Bavarian Fire Drill
rating: +45+x

Colonel Cook's eyes had never been narrower as he read over the neatly-typed piece of paper that had landed on his desk that morning. Across said mahogany authority symbol, a thin young man in a smart uniform sat with his hands quietly folded in his lap. The half-smoked cigar in Cook's lips swayed from side to side. Finally, setting it down atop a pile of novel-length proposals, he ashed his stogie.

"What the hell kind of a plan is this?"

Smiling, the young man took his paper back, tucking it into an empty tan briefcase. "One that might work, Colonel. One that makes sure we don't have much to lose."

"You're talking about infiltrating a Jailhouse with nothing but the clothes on your back, and your buddies by your side. No guns, no plan, no nothing. It's suicide."

Rolling his eyes, the young man crossed his arms. "Suicide is rushing into the bowels of a Foundation site with only sci-fi portals to get you home. It's letting every Task Force operative in a bi-country area know that they can earn an easy Foundation Star by suppressing those nasty Insurgents. We can't beat the Foundation in a shootout. Not yesterday, today, or tomorrow."

For a few moments, Cook steeled his gaze and worked the eyebrow game. Finally, throwing up his hands while spinning a revolution in his swivel chair, Cook answered. "Fine. Go for it. If you and your pals end up detained in the blackest site in the man on the moon's asshole, don't come crying to me."

A smile slowly emerged across the young man's face. Nodding profusely, he stood and stuck out a hand to his superior. "Thank you sir. I promise that you won't regret this."

Grabbing the hand with vigor, Cook yanked to bring the young man within a few inches of his face. "It's not me who has to worry about regretting something, Parker. Stay frosty out there."

With that, he let go, and the young man was soon gone.

The drive to the SCP Foundation's Site-77 was an arduous, rocky journey. Especially in a small car being occupied by three heavily outfitted men. The air conditioning had given out several minutes after they started, leaving them to stew in both body and mind. Parker was the driver, with his comrade Maria working the Google Map while Peterson and Joel jostled in the backseat.

"Are we there yet?" Asked the pair, in almost perfect unison.

"Almost." Maria turned to face them, sticking a cracked phone screen towards their faces. "You remember the plan, ja?"

Nodding, they reached into the deep pockets of their facsimile uniforms and began reading the smudged inky mess before them. "Get in, walk to the vault, pull out anything small and not-too-dangerous looking."

"Right. Whose job is it to stick a headset in and mumble if somebody gets too close?"

Both men pointed to the other. Maria sighed, and turned back around. "We're all going to die, aren't we?"

"Everybody dies, Maria." Parker took a bite from his protein bar as he narrowly avoided careening off one of a seemingly endless series of tight mountain turns. "The point is to live life to the fullest while it's still here."

"Sure, yeah, I get that… but this goes a little beyond that. We'll be… isn't this really the belly of the beast here?"

Lurching forward from the backseat came Peterson, strapping a helmet across his chin. "Aw, cheer up Maria. This is gonna be a blast. Bigger thrill than even getting your rocks off, I bet."

"Rocks? Don't tell me there's an avalanche." Joel poked his head behind his companion. "If there is, I'm outta here. For reals."

"Is nobody wearing their seatbelts here? Really guys? Let's at least pretend to be professional here." Parker grunted, spinning the steering wheel aggressively against the forces of Newton. "We're gonna be pulling up here any minute, and I don't want this to look like amateur hour."

Silently returning to their seats, three clicks rang out in unison.

"Really? You too, Maria?"

"Bite me. I had tacos for breakfast, my stomach is bloats as fuck."

"Fair enough."

Getting inside had been surprisingly simple. Flash an ID badge here, act impatient with a perimeter guard there, grease the parking guy's palm with five Euro and a sob story, this brought them all inside. Almost. There was still the matter of actually entering the building. Buttoning up the last few bits of his lab coat, Parker hung his ID badge from a coat pocket and practiced scribbling upon his clipboard.

Joel and Peterson marched smartly on either side of him. Their uniforms were nowhere near impeccable, and Maria's costume had different colored socks. Flashing a piece of plastic with the Foundation's logo at the door guard, Parker felt the whoosh of conditioned air brush through his hair. Three steps later they were inside one of the most heavily fortified Foundation facilities, for better or for worse.

The inside of Site-77 was a sterile beige, the sounds of office work hung in the air like smoke in a bar. Busy looking people in glasses scurried from door to door, as the labyrinthine corridors made for arduous passage between meetings and offices. The walls were lined with LCD screens, some surrounded by bleary-eyed individuals holding coffee cups or mugs of unknown liquid, reading news bulletins and organizational updates as they scrolled across the screen at an agonizing pace.

Smoothing back his hair, Parker stood in place at an unoccupied monitor and observed. After a few moments, some bullshit about a vault made its way onto the densely packed informational screen. Maria saw it first, whispering almost as quietly as death. "Level Nine."

