Ilias Kantos was going to get some fucking answers.
Three days. Three days since his world had been shredded. Three days since they’d put him in this call-it-anything-but-a-cell. Three days since he’d last seen Cipher. And in that time he’d learned exactly nothing. No idea why he was here, or who these people claiming to be the Foundation were, or how the fuck he had been partnered up with a goddamn reality bender to bodyguard a missing O5.
They kept telling him he wasn’t a prisoner, something he’d have been inclined to believe if there wasn’t a tail on him every time he left his quarters. It was difficult to spot among the heavy traffic of the Site 19 hallways, but at this point checking was as natural to Kantos as carrying a weapon, and they weren’t trying very hard not to be seen. Or if they were, they were really bad at it. They stayed a constant 10 meters back, matching Kantos’ speed exactly. He suspected it was more for show than anything else.
His mind still reeled a bit as he stepped into the hallways of Site 19. Every other the site he’d been unobtrusive, out of the way. Tucked underground or hidden inside some abandoned office building or just too far in the middle of nowhere for anyone to give a damn it existed. Even the largest facilities he’d worked at hadn’t had more than a thousand people working in them. Here, he passed that many on the way to the mess hall. Walking through the facility was like navigating a New York sidewalk. The map of the sub-wing of the floor he was staying on looked like it could hold every site he’d worked at once with room for a new research wing besides.
Size aside, it wasn’t too different from any other Foundation facility he’d worked in. The same undecorated, blindingly-white walls and harsh lighting. None of the rooms in the hallway or on the map were named. It was just “research lab 14.07”, “administrative office 4.001”. Standard Foundation security measures. Made it difficult to navigate if you didn’t know where you were going, but not impossible. Like all field work, it came down to recognizing the pattern. He tried to look aimless as he walked through the halls, like a restless guest just going out to stretch his legs. But his eyes darted from person to person, noting everyone he passed, evaluating, cataloging. He stopped briefly in the mess hall, observing the flow of traffic through the five entrances. Watching the patterns begin to form.
He didn’t know what he was looking for. But that wasn’t important. What was important was the looking. Sifting through the details until what looked like noise revealed itself as something more. He tossed the rest of the Jell-o and set out into the hallways. Hopefully to his tail his route would look like mindless wandering. But the route he’d planned, though circuitous, would eventually take him through every bit of the wing.
And slowly, the pieces came together. A picture began to form, one that had been hinted in the map and was now displaying itself in full. He saw it in the way people turned their heads when they walked. In the way traffic flowed to avoid certain sections of the wing. In the expressions of the guards as they watched the scientists and agents. It took another two days of observation to confirm, but then he was sure of it. None of these people were real.
A fly crawled across the ceiling. Donna Cipher, who had once been known as Emily Vakes, watched it as she lay on the bed. She waved her hand and erased it from existence. She flexed her wrist again, and it reappeared, crawling along as if it had never left. Seventeen years since she’d used her abilities, and they still felt as casual as swatting a bug. But why wouldn’t they? They were as much a part of her as sight or smell or taste in others. She’d spent so long trying to ignore them, but they’d always remained. Waiting for this day.
Whoever these people were, who called themselves the Foundation, were putting on a big show of trust. Taking the color off. Saying she could do as she wished. All fake. If she actually tried anything, they probably had a dozen stopgaps in place to separate her brain stem from her skull in a millisecond. At least, the real Foundation would. And though these people were pretenders, they seemed to be doing a good job of it.
The room they’d given her was nice. Clean carpet. Queen sized bed. A well-stocked bookshelf next to a nice desk. It was the type of room you only gave to someone as a symbolic gesture. Cipher hated it. After twenty-six years of operating with the Coalition and Foundation, anything more comfortable than hotel six made her suspicious.
The door opened. The woman from the car strode in. Sam, as she’d introduced herself. She smiled at Cipher. For a second, Cipher considered just unmaking her. Sure, she probably wouldn’t live another eyeblink if she did. But that moment in time would be satisfying as hell. Still. Probably not worth it. She settled for an annoyed sounding grunt.
“I hope your accommodations are to your satisfaction,” said Sam.
“I hope that isn’t a serious statement,” said Cipher.
Sam laughed in a way that sounded practiced. “We care about your comfort, Emily. We want you to understand we don’t mean you any harm.”
“What about O5-4? Is what that what you told her before you killed her?”
“We didn’t kill her, Emily.” Sam pulled the chair from the desk and sat across from Cipher, legs crossed.
“So who did?”
“Bullshit.” Cipher watched the woman’s expression. She had a damn good poker face. Her muscles didn’t even flinch as she stared back.
“It isn’t, and I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you himself, when the time comes.” Sam’s eyes darted over Cipher. Cipher wandered what she was watching for. Suddenly, the woman’s expression hardened. “Don’t try to pretend you’re a woman with loyalties.”
“You worked for the Coalition because they could keep you from being consumed by your own power. And when they turned on you, you fled for the Foundation. That’s you do. That’s what you are.”
“This is you asking me for help? It’s not a great strategy.”
“I’m making sure we understand each other.”
Cipher stood, took a few steps towards the door. “And what happens once we understand each other?”
“Then we can fight the real enemy.” Sam pointed at the bed. “Sit down, please. I want to tell you a story. So you understand just what the stakes are.”
She said it like it was a choice. Cipher sat. Sam began to speak.
When she was finished, Cipher knew the world would never be the same.