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rating: +19+x

2021


January 2

Leipzig: Free State of Saxony, Federal Republic of Germany


"They're coming, Philip."

"I know," he panted.

Amelia didn't ask him what he knew, probably because she knew. She knew his insecurities well enough to guess what Doug was saying, and of course she also knew that two very angry terrorists had likely just debarked their helicopter and given chase. This was no time for rhetorical questions.

She also might not have asked because they were both entirely occupied with running very fast, their tire treaded boots barely gripping the snow-slick tarmac. She might further not have asked because her attention was fixed on her phone.

"What… you got…?" he wheezed. He was older than she was.

"Maps." She kept it terse; she was obviously also out of breath. She was younger than him, but they were both pretty sedentary.

"How? No… SIM card."

"Don't need. Maps onboard. Storage." They reached the alleyway she'd come down in; her parachute was hanging from a fire escape.

"Where are we?" If she was looking at a map, she might know.

She pointed at a rusty dumpster beneath the fire escape. It was labelled "MULLMEISTER: Stadt Leipzig."

"Dutch?" he ventured.

"Racist," Doug purred.

They rounded another corner, and Amelia stopped to lean against a brick wall. "German." The breath required to form the word practically deflated her, and she bent over double. She handed him the phone. "Leipzig."

The on-board map showed a Foundation safehouse in the middle of what looked to be an industrial park. "Are we anywhere near this?" He actually slapped his forehead; his hand came away wet. "Don't know. No SIM card. No signal."

"Don't need," she said again. She pointed at the opposite wall. Phil saw it immediately, amidst the graffiti in big balloon letters and the accumulated grime:

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It might as well have been written in English. The field codes had been drilled into him over two decades ago, when his occasionally leaving the confines of Site-43 had still been technically plausible.

Safe place for two. North.

That was oddly specific, but he couldn't complain. "Huh," he said instead. It also kind of reminded him of Doug's face, but then again he had chronic frequency illusion.

"Got lucky," she agreed.

"She got lucky without you, Philip."

He whistled. "I'll say. Do… you think they knew? That we were this close?"

She shook her head, her beige hair hanging around her face like an old mop. "Secret entrance. Emergency only."

He took her by the shoulder, once again noticing the damage to her jumpsuit and the scrapes and scratches beneath. Probably hit the dumpster when she cut off the chute. He tried not to focus on it. "Secret entrance to what?"

She turned her head and grinned. "Site-54."

He tried to grin back, but the memory of the helicopter and what he had don't think about it you don't have time. He forced something like a smile, and she saw right through it; the look on her face was probably the look he'd had on his when he considered her superficial injuries.

She straightened. "Please tell me they didn't get your password."

He flicked the glass of his watch with one fingernail. Doug didn't react. "Nope."

She planted a kiss on his cheek, and they both started running again.

North.


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Site-54: Leipzig, Free State of Saxony, Federal Republic of Germany


Deep below the streets of Leipzig, a great many things were about to go wrong. One of them had to be first.

The security alarm should have gone off before the tendrils of quivering scar tissue began creeping 'round the edges of the door, probing the air in the corridor beyond, a tongue in search of something to taste… but the security alarm had already been subsumed by the containment-chamber sized mound of throbbing gore and gristle, so it didn't. The door shouldn't have opened when the thing forced its bulk against it, but its safety lock had been released remotely, so it did.

The containment breach should have lasted far longer, and had far more disastrous results, but there was an autocannon mounted on the corridor ceiling. First it pelted the creature with a single shot, for range-finding; the bullet stretched a line of scabrous skin to near the breaking point, its momentum finally arrested by sheer organic elasticity.

The next several hundred rounds dragged the hateful flesh down the corridor and against the far wall, where it became a living geyser of blood and bile — then sloughed to the floor, emitting a low-pitched burble like a flattened whoopee cushion.

It was quite dead.


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In retrospect, stopping to catch their breaths and some exposition had been a mistake. As they broke out of the warren of fences, brick walls and concrete and into the considerably more open industrial park, Phil felt pretty good about their escape; as they peeled hand-in-hand across another cover-free parking lot, however, and he heard the tinny reverberations of a fallen garbage can behind them, he felt that death was imminent.

