Bottom Floor
rating: +28+x

Site-θ Operations Control

Sophia Light looked over the security officer’s shoulder at the monitor.

“You can’t reach them at all?”

“No, Director, radio contact started off spotty and then cut off completely.”

“What about life signs?”

“It looks like either 5601's sensors are malfunctioning, or it's been neutralized.”

“Shit. What about the others?”

“All reading normally as before, although 4494 never registered in the first place.”

Light started tapping her foot impatiently. She looked across the operations room to Agent Carlotta Deneb, who was adjusting the communication equipment, bent forward peering at the screen.

“Carlotta, I think it’s a lost cause. God knows what sort of hell this anomaly is playing with reception.”

Carlotta looked up at her with a grimace. “It’s not a lost cause when we have agents in the field still showing life signs, Director Light.”

“I didn’t mean they were a lost cause, just tha-”

The operations room door opened behind Carlotta and the figure standing in the doorway distracted Sophia from finishing her sentence. There stood a man wearing jeans and a wrinkled long sleeve button down shirt under a cardigan. He had wild light brown hair and an unkept five-o-clock shadow. He leaned against the door jamb in a casual manner and scanned the room. When his eyes centered on Sophia, he entered the room and started speaking.

“Reality is merely an artificial construct of our own devising. So! Any perceived fluctuations aren’t any less real than buttered toast. Or a man standing in the corner looking away from you.” He paused to laugh. “Not that there’s anyone in that corner at the moment.”

Sophia turned and looked behind her at the empty corner of the operations room and sighed. She turned back to the man and said: “We’re having an emergency. Tell me who you are or get locked in a cell.”

“A cell won’t do for Dr. Irving Gat, who is very much at your service. We corresponded several weeks ago about my joining the quest. Kept you waiting, huh?”

“Yes, you have, I expected you here days ago.”

“Well, there were several situations that required my attention at Site-⌘, so I was unavoidably detained. But I read the documents you sent me on the flight over and I…” He looked down at the communication station Carlotta was sitting at, reached over her shoulder, twisted a knob and adjusted the power to the transceiver a slight amount. “There, all fixed. Try it now,” he said with a grin.

Carlotta looked up at Light with wide eyes. “Says we’re sending now. I only got error messages before.”

Light looked back at Irving Gat. “What did you do?”

"The power was a smidge too low for reaching deep underground during an esoteric crisis such as this. Lots of reality smashing into itself and all that hullabaloo. Signals can get lost in very strange ways. No way the dashing Agent Deneb would have known."

"What is your expertise again, Dr. Gat?"

“You know how we have all these anomalies that defy rational thought?”

She nodded. “Yes, what of it?”

“I just hate that.”

Sophia stared at him and his only response was another grin. “Alright, do you have any insight into the situation?”

“Having just arrived here, you would assume I could not possibly be informed of the current status of the operation. And you know what they say about assumations.”

“Assumptions.”

“Sorry?”

Light sighed again. “The saying is ‘you know what they say about when you assume’ so the word you were looking for was 'assumptions'.”

“I’ve never looked for a word once in my life.” He retrieved a small vial from inside his cardigan, undid the stopper and drank the contents. He coughed. “Sorry, daily Agnostics. Must do.”

“What did you just drink?”

“I already said. Okay! Let’s get those reality whatsits back in sink, shall we?”

He sat down at an empty console, pulled out pen and paper and began writing lists. He looked up at Light with wide eyes. “Oh, I should have asked. What’s your policy on bullet points?”


Sub-basements of Site-θ

Lucretia looked around the chamber she was in and saw the walls bulging in undulating ripples. They went from solid to gas to solid again in several moments' time, and then settled into their normal shape.

Why the hell did I agree to this? she thought.

She keyed her communicator and spoke. “Command, are you reading?” Only static responded. “In case you hear me, squad has been separated. The walls warped when on stairs and several of group lost. I am with Agent Miller and robot. We continue to deepest section of the Facility. Popescu out.”

She looked over at Rainer and SCP-1360. “Either of you reach Light?”

