Hidden Depths

Hidden Depths



9 September

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada

Whatever Del was on, it wasn't wearing off. She was ranting and raving and swinging her arms expansively, tone frantic, and the two guards leading them through the halls kept glancing back at her with obvious anxiety. It was worst in the close quarters of the second skin, the metre-wide exterior space surrounding every inch of interior. She kept banging her knuckles on the concrete walls as she waved, cheerfully shouting "ow" every time. There was a dangerous strain to her babble.

It was better once they reached the J&M Section, exiting directly into the equipment transfer tunnels which were long and wide and featureless, but she was still producing imprudent amounts of noise. It occurred to Harry that she might be trying to keep her subordinates from asking difficult questions by consuming all the available oxygen. If that was her goal, it was working; she certainly wasn't trying to call attention to their location, as the baffle plates on the spotless steel walls stopped her voice from carrying beyond their ears.

Harry chose not to think further on the situation, which anyway he still didn't nearly understand, instead keeping his head down and stealing the occasional glance at his long-lost partner.

She was doing the same.

It wasn't a particularly long walk. He would've liked it to last a while longer.

The equipment transfer tracks ensquare the bulk of Janitorial and Maintenance, enabling swift delivery of repair carts or custom-built machinery from storage warehouses and manufactories to dropoff points in Habitation and Sustenance, Identity and Technocryptography, and Archives and Revision. It is common to joke that the equipment often reaches its destination long before its operators do. This poorly-camouflaged gripe has become self-fulfilling, as most technicians no longer see any reason to beat their payloads to the job site. But it was never a very fair complaint, as few pedestrian paths in the facility offer such a straight and unbroken shot from origin to destination. The rails are greased, and the walls are securely soundproofed. The latter fact has occasioned some comment as well; many non-technical staff hold the belief that J&M techs use the space to blow off steam away from prying eyes and perked-up ears. In this sense, it's their equivalent of the minotaur maze that is AAF-D.

I have secured no janitorial comment on the matter.

— Blank, Lines in a Muddle

It was two minutes from the second skin to the corner of the first tunnel as it bent westward towards H&S — where they most certainly did not want to go. They crept in silence across the passageway that would have brought them to the southern dorms, then entered the next stretch of track and clicked the door shut behind them with agonizing care. Del consented to shut her yap for this brief interregnum, then resumed as soon as the soundproofing did. She was talking about the damage she'd seen on their excursion, the odds they were being followed, the state of her charges and their wardrobes. She was not talking about the battles, or their subjects, and as Harry could sense this was a pointed omission he chose not to probe it.

He was surprised to see how clean the tunnels were, given their reputation. No cigarette butts, no beer cans, no overflowing trash bins, no used prophylactics. If people were still using these spaces, there were few signs of their passing. Hide and seek, he reminded himself. Don't leave a trail to follow.

Another three minutes and they had rounded several more bends, this edge of J&M having a particularly chunky outline, and had reached the end of the line. This was the mammoth cooling tower which serviced I&T and all other high-energy systems in the Site, protruding from J&M's southwestern corner like a bubo. It was transparent, three storeys tall — one sunk below them, one rising above — and some twenty metres in diameter. It was also half-empty, the bright teal remainder bubbling furiously within and casting strange shadows on the concrete drum walls. Harry was surprised that neither the tank nor any of its dozen feeder tubes had been shattered, transforming the entire chamber into a caustic swimming pool. Mere resource scarcity seemed a step down from the chaos he'd seen elsewhere.

The moment Holt opened the door to the last stretch of corridor before I&T, two more uniformed guards were walking toward them. Harry could see barricades beyond, not hastily assembled from whatever was lying around but actual security screens, modular and bulletproof with firing windows every metre. He felt a little safer just looking at them. He figured he'd feel a lot safer on the other side.

"Chief," one of the new guards grunted at Del. He was particularly nondescript, a standard issue side of beef in blue. "Yancy's in med, looks stable. Chief Veiksaar wants Dr. Blank, then the Director wants all of you."

Veiksaar wants…

Melissa was examining the barricades. "Surprised the Director's happy going second," she remarked.

"Didn't say he was happy," the grunt grinned. "Is he ever? But he knows not to argue with her this late in the day. Only person I think he's a little afraid of."

That tracked. Harry had endured years of strained cohabitation rather than face conflict with Eileen Veiksaar. She got vicious when the caffeine ran low.

"Understood." Del was standing up straight, projecting authority. It was never clear to Harry how she managed this, as standing up straight brought her eyes up to most people's stomachs, but somehow it usually sufficed. "Keep your eyes peeled. Don't think we've been followed, but you know. Shit city."

Both guards snapped crisp salutes, and she returned the gesture. The one who hadn't spoken, a hatchet-faced fellow with the narrowed gaze of a career sniper, swiped his card to allow entry to Veiksaar's domain.


I&T, as Harry had once written quite floridly, was the pinnacle of hostile bureaucratic architecture.

