Site-7: AIRGAP


rating: +77+x



The Bering Sea was much calmer than when Ari had first arrived at Site-7. The sturm-und-drang of the past two days had finally given way, revealing the natural beauty of the Norton Sound. The collection of platforms that made up the Site were so far offshore that the tundra coastline wasn't much more than a strip on the horizon, surrounded by a cloudy grey sky and dark blue-grey waters. It was still snowing, but the blizzard had finally relented.

Ari stood on the helipad, arms crossed behind her back, watching. There were about half a dozen other people on the small landing platform jutting out from Rig Two's main deck. Rita Vargas, the head of Mechanical Engineering, had exchanged her oil-stained coveralls for a clean but otherwise identical pair. Captain Gauthier stood beside her, close-cropped blond hair hidden under his beret. A rifle hung from his three-point sling like an officer's sword. In the one-and-a-half days she had been on the Site, almost all the Security Division personnel she had seen had been wearing the same winterized, white-camo body armor Gauthier had. She remembered her own set, and wished she hadn't returned it when leaving Siberia.

The remaining four figures Ari didn't recognize. One was a tall redheaded woman, with a strong brow and nose. She was wearing a nondescript heavy parka, of the kind provided to all Site-7's personnel, but still shivering, eyes darting about. Ari could tell she didn't get out much. The two people standing next to her were dressed in the sterile whites of the Site's infirmary, and seemed to be standing in front of a large plastic crate. Her eyes drifted over to the last person on the platform, standing at the far edge. A lean older man, in a labcoat over an expensive-looking suit. Ari found she couldn't get a read on him like the others. His bearded face was impassive, left intentionally empty. Most people might have assumed he was simply lost in thought, but Foundation Agents weren't most people. To Ari's practiced eyes, his face was less like a blank canvas and more like a painting someone had draped a cloth over. She was intrigued — it took years of training for her to develop that kind of barrier.

Another gust of wind came from the south, and her reverie was broken. The infirmary nurses held onto their caps. Their presence wasn't exactly reassuring — Ari wondered to herself whether the Overseer was sick or wounded. Even after arriving on Site-7, she still knew remarkably little about her charge. Or about the Site in general, really.

When Engineer Vargas and Captain Gauthier had greeted her off the Teaser, she barely had time to eke out an introduction before being whisked up the gargantuan freight elevator that connected the elevated platform to the makeshift shipping and receiving port underneath its giant legs. Up top, the Site transformed from a shadowy undercity of shipping containers and forklifts to a veritable Foundation facility, all sanitized steel hallways and corridors. With, Ari was relieved to note, central heating; she was still dressed in the wet black ensemble of parka, sweater, and jeans that had gotten soaked during the trip.

Rita spoke the whole way up.

"Welcome to the Site, Agent Katsaros! We're so, so glad to have you aboard. We get fresh blood pretty often but usually they're just grunts for one of the Divisions, you know how personnel transfer is. Or do you? How long have you been working at the Foundation? Most of you military-types- oh, sorry if that was offensive. Are you military? Because I know a lot of Agents come out the intelligence agencies, you know? CIA, MI6, FSB, that kind of thing. Do you mind if I call you Ariadne?"

She stopped speaking for a moment to draw breath. Ari looked down at her, blinking. She wondered to herself how such a small person could fit such huge lungs. "Ari's fine, Engineer Vargas."

"Ari! That's a cute name. Sure, okay, Ari it is. But yeah, welcome to the Site! We're on Rig One, of nine. Though you must've seen that already, obviously," she broke for a second to laugh before forging ahead through Pierre and Ari's silence. "But each platform's usually called by its original name from before we bought it. This one's called Zhu Deep! Kind of the gateway to the rest of the Site. New materials, supplies, and personnel," she gave Ari a wink and a nudge "…come through here."

The elevator's huge doors opened out into a sort of makeshift courtyard, lined on all sides by the orange building of the platform. A set of double doors ahead led into it. The group walked forward, but as they reached the middle of the courtyard, Captain Gauthier stopped. He spoke with a light Québécois accent.

"My apologies, but I have duties to attend to on Bluefin Shear — that's the main living platform, Agent Katsaros. It was a pleasure meeting you, and I look forward to working with you." He gave her a short downward nod that she returned. Then he turned on his heel, and walked away, through a side door in the wall.

She liked Gauthier, she decided. There was a mutual respect there, the kind only known to those who've spent years getting shot at. She watched the heavy metal door clang shut behind him before Vargas spoke again.

"Pierre's good people. Head of Security on the Site. Which is harder than you'd think! Sites like -19 and -43 have legions of security personnel, but we're limited to only a handful. But man, they are badass. All former special ops and crap. Actually, come to think of it, you probably-"

Ari cut Rita off. "No offense or anything, but it's been a pretty long trip…"

"Oh! Oh, man, I'm so sorry, you must be beat! Of course, of course, we can take care of all of this stuff after you've slept a little." She paused, slipping a tablet out of the front pocket of her coveralls. "Like Pierre said, most of the dormitories and living spaces are on Bluefin, but we do have a handful of temporary rooms here…" she said, flicking through a display on the tablet. "Yup, there's a free one just around the corner."

