You've definitely heard that mentioned before.
"What's the Thale incident?," you finally ask.
"Hooo boy," Marlow begins. "Where do I start?"
Afu smiles. "It's like, the biggest thing to happen that nobody heard about."
Marlow nods. "Most of the anti-corporate fervor you're seeing in politics lately was sparked by the Thale situation. A whole lot of the seedy shit being done by the rich got exposed over the course of like, a month."
"Have you ever seen a survival video?," Afu asks you.
You shake your head.
Marlow takes a deep breath. "So. Rich people are monsters."
You nod. "Yeah, I've picked up that much."
Marlow nods in return. "The elites used to play this game--"
"They still do," Afu chuckles. "Survival videos are still huge, bro."
Marlow sighs, but continues. "So the elites play this game where they'll kidnap a migrant worker or a vagrant or someone else that nobody will miss, trap them in a mansion or a warehouse with a bunch of cameras and a well armed killer... and then they sell the footage on the black market. This was confined to like... the upper echelons of the wealthy and sick, blank tapes with billion dollar price tags. Torture porn for rich sadists, basically. Slasher films, but for real."
"Damn," you blurt out. "That's pretty fucked up."
"Oh, it gets worse," Marlow says. "It always gets worse. When one guy with a chainsaw chasing an innocent girl around wasn't exciting enough, they started mixing up the formula. Wild animals. Death traps. Kidnapping a bunch of people and forcing them to kill each other."
"That's when the videos started making their way to the deep web," Afu adds, "and showing up on torrent sites. It didn't really blow up until the hospital video, though."
Marlow shakes his head, visibly pausing. "The hospital video was... it was something else. Artificially engineered predators. Like, straight up living, breathing monsters, made of bioprinted human parts, were set loose on the building. While it was still being used."
"Like, meat sacks crawling around with half-finished brains and stuff," Afu adds.
"It was grotesque," Marlow confirms. "And it was a very real slaughter. Skeptics spent months trying to debunk the hospital video, even after the body count was confirmed as legit. Only a handful of people made it out of that hospital alive."
"One of which was Doctor Leo Finch," adds Afu.
"Oh, yeah," Marlow says with a finger point, "the whole thing's so bizarre I sometimes forget Dr. Finch was part of it. Yeah, before he became a big deal he was in the hospital video."
"The guy hasn't aged a day, either," Afu chuckles. "Anyway, the highlights from the hospital's surveillance that day were edited down, released online, and went hella viral. Or... y'know, as viral as raw video of real people dying can get."
"The feds got a hold of the tape," Marlow continues, "opened an investigation into the sources, and... well, they stirred up a hornet's nest. Turns out a bunch of people were involved in getting that hospital video made--and covering it up. I mean, it was an entire hospital full of people, and they weren't the only victims. Anyway, all the companies and shell corporations and random rich assholes tied to the hospital thing were also dealing in illegal weaponry, human trafficking, live human experiments INCLUDING splicing human DNA with extraterrestrial DNA, mind control drugs, like a hundred cybercrimes and a couple thousand different flavors of tax fraud. All of that came to light because of that one video leaking."
"But who or what is Thale?," you ask.
"Thale Energy's where it all boiled over," Marlow states. "Police, federal officials, and a number of third parties that had been screwed over by the corporations all basically got into a gang war with the corporations, their crooked cops, their mercenaries and all their lab grown bioweapons. Ninety percent of the footage was un-airable. Aside from how bloody and violent it was, I don't think most of the public could handle it. I'm talking, like, building-sized skinless monstrosities growing and spreading like giant cancers, ripping each other apart, shooting lightning out of dozens of giant eyes. Blood everywhere. It's complete bedlam. It's like watching the apocalypse happen."
"Total chaos," Afu confirms. "It's hard to watch."
"So Thale was just..." This is a lot to process. "The name of the building where it went down?"
"I mean, Thale Energy was probably named after somebody," Marlow replies. "Some rich, dead asshole, I imagine. I don't even know how involved Thale Energy the company was with all that, I just know they're long gone now. I don't know if everything that went down had a single perpetrator behind it at all--it was more like... this is just what capitalism does. People with that kind of money and authority, with no checks or oversight... they become detached. They get isolated and go off the deep end, and there's no one to tell them no when they decide to do something incredibly fucked up. All those awful things the Thale incident revealed... that stuff is going on everywhere, and that there wasn't one, solitary human being behind it just highlighted how it's a symptom of the disease. This isn't about bad actors or the wrong people becoming billionaires... it's a power no one should have. It puts humans in a position above being human."
Afu nods. "It's real hard to even become a billionaire without... like... running sweat shops or dealing in blood diamonds or whatever, anyway. Like. Bro. You don't keep your hands clean and make that kind of money."
"Even if the details of the Thale incident are still kinda blurry," Marlow continues, "--Like, one of the companies may have been funding a cult, the feds might have okay'd the use of combat androids, that all depends on who you ask--but the general tone of it all stuck. People are less willing to put up with corporate malevolence now. CEOs are getting exposed, monopolies are getting busted, and way more weird shit is coming to light."
