Yesterday
rating: +68+x

3/1/2020

The world was burning.

Alto Clef watched the fires from the relative safety of Site-67. Black and green fire. Some kind of an odd chemical reaction from thirteen breached SCPs. The fires covered the midwestern United States already. More outbreaks in the Russian tundra, in a few African cities, and in the Atacama desert. Some sort of shitty anomalous chain reaction.

Yet, Foundation contingency plans were working. Remarkably, most of the news reports had been suppressed. A few towns had to be gassed with amnestics. Full containment was anticipated within forty-eight hours.

Clef had heard Overwatch was suddenly pouring resources into repairing SCP-2000. He didn't expect that to work. He'd been spearheading the effort to fix 2000 for over a decade already. Still, the fact that they were trying…

His new assistant buzzed him. "O5-12 has arrived to see you," she said.

Clef missed Adams. Little had been the same after her death, since the failure of Alpha-9 years back. The new people they assigned him couldn't hold a candle to her.

"Tell him to fuck off," Clef said.

"Sending him in now," his assistant replied. Okay, maybe she was a little bit like Adams.

Clef waited, watching the fires burn. Some part of him wanted to be out there, finding out the truth, doing something about this. But for better or worse, that 'some part' had mostly been beaten into submission.

Twelve entered, uncharacteristically alone.

Clef didn't bother turning around to greet him. "So what the hell do you want?"

"Is this how you talk to all the O5s?" Twelve didn't sound like Twelve.

Clef turned. His eyes narrowed in recognition. "You."

"Ha," Twelve said. "I told them you'd recognize me… No one ever listened to me, though. Especially not since my promotion."

"Uh-huh," Clef said. "Wish I could say it was good to see you." It wasn't.

"I won't waste your time," Twelve said. "The Council's calling in its last favor."

Clef stared at him. He was surprised, to his surprise. "What? Seriously?"

"After this? If you want, you're out. That was the deal." Twelve leaned forward, taking a piece of paper from his pocket. He offered it to Clef.

Twelve handed him a piece of paper. Clef read it. It was a list of names. Handwritten. His gut twisted. Or, at least, he liked to think that it did.

"Like hell I'm gonna do this," he said.

"Of course you are," Twelve said. "Can't bullshit me, Clef. You know I hate to do this to you. You know I wouldn't ask you if it didn't have to be done."

"Fuck you. You can't bullshit me either… Twelve." Clef sneered through the word. "You bastards wouldn't be doing this if it weren't the capital E-Endgame. So don't tell me I get out after this. There's not gonna be a place for me to get out to after this is done." Clef waved the piece of paper back and forth. "This is a laundry list of key Foundation personnel. You don't kill them all and still have a Foundation. We both know what that means."

"No O5s on there," Twelve said. "Not most of 'em, anyway… Heh."

"Fuck the O5s," Clef said. "And fuck you."

Twelve laughed a mirthless laugh.

Clef looked at the list again, taking in all the names. He paused towards the bottom. "Your people fucked up here. Kondraki's been dead for a decade. Gears shot him in the head."

Twelve just smiled.

"Fuck."


The first target was Dr. Andrews "Drewbear" Bjornsen. A "specialist in anomalous psychologies and societal abnormalities". High security clearance, but hadn't done much with it besides work on a lot of less well-known SCPs.

Bjornsen was extremely normal for a highly-ranked Foundation researcher. Well-liked. Professional. Stable. Hell, maybe that alone qualified him for assassination.

Clef found himself, unwillingly, wondering why Overwatch wanted him to do this. Not the assassinations, but these particular assassinations. This list was mostly high-ranking researchers, but it was far from everyone relevant. Clearly, the list had been curated. Why? How? Why put someone like Bjornsen on it?

He did have a penchant for appalling sweater vests.

That morning, Bjornsen was found dead on the floor of his apartment bedroom in 19's housing complex. He'd died peacefully of carbon monoxide poisoning, but his bedroom walls were splashed in fake blood. His sweater vests were hung in the room around him accusingly. Hideous Christmas designs. Eyeball-shattering fluorescents. Terrible paisley patterns galore. A note:

YOU'VE PUSHED US TOO FAR, BEORNSEN!
THIS IS A WARNING TO ALL THE FOUNDATION'S CRIMINALS.
REPENT, OR FACE THE SAME FATE.


The next was Director Karlyle Aktus. He'd known Aktus a long time — from a distance. Aktus was famous/infamous for his loyalty to Overwatch. Not loyal enough to get off the list, apparently.

