Remember, Remember...

Remember, Remember…


Incident: AAFD-I-117, catastrophic cascade esoteric materials breach

Investigator: Nhung T. Ngo (clinical psychiatrist, Psychology and Parapsychology Section, Site-43)

<Transcript begins.>

Dr. Ngo: Please state your name and position for the record, sir.

Dir. McInnis: Allan James McInnis, Director, Site-43.

Dr. Ngo: You have been made aware of the purpose of these interviews, Director McInnis?

Dir. McInnis: Yes.

Dr. Ngo: Where were you when the breach began?

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Ngo: Sir?



8 September

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada

Twelve hours earlier

He was in his office loo, washing his hands, when the tinnitus began: a faint phantom ring, as occasionally visited him in the dead of night for a friendly reminder of his advancing mortality. Then it would be uniform, fleeting, and in both ears. This kept going, had a certain elusive rhythm, and was localized on the left.

It troubled him. He wasn't sure why, and that troubled him more.


As he squeezed the faucet shut, he thought he detected a soft ping within the inconstant tone. He clutched at his hand towel, wincing at the slimy texture of the soap he hadn't fully scrubbed off. Janitorial and Maintenance had recently replaced every dispenser in the Site, and this new stuff was tenacious. Sticky. Grainy. He didn't frown, because frowns are generally involuntary and he didn't, generally, perform involuntary actions.

He opened the bathroom door, very deliberately not frowning, and saw the red light on his redline.

He leapt across the grey Berber, realizing belatedly whence the ping had come. By the time he reached his desk — an old, polished, dark poplar executive model with saffron highlights, starkly contrasting the spotless Spartan office — the phone was ringing again. His ears hadn't stopped.

He snatched up the receiver. "McInnis. Report."

"We, we, we have multiple…" The man stopped speaking, and started sobbing. Nothing good comes in multiples and makes grown men sob. McInnis could hear music on the line, half a melody… a familiar one. The other half was already in his head; the tinnitus in his left ear was the high notes, and the low notes groaned through the speaker on his right. Together they produced "Point Me At The Sky," Pink Floyd, in a stereo mix too avant garde even for 1968.

The technician's bawling broke off abruptly, but not abruptly enough. McInnis caught a few strangled fragments of lyric; the man had been singing the song, almost certainly without meaning to, and had cut himself off when he realized.

"State your location," McInnis snapped, "and situation."

"Hyperbolic," the tech rasped back. "Hyperbolic. All of F-D is going up, sir. All at once."

Oh, no.

Acroamatic Abatement Facility AAF-D was a monstrous manudefactory, thousands of square metres of holding tanks and thousands upon thousands of metres of high-capacity piping, all of it stuffed to precisely not-quite-bursting with anomalous byproducts awaiting neutralization. Even a single rupture was potentially cataclysmic.

Code Hyperbolic was a purely theoretical descriptor for the successive breach of every tank down every line. Thaumaturgical material. Theological material. Chronological and counter-chronological material. Reality would be haemorrhaging itself to death down there, and the tech on duty was already behind the curve of his response protocols.

And when the call came in, I was wiping soap off my hands.

These ruminations cost McInnis just a fraction of one second; he had a marvellously efficient internal monologue. "Set the breach alarm." He killed the connection — his index finger briefly sticking on the hook switch — then jabbed another button on the redline. "S&C."

The call completed almost as quickly as had his assessment, though it still seemed an eternity with only the high notes for hold music and the distant alert for company — and a husky female voice responded. "Go ahead, sir."

"Gather every available agent." His own voice was a model of English composure. "Listen very carefully."


Dr. Ngo: Please state your name and position for the record.

Dr. Blank: Harold R. Blank, Site-43 Archives and Revision Section. Chair, and I don't just mean I sit in one.

<Silence on recording.>

<Dr. Blank sighs.>

Dr. Blank: Tough crowd.

"What was that?"

He regularly uttered variations on this phrase. The burnished tiles and plywood panels of A&R reflected less local chatter than the floors or walls of any other Section in the Site, particularly after working hours. There was no prohibition on speech, as in a public library, but the archivists spent enough of their time nose-deep in books or squinting at microfilm that their conversations were sporadic and their concentration rapt. Focus on any one mark for too long, and even the sudden whirr of an air conditioner became a startling foreign incursion into one's inner world, so the main thrust of discussions among Harry's staff was the posing of, and responding to, queries re: what might have caused that noise just now.


