Visions of the Future

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A soft blue sky hung over the streets of Paris, France. A gentle wind, funnelled by the twisting streets, ruffled the street awnings of the bustling restaurants. Every so often, when streets met, there would be a little square. Quaint little fountains or statues centred in a small courtyard, surrounded by the bustle of tourists.

O5-13 sat on a small wooden bench in one such intersection, watching as people passed by. Although, in Oneiroi West, "people" was a loose term; this was a dreamscape after all. Occasionally fights broke out between some of the weirder looking characters, though Thirteen mostly attributed this to pure Oneiroi, who had become bored of existence. Back before he'd become stuck here, he believed that these pure Oneiroi were the reason certain dreams were so chaotic; but now, in here, it seemed a bit more complex than that.

Despite all the commotion, Thirteen was enjoying himself. Places like this helped him switch off and forget about the Foundation; pretend that he was just somewhat normal, experiencing craziness from the outside, rather than from within.

For a brief moment, everything stopped in place, a sudden calm in the storm, fists frozen mid-swing… before suddenly resuming. Due to the nature of Oneiroi West, if the dreaming person woke up, the dreamscape had to be shifted to another host. But for places like Paris there was often an abundance of hosts; it only really mattered in niche worlds. Stuff like this fascinated him as a researcher, though it had become almost normal by now.

Seeing a couple of pure Oneiroi head towards him, he stood, letting them take the bench. Whilst he himself could be considered one of the pure, they treated him as a visitor, an inferior to them. He didn't mind, it made his walk easier.

As he headed down the cobbled streets, the smell of many different food cultures mixing in the air, he heard whispered conversation behind him. He assumed it was nothing to do with him as he was no different from the many other travellers. Continuing to slowly wander the streets, he picked up a distinct sound, the echo of some well-kept shoes on the classical cobbles, seemingly followed by the whispers he'd heard earlier.

As the shoes came closer, Thirteen moved aside to let the figure pass, only for said figure to fall into step and keep pace. As a member of Oneiroi West the concept of strange usually wasn't really used, due to the huge variance in appearance, but there was something "off" about this man.

The entity was dressed in a nondescript long black felt jacket, with a simple T-shirt and jeans below. Its face was hidden behind a black mask, bearing the golden number "1" on its cheek.

"You are O5-13, correct?" The voice was rough, yet almost calming. A gentle fatherly tone at odds with the appearance.

"Indeed, though I prefer Dr Ark. How can I help?"

"I'm Phaedrus, just wanted to talk."

"From a complete stranger, that sounds rather suspicious. I'm afraid I won't make a very good ransom hostage, if that's what you are after?"

"No, no, sorry if I caught you off guard. Your activities concerning the archiving and better containment of anomalies interest me."

"Well, I wouldn't quite say that, I give people a hand every so often." Thirteen didn't think the Foundation had another member within the dreamscape with that level of clearance, but he supposed it was possible.

"Don't worry, I know about your dealings with the Ethics Committee."

"Dealings makes it sound like something underhanded, I merely support and encourage their growth."

"Meaning you're rather upset at the recent turn of events, correct?"

"You aren't an agent of Eleven's, are you?"

"No, no. And even if I was, Eleven is currently experiencing… issues. He's the one least likely to investigate you."

"Hmm, I see. Are you threatening me with the same issues if I don't comply with your demands?"

The figure let out a muffled laugh. "You really are suspicious of me, aren't you? I guess it comes with the job. What if I was to tell you that your noose-tightening analogy was surprisingly accurate?"

"How did yo—"

"That's the wrong kind of question. Sorry."

"I— I'm not quite sure what you mean by that analogy. It was a worst-case hypothetical scenario."

The figure gestured towards a small, secluded bench hidden in a little alley cloaked by shade. They had been walking for a while and the crowd had thinned out significantly. Thirteen cautiously took a seat, glancing at the person beside him.

The stranger reached into his coat, causing Thirteen to flinch.

"Relax. Take a look at these."