"Don't turn around," Doug suggested. If he'd had a scrap of breath left in him, Phil would've spent his last moments on Earth belting out "Der Kommissar" in response.

Maybe they wouldn't shoot. Maybe their need for revenge would be outweighed by their need for what he was carrying in his head. Maybe…

There was a scream. Phil put his watch to his face; Doug was gone. Phil turned around; the helicopter pilot was standing in the exit to the alley, clawing at his eyes. His gun was on the ground. The agent with the chiselled jaw had stopped, for the moment, to help him.

"You did that." Phil jumped in the midst of his run, a guilty little hop; Doug was back on the watch, his scar-eyes fluting with what could have been pleasure. "That was you."

"There," Amelia gasped, and she put on the afterburners. Phil searched frantically for whatever the gasp could be referencing, spotting only a tumbledown self-storage facility and a decrepit radio tower. She was headed for the former, so quickly that he knew if she stopped he'd slingshot past her and pull them both down to the tarmac.

They shot beneath the facility's sign. There was something… something about…

Storage Concepts PLC. That couldn't… that had to be a coincidence, didn't it?

For some reason, it made him feel better.

Amelia seemed to know precisely where she was going. They hit the door to the front office together; her arms struck the crossbar, and his struck the glass. The glass cracked, and the door flew open so violently that it popped its spring and slammed into the wall. The glass shattered, but they were long gone. They vaulted across the foyer floor, only skidding to a halt when Amelia grabbed the edge of a doorframe and swung them through with what remained of their momentum.

They both tumbled to the concrete floor, adding a few new bumps and bruises to their growing collection. Phil kicked the open door closed, sat up and rubbed the back of his head.

"Short of breath?" Doug asked. "Chest pain?"

"Fuck off," Phil muttered. He tried to stand up, but couldn't quite make it.

"Is he saying you're out of shape?" Amelia did manage to stand up, but immediately crouched down again.

Phil narrowed his eyes. "Why would he—?"

She waved it off. "No time. Come on."

They helped each other to their feet, then took in the vast warehouse. It was packed wall-to-wall with multifarious modes of transportation: Phil recognized a Volkswagen Beetle, a collection of go-karts, a few small utility vehicles which reminded him of the ones they used back at 43 to navigate the subway for maintenance, and a few deployment trucks in various stages of disrepair. No SCP logos, but his mechanic's sense was tingling. Those were MTF transports.

"Supposed to be at least six guards here," Amelia muttered. She wended her way through the fenders and bumpers, heading for one of two large garage doors with a card reader between them.

"You know a lot about this place." Phil bumped one knee on a golf cart panel, and only barely suppressed a curse.

"She has secrets."

"I know all about 54." She unclipped her security badge and tapped the card reader. A panel popped open, and she started fiddling with it. "Did my tech training here before they sent me to 19. More subsystems at this one Site than in the whole of Armenia. It's like…" She laughed. "It's like an urban virus. It keeps expanding. There's so many anomalous structures in Leipzig, above and below ground, I'm surprised they don't just declare it all one huge Nexus and be done with it." She swung the panel closed again. "For example, the alien abduction warehouse."

He became suddenly conscious of a cold draft. "The what?"

One of the doors slid upward, and the lights beyond flickered on. "I'll explain later. You don't wanna be the guy who finds out the hard way."


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It was happening, but not how she'd imagined.

This was quite remarkable. Imogen Tarrow, Director of Site-54, had imagined a wide variety of ways in which the Foundation's most secure and protected facility might become an uncontained disaster, but this death of a thousand cuts wasn't one of them.

It had started with a corpse in a freezer. The freezer had unfrozen, and the flesh fungus which fed upon and lived within it had escaped into a hail of well-placed bullets. Then the bulkheads sealing off the former maintenance tunnels from the trackway to SCP-2856 had inexplicably opened, and their occupant had escaped. Then a new security guard, green as fucking grass, had been lured into a storage facility and after a lengthy conversation with an anomalous loudspeaker had been rapidly dissassembled into a pool of human vomit. Then the squid—

She tried not to think about the squid.

"What's it at now." She couldn't even raise her voice up enough to make it sound like a question.

