Quarantine Blues
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rating: +35+x

Quarantine Blues


Asterisk.png

Testing Chamber Echo, Area-09

Tuesday afternoon


Sophia Light peered through the observation window into the hermetically sealed testing chamber. Beyond the glass, MTFs Alpha-9 and Tau-1, Dr. Dan and General Wilford were wheezing in various states of verticality. Behind them, on the wall, hung a full-length dress mirror which had only recently offered an orange-tinted glimpse of another world. Dan was bent over at the waist, one hand on one knee as he tried to catch his breath. He still held SCP-093 in his other hand.

Lucretia Popescu pointed at the object, saying something inaudible — the audio channel between the chamber and the observation room was off — and Dan tossed it onto a nearby table. The disc immediately rolled onto its side and passed down the table's length, dropped to the floor and rapidly rolled its way to the mirror. Some unknown force compelled the stone circle to slap itself flush against the mirror's surface without any apparent impact, despite the speed at which it was moving.

Dan was now talking animatedly in Sophia's direction. She smiled.

"Despite the obviously humorous nature of this 'exchange', I would think it prudent to communicate our next steps to the team," Dr. Gat declared.

She turned to him. "Irving, that is the least-whimsical thing you've ever said to me."

"Under the withering glower General Wilford is affording we two, I find myself uncomfortably anti-verbose."

"And you ruined it." Sophia flipped a switch on the control panel, and was greeted with a chorus of voices demanding to know if she could hear them.

"Shut it!" They did. "Alright, first things first: sanitization and twenty-four-hour quarantine."

"What for?! Just let me take a shower, give me a Red Bull and let's start planning!" Dan cried.

"Procedures are iron-clad in this situation, Dan. Alien dimension equals quarantine and delousing."

"There no louse, there goop." Lucretia pointed to the orange material on many of their bodies and uniforms.

"I think it was a figure of speech," Rainer said softly.

"Right, no louses, that's a relief." Sophia shook her head. "Still, this is happening. Rest up, get clean, deliver your clothes for analysis, and think about what happened. Debrief immediately after, 0700 hours tomorrow."

Wilford and his men were already following the hazmat-suited researchers at the far end of the chamber. Dan started to speak, but Sophia flipped the switch before any of his whining came through; she shrugged, pointed at her right ear, and shook her head.

Dan flipped her the bird and followed Wilford out of the room, the members of Alpha-09 trudging behind them — save for The Specter, who was positively gliding.

Light turned to Gat. "You I want looking over the footage, and examining the bible."

"And what, pray tell, am I to be searching for?"

"Irrational systems, and insights."


Asterisk.png

Quarantine Zone Alpha, Area-09

Tuesday afternoon

Lucretia handed her soiled uniform to the woman in the hazmat suit — who placed it in a clear plastic bag, which she then sealed — and proceeded into the showers. Carlotta followed closely behind, handing over her own clothes and the damaged weapon from the other world.

"What was that about?" Carlotta stepped under the water in the stall next to hers.

Lucretia felt the hot water sluice over her skin for a minute before answering. "Which that?"

"You running back into the thick of it, when we had orders to retreat?"

"Thing I been thinking about. No one dies. None of expendables expended."

"Noble, but when your commanding officer tells you to get out, you get out."

"This not the army, I have leeway to take order how I see fit. You too."

Carlotta peeked around the corner of the stall and made eye contact with her. "Fuck that, you could have been killed."

"Yes but wasn't. Besides, knew you had big alien gun. You come running if things go bad."

Carlotta retreated back into her shower. "Yes, I always would have. But we didn't know if that gun worked or not."

"Seemed good chance, after all that horrible military experiment base. Makes sense horrible military entities carry weapons effective against horrible torso things."

Lucretia shut off the water and grabbed a towel, quickly drying and wrapping herself. She leaned against the wall dividing the two showers while Carlotta finished, then handed her partner a second towel.

Carlotta gave her a look.

"What? You get peek, I get peek, this equality. Good communist romance."

Carlotta laughed loudly, in spite of the serious conversation she obviously wanted to have. She put her hand on Lucretia's arm. "Listen, as your teammate and as your… friend? Is that a weird title to put on this? Anyway, as your friend, I would rather you not get killed in front of me by horrible torso monsters."

