The Punchline Is Murder

It started, as all good stories do, like a bad joke: A junior researcher, a director, a technician, a pataphysicist, an MTF agent, and a site security guard walk into a cafeteria.

The junior researcher buys lunch from the cafeteria vending machine. After a short but fierce struggle, a single coffee bar clumsily clanks out.

The director has brought food from home. A tangy citrus aroma briefly fills the air as he reheats his orange chicken in the dirty microwave.

The technician taps her computer impatiently, gulping down jasmine tea with abandon.

The pataphysicist sits quietly across from the junior researcher. It seems he's waiting for the exposition to end.

The MTF agent keeps a tight gaze over the 5 others in the room. As he watches the security guard slowly and methodically make his way up to the front of the room, he senses something is wrong. He stammers out "Wait!" as…

The security guard unholsters his gun and splatters himself across the cafeteria floor.



Al was close enough to be half-deafened by the shot, and the first to react. Orange chicken abandoned, he stumbled away from the newfound corpse of the security guard, cursing and screaming.

Across the room, Stella vomited tea across her computer in horror. Erin, coffee bar still in mouth, rushed over to help her before she added further to the growing pool of bodily fluids on the ground.

Caleb, having realized the tense change signalled the end of the expository section, carefully made his way towards the body. When he got there, Salazar's task force issue quarantine assistant was already rolling around, scanning for evidence.

"Scan Complete." it hummed. "5 anomalous influences detected."

The room was quiet as Salazar contemplated the analysis.

"F-five?" Caleb managed to get out.

Salazar seemed unconcerned. "It's probably just one effect, these readers are always a bit scuffed inside Sites. The other four are likely trace residue from any past anomalies handled here." Salazar inputted a quick set of commands into the robot.

"5 anomalous influences detected:"
"TECHNOHAZARD detected."
"ZERO2HERO detected."
"KETER THREAT detected."
"AVIAN FLU detected."
"EIGENVECTOR detected."

"Avian flu?" Stella hazarded. "That isn't exactly an anomaly."

"Code for a nasty semiohazard. Trust me, you literally don't want to know." Erin explained.

"They're all codes, for anomalies in this facility." Al quickly pointed out. "TECHNOHAZARD is that USB, the one on Wing 8 with the techno-organic virus on it."

All eyes turned to Stella in morbid curiosity. "Converts your veins into wires. Nasty stuff, but Safe."

Al continued. "ZERO2HERO is one of Caleb's. Something about artificial protagonistic potential?"

"Fatal, but cool while it lasts." Caleb shrugged.

"KETER THREAT is…" Al looked around, a little embarrassed. "A pen-knife that thinks it's a gerbil. It's harmless and cute. It's extremely Safe." At the other four's incredulous looks, he quickly moved on. "And EIGENVECTOR is -"

"Confidential." Salazar affirmed.


Stella considered the possibilities in her head. "Well, we can rule some of these out right away. Whatever hit him couldn't have been the virus. He would be a mess of metal right now." She turned to Al. "Not exactly a knife wound, either."

Caleb and Erin nodded their heads in agreement, but Salazar shifted uncomfortably. "Let's not make any assumptions. I'll call in a cleanup crew — they'll deal with this." He pulled a black cover from his bag over the dead body. "You guys watch over the body while I'm gone."

The dead's dignity adequately preserved, he treaded towards the doors. But as he placed his hand on the handle, a sudden, blaring alarm sounded. Out of instinct, he dodged away. With all the grace of a heavy metal gate, the blast-proof cafeteria door seal fell into place, just missing Salazar. All heads turned towards Caleb, who had discreetly made his way over to an electrical wall panel. A single one-way switch entitled EMERGENCY LOCKDOWN was depressed.

A cacophony of curses and incredulity quickly arose.
"What are you doing!?"
"Caleb what the fuck?!"
"Young man!"
"You nearly took my head off!"

Caleb was unimpressed. "Guys, calm down. I can explain exactly what we're dealing with."

The room was thoroughly uncalmed by this declaration.

