Character Development
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2004


9 September

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada


Before his eyes, in the middle of a sentence, she became a different person.

She had been Dr. Lillian Lillihammer. He was still Dr. Daniil Sokolsky. He was, as she had been, a Junior Researcher at Site-43.

He was pretty sure the full sentence was going to be "It's probably because you're an asshole." She'd said it before — many people had — and it was true. The break came cleanly at the halfway mark: "It's probably because," she said, and then her eyes were wide, and she wasn't talking. Her eyes didn't widen, and she didn't stop talking; a switch was thrown, a bit flipped, one state instantaneously replaced the other. She'd been smirking when the sentence started, but when it didn't end she was hollow-eyed and haunted. He'd never seen a look like that on her face before.

He'd never seen a look like that on anyone's face before.

"…Lillian?"

She took a deep breath. "What's the date?"

Ooh! An unpleasant grin split his broad face. Time travel! "Ninth of September, 2004."

She exhaled. "Oh, thank god."

The grin died. Boo. Not time travel. "Why did you need to know the date to finish your sentence?" Whoever you are.

"I just… oh, thank god." The real Lillian was a pragmatic atheist; she only believed in those gods attested in the SCP database.

"You're gonna give God a complex."

She laughed. The real Lillian never laughed. She stood up. "I need to find McInnis. He'll know what I'm allowed to tell you."

As she walked out of the cafeteria, he found himself grinning again. Maybe timeline travel?


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It was timeline travel.


2011


17 May


Eileen Veiksaar's office looked like a garage sale at Steve Wozniak's house. The Chief of Identity and Technocryptography had a fetish for technology, so long as it was obsolete and generally considered worthless. This was one way Sokolsky knew she was a genius.

Sokolsky.png

He was a genius, too. That was the other way.

She peered up at him from behind the 1993 Macintosh LCIII on her desk. "Turning in 5109, Daniil?"

He nodded. "I've done enough damage with it."

She shook her head, smiling. "You're such an asshole. Close the door." As he complied, she picked up her PDA and tapped the screen, twice. A low hum filled the room. "We're secure. Fire when ready."

He cleared his throat. "I-1-a-m-2-t-h-e-3-j-"

She sighed. It was easy to say the entire forty-one character string rapid-fire, if you knew it. (It was impossible to say any of it, if you didn't.) But he liked to be dramatic, and he had a captive audience, so he took his time.

"-l-l-i-e-s," he finished, not quite thirty seconds later.

She blinked. "Got it."

The "One-Time Password" was Sokolsky's favourite anomaly of all time. It had gotten him a promotion to Senior Researcher, after all. Whereas everyone else on the waitlist for the unforgettable, one-way-transmissible magic word wanted to use it to lock doors or lock screens or lock lockers, he'd used it to defraud his colleagues and then explain in detail how he'd done so.

No-one knew where the anomaly had come from, and no-one knew why it worked the way it did. SCP-5109 was a true cognitive isolate: a completely unique thought which could only be held in one mind per universe. It could only be transmitted orally, or, rather, aurally — if you heard the owner speak it, either in person or via a recording, it ceased to be theirs and it became yours. If the owner wrote it down, it looked like alien gibberish to everyone else. If you knew a fragment of it, you couldn't reverse-engineer the rest… even if you were a computer. Mnemonics, mnestics, even hypnotism had all failed. It was a semantic miracle.

"Who's next on the list?" He didn't really want to hear the answer.

"Wettle. Nothing special — big surprise — he just needs a password he can't forget." She rolled her eyes. "Because he's an idiot."

"What a waste."

"Him, or the password?"

"Both. Eileen… 5109 can do amazing things. That waitlist should be full of people with Rube Goldbergian schemes, not people who'd otherwise be putting their logins on Post-Its."

She shrugged. "Or we could stop playing with fire before we get burned, for a change. After that stunt you pulled, everyone's going to be trying to dream up the next oh-so-clever trick. Do us all a favour, and don't put yourself back on the list."

"The next clever trick I think of is going to be way too clever for the list. I'm going straight to the top with it."


2012


9 September


"Why do we need to do this?"

Dr. William Wettle was naked, so Sokolsky didn't look at him. "Because your clothes are from the alternate timeline. They're going to disappear in…" He glanced at the computer display. "…twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes."

"So, what's the hurry?"

Sokolsky emptied Wettle's threadbare labcoat into a series of containers, labeling each one with permanent marker. "Who's in a hurry? Not me." He dropped the labcoat into a box on the floor, and kicked the box under the table.

"Can I get dressed?" Wettle whined.

"No, but you can get your naked self out of my lab. They'll be taking your Humes in the next room."

Wettle opened the door and walked out, muttering. Dealing with him was always such a pain in the ass; this time, however, Sokolsky was counting on it.