Rainer shook his head. “No, the equipment seems to be malfunctioning.”

I doubt very much that the equipment is to blame,” 1360 typed into its text-to-speech converter. “The shifts are becoming more violent; it is very likely they are affecting digital and analog transmissions as well as the shape of the environment.

“It’s been broken fucking signal since we come down here. Could not Light see this as problem?” Lucretia said.

“She couldn’t possibly have known it would be an issue. I trust Director Light; she’s got as much invested in our success as we do. More even,” Rainer said.

Lucretia sighed. “Your turn, robot. What you doing on those stairs?”

What do you mean?” it typed.

“I mean, you hold back and watched half of squad pulled in different directions. Other half went Orok knows where. What you do?”

I was merely descending at a slower speed than you.

“Bullshit. You said you can detect a shift moments before they obvious to the rest of us. You watching to see if we make it. And you didn’t think to warn us!” Lucretia’s right hand squeezed into a fist at her side, her arm shaking slightly.

“I’m sure that’s not true. Right, 1360?” Rainer raised a hand between Lucretia and the android, looking from one to the other.

It is not true. I did not intentionally fail to warn you.

“But you notice the shift before we were separated and whatever happen to the Bird and the Specter?” Lucretia asked.

I did notice.

“Then why you say nothing? Specific instructions from Light: pay attention to surroundings and use fancy senses to protect group.”

Lucretia approached the android until she was only inches from its face. If 1360 had a reaction, it wasn’t noticeable to Lucretia. Rainer withdrew his hand rapidly and stepped back from the two.

“Well?”

I have already answered your question. I did not intentionally fail to warn you.

“So what? Was accident?”

I do not know,” it typed.

“You believing this?” she said to Rainer over the android’s shoulder.

“I don’t know. After the double agent, who’s to say who’s loyal or not?” Rainer shrugged but his posture belied tension.

“Oh right! Light said there could be another, right?” Lucretia turned back to 1360 and grabbed two handfuls of its tunic. “Is that it, robot? You working double agent?”

It grabbed onto both her wrists and pulled, gently but forcibly, until her hands were free of the material. It was strong. She stared at the android, a bit shocked.

It typed on the tablet. “I did not betray you. I am not working for ‘someone else’ or anyone really. Light asked me to join and I agreed. What possible motive would I have?

“I don’t know. I ask again: why didn’t you warn us if you knew?” She yelled this last part directly into its face.

This is boring me. We have a mission, Popescu. And if you’d rather argue here, then I’ll continue on my own.

1360 side-stepped around her and bolted into a sprint. Lucretia couldn't have matched its speed if she tried.

She turned from the corridor it had disappeared into and looked at Rainer. “What is it doing?”

“Well if you accused me of betraying the team, I wouldn’t like it much either,” he said.

“Bah, even robot men babies. Try communicator again,” she said.

“It won’t work, no signal is getting out.”

“You pull things out of air, right? So, can’t you get something that would, I don’t know… boost signal?”

“Maybe…” he said. He closed his eyes for a moment and a small hole in reality popped open and ejected a small object the size of a paperback book, which he caught in midair. He smiled as he handed it to her.

“Plug this into your communicator, no guarantees though…”

She took the gray plastic box from him and connected the USB cord to the input on her vest. Immediately they both heard Carlotta’s voice in their earpieces.

“Alpha-9 squad, come in. Repeat, please make contact.”


Site-θ Operations Control

Gat was furiously scribbling on the notepad when he looked up and pointed his pen at Light, which she saw out of the corner of her eye.

“Have you considered the possibility that these shifts are not the result of a specific anomaly but something more esoteric?”

“Like what exactly?”

“Scranton Reality Anchors are in essence an attempt to force reality in a more ordered function. But that function is one we perceive to be the right one. So! Is it possible that these shifts are other ‘right ones’ but from a completely different point of view?”

“I… huh.” Light touched her forefinger and thumb to her chin. “That’s actually pretty intriguing. So less a warping of our reality and more other realities forcing their rules into ours from some outside source? Interesting… where did you come up with that?”

