"Iago, where are my other tea spoons?"
Madame Lucia sat where she always did, gazing out her window at the impossible plain. The colors shifted. Landmarks changed as the land beneath them bubbled and bulged gently. Any sign of structure tore itself apart quickly, under a pale circle of light that moved across the sky with disturbing fluidity. Just a few steps from the door of the castle, the world became… undefined. This was raw firmament, the essence of chaos, that would remain so until something observed its patterns with an intent to change them, at which point it would collapse into logic, never capturing that same uncertainty again.
Madame Lucia quite enjoyed the view. It soothed her stomach.
Why had she thought of her stomach?
Oh, yes. It was bothering her.
She glanced at the tea cup in her hand. It was jasmine. It had been jasmine for the past several decades. She hadn't eaten yet today, so it must be the jasmine. She glared at the tea spoon which had been the source of the offending beverage. There were more of them. There should have been more of them. Her stomach was bothering her. She would ask Iago where the spoons were. Even such a mild cramp was quite intolerable for a woman of Madame's standards. She would find Iago.
With that decision made, Madame Lucia poured out her cup of tea and poured a new cup of hot water from the tumbler by her side. She then reached for the spoon which would transmute it into jasmine tea. Iago would be by soon to deliver her rat souffle. She would find him then. There was no need to lose her patience. Her stomach was bothering her.
It really was a nice view.
Iago dutifully collected the plumpest rats from the small pile surrounding the impressive mound of cheese. A few of them still had earrings on what remained of their heads, which he carefully removed.
The plan had worked perfectly. A small parcel of cheese had been sent off to the world in full view of Madame, while the rest was transported in secret to the coldest, plainest room in the castle (Iago's bedroom), where the rats could gorge themselves silly before being slapped into oblivion and introduced to the cheese again as an ingredient.
Iago skinned and deboned the rats with the utmost care, throwing out anything but the choicest cuts of meat. He then mixed the souffle, being sure to place all of the rat meat at the bottom in one corner of the enormous dish. Madame did not enjoy the taste of rat.
A few hours later, Iago pushed open the door to Madame's sitting room, staggering under the weight of the ramekin. He waited for Madame to speak.
His heart was gripped with terror instantly. He recognized the tone that Madame used when peturbed. What had he done? Was the souffle late? Had she discovered where he was keeping the cheese?
She was waiting for him to speak. She was being gracious enough to allow him to respond and he wasn't saying anything! He was keeping her waiting!
He managed to say, "Yes, Madame?"
"Iago, where are my other tea spoons?"
He swallowed. "Madame, please, you will, if you would be so kind as to desire to do so, remember the minor altercation forty-seven years ago with that small group of ruffians that found some sort of Way inside the castle?"
"Yes, of course I do. I told you to take care of it. Do you now presume to tell me that you did not, in fact, take care of it? Are those ruffians galivanting about as we speak?" The word speak rose ever so slightly in pitch compared to the rest of them, indicating Madame's sudden indignant horror.
Iago did not hesitate. "No, of course not, dear Madame. I ejected them quickly. However, I am afraid that they managed to… to abscond with several of your tea spoons."
"I see. And, pray," she went on in a voice like honey laced with cyanide, "you thought it prudent to keep this from me until this moment? I see. Do you, by any chance, know the whereabouts of my spoons now, Iago?"
"Ah, in fact I do, Madame!"
"And you have not retrieved them yet because?"
"I… am so very sorry, please, Madame, but they are currently in the custody of the Philistines."
"Yes, I could have guessed as much, but which phil-"
"Er… no, dearest Madame. They are contained by… the Philistines…"
There was a great silence from Madame Lucia. The cup fell to the floor and did not shatter. the half-full tumbler knocked over, the water inside unmoving. Iago did not feel his joints tightening, or his skin hardening, but he felt the oppressive force wash over him, slowly making movement more and more impossible as the single changeless moment stretched on and on…
…and then Madame got a hold of herself.
It was not that Madame Lucia hated humanity. Quite the contrary. She prized rarity above all, but beyond that, she valued ephemerality, impermanence, all those things that existed once and never again. Those that were both were twice rare, in space and in time. Human lives were so short by the length of eternity, and not a single one repeated itself. The ultimate value!
But then they tried to extend their lives, through memories and monuments and words. So they were philistines, not realizing what they had and throwing it away like something common such as immortality. But they were the worst. Capturing and sustaining all manner of one-of-a-kind things. Twice offending by preventing the disappearance of their toys, and never allowing change into the world. Keeping everything the same and boring, boring, boring! They were the worst, and so they were given the capital letter. Philistines. The most ignorant of them all.
This was unacceptable.
"Iago." Madame Lucia beckoned with her hand.
Iago approached the figure shining in the chair, knowing never to get close enough to see its face, settling for admiring the glimmering white waterfall of hair. "Y-yes, Madame?"
