Investigative Journalism
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The sewer stank of human waste and cigarettes; an awful combination which was hard to imagine unless you experienced it firsthand. Rick Dobre wrinkled his nose and shivered in the cold. His coat was so thin and old that it may as well not have been there, but he couldn’t afford anything better to combat the brutal Minnesotan winter. He hesitated at the entrance of the tunnel, despite the flickering lights indicating this was the place. The tempting warmth won over the nasal assault, and he stepped inside.

The tunnel was wide enough for three men to lie end to end in, but the pouring rain had mixed into puddles with the grime that crusted the floor. Rick walked along the edges of the tunnel. The passage grew wider, into an almost open space. Crouched figures huddled around burning trash cans. The smoke overpowered the cold and the worst of the stink, turning the tunnel into a sauna that smelled faintly of piss. Rick gagged.

One of the figures detached itself from the fire, moving to a secluded corner of the chamber, and gestured for Rick to approach. Rick came over and sat on a thankfully dry section of ground. The man who had gestured to him looked to be in his late forties and had the scraggly look of someone for whom a shower was a distant memory.

“You’re Michael Grayson?”

The bearded man scowled beneath his mop of hair and spoke in a bastardised New York accent, “No. I brought you over here for no reason. Of course I fuckin’ am.”

Rick didn’t respond, staring at the three teardrop tattoos under the man’s left eye.

“You gonna say sumthin?”

“Right, yeah,” Rick scrambled with his words and dug into his pocket and fished out his beaten-up audio recorder. It was a piece of shit, but he couldn’t exactly buy a new one. He clicked it on and set it on the ground between them.

“So, you were affiliated with the Foundation?”

Grayson leaned back against the sewer wall and lit a half-smoked cigarette butt that he pulled out of his pocket, “Straight to business, I dig it. Yeah, I was there for ‘bout three years. They had us workin' with-”

“Um, could you please start from the beginning? I don’t know where your knowledge begins and mine ends. You might miss something.”

Grayson scowled and started again, “D Class is what they called us. I was in jail and they took a whole bunch of us outta our cells. They put us in a van, no markings on it, and drove us away,” He smirked patronisingly, “That simple enough for you?”

Rick pushed past the remark, “What were you in prison for?”

Grayson grinned with yellow teeth, “Jaywalkin’. Anyways, they shaved our heads and made us put on orange suits, same as in jail. The only writing on the shirt was right here,” He indicated his right breast, “A dee, a dash, and then our number. I think mine was six four seven something-something. They lined us up every morning before we got to work and called us out by number. I don’t think anyone called me by my real name the whole time I was there besides other D classes. Probably made things easier for the scientists.”

Rick’s eyes widened, “Sixty-four thousand? They had that many? How many other D Class were there?”

“My memory’s fuzzy. Where I was there were about seventy, tops. There are more places though. More Sites, is what they’re called. Must’ve been because some of the things that they were testing were numbered into the seven-thousands. They had these things called knee-sticks, fucked with your head.”

“You mean amnestics?” Rick raised his eyebrows. He vaguely remembered the term thrown around on the conspiracy sites he frequented.

“Knee-sticks. Das what I said. They’re little pills that make you forget stuff, make you believe whatever they tell you. Used them whenever they wanted us to keep quiet. Some people lost years of their lives cos of them.”

An expression of what could have been sadness slipped over his face, but the dense beard and hair covered up too much for Rick to be sure. “Yeah. Anyway, they had us doing a buncha shit; stuff they don’t want to waste janitors on. Moving skips, testing skips, cleaning up the guts of people who tested the skips before us: fun stuff.”

Rick nodded. Grayson was finally talking easily. “I see. And could you explain what a skip is? For the sake of the recording?”

“Well, I dunno. Magic, probably. Stuff that breaks the laws of physics, a flying TV here, a talking record player there. Technically they’re called ‘Esseepees’, but that’s a dumbass name, so everyone called them skips. I knew how to read and write, so I was lucky enough to get assigned to the jobs where we’d just poke something with a stick and write down notes cos the doctors told us to. Those were harmless, but the others…” He trailed off, lost in thought, “They called them ‘Keters’. I don’t know what the word means, but that’s their word for dangerous. Safe, Euclid, Keter, depending on how likely they were to rip off your arm and stick it up your ass. They usually gave you a few 'nestics after working with the Keters, so I can’t give you anything on most of them. And the ones I can… I’m not gonna tell you.”

“Why not?”

“You’re a journalist, right? So you’re gonna be sharing this?”

“Well… yes.”

