[Sir, there’s an Edward Signet here to see you .]

Avery Jefferson sent a message through his AR, telling his Julia to send him in. Propping his feet up on his desk, he leaned back in his top of the lineExecu-throne254, the satisfaction and excitement that couldn’t be sent through a digital message washing over him like a warm breeze. As a rising star within the Evo-Notion corporation, with an office on the 15th floor no less, he hadn’t been able to express the depth of his nervousness and fear that this project had caused him. Not the ethical implications of course, after all, he wasn’t a socialist. Still, the idea of the bad PR that would ensue, not to mention the abrupt end to his career’s (and possibly his physical) life had increased his use of NovaCoke over the last week, that was for sure.

The door to his office slid open with a barely audible hiss and Avery signaled Julia to encrypt any data being transmitted to or from his PAN. He looked up to see a man of average height, short brown hair, and moderately good looks walking toward his desk, smiling that annoyingly charismatic smile that Avery had come to despise over the last week. He was dressed in a gray Actioneer suit, and carrying a…

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Avery jumped up from his chair and looked around nervously.

Edward put his free hand to his chest and gave a hurt who me? look while he dropped what he had been carrying to the floor.

Avery looked down at the dead body sitting on the floor of his office.

“Relax Mr. Jefferson,” Edward walked past Avery to the window behind his desk and looked outside. “Wow, you’ve got a real view here, you know that? I mean, the old public works building is sort of an eyesore, but at least you can see the sky. Once I worked for a dentist-”

Avery jumped to his feet and stormed towards Edward, his eyes wide with terror and rage.

“Relax? Why the FUCK did you bring a corpse into my office? Do you have any idea how many people saw this? I..I can’t salvage this you idiot! Why..no, you know what, I don’t care, I’m calling security-”

Edward’s eyes became an intense calm as he turned to face the approaching executive. As far back as he could remember, he had always had what he liked to refer to as “social magic”. He wasn’t the best looking guy in the world, and if he was being honest, he wasn’t even the best speaker. It was like he could project some sort of ’emotional vibe’, or energy, and cause others to feel it as well. For a while he thought that it really was a latent magical ability, but the shamans and hermetics he had seen had killed that theory immediately, one shaman even suggesting he was just a narcissist. Maybe, maybe not. After that he had decided that the reasoning behind his gift wasn’t really important, and he hadn’t questioned it since. He tapped into it now, allowing a wave of gentle acceptance to pacify his employer.

“Mr. Jefferson, can you please sit down? You hired me, remember? What you needed done is done, just let me speak. If you want to call security afterwards, I’ll be here,”

[Julia, have security sent up and have them wait outside the office for my signal.]

Avery couldn’t explain his anger’s sudden departure, but as soon as he received confirmation in his AR, he walked back to his chair and sat down. It would make sense to find out what information he had before having his security team dispose of this idiot. When Edward had made his way back around to the front of his desk, Avery rested his chin on his hands and waited for his guest to speak.

After fifteen seconds of silence, Avery gave up.

“Okay, so tell-” he began.

“You wanted to know the extent of any…sensitive information taken in last Monday’s data breach. I figured the best way to find out was to ask the source,” Edward motioned to the body on the floor. “Mr. Jefferson, meet Mr. Lydon.

Mr. Lydon here was looking into the Cambridge project and – yes, I thought you might pay more attention to that name – anyway, it seems like he was able to collect most of the details by hacking your corporate accounts. However, during the last couple of hours we spent together, he became very expressive, and it seems he wasn’t able to get his hands on the good stuff, you know, the names. Names of the different players, and communications linking them to Cambridge. He felt that you kept that information on a secure network within your office. Now, personally, I feel like that would be a pretty stupid thing to do, especially for someone of your…position…within the company,”

Avery was working hard to mask his tension, as he messaged Julia.

[Please tell me the fucking security is ready to go]

[Yes, Mr. Jefferson, I took the liberty of ordering a full disposal unit, and they are outside the office awaiting your orders.]

He relaxed a bit, and thought about giving Julia the chance to “earn a raise” later tonight. A faint smile appeared on his lips as he continued listening.

“Now I’ve got three problems,” continued Edward, sitting down in the guest chair that was not nearly as comfortable as he imagined Avery’s must be. “Problem number one: our friend here was working with partners, obviously the tech side of a team. So who else knows the information? After all, I wouldn’t feel all that great about collecting from you if one of this stiff’s team mates shows up an hour later to pay you a blackmail call. Well, maybe I’d feel great, but I bet my future job prospects might suffer from a rep hit like that.