Ari nodded, and adjusted the duffel bag slung over her shoulder. Her left arm came out of her pocket and swung limply by her side. Rita's eyes fell on it.

"Oh. Uh — crap. Would you like me to-"

"It's fine."

"Are you sure? Because it's really no-"

"Seriously. It's fine. Let's go." She turned on her heel, and Rita hurriedly caught up with her. The pair walked through the set of double doors, into the brushed metal interior of the building. It was largely just a single looping corridor lined with doors leading into rooms, most of which were closed. Ari spotted a number of other personnel milling about, chatting or walking around tapping on tablets. She silently noted most of them were wearing green-knit turtlenecks emblazoned with the Site-7 emblem. "Tzu is one of the two platforms that you can access the internet on. The rest of the Site is quarantined, for obvious reasons. So everyone comes here to email family or friends and such. But all the traffic is still monitored by the I/Os, of course," Rita explained.

They took another flight of stairs up and walked through another looping corridor, stopping in front of a metal door just like the hundred others they had passed by. Rita pulled a keycard from her coveralls, sliding it through the door handle's reader. The light flicked green and the door popped free. Ari pushed it open with her free hand, stepping inside.

It was a small, unremarkable room. A desk, a dresser, a nightstand with an alarmclock, a chair, a bunk bed in the corner. Tiled floor with a small porthole-window peering outside. It was getting dark. Ari set down her bag on the desk and turned around. Rita was leaning against the doorframe, finger playing with the pipe wrench hanging from her belt.

"All set? Latrine's down the hall, kitchen's downstairs if you need anything."

"I should be good. Not really hungry."

Rita nodded. "Well, the Overseer's going to be arriving in a couple of hours, but you should have enough time to get a few REM cycles in. We'll meet at the helipad outside — I'll come get you if you're not up, don't worry." She smiled, brushing her blue-streaked hair out of her face. In spite of herself, Ari half-smiled back and nodded.

"Thanks. Appreciate it."

"No worries, hun. Uh, you're not gonna sleep in that, are you?"

Ari looked down. Her clothes were still damp from the storm aboard the ship. She had gotten accustomed to it. Before she could respond, Rita headed her off.

"There's a change of clothes in the dresser. I'll leave you to it."

"Thanks… Rita."

And with that, she closed the door and left. Ari walked over to the dresser, pulling out the first drawer. It had jeans, trousers, a few white shirts, and one of those green Site-7 turtlenecks. She picked it up, feeling it. It was knit and double-lined, practically designed to trap heat inside. No wonder everyone was wearing them. She grabbed a white shirt alongside it, then zipped open her duffelbag, digging around inside until she found the bottom half of her old Nu-7 fatigues — a pair of black cargo pants.

She had gotten accustomed to taking off her clothes with only one hand well before she had lost it permanently; she'd had one hand or the other in a cast more times in her life than she could count. So she quickly undressed, dropping her shirt onto the floor and kicking off her jeans. She grabbed a towel and wiped her damp skin down, gingerly padding around the stump, then pulled on the new shirt and cargo pants, stuffing the cuffs into her boots and pulling the turtleneck sweater over her head. Then she popped her dog tags around the sweater's collar before turning to look at herself in the mirror.

The obvious was difficult to ignore — the left sleeve of the sweater hung empty and loose, flapping in the air. Ari stood there, staring at herself for a few seconds. Then she reached back into her bag, and drew out her Ka-Bar knife. It'd been a gift from a friend in the PENTAGRAM. She pulled off the sheath, admiring the black blade in the flourescent light. Then she reached over and began hacking through the fabric.

When she was done, the frayed edge of the sleeve came just past her elbow, where her arm ended. She raised her arm, flexing it into the mirror. She smiled.

And now, there she was, standing on the helipad in her sweater and cargo pants. She had let the parka dry out on the chair while she slept, and wore it on top now. Her dog tags, a Las Vegas Golden Knights baseball cap, and a pair of mirrored sunglasses completed the ensemble, reflecting the cold sunlight coming off the water.

Behind the sunglasses, nobody could tell who she was looking at, leaving her free to inspect everyone else — and see who was staring at her. Right now, it was the redheaded woman, with an air of fascination. Before she could do anything about it, Rita broke away from Gauthier and walked over.

"Hey, Ari! Sleep well?"

Ari didn't look at her. "Well enough. Yourself?"

"Pretty good! Though, my quarters are on Fjord, the main mechanical platform, so it's a little nicer than your digs. For now, that is! I have… no idea what the Director's quarters look like, but they've gotta be way better than mine."