William Wettle, Lillian Lillihammer, and five more (non-alliterative) colleagues had just returned from an involuntary timeline-travel trip. Between 6:22 and 6:28 PM on the 8th of September every year, they had to do precisely what they'd done between 6:22 and 6:28 PM on the 8th of September, 2002. An unstable time loop caused by an anomalous materials handling disaster meant that those seven minutes each year were actually the same seven minutes, each year. Anything they did differently would change the course of history, retroactively.

This didn't happen often, but it had happened in 2011.

The alternate timelines were apparently unpleasant. Lillian had refused to talk about them, and her fellow travelers were similarly closed-mouthed… except Wettle, who lacked the imagination necessary for either trauma or storytelling.

The other six would be equally blasé by this time tomorrow. At the end of their year of hell the time loop had recurred, and they'd managed it correctly. Reality had caught up twenty-four hours later, as it had in 2004 when he'd seen his Lillian become a brand-new, sadder version. The alternate timeline had now never existed. In short order, their memories would reflect that; they'd remember the "real" events of the past twelve months, and forget the alternate reality entirely. Anything they'd brought back with them would also disappear.

It was a zero-sum game, as far as everyone who wasn't Daniil Sokolsky knew.


2020


8 December


Sokolsky put his feet up on Veiksaar's desk. He'd had to dump two computers and a keyboard on the floor to manage this act of insolent informality, but it was worth it.

All seven members of Provisional Task Force Sampi-5243 ("See You in September"), the sometimes-timeline travelers of the past eighteen years, were glaring at him in cramped discomfort. He'd chosen the venue for security reasons: two taps on Veiksaar's tablet, and this was the most secure room in the underground complex.

Most of his colleagues were waiting for him to explain the purpose of the meeting. William Wettle was staring at the sprinklers on the ceiling; Dr. Harold Blank was sitting on the floor, tying Wettle's shoelaces together; Roger Pensak, Chief of Security and Containment, was scrolling through something on his PDA and leaning on the door. Pensak wasn't a member of Sampi-5243, but he'd been asked to attend as an extra precaution.

If some Group of Interest wanted to blow up a room, this would be a solid choice.

Sokolsky rubbed his hands together. "Alright, friends. I've got a job for you which doesn't involve alternate timelines."

Delfina Ibanez, the diminutive MTF chief, regarded him suspiciously. "A job? You mean, from ETTRA?"

Sokolsky looked pleased. As the Chief of Site-43's new Emergent Threat Tactical Response Authority division, his job was to craft clever, efficient responses to problematic situations using the Foundation's catalogue of anomalous objects and knowledge. "Our very first operation together," he agreed. "We're putting 5109 back into circulation."

Wettle looked confused, even for him. "The password? I thought Overwatch confiscated it."

"They did. They also un-confiscated it, on my suggestion."

Allan McInnis, the stoic Site Director, frowned. "Why are you on a suggestion-making basis with O5?"

"Because they recognize brilliance when they see it."

The Task Force members regarded Sokolsky with a mixture of annoyance, interest, and familiar contempt. He kicked over a pile of envelopes on the desktop. "Early in the new year, each of you will be called to duty — at a moment's notice — and whisked away to one of our other secure facilities. ETTRA is carrying out a cascade sting op against suspected moles from Groups of Interest around the globe." He pointed at the envelopes. "Willie, be a good boy and hand those out."

Dr. Udo Okorie's amber eyes were wide. "How is 5109 going to stop even a single terrorist attack?"

"We're going to tell the rest of the Foundation that the waitlist is back up, they can requisition the unbreakable password for their pet projects again. And then we're gonna game it. Tell each of our suspects they've won the anomaly lottery, their projects are approved. They'll all apply; we did our psych homework on them. You'll take 5109 to them personally, and they'll use it to do a dirty deed… and we'll catch them in the act."

"And said act will kill everyone, or ruin everything, at each Site." Ibanez didn't look impressed.

"Nope. Because I'll send you a second copy of the password, via secure connection, when you need it. Whatever they do, you can defuse."

Seven pairs of eyes bored into him. Wettle was rubbing a yellow stain on his labcoat, tongue stuck out.

Lillian Lillihammer spoke first. "You just said 'another copy of the password'. Elaborate."

Sokolsky grinned. "Once this operation is concluded, I'll be happy to. For now, just know that there are two instances of 5109 in my head."

Blank shook his shaggy head. "Okay, again, 'two instances of 5109'. That's gibberish. 5109 is an isolate. There's one copy per universe. It doesn't have instances."

"It does now."

"How? Why?"

"Just let it go," Sokolsky advised. "Focus on what's in the envelopes. You can open them now, by the way."

The moment she saw what was in hers, Okorie squealed. "Eckhart House?!" Everyone stopped to stare at her. "I get to go to Eckhart House?!" The italics were deafening.

