...the Eighth of September
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rating: +43+x

…the Eighth of September



8 September

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada

He was in his office, musing contentedly on his copy of The Treachery of Images, when the call came in. He had long suspected today would be a difficult day at Site-43, had put the psychologists and EPAU on conditional alert ahead of time. Ibanez's agents would be on the lookout for depression or suicidal behaviour, and every Section was on reduced duty for the duration. He'd even considered giving a speech, guidelines be damned, but felt there'd been enough of those already. They'd been talking about memory and moving on for weeks by now, and that seemed a fair enough note on which to greet this dread anniversary.


But when the call came in, McInnis was still taken by surprise. A failure of the Site's single most valuable asset, on today of all days, was not something he'd been prepared to countenance.

Ilse Reynders was pacing back and forth within the ADDC, a sheet of something copper clutched in one hand, blood streaming down her face. She must have pulled out a lock of her own hair; it would regrow within the next few hours, and the blood would gradually disappear. She was muttering frantically to herself, blue eyes wild. He couldn't hear what she was saying. The pencil was on the sill.

The guards nodded as he walked up to the glass, and knocked. "Ilse? Ilse!"

He wasn't sure she heard him, but she certainly noticed the change in the light. She darted to the window, snatched up her lifeline, and said: "It's today again."

He couldn't dispute that. He didn't patronize her, however; even half-mad, she had twice the mind he did. At least. "What does that mean?"

"It's today again. All over again. It's been this year twice already, and I can see more coming, Allan, I can… I can see it." She tended to slot in moments of silence where others would curse; she had, after all, come of age in the very early twentieth century. "I've seen it all year, but it keeps getting… worse, and I can't… I can't handle it anymore." She laughed, unhinged. "You have to fix it." She turned those deep, sad wells of cerulean on him, and repeated herself. "You have to fix it, Allan."

"Please calm down." He put one hand on the glass, as he'd seen Scout do countless times, to still her nerves. She was the most emotionally mature person he'd ever met — she'd had decades to become accustomed to her situation, and its consequences — but decades of entrapment took their toll, whether time stood still or not. "Focus on the facts. Tell me what's going on."

She shook her head, and started to walk deeper into the chamber. When the pencil nearly separated from the string, she staggered back and struck her head on the window. An ugly smear of blood was left behind, and she tapped her forehead against it again. "I'm not crazy. It's back, Allan. It's back. It's boiling up, and you have to stop it. I'm not crazy. Hyperbolic."

His veins froze over as she pressed both hands to the glass, and repeated the word:



"Where'd he go?"

"AAF-A." McInnis' secretary looked very concerned. "Checking on Dr. Reynders."

"What?" Harry worked out his jaw until it popped. "Something's wrong with Ilse?"


He had a sudden urge to dart out of the office; he liked Ilse Reynders. Nobody didn't, except for maybe Lillian. But he didn't get the chance, because the outer door slammed open hard enough for the knob to strike the wall, and Imrich Sýkora burst in. "I need to speak to the Director, right now!"

Harry held up both hands. "He's out. Can I help you?"

Sýkora's always-composed face was frantic as he looked Harry up and down. "Where's the All-Sections Chief?"

"On the res. Annual negotiations. What's up?"

Sýkora pointed at him. "You're the Director de facto right now. Right? Don't wheedle, I know I'm right." The occultist actually seized Blank by his labcoat lapels, and very clearly attempting not to scream, he said: "You need to flush AAF-D. You need to flush it right this minute."

Harry recoiled from the other man's manic brown eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Sýkora produced his notepad, and waved it in Harry's face. "You've been briefed on me. You know my deal. I'm telling you right now—"

Harry headed for the inner door. He did know Sýkora's deal. "Buzz the lock."

Zulfikar pressed the button beneath his desktop, and Harry flung the door wide. A few long strides took him to the redline, and he dialled it up.

"Monitoring room," a bored voice responded. There was suddenly shouting in the background. Fuck. I'm too late!

"Activate the vacuum flush. Activate it now."

"Uhhh… board shows green, sir, but alright." The voice didn't actually sound bored, Harry realized. It sounded disoriented. "Uh… vacuum flush? How… do I do that?"

