August 15th, 2023
Assistant Director Sasha Merlo sat upon a park bench within Portland's South Park Blocks. Despite the balmy summer weather, a cup of coffee was nestled in her grip. Watching several children nearby play around a statue of Abraham Lincoln, Merlo smiled, thinking about her own daughter who was also at that carefree age.
Merlo looked up to see that company had arrived and taken a seat on the park bench next to her.
"Agent Thorne," Merlo greeted her guest, an agent for the UIU's Three Portland's division.
"Agent Merlo," Thorne replied.
"It’s Assistant Director now, I'm afraid," Merlo chuckled.
"Right. Congratulations, by the way."
Thorne handed her an unmarked folder. As she skimmed the contents, Merlo's eyebrows rose, followed by the corners of her lips.
"We're onboard," Thorne explained. "I think you'll find our terms more than reasonable.”
"What finally convinced you guys?"
"The law?" Thorne shrugged. "The Hoover Mandate doesn't protect you from getting arrested for replacing a Congressman with an android. There’s been a warrant out for Anderson's arrest since 2018. Just didn't have the resources to do much about it. Until now…”
"Yeah," Merlo snickered. "Imagine the frustration of having the resources but not the jurisdiction.”
“Life sure is a bitch, isn’t it?” Thorne said with a smile.
“It really is.”
“You confident this will work?” Their smile vanished.
“As confident as I can be. We’ll get him this time. I promise."
"I really hope so…" Thorne sighed. "If this goes wrong, we're going to have problems. Big problems. Even if this goes off without a hitch, a lot of people in Three Ports will be pissed off. There'll be protests. Maybe even riots. We're spread pretty thin as is without the Foundation shooting us in the foot."
"I hear you," Merlo replied, placing a sympathetic hand on Thorne's shoulder, "and if you have a better way I’m all ears, otherwise we’re just going to have to deal with the hand we are dealt. Anderson is a hydra whose heads need to be severed all at once."
"So it is."
Thorne looked at their watch and then stood, brushing off their coat.
"We'll be in touch," Thorne said, beginning to head out. They then paused and turned around to deliver one last comment. "You do know severing a hydra's heads only causes more to grow in its place, right?"
Merlo chuckled and shrugged.
"What can I say," she replied. "I don't get paid to make analogies.”
May 24th, 2024
11:30 AM PDT
THIRTY MINUTES TO RAID
Agents Spencer and Thorne sat within a large unmarked van, parked in front of an alley within Portland, Oregon. Around them were the members of JTF Delta-3, each dressed in FBI raid gear regardless of their Foundation or UIU origin.
"Think it'll go well?" Thorne inquired, taking the opportunity to check their gear over one last time.
"Knowing Merlo's track record," Spencer replied, "not at all. This still feels like a huge mistake."
"Probably is," Thorne shrugged. "When the dust settles it's going to be the UIU dealing with the fallout. Not the Foundation. Still… Anderson needs to go down.”
"Don't remind me." Spencer sighed and looked over his own gear in turn. The Foundation had loaned them numerous toys for the duration of the raid; it was truly impressive how many bells and whistles you could afford when you legally didn't exist.
Thorne looked at their watch and sighed. "Shall we, then?" they asked.
Spencer nodded and cleared his throat.
"Alright, listen up," he called. All heads in the van turned to him. "Just a reminder that we are on crowd control. Non-lethal crowd control. I can promise you that if you unload on any random wizard, you won’t make it back to Baseline reality alive. Clear?"
The van briefly filled with mumbles of affirmation.
"Right then," Spencer concluded. "Let’s kill some robots."
Excerpt From "The Three Portlands Investigator"
May 25th, 2024
rometheus Plaza - May 24th, 2024 At approximately 3:00 PM EDT, multiple FBI strike teams emerged from the Asimov Street, Clark Place, and Bradbury Street Ways and converged upon the Anderson Robotics World Headquarters, launching a massive raid on the facility of a scope unseen since the days of the Chicago Spirit.
"The Asimov Street Way opened with a flash, like it always does, and immediately this FBI team decked out in all this fancy gear came pouring out and crossed the plaza," Tyler Henderson, a local vendor operating within Prometheus Plaza who witnessed the start of the raid, claimed. "They quickly dispatched the security droids that are always sitting motionless at the gates. It was like watching those giant South American army ants swarm over a downed bird or something. It became pretty clear after that, based on the noise, that there were more teams coming in from other streets. Whatever Anderson did, these guys were coming to kick his teeth in and kick them in hard."
