A lacking response
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Late November 6th, 1931: UIU Facility 11

"Bungling Idiots! Did you just… forget your civilian training?"

"That's not exactly fair. It's not our fault you keep us to night time operations and managerial positions. Maybe we have forgotten our training, but only because all your new guidlines make it obsolete, you fucking retard!" Even if it's true, I can't say that. Doing so would be tantamount to treason. What's a fitting response, Jeremy?

"We carried out a plan authorised by the Facility 11 operational committee. Despite complications, we followed protocol where possible."

"You think you can just walk into a store and arrest the owners? No warrant, no pretense? We're on shaky ground to begin with! This is unbelieveable."

"Does it matter what I say if you ignore it anyways? Well, maybe if we were kept up to the standards of any other group we work with, this could've been avoided. But no, you can hardly spare two Agents and a day to deal with… what? An ex-Spirit supplier? That note really wasn't much to go on, Hubb. You just tell us: 'Look at what our lead detective found! You two should follow up on this, before anyone else can turn them their way!' I didn't even know we had a lead detective! Why do you keep us in the dark? Are you really that incompentent? Do you have a mental disorder? Or do you only care about following all the new protocols? And why do you think Noelle and I were the perfect people for it? We haven't exactly had a great background of public relations!" Definitely don't say that. Calm down, it's not the end of the world to have Hubb angry at you. Especially since his standard of success is so arbitrary. Noelle, it's your turn to answer.

"We may have forgotten our civilian training, but it wouldn't have done us any good. The guy was a nut, running a massive toy store in the middle of a crime-filled area, surrounded by K.K.K! Do you really think we could reason with a black guy who wants to take on both law and outlaw? And what was the mission statement exactly? What can you say we did wrong apart from being blunt?"

Yes Noelle, that's exactly right! What were we meant to do with that half crazy old dude? Well maybe he wasn't that old, but he was obviously insane looking at it now! Hell, Hubb might get reprimanded for this! Maybe we can elect.. Marcus for Facility Director? Ah, who am I kidding, those Foundation guys love Hubb, he just does whatever they say.

"You're pathetic. You had plenty of other ways to go about it! You could've scheduled a meeting, offered lawful protection or just… looked around! Now if we ever want to continue this avenue of investigation, we'll have to get over this first impression."

Time to step in, be a macho man, Jeremy. Hubb has no idea what he just said.

Also Noelle isn't of the most stable constitution, she'll start apologizing if I don't back her up.

"That's it? You think that it's all because of us? You don't have the best record yourself, Sir. We're a joke. You know this, and you do nothing. We just do whatever we're told by Foundation or Hunters or even The Church at times! If this guy is as big a deal as you think, he probably already knew about us. He would think that we couldn't protect him like you said. And if he isn't that big of a deal, what are you getting so uppity about? Woo-hoo, we have one less informant, we don't even do anything with half the informants we have. There wasn't much potential here to begin with."

There, he'll… well he won't apologize, Hubb never does. But he'll make an excuse, and we'll get off the hook, because deep down he knows we're right. We'll get some minor punishment like janitorial duties for a week or whatever.

"Well, if you're so sure that this can be pulled back from the brink, tell Shile to interrogate the store owners."

The nerve. I should be the one interrogating the prisoners!


November 3rd, 1931: Ambrose 11

The introduction of UIU agents to the social makup of 'Old Ambrose' was a jarring one at first. Most patrons had broken the law prior to ever entering the establishment, and even those who had not quickly did so after entry. However, the agents who would've caused a fuss quickly faded away under mysterious circumstances.

Those that remained were willing to skirt the law and turn a blind eye to certain activities. As a result, the agents at Facility 11 could be divided into two social groups: those that attended Ambrose and those that did not. Most new agents were exposed to the place within a month of their posting, and shortly thereafter fell into the prior group. The evaders had quickly become a minority.

