Chapter 6 - Red Seas, Blue Skies

rating: +10+x

"Line up!" Commander Enrique barked at the small band of men before him. They scattered to form two straight lines near the exit of the camp, mud from last night's rainfall staining their boots.

Huxley's skin bristled from the cold. Emma's grip on the handlebars of his wheelchair tightened to the point where even slight movements would cause the entire thing to shake. Commander Enrique pushed the gray patches of his hair beneath his old hat. It had a faded SCP Foundation patch on it that had been scratched off over the years. It fit the rest of his appearance: his barrel-shaped body, his old camouflaged uniform, and his combat boots that had holes around the edges.

"Do you all know why you're here?" he stepped forward, hands behind his back, chin held high. He still had that confidence that came with being a high-ranking member of the SCP Foundation.

None of the soldiers spoke.

"Great! That means that your captains did what I told them to. I would like to introduce you all to your new 'guests'. Don't ask me what they do, don't ask me why they're here because that should all be obvious to you. You will escort them through the encampment and make sure that they remain unharmed. Do you understand?" Nobody responded. "Great. Now, let's get going."

The soldiers were all dressed in wide-brimmed boonie hats that cast shadows over their eyes. When combined with their stoic glances, it made them look like robots. If Huxley paid attention though, he could see the cracks in their faces. There was fear there — a great, paralyzing fear. Nobody shifted their gaze even a centimeter. At Commander Enrique's words, the soldiers moved.

"Yes, sir!" they all chanted in unison. They began to march.

Huxley looked over his shoulder at the settlement, which was set firmly inside of the woods. Deep in the trees, in-between the branches, were walls and walls made of bone and ligaments that wove through the earth like roots and spawned fleshy houses that seemed to lean and sway the way that people do. Temples made from blackened wood peeked over the top of the walls. Dirt pathways connected the settlement to an outcrop of farmland near a small river. Bright pink and red crops grew there.

There were things in the farm: a boy and a woman. They were collecting various odd-shaped plants in handbaskets. The boy was sitting down, and Huxley noticed that a large pair of furred antler horns were protruding out of its head. Every time he so much as tilted his head, his horns would cause him to fall over. He would turn and his neck would buckle from the weight. Huxley watched him cry from the pain.

The woman only payed attention to the boy when she pried his hands off of his face to leave. She picked him up in one arm, hugging him close. As she saw the soldiers in the camp, she whispered something into his ear. Something in the wind must have carried Huxley's presence to her, because she almost instantly locked eyes with him.

She narrowed her gaze until her eyes were two white slits. She smothered the boy into her breast, preventing him from looking towards the soldiers. It only took her a few seconds to walk back to the settlement. When she encountered a wall, it sank into the ground like water, almost like it recognized her face. The wall reappeared once they were inside.

"Let's go!"

Commander Enrique's harsh voice broke Huxley out of his daydream. He quickly pushed himself to follow the soldiers. He didn't feel Emma's grip behind him, and looked behind him to see her inside of her own trance. It wouldn't be long before she too broke out and joined him.

The pounding of the soldiers' boots against the mud sounded like a rotten war drum.

"The leaders won't let you inside."

"Well, can you ask them again?"

"That would be disrespectful."

Emma put her hand on her mouth to hide her groan. She had insisted on being the one that spoke to the subtheriums. There was a thought in the back of Huxley's mind that told him to fight her on that point, but it didn't have time to fully develop before they had reached the walls.

It was too cold to feel anything. Huxley could barely raise his head to look at the boy that was blocking their entry. He looked as tall and thin as the trees. His face was covered by strands of long black hair that had leaves and rocks caught in it. He looked like a teenager, but with Sarkics one could never tell. The only thing covering him was a white linen robe that was adorned with flowing golden lines and golden spiral symbols on the shoulders and chest.

Emma looked up, a new idea in her head. "How do you know what the leaders want if you can't speak to them?"

"There are some things we just know around here." The boy sat down and wrapped his arms around his legs.

Emma started to pace back and forth as she slowly lost her leverage in the conversation. Huxley had grown colder to the point where he could barely turn his head, and whenever he did, he could only look at the fleshy walls. There was an aura of danger about them, like they were staring back at him. He wondered about the other interviewers that had tried and failed to convince the Sarkics to leave.

