Teague sat in the middle of the classroom. Around the room sat all of Hogstown’s receivers, everyone who participates as a target in the passing game. There were running backs, wide outs and the hacker’s other four tight ends. Of those four, only Teague was a serious target, but the others could conceivably catch and definitely had to block.
“All right everyone. We’re going over routes. I expect you not only to know your routes for a particular play but everyone else’s. There is a reason that we combine routes the way we do, and it’s important for you all to know…”
He thought of how many times he’d heard this and from how many other guys just like this one, the receivers coach. Little dude with attitude wearing dad-shorts and a moustache. They had a coach for every damned thing anymore and all of them wanted a piece of your time. Receivers, O-line, Running Game, Even kick-offs. Teague participated in all of them which ate huge amounts of time. Meetings, practice, conditioning. This was the preseason, but this was a full time job. Sure, they would slack off once classes started, but then he actually had to do the classes. No wonder they hooked me up with Sarah as a full time tutor.
When they were introduced about this time last year, he thought that the coach had him pegged as some stupid street thug like some of the others they brought in on scholarship. While it was true that he wasn’t nearly as eloquent as some, he’d managed a decent GPA in High school and his SAT’s were better than most on the team, even the walk-ons.
Then the work came and kept on coming. It was a lot more than high school. Sarah may have had her wild streak, but she was an excellent time manager. She kept him on track when things really stacked up. In Teague’s mind he guessed that this is what secretaries do for CEO’s, tell you what to do and when to do it.
But most of all, Sarah calmed him. Inside of all the work there was an opening of mind to new ideas, new ways of being. Football coaches talked of philosophy, but Sarah introduced him to the real deal, Plato, Sun Tsu, Budah, he dug the Budah. She helped him realize the large bag of anger he carried around with him and the trouble it got him in on and off the field. Showed him how it held him back. Sarah was his mirror. Through her, he saw himself as how other people saw him; a frightening man, a man who lashed out like an animal when confronted. An ignorant man, closed to new ideas and the possibility that he could be mistaken and learn from others. He didn’t like that guy, but he liked Sarah and he appreciated that she didn’t shy away.
It wasn’t totally clear when she crossed over from helper to lover. Sure he remembered the first time he got her into the sack, but it had been brewing for long enough by then that it was more a formality than a relationship milestone. And as they laid there on that cool late fall night keeping each other warm, he considered how fantastic she was, together, but cool. A party package but organized about it.
And that, more than anything else made this morning’s freak out so odd. It was a piece out of the normal place for Teague, a piece he relied on, and it frightened him more than he liked to admit. Sure he’d admit it now. Now that he was alone in his thoughts. It was really freaky for her to be that needy, that out of sorts. She was always together and Teague had come to rely on that more than anything else in this world.
He looked at his huge hands for a moment and unlaced the fingers. The palms of his hands seemed to have an odd shine under the fluorescent lighting of the quiet classroom. The altogether too quiet classroom.
All eyes were on him as he raised his face. The tough-guy receivers coach tried to look as stern and threatening as he could wearing those shorts.
“Fuck…” Teague croaked out and shook his head.
“I thought so. Anyone not gathering wool in my class want to fill Mr. London in on the zone clearing philosophy of the bunch 8 formation? Maybe he’ll give it due consideration as he’s running extra laps.”
“Come in Ms. Bee.” Loveless said over the intercom before she could knock. The magnetic lock on the door released and she slid into the office.
She stood relaxed and prepared in her mom costume. “You wanted a report. Do I need to remind you what not to say on an open phone, even one we’ve been careful about?”
Loveless scoffed. “No. And in a real sense, I know far more than you on the subject. It’s just that with all the communications traffic surrounding the explosion, talking about it openly is less suspicious than talking about nothing. You military people and your secrets. If we’ve learned anything today it’s that data finds a way to get free. No safe is safe. The best one can hope for is obfuscation, disinformation, and well placed false trails.”
Ms. Bee frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about my other priority, or more specifically, my original overriding priority. And do forgive me if I am a bit excited.”
“I’m sorry,” she said with a scolding frown. “There is a cop in the hospital who gave to me valid testimony that he saw Ryan Goldberg, the freaking lottery kid from this morning, looking at a clearly hours dead Collector moments before the bomb went off.”
“Well, he’s not going to be giving that testimony anytime soon.”
“No. I gave him a long-lasting psychotic. He’ll be talking nonsense for weeks.”
“Well yeah, if they find him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean shortly after you called me, he disappeared.”
“That’s… He couldn’t have. The man I talked to wasn’t going to walk for weeks.”
“Well, when the cops came back, he was gone. Needles dripping, casts left with no one in them, even the catheter was there, no Officer Small.” Loveless looked up with a slight grin. “Not walked off… disappeared. How’d you get in anyway?”
“I used my charming smile.” Ms. Bee clicked at her teeth and the bright sheen dimmed. “Aerosol truth serum with a psychoactive component. responds to the ultraviolet coloration of these falsies.” She picked the caps from her four front teeth. “Perfume gets them, the teeth makes them mine for a couple of seconds. Used a much larger dose on our mark.”
“But there was nothing in that cocktail that would give the guy the presence of mind – or the ability – to get up, much less evade anyone.” She looked at the small caps before tucking them into her pocket. “Mr. Loveless, what is going on? You do not seem surprised.”
“Oh, I’m surprised. Well, not surprised by the fact that things are happening that are unexplainable and strange, but that these things are hitting quite so close to home.” Loveless sat back in his chair and looked down at the edge of his desk, not fully seeing it. Ms. Bee slowly sat in the chair opposite.
“Would you care to elaborate?” She asked, studying Loveless’s face.
