Rashaun shook his head. What did I just watch? he thought, as he opened his laptop. He entered the keycode for a Foundation online conference room and waited for the other members of his emergency meeting to arrive. He watched his webcam light pop on. Who else sees this?
The first person to appear was a large, heavyset man, black hair cropped short, wide spaced eyes, upturned, pursed lips. "Hey," he said nonchalantly, lifting his head in a quick jerk in greeting. "Jorge Ruiz. Beta-5. Babysitters."
"Field Agent Rashaun Washington," came the reply.
The next window opened. Red hair and beard, black glasses, black shirt. "Hi. Jason Allen. Mu-4. Debuggers."
Immediately thereafter, a third appeared. Long, straight black hair, bony face, sharp cats-eye spectacles. "Karen Wu. Gamma-5. Red Herrings."
"Please to meet you," Rashaun replied. "Rob'll join us in a bit, but he wanted us to start without him. Something about his daughter. Did you all get to see the video? Bits, anyway?"
Jorge looked away from the screen and swallowed. "Um, yeah."
Karen scowled and clicked her tongue. "Disgusting. Can't blame Rob on checking."
Jason smirked. "Nope! But that's SOP for me. I deal with cognitohazards and memetics regularly. I'm more interested with how it travels instead of what's on it, anyway. Let me guess, it's about a girl and a rope?"
Rashaun, a bit stunned by the question, replied, "Yeah…"
"Right, I don't need to see that. But I checked her user page out. She's posted 5 videos, none getting more than 50 views. She posted this one after school today and got…" Jason tapped away on his keyboard. "…3,407 views. Not terrible, but rising fast. Where did you get your link from?"
"Uh, my friend James?"
"Do you know where he got it from?"
"No. I better ask."
"Do that. In the meantime, I'll get it taken down, send out the crawlers to track any other postings. I'll check the comments on this and other videos, see if there's someone in common who would spread this, get the word out."
"We'll likely need to pick her up, too, Jason. Could you send us her address, please?" Jorge asked. His voice was quieter than his frame suggested.
Another window appeared, showing a balding, middle-aged man, neat, middle-management corporate. "Sorry I'm late."
"No problem," Jorge replied. "How's Olivia?"
Rob smiled. "Doing well, thank you, Jorge. She's writing a new song. I'm sure she'll want to share it with you when it's finished."
"I'd love to hear it," Jorge added brightly. "So I guess that means I'll be headed out to debrief and contain Maci?"
Rob nods. "Once we determine the nature of the anomaly we're dealing with. Rashaun, I want you flying out to…"
"Montclair, New Jersey," Jason responded.
"Newark Airport first thing tomorrow. Jorge will have a team available to complete any extraction necessary, but you'll field interview Maci first and make sure she's actually anomalous, and also not going to turn into a black hole or anything like that."
"Actually anomalous, sir? Do you think this might be all some trick?"
"Well," piped in Karen, "the video is a hoax."
Rashaun spurted. "A hoax?! You mean we're running in circles over nothing?"
"Sure, just look at the video. There's a region of anti-aliasing artifacts just to Maci's left. Someone accepting the rope has been edited out of the footage. I'll show you the error level analysis in a bit."
Really? I'm just an overreacting doofus? No, that's not me. Rashaun shook his head. "Are you sure? Why would someone spoof this?"
"Plenty of reasons. People wanting to show off their editing skills. Something designed to go viral. Guerrilla marketing for a movie, perhaps. Think Occam's Razor, Rashaun. It's far more likely that this is fake, anyway."
Rashaun sighed, disappointed in himself. "If you say so, I guess that's that, then."
Karen grinned impishly. "No, Rashaun, that's just a bunch of image forensics technobabble. Truth is, this looks like the genuine article. I'm just working on the cover story that we'll release to the public should we fail to get this thing out of the web. If we can't get the video removed everywhere, we'll replace the YouTube one with our version, edited to look like things were erased in the background, and then debunk our own work. Legerdemain is still a possibility, but it would have to be expertly executed. Considering that she's only posted a handful of other videos and doesn't have any growing web presence before this event, the chances of guerrilla marketing are slim to none. What would they be selling, anyway?"
Rashaun rolled his eyes. "Why'd you have me going on about the whole thing being a hoax, then?"
"I love my job."
Rob interrupted. "Well, then, it sounds like we all know what to do, then. Rashaun, meet up with Jorge in Newark and track down Maci. Jason, clear out any and all repostings you can find."
Jason sucked in some air and replied, "Easier said than done, this will have entered into the dark web a couple times. But hey, we Debuggers are the Mole Rats of the Internet. I think I've found who'd advertise this video in the first place. Someone hiding his tracks called baaasheep. He was suggesting dares to Maci. Might have an interest in her."
Rashaun shuddered, and everyone else went silent for a moment. Jorge was first to speak, urgency in his voice. "Get me anything you can on baaasheep, Jason. And Karen, if we Herring the video, promise me you'll throw in a clause about telling the kids not to try this at home? Please?"
"I and every single investigatory website out there, of course!"
"Great," Rob concluded. "Thanks, everyone, for signing in on such short notice after hours. Protocol for a viral, but we all know why. Good night, everyone!"
The meeting ended. Rashaun slipped into professional mode and purchased his ticket and packed a bag.
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