N.B.: This tale is a direct sequel to Oxidation. It is highly recommended that you read it and the SCP articles associated with it before continuing.
"SCP-1917 is one of the most difficult passive or 'friendly' sentient objects we have in containment to work with. It is polite, obliging of most requests, and has, on multiple occasions, taken action to ensure the safety of Foundation personnel during containment breaches or security threats. That being said, its difficulties are twofold: first, we have no real conception of its maximum capabilities, and second, it is incredibly difficult to communicate properly with. SCP-1917 is so committed to its self-image as a reclusive artist that any kind direct, non-allegorical communications from it are the exception, not the rule."
- Site-93 Head of Security Ariel Cadena, SCP-1917 Containment and Cooperation Briefing
Doug Vulpura sipped his morning tea and grimaced at the elegantly-designed armoured vehicle before him. It had a low, streamlined hull, brassy armour plating almost totally smooth except for the tiny divots of individually-polished countersunk rivets. The superstructure was a jarring contrast, metal sculpted into crude chunks that took the form of an androgynous human figure kneeling under the weight of a heavy disc or flywheel. From a rounded casemate on the hull protruded a long-barrelled fifty-millimetre cannon with a single line of neatly printed white text running the length of the barrel.
Why have you been keeping me here, of all places?
The Armour Maker hovered in the background- like, he supposed, an expectant mother. Or perhaps an artist awaiting a review. Two of its autocannons were trained on him, a gesture he'd learned to associate not with hostility but with a certain level of interest or curiosity. 1917 didn't have much by way of body language, but what little it did have spoke volumes.
"This could be a problem.", he said, taking another sip. The 'could' was there for sarcasm. He knew it was a problem. One that should have been easy to prevent.
From her position in the jeep behind him, Reseacher Shauna Moreau made a wordless noise of agreement.
"Still," she replied, "it's not like 1917's reacting aggressively or anything like that. I- I guess this gives us, um, an opportunity to learn more about where both these objects came from? Something like that? We could at least get some kind of leverage."
Vulpura turned to her, and seeing his expression she made a conciliatory gesture, sliding back in her seat.
"I'm not suggesting we cross-test them or anything like that, Doug. Just that this is the most aggressive communication we've received from 1917 since, well, y'know… the whole coghead thing. And I think we should take advantage of that. It's not against regulations for a sentient object to become aware of another, after all."
Casting one last glance at the elegant tank and the lumbering machine that had designed it, Vulpura drained the last of his tea and seated himself in the passenger seat of the jeep, sighing.
"It's a fair point, Shauna, but given what happened to the Flea, I'm worried that there's something larger going on here."
She started the vehicle as 1917 rumbled closer, apparently unwilling to see them go.
"So what's the plan. Should we talk to Cadena? She's always gotten along well with it."
Vulpura grimaced again. It was too early in the morning for this, and he still had a lingering ringing in his ears from 2117's disappearance. It didn't help that the Jeep's engine was making an awful low rumbling noise.
"I don't know yet. But we need to tell it something. And get the motor pool to take a look at this truck, would you? It sounds like-"
Moreau wasn't paying attention to the jeep. She was staring wide-eyed at 1917, fascinated by the machine. Vulpura's gaze followed hers as the rumble grew louder. The empty travel mug slipped from his fingers, but he didn't notice.
"An intelligent war machine is an asset in any military scenario. That much has become clear from the successes of the previous administration's design policies. Where they failed was in the nature of that intelligence. Merely allowing a combat-oriented machine to develop unguided risks the danger of minds designed for war moving in hitherto unexpected directions. Machine propaganda is necessarily as vital as propaganda for our organic soldiery."
- Genérale Jean W[Z0/~V0] Bérenger, Méssages pour le commandant moderne
She needed to get away from the Extrusion at all costs. That was obvious. Anywhere the barriers between worlds were weakest, the Imperium could come after her. It was only a matter of time. It didn't matter that the Extrusion wasn't a proper dimensional gate, or one of the Ways. They would brute-force their way through, if necessary. The only solution was to leave; the time for doubt or hand-wringing was past.
She reached down into her core and stretched muscles she hadn't used since the machine cultists had attacked, taking a deep gulp of air. In her gut, atomic forges stripped elements down to their component parts, reassembling them into all the raw materials she could ever need. She made a motion which, had a human attempted it, would have been something like pulling one's brain and spinal chord out through the back of their own neck. Not that she had a brain or anything resembling a neck or spine, but the concept was roughly similar. Her engines purred, then rumbled, then screamed as she connected turbochargers directly to their air intakes, the metal still glowing red-hot from her foundries.
It was, she had to admit, a masterful design plan she'd made for herself. All streamlined and pared-down, a narrow, air-intake-coated dart hung between Christie suspension blocks thick as tree trunks and cleated tracks whose ground pressure was so reduced she would practically kiss the earth as she moved. There wasn't any need for weaponry; all that extra weight would just slow her down. She would be an elegant work of Futurism that would have made Boccioni weep tears of joy.
With one single, smooth motion, she turned her manufactory facility inside out, ripping through the heavy shell of her old body like so much tissue paper. Before her brand-new tracks hit the ground, she had already re-purposed much of her husk, hydro-pneumatic pistons hissing as wide-rimmed road wheels clattered into place. With a grunt, she spat out a pair of massive turboshafts, snapping them into her fuel lines and feeling their gearboxes mesh with her new powertrain. For a single brief moment, her whole being shook as power torqued through her. Then she slammed herself into gear.
In a single explosive leap she went from zero to two hundred in three seconds, accelerating so quickly the dusty ground beneath her melted into glass. She hit the perimeter fence so rapidly that she was still assembling her bow hull plate when it made contact, the brief crackle of the metal curtain's failing electrical circuit brushed aside like chaff. Then came the anti-tank barriers, three-meter spikes of concrete that would have stopped her old body dead in its tracks. Her new body had no such problems. She'd never been a fan of flight, when compared to some of the other Landship Manufactories, but she knew enough to throw together a few dozen simple pulse-jet engines.