There are certain rumors surrounding this dycotomy that I feel I must address, as a frequent patron, agent, and historian alike. While many agents were prudish, none went so far as to expose their fellow agents and their questionable habits (despite the stories you may have heard of bungled operations based on this disagreement, I can assure you they were all plain incompetence). All these rumors seem to have originated from the patrons of Ambrose themselves, some of whom weren't too happy to see law enforcement at their favorite watering hole…


"Hey Noelle! Why are you here so late?"

"No reason Pfilt. No reason whatsoever"

"Oh come on, I know that's not true. You don't seem torn up or anything… did you get a promotion?"

"Well… kind of? How did you figure it out so fast?"

It couldn't have been difficult Noelle. Pfilt doesn't let the alcohol go to his head and probably noticed you were practically swelling with pride so understood it was work related. You don't have much else going on, do you? On that thought, I don't have much going on outside of work. That's really depressing…

"Jeremy? Shouldn't you be gone too? It's not a good idea to stick around after midnight…"

"Why? The cops won't raid the place, surely?"

"Ha ha ha. No, it's just that around this time we tend to get some very… special patrons. I don't think you'll like them, that's all."

"It's adorable that you're so worried about Jeremy's approval Pfilt, but I think he can stomach a few more unsavory characters, no?"

That sends a worried look up Pfilt's face. He probably thinks Noelle has gone insane. It's funny, but I should put it to rest before he gets any ideas.

"Noelle is probably just drunk out of her mind. She's not thinking straight."

"She had… what, two shots? How is it even possible to get drunk that easily?"

How is it possible to get drunk that easily?

"Come on Noelle, you've gotta be ready for tommorow. Add it to her tab Pfilt."

"I'll add it to yours instead."

"Fine."


November 4th, 1931: UIU Facility 11

Why is he putting me in charge? It's too much. No it's not, calm down Noelle: I'm the most qualified, I was at 14th street, I've been an agent since '24, I'm one of the most senior members of Facilty 11. As a matter of fact, this is a long time coming. Yes, I should've been put in charge of an operation Unit long ago, I've proven myself many times since the Circus incident and even before! Now who to choose for the Unit? No, summary first, then Unit. But who knows who'll be avaliable by then? Better start with the Unit.

Should I give a break to overworked Agents? No, they're usually the most trained. That means… Dandor, Marcus, Jeremy, Denvad and Leila. Best not Dandor, he wouldn't fit into the toystore enivornment. Denvad… well he wouldn't really fit any possible role.

Joner? No, I've had enough of him lately. Wouldn't want him coming on to me too hard.

What about Shile? He's been on sorting duty lately, he'll want to have an excuse to leave it. Five people…

Best do things the standard way, how the paperwork shows it:

Role Lookout Organiser Muscle Get away Paperwork/Backup
Agent Shile Noelle Jeremy Leila Marcus
Reasoning Ex-detective, would be best at noticing danger from experience Assigned task by Director Hubb, Seniority Accuracy over 70% for ranges of up to 90 feet, best of given candidates Proven organisational record Equal distribution of misery

Perhaps that was a bit cruel to Marcus, but someone had to do it, and I've done enough paperwork to last me a lifetime. God, why are official channels so inefficient?


November 4th, 1931: UIU East coast command

"Do you think… it's worth it?"

That's an interesting question, Artur. It can refer to many things. Is submitting our authority worth it? Is trying to comprehend our position in this dangerous world worth it? Or perhaps you're being philosophical? Are you wondering whether existance itself is worth the trouble?

The man that asked me this question is sitting at his desk, looking out towards the sea. A large, imposing bookshelf is situated behind him, full of books most people are probably better off not knowing about, let alone reading. The dimming light from the sunset is almost null, seeing as the sea lies to the east and the sets in the west.

Still, he refuses to turn on the overhanging light. Perhaps he feels guilty about the extensive electrical systems in this remote headquarters while most active Agents have to get by not much better than people have since the country's birth.

