rating: +221+x

This was it. No more fucking around. The squad clanked behind him, battle suits shimmering in the desert heat. SCP-3396 hung overhead, a second moon trailing a net of glowing blue across the horizon.

Ahead, 3731 poured out of the hotels lining the boulevard.

"Prime ghosthrowers." Spectral emulsifier was too clunky for voice command. Gears ratcheted up and down the left arms of their suits. The ghosthrower's battery was powered by a human heart built into the exoskeleton somewhere; its pounding mixed with Garrett's own, drumming wildly at his temples.

He swallowed, tasting sweat on his lips. The blues were closing in. The suit beeped as it shot him up with something that made sharp warmth ooze through his body.

"Loudspeakers on. You still have a chance to cooperate. Go home and wait for agen-"

A woman with bone spears jutting through the tiger fur over her skin leapt at him, snarling. He leapt back, boosters firing in the legs of his suit. A rifle popped to his left, and lightning struck her out of the air.

All hell broke loose. Mang's rifle spat round after round, bolts cracking down from the sky wherever they hit. The rest of the squad opened up, beams and waves ripping through space alongside bullets and grenades.

A person-shaped hole in space bulged and stretched toward their formation and Garrett twisted his hand in its gauntlet. The stream burst from the nozzle with a sound like a chainsaw cutting through desperate wails. Faint blue light swirling with pained faces washed over the attacking form, ripping away bits of the void surrounding it until blackened bones showed underneath and the figure crumbled.

An alarm chirped in his ear as bullets pinged off of him. The suit held as he swept its arm to the right, arcing across half a dozen of them - a dense, shifting cloud of birds, a tall man in a suit with a knot of gears where his head should have been, a many-armed beast that seemed to be made of plush, and three that just looked like people with guns - the hungry spirits devoured them all, bulbs bursting in the streetlights as the remains collapsed.

The squad had spread out to his left, falling in behind Guittierez with his belt-fed rig; the barrels churned, but the machine made no sound except the tinkling of shells hitting asphault. Wherever he pointed it, though, gnashing mouths bloomed and chewed themselves mercilessly. The crowd of 3731, now running, fell in swaths as countless teeth devoured them from inside.

Tucson would be reclaimed, in the name of humanity.

High up in the clouds, Armando sat on a floating spider web of arms. He looked out at the shimmering orange and purple of the sunrise as the morning broke over the desert sky.

About two hundred helium-filled arms nestled against each other, locked in a complex, crossword-puzzle-shaped kinetoglyph keeping the whole structure stable.

Armando had time to reflect, up here. Arms he left down below with his companions would alert him to danger, but they had been quiet recently. The Foundation's pestering had grown more and more infrequent, though no one was naive enough to think they had completely given up.

Armando tried to remember a time when the Foundation wasn't at the forefront of his mind. He went further and further back, until -

A scared fifteen-year-old boy sat alone in a derelict garage, shaking.



The fossilized pile of toolboxes, car parts, bicycle chains, and assorted junk had collapsed on him. His arm was stuck, possibly broken. Elbows didn't extend like that, he was pretty sure.

He struggled to free himself. If he could just get his arm out, he could start putting the pile back together, and then maybe no one would get mad. He wasn't bleeding anywhere, so at least he had that going for him.

No blood. The rusty box shifted slightly. OK. One, two, three


He was free, sort of. The arm wasn't. Still no blood. Armando looked at the stump, growing and stretching into a new arm like toothpaste coming out of the tube.

He vomited at the sight of the fresh new arm, its freckled red skin blending into his own brown skin at the shoulder.

He threw food and toys and a picture of his family in a plastic grocery bag, and he ran. And he didn't stop.

He wasn't really free, back then. He had tried pulling the new arm off, crushing it, hacking it off. All it ever got him was a new arm and a little more desperation.

The new arms felt foreign, gross, invasive. They weren't him. He couldn't even control them, just 'suggest' what they should do. He barely felt anything through them, just vague sensations of heat and pressure. Every new one that appeared was a cruel surprise. Human arms of every color gave way to arms of metal, and popcorn, and wood.

It took him a while to accustom himself. Every new day he could move the arms a little faster, a little more delicately. Even so, they would twitch and jerk on occasion, as if being moved by someone or something else.

After hundreds of attempts he eventually lucked out and got two arms similar to his own skin, and buried the rest. He tried to live normally, or at least as normally as a runaway with no home or education could.