Clef decided he needed to be more subtle with this one. A pattern was going to form fairly quickly, all these deaths of high-clearance Foundation personnel. No reason to give the game away this early.

Thankfully, the solution was simple. Aktus had already been dying of leukemia for years. O5 Command had been providing him with meds, though they'd refused to give him anything too good. They could've offed Aktus at any point themselves.

Since they'd assigned it to Clef… it was simple enough to slightly adjust the scheduled treatment dosage, cover it up with some standard paperwork, and move on to the next target. Director Aktus was dead by evening.


After that, Director Kate McTiriss. No stranger to controversy, which Clef respected. She'd lobbied hard for the expansion of the Foundation's technical journals, back in the day, used to a certain level of rigor and standardization from her days as a UIU press coordinator.

To keep up the smokescreen phase, Clef kept it simple. He poisoned her coffee and forged some notes from her old friends at the UIU. That wouldn't make sense to investigators, but that was the point.


Clef moved quick. He had to, to keep up this angel of death bullshit long enough to get through the list. Not quick enough to be sloppy, but close.

Ralph Roget was killed in a containment breach chalked up to his own incompetence. Zyn Kiryu died to her own butterflies when her expertly constructed control mechanisms failed simultaneously. Avery Solace, swallowed by a shadow. Rose Labelle, a tragic programming accident. Quikngruvn Halifax, a tragic paperwork accident. Maria Jones drank herself to death. Django Bridge died of loneliness. Or, at least, that's the best anyone could figure out. Check, check, check, check, check…

More deaths after these. And more. Some tiny part of Clef felt ashamed that it was so easy. He'd been preparing for something like this for most of his life.

Chelsea Elliott, botanical treatments poisoned, consumed by the tiny sun inside her. Simon Glass, offed by an agent who claimed to be fine, until he wasn't. Everett Mann, talked into killing his own fool self by allowing him to carry out one of his especially stupid mad scientist projects. A decommissioning, technically. Trivial, without Lament around anymore.

Even Jack Bright went down surprisingly easy — his amulet launched right into the sun. Clef found himself hoping that the man could finally rest, then realized that he was rationalizing his actions. Trying to mentally comfort himself for what he was doing. Fuck. He was getting soft. He'd killed people before, even friends, when it became necessary. This was the same thing. Just on a larger scale. Right?

Clef looked at the shortened list, reading the next name, grimacing. Fuck.


Clef found Gears sitting placidly in his director's office. There was a gun on the desk next to him.

Clef hesitated.

"Hello, Doctor," Gears said. "I received a communique from O5-1 this morning."

"…Gears," Clef said.

Gears held up a hand. "There is no need to explain. I have been briefed on your mission, and I understand its necessity. I realize you are here to carry out my scheduled execution. My affairs are in order. I have done the same for Doctor Crow. I would have carried out the deed myself, but I was informed the process needed to be executed either directly or indirectly by you."

Clef tried to say something, but the words didn't come out.

Gears took this as an indication to continue. "Additionally, I have created a video message explaining that I am part of a suicide pact involving one or more other Foundation members. This should help temporarily disguise the nature of the assassinations you are presently carrying out. If my account is believed, suspicion will not fall on you for an extended period of time."

Gears opened his desk and took out a sealed package. "I also understand that you will require assistance with one of your final targets. This package contains the coordinates for the current location of Dr. Kondraki."

Clef took a long time to reach out and take the package.

"I do have a last request." Gears stood and pressed a vial into Clef's hand. "For Kain. He wished me to tell you that this is a concoction of his own design, which will bring him a happy death." Gears picked up an envelope. "He left a message for you, to say goodbye."

"I don't understand."

"I've already put him into a coma," Gears said. "His request. He didn't want you to have to see him when you did this. His body is in a closed kennel with an IV hook up. You need only insert this into the IV."

"Jesus Christ, Gears," Clef said.

"Kain requested that I do something similar, to alleviate the emotional effects on you, but I judged that this would arouse more immediate suspicion. It would counter my attempt to buy you more time. I apologize if this causes you more difficulty."

Clef read Kain's message. He resisted wiping his eyes. Gears' gaze remained unmoved as always.

"Goodbye, Gears," Clef said. "You were the best of us. See you on the other side."

"Goodbye, Doctor," Gears said. "It has been a pleasure."

And even though there was no change in expression, inflection, or tone, Clef found himself desperately hoping Gears was being honest and genuine when he spoke — a pleasure.

Clef raised the gun.


Kain's death was quiet, peaceful, Clef told himself, just the way he'd always wanted to go.

It didn't make a difference.


