Perseveration
rating: +37+x

...

Captain Regina Watts checked her watch and took her pulse while watching the squad around her function check their weapons, comms, and gear. 98 bpm. Nervous, like most other times she had pulled the short straw on extraction. Her leg still hurt from the shot she had given herself the previous evening, her hands were blocks of ice with sawdust cuticles. She counted seconds and timed her breath to slow it all down, but it didn’t do much. Air puffed out of Regina’s lips with a characteristic motorboat sound while she reached into a third back pocket that should not be and retrieved a black package of cigarettes.

Eighteen left.

Third time’s a charm?

She closed the pack and stowed it, glancing around the room. Bunch of clowns. Most of them, faces she hadn’t seen before today. And it was shaping up to be a hell of a long one.

“Alright monkeys, eyes front. Here’s what’s good.”

Five hard cases slammed home magazines, spat chewing gum and stood facing Regina with steel in their eyes and fire in their bellies. Exactly what she needed to see.

SCP-1968 is about to breach containment for the third time. I have it on good authority that this will be the big one. That this one reaches so far back that if we fail here, we’ll be spending about a million years banging rocks together in a dust belt where Earth used to be just to ensure we have a planet to come home to.”

A hand went up at the back of the room. Regina rolled her eyes and considered her options for a second but decided that sticking to the script was probably for the best. “Yes, Patterson?”

“Thank you, sir. How-”

“Ma’am, Sergeant,” she said flatly, arms crossed in front of her.

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry, it’s just, y’know, habits are-”

“Stow it, Patty-Lou, I ain’t got all night,” Regina demanded.

“Uh, Yes ma’am. I understood 1968 was a retro’nomaly? Doesn’t that mean it should have already happened?” Patterson asked. “How is this supposed to work?”

“We don’t have time just now to be specific, but Doctor X got us all out of bed in the meta-before in a swiftly closing window between this event and our native string. Our mission is to establish causal isolation prior to activation. As Captain, I’ve got mission-line, so don’t fuck up or this is gonna be my whole-ass week,” Regina replied.

Everyone in the room chuckled. She didn’t.

“We’re coming in hot at the door of the containment chamber. There will be armed Foundation presence that does not know we’re coming. Class-C Tranqs for those. Anything that has more than four limbs, pulp it. Any more questions?”

Some murmurs from the back of the room. Patterson, to his credit, checked his bag for an XACTS Mk2 anti-personnel sink and did a function check. Three other clowns realized the same. Twelve seconds passed. Regina compulsively checked her LBV for a pen and paper, just in case. The room suddenly dropped three inches, knocking over canteens, ruffling feathers, and staggering a few of the men. At the rear of the chamber, a light above the door ceased blazing steady red and flashed bright yellow.

“Alright, grab your shit. Ten seconds to insertion,” Watts belted out, drawing a pistol from her thigh and moving to take point.

“You gonna be alright up front, Cap?” Martin Patterson asked as he drew his own tranq gun and checked its chamber.

Regina smirked. “You reckon you’d be asking that question if I hadn’t grown tits?”

Patterson frowned. “Look, I’m sorry, but you-”

She put a hand up. “Happens. Don’t excuse it. And don’t worry, I know where they are. Third time’s a charm, right?”

Regina didn’t have time to appreciate the shock on his face.

The door opened. Regina drew. Three darts found the necks of three waiting security specialists on the far side.

There’s thirty seconds saved.

Wordless, the six unmarked tactical black uniforms piled out from behind what the rest of the world surely thought was an elevator door and into the hallway as the bulkhead beyond slammed closed like a steel casket.

“Cutter. NOW.”

Regina stepped to the side as an E3 with a plasma torch double-timed his way up the steel grated floor, kneeled at the base, and began to cut away the lock.

“They’re gonna be angry,” Patterson said, coming up to a stand and glancing sidelong at Regina. “…How many?”

“Three,” she said, glancing at her watch. “We’re ahead, but last time they were at 11, 2, and 9. Shouldn’t be too far from that when we get through.”

“Is there a reason you’re not telling them?”

Regina looked at him sideways. “…‘Cause we’re ahead.”

