Thousand-Tooth Rat Trap

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The corridors of Site-12 were long, white, and dusty. Egret stood at an intersection, wondering what the place had been like before it was decommissioned. Researchers in long white coats might have walked down these halls, followed by technicians pushing heavy carts of oddities along. There might have been something like normalcy there once, or at least whatever passed for normalcy within the Foundation.

"Well, this is it, I guess," said Egret. Her heart felt surprisingly light as she looked at her hands, one empty and the other clutching her favorite pistol. Both were rough and scarred, their deeper creases lined with dried blood. Each was a good symbol of a good life as far as she was concerned.

She looked at the other hands sprouting from inside the heavy, unbuttoned coat draped around her shoulders. Some were pale and sinewy, others covered in fine fur, more still with the wrong numbers of fingers and joints. Together, they bore the armory she had spent half her life assembling, each limb shifting according to the faint currents of her thoughts. Strange symbols of a strange life.

Hold them off. That was what the Overseer said before giving Egret the coat and descending even lower with Dhole in tow. Delay her foes. Wear them down. Half their number, then half them again. The Overseer seemed diminished at the time, more so than months without sleep ever left her, but that was beside the point. Egret would serve as she always served. She would do the right thing. It didn't matter if a tide of nightmares washed through the reinforced doors of the abandoned Site, or if it was stormed by a horde of every enemy the Foundation ever made. She would fight, bleed, and die in those whitewashed halls.

A muffled explosion sounded in the distance. The floor shook. Emergency lights flickered. Hidden speakers crackled. Egret smiled to herself as another one of her surprises went off. It was an awful expression, she knew that much, but it was hers all the same. She ran the tip of her tongue over the teeth that the Overseer gave her years ago, still sharp as ever, and waited. Evacuation maps flashed on the long walls in jittering light. A droning automated voice announced that the perimeter had been breached. She had no intention of leaving.

The rumbling booms crept closer and closer, then ceased. They were soon replaced by stomping boots and low, harsh voices. Their sound carried well; even better when the droning voice of the intercom abruptly vanished. They were two corridors away, then one, then around the corner. Egret could feel eyes on her from some place, and, oh, how strange she must look to them. If her foes were eager to leap into the jaws of danger despite that, she would obligingly chew away.

An oblong grenade slid down the hall, spinning wildly and leaking stinging gas. Egret saw it, recognized it, and had the slightest thought before a long gray arm snaked out from within her coat to grab the grenade and pull it inside. Another arm, bony and many-jointed, reached out around the corner to shoot back. That was good. It had the right idea. Meet violence with violence and always be ready to use more. Someone around the corner screamed and a hail of bullets raced down the adjoining corridor. Egret returned fire with one hand, then two, then three. One popped in a splatter of vile, cold blood, and a new one caught its pistol out of the air.

Egret stepped out into the hall. A bullet traced a hot, wet line along the side of her face and another hammered into the armored vest she wore under the coat. She fired her pistol down the hall at the distant, shifting shadows. Her dozen extra hands did the same. Bullets riddled the alien appendages shielding her and new ones sprouted to take their places. The exchange lasted mere seconds, but Egret was already dragging too many limp limbs along by the end. The coat's entire weight surely would have broken her back if was not helping her walk up to her latest victims.

Egret stared mutely at the corpses of an Alpha-1 strike team. It was impossible to mistake them for anyone else, not when she had spent so much time wearing the same armor, the same inhuman masks. She felt invincible back then. New arms sprouted to poke and prod the bodies as she walked past, yanking tiny trinkets off them before moving on. Others picked up fallen weapons, grasping rifles in dripping tentacles and chitinous claws. The furthest soldier out was still breathing as Egret passed, chest heaving and leaking blood. They tried to say something as a flurry of arms grabbed them, and didn't manage to before being pulled inside her coat. Egret could not have cared less about what fate they met in there.

