Team Bird 2

Finale Tale — Part 1:

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Timeless Substrate | The Noosphere

Thoth peered into the Noosphere with an astute curiosity. He glanced down at the ocean of minds: a whirlpool of purple, pink, green, and blue specks, laid out across an absurd distance. He looked up and he saw the Great Selachian, Akheilos, scouring the void for him. The Great Starfish continued to dangle from an infinitesimal tendril, ominously inching onward from extradimensional space. Even now, Thoth feared the Great Starfish; it might be the only thing that could interfere with his plans.

YHWH encompassed what seemed like the entirety of the mind-filled expanse. If Thoth executed his plans at the wrong time, YHWH would strike him down instantly and bar him from prosperity until the end of time. Luckily, YHWH would soon find himself busy with something.

As Thoth sat in his perch, a wave of memories conjured up by the Noosphere washed over him. One hundred billion memories tainted by 200,000 years of vengeance, dread, euphoria, grief, avarice… iridescent crystals of mind-stuff swirling viciously: the void's never-ending cycle of fermentation and dispersal. They vibrated him to his core. If he was a mortal, like that red speck, Thoth’s perch would be shambles. His own mind would be a confluence of rogue personalities, thoughts, and concepts, ripping him away piece by piece.

Thoth counted down the ages like seconds.

4… 3… 2… 1…

At once, the sweet radiance of the Noosphere dimmed. Thoth felt a great weight evaporating into the darkness, like a bowling ball being removed from a trampoline. He still had Akheilos to worry about, but while Akheilos excelled in strength, Thoth was all speed. He peered across the Noosphere at his target: a full human that had newly manifested itself inside of the Noosphere, susceptible to an attack.

As Thoth extended a singular talon towards him, Akheilos was alerted to his position and took pursuit. Thoth soared as fast as he could over in a certain direction. Akheilos followed him closely.

Finally, Thoth came to the pale, bald man in an orange jumpsuit. He wasn't merely a speck like the other minds; he was fully immersed in the Noosphere, doused in with the unyielding current. Thoth directed his weapon into the man’s mind before flying away. In one fell swoop, the weapon cocked, then fired into the head of humankind.

Thoth softly cackled to himself as he watched the tsunami of orange spread across the planet of minds. As it spread, he shuddered, energy flowing into him. The personalities of the billions of people below supplied his damaged form with power. He looked into the void and saw the blue planetoid that he called home, glittering in the sky with its old, tired minds. Thoth had made the risky journey into meatspace, across the Noosphere to Earth. He'd almost been winked out of existence in the process.

He'd be back there soon.

Akheilos was troublesome; Thoth still had to stay wary of a surprise attack from the now-weakening shark. However, in a one-on-one confrontation, he could still easily overpower Akheilos and extinguish him permanently. Thoth kept a glance at the shark on the border of the Noosphere. The shark was avoiding Thoth like a wild animal avoiding a flame.

The planet was now more orange than not. Thoth decided that it was time to initiate the next part of his plan. The scientists at the Foundation had just now started studying a videotape from his home planet. In a certain spot, two minds turned red.

Like turning the key in a car to start the ignition, he ignited the crimson fire with a swoop of his wing. It started to radiate, and Thoth basked in the warmth of the newly brainwashed human populace. He anticipated the cawing.

What had made it so easy to achieve? The answer is more mundane than would be expected for such a complex problem: there's a vulnerability implanted in the human mind. A deeply ingrained need, woven into society. The need to share, communicate, and be heard. Humans have no defence for this. Why would they? Never before had acceptance been weaponized.

With birds as the vector and minds as the medium, that singular idea spread so rapidly that nobody could even begin to retaliate. More virulent than the common cold, most difficult to cure. Like a virus, once it had latched itself deep within, its only directive was to spread—anywhere there was camaraderie, there was the bird.

To not be infected with the bird meme was to be ostracised. Everyone, at some basal, guttural level, wanted to be a part of this phenomenon. They wanted to fit in. When a single, simple, succinct word triggered all humans to join hands as one, what hope did they have?

Birds had become the only thing on the brain. And when humanity realized what it was doomed to become, it convulsed, grasping its collective head one by one. Millions of individuals fell to their knees, screaming to the heavens, tearing out their hair as their eyes bulged. Slowly, but surely, all were affected. All had become equal.

The cawing came.

While some people were more naturally resistant to the meme, it was impossible to fully ignore something so ridiculous. The more they gazed into this abyss, the more it gazed back. Once inside, the idea stuck. Everyone is forced to follow the current eventually. The singularity was not technology. It was birds. And the black hole consumes all in the end…

August 2nd, 2018 | New York City

Or… does it?

