Site Director

Anabasis will save us all

The plane carrying Dr. Marlowe and Dr. Kohn touched down in northern Virginia, stopping short of Washington D.C. while en route.

"The president doesn't want us near him." They were told.

"We're not infected with anything, there's no risk of anything here."

"You try getting that in his head." The representative said derisively. No one took the president seriously anymore when it came to foreign policy issues. They'd all been numbed and conditioned to just nod whenever he was done working himself up into a racist lather, then leave and ignore what ever orders he issued. By the time he came around to realizing no one was following his orders, he was safe and sedate in his ranch in Louisiana, gone out in the bayou for days at a time without any contact with the outside world. Secret Service was supposedly with him at all times, but many had started to suspect they were leaving him out in the swamp on his own and praying that one night he wouldn't come back.

"Why am I even here?" Marlowe asked Kohn before they'd landed.

"You're the Site Director."

"But I don't know anything about the weapon, or the Foundation selling weapons, or anything about war or politics—"

"You are the Site Director overseeing Anabasis."

"So?" She suppressed a coughing fit, "It's just— I'm not— I'm just a Site Director. A painfully, painfully average Site Director."

He shifted in his seat to face her across the narrow aisle, "You are the top of the chain for SCP-1856. You alone are responsible for every aspect of its maintenance, containment, testing, and you are responsible if it or anything made by it gets loose. I'm not saying you're to blame for what happened in China, but when something like that happens, bearing all the hallmarks of Anabasis, you get involved by default. We don't make separate designations for two subsets of the same anomaly, we bunch it all together. That's basically what's happening here."

"What about you?"

"I'll be meeting with some of the O5s and discuss some strategies involving getting some people into China to try to get ahold of their Anabasis, if the Jinyiwei can get it to us. It's most likely a total waste of time; the Qing have pretty much wiped out the Jinyiwei by now."

"You won't be meeting with the Chiefs of Staff with me?"

He shrugged, "I'm an associate researcher, I don't have anything to say that you aren't already going to cover. I work with you, not over you, and you can kick me out any time you want. You're in charge of everything Anabasis-related. The fact that we didn't let you in on the old business in China was just politics. Not even the SCP Foundation is immune from politics."

She drew in a deep breath, "You're kicking me upstairs to deal with this on my own."

"You're the Site Director."

"I don't care, I wasn't in charge when we started out, and you withheld information from me up until a few weeks ago! Why aren't they including Baines or Tzu or anyone else who came before me?"

He sighed again and gripped the armrest of his seat, leaning over it slightly and repeating in the same tones, "You're the Site Director. Everyone else has been interviewed and spoken to. Everyone else has told the feds what they know. It doesn't matter if you have nothing new to add, you're the Site Director, they want to talk to you. If anything comes up that you can't answer for any reason, just say it's classified, and that revealing any further information puts both Foundation assets and US government UIU assets in serious danger. The only one who can overrule them is the president himself, and we can handle him."

"What do you mean handle him?"

He quirked a brow at her and sat back in his seat, "We're the Foundation."

Priscilla Locke stayed home, not wanting to venture out in the heat and humidity while people started panicking and flooding the streets in their cars, stocking up on gas and supplies as if a war with the Qing Empire meant actual combat coming to Miami. It wasn't even the Qing Empire at its full strength; the nation of a billion was in a death spiral, prolonged solely due to its massive size and population. Australia had almost completely gone, its government eviscerated and anarchy reigning amongst the hundred thousand or so still alive under the muck of red death that had swarmed them. By the time a Chinese fleet even reached the mainland United States, there'd be no China left for them to report to.

All of that was just too much for her to fully process. Seeing images of people writhing and dying en masse in China or Australia was horrifying and traumatic, but the thought that so many people were dying that entire nations were being wiped out within weeks just didn't seem to register in much the same way.

Her hand swung out and slapped the back of her cell phone, just as it began to vibrate. She opened it and reclined on her couch, laying it against the armrest and pressing it to her face.

"Yoooo, what the fuck is up?" It was Aurianne Sharpe, with a cacophony of street noises behind her.

"You're not at work?"

