Stranded Lullaby

rating: +37+x

HUB: Chronicles of the Irreal Hub


With a sound equivalent to a laser reverberating through a sloppy water balloon thrown against a wall, there is a rip through reality like wet tissue. It is precise, quick, and calculated, leaving no margin for error. Like a scalpel, it surgically cuts away one incomprehensible layer of reality after the other, until it forms a tunnel through one cosmos of creation to another. With the power of a million symbols — both mathematical and magical — the energy carried by the beam of SCP-6172-1 blasts through the Multiversal Compass, forcing light into the void where for years uncounted, there was none.

It searches and it searches, trying to find the destination it was programmed to find amongst the myriad worlds around it. With the confusion of a newborn infant it screams into the abyss of nothingness when it finds none, trying to anchor itself onto any point in the matrix of the universe. It sparks and it shouts as rapid destabilization takes toll on its unconscious mind, driving it away from the straight line it originally shot in.

As a final spark of reason evaporates from one billion calculations powering the portal from the reality it left, the ray crashes onto the closest world it can find, not wanting to go. With its remaining elements of pure power, it obliterates the barriers of this new world, making itself feel welcome within. For a split second, it gaps two places never meant to be connected together, forcing those that originally entered it to follow the path it laid before them.

And, for that very small second in the endless void of the multiverse, those three people scream.

"Fuck!" The first voice shouts, landing on the hard ground below him. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" Even though Dr. Robert Madden has had his fair share of not-so-pleasant experiences in the past, that practice doesn't make landing on concrete any more pleasant for him.

"FuGHJSGJ!" The second voice — belonging to Elder Ann Barlowe — stops mid-scream, interrupted by her face falling atop Madden's body. With the reflexes and will of the well-trained professional alchemist she is, she tries her best to make the fall just a little less painful.

She fails.

The third voice doesn't scream, because it feels no pain. Even if it did, though, it is very unlikely Ra.aic's calm personality would ever allow for such a trespass in operation. Rather than wasting precious time on nonsensical vocalizations, the myriad connections in her digital brain immediately connect to local reality, giving her a good vision of what is going on. And, for that very moment she recognizes their situation, her system freeze with disbelief.

"Ra?" Madden asks, standing up from the ground. He taps his earpiece twice, making sure the pause in the .aic's operation isn't just an error on the part of his hardware. "You good?"

When no response comes, the scientist blinks twice, trying to see the world as it is for himself. Fighting off a mild headache, he eventually connects back to reality, feeling much better than before. That's when he notices the truth. All of it. He too, just like Ra, freezes in place upon realizing how deep in shit they are.

"Madden? Are you alright?" This time, Barlowe is the one to carry out this cycle. She comes closer to her work partner, grabbing him by his shoulder and snapping her fingers in front of him. He notices the gesture, but doesn't reply nor react. He honestly doesn't think he frankly could, not after what he just saw.

Fearing what would come next, the alchemist looks out on the horizon beyond their landing place, gazing into their destination with a half-tired expression. She yawns as she is blinded by the cold sun before them, eventually stopping half-gesture. Even if she on some level expects her reaction, she still opens her mouth in disbelief.

The sky above the skyscraper is the color of television, tuned to ten dead channels at once.

As a forest of seemingly cosmos-reaching skyscrapers built with purple, yellow, and lime neons and dark metals fills her entire vision, she shivers. The places where the sky isn't obstructed by the aggressively in-your-face buildings is filled by smoke and smog coming from the structures and vehicles, roaming the endless horizon of a city everywhere she looks. No matter which direction she turns in, something always obstructs it. Be it advertisement banners, apartment complexes, gigantic Foundation symbols — both vandalized and not — plastered over quite literally every place, thousands of flying cars in traffic — it's everywhere, making her feel claustrophobic. It almost feels like the entire city wants her to suffocate with its ever-presence.

Barlowe shakes her head, breaking from the trance. She has to blink almost ten times before she realizes she isn't hallucinating and that her eyes aren't lying to her. It's a hard truth to swallow, but one she eventually accepts just fine. She makes it clash with her immovability, telling herself it is going to be fine. The world's the one that should fear her — not the other way around.

"What… What are we going to do?" She pants, looking directly into Madden's brown eyes. She doesn't get a reaction from them. They're too busy still trying to fathom what just happened.

Madden doesn't reply, instead starting to laugh hysterically. He grabs his head in his two hands, tears starting to go down his cheeks. It turns into weeping, followed by sudden silence. After what feels like millennia, he eventually gathers it inside himself to utter the only thing, the only thought, the only sentence his mind latches onto.

"We're so fucked."

It takes a while, but the three eventually get over the shock. The confusion is still present, obviously, but it now takes the form of wanting to find a solution, not fear.

Eventually, Ra's connections recompile, causing a reset of her systems. With a few silent clicks inside her wires, the consciousness boots up again, this time untainted by the fatal error that previously froze her mind over. A similar fate meets her partners.

"So," she begins, switching her point of view between the rudimentary lenses in the eyes of the two scientists, allowing her to see as they do. "What happened?" Despite the billion fake neurons within her hard-drive soul, she has no idea what just happened. Deep down, it frightens her.

"I… There was a malfunction, that's for sure," Madden replies, throwing off dust from his tacky-looking sweater and correcting his now-dirty glasses. "If I'm guessing correctly, 6172-1 somehow mistook its input, spitting us out later in the timeline." It makes him uneasy to realize that he isn't sure of this, despite his genius-level knowledge of ontokinetics. "Which is… more than concerning."

"How? Why?" Barlowe coughs quietly, responding to the ever-present dust and smog around them. "Didn't they spend literal goddamned decades on this project, for fu—"

Robert stops her. "Yes. We did" He sighs heavily, massaging his eyes through his glasses. He'd look up to the sky to catch a break from the already-exhausting conversation, but the only thing he could see above them was a million crazy dreams of a technician, piercing the sky as they carried their passengers around in their neon shells. He's just glad nobody seems to have noticed a duo of weirdly-dressed scientists standing atop a skyscraper yet. "Trust me, I'm as confused as you are."

