On a grey horizon, thousands of towering buildings stood, some tilted at certain angles, others snapped in half. A great emptiness was felt in the air, as sound seemed to bounce endlessly off the dense sky. On the ground, creatures, humans, and metal alike roamed, not all alive and not at all quite dead. They fought, they hid, and barely managed to love. The sky was completely empty, save for a dim ball of light that barely counted as a moon. A few sane beings wondered what purgatory was like, and how similar it would be to this.
Grace sat at her wooden desk in her wooden shack, as she absent-mindlessly stared at the ceiling. A pale fluorescent beamed down on her, giving her dark hair and light skin a sour tone. Her grey suit and slacks felt stiff, as she wondered why wearing a suit was necessary in the middle of nowhere.
Today, she was imagining an oasis in the middle of a desert. She thought about lying down next to the water, being heated by waves of light and the gray grains of sand beneath her. It wasn't until a shiver took hold of her body, throwing her back into reality. The unrelenting, hopeless, and irritating reality that was called Antarctica.
Her workplace was neither impressive nor awful. Several plastic boxes of paperwork sat in one corner of the room, a ladder that led to a bathroom and bed down below remained in another. Next to her desk was a modest bookshelf with mostly informational policies, and next to that was the door she couldn't open. On her desk, papers, pens, a small CRT, and a large red rotary phone dominated the shoddy wooden desk.
Done with daydreaming, Grace gave the monitor a glance. An overhead view of the huge price tag was the only thing present on the small television. She noted it had begun to move again, and took a few deep breaths of the room's stale air. Getting up from her office chair, she walked around the room, stretching a bit in the cold before she sat down again.
It wasn't until the rotary phone began ringing a few minutes later that the price tag had stopped moving. For the 48th (49th? 52nd?) time, she lifted the phone and began her pitch.
"Good afternoon, this is Grace Zammuto, Light Courier Enterprises Representative #4 speaking. We are currently selling the Earth, have you called to inquire on a purchase?"
400. I want it for 400.
"I'm sorry sir or miss, but $҉ 585.98 really is the minimum I am allowed to offer. We can discuss rounding it out to 600, maybe, as I would also be able to offer some types of insurance or—"
375. Don't you even think about robbing me, as your kind always manage to do.
Goddammit, Grace thought to herself. She watched the price tag float around in midair, occasionally twitching or shaking.
"I know you likely hold a position of authority where you're from, but as I've said before, I can't lower this price. Our profit margins are slim as it is, and we need that profit to turn over to Illumination. I can only offer bundles and other services to come with Earth, which really do give you your money's worth—"
Manager. I want your manager. I want them to give me someone that isn't a disabled drone.
"I'd love to, but I'd like to also inform you that I resent being called a 'disabled drone', and my manager's hours are at strictly 35 hours 30 minutes to 36 hours 30 minutes, so if you aren't interested in listening to my special offers, I'll have to end this call."
A resounding thud came from outside. On her monitor, Grace could make out a print on the snow, where the price tag had been slammed into the ground. It was now levitating in the air, the price tag's string taut, as if it was the string to the solar system's largest Christmas tree ornament.
I could drop this into emptiness. I could crush it into my eyes. I could dash it against the solid air. And I know you'll be "liable" for it.
"But you won't, because you and your kind know what happened to the last time something like that happened. Tell me, how much do you remember before that reset?"
Several seconds passed. The phone clicked, and Grace leaned back with a sigh.
Several more seconds passed, and Grace heard another thud outside. This time, the monitor showed a black glob of liquid on the motionless price tag. A distant alarm began to blare some distance away, as Observation Post 44 went on full alert.
It took a few more seconds, but a smile came across Grace's features before she began to laugh to herself. She hadn't seen that happen since her 6th call.
She thought she had finished, but her laughter redoubled as she stole a glance at the acronym engraved on her office door:
On a different grey horizon, a forest of pine and snow dominates what used to be a city. Small animals run through empty homes, the snow and the roots of trees sprawling across the ground they trod upon. A lone machine remains in the center of the forest, pulsing a soft blue light. The dim ball of light in the sky had begun to lower.
The machine resembled a misshapen cube from a distance. Up close, hundreds of tiny gears clicked quietly and spun with each other, traversing around the construct in a complex dance. Blocks of plastic tumbled through large clear pipes, forming a rigid roadway between the skittering clockwork. Pistons pumped with screws that twirled at air, golden wires snaked through cracks in the figure, and a small pulley cooed while bearing its weight.
Frostbitten human corpses lay around the machine, alien to the forest's new residents. A mother clutching a son with the hopes a shielding him from an attacker; a young man with a curved weapon in hand, his face touched by surprise. Amongst the corpses, a single human-like statue remained, standing upright and facing away from the ancient massacre behind it. Carved out of wood, its hands had begun to rot away, as ice clung to its ridges and curves.