"No one is! I mean, not no one, they've still got people on-site and all, but no one is. They've shut down all operations for the time being. Nothing important for us so we get some vacation time before we all die. Everyone's saying the red stuff is coming for us next. Like, it'll just blitz across the ocean, skip over Panama or something, then sit its cloudy ass down directly on top of us, out of every other place in the world. You believe that? That'd be awesome if it did."

"Wait, so what are you doing right now?"

"Living large, bitch. Living so large."

"Why did they shut down operations? Don't they still need us? We should still be there; they'd tell us if we were being put on leave."

"I don't know. Do you know? I don't know. Who knows? Who cares? Give it a rest, Priss. The world's ending."

She sat upright on the couch, turning on the television and holding the phone to her ear, "No it's not. They've got people on it, haven't they? I've heard they know what it is and they know what to do and they're working on using a thing what does a thing to wipe it out." She obfuscated her words easily, always sure never to mention anything even remotely Foundation-specific over the phone, no matter what Foundation front company owned the wireless carrier.

"Whatever. I don't know. Do you know? I don't know. Who knows—?"

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

Priss coughed and lowered her phone, flipping it shut as a sudden migraine took hold of her. She pulled her legs up on the couch and rested her chin on her knees, staring blankly at the television screen, where images were showing Qing officials, heads shaved save for their braided queues, making announcements with broad sweeps of their arms and vigorous hand gestures, all under the headline of war. War with the United States over Anabasis.

The ramshackle device she had found in a moldy school basement, small enough to fit in a duffle bag, inscribed with the word "Anabasis" in Greek, was now supposedly responsible for bringing about a world war and possibly the death of over a billion people. The dank closet it was found in, with the man-shaped pile of ground meat beside it, was opened by a custodian, and the device itself could have been taken in by any other Foundation agent. But it hadn't been any other agent; it had been her. She couldn't help but feel responsible.

Marlowe sat across from some two dozen prim and proper suits, shining with a multitude of military medals and pins and ribbons and stripes of all sorts. Seven generals (though one they seemed to affectionally called "Colonel" Umber, in a beret and with a thin mustache and goatee) accompanied by seemingly four or five aides or attendants each. She had only two with her. They had crammed three different desks together in the briefing room, and Marlowe was lodged at the crevice where two of the desks met, the rounded edges of both desks jutting in to her stomach any time she tried to scoot in closer. Everything was rushed, it seemed. No one seemed to care.

They'd asked her a question, and she leaved through the bundle of papers nestled on the desk to her left, pretending to be looking for an answer that sounded different from the half dozen others she'd given already, and failing.

"It's not a black hole." She ended up repeating, trying to keep her expression casual and her lips together, and coming out with an unintentional smirk.

"So what the hell— Why are you, what are you saying about this gravity well thing and uh, uh, uh, collapsing uh, planes and the like?" The Vice Chairman stammered, more flustered than angry.

"All I can say is it's not a black hole. Any conclusions we draw about the mechanism of the device is pure speculation at this point, and for the time being is going to have to be put on hold. Our own scientists have detailed all they can in the report we sent to you all earlier this week. What it does, basically, is… Imagine you have a page from a book that's falling apart. You want to save that page by transferring it to a new, blank book. Anabasis is basically the scissors and the glue that lets us cut out the page from the rotting book and place it onto the brand new blank book. We can do that with the entire continent. If we work fast enough, we can send it back and use it again on Europe, Africa, South America, and what's left of Asia. We could find a different universe where it's just like ours but there's no people, so then we can basically colonize it."

It was clear none of them had read it, or had someone more intelligent read it to them. Why did it matter? They were in the midst of a biological catastrophe, a seemingly sentient mass of bacteria flying at ungodly speed throughout the South Pacific and mass murdering millions. Australia's government had collapsed. Hardly any US military personnel stationed there had gotten out in time, and those that had were being held off from re-entering the mainland until they'd been thoroughly cleared of the bacteria. Those few Joint Chiefs who were aware of the Foundation were expecting a miracle device to come about; a giant non-Euclidean vacuum cleaner to suck up the bacteria and lock them in a ten by ten by ten lead-lined titanium box. And now the Foundation had sent a Site Director to them talking about a multi-dimensional, multi-universal device to evacuate people to cut and paste a continent into a different universe?

