"They're not gonna have her in downtown Portland, dude."
The truck was silent for a minute, save for the sound of the man in the passenger's seat cracking his joints one by one. Each arm flexed sharply until the elbow made a popping sound. Wrists crackled as they rolled around in their sockets. Ten fingers tugged in quick succession. Repeat.
Jude stopped his popping and crackling. "I mean, think about it. You're some kind of secret government conspiracy, and you have a secret base where you put the secret magic things you grab. Are you gonna keep it in the city, where if anything goes wrong a bunch of people see it, or out in the country where there's jack shit?"
Armand drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he considered this. "Yyyeah I iguess, bubut then we havve n oway offinding her." When Jude didn't respond, Armand laughed a little forced laugh. "Thej janitors raid you're apartemnt, and youuu're woriede about that girl withha police badger."
Jude's eyes focused on the highway stretching out in front of them. Streetlights, and the occasional car ahead of them, illuminated the road up to the horizon. "Yeah, 'cause it's my fault. We can get a new… place to live or whatever. Gaycop can probably get us new IDs. We'll be fine. Brenda's gonna lose her job if she doesn't show up to work."
"Your a betteter guy than meJude." Armand dutifully hit his turn signal before taking an exit.
Jude's apartment was precisely what Armand expected it to be: sparsely furnished and spotless, with trash cans overflowing thanks to the last-minute efforts of its owner. It smelled of air freshener and weed. There was a clear shot to the balcony door in back, where the dull light of an overcast afternoon provided the apartment's sole source of illumination.
Jude himself was not at all what Armand expected him to be: a six-feet-and-change pallid man whose weight blessedly manifested itself as a soft, doughy full-body padding rather than as an unsightly potbelly. He made an attempt to lean in the doorway, but apparently got self-conscious at the last second and just stood up straight.
"Hey, what's up. Harmpit in the flesh." A hand was held out in some vaguely invitational gesture, and an equally ambiguous tight-lipped smile shown on his face.
Armand set his duffle bag down before meeting the vague hand gesture with one of his own — something between a high-five and a handshake that just sort of trailed off before his hand could fully disappear into Jude's meaty paws.
"Are you bluntuntfffiend? Legallyyou hafta tell meee if you're bluntfiend." He smiled brightly. His teeth were awful.
Papa Pete's Pizza, as well as the sub and burger restaurants to either side of it, had closed a good four hours earlier. The squat, pointy-moustached caricature of Papa Pete cast a modest light over the empty parking lot from the building's stone facade. Armand deftly parked his truck in the space furthest from the highway before exiting and heading back to its bed.
"How do you even know about this place?" Jude stepped out of the truck and slowly paced around. The spot was surrounded on three sides by trees, and a fence blocked the fourth from view of the highway. Not that he was complaining, but Jude had to wonder if it was designed with this sort of endeavor in mind. Probably not.
"Iii ate here onnn thew way up." Armand stood on tip-toe to see inside, then withdrew a hollow metal pole substantially longer than he was tall. He stumbled briefly, and almost fell over, but managed to gain his balance. After examining the pole, he carefully turned the far end towards Jude. "Here, your tallaler."
Jude took hold of the pole and, with considerably more ease than Armand, shifted it to balance in his grip. "Right." He turned around and headed towards Papa Pete's, looking up at the sign. "Trait swapping takes an hour, you said?" When they reached the pizza parlor, he oriented the pole vertically.
"Revverobo-semmmmanticas assoc—" Armand shook his head. "Sssurethat. And yes." He stood off to the side as Jude slowly angled the pole to go behind Papa Pete from beneath, lifting it up past his chest.
"Awesome. And uh, we have that long, right? Like, they won't immediately break into your laptop and find pictures of your truck anywhere?" With a somewhat unsatisfying clunk, and a much more satisfying crunch, Jude jerked the pole backwards, levering Papa Pete free from his mounting all at once and letting him fall onto the ground. Both flinched a bit from the noise which they had completely anticipated.
Armand looked around at the parking lot. Predictably, absolutely no-one had come to avenge Papa Pete's death. Jude was now examining the wreckage for handholds free of broken glass. "Yyeah. Donn't gravthere, lemme help."
Jude just sort of watched from the kitchen as Armand used a rubber spatula to slather some wheat paste out of a pot and onto his wall. "… so. Do I wanna know why you're about to lose me my security deposit?" He checked in the fridge to see if any food had magically appeared there in the past ten minutes. None had.
Armand looked over his shoulder. "A mmmeme, obvisaly." He set the pot and spatula on the ground, wiping a bit of the white goop off onto his makeshift apron (an old dress shirt tied around his neck). "Bessidesy, you're definitely goiing to getchased out to hereby thej anitors in the middle oftenight."
Jude opened his mouth, then closed it. "… yeah, you're probably right. Hopefully that's after you've found some place to stay permanently." He gave a little chuckle of dubious authenticity. Another fridge check: leftover quesadillas, raw bacon, hummus, an empty bottle of mustard, and a few bottles of hard cider. Same as before.