“Hmmm? Oh, I was thinking of gestalts and the possible impact of our sociological understanding of the world on the actual mechanics of the universe. Call it meta-Quantum theory or something… also chicken.”

“Chicken?”

“I’m famished, can’t we get some food up here? Surrealistic thinking is hungry work.”

Light sighed in frustration.

“I’ll see about it. But you were saying?”

He continued scribbling on his pad but then stopped, put the pen in his mouth and looked up at the monitors showing the life signs of the team.

“I think the more esoteric members of the squad are probably most at risk. You shouldn’t have sent the bird or the avenger down there.”

“Wait, why?”

“They already represent another system imposing itself on our baseline understanding of reality; so, they’re most likely more sensitive to any shifts. I’d say their chances are diminutive.”

“Fuck. But, if the shifts are some outside force pushing other realities into ours, maybe we could disrupt that signal.”

But he wasn’t listening, just scribbling on his notepad again. She turned to the nearest security officer. “Bring up a list of all the anomalies kept on-site, along with the SRA accompaniment as currently outfitted into our systems.”

“Yes, Director.”

She was looking at the screens, waiting for the requested display when Carlotta gasped. “I’ve got them!”

“Put them through the main system, I wanna talk to whoever is still operational.”

Lucretia’s icon flashed on the screen. “Command, we read. What is with comms?”

“Never mind that, Agent. How did you manage to make contact through the interference?”

“Rainer produced signal booster. Seems to be working for now.”

“Sitrep, please.”

“The bird and the Specter are missing. 1360’s run off. Just me and Rainer now. The fucking building attacked us and we all got separated. I think I was… somewhere else for a while.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know, but don’t want to go back there.”

“What’s happening with 1360?”

“It failed to warn us of a shift that it knew would happen, which is when everything went crazy fuck. It is possible that I accused robot of working against us…”

“And I take it that’s why 1360 ran off?”

“Think so.”

“Okay then. Orders remain the same. You’re to proceed into the deepest parts of the facility as we have reason to believe that’s the source of the shifts. But also, keep an eye out for your fellow teammates, we have reason to believe they’ve been injured or neutralized.”

“And 1360?”

“It's odd how it didn't inform you. Can robots even get offended like that? Try talking with it.”

“And if turns hostile?”

“You are free to engage with any entities taking offensive action against you. 1360 included.”

“Understood.”

“We’ve got a new theory up here concerning the shifts, and we're going to try something in a bit. See if we can’t make things easier for you.”

“Any help would be appreciated. Popescu out.”

Light turned back to the room and looked at the people gathered there. “Which one of you is certified as an SRA technician?”

The security officers looked around at each other until one raised their hand: a younger man in shirt and tie. “I am. What do you need, Director?”

“We’re operating under the assumption that these shifts are warps in our reality, which SRAs are meant to be a bulwark against. But if Dr. Gat is correct, then SRAs actually impose our baseline reality onto areas affected by other realities pushing in. Can we bump up the power to the facility’s SRA configuration, push back our reality and thereby force the shifts to recede?”

The technical officer looked down at his console and began typing, bringing up a new display.

“We could reroute power from the external security countermeasures to the SRA configuration. But that would leave us vulnerable, and I have no way of knowing if it’ll have your desired effect.”

“I don’t care. Do it.”

Carlotta stood up and approached Light. “Are you sure this is a good idea? What if we experience a containment breach, or this other mole you’re worried about sees this as an opportunity?”

Light looked back at the technical officer. “Don’t reroute any power from containment countermeasures, just the external security systems. And close off our connection to SCiPNET, we don’t want to allow any opportunistic hackers a window to the system.” The technical officer nodded and continued at his console. Light turned back to Carlotta. “I think it’s time to face the fact that we recruited the mole onto the team, Agent Deneb.”

“You think 1360 intentionally didn’t warn the group?”

“Popescu does, and while I assume she’s under stress, she’s the only eyes on the ground we have at the moment.”