"Think about it. One victim. Five survivors to a crime, in an enclosed space. Five possible murder weap-."

Al cut him off. "What the hell are you talking about? Stella, you brought your laptop with you, right? Can you send out an emergency call on SCiPnet?"

Five pairs of eyes fell upon the laptop. It was still dripping jasmine tea from Stella's earlier mishap. Stella gingerly pressed the power button, only for the screen to spit out a technicolor yawn of its own. "No."

A confident smile crept up Caleb's face. "See? I noticed the narrative shift as soon as I sat down in the cafeteria. We're in a story. And…" He paused smugly for the grand reveal. "It follows that one of us, in this very room, killed our man." Eyeing Salazar suspiciously, he added. "And would be in quite a hurry to leave."

Salazar considered the implicit accusation. "That's a bold claim, chico. But what could possibly motivate any of us to kill the poor bastard?" He turned to Al for support, but the Director seemed deep in thoughts of his own.

Caleb's eyes glinted. "Ah, that's for us to find out. Because the genre of this story…" He paused, again, for emphasis.

"Is murder mystery."



SCiPIAM Employee Database

Username: EStresemann
Title: Other
Age: 24
Role: Junior Researcher
Access: Tier 2 (+E)
Site History: 8 (Cur.) | 63 | 106 (T)
Supervisor: Elias LaFin
Disciplinary: N/A
Motive: ???
Evidence: ???
Alibi: ???

SCiPIAM Employee Database



"Do you believe him?" Stella queried. Their small group was now split into 3. Stella and Erin were sitting at a table, as far away from the body as possible. At the cafeteria door, Salazar and Al were attempting in vain to break the seal by force. Caleb remained near the electrical panel, gleefully scribbling something on a notepad.

Stella stared at Erin. For having worked together for the better part of two years, she realized she didn't know much about them at all. She'd tried to get closer to them ever since they met on the advisory committee for that chain email cognitohazard, but never seemed to find the right words to say. A life or death situation is as good a time as any to get to know someone, I suppose. Her train of thought derailed as Erin began their answer.

"His theory doesn't make any sense. We all saw the guy off himself. And even if it was something compulsive, the "murder weapons" don't line up with that. But…" Erin looked up. "It'll take a while before site security notices something's wrong. And even longer after that to bust down that door. Might as well play along for now."

"Hm. I suppose there's no harm in it." There was a short silence. "Who do you think did it?" Stella asked, a bit too eagerly. Seeing Erin's shock, she backtracked. "I-I mean, hypothetically, of course."

Erin didn't answer, but their eyes wandered to the door.



Salazar's boot connected again with the steel gate. "GOD! DAMNIT! MOVE!" He panted heavily, exhausted from the effort. Al put a hand on Salazar's shoulder and wordlessly offered him some water. Salazar gratefully took a swig.

Al broke the silence. "We have to tell them."


"We can't just hide it forever."

"Telling them will just cause more problems. The boy will take it as confirmation for his lunatic theory. And who knows what the other two will do with the information."

"They're not stupid. They'll figure it out eventually, and then we'll look untrustworthy for hiding it."

"Enough. We're not going to tell them about EIGENVECTOR."

"Watch your tone. We're not at 36 anymore — I outrank you now."

Salazar gritted his teeth. He leaned in closer to Al, voice dropping to a whisper. "Don't forget I'm covering your ass about Aaron right now. If we're going to tell them about EIGENVECTOR, we might as well tell them just how well you knew señor corpse, no?"

Al seethed at the threat, but no one would be told about MTF Mu-12's little eigenweapon today.



… But Caleb already had a pretty good idea. The final, unrevealed anomaly tying everything together… some sort of top secret device — a literal plot device! He laughed at the thought. Everything was falling into place, and Caleb was in his element. He knew his giggling and note-taking made him look more suspicious, but he couldn't help it. It had taken years of scoffed-at patatheory, but he had finally entered the narrative.

And he was about to tell one hell of a tale.


To be continued! | Waiting Game »

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