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The Cipher Conspiracy

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Sacramento, California (USA)   

Stanley Pines knocked briefly on the office door before making his way inside and sitting familiarly in a chair. Not the comfy swivel chair behind the desk. That hadn’t been appreciated when he’d tried it.

“I’m finished for the day,” he said, stretching his arms out behind his head.

“Must be nice,” huffed Senior Special Agent Carla McCorkle of the FBI from over at her filing cabinet.

Oh. One of those days.

“Case not going well?”

“It would be, if one of these idiots could get me the right information, and not lead me on a wild goose chase TO THE PIZZA PARLOUR!” she finished in a shout, turning to direct it across the hall at the office opposite hers. A muffled (and maybe English-accented?) yell answered her, but the words couldn’t be discerned. Although Stan was pretty sure they weren’t polite.

He frowned. “You need me to teach that guy a lesson?”

“Believe me, I already did,” Carla flashed a malevolent grin and walked past him back to her desk.

“That’s my girl!” He took the opportunity to pat her butt. Instantly, she whipped around and gave him a death glare that made him quail. “Okay! Okay! Sorry!”

Not the time. Got it.

A tower of files was dumped on the desk, enough to obscure Carla when she sat down in the coveted swivel chair. Not for the first time, Stan was immensely glad that he had never completed the FBI training course. Best to leave the paperwork to people who actually had the patience to get through it, like Carla, or Fo-

“Y’know, we were getting so close. What the hell happened? Suddenly we can’t gain an inch on these guys!”

“These guys being the-” Stan stood up and looked at the name on the topmost file – “Cipher Wheel?”

“Yep. Whoever’s running the show goes by Bill Cipher, according to rumour. We don’t have anything concrete to back that up, though,”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Stan said easily. Carla grunted unhappily.

Time to break out the big guns, he decided.

He stepped between Carla and the desk, the chair rolling backwards. She didn’t look happy to have her work interrupted, but Stan was confident that that would change soon.

“I have a present for you,” he told her, putting his hands on the chair’s armrests.

“Pines,” she warned.

“You’ll enjoy it, I promise,”

“We’re at the FBI!”

He leaned closer. Before she could threaten to eject him from the building, he shoved a hand in his jacket pocket and brought out a white-petalled flower. While she stared at it, he tried to keep the smugness off his face.

“You lost your other one,” he shrugged, by way of explanation.

For the first time since she’d gotten to work, Carla laughed slightly.

Mission accomplished.

She took the flower and kissed him gently. “See you back home?”

“You know it, babe,”

As he was leaving, Stan gave a mock salute and said, “Until tomorrow, Special Agent McCorkle,”

“That’s Senior Special Agent McCorkle, Mr Pines,”

When Carla made it back to their apartment (a full three hours later than himself), she had the flower tucked behind her ear.

 

Manhattan, New York (USA)   

“Fidds, what the hell happened?” Agent Adeline Marks stared in shock at her partner, who was covered from head to toe in muck. His normally green suit was completely brown and black.

With as much dignity as he could muster, Agent Fiddleford McGucket took off his glasses and wiped them clean, then placed them back on his long nose. “I’ve just crawled through five hundred heckin’ metres of basement to fix our gosh-darn processin’ system, and I don’t think it was worth it,”

Addi stared at him pityingly for a moment. “You could have waited for the clean-up crew to get rid of the mess down there,”

“I was getting frustrated, and I wasn’t sure they weren’t goin’ to reschedule again.” He sighed. “They wouldn’t keep doin’ that if they knew what our building was a cover for.”

Addi nodded, and Fiddleford knew she was wistfully reminiscing of the prioritisation they had had before their branch was supposedly shut down.

“Well anyway, you know we’ve got a meeting now? I think it’s a new assignment,” she said.

Fiddleford groaned as he looked down at himself, and then back at the mud trail he had left coming through the elevator doors. It had definitely not been worth it. A passing agent slipped in the tracks, papers flying everywhere.