Where were their bodies?

"How many of us would your leaders accept?" Huxley asked. Emma looked at him with a suspicious gaze.

The boy threw his head around to Huxley, but his attention was elsewhere. He was looking at the leaves and the sticks and the roots that were visible above the ground. He kept that sight in his gaze for too long. For some reason, he had gotten the idea that if he stayed in that position long enough, everybody would forget that he had spoken.

"Only those that truly wish to speak to us," the boy said. "You and the woman."

There was a tiny, almost imperceptible connection that Huxley had with the boy in that moment. He knew that that thing did not want to talk with him. Still, he replied, "Okay."

"Woah, woah, woah," Emma interrupted. "We can't go in there alone with you. We need some kind of protection."

The boy looked at her. "The leaders will protect you."

"How will they do that?"

"Our minds are connected to the flesh and the earth." The boy pointed a finger to his head. "They shield us from corrupting influences. If one wishes you harm, the leaders can erase that thought or compel them to stop. The leaders have spoken to me, and they wish for your safety."

Huxley turned to the soldiers. "That sounds fine. You all can leave."

The group was silent for a good dozen seconds. Eventually, an older man — one who had faced too many clashes with death to care about reputation — spoke. "We can't," he said. "Big changes to the plan have to be cleared by Commander Enrique."

"I'm not going to wait for your decision," the boy said. "Decide now or leave."

"Wait." Huxley wheeled himself to Emma, and lowered his voice to a whine. "Commander Enrique isn't here. They'll listen to you. This is our only way to speak to them peacefully."

The older man stepped forward. "It's a perfect opportunity for you two to get kidnapped, that's what it is."

"I wasn't talking to you," Huxley said. He whipped his head back to Emma. "Okay, worst case scenario: we both get captured and killed. That's just two people. But if we try to raid the base, more people are going to die. More of our people are going to die. We're here to help people, Emma."

Emma looked at Huxley, then the old man. Goosebumps ran down Huxley's neck and back as he felt another pang of psychic connection. He could see through her skin and knew what she wanted to say. Huxley knew almost every word that came out of her mouth.

"We'll leave at sundown," she said. "1700 hours. If we don't leave by then, I give you permission to come after us."

Emma waved at the soldiers and, a few seconds later, they turned and left. There wasn't a rhythm to their steps anymore. They just trudged away, disappointed. A few of them started whispering to each other, unsure of what had even happened and why. When they were far enough away that all Huxley could see was the green of their uniforms, the wall opened. Bones snapped and veins the size of his wrists tumbled to the ground like vines.

Huxley let Emma push him forward, too scared to refuse. The two pushed through the shallow red puddles and into the settlement. Once he had entered, Huxley has an instinctual urge to turn around and leave. Every house and every wall was buried beneath waves of red tendrils. They spilled through open holes and windows. The place was infested, to the point where the tendrils were the only thing keeping some of the buildings stable.

The air seemed to sense Huxley hesitance, and grew more hostile as a result. The settlement looked completely barren. They must be afraid, Huxley thought as Emma slowly wheeled him forward, they had to be. The only thing the tendrils seemed to be afraid of was the sun. Huxley watched one of the bloody pythons creep its way off of the roof of a small cottage and into a nearby shadow, where a pile of other slightly shriveled tendrils rested.

But despite the heat, none hid in the shadow of the temples.

There were three. They were placed in a triangle formation, equidistant from one another and all facing the center of the settlement. They were made of black wood that gave off a thick charcoal smell that was mixed with something that made Huxley's stomach uneasy.

There was a low groan as the doors to the temple furthest away swung open. Huxley's eyes couldn't detect any movement, but he knew something was there. Emma's grip tightened. As Huxley peered closer, he saw something looking back at him. Eyes. A pair of golden orbs appeared, then dark purple stalks that connected them to the body of a monstrous, inhuman thing.

