rating: +92+x

Present Day

Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir, the girl the Foundation called SCP-239, stirred in her coma-induced slumber.

She was fidgeting anxiously in the dreamscape constructed in her mind, and this anxiety finally had leaked down through the layers of her mind to affect her physical form. Her physical form that was pretending to be asleep, and had been pretending to be asleep for quite a long time now.

A very long time. Especially for a kid. But, you know. It's what kept the rest of them happy.

Well — most of them. But the ones who could see through it didn't need to be made happy. So far, at least.

She could wipe them all out with a thought, but that would be… horrible. Unbearable. She liked them way too much. They were lovely people, when she watched them in her projected astral form, and many of them had been even more lovely before when she was allowed to be awake, even Clef when she'd accidentally confused him into trying to kill her. (If that's what she'd actually done. It was hard to remember, and years ago by now. Almost another lifetime, for someone as young as her.)

She loved people.

Sigurrós' physical form stirred again, and the old-fashioned stabilized telekill alloy that still lined her walls began dissolving a little faster.

She needed to calm down. But it was hard. What was coming up was too big. She'd had two months to think about it, and she still technically had the option to say "No", but she wasn't gonna.

Of course she wasn't gonna. The consequences were too much for her to even consider saying "No".

She could project herself in the future and see it. A vast black hole in the world — a hole in reality, with her at ground zero.

Everyone, everything she loved gone in an instant. Leaving her to float into the void. Truly alone.

And it would be all her fault.

So she couldn't say no, and she couldn't fail.

Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir sat in the landscape of her mind and watched a conjured clock count down. Twenty hours.

Two Months Ago

We serpents coil in our nest.

We are the wanderers gone wandering. We walk the road of still water. We abjure the eyes upon us. We see through the fogged glass.

This is Jailor ground. They call it "Site-17." It is the Jailor's largest humanoid containment facility. The largest anomalous prison. More than one god is chained here.

We are not the only ones watching. They suspect our presence, but right now will do nothing. They do not understand what is coming. Nor Joanna Cross's mission.

We watch Joanna Cross sit at a white table in a white room. This is an interrogation chamber. Her interrogator enters: Jailor's Doctor Kendra Campbell.

Kendra Campbell opens her notebook and shows Joanna Cross its contents.

Kendra Campbell: "No script. These are my notes. Just notes, for what I'm gonna ask you. No script."

Joanna Cross nods her head.

Kendra Campbell: "Okay. Okay. Between you and me and everyone monitoring us right now… I am shit at this. I don't know why they're so insistent on me interrogating you, and I don't know why they're letting me ask my own questions, and I don't know why you asked me to, and…"

She pauses to take a breath.

Kendra Campbell: "You said I should be asking you questions that aren't from my script. So. Okay."

She hesitates.

Kendra Campbell: "We've met thirty-seven times so far. In normal people terms, outside of here, that would make us friends. We're not friends and we both know that. But hey, maybe you can help me out a bit here. What do you want me to ask you?"

There is a tremble in the air — not visible to Kendra Campbell — as she fulfills the terms of the geas. She remains unaware of this.

Joanna Cross: "My gods, Doctor. They didn't tell you a single thing, did they?"

Kendra Campbell: "I…"

Joanna Cross: "That's okay. You asked me a question that came from you, both sincerely and of your own volition. Technically, you're being coerced into sitting here across from me, but that's okay. You've fulfilled the terms of the geas."

Kendra Campbell: "What's a geas?"

Joanna Cross: "It's a type of magical binding. Your bosses knew about it already. Did you figure out why they made you read only from that list of questions?"

Kendra Campbell: "Why? Are you going to explain it to me?"

Joanna Cross: "Don't mind if I do. They know I wanted to talk to one of you. They knew I could only give new information as a response to direct questions. They've interrogated Hand members under circumstances like this before, you know. They wanted to know how much I'd volunteer without you having to give anything yourself. Plus some other concerns about memetics."