"Sure it is. Of course it's worth it."

A silent sigh leaves Artur's body. Unsurprising, with his positon in central command he probably wishes he was never born. The years have taken their toll on him, giving him the appearance of an ancient marionette. A crumbling mask of serenity is all one sees at first, but a closer inspection shows it's been shattered long ago.

The ancient seeming body heaves itself towards me. Staring me straight in the eyes, as if asking me if I'm really human. As if asking me if I really think about what's in front of me. The tired voice can be heard once more:

"But Hubb… it doesn't seem worth it. It never does."

I can tell he's at the edge of his patience. He doesn't want my platitudes anymore. But habit is a cruel mistress, and quite clearly one he invited. Or maybe systems that were in uproar tend towards stability when given a chance.

If so, do systems that are in rest tend towards excitement?

Back to the matter at hand, I need something to distract him. If I can get back to Boston safely tonight, all will be fine. God, I haven't been home for days now… please Artur, just let me go.

"What you need, Artur, is inspiration. You haven't been focusing on reality lately. Listen, the western purging campaign may have yielded subpar results, but we need to look to the future. I heard of a cult of hunters in Vermont that would could pose a threat if left as is."

In truth, the western purges were a complete an utter faliure. Instead of rooting out native magicians, all it did was sway local further towards native protectionism as a counterbalance to the big bad government. I can only imagine how much easier it would be to operate if state governers didn't act as if they were independant nations.

"Why do you assume my problem is inspiration?"

Oh come on! He replies to me about the vague statement I made instead of the concrete one? We're here to do buisness, so get down to it Artur! Such an attitude requires harsher treatment from me. I know you're tired and beaten down, but you knew what you were getting into two years ago.

"Well… maybe it's your mopiness? Come on Artur! This is no way for the head of an F.B.I branch to act! Maybe we wouldn't constantly be in such a weak postion if our leader took some decisive action!"

That… came out wrong. The scowl forming on his face really brings out those old scars of his from the-

"Is that what you think of me Hubb? Is that what the Facility directors think of me? That our weakness comes from the top? I know, I know, we blame the bottom too much, the agents can't be expected to deal with what we put them through…"

A long pause. I set off some kind of spark there, he's making connections I never pointed out. I never said anyone else was of this opinion. I never brought up blame of the agents. But he just tumbles along, leaving us all lost.

"Artur. Turn around to that bookcase of yours. Or to the Window. Or to the wall. And think for a moment. What's this about blame? Calm down. Pull down a bible or something, and be inspired! We're not meeting to assign blame. We're meeting to disscuss budget. And Facility 11. And Ambrose."

"Ah, yes… the bible. Always there for me, aren't you? Like you've forever been. Giving me hope, guidance and wisdom…"

Well, that wasn't the part I wanted him to focus on, but it's better than how he was before. Let's see what he comes up with…

Nothing apparently, seeing him throw the book to the floor. Still open.

"I think they're messing with me Hubb. And I'm too tired to be messed with. I… can't go on with this forever Hubb. They'll get to me."

"That's a bit much, no? I doubt the Foundation can force you to open the bible at a certain point. It was just bad luck."

"Bad luck seems to be all I'm getting lately Hubb. Dissmissed."

This isn't good… he dissmisses a meeting after 5 minutes? With nothing assured? He should rightfully be scared of a coup! He should rightfully be scared of the Foundation! Not since he came to power in 29' was there a problem this inherent in the UIU…

Leaving the room, it seems a waste not to peek at that verse that made Artur dissmiss me. Let's see, book of Daniel chapter 2 verse 1?

"Leave, Hubb."

Well, it can't be that important. And the road to Boston is long.

"Goodbye Commander."


November 5th, 1931: UIU Facility 11

"Yes! I'll defintely join!"

"Oh that's nice of you, but protocol says I first explain to you the reason for the operation before getting a final say from you."

