Conspiracy, Part VIII
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Puzzles

Mount Kazbek, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 1545 hours local time

Harper found SCP-1440 seated cross-legged on a flat rock, a worn set of playing cards arrayed before it. The Old Man from Nowhere, as SCP-1440 was informally called in the folklore surrounding him, was a tired-looking old man with sad eyes, a deeply-lined face, and a bristly silver beard. He wore the simple attire of a peasant, with a thick but fraying wool coat and a fur cap. His breath froze in his whiskers, conjuring up an image of Grandfather Frost in Harper's mind.

"Good day, Grandfather," Harper said Russian. "May I join you?"

The old man looked up. "Good day. I have nothing to offer but a hard cold rock to sit on, but if you wish to join me, you are welcome," he said in the same language; Harper couldn't quite place the accent. "Though I suggest you may not wish to keep my company for long."

"Because of the Three Brothers," Harper said.

"Indeed," the old man said, eying him shrewdly. "Have we met before, my son?"

"No, Grandfather, never before, though I have heard tales of you," Harper said. Gesturing at the cards, he asked, "What is this you play?"

"Oh, merely a game to pass the time before I must continue on my journey," the old man explained. "It is called Grandfather's Clock. I imagine, however, you did not seek me out in this lonely spot merely to discuss a card game."

Harper nodded, "This is true, Grandfather. I am a member of the Foundation."

"Again you seek me out? After the pestilence and destruction that followed me to you?" the old man asked sadly. "You failed to kill me when I came to you before, and you tempted me with a 'cure' for my condition. You cannot 'cure' a man who is cursed by the Three Brothers of Death themselves."

"Forgive me, Grandfather," Harper interrupted, "but who mentioned a 'cure'? I merely wished to ask you questions."

"So you know nothing of the woman," the old man said, frowning.

Harper asked, "What woman?"

"A young, pretty thing," the old man replied, staring into memory. "Dark hair, with a face like a hawk and eyes like a wolf. She came to me not a week ago, offering me a 'cure' for my condition, if I went with her to the city. I declined - I must bear this curse, but I do not wish it upon mankind."

"What happened next?" Harper asked.

"She went away," the old man said wistfully. "Like everyone always goes away." A tear ran down his cheek and disappeared into his beard.

"I cannot stay long," Harper said, "but I think I can stay long enough that we might eat and drink together, Grandfather." A weary smile lifted the corners of the old man's mustache as Harper produced a bottle of vodka, some sliced roast beef, and a small handful of candies from his bag.

And so the two sat and ate and spoke of random things in the cold mountain air of the Caucasus for nearly an hour, before Harper took his leave to return to Strelinikov and the jeep.


O5-11's personal vacation cabin, Maine
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 0659 hours local time


The Foundation's eleventh Overseer was a portly African-American in his seventies. He had worked his way up through the Foundation's temporal sciences department, before eventually being promoted to Overseer.

Like all of the Overseers, Eleven had been paying close attention to the counterintelligence investigation that Seven had been directing. Always known for his carefully thought-out opinion, Eleven was one of the swing votes on the O5 Council, mediating between the faction that wanted to pursue caution, aware of the dangers a counterintelligence "fishing expedition" that could turn into a witch hunt, and the faction that wanted to aggressively dismantle what could be one of the most major conspiracies in Foundation history. Eleven had kept his comments to himself during the several emergency meetings that had occurred in the past week, in no small part because he himself was unsure of what course to pursue. He was out of his element with all the cloak and dagger hall of mirrors shit. No, he preferred dealing with simple scientific problems, like how to keep the Foundation's several dozen spacetime-altering objects from causing a cascading, reality-destroying paradox.

Eleven had never been particularly good at remembering his medication, especially when he was under stress. His doctor had complained about his high blood pressure, and, as usual, Eleven had paid lip service by taking the prescribed medication. When he remembered. The combination of age, high blood pressure, stress, and a family history of heart disease meant that the elderly gentleman would never awaken this Christmas morning, having expired of a heart attack in his sleep.

At precisely 0700 hours, Eleven's bodyguard entered his room to wake his principal. When Eleven failed to rouse, the bodyguard checked for a pulse, and then issued a Code Red over his radio to the security staff in attendance. The Foundation had lost a second Overseer in less than a week.


Interlude

O5-11 is dead.

That was not part of the plan, but it may yet be useful.

Is the operation in Oman complete?

Yes. Our forces left one survivor. He is not one of ours, but he will be suspected.

And what of the creature?

Our experts believe we have what we need. It will only be a matter of time.

Good. Move the timetable forward.


The Game's Afoot

Beslan Airport, Vladikavkaz, Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 1800 hours local time


Harper was about to board his flight to Bonn when Captain Gagarin ran up to him, holding an envelope. "This just came in secure from Command," Gagarin panted.

Harper thanked him and tore it open. It was a message from O5-7:

TO: Harper
FROM: O5-7
MESSAGE FOLLOWS:
O5-11 dead, suspect conspirator involvement.
RS-29 overrun by forces unknown, Dr. Ford only survivor. Suspect Ford is traitor, in transit to Command-02 for questioning.
Recommend immediate return to Command-02 for consultations.
END MESSAGE

I guess I'm going to Washington, Harper thought, pocketing the message. "Comrade Gagarin, please call ahead to Bonn to arrange for a connecting flight to Washington, D.C.," he said. Gagarin saluted smartly, and set off. The plot thickens, Harper thought. The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'


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