As the sun descended, two silhouettes stood abreast, punctuated by the nearly lifeless husk of a massive whale. The silhouette on the right: an armoured human, towering a lofty two meters tall. The silhouette on the left: a pelican bird, barely a meter in height, yet somehow seeming more composed than the human.

Two seagulls and one pelican stood nearby, taking glimpses from behind the pelican in front, waiting for the cue to attack.

"If you're willing to supply some muscle for our war, we will help you fight yours. That means full co-operation on both sides. Deal?" said the human. His name was Quinn Griffith, Captain of an elite unit of shark-punchers.

The pelican paused for an uncomfortable amount of time, shrugging its wings back as it eyed the human intently. And then, a clearly modulated yet unmistakably Avian voice spoke. "Deal," said the bird through a translation device. Her name was Keshrayuth, leader of an equally elite unit of birds fighting to uphold the veil of normalcy that now hung in tatters.

"Keshrayuth, what are you doing?" interjected Quibba, the second pelican. "We have no clue who this one and his team are, aside from the fact that they’re dangerous, and screwed with our efforts to keep the world ordered in the first hour they’ve been here."

Keshrayuth shook her head, her bill flopping about. "How, exactly, have we gone about fixing things as of late, Quibba? I understand this one is violent, perhaps ridiculously so, but this is the only hope we have had in months. It won't to be cast aside, and I certainly won’t stand for that. Neither would Hoygull. In fact—" she turned around, "—the language of violence these ones communicate with could be the perfect key to finally gaining the upper hand on Thoth."

"I’m sorry, who is this ‘thot’ you keep mentioning? Like, am I missing something here?" Quinn said as he awkwardly toyed with the helmet in his shaky hands.

Keshrayuth sighed, her bill once again floundering as her head shook.

"I’m not trying to make a joke here! Come on, my team and I had a long journey. We’ve been away from home for months, fighting a war against a Deviant enemy we know next to nothing about. It would help if someone, anyone, explained what the hell was going on. Just once," said Quinn. "I mean, if we’re going to be a team, we should gain some common ground here."

"Alright, alright. What is your name, human?"

"I’m Quinn. The rest of my team’s in our, uh…" Quinn cleared his throat. "Inside this giant whale. That’s where my team is."

Quibba shot a terrified look at the leviathan towering over him. "They’re in that whale? Did they get eaten? Oh my god."

"No, they’re alive. The whale’s on our side too. Here, let me show you." Quinn placed a hand on the whale’s damaged fin. Immediately, the ground began to vibrate as a whalesong coursed through it. All four members of Eta-4 jumped back.

"Wakey wakey, Gægr. I have some new friends I need to show you."

August 12th, 2018 | Day | Site-18, somewhere in Southern California

A few days ago, a supernova of blue exploded into the skies. Ever since, the Avian Division busied itself with plans of evacuation (now that the world had officially ended) but had only been able to devote a few personnel to that plan. Amidst the hustle and bustle, Dr Frederick Hoygull's mind was haunted by a single thought:


He flew down through specially designed vents at the base of Site-18. The vents entered into an airlock, where MTF-Eta-4 ("Begone Thoth") was perched. Quibbs was pecking himself clean. Kesh was watching with disgust; she was one of the more humanized birds in the room. Linda Duck and James Crowl, the two birds with combat experience, who had changed their names to better conform to Foundation standards, looked straight ahead, though Hoygull could see Crowl eyeing the shark punchers with some suspicion. MFT CHARYBDIS argued with one another on the other side of the room.

The shark punchers were an anomaly in and of themselves. Hoygull found himself stopping to admire their muscular biceps. He shook his head and began to speak to Quinn. "While the Avian Division manages our contingency plans, I trust you'll be busy with Operation: DIVINE RUSE?"

"Jaedan and Haruki have something under their sleeves. They'll be the ones handling the operation. Leah and I are gonna escort you to the ship. Don't even get your feathers in a bunch," laughed Quinn, before he choked on the awkward realization that this figure of speech didn't exactly work on a bird. Leah shuffled away from Quinn, leaving him to bask in his awkwardness alone.

Hoygull intently stared at Quinn for a moment that lasted an eternity. Suddenly, a klaxon wailed from the other side of the room. Hoygull nodded before quickly waddling to the other side of the room. He swiped a clearance card across a nearby door lock to open the doorway to the chamber beyond. The room became silent as the door slowly slid open.