The technical officer raised his hand, getting Light’s attention. “Director, we’re ready.”

“Do it.”

“Rerouting power from external systems and countermeasures now, we should see an increase in SRA capacity by close to 100%.”

Light imagined the mobile turrets and surveillance cameras on the surface powering down, she could almost hear the hum of the currents moving from one target to the other.

Suddenly an alarm started blaring and the emergency lights flared on. Light raised her voice over the klaxon.

“What the fuck now?” She turned to the technical officer. “Report!”

“It’s the SRAs…”

“What about them?”

“They’re gone.”

“They stopped functioning?”

“No, I mean, they’re gone, Director. I’m looking at an internal feed. The apparatus just isn’t there anymore.”

“Fuck. People, general sitrep!”

Avery stormed into the operations room, leaning on a cane. “What the hell is going on with my facility, Sophia?”

“We’re about to find out, Director Avery.” She looked at the nearest security officer. “Report!”

“Internal systems other than the SRAs seem to be functioning nominally, but the containment wings…”

“What about them?”

“I’m getting reports from containment personnel all over the base… we’ve lost a number of anomalies.”

“Lost? We’ve been breached?”

“No, Director. The containment countermeasures are still in place, just as they were. It’s the anomalies themselves… they’re just not there anymore.”

“How many?”

“Over a hundred, ma’am.”

Carlotta tensed and turned towards the door.

“Agent Deneb, where are you going?”

“I’m going to get my team, Light.”

“Hold on!”

“For what? They’ve got a potential hostile and the whole facility is going to shit.”

Light turned to the technical officer. “Did your department get the prototype working?”

“Yes, Director.”

“Good, go get it for me. Right now, don’t dawdle!”

She looked back at Carlotta. “Just wait a moment. If you’re going to be difficult about this, you may as well be equipped.”

“What’s this prototype?” Carlotta asked.

“A portable SRA, only moderate strength. But it’ll hopefully give you some resistance to the effects down there.”

“Aren’t SRAs like huge machines? How am I meant to carry one around?”

“It’s in a backpack, weighs maybe thirty pounds. It’ll be a burden, but you’ll manage.”

The technical officer came back in with a combat backpack, rigged with several external controls. He held it out towards Carlotta, who turned around and crouched slightly as he helped her get it situated and latched into place.

Light put her hand on Carlotta’s shoulder. “Good luck.”

Avery got remarkably close to Sophia and hissed: “I told you it was a mistake to send those freaks down there. Now we’re missing over a hundred contained anomalies and who knows what’s next?”

“Nothing good, I think,” she said as she turned away from him and back at the monitors showing the team’s life signs. She moved a few inches away from his leering, angry look. “If they don’t find out what’s happening down there, we’re all in trouble.”



Sub-basements of Site-θ

Lucretia and Rainer moved at a steady pace, checking in each chamber they passed and finding many of them empty of any anomalies or personnel. The alarms had started blaring again just after they’d gotten off the radio with Light and she was almost starting to ignore their klaxons.

They were making good process when the air in the corridor rose ten degrees and Lucretia felt claustrophobic. Lucretia turned to look back the way they had came and saw the length of the corridor stretching and curving downwards as she watched. Fuck, not again…

Rainer yanked her backwards with all his might suddenly, his fingers looped into her security vest’s material. What the.. she thought, just as a loud crash happened directly in front of her, sending the both of them sprawling.

She looked up from the floor and saw 1360 crouching in a miniature crater in the concrete, dust in the air and its fist sunk several centimeters into the floor. It withdrew its fist from the concrete and stood. The android started moving in their direction. “It’s time for you to die, Sarkic. Enough games!” the robot said, no text to speech tablet visible.

Lucretia stood, picked up Rainer in a fireman’s carry and raced in the other direction. When she reached the part of the corridor where the floor was sloping downwards, she crouched and slid on her butt down the decline until they were several hundred meters away from where they’d encountered the android.

The floor leveled and curved in another direction, and she set Rainer down, and dusted him off. “Sorry, just reacted. You hurt?”

