Chapter 1: A New Development
“So…what? You can’t get into their servers?” Galen asked me.
“No. Their cryptography algorithms are…well, magical. Even if I did have the correct codes, a semi-sentient Mind Arcanum-created A.I. is monitoring the system. My Trojans would get terminated quickly.” I replied.
“Try harder.” He ordered.
“You realize hacking isn’t pressing a bunch of random buttons on a keyboard, right?” I protested.” I had to phone a friend in Norway just so I could do a signal-bounce allowing me to evade them tracking my computer. Point is, I’m a hacker, not a wizard. Well, I’m a wizard, but that has nothing to do with this.”
“I want results, Boltzmann, not excuses.” And then my supervisor left.
I was currently looking at a screen full of code. In one hand, I had a massive textbook that could translate all of the cryptograms – because nobody human can just learn code, and damn it, you shouldn’t expect me to – and in the other hand, I had a cup of coffee laced with more than a little bit of red bull. Yes, I know the sheer amount of caffeine and table sugar is going to cut a solid thirty years out of my life span, but we all die someday, and I’ll keep thinking that mantra as I feed my crippling caffeine addiction.
Results. Not excuses. What an idiot.
Well, you know, it’s a demanding situation. With the Ministry of Mammon buying so much property, it’s only a matter of time until--
I closed my eyes and centered myself for a bit. There was no way I was going to let any voices in my head distract me from what I was trying to do. It was all in my mind. None of it is real. They’re not really there.
And then the voices hushed, still speaking, but in low, unintelligible whispers.
“Alright, he wants me to try and crack this? I’ll try and crack this. He’s paying me, after all. Time to mathematics the shit out of this.” I said to myself.
So I began solving problems, solving the puzzles, and writing down the long, complicated lines of advanced algebra. If I hadn’t been accustomed to this kind of work, I imagine I would’ve pulled my hair out and stomped out of the room, or transmuted my computer into plasma out of sheer anger. Yes, it’s a glorious job being a paper-pusher, truly.
Eventually, I managed to crack one of their algorithms and hack into their security cameras. Due to every camera within the city being connected to one server (what amateurs), I was able to access footage on every one of their facilities from the upper west side to the lower east. Flipping through the cameras, I could see everything was relatively normal. Practically enslaved workforce piecing together computers? Check. Beta testers chugging Mountain Dew and munching handfuls of Doritos? Check. Man, looking at that, I remarked about how we’ve gone from hairy monkeys…to hairless monkeys.
Then I saw it. In one of their facilities in the Neon Light District, the alarm was blaring, going off. The halls were splattered with blood, and bits and pieces of bodies were scattered about the floor. I was silent for a while, attempting to hold my lunch when I saw a figure slowly walking down the hall. The red light was too dim for me to see her features in full, but I could tell she was a woman by her graceful, willowy frame. As the red light flashed over her form again, I saw that she was wearing some kind of dress…a stylish kimono, maybe.
She stopped in front of the camera, and I saw her head turn to look up at it. I quickly moved to increase the contrast of the video so I could make out more details, but the woman raised a gun and shot the camera, destroying the feed.
I stayed silent for a bit after that. After my beat, I quickly pulled out my phone and called the Strategos of the Consilium.
“Found anything?” Galen asked.
“Yeah.” I replied. “We uh…have a big problem.”
The name’s Van Agteren. Gareth Van Agteren. That also isn’t my actual name because…well, I’m not just going to give my name to random people. You may know me as Boltzmann, which is my shadow name. If you’re reading this without being tormented by a hungry ghost, then congrats! You survived the ward! Either that, or I really need to work on my wards.
I’m a Citizen Agent in the Free Council. Well…on paper, at least. In practice, I’m a paper-pusher and IT Technician desk jockey to keep the grand bureaucracy that is the New Gregorian Consilium running. Most times, I’m just filling out and filing paperwork. Other times, I’m cracking cryptography algorithms or solving math problems to allow the Guardians to freely infiltrate enemy servers. Every once in a while, I actually go out on the field or get to do productive things like focus on my arcane studies or do cool technomagical things with Ars Nova.
That isn’t to say I don’t like my job, though. I like solving problems, and the paperwork is soul-sucking, but it isn’t bad if I just zone out and work like a machine. I particularly like the getting paid part; after all, my scientific career is pretty much ruined after an incident involving a more exotic interpretation of String Theory…
Anyway, final wrap-up: Yes, I am schizophrenic. I don’t know how this happened – after all, I wasn’t getting assaulted by voices in my head, like, three years ago – but it’s something I’ll just have to deal with. Sometimes life gives you shit and you just have to deal with it the best you can. Not that I know much about life in the first place; that would be Thyrsus’ shtick, and I’m just a Necromancer on the path of Doom, so I suppose that makes me more doom and gloom.
“Dressed in a kimono?”
“Did she have weapons?”
“I think? I might’ve seen a katana in her hand.”
“ It’s the Brotherhood of the Demon Wind...”
“That’s kinda racist.”
“How is that racist?”
“Just because she’s dressed as a samurai doesn’t mean she’s a wave-man. Besides, that’s just assuming she’s a mage, and there are other things that could’ve done this. Maybe she’s a really skilled werewolf. Or maybe she’s a sin-eater who’s geist was shogun or something.”
“…I’m still not seeing how this is racist here.”
“Well, more species-ist. Human supremacist? Xenophobic? Point is, doesn’t have to be a mage here. We’re not the kings of the universe or anything. And hey, we can admit that. We’re not like the Ladder, pretending that humans are the master race.”
“Okay, I refuse to be lectured about this—“
“Agent Boltzmann, who are you talking to?” Galen asked, making me suddenly notice that he was standing in front of me the whole time I was muttering to myself. Great. I just needed to make myself look more like one of the Mad.
“I apologize, sir.” I say quickly. “I was just…having…a telepathic conversation with a friend of mine.”
“I don’t sense a telepathic connection.” Galen said.
Why was I a Citizen Agent? I’m awful at lying.
“Anyway,” I quickly changed the subject, “Someone broke into Macroware’s northeastern facility and killed their guards. As we speak, she might be killing employees.”
Galen’s eyebrow arched. He sat down on his leather chair and tapped his fingers across his designer glass desk.
“…This is a new development. She isn’t Scelesti?”
I shook my head. “I replayed the footage. Saw no sign of any abyssal symbols on her, plus she was dressed in a fancy-looking kimono, and usually the cultists aren’t very…neat.”
I thought back to the horrible image of a Scelestus cult member eating the flesh of a dead Adamantine Arrow mage. Those Scelesti sure are charming people…
“Are we even sure she’s a mage?”
“No, sir. Do I have permission to investigate the scene? I’ll be right in and right out. I’ll be careful to erase all traces of me having been there.”
Galen was silent for a while, his expression deep in thought. “Yes, you can.”
I nearly wanted to jump out of my seat. Finally after three months I’m able to go to the field again!
“As usual, Adept Boltzmann, remember to keep this secret. This incident doesn’t leave this room. I’ll inform Draco about this, but it won’t leave his ears. Right in and right out, understand?”
“Good. You are dismissed.”
And so began the longest week of my life.