The Call to Action (for a Modern Audience)

by DarkStuff

Rachael Davidson sat, legs crossed, in the cramped multipurpose meeting room of S120. It was a Friday. And it was 2:48 pm. She had taken her late lunch into the claustrophobic space with her, but hadn't the appetite to eat it. Her face was stone, her eyes unfocused, and her hands were on her knees. She hadn't brought a book, and she hadn't too much to think about, so she just sat and scanned.

The table was bolted to the floor. The chairs weren't. The clock was half a minute off. The door was too big for its frame: possibly water expansion from a leak in the ceiling. So the door would budge.

This gave Rachael plenty of warning, when someone began trying to open the door. In any other situation, such a regular set of hard knocking on a door would be intimidating.

Once the door had finally busted open, Rachael heard the huffing of someone chubby who had just put out a lot more energy than they had expected for such a simple task. And then a mumble, "maybe I'll just leave that open a bit…" And suddenly, Rachael's upper lip curled.

The man muttered "excuse me", and a couple variations of "oof", while trying to move around the space and into the seat next to Rachael. As soon as he had himself situated, he tried to get his coat off, but in doing so caught it on something beneath the table. He struggled, embarrassed with the first impression he may be making on some new colleague to his left, before realizing it was stuck on a sharp hook beneath the table (you simply had to accept that you would never know the purpose of such things in such rooms when working with the Foundation). He smiled, likely at himself, as he finally wrenched the coat off of himself and draped it over the back of the chair.

Then, as if nothing had happened, he reached out a hand to introduce himself.

He began in French: "Bonjour! Je ne crois pas. Je m'appelle Dr. Robert Dorer, et vous?"

"Dr. Davidson. And you're mixing up formal and informal. Your French is clumsy."

Dorer's eyes widened. "Rachael? You shaved your head!"


"And you're wearing red!"

"Hmp. Yes. I am."

"I didn't recognize you!"

"I noticed."

"Well hey! Look at this! We're destined to be on the same mission together! Homeward Bound? Eh?"

Rachael held her tongue.

"I said, I said, that if I got transferred to a project with you, it must mean there's a connection! Right? Right?"

"Wrong." Rachael didn't take her eyes off of the chair across from her. "You said that if you got transferred to the anachronism project with me, that it'd be fate. But that's not what happened. We just ended up on the same project. Not such a stretch — we were both applying for reassignment at the same time in the same site. Give it up. It's coincidence."

Dorer looked defeated. For a second. But his smile crept back, much to Rachael's dismay. She braced herself for his next idiot remark.

"So you remembered! You remembered exactly what I said! Just to get back at me? I don't think so. I think you remember me pretty well. I have successfully become a larger part of your life than everyone else here. A-ha! And now you won't have a choice but to interact with me. You're gonna have to get used to it, Rachael. It's fate, plain and simple."

"Are you trying to woo me? What's your goal here?"

"Woo you?" Dorer looked dazed for a moment. "Oh, no, no, I'm not trying to woo you, Rachael. Not unless you want me to." Dorer's eyebrows shot up in an instant. "But no. I just think you're fun, Rachael. I think you're crazy, and it makes you fun."

"You're straight-forward."

"You too! More than just our initials are the same, I see!" Dorer squinted suddenly. "Hmm. Maybe I'm being a bit rude. Sorry for that. To tell you the truth, I've been a bit irritable as of late. But I'm imagining you could care less why." His smile returned quickly enough. "I'll shut up now. For as long as I can; this Hillenburg is going to be here soon enough, anyways."

Rachael never gave him the benefit of eye contact, and so he was forced to assume she had listened to him. It wasn't such a stretch, she seemed to chime in with sarcasm wherever she felt like, and to do that she would have to be somewhat cognizant of what he was saying. He took his sweet time to sit in a forward facing position in his chair.

Dr. Dorer's ever racing mind wished there was some kind of visual appeal to the bland white room, but the only features he perceived were some scratches on the metal table and a clock that someone put an inordinate amount of effort into (did a meeting room like this really need cherubs?). Dorer felt the last few minutes drag. Rachael tried to have other things to think about.

Then, at almost 3:00 pm exactly, the door was easily shoved open (Dorer smiled that he helped in his own, silent way) by a large, broad shouldered man with a square chin. Dorer attempted to scoot to the side to let him past, but such a big guy in such a small room made mobility difficult nonetheless. After some grunting and struggling, the man finally made it to the other side, and sat down.

His hair was dark grey, but full, though small strands of it lay scattered about his perfectly maintained suit like cat hair. His pockets were big enough to hold an entire plastic water bottle, which he did, and his tie was as broad as an arm. On his breast pocket, he wore a name tag for convenience — Dr. Alex Callero Hillenburg, Human Relations.

