The First
chapter13.png

1red.png


NOW

— - —

The sword in Aaron’s hand flashed, and with a dull roar it tore across the room towards where Calvin stood. He jumped backwards, knocking it away with the butt of his spear sending a shower of sparks cascading across the ground. Aaron pulled up and flames leapt from the blade in all directions, forcing Calvin to spin around to avoid them. He gripped the back end of the spear and spun it over his head as he came to a rest, and the tip of it barely missed Aaron as he too danced away from the end of the long weapon.

Calvin swung low, the spearhead just narrowly missing Aaron’s left thigh, and his momentum carried him forward slightly. Off balance, he caught a glimpse of the flaming red steel falling towards him and hit the ground, rolling to dodge the burst of fire as the Aaron buried the sword into the ground. With no shortage of effort, Aaron lifted the sword again and brought it down again, and again, and again, each time forcing Calvin to scramble backwards from the inferno. He found an opening, and quickly scrambled to his feet. Rearing back in the moment before Aaron brought the sword back around, he loosed the spear.

The air in the room grew tight suddenly, and there was a low, dull sound that seemed to pull all other noise out with it. A moment later there was a bang, and the spear was buried in the wall across from them, the impact having sent long jagged cracks through the stone. Aaron looked down at his arm and saw blood and ash – the spear had nicked him as it passed. He turned back towards Calvin, who was also staring at Aaron’s arm. Without hesitating, he pulled the sword to the left and fire leapt from the edge of the blade, billowing around like a curtain drawn over Calvin’s body. He leapt to the side and avoided it, but Aaron was upon him again, drawing up for a killing blow. In desperation, Calvin threw out a hand to stop the blade from falling on him-

-and then the spear was back in his hand, catching the flaming sword as it crashed down onto it. Aaron, surprised, hesitated in drawing back again. Calvin pushed up on the spear with both hands, knocking Aaron backwards and giving him the opportunity to swing the razor end of the spear around at him from the side. Aaron ducked, and then caught the next pass with his sword sending sparks cascading across the ground.

The Overseer went on the offensive again, taking long, sweeping cuts towards Calvin as he ducked and rolled out of the way of the streaking fire. He skated around the long table with thirteen chairs as flames lapped up the wall of monitors, melting them and turning them jet black. When he turned back Aaron was upon him again, but this time the golden sword came from below, not above, and caught Calvin in the side. He shouted and twirled away, the long end of the spear forcing Aaron back. He could feel hot blood beginning to soak through his shirt. As he gathered himself, Aaron stopped and brought the sword down to his side.

For a moment, the two of them stood breathing heavily, each eyeing the other carefully from opposite sides of the room.

“You are an incredible testament to the will of the Insurgency,” Aaron said slowly, never taking his eyes off Calvin. “A younger me would've been envious.”

Calvin wiped blood off his mouth with the back of his hand. “What do you have to be envious of?”

Aaron crouched down. “When I was younger, I made mistakes - costly mistakes. I always thought those mistakes were because my resolve wasn’t strong enough – but here you are. Your resolve is every bit as strong as mine, maybe stronger, and here you are, standing exactly where I stood, making those same mistakes.”

“I’m nothing like you,” Calvin said. “I know what you are. Traitor. You were made the Engineer of the Insurgency and you betrayed us, for all the power they could give you. You betrayed your ideals for a golden throne and everlasting life.”

Aaron looked up. His eyes were sad. “I’m not the Engineer, Calvin. I never was. Vince Arians was the Engineer. We built it together, but he was its chief architect. He wrote the Summa Modus Operandi and designed the Insurgency as a check again us, against me.”

He stood up, taking the sword in his hand again. “You are right about one thing, though. I did betray you. I betrayed all of you – but not to forsake my ideals. A moment came where I had to balance those ideals against something horrible, and they were not strong enough to sustain me.”

The sword lit up again, and in the dim light of the cavern the flamed of the sword danced against Aaron’s eyes. “I’m going to kill you, Calvin – but not because I hate you, or because I’m afraid you’ll usurp me. I’m going to kill you because I’m afraid that your will now is stronger than mine was then. I’m going to kill you because if you kill me, you are going to be standing in the exact place I was so many years ago, and you will be stronger.”

He raised the sword above his head, and from the hilt came an inconceivable blast of fire. It arced into the sky, scorching the ceiling of the cavern and burning out the lights there. The flames billowed down the walls, creeping into cracks in the rock and charring every surface they touched. As they reached the floor, the flames crashes across the chamber like waves, turning and churning and throwing smoke and ash into the air. The entirety of the flaming mass began to spin as Aaron brought the sword around his head, and then again, until the chamber was a single flaming maelstrom.

