Conspiracy, Part II
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Foundation Command-02, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 22 December 1988, 1158 hours local time

As it turned out, the Foundation contained rather a lot of different objects which could explode or ignite. Exploding cacti, exploding ink, an exploding eyeball - the stack of files Monica had carried up from Central Records took the three of them most of the morning to read. The tiny room, always cramped and cluttered, quickly became nearly impossible to move about in as they sifted through the towering heaps of papers.

Just before lunch, Monica found something. "Hey, listen to this: a chest of coins, each capable of detonating with the force of five megajoules. They're linked to an atlas which can be used to detonate the coins."

Muir and Harper got up and looked over her shoulder. "Does the report have a chemical analysis?" Harper asked.

"'For analysis of explosive residue signature, see Addendum 5'," Monica quoted. "Where did that - ah! Here we go." She snatched up the relevant page.

Muir laid it alongside the forensic report from the plane bombing. "Looks like a rough match to me," he said. "The file's analysis dates back to the fifties, so even if this is a perfect match it might not line up perfectly."

Harper nodded, "Definitely the best option so far. Good catch, Monica." The intern beamed. He continued, "So, where is this thing contained?"

"That's a problem, Tim," Muir said, reading the Special Containment Procedures.

"Oh, Troy?" Harper asked.

"Yeah. We don't have it," Muir said. "It was stored in the Trinidad site back in fifty-nine." Harper swore under his breath.

"What happened to the Trinidad site in fifty-nine?" Monica asked.

"In a word," Muir explained, "Castro. He nationalized the Foundation's research site in Trinidad. The staff resisted and were executed - save one researcher who managed to get away by sheer dumb luck. Ended up heading back to the Soviet Union to work as a mole in KGB's Thirteenth Chief Directorate somewhere in Central Asia, I think."

"And we let Castro get away with this?!" Monica asked. She had no illusions about the Foundation's track record when it came to ruthlessness.

"Of course not," Harper said. "Ever heard of the Bay of Pigs invasion?"

"That failed," Monica countered, frowning.

Muir shook his head, "You're assuming what made it to the history books is what actually happened. We'd originally planned to attack Trinidad directly. American State Department didn't want to play ball, so the invasion landing site had to be moved. We still sent Foundation forces to Trinidad. Didn't manage to retrieve anything, but both Castro and Marshall, Carter, and Dark got the message."

Monica was confused, "MC&D was involved?"

"Castro tried to sell them the contents of the Trinidad site," Harper explained. "They absconded with the items without paying Castro after Foundation forces crashed the party."

"He was pissed," Muir observed. "We still get reports of Cuban troops in Soviet-backed states killing people associated with the club."

"Between the combined fury of the Foundation and Castro, it actually drove MC&D to ground for over a decade," Harper finished. "So the Foundation decided the whole mess was a 'successful failure.'"

"So, do we know where this chest of coins is now?" Monica asked.

"Not exactly," Muir said. "Marshall, Carter, and Dark isn't exactly on good terms with the Foundation, and we've not ever been able to get a good source on the inside. I've heard the GOC has had a little more success, but I don't know for certain. I could put out feelers with some of my contacts at the GOC, but they'll want something in return." The world of intelligence was a strange place: despite the generally frosty relationship between the GOC and the Foundation, both organization's intelligence branches occasionally shared information about mutual threats. Neither side trusted the other, of course, but the quid pro quo of intelligence-sharing had proven helpful to both sides on numerous occasions.

"You do that, Troy," Harper said. "In the mean time, Monica, keep digging through things here. I'm going to track down the surviving researcher from Trinidad."

Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 22 December 1988, 1730 hours local time

The only physically remarkable thing about him was his limp and cane. These, of course, were unavoidable for a man whose right leg was artificial from his knee down. Beyond that, he was of intermediate height, had thinning brown hair, and brown eyes. He was the sort of man that you'd forget having seen five minutes later, if not for his limp and cane. He missed the fieldwork, but he was too easy to identify now.

Muir hobbled into the Smithsonian Natural History Museum's National Gem Collection. It was a good meeting spot, and he never got tired of looking at the gemstones. He was standing before a beautiful piece of amethyst several feet in height when he heard a low voice behind him, "Nice shade of purple, isn't it?"

Without turning, Muir replied, "Indeed. I was always jealous of those with February birthdays."

"I'm sure you know one of the six birthdays we have on file for you is in February. How's the wife, Troy?" Special Agent Granger, Global Occult Coalition asked.

"Gladys and I have separated," Muir responded evenly. "I'm sure you knew that, though, just like how you know all the birthdays in your file on me are wrong. How's your son, Harry?"

"Looking forward to Christmas," Granger replied. "Wants Lego. Again." Muir grunted. "So, Troy, what can I do for you?"

The two men started down the gallery. "You've sprung a leak," Muir said. "Foundation forces found information classified Level Q in a raid on a non-aligned building day before yesterday."

