Follow the nook.
n+3 but only if n<15
The words made Soran very angry to read them. Why did they keep following her around?
Soran and Kohl had been separated while they each went through their orientation on a secure Mordguard computer. It was a lot of fluff, but she understood it had to be rigorous in order to cover all of the bases. Some people were without common sense, and too much detail is never enough detail if it is a complete dumbass that is being trained.
She had been provided no paper to write down what the computer was telling her and she certainly did not want to make note of it digitally, so she committed it to memory by making a song of it. She called it the Cure for Paranoia.
The six hours she spent having the Mordguard attempt to reprogram her was laden with propaganda, firearm protocols, and how they would be assigned a device called D-nA, which stood for Drone-Network Automaton. It relied on vaguely explained concepts to operate, and, in essence, was just a set of eyes from the larger hub that all the D-nAs got their instructions from.
The final two of the entire six hour orientation course discussed secrecy, forfeiture of trial rights, and how the Mordguard get paid and specifically how they could spend their salary.
The door behind Soran opened, and Gerry’s face was seen walking behind Kohl into the room.
“That shit was laaaaaaaaame!” sang Kohl to his cousin.
“Yeah, Ger, what was the whole thing about not buying fast food? We supposed to starve?” said Soran. A confused expression beset Gerry’s face.
“The Mordguard keep their agents healthy. Fast food is unhealthy. Didn’t think it was that difficult to figure out,” he answered, his eyes visibly analyzing the cousins in their chair. “Okay, that part of orientation is complete. Now, it is time for your psychiatric evaluation. Gotta make sure we are familiar with our equipment before we put it in service,” said Gerry to a now angry Kohl.
“No. I’m not talkin’ to any shrink. Screw that, and screw yourself!”
“Yeah. What are you trying to do, Ger? Make us feel crazy? If we were crazy, would we have made it here?”
Gerry put his hands on his hips and breathed a deep breath in an attempt to relieve his annoyance at the remarks.
“No,” he answered. Soran looked confused, and Gerry Baker’s face looked scared for a moment, as if he made some grand mistake. He shook the expression from his eyes, and continued, “You do what I say now. Remember?” he asked, and tapped the face of his watch.
“What about Dallas?” asked Kohl.
“Later. You haven’t finished your orientation yet.”
“When do we get our D-nA?”
“Yeah, Ger, when do we get those? I wanna play with one.”
Gerry’s patience had worn thin.
“Shut up, ‘both’ of you. You are going to speak with our psychiatrist. You don’t have to tell the truth, either. Okay?”
The cousins nod. They felt safer knowing they could lie.
They followed Gerry down a series of peculiarly empty hallways and into a seemingly random door with no inscriptions, insignia, or anything that could help them infer what that room held. But, somehow, Gerry knew which door to open, and inside the room he opened was a man sitting alone in a reclining, dark, leather armchair.
Before they knew it, Gerry had left the room and it was just the cousins and their psychiatrist sitting in comfortable chairs, facing a corner of the room together. Soran believed they set these rooms up in such a way to try and convey a sense of safety and trust to their patients, so she decided to turn in her chair and face him directly to make him feel awkward.
“I am Doctor William H. Osprey. Who are you?” spoke the suited, odd, old man who seemed to elude description, although he was certainly no shape-shifter.
Kohl answered first. Soran didn’t feel like responding, so she refrained from doing so.
“I am Kohl Wulfric LaVane, true son of Andrew Deiter LaVane, true heir to the throne of Ancient Satur, and true heir to the throne of LaVane Oil. Who the fuck is William H. Osprey?”
The psychiatrist scribbled something in a notepad, and took his time to drink a sip from his water-glass, blinking as he was processing how to answer. He set the glass sharply down on the table beside him.
“You sound like a spoiled brat with daddy issues. Have you ever even been in a fight with another man?” asked the psychiatrist.
Kohl still could not figure him out.
“I wanna be in a fight against you,” Kohl responded, casting a hate filled glare toward the shrink with his mind filled with lessons in Aikido.
“Exactly how I thought you might respond, there, er, Kohl, was it? Very good, yet very boring. Soran, would you like to tell me some grand story about your upbringing when I ask who you are as well?”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” said Kohl.
“That’s not true. I just wanna wait and figure him out first,” said Soran.
Dr. Osprey nodded, then began scribbling furiously in his notebook. Five minutes pass with them staring at the scribbling psychiatrist, and Kohl grew irked by his behavior.
“What are you writing about that could possibly take this much time?”
“Nothing. You may leave, now, Kohl,” answered Dr. Osprey.
Kohl was upset by this, so he rose from his chair and snatched the small notepad from the calm Dr. Osprey, who merely watched his behavior.
Looking in the notepad only made Kohl grow even more frustrated at Dr. Osprey, who had been writing nonsense in the small journal; it was all scribbles and doodles.
“You being funny?” asked Kohl. He didn’t like being played with.