Before Ari could respond, the wind began to kick up again. No, not wind. There was a soft droning in the distance, growing louder. Ari looked up. A blot on the grey sky began getting larger, until it took the shape of a black Foundation transport quadcopter, barreling towards them.

Everyone hurriedly backed away off the helipad, onto the main platform. Ari took a few steps back, but not too far. She'd been on and under more of these birds than almost anyone, and the pilots were always able to land it on the head of a pin. They all watched as the quadcopter flew in close, rotating to its side and gradually lowering itself onto the helipad. Ari used her hand to clutch her hat as the platform trembled with the 20 tons of weight settling onto it and the four rotors spun down to a safe speed.

The quadcopters were beautifully engineered pieces of machinery, initially a shelved Boeing project that the Foundation had purchased and revitalized in the 2000s. A tiltrotor VTOL aircraft that was faster, quieter, and significantly more expensive than anything of its like. Ari realized she was holding her breath. As the door slid open, the two infirmary nurses rushed past her to the quadcopter's side, pushing a wheelchair.

The first people that hopped out, she recognized in their unrecognizability. The same black-and-red-armored indistinct men that had accompanied O5-5 to her hospital room only a few weeks ago. Mobile Task Force Alpha-1 — the Council's Red Right Hand. Two them in the belly of the chopper hopped out, taking up positions around the helipad. Then three more figures emerged, one more soldier and two well-dressed individuals. One was an older woman, looked to be in her mid-50s with grey streaks in her brown hair, wearing a red blazer and skirt over a white blouse. The other was a rather lean-looking man, surprisingly young. He couldn't be much older than Ari herself. He was wearing beige trousers, a white dress shirt rolled up to his forearms, a blue tie, and a tweed vest over it all. His longish dirty-blonde hair fell over his wire-rimed glasses. The woman and the Alpha-1 operator were slowly helping him out of the door.

Ari stepped forward, briskly walking over as the nurse fully unfolded the wheelchair. She made eye contact with the older woman as she extended her arm out, and noticed her eyes seemed to be iridiscent.

"It's alright, ma'am. I've got him."

The woman nodded and released the man, stepping back. Ari and the Alpha-1 operator helped the man into the wheelchair. One of the nurses approached him, leaning down and speaking in hushed tones. Ari stepped back once it was all over, as the woman hopped neatly out of the quadcopter and walked over to her.

"Agent Katsaros, I presume." She extended out a perfectly-manicured hand.

"That's right. Nice to see you again, O5-4." Ari shook it as the woman's expression faltered. "We've met before. I was still with Nu-7, 2025, digging out Serpent's Hand cells in Korea. You were there advising."

Tilda Moose nodded, her eyes glittering with recognition. They really were iridiscent, each iris like a sheen of oil, shifting and reflecting the light. "Ah, yes. Sorry. I remember now."

"No need. I was just a pair of boots." They fell silent, watching the young man in the wheelchair conversing with the nurses. His face was smooth and expressionless as he talked, gesticulating with his arms. Tilly spoke, not making eye contact. "I heard about your accident. My condolences. Your job is uniquely dangerous in the Foundation."

"Thanks. But no one expects Agents to die in our beds, surrounded by friends and family. Otherwise you wouldn't spend so much money on us, right?" They looked at each other, and Ari gave a lopsided, wry smile. Moose laughed.

"I suppose so. It's nice to see you're taking it in good humour."

"The way you say that makes me think O5-2 isn't."

"It's… complicated. I'm not going to presume to speak for him. He can do that well enough himself, Serpent knows."

Ari looked at the Overseer askance, who shrugged.

"Old habits die hard."

Moose was nice, easy to talk to.

"Sure. Are you staying long?"

"Just until the end of the day. David is a personal friend, this is a favor to him. Then I'm flying back out to my Sanctum."

Ari nodded. Each Overseer split their time between Site-1, OVCOM in the Arctic Circle, and their Sanctums — private residences and workspaces for the Overseer's staff, best described as 'compounds'. Their specific locations were classified more heavily than most countries' launch codes.

As Moose finished speaking, O5-2 raised a hand, harshly waving off the nurses. The man took grasp of the wheelchair's wheels, rolling up to the pair. Ari unclasped her hands, popped off her sunglasses, and stiffened, standing at attention. Moose didn't so much as shift. "At ease," he said, reaching his left hand up to Ari. "I'm O5-2." Ari relaxed and lowered her gaze to his face. She raised her left arm slightly. They stood there for a second before the realization passed over his face, quickly followed by a sheepish look and hurriedly swapping arms. "Ah. Sorry." They shook.

"It happens. Agent Ariadne Katsaros, sir. It's nice to finally meet you."

"Yes. Likewise."

They stared at each other for a bit, sizing each other up. O5-2 had hard, calculating dark eyes behind the lenses, but his face was different than the other Overseers she'd met. Back in the hospital, O5-5's face had been etched with the weight of years of decisions, though hidden quite well. Moose's was even moreso; there was a visible world-weariness in the wrinkles and crinkles around her rainbow eyes. But Two's face was almost conspiciously light and clear.

