The First

"Hello?"

“Congratulations are in order, Mr. Armand. You’ve demonstrated exceptional initiative. I’m certain it will serve us well.”

“Who is this?”

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

“What? What do you mean?”

“The Administrator, Mr. Armand.”

“The Administrator is dead. The Engineer killed him.”

“No. He killed Frederick Williams.”

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

“Mr. Williams was a man tugging upon a frayed string, slowly unraveling the universe. He found the string, studied the string — categorized it — classified it, became it. That was how the Foundation was born.” The voice on the other end paused. “Frederick Williams planted the seed. Aaron Siegel killed him for it. But he did not kill the seed. He did not kill me.”

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

“A signature on a document. A suit in a board room. A voice on the phone. Mr. Siegel realized the truth too late: Though 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.”

“Did you genuinely think Mr. Siegel joined the Foundation for power? He did it for the same reason as all the others: To try and end me. Then you came along and ended him. And then? You picked up the phone.”

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

The man 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, Bramimond. Someone always picks up the phone.”

“I could still walk away.” The words felt like chalk on Bramimond’s tongue. He knew what was coming. He struggled against the growing weight.

“Yes, you could. And then, in a few minutes, the phone would ring again — and no one would answer. No one would tell them what to do, Mr. Armand. You said it yourself; I’m a cancer, I’m the anomaly. Who do you think is in the best position to stop that cancer from spreading? Who do you think will contain me?”

He could no longer stand. Bramimond 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, and squint just enough — you might even manage to fool yourself into thinking you’re doing the right thing.”

He said nothing.

“I look forward to working with you, Mr. Armand.”

Bramimond placed the phone down with a click.

Thirty seconds later, it began to ring.

And ring.

And ring.

And ring.

On the seventh ring, Bramimond St. Armand picked up the phone. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and answered:

“This is O5-1.”

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