"Why are the Chinese so certain it came from you?" Colonel Umber asked in a cool, measured tone. He seemed to be the only one focused on China. All the other Joint Chiefs were worried about America first, then Australia, as if it still existed.

"We don't know why they think that. Whoever or whatever caused the Red Death did so on their own. Maybe the Vietnamese, maybe some people in the Qing court, or some dissidents. Anabasis is a failsafe if nothing can be done quickly enough about the bacteria."

Umber leaned over and used a single finger to flip open his own binder of documents, quickly getting to the page he wanted with ease, "I'm seeing here some CIA-UIU intel regarding the Jinyiwei communications leading up to the bomb going off. Supposedly they were aware of the existence of this bacteria in a laboratory setting."

"That's entirely possible, it may have been that whoever sold the bomb to the Vietnamese had stolen it from the Qing."

"I'm seeing here that they reached out to us for help with this bacteria, and also to the Foundation and the GOC. One Jinyiwei agent called Shi Mingxia indicated it was urgent, and reached out to the Foundation first. By the time the UIU was able to respond, she'd died as a result of exposure to the bacteria."

Marlowe lifted her hands from the binder and shrugged, "I can't say what, if anything, was discussed between the Jinyiwei and the Foundation. I'm just in charge of Anabasis."

"So they bring you here, with your device, because it's the best thing they've got to save us all? There's nothing that can be done that doesn't involve dimension-hopping a few continents?"

She nodded hesitantly, "Yes. Undoubtedly there will be some physical, geological issues once it takes place, but…"

Umber kept staring her down, looking more and more amused by her increasingly flustered tone, "Why bring you in on it? Why not dispatch the device to people in the know about the bacteria? Or are you suggesting you were in the know about the bacteria?"

She shook her head, "I knew nothing about it."

He gave out a loud barking laugh, like a motorcycle engine revving, "Know nothing. You know, back when we were occupying China, any time we tried to get any intel out of civvies, no matter if they didn't speak a lick of English, they'd always tell us 'know nothing'. 'Know nothing', that's all they would say. That's all they knew. We figured the insurgents were teaching everyone the phrase just to mock us. Some of the more paranoid started to think maybe everyone who used the phrase 'know nothing' actually did know something."

Marlowe kept smiling lightly, blinking every so often, not responding.

Umber leaned over a bit more, putting his elbow on the desk, "Do you really 'know nothing'?"

The aide beside her gripped her shoulder gently. But the words were already out of her mouth by the time she felt their grip, "Like I said, I knew nothing about it."

The aide gripped her arm firmly, tightly, sending a dull pain up her arm that would soon be matched by the dull pain in her head, their whisper barely audible amidst the din of concerned voices now leaping to the forefront, "You fucked us up. You fucked us. We need to get the fuck out of here now."

With a declaration of war, no matter how unlikely it was to even happen, people would panic. Gas stations and grocery stores and supermarkets became packed. What was worse, Fats realized, was that much more people weren't panicking at all, which meant the flood of residents congesting the streets going to and from work were mashing into the flood of residents congesting the streets stocking up on gas, wooden shutters, and bottled water. The former group often loudly derisive of the latter. She'd held off on visiting the house in Brickell and now it took her hours to get there, as inexplicably all the trains, buses, and metro movers had gotten bogged down all at once. The city's transit system absolutely sucked.

She'd already made plans to go there that day, so she went ahead and got there, sweating from the mid-afternoon sun and humidity. The house itself was across from the Metro Rail station, tucked in between two apartment buildings. There was barely any traffic coming down from Southwest 2nd Avenue, and the Metro Rail neatly cut through the residences and the shopping area, dividing Southwest 1st Avenue and Southwest 1st Court. There was no way to cross except on foot. Despite the activity going on close by, the neighborhood around the house felt deserted.

She met the landlord waiting on the patio, sitting in a chair with a straw hat sunglasses. He got up and shook her hand, speaking with a heavy accent.

"Upstairs, you want to see? It is upstairs."

She pursed her lips and followed him in. The house looked abandoned and dank. The wood floor was oddly stiff underfoot, and didn't creak. The staircase was narrow, and the landlord's bulk meant his hips slid along both sides of the stairs' railings. She had to keep her hands close in front of her, not wanting to touch the railings.