After Kain, Researcher Blaire Roth was next on the list. Clef read her name and felt like a dick. He knew Roth. He'd gone to her quite a few times for help. She ran a lot of teams and had a high clearance level to match. She was officially just a Foundation veterinarian, but she also worked extensively with Disinformation — like most people who wrote death certificates. The kind of researcher who constantly got work piled on her, with none of the recognition. Though being on the O5 hit list was more recognition than most people.

The way to kill her was obvious. He felt terrible, but he did it.

He set up Kain's death to look like Roth accidentally switched medicine doses. She was already emotionally compromised from the news of other deaths — it was a believable mistake.

She hung herself in her bedroom, from one of the ceiling fans they still had some of the older housing complexes.

There was a note. Clef made the note good. It was the least he could do.


The list had gone from arm to wrist in length. Only a few names left, and next was the disgraced Director of Site-19. Tilda David Moose. The ex-Serpent's Hand witch.

Clef had never cared for Moose — not really. The people who screamed that she should still been contained with the rest of her kind had been quietly cowed and silenced by now, mostly. Clef had his own misgivings about her — not because of her being a Type Blue, but because of the fundamental personality flaws that she married with being a Type Blue.

Still, in the end, he came down on the side of apathy. It would have been a fruitless fight. The ones who got to make that kind of decision had made it before Clef had known it was happening.

Besides. Clef was supposed to be The Arrogant One.

When Clef arrived at Site-19, he found Director Moose barricaded inside the Control Center, her face plastered on a security monitor outside, waiting and watching.

Clef didn't speak. He knew the silence would annoy her into acting first. Moose was impatient. Drank the new wines instead of waiting for them to mature. (Metaphorically. He'd never seen her drink. Too paranoid, in that peculiarly self-centered way you saw in certain directors.) And no amount of carefully organized planning could prevent someone impatient from acting prematurely. He hoped.

The silence won in less than fifteen seconds. "I know why you're here," Moose said.

"Sure you do," Clef said.

Her smile was forced. "The world's ending."

Clef shrugged. "Yeah. Kind of figured."

Moose's eyes shifted. "I still have friends in high places."

Clef didn't respond to ask who or why or where. He just waited for the trap to be sprung. There had to be a trap. This was too elaborate.

"You've left quite a trail of bodies on your way here," Moose continued. "Am I next on your list?"

After Gears, Kain, and Roth, Clef didn't feel like playing out the expected game. "I deny everything. But let's say you're right. How do you plan on stopping me? You're a rusty Type Blue, and I've bagged over three dozen Greens."

"Greens are always overconfident," Moose said.

Clef smirked, the first time he'd flexed those muscles in days. It felt strange on his face. "I've read your file. You're one to talk." Honestly, he hadn't been sure until he'd seen the screen setup. It wasn't just about Moose being able to see him. She had wanted to make sure that he could see her. It was the kind of Blofeldian bullshit that only someone that overconfident would have arranged.

"Maybe. But I know your history. I've examined every line of your files. And Dmitri told me all about you. Before you murdered him."

Hearing Dmitri's name from her mouth was a sucker punch. "Hey! Fuck you. Strelnikov was my friend… and more importantly, I had nothing to do with that."

"That's what they said about Kondraki," Moose said.

"No, they said Kondraki killed himself. And I didn't do that one either. Gears did."

"They gave me that story too."

The story about Strelnikov's death did sound like a cover-up, admittedly. A generic, routine security breach. A firefight with guards. Strelnikov caught a stray bullet, and died a few days later. A tragedy, easily avoidable. But it was the truth. The shitty, disappointing truth. If Moose blamed him for this, Clef considered, then other people did too. The thought didn't make him particularly happy, and it shouldn't matter, given what he was doing now. But it did.

"Whatever," Clef said. He was growing bored with waiting, which meant that Moose might have been more patient than he'd given her credit for. "If Dmitri told you so much, you should know wasting my time never helps. Are you coming out here, or am I blasting my way in?"

Moose seemed to think about that. "You know, back when I was in the Hand, some of you had these little nicknames. Doctor Blank. Rover. You can probably guess those. Did you ever overhear yours?" Clef yawned, but Moose didn't stop. "They used to call you God-Killer." Her upper lip curled a little. "So, God-Killer. Let's see how you deal with what the Hand called the God's Labyrinth."

The security monitors blinked off.

The doors to the control center opened. Clef cursed as he saw the blackness beyond it, reaching out.