“Alrighty, let’s get this over with,” Quickly, so I can have a shower.

They headed up to their boss’s floor.

 

Sacramento, California (USA)   

“Hope you like fish! It’s all we had,” called Stan from the stove as Carla dumped her bag on the couch.

“Smells great,” she said in relief, wrapping her arms around him from behind and burying her head in the crook of his neck.

“Jeez, you really need a holiday,” said Stan, knowing what the answer would be.

“Not until the case is done,” she mumbled.

“And then you gotta promise you’ll give it a rest for a while,”

“You betcha. I am so sick of these hours,”

They stayed like that for a little while, until Stan noticed the fish was burning. As he hurriedly took it off the heat and waved away the smoke, Carla sat down at the kitchen table and examined their mail.

“Bills, neighbours having a party tomorrow, more bills – huh. A postcard,”

“Well, I don’t have any friends – any who want to contact me anyway – and all yours live around here. So who’s it from?” Stan set a plate down in front of her.

“Doesn’t say, exactly.” She looked up at him curiously. “Take a look.” She passed it over as he sat down on the opposite side of the table.

The postcard showed a forest and a cliff-face with a waterfall running down it. In big orange and green block letters, the words ‘Gravity Falls’ were emblazoned across it.

“Never heard of it,” said Stan, and turned it over. He almost dropped it in shock. As Carla had said, there was no address, no message, not even a name. There was a drawing. A hand. A six-fingered hand.

He looked up at Carla. “Ford?”

“It looks like it,” she nodded, clasping her hands in front of her face. “It’s been, what, five years?”

Stan took a deep breath. “I – I’ve gotta-” He stood up and ran his hands through his hair, staring between her and the postcard helplessly.

“Yeah I know! Go!” Carla said, smiling widely and standing up as well. “Come on, you have to pack!”

Stan laughed incredulously as they raced to the bedroom. He was feeling simultaneously scared and overjoyed. Before Carla could extract his suitcase, he pulled her in for a hard kiss and hugged her tightly.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,”

“No, it’s okay, take your time. I think you’ll need to. He wouldn’t have contacted you unless he needed something,”

Well, that hurt. But she was right. It wasn’t Ford’s fault, not really, and truth be told they hadn’t exactly parted on the best of terms. He should be glad he was getting to see his brother at all.

“I should probably bring some cereal,”

“Good idea,”

 

Manhattan, New York (USA)   

The Oracle Division had been created for the sole purpose of finding and eliminating the worldwide threat posed by an organisation known as the Cipher Wheel. The only problem was, as they soon found, no one had ever knowingly encountered an agent of this organisation. No one had ever admitted to having dealings with the organisation, even through a middle-man. There wasn’t even any evidence to back up the rumour that the head of the organisation’s name was Bill Cipher. So far, the only thing that the agency had managed to collect was a wide variety of symbols that the criminal underground had used in connection with the Cipher Wheel. Of course, they had so far led nowhere. Still, the government maintained that it existed.

So, due to the extreme lack of work available for the Oracle Division, it was a very small agency, and until anything to do with the Cipher Wheel was brought to their attention it was assigned other cases for efficiency purposes. Furthermore, as the Oracle Division was classified in an ultra-top-secret manner, it had to be hidden. Thus, why it had recently been relocated to a tiny five-storey building in Manhattan.

Adeline reflected on this as Fiddleford knocked on their director’s door. It was still surreal knowing they were the only field operatives in the whole agency.

“Come in,”

They entered.

“Well, agents, I’m sure you know – Fiddleford, are you okay?”

Fiddleford dripped onto the carpet. “Sorry ma’am, I was seein’ to the processing system,”

“Well, you have my thanks. It really did need something done for it. You’ll be hailed as a hero tomorrow.” The director smiled. “I’ll make this quick so you can go clean yourself up.”

“Thank you,” Fiddleford sighed.

“As I was saying, I’m sure you’ve guessed why you’re here,”

“You have a mission for us,” Addi said.