Its body was a stitched-together mess of human shapes. Its torso was tough and rippled like an ancient Greek stature, its head a bundle of tendrils that writhed like it was constantly in pain, its thick legs a girthy pair of cow hooves. A regal robe that had the same pattern as the boy's was wrapped tightly around its frame. The thing had to crouch to make it through the temple's massive doorway, and once it was able to expand to its full size, it towered over the two interviewers.

The thing spoke and Huxley could hear it inside of his mind. He dug his nails into his palm to keep from groaning in pain. Its words were like a bloody tongue wriggling down his ears.

It asked, "What is your purpose here?"

Huxley stared down the beast, even though every thought in his head was telling him not to look at it. Before he could respond, however, Emma stepped forward. "We want to help you, and all of the people here. We… To be completely honest, we think of you as diseased. We know there are people here that know about the Pulse and don't want to be anomalous anymore. We are here to take those that wish to be treated."

Huxley started to sweat. Brutal honesty? It wasn't a terrible first choice, but for a group of people that was so unworldly, so sick of looking at white lab coats, it was risky. Risk was the last thing that Huxley wanted right now.

The thing put up a hand. The thoughts in Huxley's head froze. It said, "I respect your… openness, but we do not and have not asked for openness. We have asked for respect. You treat us like we don't know how to think for ourselves. You two are so hateful, I can see it in your hearts. Leave us. Nobody here is low enough to subject themselves to your 'treatment'."

Fuck. Huxley wanted to try a new approach, but it was too late. They had to commit to their attack now. "Does nobody suffer here?" Huxley blurted out. The entity took a half-step backward, a promising sign. "Do you not have those in pain? Those that resent you? Those that want to leave?"

"You heard that in one of your manuals, didn't you? We are nothing like that. You know nothing about how we really live."

"I know you all treat each other like family." Huxley pushed himself forward. "And families help each other, even if they don't agree with them, don't they? You speak like you have all of these people under your control."

The thing put up a hand. "Your words disgust me. I forfeited my individuality long ago, not so I could control my family, but so I could love them. I know about the SCP Foundation. You only want to murder them. Who told you that we had to be cured? Who told you that that was right?"

"That's not what I'm saying—"

"Don't dodge my question. I know you can answer them." Now the thing took a step forward, its head tendrils wrenched up, making it look even larger. "Unless you're not here to ask questions?"

Huxley's chest was heaving. He looked down and noticed that he was breathing heavily. No, he was gasping for air. His heart was drumming in his chest. The thing crossed its arms, waiting for a response. Huxley had to speak now. He had to say something, anything. The world began to tilt. Deep breaths, he repeated, deep breaths.

Huxley raised his head high as he grasped for the right words. "I want to help you. All that I've learned during my career has told me that it's… it's better for subtheriums to become human. I've spoken to them before and after the process and it's like a miracle the way their lives change. I remember this man, he hadn't smiled for years, and when he was finished with the treatment I saw the look on his face and it was so… magical. Regardless of what's in the manuals, I know there are people here that are in pain. Is it wrong for me to try and help them?"

The thing's tendrils rose and fell as it thought. Huxley kept his eyes trained on them, never letting up on the pressure, never giving it an inch to try and formulate a comeback. His body ached the whole time as it resisted its natural urge to turn away. Finally, after what felt like an hour of waiting, the thing responded.

"What do you plan to do with them? To those that are in pain?"

Huxley's response was calm, pre-rehearsed. "Nothing right now. We're just here to talk."

The thing nodded. There was a crack in its armor, one that it clearly didn't want. "Your meetings shall last one half-hour unless the family wishes to speak to you for longer. After that, you shall leave without another word." Then it turned and disappeared into the darkness of the temple.

Huxley didn't call out after it.

Emma's back was hunched uncomfortably as she sat on a wooden pew, her arms crossed, as a teenage girl looked her up and down.

She and Huxley had been led into separate temples by a pair of headless teenagers. Huxley almost seemed happy to go with them. This place had thrown so much dust into his head that she wasn't sure if he could even think for himself. Emma rubbed her own forehead. She shouldn't be blaming him. She was the one that had gotten them into this situation. Was it? Huxley was the one that had proposed the idea, she had simply given the order. Still, if they got out of here, she would be the one getting slapped on the wrist.