SCP-2785, the source of the alarm, sat inside. He'd recently undergone an upgrade, courtesy of Haruki, the tech expert of MFT CHARYBDIS. He now had several antennas sticking out of him, and was furnished with a helping of brass, giving him a golden sheen. This was all done, of course, so SCP-2785 would be more receptive to not only radio signals but significant events in the Noosphere. Hoygull counted on him as an advantage Thoth couldn't possibly know about.

"I'm… I'm getting air-information!" SCP-2785 said, using his made-up term for radio waves. "There's a voice in it, this time!"

"So…? We haven't got all day. Play it for us," said Quinn.

SCP-2785 closed his eyes. Sounds emitted from an internal speaker Haruki had installed inside of him. The speaker erupted in volume, sounding more like a tuba than a speaker. The sound reminded Hoygull of when he would sit down with Researcher Calvin and watch those odd orchestras on the TV.

"Greetings, to whom this concerns," said the voice. The voice was deep, obviously male, but he sounded like he was trying to keep calm in the face of fear. "This is General Tarland of the Global Occult Coalition."

Hoygull fumbled with his clearance card before dropping both it and his translation device. He flapped his right wing, motioning to Quibba, pausing, then covering his face. Isolate that signal, dammit he thought furiously to himself.

"My men and I are currently stationed inside of Bunker Alpha-5," continued Tarland, "five miles south of the Mojave Desert. It seems that the statues have forced their way through an unsealed access shaft, and are currently commencing a full-scale assault on our bunker."

"Wait, statues?" replied Haruki. "Wait, is he talking about that god-ugly Deviant sculpture?"

"No," said Duck, speaking through her translation device, "it’s like, the bird-men outside aren’t heavy enough when it comes to fighting armed resiings of Thoth." The translation device tended to stumble across grammar and some words; hers wasn't as up-to-date as the informational logistics aspect of Eta-4 comprised solely of Kesh. "Thoth told his followers to make them."

Haruki nodded. SCP-2785 continued to broadcast.

"Fortunately, we have an ace up our sleeves: Project HYPERION. A missile to be fired into one of the Ways, equipped with enough hostile memes to obliterate KTE-4581 and all affected subjects. Unfortunately, it's in a base underneath the city of Las Vegas, and the bastards killed the strike team we sent to get it. It looks like we're going to perish before we get the opportunity to fire it.

"Hopefully, somebody gets this message. Maybe it's the Foundation. Maybe it's the Insurgency. Maybe it's one of the isolated groups of survivors. There's a shed on the outskirts of Las Vegas marked with a seven-pronged star. It's an entrance to the HYPERION facility."

Tarland paused; over the static of the radio, Hoygull could hear some form of commotion behind them. He sighs before continuing. "The statues have entered the facility. We're out of men to fight them. If you're hearing this, get to HYPERION. It's humanity's last hope. This is General Tarland, signing off."

"Medila, bless us," muttered Crowl.

"That's the end of the message," said SCP-2785, "but I'm getting more air-information! This time, there's a lot of dots."

"How many dots?" questioned Keshrayuth.

"Well, one, two, three…" replied SCP-2785, eventually fading into a murmur. "Uh, what number is higher than eighty-six?"

Hoygull squawked with considerable distress.

"Dots? Make yourself more clear, you hunk of junk," demanded Quinn.

"Robot is connected to the AEDS—Advance Enemy Detection System, " replied Duck, "there are statues outside of the base."

"AEDS… oh, you mean the AESD!" replied Quinn, "the Advance Enemy Selachian Detector!"

"We cannot fight all of them," said Keshrayuth. "It's nine against eighty-seven."

"Oh, I know! Why don’t we take the site’s emergency submarine?" Jaedan asked.

"That's… what? We don't have that," replied Crowl, purposely avoiding the massive amount of effort that would be required to get the damned translator to understand the concept of a submarine. "We do have train rail going from here to Site-17. It is next to Vegas."

"But it's lacking an energy source," said Quibba, "Bird-brains took it down. I'm surprised they didn't nuke themselves to hell. If we get the power working, we can leave. Can anybody fix it?

"I'll… be a bit preoccupied," replied Haruki. She failed to mention Operation: DIVINE RUSE; if Hoygull told Eta-4 they'd have protested. "Sorry."

"Oh, me, me, me, me, me!" replied SCP-2785.

"Okay," replied Quibba. "There's a mounted grenade launcher on the next floor. I'll use that. Hoygull, can you help him?" He really wanted Hoygull to make sure 2785 didn't mess anything up; the soda fountain incident still burned fresh into Quibba's mind. He jumped down from his perch. "The rest of us'll battle the statues. Here, the armoury's this way." He led the others towards a second door on the right, which opened to a stairwell.

