Excerpt from Work in Progress: The Price of Power

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Why would someone capable of the standard brun masking be using a mindbomb instead? I asked Ghost Uncle, Do they want to be found - eventually?

Good question, and a reasonable hypothesis, if we are dealing with the same person. But do we know it is the same person?

There was no mental signature, so we had no evidence either way. Just one contact specialist's opinion that the signatures were 'similar.' We didn't even know that the signature he remembered was from the still open case. This case was teaching me about controlling frustration - it seemed like every clue we'd gotten thus far raised more questions than it answered. No we don't have any real information other than 'coincidence' and 'similarities' I replied, I know not to discount coincidence and similarity, but the idea of expecting a Primus to rule someone guilty of a murder based upon the evidence we have should fall under the category of 'wishful thinking'.

Exactly. I'd remove a subordinate who thought our evidence thus far was sufficient, and the commentary I'd make in their file should make it impossible for them to work in government for squares.. And the Investigator who expected them to be satisfied with it as well. After half my life in the Empire, I was still adjusting to the notion that government service was more difficult and exacting than most private jobs. 'Why?' was a lengthy explanation, but it was true.

Isn't the traditional masking only a Category Green effect?

Yes, but you've got to be highly proficient with it to expect it to be effective. It's a direct contest of skill, and the Investigator gets as many tries as she needs, while the perpetrator only has one chance to get it perfect. Once again, being good enough to expect to stymie an Investigator would be a skill I would expect to find in a member or agent of a rival House. Which meant another pointer to the Game of Houses. This game of ghosts and ifs and maybes was frustrating. I was almost to the point where I'd rather deal with a straightforward assassination attempt on me instead.

The second message was from an Investigator named VarDossian di Gustos, "Varian di Gustos was my father. I would appreciate being made aware of any developments. Please contact me if you have any questions I can assist with."

So I messaged him via contact specialist, and when we were directly connected, explained the situation, and gave him the signature to compare with. "It is close," he admitted, "But not identical, and I don't think it's close enough to what I remember. Perhaps they were trained by the same person or went through some similar experiences, but compare to the signature we have," and he demonstrated by showing me the signature he remembered before mentally superimposing the signatures, "It's only been nine years. I wouldn't expect the drift between the two signatures to change that much, and I wouldn't expect the evolution to go in that direction. As you can see, prior focus was superior. Most operants' focus improves over time."

I thanked him for his information, and terminated contact. But it didn't appear to help. Thus far every attempt to narrow the focus of this needle in a haystack problem had been frustrated. Actually, it was worse than finding a needle in a haystack - the haystack was sixty times the size of any city on Earth, and this needle was skilled at hiding and evasion.

You are assuming VarDossian was being forthright and helpful, Ghost Uncle reminded me, and that his memory hasn't changed in critical ways since the events. Memory changes every time you access it unless you're a trained adept who is actively resisting those changes. Since it was wrapped up in the death of his father, I would expect he has revisited them often. And he may be a Guardian, but is he using the auros techniques for preserving memory faithfully? Notice he only showed you one copy of the signature, which is evidence he is not.

Leave it to Ghost Uncle to make unhelpful answers even less definite, but he had a point. If VarDossian was using anti-drift techniques, he should have had and demonstrated at least three different memories of the mental signature. Do you have any actual helpful hints about this needle in a haystack problem? I resisted the urge to add 'or are you just being difficult?' His most recent observation had given me a clearer picture of what I actually understood and didn't. The fact that it made that knowledge less definite and more subject to question might have been frustrating, but it had pointed out a set of facts I might have glossed over.

Interesting metaphor, Grace. What are the classic solutions to such problems?

Well, there was sitting my stupid backside in the haystack until the needle jabbed it, but I didn't care for the consequences of that method - this needle was deadly. But the other solution was a metaphorical magnet - the stronger the better. The difficult thing about this needle was finding it. Once I had it, it would be trivial to verify it was the correct needle.

So I needed a magnet to draw this needle out. What were the properties of this needle that would enable me to draw it out?

The most obvious potential magnetic leverage was our murderer had a limited amount of time and he had to know it. Every passing minute made it harder to shield his Event Line during the critical moments, and once I had those, I had him. Time was on our side. Eventually I - or my replacement if he managed to kill me - would hunt him down. Which led me to the obvious question: Why hadn't he realized this before killing Goronos?