He ended up falling in with the wrong crowd, as his mom would have said. They welcomed his arms, gave him a home, but he still wasn't free. Just another tool in a toolbox. Though he decided a roof over his head was worth letting go of any imagined destiny.

The stereotypical "one last job" went south.

Bullets flew through the air. A weird purple fog filled the air, probably from the "mystery candy" catching fire. The buyer had apparently gotten spooked and ratted them out, hoping either corrupt cops or Los Milagros would kill them over the anomalous guns and drugs.

Armando hid behind the stack of crates, trying to find an escape. He was not going to die like this.

The black vans pulled up. Agents in all black tactical gear appeared, and cleared the area. A stray grenade exploded near Armando, deafening him and shredding his right arm.

He felt the cells regrowing. Not now, you damn arms…

The agent shot the man who threw it, then approached Armando, whose new right arm was now made of tire rubber.

The agent spoke into his comm, and Armando woke up in a concrete cell.

He definitely was never free in the Foundation. Endless tests prodding and poking and pulling at his arms. Endless gray. Endless tasteless food and neutral, muted rehearsed lines from the researchers.

He almost broke out, once.

He fought back against the people keeping him there. But he lost control. He didn't own the arms, he was a slave to them, a host. A victim of their unpredictability.

The rush of a chance to escape weakened his hold on the monstrous arms. Their unpredictability killed an innocent and cut his escape short. What would he do even if he escaped? He had realized then, that he could never be truly free. So he let them take him back. And there he stayed.

Armando had learned the value of eavesdropping at a very young age. He saw fewer and fewer people working at the site. Hushed communications, letters and numbers that meant nothing to him. Something something 96. Something something T-P-K.

The evacuation came soon after. Every "SCP", every doctor, every janitor, every folder was picked up and thrown in transports. He never got to see what the facility actually looked like from the outside.

Sirens, followed by explosions. The truck holding his cell stopped abruptly, then began to melt. The wall of Armando's chamber sparkled and turned into salt, which cracked and crumbled and was blown away in the breeze. A four-eyed woman with translucent white hair and skin lowered her goggles, and smiled.

"You coming with us? Or you want us to drop you back off at that Site?"

He took her hand, and walked toward his new future.

The magical blue matter they had offered him made him feel like he was being baptized. He was in control now. Every arm sang along with his soul. They moved like water at a single thought. He could feel the texture of reality through them. Whatever had been moving them before was either dead, or had fled in fear at the blue-green that now filled him.

His new friends spoke of the future, of a new era dawning. The world had been dipped in this blue matter, they said, and it was only a matter of time before it soaked through completely.

Still not fully free, with the Foundation doing everything humanly and inhumanly possible to catch them, but Armando felt he was finally on the right road.

It had been almost four years since then. The great Tree had awakened, and Armando had watched it rise and branch from his cloud perch. Even now the beautiful fractal of blue and green could be seen off in the distance, stretching into the heavens.

He exhaled and closed his eyes, feeling the breeze envelop him.

Look at me, world.

And for the first time in his life, Armando felt like he was truly, undeniably, free.

It was calling them home. It was calling them to Thrive.

Tilda Moose and the collection of beings that were once Mobile Task Force Sigma-3 stepped out of the Way, leaving the sanctuary of the Library's halls. Once, the land on which they stood was called Chicago. Now it was a desert of obsidian, with not a structure in site. It was beautiful. It was empty.

Moose considered going back one final time; there was nothing forcing them to do this. But curiosity was what had defined their life. If it defined their death, then so be it. The truth of humanity's nature, its purpose, lay just ahead. Moose could no more turn back than a drowned man refuse air.

The group began to rise in the air, half willing the action themselves and half being cradled by the force above. Moose dimly felt the impact as their physical body was ripped asunder by the detonation of the Foundation's final weapon. It was pathetic, really. Bathed in the light above, they were so far beyond this now. The so-called true remnants of humanity had only harmed themselves.

As they approached what they knew to be the source of their power, the old worries returned once again. Would they be enslaved to this being's will? Would their identities be stripped away and fused into a mockery of life? What was the catch? What was the price?

"Why are you doing this?" they whispered with lips of Aether. And then came a bolt of understanding. Humanity was never the beneficiary, the purchaser of this power. This fate, this godhood, had been determined long ago by whatever forces had borne humanity to begin with.

