had to get out."
"Were you followed?" Julie asked as she came into the room, wiping her eyes.
"I don't think so," Caleb told her, "it looks like Ruby bought just enough time for Mike to get away clean, and after that they probably were all over the wine cellar looking for what was happening. They'll find the passes on her, but they'll probably think she didn't get a chance to hand them off to anyone."
Angie was out of breath, as if she'd been running for miles. "Are you sure they got Ruby?" The words sounded stupid even as she heard them leave her mouth.
"Yeah, Angie," Caleb told her, "no way she could have gotten out. There's nothing anyone could have done."
Angie strode past Caleb, Julie and Donovan and caught up with Chris, who was headed outside to return the contents of the van to storage. She grabbed his sleeve to stop him.
"What did he mean, 'they'd better be worth it'?" she demanded. "I didn't know this would happen!"
The big man's face was sadly understanding. "Nobody did. But he's taking it hard, I guess Ruby struck him special."
"Where is he?" She wanted to see him, to explain she didn't know this would happen.
Chris shook his head. "Leave him alone, Angie, he'll work it out himself. He always does."
To be honest, he didn't think it was a good idea for her to be around Ham until he did work it out. Things would get said that had no business being heard, and she'd be standing right in the line of fire.
Angie couldn't get it out of her head, the look on Tyler's face as he'd thumped the passes on the table in front of her. He looked… hateful. As if she'd bet Ruby's life on this, on purpose. She ran down the hall into the front room of the saloon and out into the street. After a moment's thought she knew where she'd find him, and headed for the munitions shed.
"It wasn't my fault." If I say it out loud, maybe more than once, I might really believe it.
As she waited for Tyler to tell her "I didn't say it was," something told her not to get too close to where he stood with his back to her, cleaning his gun. The parts were laid out in front of him, the cleaning brushes and rag and oil all in their places. From what she could see his hands were moving automatically, his head and back immobile. He hadn't even taken off his jacket. She stayed put in the doorway.
"You know I only planned this to help." God, it sounds like I'm begging.
He didn't turn, rigid as stone. Only his hands continued to move, cleaning one part at a time.
"They had a plan, and they'd used it before."
"But they'd have been looking for forged passes this time! You all agreed to that, and it was to minimize the risk, not increase it."
"Tell that to Ruby. If we ever find her body."
Angie inhaled a sharp gasp, as if he'd punched her. "Ham, I wanted to help."
Tyler stopped cleaning the gun part he had in his hands, put it down and raised both hands slightly as if to keep from throwing everything in reach across the room.
"You wanted to show off. You wanted to do it from the 'inside'. Well maybe if you had the guts to get outside the computer room and do it from the outside, and not fix what wasn't broken, nobody would have gotten killed tonight. And don't feel pressured to use my first name, we're not in bed now." His voice was colder and meaner than even the first time they'd met, when he'd shot up her car and nearly killed her.
"Fuck you, Tyler," she spat, in as cold a voice as she could manage. She wanted to sound as mean as he did, but that was beyond her reach right now because she couldn't help thinking he was right. As always, she'd waited to crunch the data while other people were putting their lives on the line. And losing them, while she lived to crunch data another day.
"Not now, I'm busy." He picked up another gun part and went on cleaning.
When she turned to escape Tyler's quiet rage she collided with Chris Farber. He didn't say anything, but his eyes said "I told you so." He stepped aside to let her pass and walked into the room to stand a few feet behind Tyler.
"That was harsh and ugly, brother."
"It's a harsh and ugly night."
"You remember starting special ops, that lecture on infiltration? You laughed your ass off and said a well-placed chunk of C4 and a good bulldozer can knock down more real estate than infiltration."
Silence from his partner, so he went on.
"And that special ops guy, what, fifteen years in even then? He said termites have knocked down more real estate than all the ordnance and bulldozers in history. Termites, man, they work quieter than ordnance, but they get the job done. Better, sometimes. They soften things up for the knockdown. What Angie's doing ain't no different than what Ruby did. You got no reason to stomp on her."
Still no answer from Tyler, but his hands were resting flat on the table.
"I'll finish up," Chris told him. "You take a walk."
As Tyler turned from the table and walked out he pressed Farber's shoulder briefly in passing.
"Don't mention it, bro," Chris told him as he set to work finishing the cleanup.