On the Multiversal Cargo Train
rating: +38+x

Wake up.

The force of it hit her like salt, like an eight-pound steak smashing her across the eyes. She groaned. She felt the ground move beneath her, rattling through something.

Couldn't she sleep just five minutes more? A little more?

No. Wake up. Check the cortex.

Groaning, she opened her eyes, and saw cheap sawn wood dangling in front of her. She batted it away. It wouldn't go. It was the floor. She snarled and dragged herself upright.

She was in a train car hurtling at some impossible speed, something she couldn't keep track of. She groaned again. The cortex was blinking at her, telling her she had an urgent message. She clicked it.

This is a message to all personnel of the SCP Foundation across the multiverse.

At 05.56 this morning, a series of apparently natural events occurred across time and space. No commonalities or connections have been found between these events, except one: every single Foundation site in existence was destroyed by them.

From Orchard to Nomos, Harkhret to Cinders, every permanent or temporary installation in every universe was annihilated. Millions are dead. Containment breaches too vast to imagine have taken place. Reality itself is under threat, and we are scattered and lost.

From this moment forward, we are a foundation of nomads.

The telepathic networks remain active. Our corps of 20 million has been reduced to a tenth of that number - those of us lucky enough to be off-site or in transit. We have no abodes, nor can we re-establish them until we know what has happened.

There are many colleagues to mourn - and we shall - but that must come tomorrow. There is much work to be done - to organise ourselves, save what can be saved, and stop the situation from spiralling out of control. Assignments will be sent to each of you soon; for now, stay safe and stay hidden. Use the back Ways, or find a space outside of reality to lie low in. You will be needed.

Our duty was once to stop reality and normalcy from imploding. It is now to prevent the annihilation of reality itself. Our methods will become subtler, more secretive. We will truly dwell in the dark. But we also will, I promise, step into the light again.

~The Administrator (formerly O5-5).

She dismissed the cortex with a wave, and stood up. The floor rocked around her, and she nearly fell. She was on a train. She looked out of the windows and saw stars and an empty sky.

So, yeah, it's been a bit of a day.

She sighed. "You can stop pretending to be my subconscious now, Simon. I know it's you."

A slight shifting occurred in her telepathic receiver. She could almost hear his grin. "Alright, alright, I'll cut out the italics. You're awake now, anyway."

She nodded and walked to the window. The train track veered through the cosmos, dodging stars, melting into nebulae. She always found it calming. A wisp of steam could be seen, distantly, from the engine-room.

She ran a hand gently along the wooden frame, and leaned her head out. There was no wind to whip her hair. She sighed.

"So we're dead, then."

"No! Not at all. They're already reorganising themselves. Looks like -5 managed to pull it off."

She nodded. "And how did I end up here?"

"Well, er - you weren't caught in the explosion. Everyone who was - there was some kind of malfunction with the resurrection system shortly before it all started. That, too, didn't seem like it was planned. Just a regular, predictable system glitch, caused by an accidental miscalibration weeks ago. Anyway, uh - your last body got hit a few seconds before it went down. You got lucky. The system found an opening here."

She nodded again. The enormity of the matter would, she was sure, sink in eventually.

"Where are you?"

A chuckle. "Riding a sailing ship off the coast of 17th-century France. Or a 17th-century France, I suppose. It's bound for the Cape, but I'll be long dead by then - mission shouldn't take too long to complete, and they'll kill me after I finish it. Although, I suppose, my orders will be different now."

Simon's life had always seemed oddly glamourous - sifting through timelines, exploring possibilities - but now it seemed like matter. It all seemed like matter, dead matter. There was a supernova she could dimly see burning in the distance, and it didn't bother her.

She'd been on the Multiversal Cargo Train many times before, carrying spices from Orchard and Olowain to far-flung outposts like Migs or Lamplight. Its odd collection of motley stars as they shifted in and out of time drew tourists to it, who would hang on the wooden cars as it rattled onwards, gawping at immense fire and spellbound dust.

But that's all it was. She'd read about the chemical reactions that went on in each of them a hundred times. A thousand thousand flames and gases, acting and reacting, creating empires of flares and spots heading through the stars, entire arms of shallow flame a hundred times larger than Earth that bled and splintered as they detached themselves. You didn't have the mental space to worry about them all.