And who were they? There was always another secret to learn, and now Moose had all the time in the Multiverse to find the answer.

O5-8 looked out at the burning Pacific Ocean and smiled sadly.

An errant thaumic wave had washed into the sea and had done something to its chemical structure. Turned it into gasoline, or something similar. From there it had only been a matter of time. Heat was everywhere these days, after all.

Literally, as it turned out. A stray flow of magma from a nearby tectonic shatter flowed past the eighth Overseer, coming within inches of his shoes.

He felt nothing. The shoes weren't even real.

He looked up, and saw the mutants there, hovering in space and looking down at him. Or at least looking down in his direction. He doubted any of them were paying attention enough to see him specifically.

But he could see them, through the planet's thickening atmosphere. And he was very proud that so many of them had survived. In truth, it was all that he had ever wanted, and he considered himself lucky that so many had been saved to carry the species to new heights.

Or distances, he supposed. Space was funny.

He had spent so many thousands of years taking care of this absurd little species. Watching them grow up. Taking their first steps out of the oceans to live under the hot sun. If he was being honest with himself, he had always been more partial to the oceangoing species, but in a surprising twist, they'd turned out to be less smart than the primates. Or way, way smarter, he guessed, looking at the senseless destruction all around him. It was hard to tell.

But in time he had grown to love them. He bore their sorrows upon his great shoulders so that they could keep going without being crushed. He watched from the depths as they built great cities, and pushed the darkness back with their every breath.

He'd seen great promise in the Foundation since its inception, but was concerned at the outset that they were a touch… zealous. Useful, but after a while, necessary. An absolute requirement for human life to go on. O5-8 could have done the job on his own if he'd put his back into it, but greatly appreciated the Foundation making his mighty burden less heavy over the years. So he chose to watch them, from the inside, to steer them in the right direction when he could without toppling them over.

He realized now that he had failed hilariously in this pursuit, but thankfully it didn't matter anymore.

For the first time, humanity was truly free. And that meant the thing that called itself Overseer Eight could finally let go of the weight it had carried for so long.

So he did.

And in that instant, he could hear the horrifying unified roar of thousands of starving abominations from across space, now immediately aware of the Earth's existence. They began to tear through space like a machete through pudding toward the defenseless and exposed planet, intent on consuming this next meal in a long line of planets devoured that stretched back to the beginning of time.

“Are you sure this is how you want to play it?”

A woman materialized next to the Overseer, in a wash of seawater that splashed upon the nearby lava and sent up clouds of steam. She was incomparably beautiful, clothed in corals and shells and seaweed, with hair as red as blood and skin of alabaster. She smiled in a way that failed to be anything other than predatory.

She was the single most violent, barbaric, and disgusting thing that Overseer Eight was aware of, and she was also his sister.

He replied, “Really? After all this time, you express doubt?”

She laughed daintily. The Overseer heard it echo through the thousands of mindless creatures that lived behind her eyes, until it became a howling cacophony of bestial hunger.

“No, dear. I have no doubts. Merely surprised at your sudden… laxity.”

He snorted, and brushed some ash from the lapel of his charcoal suit. “I have no reason to keep holding you back. There aren't anymore people for you to devour and enslave, if you haven't noticed already. You and your spawn are free to do as you wish. You have everything you've ever wanted. Freedom. A legion of fanatic servants that you've twisted beyond recognition. An entire cosmos to gnaw on. Go nuts. But I'd leave soon, if I were you. There are some disagreeable things on the way, and they'll try to kill us if we're still here.”

She seemed pensive. “Drawn by what, I wonder?”

The Overseer looked up. The last humans were gone.

“Us, I think. Or perhaps just curious about an active and energetic planet appearing out of nowhere. Either way, they're coming, and not for polite conversation.”

She regarded him with unconcealed curiosity. “But what will you do, my oh-so-serious brother? No more of your so-called innocents to keep safe from bad old me. No more Foundation to prop up on your shoulders. Are you going to guard the rocks now? You're doing a terrible job; I think most of them are on fire.”

He smiled, and began to gather his essence around him. “I might, actually. What's left of them, anyhow. What purpose do I have, now? I've been defined by death and pain and sacrifice for my entire existence. I've spent millions of years trying to stop you from munching on the life that gave us our very reason to exist.”

