I hightailed it back to my office, stopping only once to pick up some food from the automat; by the time I was back to the office my hitpoints were back up to full. I threw the log onto my desk and got it out of my inventory. From there, I copied it into several secure locations, just in case. That done, I sat and caught my breath. I was more than a little annoyed at the loss of my coat. It had been expensive and had a nice high armor class. That, and it made my avatar look cool... like a real story-book private eye.
Still, it could be replaced fairly easily. The log on the other hand, was pretty crucial; considering its size, it probably was scheduled for deletion at any moment. I picked up the copy on my desk and pulled out my magnifying glass. First thing was to grep it for Aikenhal. He showed up about a dozen times, the latest being at 0730GMT. A half hour before I was hired to find his killer. What I really needed to do was find Aikenhal, and see what information he had. But this narrowed things down alot. Still though, it begged the question, who else had the elf been talking to? For the log to be this size... it was nearly unthinkable. Even the bartender's log was tiny compared to this, and he interacted with several hundred characters a day.
My secretary appeared in the doorway. "Yes Dave?"
"Listen, I need you to check the guild-lists, starting with the corp-sponsored. Find out if a guy named Aikenhal has been involved in any of them. What his standing with the different guilds is, the usual. I want to try and track him down."
"No problem." She went back to her desk.
Meanwhile, that left me with a tremendous log to rifle through. For it to be this large, either the NPC had to be initaiting a new contact every second or so, or she had to have interacted with large groups simultaneously. I built a query that would organize the log by time, and group them together, ordering by number of records for that time.
The results made me say "Damn". The first result, at 1233GMT yesterday, she initiated contact with a little over three hundred player characters. THe only crowds that large were guild-meetings, which required special server space to meet their needs. Unfortunately, there was no location information in these logs. I marked that group and kept looking. The next largest was the previous day, at 1912GMT, almost three hundred contacts. A few hours before that, at 1503GMT, there were two-fourty. There were a few more large meetings, followed by hundreds of meetings involving a few dozen people. Then tens-of-thousands of meetings with single characters. Most, but not all of those, were probably when the NPC was an honest NPC, and not hacked.
I reorganized the list so that I could see the players that had interacted with her the most. Topping out the list was a character named FireballOne, then ic3e. I had known ic3e when Metro-City was new. I marked him off. Odds are I could probably track him down pretty easy. I wrote down the top ten names, noting that Lt. P4nzer was among them.
"Hey Dave," my secretary interrupted my searching. "I got the info you wanted."
"Great, let me see it."
She gave me a manilla envelope. I shuffled through its contents. Aikenhal was an area supervisor for Syndatex. I thought for a moment, trying to remember what I could about Syndatex. It was a small guild as these things went, operating out of the Galactic Region. That didn't clear anything up though, the Galactic Region was a warzone. It was supposed to be a "Pure Sci-Fi" realm, but fanbois of different Sci-Fi cults set up shop in there, all competing for rights to control it. The big factions were the Trekkies and the Warbirds, but there were all sorts of splinter groups and crossovers. Battlestars, Bebops (anime sci-fi punks), even a few Robotechies and Robottechs (the former being fans of an americanized anime and the latter envisioning sci-fi as described in the fifties). Generally, it's not a place civilized people ventured into. There were plenty of less contested sci-fi neighborhoods if that was your thing. Most people didn't like the thought that people would get PKed just for having a phaser or a blaster, depending which section of town they were in.
Syndatex, like any guild that had a presence in the GR, had picked a side, working for the Warbirds. They manuvered in all sorts of game-businesses, with spice trafficking (a hotly contested sci-fi commodity), twin-ion engine repair, repulsor-lift manufacture. They usually were just a pawn guild, being manipulated by the Empire, the largest GR guild.
Aikenhal himself was responsible for New Corralia. GR organized into planets, and had its own logic for planet hopping. New Corralia was where the GR spaceports connected to the Metro-City train system, making it the center for i/emmigration to and from GR. Strangely enough, at the end of the file there was a notice. He had left Metro-City permanently, due to "Account Termination". That definitely made things more difficult. I checked the file, and found a list of people he would have probably worked with for Syndatex. One of them was in my top-ten list, xZachary_BraiNx. He was employed by Syndatex as a distrubtion manager for repulsorlift parts. Probably meant he was a leech like me, but it also meant that I had an address for him. A factory on New Corralia. I decided that he was my first stop.
"Sweetheart, I'm heading off to GR, after doing some shopping. Could you send a message to ic3e that I want to talk with him when he gets a chance. Play catch up, maybe chill in an automat or something."
"Will do." The phone next to her rang, representing someone trying to voicemail my office. She picked it up, talked for a moment, then looked at me. "It's your wife, you want to take it?"
I emoted rolled eyes. "Yeah, sure." I took the phone from her. "What's up sweetheart."
"Don't sweetheart me! I haven't seen you in three days!"
"I've been working."
"Working my ass. John, I want you to hang up on that game before I pull the network cables out and strangle you with them."
This conversation was a weekly occurance. Normally, I caved and took a day or two off, but this really wasn't the time. "Listen, honey, I'm on a really big case right now. As soon as its done, I'll take a few days off, I promise, but I've gotta see this one through. If I can, I'll log off for dinner tonight."
"Don't bother, I won't be home till late tonight. I'm going to be screwing my boss for a promotion, so don't wait up."
"Fine, fine. Leave me a message saying when you're going to be home, and I'll try and log out so we can have some time together."
"Whatever." She hung up.
"Bitch." I finished, hanging up my phone. I looked at my secretary, "Bitch is convinced I'm cybering with every player I meet, hanging out in simbrothels and the like, and figures since my income from the game is real, any sex in the game is just as real. She takes it as liscense to fuck whomever she pleases, and then throws it in my face. As if I could get off on simsex like it were the real thing." My secretary responded to my rant with a blank stare. Not that I could expect anything else from an NPC.
"Alright, I'm out of here. Have fun sweetheart."