Circular patterns covered every wall of the church. Red roots were growing through the ceiling and floor. She rubbed her arms, the ashy black pews sapping away her heat. They were all facing a large altar at the far end of the room. It was frighteningly different from the rest of the room, like it wasn't meant to be there. It was made out of thick stone that formed a table similar in shape to a coffin. There was a latch on one side where it could be opened, although from Emma's position she wouldn't be able to see what was inside. The whole thing was drenched in black stains.

Her imagination started to work out what could be inside. She soon found herself picturing her own broken mangled body, trapped as she slowly suffocated. Something told her that that wasn't an uncommon thing to happen. Emma considered. The previous interviewers had never left the settlement.

The teenager made an odd annoyed noise from its throat. Emma realized that the subtherium she was talking to still acted exactly like a human being, and it eased her mind. They don't sacrifice people here, not in this sect. She remembered reading that in the manuals she was given.

"What's your name?" The teenager asked.

Something clicked inside Emma and she knew what to say. "I am Emma Sandaran. I'm an interviewer from—"

"The Sandaran?" It hissed. That fully confirmed that it was human. Young people were animals: they had to be the first ones to talk, they had to be the ones to lead the conversation. Anything else was an attempt at manipulation.

"No. I'm not that Sandaran. That Sandaran died a long time ago."

"Oh." The slight grin on the teenager's face faded away. One landmine was defused.

"Do you know about Rachael Sandaran?"

"I know enough." It pulled away and groaned. That was the one thing Emma liked about young people: they always conceded too early. "She killed a lot of people. People that looked like me. But we're not really considered people, are we?"

Emma waited a moment. "Some people may think that way."

"A lot of people think that way. You probably think that way, don't you?"

"I'm not…" Emma was quiet as her brain switched to another line of questioning. "I'm not entirely sure, to be honest with you. I am a part of the SCP Foundation, but I am also my own person. I'm just here to talk with you, so my opinion doesn't really matter, heh."

The teenager didn't reply. Seconds, then minutes passed. It didn't move, didn't shift her gaze, but it refused to speak. Why wasn't it saying anything? Why wasn't Emma taking this opportunity to ask the teenager her name? Her chances were slipping away by the second.

The teenager groaned. "Can you ask me something already? That's how conversations work. I thought you people were good at that."

"Interviewing is more complicated than that." Emma let her hands drift to her knees. "I'm from Site-53. That's in New York, although I moved around a lot as a kid."

"I was thinking more about this treatment thing. No offense, but I don't really care about the rest of that stuff. You're just another labcoat. There'll be more after you." The teenager's voice lowered to a morose tone. "I was born here. I was born on that altar over there, that's why it's covered in all of that… yucky stuff. Everybody is born there."

"Oh." Emma laughed. It was a nervous laugh, but years of reflex training transformed it into an innocent one.

"Is your laugh always like that?" the teenager said.

"Always like what?"

"It's annoying and fake." The teenager crossed its arms, but its eyes weren't confrontational. It wasn't an accusation, just a question. Emma didn't know what expression to wear on her face.

"Not a lot of people tell me that." Emma tried to urge the teenager to move to a different topic.

Instead, the teenager hopped over the pew into Emma's row. "Why don't people tell you that? It's really, really obvious." They were still just questions. There were hints of something underneath, however. Emma knew that she had to be missing something.

"Hey, can I ask you a question?" Emma slid closer, keeping eye contact.

"That's your job, isn't it?" That was better. Sarcasm meant anger, and Emma could handle anger. "I don't want to leave, in case that was what you were going to ask. I just wanted to see what you people were like."

Emma kept her eyes kind. "That's my job, yes. You're pretty smart. That subtherium that I spoke to earlier, the one that had tentacles for a head, they said something about a family. Is that your family?"

"No." The teenager looked away, then turned to give more emphasis. "Well, everyone here is technically part of one family. We're a part of the same bloodline. I'm too young to see thoughts right now, but I know my little brother's a lot better at it. I don't know, I'm probably just too stupid to do it."

"Hey." Emma leaned forward, but kept herself from putting an arm on the teenager's shoulder. "Don't call yourself that. I'm sure you'll get good at… seeing thoughts? Can you do that?"