He chuckled. “I am the sorrow of all humanity. I am their pain, their endurance, their memory. Their mind, and honor. The one who stopped them from being animals, who watched them, taught them, and ministered to their better nature while keeping out the things that wanted to eat them. Our elder brother in his wisdom has decided that their time has finally come. They don't need me anymore. And they don't need you, either. If they ever did. They're beyond us now. What am I going to do? My dear, I'm going to do what I've always done. I am going to endure. I will shoulder a burden most heavy.”

The Overseer pulled from the air a colossal anchor, as long as he was tall, covered in rust and barnacles and twisting nearby space with its sheer cosmic mass. The sum total weight of all humanity's pain, sadness, anguish, and determination to exist through it all. The burden they had left behind.

It entered realspace with a subtle boom that extinguished every fire in a hundred-mile radius.

He hefted the great weapon and laid it across his shoulder, where it had always belonged. He looked to the stars, where unknowable predators from the far reaches of reality shrieked down toward them.

“Will you join me?”

The woman, the hunger, lust, ferocity, and rage of what had been mankind, grinned wide, showing teeth that had bitten through continents in ages long since past.

“This once, brother, I will. Let us teach them how to fear.”

She disappeared.

An ocean of pale flesh, rotting and shrieking, made of the corpses of thousands of years of the planet's most furious dead, exploded from beneath the bedrock of North America. The avalanche of wrathful corruption ground its tendrils into the bones of the earth and yawned its many maws, reaching upward toward the sky in desperate need of the violence that gave it its heart.

The man who was not the Foundation's Eighth Overseer armored himself in plates of the purest stone, hewn from the agony and valor of Earth's most sacred and worthy dead. He gathered what remained of the planet's oceans around him and rose. The last knight, the eternal guardian of the soul of humanity, ascended to fulfill his oath.

And together, they waged their final war.

O5-1 strode out of the ruins of his bunker, his face a mask of rage and grief. He… they, had protected humanity for so long. Humanity was imperfect, it was chaotic, and it was the only thing he'd ever loved. And now he was finally alone. A truth that had been figurative for over two thousand years was now literal. The irony was bile in his throat.

He stared at the new blue star and let out a roar of frustration. He poured every sacrifice, every tragedy, every Montauk, and every victory into his voice. When he fell silent, little of him remained.

"I'd do it again. All of it, one thousand times over. Even if I knew I would still fail." He straightened up and began to pace. "I see you in the sky, rising to a final betrayal with a being that is nothing more than a mockery of true life. You abandon everything your ancestors have built, everything we have shed blood to protect. I know this is the end, I can feel Life itself leaving this world. But had you stood with us rather than against us we could have won. We could have endured as we've always endured, survived as we've always survived. But you were seduced by power. You may have become gods, but that is something less than human, not more. The present isn't worth the loss of the future and the past."

O5-1 stopped, and turned to face someone who wasn't there. "Hello Fritz, did no one ever teach you that it's rude to interrupt a soliloquy?"

Nobody said nothing.

"You always stood with us. But when I needed your guidance more than ever you were gone. Why?"

Nobody said nothing.

"We'll both be dead soon. Just tell me why. For the sake of everyone we've sacrificed on the altar of our ideals, tell me why you abandoned them."

"Joseph. It wasn't the greater good anymore."

Neither being spoke again. The Wanderer had ended his journey, and Nobody was never no one.

In low Earth orbit, an entity was still, watching with its many steel eyes.

It glinted in the light of the faraway Sun. Spires of dull towering metal drifted in the cosmic wind, each with a glowing orange core, each the size of a small city. The constructs contained enough power to vaporize star systems. With one thought, the entity at the center of this grand iron cathedral could gaze upon lightyears of space and reduce them to a hot slurry of base particles. Its cannons, reactors, generators, armor, and power were infinite, in the truest sense of the word. Its disparate network of machines floated in the void, orbiting around one locus.

Nestled at the heart of this assembly of endlessly destructive engines was the form of a human woman. Small, and unimpressive. An afterthought, kept only out of a sense of vague respect for what the entity used to be. A nostalgic figurine. Skin of pure elemental iron, the entity's favorite. A gentle fiery glow could be seen between the plates. A hint of the furnace at its heart.

The small figure looked at its own hands, and wondered.

It was still known to itself as Monica.