"The breach alarm! Hit the damn breach alarm button!"

"Okay." Harry could actually hear the click, and then the klaxons crying out in the distant corridors. "You should've just said that. Who is this, anyway?"

"This is Dr. Blank." And when this is all over, your name is going to be mud, buddy. "Who am I talking to?"

"I'll get back to you on that." The voice was sly, if still more than a little dazed. "Oh. Oh! We, we, we have multiple…" The voice broke off into messy tears. Harry felt a knot in his stomach as he waited for the words to resume, and when they did the knot tightened so hard and so fast he almost vomited into the receiver. "Hyperbolic. Hyperbolic. All of F-D is going up, sir. All at once."

Oh, no. No. No no no no no—

He hung up, reached over the edge of McInnis' desk to thumb the button he found there, then plucked the phone back off its cradle as the breach alarms wailed. "Get me Nascimbeni and Ibanez. Conference call." He nearly fell over as his vision abruptly doubled. Christ, not again

The line went dead. Zulfikar knew what was what, and didn't waste time with affirmations. There was a moment's pause, then the old man's croaking voice came through: "Nascimbeni." A second later: "Ibanez."

"Hyperbolic in F-D." The words were hot lead on his tongue. "I ordered a vacuum flush, but the duty tech says it's still happening."

He heard a clattering sound, and two sets of heavy footfalls, and as one of them receded and the other remained steady he realized one of them had dropped their phone while the other stayed on the line.


This is impossible.

It was impossible. AAF-D was in a holding pattern. Nothing new was being processed. There were no staff in there today, minus Deering mopping the floors. The kid didn't take days off anymore, since his 'supervisor' didn't. As for Code Hyperbolic, well, that was a thing of the past. Any system approaching critical recondicity could be instantly vacuum-flushed into the Inter-Sectional Subway System with the press of a button; Nascimbeni would be astounded if any of the pipes had even burst, much less the tanks or vats.

Maybe it was the beer bottles, he thought deliriously as he entered the airlock at a nimble jog. He'd been working out with Ibanez — in more ways than one — so where he'd been huffing and puffing last year, now the only tightness in his chest came from the inexplicable circumstances. His palate, however, was dry as a bone.


It was a straight shot to the monitoring room — it had taken weeks to shore up the floor where the impermeable void had formed — and he had plenty of time to examine the pipes. There was certainly recondite material where it shouldn't have been, but it was moving through the system at triple speed thanks to the order Harry had given, pulled into collectors and dumped through the magnetic oscillation pumps via a tremendous suction force originating outside of AAF-D the minute the alarm had been triggered. Nothing was overloading, whatever the tech might have said. The possibility that this was some sort of prank occurred to him, but he dismissed it just as quickly. Only a J&M tech could have dialled up the redline…

He blew past Phil, who was standing in the final doorway with a mop in his hand and a look of total bafflement on his face. "Chief!" He shouted. "What the fuck?!"

Nascimbeni ignored him, skidding out of the doorway, heading for the monitoring room what the fuck WHAT THE FUCK "WHAT THE FUCK!" he shouted, nearly falling to the floor in disbelief.

Everything is wrong. The halls were wrong, the floors and ceilings were wrong, the pipes along the walls were wrong and had been since he'd entered. None of the repairs and refurbishments he and his team had laboured over for the better part of a year were visible.

The better part of a year. He saw it, even as he scrambled back into a run, heading past the monitoring room windows for the door.

He was in Acroamatic Abatement Facility AAF-D, circa 2002.

He rounded the last corner at speed, threw his weight into the door, and crashed through. He saw two flashes of orange, and he wondered why anyone would be wearing their uniforms when nobody was meant to be on duty…

…and then he realized they were the wrong uniforms, jackets instead of jumpsuits, and baseball caps. Only he still wore his baseball cap…

…and then he realized who was in the uniforms, and the tightness in his chest changed its nature abruptly, and his muscles cried out in sudden agony.

"Boss?!" Romolo Ambrogi darted forward as the old man fell to the floor. "Boss, what's… Dave! Call H&P! Right now!"

As David Markey made the call, Nascimbeni had a heart attack.


