~ a short story
Cohen strode through the park’s arch as the birds scattered at his feet. The sun baked the grass while the people talked. Midday machinations in the city sped up the world’s turning to all but one. The more rapidly Cohen carried himself over the sidewalk the more time slowed. He thought of his thinking, predicted his predictions, and quantified the qualities of his planned plans.
Cohen, or ‘Extralocal_Mastermind’ as he was called online, did his job as he walked. He was thinking. Plotting. Scheming. Serving his many clients all at once.
Cohen watched the birds fly as he passed under a tree, avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk with careful, latent superstitious concern. A grey cloud in the distance signaled a coming rain in the night. Changes in the air flows about him told him someone neared, at a run, chasing something in the air. Cohen turned and caught a frisbee with deft reflex. He’d already started again from scratch as he flung it back onto the green where the teens played. The runner turned with a call to thanks. Cohen did not hear it.
“The election,” he spoke aloud but only to himself. The first of his jobs. Hired by an aspiring local candidate, he was to forge a campaign strategy. What are the conditions? Environment of mistruths and slander, our candidate has already been targeted by the machine of his opposition. He had visible skeletons, slight but enough to be damaging to his goal of winning the election. Divorced. A DWI. Adult children, crass, outspoken on social media. Outfunded and already upon politically perilous grounds himself as a ‘substance’ guy positioned left of center, he was almost nearly certainly hopeless. Nearly. Cohen walked out of the opposite arch of the park and took a turn left, both there and within his mind palace where the discourse of decision points played without end.
Then and there, he set a rhetorical strategy into place for his candidate. Only shot he’s got is to fight fire with fire. Moonshot. All out, in the mud. Gotta get underneath your opponent, who is truly corrupt. When they go low, you go lower. He typed out the thesis of his plot into a message on his phone and send it on to the man’s campaign chief. They were to set up an online meeting for the following week, to lay the step-by-step. Cohen already had a string of words in mind for a motto, and a descriptor for the style of every public appearance.
Work those out later. On to the next. Better to present that in-person anyway… Cohen walked through a crosswalk, wedging thoughtlessly into a crowd of coffee and donut carriers heading into their greyscale offices.
“The man,” he cleared his throat. A young woman came to his forum wanting advice on how to win the heart of her crush. An easy one. Based on their ages, his hobbies, her level of self-confidence and the mix of their respective physicality in relation to one another, she need only say … this. Make this connection. Focus on these traits of hers, and those of his. Cohen typed it into an email and sent it without rereading it. She’d have her man by sundown. At least… in the one way. The rest would be an improbable and increasingly uncertain game, no matter to the conditions. Nothing he’d be able to help with…
Getting what you want is easy, thought Cohen with a grin, giving his busy mind a moment’s break while he walked underneath the colorful tarp covers of the market on Hallwatch Way. It’s being satisfied with whatever that was, after you get it, that is hard. He turned again to his right, onto Shar Boulevard, righting his train of thought to the next rung within his daily ladder.
“The coup,” he whispered. A foreign rebel reached out to him anonymously, paid in crypto, in order to see if the Mastermind could play wargames as effectively as he claimed. Here he was being called on to advise an ambush attack upon a royal prince traveling between cities. The contact had only provided cropped satellite images of an ambiguous canyon with drawings of likely ‘enemy’ defenses along with the route of the convoy and its ultimate target. The ambush would consist of meager numbers utilizing guerilla tactics, hence him being asked to provide another set of eyes upon their plan of attack. The prince’s capture or death — his client held no preference, for fear of taking him alive making the operation unsuccessful — would result in a revolutionary coup within the kingdom as necessary follow-up. Wherever this place was, whatever nation it was… Cohen had done work like this before. Sometimes he knew the region and its peoples, most times he did not. He always gave his best advice, unblemished from any bias concerning which tribe or party was in the ‘right.’ In truth, the attack would likely fail. By partaking in helping with its strategy, he was contributing to the immediate constitution of their lives, and their likely ending. Of course, if his strategy worked, their opponents would die. Either way, people will die with this one.
