Chapter 13: The Game Afoot
"First and foremost, we crave satisfying work, every single day...Second we crave the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful...Third, we crave social connections...Fourth and finally, we crave meaning, or the chance to be a part of something larger than ourselves...These four kinds of intrinsic rewards are the foundation for optimal human experience." From Jane MacGonigal's "Reality is Broken", a compelling 2011 research-based book on the power and purpose of gaming.
Over the next hour, Pelant guessed all three of the next passwords...Cam, Sweets, and Caroline. He had obviously found many sources of information on the Jeffersonian team: many of them in their own hand, and most of them protected by passwords, aliases, format, and layers of disassociation; none of this was enough to stop Pelant from reaching them.
It turned out that Cam had several aliases on the internet she used as she navigated the world of her favorite TV shows and romances. She read fanfiction in addition to mainstream romance and Chick-Lit. It would have been less unsettling if Pelant had mocked her mercilessly for her defense of escapist literature, of romantic and erotic fantasy's place in the tradition of archetypes and mythic symbols. Instead, the dark drone of his voice drew parallels between them, Cam and Christopher. Both deeply rooted and motivated by the symbols of the more primal world beneath the hollow, soulless modern one they lived in. By the time eight minutes had passed, Cam looked visibly shaken. Pelant's head shot up at a movement from the balcony. Arastoo stalked gracefully along the catwalk, lightly descending the stairs, seemingly unaware that they all watched him. His features, as they came into focus for those standing near the center of the drama, were composed and almost peaceful, a tiny smile growing as his eyes sought Cam's. He reached for her, leaned in to kiss her cheek and whisper something in her ear. Cam's eyes brightened and her lips pressed together in a watery smile as she leaned momentarily against his shoulder.
The moment was over as quickly as it had begun and both Cam and Arastoo straightened, standing side by side to face Pelant. Cam cleared her throat and murmured confidently, "So, do you know my password, or do we have to listen to this drivel for another..." Her eyes flicked to the clock. "1 minute and 12 seconds?"
Pelant didn't say a word, but stared at them, his face inscrutable, until the clock chimed time.
At Brennan's movement in his peripheral vision, he snorted softly, mockingly, at Cam and Arastoo before turning to his opponent. "Her password is fulfillment." He waited only an instant before demanding aggressively, "Isn't it, Dr. Brennan?" The observers wondered if perhaps Cam and Arastoo had gotten to him by undermining his control of the game in the last few minutes. Brennan seemed undisturbed and spoke her confirmation calmly, raising her hand again for applause.
"Do you have a guess for the word I used to describe Cam's role on this team?"
Pelant stayed silent for long minutes, his eyes intent on Brennan's. Was he dragging this out as a tactic, as a way to increase tension or to reassert control, as a plan to influence Brennan? Neither of them looked away, but finally Brennan said. "I need your answer."
Still holding Brennan's eyes, Pelant guessed. "Authority."
All eyes were on Brennan now, waiting to know the answer. Brennan turned her face to Cam and smiled gently, the most emotion she had shown since the game had started. "Mediator." Cam smiled a little back at her. "You had a lot of names for it, through the years, didn't you, Cam? Herding cats? Teaching Kindergarden? When you first came, I didn't understand your use, your purpose. But if not for you, I would have died under the earth. I don't think I would still be buried there...you would have found us by now, but the only reason Hodgins and I were found in time was because you were able to direct the minds and energies of the team toward decoding our text message, which, looking back on it, seems the paltriest of clues." She paused and glanced at Pelant as if testing his patience with such a sentimental interlude. He grinned and held his hands wide. "Oh please continue, Dr. Brennan, there are necessarily gaps in the information I have had available to me. I assure you, I like a good story as well as anyone."
Brennan continued to address Cam. "I know you to be as arrogant as the rest of us when it comes to what you do well and yet, your ability to put that arrogance aside to aid us in our shared purpose is remarkable. And, well, I am grateful for it and have had reason to be grateful for it many times in the past." Without speaking further or waiting for a response from Cam, she reset the clock and turned toward Pelant.
Sweets. Sweet's turn reminded everyone that Pelant was a genius. He abandoned all pretense of typing, of brainstorming, or searching for a password. He obviously had his guess, or guesses, ready and in the end didn't bother trying any of them until there was just one minute on the timer. And then, he guessed it on the first try. Belonging.
