And so, at last, it had come to this. Day after day, week after week, they had come to him. Talking to him. Telling him their lies, trying to see where he broke. They'd never realized how much they had told him instead. When you hear enough lies, you get a feeling for the truth. You can see the shape of the truth, by how the lies outline it.
He had everything in place. He'd had it in place for quite some time. Plans, plots, and schemes, all ready to go, when everything was right. In the end, all it took to spark it off was a simple cold. The old lady had already been quite weak, refusing to indulge in treatments like the others. An illness introduced into her system by a well-placed cough, and she passed away in her sleep. The numbers above and below her had came to him and offered him her numbers. He accepted, with a show of reluctance. Those who are shown to desire power are those least likely to be trusted with it.
And now O5-4 sat in his office. He had been given his mark of office. A foot-long length of bone, polished smooth. His name had been erased, not just from Foundation databanks, but from the minds of all who had known him. He was sure the other numbers knew his name, but soon enough, they wouldn't matter. He let his fingers drift towards the keyboard before him, and a half smile rose to his lips. Alone, with no one watching, he still felt the need to say, well, something. For posterity. "I feel like a super villain. Like Lex Luthor, or Adrian Veidt. Heh. 'Do it, Dr. Bright? I did it 35 minutes ago.'" As good a set of words as any.
Four touched a series of buttons, setting into motion the events that would place the entirety of the Foundation into his hands. Then he sat back and waited. Fifteen minutes, and everything would be his.
Thirteen was easiest. Mainly because O5-13 didn't really exist. Oh, the Senior Staff were told he did. There were memos, handed down by 'O5-13,' but it was just one more lie. Thirteen's vote was rotated to the other O5's, moving up a step any time there was a tie vote and the tie breaker was needed. But there was a power there. Knowledge, that only those who held Thirteen's vote could access. A simple (actually quite complex) computer virus snuck past the Overseers' firewalls, and bestowed the power of Thirteen to Four. Easy as that.
A large African man sat in his chair, behind an expensive desk. The room he used as his office could also quite easily be described as 'expensive.' The man himself could be described the same. Silk tie. Gold cufflinks. Armani suit. Shoes made from the skin of a very rare reptile. He wore dark wrap-around glasses, smoked glass framed in ivory, perhaps to hide his eyes, perhaps to keep him from looking too closely at the things he had to. Although he had once borne another name, these days he was known to one and all as O5-12. He was the accountant for the Overseer council, making sure the numbers added up, everywhere.
His assistant entered the office on schedule. Everything Twelve did was on schedule. From the moment he woke up, to the moment he went to sleep, and perhaps even his dreams, followed a precise, practical order. To do things otherwise invited chaos, and with chaos came death. The assistant walked calmly to the drink cabinet, opening it as he had done every day for years. Somewhere in his head, things were turning. A thing had been planted in his head, before he became Twelve's right-hand man. And now, this thing made him pick a different bottle than the one he normally did.
The glass was poured, and it looked like whiskey. It even smelled like whiskey. When the brainwashed assistant dropped an ice cube in it, it even bubbled a little, like whiskey. But, when O5-12 raised it to his lips and gulped it down, it didn't act like whiskey. Contact with the soft, wet flesh of his tongue and throat resulted in a chemical reaction. Instead of the sweet soothing burn of alcohol, Twelve was rewarded with the swift, horrible burn of acid.
He was dead before the glass left his lips.
The two men sat across from each other, separated only by a chessboard. It was an old board, but they were old men. O5-11 was a pleasant enough looking Caucasian gentlemen, one of those old men who sit on their porch and offer candy to little children. Not the creepy kind. Eleven fiddled with a bracelet made from human teeth as he considered both the board, and his opponent.
"It's still your move, 'Leven," Agent Alto Clef teased his superior. Maybe the Devil, maybe a reality bender, one thing could be said for certain: Clef enjoyed these monthly games with Eleven. When his phone beeped to alert him to an incoming text, he almost ignored it. Almost. But he'd expected this. Sure enough, the text merely read 'Now.'
"Where? You don't have check anywhere!" O5-11 leaned across the chessboard, searching for his opponent's move, his hands touching both sides of the board.
A sad smile on his face, Clef spoke. "There." He calmly tipped over his own king, and 300 amps of electricity charged into Eleven's body, frying his brain to a crisp.
O5-10 didn't notice when the air conditioning kicked on. It was just another distraction from the endless paperwork that filled her life these days. She was a strong, capable woman, a brunette, dressed in a functional long skirt and jacket. Every five minutes she'd raise her hand to the necklace around her throat, a carved marble eyeball, dangling to stare at her paperwork with the same disgust she felt for it.
Her first indication that anything was wrong was when she realized she'd read the same page 4 times without comprehending it. By then it was too late. She could hear the clicking and hissing sounds being made by her body. Her hand refused to let go of the paper. Her hand refused to let go of the paper. Her hand refused to let go. Her hand refused. Her hand. Her.
He always claimed he was the unluckiest O5. The only one who didn't get to be a world-traveling jetsetter. Oh no. Nine was stuck deep in the middle of the ocean. Sure, he could travel to any of the water Sites, all couple dozen of them, but most of the time, he ended up here, deep beneath the sea, where no natural light could find its way. He was a pale man, small, always looking lost in the suits he tried to make look good. A bone-handled knife rested in his hands at this moment in time, as he stared into the abyss. It would have been poetic to say something gazed back, but the only thing outside the window in his office was water, lots and lots of water.
