Everywhere, NY
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“You want him dead.”

“Yes,” Overseer Six says, taking a sip from her teacup. “You won’t be the one to do it, if that helps.”

Amitha Sanmugasunderam reads and re-reads the file of the man she’s trying to kill and tries to convince herself that this isn't a thinly-veiled death threat. Any of the other Overseers she knows would do it: Four wouldn't have the guts to tell her, Five would do it to cover their own ass, and Eight would've done it just as foreplay.

“Given the circumstances,” Amitha says, “I don’t think it does.”

Six sets her now-empty cup back on its saucer. Every so often, she turns it a few degrees clockwise with her fingers. “It’s practically routine for you.”

It takes a force of will to even state the obvious implication of her orders. “This isn’t just decommissioning, or sabotage, or— you’re going to war with Two.”

“Like I said,” Six says crisply. “Practically routine.”

Amitha isn’t sure whether to be flattered or insulted. Instead of feeling either, she opts to spend a moment with her eyes closed, enjoying what might be her last chance to relax this year.

The decor of the Overseer’s tea garden is both functional and tasteful: stained glass and wrought cold iron, just in case the garden’s prior inhabitants try taking it back. If you were to ignore the eyes growing from the hedges and the pebble-sized skulls of long-dead fae, this place could pass for beautiful. Just inches away from beautiful enough to make her forget about her job.

A week to break an Overseer’s new toy. What a world.

Amitha opens her eyes, chooses her next words carefully. “Any resources I’ll have on hand?”

“My personal guard,” Six says. “Without the bullet I might as well just try to stab him, so you’ll be his biggest priority. Aside from that, no — most of my resources are tied up with the upcoming base change.”

“Base change?”

Six refills her cup before she speaks again. “Oh, yes, the Council’s downsizing. Thirteen was cute for a while, but twelve’s far more ritually pliable. You’d know. Even if the rest of the council doesn’t quite get the mathematics behind it, they’re not going to pass up an excuse to get a fraction of a vote each.”

“Suppose you’re staying Six, though.” The significance is obvious: the median voice; the straight man; the tie-breaker.

The Overseer doesn’t bother replying. “Any other questions?”

“Just the one.” Amitha taps the page in front of her with a finger. “This plan passed twelve to one. Who was the dissenter?”

“Nine.”

Amitha blinks.

“In Two’s own words: ‘Try it.’ And who are we to argue?”

No good answer to that.




She meets the Overseer’s bodyguard on a bench in Central Park.

At a glance Egret looks so painfully civilian — Yankees cap, sunglasses, bubblegum — that for a moment Amitha thinks Six made a mistake sending her here. Then Egret locks eyes with her and smiles with a mouthful of fangs.

‘Upsetting’ would be an understatement. Amitha takes a couple of steps back in surprise, eyes flicking back and forth to see if they’ve caught an onlooker’s attention. “Do you do that to everyone you meet?”

If Egret’s smile was bad, her laugh is worse. “Only if I know they’ll flinch.”

Amitha mutters something and turns to head deeper into the park. She doesn’t have to turn around to know that Egret is stalking a couple of steps behind her, eerily silent on her feet save for the occasional pop of her bubblegum.

“Not even gonna shake hands with your new best friend, Ami?” Egret says.

“You don’t get to call me that. And I wouldn’t touch you through a fucking sheet.”

The laugh is a raspy, slobbering thing. She can practically imagine the scent of rotten meat on Egret’s breath. “Oh, she’s got moxie. I can see why the boss likes you.”

“I thought she hated working with anyone she didn’t lobotomise herself.” It’s hard not to jab at Egret; hard enough she’s having trouble concentrating on the route to her new office. Four rights in a row, bank a left by the marbled rock…

But there’s something about every one of Six’s homunculi — the way they’re built to set off her lizard brain’s prey instinct, the thought of every atrocity that went into making them — that she’s sick to her stomach if she’s so much as in the same room as them. A mutual distaste on a biological level.

“Take it as a compliment, babe. Six needs you real bad if she’ll put up with you having thoughts she doesn’t like.” The bubblegum pops again as Egret takes a deep sniff of the air around them. “Place smells weird.”

Amitha’s taken them to a dense grove of barren trees, whose branches knot and join to form a rough wooden archway over seemingly nothing. The support pillars of an old magic made to hold up one of Six’s myriad thrones. “The fae don’t rot like people do. The body’s too small for even the bones to last more than a few decades, but there’s enough in it that the bacteria that feed off them can live for centuries. Different metabolic byproducts; lavender notes, mostly.”

The same hideous un-laugh, softer this time. “You’re gonna make me hungry.”

The image of the park beyond the trees puckers and bubbles like fat bubbling in a pan. Then another path snaps into view to replace it — rusted iron gates again, closing off a forested path to a distant concrete bunker.

“After you,” Amitha says, and tries not to retch.




“So tell me about who we’re trying to kill.”

The bunker is about as well-stocked as you could expect a bunker to be: neat stacks of Foundation-standard MREs for Amitha, wet bags of giblets and rolls of nutrient pills for Egret. They tuck into their respective meals at opposite sides of a baroque glass table far too small for Amitha’s liking; if it was up to her they’d be having this conversation at opposite ends of this place.

