Foundation Liaison Dexter Adams groaned as he entered the wreckage that was the bank's basement, noticing the crews still trying to open a large, metal door that took up most of the room. He looked at the two UIU agents watching the crew work, and approach them."We still aren't able to get into the bank vault?"
"It's been fused shut, Adams," Quinn said. "The FBI can only tunnel through so much steel."
"Why the hell does this bank have such a big vault anyway?" Adams frowned.
"You have a point," Darnell said, offering Adams a cup of coffee. "This bank maybe served, what, a thousand, two-thousand people? And it's fairly local, too."
"How local?" asked Adams, taking the coffee and trying not to gag on the taste of the Charbucks coffee that as within it.
"Only six branches, all of which are located in the dual-county area. Owned by a larger bank, of course, but still…"
They were suddenly distracted by the sound of the drills stopping. Adams cursed, and looked at the workers. "What is it now?"
"…we've hit a snag. The inside of the vault door appears to be…"
"It appears to be made of titanium."
Adams groaned. "Fuck's sake… that… what are they keeping in there?"
"Yeah, that…" Quinn tapped her fingers together. "That was unexpected. What do we do now?"
"Now we get the non-existent plasma cannon and open it."
Quinn looked at him, then at the bank vault. "Is it non existent in the sense that "there's no such thing as Bigfoot" or in the sense that "there's no such thing as a good episode of The Big Bang Theory"?"
"The former. Your gag orders persist, of course."
"Of course." She rubbed her face and sighed. "When can we expect this plasma cannon not to arrive?"
"It wasn't here as of yesterday, and it will still not be here today." Adams frowned. "For the love of- can we not use this wordplay?"
"Sorry, sorry," Quinn said, letting out a laugh and putting up a placating hand. "Our Liaison down in Cincinnati, Agent Collins, does the same thing to us."
"I know," Adams frowned. "She's my ex-wife."
The non-existent plasma cannon, as it turned out, was actually a very large, very powerful plasma cutter that fired a highly concentrated beam of superheated gas and was capable of evaporating a small lake. However, it took quite a while to charge.
So, Quinn and Darnell did what any sane people would do in the middle of the night: go to a 24-hour restaurant that served breakfast at 9:00 at night. Adams stayed behind to oversee the whole operation.
Quinn wasn't in much of a mood to eat her pancakes, however, and instead looked over her smartphone, frowning softly. Darnell looked up at her after a bit. "Something on your mind?"
"I promised Harley I'd Skype with her when we got here." She sighed. "Other than the phone call yesterday, I haven't been in contact with her."
"She'll be fine, Quinn," Darnell said, sighing. "She's not gonna ask about… y'know…"
"Don't be juvenile, Darnell. She's been paranoid about that ever since I went home last y-" She coughed and hacked suddenly, bending over as she felt her vocal chords paralyze, the terms of the secrecy agreement running through her head. "Fuckin'… gag order…"
"Never thought it would be so literal," Darnell mused, eating some of his waffle. "…she thinks you're cheating on her with someone from home?"
"Yeah," Quinn said, rubbing her throat. "Old flame of mine. I.." She coughed softly, but managed to squeak out, "Go to visit her every year."
"…maybe you should introduce her? Get her on Skype some time, quiet Harley's fears?"
"That's easier said than done, I'm afraid." She swallowed and sighed, picking at her food. "You know, Collins once told me that, if I ever got married, the gag order could conceivably be extended to my spouse." She broke off a bit of bacon and chewed on it, eating it like a candy bar instead of with her fork. "But guess what the constitution of Ohio, the asshole of the United States, says I can't do with my wife?"
Darnell sighed. "I've heard you rant about this before, you know."
"I know, I know…" She fiddled with the ring on her finger. "The Bureaucracy Foundation said that, unless I get an actual document saying we're together, I can't… y'know…"
Darnell rubbed his face. "Quinn…"
"Sorry, sorry." She sighed and poked at her pancakes some more, occasionally looking at the Central Conspiracy Commission website on her phone. It was the best source of paranormal news stories in the midwest, and she kept her eye on it, lest something relevant to her work come up.
Ten minutes later, dinner was interrupted by a call. Quinn noticed the number was from "Howard and Blake Publishing", which was a name the Skippers used. "At least they've gotten more original than the letters 'SCP'," she said. She tapped the "answer" button on the phone and put it up to her ear. "MacAllister".
"…get back to the bank. We've just broken into the vault."
Quinn frowned. "All right. We'll be there right after we pay the bill." She put her phone away, explained the situation to Darnell, and they went to pay the check.
The cashier noticed Quinn's wedding ring, and asked why Darnell wasn't wearing one. This was a startlingly common occurrence when they were out on assignment.
Quinn drove up to the bank, finding the same vehicles that had been there the last several days, with several people congregating around the entrance to the bank's basement. Quinn pushed past them, displaying her FBI badge, with Darnell right behind.