“Relax, Kohl. You should’ve seen some stupid shit like this happening. The guy’s a shrink, he probably has suicidal thoughts every day when he thinks about how truly meaningless he is,” said Soran to her cousin. Kohl smiled, and nodded his head in agreement. He slapped the small journal onto the psychiatrist’s lap and gave him a stern, warning-of-a-look as he resumed his chair.
“Go easy on me, Soran, geez,” said Dr. Osprey, who stuck out his bottom lip to appear severely hurt.
“I’ll talk. What do you need to know?”
“I need to know who Kohl is, Soran.”
“Stop it. Next question,”
“Do you know who Kohl is?”
“Yes. I’m not stupid. Next question.”
“Did you hack into Mordguard systems and discover 2727 27th street?”
“Did Kohl do it?”
“Do you know who did it?”
“Do you know who hacked the Mordguard?”
“What? The Mordguard hacked me.”
“Then how did you find out about it?”
“Me and Kohl were on some drugs, and it just kind-of, came to him. Like an epiphany,” said Soran. That was only yesterday. What a trip. Still, this was markedly more interesting than attending her courses and doing nothing all day, and did not really bother her how quickly and severely the change had been, nor did the scale of it intimidate her.
“Fascinating,” uttered the psychiatrist, and he took a long sip of his glass, closing his eyes as he did so.
“Would you like some vodka?” he asked them. They laughed.
“Yes,” says Kohl, calling Dr. Osprey’s bluff.
Dr. Osprey leans over to Kohl and hands him the glass.
Kohl takes a gulp, and coughs after he swallows. Dr. Osprey was no bluffing man.
“Holy shit, man, I’m underage,” says Kohl.
“Not anymore. You’re Mordguard property, now. The laws don’t really apply anymore.”
Soran and Kohl laughed as they passed the glass to each other.
“Easy, there. You still have much more left to do before you begin working. They won’t be as nice as me from this point forward. They plan on training you two separately. Gerry will tell you more,” said Dr. Osprey.
“Speak of the devil,” said Soran as the door to the quaint room opened and Gerry stepped in.
“The devil’s got nothing on me. Come on, we gotta give you the grand tour,” said Gerry.
Kohl and Soran stood from their chairs and followed Gerry out the door; Kohl was unable to refrain from his instinctive impulse to show Dr. Osprey what the back of his middle finger looked like as he stepped out of sight into the grey hallway with his tongue sticking out.
“When will I be issued my D-nA? I’ve signed the secrecy agreement and done that stupid orientation for civilian recruits, Comissioner,” said Soran to her uncle after they had been given a tour of the expansive Compound, as it was called, and been subsequently shown to their chambers and where to get fed at what time. They had discussed sleeping hours, class times for Soran, and training times for Kohl. It was to be a grueling, rude awakening for them.
The entire day after the psychiatrist visit was a much nicer ordeal, in contrast to Gerry’s other interactions with the cousins, and the vast amount of thought it took for Soran and Kohl to commit to memory the layout of the immense, underground agency kept them quiet and was a welcome change to their uncle. Gerry hoped that they were beginning to understand how very serious this all had become for them. He was frightened of them, in truth. Gerry was reluctant to issue them access to the Mordguard data hub; Soran and Kohl were intimidatingly intelligent, even to Gerry, and scarier, still, was that they were youthfully unhinged.
“I will only issue Soran her unit today. Kohl, you are going to boot camp to learn what it is to be a Mordguard. And when you are a little more-” responded Gerry, pausing mid-sentence to make eye contact with Kohl to add emphasis. He continued after Kohl met his eyes: “When you are a little more mature, Kohl, I will issue your unit to you. You may use Soran’s in the meantime, but only under her supervision. Is this agreeable?” responded Gerry.
Gerry got his expected answer from Kohl.
“That’s bollocks, Gerry. I am mature-” started Kohl. His dark forehead was wrinkled in anger.
“I agree. Kohl needs to quit being so childish. Plus, I really wanna see how good this thing is ASAP,” interrupted Soran.
“Alright, then we have a deal. Oh, and about your father, Dallas,” started Gerry. He had won Soran’s attention.
“That is, unfortunately, still under investigation. I’m sorry, but I signed the same contract you did when I started working here. I can’t tell you much until we close a file. I can tell you that we think it’s related to a much, much larger, ongoing investigation.”
Follow the nook.
n+3 but only if n<15
Soran had scribbled the message she had seen parade down the length of the virtual monitor that she had used for the first Mordguard civilian orientation earlier onto a small sheet of paper from the locker next to her small bunk, and was now scrutinizing it quietly with Kohl. In truth, she could have used her newly acquired D-nA to solve the puzzle for her, but she thought it would be both more fun and less of an insult if she and Kohl solved it together.
“It’s definitely a type of cipher. So let’s start by assuming all of the letters used-” began Kohl, intrigued by the riddle.
