The Fourth

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BEFORE

— - —

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Thirteen chairs with thirteen occupants sat around a long, ovular table in a cavernous chamber deep beneath the earth. On the walls around them were screens, many of which were displaying vital statistical information of some relevance and others which were live feeds of hallways, courtyards, laboratories and holding cells. These screens were ignored, though, in favor of something lying in the center of the long table. Something long and sleek, with a dark wooden shaft and an etched steel spearhead.

“Well I’ll be damned,” the American said, leaning in to look at it closer. “You actually got it done.”

The Outsider stood from her seat and pulled out a packet of papers. “Yes, well, with no shortage of effort there are plenty of things you can accomplish.”

Blackbird smiled from his seat near the end of the table. “Plenty of things, yes. Great and terrible things. The Egyptians murdered thousands to build their pyramids.”

“I believe the Pyramids were actually built by Elvis and Tupac,” the Accountant said, “though I may be confusing that with Atlantis.”

They all laughed.

“W-what does it do?” the Lesser said.

An uncomfortable nothingness at the end of the table stirred, causing the air to chill suddenly. A voice came out of it, one quiet but intense and difficult to listen to.

“This is the Spear of the Non-Believer,” the Other Overseer said, “the godless lance of Old King Sarrus.” The spectral horror hummed softly. “Fascinating.”

The Outsider came around the table, handing each of them folders out of her packet of information. “To answer your question, the short answer is ‘probably a lot’. The longer answer is that we’re not sure. Ever since we contained the last of the four great demons and gained access to Apollyon’s tomb, we’ve been studying the texts found there to learn more about this spear. It obviously had some importance to the king, or else it wouldn’t have been where it was and it wouldn’t have cost so much blood to get to it.”

She pulled out a remote and flashed it at the largest monitor in the room, one that hung on the far wall. It showed the interior of a tomb, dusty and dark, with the spear hanging by silver chain over a large, stone sarcophagus. The next image was text from a book written in a language few of them recognized.

“Is that Daeva?” the Blackbird said bemusedly. “Written in shorthand, so not by a Daevite. Where was this?”

“In the tomb,” the Outsider said. “Based on information we’ve gathered from these books, it’s likely that these passages were written by either Daevite captives, or slaves, or were stolen from Daevite libraries. Why they were buried with Apollyon, I’m not sure. However, there are several tombs in this collection that speak about that spear directly, indicating that it predates that kingdom by centuries and may even predate the Daevites. A lack of written historical records beyond that point would make it difficult to narrow down, but we have reason to believe that even to these ancient civilizations, it was considered a legendary weapon.”

The Lesser rapped his knuckles on the table in frustration. “I understand all of that, but I want a short answer. Why is this important and why did we spend so many disposables on obtaining it?”

The American shot him a look. “It kills gods, Baron. If you throw it at a god, that god will die.” He waved his hands around in the air. “Poof. Just like that.”

The Lesser’s face scrunched up uncomfortably. “That’s just preposterous. You can’t kill gods.”

“Oh yes,” the Other Overseer said calmly, “you certainly can. It is a remarkably difficult feat, accomplished by only a handful throughout all of time, but there have been terribly powerful beings consigned to oblivion before.”

The Archivist began flipping through a book on the desk in front of her quickly. “Yes, if my records are accurate, which they likely are since they d-did not have to be translated and were not sitting in a cave-” the Outsider shot her a blistering look -”there are legends going back th-thousands of years, maybe more, about different weapons that could k-kill gods. Usually sword, arrows, that sort of thing. Most have either been confirmed to be fakes, or l-lost to antiquity, but perhaps the most enduring l-legend is this one. The Spear. I-in fact, there have not been any other s-such stories about s-such powerful weapons in all of m-modern history.”

“Well,” the Other Oversaid said with a light lilting to its response, “there was one.” At the other end of the long table, the figure sitting in shadow at its head shifted in its seat.

“Yes, Diane, thank you,” the Outsider said, annoyed. “One of the oldest legends regarding the spear involved Lucifer, the figure from Christian mythology. In that story-” she clicked the remote again, and the next image was what could very tenuously be called a book, “-when God smote Lucifer a shard of his iron crown fell to the earth with him and was found by Cain. The same story details how Cain used the shard to kill Abel, not a rock, and that he crafted the spear out of his brother’s bones once he realized its terrible power.”

The table was silent for a moment.

“What a crock of shit,” the Liar said, kicking their feet up onto the tabletop and cackling. “I know bullshit when I see it, and that-” they gestured at the screen “-is bullshit.”