The main I&T server room is three hundred and sixty square metres in area, containing twenty-eight server racks, each twenty-two metres long. Each rack contains forty-four stacks, and each stack contains sixteen servers. Each server boasts fifty terabytes of storage capacity, meaning the entire array offers one exabyte — one thousand terabytes — one million gigabytes. Needless to say, at this time not even the barest fraction of that storage space has been filled with actual data. It does store, in volatile flash memory, the entire contents of the SCiPnet database, backed up weekly, the entire contents of Wikipedia, backed up to the minute, and a sizeable snapshot of the overall internet well beyond what the Internet Archive has managed. This server is classified as a Level 0 Deepwell, meaning the racks are seeded with Scranton Reality Chains which passively resist ontokinetic flux, meaning that reality bending has next to no effect on their contents, meaning the entire world would have to change for the data within to follow suit. Nothing so prosaic as a bomb would make a dent in this facility, thanks to the pile of bedrock on top and the metre-thick stone walls circulating the high-efficiency coolant keeping the servers from halting and catching fire. Even the organic control elements (the human technicians) are prevented from becoming interference vectors by a thin sheathe of SCP-148, the material known as telekill, which blocks all attempts at psychic intrusion. There are security posts in the north and south, and a controlled access coolant facility to the east which can only be opened on the authority of the Chief of I&T. It is, all told, a very secure space.

To qualify as a Level 1 Deepwell, the system would need to be able to resist timeline shifts. The Foundation has precious few facilities rated for a cataclysm on that scale.

— Blank, Lines in a Muddle

Harry was surprised to see that most of the servers remained present, humming and clacking and blinking away, presumably still possessed of their trillions of bytes of data. The aisles between had been converted to a sort of open-air marketplace, but instead of wares there were people on offer in various states of consciousness. Some were flaked out on bunk beds wedged between racks at the end of each aisle; some were typing into terminals slotted into spaces once occupied by three or four servers, sat on uncomfortable-looking chairs and working on… he couldn't really imagine. Some were mending electronic components. Some were mending clothes. It should have been very, very cramped, but…

…but there weren't enough people to make it so. Harry recognized this space for what it was: a bastion, a redoubt, a retreat of last resort. It was the most impenetrable fortress one could construct using only Site-43's floorplan for raw materials.

He wondered where the fortress-keeper was.

The techno tent city's entrances were offset from the centre, and they had to pass through a wide variety of domestic vignettes and covered souks on their winding path to the main monitoring station. The squalor stunned him, and he'd gotten to know Del well enough over the past few months to see his surprise mirrored in her eyes, which she was hiding from everyone else. He only noticed it himself when he caught her watching his reactions, and the suspicion he'd been nursing since she rescued him deepened further. She doesn't recognize any of this either.

The thought gave him a rush of comfort so sudden and strong that his stomach nearly bottomed out under the pressure.

There were streets cut through the modular stacks, and they took one of these straight to the hall's heart. This was still nothing special, a wraparound circular reception desk covered in paperwork and radio recharging stations and laptop computers. Three clerks who looked like they'd forgotten what sleep even felt like were dutifully tapping away at their consoles, hair limp, H&R uniforms — white shirts, black slacks, no tie — identically rumpled. Somehow Harry had expected to find either the Director or Eileen in this position. It was instead obviously a logistics hub, which did make sense given the location.

Bosch and Holt dropped their radios into the chargers and directed the little group the desk, to where a break in the racks was filled by a tacky beaded curtain Harry found naggingly familiar. The space beyond was dim. There was a sturdy cardboard ceiling blocking the light from above, but he could still just make out an aisle of disconnected and neatly-stacked servers to each side. Eileen wasn't the wasteful type. She only excised things from her life when they ceased to have value for her.

The curtain to the next space was thick, navy blue, and Harry had just enough time to recognize it from his long-past university days when Holt threw it aside and called out: "We found them."

A yellow blur appeared in the doorway, and an extra tongue appeared in Harry's mouth. He recognized it almost immediately, though he hadn't tasted it in years. His body kissed her back before his brain knew what was happening, and by that time she'd squeezed him so hard he'd lost what little breath had survived the kiss. Eventually she detached, stepping back to beam up at him. It was Eileen, wide and bleary blue eyes above a dusty yellow hoodie less well-filled than he remembered, a few strands of her otherwise honey blonde hair shining silver in the blinkenbacklight. She looked unspeakably relieved, and also… eager? and it made him feel tremendously guilty for a variety of reasons. There was Melissa at his side, looking back the way they'd come, studiously ignoring them both. There was Del behind him — he could hear her impatient huffing — and suspecting that she knew about him and Udo reminded him of the third thing he had to feel guilty about, which really should have been the first thing.

He expressed none of this verbally. Instead, he said "Hi."

"Hi," Eileen responded with the wide, thin-lipped smile which had first attracted him to her a decade before. "Where've you been?"

"My dorm." It wasn't an explanation, but then he didn't have one.

"Security business," Del explained around the edge of his right arm. He resisted the urge to turn and mouth appreciation for the save.

"Security business with her?" Eileen's eyes narrowed in suspicion, head inclined in Melissa's direction. The latter was now kneeling to examine the stored servers. "Sounds more like a research project."

A querulous yowl sounded from the darkness. Eileen sighed, and flicked a switch Harry couldn't see on the stack behind the curtain. The servers hummed louder in the dark.

Scout. Harry's pet Burmese cat got vocal whenever he felt cold. The animal had once been engaged in his nightly ritual of pointless yowling at the moment the Site's central heating switched on, and interpreted this to mean that the warmth was voice-activated. He'd been chirpy when chilly ever since.

"Due an upload anyway," Eileen muttered. "Can risk a little extra CPU." Somewhere in her darkened workspace, Harry's cat was warming his tummy on a computer tower, and probably purring. That, and the kiss, told him everything he needed to know about this timeline.

This version of them had never broken up.

"Okay," he said. It still didn't mean anything. He didn't know what to say.