"Yeah. I already told you, we're a family. We share blood, thoughts, feelings, normal stuff like that. I'm not good at it, though." The teenager's face lightened. "Oh! I think there's someone by the river. I can see him, kind of. He's talking to my brother. Is he the one in the wheelchair with the messed up face?"

"Him? His name's Huxley. He's my partner."

"Oh. I didn't know you were allowed to, uh, date people where you're from."

"What? No, no, we don't do that. That would be extremely unprofessional."

"Then who is he?"

There was a comfortable silence.

"Nobody important."

"She's my partner."

Cool air washed over Huxley's face. It did little overpower the heat, but it at least made an attempt. That was all that Huxley wanted right now. Where Huxley lived, the sun was almost always the only thing in the sky. The clouds, the wind, all of it was too scared to appear. There was never a day where, at least for a few hours, the sun wouldn't sit there right above him and drain the sky clean of all of its blues, replacing them with pure white.

"What's a partner?"

Huxley looked down to his side at the small boy with two large hooves sticking out of his head. He was playing with a few blades of grass, pinching each one tight so that the wind wouldn't snatch it from his fingers. The longer that Huxley looked at him, the more that he became sure that the boy was too small for his horns. It wasn't meant to be. The only way that he could move without falling over was by swiveling his head, and even then he had a good chance of turning too far and his head and neck out awkwardly while letting out a loud grunt of pain.

"It's someone that you work with," Huxley said. "Like a teacher. You have some of those, right?"

"Yeah." The boy spoke like he didn't want to agree. It created a guilty weight in Huxley's throat that was difficult to swallow. "So they tell you what to do and things like that? That's what the teachers here do."

"Sometimes. It's like a friend." Huxley returned his gaze to the inept river in front of him. He had positioned his wheelchair right on the edge so that the water droplets would jump up and stain his shoes.

"What's the difference?"

"Well, with friends, you can do things with them. You find some common interests to latch on to and then you talk and you find some more. Eventually, you don't have to do things with them to have fun. That's the magic of it all, they make anything fun. You can even have fun doing boring things with them. I've been doing a lot of paperwork recently, that's a boring thing."

"But if you're doing it with friends, shouldn't it be a fun thing?"

Huxley looked away. He looked to the trees, the ones that hadn't been infected by the Sarkics yet. "Yeah. It's fun." The trees were all short and malnourished like standing corpses.

The boy let the blades of grass go and they floated off into the stream.

He said, "Are we friends? You say that you have fun doings things with your friends. Is talking to me one of those things?"

Huxley didn't return the boy's glance. "I guess we would." He wanted a smile on his face, but none came.

The boy sneered. "That's dumb. You're dumb."

"What?" Huxley said in an over dramatic tone, hoping that the boy was lying. He was proven correct with one look at his face. "Oh, how could you say such a thing? I thought we were getting somewhere here! Now what am I going to tell my boss now?"

The boy laughed so loud he had to hold onto his horns. "Shut up!"

"He'll be so shocked! He'll say 'Huxley, how could you have been outsmarted by a nine-year-old?' then he'll keel over and die from a heart attack."

"What's a heart attack?" The boy's laughter died, being replaced by pure curiosity.

"It's nothing you have to worry about," Huxley replied.

"Oh. Okay." The boy began to pick at another patch of grass. "I'll have to leave soon."

"Do you have something else going on?"

"No. My dad's just thinking about deer. He thinks that when he wants me to come home."

No, not yet. Huxley propped his arm on his armrest, trying to force any kind of eye contact. "What is that like, seeing other peoples' thoughts?"

"Um… Do you see the river? Imagine very tiny rivers like that in the air. My father calls them ghost branches because they look like trees branches that move through everything, but they're not clear enough to be ghosts. I can tell. They're more like glass rivers. If I sit down and concentrate for a while, I can see things floating to me, and if they get close enough, I can reach up and grab them." The boy budged his horns to allow himself a more comfortable position.

Huxley finally rounded up the courage to look the boy in the eyes. They were cold and distant, like they were always looking around him towards something more interesting in the distance. Sometimes, the boy would actually shift his gaze towards a large tree or a mountain or just to somewhere other than the scarring and stretched skin on Huxley's forehead. He let the boy do it one more time, and studied the way that his face almost detached as he became lost in the world around him.