Kendra Campbell: "I'm not sure I get this."

Joanna Cross: "They don't totally get it either. It's all very silly. You're all trying to play a game where you don't understand half the rules."

Kendra Campbell: "Man, if this was all it took to get you to gush like this…"

She laughs.

Kendra Campbell: "You should've said something before. All the times you gave me that same damn line, over and over…"

Joanna Cross: "I didn't have much of a choice. I did feel like kind of an ass."

Kendra Campbell: "Because of the, er… the geas."

Joanna Cross: "That's over now, at least for this interview. Kind of a relief. All that crap made me really want to talk. Makes me wonder if this was all part of your plan. Your boss's plan, anyway. We've already established you don't know anything."

Kendra Campbell: "So does that make me the good cop?"

Joanna Cross: "Sure. Don't think I'll tell you everything, though. You are still a Jailor."

Kendra Campbell: "Jailors. Right. That's your name for us."

Joanna Cross: "It's just slang. Don't take it personal. You tend to pick it up if you hang around with the Hand long enough. But you can't deny it's got a bit of… veracity to it, can you?"

Kendra Campbell: "We secure, we contain, we protect," Campbell said. "If you want to call us Jailors for it, then I guess I can't stop you."

Joanna Cross: "What questions did you want to ask me?"

Kendra Campbell takes a photo from her notebook and shows it to Joanna Cross. The photo shows blue lily faerie chains.

Kendra Campbell: "What are these?"

Joanna Cross: "Blue lily chains. My blue lily chains, in fact."

Kendra Campbell: "Are they even anomalous?"

Joanna Cross: "What do you think?"

Kendra Campbell: "Fuck if I know. Field agents seem to think they are. But I've hit them with every test in the book, and…" She waves her hand. "They seem pretty normal to me."

Joanna Cross: "Your agents already know they're anomalous, and they already know what they do. I don't know why they didn't tell you."

Kendra Campbell: "What do they do?"

Joanna Cross: "The field agents are correct. We Hand members use these flower chains for… for magical good luck, basically. Minor protective wards. You know. Or…well, no you don't know. And that's the point, isn't it?"

Kendra Campbell: "What's the point?"

Joanna Cross: "This is a little something a precocious teenager could put together. Something a bunch of teenagers understand, and it's something one of the Foundation's best and brightest can't crack. Why?" She leans forward. "Knowledge."

Kendra Campbell: "I could've cracked it if I had a higher clearance level," Campbell said, a little resentfully. "We do have people studying thaumotology. We're not stupid, you know."

Joanna Cross: "I just said that. Knowledge. You're not stupid, just ignorant. So why didn't they tell you, do you think?"

Kendra Campbell: "Maybe they wanted me to figure out some… new mundane tests for detecting magic. Maybe they wanted to be sure it was really anomalous. I don't know. I'm not high enough clearance yet for this."

Joanna Cross: "Maybe they'll wipe your memory of this conversation."

Kendra Campbell: "Maybe."

Joanna Cross: "Well, knowing what spells are imbued in those chains would help. You could crack exactly which ones in those fairy chains in about thirty minutes if you know how. That's being generous. Just takes some basic counter-magic."

Kendra Campbell: "I'm flattered, but I'm not a reality bender. Pretty sure I can't, you know, do magic. Let alone 'counter-magic'."

Joanna Cross: "How do you know? Why don't you try performing some magic and find out?"

Kendra Campbell: "That's definitely above my clearance level."

Joanna Cross: "That clearance level stuff you have sure is something. Pretty sure that 'something' isn't 'the scientific method'. Kind of ironic for a Foundation full of scientists, don't you think?"

Kendra Campbell: "I thought you guys were all about the Harry Potter Muggles versus Wizards shit. You know, inborn genetics special powers teenager fantasy thing. Only the Chosen Few."

Joanna Cross laughs.

