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Chapter 2 — A Message

He who fights with monsters should beware that he himself does not become a monster—for when you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche

Aidan took a deep breath and straightened up. He’d been hunching. For how long? he wondered. His back hurt. Hours had passed. With the intrusion analysis complete, and Doug occupied, he let his mind go for a minute.

Leaning back, he looked up. Small dark eyes bulged from the ceiling. Eight security cameras could see into his cubicle. Eight. Like a spider. He didn’t need to count. Or look. The exact location of each burned into his awareness.

He felt them staring into his soul.

Of course, they weren’t all aimed at him. Ridiculous. It shouldn’t have bothered him. High security was obviously necessary. Trustheus handled the private details of customers and corporate clients. They were a target. Drastic security measures kept them in business.

Regardless, he was quietly convinced the NSA had hacked into their systems long ago. That would mean the entry protection measures, including the palm scanner, retinal scanner, and all the other junk, was just that—junk. As long as they could break in electronically, they could get whatever they wanted.

It bothered him. But, it wasn’t his job. Management knew he was paranoid. They told him to focus that trait on helping clients. They assured him they had a dedicated team monitoring the building’s security. A team they trusted.

Why can’t I just trust people? he wondered. That causes so many problems in my—

“… the guys tonight?”

Aidan turned, startled. Damn it. It was Greg. His shock of orange hair, freckles, and bright blue eyes were peeking over the cubicle wall. A cloak of awkwardness descended. “Sorry, what?”

“I was asking if you want to go out with the guys tonight. We’re going bar hopping. It’ll be fun. You should come this time.”

“No, I … can’t make it.”

“Oh, come on, man. What’s your excuse this time?”

“I’m anti-social?” Maybe honesty would work.

Greg dropped down, then appeared at the cubicle entrance. “Yeah. We all know that. But, we’re between projects. This almost never happens, it’s time to celebrate. You have no excuse. We’ll hook you up with a girl. Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Tempting.” He studied the ceiling. “But, no.”

“What … wait, did you get a girlfriend? Is that why? That can’t be it. Four years I’ve known you, and no girlfriend, no nights out, no … anything.”

“Seriously, I’m too busy … and how does anyone have time for a girlfriend? Are you not on call twenty-four seven?”

“Actually … I’m not. But, you’ve got to come this time. The guys would love it. You know, bragging rights. Here’s the world’s top hacker. The Jewel of Trustheus.”

“That’s not funny.” He hated it when people said things like that. Besides, it wasn’t true. Trustheus surely had other talented hackers. He just preferred working alone, so he didn’t know any of them.

“You gotta live a little, man. That’s all I’m saying.”

Aidan sensed him backing off. This assault would soon end. “Still no. Sorry.”

“I’m just sad for you. You’re gonna work your whole life away, and then wake up dead one day.” Greg threw a colorful piece of candy into the air and caught it in his mouth. “What was the point, if you never had any fun?”

Aidan’s phone beeped. He reached for it.

“This isn’t over. I’ll try again. Expect it.” Greg smiled to himself and walked off.

Aidan looked at his phone. A message from Tyler: Call me tonight, after work. It’s urgent. That’s strange, he thought, we usually stick to messages.