“I mean not telling them this is the third go-round,” he whispered through clenched teeth.

“Blake?” she hollered. “How long?”

The E3 lifted his goggles and blew smoke away from his cut. He peered at it for a moment and winced. “Looks like… two, maybe five minutes?”

“Go for three,” Regina ordered, and turned back to Patterson. “I’m not telling them because I don’t trust them, Marty. I don’t know how they’ll take it and pressure is a bitch goddess I’d rather not provoke.” Regina reached for her back pocket and nearly had herself a smoke, but a chorus of ‘leave no trace ‘ sounded in her head, so she scratched the back of her head instead “Fuck, right now I’m sorry I bothered with you.”

The light from the torch danced across the hallway as Regina checked her watch, counted seconds, and tried to remember the last two fuck-ups.

Alright, the firefight at the door took a full minute the first time and 32 seconds the second. Then the cut, 3 minutes 10 for both. Then the second firefight was a good 93 seconds on one and 77 on two. Sinks are going to take almost 10 minutes to set up no matter what, and we lose up to 12 seconds with each loop which leaves…

Regina puffed out a lungful of worry and closed her eyes. “Damn, that’s tight.”

“What?”

She didn’t answer. “Blake, give me a 30 second warning, yeah?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” he replied without looking up. Good kid. She made a note of it.

Just in time for a bullet to rip through the door, and a welding mask, and a skull, leaving a fine pink mist hanging in the air where a young man’s face once was.

There was a lot of yelling, some fumbling with the torch, some blinded eyes and burnt fingers as the other three soldiers struggled to get back on course. Regina turned around and looked at the door. The elevator’s signal light was spinning bright red streaks across the wall and floor of the tunnel. 3 minutes 10 had just turned into 25 minutes. This attempt was fucked.

Patterson stared at her, mouth agape, as she pulled a cigarette from her black pack and lit it. “See you later, cowboy,” Regina said with a wink, and took a good long drag. His mouth had just enough time to form the first phoneme of an expletive.

Time. Stopped.

It took an impossible interval before Regina’s mind adjusted to causing movement in a direction one never walks. It didn’t feel long enough to be a minute. It couldn’t have been less than a decade. The idea of duration was meaningless. Like a portrait peeling itself off of a canvas, she stepped out of the frozen moment, and decided to ride future for just a few more seconds. Sound, light, screams, Patterson finishing an expletive. Heedless of danger, she ran to the bulkhead and knelt, and froze the moment again.

Regina could see clear through the hole the projectile had punched in the door. And also the barrel of the really enormous gun beyond it. And also the new round being loaded into the chamber, ready to punch an even more impressive hole through some poor motherfucker’s anatomy.

Wow. Okay. That’s far enough, I think.

It is impossible to know that you experience the sensation of directional flow in your veins until you experience its reversal. Watching thoughts instantly appear perfectly formed and then dissolve back into action potentials is even more disorienting. Attempting to keep your consciousness sufficiently detached from your brain to retain information…

“I’ll be honest,” Dr. Kitterman said, scratching the back of his neck, “we only know that Loopy works by principle.”

Sergeant Robert Watts frowned, turning the black foil-lined pack over in his hands. “Loopy? You invented a drug that can walk you backward in time and the best name you could come up with is ‘Loopy’?” He chuckled and opened the pack, pulling out one of the black filtered cigarettes inside. He moved to put it back, and suddenly noticed there were only 17 left of the original twenty. “What in the… “ he looked at the cigarette, and then at the package again. 12. This time he put it back immediately, closed and dropped the case. “Fuck!”

“Like I said, ‘Loopy’. It makes you feel like you’re losing your mind. We thought it was apt,” Dr. Kitterman said, bending over and picking up the box. “It looks like it defaults back to the last time you looked at the pack? There’s really no way for us to know that yet, though. Just… we know that a closed pack is causally isolated; that’s relatively easy. So the other option naturally follows.”

“So…what am I supposed to do about it?” Watts asked.