He soon realized, though, that he had a job to do.

"Do you enjoy doing that? Do you like seeing how other people think all the time?" he asked.

"Yeah." The boy looked down for a moment. "Well… sometimes, yes. I like seeing people when they're thinking about good things. But on bad days, I see a lot of bad things in the rivers. When I try to grab on to one of them, they always cut me, even when they're not all that sharp. Then for a little bit, all I can see is this really weird color. I think it's blood."

Huxley let the boy consider for a little longer. "But overall, do you enjoy it?" The boy nodded. "Hmm. Could I ask you something?"


"If you enjoy it so much, then why do you want to leave?"

"That's a dumb question."

"What do you mean?" Emma asked. "You said you wanted to leave the settlement, didn't you? If you didn't want to leave, then why did you—"

"Can you, like, shut up for a second. Sorry, just please be quiet." The teenager wiped her eyes and forehead. "I need to… say this in the right way."

"Alright," Emma said.

Over the course of their brief conversation, Emma had slowly moved across the church. Whenever the teenager stood, she stood; whenever the teenager changed pews, she followed. No matter what topic the teenager jumped to, Emma was ready to guide her to whatever conclusion she wanted. Dozens of potential questions were prepared in advance. The machine in her mind never stopped and never made a mistake.

Emma propped her legs up on the pew in front of her. She watched the spirals on the ceiling as the teenager tried to work up the courage to speak. More questions entered her mind. Who carved those spirals? Who maintained them? They couldn't have shown up out of nowhere, so it was intentional. They must have had a specific meaning. The circle of life? The inevitability of death? Emma gained an overwhelming desire to know, but she knew that she most likely wouldn't have the chance to ask.

She could almost see the words in her mind: 'REAFFIRM THE GOAL'. It was a mission statement, one that was always written at the top of every briefing she had been given since the day she became an interviewer. Those words, those big blotchy letters, dismantled the questions in her head. They weren't important anymore. What was important was the questions that she was supposed to be asked.

"Hey?" the teenager murmured.

"Yes?" Emma replied.

"What does your organization call me?"

"What?" The teenager was sitting two pews ahead now, but Emma hadn't noticed her move.

"I asked what your organization calls me. What do they call people like me?"

Emma's first reaction was to stand and sit by the teenager, but her body hesitated. She wasn't sure whether to immediately respond or wait for something better to come to mind. The machine in her head waited for orders that she knew would never come. No, no, she was losing the conversation now. She had to say something to get it back on track.

"Subtheriums. We call you subtheriums." No, not that upfront. "Although, that's a bit too clinical, y'know? I don't call your people that when I talk to them. I just call them people. You can ask me to call you something else if you want, because I know not everyone likes to be called that." Emma nervously giggled into her hand. The teenager didn't reciprocate.

"What does that word mean?" It turned. Emma could now truly see how dark its eyes were. They were the deepest, darkest shade of brown like dried blood. They swallowed the light instead of reflecting it.

"It means people like you." Emma wanted to pull back, but she forced herself still. She could never admit that she was losing. No, she wasn't losing at all. She couldn't be.

"People like me? What, anomalies? SCPs?"

"You know nobody calls you that any—"

"So what? Is 'entities' any better? Threat entities? They all mean the same thing. Stop trying to sugarcoat how you see us."

"Subtherium is different." Emma found her hand clutching at her chest. Even though she had never remembered doing that before, it happened instantly like she had been practicing it for days.

"How? How is it any different? You use it the same way, you say it the same way. I know you people, it doesn't matter what name you give us, you all treat us the same. You're such a… what? Why are you smiling?"

"I'm not—"

Emma felt her face. Her lips had formed into a wide arched that curled inhumanly at the ends. She felt white stones in her mouth. In the reflection in the teenager's eyes, Emma could see every detail of her face: her spiraling brown hair, her jet black eyes, her flushed cheeks and almost-too-pale skin. It was like looking at a doll's face; a doll she had no control over, a doll that wasn't hers.

She came back to herself, her hand flying to her mouth. "I'm not smiling."