Then Rita and the rest of the personnel walked up to them, and the reverie was broken.

"Welcome back home, Dire— Oversee… sir," she finished, lamely.

He nodded. "Director is fine, everyone. Or O5-2. You must be Ms. Vargas."

"Yessir. Senior Engineer Rita Vargas, Site-7 Engineering Subdirector. We've actually met! Before you got promoted, I mean, obviously."

O5-2 nodded slowly. "Right, of course. I remember you as well, Captain Gauthier." He nodded at the soldier, who responded with a sharp salute. "At ease, Captain."

The redheaded woman introduced herself in a meek voice almost inaudible over the wind. "Uh, welcome back, sir. I'm Evelyn McKay, Technical Subdirector. We've not met. Should we head inside now? The, uh, weather seems to be degrading."

He nodded. "Pleased to meet you, Ms. McKay. You've got very big shoes to fill." She nodded, and pulled her beanie down tighter. McKay was right; the clear weather of the morning had faded, and snowflakes were beginning to drift down on the winds. Ari figured that in an hour, the platform would be snow-caked once more.

She turned her eyes back to the group. The tall labcoat who had been standing on the helipad was now next to O5-2, speaking with him in low tones. The others stood around awkwardly, hands jammed in their pockets. The pair seemed to exchange a few hushed words, a comfortable nod, and a firm handshake. Then the man seperated from the group, turning and stepping into the open belly of the quadcopter. Rita stood on her tiptoes next to Ari and whispered to her over the wind.

"That's Doctor Victor Moses. Head honcho of the STAG out on Platform Nine."

"You're gonna have to elaborate," Ari whispered back as the quadcopter's rotors began to spin up again, blasting snow into the air.

"STAG, Special Technology and Applications Group. RAISA's very own skunkworks division. Oh, uh — sorry, engineer lingo. Skunk Works was an engineering subsidiary at Lockheed Martin until 2034, unhampered by bureaucracy, producing bleeding-edge designs with basically no oversight and unlimited funding."

"I saw on the dossier that Platform 9's just labelled 'Restricted Sector'."

"Yep. Name's Mount August." The quadcopter rose into the air. It was loud, but not nearly as loud as a helicopter or traditional tiltrotor would've been. "Classified, all hush-hush. It's way out over there," she said, gesturing out into the horizon. Through the wind, another platform could be seen, freestanding out in the water. It was considerably farther than the other platforms, and no bridges leading out from it. As they watched, the quadcopter turned, banked, and made a beeline for it. "Nobody knows what they do out there. 'Cept the O5s and the Director, I guess. I've been stationed here for the better part of a decade and I've only been there once, to fix a mechanical issue with the hydrocom —"


"Right, right. Sorry. Anyway, only way out there is by boat or quad. I took the quad. From the moment I stepped off the helipad until I stepped back on, I was escorted by armed guards I've never even seen before. Never got so much as a stray glance into the interior, either."

They fell silent for a second. Then Moose walked past Ari, laying a light hand on her shoulder and nodding at the group. Gauthier and McKay were walking down the walkway of the platform, O5-2 rolling alongside them. The Alpha-1 agents followed at a comfortable distance. "Time to go, Agent Katsaros." Ari nodded, and the three of them briskly caught up. Moose took ahold of the wheelchair's handles, pushing O5-2 along. He turned and looked for a moment as if he was about to argue, before Moose gave him a look. He closed his mouth and relaxed his arms into his lap. Ari walked alongside them, hands to her sides.

Rita began to chatter. "So, welcome to Platform 1, Zhu Deep, Shipping and Receiving. We were thinking about giving you the tour as we went to Redeye, Director, since it's been a while since you were aboard. And it'd be nice for Agent Katsaros and O5-4 too, I'm sure."

"That sounds nice."

"Right! Okay, excellent." She clapped her hands and turned, leading them towards the bridge at the far end of the platform. "Like I said, Zhu Deep is for shipping and receiving. It's the only platform with a dedicated port underneath it." She gestured over the railing, where the tail-ends of several small boats could be seen bobbing in the grey water. "A cargo ship comes out once every two weeks for resupply of provisions. They're unloaded, brought up on the freight elevator, and organized into the main storage building for later use." They completed their circumference of the hexagonal platform, arriving at the long bridge leading to the next. "Zhu Deep is also the only non-network quarantined platform. I'm sure Evie has more on that, but it basically means you can only use the internet from here."

The bridge looked longer than it actually was; it had one main avenue and and a 'sidewalk' on either end, as if it had been designed for vehicles in mind. Ari wondered if there were trucks or cars aboard.

