The sign above her door said “3521”. In conversation they called her The Witness. But she only thought of herself as Amy.
She didn’t know how they had taken her. It had been as she was walking home from school. Calla, the one person in school still willing to talk to her, had been with her. Amy remembered a lull in the conversation, looking up at the sky, seeing the last trails of a cloud drifting in boundless blue. When she looked down, she was in the laboratory, and the testing had begun. That was five years ago, if her captors could be believed.
Her cell could have charitably been compared to a kennel. Fluorescent lights burned through any trace of darkness, twelve hours a day. The bed was cheap metal bolted to the wall and covered with a cheaper mattress. She had one thin blanket, one stiff pillow. In the corner was a metal toilet. Next to that was a sink. Every morning and night, a guard would slide toiletries in through a slot on the door. She’d had a nicer room, just a few months ago. They’d taken it for reasons still unknown.
Amy was picking at lunch when she heard the footsteps. They halted in front of the door. A man’s voice, raspy from a lifetime of smoking, came through. “We’ve got some people that want to talk to you.”
She took a final spoonful of mashed potatoes and said through the mouthful, “Hey, Ed.”
“I’m opening the door.”
With a sigh, she trudged to the back wall. Leaning against it, arms crossed, she watched the door. A light above the knob flashed red. The entrance swung open. Ed stood in the doorway.
He was a string bean of a man, dressed in the grey and black outfit worn by every guard in the facility. The belt slung across his waist, just loose enough to need regular repositioning, held a gun, taser, and radio. Two guards stood behind him. One she recognized. The other wore a uniform she’d never seen before, black with blue trim. Each personnel had three three letters printed above their left chest pockets- SCP. Amy had long wondered what the letters stood for.
“Let’s go,” said Ed. He stepped back from the doorway.
“Sure. Fine.” Saying it like that made it sound like she’d been given a choice. She separated from the wall. “Where to?”
The guards clustered around her as she exited the cell. Ed in front, the other two watching her back. “Just follow me,” he said.
They lead her down a maze of hallways, following a route she’d never taken before. If the way she pictured the facility was correct, they were heading west, but was hard to tell any two areas apart. Wherever you went, same lifeless stucco walls, sterile-white floors, steel, windowless doors taunted you. Amy glanced at the numbers marking each cell. None were familiar.
“Been awhile since you guys came around,” she said after several minutes of silence.
“Shut up,” said the new man.
Ed glanced back. “Relax, Hurlin. She’s not going to do anything by talking.” He faced front and said, “We’ve got some people from a different Site who want to take a look at you.”
Hurlin grumbled something that sounded like ‘fucking unprofessional’. She ignored it. “Yeah? What for?”
They reached the end of the hallway, and a door. Through a wired-off window, Amy saw somebody sitting at a table. Ed opened the door and motioned her to enter.
At the table was a woman in a blue and white dress suit. She was sorting through several stacks of paper, marking notes with a pen, and didn’t look up as Amy entered. Two men, dressed in the same black/blue uniform as Hurlin, stood against the far wall. He took a place next to him. The door shut.
The woman speared her pen at the chair across from her without looking up. “Sit.” Amy did. After several minutes, the woman settled back in the chair, set the pen down, and fixed her stare on Amy. “Ms. Corvin,” she said. “My name is Dr. Galloh.”
Amy raised an eyebrow. “Uh huh. Who’s that next to you, Agent Tombstone?”
“His name isn’t important,” said Galloh. She tapped her pen against her lips. “Most people in your situation wouldn’t be so flippant.”
Amy shrugged. “I guess I’ve been here long enough to know you aren’t gonna do shit about it.”
Galloh nodded and scribbled something down. “Did they tell you why I want to talk to you, Ms. Corvin?”
Amy glanced between her and the guard. “Nobody really tells me anything around here.”
“Yes, it’s a nasty habit we develop.” The doctor smiled. In any other context it might have looked comforting. “It’s fairly simple. You’ve been held at this Site for just over five years. We’re beginning to think it might not be the most optimal place for you.”
