And You Are?
rating: +83+x

Buried in folds of flesh, pumping through the blood stream of the body that stands in the central corridor of Site-19's basement, somewhere, there's a you. But it's not in charge right now.

The body which is not you sways, shifts its feet to balance.

"The amnestic is kicking in!" it says, "I'm not… It's not me. There's no me."

Who is it saying that to?

At the bottom of the corridor, a growling, bristling Thing turns and begins to pace toward the body. Parts of it unfurl, parts that the body has never seen before - has it always had those? In four years of containment, nobody in the department has seen those, the body is sure of it.

“You’rrrrrre hiding from me” the Thing snarls, as the probosces that have extended from it twitch in your direction. “I could feel youuuu in therrre just a few minutes ago. Where’d you go, darling?”

The body feels sweat prickling on its upper lip, an icy coldness spearing upwards from its stomach. You’re scared.

No no the body is scared the body is scared the body is scared the body is-

The Thing That Kills You's features contort into a wet, indulgent smile.

“There youuuu arrrrrre.”


“Dr Black, there you are!”

You give a brief wave as Doctor Henderson bips you into Site 19’s sub-basement J. You’ve seen Henderson on the Orientation vid last night, but this is his first time meeting you. The familiarity is unearned, but not unexpected - Henderson's handsome, and handsome folk expect people to like them.

“Just Researcher Black, Doctor Henderson. No PhD yet.”

Henderson shrugs with one shoulder, holding the door open for you to step through.

“Call me Lenore, then, and I’ll call you Imani. It’d feel wrong otherwise.”

“Thank you, Lenore,” you say, though in your mind he’s still Henderson, “hopefully you won’t need to come pick me up for many more days. System hasn’t registered my move from Archival yet.”

“Hey, no worries.” Henderson says, beckoning you to follow him, “You still in touch with folks there? How ‘bout the other departments you’ve worked for? I saw Zoology and Interstellar on your file too. Gonna put in a good word for us? Ha!”

Cryptozoology, not zoology.

You try to laugh professionally as you follow him down the corridor. Truthfully, you have no idea how much he’s joking about the good word thing. The department’s reputation couldn’t be much worse.

The Department of Other goes way back, to when the Foundation was founded. There had only been five departments back then, few enough that each one had its own card suit as an icon. Everyone you talk to seems to have their own ideas about what those original five were, but since being informed of your transfer last month, you’ve done your own digging. Seems like the first four were ♦️Tangible, ♣️Temporal, ♠️Geographical, ♥️Religious. That’s what the orientation vid had said too, so either their research was solid or yours wasn’t. The latter seems unlikely to you.

The fifth department, then, was Other. Only one everyone agreed on. The Department of Other’s icon was the Joker - all suits and none. They’d prided themselves on being able to take on anything that didn't fit in the main departments, being the jack of all trades and jewel of the Foundation. That last part’s their words, not yours.

As the Foundation had grown, though, it started needing more departments. Tangible got split into Sentients and Inanimates. Memetics got founded, Geology, Afterlife, whatever. As more and more departments and subdepartments covered every niche, The Department of Other's role had become less and less important.

These days, the Department of Other is an antiquated punchline. The only department that still keeps its own object list, the only one that still employs anomalies, the only department that still bears their card insignia. That Joker stares at you loud and proud on every nametag, including yours now. Some of the stuff they contain is still so esoteric no other department covers it, but for the most part, well…

Every other department you’ve worked, Other is the department you send the stuff you don’t wanna deal with. Don’t wanna use your doctorate to spend ten years of your life researching some sentient pasta that talks in an offensive caricature of an Italian accent? Hell, send it over to Other, they’ll take anything to stay relevant. The O5s don’t seem to care about integrating their list into the mainlist with everyone else. Even their name! Every department you’ve worked before now, nobody called it the Department of Other. Nah, it only had one name to everyone outside:

The Joke Department.