Protocol? What use is it? And this one makes no sense, if an Agent is really needed, they can't reject the request for long before being disciplined. Even if it's for the officialy supported reason of 'Moral objections to the mission statement'.

More bureaucratic jargon.

Whatever, listen and you can get closer to 14th street. Probably. Being honest, I just want to get away from this endless paperwork.

Oh, I've been thinking over the all important 'reason'? Whatever, it's just a long boring chain of bureaucracy; from the latest order by the Facility Director, to the history of relevant action to the initial discovery by some random agent.

"-and I think you'll want to hear this one Shile! This action by Agents Noelle Antonine and Joner Locke was initiated by a discovery made in the sorting department by Agent Shile Schweiz pertaining to direct orders from Richard Chappell, suspected head of the 'Chicago Spirit'."

Wait, this whole thing is because of me? How did they track the place down so easily? There was next to no information in that note! Did I critically undersell our investigative prowess, or is something else afoot?

Well, there's only one way to find that out.

"Like I said, I'll be happy to help. What role do I play?"


They walk. They plan. They try so hard, they really do. And their intentions so pure, oh how tragic it all was!

Feeling sorry for them? Never. There was nobody there to feel sorry in the first place.

Still, one can't help rooting for such underdogs. That store can't stay open for long, what with the K.K.K and the hunters around.

'Hunters'? The slang around has seeped in.

One must keep with the times.


"14th street? This toystore is on 14th street?!"

"Well yes, if you had bothered listening to my brief of prior action you would know this. Well Leila, what escape routes can you see from the shop? This here's an emergency exit, but it's four feet off the ground, may cause trouble in a hurry."

While they debate schematics and blueprints, I can only sit here stunned. It's not right, I know, but what else to do? I find a note and it just so happens to relate to the biggest thing in my life at that moment? That can't be coincidence, can it? I'm on lookout too? Has God preordained this to happen? No, think straight! Don't go off the deep end like old Willy with that Circus… Jeremy never did fully get over that…

"So Shile, do you need any special equipment for the lookout? Here, this is roughly how 14th street looks. I suggest you coordinate with me and Leila, we've already looked over for escape routes, though I suppose lookout and escape are quite different."

Special equipment? What I'd really love would be that new test we came up with to test for trace bloodstains and general investigative tools, but I can't see any feasible way to disguise that under the guise of 'lookout equipment'. How does one get equipment…

"Shile? You're spacing out again."

I suppose I could send a request through the distribution committee, but I doubt they'll fall for it… Most equipment requests come through operational units.

"I'll look over it, but I doubt I'll need anything."

I can't go back to work. I have to be ready for the mission tomorrow. What a great schedule we have, less than a full day of planning. If it's really major, we get a week. This is the real reason we're the butt of the anomalous world, not our level of training.

I still don't see how Noelle got leadership of the mission, or how they found out about who the note was talking about. It doesn't sit well with me at all.

And why is Noelle in charge of the mission? Why not me? Hubb would know that 14th street meant a lot to me, why would he want someone as uninvolved as Noelle as the leader? And why now, after 11 years of service? Again, the questions pile on and on.

Why is Hubb so useless lately? He used to be motivated enough, why is he now failing his obligations?


November 6th, 1931: UIU Facility 11 Director's office

"Marcus? Could you come in here for a moment?"

Uh oh. Noelle's briefing is soon. Hubb doesn't need to know that I have no idea what we're doing.

"How come you need me now? The briefing is soon. You know, the one that you requested three days ago?"

"Ugh, don't tell me you're another one who thinks… no, that's not fair on you."

Huh?

"You know what? Don't worry about it. We won't be long, I promise."

I'm not sure I believe that Hubb, but what's there to do about it? Hubb is the director after all. Not a bad one either, I suppose.

"Sit down Marcus. Do you remember when I took over this Facility? Two years ago? Do you remember what I told you all?"

