Tally was the last to slip through the door and Sarah sealed it shut behind her, murmuring a quick seed to soundproof it from the inside. When the others stormed the facility and the attack began in earnest, it wouldn't hold forever, but it should buy them enough time to get the files on President Silver from Alban Hearst's computer.
The funny thing about evil men, they were always looking for leverage on one another. Hearst's contingency plan would be Silver's downfall and, with it, his own link to the Oval Office. If everyone on their team had their way, Hearst himself would be dead by nightfall. If not, he would be brought to justice one way or another.
Hearst's study was quaint — in that 'homicidal looney tunes' kind of way, where everything in it was subtly creepy and comically villainous. Carved oak bookshelves lined both walls, filled with dusty old volumes and various paraphernalia, much of it Nazi-like and coupled with several sculptures of the witch trial hangings on display. A fitting space for a spiteful psychopath, as was the lighting — the windows were cloaked with massive tapestries used in place of drapes, most of them sporting the same bigoted insignia as everything else in the room. The air was thick and musty, which added to the heavy silence suddenly weighing down three sets of shoulders as they sealed themselves inside.
Tally took one look around the room with her Sight and wanted to crawl right out of her skin. The sooner they hacked his computer and got what they needed, the sooner she could boil herself to feel clean again.
Outside, the hallways were quiet and clear. No nagging alarms tugged at her subconscious — they had time.
Satisfied that there was no immediate danger, Nicte exchanged a fleeting nod with Sarah and took watch by the door, resting a hand on her scourge should anything come through after them. She was out of practice when it came to hardcore hand-to-hand after so many years abroad but there was nothing like crushing some skulls to get a girl back into war games shape.
Sarah was first to Hearst's computer behind the presidential-style desk, though not for lack of trying on Tally's part. Tally could honestly say there was no stranger sight in the world than watching Sarah Alder settle into a high-backed chair that wasn't her own and reach out to adjust an oversized computer monitor. She kept fidgeting and looked as though she would be more comfortable on display in the Salem museum than here in this room. Beautiful, but strange.
The sight of Sarah in all her awkward glory did make Tally smile to herself and a tiny flutter interrupted her focus on the mission. Mere weeks ago she'd never thought she would see Alder again; now she was given the chance to muse at something so out of character it felt like a completely different universe. If they were alone, she probably would have said something, but unfortunately current company wasn't the type to openly flirt around.
Sarah and authority paired well, that was for sure. Tally had always found her to be a force when seated in her office at Fort Salem. Something as simple as a hunk of metal and microchips plunked in front of her turned that vision upside down, where it could just as easily have been a scene from a late night comedy sketch. Sarah was nothing short of rigid and uncomfortable as she failed several times to change the angle of the seat back and grew more ornery with each passing second.
As far as starting points went, Tally wished this was going better.
It took everything inside of her not to cringe when Sarah failed to settle quickly. They needed to be in and out, and as much as she trusted Sarah's judgment in their plan as a whole, she did not hold a lot of confidence in her computer skills. Sarah had proudly avoided having one in her office all this time for a reason.
While Nicte guarded the entry and Tally fretted in silence, Sarah began rooting around the bottom of the seat for an adjustment lever.
"He has about as much style and sense of luxury as the Imperatrix when she uses my office," she was mumbling under her breath, seemingly nonplussed about their narrowing time gap. "The woman insists on adjusting my chair every time she bulldozes her way in and takes over for a week. Never the same again after she's done with it."
Nicte paced in front of the door like a wild cat waiting to spring and ended up doing a double take when she noticed Alder fiddling with the chair. "Really? We're not here for an ergonomic assessment, Sarah, just get the files," she hissed, irritated and on edge already without the added stressor of time.
Sarah made a show of ignoring Nicte and pulled the lever she found on the bottom cushion — promptly plummeting to eye level with the desk and barely avoiding clipping her chin. The lever clanged and sent Nicte into a mild panic at the entry. It took Sarah a couple of jump starts before she was upright and level with the screen again.
Tally cringed and thought about offering to help, but Nicte was impatient enough for the both of them. "You sure you don't want me to…?" Tally started, stepping in and awkwardly hovering near the keyboard. She prayed the Goddess had bestowed Sarah with a sense of humility upon her return and gave her the ability to let go of her pride for once in a very long lifetime.
Such was not the case.
Sarah was quick to brush the gesture aside, squashing Tally's dreams of a quick getaway. "I am perfectly capable of servicing this machine, Craven," she said evenly, and Nicte didn't hide her snort too well. Blue eyes cut to the door and anyone with common sense would have been cowed.
Nicte released a haggard sigh, waving at the desk instead. "Can we just get this over with, please? Not everyone here has four-hundred years to live."