Amy perked up.
“Sorry,” Galloh smiled, “it’s only a transfer. We’re not in the business of letting people go. I’ll be doing the preliminary interviews before you’re moved.”
Amy’s stomach sunk. A stupid thing to expect. Still crushing to hear. “What, you don’t have enough already?” They’d conducted dozens since she’d come here. Maybe more than a hundred. Eventually, they all came around to the same places.
“Redundancy. Another regrettable habit we form.” The doctor took a small metal box from her labcoat, placed it on the table, pressed a thumb to its top face. The box chirped. She moved her hand away. “Or suspicion, from another perspective.” Amy frowned. It wasn’t like any recording device she’d seen before.
Amy wished she could tilt her chair back. “Let’s get this over with.” She glanced at the guards. The ones she usually saw looked like beat cops, or a traffic officers, and played the parts. These had an edge to them, like they were hungry for the chance to snap her neck.
“Wonderful. Let’s start simple then.” Doctor Galloh cleared her throat. “This is Doctor Susan Galloh, conducting an interview with Subject Tree Fife Two One. Date and time is…” a quick glance at her watch, “14:56, December 12th, 2015.” Her focus shifted to Amy. “Ms. Corvin. How have you found your stay at the Site?”
It took Amy a moment to process the question. “How’s it been? What is this, a fucking hotel? What do you expect me to say, ‘Oh, thanks for snatching me up and imprisoning me, it’s been a fucking carnival of wonder?’”
“Not in so many words,” said Galloh. Another note taken. “When you were initially brought in, you showed no awareness of your anomalous features. Correct?”
Amy took a few deep breaths before continuing. “Yeah, that’s right.”
“How long was it until their nature was brought to your attention?”
Amy shrugged. “I dunno. Few days, maybe. This isn’t the easiest place to tell time.”
The doctor made a hmm noise. Her pen continued its stroll across the page. “That’s something of a rarity. Most subjects are at least partially aware of their abnormality.”
“Good for them.”
“Not so much, usually. Before coming to us you were in an inpatient psychiatric facility for several months.” She heard Amy’s silence and continued. “Tell us about the hallucinations.”
Amy crossed her arms, pursed her lips. It was the question they always asked, and she almost had the answer memorized. “They started when I was 16. I’d been having a lot of weird dreams for a while, like walking around these weird places I’d never been to, weird beaches and like… prisons and libraries and shit. And it freaked me out a bit because I’d never been a big dreamer before. But then… I was at a party when I had the first one. I was pretty drunk, but not high or anything. And I was smoking with some friends outside, and I turned to go back to the fridge to grab some beers, and the house was gone. The entire neighborhood was gone. And in its place was this… fucking thing. This massive, green squirming thing the size of the entire block, like some giant fucking centipede only covered with slime and with… eyes all across its surface. All staring at me.” She broke off, stared at the Doctor. “Do you want me to go through all of them? I know you’ve got all the records.
“We’ll be getting more detail later. You and Entity Whiskey Lima 13 have a long and fascinating history together, I’m sure. But what we’re really interested in…” she fixed her stare on Amy, “is where we can find the Warden.”
Amy’s eyes widened. “How do you-”
The building rocked as a massive BOOM threw her to the floor. Her head cracked against the steel table. She crumpled to her knees, clutching her skull. Blood trickled through her fingers. She fought down the urge to vomit. Gunfire clattered in the distance.
“Get rid of her,” said a voice like radio static. Amy looked up. Doctor Galloh was slumped against the cell wall, eyes wide with fear. One of the guards stood over her. Dark green lines crept down his arm. His forearm twisted, like it was fighting to wrench free from the socket, until it gave a loud pop, and a third joint appeared in the arm. His knuckles scraped the floor now. He lifted the hand. His fingers writhed, wormed against each other, until they fused into a single spike. Too fast to see, he drove it through the skull of the doctor. And a voice in Amy’s head she hadn’t heard in five years shouted RUN
She lunged for the door, but the world was still spinning, and she stumbled over her own feet. Before she could rise, cold fingers clamped her neck.
