KaktusKontainer IX






Conviction






Have you ever killed a man, Everett?

No, I didn't think so. For all the talk of you being a mad doctor, your record indicates you've been hesitant to get your hands dirty. Truthfully, I find that honorable. You joined the Foundation with good intentions, and you've maintained those intentions with little discrepancy. That's rare, you know. There are a lot of people here who haven't been so capable.

You won't understand what I mean, though, when I tell you that there's a rush that comes over the body in the moment before you take another man's life, especially that first time. For me, it was in Vietnam. A man came out of the brush towards me with a spear - a spear, Jesus - and when I pulled the trigger my gun jammed from the muck. I tossed it aside and met the man with little more than a knife and my wits.

It's funny how the memory betrays you over time. I've had children whose births I would've thought I would remember forever, but over the years have slipped into the fog of days long past. But this moment, the moment that I tackled this man and fought him in the filth sixty years ago, this moment I remember. I remember the determination on his face when he stunned me with that spear to the side of the head, the look of triumph as he prepared to bring me to my end with it. The fear in his eyes as I got the draw on him and put that knife into his belly and rolled over onto him to push it into the sludge beneath.

The adrenaline was erotic, but even stronger was the moment I saw true, focused, mortal peril streak across that man's face. The realization that this was as far as his story would go. He fought me, and pierced my arm with the broken spearhead, but once I locked my hands around his throat he changed completely. Gone was the determined man with fire in his eyes, and now I crouched over an animal, squealing and begging for a few more moments. At least, I imagine he was begging. I don't speak Vietnamese.

When he was gone, I felt something come through me stronger than any drug could ever hope to reproduce. In that moment, I could have killed a thousand men. It was more than power, Everett. It was divinity. God had called me to judge this man, and with my own hands I had done so.

No, Everett, this isn't a setup. I'm not going to kill you. I like talking to you, Everett. You have a unique perspective, unmarred by the squabbling politics of the Overseers. I wouldn't kill you. I told you that because I wanted you to know something that only a handful of people in this organization have ever known. Something that even my peers don't know.

I want to tell you about the Fountain of Youth.


Ponce de León wasn't the first to look for the Fountain. Explorers had searched the world over for it, and myths exist in every culture depicting a magical spring that restores life to the old or infirmed. In a pre-modern medicine world, this must have been justly appealing. Disease was suffering and age was a curse - to cast down these afflictions one just had to sip from those waters and be healed? It is no wonder that a legion of men over thousands of years had sought out a reprieve from the rigors of time.

So no, Ponce de León wasn't the first. But he was the closest. His own records indicate that he was within a mile and a half from the spring when he was attacked by the natives and injured, and he never got any closer. See, so many had wasted time digging through caves in the Caribbean, no doubt enamored by the clear seas and warm beaches. What better place to live forever? But Ponce did his research, and instead of combing beaches he dug through the swamps of south Florida with a handful of his closest companions and a duo of pressed-upon locals. He got close, but close doesn't grant you everlasting life.

The person who discovered it was actually a Canadian, Charles Blackburne, whose merchant vessel had run aground on his way down the coast. Charles and his cadre leave the ship to gather provisions, and after a few moments of wandering he stumbles across it, completely out of the blue. Isn't that something? He didn't even realize what he'd found - but he knew it was freshwater, and his men needed freshwater. So he gathered some up, returned to his ship, made a note of the spring's location in his charts and then disappeared into the historical record.

In fact, he might not have realized that the water was anything special at all. That's the thing about the Fountain of Youth, Everett. You don't drink it once and live forever - that would be too easy. In our business, nothing is ever easy. No, you have to keep drinking it, and as you do you'll find yourself rejuvenated, nourished, enriched. Aches disappear, old bones feel young again. The bags under your eyes fade away like they were never there at all. You grow young again, and then you keep drinking it, once a day every day, and you stay young. Forever.