Afu adds, "AND we got Infohazard, my favorite podcast out of it."
"I do feel like it went downhill after that one host got arrested the second time," comments Marlow.
"The first time was amazing, though!" Afu turns to you. "So, Grizwald--one of the old hosts of the podcast--he finally got busted 'cuz he and the other host were always breaking into labs and offices and revealing what corporations were doing, but then he kept broadcasting from police custody. Even the other host, Lydia, she was like "how are you doing this" and all Grizwald would say was--"
"I'm that. damn. good," chuckles Marlow.
Afu grins wide and continues. "When the cops finally made it so he couldn't do the podcast from his cell, he just... fucking escaped. Showed up at the studio like it was no big deal. Like. Bro."
"When they finally caught Grizwald the second time, Lydia moved onto other things," Marlow explains. "She still guest-hosts the show sometimes, but it's not the same. They've got some new guy handling it by himself."
"Sometimes Grizwald still calls in," Afu chuckles. "The police have caught him like five times, he just keeps breaking back out."
"Anyway," Marlow concludes, "the Thale thing went down... three years ago?"
"Yeah," Afu confirms, "it had to be about three years ago."
"It's subtly affected the whole country since then," continues Marlow. "Thale is why you're seeing places like Deepfish Eatery and Hasty Entertainment going under. Foulness had been happening for years or even decades behind the scenes, but people are speaking out and fighting back now. We've seen how bad it can get, and even if not everybody's seen the Thale footage..."
"Or that hospital video," says Afu with a small shudder.
"...The collective unconscious picks up all that," states Marlow. "It was bad enough only a few people needed to see it, and the rest of mankind can feel it."
It's a pretty crazy story, but also...
"...So Leopold Finch was seriously involved?" Dr. Finch is a world renown scientist and--maybe more famously--a very aggressive political activist. It's weird to think he fought his way out of a snuff film.
It does explain why he hates capitalism so much.
"Oh yeah," Marlow replies. "If it wasn't for him we wouldn't have a clue what those companies were doing. The rich have access to technology and data and resources we can only dream of--all the insane bioweapons and test tube monsters that showed up for the Thale Energy bust would have looked like an act of God if Leopold Finch hadn't broke it all down in his memoirs. ...Memoirs that almost started a civil war in the scientific community, for the record. The man's either a genius or a total nutcase."
"It can be both," Afu says. "I hope he or his husband run for president."
Marlow chuckles. "Leopold Finch is more likely to burn the office down and start a socialist regime on the ashes. I'm not judging, mind, it can't be any worse. ...Caius Finch as president could work. I'd pay to see it, at least."
The more you think about it
you've seen footage from protests and courtroom recordings where Dr. Finch's husband, who is genetically engineered and huge, was barely enough to keep Leopold from physically brawling lawyers and congressmen.
He is very scrappy for a scientist.
Leo Finch having survived some insane billionaire's deathtrap video explains a lot.
A completely unrelated thought occurs to you.
"Do either of you know where I could get... like... a cheap burner phone...?"
"Does it need to be aerodynamic?," Afu asks with a grin. "I can get you a phone. You're coming back tomorrow, right?"
"Yeah," you say with a nod. "How much do you want for the phone...?"
Afu shakes his head. "Bro. I have so many phones. I'll bring you one tomorrow."
You have gotten a lot of information and a lot of help in a very short amount of time.
"Thank you," you finally state. "Is there a way I can... I don't know... get you guys on speed dial or something?"
Afu grins. "I'll put The Back Room's number in the phone when I bring it tomorrow."
You nod. "Alright. You guys have been... a huge help. I'll definitely be back tomorrow."
You begin to leave, but stop short at the door. "Infohazard, right? Any episodes you'd recommend...?"
"Bro," Afu replies, "I can't even pick a favorite."
Marlow smiles. "Yeah, they're all mindblowers. Even the new ones are pretty good, they're just..."
"Not the same," concludes Afu.
You head across the parking lot to the bus stop.
You wait a little bit, but not too long.
The bus pulls up.
"Do I walk like a cop?" You don't know why you're asking the bus this, of all people; maybe she's programmed to analyze human posture or something. "I was told I walk like I'm going to arrest someone. Or commit arson. Which in retrospect is also something I'm getting accused of a lot lately."
"I'm afraid I'm not equipped to analyze human posture," fuck "...but the way you walked into that building was visually distinct from the way you walked out."
You board the bus and take your usual seat.
It's about 6:30 pm.
"Where would you like to go next, Plaire?"
The bus returns you to your house.
"Thank you!," you tell the bus as you hop off.
You unlock the door and walk in, and begin to take stock of what needs to be done before guests arrive.
. . .
You have no furniture. Or dishes. Or... a TV, or really anything.
You check the kitchen. It's... clean-esque. There's still an empty box in the kitchen not being used, but that legally makes it the only decoration you own. If you get rid of it, you own zero things that are not defined by their function and that's just kind of sad.
You could move the empty box. The living room is pretty spacious.
You're not sure about getting rid of it, though.
Besides, you might need a box later. You don't know.