"It was like a war zone, or something out of the Terminator movies," said Sophia Fisher, a bike courier who had been leaving the Anderson Robotics lobby when the fighting began. "I ducked behind a desk and just waited for a chance to break for it. Guns were going off. Shelled out and disintegrating robots clattered to the ground. Some of them were made to look like people…"
UIU representatives could not be reached for comment at this time as to the catalyst of the raid, though speculation as to Foundation involvement has begun to run rampant…
Anderson Robotics Headquarters
"God fucking damn it!" Jason Contos shouted, throwing the contents of the nearest desktop to the floor in anger before running a hand through his curly blond hair with a panicked sigh.
He and his team had been watching the battle on the production floor from monitors in the R&D lab. They had been hoping the Taita unit would stall the incoming task force, giving them enough time to copy their research data and destroy the originals. Unfortunately, much like said unit, their hopes were quickly disintegrating. The task force was on its way, and the copies were only about 60% done.
"It stopped them for quite a while…" one researcher commented under his breath.
"That's little comfort, Gregg!" Jason snapped back.
"What do we do now, Mr. Contos?" another researcher asked, her eyes bouncing nervously between her supervisor and the door.
Jason pulled off his glasses and began to clean them nervously, the gears turning in his head as he thought through the situation. Eventually, he returned his glasses to their proper place, and snapped his attention to the pair of Peregrine units standing at attention in the back corner of the room.
"Widget," Jason ordered, "you stay here. Hans, pull Security Team 3 and get everyone to the subbasement. There's a passage there to the Undercity."
"Sir," Hans protested, "Team 3 has already been assigned to security detail in the warehouse, I can't-"
"Vocal Override Thirty-One, pass code Alexvyla," Jason interrupted.
Hans immediately fell silent and nodded.
"Understood, sir," the android replied. "Ladies and gentlemen, please follow me to the subbasement. We must hurry."
"You can't stay here, Jason," Widget protested. "Anderson explicitly stated-"
"I'll override you too!" Jason interrupted again. "Someone needs to stay here and make the copies and burn our tracks. I'm the co-captain of this ship, so I'll go down with it. Once the copies are ready I'll put them on that Amur drone, Terrance, or whatever my Mom calls it, and send it on its merry way. The Aplomado's in the halls should hold off the task force until the deletions are done. From there, hey, let’s see how lucky I am. Understood?"
"That cool with the rest of you?" Jason asked his researchers. They replied with low mumbles begrudging acceptance. "Awesome-sauce. Now get the hell out of here. You're all fired."
The Research and Development team quickly exited the lab, Hans losing no time in acquiring additional back up and leading them down to the waiting subbasement below. Meanwhile, the sound of gunfire growing closer indicated that the task forces were in the offices proper. It would only be a matter of minutes before they found him here.
"Might it be wiser if I performed this task, and you used this opportunity to escape, Mr. Contos?" Widget asked, looking over Jason's shoulder as he worked at a nearby computer. "I'm more than capable."
"We don't have time to delete everything at each individual computer," Jason responded. "I have a prototype that will do the trick, but you can’t touch it. So, no dice."
"You really want to play hero, don't you?" Widget commented with a mechanical laugh.
"Damn straight," Jason stated without looking up from his work. With a fluid motion, he removed the silver flash drive containing all the copies of their research from the computer, and replaced it with a thin rod of black metal. The computer sparked and died, then chained electricity to all other computers in the room. The room became thick with the smell of ozone as Jason applauded his own show of force.
"Man, I've always wanted to do that," Jason laughed fiendishly. "Now where's that Amur unit…"
Before Widget could reply, a series of bullets pierced its head. Jason dived below his desk in terror. From his position of relative safety, he watched as the android attempted to return fire, only to be gunned down, and finally destroyed in a cloud of mist that disintegrated its frame.
"Holy shit, man," Jason said lowly, his eyes wide in horror.
"You, under the desk, get out now!" a voice barked.
Jason paused, looking around for his mother's Amur drone.
"Now!" The voice barked again, this time accompanied by the sound of gun hammers being drawn back.
"Alright, alright!" Jason answered and slowly got to his feet, his hands raised over his head, a death grip on the flash drive. Before him were three agents dressed in the paraphernalia of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Here I am. Happy?"
"Put the flash drive on the table, and get down on your knees!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Jason saw his mother's Amur drone sticking to the ceiling. The tiny robot gave a cautious wave, causing him to softly smile.
"Are you deaf? Down on your knees!" The agent barked again.