"We're gonna jump you in the deep end today,” Lenore continues, ignoring your brooding, “we’ll have you run TTKU's monthly interview, with myself and Doctor Cargot supervising. You remember the overview from Orientation?”

You cycle back through the major anomalies they went over last night. The bugs, the lavatory spectre, Operative 7… Yeah, you’ve got it.

“TTKU - The Thing That Kills You. It’s a… blunt name.” You deign not to mention the fact the acronym doesn’t even match.

Henderson laughs again. You’re passing by the canteen now, where a pair of researchers are talking in hushed tones in front of a whiteboard filled with diagrams labelled “HOW TO GET ROCK”. The smell of canteen instant coffee hits your nose and it’s vile but god help you, you love it.

“Upstairs you’ve got a thing called the Hard-to-Destroy Reptile. We’ll be fine. Besides, it’s the most accurate description of him we have.”

“Him?”

“That's what he prefers, yes.” Either Henderson doesn’t register the fact you were questioning his break of procedure, or he’s deliberately brushing past it. “‘The Thing That Kills You’ isn’t a title we chose, it’s his fundamental nature. He’s a Thing in the John Carpenter sense. Or the Howard Hawks sense, I suppose. You strike me as more of a book reader.”

“I’m not much for fiction.”

“Well shit, we’ll work on that. Point is - shapeshifter, of a sort. Adapts to perfectly hunt you. Or, whoever he considers “you” to be. We’re still trying to unravel that one. Usually it’s me, yayyy.”

Henderson does little jazz hands and laughs, then directs the pair of you down a narrow corridor. There’s a slight shimmer in the air, but you’re focused on inhaling the last of the coffee smell to sustain yourself til lunch and don’t notice it yet.

"Dr Cargot already has everything set up, so you'll be ready to go once we're there. You know where we're headed?"

"I do not."

"So, TTKU's procedures require that he be housed as far away as possible from "you", but he also requires constant maintainance, and prolonged time alone with him would almost certainly lead to any sort of on-site crew becoming "you", so our solutions were either a rotating staff of folks in some far-off place - hard to maintain staff quality - or to keep him both on-site and far away. Not possible, right?

You shrug. Presumably he's about to reveal that it is.

"The solution was The Shunt. You'll feel a heat shift about halfway down this corridor - that will be where the hallway shifts to be in a superposition of here and very far away. Ah, there it is!"

The heat hits you like a wall, drives the breath out of your chest. Jesus. It's a struggle to keep walking straight without taking a second. Henderson doesn't break pace.

"Ha! Hot, right? You were probably expecting a more subtle shift."

Can you get heatstroke just from changing temperature so fast? Probably not, that would be terrible design. Focus.

“All this was built just for TTKU-J?”

“Originally, yes. We use it to house a lot of the more dangerous items now, though. Having a sealed environment that can be fully spatially decoupled from 19 in case of a breach is very handy."

He cocks his head, assessing you.

"Have you guessed where the other location is yet? It's top-secret, O5 eyes only, mind you. Constructed so that it's literally impossible to enter from the other end, or exit in any manner other than the shunt corridor."

You mull it over. Head's still spinning a little.

"I see… two options. Either it's constructed outside of reality, or, given the heat… I suppose my wild guess is within our sun, so that nothing could enter our exit from the other end without burning to a crisp? Either way, it's a very impressive construct."

Henderson laughs.

"It is, thank you! And your second answer was closer. It's in Melbourne."

When you enter the observation room, Doctor Cargot’s already there, snacking on a cucumber slice. Her mouth’s full, so she’s not able to say hello. Instead, she waggles her eyestalks at you.

Hoo boy.

You already know that Other employs a couple anomalous researchers - the department’s director got in shit for it a couple years back - but Doctor Cargot is a tough one to respect the thinking on. She’s a member of a species of anomalous talking snails who live on-site and wear their own tiny labcoats. And she’s your supervisor.

