Cleaning House

Hecatoncheires
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May 3, 1992

In transit, Foundation Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey. Iraqi airspace.

“It’s just a quick trip, Rebekah.” “You’ll be back in a day or so, Rebekah.” Jesus, Iona, I certainly didn’t intend to fly to Iraq three days out of the hospital.

The roar of the Osprey’s engines was significant, such that when Captain Sahara Zadeh of MTF-Beta-777 started talking to her from the seat across the row, she didn’t notice. Zadeh got her attention and pointed at the helmet she was wearing. Rebekah reached up and switched on the comms to the general channel.

“You okay, Agent Douglas?”

“Not remotely! These are terrible!”

“They weren’t designed with comfort in mind, but they’re helpful for landing in tight spots.”

Rebekah remembered that the transport’s propeller/engines pointed towards the sky despite the thing looking like a plane. It had taken off vertically from the Foundation air base in Kayseri, Turkey. Four hours later they were still in the air, and she didn’t feel comfortable walking around the cabin. Do you call it a cabin when it’s a helicopter/airplane hybrid?

“You have much experience in these, Captain?”

“Yeah, we’re in ‘em all the time. Can cover almost eighteen hundred kilometers and make a return trip. Easier than booking an international flight, I’d say. But then, my crew and I just go where the Director tells us.”

“Speaking of, is it safe to be in Iraqi airspace right now? Wasn’t too long ago a small war happened here.”

“Well, that’s true, Agent Douglas. But hostilities weren’t all that close to where we are, and anyway the Foundation made a deal with the Iraqi government to take over the site. Which included the right to travel in from Turkey.”

“What did that deal entail, Captain?”

“I have no idea, but these people are hurting after the UN Resolution; I’m sure they were open to financial or other exchange. But on to a different subject: I was only instructed to guard you and make sure you got back to Site-91 safe. What exactly are we going to the monastery for?”

“Have you been there, Captain Zadeh?”

“Back in '87 when we secured the site, and found whatever it was beneath it.”

“What’s it like?”

“The thing under the monastery? Well, it's huge for one. And it looks like it’s made up of coral from the outside. The inside is strange, organic… but less like the inside of an organism and more like a building constructed with biological materials. 'Chairs' made of sponges and panels made of keratin, that sorta thing."

“The file was rather thin on details. Was there any trouble?”

“No, ma’am. There was nothing alive down there and no countermeasures that I could sense.”

“Remind me again, Captain, are you a thaumatologist?”

“Yes, ma’am. So is Sergeant Waltham over there.”

Rebekah looked down the cabin and saw a woman in fatigues with her helmet off, she recognized the woman from their joint excursion into 4712-B. Waltham was leaning over one of the men and laughing in his face. “What about the others?”

“No, Lieutenant Gibbs and Sergeant Merced are normies but they’ve both been through extensive training for dealing with thaumic artifacts and countermeasures. Merced is our heavy weapons on this outing, and Gibbs is an all-around soldier boy. Both good men; both were with me in Boston. They were both with us when we went into that other reality last year."

Rebekah nodded, she remembered them as well, but knew Waltham better from the conversations during her recovery.

"Excuse me for asking, ma'am, but are you sure you're ready for the field again? I don't mean to overstep, but I was there when whatever that was happened to you."

Rebekah sighed. "You're not overstepping. The technical answer is yes, I have been cleared for light field ops."

"And the non-technical answer?"

"I have no fucking idea, Sahara."

"Understood. Well this shouldn't be a heavy assignment anyway, ma’am.”

“Please stop calling me that.”

“It’s the training; I apologize. Would 'Agent' be sufficient?”

“I’d prefer you call me Rebekah.”

“I’ll try. Now, why are we going to 5612-B?”

“Director Varga wants me to try and get a read on the structure.” And that’s gonna be a joy if it’s anything like the cadaver under Site-91.

“A ‘read?'”

“You’re a thaumatologist, so I assume you’re familiar with psychometry?” Rebekah asked.

“Sure, in theory. You touch something, and you know its history?”

“Essentially, yes. But it’s dependent on a whole bunch of factors: how old something is, whether there are interfering energies involved, traumatic pollution, and what not.”

“This is a research trip?”