"Nine different breaches." Her new security chief — so new that she didn't even know his goddamn name — shook his head in disgust. "One after the other. We're handling it, mostly, but I don't know for how long. We only ever planned on mitigation." This was a dirty truth, one which the long-term staff had long since learned not to speak out loud. "Every time one resolves, either because we recontain or neutralize or because the skip escapes completely, the next one starts."

Tarrow massaged her temples. "I don't suppose we could find a way to extend one of these situations indefinitely."

He smiled sympathetically. "Don't think that would help. Anyway, news from 2856. Unidentified insurgents broke in and captured one of the guards; the remainder followed procedure, abandoned the warehouse and sealed it behind them. It's possible the attackers used the guard's pass to get into the tunnels."

Tarrow shrugged. "The lower entrances are still locked tight?"

He shrugged back at her. "Did it personally, with a very secure password… but then, we thought the tunnels were locked tight too." His sympathetic smile turned feral. "Maybe the tunnel monster will get them."

"Maybe." Tarrow sighed. "What else?"

"I've got people heading to 54-C and 54-09 now. We've had repor—"

A muted explosion from one of the observation terminals cut him off. The technician seated in front of it turned to face Tarrow. "Secure transmission for you, sir."

Tarrow nodded, walking over to peer at the screen. "Pipe it in."

A woman's voice came over the intercom. She was out of breath. "Sorry for the short notice, but I guess your long-range comms are out."

The screen showed the cafeteria in Residential Block 54-C. There was a hole in the wall. A man in a labcoat was sitting on the floor, petting god dammit a frankly adorable Atlantic cranch squid. Perhaps a dozen individuals in labcoats or off-duty clothes were scrambling over tables and chairs, glistening patches of iridescent material evident on their exposed skin. They were chasing a woman in gleaming combat armour who was alternating between the most improbable acts of gymnastics that Tarrow had ever witnessed and plugging each researcher with what she very much hoped was a tranquilizer gun. As the last body fell to the floor, the woman kicked off the wall and landed neatly in front of the man with the squid.

He offered it to her, smiling placidly.

She kicked it through the hole in the wall.

"MTF Tav-Triple-Six reporting for duty, Director. Where do you want me?"


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There was something wrong with the tunnels.

The fact that they felt more like a cave — "A bear cave," Doug helpfully supplied — was part of it, to be sure. The gently-sloping underpass beyond the door had been climate-controlled, well-lit and clean. It has also promised, according to Amelia, the long way around. They couldn't afford that, so they took the first access corridor they came across. The access corridor had also been climate-controlled, well-lit and clean, a simple whitewashed concrete affair with a jaunty red strip down one side and a soothing blue strip down the other. Maybe twenty minutes later they'd entered into the clammy, filthy, poorly-lit warrens Phil was now thinking of as "the tunnels," retroactively upgrading the previous spaces they'd been trekking through.

But he was a maintenance worker at a Site which had been built before his parents had been born. He was used to tunnels. It was the loss of the climate control which really bothered him, as well as the loss of the lights. It was hot, hellishly hot — they had both unzipped their jumpsuits, and tied the top halves around their waists (Amelia expertly, Phil amateurishly), and they only occasionally encountered any working sources of illumination. They had acquired a pair of long black flashlights from a supply box at the end of the concrete channel; Amelia was shining hers forward, seeking the path to the Site, while Phil was shining his backward, and walking backward, taking some mild comfort from the frequency at which their asses collided.

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"Nobody's following us," she assured him for what had to be the dozenth time.

"She doesn't know that," Doug discouraged him.

"What happened to the guards?" Phil had expected their voices to echo through the endless passage, but all sound was oddly flattened except for the steady drip, drip, drip of water and what sounded like a rushing stream not far ahead. "You said there were six guards."

"Breach procedures. If the Site was compromised, they probably took one of those MTF vans." Amelia projected confidence; Phil didn't wish he knew her less well, but it would have been comforting not to be able to tell that this was merely projection. "Getting reinforcements from the nearest outpost."

That didn't comfort him much. "You're saying there might already be insurgents in the here." He backed into her again, and felt her shrug.

"Could be."

Phil suddenly wished he was taking the lead. He had half a mind to suggest it.