Hoygull turned to Haruki and Jaedan, who were staying behind to enact Operation: DIVINE RUSE. "You sure you know what you're doing?"

"Come on, bird-man. You can trust us," said Jaedan as he carelessly jumped into his powered armour. Hoygull left before another word could be said.

Hoygull let himself taste the dry, dusty air of the battlefield. In front of him, the remaining fifty birds left in the Avian Division held their ground with various types of tripod-mounted grenade launchers, modified to make them easier to use with wings instead of hands. Up at the top of the spire that marked the location of Site-18, he saw Quibba piloting a larger, more powerful grenade launcher to clear out large crowds of statues. Hoygull himself had a modified combat shotgun loaded with slugs for protection, although he suspected that they’d be useless against the onslaught of the statues.

The statues continued on, their onslaught slow, but unyielding. They’d be indistinguishable from the normal statues that littered the world; some even still wore the fake metal clothes and hats of their former forms. However, they had bird heads, bird wings, and the desire to kill.

Judging from the reports he’d gotten back of the scout patrols that’d gotten ambushed by the statues, they relied on brute force and not much else. Hoygull didn’t want to find out anything more.

After the statues marched into the range of the grenade launcher, Quibba fired a grenade. The explosion left a crater in the ground and ten or so statues dead. As if on cue, the remainder of the Avian Division began to fire their grenades into the crowd. The explosions of the shells made a sound equivalent to a thousand jet engines. Hoygull was glad that he had given all of his troops earmuffs.

After witnessing the initial barrage, Hoygull turned and went back into the site. He needed to make sure he had a ride out of here.

"You see, if you want the generator to work," repeated Hoygull, "you have to make sure all the wires are connected."

SCP-2785 looked at him with those eyes that seemed to convey the opposite of understanding. "Why?" he postulated.

"You know how I told you about electricity? Well, you need the wires to carry it, like how pipes carry water around. You know how pipes work, right?"

SCP-2785 nodded. "But then, how does air-information work?"

Hoygull sighed. "You know how mist is like water, but in the air? That’s air-information, but with electricity."

"Oh," replied SCP-2785. He continued to use one of the tools in his hands to weld together wires. After a minute or two, he chimed and pressed the button on the generator. It sputtered a little before coming to life, lighting up the monorail tunnel.

"Let’s tell everybody to get down here, ASAP" said Hoygull, turning to fly up the stairs. However, he ran into Quinn and the other three shark punchers in the hallway.

"What are you doing here?" asked Hoygull, "you are supposed to be—"

"There’s too much noise out there, sir," replied Quinn, "we can’t work our magic with that."

"Well, we have got—" Hoygull was interrupted by the beeping of his radio, which he picked up and squawked into.

"This is Sergeant Gullivan," said the voice on the radio, "we’re being overrun. For Medila’s sake, get out of here before—" Gullivan was cut short by a crunching noise.

"Medila help us," Hoygull whispered before turning back to the shark punchers. "Listen, Quibbs is still at the top of the spire. We need to get him down from there. Please come with me."

The shark punchers nodded. Hoygull flew up the stairs of Site-18. On his way, he passed by the armoury and swapped out his combat shotgun for a more effective handheld grenade launcher.

Hoygull and the shark punchers eventually arrived at the top of the spire. Quibba sat at the grenade launcher. He wasn’t firing.

"Sorry, boss," he said, "but I can not fire the bomb launcher. Explosion will going to hurt other bird division members as well."

Hoygull looked over the railing. The front line of the Avian Division was clearly compromised, and the remaining lines were struggling to prevent the onslaught of statues from pouring into the site.

"Kesh, Crowl, and Duck are already retreating," Quibba continued, "if train rail is ready, we need to retreat as well."

Hoygull nodded. Quibba nodded in response, dismounted from the grenade launcher and followed Hoygull back down the stairs.

Once Hoygull got to the bottom of the stairs, he saw Kesh, Crowl, and Duck, along with a few remaining members of the Avian Division, spamming grenades at the entrance of Site-18 to keep away the relentless flood of statues. Hoygull fired a grenade to help, but then he realized that, in his rush, he had forgotten to pick up an extra clip of grenades, meaning that he had to ration the grenades that were already in his clip.

Not bothering to use the translator, he yelled at his team: "We need to leave, now!" The remainder of MTF-Eta-4 nodded in response and shouted orders for the Avian Division to fall back.

Hoygull, Quibba, and the pair of shark punchers ran/flew down the maze-like hallway to prepare the monorail, when they encountered a statue.