“-have been manipulated by the instruction. So let’s start by rewriting it…” finished Soran, who had begun with the letter ‘g’.
“‘G’ is the seventh letter in the alphabet, and three before ‘g’ is ‘d’,” stated Kohl. Soran nods, and writes a ‘d’ below the riddle.
D I L L O N
“Hmmm. A name?” wondered Kohl.
“I guess that’s what the first part is for, ‘follow the nook’,”
“Okay, but what does that mean? Do we actually follow something?”
Soran shook her head.
“No. It should probably just be right here in front of us. ‘Follow the nook’,” she repeated. Follow the nook.
Soran tapped her chin with her forefinger in efforts to bridge a connection.
“Nook,” began Kohl. “What is a nook? A corner? Is this guy a prostitute or something? Workin’ on the corner?”
Soran smiled at the jest.
“Ha-ha. No, don’t think that would be it. Hmmm,” said Soran. “Maybe it’s a clue to the guy’s last name. Right? Why else would that be there? What use is just a first name?”
“Okay, right. Right,” agreed Kohl, who stood beside Soran. He, too, was growing visibly anxious to find the answer.
“So it’s a last name that means nook. Should we search for it on your new thing?”
“Er. Okay, sure. This thing has a mode so it’s like the AGA GameRoom,” replied Soran, referring to the popular video game console that turned an entire room into the game you were playing, so long as the room was empty, with the exception of a special GameRoom GameChair (sold separately). The walls of the room had to be painted a certain hue of green (GameRoom GameGreen, also sold separately) so the projection was clean and crisp. The GameRoom stuck with its acclaimed, original controller to operate the game console by hand, as opposed to other, poorly executed attempts at virtual reality involving goggles that more or less incapacitated the gamer, whereas the GameRoom populated the room around you to appear more immersive while maintaining a strict, but necessary, real-world-game-world boundary.
The D-nA was a single contact-lens that Soran could remove from her eye for cleaning, relief, or what have you, and she had to hold her thumb, middle, and ring fingers together to activate the thought-commands used for operating the lens, which she found to be a bit spooky. It was as though she had to meditate to use it, and the device was so robust that it could distinguish between actual commands and her internal monologue, also found by Soran to be spooky. Soran had named it “Dina”.
Pressing her thumb to the tips of her ring and middle fingers, Soran activated the automaton’s thought-control capability.
Dina, start projection mode.
From Soran’s contact lens the device projected out in front of both her and Kohl with bright, clear light, in stunning detail, the smooth, streamlined user-interface of the D-nA. It was only interrupted by Soran’s occasional blinking.
“Whoa, that’s epic,” commented Kohl, who was growing envious of his cousin. He was actually very heated about not being assigned one of his own, but did not want to appear weak to Soran and so made no comment on the matter. He was genuinely intrigued by the automaton, and was thankful that, at the very least, his cousin had one they could operate together.
Soran put her thumb and fingers together.
Dina, search names that mean nook.
The screen started a search engine and the projected image was instantly populated with results for the query.
However, most of the results were for the actual name ‘Nook’, as well as baby names and other useless sites.
“‘Nook’ means corner or cranny, try that,” suggested Kohl, who was still in awe at the technology his cousin had at her disposal.
Soran paused a moment to clear her thoughts before touching her fingertips to activate another thought command.
Dina, search for last names that mean corner or cranny.
This specific string of words seemed to do the trick: a website that listed all of the possible names matching the meaning in question was the first result, and Soran proceeded to open the page using thought-command.
Nook, Callahan, Calhan were the standout names to Soran and Kohl, and Kohl suggested initially searching for Dillon Callahan, on a hunch.
Dina, search D-I-L-L-O-N C-A-L-L-A-H-A-N.
~no need to spell, D-nA can tell which spelling you wanted to use
What? This thing can talk back?
~only to better serve
Soran stopped touching her fingers together, alarmed by the unexpected answers that entered her mind.
“Uh, Kohl. This thing can think back to me…” said an uncertain Soran to her cousin.
“So is that, like, cool, or what?”
“Yeah, sort of. It’s also creepy as fuck,” Soran answered.
“Maybe it’s a brain-wave frequency thing. Like, you can match the same waves that your brain puts out in the form of thoughts and emit that right back at you. I’m pretty sure there’s a guy who did this to control someone’s arm in an experiment a long time ago. Saw an article on Bit,” guessed Kohl at the workings of the small lens.
Kohl’s guess made sense and sat well with Soran; she couldn’t reckon any other way for such a technological feat to be possible.
But how does it know what spelling I mean?
“Looks like it’s Calhan, not Callahan,” said Kohl, interrupting Soran’s thoughts. He was pointing at the projection’s head where a small link read: “Don’t you mean Dillon Calhan?”
“Let’s check it out,” said Soran, who thought-commanded Dina to perform the search with the amended name.