Neither of his companions reply, taking this moment to look around themselves better. Though the flat surface they found themselves on isn't much to work with in terms of getting the hell out of there, it wasn't too bad either. Not as bad as the top of a five kilometer building could be, anyways. Especially when said top has a square structure with a door presumably leading to the rest of the tower near them.

Madden points to it with his head, making sure the rest see it, too. They of course noticed it, even before she did, but they say nothing, instead shrugging and following the alchemist. Within a few steps, Barlowe touches the handle of the doors leading forward, taking a deep breath. She and Madden cross eyes, and nod, ready for what's to come.

As static purple light fills their vision, they find themselves standing within an elevator, ready to take them wherever they please. Its mirror walls are full of graffiti, posters — both appropriate and not —and general filfth, making finding its control panel not a pleasant experience. But it is there, thankfully, standing as one of the few non-vandalized elements of the lift. They all sigh with relief.

The console displays many buttons — some comprehensible, some not. Despite this, though, the trio somehow make sense of it, realizing most of them are simply numbers written in a weird font, counting from -20 through 0 to 450. The highest-numbered button is glowing with green.

"Uhhh, one? Or minus twenty?" Madden asks, scratching his head. He coughs, reacting to the dust somehow finding its way inside the room.

"Minus twenty," Barlowe replies, crossing her arms.

"The lobby is generally on ground floor. We don't know what might be at the minuses. Especially… wherever we ended up." Robert retorts. He would cross his arms too, but he had no wish to mirror his opponent.


"Neither of you is right." Ra cuts both of them off, trying to stop it there before it blows up into a fight. "I just got into the building's internal systems. They have a surprisingly weak firewall. The lobby's on five."

Madden adjusts the click accordingly, backing himself back against the wall next to him. With a slow hum of turning clockwork, the elevator starts to descend, at the speed of a yawning sloth.

Correcting his glasses once more, Barlowe starts to stare at the posters filling the glass panels, trying to make sense of where they are. Ann notices, and starts to nervously tap the walls with her fingers.

"We can't ignore this any longer," she says, her voice full of nearly-manifested fury. "Where the fuck are we? When the fuck are we?" She is near a point of exploding internally from frustration. "And I mean where are we truly. I want the full answer."

"I… I don't know. I don't have it," Robert shamefully admits, taking this loss by staring at the tips of his shoes. "Look, I… I think the portal somehow misplaced us time-wise on the timeline due to some failure during its activation. Which would mean…"

"…we're in the future."

He snaps his fingers. "Bingo." Pausing, the ontokineticist takes out a black marker from his pocket, throwing off some of the posters from the glass surface. Ignoring the alchemist's raised eyebrow — be it at the fact he has a marker or the fact he is actually willing to use it — he starts to draw a timeline, indicating where they entered and where they landed. With the tip of the highlighter, he points towards one of the cross-over Foundation insignia stickers on the wall, accompanied by tens of different variations of a black crown, drawn in graffiti. "This theory's also backed up by the fact the Foundation's public here, too. As much as it looks Vanguard wouldn't work out, it just all fits together."

He draws a few more details, decorating them with myriad calculations so esoteric with nomenclature and mental shortcuts Ann has frankly no idea what they represent. After a second, the scientist backs off finished, proud of his work.

"It would all make sense then," he takes a deep breath, scratching his head once more. "Which would in turn mean that for us to come back home, we—"

"Sorry to interrupt this victorious moment," Ra says, making herself heard to both of them. "But, well, let's put it this way: I have bad news and good news."

Barlowe sighs. "The good?"

"The Foundation did indeed go public."

Madden smiles, knowing he was right.

"It just did that in 2013. Forcibly."

Awkward silence fills the room, broken only by the movement of the elevator and Robert's long sigh.

"How… do you know this?" He eventually says, gently massaging his eyes. Though the others don't see it, complex calculations once again wrought his mind, making him realize what just transpired. And then, in a flash of genius, he gets it.

He is not happy about it.

"They still have the internet. With an equally awful firewall. But hey, at least the Foundation still has power. So… it shouldn't be that bad, right?"

He doesn't reply, instead once again walking up towards the wall. He draws a few much more complex diagrams — even if Ann honest-to-god didn't think these diagrams could even get more complicated — and spices them up with math beyond her understanding of anything. And then, he gets it fully. Just like before, he is very much not happy about it.

"I… I was right the first time, but only partially," he says, turning his head towards the alchemy bearer. "The portal did spit us out farther on the timeline. Just… not our timeline."

Nobody answers, thinking it was all a joke. But, even if Madden very much wants for it to be one, he sadly does not say he had that pleasure.

"You're… You're kidding?" Barlowe says, blinking twice. "You have got to be kidding, right? How is that possible, how do we—"

"I don't know, okay?" He gives her a heavy look. Within a matter of seconds, his vision shifts to the rest of the chamber, still moving, still humming. "I… Look. I physically don't have enough space in this elevator to see in which timeline we are, how far away from home, or… or if getting there is even possible. It's…"

He starts to laugh, breaking under the pressure. "It's not easy, okay? You're not the only one that's unh—"

Before he can finish, with a heavy thump, the lift suddenly stops. A single bing sound followed by the 5 button stopping to glow with green makes it known they arrived at their destination. Rapidly depressurizing, the room's doors snap open, inviting blinding light of the outside into its insides. Reacting appropriately to the newfound illumination, the trio half-closes its eyes. Eventually though, they adapt, fully realizing their journey downwards is now over.

They accept this, taking the first step forward.

As they walk out into the surprisingly clean corridor before them, they realize they aren't alone. Filled with a big desk, a gigantic Foundation poster behind it claiming the building as its property, and a confused woman sitting near it, it very much did not expect newcomers. Not in the form of Madden, Barlowe, and Ra, at least.