Thing is, technically, the snails aren’t an SCP, even on the J list. They have their own research division which collaborates with the department in investigating containment procedures for SCP-5417-J. Nobody’s actually told you what 5417-J is yet and for now you figure if you never look into it you’ll never be disappointed in the department for working with snails on it. It’s exactly the sort of shit your old colleagues in cryptozoo would be cackling at you for.

Howdy, big guys! Nice meet you two time, Doctor Imani - today join us for interrogate big angry guy?

They all talk like that.

“Nice seeing you again too, Dr. Cargot. Again, just Imani.” Stay professional. Supervisor. This snail has a doctorate published in internal Foundation journals. You extend a hand for a handshake, think better, offer a fist at the last moment. After a second’s hesitation, Dr. Cargot thwacks her face against your ring finger, leaving a spot of goo. “And yes. Henderson - Lenore - wants me to see what I can get out of the object. I assume to some degree this is an evaluation of my capabilities?”

Lenore smiles broadly, and Tess wiggles her lower mouth parts.

“Perhaps.” says Henderson, “ You’re an experienced agent in other departments. I’m interested to see your perspective!”

You wipe a patch of snail goo from your finger. Somehow you doubt they want to hear your perspective currently.

What are your thinks? You see why Henderson want to talk?

You mull it over, glance at TTKU and then down at the files spread in front of you. Pictures of the cell, reports of activity, its -J file. Just looks like some white dude, bone skinny though you know it’s fed well. You look again. It turns and leers your way as you gaze, like it can see you. Hell, maybe it can, you've barely been told anything here. You steel yourself, back straight. Can’t show weakness, if the thing’s watching.

“Yeahhh,” you say, drawing it out as you assess the thing’s posture, “Yeah. Seems calmer than I’ve heard. Reports here say two months ago a plant pot was put in its cell and it spent a week threatening the thing before you realised it’d been trying to torture it by not watering it. Yet it’s sitting there, cuffed, clearly knows there’s folks on the other side of the window… nothing.”

Tess’ mouth flaps wiggle again. A smile?

“Started Monday night.” says Lenore, “At least we reckon it did. Usually he rips his sheets to shreds over the course of a couple days, we replace them Wednesdays. He’s been sleeping like a baby since Monday night though, no howling, bedsheets fully intact right now. They’re soiled as usual though, so we’ve taken them out for cleaning during the interview. For all he’s being nice, he still cannot use a toilet.”

“Hm. Any changes in the cell conditions at all? Heating, layout?

Nope, all samesies!

You chew on the inside of your cheek. You thought they’d be wanting to prove themselves to you today, not the other way around. Tess apparently notices your hesitation.

No worry, Doctor B! What worst can happen?


The body is gulping in staccato breaths, its lungs burning. It hears the creature still pacing, patrolling, but it seems like it’s lost it. The body adjusts the strap on its chest and leans against the wall, giving its breath time to form a more gentle rhythm. Once it’s slowed sufficiently, it’s able to hear a tinny muffled shrieking behind it..

There’s a storage closet door just to the body’s right, and it reaches without moving position on the wall, opens the handle slowly, fingers slipping on small patches of blood that coat it.

It takes the body a second to locate the source of the shriek as it steps into the storage closet. Looks like this is some kind of backup pantry? The Shunt doesn’t have anything but cells and interrogation rooms, but not all of the cells are in use - maybe they just converted this? The eyes scan the room, and locate a body in the corner, slumped against an empty rack and covered in various spices. Must have knocked them over as they collapsed.

As the body steps closer to the corpse, the source of the shrieking becomes more clear - a snail, perched atop the corpse’s head, crying out as it inches away from a pouring pillar of salt.

“Tess!” the body cries, moving to scoop her out of the way. Tess, alright, file that away.

Deebie!” she peeps, “thank for help me! Are hero!

The body plops her onto its shoulder, where she nestles close to the base of its neck. It squats next to the corpse and

Henderson are not finito." says Tess, "Big guy just head bonk, sleepy."

"He's just asleep??"

"Concussion think maybe."