“Then there’s your answer. Some of that stuff is kept secret for a reason. Go ahead and tell everyone in the world about them, but at least they’ll still be keeping those things locked up.”

Rick sighed; he decided to change his tune. “How did you escape?”

“The guards think they’re hot shit, like to wave their guns around. Sometimes, they lose grip, and they don’t do too well when someone else gets the gun. I got out of there quick. Ran through the forest for a while and got to a town. Their vans were there, but they stopped looking after a while. Nobody gonna believe a maniac with a shaved head talkin’ about secret government shit anyway.”

Speaking of nobody believing maniacs’ Rick thought. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

Grayson responded with a wide smile, “Cos you’re paying me. Speaking of…”

He held out his hand and Rick fished out 200 dollars in notes.

Rick got back to his apartment. His phone timer read twenty minutes past midnight and his vision was getting blurry. The single bulb flickered on and barely succeeded in throwing yellow light into the corners of the room. The walls were covered in cork boards, adorned with newspaper clippings, photographs, and scribbled notes, all connected by red thread. The carpet was cloaked in piles of papers. He gingerly stepped over the papers to his desk, plugged the audio recorder into his laptop and set the audio to upload before leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes.

A ding came from the computer. Rick shot up and drew his chair closer. A nondescript chat client had opened with one new message. Rick sat up and peered at the screen; one new message stood below six months of previous messages. The sender’s name, as always, was blank.

Has the interview gone successfully?

Rick attached the audio file and typed back:

Yes. He wasn’t easy to work with, but I got the information I needed
Good. Continue as you are. I will contact you soon.

Rick nodded to himself and lay back again. Another message arrived sooner than expected, only thirty minutes later. It was marked as urgent.

Meet me here. Now

View attachment

Attached to the message was the address of a local late-night diner.

The clock read 1 AM when Rick stepped into the diner. He had expected someone tall, in a tuxedo, sporting dark sunglasses. A stereotypical Man In Black. But the man who waved him over to an isolated booth in the corner was slightly shorter than Rick and wore a faded T-shirt and jeans.

“Heya, Rick,” he said as Rick sat down opposite him, “My name’s Wilson Babbard. It’s good to finally meet in person.”

Rick shook his hand eagerly, forgetting his tiredness. “It’s awesome to meet you, too.” He slowed himself down, “For safety, you do have identification, right?”

“No problem.” Babbard held up his phone. On the screen, Rick unmistakably saw their conversations on the open chat client. “I took the liberty of ordering us coffee,” he continued. As if on cue, a waitress laid two mugs of steaming coffee on the table.

Rick took a sip of his surprisingly bitter coffee and Babbard let his smile drop.

“Listen- I’m going to level with you: this whole thing is over. It’s time to stop living this lie.”

Rick gagged and said, “Is this a joke or something?”

Babbard shook his head, “No lies, no jokes. I know, I know. You think you’ve found the big conspiracy; the massive secret that governments all over the world are covering up. It’s not true; none of it.”

What the hell was this bullshit? He’d worked for six months investigating this conspiracy only to have his face spat in? He slammed his hands on the table.

“What the fuck-” The few people in the diner turned to look at them in surprise. Rick lowered his voice and began again.

“What the fuck are you saying? You tracked me down and messaged me about the Foundation after I lost my job as a reporter. You just sent me into the sewers to talk to a homeless meth addict so that I could interview him!”

“And you’re really listening to a homeless lunatic’s rambling and calling it gospel? The man was mentally ill. He was just arrested, in fact. There’s really no proof of any secret international organisation beyond a few unreliable witnesses.”

“How about the woman who I asked about the apartment fire? She said she saw something massive before the fire trucks arrived.”

“She was eighty two, probably senile. The boy who got lost in the forest had an overactive imagination, the trucker in the hospital was out of his mind with pain meds. I could go on. Has there ever been a credible source, or are you just drawing lines between unrelated incidents and people who said they might have seen something?”

An intense headache began throbbing in Rick’s head. “How about the town in Wyoming? A bear attack doesn’t tear apart 23 people. You agreed with me; how is that unbelievable?”

Babbard leaned forward over the table and locked eyes with Rick. “Alright. Tell me, Rick, when was the last time you took your schizophrenia medication?”


“The pills on your nightstand. Aripiprazole, was it? Prescribed by Dr. Jansen.”

Rick’s head felt like it was on fire now. He slumped over the table, managing to keep himself upright with his elbows. Babbard leaned even further in until their foreheads were almost touching. “You will remember this, Rick, and you will remember it well. The Foundation doesn’t exist. You don’t need to focus on conspiracies. You will take the pills on your bedside table. You will go and get a real job and forget about all of this. You will-”

The knife of pain in Rick’s head stabbed deeper into his skull and the next thing that he remembered was falling face first into the table.