The receptionist is a thin blonde with a total of three arms — one biological, two mechanical. Coming from her back, the additional appendage rubs her equally augmented eye nested within a complex structure on her face, making sure the vision of her host isn't just an illusion. When she very much realizes it isn't, the additional two hands immediately pick up a transparent structure which Barlowe could only guess to be a phone, dialing it just as quickly. She looks at a heavy screen in front of her, wherein to their surprise the images of Madden and Barlowe appear. The receptionist matches the photos with the live versions, clicking something on the phone once again.

"Miss, please—" Ann tries to say as she comes forward, wanting to finish it up with 'we aren't hostile', only for the woman's shriek to paralyze her. The violent voice ripples through her spine directly into her brain, making her thought central freeze for a second. A second long enough for the receptionist to successfully call help.

With just one press of yet another button, the entire room starts to pulsate with red emergency lights. The two scientists instinctually start to run towards the glass doors at the end of the room. They beam with bright clean light of the outside.

As the run turns into a sprint, the walls — and, by extension, the opening leading to their salvation — start to get covered in black plating, its purpose to bar them off from leaving. Before it reaches the floor, forever entombing them in darkness, Barlowe screams out in a combination of frustration, fear, and anger, punching the wall with her bare hand.

Revealing the arm from under her hood, the myriad tattoos and complex shapes cut out in her palm glow with pure power as they come into contact with the black substance before them. Sensing the Earth Aethers — fundamental particles of the universe alchemists like her manipulate — within its composition, she smirks unnoticeably, bending the metal to her unbroken will. With a mind as solid as the plating she becomes one with, she forces every molecule in its structure to obey her and her only.

The secretary's orders of obedience once again get into Barlowe's mind, but she's too detached from humanity to even notice.

With a cry of relief as strong as the substance she quite literally just exploded outwards, the alchemist transmutes an opening within the plating, high just enough for her and Madden to escape as if it was never there.

The backlash from the alchemy is severe, forcing the remaining untainted parts of the structure to shiver as the very essence of power fallout enters its veins. It ripples and it tears, breaking up the particles from which it is made, disrupting its harmony like thunder. But neither Barlowe nor Madden notice. They're already outside.

Greeted by its uproar and violent assault on their eyes, the two instinctively narrow their eyes, trying to make sense of where they ended up. The street opening is tight and claustrophobic, acting as a crossing for at least ten different roads, both on the ground and below and above it. The building they walked out of connects towards the most esoteric pavement they're ever seen, somehow fitting into this fuck-fest of utter and sheer chaos.

The perimeter of the plaza is uttered with even more skyscrapers, engulfing it in a sea of neon and smoke. It is only occasionally broken up by the half-broken bright and colorful lights of lanterns miserably standing in random intervals across the streets. Plastered on almost every banner and billboard is the Foundation's three-arrowed insignia, assuring its readers the organization cares about them very much, even despite its numerous war crimes.

Despite the fact the place should be absolutely filled with cars — or this universe's equivalent of it, at least — not a single movement taints its calmness. They wouldn't normally notice this, but the fact the image of the sky they saw below their landing spot contrasted so much with what they were in the middle of now more than concerned them. It bodes poorly.

And that is when it hits them with all its might.

A single beam of light, powerful enough to burn their irises if they looked directly into it, spawned from some place above them too bright to see correctly. Accompanied by a swirling of a million drone propellers, it breaks up the dimness of the place with its pillar of pure photons coming from the heavens above.

Eventually, the host of the beacon descends, making itself known to the trio as an array of armed and floating robotic machines, designed specifically to track down and murder those that disobey their remote pilot's orders. With four wings and a central cockpit with an unidentified weapon below, each of them feels like an engineer's fever dream; built with the same shape in mind, each somehow came out just slightly differently, forming a crescendo of esoteric weaponry like they've never seen.

"ATTENTION, COLLECTIVE SCP-6172 INSTANCES," a voice from within the horde roars, making itself heard to everyone within a hundred-meter radius, much to the trio's ears' dismay. "YOU ARE OFFICIALLY UNDER ARREST BY THE WORLDWIDE SCP LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITY FOR SEVERE VIOLATIONS AGAINST THE MULTIVERSAL MANDATE OF THE PRIME TIMELINE." The drones immediately notice both the raised eyebrows at their snobbery of assuming this timeline as the prime one and the attempt to find a way out of the plaza. "DO NOT RESIST." It ripples through their brain like a drill through a wall, entering every compartment of their soul it can find.

It isn't a conscious reaction — instead, something deep within their minds and souls makes them run for their lives. By all means of logic, they should stay, obeying the drones' orders — after all, they are Foundation employees, what possible threat could they experience from fellow skippers? But deep down, they know something is wrong. Deep down, they know they are in grave danger. And so, motivated by the reaction of said deep down, they take it to the streets, as quickly as they can.

The drones immediately notice, rapidly changing their position in an attempt to block the runaways off from entering the half-transparent of the road before them. But the three are quicker.

Sliding onto the smooth and plastic-like highway, Madden trips and falls, making his face meet the fabric of the pavement below. For a single fleeting moment, he is able to see a billion-meter void below him, filled with even more buildings and roads, stretching deeper than his human eyes can comprehend. All of that, only guarded away from him by a centimeter-thick plastic. He knows it's somehow strong enough to protect him from falling to his death, but that doesn't matter — just seconds after he comprehends his situations, he feels warmth in his pants.

Before he can start screaming, he feels as Barlowe's strong arm picks him up from the ground, throwing his half-paralyzed from fear body onto some nightmare machine looking similarily enough to a motorcycle for him to not resist. He doesn't know where she got it from, but he doesn't need to know — as long as it serves as a way out, he's good.

All of it happens in less than three seconds.

As the roaring and clicking of the bike's engine turn it on, the entire construction — and its two passengers — shots outwards, making its entire skeleton buzz with electricity and green smoke. The fog covers them up for a single, terrifyingly blinding moment, before the vehicle speeds up again, rippling through reality at the speed rivaling that of sound, breaking away from the smoke.

But the drones aren't any worse.