Rebekah nodded but was thrown against her safety harness as the Osprey tilted left sharply, the belts digging painfully into her shoulders. “Jesus, how much longer?” she grunted in Zadeh’s direction.

“Should be there soon, hold on.” She fiddled with her comms, then spoke again: “Commander Williams, how close to the site are we?”

Commander Jeff Williams piped up on the comms: “Should be coming up on it in the next few minutes… actually, belay that. I can see smoke on the horizon.”

“Smoke? Is it coming from the monastery?”

“I think so. Changing the flight plan, gonna swing in from the south so we can get a better view of the guard building. They’ve been silent, but mostly keep chatter to a minimum out here. Didn’t think anything of it.”

The Osprey began tilting to the left at a harsher angle than before, and Rebekah felt the pressure on her ribs and shoulders from the belts. She looked up at Captain Zadeh. “Guard building?”

“The monastery is now shut to the public, because of what we found, so we put up a perimeter and staffed it with security and containment personnel. They’ve got a little barracks there, near the entry gate. The site is far enough away from populated areas; it seemed worth the expense to build a small facility.”

Commander Williams interrupted as red alarm lights came on in the cabin. “We’re entering a hot zone, folks. Touchdown in thirty seconds, and we might be taking fire. Nothing so far, but prep for the worst people.”

Suddenly, all four MTF members were checking their weapons and gear, all sense of casual conversation terminated. Captain Zadeh leaned over from her seat and checked that Rebekah’s armor was fitted correctly. She noticed the Glock on her thigh holster and asked, “You have much experience with that thing?”

“Paper targets only.”

Zadeh was now checking that her own weapons were secure. “Okay, you stay behind us, alright? This isn’t the time for heroics.” Rebekah nodded silently. Nothing to worry about there. I don’t want to point my gun at anyone.

The aircraft slowed and descended rapidly. The quick jolt as the landing gear made contact shook Rebekah’s tailbone. Suddenly, Captain Zadeh and her team were rushing out of the aircraft and she was beckoning Rebekah to join them.

The barracks was a small one, sufficient to fit a dozen guards and some vehicles. The perimeter was only one hundred meters from the monastery itself, and Rebekah could see its steps from outside the Osprey’s exit ramp.

Zadeh made hand gestures, and both Gibbs and Waltham moved towards the smoking barracks. Rebekah couldn’t see any guards from her position. Looking at Captain Zadeh, she said, “How many perimeter guards are supposed to be here?”

“At least two, but there should be two more up in that tower.”

Rebekah looked to the left of the closed entry gate and saw an old-fashioned smoldering guard tower. Gibbs squawked over the comms: “We’ve got two dead in here, Captain.”

“Any sign of hostiles?”

“We’re clear. Looks like a small fire fight. We’ve got several hundred rounds spent and half the structure is charred. No open flames though. Waltham is telling me that thaumic residue is everywhere.”

“Get back here.” Zadeh looked over at Rebekah and Merced. “Okay, once they’re back, we’re gonna head for the monastery. Keep your eyes open and if someone says to get down, you fucking hit the dirt. You get me, Douglas?”

Rebekah nodded. “You bet your ass, Captain.” Zadeh’s eyes widened. Rebekah shrugged at the Captain’s response to her unprofessionalism. Zadeh looked about to respond further when several dozen gunshots rang out in the distance.

Waltham and Gibbs joined them on the landing pad; Waltham squeezed Rebekah's shoulder and she smiled wanly at the sergeant. Captain Zadeh made more gestures and the four soldiers started running for the monastery. Rebekah was startled to see herself keeping pace with the MTF, as she hadn’t lost a step. Should look into what Cooper was saying. How does one not lose any muscle mass in a coma?

Suddenly, Gibbs was tackling her to the rocky soil, accidentally smacking his helmet into hers, producing bright sparkling lights of pain dancing behind her eyes. “What the fuck, Gibbs?”

“Shhh, get down!”

From her vantage point in the dirt, she could see Zadeh standing next to Waltham, both making complicated gestures with their hands and speaking in another language. Arabic? Suddenly a shimmering dome of air surrounded the MTF and Rebekah, just in time for something large and mostly invisible to strike with a clang.

Waltham kept her hands outstretched and Zadeh turned to look over her squad. Her eyes met Rebekah’s. “Chucking curses at us.” As if that explains anything.