"Yes, I also would not like this. Come on, before boys lose their minds in goop-covered madness." Lucretia grabbed the sweats laid out for their use and stepped into the small changing area, coming out within seconds. Carlotta also changed, and they followed the hall until they reached a room resembling a hospital ward with a dozen beds and monitoring equipment.

"This where they stick us until cleared for goop?"

Another researcher in a hazmat suit nodded to her. "There's two bathrooms at the other end of the room for your use. We'll be back in a while with some food. There's also some water at each of the beds."

Carlotta sank onto a cot and reached for the bottle on the bedside table. "Well, this is cozy."

"Not so bad, long as Dr. Redacted not snoring. He looks like snorer." Lucretia sat next to Carlotta.

"What was it like, when you touched it?"

"Torso monster? Disgusting, that is what. But…"

"What?"

Lucretia frowned. She didn't like how the memory, recent and yet a world away, seemed to prick at her nerve endings. "Not just touching my halkost, but reaching in… touching me inside… cells? Trying to invade me."

Carlotta shivered and leaned against Lucretia, who wrapped one large arm around her and leaned in as well.


Asterisk.png

ETTRA Operations, Area-09

Tuesday afternoon

The impossible image of the Unclean, dormant and phased through a foyer wall, was suddenly splashed across the main screen.

"Wait, pause! Ah yes, look upon our adversary's works." Gat clicked his tongue, three times. "Study its visage, its emotional capacities… such as they are."

An ETTRA researcher, Nate Frewer, spoke up. "You think they have emotions? Were they people at one point?"

"Indubitably! A whole cantankerous group of them, rendered into anomalous slurry and packed into the skin of that entity like mortal mystery meat."

Frewer turned pale and looked down at his computer screen.

"Resume the montage, please, but at one-half speed." Gat made various noises to himself as he watched the feed from Carlotta's body camera pan upward along the entity's embedded bulk. The ETTRA staff glanced at each other as he hummed or "mmhmm'd" with no obvious rhyme or reason.

"Intriguing!"

"What is, Irving?" A voice from the door; Gat turned to see Sophia entering the room.

"Ah, hello! Well, you see… the entity is entangled with the entablature, no?"

"Yes, I was watching the feeds as it happened, right next to you I might add. What are you seeing that I'm not?"

"It's phasing! Do you know what you'd need to do to integrate your atomic structure into another object, and then pass through it without losing cohesive structure?"

"No, do you?"

"No idea! But look at it! That's what the entity is doing, and yet…" Gat indicated the walls around the creature, cracking and sending concrete debris shuddering down onto the floor as Carlotta's POV passed beneath.

"It's like it can't make up its mind on how to traverse the solid matter of the wall," Light mused.

"Yes! But imagine this were an unconscious action, what would that indicate to you?"

"That it… has no control."

"Yes, yes. But also, it is shifting rapidly between phasing and crashing through solid matter. And the phasing, as it wears off, does not bring the slightest harm to the creature. If you were to start walking through a wall and then decide that you didn't know how about halfway through, I'd say you'd make quite the mess."

"So what, Irving? We knew they were resistant to damage; bullets don't do much."

"This implies intention! The Unclean can only briefly phase through solid mass, so they are resistant to damage resulting from the phasing effect's cessation, which translates into resistance to normal damage."

"Meaning that was the goal of the experiments?"

"Merely one of many desired potentialities, I'm sure. There's certainly something to be said for a mutagenic process affording one the power to dive between atomic bonds. The transformations are not simply cellular in nature, but affect the quantum entanglement of the affected entity's structure. Well, either that, or something so spooky as to be entirely alien is going on. Either way it tells us that this is no random mutation, but a structured metamorphosis serving a presumably-purposeful goal."

Light stared at the Unclean for a moment, then turned back to Gat. "But what goal?"

Gat shrugged, keeping his eyes on the screen. "Simply put, we are ignorant. But having recognized the stamp of intelligent design on these chimaera, we can begin applying our own intelligences to the conundrum. It should be possible to recreate the theoretical superstructures which produced these experimental results; after all, what is that other world but ours glimpsed through a mirror, darkly? Anything they can do, we can do lighter. Pardon the pun." He patted the bible which Alpha-09 had recovered, recently sanitized for otherworldly microbes. "Of course, the cultural frameworks present in this tome should also help interpret our findings. As I believe Dr. Dan put it, theirs is a world of "Christian science." Both words carry import, in this context."

