Area-08 was located more or less five hundred miles west of the Azores, and consisted of a small, desolate island, and a larger, even more desolate artificial island. The larger island consisting of a ring six miles across and various modules that might be raised or lowered above the surface. The smaller island contained the launch facilities, the larger one provided containment.
It was originally constructed in the 1950s as the center of the Foundation’s fledgling space program, and remains the only Foundation facility where launches might take place unseen, thanks to a complex net of data suppression, government and corporate bribes, satellite interference, and outright assassination both of character and body.
The site, along with all others, had been notified two days prior of the event where six humanoids escaped from containment, temporarily overpowered a Foundation AI, carved a hole in the panopticon, stole a van, torched a motorpool, and were currently of unknown whereabouts. Like most of the other sites that received this message, Site-08 did not pay this significant mind. It was located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, far away from any sort of outside trouble. Its staff were a dozy, phlegmatic bunch, content to live out their careers in the northern mid-Atlantic, making sure that all the D-class and robotic units made it up to orbit in once piece, and from orbit to Thoth Station or the Lagranges, and then back home again.
This was life at Area-08, at least until someone crashed a boat into the small, desolate island’s loading dock.
Site directors are by nature reclusive creatures. They rarely interact with others of their kind, outside of the safe, controlled environments of monthly regional report commissions. When presented with their kin, they become skittish, as they are trained from birth to correlate the presence of other directors with imminent disaster.
This avoidance of others of the species has long concerned administrators the world over. As the creatures refuse to stay around each other long enough to reproduce, the species might go extinct within the next twenty years.
Now there were twenty-six of them in the same conference call, each one steeled for the twin threats of a major containment breach and peer interaction, though willing to hold back on the barbed insults about performance. Two starred names sat on top of the conference client’s user list.
A blip on the end of a dotted line, well outside the arcs of the orbiting missile platforms, was the topic of discussion today.
Director Kettering: All told, there are thirty-two personnel wounded, eight dead. Most of those hospitalized were the targets of a cognitohazard similar to the ones used during the initial breach at Site-15. Collateral and digital damage isn’t anything we can’t patch up with a little time, but replacing the Hamill will take a significant amount of resources. In addition, we are going to have to overhaul the security for shuttle access - they were able to bypass digital and physical failsafes.
Director Eman: Are you sure it can’t be recovered? We could easily allow them to pass through the BARGAVASTRA network and retake the vessel.
Director Kittering: It wouldn’t be able to survive re-entry in the first place, after the drone attack, and from their current trajectory it looks like they are attempting a slingshot orbit.
Director Eman: Ah. Right. I’m sorry.
Director Factor: Could we intercept them?
Director Kittering: No. The Herbert is currently at FORC-03, and the Heinlein is currently being retrofit at Thoth Station.
Director Hazelwood: Given what we gathered in interviews from SCP-2085 and associates, it is most likely that they are aiming towards SCP-2722.
Director Pickman: And they will be able to make the journey?
Director Kittering: The Hamill was fully supplied when it was hijacked, and the drones were not able to damage it enough to prevent space travel.
Director Van Graph: I’m watching the footage of the break-in right now. You guys had a soundstage set up for Mars?
Director Kittering: Pet project.
Director Van Graph: Pity they shot it all up.
Director Kittering: We can build it again.
Director Boll: Has a warning message been sent to the Solidarity?
Director Kittering: It has. However, that poses another issue. As I said in the briefing, FORC-04 and SCP-2722 have been operated by a skeleton crew for the last eighteen months, after the accidental re-activation of the ship’s automated janitorial system. At the moment there are a total of ten research staff on the station, and then forty-two D-class and sixteen security personnel on the ship proper.
Director Kinsey: Considering the state of affairs on 2722, the issue is solved. They will board, and be eaten alive by overzealous cleaning products.
Director Yonn: I doubt it, considering their luck.
Director Brand: It should be possible to recover the Hamill if this is the case.
Director Tortend: Kinsey has a point, however. The Solidarity is a dead end. They’ll board, and be stuck there. We could easily contain them there on the ship.
Director Kittering: That is a possibility. The ship has shown no signs of active functionally.