A towering, ibis-headed behemoth stood before the entrance to the monorail. The shadow of the beast paralysed all. Hoygull instinctively raised the grenade launcher, eyes wide and panicked.

"Don't shoot! It's too close, you'll kill us all!" yelled Quinn as he grabbed Hoygull by the wing, manoeuvring for a retreat back into the tunnel system. "We're going to have to find another way to Vegas."

Quinn was drowned out by the birdsong emanating from the bird statue. The melody it sang was easy on the ears. It was beautiful, despite how ugly Quinn found it. Quinn felt his troubles melt away as they soared like a Selachian hawk into the sea sky. Hoygull watched in despair as the Centre operatives melted before the slowly advancing statue humming its perverse birdsong.

To Leah, thinking was like wading through knee-high soup. Keeping herself grounded was so difficult, but it would be oh so easy to let her thoughts be pulled up into the clouds. Leah remembered clouds. She remembered floating around the skies of other Earths, goofing around with her friends. She remembered the journeys they took on their way to track down WHITE NETHER. All the funny, bizarre moments that they shared.

Wait, said some nearly mute voice from the back of Leah's mind, I don't want to forget this. I don't want to be a bird-person. I don't want to go. She conjured up the thought of Jaedan, of how goofy yet stoic he would look during this situation. The birds are going to take him from me.

Leah's blood ran hot. An intense rush of energy pulsed through her body. She could barely hear her own thoughts, but right now she didn't need to. Her hazy vision tinted red, she jumped and swung her arm square at the mass of concrete, transferring her amassed rage and energy into its core.

At first, there was only pain in Leah's arm. The horrendous melody of the statue stopped for a brief moment before the statue let out a shriek of pain. It swung at Leah, knocking her against the wall; all for nought, the statue was mortally wounded. It thrashed and screamed at the world as the small cracks that Leah's impact made spread, the fractures snaking their way around the beast, the fissures deepening.

All at once, the statue collapsed into rubble.

Her thoughts were once again her own with the birdsong gone. While Quinn slowly regained his grasp on reality, Leah pulled him onto the monorail with what strength remained in her left arm.

"Leah. Please, get some rest in the monorail. You have done more than enough." said Hoygull.

Leah's peripherals were shutting down. Her eyelids were getting heavy, her body shivering. She knew this feeling well: it was shock. She'd probably broken her arm irreparably and the adrenaline was wearing off. She couldn't rest just now… that was one statue… there's over eighty more…

"Hey, Hoygull?"

"Yes, Řezník?"

"If any of those statues lay a claw on the Ja-… the team, I'm gonna have Avian Division brand chicken wings, y'hear?" said Leah, weakly grinning.

As the rest of the Centre's eyes opened, Leah's closed.

There was no time to contemplate the shark puncher’s idle threat; the explosions in the hallways beyond informed the team that the Avian Division was being pushed back to the monorail room. Looking down the hallway, Hoygull saw eight Avian Division fighters, perhaps the last eight, fleeing down the hallway. Among those eight were Kesh, Crowl, and Duck; Crowl and Duck had already discarded their grenade launchers and were fleeing, while Kesh emptied what was left of her clip into the statues before dropping her gun and following suit.

"Get in!" Hoygull yelled. MTF-Eta-4 flew into the monorail, while the shark punchers carried Leah onto it. SCP-2785 had already stumbled onto the monorail. The remaining five birds tried to escape, but the ceiling suddenly collapsed, letting a flood of statues into the room, effectively trapping them.

"Start the monorail!" Hoygull yelled at SCP-2785.

The monorail began to crawl to a start before it began to glide along the tracks. A few statues noticed this and started to dive towards the monorail. Some managed to grab onto the last cart as it began to leave the station.

Hoygull opened the window and fired a grenade at the last cart. The explosion detached it from the grenade, leaving the monorail free to continue to glide away.

In order to secure safe passage, Hoygull fired his remaining two grenades at the room holding the statues, collapsing in some rocks. This blocked off the tunnel. The statues were unable to follow them.

They'd lost the battle and with it, a good portion of their men. However, they were safe, and they soon might find something that would help them win the war.

Hoygull realized something. For the first time ever, he was going to Vegas.

Hoygull sat next to Quinn and Crowl on the monorail. It was designed to hold the entire Site; now it felt empty. A cold, awkward silence hung in the air between the three men.

Quinn let out a sigh. "You know, I haven't gone this long without pummeling a Deviant before," he admitted in idle conversation. "You should try it sometime. The feeling of your hand shattering the scaly skin… That's my kind of high."

