The Third

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BEFORE

— - —

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The doors to the infirmary crashed open, and Aaron's security detail poured into the hallway. Behind them came the Overseer, in a full on sprint towards the single illuminated room on the floor. His guards flanked the door, and he ran in, only stopping once inside to catch his breath.

There were two other people standing in the room, and one laying on a bed attached to several life-giving machines. The Blackbird and Green were standing next to the bed, upon which was Sophia, the Nazarene. Seeing her, Aaron stumbled over towards the bed. He placed an uncertain palm on her forehead. Her breath was shallow.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice ragged. "What happened to her?"

The Blackbird's face was sad, but Green appeared slightly annoyed. "You know what happened to her, Aaron," she said. "She was hung up with silk nails. She's cursed. This is what happens to people who are cursed."

Aaron shook his head. He knew the truth of what she was saying, but he had not believed it would come so quickly. He remembered the first night they had spent together, when she had told him what she was capable of. Dancing through time, she had called it. He had laughed. Then one day she disappeared, and when she returned her wrists were punched through with dark iron nails and her side had been skewered. He had not laughed then.

The nails, though. Felix had known what they were. Something old and dangerous. He had warned about them then - warned about what would happen to her blood. The Fountain could protect them from sickness, but-

Curses? he had said. No, unfortunately not. Curses are an unnatural thing. That is a wound I cannot clean out.

But she had persisted. Her work continued, and the projects she managed flourished, but she would have bouts of weakness and agony that would last for days, then weeks. The last one had stretched on for three months. Felix had tended to her using the treatments the Blackbird had recommended, but it had become evident that her condition was worsening.

“You said that you could prevent this,” Aaron snarled at the Blackbird. “You said your magic would keep this from happening.”

The Blackbird held up his hands. “I made no such promises. I said I could delay the inevitable, but this is the inevitable, Mr. Siegel. She is fortunate to have lasted this long. Those nails were not designed for someone who survived a crucifixion.”

Aaron turned back to her. He felt heat building in his face, something sharp and broken festering in his gut. Sophia’s skin had begun to darken, first along her arms and now creeping up to her chest. Mottled black and grey, like frostbite. They had wrapped them in bandages to keep the seeping down, but the bandages had soaked through.

“How much longer?” he asked.

The Blackbird sighed. “Days, maybe. Hours, more likely.”

Aaron didn’t react. The room was stuffy and still, the only sound was the clicking and beeping of the machines, the soft rush of air with every assisted breath, and the ticking of a clock on the wall.

“I would be remiss,” the Blackbird said, “if I did not remind you that our previously discussed arrangement could prevent this.”

Aaron stiffened. “That’s not what we’re here to do.”

The Blackbird shrugged. “Maybe not. But the terms of the contract are clear. Stay the hand of death. This-” he gestured down to Sophia’s withering form, “-is death. This is what it looks like.”

“You don’t have long to decide,” Green said, tapping her foot impatiently. “Once she’s gone, she’s gone. There’s no getting her back.”

He felt the heat again. In a flash, he wondered if they had exacerbated her condition to bring him to this point - to force a decision. There had been almost unanimous approval when the contract was first discussed - specifically from those with the most to gain. Green, the Archivist, the Lesser. But Sophia had resisted, and thus so did Aaron. It is not our purpose to live forever, he had said. It’s our purpose to do right by the Foundation.

Easier to do right when there’s no time limit, Green had responded.

He took a deep breath, and then another. He stood up and adjusted his tie. He closed his eyes and focused. Focused.

“Death,” he said in the prepared Latin, “make real your avatar. Appear now.”

The room grew cold and still. The sounds dimmed until all that remained was silence. There was a dark figure in the corner, a grim phantom beyond which was nothingness. Aaron saw the Blackbird shiver, and Green clutch the railing of Sophia’s deathbed.

“Aaron Siegel,” the voice whispered, barely a sound at all. “I would tell you that I am surprised, but man’s convictions have been discarded for less.” The figure cast its empty gaze down on the bed. “A terrible decision awaits you, doesn’t it?”

“Produce the contract,” he said. His voice was hollow.