This last had been no ordinary sound, both singular and excessively plural. It had sounded like one of those conveyor belts covered in stamping machines, as one might see in a garbage video game like Attack of the Clones. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Harry had counted fourteen distinct, distant BOOMs. Any number of BOOMs, near or far, could overcome his historian's antipathy towards the present, and so he asked: "What was that?"

As he glanced toward the hall, the entire world lagged in a stationary version of motion blur. He blinked rapidly; the effect receded.

Reuben Wirth lifted his absurdly fresh face from an overhead projector, and cocked his head to one side as though he could somehow listen to the past if only he angled his ears just so. "It sounded like a 'mech. Y'know, from BattleTech." He headed for the door.

Harry was still blinking, and shaking his head, but the bizarre visual effect remained. It was like being drunk, but without the fun bit. Distracted, he muttered: "If it's a 'mech, Reuben, it'll stomp you flat."

His research assistant disappeared around the doorframe as the world turned a violent shade of red, and the sirens began to shriek.

Dr. Blank: I wish I hadn't said that.


Chief Nascimbeni: No, it's fine. I just… just give me a moment.

<Extraneous audio excised.>

Chief Nascimbeni: Noè Nascimbeni. Janitorial and Maintenance Section.

<Silence on recording.>

Chief Nascimbeni: Chief.

He heard this particular alarm precisely once each year, during disaster response refreshers in January, so he'd recognize it when the anomalous shit really did hit the anomalous fan.

Which is apparently now. Nascimbeni bolted down the polished grey concrete between his office and the AAF-D access, already nearly out of breath. He wasn't precisely old — by his reckoning — but he wasn't precisely not, and he was quite precisely out of shape. His mouth was also very, very dry.


Furthermore, though at first he'd thought it a hallucination brought on by sluggish blood flow, this corridor was lengthening the longer he lurched along it.

When he finally reached the scalloped, vault-doored airlock and peered through, his work boots screeched to a halt before he consciously decided to stop. The AAF-D egress was forty metres long; why, then, did it stretch on to the vanishing point? And why were the pipes on the walls bouncing up and down, and bending all over each other, and changing colour? And why could he see what he knew to be the fourth refinery sublevel overlaid on top of the third? No, wait, it was the fourth and fifth. No, no, it was all three, plus a pastoral landscape choked with blood-red vegetation.

A thin tongue of flame licked out of the oscillating pipescape, and he looked down at his boots. He'd left thick black skidmarks on the poured floor, and they melted into copperplate writing:

On your left.

He shuffled until his boots were covering the words, then looked back up. A man A kid in a fluttering labcoat — Dr. Wirth — burst out of the hallway connecting to A&R. "What's going on? We heard explosions?"

Nascimbeni shook his head, hard, and it wasn't just negation. He found it difficult to think with the klaxon roaring and the pipes chattering. "Don't know. Best guess: thaumic overflow and recondicity." Recondite material ignored Euclidean geometry, and could only be contained in the short term by immersion in non-recondite material. There were safeguards to prevent its formation in the first place; these had obviously failed. As the pipes reached saturation, the deadly black flakes were piling up, and pushing out. On top of that… "The tanks are blowing, and—"

He froze. Wirth was standing beside him, staring down the egress with wide blue eyes.

On Nascimbeni's left.

With the sharp report of a Christmas firecracker, an undulating tentacle of boiling orange something snaked around the peeling plaster in AAF-D and wrapped itself around the researcher's torso. He was able to squeak out less than one syllable — "Nnn" — before it rubberbanded back into the clamorous chaos with its prize.

Wirth's spine audibly snapped as he disappeared into a billowing curtain of cinnamon hearts.

Nascimbeni fell to his knees, and barely felt the impact.


Dr. Ngo: Please state your name and position.

Chief Ibanez: Delfina Ibanez, Chief of Security and Containment at Site-43.

Dr. Ngo: What happened when you received the Director's call?