“Correct.” The tall, dark-skinned woman stood up from behind her desk and turned on a projector. An image of a bemused-looking woman appeared on the blank stretch of wall.

“This is Dr Jane Hansen. She is a chemist who has developed a new material with extraordinary refractive, reflective, and focal properties, called shimmern. This could be used to revolutionise the technological industry, for instance providing greater laser capabilities, enhancing computer operations, and creating a far cheaper way to manufacture stealth products.” The director nodded approvingly at Addi and Fiddleford’s raised eyebrows.

“Dr Hansen, however, is a very gentle soul who has insisted on using the only existing sample to create a fabulous piece of jewellery for her wife, which made our superiors rather frustrated,” the director said with a small smile.

The image changed to show a photo of Dr Hansen in her house, presenting a glittery, tear-shaped pendant on a silver chain to another woman. The picture was taken through the leaves of a bush.

“Aww,” said Addi. It was a very sweet scene, captured forever in an ethically questionable manner. “So, you want us to obtain that necklace?” she asked, switching back to professionalism.

“Of course. As well as the method she used to create it. We’ve been asked to hold onto it until our superiors have had a chance to study, and presumably replicate, it – as Dr Hansen has made it clear she has no interest allowing it to be used for weapons or stealth technology,” the director said with only the vaguest hint of approval.

“I assume the plans’re all stored electronically?” asked Fiddleford.

“Yes, Agent McGucket,”

“Then it’ll be an easy workday, ma’am,”

“Good to hear. Dr Hansen is planning on unveiling her creation at the Centro Congressi Giovanni XXIII Convention Centre three days from now. It will be a very classy event, so, Agent Marks, I assume you have some very classy clothes?”

Addi grinned at the director. She was looking forward to this assignment. “Of course, Jheselbraum,”

 

Gravity Falls, Oregon (USA)   

Stan walked cautiously up the stairs to the porch of 618 Gopher Road. It was a very isolated house, nestled in a forest, and yet Stan couldn’t help but feel watched. Like there were eyes pointed at him from all directions. Considering this was apparently where Ford lived, though, that wasn’t exactly surprising. He’d probably been scanned no less than eighteen times since stepping out of the car.

Trying to convince himself that everything was fine, is fine, would be fine, he knocked on the door. It was flung open instantly, and he looked down the barrel of a gun.

His hand was coming up almost as soon as the door started opening. Stan slapped it away from his face and into his other hand where he flipped it around and caught it in a two-handed grip pointing at his opponent.

Ford beamed and said, “Well done, Stanley. It’s good to see you haven’t lost your skills.” Then he stood aside as though it was perfectly normal to brandish weapons at your family members.

“I’m fine, by the way.” Stan muttered as he stepped inside. “Might’ve pissed myself, but I’m fine.”

“I assume you found my message?” asked Ford, holding out his hand for the gun, which Stan wasn’t exactly eager to return.

“You mean the one written in invisible ink on the mysterious postcard with a cryptic drawing?”

“Yes, that one,”

“Yeah Ford, I found it. Been doing that since we were kids.” Stan rolled his eyes. “But an address and ‘Please come’? You had me worried, bro.”

“I’m sorry, but there wasn’t much else I could say. I didn’t want to risk it falling into the wrong hands. By the way, you burnt that, didn’t you?”

Stan nodded. As they spoke, his eyes roamed around, taking in everything they could. Ford didn’t look like he was in any trouble. He seemed completely normal, if a bit manic, but he had been that way forever. At least he wasn’t in some deep danger like Stan had been had been fearing. Five years of silence, and then ‘Please come’? Worried was an understatement: he had almost had a heart failure.

The large room they were standing in was absolutely covered in things with Ford written all over them. Maybe even literally, if he had been indulging in the invisible ink. Technology, gadgets, weird substances in science beakers, it was all there.

Ford was looking at him oddly, with an awkward half-grin on his face like he wasn’t sure what else to say. Guess it was up to Stan to make the next move.

Crap.

