Chapter 1 — Pointless

The thought of suicide is a great consolation: in that way one gets through many a dark night.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

The bomb suit hung heavy as Aidan advanced through each security checkpoint guarding the path to his cubicle.

Security card.

8-digit PIN code.

Palm print with vein scan.

Facial and voice recognition.

And the complimentary retinal scan.

He anticipated the perfect moment to trigger the explosion. A flaming tangle of concrete and steel. Five stories worth. Crashing down. Ending the pointlessness.

Find a central support beam.

Push a button.

Burn it down.

The latest in explosive technology, the ad had promised. Thirty pounds of a gel explosive, more powerful than C-4, packaged in an ab-flattering, chest-enhancing bomb suit that looks great under work clothes. Amaze your friends. Be the envy of your co-workers. They’ll never know what hit ‘em.

What a shame, he thought, Gail’s at the security gate. I rather liked her. Always happy and smiling. I guess it’s just her unlucky day. He looked her in the eye. “Will you need a stool sample this time?”

“No.” She laughed. “Maybe next time.”

He sighed. What a waste. Time-release anthrax spores hidden up there for nothing. As he passed the gate, it seemed Gail eyed his bulging new pecs.

The anthrax.

The bomb suit.

His diabolical plan.

It was all part of a fun little game he liked to play with security guards and their beloved checkpoints. Sometimes he’d dream up new ways to destroy his world. Today, it was a tummy-tucking, muscle-faking bomb suit for the modern nihilist who doesn’t like going to the gym to pump iron. It’s weighty. So, you’ll get stronger just strolling around town wearing it.

I’m sick, he thought. Mentally unstable. A deviant miscreant who should be caged. But, they can’t institutionalize you if it stays in your head—not yet anyway. Unexpressed thoughts are privacy’s last sanctuary. The cozy, comfy security of your own skull.

Each expressed thought is monitored, collected, weighed by advanced statistical algorithms—far beyond mortal comprehension—ranked by potential harm to society, then indexed and stored for eternity. Just in case.

Your tax dollars at work.

You can thank us later.

Why did it feel so good conceiving and harboring violent, revolutionary thoughts? He knew he’d never act on them. The irony stung, of course. How pathetic. Perfectly violent, world-ending fantasies … nicely castrated and safely bottled up in the head of an impotent observer—stripped of the will to act.

He found himself at his desk. Another day at Trustheus Corporation. Hang the bomb suit on its imaginary hook. Pull up a chair. Save the world from evil hackers and prying governments.

Aidan sat.

Doug arrived.

Like clockwork.

“Have you completed the intrusion analysis I sent you last night?” Doug asked.

Doug’s eyes were bloodshot, like he might pop a vessel. “No, but I spent half the night on it. I’ll notify you as soon as it’s done.”

“Maybe next time spend the whole night.” Doug wasn’t smiling. “I need you to make it fast. The boss is breathing down my neck on this one.”

“Isn’t he always?”

And Doug was gone.

On call servitude, he thought. Around the clock. Three hundred sixty-five days a year. One life to live, and so quickly we line up to sell it off.

Aidan looked out the window. He remembered once feeling lucky to get this cubicle with a view. Until he realized what it meant. Only the pigeons nesting on the window’s ledge would know it was springtime.

He longed for a view of the world outside.

There was no view.

It was blocked.

His office, the Trustheus building, cowered just north of a forty-story skyscraper—in its perpetual shadow. Aside from the pigeons, his entire view was filled with that black glass monster. The MonteBank Tower. Its lower half infested with bankers. On top of them sat regional offices for government agencies. The CIA, FBI, NSA, and probably others.

He wasn’t amused at fate. Planted next door to his enemies. Those snooping bastards were half the problem Trustheus fought on a daily basis—nefarious hackers the other half—and he got to sit here and look at them all day. Or they at him.

Shutting the blinds, he turned to his computer and pulled up the intrusion analysis responsible for Doug’s current aneurysm. He never knew what exactly he was working on. The pace was overwhelming. Corporate clients. Retail customers. Trustheus wanted to protect everyone.

They tried to give him just the technical details of each problem. These would practically solve themselves in brilliant flashes of insight he couldn’t explain. The big picture wasn’t his job. But, bits and pieces swirled in his mind, slowly settling as sediment. Don’t ask questions. Just solve problems.

Plug the holes.

Break and enter.

Seal the cracks.

He played angel and devil, noble defender and stealthy attacker. When systems got hacked, he dreamed up better protections. When customers thought their systems secure, he proved them wrong. Then, invented ways to plug the holes before hackers or government spies found them.

But, the dam was always springing new leaks. Seal a crack, and three more appear. It was a never-ending game of cat and mouse. After a while his job seemed pointless. Everything seemed pointless.