Taproots
rating: +25+x

The trouble started with a supposed "gas leak" at a bank all the way across the state.

Quinn was too busy to wonder why the Skippers had such an uncreative cover story, because she was driving, through the night trying to stay awake. Darnell was next to her, rubbing his forehead. It wasn't a long drive across Ohio, but Darnell wondered aloud, "Why can't the Cleveland Division take care of this?"

"Because they're stuck in a bare room with an open door."

She wished she was kidding.

Several hours later, they were in Sandusky, Ohio, at a bank branch which looked like it had been nuked. Quinn shivered as she looked upon the wreckage in the light of the rising sun. There were charred tiles everywhere, and a smell of burnt meat about the whole place. Standing at the center of it all was what looked like a scrap-metal sculpture, vaguely in the shape of a human skeleton, twitching about, with bits of charred flesh falling off of it. The whole thing was coated in a blue slime, and stood there, fused to the tiles of the bank.

Surrounding the wreckage were cars that had been driving past the (presumably closed) bank during the night.

"Christ alive," Quinn said, wrinkling her nose at the sight of it. "What is that?"

"We believe that it is at the center of the discharge," said someone in a blue coat and jeans, with an FBI logo on it. The man had brown hair, and was wearing dark sunglasses, fiddling with a tablet computer. His stance showed he was either a professional at his job, or that he had a stick up his ass that had grown into an entire tree. Probably both. He extended a hand to Quinn and Darnell. "Agent Adams. I'm the Foundation liaison for the Cleveland division."

"…right," Quinn said, shaking his hand. "So… discharge? What, was this an EMP?"

"Multiplied by a factor of… well, multiplied by a big factor." He looked at the sculpture. "Witnesses report that there was a very large, very loud lightning strike here."

"Casualties?"

"None that we can see. A few cars got wrecked, but the civilians involved are unhurt."

Quinn frowned. "You know, you could have said "lightning strike" and nobody would have been suspicious. "Gas leak" after a lightning strike seems suspicious."

"Agent, don't tell us how to do our job." Adams pushed his glasses up his nose. "We believe the sculpture here was the nexus of the anomaly."

"Any new art installations put in?" Darnell asked. "It could be an AWCY-" He pronounced it "Aussie"- "thing. We had trouble with them in Milan; they made origami Tesla Coils and set them around the Edison museum."

"We've been monitoring the local cell. They call themselves "Specification Station". This doesn't fit their MO."

"What is their MO?" Quinn asked, stepping closer to the police tape surrounding the sculpture. "Robotic art?"

Adams frowned. "…'Specification' as in 'changing species'. As in 'forcibly creating animal-human hybrids'."

"Think I saw that movie…" Quinn ducked under the tape, putting on a pair of purple gloves and a mask that she produced from a blue jacket similar to what the liaison had on. She started to inspect the liquid, which she saw as crackling with electricity. "It's live," Quinn said.

"Yeah," said one of the Foundation techs next to her. "We're making sure nobody touches it with bare skin, but we set up a chemical shower just in case."

Quinn nodded, and started to look over the statue. It looked like a skeleton jutting its hands out towards something, as if attacking something… or shielding itself. Darnell crossed the line next. "I take it security camera feed isn't an option?"

"The cameras in this bank were fitted with Faraday protection, but that can only get you so far," said the tech. "Most likely, the nearest surviving camera landed in Lake Michigan."

Quinn raised an eyebrow. "…you mean Erie, right?"

"We found one part of the bank's sign on Ambassador Bridge. On the Canadian side."

"…ah." Quinn took out a pocket flashlight and started looking over the statue's head. "Aren't you a piece of work… who made you, eh?" She peered at the eyes; they were very good ones, looked untouched by the damage, and looked realistic. They gazed aimlessly into the distance, fixed at some point in the sky. "We sure that this isn't AWCY?" She called over to the Liaison.

"Positive!" he called back, fiddling with his tablet some more. "No message has been sent from their groups yet, and they usually arrive within six hours of something like this."

Quinn frowned, and looked at the statue's eyes. She waved a hand in front of them, just to make sure of something.

When the eyes followed her hand, she started. "Jesus! Darnell! We got a live one!"

"Wha-" Darnell ran over, and Adams followed with him, staring as he ran up to the statue. With a series of gruesome squelches and cracks, it turned to face the two of them, eyes focusing on them.

"Oh shit," Quinn said, taking out her pistol. "FBI! Stand down!"

The statue spoke in a rattling groan. Quinn wasn't sure, but the voice sounded feminine. "Puh…. puh…. Pull…"

Darnell had drawn his gun as well by this point; half of the on-site crew was aiming at the statue with varying degrees of weaponry, and Quinn swore she saw a sniper scope glint on top of a nearby hotel.

"Pull what?" asked Adams.

"Puhhhll… ihhhht…."

"What is it? What do you want us to pull?"