Joanna Cross: "Maybe a few of our traditionalists, but they're full of shit. Anyone could make these fairy chains, in the same way that anyone can do multiplication. You need a pencil or computer to write out the equations. And to know, you know, multiplication tables. And numbers."

Kendra Campbell: "Numbers?"

Joanna Cross: "Yes. That's just it, though, isn't it? You Foundation scientists… you barely know the difference between one and three and you classify the existence of two, and here you are trying to perform calculus. And you damn well aren't going to let the rest of the world learn to count while you're at it. You wanna keep them in the dark."

Kendra Campbell: "We're preserving normalcy."

Joanna Cross: "And what's that mean?"

Kendra Campbell: "We're guarding against panic in the streets."

Joanna Cross: "They still panic in the streets. You just wipe their memories of it. And my gods, how often you have to break out amnestics. Do you know how many tons of amnestics the Foundation goes through per year? No, you probably don't, do you. I wonder how many Foundation members are killed by anomalies compared to Hand members. Is that above your clearance level too?"

Kendra Campbell: "I can't imagine you know that either. You're just baiting me."

Joanna Cross: "You're the one who wanted answers. That's the real difference here. Knowledge."

Kendra Campbell doesn't answer.

Joanna Cross: "How about that, huh? A bunch of witches, punks, and bookworms know more about the world than a whole organization of scientists and their paramilitary muscle. It's no wonder you're not very good at the whole… secure, contain, protect, you said. Right?"

Kendra Campbell: "You sure are full of cheap rhetorical points."

Joanna Cross: "Then have another. Do you support gay rights?"

Kendra Campbell: "Where the hell is this going?"

Joanna Cross: "It's just a question. Just to see where we stand."

Kendra Campbell: "Yeah, of course I fucking do. My sister is gay." She hesitates. "And also, I'm not an asshole."

Joanna Cross: "So what would you do if the someone said that gays were a threat to normalcy and had to be locked up for the good of everyone?"

Kendra Campbell: "Look, lady. In the cellblock just down from here we have a guy who can laser your face off with his eyes. I'm pretty sure my gay sister can't laser your face off with her eyes."

Joanna Cross: "How would you know?"

Kendra Campbell: "Pardon?"

Joanna Cross: "How would you know your gay sister can't laser your face off with her eyes?"

Kendra Campbell: "I don't think you're making a very strong argument here."

Joanna Cross: "No, seriously. Do you have any idea why the man in the cellblock just down from here can laser your face off with his eyes? Can you predict the typical occurrence of face-lasering in the general population?"

Kendra Campbell: "Could you, in my position?"

Joanna Cross: "I don't know. But I sure would be better equipped to find out. You getting my point?"

Present Day

There were some things amusingly mundane about how the Library worked, L.S. thought. The Library Cards were one of them.

Yes, they looked impressive: glimmering squares of etched brass for the permanent Cards. And, yes, the Library Cards had your name on them, a name that acted as your True Name for any magical purposes.

But beyond that, they were essentially just library cards like any mundane Earth library card.

In days not so long gone by the Library Cards were one giant weakness just sitting there in your pocket, since anyone could steal them and use them against you. The True Name made you effectively 'willing' for the purposes of any spell cast upon you. A pretty awful situation to find yourself in, and not well balanced against the mere ability to take books outside of the Library.

But whoever ran things behind the scenes at the Library had wised up. They'd added new protections to Library Cards, and new privileges, too, for certain users.

Privileges such as direct access to the Archives.

The Archives was the informal term for the parts of the Library where humanoid sapients weren't allowed by default, at least not through the front doors. The Librarians had never minded those few who managed to find ways in or, well, Ways in, but those paths were always very dangerous.

As well they should be. The Archives were part of the underlying machinery of the Library, part networked prison-slash-zoo for various greater and lesser monstrosities that had invaded the Library over the centuries, part restricted text section, and part passage to Library wings for non-humanoid sapient entities to go read their equivalent of books. Some of it was filled with acid, a sizable portion completely underwater. If Cthulhu wanted to to check out a book, the Archives were where he'd pay his visit.