Jason threw the flash drive toward the drone. The Amur unit launched itself from the ceiling and caught it midair, vanishing as it hit the ground and scurried away. Bullets tore through Jason as though he were tissue paper. He fell backwards into an office chair, his momentum causing it to roll to the far side of the room where it was stopped by a desk. Jason laughed in pain as he glanced over his broken body.
"Fuck, that was a stupid decision. Talk about overkill…"
He continued to laugh weakly for several more moments, then became still.
Anderson Robotics Headquarters
Advanced Logic Division
"They'll be here soon," said Dr. Jeffery Wilson as he sat at his desk within his office in the Anderson Robotics Advanced Logic Division. "Never thought I'd see the day when Vince's chickens came home to roost."
Dr. Wilson was the man responsible for most of Anderson Robotics' artificial intelligences, and was the man who made the Saker units possible. In a previous life, he had been an employee for Prometheus Labs. Now, for the second time in his life, he was watching his employer implode around him. As he watched the invading task force snake its way from office to office on the monitor on his desk, he let out a long, tired sigh, followed by a chuckle.
"Perhaps I'm just cursed," he commented. "Jeffery Wilson, destroyer of enterprise."
Sitting at a chair across from him was his son and assistant, Miles Wilson. Miles gave a small smile at his father's joke then sighed as well.
"If we leave now, we might still be able to make it out…" Miles suggested, stopping only after his father held up his hand.
"These are federal agents," Dr. Wilson said, pointing at his monitor. "I'm far too old and tired to live as a fugitive."
"So, that's that then?" Miles asked, an eyebrow raised.
Dr. Wilson then turned his attention to a picture on his desk. Him, his ex-wife, and Miles were smiling, the latter in a baseball uniform for the Oregon State Beavers. The image initially brought a sad smile to Wilson's face, followed by a deep frown. Sighing again, he turned his gaze to Miles.
"Saker-00. Deactivate personality module. Override passcode Mighty Miles."
Miles blinked several times, then seemed to fall asleep. After a few moments, he woke, then looked at Dr. Wilson with a quizzical expression.
"Is there a reason you turned off my personality module, Dr. Wilson?"
"I'd prefer to not have to watch my son die a second time, Zero," Dr. Wilson answered with an apologetic smile. "I'm sure you understand."
Saker-00 smiled in kind and nodded.
"Understood, sir. For what it’s worth, I'm happy you could see me as your son."
"You played the part well," Dr. Wilson replied. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."
The sound of heavy footsteps and gunfire grew closer. Dr. Wilson put his hands over his head in anticipation, and closed his eyes.
Anderson Robotics Headquarters
"He's heading for the rooftop, Delta-3 ops be advised!" Agent Clarissa Shaw shouted into her mic as she sprinted up a flight of stairs. Trailing behind her were Agents Carter and Sherman, the best Gamma-13 had to offer. Two full flight ahead of the trio was a man in a black and red suit, with a silver comedy mask. His name was Vincent Anderson, and he was getting away.
"God, damn it!" Shaw shouted as she broke into a full sprint, the stairs flying beneath her as she started to gain on her target. Two full flights of stairs became one flight, which then turned into half a flight. By the time he burst through the roof access door she was practically on his heels. Her shoulder slammed into the door as she passed from the stairwell and into the cold Three Portlands rain.
"Where are you going to go, Vince?" Shaw shouted, leveling her pistol. “We have your physical body in custody. Your business has crumbled. You can’t run anymore. It’s over. You lost.”
At the far end of the rooftop Anderson stood, looking down at the ground that waited 10 stories below. He then sighed, raised his hands over his head, and turned around, taking off his comedy mask and letting it drop to the ground. The face beneath gave a charming smile. He then gave a small salute and jumped backwards off the roof.
Shaw swore and fired off several rounds. A sudden sharp pain in her neck threw off her aim.
"God fucking damn it!" Shaw swore as she quickly pried the source of the pain from her body and threw it on the ground before stomping on it. Upon moving her boot, she saw the remains of a tiny silver Amur drone. As the squashed robot gave a weak wave to Shaw, the agent stomped on it again with a cry of rage. The drone's eyes went dim. Shaw then quickly ran to the edge of the roof top and looked down in time to see Anderson sprinting out of view.
"I really hate that man…" Shaw mumbled to herself, then spoke into her mic. "Spencer. Thorne. He's heading your way. I just took down Benny."
Shaw immediately began to head down the fire escape, hitting the ground a minute and a half later with a heavy thud, and renewing the chase.
