Broken Horizons – Vol 5, Interlude 2

Interlude – Byron Grey

Dealing with idiots was part and parcel of the job, but the only joy it gave Byron was in setting them to march to their own destruction all unaware and hopeful that their filthy little desires would be fulfilled.

“So I believe you can see why I thought this was important,” Whiteweather said, nodding towards the monitor which was displaying the report Whiteweather had put together 

All things considered, it was a good bit of data analysis. Using nothing more than his own resources, Whiteweather had discovered that that Azma’s forces had stumbled upon a transdimensional entity in the world they were in the process of opening up.

“Of course,” Byron said. “This changes the character of the operation under Azma’s control quite substantially. Or it will once it’s proven to be true.”

“But the numbers! You can see…” Whiteweather leaned forward over Byron’s desk as though being in physical proximity to the data would strengthen his case.

“Numbers can lie,” Byron said. “You know that. The Steering Committee will never act on interpreted data before the field commander’s report arrives.”

“But they must act!” Whiteweather said. “If she proceeds any further, Azma is likely to gain control of the creature and then there’ll be no leverage strong enough to get it away from her.”

“That is also likely true,” Byron said. “Such is the nature of high stakes gambles like this one.”

“But we can’t let her win!” Whiteweather said. “If she gains any more power they’ll have to promote her to Director to keep her on and you know the first thing she’ll do is conduct a purge of everyone she doesn’t true – and she trusts no one.”

“Quite so,” Byron said.

“That will include both of us!”

“Which is why we are going to do something about it,” Byron said.

“But you said the Steering Committee won’t do anything about it,” Whiteweather said. “You’re not seriously proposing that we openly oppose her are you?”

“Oh of course not,” Byron said. “I know you brought this to me in the closest confidence. Exposing this openly would put you in far too much danger.”

“Thank you,” Whiteweather said as he wiped away the thin sweat which had started forming on his brow.

“I would never do such a thing my friend,” Byron said. “Your safety is of paramount importance. The Consortium can scarcely stand to lose a man of your vision.”

Byron was all warmth and sincerity, turning what should have been a dangerously effusive warning of impending betrayal into a kind and comforting expression of solidarity.

“So you have some scheme to turn Azma’s efforts against her more indirectly?” Whiteweather asked.

It didn’t take much intelligence to see that. Azma was ruthless to a fault. People who openly opposed her died. Never directly by her hand. Very rarely was their demise even vaguely associated with her. Through one means or another, her enemies simply ceased to be. Individually the deaths did nothing to protect her, save to remove that specific thorn from her side. It was only when viewed collectively that her efforts spoke a clear message which this rest of the Consortium (or at least the meaningful parts of it) had absorbed – you did not make problems for Azma. You treated her much like radioactive waste – something horrible which was best dealt with by allowing some else to manage the headache.

Some few had sought to murder her back of course. More than a few really. Attempting to kill Azma herself was invariably met with either one of two fates: an infliction of the exact same death you had intended for her or, in some odd cases, recruitment to her cause. Those were the people Byron found the most worrisome. They knew better than any not to trust her and yet they chose to work for the woman? It was inconceivable.

Then there were the people who sought to strike at Azma through her close relations. This was complicated by the fact that, as far as Byron could see, she had no close relations. No loved ones. No family. Barely even any coworkers or subordinates whom she tolerated.

Three times though she had displayed a passing fondness for someone and an attempt had been made on their lives. Azma was less subtle in response to that, and far less restrained. She hadn’t killed any of her agressort swiftly in those cases. Two of them were still alive in fact. That they lived in unimaginable agony and had paid everything they had for the privilege delivered Azma’s message more clearly than anything else could have.

Byron was not going to repeat those mistakes of course. Not when he had a viable candidate to make them for him.

“In this case discretion is paramount,” Byron said. “As is making sure the Consortium remains on our side. The last thing we need to is to go outside the official processes and find our own apparatus of command being turned against us.”

“That’s a tall order,” Whiteweather said. “You know that female has seduced half of upper management. She exists because she’s suborned so many of the people who are supposed to be keeping her in her place.”

Byron smiled and nodded agreeably, exerting a monumental effort of will to preserve a mask of sympathy. Whiteweather and the people like him were doomed. They were so eager to tear down Azma, and others like her who didn’t fit the ‘proper mold’, because they knew how unworthy they were of the positions they held. In allowing themselves to be blinded to Azma’s accomplishments and talents, they preserved their fragile egos at the expense of truly understanding their enemy.

For his many and vastly indulged faults, Byron did not fall prey to the same foible though. He knew Azma’s quality and talent. He didn’t like her of course, but even in a hated enemy there could be room for respect, and Byron didn’t hate Azma either. She was a particularly deadly fish swimming in a pond he occasionally chose to dip a toe into. He could marvel at her grace and ferocity while carefully working to remove the peril she posed to his aims and endeavors.