"Coward," the other half of his mind rasped from his wristwatch. "Letting her walk into danger. Who knows what lies ahead? You certainly don't."

Phil had just opened his mouth to suggest they trade places when the distant roar became not so distant, and he turned around to see that they'd entered into a much larger space. A sewer tunnel, and a big one; it looked like something built for—

"Runoff," Amelia shouted. "Lots of rivers in Leipzig."

The source of the rushing water was obvious now: a vast flood pouring down the surface, tumbling straight down through a metal grating just beside them. Phil caught sight of his own face reflected in the water, and then immediately Doug's full-body reflection superseded it.

"Boo," said Doug.

The sight of his doppelganger's entire emaciated form standing just inches away was fascinating. Doug in the downpour was almost three-dimensional, and Phil felt that he could reach out and touch—

There was a mournful shout from the darkness ahead, and both Phil and Amelia turned to face it. Their flashlights illuminated—

"What?" Phil shouted.

"Oh g—" Amelia began.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" screamed the humanoid monster made of cardboard boxes which stood quaking at the confluence of their wobbling flashlight beams.

"What?" Phil whispered.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" It pointed at them with one boxy appendage — no, it pointed between them, past them, at the falling water — screamed "MONSTER!" and ran away.

Phil turned to stare at Amelia. Her mouth was agape, and he suddenly realized that his was, too.

"Did you hear that, Philip?" Doug asked, shimmering in the shower. "It called you a monster."


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ETTRA Command: Area-09, Great Basin Desert, California, United States of America


"Right. Right. RIGHT. Hold. There it is. Right there." Dr. Dan ███████ picked out the target with his laser pointer. "That's what's doing it. Drench that, and tell them not to hit the tower."

Several of the technicians in the still-under-construction operations centre frowned at him. Only the senior on duty, Nate Frewer, spoke up. "If that's a cognito: why are we looking at it, and why isn't it screwing with our heads?"

"Biology," Dan snapped. "You did mark the target, right?"

Frewer nodded. "Yes, I marked the target. They're on their way. Now please explain."

Dan waggled the pointer, circling the strange symbol painted on the side of Site-54's communications building. "That right there is a variation on the Sauber-Sieger Mesofractal. We haven't used anything that archaic for decades, because it only works in close proximity, not over transmission. Auras, or some shit, I dunno. I'm no memeticist. The point is, it's put a whammy on them so they think their comms are down. Which they are not."

"That's ridiculous," Frewer sighed. They both watched as a sudden burst of fluid fell from the sky, smacking into the sigil and washing it down the sides of the factory wall. Not a drop struck the tower.

"Handshaking with 54 now," a tech across the room shouted out. "Getting a sitrep."

Dan pumped both fists in the air. The Foundation's attempt at replicating SCP-3533, "Metaphysiclean," had apparently been a smashing success. "Update on A-9?"

Director Sophia Light took off her headset and shrugged at him. "Tarrow is directing Adams. Thompson is getting ready. The second team is in transit, but at this rate it'll all be over before they see any action."

Dan nodded. "I'm sure they'll get their time to shine. Next problem!"

"Sitrep's in," Frewer reported. "Site security and Adams have everything under control except an outbreak of 6528-1 in the ventilation system. SRAs and filters aren't handling it."

Dan rapped his forehead with the knuckles of both hands. "6528-1. Reality-collapsing vines? That's bad." He snapped his fingers, again with both hands. "54 still has one of those old Scrantons, right? The long-range kind? The 3001 kind?"

Frewer blinked. "The kind that killed the guy they're named after because he switched it on? Yes."

Dan blew a raspberry. "I'm not suggesting they switch it on and start an earthquake." He paused. "Do we have anything that starts earthquakes?" He paused again. "Go on! Make the call." He pointed at another tech, whose hand was raised. "Yes? Next?"

Frewer sighed, and starting speaking into his mic. Hope there's no other disasters scheduled for today.


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They were now moving through what looked like a movie sewer, one of those far-too-big-to-be-real deals with the damp cobble walls and the central sluice full of… well, in this case it simply looked like water. "Melted snow," Amelia suggested. "It's so damn hot down here, the snow up above is melting."

