On the table there behind the glass, time was about to break.
Thad smiled cautiously as numbers flew past his vision and he checked the math again and again and again. It should work—or rather, it should stop working—just as he had predicted.
“Yes, Doctor,” Athena replied confidently (a statement, not a question) as she pulled her hair into a tight bun to keep it from her eyes. Scrupulously she scanned the tiny ant-farm on the table with its houses and simple electric lights, and tiny microphones and cameras and little cars running along their little tracks, all laid out meticulously about a miniature AM/FM/VHF/UHF transceiver. “We are powered off. Ready for control test.”
Five years now since SCP-176 went tits-up and trapped several dozen good young researchers and at least four paramilitary pukes in an endless cycle of creation and destruction. A full year of that had been spent trying to solve it. When that proved impossible, Xyank tried to break it for another three years. And finally, out of ideas, the last year was used to bottle it. The Euclid classification was little more than a formality at this point. And he’d learned a lot. The Foundation learned a lot. That was something.
And as a way of saying ‘thank you’, they’d given him another tachyon emitter to dissect.
“Alright,” Dr. Xyank said, cracking his knuckles. “I’m about to activate the snooze alarm on SCP-281. Mr. Kitterman, if you would kindly roll film on my mark.”
“Ready,” said the lithe Jr. researcher from behind his panel.
“Three. Two. One. Mark.” There was a loud crack. Several ants had died from the temporal pressure. All the little electric cars jumped instantly to their new places. Two light bulbs had burned out. Video captured in excess of 9 minutes, 57 seconds in the space of 1 millisecond. “Alright, now we’re cooking,” Thaddeus said with a nod. “Mr. Kitterman; talk to me about ambient radiation,” Xyank demanded from behind the glare of ancient lenses.
Marcus Kitterman spun and slid his way down the bank of instruments and stopped himself before the correct panel, making little humming and clucking noises to himself as he built the various readings into a gradient and overlaid that gradient into the room in which they all stood. Fingers crossed and breath bated, three scientists prayed for an end of time as they knew it. “…Nothing even close to hazardous. We’d have to be in here about eight years just to be sure we had cancer.” Marcus delivered a smiling thumbs-up. “We’re green.”
It came to him one evening as though from a dream. SCP-1950 was the same as SCP-176, but the field was too powerful, and the loop was still open. SCP-281, 1979, 119, and 1859 all stemmed from the same basic anomaly, with different dilation and constraints. There were patterns in these anomalies. Even weird ones like 982 and 1309. The tachyon field model could accommodate them all, and some even made his ‘event boundary’ hypothesis look less like desperation and more like a legitimate explanation.
And that was when a time before whispered in his ear, and reminded him of Item # SCP-084.
“Initiating transmission… For the experimental record: we’ll be using video from the Ed Sullivan show at 1.28 GHz, and live-feeds from FM 89.3, 99.9 and 107.1 MHz, and AM 545, 890, and 1240 kHz,” Attie said, fingers storming across the keypad before her. “The signal will be broadcast at power of 10 watts, and should keep our area of effect under 2 m in radius.”
They were calling it ‘the Static Tower’, probably because ‘Temporospatial mind-fuck’ had already been taken. Documentation back home had clearly labeled 084 as a temporal anomaly in its own right. But whether through clerical negligence or prevailing attitudes of a different nature, the Foundation of 1997 had labeled it a ‘radioactive space-time anomaly’. Not incorrect, but not the most descriptive interpretation. One look at the ‘flicker’ phenomenon and it was obvious. The spatial distortion was a result, most of all, of the temporal distortion around the tower. And why, among all other temporal anomalies, did 084 alone exhibit this odd spatial reflection and scattering? Because the tower was pumping out a thronging mass of EM radiation at nearly 100 watts. All of it, every last nanosecond could be explained without the need of anything so vulgar as a temporal paradox. Paradoxes don’t exist in nature.
Hypothesis: tachyon fields can be manipulated with powerful radio signals. Procedure: hook up a known tachyon emitter to a transmitter. Transmit from it on multiple frequencies and see if you get something like 084.
At least, that’s how it looked on paper. Maybe it was a risk to try reproducing it in a lab. Strike that, it was absolutely a risk. But without risk, there is no gain. And if Xyank could break time so thoroughly, and put it back when he was done, that meant he understood time. It meant he understood time travel. It meant it was only a matter of a few (relatively) safe experiments to find a system to predict travel frequencies from now to anywhen.
It meant he could finally go home.
“Begin transmission, if you would please.”
