Chapter 19 – Special Agent N00bcake (Part I)

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Special Agent Ellis Warren found himself clearly out of his depth.

Years of training as a field operative, extensive hand-to-hand experience, and seminars in profiling aggressors didn’t give him any edge against the pixelated fox-like creature on his computer.

He’d spent the better part of the day trying to get into a discussion with the crypto geeks on one of the more highly trafficked forums his investigation had led him to. A particularly engaging thread–that Mercer also joined into–had decided to take a break and extend their talk into the virtual game of World of Warcraft. If he had known what he’d be getting into, he would have avoided installing the game and borrowing an account from one of the guys in technical support.

On screen, blood sprayed and his warrior went down with a cry of anguish.

“That kobold killed me again!” he exclaimed and moved his mouse over the red button that would resurrect his dead character at the graveyard.

He clicked the button and read the messages from his guild mates. Some encouraged him to keep trying; others asked if he needed help—the one he hoped would actually interact with him (the character he thought could be Elaine Mercer) remained mute. He checked the activity log and saw that she seemed to be tied up in a high level dungeon. This meant she’d probably be too busy to notice his fumbling.

Running as a ghost back to his corpse—likely with the kobold standing over his crumpled body—he began to think about how dubious it was to attempt to gather intelligence about Mercer by playing in a video game with some of her colleagues. Deputy Director Rockefeller maintained that the investigation needed to remain as low-profile as possible (given that Mercer might be working with a cell of individuals) therefore gathering intelligence needed to be done by working around the edges before going after her directly. Warren disagreed initially; even more so now that nothing seemed to emerge that connected directly to the case.

Even the conspiracy between the Dean of Engineering and some of his peers seemed suspicious, but he couldn’t see how it tied to Mercer’s activities and the suspicious bulk purchase of cell phones.

So here he was, chatting at mathematicians, cryptography enthusiasts, and computer hackers over a video game hoping to catch the attention of a twenty-something college student with a penchant for mixing intellectual pursuits with high-fantasy. He sighed loudly when he checked the activity roll again to check on the imminent “Shodan” (the name of Mercer’s mage character) and saw she was still in a dungeon. Interestingly, her attention to the game didn’t slow down her posts in the cryptography forums at all. In fact, she’d still managed six posts in the past twenty minutes.

Warren could barely keep up with the general chat in game in between getting killed by that kobold.

“Aren’t you supposed to be doing legwork on your investigation instead of playing video games?” Agent Toller asked. She’d parked herself on the bed, her Clancy novel open face-down on her chest as she laid flat, eyes closed. Warren thought she’d fallen asleep—at least he’d hoped she had. No such luck.

After just running across half the map of Elwynn Forest, Agent Warren felt this to be an undue criticism.

“In a way, this is legwork,” he said. “I’ve been gathering information on the groups that Mercer frequents and furtively inserting myself into her band of cohorts by endearing myself like any undercover agent…”

Warren stopped long enough to notice that Toller had turned her head to give him a bemused look. She joined the bureau and went into anti-terrorism herself right after coming off a team who supported undercover agents who infiltrated motorcycle gangs. He realized that perhaps his decision to compare undercover work that meant death at the calloused hands to playing on the computer might not be the best idea.

So when she sat up and started to speak, he expected her to give him a piece of her mind in a chunk the size of the moon.

“What the hell is that standing behind you?” she said.

Agent Warren turned back to the screen to see that a very tall blue-tinged woman, with white hair, broad blue horns, decked in golden robes coruscating with glimmering light lurking directly behind his character. The figure loomed large, even over what he believed had to be a reasonably tall human and the creature’s equipment put his drab outfit to shame.

The name “Shodan” stood out in bold green above her avatar and a dialog box had appeared on the screen telling him that he’d been invited to a group by her.

I’m here to run you through the Deadmines,  the message read. Accept my party invite and we’ll get you some better gear and maybe some levels.

“Speak of the devil, it’s Mercer,” Warren said.

“What does she want?”

“To help me level and gear my toon, I think,” he said. In answer to Toller’s quizzical “eh?” he explained, “My character is pretty low on the totem pole right now, she’s offered to help me get some better equipment.”

“Oh,” Toller said. “Well, don’t keep the lady waiting.”

Warren clicked the invite accept button and waited.

Shodan turned and started to cast a spell—a swirling portal shimmered into existence and she vanished from sight.

“You’ve barely even cleared the newb zone…Theoden,” she wrote. “That name, are you a Tolkein fan?”

“Yes, I am,” he wrote back.

“Nice to know you’re not entirely lame,” she said.

Warren winced. He didn’t know if she could see any of the other characters on the account he was borrowing (none of them had been set up on the server she was running on so he figured he was safe) but going by how many time he’d died reaching his current level, he thought it obvious that he was a total rookie.

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