There was a rush of air, and something like rattling laughter followed it. The spectre reached into its tattered robes and pulled out a long, black quill. In the air before them, a spitting and shimmering red line appeared, hissing as it burned and smoked. Beneath it appeared the words JAMES AARON SIEGEL, O5-1. Aaron reached out and grabbed the quill from the shadow and dragged its razor tip across his palm. A thick line of blood pooled up in his fist, and he gripped the end of the quill tight until it was full. Then, with a swift flick of his wrist, he scrawled his name across the line. The ink sizzled and burned for a second as it hung there, the only source of light in the room, and then disappeared.

“One more,” the voice said, gesturing down towards Sophia. A stark white face in the shadow grinned. “Thirteen names.”

As it had before with his name, the line appeared again with the words JESU SOPHIA LIGHT, O5-2 beneath it. Aaron reached down and pierced Sophia just above the breast with the end of the quill, where the encroaching rot had not yet touched. Blood jumped into it, and using her hand to hold the pen Aaron traced her name in the air. The ink danced around in the darkness for a moment, then it too disappeared.

Then they were all there, a long line of names and signatures.

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There was another rush of air - a mocking laughter, Aaron thought - and then the lights came back up. The figure in the corner was gone, as was the quill. He looked at the spot on his hand where the quill had broken skin and saw nothing. When he looked up, the Blackbird and Green were both looking at him incredulously, and then all three of them looked down at the bed as Sophia began to cough. She brought a hand up to her face and rubbed her eyes, blinking them against the light. She turned to look at Green and the Blackbird, and then again to look at Aaron. When she saw him, her face darkened.

“Oh, Aaron,” she whispered, her voice hoarse. “You didn’t.”


NOW

— - —

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Calvin was drowning. He was adrift in a sea with no surface and no floor, and the dark grey of the abyss surrounding him as far as he could see. Water filled his lungs, his chest, his eyes. He gasped and clawed at his throat, desperate to seize even a single other breath. He screamed silently, and then the water filled him.

He awoke with a start, sitting up quickly and grabbing on to the edge of the platform he had been laying on to steady himself. As he gathered his bearings, he wiped a hand across his face - water, from a leaking pipe above him. He took several deep breaths and his heart began to calm down. He took another few breaths and looked around.

He was sitting on a padded platform, a few feet off the ground. The room he was in was small, with a single door on one wall and a slatted vent overhead. The air coming through the vent was cold, and he shivered instinctively. He felt around and realized his sidearm was missing, but his other belongings were sitting neatly on a small table next to the platform. He stood and picked them up.

The only other thing in the room, he noticed, was a small screen next to the door connected to a speaker. He approached it and bent down to look at it closely. The screen was dark, displaying a slowly spinning grey circle and arrows - the Foundation seal - with a glowing red point at its center. As he drew closer, the red point pulsed. A voice crackled through the speaker - a child’s voice, but the intonation was wrong. The cadence of it was awkward, like it was an approximation of what a child should sound like.

“You’re awake,” the voice said with an eerie tinniness. “You’ve been sleeping for a long time.”

Calvin coughed. “Where am I? What is this?”

“This is my where I live,” the voice replied. “My friends brought you here. They brought your friends, too.”

“My-” Calvin’s voice caught in his chest. He remembered the explosion, and the plane falling out of the sky. “Where are they? What did you do with them?”

“They’re here. You’re all here. I didn’t kill your friends.” A lower bass sound echoed through the walls of his chamber. “Unlike you. You killed my friends.”

Calvin stepped back away from the screen. “Who are you?”

The sound coming through the speaker changed abruptly, and now it played music - a distorted mashup of pop music tracks like a commercial jingle. At the end of the jingle he heard another voice, his own voice, from a conversation between he and Anthony months prior, when they had been trying to track down the location of the Accountant.

”The last three are the really tricky ones,” he heard his own voice say. ”The Founder and the Nazarene are holed up in Site-01, but the Third Overseer, the Kid… well, the writer didn’t seem to know anything about them at all.”

“The Kid. You’re the Third Overseer?” Calvin asked.

The spinning icon began to rotate slightly faster. “I know what you want to do,” the voice said. “You’re here to kill me. You want to kill my Father and my Mother, too. I don’t want you to do that. Mrs. Green says that people who kill like you do are evil.”

The speaker went mute, and on the screen the rotating icon disappeared. Next to him, he heard the lock on the door click. Calvin looked at it for a moment, and then slowly opened the door and stepped outside.