* * * *
"You guys really pulled out the stops this time…" Anderson commented to himself as he sprinted away from the smoking shell of his company's former headquarters. "Fuck you too, Merlo…"
As he turned a corner within the alley, a shot rang out. Anderson froze, looking down to see a bullet hole in his chest. He briefly considered how much such a wound would hurt on his actual body, and not his current Saker puppet, then looked up. Several task force agents, led by Spencer and Thorne, stood waiting, their weapons leveled.
"Was that supposed to be a warning shot?" Anderson asked.
"No, not really,” Spencer replied. One of the agents behind him pumped his shotgun.
Anderson smiled and sighed. "Cute."
Anderson nodded in agreement, then lurched forward like a cornered snake, taking Spencer to the ground. The air filled with the smell of gunpowder as the remaining agents began to open fire. Thorne flew backwards several feet, striking the alley wall as Anderson jumped up and delivered a swift kick, stumbling upon landing as bullet after bullet pierced his slender frame. His motions beginning to slow, he took on a drunken stagger from the increasing amount of damage.
Anderson let out a feral yell and proceeded to lurch forward again, striking a nearby agent like an 18-wheeler hitting a fawn. The agent looked down to see Anderson's fist protruding through his torso and let out a sharp yelp. His fist still in the man's stomach, Anderson yanked him into the line of fire. As the agent went limp, Anderson dropped him and grabbed his rifle. With a few well-aimed bursts, the remaining agents dropped too. Looking around, and seeing himself as the last man standing, he quietly threw the spent weapon away.
"I… think I'll… take my leave now… If you don't mind…" Anderson struggled to speak as the various systems within his Saker frame began to fail, crash, or otherwise shut down. He attempted to limp forward but stopped upon feeling a grip wrapped around his ankle. Anderson looked down to see Spencer grabbing him with one hand and pistol held tightly in the other.
"What… do you think… you are doing?"
Anderson saw movement from the corner of his eye, and turned his head just in time to see Thorne ram him with their shoulder. The android slammed into the nearby wall as Thorne helped Spencer to his feet. The two agents quickly leveled their pistols and proceeded to empty their magazines in tandem into the broken droid. Anderson did not attempt to get up again.
"I… take it that… I'm under arrest…" Anderson said slowly, his head turning from Thorne, to Spencer, and back again. He then watched as Agent Shaw came up the alley, a silver canister in hand.
"You can't arrest someone you already have in custody, Vince," Shaw answered as she approached.
She then pulled the tab on the canister and tossed it at Anderson. He reflexively caught it as it began to spray its fine white mist. The droid looked up at Shaw, then to Thorne, and finally to Spencer.
"I see," he said with a sigh. "You know… you three are… not as much fun… as Sasha was."
Anderson closed his eyes, his expression one of acceptance as his battered form vanished within the cloud of mist, what little remained of his body silently melting away, leaving behind only a red and black suit.
"How sure are you he won't just body-hop to another Saker unit?" Thorne asked as they poked Anderson's remains with their boot. “These kinds of things tend to be repeatable, in my experience.”
"Not very," Shaw answered. "I'm guessing there is some paratech shenanigans that need to be in place for that to happen. Probably wouldn’t have fought so hard if he could just beam his mind to another Saker.”
"I don't find that reassuring," Spencer commented as the trio set about helping out their downed colleagues. "At all."
"Just a theory," Shaw shrugged. "Still, I'd still chalk this up as a victory."
"Checkmate," Thorne agreed.
"More like flipping the board over and beating your opponent unconscious," Spencer observed. Smoke and the sound of periodic gunfire still emanated from the direction of the Headquarters.
"Still counts," Shaw said with a tired smile.
There was still much work to do.
Excerpt From "The Portlander"
May 26th, 2024
itizens in Federal Custody Following UIU Raid — Not since the Prohibition era has Three Portlands witnessed such a massive display of Federal force as it did during last Friday's raid on Anderson Robotics by agents of the FBI's Unusual Incidents Unit. The raid, which started at approximately 3:00 PM EDT, has resulted in nearly forty Anderson Robotics employees — most of whom are Three Portlands citizens — being detained. As a result, protests have started to break out throughout the city as numerous activist groups show their opposition to what they are calling an "unwarranted display of federal brutality" and a "direct violation of Three Portlands' longstanding tradition of paranormal asylum."