He fell back, turning to hit the emergency locks to keep it — whatever it was — from spreading. No stars in the black meant it wasn't space, and the fact that it seemed to be moving meant it was either alive or near enough. The fact that it seemed to be reaching out meant he was probably going to be suggested, but Moose had named it, which gave him a tiny splinter of confidence.

Clef breathed deeply several times, oxygenating his blood in case there wasn't air, then dived through the opening. Better to get it over with after all.

Instantly, he was assaulted with the forced perception of extra dimensions. He was nowhere and everywhere, at one with space and time, yet apart and separate. A god and a speck of dust. The same old bullshit Dickens used to beat off to. His old implants flared to life and told him he'd been transported Somewhere Else. They'd been less helpful before, but not often.

The blackness slowly parted as he began to perceive again properly. Stone walls stretched before him, turning at impossible angles that he didn't stare at, moving eternally toward one of the several dozen horizons that surrounded him. Every time he looked away from one path to another, his perception shifted, and the paths completely reconfigured themselves.

Clef sighed. This was going to be irritating.

He mentally tugged, felt the strain of his ancient implants, some unused for a decades. And…

***

Moose stared at the Site-19 special security monitors. "No," she said. Her voice rose an octave. "No!"

Her guard stepped closer. "Ma'am?"

"It's nothing. Just…" She looked down at the runes written in polish on her nails. "Things are about to get… difficult."

"Why?"

"The son of a bitch has got a third eye."

***

It took Clef thirty minutes to emerge from the Labyrinth, and another hour to carve his way through the control center's defenses. It was all standard, unmodified and ill equipped to stop someone who'd had a hand in designing them.

He shot the last guard, sighing, and stepped through the door into the observation center. Moose was waiting for him, looking dramatic. Always dramatic, everything a trial, an ultimate final confrontation. Why so much stress? It was just murder, after all.

Clef took a moment to reload his gun while she stood them, glancing up at her expression. She was smiling. Without feeling behind it.

"You look like Lament," Clef said.

The smile faded. "Thanks…?"

"Not a compliment." Clef paused, spinning the cylinder as he finished reloading. There. Dramatic, just for her. He asked the question he knew she wanted. "Why aren't you running?"

"It's nothing." Momentarily, she looked genuinely disturbed. "Just… I got the report. Just now. About Gears."

Clef said nothing.

"A Foundation suicide pact? That's not really your style, but… It was you. I know it was you." She waited for confirmation that never came. "If you can get Gears, you can get me. I could fight, and I could hurt you, but I'd lose. So I'd rather ask you a question instead."

"No promises," Clef said.

"Why are you doing this?"

Clef chuckled bitterly. "Didn't he tell you?"

"Didn't who tell me?"

Clef didn't answer.

"Well," she said. "I guess I'm even better at alienating people than I thought."

Clef shrugged. "Any last words? Those are kind of sub-par."

Moose inclined her head, managing to put on a haughty face for the moment. "Whatever your reasons," she said, "you'll live to regret this."

"No offense," Clef said, feeling the exhaustion of the moment finally weighing on him, "but I had to kill all my surviving friends today. You? I'll forget about killing you before dinner."

She actually looked hurt by that. Jesus. Some people.

Clef raised his gun and shot Moose in the head.

He didn't even pretend to be surprised when the illusion dissipated. He holstered his gun, then tugged the list out of his pocket, glancing around the control room for a pen. Site-19 always had the best pens.

***

Outside Site-19, Moose slid into an ancient, unwashed Honda. Her fingernails were burned through, the flesh beneath them blistered and aching, but that would fade. She was confident that she hadn't been followed, but she checked the magical tripwires anyway, just in case.

Nothing. No traces of magic besides hers from in the past three weeks, minimum.

Moose let herself breathe. It wasn't easy to outsmart Alto Clef. But it was sometimes possible.

Shame about how this all turned out. The last few years… things didn't have to go this way. Things weren't supposed to go this way. Somewhere along the line she'd fucked up — they'd all fucked up, slowly, silently, irretrievably.

No point dwelling. Time to drive off into the sunset, make a last-ditch attempt to stop the oncoming end of the world, and fix this before the Council had Clef break it irrevocably. This was why she'd joined the Foundation, and she'd be damned if her story ended like this.

She raised her hand, lowering the sun visor and grabbing the spare key, then started the engine.

The car was engulfed instantly in a ball of fire and flame.


After that, it was simple enough for Clef to follow the coordinates Gears had given him for Kondraki. The area was way out in the middle of nowhere, way off the grid. Like he'd expected.

Clef made his way through the perimeter in the wee hours of the night. Kondraki had been here for years. He'd had time to make up some pretty complex traps. By the time Clef had finished, the world was awash in predawn light.