Hoygull showcased non-existent hands as he raised his wings.

"Oh, that's bull shark," Quinn said quietly, blushing from embarrassment. "Well, I hope clobbering that damn bird takes care of this feelin'."

Another awkward silence followed. After some time, Hoygull spoke up. "Thanks again for the help," he said, his translator stumbling over his words. "Without you all, we would've died a long time ago."

"It's, uh, it's nothing," replied Quinn. "Us Foundations need to look out for each other, right?"

Hoygull made the closest thing to a smile he could.

"So, are we sure this missile will work?" Quinn said, "I mean, a Deviant Selachian's tougher than it looks. If a Deviant bird is any tougher than that…"

"Just, trust your men out there. We'll worry about the rest," said Hoygull. Quinn stared out the window, speechless.

Finale Tale — Part 2:

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August 12th, 2018 | Night | Outskirts of Las Vegas

The group of birds and shark-punchers emerged from the monorail tunnel to see the blue-tinted night sky of Las Vegas. The bird-people that had once filled the sky were now thinning out. Looking down, Hoygull saw the now-familiar sight of damaged buildings and dead humans in various stages of the Avian-ification process.

"Woah," commented SCP-2785, "everything's so big, but broken. It's as broken as a broken car!"

"I don't think we have much time," said Hoygull, "the humans are going through the portals and disappearing. If we don't get HYPERION off the ground in time, the human race will be lost."

"We've got to double-time this search, then," said Duck.

Luckily, flight made searching for the shed much easier. The five seagulls took to the skies to look for the shed General Tarland described.

It took an hour of searching to find the shed. It wasn't quite on the outskirts of Vegas; in fact, it was closer to the Las Vegas strip than not. It had the seven-pronged star and a ladder going down for what seemed like forever. As Hoygull casually coasted down the shaft, he did not envy SCP-2785, who had to go down the ladder manually.

The bunker reminded Hoygull of an airplane hangar, but instead of aircraft, the bunker contained a massive missile, the base of which took up a good amount of floor space and the tip of which almost touched the top of the hangar. Computer equipment was attached to the base by thick, insulated wires. The entire place smelled of gunpowder and gasoline.

Crowl flew up to one of the computers. He pushed some buttons, before turning back to the group.

"This thing needs some fuel loaded into. It'll take all night" he said.

"Good. Then we can get some sleep," replied Hoygull, "I could use a bit of shuteye."

It seemed that the bunker was meant to hold soldiers, for a time being. Hoygull found a spot in the bunkroom and curled up to sleep on top of one of the pillows.

August 13th, 2018 | Below Las Vegas

Hoygull awoke after a good six hours of sleep and took a handful of sugar cubes from the missile site's break room to shake off the sleepiness. Crowl woke up soon after and logged into the computer terminal. "Alright, do you all want the good news or the bad news first?"

"Give us the good news first" replied Kesh, who had also woken up.

"The Missile is fueled up and ready to be launched. It is ready to launch when we are ready."

"Bad news?"

"It looks like the army of statues from earlier finally caught up to us. Luckily, they are a long distance away, and I do not think they will be able to catch up with us before we can launch the missile. If we start now, we will have plenty of time to launch before they get here."

"Let's launch now," said Quibba, who had also woken up, "we don't want to cut it closer than we already are."

Crowl hit a few buttons. A computerized male voice sounded over the bunker: "Initiating Project HYPERION launch sequence. Opening primary missile exit shaft."

The ceiling of the bunker parted, accompanied by the mechanical sound of gears turning. Eventually, the bunker opened to the bright blue night sky. The moon was still in view.

"Initiating launch sequence," the voice continued, "T minus 100 seconds… T minus 99 seconds…"

Hoygull could hear the engine of the missile warming up. Suddenly, he heard an ear-splitting, visceral, sound, not of the rocket, and looked up towards the moon. A large portal had just opened up in front of it, and the head of a flaming red bird poked through.

"What's that?" yelled Quibba

"I…" replied Crowl, "I think we might be dealing with Thoth here."

"I'm getting a lot of air-information here!" yelled SCP-2785, "but I don't think it means anything. It's just bird calling!"

At the sound of screeching, several of the bird people swarmed the sky. The screeching was still overwhelmed by the sound of metal-on-metal as something came tumbling down the access shaft, which in and of itself was drowned out by auditory vertigo produced by Thoth shaking the world with his mere presence. This woke up Kesh, who hadn't woken up yet.

"I think… I think this is the end of the line," yelled Kesh, "I can barricade the access shaft with some of the equipment here. You guys go to the armoury and find something to use."

