Between the Zones

rating: +26+x

"So, how did you get out of there?" David asked.

"I didn't! I couldn't get a signal out, so was stuck for two hours before anybody realized I was in there." Kyle smirked. "I'm sure whoever got the bright idea to put a bank vault in its own pocket dimension got a big fat raise that day."

David chuckled. He was liking the new hire. He was definitely green - more used to breaking into small businesses than high-security facilities - and his professionalism was lacking, but at the very least he was enthusiastic.

David tugged at his shirt. Disguise or not, it was too hot to be sneaking through a forest in business casual. The thick canopy above provided little comfort from the humid air that stuck to his skin. Of all the places they could have taken a job, it had to be Louisiana.

"Any risk of getting stuck in a pocket dimension on this one, Doc?" Kyle swatted a mosquito from his arm.

"It's unlikely," replied a gruff voice through his earpiece. "The Foundation has always been very skittish about playing with the devil's toys."

"Unless it's their IT, apparently!" joked another voice. "They think they can throw caution to the wind just 'cause they slapped an AIC on their network. Seriously, who uses telnet anymore?"

"How far did you get, Xeno?" David asked. Like many hackers, she went by a handle rather than her birth name.

"Straight to root!" Xeno said. "I've got the cameras, access control, databases, AD, everything. I'll have put their team out of a job by lunchtime!"

"Try not to brick everything. We're trying to minimize collateral damage."

"You got it, boss," she replied, slightly deflated.

David stepped past the treeline. Before him stood a tall chainlink fence topped with barbed wire. A large concrete structure stood past it across a lawn of unkept grass. It had no windows; a few CCTV cameras formed the extent of its features. The only way they could have made it less inviting was a giant neon sign blinking "GO AWAY".

He slung the backpack off of his shoulder. "This is it."

"'Bout time y'all got here!" spoke a southern drawl. The blue darner resting on the fence stroked her wings.

"How was recon, Susan?"

"No birds this time, thank heaven," the dragonfly replied. "They've renovated the place since they got it, but looks like the maps Doc found are mostly good."

David glanced at Kyle to find a look of complete bewilderment on his face.

"You two haven't met yet, have you?" David gestured towards Susan. "Susan does recon work for us. Susan, this is Kyle."

Kyle extended his hand awkwardly, trying to figure out how to shake a dragonfly's hands. She landed on his thumb.

"Never thought I'd be co-worker to a dragonfly," Kyle said.

"It beats sittin' around waiting to be eaten by a sparrow," she said. "Ain't many prospects for an insect. Especially none this exciting!" She made a soft buzzing noise.

"So, what's perimeter security look like?" David glanced around again.

"No guards. Guess they wanted to make the place look as boring as possible. For the cameras, I think I found some blind spots that could get you in without bein' seen." Susan landed on his shoulder. "I'm ready whenever y'all are."

"Doc? Xeno? You ready?" David said into his radio.

"All set and ready to go!" Xeno chimed.

"Good. We put a lot of hours of planning into this. Let's make it count."

Kyle turned to David. "I'll meet you inside, right?"

"Right. Just wait for my signal." David presented a small object that resembled a laser pointer. "You remember how to use these?"

"Just point and jump, right?"

"Right. Don't go too early. You don't get radio in there."

"Okay. I'll see you inside."

David produced what to the untrained eye resembled a simple nailgun, aside from a few stray wires and an unearthly glow emanating from the barrel. He drew it across the fence, generating a thin purple trail which then expanded into a rectangular field. He stepped through the rift to the other side of the fence, which dissipated behind him.

"I'll take you to the loading dock; that looked like the best spot to get in," Susan announced, hovering in front of him. "Don't wander off now."

David looked down. His foot was less than an inch away from a metal plate obscured by the thick weeds.

"That better not be a landmine."

"Naw. Pressure plates. They'll set off alarms, though, so watch your step." She darted forward.

David raised his eyebrows. Never had to deal with these before.

"Come on!" Susan called impatiently. "One minute of your life is an hour of mine!"

David took a careful step forward, scanning the tangled mat of grass and weeds as they began their delicate dance.

Kyle stumbled through the back wall of the elevator. He slammed into the opposite wall and almost knocked David over before steadying himself.

"I'm … never going to get used to that."

"Jumping in and out of a pocket dimension can be a little disorienting at first. You get used to it." He put the device back into his pocket. "Keep you waiting too long?"

"Nah, I'm fine. Not much to look at though." He glanced around. "You'd think they'd put all of their amazing crap somewhere less … ugly."

His assessment wasn't inaccurate. The interior was almost as aggressively featureless as the exterior. The walls were a plain beige that desperately needed to be repainted, and the flooring was a grey tiling; the kind that always appeared dirty no matter how well it was cleaned. One would be forgiven for assuming the only thing of interest to be found there was asbestos poisoning.

But a closer examination revealed just how much time and money had been put into securing the place. Extensive CCTV coverage, Kant monitors, Audio-Visual Impairment Systems, temporal stabilizers, gas dispensers in the vents - blue for formaldehyde, green for fentanyl, orange for VX, as usual - and that's not counting the tech they couldn't see. The alarm system would light up like a christmas tree if a reality bender stepped within a ten mile radius of it.