Meanwhile, UIU spokesmen Harriet Brown claims that the raid was in response to evidence of the company's involvement in the assassination of Congressman Raymond Caldwell in 2018, as well as potential ties to numerous arms dealers around the globe. Detained Anderson Robotics employees are to be vetted for their potential involvement in the firm's illegal operations, and released if cleared. As of the time of writing, only a handful of those detained have been released from federal custody…
May 26th, 2024
Agent Spencer folded his copy of The Portlander and sighed, looking out the window of the Three Portlands UIU office at the slew of protesters below. While signs of all shapes and colors could be seen, by far the most prominent sentiment present were those comparing the UIU to the Foundation. Some even went as far as to insinuate Foundation involvement in the Anderson Robotics raid.
"Didn't take them too long to make the connection," Thorne observed, approaching their colleague and handing him a folder containing the results on the most recent batch of interrogations.
"Even if we had done this operation alone, the sentiment would be the same," Spencer replied with a sigh. "Still, the comparisons to the Foundation are a little harsh. Not like we threw Electric Jesus in a box and locked him away forever."
"Worse," Thorne chuckled. "We killed Electric Jesus."
"We know not what we do," Spencer said with a grin, then looked over the interrogation files. While the Foundation had taken the Saker units and higher-ups, they had left the run-of-the-mill cyborgs, paper-pushers, and middle managers for the UIU to sort through. After scanning them for a few minutes he placed them on his desk before rubbing the the bridge of his nose with this thumb and index finger. "Still nothing?"
"Nada," said Thorne. "Everyone we brought in here has been completely oblivious. I'm guessing that only the inner circle and the Sakers knew what was up. Pretty clever actually. Gives you complete control over who knows what."
"Anderson was no fool…" Spencer agreed. He returned his attention to the protesters below. "This whole thing sets a very dangerous precedent, you know?"
"Oh?" Thorne raised an eyebrow.
"Tells the Foundation that with the right carrot, they can get us to sanction their operations in here," Spencer explained. "Something tells me that the Foundation has a lot of tempting carrots they can offer the Directors."
"Guess we'll just have to learn to say no," Thorne shrugged.
Excerpt from Combat After-Action Report, Operation FALCON PUNCH
May 27th, 2024
Sea-Tac International Airport
Dr. Medea Contos sat by her gate, a ticket for her flight to Japan tightly gripped in her hand. Her eyes were red from a combination of sleepless nights, and tears when she finally received confirmation as to the fate of her adopted son, Jason. She let out a heavy sigh and looked at the clock above the gate. Still an hour to go before she would be leaving her life behind… again.
"Mind if I sit here?"
Dr. Contos looked up. Standing beside her was an elderly woman in a blue business suit. The woman smiled warmly as the light of recognition entered Dr. Contos's eyes.
"Mrs. Saker," Dr. Contos smiled in return. "I was not expecting to see you here. I thought all the Saker units had been captured during the raid."
"I could say the same thing about you, my dear," Mrs. Saker replied as she took a seat. "Myself, 23, 58, 81, and 125 had been on various assignments at the time. We reconnected briefly with Mr. Dillard and a few of his associates with Marshall, Carter, and Dark for reassignment. My job was to locate you. I'm pleased to see you followed Mr. Anderson's instructions."
"I did my best, at least…" Dr. Contos frowned. "I went home early that day… had a date, believe it or not. But, when I heard the explosions… I knew that was it. Grabbed my bail bag, the protocol Anderson gave us, and ran… I bet Jason did something both brave and stupid in the end…"
"Oh, he did," Mrs. Saker replied. "He copied the R&D files and then destroyed the originals.”
"How do you know that?" Dr. Contos asked. "How could you possibly know that? You weren't there."
"Terrance told me," Mrs. Saker answered with a grin. She then reached down into her pocket and pulled out a tiny, battle-scarred Amur drone. The little robot quickly leaped onto Medea's lap and, with its stubby legs, proceeded to give her the closest thing it could to a hug. Medea giggled and pet the drone with two fingers. The drone chirped happily, then ejected a silver flash drive.
"I believe you'll find the file called 'Read Me First, Mom' to be of particular interest," Mrs. Saker commented, and gestured to Dr. Contos' laptop bag on the floor beneath her seat.
Without delay, Dr. Contos proceeded to boot up her computer, placing the flash drive gingerly into one of the free USB ports, and patiently waiting for the drivers to install. Once ready, she found the file Mrs. Saker spoke of and opened it. It was a simple Notepad doc.
You always told me, while I was growing up, to keep from being reckless. Guess I'm not a very good listener. If you are reading this, then I am most likely either dead or a prisoner of the Foundation. Knowing my luck, probably the former.