Phil wanted to know what was up with that, of course, but he had a more pressing concern. "Did you know there was a monster in here?"

She shook her head, wet strands of hair slapping and sticking to her cheeks.

"Besides you?" Doug asked.

"Do you know what that thing is, though?"

She nodded. "It's the tunnel monster. 3663. But these are the wrong tunnels."

Phil tried to work that out. "It's supposed to be in a tunnel? Not in a chamber?"

"The old maintenance tunnels at 54 are its chamber. Don't make that face; we've got an immortal reality-bending toxician living in a chasm under 43."

"Point," he admitted. "But how would this thing have gotten… out…"

A body drifted past, bobbing in the slow current. It looked like a case of terminal frostbite, but the colour of the splinters sticking out of the skin was…

"Wood pulp. Christ, it's in a bad mood today." She suddenly looked very unhappy. "Oh, I don't like this."

Phil pointed back at the corpse. "Tunnel monster did that?"

"Not… intentionally. It's just what happens when it's around, when it's… agitated." She paused. "Did that look like an MTF guy to you?"

He didn't look back. "You think it was one of ours, or one of theirs? They're dressed the same."

She shivered. "Might've been lying in wait up ahead. Might've been coming from the Site to help us. Who fucking knows."

He wished one of them did.


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Agent Andrea Adams crept through the liminal space which had once been the North Wing of Site-54. She hadn't really understood that term, "liminal space," before this moment. She wouldn't have said the hallway had positive vibes, if it were still occupied by researchers and agents and janitors; the track lighting was partially blocked by ceiling pipes, casting an eerie grey-green glow rather than providing proper illumination, the walls and doorframes were too solid and institutional, blue steel and brushed beige concrete, and the floor was like a dull strip of linoleum carpet between two runners of inexplicable wire mesh. There were no windows, because this was far underground. It would be an ugly, oppressive place under normal circumstances, but at least it was familiar. "Foundation Brutalism" was an architectural style with which she had much experience.

And that was the problem. Everything she knew about hallways like this told her that they were danger-adjacent but relatively safe, moment-by-moment. The containment breach alarms were clearly visible, and they weren't active. The office doors were all closed, the mail dropboxes were all empty, there was no blood on the floor or walls. Everything was fine.

Everything was not fine. The firing range in Containment Area 54-01 had started firing back — she still hadn't heard an intelligible explanation for that — and the guards had been forced to flee into what was now Containment Area-54-09. Two MTFs in riot gear had been dispatched to rescue them, but it wouldn't be enough; unless Adams did something about 4856, and soon, every one of them would be disembowelled in this space between spaces.

She could see the contradictions now. Dust on the floor. A peculiar rattle in the air ducts. Some of the lights flickered. Not another human soul was visible. As she passed through the open double doors connecting this hall to another just like it, she finally spotted a true incongruity: a belt buckle gleaming on the floor.

She bent to pick it up. It was covered in deep scratches and gouges, as if something very sharp had been scrabbling at the soft human tissues typically surrounding such a device.

Like a wild animal had torn it off while attempting to—

Something hard struck her from behind, and she stumbled forward into the arms of a labcoated researcher who hadn't been there just moments prior. She looked up into his face — its face, a stretched-out skein of flesh tattooed with the Foundation's containment sigil. She lost her breath in a whoof as the creature struck her in the gut, lifting her up over its head one-handed. The other arm hung uselessly at its side. She kicked madly, shattering the light fixture above them, then swung her rifle down and opened fire.

The creature disappeared, and the small but powerful shell punched a hole in the floor and kept going. She barely avoided falling into it, instead striking — and cracking — the linoleum. She cursed. Don't shoot at it. World ends if it dies. This wasn't precisely how it had been explained to her, but her instincts needed simpler handholds.

Something heavy — a foot — came down on the small of her back. She pressed both hands and both feet into the floor, and pushed back with all the force her suit could muster. She heard a satisfying crack as the entity struck the overhead pipes, then felt the weight vanish as she tumbled back down.

This time she stuck the landing, and the instant she did, she spun on one leg and swept the labcoated thing's metal-braced legs out from under it. There was another loud crack, and it threw its arms — both of its arms— in the air, and vanished…

…then kicked her in the face from the other side. She fell on her back…

…and five different versions of SCP-4856 loomed over her, claws extended, the filthy gashes in their throats fluttering with anticipation.