Armand didn't answer, instead opting to pick up a printout from the pile by his feet and hold it up to the wall. Black on white, with a few esoteric symbols surrounding one immediately recognizable symbol in the center. He smoothed it over with his palm, binding it to the wall.
"So uh… speaking of… have your parents…?" Jude left the question open-ended as he blinked. "Wait, what am I thinking. Wheat paste comes off with water."
"O rly? Hey check thhhis out." Armand rapped the wall next to the printout with his knuckle.
Jude leaned over to get a clear look at it. "Huh, I kinda like it. Unironically. Is it supposed to do something?"
"Itm makes youu reddorrractivevly love quesadillas." Armand matter-of-factly picked up a picture of a distraught-looking Slavoj Žižek and placed it directly below the first image.
Both got a bit of a guffaw out of Jude. "No, but seriously, what… I mean, you can't actually… can you? How would you even know?" Knowing full well that its contents would not shed light on the situation, he opened the fridge a third time. The quesadillas were still present, as was a can of pineapple chunks.
"By the way, uh, we should buy a can opener."
The Fiat Toro was, by Armand's standards, a very ugly vehicle, and proof that the Italians had no business producing pickup trucks. Armand's standards also stated in no uncertain terms that, having transmuted his perfectly good F-150 into the monstrosity, he had no business complaining. The only one who could complain was the newly-American Flapjack Frank, whose disgruntled visage dropped the occasional shard of glass into the truck's bed in protest.
The silence in the ugly truck's cab was broken only by Jude's noisy joints. Eight knuckles popped in short succession. Wrists rolled until they failed to crackle. Repeat. He spoke up suddenly. "I'm gonna message JJ. He's gotta be up, right? He wouldn't just… tell us to get out of dodge and fuck off, right?" Jude pulled out his cell phone, but doesn't turn it on.
Armand shrugged. "Worthher a try." Beat. "They're nnot tracccking you. Relax."
"Yeah, I guess." Jude pulled out his phone and turned his phone on, tapping in a password, and then a second, and a third. That one opened up Signal.
|>implying I would just leave you hanging like that|
|I mean. It's not like you followed up or anything.|
|Yeah, I guess that would qualify as leaving you hanging.|
|In my defense, I was waiting for confirmation that you weren't compromised.|
|And this counts?|
|You're running from the janitors and you're worried about MY infosec. Of course.|
|You know I'm basically untouchable, right? Luck, etc.|
|It's for my sake, not yours.|
|Is kkrule online? Can you get him to set up a secret handshake?|
|I pushed my luck to get you advance notice of that raid.|
|Now you're making me talk to the bernie guy?|
|Nah I got this though.|
Jude set his phone in his lap as a small metal box, featureless apart from a digital keypad, appeared in his hands. "Hey Armand, you should probably pull over. I gotta disarm this EMP real quick."
There was a spot on the wall of Jude's room, about nine inches in diameter, that shimmered with psychedelic patterns when the light hit it right. The spot was a straight shot across the room from Jude's pillow; Jude had forgotten whether he did that on purpose to have something to look at, or whether staring at the same spot for hours every day made stuff like that happen on its own. In either case, he welcomed its presence.
At that moment, however, his view of it was blocked by Armand's belt buckle. While the two green rectangles emblazoned with pointing hands were well-crafted, Jude was never quite sure what to make of the fact that both hands pointed at Armand's crotch. Or rather, he knew what to make of it, just not whether Armand was doing it ironically.
Armand stuffed one hand in his pocket, the other holding a laptop under his arm. "Hhhheyg. Goanna get out of bed tomorning?" The tone was hard to decipher through Armand's slurred, stumbling speech, but it probably wasn't disappointment.
"Doubt it. Thanks for your concern, I mean, don't you have stuff to do? I thought you were busy today." Jude didn't bother averting his gaze, instead grabbing his phone from his bedside table and using it to block the view.
"Your nnnot int trouble, youuu don't have to defelect attention." Armand sat cross-legged on the floor, setting his laptop in front of him and pulling a pack of Newport 100s out of his pocket. "I'm watchchching polls, m yself. You?"
Jude reached out and snapped his fingers (or, he almost did — it made an unsatisfying 'plap' sound), igniting the tip of his index finger and extending it towards Armand. He extinguished it after Armand used it to light a cigarette. "Literally anything else. The last way I want to celebrate the end of this election is by shotgunning more election coverage. You have any ideas for Mr. Mad About Video Games? I wanna square that away by the end of the week."
"Heee should make vibeo james suck less." Armand puffed on the cigarette a little bit, opening up his laptop. "So hec can be lesss maddatem."
"Do my eyes — uh, ears deceive me? You came up with an actual idea for one of the misters?" Jude smirked, tapping away on his device. "I guess that's solid, but I think we'd have to know shit about video games to do that I think."