Growing up, you also taught me to never put a friend in a position I would never put myself. What was our kickass R&D team if not our friends? I had them all escape and stuck around to make sure our work was saved, and that it wouldn't fall into the Foundation's hands. You should find it all here. More than enough for you to find Isaac or Ms. Fuentes and keep on doing what it is you love doing. Hell, I bet if you can track down the rest of the R&D team they'll all be happy to join you.
I'm real proud of you, Mom. I like to think, in the end, you'd be proud of my decision here. It’s the right thing to do. Wan knows that after all the side projects Isaac had me work on, my moral compass could use some re-balancing.
Love, your son,
PS, if you decide to pull a Wilson, and Sakerize me, that wouldn't be too bad.
Tears welled in Dr. Contos's eyes as she finished the note. She could feel Mrs. Saker place a hand on her shoulder.
"Goddamn heroics," Dr. Contos said with a sad chuckle, wiping away her tears. "Coward his whole life except for when it really counted." She then turned off her laptop and stowed it away. "What happens now?"
"You and I are going to Japan," Mrs. Saker answered. "From there, we'll meet up with Mr. Dillard and head down to Hong Kong. Marshall, Carter, and Dark have a job offer for the both of you, from what I hear. Likely will be able to pick up where you left off."
Dr. Contos nodded, and returned her attention to the clock above the gate. Forty-five minutes until departure. The two of them would be boarding soon.
May 27th, 2024
Anomalous Materials Lab
It was late in the evening when Director Edgar Holman stepped inside the Site-64 AMat lab. There, he found the lights dimmed, the staff having long gone home, or to the onsite dorms for the evening. The exception was a single desk lamp, making the various pieces of equipment around the lab cast long, dark shadows upon the walls. Sitting at that desk was the lab's only other occupant, examining an old wristwatch as music emanated from the MP3 player that sat next to him on the desktop.
Holman cleared his throat. The researcher looked up with sleep-deprived eyes and gave a small wave, then turned the music off.
"Evening, Director," said Conwell, turning his attention back to the wristwatch. "Did I ever show you this watch?"
"I don't believe you have."
"Dr. Zachary Johnson gave it to me a while ago, before he passed away," Conwell explained with a sigh. "He was a kind of mentor to me back when I was on the 1360 project. Said that it was 'simple, dependable, and had a slightly odd tick' and that I 'exemplified those qualities.' I spent about two months examining it in my off-time to see if there was a minor anomalous effect to it, but it’s just a watch. I like to think Zach drummed it up because he knew I'd examine it a ton if he did. A kind of parting joke, if you will. I'd wear it more, but Kate thinks it’s ugly as sin."
Conwell sighed again and gently placed the watch back in his desk drawer.
"Anyway," he continued, "that's neither here nor there. Sorry about the mess. What can I do for you, Director?"
It was at the mention of 'mess' that Holman noticed the neatly stacked pyramid of used coffee cups on the edge of Conwell's desk. He then chuckled and shook his head.
"I'm sure you've heard of the success of the Anderson Raid by now," Holman replied. "Wouldn't have been able to do it without the work done by you and the paratech devs."
"Glad to have helped you and Merlo catch your white whale," Conwell chuckled. "You guys going to be sending more robots our way to Guantanamo?"
Holman frowned at this sentiment.
"There are a few final projects we have lined up for your lab with respects to captured Anderson assets, but you won't be here for those."
"Sir?" Conwell raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I follow."
"Aeslinger failed you on your psyche eval last week," Holman elaborated. "You're going to be put on administrative leave."
"Are… are you firing me?"
"Consider it a mandated vacation."
"With all due respect, Director, I don't think-"
"Jacob, please," Holman interrupted, "When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep, or spent an afternoon with your kids, or took your wife out on a date? The time has come for you to take a break."
Conwell sunk into his chair. He looked at his desk, then around the lab, then nodded.
"If I come back after a few weeks…"
"Try a month, champ."
"Right," Conwell continued. "If I come back after a month and pass the eval then, will I still be PI here?"
"Very well then," Conwell stood up and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. "I'll take my leave."
Holman followed Conwell out the door, watching as the researcher locked it behind him with a regretful sigh. He smiled and placed a hand on Conwell's shoulder.
"For what it’s worth," he said, "you did a good job."
Conwell gave a tired smile in return and nodded. He then placed his ear buds within their proper place, and turned on his music. Holman could hear the lyrics fade as Conwell made his way towards the elevator.
