OK; access to scientific types who understood the mechanisms behind the memes would be very handy – but whoever was behind them would simply come up with some other attack and had the entire Manifold to hide in. Searching a near-infinite space would have been impossible even with a decent description to go on – and all they had was “intelligent and hostile”. They needed to trace the attacks back.
Fortunately, the memes were such a useful weapon that the attackers seemed unlikely to give them up without a fight. That meant they’d be launching direct attacks against the scientists – and THAT meant that they might be able to trace those attacks back.
So; Dr Samson was the next most likely target, and the assassin they’d caught at MIT probably had some backup somewhere. Probably more strength-and-durability enhanced combat cyborgs with either low-detectability weapons or really heavy stuff and a general military bearing. The local authorities would be on their tails quickly enough too.
Jamie started prepping her weapons, while Kevin called in the six most recent thralls from the Linear Realms to take along: they should have reasonably current ID’s there, know the ground, and be able to help with the information gathering. Those and his usual companions should be plenty.
They needed a distinctive, familiar, place for the gate. That meant – hm – the old mans apartment, the MIT campus, or zeroing in on either the one thrall at the transport hub or the two he’d sent to protect Dr Samson at the NIMH. The two thralls he’d dispatched to NIMH had made it there in time, and had intercepted one fellow who’d matched the assassin-profile – but the local FBI had arrived to take Dr Samson into custody just a few minutes ago. It hadn’t seemed smart to disagree with them at the time. Well, that was fair enough: the locals were going to need the meme information too. He’d probably be at the local office, it was probably one of the safer places they had. They’d almost certainly taken his files and such as well.
After a few moments of debate, they settled on NIMH; the assassins would still be on the hunt there.
They wound up with the two thralls at a truck dock behind a large building. Kevin sent off the six local thralls to gather intelligence and the group set off to lurk around the local FBI office and look for anyone who seemed to be setting up to hit the place. The office was an older building, 12 stories tall, occupying much of the block, and looking like it hadn’t been remodeled in decades or centuries. There was a fairly steady flow of people – probably agents – coming and going.
Marty thought that the front would definitely be well-fortified. Stone facing and glass windows all the way up. A couple of greek columns thrown in for decor. Of course, his favorite access route was through the sewers. Not an option in this case though.
Jamie felt that hitting a secure federal installation would bring a heavily armed response in a matter of a couple of minutes at most. Her option would be to slip in through a loading dock.
Marty thought that sounded like a good idea, but wasn’t sure where he could find a bit enough Trojan Crate.
Kevin had to remind them that they weren’t attacking; they were just looking to intercept anyone who tried it.
They went to the back of the building to look for loading docks then. Hopefully the Terminator (Hm. Did that qualify as meme in itself?) wouldn’t come in the front while they were looking.
There were docks around the back, with spaces for several trucks – but there was only one there now. Marty skulked over because he was just that good, while Kevin sent Gerald as a squirrel.
The truck was being loaded with crates and boxes labelled “Research Materials”. The truck itself was a Coca-Cola truck.
That didn’t seem right. The FBI might load a truck with research materials, but why would they use a coca-cola truck? Gerald wasn’t finding any bodies or other signs of disturbance though. Maybe just a cover? Gerald managed to listen in on one of the loaders asking where the stuff was being shipped to – but the man was only told not to ask such questions.
Kevin quietly used Witchfire to dissolve the tires. That would stall things a bit – and caused quite a bit of consternation on the docks as soon as it was discovered. An agent came out to take a look before he placed a call. THAT was easy enough to listen in on.
“I need another truck sent to the office now.”
“The tires dissolved on the truck.”
“I don’t know how, but the big guy is getting upset.”
“Tell him to stuff it! We aren’t under their authority. We will get the stuff shipped when we can, and they are going to have to accept that.”
“Well, I still can’t tell how official this is – and why are they so bent on moving the stuff? It’s not like someone is going to hit up a major Federal building. they would have to be insane to try a stunt like that.”
“Well he seems to think whoever or whatever is behind this qualifies as a massive national security threat.”
“Tell him the military has no jurisdiction over law enforcement matters and that we have this under control.”
“Sounds like you are going to have to get the higher ups in Washington involved in order to straighten this out.”
“I would rather not have to call the Director over a jurisdiction mess though.”
“Well you are going to have to, this is over our heads now.”
“Alright, fine, I’ll see what I can do. Bye.”
Well, it looked like it might have been official anyway. Kevin sent Daniel around to the front with a datapad delivery of the data on the speeches and a few other memes for Dr Samson to see how they reacted to that. It sounded like the meme threat was considered military, and was being turned over to military jurisdiction. It didn’t look like an attack or manipulation yet.