"T minus 70 seconds," the voice said.

Kesh flew into a forklift and used it to push a table into the way of the access shaft. Hoygull motioned to the rest of his team to enter the armoury.

Hoygull turned on the light. At a glance, he could see that there weren't too many explosives in the armoury. Maybe they would interfere with the missiles function? All they could find were a few grenades. Unsurprisingly, there weren't any weapons adapted for use by birds, so they had to improvise. Hoygull found a double-barrel shotgun that he could lift somewhat easily.

Just as he was loading two grenades into his shotgun, Hoygull heard the sickening sound of metal against metal. The barricade won't hold he thought. Signalling to the Avian Division, he stepped out of the armoury.

"T minus 44 seconds."

Kesh had formed a passable barricade out of a few tables, a dysfunctional terminal, and the forklift parked in front of them. A statue managed to slip through the barricade. In his naiveness, SCP-2785 ran up to the statue to say hello and offer its pleasantries. A haymaker knocked SCP-2785's head clean off, and an uppercut launched him across the room and crushed him against the wall.

"T minus 29 seconds."

The statues burst through the barricade with their raw numbers. They organized themselves into a line and began to charge. Hoygull held up the shotgun and fired two grenades into the group of statues. The explosion destroyed three statues, and knocked a few more into other statues, causing collateral damage. The remainder of the Avian Division launched grenades and used various forms of firepower, including a mounted minigun, to push back the hordes.

As he was loading two more grenades into the shotgun, one of the statues charged forwards and punched Hoygull square in the stomach, knocking him across the room into the wall. After recovering from the blow, Hoygull picked his shotgun back up. He was losing vision, but he saw a group of statues rushing towards the missile, and he fired two more grenades at them. It worked; he destroyed them, but one of them flew into Crowl's minigun, knocking it over. He was quickly overwhelmed without a weapon.

"T minus 10 seconds."

Hoygull realized he was out of grenades, so he loaded a couple of slugs into his shotgun and fired. They bounced harmlessly off the statues, hardly making a crack. Hoygull saw another group approaching the missile. No! he thought to himself, not wanting all of his hard work up to this point to be for nought.

Through his dizziness and deliriousness, he saw Quibbs flying towards the group. What is he doing? Hoygull thought. Then he saw the grenades attached to his shirt. Then he saw the cold, hard look of determination on his face. Then he saw him dive into the group of statues.

The explosion knocked them all away and was punctuated by the counting of the automated voice.

"T-minus 3… 2…. 1… liftoff."

The engine of the missile ignited, lifting the rocket off of the ground and into the air. Hoygull's already damaged body was thrown against the wall again, breaking a few bones. statues jumped into the air to try and hinder the missile's launch, but it was too late. However, it wasn't too late for the human-birds flying up into the air to slam themselves into the rocket, messing with its trajectory.

No… Hoygull thought, it's not going to make it!

A bird-man slammed into the nose of the missile, nudging its head away from the trajectory. The rest of the birds saw this and followed suit. The missile was now pointed in the wrong direction.

After all that's happened? Hoygull felt the disappointment wash over him like a wave.

"Uh, Mister Quinn? That AESD you mentioned earlier? I'm getting a one really big lump of air-information from it!" exclaimed SCP-2785 fervently.

"What, you mean to say the AEDS is detecting one large threat?"

"No, Hoygull," began Quinn. "Look," he said, pointing to the skies. While the rest of the Avian-Centre alliance was looking at the dimensional rift in space housing the avian deity, Quinn's instincts were kicking in. He saw a small red dot in the sky slowly expand. "2785 didn't misspeak. They meant what they said."

Thoth looked down at the Earth he had shaped in his image. After millennia of waiting, the blue marble was finally his. Finding the right people across all manner of dimensions wasn't an easy task. The tools needed to have precise motivation and skills required to enact his will. It was easy to start with, coercing the Shark-brained idiots to make the Avian meme and tempting the engineer with the promise of saving his daughter, but leaving a breadcrumb trail for the Foundation was significantly more difficult.

He was so powerful, his newly made vassals flooded to their new home. They would make excellent workhorses for the nobles: the people will till the land, move the stones, make monuments for the pharaoh (and, of course, to him).

Not a moment too late, either. Akheilos had found this Earth only moments after his plan had come to fruition, with the shark-brains in tow. The shark-brains had weakened the only force left to reckon with him. The humans shouldn't complain, at any rate. He had saved them from an even worse fate. Who knows the savagery that Akheilos would have performed on them?