She turned from the window and accessed the cortex again. Grey-green images of trees erupted out of soil and absorbed Site-19, Site-35. A volcano erupted and melted Site-581. Two time-splices occurred, randomly, stitching Site-25 to Site-889. She watched them all and felt a twinge of panic.

What was going to happen next?

"Not much, I think. We're all reeling."

"You don't sound like you're reeling. The entire Foundation was gutted from beneath and you sound like a computer program."

"We all cope in our own ways. I don't think it's entirely hit me yet."

"No. Me neither."

They sat in silence, in entirely separate corners of reality. She wondered if she could see whichever universe he was in from here. It sounded like a splinter timeline from Sol, but several hundred years behind…

She'd never liked going into Sol. Simon was from there, and he'd tried to show her around, but it all had that feeling of twistedness, distortion. No Kiev, except a declining city in a country called Ukraine. A name that literally meant "borderland", where in her world it was the centre of everything. No Occitania, only something called France - a forgotten idea where the north had conquered the south, instead of the other way around. No Andalus, no Magna Graecia, no New Tehran, nothing. Just the same shapes in different places.

She looked at her hands critically, and then wondered why.

Maybe missions would be different, too. No bases to return to, no debriefs, just a constant psychic uplink. Information and stimulation flooding in and out constantly, overwhelmingly.

Spiros was dead, of course. That hit her but didn't hurt. Spiros was dead in Site-64, probably peering over one of his bits of anart and squatting close to it with that wonderful body of his. She wondered if he looked surprised in death. He'd never done so in life.

Caspar would be dead too, of course. And Musa, Zhang, Franklin. Ai-Fan had probably jumped rather than see her plants be burnt. Names and faces flitted past, and she considered each one in turn, trying to remember what they looked like, the lines in their faces.

It was all going to be different now. A foundation of nomads.

Maybe it was good, though. No, not good, but - maybe it was something that needed to happen. She'd always sensed a rudderlessness to the Foundation. They contained, and contained, and created circles within circles where a purpose was meant to be. Nomadism implied direction, purpose. Nomadism implied… a strategy. A plan.

She sat up. A headache was starting. "Tell me about where you are, Simon."

"OK. Why not. I'm lying in a hammock, gently swinging with the motion of the ship. It's mostly dark. I can see water through a cannon-hole - there's probably a technical term for that - and the moon is shining on it. There are snores and mutterings all around. A boy in the corner is crying for home."

She could picture it. She could taste the salt.

"Orders are being shouted above, but not many - this company knows its business well enough. The air is thick and musty. Most of these people - including this body - will not live for very long. I don't think they regret anything, though. I wonder what it is like, having so short a life. It's been so long that I've forgotten the feeling."

"There are probably fish nearby, swimming underwater. There's a sense of stillness, of calm. I hope it lasts. Ah, a bell is ringing - I think my shift is starting above deck. Does that answer you?"


But she had already fallen asleep, exhausted, as the train rolled on through the night.

And the train didn't stop. It carried on. It feasted its way across the gap between universes, picking up and dropping off cargo and passengers. Stars bloomed and fell, tourists clambered on, gazing up slack-jawed and open-mouthed.

In one compartment, someone was peering over a map, drawing little circles, signs denoting universes and realities. A timeline was stretched out over the paper at an impossible angle. The draughtsmen scratched his chin and leant over, trying to make connections that were speculative, unreal.

In another, a band of stowaways huddled tight. One of them was thinking of bathing by the river, which was only ever "the river" to her. She drew her shawl closer. The fabric was comforting. She tried to remember the village songs, and found it harder and harder every day.

The river in the stowaway's mind stretched out into the minds of others, of telepathic receptors of the psychically aware, who filtered them into buckets of slop and treasure, depending on their inclination. They clung to the sides of cars and listened to the night, to the signals emanating from world after world, universe after universe.

Not many were aware of their final destination. It probably wouldn't seem important when they reached it. But it was there, inexorable, a tiny sliver of inevitability amidst the chaos. They could barely see beyond their own noses. Some of them, not even that.

When she woke up again, she felt different. Better rested. The train was stopping on a timeline, a Sol timeline, and the cortex was blinking red at her. She smiled, and flexed a muscle, and then another one, enjoying how it felt to pierce the stale air.

It was going to be a long day.

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