The Librarians classically hadn't been very enthusiastic about letting humanoid sapients in there, if only because they didn't like losing Patrons. But that was, again, before the Library Card upgrades.

Now, if your account was in good standing (which hers was), and if you'd performed certain tasks (which she had), and if you'd done certain favors for the Library (which she had), they would conjure a service entrance Way just for you.

The new-issue Library Cards could literally let you breathe underwater, after all. Even in acid. They still didn't exactly make the Archives safe, but, you know, every little bit counted.

L.S. headed towards the local Library desk, took off her cap, and nodded to the Archivists working there. Librarians could see through the Cap of Neglect, of course, but they seemed to find it annoying to talk to her when she was under its effects.

She walked past the desk and wandered the stacks directly behind it. It took only moments, this time, for a robed Docent with a few more arms than the norm to materialize like a walking pillar from the gloom.

She knew this Docent by sight, from the gold-and-violet symbol on its shoulder. A symbol unique in color and shape: a distinguishing mark. Very unusual. Identity was a privilege granted to few Librarians. Being a Librarian was, after all, a punishment.

This Docent was a "trustee". Most Docents had only one hand, the other replaced by a chain and a lantern, and most Docents had no mouth. This Docent was the same, but had been granted "additions".

Most visible was the compact red-gold clockwork device attached to the left side of its face that could produce a language understood only by other Librarians. And she knew that under its cloak was a red-gold chassis attached to its sides and back from which it could unfold up to four mechanical limbs.

"I'd like to enter the Archives," she said. "Please."

The Docent grunted in its own language through its red-gold larynx, and held out its hand. It examined her Library Card, and then unfolded one of its mechanical arms from under its cloak.

This arm terminated in a stone knife. A knife to open Ways.

The Docent shuffled off the side, and began cutting a complex pattern into the air.

L.S. left it to finish opening the Way. This could take some time, depending on where you meant to go. Especially opening Ways for patrons — those seemed to take significantly longer. Probably metaphysical reasons.

L.S. went to find the couple companions waiting for her in another wing of the Library. She left her cap off. Now, she was just Alison Chao.

This small circle of friends did know her real name — and they even knew who her father was, big-name Foundation researcher Doctor Charles Gears. They did not know she was L.S. or the Black Queen, though. That would be going a touch far.

She found Rain, Septima, and Dega in the West Liko Wing, arguing. These three represented part of one of Alison's several inner circles; Zakuro and the others were off the grid somewhere in Lattaka.

Those who remained…

Iris "Rain" Joseph, rainbow-skinned color changer, black human woman and fragment of another universe's One Deity, a hedge mage of fair usefulness.

Septima Varan the High Enchantress, an ana-human of unknown origin and a high opinion of her reality-altering skills that was not entirely unwarranted, despite the entirely self-bestowed title inspired by her equally self-involved brother.

Dega Tee, a reptilian woman who insisted on referring to herself as 'lizardfolk' after playing too much Dungeons & Dragons, but still a competent fighter. Or, ugh. Capital F-Fighter, probably.

They were arguing about SCP-239.

"The Witch Child is not a child," Septima was saying, waving that oversized staff of hers around dangerously. "The Witch Child is the Woman with Stars in Her Eyes. She who made the People, She who made the Land and Corn and Squash."

"She's from freaking Iceland," Rain said irritably. "She's as white as white can get."

"Only the cultural imperialism of the Europeans could turn her white!" Septima nearly knocked Dega about the head with another wave of her staff. Dega jumped out of the way, flicking her tail for balance. "A disgrace and a lie. Also, truth, but only truth for now. She is not what we see with our eyes."

"I thought the Star-Eyed Child was the woman with stars in her eyes," Dega said. "The one they call Es-Cee-Pee One-Three-Four?"

"Don't be so literal!" Septima turned to face Dega, and noticed Alison watching. "How long have you been standing there?" she demanded.

