Time dragged on, and Lilibeth could feel the metaphorical chains connecting her to SCP-2508 grow ever tighter. The small group of runaways had spent the better part of the past two weeks attempting to track down the elusive group known as the Aleph-Null Collective.
But, as seemed to be typical of this place, every answer simply led to more questions.
“Get a load of this!” Norma exclaimed one afternoon after talking to random Library patrons. The rest of the group was busy taking a break from their intensive study, but all turned to the young girl in unison as she came bouncing through the conference-room door.
“So there was this guy on Floor 109, right?” Norma began, “and he was just giving away chocolate. Can you believe it?”
Everyone, save for Lilibeth, turned their attention back to whatever was occupying them before Norma’s entrance.
“I thought you were asking around about our predicament?” Lilibeth asked.
“Yeah, well I was, but then there was delicious food. Besides, nobody knows who the hell these Aleph-Null guys are. They’re essentially the ghostiest of ghosts.”
“You can say that again,” Perseus chimed in, “We’ve been at this for nearly two weeks and we’ve turned up nothing on either the cottages or this elusive collective that might not even have any leads.”
“Dead ends all around,” Crux sighed. For a moment nobody said anything. Lilibeth looked around the room at her fellow colleagues. As bizarre as it felt, she was beginning to grow fond of them. But she felt a sense of dread forming in her stomach surrounding their current method of action.
“Do you all want to… consider a plan B?” Lilibeth asked, her voice hesitant. Once again, everyone perked up a bit. Even Carina- from behind her desk in the corner of the room- seemed to stop for a moment as if listening intently.
“What kind of plan B?” Perseus asked.
“Well, what about trying to disrupt these routines the cottage tries to have us maintain? I mean, come on, I know we’ve all thought about it.”
Suddenly the mood in the room changed from relaxation to concentration. Of course everyone there had thought of the idea, but the group had never committed to any plan, given there were so many unknown factors involved. Perhaps it wasn’t a bad idea.
“But there’s no telling what would happen,” noted Perseus.
“And we’re sure there’s nothing else we could do?” Norma asked, “Didn’t you work with some spooky dream wizards, Perseus? Can’t they help?”
Perseus stifled a laugh.
“What? The Oneioroi? They’re not wizards,” he said, peering off into the hallway. “At any rate, we don’t speak much anymore. They taught me a lot but I don’t think they’d be much help here.”
“So our array of options is fairly narrow,” said Crux.
“Quite,” Norma adjusted her hat. The chocolate-filled grin that had covered her face previously was now a look of puzzlement and concern; a sentiment much shared by the rest of the group.
“The real question is: is it worth the risk?” Lilibeth asked. She could tell, though, that she already knew the answer. As the rest of the group mused on the thought, it slowly became clear to all of them as well.
“Undoubtedly,” stated Crux, a slight glimmer in his eyes that almost looked like excitement.
“You’re right,” Norma nodded before turning her attention towards Perseus.
“What about it, big guy?” she asked. He stood from his chair with a sense of purpose and precision, carefully placing the book her had been reading on a table by his side.
“We’d have to actively sabotage the cottage’s patterns ,” he finally responded, “destroy as many of its anomalies that we can, and then bug out and hope for the best. The pump in the attic- to me at least- seems like it’s powering the entire place somehow. Maybe if we can interrupt that… I don’t know. There’s a chance that it could make things worse, but there’s only one way to find out.”
Everyone shared a couple of nervous and excited glances. They were in agreement.
“Hopefully, Lilibeth, if all goes well you’ll get to see your daughter when this is all over.”
“I- what?” Lilibeth was taken aback, before the realization set in. “Oh. Oh, no. Listen, Perseus if this is about that dream, when you told me to find the Library…” she trailed off.
“What is it?” asked Perseus.
“I had a daughter. Not anymore.”
“What happened?” Crux blurted, prompting accusatory looks from both Norma and Perseus.
“Crux!” Perseus scolded the gray man.
