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"The input terminals are now bonded with your optic nerve on the right side," Mo said, screwing on the case. "You should be seeing more or less normally."

"It looks wrong," slurred the object in the clamps. "The colors, are…" It trailed off, breath fogging the plastic mask over its nose and mouth. She saw its cheeks twitch. A trickle of blood leaked from under the boxy machine covering the top half of its face.

"It may take a few moments for your brain to adjust to the images," Mo reassured it. "Try to focus on the idea of what Doctor E. is showing you. The pictures will become clearer if you just work on understanding what they are."

She walked around behind the object, where Reid was suctioning blood away from its exposed brain. "Tell me about what you see." She looked it over; Reid's work separating the spine from the ribs was immaculate, and he'd managed to keep an impressive length of the vagus nerve intact. He's learning, she thought, and smiled.

"I see… Trees. A tree. It's… Looks like grass and trees. Now a dog's there. And a truck. Fire truck."

"That's great," she said, peeking over at Evelyn. The younger woman flashed Mo a quick thumbs-up without looking away from her equipment panels. "That's perfect. See? You'll be used to this in no time," Mo promised.

The object's body shuddered, rattling in its stand. Captain Grounds snapped into a firing stance. The room surged with tension. She saw Ken's hand move from the anesthesia controls to the kill dial.

"SRA holding," Evelyn said sharply, tapping her control panel. The five of them paused, listening to the soothing drone of the reality anchor. "Babies," she added quietly.

Mo rolled her eyes, wishing Evelyn was more professional, knowing it wasn't her place to address it. "You're doing fine," she said to the object, genuine compassion in her voice. "You're doing great, I promise. You're being so brave. We'll be done soon. Keep talking to me. What do you see now?"

She re-checked the placement of the leads in its temporal and parietal lobes, and especially the thick bronze plug stuck into the cerebellum. Everything was perfectly in place. "It's a map," the object said. "Like, from a big book. Atlas. It's… China. Asia, somewhere."

"Good!" Mo said, glancing at Evelyn to confirm. "Keep concentrating. You're part of the team, you know. We're counting on you."

"I don't… I've never seen this way. I don't like it."

"I know it's hard," Mo said. "We just have to finish, then you can rest. Just one more thing." Reid handed her an input spike. "You're going to feel a big pinch, then you can go back to sleep." She lined up the spike with the object's ear canal.

"We're doing such a great thing here, and you're the most important part," she said, meaning it.


Site 41 was a kaleidoscope of unique minds from all over the world. Together, they formed a construct of such dazzling brilliance that no one person could ever hope to fully grasp it all. Mo basked in it; walking the halls, just listening to snatches of conversation, was like floating in a warm sea of knowledge.

"Fuck this line, right?" Doctor Ken Baars interrupted her reverie. "I just came for coffee, and I'm having to fight my way upstream like a goddamn trout. Unbelievable."

"You're thinking of salmon," she said, but he didn't hear her.

"And how about we have two more greens to get done this week? That's, what, seven this month? It's like, what are they even doing with them all, you know? They've had me in on some fucked up operations since I've been here, but this just tops everything."

"The Orpheus project is extremely important," Mo said, bristling. "If you aren't interested in being part-"

"No! No-no-no no no. Come on. I'm just saying. I mean, we're doctors, we took an oath." He shuffled forward, pressed uncomfortably close to her by the movement of the coffee line. "They have us in there cutting people's heads off and basically putting them in jars. I'll do it, don't get me wrong, but don't you ever feel like a mad scientist? Is this really what Good Guys do?"

"We're only doing what we have to. In the end, we're protecting the objects as much as ourselves. Some things are about a bigger picture that we don't see all of."

He snorted. "Okay, Boss."

"Why are you here, then?" Her fists clenched suddenly, indignation boiling over.

"It's a higher pay grade than any of the other anesthesiology posts that were open, and a job's a job," he said, spreading his palms. "Look, I'm sorry, I'm just talking shit, Okay? It's just early. And this line for my coffee is killing me. You know how it is."