Time travel pisses me off.

A dark bruise was blooming in the centre of one entity's tattoo; one had shards of glass sticking out of its skin; one was favouring its left leg. None of their arms were broken. She felt the impacts on her chest as each of them dove for her organs, tearing at the nigh-impenetrable surface of her suit. She felt each stab and jab keenly, but only for an instant. She'd be feeling it much worse later.

Feeling it later…

She rolled over, scattering the entities, and swung her rifle around again. This time she heard a satisfying crunch as it impacted the arm of one of the unwounded figures. They all vanished in tandem.

For that single moment, she was alone in the empty hallway. As absurd as it felt, as unlikely as it was to work, she threw down the gun, leapt into the air, and kicked with both legs at the same time as she struck out with both fists.

One entity appeared, and grabbed her left leg.

One appeared and grabbed her right leg.

One grabbed her left hand.

One took a solid punch right in the middle of what should have been its face, bellowed with pain and rage, and disappeared. She twisted around, wrenching another one's arm out of its socket — there you are, she grinned — and had an instant to enjoy the small victories before the first two flung her through the nearest wall.

"Clear and secure," Tarrow's voice rang through the ringing in her ears. "Disengage."

Adams laughed, rising from the rubble just in time to have her helmeted head slammed through the glass of the office door. "Might take a while."

She'd be paying for it tomorrow, when the drugs wore off, but she wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to piss off a time traveller.


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It wasn't a very pleasant walk after they left the corpse behind. The thought of Amelia's body, or his body, filling up with shredded cardboard… the thought of not being able to do a thing about it, a pointless and unavoidable death… It was enough to, if not erase, certainly take Phil's mind off the incident with the helicopter for the time being.

Amelia hadn't intended them to dodge into the maintenance tunnels because of their eponymous resident, but the cat was already out of the containment chamber and it was a quicker route. The walk got even less pleasant when they moved out of the wet tunnels and into the dry ones, however. The general trend was downward, via grimy staircases with rusted railings and, occasionally, rusted ladders with questionable rungs. The heat was worse; they were both sweating so much now that their bodies were almost completely free of the detritus they'd collected along the way.

The lights were working here, however, and Amelia confirmed that they were now in the maintenance tunnels.

"Which means we're nearly at th—"

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

The box beast came bursting out behind them, scraping cardboard dust and tape and twine off on the bricks. It was waving both arms over its head, and Phil reacted in two different ways simultaneously: he stepped in front of Amelia, and he raised his own arms up defensively.

The watch was facing away from him, which was lucky. Amelia noticed, and closed her eyes — which were facing Phil — which was luckier. Deprived of an acceptable vantage point, Doug let loose a scream at one hundred and nineteen decibels.

Phil and Amelia sank to the floor. She clutched both ears with her hands; he clutched one ear with one hand, and pressed the other ear to his shoulder. He knew he had to keep the mirror monster between him and the tunnel monster. He hoped his blood wasn't about to turn to cardboard. He could still barely hear the low-pitched roar over the high-pitched squeal.

And then he couldn't hear the roar at all.

And then he realized it had stopped.

And then he turned the watch back around, and Doug's face appeared over the dial. The screech abated.

"I am not a toy," the mirror monster remarked.

"I'm the tunnel monster?" the tunnel monster squealed.


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The world had apparently decided not to end today.

No less than seventeen anomalies had breached containment — the single worst "accident" an active facility had suffered in this neck of the woods for years and years — and yet there had only been a handful of casualties. Most of them would haunt Tarrow's nightmares for weeks to come, of course, because that was the nature of deaths at Site-54.

Haunting her waking hours, on the other hand, was a simple question: what had happened?

"It could've been worse," the security chief remarked from his console. "Much worse." Tarrow hadn't even seen him putting down his headset; he'd spent the last half hour coordinating cleanup teams. "Every object either back in containment or at least accounted for. Your people did a fantastic job."

She smiled at him. "Our people, you mean. That was a real trial by fire. I'm amazed you kept your cool."