There is no “right” and “wrong” when it comes to this work. There are only good plans, and better ones. Keeping the distance in this way was necessary. Sometimes, ironically enough, the less I know the better. Less cog diss that way…
Cohen took another left into an area of downtown he did not know. The street name eluded his instincts. Regardless, he walked it at the same speed, with no caution.
“The lie,” he said with a nod. Strange job. A client was trying to deceive his bosses. The details were less clear than Cohen would have liked. Something to do with a legal problem, about whose idea was whose and who presented it first. Minimal evidence existed to support either his client’s claim or his opponent’s, his boss. A consulting firm. His client was claiming that he holds some dominion over an original form of service they now provide, and is thus due royalties of some kind. His boss claims he had no hand within its origination. In truth, by his client’s admission, he did not have as much of an impact as he is trying to impart. But that is part of the game. The game of ‘getting rich or dyin’ tryin’’… And why he has come to me.
Do they, these consulting “professional services” firms, even have proprietary, truly original information? ‘Techniques’, I guess? Cohen thought it all a bit of a joke. But it wasn’t. The money in play for his services reflected that these people did not think of it that way. Most frustratingly with these kinds of jobs were the lack of defined conditions to them. Understandably, Cohen could not be as effective masterminding some kind of plan with only interpersonal details and a few dates for utterly unrecorded conversations to bear out within the strat. The outcome of this client’s play was not likely to succeed. And on one hand, it was no matter to Cohen. As the freelancing strategist from afar, providing words and directives through the digital realms, usually anonymously and almost constantly to thousands of different unknowable disparate clientele, he was not necessarily beholden to the results of any one of them. They are paying for advice, it is ultimately up to them how and if they use it. However, on the other hand, if a string of his clients begins to fail in their various endeavors, word could get around. With those reviews — arguable the most salient aspect of any online service provider’s existence — spreading like wildfire over the internet, Cohen’s reputation could plummet. And with it his work and his wealth would follow suit.
This is the reason I never take any plays off, Cohen reminded himself as he walked down a dusted alley of rising wind and stenching trash. This is why it remains imperative I maintain a high % of successes as opposed to my ‘failures.’ I am dependent upon my client’s abilities, and their willingness to heed my words. Whether they use my advice or not, they were my client and this will become known if they choose to tell about their experience with me, or I continue to claim them as my client…
The thoughts trailed away as Cohen stopped in the alley, unconscious concern for a novel problem, more personal and impassioned than any of the others, sparked into the sole seize of his mind.
The nemesis, he exhaled. A new player had come into the field, perhaps the first to so perfectly imitate the fertile ground Cohen had cordoned off for himself. A rival mastermind. He went by “The MoonMan.” By his own self-referencing mythology, he was an ‘android trapped on the moon, tediously tasked with watching humanity grow’ with the use of highly advanced, nigh unthinkable technology. Bypassing his strict orders, he has now opened a channel to observe and connect with those he watches, or any human upon the Earthen ground. Using his vast mental programming for strategy, tactics & plans, he logs on to the same forums to invite any that need help to get in touch and ask him for it.
Of course, the moon backstory is nonsense. The android characteristic is to make his presence less intimidating, more science fiction-y, and therefore fun. If someone opens themselves up to a robot, it’s not nearly as terrifying as doing it with another human being. Moon conspiracy theorists will eat him up, I guess. But how many of those are there out there? Skeptical futurists and artificial intelligence alarmists are already siding with me, so a mistake on his end there in alienating what amounts to large swaths of the ‘extremely online’ population.
Nevertheless, his numbers were growing. There was no way around it, he — or it — was going to be a problem, if only because the presence of two masterminds in competition opened the possibility of a market, an industry…
A stern voice recalled Cohen from every layer of his mind and back to the very surface of his consciousness. Before him standing in the center of the gloomy alley with a gun to his face, was a shoddily dressed lone man. He stared into him with malign indifference. Fluxing between impatience and rage, the gunmen repeated his vague demand:
Cohen put up his hands, tried to calm himself.