"What's Eckhart House?" Wettle asked.

"Only the coolest place on Earth! Site-91." Okorie was hopping on the balls of her feet. "Okay, sorry, I'm excited. I'm going home! Ish. And I'm gonna see one of the best collections of occult literature this side of the Library. Maybe even a dead god! Oh, wow." She beamed at Sokolsky. "I could kiss you."

"Raincheck."

Amelia Torosyan seemed surprised to have gotten an envelope. She didn't open it. "Is it really a good idea to send the tech chief off-Site? We've been having a lot of trouble with the aging AcroAbate systems lately."

"You're going to Site-77 in Italy, should be very scenic." Sokolsky tried for a friendly smile; it wasn't in him. "Take your boyfriend."

Torosyan blinked. "My boyfriend, who is half of an active anomaly?"

"One field trip in eighteen years won't kill him."

McInnis was still frowning. "It's not him you should be worried about."

Torosyan glanced back at him. "It's him I'm worried about."

"India," said Ibanez, tossing the contents of her envelope on the desk. "Site-36."

"Isn't that the one with the murder statue?" asked Blank.

"I thought the murder statue was at 19," said Wettle.

Blank shook his shaggy head. "That's a different murder statue."

"There's more than one?"

"There's more than ten."

"Wait, though," said Ibanez. "I'm the MTF commander. I can't just leave."

Sokolsky shrugged. "Take an MTF. Pensak can handle the rest."

Lillihammer had her envelope open. "45, huh. I always thought something anomalous was gonna eat me."

"The fauna in Australia are plenty anomalous," said Blank. "It's a puzzle-piece from a different puzzle-planet."

Wettle was staring at his assignment, looking like a cat who'd forgotten why he'd walked into the room. "It says… you're putting me in a pit?"

"Hooray!" said Blank.

"A pit for sloths?"

"Checks out," Blank crowed.

"Seriously, though? Sloth's Pit." Lillihammer put both hands on Blank's head for support, and leaned across the desk. "You're not sending Willie to Site-87?"

Sokolsky shrugged.

"You're sending Willie, our Dr. William Wettle, to S&C Plastics?"

"Wait," Wettle interjected. "S&C Plastics? That's S&C Plastics?!"

"Wow." Ibanez was smirking. "If we're lucky, they'll keep him."

"I can't go there!" said Wettle, a note of panic in his voice. "I'll get trampled by the Ghost of Black Fridays Past, or possessed by the Underpants On Your Head Monster, or get into a blood feud with the concept of American Exceptionalism, or some shit!"

"Make sure they take pictures," said Blank. He tore his envelope in half to open it, and re-assembled the note. "Site-13…K? What's that mean?"

"Means it's in Korea," said Lillihammer.

"13K," he mused. "Is there even a non-K 13?"

"They don't do that to the Japanese Sites," McInnis remarked. He was looking at his envelope with marked distaste. "The Nexus around Site-79 is video game themed, Daniil. You know I don't know the first thing about video games."

Sokolsky nodded. "Maybe I'm hoping it'll lighten you up."

McInnis shook his head. "Maybe you thought it would be funny."

Sokolsky nodded again. "Maybe I thought it would be funny. And it's been a while since you got some fresh air."

Torosyan still looked worried. "Are we precipitating disasters, here? And won't the moles know this is a trap? And why don't you send us along with both copies of the password? That way we don't need to call you at all."

"Question one: no, we're pretty well convinced these disasters are imminent with or without our involvement. We're tricking them into putting their plans in motion on our terms, rather than theirs. Question two: also no, because nobody outside of this room knows the unbreakable password is presently breakable. It can't be a trap because it can't be a trap. Question three: still no! If I send you with both passwords, the risk doubles. Losing one 5109 would be bad, but losing two would be disastrous."

Blank raised his hand.

"What, Harry?"

"Why are we even doing this? If you know who the moles are, detain them."

"First of all, we're working on suspicion only at this point. And we can't just go after them directly; they're connected enough we'd risk them going off half-cocked and doing some real damage. Worse, if we come down on them hard, we'll never learn who they were working for. Who they were working with. We're treating this as an intelligence-gathering op. We might get to capture a few Persons of Interest. We might find out how they infiltrated us, or what their future plans are. We might even uncover gaps in our security systems. The potential gains far outweigh the risks." Sokolsky sat forward. "Every one of these situations is a shitstorm waiting to happen. We do it this way, the shit hits the fan on our own terms, and we have a ready-made fan-de-shitter."

All eight of his colleagues looked troubled, somewhat confused, embarrassed by his verbiage but generally satisfied. They bought it. Sokolsky tried not to grin, feeling a nervous tension in his bones.

This is where the fun begins, he thought.

"This is where the fun begins," he told them.

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