“It’s okay,” Lilibeth waved off the remark, “It’s old news, really. My husband and her got in a car accident about a year before I got stuck at the cottage. I still miss them terribly, but it’s not like there’s anything I can do about it.”
“But, don’t you have family back home?” Crux continued.
“Yeah; The Foundation,” Lilibeth gave a weak smile, “so let’s just put this plan into action so I can get back to them.”
Lilibeth smashed the pump to pieces. Its dry valves and empty insides cracked, splintered, and dented until it was a collection of scrap metal and kindling strewn about the attic floor. An axe from the cottage’s basement did the trick, and Lilibeth found the entire exercise both relieving and cathartic. It was as if all of her negative emotions regarding this place were bubbling to the surface all at once: anger, sadness, disgust.
She paused, looking at her work. After a moment, she made her way to the basement, stopping only at a cabinet in the study to get more supplies. Her feelings welled as she procured a lighter from her pocket, stopped, and looked at the plant at the far end of the basement’s cold cement floor. With lighter in one hand and axe in the other, she approached, and lit the vegetation ablaze.
“What I do now, I do in remembrance for everyone who came before me to this place.”
The flames licked at the cement and danced about the blackening shrub. Somewhere on the other side of the basement, a shadow of a figure descended the stairs. It made no noise, but something about its very presence made Lilibeth tense up. She wasn’t even certain why, but she felt as if her private space had suddenly been intruded upon. Cautiously, she turned to see it, against the floor in the middle of the room. She opened her mouth but had nothing to say; no reaction.
“You’re going to need to stop that,” it said, its voice shooting directly into Lilibeth’s head, as if the voice was speaking from within her.
The shadow turned around and retrieved a fire extinguisher from another corner of the room. Lilibeth watched onward as it snuffed out the flames. She stood stuck where she was, capable of moving but not thinking to do so: A deer in headlights.
“It has come to my attention that this transmitter has been experiencing difficulty in functioning. Now I can see why. It appears you have abandoned your responsibilities.”
Suddenly Lilibeth snapped out of her trance, “responsibilities? To what? To this prison? Just what is this place, and just who are you?”
“I’m an immune response.”
Lilibeth had finally had it, swinging the axe into the wall, colliding it with the concrete and creating a loud smacking sound.
“Real answers,” she brandished the weapon at the shadow, “I’m through with these mind games. I’ve waited decades for answers and you’re the first thing I’ve seen since then that has them, and that’s all you have to say?”
The shadow stepped back, almost as if caught off guard by the sudden hostility.
“Why on Earth are you acting like this?” it said, “Are you displeased with this place-”
“Oh you bet your silhouetted ass I’m displeased. I’d say ‘displeased’ is putting it lightly.”
“Why? Have you not been treated well? Wasn’t this not enough?”
“Enough?! You trapped me here. You stole my whole life from me. How could I possibly be pleased about any of it?!”
Lilibeth was in tears now, and the shadow’s posture had drooped slightly. For a moment the yelling gave way to the sound of… nothing. It was eerily quiet. No wind and no birds to be heard. The moment passed as Lilibeth swung the axe again; this time to the floor, where she could hear its blade chip slightly as it serrated the cement.
“Answer me!” she demanded.
“I had nothing to do with it!” the shadow’s composure was lost. In fact, it sounded like it was about to cry too. “I’m just here because this place stopped functioning, and was in need of immediate care. This is no prison!”
“How? How exactly is this not a prison?”
“Please put down the axe.”
“I can’t. There’s really no time.”
“Well then you better start talking, because I’m not doing anything until you tell me why you’ve trapped me and so many others before me.”
“Listen, I don’t know what you think you’re doing right now, but you need to stop lying to the both of us, because that is not how this place works. N-”
A cracking sound emanated from somewhere deep below the surface. Lilibeth’s rage slowly began to sink back into fear as the noises of crunching and scraping rose to the surface.
And then, a tiny split in the concrete floor, just below her left foot.
And then, the floor gave way to darkness.