Avian Anthology I
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Timeless Substrate | The Noosphere

Thoth peered into the Noosphere with an astute curiosity. He glanced down at the ocean of minds: a whirlpool of purple, pink, green, and blue specks lay out across an absurd distance. He looked up and he saw Akheilos, the Great Selachian, scouring the void. The Great Starfish continued to dangle from an infinitesimal tendril, ominously inching onward from extradimensional space. Even now, Thoth feared the Great Starfish: the only thing that could interfere with his plans.

YHWH encompassed what seemed like the entirety of the mind-filled expanse. If Thoth executed his plans at the wrong time, YHWH would strike him down instantly and bar him from prosperity until the end of time. Luckily, YHWH would soon find Himself busy with something.

As Thoth sat in his perch, a wave of memories conjured up by the Noosphere washed over him. One hundred billion memories tainted by 200,000 years of vengeance, dread, euphoria, grief, avarice… They vibrated him to his core. If he were a mere mortal, Thoth's perch would be shambles. His own mind would be a confluence of rogue personalities, thoughts, and concepts, ripping him away piece by piece.

Thoth counted down the ages like seconds.

4… 3… 2… 1…

At once, the sweet radiance of the Noosphere dimmed. Thoth felt a great weight evaporating into the darkness, like removing a bowling ball from a trampoline. He still had Akheilos to worry about, but while Akheilos excelled in strength, Thoth was all speed. He peered across the Noosphere at his target: a full human that had newly manifested itself within, susceptible to an attack.

As Thoth extended a singular talon towards him, Akheilos clued in and took pursuit. Thoth soared as fast as he could over in a certain direction. Akheilos followed closely.

Finally, Thoth came to the pale, bald man in an orange jumpsuit. Unlike the other minds, he wasn't merely a speck; the Noosphere immersed him as he doused in with the unyielding current. Thoth directed his weapon into the man's mind before flying away. In one fell swoop, the weapon cocked and then fired into the head of humankind.

Thoth cackled to himself as he watched the tsunami of orange spread across the planet of minds. As it spread, he shuddered, energy flowing into him. The personalities of the billions of people below supplied his damaged form with power. He looked into the void and saw the blue planetoid that he called home, glittering across the sky with its tired, old minds. Thoth had made the risky journey into meatspace, across the Noosphere to Earth, and had almost winked out of existence in the process.

He'd be back there soon.

Akheilos was troublesome. Soon, Thoth might be able to overpower Akheilos and extinguish him permanently. For now, he had to stay wary of a surprise attack from the shark. Thoth kept a glance at the beast from the border of the Noosphere. He was avoiding Thoth like a wild animal avoiding a flame.

The planet was now more orange than not. Thoth decided that it was time to initiate the next part of his plan. The scientists at the Foundation had just now started studying a videotape from his home planet. In a certain spot, two minds turned red.

Like turning the key in a car to start the ignition, he ignited the crimson fire with a swoop of his wing. It radiated in every direction, and Thoth basked in the warmth of the newly brainwashed human populace.

He anticipated the cawing in his name.

What had made it so easy to achieve? The answer was much more mundane than would be expected for such a complex problem: there's a vulnerability in the human mind; a deeply ingrained need, woven into society. The need to share, communicate, and be heard. Humans have no defense for this.

Why would they? Never before had acceptance been weaponized.

With birds as the vector and minds as the medium, that singular idea spread so rapidly that nobody could even think to retaliate. More virulent than the common cold, most difficult to cure. Like a virus, once it had latched itself deep within, its only directive was to spread — anywhere there was camaraderie, there was the bird.

To not be infected with the bird meme was to be ostracised. Everyone, at some basal, guttural level, wanted to be a part of this phenomenon. They wanted to fit in. When a single, simple, succinct word triggered all humans to join hands as one, what hope did they have?

Birds had become the only thing on the brain. And when humanity realized what it was doomed to become, it convulsed, grasping its collective head, one by one. Millions of individuals fell to their knees, screaming to the heavens, tearing out their hair as their eyes bulged. Slowly, but surely, all were affected. All had become equal.

The cawing came.

Some people were more naturally resistant to the meme, but fully ignoring something so ridiculous was impossible. The more they gazed into this abyss, the more it gazed back. Once inside, the idea stuck. Everyone was forced to follow the current eventually.

The singularity was not technology. It was birds. And in the end, the black hole consumes all…

August 2nd, 2018 | New York City

Or does it?

As the sun descended, two silhouettes stood like ants in front of the nearly lifeless husk of a massive whale. The silhouette on the right: an armored human, towering a lofty two meters tall. The silhouette on the left: a pelican bird, barely a meter in height, yet somehow seeming more composed than the human.

