Breakthrough
rating: +14+x

The two agents sat side by side on a bench in plainclothes, waiting for their contact to arrive. The smell after a rain permeated the Park Blocks.

"Do you miss it?" Creed asked. "Three Ports?"

"Sometimes." Ross replied with a melancholy smile. "I have a lot of memories there."

She paused.

"But hey, I'm making a difference now. Help sort out the good mages from the bad."

Creed nodded and gently squeezed Ross's hand.

"If the Foundation is to survive much longer," he began, "it's going to need to start adopting the pragmatism Site-64 takes. A rigid rod will eventually snap under pressure. But not one that is flexible. Not one that can adapt to the stress."

"As if that will ever happen." Ross gave a sad chuckle.

Creed shrugged.

"Hey, we can still dream, right?"


Agent Beatrice Ross's thoughts drifted as she sat alone in within the Park Blocks of Portland, Oregon. Catching herself, she shifted her gaze to the black gloves on her hands that covered a thick wrapping of bandages. She had been able to regenerate a bit of the tissue damaged by the frostbite so far. Even with magic, there was a limit to how fast a body could heal safely.

She returned her eyes to the passing foot traffic and scanned for her contact. Soon, she detected a familiar aura and was approached by an androgynous agent from the Unusual Incidents Unit.

"You're late." Ross snickered.

Robin Thorne frowned.

"Yeah, well, it turns out Tolkien was wrong." They gave a small shrug. "Anyways, Gandalf never had to deal with traffic."

They then sat down beside Ross on the bench.

"No counterphrase?" Thorne asked. "Merlo was always a stickler for those."

"I trust a familiar aura pattern more than that cloak and dagger crap." Ross shrugged. "Suit yourself though." Ross cleared her throat. "Tiny curtains opened and we heard the tiny clap of little hands."

"A tiny man would tell a little joke, and get a tiny laugh from all the folks," Thorne replied.

The pair fell silent for a moment.

"How have you been, Robin?" Ross asked. "It's been a while."

Instead of an answer, Thorne handed Ross an unmarked envelope.

"Someone tipped your guy off. By the time we got there, the equipment was smashed, documents incinerated, and about 30 kilos of Seance Dust had been glassed. They probably jumped ship through the Backdoor or Britain. "

Ross's gaze fell to the pavement. She closed her eyes and let out a deep breath.

"Fantastic. Another dead end."

"I didn't say that. Check the envelope."

Ross nodded and gingerly opened it, scanning the contents within. Her eyes widened as her face flushed.

"You've got to be kidding me."

Inside was a collection of about seven receipts to Spicy Crust Pizza.

"Wish I was," Thorne sighed. "You'd think with how meticulous these guys were they'd remember to take care of their trash."

They then stood and began to take their leave.

"The ball is in your court, Bea. Best of luck."


Site Director Edgar Holman looked over the receipts for several moments, a finger tapping his temple as he thought in silence. Across the desk from him, Agent Ross sat on the edge of her seat.

"Sir?" she asked. "What do you think?"

"I think you've confirmed that these guys like pizza," he replied and slid the receipts back towards her. "This is hardly a lot to go on."

"With all due respect, sir, this doesn't seem coincidental. We should-"

"Have you ever eaten at a Spicy Crust, Agent Ross?" Holman interrupted.

"No. I'm afraid not."

"I have," he continued. "It's pretty decent pizza. Turns out running a front operation is a whole lot more believable if you are decent at actually doing what you claim to be doing. For all you know your Seance Dust manufacturer made that his go-to chain. Not everyone on the other side of the Veil knows it’s one of ours."

Ross nodded in understanding.

"Sir, this is literally the only place left that the breadcrumbs lead. Just grant me the RAISA clearance so I can take a quick look. I promise you, if I'm wrong I'll consider this to be case-closed. I just want to check camera feeds in the pizzeria."

Holman rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed.

"Three days," he said. "I want regular briefings on anything you find. And the second you do find something that confirms this was an inside operation we hand off to I.A. Are we clear?"

"Crystal."


Black and white CCTV footage of the inside of a pizzeria played on the computer monitor in front of Agent Ross as she finished off her third cup of breakroom coffee. Rubbing her eyes, she sighed and jotted down several notes. Paused on the screen was the image of the Seance Dust manufacturer talking to a gangly young man with thick glasses over a medium Hawaiian.

"Who the hell are you…" Ross whispered to herself, then tapped the computer screen with her pen.

At each of the times on the receipts Thorne has recovered, the footage had proven to play out the same. Glasses would enter the restaurant about half an hour before the manufacturer and head to the bathroom. Once the manufacturer entered, they would place an order at the counter and take a seat. Glasses would then join them and hand them an envelope. They'd then eat the pizza and part ways.

Ross sighed again and drummed on her desk, her gaze turning to the nearby phone. She was still waiting to hear back from RAISA to find out if her target was one of the Spicy Crust Pizza employees.

"Any time now, guys," Ross mumbled.

She then turned her attention back to the monitor and pressed play, frowning as the image remained frozen. The screen then flickered, the CCTV recording being replaced by the indicator of a down intranet connection. The screen flickered again, and the recording was back. However, the Seance Dust manufacturer and Glasses were gone.

"What the hell?"

Ross scrambled her way through the various video files.

"What the hell!"

In each one her suspects had been erased.

The phone then rang. RAISA's number appeared on the dial. Ross picked up the receiver, her grip tight on the black plastic as she spoke.

"Please tell me you guys have good news."

"I'm sorry, Agent Ross," the RAISA tech replied. "We don't have any records of that man working at the Spicy Crust Pizza front, or that they are personnel at all."

Ross sank into her chair.

"I figured that would be the case," she said. "Thanks for everything."

"Of course. Let us know if you need anything else."