Ibanez was leaning on the S&C Bullpen wall, arms crossed in front of her chest. She wasn't built for sitting at a desk, so she didn't have one; it was tough enough to project authority from not even five feet off the ground, but hidden behind the furniture like a grade schooler, it wouldn't even be possible. Therefore she stood, one boot up against the precast concrete panel.


Crossing her arms wasn't easy either, but there were only so many ways to say 'I'm in charge' in human body language, and anyway her muscles could use the stretch.

"Explain it to me again." She kicked her boot farther up the wall, the heel bumping against her ass. She upgraded the stretch to a physical need.

Agent Ana Mukami leaned back in her chair, and laughed. She laughed a lot, which should have been irritating; it admittedly didn't take much to irritate Ibanez. Mukami's laugh was very soft, almost musical, however, so it passed muster. "That was just the short version! In full: Dr. William Wettle legitimately believes that D-class personnel are sold en masse to the Foundation by an anomalous smarmy salesman with a spray tan, who only shows up if you write a really wasteful experiment schedule."

Ibanez had been grinning since the first time she'd heard this. Grinning was an action very much favoured by the shape of her face. She usually avoided the bullpen, but this conversation was making her reconsider her preconceptions. "Thank god he's never gonna be responsible for anything important."

The redline pinged, and Ibanez stopped grinning. She felt a sudden ache in her cheeks; had the tension somehow spread to her face?

Janet Gwilherm, who was presently dwarfing the duty desk — she was tall and rangy, like a basketball player — whacked the intercom button and announced herself.

"Gather every available agent." It was McInnis. "Listen very carefully."

Gwilherm tensed with anticipation. Ibanez kicked off the wall and headed over, against the protest of her normally-compliant tendons; jogging always made her feel like a spectacle, but she was definitely going to go for a jog — and soon — to work out this awkward full-body tingle. Mukami put one boot against her desk and rolled over. Stewart Radcliffe tossed his uniform jacket over his linebacker shoulders and stood to attention.

"Go ahead, sir." Gwilherm started as the breach alarm began to bellow and the hall lights audibly snapped from incandescent off-white to red.

"Materials breach in F-D. Send a team to the main airlock. Nascimbeni's in charge."

"Yes, sir." This was bad; McInnis didn't clip his sentences for nothing.

Ibanez leaned over and flicked off the intercom. Even the joints in her fingers hurt, now, and she was developing suspicions as to why. "You heard the man!" she barked, easily topping the klaxons with her practiced lungs. She pointed at the three closest agents, each in turn. "Radcliffe, Gwilherm, Mukami, double time!"

Chief Ibanez: I had to stay in the office. That's protocol.

<Silence on recording.>

Chief Ibanez: Fucking protocol.


When Nascimbeni came to what remained of his senses, AAF-D had similarly rationalized itself. Everything was still the wrong colour; most things were several wrong colours, in fact, and cycling through the options at random. But he could once again tell what each thing was meant to be, and he seized upon this lifeline to normalcy.

He had a duty.

He opened his mouth. It was bone dry, and he wheezed like a pilgrim lost in the desert. He swallowed, then tried again—

—as a figure appeared at the end of the egress, within the refinery. "Is there anyone in there?" Nascimbeni croaked, stupidly incapable of clawing back the impulse.

The figure was one of his technicians, an old hand, Dave Markey. Half of his J&M jacket was missing, and the other half was hanging in shreds from one arm. He was running, but he wasn't running fast; one of his boots was… it looked like a wooden shoe?

His face was contorted in fear and agony, and at the sound of his Chief's voice, he froze.

For no reason, for no reason, he turned around.

Keep running, Nascimbeni tried to shout, managing only a parched half-choke.

Sparkling like a crystal chandelier lit from a thousand angles by a million lights in a dozen wholly novel colours, a solid wall of hissing steam surged down the egress and enveloped Markey. He managed a brief, strangled gasp before…


…before becoming a Markey-sized, Markey-shaped, Markey-coloured sheet of water droplets which twisted and fell and merged with the magic mist before a sudden whoosh of air sucked them back down the hallway, 'round a corner and out of sight.

Nascimbeni heard screaming, an unearthly, demented howl, and as he staggered blindly back he wondered Am I doing that?


Dr. Okorie: Udo Okorie, Applied Occultism. I'm not a doctor yet, and I wish everyone would stop calling me one.

