Aubrey Dell missed the days when coming home was a respite. When she was free to leave work at work and pretend for a few hours a day that she was a normal biologist, one not surrounded by world-ending horror. But it had been… twenty? Twenty-five? Years since she’d enjoyed that luxury. Every promotion had dragged her deeper into the folds of the Foundation, tightened the chains keeping her from a normal life. Until she’d reached the top, and the thought of freedom was a distant as the stars.
There were a dozen different different tasks she was mentally running through as she entered her house. Researchers at Site 78 were beginning to grow concerned over unpredicted tectonic activity, and its possible connection with their contained objects. Rumor was spreading of Chaos Insurgency strike teams preparing memetic attacks in metropolitan areas. SCP-5824 was showing the first signs of entering its final stage of pupation. She had to analyze, triage, plan, praying just to scrape by and stave off destruction for a few more weeks. And as soon as one problem was solved, another would leap forward to take its place.
It was these thoughts that distracted her from seeing the intruder until she reached the kitchen and flicked on the light. She jumped back, hand instinctively groping for a weapon but falling on empty air. The intruder didn’t move from his spot behind the Island. Not just any intruder, she realized. Pavlo Kharkiv. Looking like she had never seen him. His hair was dirty and tangled. Bags hung from his eyes. His suit was rumpled, his tie crooked. There was no sign of the normally immaculately groomed man she was used to working with. And in one hand he held a gun, pointed at the ground. A glass of whiskey sat on the island next to its half full bottle.
“Hello, Aubrey. You know why I’m here.”
She looked from the gun to his piercing eyes and back to the gun. She nodded.
“How much do you actually know?”
“I… suspect a lot. You and others are planning a coup. You’ve allied with a Group of Interest currently unknown to the Foundation to help make that happen.” No point in being coy. There were only two ways this scenario could end. “You’re developing a Foundation headquarters beneath Navi Mumbai. One capable of surviving a wide variety of K-class scenarios. I have a few theories why. I hope none of them are correct.”
Pavlo nodded. “One of them probably is. You are missing a few details, but that is most of it. Too much of it.” Without taking his eyes from her, he drained the whiskey in the glass and refilled it. After staring at each other for a minute, he spoke again. “I used to think I would do anything for our cause. I assumed that’s what allowed us to reach the positions that we did. It wasn’t that we were smarter, or better leaders, or more experienced. It was we were the ones who, when we looked downward into the abyss, did not blink. Did not turn away. We confronted the horror, even if we had to become horrors ourselves.” He paused to drain the glass in a single gulp. “I was wrong. The abyss is so much deeper than we ever could have imagined.”
He raised the gun and fired at the same time she leaped forward. The bullet caught her in the shoulder. She ignored the pain. It barely registered underneath waterfalls of adrenaline pumping through her. She slammed into him, grabbing his wrist as they tumbled down. He grunted as they slammed into the ground. Striking at his face, she tried to wrench the gun from his wrist, but he turned, slamming her against the island. She held on.
The scrambled wildly at each other, messy, savage. There was no elegance in the struggle. They were old, out of shape. It had been at least five years since she’d last sparred, and a decade before that since she’d had to fight for her life. It wasn’t any skill or training that fueled. Only a mad, animal will to survive.
It was a single shot to the head. As they struck at each other, he managed to place his pistol under her chin and fire. For several long minutes he lay there, blood pooling over him. Then he pushed himself to his feet. The pistol fell from his trembling hands, clattering hollowly against the floor. He took the whiskey bottle in his hand and didn’t stop drinking until the last drop was gone. He stared down at the body of the woman who had, only days ago, been his friend.
He’d killed a fellow member of the O5 Council. And his work was only beginning.