He was standing in a long, dark industrial hallway, lit by dim incandescents hanging from the walls. He could see one end of the hall near him - a panel of lights and switches behind a steel grate. At the other end he could see a bend in the hallway and a light, so he began walking towards it. From somewhere deep beneath him, he could feel something big humming.

The voice crackled over the speakers in the hallway. “I’ve been watching you for a long time, Calvin. I know where you were born. I know where you grew up. I know about your mother and father, and your friends, and everything. I know how many breaths you’ve taken in your life. I know how many times you’ve blinked.”

Calvin turned down the hallway and the voice followed him. “Before I was born, there was another O5-3. His name was Anderson, and he built impossible machines. Machines that could think. Machines that could love. But his greatest creation was a machine that could see the future - one that my Father could use to find the preferred option, if needed. But Anderson had no passion for it and wanted to work on his thinking machines, so he left the council and his machine fell into disrepair.”

The voice continued. “Mrs. Green gave my Father an idea. She asked why, when Mr. Accountant and Mr. Blackbird could see the general shape of the future, would you concern yourself with that machine? What would be much more useful for the Foundation wouldn’t be a machine that sees the future, but a machine that sees everything. Using what they knew from Anderson’s journals and their own engineers, they retrofitted that machine to do just that.”

Calvin exited the hallway into a tall, dark, narrow chamber with pipes running up its entire length. At the end of the chamber he could see an elevator. He took a step forward, and as he did lights opened up overhead, and he saw that the walls of the room were lined with tall cylindrical tanks full of a brackish green fluid. Inside them he saw shapes - humanoid shapes, large and small, some frozen in the throes of agony and others hanging limp by wires running into their skulls. He followed the tanks up, and realized that there were hundreds, if not thousands of tanks stretching up towards a ceiling he could not see.

“The stress of that machine proved to be too much for so many. Perception floods the senses with noise - they needed a clean mind to run this machine, one that didn’t have so many distractions. Something perfect and pure. That’s why my Mother and Father woke me up. I was not distracted. I had been fated to die as a sacrifice to a god from Saturn, but they saved me. They snipped my spinal cord and gave me new sight through the All-Seeing Eye. They gave me a new life. Ever since then, I’ve been watching.”

Calvin passed through the room with the tanks and into the elevator, which began descending by itself. Tinny elevator music began playing overhead.

“I know everything there is to know about you, Calvin. I know the Insurgency only had the opportunity to recruit you because the military discharged you for killing that woman with your car. I know you were drunk that night, too. I watched it happen, Calvin. I could show you right now, if you wanted to see it.”

“Why are you telling me all of this?” Calvin said, a thin line of sweat forming on the back of his neck.

The voice laughed. “Because I know you think this is some righteous mission you are on. To cleanse the world of evil. Vincent Arians believed that, too, but you and him and all of you are flawed. You are not pure. You are not righteous. Yours is not the voice that should decide the fate of the world.”

“I made mistakes when I was younger,” Calvin said, “mistakes that I paid for. We all have. But ruining the structure of the universe for personal gain is-”

“You are waging an ideological war based on one study conducted by a disgraced former Foundation researcher with questionable results and a set of disconnected reality anchor data collected from dubious sources. You have been told several times that you are misguided, that your path is not founded in reason but in hate and ignorance. All this, and still you push forward. You have moved past the point of naivete, Calvin Lucien. You have no moral footing. You are dangerous.”

The elevator stopped and opened up onto a platform stretched across a massive shaft that stretched upwards as far as he could see. On a wall near him were the words DEEPWELL-1 in white, and all around the concrete walls were tubes and lights, hoses and switches, flashing and writhing and all connected down to a smooth cylindrical machine in the center of the platform. On its side was a monitor with the same logo and red eye as the others, but when Calvin saw it he felt watched. Something was behind it.

“I brought you here, Calvin, because it is time for your journey to end. I am graced with perfect reasoning, perfect awareness, and perfect understanding. The All-Seeing Eye has judged your intentions and found you lacking. For this, and for your crimes, the punishment must be death.”

From above him Calvin heard a whirring sound, and another platform lowered down from above to be level with his own. On it were Olivia and Adam, both bound to steel restraints but otherwise unharmed, each struggling to get free. Calvin took a step towards them and stopped at the sound of a weapon being cocked. When he turned to look, he saw the four assailants from the airport, the smallest of which had leveled her rifle at Calvin and prepared to fire.

