Passing Sentence
rating: +15+x

2021


2 January

Site-43: Lambton County, Ontario, Canada


Their plane from Spain touched down at a Foundation airstrip one hundred and eighty-six minutes after takeoff, achieving a minor miracle in the process: racing the sun around the edges of the Earth, it arrived three hours before its own departure.

"Time travel," Sokolsky said. "Bet you wish you could do it for real."

"Not so much," Veiksaar responded. "I have no regrets."

It was a short helicopter ride from the airstrip to Camp Ipperwash, and an even shorter elevator ride from the Camp to the Site; if either of them had anything left to say to the other before the end of the line, it went unsaid.


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Roger Pensak, Chief of Security and Containment, could hear the elevator humming now. He checked his sidearm, stretched his back, crossed his arms and waited for the door.

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"Welcome home," he told them as the brushed steel panels slid open.

"Don't welcome her." Sokolsky jerked a thumb over his shoulder as he stepped into the hall. "She isn't home anymore. ETAs?"

"Ngo is already in her office. Wettle's car arrived a while back; he's still searching for his ID card in the cushions. Okorie will arrive within the hour, then Blank and Ibanez from opposite directions. Lillihammer is a ways out, obviously, and the janitors are still in Italy."

"They've earned the honeymoon," Sokolsky remarked. "Or whatever you call it when someone gets engaged."

Pensak raised an eyebrow. "Engaged?"

"Been monitoring Torosyan's bank records. She's a woman of simple tastes, so that was definitely an engagement ring."

Pensak raised the other eyebrow.

"What? I was searching for moles last year, you'll recall."

The security chief nodded. "Our hero, the organizational dermatologist. As for McInnis, we haven't heard anything; I've made a few calls, because I think there might be a problem at Site-79."

"Mmm." Sokolsky cracked his knuckles. "We'll see. Time for the endgame?"

"Long past." Pensak unfolded one arm, and snapped his fingers. Two uniformed S&C guards fell in beside Veiksaar as she finally emerged from the elevator. "Put her in a holding cell."

"Yeah, don't bother." Sokolsky yawned. "I want her to see this through. Least we can do for 5109's keeper-supreme."

Pensak shrugged. "Don't run," he advised her. "You're out of shape, and I'm not."

"Is that any way to talk to a woman," Sokolsky drawled as he led them down the corridor, "whose digs we're about to steal?" The sprawling caper he'd nearly accomplished had started out in Veiksaar's office, where the Site's most sophisticated privacy mechanisms were installed; it was only right that it end there, too. Right, and safe.

"She won't be needing it." Pensak slowed his pace and took the rear, as his guards flanked the former Chief of Identity and Technocryptography. "And the next room she gets all to herself will have even better security features."


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Sokolsky flopped down in Veiksaar's chair. "Take any wall you like," he offered, gesturing expansively.

"Thanks," she muttered, sitting down on the carpet and pulling her legs up to her chest. "Do I get to clean my desk out, at least?"

"Don't see why." Pensak closed the door and leaned against it, looking down at her. His arms were folded again. "Not like you'll have a locker at Area-06."

Veiksaar winced, and they both knew why. Area-06 was where they sent misbehaving Foundation personnel who were too useful or too dangerous to amnesticize or execute. Among several dim luminaries of Site-43, one of her predecessors as I&T chief was there.

She obviously didn't want to talk, or probably even think, about that, so she changed the subject. "Since I'm going to be in prison for the rest of my life, would you mind terribly…"

"Only villains exposit," Sokolsky reminded her.

She blinked. "Yes, go on."

Pensak smirked.

Sokolsky put his legs up on the desk. "You want to know where I got all the password instances from."

She nodded. "Rather a lot, yes. You sent seven of them out into the field for starters, before you used the REISNO cannon — which was bullshit, by the way."

He kept mum.

"You sent out five more from Site-120, plus the one I stole, so here's my question: where did you get thirteen copies of 5109?"

"It'll make you a villain, if you answer her," Pensak reminded him.

Sokolsky grinned.

Then he answered her.


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2008


8 September


Karen Elstrom couldn't see.

That part wasn't her fault. She'd been violently ill for almost two days, which also wasn't her fault; someone who worked in Administration and Oversight, someone who worked for her, had suffered a critical lapse of hand-washing at the outset of flu season, and a few bad doorknobs later here she was. Laid out by something completely non-anomalous, almost certainly the fucking flu, for which she had already been immunized. The odds of that were 7 to 3, and Elstrom wasn't so self-centred that she craved all distinction universally.

