Clef didn’t miss his face. Initially the loss had been painful. It wasn’t just his physical face the creature had taken. For years he’d wandered with a hole in his existence, one that could not be filled no matter how much achievement or memories or fellowship he built up. They all simply… fell away, refusing to attach themselves to him. He may have acquired them, briefly, but they had never been his. Never been him.
So he weaved himself a mask. An idea, a facade that he could wear like clothing to cover the torn skin. One that thrived on its impermanence, its malleability, its ambiguity. That clutched at the questions like a babe to a teat and drunk itself fat. He could no longer have a self. So he became a story.
And of course, there were benefits to not having an identity. Like being able to walk into Site 2000 unquestioned. All you have to do is tweak the tale a bit. Yes, of course he should be here. No, it wasn’t strange that a notoriously volatile researcher was strolling into the most heavily guarded object on the planet. Continue your workdays. Everything is going as intended.
He strolled down the sterile hallways of complex, whistling to himself and flipping his badge between his fingers. There were no guides on the wall to indicate direction. Everyone working here was expected to fully memorize their daily routes (and nothing else) before arriving at the station. It didn’t bother Clef. He knew exactly where he was going.
He stopped to look at the source of the voice. Cute. Blonde. A bit too scrawny for him. He smiled. “Yes?”
“No one’s scheduled to be in this hall at the moment. Where are you going?”
His eyes moved from her stern expression, to the way she held her hands on her hips, to the gun at her waist. Ah. One of those, then. He smiled. “There’s been a small malfunction in the 2Z-31 anchor. Trying to patch it up before it gets too serious.”
“There aren’t any repairs on the schedule.”
“It just popped up. Try not to let these things linger for too long, you know?”
She glanced at a PDA. “We update on a minute-to-minute schedule. Nothing’s showing up.” Her hand rested on the gun at her waist. Clef was impressed. He hadn’t even seen her switch position. Anyone else might have let her get the drop on him. “So again, what are you doing here?”
His arm shot forward, snatching her wrist. Before she could get a grip the gun, he jerked back. There was a crunching noise as her ulna cracked. She screamed, but he already had his hand over her mouth, covering the noise. He worked the rest of his arm around her neck. She slammed against him, jabbed her elbows toward his side, but he rotated his body. All her strikes bounced harmlessly at her side. Soon, she stilled. He lowered her unconscious body to the floor.
No alarms sounded. But now he had a time limit. He sprinted down the hallway, taking turns on instinct, trusting his memorization of the building to take him where he wanted to go. He darted up three flights of stairs, slammed open a door, breezed past the three researches chatting about takyon fields. He ran, unthinking, until he arrived at an unmarked, unassuming door.
The central hub.
Select few people had access to this. Most people wouldn’t even notice it under the memetic defenses. Even the people who worked at the site didn’t realize what the place was truly for. They thought a secret within a secret was all there was to it. But Clef knew. He’d known even before the Watchers told him. He’d known ever since they found the note on his dead corpse, when the pieces of every puzzle fell into place and showed him the true nature of the game. Even his comrades probably didn’t realize the full magnitude of this place. He glanced around, saw that nobody was watching, and opened the door. And prayed for forgiveness.