I have a job for us.
Harper shook her head in amusement and texted back.
Come have breakfast with us and tell us properly, AJ.
Half an hour later, the door to the kitchen opened slowly and AJ popped a sheepish head around the door. The other three were still lounging at the table, in PJs and slippers, enjoying a leisurely cup of tea. Faith took her feet off the spare chair and gestured for AJ to join them.
“You took your sweet time,” Ahmed said as he pushed a box of cereal across the table.
“I was in the middle of something,” AJ explained as he poured himself a bowl, “You guys wouldn’t understand.”
“More likely we wouldn’t care,” Faith said as she plonked her feet back in AJ’s lap. He gave her a brief glare but said nothing.
“So, what’s the job?” Harper asked impatiently.
“A friend of mine messaged that someone’s been hacking computers all over town. Private businesses, council offices, all sorts. His company are specialists in internet security but they can’t work out what’s going on. Ergo, he called me.”
“You’re better than a whole company of specialists plus all the other tech support that will have been used?” Faith asked teasingly.
“I am,” AJ replied with a shrug as he started to eat his breakfast, “Tim wants me to go work for them but I always say no.”
“Why?” Ahmed asked, “It’s got to be better money than you make here.”
AJ pulled a face, “Regular office hours, accountability, seriousness, having to talk to actual people...”
“Oi, what are we?”
“Irregular people,” Harper interrupted, “Now, can we please get on with it?”
“Yeah, so I had a look into it last night and its definitely not a regular hack. Whoever did it isn’t bypassing security, they’re completely ignoring it,” when AJ saw their blank looks he added, “Harper can pick a lock and open the door but Heresy just goes straight through the door as if neither it nor the lock existed. Get me?”
“It’s supernatural?” Ahmed asked, “What are they after though?”
“As far as I can tell, nothing,” AJ frowned, “I think they’re just doing it for fun. It’s as if all the computers woke up one morning and decided Egyptian hieroglyphs would be a neat font.”
“So, we’re dealing with something from ancient Egypt?” Harper asked.
“That was just an example,” AJ continued, “It’s been all sorts of... Faith, if you’re going to use me as a footstool then stop wiggling... all sorts of different issues. One company found that someone had changed all their maths from base ten to base thirteen. This morning, our local councillor’s documents opened as video files of cats. Cats who were accurately reading the contents of the documents.”
“Are you sure it isn’t...?” Harper started suspiciously.
AJ interrupted with a shake of his head, “First thing I checked. It wasn’t Heresy. I know his footprints as well as I know my own hard drives.”
“You caught Heresy, can you tell what it is this time?”
“No. Whatever it is, it’s long gone by the time I’m accessing the computer.”
“You haven’t left the house, mate,” Ahmed pointed out.
AJ gave him a withering look and answered coldly, “I don’t need to.”
“But there might be physical evidence,” Ahmed protested.
“Or we might catch them in the act if we can predict the next target,” Harper pointed out.
“Hence ‘a job for us’,” AJ said in exasperation, “Normally you guys would be surplus but I have reason to believe there is a physical element to the hacks.”
“You know where it’s going to be?” Faith asked.
“I have an idea,” AJ said, “We should all go. Well, minus the little hacking freak.”
“Don’t refer to yourself in the third person,” Ahmed said.
“You know what I meant,” AJ said as he kicked Ahmed under the table, “I’m outta here, I have stuff to finish up ready for tonight. We know the hacks happen around midnight so be ready to leave here by twenty-three hundred. Harper, bring the lock picks.”
“Yes, Sir,” Harper gave him a mock salute. AJ pushed Faith’s feet onto the floor and stalked out, taking his half-eaten breakfast with him.
“Don’t forget to bring back the bowl,” Harper called after him but the only response she got was the slamming of his door.
“AJ is so delightful when he joins us for breakfast,” Faith commented as she made herself comfortable again.
“Well, I’ve got to get ready for work. I’ll see you guys tonight unless something juicy comes up earlier,” Ahmed stood as well, depositing his bowl in the sink.
“Please don’t say ‘juicy’ in relation to crime scenes,” Faith begged, “Some of us are still eating.”
“Don’t you have work today as well, Fai?” Harper asked with a smirk.