He smiled back at her. "Well, I wasn't in any danger. I was causing it, after all." He pressed a button on the console, and a low tone filled the room. The fillings in Tarrow's teeth vibrated as all her staff fainted on the spot, some of them slumping in their chairs, some sliding to the floor, one striking her head on a desk and bleeding into the clean white tiles.

Tarrow's head pounded, but she kept her feet. Memetic conditioning. Directorial privilege. Didn't help me see past the bullshit, though, did it? "I knew… I knew…"

"Don't blame yourself. We're very good at altering perception. You, on the other hand, have been working on altering conceptions. I'll have to take a good long look at that Conceptual Restabilizer, once I collect the second password." He cocked his head to one side, quizzically. "Wonder if the heat or the tunnel monster got to them before my men did. We really were hoping to avoid unnecessary bloodshed."

"Who are you?" Tarrow spat.

The man continued to smile. "Someone who wants to see you succeed. Someone who needs to know that you have what it takes." He patted her on the shoulder as she ground her teeth together. "It was a solid showing, between your people, Alpha-9 and ETTRA. Everything locked up tight, just the way we like it." He stretched, and cracked his knuckles.

"Who's 'we'?" Tarrow growled, jaw clenched.

"That's for me to know, and for you," he said, and then a disembodied hand appeared at waist level, grabbed the grip of his service weapon, wrenched it to the side and fired a slug straight through his left thigh. He fell to the ground, screaming bloody murder, and Tarrow kicked him in the face before slapping the kill switch on the comms console.

Oh, she thought, as her mind finally cleared. That's what all the pictures were for.

The hand flashed her a thumbs up, then disappeared.

Tarrow took a moment to collect herself, then picked up the headset. "Security to ops," she grunted. She worked her jaw open again, changed the channel, and spoke more clearly: "My compliments to Agent Thompson."


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"I'm the tunnel monster." The childlike voice was indignant. "I am."

"Right," said Phil, standing up slowly. "I'm Phil. This is Amelia."

Amelia waved. "I'm Amelia. Hi… tunnel monster."

It waved its boxes at Phil's watch. "This is my tunnel. He can't have it."

Phil glanced down at Doug. "He doesn't want your tunnel. Nobody wants…" He closed his eyes. This was not diplomacy.

The monster didn't seem to pick up on it. "What is he? What did he do?"

Phil raised the watch to his face, and forced himself to consider the devil he knew. "He's… well, he's a mirror monster."

"Why?"

Phil lowered the watch again. "Uh?"

"Why is he a mirror monster? Why did you… what did he do?"

Amelia stepped up beside Phil. "What?"

"Why did you do that to him? What did he do? What did he do to you to make you do that to him? Why?"

Phil blinked. It was hard to wrap his head around how far the narrative had twisted from reality. "I didn't… I didn't do anything to him. He does stuff to me! Every goddamn day."

"Until the end," Doug droned cheerfully.

"What does he do?"

"Well, he…" Phil's eyes rolled back as he considered. "He kinda… holds my negative thoughts? And feelings? About… well, mostly about myself, I guess?" Stating the naked truth felt awkward here, sweating halfway-nude in the dark.

The cardboard creature shuddered with what Phil was horrified to recognize as horror. "That's mean! Why would you do that to him?!"

He felt irrationally ill-used by this line of questioning. "I didn't do that to him! I don't! He takes what I'm worried about, and he beats me up with it! Every day! All day." He was waving his arms, and Doug, in the air now.

"You put all that bad stuff inside him! You made him bad! It's not his fault!"

"It's not ANYBODY's fault!"

"IT'S ALWAYS SOMEBODY'S FAULT!" The tunnel monster turned away and put its fist into the wall. A horrible crumpling sound ensued, and the tunnel monster no longer had a fist. "IT'S ALWAYS SOMEBODY'S FAULT!" It kicked the wall, and nearly fell over as the limb in question collapsed. "It was my fault." It pushed past them and disappeared down the corridor, trailing pieces of white cardboard shaped like bone fragments in its wake.

Without hesitation, together, they followed. "What was your fault?" Phil asked.

It didn't answer. It pressed on, moving into a catwalked space with a cavernous emptiness beneath and above. The catwalk quaked with its passage, though it didn't look like it could possibly weigh very much.