Thirteen accepted the proffered three photos. Scenes of devastation, bodies scattered around the wreckage of buildings buried in newly formed craters. The skies a fiery dark red. Men and women in white lab coats lay in piles, limbs twisted to unnatural angles.

"Two questions. Where did you get these photos from? And what went wrong here that is relevant to me?"

"First, those images are of an Earth extremely similar to yours, closer than neighbours you could say. Second, a group of humanoid anomalies escaped, one of them went rather berserk, unfortunately. They didn't just stop at one facility."

"I see. Why are you telling me this then?"

"We need a hand to prevent it. I can see why you wouldn't, and don't, trust me. I will be in contact in a few days."

The figure turned to leave, flicking something into the air over his shoulder. Thirteen instinctively grabbed it.

"If you wish to contact me, repeat the phrase magnete lapide."

With that, the figure disappeared, his outline slowly fading from view. Thirteen fingered the coin, a shiny silver centre ringed by gold, bearing the letters "AV." He stared thoughtfully into the air, before opening a Way back home. He had much to think through, and whatever happened this week, he was sure it would be interesting.

Two days later.

"Attention all onsite MTF units, please report to the south wing of the facility. I repeat, that is all MTF units to south wing. Breach in progress."

"Hey commander, what's happening?"

"Five unrelated humanoid anomalies breached at the same time, one seems to be a minor reality bender."

"Why are we here then, we deal with mainly objects, right?

"I think they just want the extra manpower; we are gonna need to herd them towards the specialists."

"Right on."

O5-7: The Ethics Committee is your pet project isn't it, Thirteen? Four of those anomalies were under your purview. What happened?

O5-13: Rather rich, given you voted to slash my budget and cut back on my staff. I rather hope this was a little eye-opening for you. Also due to your "decrease in overall Committee interaction", only one of those actually had a dedicated Ethics personnel assigned.

O5-5: That's enough of pushing your own agenda. One, do you know what lead to the breach?

O5-1: From what I heard, the reality bender overloaded the SRA stationed outside his cell, causing it to explode and weaken the door. He seems more powerful than the researchers previously thought.

O5-2: All sentient beings tend to become more powerful under stressful conditions, correct?

O5-7: Standing up for Thirteen, are we?

O5-13: Two is merely pointing out known phenomena, Seven. What's gotten you so antsy.

O5-2: I believe the researchers involved with three of these anomalies happen to be members of departments that Seven manages.

O5-3: I can confirm that fact. Though, given how many staff Seven manages, that isn't strange.

O5-4: Ignoring all this petty squabbling, I trust they are all back in containment?

O5-3: All but one, she was accidentally killed during capture.

O5-11: That is rather unfortunate.

O5-1: Alright, given this conversation seems to be going nowhere, I am inclined to end the meeting early.

05-2: Thirteen, I wish to speak to you after this meeting.

05-13: Sure thing.

[O5-1, O5-3, O5-4… have disconnected]

05-13: Hey Two, thanks for the support. What can I do for you?

05-2: You aren't alone with your views. Stay safe.

[O5-2 has disconnected]

As Thirteen went to close the application, another voice call request appeared from "unknown caller". He regarded it warily, before clicking accept.

"Hello again, Dr Ark, I believe I said we would chat soon."

"It's rather rude to turn up uninvited. Especially destroying the illusion of personal security that I like to hold."

"Oh, your security is perfectly fine, I just have some… unfair ways of getting around it. How'd you like the show?"

"So that was your fault then?"

"You misunderstand me, Dr Ark. I didn't interfere there at all, it was just a convenient way to express my point."

"Are you telling me that reality bender just happened to become extremely stressed?"

"Not at all, some researchers had done some particularly invasive tests that the subject wasn't expecting. That would make anyone angry."

"How an earth do you know all this? Much of it is classified at O5 level. Have you got someone else on the inside?"

"I can easily get into your secure network, Dr Ark. If I wanted to blackmail you or your fellow members, I have a far easier way to do that. I just want you to trust me."

The voice paused, almost like it was scrutinizing Thirteen.

"I see you are not fully convinced. Let me show you something."