Hillenburg shook Dr. Dorer's hand, and then Dr. Davidson's. "Hello," he said once. "Hello," they replied. This repeated once or twice, with variations. "Glad to meet you," "a pleasure seeing you", etc.. Before things could get too formal, Dorer decided to make his first play.

"Hey, I think we've met before! You and I talked to Bob Ross at this very Site, didn't we? Oh, hey! Speaking of fate, Rachael, it looks like we've all been involved with each other before, haven't we? The whole Bob Ross ordeal was what got you into the Foundation in the first place, and then Dr. Hillenburg here —" Rachael made a quick mental note that Dorer would use the last names of others, but not hers "— and I cleaned up after that mess! Isn't that strange?"

"Sure, strange, yeah. Small world." Hillenburg began unpacking some papers from a suitcase he had with him.

Rachael silently wondered why in the world someone in charge of "Human Relations" would be so muscular, and large. She also had to wonder why he would be in charge of putting together a team for an operation. She imagined, and accepted, that she would get answers to neither question.

"Alright, let's get on with it. You're here to be recruited to my project, Operation Homeward Bound. I know you've probably heard the next spiel a thousand times, but for the sake of formality and routine…" Hillenburg cleared his throat and put his hands together on the table. "By being here, you have already accepted that you may be subjected to amnestic treatments for any classified information that you may or may not gain, during this recruitment or afterwards. By accepting the following mission, you have accepted the possibility of grievous injuries, psychological damage, or death in the name of the veil. Now is your last chance to turn down this assignment with no direct repercussions. Do you accept the risks and conditions?"

Rachael didn't speak. Dorer leaned back in his chair and nodded.

"Good. By accepting this mission, you accept that you must take orders from the mission operator — that's me — and whoever they appoint to be above you. From this point on, you are under my watch, and my purview, until the operation is done. For an operation of this size, ahh… I was told that if the mission exceeds a full year in length, you will then have the opportunity to file for reassignment. Is that all clear?"

Rachael had heard this spiel several times before. Dr. Hillenburg had butchered it. Not badly, but his delivery was hardly verbatim. This was his first time handling an operation. That made "Human Relations" more believable, at least.

"Clear as day, sir."

"Don't call me sir. Call me Dr. Hillenburg." He rubbed some sleep from his eyes. "Alright, down to business. For real. This is Operation Homeward Bound. I have chosen you —" he pointed to Dorer "— because I've worked with you before, and you're a psychologist. I have chosen you —" he pointed to Davidson "— because you're exceptionally competent and you worked at the same site."

Rachael allowed herself a smile.

"That said, I would have preferred a Mobile Task Force, or at least some unassociated agents. You're certainly not my ideal choices. But due to the nature of the anomaly, I have reason to believe that option has been compromised."

Dorer creased his brow.

Hillenburg continued: "In other words, I don't doubt that you're going to find this mission very, very difficult. But I have no one better to go to. You're getting in on the ground floor for knowledge of an unregistered anomaly — URA-1902."

Hillenburg threw out some pictures, which Rachael and Dorer then leaned forward to look at.

There was a painfully nondescript building in the middle of a forest, surrounded by rubble, with a fence busted through, possibly by some large vehicle? There were images of dead bodies, of men in hazmat(?) suits with limbs bent backwards or missing, and of large, oily cords extending into the wilderness. Finally, there was an image of a gutted pregnant lady, with wires going into her stomach.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately), the most notable response anyone gave was Dorer, who said "ew", and then leaned comfortably back in his chair.

"This is the aftermath of Incident-URA-1902. Be sure not to show these pictures to anyone, we're not sure of their effects, but rest assured I have chosen both of you because of your abnormally high memetic resistances. You, Dorer, have a natural resistance, due to your field of psychology and dabbling in neuroscience. You, Davidson, we're not as sure…"

Rachael held eye contact.

"… but some people are just like that. In fact, that's what you're here to figure out. You're not the only members of Operation Homeward Bound, but you're our unexpected field agents. Basically, don't worry, you won't be investigating all this carnage." Hillenburg gathered the photos back into his file. "The task force that was directly involved with the incident, the bodies you see in those suits, they all died. All but one."

Hillenburg tossed out a roster for "Working Man", and then zoned in on a certain Agent Vernon Auburn LaFerrier.

"Hey, Vernon Auburn LaFerrier. We've got a guy here named —"

"Victor Adam LaFerrier. Yes. I can assure you it's not a coincidence. URA-1902 used to be the building and surrounding area. Now, we believe that that anomaly is neutralized — that's a different investigation going on. But URA-1902, now…

"The designation of URA-1902 has been transferred to Agent LaFerrier."

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