She looked around, embarrassed at her loss of control. Nobody had noticed. The line kept moving in harmony.


She still felt something out of place during the procedure that day, but it went perfectly. Right up until the thing with the extra mouth.

She'd just removed the back of the skull and was starting to insert the occipital probes when she heard grunting and yelling, like someone struggling to push through a crowd. She looked up, startled, to see a pair of wriggling lips where the object's ear had been. A set of teeth gnashed their way into existence, with a tongue snaking desperately out from between them.

"Please don't do this," it begged. "Please just let me go back to my cell. I'll do anything you want. Please, please —"

We have to, Mo started to say, but thought better of it.

Ken's hands were moving furiously over the gas controls. Grounds had his gun up. "Amesvoort, what the fuck?"

"Boosting SRA," Evelyn replied matter-of-factly. Grounds started barking codes into the radio on his shoulder.

"You don't need to do this, please," the mouth sobbed. "I'll tell you everything you want to know, I promise I'll do whatever tests you want, I'll help you —"

I'm so sorry. This must seem so cruel to you.

A distorted thrum pulsed from the looming brass dome of the reality anchor. It sounded like — Mo couldn't think of anything it sounded like. Everything faded to a fuzzy gray. The light in the room hadn't changed; her eyes just weren't sending colors to her brain anymore.

"I swear I've never hurt any…" The mouth trailed off as it swirled back into the object's skin like water down a drain.

Mo was locked in place. Her mind was jammed. She felt her legs starting to sway underneath her, but couldn't conceive of anything to do about it.

The lips receded until there was only a single tooth, sticking out of the object's ear, and then even that was gone. Evelyn let go of something and the thrumming stopped. It felt like falling asleep and waking up at the same time.

"Belay that, command," Grounds said into the radio. The object stood in its restraints, dull-eyed, as if nothing had happened. "Everything's good here."


Mo looked over the faces in their glass-fronted cells, worried about the screw she'd found on the floor. The Orpheus core was a huge metal cylinder, covered in rectangular ports for the cells to slide into. The bottom of it sank through the floor, where it branched off into a root system she knew was being tended this very moment by a small army of L1 technicians. The top pierced the ceiling and kept going, ending in a crown of sensors and dishes all the way on the surface. And, somewhere, a screw was missing.

"You know we could lose a hundred more of those before we have a problem. Why are you wasting time on that one?" Evelyn asked. She flipped a switch, and suddenly Mo could hear Director Hernandez's voice from all the way up top, presentation going full swing.

"— able to localize an eight-Hume reality field, with plans to add much more capacity than that. Right now we project our maximum radius to be about six hundred meters, but that will go up exponentially as the project approaches completion. For today, we've adjusted down to an area about four meters squared."

They watched together on the topside monitor as the director led a group of important-looking people to the edge of an old helipad. "Stay on this side of the red line, if you would," he was telling them. "The technology should have no effect on typical organisms, but this is after all a test. We don't want any surprises."

The administrators eyed each other nervously, and kept well back from the line. A pair of technicians came into view pushing a flat cart bearing a huge, transparent cube. Inside the cube were hundreds and hundreds of fully-decorated cakes.

"Some of you may be familiar with SCP-871," Hernandez said, "but for those of you who aren't, well— let's just say there are more where these came from."

Nobody laughed.

"So what we're going to do here," he said, "is nothing more or less than make them go away."

"That's our cue," Evelyn said, cracking her knuckles. "Let's—"

"Wait," Mo said. "Wait. Oh, shit."

Evelyn turned, started to say something, trailed off when she saw. The head in cell B-2 had woken up and started screaming.

The chunky input boxes covered it from the nose up, but there was no mistaking the frantically stretching jaw or writhing tongue. She had severed the major tendons in the object's neck during its procedure to keep it safe in a situation like this, but she never expected it to actually happen.

