Number 24, Security Breach

Grey sighed to himself as the night idled on.

He’d been sitting in his car for the past hour, watching as the sky above the suburban street faded to black. At least before he’d been able to watch the neighbourhood kids play hockey on a nearby lawn, but now even they had gone inside to their various homes. Now there was just the symphony playing over the radio, the occasional car pulling into a driveway, and the odd few dogs howling to the moon.

19:50. Five minutes to go.

Grey noticed a figure approaching in his rear-view mirror. Shifty, to say the least; black fedora tilted down to hide the face, black coat, black pants… obviously trying to stay unseen at night. They even had a black scarf wrapped around their face. Grey reached for his handgun; were they looking for him?

A block away, the figure crossed to the other side of the road. They didn’t go much further before turning onto the driveway of a clearly abandoned house – marked by the wholly unkempt lawn and unlit windows – then passing through a gate into its backyard.

Grey checked the time again; one minute to go. He briefly wondered if he should finish his job early, in case he was supposed to be doing this to stop the figure; but the last time he worked ahead of schedule…

The alarm on his watch went off. He silenced it, grabbed the pipe bomb sitting on the passenger’s seat, and stepped out into the night. There was a faint odour of petrol and oil in the air; Grey took a moment to check it wasn’t coming from his car, then crossed the road and approached the abandoned house.

STEP 18/240

The house at 23 Townend, Presteigne has a Way in their yard. Destroy it at precisely 19:55 local time on April 10, no sooner, no later.

Step successful; Way destroyed. Figure seen by executing agent believed to be culprit.

Benjamin swore as he swerved his car to the right, narrowly dodging a pick-up that had decided to try cut him off.

It took him a minute to get the car back under control as it careened left and right down the stretch of highway, the momentum of 200 kilometres per hour punishing him for changing direction; but experience in similar situations had taught him not to oversteer, enabling him to get all four wheels back on the road.

The red and blue lights reflected in every mirror blinded him; the sirens were deafening. He pushed the accelerator further down, watching as the speedometer rocketed up.

210… 220… 230…

He didn’t have enough time. The journey was impossible. Forty-five minutes to cross four-hundred kilometres? Nothing short of a jet engine on wheels could make it by land.

But he didn’t have a choice. The USB in his pocket pressed against his leg, reminding him of its presence. It felt far, far heavier than it truly was – physically, at least. Metaphorically…

Benjamin glanced at the dashboard clock; 7:30. Fifteen minutes gone – thirty to go. He pushed the pedal as far as he could, but the speedometer – roughly half-way between 330 and 340 km/h – went no higher; only the revs per minute increased, but even they were struggling to advance now.

A look in the mirror revealed the police were finally letting off, the patrollers shrinking behind, their lights turned off. Benjamin relaxed slightly; it was the –

He swerved to the right, trying to dodge the road train as it pulled onto the highway ahead of him. The passenger side scrunched like wet tissue paper. The world instantly changed to a blur of green and blue, then grey. Glass fragments pelted Benjamin’s face, blinding him. Gravity spun.

It took a full minute – a minute of endless tumbling, sudden jerks and the screech of folding metal – before the ruined vehicle finally wrapped itself around a tree too stubborn to give in. Benjamin simply hung from his seatbelt, upside-down, his mission totally torn from his mind. If his nostrils hadn’t been filled with his own blood, he might’ve smelt the petrol, coolant and engine oil.

Someone – he couldn’t hear anything over the ringing – patted him down. Before he could react, they’d reached into his pocket and taken the USB.

Benjamin neither saw nor heard the burning-hot engine oil mix with the petrol, but he did feel it.

Step 18/240

Send an Alpha-Class to retrieve the USB device in Locker 14 of Storage Site 24 on April 10 at 07:15, local time. They must transport the USB device to Locker 24 of Storage Site 45 by 08:00 that day. Do not permit them to use any paranormal means to do so. Make no attempt to protect or assist them.

This transferral was never completed; the dispatched Alpha-Class was killed in a collision at 07:30. The USB device is believed to have been lost in the ensuing fire.

‘That’s it? Just… put whatever’s in the text into the program?’

‘That’s it.’

Lianne gave the agent a puzzled look, then shrugged. ‘Alright, whatever.’