“Olivia Torres, Adam Ivanov” the voice said, “for your actions of unwarranted hostility towards the Foundation and for the murder of many innocents, you too will die.”

Calvin looked at them, and then over towards the woman with the rifle, and then at the cylinder in the center of the room. He had run out of options.

“Irantu,” the voice said. “Execute them.”

The largest of the four strode towards Calvin, eyes deadlocked him. Calvin took one step back, and then another, and then noticed something strange. Dangling just between him and Irantu was a white, shimmering line. He furrowed, and saw Irantu stop and do the same. The line danced and wiggled and then there was more of it, appearing out of a point in space. Then came a reel, and the handle of a rod. Then a hand, and finally a face.

“Thought you might need this,” Alison said, winking at him. “Good luck.”

Calvin grabbed it and held it out in front of him. Irantu stepped forward to snatch it, but before he could Calvin had pulled the rod back and cast it out into the air. When it grew taught, he pulled.

Something around them gave. A sound echoed throughout the shaft like something thick and wet tearing, and an intense heat filled the room. From where the end of the line had landed in the air, a long gap opened in space, beyond which came an equally intense cold. Ice and snow blasted out of the opening, and Irantu stumbled backwards away from it. The woman with the rifle fired, but missed right. Her next shot was stopped by a gruesome white hand.

The hand had extended out of the gap and caught the bullet. It held the bullet out in its flat palm, and then the hand shook violently and spasmodically and the bullet was gone. The hand braced on the edge of the opening, and then another hand followed it. Then another. And then dozens more. From within the gap appeared something horrific - vaguely humanoid, with too many arms and too many legs and too many hands. Its chest was sunken and skeletal, and along its neck and back were sinister black tattoos. In place of a head it had a wide, flat disc adorned with flaming glyphs that pulsed as it moved, and when it moved it did so unnaturally, jerking and spasming forward. As it pulled itself out into the shaft, Calvin thought he heard the sound of drums, realizing instead that it was the creature’s beating heart. A chorus of low, chanting voices emanated from all around the creature. When it saw the four Foundation agents, the beating grew louder.

“Oh fuck,” the taller female said.

The being from within the gap hovered forwards, its six legs tucked beneath it and the chains attached to its wrists rattling with each jerking, flailing motion. The smaller female fired her weapon again, but the bullet burst into dazzling multicolored pieces as it shattered in front of the creature. Irantu pulled a long, bladed saw from his belt and swung it at the creature, catching it across one of its palms. The drumbeats picked up in intensity as the scar left by the saw began to seep a thick, grey fluid. Another hand came across and caught Irantu under the chin, sending him spinning backwards.

The other three opened fire on the creature, dodging out of the way as fire and lightning burst from its fingertips. Calvin ducked behind a support beam and ran over to where Adam and Olivia were bound. Pulling a knife from his pocket, he cut at the straps holding them in place freeing them both. As they hit the ground, they both jumped up on him and wrapped their arms around him.

“Oh my god,” Olivia said, “we thought you were dead.”

“You did? I thought you were dead.” Calvin said, embracing them. “The plane - I saw it get shot out of the sky. How’d you escape?”

“We left to come find you when we heard gunshots,” Adam said. “We thought you might’ve been near, but then they came for us and we were overwhelmed.”

A blistering ray of light scorched the air near them, and they saw the charred form of one of the four assailants hang in the air for a moment before collapsing into dust. The room around them hummed, and from the pool of liquid below them a glass tank burst up and open, and an identical copy of the humanoid climbed out. Lightning arced across the room towards Irantu, who caught it in the chest and burst into fire. Another tank arose from beneath them and Irantu climbed out of it, and both tanks descended into the liquid again.

“We need a plan, fast,” Olivia said, scanning the room. “What is that thing?”

“No idea,” Calvin answered, following her eyes. “That girl we met in the other worlds, Alison, brought it here.”

One of the creature’s hands jerked slightly towards them, and the ground beneath them began to buckle and sway, pooling around their feet like molasses. They leapt away just in time to see it bend and then collapse into the pool below, as more lightning blasted through the air. Suddenly the room was full of a loud buzzing, and from ports in the walls came drones, each armed with a gun trained on the multi-limbed creature in the middle of the room. The creature swatted at them with gusts of wind, and grabbed the smallest woman in one hand and held her up to the flat disc on its neck. The glyphs there burned brightly, and the woman screamed as her flesh was seared and scorched. When it let her go she dropped limply to the ground, and another tank erupted from the pool.