“You’re the one the machine almost pasted!” he said, louder than was necessary.

“Thank you… for save. When did robot get so strong?”

“Honestly, I don’t have any idea how strong it is… I may have misheard, but was it speaking?” Rainer asked.

“Yes, very …weird.” She looked back up the incline of the corridor and saw it standing at the top. “We go!”

As they ran down the length of the corridor a shift in reality folded it back onto itself and Lucretia felt intense vertigo. She bent over and retched, vomiting clear liquid on the floor. She looked up as Rainer patted her shoulder and saw that 1360 was now only ten meters away and the corridor was level again. She frantically scanned the hallway for an exit and turned to her right. She pushed open a nearby containment cell door. “Here!”

Rainer followed her through, and she closed the metal door, sliding the security bar into place. She’d only just secured the bar when there came a horrible pounding on the door. “Popescu! Come out! I thought you were a fighter!”

Both she and Rainer leaned against the security door as the android pounded on the opposite side. She looked behind her and saw they were in a small containment room. In the center of the cell was a meter-tall metal pedestal with a glass box atop it. Inside the glass case was a large blue diamond with a label reading "SCP-4867" in bold. The reinforced security door continued to resound with the impacts of android fists.

Now that she had seen the diamond, she couldn’t take her eyes off it; the stone seemed to catch the light perfectly no matter what angle she looked at it from. It should have been painful, the way the stone lit up, but it wasn’t. Gazing at it was comforting.

She turned from the door and walked towards the pedestal; Rainer started yelling something at her and the pounding grew louder. Yet all she could see was the stone.

Her hands were on the case striking the glass over and over, leaving droplets of blood. She remembered to shield her hands in tougher flesh, taken from her halkost. Finally, the glass crumbled, and she pushed away the last bits, placing her fingers on the stone.

The door behind her made a shrieking sound and Rainer screamed as the android punched through the metal. It reached through the hole and forced up the security bar. Rainer was backing away from the door with his hands palms-out in front of him. A small wormhole manifested, and flames poured out splashing against 1360’s body. Didn’t know he could do that, she thought.

1360 was reaching for her, ignoring the flames catching at the material of its tunic. Her skin toughened again, taking on the form of rough keratin covered in bloody spikes. She twisted her arm into a tight loop and brought it close to her body to absorb the force of the android’s punch. The pain was spectacular as several of the bony spines broke off under the android’s assault. She hit it three times quickly in the head with her free hand (the other still cradling the stone). It didn’t notice. The android reached for her again, but this time she pivoted and came up from beneath the strike with an uppercut to the jaw. The android stumbled backwards for a few feet then leapt back at her with its fingers outstretched for her.

Lucretia grabbed one wrist of the android, twisting it away from her and reared back to hit it. She wrapped her fingers tightly around the stone and swung with all her might.

The stone punched through 1360’s chest and emerged through the other side of its torso, her fingers wrapped around it. The robot looked down at the hole in its chest and grabbed onto her security vest. It stumbled against her, trying to hold itself up by holding onto her. She could feel the material of its body flaking away around her arm, still piercing the depth of its torso. The android started shaking violently, as piece after piece fell away from its form until there was nothing but dust. A few seconds later there wasn’t even that.

“Wait… was 1360 ever even here? What the fuck is going on?” Rainer asked.

She looked at the pile of robot ash that wasn’t there anymore. She took in a ragged breath and shook her head. “I don’t know. Maybe we worried about possibility of robot being against us and this affected anomaly?”

“Because we were afraid?” he asked.

“Maybe.”

She looked at the diamond in her hands. Rainer started patting at her vest and she went to push him off. “What fuck? Get off me!”

Then she noticed her vest had started to burn and he was trying to put out the fire. She felt the first pricks of heat through the reinforced material. She started patting down the vest and he joined in.

“Be careful with hands and fires.”

“Sorry, I just wanted him away. Guess it was fireproof,” Rainer said casting his eyes downwards.

Finally, she could look at the diamond again. He turned back to her and caught her staring at the large blue stone.