Tally took the opportunity to lean down and hit the power button while Sarah was busy glowering at Nicte, averting the first crisis she could think of. The desktop fired up slower than Sarah aged, drawing on all their patience while static crackled and circuits whirred in the monitor, loud enough in the otherwise silent room for Nicte to keep glaring as though it would be their downfall.
Tally and Nicte were on edge for a good two minutes. General Alder folded her hands casually in her lap, as though she planned to read the latest chain letter forwarded by Petra Bellweather, nevermind find a war-breaking document or two. Her indifference to danger was harrying Nicte and the strides of the Spree founder's pacing increased.
A dial-up tone filled the room and all three witches held their breath. Nicte looked ready to slam her scourge into the machine if someone so much as sneezed outside the door. She exchanged a silent, painful stare with Tally as Sarah fiddled with her shirt sleeves, and eventually returned her attention to the door, if only to keep Sarah from noticing the internal scream that was all too obvious in her eyes.
They were finally on reasonable terms. Nicte didn't want to undo it all by throttling Sarah to death when she lost her nut. This 'trying to be a better person' bullshit was a lot of work.
Tally heaved a sigh of relief when the login screen appeared and Alder was immediately able to bypass it using the Seed of Reveal for his password. "Look for emails and see if he's saved any encrypted documents," Tally suggested, pointing to the Office folder.
Alder picked up the mouse, giving it a good shake to loosen the roller ball first, and guided it slowly across the screen — so slowly that Nicte physically had to swallow back a noise – and clicked on a Word document instead of the email icon next to it. Tally blanched.
"No, you need to click h–"
Sarah held up a hand and cut her off, scowling, and Tally died a little inside. She curled her fingers together and dropped them away again. Every bit of this was testing her patience; she was just better at containing it than Nicte.
Again, Sarah tried clicking once and waited a full second before clicking again. Tally drummed her fingers against the back of the chair. "Faster — you need to double click faster."
"I am." Sarah repeated the motion too slowly for the computer to pick up on. She frowned and tilted her chin up. All that was missing was a pair of glasses dangling from her ears with a gold chain and the image would have been complete.
Nicte rocked back and forth on her heels by the door, muttering 'Oh my god' under her breath a few times and casting her eyes to the ceiling, begging a higher power for patience.
Finally a true double click took place and another ten seconds passed while Sarah located Hearst's main inbox. Tally huffed her relief when it opened without issue. One more wrong key and they might as well ring the dinner bell announcing their presence.
"Search for keywords, though he's probably using code if he's smart," she suggested, hunkering over Sarah's shoulder again and skimming the bloated inbox for signs of what they were after. Her Sight wasn't useless around technology but it didn't exactly flash red arrows over the emails they might need. Little tugs at her consciousness allowed them to pinpoint a few that seemed interesting.
While Sarah tried to navigate through the hundreds of unfiltered emails, she seemed to decide every single one required a double click of its own. The sense of foreboding in Tally's gut expanded with the uncomfortable knowledge that the painful part was nowhere near finished yet. "No, you just…you need to click on those once to preview, otherwise it opens the whole thing."
"You said to double click."
"Yeah, but that's — that was different. Single click here."
Nicte made a noise. Both Tally and Sarah ignored her until Sarah got the rhythm down.
"Use the suspected IP we found," Nicte offered from across the desk where she popped up like a gopher, abandoning her post in favour of speeding things along. She had to close her eyes when Alder blinked over the screen at her, as if her words spilled out backwards, in Mothertongue, and with a weird accent.
Goddess forgive, it took Nicte every last ounce of restraint not to leap across the desk at her former adversary. "The numbers, Sarah," she snapped, palms digging into the wooden surface as she leaned heavily against it, "isolate the numbers and run a search for — fuck, why am I bothering – Tally?"
"She's fine," Tally groaned, resting a hand on Sarah's shoulder and wishing she believed a word of her own lie. "We have a few minutes, just relax."
Nicte rolled her eyes so hard she saw the back of her own brain and ripped away to continue pacing. "We're gonna fuckin' die," she hissed under her breath.
Alder frowned at the screen and, for all intents and purposes, waved the cursor around uselessly for a minute or two. Tally crunched down on her bottom lip and the drumming of her fingers picked up on the back of the chair again, impatiently holding out for her to locate the search bar one more time.
Nicte lost it at the single-finger typing after that, punctuated with the occasional pause because Sarah-fucking-Alder couldn't find the 'S' key. She turned to face the wall and dropped her forehead loudly against the door frame.
"No need for the dramatics, Nic," Sarah said stiffly, tilting her head up and staring down her nose as though the backlight was hurting her eyes. She scrolled a few times and signaled the slightest bit of progress with a mouse click once every fifty years.