"Go on," she waved. "Talk to the old man. I just wanted to see you were safe." She sighed. "Stop by again when you can. The fuckers don't let up, but I'll make time."

She winked.

Bosch and Holt headed back towards the station, Del ambling along in front. Outrageously unsure if it was the right thing to do, Harry kissed his former girlfriend on the forehead, and followed them.

Melissa hung back for a moment. If she said anything to Eileen, Harry didn't hear it.


Now that the novelty of the unfamiliar setting had been forcibly worn off, Harry started to notice things about its inhabitants. Most of them were wearing sweaters, sweatshirts or jackets, which made sense given the omnipresent whir of several thousand cooling fans. All of them looked tired, and many were battered to bruising. Their clothes hadn't fared much better, and their expressions were downcast.

He put a hand on Melissa's shoulder as she walked ahead. "How often do you leave? I mean, go outside. Of here."

She glanced back at him. "I don't. That was the first time."

He'd already suspected this, since her clothes were immaculate. Still, it gave him even more complex feelings.

They returned to the entrance corridor and this time looped around the edge of the hall, turning a corner and approaching a security checkpoint set in the middle of the otherwise blank east wall. There were four guards posted outside of the reinforced steel door, and they nodded uneasily at the small party as it approached. Harry knew in an instant why Bosch and Holt were still leading: nobody else besides Melissa even knew the way. This was a problem, too, as Del never let anyone else take the lead. In so doing, she looked like a prisoner in custody.

Which might as well be true.

Perhaps having similar thoughts, Del pushed past her agents and nodded brusquely at the guards. They nodded back, visibly relieved at the resumption of normalcy. The five of them passed through the portals into a small airlock — the door clicked behind them — and waited to be buzzed in.

"Password?" a modulated voice demanded from somewhere above.

Del looked stricken, but Holt cleared her throat and responded: "They stumble each and every into agnostic reverie."

There was a new click from the door ahead. Del shot Harry a glare which said, plainly, What the fuck?

Melissa wasn't looking at him at all.

The doors opened from the outside, and Harry didn't immediately see the four new guards pulling them to because of the fifth one pointing her gun at them.

"They're clear," said Bosch. "We're ready to see him."

The armed guard nodded, stepping aside to let them pass. The room was perhaps a quarter of the size of the one outside. It had been the storehouse for the Site's most secure and sensitive data, which made it a natural fit for the vastly reduced operative Site's inner sanctum. Each line of stacks enclosed a cheap work desk where it met the wall, its occupant tapping away at a keyboard with their back to the rest of the room. One of the racks had been filled with rifles and handguns, chained up and locked like bicycles on a city street. In the middle of it all, absurdly, was a modular storage unit the size of a spacious washroom. Simply imagining the process of sliding its partitions through all these cramped spaces made Harry's head hurt.

The interior of the storage container was bisected by a solid sheet of ballistic glass, behind which was the heavy mahogany desk which had belonged to the Director of Site-43 since Vivian Scout. The present Director was sitting behind it, sleeves rolled up, elbows on the desktop, one hand draping idle like a spider waiting to drop. He gave them a vicious grin as they entered.

"Find what you were looking for?" Edwin Falkirk's voice was low and scratchy, dangerous. "Or were they not accepting defectors today?"

"Sir," Melissa began.

Falkirk waved lazily at her. "You're not fully implicated yet, dear. Have the sense to keep it that way." He returned his attention to Harry. "So, go ahead. Lie to me about what you were doing out there."

Harry had every intention of doing so. He's decided as soon as he'd heard who the Director was that he was going to break every protocol in the book and keep the truth to himself. Nobody in their right mind trusted Falkirk to do the right thing in any situation. Harry couldn't wait to find out how the hateful old man had come to be in charge.

He took a steadying breath, glancing at Melissa. She smiled supportively. He expended the breath: "There was a storage drive in my office." He drifted his gaze from his partner to the old man. "Archival information that might have helped explain what's going on, stuff we didn't want them to get hold of. I heard the nobodies were turning the place inside out, and I thought I could beat them to it if I hurried."

Falkirk's sneer wasn't promising. "Did you?"

"I did hurry, and I did beat them, but I lost the drive. And if Melissa hadn't followed me, I would've been caught."

"Eileen can vouch for him," Melissa interjected. "She was the one who wanted Harry's data."

Harry kept his reaction muted. He now knew why Melissa had hung back before this audience.

"I'm shocked to discover she wanted a second thing from you." Falkirk was leering now. "Do you believe this yarn, Chief Ibanez, or ought we pull the thread?"

"I believe it, yes." Del nodded. "He would've heard about the rumour from my people." Now Harry was sure they shared the same temporal discombobulation. "If they'd been defecting, this isn't how they'd go about it. They're smarter than that. For starters, they'd have brought a bargaining chip, and we're not missing anything."

Falkirk looked surprised, and more than a little disappointed. Harry realized the Director had expected Del to back him up. "Perhaps he made a handoff before you caught them."

Del shook her head. "The Mukamis were about to kill them when I intervened."

The disappointment was deepening into frustration now. "Or that's what you were meant to believe, and bring them back here as spies." Harry noted that Melissa was now fully implicated, and felt his chest narrow with panic. "A show for your benefit. You did find them in the theatre, did you not?"

"Auditorium," Del corrected.

Again the dismissive wave. "Where you broke up their negotiations." Harry suddenly wondered why Falkirk wasn't accusing his security chief of collusion. Was it possible he actually trusted her? Was he even capable of trust? "Or perhaps it was enemy action that compelled him to leave the safety of our refuge."