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Okorie: I'm certainly no expert in what just happened.

It wasn't precisely irritating, but it did make her feel… well, the way she'd felt back in England. The thing she liked least was how god-damned predictable it always was.


██████ ███ █████████ ██████ ███████ █████ █████ ██ Udo unracked her esomat suit, already shaking her head.

█████ ███████ ███ █████████ Assembling the suit was a complicated procedure, but ████ ███ ███████████ ████ it was never a very time-consuming one. ██████ ██ ████ ██ █████ ████ ███ ███████ ██ ████ ████████████ ██████
████ ████ ███████████ █████ ██████ ██ ███ ██
she pulled on her rubber-soled boots, ███ ██████ ██ ███ ██ █████ ██ ███ ███████████ ██ ███ ███ ██████ ██ █ ██████ ██████ ███████████ ████ ████████ ███ ███ ████ ██████ ███████ ██████████ ████ ██ ███ █████ █████ ███████ ███ ████ ███ ████████ ███ ████ ████ ████ ██████ ██████ ███████ ███████ ████ ███ ███████ ████ ███ ██████ ██ ███ ██████ ███ ███ ███ ██████ ██████ ██ ██ ███████ ███████████

████ ████████ ███ leaned on the transparent wall of the containment cell and shrugged, getting a feel for the suit before checking the seal on her gloves. Bzzt. There was static electricity on her fingertips; that was a new one. ██████ █████ ██████ █ ███████ █████ ███████ █ ███ ██ ██ ████ She ███████ ████ ███ █████ ███ █ █████████ █████

█████ zipped up the back of her suit, quick and precise. ████ ████ ██████████ ██ █████████ ███████ ████ ██████ The fit was snug and solid.

"Alright," she said. "Let's do this."

Dr. Ngo: That's a LOT of missing information.

Dr. Okorie: All I've got is the memory of the memory.

Dr. Ngo: Try something broader, then dial it back in again. Think about your surroundings.

If the SCP Foundation has a theme, it's probably 'boxes'. We build boxes, and we put things in them. Some of these boxes are metaphorical: new fields of study, database files, object classes and threat assessments. To call something a god is to put it in Theology and Teleology's box; to call it an angry god is to put it in Tactical Theology's; to call it Keter-class is to define it by its antipathy to boxing. Some of the boxes are literal: containment chambers, storage facilities, holding tanks. The Applied Occultism Section of Site-43 is the logical outgrowth of this theme, a dizzying array of boxes within boxes within boxes… within boxes. Every hallway can be hermetically sealed, and opens onto a series of rooms which can also be hermetically sealed. Most of these rooms feature a divider with another hermetic seal, beyond which can be found a pipe, or a tank, surrounded by a containment cell — hermetically sealed.

There are over three hundred doors within Applied Occultism, and each one has its own unique lock. It takes months to learn the numbering convention. Keycard readers were invented for Applied Occultism, and as with its boxes, that statement is literal. It takes years to overcome the claustrophobia, though the ceilings are high and arched and the halls are wide and tiled in a soothing aquamarine. There's something about all those dividers, all those locks… and the fact that the entire space is a bedrock sandwich, swathed in a membrane of thaumic sinks and asbestos. It's a damnable fact that nothing absorbs Akiva radiation (the scientific name for residual religious energy) like asbestos. Perched on its two metre ceiling of solid stone is the main Security and Containment block, draining its magic muck down like floodwater into ApplOcc — where it is studied — and then through another two metre partition into AAF-D — where it is destroyed. As the Site is itself one kilometre underground, this facility is the architectural equivalent of the middlemost Russian nesting doll.

The containment cells are built around outflow pipes, so that if something goes wrong while the seals are open — or, gods forbid, broken — the flow can be cut off without annihilating the entire Section. With horrifying, reality-warping effluence flowing down from the occupied chambers on its way to acroamatic oblivion, this one point of access may be the most perilous assignment at Site-43.

— Blank, Lines in a Muddle

Udo sighed as the cell door cycled and she walked into the cramped and very dangerous workspace. She could feel a halo of static around her legs in the spacious suit, and it began to cling; she was glad she'd shaved her legs this morning. ██ █████ ████████ ███ ████ █████ ██████ ████ █ ████ █████ ██ ███ ███████████ █████ ███ ████ ████████ ███ ████ █████ ███ ████ ███ █████████ She certainly wouldn't have said no to a static-free evening, herself…

Dr. Okorie: FUCK!