Problem two, and I apologize, but it sort of branches from problem number one. Problem two: I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the, I guess you’d call it the ‘good’ side of enhanced interrogation techniques, but sometimes the subject will tell you anythingin order to make the pain stop. I mean anything. I remember one time this girl started telling me about everything from her 5th grade band teacher to the first boy to get in her pants, I mean her entire autobiography. Well our buddy here started talking about the details of Cambridge.

Yeah, those details. The stuff about the kids. Don’t give me that look, I’m not here to judge. I mean, we all do what we gotta do, but the thing is, purposefully poisoning a school’s water supply in order to sell a manufactured ‘cure’ to the parents who can afford it while those who can’t have to watch their kids die…that’s the kind of information that can kill someone if their not careful,”

Edward stood up, and clasped his hands together as he walked over to the office liquor cabinet.

“So,” he said while pouring himself a drink. “Our friend has a head full of information that I need in order to do a complete job for you, but any data-miner I hire to dive into his network is most likely going to end up being erased on account of what he finds. And I happen to like the hackers that I know. Not only that, but there’s the question of me knowing this information, and the seemingly impossible task of convincing you that I don’t need the same treatment as Mr. Lydon’s team mates,”

He walked back over to Avery, and handed him the highball before sitting back down.

“I figure that if you’re keeping sensitive information in this office, you’ve no doubt got a techno-boy you can trust stashed around here somewhere. I figure you can message whoever that might be, and they can take a look at our buddy’s PAN. They should quickly be able to discern anyone else Mr. Lydon has been in contact with. As for me, I can take the other half of my money now, and leave to tie up the loose ends, so to speak,”

[Tetsu, are you hearing this? Can you find that information from a dead hacker?]

[I hear it boss, and no, once your dead, your network is down. Well, sort of, its complicated. It doesn’t matter though, because the guy on the floor’s not dead.]

[What?]

[Yeah, I mean, he’s not doin’ well, but technically he’s still alive]

Avery regained his composure, and set the drink on the table.

“Okay, let’s say I believe you. What’s to stop you from taking the money and leaving the job unfinished?”

“Mr. Jefferson, we’ve been over that haven’t we? I intend to have a long and prosperous career. Skipping out on an employer is just not a viable strategy to that end. And I can’t think of a reason you might have to doubt my sincerity at this point,”

“You didn’t tell me that Mr. Lydon was alive, for starters,” Avery looked Edward straight on as he made his point, noting to himself not to touch the drink he had been offered. “If you knew there was sensitive information in this office, why would you bring a hacker in here alive? Unless you were too lazy or stupid to check correctly,”

[Boss, I’m almost done, just keep this guy talking for a few more minutes]

[Just get that information! I want this finished!]

“Well of course he’s still alive!” Edward said, as if it should have been obvious from the start. “How would I get information out of a dead hacker’s network? Don’t worry about him right now, though, I’ve put a Neuro-net suppressor in one of his implants, which means he can’t even check his email right now, let alone hack a system. Give me some credit will you Avery?”

Avery didn’t like the cavalier attitude this mercenary was beginning to display and he wanted this whole thing to be over. He reached out to Tetsu again.

[How close are you? I want to wash my hands of this.]

[Almost there boss, one minute, that’s all I need]

Avery decided he had better just grit his teeth and power through.

“So,” he began, somewhat condescendingly “didn’t you say you had three problems? I think you’ve only told me two so far,”

Edward’s head snapped up as if he’d just remembered his own name.

“You know, thank you for reminding me, I did have one more issue,”

“The anticipation is killing me,” Avery tried not to make his tedium over the top.

“Okay, here goes, problem number three: money. Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not asking for more money, I believe the terms we’ve agreed to are more than generous. No, I mean the nature of money, how it’s distributed, and more importantly, how you get it. For guys like you and me, some flashy talk, the right skin tone, and the ability to sell bullshit with fancy made up terms and phrases and the money comes easy.

Our friend on the floor here, he’s got that technical edge, and I don’t have to tell you how lucrative that can be.