At least, that is how the Fountain was intended - if it was intended at all. But the next man to come across that spring not only realized what he had found, but realized that drinking from it every day forever wasn't good enough. You can't bottle the water - it loses whatever enchantment it has at sundown. Must have been a shock to him when he found out that the magical water he was trying to sell to the Philadelphia elite was just water.

But this man was determined. He consulted texts, spoke to natives. The information he gathered about the spring over the next twenty years could fill a library - and has, at Overwatch Command. Frankly I can't stand the place; the texts haven't aged well and the whole wing smells like musty asshole. I can't deny their usefulness, though. After twenty years of dedicated work he had finally revealed the truth of the Fountain. The horrible, abhorrent truth.

The Fountain is part of a closed system, Everett. It's a way for this world to recycle energy - the energy that sustains living things. We die, we return to the earth, and the Fountain gives that energy back to the world. It soaks into the soil, and the cycle begins again. In the lush forests and swamps of pre-industrial Florida, it was probably much easier to buy that this spring was giving life to the world around it.

Of course, like I said earlier it's never that easy. In the tradition of those native peoples, when you die your energy is cast out on the world around you. Energy - they probably called it "spirit" or something similarly vague. If you die peacefully, that energy settles gently on the area around you and that place is given your life energy - whatever little remains returns to the Fountain. But if you die in agony, your energy is sundered and cannot rest - so the world returns the whole sum of it to the Fountain. This man might have guessed at this at some point, since his journals indicate there were days that he just wouldn't drink from the Fountain, sometimes weeks, because he didn't feel the power of the Fountain waning inside him. Some days, it was stronger.

At one point he writes in his journal, "Today, a lost traveler from the Morriston settlement entered my camp with his son. I slit their throats, both of them, and ran their blood into the waters. When I drank afterwards, it was as if the might of God Almighty himself had come into me and I could not be broken. It was then that I knew where my road would lead me." He did not drink from it again for another year, and aged not a single day the entire time.

This man began to hatch a plan. He couldn't stay there forever - eventually he would be found out, or a hurricane might threaten to sweep the spring away like it had so many times before. No, he needed a way out. So he plotted, and he schemed, and as the world grew older he did not. He left rarely, but always in pursuit of more knowledge or resources. He leveraged the knowledge he had gained over a hundred years into power, authority, wealth. He built a small empire for himself, and all the while gathered those to him who could be trusted to keep a secret.

Then, at the dawn of the 20th century, the Foundation came calling. This man was no stranger to the occult, and had amassed a small fortune in native idols and artifacts alone. Beyond this, he was a shrewd businessman, a keen academic, and filthy rich. His resources - built on slave labor and punishing capitalist practices in the region that would've turned Rand to blush - built the early Foundation from a small gathering of like-minded intellectuals into a robust academy of supernatural research.

The benefits didn't just go one way, of course. Where he had resources and authority to offer the Foundation, they in turn offered him the influence of other powerful men and women. He had decided early on that his plan could not go forward if he went forward alone. He needed allies, diplomatic ties, people from diverse backgrounds and experiences that could help him shape the world as he saw fit. He was a forward thinking man, and he saw the looming threat of the persistence of the unknown and paranormal creeping up from the darker places of the world. This was an enemy that could not simply be put down with guns or sedated with gold.

Their work continued into the 20th century, and slowly but surely the pieces of his plan came together under the shroud that the Foundation now provided him. He had diplomats in Prussia and Germany fertilizing the seed of a unified Europe - propagandists in London working to heal old wounds with France. His factories now built weapons and steel machines, artillery, chemicals. Under the guise of the Foundation they extended their reach and poisoned the minds of every politician and general on the continent. They piled kindling across the face of Europe and soaked it with the fuel of nationalism, and then struck a match.

The carnage that followed in those next few years was unlike anything the world had ever seen - or would ever see. Men were turned into meat to be thrown into a vast, inexorable machine until one side or the other choked and died. But the machine had grown immense, and the men were plenty, and they lined up in their bright uniforms in long lines and pointed towards the men standing on the other side in the same line and the same bright uniforms, and the howitzers devoured them all. Their blood soaked the earth until it threatened to collapse beneath the deluge of souls.

