Partner's Meeting
rating: +15+x

There's an unwritten rule for Foundation meetings - arrive 15 minutes early, start 15 minutes late. It's not codified anywhere, but it's followed almost unilaterally across the board. It's not like any of the researchers could say, of course, but rumour had it that it was a holdover from the original Overseer meetings.

None of this served to explain why Yossarian Leiner, Department of Tactical Theology, Abrahamic Subgroup Lead, was sitting at an conference table, surrounded by people he didn't know, waiting for a presentation that wouldn't start.

Two days prior, he had been informed at Tactheo's Site-14 that he was going to a meeting in the U. One day prior, he had caught the first flight from Mexico City to Albuquerque. He'd been picked up from the airport by the signature black-suited silver-cuffed bodyguards usually reserved for Regional and National Directors. He'd been driven in the back of a Lexus to a large warehouse on the outskirts of the city - the above-ground portion of the Southwest U.S Regional Command, the nerve center for all Foundation operations from the Rio Grande to Colorado.

And now he was here, thirty minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, tapping his foot. He didn't recognize the other eight people at the table — some were dressed in the garb of Foundation bureaucrats, others in the dress-down of senior researchers. They were all invested in small stacks of paperwork or their tablets. The clock moved another minute. The tapping of his foot quickened.

Leiner didn't like surprises. He liked having things neat and on-time and orderly. Everyone he worked with at 14 understood that, and they were used to it. They got their briefings submitted properly, they scheduled meetings in advance, and they certainly never showed up half an hour late. This whole experience had soured Yossarian already. It was downright sloppy.

He sighed and stepped out of his chair, heading for the refreshment table against the wall. None of the men and women around the table acknowledged him. The table was sparsely set with a coffee maker, sugar and creamer, water, and an untouched box of donuts. Another man was sitting against the edge, blowing on coffee in a Styrofoam cup.

"Excuse me?"

"Hm?"

"Could you..?"

"Oh! Yeah, sure, haha. My bad."

The man scooted, giving Yossarian access to the coffee maker. He was young, about the same age as him, dressed in a neat three-piece with a red tie. A little bronze pin gleamed in the light - was that a pentagram? He jammed out his free hand.

"How d'you do?"

Yossarian looked at it awkwardly for a moment.

"Oh! Haha. My bad."

He grabbed a napkin and wiped off the chocolate stain on his palm, tossing it aside. They shook.

"Good. Just waiting for this to start."

"That makes two of us. What do you know about this meeting, anyhow?"

"Jack… squat. I don't even know what it's about. Something religious, probably. Maybe they found a rock 343 can't lift."

The joke fell flat for a second, then the man burst out in harsh laughter. He slapped Yossarian's back with a firm hand, who stumbled against the table.

"Whoof, that's a good one. You're funny. You're a funny guy. What's your name?"

"Leiner. Yossarian Leiner."

"Oooh. You're the, the Tactheo guy."

Yossarian was caught off-guard. "You've heard of me?"

"In a sense. I know some dudes at 14, they mentioned they were sending over someone good. Don't worry about it."

"… Okay. And you ar-"

Yossarian's query was interrupted by a single finger raised into the air. The man took a single sip of his coffee, letting the finger down again.

"Like I said, don't worry about it. But what I am curious about is what the fuck you guys are getting up to at Tactheo. I heard someone figured out how to accurately image bhutras?"

"Uhn, I'm not sure. I mostly handle Abrahamic thin-"

"Oh man, no shortage of those in this shithole. You guys figure out how to kill God yet?"

"Er, no…"

"What are you, Eastern Orthodox?"

"Orthodox, but Jewish."

The man took another long sip.

"That.. makes a lot more sense. Okay, you guys figure out how to kill demons, at least?"

"Working on it."

"Better work faster."

The strange man was beginning to grate on Yossarian, but he was polite.

"I'm sorry, is this relevant?"

"Oh no, I just like to know who I'm working with. See if we're compatible and all that."

"I assure you, I get the job done."

"Oh, I've no doubt of that, Dr. Leiner. Not a doubt in the world. After all, you're the man who managed to figure out how to end the Mount Sinai Crisis."

Yossarian paused in his tracks.

"How did you-"

"It was a stroke of genius to use the Djinn against the sunrise, true fucking brilliance."

"I- well, thank you, I suppose."

"No problem, doc."

The man's periodic sipping finally turned into slurping as the cup emptied. He set it down on the table.

"You're not going to…?"

"What? Oh. Nah."

"Let's hope this starts soon."

"Oh, it will."

Yossarian gathered his coffee and donut and the pair returned to the conference table. But as he sat down, he saw the man continue walking around the table, coming to a stop at the head, next to the projector.

Everyone set down their busy work.

"Sorry for the wait, folks. I just really needed some coffee." Yossarian could have sworn he noticed a sly wink aimed at him.

"Kurtz, Ali, Sandra, Leiner, and those of you I haven't had the joy of personally greeting yet." He nodded at them all in turn. "Let me preface this all by clarifying; if you're here, you're the best of the best in your fields. You offer a degree of expertise to the project I'm about to describe to you that we can't get anywhere else. You know how to kill demons, how to harness Sin, how to track Gods. You're essential personnel. Even if I haven't met you, I know of your achievements, and I'm looking forward to working together."

"My name is Director Randall House. Something very, very strange happened to the city of Las Vegas in January of last year. If you look under your chairs, there's a dossier you can follow along in."

Yossarian reached under his chair, pulling out a manilla folder from the basket. It was stamped with the standard security clearance information, and he flipped it open.

"Our job is to understand that mess, and stop it from ever happening again. Folks-"

The first paper in the folder was stamped with five words under the Foundation logo.

"Welcome to the Undervegas Initiative."

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