He didn’t know what to do either. It was getting weird now. Should he try for a hug? No, that would make it even worse. Ford was still standing there, and now they were staring at each other. Just when Stan was on the verge of yelling “NON-SPECIFIC EXCUSE!” and making a break for it, his brother spoke up.

“So . . . you’re working for the FBI now?”

“Oh, er, you know about that?” Of course he does, it’s Ford. “And it’s more like with, not for. I’ve got connections and such, I know people. Useful for them, and I get paid when they need me, so I’m not complaining,”

Ford nodded, like this was exactly what he had wanted to hear. This is getting stranger by the minute.

“How did that happen?” This time, the question was genuinely curious, not prying for information, or confirmation, or whatever.

“Heh, well, remember Carla, from back in Glass Shard Beach? She works for ‘em now. Found me in California about four years ago, arrested me on a case, I put the moves on her,” he waggled his eyebrows and Ford snorted disbelievingly, “she couldn’t resist, and the rest is history.” Not exactly true. He’d completely fallen for her all over again as soon as she had laughed in recognition while handcuffing him. Then he’d bargained for a job and sold out his co-conspirators.

“It was surprising to learn you went back into law enforcement, or some semblance of it,” said Ford.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I just never would have expected it of you, especially after the way you gave up your training when we were both at the FBI,”

Stan frowned. “The way I gave it up?”

Ford tilted his head. “Well you didn’t exactly quit in a regular fashion,”

“I didn’t quit, they ran me off the property!”

“Yes, because you were idiot enough to accept a drunken bet and try to steal secure files! That practically sealed your life as a criminal!”

“Well let me remind you why I was off getting drunk that night. A certain high-paying job offer from a shady government agency ring a bell?”

“Stanley, we have had this conversation before. They offered you the exact same deal!”

“Which you were all too eager to accept! A deal, by the way, which included completely cutting off all ties with family and friends,”

They were glaring at each other now, and were unconsciously tensing for a fight. Things had gotten heated even more rapidly than Stan had expected.

“That was not a permanent arrangement, Stanley, as is clear from your presence here right now,”

“It’s the principle of the thing that matters, Ford! You just upped and ditched me, like you couldn’t wait to get rid of me!”

You’re talking to me about principles and ditching? The last time I saw you was five years ago, when you led the FBI to my apartment after attempting to steal from them, broke in, yelled at me while grabbing all my cereal, and then climbed out the window! I am assuming that was all deliberate, as when the FBI kicked down my door they thought I was you and arrested me!”

“Well, in your words, that wasn’t a ‘permanent arrangement’ and they sorted it out eventually,”

They lapsed into silence, the air between them practically sizzling. Stan had said enough, had had enough. He’d come here to help Ford if he could, and he’d hoped to maybe patch things up, but it didn’t look as though Ford was all that inclined t-

“I didn’t mean to abandon you, Stan,” Ford admitted, frowning angrily at him. Stan blinked. Carla’s words immediately came to him: he wouldn’t have contacted you unless he needed something. However, if this was a ploy to get his help, it was pretty sincere.

“Although your actions didn’t make it easy to apologise. Furthermore, taking my cereal was incredibly petty.” Ford waited, looking closely at him, seeing how he would respond. Stan was tempted to start up another argument over Ford’s hypocrisy in calling him petty – he wasn’t the one still sore about cereal. Instead, he was reminded forcefully of his brother as a kid, and what one of his first thoughts had been to do when he thought he’d gotten a chance to see Ford again. He’d been half-convinced he never would, what with the super-secret job Ford had taken.

Stan pulled a box of cereal out of his bag and handed it mutely to his brother, who stared.

And stared some more.

And laughed. And pulled him into a hug.

“It’s good to see you again,”

“Yeah, you too bro,”

Well that was easy.

Ford gave him a tour of the house. As he memorised the layout of it, Stan noticed that Ford didn’t seem able to confine his inventions to the main workroom – and they were Ford’s inventions. Stan guessed his brother’s brain was the main reason he had attracted attention from the government.

“Ford, not that I’m complaining, but why am I really here?”