She walked straight into a janitor's cart, sending a mop clattering to the floor; this was her fault. It wasn't her fault that she couldn't see, but she was walking the halls of Site-43 whilst violently ill because of her own stupidity. She'd thought she was stocked up on anti-emetic meds, more than enough to see her through the yearly lockdown on September 8 — worst goddamn timing, Jesus Christ — only to find that she was, instead, stocked up on anti-memetics. She couldn't remember requisitioning those, which…

Yeah, don't think about that right now.

Elstrom knew the way to Health and Pathology off by heart, so it didn't matter that she couldn't see. Down the hall, towards the Inter-Sectional Subway System, then left down another hall, and she'd be there. The last stretch was a long walk, but at least she wouldn't have to deal with foot traffic; everyone in the Site was bunkered down in their dorms, except for the poor sods in PTF Sampi-5243.

As if on cue, she heard a distant explosion. Not so distant as she'd expected, but then, her senses weren't exactly perfect right now. She was almost at her destination, if her internal gyroscope could be trusted, just a few more steps. The Section signage loomed above her, but it didn't look quite right…

Her vision resolved just in time to make out the wording, clear as day: "ACROAMATIC ABATEMENT FACILITY AAF-D."

"Oh," she said. "Oh, fuck."

There was a sudden rush of air through the open airlock, and she ran in literally blind terror. Shit shit shit shit. She suddenly remembered that she had a phone in her dorm room, that she very obviously should have simply called for help, and cursed her influenzic brain. Stupid stupid stupid fuck! She slipped on the clean hall tiles, staggered to one side, struck her head on the glass of an office window — Archives and Revision? — and fell through the swinging doors. They swung shut behind her as she hit the carpet, hard.

Her head felt funny. It was, at least a little bit, her fault.


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"Karen?"

She felt much better now. Her head didn't, as though it had been full of slush, and the slush had settled. She felt that if she sneezed, her brains might come out. They felt fuller than they were supposed—

"Karen, you still alive down there?"

She opened her eyes. She was staring at the fabric of a desk chair, which she had obviously knocked over. She could see the coffee stains. There were rather a lot of them. Or were they…

"You threw up on Harry's floor, Karen."

Coke stains. Right.

She turned over onto her back, avoiding the sight of what she could smell beside her. She gazed up blearily at the bald head which loomed above, arms outstretched. She gradually realized the arms were attached to a body, not just the head, and that was enough for her to trust them. She reached up.

Sokolsky pulled her to her feet. "You weren't wearing your tracker. Everybody's looking for you."

"Mm," she muttered. "Don't tell them." She closed her eyes.

"Don't tell them what?"

She heard the door swing open, felt him help her walk through it. She wanted to fall asleep in his arms, but not like that, and she realized her stomach wasn't upset anymore. "Where I was."

He chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it."

The slush was moving around in her head again, and she groaned. "Ugh."

"Gonna make it? H&P is still a good ways off."

"Yeah." She burped. "Head's just full."

There was a moment of silence, punctuated only by their footsteps, and then:

"What precisely do you mean by that, Karen?"


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2021


2 January


"Wait." Veiksaar let go of her knees, and her legs slid out in front of her. "You're saying…"

Sokolsky nodded. "A few weeks later, you put that big password replacement push through. Remember? And Elstrom had the perfect string of letters and numbers in her head."

Pensak shrugged. "Everybody knows Karen had it first. Why does that matter?"

Veiksaar stood up. "It's how she got it that's interesting. This story is true?"

Sokolsky nodded. "She told me everything. I promised to keep it secret if she did." He smiled. "I told McInnis, of course. They monitored her in H&P, but she didn't show any sign of anything anomalous. Thought her sense of… mental congestion, was just the flu passing through her system. By the time they released her, she was visibly fine."

"Jesus." Veiksaar thumped the plaster wall. "5109 came out of 5243."

"What?" Pensak stared at her, then stared at Sokolsky.

"The Breach that Keeps On Making Anomalies." Sokolsky put his hands behind his head. "Elstrom got too close to AAF-D, and she picked something up. Just like how Deering picked up his mirror monster. All that esoteric gunk flying around, it's a wonder we didn't end up with more local anomalies than we did."

Veiksaar laughed incredulously. "And when we found out about 5109… what month was it?"

"May of 2009."

"May of 2009. You had months to make the connection between Karen's drunken office crawl, and her picking up the password. So what? You camped out at AAF-D when the Breach happened again, in September?"

He nodded.

"And again in 2010?"

He nodded again.

