The Sixth
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THEN

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Arians stood in the doorway, slowly pulling on a cigarette. Aaron was sitting at a table a few feet away, flipping through a report they had received the day before. Outside the window of their makeshift command center in Guadalajara a parade danced through the street, slowly working its way towards the center of town. The window was left open for the faint breeze, but it hadn’t helped.

Arians took another drag, letting the smoke fall out of his nostrils as he exhaled. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. “I don’t know what you were expecting. Didn’t this confirm everything else we’ve heard so far?”

Aaron shook his head. “Yes, yes, it did, but I don’t understand it. They mobilized an army to La Paz - how is that possible?” He flipped the report over, looking for loose pages. “What we did in San Marco should have ruined them, Vince. Who was left afterwards?”

“Plenty of people were left - what do you mean?”

Aaron threw him a look. “I mean, who was left in command positions? Who knew how to- did any of them even know how to get into Site-01?” He tossed the report onto the couch behind him. “We didn’t leave the door unlocked, did we? Who was left?”

Arians shrugged. “Adam Bright, maybe. Last we heard he was operating out of that site in Michigan, but it could’ve been him. He wouldn’t know how to get into the secure site, though.” He paused, considering. “Skitter Marshall? Where was his team assigned?”

Aaron rubbed his eyes. “No, no, it wasn’t Marshall. He defected too - just not with us.”

They sat in silence for a moment longer, only the sound of the parade moving into the distance breaking the quiet between them. Then, without warning, the door to the room opened. Arians was at it in an instant, gun drawn. Aaron didn’t move, but stared unbelievingly at the figure inside the doorframe.

“Sophia?” he asked incredulously.

Sophia Light stepped through the door, slowly pulling a hood down off her face. Her hair was shorter than when they had last seen each other, but her eyes were the same unmistakeable green. Aaron felt something catch in his chest - something he hadn’t felt in years. Longing.

“No,” Arians growled, “a Foundation spy.”

Sophia rolled her eyes. “Put the gun down, you idiot. I’m not here to kill you.” She rolled up the sleeves of her gloves, revealing holes in both of her wrists that had long since scarred over, but not closed. She had no hidden weapons. “There, satisfied?”

“What are you doing here?” Aaron asked.

She pulled the coat off and set it on the single bed in the room. “You sent a message to Edward Bishop,” she said, looking at Aaron. “O5-13. All the same melodramatic prose as ever, I knew it was you. He added it to the file we have in place for the-” she paused, “the Children. See, Edward still believes the lie we’ve been telling everyone.”

“And what’s what?” Arians asked.

“That he, or any of us, are still in control.” She sat down across from them and lit a cigarette of her own. Aaron could feel his heart crashing against his chest. “Your Defection really did a number on us, boys. Scattered, leaderless, all of our best and brightest killed or gone into hiding. We threw together a hodgepodge of doctors and called them “Overseers”, but none of them are actually running the show.” She paused. “Not even me.”

Aaron frowned. “Then who is?”

“We don’t know,” she continued. “For years, the Overseers have been running the individual sites by themselves, but orders keep coming down from Site-01. Somebody is in there. For a long time we thought it was you,” she looked at Aaron, and her gaze softened slightly, “but after a while we realized it had to be something else entirely.”

She leaned back and closed her eyes. “I know you went back. I was following you. You saw exactly what I saw when I went back - a man-shaped absence where Frederick-” hearing her say his name made Aaron wince “-used to be. Smoke on a wall, and nothing else.” She took another draw on the cigarette. “So if you’re not in there, and he’s not in there, then who is calling the shots?”

Arians finally lowered his gun. “Why are you here?”

She glared at him. “Because the other day we found something that shouldn’t have been possible. Site-19, the facility we built when we scrapped the plans for the Alaska site, there was a door there we hadn’t seen before. There was a whole new wing behind it, something that couldn’t have been built without us knowing.” She swallowed hard. “In that wing is a room with a statue in it. We didn’t put it there. We have no records of it being put there. We checked the file, and it just says that it was “moved there”. There wasn’t a file before. The date on that file changes every year - and that statue is one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen.”