“Stand up,” said her captor. His voice was just as distorted as the last one, but something about it was familiar. She rose, knees shaking. The man who had stabbed Doctor Galloh stepped into view. His arm was normal now, slick with blood to the elbow. A lanyard dangled from his fist. Doctor Galloh’s ID. He swiped it against a wall panel, and the door opened.
Amy was shoved forward, almost fell. She glanced back at her captor as she steadied herself- and recognized Hurlin. His eyes were missing. Black cracks spread from the sockets like broken glass. And still, he seemed to be staring through her. “Turn around,” he said, in a voice like a grindstone. He pushed her through the door.
In the hallway, the other two agents waited. The one who had killed Galloh glared at her. The other talked on a phone in a language she didn’t recognize. Gunfire continued in the distance. Amy flinched at the sound of a far-off explosion.
Hurlin grabbed her arm. Even through the jumpsuit, his fingers felt like ice. He motioned to the agent on the phone and said something in the strange language. The agent glanced up, grunted a reply, then slid the phone back into his pocket.
The agent stepped to the wall. He pulled a plastic baggie from inside his jacket- inside were several lumps of charcoal. He took one, pocketed the rest, and drew a circle on the wall. To this he added runes, reaching from and surrounding it. He worked quickly, efficiently, as if he had practiced it a thousand times, and in less than 90 seconds, he had covered a six foot section of the wall. Then he plunged his hand into the glyphs
The wall around the circle shimmered rippled as fingers sunk through. As his hand sunk deeper, the ripples spread outward, swelling until each was thicker around than the man’s arm. And the wall began to change. The white paint faded into an image of a large, red-lit cavern. The image grew more solid, until the white filter of the wall was gone completely. Runes still hung in the air, undisturbed. Amy felt a rush of cold wind, smelled moss and damp rock. A look of intense concentration crossed the creature’s face. It didn’t move.
“Come,” said Hurlin, jerking Amy forward. She struggled against his grip, but he dragged her anyway, unnoticing. They were only a few feet from the cavern when his head exploded.
Amy let out a yell as blood splattered her. Hurlin’s body crumpled. She turned, and saw Ed approaching. His pistol was drawn, aimed at the remaining two creatures. “Don’t mo-”
The creature moved so fast it seemed to stand in two places. As Ed began to speak, it was by the portal-opener. Before he could finish, it was behind him, one scythe-like arm pressed against to his throat, the other claw piercing his palm. It flicked its wrist, and Ed’s hand flew through the air, smacking into the wall.
Amy didn’t wait to see the rest. She turned and began to run. Through the gate, said the voice in her head, and she listened, leaping past the portal-opener into the cavern. She rolled across the rock, felt something in her arm pop, and came to a stop staring at rocky wall. Frantically, she looked around. The portal was nowhere to be seen.
You broke the seal, coming through early. They will open it again soon. I suggest you continue running. Calmly. It was hard to identify anything about the voice. Not low enough to definitely be a man's, not high enough to definitely be a woman. It spoke with no discernible accent, and if the creature behind it felt any emotion, none of it showed.
I AM calm. She pushed herself to her feet. Pain shot through her right shoulder as she did so- it hung limply at her side. The cavern sloped upward from the wall. Glowing red crystals lined rough stone, continuing up and then disappearing into a downward slope. The rocks were damp, the air not quite cold enough to make her shiver- yet. Is it safe?
I am still attempting to determine that, said the voice. However, had you remained in their hands, your chance of escape would have been zero. It paused, then added. I strongly urge you to begin running.
She did, though not as fast as she would have liked- the floor was slippery, and the shoes they’d given her had no traction. By the time she had reached the top of the tunnel, the soles were soaked through. The bottoms of her feet were beginning to feel numb.
Talk to me, Goose. What the fuck were those things? She asked, looking down the hill. The tunnel continued down a few hundred feet, then split off into multiple paths. It felt weird, to actually converse with the voice. For so long, before they’d taken her, she’d done everything to ignore it.