The reality cracks were still there, but they seemed more subtle: flashes in the sky, far away, nothing close. The sky was clear of clouds. The world seemed to be holding its breath.

There was a clearing in the trees. In the middle of the clearing, a shack. There was no easy approach, so Clef sighed, hefted his shotgun, and stepped out from the trees.

Music blasted across the clearing.

"YOU'RE WALKING IN THE WOODS," a voice sang. "THERE'S NO ONE AROUND AND YOUR PHONE IS DEAD. OUT OF THE CORNER OF YOUR EYE YOU SPOT HIM."

And a whisper: "Troy Lament."

The voice was Kondraki's.

Clef stood still in disbelief. The music continued.

"HE'S FOLLOWING YOU, ABOUT THIRTY FEET BACK. HE GETS DOWN ON ALL FOURS AND BREAKS INTO A SPRINT. HE'S GAINING ON YOU! — Troy Lament."

Clef tried to ignore the music to take in the situation. No good entry or exit points from the back of the shack. That wasn't like Kon. An underground bunker?

"HE'S ALMOST UPON YOU NOW, AND YOU CAN SEE THERE'S BLOOD ON HIS FACE. MY GOD, THERE'S BLOOD EVERYWHERE!"

Clef circled the shack cautiously, shotgun ready. He was surprised to realize he felt a little ill.

"RUNNING FOR YOUR LIFE FROM TROY LAMENT — HE'S BRANDISHING A KNIFE, IT'S TROY LAMENT — LURKING IN THE SHADOWS — SPECIAL AGENT SUPERSTAR TROY LAMENT — LIVING IN THE WOODS — TROY LAMENT — KILLING FOR SPORT — TROY LAMENT — CONTAINING ALL THE BODIES — ACTUAL CANNIBAL TROY LAMENT —"

Clef rounded the shack to see the front door. Hanging wide open.

Oh.

Kondraki wasn't here. He'd been forewarned, too. The shack was abandoned, except for the radio set in the middle of a table inside, blaring the music. Kondraki's recorded voice.

"DREAMS ABOUT HIS FAMILY, TROY LAMENT — DOESN'T KNOW HIS REAL NAME, TROY LAMENT — SHOULD'VE SHOT HIMSELF LIKE ICEBERG — DOES HIS JOB TOO WELL, TROY LAMENT — FETISH FOR CONTAINMENT — TROY LAMENT — REACHING THE TOP — DIRECTOR LAMENT — STILL HE CAN'T BE HAPPY — BRAINWASHED FOUNDATION PATSY TROY LAMENT —"

Then Clef noticed a shadow twitch. He sighed and stepped into the shack.

The shadow moved, quickly — and Kondraki stepped into the light. In one smooth motion, he ripped the shotgun from Clef's hands.

"Sit the fuck down!" Kondraki yelled. And then, immediately — "You're not Lament."

"Nope," Clef said dryly.

Kondraki reached over and switched off the music. "They sent you? Didn't think they'd have the balls. Figured it would be Lament. Best agent they actually consider expendable."

Clef shrugged. "You're looking well, Kon."

"Keeping healthy," Kondraki said. "Hunt and gather. Strict workout regimen." He patted his stomach. "Important for living on the run. Gotta stay healthy. Always." He frowned. "You let me take your gun."

"You were dead." Clef found himself strangely choked up. "Gears shot you in the head. Gears. He never makes an error. I was at your goddamn funeral. I saw the body. I filled your goddamn corpse full of lead, Kon."

"I heard," Kondraki said. "Hear tell you missed most of the shots, too. Just like you. You're changing the subject."

"Dunno what you're—"

"No," Kondraki said. "I know you, I know you. You'd never have fallen for a trick like that, not in a million years."

"And you think Lament would have?"

"Of course he would have. He wouldn't have expected me to be stupid. Reverse psychology, you know? Works every time."

"So you were planning to… out-stupid Lament?"

"Yeah." Kondraki didn't seem to think there was anything odd about that sentence.

"But you couldn't out-stupid me. Okay."

"Why'd you let me take your gun?"

"I didn't let you," Clef said. "Just getting rusty in my old age."

"You see it all, Clef. Everyone knows that. Like it's a story from a book." Kondraki nodded. "Yeah, that's right. You know what I'm talking about. Your real secret. You told me yourself. All but told me anyway. Can't believe I thought you were the Devil. You'd never aim that low."

Clef shrugged, and waited.

"You won't tell me anything? Fine." Kondraki motioned with the shotgun to the chairs at the table. "At least sit down, for a bit. Before I kill you."