Looking up from his desk, Loveless caught her eye. He waved as if to dispel a fog. “Oh knock it off with the interrogation nonsense. I’ll tell you what I feel like telling you and don’t think for a second that YOU are gifted enough to pump me.” He waved again and poked at his computer desktop. “I’ve been tracking an anomaly. People mentioning that they can do weird and, frankly, reality breaking things. All at once. Just started happening in the last few days.”
“Maybe it’s some weird meme.”
“That would be nice, but nope. Seems to be age independent, though the town skews young on a count of the school. There is no cultural boundary to the mentions.”
“Well, so what? People are being weird on the internet. That’s not exactly news.”
Loveless grabbed a dice and examined it, avoiding Bee’s eyes. “What if it’s true?”
“What, that people are starting to get some kind of fictional super power or something?”
“Or something. Most of it is hardly useful, but a few…”
Ms. Bee gave him a side eye. “This isn’t some kind of test. I thought we were well beyond that.”
“No. And believe me, I do appreciate the hesitation here. I didn’t believe it either. Seems like bullshit. However, it came from absolutely nothing.” He put the dice back in the bowl. “And that defies … everything. Reality. People simply don’t work that way.”
Ms. Bee’s face held no emotion but her voice was displeased. “This is all very interesting but I hardly…”
“Reality. Bee. Reality. Rules. Something as simple as being able to cook tea in your hands with no kettle breaks the rules. My life’s work has been and continues to be to find and exploit those rules and patterns and automatic choices to gain advantage, Bee.” He was animated but not angry. Loud but not shouting. “Do you have any idea how many supposed decisions people actually MAKE in a day? Not many. Hardly any at all. The fact is that ninety percent of all human activity is neatly described by patterns and tendencies UNLESS they are disturbed. This is not just getting milk on the way home this applies to everything a person does, what their moods are like. What color they choose for a car and whether or not they are going to look both ways crossing the street or get married to their girlfriend. People never noticed, they still don’t notice. But it’s real and definable. I know because I’ve defined it.”
Ms. Bee shook her head. “That’s nice but …”
“You aren’t convinced. You are a being of free will. That’s true. But, if you were not the paranoid person you are and didn’t have the training you do, you too would fall into trackable patterns.”
“Well, sure. You can put together a surveillance package for a person. Find their quirks…”
“Think bigger. And think about what happens if someone is on to that. I have a model that encompasses hundreds of miles and hundreds of thousands of people. Every one of them is a sprite in my model. I’ve tuned it to scan for vectors, data-points coming off of them. Every hour of every day the model is updated, reinforced, self-tuned. Its imperfections are self-correcting. Nothing is perfect and people choose vanilla instead of chocolate sometimes which means that interactions need to be associated with chance and permutations which, of course, makes the model way more complicated but it is still there and has been shown time and again to be positively predictive. You are looking at the fruits of that labor. There isn’t a crime that is committed within my sphere which I am not able to taste. I don’t take all of it, because the cops have got to catch someone, but I take a lot. I knocked off anyone in my path pretty handily because crime is a social interaction and that is especially true of organized crime. And I can keep this going indefinitely … as long as some fuck in a dorm can’t warm a Cup ‘o Noodles in his hands.”
Ms. Bee let her brow knit. “Why? Why do you care about the kid and his soup?”
“Because it changes reality. People zig instead of zag. Past performance no longer predicts future trends. And more important and germane to this conversation, borderline cripples can shake off drugs and disappear.”
Crossing her arms, Ms Bee said, “That’s a leap.”
“Yes. And you have no idea how badly the idea shakes my core. However, it explains things. Your cop is gone, for one. A dumbass randomly hacks my unhackable system in such a way that it was almost undetected and he left a literal mountain of evidence. And no one should have gotten into and out of that house, even with your team bolting from the scene like they did. The time windows were simply too short. The time of day and the day of the week severely winnowed down the potential population. The need for anyone to go into the house was absent. And yet, two different people zigged when they should have zagged.” Loveless looked Ms. Bee dead in the eye. “I want to know why. This goes beyond needing to know if he can implicate me … I mean, I need that too, but… this goes to the core of my model. I need to know why this guy zagged.”
Ms. Bee stoically asked, “What would you like me to do?”
“I want Mr. Aye to go and get him. You said something about the Lottery?”
“Yeah. Kid’s face is on the front page of the paper.” She found the newspaper by the empty cups of coffee and held it out to Loveless. “And why is the morning newspaper the only paper in this entire office?”
“Crossword.” Loveless began typing and immediately had all of the surveillance pictures Mr. Aye had taken up on the monitor behind his desk. Windows opened to do face scans. I did recognition on everyone and got no matches. Thought they were all freshman or something. “Letting that go again specifically looking for him. Now to find his ass.” He typed a few times and said, “Hm. His phone’s last known location was near the house. I’d guess that means that he either lost it or he’s in the rubble pile.”
“Do you think we’re that lucky?”
“No such thing as luck, only knowledge others don’t have. No. And here’s what I mean.” The screen behind his desk showed a picture of a young man, no glasses and with singed and matted hair. “There he is, walking away.”
Ms. Bee looked at the photo. “No glasses, different hair. You sure?”
“99% match now that we know who we’re looking for. And since he’s employed by the school… Got it.” Goldberg’s address on Fourth Avenue popped up on the screen. “Please have Mr. Aye investigate this and if possible, retrieve Mr. Goldberg for me.”
“I don’t know. Aye has been up since last night.”
“When he botched and got us into this mess. No. He goes. He fixes this.” Loveless swiveled in his chair to face the big screen and Goldberg’s dopey picture from his university ID. “Your Mr. Aye is a monster. He can muscle through this. Anything else would cut the man down. We all need him built up.” Loveless looked up at Ms. Bee. “He’s going in.”