"You have not been among philistines for many years, have you?"
"Centuries, dear Madame."
"This will be rectified. I am sending you to retrieve my tea spoons from the Philistines."
"Me? But, but, Madame, please, sweet Madame-"
"I will hear nothing but 'yes' for my gracious gift, Iago. The armory is at your disposal. You
leave within the hour. Mind you get all of them. But first, you will deliver my souffle."
Iago, shaking, set down the souffle by his mistress, averting his eyes as he did so. Madame Lucia tasted it.
"Ugh. Far too cold."
Iago arrived in the world, landing in the exact same spot where he had left it, hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, it appeared that in the interim, somebody had flattened out the land somewhat and built a cafe on it. Yielding to gravity, Iago dropped five feet into a large bowl of cabbage stew, splashing the man sitting in front of it, who immediately started screaming.
Eventually, several cooks came out of the kitchen to see what all the fuss was about. Iago looked around the deserted room wildly and spotted a recessed balcony where several patrons were staring at the commotion. He lowered his voice by several social classes, pointed, and yelled, "Oi! That bloke has a knife! Someone stop him!"
The cooks hefted various kitchen utensils and ran for some stairs while the second-floor diners looked around uncertainly. Iago hauled himself out of the bowl and ran out the door, while the rather sheepish man in the tweed jacket cried, "My cabbage stew!" and continued trying to clean himself off.
Iago found the Philistines' base eventually, simply by wandering through the town he was in. It was incredible, he mused. It wasn't that nobody saw the men in suits walking into the apparently abandoned store. It just didn't seem to register with them in any meaningful way. There was nothing supernatural deflecting their attention from the unlocked door, nothing keeping them from noticing the suspiciously bulky-looking vagrants hanging around the place. The castle's small armory had a few devices for detecting tricks like that. They were just completely incurious. There was a collection of rare, world-changing, life-changing artifacts hiding in plain sight and doing a very shoddy job of it, and they never even took notice.
Iago grunted to himself. Philistines.
There was a small slot that may have just been a crack in the wall on the far end of the store. Iago inserted a gold card engraved with eye-watering patterns and waited. The machine clicked and buzzed in greedy pleasure, and a door swung out of the wall, satisfied with the bribe.
Iago came to a crossing and headed down the corridor he would have pegged as least likely to end up at the section where the anomalies were stored, knowing how these sort of things went. He turned out to be wrong. However, after several dead ends, and close calls, he found a small room with cardboard boxes full of laminated cards on lanyards. Visitor passes. Iago grabbed one of the important looking ones and nipped back to the crossing, amazed at how paradoxically paranoid and trusting the Philistines could be.
Eventually he found himself at a security door, which his pass wouldn't let him access. He searched his pockets for something that could help him and came up with nothing. The armory is at your disposal, Madame had said. Well, that was fantastic, except that there hadn't been any need for an armory for centuries, and so it was horribly understocked. The trick with the gold card had actually been "it," as far as any anomalous help went. Iago cursed under his breath, turned, and started searching for another way in.
He found it rather quickly, in the form of a pale-faced young researcher who shook just a bit every time someone looked at her. She was obviously new, holding her clearance badge in one hand, like a shield, ready to be raised if anyone threatened her. Iago set his face in an expression of haughty confidence, and strode over to her.
"Excuse me, miss…"
"Marp! Sedna Prewitt, s-sir."
"Yes. My name is Dr. Jones. I'm a consultant from Site-19. Your Site Administrator Samson has sent for me to examine one of your artifacts." He flashed his purloined visitor's pass.
"Uh, nice to meet you, Dr., um, Jones. I'm Sedna Prewitt." The girl was obviously frightened out of her wits. Iago felt a rather guilty thrill at that, seeing in her the awe that Madame inspired in him on a regular basis.
"Yes," he sighed. "You already said."
"Oh! Right! I'm so sorry, sir."
"In any case," he went on, "I have come to evaluate SCP-1067, but the site security has neglected to provide me with the appropriate level of clearance. Please conduct me to someone that has the clearance and be on your way, young lady." He might have been laying it on too thick, but it had the desired effect. The girl straightened up indignantly.
"Excuse me, sir, but I happen to be a Level 2 researcher tasked with maintaining several Safe-Class SCP-Objects, including the one you're after. I am completely capable of conducting you to the object myself." She shrunk back slightly, suddenly aware that she may have just crossed the line with a perceived superior.
Iago showed no sign of annoyance, and simply said, "Lead on, then, Miss Prewitt."
Madame Lucia sat in her chair, sipping tea and enjoying the view. The chaos outside was still so… invigorating, even after so long. She couldn't bring herself to look away anymore, not for too long. And why would she want to? Why would she want to turn her back on the infinite possibility, and remember the cage of inevitability that she was forced to remain in? Here was endless potential, that would remain endless as long as nobody actually used it. The disorder swam through her, and she welcomed it in, drinking it in like a drug, which it was. To one such as Madame, it was a drug. And all drugs have downsides.
