Last thing Priscilla Locke remembered, she was drenched in sweat, her clothes being torn off of her and the crack of a gun close by, followed by pain and deafness. Then she was standing upright, her suit intact and freshly absorbing her sweat. The room was stuffy and warm, the door opened, revealing the hall outside coated in dust, unused and untouched.
It was there with her. She must have been standing in the same spot. It still had the wires sprouting from its fount. That it was wired meant that they hadn't found it. She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. She had the benefit of knowing exactly what had happened, and where she was. If anyone else had survived, waking up in a whole new world for the first time…
Her pockets were empty; she couldn't be sure her apartment even existed here. If the Foundation found her with this, they might believe her when she said she was a Foundation agent from another time and place. Then… what? D-Class designation? They only did that to race traitors and other subversives. But there was no way of knowing what they'd do to her.
Her nostrils flared as she pushed that aside, and took off her jacket, using it to bundle up the stout little device that had saved her life.
"SCP-1856," She addressed it, as if it could speak or recognize its own designation. It hadn't been found in this 'time'; it would never receive an SCP designation again. Who knew what SCP-1856 was for these people?
"Anyone asks, your name is Anna Bassett," She hoisted the bundle up and held it over her shoulder. It was just as heavy as she'd imagined, like a big shoe box full of concrete, "I know that was always your name, but…" Her mind trailed off. Someone had mentioned that 1856 might've had mental effects; some of the researchers working long hours with it had started talking to the device. Then they started showing signs of dementia and hallucinating seeing people and tasting them. She'd been around it quite a bit the past few days, it might've already started affecting her.
"Fucking… Anabasis. Your name is Anabasis."
Rhiannon Locke, as Priss had known her, was always energetic, exciting, and always clever enough to get away with being obnoxious. She had been a troublemaker as a child, and had become a troublemaker as an adult. At least, in her old world. When the president made his infamous "We don't trade or deal with subhuman mongrels" speech, Rhiannon had started calling herself a "subhuman mongrel". A vehement defender of non-whites and a passionate activist for a more progressive society was considered treasonous in the Old World; she might've been a hero here.
Rhiannon the "Subhuman Mongrel" didn't cut her hair, had tattoos on her chest and back, had broken teeth and drank excessively. When she was in her full-on cult-leader persona, she was utterly impenetrable. Thick as a prison door, and all the more annoying for that cartoonish school-girl laugh she so delighted in.
Working with others in an environment of procedure and formality amidst a backdrop of an endless slew of anomalies had been the enticing part of working for the Foundation, and had pulled Locke in. The fear and anxiety felt while containing a breach was almost fun once the fear of death and destruction was past.
It was easy because she had been trained for it. There was no training for meeting a complete stranger you had known all your life.
Rhiannon Locke, as she was now in this new world, was energetic, exciting, and always clever enough to get away with being obnoxious. The similarities ended there; she kept her hair to her shoulders, combed it nicely, had no tattoos, and all her teeth intact. She apologized constantly, and had welcomed Priss in with tears in her eyes and so much warmth and love that even Priss broke down and cried.
"A charity?" Priss asked quizzically, "And you all just… use them?"
Rhie smiled and nodded, "Why not? What good is it to spend so much money and manpower containing things that could be helping us? There's no such thing as 'anomalies'—just things we don't understand yet. I know it's dangerous to play around with things we don't understand, but isn't it at least worth trying them out, rather than locking them away out of unfounded fear?"
Passionate activist; another similarity. Priss blinked at her, "I didn't say anything."
Rhie sighed, "I'm sorry. I was just… expecting it. Foundation drivel; 'it's not safe to be exploiting unknown resources' whatever. It's a fallacy—Slippery slope. It shouldn't be used to justify holding ourselves back while people suffer and die."
"I didn't say that."
"Sorry," She smiled again. The smiles had always made Priss bristle; seeing her broken-toothed grin, the earthy stench of her unwashed clothes, the uncertainty in every cracked smile, sardonic laugh, whether she would hug you or punch you in the face and pull a knife on you. 'Gotta cut your skin up good', she'd say, where 'good' meant 'white'. Seeing that smile now, it looked so… genuinely happy.
"If you don't mind me asking, Prissy…"
Again, she tensed. Every time Rhiannon the "Subhuman Mongrel" called her that, it meant she was looking for a fight. Priss unclenched her jaw, and forced a little smile, "Ask me what?"
"Given everything you've told me… about where you came from. Why do you want to help?"
Priss looked down at the bundle in the center of the living room. Anabasis… the very thing that had saved her life had probably destroyed her entire world in the process. "I don't know… I was never really in to the whole white pride thing… it just seemed…" She shrugged, "Logical."
She regretted that immediately, seeing Rhie's face firm up, "It's not logical, though. European supremacy in the world isn't a matter of 'race' — I should loan you a book, it's called Guns, Germs, and Steel…"
Priss scooted closer, and grabbed her hand, "I get what you're saying. It's just… I was born and grew up in that world. When you're well-read and well-educated, it's easier to come up with a complicated rationale to justify anything."