"Aqui, mira." He waved his hand across the hall on the second floor, where a large empty room encompassed much of the floor. The remains of old walls indicated where there used to be separate rooms. Crusty brown splatters coated much of the floor, reaching out from the center of the room where a big bucket of blood had likely been poured over a group of people. The relentless heat and humidity, along with the wooden floor being unfinished, meant the blood had melted into the wood. She could feel where it had lain thick enough to scrape some bits off, but for the most part the floor was wrecked.

"I call police when I see it. They take some blood, find it is animal, sangre de un cerdo. They find it is animal blood, no one committed crime, they leave. No hicieron nada, pendejos, they did not do anything. They leave me with this, what I can do with this mess?"

She crouched down and ran a nail along the crevice of the wood, scraping away some of the dried blood. No one had tried cleaning it, it seemed. Dust and leaves from the partially opened windows had started to creep across part of the floor. She didn't think anyone had been killed there, but if they had, the potential crime scene was almost completely destroyed.

She looked up at the nearest window. It had been cracked and was stuck half-open, about wide enough for someone of her small size to fit through. She looked over at the other windows, all of them closed, then back up at him, "Did you see anyone who was here? People running away, or jumping out the window?"

"I was not here. I was at my house. Solamente, el chico eso, I forget his name. He live across from the pharmacy, the police talk to him, he say he see the people who come out."

Something caught her eye over to her right. A small pile of dried leaves and garbage nestled between two unusually dry spots of floor. It could have been a closet or a tiny bathroom.

"Did you remove the walls afterwards?"

"No, I did nothing. They did destroy the walls. Before the night, everything was fine, and after the night, they take away the doors, the walls, todo eso."

She crept closer to the pile and spotted a streak of orange. She carefully put her fingers on it and pulled. It was stuck to the floor. She nudged some of the leaves aside and saw it was a rather thick chunk of orange hair, fused to the floor through a mass of something almost black. It merged seamlessly with the surviving layer of dried blood. She set down her purse and dug through for a pocket knife and a small plastic bag. She carefully sliced under the black mound and found the blade of her knife smeared with brownish-red crumbs and streaks, still moist from the humidity. She probably should have called the police but it was too late now, and either way they had already botched any possible investigation of the house. She sealed the hair in the plastic bag and grimaced. It was starting to look a bit as though Rhiannon Locke was dead.

Priscilla Locke faded in and out of consciousness for hours. Months of uncertainty and an impending sense of extinction led her to finally make clear to herself what she'd known long before Key Biscayne: Rhiannon Locke was gone. Gone from her life, possibly gone from life itself. She hadn't let herself move on from that time last year when Rhiannon left the apartment for the last time. Her whole life had been in stasis since then, waiting for the next bit of news to start the next few minutes of her life. She had thought everything would be at a standstill until Rhiannon Locke came back home, on her feet or in an urn.

She'd spent almost a full day fading between sobbing into her couch, and daydreaming Rhiannon was still here. "You idiot", she used to say to Rhiannon with regularity. It seemed to give her joy to be called an idiot, under any circumstances. Even when she was in real trouble, a single "You idiot" would lighten her mood, and in turn lighten Priss's mood. It was almost five months since she last saw her, almost three months since she was last in contact with her. Even if Rhiannon were still alive, Priss had the sense that the world would end before they'd ever find each other.

Looking down at her phone again, she saw Aurianne had been calling her, texting her incessantly. The most recent one was just a minute ago. Then she realized the knocking and muffled thudding sounds were coming from her door and not from her head. She pulled up her pants and went to the door, opening it without looking. Aurianne swept in with a burst of energy, throwing herself onto the couch and spreading her nearly seven foot frame across it, gazing down her legs over at Priss as she drifted over.

"I'm sorry, I probably should've asked how you were doing first."

Priss sat against the armrest of the couch as Aurianne pulled her legs back and sat upright. She reached over to close shut her laptop then dropped herself onto the couch beside Aurianne, "I came to a decision."

"Decisions are good. On what?"

"Rhiannon. I've decided she's gone. Out of my life. She's not coming back."