Clef sat. Kondraki sat.

"You have a good singing voice," Clef said. "That song, though…"

"Rob Cantor," Kondraki said. "Internet meme. Lament would've got it."

"And you bothered to record all that. The music, too."

"Had time to prepare," Kondraki said. "Was gonna pump Lament for information. Thought it would be good to throw him off first. Then I'd hogtie him and leave him here, or maybe blow the whole damn shack up with him in it. Hadn't decided yet."

"Who told you?"

"You haven't told me jack, and you expect me to spill my guts? That ain't how this works, Cleffy. You know that."

"But you did have warning," Clef said. "Jesus, the Foundation's leaking like a sieve these days."

"It's the end of the goddamn world, Clef. They didn't tell you?" Kondraki laughed. "You didn't figure it out from all those tears in reality? How do you suppose the Foundation's gonna fix those, eh? If they could, they'd have done it by now. Nah, this is the end. For the Foundation, too."

"We've come back from worse," Clef said.

"Not this time." Kondraki leaned forward. "Everything falls apart. The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy loosed upon the world. You know how it goes."

"Never took you for a Yeats fan."

"Who the fuck is Yeats?" He didn't wait for an answer. "This is the end game, Clef! That's why they decided I had to go. Even if you don't get me, though, makes no difference. End of the world means the end of all of us. You and I, we're just lookin' to see who's going first."

"I assume that's me."

"Maybe." Kondraki leaned back. "You know, I wasn't gonna let that bastard Lament kill me. But you… This is how it should be. This is how it should properly end. The two of us, together." Kondraki glanced outside. "Pistols at dawn. Well, my pistol, your shotgun. You couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with a pistol. What do you say? Maybe one of us walks away, maybe neither of us walk away."

Kondraki stood up. He waved Clef away from the table. They walked outside.

The two men watched the sky in silence for a few minutes. The strange lightnings flickered, still far away, but closer now. A flare of light peeked over the horizon.

"Sun's rising, Clef," Kondraki said. "How about that. It's like it was meant to be."

Kondraki took a pistol out of his coat pocket, and handed Clef back the shotgun.

Clef pulled the trigger as soon as his fingers touched it, blasting Kondraki squarely in the chest. Kondraki flew backwards like a rag doll, his pistol going flying.

He didn't move.

Clef walked over to the body. Looked down. He raised the shotgun again, then lowered it.

"You should've put a bullet through my skull, Kon," he said. "Why couldn't you just…"

The body twitched. Kondraki moved, jerkily.

"Always knew…" Kondraki seemed to struggle to form the words, but the next few came out easily enough. "…you cared."

Clef crouched next to the dying man. He still kept hold of the shotgun. He was sympathetic, not stupid.

"What they made us…" Kondraki said. "We could have been more. We could have had real lives. We could have been people. But no… They ruined us. They made us legends… then tossed us aside once they didn't fuckin' need us anymore. You know what they made us do… what they're making you do now…" Blood spilled from the corner of his mouth. "It's not enough. It'll never be enough."

Clef waited.

"I…" Kondraki half-grinned. "I cared too, Clef. I always cared. So… there's one last thing you should know before I die."

Kondraki stared up at the sky, the lightning playing and dancing around a crack in reality, reflecting purple and green in his eyes as they lost focus.

And he was gone.

Clef waited a long time, after.

"Me too, Kon," he said.

There was gasoline in the shack. This time, he burned the body.


The world was truly ending. On the long drive to SCP-2000, even Clef's implants couldn't process half of what he was seeing. If it weren't for the reality anchors built into the rattling truck, Clef was sure he wouldn't have made it more than ten miles.

As it was, he was less than a mile short of the complex when he saw… something going on inside the truck itself. Possibly the concept of combustion breaking down. Or changing into something else. It gave him a headache, and he got out of the truck to walk instead.

Through his third eye, Clef saw a nameless thing striding parallel to the horizon. Coming. He was sickened by a deep sense of déjà vu. Or vecu. One of those.

You've seen this before. This is all happening again.

Clef didn't know where the thought was coming from. Was it some echo, preserved by his ever-unreliable protection from reality shifts? Was it simply grim imagination? A thought from the dying universe itself? All equally likely at a time like this.

A god with no name— no, not a god— nothing so directly comprehensible— but what do you call such a thing, if not a god?

Clef shook his head, trying to jostle the words out of his head. Best not to dwell on thoughts that may or may not be your own. Been through the desert on a god with no name… Fuck. He shook his head again, fighting to clear it, and shut down one of his perception filters to do it. Then, he started walking.