As the two scientists somehow operate through the hellish and chaotic road system of the city, they eventually meet — and send it into utter discord — normal traffic in one attempt to escape unnoticed. The myriad vehicles they find themselves among scream and shout both in fear and anger as the definitely-too-quick machine rockets through the already unorderly status quo, followed shortly by its mechanical hunters.

"What the fuck do we do?!" Madden screams, his mouth suddenly full of dirt and smoke due to their sheer speed. He spits it all out, noticing the drones are just behind them. In panic, he taps his earpiece, checking if Ra is still there. "WHAT ARE THESE THINGS?!"

Within milliseconds the AI answers, making a few definitely-too-complex diagrams and news headlines appear in his subjective vision. "Specialized Foundation runaway-seeking drones." Before she can continue, the motorcycle suddenly breaks through the protective boundaries of the highway, falling twenty meters before it somehow lands safely on another level of the road system. The drones follow. If Robert's bladder wasn't already empty, it would sure as hell be now. "Nearly indestructible."

"Why are we being chased?!" He says just a little more quietly this time, covering his mouth with his hand, learning from the mistakes of before. "We are Foundation employees, for fu—"

Barlowe forces him to nearly throw up once more as the machine jumps from onto the nearest building's wall, making it drive horizontally. Somehow, neither of them fall.

It spirals the tower's perimeter a few times before once again joining traffic, this time hundreds of meters below their original highway. Though the assassins meant to take them out don't lose the trail, this time, there's noticeably less of them, as if they lost their way among the myriad other equally esoteric machines on the billion roads around their prey.

"Remember how I told you about the 2013 lifting of the Veil?" She retorts, ignoring the nearly-passed-out state of the scientist. "Well, it turns out it was over two centuries ago and wasn't intentional like back home. The Foundation first made all of North Korea disappear. And it's 2234."


"Realizing the masquerade couldn't be held up any longer, they abandoned all previous protocols, finding themselves a place at the top of the social hierarchy as if nothing happened. Over decades, they became the sole organization dealing with anomalies as their competitors' methods became inefficient."

"I-Inefficient?" He stutters out, dodging another cloud of smoke.

"Yes. No matter the approach, it always somehow ended up worse than containment." The drones are now close enough for Madden to touch them if he really wanted. He isn't sure why they aren't firing, but, if he had to guess, he'd say they aren't allowed to cause civilian damage. "Eventually, through centuries of being cold and efficient, they became the main wardens of normalcy. Global police, if you will." He can feel her chuckle reverberate soundlessly within his skull. "And, uh, let's just say they keep their grasp very tight on the anomalous."

"How tight are we talking?" Barlowe shouts from the front of the bike, hearing the conversation through her earpiece.

"I'll spare you the details, but it makes Paramax look like a kindergarten."

"Jesus Christ."

They continue like this in silence, only occasionally broken up by the engine's murmuring and protests against its usage. But they don't notice it; they're too exhausted and stressed out to focus on such little things.

"Uhmm… Barlowe?!" Madden eventually says, noiticing something extremely alarming and turning his head to the alchemist. "The, uh—"

"THE WHAT?!" She shouts through the increasingly loud sounds of the machine. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

"The drones—" He tries to say, realizing the source of his fear just got even worse.


"The drones are—"



He doesn't need to finish, because she notices it too. As a single spark of determination fills her soul, she once again taps into the alien mainframe of the bike she's a rider to, becoming one with its myriad pipes and cables. Filling it with her presence, she awakes the still-dormant Aethers of electricity within, shooting them outwards into the dusty pistons of the engine. But then, she notices something more within its thaumographic imprint — a single esoteric Aether, a single particle previously unknown to her.

At first, she's surprised — in her decades of studying alchemy, she became more than familiar with the elemental processes behind her art. And yet, here she is — stunned by something that somehow evaded her genius intellect back home. But then, she realizes what it is — a sixth Aether, one of pure power. She doesn't know its in-and-outs, how could she? But it doesn't matter. All she needs to tap into it is a single click of her mind, forcing her will onto this alien little being.

The simple shoots through her spine as a billion fake neutrons synapse through her brain, giving her a brief yet orgasmic vision of what it is to be a god. With that single participle, she punches into the bike once more, this time with the power of a deity, making the construction truly hers. And, just like that, it listens.

Much to Madden's dismay, it booms with the velocity rivaling that of light, striking across the city like a comet. It runs and it runs, fueled only by a part of the universe smaller than the human brain can comprehend. It snaps with nothing more than pure energy running through every part of it, eventually realizing it's a finite resource.

That's when it slows down, causing all systems to shut down within one millisecond. And then, it all falls silent.

As Madden and Barlowe get thrown across yet another plaza, the bike explodes into billion particles. It is unable to handle the boost it was given anymore, making the fabric of reality itself reverberate with backlash.

Seconds later, the two stand up, rapidly eyeing the place they ended up with in search of their hunter. It's almost identical to the one they initially ran away from, but it's full of people, staring at them with fear in their eyes. And that is when they hear it — the sound of a singular drone, approaching their location at rapid rates.

It doesn't yet see them, but it doesn't matter — they have nowhere to run. It's over.

"Madden—" Ann starts, turning over to her partner. He isn't there.

"Ra?! What's going o—" Before she can finish, she joins him, as a single dirty hand pulls her downwards into the sewer systems below. She doesn't scream.

"You saw nothing." A rough voice says, its eyes looking directly into the thousand observers it stands among. "No words to the skippers."

They nod, understanding the situation very well, as they did so many times already.

Seconds later, the light beam of the drone ripples through the plaza, assured this is where it heard the escapees breaking down. But it meets the same fate as the inhabitants of the city that were witnesses to the events just moments before.

It sees nothing.

Though they don't see where they tread through, the reek of decomposition and old water to their ankles very much assures them of the fact it's the sewers.

The voice that got them out has no body, not yet; it's too dark to see anything. But it still is there, guiding them through the wet corridors of the maze to their rescue. For what feels like hours they follow it, having no other choice. Moist and darkness, that's what their world is.

