The First Fifty-Five

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Excerpt from Hunt and Gather: Stories from the Recovery , compiled and edited by A. Haley. Available for public access in United Nations Occult Coalition Archive 1, East Sector.

Douglas Pangwar greets me in the cafe on Deck Twelve, North Sector, which is apparently his regular haunt. The former commander of SCP Foundation Orbital Task Force ग-3, "Cochrane's Children" is short and stocky, with the heavy build and hunched posture typical of heavy users of Foundation bone-density medication. His long beard is tied back underneath his chin, and his white turban is the only personal touch to his crisp, standard-issue Foundation jumpsuit. His manner is brusque and military, though there is an odd gleam to his pale green eyes.

I should preface this by saying that I deny all- no. No, that's not how we should begin this. Erase that from the record, please.

I think we were all surprised by how easy cooperation was in the early days. When 20471 occurred, the first thing everyone thought was technical issues, because all our ground connections cut out. It was only when we reeled in the fork2 dish array and got our suits on for an EVA that we realized we weren't orbiting the Earth anymore. We were all shocked, of course- there'd been no warning, none of the usual K-scenario preparedness messages. Of course all the O5s but one3 were gone, along with most of the command hierarchy- there was no one left to send those messages in the first place.

The GOC contacted us first, actually- one of their Bastion stations was in a close geosynchronous orbit to us, and the first thing they asked us was "did you have anything to do with this?" Having a command structure on the moon and fewer facilities outside the Earth/moon system helped them recover much faster than we did. Everyone's first instinct- even dealing with the Soviets and the Chinese- was curiosity, and perhaps fear, not hostility.

I don't think anyone seriously considered the nuclear option at any point, though God knows we had the arsenal up there in orbit to wipe out most of what was left of the species. It took us more than a month for the GRU and the Sids4 to contact us, after… anyways. We on fork Three were quite lucky in that we weren't containing anything- several of the other forks were lost early on to containment breaches.

I suppose what always surprises me is how little people know about the real extent of the Recovery. The UN forces on the Moon were quite proactive about gathering and recovering civilians, but the military and covert presence of the various Groups of Interest, Foundation included, was spread most of the way across the Solar System. A particular concern was getting back in touch with all the lost FTL ships out there- yes, faster-than-light. One of the worst-kept secrets of the Recovery, I'm afraid. The Foundation had never developed true FTL travel- we used 18225 to get around the system quickly, but otherwise our spacecraft were purely conventional. The GOC and the GRU had turned to other, more arcane methods, the GRU especially. Everyone saw the recovery of the GOCS Yeager6, but the Soviets had had FTL prototypes in orbit since at least the 50s.

I won't claim to understand the science behind them- I'm not sure the Russians entirely did themselves- but they ran off some kind of- I've heard the phrase "human-initiated quantum teleportation" used, but that's entirely incorrect. It's… something to do with psychics, yes. Suffice it to say that when the Earth went the… I don't know what you call them, psychic batteries powering the things went too, leaving several dozen engine-less ships drifting all over the system, as far out as Hera. The GRU had sent so many of them up that they'd spread too far to be easily recovered by the more conventional Soviet vessels. Which was where we came in, or so we thought.

I can't recall if we decided to go after the Nikolai Fyodorov on our own or if the orders came from the UN, but regardless it was our first attempted joint mission with the GOC. Truthfully told, we could have recovered them on our own but we were all a little worried about engaging a ship powered by psychic ghosts. Golden age of space exploration it may have been, but we'd all heard the rumours about the… dangers and instability of Soviet anomalous technology.

We arrived at the plaque in the Asteroid Belt within about twenty minutes, by which time all the GOC agents were looking pretty queasy. Everyone in Ga-3 was quite used to using 1822- the purpose of the task force was rapid response to orbital containment breaches, after all- but to instantly jump between two different planets without even a sense of movement takes a lot out of even the most well-trained agent. They were even more surprised to see the size of fork Eight at the transfer point- by that point the asteroid mining operations were well underway.

It took us seven hours to home in on the Fyodorov's beacon, with their captain talking us in all the way- that was the strange thing about just about every mission we ran during the Recovery. No one ever had major technical issues beyond engine or navigation failures, for the most part. But people were scared. Really scared. Any ship with a decent radio telescope could see that the Earth was simply gone, and for a long time a lot of the main civilian channels were just unusable.

I recall, from when I was in hospital, after… there was a woman's voice in particular- I believe she was from one of the Chinese research stations- just sobbing into the radio. None of us spoke Cantonese, but… She just left the channel open for about a day and a half, getting softer and softer before the signal cut out. I assume she made it, of course- though those were hard times. As far as we were concerned the veil of secrecy was still in place. The GOC could pass for UN representatives, but we couldn't reveal ourselves to civilians. There were a great many times when- well, we stopped scanning civilian channels after a while. Especially when- when-

Pangwar is silent for a long moment. I have the sense that he is putting aside his feelings, compartmentalizing as only a Foundation agent can. He gathers himself up, takes a slow sip of his coffee, and continues.

You know what, I've been dancing around the issue. We left the Fyodorov to die. Are you happy? Is this the big admission you wanted? There. You have it. I'm not going to make any excuses. The Ethics Committee and the UNOC Central Court have cleared us of any misdoings.

When we arrived, we moved to less than twenty meters off, matched velocities, and suited up to cross. The Russians said their airlocks wouldn't be compatible with ours. Their anti-particle field was still in effect- a sensible choice, given the risk of impact with dust clouds or other small objects in an asteroid field. We didn't question it, even though it played hell with our anomalous activity sensors as we got close.

They- there was a reason the Soviets didn't make contact. The GRU had received orders from the last remnants of the Soviet power structure to assume Foundation responsibility until proved otherwise. And the captain of the Fyodorov actually went along with it. We came back much later, opened up the wreck- he'd locked himself in the bridge and drained the oxygen out of the rest of the ship, and then- deliberately, well…

He reaches up and partially unwraps his turban. His scalp is patchy and torn, stretching upwards and to one side like an apostrophe. In several places metal plates are visible through the skin.

I had been outside the hull for 15 seconds when the top of my head was ripped off. Before I passed out I saw one of the GOC agents turn on his welding torch and cut his own faceplate open. When the ship's engines died, they didn't go quiet. Whatever goddamn unholy power supply they were using to run it had gone berserk, and the entire thing was surrounded by psionic anomalies. Nothing off the charts or unprecedented, but our instruments didn't show them because of the AP field and the Russians told us nothing.

There were eighteen of us on that ship- Twelve from the Foundation, six from the GOC. Eleven came back, four of those, myself included, in need of serious medical treatment. Two died in hospital on Minerva Base. The Fyodorov had a crew of 45, not including the captain.

And the Soviets denied it. A miscommunication, they said. The stress of the situation causing instability in the captain, they said. And the UN forgave them.

I've often heard people complain that the Foundation is, given the circumstances, unnecessarily isolationist. That we keep too many secrets. Well, when we tried to open up and help our fellow man 55 people died.

I don't know who gave the order to fire on the Nikolai Fyodorov. I know the flight recorder was damaged. I don't particularly care. They were right to do so.

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