Dr. Kitterman looked Robert in the face and opened his mouth to speak, but decided his first attempt would be a bit on the nose and closed up again. Second time was more confident. “Your record indicates… certain dissociative tendencies… which may make it easier for you to learn how to retain the information. Also you seem to demonstrate some resistance to amnestic drugs, which…” Dr. Kitterman swallowed a mouthful of dry. “Let’s say they’re of similar structure?”

Watts rolled his eyes. “Right. And you reckon I might also develop a resistance to a drug you based on one.”

Dr. Kitterman said nothing, and handed over the black pack of time erasure. “Why don’t you give it another shot?”

Watts sighed and opened the pack, urgently covered his mouth, then closed it and tossed it back, bolting to the wastecan in the corner. Dr. Kitterman looked inside and saw it was empty. “Holy shit.”

Watts would have had something witty to say if he wasn’t so busy throwing up, he was sure of it.

…She had spent the better part of a year figuring that out.

Blake’s head collapsed back together. Patterson complained in reverse. The team piled back in the transit room. The room jumped upward three inches. She ungave a speech. She saw 17 cigarettes in her pack…


Captain Regina Watts checked her watch and took her pulse while watching the squad around her function check their weapons, comms, and gear. 98 bpm. Nervous, like most other times she had pulled the short straw on extraction. Her leg still hurt from the shot she had given herself the previous evening, her hands were blocks of ice with sawdust cuticles. She counted seconds and timed her breath to slow it all down, but it didn’t do much. Air puffed out of Regina’s lips with a characteristic motorboat sound while she reached into a third back pocket that should not be and retrieved a black package of cigarettes.

Seventeen left.

God. Dammit. Hell of long is right. C’mon number four!

“Alright monkeys, eyes front. Here’s what’s good.”

Five hard cases slammed home magazines, spat chewing gum and stood facing Regina with steel in their eyes and fire in their bellies. Just like before.

“SCP-1968 is about to breach containment for the third time. I have it on good authority that this will be the big one. That this one reaches so far back that if we fail here, we’ll be spending about a million years banging rocks together in a dust belt where Earth used to be just to ensure we have a planet to come home to.”

Patterson’s hand went up at the back of the room just like it had before. She decided that was enough misgendering for one goddamn day.

“Yes, Sergeant Patterson, it is a retrocausal anomaly. We don’t have time just now to be specific, but Doctor X got us all out of bed in the meta-before in a swiftly closing window between this event and our native string. Our mission is to establish causal isolation on SCP-1968 prior to activation. As Captain, I’ve got mission-line, so quit fucking up or this is gonna be my whole-ass week.”

Everyone in the room chuckled. Regina, again, did not.

“We’re coming in hot at the door of the containment chamber. There will be armed Foundation presence that does not know we’re coming. Class-C Tranqs for those. Anything that has more than four limbs, pulp it. Specialist Blake?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Regina smiled. Yes. A good kid. “How long does it take to cut a wiring panel open as compared to a bulkhead door?” she asked.

Blake tied his brow in knots for a moment. “Less than half most of the time, I’d say. Depends on the steel.”

“This time we’re running with that.”

Blake nodded and gave a thumbs up. “Will do.”

“We’ve got about 45 seconds for any other questions,” Regina said, and saw Patterson’s hand come up in the back again.

“Yes, Sergeant?”

“How many loops have we been, Cap? S- Erm, Ma’am?”

Regina sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Pressure was a hideous bitch goddess… but first impression instincts were clearly not working. “This will be number 4. So think twice before doing anything stupid, yeah?”

To her surprise a few of them laughed as they did a last-second gear check. The room suddenly dropped six inches, sending three grown men straight to the floor and staggering everyone else. At the rear of the chamber, a light above the door ceased blazing steady red and flashed bright yellow.

That felt… different.

“Alright, keep cool. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. 15 seconds to insertion, let’s move.”

Regina bolted straight for the back door, compulsively checking a chamber she knew damn well by now had a tranq round ready. She hadn’t even bothered with her rifle this time, at least. Patterson sidled up beside her and leaned against the door jam, a little too smooth.

“You gonna be alright up front, Cap?” he asked as he drew his own tranq gun and checked its chamber.