"Pull… it… up…" The thing creaked, and its legs gave way as it tried to turn. "By…. the…. roots…"

The sculpture hit the floor of the former bank with a loud clank. As it did so, its head, barely supported by a wire-thin neck, rolled off and came to a stop at Quinn's feet. The casing cracked open, and showed what was inside.

The opening had revealed a pulsing, living brain.


Harley Sterling woke up alone in bed, for the second time in a week. She sighed and got up, going to the kitchen, seeing that Quinn had once again left her flowers and a little note.

Got called to Sandusky; got a lead on an art theft. Will Skype @ hotel.
-Q

Harley sighed, and started making herself breakfast, which was made up of an undercooked egg, Froot Loops, and almost included the last slice of bacon; she saw it was moldy, and down the garbage disposal it went.

She then went into the living room to watch the morning news, passing by several pictures on the way there. There was her and Quinn at their "wedding", which was sadly a purely symbolic affair; one of her, Darnell and Quinn at Cedar Point, prior to the two of them getting into the FBI; one of her at graduation from Culver Military Academy. That one had been put back together with masking tape on the back, and looked like a jigsaw puzzle more than anything. She usually kept that one hidden.

Harley turned on the TV to see the local news focusing on something up near the Lake. "…not sure what happened quite yet, but reportedly, the FBI is investigating, despite local sources reporting a lightning strike. We have yet to get any photos of the scene, but there have been reports of a strange statue standing in the wreckage of the bank. For WKRP in Sandusky, I'm Michelle Collins."

Harley blinked as she heard the last part, and frowned, getting out her smart phone, finding Quinn's number, and calling her up on it.


231 miles away, Quinn MacAllister was rudely awakened in her hotel room by the sound of her phone going off. She groaned, and sat up from the bed, still fully clothed. Darnell was out getting coffee, and hadn't gotten back yet. She frowned at her phone, and considered chucking it at the wall- and then she saw who was calling.

She tapped the answer button so hard the screen almost cracked. "Harley! Hey!"

"Hi." Harley had a tone in her voice that Quinn had heard before. It was her suspicious tone.

"Uh. I got up to Sandusky fine, staying at a hotel for the foreseeable future… how are you?"

"How's the art thing going?"

"Good, good…" Quinn's voice tried not to waver. She could already feel her throat closing up as the temptation to talk about her job came up.

"Anything to do with the lightning on the news?"

Shit, Quinn thought, almost vocalizing this. "Uh, we were just in town when that happened. They were short on men, so we stopped by to help up- er, out some."

"All right." Harley paused. "Is Darnell with you?"

"He's out getting coffee. Probably fell asleep at the Starbucks or something." Quinn swallowed dryly.

"All right." Harley sighed a bit over the line. "Just… stay safe, okay, Quinny?"

Just tell her why you're really here, Quinn thought. Tell her the truth. Tell her that you've seen things that science can't even begin to explain, that defy reason, that prove every conspiracy theory in the world right in so many different ways.

Instead, Quinn simply said, "I will. Love you, babe."

"Love you too."

With that, the line died. Quinn put the phone down on the nightstand and sighed, shaking softly. She looked at the lock on the door turning. Darnell entered, carrying coffee. A frown crossed his face. "Everything all right, Mac?"

"Fine." Quinn swallowed. "Harley called. She saw the… thing on the news."

"Oh, hell." Darnell put the coffee down on the table. "She didn't say anything about… y'know… the A-word?"

"Wasn't brought up this time, no." Quinn bit her lip and sighed into her hands. "She'll probably give me an earful when we get home, though."

"It'll be okay, Mac." Darnell patted her on the back softly. "C'mon. Mr. Lee-ay-sonn is in the conference room. Something really top secret, apparently."

"All right. I'll be down in a sec." Quinn stood up and made her way over to the bathroom, looking in the mirror, breathing in and out, focusing on the redness of her eyes. Soon, she was calm enough to proceed out the room.


"From this point on, everything said in this room was never spoken. Every document handed out for this briefing never existed. Each one of you were never here, or if you were here, it was on unrelated business. Understood?"

The room, which was mainly made up of Foundation lackeys, gave a general assent. Quinn frowned softly at this whole thing; usually, the Foundation just told the UIU to shut up about it, not their own men.

"This is Level 4 Information, gathered through a joint effort between the Foundation and the Unusual Incidents Unit.." The lights dimmed in the conference room as Agent Adams turned on the projector. "I've only just been given the clearance to tell you all about this."

"In the 1950s, the US Government began working on a secret project known as Cloudseed." The first slide clicked on, showing a heavily-redacted document. "USGov destroyed the majority of the documents in 1954, but this is one of the few recovered ones. The aim of Cloudseed was to control, and weaponize, the weather, particularly lightning storms."

"I don't like where this is going," Darnell whispered.

"Project Cloudseed was scrapped when all of the scientists working on the project defected from it, destroying the main testing facility and stealing all experimental weaponry from the project." He clicked to the next slide, showing a black-and-white photograph of a man with dark hair, a long nose, and a beard. "This defection was led by Dr. Ainsley Kerrigan, who is now believed to have been a part of a larger organization that is an… enemy to the Foundation."