Granger's training quickly erased the alarm from his face, before responding, "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because whomever penetrated you also managed to get access to all the major players, including the Foundation," Muir replied. "We also believe they brought down the Pan Am flight in Lockerbie. Took out all the documents we recovered, and also hit the repository where we stored the backups. Otherwise, I'd be able to tell you what they had on the GOC."

Granger let out a low whistle. "Any leads?" he asked.

"We're working on that, and we need your help," Muir answered. "The Coalition has always had better sources at MC&D than the Foundation. We think they either have, or sold, the object responsible for taking down the plane." He handed Granger a sheet of paper with the Global Occult Coalition's KTE, or 'Known Threat Entity', designation for the object.

Pocketing the paper, the GOC Agent nodded. "I'll have to run this up the chain, Troy. Deputy Director Bain will need to know."

"Thanks, Harry," Muir said. "If this pans out, I'd consider us even."

"Thanks, but one file on one item handled by that damn club? That would hardly square us. This'll take care of the one I owe you for Uganda. I still owe you a favor for Fiji," Granger observed.

"Well, I'm not going to object to a GOC Agent telling me he still owes me a favor," Muir chuckled. "Have a good holiday."

"You too," Granger said. With that, the two men went their separate ways.

Outside Moscow, USSR
Friday, 23 December 1988, 0213 hours local time

As it turned out, meeting the surviving researcher from Trinidad required a trip to Moscow. Now almost ninety, Dr. Andrei Pushkin had retired to a dacha in the hills overlooking the city. Thankfully, the Foundation's connections made it fairly simple for Harper to enter the Soviet Union, in spite of his American citizenship.

Pushkin met Harper in his pajamas when the counterintelligence officer arrived at his doorstep bearing an expensive bottle of vodka. Seated at the retired researcher's kitchen table, the men spoke in Russian, a language Harper had mastered decades earlier. A cloud of cigarette smoke filled the room as the vodka slowly disappeared.

"What brings a Level 5 Foundation investigator all the way from Washington just to speak to an old man in the dead of night?" asked Pushkin. "I retired from the Foundation and KGB almost fifteen years ago."

"Andrei Ivan'ich, I need to know everything about Trinidad. I'm trying to track down one of the items that was lost," Harper explained.

Pushkin sighed, "That was thirty years ago. My memory isn't what it once was - I hope you don't expect me to remember specific item numbers, especially for the objects I wasn't handling."

"Do you remember an object that was a chest of exploding coins and an atlas?" Harper inquired.

Pushkin thought for several minutes. "Vaguely. I never worked with them; that was - who handled those… Dr. Wong's project? Either Dr. Wong, or Dr. Hernandez."

Harper nodded, lighting a fresh cigarette. "Could you tell me what happened when the Cubans showed up?"

Pushkin drained and refilled his vodka draft. Taking a deep breath, he recounted one of the scariest situations in his life.

Pushkin's Tale

Foundation Research Site-██ Trinidad, Cuba
Sunday, 15 March 1959, 1030 hours local time

As the klaxon blared, and the corridor was bathed in red light, Pushkin once again found himself holding a gun.

Nikolai Ivanovich Pushkin, Doctorate of Philosophy in Phyics, did not like guns. He'd never been a fighter: he'd only been a boy during the Revolution and ensuing Civil War, which had stalled his beloved education by shutting down his school. When the dust had finally settled, he'd hoped that he'd never see armed conflict again. Unfortunately, as a young professor in Leningrad in the early 1940s, he'd been trapped in the city when the Germans had surrounded it. The Germans had shelled the city day and night for nearly a year, constantly trying to break the siege. When the building with his laboratory and office had been leveled by the shelling, he'd resisted having to take up arms by helping manage logistics for the defenders. Not that there had been much in the way of supplies, food, or ammunition to move. He'd met Sergei Petrovich during the war; Sergei had recruited him into the Foundation. After the end of the war, he'd hoped to never again have to handle a firearm. And yet, here he was.

The morning had started out normally enough. Breakfast in the site's commissary, meeting for all Level 3 and 4 staff, followed by another day of research. He vaguely remembered the site's security director, Agent Shaw, mentioning something about the recent revolution, but surely the politics in Havanna meant little for this secret research facility. Pushkin had paid it little mind: nobody knew what went on in this small, apparently unremarkable compound on the edge of Trinidad. And even if someone had, the Foundation's security staff had far more firepower than the local constabulary. Most of the facility was concealed from the world in a heavily reinforced bunker rated to withstand all but a direct nuclear strike. And so, the researcher allowed his mind to wander to more important things, like how he was going to conduct the day's tests.

After the meeting's conclusion, Pushkin had returned to his lab. His assistant, Dr. Rawji, had already begun work on the object they were researching: a Factory-built radio set whose transistors showed some promising anomalous properties.

