« A continuation of: Nothing Says "Promotion" Like a Bag Over Your Head
Daniel Navarro, newly fledged MTF Sigma-3 operative, was making use of his new-found super secret agent status by skulking through an abandoned building. What had once served as a copper refinery in the early 20th century had been remade by the 21st into an art house dedicated to Japan's industrial heritage, and Navarro struggled not to get distracted from his ultra secret objective.
Navarro approached the eastern wall and examined it, giving the wall a few pokes. He found a spot where the mortar clung to his his fingertip. One of the adjacent bricks vibrated slightly, but only for a moment.
Wiping the supposed mortar on his pants leg, Navarro dug into his pocket. "You guys might want to try something a little stronger if that's all it takes to break it. Let's see, password is…" He slowly sounded out the Japanese.
A few of the bricks rattled. One rattled louder, followed by an adjacent brick edging its way out of the wall, revealing a thin rippling film behind the bricks. Navarro aided it in its escape and snapped his hand back when it began to turn into a person.
"I guess I'll let that count," the woman said in accented English, brushing off some of the fake mortar from her skirt. In Japanese she gave the wall a sharp comment, and other bricks began to work their way out of the brickwork. A ring of bricks emerged, and they morphed into people and heaved the proper bricks they had been supporting out of the way.
The wavy portal shimmered lightly, catching what little light there was and refracting the view. Behind them was a small area consisting mostly of pipes, likely blocked off during the revitalization. Navarro nodded at the woman and stepped into the portal. It felt like walking through wet cement. He could feel the cold air at the refinery on his trailing ankle, his leading foot felt pleasantly warm. The portal stretched across his face like elastic, but he pressed onward until it finally tore and he was looking somewhere else entirely.
Much like the proper Japanese island he just left, it once served as a refining facility. The key differences were that this place was still active, and that rather than copper it refined ideas. Buildings sprouted up across the gravel roads, stories and levels budding from the base floors to form various shapes. Brains complete with spinal columns, spiraling coils, and various canines made of brick and mortar and wood filled the area, similar buildings cropped together. Above him was the angled dome that encased the area. The "proper" Japanese name didn't translate particularly well into English, but according to his informant it was often referred to as the Okayama Attic.
Behind him, a safety railing prevented onlookers from tumbling down into the other pocket prefectures. He gripped the railing and leaned out to get a look below. Anomalous reflections of Hiroshima, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi stretched out below him, twisting and melting together where they met, together making up the Chūgoku Cellar. Even with the vastness of a pocket reality, Japan had found a way to overcrowd. Above him, blurry but still distinctly there, the other regions that made up the Honshū island hovered above the Chūgoku Cellar. It reminded him of the Wanderer's Library in a sense, though the Library always held a distinct air of order and purpose to the madness of its layout. Here the pockets simply bled together at the seams.
Slipping a hand from the rail to his pocket, Navarro spun and walked deeper into the Attic. Down the street a small group of mildly drunk Japanese men in business suits exited a building in the shape of a humanoid mecha. They chatted away as behind them the building struck a salute, snapping its legs together. One of them spun around and gave it a salute back, though he swayed slightly. With little more than the grinding of gravel the earth consumed the building until nothing but a flat plot of land was left. The man swung his arm forward to end the salute and hurried after his companions.
Toward the center of the Attic the buildings became more clumped together, brickwork seamlessly running into wood into stone as the various shapes of the buildings stood trapped in stolid interaction. Amidst a herd of stone animals he didn't recognize stood a perfectly cuboid building, an open door frame in the center of the wall. Above the archway was a blazing sign that Navarro couldn't actually read. It certainly looked impressive, though.
An earpiece buried probably too deep sparked to life, leaving an odd taste in his mouth. "About time you got here."
Navarro just nodded. Sigma-3 had decided sending a single man into only moderately well known territory wasn't the best of ideas, especially when said man was a newcomer. So now he had a new best friend to chide him from a distance. How fun. Navarro couldn't spot her with a few glances around the street, which he supposed was probably a good thing.
Another shocking taste. "Shop's empty of customers right now. Now is as good a time as any. Start screaming if you need backup."
More nods at his hidden teammate and Navarro entered the workshop. The place held a warm glow that grew progressively more aggressive as he approached the counter. Behind said counter was a towering humanoid, probably standing at around ten feet. It had grey skin mottled with faded brown, an overabundance of arms, and a distinct lack of a face. When it turned to look at him it was like staring into a furnace.
It rose a pair of arms in greeting, the fires in its head licking at the edges its "lips." Smoke plumed out, forming words in several languages.
שלום こんにちは Bounjour Hola Привет مرحبا Hello 你好 Guten tag
Navarro broke out in an easy grin. "Hey there."