The next platform was different in appearance. If Zhu Deep had been sleek and steely, then Fjord was, as Rita proudly proclaimed, "the ugly innards of Site-7." The main building looked like it belonged in an oil refinery, all smokestacks and rusty metal pipes and towers assembled into a castle that looked one strong wind away from falling over. As they walked, other engineers dressed in coveralls like Rita's scattered out of their way, most holding tools or tablets. The sound of the wind was overpowered by the sounds of machinery, clanking, whistling, and distant shouting that seemed to pervade Platform 2. "This is my dark domain, Platform 2, Fjord, Mechanical Engineering. All the ugly and complicated machinery we need to sustain life 40 miles offshore, not to mention Site-7's frankly insane power demands. Not to brag but uh, we kinda keep this whole place running." She snickered, to an unimpressed look from Evelyn.

"I hope this isn't as old and… fragile, as it looks," Moose said with a tinge of worry.

"It's not, ma'am. The wind and snow just do bad things to the appearance, but trust me — this place is safer and more equipped than any facility like it. The thaumic reactors below deck output more than enough energy for the entire site, for one," Rita assured her.

O5-2 spoke up. "She's right. When I was on-site this place was just as much of a chaotic mess as it is now. Nice to see some things don't change."

Ari cocked her head at him. "On-site, sir?"

"Yes. I was at RAISA until my recent promotion. In Ms. McKay's old job, in fact. Technical Subdirector".

She nodded, and brushed her hair out of her face as they continued over the next bridge. "I'll let Evie take over, since this is her territory," said Rita, as the group arrived at Platform 3. Not just Platform 3, Ari realized — 3, 4, and 5 were all arranged and connected in a triangular shape. Each was different. The one they were on now held a surprisingly-regular looking office building: three or four floors of steel-reinforced walls and glass windows. Personnel strutted about, many more than had been on Zhu or Fjord. They were dressed in casual wear, many wearing the same Site-7 turtlenecks and parkas that Ari was, albeit with their sleeves still intact. Through the windows, dozens of employees could be seen at chairs in front of desks with computers.

Evelyn spoke, making herself heard. It was easier when the nearby personnel recognized the Overseers and quieted down, if not walked away entirely. "Welcome to Platforms 3, 4, and 5. The RAISA Annex. Right now we're on 3, Starseeker, which is where all SCiPnet processes are hosted and managed from. Obviously the actual servers aren't here, that'd be an insane risk. SCiPnet's hosted on a number of redundant servers across the planet. But, uh, this is where most people's image of RAISA comes from. Console cowboys, making sure the database isn't being corrupted and applying warnings and flags where needed."

"I remember being one of those console cowboys," O5-2 said. He was staring at the office building. "Crunching data, numbers. It's punishing."

"Yes, sir."

The two platforms connected to it were a little more out of the box. They made their way to the one due east, out of their way. Unlike the other buildings, this one was low, squat, and made entirely out of frosted glass fitted into a steel frame. Ari stared at it for a few seconds, before it registered. She reached a hand out.

"Shouldn't this be covered in sno—" She fell silent as her hand pressed against the glass. It was warm to the touch — not enough to burn, but any snow settling on top would be melted pretty quickly. She noticed the runoff gutters etched into the glass, dripping water. "That explains that."

Evelyn nodded. "This is Platform 4, Deepwatcher. Affectionally termed the AI farm." She pulled her tablet from the coat of her parka, tapping it a few times, and looked up expectantly. The glass panels in front of Ari lost their frosting, becoming perfectly transparent and revealing the strange interior. It was one large room, sunken so that the perfectly-white floor was actually several feet lower than the walkway the group stood on. Server racks filled the room in a strange, mazelike pattern culminating in the center, where a uniquely strange piece of technology stood. Some kind of metal-plated dodecahedron floated a foot or three off the ground, slowly rotating. Wires emerged from it, snaking off into corners of the room.

"The Foundation's advantage has always been our willingness to outsource the work. We wouldn't be where we are without an army of AICs and I/Os to reduce the immense load. So, this is where those AICs and I/Os are built, shackled, trained — 'bred', hence the name. Right now… 214 intelligences are present inside."

Ari stared at the fascinating tableau — the inside of the room was like a painting, perfectly still aside from the blinking lights of the server racks. Then she dropped her hand from the wall.

The next platform was the one Ari had seen while first arriving, dominated by a gargantuan satellite dish that she could now see was sitting on top of a large office building. The dish slowly revolved overhead, netting draped over it to keep out the worst of the snow. Smaller radar balls peppered the surface of the platform.

"And this is Site-7's pride and joy, the PANOPTICON system. A massive global surveillance network, bounced around the entire Atreus Array of satellites, can be patched into almost anything on the planet. The backbone of the Foundation, and RAISA keeps it working."

Rita let out a low whistle, standing next to Ari. "Fucked up, isn't it?"

She shrugged. "I've seen the Foundation's back-up plans in case of extradimensional invasion. Global SIGINT isn't that weird. I'm pretty sure the Five Eyes were doing this sort of thing decades ago."

Evie continued. "Maybe a third of the staff on-site are assigned just to this. It's probably better if we don't go inside — no reason to go through security, decontamination, static grounding just for a look, right? Uh, unless you'd like to, sir."

