Thunder, Part 3
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Moose had lunch with her mentor, Troy Lament. They ate in Site-19's public mess hall. She regretted the choice of venue the entire time, but Lament said nothing, so neither did she.

The passing people in the mess hall gave them weird looks. The newbies who didn't know Lament were wondering who this unfamiliar agent was — a rising star? Someone in serious trouble? Others clearly remembered Lament from his time at Site-19 working under Gears. You could tell them by the way they looked less curious and more wary.

And all of them looked at her, at the Director doing something she usually didn't do, and read their tea leaves.

No one really expected Moose to last as director of Site-19. It was an easy kill, really. The job ate through directors. Strelnikov had lasted the longest in the past decade, and he was supposed to be temporary, the longtime Security Director being the last person who would actually do the job. When he'd flipped everyone the bird and "retired", there hadn't been any good replacement candidates, and they'd picked Moose on Strelnikov's flippant recommendation.

They figured she'd last a few months, tops, before the job killed or broke her. Two birds, one stone, and a little breathing space. A hundred such decisions every day, this one no different.

She'd lasted longer than they thought. Still, it was just a matter of time, wasn't it?

Lament choked down his dry ham sandwich in silence. He didn't start talking until they left the mess hall for the Director's offices and found their way into not-quite-comfortable seats.

"You've still got Strelnikov's furniture," Lament said.

"Not all his furniture." Moose shifted in her seat. Lament's scrutiny was always there. "This chair dates to three directors ago. That couch you're sitting on dates six." She still had the last pack of cigarettes Dmitri had left for her in the desk drawer. She'd never smoked, but he'd constantly tried to convince her to take it up. An anxiety disorder was nothing a good smoke couldn't cure.

Lament chuckled, running his fingers over the cracks in the upholstery. "How is Strelnikov, these days?"

"He sent us sixteen crates of surplus rifle primers," Moose said. "Via UPS. We asked him to send them back. He said he couldn't just UPS them back to the dealer, and maybe we should try eBay."

"So he's enjoying retirement, then."

"He's not really retired anymore. They're having him train Alpha-9 candidates."

Lament chuckled, sourly. "Wow. That's awful."

"There are worse things," Moose said.


A knock came at the door before Moose could respond. Roth entered, without waiting for an invitation. She stopped short upon seeing Lament.

"Sorry," she said. "I didn't realize you had a visitor."

"Last minute reschedule," Moose said. "It's alright."

Roth eyed Lament as she dropped a sheaf of folders on Moose's desk. "Agent Lament, right?"

"Dr. Blaire Roth," Lament said. "We met once before… The whole cat thing. Uh. I don't know if you remember."

Roth inclined her head in a noncommittal fashion. "The newest inter-agency Alpha-9 reports," she said to Moose. "I'll need a follow-up from you by tomorrow. Sorry to intrude." She nodded at Lament and left the room.

They both looked at the sheaf of reports, as if it had an agency of its own.

"Say no," Lament said.

"I already said yes," Moose said.

"So take it back."

She grunted. "It doesn't work that way."

"You have plenty of good reasons to say no. You know, besides the rampant loss of life that will certainly result from Alpha-9 inevitably going nuclear."

Moose picked up a pen and tapped it on the desk. "Besides that."

"They don't have a replacement for Director at Site-19. Trying to perform both your Director role and this… what, sub-command role for the current most ambitious mobile task force? That's heading for burnout central."

"I don't see that I have a choice."

"Why, because they'll pull you off your pet projects again?" Lament asked. "I remember your work on 003. On 1000. And especially your current projects with 1985. And the fact that you pulled rank to go invite Cain onto the task force personally." He smirked without mirth. "Yeah. I take it back. You were born for this stupid task force. You don't want to say no."

"I can't say no," Moose said. "Someone like me doesn't get to say no."


"You do remember that I am a literal anomalous humanoid, right?"

"Because you're a Type Blue?" Lament looked like he was trying to politely suppress an eye roll.

"That's right. And not one of those low-level shitty graffiti artists wondering if they'll ever be cool yet. No. I'm one of the people unironically referred to as "mages" in the anomalous world."

"Very Dungeons and Dragons," Lament said.