The golem nodded and then smoked, How can I help you?
"I've heard good things, and I want to see what you have to offer," Navarro said. "Word is you have a collection of various items, but your specialty is custom orders."
It is true. Do you wish to see my wares?
"Very much so."
A section of the counter swung away and the golem gestured toward a door leading to the back. Navarro slipped by and found himself flanked by two mountains of metal. To the left were a series of shelves holding a vast assortment of items, and to the right were a pair of vertically stacked cubes with portholes dotting one face. Both were making quite the metallic racket, and Navarro could spot a partially disassembled sedan poking out of the top cube.
Navarro raised an eyebrow. "What's going on here?"
The golem retrieved a ladder from behind the cubes and held it against the cubes. It gestured up and Navarro began to climb until he could see into the lower tank's porthole. What looked like a massive amount of termites were clustered around various odd machines. Climbing higher revealed that the second tank contained an army of ants, which were busy disassembling the sedan and transferring the parts down to the termites below.
"I take it this is the source of your collection of various items?" Navarro asked, a knowing smile on his face.
A slow nod when Navarro descended, and the golem stowed away the ladder. The smoke came in small bursts. They are quite capable. Occasionally they manage requests. But ultimately they are trinkets. The shop is my own, and my purpose is the forge.
"So you only work with metal?"
I am capable of much. But I specialize in metalwork.
"So, if I were to give you, say, a hyper-dense wood. You could make something from that?"
Can you be more specific?
Navarro frowned slightly. He was hoping he would be able to play around this for longer, and he had a strange feeling on the back of his tongue. "Can you work with bladewood?"
I can. I do.
The taste in Navarro's mouth intensified to that of a very thick rug. "Navarro, there's a group coming down the street," said the voice in his ear. "They seem to be headed for you."
"That's interesting," Navarro said. He tried not to appear antsy. Or termitesy. "Do you often work with it?"
No. I have only begun recently when The rest of the words scattered before Navarro could read them. The golem stopped waving its arms and stood as awkwardly as several hundred pounds of living rock can stand. Apologies. Client confidentiality.
"Navarro, can you hear me? They've entered the building. They've got weapons holstered. If you don't say something I'm going to have to assume your radio is busted and I'm coming in."
Navarro cleared his throat and tried to finger the communicator. "Just relax, Cartwright."
? The golem tilted its head.
"I'm going to wait outside the door, at least."
"Sorry, nothing," Navarro said a bit louder. "Just, uh, how much bladewood do you have stored? I have a bit of a project in mind."
The golem straightened up and puffed out a sentence at a time. I do not have direct access. I am only able to work with what my client brings me. My apologies.
"I see. That's too bad. Well, would it be alright if I perused your trinkets?"
Navarro examined the various doodads, purely for his own amusement. The Foundation wouldn't have any interest in a bunch of random anomalous items. For now they were only concerned about the sudden appearance of SCP-143 in the yakuza's arsenal. He lifted up what looked like some kind of ray gun when there was a ringing from the front room.
The golem had to walk backwards so Navarro could read what it had to say. Excuse me. I must attend to that.
"Of course, take your time."
Navarro lined up the sights with one of the overhead lamps and pretended to fire. He set it down to look over something else when the golem came thundering back.
My deepest apologies. My client wishes to converse with me alone. Confidential matters. I will have to ask you to leave the premises.
Navarro eyed the trio hanging in the doorway. "Yeah, alright. No worries. The visit has sated my curiosity, at least."
Four hands clasped together. Please feel free to come again. You will receive a discount for the trouble.
A broad smile. "Appreciate it. Have a good one."
Navarro gave the men a quick nod and slid by them and out into the front room. He resisted the urge to vault the counter and exited the shop. Cartwright was outside waiting for him.
"Did it have the tree?"
Navarro shook his head and started walking for the closest building that looked easy to climb. "No, but it gave me a lead."
A few minutes later agents Cartwright and Navarro sat atop a giant marble tiger and stared at the doorway of a cube building. Sooner or later the triads, or at least the people Navarro had to assume were triads and on reflection was putting quite a lot of eggs in that basket, would have to leave the golem's workshop. At which point they were ripe for being trailed, hopefully to a location Sigma-3 could relate to one of the bigger, stronger MTFs so it could be suitably punched in the metaphorical throat.
Navarro pulled out a cartoon of cigarettes from his pocket and extracted one. It was halfway to his mouth when he realized this wasn't another one of his solo ops. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"I do, actually," Cartwright said. She eyed the cancer stick for a moment. "Quit a few years ago. Plus the smoke may attract attention."