"Come again?" Del asked.

"Your boy here walks out of the safe zone, claiming he has to go find something, and he can't explain why. That's not normal behaviour. Nobody wants to leave the safe zone. And then she," he aimed a gnarled finger at Melissa, "goes after him. And what do they come back with? His life, and her life, and yours and his and hers, but only just barely, and an unlikely story, and nothing else. Walked into an ambush, didn't you? Didn't you."

"Yes," Del admitted. "But it's not like he led us there. Look, if you're so concerned about this, just get them a memetic screening. We can still do that, right?"

Falkirk's eyes narrowed. "I might have you screened as well. You're not entirely yourself today, Chief Ibanez. What made you go after our wayward sheep in the first place?"

"Because I don't leave people behind to die!" she blurted.

Falkirk bit back whatever he was about to say, and for a moment seemed completely at a loss for what to do. He slapped his dangling hand on the desk. He straightened in his chair. He kicked at something out of sight. He waved at them irritably. "Fine. Memetic screening, after Forsythe gives them physicals. Blank first. Concur?"

Del nodded.

"Then get the hell out of my office."

"I can't believe you threw that back at him," Bosch said to Del under his breath as they left. From the look on her face, the dimunitive Chief had no more idea what this meant than Harry did.


The medical station was located in a closet that had once been used to store spare parts for the server farm. For that purpose, it had been spacious. As a wardroom it was worthless, so Harry was unsurprised to see that it contained nothing more than a desk, a chair, and a few cabinets presumably stuffed with medical supplies. This time however he was surprised to see who was sitting behind the desk.

Helena Forsythe was, to his knowledge, a nurse. She was built like a nurse, she had the perpetually exhausted and half-worn patience of a nurse, she was qualified for nursing duty at any Foundation facility. Inexplicably, however, she was wearing a doctor's oufit. Specifically the one belonging to the CMO, which didn't fit her very well. She was violently massaging her neck when he came in, to the point where it looked like she was about to snap it, and when she was done she gestured at the chair across from her desk without looking up. "Take your blood pressure." She yawned.

Harry slid the automatic device onto his arm, punched a few buttons, and watched as Forsythe tapped aimlessly at her keyboard. When the reading was finished, he turned the device so she could see. She looked at it, grunted, then looked up at him. "Fit as a fiddle. Check your heart rate." She pulled the stethoscope from around her neck, and passed it over to him.

"Busy day?" he asked sarcastically as he fixed the plugs into his ear.

"Depends what day it is. I might still be awake since yesterday."

There were a dozen physicians posted at Site-43. If Forsythe was the Chief Medical Officer, it meant all twelve were probably dead. He was fortunate to have finished the heartbeat test before that crossed his mind. "Seventy-seven," he told her. "Yancy okay?"

"There's okay shot and just plain okay," she shrugged. "He's okay shot. Any breathing trouble?"

He shook his head, but she still wasn't looking. "No. Hey, can I ask you a question?"

"Not with this in your mouth." She pulled a thermometer out of a cup on the desk, and held it out to him. He popped it under his tongue, waited a while, then reported the results. She grunted, then finally looked him up and down. "Any new pains?"

He had no idea. "I don't think so."

"You're fine, then."

Some physical.

She must have seen the look of surprise on his face, because she grunted and said "If you need your prostate checked, enlist Eileen when we're done." She tapped a few buttons on an old-fashioned phone beside the pile of notes atop her desk. "To that end, I'll call for the consult."

"Wait." He winced at the look on her face. "Just, sorry, this won't take long. I wanted to talk to you about the… well, the zombies."

Forsythe blinked. "The empties? What about them?"

The image of Karen Elstrom strolling braindead through the library wouldn't leave his mind's eye. "Do you know what causes that? Neurologically? And how we might fix it?"

She snorted. "It's not really neurological, which is good, because I'm just a nurse. Far as we can tell there's some ontokinetic effect whenever they take somebody over, and eventually it forces their minds into shutdown. Not their brains, you understand, their minds." She tapped her temple. "They go to sleep in there, and there's nothing we can do to rouse them."

"How do you know?" he pressed. "Have you been able to run tests?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Not many, no, because of the Director's rule about compromised personnel in the compound. If I had a few subjects to examine, maybe I could figure something out, but you'd have to make him see the benefit of it. I don't know if I do, to be honest."

He nodded. "Okay. Thanks." He paused. "You feeling alright? There anything I can do to help?

She shook her head. "Feel like shit. You can go away and not do anything that adds to my workload. Those pills I gave you last week help, by the way?"

Pills? "Yeah," he said. "I feel a lot better."

She actually laughed, a one-syllable abrupt affair. "Droll way to put it. I'm buzzing Memetics now."

They waited in awkward silence until there was a knock on the door. "It's unlocked," Forsythe called. To Harry she said: "You've met Dr. Naylor, right?"

He was about to say "no," which would probably have been a mistake, when the door opened and he saw who Dr. Naylor was.

It would have been a mistake, but not in the way that he'd thought.


Ibanez didn't ask anyone where the sick personnel were kept, as Forsythe's office was obviously too small. There was no-one she could trust enough to ask, since the question would necessarily come with the admission that she didn't know, and a whole host of other admissions would have to soon follow. That lack of a confidant, paradoxically, was why she was looking for the infirmary.

