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He’d been following it online for weeks, figuring out puzzles and breaking passwords, putting the pieces together to lead him from one secret, unlisted website to another. Now, finally, it seemed to be coming to an endgame; the next clue led him not to an online destination but an IRL one.

He zipped his hoodie up and shoved his hands into his pockets, fiddling anxiously with his keys and loose change as he walked down the street. What if he was late? What if it was something like a first come, first served thing- if he wasn’t the first to crack the ARG, this trip would be for nothing.

He stopped. The car park was up ahead, and there was a single car parked there. A big car, with blacked out windows.

“Oh man,” he said to himself. “That’s gotta be it.”

He tried to look nonchalant as he walked towards the car. A rear window rolled down and a blonde woman looked out.

“You? Really?”

She sounded surprised. He looked around. There was nobody else there.

He shrugged. “Really,” he said, hoping he sounded like he knew what was going on.

She rolled her eyes. “Younger every day,” she muttered, opening the door. “Get in, hurry up.”

He climbed in the back. It was a really swish car, with real leather seats and a fresh showroom smell. The woman scooted across to let him in, and as he settled down she handed him a brown manila folder.

“Here’s your brief,” she said. “Don’t look disappointed, we don’t give you the bigshot deals till later. Gotta give you a nice easy transition, you know? But it’s not all small fry like this.”

He frowned and opened up the folder. It was set out like a case file, with “Top Secret” on it and everything, but he didn’t understand half of it – couldn’t even pronounce half of it. He looked at the pictures; they looked like some kind of weird monsters. Deformed, half human things, with tentacles and too many mouths. CG, obviously, but it was really well done.

He grinned. “So this is a monster movie? Cause my friend, Barge, he reckoned this was for the new Batman movie or something.”

She looked at him, her mouth slightly open and her eyebrows creased as if she couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

“The ARG,” he said. “I mean, is this for the Batman movie or something like Cloverfield or what?”

She blinked incredibly slowly, then leaned forward and tapped the divide that separated them from the driver. The car stopped – he hadn’t even noticed it starting.

“ARG,” she said. “Like, Alternate Reality Game? That’s what you thought this was?”

He nodded. She swore.

“I knew you looked too young. How in hell did you follow this? The codes and links were supposed to be secure!”

He shrugged. “It was kinda easy, really, I thought. I mean, I thought it was weird that there weren’t any proper forums for it but…”

“No,” she said. “No proper forums. It was supposed to be for our actual agent to follow, not some… random teenager. Do you even know what you’ve got yourself into?”

He glanced down at the pictures again.

“No,” she said, as if reading his mind, “Those pictures aren’t computer generated.”

“Maybe I should just go home,” he said.

“Not a chance.”

There was a clunk as the door locks engaged.

“You’ve already seen too much. On the plus side, if you figured out our trail you obviously have some kind of talent. I’m going to have to take you to HQ for a proper assessment and induction.”

He went cold. “Induction? Into what?”

“The Unity Initiative,” she said. “Congratulations, you’re our newest and youngest member.”

He stared at her. “I’ve never even heard of you.”

She laughed. “Really? Oh good. At least that much is secure. Basically, we’re the buffer that exists between normal people like you and… and stuff that would blow your minds into pieces, both figuratively and sometimes literally. We’re the people who save the world on a daily basis without anybody ever seeing a thing, because if they noticed us, we’re doing our job wrong.”

He thought for a moment. “Like Men in Black?”

She sighed. “Not really. Boy, you have a lot to learn.”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: The Three Word Wednesday words this week were Buffer Transition and Unity. I admit I struggled a bit with them, but maybe this somewhat clunky scene is something I can use at a later date.)