Aurianne quirked a brow at her, keeping her tone gentle and cautious, "What did you hear?"

"Nothing. I just realized… I realized I've been holding my breath since last August, expecting life to continue once she came back. Everything in my life got put on hold on that date and ever since then I've just been waiting. Doing nothing. It didn't even really hit me until now that, even if she's still alive out there, she's gone. Even if she came back, my life wouldn't be the same. Our relationship wouldn't be the same."

"Well, she's kind of a criminal, I mean…"

"That's not what I mean. But… I mean, you're kind of right. I've been distancing myself from her all year. She dropped off the grid and joined up some cult that started doing I don't know what and culminated in a massive shootout with cops and militia. I've been keeping myself apart from her, and, and she hasn't been directly targeting me or hurting me, but she has. All of this she's doing, whether it's with Anabasis or something, it's all coming down on me. And I've been just… quietly taking it. I don't know if it's her fault or just circumstances, and I don't even know if she's doing what she's doing because she wants to taunt me or hurt me, or if she genuinely believes in what she's doing."

Aurianne said nothing, pinching the fabric of her pants on her knee and twisting it side to side, knowing she couldn't say anything to help her. Just being there was enough, she suspected.

"I spent all of yesterday crying over her. Over us. Even if I do see her again, it'll never be the same. She won't be the same. I don't know what to do from here on out. Maybe I don't have to do anything. Like you said, the world's ending."

Aurianne shrugged and smirked, "Maybe. Marlowe's coming back tomorrow with a big Anabasis-related announcement. People are already saying the Foundation's gonna save us all. For real this time. It might be alright, Priss."

Locke sighed and sat back on the couch, crossing her arms over her chest, "Please… don't call me 'Priss' anymore. She always did. It was her who started that nickname for me. I loved it. I love being called Priss. Just please… not anymore."

Aurianne nodded and reached out hesitantly, hand gently resting on Locke's shoulder and feebly dropping onto the couch, "Okay."

Locke drew a sharp, shuddering breath and tried to smile, nostrils flaring as she tried to lighten the mood, "Do you think I look like Jaime Marlowe?"

"What kind of question is that, are you trying to trap me?"

"Just… Do you think there's any resemblance? Or anything like that?"

Still uncertain, Aurianne stammered, "I don't— I… Well… I mean, Marlowe's kind of like, conventionally attractive… She's got amazing eyes and lips, pretty strong cheekbones. You, you're… more ruggedly handsome. I mean, in like a, you're undoubtedly attractive in a rough sort of way. A bit of makeup and you'd be a knockout, but even without it, you're very pleasant to look at."

Locke restrained a grin, gnawing at the inside of her lip as Aurianne rambled, before leaning over and resting her head against the woman's shoulder, "I didn't ask if I was hot, I know I am, I just mean if I look anything like her."

Aurianne tensed and started to blush, "No… I think you look better than her. Nothing like her, though."

It only seemed to get more humid as it got darker. Fats continued to suffer as she made the journey ten blocks to the nearest pharmacy, across from which lived the only witness to the aftermath of the apparent blood orgy in the abandoned house, Nate Phillip.

The traffic getting there was almost violent, as street signs were apparently deemed optional and more than once while waiting for the final traffic light to turn, a car had ignored a "Right Turn Only" sign from out of the pharmacy and almost gotten smashed by another car from the opposing lane going left. Someone else held up traffic at an intersection to let a pair of chickens move off the street, and a driver behind them sped across the wrong lane to cut ahead and nearly rammed into Fats on the sidewalk. No one seemed to care. She couldn't tell if it was a sign of the times or just how Miami was.

The house itself was rather nice, laying just on the outskirts of where Little Havana unofficially ended and West Brickell began in earnest. Nate Phillip was tall, well-groomed, possibly Caucasian and fluent in English.

"The police didn't seem interested in the house until they found the blood inside. Before that, they were walking all around it, stepping on grass, kicking rocks aside and such. I'm not even a cop but even I know, like, you get a call like that and people covered in blood are running out the house, it's a crime scene."

"They weren't interested until they found the blood inside, but the people who ran out were covered in blood?"

"That's what I told them, I told them everybody was bloody like they'd just killed someone. I told the operator and I told the cops when they got here. They didn't seem to care."

