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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. Case Files: Crowdsourced

Case # 02-217846930-01-36

Lead Investigator: Agent Cerise

Supervisor: Agent Rosewood (01-03)

Abstract:  After a terrorist bombing at a Haven outdoor cafe earlier this week, unauthorized photos of potential suspects were leaked over the Net by the hacktivist group Noms de Guerre. Before S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. had issued an official description of the suspects, Red units were dispatched to protect those citizens who were falsely accused and to quell any vengeful reprisals.

Status: Closed without incident

It was a quiet morning in the Red department, which meant that the agents were doing their job. Then all Hell broke loose, which meant another department had failed at doing theirs.

"How many targets are we looking at?" asked Agent Rosewood. The lead detective of his unit spoke with the calm and controlled tone of a Red department veteran. 

"Four at the moment. Now five," answered a young woman with her auburn hair pulled up in a tight bun. "Should we dispatch now and upgrade as necessary?" 

"Patience, Agent Cerise. We wait until all the necessary data has been collected. Going off half-cocked would not set a good example for the masses," Rosewood answered. 

"Of course not, sir." 

"Agent Rosewood, we have a sixth suspect that just went live on the Net, sir." Agent Scarlet had chimed in. As usual, she had waited until Cerise made a mistake and then capitalized on it in order to impress their superior. Scarlet was smart, but smug. Cerise couldn't afford to sink to her level if she wanted to make it in this department. She also couldn't afford anymore mistakes. 

"Why is this even an issue? If Yellow did their job we wouldn't have had any problems at all," said Agent Wine. Cerise suppressed a smile. Wine was always good at drawing fire, whether he knew it or not.  

"Ours is not to ask why, Agent Wine. Ours is to assess, respond, manage and maintain," Agent Rosewood corrected. "And let the record show that the Yellow department is certainly doing their best to identify the most likely suspects of the bombing, but the computing power of Noms de Guerre simply overpowers even the central computer by sheer numbers."

Cerise made a mental note of Rosewood's comment. It was rather savvy, even if it had nothing to do with the case. Their conversations were always being recorded, whether on or off the job. Rosewood had just covered his ass and avoided an interdepartmental compliance hearing while pleasing his superiors and teaching Wine a lesson. Well, attempting to anyway. 

"Sir, three of the six suspects have had their business and residential addresses revealed in addition to their photos. We're already getting hits on those. Aggression level seven," Cerise reported. 

Aggression level seven: more severe than drunken slurs uttered after closing time but not as damning as outright threats in a public forum. 

"Aggression assessment escalating, sir. A legitimate threat against one of the suspects has been documented in the comments section of Noms de Guerre's post. Response?" asked Scarlet. She glanced in Cerise's direction for the briefest of moments, just to let her know where she ranked.

Agent Rosewood scanned through the data on the screen in front of him, cool as ever but concentrating with his full ability. 

"Scarlet, flag the occurrence of the threat and document it in duplicate with Yellow. They'll need to have a record of it; if we're lucky, they might even pick the culprit up. For now, our priority is to protect the innocents from reprisals. Cerise, which suspect is receiving the most threats and which one is nearest?" asked Rosewood.

Cerise felt like this was a test, like everything was a test. Her answer and how she worded it, how long it took her to respond, which question she answered first. Keeping her cool, she pinned one Mr. Charles Alms as the recipient of the most aggressive threats, while Dennis Ronson was the closest to them but was the least threatened. Cerise relayed that information mechanically, figuring it was best for Rosewood to decide. Scarlet chimed in again and stole her thunder. 

"A third suspect, Ms. Emma Leveaux, is closer than Mr. Alms yet in more danger than Mr. Ronson," she said. Scarlet let the fact hang in the air as it slowly suffocated Cerise. Wine appeared to have lost interest in playing the game and was simply waiting to be told what to do. 

"Very well, Scarlet," Rosewood said. "We'll take Ms. Leveaux. Cerise, send out the names and known addresses of the remaining suspects to the other Red unit heads. They'll be able to sort them out on their own. We've wasted enough time." 

As Rosewood and the others made for the garage, Cerise kept a cool demeanor but found herself revisiting the same old frustrating habit of grinding her teeth into dust. 

Cerise and Wine sat opposite Scarlet and Rosewood as their shared Cloud Car sped along the Cloud Road. A curtain of other vehicles pulled back on either side of them as they advanced; their emergency beacon overrode the central computer's traffic algorithm, slowing the passenger cars and shunting them to the margins. They were five minutes out. Cerise kept an eye on Sector One's social networks to gauge whether or not that would be enough time. If someone got their hands on Ms. Leveaux before they got there, word would spread like wildfire. 

"Double-check your suits, team. Especially if this is your first Level Eight field mission," Rosewood advised. His voice remained impassive as it came through the speakers inside their helmets. It would sound roughly the same if and when Rosewood addressed a gathered crowd, though amplified through the suits external speakers. 

Made of a white synthetic material, their suits were as flexible as casual wear but tougher than armor. There wasn't a gap to be found from head to toe; visored-mask, gloves and boots were all air-tight. A built-in backpack provided an air filtration and circulation system while also housing the suit's power supply. Each agent's visor - tinged in red to distinguish them from other agents and to better aid the computer scanner - had an audio/visual recorder in addition to a wireless uplink to the Net, which provided a heads-up display and projected any eminent threats. As they pulled up on the scene outside Ms. Leveaux's townhouse in Haven, Cerise's visor read Level Nine.