A flash of bright light filled Thirteen's vision before fading to black.

Thirteen surveyed the dunes stretching out before him, slight nausea subsiding. A few meters in front, a figure sat still, observing something in the distance. Thirteen's eyes slowly widened, his vision filled with a man from his old life, his best friend and student.

He went to scream his name, but Phaedrus placed a hand upon his arm.

"That isn't the James you remember. Your version was killed long ago, in a large Site-41 breach."

"But… I heard him, he spoke to me, we talked while I was in the simulation."

"As I said, we have been watching you for a while, we had to bring an alternative one in. Don't be too sad, I heard this one did enjoy your company."

Phaedrus pulled out a small remote, following Thirteen's look to a new figure on the dunes. "Have a look for yourself, corroborate my story."

Looking through into the distance, Thirteen saw nothing but dunes for miles and miles. A gentle pressure guided his vision lower, to a figure slowly walking across the sand. A tall, thin humanoid in a lab coat, jet black hair and a plain black T-shirt. As he watched, the lab coat fell to the ground, a small piece of silver catching his eye; it read "Dr Ark."

"But how can we see this? How am I here?"

"You aren't. I created an artificial Oneiroi environment and linked all sensory information to my drone. You're here because you wanted more proof, something tangible."

"You can hardly call this tangible given my current status."

"We do tend to get new recruits to pinch themselves and lie down in the sand, your lack of a body does, unfortunately, hinder us here. I can pinch myself but I doubt that would help."

"Suppose I believe you, what is this place exactly then."

Phaedrus looked up, his finger idly stirring the sand. "Welcome to your future, Dr Ark. Isn't it beautiful."

Thirteen slowly sat back down in his seat as his vision returned, his hands shaking almost imperceptibly. "Well, I'm most certainly listening."

"Sorry for the scare, I felt it was the fastest way to get you to trust me."

"So, what do you want from me? You clearly didn't do this all entirely for 'trust'."

"Of course. Time makes us feel all like fish, swimming against the stream. But, sometimes a conveniently placed rock can change the flow."

"Sounds like you practised that one in front of a mirror." Thirteen said with a wry smile, brushing away a small tear. "I assume you want me to be that rock."

"It would benefit both our organizations if you were."

"I'm guessing you have a plan for that?"

"Anderson Robotics, where have I heard that name before?"

"It's a small anomalous tech company originally founded by Vincent Anderson and Phineas Frostman. Although, your guys ruined his operation a few years ago. It's currently being run by Noah Frostman, Phineas' grandson."

"I highly doubt a descendant of Phineas would want to work with us Foundation folks, then, right?"

"We would handle the talking, you need not worry. I just need your support in the development of the needed technology."

"So what do we need them for anyway?"

"Anderson Robotics are famous for their "Saker units." They are essentially androids designed to mimic humans. With Noah's help, we should be able to create a body for you in the real world that you can use once the world goes to shit."

"I trust you also have a way to weather this storm?"

"Of course, trade secret." Thirteen had a weird feeling that Phaedrus was winking. He let out a heavy sigh,

"Then, if all this comes to pass, can I trust you to look over the new world until I arrive? The Foundation may not be the most benevolent, but we try our best."

"Don't worry, many of my colleagues were previously Foundation personnel, they have a vested interest in this succeeding."

"Thinking about that. We have documented many groups of interest thus far, and I have never seen anything about you."

"Ah yes, we operate under your radar; only stepping in if things start to go to shit. Feel free to call us the Archivists, we preserve and curate histories after all."

"That answers very few of my questions, but I have a feeling you won't elaborate."

"Indeed, I hope to speak soon on better terms. Good luck Dr Ark."

With that, he vanished, leaving Thirteen very much in a state of confusion. Given the number of K-Class Scenarios they had avoided so far, the Foundation had felt invincible, a rock standing against the flow of anomalies. But, a rock erodes in the current, and sometimes goes under.

Despite the thoughts swirling around his head, he felt strangely calm, almost as if he had known this was coming.

Goodbye to the world he thought he knew.

Welcome to Bellerverse.

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