"No, I've spent enough time around PANOPTICON in my life. You want to look, Four?" Moose shook her head no, smiling politely at McKay. Ari noticed that her eyes seemed to have calmed down: the kaleidoscope of colors gave way to a smoother shift of blues and grays, like a water bottle being shaken. The group continued walking, exiting the shadow of the satellite dish.

"And this is Bluefin Shear, the main living platform," Captain Gauthier explained in a French-tinged voice to Moose and Ari. There were personnel standing about the walkway of the hexagonal platform, even in the biting wind, sitting, chatting, drinking steaming coffee from mugs. The main building of the platform was no doubt full of even more personnel.

Moose raised her eyebrow. "How many personnel does this site have?"

"North of eight-hundred," Rita replied. "I know what you're thinking. Answer's SCP-184. Gradual exposure to Bluefin Shear's accomodation over a period of weeks in construction. It's much, much bigger on the inside."

O5-2 nodded. "One more example of Site-7's…. strategic use of harmless anomalies."

"Yessir. Comfortably holds dormitories for everyone, not to mention plenty of latrines, lounges, common areas… that sort of thing. Plus we have weekly game nights, seminars, some other stuff. You should come check it out, Ari!"

"Does everyone sleep here?" Ari asked.

"No, but most do," Gauthier answered. "Some of the platforms have a few on-site sleeping spaces. Redeye has barracks and suites — that is where I and many of the security officers bunk, no doubt where you will too." Ari nodded, tightening her jacket and raising the neck of her sweater. She glanced at her watch. It was late in the afternoon, and getting dark quickly.

O5-2 seemed to have noticed the same thing. "I think we can skip the ancillary server platform today and head straight to Redeye. Any objections?"

Moose, Ari, Captain Gauthier, Rita, and Evelyn all shook their heads.

Ari leaned against the wall of the hallway as Gauthier fiddled with the door's lock.

"Apologies, sir. It's been a while since this door was opened."

"Of course."

Rita and Evelyn had left shortly after the group arrived at Platform 8. It was basically one office building. Surprisingly understated, considering it was both the Security Division's functional base, and the home of Site Command. The considerable office space had been dark and uninhabited, though Gauthier assured them it was just because everyone had gone back to their lodgings for the night. They took the elevator up a few floors, to the similarly-abandoned corridor they stood in now.

The door popped open, and Ari pushed forward, manuevering herself between O5-2 and the door. Her stump rested on his chest, gently blocking him. "Sir." She held his gaze for a second, and the Overseer nodded. She stepped through the doorway, flicking open the lights with her right hand.

The Director's quarters weren't exactly luxurious, per se; they were decorated much like any midrange downtown apartment would be. But compared to the steel-and-concrete industrial aesthetic of the rest of Site-7, a normal-looking apartment was pretty luxurious. It was carpeted, finished with nice modern furniture, paintings on the walls, a fully stocked kitchen, bathroom, a dining table and sofa in front of a television. Ari noted the presence of recent renovation: widened doorways, grab bars throughout the apartment, a seat in the shower. There was the main living area, and two bedrooms on opposite sides. Moose began to push O5-2 in.

"I got it, Tilly." O5-2 gently pushed Moose's hands off the back of his wheelchair and grabbed the wheels, rolling himself in after Ari. Moose and Gauthier followed, looking around.

"Nice digs," Moose said, teasingly. She raked an appraising eye over the lodgings, hand on her hip. Ari opened the door to the other bedroom — it was a slightly more spartan version of the main bedroom, with a bed, desk, dresser, and closet. She returned to the main room.

"It's no Sanctum, but it'll do," he said. Then he turned. "Thank you for the help, Captain Gauthier. It's much appreciated. I'll see you in the morning."

Gauthier responded with another sharp salute and click of his boots. Then he stepped out, shutting the door behind him. Ari was alone with the two Overseers. Moose clapped her hands.

"Well! I do believe Ms. Katsaros is owed something." Then she did something strange — her eyes shifted once again from the cold blues and greys to the opalescent rainbow Ari had first seen, and she whispered something musical under her breath. Ari couldn't quite hear the words, but it stirred her. She thought about Site-12, and her hospital room, and crying herself to sleep for the first time in a decade and a half. Moose closed her eyes, and Ari closed hers.

When she opened them again, Moose was holding a box — a familiar sealed blue plastic crate, about the length of Ari's good arm. The one the nurses on the helipad had been lugging around earlier in the morning. The older woman bent and set it down in front of Ari as O5-2 rolled over. Then she stood again, and stepped past Ari. They looked at each other as Moose laid a hand on her left shoulder and squeezed.

"I'll leave you two to it."

Then she smiled, and left. They were alone in the little apartment as the wind raged outside. O5-2 spoke.

"So. It's nice to finally have a chance to talk to you."

"Agent Katsaros," she offered.