"The Safe-class storage wing is on the west side. Second left, third door on the right," the doctor's voice said through a layer of radio static. "I'll give you more information once you arrive."

Like most other buildings, the service elevator was exempt from access controls. And although David had faced little resistance getting in - a guard was having an argument with a maintenance worker and wasn't feeling patient enough to check his ID - he wasn't willing to press that luck further. Especially in a place where paranoia was part of the job description.

The elevator door screeched open, and the pair stepped out into the hall.

While the overall decor had not changed from the ground floor (except a shift from decaying beige to decaying white), the soft buzz of activity had faded into an eerie, deafening silence. Their footsteps were suddenly unbearably loud.

"This is it, right?" Kyle gestured to a door indescriptively labeled "B215" in black lettering.

David nodded. This was it.

He cautiously pushed the door open and entered a small room, only large enough for about four people to stand without touching; a simple mantrap, like many David had seen before. But in the opposite doorway was nothing but black space; a cold, dark, featureless abyss, as if his eyes had vainly tried to comprehend what they were witnessing before throwing up their hands in despair.

"…What are we looking at?" Kyle asked, running his hands through his hair.

"I don't know, I've never seen this before." He reached out to touch it. A force pushed back against his fingers, at first merely a gentle touch, but transforming into a shove as he reached closer. Even with all of his strength behind them, his fingertips never came within an inch of the void. It was like trying to touch the wrong end of a magnet to another.

"Looks like that's how you would normally get in." Kyle pointed to a RFID reader mounted to the wall.

"Doc, we've got what looks like some sort of black field in a doorway. Repels anything that gets close to it. Any idea what it is?"

"A black field? One moment." They heard paper rustling. "Hmmm … that sounds like some sort of reality seal."

"A what?"

"It prevents any matter or energy from occupying an area of space. Not even light can pass through it; that's why it looks black. I had heard murmurs about it, but I wasn't aware they had entered production."

"Any clues on how to get by?"

"None that would be practical. You're on your own."

David turned to Kyle. "Got any ideas?"

"…would the riftgun work?"

"Not if I can't touch it."

"An EMP?"

"That might lock us out for good." He thought for a moment. "Could you try bypassing the reader?"

"Wouldn't that set off the tamper alarm?"

"You ever seen a tamper alarm hooked up right?"

"…good point."

Kyle produced a screwdriver and knelt down.

"Hello?" a man spoke.

They jumped.

The voice continued speaking. It was muffled; enough to make it difficult to catch every word, but clear enough to get the general topic. It had had a slow stop-and-go rhythm, as if speaking to someone who wasn't there.

"Have they heard us?" Kyle whispered.

"No, sounds like someone's on the phone." His eyebrows furrowed. Something didn't add up. Either the black seal didn't block sound - which didn't make sense - or…

"What is it? Did you figure something out?"

"…I think there's a gap in the ceiling."

"…what makes you think that?"

"You heard how quiet it was on the way here. These are thick walls. So either that" - he pointed to the doorway - "doesn't block sound waves like everything else, or there's a gap in the ceiling. We could probably get in that way."

Kyle eyed him curiously. "Why would there be a gap?"

"It looks like this," he gestured to the mantrap around them, "was built after everything else. Maybe the construction team cut corners."

Kyle shrugged. "You want to give it a shot?"

"Yes. Let's make it quick, though."

David reached up and moved one of the ceiling tiles. He locked his hands in front of him. Kyle placed his foot on them and launched himself into the ceiling. He clumsily pulled himself up.

"You were right. There's a two-foot gap up here!"

Kyle groaned, pulling himself up the rest of the way, not noticing that the voice had stopped. No sooner had Kyle's shoes disappeared than David heard a loud hissing noise. He looked up to see the black curtain replaced by a security guard.

"What are you doing?" The guard glared at him suspiciously.

David grasped at the first explanation that came to mind.

"…my ID card isn't working."

He glanced up to see Kyle gesture something incomprehensible before replacing the tile.

The guard's gaze intensified. Then he sighed. "Another one, huh? Yeah, that's been happening all day. Come with me, I'll get you fixed up."

David's heart was in his stomach. He obeyed.

"David, you're veering far off course. What's going on?"

David whispered into his radio. "Doc, I've-"

"What was that?"

He looked up at the guard standing above him on the dimly-lit stairs.

"Thought you said something."

"No. Nothing."

Kyle's voice filtered through a layer of radio static. "Doc, I-I'm in the ceiling above the containment unit, but David got taken by a guard." His voice was shaking.

"Has he lost his cover?"

"I-I don't know."

There was a long silence before the doctor spoke again.

"Xeno, keep an eye on David and see what you can do. Stay where you are, Kyle. Focus on retrieving the target. David, stay calm. We're trying to get you out."

At the end of a long hallway - gray this time - David was led into a room. A short, pudgy man in a plaid shirt sat in front of a monitor. IT, probably. Who else would look so unrelentingly miserable?

The man grumbled. "Let me guess: another broken ID." He extended his hand expectantly. David handed him his ID; Xeno had given him a fake before the mission. He prayed she had gotten the details right.

