Decision Break Point. They were normally naturally occurring and the only role of a Reality Engineer would be to ensure that the narrative lines around a person were shored up well enough that they could happen. Sometimes you have to shoehorn something in though, and take over someone’s life for a brief moment.
This moment will kill them or it will kill everyone else. Breuhler had been a game designer before he had become a Reality Engineer, and his understanding of game engines had been integral to designing the first working Reality Engine.
Castur Pelingrith was a Lynchpin and this moment would make him. They had called on Breuhler to add some narrative gravity to the situation; to dial up the necessity to make a decision one or the other and not just let the world slide along on its own narrative inertia.
In one hand the life of his daughter, in the other hand the life of all of his fellow countrymen. Which way would he break?
He was not the kind of man that liked to give anyone the satisfaction of having control over him, and that would have been doubly true if he had known that currently a Reality Engineer was hacking his narrative.
Why did Breuhler not see that there was a third option on the table?
The sniper had Pelingrith’s daughter in his sights, and as this was not a rescue mission it mattered little that there would be collateral. He had been given his green light half an hour ago.
It was nice to jam shock into the heart of these blackmailers like a deadly sharp ice stake. He was pushing down the feelings that seeing his daughter’s head exploded over one of these bastard’s was having. His hope was that this act would take the tension out of the leash they had around him and his.
That was when the massacre started. And what did that mean for Breuhler and his narrative push? Come in with a retcon and backwards dial this whole mess? No. It meant he had to bail. Fingerprint Erasure was a standard action, but it was one that he didn’t understand. Unless there was someone who would sit in judgement on reality Engineer actions in the field. If that were true he hadn’t met them yet.
It didn’t make that much sense to him. Usually when he was deployed the actors in the live theatre were locked and awaiting input; their decisional matrix should have been analysed. He was supposed to be the deus ex machina, not the person being knocked off course by one. He’d have to analyse the data tree after this when he read through the Book Box.
Then it occurred to him: he was in his own box. Someone had lured him into this situation, but why? What did anyone stand to gain by implicating him in a Bad Edit? To take him off the board? It would take more than that? To drop a narrative hook into his story? But Reality Control had all the narrative lines of Engineers gathered up … you’d have to have the key to that box to play with those threads.
What the hell did that mean? Someone bent in Reality Control? What was the larger story here? He made his egress, bounced the pinpoint through a few mirror points more than usual, and zeroed in on his target: Reality Control.
To beat a game you have to understand the frame of reference that you are operating in — once you get that you can move forward through the story and make the right choices.
How do you start to frame the corner someone is trying to paint you into? You ask your first question. And who do you ask it of? The person who put you there of course.
Poker plays and Reality Engineers had a lot in common — they didn’t give much away. As a handler responsible for dealing with a lot of other Reality Engineers you had to be a better poker player than most. Beatall smiled at him like everything in the world was rosy. That was a strange smile to see on the face of anyone that he was used to dealing with, let alone a Reality Engineer. Strike One.
‘Notice anything strange about the mission I was just on.’
‘You’re going to have to give me more than that.’
Strike Two — you didn’t get to be a controller without being able to keep track of a Reality Engineer’s mission schedule, whether you were talking about linear or jump-around time. Memories like a steel trap were kind of a prerequisite for the job.
‘Pelingrith did something outside of his recognised decisional matrix. You know how rare that is in a locked narrative situation?’
‘Sure, almost impossible.’
‘Which means one of two things. One, we didn’t identify the type of narrative we were dealing with correctly, or two: it wasn’t ever a locked narrative situation.’
‘What are you trying to say?’
‘I’m not trying to say anything. I’m saying what you think I am saying. Add onto that a question and you’ll really catch my drift, if you hadn’t before … why set me up on a Bad Edit?’
He could see that Beatall was weighing up whether to bother lying or not. Lying to a Reality Engineer was most often a waste of time, unless you were bring some kind of manipulative big guns to the game. Beatall had not thought that far ahead, which was odd, because controllers were the kind of chess players a Grandmaster would avoid getting into a dust up with.
‘Who;s pushing your buttons, Beatall? This is such an amateur play for someone with your skills. What could someone have on a Reality Engineer? We’re picked for our lack of connections, or made that way.’
‘Unless they flag up on one of our talent scout packet sniffer programs, right? OK, so who is it, brother, sister?’
‘OK, and why me?’
‘You wrote someone out and you left an Edit Echo behind.’
‘An Edit Echo engineered this?’
‘Sure, they were a Reality Engineer.’
‘A Reality Engineer as an Edit Echo? I don’t remember that one at all.’
‘And how is that?’
‘We dropped it out of your memory.’
‘Above your pay grade.’
‘Well, that has changed hasn’t it? Because right now you are being held down by this and the only way out of it is to give me the scoop.’
‘Jalfred Blinx was caught writing edits in to benefit himself — he created a time isolate cul-de-sac universe that he was filling with his ill-gotten gains. You were sent in to erase all of that.’
‘What did I miss?’
‘There was a secondary reality backdoored off the one you wiped, and he had dropped himself there. You wiped a shell tulpa; a very well constructed one.’
‘How did he find out about you?’
‘There was a fingerprint we somehow missed on the backdoor. He hacked me through that.’
‘Of course, he’s one of us. And once he hacked me and had my data it was a cinch to track down my ex, and it was likewise just as easy for him to piggyback through our system, grab an updated hack-rig, and mess with the scene you just tried to hack.’
‘So, there was buried code I was trying to write over?’
‘Good, so not a Bad Edit.’
‘Can we get a lock on his hack-rig?’
‘I have it. I always know where he is. He knows I know. He wants you after him.’
‘Ah, so you were waiting here for me then?’
Breuhler fired a stasis pin at him. The tracker was open right there on the screen — so neat. He synched his hack-rig up to the location and opened a throughput right there and then.
Blinx sat there smiling at him.
‘The things we have to do just to get people where we need them to be, right?’
‘Where do you think this is going to go?’
‘Where I want it to. I killed a lot of people to make this happen; to get us here.’
‘Another adjunct reality?’
‘Sure, if you want. A personal place; a bespoke reality.’
‘Why not just build it? Why steal from other places?’
‘I lack the imagination to create some of these things. Some of the things in the world can only be created by a Dali or a Da Vinci.’
‘OK, so do you want to kill me? Is that what all this is about? You want me to backwards dial it all?’
‘What good what that do? What good will any of it do? People die for nothing. Reality Engineers come in and tell the lie that it is all for something; something like the Inviolate Narrative. It isn’t. I don’t know what I want.’
‘Suicide by means of Reality Engineer?’
‘Sure, sounds about right.’
‘Surely a bit of an anti-climax?’
‘Inevitable, I think. And what if I told you that this was a Decision Break Point for you an all of your kind?’
‘And how that would be?’
‘What if I were just the microcosm of the idea that is the Reality Engineers? That my creation of a reality is just like theirs?’
‘I don’t see it,’ he said as he fired an erase edit at the man.
‘And there we have it. Not a one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind, just another person fumbling along.’
And then the man was gone.