Spinning on a dime, Parker boldly strode forward, furiously scribbling a picture of himself fornicating with a unicorn as they zigged or zagged through a seemingly endless series of interminable hallways. Finally, they stood before an elevator. Perusing the up and down options for a few moments, Parker nodded for Peterson to poke the down buttons. Vaults and Nines usually go down, right?

For a few seconds, the door-frame hummed at them. Parker's neck began burning. So many people passing them by. Don't dare to turn around. What are we doing here? One question from anybody and they were done. Every set of footsteps sounded suspicious. Were they slowing down? Did someone just whisper. How much longer until-

Parker nearly jumped when the door dinged. Swooshing before them, he had to restrain himself from leaping into the box. Inside there was a small old man, in thick coke-bottle glasses. His head was smooth and brown, with dark spots peppering his scalp down to his chin. A dozen ancient manuscripts were tucked beneath his arms. A fuzzy caterpiller was apparently perched on his upper lip, softly swaying in an artificial breeze. Stepping inside, Parker made sure the old man was between his party and the control panel.

The doors swooshed shut. For a few seconds, nothing happened. A bead of sweat began percolating on Parker's neck. Looking up at him, the old man cocked his head. Frowning for a second, then holding up a finger. Parker opened his mouth first. "Level Nine, please."

"Oooooh. Sure. Shoulda guessed that, huh?" Chuckling to himself, a wizened finger tapped several buttons on a surprisingly complicated control panel. Lurching sideways, the elevator began speeding along at a steady pace. Turning back to Parker, the old man stuck out a hand. "Doctor Marquis, at your service."

Returning the shake, Parker used the same smile he'd put on for his mother. "Pleasure. Might I ask what the books you're carrying are for, doctor?"

Glancing down at his arms, Dr. Marquis shrugged. "Oh, just some fossils for this old fossil to maybe glean some insight out of. Records here go waaaay back, yaknow."

"Of course, of course." Parker glanced at his watch. They'd been inside for twenty minutes. Felt like an eternity.

"Mind if I ask what you folks are working on, down in the Vault? Doesn't see much action these days."

Peterson grunted. "Above your pay grade, sir."

"Pshaw, don't sir me." Marquis smiled, and shrugged his shoulders in an exaggerated fashion. "Nothing down there but rocks in boxes. Or am I wrong?"

Cracking out a grin, Parker rubbed the back of his head. "You got us. We're just auditing some of those old bones. Couple lights went on, the pencil-pushers wanted to make sure nothing was amiss."

"Ah, usual rigmarole then, huh?" Marquis shifted some of his tomes from one arm to another. "Ah, I think my floor is coming up."

The steel doors slid open. A wave of sour heat spilled into their chrome cube. The lights were a dim red, and flashing. A young boy screamed from somewhere in the distance. Marquis walked out without missing a beat, waving a hand in the air. "Sounds like they've started early today. By the way, I didn't catch your name, mister…. "

For a few seconds, Parker blinked. Then he opened his mouth. "Wait, what was that? Spaced for a second there, didn't catch the question."

"Oh, yeah, it does that. I just ask-"

The doors slid shut, and the elevator swung perpendicularly. Breathing a sigh of relief, Parker checked his watch. Twenty-seven minutes. "We're ahead of schedule."

Joel spoke for the first time since they'd entered the building. "We have a schedule?"

Parker tapped his foot anxiously outside the bathrooms. They were gunmetal grey, smooth and barren of any external fixures or features. If it weren't for the lack of a steel security door, and two small labels reading toilet there wouldn't be any difference between these entrances and the hundreds, maybe thousands, that populated the vaults. Maybe millions. Some people said this place went down to the core. But that was probably an exaggeration. Probably.

Maria came out first, drying her hands with rough paper. Joel and Peterson stumbled out next, muttering cutting jibes about whether it was better to air or paper dry as they demonstrated their preferred methods. Shushing them, Parker pulled out his clipboard again and pretended to count as they walked. First, he listed the number of people he'd killed in his life. That went pretty quick, so he moved on to ranking his favorite roller coasters. Which vegetables go well with white wine. How many licks it took to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop.

Eventually, he spotted a room of interest. The hallway opened to a wider cavernous room, with a large door at the opposite end and two more corridors identical to the one they had exited flanking them on either side. Three men stood in front of it, one blonde, one lanky, and one with a lazy eye. Parker took no hesitation in walking up to them. "Command sent us to check up on things. They got lights up there telling them something's off in the vault. Temperature and atmospheric readings are off.

Blonde and Lanky looked at each other. Their compatriot blinked a few times, and folded his arms. "Uh… who are you?"

Parker took a deep breath. "Level 3. I'm a consultant from 19, assigned from the Anti-Memetics anomaly supervision division. Friends are from a Multi-Discipline-Jurisdictional Task Force, Director requested that the vault get some beefed up safekeeping measures and protocols in order to make sure nothing goes haywire down here. I'm sure you gentlemen don't have a problem with that? Didn't you get the memo?"