Ibanez hadn't felt this wired in months, and she couldn't figure out why. Was she restless? Stoned? Randy? It was the feeling you got when you needed to stretch your legs, but she had it in every single muscle of her body. Barrelling down the hall as only she could barrel made her feel outrageously fantastic, though she just barely avoided pinwheeling her arms for good measure.


She prodded her radio. "Sound off."

Harry responded. "Al's stuck at AAF-A until the subway flush clears."

Howard Yancy chimed in, voice shaky and uncertain: "Uh… got a bit of a… situation, in the 'pen. But it's handled. You worry about F-D, boss."

She didn't like the sound of that, but she did trust Yancy. She ducked down and ran faster, guiltily relishing this chance to be the first responder instead of the one hanging back. Should've done it this way back in

"OOF." She struck something, someone, a someone in a labcoat, and they both went tumbling to the tiles. She had a sudden burst of inspiration before the sudden burst of pain when her head struck ground, and she screamed: "God DAMMIT, WILLIE!"

As she flipped back onto her feet, tossing the coat's folds over its owner again, she saw Wettle walking out of his office in a daze. "What?"

She turned to examine the man she'd run over.

Man? More like a… boy…

"Where am I?" Reuben Wirth asked, rubbing the back of his head, and Ibanez honestly couldn't tell him.


They were arguing over his corpse. He wanted to tell them not to bother, that everything was fine now, that it was better this way. That he didn't want them to fight.

But he couldn't speak, could barely breathe in fact, and so they kept on arguing.

"I'm the Deputy fucking Chief!" Ambrogi shouted, and Nascimbeni briefly saw the familiar bearded face bearing over him before a ball-knuckled hand pulled him back by the forehead. "Get your hands off me!"

"Keep them back!" snapped Émilie LeClair. "Get reinforcements!"

"Where did they even come from?" a voice shouted in return. "Who are these guys?"

"My boys," Nascimbeni murmured, and he was amazed to hear the soft sound of his own voice. "My boys came home."


Udo Okorie froze in place when the lights turned red.

She'd been standing in the blasted cell chamber for what felt like an hour but was probably three, a field of dust surrounding her, taking the measure of this ruin of memory. She'd done this before, of course — every time she'd learned a new trick, in fact — but somehow she'd felt today might be different.


It had been a year.

It was, in some perverse sense, an anniversary.

So she reached out, grains dancing in the air, sampling the ash soaked into the cracks by the orichalcum spray, resonating with each of the frequencies of the universe one by one.

There was nothing.

Nothing out of place.

Nothing she could learn.

It was a day like any other day, save for the fact that this was the day he had died.

In a way, she was relieved. Perhaps this was a sign; perhaps she could convince herself to take it as one. Perhaps, at last, she could finally let go.

She walked back out of the chamber, locking it behind her with her keycard, and immediately she saw him.

On the floor, down the hall.


She screamed.



Wettle took off at a swift stumble, careening off the walls as the sirens wailed. It felt like there were ants crawling all across his body. It felt like he was losing his mind.


His self-preservation instincts had never been great, but they were in fine form today. S&C, he thought, and he knew it was the right decision. Tell the guards. If he'd been really on his game, he would have realized he was running away at this very moment from the Chief of Security and Containment, but that was rather a lot to ask.

It wasn't a long run, as Replication Studies practically backed onto Ibanez's angry stomping ground, though it certainly felt long enough. He was just as flabby as he'd been the year before, perhaps even a little worse for wear. However—

"Let GO!" a woman shrieked, and he saw a bizarre sight: a giant, copper-topped beanpole, hands cuffed behind her back, not so much running down the corridor towards him as falling forward and failing to hit the floor. She was wearing one of those old Boy Scout jackets, the ones from before the advent of jumpsuits; he'd already forgotten those had ever existed. There were other agents behind her, wearing the correct outfits, and they were shouting and raising their arms. One of them raised a gun, and Wettle raised both hands.

"Don't sh—" he started to say, and juked to one side to avoid the oncoming giantess.

He didn't finish the word, because he'd picked the wrong side.


"The breach!" she screamed, directly into his ear, as he briefly regained consciousness. "We have to respond to the breach!"