Zadeh looked over at Merced. “We’re going to start moving forward slowly, with the barrier up, and head for that ridge.” She pointed at a rise only twenty meters from the stone stairs leading up to the monastery. “Once we get behind cover, Waltham is gonna drop the barrier and you’re taking that bogey out. Keep your eyes open. Let’s go, people!”

They started moving. Every few moments another clang would resound from Waltham’s barrier. She was sweating profusely, despite the chilly mountain air. Zadeh started supporting her by repeating the (possibly) Arabic incantation and the shimmering barrier started vibrating, repelling the “curses” before they struck the barrier.

Quickly, they approached the ridge and the barrier came down as they hid behind the rock. Merced raised a scoped rifle, balancing it on a large stone ledge and fired twice. “She’s down.”

Zadeh looked up from their position and scanned the area. “Okay, Waltham, Gibbs and I will get up those stairs but we’re going to be completely out in the open. Merced, you cover us. Douglas, you stay here and keep your head down!”

Rebekah gave a weak salute and pulled her Glock. Zadeh looked at her for a minute or so, until Rebekah said, “What? People are trying to kill us!”

Zadeh snorted, “Well we’re used to that, and it’s not always people trying. I better not see that gun pointed at any of my people, or I’m taking it. You hear me, Douglas?”

“I hear you!”

Zadeh, Waltham and Gibbs started up the stairs at a brisk pace, scanning the surrounding areas. Merced made eye contact with Douglas briefly, but then looked back into the scope.

“What?”

He cleared his throat. “I know you’re not used to this sorta situation, but just keep an eye out.”

Rebekah felt flushed, but started scanning the rocky terrain behind them to the transport. I was in the fucking hospital until three days ago, what the fuck am I doing here? She felt the chilly rock shelf against her back, and continued panning her vision back and forth. She shifted her position for comfort and a few rocks slid down the small incline in front of her. She stared at them as they skittered to a stop halfway down the incline. It took a moment for her to register why that seemed wrong: the pebbles had stopped in their descent by nothing.

Rebekah raised her Glock and fired twice. Merced nearly jumped and turned to bring his carbine around. Rebekah kept her eyes on the area of her shots and watched as blood materialized, splashing across the rocks. By the time Merced had his rifle centered, the body had completed its fall and crumpled in a puff of desert dust. Rebekah duckwalked over to the body and checked for the scruffy man’s pulse.

“Jesus Christ!” Merced yelped. Rebekah ignored him and continued to search for a pulse. She felt a rush of familiar energy and suddenly she was in another place: a library of some sort. She saw a group of disheveled people huddled around a table with an oil lantern and a bloody man laying atop it. The man was speaking, despite the numerous wounds and bloody punctures through his clothes. That’s Marquez! He was talking quietly, but steadily, as some of the group washed his wounds.

Suddenly, she was back in the desert, kneeling over the collapsed man. Merced was standing over her and scanning the field. “Douglas, are you alright?”

“No, I’m really not.”

“Captain Zadeh has secured the entry to the monastery, and we’re going up there now. Okay?”

Rebekah nodded but didn’t move. Merced placed one hand under her left armpit and started lifting. She followed until she was in a standing position. He put one hand on her shoulder and looked directly into her eyes from only a few centimeters away. “You had to do it. He would have killed us.”

“What the fuck is going on?” she asked. He gently pushed her towards the stairs, and she followed, staring at the gun in her hands. What was that? She saw the pebbles stop before they should have and just fired. Like something in her mind snapped into predator mode. And she had blood all over her cargo pants - she could feel it through the material. Merced kept on hand on her arm as they walked up the stone staircase in the midday sun.

“You saved my life just now, you know that?”

She nodded. “I couldn’t tell you how I knew he was there… I just fired on instinct.”

“This is your first live fire situation, right? Stick by me and keep watching my back; we’ll be just fine.”

Where do I know the man I shot from? He’s so familiar. As they ascended the steps, she saw where the woman who had been throwing thaumaturgy at them had fallen. Rebekah stopped and knelt by her corpse.

“Douglas, we need to get under cover.”

“Hold on…” She reached out and touched the woman, seeing the same scene in the library play out. This time she could catch the end of Marquez’ instructions: “They cannot be allowed to restrain the vessel.

