Lords of Being
Chapter 6: Unmasking a Mole
It’s getting late, so the group heads to the Royal York where they’ve taken rooms. The building is a Georgian confection. Entering the lobby, Neon and Rosamund see Neville in the check in line. Neon points him out to Zabeth who comments that he must be here for the British Psychical Research Society conference, which is being held in the hotel and starts tomorrow.
Neon, Zabeth and Rosamund wander over to chat with Neville, who’s surprised to see them here. “Are there frogs falling in York now?”
Claude grins, “No, just Nut-Walters.”
“Pipe cleaner figurines with a walnut for a head and construction paper and felt clothing. They’re all the rage in York at the moment.”
Neville looks dubious.
“So what brings you to York?”
“I’m here to talk about the recent events in Bugtussle.”
“9:00 AM tomorrow. My talk is titled, ‘Midwestern Sample of Pwdr Ser’. I’m sure you’ll find it fascinating.”
While Claude, Zabeth and Rosamund amuse themselves with Neville, Glass has identified the local anomalous source in the hotel, and texts to Hellgrammite pointing out the black woman in the gift shop behind the cash register. With the Nut-Walters. When Hellgrammite enters, the shop, the woman looks up with a grin, “May I help you?” The badge on her chest says “Miss McCollough”.
“No, I was just trying to get away from the lines.”
“You’re with the Psychical Research people?”
“No, I’m here for my own reasons.” He pushes, and the anomaly is gone.
“Well, have a nice time. Would you like one of the…” And stops. “Would you like one of these? It’s free.” She hands him a Nut-Walter. Attached to it is a tag with a URL: www.nutwalter.co.uk
He takes it. “Thank you. Is there a café in this hotel?”
“Yes, it’s through that arch. It’s open 24/7.” Hellgrammite thanks her, and then finds his way to the café. After selecting a table, he pulls out his laptop. One of the hotel’s amenities is free WiFi. He starts a browser and enters the URL from the tag on the Nut-Walter. After a moment, the browser reports that the address is not found. Perhaps the site isn’t live yet. He contacts his bots to have them search. He intended to start the search and catch up on a few things, but almost immediately a window opens on his screen with the search results. At the top of the page is an image with fonts so tortured the text is almost unreadable. It says “Nut-Walters – by – Vanessa McCollough – 1£ each”. Below that are grainy pictures of Nut-Walters in assorted costumes and various poses. There’s no indication of any way to order the Nut-Walters from the website. Then he notices the URL the bots found the site at. It’s the same as the one on the tag. He opens a new browser window and enters the URL. Address not found.
Si and Zabeth follow Hellgrammite to the restaurant, and join him at the table. Si hacks the hotel database. The hotel now thinks he checked in an hour ago, into one of the hotel’s choicest suites. In fact, it’s just down the hall from the suite Rosamund is in.
Intent on this mystery, Hellgrammite enters the Nut-Walter URL into Google. Google finds it. The site is a few days old. Now he’s annoyed. Digging into network, he discovers that somebody has been denying him access. His bots went in under an alternate alias.
Hellgrammite shows his results to Glass, who attempts to access the site. He also gets an “Address not found” error. They’re blocking him too. This cannot be tolerated. Glass digs into who’s blocking them. He’s lead to an account that’s heavily encrypted. Zabeth offers to help, but Si is concentrating on his phone and doesn’t hear. The server is in London, fortunately connected to the network over a fiber optic link. The CPU (just a bit of silicon) acquires a bit of new circuitry. The server is suddenly much more cooperative. It’s receiving instructions from an IP address in London. It’s a moment’s work to track the address to a company called “Recondite Electronics.”
Recondite Electronics’ website is full of information about the company. It is publicly owned. It does research for a fee in both hardware and software. It also does work on communications. They can’t talk about just what the communications work entails, but hint broadly at who the customer is. They’ll work on anything that involves digital signals. The CEO is named Charles Berkley. He’s also the CTO.