"It's alright, Janet," said a deep male voice from above. "They said… they said the Chief… is handling it." The man sounded stoned.

"God DAMMIT, Stewart, don't patronize me, or I swear to FUCK I'll crawl up your pants and CHEW YOUR BALLS OFF!" She wriggled in a semicircle on the tiles, still handcuffed, and kicked Wettle somewhere packed with enough nerve endings to send him instantly into a not-so-blissful slumber.


Nascimbeni was standing on the gantry in the Cavern, a bottle of beer perspiring in his hands. "She's a beaut."

"She's a big ol' hole in the ground." Ambrogi pulled on his own bottle. "Let me drop this down there?"

"Hell no," Nascimbeni gasped in mock horror. "You're not littering my lovely little art gallery." He gestured at the gleaming white tanks. "My legacy in porcelain."

"Our toilet of tribulations." Ambrogi clapped Nascimbeni on the back of his puffy orange vest.

"Well, it's not ours yet." Nascimbeni rearranged his grip so that he was holding the bottle by its neck, and he gestured at his Deputy Chief to do the same. "Think we ought to give her a proper christening?"

"Waste of good beer," Ambrogi remarked. "And what was that about littering?"

"Tradition isn't littering," Nascimbeni chuckled. "It's cultural."

On one, two, three they broke their bottles on the railing, and watched the amber droplets rain down into the chasm.


Agents rushed this way and that, intent on who knew what — she actually doubted they knew, from the tones of the hushed conversations whipping past her — as Lillian continued her pilgrimage at a steady, stylish lope. Nobody she'd stopped could give her a straight answer about what was going on, and she had absolutely no breach responsibilities whatsoever as a memeticist, so she relied on the power of ritual instead. Dazzle coat flying in every direction, she made for the blackened husk of the experiment chamber where Bernabé Del Olmo's fate had been sealed. The envelope was in her labcoat pocket, and whatever else happened today, she intended to burn its contents.


She rounded the corner, and stopped.

So did her heart.

She reached into her other pocket and pulled out a plain, unadorned white business card. She held it in front of her left eye until she could see the hidden patterns, then stared at the man standing before the taped-off doorway. She held it in front of her right eye, and performed the test again. She held the card out further from her face, then brought it in close so that it obscured her vision entirely. She let her eyes unfocus, then focus, then unfocus again.

She lowered the card, and Del Olmo was still standing there. He was swiping his keycard into the reader, which of course was dead.

Which of course was dead.

"You're dead," she said, as the scent of lilac rose around her.

He turned in her direction, but before they could make eye contact a bulkhead slammed between them, so close that it blew her hair back. She spun to see an S&C agent standing behind her, one hand on a big red button. "I don't know what that was, ma'am, but it's not supposed to be there."

She couldn't very well argue, which was another new experience for her.


Nascimbeni awoke at the moment the lights shifted from red back to white, and he heard someone sigh in obvious relief. "You would think," she said, "they could have done away with that in the refits. It's hard enough stopping a heart attack with proper lighting."

"We did do away with it," a familiar voice responded. Delfina? "It… did itself back again."

"What?" The other voice was LeClair. "What are you talking about?"

"It all came back." Delfina sounded awestruck. "It all came back. The whole facility… rolled back to 2002, and it brought… Well, we need you back at the hospital, doctor. We need you to run some tests."

"Help me move him, then." He felt his body rising up into the air, and he wondered for a moment if he were ascending to heaven. Then Delfina's face appeared, and… he still wasn't sure.

"Hey," she said. "Hang in there, guy. We'll get you—"

He seized her arm, and saw her brown eyes widen in concern. Good. Be concerned.
You need to be concerned.

"Rydderech," he croaked.


"Rydderech said that only we can stop it."

"We stopped it already, guy. Take 'er easy." Ibanez glanced across his prone form, and he turned his head — with great effort — to see what she was looking at.

She was looking at LeClair, who was looking down at him. "You've had a heart attack, Noè. Just relax."

He tried to sit up, but his muscles wouldn't allow it. He suddenly realized they were moving; he saw the overhead lights, the wrong overhead lights, and he felt control and consciousness slipping away even before he felt the pinprick. "He said… the worst… is yet…"

to come.