Several seconds later, the only thing inside his office was lots and lots of water. Between the water in his lungs, and the pressure so deep, O5-9 was the unluckiest O5.
A shower could never make her feel clean. No matter how many times she washed, she could still feel those things crawling across her skin, could still see all the people she'd condemned to death. Eight was not a pretty woman. Despite being one of a handful of all-powerful Overseers, she'd never gotten any work done, no surgery to fix her sloped forehead, her craggy brow, no lap band to cut back on her weight. Somehow, despite having no appetite, she'd still gained weight. Even naked under the water, she still wore a braided ring of sinew on her left ring finger.
She turned the water up hotter, trying to blast away the horrible memories, boil them off. The heat felt very nice. Until there was nothing but heat. She didn't even manage a scream when her flesh boiled away. In fact, she may have smiled, because the memories, at last, were gone.
"I'm sorry, driver, I don't think I've seen you before. What did you say your name was?" Seven asked absently, fiddling with the ivory chopstick in her hair.
"Oh, it's Rodney. But most people call me Dr. Gerald."
He had been an Agent, once upon a time. When he worked the field, they called him Cowboy. People still remembered the agent, even if no one knew he was now the Overseer known as Six. He had been the best.
And now, he was an old man. Dressed as always in an immaculate white suit, his long grey hair pulled back in a ponytail, his trademark Stetson tilted at an angle on his head. Between his gnarled old hands he held a white cane, the handle carved into the shape of a howling wolf. At his back were his two trusted bodyguards, Thompson and Black. They were almost as good as him. One day, they'd be better. When they were, well, one of them could take his number, and he could retire. Maybe spend some time with his granddaughter.
He didn't look back when Black got a text. He never knew that O5-4 had once been Agent Black's personal physician. Or, if he had known, it wouldn't have mattered. He did, however, feel it when Black drew his guns. He began to turn, but, no, too slow. As he fell to the floor, he noticed Thompson falling beside him. But the hole in the back of his head prevented him from noticing any more.
"It's an emergency, sir! We have to get you out of here!" The security guard hurried O5-5 and his secretary into the nearest airlock, and slammed the door shut behind the three of them. The guard leaned against the door, panting. "Keter, sir. It sounds bad." The secretary sniffed, but then, she always had pneumonia, or some other sinus problem.
O5-5 was nondescript. He dressed nice, but not well. His hair was… enh. His face was… blah. He didn't stand out. In fact, the only thing that was noticeable about him was the leather shoes. A nice, tanned leather. His secretary was an African-American woman, about 51 years old, quiet, with a rather large nose. She had always been his emergency escape, even if she didn't know it.
As the room proceeded to move upwards, the guard frowned, turning to look at the two of them. "Do either of you hear a hissing sound?"
The gas was fast-acting, invisible, unscented. It poured out of 108's nose at a furious pace, killing them all as they rode to safety.
"Well hey guys, how are you today? It's fantastic to see you!" Three looked like a teenage boy, late teens, blond hair down to his collar, jean jacket filled with patches, geek-style glasses. O5-3 never let himself be seen in person, or, at least, not for many years. He always showed up on a monitor, broadcasting from a white room, a fancy desk and old-fashioned computer beside him. While he always had a prop or two at hand, it was never anything real. In fact, O5-3 wasn't real. He'd died, decades ago, plugged into a prototype computer he'd invented. He just didn't go away.
The Overseer council took a vote, and decided they didn't care. He was still their best coder. He could still do the job. So, they set his bone earring on the mainframe, installed some safety programs, and let him work.
An electromagnetic pulse set off inside the hardware that carried him removed him from this world at last.
60 km west of Astrakhan, a garden was in bloom. O5-2 took great pride in her garden. Of course, she was cheating, a little. She didn't mind. Once you get old enough, you don't mind using a few cheat codes to get things done. Two was the type of woman you pictured when you heard the word 'Grandma.' She always had a blonde shawl on, no matter the weather, and usually a pair of gardening gloves. She had a fantastic gardening hat a friend had made for her, pushed down tightly on her grey curls.
Two had the time to look up and smile at the Russian satellite that was screaming down through the sky at her. She could have moved. She could have run. She noticed the 'rogue' satellite too early, and she could have made it to the spring, saved herself. But she didn't.
If anyone had been around to hear her last words, they might have been confused that what she chose to say was "It's about time."
And One. The first. Once upon a time, he had been known as the Administrator. All the power in the Foundation had been his. But he didn't trust himself. He knew that absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, he parceled off his power. Handed out badges of responsibility. Numbered them, and made sure they could balance each other. Set up a system, so that if one died, the authority, the votes, were passed to another, so the balance would never be uneven for long.
And then he retreated from the world. Buried himself down deep, with only electronic means to keep him in touch with the outside. Which means that O5-1, still looking like a 13-year-old boy, still clad in the rags and bones that hadn't been used to mark the other 12. When his systems shut down, he didn't panic. When the liquid concrete began seeping out of the air vents, he didn't panic. He just lay down, and accepted it. After all, he'd been expecting it.
O5-4 stared at the screen before him, as the 13 lights shifted, back and forth, here and there. One dies a little ahead of another, so the vote goes to her, then she dies, so vote travels here… until, finally, at last, the votes were all his. The power was all his. The Foundation was all his.
Dr. Everett Mann, the Administrator, allowed himself one appreciative cackle. Just one. No sense going all maniacal about it. Besides, he had so much work to do. His fingers flew across the keyboards, as he prepared to change everything. As he typed, he muttered to himself.
"Good evening, Doctor. No, no, don't stand up…"