Right. This is the Thing That Kills You, not the Thing That Kills Henderson. The body carefully inspects Henderson's head. No blood in the man's locs, but there could be internal bleeding. He needs to be inspected by someone with medical training. Which means you need to end this soon.

The creature shrieks in the distance.

The body the body the body the body

"Time to go, Tess," the body says, swiftly turning from Henderson. "We need to figure out how to deal with this thing before there's a me again."

"Oh! Oh! Deebie, best thing! I have plan!"

"You know how to stop this? Save Henderson, everyone?"

"Yes!!" she beams, "Nothing will save us, Deebie! Nothing!"


You tap your notes into a neat rectangle on the desk.

“So, TTKU-J. Nice to meet you. My name is Imani Black - is there a name you’d prefer me to use to refer to you?”

TTKU-J is even scrawnier in person than he'd seemed from the observation room. Not even wiry enough to be concealing hidden strength. Uneven gingery stubble does nothing for his pockmarked papery complexion. Nice teeth, though. Bonus of being a shapeshifter, you can just make new ones.

“Yeah,” says TTKU-J, "I got a name you can call me."

“Alright, great - what is it?”

“Your murderer.”

He grins wide, pearly white teeth glinting like a toothpaste ad. You sigh. Stay on track.

“For obvious reasons, I won’t be using that. Do you have a proper name I can call you? My colleagues mentioned the name Tuck?”

TTKU-J's nose wrinkles. Sore point?

“That's just shorthand for my designation, doctor. You can call me Aaaah No, Please Don’t Kill Me, I Have So Much Left To Live For, Ow You Stabbed Me Ow I’m Dying.”

Right. Move on from this.

“Tuck it is. Tuck, I’m surprised you’re threatening me.”

Tuck's tone couldn't be more condescending. His sneer splits just a hair too wide.

“Clearly you haven’t read my file then, Doctor. You aren’t aware that I’m going to murder you, that I am capable of murdering you in many ways both anomalous and nonanomalous.”

Not your first time being mansplained to by an anomaly.

“Yes, that’s the thing: I’ve looked into your records quite thoroughly-” That’s a damn lie, you didn’t have time for much more than a skim through, “- and I’ve noticed you’ve seemed off recently. You haven’t been threatening any of the handlers you’ve talked to for over a week, nor have you attempted to kill anything within your cell. That seems like a pretty vast change, in comparison to the logs I’ve read of your behaviour.”

“What’s wrong with being nice?” He tries a wide shrug in his arm restraints, splaying his hands out like a star-nosed mole.

“Nothing. We encourage it. We’re just confused - we were hoping you could let us know what’s changed. If possible, we’d be happy to discuss changes if you can continue to keep up that good behaviour. If nothing else, I’m sure we’d love to stop replacing your bedsheets when you rip them open every other week.”

“Killing them brutally!”

“Sure. Is that why you soil them as well, or are you just not potty trained?”

“…”

“Well, alright, we’ll start with this. Why are you telling me that you’ll murder me? You haven’t told anyone else today that you’ll murder them. Not even Henderson, who you’ve threatened every time you’ve spoken for, what, twelve years?”

“They’re not you.”

“I see. Ok - let’s pose a hypothetical. If Henderson and I were standing together with you in this room, and I handed you a knife - would Henderson die?”

“Perhaps! But first I would kill you! Or… perhaps I would kill you second, to really savor it. Oh, I know! First, I would kill you, then second I would kill you.”

“So my death would be guaranteed?”

“Your death is guaranteed regardless, at my hands.”

“Is that a yes?”

“… Yes.”

“Because I’m me?”

“No. Because you’re you.”

This is a slapstick routine. You've joined in on peanut galleries making fun of the idiot interviewers talking in circles in leaked -J articles you've read, and now you're doing it yourself. Heat must be getting to you. You imagine yourself still here in three hours doing trolley problems with this clown. No.

You take a moment, open the file again, scan for anything you might have missed. Tuck tries to peer over the top of the file and you give him stink-eye. He shrugs and settles back in his chair.