“What is it?” Rainer asked.

“I don’t know. But we will use it.”



Sub-basements of Site-θ

Somewhere else.

Carlotta struggled with the heavy backpack as she approached the location where she had left the team earlier. I should’ve just gone down with them, she thought.

The straps of the backpack bit into her shoulders, causing them to ache. The machinery in the pack had started to hum just a few minutes after entering the sub-basements.

She came across a stairwell going down, and saw the walls had bulged out of shape in alarming patterns. There were spikes made of concrete and steel from the stairs on one portion and warped concrete pushing out into the stairs so far that she needed to squeeze her way past in another.

The walls and stairs quivered but retained their aggressive shapes. So far so good.

At the bottom of the stairs there was a moderate-sized concrete landing with a deep hole in its floor maybe two meters wide.

She could just make out the bottom, lit by warped flashing red emergency lights. There were scraps of what looked like coarse iron, and blood all around the bottom of the hole. She could smell sulfur in the air.

Poor, weird bird.

She pushed through the warped and frayed metal of the doors leading to this level of the sub-basement and turned a corner, keeping an eye on the walls for any movement when she tripped over a dark pile of material and something solid she couldn’t quite see in the light. She caught herself on the wall of the corridor before she looked at what she had tripped over.

4494 lay in a heap, his chest almost imperceptibly moving with his breathing. It was hard to tell if he was injured, with his form made of shadowy substance like it was.

She bent down next to the man-shaped shadow and tried to feel for a pulse. He was warm to the touch, but he felt weirdly smooth, not like the material of clothing or skin at all. She couldn’t have described his texture if she were called on to do so. Also, she couldn’t find a pulse. This was all going so wrong.

His hand shot up and gently wrapped oily black fingers around her wrist. “Ah, Agent Deneb. How good to see you. I’ve found myself under a great deal of stress down here.”

“Are you injured?” she asked the shadow man.

“Physically? Only a little. But I find myself under the worst malaise. I may have miscalculated…”

“What are you talking about?”

“Perhaps the Laws of Physics never wanted the Specter as their champion…”

She reached down and grasped his shoulders, as best she could with his smooth texture and the inability to see the details of his form. “Champions don’t rest on the floor when there’s emergencies, right? Let’s get you up.”

“Thank you, officer.”

She helped him to stand and he leaned against the wall, then straightened before sliding down it again. He sat with his back against the wall. “I don’t think I’ll be as much use in this fight against crime as I promised. What a horrid day for the champion of justice.”

Carlotta bent over him and tried to help him up again. He waved her away.

“I can’t just leave you here!”

“I think you must. The others need you, I think. Leave me, let me rest. The Specter will join you when he can… if he can.”

She stood looking down at him for a moment, then looked down the corridor's length in the glaring emergency lights.

“Go on! I’ll be fine,” he said.

“Okay, but once I find the others, I’m coming back for you.”

He nodded as she walked away. “Let us hope this opponent of evil can be of use in this dire situation.”


Site-θ Operations Control

Sophia was ordering one of the security agents around. Avery was looking over her shoulder and glancing around at the different monitors showing the fluctuating humes at play in the lower levels of the facility.

Dr. Irving Gat stopped his scribbling on the pad and looked at the empty corner of the room.

“Ah, still empty. What a relief.”

He stood and stretched, looking down at his notes.

“Material reality is a construct of our own making. We do not literally effect its form merely by thinking on it as individuals, but our universe’s laws are held in check by millions of years of sentient observations. The weight of all those minds, those capable of sapience or not, holds true the shape of the firmament.”

He paced back and forth behind the station he had commandeered.

“But given enough pressure, from an external source, endless other realities can pry their way free of that weight, especially if there were a fulcrum to focus their boundless energies on. As the great Archimedes once said: ‘Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the worth of worlds.’ Wait…” He scratched the stubble on his chin. “No, I think it was births. Anyway.”

“So! A fulcrum! A universal pry bar, to crack open the weight of millennia worth of constant observations by the beings of this universe. Such that, the incredible becomes mundane. And the mundane becomes the impossible.”