"Or weed do ap public service annnd make him stoppopp people from being maddat games."
"Let's call that a stretch goal… eh, I'm sure we'll think of something." Jude rolled over.
Armand drummed his fingers on the steering wheel a bit. He had never participated in this 'secret handshake' before, but he was aware of the protocol — kkrule would "tag" a text snippet with a simple EMP, and then the involved parties would share the text, thus summoning copies to disarm with a memorized password. Ideally, those in the know would render theirs inert if all was safe, and those not in the know would puzzle over it for a few minutes before all of their snooping devices were fried.
Armand found the whole thing fairly melodramatic, and riddled with flaws, but also pretty harmless. Indeed, a few short beeps indicated that Jude had easily defused the device, which went into the backseat. He picked his phone back up, giving the thumbs-up to Armand, who pulled back onto the highway.
|I always feel like a secret agent when I do that.|
|It's kind of silly, honestly.|
|But I love the thought of the janitors and the NSA getting their spy machines wrecked.|
|It's pretty great.|
|Anyways. Three things.|
|I'm all ears.|
|Or eyes, I guess.|
|First, harmpit left his laptop behind. It weighs like 500 pounds, because shenanigans.|
|Odds are they can break its crypto somehow.|
|I doubt anything on it is compromising, but they'll have his chatlogs at least.|
|Well, shit. I'll have bones set up a new chatroom I guess.|
|Cool. Second thing is that harm & I need new IDs and a place to stay.|
|I assume gaycopmp4 can handle the first one?|
|Lemme ask them.|
|Nope. Forgery's not their forte apparently.|
|Lesbian_gengar can probably stick a mind trick onto a blank card though.|
|Good idea. Have her talk to harmpit, they can probably work something out.|
|As for lodging, I know a girl in Idaho and I know a fairy in Iceland.|
|What's Iceland like this time of year?|
|Cold. Genetically homogenous.|
|I should mention that the fairy literally lives in a hole.|
|Idaho it is, then.|
|Awesome. Assuming she agrees when I tell her.|
|Just head in the general direction of Boise and remember that nothing is a coincidence.|
|You'll find your way.|
|This is either going to be kinda neat or it's going to be awful.|
|Trust me, it'll be ~magical~.|
|What's the third thing?|
|Oh, right. You're in charge for now.|
|I really shouldn't run things until I'm in the clear.|
|Think you can handle that?|
|Well, yeah. It's not rocket surgery, is it?|
|I mostly mean "keep kkrule from fucking up or leaving".|
|The kid is impressionable, and also grossly OP.|
|If we don't peer pressure him, someone else will.|
|Le sign. Yeah, I'll make sure he learns the ways of the gamer.|
|See you in a few weeks, dude.|
|And thanks again for saving my ass.|
|Don't mention it.|
Jude's knuckles were the only sound in the cabin, until Armand turned on the radio.
For all of the doodads and reality bends that Jude set up in his apartment, it had never occurred to him to tint his windows. That is because he didn't know how the Foundation conducted raids.
The fourth-floor apartment is lit up by a spotlight set up across the street. On a rainier night, it would have been discarded, but on a clear night like this, the image quality is impeccable. Two seconds of flashing memetic patterns — more than capable of stunning the zero people who happened to be watching — are beamed straight into Jude's apartment.
Within a second, the front door is opened and a much more conventional flashbang grenade, which promptly flashes and bangs, is tossed inside. Something resembling a suitcase made of heavy green plastic comes right afterwards, and it begins to hum. This is the part that Jude was exceptionally lucky to avoid.
Six armed and armored individuals with uniforms of the local police department storm in afterwards, and within ten seconds of searching they can tell that only the green case was necessary — the sole security measure that it hadn't disabled, a spring-loaded lemon meringue pie, was a minor inconvenience at worst.
Two attending women — neither with arms or armor on par with the first four men, but imposing nonetheless — step inside after being given the all-clear, and take a look around. The taller one sniffs the air. "Well, the 'against weed' part was a lie."
"Why am I not surprised." The shorter one steps aside to let a man, who is using a towel to wipe whipped cream off of his armor, exit the apartment. She gestures at the Zizek-and-mysterious-pattern combo stuck to the wall, then points to an assistant who had just entered. "Get a picture of that and then cover it up. I don't like the looks of it."
The taller agent opens the fridge with a glove-clad hand, then closes it and moves to survey the bathroom. "It's hard to believe that anyone who lives like this is so high on the threat list. Surely he could have reality-bent himself some furniture."
"Maybe that'll have some answers." The short agent gestures to a laptop that her assistant was placing in a large plastic bag. He's in for a surprise when it left the range of the green case, but that won't be for a while yet. "Hey, I'm actually kinda hungry. Wanna get some Taco Bell or something after this?"
"Definitely. I've been craving quesadillas all day."
"Weird, me too."
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