Genre: Spy Thriller
Self Publication Date: unknown
Shane and Kayla Kassander are newly married academics, masters of esoteric subjects with absolutely zero market value. They’ll take any job, so long as they end up in the same city together, even if those jobs involve industrial sabotage, blackmail, and the theft of state secrets. They can’t complain. The money is good, and a job is a job in this economy.
Pizza boxes arrived promptly at 7 PM. Most did not contain pizza.
They were carried by someone who looked very much like a deliveryman, but wasn’t.
He’d packed the boxes himself, a few hours before. Six cardboard boxes Velcroed into an insulated delivery bag. Nothing inside the bag required insulation.
His destination was a room at the top of a barrel-shaped building directly off campus. The room looked very much like an apartment, but wasn’t. At the door, he dialed in a code, and the electrical lock clicked open. Deliverymen were not supposed to have a code, it was customary to stop them at the door. This was not a deliveryman.
The man with the bag strode across faded blue carpeting to the elevators. One opened without being called, and he stepped in. The doors slid closed, the elevator did not ascend.
The man set down his bag carefully, and extended his hand. Another hand gripped it. The hand wore a class ring, and belonged to a man just a little too old to be a college student. For a moment, the two men sized each other up inside the motionless metal box.
“You’re Quant, then?” Said the man with the bag.
Quant nodded, “And you must be Perry.”
“This week I am,” said the man with the bag. His name was not Perry.
Quant examined the bag carefully, “I’m impressed you fit it all in there.” He said.
“This operation is going to be pretty light,” Perry explained, “If I’m here past June 6th, I’m gonna shoot myself.”
Quant jabbed the number “11” on the elevator keypad. The elevator began to climb.
“You don’t like Madison?” Quant said, slightly injured.
“Well,” Perry explained, “When I took this job I imagined they’d be shipping me off to Izmir or Rangoon or wherever, not West Bumbleton, Wisconsin.”
“This is the state capitol, you know.” Quant shot back.
“Shit like this isn’t supposed to happen here.” Perry said. What “This” was was obvious.
“It’s the 21st century.” Quant replied, “Shit happens everywhere now.”
The elevator doors opened, Perry reshouldered his bag, and the pair walked to a room at the end of the hall. There was nothing special about the door. Quant unlocked it, but Perry entered first.
The room was distinctly out of place in a neat, padded, student apartment. It was the same size and shape as a typical apartment, but without the expected furniture, wallpaper, or carpet. Beyond the door there was bare concrete, empty card tables, and a battery of complex electronics blinking quietly in one corner. There was no chair. This was not a room in need of a pizza delivery.
Perry placed his delivery bag on top of one of the card tables. He removed the boxes one by one, each was emblazoned with the logo of a nonexistent pizza chain.
“Brief me on the general developments since Wednesday.” Perry said. He flipped open the first box, which contained a half-dozen pistols, Zip-Tied neatly into cardboard.
“Well, the last of the data from the Daya Bay Antineutrino experiment came in on Friday,” Quant explained, “But it’s not like the folks on campus have been waiting up, they’ve been building on their own for at least a month.”
“And they’ve finished?” Perry asked. The second box contained parts for a submachine gun.
“We think so, yes.” Quant said. “Understand we won’t know for sure until someone powers the device, at which point everyone on the planet’s gonna know they’ve got one.”
“An E.L.F.-L.O.R.D.” Perry said.
“Right,” Quant replied. The third box contained bullets of various calibers and an external hard drive.
“Do the academics have any idea what they’ve gotten their hands on?” Perry asked. The fourth box contained cameras and microphones, some smaller than a grain of rice.
“Not really, no.” Quant said. Perry looked like he needed clarification. Quant continued, “I mean, understand, folks in various fields have had this idea for a while now, but it’s all been theoretical until May of this year…we didn’t expect someone to actually go and build one.”
“I get it, I get it.” Perry said. The fifth box contained an assortment of tools, including three cellular phones, a soldering kit, and a handful of things only Quant could identify. Some of these things were illegal in the United States, and some were only legal because the government wasn’t aware they existed yet.
“And we can’t build one of our own?” Perry asked.
“Darling says no.” Quant said, as he reached for one of the legal-but-unknown devices inside the fifth box.
“What the hell does Darling know.” Perry said. It wasn’t really a question.
“A hell of a lot more than you.” Quant answered, “She wants to be briefed by the end of the evening.”
“It.” Perry corrected.
Quant continued: “We’re not sure how they’re inducing some of the superconductor effects, to say nothing of how they’re actually producing the neutrinos, and they’re storing all their data on some antiquated, disconnected system, which we can’t exactly hack, and that’s a good thing cause if we could, then the Cobra would be…”
“You talk too much for this job.” Perry said, “Let me worry about the Cobra.”
He opened the sixth box, this contained a large pepperoni pizza from a joint near the capitol, Perry had bought it on his way in. It was cold now, but Perry was hungry.
“I was expecting explosives or dollar bills or something relevant.” Quant said.
“That’s the nice thing about working this job now as opposed to 20 years ago,” Perry said, “You don’t have to carry around a bunch of cash, it’s all play money now.”
Quant took a slice of pizza without asking. Perry did not seem to mind. He took a slice of his own. “What’s the plan now, el capitan?” he asked.
“Commander will be fine.” Perry corrected, “We’re gonna need at least one volunteer, but I’ve got a man in the field who’s already found a good one.”
“Are we expecting opposition?” Quant asked.
“Yes.” Perry said, “I can confirm that. The Cobra are crawling all over this.”
“Sucks for our volunteer.” Quant said. His slice was already gone.
“She’ll be alright.” Perry said. He took a cellular phone from the fifth box, and idly flipped it open.
“This could get really messy.” Quant said, “The political situation in this town is tense, lots of civilians in the streets, nightly protest marches…and of course, everyone in the world is gonna want the E.L.F.-L.O.R.D. once they know about it.”
“Once they know about it.” Perry said, “The trick is to get there first.”
The sickly glow of the cellphone screen lit Perry’s face. He hadn’t shaved for a few days, and was wearing street clothes, but Quant nevertheless knew he had been assigned to the command of an immensely capable man.
“Do you know what the problem is Quant?” Perry asked, then continued without waiting for a response, “100,000 years ago nobody knew each other, so anyone with half a brain and some muscle could imagine himself king of everything…The Man, if you will. Now we’re all mushed together, but most people still think they’re The Man, and they’ll do anything to protect that station, however imaginary.”
“Uh huh.” Quant said, reaching for another piece of pizza.
Perry flipped out a pocket knife, and cut a pistol free from the first box.
“So everyone wants our little bit of Tech, but I’m gonna get it. Do you know why?”
Quant thought for a moment, then said, “Because you are, in fact, The Man.”
“That’s right.” Perry said, as he took the largest slice of his pizza. “I am The Man.”