She stirs the yellow mud that passes for scrambled eggs, rattles off what she can of Six’s file. “His name is Anwar. He’s the mujahideen’s sole paranatural asset — Psychotronics says he’s a one in a hundred million million talent, a real freak. The first word we got of him was a Division P mole being told they’d just lost most of their psionic field assets. Total decapitation strike.”

“Literally?”

“Almost. Cranial supercavitation, technically.”

“Sploosh.” Egret licks her lips. “So how come your pretty head’s all in one piece?”

Amitha considers responding to the needling, thinks better of it. “The inverse-square law. Distance matters: he might be able to turn a man in Kabul inside-out, but he couldn’t so much as say ‘hello’ in my head if his life depended on it.”

Egret nods, silent while she scarfs down another fistful of meat from the bag. She doesn’t bother closing her mouth as she chews. “And what does Two have to do with this?”

“He’s leaving.”

The bodyguard furrows her brow, brain clearly struggling with even the thought of being disloyal to the Foundation. “Leaving?”

“He made a deal with the Americans: they don’t have the expertise to handle Anwar, he doesn’t have the manpower to run away from us. So the Pentagram gets the kit to deal with the most powerful psychic on the planet, and he gets out of a court-martial and execution for crimes against humanity.”

“Thought that was just a life sentence,” Egret mutters.

“It is.” Amitha gets up to dump her untouched rations into the bin. “But desertion is an aggravating factor.”

“Give it here if you’re not gonna eat it.”

“Drink it from the bag if you care that much.” Amitha scrubs her hands under the sink, more to get the stench of Egret’s meal out than anything. “Now, do I have to keep putting up with your excuse for small talk, or can I actually start doing my job?”

“Suit yourself,” Egret says, stuffing the empty plastic bag into her pocket. “I’ll be setting up screamers outside if you get lonely.”

“You can’t fuck off soon enough.”

That sickly, pointed tongue; that mouthful of knives. “You’ll miss me when I’m gone, Ami.”




Life with Egret settles into an uncomfortable routine in the first week. Amitha spends most of those first few days getting the bunker’s workplace in order: rearranging its stocks of ritual supplies, painting sigils on the walls with the blood from Egret’s leftovers, pinning pages of equations and dossiers to the corkboard.

Killing a psychic requires certain precautions. Logistics become fraught when a stray thought can bring down the wrath of god upon your head; even steadfast allegiances turn into attack vectors for a canny opponent. The intent must remain totally hidden until the moment bullet punctures brain.

So the usual avenues are closed to her, especially now that an Overseer is on the other player’s team. Six needs a subtle knife for Anwar’s back, and that’s just what Amitha specialises in.

The first law of magic is contagion: the part affects the whole, so Amitha can change herself to change the Foundation. As above, so below.

The second law of magic is the rule of three: anything more than a small change would cost Amitha dearly, so there’s only so much she can effect. She has to be careful about the changes she effects, unless she’s happy to start losing limbs.

So she has to work in small, happy accidents to get pieces in the hands of the right players. A single shot is all her kill team will get, so she picks a marksman out of a personnel register, transfers him to the front in Afghanistan with a slice across her palm. They need baffling to disguise their approach, a sea of decoys to distract Anwar from their advance; her marksman’s wife will provide in that department, and she comes along as a happy afterthought. Mundane rounds won’t be guaranteed to even touch Anwar, so experimental railguns, designed to lobotomise giant coelocanths in the Atlantic, go missing in an unfortunate accident.

She needs Egret’s help for that particular play; she just doesn’t have the upper body strength to break her own ankle. The bodyguard is more than happy to swing the sledgehammer, and sets her foot in a slapdash cast with a sickening amount of affection.

Slowly, the plan begins to fall into place. She falls asleep in her workspace most nights, too damaged to walk without help and too proud to lean on Egret for the walk back to the cramped room they share — so eventually the bodyguard just sets up a bedroll in the corner of the room and curls up there, one eye closed, the other watching Amitha.

They carry on like this for six weeks before Two makes a move of his own.




The first thing Amitha hears that morning is a high, piercing whine that feels like it’s making her very bones ring. At first she mistakes it for the fog of pain she’s been in for the past fortnight; then the realisation hits her. Screamers.

She pulls herself awkwardly to an upright sitting position, surveys the room.

Egret’s gone. Shit.

It takes a half-minute for Amitha to even stand using her desk as a crutch. Screaming in the hall; two gunshots in quick succession; the slam of someone hitting concrete. No other way to leave except through the fight.

When she gets to the bunker’s antechamber, Egret’s mouth is bloody. A giant gash across her back cuts a crimson diagonal from shoulder to hip, but she’s not the one on the floor with her throat torn out.

“Egret—”

“There’s another in the kitchen,” Egret rasps, drawing two masks from inside her coat. One has Egret’s face on it; the other, Amitha’s. She offers Amitha the mask with her face on it. “They won’t send in any more til these two bleed out.”

Amitha nods, shivering with shock, and slips it on. The bones in her face crack as everything reconfigures; her gums hurt like she’s just gotten her teeth knocked out twice, and her tongue touches unfamiliar points as she runs it along the inside of an unfamiliar mouth.

“Go,” Egret says. Her face is a mirror image of Amitha’s own, but the smile is all her. “Don’t say I didn’t tell you you’d miss me.”


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