No changes whatsoever in the cell setup, shift changes, operational staff. Closest new neighbour is in cell seven two corridors down, and that was a month ago, not close enough to when this started. You look at images of the demolished mattresses previously, the intact one now.

Across from you, Tuck chews on something. You realise he's popped out one of his baby teeth and is chewing on it like a popcorn kernel, rolling it around on his tongue.

Focus.

Two months ago, in the shredded bedsheets picture, Tuck was bulkier than it is now. Not bulky bulky, but not the stick you see in front of you. Is it… sick? Too weak to shred the mattress? No, it's still regenerating fine - it's still making new teeth, it would be able to control its bulk. You look again at the picture of the intact mattress, taken from the sanitation room across the hall. The amount of soiling in that. It's a deep staining all through the mattress, not localised like you might expect it to be at points of staining. Is it-? You squint at the bottom right corner of the image. Red threads are hanging out of the mattress, trailing outside of the frame.

"Henderson. Decouple us from 19."

Henderson doesn't miss a beat, slams a button on the console in front of him before asking questions. You respect that. You feel a snap as what you didn't realise was two versions of you collapse into one. Stuck in Melbourne, ok. You suspect it's going to get worse.

"Imani, what's going on?" Henderson asks.

You don't answer, distracted. Carefully scanning the floor. Across from you, Tuck is still smiling away, a trickle of blood running from his mouth as he continues to crunch on tooth.

"Something wrong, doctor?" he asks.

"Agent," you mutter, "not doctor."

You locate it, the dark red thread slipping out of Tuck's pant leg and twining around his ankle chains for camouflage. It slips under the tiles… there.

You stand, jump, and stomp down hard with both feet on the tile by the crack. The flesh thread severs and Tuck shrieks. He stands to lunge at you and his paper-thin skin rips at the elbow, revealing a hollow arm held in shape by a lattice of the thin red threads. Tuck begins unravelling instantly, his nose crumpling into its face and mouth falling open slack-jawed, individual teeth scattering to the floor.

"Shapeshifter umbilical!" you shout to the observation room, "The mattress soiling was intentional - it's not shit, it's biomass!"

Tuck's shriek dies as its throat collapses inward. Its head folds down and inverts into the hole. The call is picked up across the corridor, beyond the wall.

"It's had a link this whole time, feeding the rest of its biomass into it while we talked to a shell. TTKU isn't Tuck - it's the mattress. Containment has been breached for about an hour."

On cue, the true TTKU-J slams through the wall of the interrogation room, cackling like a hyena.


The body grits its teeth as the door to the storage closet creaks open, its hand guiding it to open as slowly and smoothly as it can. Its ears prick up, listening beyond the creak for the Thing. There’s nothing but the buzz and click of fluorescent lighting.

Gotta get zoomin, Deebie,” Tess’s voice pipes from the body’s shoulder, “we got a plan!

Which is to say Tess has a plan. The body didn’t think of any of it - is the body even capable of thinking, without you driving it?

There’s a distant roar. The body lets out an exasperated sigh and begins running. It takes a second to realise that this time, it’s running toward the Thing instead of away.

Oh fuck no no no no turn back turn back

The body’s vision swims, and it slaps a hand to its right eye as a migraine spike rams through it, leaving a dull rawness in its wake. The body doesn’t stop running, though, barely sways.

“There’s a plan,” it says, "trust Tess, stick to the plan."


The Thing is amorphous, too many wet red arms and legs splaying out of the mangled mattress it's hatched from. You grab the crumpling skin that was Tuck and chuck it to the other side of the room. The thing bolts for it haphazardly. As it skids into the back corner of the room, you dash past it out the hole it's created and into the corridors beyond. The things lets you, distracted as it reintegrates with its skin.