"Only a couple hours," Alison said. "I see you're all ready to go?"

"Damn right we're ready to go," Rain said.

They headed for the Way into the Archives. Sixteen hours left to go.

Two Months Ago

Joanna Cross: "Do you believe in God?"

Kendra Campbell: "What?"

Joanna Cross: "You know. God. Yahweh. Big Man in the Sky. Fate Personified. General ultimate distant father figure. Or, hey, any of the other variations, I'm not here to be picky."

Kendra Campbell: "I think that's a bit too much of a personal question."

Joanna Cross: "Most of you don't believe in God, I'm sure. Scientists are mostly atheists. Just speaking statistically. I think the Foundation's a bit different, though. You still don't believe in, like, God God. But God has many different faces. Here's another personal question for you. Do you believe there is a Plan?"

Kendra Campbell: "What kind of plan?"

Joanna Cross: "A Plan. A right and true way that things should be."

Kendra Campbell: "I'm not sure what you mean."

Joanna Cross: "It goes back to the Garden, Doctor. Adam and Eve, standing naked in the dark. Innocents. Knowing nothing. Until the Serpent came along."

Kendra Campbell: "Yeah, I was raised religious. I seem to recall the Serpent was the villain."

Joanna Cross: "Why, though?"

Kendra Campbell: "Eating the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. Going against what God said. All that crap."

Joanna Cross: "Knowledge of good and evil. Why's that supposed a bad thing?"

Kendra Campbell: "You tell me."

Joanna Cross: "Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was gaining the power to know, to discern right from wrong. The power to understand how the world works. Which humans can't understand. Eating the fruit was sin because humans aren't meant to discern for themselves how the world works. Because they aren't meant to change things. Only God is meant to do that. People trying to change things, or trying to see what should be right or wrong, that is just… sin. Deviating from the perfect Plan. Right?"

Kendra Campbell: "Right. I guess. I wasn't the best student in Sunday School."

Joanna Cross: "You should know the story better. If only because you want to understand your enemy. Or yourselves."

Kendra Campbell: "Fine. Why do you identify with the bad guy, then?"

Joanna Cross: "Because the Serpent's only the bad guy if there really is a perfect Plan. If there really is a perfectly correct way things should be."

Kendra Campbell: "Okay."

Joanna Cross: "But if there is no Plan… if there is no correct way things should be… and if what you think is the Plan is wrong… Then what?"

Kendra Campbell: "Okay. What's your point?"

Joanna Cross: "The Foundation does believe in God. Your God is Normalcy. Normalcy, the perfect, arbitrary Plan from which there can be no deviation. Trying to change Normalcy is the worst sin of all. The cardinal sin against which your organization stands with all its might. A stalwart bulwark against change."

Kendra Campbell: "I think it's plausible that you might be over-thinking this philosophy stuff."

Joanna Cross: "If you think we're off point, feel free to redirect us. I'm being pretty cooperative, aren't I?"

Kendra Campbell: "That's one way of putting it. Okay. Look, I do have a question. About your sister."

Joanna Cross' demeanor changes. She is startled.

Joanna Cross: "My sister…"

Kendra Campbell: "Did you come here to recruit her? Kidnap her? Hurt her? Anything like that."

Joanna Cross: "Hurt her? Gods, and you complained about personal questions."

Kendra Campbell: "I mean, bit of an odd coincidence, being that she's stationed here on MTF Tau-9 and all. I don't believe for a second that you didn't know." She hesitates. "She's my friend. You can't blame me for asking."

Joanna Cross: "I knew she was here."

Kendra Campbell: "So did you come here to recruit her?"

Joanna Cross: "I love my sister, but I didn't come here to recruit her."

Kendra Campbell: "I find it really hard to believe that this was a coincidence."

Joanna Cross: "It wasn't. This is how the Foundation works. They think you have a vulnerability, they try to scrape it raw to see if it'll scab. If it doesn't, you're written off. They'd be willing to lose my sister in a heartbeat. That's why she was assigned to your "Bookworms." A honeypot to attract flies. To attract me."