“Ain’t my first rodeo,” she said, eyes on the light.

“Never is, is it?” he said chuckling. “Thanks, by the way. I know you didn’t have to tell us but…”

Regina felt her eyes soften as she looked at him and really saw him for the first time in maybe a year. A warm thing happened in her belly and she put a hand on his arm. “This is going to suck.”

Patterson smirked at her and punched her shoulder playfully. “Always does.”

Blake groaned. “Will you two quit being so fucking cute?”

The door opened. Regina drew. Three darts found the necks of three waiting security specialists on the far side.

Even, Steven.

Wordless, the six unmarked tactical black uniforms piled out from behind what the rest of the world surely thought was an elevator door and into the hallway as the bulkhead beyond slammed closed like a steel casket.

“There’s three on the far side and they’ve got a goddamn cannon in there, so stay clear of the door. Blake, right hand bottom. You’ve got two minutes.” She darted over to the rough stone wall and pasted herself to it. Four other bodies did the same, while a fifth moved low and fast to the right of the jam, and began to cut.

Alright, keeping pace, up to 3 minutes for the cut, 42 seconds until the shot, and maybe another shot 10 seconds after that?

“Stay low, everyone. Blake, how long?”

“‘Bout a minute and a half, give or take 10 seconds.”

A bullet ripped through the door and showered the team in hot metal droplets, but to little effect. The color drained out of Regina’s face as another shot blasted through a half inch of solid steel and ricocheted off the grate of the floor.

“WHOA! You weren’t kidding about that cannon!” Patterson hollered, pressing himself harder against the wall of the passage and whooping in excitement.

It’s too early. Thirty seconds too early. This isn’t right.

“Blake! When that panel is open, clear away,” Regina ordered. “I’m gonna short the door.”

“I know wiring, I can do it,” Blake said as the third round blasted through the door and hot metal cut through the flesh of his right arm. He hissed, and stopped cutting for only a moment to make sure it hadn’t hit anything too important, then lowered his goggles and got back to work.

“Watts ain’t exactly my given name, kid!” she hollered back. White hot metal bloomed through the face of the door and tore a hole clean through the back of the transit room on the other end of the passage. Blood had been spilled once already. The clock in Regina’s mind ticked mercilessly forward. ”I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Move aside!”

Blake waved one hand backward at her as the torch belched its way through steel like tough butter. “Yes, ma’am. Christ- 30 seconds.”

“Captain Watts!” one of the no-name faces on the far side of the hall yelled. A huge bullet ricocheted off the grate floor and sprayed hot metal shavings onto his face. “What the actual fuck are we up against?!”

Regina gritted her teeth. “I- I don’t know!” She stared at the swiss-cheese door and did everything she could to pry it open with her mind and see the other side as clearly as she had on the first pass. If something had changed, she should have changed- would have changed if not for the Loopy holding her so tightly to her own concept of past. Another shot hit a fluorescent fixture over head, sending sparks raining on the walk and putting out half of the lights in the passage. “This is wrong! They’re coming too quick. I think the string is starting to shift!”

“Panel open!” Blake yelled and rolled over to the far side of the passage, painting the wall with himself just in time for another bullet to bounce wildly around the room and glance off of his helmet. “FUCK!”

Regina dove for the open panel and reached inside, pulling up the wire harness with one hand and a pair of stripper cutters with the other. “Patterson, battery.” The strippers went in her teeth. A nine-volt tumbled through the air. Her hand snatched it down effortlessly as another shot whizzed by her face and tagged some poor fool behind her in the shoulder, tossing him back about three feet.

“Wh- FUCK. I’m hit.” He wasn’t just hit. A hole big enough for a golf ball to fly through had opened in his upper chest.

Strippers back out of her teeth, Regina distinctly heard herself ordering a medic to put a thoracic seal on the wound before his lungs collapsed. Heard it like someone else was saying it. Regina was too busy tracing wires in her mind to have said such a thing. Tugging. Listening to the tell-tale scrapes and taps of the wires in the floor and ceiling that could tell her what did what. With one cut, the keypad on the other side of the door went dark. With two more, slack returned to the gears holding the door in place. Stripping two ends, she came back to herself, and shorted the motor.

