"He wants to do the prayer," Antigonus complained. "Where in Pluto is there place for prayer here?"
Porphyrios of Alexandria sighed. Antigonus was never going to get off of the subject of natural philosophy and revealed theology, and specifically how the two should never be in the same room together. "Look, he has seniority over us. He's a little old fashioned, but it's not as though he's demanding we slaughter a goat next to the counterform reactor. He wants a short invocation, and the supervisor is willing to allow it, so you should simply get used to it."
"But…I really fail to see the connection between Hephaestus and interplanar transition," Antigonus said. "Hermes, maybe, but the volcano god?"
"Tradition dictates, young man," Methodius of Novoromae said as he entered the room, "that Hephaestus is to be invoked before the successful use of advanced technology. A prayer to Hermes would make us little more than postmen with the tools of the Gods. Hephaestus, however, is a God of leaders of men. And if we succeed in today's quest, if we are able to open a stable porthole between our world and the alien universe adjoining ours, leaders of men is exactly what we may become. Alexandria, the Alexylva campus, this very room will become the center of a new world. A world that we shall control.
"Now, are you read to begrudge the gods their due?" The gray-haired elder philosopher glared at his younger counterpart.
Antigonus swallowed. "No, sir. Please, proceed with the invocation."
"Thank you for your permission. Now bow your heads," Methodius replied dryly. "High Lord Hephaestus of Mountains, we children of the forests beseech your aid. We beg your aid in today's endeavors, which may bring us many steps closer to bringing your words and holy fire to the sorrowful masses of the alien world. Milephanus delenda est, and we thank you for your time."
"Well spoken, sir," Porphyrios said. Antigonus glared at the brownnoser.
"Let us proceed. Antigonus, please activate the counterform reactor. Porphyrios, input your calculations into the director assembly. I will take the transplanar controls."
The three men went to their stations. Within minutes, the counterform and properform mass reaction was active and stable in the reaction chamber, providing power for what was to come. Antigonus said "Power at maximum. Porphyrios, are you ready?"
"Calculator assembly ready, coordinates set. Transferring controls to transplanar station."
Methodius sighed. "Very well. Gentlemen, prepare to put Alexylva University in the history books. Activating transplanar matrix."
"What, may I ask, just happened?" Methodius said through clenched teeth.
"Well, sir, if I were to guess, that is, if I were to simply…describe the events of the past ninety seconds," Porphyrios stammered, "I would have to say that…"
"Would it not be safe to say," Methodius growled, "that NOTHING WHATSOEVER happened, young pest?"
"Not quite, sir, though I can understand the, erm, confusion. We did, in fact, open a porthole between two universes. And one of them was the alien world."
"What was the other one, little worm?"
"We…well, we can't really…um, know. We can't know at all. Nor can we know how long this will last."
The room grew silent. "I said we should have invoked Hermes," Antigonus muttered.
The moon was barely visible through the clouds as 3rd Platoon, Mobile Task Force Delta-5 swarmed through the forest.
"Move! Move!" Lieutenant Samson shouted. He loved abandoned areas. He hated being quiet. "Let's go, let's go! We gotta find this before someone else does!"
The rest of the task force groaned. Two hours in the woods was bad enough when you knew what you were looking for. Getting instructions that amounted to go find a needle in a barn full of haystacks was worse. Samson didn't know more than the rest of them; he tried to act as though the orders were just classified, but his men knew when their commander was bluffing. They were looking for "an unspecific quantum phenomenon" emanating from a forest in West Tennessee, whatever that meant. But there were some clues.
Samson raised his hand to order silence. He heard rustling somewhere up ahead, over the next hill. Sounds of people beating their way through the woods, along with shouting in what sounded like…a British accent? He waved two of his scouts forward to evaluate. They rushed forward, examined the scene, and called the rest of the troops ahead.
The task force swarmed to the top of the hill to see what was happening. A softly glowing aperture floated a few feet above the ground. Seeing this, Samson knew they had found what they came for. But what was the shouting?
More talking. Samson raised his hand to order silence again before realizing that the sound was coming from ahead. He squinted to block out the light from the portal to see where the voices were coming from…
"What happened next, Lieutenant?" Major Brooks asked. The commander of MTF Delta-5 couldn't have phrased the question in a more threatening way.