And then he saw Calvin, leaping through the air off the table in the center of the room, spear in hand. He turned to block it and heard the sound of a crashing locomotive as the spear soared towards him. He brought the blade down towards it, and on the moment of impact the shining golden steel glistened and then shattered. The spear caught Aaron in the chest and threw him across the room, pinning him to the stone wall beneath the monitor at the front of the chamber. The broken fragments of the sword fell out of his hand and scattered across the ground. Behind him, where the spear had entered stone, a thick crack now ran up towards the ceiling. The fire that had consumed the room lingered a moment longer and then went out.

Aaron gasped and slumped against the wall. He raised a hand to his chest and felt blood seeping through his fingers. He put one hand weakly around the shaft of the spear and tried to pull it, but had no strength left to do so. He coughed, and blood pooled in the back of his throat. His body felt numb, and his limbs began to grow cold and lifeless. His vision became blurred, and each breath became shorter and harder.

Then Calvin was standing in front of him, bloodied himself and bruised, but standing. When Aaron saw him, he laughed. Blood spattered against his teeth.

“Spoke too soon,” he said quietly.

Calvin crouched down on one knee and looked him square in the eyes. “It’s over. You are the last of them, and now that you’re done this world can begin to heal again.”

Aaron’s head rolled to his side and then straightened up. He brought his eyes up to meet Calvin’s, who suddenly felt the same enormous presence he had that day in the Somali warehouse with Delta, months prior. He had the distinct and unsettling sensation of his entire being – mind, body and soul – being inspected by something considerably larger than he was. Then, after a moment, it was gone.

Aaron laughed softly and coughed. “No, Calvin, you- you really don’t… understand. I thought… I thought so too, but… I was wrong. We were wrong. Arians couldn’t see it, but I- I saw it. He wouldn’t understand, I could never tell him, and he died thinking I had betrayed him-“ he gasped for air, “-I loved him. He was my brother. But he didn’t know.”

Aaron’s breathing became shallow. “It’s not enough, C-Calvin, it’s not- it’s not enough. Cancer, the cancer… it wasn’t- wasn’t us, and it wasn’t- it wasn’t Frederick… Williams… it’s the Foundation. It was always the Foundation.”

Calvin stood up. “Enough - it’s over. I’m going downstairs, and I’m going to finish it. This is the way it ends.”

Aaron took a few more short breaths and said. “No it's not.”

His eyes glazed over and something like a name began to form on his lips.

“So- Sophia, So… Sophia, I- I’m… I’m… I’m-”

He tried desperately to suck in a final breath, but with no strength left his body simply collapsed against the spear.

Aaron Siegel was dead.

Calvin stepped back from him unsteadily, his head racing. Small glowing tendrils of melted plastic and metal occasionally dropped from the ceiling around him, barely casting so much as a shadow on an almost perfectly dark room. He stood there in the darkness, catching his breath, until he felt a familiar presence join him in the darkness.

“He’s dead,” Calvin said, his own voice somehow alien to him. “I killed him.”

Purpose stood unmoving at the back of the chamber. It brought two hands up and clapped once, and all around the room short glowing cylinders rose up from the stone floor, illuminating the chamber. Calvin took one hesitant step back and then another, and left Aaron’s body pinned to the wall as he crossed back up to the stairwell leading to the main antechamber. The massive humanoid was waiting for him there.

“Purpose,” he said quietly, “there exists a room in this facility where someone could unmake the Foundation, correct?”

Purpose did not move. “Correct.”

Calvin nodded. “It’s below the antechamber, isn’t it?

“Correct.”

“Take me there.”

The two of them passed through the strange tunnel of whispers between the antechamber and the meeting hall until they were standing back in the open space beneath the depictions of the Foundation’s legacy. The massive pendulum above them passed over slowly and silently, and the faint ticking of the arms of an enormous clock somewhere in the distance was the only sound in that space aside from their own footsteps.

There, in the center of the chamber, was the elevator. Purpose approached it first, extending his palm to the door which swiftly slid open. Calvin moved to step inside it, but hesitated as Purpose put a hand on his shoulder.

“I am duty-bound to tell you,” he said softly, the baritone of his voice echoing through the hall, “that once you step inside this elevator, there is no going back. There is only one decision to be made past this point, and it is not one that can be unmade.”

Calvin nodded. “I know.” He turned to look back towards the massive doors leading down to where Aaron Siegel’s body was pinned to the stone wall, deep beneath the earth. “It’s time.”