“Look,” Adam said, pointing at the four humanoids, “they’re drawing that thing away from that thing in the center of the room. There must be something important in there.”

“Let’s get closer,” Calvin said, but when he turned back a drone had closed on them and opened fire. He felt hot metal graze his shoulder and ducked back behind the platforms they had been strapped to. “Either of you have any ideas?”

Adam shrugged, but Olivia was quickly rifling through her bag. She pulled out a paintbrush and a small container of a thick blue paint, and twisted the cap off.

“You’ll understand if this is sort of messy,” she said, dipping the brush into the paint, “but time is of the essence.”

She whipped around and, with a flourish, pulled the brush across the air. In its wake followed a dazzling trail of blue fire in six concentric rings, and with another pull of the brush they danced into the air and out towards the drones. The drones caught in the path of the flames burst into pieces with shimmering explosions of sparks, and those too close to the explosions destabilized and fell. More gunshots came across the room, this time from the smaller of the two males, and Olivia pulled the brush around towards them. A full-length glittering cyan shield materialized in front of her, and the three of them scurried across the room towards the central cylinder behind it as bullets pinged around them. The drumbeats picked up, and they saw the torso and arm of the same male fly towards the far corner of the room and crash into the wall.

Olivia pulled a gun from her bag and handed it to Calvin, who turned around the cylinder and fired at the closest of the humanoids. Adam ran his hand across the cylinder until he felt something catch, and then pulled to reveal a panel. He reached into his pack and pulled out a device with a small screen and several wired connections, and went to work splicing it into the panel. They paused to huddle behind the cylinder momentarily as a streaking beam of fire cut across the room, emanating from a rift just in front of the multi-limbed creature. Calvin caught Irantu in the skull and another tank rose up from the pool beneath them, and another Irantu scrambled up onto the platform.

“We need to do something about those, too,” Calvin said, pointing down at the tanks beneath them. “What have you got?”

Olivia rummaged around for a second, pausing only to duck down as a minigun sent grey pieces of meat flying towards them. After a moment she pulled out another container of paint and a circular paper disc. She sat the paper down on the ground and began to draw thin black lines across it.

“I don’t actually know what this will do,” she said, her voice even and cautious, “but it’s better than nothing, probably.”

The intricate design she had created was a mesmerizing display of lines and shapes, and she grasped the paper circle by its edge. She stood, took one fluid step and spun it out of her hand like a frisbee. It floated across the room and landed in the water just above the tanks.

“Hold on!” Olivia shouted, but they only heard the first word as suddenly the air in the room was pulled away. There was a deafening roar and then nothing, and from where he sat gripping desperately to the floor Calvin could see that the disc had become a flat black circle, beyond which he could see stars. The water beneath them and the drones above were pulled down towards it, as was one of the four humanoids.

The massive, multi-limbed entity turned towards it and despite the silence of the vacuum Calvin could still hear the frantic drumbeats of its furious heart. All of its hands came together in front of it, and when it pulled them back there were hundreds more, spectral and shimmering, and in unison they all danced a waving, horrifying jig. The spectral hands collapsed back on the real ones, which burned bright white against the darkness of the room. The creature floated over towards the hole in space and, bracing itself against the bottom of the pool with its six legs, grabbed the corners of the hole and pulled it closed.

The creature paused for a second over where the hole had been, as if now seeing the tanks below for the first time. It bent down towards them and lifted one into the air, and then another. Suddenly all of its arms were pulling the entire mechanism apart furiously, wires and steel and hoses flying into the air, and blood raining down in between the pieces of shattered machinery.

The three remaining figures turned to flee, but the creature came upon them too quickly. Holding its palms flat, they began to gyrate in a wide spinning motion, and the ground beneath the humanoids turned slick and they fell to the platform. The creature turned its palms up, and now they were hanging in the air, unmoving except to scream and shout. The creature closed its fists, and one by one the last three were compressed into fist sized orbs of meat and gore, and when it opened its fists their remains sprayed across the chamber like burst crimson balloons.