Two seagulls and one pelican stood nearby, taking glimpses from behind the pelican-in-command, waiting for the cue to attack.

"If you're willing to supply some muscle for our war, we will help you fight yours. That means full co-operation on both sides. Deal?" the human said. His name was Captain Quinn Griffith, leader of an elite unit of shark-punchers.

The pelican paused for an uncomfortable amount of time, shrugged its wings back, and eyed the human. Then it spoke. "Deal." A clearly modulated, yet unmistakably avian voice, streamed through the high-fidelity speaker of a para-tech translation device. Her name was Keshrayuth, head of an equally elite team of birds fighting to uphold the Veil of Normalcy that now hung in tatters.

"Keshrayuth, what are you doing?" Quibba — a second pelican — interjected. "We have no clue who this one and his team are, aside from the fact that they're dangerous, and screwed with our efforts to keep the world ordered in the first hour they've been here."

Keshrayuth shook her head. Her bill flopped about. "How, exactly, have we gone about fixing things as of late, Quibba? I understand this one is violent — perhaps ridiculously so — but this is the first glimmer of hope we have had in months. It won't be cast aside, and I certainly won't stand for that. Neither would Hoygull. In fact…" She turned around. "The language of violence these ones communicate with could be the perfect key to finally gaining the upper hand on Thoth."

Quinn toyed with his helmet, which he'd removed minutes ago. His forehead glistened with sweat. "Listen, ma'am, I'm sorry, but you keep on mentioning this 'thot' character. Like, am I missing something here? Who is that?"

Keshrayuth sighed. Her bill floundered from side to side.

"I'm not joking around here! Come on, my team's had a long journey. We've been away from home for months, fighting a war against a Deviant enemy we know next to nothing about. It would help if someone, anyone, explained what in the depths was going on. Just once," Quinn said, infuriated. "I mean, if we're going to be a team, we ought to gain some common ground here."

"Alright, alright. What is your name, human?"

"I'm Quinn. The rest of my team's in our, uh…" Quinn cleared his throat. "Inside this giant whale. That's where my team is."

Quibba shot a terrified look at the leviathan towering over him. "They're inside a whale? Did they get eaten? Oh my god."

Quinn chuckled. "No, no, they're alive. The whale's on our side too. Here, I'll show you." Quinn placed a hand on the whale's damaged fin. The ground shook as a whale song coursed through it. The birds jumped back with a squeak.

"Wakey wakey, Gægr. I have some new friends I need to show you."

August 12th, 2018 | Day | Site-18, somewhere in Southern California

Ever since a supernova of blue exploded into the skies, the Avian Division busied itself with plans of evacuation — now that the world had officially ended. Unfortunately, they had only been able to devote a few scant personnel to each plan.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, Dr. Frederick Hoygull was haunted by a single thought: Migration.

He flew down through specially designed vents at the base of Site-18. The vents entered into an airlock, where Mobile Task Force Eta-4 ("Begone Thoth") perched. Quibba pecked himself clean. Keshrayuth looked on in disgust. After months of constant vigilance to matters of Foundation rigidity, she'd steeled herself and now found the simple action — of grooming oneself in public — revolting. Linda Duck and James Crowl — two birds specialized in covert operations, who had their names changed to better conform to Foundation standards — looked straight ahead. Hoygull caught Crowl eyeing the shark punchers with suspicion.

Marine Fighting Team CHARYBDIS argued with one another on the other side of the room.

The shark punchers were an anomaly in and of themselves. Hoygull found himself stopping to admire their muscular biceps. He shook his head. "While the Avian Division manages our contingency plans, I trust you'll be busy with Operation: DIVINE RUSE?"

"Jaedan and Haruki got something up their sleeves. They'll be the ones handling that operation. Leah and I are gonna escort you to the ship. Don't even get your feathers in a bunch." Quinn laughed, and then choked. He realized this figure of speech didn't exactly work on a bird. Leah shuffled away, grimacing.

Hoygull stared at Quinn for a moment that lasted an eternity. Suddenly, a klaxon wailed from the other side of the room. Hoygull nodded and waddled away. He swiped a clearance card across a nearby door lock, opening the room to a small chamber beyond. The room fell silent.

SCP-2785, the source of the alarm, sat inside. He'd undergone a recent upgrade, courtesy of Haruki: MFT CHARYBDIS' tech expert. He now had several antennae sticking out of him, and a casing made of beryllium-bronze. This was all done, of course, so SCP-2785 would be more receptive to not only radio signals but significant Noospheric events. Hoygull counted on him as an advantage Thoth couldn't possibly know about.