She looked back up at Merced. “I need to talk with Zadeh, now.” She ran up the stairs, then through the outer courtyard and into the stone monastery where Zadeh, Waltham and Gibbs were waiting.

ProjectHeca

May 3, 1992

Rabban Hormizd Monastery, interior.

Rebekah ran into the shade of the stone structure and barely stopped in time to avoid crashing into Waltham. She looked around and saw that Gibbs was wounded and there were two more corpses on the floor.

"Are you ok?" Waltham asked Rebekah.

"Fuck no. This is the worst day I've had in months."

Waltham shrugged. "Least there's no alien entities trying to take over our minds. Silver linings."

Rebekah snorted and said: "Give it time."

Rebekah turned towards Captain Zadeh, who was approaching her. “What happened out there? I heard shots.”

Before Rebekah could answer the captain, Merced said, “She saved my fucking life, that’s what. One of the bastards snuck up on us with a thaumic veil or glamor, totally invisible. Douglas figured it out and tagged him.”

Zadeh looked appraisingly at Rebekah. “How’d you know he was there?”

“Rocks shifting down the hillside, stopped weird - like something was blocking them. Just fired, didn’t think about it.” She was shaking, the adrenaline leaving her system.

Zadeh squeezed her arm. “You did good, Rebekah. And I know you must be on the verge of losing your shit, but we don’t have time. This is a full-on assault. I need you to tell me anything you can get off these guys.”

“Wait, what about reinforcements?”

“It took us four hours to get here from the nearest facility; we’re on our own for a while. Williams made the call the minute we touched down, but we’ve got to secure the area. Now, can you tell me anything about them? Other than the fact that they’re thaumaturgists, I’ve got nothing. Look like ragged civilians to me.”

Rebekah took a deep breath, tried to stop her shaking, gave up and said, “Don’t they look familiar? You were on the crew that investigated the cult in Boston last month, right?”

“I was, yes… Wait, is this them? The missing cultists?”

“Yeah, when I checked for a pulse on the guy I shot, I saw Marquez right after the shootout under that warehouse.”

“So he’s alive? We must’ve hit him over twenty times!”

She turned from Rebekah and looked down at the two dead cultists. “What are they after?”

“Marquez said we couldn’t have the ‘vessel.’ I assume he meant 5612-B.” Rebekah reached down and touched the nearest corpse, a man in his mid-forties, and focused on his dwindling presence. Again, she was in the library, but the man she was touching was helping Marquez up to a sitting position. Marquez was talking softly into the man’s ear, and Rebekah had to “lean forward” in the projection to catch what he was saying. “Take six of our family and go with the Librarian there; they’ll bring you to a Way that should lead to the mountains in Iraq. You’ll have to hike for several days, so bring supplies. Be on your guard - the Foundation will have the location defended.

Shall we strike first, Brother?

If you feel you must, I leave it to your discretion. Do not let them hurt our family. Remember, they are taking what does not belong to them. They have no claim on the vessel!

Rebekah came out of it and pushed the images out of her mind, letting the musty smell of the books fade. “There are at least three more; this one was the leader. They used a Way and hiked in over the mountains; I assume that’s why they all look so rough.”

“Where’d they come from?”

“Probably the Library, but I’m no expert. Either way, it was a library.”

Zadeh went over the check on Gibbs. He had a field dressing on his left arm and shoulder. His uniform was torn up and his arm was bleeding. “How are you?”

He croaked his answer: “I don’t know, Captain. She hit me hard.”

“They’re using some sort of curse I don’t recognize; I don’t know how to protect against it effectively. But I want you to stay here and keep pressure on the wound. You’re not going to be any good in those tight spaces down below.”

Gibbs nodded and handed his grenades to Merced. “Keep on your toes down there.”

Zadeh motioned for the rest to come closer and said, “Okay, listen. We have three more hostiles at least, and we haven’t seen any guards. We need to keep our eye out for our people but also their people. Assume none of our charms will deflect the blast from one of their curses, so keep your head down and behave like they had guns.”

Zadeh motioned for Waltham to take the lead. Waltham walked down a corridor and started descending the stone steps, followed by Merced, then Rebekah and then Zadeh. Rebekah turned back to Zadeh as they descended. “Where is 5612-B?”

“We go down these steps, then through another corridor and then another, and eventually there’s a pit with an elevator to take us down seventy plus meters to the anomaly.”