Light mentally shoved aside the entire array of red flags waving in the wind of Gat's gaseous monologue. "Tell me what you find," she said flatly as she walked from the room, focusing on a space six feet in front of her.


Asterisk.png

Quarantine Area Alpha

Tuesday evening

Lucretia and Carlotta sat together on their bed, chatting amiably. Wilford and his MTF soldiers were sequestered in a corner. Dr. Dan was just now exiting the showers, and Rainer was staring off into space on his own bed. Everyone but The Specter was dressed in Foundation-issue sweats.

The ephemeral avenger watched his friend curiously. "What occupies your attention, fellow battler of evil?"

Rainer shuddered. "Thinking about those things, the mutated guards or soldiers, whatever they were. Fucker almost got me."

"But you snapped him into oblivion, and that was that!"

"I'd never tried anything like that before… I'm used to retrieving objects, or fire in a pinch. I've never slipped a whole being into a pocket. Wasn't sure it would work. I was terrified."

"A worthy avenue for training, friend! This won't be the last time we face down the forces of evil in pursuit of justice. We should discuss your skill set further."

SCP-4494's bed creaked loudly as Dr. Dan plopped down onto it without warning. "He can pull innumerable things out of pocket dimensions, seemingly without limit. And apparently, he can pop things back in. Person-sized things, at least."

The Specter turned to look at Dan and opened his mouth to retort, when Rainer spoke. It's not rude when they can't see my mouth opening, he reminded himself.

"The doctor's right, there's no effective limit to what I can withdraw except in terms of size. I've never been able to pull out large items, but I'm not entirely sure what the upper threshold is. And apparently, I can force larger things back through. But… I assume it wasn't a gentle transition."

Dan laughed. "No, I imagine not. Probably like squeezing meat out of a sausage case."

Rainer groaned. SCP-4494 held up a hand in front of Dan, and turned back to Rainer. "Don't fret over it, friend. You most likely did that creature a kindness, they were clearly in pain. And remember, they were evil!"

"I know, I know. I just feel… underprepared."

"I've seen your service jacket, Rainer," said Dan. "You've got experience with an MTF, plenty of it. What made this different?"

"Maybe how alien those things were? They were on us in a second, and all of a sudden this bestial thing was in my face and dripping mutagenic goop. But… that's not it. Not really."

For a moment, the only sound was Wilford grumbling something to one of his men in the corner.

Rainer took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. "Honestly, it's having used this thing I do on something living."

"Make dead is make dead, right?" Dan shrugged. "Buck up."

"My good doctor, please." The Specter was surprised how difficult he found it to describe Dr. Dan as good. "Introspection is a necessary element of the hero's journey! And Rule #11 of crime fighting is to know thyself."

"Wait, isn't that Socrates?"

"Who? Did he work with Elliot Ness?"

Dan choked back a laugh, then looked at Rainer again. "Okay, so you're uncomfortable with putting one of those things into your pocket dimension. Why? I've read about you producing fire and weapons, how can this be so different?"

"Do you know where my portals go?"

Dan shook his head.

"Well, neither do I! And maybe that poor mutated bastard is folded into a cube of meat, astronomically small, and tucked away somewhere inside me. Maybe I'm the sausage, Dan! Like the Unclean. And maybe the next time I reach for an electrical cord, or ammunition, or a transponder, I get a handful of mutated Holy Hammer!"

Dan arched an eyebrow at The Specter, who made an 'after you' gesture inviting the former to follow through.

"Has that ever happened to you? Inadvertently grasping something when you reach into a portal?"

"No. But I still can't stop thinking about it. Folding up a living thing and putting it god knows where… it's unsettling."

Dan didn't know what to say, so he didn't say anything.

"Chum, listen… the way to make yourself less likely to do that again, is to work on your other capabilities! We practice with weapons, we get your proficiencies up, and we work on maneuvers with your portals. Rule #47: Practice. Practice a lot!"

Rainer smiled. "You and your dumb rules."

"My dumb rules help ensure that crime, and therefore human suffering, is always on the back foot! My dumb rules are for Justice."