"I suppose I do, Hubb. You said that we had an important job in protecting the American people and that-"

"No no, that's not what I mean. Not… the stock stuff. I finished off with a peculiar remark, didn't I?"

This… is going nowhere good. The usually comforting smell of perfume in this office seems… menacing. As if the flowers on the desk are trying to lure one into their gaping maw. I wonder…

"You said… that if we were to succeed, we had to accept uncomfortable truths. You said that the day would come to challenge these truths, no?"

"Yes… yes, I did say that. I said that there are truths out there that are uncomfortable. But what's more accurate is that these truths are best left unknown. These truths are so uncomfortable that's it's best to ignore them. But… it's time to confront some of them. I'm telling you this becuase I trust you haven't tried looking into this in the past, correct?"

Well, I'm guessing he's talking about the Foundation. Or some such thing. But… from the tone of voice, and from the leading questions, I don't think that's the what's going on here. I… ugh, Noelle would lap this up. She would enjoy this much attention from Hubb. But she doesn't need any more pressure on her right now.

"You're talking about something inside the UIU, right Hubb? Don't worry, no one seems to know much about that. It's hard enough getting through just Facility 11, no one has time to think about the larger framework."

"I'm glad to hear that Marcus. It shows I was successful. Too successful, I fear. I think it's time to start dialing back that success."

He always does this. Everyone does this in this business now that I think about it. We all dance around what we're trying to say, because of the looming fear… of what? Here I am, doing it again! What on earth am I scared of thinking?

"Hubb… I think I know what you're talking about. We're lost in this beauracratic jargon and endless paperwork… so we don't think about what's behind the veil? So we can fool ourselves into safety? Into regularity in a world with no absolutes, the anomalous world."

"That's… close. It's very close, Marcus. But a bit off the mark. I think… the rot has gotten to me too."

A clouded look crosses Hubb's face. He seems ready to shatter. I feel ready to shatter. The softness of the cushions on the chair suddenly feels like a trap. A soothing, comforting trap. Can't we just stay in this unknowing state of mind forever? Can't we complain about leadership, go on simple operations and come back before midnight to Ambrose 11? Why does there have to be so much depth to the world?

Why me?

"I think the rot's in all of us Hubb. I think we've learned to forget that there was a time before the rot. A time before all meaning of our operations were lost."

A twitch crosses Hubb's usually sterile face. His scarred nose twitching upwards.

"That's what this mission is about Marcus. One of us hasn't let the rot seep to his core. We're using that. It'll give him… closure. It's a reward for investigation. For determination."

Ah yes, Shile was going crazy over something on 14th street. But this still feels off. This isn't the full picture, is it? If this was all, then wouldn't that make the note Shile found fake? Won't that make this operation meaningless? No, something more is going on…

What am I doing? Did Hubb know this would spur me into a flurry of thought?

Is this a good thing?

"Thank you Marcus, that will be all. And… don't tell the others about this little chat. They'll all come to realize something similar in their own time."

What is this all really about?


November 6th, 1931: UIU Facility 11 briefing room.

We're ready. It's all been organised. Shile needs nothing, Marcus is grumbling (So I gave him some more Substantial work within the mission), Jeremy has all the firearms he could want, and Leila has her grappling hook and rope. Time for the briefing. It's fine, everything's done correctly. It's still immensely stressful, and this drab repurposed break room doesn't help.

Remember protocol, even if it's a joke.

"Hello Agents, as you know we shall be undertaking operation 'Stoicism'. Our stated goal is to ascertain the nature of the relationship between the owners of 'Dr. Wondertainment's World of Whimsy' and 'The Chicago Spirit'."

Deep breaths, nothing will go wrong. Remeber protocol: after mission statement, ideal mission execution. Then, individual mission descriptions. Then multiple likely eventualities, then questions. All worked out way ahead of you Noelle, sometimes beauracracy could be useful.