No more than thirty minutes from when Pushkin had begun to work, the site's intercom blared: "Attention all personnel! Unauthorized paramilitary forces have breached the outer perimeter. This is not a drill. Threat Condition Gamma has been declared. This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill!"

Pushkin swore loudly. He picked up the radio set to carry it back to the storage room up the hall while Rawji went to work burning their research notes. The hallway was dark compared to the bright laboratory, illuminated only by the flashing red emergency lights. It only took Pushkin a moment to enter the storage room, open the proper locker, place the radio inside, and lock it. He heard the door fly open behind him. "Doc! We have to get you out of here!" an urgent American voice said. Turning around, Pushkin recognized a young fair-haired security officer - Mathews? Martin? Something like that - clutching a rifle. "Here, Doc, take this," the guard said, shoving a pistol into his hands. "Come on, I'm supposed to get you and Dr. Rawji out of here." The guard ran out into the corridor. Pushkin followed, awkwardly holding the semiautomatic handgun, hoping he didn't have to shoot the neculturny thing.

Pushkin had barely left the room when two Cuban men in fatigues carrying rifles burst out of the door to his lab. They shouted something in Spanish - Pushkin didn't know what, since he'd never bothered to learn the language - and gestured for him and the security officer to raise their hands. The security officer opened fire, killing one of the Cubans. The other shot the security officer. Pushkin turned and ran, firing wildly behind him.

The Russian rounded a corner. No Cubans appeared behind him. Now what? he wondered. He was standing alone, in a deserted corridor, bathed in red light, while a klaxon blared, in a site overrun by Cubans. Once again holding a gun. He hated guns.

Pushkin was about to leave the gun when he thought better of it. Perhaps he'd need the thing. Reluctantly, he pocketed it. Now, he had to figure out a way out of the facility. He searched his memory: he'd been briefed on this eventuality, but it wasn't something he'd taken all that seriously or thought too hard about. Get to the surface, he thought. Surface. Then out of the complex. Then to the rendezvous point. Beach eighty kilometers up the coast. One week to get there. But first, the surface. How do I get to the surface? Pushkin ticked off his options. Elevators would be guarded. That left one of the emergency ladders. Great. Two hundred meter climb up a ladder. Where's the nearest one? And so he set off.

After ten minutes of tense searching, he found one of the ladders to the surface. Why couldn't he just have been left to do his research? He didn't like doing all this sneaking around. As he climbed, he hoped he wouldn't find himself staring at a bunch of angry Cubans when he reached the surface.

As it luck would have it, the access ladder did not lead into the arms of angry Cubans, but rather to the woods in the hillside overlooking the complex. Concealing himself behind a bush, Pushkin looked down at the courtyard. A dozen or so Foundation staff members were kneeling on the ground with their arms behind their heads. A large man with a beard in fatigues seemed to be in charge of the Cubans. He was talking with a European man wearing a dark suit carrying a briefcase. The Cubans were carrying out the different objects the site had housed. There was the radio, the chest of coins, the atlas, the three books, the sculpture, and the abacus. The man in the suit inspected the items. He looked at the large man and nodded. The two shook hands. As the man in the suit left in a truck loaded with the objects, the large man barked an order to some of his men. Pushkin watched in horror as his coworkers were executed in cold blood by the Cubans. It was a sight which would haunt his nightmares for many years to come, just like that night in November of 1917, or the dark days of 1943.

As the Cubans left the compound, Pushkin disappeared into the hills, starting his long walk to the rendezvous point.

Outside Moscow, USSR
Friday, 23 December 1988, 0600 hours local time

"…And that was the last I saw any of the objects stored in Trinidad," finished Pushkin. "I hid in the hills northwest of the city. The Foundation picked me up in a boat a week later on a little beach eighty kilometers up the coast."

Harper emptied the last of the vodka into his host's glass. "And then you went back to the Soviet Union?" he asked.

"Correct," replied the elderly man. "The Foundation at that time had strong ties to the military and intelligence organizations of both superpowers. I was assigned as a researcher at a laboratory near Dushanbe which was managed by the KGB's Thirteenth Chief Directorate for Paranormal Investigations with Foundation assistance. Both organizations thought I was working for them, spying on the other." He laughed, "It didn't really matter to me, since both paid me handsomely, and since I only had access to what was actually there at the laboratory. I suspect my handlers for both organizations thought me ineffectual. But I was allowed to do my research, and that was that."

Harper took a deep breath on his cigarette. "Did you hear anything further about the lost items?"

Pushkin frowned and shook his head, "Only rumors that that British club had bought them. What was the name…"

"Marshall, Carter and Dark?" Harper supplied.

"That was it," Pushkin nodded. "I am sorry I can't help you further."

"Andrei Ivan'ich, you have helped me immensely," Harper told the old man, who smiled. The investigator retrieved his hat and coat and took his leave.

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