Dan got up and started pacing.

Lucretia called out from her place next to Carlotta about six meters away. "Hey, Redacted, relax a little. Big mission done, everyone okay. If we had vodka, I would be toasting."

"Easy for you to say. You can be a cliché anywhere; I can't do literally anything in here."

"You do the pacing pretty well. Sit down, you making me crazy."

"I plan, Popescu! That's what I do, I plan. And I can't fucking plan in quarantine."

"Stop whining, Goggles," Wilford chimed in. "I'm sure we could think of something to pass the time that involves cracking your skull."

"Tsk. You must be tired, General. That was only vaguely threatening," Dan muttered.

"Serious now, sit down, skinny man. They come with food in a bit, you look like starving беспризорник."

"Hey! I expect my insults in a language I actually understand!"

"Like street child… you know, like sea anemone."

Dan stared at her and blew air through his teeth.

"She means urchin," Carlotta offered.

"Da. Street child. No home, dirty and no eating for weeks. Look like death, Redacted."

"Appropriate," Wilford added.

"Okay, you no helping military big man. Shutting the fuck up."

Rainer chuckled, The Specter stared at her with wide eyes, and Carlotta held out her hand to Wilford. "She's new at this. Sorry."

Wilford got up and walked towards their bed. "Listen, Sarkic. You're already on my last nerve, sitting there with your unprofessional display of affection for a teammate, disobeying orders during a mission, and now you've progressed to straight insubordination? Watch your mouth."

Lucretia let go of Carlotta. As she slipped off the bed, she was only slightly shorter than the general's towering bulk; by the time she stopped moving, an inch from his face, she was a full foot taller and rippling with red-tinged muscle which threatened to tear through the sweats at any moment.

"You have problem with me liking touch women, mудак? You having problem with her touching women? You threatened by gay women, big old fuck?"

"What? No! Jesus." Wilford deflated somewhat and stepped back, clearly more embarrassed than intimidated by her physicality. "Who you fuck is your business. My problem is with fraternization, and dereliction of duty."

"A) we're not soldiers, General. And b) even if we were, we wouldn't be under your command," Carlotta noted.

"And more importantly, Wilford, you don't have the social capital to make more than one of Director Light's assets cranky." Dan notably did not approach the general as he spoke. "So stick with me for a while, okay? I'm the one actually deserves your attitude. Popescu's 'disobedience' saved your life, and the lives of your men. Take it down a notch."

Wilford glared at him for a moment, then turned away.

"And Jesus, will one of you restrain Popescu before she pops a goddamn aneurysm?"


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ETTRA Operations

Wednesday morning

"Right, good to see you all fresh and rested." Sophia was greeted with a chorus of grumbles from Alpha-09, Dan chugging a Red Bull, and Wilford glowering silently with his arms crossed. "Or… ready to rip each others' throats out. Terrific."

Dan belched, and raised his hand.

"We've gone over the footage," Light began, ignoring him, "and done a preliminary review of the bible. Obviously further examination of the artifacts and samples you brought back will be necessary to understand the mutations fully, but Dr. Gat does have a theory."

Dan stood up, both hands now waving in the air. Light sighed. "What?"

"What are we doing, and how soon do I get to see the documents?"

"Sit down. Gat, go ahead."

The spindly white-haired man in the shabby suitcoat, vest, and no tie stood up and turned to face the group. He snapped his fingers at the ETTRA staff.

"Hey! I bully them, you don't get to," Dan objected.

Gat blushed, and pointed at Frewer. "If you'll bring up the sections of footage I indicated before the meeting, please?"

The researcher looked to Dan, who rolled his hands in a 'hurry up' gesture while also rolling his eyes. Sophia wondered if combining two such obnoxious mannerisms into one made him dizzy.

The far wall lit up as the big board again showed the Unclean shifting in its concrete prison. "Right," Gat continued. "These lovelies, as you've each gotten to know quite intimately, are horrendous. But their nature actually reveals something about their primogenitors, or at the very least, the ideologies guiding their idle hands."

The footage zoomed in between the shifting limbs of the giant half-humanoid, presenting a blurry view of the wall itself.

"These were no mere accidents, they—"

"Were engineered as a possible set of end-stage mutations through the use of the Tears, I know," Dan said.

