What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted…
The other four people in the briefing 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.
She must have felt his eyes on her because she looked up accusingly, just as though he had invaded her personal space.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“You a ‘Hal’ or a ‘Kom’?”
“I have no investment in either. Co-workers can call me what they like.”
She frowned at that.
“And your friends call you?”
His friends called him Grim — had done since he was in education, something to do with his natural facial expression, even his sisters called him that nowadays. It was so ingrained that it was how he self-identified, much more so than with his birth name. But, as he was not liking the idea of adding this woman to his link list, he said: “Maybe one day you’ll find out.”
She didn’t seem fazed by his response, just looked as if she had filed something in an internal folder somewhere for future reference.
She said it like he should know the name. He didn’t, so he just nodded and said nothing. She looked away after a few moments and was back in her screens again.
Grim was beginning to feel like he was the only person sitting there with no virtual place to go.
Even Jecks was linked out to something. He kept frowning at the door and then scowling back into his screens with impatience — waiting for someone else to arrive and becoming increasingly irritated by the delay. But that wasn’t so surprising. Grim doubted anyone ever kept Jecks waiting. Even the fleshpots at the peaks of politico-corporate power in Central must get a chill down the spine when they had any dealings with him. After all, this was the man who could dethrone any of them. Everyone had some dirty laundry, and Jecks was the man who could find it and throw it into the public washer.