4

A siren, soft but aided by the echo throughout the metal chamber, rang out. Lights flashed, so that the giant room turned one instant red and the next, steel. Five portals lined one wall on the far end; the fourth portal's indicator light left no doubt as to from where the incoming traveler would come. In this otherwise sterile room, one old man in a dingy brown suit with matching fedora stood opposite the portals, folded his arms, and did his best to force a diplomatic smile--though as it turned out, he could only manage a sneer.

In came the Newbie, and the portal shut. The lights stopped blinking, and the sirens stopped blaring. The man in suit and fedora gave the new recruit a thorough visual examination: short but not too short, young but not too young, gray wool suit, dark hair and tanned skin, no emotion shown in the eyes--the type who would be easily ignored on the street or lost in a crowd. Perfect for undercover work.

"Welcome to your new home. I'm Rodgers. Your name, sir?"

The Newbie returned the visual inspection that was given him and said, "Greene. With an 'e' on the end."

Rodgers tipped his fedora and kept sneering. "Pleased to meet you, Greene with an 'e' on the end. We have work to do, so let's keep our introduction short as it is now. I have to show you the ropes."

Rodgers did not wait for a reply; he simply turned and walked to the door on the side wall, placed his palm on the pad to have his handprint read, and waited--not long--for Greene to follow.

Greene asked no questions and stayed three steps behind Rodgers as they walked through a long maze of metal corridors otherwise inhabited only by the occasional armed guard.

As he walked, and without looking back to see if Greene was paying attention, Rodgers said, "The first rule of any two-person game is to state the conditions under which one player wins. For example, in chess, the first rule is, 'Checkmate the king, and you win.' But you don't know what checkmate means until you get to the other rules, understand? The rules are spelled out similarly for us in the Authority game. The players are simply 'us,' meaning anyone who's Authority, regardless of rank or experience, and 'them,' meaning the entire rest of the city. And the first rule is, 'Secure all the magic, and you win.' But you don't know what I mean by 'secure' just yet, so let's move on to the other rules. You got that?"

"Yeah, boss."

They had turned three corners already and were about to turn a fourth. Greene would lose count by the time they had finished the trek.

Rodgers continued, "Rule number two is: everyone who's not Authority is a criminal; you just don't have evidence to convict them all yet. Rule number three: nobody in the Authority can ever be a criminal, no matter what their action. You could be a child rapist and nobody around headquarters here would bat an eye. But you're to think of every last person out there as if the act of sneezing were grounds for the death penalty. It sounds cruel, but it's necessary; we're up against some real scum here. You got that?"

"Yeah, boss," said Greene again.

"By the way, I was kidding about being a child rapist; don't get into any sick shit unless it's authorized by me or a higher-up. When I said nobody here would bat an eye, I was being sarcastic. It's a joke. Get used to that type of humor here; you're an Authority now."

"Ha, ha."

"Not a bad laugh but not that good, either. Work on it."

"Yes, sir."

"Rule number four: the civilians all hate you. Why do they hate you? Because you want to secure all the magic; see rule number one for details.

"Rule number five: magic spells used to be the sole property of Authorities and legitimate Merchants to deal out for a proper price. Magic, however, got copied easily and was handed over to Pirates, who've ever since been selling it for less and sometimes just giving it away for free. We're not sure where our security leak was to this day, but the magic is currently still out there, largely out of our control. That's the state of things as you start your role in this game.

"Rule number six: securing the magic means terminating all pirates and people who have received their illegitimate spells. Retrieving all spell books will also be necessary. If we cannot do this, an acceptable alternative would be to make sure that no new spells ever are lost again. 'Termination' sounds cruel, and perhaps it is. But we don't have room for prisons in the city, so the punishment for everything is death. If the citizens don't like that, they should never have come to this city--would've saved us a lot of trouble, I'll tell you that.

"Rule number seven: whoever has spells has power. We want ourselves to be the only ones with power. That is our motivation. You may think of this as a reiteration of rule number one, if you like. Rule number one is... important.

"Rule number eight, and this is a crappy one: if any of the civilians ask you if you're a cop, you have to say yes. If you don't stay honest, you're no longer an Authority, and you'll become a criminal, and because you worked for us, we will certainly have enough knowledge to track you down. Try to avoid situations where you would be asked such a question in the first place, but remember to tell the truth.

"Those are rules one through eight. Any questions?"

"Those didn't all sound like rules," said Greene.

"Get used to that," said Rodgers.

"Understood."