Suddenly gun shots were echoing up the stairs, loud but also distant. “Hustle! But check your corners!” Zadeh called.

They ran down the stairs and entered a stone chamber with a wooden door at the opposite end. There was blood on the stone floor, in a weak trail towards the open door. The MTF members went to either side of the open door, and Rebekah stayed behind Zadeh on the left.

Zadeh murmured to herself, this time in German, and burning runes flowed from her palms down to the floor and raced down the corridor away from her. The runes struck the door at the end of the corridor then spread to either side unevenly: two thirds to the right, one third to the left.

Gunshots rang out from an automatic rifle and the door splintered, making Zadeh and the other MTF members cringe back from the doorway.

“Well, we’re not getting down there that way. It’s a shooting gallery,” Zadeh said.

Right, well, let’s see if I can help. Rebekah placed both her palms on the stone and reached out mentally through it. She could feel the three remaining cultists just inside the next chamber beyond the door. One was crouching behind a pile of ruined, ancient furniture. The other two were launching some thaumic attacks on the other side of the chamber, where five containment guards were holed up in front of the elevator shaft.

“There’s five containment guards on the far side of that corridor past the chamber we’re looking at. They’re the ones firing, because the three cultists are just on the other side of those doors. One is to the left, crouching behind some debris and the other two are launching attacks on the guards. They look like normies with guns, so we’d better do something.”

She looked up and made eye contact with Zadeh, who was looking askance at her. Rebekah winked.

Zadeh looked like she was about to say something, then stopped. She looked down the corridor, then over at the other two MTF agents. “Okay, Rebekah, how psychic are you?”

“What?”

“Can you get me in contact with the guards?”

“No, I don’t read minds.”

“No, I mean can you show me what they’re seeing? Like the walls nearby?”

“I think so.”

“Do it.”

Rebekah touched the stone and focused on the far corridor, where the guards were crouched and taking pot shots at the cultists. She reached out and grabbed Zadeh’s hand, focusing on showing her the guards’ position.

Zadeh began making gestures with her free hand, and words started materializing along the wall in front of the guards. The words appeared to flow along the wall in ink and vanished after a moment.

“Ok, let’s go.”


ProjectHeca

Incident Summary - May 3, 1992
Personnel Involved: MTF-Beta-777 (“Hecate’s Spear”), including Agent Rebekah Douglas Location: Site of 5612-B - Rabban Hormizd Monastery, Iraq.

Due to the high levels of thaumic emissions during the incident, comms and body cams were malfunctioning. Shielded closed-circuit cameras documented the incident:

12:15 - Three civilians are in the penultimate chamber before the elevator access shaft to 5612-B. They are thaumaturgically attacking containment guards who have retreated down the corridor with the elevator, standing between the subjects and access to 5612-B. Fire and thaumic energies have significantly damaged the stone corridor leading to 5612-B.

12:16 - Containment staff begin focusing on the walls, where indecipherable writing appears and then disappears 30 seconds later.

12:17 - Foundation containment staff begin firing into the chamber to either side of the subjects, forcing them towards the center of the chamber.

12:18 - The wooden door behind the subjects bursts inwards, causing all three to cringe away from flying debris. Captain Zadeh and Sergeant Waltham charge into the room and begin casting a thaumaturgical working. All three subjects turn towards the MTF members but only two are able to resist the restraining working.

12:19 - One subject launches an incendiary thaumaturgy against the containment personnel, the other casts a working towards Captain Zadeh and Sergeant Waltham. Containment personnel are knocked backwards, several falling into the open shaft past the open-air elevator car. Both Captain Zadeh and Sergeant Waltham fall to their knees clutching their heads, while appearing to bleed from the nostrils and eyes.

12:20 - As Zadeh and Waltham collapse from the subject’s thaumic assault, Agent Douglas enters the chamber and fires two shots into his central mass from her service weapon. The other subject turns her attention to Agent Douglas, but is stuck by the butt of Sergeant Merced’s carbine and collapses.

12:21 - Zadeh, Waltham and Merced bind the subjects’ hands and feet with zip ties but the subject who has succumbed to thaumic restraint breaks free and casts an unknown thaumaturgical working on the far wall of the chamber, opening a Way. Reacting to the thaumic casting, Merced fires his carbine into the prone subject, but the Way stays open. Through its aperture, a male figure and many bookshelves are noted.