A veritable mob was waiting in the streets. Some had gotten hold of trash that had yet to be picked up by the automatic collectors. Normally passive residents of Haven now hurled bits of rotten produce and discarded food packaging at the townhouse's windows. Nothing had made more than a mess as of yet, but it was only a matter of time before something solid found its way through.

"I would have expected this in Foundation City, but in Haven?" asked Wine. Rosewood took point and addressed his team. 

"Set your Pacifiers to maximum. The crowd is right on the edge, but a combination of chemical sedative and our presence here should mitigate things. Remember your training." Rosewood turned his attention on the crowd. His amplified voice now rang from without rather than within their helmets. 

"Citizens of Haven," Rosewood said in his soothing voice, "Your servants from S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. are here to assist you. Thank you for your vigilance in cornering this fugitive from the law. We can take it from here."

Cerise watched as the pacifying effect slowly took over the crowd like a creeping fog. If she'd been out there without a mask then she would have experienced it first hand. The odorless, colorless and tasteless chemical was spreading out all around the agents in aerosolized form. It hit the first line of the raging citizens. Their faces went slack. Some smiled. Most dropped whatever they'd been holding. All let their shoulders slump forward as if the weight of their hands was just about all they could bear. As the agents stepped closer and the effects of the gas spread further and further, what was once a bloodthirsty mob had been resigned to a herd of shepherdless livestock. 

"You can all return to your homes now. S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. will sort it all out. Just remember to log on to our customer service feedback page and let us know how we might serve you better in the future. Bye-bye now," Rosewood finished. It was almost scary the amount of hypnotic power the gas gave him over the group. Cerise wondered briefly if it was simply a sedative effect or something more akin to the power of suggestion, something more sinister. 

Her daydreaming was interrupted by Rosewood, Scarlet and Wine waiting for her to proceed with breaching the door. Once she joined them, one well-placed kick from Wine's strength-enhancing suit shattered the lock and sent the door smashing inwards. Wine was about as useful a battering ram as he was a human shield. A terrified Ms. Leveaux unloaded on the approaching agent with an old-fashioned 9mm. Wine took two in the chest but advanced on the young woman as if she'd merely flung rubberbands at him. He picked her up by the wrists and would have hauled her bodily from her own home if Rosewood hadn't laid a hand on the young agent's shoulder. Again that peaceful voice rose up.

"Hello, Ms. Leveaux. I'm Agent Rosewood of S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. We're here to take you into protective custody. If you would be so kind as to accompany us. Is there anything you'd like to bring with you?"

Ms. Leveaux was still hanging a few inches off the ground, suspended by her wrists which were still in the grip of an adrenaline-fueled Agent Wine. She spoke as if that position were as comfortable and commonplace as reclining in an easy chair. 

"A change of clothes would be nice," Ms. Leveaux answered absent-mindedly. Wine lowered her gently to the ground and she went off to pack an overnight bag. Rosewood turned Wine around to face him. 

"Remove your visor, Agent Wine," he ordered. The younger Agent hesitated, but eventually complied. Cerise watched the effects of the gas overtake the agent almost immediately. A dopey, puppy-dog smile appeared. 

"Agent Wine, your actions here today are unbecoming of a Red department employee and have put your fellow agents and our customers in harm's way. This incident, if I'm correct, is your third demerit. Since you lack the necessary skills to be a worthy asset to either the Yellow or Green departments, I regret to inform you that you will report to the Brown department as soon as we return to headquarters. Is that understood?"

Agent Wine kept right on smiling and nodded his head slowly, as if this was the news he'd been waiting for all along. 

"Very well," answered Rosewood. Ms. Leveaux had returned to the foyer with a small suitcase. "Please escort Ms. Leveaux back to the car. We'll be along shortly."

Agent Wine, or whatever his name would be when he returned to base, offered Ms. Leveaux his arm. The two floated on a Lithium cloud out to the waiting car. Rosewood then turned to Cerise. Her heart began racing but she kept her face impassive. 

"Agent Cerise," he began, "please secure the entry to Ms. Leveaux's home, along with the windows. The pacification will wear off before long and another mob may return to damage her property once they realize she's no longer here." 

With that, Rosewood and Scarlet left to join the others in the car. Cerise exhaled a relieved breath. She fogged the interior of her visor momentarily. Once she had slowed her heartrate, she pressed a button on the inner wrist of her suit and pointed her hand at the busted door frame. A substance sprayed out and coated the entire frame, expanding in mid-air to form a foam seal that slowly grew to block the entire doorway. Once that entry was secured, Cerise turned her multi-purpose aggressor neutralizer on the windows themselves. Cerise had never used it in the field before and had only incapacitated a person with it back during her days at S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. training. Her instructor had taught them that a few rare people possessed the ability to resist the pacifying chemical and so a physical form of non-violent restraint was necessary to protect the agents. Those in the Grit of Foundation City were more likely to be resistant since their bodies had become adept at processing toxic fumes on a daily basis.

As Cerise turned, pondering the effects of the pacifying gas, she noticed Agent Rosewood's hand across the small of Agent Scarlet's back as they walked to the Cloud Car. Cerise neither felt shock or jealousy, but rather the satisfying notion that this was an occurrence she'd keep to herself, one that was more than worth keeping an eye on.