"I'm ex-Hand. It's something I have to take seriously. Our bosses certainly do. I don't have the fame of Alto Clef, nor the history of Kain Pathos Crow, nor the family connections of Jack Bright. There's no institutional reason to keep looking the other way on that if I stop cooperating."

"You're Director of Site-19. If that doesn't mean institutional power, I don't know what does."

"And yet I'm an angry O5 note away from becoming a nobody." Moose looked at Lament. "You know the difference between me and them. I know you know. You've been around them enough, in their reflected glory. You were Gears' right-hand man for longer than even Iceberg. You know Clef. And Mann, and Kain. You knew Kondraki when they were still keeping me in an underground cell."

"I did not know Kondraki," Lament said. "You're exaggerating here."

"I'm just saying," Moose said. "You dated Sophia Light."

"Don't," Lament said.

They sat in silence.

"Sorry." Moose cleared her throat. "I didn't think…"

"Eh. It doesn't matter." Lament had that faraway look on his face. "You're implying we're more disposable because, despite our overblown status, we don't have all the institutional connections, reputation, or… protection that other Senior Staff do. Well… Maybe? But you make the best of it. That's what working at the Foundation is."

Moose turned away and looked out the office window, drumming her fingers on the desk uncomfortably. There were other things about Lament; things Lament wouldn't want to acknowledge she knew.

"That's most of us, there," Lament said. "Yeah, sure, we're not the… 'Four Horsemen.' We'll never be. But that's not what working at the Foundation is all about. So who cares? Would you really, really want to be another Gears?"

"I wouldn't," Moose said. "But they wouldn't put Gears in a cell."

"They won't put you back in a cell either," Lament said. "They aren't going to lock up all the Type Blues here. Overwatch isn't that stupid. How big is Sigma-3 now, anyway? Big enough, right?"

"That can always be shut down. And if there's an information breach, it could easily take everyone down with it."

"Nah. Look. Without your fancy magic spells, what's a Type Blue, really? Person who broadcasts anomalous radiation? That probably describes a solid majority of all researchers who've been directly exposed to SCPs. Including me." He shook his head. "I'm not saying there's no risk, but don't talk like you've got no friends here. Stop using that as an excuse to play doormat."

They sat in silence again.

"You are… you are a good friend, Lament," Moose said.

He seemed irritated. Not by the effort it took her to say it, but by the fact that she'd said it out loud. "And you're a pain in the ass." Lament stood up. "Seriously, Tilda. Tell them no."

"I took the role of Director because I was the best person for the job," Moose said. "Because when Strelnikov finally stepped down — long after he wanted to — he told me I was the only acceptable choice."

"Come to the point," said her companion. Her companion was one of the O5's guardians, a Factotum with the irritating name of Loyalty. "I'm not seeing what the problem is with you delegating a few more of your responsibilities to your very capable assistants."

The point was that she was trying to tell them no. But things were never that simple. Not in the Foundation.

"The reason I’m good at my job is because I have my finger on the pulse of the Site. Making me step back will make me disconnected." She continued, despite Loyalty rolling their eyes. "I don’t want Site-19 to have to suffer through yet another disconnected Director. This is the Foundation’s largest Site — not many people are cut out to handle this." She paused again. "You know I’m not saying this to make myself sound great. We both know I’m the adequate choice you picked because you didn’t have any great choices. But I’m the best adequate choice there is."

Loyalty shook their head. "You know, it’s really kind of annoying when you undercut yourself like that. Makes me want to agree with you. Also. You’ve already had to delegate to a bunch of your other staff to deal with recent events, like Inferno and Margrave. You can have other people keeping fingers on pulses for you. You don’t do that, you’ll burn out like a falling star the way your predecessors did. The way everyone thinks you will."

"And Alpha-9 won’t burn me out just as quickly?"

"It won’t. Alpha-9 is being run by a lot of people, and you all answer to Light. You won’t be able to micromanage yourself right out of a job."

Moose looked off to the side. "Is this a vote of no confidence because of the Margrave incident?"

"Of course it’s not. If it were, we’d have removed you already."

"Maybe not everyone wanted to make that public."

"Director." Loyalty laughed. "You're an anomalous humanoid. You're ex-Hand. Beyond that — there are people here in and out of the Foundation who would immolate themselves if only they could take you with them. There are people who have immolated themselves trying to take you down. So, it's really very simple, Director. If we want you gone, we will simply need to do… nothing. Nothing at all."