She counted on her fingers. "2008, 2009, '10, '11, '12, '13, '14, '15, '16, fuck, '18, fuck, '20. Thirteen years, thirteen passwords. It makes a new version every time? How the fuck does that even work?"

"Couldn't tell you."

She narrowed her eyes. "Because you don't know?"

"Sure!" He yawned again. "We'll go with that."


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Around half past two in the morning, four S&C guards herded Wettle and Okorie into Veiksaar's office; the extra security was practically a formality, since the Site was presently under lockdown. Neither Sokolsky nor Pensak wanted this final phase of the project to go awry. There was far too much at stake.

"Wait," Okorie said. She'd already said it three times. "Wettle was out today?"

"You all were." Sokolsky was fiddling with the drawers on Veiksaar's desk. "Where's the key to this one, Eileen?"

"Fuck you," she chirped. She was lying flat on the floor now, reading a technical manual.

"What are we arguing about?" Wettle asked. He was holding a cardboard box.

"Sokolsky sent us all today," Okorie snapped. "That means he had how many password copies?"

"Thirteen," Veiksaar called up.

"And why is Eileen on the floor?" Okorie nudged her with one shoe. "Why are you on the floor?"

"House arrest." Pensak was scrolling his duty tablet. "This office is basically her house."

"House arr—" Okorie began, but Sokolsky interrupted her. He pointed at the cardboard box. "Is that for me?"

Wettle dropped it roughly on the desk. "Yeah, it's mole shit or something."

Sokolsky raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

"Horndog eggs, or whatever they call it. Wisconsin euphemism for animal scat. Somebody sent you a box of poop. Lucky you."


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Ibanez was sprightly and perky, bouncing in place on the balls of her feet. She gave every impression of having had a grand time in India; she hadn't said much, but she had playfully punched Blank in the stomach at least half a dozen times. He'd taken to holding her at arm's length, by the forehead.

Pensak had gone to check on the detainees: Xavia Morse from Site-91 and Sunita Misra from Site-36, each still holding on to the copy of the password they'd snagged before their plans were thwarted. The retrieval would take some doing.

Sokolsky slid a gum packet out of his labcoat pocket, popped one of the blisters, and pressed the pellet between his teeth. The taste was bitter.

"Share with the class?" Blank asked.

"Nope."

Ibanez extended a hand, and Blank instinctually flinched. "Give," she barked.

"Nope. Gum, Eileen?"

Veiksaar had her back against one of the bookshelves, and she banged her knuckles on the wood when she stretched sleepily. "Pass."

"Aw, come on." Sokolsky wiggled the pack at her. "Think of it as a last cigarette sort of deal."

"Wait, is that Nicorette?" Blank blinked.

Veiksaar sighed, and closed the book she was pretending to read. "Toss it over."

Sokolsky broke another blister instead, and flicked the tiny chiclet across the room. It landed neatly in Veiksaar's lap.

"Thanks," she muttered, and popped it into her mouth. "Eucch."

"Why does she get your horrible gum?" Blank complained. "I like horrible candy. I eat fruit pastilles."

Wettle guffawed. He was sitting on the Macintosh monitor Sokolsky had dumped on the floor. "I'm telling McInnis you said those are horrible."

"I could've brought you some back from 91, if I'd known," Okorie mused.

"You didn't answer my question," Blank grumbled.

"She gets the horrible gum," Sokolsky explained, "because she's a horrible person. Traitor gum."

Blank nodded. "I'll note that you, also, are eating the traitor gum."

Sokolsky blew a bubble, by way of response. This was something of a feat, as it wasn't really that kind of gum.


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Lillian Lillihammer, who had been vibrating non-stop for nearly two minutes, finally screamed: "YOU HAD HOW MANY FUCKING PASSWORDS?!"


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It was getting early now, and everyone was clearly exhausted. Even Ibanez no longer seemed so jazzed; when she stopped poking Blank and started maliciously kicking Wettle's heels every time he nodded off, Sokolsky decided it was time to begin.

"Looks like the Director won't be joining us."

Pensak sighed. "I called Site-64K, they're sending someone to check on 79. It's possible McInnis' mole was already active before he got there. He might already be dead."

That cast something of a pall over most of the faces in the room. Allan McInnis was nobody's best friend, but he was family to five of the people in this room. They'd been through hellworlds together, even if the curious nature of timeline travel meant they had only debriefing recordings to remember it by.

"I'm sure he's fine." Sokolsky waved the dire prediction aside as if Pensak were merely blowing smoke. "Ideally he'd be here for this, but Chief Torosyan is also absent, so it was never gonna be a full house."

