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August 12th, 1993

The door buzzer buzzed.

“Ah, that must be them now,” Dr. Crow stood up and walked to the door. He always did that: never said "come in", never had anyone else go do it, he always got up and opened the door himself. He wasn't a man to let blindness get him down.

“I’m sorry we’re late, Dr. Crow,” a woman's voice came from the doorway. The group around the coffee table turned their heads.

“Oh no, it’s no trouble at all.” Crow turned from the new arrivals to those already gathered around his coffee table, revealing three guests: a woman in her mid-thirties, with long brown hair in a braid, a rather nondescript middle-aged man in a business suit, and a balding man with a beard and a pink button-down shirt. “Attention, all! These are the three final members of our group: Doctor Sophia Light, Doctor Everett Mann, and Doctor Simon Glass. They are all good friends of mine, and have worked with me many times in the past. Connor, I am sure you have met them before.”

The doctor, now out of the hospital, nodded slightly.

Crow smiled broadly and walked back to his chair at the unofficial head of the table. He was a man with a friendly smile, frizzy blond hair reminiscent of Einstein, and the quiet, powerful aura of a mafia don. He was, as usual, dressed in a ratty t-shirt and jeans, with his wrap-around sunglasses over his sightless eyes and Kain lying at his feet. Dr. Connor Gerry stood several feet behind Crow’s chair like a clothing store mannequin, hands folded behind his back and no trace of emotion on his face. Francis had not known him to be an expressive man before, but now he was simply unsettling.

Dr. Crow clapped his hands together.

“Now then, I think it’s about time to start. Benjamin, if you will, please.”

“Mm-hmm. Okay, so. Nemo, Fats and I have gone into the facility three times now, and here’s what we have so far.” Ben opened several thick manilla folders one after another, spilling dozens of photographs and sketches across the table. “Turns out the place isn’t infinite, but it is big. Really big. The part we ran through last week was just one of the side towers, right here…” he pointed to a sketch of a large cylinder surrounded by eight smaller ones. “Each of the branch towers goes down twenty levels, and is connected the center one every other level. Center one goes down at least forty-five levels. The entire place looks like it’s wired and ready to use. It’s like if whoever built it just got up and left and took their shit with them.”

If anyone built it,” Nemo interrupted.

“Yes, yes, if anyone built it. It’s not a normal building, if you hadn’t figured that out yet. The exits lead to locations hundreds of miles apart: One door went to the arctic, another opened into a cave, and the buildings on the surface look to be somewhere in Nevada.”

“Classic,” Jack said.

“Ayup. Watch out for those pesky aliens and their rogue anal probings.”

There were a few chuckles, solely from Nemo and Fats. Ben paid the response or lack thereof no mind and continued to speak.

“Exploring the place fully will take another week or two, but that’s a pretty generous estimate. We weren’t able to find the main power station, so it’s all in standby mode.”

“And the statue?” Dr. Crow said.

“Right back where we locked it up: Tower 1, Level 7, Chamber 3.” He pointed to the appropriate spot: The sketches already had designations thought up and filled in.

“Good, good…” Crow scratched Kain behind his ears. “Now then, what do you have planned on for your next expedition?”

Francis scanned the photos. Dark, empty hallways and dark empty rooms. Despite the fact that the nightmares had dulled in the last few days, the pictures filled him with apprehension: the statue was still there, in that dark. Still watching. Still waiting.

No, I’m watching you.

The mantra came to his mind automatically now, yanking him back from that precipice. He was the watcher, the statue was the watched. That was the way it was, and how it should be. The statue was just that. A statue that needed storage. What it was capable of was secondary. Merely a statue that needed to be put in the proper place.

Dammit stop drifting off…

“I say we just destroy the thing and be done with it,” John said. He was one of Connor’s assistants, a small, shifty-looking man who seemed to be Bright’s long lost little brother, if his surliness was any indication.

“And what if you can’t?” Sophia said. “What if that only makes it angry?”

“If it doesn’t work the first time, then you hit it harder the second time.”

Really, John? You goddamn idiot…

“Not harder. Hit smarter.” Strelnikov this time, another one of Connor’s assistants. His accent was quite thick. “To fight directly is stupid. We must get around. Perhaps we find a weakness, eh? Then we strike.”

Smart, but off-base. Re-railing this train…

“And then we throw it away.” Francis said. “John, I don’t know what it is that you actually do or why you’re here, but I can tell for sure that you’re not a scientist. Sure, we could destroy it, but that gains us nothing. If we can keep it locked up, which apparently we can, then we can watch it. And eventually understand it, which can help us when we deal with things like it in the future.”

John sat back in his chair, glaring at Francis. The others seemed to be in agreement: nodded heads and “mm-hmms” throughout the thirteen. It hadn’t been much of an argument to begin with.

“That said,” Francis continued. “We need support. While it may be locked up now, we’ve essentially set it up in an empty room, shut the door, and check in on it occasionally. That won’t work as a long term containment plan, even if all of us were to be put on the project today, which I’m guessing we will.”

Adam smiled, and it was the sort to prelude a polite correction.

“Both true and false. I’ve found that a small group of people in the right place can handle almost anything: It’s why I work with all of you in the way I do. While I appreciate your concern for maintaining security of the statue, who would we go to? Would you trust the government to spare us the red tape and help us accomplish anything, rather than taking it all for themselves and bungling the entire thing? Would you trust the public not to go into a panic when they realize that there is a blatant violation of what they thought they knew without an explanation? Any support we’ll have will be what we can muster ourselves. There’s more brainpower concentrated in this one room than anywhere else on Earth. I’m sure we can make the solutions reveal themselves.

"A good house needs a solid foundation, and that foundation is sitting right here at this table. I’m not going to hand off the responsibility of protecting against whatever or whoever is out there to a faceless bureaucracy: this is a job for people I trust. We have our foundation, now we just build the house.”

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