Crisis Part Three

Dr. Ralph Roget’s office was devoid of human life. The same song had been playing over a small shitty speaker for hours. The sound was tinny, sharp and frazzled. The singer’s voice could hardly be made out over the interference. The office itself was a small cubby, not what one would expect for the second-in-command of a major Foundation facility. The guest chair had a broken wheel, no armrests, and a duct tape patch on the cushion. The walls were adorned with a few photo frames, standing empty and void.

You and I will be together
when we shed our memory…

There was a small open envelope on the desk. Set upon a small cleared space in the otherwise apocalyptically messy pile of papers, unused folders, empty pens, coffee cups, and stationary. It has been said that nobody really knew what the surface of the Ralph’s desk looked like. But in the small eye of the storm, it was clear that it was the same as everybody else.

Finger find a button marked erase…
like a deep-sea diver
falling into a mermaid’s embrace…

It was a penciled note, neatly handwritten, with a hint of expensive perfume. The top of the stationary had big bold letters announcing the Director of Site-77, the now late Shirley Gillespie. The only family Ralph had ever cared for, as far as he knew. Now she was gone. Forever.

Think of this as solving problems
that should never have occurred

Ralphie, I'm finished. We both knew this was coming, myself more than you.
I've been falling recently. Don't worry, they didn't take that. It was my choice to keep it from you. It was the last thing you needed, with the weight of the world heaving itself on your shoulders. Theodore told me I would start having fits. Dizzy spells, body giving out on me. But I wouldn't have a walker. Not going out like that. I'm going to be on my own feet, or my back. It's more important that you're ready. Maybe that changed before you read this. I won't know.
You're going to be alone now. We're the only family we've got, real ones. Even if we don't know how. I can remember when they started teaching you, when I would watch outside the classroom. One day you just started tilting your head like crazy. God, I was afraid. So many fears, maybe thinking you were having a seizure. Don't remember why I was afraid of that. So much is gone. Then it turned out you just needed to pee. Learning about what gramma did, hearing noises in the bathroom. It petrified you. I'm sorry you were born into this life. Maybe we had a choice, once, but that time is long forgotten.
Can you control who you are if we can't even curate our own heads? That's the question our lives have to answer. Impossible to know where we came from, or whom we came with, who you are is going to be up to you. What kind of person do you want to be? Not a good or a bad one. That doesn't matter. What you already know about the Foundation's legacy proves that. Shouldering a burden nobody else can. Hoping we're doing something right.
I remember your hugs, even in mindful places that have nothing but haze. Hold on to memories like those, the spots where they haven't scrubbed clean. Hold on to them like you held onto me. If you're reading this, you remember I love you.

Please don’t call it strangulation,
that is such an ugly word…

The paint surrounding Site-17’s exterior was never fully finished. Always some crumbling portion of the wizened old facility would be in need of constant upkeep. Whether it be through the paint-aging anomaly in sector-12 or some more mundane means of mortal time passing by, it was a constant sight to see workmen slapping some fresh beige atop one of the high towers.

It had been the wish of the site’s patriarch, the deceased Charles Anborough the senior, to see it this way. A man of great vision, if only metaphorically, he had built Site-17 back up from a historic backwater to the engine of Keter containment. No man had done more to keep the classification from felling the Foundation itself. As the only concentration of these most deadly anomalies there were many detractors who called it a disaster waiting to happen. They plugged their ears and waited for a faint glow of greenish-orange emanating from the midwest.

But the day of defeat had never come. Charles the Elder had played the long game, not accepting new inmates until there was certainty in the ability to hold them down.

Charles Anborough the Younger clearly had a lot to live up to. As a child, he was one of many raised and groomed by strong-willed Directors, in this case his father, the senior Charles. Many of his contemporaries had been forced to lower their ambitions, either due to their offspring failing to meet expectations or outsiders not appreciating displacement by a child. Not Junior.

Wendy Finkmon strode confidently behind the Director of Site-17. Charles Anborough Junior didn't strike the imposing physical presence his father had, but then again, he didn't need to. A slim, but elegant young man, his long red hair curled into bouncing whirlpools of rust red rolls. In a smart suit, and confident walk, he almost looked the part of a Site Director.

Charles himself was busy giving a long-winded explanation of everything they did here at Site-17. Wendy wasn't really listening. Along with her men, of Mobile Task Force, she was scanning every blast door, every camera perched upon the walls, and the machine-gun turrets which flanked the really high-security areas.

Her hands were pocketed, out of sight. One of them clenched a small radio device, while the other was similarly tightened into an empty fist. Wendy mentally attempted to divert all of her nervous energy into these hands. She was in the belly of the beast, and it was time to start some movements.