The chaos was the opposite of everything that Madame represented. It slithered through her, slowly wearing away the power that sustained her. Already her mind had started to go fuzzy at the edges. It was barely noticeable, and it would remain so for a very long time, but already that rock-solid core of power was beginning to erode. There would be consequences.
Madame Lucia didn't know this, and she may or may not have cared if she did. What was reality to dreams? What was inevitability to possibility? And soon Iago would return with her teaspoons. Soon she would raise her glass to kind Chaos, and it would be… glorious.
A few minutes later, Iago was standing with Sedna in front of a wall of lockers. She carefully unlocked one, and stepped back to allow Iago to open the door.
"Why don't you open it yourself?" he asked.
"Administrator Samson hasn't cleared me for testing with SCP-1067, sir," she replied.
"But, I'm here and I have been cleared."
She shrugged nervously. "The rules are the rules, sir."
Iago rolled his eyes and opened the locker. Resting in a vacuum sealed bag, there was a medium sized box bound with soft brown leather. Iago breathed slowly and began to remove the bag.
"Thank you, Miss Prewitt," he said. "I need to take this with me back to Site-19, and my flight leaves soon, so I'll take my leave."
The young woman started. "I'm sorry, sir? Foundation regulations state that all transportation of Safe-class anomalies require a minimum of four guards."
"Oh, this little thing won't be any trouble. I can find my way out, thank you."
She frowned. "I should probably tell Administrator Samson."
Iago started getting annoyed. "Really, it's only a Safe-Class, Miss Prewitt."
"Nevertheless, the rules say that at least-"
"Never mind the damn rules. I need to catch my flight! Madame requires her tea." Iago clapped his hand over his mouth as Sedna's eyes grew wide. She tensed to run when Iago dropped the box and grabbed her with both hands and drew her close to him.
Iago wasn't an idiot, after surviving so long with Madame Lucia. He was fully aware that his idolization and devotion to her was not entirely his own, he just didn't care. It was something in the voice, and Iago had learned to replicate it fairly well. He did so now.
"Listen to me, Sedna. Your rules don't mean anything. There's no point in calling for the guards because they'll fail to catch me. Your entire organization is flawed, and the very fact that I'm standing here is proof of that. There is nothing you can do. Eventually it will all come down, and there's no point in trying to prevent it, because you're nothing but Philistines. Remember, there is nothing you can do to stop me."
With that, he picked up the box and walked quickly away. Sedna Prewitt stood still for a minute, a dazed expression on her face, then shook herself and ran for the nearest breach alarm.
Iago had just passed the crossing when the alarm began to sound. Damn! He must not have had the technique as down pat as he thought! He broke into a run, and it wasn't long before he heard people on his trail. They sounded large, unfriendly, and unwilling to compromise.
He made it to the door of the abandoned store when he found that he had been locked in. The footfalls were getting closer. Iago looked around for another way out, cursed, and activated his return ticket.
He appeared at the back entrance of the castle, just at the edge of the undefined land. He panted heavily, relieved. He removed the box from the bag as he entered the kitchen, wanting to clean the spoons before presenting them to Madame.
As Iago suspected, the spoons had been marked. As he had not suspected, there were only three in the box, when there should have been five.
Mind you get all of them, Madame had said, in no uncertain terms. Iago contemplated what would happen if he returned with less than all of them. He gulped, and set down the box. He waited several hours in his room, while the Philistines ran about like rats looking for the intruder, thinking about where the other two spoons could be. Those Serpent's Hand ruffians had stolen them. He should probably start with them.
He exited the castle. Surely the Philistines had calmed down by now, he thought. It was time to search for a Way. With that, Iago disappeared, back into the world.
Somewhere else, possibly very far away, there was a man, sitting in a barely furnished room, looking out of the window at some bland little courtyard that passed for a garden in this cold, clinical world. He had little choice in the matter. And this was astonishing, because, until recently, he had had no choice whatsoever. A record player sat in the corner, from which emerged the crooning voice of Ozzie Nelson.
Say nighty-night and kiss me.
There was a security camera in the man's room, monitoring for changes.
Just hold me tight and tell me you'll miss me.
The camera was not able to detect the faint movement in one of his loafers as his toe rose and fell, for the first time in decades.
While I'm alone and blue as can be,
Surprise flickered across the man's eyes. Then confusion. Then wistfulness. Then, his mouth turned up at one corner so very slightly. It was barely noticeable, and would remain so for a very long time, but already, his bonds were starting to break.
Robert Chetford began tapping his toe along to the music.
Dream a little dream of me.
He stepped quietly past the man sitting in the chair, not wanting to be kept in the tale by a dialogue.