Kendra Campbell: "So…"

Joanna Cross: "I'm not here because of her. She's here because of me."

Kendra Campbell: "But that's not why you came here."

Joanna Cross: "No."

Kendra Campbell: "Then why did you come here?"

Joanna Cross: "What do you think?"

Kendra Campbell: "You're asking me?"

Joanna Cross: "I just did, didn't I?"

Kendra Campbell: "I gotta admit, this is one of the parts where I agree with that shitty list of questions. I think you came here for SCP-239."

Joanna Cross: "That's an interesting theory."

Kendra Campbell: "So you're not gonna tell me."

Joanna Cross: "Gotta preserve a little bit of that mystery, right?"

Back at her lab station, hours later, Campbell examined the transcription of the interview log. Cross had actually given quite a bit of information, really. Well.. Maybe. Quite a bit of information compared to all the other interviews, at least.

For whatever reason, no one had objected to the content of the interview, or approached her with an amnestic pill. Or, at least not that she remembered. Ugh. Still, she now knew far more than she'd expected to know.

Why, though? What was in this for Cross? What was her game?

Either way, she was approved for another interview tomorrow morning, no problem at all. So—-

Campbell heard footsteps, and turned, suddenly afraid of once again seeing Dr. Bright. She was relieved for a moment to see Rita Butler. And then she stopped being relieved.

"Hi," Rita said, cautiously. "Kendra, I… I know I shouldn't be asking, but… I know you… you know."

"Interviewed your sister," Campbell said.

"Yeah." Rita fidgeted. "I know I technically have the clearance, but normally I wouldn't ask because, you know, conflict of interest…"

"It's cool," Campbell said. "Don't worry. I don't mind."

Rita gave an awkward half-smile. "Did she say anything about me?"

For some reason, Campbell froze for a second in hesitation, remembering how Cross had gotten when that subject came up. "Yeah."

Rita stood there, waiting expectantly, with that concerned look on her face…

"She said she loves you," Campbell said. "And. Other… stuff. She talked a lot about philosophy. Good and evil crap. I never heard her talk so much, because, well, the other interviews, she just kept repeating that same damn line…" Campbell cleared her throat. "Rita, I'm sorry. I can't imagine how this must feel for you."

"Is she…" Rita swallowed. Goddamn, that woman wore her emotions on her sleeve. "Did she say, I mean…" She paused a moment. "I guess I'm asking if the rumors are true? If she came here to… to recruit me."

"No," Campbell said. Shit, what was even the right answer in this situation? "She said she loves you, but she didn't come here to recruit you."

Rita waited.

"I think she's telling the truth. She seems to think that you were…" Campbell wondered if she was going too far, sharing too much. "…that you were assigned to the Bookworms, to MTF Tau-9, because Site Command knew she was your sister."

Campbell hesitated. Rita just stood there, waiting. "Maybe Site Command wanted you to be able to deal with her if worst came to worst. Maybe they thought you would deserve to know if anything… had to happen."

Christ. That was definitely the wrong thing to say. It was unfair, it really was, that Rita had been assigned to this damn team. Campbell felt ashamed of the self-pity she'd felt yesterday. No amount of repetitive interviews could measure up to your own sister being held in the prison you helped run.

Fucking Site Command. The hell were they thinking? Would it really have been so hard to transfer Rita into the goddamn Arctic Circle or something, a place where she'd never have to think about her wayward sister ever again?

But Rita was just nodding.

"What do you think is gonna happen to her?" Rita asked.

"She's not to be harmed in any way, clear orders," Campbell said. Probably too eagerly. "They're afraid she's got some kind of anomalous protection. They'll probably just keep her in a humanoid containment cell. Figure out what to do from there." She hesitated again. "Not too bad, right?"

"Yeah," Rita said. "I guess not."