12:22 - A bright flash is seen on the recording and the cameras cease functioning.




Rebekah shielded her eyes from the bright light filling the chamber, but looked up when the light faded. Her radio and body cam sparked threateningly, so she shed them onto the stone floor of the chamber. She scanned the room, seeing the bleeding cultist and the two bound, unconscious ones. Zadeh and Waltham were on their feet but struggling after the thaumic assault, and Merced was recovering from the blinding light as well. Down the corridor, three containment personnel were unconscious or worse after the concussive thaumic assault. Oh shit, what happened to the other two?

A voice carried from the open Way, quiet but insistent: “Please stop what you are doing and do not move.”

Rebekah looked towards the Way and saw a figure silhouetted by the light of the library behind it. Her vision adjusted to the light flowing into the darkened chamber where they stood. She recognized the figure.

“Marquez!”

“That’s not really my name. Hello again, Agent Douglas.” He was dressed in flannel and khakis, leaning on a cane. He walked into the stone chamber from the Way, limping.

“You know me?”

“Oh yes, I forgot that I manipulated your memory when we last spoke. A simple forgetting cantrip; it should fade now that I’ve acknowledged it aloud. You’ll probably recognize me better as such.” His eyes began glowing a radiant blue and for a moment she could swear she saw the faint image of a tricorn hat atop his head. Jesus, he’s 4612-B.

“You’re the one who killed all those people in England!” Her forehead ached.

“I have come to regret my rage that day, but honestly, they deserved their deaths. I let one of them leave, thinking he was young and might redeem himself. Another mistake, he went on to kill many in pursuit of greed and the secrets of my Father.”

Zadeh raised her weapon. “Don’t move, Marquez!”

He raised his hands, holding his cane out, but continued to move towards them. Zadeh fired her carbine once, striking him in the chest. Or at least, it appeared that she did, but the bullet struck a barrier in front of 4612-B and melted to slag, falling to the floor. Zadeh, Waltham and Merced dropped their weapons with gasps and they too warped as if under incredible heat.

“I'll ask you ladies and gentleman not to move. You’ve killed many of my people, and I want to take the survivors with me.”

Zadeh raised her hands and began a working. 4612-B spoke again: “If you insist, I will kill you all. Is that what you want?”

Rebekah forcibly lowered Zadeh’s hands with her own, while shaking her head. “He'd do it."

The captain stepped back. “Fine, but you stop moving closer! And I'll not allow you to cast any thaumaturgy at my team. Are we clear?”

4612-B halted his advance, held his arms out palm forward, and then lowered them to his side. Look at that, he’s leaning on that cane pretty hard. How hurt were you, Marquez?

Rebekah stood as straight as she could as the stooped man stared at them. “We won’t surrender the anomaly beneath this monastery.”

“I didn’t think you would. At this point, I just want my people safe and away from here. Now, if you don’t mind, I want to see to my friend here.” He pointed at the woman bleeding out on the floor.

Rebekah nodded. Zadeh started to speak, but Rebekah said, “Let him. We need diplomacy right now.”

4612-B knelt by the wounded cultist and blue light flowed out of his eyes and mouth, pooling around her. After a moment, he helped her to her feet and led her to the Way, before turning back to Rebekah and the MTF members.

“The other four of my people?”

“Dead. They assaulted our personnel without provocation. What did you expect to happen?”

Is that what happened?”

Zadeh spoke before Rebekah could say anything. “To be honest, we don’t know for sure. But I see all but three containment staff of this site are dead, and there used to be twelve. Either way, your people were active combatants at a classified site. What did you intend when you sent them?”

“The vessel is not for you to contain. Your arrogance is astounding. You hold my Father’s corpse in your manor, along with who knows how many other wondrous things, and you think you should hold His technology too?”

“We’ve had it for five years; what changed?” Rebekah asked.

“I didn’t know until recently that this place still existed. I had assumed it would have been destroyed centuries ago by the ravages of time. The Librarians informed me of its continued existence, and now I have allies. How is Mr. Carmichael doing? Have you dissected him yet?”

“I won’t discuss classified information with an enemy, no matter how diplomatic we’re being!” Zadeh shouted.

