The Crisis 1.1: Mann and Severus and West Virginia all over
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Site-01, Foundation Headquarters

201?

The gagging wheeze of shattered lungs finally sputtered to its end. The last in a line of failures that had started long ago. O5-7's eyes were locked forward, staring intensely at nothing. There wasn't anything to be done now.

Automatic Voting Sequence Initiating…

Kanawah County, West Virginia
I-64 highway towards the city of Charleston

The State of West Virginia was hollowed out long ago by companies searching for something called clean coal. But it was still beautiful country. The mountains left standing were a marvel to behold. Not even the greatest efforts of Union Carbide nor the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency could break the spirit of the place or the people residing here.

Waylon Severus' headlights lit up familiar back country, blasted and beautiful Appalachian landscapes splayed out between peaks. Wherever inhabited dwellings still stood, there were dark places made out from hard choices. The twinkling night lights over Charleston reflected off the golden capital dome. From behind the wheel, Severus paid it strategic but disinterested attention.

It was a lousy first mission for his rank. Consideration for membership in Mobile Task Force Alpha-1, nicknamed Red Right Hand, was something you had to be born into. Most of the time. With an Espirit de corps centered around representing the impossibly abstract and massive in physical, tactical form. All of his true comrades, now they were subordinates.

None of them are here tonight. Severus drove on alone and unknown to the world. Few were traveling this dreary place, inside or out. It would be easy to spot a particular Pontiac Aztek headed in the same direction. The orders from the Overseers had been succinct, and blunt. Everett Mann was an enemy to the Foundation. He was to be dealt with, immediately.

They had never met before tonight, but Doctor Everett Mann's reputation preceded him: A highly proficient roboticist with expertise in all things bio-mechanical. Also an unnervingly unnatural individual obsessed with tampering in nature. The Foundation and Mann meshed like peanut butter and jelly.

Or had, until now. No explanation had been provided as to what crime caused Mann to stray from a righteous path. Severus didn’t particularly care one way or the other. This had become why he was put on this planet and in this moment, it was all that he thought of.

He rolled down his windows, allowing cool mountain air to rush through his hair.

A lime green automobile came into Severus' light as the two cars took the same exit off the highway and onto a twisting mountain roadway. Severus could see a robust-looking gentleman in the driver's seat. The man was drumming his fingers on the wheel.

For a few minutes they both continued maintaining equivalent velocity. As they approached to a sharp turn, Severus turned on cruise control and rummaged around the backseat. Feeling a tube of cold steel, he smiled and leaned on the car's horn. The other driver turned momentarily, long enough for Severus to flash the car's high beams.

Illuminated in the flash was bespectacled man bearing a broad mustache which tweaked past the ends of his lips. An unbuttoned white coat was clinging onto his body and he looked soaked with sweat.

Severus pulled his rifle out of the backseat, leaned out his driver' side window, and fired two shots into the lime-green Pontiac Aktek's tires.

There was a brief calamity and for a few moments, everything twisted and shook. The Aztek swerved, drifted, and tumbled from the road's pivot point, crunching itself against a tree as its glass shattered into infinitesimal pieces.

Parking on the side of the road Severus peered through pocket binoculars at what remained of his quarry. Every inch of it was dented, front to trunk. The Aztek's headlights were the only part still running, its light half-heartedly flickering to light up the space between the trees.

Approaching the dancing shadows in the woods, Severus gingerly walked down the hillside to the wreckage. The passenger's side door had been separated by the crash. A few cigarettes and shattered test tubes littered the ground around the crash site.

Crouching to look inside the smoke-filled cabin, Severus comes eye-to-eye with a grinning straw automaton with wires poking beneath corny corduroy clothing. A high-pitched voice with an Italian accent burbled from inside. "Oh no! So you think you were tailing the real Everett Mann?"

"Oh, you think you're clever buddy? Pulling a Rosenberg on me? If you can hear this, you're not two steps ahead of me. Good job, well done. Very impressive. You're probably feeling pretty good right now. But unless you want to live a hungry life as a hunted man, you've still only got one other option. Give up while you're ahead and I'll make it quick. Maybe in ten, fifteen years your memory gets rehabilitated."

It was at that moment that the remnants of the Aztek erupted in flames, engulfing Severus in a wave of heat, fire, and white-hot chunks of debris. Severus' vehicle was tipped, breaking several windows and one rear-view mirror. The road would never be repaired.

In the distance, a rogue scientist smirked and picked up his pace.


Yeager Airport
Terminal waiting area

Dr. Everett Mann had always been keen on Chuck Yeager's methods and accomplishments. A classic example of a scientist's legacy being to serve as the namesake of a tiny airport when it should have been used to dedicate a far more significant building than this. A podunk airport perched atop flat blasted rock where, once upon a time, there had been a mountaintop.

The fact that history so often reserves only footnotes for brave geniuses who put their bodies on the line to test their minds is a travesty.