The bank's vault door had melted away. Beyond it was what appeared to be an apartment, and beyond that, a window which looked out onto the New York skyline. Quinn frowned. "…all right, so. People were living in the vault…"
Agent Adams looked up at her from his position in front of the vault. "If only it were that simple." He gestured for the two of them to come closer, and to look into the vault. "As far as we can tell, this aperture leads to an apartment located somewhere in Brooklyn."
"…Brooklyn, New York." Darnell sounded disbelieving.
"It looks like."
"We send anyone in?"
"We're prepping a drone. It could be unstable."
Quinn frowned. "Why would a bank vault in Sandusky, Ohio lead to an apartment building in New York City?"
"Dr. Kerrigan was from a poorer part of New York City," said Adams, stepping aside as a Foundation tech put down a small drone that looked like it could have been put together with Lego. "Perhaps they're headquartered there?"
The drone was sent through the aperture, and the two UIU agents started moving towards the viewing screen. It looked like a typical apartment, albeit viewed from a very low angle. Moving around, the agents saw the living room was a mess, covered in all sorts of maps and documents, as if someone had been searching for something and had just thrown files he didn't like on the floor.
"Why not just destroy the portal?" Quinn wondered out loud. "Why just… leave it open like this?"
Darnell thought for a bit, and replied, "Case File 1991-23. A large network of portals was momentarily disrupted by an EMP. Maybe Mrs. Lightning Rod up there was intending to shut it down with a pulse?"
"And the vault acted like a Faraday cage, sending the blast around it." Quinn gesticulated, getting her train of thought going. "But why kill her in the process?"
"I dunno," Darnell sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and looking at the monitor. "You think you could try and spin the camera 'round some so that we can see some of the docs?"
"Don't see why not," said the tech, moving the drone forward carefully. At this point, the assembly could see a doorway, standing slightly ajar, with darkness on the other side. Once he got to a folder on the ground, a small, robotic arm reached out to grab the document, which the tech looked at. "…Project Smilodon?"
Adam's eyes flew wide open. "What did you just say?"
"It looks like a CIA thing; there's a seal at the top, see?" The tech pointed at the screen. "Project Smilodon. The hell is that, is it like Ultra?"
Quinn raised an eyebrow. "I've never heard of it-"
And then, the door on the video opened. An Asian man- Quinn guessed Chinese, Darnell and Adams thought Korean- stepped out from the other side, his veins glowing a bright white. He had what appeared to be a metal backpack on his back with wires running off of it and connecting to a metal glove on his hand.
The man raised the glove in the direction of the probe's camera.
There was a flash of light, and then the words "Signal Lost" flashing on the screen in green letters.
"What the shit?!" Quinn jumped back from the screen, and stared at the vault door. The image of the apartment flicked, flashed, and vanished, revealing what you would expect in a bank vault behind it, namely several thousand dollars worth of money.
Adams frowned. "Get Overwatch on the phone right now, tell them it's a Priority Red, and that we need to dispatch a team to Brooklyn ASAP."
"Adams," Darnell said, firm but confused, "What the hell is going on?"
"…What's going on is that a terrorist organization just got its hands on decades-old research into anomalous phenomena. This is a Code Red Situation."
"…let me guess," Quinn groaned. "We need to have our gag orders updated."
One Long Night Later…
"Sign here," Adams said, handing Quinn and Darnell a clipboard each.
She sighed, and looked over the agreement. If she looked hard enough, she could almost see the fractal pattern underneath all the text, embedded in the paper itself. There was one part where it was incomplete: the signature line.
Not even ten years ago, they'd have been mindwiped and dumped back in their office down in Cincinnati. But, as it turned out, a non-governmental organization run by people who were almost certainly fascists actually could make a scientific breakthrough once in a while. Hence, gag orders.
Defeated, Quinn signed the paper, feeling a slight tug behind the eyes as the order took effect. "So. What is Smilodon?"
"Project Smilodon was a secret CIA project in the 1950s and 60s-"
"In other words, MK-ULTRA with Carts and Cans?" Darnell said.
Adams raised an eyebrow. "…how did you figure that out?"
"Well, your tech mentioned seeing a CIA emblem on the document picked up. We just encountered an abnormal terrorist organization that makes Aussie look like a bunch of punks with spray cans. One plus one is…"
Quinn chimed in. "Aussies are a bunch of punks with spray cans, Darnell. Only difference is that some of them contain smallpox instead of paint."
"Regardless, Christman got it in one. Project Smilodon was an effort to anomalously augment special agents for infiltration into the Eastern Bloc. Invisibility, mind control, all that good stuff."
"And now these… Grassroots people have their hands on it." Quinn frowned. "How'd they get it?"
"That's irrelevant. For now… we have a job for you." Adams pushed up the glasses on his nose. "You need to transport the sculpture-thing we found in the bank back to Cincinnati. We have a lab meant for testing out that kind of thing down there."
"…so, in other words, we're pack mules."
"In as many words, yes."
Quinn sighed, defeated. "When do we leave?"