She wandered through the tent city for about five minutes before figuring it out all in a rush. She was Falkirk's security chief, and he trusted her. She was immensely uncomfortable with both of those facts, but they started off a chain of logical deduction her feet could follow. She was responsible for matters of security. She would have helped lay out the compound for maximum defensibility. She would have placed the barracks block closest to the exterior doors, and she would have included a space to keep her injured agents separate from 'civilian' casualties. She found each of these suppositions true. The northeast corner of the high-tech shanty town, from the server hall entrance to Falkirk's warren, had a double-thick solid wall of servers and two guards stationed at one break on each side. Inside there were actual bunk beds, three high, and an array of people she knew and had personally trained all occupied with cleaning their equipment, sleeping, or shooting the shit in hushed whispers. Two of them were, so to speak, cleaning each others' equipment, and she returned their welcoming smiles. Her agents didn't stand on ceremony at the best of times, and the worst of times had apparently intensified that tendency. There was a soft humming sound as she passed them by, and she realized there was a dampening field between the barracks and the rest of the headquarters block. Good thing. She headed to the back, then to the left, and heard the soft electronic hum increase in pitch. If this was her infirmary, she'd be able to converse with Yancy without fear of being overheard by anyone inside or outside the barracks.

The big man was lying on one of four cots occupying most of the space in the narrow 'room', accessed via a modular cabinet door installed in place of the final server stack in its southern rack-wall. The whispers behind her died out entirely when she closed the door. She sat down in the lone chair, and examined her sleeping second-in-command.

He opened his eyes, and she laughed. "Still on alert, huh?"

He shuffled back on the bed, sitting partially upright. He didn't wince, though he probably felt the impulse. His shoulder was spica bandaged, and he held his arm as though it were in a sling. Lord, but he was fit. "I never wake up when I'm in the block with everyone else. It's the damn quiet in here that gets me."

"The quiet is important," she sighed. "I'm going to really need the quiet in a second. But first off, how you feeling?"

"Like I got old and then got shot."

She laughed again. She hoped it didn't sound too frantic. "Slow and shot at worst, and hey! You might still get to get old, if you're lucky."

"You were going to tell me something." The man's dark eyes were fixed on hers. "Explain what happened back at the hall."

Even knowing that no sound could penetrate their surroundings, she felt exposed and vulnerable approaching the topic. "I have to ask you not to tell anyone what I'm going to say next. That's nobody. Not a single solitary soul. Not your best friend, not your wife, not the ghosts of your parents or whatever god you believe in. We clear?"

He nodded. "Don't have most of those anyway. We're clear."

"Okay." She took a deep breath. "On September 8, 2002, I witnessed a cascade containment breach that killed eight people."

He waited, still keeping eye contact.

"Obviously that didn't happen, as far as you're concerned. But I saw it. I lived through it. I lived through the year that followed. And then it all apparently un-happened, and now this whole place is a war zone, and I don't know anything I need to know to do my job." She kept talking, because she was afraid of what he might say if he thought she was finished or looking for input. "I have to assume that there's a reason I still remember the alternate course of events, and I have to assume there's a way to put things back that way — because from what I can see, this isn't exactly an improvement, and might not even be survivable. If I tell Falkirk about this, he's going to think I'm crazy or dangerous, and Howard, I am not crazy, and I'm only dangerous in the ways you already know about."

"I saw," he nodded. "I won't ever look at your thighs the same way again, boss."

His continued joviality was a good sign, but she realized she should have asked him something before starting on this explanation. "How many painkillers you on?"

"Whole bunch," he nodded. "But that's not why I'm not freaking out. Nothing you tell me is going to be worse than what I'm used to hearing these days, or even weirder."

Fair enough. "Well, good. I'm glad you're taking it on the chin, because I need to ask you a favour, and it's kind of… more like… a whole sequence of favours, stretching into the foreseeable future. I need you to tell me what the fuck is going on here, or how I can find out without people getting suspicious. I need to know what I need to know, I need to know what my priorities were before today, and most of all I need to know that you don't think I'm some sort of mind-controlled loon."

He considered. "How did it feel, killing that copy of Ana?"

She felt her lips retreat past her teeth of their own volition, and forced them back out. "Felt like shit," she admitted. "Where I'm from, she'd been dead a year. Then suddenly I had her back, and it wasn't…" She wasn't about to explain the whole sordid story to him, not even to gain his trust. "I had them all back, and I still kind of hoped things might work out. But they didn't, and then I had to kill her, and I thought it was really her, you know? The real thing. And I did it anyway, and it only felt like shit." She had an overwhelming desire to go home, whatever that meant, as she said this. She hated living the reality she was describing, and even the reality she'd left behind didn't quite fit the bill. "It should have felt like worse than shit. But part of me got over the fact that she'd died already, and I can't get that worked up about the same thing twice. Three times. Four or five or six times. I'm already losing count."

He was still considering. "Why do you think you sided with Falkirk?"

She was totally at a loss to answer that, so she went with honesty. "I can't figure that part out. I thought I'd rather quit than take orders from that worthless sack of shit."

Yancy smiled. "I am willing to accept that you are neither crazy nor someone else, given those responses, on one condition."

"What's that?"

"Head over to the clinic and get a Memetics test." Yancy yawned. "Come back with proof that nobody's been stirring your pudding, and I'll either give you what you need, or tell you where to find it."


She'd had Holt ferry Blank over to the medical office before seeking Yancy out, and watched which direction they set off in carefully, so she knew where to go without having to ask directions. She met Harry at the door; he somehow looked worse than he'd looked before going in.