Assume he wants money — what kind of pistol is that? — I don’t want to give any money — his hands shake because he’s never fired the gun before, it might not even be loaded — my wallet has no cash in it anyway, of course he might just make me go to the nearest ATM, keep the pistol in his pocket, knifing its barrel into my back while I type in my codes on the terminal — he favors his left eye, his right must need a correction or suffers from a disabling tic — this man deserves no money, even less does he deserve the power that this weapon delivers to him — he’s weak, malnourished, unfocused. This makes him both dangerous and necessarily less efficacious in all endeavors…
“Give you? Money? I have no money, I am truly sorry,” Cohen explained and then stepped to his right, inching towards the other end of the alley and escape.
“Liar!” the gunmen shouted to him, shifting his stance to keep the gun trained upon his target.
“You fuckin’ liar…” he whispered, his voice wavering, his eyes tearing up.
Cohen chuckled, keeping his attention affixed to his potential burglar’s physical stature and mental composure.
Valuable information you have just given me, friend…
Cohen raised his posture to that of a man a-pondering and spoke in a methodical tone, free from all fear and uncertainty,
“Friend, do you know what the ‘uncertainty principle’ is?”
“I am not your friend…” the gunner mumbled.
“It was introduced first by German physicist Werner Heisenberg in 1927. The principle focused upon uncertainty as a value that cannot be discounted.”
“Give me … give me your wallet … your clothes…”
Cohen continued to pace, walking in a circle, drawing himself closer to the wall. His counterpart moved with him, gun staying aimed. The continous bustle of the city sourcing from either end of the desolate alley bled into their ears from far away.
“Chaos! You must see how important it is. Not just as a scientist, but as a person. There’s so much going on.”
“I am tired of asking,” said the gunmen breathlessly.
Cohen smirked. “The more perfectly known, organized and accounted for the initial conditions of any specific situation are…” Cohen raised his left hand innocently while he flexed his right fist to his side, momentarily unseen in his walk.
“…The more violently chaotic the situation’s procession will become! Once things start moving, once time gets ahold of this perfect little house of cards and has its way, the real pandemonium commences. Don’t you see how beautiful this strange little paradox is?”
Cohen inquired his potential assailant sincerely. One of his most ardent desires, unconscious up to now in the middle stages of his life, was his strong desire to communicate the profound beauty that he saw within this condition he described. Truly, it was one of the only things he could unselfconsciously believe in, and see as beauty.
The gunmen silently stepped forward, closing the gap between them. The pistol shook in his hand. His lip quivered and his eyes bulged. Cohen watched it all with increasing assurances as to his inner strat. More murderous, more vulnerable. Less in fear of his own heart, less unpredictable.
He stopped his slow walk through the alley and let the man approach him. The duo were now almost completely transposed, in their original positions but opposite, and closer together. The barrel of the pistol was only inches away from Cohen’s forehead, dry of sweat. His heart pounded from excitement and not from fear.
“The game of uncertainty lies within the initial conditions, within the start of everything. The more tightly you try to control, understand, crush … the less certain your outcomes and dreams, and the more you end up choking them.”
A tear strolled down the unwashed face of the man holding the pistol. “Give…” he said weakly.
“There is the beauty,” Cohen said, his teeth gritted. “Everything is always starting.” Cohen raised himself to the balls of his feet inside of his dress shoes. “There is no true beginning. It’s all uncertainty.” Slowly, Cohen lowered his body, centering his gravity towards a singular maneuver, fast arriving through his body’s musculature and neurons. “We are mired within Mother Discord’s bosom, trying desperately to order it all into something we can grasp at, and try to love.”
Cohen took a deep breath in preparation.
“Give me… something. Please…”
Cohen did not hear him. Gaze greyed into a certified state of flow, Cohen lunged toward his mark, dipping his head, activating his hands and legs utterly, employing his full body’s weight, though sleight, towards the end of triumphing completely over this latest obstacle.
At the same time, a gunshot resounded through the alley. ~