“I will let you in on a secret that was passed down to me by my old mentor,” Byron said. He’d never had a mentor of course. One learned the sort of lessons Byron had through observation and a natural aptitude for guile and subterfuge. People who spoke openly about such things tended to be people who were interested in attention and acclaim, which was the exact opposite of the proper mindset for effective social maneuvering in Byron’s estimation. Despite that, people like Whiteweather were so apt to cling to authority figures that offering them even a non-specific, fictional one was often enough to erase any doubts or sensible questions they might otherwise raise.

“The key to undermining someone in Azma’s position is not to oppose them but to give them exactly what they want and more,” Byron explained, knowing that Whiteweather would begin sputtering in confusion if allowed a moment to speak. “Understand that I do not mean ‘ally yourself with them’, or ‘allow them to do as they wish’. The essence of this strategy is that few people will are defended against receiving more of a good thing, and it is so very easy to turn a little more of something good into quite a bit too much and, ultimately, enough to crush them completely.”

“Yes, yes, I can see the wisdom there.” Whiteweather was nodding in an empty, barely comprehending manner.

Byron knew if he asked Whiteweather to offer a practical implementation of the idea Whiteweather would be completely at a loss for even the vaguest approximation of an idea.

“That is where your report is so crucial,” Byron said, setting his claws into Whiteweather’s fragile ego. “Azma has discovered something of great value in her endeavor. It could offer her power and influence beyond any of the rest of us. The transdimensional entity she is investigating represents the most dire of threats to us, if she can bring it under control. Until this however, it will be quite a useful tool to destroy her with.”

Interlude – Marcus Mashall

Marcus was destroying his career. When, not if, people discovered that he was on the game on a GM level account and interacting with an employee who had willingly stepped into the game, he would be at best suspended and at worst arrested for the crime of not stepping aside and allowing the people who believed they were in power to hang onto that belief for whatever time remained before the world came tumbling down.

Marcus looked at his desk. The reports neatly piled in one corner. The coffee cup with the company’s logo on it. The cubicle walls where print outs and notices were pinned. Even the wall paper on his computer’s desktop with it’s plain company logo. 

The whole environment made a statement. Or several statements. 

“The person who works here has no personality.” 

“This desk is for a piece of the corporate machinery, not a person.”

“The man who sits here is afraid to show his real self, even to the people he works with every day”.

Or maybe especially to the people he worked with every day.

By all rights, the person who sat at Marcus’s desk should have been the type of person to dutifully inform his corporate overlords about the new development with Hailey and allow them to work out what the official response would be. 

Marcus wasn’t sure where that man had gone. It was possible he’d never really been that man. That his isolation and lack of personality had been an artifact of the demands the system placed on him.

He had to be the boss. He had to be impartial. He had to enforce the company’s mandates, even when they were ill considered and abusive. If he didn’t then all of the progress he’d made, all the security he’d achieved, would all be taken away.

“Now that the whole world is falling apart though, I guess none of that matters anymore,” Marcus said to no one in particular.

There were still support reps hard at work. Just because the crisis was close to a day old didn’t mean they’d made any real headway on bringing the players together or establishing clear lines of communication. 

If anything the players themselves were more on the ball about that, and the EE support team was largely riding on their coattails, offering what assistance they could, or rather what assistance their management would allow them to offer.

“I’ve got Miguel looking at the server logs,” Marcus said, speaking into a team chat channel and hearing the impossible in reply.

“Good, I don’t know what you’ll need to look for, but hopefully there’s something weird there that can act as a lead,” Burnt Toast said. Burnt Toast, who was also Hailey MacGilfoyle, but who really was the adventurer known at Burnt Toast.

“You sound like you’ve stabilized some,” Marcus said.

“Yeah. I’m…I’m…I’m…holding it together,” Burnt Toast said with a burst of static in between her words. “Mostly.”

“What is happening to you?” Marcus asked. He didn’t expect an answer.

“I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be getting worse, so that’s…” she grunted and fought to regain control of her voice before something unwanted slipped out. “Good,” she finished.

“Can you augment her actions at all Marcus?” Mellisandra asked. Mellisandra who was another character within the game. Mellisandra who had a player behind her, but who, again, was also her own person. In fact from what Marcus could tell, he had only spoken to Mellisandra so far. The fictional person with no AI behind her at all had help a short but informative conversation detailing some of things she’d discovered by interacting with her player. 

“No, her screen is completely blank,” Marcus said. “It was fine until I tried to touch the controls, and then poof everything was gone.”

“Its okay Marcus,” Hailey said. Her voice was so similar to Burnt Toast’s but without any effort Marcus knew which of the two he was speaking to. “I think we’re already in an [Inspired] state. There’s probably no additional benefit we’d get from you directing our moves. And it would be a bit creepy.”

“Oh yeah, cause nothing else about this is creepy.”

“I think there may be something far more important Marcus can do for us, if he’s willing,” Glimmerglass said.

“I’m all in on this,” Marcus said.

“I think you need to speak with our [Grand Strategist] then,” Glimmerglass said. “You may not have made this world, but you and the people there know what it’s secrets are, and what secrets the Consortium holds. Give that to us and you’ll give Penswell the most powerful weapon she could ever wish for.”

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