Lillian stepped out of the elevator at the same moment Harry walked out of Habitation and Sustenance, Ibanez emerged from AAF-D and a pair of med techs carted Wettle toward H&P. They watched him writhing on the gurney, moaning theatrically. "Please," he was crying. "Don't let it be the collarbone again."

"What just happened?" Harry asked.

"I just saw a ghost," Lillian replied.

"I just arrested a ghost." Ibanez was beside herself, eyes darting this way and that. "And then three more. And then two more after that."

"What are you talking about?" Harry looked shell-shocked.

"I hope you didn't replace your assistant." The security chief keyed her radio. "Status on the Director?"

"Transporting overland," Yancy responded. "The I-triple-S is still full of F-D's backwash. We're status green everywhere else."

"Alright." She released the button, and shook her head. "Status green? I… doubt there's actually a colour for this, honestly."

"A colour for what?" Lillian stepped between them. "What's going on here? Who… who died this time?"

"Nobody." Ibanez scratched madly at her hair, then blew out a breath which rattled her lips like a rubber band. "Nobody died. Less than nobody died."


"You don't bury survivors," Ngo muttered.

Dir. McInnis: She saw it coming. She knew it was going to happen. And so did he. We need to find out why.

Dr. Blank: I told the kid's mother and father he was dead. What the fuck am I going to tell them now?

Chief Ibanez: We don't have any god-damn protocol for this. My instinct would be to stick them in the flash-fryer, if not for… well. Yeah.

Dr. Wettle: This means everyone can stop talking about them, finally, right?

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Okorie: I don't understand. It doesn't… the rest of them… I don't understand.

Dr. Lillihammer: He's never even seen me like this. I never… thought he would.

Ngo had the awful, unaccountable feeling their collective headache was only just beginning.


Two rooms divided by one pane of glass, seven people standing on each side. In the first room, five men and two women in bright blue E-Class jumpsuits, all of them looking baffled and upset.

In the other, four men and three women in a wide variety of unusual attire, looking no less blasted than their imprisoned counterparts.

"We have witnessed the violent death of 'this can't be happening' in the past twelve months," said Harry.

"Yeah," said Wettle. "At what point do you go 'this still isn't as weird as yesterday'?"

"This," said Lillian. She was staring through the one-way window at Del Olmo; she'd hardly taken her eyes off him in the past hour. "This is that point, right here. Where we're at."

"Nobody has spoken to them since the abortive breach, is that correct?" McInnis asked.

"Yeah." Ibanez's expression was in constant motion, like she couldn't decide what sort of face to pull. "Other than the fact that none of them have any idea why we'd want to put them in containment, we don't have any info on where their heads are at."

"They could be those ghostwriter clones," said Wettle.

"They're not," said Lillian. "Or at least, that wouldn't make much sense. Why would they show up as people we already know, and know to be dead? And how did they show up?"

"Security feed shows them just… popping into existence." Ibanez leaned on the comms console, back to the window. "Five minutes before they were each meant to die. Wirth where his desk was — and isn't anymore, so he just sort of plopped onto the floor, in front of the whole Section minus Harry; my agents in the bullpen, scaring the everloving shit out of everybody; the techs in the monitoring room, where thank god nobody else was on duty; Del Olmo on his merry way to that containment chamber, which we still haven't replaced."

"And Dougall," said Udo. She'd been sitting in the corner the entire time, eyes closed, slumped in defeat. "Dead."

Harry put a hand on her shoulder, and she leaned her head on his arm. "Does the footage show…?"

Ibanez nodded. "He pops up, walks a bit, does his little 'wuh-huh?!' thing, and drops. Same as before. And we still didn't notice, even with all the new monitoring equipment."

"At least the new monitoring equipment is still there." Nascimbeni was sitting on the seat of a walker, ignoring the window and the people on the other side. Friendly jibes aside he wasn't really all that old, and the heart attack had been comparatively minor. With prompt and effective Foundation medical attention, he'd been mobile within a few hours; it was now very late at night, and they couldn't keep him away. "I still can't… I can't believe what just happened."