"We have to tell- we have to stop the test," Mo said. "It's awake. It's going to ruin their consensus. We—"

"On it," Evelyn said. "Just hit the manual override for that one and we'll loop in C-1 instead. We're only using 10 of them. Don't be so dramatic."

The red light stopped blinking. A green one turned on next to another cell. Evelyn kept tapping. "On your mark, Doctor Castelo," she said, holding back a grin. Mo nodded, shaken. "Mark."

"The technique we've developed," Hernandez stalled on the monitor, "not only allows us to safely and permanently remove objects from existence, but also prevents their effects from lingering, and can even undo damage they've caused. I don't have to remind any of you that's what Orpheus is ultim—" He was cut off by a siren as Evelyn hit a final switch.

Nestled in their cells, the heads dreamed a dream together, just as Evelyn directed them. In the dream, the helipad outside was the same, but there were no infinitely-multiplying cakes sitting in the middle of it. Because, in the dream, things like that weren't real.

The two women watched in silence as the view on the monitor changed. "There it is," Evelyn said, as applause crackled through the speakers. "We actually did it." Unexpectedly, she crushed Mo in a hug.

In cell B-2, the head kept screaming.


They had four more procedures that week ("where are they all coming from?" Ken asked her in the cafeteria line, and she'd started using the cantina on the other end of the site).

"You're doing great," Mo said to the object as she perforated its hippocampus. "Nobody told you this, but billions of people are depending on you. You're a hero, and you're being so br—"

Something rumbled from deep down in the lower levels.

Mo tensed. Grounds shifted uncertainly. Even Evelyn looked up at the ceiling, just for a second.

"Should we—" Reid started, and the lights went out.

All of them gasped. "Stay calm," Grounds urged, as the emergency lights flooded the room with red.

"Our equipment is on battery backup," Mo said. "We can still finish our—"

"There's no battery for the SRA," Evelyn said quietly.

Nobody said anything. Mo froze, scalpel in hand. Ken reached slowly for the kill dial.

A pair of eyes snapped open on the object's cheeks.

Ken's face lifted suddenly, as if there were a hinge in his forehead. A rabbit chased a snake along the wall. Reid started to run. Mo smelled lilacs. Evelyn clawed at her control panels, swearing under her breath. Reid's left half was suddenly a foot apart from his right. Grounds drew his gun, reciting baseball statistics. Evelyn was screaming. Ken lay twitching, his skull sliding out, eyes still in it and darting wildly. The floor tilted 30 degrees. Mo let go of the scalpel and it hovered in place, her fingertips floating around it like tiny moons. The wall fell away to reveal a void shimmering with fireflies. Grounds kept his gun steady as a seagull's head burst out of his temple and started furiously pecking his face. A helix of brilliant color spiraled across the room. Reid's two halves wailed and staggered in unison as organs tumbled out of the gap between them. Mo stumbled backward, her hand and arm smearing like paint in the air. Evelyn's scream turned low and raspy as the skin of her throat peeled away and crawled down her body. Mo smelled pennies. Her field of vision slanted as she felt something wet, and she realized that her eye was melting. Grounds fired twice, but she only heard the sound of cicadas. She touched her face with her good hand and felt her cheek slide away. She saw Grounds' bullets pass through the object's head in slow motion and curve lazily back toward him, trailing blood and brain, to tunnel into his chest.

Then the lights came back on, and the anchor started humming, and the pain hit.

She woke in a hospital bed, nestled in a cluster of tubes and beeping machines.

Her arm was gone from the elbow down. She could feel bandages around her head, a sliver left exposed so her remaining eye could peek out. Panic started to creep into her chest. She would never operate again. The project would go on without her. The Foundation would go on without her. There wasn't enough left of her to serve.

A gray-haired woman in a crisp suit entered briskly and pulled up a chair next to her bed.

"Can you hear me, Doctor Castelo?"

Mo managed a nod.

"I'll keep this brief so you can rest. I'm here to tell you that, if you want it, we have another place for you."

Mo wept with relief. She felt whole.

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