May 28th, 2024
High-security Humanoid Containment Wing
"How long has he been waiting like that?" Merlo asked, peering into the cell from behind one way glass. Inside the cell, hands neatly folded on the table in front of him, was Vincent Anderson, patiently waiting.
"24 hours," Researcher Labelle answered, likewise peering into the cell. "He awoke from his coma during your raid, and immediately began to demand parts for repair in exchange for information on Marshall, Carter, and Dark, as well as the Maxwellist church. The intel proved promising, so naturally we threw him a bone. He made the repairs and has been waiting ever since. Said something about waiting to speak with you."
Merlo nodded and continued to gaze at her longtime adversary. The last time she had seen his real body, Anderson seemed almost skeletal. His pale skin had been replaced by scar tissue, one of his mechanical camera lens eyes no longer functioned, and occasionally he'd give a violent involuntary shake. Now, however, his scars had mostly faded, his eye had been fixed, and his shaking was gone. While he still looked as though he had seen better days, Vincent Anderson was no longer the loosely held together bucket of bolts Merlo had left behind in 2020.
"He's not going to be able to shoot lightning at me if I go in there, is he?" Merlo asked.
"None of the repairs he made were to systems that support thaumatological effects," Labelle said reassuringly. "Even so, that’s still a heavy duty anti-thaumaturgic cell. He couldn't levitate a penny, let alone harm you."
Merlo nodded in understanding, then sighed.
"Alright then," she said. "Guess I'm going in."
* * * *
"Afternoon, Sasha," Anderson said with a grin as Merlo entered his cell. "At least I think it's afternoon. You lose track of these things when you can't see the sun or a clock."
"Afternoon, Vincent," Merlo replied, taking a seat across from him at the cell's table. "I see you finally repaired your voice module. Again."
"The 'uhs' and 'ums' get grating after a while, even to me," Anderson shrugged. "How are Gabe and Jessie doing, anyway? She's, what, ten now? Fun time to be a parent, I'm told."
"As much as I'd love to discuss my husband and daughter with you, there are some more pressing topics of conversation at hand," Merlo replied sharply.
"Fair enough," Anderson shrugged again. "What do we have to discuss?"
"The whereabouts of Dr. Contos and Mr. Dillard," Merlo answered. "We have Dr. Wilson and the Phineas AI construct in our custody. Both have been highly cooperative up to this point and confirmed that you had a fail-safe evacuation plan for each of them in the event of a major raid. In exchange for their final destination, we are prepared to offer you some of the components you need for your more… flashy repairs."
"I'm surprised Phineas didn't demand you delete him." Anderson chuckled to himself and shook his head. "Yes, I know where they are. But I think you'll find perusing them to be a moot point in the upcoming days."
"And why is that?"
Anderson smiled and tapped on his head.
"How much do you know about the technology I used to control that Saker unit?"
"Not much," Merlo said with a frown. "Just that you were able to transmit your intelligence from your actual body to a robotic one using a derivative of the Maxwellist hivemind."
"That’s a good summary," Anderson said with a nod. "But it’s a little more complicated than that. Let me explain. The Maxwellists use this tech to transmit their consciousnesses into a large collective in which the real time free exchange of data and thought can occur between all church members. I tweaked this to allow for me to transmit one consciousness to one destination for an extended period of time. Turns out if you tweak it some more, you can simplify the process down to allow for the transmission of individual thoughts and ideas into the minds of others, provided they have an appropriate receiver."
Merlo became pale. She looked towards the one-way mirror, paused, then returned her attention back to Anderson.
"What did you do…" she said, her eyes narrowing in accusation.
"The second you were promoted, and had access to increased resources and firepower, I figured the days of Anderson Robotics were numbered," Anderson replied with a sad smile. "So, I had the company crank out a few extra thousand Amur drones, and fitted them with a means of implanting a specialized receiver chip. From there, I implanted the chips into the minds of computer scientists, engineers, medical researchers, etc. etc., the world over. Since 2022 I've been beaming the 'how-to' on all my company's technology and research into their subconscious, one thought at a time. The second your raid began on the 24th, I sent out a master signal to bring those ideas to the surface. The fastest of those researchers should be confirming their results today."
Merlo remained speechless. She watched as Anderson snapped his fingers, and caused a black king chess piece to materialize on the table beside him. The walls of the cell glowed with bright blue runes for several seconds, causing Anderson to briefly writhe in pain. He shuddered and laughed as the effect stopped.