The delivery caused quite a stir – enough so that Daniel could easily slip away while the agents at the desk were checking it out. It would be confusing enough when they interrogated the would-be assassin and got his description of the two weird kids who’d stopped him. They had Gerald – still being a squirrel – plant a few tracers on the stuff in the truck while the frontal delivery caused a distraction.
So: they had a sitting target in a known location, with reinforcements on the way, but not yet on the spot. If there was going to be an attempt to take out Dr Samson and/or the FBI office, it was going to be soon. If there wasn’t a hit here, the next most likely place would be wherever they got their research project together – and locating that would probably be a job for Marty if anything went wrong with those tracers.
They found a building down the block that was undergoing renovations and set up a nice little safehouse / stakeout there – intending to sit tight until either the place was attacked or the FBI finished loading their truck and prepared to ship it and/or Dr Samson out.
Jamie didn’t think much of going on stakeout while assassins were sneaking around, but there wasn’t much choice: while they wanted to go offensive against whoever was SENDING assassins – to who’s location and identity they had no clue. Ergo, look for assassins and try to trace them back to whoever was actually using the memes – although it might be that Isane (the meme-engineer who had disappeared) had left this reality and this was all just a side issue.
Another van turned up about three hours later: unmarked, standard design, plain white, looked like it could be used for just about any business. Two people in the front, more in the back. The agents at the docks signaled each other, pulled weapons, and moved to intercept.
Well, if there was a battle, they’d help the FBI and try to obtain some clues. If the van left with the research materials, they’d trace it. If Dr Samson left, they’d find out where he was being taken and look for assassins. If assassins did show up, they’d try to catch them and find out who was sending them.
About then, the people in the van shot the agent who was waving them off and piled out to rush the loading dock. Lots of weapons and not much worry about the counterfire from the agents.
Kevin and the Thralls provided a fullisade of covering fire while Jamie and Marty (with his closing speed boosted by his own thralls) moved in, then followed. The thralls might not be all that accurate – but their weapons were powerful enough to have some effect, if not as much as the group would have hoped. The FBI types weren’t as lucky or as tough: they were going down pretty quickly. At least the attackers were pretty shocked by Jamie and Marty’s melee abilities and durability – even if they did bleed black stuff rather than blood. It looked like oil, but flowed more like water. An oily smell? Excellent; they were probably the same type as the previous possible assassin had been. The melee started getting messy…
Meanwhile, the FBI types were taking better cover. Even if their weapons weren’t doing much more than distracting the attackers, they weren’t taking so many hits themselves. Kevin wasn’t much for melee, but he managed to detonate a lot of the attackers weapons. That slowed the attack, but wasn’t enough to stop it; four of the attackers were dealing with Jamie and Marty while the last two waded through the gunfire to get inside.
Kevin deployed the reserves – the two local thralls – to try and hold up the advance while Marty’s friends levitated the ones without weapons. Even levitating them didn’t stop them entirely – they were strong enough to throw their SHOES with considerable effect – but it certainly slowed them up. He and his companions started working on saving the FBI casualties: with Core medical kits and healing psionics most of them would recover.
Inside, the two thralls and the FBI were holding the last two, with Kevin and company healing their way in from behind. The place was one hell of a mess though. At least it was an easy path to follow… Kevin focused on disarming the pair that the thralls and the FBI were pinning down – and then on roasting them into unconsciousness with the plasma pistols. One good thing: he doubted that whoever’d sent this bunch had seriously considered the possibility of them losing or being captured, so they might have quite a lot of information. He hadn’t really been expecting quite so much firepower.
Of course, the local Director wanted to know just who they were, and what their stake was in this (even if he was grateful for the assistance). While he was willing to wait while the group patched people up – he had to restrain the attackers, notify the police (in case they hadn’t noticed the gunfire and explosions), and call in heavy-duty reinforcements. He also tried to keep himself between the group and the exits. Oh well, the FBI had the prisoners, so they were going to have to trade some explanations for information. Kevin had originally been hoping to just spirit a few away – but that had been assuming relatively normal, if probably meme-infected, human attackers.
Kevin left a couple of thralls on watch while the group spoke with the local Director. If there was another attempt, they’d prefer early warning – unless, of course, the opposition simply blew up the entire block. As they informed the Director, they hadn’t really expected agents of this caliber. The autopsies of the two casualties would probably show massive augmentations or the near-total replacement of many systems.
The Director thought that that was disturbing on many levels – and took them up to see Dr Samson. Samson was pretty nervous despite being in a windowless, highly-secure, room, and got more so when the group confirmed that he was almost certainly the target of the days attack. (Kevin made a note to assign him some long-term bodyguards). The Director told the group what he knew as a courtesy, as thanks for saving lives, and in hopes of a free exchange of information.