Blonde guy muttered something that sounded like 'We never get the memo' before Lazy held up a hand to silence him. "Exactly when did this all go through? It all sounds like gobbledygook to me."

"Who exactly is paying you to play twenty questions again? Who's your supervisor?" Parker took two steps towards the frowning man, who quickly looked to his comrades with pleading eyes.

Maria spoke up first. "Enough. We don't have time for this. Let us in now, or we're going to throw this up to the Director. Contempt of direct orders is not something the boss lady takes lightly.

That got their attention. The lanky and blonde guards nearly sprinted to their respective stations. Before long, the vault doors were creaking open.

Parker strutted inside, brushing past the lazy-eyed man. Hissing through his teeth, he spoke to his comrades. "Grab anything that looks eye-catching and won't melt you and we're out of here."

Maria nodded. "Before they can think of the right questions."

One dolly later, they wheeled their way back out of the oppressive catacombs. It had been sitting in a corner of the room, behind a box that screamed when you touched it and several pounds of gelatinous cubes. Missing a wheel and the rubberized grips appeared to have melted, but it could still spin with the best of them. Several crates were piled on top. Parker thanked his lucky stars Maria had brought some tape and paper with more than doodles on them.

Each box now bore a label reading 'FRAGILE' and had been stacked neatly as could be managed. Parker pushed and pulled to prevent a spill, while Peterson and Joel flanked him. Maria, now holding the clipboard, put on her very sternest face as they walked out of the elevator. Nobody had joined them this time, but a big button marked HOME - TOPSIDE was lit in red above the mishmash of keys and switches on the control panel.

Wheeling past the LCD screens, Parker was almost skipping past these skippers. But composing himself, he focused on holding steady. Blowing it now would be an awful shame. The people parted in front of him like a wave, averting their eyes as soon as the creaking carts had passed them. As they approached the door, a man in a tan uniform barely containing a pot belly walked up from behind a low lying desk.

"Hey, so, uh, what's all this about then?"

"Moving day." Maria spoke without missing a beat. "Got an order for a few low-level would-be skips to be shipped off for some specialized testing. Plus, vault's getting refitted. Something about the atmospheric gauges going bonkers."

Nodding thoughtfully, the man put his thumb to chin. "Yeah, yeah, thought I heard somethin' about that over the radio… but you guys like, got approval for this, or what?"

"Orders coming straight from the top." Parker barked from the back. "Director wants this done quick, pet project prerogative, you know how it is."

"Right, same old story." The man scratched his head. "I think we've got to fill out a few forms for this at least. Don't you have the paperwork with you?"

Maria put her arm around the man, pushing her bosom into his chest. "Listen, neither of us get paid enough for this shit, right? Director wants what she wants, papers be damned. You feel me?"

Slowly nodding, the tan man reached for his pocket. "Yeah, I feel you."

Parker bit his tongue to keep from flinching, but what the man produced was a green key card. Sliding it through a black plastic machine, it beeped and the door slid open. Parker felt his heart leap into his throat. Squeaking forward, Parker's heart skipped a beat, nearly barfing out of his esophagus, when the hard bump of a doorframe nearly knocked a box off.

Joel grabbed it, and steadied the lot. Exhaling softly, Parker smelled the fresh mountain air.

We made it.

Colonel Cook puffed incredulously as he scanned the after action report. Impossible. Not credible. Total bullshit. Years of the Foundation swatting strike teams like flies, uncovering infiltrators with ease and unmasking their deepest double agents. But four people in ill-fitting clothing on a suicide mission come back in two hours with enough Vertigo to keep the toymakers busy for at least nine months. "My boy, you've really done something here."

Beaming, Parker broke out into a grin. "Thank you sir. But all credit has to go to the team. A group effort, through and through."

Almost chewing through his tobacco, Cook dropped the dossier into a drawer. "You're all getting Future Stars for this, at least. I mean, you did it. Made them look like assholes. Only problem, not really a problem, is you took what to them is a drop in the bucket. But… it's never nothing to us. I mean, my god, the Gryphon that only kills innocent people is going to be someone's new favorite thing."

"I'm hoping this can be a proof of concept, sir."

"Of course, we can't do this every day. They'd catch wise pretty quick, probably have already. We had you written off for dead as soon as you all walked out the door. Damn near crapped myself when I heard you had come back with a report all ready to go."

"Thank you sir." Parker glanced down at the photos spread on the wall behind Cook's desk. "Was there… anything else you needed, sir?"

"Probably, but I can let you loose for now. You've earned it."

Standing, Parker turned towards the door. Halfway through it, the Colonel blew a smoke ring. "Oh, and Parker?"

Pausing to turn, Parker poked his head back. "Yes sir?"

"You're going to have to top this, you know."

As he walked down the hallway, tiles reflecting a pensive face, he saw it turn from a thought to a smile. The fun of doing the impossible has a way of doing that to a person. Make them dream of the future. What can come next.

Yeah, I can top that.

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