She stood up. “I’m here because something is happening at Site-01 that is changing the Foundation. New facilities are being built every day, more and more doctors and researchers are being recruited that we know nothing about. You saw what happened in La Paz?” They both nodded. “Those orders didn’t come from any of the Overseers. They came from Site-01. Somebody in there is making calls and the Foundation is following orders.”

She paused. “I don’t agree with what you did, and I think the Foundation has more to offer than you give it credit for, but what’s happening here needs to be stopped. We need to know what’s going on in there, before it’s too late.”

“Then why not just go?” Arians grunted at her.

She looked at him for a second, and then away to the ground. “I don’t want to go alone.”

Aaron and Arians exchanged glances. “If we find something in there,” Aaron said, slowly, “we’re going to kill it. You understand? The Foundation can’t be allowed to continue like this. Sophia - the damage it’s doing is- is more than we can keep up with. We’ve been looking at the numbers again, the ones we uh-” he laughed nervously, “-the ones we borrowed from Dr. Bright, and his figures match our own. The Foundation is destabilizing our reality, Sophia. Williams was right about the threads, but they’re being damaged. We have to do something to stop this.” He met her gaze as she looked back up at him. “I know we’re scientists, but this… this is a box we never should have opened.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped and sighed. She nodded. “Fine. Get me in there and you can do whatever you feel like you need to do.”

Arians nodded. "I'll go radio headquarters. We'll need some kind of distraction to keep them off our backs while we take Site-01."

He put out his cigarette on the wall and left the room, closing the door behind him. Sophia watched him leave, and once he was gone turned her eyes back to her hands. Aaron didn't move.

"I wasn't sure I'd ever see you again," he said softly.

She smiled an uncertain half-smile, her eyes betraying her. "Well, yes. I wasn't sure either." She looked up at him, and Aaron could see that great sadness behind the facade of content. "It's difficult, you know. I lost everything that night: my friends, my mentor, my life's work. And you." She bit her lip until it was white. "I didn't know where to go. You left me and I was alone to pick up the pieces of what we had, and-"

Her voice trembled. "I don't want to know why you killed Frederick. I don't care. Maybe you knew something you didn't tell anyone but I don't know why you didn't tell me."

Aaron's face went pale. "I did want to tell you. I was preparing for- for what we were planning, and I told Vince to let everyone know." He leaned forward. "He didn't tell you?"

She grimaced. "No. He didn't. But neither did you. You had every opportunity to reach out to me, you knew all the channels, but you did nothing. It's been thirty years, Aaron. Thirty years and I hear nothing, not even word that you're still alive." A tear formed at the corner of her eye, and with the back of a glove she wiped it away. "When I saw you and Vince in San Marco, I thought I was seeing a ghost."

"I'm sorry," Aaron said softly. "I thought you had rejected the offer, that-"

"I would have rejected the offer," she said, her voice congealing into something venomous. "I dedicated my life to the Foundation and that project and you were all too willing to throw it away. Everything we'd worked for. All of our efforts."

Aaron slumped back in his seat. "Williams was-"

"I know what he was," she spat, "but he could have been dealt with. When you killed him and broke off to go gallivanting around the country shooting up convoys and stealing from warehouses, you threatened all of the work we had done. Do you remember why we did it? Do you even care? Our world is sick, and if we can't find the source of it then we're going to keep seeing-"

"The world was sick because of Williams," Aaron said, "he was the source, he was-"

"But here we are, thirty years removed from Frederick Williams' life, and you know what's happening out there?" She paused to light another cigarette. "More unexplained events every day. More artifacts and monsters we pull out of the ground, every day. Why, if the Administrator was the source of the anomalies, are we still seeing anomalies, Aaron?"

Aaron didn't answer. She sighed and sat back further on the bed, pulling her legs up to her chest. "I might have believed you back then," she said quietly. "I might have listened, but I have seen nothing in the last few decades that would lead me to believe that one man was the advent of every paranormal event in that time. There's something deeper out there, and it's not going to be stopped by killing a man. It's going to be stopped by research and investigation, and the only group with the resources to make that happen right now is the Foundation."

Aaron didn't respond. He sat, eyes downcast, as Sophia finished her cigarette.

"I'm not going to stop you from doing whatever you think you need to do," she said, her voice empty. "But before you do anything, you need to think about what it is you actually want."

She looked back towards the door. "And if it's what he wants, too."


NOW

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