“PERFORTATE ‘EM.”

The portal swung free. Thunder erupted and a cloud of smoke belched metal hail through it and into whatever in hell lay waiting on the far side. After ten seconds she screamed herself hoarse for cease-fire. Five casings still in the air tinkled against the ground. Sulphur and sweat burned her nostrils. A body rounded the corner and this time it was Regina putting another Class-C right in her mark’s cheek.

Without words she bade them enter, fast. A 20 mm rifle lay smoking on the floor. Five bodies were strewn behind it, covered in tiny blue darts and dead asleep. Not a drop of blood anywhere. The security team would wake up in a stupor in about 30 hours with a bad case of dry mouth and no clue anything was wrong.

1 minute 57 seconds. That’s got to be some kind of record.

SCP-1968 was hard to look at. Not because it was gruesome or ugly, but because it was literally difficult to see through the thickening haze surrounding it. Regina could tell it was made of brass and sitting on the floor in the middle of a white containment unit, but there was nothing else she could make out. In any other circumstance, she might have noticed the burnt bacon smell of the tips of her right fingers, or the rivulet of blood running down her cheek. But this wasn’t any other situation. She glanced at her watch. It was running backward.

“We have a problem.”

“What?” Patterson asked, glancing at his wrist. “No. NO. Are we too late?!”

Regina shook her head. “We still exist,” she said, still staring at the watch face. Any count here would be meaningless. At least 45 seconds was lost already on 4 loops. Things were definitely shifting… “Fuck it. I’m not risking it.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a black smoke without looking at it and lit up.

“No WAIT!” Patterson screamed.

Time. Stopped.

And then slowly, tentatively, with neither resistance nor demand, it began to inch forward again.

“Relax,” Regina said, her voice echoing through her head and the room as if it belonged to someone else at the bottom of a long, dark well. “I … can … still … move … forward.”

Patterson closed his eyes for what felt like an hour before opening them. It was a blink. “O … Kay. What … now?”

“That’s not supposed to happen,” Dr. Xyank said, bringing a tower of paper from behind his desk and grabbing the first packet. “In fact, I’m skeptical that it did happen.”

Lieutenant Robbie Watts ran fingers backward through his hair and scratched the back of his scalp. “I’m telling you what I see. I smoke one, orient, and just… see everything from the last look to 11 minutes and 20 odd seconds ahead.. ”

Dr. Xyank shrugged, licked his thumb, and started speed reading through it. Watts had never seen a pair of eyes move that fast in his life. “Well… You’re either hallucinating… or you’re confabulating… or just plain mistaken.” Twenty pages of text read in thirty seconds, he stacked them neatly, signed the last page, and dropped it in the outbox. “What you saw is impossible.”

Robbie scoffed. “Beg your pardon, sir, but I reckon you forgot where we work,” he said, knee jumping madly just out of sight.

The doctor behind the desk sighed, stopped his paperwork, and pulled the glasses from his face, rubbing the bridge of his nose with both hands. “Listen. Watts. I like you. You’re clearly very talented, but SCP Four-” he paused. “‘Loopy’? Is that what Marcus called it? It was designed to do a very specific task. That is: stop and reverse cognitive tachyon flux. Conscious control of the direction of awareness? That’s something you’ll have to prove.”

“You already know I can’t.”

“Do I?” Xyank asked, putting his glasses back on and leaning back in his chair. “Alright, tell me how I know that.”

“Any information I retrieve from the future of this conversation can’t change the course of it. I can’t make changes unless I go back to last looks.” he said. “Maybe no one reported it because they didn’t see it as useful, I don’t know.”

Xyank tried to stifle a laugh, but could not. “Oh yeah? How do you know that?”

Robbie frowned and raised a burning cigarette above the sightline of the desk, presenting it emphatically to his suddenly very nonplused and rapidly fuming boss.

Dr. Xyank snatched the cigarette from Robbie’s hand and dropped it into his glass of water. Never breaking eye contact, he extended his left hand. “Pack.”

Robbie put both hands up next to his face. “I fucking told you so.”