It hung there in silence for a moment, unmoving. Then, as two of its hands came up in front of it to gesture spasmodically, it shifted sideways abruptly and disappeared. The chamber was quiet.

Then came a long, low whine, the sound of something screaming in agony and fury. It came through the walls, through the floor, from the dark ceiling above them, then it too went out.

“Enough. Enough. Enough.” the voice said, echoing throughout the shaft. “I have had enough. No more tricks. No more monsters. No more.”

Calvin heard something spooling up, and turned over his shoulder just in time to see a gun barrel extending from the wall, trained towards them. He pulled his own gun out and fired towards it, but a single plume of smoke erupted from the end of the sleek metal tube. He had time enough to look towards Olivia, whose face was scrunched up and puzzled. She didn’t have time to look back, or even time to take another breath, before the bullet passed through the back of her skull and out between her eyes. Her expression softened, and she looked as if she wanted to say something, and then collapsed.

Calvin screamed. He turned to Adam who was sitting stunned at the panel, his expression blank and shattered, and grabbed at his backpack. He pulled the ornate metal cylinder out of it, and from within he drew out the Spear of the Non-Believer. He took it in both hands and pushed it into the panel, and with an inhuman roar shoved it through the other side of the machine. Another gunbarrel appeared, and Calvin turned to fire at that one as well, but another bullet screamed across the room before he could disable it. Adam yelped and grabbed at his back, and he too collapsed.

Calvin grabbed underneath the spear and stood, pulling it upwards as klaxons began to blare and red lights flashed all around him. He heard something like rushing water, and his arms and legs bulged from the effort. With one great heave, he hefted the spear upwards and the steel exterior of the cylinder slid upwards. Using both hands, he pushed the spear further up, and the sheathe fell off the top of the cylinder and onto the ground.

In its place was a glass tank covered in small electrical panels and blinking lights. Through the glass he could see something floating in the liquid within, something small and disfigured. It was a baby, a human baby, but grossly malformed and writhing. Its eyes were empty sockets of white pus, its mouth and ears were sewn shut, and an arcane tattoo of a circle and three arrows surrounding a red point was printed on its forehead. It was attached by wires and hoses to the machines encompassing it, and as soon as the steel exterior had come loose a sound screeched through the speakers around them. Something horrible. Something animalistic.

Calvin grabbed the spear again and slammed it into the glass, then again, and again. On the fourth effort, the glass cracked and splintered, and the brackish yellow fluid within rushed out onto the ground. All that remained was the horrific form of the Kid, hanging by wires from the machines that sustained his life. Calvin pulled the glass back with his bare hands, until nothing separated them.

“Ha,” the sound out of the speakers changed. “Ha. Ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Ha. Ha.”

Blind with rage, Calvin reached through the opening and grasped the squishy, wriggling infant in his bare hands. He squeezed so hard he felt as if his arms would break, as if his eyes would burst in his skull. He squeezed until his hands cracked and his ribs groaned from the effort. He squeezed until he felt meat and blood running between his fingers, until everything that could be broken had been broken. He squeezed until the echoing laughter in the chamber faded into the sound of rushing water and Adam’s gasping.

He dropped what remained of the Overseer into the puddle of its organs on the floor of the tank, and stumbled backwards. He turned to Adam, who was writhing on the ground, grasping at his back.

“Calvin, my legs,” he mumbled through clenched teeth, “I can’t feel my legs. I can’t feel my legs goddammit, I can’t feel them.” He looked over to Olivia, who was laying face down on the ground. “Olivia… no, no no, Olivia no, Calvin, please-”

Calvin leaned down and slid the spear back into its tube, and clipped it on his belt. He reached down again and picked up Adam, who cried out with pain as he was lifted off the ground. He did the same with Olivia, and with them both on his back he stumbled and struggled towards the elevator. Only within did he see the source of the sound - water was breaking through the compromised structure of the shaft from above. Every so often a larger stream would pour down from above, and then another. As the elevator pulled away, a wall gave way and the water rose up above the platform.

Klaxons continued to sound as he dragged himself and the others through the site, which was dark save for the flashing emergency lights. He stumbled in the blackness, his eyes focused on each door, each hallway, any possible exit. He could feel the site collapsing around him, and every so often he would have to turn around as a wing had fallen down into the shaft and disappeared.