"It reverted, didn't it?" Harry rubbed his forehead. "It's back to how it looked in 2002. The entire goddamn facility."

"Yeah," Nascimbeni muttered. "All the upgrades are gone. All the new partitions, all the new equipment. Phil says it was like being on the highway when you're bone tired, and passing out for a moment, and seeing the whole environment change in a flash. Somebody wound the tape back a whole year."

"And wound the dead back with it." McInnis sighed. "Well, someone's going to need to interrogate them. Find out what they know. Miss Astrauskas is flying back from Area-21 at this moment, and will be on-hand to identify the auras of the ones she knew personally by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. In the meantime we need to learn as much as we can, and make certain the… situation, in AAF-D, is resolved."

"It's a good damn thing we based the suction systems outside," Nascimbeni said. "If they'd been inside, they would've disappeared, and the whole fucking facility would have blown up. Again."

"This," said Harry, slowly, "is my new least-favourite holiday."


Ngo started with Del Olmo. The veteran memeticist, she figured, was most likely to understand what the hell was going on.


"No," he said. "I don't. From my perspective, the lot of you just lost your minds today. I was on my way to an appointment, and…" He squinted. "There was something wrong with the door… and then the bulkheads were slamming down, and you were telling me to assume the position. I've been in detention with the others for what feels like hours—"

"It was hours," Ngo agreed.

"—and none of them can begin to imagine what's possessed you all."

Ngo took a deep breath. "Well, for starters, we watched you die last year."

Del Olmo blinked one eye, but did not respond. He might have blinked both eyes, actually, but it was impossible to tell — what with the big black patch over his left orbit. Nobody could explain where that had come from; he'd somehow picked it up while the guards weren't looking.

"We watched you make that appointment in S&C, talk to yourself for a while, and then run — unsuccessfully — away from a cascade containment failure. It swallowed you whole, and dissolved you."

"Huh." He shook his head. "Can't say as I remember being swallowed whole and dissolved. I will admit… I did feel a little out of it when I was trying to open the door."

"Like you were going through the motions." Ngo nodded. "Do you remember what you've been up to since September 2002?"

He winced. "That's above your clearance level, I'm afraid…. though I might drop a hint, if you'd let me see LeClair about a glass eye?"


Janet Gwilherm was trying to burn a hole through Ngo's clipboard. "I told you. Del put us on breach duty, and we stopped one. She put us back in 'Random Walks', and we got fucking married."


Ngo felt her own eyes widen. "Oh? Well… congratulations!"

Gwilherm pointed at the wall of beef beside her. "Meet Mr. Stewart Gwilherm. The Chief gave away the groom, would you believe?"

"Isn't it usually the bride who gets given away?"

Gwilherm rolled up her sleeves. "I defy anyone to try."

"She's very defiant," Gwilherm-née-Radcliffe agreed.

"I can see that." Gwilherm's eyes were narrowed, her smile thin and fraught, her once-ragged hair slicked neatly back. Her husband looked much the same as he had before, though a scar on his right cheek was now absent, and his eyes looked… tired? Haunted?

Ngo shrugged. "What was the nature of the breach you stopped?"


"Never did figure it out," Markey admitted. "We were heading for total collapse — I called in to the Director, got Blank instead for some reason — then whoosh, it was all sucked back down the lines."


"That was the new overflow system," Ngo explained.

Markey stared at her. "The new what system?"

She shook her head. "Never mind. Technician… you do realize that it's 2003, yes?"

"Of course."

"Were you not just in the middle of the exact same disaster, a few hours ago?"

He frowned. "I'm not one hundred percent sure what I was up to, a few hours ago, but I'm fairly certain it wasn't a disaster. Well…" He snapped his fingers. "Jesus, how did I forget? The boss had a heart attack. Is he okay?"


"He's fine," she lied. "You can talk to him later. Technician, we're very confused about the timeline, here. From our perspective, the event from last September just happened a second time, and all seven of you were… absent, let's say, in the interim."

Ambrogi looked terrified. "Absent how?"

Ngo placed a piece of bloody fabric on the table between them. His uniform name tag. "You exploded."