Xyank’s right hand jumped to a memorized spot beneath the surface of his desk. There was an audible metallic click. “PACK.”

Watts sighed and hung his head, pulling the black package from his jacket pocket and putting it into Xyank’s trembling, furious hand.

“Get the fuck out of my office and report to site security. Now.”

Resigned, Robbie stood from his chair and did a proper about face out the door, down the hallway, and around the corner to where the security kiosk awaited just before the elevator.

The phone at the kiosk rang and the guard answered it. Rapidly, he stood and held up his hand toward the stone-faced lieutenant.

“Robert Watts?”

“Yup, that’s me.”

“I’m sorry sir, I can’t let you leave.”

Robbie smirked, and raised his hands over his head, laced his fingers together, and turned around, just in time to see a research scientist in glasses and a white coat running down the hallway toward him, a suspicious black box in his left hand. “Wait! Stay right there!” Ten seconds crawled by on the back of a snail as Robbie closed his eyes and dropped to his knees, savoring the last moments before everything would happen. He opened his eyes, and spent a mental hour studying the confusion on Thaddeus Xyank’s stupid face as his world rattled at its foundation and a new and obvious piece of the mental puzzle suddenly locked into place.

“…Watts, how did you know no one else had reported it?”

“Would you believe ‘a woman’s intuition’?” Watts asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Xyank’s eyes widened by about seven inches before he finally broke, pressed his lips together, and did everything in his power to hide the smile in his eyes. “Really? This moment? This is when you’re gonna tell me?”

Regina Watts shrugged and grinned sheepishly up at her boss’s face. “…Surprise!”

The first thing that she noticed was that the future stopped dead 5 minutes and 37 seconds in front of her in a bright blaze of light. The second thing she noticed was an unfortunate upcoming realization about the room they were standing in. But it was number three that brought her attention back to the frozen present.

Regina Watts was about to save the world.

A rush of emotion loosened her grip, and moments rolled forward.

“That can’t be right,” Regina said, suddenly pale. “He… He never said…”

He said you were the only one who could do it. That’s what he said. That cold bastard.

“Jesus, Cap,” Patterson chuckled. “Shit must be pretty far-out.” Patterson squatted on the floor and retrieved the bocce-ball sized XACTS Mk2 from his pack, hooked a small carabiner onto a latch on the body, tied a cord to it, and began the startup routine when he looked up. “Oh… Oh, hell no…”

Regina followed his gaze upward. The ceiling was no less than 20 meters away, straight up in the air.

For all its usefulness in creating a human-sized bubble of space in which an individual could weather out the effects of temporal dilation, causal tampering, or rapid tachyon decompression, the XACTS Mk2 was perhaps best described by its limitations. First, the device’s field of effect cannot be smaller or larger than 2 m in radius. Second, the power output of the device cannot produce an active field of greater strength than 1.02 watts. Third, due to tachyon flux interference with the stable operation of electronics, the device cannot be configured for self powered flight. In layman’s terms? Causal isolation requires at minimum, 4 units in tetrahedral formation around an object, at a range of 2 meters from one another to prevent mutual interference, and to raise the field strength to the 4 watts necessary to halt tachyon flow in the desired region.

Normally, this isn’t much of a problem for objects or people inside of buildings. One needed only hang the fourth device from the ceiling and lower it until the fields reached alignment. If there was no ceiling, the object, in any other circumstance, could be quickly moved to a more suitable location until isolation could be established.

This was not any other circumstance. Touch the donut, end the world. Someone was going to have to get trapped inside with it.

“…Set up units one through three,” Regina ordered, and dropped her pack from her shoulders. She pulled the last of the Loopy into her lungs, and pulled a regular old pack of Camels from her left back pocket.

The rest of the squad stared at her, frozen, while she stared at the ceiling and lit up.

“I’ll do it,” Blake said. Lightning fast he doffed his helmet and dropped his gear, pulling nothing from it but a tiny, worn Bible.

“Like hell you will,” Regina said, finally pulling her unit out of her backpack and booting it up.