She fumed through clenched teeth. She seethed. That Alpha-1 would ever turn on the Overseers, let alone her Overseer. That they were so spineless. She stomped one foot down, the immense weight of the coat balanced by countless hands padding alongside her boots. She stomped the other down and more hands followed suit. Had she ever felt angrier? Could she feel angrier? This was worse than any patricide, worse than any matricide, and worse than any deicide too. This was grass slaying the sun. This was birds maiming the sky. The intercom crackled as she walked, a long cape of bleeding arms trailing out behind her.

"Wren," came the crackling voice from everywhere at once. "Agent Cooper-Hughes. I know it's you in there. I recognize you." Except Egret wasn't either of those people anymore. "This is Coxswain. You have one chance to bring me the former Overseer-6 and surrender. I'll overlook your desertion if you do. Otherwise, I'll be forced to take unpleasant measures."

Unpleasant measures, that was a good phrase for what was about to happen. Her former superior was no doubt thinking of the usual things: the explosive teeth they jammed into new recruits' mouths or the kill agents stuffed into the brains. Well, he could try, but her measures were more unpleasant by far.

Garbled noise poured out of loudspeakers as Egret stalked the halls, bits of songs and clips of movies strung together with numbers and letters. It looped over and over, but none of it found purchase in her mind. Long tentacles slithered out from within the coat, followed by bony limbs with hook-clawed paws. They reached out through doors and around corners, dragging back black-clad agents with them. Silent or shouting, flailing or shooting, each was pulled into the coat's lining. The countless arms were too heavy for Egret's legs, but it carried her along. Whether it still followed her will was meaningless so long as their destination was the same.

"I'm not above hostages, Wren," said Coxswain impassively. Egret imagined him crushing a wad of paper in his thick hands. "Family. Friends. I have their names here. Turn around. Bring out the Overseer." Egret's many arms snagged another armored rat. They were silent as she ripped one arm off. They sobbed by the time she finished with the other.

"Your parents. Tim and Andrea. Still wondering about their estranged daughter. I don't have to do this if you don't make me."

Rats, yes. Maggots. Bottom-feeding filth. Egret dashed an armored head against a wall until both cracked and crumbled. She didn't remember having any parents, and she didn't care about people she didn't remember. Painted arrows on the floor led her back toward the Site's main doors.

"They're out of my hands now, Wren. You did this. What about old friends, do you care about them? Darrell, maybe? Or Tess? Do you think they deserve to die because of you? This is more important than whatever loyalty you think you have. Do what's best for the Foundation."

Egret scythed away the part of her memory that ached at the sound of those names. She didn't remember, so she didn't care. She threw herself through a secure perimeter. Barriers shattered. Bodies broke. Bullets flew. She peeled away a steel door to the Site's entrance hall with one set of alien hands and shielded herself with another. Most of her guns were long empty, but it didn't matter. She would live before dying and fight before falling. The door warped, buckled, and crumpled.

The cavernous room beyond was full of traitors. Armed, armored, teeming in number. She despised them all, well and truly, but one in particular. In the distance, Coxswain ran for the door to the sunny sands outside. Something stinging slapped the side of her head and half her vision vanished. She didn't care. She didn't care. She grabbed the railing with countless flailing hands and threw herself toward her distant prey at eye-watering speed. More bullets smashed into her, shattering her long-useless vest and opening up new holes across her body. It didn't matter now. She smashed into Coxswain just as hard, taking them both to the concrete floor.

"I was looking for you," said Egret, teeth gnashing and spittle flying. She jammed her pistol into the big man's open mouth. "What did Sakarya promise, huh? Were they going to make you an overseer? Take mine's place? Asshole. Traitor! I'll kill you a thousand times before I let that happen! I'll find you. I'll eat your heart for a million years!" Egret had more to say, but there was no time. She pulled the trigger. Coxswain died, brains leaking out of his head. A spray of bullets broke through her veil of arms and Egret died too.

It would have to be enough.

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