“Now now,” a sickly sweet voice danced across the table, “you know how much Mr. Siegel doesn’t like people putting their feet up on the table now, honey. We’ve been over this before.”

The Liar pulled their feet back off quickly. “Sorry, ma’am.”

Green leaned forward into the light, a narrow pair of rectangular spectacles perched on the end of her nose. “Oh, it’s no worry. I just don’t want anyone getting distracted today, when we have such important work to do.” She looked across to the American. “Rufus. Do you have anywhere we can put this where nobody will be able to get to it?”

The American shrugged. “I mean, no. Ain’t got anywhere you can just shove things where there won’t also be unassociated persons digging around. Can we not just keep it here?”

Green shook her head. “No, here won’t do. We need to put this somewhere close enough that we can get to it if we need it, but far enough away that it will never be used against us.” She tapped a finger against her chin. “Anyone have any ideas?”

The room was silent again. She sighed.

“What about you, Mr. Roboto?” she seemed to say to nobody specific. Suddenly the screens in the room blackened, and each was replaced by a dark grey circle and arrows with a pulsing red spot at its center. “You have anywhere we can keep this?” she said.

You are asking if I know of a location more secure than the one you are currently sitting in, the display read. The answer is no. There is no location more secure than this one.

Green huffed. “Well there has to be somewhere, right? Is there nowhere out there we can-”

She was silenced suddenly by the ringing of a phone at the far end of the table. The figure in the shadows there looked down towards it, and on the third ring extended a hand and picked up the receiver. They spoke in hushed tones for a moment, and then sat the receiver back down. The table watched the figure silently.

“Sophia will take it away,” the Founder said, his voice soft. “She can keep it hidden out of time, with no opportunity for it to be disturbed in any way. He looked down at his watch, and then back up at the table. “For our purposes, you would all do well to keep your distance from this.”

The Ambassador furrowed his brow, confused. “One moment sir, if I might. L'Américain says this is a spear for killing gods, yes? Why then would it be any danger to us? We are not gods, no?”

The Founder smiled gently. “Jean, you give yourself too little credit.” He looked back down the table. “Diane, Rufus, Mortimer. Assign as many of your assets as you feel comfortable to Donna’s team at the Apollyon site. Sophia,” he looked at the figure in the shadows just beside him, who did not move, “take this away. Find somewhere to keep it safe. I trust you.”

The figure flickered slightly, and then both it and the spear were gone, and the table in unison realized it had never been there at all.


NOW

— - —

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The hum of the jet’s engines were the only sound that filled the cabin as Sylvester Sloan’s plane cruised through the skies. He and Calvin sat at a table together near the front of the plane; they had been talking a moment before, but now they sat staring at a television mounted at the front of the cabin. The sound was off but the message was clear: the newsreel read “French billionaire Jean Lemieux Betrand cancels appearance at Jove Festival in South Africa, citing security concerns.”

Olivia was watching too. Her complexion had not improved much, but her eyes were focused. “Jean Betrand. That’s the Ambassador, isn’t it?” She squinted at the screen. “Is he always so… public?”

“That’s what he does,” Sloan growled. “The pretty face of the Foundation’s PR efforts. Not really one to miss a party, though.” He scratched his chin. “Something must be up.”

Suddenly the light on the cabin phone lit up with a soft beeping. Sloan walked over to it and pressed a button.

“Does the Black Moon Howl?” he asked.

“It never stopped,” the voice - a woman’s - replied.

Sloan sighed. “Good evening, Priscilla. What can I help you with?”

The woman on the other end tutted at him. “Have you retrieved our agents?”

Sloan looked back at the three of them, his nose turned up slightly. “Might as well call it that. What do you need?”

“You’ve no doubt seen the news,” she said. “The Ambassador has cancelled his plans for tonight. What you may find interesting is why. Not an hour ago we received a call from him, verified identity and all, and he informed us that he had cancelled his plans because he wants to meet with us to discuss terms.”

Sloan’s steely eyes darkened. “Terms? Terms of what?”

“Surrender,” Norris said. “There are only a few of them left now, and he’s seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. A rat off a sinking ship.”

Sylvester looked at Calvin, who was still staring at the television. “This feels like a trap, Priscilla,” he said slowly. “What is he expecting to gain from this?”

“His life,” she said. “He said he’d gladly stand trial, he just doesn’t want to die.”