The teenager just stood and walked away, a disaffected look in its eyes. Emma tried to call out to it, but her lips refused to let go of her smile.

"You were. You absolutely were…" The teenager stomped its way to the end of the pews. "Why are you hiding things? I know what you're saying, you know what you're saying. What's the point in trying to do any of this? It's stupid. You're stupid."

"We're getting off-topics." Emma wrenched the edges of her mouth back down. "I thought we were talking about, uh, whether you wanted treatment—"

"Treatment? The hell do you mean 'treatment'? This isn't a fucking disease. This is who I am, who we are," the teenager jabbed at Emma.

The interviewer reared back and, for the first time in a million years, felt scared. She felt herself leaning over a ledge, in that small space between standing on solid ground and plummeting to her death. She didn't know how this could have happened. How could she have let everything fall apart? She replayed the scene in her head, and tried to piece together what had went wrong.

Everything, she soon discovered. Everything had gone wrong.

From the moment she and Huxley had entered the settlement, they had lost the conversation. They had lost the entire mission. These people didn't want her help, they just wanted to talk forever. As long as it seemed liked they were negotiating, the SCP Foundation couldn't do anything. The teenager had seen through Emma's lies. She wasn't there just to talk, she was there to convince. For some strange reason, that terrified her more than the monster that was standing right in front of her.

Her mind retreated. Her heart said that her conclusion was right, but she still fought it. It couldn't be true. She tried to slot more explanations into places, hundreds of them, but none fit. There were so many other interviewers that would have been better suited for this mission. Why would they pick some rude disfigured man to interview one of the last remaining remnants of the subtherium race? Why would they pick the daughter of the woman that tried to kill them all?

This wasn't an interview. It wasn't even a conversation. It was a game to see how far each participant would go to make it seem like they were willing to change their minds. Emma didn't lose because she offended the teenager, she lost because she got so caught up in the illusion that she thought that anything she was doing had an impact. She was the idiot. She was the one that didn't get the joke.

"I'm… I don't…" she stuttered. She could hear the teenager laughing under her breath.

Emma bit her lip to stop herself from crying at the realization. The four walls of her vision grew smaller. She heard wind rushing past her ears and drums banging in her head. She tightened her fists to try and regain some amount of control over the world, but things kept falling apart. Color faded, ground dissolved into air, and she felt sand falling onto her shoulders.

She must answer, but she didn't. Instead, Emma fell. She fell and fell and her vision kept getting smaller and smaller until it was just a speck in the sky. Wind was now furiously scrambling past her. When she looked down, she saw a void of black. Tiny specks of white sand floated in the air. In the distance, she heard the sound of chains. Was this what her mind was?

Emma tried to swim away, but her arms were too weak to move. Her brain decided that she must sink, so that was what she was going to do until she couldn't anymore. The blackness embraced her as she descended. Soon, the wind stopped and everything else but the black left.

It was cold. Emma couldn't feel herself moving, she couldn't see herself. Her thoughts were trapped behind a thick wall that didn't allow her inside. There was nothing here, and yet it was suffocating. This was what it was like to be dead, she decided. This was her dying. That was the only possible explanation.

There was a disturbance. Something was wrong. There was someone else in the darkness.

It was a figure. It didn't possess any recognizable shapes, it gave off no heat, it barely even existed — but it was there. Emma crawled on her hands into the black, slowly, painfully dragging herself over to it. She couldn't tell how long it took, but eventually she came face-to-face with the thing.

It looked something like a faceless mannequin now. The figure had whittled itself into something that Emma could understand. Its limbs formed joints and its face deepened, becoming more detailed by the second. Emma was watching it become human. Soon, it would grow hands and eyes and a mind. Soon it would be able to touch her.

The urge to scream rattled through her. Her face contorted into a primal expression as she reached out and tried to wrap her fingers around the thing's neck. It wasn't human. It wasn't a living thing. It was a parasite that was trying to create its own perverted sense of humanity. She wanted to wretched it back and forth, to break it into pieces and crush it into white sand.