Anborough had stopped walking, entering his office with Wendy following closely behind with her entourage. "… While that's going on, we've also been trying to link up with our collaborators at other facilities to continue our research. The satellite backup for communication has its quirks and glitches, but it's better than having nothing. Hopefully they can fix up RAISA to give back the good comm networks, but that's…"

Looking up, Anborough saw that his office had been filled with the entourage of another. "You don't all need to be inside. I've really only just got to talk to Wendy about…"

"You're not going to be talking about anything. Unless we tell you to."

Anborough raised a single eyebrow, as he slowly scanned the scrum of soldiers standing in his space. "Why, Commander Finkmon, this is violence you're talking about here."

"I know." Wendy pushed the button. At that moment, the electricity in Anborough's office died, along with that powering the rest of the facility. For a few moments, there was silence, before an awful howling began to ring from the lower levels. At that same moment Anborough pushed a button of his own, and disappeared from sight, sailing so far down he was gone before anyone could react.

"Shit. Shit. Too hasty." Turning back to her constituent commanders, Wendy began barking orders. "Alright, we need to secure this facility! Disarm the security, secure the armory, archives and containment. Do whatever is necessary. Go!"

Talking to Ekblad, arguing with Anderson

Calvin Ekblad felt naked outside his uniform

Going to 19

Arriving at 19

Site-19’s brig was constructed out of what many believe to be the original containment sector, but records have long since been lost through a combination of reality rewrites, apocalyptic containment breaches and sheer bureaucratic neglect in terms of record-keeping. Its appearance fit the bill, with long skinny corridors lined by steel security doors looking like they came straight off a battleship. At one point there had been an attempt to keep them all polished and looking fine, but that had quickly given way to the sheer number of empty rooms needing maintenance. Now, rusty flakes drifted through the air filtration and it took a lion’s effort to move the doors from their settled positions.

At a certain point, modern computer systems and hydraulics had been installed to prevent mishaps from occurring. It only took a few folks starving to death in order to make that determination. Here is where Ralph Roget found himself attempting to sleep. The interior of his cell looked much like one would expect. Cramped, and probably squalid had there been any furniture to speak of. Instead, a raised slab of steel served as bedding, along with a crevice jutting out of a wall with piping poking out on top.

By the door there was a terminal, complete with video and all sorts of fun buttons and dials. The screen was a cold grey slab of nothingness. As he laid there, Ralph went over every mistake which had led him to be interred in this grim iron cubicle of doom. Where had everything gone wrong? Was it listening to Ekblad? Flying to Site-19 without any type of support or authorization? Surprising and the insulting the giant power-tripping Severus? The list could go on. But the most important thing was that he was here, and no good could come of it now.

He tried to imagine what else could be going on outside this limited space. Would Red Right hand try to assault another facility? Perhaps Site-77, in retaliation? There had already been thwarted attempts by others. It was small comfort that Severus was probably not the most insane person currently attempting power-grabbing. Charles Anborough, that other son of power, had seized his inheritance and held on for dear life.

Ekblad certainly wasn’t doing any better. Whatever relationship the commander had enjoyed with Severus had been cut the moment the large man saw him standing by the side of a threat to his power. Who knows what sort of reprisals were in the books for him. For both of them. It certainly wasn’t pleasant to contemplate. Whatever fantasy Severus was cooking up for them hopefully wouldn’t be a first priority.

Maybe things would have been better if that had been what Ralph tried. Defying Anderson, fighting for what was by all means his birthright. But was he entitled to that? To anything? What kind of leader walks into the jaws of a lion without a toothpick or a plan, or anything? Probably not one who knew anything. Gram wouldn’t have wanted him to get power that way. Anderson wasn’t going to be around forever, patience would be the right play. He had known her better than anyone, maybe better than even her grandson. They had been together since the beginning. Partners in a world that didn’t give them any second chances.

Ralph wished he could have been with them when she died.

A light dimly glowing screen sent light throughout the room, echoing and murmuring on the reflective metal substance coating every aspect of the room. For a few moments, Ralph laid staring, contemplating its meaning. Perhaps Severus was sending a memetic kill agent to put him out of his misery.

“Ralphie, Ralphie, can you hear me? I can hear you. I can just barely hear you.” The voice was tinny, metallic, and deep. Squinting, Ralph could see an angular face glaring into whatever optical device were on his end. Who the fuck was this guy?

“Ralphie Ralphie, I come bearing gifts. My name is Vincent Anderson, you may have heard of me. I started a wonderful corporation called Anderson Robotics and if you’ve been served by some Foundation android cobbled together from loose bolts and WD-40, it’s probably derived from one of my designs. Calling to gauge interest in some faustian bargains. Your friends told me you might be very interested.”

Sitting up, Ralph frowned loudly. “Friends?”