It seemed that the locals knew about the subliminal manipulations, had confirmed that Dr Walkins was using the technique in Baltimore, and suspected that several other groups were using the technology as well. Dr Samson was a colleage of Walkins; he and a few other researchers had made extensive studies of such technologies. Two at MIT had gone missing earlier today, apparently moved to a safe house by someone after another attack. Dr Isane had been missing for about the last ten years.
Kevin suspected that they would not be able to locate Dr Isane through normal methods – but could assure the local director that Drs Turner and Faulkner should be safe for the moment. It had seemed prudent to move them – and yes, consultations could be arranged.
Still, it was possible that such contact – or any further information – would simply increase the risks. It was still possible that “they” were only tangentially involved. Still, they might be on the verge of something like Singular.
Well, the Director belonged on the Linear Realms. They’d tell him and see how the information went over. Without proof, anyone he told would simply assume he was crazy anyway.
“Fundamentally, your world is sufficiently explored and technologically oriented to lack easy methods of departure and has few resources available to develop space travel at any reasonable speed. You also have a massive, and very densely packed, population. This has led you to concentrate far more on psychological theory than most realms, leading to considerable advancements in that field, leading to your current problems. For good or ill, that fact has also been discovered by outside forces, involving your world in a considerably larger dispute.”
“I don’t like how this is going.”
“You probably shouldn’t.”
“So, are these outside forces aliens or something?”
“Very few actual aliens have ever been encountered, and most of them are a very long ways away and quite primitive.”
“So humans then, but apparently outside this world. That doesn’t leave a lot of options. So we are either talking extremely advanced ancient civilization that left and has come back or other dimensions. I suppose time travel is another option.”
“Every realm that any human has ever imagined comes into being with that thought. With more thoughts, those realms grow stronger. Your realm came into being approximately four centuries ago, when Core Earth was struggling with population pressures. So many people lived in the great arcologies, that your world has become very strong indeed. Those who imagine here spawn still more worlds. Containing every good and evil mankind can conceive.”
“So alternate dimensions then. Any idea what these people want or how to combat them?”
“What they want is simply human souls: not necessarily for any evil purpose – but because souls to populate worlds and grant them greater reality are the only known resource that cannot be found in near-infinite quantities on a whim. If they can harvest them here, through the destruction of your world, they can bring life to their own realms of desire.”
“Oh joy. And you are right, without proof, no one is going to believe me when I tell this story at all.”
“To combat them, you must preserve your world. To steal souls, they must force a common belief upon them – such as can be imposed through the weaponized memes. The more common factors in belief, lifestyle, experience, emotion, the easier it becomes to harvest souls, rather than having them scatter throught the worlds of the Manifold when their bodies pass away in one world. The weaponized memes are one of the most deadly threats the billions of worlds have ever faced.”
“So: maintain order and keep a lid on things in general to fight this.”
“And I’m sorry, but you did ask, and I will not conceal such things from those who have a right to know if they wish to.”
“I am not sure I believe everything you told me, but you advise trying to maintain control and appear to be fighting whoever is causing this.”
“Now, Dr Samson; I have removed your colleagues to a much more secure realm. However, I am quite willing to share their results. In fact, if a countermeasure can be found, I will be spreading it as quickly and as widely as possible.”
“That would be most helpful, anything would be of great value. I must admit this is very intimidating.”
“In the meantime, the best countermeasure is random static in your mass-broadcast communications systems. I believe you are already implementing this.”
“Yes, although getting everyone to cooperate is proving challenging. It is just a matter of time before high enough authority gets involved to help push. We are going to have to get the other blocs behind this if we are going to have any chance at this though. What good does stopping it here do when the Europeans or Chinese fall to this? I can see this is going to be a trial.”
“Now, if you wish I can show you a few of the worlds. I also recruit of course: unlike the enemy, however, I recruit only those who voluntarily wish to join me after they fully understand what they are getting into.”
“We are going to have to talk to the military, the state department, and the CIA about this. I admit, that will help your case with me if you would at least demonstrate the existence of these worlds.”
“Very well. Dr Samson? You are welcome to come along as well: it should be notably safer than staying here for the moment.”
Hm… First on the tour: Imperial Space. It was nothing if not impressive, and there were lots of gates available there. Core, a fantasy realm or two, and a few others on a whirlwind tour. Not Kadia though, and nowhere within a thousand miles of Drs Turner and Faulkner; it was still possible that Dr Samson was a plant and that the entire attack had been a setup.