fbi: don't move
Ivan laughed, which was to say he snorted very, very lightly. Even snorting was an overstatement; a silent wisp of breath escaped him as he swiped away at his screen, liking the photo and commenting: LOLOKOLKOLOLOL1!1! He switched gears to search up the hashtag under the meme, something he almost never did, and found a semi-sorted collection of posts following the same theme. He wasted no time screenshotting a few of his favorites to pirate for himself later.
Soon. Soon he would break 999K followers. And then, and then. Then he would have a million followers. A million was a lot, depending on who you asked. Beyoncé only had fifteen million—at least on Twitter. (On Instagram she had eleven hundred million.) He wanted to rule the Internet.
Ivan turned his phone off and threw it across the bed, forcing himself to get up and move if he wanted to retrieve it. Stretching languidly, he rolled out of the warmth of the covers and faced the day.
He dressed in comfortable, durable clothes; Ivan had recently secured a position as a horticulturist for the Smithsonian Gardens along the National Mall, which was a fancy way of saying he cut grass and trimmed hedges all day, except it was really nice grass and they were really nice hedges. Obviously, wearing his favorite scarf was less than ideal for the sweaty work, but Ivan would never and could never take it off. He slipped into his boots and thrust a spare pair of gloves into his pocket. Sadly, he couldn't use his phone on the job, but he could use headphones. He began to hum to himself, imagining the songs he would listen to on his first shift.
Before shoving his phone into his bag, Ivan took a glance at the blank screen. A strange feeling overcame him as his eyes drifted upwards, making contact with the minuscule blue dots of light inside his camera lens. He held its gaze for a brief, piqued interest that lasted about two seconds, then giggled. "Goodbye, Mr. FBI," he sang to himself.
It was silly. He dropped the phone into his bag and left his apartment with haste.
Alfred grabbed street food on the way to work, washing it down with a hefty Starbucks to go. Whipping the shades off from overtop his regular glasses, he strode into headquarters. Immediately, he had to give up his meal so it could be scanned for toxins while he himself was stripped and searched. Elizabeta Héderváry, chief of the gray division, took an eternity to scrutinize Alfred's badge. Alfred tapped his toes and fidgeted to himself. Predictably, Ivan would be online in seven minutes. "Alright, Jones." She handed back Alfred's ID. "You're clear. But don't let me catch you in here again, or it's straight to the slammer." She drew a line across her throat.
Alfred gratefully collected his food and his badge. "Wait, what the? Dude, I work here!"
She stared him down.
Alfred, without hesitation, steadied himself and stared back.
After a few seconds of silence, Chief Héderváry burst into hearty laughter. "I'm only testing you, kid! I guess it's very Gilbert of me. But gosh, you would have thought I had just admitted to you that the tooth fairy isn't real, or that Santa is Illuminati propaganda, or that JFK is still alive up on a secret moon base in space...oops." She covered her mouth. "I've said too much."
Alfred blinked slowly. "Okay. I'll just...get to work then, um, before you zap me and wipe my memory."
The agent nodded. "Better bolt. Gotta keep you on your feet." She then began drawing her stun gun, but Alfred had already disappeared down the hall. He frantically dove into an arriving elevator and jammed a finger down on the button to close the doors as the clunky boots of the Héderváry's footsteps came closer. Alfred hugged his food to his chest and pressed into the corner of the tiny metal box. He had had his memory wiped before, he was certain, and had even had to do it to others once or twice—it was a ghastly, abominable experience. The chief's image appeared between the elevator's two closing doors and Alfred screamed, but when the shot was fired the elevator had already begun its descent.
Alfred shivered, cradling himself. He was safe for now. He dug into his food and snuck out a bite of greasy fry. It would be two hundred more dings of the elevator before he arrived at the secret underground black zone where all the FBI agents monitored their respecting, (un)suspecting citizens.
Alfred had finished half of his coffee before he made it to the negative two hundredth floor. It was pretty swampy down there, due to the thick consistency of cubicles, the heat coming off of so much compressed technology, and also due to the government having concealed the fact that, yes, Washington D.C. had really been built atop a swamp. He had his semi-greasy fingerprints scanned a second time and then navigated the maze toward his cubicle. He only had two minutes at best before Ivan came home.