"Remind me to congratulate them, when they get back," Blank chimed in.

"Why would you forget?" Okorie asked.

"I won't, but Willie will. I'll remember to remind him, when you remind m—"

Sokolsky cleared his throat, and Blank let the sentence dangle. "Ladies and gentlemen, you really did do it. Seven passwords snug back in my mental fortress, with the rest in the minds of our friends — or our non-friends safe in custody — and the good you did with them, the data we've gathered, the lives we've saved will live in unfamy."

"Infamy," Wettle corrected, as Veiksaar stood up.

"No, unfamy, because we're never going to be able to tell anyone about it. But still! A sting operation conducted at seven, nay, eight, nay, nine Sites simultaneously, and it went off with only the most amusing of hitches. It might not have been saving the world, but you certainly saved the day."

"The single, solitary day," Lillihammer snapped. She had been glowering at Sokolsky since he'd told her what he'd done.

"You'll appreciate the gall, Lillian, when you stop to think about it. And you'll have plenty of time, soon! There's just one more thing we need to do, to put a big red bow on the entire affair."

Pensak slugged Ibanez in the jaw.

She hit the floor softly; it wasn't a long fall for her. "That wasn't it," Sokolsky shouted as the security chief then shoved Veiksaar into the remaining task force members, and they scattered around and over her desk. Wettle fell over in a hail of books, while Blank banged his knee on Sokolsky's chair and began to swear.

Pensak pointed his service weapon at Sokolsky, and began to speak in measured tones. "Seven passwords, Daniil. Stand up, walk over here, and start whispering."

Sokolsky stood up, but stayed put otherwise. "You'll n—"

"Save it." Pensak laughed. "And don't try anything. The only person in this room who can take me on is presently sucking carpet." As if in response, Ibanez groaned.

Sokolsky crossed the room, heart racing. For the first time since Spain, he actually felt like smiling. "You're sure you want to do this, Roger?"

He tasted iron as the butt of the pistol struck his jaw.

"Yes, Daniil. I'm sure. Now spit it out, and keep your blood to yourself."

It took more than two minutes to transfer the passwords, and Sokolsky felt his mental burden growing lighter with each sequence of characters. When the final one was out, he allowed the relief he felt to fill his eyes; Pensak peered at them cautiously, and Sokolsky could tell that the man knew he'd won.

Pensak tapped a new password — almost certainly the password — into his tablet, resetting the room's security features. He was locking them in. "I'll be sure to tell someone you're in here," he explained, as he reached into the holster where his weapon had been and withdrew a small plastic breathing apparatus. "Tomorrow at the latest."

Pensak fixed the apparatus over his mouth, and tapped his tablet one last time. The nozzles set in the ceiling overhead began to hiss; Sokolsky couldn't see the gas, but he could definitely feel someth—


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When they were all lying in a heap on the office floor, Pensak reactivated the ventilation system and waited the prescribed three minutes before taking off his mask.

Back in the hallway, the door securely shut and locked behind him, he activated the radio transmitter in his collar. "Yancy and Smit to the I&T chief's office. Do not enter; post yourselves outside the door. Nobody in, nobody out."

After a moment, an affirmative; after two moments, a second one. He strode through the empty corridors of what had been, until recently, Eileen Veiksaar's domain, trying and failing to muster any sentimental attachment to the place.

On to bigger and better things.

A productive visit to the Security and Containment outpost east of I&T, a quick jaunt through Janitorial and Maintenance, and a stroll past the airlock where three S&C agents had once died, and many years later (yet due to the nuances of time travel, on the exact same day) Karen Elstrom had unwittingly set the greatest heist in human history in motion.

Not Sokolsky's. Pensak's.

By the time he reached the elevator in Habitation and Sustenance, the one almost everyone thought of as the topside elevator, the nasty little bits of code that Misra had cooked up were working their way through 43NET. He checked his watch; by the time the elevator started moving — down — the invasion of Site-43 had started in earnest, if everyone else involved was as punctual as he.

By the time he crossed the Fourth Sublevel, the very existence of which was provisionally classified, he was already over any lingering attachment to McInnis' clean and tidy thirty-seven hectare dungeon. Retirement from the SCP Foundation was rarely either pleasant or lucrative, and through considerable dint of effort he had found himself a much, much better way to make an exit.

When he opened the door labelled SCP-001-B, took aim with his service weapon, and fired — "For those in thrall," he said, as he had been instructed — there was no time or reason left to do anything but leave.

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