The door is kicked open suddenly, and a stern faced man in decorated military wear walks into the large room.
"What've we got, Johnson? I want to be up to speed, ASAP."
A scrawny office worker, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and unflattering stubble, steps out of the blue-gray mass of walking, working dress shirts and presents to the general a battered clipboard. Various monochrome charts, webs, and diagrams, hastily printed in old dot-matrix style, adorn the attached pages, interspersed with laconic blocks of text. Notes in pencil and highlighter add confusing bursts of colour, referencing technical manuals and operation codes that had to be memorized long ago.
"It's a completely unprecedented level of emergence, sir. High percentages all across the board."
"Positive. Definitely positive. Feelings of awe and concessions of excellence in almost all green-plus works."
"Off the charts. They love it."
"It's been on the rise for years, sir, as it turns out, but it hasn't been big enough to follow until just now."
"Get the guys who worked on it in here ASAP. We need to sta—"
The general cocks an eyebrow, glancing over to Johnson. He can feel a sheen of sweat develop on his forehead, and gulps audibly before continuing. The room stops spinning and people crystallize into humanoid shapes, silent and wide-eyed, watching to see what the outcome is going to be.
"Uh, sir, we didn't have any, uh, researchers on this thing, sir."
"A team wasn't a-assembled. It was deemed too feeble, just a, uh, a quirk for the hobbyists."
"What! You're telling me we don't have a single man on this floor that knows what this thing is?"
"N-n-not comprehensively, no."
The general fumes silently for a moment, fingers on his temples. The whirlwind of chaos slowly picks up again, the moment for gawking passed. He sits in a nearby chair, and looks to the clipboard again. Johnson scratches the back of his neck dejectedly. Sheets of paper fly up and over the lip, indentations from hasty pen markings evident, the ink of highlighters pushed down too forcefully bleeding through in fat lines and circles. A well-timed sigh, groan, and that characteristically long blink of overwhelmedness makes Johnson wince as the general finally looks up through steely eyes.
"Dispatch the tropers. We're going to need hard facts, ASAP."
He stands, and tosses the clipboard to Johnson on his way past, a cold forcefulness about him. Johnson heads slowly in the opposite direction, glancing over his shoulder as though to make sure his position wasn't going to be taken from him right then and there. He leaves the clipboard on a nearby table, unconsciously wiping his hands on his shirt as he retreats into the chaotic mess of working people.
Time passes agonizingly slowly in the operation room, especially for those who have little to do but wait for results to work with.
It was because of this, that the unwelcome blaring wail of the alarm bell and the blinking red lights high up on the walls seemed to shock everyone—it came so quickly, so suddenly.
The flurry of people stopped, looking at the walls in disconcerting synchronization, like curious, fearful gophers on their hind legs, scrutinizing the sky with the odd coolness of a sudden adrenal rush. Then, as though jumpstarted violenty, a chorus of jogging legs and shaking hands was set into motion, sending loose papers flying, beading sweat on furrowed brows and beginning to stain unfortunate armpits. A spilling coffee was greeted with a "Shit." and an "Ow!", but notably lacked a "Sorry." to complete the exchange.
"Goddamn it, people, what's going on in here?!"
The booming voice of the general was just barely heard over the bustle. Johnson wisely ducked into a huddle around a computer terminal, a pen-wielding analyst making jittery hand gestures at the other listeners and poking at the screen excitedly. A frenzied analyst with wild hair and misaligned glasses rushed forward and grabbed onto a railing, leaning forward onto it as though he needed to catch his breath.
"It's the tropers, sir! They've... they've failed!"
"WHAAAT? That's impossible! Their analysis is impeccable!"
"I don't know what to say... sir..."
Thick, wrinkly fingers ascended to the bridge of the general's nose, and he closed his eyes in resigned contemplation. The hustle and bustle in the workroom seemed to slow to a stand-still, people awaiting further orders, their works largely invalidated and not likely to continue. Lab-coat-clad analysts whispered amongst each other, and usually astute screen- and radar-watchers looked up towards the general with wide, innocent eyes, hanging on the silence.
Suddenly, a hasty cry—"Damn!"—and a clattering of mugs and pens hitting floors was heard as a screen jockey leapt from his chair. Eyes turned to source the noise.
"Mister General, sir... you might want to take a look at this."
Johnson, now intrigued more than anything, made his way slowly after the general, to get a glimpse of what was so alarming on the screen. He was not alone in this pursuit.
"It's the concept! It's spreading! Look at this! It's infecting movies, plays... shit, is this an opera?"
The general, face dark, lips pursed, quickly stormed out of the room. Shortly afterward, a quiet female voice wafted out of the speakers, informing Gamma Team that they are to meet with the General in Conference Room 1 regarding current events. A small number of lab coats and crinkled dress shirts filed out of the operation room, making their way down cool, sleek halls into CR-One. This was the planning room of war heroes. The nonchalant decor was only momentarily underwhelming, before revealing its true purpose: not to distract any focus from the content of the meeting.
"So, men." A slide appeared on the screen behind him. "What the fuck are we looking at here."
Silence. The sound of sheets flipping is heard. A pen is tossed onto the table lightly, as a disgruntled analyst sighs heavily and leans back in his chair.
"I know what it is."
The gravelly voice echoed through the conference room. No one spoke. Even the general seemed intimidated.
"Special Agent Siht, Sargeant Reporter First-Class, at your service."
The silence gave birth to a couple of quiet whispers, amongst the more decorated members of the boardroom. "Siht?" they exclaimed, "Wasn't he reported missing after Hello-my-name-is?" They died out when Siht began to speak again.
"I've worked with the best of the tropers. We've done everything. The anti-hero, the epic journey, the fourth wall breaker..."
He stepped forward, out of the back shadows. Some heads had to turn to see him. As he moved towards the front of the room, he punctuated every other step with an achievement. Many of them were known well by the occupants of CR-One: more than one was accompanied by a shudder, groan, or quiet whistle in response.
"... and let me tell you what I know about this little ditty, gentlemen. This time, shit has really hit the fan."
The general leaned over the table and began to sweat. His eyes grew cold, pupils shrinking.
"But what are we dealing with here?"
Siht stopped, and leaned over to pull a chair out from the table. He sat slowly, as though bearing heavy news, careful so as not to drop it.
Johnson kneeled forward, and peeked an eye in the crack of the CR-One door.
"You know that thing, where, in the heat of the moment in a story, right at the climax, someone uses the title in a sentence?"
"That, my friends, is a title drop."