He paused to look at the empty corner of the room.

“But you say: ‘Why my handsome, and charming, Dr. Gat, how would we ever know what the true skein of the universe should look like?’ And I would answer: ‘That’s easy! It looks like this. Or it looks like that!’ Because I’d of course have some very poignant diagrams at the ready. Let’s pretend I did so, alright?

“So if reality is a thing of our making, but it takes a fulcrum of cosmic intentionality to pry loose the usually rigid Laws of our reality (emphasis added) then it should be as simple as taking that fulcrum and smashing it to little itty bitty bits.”

Sophia looked in his direction, and he waved, smiling.

“Of course, it would be ever so prudent to have a group of people that actually had reason to trust each other do the smashing.”


Sub-basements of Site-θ

Any time the walls looked squirrelly or the floors began to quake with an impending shift, Lucretia would place the diamond against their surfaces and the fluctuations would stop.

No idea what this is, but thank Orok we found it.

They had searched through the remaining chambers and corridors until they found themselves in front of an impressively secure set of doors. They looked to operate on motorized channels to slide the heavily reinforced metal to either side.

“Looks like bronze,” Rainer said.

She looked at the material of the large doors. It did remind her of the beryllium bronze ritual vessels surrounding the underground colosseum beneath Moscow. Etched in the bronze of the doors was a message reading: “Absolutely No Entry Without Level-5 Clearance or Prior Approval by Vote of O5 Council,” and “Entry Without Proper Identification Will Result in Termination.”

“Fucking door is open,” she said.

Rainer walked up to the doors, peeked his head into the small opening between the two and then pulled back quickly. He turned to look at Lucretia with wide eyes. “Jesus, the robot’s in there.”

Lucretia slid the large blue diamond into her vest and leaned against the right door, sliding it open a few more inches, so she could squeeze through. Rainer followed shortly after.

1360 was standing in front of a black cone sunken deep into a pit of magma surrounded by a meter-thick wall of glass. The room was incredibly hot, the shielding glass wall shimmering in heat haze. The cone was hard to focus her eyes on, but it demanded her attention. The surface of the cone wasn’t colored black, it was impossible to see, absorbing all light in the room.

What is it?” 1360 typed into its text-to-speech tablet.

Lucretia stood next the android and shook her head. Rainer was looking at her, and then at the android. “Hey both of you, snap out of it! Just a second ago we were fighting off a dream version of 1360 trying to kill us!”

1360 turned from the cone and shook its head. “I did no so such thing,” it typed.

Lucretia took out the diamond and touched the android’s forehead. Nothing happened. “Was another manifestation.”

Someone appearing to be myself attacked you?” 1360 typed.

Lucretia nodded. She turned back to the black cone; the diamond hummed with power and had become cool to the touch. “I think it was this thing. Trying to keep us away.”

1360 said: “That is my supposition as well. I believe this spike is what is creating the shifts in baseline reality.

Lucretia turned to look back at 1360. “What happened on stairs? Why you abandon us if not guilty?”

I don’t know. Something is influencing my behavioral programming. I did not choose to not warn the group; but I did fail to warn you.

Rainer said: “Either way it means the same thing: we can’t trust you.”

1360 nodded. “That is true. But to be frank, none of us have any reason to trust the other.

The cone vibrated, shedding flaming magma from its pit and slowly ascending until it was levitating two meters in the air.

“Lucy, what’s it doing?”

Lucretia gripped the diamond tightly in her cupped hands, shaking her head. “I… I don’t know.”

The light in the room was drawn to the levitating cone, leaving the space entirely dark except for a glimmering blue light from the diamond in her hands. She felt herself pulled uncontrollably towards the glass wall and she could not resist the force. She turned to 1360 and Rainer and saw they too were being drawn towards the anomaly. Swirling black mist flowed out from the cone and wrapped itself around her and the others, holding them tight as it pulled them in. She sucked in a deep breath in order to scream and was dragged into darkness.

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