Within a hundred yards, things started to feel real again. SCP-2000 was still an oasis of stability in the fracturing world. Not because of 2000. Because of what was hidden beneath.

He still didn't know what that was. He guessed he was about to find out. Though by now he didn't really care that much about knowing.

Clef descended through the tower. There was one more name on the list.


A short suspension bridge led to the island at the center of the small sea.

The island floated in midair, above the sea, crowned by a massive, gleaming flower. Its half-closed petals were lattices woven of rainbow cords of light. The island itself was a mass of dark earth, with roots protruding here and there, as if the entire thing were plucked from a giant's flowerpot and placed gently in the middle of the empty air. The petals and roots were covered by glimmering designs: bright and shifting in the petals, golden-red on the roots. Words, in a script Clef didn't recognize. The scent of fresh, wet earth radiated through the place — omnipresent spring.

Standing at the railings, looking out at the sea, was O5-12.

No. Not O5-12. Not after all this. He'd call him by his name, or at least, the name the man had once come to embrace: Troy Lament.

As Clef walked closer, Lament didn't turn. His eyes remained locked on the hovering island, at the intricate weaving of roots and earth.

"It's something, eh?" Lament said.

"You weren't trying to fix 2000," Clef said. "You were making… whatever this is."

Lament chuckled. "Making it? Nah… This thing is older than our universe. Older than the universe before our universe. Older than the universe before our universe before our universe… You get the idea."

Clef shrugged. "What the hell is it?"

"We call it the Bloom," Lament said. "Our final backup plan. Best kept secret and all that, only this one is real. The workers are all mind-wiped as soon as they leave. No one knows about it except Overwatch. In this timeline at least." Lament pointed up at the dangling roots. "Figured those out yet?"

"Some kind of script, or a code," Clef said. "User manual?

"Damn. Good guess," Lament said. "But not quite. They're the activation requirements."

Clef frowned. "What requirements?"

Lament finally turned, meeting Clef's eyes. He pointed at the folder in Clef's hand.

Clef paused, looking down at it, back up, his brow creasing deeply. "You gotta be kidding me."

"Nope."

"Killing all these people — that was 'the activation requirements' for this… thing?" Clef said. "What the hell kind of fail safe requires serial murder?"

"Try not to think of it like that," Lament said. "If it helps, think of it as… removing the dangerous elements that could prevent activation. That's the way the old Twelve explained it to me, at least."

"In other words, total bullshit."

"That's what I said. The old Twelve just laughed at me." Lament looked at the flower. "Each of these roots and petals has a coded list of events that have to happen and people who have to die before the Bloom will let us use it. Requirements seem to be different in every timeline. Not always deaths, but always something…" Lament shrugged. "If it makes you feel better, we left the Foundation members for last. Could've fucked things up, but we were hoping to find another way… Any other way."

Clef played the slow game. He wanted to make sure, at least. Or soothe what was left of his conscience in some small way. "Way to do what?"

Lament sighed. "Don't ask questions you already know the answer to. You've noticed, Clef. Containment breaches… New anomalies… Conflict, wars, global destruction on a continental scale. All those Greens you've killed?" Lament gave him a pointed look. "Don't tell me you didn't notice."

"Notice what?"

"Come on. How many Greens usually pop up throughout history? A Saint here, a sorcerer there…"

"Jesus," Clef said.

"I was getting there."

"That isn't funny."

Lament smirked. "It was a little funny."

"Greens don't mean reality is fraying. Correlation isn't causation. I don't need to tell you this."

"But reality is fraying, regardless," Lament said. "Has been for a long, long time. Most of this, we had nothing to do with. When the first pieces started to untangle, we ignored it, but once it progressed… Overwatch actively started recruiting you from the Initiative. Now? The tapestry unravels. The stars are going out. Something else is coming in."

"ZK-Class end of reality scenario," Clef said. He was tired. So damn tired. "I thought that was just theoretical."

Lament chuckled. "No. You didn't."

"That's what's happening," Clef said. "How?"

Lament shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"I guess if you say it doesn't," Clef said. And really, it didn't. "So this Bloom will fix it?"

"Nope." Lament smiled, as if to apologize. Too late for that, though, Clef knew. "We can't fix reality. We can't stop what's coming. Not anymore. Not in this timeline, at least. What's coming is already here. You saw it, right? On the horizon? The wolf at the door. Someone used to call it the black moon come howling. You've been hearing it, haven't you? I have. I've been hearing it for a long time."

Clef rolled his eyes. "Get to the point, you melodramatic asshole."