"Oh my goddess, Sarah, sometime this century," Nicte burst out, earning a sharp glare from her ex-girlfriend and pleading 'please stop' eyes from Tally next to her. Nicte couldn't hold back anymore and stormed over to wedge in behind the desk with them, ditching the scourge in favour of batting Sarah's hands unceremoniously out of the way. "I'm gonna have to Biddy Tally by the time we get out of here if you don't move," she snapped at her.
"Nicte," Alder growled, planting her feet when Nicte tried to roll her away and shove in front of the computer herself. "I am the General of the United States Army, three-hundred years running, I am perfectly capable of–"
"–we don't have time for you to–"
"–always such a disrespectful little shit–"
Tally closed her eyes and felt her soul leave her body.
She very much wished she was on Raelle's team right about now. Then these two could kill each other and all of witchkind would already be dead, which meant this experience would be over.
Nicte finally succeeded in shoving Alder out of the way and bent over in her place, fingers flying across the keyboard and drawing ire from the woman she'd displaced. She completed the search and narrowed down the file list coming from DC's IP address, as well as a few other tricks she'd mentioned that Tally didn't really understand at the time.
It was over and done with after a few minutes, and Tally couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief. Sarah cut her a sharp glare as though the noise itself was a betrayal.
"Here." Tally produced a floppy disc and shoved it at Nicte, working really hard to ignore the General's silent fuming between them where she remained seated and with both arms crossed like a stubborn child. Albeit, one with the air of a lioness ready to attack the next person who insulted her intelligence, but frustratingly juvenile nonetheless.
"Copy over what you can and forward the rest to the address we had set up," Tally continued. "With any luck, Scylla can access those remotely and release them to the media if we can't get the hard copies out alive."
Sarah's brow ticked but she otherwise didn't let on that she had no idea what any of that meant. Tally mustered up a supportive smile and touched her arm.
"Suppose we could always pick up the computer itself and jump out the window," Nicte murmured as she prepared to export the files. "It would be more fun than this."
Distant sounds of a scuffle came from behind the door, causing all three women to pause and glance up. The fight was inside the building now, which meant their minutes to act had probably dwindled.
"Click and drag to here," Nicte instructed as she shoved the mouse at Tally and bent down to slam the floppy disc into the modem — except she didn't see a port for it. The computer was relatively new and a series of smaller ports adorned the front, all about one-eighth the size of what she needed. "What fucking shit is this?"
Sarah didn't bother to hide her arrogant smirk, brief as it was, while she watched Nicte fuss about underneath the desk. "I thought you knew what you were doing?"
Nicte shot her a dirty glare and refocused on the modem, climbing under the desk so she could get a look at the back of it. "Shut up and let me figure this out."
The hallway noises grew louder. Tally might as well have been invisible while the two of them argued over who was a lesser ancient being and who hadn't figured out a search bar or USB yet.
Abigail would never let her hear the end of this. The two women she had been orbiting for months now and they might as well have been a thousand years old combined.
Tally finally lost her patience at the bickering. "Oh my goddess, both of you shut up!"
Sarah whipped her head around and Nicte cracked hers on the bottom of the desk when she tried to stand up too fast. Tally growled loudly, ripping every drawer in Hearst's desk open and tossing things around until she found a USB key, then shoved Sarah's chair into Nicte so it knocked them both out of the way.
Nicte fumed and Sarah wasn't much happier, but they kept their mouths shut and moved over to give her space. Nicte crossed her arms and scowled, unknowingly matching Alder's stance beside her.
If they weren't about to get shot at, Tally would've stopped to take a picture as evidence. A little humility would do them both some good.
Tally fiddled until the USB fit into the machine and immediately started dragging the files and emails Nicte had located. She completely ignored the petulant children beside her who wouldn't stop shooting each other nasty looks.
Screams and gunshots approached their position. While the files were transferring, a body thumped against the door, held back by Alder's reinforcement seed.
Nicte pushed her jacket out of the way and drew her scourge again, and Sarah inhaled a long, deep breath, preparing to strike down whoever came in first.
Both of them rounded the desk and gave Tally some cover to finish up. There was no question their differences were easily put aside when it came to her safety — something that would have been more comforting had they not been eyeing each other up and not so subtly trying to be the one providing her main cover.
Tally wondered if they were always this bad, competing and sniping and generally trying to prove who had the bigger guns between them, or if it was just for her.
She rolled her eyes at the showboating and had just finished transferring the files when the door vibrated with another body bouncing against it. She pocketed the data and drew around to the front of the desk with the others, standing side by side and at the ready.
"Finally, something you two are good at," Tally quipped, earning herself a set of glares that she ignored as she drew her scourge. "Remind me to keep it analog for you both if we survive until Yule."