"What changed your mind?"
Priss remembered the last time she had seen Rhiannon in person. She'd given Priss a lewd kiss, trying to force her liquor-soaked tongue down her throat. Priss had shoved her off, and Rhiannon ran off laughing. When the police found liquor on Priss's breath, they let her go with a fine and a warning. They were arresting everyone on the streets that night, and few of those arrested were seen in public again.
Rhie squirmed, "The 'subhuman mongrel'?"
Priss nodded, "Throughout all you did—she did —You were the only person in my life who actually went out of your way to protect me. And when I saw your group… even though the militias broke into peoples' houses and executed anyone associated with you, people still came to you. Civilians. And you gave them everything you had, all your money, all your clothing, all your possessions."
"All she had."
Priss quirked an eyebrow to her, "You wouldn't?"
Rhie snorted and laughed, tears welling in her eyes, "No, no… that's me exactly. Aside from the domestic terrorism."
Priss smiled, and looked down again at the foundation brochure. "Who is 'Manna' anyway?"
Getting an audience with the Manna Charitable Foundation was surprisingly easy. Though it was a charity, not a pseudo-governmental paramilitary organization. From what she heard, the SCP Foundation here was similar in that regard. It still felt… unsafe to be letting in a total stranger who claimed to be the long-lost sister of a Foundation employee from another… timeline? Universe? Dimension? How would they even confirm her story?
"Don't panic, it's nothing serious," Rhiannon assured as they waited outside an office. The building looked… average. Painfully average for a group dealing in anomalies defying the laws of reality. No military, no armed police, no servants, only one security checkpoint. A smiling guard about Locke's height and looking to be three or four times her weight.
"They're going to ask you some questions about where you came from. Some of these people are ex-SCP as well, so just… act natural."
Priss clenched her jaw, "Maybe the Foundation here is completely different from the Foundation there."
"You're panicking. Stop panicking. No matter what happens, remember," Rhiannon patted the duffle bag, making Priss tense slightly, "You have this. This guarantees you entry. You're not gonna be forcibly amnesticized and sent off or 'terminated' for knowing too much. You're one of us now." She nodded to the door, as a secretary motioned Priss to come in.
"Wait, one thing!" Rhiannon stopped her sister, "Please don't say anything racist."
Priss glared at her, "You don't trust your own sister to behave like a civilized adult?"
Rhiannon shook her head with surprising somberness, "No. I don't. Because you're not my sister."
Priss blinked, feeling the wind escape her. That had hurt more than she'd expected it to.
Rhiannon seemed to notice, and opened her mouth to apologize.
"Miss Locke, please," the secretary interrupted.
For all the device had done for her and the sheer scale of its abilities, figuring out how to make it work was surprisingly easy.
"There are four knobs; the first indicates length, up to about 2282.35 meters. The second indicates both width and height together, so they're locked in. The third indicates time. In years. At least, I think it does," Priss felt a hot flush tinting her freckled cheeks, frustration mounting as she assumed every one of those watching and waiting for her were quickly breaking down how woefully underprepared and unqualified she truly was for this thing. There were five of them; Rhiannon, a tall black man, a white man, and two women, one dressed in baggy pants and t-shirt. At least Priss's voice carried easily enough in this small auditorium so she didn't have to repeat herself.
"The fourth knob…" She looked at it. The others had hundreds of settings, indicated by the satisfyingly crunchy snaps and clicks made when the knobs were twisted. The fourth only had three. It was labeled with settings "0", "1", "4", with the "4" partly scratched out.
"Fourth knob does something relating to time, or space, or both. First time we tested it," She caught herself and kept quiet, remembering how they had tested it on a Class-D. The fact that she caught herself was particularly stunning. Adapting quick to being a civilized diversity-loving citizen of New Earth.
"First time we tested it, it seemed to invert the other three knob settings. The next few times, there was no pattern. We don't know what it does."
"You said the third knob dealt with time. How is that different from the fourth knob dealing in time?" One of the men asked quizzically.
"The third knob's 'time' deals with measurements of time. Increments of 365 days, in this case. The fourth is more related to actual time, like actual years. It can't go into the future."
"Oh." He added flatly, clearly not understanding.
"We don't know what it does," Rhiannon stepped forward, saving her sister from further complicating her explanation, "But it doesn't matter—we're not trying to remake the entire world, so keeping it on 'four' will be enough."
"Show me what it can do," Another voice asked— Ms. Cortes, the formally dressed woman.
Priss adjusted the knobs, selecting an area just a few centimeters. She glanced up at the group around her, "It… you should—never mind."
Before they could protest, she cranked the lever. It always sounded like it was just about to snap off, yet being rough with it was the only way to get it to move. I know, baby, you love the abuse. She smirked to herself. Dim yellow light came out of the device's spout, tracing the shape of a cube less than two feet in front of it.