He stared at the dull red memento. "I honestly don't understand. It could be the anachronic material? Screwing with the timeline?" He was nodding. "Maybe you guys split off to an alternate tangent, then… it turned out to be a closed loop, and you snapped back to normal. Where we are. Where we've been, the past year."


"Then why don't we remember any of what you say happened?"

He squeezed his eyes tight. "I don't know, doc. Can I talk to the boss?" He suddenly snapped his eyes open. "Wait. Shit. Did you say I exploded?" He stood up. "Let me talk to him now. Poor guy must be out of his fucking gourd."


"This is nuts." Wirth had already said this ten times. "You're nuts."

Ngo nodded. "According to our records, you were pulled into AAF-D by a translucent orange tentacle."

He blew a raspberry. "I've seen some bullshit records before, lady, but never one that stank so bad. A translucent orange tentacle?"

"We have… experimental data, confirming its existence. And also video feed of it happening. Would you like to see it?"


"Would I like to see… myself… killed by a creamsicle kraken. No, honestly, I don't think I would like that."

"Alright, well…. What would you like? How should I proceed?"

"You should let me go. I swear I don't know anything about a containment breach. Just let me talk to Harry. Or Melissa!"


"You're handling this very well, I must say."

Mukami shrugged. "You're being cautious. I get that. I don't understand the situation, but everyone is reacting exactly as I knew they would." For a moment, just a moment, Ngo thought she caught a glimpse of uncertainty on the sniper's composed face. "The guards who detained us… were they modelling those mythical new jumpsuits?"


Ngo nodded. "Did we not have those in your version of this 2003?"

"My version of 2003." Mukami shook her head. "So bizarre. But no, the Chief never did sign off on them. Personally I think she just liked lording it over us. She prefers to relate to people at a distance, and prefers that distance to be… vertical."

Ngo didn't fight the sudden smile. "I imagine she's missed your infuriating wisdom."

Mukami raised both eyebrows. "If Chief Ibanez is now capable of missing things, doctor, you all must have lived through a heck of a different year than I did."


LeClair shook her head. "I hope this doesn't become a trend." She wrapped her long fingers around the handle, and pulled out the morgue slab. Dougall Deering was still preserved in state; the charm was holding, though it probably wouldn't for long.

"You and me both," said Udo.

LeClair pulled the second slab out, and the newly-deceased double Deering wobbled into view.

"I'll leave you three alone," the doctor sighed, and brushed past Udo to the door.

She stood there for a moment, not quite sure what she'd expected. Not at all sure what to do. If the old corpse had disappeared, well, that would make a certain sense. If the new corpse was somehow different, that would mean… what, exactly?

She had her bag of sand. She knew what she had to do.

"Dr. Deering," she muttered as she unlatched her pack. "I don't know why you'd want me to start a hippocampus collection, but there has got to have been a less convoluted way to go about it."


Nascimbeni elected to remain behind in the observation room while Ngo conducted her interviews, and after a few moments terse 'negotiation', he managed to convince the others to let him alone. LeClair's people would be monitoring him through the cameras anyway, and he was certainly through the worst of it.


He'd felt like a jackass making that last argument, of course.

The door opened, and Phil Deering walked in. "Hey, boss. Good to see you up." The slit monster popped into existence on the…

Phil gasped, and stepped back out into the hall. The apparition disappeared.

"What?" said Nascimbeni. "It's one-way glass, they can't see your buddy's backside."

"Oh, thank Christ." Phil walked back in. "Look, I know you're… not at your best, but—"

"—but I'm still your boss. What's up?"

Phil was holding his work tablet. He turned it so Nascimbeni could see. "Here's a photo I just took."

Nascimbeni nodded. "One of 5056's mirrors broke. I'm surprised they don't all do that, with his ugly mug."

It took Phil a moment to respond, and during that moment he looked like he was listening to someone whisper in his ear. Finally, he nodded. "Doug says that if the mirrors don't break for my reflection, they've got nothing to fear from his." Phil had long since gotten used to telling people everything the creature said, to avoid having to hear them ask. "Anyway. I thought you'd like to know… well. Okay. You're not gonna like to know this. This actually really sucks, and Azad had to wake everybody up."