Dr. Ngo: It's alright.

Dr. Okorie: It's NOT alright!

Dr. Ngo: Skip ahead, find firmer ground. You can only tell me what you know! Go easy on yourself.

Dr. Okorie: I should know it all. It happened to me.

It was difficult to focus on what happened next, when a great many things fought for dominance over a few short moments in time. █████ ██████ █ ████ ██ ███ ██████ █████ ███ ███████ ███████ the world erupted in emergency red, and a synthesized wail filled her ears; the tiles beneath her feet began to warp, then melted into a gummy ceramic mass; green and purple lightning arced up out of the pipe; ██ █████ █████ ███████ █████ ███ ██ █████ ██ ██████ she stepped back, and felt the soles of her suit remaining where they were; a bright and brilliant light poured out of the pipe, and the hood disintegrated in a flash of white heat; she realized the containment cell was compromised, and realized further that she wouldn't be able to reach the outer chamber door before the entire space was a ball of superheated plasma, and that this was everything working precisely to spec; █████ ██████ ██ ████ ████ ████████ ███████ ███ ███████ ███ ████ ████████ ████ ███ ████ █████ ███████ ███ █████ ████ ██ ███ █████ ██ ███████ █████ ██ the transparent half-moon door cycled open; she cried "NO!" ██ ████████ ██ ██ ██████ ███ ███████ ███████ ███ ████ ████████ ██ ███ ████████ ██████ ██ ██████ ████ █████ ████ ████ ███ ██████ █████ ██ ████ ████████████ ████ ███ ███ ███ ████████ ██ ███ ██████ ███ █ ███ █████ ████████ ███ ████ ██ ███████ ███████ ███████████ ███ ███████████ █████████ █████ ███ ████████ ██ ████ █████ ███ ████████████ ███ she ran to the divider door; she unlocked it — and a violent explosion of green static burned her fingertips black as the control panel fried; she bolted blindly through; she locked the door behind her; she unlocked the exterior airlock, waited an eternity for it to cycle, then rushed headlong into the hallway as it slammed shut. She didn't look back. She couldn't look back.

She mashed the exterior seal panel, stayed upright long enough for the vault door to swing closed, then slumped in sudden exhaustion against it.

The entire ordeal had taken less than one minute.

She barely had time to process the enormity of what had just occurred before her wildly searching eyes lit upon the body. It was a man in a labcoat, just down the hall, lying in a configuration which suggested he█ ████ ██████ was well beyond the reach of her help.

As her long chestnut hair rose up in a prickly, charged mass, blocking the faceplate of her suit, she recognized the corpse.

She screamed.

Dr. Ngo: You did well.

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Ngo: Do you need to be alone?

<Silence on recording.>


Dr. Ngo: Name and position.

Dr. Wettle: Dr. William Wallace Wettle, Honours BA, MA, MA, PhD.

He considered paperwork to be a form of magic, and not because of the pun. He had never, ever, understood or intentionally deployed a pun. If paperwork wasn't magic, it was certainly alchemy… perhaps chemistry was the most accurate term. Even on the topic of his own considerations, he wasn't completely clear. He had an untidy mind.

Paperwork was his way of putting everything in order. If he chose the right words, or the wrong ones, to tickle the fancy of whomever was reading, he could produce a whole range of desirable responses. His realtime conversations invariably took a negative tone, no matter his choice of input, but with slow and strategic planning he could sometimes achieve by his own low standards a minor miracle: a neutral interaction.


Plus — and this was a major plus — paper didn't talk back.

"How much is too much toilet paper?" he asked, scratching at his scruffy chin.


Wettle didn't glance across the room at the J&M tech who was attempting, without much success, to fix his smoking console. He did keep digging into his beard, a new and unwelcome addition to a panoply of filthy habits. Something was making his skin crawl. "How much is too much toilet paper?"

The tech blew smoke out of his face, and coughed. Wettle could see it out of the corner of his eye; the corners of his eyes were also itching. He rubbed them roughly with his labcoat sleeve as the other man responded: "Why did you just repeat the question, when I obviously didn't understand it?"

