Autonomy, Part I
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A mix of torrential rain and seawater pounds against the deck of The Loose Neutron as Agent Trauss sprints away from the stern railing and into one of the port side doors. He removes his helmet and wrings his hair out, dirty water splashing through the grate floor. Stumbling as the ship lurches, he hurries through the short grid of hallways and comes into the main cabin.

"Captain," he pants, his vest and equipment drenched and forming a puddle on the wood floor. "Captain Delacruz. There's an enormous entity trailing us. It looks large enough to damage the hull."

Delacruz turns around, bracing his thin, elderly frame against the back of his chair as he swivels. He looks flustered. "I can't handle this hurricane on autopilot, you know. I have to focus. It's pouring out there. What do you think you saw, son?"

"A cephalopod. You couldn't miss it even in this rain. It's bright orange. I saw a large section of its body. It's the size of a frigate."

The wrinkles on Delacruz's face flatten as he widens his eyes. "Has it caught up with us? If I go any faster, you won't be able to stand up out there."

"It's only a few hundred meters behind us. It's definitely getting closer. I first saw it in the binoculars about ten minutes ago. It was twice as close when I looked before coming in here."

He nods. "Alright. Go get your boy Rogers and hop on the stern guns." His voice cracks underneath the rasp of his southern accent." But do not fire until I give you the all-clear. I think we can make it lose interest if we speed up, but get on out there."

"Yes sir."

"That's 'aye captain'. Talk to me on your helmet comms once you're set up."

Trauss fakes a chuckle and does a mock-salute as he turns on his heel and dashes back out to the hallway. He ducks into the barracks room and approaches Agent Rogers, who is rereading a copy of SCP-3848 as he reclines in his cot. He's been doing that a lot. "Hey," he starts.

"What are you all wet for?"

"I need you on the deck with me. There's a massive cephalopod trailing the ship and getting closer. Captain told us to go man the stern guns."

"Shit, alright." Rogers rolls out of bed and throws his boots on.

"You had your shoes off while we travel across a 3069 hot zone? We're getting close to the Site. This is the worst of it."

"I was trying not to be paranoid," he huffs.

"Meet me there. I need to make sure that thing isn't any closer."

"Alright. Hey, I call the 20 millimeter!" he calls out after him.

Trauss pushes his hair out of his face and puts his helmet back on, flipping the visor down and bracing himself for the conditions outside. He takes a deep breath and cranks open the starboard side hatch, rain pelting against his gear and the wetsuit underneath as he slides down the ladder and lands on the deck. He stumbles against the wind as he crosses the short distance from the ladder to the harpoon gun on the stern, taking hold of it with a gloved hand and yanking himself up into the seat.

He levels the viewfinder with his eyes and adjusts the focus, zooming in on the horizon. "Captain, I'm on the harpoon. I'm looking for it now." His boots aren't waterproof, and the cold water dripping in is starting to distract him.

"Where's Rogers?" Delacruz's voice crackles in his helmet under the sound of rushing water.

"A minute or two behind me. Stand by." He scans the horizon. "Shit, I'm not seeing it."

"I got nothing up front, son."

The view of dark gray waves and rain suddenly changes to a blur of orange. Trauss jolts in surprise and zooms out, refocusing the lens to reveal a view of writhing, transparent tentacles thrashing in the water, their internal structure highlighted by phosphorescent orange flesh and veins. "Fuck. This thing is closer than I thought. I'm reading it at 113 meters out."

"To your left," Rogers says over the headset as he runs up. Being significantly bulkier than his coworker, he doesn't struggle in the wind as he leaps into the seat of the 20mm autocannon mounted several meters to Trauss' left.

"The entity is 110 meters out at your one o'clock."

"Tell me when to fire, Captain." Trauss can only hear Rogers over the earpiece, the sounds of the elements drowning out his voice.

"Do not fire, Agent Rogers. Maintain an awareness of the entity's position."

Trauss swivels the viewfinder onto the center of the creature's mass again. He zooms out. "75 meters."

"Taking it to 35 knots, boys."

Trauss braces his boots against the mount as the vessel accelerates, his back flat against the seat and arms straight. "65 meters."

"Why can't I fire at this thing? Clearly it sees us!"

"I said hold off, Agent!"

"60 meters."

"Approaching 40 knots."

Trauss is thankful to have no sense of scale for speed as The Loose Neutron rockets across towering waves, the spray from each impact dousing the deck in cold seawater. He feels moisture start to leak into his suit around his neck. "50 meters."

"I can't go any faster than that, fellas-"

"I could fire right this second, Captain!"