Alone again, Campbell returned to taking down information. She wrote and deleted several purely speculative paragraphs on the 'blue lily chains'. Those fucking flowers, goddamn.

She hoped the Foundation higher-ups weren't actually logging all her keystrokes, or at least not reading through those logs too obsessively. For all that she hadn't given much credence to Cross's overcooked points on science and research and clearance levels, it was true that she was kind of worried about how her superiors would react to too much interest in reality bending.

Or, hell, maybe she was overthinking this now too. She was a member of MTF Tau-9, after all. The Bookworms were supposed to be interested in magic, even if they weren't supposed to do magic.

Or, you know, know anything useful about it at all, just in case you might get corrupted…

Her computer screen seemed to flicker and swim for a moment. Just… dissolved into shapes and colors before resolving back into a computer screen like any other. A computer screen like it always had been.

Great, she thought. Gonna have to catalogue this too. Or maybe not, maybe it's nothing. She briefly envisioned being taken off all of her projects due to unacceptable anomaly exposure, and left doing terrible interviews with captured Hand members forever. Always either repeating the same line or babbling on about philosophy, forever.

She glanced down at the blue lily flower chains. "You better not be doing anything funny to me," she said.

Just in case, she packed them away, back in the secure ceramic-lined containment box they'd arrived at her desk in. She found herself wondering what was inside, underneath the ceramic lining.

Campbell's follow-up interview went in a fairly unproductive direction, for most of its length. Cross rephrased a few of her philosophical points and gave disappointingly little information. Campbell was, indeed, shit at interviews, she thought. Even though Cross was the one in handcuffs, she was railroading Campbell like a seasoned pro.

Joanna Cross: "Do you know why we're going through this song and dance at all?"

Kendra Campbell: "What?"

Joanna Cross: "Surely you've wondered why the Foundation hasn't just sent in an interrogator to torture me."

Kendra Campbell: "Because torture doesn't work. Subject just tells you whatever they think you want to hear. You have no way of knowing if the information is true or not until it's too late. Sometimes you'll never know at all."

Joanna Cross: "Oh, please. The Foundation isn't gonna give up a thing like torture merely because it doesn't work. They'd torture me anyway if they could, merely because it's tradition. It's how these things go, and that's reason enough. It's part of the Plan."

Kendra Campbell: "And yet we're not torturing you."

Joanna Cross: "I have protections. I don't mind telling you that they are protections that are easy to unravel."

Kendra Campbell: "Why would you tell me that?"

Joanna Cross: "Because you'll never figure out how to unravel them. Not you or the rest of your team. Your bosses are too scared to let you. To delve too deeply into anomalous methods. So here I sit. Forever safe. Only in the SCP Foundation."

Kendra Campbell: "We use anomalous methods. When we have to."

Joanna Cross: "Yet here we are."

Kendra Campbell: "Kinda tempting fate, don't you think? You almost sound like you want some good old-fashioned torture."

Joanna Cross: "Jack Bright said something similar."

Kendra Campbell doesn't answer.

Joanna Cross: "Doctor Bright was in here to talk to me before you. He mentioned anomalous methods as well. Technically, he's best suited among you to back that up. Our conversation… did not go well."

Kendra Campbell: "I can't even imagine."

Joanna Cross: "Man, Jack Bright, though… I knew about him before coming here, you know. One of the few exceptions to your No Anomalies No No Not Ever rule. An SCP item who gets to be considered a person? And a staff member? Heavens forfend!"

Kendra Campbell: "He's a good scientist. We don't imprison our members just because they had anomalous exposure, not unless we have to. I would've thought you'd approve."

Joanna Cross: "I do. I've seen his file, of course. They used to keep Bright on a short leash, but it got longer and longer as time went by, right? Now he's… a personnel director, if I remember correctly?"

Kendra Campbell: "Right."

Joanna Cross: "Let me tell you a secret about Jack Bright. Do you know why they keep him around? Why they trust him with so much?"