"Because I'm in Replication Studies. That's my bag." His bag was also itchy.

"Alright, well… but what do you mean?" The tech crossed the russet tiles to Wettle's cluttered desk; Replication Studies was a carveout from Blank's demesnes, and the appropriation hadn't covered replacement decor. "Did you mean 'how much money does too much toilet paper cost', or 'how much toilet paper is too much toilet paper'? Either way, I don't think I've got enough context to answer. Too much for what?"

Wettle waved vaguely. "For here, I guess. Site-43." Where the techs are stroppy and the showers apparently run with hard water.

The other man waved back at him, mockingly, and Wettle took note of the name sewed into his jacket: C. CARTER. Alone among the researchers, Wettle was perceived as fair game for mockery by the support staff; whenever he caught them at it, he added their names to The List. "You're asking the wrong guy," said Carter. "Just because I'm J&M doesn't mean I'm both a janitor and a… maintainer."

"If you're a technician, you should probably know that word." Wettle tapped the forms with his pencil eraser, generating an uneven row of ugly black smudges. "Anyway, I just need a ballpark. Some jackass is spreading rumours about a D-Class fairy who swoops in to dicker when you requisition too many test subjects, and I'm trying to… well…"

"Summon a toilet paper fairy," Carter nodded. "Dumb."

Wettle shrugged. Even his shoulders itched. "Science got no shame; me either." He sniffed the air. His nose also itched, so he stick a pair of fingers up and swizzled. The itch remained.

"Oh," he said. "Is something burning?"


Carter stayed behind to control the blaze, but Wettle knew enough about smoke inhalation to get the hell out of Dodge.

And smoke causes prur… prirur… itchy skin. That must be it.

Barely registering the ruby cast to the lights or the hooting sirens, he hurled himself out the laboratory door…

…directly into a tall, thick-set man who was barrelling down the hall full tilt.

"OOF." He felt like he'd been hit by a truck. He tumbled to the tiles and skidded a few feet, and then a few feet skidded over him and he felt like he'd been run over by two more trucks.

All three S&C agents collapsed on top of him. One of them kicked out with a steel-toed boot, clouting him in the right ear; the other side of his fat, bearded head struck the gleaming white floor, and he took the remainder of the afternoon off.

Dr. Wettle: And they just left me there, if you can believe it.

Dr. Ngo: I can believe it.

Dr. Wettle: What?

Dr. Ngo: Uh, they were responding to an emergency. Protocol, you know.

Dr. Wettle: Fucking protocol.


Nascimbeni heard distant shouts, but transfixed by the extradimensional lightshow, he failed to react. Time meant nothing, the electronic caterwauling which signified the potential termination of all rationality in their vast subterranean enclave just a faint whisper as reality's rainbow death scream washed over him.

It was warm, like a seaside breeze. He could taste the salt. He could hear screeching; he didn't know what was making that terrible sound, but it was certainly not a seagull.

The shouting was closing on him, and he turned away. He wasn't on a first-name basis with any of the grunts, but luck had conspired to send three of the most recognizable ones his way: the giant, the giantess, and the cute one.

Everybody liked the cute one.

"What's the story, Chief?" the cute one called out.

He took a deep breath, and his chest fluttered like an accordion. He could still hear Wirth's spine popping. "Everything's loose in there. Absolutely everything."

The agents shared a few meaningful glances. The Amazon spoke first. "Just tell us what we need to do, Chief, and we'll try."

He wanted to tell them to run. He wanted to run away with them. He didn't want to say: "Activate the thaumic overflow release."

The big man nodded. "Where's that?"

Nascimbeni pointed into the airlock without looking. By the expressions on their faces, and the colours reflected in their eyes, the view hadn't gotten any less crazy. "Two-factor switch. One in the airlock, and one in the monitoring room." His throat caught on the last three words, and it had nothing to do with his dry mouth.

Mukami yes, let's give them names now, frowned. "How long would we have to get back out?"

"Five minutes." Nascimbeni had written the manuals for these systems. He'd designed these systems. "Plenty of time. But if you don't hurry—"

Gwilherm, god dammit, raised a hand. "It's labelled? The relief system?"

