The Site-7 surgical auditorium, for all of its wood paneling lining the walls and the rows of well-worn theater style seats, might have been any one of a hundred medical facilities of the rational world, Geissler thought to himself as he soldered wiring into place. The only discordant detail happened to be the bars over the windows of the viewing gallery.
His thoughts were broken by the lancing pain of the soldering iron as it slipped again, burning his hand. He sharply inhaled, but stopped himself from exclaiming anything. The rat-faced guard looked as though he may enjoy such an outburst, and anyway, he didn't need help brought in to make this part of the work go quicker. This part of the project was for one man. He grasped the iron once more, and bent over the ponderous bundle of cables and wires snaking its way through the metal conduit. So many little details, so many circuits that needed to be arranged just so. Even one out of place, and this procedure would become very unpredictable indeed.
The main doors of the auditorium creaked open, making way for the march of three sets of high-ranking boots, come to check on his progress. His eyes stayed on his work. He knew who it was.
"We've only been here for two hours. I thought you were joking when you said tonight."
"He works fast, doesn't he. I think he wants to see the results as much as we do."
Geissler recognized the unperturbed voice of Chernikov among the officers. He couldn't help but feel a twinge of anger at Chernikov's habit of speaking about him as though he weren't in the room. He had practically invented this new branch of science that these thugs were so keen to exploit. His grip tightened on the soldering iron.
A new voice spoke. A wheezing, hoarse whisper. A woman, he thought. "The Colonel has assembled the 19th Congress Planning Committee in our agreed-upon location. They meet in three days. Do you think we'll be ready by then?"
Chernikov addressed him now. "Dr. Geissler. What do you say? Will we be meeting our deadline for the project we discussed?"
Geissler turned, iron still in his hand. He saw Chernikov, flanked by a young attaché and a woman in a commissar's uniform. She was far younger than the voice he had heard moments ago. The doctor saw the apparatus he was constructing reflected back at him in her eyeglasses.
"Assuming you have the subject in hand, we will be finished by this evening. I need those cages. And people to assemble them. Unless you want me hobbling about and putting those together too."
Chernikov smiled. He pulled out a small pad, scribbled a note, tore it off, and handed it to the young man at his elbow. With a salute, the attaché ran back down the entryway, out of the operating theater. "The things we can achieve when we work together. Commissar Rosenstein, I think you're going to be pleased with our work tonight."
Major Chernikov clapped a hand on the commissar's shoulder, and turned to walk out. The commissar stood in place, looking at Geissler, her face impassive, eyes obscured by the reflected mass of metal and wires in her large, black rimmed glasses. Geissler's hatred seemed to have left the room with Chernikov, replaced by deep unease at the woman before him. He suddenly felt dizzy, and he reached out to brace himself against the upright metal post serving as the apparatus' core, struggling to keep his balance. The soldering iron clattered to the floor.
Commissar Rosenstein made no reaction. She continued to watch him, silently. He steadied himself, head swimming. He returned her gaze. Or he thought he did.
With a neat about-face, the commissar turned around and began walking back out. His balance suddenly came back to him. He kept his hand on the post, just to be certain. She walked through the doors. They closed behind her.
He looked to his rat-faced minder. His eyes were still on the room's exit, fear plainly visible on his dull features.
The doctor picked up his iron again, as well as a stray metal hose, connecting it to a nearby electrical port on the apparatus. No time to waste.
SCP-1041 started awake; she must have fallen asleep in her chair. She jerked her head up from the armrest, the back of her head and the space behind her eyes throbbing sharply with pain. She groaned, her vision still blurry from waking. Swallowing, she felt a pain in her throat, like a muscle strain. She held her hand under her chin, gently massaging the tender area. The room was too bright. She rubbed her eyes, and sat up straight.
In front of her sat a middle-aged man in a soldier's uniform, blonde and smiling. His hat was perched tidily on his folded coat on a table beside him hair, slightly mussed. Behind him stood a woman in a different uniform. Dark hair, glasses. She held a clipboard.
"Ah, you're awake. Wonderful." He reached out a gloved hand and gently took hers as she instinctively flinched from the presence of the strangers. "Shhh, shhh. It's okay, it's okay, I'm a friend. You're fine, though you may not remember how you got here. Do you remember?"
She thought, searching her memories. The headache and the bright lights were making her feel disoriented. How did she get here? What was the last thing she recalled? A…cell of some sort? Possibly. How did she get there in the first place? The details were unclear.
"Let's start with your name. Do you remember your name? Who are you?"
She thought. An instant passed. Why wasn't this obvious? Then something surfaced in her mind.
"My…my name is Eileen Warner. Eileen Warner, from South Kensington."
The man in front of her smiled, nodding at the answer. "Eileen Warner," he repeated to the woman next to him. She lifted a few pages on her clipboard, before writing a series of notes.
"Eileen Warner. Number seventy-three in the sequence. As expected." The woman's voice was hoarse. Ugly, breathless, and grating.
The man turned back to her. "Any more details you can give us? Nothing too personal, mind you. Occupation, parents' names? Then we'll be done and you may take your leave."
Her heart continued to race, faster, despite the apparent end of the questioning. "What is this? Am I under arrest? What's going on?" She was starting to remember. She had been in a cell before. But the people were different. And they hadn't been military before.
"Just a few more details, Mrs. Warner. And then we can explain."