Ross hung up and looked at her notes, then back at the CCTV footage.

"Who the hell are you?!?"


Agent Ross rarely found a reason to visit the administration offices of Site-64 outside of the occasional visit to Site Director Holman. However, desperate times called for desperate measures, and for that reason, she found herself in the Accounting Department. Stopping at a door labeled "Gabriel Merlo: Head Accountant" she looked over her shoulder and then stepped inside the office beyond.

"Agent Ross?"

Inside the office, a bespectacled man with a face covered in stubble sat behind the central desk, a look of mild confusion upon his face as he put down a mug of coffee. Ross held a finger to her lips and crossed the room, handing him a slip of paper.

Cameras in here?

Gabe raised an eyebrow, then shook his head.

"Wonderful." Ross sighed in relief. "Do you have access to the cash flow through Foundation fronts? Spicy Crust Pizza in particular."

"Uh, yeah." Gabe gave a confused chuckle. "Hard for me to do my job if I didn't. Why do you ask?"

"I think someone in the Foundation is using our branch in Portland as a means of contracting for an anomalous substance from Three Portlands. Who else has access to that info?"

"What?" Gabe blinked.

"Who else has access to that info, Gabe?"

"I mean, a quite a few. Other accountants, administrators, ethics committee members doing check-ins. It's not exactly level four stuff. You think someone is laundering money through Spicy Crust?"

Ross didn't answer. She stared off into space, a gloved hand on her chin as she thought to herself.

"Does that info get backed up, and if so how often?" She replied.

"I have regular backups of most of the accounts on a portable hard drive-"

"Pull up a backup from last week and compare that to what's currently in the database! Twenty bucks say it doesn't match up."

"Why though?" Gabe asked. His expression was pleading. "Agent Ross, I want to help you but you need to calm down and tell me what is going on!"

"Creed and I have been attempting to bust a large paracrime operation acting out of Three Portlands for months now, Gabe," Ross shot back. "We've never had a solid lead until a few weeks ago. Then out of the blue, there is an assassination attempt on Creed and I by people who know we are skippers, and that I'm a thaumatologist. Then, when the UIU attempts to bust the manufacturers in they not only find that the suspects were tipped off but a shit ton of Spicy Crust receipts. The breadcrumbs are pointing to someone in the Foundation, Gabe! I just don't know who or why yet. But if the info in your backup doesn't match the database then it tells me that its someone with significant RAISA access and that's a very short suspect list. Certainly enough to get Internal Affairs crawling all over it. So please, Gabe, pull up that info!"

"Well why didn't you just say so," he said and began to type on his keyboard. It was not long before the accountant frowned.

"Well?" Ross asked, moving to peer over his shoulder.

"Doesn't match. Someone has cooked these books. This is bad, Ross. Really bad. I should have gotten an alert about these kinds of edits. The system is compromised."

"Can you find out who's been accessing the records?"

Gabe nodded and typed in a few more commands. A short list of names came up. Most were accountants or RAISA techs. One name, however, did stand out: Dr. Lindsey Morgan of the Site Ethics Committee.

"Interesting," Ross grinned. "Dr. Morgan often coming asking about Spicy Crust's bottom line?"

"She does not," Gabe replied. "I don't think I've even met her yet."

"We had a single 'no' vote from the site's Ethics Committee when Creed and I proposed to use an anomalous substance to assist in our investigation. How much do you want to bet that vote was hers?"

The computer screen flickered.

"Fur abeas!"

Gabe and Ross froze as a guttural voice sounded from the computer. The device began to crackle with electricity and the lights in the room dimmed.

"Shit! Get away from it!" Ross shouted, and shoved Gabe to the floor.

A hand made of electricity burst through the computer monitor. Ross held her right arm up. Five crackling fingers interlocked with hers, the force of the contact slamming her against the wall. She let out a sharp cry of pain, the hand still tightly gripped in hers. The temperature of the room plummeted.

"Unplug it!" Ross shouted. Electricity arched up and down her body.

Gabe scrambled for the foot of the desk, sparks flying as he yanked the power strip from the wall. The creature emerging from the screen let out a screech. A second arm emerged from the screen and pierced Ross through her abdomen.

Ross howled in pain, her left hand grabbing the new hand as she maintained her grip with her right. Frost began to build on her as she became cyanotic, the electricity that had been arching up and down her body now concentrated in her arms. With a hoarse yell, she lurched forward, kicking off the wall with her feet. The electric hands in her grip writhed and began to deform, then shot back into the computer screen with a deafening crack, launching the fried electronics off the desk in a plume of black smoke.

The lights in the room died and were replaced a few moments later with the dull red glow of the emergency lighting.

"Ross?" Gabe asked, emerging from cover, "Are you okay?"

Agent Ross nodded as she placed a hand over the puncture wound on her stomach. The bleeding immediately stopped. She stepped backward, struggling to keep herself up against the wall as she shivered.

"I hate… demonics…" she managed to get out. Her breath was visible. "Hey Gabe… think I can borrow… your jacket? I'm a little… cold."

Ross slumped to the floor.

"Oh shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit."

Gabe crossed the room in an instant, pulling a jacket off his nearby chair and wrapping it around Ross's crumpled form. The accountant fumbled for his phone, opening up the texting app keying in a message.

sasha ross in myoffice atked needs medical

Gabe hit send. Then turned his attention back to the downed agent.

"What do I do?" he thought out loud. He froze as he heard his office door open behind him.

"Mr. Merlo." The voice was soft and masculine. "Please step away from Agent Ross."

The accountant looked over his shoulder. A young, gangly man with thick glasses stood in the doorway wearing the jumpsuit of the site maintenance team. He held a shotgun in his hands, its barrel pointed at Gabe's chest.


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