"I'm… I'm getting air-information!" SCP-2785 said, using his made-up term for radio waves. "There's a voice in it this time!"

"So…? We haven't got all day. Let's hear it," Quinn said, impatient.

SCP-2785 closed his eyes. Static crackled from an internal speaker Haruki had installed. The speaker erupted, blasting like a tuba. The sound reminded Hoygull of when he used to sit down with Researcher Calvin and watch those odd orchestras on the TV.

"Greetings, to whom this concerns," a voice said. The man in the speaker sounded no-nonsense; his voice gruff and deep. "This is General Tarland of the Global Occult Coalition."

Hoygull fumbled with his clearance card, dropped it, and then with shaking wingtips, brushed against his translation device — and dropped that too. He flapped his wings, motioned to Quibba, paused, and then covered his face. Isolate that signal, dammit.

"My men and I are currently stationed inside of Bunker Alpha-5," Tarland continued. "We're five miles south of the Mojave Desert. It seems that the statues have forced their way through an unsealed access shaft, and are currently commencing a full-scale assault on our bunker."

"Wait, statues?" Haruki said. "Is he talking about that god-ugly Deviant sculpture?"

Duck replied, stumbling through phrases on her translation device. "No. It's like — the bird-men outside aren't heavy enough when it comes to fighting armed dressings of Thoth." Her own device was clearly glitching out. "Thoth told his followers to make them."

Haruki nodded. SCP-2785 continued to broadcast.

"Fortunately, we have an ace up our sleeves: Project HYPERION. A missile to be fired into one of the Ways, equipped with enough hostile memes to obliterate KTE-4581 and all affected subjects. Unfortunately, it's in a base underneath the city of Las Vegas, and the bastards ate the strike team we sent to get it. It looks like we're not going to get an opportunity to launch.

"Hopefully, somebody gets this message. Maybe it's the Foundation. Maybe it's the Insurgency. Maybe it's one of the isolated groups of survivors. There's a shed on the outskirts of Las Vegas marked with a seven-pronged star. It's an entrance to the HYPERION facility."

Tarland paused; over the static of the radio, Hoygull could hear a commotion behind him and a long sigh. "The statues have entered the facility. We're out of men to fight them with. If you're hearing this, get to HYPERION. It's humanity's last hope. This is General Tarland, signing off."

"Medila, bless him," Crowl muttered.

"That's the end of the message," SCP-2785 said. "But I'm getting more air-information! This time, it's dots, and lots of them!"

"How many dots?" Keshrayuth asked.

"Well… There's one, two, three…" SCP-2785 replied, eventually fading into a murmur. "Uh, what number's higher than eighty-six?"

Hoygull squawked with considerable distress.

"Dots? Make yourself more clear, you hunk of junk," Quinn snapped.

"Robot is connected to the AEDS — Advance Enemy Detection System. There are statues outside of base," Duck said.

"AEDS… Oh, you mean the AESD!" Quinn said. "The Advance Enemy Selachian Detector!"

"We cannot fight all of them," Keshrayuth said. "It's nine against eighty-seven."

"Oh, I know! Why don't we take the site's emergency submarine?" Jaedan asked.

"That's… What? We don't have that." Crowl avoided the massive amount of effort that would be required to get the damned translator to understand the concept of a submarine. "We do have a train rail going from here to Site-17, though. It's right next to Vegas."

"But it's lacking an energy source," Quibba chimed in. "Bird-brains took it down. I'm surprised they didn't nuke themselves to hell. If we get the power working, we can leave. Can anybody fix it?"

"I'll… Be a bit preoccupied," Haruki said. She failed to mention Operation: DIVINE RUSE; if Hoygull told Eta-4 what he had planned, they'd have protested. "Sorry."

"Oh, me! Me, me, me, me!" SCP-2785 replied.

"Okay," Quibba said. "There's a mounted grenade launcher on the next floor. I'll use that. Hoygull, can you help him?" He really wanted Hoygull to make sure 2785 didn't mess anything up; the soda fountain incident still burned fresh into Quibba's mind. He jumped down from his perch. "The rest of us'll battle the statues. Here, the armory's this way." He led the others towards a second door on the right, which opened to a stairwell.

Hoygull turned to Haruki and Jaedan, who were staying behind to enact Operation: DIVINE RUSE. "You sure you know what you're doing?"

Jaedan jumped into his powered armor. "Come on, bird-man. You can trust us." Hoygull left before another word could be said.