Sloan pursed his lips. “Not surprising, the coward. What’s he willing to offer?”

“Information, and his resignation. He says he can tell us where the All-Seeing Eye is.”

Calvin looked back down towards the phone, and then back at Olivia and Adam. Olivia was staring at him, her face still stricken from her time with the Blackbird. Adam had not looked away from the window since they got on the plane. Calvin sighed.

“Who does he want to talk to?” he asked.

Norris scoffed. “Myself, of course. As our chief diplomat, I alone have the authority to parlay with him.”

“More like she’d like to get him alone and fuck him,” Sloan whispered, his voice little more than a growl.

“You’ll need a security detail,” Calvin said. “You’ll need to move quickly.”

“I’m not an amateur, Mr. Lucien,” she scoffed. “I’ll not be told how to do my job-”

“I still don’t like it,” Sloan interrupted. “You have no idea what his intentions are.”

“Of course not - because we haven’t met yet, Sylvester. That’s what diplomacy is for. Besides that, the decision has already been made. I will go to meet him tonight and bring him back to Delta for further questioning. Once we’ve gotten what we need from him, we hold onto him until this all blows over and then he’ll be free to go.”

“The decision has been made?” Sloan barked.

“Yes, Sylvester. We called a vote shortly after he contacted us. If you wanted to participate, you shouldn’t have run off on your own courier mission when we could have sent a thank you card and a hot-air balloon to accomplish the same thing. You can’t just leave whenever you want, we are at war, after all.”

The grinding of Sloan’s teeth was pronounced. “Where is this exchange taking place?”

“O. R. Tambo International,” she responded. “Why, you’re not thinking of-”

Sloan dropped the phone back on the cradle and sighed. “Priscilla is a skilled diplomat, but this is above her abilities, I’m afraid. Betrand is notoriously anomalously charismatic. I wasn’t even joking about her wanting to fuck him, either. She’s a good talker, but not what I would call clever or self-aware.”

“What do you want to do?” Calvin said.

He groaned. “I don’t know. Your two compatriots there are in no shape to be going back out there. I don’t want Priscilla handling this alone, so I need to go and intercept her before anything happens. You,” he paused. “I don’t know where you’re at right now. Are you alright?”

Calvin shrugged. “I’ve been worse.”

“Then you can come with me. We’ll land at Tambo and depart, and I’ll send these two back to Delta and out of harm’s way. Agreed?”

Calvin nodded. “Agreed.”

— - —

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Hours later, and after a bout of fitful sleep, they landed in Johannesburg with little fanfare. As they prepared to disembark, Sloan pointed towards another plane sitting on the far end of the tarmac. The lettering on the side bore the words “Distant Horizons Airlines”.

“That’s a Foundation front,” he said. “He’s here.”

Calvin gathered his things and moved to leave, then hesitated. He turned back towards Olivia and Adam, both of whom were watched him. Their faces were sullen.

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll come back for you once this is over.”

Olivia nodded, but Adam barely moved. His eyes were locked on Calvin’s face, and there was an intensity there that Calvin didn’t know how to respond to. Instead he nodded in response, and left the plane.

He and Sloan crossed the tarmac towards the airport, where a small group of individuals Calvin identified as Insurgency operatives were waiting for them by a side door. As they approached, Sloan pulled a silver ring out of his pocket and held it up for them to see. Acknowledging the identification, the agents pulled the doors open and accompanied them inside. They proceeded down several long hallways until one agent ushered them into a side door.

The room beyond was small - likely a meeting room for airport employees. Sitting at the table was a suddenly extremely aggravated Priscilla Norris, as well as a man in a clean, crisp tan blazer with a light blue shirt and dark blue tan slacks. As they entered the man stood and smiled, though when he caught Calvin’s gaze he hesitated. Nobody else seemed to notice, and the man played it off quickly.

“Sylvester,” Norris said, seething. “What are you doing here?”

Sloan smiled as he extended his hand towards the man in the tan jacket. “Enjoying the weather, Priscilla. I haven’t been this far south in ages; it’s good for my old, flappy skin.” He turned to the man and took his hand. “Sylvester Sloan, a pleasure.”

The man’s smile was striking, Calvin noticed. He was unusually handsome, with dark hair pulled back into a short bun behind his head and a rich complexion with no blemishes to speak of. His eyes were a dark green, and when he laughed it sounded like music and falling water.

“Jean Betrand, the pleasure is all mine,” the man said. “Thank you for coming so far to meet with me, Mr. Sloan. I was just telling Ms. Norris that I hope I have not inconvenienced you too terribly.”