"What's wrong?" she asked him. "You all fucked in the head?" Holt was standing some distance away, leaning on the wall and eating a ration bar. Out of earshot. If the Memetics consult had gone bad, she would have had him in irons already.

"Not in the way you mean," he said. "Del—"

She held up a finger, and said, "Here's to the survivors."

He deflated in the most palpable show of relief she'd ever seen. "Oh thank god thank god, you remember. I thought you did, but I didn't know." It had been their final toast the night before the breach recurred. It was unlikely to mean anything to anyone trapped in the local frame of reference.

"What's the next part?" she asked. She had to make sure.

He looked confused for a moment. "After we survived? Oh, you mean… uh… Willie didn't get it, because he's a fucking idiot, and we had to explain it to him."

She almost gave him a hug, but didn't. Holt was staring at them now, and there were suspicions to allay. "You're cleared, Harry? They didn't find anything?"

He shook his head. His stance was more relaxed now, but his brows were still knitted. "No, I'm clear, but—"

Ibanez snapped her fingers at the guard, who ambled over, still munching desiccated oatmeal. "Blank checks out. Take him to the barracks infirmary; I wanna keep him for observation, just in case. Grab Bradbury and bring her back here for her turn, and I'm gonna get myself looked at for good measure. Been feeling a little off all day." It was no lie, and her antics before the first side effects of the Langford-Euler had worked out of her system would only confirm the statement.

Holt shrugged, and headed off. Ibanez grasped Harry by both arms and pushed him towards her.

She had the distinct sense he wanted to finish his abortive statement, but it could wait until after. The next time she was in the infirmary, she wanted to be able to win Yancy's permanent trust.

She opened the door to the medical closet, and the first person she saw there raised a hand and gave her a friendly wave.

"Hey Chief, keeping your boots dry?"

It was Alis Rydderech.

Her hair was hot pink where once it had been ice blue, but it was her. She was wearing a bright long sleeve sweater of the sort most memeticists sported off duty when they wanted to remain memorable without looking quite so fashion victimized; at Area-21, she'd been pretending to be an expert in Acroamatic Abatement. She looked genuinely pleased to see Ibanez, which suggested that this version of her probably had never attempted to murder the Survivors in a cascade containment breach.

We have got to stop meeting like this.

Alis, alias Dr. Naylor — Alis/alias, never noticed that before, that's cute — was still waving hello. "Howdy Chief! Something I can do for you?"

She hadn't wiped Harry's mind, and his poker face was shit. As long as Ibanez didn't show her hand, it was probably still safe to get the tests. She needed Yancy's support. So, she said "I'll have what he had," and jerked a thumb at the closing door.

Alis shrugged. "Okeydoke." She didn't ask why, just turned around and started messing with the medical scan projector on the wall behind her. Forsythe had her head in her hands and her hands on the desk. It looked like she might be asleep.

"Good to go," Alis chirped. "Take a…" She frowned. "Actually, just stand up. It's an angle thing. Sorry."

If it wasn't true, it was pretty funny. Ibanez faced the projector. "Mind if we multitask here, doctor?"

"Sure!" Alis slid a yellow spellophane sheet onto the projector. The shape on the sheet was indescribable. "I'm open."

"I'm going to ask you a few security questions. Taking a baseline of everyone who's come into contact with Blank today."

Forsythe stirred on the desktop. "That include me?"

"Maybe, later. You actually touched him."

"Didn't." Forsythe yawned. "Don't need to get physical for a physical, the way we do it in this dump."

"How do you know I didn't touch him?" Alis smirked. "I'm very friendly. Chief, what does this word say?"

Ibanez glanced at the… thing. She said "It says befehl," and then she said "What the fuck?" and then finally "What language did I just speak?"

Alis took the slide down. "Is that your question? We should go one for one, I think."

"No. My question is: what was your last posting, and for how long?"

Alis looked nostalgic. "Site-41, three years. Antimemetics Division. Taught me everything I know. But I didn't fancy getting my hash browned, so I got out. They've got a monster mortality rate, and a good chance of getting gone in a forgotten way. Not for me." She popped in the next sheet, which was green. It was covered in tiny English text, upside-down. "How does this make you feel?"

"I can't read…" Her stomach churned. "It makes me feel like I've got bad gas. Alternatively, my lunch is backing up on me."

Alis laughed. It was the most carefree sound Ibanez had heard all day, in either timeline. "Could be both!"

"How long have you worked at 43?"

"Two years." Alis turned the projector off, placed a red sheet on it, then began turning it on and off in quick succession.

Ibanez woke up. She was still standing in front of the screen. Alis was scribbling in a notepad. "Photosensitive, eh?" She tutted. "Thought we'd gotten that fixed. Helena?"

"Might see about increasing the antiparas in the water," the nurse drawled sleepily. "She only blacked out for a second, though, so she's got better immunity than most of the agents."

"True." Alis returned the sheet to a Manila folder and folded her hands in front of her. "You're free and clear, Chief. Any more questions?"

Ibanez didn't like having passed out, but apparently nothing untoward had occurred if Forsythe wasn't bothered. Unless… no, it wasn't worth worrying about. Not yet. "Just the one, actually. You ever talk to Wettle?"

Not even a hint of recognition crossed the other woman's face. "Who?"

Ibanez nodded. "Guess we both pass."

"Ships in the night," the supposed memeticist smiled. "But don't be a stranger!"