There are… multiple possibilities. Every step made her arm flash with pain. Still, she darted towards the end of the tunnel as fast as possible.
The response almost made her stumble. Since when do you talk about possibilities? The situation might have been funny, if she hadn’t been living it. For four years she’d wanted nothing else but for the Witness to disappear. And it had, when they’d taken her. Now that it was back, she felt nothing but relief.
I have missed much in the past five years. Most likely, they are Bookburners, or perhaps a splinter cult of the Serpent's Hand. Amy neared the end of the tunnel, and before she could ask, the voice said Third from the right.
The crystals down this tunnel took on a blue glow. She was barely a dozen yards from the end when she heard a crackling noise behind, and a distant snarl. She began to run faster. The pain in her arm surged, and she barely stopped herself from screaming. Jesus FUCK! Okay. File that one away, I guess. Where the hell are we, and why am I running this way?
We appear to be in another universe.
What? Even before her containment, she’d never been much of an athlete. Her calves were beginning to beg for mercy. She kept running.
A small one, most likely of artificial construction. It appears to link to a large network of ‘natural’ universes. Interesting. I had heard of such things, but never witnessed one for myself. The chill in the air was deepening. Her feet ached from the cold and and stone.
I’m really happy you got this opportunity. It looked like the tunnel opened ahead. Green light shone from above.
It’s pleasing to see five years in captivity has not dulled your wit. Try not to fall.
Huh? she thought, and skidded to a halt just before she ran off the ledge. Her foot slipped on the rock. She dropped to the ground. Pain shot up her tailbone. FUCK! She could swear the voice was chuckling.
Mist coated her face. She looked down. The green light reflected off dark water, a few yards below. A river. Probably about ten feet to the far wall, and the water was moving at such a languid pace it looked frozen. Poking from the wall beneath her was a small ledge that ran alongside the river. A bitter- but not unpleasant- smell like dried spices hung in the air. Climb down, said the voice.
She looked closer. Small grooves marked the wall, just big enough to support the edge of a foot, making a path straight down. Shivering as another blast of cold air swept through, she turned and began to lower herself down. It was slow work- she wanted to hurry, but her right arm still hung useless. Her foot clawed at air, and for a second she imagined her grip slipping, cracking her back across the stone. But her foot found the groove, and her breath returned. She made her way to the bottom.
At the instant she touched solid ground, another shriek filled the tunnel. Closer, this time. She glanced around. The path was only a few feet wide. Nothing visible in either direction but darkness. From the tunnels, the sound of claws raking against stone. Now would be a really great time to get me the fuck out of here.
Go left, said the voice, and she obliged. The stone of the ledge was more deliberately carved than the tunnels. She was able to move quickly without worrying about slipping. Her breathing grew ragged, rapid. Her vision was going fuzzy from exertion. She wanted to fall to her knees and rest, to close her eyes and fall into a sleep deeper than any she had felt before. But she kept running.
Until she couldn’t. She took one final step, and it was if her legs disappeared from under her. She was standing, then falling, and the water rose to meet her. It drove all breath, all feeling, from her body as she crashed into it… then sudden, screaming cold, worse than anything she had ever felt, swallowing her. And then, again, numbness. She was drifting beneath the water, eyes open, staring at a pulsing green light.
Move, said a voice that sounded miles away. Swim. They are almost here. She ignored it. Why would she want to swim? That would take so much effort. It was so nice here. Warm. Floating. Maybe she could stay here forever, free from the rest of the world.
It was not meant to be. A rough hand grabbed her arm and yanked her from the water. It held her limply in the air. She heard voices that didn’t sound human.
“Is she breathing?”
“Good. Hurry. Time moves against us.”
The hand threw her up, and she landed on something hard. She cracked her eyes open, and saw that she was slung across the back of a large, lizard-like biped. Huh. That was something you didn’t see every day.
She closed her eyes again and let the warmth overtake her.
END PART ONE