"Here," the voice sometimes whispers, warning them against a dead end or a particularly deep area of the drains. "We're almost there." They don't resist, following its orders. Even if they wanted, it isn't really like they have anywhere else to go.

And that is when they notice it.

A single light, as clean as day, shining through at the end of their corridor. It temporarily blinds their irises, so unaccustomed to anything resembling the visible spectrum after all the time down there, but even then, it's their messiah. It makes them truly realize where they've been, much to their dismay, but it's a symbol of hope. And that is all their need.

"There it is," the voice says, suddenly gaining a body. It's a chubby man in his fifties, full of metal and augments. If he wasn't severely hunched over, he would most likely be almost two meters tall. What looks like glasses built onto his skull shine upon meeting the light's spark, revealing a balding head occasionally broken up with miserable strands of gray hair and a small mustache above lips as dry as a desert. With a fully mechanical hand twitching and swirling at every occasion he points towards the end of the corridor, smiling with a dour-smelling mouth full of metal teeth. Despite the outlook, within his wired-up irises and face rippled with wrinkles, you could see the soul of a good person. "The base of the Insurgency."

If the sewers had any crickets in them, their sound would definitely fill them up. "The base of the… Insurgency?"

Using his seven-fingered hand, he scratches his chin. "It's more of a base, rather than the base." His second appendage joins the first one, inflicting the same fate to his head. "The actual Base with a big B is on Mars—" he stops, realizing he just said too much. "Oops."

Barlowe ignores the second part of the answer. "No, I mean what Insurgency?"

The man starts walking into the light before them as his legs, consisting of pipes and what looked like cans, clunk upon meeting the cold concrete of the ground below him. "You know, Chao's Insurgency? The force focused on overthrowing the Foundation?"

The alchemist raises her eyebrow, showing Madden to follow them forward. He complies. "Chao's? Not… Chaos?"

He turns back, genuine surprise in his eyes, still continuing his walk forward. "Why would it be Chaos? Don't think Allison's name is Chaos." He shakes his head, forcing a few of the nuts and screws hanging on his strains of hair to hit his skull with a dull sound.

"What about the skippers? Won't they follow us?"

He dismisses the question with his hand. "We're safe here. The place's not on any of their maps. Meaning they'll continue the search aboveground forever. Don't worry.

They continue walking in silence as the light gets bigger and bigger, eventually forming into a whole entry into another room. Passing its threshold, the three people and an AI enter an extremely large storage room, full to the brim with crates and tables. It's divided into four rooms by four walls made from a fiber reminiscent of what Barlowe would describe as "organic plastic," all of them not reaching its high ceiling.

Illuminated by flickering white neons, the biggest and central room they enter is occupied by a canteen-like set-up. Not a single stool and table are identical, forming up a chaotic symphony of what is presumably meant as a place of relaxation.

In the room's corner, a highly complex apparatus idles. Neither Barlowe nor Madden recognize the purpose of any parts of it, but it mainly consists of a seat and tens of little robot arms focused on a rotating stand next to it, as if it was a surgeon meant to operate on a patient laying below.

Among the benches and tables of the canteen, at least seven different people sit. Their appearance and form is equally strange as the one of the scientists' savior, forming a strange collection of esoteric machine individuals. Though they're mainly occupied by playing cards, when they notice the three entering their base, each of them gives the old man a wave.

"And, uh, here we are!" He says proudly, smiling widely. "Oops, didn't even introduce myself. Folks 'round these parts call me Ethan." He chuckles. "Not giving you a surname 'cuz, you know, still have a family aboveground and all. Wouldn't want Dad and David to—"

The rest give him a heavy look, making him realize his mistake. "Uh, haha. Uh… so…" he stutters nervously, showing the rest to come in. They comply. "Here's where we sit in Częstochowa, waiting for further orders from command. Mainly just scouting and retrieval and all th—" As his companions once again bash him for what he said, Madden and Barlowe exchange looks, noticing his mention of Częstochowa very much. "WHAT?! They've been chased by skippers, of course they know about the reb—"

The rest shake their heads, returning to their game without a word. Not wanting to stand there aimlessly, the two outsiders sit among the crew, smiling nervously. Ethan follows.

"So, uh, where you from?" He asks, taking out three mugs of beer, seemingly out of nowhere, offering them to both the alchemist and ontokineticist. With a silent "no," Madden kindly thanks, but Barlowe picks it up as soon as it's out of Ethan's hands, taking a big sip.

"Another reality," she says as drops of liquid fall down from her mouth. Despite this, it feels good. "Built a portal somewhere else back home. It fucked up, spitting us out here."

Madden looks at her, angry she told so much to a total stranger. She shrugs, silently implying if he was being honest, so should they.

Ethan nods quietly in understanding. "That'd make sense. Would also explain the frankly bizarre clothing and lack of augments, if I say so myself." He says, scanning their outwear and bodies with a critical eye. "And your friend's lack of any body, if we're talking unusual."

Their jaws drop. "How… How do you know about Ra?" Robert says, looking directly into the Insurgent's small, twitching eyes.

He smiles, tapping his head twice with his index finger. "You learn a thing or two about AIs in a world where they're as common as humans. I take it your reality doesn't have the Second Internet?" Even if it entirely shatters his worldview, he has entirely accepted the origin of the people he rescued. Even if, in his opinion, the multiverse was an idiotic concept, but what can you do?

Madden nods. "How did you even know about us? We, uh, of course appreciate the rescue, but I'm just… confused, is all."

He doesn't respond, instead pointing towards the corner of the room with his entirely metal claw. A silent click can be heard and, seconds later, a holographic screen pops up between him and the escapees, making Barlowe almost spit out the rest of her drink. It depicts their entire experience within the dimension, starting with them being thrown out of the sky and ending in them running away from the drones. "It's all over the news. Not often does one see someone disobeying the skippers and running away is all I'm sayin', and I was in the area. Thought I'd help a few fellow anti-Jailors out, y'know?" He too takes a sip of the bear, staining his unorderly mustache with foam, much to his visible satisfaction.

