Joshua Thomas Eichburg stared in disbelief at the room in front of him. It was smaller than any other office he'd seen at the FBI, maybe the size of a bedroom. It was the only one he'd seen with no windows. Two of the seven overhead lights had burned out. Six desks had been shoved up against the walls. At one of them, a short woman in a blue suit was tapping away at a computer. At another a middle aged man was reading a book and smoking a cigarette. A second woman, tall and dark-skinned, was reading through the contents of a manilla envelope. None of them noticed him. He looked for a good place to put the box of supplies he was carrying.
“Hey, you must be the new guy!” Joshua felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned and saw a scrawny looking young man with messy blonde hair smiling at him. “Joshua right?”
Joshua nodded. “Right.”
The three people in the office had all turned to look at him now. He gave a half hearted wave to them. They turned back to their desks.
“Ah, ignore them,” said the young man. “They're just jealous.” He extended a hand. Joshua shook it. “So, my name's Isaac. I was the newest, till you came along. That's Sabrina,” he pointed to the dark-skinned woman, “Jessie,” the woman typing, “and Matthew,” the man. “Any questions?”
“This can't be everybody.”
“It's everybody. The five of us, tasked with handling any and all 'unusual incidents' on the east coast.”
Without looking up Matthew grunted out, “That's five too many.”
Isaac shook his head. “Matthew has some strong opinions about the usefulness of our group. It's best to ignore him. That's your desk.”
Joshua put the box on the indicated desk. Like the others in the room it was made out cheap plastic, with a marked lack of structural integrity. One of the drawers only closed halfway. When the box was dropped onto it, it made a long groaning noise. Joshua quickly took the box off and placed it on the floor.
“I want to show you something,” Isaac said. He was standing across the room, at another desk. Joshua walked over and saw three objects laying on it- a penny, a copy of Action Comics issue 430, and a ballerina statuette.
“This,” said Isaac with a hint of pride, “is the collection.”
“The collection of what?”
Isaac just grinned. He held up the penny, turned it over so Joshua could see both sides. “I present to you, an ordinary penny.”
“Amazing,” said Joshua.
“It gets even better.” Isaac flicked it at the wall. It fell on the desk, and he made a dramatic sweep with his hands at it. “Behold.”
Joshua beheld. Rather than heads or tails, the penny was showing a third side, a large eye. Joshua picked it up and turned it over. The bottom side was tails. He turned it back and saw the eye had turned back to heads. “What the fuck?”
“It gets cooler,” said Isaac. He was grinning like a child who had just gotten away with a particularly nasty bit of mischief. He flipped it again, and it showed a picture of George Washington instead of Lincoln. A third flip revealed a turkey clutching an olive branch and bundle of arrows in its talons. “Wild huh? This is our collection.”
“Our collection. You're one of us now, hombre. You're looking at 20 years of UIU heritage.”
“Right. But there are only three things,” said Joshua. He eyed the comic and ballerina.
“Three unusual things,” said Isaac, and put the penny back up the table. “We've found other stuff, but we normally don't get to keep it.”
Joshua laughed. “What, does somebody take it from you? Big scary men in black with funny accents?”
Before Isaac could respond, Joshua's phone rang. He answered, and a voice said “Hello Joshua. This is Skip.” The voice was a male's, smooth, clipped, and professional. In the background Joshua could hear two people chattering.
“I don't know anybody named Skip,” said Joshua. When he did, Isaac's body seized. Sabrina and Jessie both shot up and hurried over to him. Matthew ignored them.
“Give me the phone!” hissed Sabrina. “Let me talk to him.”
“Don't give this phone to anybody else,” said the voice. “Just listen. You're probably angry and frustrated. We understand that. Your future's just been crushed. You've been transferred to an underfunded, understaffed unit where agents' careers go to die. You think you'll be stuck for the rest of your life chasing ghosts and Bigfoot and other fantasies. Is this correct?”
“Maybe,” said Joshua. The others were looking at him solemnly. “That depends on who this is.”
“Joshua, we're the people who are here to tell you that you're wrong. The work you'll do in the UIU matters greatly. Everything you've been told about, it's all real. And you're going to help protect the world from it.”
“I'm not sure I understand.”
“We'll call. When we do, be sure to pick up.” The voice hung up. Joshua looked down at his phone. “What the fuck was that?”
“Ah,” said Isaac.
“A great big pile of horseshit, dropped right down your fucking britches,” said Matthew. He stamped out the cigarette and stood up. “I'm going to go out on a limb here and say they fed you a bit about 'saving the world'. Our work being 'important'. Is that right?”
“Let me tell you what they actually meant. We're their gimp. We're here to take it up the ass, smile, say 'thank you sir, may I have another', then go and fetch them a big bundle of grapes and feed it to them. They'll call, send us out on some inane fucking errand, then pat us on the back and send us packing with a lollipop in hand.”
“That… I don't think that answers my question,” said Joshua.
“What Matthew is trying to say, in his own inelegant manner,” said in Jessie, “Is that the person lied. We don't know who they are exactly, but they're massive. Government scale influence and resources. Sometimes they'll call, always with a menial assignment they can't be bothered with. They're the ones who take most of what we find, like Isaac was saying.”
“Lovely,” sighed Joshua. “Just when I think this couldn't possibly get any more demeaning.” He pulled out his phone and tapped in *69. Nothing happened. He tossed it onto the desk. “So that's it then? Everything we're going after is actually real, and we can't do anything about it.”
“We sometimes do things about it,” chimed Isaac. “We can do stuff on our own. It's just not very effective.”
“Do things like find pennies, you mean?”
“Yes! Exactly like that. We do stakeouts some times. Busts. It's uh, normally nothing. But sometimes, you know, we get lucky.”
Joshua rubbed his temples and looked at Sabrina. “And you? What do you think about all this?”
She shrugged. “I think… it's good that we're not the only people out there handling this. If we were the best humanity had to offer, that wouldn't be a very good sign, would it?”
“Okay. Okay. Maybe this could be a good thing.” Joshua ran his fingers through his hair. “At least it means we're not chasing after nothing right?”
The room was silent.
“Dammit, there has to be something we can do. We must know something, right? We have some sort of budget, even if it's fucking nothing. We're FBI agents. That means something, right?”
The room was silent.
He walked over to his desk and began to unpack the box. “Right.”