‘Good. I’ll be back in one minute.’

The door swung closed behind the agent, leaving Lianne alone in the cubicle. Both the computer and the airconditioner hummed quietly.

‘Might’se well see what this thing does…’ she mumbled, opening up the USB’s program in a code editor. She was shocked at how simple it was; all it did was add a phrase to the start of a defined document.

That’s it.

Ignoring her confusion, she picked up the outdated Nokia on her desk, and glanced at the solitary text message it had received.

The sentence immediately burned itself into her mind. She felt it – not the words, but the meaning behind them – reacting to her thoughts, grabbing at everything that came to mind and clinging to them with an unholy force. She knew she should’ve known better; nothing was ever so simple. Lianne highlighted the phrase ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ in the program, typed in a new message, saved, and closed.

She turned at the sound of the door opening, but nobody was there.

A gunshot went off. The second shot got her in the leg. The third, the head.

STEP 18/240

Send an Alpha-Class to retrieve the USB from Locker 14 and the container from Locker 15 of Storage Site 24 no later than April 10, 06:45 local time.

The Alpha-Class must replace the phrase ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ in the program on the USB with the contents of the text message on the phone in the container. No-one but the Alpha class is to see the phone nor the program.

If the Alpha-Class does not acknowledge the phone afterwards, dispose of them and deposit the USB into Locker 14 no later than 07:00 that day.

‘Are you alright Adrienne?’

She looked up from the terminal. ‘Just nerves.’

Researcher Joe nodded sympathetically. ‘Infohazards tend to give newbies the jitters, even with all the precautions. If you don’t think you’re ready…’

‘No, no, I’ll… I’ll be fine,’ she lied.

‘If you’re sure.’

Joe stepped over to the other researcher’s terminal, checking over what they had written. Adrienne went over everything she’d been taught about infohazards in her head – how to combat them, what this one in particular did, how to kill it. Everything the Foundation had equipped her with, to help her stay safe in this new, terrifying field she had volunteered for.

‘Alright,’ Joe said, ‘We’re all ready. Edward, please tell the D-class to read the paper in front of them, and we’ll get started on the tests.’

This was it. Several keystrokes echoed in the small room, then a brief silence fell. Adrienne reached for the iPhone in her pocket.

A line of text appeared on their monitors – the response from the D-class. Adrienne felt it burn into her mind the moment she saw it, felt it tug at every chaotic thought passing through her fearful mind. It begged for comparison. It forced her to compare.

The first thing it took was her passcode. The second was her career.

STEP 18/240

There is a sheet of paper in Locker 15 of Storage Site 24. Write the following onto the blank side, then deliver it to the Beta-Class operative undercover at Foundation Site-55 by April 9, 20:00, local time.

DeCIRO Catalogue Number: CO-18/274-003

Document Type: Covert Operations

Author: Covert Operations Overseer Number 24

You are hereby mobilised for operation. On April 10 you will be testing what you know as 'Non-Standard Designation "TYRFING"'. When you are exposed to it, send a description of it to the number on the reverse of this note. Ensure the message is sent by 06:45.

Destroy this document once memorised.

Delta Command has never assigned any Covert Operations Overseers.

Dial tone.


‘I’d like to make a long-distance call, area code two-four-oh-nine.’

‘That area has a one-hundred-and-seventy-three dollar surcharge, do you wish to proceed?’

‘Yes. Number five-oh-nine-six, three-three-eight-two.’


A pause.


‘Hello! My name is Sheni Arba, I’d like to report a robbery.’

‘Can you tell me what items were stolen?’

‘A walking stick. Belonged to my grandfather – it was his favourite before he lost his mind, now he can’t even recognise it.’

‘Anything else?’

‘Nothing else. They tried to take a frog statue, but a friend managed to take it off them.’

‘I see. Where did this occur?’

‘The neighbour’s house, next door to mine. Downstairs of One Alef drive, North Manhattan.’

‘Were your neighbours able to pursue?’

‘No, their car was torched. Nobody saw them properly, either.’

‘Unfortunate. I will inform the sergeants and we will see about getting back that walking stick for you. I advise you to relax in the meanwhile.’

‘Thank you, constable.’

‘Mr. Arba?’

‘Yes, sir?’

‘I didn’t say I was a constable.’


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