Hoygull let himself taste the dry, dusty air of the battlefield. In front of him, the remaining fifty birds left in the Avian Division held their ground with various types of tripod-mounted grenade launchers, modified to make them easier to use with wings instead of hands. Up at the top of the spire that marked the location of Site-18, he saw Quibba piloting a larger, more powerful grenade launcher to clear out large crowds of statues. Hoygull himself had a modified combat shotgun loaded with slugs for protection, although he suspected that they'd be useless against the onslaught of the statues.

The statues continued on, their onslaught slow, but unyielding. Judging from the reports he'd gotten back of the scout patrols that'd gotten ambushed by the statues, they relied on brute force and not much else. Hoygull didn't want to find out anything more.

After the statues marched into the range of the grenade launcher, Quibba fired a grenade. The explosion left a crater in the ground and ten or so statues dead. As if on cue, the remainder of the Avian Division fired their grenades into the crowd. The explosions of the shells sounded like a jet engine screaming. Hoygull was glad that he had given his troops earmuffs.

After witnessing the initial barrage, Hoygull turned and went back into the site. He needed to make sure he had a ride out of here.

"You see, if you want the generator to work," Hoygull repeated himself. "You have to make sure all the wires are connected."

SCP-2785 looked at him with eyes that seemed to convey the opposite of understanding. "Why?"

"You know how I told you about electricity? Well, you need the wires to carry it, like how pipes carry water around. You know how pipes work, right?"

SCP-2785 nodded. "But then, how does air-information work?"

Hoygull sighed. "You know how mist is like water, but in the air? That's air-information, but with electricity."

"Oh," SCP-2785 said. He didn't sound convinced. He continued to use one of the tools in his hands to weld wires together. After a minute or two, he chimed and pressed the button on the generator. It sputtered a little before coming to life, lighting up the monorail tunnel.

"Let's tell everybody to get down here, ASAP," Hoygull called, turning to fly up the stairs. He ran into Quinn and Leah in the hallway. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be–"

"There's too much noise out there, sir," Quinn said. "We can't work our magic in those conditions."

"Well, we've got–" Hoygull was interrupted by the beeping of his radio, which he picked up and squawked into.

"This is Sergeant Gullivan," the voice on the radio said. "We're being overrun. For Medila's sake, get out of here before–"

Gullivan was cut short by a crunching noise.

"Medila help us," Hoygull whispered before turning back to the shark punchers. "Listen, Quibba's still at the top of the spire. We need to get him down from there. Please, come with me."

The shark punchers nodded. Hoygull flew up the stairs of Site-18. On his way, he passed by the armory and swapped out his combat shotgun for a more effective handheld grenade launcher.

Hoygull, Quinn, and Leah eventually arrived at the top of the spire. Quibba sat at the grenade launcher. He wasn't firing.

"Sorry, boss," he said. "But I cannot fire the bomb launcher. Explosion will hurt our friends."

Hoygull looked over the railing. The front line of the Avian Division was clearly compromised, and the remaining lines were struggling to prevent the onslaught of statues from pouring into the site.

"Kesh, Crowl, and Duck are already retreating," Quibba continued. "If the train rail is ready, we need to retreat, too."

Hoygull nodded. Quibba nodded back, dismounted from the grenade launcher, and followed Hoygull back down the stairs.

Once Hoygull arrived at the bottom, he saw Kesh, Crowl, and Duck — along with the few remaining members of the Avian Division — spamming grenades at Site-18's entrance to dam the relentless flood of statues. Hoygull fired a grenade to help, but then he realized that, in his rush, he had forgotten to pick up an extra magazine — meaning that he would be forced to ration the grenades that were already loaded.

Not bothering to use the translator, he squawked to his team. The remainder of MTF-Eta-4 seemed to understand and shouted orders for the Avian Division to fall back.

Hoygull, Quibba, and the pair of shark punchers ran and flew down the maze-like hallway to prepare the monorail, but encountered a statue.

A towering, ibis-headed behemoth stood before the entrance to the monorail. The shadow of the beast paralyzed all. Hoygull instinctively raised the grenade launcher, eyes wide and panicked.

"Don't shoot! It's too close, you'll kill us all!" Quinn yelled, grabbing Hoygull by the wing. He maneuvered for a retreat back into the tunnel system. "We're going to have to find another way to Vegas."

The birdsong emanating from the bird statue drowned Quinn out. The melody it sang was easy on the ears. It was beautiful. Quinn felt his troubles melt away as they soared like a Selachian hawk into the sea sky. Hoygull watched in despair as the Centre operatives melted before the advancing statue humming its perverse birdsong.