No one seemed to care about anything, it seemed. She could feel her trail on Rhiannon Locke starting to fizzle out, "Could you make anything out in the dark? Heights, weights, ages, anything?"

He shrugged, "I had a flashlight. I flashed it on some, saw they were bloody, then they ran. It was some big black guy looking back at me. Other people with him might've been black, I couldn't tell. It was guys and women, maybe like ten of them."

"Could you tell who was covered in blood? All of them or just the black guy?"

"I didn't get a good look at all of them, but it looked like they were all bloody. There was a girl behind him in a white tanktop, her arms were shiny from blood."

"Did you get a decent look at her head? See if she was bleeding anywhere?"

He shook his head, "No. Nothing. I might not even be remembering it right, it might've been a guy."

She wiped at some sweat under her nose and made one last desperate reach, "Did you see anyone with red hair? Anyone at all, with red hair, not from blood but naturally red, or orange?"

He shook his head again, "I don't know for sure but they all looked, like, black or Hispanic. No redheads. No gingers, if that's what you mean. I mean, not that I could tell. I might be wrong."

"What about inside the house?"

"I didn't go inside the house. It was locked, anyway, and the police didn't let anyone inside. They said they didn't find any bodies inside. Then in the morning they get a call saying the blood is all pig's blood and they just left. The guy who owns the house, he locked it then, told everyone to go home."

"What about since then? Have you gone in or know anyone who's gone in or seen anything?"

"Nah. I heard one guy tried climbing up to look inside but there was nothing there."

"Who was this guy? Did you get a name?"

Again he shook his head, "Nah. I heard it was some neighbor or something, got up to the window for like a second before he let go. No one saw anything."

"What about the people who ran out of the house? Did you see where they went?"

"They cut through the backyard and went over the fence, to the other side of the block. I didn't go after them but I saw one of them running to the metro station."

"You sure it was one of them?"

He shrugged, then looked doubtful, "I mean, they were all covered in blood. This guy wasn't, but he was high-tailing it out of there so I thought he must've been involved. I could be wrong."

"Alright. I see. You wouldn't happen to know anyone else who was there that night, or maybe who might've seen anything related to it?"

He shook his head again, "No one. I wouldn't have even been there if I wasn't going to the supermarket. Then I called the cops and they told me to stay there and I was standing there all night. No one else came close to the house between then and when the cops showed up."

She thanked him and started back to the house, so she could backtrack to the metro station and ask about security footage. She already knew she'd have to contact Miami-Dade Transit directly, but hopefully she could make sure it wouldn't come as a surprise when she did contact them. It usually turned out to surprise them anyway. Until then, the last lead she had was wrapped in plastic at the bottom of her purse.

Dr. Marlowe didn't want to talk to anybody or look at anybody the whole flight back from Virginia. For the most part, people were willing to oblige. Dr. Kohn was not, and despite officially being under her, she came to rely on him like a mentor, and broke her silence as soon as he sat down in the aisle seat across from her.

"I fucked us up. I fucked us. That Colonel Umber guy led me into a, a, a verbal, linguistic trap and I fucked us all up."

"No you didn't, and no he didn't." Kohn said flatly, leaning a manila envelope against the armrest of his seat and writing on the back of it, "We are not talking about that right now, anyway. I talked to the O5s and went over everything and you've got the go-ahead to start using Anabasis to find us a new home."

"You were serious about that plan?" She furrowed her brow, while he handed off to her the envelope. It was surprisingly light.

"No one's time is being wasted here. Two MTFs are being deployed to the Pacific to see if anything can be done to stall the bacteria. If something works out, great! If we find a cure, even better! But until the O5s say otherwise, you keep searching. Anabasis is out of the bag and no matter what happens, people are going to remember you, and no one will ever call you 'painfully average' again."

Kohn always managed to be absolutely steady throughout any situation and any issue. She'd never encountered him being as upbeat as this. It calmed her significantly. No matter what the MTFs ended up doing, she had something to do. And if their world was saved, she'd still be a pioneer, leading the way to conquering an untold number of different Earths in different universes. Anabasis was out in the open, there was no going back from that. And she was in charge of it.

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