Before that, however, he raised his mocking commentary of Hodgins to a new level. Leaning back in the chair he had been given, feet crossed in front of him on the table, he delivered a scathing invective that was all the more chillingly hateful for the measured, the almost cheerful delivery. Pelant quoted word for word from Sweets' book, from his not so private notes and personal reflections on Brennan and Booth. He divided his time between this and his own withering conclusions about Sweets' over identification with the pair, about Sweets secret love for Brennan. He mused that perhaps Sweets also harbored a secret love for Booth. The only blessing was that in nine minutes, he didn't have time to turn his attention and bile to others of the group. Throughout it all, Sweets stood, remarkably composed, not even flushing. At nine minutes, Pelant ceased speaking and raised his brows at Sweets in question.
"That's all you've got?" Sweet's voice was a welcome relief to everyone watching.
"Belonging. That's what this team means to you." Pelant looked like he might say more, but in the end, didn't, glancing at Brennan.
"That is correct." Again, she reset the timer, and again, the audience applauded. "Do you have a guess for the word contained within the case?"
Pelant's eyes sparkled. "I know how you feel about psychology, Dr. Brennan. I guess that you believe that Doctor Sweets' role on this team is Superfluous." Brennan did look surprised at this. Sweets supposed that she had probably said as much, or worse, at some point in their history. Hell, she probably said it to his face.
Brennan seemed to brace herself, taking a deep breath and stating openly, almost aggressively. "The word I chose was Confessor." She turned back to the timer.
"Ah, ah, ah, Dr. Brennan. Not so fast." Pelant let his feet drop down to the floor and motioned to her with his hand. "Give. What's the story here?"
Brennan's voice revealed truculence. Everyone who knew her, knew this tone of voice. It meant she was digging in her heels. "I do not believe I said anything about indulging you in my private thoughts. I have been moved to speak before this, but I do not choose to now. Shall we continue?"
"No, we SHALL NOT!" Pelant's voice was a shout in the laboratory, shocking in its suddenness and demand. "Temperance, I am playing your game, but I don't have to. I can just walk out of here now, continue with my own games. I am enjoying myself, and want you to tell me stories for a change." This last was directed solely to Brennan and indeed, no one else seemed to understand what he meant by this. The only other person who would have understood, wasn't available for comment.
Her jaw set and eyes were cold, but after a long minute, she turned toward Sweets. Her words seemed to pick up mid-sentence, as if continuing a prior conversation. "Even I have told you things, although not because I thought it would be the slightest bit useful, but for whatever reason, others seem to confide in you. Booth tells you things. You may not think that he tells you enough, or much, or what you want him to tell you, but he does tell you things. Things about Parker, and about me, through the years. I know that he told you how he felt about me at various points in our partnership. Caroline, Hodgins, Cam, Angela...they all told me that they have told you things and received some relief from their worry, or they perceived, surprisingly, that they had done you some good, which Angela felt was really the same thing. I don't really understand all of what she said. I almost used the word "mystery" for your role on the team, because it is mysterious but undeniable that your theories, and they are rarely even well founded theories —" Brennan held up a hand to forestall his indignant interruption, so surprisingly reassuring in its predictability that she almost smiled, "—at least the way I would consider a theory well-founded...nevertheless your theories have contributed to the success of this team, on a number of occasions. I do not know where your insight comes from but it is often valid. That you act as a confessor for the members of this team, if not why, seems undeniable. Satisfied?"
It took Sweets a minute to realize that her question was directed to Pelant. And now, the applause came from Pelant. "Yes, very. I think I shall spare you one more night, Princess." He clapped one last time, sighing and pulling up to the computer. "Well, let's get going. There is that point in every game where you just need to slog through the waves of drones or orcs, the mid-level puzzles, to get to the really good stuff. Where were we? Oh yes, Caroline Julian." He gestured arrogantly and received Caroline's briefcase for his trouble
He looked up at Brennan. With a press of a button, the countdown began again. Caroline shifted uncomfortably and cleared her throat. Pelant looked up at her inquiringly. "Ms. Julian, you have something to say?"
"Sorry, Cherie," she shot a look of apology toward Brennan, "I don't follow rules well. I used a two word password. I just crammed the little letters together to make one word." Her face contorted in distaste and helpless resignation as she looked at Pelant. "This little weasel just brings out the worst in me. A spirit of contrariness and irrepressible irritation overcame me when I was punching in the password."
Brennan looked at Pelant. "Do you object to guessing her password?"
Pelant thought about it a minute. "No, I don't think I do. I think she has made it easier, actually. I can discard sycophant, adulator, backscratcher, backslapper, bootlicker, brownnoser, doormat, fan, fawner, flatterer, flunky, groupie, groveler, handshaker, hanger-on, lackey, minion, parasite, politician, puppet, and slave. I think, Ms. Julian, that...You. Think. You. Are. Funny."