You check your bedroom. There's a ... plural of soda cans, and the other box is still holding it down as your improvised laundry basket. Your library books and video games are still just... kind of sitting around, longing for shelves but settling for a desk and dresser.
Your bathroom is a little dusty but otherwise barely used. You don't really own an exciting variety of cleaning supplies, either, now that you stop to think about it.
You step back out into the living room.
You should probably do something about food.
You have ... potatoes. And sodium rich noodles. And other food and food-like products not designed for enriching the evening of visitors.
You could order a pizza.
You're not sure you can afford the dream ring as it stands, never mind if you splurge on a pizza, though.
You, Kate, and Cici could chip in for a pizza.
Maybe someone picked up that you are horribly poor and will bring pizza of their own volition.
You ... probably shouldn't rely on that.
... But then again, if you squander your precious currency on pizza and then someone else brings pizzas you'll be mad at yourself and you know this.
Cici might not even eat pizza. She probably has like... a diet.
And an exercise regimen, and other shit healthy people do.
You wonder if you should mention what Marlow was saying earlier.
Cici may have some insight into it.
Alternatively, this might just be a really racist conspiracy theory.
Racist? Birth...ist? Source-ist?
It could potentially come off as really fucked up to someone genetically engineered. You're not sure there's a word for that yet.
Someone's probably going to coin one.
You're familiar with a lot of atrocious human behavior thanks to the internet, and a lot of the protesting and legal fighting (and actual fighting) that's been going on against some of the fouler prejudices in the world. That said, Addersfield was predominantly white, Protestant, straight, cisgender, mutation free and 'born as the good Lᴏʀᴅ intended.'
It would probably be really easy for you to say something monumentally ignorant, to Kate or Cici.
. . .
You realize that you have just been standing in your living room, contemplating pizza etiquette and how woefully unprepared you are to interact with real people, for a not insignificant amount of time that you cannot get back.
You can't even
you can't even order a pizza because
♪ own ♪
A GOD DAMN PHONE,
YOU FUCKING IDIO--
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR
It looks like Cici.
You answer the door.
"Hey!," Cici says. "I brought pizzas."
"You didn't need to do that," you say, completely denying the urge to smile you manipulative piece of shit
"Well," Cici begins, "I bought me a pizza, and I'm not gonna sit there and eat a pizza while you guys watch me. So, everybody's getting a pizza."
Damn, she's good.
That's a pretty solid excuse for buying a broke friend a pizza.
You will not call her on her bullshit later if she fails to consume an entire pizza
You step aside so Cici can come in.
"Sorry, I don't... uh... really have any furniture yet. Wait--"
you go to the kitchen and retrieve the empty box.
You take it back to the living room, and place it open-side down.
You have made it into an impromptu table.
Once mere decoration, the box has at last found purpose. You're saddened by the change, but proud of all the progress the box made in just four short days.
"So this is the spooky house, huh?," Cici asks as she looks around. "I kinda thought it'd be... spookier."
You have to chuckle a little. "Yeah, I don't have like... blood coming out of the walls or anything. Not yet, it's probably saving that until I have a nice couch to ruin. Nothing especially mystifying happens while I'm awake... unless you count the washer and dryer that was mentioned on the website magically disappearing when I showed up in person."
Cici hmms. "What if your washer and dryer are hidden away in like, a secret room?"
You nod. "Yeah. Where the bodies are stashed."
"Nooo," says Cici, before adding "well maybe. Did you ever get a hold of Kate?"
You shrug. "I got a hold of Kate's mom. I don't know if Kate's going to show up or not."
"Oof." Cici finally opens the top pizza box and procures a slice.
You follow suit. "We can still see if the dream has multiplayer, we just won't be able to test if the limit is 2 or 2+. I learned more about the house today, but..." You shake your head. "I still have no idea what's really going on. With the house, or the mayor, or... this town. There's a lot of weirdness and I can't tell how much of it's connected, or how."
"You gotta get one of those cork boards," Cici suggests. "With all the pins and colored strings."
You shake your head more firmly. "I'd like to maybe not turn into one of those wild eyed conspiracy theorists drinking their own piss and yelling about lizard people on TV."
Cici grins. "You had that sentence ready."
"I have legit, definite supernatural shit happening in this house," you state. "Getting swept up in bigger, crazier goose chases or, or red herrings... it's going to be an easy trap to fall into and I need to be very conscious of it." You pause, briefly... before adding, "I also don't want to lose my fucking mind."
"That's all the more reason to keep it organized!," Cici remarks.
"I've kind of started a journal?," you reply, "Though now I'm wondering if I should be keeping any of that on my computer. There's... weird shit happening on the internet, too, apparently."
"Paranoia's another trap you gotta avoid," she points out.
And she's right.
You should definitely not get hung up on whether sleeping in the house is going to somehow 'activate' Cici, or if there was anything nefarious in the tea Kate's mom gave you.
Or why Afu has so many phones.
Or how much pull Mondol really has over Chariot MT.
As you both stand there and eat pizza, you realize you have no idea what to... do.
You don't even have playing cards this time.