Ibanez barely saw her surroundings as she beelined for the barracks. Eileen Veiksaar accosted her just before the server wall, demanding to know where her boyfriend was being kept, and Ibanez gave some automatic military response which clearly agitated the madly-blinking tech chief even more than she already was, but who cared? Who cared. There was a traitor loose in their little base, and there were only two people she could talk to about it.

And one of them wasn't going to have any idea what she was talking about.

Harry was pacing back and forth in the little recuperation room when she arrived. Yancy was watching him, bemused, in more or less the same position she'd left him in. He gestured with his uninjured arm and said "What'd you do to freak out the bookworm?"

"What the fuck do we do about it?" Harry demanded, walking over to her as she shut the door. "What the fuck do we do?"

"We could kill her," she suggested. Yancy raised an eyebrow; he often relied on eyebrow emoting, as his bald head made it stick out extra clear.

"What?" Harry was taken aback, and actually took a step back. "No!"

"Okay, I mean I could kill her, obviously."

He backed up until the backs of his knees hit an empty cot, and he sat down on it suddenly. She was surprised the fabric didn't rip, but then, he was no longer mildly overweight. "That wasn't my objection!"

"Well, it should have been." Ibanez put one boot up against the wall. "Killing her is the safest course by far. Get her outside the camp, somewhere secret, and slug the back of her neck. Done in messy seconds."

"How can that possibly be the safest solution?!" Blank gesticulated. Yancy was still watching them both with cautious confusion.

"Because if we tell anyone what we know she is, we have to tell them why. Why we know. And how well do you think that's going to go?"

"You're the Chief of Security," said Harry. "You don't need to tell people where you get your info."

"I need to tell the other Chiefs and Chairs, Harry, and what's worse, I need to tell Falkirk. If they ask me. And they're going to ask me, if I accuse one of the only able bodies we've got left of being an enemy spy."

"Hold up," said Yancy.

"So we manufacture new info," Harry interrupted. "Prove what we already know to be true, falsely, just believably enough to trigger a real investigation, which she will fail. Her cover fell apart under the slightest scrutiny before, remember? We just need the excuse to start looking." He wasn't the Chair of Archives and Revision for nothing.

"She's a memeticist, Harry. We took her down by having a better memeticist on our side, and we haven't got that." She noted his pained look, and repeated the unfortunate fact. "Right now, we haven't got that. And we can't set ourselves against her unless we know we can handle the blowback, from her and from the others. At 21 she had her plan to nuke the place, right? She's going to have contingencies here, too. We need to know what they are."

He looked defeated. "How do we figure that out?"

"Hey," said Yancy. "If I'm somehow privy to this, I ought to be actually privy to it."

Harry turned to look at him, then at her. "He's good?"

"You'd better hope so, after all the shit we've just blurted out. He knows about the timeline mess. And Howard? Naylor cleared me, and I think she did it correctly."

Yancy half-nodded.

Harry looked back at Yancy. "Short version: where we come from, the woman calling herself Dr. Alis Naylor was calling herself Dr. Alis Rydderech." He paused, and smiled in spite of himself. "Naylor? I hardly even know her…" He slapped his forehead. "Holy shit, that's good."

"That actually is really good," she agreed begrudgingly.

"Why?" said Yancy.

"She wasn't pretending to be a memeticist, like she is now," Harry explained. "She was pretending to be a specialist in Acroamatic Abatement at Area-21. And she tried to blow it up with a bunch of us inside, because she's actually part of a secret cult of cryptomancers and she has the thaumaturgic capability to…" He looked to Ibanez. "How do we put this?"

"She fades into the background when you're not focusing on her. And when you are, you're inclined to trust her assertions about her identity. She's basically the perfect memetic mole. She belongs to the giftschreiber — a cryptomantic cult that used to give us serious grief until the eighties — and she calls herself a geistschreiber. Ghostwriter. Because she's a spooky background memeticist and you never know her real name, and because she's super impressed with her own cleverness."

Yancy had started out the explanation nodding, but he'd stopped about halfway through. "Okay," he said. "That's pretty bad. That's really, really bad. And you definitely can't tell anyone, but you definitely do have to do something about it."

"Right," she agreed. "So first we get her to trust us. That ought to be easy, since she already thinks we trust her. In a sense, we're lucky; we know things she can't possibly imagine we know, because we could only know them by exposing her, and she hasn't been exposed. We've got insider info she'll never suspect. We need to weaponize that."

"Someone needs to get close to her, then," Harry interjected.

"That's right." She grinned at him. "You hoping for the nomination?"

He didn't smile. "Del. I have two girlfriends already. If I wanted a third—"

"Oh, yeah," she said. "I ran into your new-slash-old main squeeze a minute ago. She's looking for you."

"I'll bet she is," Yancy smirked.

Harry looked pained. "Please don't let me out of here. I really don't have the headspace for the moral implications of any of that right now. But as I was saying," he did so hate to be interrupted, it was the lecturing academic in him, "if I wanted a third girlfriend, I'd choose from the pool of non-murderers."

"I'm hurt. And I dunno," she shrugged. "Murder is a skill in high demand right now. If we knew for sure that Alis isn't on the side of the victims, I'd be tempted to say we shouldn't expose her at all. Not yet, at least. Not while she can still be useful."

"The standard of proof for that possibility is sky damn high," said Yancy. "It'd need to be ironclad."

"This woman belongs to a death cult," Harry reminded her.

She kicked off the wall. "What, and we don't?"


