The switchboard lights blinked slowly. Impossibly slowly. Like a dying man’s heartbeat. Just like it had for the last 5 hours and 44 minutes. He shifted his gaze to the digital clock perched on the console. 11:29 AM glared back at him. This had been a slow night. There had only been one report, an agent calling at 6:30 AM because their uniform had gone missing. Phillip had wanted so badly to give them an earful, but, doing anything other than dutifully taking down the report was above his pay grade.
Phillip’s shift would be over soon. Well, maybe. If Rogers decided to show up on time. Lazy prick was always sleeping in. Atleast he still had an hour left on his tape of talk radio he recorded at home. That should last until he showed. If he ever did.
2,000 miles to the west, a researcher picked up a phone and hastily dialed, their hands unsteady.
“Thank you for calling. Please state your name and identification.” The operator intoned.
“This is—uh, shit, umm—This is research associate Jordin. Access code, uh, J6-Z8 Sigma 4,” They said, audibly shaken. “Get me Incident Reports. Now, please.”
“Thank you. Have a nice day!” Said the operator, brightly.
At Phillip’s desk, the red phone began to ring. He jumped. It was deafeningly loud. On a large map of the United States overhead, a red light began to shine above the words LAS CRUCES, NM. He picked up the phone and heard babbling before it even reached his ear.
“...This is Las Cruces! Incident Reports, are you there? Please respond!”
“Speaking. Do you have an incident to—”
“Our instruments are going crazy out here! Some of them are still down, but uh, Something big is happening. Not far north, I think. About, uh, maybe 3 minutes ago there was a seismic shock and we’re still recovering. Seismograph says about 4.3.” The voice blurted out.
Phillip could barely understand their rushed tones. “Please repeat. Seismic shock? What are your instrument saying specifically?”
“The cross-dimensional interference level is 36 times above background.” The researcher continued in a more collected tone. “Huge amounts of non-Aristotelian energy is flowing from a location north-northeast of this listening station. This may be another Threshold event. Please acknowledge.”
“Acknowledged. Do you have anything else to report?” He said flatly.
“Uh, Communications needs to get on this ASAP. A-and a unit of rangers. Whatever’s happening up there, it looks like it could be bad.”
“Acknowledged. Thank you for your report.”
Phillip hung up the phone. He sat in silence for a moment. Was this really happening? A real life AWE, or seven omething bigger? He couldn’t fumble this. Not now.
The room’s fax machine suddenly hummed to life. Two sets of instrumentation readouts, sent from the Las Cruces station.
Dr. Casper Darling sipped his morning coffee. A dozen or so documents were spread out messily on his desk. He was carefully scanning each of them in turn, looking for some sort of connection. A number of small-scale containment breaches had been giving them all headaches for the last couple of weeks. While most of the items had been recovered with no casualties to speak of, one of them damn things still eluded them. Darling was almost certain that these events had to be linked, somehow. A bunch of nearly-harmless Altered Items don’t just go missing within 17 days without a reason. And yet, the compilation of reports and interviews sitting on his desk still brought him no closer to the answer.
His musings were interrupted by staccato knocks on the door.
“Mail!” Came a muffled voice.
“Not now, Kaci. Bring it later.” He replied distractedly.
“It’s marked as urgent, sir.” She said.
“Alright come in,” He said with a hint of annoyance. “Who’s it from?”
“Incident Reports, over in the Containment sector.”
“Thanks Kaci, if anymore comes you know where to find me.” He said after a moment.
She placed the yellow envelope on his desk and left quickly, surely off on some other errand.
Darling opened the envelope and took out the first page. His eyes were drawn to the subject line: POSSIBLE AWE IN PROGRESS – LAS CRUCES NM – URGENT. Even more alarming, copies had apparently been sent to both Director Trench and Head of Operations Marshall. Maybe this really was serious, he thought. It wouldn’t be the first time some alarmist had sent him a bunch of nothing.
He took out the next page, a compilation of instrument readings from several of the Bureau’s regular pieces of monitoring equipment. He saw graphs spiked far beyond any reasonable level of safety. Paranatural energy detected on almost all wavelengths. This was, to put it mildly, very big. And it was happening at this very moment in the New Mexican desert. He went back to reading the report proper: “Attached readings apparently emanate 30 to 35 miles north-northeast of field office. Suggest immediate Ranger deployment and communications blackout until situation understood.”
While Black Mesa and the Bureau didn’t exactly have any direct competition (the FBC was far too secretive for that), plenty of the Bureau big-shots were certainly annoyed about the teams at Black Mesa siphoning off researchers here and there, with promises of better health insurance and pension benefits.
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