Noxious Fumes Fill The Area
rating: +23+x

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Agent Green has not shopped at CostCo since they revoked his membership. Nevertheless, he is now inside a CostCo, although he's not shopping. Which is good, since this particular CostCo isn't in a position to sell anything. That's because it's haunted.

The oneiric weight of a hyper-optimized supply chain maintained by a quarter of a million employees for the benefit of one-hundred million paying members, coupled with the extraordinarily high levels of latent necromantic energy throughout the state of Utah, have allowed the vengeful ghost of Sol Price to manifest in the food court of the Salt Lake City CostCo warehouse. This would not normally be a significant problem, much less one requiring Foundation intervention, except that the specter of the founder of Price Club has begun constructing a war golem out of hot dogs and churros and is threatening to unleash it on the surrounding metropolitan area unless his demands are met.

Agent Green exhales a cloud of smoke, which coalesces into the vague form of a human face. "Plenty of people still call it Price Club."

The smokey visage scowls. "Only people over forty. In another thirty years I'll be completely forgotten."

Green sighs. "Look, I'll talk to management about it, see if the name can be revived for a few locations, but it'll take time. And honestly? Threatening to destroy the city? Not helping your case. CostCo doesn't negotiate with terrorists." And the Foundation doesn't negotiate with anomalies. But Sol Price has proven immune to standard exorcisms, and Analytics suspects he might be the leading edge of a larger spectral incursion, so Green has been tasked with talking the spook down.

"I am not a terrorist. I'm an aggrieved businessman."

"Call yourself whatever you want, it doesn't change the kosher meat golem you've got back there."

The corporate smoke-ghost sputters in protest, but Green is distracted by the junior agent waving for his attention. "Mister Price, I have to step away for a moment, but I want you to give some serious thought to disarmament. It would make things easier for everyone." And it would let him stand-down the MTF waiting outside.

Leaving Sol Price to consider this, Agent Green stalks over to his aide-de-camp, trailing smoke like a steam locomotive.

"This better be good. I was on the verge of a breakthrough there."

The junior agent swallows nervously and salutes. "Sir. Urgent alert from regional command."

"Well?"

"You're being reassigned to lead a new response team, effective immediately. Agent Moore is to take over negotiations."

"Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable. Did they say what this is about?"

"Some anart thing in New York. Apparently Ruiz Duchamp is back, whoever that is."

The end of Green's cigarette curls in on itself as he finishes it off in a single, furious drag. He flicks it aside contemptuously, and, in an astonishing feat of accidental exploitation that goes unnoticed by either agent, manages to launch the butt directly through an undocumented micro-Way.

"Son of a bitch."


The chime of a new message causes Special Agent Kenneth Spencer to look up from the paperwork on his desk. He pulls up his secure email client and frowns as he reads the subject line at the top of his inbox.

ALERT: New Report Generated for Case KALEIDOSCOPE CYCLONE

That must be a mistake. As the lead agent on Kaleidoscope Cyclone, he is notified any time something new is filed under the codeword, but that case has been closed for years. He hasn't thought about it since before he was reassigned to Three Portlands.

He opens the email, frown deepening as he continues to read.

This is an automated APB generated by the FELTFIRE facial recognition system. Suspect RUIZ DUCHAMP, wanted in connection with Case KALEIDOSCOPE CYCLONE, has been sighted in New York City. Facial recognition registers an 87% confidence interval. All agents be advised that suspect is unarmed and dangerous.

87% confidence. It's gotta be a false positive. Spencer opens the attached surveillance photo to check.

It's not a false positive. The long-dead visage of Ruiz Duchamp looks directly at the camera, laughing maniacally. Blotches of frostbite are clearly visible on his face and his right arm, which is raised in an occult and obscene gesture that the UIU's cognitohazard censors have blurred out.

Spencer does not smoke. Nevertheless, in one of those displays of synchronicity that are so common in the weaker reality of Three Portlands, a discarded cigarette butt appears out of thin air and lands in his trash can.

"Son of a bitch."


New York's finest—if you don't count all the things finer than policemen—have locked down the entirety of Battery Park because of a statue. Agent Green may have told them it's part of a terrorist attack, which is technically not a lie. The statue is anomalous, and not just because the man responsible is dead.

Two of the Unusual Incidents Unit's finest are entering the park, and the unfortunate Sergeant tasked with securing the perimeter is about to discover what it's like to be caught in the middle of a surprise jurisdictional dispute between normalcy agencies.

"Special Agent Spencer and Special Agent Sharpe, here to examine the crime scene. We're expected." Spencer holds up his FBI badge, which is augmented with a compliance meme that the UIU uses to compel assistance from local law enforcement. To his right, his current partner does the same. (Special Agent Thorne is unavailable due to their vacation in Moss Vegas, so Spencer has been temporarily paired with a member of the Backdoor SoHo field office.)

The policeman frowns, which is the first sign that something has gone wrong. "That's not what the Homeland Security guy said."

The two agents exchange looks. This is not a normal response to being shown a UIU badge.

"Homeland Security is here? You're sure?"

"Yeah, Agent Greenwald or something. Said we shouldn't let anybody through, and uh, he didn't make any exceptions for you. Sorry."