Ivan was Alfred's monitor man, Alfred's subject of spy. Alfred had Ivan's schedule practically burned into his brain: he woke up at six-thirty, dabbled on his phone for fifteen minutes, then put it in his pocket and didn't use it again until four, when he got off work. Ivan did not have a computer, making Alfred's hacking tasks both easier and harder by reserving everything to Ivan's cell phone. Alfred would transfer Ivan's morning visuals to Alfred's own laptop to monitor in the morning, and Alfred usually came to headquarters to watch Ivan during the rest of his day. Sometimes he took shifts with another agent, but lately Alfred had been finding himself at headquarters more and more. After all, it was important to develop a deep understanding of your subject, even if your subject had no idea you even existed.
Alfred fired up his special, government-issued laptop, opening the monitor. Just in time, too; Ivan's face soon filled the screen. Alfred sighed. It was on.
Alfred knew almost everything about Ivan. His names (Ivan "Vanya" Braginsky), his family (one older sister and one younger sister), and even the songs he sang in the shower (surprisingly a lot of Taylor Swift). Alfred knew Ivan was the head of a semi-famous online meme domain. Alfred knew Ivan watered the sunflowers in his window every day as soon as he came home. Alfred knew Ivan didn't have many friends. Alfred knew Ivan had long, red scars circling around his neck, hidden under that huge off-white scarf he always wore. Alfred knew Ivan liked soft things and had five blankets on his bed. Alfred also knew that Ivan was at the top of the FBI's list of suspected dangerous Russian intelligence agents, and it was Alfred's duty to report any fishy activity. So far, Alfred had observed none.
Other than the fact that Alfred had to be constantly alert in his job, monitoring Ivan was pretty easy. Ivan had a cute face, and often made little childish noises and expressions whenever he saw something that grabbed his attention. Alfred had trained in the Russian language for years and still couldn't capture the melodiousness of Ivan's murmurs to himself. Sometimes Ivan would be scrolling through social media at night and fall asleep on his phone, which was annoying but undeniably adorable. And he was an immigrant; Alfred could damn well appreciate the hard work it must have taken Ivan to leave his homeland and adjust to life here.
However, this morning, Ivan had addressed Alfred personally, saying "Goodbye, Mr. FBI" before he put his phone away, and that had been hella creepy.
Ivan wasn't saying anything now, just staring at the screen, his eyelids half-shut, eyes moving in line formation over whatever he was reading. Alfred took a sip of his Starbucks and tapped into Ivan's phone display, bringing up a rectangle of white with a thick block of Helvetica text. Alfred's eyes scanned it himself, knowing it was another online post, and Alfred had read thousands of Ivan's. They were quality. When he finished laughing, he switched focus back to Ivan's camera visual; the ceiling behind Ivan was moving as Ivan sat down at his kitchen table. Ivan picked at his lip, snorting a little. The sound of his bags hitting the floor echoed to Alfred, and soon Ivan began humming a sweet song.
Alfred kicked back in his ultra-comfort wheely chair and popped in another fry, enjoying the music. He had no reason to feel so comfortable in the artificial presence of a creepy Russian, yet his wariness was drowned out by tribute for the memes. And Ivan's face. Thank god Ivan at least had a nice face that Alfred got to stare at all evening.
There was a knock on the wall of Alfred's cubicle. He spun around too quickly in the wheely chair and had to overcorrect, graciously spilling a couple of fries into his lap. "Whaddya want?"
It was Toris. A fellow FBI monitor, the long-haired Lithuanian stood stiff in the doorway to Alfred's workspace, making more eye contact with Alfred's inspirational NASA star map poster than with Alfred. "Hi. Um, Felicks went to the bathroom, so I was going to be taking break, and if I remember correctly, you told me to 'mosey on over when you get a chance, because I got the goods?'"
"Aw yeah!" Alfred pushed down his laptop screen so it was at a forty-five degree angle. Toris knew who Ivan was, and sometimes covered Alfred's shifts when Alfred stayed up too late playing video games or reading Marvel fanfiction, but Alfred still didn't want to be interrupted on the job. After all, both Ivan's screen and his camera were blank and black; he must have gone to take his daily shower. "Right here, man. Check it out. They were handin' them out all down the Mall, and I managed to snag a few extras!"
