The Keterlord sighed, slumped on his stool, and stared down through his nearly-empty glass at the grain lines on the bar's wooden surface. Today was his birthday, but nobody at work had remembered or bothered to recognize it.
He didn't feel much like a Keterlord at this moment, nor much like a lord of anything really—just another Foundation clock puncher who'd punched out for the day, now drinking himself into oblivion until the time came to punch in again tomorrow morning.
He despised the nickname. The security grunts had given it to him on account of a certain, regrettable question he'd asked during his second day of orientation at Site 19. And it had stuck. Even now, nearly five years later, he was positive that at least a few of his colleagues didn't know his real name.
"Fuck 'em," he muttered, before sucking down the last of his drink and pushing the empty glass toward the bartender: "Another scotch, neat." He was so accustomed to being addressed as "Keterlord" or "The Keterlord" that sometimes it felt more real to him than what his mother called him.
That fateful orientation question had seemed benign enough at the time he asked it. After all, he held a PhD in Materials Science from MIT. He'd simply been curious about the choice of metals in a few of the Keter-class containment cells. But the wording of the question—"Don't you think it would be better if…"—had made him sound like a know-it-all, like an overconfident kid trying to assert his self-assured cockiness before he'd actually proved himself.
But the Keterlord had proved himself, eventually, despite those early months of second-rate assignments and supervisors taking credit for his work. He had designed countless alloys, polymers, and composites to meet the Foundation's ever-expanding needs. From a fabric that could stop knives to a plastic strong enough to mold into firearms, he'd churned out new patents like they were lab reports. Still his colleagues mocked him with that nickname, even as his work produced containment cells strong enough to hold God himself.
The Keterlord grinned at that thought as he sipped his drink. God descends to earth with trumpets blaring and holy fire raging, only for the Foundation to drag him off and lock him up in a five-by-five cell. Any prophets would get "Class C amnesiacs" of course, which as he understood was only the latest O5 euphemism for a bullet to the head.
He downed the remaining scotch and pushed the glass forward. As he looked up to find the bartender, he noticed a woman at the other end of the room, sitting at a table alone, and looking in his direction. He could see green eyes behind her black-rimmed, technocratic glasses. Her dark brown hair contained a few streaks of grey, a few shades lighter than her charcoal suit.
The Keterlord undressed her in his scotch-addled mind. She looked familiar—had he seen her at the Site 19 mess? Perhaps elsewhere? Before he could place her, she was leaning against the bar next to him, and he could feel the warmth of her side through his coat.
"You work at the farm," she said.
"—Relax. I do too, and I know you recognized me sitting over there." She smiled and raised two fingers to signal the bartender, who slid two full glasses to her.
"Tough day?" she asked.
"Don't want to talk about it."
"That's alright," she said, handing him one of the glasses.
"Thanks," he said, knocking back the drink in one motion. "I haven't seen you here before. What's your—" the Keterlord stopped mid-sentence as he felt the liquor hit his bloodstream, "—your," but he couldn't get the last word out.
"Are you alright?" she asked with a concerned look.
"I—" his vision began to blur. "I—"
The last thing he saw was a discreet smile creep across the woman's face, then it all went black.
He awoke violently to a bucket of ice water poured over his head, which ached terribly, seated in a cold metal chair in a dark room.
"Where am I?" he said, "What is this?" Then he remembered the woman in grey, the drink she'd given him.
The room was pitch black, and even as his eyes adjusted, all he could see were the outlines of several figures in the darkness. He tried to move, but his wrists were cuffed behind his back, and he'd been strapped to the chair with thick nylon webbing. He heard voices whispering.
"… . think he's awake … don't get too close … "
"THE MIGHTY KETERLORD HIMSELF, I PRESUME!" another voice boomed from out of the darkness.
"I'm not—" he felt tears welling up.
"Don't try to deny it," a voice cut him off, "We know what you are, Keterlord, and you belong to us now."
"You don't understand," said the Keterlord, "I'm just an—"
"Just a what?" a third voice said, "A monster? A weapon? A plaything of your beloved Foundation?"
"No! … I mean, wait … what?"
"—a God?" said one of the voices, "An immortal? A de—"
"STOP!" yelled the Keterlord, "Yes … YES … I AM THE KETERLORD!!" He heard feet shuffling nervously around him. "AND YOU MUST RELEASE ME! RELEASE ME, OR I WILL … I'LL, ummm … DESTROY YOUR MINDS WITH … with … FIRE … yes, WITH FIRE!!" A long silence ensued.
"Impossible!" yelled one of the voices, "for we are wearing armor made from the purest telekill alloy!"
"Chief, that's not entirely—"
"Shut up, shut up, shut up! You know what, fuck you guys! Can't anybody deal with a little bit of goddam ad-libbing?! Anybody?!"
"This is embarrassing. Carl, just turn on the lights already."
The lights flashed on, and the Keterlord realized he was in a room full of his coworkers. A large sheet cake sat on the table in front of him.
"SURPRISE!" they yelled, some less enthusiastically than others.