They sit in silence for a moment, only broken up by the alchemist's slurping and quiet curses spawned by someone losing from the table next to them.

"So, uh, what do we do now?" Madden asks, starting to tap the table with his fingers nervously. "We're, well, unsure of what we should do, especially since we'd very much like to go ho—"

"Oh, I'm sure Chao's got somethin' in her Spire that'll get you out in no time," he answers, visibly smiling at his own mention of his leader. He scratches his head. "But, uh, she's busy nowadays, I think. Got her mind entirely occupied by a paraweapon she's trying to rebuild. Recently found a big magic canon from these Sh… Shovieths? Says it could wipe out the entire Foundation if she tunes it right. Has the mind of a god within, or something like that." He shrugs.

Madden and Barlowe exchange looks, worried like they'd never been. They don't have to say it out loud, but no words are needed to express the fear they feel at realizing a Black Queen found the ruins of this universe's SCP-6672. She's always been unpredictable, but a Chao leading a multi-million army of Chaos Insurgents with the enslaved mind of a god at her disposal is something else entirely. Even if she was no threat to their universe anymore, such power was a multiversal threat.

"We're planning on doin' something tomorrow actually, if you'd be interested in helpin' us out." The two raise they eyebrows. "We found the plans of a ruined Site within the city. Was supposedly one day the main pillar of the Foundation in Poland. Was is indeed the right word. One-twenty it's called, I think." They exchange looks once more, realizing this might be their chance to get out of there. "So, uh, you interested?"

"I… 'd like to talk with my friend here for a moment before we decide, if that's alright," Madden says, standing up from the table before a response comes.

"Of course, of course," Ethan replies, taking another sip from the mug.

The two walk out of the room into a different compartment, this time filled up with beds and weapon racks. It's dimly lit up and a little dour-smelling, causing Madden to groan a little, but it's definitely bearable.

When they make sure it's safe to talk, eyeing every corner of the chamber, Robert begins. "Am I the only one that got the feeling it's—"

"MacCarthy? Yes, it's him. It doesn't change anything."

"Never said it does. It's just— nevermind. Forget about it," he sighs quietly. "I wanted to ask what we do."


"We can either go with him to the ruins of 120 or try our luck with the Black Queen. Which… well."

"120's a dead end, and Allison knows the multiversal game like her own pocket. I say we go to her." She looks around the room, eventually finding an appropriate enough bed to sit on. "Even if she rejects helping us, there's a third option. There has to be entry to Wanderers' Library somewhere—"

"You're forgetting she's literally on Mars, for god's sake," he joins her, seating himself on a bed opposite to her, giving her a tired look. "And I very much doubt this Foundation maintains any connections to the Library."

"He's right," Ra says, once again pulling up a few related diagrams and pages onto their subjective visions. "Last time anyone's been recorded to make a connection with it was in this reality's 2137."

Both sigh.

"We can either choose to go to a place we know of to contain at least some useful things or go hunting the wind with a promise of a better tomorrow," Robert continues, clearing his vision with a tap on his earpiece. "And the portal can be there, too."

Ann groans. "Yeah, sure, like the universe will just make it that easy for us. Of course."

In response, he rolls his eyes. "You're missing one obvious fact." When she raises her eyebrow, he instinctively touches his pockets in search of the highlighter, sighing quietly when he realizes he lost it during the chase. "6172-1 was programed to only send us to realities that have a copy of the portal built on their side, meaning—"

"It was also programmed to send us to the Third Empire," she says without patience, crossing her arms, extending them outwards just seconds later. "And yet, here we are."

"No no, it physically cannot reach out onto those that don't fit the ontokinetic cross-temporal signature of 6172 existing within them." She has absolutely no idea what that means, which she doesn't hesitate to show with confusion in both her eyes and her face. "Meaning the beam tearing through reality is repelled by the fabric of the non-compliant multiverses. So it can only link to those with a portal, no matter how may failures."


"So if this reality has a 6172-1 — which it absolutely does — there's only one place it can be in. And that place is definitely 120."

"But… we don't know it for sure, right?"

"If you want to argue over a chance smaller than one percent then yes, we aren't sure. Which means we should absolutely go."

That doesn't make her any less uneasy. "We could help them."


"We could help the Insurgency. You know how 6672 works. If you just show Allison how to fix it, we—"

He silently sighs, massaging his eyes in the process and grabbing her shoulders with tired and dirty hands. "Ann. Please. Be rational."

She doesn't respond, instead looking down at the ground below.

"I get the sentiment. I really do. But we can't intervene with this. It isn't our world."

"We could… We could fix everything here, Madden. These people… they need our help." She throws her arms in the air, revealing dried-up blood and bruises plastered over every centimeter of her carved-up hands. "I know I can help then. There's… the alchemy here. It works differently."

He raises his eyebrow.

"They still have the Seal, but it limits less. There's six Aethers here. And that sixth one can entirely turn the tides of—"

"We aren't messiahs, Barlowe. We're scientists," he retorts through exhaustion and dried-up lips. "And we've got our own utopia to built back home. A real one, at that."


"There's no "but" here." He pauses. "We either go to 120 or forever rot in a cliché cyberpunk dystopia. It's as simple as that."

Even if she'd like to have an answer, none come to mind.

"So," he begins quietly, slight embarrassment at his previous frustration in his tone. "Will you come with me?" He offers her a hand.

With silence in her being, she accepts it.

As they pass the threshold of the canteen once more, Ethan's wide smile assures them they are being seen.

"You decided yet?" He asks, finishing his beer with one final sip and a loud slurp. Wiping the remaining foam from his mustache, he burps quietly.

Robert closes his eyes, sighing silently in internal pain. "Yes, yes we have." Noticing his visible anticipation, he continues: "We're going with you."