Her face, so frustratingly blank during a trial, showed every bit of her anger and frustration, even a little bit of insecurity, her fear that she had made it easier for him, had let the team down.
Pelant smiled at her, thrilled. "I think you are the comic relief here." The look on her face told him that he had guessed right before he thumbed the letters in.
Time reset. Applause. Brennan's question.
Pelant said, "Now this is harder. What purpose does Dr. Brennan think Ms. Julian plays in the group?
Angela had been able to set up monitors in Bone Storage that tapped into Pelant's monitors that they knew about. There was, of course, the risk that there were others they had not discovered. They were all betting that Limbo was safe, but they did not assume that about any other place.
For this reason, they had been careful to avoid meeting in groups, or to do anything out of the ordinary. Even Brennan's visit with Zach was on the usual time and day. And Brennan hadn't shared a lot of her thinking, in any case, so there was no need to risk meeting. When absolutely necessary, Brennan and Angela met in Limbo to share information and plans. And in fact, it was in Limbo that one by one, the Pawns in the game programmed their passwords. Brennan had a master list of course. And when they were done, she wrote the words that she had chosen to represent them inside the suitcases and locked them behind the chosen passwords.
The one thing that Brennan had communicated to everyone is that each of them should consider what the digital world would have told Pelant about themselves. What were the stories that years of electronic communication would tell about them? They had some reason to think that Pelant hadn't been able to hack into their actual hard drives, as they had Sweets, but they should consider such sources as Angela's blog from Paris; Cam's essay to Johns Hopkins on behalf of Michelle as well as her participation in a Goodreads Romance Novel Bookclub; Caroline's emails to her sister and brothers in Baton Rouge; Sweets' comments on a string of Music and gaming websites. Not to mention all of the professional articles and websites and wikis to which they had contributed. They wanted him to be able to guess their passwords, but were told explicitly not to try to anticipate what he would guess. Predicting Pelant was unlikely. He was going to be predicting them; so being themselves, in the most general, fundamental, and genuine "themness" was their job. Similarly, once they were all in the same room together with Pelant, they were all to react as they would. They should anticipate Pelant getting to them, angering and needling them. Brennan was counting on it, her most of all. Social connection and a role in a story bigger than himself. That was the lure.
What happened once the trap was sprung, though? With Brennan, at the very least—maybe all of them—right in the center of that trap with Pelant.
Zach sat in the library and considered Dr. Brennan's plan. Exhaustively plotted and engineered to a particular point, but left completely and unnervingly open and unpredictable past that point. The plan resembled, and indeed took into account, chaos theory as well as game theory, acknowledging that trying to predict outcomes within complex systems beyond a certain divergent point, was useless. Worse than useless; it was hubristic and dangerous to believe such predictions were true.
The gamer in him had enjoyed sifting through the characters in the role play they designed, identifying their archetypes. The Confessor, the Mediator, Humanity, Justice, Purpose. He was also pleased with the random variables they had introduced, and as a member of this team, he was enjoying the irony that the Rogue Element had turned out to be Booth. Pelant himself had set him free, cut him off from Brennan and the others, isolating him as a punishment, presumably. The man whose sense of purpose and justice had made him the perfect leader and member of the team—decisive and responsive both, able to rely upon disparate elements to help him make right choices—was now on his own, and likely to have to make decisions that he had always deferred to others. The sniper doesn't make the call. Zach had heard him say it more than once.
Zach didn't know if Booth was capable of acting outside of the bounds within which he had lived for over forty years, but Dr. Brennan seemed confident. Zach was looking forward to hearing her detailed account of today, assuming Pelant didn't win which was, unfortunately, still a possibility although not a likelihood, according to Zach's calculations. Not for the first time, Zach wished he was back in his apartment over Hodgins' garage, or better, in the lab, where perhaps he could be of some use.
Angela checked the caller ID, and moved away from the team crawling over Pelant's Desktop of Doom. "Booth?"
"Ange. I can't get into the Jeffersonian. My keycard doesn't work. Do you know anything about that?"
"I do Booth. I've got the place locked down. The only way to sever Pelant's communications was to shut down everyone's. Believe me, they are all safer this—"
"Yeah, but I can't get in. I need to get in."
"Booth, I'm working on disabling Pelant's safeguards and Brennan is giving me time to do that. That's all I know. I can't let you through without risk to her and the others. I'm sorry."
But she was talking to air. Booth had already hung up.