In the main briefing room of Sigma-66- also the recreation room, kitchen, and gymnasium- there were two couches taken, one chair, and one footstool. Another chair, covered in bloodstains, was unoccupied. The owner of the blood leaned over the back of the chair, staring dubiously at the documents that covered the table in the center.
The woman in the labcoat sat with her back ramrod straight, eyes directed at the pile of papers she had set on the table. The man with the New English accent and the salt-and-pepper beard was the first to speak.
"So what you would have us do is… infiltrate my company, avoid or kill all of the guards, and leave everything else except for…"
"Except for the digital ham, yes." The MTF's handler- Via to her friends, Davis in a land where your last name was the only part of you that mattered- was having a bad day. She had double-checked all of the papers on the table, and they were stamped properly, signed in the right places- once by an O5 council member, no less- and they all said she had to tell her team to risk their lives at a major Marshall, Carter, and Dark auction for a chance to convince a sentient ham on a computer to come with them. The initial layout check showed that MC&D had lived up to the power and money their name suggested when it came to security- she had counted the item to guard ratio in a fit of childish pique, and it showed that the numbers were almost exactly the same. Going in there would be suicide.
She sighed. That, of course, was why her team was called in. No one cared about them living- not even her, a level 4 researcher. She had gone to college for something better than this, dammit. Not a literal dead-end job where the only thing she could ensure her wife got was a good benefits package when she passed. She was pissed at what had landed her here, and pissed at the people who had done it.
Sometimes, she hated the Foundation just as much as some of the organizations they fought against.
The gaunt man from the Serpent's Hand was tapping his fingers on the table in bullet-time. "So we're dying today for something idiotic. Great, just like every other mission. Another chance to suicide run for the Jailers, and I have to do it surrounded by you ballfuckers."
The lady who was already wrapping up her arms in preparation for fighting glanced up at him. A medical bag sat at her feet- prepared as always. Jackson would never risk a death when she didn't have to, even for people she disliked. "I take offense to that," she grunted as she began on her other wrist.
"Good." Dominic deliberately looked away from her. His tapping intensified, but that was most likely from the concern of getting on a stabby medic's death list.
The woman hanging over her chair flipped into it with a soft squelch. She eyed the patterns that she was still completing in blood on her arms, then the documents. She raised a hand.
"Yes, Ms. Berlot?" Davis didn't bother looking up from the papers. The anartist always had a question.
"First off, last names are probably for treehumpers. Aries. D-W-I." She spelled out, slapping her hand back down on the table. "Second, why does my packet say I'm with chaotic Mc-Devilpants over there?"
"Excuse you, ma'am, I am a Dreadlord engineer," the Insurgency's representative told her, sticking his tongue out. She stuck hers out in retaliation. Rude! "My pants own no devils, and I am here solely to do the work set out for me, as a tried and true member of the Chaotic Team of Dreadlord Engineers!"
She didn't bother countering that. Dreadlord-guy had been convinced he was at a legitimate Chaos Insurgency facility from day one. She'd give good money to know how they'd pulled that sort of intense brainwashing off without damaging him too much, but most of her shiny shit had been confiscated when she was caught. Davis took her silence for an opportunity to provide an answer.
"Yes, that. It has been determined that Mr. Grenich is the most probable of us to convince the object to come with us in this," she set a small black rectangle carefully in the middle of the table, "USB drive. You are to be his lookout as he manages the job, and provide him cover should he need it."
"Ugh. Fine, I'll make sure the crazy dude gets the ham in the drive." Aries finished dotting a small rune in red before returning to her syringe for more blood. "Good thing most of these were for safety anyways. The guard grapevine said 'suicidal auction', so, you know. I prepped."
Edwin, the group's main source of knowledge on all things Marshall, Carter, and Dark as a member himself, was shuffling quickly through the papers as though he expected that on the fifteenth time around, they'd say something different. "You must be joking. All of these anomalous artifacts, all of that money, and we're leaving it for a sentient meat virus? It doesn't even do anything useful!"
Olivia tapped one of the papers lightly. "This object has a time limit and a completely unknown group behind it and the things chasing it. Whatever this group is, as a whole? They're good. Dangerously so. Our Foundation thinks that this little leak was just an alpha test gone awry. The object has serious potential computer surveillance abilities, and could spread fast and hit hard on other anomalous organizations- such as ourselves. It can do neither right now, and the group wants it back off the radar." She first circled a graphic labeled 'Hammy' on a screenshot of a monitor desktop, then pointed to a patch of fuzz near it that had the label 'eat_m3at'.
"This thing here is the reason Hammy as a whole is disappearing from computers at all. It, as you might have guessed, eats the object. Convinces the little sucker he's dead, which we've discovered is the only way to get rid of it whatsoever aside from smashing the computer in with a hammer."
She scooped up the papers and tapped them on the table to straighten them out. "This is the last version of the object we've found. All other leads show that wherever he's popped up on other computers, he's been taken out- so, in a way, we're lucky MC and D has the best virus protection money can extract from their coder friends. We need him to trace the group that made him, and we can't do that if he doesn't exist. He's our main priority, and the higher-ups don't want to risk the whole operation by going after smaller stuff. Any other questions that won't give me a headache and-slash-or be unanswerable due to classification issues?"
Aries's hand slowly lowered in disappointment. Dominic glared a hole through the papers for a second, then shook his head. Jackson simply velcroed the end of the wrap to her wrist and flexed both of her hands in appreciation.
"That's a no, then. Good. We have four hours before we set out, and it'll take another three to reach the destination. We should have plenty of time before the auction to go over the map and cover the details that weren't mentioned in the individual packets. Do what you need to to get ready."
She stood, and the rest of the team stood with her. Dominic walked off at a brisk pace towards his room, grumbling softly to himself as he sifted through his papers. Jackson's mouth sharpened, and she undid the wraps on her hands piece by piece. As the door to her room softly closed behind her, one could hear her redoing them, only to undo them again later. She had said, once, that the repetition helped her think.
Edwin left the room fumbling a rosary tucked around the explosive collar on his neck- the collar that marked all of them except for the single Foundation member, who had exited through the only door to the outside. He wondered when things had gone so wrong, as he always did, and would mutter meaningless prayers on his bed with the door shut, where no one could hear an old man's regret.
Aries- Clara, a girl giving herself rams' horns to pretend she didn't care who she had to butt heads with- left the main room last, shoving her brushes into her pocket. The dried blood on her arms and legs cracked, but that didn't matter. She'd be painting her face in the bathroom she shared with the other women in minutes. Then, as long as she didn't wash it off and let it rub away of its own nature, it would do its job. She'd be clear to work on her letters to the friends she had met in the pursuit of true art- some of whom, she had heard, now worked with the Foundation in an entirely different capacity. The envelopes were blank as always, and she planned on getting another letter placed in one before she had to leave. Every letter she finished counted, even if they would stay in a pile in a corner of her room. If she lived long enough, maybe she'd get a chance to deliver them.
There was never a letter to her father or mother.
This left Isaac Grenich in his long cape, bird skull earrings, and faux microchip-tailed hair scrunchie to stretch out on the couch. He stared at the ceiling and hummed a little tune, happy to be doing a job he loved for an Insurgency he adored. This was going to be a fun mission, despite all the pessimists lolling about in their rooms and expecting death.
It was going to be great.