Spencer nods. He makes a subtle motion to Agent Sharpe, letting her know to get ready for what's about to happen.

"Alright Sergeant, let me tell you how it is. This is an FBI crime scene. Homeland Security has no business being here, and whoever the fuck that is in there is not with them. Now, you're going to let us through so we can deal with this, or Agent Sharpe is going to arrest you for obstructing a federal investigation. You ever been to Rikers? You'll love it there, trust me."

The policeman's gaze flicks between Spencer's badge and face. Sweat begins to bead on his forehead under the strain of conflicting geases. Opening his mouth in a soundless cry, his eyes roll back in his head and he collapses. Mercifully, he doesn't go into an epileptic seizure, which is one of the nastier possible side effects of Cuchulainn syndrome.

"Danny, stay here and make sure he doesn't swallow his tongue. If 'Agent Greenwald' is who I think it is, we should be able to resolve this without any more incidents."

Agent Sharpe crouches down next to the fallen policeman and checks his pulse. "You think it's the skippers?"

"Who else? You can always count on them to meddle at the worst possible time."

Leaving his partner to administer first aid, Spencer strolls across the park towards a statue that wasn't there the day before, and the smoking man who is examining it intently.

"Green."

"Agent Spencer." Agent Green doesn't turn to look at him. "Long way from Three Portlands, aren't you?"

"You know impersonating a federal officer is a crime?"

Green shrugs. "He made an assumption. I never said I was with Homeland Security."

"An assumption aided by an authority meme embedded in your ID?"

Another shrug. "Could be. You know, there's something off about this thing."

Spencer takes a moment to properly assess the statue. It is, on first appearance, a perfect scale model of the Statue of Liberty, but where she would normally be holding a torch, there is instead a massive vape rig. A constant trickle of steam billows from the statue's open mouth, tracing a physics-defying path through the air that spells out the word 'WOWWEE'. There's a plaque mounted on the base, proclaiming the name of the piece and its creator.

"The… 'Statue of Libertoke'?"

"Yeah, it seems out of character for Duchamp."

"Oh, fantastic, we're both after the same guy. Don't tell me you were on Kaleidoscope Cyclone too."

"Is that what your lot call that shitshow in '13?"

"The aftermath, yeah."

"I was on point for the Foundation response. Didn't know you got dropped with the cleanup. Tough break." Green actually has the decency to sound apologetic.

"Would have been easier if you hadn't amnesticized half the Tri-State Area."

"If that was my call, I don't remember it. Most of what happened at that exhibition is still classified above my clearance level, and I was there."

Spencer shakes his head. "Great opsec that. You guys had Duchamp pegged for dead too, right?"

Green nods wordlessly.

"Maybe he came back wrong then. Wronger."

"Could be. We don't know exactly what we're dealing with yet. Could be one of a dozen different types of zombie or revenant. Or a clone. Or Lazarus Gold. Hell, maybe somebody dug up his corpse and is piloting it around with a robotic exoskeleton."

"Time travel," Spencer adds. "Can't rule that out."

"God, I hope not. Fucker was already a pain in the ass when he was constrained to linear time."

"Still, there's a lot of reasons why Duchamp might be acting off-model. Until we know exactly how he came back, we can only speculate."

"Agreed." Green exhales and watches as the smoke mixes with the vape-cloud from the statue. "I say it's time we blow this thing up and be done with it. If Ruiz is really back, there'll be more of these soon enough."

"Wait, how do you know it's not destiny entangled with the real thing? You want to be the one who topples Lady Liberty?"

"I would call that scenario unlikely. But keep an eye on the Frenchwoman and tell me if she falls over."

"Green—" But Spencer is too late to stop Green from giving the statue a solid kick to the chest. All he can do is watch as it falls backwards onto the grass with a thud.

Green cups a hand to his ear in pantomime. "I think we'd have heard the splash from here."

"Fucker. Did you even do an ARad survey first?"

"Nah, but that's a good idea. You can do that for the next one."

"Oh, now you want to cooperate."

"Just recognizing that the Unit is a lot harder to shake these days. Better to have you on the inside pissing out, you know how it is."

"Funny, I was about to say the same thing about you. You want to take this thing or should I have our forensics wizards look at it?"

Green shakes his head. "Help yourself. I'm gonna go take a gander at our friend's grave, see if there's any clues there. I can't shake the feeling that there's something about this that isn't quite right."

"Right. You've got my number, so let me know what you find. If I need to get in touch with you, well…" The UIU agent trails off, aware that there are some things that shouldn't be said out loud to nominal allies.

"It's fine, you can admit you Stingrayed my phone. It's a burner anyways."

"Well, we haven't done it yet, but it should be any minute now. If you get a call from triple-six, that'll be me."

"Subtle."

"Oh fuck off, all your fronts have the same acronym."

"That's a memetic effect and you know it."

"Yeah, whatever. I bet you just do it to save on letterhead costs."

"I can neither confirm nor deny." Green flicks the stub of his cigarette into the grass with the reckless disregard of a hardened nihilist. "I'm out. Assuming neither of us finds anything demanding an urgent response, I'll be at the Times Square Olive Garden around 4 tomorrow. Up to you what you do with that."

"You paying?"

"On my salary? Fat chance."

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