The office buzzed with activity, none of it originating from those who were supposed to be there; the intended occupants had all been knocked out via an anesthetic introduced into the building's central air system a few minutes earlier, freeing the space for the workers.
Slightly off to one side of all the hustle and bustle stood two men, both dressed in impeccable (and obscenely expensive) suits of a tailor so exclusive he didn't have a name. Both men watched in silence as three metal packing crates were brought into the office.
As soon as the crates passed the threshold, all activity in the room stopped. All eyes went to the boxes, slowly tracking them as they were slowly moved to the approximate middle of the room and set down.
One of the workers took out a saw and sawed off the tops of the crates. All eyes remained fixed. Once and a while, someone blinked, taking special care to blink very, very fast.
The tops having been removed, several of the workers stepped forward and helped to extract three concrete figures. If they had cared to notice, through the fog of terror that hung over their eyes, they would have noticed several strange features of the figures; like the concrete pigtails on the smallest figure, or the concrete baseball cap on the medium-sized one, or the concrete dress on the largest.
Once the figures had been arranged in the room, the mass of people began, very slowly, to filter from the room, being very careful to avoid not looking at the concrete figures. The two men in suits were the last to leave, flipping out the lights as they backed out the door.
A few minutes later, the two men were sitting at the window of the restaurant across the street, having just placed their orders.
"I'm surprised you came," the one sitting on the right said to the other. "You're usually so content to sit back and let everyone else do the work."
"Some things require a personal touch, Marshall," the man sitting on the left said. "You'll learn that when you're older."
Marshall snorted. "I'm older than you are. Remember, Carter? Or has it just dissolved into a fog of senility."
"More mature, then," Carter said. "Sometimes I like being a part of something like this. It reminds me of the old days."
"Sure, the old days." Marshall said. "Back when the air was pure, the economy was laissez-faire, and there were lots of profitable wars around." He paused for a second. "And gas was only 10 cents a gallon. Am I forgetting any more cliches?"
"How old everyone was, I believe," Carter said. "Oh, first response is here." He checked his watch, then pulled out his wallet and threw a bill across the table. To them it was small change; to anyone else in the restaurant it would have been equivalent to winning the lottery twice.
"What did I tell you," Marshall said. "They're fast around here. Ooh," he said, as a van marked 'Selective Cleaning Products' pulled up next to the ambulance and police cars. "They're here as well. Very fast. I'm almost impressed."
"They probably have a plant in one of those departments," Carter said. "Well, had."
Marshall stared at the van. "It gets me every time," he said.
"What, their taste in vehicles?"
"No, no. Their acronym habit. It's ridiculous."
Carter shrugged. "Well, they're from America," he said. "You can't expect them to be anything but gaudy. At least we have some semblance of class."
Marshall snorted. "Right. At least we never named a front 'Multi-Cultural Devices' or somesuch."
"I think the closest we got was the Durango Club, personally," Carter said, sitting back in his seat and watching more Selective Cleaning Products vans arrive. "Overkill on your part, I always thought."
The Durango Club was one of London's most exclusive clubs: a place where the rich of a certain persuasion could come and wallow in filth. Literally; trash was hauled in to create as authentic an atmosphere as was possible when the members came and went in limousines. Thomas Durango, the club's namesake, had attempted to double-cross Marshall in a financial transaction, long long ago.
Their reminiscences were interrupted by the news vans pulling up; along with several unmarked black vehicles.
"They're slipping," Marshall remarked. "Couldn't even beat the Foundation this time."
Carter shrugged. "Can't first every time." Not unless you were Carter. "Say, do you think they'll allow the news to be covered?"
"Hmm," Marshall said, steepling his fingers in front of him. "Hard to tell; they could certainly lock down the main news sources. But if this spreads beyond them…they may have quite a task on their hands." He smiled at this thought. "Thank God for the internet."
"I wonder what they'll make of it," Carter said, as more news vans arrived and were waved off by nondescript figures posted at the doors.
"The news?" Marshall asked. "Or the Foundation."
"Both. It'll be a nasty surprise for them all."
Marshall chuckled. "The whole family reunited…how touching. Except these statues can move when being observed. How clever."
Carter shrugged. "Plausible enough for a group of pretentious art-school dropouts. Did you see the note I left?"
"'Every good piece of art deserves a sequel, but even the best horror masterpiece needs to escalate. Are We Cool Yet?'" Marshall quoted. "I thought it was a little overblown, myself, but that's because I have taste."
"True, true," Carter said. "I wonder if they'll find any of the help we hired. I wonder if they'll figure out we lied to them." He fell silent. They both sat at the window, watching as still more vehicles pulled up. By now, the block was swarming with them, and not just the Foundation and GOC, either. Other, smaller, groups were there, hanging around the site, looking for the possibility of any anomalous leftovers that might slip the big boy's notice.
After a while, Carter spoke again: "During the third Punic War, I just remembered, there was a Roman Senator who ended every speech with 'Furthermore, it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed.'"
Marshall looked at him, surprised. "Where did that come from?" he asked.
"I was thinking about the Romans, just now. Bread and circuses, and so on." He sat back in his seat. "How limited the poor fools were."
Marshall shrugged. "It was a different time. I expect in a hundred years we'll look back on today and wonder in amazement at how primitive our forms of entertainment were."
"I suppose. At least our methods aren't as barbaric. This way, it appeals to everyone. The common man on the street," here he motioned to the window and everything outside of it, "and the gentlemen of leisure." He gestured at himself and Marshall.
"Ah, thank you," Marshall said, as the waitress brought them their food and left. He picked up his black coffee. "A toast, then."
"To bread and circuses," Carter said.
"To new frontiers," Marshall said.
"New frontiers?" Carter asked.
"They can open up anywhere," Marshall said, "if you know where to look."
Carter shrugged. "I'll drink to that."
They clinked glasses, then began eating. The food was serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Outside, an argument broke out between the Foundation and Coalition forces, as the thin tendrils of panic began to spread.