From the blue marble, Thoth saw a small trinket. He scoffed at the pitiful final act of humankind. This was the best they could do? Some feeble explosive? It might've worked in his weakened state, but it was too little, too late. He watched humanity's last firework head towards him. If he was going to crush their final hope, he was going to do it properly.

Akheilos swam through the Noosphere as quickly as he could. He had been granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to kill his nemesis. Medila, the other Avian deity, had infused herself with him to serve this goal.

The whale, Gægr, had given this gift to him. He called upon Medila, and Medila had sung a birdsong so grand, it spoke directly to Akheilos' heart. It spoke to him so deeply it awoke a rage within him that had been burning for eternity. It reminded him of his people, the loved ones that Thoth took away from him.

The blood of the bird was all he'd ever wanted. He'd just lost sight of that goal.

Akheilos struggled through the fabric of reality. It ripped at his skin until it turned vibrant red from the friction. Thoth wasn't paying attention to him. In fact, only three people were: the bird, the robot and the human.

He tumbled into the skies above the squawking Earth.

The great shark spilled out from the growing red chasm in the sky. Akheilos was nothing compared to Thoth's size, but the speed and the hot-blooded passion from the beast far surpassed Thoth's. It darted straight towards the Ibis-headed monstrosity, his maw opened wide, his many teeth shimmering a brilliant white, speckled with crimson.

"No way…" said Quinn, his jaw agape.

"Is WHITE NETHER going to…?" began Hoygull.

In a monumental clash of deities, Akheilos tore into Thoth's eye socket. Thoth screamed and coiled backwards, clutching at his eye. But Akheilos' grasp was too great. Thoth commanded his fleet of peons to come to his aid, but the daemon's appetite was too voracious. He tore chunk after chunk of Thoth's form, leaving neither bone nor gristle behind.

Bird-people began to drop from the heavens like flies. With the puppetmaster busy, the puppets fell limp. Thoth screamed something awful, like he was like a savage animal gurgling out its last cry for help. But Thoth was alone. All of creation despised him, trickster gods have no place in paradise. The once noble and wise Thoth was reduced to nothing more than an undignified slaver, being consumed by the one he cheated.

Just as suddenly as the cawing began, the Earth fell silent.

His revenge completed and his belly full, Akheilos laid in the skies content. An eternity of blood debt had been paid in full, and his purpose had been fulfilled. Akheilos looked at his oncoming doom not with fearful eyes, but with a satisfied, toothy grin.

The missile flew away again at full speed, the dent on its carapace made by the impact compensating for its ill trajectory. The missile made a magnificent arc before colliding with the giant shark, blossoming into a giant green-and-purple explosion that lit up the midday sky.

Hoygull's last thought before passing out was we did it…

Hoygull woke up sometime later in the infirmary of a Site he didn't recognize. He could see the Foundation Shield on one side of the white, clean room, and he could recognize that he was laying in a hospital bed. He looked up and saw humans operating on him… but they still had their bird wings? Hoygull cleared his eyes and saw that, yes, they were still part-bird.

The door to the infirmary opened, and Researcher Calvin—the supervisor of the Avian Division—walked in. He had undergone the avianification process himself, yet he seemed… sane?

Calvin approached Hoygull, leaning over the bed. "You know, I'd like to personally thank you, Hoygull," he said, "without your valiant efforts, the entire human population would be lost on SCP-3632. It seems that EoI-121 was completely eradicated. Given that, plus the—" Calvin paused to feel his new wings, "new modifications to humanity, I think we really came out better from this. We're still cleaning up the mess, but it'd be a lot worse if it wasn't for you."

Hoygull began to speak, but then he realized he did not have a translation device, so he stayed silent.

"Unfortunately," continued Calvin, "a sizeable portion of humanity perished during the incident, and another portion is believed to be trapped on SCP-3632. I'm talking close to a billion. We’re working on means of getting them back here. Given our new abilities, this should be easier to do than normal.

"Anyways, I wouldn’t be standing here, alive, if it wasn’t for you. I have been authorized by O5 Command to award you with the Foundation star." Calvin reached into his coat pocket and retrieved a golden star-shaped medallion with a red gem implanted at the centre. He attached it to Hoygull’s lab coat. Then he stepped back, cleared his throat, and began to speak again.

"The agents from the Shark Punching Centre left this morning, by the way. I don't know if they've gone home or not, but they have their own matters to deal with. They send their farewells to you." Calvin turned around and left the room.

Hoygull sat back in his hospital bed and leaned into the pillow. Everything was back to normal. Well, as normal as things could be.