Since Hellgrammite and Glass are consumed with the mystery of who is denying them access to the Nut-Walters website, Zabeth digs into the remaining four anomalies. Glass’ map has placed them all at private residences. The owners or renters are Brian Farmham, Jennifer Norris, Madaline Edwards and Frederick Baxter. Yet more hacking of the hotel database shows that none of them are staying at the hotel. They don’t appear to be members of the British Psychical Research Society either.
When Zabeth looks up from her netbook to share this bit of information, Glass is gone. In fact, he’s now is London, back at Lloyd’s. He’s going to deal with these people who have been blocking him.
Hellgrammite hasn’t noticed the disappearance yet. He’s found that Mr. Berkley is one of those tiresome persons who have a well documented professional and personal life. He’s has a real history that goes back seamlessly to high school before the records peter out. If he tried, he could probably find birth and christening records. Perhaps Recondite Electronics’ records will be more interesting. They have been recently hired to do work on climate change analysis and strategic simulations involving the Middle East. Nothing anomalous, nothing occult.
Over in London, while walking from the Lloyds build towards the home of Recondite Electronics, Glass starts chatting with the routers at Recondite Electronics. They grow some extra circuitry also, and become much more biddable. Ah, here are the architectural drawings, complete with network drop annotations. Hmm. This place has a number of anonymous seats, especially in the “black” section. Someone has been sitting at a particular seat, using a particular system to do some fancy hacking on Hellgrammite. And Glass. From the router’s records, Glass can see how Hellgrammite was blocked, but interestingly, there’s no trace of how he was blocked. Curiouser and curiouser.
Back in York, Hellgrammite pulls up the personnel records from Recondite Electronics. He sets bots to check them all. They report back that one Cadmus Clisk is a contractor for Recondite Electronics. Yes, the some Cadmus Clisk who is a Lord of Order. “Clisk!” roars Hellgrammite, startling people at nearby tables.
Glass’ bots are always watching the Lords of Order and Chaos. Especially Hellgrammite. Glass’ bots report to him almost before Hellgrammite gets the news. When he reads what they reported, Glass has the same reaction as Hellgrammite, “Clisk!”, causing several passersby look to at the odd man who’s striding angrily down the street, talking to his phone. He must be an American.
Hellgrammite sends an email and IM to Clisk asking why he’s blocking him. There’s no response.
Elsewhere in the hotel, Neville has finally checked in and found his room. Closing the door behind him, he pats his breast pocket. The sample is still with him. He was half afraid that those people would somehow steal it away. He unpacks, leaving the stone frogs in his briefcase for the presentation in the morning. Along with his phone, which is useless in Britain.
Arriving at the building that houses Recondite Electronics, Si walks up to floor-to-ceiling window and looks in. Nobody’s about. He squeezes in through the glass. It feels so nice. Then he goes intangible, to sneak about. He makes his way to the 3rd floor where the drop-in seating is. Unfortunately, the user of the network drop that was being used to block Hellgrammite is long gone. Glass quizzes the workstation he used, but that’s no good – the fellow used some anonymous numerical username.
There is a a nice shiny plasma display with a glass face, on a system used for high-definition graphical stuff. If he asks it nicely, it should show him what’s been reflected in it recently. Unfortunately, the plasma display only got a "look" at the fellow's back: male, dressed in plain clothes, with short blond hair. No face visible.
He goes to the nearest men’s loo. He asks the mirror when it last saw anyone who looks like the person in the plasma display. It hasn't. He takes a small bit of mirror and plants it looking at the suspect seat. Then he sits in the chair. There’s a clock on the wall. He retrocogs, using the clock to gauge the time. He sees the blond man reflecting in the plastic, face on this time.
Moments later, Neville is startled to see Glass unfold out of his briefcase, and then walk through the wall. Who are these people and why have they followed him to York? They must be after the sample! His hand goes to his breast pocket, and pulls out the vial. Still here. And the sample is visible now. It isn’t always. He hopes it cooperates for tomorrow’s presentation.
Glass goes to his room, has the room mirror display the reflection he saw, and sends a picture to Hellgrammite. “Your opponent looks like this.”
