O5-2 let the e-mail alert fade from her terminal screen without opening it. She already knew that the Foundation had suffered more casualties in the past twenty-four hours than all of the last five years put together. The only thing reading the details would accomplish would be the sapping of her resolve. The path forward was clear. Ensuring a future was worth any price. She wished she could tell each field commander personally, we're certain about this, just hold the line. Then again, desperation was on her side. People had a remarkable tenacity in the face of death. Nobody needed to remind anyone of what the consequences of failure were.
The large video monitor on the wall beside her chimed with an incoming videoconference notification. O5-3. She buried her face in her hands. Did she not get her fill of vitriol during the Council vote? Knowing O5-3, it was quite likely. She sat up. Internecine warfare was one of the few ways the Council had to amuse itself in this world. Even now, those habits died hard. Maybe especially now. She motioned at the screen, and O5-3's dark, lined face was on her wall.
"Vote's over, Three. You lost. Does that still make you mad?"
The woman on the screen sighed. "What I am is scared, Two."
It had not yet been a full two days since SCP-2798 had gone down, and the toll had been horrific. There was no way that current operations were sustainable for more than a week. Fear was probably the only reasonable response.
"Telling someone else that you're frightened isn't very therapeutic in our line of work, Three. Fear is contagious. Can I do something for you?"
O5-3 leaned a little closer to the monitor. "You blocked the vote. You cut off our exit."
"Oh, bullshit, there were plenty of us with doubts."
"But none with the certainty of yours. Five and Thirteen were never going to vote for it anyway, but Six and Twelve would have. I talked to them before. I know that you talked them out of it."
"That's still not enough. One was the difference, and even you can't tell me that I can make One bend to anything."
O5-3 sighed again. "Look. That doesn't matter, I guess. It's done, and that's that. But you owe me something, Two."
"Do I?" O5-2 moved closer herself now. "I owe you something for not letting you kill everyone? You're beyond absurd. I'm done with this now."
"Wait. Please. I need to know." O5-3 paused a moment while she forced out the question. "I need to know what you know. I need you to tell me why we didn't just make the worst mistake in the history of the world. The real reason, Two."
O5-2's hand hovered over the red button to end the call. She pulled it back. "I went to the precog items. I peeked."
The revelation washed over O5-3's hard features, her determined upper lip and furrowed brow softening as her face betrayed shock. It was the first time O5-2 had seen her face like that. "You didn't. That can't possibly be-"
"Is it really that hard to believe? With the gun in your own mouth, you're not the least bit curious about how things might turn out if you don't pull the trigger? Yes, I'm aware of the prohibitions. Who cares about that now? Are you going to report me? Requisition a detail to come and detain me in the middle of all of this?"
O5-3 sat in silence. There was no arguing the point. "So what did you see?"
"You know what it's like, Three. Being old. Ideally, you learn to not delude yourself with false hope. Resign yourself. You remember the old Eleven? His obsession with uploading his consciousness, like he could cheat Death? Ridiculous. He was ridiculous…" Two trailed off, the wild eyes of the former O5-11 haunting her for a moment. "But this…we've always fought to preserve what is, Three. We've never thought about what could be."
"What do you mean by that?"
"All of the precog items point to a future. I haven't seen how we get to it, but it's not just survival. I saw great spires of glass that pierced the clouds, unspoiled landscapes, great flocks of birds passing through cityscapes built into mountaintops. I've seen people who don't fear sickness and death. No wars, no poverty." She grew more animated. "All of the anomalies under our control that can tell us anything have all showed me this place. That it exists. Someone survives to make it there."
O5-3 looked skeptical. "That's a very different place than the one we're seeing now."
"It's a different planet. We know that much."
"Do you think that we're going to be able to mount a space colonization mission when we can't even keep ourselves alive right now?"
"No. Probably not," said O5-2. "But at some point, someone does. And I want to give whoever that is the chance to do that. Don't you see? There is a point to all of this, now. There is an end goal for humanity, more than just living another night. Our children will have a chance not just to live, but to live in peace. Isn't that worth continuing on?"
"That seems very ideal, doesn't it," said O5-3. "Almost like it's designed to stay our hand."
"What reason do I have to make this up? And it was useless as a tool to influence the Council. If I had brought this up during the vote, I very well would have been detained, then."
"Hm. You do seem to believe it." O5-3 frowned. "You know that these…things, they can be very untrustworthy."
"One or two, maybe they come up with the same deception," said O5-2. "All of them? Vanishingly unlikely. Some of these things are kept in separate realities. No, this is all pointing to something, and I believe it is true. Or rather, I believe in it enough to keep going for the chance to make it real."
O5-3 was silent for a moment. She swallowed. "You know that we've already had two activations of SCP-089? In two days?"
O5-2 took a moment. "No. I did not know that. And really, I would prefer not to know things like that." She went on. "Nothing we're doing now is anything that we haven't been called upon to do before. It's harder. But it's the same thing. We've always tried to preserve some sort of future. And now that we've got proof of it, we can't stop now."
"Proof," said O5-3 quietly. "God, I hope you know what you're doing, Two."
"Just help me hold things together. Until we can't do it anymore, so that whoever it is that gets us out of here and away from whatever the hell it is that's hunting us can do their duty." O5-2 fought hard, and the tears stayed in her eyes; she would not let them flow.
O5-3, impossibly weary, looking sick and unwell, every one of her sixty-eight years on display, nodded barely. She ended the call, and O5-2 was left looking at her own reflection in the dark glass of the monitor. She studied her own face for a moment. She had more hope than Three did, but for all of that, she looked just as heartsick. Just as scared.
I hope I know what I'm doing too.
O5-2 opened the message from Asian Subcommand, and read the latest developments. More of the same.