She paused. Resisting didn't seem wise. "I…I-I'm a bank manager…my m-my parents were Todd and Mary Trost, I swear I haven't done anything, I-"
"Shhh, shhh. Commissar Rosenstein?"
The woman consulted her clipboard once more. "Checks out."
"Fantastic. You are dismissed, Mrs. Warner."
For a moment, nobody moved. Then the man leaned forward and wrapped his hands around her throat.
She fought as adrenaline dumped into her bloodstream, swinging her hands at his face, but he was far too strong. He squeezed right on the place at her throat that had been sore, and she felt lightheaded, suddenly weakening. Her vision darkened as he held his hands around her neck, feebly kicking a few more times at him from her seated position as her limbs grew heavy. A few seconds longer, and she blacked out.
The darkness around her shimmers, scenes of memory and fantasy and the lives of other people fading in and out, blending into each other. Dozens of lives unfold, things done and things to come, scenes in which every viewpoint is hers. She recognizes her own face on all of the others. She knows she is dreaming, and she is carried along in the current as she always is.
Something is happening across each scene as she floats by in the nothingness that runs between all of the disparate visions. A man, smiling and terrible, his hands reaching to strangle the life from her, again and again, each one of her lives coming to the same place. But it isn't death that he is after. Each time, he does not finish her. His progress across each of her facets is inexorable. What will he do when he reaches the end? Will he cycle around again, as she does? The thought is horrifying.
She had only just returned from the world. Ekaterina must have gotten out. Thank God for that much. But I am still here, she thinks. Something must be wrong. She is in the hands of GRU-P. If they knew about her work with Geissler, how much she had assisted, then they might be looking for her. Her, specifically. The thought occurs to her that she needs to run.
She tries to go the other direction, against the slow current that carries her back into her body, the physical form that she shares in turn with all of the other versions of herself, fighting against her own dreams. She passes a scene. Geissler has arranged a web of electrical sensors all around her head, while she explains her latest thoughts on how brain regions might relate to each specific personality. It fades, lost to the current, headed to the smiling man with his hands at her throat. Another now, her memories of the work flowing freely, bursting from the barriers in her mind as she struggles to dam the flood. Geissler is struggling to explain in his notes the physical co-location of what he still doesn't want to call a soul. His frustration (and hers) washes away, replaced ever more quickly with flashing scenes. She tells him why she cannot walk every 213 days. He tells her how the Foundation falsely informed his family of his supposed death in an Allied prison camp. She sketches more lines on a diagram on the wall with dozens of her own names. He asks her if he can trust the information supplied by Ekaterina (they can). She tells him that what he is proposing is not a cure. He shouts triumphantly at the reading he had been hoping to see on the brain wave monitor. Fragments wash by. The Foundation cannot be compromised. All of it will have been for nothing.
She fights the current, but the river merely flows around any resistance. And its flow is quickened by the smiling man. There is no choice but to wait her turn, and hope that it is some other her that awakes to see his face.
A sharp odor, suddenly. She feels eyes opening, the flow is interrupted, is it her turn to-
SCP-1041 started awake. She coughed as a sharp, stinging vapor cleared out from her nose and sinuses. Her throat was on fire. She saw a man in front of her, putting a stopper in a small vial and placing it in his pocket. His cheeks were slightly red.
"Where am I? Who the hell are you?" She snarled, the unfamiliar surroundings putting her reflexes immediately on alert. "You had better start talking. Now."
The man, a soldier as she could tell from his uniform, leaned back in his chair, his eyes wide as he chuckled, apparently amused by her. She instinctively reached to her side; nothing there. She was dressed in some sort of prison outfit. Different than the one she had in Vladimirsky. The memories further inflamed her growing anger. She looked to the woman standing behind the man before her. She was holding a clipboard. Blank, impassive.
"Bitch. You. Tell me what's going on."
Chernikov beamed at her; he seemed relieved. "Charming. Let me guess, Svetlana Savchuk?"
She leaned forward, closer to him. "That's right. You all know who I am."
He looked over to Commissar Rosenstein; she acknowledged him with a curt nod. He turned back to her. "And what was the last thing you remember doing before waking up here, Svetlana?"
In a flash, she stood up, snatching the folding chair from underneath her. She flattened it, taking it up in both hands, and swung as hard she could at Chernikov's head.
Chernikov ducked, just slightly, the chair catching a few stray strands of hair standing on the top of his head. Without any seeming effort, he took a single step forward, his body shifting like a dancer, and drove his fist into her stomach. The chair clattered obscenely to the cement floor as she went down in a heap. The entire exchange took two seconds.
The sound of his boots reverberated off of the reinforced walls. He stood over her, stepping on her outstretched hand with just enough force to keep it in place, painfully. She looked up at him. In her eyes, he saw no trace of wildness, no trace of fury. No outward expression of pain, despite being doubled up on the floor. She seethed without anger, a gaze holding the promise of rectifying the temporary slight visited upon her. A look for which Chernikov had developed a taste over the years.
He picked up his hat. "That's right, just as it's written in the report, Svetlana. Except, unlike the guard in Block 4, I am alive. Commissar Rosenstein, we have our woman."
He squatted down, coming face to face with SCP-1041, temporary host to Svetlana Savchuk, known Marchenko Family soldier and thrice-convicted murderer. "Go fetch Geissler. Tell him we have our subject. We're ready to begin."