On the front of the grand machine, a wooden door persisted, with chipped paint and scratches of many depths. Surrounded by the gashes on the door, a faded bronze plaque proudly displayed an acronym:
L. C. E.
Свет мой путь
"And I can assure you with 99.9% certainty, that letting me set up shop outside will NOT end up with me, you know, selling everything outside."
Assistant Researcher Riley had to use all of his willpower keep himself from picking up the minuscule SCP-1940-1 and punting him through a ventilation shaft's grates. Following complications with keeping SCP-1940-1 the size of an average human, HMCL Leifson had decided to downgrade its space to a broken refrigerator. 1940-1 protested the change all the while, but was now comfortable with the variety of rubbish Site-30 staff had provided for purchase within the fridge.
The fridge, now resembling a five-story model department store, now boasted wares including broken pens, shredded papers, lunch containers, and a pair of broken spectacles. 1940-1 stood at his register located on the fourth "floor" of the fridge, watching Riley install cameras in the fridge's many corners.
"A small lot of 14m by 14m, and I'll have all the required documentation you'll need," the miniature man continued. Donned with a blue apron and casual clothes, he looked more like he had attempted to make his own retail worker costume. "I'm obligated to stay on the property at all times, I'll probably sell some really neat acorns, perhaps one of those lollipops with a bug in the center, only it'll be a mud-pop or a wood-pop or maybe even a bird-pop—"
"I'm sorry, 1940 dash 1, but I'm not the one to make these decisions and I don't have the time to bring these concerns to those who can." Riley rubbed his eyes before he continued to adjust the camera's angles, waiting for Dr. Mill to give him the OK to move on to the next one from behind the chamber's observation window.
1940-1 watched Riley's work from his small register. "Please, call me Roshin. And they do say the customer is always right, but I may have to contest that saying with the words 'technically' and 'not'."
"And why is that, Roshin?"
"Because I guarantee that you'll be Roshin to change your mind once you see these deals I have here."
Riley hesitated for a few seconds, coughing once before finishing his work.
Roshin flashed a grin as he stood at his register. "I saw that. That got you. It got you, didn't it. When was the last time you've heard a pun in this place? I tell you, selling stuff here is like explaining politics to automaton."
"You caught me on a good day, is all." Standing up from the fridge, Riley couldn't hide the smile on his face, as stupid as the joke was.
"I believe I recall you saying you've never had a good day here," mused Roshin. "One joke a day makes the pain go grey, my mother said."
Shaking his head, Riley began to turn away until Roshin interrupted himself: "Actually, wait."
"Look, Mr. Riley. It's been, what, a year since this business has been relocated here? You know I don't ask for much other than some sales, which I haven't done once."
Roshin walked over to a paper cup, generally clean save for a suspicious brown stain on the lip. Grabbing it with both hands, he heaved the cup next to the register.
"I'll give you a one-time offer. This here goes for one dollar. I know you're probably going to burn this thing as soon as you can, but I don't have to care about that."
Riley raised an eyebrow has Roshin kept talking, who had been looking down at his counter.
"It's not like I want to keep working here, but I could be doing something much worse. Something part of a whole, but there's no such thing as a consistent whole. A-And I know I couldn't explain this stuff to Dr. Mill earlier, but— uh— It'd really help me if I could just get any sort of profit."
Riley looked down at the anomalous retail worker, who had an oddly serious expression for once. He looked back at Mill, who had developed a tense countenance during the conversation.
"Well, I can't help you in getting outside, but, I might be able to do a dollar, since they've got info on your sales before we brought you here. You know, with the HMCL being worried you'll self-destruct after reaching a quota or something like that."
Roshin lit up as he jumped towards the plastic cup. "That's all I needed to hear, pal! You can take that cup right now, down payment's a solid $0.00! And, ah, you may need to burn that cup very thoroughly if you're going to dispose of it. I don't want to end up selling ash piles in this place's furnace or whatever, you got that?"
"Loud and clear, 1940 dash 1." Signalling at Mill with the cup, Riley watched Mill roll his eyes and begin to call another Foundation employee.
"You have a good one, eh Riley? Tell Mill to live a little."
Roshin looked on as Riley exited the chamber, leaving the room empty with nothing but his store, his breath, and a dull ringing in the back of his ears. His eyes fell towards the three letters inscribed on his counter, a bright yellow acronym on the wooden top:
On a grey horizon, thousands of towering buildings wilted, some falling at certain angles, others embraced the earth. Previously opulent decorations and colors adorned the buildings, now crumbling and advertising towards the dirt below. On the ground, creatures, humans, and machine alike roamed, not at all alive and not quite dead. The dim ball of light lowered over the horizon, replaced by another identical dim ball of light.
And on every building, in so many different sizes and locations and lettering, were the bright yellow words:
Light Courier Enterprises.
We'll find the light for you.