Director May: If I might interrupt with an obliquely-related question - Why did they call themselves the Black Rabbit Company? They’re all cats.
Director Kittering: I believe it was a folkloric reference – a rabbit in the moon, instead of an old man, but I’m not entirely sure.
Director May: Ah.
Direction Kittering: With all that in mind, I think the matter now is to determine what can be done with SCP-2085 and associates contained aboard the Solidarity. I am of the opinion that-
☆OVERSEER-O5-4: We have made a judgment.
Director Kittering: Oh. Quite right. Yes, Overseer?
☆OVERSEER-O5-9: We have judged that this matter be held under direct Overwatch guidance.
☆OVERSEER-O5-4: We will oversee the situation. You will be informed of changes as they occur, as according to what information might be freely distributed.
☆OVERSEER-O5-9: Go about your business.
☆OVERSEER-O5-4: The matter is in our hands.
☆OVERSEER-O5-9: This meeting is adjourned.
Hana looked at the nightside of Earth far below her. Spiderwebs of gold outlined continents. Lightning flashed in cloudbanks. People were sleeping, mostly. People were doing everything, down below. Everything they had ever done. Even while sitting on top of a nuclear fusion engine hurtling through the void at speeds that would eventually peak in the hundreds of thousands of miles an hour, Hana felt that she might not be moving at all.
She felt as if she wanted to cry, just from the sight of the Earth down there, just from how beautiful it was, but she couldn’t. Her heart felt filled up with heavy, stagnant blood. Feelings of mud, all drains blocked. This should be a happy ending, but it wasn’t really happy, nor did it feel like an ending. It wasn’t a beginning either. There was just a stopping, and now there was just open space, and she was free-floating around in it, without a place to go.
“So…I guess we did it,” she said, mostly to herself. “We’re in space.”
“It’s very black,” Tomi drawled from her spot on the module ceiling. Her silver-blue hair had formed a halo around her head. Her shoulder was bound up in gauze and medical tape.
“Far too open. Horribly designed.” Tomi scratched at her face. “Better than down there, though. Too crowded, too disorganized.”
Hana plucked away the layers of her sister’s words. Tomi was, as usual, drifting along for the ride. The sister in the inner tube being pulled behind the boat. Not particularly worried, not particularly excited. Present to all the possibilities but not latching on to any individual outcome.
“I’m worried about Wizard,” Hana said. She knew Tomi could easily read that on her face, but for propriety’s sake, she said it out loud. For the moment, no one else was in this particular module. Momoko and Nanami were piloting, Boss was in the back, and Wizard was stowed away in one of the sleeping modules. He’d passed out before they’d even gotten out of orbit, and Nanami had been forced to wrestle him into the sleeping bag.
Tomi shrugged. Her hair rippled.
“I know. If it happens, we do what he says. We put two in his head, shove him out the airlock and into the sun. Momoko plays ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipes, and we keep going.”
Wizard had been very insistent on that last part. Hana didn’t know if Momoko could actually play the bagpipes, but it was reasonable to assume that she would give it a try.
“Don’t worry too much,” Tomi continued. “We’ll get through it. We always do.”
There was some quiet for a moment. Boss drifted past them, sipping at a bag of juice. She waved at them.
He floated through tight, airless chambers. Cut, not carved, into the grey and dusty rock, lit by hazy, dim light. In the center of each wall was a circle of smooth, dark metal, which pulled away like a lens as he passed. He was drifting in a straight line, unable to go left or right.
The enemy’s gate is down.
He might have being travelling up, or forward, but it felt down. He defined it as down, and so down it was.
There was no noise, save his breathing. No noise at all. The walls pressed in around him, and the rooms felt as if they were shrinking as he passed through them. How many now, closing in? Would they stop, or just keep getting smaller until he was trapped inside?
A lens opened, and there was no next room. If there were walls, they were beyond what Wizard was able to see in the dim light. Hundreds, thousand of miles of empty, open space.
Below him, so far below, was a field of deep red, upon which were two concentric circles of black, with three arrows pointing inwards, towards a vast golden goat’s eye. It swiveled in its socket and focused upon him.
A great and terrible voice echoed in his head, without words, and sang of the consuming gulf of nothing.