A hissing sound came, and the cubic space mapped out by the Anabasis suddenly filled with hovering water, before it splashed onto the floor. The upper half of a fish dropped with it, flailing as its guts began to ooze from its neatly severed body.
"Where is that from? What did you set it to?" Ms. Cortes asked.
"It's…" Priss didn't want to touch the thing. Aside from being neatly cut in half, it was leaking pale brown fluids, and smelled strongly of sulfur, "Best guess I can manage from the numbers is, four counts for lowest time-or-space setting, zero for highest. So, this thing set at zero, means it either came from some time-or-space's present. It should be safe, we've—I've used this setting before."
She set it again, moving the device aside, away from the growing pool of fish blood and that brown liquid. Again she set the area to the same size, and watched as the lights traced out a cubic shape. This time, a thick mound of clay-like soil flopped wetly to the floor. The earthy smell quickly flooded Priss's sinuses.
She looked back at them, "Sometimes the directions aren't always precise. Like… if you're trying to merge in a small section of soil a few feet above sea level, you might end up bringing up soil a few feet deeper than you wanted. It escalates with higher settings, so I wouldn't recommend warping in a whole building… it might get stuck underground, or drop from four feet up and fucking crack apart. I can make the fourth knob counteract this somehow, but I haven't figured out exactly how it works. Just that I can get it accurate to within a few feet."
Rhiannon stepped in again, quick to divert attention from the constant stream of flaws, uncertainties, and obscenities Priss kept spouting off, "Just imagine what this could do. Bring it out to a region devastated by drought. We could displace exhausted soil with rich fertile soil that's never been used for farming before. We could have entire strips of fertile farmland anywhere we want, or dump millions of fresh fish untainted by pollution straight into a tank, and from there straight to hungry people in need."
Again, that smile. It made Rhie look so beautiful and endearing. It still made Priss squirm, as if anticipating at any moment that she would start making up words and spouting nonsensical rhymes that only made sense to her. It didn't help Priss's nerves that the tall man in charge was a black man in a suit, likely very well read. She remembered a joke Old-Rhiannon used to say, 'Nothing's more dangerous to the white man than a negro with a library card.'
The man— Mr. Kone, with an accent putting him somewhere between the Caribbean and Central America —slipped on a pair of latex gloves, and moved over to the fish. He gently squeezed it, watching as the unusual brown fluid drained out, leaving the rather normal-looking viscera to slide out onto the floor. He carefully pressed it back into the fish, and turned to Locke.
"I want to see more," He held the fish out towards her, "If this checks out clean, I want to see this thing put to work as soon as possible."
Rhiannon gave a shrill giggle of delight, "What if we put it to use in Somalia alongside the Vesta donation? Imagine… newly grown settlements with fresh fertile land all around. Nothing else like it in the region in decades."
The other woman spoke up, "You might as well light the biggest fire the SCP Foundation has ever seen."
Rhiannon pouted at the woman, "Everything we do is a red flag to someone, somewhere, Dodger. That's not an excuse to keep doing—"
The woman — Dodger, she'd called herself? A codename? — interrupted with an obnoxious snort, "Alright fine! Give it a try. Meanwhile, you'll end up bringing in some microbe or bacterium we've never seen before and have it decimate us like the Native Americans."
Priss spoke up, "I've been here a while. Had a medical check-up, too. There's nothing wrong with me." Yet "We can test things brought in from each setting, and only use stuff from worlds cleared for us." Another thought struck her, and she quickly added in, "I'm also the only one who can use it. I can probably train someone else, but until that time, I have to be with this thing at all times."
The woman— rather young, and prettier even than Rhiannon — abruptly calmed, and started grinning toothily, "Relax, man. This isn't a prison. We can send you with it, if you like. We can also send some people to watch you and protect you and make sure the thing stays safe. If you like."
Given the expression of the others, the young woman seemed to be overstepping her bounds. Given how young she looked, she stuck out sorely from the group. Something was off with her. Priss held firm, "You are all the only people who know I exist. I've got no one after me, nothing to my name, and if I try to run, you've got my sister," She indicated Rhie, who stared at her incredulously.
"Such violence," Dodger moved up beside Rhiannon, "Alright; we send you to Somalia, and if you try to run, we kill your sister." She patted Rhiannon affectionately on the head.
"Let's get you properly settled in, first," Mr. Kone put in, gloves and fish gone as he extended a hand to Priscilla Locke, "It will be a pleasure having you on board, Ms. Locke."
Priss shuddered lightly, then silently cursed herself. How long was it going to take to get over her visceral reactions? Vestigial emotions from a world long gone. She forced herself to shake his hand and smile. The simple little pleasantry filled her with an almost overwhelming sense of joy at having done so, "Thank you, Mr. Kone."
Mr. Kone turned to the other man with them, "We will have to warn the Work Group. You got this, Lindsberg?"
The other man shrugged and nodded, "Sure. Something like this would warrant using one of the toy birds, wouldn't it? We got nine boxes yesterday. 'Bout time we start putting them to use."