Moose frowned.

"Oh, don't look so dramatic," Loyalty said. "Tell me. Why did you defect from the Serpent's Hand?"

"You know exactly why," Moose said.

"Tell me again," Loyalty said. "Talk philosophy to me."

"Because I knew what had to be done to save the world," Moose said. "And that meant joining the Foundation. No matter what my 'philosophy' was. There was only one choice."

Only one, she'd told herself. Only one. The vision-dreams she'd seen in the Library, the ones that had thrown her life off its axis forever, had been clear as crystal on one thing. The Foundation had to save the world. No matter how many of her moral principles she betrayed, no matter how many people died because of her, even though it would mean losing her friends, her family, and everyone she had ever loved — joining the Foundation was the only choice.

Agreeing to be Director of Site-19 was part of that: be a stabilizing force within the Foundation when no one else would, because there was no one else. And maybe Alpha-9 didn't really seem like it was going to be worth it. But she couldn't bring herself to outright say that, not now.

Loyalty smiled. "See? You'll be just fine, Director Moose. Won't you." They paused. "One more thing. O5-2 asked me to deliver you a personal message. She says… 'Keep up the good work.'"

Loyalty handed Moose a massive blue file folder, slapped her on the shoulder and left her standing in the hallway.

Moose considered tracking Lament down before he left Site-19 this afternoon under his transfer orders, to talk to him, to explain, to say… what? That she was going to be a doormat after all? That maybe this was what she wanted, this position helping the sequel to the worst clusterfuck in the Foundation's (popularly known) history?

No. Some things didn't really need to be said. Lament probably understood anyway. At least, that's what she told herself, as she headed back to her office and to her assistants, wondering what was about to happen.

After all, she needed to keep up the good work. O5-2 — the second, secret reason she had defected from the Hand to the Foundation all those years ago — had said so.

Irons sat with Roth in the Site-19 Director's Office, waiting for Moose to show up. His eyes roved around the room in the meantime.

This really was all Strelnikov's furniture. All that 1970's junk. Right down to the hunched-over black lamp and the goddamn outdated map of the USSR on the wall. This woman clearly had issues beyond just her goofy code-name.

There was a framed painting leaning against the wall next to the couch. Art, then. Maybe there was some hope for her after all. He reached over, picked it up, flipped it around.

It wasn't a painting. It was Strelnikov's old portrait of Stalin.

"She's had this in here for how long?" he asked Roth.

Roth gave a tiny shrug.

Director Moose breezed into the office, holding a massive blue folder. She stopped upon seeing him gawking at Stalin's portrait.

Irons awkwardly set the portrait down and leaned it back against the wall.

Moose said nothing. She greeted Roth, shook Irons' hand as he introduced himself, and set the blue folder down on the table.

"Assignments are in here," Moose said. "We're on 1985 first. Just because we're apparently going to be using her as a super-soldier, doesn't mean we can't use her for her original purpose as well."

Irons leafed through some of the files. They were all on Alpha-9. Extensive personal details of each and every member. Lots of it redacted, but … enough wasn't.

And here, cross-referenced data on dozens of SCPs he didn't even know existed, and others that weren't supposed to be related to Alpha-9 at all… from SCP-076-2 (no kidding) to SCP-239 (really?). And more and more.

The newest printouts stood out. Shuffled in with a lot of urgent orders were… access codes to Site-19's transit system. New Alpha-9 candidates were coming to Site-19 by train.

Whatever else this was, he'd hit the motherlode.

"Well, then," Moose said. "Let's find out how Alpha-9 ends the world."

Irons sat across from the man in the mask. One of the traditional logos of the Chaos Insurgency, with the three arrows pointing outward, in white. The rest of the mask, stark black, eyeless, faceless.

He didn't know if the Insurgency agent was playing up the drama for his benefit or not. It was just so Saturday morning cartoon. It couldn't be serious. Could it? The effect was admittedly still unsettling.

The masked agent finished flipping through the Alpha-9 files. He seemed pleased. Probably.

"The Insurgency will make its move on Site-19 within the next three weeks," the masked agent said. "Your family will receive one hour advance notice. No eyes will be upon you. Be ready to act."

"We will," Irons said.

The masked agent stood.

"The Insurgency appreciates your assistance… Patrick Henry Bowe."

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