They exchanged no further words until they reached a corridor with several guarded doors on either side. Rodgers picked one in the middle, placed his palm again, and walked inside. It was a formal business office, complete with mahogany desk and giant window overlooking the endless city. Greene reasoned from the view that they had to be at least a hundred floors up. In here, not a shred of the corridors' cold, steel, industrial aura could be felt--instead, there was a log on a fireplace off to one side, and the comfortably soft, blue carpet was a relief to anyone's foot that should walk on it.

Rodgers walked behind the desk and had a seat. Greene took a different chair and sat opposite him. Greene, therefore, faced the window.

Said Rodgers, "Your predecessor forgot the rules. He thought his job description was along the lines of 'protecting and serving.' He was therefore terminated. Which leads me to rule number nine: if you help any one of 'them,' you are considered one of 'them.' Your predecessor called an ambulance to the scene of a traffic accident. This is not proper procedure for Authorities, understand?"

"The more of them die, the better." Greene nodded. "I think I get it."

"Right, but they outnumber us however many billions to mere hundreds. We can't wage all-out war to get our magic back. If we could, we would. If we ever become so powerful, we will kill them all if we have to; power is more valuable than life in this game. But we're not there, technologically or magically, and no sign indicates us being there in the near future. Now, if some of them kill themselves off, we'll take that. Nothing wrong with making our jobs just a little easier. So do us all a favor, and don't call an ambulance.

"Now, your first assignment is to find the woman for whom your predecessor called the paramedics."

The window changed from the cityscape to a widescreen, slow-motion video of the collision. The camera angle was that of the police car's dashboard camera. What looked like a car suddenly changed into a motorcycle and flew past the screen.

"The crash happened off camera," said Rodgers. "But the important part is already shown to you. Did you see the car change into a motorcycle?"

"Yes."

"That's unlicensed magic. Only Authorities are supposed to have that ability. Next, did you get a good glimpse of the woman as she sped past on the bike?"

"The picture's a bit grainy."

Rodgers took a remote control out from behind his desk. "Let's fix that, then." He paused at a frame when the black woman's profile was best shown, then zoomed in, pressed another button, and waited for the resolution to increase. Eventually it showed a very clear picture of the criminal.

"That's her. Find her. Don't kill her until you learn some information about any Pirates she may have seen recently. But kill her when she squawks. Make it nice and neat and unnoticed by anyone else. Her last known whereabouts were that intersection, and this was about twelve hours ago. For what it's worth, someone with her escaping abilities is probably either Rogue or Sport class. Check side streets and, at night, cars for the former. Never dead-ends, though; Rogues don't go there. Sports will go anywhere at any time, so inquire after the vehicle description--both the car and the motorcycle--to see which direction she went.

"In the event that three days pass without finding her, you'll have failed your mission, but no hard feelings. It is your first job, after all, and it's a difficult one--especially if she turns out to be a Rogue. So there will be no punishment for failure, so long as every effort was given to finding her. If you help her out by not searching to the best of your abilities, though, you will end up like your predecessor.

"Which reminds me: here's your gun, here's your badge, and here are your handcuffs." Rodgers took the aforementioned items out from another drawer and gave them to Greene. "You're undercover, so you won't need the rest of the police uniform."

Greene picked up the badge first. "There's dried blood on this."

Rodgers, in all this time, had kept the sneer. "Your predecessor, you see, didn't have any ambulance to come for him." After he said this sentence, he finally let the mouth drop into a more ominous expression. The eyes, too, gave a more piercing stare. "Don't fuck up, Greene."

Greene pocketed the badge and pistol, then reached for the handcuffs.

"Remember," Rodgers interrupted. "We don't take prisoners. The cuffs are to be used as torture devices or for bondage with hookers. Don't bother making any arrests."

Greene nodded.

"That's a joke," said Rodgers. "'Bondage with hookers' is a joke."

"Ha, ha, ha."

"Ooh, three 'Ha's this time. Getting better."

Greene then took the handcuffs and made his way out the door, but he kept an eye on his new boss the whole time.

"The guards will show you the way out," said Rodgers, the sneer now fully recovered. "Best of luck."

---

Greene's Audio Journal, Day One:

Met the new boss. Nice guy. Tells things straight. I'm in pursuit of either a Rogue or a Sport, and these are 'classes.' I have to learn what all this means, and quickly. Boss didn't mention what these are, so obviously I'm expected to learn it on my own. We shall see if I can.

Suspect is a black female, young, cornrows in her hair. Drives a red sports car and a motorcycle that can change into each other. Approximate height, 170cm. Will begin investigation immediately.

---

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