Martin Patterson grabbed her by the wrist and pulled back. “Reggie, you don’t-”

“Oh get fucked, Marty,” she said, and jerked her arm out of his grasp. The others were quiet and stock still. It was nothing like the flurry of activity she had ordered to take place immediately. “Listen up, monkeys, here’s what’s good. Fuck your chivalry, fuck your conscience, and fuck your grief. I am your Captain, and this is the god-damned Nightingale. The gig is down there at the end of the hallway. Your standing order is to activate and place units one through three and go the fuck home.”

“You can loop back, we can-”

“We can what, Sergeant?” Regina demanded, locking her eyes on Patterson’s stupid, adorable face. “Come back in for round 5 with 20 men and a vulcan autocannon behind the door? Have this argument again with three of us already dead? No thank you. Now I believe I’ve given you specific instructions on this matter, yeah?”

Sergeant Martin Patterson closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath. “Yes, ma’am. You all heard the Captain, get those sinks set up double-plus quickwise. And Freedman, get Patel back to the transit room, will you? He’s turning blue, for god's sake.”

In solemn silence they assembled a triangular frame on the floor, and centered it around the foggy brass object in the middle. Each of three remaining men set their sink for isolation, made the final adjustments on the alignment while Regina sat on her haunches and smoked her last cigarette.

The work done, Patterson ordered the others off, and sat on the ground next to her, puffing air out of his lips as he watched the brass ring on the floor warp and shimmer. “How long have you got?”

Regina closed her eyes and opened them in a motion that must have looked to him like blink. “About two minutes.” She stood up, dialed in the last settings on her sink, and set it to ready. “You better get on.”

“Listen, Reggie, I know I wasn’t the best when you-”

Regina held her hand up, sparing him nothing more than a glance. “You shoulda had this conversation when it would have made a difference.”

He grabbed her, wrapped his arms around her waist, and kissed her full on the mouth. In spite of herself, Regina melted into it, if only for a moment. She stood still in that instant for as long as she could bear, savoring the memories, the sensations, the fullness of every moment that meant something and several thousand moments that didn’t.

But time can only stand still for so long in any life, and she had already taken more than her share.

Regina put a hand on his chest and pushed him back away. “Go.”

Martin opened his mouth to say one last thing, but managed only a curt nod as he grabbed his gear and booked it out of the containment cell, down the passage, and into the transit room at the far end. In less than a millisecond, the elevator was back, and the room had never existed.

The sorrow left with him, and in its place a grim determination blossomed in her chest. Bootfall echoed on a concrete floor. Three electronic beeps sounded as a tiny bit of electronic esoterica in her hand sprang to life. Stradling SCP-1968, she held her hand above her head, and switched the field on.

The object began to glow. And grow. And morph and twist and writhe and wriggle as the rest of the world around her red-shifted into darkness.

That’s right, you little brass bastard, come get you some. Gonna be real fuckin hard to unmake the whole world when you and me are the only ones in it.

The ring expanded, enveloped her, spun in spirals of light in silence around her body. Her fingers were numb to the point of pain and her lungs burned with the smoke left in them from her final drag but she stood, stock still, waiting for her reality to collapse. Just a few more seconds and the ring would fall dormant, and then she and her sinks would cease to be, leaving nothing but an empty containment unit and an un-fucked history of the Planet Earth behind them.

It would be over. She could be done.

However, throughout the multiplicity of timelines in which humans have, do, or will exist, there arises a certain proverb regarding the effectiveness of planning and the futility thereof. While this was not on Regina’s mind, apparently the universe had learned it well through repetition, and commenced to assert its truth.

A presence appeared in front of her. Mere inches in front of her. Close enough that she could smell its sweat and feel its breath and even the stubble growing out of its cheek. Immediately in front of her stood one haggard, pale, emaciated, and bleeding Dr. Thaddeus Xyank.

One hand grabbed her by the shirt as he staggered forward. The other was busy clutching a rapidly expanding red spot in his side. His eyes darted back and forth between hers like bottle rocket lightning as he gasped, coughed, and smiled.

“Reggie… Oh, thank goodness. I… I fucked up. I need help. You have to call-”

He leaned forward, exhausted, and before she could push him back, she felt her feet slip and she began to fall.

