'Attention. I have placed a memetic bomb within the city of Three Portlands, which will be triggered at exactly 6:40 PM Eastern Standard Time, on January 26th. I have no demands.'
January 24th, 2017
4:09 AM, EST
Agent Kenneth Spencer stared with a mixture of surprise and disbelief at the bomb threat, which had been meticulously painted out in two-foot-high letters (which seemed to flicker when he stopped looking at them, probably the result of an anart exploit) across a large sign and then placed in the center of Three Portlands.
His partner, Agent Robin Thorne, quietly read the message aloud. "'Attention. I have placed a memetic bomb within the city of Three Portlands, which will be triggered at exactly 6:40 PM Eastern Standard Time, on January 26th. I have no demands.'" They paused. "Well, at least it's concise?"
Spencer sighed. "You know what the absolute worst thing is?"
Thorne shook their head. "No, but I'm sure you'll tell me."
Spencer continued. "The worst thing is that I'm sure this is just a twisted prank."
Thorne shrugged. "I'm not willing to take that risk."
"Neither am I." Spencer ran his fingers through his hair. "God, I hate bomb threats."
They stared in silence at the sign some more.
"This is going to spread like wildfire," Thorne finally said. "Could cause a panic."
Spencer nodded, then turned towards one of the municipal security golems that were standing around like statues. "Hey, you! Get a tarp over this or something!"
The golem saluted sharply, then trundled off to fetch a tarp.
"That's not going to do much," Thorne said, gesturing slightly at the ring of spectators that had accumulated around the agents and golems.
"Yeah, well, it'll make me feel better."
They stood silently a little longer.
"You know we don't have the manpower to search the entire city," Thorne said.
"Don't say it," Spencer said.
"We're going to need outside help," Thorne continued.
"Please don't say it."
"I think we should call the Foundation."
Spencer emitted a hissing noise as he inhaled, air whistling over his teeth. "Dammit."
8:23 AM, EST
Agent Green stared at the sign, then blew a smoke ring at it in contempt.
"You're not gonna believe this, but I'm pretty sure we actually know your guy," Green said.
Spencer and Thorne stared at him.
Green pointed at the shimmering letters with his cigarette. "Notice how the letters flicker when you're not directly looking at them? That's his calling card. Everything he's ever done that we've found has had it."
"So who is he?" Thorne asked.
Green flicked the butt to the ground and crushed it under his boot. "Not a fucking clue."
"Said we know of him, not that we know who he is. All we've got are a series of attacks, some skips in lockup, and no real leads to speak of. We don't know who he is, or if they're even a he. Hell, we don't even know if it's just one person. Could be more, could be less."
"So what you're saying is that you know jack shit," Spencer said.
"Hey, that's still better than what you knew." Green motioned for the golem to re-cover the sign. "Right now my guys are sweeping the city for your bomb."
"And do you have any idea what it might look like?" Thorne asked.
"Well, last time this happened, it was a duck sculpture in Reykjavík," Green said. "Ended up passing out amnestics like candies."
"You certainly have a way of inspiring confidence, Agent Green."
"They don't pay me for my public speaking ability," Green said, reaching into his pocket for another cigarette. "Don't worry, we'll find it."
"And if you don't?" Spencer asked.
Green remained silent, opting instead to take that moment to light up.
"We need to have a contingency plan in place that doesn't involve mass amnesticizing the population of a major paranormal free port."
Green sighed, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "I'll get on the phone with the local sites. Tell them to start prepping task forces in case we need to lock down the city."
"We tried that in '29. Didn't work out so well."
"You have a better plan?"
Now it was Spencer's turn to remain silent.
"That's what I thought."
3:52 PM, EST
It took a little bit over seven hours for the first protests to start forming outside the UIU building. Honestly, Spencer had been expecting them sooner.
Spencer poked his head outside, saw the array of anti-Foundation slogans being brandished, and immediately withdrew.
"It's for you," he said to Green.
Green stood up from the temporary desk he'd been assigned, glanced out the window, and grimaced. "Did they have those signs already prepared?"
"Knowing this town? Probably."
"Friendly bunch, aren't they?"
"Can you blame them?"
Green frowned. "No. I suppose not." He reached into his pocket for a smoke.
"Outside," Spencer said.
Green glared at him. "Really?"
"Government building, those are the rules. Plus it'll give you a chance to talk to your fans."
"You're an ass, Spencer."
"Thanks for noticing."
Green sighed. He looked like he was about to say something, but stopped and thought better of it. Without a word, he turned and exited the room.
Spencer leaned back in his seat to watch the scene that was about to unfold outside.
Green stepped outside of the building and stopped at the top of the steps. The crowd fell silent when they saw him, waiting to see what he would do next.
Green began lighting up a cigarette, seemingly drawing out the process for dramatic effect. He took a long drag, held it for a moment, then released a cloud of smoke. Then he spoke.
"Alright, I get that you don't want me to be here. To be perfectly honest, I don't want to be here either." He paused to take another drag. "That said, we're here at the request of the Unusual Incidents Unit to assist with an ongoing investigation. That's all we're doing." Another drag. "If you're worried about us coming in and trying to contain half the city, don't be. My men are under strict orders not to interfere beyond what is necessary to finish the investigation. Once that's done, we'll get out of your hair."
People within the crowd began to mutter to each other. Someone turned to leave. It was easy to be angry at a faceless, shadowy conspiracy. It was harder to remain angry when that conspiracy gained a face, and that face was a calm, middle-aged man taking a smoke.
Green took a final drag of his cigarette, then flicked it into a nearby ash tray. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my smoke break's over, and I have work to do."