Toris took the item in his hand and inspected it cautiously. "This is a…a SAVE THE WHALES sticker?"
"No, a SAVE THE WHALES magnet!" Alfred corrected, spinning it over. "I thought you might want one, since your space is so plain and boring and all. It'd give you something to look at other than Felicks's fancy skirt collection, or whatever."
The tips of Toris's ears turned red. "They're designer." Yet he didn't refuse the magnet.
Not every FBI monitor happened to be stationed in the vicinity of their subject; Felicks lived halfway across the world from Toris, and was an alleged underground market weapons dealer, with emphasis on alleged. Mostly he just took selfies in the bathtub and embarrassed Toris to no end. Alfred considered himself lucky that Ivan was only half a city away, though they had yet to cross paths in public.
Toris drifted out with the magnet in hand and Alfred was left to finish dinner in peace. He flipped his screen back up and found that Ivan was at the stove, cooking his own meal while watching a Vine compilation. Alfred grinned, keeping up both the front camera and screen views as he dug in so he could laugh along with Ivan. "I smell like beef." A long time passed. They finished eating their dinners at the same time; Alfred imagined the noodle casserole thing Ivan had cooked tasted better than Alfred's weak Starbucks.
Now Ivan had set his phone against the wall to rest while he washed the dishes. He was mumbling peacefully to himself again, but Alfred couldn't tell if he was singing or talking over the sound of swishing water and clinking silverware. After a couple more plates, Ivan's movements slowed, and his gaze slowly climbed back up to the phone screen. The phone camera. "Are you there, Mr. FBI?" he whispered.
Alfred jolted in his seat. It was just like this morning! No warning, no nothing. In English! There was no way Ivan could ever know, of course, that he was being monitored, so the sudden unprompted conversations with a seemingly inanimate object had to stem from Ivan's latest meme obsession. Alfred knew about it.
He was onto them.
"How was your day?" Ivan asked, redirecting his gaze towards the skillet he was scrubbing. "Mine was well. I planted flowers today, and I had a nice conversation with a policeman. Do you talk to police often, Mr. FBI?"
Alfred let his shoulders relax, his mind wandering unintentionally, following Ivan's statements. Coincidentally, his brother Matthew was a DC police officer and friend of the division, but sadly, they didn't have many chances to talk. "What are you doing, man?" Alfred blurted out. "You know this is weird, right?"
Alas, Ivan would never be able to hear Alfred. He had already begun saying something else by the time Alfred was done speaking: "...and work around the people, because it is so fun inside, and there's AC! People are scared to talk to me when I am working outside. But at least I don't have to stand all day." Ivan's voice had gotten quieter, forcing Alfred to pay closer attention. "Do you stand all day when you work, Mr. FBI?"
"Hell no." Alfred kicked the wheels of his chair. "But don't get excited—it's a curse, dude. I would choose a nice garden with fresh air over this stuffy old garage any day."
Ivan was silent and complacent, as if he was really listening, Dora the Explorer-like, and Alfred still couldn't discern if it was endearing or eerie. Ivan's eyelids were halfway shut, a tiny smile gracing his lips. He waited a second more, then nodded. "Is your work boring, Mr. FBI?"
He considered. "Yeah. Not that you're that boring, but…" Alfred let the sentence hang. It wasn't as if it mattered if he finished it, anyway. And the fact was that Ivan was pretty boring. He was the only one ever in his apartment, and went to bed early on Friday nights. On Saturdays he did laundry and cleaned, and every Sunday he napped and called his sisters! "I'm just glad you work so much so I don't have to. Wow, I did not mean for that to sound mean. Um, it's true, though. If you had a computer, things would be differen—"
"Agent Jones?" a recognizable accented voice peeped around the doorway. "Whom are you talking to?"
For the second time that day, Alfred jumped and pushed down his screen, muting Ivan. "No one, good golly, don't scare me like that!"