Ethan answers with an even bigger expression of happiness than before. "Fantastic!" Standing up, he coughs violently, showing the rest he's just fine thank you. Seconds later he's free and is making his way towards one of the walls of the complex, as if nothing ever happened.

There, stationed against the dark and cold bricks of the hideout, a single humanoid sits. Its vaguely human, forming a thick endoskeleton made from black steel forming into various platings, wires, and pipes, visibly trying to mimic the looks of a human. Where its face should be, though, a broken monitor lays, connected to the being's spine just enough to not fall out.

It's unmoving, absentmindedly staring with its head towards some point in reality beyond what humans could see.

"Since we're gonna need as much help as we need, I figured our AI friend could use some new body," he says, tapping the humanoid skeleton on its shoulder. "And it just so happened we got one of these beauties laying around."

Barlowe opens her eyes just a little more widely, coming closer. "You… You sure? I realize it's probably not a cheap toy, and—"

He shrugs, sadness entering his eyes. "It's fine, trust me. It's not like it'd be used anyways. It's been laying here ever since we… we lost…" He looks at the floor, crossing his arms.

She doesn't continue, not wanting to inflict any more pain on the already broken Insurgent. "You for?" She instead asks Ra, tapping the devide on her ear twice.

"Quite the much!" The .aic answers vigorously, starting to form a connection with her new host. A single bar of loading appears in Barlowe's mind, and she knows it's just a matter of time before the other finishes her transfer.

"But that's not all!" Ethan prodly exclaims, pointing the two to the surgeon-like table from before. He looks at Ra's left arm, which is visibly mangled up by magic. Her skin, now entirely red and ran over by myriad green vines, is pulsating with unhealthy vigor, alien to the alchemist it was once a normal appendage on. Each of its awful layers feels alive, as if the particle of energy was still within them, lurking like a parasite within a long-dead animal

"I… I saw you got some problems with that hand of yours," he says, leaning onto the machine's frame and hugging it with his mechanical transplant with an expression similar to paternal love. "Thought you might want to have an upgrade. Oh, and no need to worry about your alchemical engravings or whatever — it'd be pure irrilite. Conducts magic better than silver conducts electricity, rendering all your carvings effectively useless whilst replacing them better." He chuckles, proud of his work.

Her eyes shine with excitement, realizing they're within real distance of a once-in-a-lifetime chance of gaining so much power. Back in her own home reality, the metal was entirely excavated from the Earth by the Fae Empire during its peak for usage in its never-ending warfare. Just as little as a single set of tools made from it could change the turns of war, so it was no surprise it was the most sought-out resource the thaumaturgical societies could think of.

Yet, here she is, standing within grasping distance of a full hand made out of the single best conductor of both alchemy and magic in the known multiverse. She smiles like she's never smiled before, looking directly into Ethan's eyes and uttering a single word.


It hurts and it burns, scaring every neuron within her organism with unimaginable pain. As million needles as sharp as the metal they carry into her body pierce her over and over, she silently screams in pain so great it eventually becomes pure ecstasy. The tens of sparks and buzzes of the apparatus not meant to ever be used on a conscious being destroy her skin over and over, forcing their insides into the alchemist.

Yet, despite all of this, she does not utter a single word of rejection. She knows what she wants, and it just so happens this periodic pain is indeed an equivalent exchange for the power it will carry in just mere moments. And there's nothing in the entirety of the known multiverse Elder Ann Barlowe knows better than equivalent exchange.

It feels like subjective forever to her unfortunately human mind, but it's an eternity that eventually stops as the machine backs off from invading each part of her that is, deeply satisfied with what it just did.

Though it takes a long time for her spine and associated systems to realize they're no longer being assaulted in every moment of reality, the screaming eventually stops. And when it does, Barlowe immediately sits up, extending her new arm forward.

It's just as big as the one she just shed off but it's so, so, so much more. Tapping into the stiff and awful atmosphere filling the complex, she once again feels the wind Aethers within it. But this time, she doesn't just feel it — she is it. She feels as her essence becomes one with the world around her, making each particle of the universe hers to manipulate like a carpenter molds wood. All of that, powered by a simple metal contraption acting as a bridge between the alchemist and the rest of the world.

Inhaling deeply, she backs out from the matrix of reality. It forced the breath out of her for a second, making her fully realize what power she came to possess. She smiles.

Standing up from the table and walking towards the visibly terrified Madden, she notices Ra is now fully nested within her new body. The humanoid is standing tall, visibly bigger than the rest of her companions, accompanying the ontokineticist among the tables of the canteen. Her previously broken monitor is now displaying a singular and small smile located in its center.

"How this?" The .aic exclaims, flexing her new metal muscles as proudly as a Greek soldier. "Quite neat, eh?"

Barlowe smiles, putting her hand back inside her black robes. "Yeah, sure."

As they sit there in silence, utterly and thoroughly exhausted by everything that transpired that day, their thoughts wander to what's going to happen tomorrow. Excited to possibly get back home with life-changing enhancements, Barlowe can do nothing but let the hype fill her entire being, making her relentless for that which is to come.

"So," Ethan suddenly comes into vision, now finished with cleaning up the surgical apparatus. "You good?"

She nods.

"No… side effects? No feelings of illness?"

Ann flexes the new appendage, smiling widely as she looks into the technician's eyes. "Quite the opposite, actually."

He nods too, satisfied he was able to help someone so well. "I think it's time to go now," Ethan says, looking at the engraved clock on his wrist. "You desperately need good," he yawns pointing them to one of the bedrooms in the rest of the structure. "Especially 'cuz we're marching out at dawn."

With a characteristic portal-opening swoosh, the Insurgent and his three companions roll into a graying and broken-down building, closing the Way behind them.

The hall is large and once was most likely clean white, but now it's nothing more than the ruins of a proud building, the Foundation's paragon of containment. In its corners, cobwebs lay, covering the myriad office spaces and corridors with dust and dead flies.

No one can tell what exactly happened, but it's sure that something did. You can feel it in the air — the expression of the everyday life of what someday ago was Site-120 being suddenly shattered, causing its personnel to evacuate and never come back. Its stench is palpable in the atmosphere, a seemingly frozen combination of fear, the lack of will to let go, and utter despair.