Faith’s eyes widened as she checked her watch.
“Shoot. Guess I better hurry too. Hey, Ahmed, give a girl a lift?”
“No chance,” Ahmed called back as he hastily left the room, “You’ll make me late. Sorry, Faith, gotta run.”
Faith stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Harper alone with her tea.
“Guess I’m the only one not working this weekend,” she said to herself.
At exactly eleven that evening AJ, Harper and Ahmed gathered in the lounge.
“Where’s Faith?” AJ asked testily, “She’s late.”
“You forgot the rules,” Ahmed grinned, “Always tell Faith to meet half an hour before you actually want her to be anywhere.”
“I have to set up when we get there,” AJ started pacing irritably.
“Don’t worry,” Ahmed flopped onto the couch, “If she doesn’t show in a few minutes we can always go without her.”
“Go without whom?” Faith asked as she swung around the door to peer down at Ahmed.
“Faith, you’re supposed to be ready to go,” Harper grabbed her sister’s hand and started to pull her out of the room but Faith slipped from her grasp.
“I am ready to go,” she protested.
Harper eyed her footwear doubtfully.
“I’m ready to go,” Faith repeated.
“Can we please just get out of here,” AJ broke in, grabbing both women by the arm and spinning them towards the door, “Heresy, open the door.”
“And where are we all going on such a dark evening?” Heresy asked pleasantly from his home in the front door peephole.
“Out,” AJ said shortly, “You stay here and watch the house.”
The door opened with a deep and sorrowful sigh. AJ kicked it on his way past, dragging Harper and Faith with him. Ahmed sat on the couch for a moment then got up with a sigh and slouched after them.
They parked a couple of blocks from the office AJ had identified as the next likely target. The building was dark save for small points of green emergency lighting which gave the structure an eerie glow. AJ settled down with his back to a tree at the edge of the parking lot.
“Keep your eyes open,” he warned.
“Thanks for the advice,” Faith said rolling hers, “Keep our eyes open. Never would have thought of that, hey Harp? Because we’ve never done this before.”
“Shush,” AJ said, “I will keep an eye out technologically. You guys are here to ambush any physical intruder. Just in case.”
“We’re your bodyguards,” Harper supplied.
“So why am I here?” Ahmed asked.
“Fodder,” Faith replied with an evil grin, “C’mon Harp, let’s check the exits then find some good ambush point to lie low.”
Faith pulled a small crossbow out of the bag as she spoke, fastening a belt of bolts around her waist. Harper drew her machete.
The area around the building was as quiet as was to be expected. Then AJ’s hushed voice came through the radio.
Harper watched over AJ’s shoulder as he typed, the flashing occult symbols as meaningless to her as the actual code.
“Anything physical?” she asked, “Faith’s getting bored.”
“They seem to be in the computer system. Now shush,” AJ admonished.
“In the computer, hmm...”
Harper took a piece of chalk out of her pocket and started to draw on the back of AJ’s laptop.
“What are you...? I don’t have time for vandalism, Harper,” he muttered, his eyes still locked on the streams of code.
Harper placed her hand on the sketch, murmuring a few words quietly to herself. The symbol glowed vibrantly.
“Get ready,” she warned, taking a step back. Faith pulled out a tranquilliser gun and stood behind AJ, ready for whatever might come out. Ahmed stepped behind a nearby tree.
All of a sudden, a small creature burst out the back of the laptop and flopped to the floor, looking confused. It was only about a foot high, with a bald, swollen head and spindly limbs. It rolled up into a ball, it’s knobbly fingers clasped around a bulbous stomach as if it was in pain.
“Aww, it’s just a small... Ow!” Harper reached over to pat it and pulled back sharply as pointed teeth snapped at her fingers.
The circle glowed again.
“Uh oh,” Ahmed whispered.
A second goblin-like creature, similar to the first but with straggly hair, plopped out of the summoning circle. It grabbed the first one and dashed under a bush.
“Catch them,” Harper shouted at Faith as the circle glowed again and a third creature fell out. The glow did not fade and soon it was followed by a fourth, fifth and sixth.
“Tie them up,” Faith suggested, as her dart thudded into the ground, narrowly missing her target’s legs. It gave a great belly laugh and pointed at her mockingly before darting away under another bush. Faith growled.