Chief Arthur Kirkland, Alfred's boss and the head of the black division, didn't appear to notice or care. He stood stiffer than Toris had, clipboard and pencil in hand. "Okay, so, listen. You're mates with Agent Beilschmidt, right? He never checked in with Chief Héderváry and she wanted me to ask—"
Alfred adjusted his glasses, scrunching up his nose. "Which Beilschmidt?"
"The elder." Arthur steeled himself, putting a perplexed finger to his temple. "Apparently, Gilbert's gone MIA."
Alfred crossed his arms. "I haven't seen him since office bowling on Friday. He got his arm stuck in the ball return. Today Héderváry tried to stun me when I checked in! What is up with the gray division?"
Kirkland shook his head to himself, beginning to pace in place. His eyes were as wide as quarters, staring unforgivably at his clipboard as if it held all the answers. "With Carriedo missing already, I'm sure there's foul play to suspect, or even worse—the Mafia. They're on the same team; it's too much of a coincidence. It also means—" He gasped suddenly, raising his crazy blond head in epiphany. Then his voice lowered to a whisper. "It means someone else will be next."
Alfred sat up straighter, suddenly excited. "Whoa, really? Can I help? What case were they working on before they disappeared? Who saw them last? Where—"
"No." Arthur Kirkland was cross. "Not your division. Just let them handle it. Who are you monitoring, again?"
He hesitated. "Ivan. I mean, Braginsky. The...the guy—"
"The Russian spy, right." Arthur stuck his pen behind his ear. "Well. I'll be off, then. Remember to record any—"
"I know, I know." Alfred waved his hand. He felt more and more antsy the longer the Chief was in his space. "Just get on with it. It's fine."
"Right." Arthur frowned and touched his headpiece, half-turned away. "Good day, then. Do your work."
Alfred swiveled back to Ivan, groaning loudly as Arthur departed. Sometimes he felt like he was never taken seriously, but then again, he did sit at a desk and watch a famous memer's life all day. He wasn't sure if such a job should be taken seriously or not.
"I wish I was in a different division," Alfred blurted out. While he had been distracted by Arthur, Ivan had finished washing dishes and was now wiping down his stove and countertops. "I want to do more field agent stuff. My job would be a lot less boring if, instead of hacking all your gadgets and watching you from behind this screen, I could actually go out and spy on you. You know, like, shadow you from around street corners, hiding in the bushes with binoculars, open up the refrigerator door and BAM I'm there!" Alfred slapped his hands on his knees, grinning. "Eat all your food. Make you drop your croissant."
Ivan was still smiling to himself in that charming, unnerving way as he strangled the last drops of water from his rag and hung it over the faucet to dry. "What do you like to do when you're not working, Mr. FBI? Or do you work all the time? I imagine you taking shifts with someone else. Which FBI do I speak to now?"
"Nope, just me. I mean, other black division monitors like Toris sometimes, or Ludwig Beilschmidt if I can convince him, but mostly just me. They all have other guys to watch; y'all suspected criminals are weird. If I wasn't here I would be at NASA." Alfred glanced wistfully at the star chart above his head. "But they wanted me to work on computers, and I wanted to go to space. Diddly darn dang, I love space."
Ivan waited five more seconds before responding. "That's nice."
Alfred nodded fervently. "Damn right it is. Arthur—what a mom—says I waste my talents—"
"I hope you are having an good day, wherever you are," Ivan mused. "I assume you work at FBI headquarters. I walked by that place today. Tomorrow I work in the butterfly garden. It is very close, and my favorite place to work."
"That's rad. I've been there. It's right next to the Museum of Natural—"
"It is next to the Museum of Natural History." Ivan was staring directly at the camera. For the many months Alfred had been Ivan's monitor, he hadn't noticed the purple hue his eyes took on in this dim kitchen glow. "Very beautiful, da? Convenient that most of the Smithsonian buildings are close to each other, all in the same place. I can look at prize artifacts and arrange flowers at the same time."
Alfred was silent. A vision of Ivan with a butterfly perched atop his big nose entered Alfred's mind. He wished Ivan used his phone on the job, wondering what Ivan actually looked like while working. The phone was harder to hack when it was turned completely off; Ivan normally kept it like that during the day while Alfred was away.
"Oh. That reminds me. One moment, Mr. FBI." Ivan walked off out of view.