Rick awoke on his bed. He didn’t remember walking back to his apartment, but he must have done. The cork boards had been taken down, leaving marks where the sun had faded the wall around them; the papers which had cluttered his desk and floor were gone now, too. He must have removed them at some point during the night. As he sat up the memories of the evening came back to him: he had finally come to his senses and thrown away all of the insane files he had been obsessed with for months. It was for the best.

He swung himself out of bed, walked to his kitchen, and fried up and ate two eggs. Rick concluded that he would spend that day being proactive by sending in his resume and calling in about job vacancies. Maybe his old news network would take him back? It felt like optimistic energy had overtaken him. For the first time in a long time, he felt like he finally had options. The air seemed fresher, the sun seemed brighter, the-

Rick picked an amber bottle of pills off of the nightstand. Those pills, he remembered now that he had to take those. Where had he gotten them from? Dr. Jansen? Yes, that’s who he had gotten them from; for the schizophrenia he had had for longer than he could remember… could he remember? For the life of him he couldn’t remember a single time when he had gone to the doctor’s office since he was a child. He couldn’t even recall where the nearest one was. So how did a bottle of pills appear on his nightstand?

He remembered Dr. Jansen vividly. The name was comfortably embedded in his mind like it had been there for years, but he had no face, no voice, to attach to it. The label on the pill bottle read ‘Aripiprazole’ in big bold letters. Rick remembered the name just as clearly as he remembered Dr. Jansen, but similarly he had no knowledge of anything else.

Did he really tear up his papers and throw them away? There weren’t any scraps of paper to be found and his bin was empty. He stood up and went through his folders; even if he gave up a lead he would still keep at least a summary for archival, but the folder was completely empty of any references to the- Rick couldn’t even think of the name of the thing he had researched for months. Real or not, he should still be able to recall its name. He could barely even recall what he had done the previous day. He had gone downtown, near the sewers, he had met with someone, he had been told about…

Rick stopped, mouth agape. He marched to the bottle of pills on his bedside table and opened it, he broke one open and sniffed deeply. Just as he suspected: it smelt like too-bitter coffee, just like he had been given that night. The amnestics theory had just been confirmed.

He’d never been more convinced of the Foundation’s existence. They must have known that he was getting too close to the truth and had tried to stop him. That moment of elation was followed by a wave of terror. Had they bugged his apartment? Maybe, and he wouldn’t be able to find them anyway, even in his minuscule living space.

He went over what he knew. Cameras would be too expensive and hard to hide; it was doubtful that they would use those. They’d just have one - maybe two - listening devices, and needless to say his devices would be compromised.

But even if he knew what was going on, what was the next step? Taking more of that bitter chemical would undoubtedly finish the job that Babbard had started, and if they noticed he wasn’t taking it they would surely come for him. Staying was far from being an option, but even if he managed to escape from the Foundation, months of his work was gone. Unless… Rick reached below the bed and felt around for a flash drive taped to the underside. Nothing. There was nothing buried in the soil of his potted plant, nor within the deliberately placed empty drink cans, nor inside the framed photograph of his late mother.

Rick was no ametuer to the art of hiding things, but clearly the Foundation was just as adept at finding his hidden caches. At last, he went to the kitchen and pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and prised away a loose plank beneath it. It was there, Rick nearly jumped for joy. A small flash drive lay there, protected from the moisture beneath the floor in a ziplock bag. Rick took it out and tucked it into his pocket.

Almost everything that he had worked for over the past six months was on that drive. Now that he had it, he was back on his feet. He just had to escape the grip of the Foundation, and that started with getting way out of dodge.

His car would have a tracker in it, obviously; his next option would be to steal a car and drive as far away as possible. But then what? He could cross the border to Canada, but that would be risky. He didn’t know much about the full extent of the Foundation’s power, but if they were able to orchestrate massive cleanup operations then their jurisdiction didn’t end in the USA. The simple solution would be to continue driving across the country to somewhere remote and lay low; maybe Nevada or Oregon?

Now he just had to get a car. His apartment building had a parking lot, and he knew at least a few of the people in his building would keep their doors unlocked with their keys in the locks. He could easily steal a car and be far away before they noticed.

Rick went into his kitchen, dropped his laptop and phone into the sink, and filled it to the brim. The Foundation had probably taken all the information they could get, and they would be traceable if he took them with him; he couldn’t take that risk. Just the flash drive, cash, clothes, and what little food he had were hastily thrown into a bag. The Amnestics were hidden inside a granola bar box after some consideration, no sense in leaving behind good evidence, he reasoned.

Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and left his apartment. He had chosen to leave in the late afternoon when he could be safe in the crowd of cars coming home from work. The fifth door down from his apartment was thankfully open, with the keys still in the lock. Snatching the car key from the keyring, Rick made his way down the flight of stairs to the parking lot. He pressed the keyfob’s unlock button, and the doors on an abused Honda unlocked. Rick leapt into the driver's seat and drove off as fast as possible.

Every time a frustrated driver honked their horn Rick jumped in his seat. An ambulance sped past, sirens blazing, and he started like a frightened rabbit. His muscles remained tense well after the sun had set, and his eyelids began to feel dangerously heavy. Relenting to his sleep-deprived brain, he turned off to the nearest motel that he drove past and paid a bored teenager for his room.

Entering the room, he quickly pulled the curtains, opened a nearby window to escape out of if need be, and immediately fell asleep on the bed.

Rick lazily rubbed his eyes and blinked away the rheum. Through his bleary eyes he saw a dim ominous light cast over the walls. Turning onto his side, he noticed the man sitting casually at the motel room’s desk, looking at a laptop with the flash drive clearly plugged in. Stifling a scream and instead letting out a muffled yelp, Rick sat up in the bed, hoping that the man wouldn’t notice.

He could try to escape through the open window, but his bag, and more importantly flash drive, were blocked by the intruder. The only option was to attack, but if the man was from the Foundation he probably had a gun. Rick cursed himself for not bringing a knife with him. Climbing out of the bed silently, he balled his fists and prepared to attack.

“You’re awfully loud for a fugitive, Mr. Dobre.”

The man gently closed the lid of the laptop and rose to his feet. Rick now had a better view of the man’s face; he was old, with a close-cropped beard. Despite his age, he stood without a hunch.

“I was just having a look at the research you managed to save. I’m impressed. And before you ask, I am not with the Foundation. I’ve been working with you for the past few months.”

Rick relaxed his fists slightly, “Wait, you’re the guy?”

“Yes. They’ve been tracing me for a long time. A few hours before you left to interview Michael Grayson, they finally managed to lock me out of the messenger we were using. You’re lucky I got to the agent in time to replace your amnestics with a lower dosage.”

“Yeah? And how do I know you’re not lying? I’ve already been stabbed in the back once.”

The man patted his side, revealing the outline of a gun beneath the fabric of his coat. “If I were lying, you’d be dead. You have no information that the Foundation does not already know you have. I’m here to give you the details, then send you on your way before you manage to get caught.”

Rick nodded, “Alright. You say they tracked me down, but what happened to Michael?”

“I went to see if I could warn him after I helped you. He’s been apprehended. Probably interrogated, amnesticised, and returned to D-class. Maybe dead. They had access to all of our messages when they compromised me; they know about every witness that you interviewed, every source. And they’re all undoubtedly receiving the same treatment you did.”


“They don’t make mistakes twice. If you let yourself get caught again they will finish what they started. You’ll wake up barely remembering your own name in the same situation as our late friend Michael.”

“So what can I do? How am I going to stay safe?”

The man opened the curtains, revealing that Rick’s stolen car had been replaced by a Ford in relatively good condition. “I’m just a nobody. I can’t offer you any more information about what the Foundation is up to. What I can give you, however, is a car and a place where you can continue your work. I’ve convinced the financier to hire you and buy your research.”

The man passed him a small piece of paper reading:

Oregon Research Initiative. ORI.

With an address scribbled below.

Rick looked up, “Is that really it? I’ve done so much and you’re really not going to take the time to explain anything?”

The man chuckled softly, “You overestimate the amount that I know. This is a massive game, with players around the world. People are killed, deals are made, and it’s up to us to map it out. There are others like you all working to uncover the truth. The Initiative is privately funded, you will have a steady income, a house, even. This will likely not be the last time that we work together, even if it is the last time we meet. Good luck, Rick. It’s been a pleasure.”

He laid the flash drive gently on the table and left. Rick looked on as the man got into a nearby car and drove off.

He sat back down on the bed and held his head in his hands. The one person who was supposed to have helped him had given him a vague response and bailed. Could he really join that Initiative thing? He stared vacantly at the slip of paper for a few moments, before finally slipping it into his pocket

“Well, I guess this is my Rubicon,” He murmured.

The key turned easily in the Ford’s ignition, and the pointer on the dashboard showed the tank was full of fuel. He pulled out of the parking lot and set off for Oregon.

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