Chapter 22 – Priming the Pump (Part II)

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“With all the relevant data points,” Elaine said, “we can see that someone is using some sort of extremely sophisticated statistical magick to affect the outcome of tests. Now, it’s similar to but not exactly like the Improbability Engine that took hold in the minds of Brad and Larry. The type of effect we’re seeing is sympathetic, which means that it’s either present in the minds of those affected—which I’ve conclusively shown that it is not—or it’s present as code or in another form.”

“As a programmer, you’re going to expect everything to be code,” Frog said. “What if it’s a sympathetic model like the Weatherby Phonograph or a series of sigils drawn on computers that interact with one another like cooking graphene?”

Hadaly waved a virtual hand. “Oh hey, hey, not only am I personally code—so are you.”

Elaine paused her gesturing for a moment, removed a pocky stick from her pocket and pointed it at Frog. “Okay, let’s make an argument for Chaos Pump as code. The effect is widespread and contingent, not just on contagion, but a goal to get particular people into the postgrad program. It doesn’t directly affect the targets—but it does affect the computer system that stores and collates their grades. My proposition is that because the Improbability Engine uses a semantic code basis that it’s likely the Chaos Pump does also and my reason is that this seems to be a dry run.”

“Okay,” Frog said. “We’re still missing a major element that might shed some light on the function of the code in question, though. That’s motive. Without the big picture of the effect that the Chaos Pump is having on the students and the grad program—or GRE tests together—it will be difficult to comment on the type of person (or people) who might be involved.”

“What data instantiates motive?” Elaine asked.

Frog tapped her chin and started to speak. “Well—”

Hadaly broke in. “…oh that’s odd.”

“Problem?” Frog said.

“Tango just logged into Warcraft and he’s asking for me—well, you,” Hadaly said.

“Let’s see what he has to say,” Elaine said.

* * *

“Rockefeller is going to blow a gasket if you keep this up,” Agent Toller said as they returned to the car. “If there’s any way we’ve proven that Mercer and Harwood aren’t behind some extracurricular plot against the United States government, it’s the speech that Shutters just gave us in there. GRE scores, professorial misconduct, Bitcoin?”

“You drive,” Agent Warren said as he pulled open his door and slid inside.

“Huh,” Toller said. “I didn’t even have to ask.”

As she started the ignition she watched Warren reach into the back seat and grab a tablet PC sitting there. He booted it up and double-clicked the World of Warcraft icon.

“You’re letting me drive because you want to play a video game?”

“I think that Shutters just inadvertently revealed exactly what relationship Richard Harwood has to Elaine Mercer.”

Toller took the car back to the main road and headed out towards the campus. “And just how did you deduce that relationship?”

“A little bee told me,” Agent Warren said. “Well, it’s like this. Not too long ago someone at ASU put Mercer into academic probation and since the boys back at the Hive were watching they alerted me. She doesn’t seem like the sort of student who could fail a class. I haven’t had time to look into it, but if you meant to ‘scare a student off’ wouldn’t you mess with their grades?”

“You think that she’s Harwood’s private detective.”

“Yes I do.”

“Now how does that explain the bulk pre-paid phones that triggered the national terrorist registry flag?” Toller gave him one of those, explain-that-to-me-smart-boy looks. Of course, it was a moot point now, they’d expended all the time they’d been given to run down the lead and would probably be recalled any minute.

“You’ve never watched Veronica Mars?” Warren said. “Burner cell phones are an excellent way to keep in contact covertly with a client and to do research on suspects without revealing yourself. It seems pretty plausible to me that’s why she has the cell phones, plus she’s a computer science student so it’s not out of character.”

Toller took a few moments to reply as she focused to navigate some road hazards—namely a slow moving van—and shook her head. “So we’ve been doing bugger-all at the tail end of this investigation because…”

“I think we’re now investigating the same case that Harwood hired Mercer to investigate,” Warren said. His eyes flickered over the tablet’s screen while he waited for his character to load into the Warcraft. “Ah, there she is… I wonder if she’s ever not logged into this game.”


“The Hive got back to me earlier and the e-mails say that the two professors, Linscott and Whitaker, did the most Bitcoin transfers before and during the crash. Isn’t it interesting that they’re the ones who are missing from school right now shortly after the special program also went missing?”

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