An idea began to take shape in Alfred's mind, replacing the image of Ivan and the butterfly. Really, allowing Ivan to go that whole slot of time without documentation was a bad strategy, especially if Ivan really was a dangerous Russian intelligence agent. Who knew what he could be up to? And with all the gray division field agents being abducted by the Mafia, apparently, there would be less people to go out and make sure Ivan wasn't, like, putting poison into the plants or something. Alfred could step up and ask. Alfred wanted to see Ivan irl.
And speaking of Ivan, where the heck was he?
Alfred instinctively leaned forward before forgetting it was impossible to see around the kitchen through Ivan's phone. He was positioned so he was staring at Ivan's undecorated refrigerator. He couldn't even hear Ivan, though he remembered Ivan had excused himself.
Ivan never did this. After dishes he would always make himself a lunch for the next day, spend another thirty minutes online, read a little of the book he was slowly working through, check his phone again, and then get ready for bed. Alfred stared frustratedly at the screen, willing it to shift. "Hey, get back over here!" he protested. "You can't just leave me hanging like this!"
From the other room came a thump and a crinkle of plastic that sounded like an empty Doritos bag.
"Ivan!" Alfred huffed. "Don't make me do it!" He brought up a tab of the phone's controls. His finger hovered over the mouse. "Alright, you asked for it. Hear that? I'm doing it, Braginsky!" He pressed a button, making the phone burst into a frantic buzzing.
A few seconds later Ivan reentered the kitchen, his soft boi face appearing innocent and concerned through the screen. Alfred shut the phone's buzzing off, crossing his arms smugly. "Explain yourself."
Ivan, however, didn't say anything. He picked up the phone, opened it, and went straight to his meme account. Alfred felt betrayed when Ivan didn't speak any more, just swiped through his feeds. "So close," he mumbled to himself, having switched back to Russian. Alfred was a bit startled by this, as well; if Ivan knew (or thought he knew) that no one was going to hear and respond to him, why had he been using English when he spoke to "Mr. FBI?" Alfred accepted it was just another of his quirks that made Alfred's job easier. But it signified that their conversation was now over.
"Okay, whatever, it's chill, then." Alfred glanced at the time. He still had a few long hours to go before Ivan clocked in for the night. He had been caught off-guard by the unprompted half-conversation, and now was embarrassed at how he had whined about being ignored. Deep down, Alfred didn't really believe Ivan was a criminal or a spy. Criminals didn't get drunk on vodka home alone and laugh so pleasantly. Spies didn't jump on their beds in excitement whenever it snowed and knit their own oven mitts. Ivan was as ordinary and unassuming and simple as one could be, and immigrant or otherwise he had absolutely no reason to be on the FBI black list.
So Alfred sighed and settled into his cubicle for another evening of memes, same as always. He waited, watched and waited, stole food from Toris and waited, but it turned out that Mr. FBI didn't even get a "Goodnight."
Ivan had no intention of telling his phone goodnight. In fact, he had been reading (and posting) so many FBI memes lately that he left his phone on his bed under the covers in paranoia while he went to the bathroom. But not because it was gross to have someone watching him do his business, which it was. It was because under his sink, squeezed behind the water pipe, was a laptop computer no one knew about but himself and an invisible faction of Russian hackers. Stored on that computer was vital information he had been slowly leeching from the Smithsonian Institute. He didn't know what the circle would do with the info when he sent it, wrapped up with ribbons and bows over a deep web email provider, but he knew if he didn't do his job there would be consequences. He made sure to flush the toilet and run the water on his way out.
Ivan hopped into bed and picked his phone back up, humming as if nothing had happened. He refused to look at the camera lens again, but chided himself. If someone really was watching him, he would know. He distracted himself by checking his meme account once more.
Ivan buried his body under the massive pile of blankets, turning off the lamp and letting his phone screen be the only source of light in the room. He had read that blue light before bed destroyed the eyes, but figured he was already too far gone in that direction to fix anything now. Someone had commented "Congratulations! Heart emoji, fireworks emoji, clapping hands emoji," on his most recent post. Ivan's breaths picked up as he doubled back to check his follower count, gasping when he saw it.
He had broken one million.
government hooker - gaga
I have nothing to say for myself.