"That could make things very much worse, son, I said hold off!"

"30 meters."


"30? Christ, alright, fire when ready!" the Captain yells. Trauss' earpiece screeches and whines, static fading in. The sound of automatic fire fills the air and overpowers the noise of the roaring hurricane as Trauss focuses in on where Rogers' rounds are striking the creature. Fluorescent yellow fluid bursts out of the bullet wounds before the flesh around it immediately reforms.

"Fucking expected that," Trauss mutters, knowing neither of the others can hear him. He watches the creature swoop downward and under the waves, tentacles trailing behind it.

"Hell no," Rogers mutters.

"Talk to me, boys."

"It went under the surface, Captain."

The craft lurches forward, the force pressing Trauss against the seat. "I'm slowing to 20 knots. Get in here now."

Trauss clambers out of his seat, slipping on the wet metal. He lands on the deck with a loud splash and makes a beeline for the closest hatch, rain covering his face visor and blurring his vision.

"Get in there," Rogers yells, opening the hatch for him. Trauss steps up onto the edge of the hatch as the craft tilts to the side without warning, putting off his balance and sending him tumbling down and sliding across the deck. His vest and gear protects most of his body from the impact, but his helmet slams into the steel railing with a force that makes him lightheaded. He sputters and coughs as splashing seawater strikes his face.

"Don't let go!" Rogers' voice sounds distorted and choppy in Trauss' damaged helmet.

"Not planning on it," he chokes out, fingers wrapped around one of the railing's steel bars. He watches the water below him show a hint of something orange moving below the surface. The ship lurches in the opposite direction as his gloves slip, sending him flying upward in an arc and thudding back down onto the deck as the ship restabilizes. Pain shoots through his ribcage and spine before a tickling twinge in his head nullifies it. His mind fumbles through dreamlike thoughts about that being the first time his N3 implant noticeably affected him as he rolls onto his back, swaying with the boat.

Trauss stands upright on the now-level deck, barely able to see. Three orange tendrils shoot through the downpour after him. He ducks and rolls, still acutely aware of the damage done to his spine despite the N3's pain response countereffects. One of the tendrils trips him, knocking his head against the deck. He makes eye contact with Rogers as the older man exits the hatch and starts to move toward him, mouthing something in what seems like slow motion. The largest of the three tendrils wraps itself around Trauss' throat as he tries to fend off the smaller two, lifting him off the deck and flinging him over to dangle above the rushing water. His vertebrae pop, sending daggers through his back and sides as he struggles to get a hold on the creature's slick skin. The N3's response in his brain is immediate and overwhelming, flooding his limbs with numbing heat and making his head and ears throb.

"Don't panic! We'll do something, damn it!" Rogers' voice doesn't register at all as Trauss gazes at the body of the creature holding him. Its head surfaces, squid-like with two bright orange-and-black eyes, the corneas detailed and vivid. The expression in its irises conveys a sapient presence, the intelligence level of which Trauss infers he cannot fully understand. It tightens its appendage around his neck, black spots starting to fade in from the edges of his vision. He hears more rapid gunfire from the ship, but the anomaly's grip doesn't falter. He loses sensation in his feet and fingers, pulse thumping slowly. One of the other men says something through his headset, but he can't parse the sentence, and can only let out a small moan in response. The last thing he sees before his vision fades is the anomaly's eye, its pupil the size of his head, staring straight into him as his consciousness drains from his body.

"There are those of us who are the Foundation, and there are those of us who serve it."

Trauss opens his eyes. They're sticky, as if he's been sleeping for ages. White light pierces his mind as he tries to lift his head.

"Do you know which side of that line you're on? Do you want to know which side of that line you're on?"

Trauss sits upright and looks for the speaker. Keeping his eyes open takes a great amount of effort; he recognizes from that and from the lack of sensation in his legs that he must be dreaming. He blinks thrice and focuses on the man in front of him: someone older than him, wearing a three-piece black suit, a black bar obscuring his eyes regardless of what angle his head is tilted or how he moves. Trauss tries to speak, but no sound comes out, and he finds that he can't think to formulate a sentence anyway. "Dreaming?" he mouths. The noise that comes out sounds like it's being produced underwater.

The man makes the closest thing to eye contact that he can, head centered behind the redaction. "Do you know who you are?"

He tries to answer, but the more he processes his surroundings, the more his interpretation falls apart; he doesn't see his body even when he looks down, and he doesn't have a neck to tilt down in the first place. The man in front of him is sitting at a desk, but behind it is an expanse of textureless gray space. The light is ambient with no source and stark white.