He reentered the building, and the crowd began to disperse.
January 25th, 2017
6:58 AM, EST
"You know," Thorne said, stirring their coffee. "I had a thought last night."
"Oh?" Spencer raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. What if we're going about this whole thing wrong?"
"What if it's not a memetic bomb? What if it's a bomb that's memetic? The idea of a bomb, if you will."
Spencer frowned. "Didn't you tell me that even if it was a prank, we couldn't risk not taking it seriously."
"Well see, that's the thing," Thorne replied. "What if that's exactly the reaction our bomber wanted to provoke?"
"What, you mean planting a fake bomb threat in order to make us search for a bomb that might not exist? What would that accomplish, exactly?"
"Not sure yet. Let me get back to you on that when I have an answer."
The two of them pushed open the doors of the UIU building, only to find an aggravated Agent Green inside, shouting into a radio.
"I don't care what he did," he bellowed. "Just apologize to the fucking wizard and move on!" He clicked off the radio and forcefully placed it back on his temporary desk.
"Still no luck finding the bomb, I take it." Thorne said.
"No," Green growled. "We've found plenty of other stuff — none of which we're allowed to touch, thanks for that by the way — but so far no bomb." He slumped back in his chair and sighed. "It doesn't make sense."
"Because a memetic bomb is supposed to be obvious. You want it to be in a place of maximum visibility and exposure, so as many people as possible get infected before you trigger it. But this bomb — if it even exists — is very much not obvious."
Thorne nodded. "There's something we're missing."
"Obviously," Green said. "But what that could be, I haven't the foggiest."
"Well, we've got…" Spencer checked his watch. "A little under 36 hours left to figure it out. Hope you work well under pressure."
Green chuckled mirthlessly. "It's the only way I work."
12:46 PM, EST
Spencer looked up as Green dropped a stack of folders on his desk.
"This," Green said, pointing forcefully. "This is a complete copy of all our files relating to the bomber."
Spencer reached for the top folder, then paused. "Should I be seeing these?"
"Probably not," Green replied. "Technically, you're not cleared to even know these exist."
"Then why are you showing them to me?"
"Because I've gone through these more times than I can count, and I'm still missing the key that will piece it all together. Maybe you'll have better luck."
Spencer frowned. "Not that I care, but won't you get in trouble for this?"
Green shrugged. "Maybe. If it comes up, I can always argue it's an emergency situation and call you a provisional containment specialist."
Spencer nodded, then began flipping through the files.
There was a staggering amount of information contained within. Locations, dates, methods, witness testimony, after action reports, even a rudimentary psychological profile. But despite all of that, there was a distinct lack of evidence. It all amounted to a massive pile of question marks and no answers.
Spencer picked up the locations list again and studied it.
"Why Three Ports?" He asked.
Green looked up from the chair he'd pulled up.
"Reykjavík, Belgrade, Darwin, Tijuana — the list goes on. All of those places are on Earth. All of the attacks were very public, very visible, very much targeted at shattering the Veil. So now why Three Ports?"
Green frowned. "What are you saying?"
"There's something different about this one. If we can figure out what and why that is, maybe it will lead us to our bomber."
Green nodded. "Alright, so, let's consider what would happen if the bomb goes off."
"Panic, chaos, anarchy, the whole trifecta."
"And then people would try—" Spencer paused. "They'd try to leave the city."
Green nodded again. "The flux of anahuman refugees would overwhelm containment efforts. We'd be looking at a major failure in normalcy protection."
"Which is consistent with the assumed motive for the previous attacks."
"Which means that the bomb likely does exist."
Spencer sighed and tossed the file back down. "Which is great news and all, but it still doesn't help us find it."
Green frowned. "You're not gonna like this, but—"
"But what?" Spencer said, eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"But it might be better to focus our efforts on containing the situation."
"You mean letting the bomb go off and sealing everyone inside the city."
Green shrugged. "That's my job."
"Not mine." He stood up and stalked out of the room.
1:27 PM, EST
Spencer stared at the sign. There was a tarp covering it now, but if he closed his eyes he could still see the letters, flickering and dancing in his mind's eye.
It should have been taken down by now, but everyone had been so busy that it had slipped their minds.
"Thought I might find you here," Thorne said from behind him.
"What are we missing?" He asked.
"Maybe that's the wrong question."
Spencer closed his eyes. So many questions, none of them right, all of them unanswered. It was maddening.
The letters of the bomb threat continued to dance across his eyelids, impossible to forget.
"Robin," Spencer said.
"Yes?" Thorne replied, a worried tone in their voice. It was rare that Spencer ever used their first name.
"Green's men checked the entire city for memetic imprints, right?"
"As far as I know, yeah."
"Did they ever check the bomb threat?"
2:02 PM, EST
"I can't believe we didn't think to check this first," Green said. "It's so goddamn obvious."
The Foundation team were frantically scurrying to and fro, waving detectors around and snapping pictures of the sign. Preliminary scans had shown the presence of a dormant memetic hazard, and they were now busy trying to determine the exact characteristics of the memetic bomb.
"That's why we missed it," Spencer said. "It was so obvious we never even considered it."
"So what's next?" Thorne asked.
"Well," Green said. "First we need to figure out what kind of memetic agent we're dealing with here. Then we can work out an inoculation meme and distribute it to everyone infected."
"How long will that take?"
Green shrugged. "Depends on the agent. If it's a Berryman binder, we're absolutely fucked beyond belief. But if it's not, then we should have the inoculant ready by tomorrow morning."
"Then we track down the sonuvabitch."
|| A Farewell to Kings »