He could feel his entire body joining in refrain.
“Easy there, easy there…You okay?” Boss guided Wizard out of the sleeping module.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I’m good.” Wizard grabbed onto a wall handle to steady himself. His grey, gawkish face looked more hollow and sickly than usual.
Boss patted him on the shoulder.
“I’m here as long as you need me,” she said.
“Just in case you were having one of your ‘I don’t want to be a burden’ moments. Because you aren’t, and you don’t owe me anything. I’ll be here.”
Wizard chuckled weakly.
“I don’t know how you do it.”
“You’re my little bro. There’s no how to it.” She grinned. “Might as well ask a fish how it swims.”
Wizard nodded his head, but didn’t say anything else. Excited shouts could be heard from the other passenger module, over the ever-present hum of machinery.
“You know,” Wizard said. “I can’t actually remember which one of us came up with the spaceship idea.”
“No, I’m sure it was you. I didn’t even have the space wizard shtick until after we came up with the plan.”
“Huh…I guess we’ll split it down the middle and call it even.” Boss made a chopping motion with her hand.
Boss somersaulted and pushed off the floor, towards the other module.
“The girls have some Halo up and running up here, if you want to jump in,” she said. “Going to be a long trip.”
Six marbles of brandy floated around the heads of the Black Rabbit Company.
“As according to the Company Charter, the first round of drinks after a successful job are to be taken in memory of all of our sisters,” Boss said.
“Aye,” the others echoed solemnly.
“I know we’re at a midway point, but I don’t think we’re going to have much downtime after all this. Let’s make it count for them, guys.”
“And let all our bastard dads rot in hell,” Nanami said.
“Amen, sister.” Momoko nodded.
They simultaneously slurped down the spheres of booze.
Tomi filed her nails with a whetstone as she ran on the treadmill. Behind her, Momoko lifted weights on the Resistive Exercise Device.
“Momoko, I have an apology to make.”
“I touched Big Richard’s butt.”
Momoko let go of the bar and twisted around. Tomi kept walking and filing her nails.
“Touched him right on the butt.”
“You what.” Her ears went flat.
“I touched his butt, and then gave him a polish and a kiss.”
Momoko’s scowl would have curdled milk, coagulated gravy, and boiled vinegar, if it was actually threatening. It wasn’t, so the result was just oddly endearing.
“Is that how we’re playing? Really?” She crossed her arms. “Then I guess I’m going to call Sam up and ask him out.”
Momoko held up a fist, extended her thumb and pinky, and pretended to dial a number on it.
“Don’t you dare.”
“Beep boop bop boop” Momoko held her hand up to her ear. “Ring ring, ring ring – Hey! Sam! So since Tomi is a lying, backstabbing, butt-touching cheater, I was wondering if you wanted to go out for a night on the town. I hear the shooting range just got remodeled. What's that? Of course Harry can come along!”
Tomi swiped and snarled at Momoko. This was completely ineffectual due to the fact that she was still strapped in the treadmill harness, and after a few swings she hung her head and sighed. Momoko snrked, which devolved into a hearty belly laugh. Tomi, still pacing on the treadmill, joined with her flat, stone-skipping chuckle.
“There’s probably something wrong with us,” Tomi said.
Momoko pressed a finger to her chin, and looked thoughtfully at a vague spot above her head.
“Nope, not seeing it.”
[Boss: OOC what was this guy’s deal again?]
[Hana: Alright, it’s the snake’s turn. What’s your AC, Nanami?]
[Tomi: Crazy professor made a snake in the basement]
[Hana: Rolling to confirm…twenty.]
[Hana: That’s a grand total of…thirty-six damage.]
[Wizard: I hate using a keyboard for this.]
[Tomi: pat pat]
[Hana: You can make a save against death.]
[Nanami: Na, fuck it. I’ll make someone new.]
[Hana: Okay. You all see Nanami get bisected by the snake. Blood and organs fly everywhere.]
[Nanami: The rigor mortis sets in and my corpse flips all of you off.]
“Weeeeeeeeeee’ll drink-a-drink-a-drink to Lily the Pink-the-Pink-the-Pink, the savior of our human ra-a-a-ce! For she invented medicinal compound, most efficacious in every case!”