Lament laughed, and it sounded genuinely amused for a moment before tapering off into a long silence.

"We're tapping out," Lament said. "Reseting reality. Rolling back the timeline. Like nothing ever happened."

"How many times?" Clef asked.

"What do you—"

"You know goddamn well what I mean," Clef said. "How many times have we done this before? How many timelines?"

Lament breathed deeply. "We don't know. Not even our archivist knows. We've only deciphered traces from a few timelines back. Beyond that… I know we weren't the first to use it." Lament stuck his hands in his pockets. "Speaking of which… You knew this was happening already, right? Heh. Partial reality protection's a bitch… I guess. Maybe you'll receive memories from this life at some point in your next incarnation."

"Fuck you, Troy," Clef said.

Lament barked a laugh.

Clef shook his head. "No. Seriously. Fuck you. I just murdered everyone I know and love while the world ends around me. For all I know, for all you really know, for the ten thousandth fucking time. I should be mad, I should be disappointed, but no, I'm just… I am done. I am so fucking done. I thought you were better than this. You were one of us! You knew what it's like, being in the room with the monster, knowing maybe there's no way out. And now, in the end, I find out you're marching in lockstep with the other O5s for — I assume — 'the greater good'. Just another puppet master tugging on the fucking strings. I never trust anyone — I trusted you. And for what?"

Lament just stood there and took it. He looked like he'd been expecting it, and the fact that he knew he was a disappointment took some of the wind out of Clef's sails.

"You were supposed to fix all this, Troy." Clef felt a new jagged edge to that old, familiar bitterness. "You were supposed to fix it."

"I'm sorry, man," Lament said. "For what it's worth… I tried."

Clef looked past Lament, at the alien flower.

"What if I refuse?" Clef asked. "What if I blow up this flower, and I don't reboot the world?"

Lament shrugged. "The world just ends. What do you think? Look, I know it's shit, but this is the curtain call, Clef. If there was a way out, believe me, I'd be taking it. But now… Just one thing left to do."

"And what's that?"

"Last name on the list," Lament said. He looked at the Bloom again, his eyes hardening for a brief moment, and then, he tugged the gun out of his shoulder holster and proffered it to Clef. "Prefer not the face, if you don't mind."

Clef took the gun from Lament. He checked the chamber to make sure a shell was loaded. Lament looked back at him, quietly waiting.

Clef rested the muzzle of the gun on the Lament's chest. "If I were one kind of bastard I'd shoot you in the balls. If I were another kind of bastard I'd shoot you in the face. Right now, I'm just tired. Go to hell."

Lament's laugh started dry, then ended wet, punctuated only by a soft, collapsing thud.


Clef walked up to the Bloom, reading the final instructions on the list. No more names. Just a flower at the end of the world.

There was a white notecard lying on the dirt as Clef approached.

Clef picked up the card. The message on it was in Lament's handwriting.

Hi, Clef. I lied. One more name on the list. Sorry.

Footsteps behind him. Clef turned—

The card exploded into foam in his hands, freezing him in place. Hard and cold things wound around his arms and legs. He looked down. Silver chains. Supernaturally animated.

A woman stood in front of him. She held a strange sidearm in one hand — Clef recognized it as a particle accelerator, a prototype that he hadn't realized was finished. In the other hand she held a thirteen-inch chef's knife.

Clef felt his guts twist. "Damn. God damn. I should've known." He glared at the woman. "You weren't on the list."

"Sloppy of them," she said. "Hello, Clef. My name is Sophia Light. You killed my ex-boyfriend. Prepare to die."

Clef pulled at the silver chains. "Appreciate the reference, but we both know what that knife does. Isn't this overkill?"

"For you?" Light chuckled. "Not hardly."

Clef grinned. "God. It's perfect," he said. "The last girl always kills the monster at the end."

"That she does," Light said.

"Most of the time," Clef added, furrowing his brow slightly.

Light nodded. "Most of the time."

Clef paused a moment. His mind ran through countermeasures, through escape opportunities, through second chances. Then discarded them, one after the other.

He opened his mouth to say something. Searched for what it was. 'Tell them I'm sorry' was as meaningless as 'Ask them to forgive me.' After all, most of them wouldn't be born at the point in time the universe might reset itself.

In the end, he decided to be self-serving.

"Recruit me slower next time. Don't let me get to know everyone if I have to do this again."

Light nodded again. "I understand."


The once and future O5-2 walked into the flower at the end of the world, and with one last look back, turned off the lights to the universe, and shut the door.

And then the sun went out.

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