They don't know if whoever or whatever caused this is still within the Site. But it's not really like they have any other option than to go forward.

Despite this overwhelming absence, seeing Madden open his mouth, Ethan immediately shushes him in silence, showing the two to remain without a sound. He points to the still-present on-Site cameras and warnings plastered all over the walls. Even if they've been off for what feels like centuries, they couldn't afford to not be caucious.

Coming forward, Ra, Madden, and Barlowe enter a corridor at the end of the hall, equally dark as the rest of the structure. Despite this similarity however, it beams with a presence — or, rather, the feeling of a movement in the fabric of locality around them. It buzzes like a furious swarm, trying to make itself known to everyone around it. It is coming from the end of the corridor, reaching outwards to the multiversal travelers through the walls separating the room from the trio.

"Should we…?" Madden asks without words, silently moving his lips. He points to the armored doors from within which they head the call, quietly eyeing the control panel next to them. It's a standard Foundation scanner, kindly asking for a Clearance card input with its glowing screen.

The ontokineticist shrugs, coming forward once again, ensuring he leaves as little marks in the dust around him as possible. Reaching outwards with his baseline reality Level 4 card, he fulfills the machine's wish, making it beep with excitement and glow with green happiness, letting the doors open. Quietly, the three come into the room, revealing a large hall identical to that of SCP-6172-1 activation chamber back home. It reacts to them, turning all of its light and apparatus on, slowly making it feel like it wasn't even abandoned over two centuries ago.

In its center, the octagonal shape of the gateway sits, waiting in silence for its escapees. When sparks of electricity reach its wires, it fires up in a flurry of buzzes and thaumaturgic runes activating after a very long sleep. Its middle starts to rip through reality once more, forming a gateway in the fabric of reality, leading someplace else. It's as if the entirety of the room was frozen immediately during the experiment, and the three just turned back time to a moment before the catastrophe.

Hope in their eyes, they all come closer, with Madden heading towards the computer next to the machine. It's visibly damaged, its screen all cracker, but it's good enough to be working with. With a smile of a professional, Robert sighs with relief and touches the monitor, inputting appropriate Clearence.

And then, the green lighs of the terminal turns into red. And the entire complex starts to shake.

"WHAT'S GOING ON?!" Ethan screams atop his lungs, slowly but surely starting to come towards the rest from the room they arrived in. "What did you do?!"

Madden looks at the card and then back at himself, losing all of the confidence he just got in mere seconds. "I… I don't—" He's not able to finish. The doors to the portal central suddenly shut closed, separating them from the Insurgent as the previously cleanly white lamps turn entirely crimson, alarming the entire facility.

"FATAL INTRUDER ALERT! SITE SHUTDOWN PROTOCOLS INITIATED!" A robotic voice from nowhere exclaims loudly as sounds of firing come from the corridors below, accompanying swings of magic and screams of pain. Madden looks in terror as the computer locks him out of the system, greeting him with a standard Foundation logscreen — no controls, just an emergency messaging system. But that's all he needs.

Practically running towards it, he taps out the following message as determination and fear fill every part of his body:


That's all he is able to type out before the portal's aura reaches outwards, swallowing the monitor and Ra whole. It starts to violently trash around the room, forcing Madden to grab the nearest panel with all his force, wishing to withstand it by all means.

"What do we do?!" Barlowe screams from the edge of the portal, tethering herself in reality with last effort magic. She's barely managing.

"I—" Madden tries to say, only to be cut off by the rip extending itself once more. It unconsciously grabs both of them, forcing the two to travel down the multiversal tunnel once more.

And then, it all goes silent.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!" The words of baseline reality Dr. James Micheals fill the office of baseline reality Site-120's Director Council, making it reverberate with utter frustration of the bearer. Micheals isn't the angry type — quite the opposite, even — but a single moment ruining the entirety of your career and work is good enough for even the quietest types to temporarily turn furious.

He takes a large sip from a water bottle next to him, trying his best not to occupy his stomach with something else than the will to vomit from stress. He knows it doesn't work like that, but it doesn't matter — he simply needs something else to temporarily focus on that isn't the fact his biggest project ever just caused a Foundation-wide catastrophe. And it just so happens the dust-tasting liquid is the only thing he has at his disposal.

As the doors to the room blast open, the gray figure of an equally baseline Dr. Ethan MacCarthy Jr. walks in, shutting them closed behind him. "Any news yet?" He asks, coming closer to the other Director.

"N-No, of course not," he retorts in his standard stuttering manner, handing Ethan a few documents he just complied from other reports in an attempt to make sense of what happened yesterday. "Cornwell and Asheworth are still reporting to O4 and the rest of Vanguard. And Rivera's trying her very f-fucking best to ensure the latter it's just a temporary halt in Hermes."

The other nods, eyeing the countless papers he's holding in his hands. "This isn't looking good."

"N-No shit?" Micheals rolls his eyes, taking the documents back. Pulling out a pen from his lab coat, the scientist starts to go from one report to another, checking off every possible test they've already run. There's tens of them. And yet, not a single one yields an answer to the still pending question of the escapees' whereabouts.

He sighs internally, putting them off in some archive on the wooden desk before him. With frustration and worry filling every ounce of his being, he turns his sight once more to his colleague. "How's… How's the project going? I-I very much hope you—"

The other calms James down, falling to a flurry of coughs seconds later. "Yes, yes," he says, excusing it with an apologetic smile. "Everything's ready. That's why I'm bothering you, actually." Taking a sip from the already open water next the second Director, he groans upon seeing the taste, eyeing the expiration date on it. He finds nothing. "We're good to go."

Micheals raises his eyebrow.

"It's ready, James."

The other's confusion widens. "W-What? All of it?"

Ethan grins. "Yes. Which in turn means our deus ex machina might just not be out of the picture yet."

HUB: Chronicles of the Irreal Hub


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