He nodded. Before he could say another word, she'd bolted past him; her beefy sidekick, Radcliffe, gave him a pained look before charging after.

Mukami patted Nascimbeni on the shoulder, then gripped it tightly. "We got this." She smiled. "Watch our backs."

He forced himself to witness her flight into AAF-D, presently present in five overlapping iterations. He had the strangest feeling he'd be able to see something exceptional in the patterns, if only he'd thought to bring 3-D glasses.


Dr. Ngo: Please st—

Dr. Lillihammer: Lillian Lillihammer, researcher in Memetics and Countermemetics. Can we get this over with?

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Lillihammer: That's a yes? Yes, we can get this over with?

She was a woman of two aspects. One conferred the posture of a satisfied cat in the sun; the other, an unsatisfied cat in the presence of a second, unfamiliar cat. In the former she was narrow-eyed, smug, and distant; in the latter she was nervous, agitated, and prone to sudden explosions of ferality. The determining factor in which aspect she adopted was also distinctly feline: either she was doing what she wanted to do, or she was not.


She was presently doing what she wanted to do, more or less: standing in the centre of an unobstructed space, on the tips of her wing-tip shoes, ignoring every world not contained within her skull. She barely heard the lights buzzing, or the monitors flicking from camera to camera. She barely tasted the recycled air. She could barely even smell the lilac…


"They're almost done in there."

Lillian Lillihammer fell back to reality, switched affects in a hot second and glowered at the other occupant of the spacious security station. The guard, one Howard Yancy — she didn't want to remember, but she was cursed with the inability to forget — tapped his screen. She hated that. She hated people who tapped screens, and she hated people who thought that she, of all people, required visual cues to understand things. For these reasons, plus a general unsociability, she did not respond.

She did not precisely begrudge Bernabé del Olmo the favour she was presently doing him. The Chair of M&C had been gone for months, and she was very much looking forward to getting reacquainted — as a few very consequential things had changed since last they'd met. But if he was almost finished ████████████ ███ ███████ in Security and Containment, she was almost done with red button duty and could go back for the moment to her own, much more important work. Of course, she'd never fully left it; she could do calculations in her head which most people could only get wrong after an hour with a computer and a calculator, and she had an eidetic memory. At her workstation, she could work miracles. Here, a mere receptacle for the power to blow up the first sublevel ██████ ███ ██████ █████████ ██ █████████ she was merely a frustrated genius.

Still, she kept herself literally on her toes. Nobody else could do it for her.

"Did you see that?" Yancy again pulled her out of her musings, so she hissed at him.

He pointed at the monitor, mercifully failing to touch it this time. "He just flipped the damn table!"

She leaned over to take a look. Del Olmo was hopping mad, the fluorescent reflections dancing on his shiny forehead as he gesticulated furiously at—

—nothing. A pillar of superheated plasma boiled away the ceiling, walls, floors and tables█ ███████ ███ █████████ ███████, cascading up through Applied Occultism from AAF-D. The feed died in white.

"Oh, my god." Yancy was flipping frantically through the AAF-D camera set, and what they were capturing didn't make much sense. There were autumn leaves raining up from the floor of the monitoring room, burning bright as they struck the ceiling. There were silhouetted figures pirouetting in the walls. One room was underwater. One was a full-colour negative. One caused them both to spontaneously burst into hot tears, though it looked completely normal.

Yancy found Del Olmo again. His skin was baked and flaking off, he was screaming, and he was dragging a terrible limp along a corridor. Fire was following, coiling around his heels like a living thing. Like a predator.

It was going to pull him down before he escaped S&C.


Nascimbeni spent the first three seconds watching the agents navigate an unnavigable space.

He spent the next three seconds crabwalking to the airlock door, kicking himself for the timidity.

In the next two seconds, Mukami reached the panel inside the airlock and looked back at him for approval. He nodded, and she flashed him a big thumbs-up and a smile. She was encircled by grainy yellow silhouettes with gaping black mouths; there were stars in the black, dying by twos.

Two more seconds, and the long-distance runners crashed through a cloud of coruscating mist while monochrome fireworks burst in the overhead fixtures.

Another two seconds saw him stationed at the panel beside the door. He spoke his code in a rush, punched the release, and the panel flipped up. They were almost at the first T-junction. It was going to be close.