“Ah, I knew there was some life out there. Yes, yes, friends! The dear militaristic man you found yourself in here with, Mr. Ekblad, we’ve been getting to know each other very well. Not really much for talking about systems and breakouts, but we think the nucleus of something great is out here.”

“You said friends. I know Ekblad. You got something else to tell me about?”

“Oh, well, perhaps not a friend, but an old acquaintance. Surely you haven’t forgotten the esteemed Dr. Vang, have you? I know it’s been some time, but not that long, and he’s been dying to see you again. Actually dying, too. He might be starving to death down here.”

“Lovely. I can’t wait to see him again. Did he let you know that the last time we saw each other face-to-face he was swinging a knife at me?”

“Oh, yes. A lot of griping there. Fish factories apparently don’t give one the best footing, and the smell has yet to come out of his socks. Probably the rest of his clothing too, but the socks are the only Vang originals he has left. On the plus side, his orange jumpsuit has a lovely aroma of body odor and stale sweat. But no fish. Delightful.”

“You sure love to hear yourself talk, don’t you?”

“Look, don’t be fresh with me. I’ve been down here for a long time and it hasn’t exactly been peachy-keen for me. But, I will get to the point. I’ve got a deal to make with you. I can open the doors here, every one on the floor, But I don’t know Foundation facilities. You have access. Biometrics would flag me as an intruder before I could even find a rug to wipe my feet on.”

“So you want to use my flesh. Lovely.”

“Now, that’s such a nasty way of putting it. It’s only a matter of necessity. We won’t have to stick together forever, Ekblad will be useful closer to the surface but down here only someone with the extra special titles you’ve been bestowed can make any progress.”

“Gee, I can feel the love.”

“I told you not to take that tone. I’m trying to give you a deal here.”

“You literally called it a Faustian pact. Bye.” Sitting back down, Ralph turned over and did his best to pretend everything was fine.

“Ralphie, don’t be a child. You’re not going to be able to help anyone crammed in a cell at the bottom of the world. There will be a role for you to play, probably. I don’t know. Not really my scene. But hopefully you being alive out there is one less person with power who wants to kill everyone.”

Rolling back over, Ralph did his best not to look at the screen. “Maybe. But then again, how do I know that you or Vang aren’t going to finish the job he tried to start the second these doors slide open?”

“He’s got every bit of interest in escaping that we do. Obviously he’s not going to have a very pleasant or long life left if he’s standing over your body when Red Right Hand or whomever storms down here to take care of business.”

“What’s to stop them from doing it anyways? Not like we’re packing any firepower.”

“Perhaps…. But if we cried havoc and let loose the dogs of war then perhaps we’ll give them something bigger to worry about.”

“So, your solution to getting shot by guys in combat gear is getting ripped limb from limb by some eldritch horrors. This is a great plan. I am so excited about this plan.”

“You’re really a little shit, aren’t you?”

“Born and raised.”

“Look, we don’t have all the time in the world. I could spend the rest of ten days trying to convince you if this place wasn’t a prelude to some seriously deep hurting.”
“Mystery science theater fan?”

“What? Whatever. Do you want to make a deal here or not? Help me escape, and I promise not to stab you in the back or throw you to the wolves… I might split off once we’re able to go our own ways but I don’t think you’d have any problems with that.”

“As long as that splitting isn’t another way of being thrown to some wolves, I guess.”

“Sounds like we’ve got a deal to me.”

Severus wasn’t sure when he regained consciousness. For a long time, the shrill screaming alarms blended in well with the concussion-based tinnitus. Once hearing came back, it wasn’t long before he realized the weight bearing down on him was mostly the former ceiling. Rousing himself, a great cloud of dust plumed all around him as drywall and concrete shards rolled off his back and body works.

Site-19’s innards were erupting with undulating horrors. The alarms weren’t the only ones screaming. Human horror was the only emotion enduring on all levels of the facility, at least the ones where human lives still remained. Struggling to stand, Severus lurched towards the Director’s sanctum. Behind the office, behind the stairs, Severus struggled deeper and deeper into darkness.

The room he emerged in had a slough of cathode ray-tube monitors embedded inside the wall, each displaying different scene of hysterical terror. Men and women being tossed like ragdolls by autonomous construction equipment. Green slime pouring from the rafters and filling the lungs of anyone unfortunate enough to get in its path. Skeletons being liberated from bodies to prey upon the living. Intestinal tracts coiling through the belly button and jamming themselves down other people’s throats.

Severus’ eyes fell to the small machine in the center of the room. An aluminum cylinder, with a red blinking light and a nuclear fallout logo etched into its exterior. Complex terminals erupted from its exterior. Studying it carefully, Severus felt the sweat beading on his face turn cold.

If I can’t hold the Foundation, then it will be ashes.

But he could only bring himself to stare.

"Christ, none of you guys are as fun as Sasha was!"