The man glanced at the card. "Dr. Robin Yu?"

"Yes, that's m-" Wait. Robin Yu?!

He made a mental note to fire Xeno.

A loud crash boomed through his earpiece.

"Kyle? What was that?"

"Ugh, just fell through the … aagh …"

"Can you stand?"


"Good. Stay focused on retrieving the target. Switch to channel 9, I'll walk you through from there."

"Yeah … sure, just … ow …"

David clenched his jaw. Getting caught was one thing, but the rookie getting himself killed while David was held hostage by Abbott and Costello was another.

His anxiety didn't go unnoticed. "You doing okay?" The guard asked.

"It's just been a long day." NO THANKS TO YOU.

"Tell me about it." He turned back to the fat man. "You hear about the containment breach earlier?"

"Another one? What was it this time?" His eyes remained glued to the monitor.

"SCP-43 … something. Good news is, it didn't get very far." He glanced at his watch and scowled at the early hour. "Seems like everything's going wrong today."

"Anytime now, Xeno."

"I'm on it, I'm on it!"

The clacking of the keyboard stopped suddenly. The fat man's eyes narrowed. "That's strange…"

"Dr. Yu." Xeno's voice came over the loudspeaker, half-convincingly mimicking a bored secretary.

"Yes?" David nearly shouted.

"Please report to the Sector C laboratory immediately."

David's insides returned to their proper arrangement. "I'd better get going."

"Should I walk you down there?" the guard asked.

"No, no, I'll be fine."

The fat man rolled his eyes, muttering something about bureaucracy. "Come back here once you're done." He handed the card back.

"Yes, thank you." And then he was gone.

"How'd I do, David?" Xeno chimed.

"You did great. Just do me a favor."

"What's that?"

"Never call me Robin Yu again."

"Oh come on, I thought that was pretty good!"

"Kyle has the package and is waiting for you," the doctor said as David stepped back into the elevator.

"In the pocket dimension?"


He pulled the portal generator out of his pocket and pointed it at the back wall. He stepped through into an endless white expanse, broken only by a few boxes and two doorways: the one he had stepped through, and another which led into what he assumed was the site's storage room. In front of him was Kyle, rubbing his arm.

"You okay?" Kyle asked.

"Little shaken, but okay. How about you? Fall treat you too badly?"

Kyle threw his head back. "Christ, did you hear all of that?"

"Every second. How're you feeling?"

"Alright. Gonna have a nasty bruise, but nothing serious."

"Good. You got the package?"

"Right here." Kyle held up a small bundle of cloth. "You know what this thing is supposed to be?"

"Not really."

"Not even why anybody would want it?"

David shrugged. "I just know it's what the client is interested in. You're welcome to try and find out, if the risk of melting your frontal lobe doesn't bother you." He checked his watch. Half past eleven. "Think we're done here. Ready to go meet her?"

"Whenever you are." A smug glimmer entered his eyes. "I'm going to enjoy the look on her face."

The secretary looked up at David through thick glasses. "Do you have an appointment, sir?"

"I'm David Keyes. I believe the director may have-"

"Oh!" Her eyes lit up with recognition. "Yes, the director is expecting you." She gestured down a long hallway. "Second door on the left."

They followed the secretary's instructions to a large wooden door. The hall was much better kept than the rest of the building. Not surprising, considering its occupants.

"After you." A smug grin was plastered across Kyle's face.

David pushed the door open and locked eyes with a well-dressed woman across a mahogany desk. She was pale-skinned with brown hair marked by streaks of gray, and managed to carry an air of intensity despite her petite figure. Was it the scars? It might be the scars.

"Dr. Sophia Light?" David extended his hand to her. "David Keyes, Ravensgate Security. This is my associate, Kyle Locke."

She stood and grasped it. "Good to finally meet you in person, Mr. Keyes." She retrieved the bundle from Kyle and placed it in the top drawer of her desk. "You're earlier than I expected. I had hoped we would give you more trouble."

"You came close a few times. The most pressing issue is guard training; other than that, I'd say you did fairly well. Expect the full report by the end of the week."

She made a mark on a notepad. "I'll admit I was a little skeptical when Dr. Moose recommended you for a penetration test. We aren't used to hiring outside contractors."

"Well, there's no better way to see if someone can break in than for someone to try and break in."

"Of course, but there are certain … risks that external vendors present." She paused. "We trust that you handle your business here with discretion."

"Dr. Light, discretion is our business."

"Excellent." She relaxed her shoulders. "You are still planning on meeting with our security team on Thursday, correct?"

"Yes. We'd like to make sure everyone is on the same page."

"Glad to hear it. It was good to meet you Mr. Keyes. I look forward to seeing you again."

They thanked her, shook hands once more, and left.

"So, that was your first pentest. How do you feel?" David asked as they approached the front gate. He nodded to the guard behind the front counter, who returned the gesture.

Kyle looked up at the threshold as they passed through. "Does it ever stop being satisfying?"

"Does what ever stop being satisfying?"

"Walking out the front door after sneaking in the back."

David chuckled.

"No. No it doesn't."

rating: +26+x
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