Five Minutes to Midnight
rating: +27+x

Four days ago

“How’s your kids settling in, Jonesy?”

“Not bad thanks, mate. Sasha has taken up your football – American football – bless her, but I could not believe this shit. Here, have a look –“

Technician Jones pulls out his mobile phone, but is interrupted by a single, steady tone from the console.

“Hang on, after. Okay, outer-ring anchors… are all online… at full power. Ready, Dana?”

“Humes spiking low – ten percent. Wait… wait… Humes steady. Ready to shut off inner anchors.”

“Inner anchors offline in three… two… one… off.”

A key is turned, a plastic cover is lifted and a large red button is pressed. Absolutely nothing happens, at least that Jones can tell. As was absolutely expected, but when dealing with stabilising the fabric of reality, it’s hard not to worry about things blowing up in your face. Jones turns to Technician Flores and is relieved she has not grown a second head.

“Humes stable. Wait ten…”

On cue, a warning alarm begins to sound ten seconds later.

“Reactivating all anchors.”

“Humes spiking again, Jones.”

“Hold on… hold on… okay. Standard containment pattern is back on. Bringing the outer-ring power to baseline… done.”

“Spiking… spiking… less now… good, Humes stable.”

“Lovely. Checking off – outer and inner Scranton anchors fully operational, emergency stop operational, stop warning operational.”

“All check.”

“Lunch time and finish the paperwork this afternoon?”

“Let’s do it. So long as they’re not serving that fucking casserole again…”

It would be four days before anyone realised what they had done.

Day One
23:55 hours

“Your bet, doc.”

You look at the cards in front of you – two sixes. Not bad, but there are two aces on the table, and it’s hard to tell if Jones has one. Just transferred to Site 82 last month, you haven’t got a measure of how good a liar he is – but then, as a newly minted doctorate who has only recently been bestowed the ‘honour’ of being a late shift supervisor, he hasn’t had the chance to get your measure either.

The wind howls from outside and driving rain pelts down onto the control room windows. Fifty miles away, the Acadian conifers are swaying in the storm.

“I call.”

You begin to slide the chips across the table. Fifty miles away, one of the conifers sways, cracks and topples onto the Hydro-Québec power line, and the control room is plunged into darkness.

“What the fuck?” Senior Technician Novak’s voice echoes from across the room. There is enough light to see her silhouette against the window, illuminated by the glow of lights from Building E across the complex.

“Spooked, chief? Got any scary stories?” Jones laughs nervously. He’s worried, but it’s not clear if he realises it himself. In barely twenty seconds, the lights flick back on, dazzling the room’s occupants.

“Backup generators are back on,” you say, loudly and clearly. Reassuring the technicians or yourself? You jump as a console sounds, beeping steadily and insistently.

Jones furrows his brow. “Anchor 11 is on the blink. Signal’s back – damn, lost it again? Come on, you little – “

“Jones.” Novak’s voice is sharp. “Humes have spiked fifteen percent. The other anchors?”

“All other anchors are responding. I’m trying to reboot Anchor 11, but the system isn’t connecting.”

“Keep trying. In two minutes, if you can’t get it online, we need to perform an emergency shutdown and reroute power for field stability through the other anchors. Have you done the emergency shutdown procedure before?”

“Flores and I tested it four days ago.”

“Good. Another ninety seconds. Excuse me, doctor – your approval for this course of action.” She does not smile, but you detect a hint of irony in her voice.

“Sure, I –“

Attention personnel. Blue-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

The calm, electronic-assistant voice does not lower any tensions in the control room.

“The hell?”

“Humes are at twenty percent… twenty-five percent and climbing – but the outer field is still operational. Something’s wrong,” Novak says.

Attention personnel. Blue-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“Bloody hell! Anchor 11 is back online, but now 13 is playing up – 11 is gone again – come on, you bastard!"

“Flores to control, come in, Flores to control.”

Novak’s hand reaches for the communications console. “Senior Technician Novak in site control. Technician Flores, are you responding to the warning? Report.”

“No – Well, I am now, but I wasn’t – I was in the E office and now I’m in the secondary control room there, but I – something happened, I can’t remember, and all the systems are going crazy, the readings are all over the room, Humes are –"

“Flores! Calm down and report. We can see the Humes are rising. The outer anchors are operational and the field is still intact. The secondary control room instruments should be fine.”

Attention personnel. Blue-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“I don’t – they’re not, they keep going up and down, everything looks wrong, the observation room is wrong –"

“Wrong? Give a proper god damn report, Flores.”