"Ideally, Jeremy will enter the shop from an open front door. We're aiming for the end of buisness hours, so there should hardly be any other customers. Next, Jeremy feigns some kind of insult and demands to speak to the owners. It's up to Jeremy's acting skills and quick thinking as to whether this part will work. Meanwhile, Marcus is to watch through the skylight overlooking the counter, where Jeremy is. He is to have his requested sniper rifle with him. Jeremy is to apprehend the owner, owners or staff. In addition, he will warn them there are snipers trained on them should they make one wrong move. Marcus is to fire a warning shot to prove this. By this point the door should be locked and the streets deserted, all customers having left due to closing time. Jeremy is then to interrogate the owner/owners of the establishment under the guise of a criminal looking for information on gang rivalries. Once done, Jeremy shall leave through the front door. By now, Marcus, Leila and Shile will be on the roof of a neighbouring building. They'll lower a rope to the ground and once secure with Jeremy, will pull him up. Any questions?"


Any questions? This plan is terrible! No wonder it took Noelle so long to be put in any leadership position! First off, what complaint can Jeremy come up with at a TOY STORE?? And what if the timing doesn't work out and there are still customers? Actually, what is the plan exactly? Hope that the store will shoo away bystanders but let the one with complaints stay and talk to the managers??

And if these guys really had a connection to the Spirit, why do we expect them to fall into line so easily? If they're willing to stand up to the Spirit, I doubt they'll bend to us! And when exactly does Marcus leave the skylight and get pulled up? And if Marcus needs to watch, doesn't that mean this whole interrogation takes place in the storefront? Even if it's dark and freezing outside, that's still a risk! And what about…

There are so many flaws, I think it's best to stay quiet. Don't analyze too much, Shile.

"Just one. Why are we doing this?"

That sends a cold shock through the room. No one likes wasting time, I know, but that's why I've asked this. I have to know. It's impossible that this mission is entirely based on discerning the meaning of that letter, no?

"Well Shile, It's being done for a very simple reason. And that's that it's been ordered by Hubb. Any more questions?"

That's not an answer. And I don't really see why Hubb's word is law anymore. He hasn't proven himself to be much of anything, has he? Sure he's our superior, but that could be for any number of reasons! Competence and leadership rarely coincide.

But this raises another question. Hubb isn't known for being hasty, and he isn't known for being inquisitive. So what's this really about?


God this plan needs some work. She should've consulted me. Oh well, it'll do Shile some good at any rate. He was quite torn up about that random Spirit dying too easily. I hope he hasn't gone off the deep end, but he may have if so minor a mystery set him into a depression.

This'll do Noelle some good too, she needs some command faliure as well as endless faliures on the field. Really, she overestimates how easily I can subdue up to three people with nought but a firearm.

Well, three firearms and some rope.


I've hardly been mentioned. All the hard work of putting together an escape from locals, Spirit members and police now seems like an unnecessarily complicated getaway.

This sucks.


"Alright, no questions? Good, now to talk about some probable hiccups."

Wait, that's not the right order! This isn't going too well, I can see they think my plan is overly optimistic. I have to trudge through this mess though!

"The first one is of the skylight. What if it's blocked or inaccesible for one reason or another? Well, then Marcus can join Shile as additional lookout. He's not 100% necessary as sniper anyway. Secondly: What if local gangs come along? That's what Shile is for, he'll signal the escape, which I very much hope he's worked out with Marcus and Jeremy already."

There, that's set some thoughts running! Not such a mess now, am I?

"Third…"


They disscuss and debate, think and argue.

What a wonderful time they seem to be having. Wishing them much luck, it seems they'll need it. But even if they are a joke, everyone deserves a chance, every thought worth entertaining. What did a wiseman say?

'It is the mark of an educated man to able to entertain a thought without accepting it.'

Those who discard them off the bat, maybe they're the real joke.


Part 1

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