Hellgrammite texts back, “Yes, that’s Clisk.”
Having solved this mystery, Glass goes to the bathroom and merges with the mirror to rest and recharge. Hopefully the maid won’t come in and freak out at the reflection of the man in the mirror.
Things are winding down for the night. Rosamund is taking a horticultural respite in the suite she’s sharing with Zabeth, who’s taking a bath. Hellgrammite is relaxing by talking things apart in his room. Neon has found a tiny bit of home in the bar, communing with the neon in the beer logos. A pint of lager sits by his side. Every so often he raises it mechanically to his lips, but the level never goes down.
Neville meets colleagues for dinner and drinks, and gives a few of them a preview of his presentation tomorrow. They're very intrigued, but can scarcely credit the story of an apparition popping out of his briefcase and exiting through the wall. I mean, even at a Psychical Research con...!
Suddenly the Courtiers can sense a chaos-side blockage. The feeling is like a migraine and tooth ache combined. A few seconds later it’s gone.
Zabeth sends an IM to Glass. There’s no response. A quick tally of the other Courtiers at the hotel reveals that the all felt it. She sends an IM to the other 22 Courtiers on Earth asking what happened.
Ranuson replies, “I think that was probably a regular blockage.”
“So who fixed it?”
Miguel sends from Texas, “I did. It was one of ours, so it only seemed fair.” Miguel is one of the Lords of Chaos.
Loois sends out that there’s a team in York dealing with the odd anomaly there. Ranuson sends that he can’t feel it from Denmark anymore. That’s progress, at least.
2 hours later, Glass emerges from his bathroom mirror refreshed. It’s about midnight. He finds a message from Zabeth asking about the blockage. He also finds the message string culminating in Miguel admitting to clearing it. He sends back that he didn’t notice anything.
Glass changes his appearance and clothing, and heads to the hotel bar. Claude’s staring at a Foster’s sign. There’s a flat beer in front of him. It’s warm, but this is Britain, so that’s not unusual.
“Did you notice blockage earlier?”
“Apparently the courtiers did. And they got rid of it right quickly. So this must have been a ‘normal’ one.”
“Who did it?”
“Someone named Miguel, in Texas. One of the Lords of Order was blocking Hellgrammite and myself from getting to the Nut-Walter website. I believe it’s the one called Clisk. He looks like this.” He shows Neon the image on his phone.
“Why would he want to be involved with these teeny tiny bits of wrongness?”
“If he was just messing with Hellgrammite I would think it would have been an internecine thing. But he’s also messing with me, which indicates a deeper plot. He seems to be blocking the specialists.”
“That suggests that someone behind that website knows that we’re trying to fix this and is trying to hinder us.”
“It’s worse than that. We know that the person is a Lord of Order, and that the Courtesans cannot find the anomalies. Which suggests a prior conspiracy. How else would he know about the Nut-Walters? He wasn’t part of the team the found them. Or at least someone has been monitoring our actions very closely. It all looks funny to me.”
Neon has nothing more to add, so Glass leaves him to his meditation. Leaving the bar, he wanders into the café where he finds Duncan Scott who Neville had been talking with. Duncan is telling a group of men about Neville’s presentation tomorrow. Nothing Glass didn’t already know from snooping on Neville’s correspondence and computer activity. Leaving the café, he chats with the CCTV system and convinces it to ignore the exhibit area for a bit. Slipping into the ballroom, he finds a number of interesting machines: attempts at automated dowsing devices, a large number of variants on spirit photography, lots of infrared images, topographical electromagnetic field things, electronic voice phenomena – picking voices out of static. And a great number of TVs setup with recordings of weird things. Some of the infrared photos may have been of incautious pages (minor courtiers). But nothing of interest to Elemental Knights.
After resetting the CCTV system, Glass goes to the Minster to polish off his night’s work by gazing at the early-morning light coming through the stained glass of the south facing wall of.
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2009
©2009 Barry Tannenbaum, All Rights Reserved