Humanity: an otherwise sentient species known for its unwillingness to plan. Ghost Uncle was brutal. One of the hardest things we have to do in training our children and agents is to break them of that unwillingness and make planning habitual.

I got the strong impression he intentionally wasn't telling me the whole story. Which meant I either had to figure it out myself or wait for it to reveal itself in the fullness of time. I'd rather figure it out myself, but one problem at a time. Focus on this problem. Once solved, it was likely the rest of the puzzle to what Ghost Uncle wasn't telling me would become clear.

Potential magnetic leverage number two: I hadn't been able to find any commonality between Goronos and Adubra except that they were both Imperial viceroys in Sumabad. Adubra had been one of Goronos' subordinate Primuses, but I didn't see any of her recent cases motivating someone to murder. Neither was a strong Guardian or particularly well trained. In theory, you didn't need to be operant at all in order to be an Imperial viceroy, but the vast majority were Guardians. The operant ability of auros made the work and acquiring the skills for it so much easier, and while necris enabled natural state humans to live longer, it allowed operants to live indefinitely. The result? While operants were still outnumbered by natural state humans six to one, Guardians outnumbered natural state humans by at least forty to one among Primuses, and the ratio got more lopsided at each higher level of the government.

Suppose my brand new appointment as an Investigator hadn't been a factor. What would have happened when Imperial viceroys started turning up dead in the city that had been Scimtar's seat since the Restoration, and his home for much longer? Somebody from the family would have gotten involved - the murdered viceroys were all at some level their subordinates. Scimtar was the Nonus with jurisdiction, Anara was the Octus with jurisdiction and his direct subordinate, and the crimes were happening right under their metaphorical noses. Anana as family operations officer couldn't have her employees' and agents lives disrupted by their civil government losing continuity. The family as a whole could ill afford gaps in the government as damage was still being repaired in the aftermath of the House war. The viceroys were needed to adjudicate damages and disputes and formulate actions to restore the damaged areas to their formerly prosperous state.

The metaphorical elephant in the room was that I couldn't see the Scimtars not exercising close control over who was appointed to viceroy status everywhere in Indra System, but especially in Sumabad. They needn't be close allies of the family, but they couldn't allow agents of other Houses. Goronos had been an ally through two subordinate allied families - call them vassals if you want although the relationships were of mutual interest and friendship rather than explicit fealty. House Deltos and House Enolan and many others followed Scimtar's lead because their interests aligned with his and he had more resources to commit and they were friends or employees or contractors of long standing - and also because he stood by them or helped them when they had difficulty. The fealty or vassalage was implied rather than explicit or legal, but it was real. These allied or vassal families in turn had allies or vassals of their own. Unlike Goronos, Adubra was technically a neutral, but had loose ties to another allied family. She'd also been trained as a Guardian by Paladin, a long-time associate and ally of Scimtar. I'd met Paladin socially a couple of times - the man had no sense of humor but he had a sense of duty and honor and obligation that would have done credit to any legendary Knight of the Round Table. I sent him a request for any additional background he might have. I endorsed her nomination to Goronos. I would be pleased to offer any assistance that I can was the response I got, which meant I needed a follow-up question: Did you have any ties to Goronos I should be aware of?

Mutual interests in developing newly operant Guardians is the only thing I'm aware of.

Are there any of your students who closely match this mental signature? Or who might have had some issue with Goronos or Adubra?

No, I'm not familiar with that signature. The murderer? At my admission we suspected it was, I shall remember it then, should our paths cross. I would not have wanted to metaphorically cross swords with Paladin. He may have been officially Fourth Order, which I was in reality, but he made his living teaching people what I was still learning. As to people who would have interacted with both of them, just the obvious candidates I'm sure you have already interviewed. I never taught Goronos; our association was simple commonality of interest.

Which left me where I started.

Assuming his statements are true. You are an Investigator; you need to learn to verify what you can as a matter of habit. Your own culture has a saying on this point.

"If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out." I quoted at him. My mother was long dead, but it was still a worthy sentiment. Do you have any reason to suspect he was less than truthful?

Paladin wouldn't lie about an ininth to save his life. At the very most, he would remain silent, and not for his own interests. But it's a habit you need to get into.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 23, 2018 6:34 PM.

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