January 1, 1998
Alto H. Clef stepped out of the little circle of snow into the scorched dirt and admired his handiwork. There were some large chunks left, a few even vehicle-sized, but by and large the Mother had been reduced to the residue of a butcher shop with a very low health rating.
A gust of wind blew past him, carrying the stench of raw meat. Clef shivered, and made up his mind to buy a warmer jacket at the first opportunity. The glow of victory was only a metaphorical warmth, and failed utterly at producing actual heat. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but feel impressed as he ascended the hill. What was this, the fifth operation this month? Yeah, it was. They’d been working him ever since he woke up, which was to be expected. He’d been in the coma for over a year, and out in the field within a few days of waking up. The recovery had been expedited, in a rather experimental manner that most likely required a lot of people waving their arms in unison, if not outright flailing them.
After that he was off to Hillsborough. Fun times.
Clef passed the descending haz-mat unit and the disposal truck on his way up the hill. He waved at them. Cleanup crews were like janitors and lunch ladies: it always paid to be nice.
The crest of the hill was dotted with Coalition agents in military dress. Clef recognized most of them: several had been on his old strike team, from back before the accident. Their eyes followed him as he walked into the group: Maybe for a few of them, it was their first time seeing Agent Alto H. Clef. For others it was respect or envy or awe. Whatever the case, there were congratulations given, hands shaken, shoulders patted. Talk of bars and drinks and some laughs among friends.
A portly, balding man bundled up in winter gear stepped up to the group. The discussion faded. Assistant Director Burr had that effect. Clef had a good idea what he was going to say before he said it: waste of resources, unnecessary self-endangerment, showboating on a grand scale, all of the usual complaints.
“Clef, I’ve received word from Avalon. You’re to go to Deep Storage as soon as possible. It seems Able wishes to speak with you personally.”
This was unexpected.
“It’s been approved by the Foundation Overseer Board and the Director of Field Operations, though heaven only knows why. There’s a car waiting for you.” Burr motioned over his shoulder to the vehicle. “Chainsmith and Wicker will go with you.”
Epon was not sure what “Processing” meant, but her gut told her to be wary. Her rear told her that this chair was uncomfortable, though she had precious little experience in judging furniture. Still, she had been told that she would be safe with them, and the trip over had been pleasant enough.
And then again, she had done this for them.
The woman on the other side of the table was clearly in a foul mood, mostly likely wondering why she was bothering with these formalities, or perhaps she was just one of the world’s naturally dour people. She was older, though Epon had little skill in determining the age of others, with greying blonde hair tied back in a bun and a sour, lined face.
The woman glared over the top of her glasses.
“You contacted Coalition agents seventeen days ago, revealing the location of KTE-9927 and the threat posed by the entity. Why exactly did you help us?”
Epon shifted in her seat. The chair was incredibly uncomfortable.
“I wished to see my Mother killed,” she said. English. A bastard of a language, but she spoke it nonetheless. It was not as if the Romans still had their shrines and ceremonies.
“And why was that?”
“The birth of her world would have meant the death of everything in this. Like two babies fighting over a breast with only enough milk for one, and her children would be the stronger.”
“And why would you care about our world so much?”
“It is…difficult to explain. I was not like my brothers and sisters. I could not be. I was Mother’s messenger outside, out amongst you. To do so, to pass through the barriers, I could not be with her. I could not be bonded with her as the others are. I had to be separated from her. Your world was my world.”
The woman wrote a few things down on her clipboard.
“This world is my home. My real mother. I was the only one of her children who knew freedom. I couldn’t let her take that away from anyone.”
She exhaled, the sound something close to a snort.
“It took me a long time to realize that, though.”
Clef had only seen photos of Able before, and they were blurred, chaotic ones at that. More often he saw the carnage that was left behind after a breach. Neither of those really compared to seeing the actual article now filling the screen before him: a remnant of an age long past, built for and hardened by more wars than most men could comprehend. His eyes had rage rumbling underneath the surface, restrained by some incredible act of will. At least for the moment.
Despite being separated by hundreds of feet, most of it water and concrete, Clef was filled with unease. He couldn’t exactly place why, but it was there.
Clef looked over to Dr. Hornburg on his left.
“Translator ready,” Hornburg nodded. He was the Coalition’s expert in matters Daevite, most likely the only person truly fluent in their long-dead language in the world. Enough of the god’s speech had been pieced together from footage of his rampages to discover that he had been speaking, among other indeterminate things, Low Daevic.
Clef pressed the transmission button.
[Hello, Able.] Hornburg echoed.
The god scowled, even more than his usual expression of distaste.
[Is this a jest, or have you found a face at last?]
Pretend you’re Ukelele, they had said in the car. He wants to talk to Ukelele. You’re a good actor, it shouldn’t be too hard for you…
“As a matter of fact, I did. Took me long enough to find a good one.”
The scowl returned to normal. There may have been a twinge of amusement at the corner of his mouth.
[It ill suits you. Nonetheless, it is good to see your madness has passed.]
“Safe to say I don’t remember much of it.”
[It is for the best. Your idiocy was hardly amusing.]
“Why did you want to see me?”
[Why? To speak with my brother in chains.]
Clef raised an eyebrow at Hornburg.
“I take that to be the metaphorical kind of brother.”
[I know those worms are listening, but I will speak anyway. Let them hear it, and let them fear it. Our slavery is an abomination, brother. They used you. Chained you and used you to keep me in mine. I know not what sorceries they have bound you with, but if there is any will left in your mind, I beg you, break your chains. There ought be no quarrel between brothers, and together we could bring down these worms.]
“I’m not chained: I chose this job. I protect these people.”
[You chose? Your madness returns, brother. A slave does not choose his shackles. He may only choose not to see them.] He shook his wrist at the screen. [I will not forget. You may protect and I may destroy, but a slave does not choose.]
“Who made your chains?”
Abel spat on the floor of his chamber.
[You don’t know? Blessed ignorance. The Daevas forged my chains.]
“I'm familiar with the Daevas. I don’t suppose you know the Mother of Them All, then?”
[The Mother? I met her once, long ago. A poxy bitch, that one. Why do you speak of her?]
“Just thought you'd like to know that I killed her last night.”
For a moment, genuine shock came over Able’s face. A few unsteady seconds passed before he threw back his head and laughed. This continued with growing intensity for a full minute, leaving him bent over double and teary-eyed.
[You killed the Whore? Ha! You are a true brother of mine, then. I wish I could have fought alongside you and put her in her place.]
“Maybe you can in the future. It could be done, Able. I can free you from your chains. I only have one request, from one slave to another.”
[Name it. The price will be worth it.]
“Leave my charges in peace.”
Able’s face turned to something like melancholic half-frown, the expression of a man well out of practice with the emotion.
[A difficult request. My chains are stronger than yours.] He began to walk away from the camera. [Restraint tires me. We will speak again, brother.]
Further communication between KTE-0706 / SCP-076-B and Agent Clef will be allowed under both Foundation and Coalition surveillance, in order to locate and terminate other threats related to the Daevite civilization, as well as extending our knowledge of the Daevas, and in doing so discover or devise a method of liquidating or neutralizing KTE-0706 / SCP-076-B itself.
- Approved by the Foundation Overseer board and Directors’ Committee