"Formal. But yes. It's been… quite the day." He rolled over, leaving the box where it was on the floor.

"Yeah… I can tell. For both of us." She followed to the couch, and sat down.

"That much is true."

Another bout of silence. This time, Ari broke it.

"I… don't want to offend, or anything."

"But?" Two pressed.

"Nobody told me you were… in a wheelchair," she finished lamely. She scanned his face acutely for any reaction. It stayed the same impassive, cool mask it had been for the entire day. The only sign of motion was behind his wire glasses. Right now, the eyes were soft, listening.

"Yes, well, I'd love to say the same for you, but…" He chuckled. Ari snorted. It was a dumb joke.

"What do you have?"

"Sorry. Classified."

She blinked. "Really."

"No, I'm just fucking with you. Well, it is classified, but you have clearance. Anyway, chronic muscular dystrophy. Genetic, incurable." He gestured down at himself. "I'm one of the brightest minds of the Foundation, but I can't wipe my own ass. Really humbles a guy."

"I know the feeling." She lifted her lame hand.

"Yes… your case is a little more interesting than mine."

Ari felt a hard little lump in the back of her throat. She stiffened. "Not exactly the word I'd use." An awkward pause. "And I hope you didn't hire me because you need help with things. I'm no one's caretaker."

O5-2's eyes changed, fast — they went from a soft understanding to cold, hard.

"Good. Because I don't need a goddamn caretaker."

The tension in the room was palpable as they glared at each other. Behind his eyes, Ari could see a lot of things. The obvious anger, but not rage. Stubbornness, a fierce independence, indignance tempered with humility. It felt familiar. She recognized it from staring at her own crippled body in the mirror, blocking out everything except her own face.

Slowly, their hackles fell.



And they relaxed.

"So… what would I do, exactly? As your secretary."

"It varies. Mostly being my hand across the Site. A concrete, visible reminder of my presence. As well as my bodyguard, but it looks like you've got that down already. I already knew the room was clear, but I appreciated it." He nodded.

"It's what I'm trained to do," Ari said.

"And you're the best at it. Aside from that, you'd accompany me on trips. Communicate for me if I can't. I'll try to make sure you don't have to push the wheelchair."

Ari gave a lopsided smile. "I don't mind. I can do more with one hand than most people with two."

"About that…" He grasped the wheels again, rolling back over to where the box was on the floor. He leaned over, pressing his chest against his thighs, fingers grasping at it. It was at precisely the wrong angle, just out of his grip. He strained, fingers slipping on the slick plastic.

Ari kneeled down in front of it, lowering her right hand and grabbing the side. It rose a few inches before slipping back down again. She tried again, and it slipped once more. The pair kneeled there, wrestling on the floor with a plastic crate, until Ari realized O5-2 was laughing.

"Look at us. My God, the Foundation is properly fucked." He laughed.

Ari laughed too.

They sat at the dinner table. The crate was on top, its lid having been wrested off. Inside was the same thing O5-5 had shown her the blueprints of in Oklahoma a month ago, resting in a soft bed of molded foam. Ari reached in and brushed it lightly. The metal was cold to the touch.

"Anderson produces the best modern prosthetic limbs in the world. But this isn't modern," O5-2 explained. "Anderson only emerged in the 1990s after Prometheus Labs went belly-up. Prometheus got their start designing anomalous prosthetics for Civil War veterans. They never sacrificed that legacy of care and quality. Anderson made a science of building prosthetics, but Prometheus made it an art."

She lifted it up, gently, out of its bed of foam. It was deceptively light for its size and material. A robotic forearm, molded perfectly to where her left arm ended past the elbow. It was made of a brushed black metal laced with a gold lattice pattern. It was almost skeletal in appearance, but thickly armored in the right places. The fingers extended into gold-brushed knuckles. It felt… natural. Ari realized she was holding her breath in, afraid to breathe on it.

"You're right. It's a work of art."

"This was one of the last ones they produced before the Prometheus conglomerate collapsed. Dynamic motion, mapped to the muscular nerves, never aches. Tough enough to bend steel, sensitive enough to hold a feather — or a gun. Heavily sought after in the anomalous black market. Marshall, Carter & Dark wanted to sell it for a fortune before I… acquired it."

Ari looked up at him. "Why?"

O5-2 shrugged. "Because… I think that we can help each other, Agent Katsaros."

She admired the construction. Yes, she remembered O5-5 visiting her in that Site-12 hospital room and offering Ari the only thing she wanted: her life back, complete with a new limb to replace what she had lost. She remembered seeing the holographic blueprints, and thinking that she would do anything to have it. Anything to be able to hold someone's hand, to take off her clothes unhampered, to hold a rifle. Then she remembered Rudy, bashing his leg against the railing of the Teaser.

She looked up at O5-2.

"Tell me."