“The door isn’t on the right side of the control room.”

“Is it on the wrong side? Stop speaking in riddles."

Flores’ voice is rising to a near scream. “The door isn’t there, it’s in the middle, and on the left, and it’s WRONG –"

“The observation room door is on the right side of the secondary control room.” Jones’ voice is small and the colour has drained from his face.

Attention personnel. Yellow-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“This will not be a yellow-level for long. We need to put the full site on alert and evacuate, Doctor,” Novak says.

“Evacuate? But – but – the anchors are still operational."

A phone rings and Jones grabs for it. “Lim? Yeah, yeah, we, we’re dealing with it – I think you need to call the Director – what? I don’t care if I’m in the centre, I’m dealing with – hello? Hello?” Another phone, and then another.

“Doctor. We are rapidly losing control of a reality-disturbing anomaly. If the area expands, and the other anchors fail, we must pull back to a safe distance immediately.”

“But the outer anchors are still operating at half power. Can you set them to emergency field strength, Jones?”

“Full power? Yeah, Doc, yeah, I can do that."

Novak is staring at you and Jones with barely concealed disgust. “That would be extremely unwise. At sixty percent Humes, there may be a stable irreality construct in the chamber. If you put the Hume field at full strength –"

“What happens?” You suspect you should know the answer, desperately searching your memory of lectures – god damn it, I have a fucking particle physics doctorate, weren’t they supposed to teach me this before giving me the doctorate?


Attention personnel. Yellow-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“No, but – no. No!” You remember the face of Robert Scranton standing behind a lectern. “The Hume readings are still increasing and the chamber is unstable. The chances of an irreality zone forming are small –"

“Not small enough to risk.”

“If we can just get confirmation on the anomaly –"

Novak’s mouth is set in a grim, narrow line. “Very well. Flores, enter the observation room and give me a visual report on the main chamber.”

“What? You want me to WHAT?”

“Chief, you can’t send Flores in there, half of the inner anchors are not responding, and Humes are –"

Attention personnel. Yellow-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“Eighty percent and climbing, I know that, Jones, but we must have a visual inspection of the skip and the anchors before doing this.”

Novak has noticed your mouth opening and closing soundlessly. “Doctor. I need a clear report on the main chamber before recalibrating the anchors. Direct Technician Flores to enter the observation room.”

Jones jumps up from his seat. “You can’t fucking –"

“Be quiet! The doctor has the authority.”

You wipe a droplet of sweat off the tip of your nose. “What about the video feeds? Jones, bring up the feeds –"

“Do NOT bring up the feeds, Jones. Doctor. How long have you been assigned to SCP-five-"

“Two months, but –"

Attention personnel. Orange-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

“I have been working with this skip for ten years. I advise you against opening a direct visual on any reality-unstable zone to an operations centre, but especially this one.”

“There’s a light coming from behind the door, I can’t, I won’t –"

“Flores, get out of there, get to the bunker,” Jones says. “I’m opening a video feed.”

“Jones, you fucking idiot, don’t –"

“I’m not making her go in there, Chief, Doctor, please –"

Attention personnel. Orange-level warning in Building E, Main Chamber.

You swallow hard. “Go ahead, Technician –"

“Jones, turn that off NOW –"

He raises his hands in the air. “It’s fine, Chief, it’s fine, I see the chamber, all the anchors are intact, the main object is –"

Jones turns to look at you and pink light spills from his eyes, mouth, nose, filling the room. You are dimly aware of yourself screaming. Screaming to turn the anchors on, screaming to get out of the room, screaming for him to stop swinging the light around the room like a sickly searchlight -

“Doc? What’s wrong? Jesus, okay, okay, outer anchors going to full emergency power –"

“Do NOT turn on those fields, Jones –"

You see Novak lunging across your vision for the console when the control room windows shatter inwards and a jagged football-sized piece of concrete smashes into the side of her head. Jones is screaming, now, but you can only see him, as your ears are filled with ringing, seeing Building E crushed into a hemispherical ball of rubble, smoke and flames seeping from the cracks between.

Attention personnel. Red-level warning in Building E.

Attention personnel. Red-level warning in Building E.

Attention personnel. Red-level warning in Building E.

You look down, seeing three inches of steel rebar protruding from your torso, a darkening stain spreading across your white lab coat. As you slip into unconsciousness, sirens wailing around you, the orange flickering of flames coming from Building E seems suffused with a soft, pink glow.

The clock on the wall shows 00:05.

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