He came to the end of the last hallway, and at its end was a door. With the last of his efforts, he pressed against it and fell out into sunlight. He dropped Adam and Olivia, and with the last of his strength slammed closed the door behind him. They were laying on a hill, the side of a reservoir, and from behind him he could hear the sound of water falling into the pit.

Calvin turned over and saw Adam. His face was turning white, his lips purple. Blood had pooled around his waist, and he was no longer crying out. He could see his eyes growing dark, his skin beginning to tighten. Adam looked towards Calvin, but Calvin was not sure if he could actually see him. He crawled over to the young man, hand grasping his face. Adam’s breath was short.

“No, kid, no, come on,” Calvin could feel hot tears forming on his face. “Not you too. Not you too.”

He fumbled around looking for a phone, for a transponder, for anything. Then he felt it, something heavy in his pocket. He reached in and pulled it out, and dazzling in the light of the sun was a vial of blue liquid. He held it out, his heart rate quickening. He looked down at Adam, who was also now looking at the vial. Adam’s eyes turned back to Calvin.

“No,” the boy whispered, his voice choked with blood. “No.”

Calvin shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Not you too.”

He pulled the cork from the vial and turned it over into Adam’s throat. Once it was empty, he turned the young man’s head backwards, forcing him to swallow. The results were instantaneous - color rushed back into his skin and his eyes cleared instantly. He coughed up blood, but a moment later his breathing returned to normal. His legs moved, and Adam frantically reached behind him and pulled a bullet from out of his back. He lay gasping on the ground, his eyes staring up into the sky.

“Why,” he asked after a moment. “Calvin, why? Why?”

Calvin stood up carefully. He reached into his pocket to make sure the journal was still there. He bent down into Olivia’s bag, careful to avoid her dead-eyed stare, and pulled a transponder from within. He pressed the button on top of it, and sat it down next to Adam.

“It’s almost over,” Calvin said, his words carefully measured but no less uneasy. “It’s time to finish it.”

Adam reached out from where he lay and grabbed onto the hem of Calvin’s pants. When Calvin looked down at him, Adam was crying.

“Calvin, please, no,” he said softly, his voice cracking. “Don’t go, please. Don’t leave me here. Don’t go. Please, I’m begging you, we can just run away. We can run away and never have to think of this ever again. Please, god, don’t go. Calvin, please. Please don’t go.”

Calvin pulled his leg free. “Stay here, Adam. Stay here, and the Insurgency will come to get you. I’m not going to risk you, too. Stay here. I’ll come back for you.”

Adam tried to wipe at his eyes, but his body was weak. “No, Calvin, please. There’s something else. Please, don’t go. I love you, Calvin. I love you. Please don’t leave me. Please don’t go. I don’t want to be alone again.”

Calvin turned away. He reached down and picked up Olivia’s limp form, and put her back over his shoulder. He looked down at Adam one last time, who was pleading and begging on the ground. He closed his eyes and took a breath, and began walking.

— - —

Calvin, please, don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Please.

— - —




NOW

— - —

Aaron stood at a window looking down into the mountains, his foot tapping impatiently. It was raining, and every now and then a silent bolt of lightning would streak across the sky, illuminating his own reflection. Behind him was a monitor, and on it was a live feed of a collapsed reservoir, now swarming with Foundation recovery teams. A soft tone chimed, and he turned back towards the monitor.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “What is it?”

“Complete destruction of the site, Mr. Siegel,” said the soft female voice of the AI. “The body of O5-3 has been recovered. The Overseer has been killed.”

Aaron did not respond immediately. “What about the other thing I asked you to look into, Helen?” he asked. “What did you find?”

“The vault containing SCP-5935, the Godless Lance, was opened by an unknown user an indeterminate amount of time in the past. Due to the user’s behaviour and ability to expunge all records of the event, it is likely that the user was O5-2.”

Aaron stopped tapping his foot. “Sophia? How did we miss this?”

“The user had administrative privileges equal to your own, sir,” the voice responded. “This was done at your request.”

He felt his neck tighten. “Where was the Overseer last seen?”

The voice was silent for a moment. “O5-2 was last seen entering the Garden, sir.”

Aaron grabbed his coat off the back of a chair and strode towards the stairs.

“Prepare my plane, Helen. It’s time to go home.”




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