But it had always been too slow. How can anyone make a lifetime's worth of necessary changes to improve humanity's future, if getting one small part of it done takes that an entire life's worth of effort? Once upon a time, the Administrator had shown it was possible.

He would miss it, of course.

Who else could have imagined such a wonderful myriad of test subjects, each one more crucial to humanity's future than the last. Hatbot, of course, had been a darling auto. Not only a fully intelligent creature capable of cultivating the talent of an entire facility to maximum efficiency, it also possessed a sense of identity and eccentricity, there could be only one, even if they were in multiple places at the same time.

No, none of those chumps at AIAD really created any intelligence that came out knowing it's all just stupid.

Traveling light and rough made the perfunctory TSA check that much easier, Mann imagined an old woman's hands clapping as he checked in his baggage. For all the amazing ideas held inside his skull, marvelous ones, which may never yet see the light of day, but how interesting it would be to bring them all to life. Restrained by higher ups who did not understand what was truly important. Pathetic.

Mann checked his watch. His plane really should have been here by now. So close but still so far. One flight was all that stood between him and all he could imagine becoming real. He could hardly contain his excitement. Serious thought was being dedicated to cracking a brief smile.

All of that was still to come. Blinking, then yawning, he felt a mildly sharp tingling in his abdomen as his stomach gurgled. Mann stood from the gateside seating and walked to the nearest coffee franchise stall. It was time to do some greasy-style maintenance on this fallible human body.

Black coffee and pre-packaged donuts were a safe enough way to take the edge off. Mann always had a few chemical testing strips on hand, and there always were a few floating around in his coat pockets. But not tonight. All Mann's probing hand could find was a hole in his pocket.

No problems, not a problem at all. Mann could eyeball foodstuffs pretty accurately and his perfunctory meal was safe enough. The dye coloring the caramel drizzle on his donuts stained Mann's teeth orange. The coffee left a nice brown tinge and bad breath to accompany it.

Satisfied, Mann stuffed the refuse into his pockets as burst of static from the intercom mumbled out an announcement that Mann's flight was boarding. Mann stayed in his seat, waiting for any stragglers to make their way over. None would ever come.

As Mann contemplated where to sit while walking through the cabin, he nearly lost his balance and half-fell, half-sat in a middle row seat. He closed his eyes, and sighed contentedly. As he did, he felt a squeezing pain in the nape of his neck.

The squeezing curled around his spine like blood on a barber's pole. Mann was blind, with feeling in his arms and legs fading fast. The last whispered words he heard were the most unbelievably stupid and pointless things he heard throughout his life:

"The Overseer Council does not forgive you."

Mann's eyes were rolling in their grave. “You're fucked. You’ve made yourself the common enemy of mankind.”

And then, he died.


Site-01

O5 Council campus

A dead man's hand rose, and cracked lips parted. The only sound was a cool tone, burbling through the public address system of a tomb. The same happened for the second man, and the third, until all around a table thirteen dead hands were stretched towards a heaven they would never reach.

Intruder… intruder…

Mobile Task Force Alpha-1, "Red Right Hand", marched through the aperture to the Overseer's Quarters in orderly parade fashion. Weylon Severus was in lock-step with them at their head. In his left hand, there was nothing. In his right, Dr. Mann's head.

In theory, the Overseers cleaned up after themselves. A robust and noxious residue was hanging in the air, on the ground, dusty rust almost an inch thick everywhere. Every single one of the light fixtures had been smashed to smithereens. It made everyone feel like they couldn't hear an inch past your ears.

Where was everyone? They were the only ones leaving the footprints in this dirt. Severus considered hesitating but, at this proximity that would be the height of disrespect, no matter the condition of the corridors.

Feeling more trepidation by the minute as the dust muffling his footsteps began clouding around them, Severus wondered how such a sacred place had found itself in this state. Did the Overseers not care? Who had been here? The front door hadn't even been locked.

Severus was the one who saw it first. A chamber of horrors. Thirteen desiccated corpses sitting around a table, hands raised as if to inquire the nature of their own demise. Gagging, he staggered backwards, away from horrible but unavoidable truths.

Every individual member of the Overseer Council was seated and deceased. For how long, nobody knew. By who's hand, it could not be said. Nobody was there to send a brief distress message either but it was far too late to respond to that message in a bottle now.

Searching for anything else to focus his eyes on, Severus saw the wall of glowing monitors installed all around the perimeter of the room. It didn't take long to decipher the monochromatic code rapidly executing across the screens. In keeping with the Foundation's strive for stability above all else, the Overseer bureaucratic automation systems had kept the wheels turning in their eternal absence.

Trembling, light inside his stomach and heavy in his head, Severus would never remember how he managed to find his way out of that place. At some point, he dropped the head. All he could remember was that he kept asking the same question over and over again, and none of his comrades could answer it.

What happens now?

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