She had more or less lost her humanity completely. She was no longer a person, and she knew it. Either that, or the definition of humanity had changed forever. She kept her name, and the memories of what she used to be. Her knowledge was as close to complete as it could have been, after devouring and integrating most of what used to be the Internet and the secure databases of the erstwhile United States, but she found herself incapable of forgetting.

And she didn't want to.

There were others near her. The survivors, who had ascended alongside her, who she had led to absolution.

There was the thing that once called itself Dozer. He and his engineers, who had always been fast friends, had elected to encase themselves in stone and fuse, becoming one mind. Now they formed a monolithic citadel of beautiful white and black statuary, with miles of carvings of people and houses and plants and bygone civilizations, which moved within the halls and spires and drifted in the solar breeze with life of their own. Memories of where they had come from, hewn from rock and given new life, to stand for all time.

Ogre and Violet were there as well. On their last day before leaving Earth, they had married, and wove their essences together. Now they existed as a great menagerie of plants and animals, across dozens of floating islands with their own pockets of breathable air and gravity. On the largest island were two thrones in which the two lovers sat and looked upon the lives they had saved with pride and affection, determined to find a place where Earth's treasured creatures could live anew.

And there was Norman. He was nameless now, a moon-sized mass of flesh swathed in a sea of luminous and rich blue-green water. Great leviathan shapes could be seen moving under the waves of its surface, creatures of Norman's own design which had taken on a strange and alien existence of their own. His mind unreeled for lightyears in all directions, hunting for minds to discover and learn, relentless in his quest for learning and enlightenment.

And there were many thousands of others, each with shapes incredible and unique, every one an expression of a human mind let loose from the constraints of mere possibility.

Below these gods, the planet they had once called home burned and shuddered.

Little life remained in the wake of the destruction that the Foundation had wrought. In their desire to remain the only true humans, they had cracked the continents with their bombs and boiled the seas in technological rage. The energies whirled and all the while, the Blue simply existed, uncaring and unmoving in the face of all their wrath. The tree had grown until it was no longer a tree. It became a sprawling ecosystem of its own; a huge network of glowing aquamarine tendrils that had sprouted and overtaken most of the western United States.

And once the world began to burn, it left.

It ascended into the sky, a massive aggregate of interwoven strands that glowed, indifferent to the suffering and destruction. It blossomed and writhed languidly in orbit with the ones that it had changed, reacting to nothing, simultaneously comforting and terrifying.

Monica had never had great love for the Foundation, but now understood what a purpose they had served. They had chained back thousands of humanity's unseen and immortal foes. They had been the bedrock upon which civilization rested. For so long, they had been salvation itself, and she knew that it was likely that without them she would not exist.

She supposed it was fitting then, that they had decided to die upon finally being rendered obsolete. Humanity no longer needed them, and in their rage at their loss of purpose, they had chosen to self-immolate rather than go on.

Before the end, she had spoken with some of them. She had become too powerful to threaten by that time, and wanted them to see reason. Surely eternity was worth letting go of some outdated principles and prejudices. Surely the definition of what was “anomalous” no longer mattered, and they could come to see that it was senseless to prolong such a futile struggle.

But they spat in her face, and chose the fire instead. They would rather normalcy be absolute, than live one more day sharing a planet with such unclean and abhorrent monsters. And so Monica saved who chose to leave, and left them to their blaze of glory.

For all intents and purposes, they had been humanity itself. But that no longer meant what it used to.

The future was so much larger than a ball of rock ruined by those that chose to burn eternity to salvage the past. Out there was possibility. Potential. The far bounds of reality failed to care that humanity yet existed, that they had come upon the cusp of their apotheosis.

But Monica swore that she would make them care. They would sear their sign upon the stars themselves. They would thrive, and quake the pillars of creation with their advent.

She shed one final tear, a droplet of molten metal that drifted into the expanse. A memento, for those that had fallen to ignorance and pride and pointless strife.

She signaled to her people. And they left the Earth behind, to seek their fate in the cosmos.

Alone in its orbit, the Blue, the Empyrean Parasite, the ineffable creature of secret inner fire that had been first among all of Life, saw. The results of its work were painted across eons, and this latest thread it had woven into the grand tapestry pleased it to no end. There had been such potential here, and now it was realized in full.

It would need to be, to withstand what was to come.

It laughed, a quiet sound that buckled the stars in their stride and twisted space itself in a paroxysm of primal joy - a victory well-won.

And it also left, to see if the grand defenses of this reality were yet strong enough.

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