Ford grinned and stepped back into the workroom. He picked a thick, red-bound book off a bench. “For this,”

Stan took the book. It had a gold, six-fingered hand emblazoned on it, similar to the one on the post-card. He opened it to where it was bookmarked.

All the words were in code, but it was a code he and Ford had used since they were kids. It was like a second language to Stan, and he read it easily.

“What’s shimmern?” he asked, looking at a hand-drawn picture of a pendant on a chain.

“A new kind of material.” Ford had an excited look in his eyes. “There’s only one sample in existence, in fact. My assignment is to appropriate, and eventually replicate, it. You’re here because I want your help,”

Stan noticed with some elation that Ford had specifically said “want” not “need”.

“This would be much easier with you, Stan. Like you already said, you have contacts. You’re good with people, not to mention you haven’t lost the skills you had five years ago,”

“I’m in,” said Stan without hesitation. “but don’t you have a partner to help you out? Pretty sure that’s what’s supposed to happen when you work for the government.”

Ford cleared his throat. “That’s not how we do things. Our missions are carried out entirely without assistance from other agents. There’s less chance of a leak that way,”

No matter what his brother’s test scores said, to Stan, Ford was as easy to read as a child’s book.

“Ford . . . you do work for the government, don’t you?”

His brother shifted now, not even attempting to lie under Stan’s scrutiny. “You don’t have to worry, we aren’t working against anyone. We’re primarily research-based,”

“What kind of research needs highly-trained field agents with no connections?”

“I’ve told you all I can,” Ford said firmly, with a hint of apology.

Ever since he and Ford had both been made an offer during the training course for the FBI, Stan had assumed it had been some sort of government branch, the CIA or something. However, the more he thought about, there was absolutely nothing to support this assumption. In short, Ford had him worried. Again.

Even more reason to stick close to him then.

“Okay, I’m still on board. How do we get this thing?”

“Italy, three days from now. We have a party to attend,” Ford said mischievously, and again Stan was reminded of the plans they’d come up with as kids, specifically the more notorious ones.

“I’m gonna need my fake IDs again,”

 

∆ 

“Hey Fordsy, how’d it go?” Bill Cipher said, sitting ramrod straight in Ford’s desk chair and swivelling around in it as the elevator doors opened to the basement.

“Good,” Ford replied. “We’re ready for the assignment. Or we will be soon. Stan has to sort a few things out first,”

When he’d first met his employer, Ford had been slightly disturbed by his too-wide smile, eyes that blinked less than a person’s normally would, and far more familiar demeanour than befitted the director of a shadow organisation. Now, he knew it was just one of Bill’s quirks.

“I hope you understand how lenient I’m being, letting your brother in on this. Not that I have anything against him, swell guy I’m sure, but of all the people to choose . . . I mean, really? Didn’t he used to be a bit – what’s the word? Oh yeah. Impulsive. Reckless. Untrustworthy. Take your pick. From what I’ve seen, smart guy, you are far more capable on your own. I don’t want him dragging you down or anything, numero uno,”

“Stan was just angry before. I promise that he will be more focused on this, and he will be a valuable asset,” Ford assured him quickly. It had taken over a year for Bill to come around to the idea of letting Stan meet up with him, and Ford was sure he had only agreed because he knew how ridiculously stubborn Ford could be.

Or because it was affecting your work.

The thought was immediately brushed away. Bill was right to be concerned about Stan. The organisation he had built was founded on levels of secrecy unlike any Ford had previously encountered. Any breach of that could bring it all crashing down. So yes, allowing Ford to bring someone in was a risk, he understood that. And so what if Bill had only agreed because their argument five years ago was eating away at Ford enough to disturb his performance in the field and the lab? That just proved how much Bill trusted, valued, and even cared, about him.

“Alright Sixer, we’ll try this your way. Just keep the objective in sight, you know what I mean?”

If there was one thing Ford was certain about in his line of work, it was that Bill Cipher was a good guy.

“Yes sir,”