"Sir, we were sent in with the understanding that it would not be unlikely that other Groups of Interest would attempt to secure the…'quantum phenomenon' for themselves," Samson replied. "So when I saw multiple individuals in what appeared to be black uniforms, I presumed them to be hostiles."
"Did you call for backup? What were your orders?"
"Well, there were about as many of them as us, but I didn't see any weapons, so I ordered an advance. I told the hostiles to put their hands up."
"What happened next?"
"I'm not entirely sure, sir. They opened fire on us with concealed weapons they had been holding while shouting at us. The shouting…it vaguely resembled Latin, but I didn't recognize what they were saying."
"That matches what we know of University protocol. What else?"
"Their weapons weren't anything we had encountered before. They looked not unlike dowel rods, very thin stick-looking objects. Not sure what they were firing, either. We figured them for CBG, maybe Serpent's Hand, but their battle tactics were damned odd."
"Could you elaborate?"
"Well, again, sir, they didn't have firearms. Whatever those stick-looking weapons were, they weren't aiming them at us so much as just waving them in our direction, but their accuracy was uncanny. They must have been recoilless somehow, whatever they were shooting. Looked like tracer rounds more than anything. Sir, can you tell me how my men are recovering?"
"Maybe later on, Samson. What else was odd about their tactics? What else can you remember?"
Samson thought the phrasing there was strange, but continued. "Their mobility was extraordinary. They must have been trained scouts, because I had ten trained Foundation agents down there with M16s, firing at less than ten meters, and I'm not sure if we actually hit a single one of them."
This was a test, and Major Brooks failed. He snorted quietly and looked away momentarily. Samson knew what that meant. We caught one of them.
"What was significant about their mobility? I want to know exactly what they're capable of."
"It was almost like they were disappearing and reappearing a few feet away. Never saw one of them actually move. I know it was nighttime, sir, but…I never saw one of them even budge. They would just be here one second, and…over there the next. It seemed almost—"
"Magical, Samson. The word you're looking for is magical."
Samson looked at his superior. He had suspected as much, but to suddenly hear actual confirmation of…of what had to be impossible, it was jarring. Even to someone trained in containing SCPs, Samson didn't really think he was going to run into this kind of thing anytime soon. He put the pieces he knew together. "Sir, does this mean that…that the University has magicians on its side?"
Samson pursed his lips and said nothing. The silence said a great deal. "That's for people above your pay grade to think about, Samson. I want to know why four of your men have been in a coma for the last day. I want to know why you wanted to play cowboy with unknown individuals you believed to be unfriendlies without calling in backup. I want to know how you then let the unfriendlies escape through the portal…" Samson tuned him out. He was already in trouble, he didn't need a reminder.
A similar meeting was happening in another universe. "America?"
"Yes, some forest in America. Or at least full of American soldiers."
"They used their Muggle weapons on you, you said?"
"Yes, but we Apparated around them rather easily. Not the best trained soldiers, I warrant."
"You said they captured one of your Aurors?" The Minister frowned. "And the aperture disappeared?"
"I'm afraid so, sir," the other man said. "I'm having Kingsley inform his family now. We…we're not sure if we will ever have the opportunity to recover him."
"Did the Americans open the gateway or did someone on our side do it?"
"Unknown, but neither seems likely. Our end opened in a random village in Scotland, theirs in a random forest. It seems to have simply been a freak accident."
"But is there any way of knowing if it was Muggle science or magic?"
"We had little time to examine the scene, Minister," the other man said, "but Kingsley said it didn't feel like either one. Definitely not a Portkey. Something else. Something new."
The Minister paced the room. "Of all the people to have lost over there…"
"I know, sir," the other man said. "Harry's talking to his wife now."
"What are the odds looking like of recovering him anytime soon?"
The other man's expression said all that needed saying. "Damn," the minister said.
Agent Brooks looked through the two-way glass at the prisoner. "He's restrained?"
"And disarmed." Dr. Reed glanced at his clipboard. "He's refusing to talk at the moment. We just got his name."
Brooks looked back through the glass. "Well, not much choice, then. Could be a threat to the entire Foundation. And we've never captured one of these University people before. What's his name?"
"Believe he said 'Weasley,' sir."
"Huh, that doesn't sound very Greek. Break his fingers and ask him about it."