"Nothing," Amelia answered instead. "Nothing was his fault."

The monster stopped. "I did something bad," it whispered. "And I was sorry. But it was too late." It turned back to face them. "What did you do?"

Phil stepped onto the catwalk, and was met with a rush of hot air from below. "I didn't… well." He thought about the helicopter. He tried not to think about the helicopter.

He looked down.

They were standing in a deactivated geothermal vent. They had active ones at 43, so he understood that much. The sports car sitting at the bottom, glowing white-hot, he didn't quite know what to make of.

"Christ," Amelia muttered. She'd followed his eyeline. "The hell is that."

"Pontiac Firebird," Phil replied. "Jim Rockford drove one."

She looked away, blinking rapidly. "You're so old."

He smiled, his eyes watering in the glare from the anomalous car. "I'm guessing this is a skip from 54? Does that mean somebody is breac—"

The catwalk swayed from side to side as the tunnel monster approached. Phil looked up, and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Oh, sh—"

"Don't cry." The tunnel monster punched him in the face. "Don't be afraid." It scraped its shattered fist across his nose. "You're a monster. Monsters don't cry."

"I'm not a monster," he whispered, rubbing his nose.

"Of course you are." Amelia and Doug said it at the same time; the difference was that Amelia pulled him into an embrace, pressed her head into his chest and scratched affectionately at the back of his scalp.

"We all are," she whispered alone.


Rose.png

Niko Derichs wasn't sure where precisely the day had gone wrong.

He had picked up the couple at the hotel, as instructed. He had taken them to the chopper, as instructed. They had flown to the designated dropoff point, and that had gone mostly according to their instructions; Wahner had been a complete and total bitch about everything, as was her custom, and she'd gone apeshit on the woman. He still didn't know what she'd been thinking; if she'd inadvertently injured Deering, she would've gotten an eyeful of… well, an eyeful of what had left Schäfer a gibbering wreck in the storage facility's parking lot.

You left him there.

Well, of course he had. He didn't like abandoning his remaining partner, particularly not after what had happened to the other one, but it wasn't like he had any choice. He had to get that password back.

"Speaking of passwords," he muttered. The door in front of him was absurdly well-secured, and his admittedly limited electrical tampering knowledge hadn't gotten him anywhere with it. He'd checked around the perimeter of the building, finding only a single vehicle entrance which had clearly been welded shut from the outside; that puzzled him greatly, but it didn't really matter.

He didn't know else what was in there, but the only thing he cared about was that there was simply no way for his quarry to have escaped—

There was a loud click from the door.

He plucked his weapon off the service counter, placed one hand on the door handle and threw it open. He couldn't immediately see any cowering janitors, but he knew they had to be there.

He stepped inside.

There had been only one sliding door on the exterior, but there was a pair in here, and a keypad between them. What was behind Door Number Two? Another garage? Not important. Torosyan and Deering couldn't have gotten through. This wasn't an SCP safehouse, it was a random place of business. He tried to remember the name he'd seen on the sign… Something Concepts PLC. SCPLC. He felt like it should mean something. It didn't mean anything.

So, they were still in here. Whether they were hiding in the back of the army transports, or under one of the Gators, he knew now that he would find them. Then he could attend to Schäfer, and then—

And then the door swung shut behind him, a small motor buzzing in the frame. There was another loud click.

"Whatever," he muttered. He had a gun, and he had steel-toed boots. The door was no problem.

He spent the next nineteen minutes pulling up seat cushions, searching compartments, looking beneath undercarriages and alternately cooing, cajoling, and cursing at Torosyan and Deering to come out of their hiding places already. He didn't see how they could've made it through that locked door; he couldn't see any connection between Storage Concepts PLC that was it and the SCP Foundation.

On the stroke of the twentieth minute, just as he decided to try ramming the second door down with a truck, he couldn't see at all. The lights had gone out.

He spent the rest of his life screaming.


Rose.png

Phil and Amelia stood on the catwalk in silence, holding each other, commingling their sweat and tears.

Then she asked: "You can teleport, right?"

Phil looked up at her. "Uh… no?"

The tunnel monster looked down at them both. "Yes?"

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