“No! Xyank, you idiot! - ”


“ - YOU’RE GONNA KILL US ALL!”

Confusion. Unreality. A rock of pain lodged in her skull directly behind her right eye. Regina cringed against the pain and brought a hand to her face as she panted, moaned, and curled over herself in the darkness.

“Mmm… Reggie?” a voice beside her said sleepily. A man’s voice. Martin Patterson’s voice. “You okay, babe?”

The pain slowly faded and her eyes adjusted to the dark of the room. Her room. Fifth floor, Site-17, staff dormitory. A Sig Sauer and a pack of Camels on the nightstand. A picture of the two of them in Cabo the previous winter. She and Marty were taking a home-tour on an SCP project where a spot had just opened up.

It was a dream.

She rubbed some sleep out of her eyes and grabbed the smokes off of the nightstand, lighting one up. “Yeah… yeah I’m alright. Just a dream.”

“Sounded like a bad one,” Marty said, sitting up and yawning. “What about?”

She pressed her mind backward into unconsciousness to try and grab a sliver of it. But all that was left was this feeling of urgency, of wrongness, of sudden inescapable doom. She turned and put her feet on the cold laminate floor and took a long drag. “I dunno. Some end-of-the-world bullshit, I guess. Y’know. Any given Tuesday.”

Marty scoffed, sliding next to her and rubbing her shoulder. “Job’s a real fucker on the head, ain’t it?”

Regina smiled and leaned back to kiss his cheek. “You might say that. You’d be right, too.”

Her phone rang in the nightstand drawer, and the realization she was still on call smashed through all other considerations. 0329 on the 25th of April, 2027. Hell of a way to start a Sunday morning.

“Watts here.”

Reggie! It’s Kitterman. Sorry for waking you.

Marty started kissing her neck. She rolled her eyes and pushed him off. “You didn’t, it’s alright. What’s good?”

You know that set of Dash-Ones we got down on Sub Level 5?” her boss answered, his voice equal parts exhaustion and excitement. “Well they… They want to talk. Forty-one A just banged his fist into the cell door until his guard answered him and asked for you by name.

“No… No way. Right now? Literally right now?”

Cameras are on their way down now. How soon can you be here?

Regina looked back at Marty who was wearing the most annoying pair of puppy dog eyes she had seen in a year and shook her head, standing and grabbing the first pair of pants she could find in the dark. “I dunno, five, maybe 10 minutes?”

Awesome. Thanks, Reggie. I owe you one.

“You owe me a hell of a lot more than that, Marc. See you soon.” She hung up the phone and pulled on her pants and socks and a rough pair of boots in the dark, making sure to grab a non-offensive black t-shirt to wear under her lab coat. “Go back to sleep Marty, I got work.”

He moaned, slumping back on the mattress. “Can someone else do it like, even one time?”

“Okay, smartass, why don’t you get dressed and go talk to a Skip for the next few hours?” Regina asked raising her eyebrows as she clipped on her keycard.

“Interest… fading… can’t… stay… awake!” he joked, collapsing onto the pillow and closing his eyes in a mock snore.

“That’s what I thought.” She clipped the pistol to her belt under the coat, and headed for the door.

“Hey Reggie?”

“Hm?”

“… I love you,” Marty said, looking at her sweetly.

She smiled and blew him a kiss. “Love you, too. Bye!”

The hallway was empty and eerily quiet as she walked for the elevator doing a final check that she had everything. Wallet. Keycard. Pistol. Smokes. …Hang on, there was something else. Looking down she realized she was in her tac pants, which were, frankly, not ideal, but would do alright for black pants in a pinch. But the concern wasn’t the pants, it was the conspicuous presence of a certain impossible third back pocket, within which was a certain black pack of cigarettes.

The fuck? I haven’t run a loop in like 18 months. I’d have been fired by now if I hadn’t turned these in.

As the elevator dinged and she stepped in, a weight pressed hard on her chest and simply would not lift. Carefully, fearfully, she opened the box.

…Sixteen left.


Part 9: Publish or Perish | Hub | Part 11: To be announced…

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