You don't need to tell yourself to focus this time. You're laser-clear: get to the emergency hub. There's gotta be one around here - there, filing cabinet at the bottom of the corridor. Henderson runs by you in the other direction, shouting something about a storage closet, but there's no time. Emergency hub will have breach plans for any contained anomaly. Hoo, you're out of breath. Analytics has you less fit than you used to be, gotta work on that if you get out of here.

Klaxons begin howling, and a voice announces CONTAINMENT BREACH, SCP-TTKU-J. CELL 7 UNLOCKED.

Now why the fuck would they unlock a cell?

The beast roars again as you reach the hub. Compartmentalise that thought, you'll figure it out later. You yank open the top drawer but no, these guys put the alphabet after numbers instead of before this is why every other fucking department works off numbers this place is ridiculous.

You pull open the bottom drawer with the tip of your foot and identify TTKU's file as it slides open, grab it and go running down a corridor away from the creature's eyeline. Work fast but clean, come on.

Open up the file as you run, see pages of complex explanation. No time, you can hear the creature charging down the hallway now. There's always an abridged version at the back - you flip through the pages and there, the words AMNESTIC TO FORGET THAT YOU'RE YOU with a big red arrow pointing to a packet of blue tablets that have been glued down onto the page.

Right. Sure. Fine.

You pop the pills out of the case. How many is needed? Normal dose is two but this could be one or three or the whole packet they need to design this document better but you've got seconds so you pop out two and swing them toward your mouth.

A gloved hand catches your arm, stopping you.


TTKU rounds the bottom of the hall and sees the body coming full pelt toward it. It barks and starts running to meet you the body, tongue dragging on the floor as it skitters against the tile.

You're going to die you're going to die you're-

"Shut UP!" the body yells at you. "The memories are coming in because of you."

No, this isn't right. If you're going to fight it you need to be there. You push, claw your way back into the mind. You need to be in control.

You're halfways in, wiggle the fingers, cause the body to stumble and halt. Let me in

"Fine." says the body, "Have it your way, you narcissist."

You break all the way in.


The hand belongs to a white boy, about your age, early twenties.

"Don't take those," he says, piercing blue eyes catching you off guard, "He's not after you, he's after me."

Who the fuck is this guy?

"Why do you think he's after you?" you ask, prioritising the important question. The creature roars, seconds from turning the corner.

His smile is like a sunbeam. You realise who he is. No, no, this guy's a joke this is stupid.

"Don't worry," he says, "I'm the protagonist."

You hand him the amnestics.


The body reaches behind its shoulder and grasps the hilt of a sword. Ohhhh, there you are. You settle in it, pool, then explode back into the mind that’s been resisting you for so long.

The creature screeches, turns, barrels toward you. Doesn’t matter - you know who you are now, WHAT you are. The body - your body! - follows easy, practised movements, drawing the sword in front of you. You settle into a ready stance and yell..

I!

It’s seconds from you now, 15 metres. This close you can see its skin rippling, boiling with hatred. Oh, you’re built for this. You run to meet it.

AM!

Five metres. The Thing leaps, all claws and teeth and viciousness and oh this is it this is your jam this is

DARKBLADE!

And I'm TESS!!!

You collide with the Thing.


"The amnestic is kicking in!" Darkblade shouts, "I'm not… It's not me. There's no me."

Down the corridor, the Thing growls something incomprehensible. It almost sounds like a purr. Darkblade’s eyes focus, then widen. He pelts away as the creature screeches and begins to run.

Imani Black flattens against the wall as the creature comes closer, closer - then flies right past her in pursuit of Darkblade. As it turns the corner and the sound fades away, she allows herself to slide down the wall. She exhales, inhales, exhales, lets herself process the day.

She wants to laugh about it, but she can't. Not til it's over.


To anyone else, the Thing’s movements seem chaotic - the lolling tongue, rolling eyes - but you see calculation in them. One claw above the head, one below, forcing you-

You leap between the thing’s claws, into its mouth, and jam your katana straight up into its palate. It thunks to a stop, wedged into the bone below the Thing’s eye socket. Blood gushes down over you and you struggle to hold tight to the hilt as your legs slam into the things writhing tongue, slick with drool.

