SIXTY-TWO UNREAD EMAILS from the past hour alone… yeah, sure. I closed Outlook. If someone wanted something important, they would call. I made myself comfortable in my office chair and grabbed the newest spinoff of Spaceship Troopers novel I have been reading.
Before I reached the bookmark, my phone rang. Great. I let it beep five times, pretending I was busy, and then picked up. “Lucas Johnson, Interventions.”
“Hi, have you read the email I sent you?” a male voice asked.
Awesome. He expected me to know who was calling. “No. What happened?”
“Someone’s been dossing the company website. We need it solved, now.” He hung up.
Why didn’t he call the IT? With a sigh, I put away the novel and opened Outlook. After a minute of searching, I found the email sunken among a dozen reminders about monthly reports to HR and controlling.
The email chain had over fifty messages. Everything started by someone from marketing—apparently the man who called me—noticing the company website was down. He wrote to IT and they, after twenty emails, confirmed someone was DDoSing our company websites. That was apparently an attack where the attacker spammed the website with requests, overloading the underlying services and crashing them, our company website and all other connected websites of our corporation, Lucielle Legal Inc.
Most likely activists, great. From the newer emails, the IT department was busy trying to restore the services but weren’t very successful. The hacker overcame every defense tried in no time, as if he always knew what protection they would put up. The attack started on Monday night and today was Thursday afternoon.
Well, they should have called me earlier. This case smelled of divination magic. Guessing what defensive algorithm, the IT was using would be impossible through mundane means, but even an amateur divination-talented mage could do that. This got my interest since it had been a while since I got to hunt down a mage. Okay, this was probably some kid who could do magic without knowing it existed—since an actual mage would know better than to attack our corporation—but this still promised entertainment.
Hackers were usually perfectly safe through the technical route, so I doubted that path would work for me.
On the other hand, whoever was doing this wasn’t very smart. I mean, there were many less complicated ways of committing suicide. I turned on TOR, the application used to access the dark web, and started searching.
I wasn’t new to the dark web forums used by hackers. Sure, I mostly used it to hire myself a random hacker to break into someone’s phone when I needed that, but still. I searched through the local groups and looked for a forum with many new posts.
One caught my eye soon, called The Resistance. They were a bunch of university students who thought corporations were evil. They weren’t wrong about the evil part, just underestimating the incoming backlash.
In its essence, the newest forum thread was one guy, named M1337, boasting he shut down LCorp’s websites and the others were patting him on the back. There wasn’t anything else useful in the thread though.
And so, I combed the forums for all posts by the user M1337. After a bit of searching, I found a post named My new rig and a picture of his new PC next to a server rack. I saved the image and went back to the normal internet. Investigating stuff had to be a lot harder before Google implemented search-by-image.
I saved image into the search and thousands of similar images popped up. Well, this was going to take a while. If stuff like this happened more often, I had to hire someone to do this type of work for me. Sure, I spent most of my department’s budget on myself and my tools of the trade but having zero employees had its downsides. I limited the search to Twitter and Facebook and got to work.
Two hours later, I found the same image posted on Twitter. The text was the same, my new rig, and the poster was someone named AmazingMatt. Bingo. I combed through his account’s tweet history, searching for a geo-tagged image.
The thing with Twitter was that even if the user tagged the image with a broad location, like New York, Twitter added the GPS coordinates into the picture’s metadata. And no, this wasn’t the first time I was abusing that. After a moment, I found a picture of a sunset above the New York skyline, posted by AmazingMatt, tagged as New York. I hit F12, looked through the image’s element details and found there the GPS coordinates.
After putting the GPS coordinates into Google Maps, I got a house in Queens. I wondered how long it would take Twitter to remove this feature. Hopefully forever.
I locked my PC and headed to my armory.
Yes, I had an armory. This is where a fifth of my yearly budget went. I had a part of the floor remade, removing most offices for employees I wasn’t going to hire.
A steel door with a card reader and a numpad guarded the armory, door bearing a plaque saying: MAINTENANCE.
I slid my access card by the reader, typed my code onto the keypad and the door opened. Beyond lay a wide room with my weapon collection stored on shelves. The gear featured over fifty different guns, two dozen rifles, a bunch of knives, three swords, a flanged mace, a mini gun, a sniper rifle, and a rocket launcher. Okay, maybe I overdid it with that one.
I took off my suit’s jacket and went for my leather coat. Into the prepared strap, I placed a Glock 17 TB, a 9mm pistol, with an attached silencer. From the box by the side, I grabbed one of the weaker pocket EMP sticks, one of the five nameless debit cards I had prepared. I put on my cowboy hat. The cross pendant I wore on my necklace felt cold against my chest.
After I left the armory, I used my access card to leave the floor, and then again to enter the garage. My newest model Ford Mustang awaited me in its spot. I got in and drove out onto Wall Street.
AmazingMatt was going to have a very bad day.
The GPS coordinate took me to an abandoned house with broken windows and a decayed door. But the picture I used to find this place was a week old. Thanks to being on a small hill, the garden featured a fantastic view of the New York skyline.