Azad Banerjee was still Nascimbeni's Deputy Chief; he hadn't managed to properly replace Ambrogi, because the thought of replacing Ambrogi… "Can you spit it out already, Phil? You're leaving me way too much time with my own thoughts between sentences."

"Sorry. Sorry." The kid was squirming in his jumpsuit, and his eyes kept twitching to the twitching figure in the mirror. "So you know how Doug has three hundred and fifty mirrors across the Site?"

Nascimbeni nodded.

"Well, thirty-five of them are broken."

Nascimbeni very nearly stood up. "What?!"

"Yeah. And the Nexus cells are experiencing power losses, materials stress, and all sorts of other bullshit. Azad had sort of an idea about it, so he sent me to check the low-yield lockups, and… yeah. Seven hundred boxes, five hundred and twenty of them in use, and fifty-two are busted. It's the same shit as last year, with the containment loss, but… it's worse. A lot worse."

"Ten percent," Nascimbeni breathed. "Jesus Christ. So it's all hands on deck again. Code Grey."

"Yeah. I just… thought I'd tell you, while you're still up. So you don't find out… accidentally."

Nascimbeni sighed heavily. "Sure. God knows I'd hate to see an accident happen here."


They met, without a single world shared between them, in Blank's quarters just before midnight. Nascimbeni was still using the walker, and he looked like he might pass out; within minutes he was dozing in the corner, para-meds doing their thing. Harry took his usual place on the couch, but Udo chose to lean on the kitchen counter instead. Whenever one thought the other wasn't looking, they passed a furtive glance. Everyone else took their accustomed places.

Lillian spoke first. "So… does this prove, disprove, or neither prove nor disprove the Seven Angry Skippers' pet theory?"

"I think the timeline shenanigans explanation just went from 'maybe' to 'absolutely positively'," Harry volunteered. Udo nodded at him, but didn't make eye contact. "The only thing that kept us from experiencing a complete redux of last year was the new safety systems. They ended the breach before it could start."

"The… what are we even going to call them, now?" Ibanez asked. "The other seven, since for some reason Deering's different, certainly acted like they were stuck in a time loop. They behaved like it was 2002 again, until things went so far off-script that they couldn't… maintain the delusion, I guess, and they snapped out of it. They still think they've been alive all this time."

"Maybe they were," Nascimbeni drifted in. "Maybe we've been dead."

"Maybe we still are, and this is hell," Harry muttered.

"But why is Dougall…" Udo swore under her breath. "Doesn't make any sense."

"It makes sense if he died from something completely different," said Lillian. "Related, but not the same. Maybe it was still a time travel thing. Maybe someone pulled a just-shoot-Hitler on him."

Udo stared at her. "Explain what you mean, and then explain why you had to use Hitler to explain it."

"She means," Harry said, "that maybe Dougall needed to die for things to turn out… right." He winced. "Not right, but… I don't know. The point is, someone killed him so he couldn't… do something."

"But if it's unrelated," Udo snapped, "why the fuck did—"

"Yeah," Harry nodded. "Why did it bring him back, I don't know."

"We don't have enough data to be making any assumptions," said McInnis. "So I expect you all to start collecting it as soon as possible."

"Sorry," said Wettle. "What are we talking about? Is it the dead people again?"

Wettle was sitting on the floor, in front of the couch. Harry kicked him in the back. "Yes, it's the fucking dead people. And we'd all better get used to the fact that they aren't dead anymore."

"Personally," Ibanez sighed, "I'm going to find that pretty easy."

Nascimbeni shifted in his seat.

"I don't even know what to feel guilty about anymore," said Harry. "But I think we owe something to all of these people. They're our people. We need to talk to them, figure out what they know, what we know."

"If Roz proves they are who they're supposed to be," Udo asked, "will we let them out?"

McInnis nodded. "That's the best solution, in my view. They'll remain Class E, but they'll have their relative freedom. Within the bounds of 43, we can watch them. Monitor them. Make sure there's nothing further anomalous about their failure to remain deceased."

"And after that?" Nascimbeni asked. His eyes were suddenly wide and alert.

McInnis pursed his lips. "I would imagine we put them back to work. I understand there's rather a lot of that to do, tomorrow."

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