The woman on the chair beside him looked the lean, mean and hungry kind – the only doubt being exactly where that hunger was focused. She was presently focused on whatever personal screens held her attention, but he had a strong feeling they were not going to be ones about her favourite esport celebrities.
Whatever it was she was looking at must have been pretty attention-grabbing though, as her top teeth were visible, pressing hard into her bottom lip as she concentrated. Then she moved her arm and he saw the slight bulk of a wrist slot analysis device, no doubt the source of her screens. It also answered all his questions: she was on a power climb – a woman literally wired to her work. Which made her exactly the kind of person he would choose to swim a shark-filled river in full spate to avoid.
The other four people in the room could have had ‘Specialist Data Nerd’ stamped on their faces and it would not have made that fact any more obvious than it already was. These were the elite of the Coalition Security Force – masters of the virtual universe – no doubt self-labelling as crime-fighting heroes to a man and woman. But then they knew they were the most effective fighters of crime in the service, with clear-up rates that made the rest of the CSF look like slouches and shirkers. Armed with their forensic accounting suites, specialist link-predictive policing packages, and anti-hacking inoculation protocols, they could identify, isolate and neutralise almost any link-based fraudster or financial criminal. Usually, they had their perpetrator fingered within moments of the crime, sometimes even before the crime was committed, but if not they could always fearlessly hunt the evildoers down in the information jungles of the Coalition link networks, then analyse them into submission.
Very. Scary. People.
In his experience, they were never happy when asked to dirty their hands to provide reports on the sort of research their more reality-oriented colleagues might require: things about the messy side of life with real blood, real violence, real emotions. It was only when someone very senior was holding a briefing these people were ever in evidence. Had Jecks not been running this, there would have been a single junior techie, remote linking poor quality information packages someone had knocked together on their lunch break. But with the head of the CSF involved, every department manager had made it a point to turn up in person just to be seen.
Even so, they were all looking put upon and focused more on their own screens than on what was happening in the room, glancing up now and then as if worried they might have missed the start of the briefing, then ploughing their attention back into their virtual worlds. Clearly, as far as they were concerned, there were much better uses for their valuable time. And they were probably right. No doubt they should be off tagging some new virus or breaching a criminal firewall in the depths of the underlink networks. But, instead, because this was Jecks’ personal show, they were having to be here in the flesh, parading themselves so they could give whatever briefing this was some skeleton of fact. Presumably, Jecks himself was bringing the flesh to hang on it, but if so the only people here to be briefed so far were himself and…
He looked at the woman sitting beside him again, a mix of dread and certainty spawning in his guts. He closed his eyes for a moment, consciously banishing the notion as far from his thoughts as he could send it, then opened them again to find it had not gone away, any more than she had. He had been wrong about such things before. He would have to hope he was wrong this time too.