“Yes, yes, your grandiose secrecy. I have heard so much about it from my friends in the Library. Tell me, what did people do before the Foundation existed? ‘Anomalies’ have been present for much of human history.”

Zadeh shook her head and crossed her arms. “This is ridiculous. Do you want to chat about philosophy and the history of the anomalous, or do you want to negotiate?”

Rebekah spoke: “Honestly, I would love to mine you for information. But despite your cocky attitude and all your power, you don’t seem to have completely healed from the incident last month. It seems to me that we are both at a disadvantage.”

4612-B laughed, “Ah, the Seer wishes to read my history? Not today, I think. I will take my three surviving friends, and I will leave. In return, you all live.”

Rebekah turned to Zadeh and spoke quietly: “Sahara, I think we’re going to have to let him. He’s hurt, but not so hurt that he wouldn’t wipe the floor with us.”

Zadeh nodded curtly, keeping her eyes on 4612-B. Rebekah turned to Merced. “Cut those zip ties.” He looked at Zadeh, but she confirmed silently and he freed the two cultists. One helped the other up and, supporting her weight, they both walked past 4612-B. He nodded grimly as they passed and they exited through the Way.

“I’ll be going now, Agent Douglas… unless you’d like to come with? You could ‘mine me for information.'”

“Tempting, but I’ve seen what you do with your followers. I’ll pass.”

“Fair enough, though it would be to your own benefit. As a bonus, I promise not to try for the Vessel again any time soon. You’ve cost me enough followers, today. But I won’t let you apes hold anything of my Father’s people forever, and that includes His body. Eventually, I will come for it all.”

Rebekah recognized the severity of the threat and hoped it did not show on her face. “One question,” she said as 4612-B walked towards the Way. “If you could open a Way here any time, why make your followers hike through the mountains?”

“I had never been here, so I had them use a natural portal of the Librarians. But I’ve been here now, haven’t I?”

He walked through the Way, and it squeezed shut behind him.



May 4, 1992

Director Iona Varga’s Office, Site-91. Eckhart House, Yorkshire, England.


O5-2 sipped her oolong tea. “Did Douglas try scanning the anomaly as originally tasked?”

Varga hit the Do-Not-Disturb setting on her desk phone. “She did, but with no results. It was a long shot anyway; it’s been under that mountain for more than two billion years.”

“Did any of the cultists survive the attack?”

“Actually yes; the one Douglas tagged was still alive when the reinforcements arrived. We medevac’d him and he’s in an ICU in Turkey. Twelve hours of surgery and the medics are feeling positive.”

“Well, that could be useful.”

Varga nodded. “I’m actually surprised that 4612-B didn’t think to check. But then, he’s hundreds of years old and doesn’t mind experimenting on his ‘friends,’ so maybe he doesn’t value human life the way we do?”

“So, you’re convinced Marquez is 4612-B?” O5-2 asked.

“Douglas is, and she seems very sure. Given that she’s the only one of us who had met him before, I’m leaning towards trusting her judgment for the moment. Given that he’s come back from over twenty gunshot wounds only a few weeks ago, the evidence supports him being not quite human.”

O5-2 sipped her tea. “What is your opinion on Douglas’ status?”

“The psych eval report says she had a traumatic event causing a slight psychotic break. It suggested light duty, which is why I sent her on this outing in the first place. I didn’t think the site would be under assault.”

“But is she stable?”

“She certainly performed well under pressure, even saving one of her teammates’ lives. She’s convinced something more happened after contacting the entity in 4712-B, but all the tests come back as normal.”

“Then I would keep an eye on her.”

“Yes, that goes without saying.”

O5-2 set down her teacup and smoothed her skirt.

“Has the Council made a decision?” Varga asked.

“Given what occurred yesterday in Iraq, Project Hecatoncheires is approved, by a margin of eight to five. You’ll get official word later today. With one caveat.”

Varga sighed. “Only one? I’m impressed. What is it?”

“You are to preserve Carmichael’s life; there will be no dissecting him for research purposes. The same goes for any others modified by 4612-B.”

“All of them? Fine. I’ll do without.”

“So, you have to start organizing a research team and collaborating with three different MTF groups. I would suggest you organize a small convention.”

“Hilarious." Varga tapped her fingers along the rim of the desk. "Actually, I have some ideas.”

End Chapter ONE



Hecatoncheires
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