Okay, this wasn’t a spot Matt would know about if he didn’t live nearby. And with a server in his basement, he would use a lot of electricity. I smirked, picked up my phone, and called Sally.
Sally worked in the NYISO, which managed the state’s power grid. She picked up after a single beep. “Hi,” she said, voice energetic.
This wasn’t the first time we had done this. “Howdy, Sally, I’m in southern Queens, looking for a house with an outlying amount of electricity consumption. The usual pay.” In her case, that was a thousand dollars. Not much, but we did this dance often.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear about your son. I’m sure he will get better soon. Thank you for calling me,” she said and hung up.
That was our code phrase for request accepted. I leaned against my car, drew a pack of cigarettes, took one, and lit it up.
By the time I was done with the smoke, my phone buzzed with a message from an anonymous number, in which I had four sets of GPS coordinates. Sally sure earned her pay.
I got into my car and went to check out the places.
The first two locations didn’t spark my interest, but the third one looked more promising. In the sunset’s light, the house stood alone in a large yard. Light shone from the windows, but also from the cellar window positioned just above the ground level.
Unlike the previous two places, which featured sheds with heavy machinery, this one had no apparent reason to have an abnormally high electricity usage.
I withdrew aether from my heart and fuelled it into my eyes. The arcane energy, the source of all magic, intoxicated my senses and flipped the world’s colors. Darkness turned to light. After a bit of tweaking of my power, yellow lines appeared in the ground and walls, electricity cables my magical vision now allowed me to see. Most of the electricity indeed flowed through the basement.
Okay, I had the correct location. I glanced over the yard and verified there was no doghouse present. Animals mostly tried to avoid me, but better safe than sorry. I stalked by the low, fence until I found an angle at which I could see through the cellar window. After finding the perfect spot, I tweaked the arcane energy in my eyes, zooming in. Inside the basement, I saw a carpet, a man sitting on a chair with his back turned toward me, and a server rack towering by the side.
With a smirk, I put on my leather gloves. I left my hat in the car and readied the pistol and the EMP stick. I breathed in the evening’s air and strengthened my body with aether. As a wizard, my classification was warmage. I couldn’t conjure fire, create force fields, or cast lightning, but I could run through a concrete wall.
I bolted forward, crossing the yard in a second. As I turned my run into a slide, I flipped off the cover of the EMP stick and pressed the button.
A flash of white light blinded me for a split second at the same time my legs hit the basement window. The entire block went dark and the glass shattered upon impact.
I slid through.
Confused by everything going dark, Matt was spinning on his chair toward the sound. I landed and stepped toward him. As he opened his mouth to speak, I clenched my left palm over his face and pressed the gun’s muzzle against his forehead.
He sat wide-eyed and petrified, as if the whole world had stopped.
I didn’t move for eternally long seconds, allowing his shock to turn into terror. To him, I must have been a mere shape in the darkness. But with my magical sight, I could see perfectly. Matt was horribly out of shape, had a nasty beard on his face and neck, and greasy, unkempt hair. He wore a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals.
“Matt?” A woman shouted from behind the door leading to the upper floor. “Is everything all right?”
I leaned down to Matt. “If she finds out I’m here, I will kill you, her, everyone else in the house, and then burn the place down to cover everything up as a gas explosion. Blink once if you understand.”
Sweating, Matt blinked once.
“Good. Make her go away.” I let go of his mouth, and removed the gun from his forehead, but kept aiming at him.
“All’s fine, Mom,” he shouted, voice shaking. “It’s just another blackout.”
“You sound nervous. Did something happen?” she pressed on.
“I was in the middle of something and probably lost a lot of work,” Matt replied, his tone calmer.
“Okay, sorry,” Steps sounded from behind the door, fading away.
“Good,” I whispered and straightened. “Now listen, Matt. I’m here to kill you. But I’ll give you a chance to convince me why I shouldn’t. When DDoSing LCorp’s websites, how did you get past their protective algorithms?”
He gulped. “I… I… guessed them.”
As I thought. “And when you did the guessing for a while, you felt tired and warm, right?”
“No. I was cold… as if I was freezing.”
Correct, the warm part was a trap to verify he wasn’t telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. Getting cold was the aftereffect of using too much aether, of using magic. He was indeed a divination-talented mage, though he had no idea. That made him potentially valuable. “I’m tired of hiring hackers to break into phones for me, so I’ve got a job offer for you. The pay’s hundred thousand dollars a year, benefits are a service flat, car, phone, laptop, full health coverage, and four weeks of vacation. The contract will be for ten years.”
He stared at me blankly for a few awkward seconds. “And if I refuse?”
Did he really need to ask that? “What do you think?” I glanced theatrically at the gun. “The same will happen if you screw me over, try to run, or piss me off in any major way.”
“I accept,” he stuttered.