There’s a crunch as the Thing’s top canines smash through your right clavicle. Pain doesn’t register yet. The Thing is trying to slam its mouth shut, crush your chest, but your katana is wedging its mouth open. If you survive this, you’ll pretend that was intentional.

No pure water, but drool surrounds you. You can work with that. Behind your back you scrabble your fingers underneath its tongue and concentrate, push past the pain that’s finally rigging in. Just need to focus on extracting the water and ahhhhh, vision swimming. God, its breath stinks.

You’re pulling a thimbleful, two thimblefuls, when you see the katana bending, straining. Maybe a second before it snaps. The thing is sharp as hell but just as brittle. Nothing like enough water collected in your fist to bubble-shield yourself yet. Tess, maybe. If you save her, will that be enough?

No, Tess can't fight this thing alone. So don't defend, aggress.

You gather your fistful of water and slap it against the flat of the blade. As you hear it shattering you direct the water up along the blade, to the tip, and beyond through the hole it carved in the bone, floating now around jelly just aqueous enough you can take control of it for a second and

The Thing’s eye explodes. It screeches, mouth agape and you push yourself out of the mouth, roll on your good shoulder away from the thing, back to your feet.

No time to register the pain, the fact you can’t use your right arm. You run past it, dodging a swipe from what could be a tail or a tentacle, towards the enclosures it came from.

“Where now, Tess? Quickly!”

No map, Deebie!” Tess yells over the creature’s roars. She’s migrated to your neck to avoid the blood pumping from your shoulder. You hear the creature turn and begin dashing after you again.

“Anything is good, Tess!”

Um um three corridor! Egg cell, right, then no-place cell!

You’ve just passed corridor four. Three next - hey, a break. You hang a left, sprint down the corridor to the T junction where SCP-Big egg-J’s cell faces you, Big egg itself Bigging out at the source of the commotion with eggiosity.

You clamp down on the brain processes trying to correct what you’ve just thought. No time for it. The thing’s screech puts it seconds behind you now. You angle your run to put yourself in a perfect position to jump and run along the left wall for half a second before pushing off hard into a sharp turn to the right corridor of the junction.

The next cell along is… open already? You're moving too fast to see the designation plate as you dash in.

There’s nothing. The cell Tess has lead you to is empty.

“Tess? Wrong cell?”

Outside, you hear the Thing try to round the corner, its momentum carrying it through Big egg’s reinforced glass with a CRASH.

This no-place, Deebie! Nothing here!

You can see that.

“I can see that.”

Nothing, can save us, Deebie! Nothing!

There’s a growl from behind you. The Thing stands in the doorway, glistening with blood and eyeball juice and egg yolk. Ugh. Doesn’t bode well for how you’ll end up, if you’re anything like your neighbour.

Of course, what Big egg is lacking is flair.

“Creature!” You shout, pulling another katana to yourself from an adjacent dimension as it paces toward you. “We meet again, in the depths of Tartarus prison. You are T.T. KAIJU, the last of the great race of Ripper-Killers, those who destroyed my village. I have slain every one of your brethren, and I shall be the one to slay you!”

The creature is a foot from you, its a guttural vocalisation underlying its growl. You try to believe your words. If you believe hard enough, they’re true.

KLLLL YHUUUUU

Close enough. You raise your blade with your left hand, ignoring how your useless right arm flops behind you.

“What say you, beast? Shall we do final battle?”

NNNNOOO. I. WLLLL. BUTCHRRRR.

That’s the spirit.

You swing your sword and the creature snaps. Your arm is gone from the elbow down.

The Thing smiles wide as it crunches down on the limb, your hand mangling in its molars in a heartbeat.

PTHHETKKK

You stumble backwards, pull water from your own spit and tears, form it into a toothpick-sized spear that you launch at the thing’s brainstem. One of the tendrils encircling its face slap it out of the air casually. The thing doesn’t break pace, slowly padding toward you.