One of the Foundation agents in the room started, "The Chaos In-"

Everyone but Quinn and Darnell glared daggers into this person, and he shut up immediately. The UIU agents just looked confused.

"In any case, Dr. Kerrigan and his team went on to found a terrorist organization that would carry out several attacks throughout the 1950's." He clicked through some slides, which showed a house that had exploded, an apartment building in flames, a department store in rubble, with bodies strewn about, and finally, a photograph of the US Capitol Building, looking like it was on a post card, with the words "PULL IT UP BY THE ROOTS" written over it in a dark red substance. "This was the first sign the US Government got of the existence of this group. They called themselves "Grassroots"."

A Foundation member with blonde hair and sunglasses raised his hand nervously. Adams pointed at him. "Yes, Agent Spender."

"This was almost sixty years ago… are you saying they've resurfaced?"

"Or this is a copycat," Adams said, clicking to the next slide. It showed a farmhouse, with the location redacted, corpses and burn marks all around; the top of the house was blown off. "This was the last stand of Grassroots. November 19th, 1958. J. Edgar Hoover led a raid on here." He looked at Quinn and Darnell. "And that's where you two come in. What do you know about the Thorston Raid?"

Quinn frowned and looked at Darnell, who had screwed up is face in concentration. He then blinked, coughed, and started speaking. "Thorston Raid, carried out by UIU Task Force 15, occurred on… well, we know the date already, had three months of planning, Hoover personally oversaw the operation, but the actual raid was led by one Agent Fredericks, who had three confirmed kills during the raid, the third-most during the operation, the most confirmed kills belonged to a sniper by the name of Charles Erikson, with 6 kills. The Grassroots group was believed to be communist sympathizers, which, in retrospect, is probably information that was fed to them by you people." He looked around at the agents from the other organization. "No offense meant."

"None taken," Adams said, somewhat gobsmacked.

Darnell continued speaking quickly, "The raid ended with all 25 Grassroots operatives dead, including Kerrigan. The only trace found of Kerrigan was a large burn mark on the second floor of the farmhouse, which was noted by Agent Henry Dunham to have resembled a quote-unquote Hiroshima Shadow. Five FBI Casualties, all deaths."

Quinn smirked, applauding Darnell earnestly. "Let's see any of the boys in labcoats do that off the top of their head."

The Foundation agents just stared at him, until Adams coughed. "Right, as Agent Christman said… however, the UIU report leaves out certain details, such as the fact that there were Foundation agents present in the operation."

Darnell rolled his eyes. "Leaves out details? Back then, you still thought that "Samson and Cooper Pharmaceuticals" was a clever name, which, by the way, was listed as the base of operations for the raid."

Adams groaned, and glared at Darnell, resting his hands on the table and leaning over it. "Yes, we get it, all hail King Hoover, yadda yadda yadda, will you please stop grandstanding and let me get on with this?"

"…very well." Darnell crossed his arms, not willing to admit he was intimidated by Adams.

"Right. Grassroots. The organization was believed to have been neutralized, and due to it, we recovered some valuable assets, which, given present company, I shall not go into detail about. No offense meant."

"None taken," Quinn said. "We can remove ourselves if you want."

"Not necessary." He slid some folders across the table. "Now, if you'll open to page ten, we've compiled a list of possible Grassroots hideouts within the state lines…"


The meeting finally adjourned five hours later, and by the time it was done, Quinn's back was aching. Darnell went out to pick up some dinner from the Five Guys in town for her and him, and she stayed behind at Agent Adams' request. She sighed, and sat across the table from him, hands folded on top of it.

"You're a gifted agent, Miss MacAllister. You and Christman both."

"What do you mean?"

"Between the two of you, you've got thirty- three-zero- confirmed kills against Can Men, which is no easy feat, have assisted in containing no less than fifty anomalies, and even chased down a Type Green with shape-shifting properties through a crowded mall…" He looked up at Quinn. "Have you ever considered joining the Foundation?"

"I haven't," Quinn said, glaring holes into him from across the table. "And I never will."

Adams blinked, scratching the back of his head as this hostility showed. "Is there any… particular reason you feel this way?"

"Green Pastures, Iowa."

The hair on Adams' neck stood on end. "Oh Christ. Don't tell me…"

"It's my hometown. And you ruined it. You just…" Quinn's fingernails dug into the backs of her hands. "Pulled it up, by the roots, the whole thing." She fought back tears, blinking her eyes and gritting her teeth.

Adams hissed through his teeth. "…Miss MacAllister… what happened in Green Pastures was unfortunate-" He sighed, and rubbed his face. "No, fuck that, it was goddamn fucking inexcusable. We fucked up, and we fucked up bad." He sighs. "A few bad apples don't spoil the bunch. You must know that."

Quinn stood up, rubbing her eyes. "I'm sorry. This conversation is over."

"…we'll stay in touch, agent. Assuming we can't get the Cleveland division out of the room, that is."

"Mmm," Quinn muttered, heading out of the room.

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