10 September

She'd expected to sleep fitfully. Her bunk was in an alcove separated from the others physically by a server partition and sonically by an extra-loud electronic hum, which didn't surprise her since she'd only started attempting a chummier rapport with her troops in the year which hadn't happened. So she had privacy of a sorts, more than most in the server hall had, and she recognized the sheets on her cot as having come from her own dorm room, and there was a bottle of water on the floor so she could address the dry mouth that came on before bed every night, and the lockbox she used to store the diary she filled out compulsively after lying down was sitting next to the bottle; all the ingredients for a good night's sleep were there in front of or beside her. She nevertheless did not expect to get one, because how could she possibly?

She flopped down on the cot, fully intending to pick up the lockbox and fish the key out of her uniform lining, and the next thing she knew the radio still on her hip was buzzing angrily. She slapped at it, pulled it off her belt, and clocked herself in the ear with it. "What? Hello?"

"You're needed at the gates, Chief." A male voice, faint African accent. Agent Ayodele.

"Nggh," she agreed. She rolled out of the cot, scattering the bottle and box as she fell the short distance. That woke her up properly. "Be right there."

She didn't waste time fixing her hair — from what she'd seen it was basically unfixable anyway — or brushing her teeth, or searching for a bar of deodorant. She didn't imagine people went overboard on hygiene these days, and the agent's voice had carried a faint note of urgency. She moved through the unfamiliar space as though in a dream, noting that the cots were occupied by people she hadn't seen on the way in. Bosch and Holt were there, and Holt was snoring. This was the first moment she knew she'd actually been asleep herself, and she wondered for how long, and she wondered how she'd even be able to find that information.

These prosaic concerns disappeared when she exited the compound and entered the long, fortified hallway separating their domain from the dangerous world without. There were four S&C agents standing behind the barricades, and on the other side there were three people in blue shirts and SWAT vests. She recognized the woman in front immediately, and spat out: "Sergeant."

"Chief." Morwen Couch, Superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Occult and Supernatural Activities Taskforce, nodded to her brusquely. "I don't believe we've had the pleasure."

"Oh no?" Ibanez felt a twinge of mischief working its magic on her tired mind. "I feel like I know you pretty well, somehow."

Couch's chest heaved slightly under her heavy bulletproof vest, a sort of subvocal snort. "Must be how much we have in common."

The thought made her feel mildly nauseous, though it could also have been the sudden awakening and rapid response. "Must be. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

"We're hauling," Couch smiled. It was not a friendly smile. She plucked a radio off her belt, pressed the button, and said "Bring them in."

Another agent appeared at the far end of the corridor. Ibanez could see a mass of different shapes and colours behind him.

"We found these wandering the halls near our doorstep," Couch explained as the little group filtered in behind her. "Normally they have the sense to stay away, somehow. But they were being led by someone with even less sense."

"Help," said William Wettle from the middle of the gang. He kept walking until he bumped into Couch, who glared over her shoulder but let it go. Ibanez wasn't at all glad to see how glad she was to see him.

"Wow." She examined the damage to man and wardrobe. It was a lot, but somehow wasn't nearly enough. "How are you not dead? If anyone is dead, you should be. You should have been casualty one."

"Can you explain what he was doing out there?" Couch asked.

Ibanez glanced around at the assembled agents. "Anybody remember?" She played it off as a joke, because of course she had no god-damn idea. Really wish I'd had time to read that fucking diary.

"Dr. Wettle was possessed about a month ago," Agent O piped up. She was a compact South Korean woman with very low muscle mass but 20/10 vision. "Got lost outside and didn't last five minutes, thanks to his low CRV."

Wettle had one of the lowest Cognitive Resistance Values at Site-43.

"That test was rigged," he protested. "They didn't even let me study."

"He's been out there pretty much since this thing began," Ayodele added. The agent was average height, paunchy, dark, and had arms that put Ibanez in mind of an anaconda after swallowing multiple rabbits. "Patrols saw him from time to time, back when we actually did patrols, but he always managed to stumble out of sight. We thought he was dead, actually."

Back when we actually did patrols? "Why?"

"He did a header into an abatement pipe." O couldn't keep the smile from her voice, despite just barely keeping it off her face. "Flooded an entire corridor."

Ibanez nodded. "Is it possible you misinterpreted his usual stupidity for possession?"

"Hey," he said.

"Because he's talking, and I was under the impression that the empties don't talk much."

"He's talking a lot, if that helps," Couch supplied.

"Yeah, they just repeat things and mumble agreeably most of the time." Ayodele looked thoughtful. "Sometimes there's little flashes of who they were, but they're brief. This definitely seems different. Medical will want to talk a look at it, especially with her here." Yancy pointed at a shuffling figure behind Wettle, which Ibanez belatedly identified as LeClair. Nass was standing behind her, and the mass of too-yellow hair behind him might have been Stacey Laiken. It was, all in all, a relatively high-profile catch.

"Might be nice to have an actual doctor again," Ibanez mused. "If the process is reversible. Alright, we'll take them."

"There's a hitch," Couch said.

"And that is?"

"Your Director and I have a little tit-for-tat thing going, as you well know." The other woman's face became almost irresistably punchable. "I'm going to have to demand some extra tat for bringing your lost sheep home. Call him for me, would you?"

Ibanez scoffed. "You don't seriously think he's gonna come down here and talk to you."

"Of course not." Couch's expression shifted from smug to smirk in the wink of an eye. "I don't mind making the extra effort to visit the elderly in their retirement homes."

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