All the while, the man sat back and watched, and waited. He had performed his calculations. His closest friends, those who had helped him reach this final victory, were with him. They waited for the moment when they knew the Fountain would be its most potent, when the lives lost on the Somme would come screaming into the spring, and only then would they drink. They waited for years, biding their time and tallying the losses. Then, on the eve of their triumph, they stood together and pulled a vial from the spring.

They drank from it, and then they died.

Don't look so shocked, Everett. You didn't think I'd deprive you of a happy ending, did you? Let me describe it for you. They drank from their vials, and their tongues turned to ash. Their throats burned, their eyes bled. They clawed at their own necks until they pulled them open, gasping for air while bile boiled up from within them. Their bellies burst. Their bones became dust. Their veins turned cold and blue and then they died.

But fortunately, he died last. He continued to choke and beg and writhe on the ground like a beast, even as I stepped across the room towards him. His eyes were bulging from his skull, and in them I saw the same panic that I had seen on that poor Vietnamese son of a bitch two hundred years earlier. That man was just a thief, a common brigand, robbing a young man on the road who didn't know any better. This man was different. This man had cut my throat, and the throat of my father, to take my life from me and make it his. This man had left me to die in the swamps.

Maybe he recognized me in the end. Maybe he saw the scar across my neck. If he did, he didn't reveal it. He didn't reveal much at the end, as his body leaked out of him from both ends and his orbits turned purple and then black. He got lucky, though. I couldn't help myself with the poetry of it all, and pulled my knife across his throat. He was lucky, because when I was finished he was dead.


I joined the Foundation in those early years, Everett, because I knew that's where he was. While he was building his grand vision and putting all of his pieces in their places, I followed him. So self-absorbed he was, he didn't even realize I was there. I shadowed him for years, working in every station he grew close to, learning everything I could about his enterprise. I learned what he wore, how he spoke. I learned his mannerisms, the way he held a pen. I even picked up his accent, in enough time. I wore my hair like him, smiled like him, shrugged like him. Then, when his moment came, I poisoned the Fountain and killed him. When I walked into Site-02 the next day wearing his clothes, none of them knew the difference. Their Administrator became an Overseer overnight and they didn't even notice.

See, this man always spoke about our goals in these grand, sweeping terms. He would speak to the enduring human spirit, the struggle of man against the unknown. He would say, "A time may come when we must do horrific things. This task will fall to us because we are those best suited to it - men of conviction." He would say this to justify all of the things he had to do to complete his great illusion. He said it to justify the desecration of millions - do you get it? He was breaking them to steal their souls. He became powerful this way, but in the end what did all of his conviction accomplish?

Did his conviction build the Foundation? No, it was built on the broken backs of slave negroes and European blood money.

Did his conviction fertilize the fields of Europe with the blood of young men? No, that was Joffre and Falkenhayn. He never even lifted a gun.

Did his conviction save his life?

No. I killed him, and he died.

Hell, at this point, I don't even remember his name.

And you know what? For my part, it took no conviction at all.


Is the story true? I don't know Everett, what do you think? Do you think I'd waste your time sitting here telling you fairy tales? We're both busy men. Come now.

What happened to the Fountain? I destroyed it, of course. It was just a spring, after all. His estate sat over top of it, and I burned it to the ground. I think there's a parking lot there now - I haven't been back in a long time.

Did I drink from it before I destroyed it?

Well, 1916 was a long time ago, and twenty-million is a lot of people.


















Everett! Relax! You look like I've just told you the Foundation was behind the Holocaust, or some nonsense. You didn't think I was serious, did you? I just wanted to see what you'd think, it's not true!

I swear, sometimes it's like you don't even know me. Why would you ever think of something so ludicrous? Have some sense.



























It is a good story though, isn't it?

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