Your back hits the corner of the room. You pull another sword into your right hand, try to swing your body so the sword hits the creature. It doesn’t even try to stop you, the flat of the sword clattering uselessly against its side and falling to the floor. The thing finally stops, its face an inch from yours, and places a paw on your chest. Pressure becomes pain becomes crunch as it slowly, luxuriously crushes you.

Tess is right below your ear now yelling NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING and all you can think about is you’re not going to see Ashur again not going to kiss his face not going to fight back to back against the horde this is it this is death

With dry eyes, you look up, and you see it.

Nothing.

Your breath leaving you has nothing to do with your broken ribs, punctured lungs. There’s nothing hanging from the ceiling. Nothing dripping down the walls. How did you not see it before there’s NOTHING gazing into you, curious eyes watching you die there’s NOTHING slowly settling around TTKU as it takes in your wet gasps. There’s nothing there’s nothing you’re nothing there’s nobody home. You smile. Someone else’s turn to be protagonist.


You’re Lenore Henderson and your day’s been going terribly but even with fading consciousness you trust that Tess has a plan. You just need to keep yourself awake for a little while longer.


You’re Imani Black, tears drying on your face as you limp to the entrance of the Shunt. You’ll need to be able to give a status report ASAP when the corridor is re-integrated with Site-19.


You're Big egg and oh god christ your egg is all over, you're scrambled, you can see the Big egg in the sky calling out to you ohhh


You’re Tess Cargot and deebie finally looking UP yes yes deebie getting it NOTHING WILL SAVE US and you yell victory victory victory


You’re The Thing That Kills You and you’re in no rush, letting time’s bitterness squeeze the life from the eyes of your victim.

That’s.

That’s not right.

Where are You?

You hunt for You, ganglia splaying from your scalp. You are in this room, but You are not the creature below you. You’re in some kind of blind spot from your ganglia, which means-

You must be inside you.

You lift your paw from the thing’s eyes. It can die or live, you don’t care. You wrap a ganglia around the thing’s dropped sword, level it to point at the source where you’re detecting You.

Kill you. Only thing that matters.

You jam the sword through your ear, straight into your brain.

Kill you.

The pain is searing. You twist the blade and your knees buckle.

KILL YOU.

You vomit and collapse fully, smiling. Kill you kill you kill you kill


Wearing a shock blanket feels undignified. This is your fourth first day in a new department, you should have this down pat by now. You'd dressed nice, got your hair done. You wanted to be Imani Black, consummate professional. All anyone in the canteen sees now is a woman who's been through some shit.

You got your coffee, though. Bad coffee is your worst vice, but you figure you can indulge, considering. Medics have already checked you for concussion and internal bleeding - worst you've got is a sprained ankle.

Two stretchers are wheeled out of the shunt corridor, and you limp over to meet the men who weren't as lucky as you.

Lenore's looking bad but, god, Darkblade's looking like a bug that was stepped on.

"Hey hey Imani," peeps Tess, perched on his cheekbone. "Give lift, big guy?"

You scoop her up into the palm of your hand. Below you, Darkblade sputters, turns to face you. His voice is hoarse but even with rivulets of blood running out of his mouth, he's still got a gorgeous smile.

"So that was pretty wild, huh?"

You nod. In your hand, Tess nods too.

"Trauma like that can help people bond, though - how about once my ribcage is intact again we grab coffee together?"

"I don't think that's-"

"Imani!" Tess interrupts, "Deebie talking to Tess."

You suppress a laugh. Surely not. But Darkblade nods, eyes screwing up with the pain.

"Thanks no thanks, Deebie. Tess a lesbian. Besides," she preens, "Tess out your league."

Darkblade chuckles, coughs up a little blood, and is wheeled away.

This fucking department. You sit on the floor and laugh and laugh and laugh until you're outta breath, til your lungs hurt and your eyes sting.

Tess laughs with you the whole time.

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