Sophia blinked. "You do?"

"Yes, it's obvious. The logs we found talked about scientific procedures, or the semblance of them, to expose the Chosen — both the control group and the experimental group, the bastards — which at least implies there was an end goal beyond 'make things pure'."

"Indeed!" Gat cried. "But did you consider that the nature of these experiments was encoded in the religious scriptures of His holy word?"

Dan shrugged again.

Gat brandished the burgled book. "Every passage is intended to inculcate our opposite numbers and their hegemony with an obsession with purity and the ascension to holiness. Those concepts are ideologically married to the Tears. Metaphors and symbolism throughout this text tie that viscous substance to the conceptual states of both spiritual cleanliness and the achievement of martial prowess. Their entire religion was designed to create a world of war-mongers, desperate to craft greater and greater weapons, through the use of the Tears."

Dan sat back down. "I did not know that."

"Now, I haven't analyzed the scriptures in their entirety, but at least one of the many goals of whomever inspired this work of religious zealotry was to engineer a status of constant conflict. Certainly His primary concern was to create a fertile ground for the testing of dreadful weapons."

"Wait, you saying that whole world burned up just so big bad elder godling can make better ways to kill things?" Lucretia asked.

"Precisely! And here's the next question you should ask me: that burned out husk of a world… does it represent a failure? Or a success?"

Dan gestured at him. "Well?"

"Ask me!" Gat beamed.

Dan grimaced. "Was it a failure, or a success?"

"In an incomparable stroke of luck, Dr. Dan, you will also be answering me." Gat beamed brighter.

"Yes. That's the next stage of this mission," Sophia continued hurriedly, as Dan's colour rose. "We need to know more, and knowing more will almost assuredly mean going deeper into the tainted hell planet, or possibly beyond it."

"Beyond?" Rainer asked.

"Ten years ago, when the first expeditions were mounted, one of the tests produced a color allowing access to a room full of functioning advanced technology… and dozens of SCP-093 objects, stored like books on a shelf." Dan's expression and tone seemed far away. He blinked. "So, the esteemed Dr. Light is suggesting we may need to use those stones as waypoints, and pop into some other place entirely."

"It's been discussed. I really don't see Him staying in the ruined landscape of the Holy Union of Land. And He had to come from somewhere."

"Next stages?" Carlotta asked.

"First, we secure weaponry. You brought back a ruined rifle that tech is analyzing and hopefully recreating, but we may have something already in storage. Additionally, General Wilford has confirmed that a retired member of his old squad might have better insight into the redacted portions of the original record. So, two goals, two teams. I will head up the first, going after the survivor from the original expedition with Dan, Rainer, and The Specter backing me up."

Dan raised his hand again and started to speak, but she talked over him. "The documents you retrieved will be loaded onto tablets for research on the go. Relax, Dan. The other team will secure the weapon if it exists. Wilford, Carlotta, Lucretia and Irving will take that one. This is not a combat mission, so just you, General. No Tau-1. I'm putting Agent Deneb in operational command; play nice."

If Wilford had intended to speak, his mouth suddenly wouldn't open wide enough to allow it. He nodded sharply, eyes blazing.

"Justice will prevail, Director Light!" SCP-4494 called.

"Well, let's goddamn hope so." Sophia pointed. "Carlotta, see me in my office in ten minutes to discuss travel arrangements. The rest of you, get geared up and be ready to move within the hour. And Wilford, don't kill anyone on your team."

"Tell that to Goggles."

"I'm a street urchin, we don't kill. Too weak."

"Pickpockets stab from the shadows. Suits you," Wilford growled.

"Enough," Sophia sighed. "Let's move, people."

The two groups filtered out of the room, and Gat looked up at her. She smiled at him, unable to keep a hint of worry from worming its way into the gesture. "Keep an eye on Wilford, Irving."

Gat nodded, spun a pen in one hand and wandered aimlessly across the room, seeming to find the exit by mere chance. Light turned back to the screen to watch the Unclean slowly gyrating in and out of the wall, concrete dust blurring the body camera's picture with a fine granular mist. She watched the glistening translucent skin bulge, and swore she saw the impression of an agonized face pushing against the flesh from the inside.

She glanced at Frewer. "Turn that shit off."



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