But for others, I mean like some of those kids’ parents, do you know that in order to pay for an investigation into the murder of their kids, some of those people had to make some pretty hard choices. I’m talking about selling homes, cars, even their bodies. It just makes me appreciate how lucky I am when I can earn a living the way I do, which let’s face it, is basically just dressing up lies for people like you,”

“Well that’s a very healthy attitude you have Mr. Signet,” Avery was getting impatient, and an uneasy feeling he attributed to NovaCoke withdrawal began to creep its way into his stomach. Apparently completely oblivious to his discomfort, Edward continued.

“I mean take for instance, my name. Obviously it’s not Edward Signet, you know as well as I do that people in my line of work can’t toss their real names around, but towards the end of a deal like this it just feels so impersonal using this mask, so,” he stuck out his hand, and Avery obliged him. “Jess Talbot, nice to meet you. Did you know that we-sorry, I mean ‘I’ was actually approached by one of the dead kids’ moms? Her kid’s name was Nestor. Nestor Rosario. She poured out the whole story, about the onset of symptoms, the gradual descent into helplessness, and the pain. I mean, the pain these kids went through was just unbelievable. I guess the poison you employed created feelings of fear and dementia coupled with a deep pain within the lower back which resisted narcotic treatment. Now to me, that seems kind of harsh. Why make these kids suffer? It seems like a sick fucking move,”

Avery’s eyes narrowed and his resentment spilled over. He was tired of pretending to listen to this cowboy and his bullshit.

“I’d rather not be judged by a man who tortured the sexual history out of a girl,” he began, standing up and moving to his window. “So what is the point of this? Did you come here to feel powerful, lecture the executive with some ‘street wisdom’? Let me tellyou a few gems that a loud and arrogant asshole like yourself might have missed in this little encounter. First of all, you brought a dead body into an office building, past not only my personal secretary, but god knows how many others. Even if I wanted to protect your worthless life, I couldn’t. After that, you tell me your real name, the fact that you know the details about a highly sensitive project, and to top it all off, you came here alone!. In fact, why the hell did you come here at all? Is this seriously your first job? I’m done with this, I-”

“I never tortured anyone Avery,”

Avery turned to see Jess with a heavy pistol leveled at his chest. Looking down, he saw Mr. Lydon begin to get up off of the floor.

“What the hell is this? The nuero-net suppressor-”

Fear shot through his veins as he watched Jess stifle a laugh.

“C’mon Avery! A ‘nuero-net suppressor’? You did ask a good question though, but I be you can answer it if you think hard enough. So why would I be stupid enough to come to your office? Why not just arrange a sit down at a neutral location?”

“The-the information about-”

“Bingo! Great work detective! You know our employer would have been happy to see one of your project drones take the fall, and that would have been that,” Avery watched as Jess’s smile transformed into a cold glare.

[Julia, security! Now!]

Mr. Lydon’s head cocked to one side as the response came.

**I’m sorry sir, but you can go fuck yourself. Julia has been having a wonderful time playing ‘Zombies of Nardoor’ on the console.

Avery’s stomach began to turn as he heard ‘Tetsu’ message him next.

[Sorry boss, should have mentioned how easy it is to hack a PAN when the target is a dumb-shit corporate suit with no sense. If it’s any consolation, Tetsu thinks he’s talking with you as well, and seems to respect you quite a bit.]

Shoulders slumped, a defeated Avery sat down in his chair, and stared at his desk.

“Yeah, it’s sinking in now isn’t it? There was no way we were letting this company off that easy. No way. You made families of 22 kids watch while they withered away, the whole time getting paid on the back end by selling a bullshit cure. No, the company had to pay hard. Of course a project of this level needed backing from more powerful people than you, and after some legwork, my associate here found that the details did in fact exist, and were being kept in a cold network here in your office. So at least you can rest easy knowing your career will have plenty of company in the corporate graveyard.

You really shouldn’t have fucked with the kids, man. I mean, you screw someone over in business, and you know, that’s that. But take someone’s kid? That’s a lifelong grudge,” He turned to the hacker. “Did we get it?”

The gaunt man nodded and said nothing.

“Well, it’s been fun Avery, but we’ve got to run,” Edward raised his pistol and fired twice, spraying Avery’s brains all over the back window, substantially decreasing the beauty of the view.

‘Mr. Lydon’ began walking out the door, turned and looked down at the ex-corporate shark. He made sure ‘Avery’ messaged Julia, telling her something about taking a ‘long lunch’. A crooked smile appeared on his thin lips, and he followed his partner out the door.