[Nanami: How long are they going to keep singing? I’m about ready to tear out my spine and hang myself with it.]
[Tomi: I’d like to see that.]
[Boss: You could go ask them to stop.]
[Nanami: Hell no! Why do you think I’m sittin’ here complaining about it? Drunk Momoko is one thing, but there’s no way I’m getting near drunk Hana without being totally sloshed.]
[Nanami: And they just drank the last of it, WHICH IS THE REASON THIS IS A PROBLEM.]
[Nanami: OH GOD]
[Nanami: OH GOD NO.]
“J'ai tellement faim!”
“C'est ça ou rien!”
[Nanami: I am dead, bury me with my porn stash.]
[Tomi: You shall be as Nefertiti.]
[Nanami: Damn right.]
“Hope you like cranberry.” A packet of juice tumbled end over end from Boss’s to Wizard’s.
“How long was I out this time?” A limp hand plucked the bag out of the air.
“Nine hours and change.”
“I’m sore all over.”
“You look like it.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“Need anything else?”
“Na. Think I’m okay.”
“Okay. Call me if you need anything.” Boss pushed off towards the other module. Wizard was left alone with his cranberry juice and his thoughts.
There were moments when his mind drifted from the ship and the girls. Here some hazy, lingering shade of his old identity had come floating into the present between the dream and waking up. There had been a past before, as little as he thought about it now. He once had a wife. Kids. Siblings. Friends. Parents. A job. All gone. As far as any of them knew, he had just disappeared a short time after he had gone off to Japan to teach English. A suicide by a man of low-to-middling prospects and low-to-middling ability, fueled by a failing marriage and failing health, or so it was thought.
All of those memories felt as if they belonged to someone else. No matter how he felt that the nature of the man had changed, the nagging voice of doubt always asked if that was truly the case, and suggested it would be more reasonable to assume that he was either callous enough to sever all ties to the man he was, or delusional enough to try and run from it.
It was a cunning, persuasive voice, and at times like these he could not tell if it was Red’s, or his own, or if there was even a difference between the two.
Wizard drained the last of the cranberry juice. Selective hearing had always been a skill of his.
“Hana, there’s the carcass of a space whale right outside our window,” Nanami said, with far less enthusiasm than she had any right to have.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m bored. The whale is surrounded by the bodies of the whalers who died trying to bring it back into port.”
Hana pushed herself over and nudged Nanami to the side so that they could share the window. There was, as she suspected, nothing there.
“That one guy with the broken helmet was two days away from retirement.” Nanami pressed a finger against the glass, pointing at nothing.
“The woman with the big harpoon used to be a pirate. Her best friend was a space octopus.” Hana played along, because she was just as bored.
“The company never retrieved the bodies, because they wiped them all from the records.”
“But…it’s not all depressing. They left a gift for one of the other crews.”
“A map to a hidden stash of loot.”
“Diamonds the size of your skull.”
“And a crate of microwaveable space-meat burritos.”
“Now you’re just cheating,” Nanami groaned.
“So the second crew all gets packed up in their tugboat and heads off into the belt to find the treasure,” Hana continued.
“And let me guess: the second crew is five sisters and their best friend?”
“Hahahahaha,” Nanami flipped herself backwards off the module wall. “Not yet, sis, not just yet.”
But soon, both of them thought. Soon indeed.
“That’s it right there, Boss. That’s the Solidarity.”
The ship was little more than an egg-shaped blur on the screen, but it was enough to re-ignite Boss’ sense of swashbuckling from its vacation.
“Excellent. What kind of resistance are we looking at?”
“Uh, none, Boss. Station’s giving us the all-clear to board,” Nanami said as she fiddled around with the control board.
A second passed where even the ship engine seemed to silence themselves.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No joke. Clearance codes are all good.”
Boss peered again at the fuzzy grey ship and its accompanying station.
“What an obvious trap.”
“Tell me about it.”
“They’d know we’d figure that out, though,” Momoko butted in.
“And we know that they know that, yeah yeah, let’s skip that song and dance.” Boss shook her head. “Suggestions, anybody?”