"Man," he said. "Those anti-magic effects are no joke. That really hurt. But, uh, yeah. Checkmate Sasha. I believe your friends call this kind of thing a 'shift of consensus normalcy' or something like that. No need to pursue Medea or Isaac if they aren't doing anything anomalous."
Anderson tipped the king over.
Merlo stood, her face blank, and made her way toward the cell door.
"Remember what I said the first time we spoke over the phone, Sasha, way back in 2014?" Anderson called out. "Given enough time even anomalous technology becomes mainstream. Well, this is what I meant."
Merlo didn't respond. She simply looked back at her adversary and gave a small nod before returning to the adjoining observation room.
"Could one of you show me the way to the administrative offices?" Merlo asked no one in particular. "I believe I have a few phone calls to make to the O5 council."
May 30th, 2024
Assistant Director Sasha Merlo sat quietly in her office. The lights were out, the only illumination coming from the computer monitor. The sound of keystrokes the only noise in her self-imposed silence. Eventually, a knock came from the door.
"It’s open," Merlo said quietly. She blinked as the door opened, filling the room with the light from her reception area. Gabe Merlo entered, a large cup of coffee in his hand.
"I got your text," he said, walking over and placing it down on her desk. "Figured that if you're going to be here overnight, again, you could use something better than the swill they call coffee in the cafeteria."
Merlo gave her husband a tired smile and nodded in thanks.
"Who's watching Jessie?" she asked, taking a sip from the cup.
"Clarissa offered. Said something about ice cream and a movie," Gabe replied. "How are you holding up."
"Well, Holman and I haven't been terminated, yet," she weakly chuckled, "but there are no less than 20 hearings coming up that we'll need to attend. It’s going to be years before this all blows over. The O5s aren't exactly thrilled when they have to readjust consensus normalcy to account for the actions of a few gung-ho site directors."
"That's fine and all, but it doesn't really answer the question. How are you holding up?"
Merlo sighed and placed her head in her hands, rubbing her eyes with her palms to try and remove some of the sleep deprivation.
"I'm tired, Gabe," she finally answered. "I'm really fucking tired. You remember the myth of Sisyphus?"
"Yes?" Gabe raised an eyebrow. "Greek guy. Pissed off Hades and got sent to Tartarus to push a boulder uphill for eternity. Every time he got to the top, the boulder would roll downhill again. Moral of the story, don't piss off Hades. What’s your point?"
"Anderson was my boulder," Merlo elaborated. "Every time we got close to taking him and his operation down, something would happen. Without fail. Something would happen. Lives were lost, resources were wasted, and careers were ruined. Now the boulder is gone, but I'm still supposed to push it up the hill. He won, Gabe. He finally won."
"I'd call it more of a stalemate," Gabe shrugged. "I mean, you guys did tear down his life's work brick-by-brick, and you do have him in custody. It’s going to be hard for him to enjoy his final 'fuck you' from the inside of a cell. Besides, if Anderson figured out how to do what he did, eventually others would have as well. Anomalous technology doesn't stay anomalous forever. Someone would have followed in his footsteps eventually, and then another, and another."
"Sweetie, I'm exhausted, please get on with it."
"My point is, you were faced with an uphill battle from the start," Gabe continued. "You, Clarissa, Carter, and the whole of Gamma-13 manned the post valiantly, but it was never meant to be a permanent thing, I think. The tech eventually gains critical mass, and normalcy shifts to accommodate. The Foundation has seen it a thousand times before. And we'll see it a thousand times more."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better that I failed?" Merlo sighed. "Christ, Gabe, you're really not a good motivational speaker."
"It’s not supposed to take the sting off the fact you got the wool pulled over your eyes." Gabe placed a hand on his wife's shoulder. "But it should at least make you a little proud how well you did when the Foundation needed you to man the post. Know what I'm saying?"
Merlo closed her eyes and nodded. Gabe wrapped her in a hug.
"Even if you aren't proud of your accomplishments, I am."
Merlo smirked and shook her head.
"You are so fucking biased," she said. "Thanks, though."
Gabe gave her a peck on the cheek then began to make his way towards the door.
"I'm going to grab takeout," he said upon the threshold. "Any requests?"
"Pad Thai?" Merlo asked. "If you don't mind."
"Not at all."
Gabe gave a small wave, and vanished into the reception area, leaving Merlo once again alone in the dark. She sighed as she looked over the various tabs open on her computer. There was still so much work to do. She then proceeded to close them, and got out of her chair. If she hurried, she could still catch Gabe before he got to the surface. The paperwork would still be there when she got back.