Tears clouded her eyes as she realized that she couldn't, though. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't kill that disgusting monster in her head. She could do nothing but watch as a robe sprouted out of its neck and tumbled down to cover its naked body. That robe then turned bleach white and morphed into a lab coat that looked exactly like Emma's. As she examined the figure, she saw that it had every one of her wrinkles, every one of her small imperfections that made her Emma. It stole everything from her.

She reared back. The figure was looking at her now. No, it was staring at her the same way that one would stare at an intruder. Was that what Emma was, an intruder? She owned her own mind, she could do whatever she wanted with it. Even if it acted on its own every once in a while, it was still hers. Yes, she reassured herself, it was hers. This thing, this monster had the goddamn audacity to try and pry into her space and claim that Emma was the intruder.

She reached out again, hoping that by some miracle her muscles had regained their strength. Again she failed to kill it. It was alive now. It was wearing her coat, her flesh, her makeup. She couldn't tell a difference between her and the thing anymore. That meant that nobody else could either, and she felt fear ripping through her stomach. Was there even a difference?

Emma realized that it didn't matter. This thing wouldn't be alive long enough for her to have to answer that question. Her tears dried up and a smile returned to her face.

The eyes — it was the eyes. She looked again at the figure's face and saw that its eyes had no life in them. The rest of the thing's face was perfect, but that one detail gave away the whole façade. It proved that it wasn't human. Nobody could ever think of it as such. All it could be, and all that it was, was an imposter. Emma's smile grew wider.

She was cackling like a madman. Even when her lungs started to hurt, she laughed. Even when the figure reared back and roared at her, she laughed. Even as her body became entangled by dozens of invisible wires tore into her skin that began to lift her up to the black sky, she laughed. Her stomach recoiled violently and her eyes watered in pain, but it didn't matter. She had won.

Emma continued to rise as the figure remained stuck down there. It tried to reach up to her, screaming out disconnected words that didn't form anything meaningful. Regardless of its efforts, it would stay down there, alone at the bottom of the darkness inside her mind.

Emma raised her head, presenting a blank expression to the teenager. "Can I ask you a question?" she asked. No more than five seconds could have passed, but Emma's entire composure had shifted. The teenager recoiled slightly as if she knew what had happened.

"Um. Yeah, I guess." There were still traces of confidence in her voice. Emma took a morbid pleasure in stomping them out.

"Do you hate me?"

"What? No. I mean, I don't…"

"You know, this game you're trying to play right now won't help you. This idea that we're just some group of government drones that do whatever some dipshit from upper management tells us won't help you feel better about yourself. I don't care about your excuses. You want help. And do you know who will help you? Me. I will help you."

"No! I just—"

"Let me tell you something right now. It's important, so you should be listening." Emma stood and cast a long shadow on the girl below. "I've been working with the SCP Foundation for 13 years now. I've seen everything. And when I say 'everything', I don't mean the run-of-the-mill monsters, I mean the worst things you've ever imagined. Sentient piles of corpses, living apartment buildings, creatures that would make you so paranoid that you'd die from a lack of sleep." She leaned forward, causing her opponent to sink further into its seat.

"And you know what I did to those things? I helped them. I was honest with them. I didn't give a damn about how they looked or what they did or whether my bosses thought they were a freak because I'm here to do a job. I don't care who you are. I don't care how society thinks of you. I'm still going to cure you."

Emma peered into the girl's eyes. It wasn't a competition anymore, Emma was already past that. Instead, it was a look of hope. It was a look that said that the girl could still be saved, that she could leave this life of pain and self-hatred if she would just accept it — if she would just trust Emma.

"You have to ask yourself who you're doing this for. Are you doing this for me? I don't give a damn about you. Are you doing this for your family, your community? You already know how they feel. If you're still questioning this it's because, deep down, a part of you wants to get rid of it. You can't just suppress that voice because it'll only get stronger as time goes on. You have to follow it. But only you can make that decision, because nobody else cares enough to do it for you. So?"

"Stop…" the girl murmured. Red patches were forming beneath her wet eyes. She pulled her knees to her chest as she sobbed, her voice growing weak. "I'll do it. I'll do the treatment."

Emma let a smile grow back on her face as she pulled the girl into a tight embrace. She finally felt like herself again.

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