“Good.” I returned the gun back into its place in my coat. From my pocket, I withdrew the anonymous debit card and tossed it at Matt. “This has twenty thousand dollars. Tomorrow morning, you wash, shave, go get at least a fifty-dollar haircut, and buy new clothes. The dress code is business casual, but if the suit costs less than a thousand dollars, it’s not good enough. By noon, you will be at Lucielle Legal Wall Street headquarters, sixth floor, or I will visit you again, understand?”
“Be on time.” I turned, made a few swift steps, used the wall for a support and leapt up, twisting my body to slide out through the broken window. Once outside the house, I cleared the mud off my coat with my hand and returned to my car.
I half-hoped Matt would try to use the money I gave him to run. That would be a fun hunt. The more reasonable part of me hoped he would be smart about this and do as I told him.
The next day, Matt showed up in a new suit. He was pale, eyes darting around. I sent him to HR, where they handled his papers. In the late afternoon, he was back at my office, now an employee of Lucielle Legal and my first subordinate.
I motioned him to the chair across my table. “I’m Lucas Johnson, head of Interventions.”
He said down, his hand trembling slightly. “Matthew Smith,” he stuttered.
“You will get used to this after a while.” I hid the Sci-Fi novel I’d been reading in a drawer since he didn’t need to see that. “The IT should solve your access. This…” I pushed over the table apartment keys and a note with its address, “is where you will live from now on.”
He stared at it for a second, then back at me. “I’ve got a hard time believing this is real.”
I sighed. This was going to be very tedious. “Yeah, you will get used to that too. Now, IT will get you the laptop and the datacenter access. I will need two things from you. First, you’ll be ready on call to hack into any phone, email, laptop, or anything else I need you to. Your first task is to prepare whatever infrastructure you need for that.”
“Okay… with whom will I work?”
“Me.” I put on a sour smile. “The department is the two of us. Order yourself whatever hardware and licenses you need. Your budget is roughly two hundred thousand dollars for this year.”
After a moment of staring, he realized I wasn’t kidding, and slowly nodded.
“Second, I’ll need you to find someone.” I scratched the top of my head. He probably knew nothing about Secret Societies and that would be necessary for him to make sense of what I wanted. “Okay, first, watch this.” I stretched out my hand and gathered aether into my palm. I made the energy spin and condense, creating a rotating sphere of air. This is how my most destructive spell started, but for the demonstration, this had to do.
He stared at my hand, mouth gaping.
“Long story short, magic exists and I’m an exceedingly powerful mage.” Well, technically speaking, I was a fallen angel. But I figured I would spare him that explanation for now and I let the sphere slowly dissipate. “And I’ve hired you. You have some basic talent for divination magic. That’s how you guessed what algorithm the local IT was using to defend against your DDoS attack. Now, using magic in public is illegal, as is showing its existence to anyone who cannot use it. The principle is called the Veil. Remember that, because the punishment for breaking the Veil is death, usually by the hand of someone like me. Put your laptop on the table.”
With his mouth still gaping, he placed his laptop on the table.
I turned to my PC, navigated to the U.S. Secret Societies website and sent Matt an invitation that was necessary to make his own account. “The supernatural world is governed by what’s called the Secret Societies. Literally everything they use is separated from the mundane world, including banks, social media applications, everything. LCorp mostly operated in the supernatural world. I sent you an invite to the main hub. Still following?”
He shrugged slightly. “Somewhat.”
“Good.” I smiled. He was taking this better than I expected. “You will get familiar with the Secret Societies intranet and search for someone. Her name is Evelyn Natheast and I’ll send you a picture. Any trace is a good one.” Technically, this wasn’t his job since my search for Evelyn was my private thing, but I didn’t care. Four months ago, I returned from prison and found Evelyn missing. And I couldn’t find her, no matter what means I used.
Matt narrowed his eyes. “If you couldn’t find her, how do you know she’s alive?”
“I’ve got a fragment of her soul,” I said. “Which would dissipate if she died. That’s the second part of this task – look for someone who can find people by fragments of their souls.”
Matt nodded, visibly less terrified than before. Yes, me not being able to find Evelyn was a show of weakness, but I was getting a bit desperate on that front. And the soul fragment in the cross I wore was a constant reminder. “Okay, I think I got the idea,” Matt said.
“Good. Pick a desk in one of the offices. You will sit there from now on.”
He grabbed his laptop, clumsily got from his chair and tumbled away.
At least for now, the fear of death wouldn’t allow him to betray me. And when that stopped working, we would see how this goes. I relaxed into my chair and returned to the Sci-Fi novel.
I didn’t make it through ten pages of space marines shooting bugs before my office door opened and a man stepped in. What the hell did Matt want? Annoyed, I raised my eyes.
This wasn’t Matthew.
A priest dressed in a buttoned-up cassock with a standard priest collar entered my office. His face was clean-shaven, eyes dark blue, and hair short, semi-arranged in a I-did-this-myself type of haircut an aging rock star would wear. “I see you’re working hard,” he said with a broad smile.
How the hell did he get here? I put away the novel, glaring at him. “Who’re you?”
“I’m Father Jack.” He took the chair across the table and sat down. “And I’ve come to order an intervention from you, Lucifer.”