"Well, when was the last time you, personally, saw Aikenhal?"
He scratched his chin, and I could see the fine hairs on it moving. This little factory was certainly raking in the dough. "Yesterday afternoon? Yeah, lateish, like 1600 or so."
"Did he say anything about his plans?"
He shook his head. "Naw. He uh... lesse. He swung by at the end of the day, pick up some reports."
"You don't use email for things like that?"
"Naw, not these reports. Confidential expenditures. Never leave the game, and we prefer security methods that involve controlling access with people, you know?"
I shrugged. "Continue, please."
"Anyway, we talked a little, then he bugged out. That's about it."
"Know anyone who might have wanted to PK him?"
He huffed. "Well, anyone who wanted a piece of the action in this planet did. I mean _anyone_."
"I find it hard to believe that just anyone..."
"Okay, true. Not anyone. But anyone not a Warbird? Sure. They seem him walking down the street, low on stamina and HP after a long day at work, they decide to cap him? The XP for that'll kick them way up the ladder. That's not talking about the street cred for such a hit."
I nodded. "What about the competition?"
"The n00b who's copyright jumping?"
"Oh, that fuckhead." He thought for a moment. "Da5idDr4ke, I think." He checked a few notes on his desktop. "Yeah, Da5idDr4ke. Fucker's a level ten, and he's 'right jumpin' within two weeks of breaking double digits. Normally we'd take him out or sue him, but the server owns the copyrights, not the guild. So he's not breaking any laws, and he's got some big hitters on his side. Couple of level 30s from what I hear. Suffice it to say, our assasins can't do the job; they've tried."
I nodded. "Now, I've got a strange question for you. I've tracked down some strange server traffic in Forestshire at around 1230GMT yesterday. Few people I talked to saw you there 'round then. Know anything about it?"
He leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. The animation was so smooth I almost thought he was real. "I thought you said you weren't a Jackboot."
"I'm not. It's just that I've connected Aikenhal to Forestshire, and I'm trying to connect him to the traffic, see if that plays out."
"Well I don't know nothin' about that." His avatar crossed its arms and started to look impatient. Mentally, I kicked myself for pushing so hard; he was probably going to clam up. Still, he hadn't tossed me on my ear yet, so I still had a chance to get more info.
"Mind if I ask what brought you out to Forestshire?"
"Yeah I do. Business."
I contemplated my next move, and decided not to tip my hand yet. "Okay, fair enough. Is it alright if I stop back in, let you know if I find out anything else?"
"Of course. If that's it then, I'd like to get back to work."
"I'll let you do that."
I left his office and found t00lboi was waiting for me, and he escorted me back to the main entrance. Once outside I contemplated my next move.
First, I PVed back to my office. "Sweetheart, any word from ic3e?"
"He said you should PV him any time. He's in Metro-City proper, usually trolling through the barrio."
"Thank's sweetheart, you're the best."
"That's why you hired me."
I decided to start by PVing ic3e, then take a cab over to visit one mister Da5idDr4ke. "Hey ic3e, how've things been going with you?"
The reply I got, shockingly, was in text. "d00d. lng time. what ^?"
"Hey, ic3e, you okay? Why are you texting?" No high levels texted- _ever_. All of them were flush enough that those sorts of things just weren't done.
"fine. Busy. You had questions?"
"Yeah, yeah. It's just strange is all. Listen, I'm calling in a favor, so I need you to be honest here."
";-) Always buddy."
"Alright, what's the deal with the meetings? With the hacked NPC?"
There was a very long pause, and then I got pinged for secure communication. ic3e wanted to start a PGP encrypted conversation with me. I accepted, and our computers exchanged keys, and started talking. This time, he was talking voice. "Listen, Davey, what do you know?" His voice was panicked. It's strange, in this fantasy world, to hear people showing real emotion in their voices. This, this was real.
"All I know is that something strange is going on, and you're part of it. What the hell?"
"Okay... okay." Pause. "Davey, drop it, huh? I see you're getting deposits daily. Have you sent your expense reports in?"
I didn't reply right away, instead I hailed a cab and got in, directing the driver (this time an NPC) to Da5idDr4ke's factory. "No, no I haven't. What the hell, you're checking my account statement?"
"Listen, send me your expense reports, I'll get you reimbursed, with an extra thou."
"What? No!" People had tried to buy me off a case before, but never a friend.
"David, you are calling in a favor, and I am _paying you back_. Trust me on this, you don't want to be involved."
"Like hell. I'm involved, and I'm staying involved."
He sighed. "Alright, fine. Get your ass to the Barrio tonight. I'll have someone waiting to meet you. We'll talk."
"Fine." I closed the connection. That was strange, unfortunately, I didn't have time to mull it over. I had arrived a Da5idDr4ke's factory, and he was outside waiting for me.