Purpose stepped aside, and Calvin settled into the elevator. As he did, the door behind him slid shut, and he began to descend.

— - —

The elevator stopped, and as the door slid open Calvin had to squint against the light. He stepped out into a room, one with a high ceiling and dark wooden floors. Against the far wall of the chamber was a long, sweeping window that encircled nearly the entire room, and outside the window he could see the mountainside and the setting sun. The walls were lined with bookcases, and the books in them were thick and old but clearly well-maintained.

On one wall was another bank of monitors, much like the ones on the walls in the meeting room above them, only these showed different scenes. In one, he saw a woman slitting her wrists in the rain. In another, a man with a bullet in his skull falling out of a train. He saw the ruined fortress in the mountains where they had camped for the night, and the flaming city that Green had devastated. He saw the airport, and the body of a handsome man twisted and broken in the metal carnage. He saw Aaron Siegel with a spear shoved through his chest.

In the middle of the room was a rich wooden desk, neatly arranged and clean. A monitor was mounted to it, and on the screen was the Foundation’s secure login portal. Calvin walked beside it, and as he took a seat in the high-backed chair behind the desk he noticed something strange on the far end of the desk; a black, metal, rotary telephone.

He turned to the computer and began logging in. The system prompted him with biometrics by producing a fingerprint and iris scanner from within the desk. He reached out instinctively and stared into the flashing red light, and then both retracted into the wood and disappeared. The screen displayed a successful login, and then the screens around the room changed. Each monitor showed a different image, but it was clear what they all had in common; they were Foundation sites. One screen identified Site-19, and then another as Site-42, and one as Site-77. They filled every available inch of glowing LEDs, until every surface was a Foundation site.

Then, a single option appeared on the screen on his desk.

[TERMINATE]

Calvin felt the air catch in his chest. He placed a hand on the keyboard, his fingers hovering over the moment of final victory. He took a deep breath, and-

The phone began ringing.

He hesitated, his fingertip a hair’s breadth away from the key. He turned towards it to confirm what he was hearing, and the phone rang again. And again. And again.

On the fifth ring he answered, his hands now acting independently from his mind. There was something robotic about the motion, something instinctual that he could not identify yet drove him all the same. He picked up the receiver carefully, as if it was something alive, and set it against his ear. He heard only silence on the other end of the line.

"Hello?"

A voice crackled over the receiver. It was a man’s voice, no doubt - but there was something about it that caused the hair on Calvin’s arms to stand on end. He felt like he was hearing something that was both very far away, and occupying the same space he was.

“Congratulations are in order, Mr. Armand,” the voice said, its tamber light and its tone smooth. “You’ve demonstrated exceptional initiative. I’m certain it will serve us well.”

Calvin’s pulse quickened. “Who is this?”

“Who am I? Please, Mr. Armand, surely you’ve guessed by now. I’m the man you’ve been trying to kill.”

A line of sweat formed on Calvin’s forehead. “What? What do you mean?”

“I’m the Administrator, Mr. Armand.”

Something else appeared in Calvin’s soul, something like fear but far more primal. “That’s not possible. The Administrator was killed - Aaron Siegel killed him.”

The voice hemmed softly. “No, no, he didn’t. He killed the man called Frederick Williams.”

“I don’t… Frederick Williams was the Administrator.”

The voice chuckled. It wasn't an unfriendly sound. “Again, not quite. See, Mr. Williams was just a man tugging upon a frayed string, slowly unraveling the universe. He found the string, studied the string — categorized it — classified it, and eventually, he became it. That was how the Foundation was born.” The voice on the other end paused. “Frederick Williams saw something larger than himself and planted the seed that would make it grow. Aaron Siegel killed him for it, but part of him is still here. He’s still here because Aaron Siegel killed a man, but did not kill the seed. Do you see it yet? He did not kill me.”

Calvin’s arms felt weak. A heavy weight settled across him. “What are you?”

“A signature on a document. A suit in a boardroom. A voice on the phone. Mr. Siegel realized the truth too late: though Frederick Williams was the Foundation’s first Administrator, he was not the Administrator. I am, Mr. Armand. I exist because of the Foundation. And the Foundation exists because of me. What is it that Purpose is always saying?” The voice paused, considering. "To know my nature is to know the nature of the Foundation. Something like that."