“With what?” Harper asked, “We should have brought a net. Ahmed? You could help.”
Ahmed just shrugged, “You seem to have things under control.”
Faith managed to snipe one of the creatures as it grabbed hold of Harper’s leg. It let go with a strange yowling noise and plucked the dart out. A broad tongue licked the point then the creature threw the dart away in disgust.
“Back to the crossbow it is then,” Faith muttered. If anything, the creature she had hit seemed more hyper than it was before. They were fast and laughed maniacally as they ran, pausing to grin with gleaming white fangs, always dodging Faith and Harper’s attempts to grab them.
Ahmed leaned against his tree and announced, “I have a body bag in the car if it would help.”
Both women paused and even AJ looked up from his computer.
“You do?” Faith asked with a worried glance at Harper.
“Of course he... Ow. You little f... Ow. Fai, help me.”
As soon as Harper had paused one of the creatures had taken advantage of her distraction and climbed swiftly onto her head where it clung onto her hair with gleeful malice, its sharpened fingernails digging into her scalp.
Faith managed to grab it by the waist but it clung to Harper, babbling incoherently.
“Will you hurry up?” Harper begged, kicking out at a second creature which was attempting to tie her boot laces together. “מרגיש לי כאילו האצבעות שלו בתוך המוח שלי”
Faith frowned and Harper paused, open mouthed, “?מה אמרתי”
Faith managed to wrench the creature off Harper.
“What are you saying?” she shouted and Harper stared back, wide eyed.
“אין לי מושג”
“We should get a linguist on the team,” Ahmed mused as he sauntered back, bag over his shoulder, “Here Faith, chuck that thing in here.”
Faith had the creature by the scruff of the neck and it hung helplessly, yabbering on in its own unknown language. She tossed it into the sack with a snort of derision.
“Don’t you dare let it out,” she warned Ahmed.
“This is why I don’t do fieldwork,” AJ muttered to himself before adding louder, “I’m done here. I think I’ve worked out a patch for the system which will stop them hacking it again.”
“You can help us round them up then,” Faith said.
“Nah, I’ll wait in the car,” AJ finished, closed his laptop and left with a casual wave over his shoulder.
“תחזור לפה עכשיו ומיד, AJ”
“At least start looking up how to fix Harper,” Faith called after him and he gave her a backwards thumbs up.
After much stress and multi-lingual swearing, Harper, Faith and Ahmed managed to get all six of the creatures safely bagged. Confined in the bag they stayed relatively quiet, cuddling together and whispering with intermittent giggling.
Harper sat down on the floor with a sigh, “?מה נעשה איתם I don't want to banish them where I sent the cow-eater. Oh.”
“At least it was only temporary,” Faith observed, sitting next to the sack.
“Thank goodness,” Harper added fervently, “So what do we do with them?”
“Send them to the Zookeeper?” Ahmed suggested.
“I don’t want those things in my house,” Faith said, but her harsh tone did not match with the careful pat she gave the bag, “Are you prepared to do the run tonight? I’ll come with. I’ll even help with the driving.”
“You so much as lay one finger on my steering wheel...” Ahmed started with a horrified look then glanced at Harper who was laughing.
“Okay, I fell for it,” he admitted, “but I will do the run tonight. You can keep me company, Faith, I know you enjoy a trip to the Zookeeper’s. You coming, Harper?”
“Sure...” Harper started but Faith cut her off.
“Nope. You have a big day tomorrow. You need your beauty sleep. And you really, really need it, Harp.”
Harper rolled her eyes, “Thanks Mum, I’m sure it will be fine. I can always nap in the back seat on the way home.”
“Okay, roadtrip,” Ahmed rubbed his hands together and grinned, “Let’s get these in the boot and see if AJ wants to come too.”
“Ten bucks says he doesn’t,” Faith replied.
“I’ll take that and raise you five that he not only comes but lets me use him as a pillow on the way back,” Harper countered as the three of them carefully lifted the bag between them.
“Bet you another five he’s so wrapped up in his computer that he won’t even notice,” Ahmed added.
Late the next morning a very tired Ahmed went to bed a lot richer than he had been when he woke up twenty-four hours previously.