He slipped a hand into the leather briefcase hanging from the handle of the wheelchair, coming out with a manila folder. He handed it to Ari, who placed the prosthesis gently back into its foam crib before grasping the folder. It was sealed with bright red tamper tape. Their eyes met, and O5-2 gave a simple downwards nod. She broke the seal, opening the folder and quickly reading through its contents. Then she placed it on the table.

"You know what happened to me in Bolivia?"

"Not for sure. But… it lines up with other incidents we've recorded. Infovores. Information and memory-eating thoughtforms. Our best guess is that you came into violent contact with one that lodged itself into your head. And despite what I'm sure was blinding, mind-bending confusion, your training shone through and you managed to forcibly amnesticize it out of your mind."

"And? Can you find it?"

O5-2 sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He wheeled himself to the window, looking out over the rest of Site-7's platforms, peppered with the lights of offices, dormitories, machinery.

"RAISA was created in 1970 as little more than an administrative archival division for the Foundation. But in the world we live in, knowledge is power. That's why we have all these informational security procedures. Can't let anyone know too much. But here, in the middle of the freezing ocean, we sit on top of the largest cache of Foundation data in the world. RAISA knows everything, and that means…" he fell silent before continuing. "Maria Jones saw it coming, and reformed RAISA accordingly before her death. I'm sure you saw today, going through the site, seeing our irons in the fire. PANOPTICON, POINTE, STAG. RAISA is changing, and the whole Foundation is changing with it."

"What are you trying to say?"

He turned the chair to face her again.

"I regret that I can't tell you the whole story right now, Agent — this is quite literally hundreds of years in the making. But very soon, the Foundation is going to face some incredibly difficult challenges. New enemies, far more dangerous than ORIA or Myrmidon or Robert Bumaro. I need to be alive to help us get through it, and I need you to keep me alive. There's a reason we're all the way out here instead of at Site-01. The old places aren't safe anymore. I needed somewhere I could trust. And I need someone I can trust."

She stood slowly, placing her hand on her hip. "This is… a lot." Then she paused, looking up. "Why are you so confident you can trust me?"

"The official answer? Because I'll give you an experimental prosthetic arm and help you find whatever took your original from you, so long as you make sure I don't get myself killed."

"And the unofficial answer?"

He thought for a moment, then smiled a lopsided smile. "I'm not sure. I guess we're both a little bit broken."

The next morning, Ari was already waiting on the helipad when Moose came out. The older woman's eyes glittered, and she smiled.

"Morning, Agent Katsaros. I'd say last night went well, but you seem to be missing something…"

Ari rushed into it before she could lose her nerve. "When we were in Korea, we did talk. Well, you talked — I listened. You were telling the squad about when you lost your magic."

Moose nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes, I remember."

"You said that… it felt like a part of you had been ripped out. Like you were disbalanced, aimless, directionless. Then, gradually, you got back on your feet. You figured out where you wanted to go from there."

"I think I see where this is going. I suppose it maps well to what you lost, yes. Uncannily. I hope this means you're gaining direction."

"No. I mean it does, and I am, but that's not what I want to ask you about."

"Then what is?" Moose cocked her head.

"When you got the opportunity to get your magic back… did a part of you want to say no?"

Moose's face relaxed. "Ahh. I see it now." She turned, gesturing to the Alpha-1 soldiers on the helipad to hold position. "Walk with me."

They headed down the walkway of Platform 1, putting some distance between them and the helipad. The storm last night had abated. The Norton Sound was clear and pristine, and the sun was even out, light reflecting off the glassy sea. "Yes. I won't give you the specifics of what was offered to me, mostly because I don't want to incur the wrath of something or other. But yes. I wanted to say no."

Ari was silent.

"It felt like I had changed. Irreperably. That the loss had made me stronger. Which it did! But more than that getting it back would…"

"Invalidate what I've gained," Ari interjected. "That I wouldn't be stronger because of the loss anymore. But stronger in spite of it."

Moose nodded. "No one wants to feel like they're weighed down by something."

"So how did you get over it?"

"I realized I was looking at it wrong." They stopped walking. "Look — part of coming to terms with losing my magic was understanding my newfound limitations. Sure, maybe I couldn't shatter a door with one touch or reach into someone's mind anymore. But I adapted. I grew in other ways. You have too, I'm sure." She laid a hand on Ari's shoulder. "So, when I was thinking about whether or not to say yes, I considered whether the ways I'd grown — whether they'd shrink, if I would become less than myself, if I reclaimed my power. And I decided that no, no I would not."

They looked out over the Pacific Ocean.

She dropped the duffel bag onto the bed in the apartment's second bedroom. She slipped the parka off, then pulled off the turtleneck to her white tank top. The prosthetic clicked and whirred softly as she threw her sweater onto the bed, pulled on her shoulder holster, slid her gun in, then left the bedroom.

O5-2 looked up from his tablet as she approached. She stopped in front of him, offering her metal hand.

"I go by Ari."

He smiled up at her, and shook her prosthetic hand.

"David Rosen. Nice to meet you, Ari."


rating: +77+x

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