Kendra Campbell: "I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to know that."

Joanna Cross: "Then they'll wipe your memory of this conversation anyway." She smiles. "Do you know about Five-Ninety?"

Kendra Campbell: "SCP-590? That healer kid. Touches you and you get healed. Fucked up in the head."

Joanna Cross: "Touches you and he receives all your ailments. Pain. Wounds. Broken Bones. Cancer. Mental illnesses." She pauses. "Did the file you had clearance for happen to mention Bright's involvement with Five-Ninety?"

Kendra Campbell: "Yeah. He used 590 to heal several cases of mental retardation for … I don't know. People. Made 590 tractable. Easier to contain."

Joanna Cross: "Five-ninety is Bright's brother."

Kendra Campbell: "What?" She pauses. "What, so he's, like, a little Bright kid too?"

Joanna Cross: "Jack Bright's little brother. They scrubbed the name pretty well, but… definitely Bright's little brother."

Kendra Campbell: "He's… jesus…"

Joanna Cross: "Bright's been around longer than most of you already. He doesn't age or die. When you're rotting in your grave, be it tomorrow or after dying at the ripe old age of a hundred, Bright will still be here. Quietly doing this having proven his loyalty on the skin and bones of his own little brother."

Kendra Campbell: "What's your point?"

Joanna Cross: "Isn't it obvious?"

Kendra Campbell: "Why are you telling me all this? Why all this philosophy crap? All these existential questions? You know I'm not gonna listen. Are you trying to deflate me with word flood? Seduce me to the dark side, what?"

Joanna Cross: "I don't know. Is it working?"

Kendra Campbell gives her a skeptical look.

Joanna Cross: "I'm just kidding."

Kendra Campbell: "What, then? Why are we having this conversation?"

Joanna Cross: "I am trying to convince you, yes, but you'll probably be mind-wiped after this anyway. But it's not just you. I'm trying to convince all your colleagues and superiors who who will read this, the security personnel who will obsessively vet it before deciding which clearance level can read it and what needs to be redacted into oblivion, I'm even trying to convince your Site Command."

Kendra Campbell: "Why? Aren't we the enemy?"

Joanna Cross: "I think you're redeemable. Not just you. This whole Site. My sister. The whole Foundation. Even Dr. Bright. I don't think you've gone far enough into the dark that you can't yet find your way out again."

Kendra Campbell doesn't answer.

Joanna Cross: "Am I wrong?"

It was that last exchange in particular, especially, irrationally, those last three words, that echoed in Campbell's mind long afterward.

As it turned out, Cross was wrong about at least one thing. For whatever reason, Campbell was not mind-wiped. Not to blank out Cross' last, desperate pitch. Not to remove the knowledge of Bright's little brother, that suffering little boy locked up in a cell somewhere in this very site. Bright came to receive her report, and said nothing. No one mentioned a thing.

There was, however, no follow-up interview. No thirty-ninth interview with Joanna Cross. They moved her cell, to … somewhere. She was still held in Site-17, but Site-17 was an enormously big place, a place that Campbell had only seen about 2 percent of in five years of living on location.

She got rid of the blue lily chains, and stopped suffering audiovisual hallucinations. And she added that to the report. Finally, something solidly anomalous.

And nothing else happened for a while.

One month later, Campbell returned to her computer to see a message on it, typed in Notepad and left open for her to read. It read:

If you change your mind, don't forget about me.

The note was unsigned. Campbell did not report it. She was going to, but somehow… she never did.

The second month passed without incident.

Present Day

Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir lay awake in bed with her eyes closed, listening.

She could hear it now, as the hours ticked down. That indefinable humming, that humming that sounded like it was coming from somewhere deep inside her soul, and all around at once. A wordless, tuneless, eternal song.

Twelve hours left to go. Twelve hours to the end.

As she listened, she found that she could make out one word. Just one single word in the endless song.

Never never never never

Never never never never

Never never never never…

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