Sloan waved him off. Calvin watched him, and realized that despite the performance he was putting on, Sylvester was very carefully watching the windows and listening.

“It is no problem at all, of course.” Sloan gestured back towards Calvin, who bowed slightly. “You’re familiar with my colleague, Calvin Lucien?”

Betrand’s face froze for an instant before relaxing back into its natural position. “Yes, yes, the man hunting Overseers.” He extended a hand to Calvin as well, who shook it. “You have really shaken things to their core, Mr. Lucien.”

Calvin didn’t respond, but they shared a look that spoke volumes of the tension in the room. Betrand motioned for them all to sit, and they did.

“I will be as concise as I can,” he said, “because I do have a tendency to rattle on. Your actions, Mr. Lucien, have destabilized the Foundation. There are now crucial functions that were once performed by my colleagues that are no longer active. In the past, I would have reached out to Green or Rufus for their wisdom in these trying times, but they are also absent.” He adjusted his jacket slightly. “That’s why I’ve come to you. I am a realist, and despite my years of service to the Foundation’s goals I value my own longevity over any ideology. Besides, by the look of things your ideology is winning out against theirs. Perhaps it is time to begin reconsidering.”

“Besides this,” he continued, “I possess what you might call an acute ability to… feel things. People, I can read people easily. It is no problem. Even large groups, I feel very comfortable around, because I know how they are feeling. This, though, is much different. There is something massive moving within the Foundation, something very powerful. This power is radiating out from Overwatch Command, and it grows stronger everyday.”

Calvin thought, then, about the presence he had felt in the warehouse, and in the spire. Something large looking down on him like he might look at a dust mite. “The Founder,” Calvin said. “Aaron Siegel.”

Betrand looked at him and nodded slowly. “This is most likely. I am a single man, and while I may be the Ambassador of the Foundation, I am not eager to stand between this power and its goal. Instead, I would like to see it snuffed out. From what I understand, you are in possession of tools capable of doing this.”

He laid his hands palms up on the table. “Here is what I offer. I know the location of the Overwatch Command, as well as many other Foundation black sites. I can show you where they are hidden. I have knowledge, practical knowledge about the Foundation that you might find useful. Once this is over, perhaps your organization will need assistance in cleaning up the mess that has been made. I have contacts in many organizations, and am well known. A valuable resource.”

Norris nodded. “Yes, we would eagerly accept your services, Jean.”

Betrand looked at her, and his eyes flashed for a moment. Calvin looked around and realized that, once again, he seemed to be the only one who noticed it. He caught Betrand looking at him from the corner of his eye, seemingly surprised about something. Norris, however, carried on.

“We should get you out of here, and to safety. There is no telling what sort of erratic and dangerous response the Foundation might-”

As if on cue, they heard someone shout in the distance. This was followed by more voices, and then a line of ripping bullets fired from some sort of powerful automatic weapon. Everyone in the room stood suddenly as Norris’ security team filed out into the hallway. More gunshots filled the air. When Calvin looked back, he saw that Betrand had gone pale.

“That’s them,” he said. “They’ve come for me. God, they’re going to kill me.”

“I don’t think so,” Sloan said, grabbing the man by his jacket and pulling him into the hall. Norris followed behind them and then Calvin. As they passed, Sloan addressed Norris’ detail.

“If you see any hostiles, put them down,” he growled. “We’ll deal with the fallout later.”

They scampered down another long hallway until it opened up into a cafeteria. Employees of the airport were milling about, but the group quickly gathered their attention. Sloan pushed Betrand forward as more gunshots echoed through the hall behind them. Noticing this, the people in the cafeteria began to run for the exits, eager to escape the danger. Norris, Calvin, Sloan, and Betrand fell in with this group and together they made their way out towards the terminal.

They exited out into a large lobby, where more people - likely passengers - were now heading towards the exits. Sloan pointed towards a set of gates, past which was his jet sitting on the tarmac. As they took off running for the door at the far end of the airport, there was an explosion behind them.

When Calvin turned to look through the dust and debris, he saw four figures emerging from the smoke. They were human, but something about them was otherworldly and uncanny. The lead was a tale male with a shaved head and heavy body armor. One of the two females carried a lit flamethrower, while the other carried a long rifle. The other male was carrying what appeared to be a minigun fed by a long chain of bullets from a pack on his back. The four of them eyed Calvin in unison, and began running for him.