Leah heard it, too, and her thought processes felt like wading through knee-high soup. Keeping herself grounded was difficult, but it would be oh so easy to let her thoughts be pulled up into the clouds. Leah remembered clouds. She remembered floating around the skies of other Earths, goofing around with her friends. She remembered the journeys they took on their way to track down WHITE NETHER. All the funny, bizarre moments that they shared.

Wait, said a quiet voice from the back of Leah's mind. I don't want to forget this. I don't want to be a bird-person. I don't want to go. She conjured up the thought of Jaedan, of how goofy yet stoic he would look during this situation. The birds are going to take him from me!

Leah's blood ran hot. An intense rush of energy pulsed through her body. She could barely hear her own thoughts, but right now, she didn't need to. Her hazy vision tinted red. She jumped and swung her arm square at the mass of concrete, transferring her amassed rage and energy into its core.

At first, she felt pain. The horrendous melody of the statue stopped for a brief moment before the statue let out a piercing shriek. It swung at Leah, knocking her against the wall; all for naught, the statue was mortally wounded. It thrashed and screamed at the world as the small cracks from Leah's impact spread, the fractures snaking their way around the beast, the fissures deepening.

All at once, the statue collapsed into rubble.

With the birdsong gone, her thoughts were once again her own. While Quinn regained his grasp on reality, Leah pulled him onto the monorail with whatever strength remained in her left arm.

"Leah. Please, get some rest in the monorail," said Hoygull. "You have done more than enough."

Leah's peripherals were shutting down. Her eyelids were getting heavy. Her body shivered. She knew this feeling well: shock. She'd probably broken her arm and the adrenaline was wearing off. She couldn't rest just now… That was one statue, and there were over eighty more…

"Hey, Hoygull?"

"Yes, Řezník?"

"If any of those statues lay a claw on Jae-… The team, I'm gonna have Avian Division brand chicken wings, y'hear?" Leah half-smiled.

As the rest of the Centre's eyes opened, Leah's closed.

There was no time to contemplate the shark puncher's idle threat; the explosions in the hallways beyond informed the team that the Avian Division was being pushed back to the monorail room. Looking down the hallway, Hoygull saw eight Avian Division fighters — perhaps the last eight — fleeing toward him. Among those eight were Kesh, Crowl, and Duck; Crowl and Duck had already discarded their grenade launchers, while Kesh emptied what was left of her clip into the statues before dropping her gun and following suit.

"Get in!" Hoygull yelled. MTF-Eta-4 flew into the monorail, while Quinn carried Leah over his shoulder. SCP-2785 had already stumbled onto the monorail. The remaining five birds tried to escape, but the ceiling collapsed, allowing a flood of statues to rush into the room, trapping them.

"Start the monorail!" Hoygull yelled at SCP-2785.

The monorail crawled to a start, slowly, then glided along the tracks with ease. A few statues noticed the movement and dived towards the monorail. Some managed to grab onto the last cart as it began to leave the station.

Hoygull opened the window and fired a grenade at the last cart. The explosion detached it from the monorail, leaving the monorail free to continue to glide away.

In order to secure safe passage, Hoygull fired his remaining two grenades at the room holding the statues, causing the building above to crash down, blocking off the tunnel. This blocked off the tunnel. The statues were unable to follow any further.

They'd lost the battle, and with it, a good portion of their force. However, they were safe, and they soon might find something that would help them win the war.

For the first time ever, Hoygull was going to Vegas.

Hoygull sat next to Quinn and Crowl on the monorail. It was designed to hold the entire Site; now it felt empty. A cold silence hung in the air between the three.

Quinn let out a sigh. "You know, I haven't gone this long without pummeling a Deviant before," he admitted in idle conversation. "You should try it sometime. The feeling of your hand shattering the scaly skin… That's my kind of high."

Hoygull showcased non-existent hands as he raised his wings.

"Oh, that's bull shark," Quinn whispered, blushing. "Well, I hope clobbering that damn bird takes care of this feelin'."

Another awkward silence followed. After some time, Hoygull spoke up. "Thanks again for the help," he said, his translator stumbling over his words. "Without you all, we would've died a long time ago."

"It's, uh, it's nothing." Quinn stared into a point on the wall of the compartment. "Us Foundations need to look out for each other, right?"

Hoygull made the closest thing to a smile he could.

"So, are we sure this missile will work?" Quinn squinted. "I mean, a Deviant Selachian's tougher than it looks. If a Deviant Bird is any tougher than that…"

Hoygull was speechless for a moment. Then, he spoke. "Just, trust your men out there. We'll worry about the rest."

Quinn stared out the window, exhaled, and then set down his head.

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