"Oop, sorry." He quickly jammed it back into the box and stuffed that into his pocket. After a few seconds of sitting awkwardly he asked, "So how long have you been with Sigma-3?"
Cartwright didn't move for a moment, like the question froze her system. "Are we doing this right now?"
"Yyyes?" Navarro shifted back and forth. "I mean, we're just sitting here. Who knows how long those guys will take. We might as well get to know each other, right? We're on the same team or whatever."
Her gaze returned to the door. "Look. I am not exactly thrilled to have you 'on the same team or whatever.' I'm well aware of your habit of making a scene. A good part of the reason you got brought on is because it doesn't matter nearly as much if you spontaneously combust in some pocket reality than if you did it in, say, Salem."
Navarro felt his face light up. "You're oversimplifying that situation! And even then, nothing too bad came of it. We got the bad guy and no civilians got hurt."
She shrugged. "All I know is you don't have the best reputation and trying to shoot the shit in the middle of a stakeout doesn't exactly bode well."
Navarro crossed both his arms and legs and glared at the workshop below. It wasn't so much the accusations that bothered him so much as it was the fact they were mostly right. He closed his eyes and tried to think about Disneyland. All he got was the mental picture of standing in a slow line, regret squatting in his stomach.
Minutes stretched out and made themselves comfortable while the Sigma duo fidgeted atop the rough curves of the roof. Navarro took to sucking on an unlit cigarette which quickly devolved into him chewing on it. When the trio of potential triads finally exited the building he groaned with relief and spit out the frayed mess.
It was a bit of a journey trying to follow the trio from across the rooftops. Clambering from the marble tiger's head to the tail of a monkey to the branches of a tree left the two of them almost out of breath. Cartwright wrenched open a window to the next building, and rather than going over or around it they darted right through it, leaping out the other side and landing on a distorted skull the size of a silo.
Their quarry turned down an alley and descended into an unlit staircase. Navarro lowered himself down into one of the three eye sockets of the skull and continued to the nasal gap as Cartwright dropped into the eye. They rushed over to the stairwell and stared down into the darkness.
Cartwright nudged Navarro and pointed up. A sign explained, in several languages, that one simply had to think of which of the destinations they wished to arrive at when they entered. Below that it gave a list of possibilities, and below that in very big letters was a warning that no lights were to be brought into the stairwell.
"Do you understand?" Cartwright asked slowly.
Navarro looked back at the large flashlight with a line through it. He tilted his head and then looked to Cartwright. "Set it on fire?"
"Yes, well done." She entered the darkness. Her voice already muffled, she said, "Try not to get lost."
With one last glance at the instructions Navarro followed after with the intent of going wherever the triads were going. He did his best not to think about how dark it was within and how easy it would be to misstep. He did slightly less than his best to avoid wondering what would happen if he lit up the stairs. It occurred to him that he couldn't hear Cartwright's footsteps despite the fact she only had a few seconds head start. He wondered just how thick the darkness was, and if light would even be able to pierce it.
A few more seconds passed before he snapped his fingers and produced a small flame. The staircase twisted and turned and doubled back on itself. He stopped and turned around. Above him the stairs did several vertical loops and branched off into several paths. Below him, a dot that he assumed — or at least hoped — was Cartwright looked to be a mile away. And on an entirely different path.
Navarro sighed and snuffed out the flame. There was nothing to it but to descend and hope he could use the staircase again to arrive wherever he meant to initially. After another thirty seconds or so of slow-paced darkness he could see a light. It was the nice, rectangular sort of light that signaled the giant staircase of confusing potential-doom was coming to an end. Or at least it would have, if the rectangle would get any bigger. For another twenty seconds it looked to remain a solid forty feet away. He turned his head to look behind himself, for some reason expecting to be able to see anything in the pitch black. When he faced forward again, he was standing directly in front of the light's threshold. Temptation to look behind himself again crept up, but he ignored it and continued through the yellow curtain of light.
The room was dimly lit and was littered with bean bag chairs that were covered with people who looked utterly plastered. The air smelled of acrid fire, and even a shallow breath felt heavy. A quick glance around told him everything was in Japanese. Which wouldn't have been so bad, it was a Japanese pocket reality, but everything else in the Attic had been multilingual.
His ear crackled. "Navarro, where are you? Did something happen on the staircase? I can't wait any longer, I'm going to follow them."
It clicked. He had told the tunnel to take him where the triads were going. Rather than the proper exit they had likely come out of, it had dumped him right into the middle of their final destination. He had to wonder if this was due to producing light or if the triads had never thought to try walking directly into their little drug den.
Navarro spun in place to go back but only found a door to a hallway. As he heard several people behind him speak in Japanese, likely at him, he took out a cigarette. He chomped down on it and snapped a spark into it. He took a long drag and considered his options.