“Oh fuck,” Calvin said, turning and sprinting towards the rest of the group. He heard the sound of the roaring minigun and ducked behind a pillar. From behind the group, Insurgency security operatives began flooding out into the lobby, firing openly at the four assailants. Distracted, they turned and engaged the security teams, and Calvin was able come around back behind the group and join them again.

As they ducked and weaved to avoid the spray of bullets, Calvin occasionally caught a glimpse of the carnage taking place behind them. He saw one of the four, a woman, lift an agent into the air and hold her flamethrower up to their face. The larger of the men had pulled a steel support pillar out of the wall and had used it to skewer two other men, who writhed and dangled from it before slumping over and collapsing. A bullet pinged off a metal desk near Calvin, and he saw from a distance the assailant with the long rifle, slowly walking towards them and firing. He looked over towards the other three, who were preparing to take off again.

“Down!” he hissed. “Stay down!”

Sloan ducked beneath a table, but Betrand stumbled and fell over a row of chairs. As he did, Norris chirped and stood to assist him. Calvin heard the pop from the rifle and the pop from her skull simultaneously, as Norris’ consciousness was reduced to a pink vapor. Sloan cried out as he was sprayed with the gurgling remains of Norris’ grey matter, and a stooped Calvin had to pull him out from under the table. The three of them crawled towards the door as more bullets buzzed overhead.

When they reached the exit, Calvin threw open the door and together they ran out onto the tarmac. In the near distance they saw Sloan’s plane pulling onto the runway. They passed under another jet pulled into the gate, only narrowly avoiding the corpse of a headless agent that came crashing down towards them from a now broken window as the four Foundation assassins appeared in the open space where the glass had been. Calvin didn’t look back, but felt himself falling as Sloan nudged him sideway, just as a bullet brushed across his cheek. When he looked back, Sylvester was holding his leg, and blood was pooling up through his pants. The man gasped and looked up at Calvin, and his expression went blank as another bullet burst through his heart.

Another bullet crashed into the tarmac next to him, and Calvin rolled over to grab Betrand, who was curled into a ball on the ground. Calvin could see a dire expression stretched across his features, a speechless fear accompanied by wordless chattering of his lips.

The speakers on the runway all around him began to hiss and crackle. Then, suddenly, a voice echoed out across the airport - child-like and unnatural.

Irantu…

…not the insurgent…

…bring me the insurgent…

Kill the traitor.

Something like a wheeze escaped Betrand’s mouth, and suddenly he was up and trying to scramble away. Behind them, Calvin heard a dull thud as the tallest of the group, the one the voice had called Irantu, landed flat on his feet from three stories up and began to swiftly cross the runway towards Betrand.

“No!” Betrand screamed. “No! Let me go, please, I beg you, I’ll do whatever you want! Please! Please! Forgive me, please! I don’t want to die!”

The voice cut through the speakers again.

Traitor.

Traitor.

Traitor.

Betrand fell onto his back and scrambled backwards, away from the armored man who now stood before him. Irantu lifted a foot and brought it down on one of Betrand’s legs, shattering it with a splintering crack. He screamed and grabbed for his leg.

“Please! Please! Irantu, please! Don’t do this! Please! I just wanted to live! I don’t want this!”

Irantu grabbed Betrand by his hair and held his head still with his right hand. With his left, he reached into his belt and produced a lean, black hatchet, holding it out in front of Betrand. At the sight of it, the Overseer began gurgling like an infant. A moment later, Irantu brought the hatchet up and then down into Betrand’s skull with a wet crunch, and then again, splitting it open as Betrand's bloodshot eyes rolled back into his head. Dropping the hatchet, Irantu reached into the gap with both hands and, as easily as a person might open a bag of chips, tore the skull in two. Betrand’s body writhed on the ground autonomically for a few moments longer, before it and the airport grew silent.

Calvin’s breathing was heavy as the man approached him, but the roar of jet engines cut across the quiet. They both turned to see Sloan’s plane lifting into the air at the end of the runway, and Calvin’s heart leapt in his chest. Suddenly, he heard the distinct spooling up of the minigun, and then a long line of screaming lead streaked across the sky, ripping into the plane’s engines. The man holding the minigun held it on the plane with laser precision, and only after the aircraft stalled and fell flaming from the sky did he release the trigger.

A pallid grey horror came over Calvin swiftly as he watched the plane burning at the end of the runway. He looked up just quickly enough to see Irantu bring a closed fist down on his face, and then he blacked out.




- BACK -


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