She cleared the anti-tank barriers on a pillar of fire, taking the brief airtime to clear the pulverized gravel and bits of fence out of her suspension, before landing with an earth-shaking brap of combusting fuel. She discarded the pulse jets, then shifted into high gear and began to accelerate.
For the first time ever, the deserts of Australia shook under the brunt of an Imperium Australis Incognita Mark XIV Mobile Landship Manufactory moving at combat speeds. By the time the alarm had sounded at Site-93, she was already on a beeline for the nearest coastline. She was no swimmer, but she'd heard the local beaches were nice this time of year.
"On a large enough scale, what we perceive to be the barriers or lines of demarcation between different potential existences become irrelevant. With sufficient energy, mass, time, or any combination thereof, bleed-over is not merely a statistical likelihood, but an inevitability. Such is the tragedy of the Extrusion; not that it was created, but that it was writ so large."
- Reverend Synocrat Xun !aode, Discourses to the Forum of Agreed Thought
As he walked through another silent, shuttered factory town, Zao reflected, not for the first time, that this holiday wasn't what he'd been expecting. All the datalink sites had said "Expect to be shadowed by Imperium security personnel", but this was something else. They weren't even being subtle about it, because nothing was less subtle than a largeish gunmetal gray helicopter idling on the horizon wherever he went, or deserted towns with their doors locked, or armoured vehicles driving down sidestreets as he passed, or any one of a thousand other uniquely police-state-ish inconveniences.
Thankfully, he was close to the Extrusion. He could feel it on the air here. There was a crackling potentiality in the air here, a faint tingling in his skin. Also, several clearly-labelled signs leading him to the "Extrusion Tragedy Memorial" a ways outside of town. It was always strange to leave the built-up areas and head out into the countryside that reminded him so much of the War. The vast rusty outback of the Imperium, the endless miles of scrubby lowlands, baking even under a sun tempered by the dim grids of high-altitude solar stations. This was the terrain his entire species had been designed to fight in, and it took every fibre of his being to resist leaping skywards on flaming legs every time he got out into open country.
Leaving the deserted city behind, he continued down the well-maintained road that had been his constant companion, and abruptly the Extrusion lay before him. Amidst the dry red of the land, it stood out like a fecund boil, a massive eruption of lush vegetation in a million hues under a painfully brilliant blue sky. The old Imperium's monarchy had ordered this place built for terraforming research. They'd wanted to make the outback bloom. And they had, at the cost of making the place totally inimical to most forms of animal life.
The perimeter fence was totally unguarded; more of a courtesy than anything. He leapt it in a single bound, settling gently into thick foliage. The potentiality in the air was thicker here, accompanied now by the pleasant if somewhat heavy smell of growth. Concentrating, he sunk down to roughly human-size, letting the shade of the alien trees enfold him.
Strolling slowly through the Extrusion, he felt himself relax despite the lingering awareness that this was a place where things didn't properly exist. Something about the unrestricted verdancy reminded him of the garden-cities of the Synocracy. He ducked under a tree limb, feet sizzling slightly as he squeezed between two closely-placed palms, then froze at the subtle sounds of movement above him. The Extrusion should have been empty. Nothing but plant life could exist here, and the mechanical beings of the Imperium avoided it like the plague. Unless there was another Oxidist here- but he would have known that, would have smelled the thermite on the wind, felt the heat signature of a fellow Synocratic war machine in his bones.
Slowly, a wave of heat crept over him as he stood there, listening to the ever-increasing volume of the descending… thing. He opened a fresh pair of eyes atop his head, seeing nothing. No obvious heat. No movement beyond the shifting of the foliage. His skin began to crackle as his forelegs elongated into the dull hammerlike striking heads that he knew could combust their way through a meter of steel plate.
He reacted without thinking, skin bursting outwards as a ravening cloud of powdered metal oxides consumed the clearing. The fallen tree branch- his movement must have dislodged it- vaporized before it could hit the ground. He let out a juddering sigh, calming the fire before it could spread further. The sky was wrong. The Imperium wouldn't be pleased about this, that was for sure. Oh, it would grow back instantly, he was certain, but they'd still make a fuss about damaging a national monument because the sky was wrong. Likely he'd be grilled in customs and made to sign a letter of apology but the sky was WRONG.
He looked up and blinked. Above him were gray-brown clouds of dust. There hadn't been a cloud in the sky around when he'd entered the Extrusion fifteen minutes ago. Looking back the way he'd come, he discovered to his consternation that the path was missing, as was the burnt circle he'd made in the vegetation.
Confusion growing, he extended a pair of curved antennae and searched the local airwaves, finding the familiar chatter of the encrypted Site-93 local communications grid. He relaxed once more, wiping ash from his brow. Everything was fine, then. He'd just somehow crossed into the Foundation's iteration of the Extrusion. He could shift back.
He concentrated, feeling for the narrow ways between realities that the Oxidists could squeeze their powdery bodies through, and found none. Frowning, he took several large steps forwards and tried again. Nothing. This had never happened before. Form brightening, he tried to expand fourth-dimensionally, but met only the disappointingly rigid barriers of three-dimensional space.
He was stuck. In the Foundationverse of all places. Before panic could hit him, he heard a familiar sound in the distance: a low, rumbling drone, followed by an explosive screech and the distant, receding drone of tracked suspension. Somewhere nearby, an Imperium war machine had just gone combat-ready.
With dread certainty, he understood. They'd wanted him to see this. The customs officers had brought him here as a witness- to their invasion of this reality.