- Running sounded good. If he wasn't still tired from the haphazard parkour and ridiculous staircase.
- Trying to talk it out was out of the question, he couldn't speak Japanese to save his life. Which is potentially what it would accomplish, if could he speak it.
- Shooting was out the question, for a variety of reasons. He didn't particularly like the idea, there were too many of them, too few bullets, and if what he heard about Spirit Dust was true it wouldn't matter matter how much firepower he had.
Navarro could feel his lungs burn. The talking behind him had grown to yelling. Very angry yelling. Bullet shooting, lightning blasting kind of yelling. English began trickling into it, demanding who he was, how he got here. Drunken questions of whether he had just appeared in the doorway or they had imagined that. Despite the fact he hated himself for it this less than thirty minutes ago, Navarro had to smile at the last option.
- Make a scene
The corner of the door frame exploded, a bullet lodged into the wall. Darkness encroached on the edges of Navarro's vision, his lungs trying to leap out of his chest. He stumbled while turning around, and he could vaguely hear laughter. Was able to see a light emanating from one of the triad member's hands.
He finally exhaled. Dense black smoke coiled out of his mouth, gathering as a wall before him. At least, he had to assume it was black. Pretty much everything was at this point. A gun went off and the smoke distended slightly, but continued to expand into the room. As much as he wanted to take a breath, he knew he had to expel all of it or else he'd have one hell of a case of emphysema.
When he finally felt he hit empty, he gulped down as much air as he could and backpedaled. His brain felt like something crawled inside of it as oxygen finally reached it again. Colors swam back in, almost more vibrant than before. Not that the colors in the room were particularly vibrant to begin with.
Navarro stumbled through the doorway while the black gas continued to spread. More gunshots and zaps of discharged energy resulted in it twisting as it moved, but it remained taught. Once he could breathe a little normally Navarro sparked a small bit of fire on his fingertip. He closed an eye and pretended to take aim, shooting his little finger gun animatedly.
The little fireball lobbed itself through the air, and while Navarro did not actually see the result of its contact with the gas due to having frantically shut the door, he knew what the soft sizzle on the other side of the wood meant. There was a brief pause, and then a loud crack that shook the door.
Navarro peaked his head back into the room, fighting to get the door open as a thick layer of some tar-like gunk now coated… everything. He chortled to himself and shut the door again, then booked it in hopes of finding an exit. He followed the sound of pounding music.
The first door he took let him out into a nightclub, or he supposed just a club, since the pocket reality didn't really seem to have a day cycle. His head already started to hurt from the level of noise. Bouncers took notice of him immediately and he sprinted for what looked like the exit, apologizing in horrible-sounding Japanese as he ducked and dodged through the crowd. Thanks to the level of noise it was unlikely anyone out here had heard the mess in the back, and thanks to the crowd he was safe from gunfire.
He slammed his way out the front door and immediately took to running down the street. "Cartwright! I found out where the triads have a little hideout. If we deploy a strike team now they might be able to get them before they get themselves free."
"Free? From what? And where have you been, how did you get there already?"
"Talk later. Running hard."
The entrance of the club exploded open. Literally, with a ball of fire, the doors exploded outward and off their hinges. A small group of men with guns raced out, one man trailing behind was floating in midair. He looked to Navarro and raised a hand.
"Running very, very hard!" he hissed without hitting the comm.
Navarro veered off down an alleyway at the first opportunity and turned onto the next street. Legs melting, he pressed onward as he pushed to the outer limits of the Attic. Occasionally he heard yelling and a few gunshots but they seemed to lose more and more vigor as they went, drifting farther and farther from their club. Eventually they must have decided they would draw too much attention and Navarro didn't see or hear anything of them. He hit the railing at the edge of the Attic and panted.
"Please tell me you called in reinforcements," he said into the radio between gulps of air.
"They're coming but they don't know where they're going."
"Club toward the middle of town. Big, doesn't have any front doors."
A static-filled pause. "Why does it have no doors?"
"I didn't do that part!" Navarro felt himself grinning. He looked out over the railing. "I did, however, detain a bunch of them in one of the back rooms. Hard to miss, but will be a little hard to open. You'll know it by all the black stuff everywhere."
"I don't even know how to react."
"I get that a lot. So, uh. I'm going to, um. Try to catch my breath. Maybe lay low in case they're still looking for me. I'll catch you later, Cartwright."
"I swear if I get my ass chewed out for this…"
"I'm sure it'll be fine," Navarro said. He dug into his ear and somehow managed to extract the earpiece. He leaned against the railing and looked down. "Huh. Is that Aldon?"
To be tangentially continued in: Organic Organs »