In the last second, he returned Mukami's smile. The figures were gone; she was knee-deep in black sand. Close, but not too

The containment alarm suddenly stopped, and he had a splinter of a second to imagine it was all over before he knew the reason why: something worse rang out in replacement. "STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY ALERT — AAF-D," the robotic voice intoned.

Protocol was to seal the environment, localize the threat. If AAF-D was about to collapse, it was imperative that Nascimbeni close the airlock. The relevant button was already in front of him.

He pressed the button. He agonized over the decision as all three agents turned to look at him. If I press that button, the door clams up immediately. They'll be caught in the flush. They—

He'd already pressed the button. In a pinch, his training had won through.

Long since out of seconds, Ana Mukami made eye contact with him as the door slid roughly shut. He couldn't read her expression.

He sat down on the empty air, and didn't feel his tailbone bruise on the concrete. He was already weeping anyway.

Dr. Ngo: I'm sorry, Chief. We can pick this up later.

<Extraneous audio excised.>

Dr. Ngo: I'm sorry.


The floor gave way beneath Del Olmo, and he fell in a hail of shattered tile and melted pipe. He passed through Applied Occultism in an instant, plunging down a red-hot tunnel of seared bedrock — in the next corridor over, Udo Okorie barely noticed. His pants caught on a floor joist, and he hung above the monitoring room of AAF-D by the skin of his patent leather shoe. The linoleum floor below was now rolling from wall to wall like waves against a beach. He tried to pull himself back up, but his upper body strength wasn't up to the task.

"Breach response." Yancy was paging through his manual. "Who's on breach response? Alpha or Beta-43?"

The alarum shifted, and Lillian heard the structural integrity announcement cut in. Regulations flashed like lightning through her mind, sharp and distinct as the day she'd first seen them: AAF-D would be sealed before the thaumic flush. The resultant vacuum would pull all that esoteric horror into ApplOcc and S&C, thanks to the hole which had just boiled up between them. There was only one way to prevent that.

You can't j— She killed the thought.

This is Bernabé we're— She killed the thought.

YOU CAN'T— She killed the thought.

Yancy keyed his microphone. "Calling all ag—"

She reached over his shoulder, cut the mic, then killed Del Olmo tapped the big red button firmly. "Supply lockdown code," a recorded female voice intoned.

"Lillihammer psi nine shi baker apoplexy."

Flat, clear, no quaver.

Every door in both Sections crashed down or slammed sideways. Seventy-seven hidden bulkheads groaned into place. She watched the clockwork quarantine criss-cross the monitors with grim satisfaction.

Bernabé del Olmo hung like a piñata over the turbid linseed ocean as it battered fruitlessly against the solid steel. Finally, vengefully, it rose up the walls and claimed him; he dissolved in an instant, and the lino splashed back down.


The camera view contracted into two dimensions, then one, and she shut it off with her eyes squeezed tight.

It was just as well; she didn't have to see Yancy's face when he breathed "You killed him" into the closed mic.

Dr. Ngo: You didn't kill him.

Dr. Lillihammer: I know.

Dr. Ngo: He would never have made it out.

Dr. Lillihammer: I said 'I know'. That's your cue to move on.


9 September

Twelve hours later

Moving on was going to be tough.

Dir. McInnis: Six minutes. Six minutes, from start to finish… a few seconds here or there could have made a substantial difference.

Dr. Blank: He was young. At his age, I might've gotten off my ass to take a look, too. He'll never get the chance to be fat and lazy now.

Chief Ibanez: I've got a low centre of gravity. I could've dodged that clown and hit the airlock with minutes to spare.

Dr. Wettle: I've noticed a distinct lack of concern about my concussion.

Chief Nascimbeni: There's two ways to look at it. You can say my techs forgot their response protocols, or you can say they weren't drilled properly. The only difference is whether the guilty party is still breathing.

Dr. Okorie: I'll never forget the sound of the suction rattling through the bedrock. It sounded like the devil inhaling. It's… it's the only thing I really do remember.

Dr. Lillihammer: Forget the impressions, stow the sentiment. Somebody fucked up, and it wasn't me. Who was it?

"Remains to be seen," Ngo sighed.

But there was plenty of time to figure that out. For now, at least it was over.

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