Calvin didn’t respond, and the voice continued. “Did you genuinely think Mr. Siegel joined the Foundation for power? That the Foundation seduced him and he fell for its wiles and ways?” The voice scoffed. “No. He reached a conclusion and made a decision, at the expense of his ideals. He did it for the same reason you’re standing here today - because he wanted to finish the job.” Those words were suddenly hostile, but the voice settled again. “Then you came along, and after all the warnings you still decided to put a spear through his heart, the only man standing between myself and all of creation.”

The voice paused for a moment. “And then? You picked up the phone.”

A tiny flash of resistance surged through Calvin’s chest. ”And what if I hadn’t picked it up?”

The voice on the other line laughed. It was a harsh, sudden sound; the sort of noise that wakes you before you even hear it. “Don’t be silly, Calvin. Someone always picks up the phone.”

“I could still walk away.” The words felt like chalk on Calvin’s tongue. He knew what was coming. He struggled against the growing weight. He looked back at the monitor, at the cursor. It felt so far away.

“Yes, you could. You could walk away right now, and nobody but you and me would ever know you were here. You could even press that button there, and see what that means for the Foundation.” Calvin could feel a creeping smile forming on the lips of the disembodied voice. “And then, in a few minutes, the phone would ring again, and again, and again — and no one would answer. No one would tell them what to do, Mr. Armand. When those sites are broken open and the monsters inside are loosed from their cages, billions will die, and then more.” The voice laughed again. “And I’ll still be here.”

It continued. “You said it yourself; I’m a cancer. I’m the anomaly. I was born when the first man saw the first miracle - the emergent conscious of the entire Foundation. Frederick Williams didn’t realize what he had done when he did it, but Mr. Siegel figured it out, in time. Who do you think is in the best position to stop that cancer from spreading? Certainly not Mr. Siegel - he’s impaled on a wall upstairs. You killed the rest of his protectors - those he charged to continue his work if he ever died. Who do you think will contain me now?”

“T-they,” Calvin heard himself speaking, but didn’t know why, “they were evil.”

"Evil?" The voice barked. "Mr. Armand, this has been your greatest mistake thus far; believing that you are somehow in the moral right. You have justified your actions because you were doing good, and the enemy was doing evil. You never stopped to consider decisions, Calvin, and why people make them."

It continued. "The Accountant? Selected by Mr. Siegel because of the influence my existence was having on markets. He was there to keep my actions in check. He never hurt a single person who didn't deserve it - most of the Foundation's magically appearing money came from despots and swindlers. The Liar was a good person with an unfortunate condition that was given a chance to use their newfound abilities to help keep the world from descending into madness. The Outsider, that poor girl, she was just a researcher in a difficult position who would have rather died than let you have your way with her. Consider that."

The voice paused, as if it was thinking. "There were some rotten apples, certainly - typically those given the most power. The Archivist, The Kid, The American. But even they had their uses and were kept in check by the others. Before your intervention, The Archivist was content to stay in her books and never bother another living person. The Kid was a tool, Calvin, and a powerful one. But can you fault a child for following directions?" It paused again. "Green. That one was maybe the worst. But what is there beyond her? A group of people doing their best in an impossible situation, some driven mad by their responsibilities and others simply a pawn of the larger machine. Then along comes you, and from your lofty moral peaks you would call these poor people evil. You justified their murders for that very reason."

There was silence for a moment as Calvin failed to find the words to respond. When it was clear he had nothing to give in return, the voice sighed.

“No, Calvin,” the voice said, with a soft, unquestionable finality. “There is no good. There is no evil.”

He could no longer stand. Calvin sank into the chair, cradling the phone to his ear. The voice on the other line continued.

“You’ll find the job has certain… perks. Who knows? Aaron Stiegel couldn’t kill me, but maybe you’ll find a way. And sometimes — if you try very hard, catch it in the right light, and squint just enough — you might even manage to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing.”

Calvin said nothing. The world around him was empty. All that remained was the phone and the voice. In the back of his mind, he saw Adam lying on the ground, screaming his name, begging him to come back. Olivia, her skin broken and blood seeping through the cracks in her face, her eyes glassy and unseeing. And Anthony, collapsed to the ground, gasping for breath.

He heard the clock upstairs chime out the hour. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone. Gone.

“Cheer up, Mr. Armand. Our work is only just beginning.”

The line went dead. Calvin placed the phone down with a click. The only sound in the room was the beating of his own heart, a sound that echoed the chiming of the clock. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Thirty seconds later, it began to ring.


And ring.


And ring.


And ring.


And ring.


And ring.


On the seventh ring, Calvin picked up the phone.




- EPILOGUE -


- BACK -


1.png
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License