"It appears you can't stay at this time." he tilts his head down to look at his watch. "I hope to see you again." Trauss catches a glimpse of its face, and the symbol displayed on it sends a spike of pain through his head.

He blinks and the phantom sensation of the eyes he used to have thuds dully in what his mind remembers of his nerve endings. Dreaming, he thinks, and allows the wave of incomprehensible nothingness to overtake him.

Trauss is aware that he's conscious before his body is, and he spends several seconds panicking internally when it won't respond. The darkness shrouding him lifts when someone removes the black cloth from his face. He shakes his head and squints in the fluorescent lighting, making out three people standing around the table on which he's spread out.

"Holy shit," one of the researchers says under her breath.

"H- Uh, hi," he stammers, clearing his throat as he sits upright. His head reels. "What's happened?"

"Will you state your identification?"

"C-51174. Cyrus Trauss, Site-42. Er, I mean- well, that's where I'm from." He looks down at himself, wondering why he's wearing a D-class jumpsuit. He takes in the room around him, knowing that he's never been here before; the ceilings are low and cluttered with arrays of pipes and wires, and the floor and walls are composed of an unfamiliar matte gray material. The doorway behind the researchers is narrow and rounded at the edges, a stripe of white LEDs running around its perimeter.

One of the two women steps forward. "Agent Trauss. Welcome to Lunar Area-32."

He stares, combing through his memories internally. He had left Site-42 on The Loose Neutron. It had gone fairly smoothly for several hours. He had seen something and sprinted to tell the Captain… and then what?

"We know you may be having trouble processing this." Her voice is clearer than most, and she enunciates a little too well, making her appear almost robotic. Trauss shudders and grips the edge of the table. His body feels disproportionate and heavy in a way he can't place. "There was an accident involving an unknown anomalous entity released by SCP-3069. You were killed in action by this entity at 17:20 on July 4th, 2041."

He gulps, his mouth dry.

"You are a copy of Agent Trauss' consciousness, saved via his PII at 17:08 on July 4th, 2041. You have his personality, memories, and certifications. There is no aspect of the human brain that the PII cannot translate into ED-K++ and save as a digital file. You are Agent Trauss, fully, minus twelve minutes of memories and your original body."

He feels sick, the straightforward nature of her explanation feeling like a punch to the gut. "I- I'm dead. I died."

"That body died, but you are right here and alive in another body."

"This- is a D-class. You amnesticized a D-class and put me in their body."

The man speaks up. "No. It's stranger than that," he coughs, tone toeing the line between sardonic and grave. "Certainly. That body has 95 percent of your original DNA, and is technically only sixty days old, though the estimated equivalent age based on health and appearance is 30 years. Using technology similar to that of SCP-2000, we are capable of cloning-"

"Oh God. Oh, fuck." He leans forward and motions at the trash can sitting behind the woman who had been speaking. She understands and hands it to him quickly, looking to the side as he vomits up bile and a bright blue substance.

"That's just preserval fluid. It's not possible to get it all out until the body is autonomous and capable of digestion and regurgitation."

He nods, wishing she would stop talking. Any and all sensory input makes his inner ear ache and throb. "Okay."

"Do you understand?"

"Yes. Just give me a minute."

"Of course. Take all the recovery time you need. If you want, we can wait out-"

"No, no," he stammers, hands shaking. "Sorry, I just- don't want to be alone right now." His breath catches in his throat as if he's about to cry, which he feels he hasn't done in years. He tries to distract himself, sniffing and wiping away the first leak of a tear. "What is today?"

"September 7th, 2041."

He freezes up. "It's been two months? What was I doing for two months?"

The leading researcher crosses her hands at the wrists and looks at him sympathetically. "'You' were a file named 51174.edk on that computer's hard drive for two months." She gestures to the touchscreen monitor array mounted on the wall beside her. "We had to have time to synthesize that body after getting the news that only two of Directive A-42's assignments made it to Site-3069. That script was then loaded into the body you currently occupy approximately 20 minutes ago."

"This body has the same PII as my real one?"

"Actually, one far more advanced. You had the N3, and this is the N4."

"What's the difference?" he rasps, throat burning.

"You'll be provided with a copy of the schematic when you are briefed tomorrow."

He nods, another wave of nausea overtaking him. When his vision blackens and his head reels, he makes the decision to lie back down. He's not certain of whether his body's shaking is because of temperature or emotional distress, but it's overwhelming and he soon finds himself losing consciousness again. The lead researcher says something about making sure he has enough protein in his diet as the room spins out of view and his head thuds against the steel table.

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