Several oscillating waves overlaid one another on the screen above, and Marcus Kitterman let out a whistle at what to him appeared to be a gibbering line of chaos. “Radiation is still steady, thank god.”
“Good,” Xyank said, brushing some silvering hair back away from his face. “I’m going to try turning 281 back on. Mr. Kitterman, let’s see about film capture on my mark.”
Marcus opened his mouth to let out one final objection, but thought better of it. Jr. Researcher versus tenured Doc. That would be a really short conversation anyway. “Ready.”
What was that saying? Something about finishing what you start, he'd think of it later. “…Mark.”
No sharp spark. Nothing, actually. An eerie silence as everything in the bubble seemed to freeze for a second, and fitfully start forward. And back…
“Holy…” Kitterman said softly. Ants fluttered in clumps and trails and over houses. Cars leapt willy nilly upon their tracks. Lights flickered. The film from the cameras inside ran back and forth and was useless. “…We did it.”
“Save it. We aren't finished yet.” Xyank flipped a switch and took hold of a small joystick. “Commencing drop test one.”
084 produces a spatial anomaly around itself such that no object can approach within 200 m of the tower; it is surrounded by infinite space. If this was an accurate scale representation before him now, the ball in the basket directly above it should fall forever, never growing closer to its target than two meters.
It wasn't. The ball fell straight and true. And at the same time the 'anomalies' they had all witnessed stopped happening wholesale.
“We're still transmitting,” she replied, disbelieving.
“Radiation level in there is still consistent with an active field,” he shrugged. “But I don't see anything that would lead me to believe there's a distortion present. Film is even coming through now.”
Fuck! What had he missed? It wasn't supposed to go like this. “The model said…” Models are only as good as the math behind them. So what about this math? Had it been perfect? Had he fat-fingered a digit somewhere? Floated a decimal? Forgotten to carry a one? “Stay here, I'll be right back.”
“Uhh…” Researcher Anastasakos began to ask.
“Run a few more trials. If I'm not back in twenty minutes exactly, turn it off.”
Double doors out of the observation room, down a quick hallway to the end where his office and his whiteboards and his notes were.
Damnit it looked so clear, and now it didn't work at all. Had he been too conservative with the interference pattern? Was the signal strong enough? Equations flowed past his vision as he jogged, second guessing and wondering and hypothesizing and desperately trying to find his answer.
“Alright,” Thad1 said, wiping some sweat from his brow. “… Everyone listen up, because-” the door opened and Thaddeus Xyank6 stepped inside, closing the door behind him before even looking up. Xyank1 cleared his throat. The newcomer stopped dead, looked up to a sea of his6 own face looking back at him, and sank dumbstruck to a perch on a shelf by the door. “…As I was saying,” One continued. “I don't even have time to explain this once.”
“Based on what we are all experiencing, our 084 experiment was
was arguably a success.” The whole room winced in unison. Thads 1 2 and 3 wiped blood from their ears and swore and cursed the day they ever had this half-cocked idea.
“I thought it wasn't supposed to hurt!,” he4 hollered, pressing his temples together and stamping his feet.
“Electrical components,” the Doctor2 snipped curtly, and tapped himself on the temple.
“Stop! Just move past it,” Xyank1 said, eyes plastered shut. A two second beat to collect himself and put his glasses back on. “The point is, we seem to have initiated some kind of temporal isolation event. An open infinite loop.”
“So,” Thad6 asked timidly, “it… It actually worked?”
“Oh yeah,” Thaddeus1 smirked, watching the clock on the wall advance and fall back and advance and fall back as causality wobbled all around him. “It worked.”
“And we're sure it's not a multiverse event?” Six said, still blinking in a bit of shock.
Two scratched at his nose and pulled his lips tight. “Employee ID numbers anyone?”
“0927-7182-3740-0918,” said all in unison.
“Paradox,” Thad5 said, head hitting his desk. “God. Dammit.”
“Okay, good.” Three stood up and tapped himself
tapped himself a cup of water which he immediately dropped when another brief ripple of spasm leapt across the room. Xyank3 hit the water cooler with the heel of his palm and it bubbled its unconscious reply. Enviable, these inanimate objects. Especially at a no-time like this. “If it's a paradox, there's got to be a way to resolve it, right? Paradoxes don't exist in nature!”
“I'm getting to that,” Sub-1 said, and started drawing a diagram on the board. “Say this is the world line, like a river, flowing from past to future. What we did was take a bubble”(here he drew a small oval on the side of the line) “and replicated it at regular intervals all over the surrounding space.”
“How far?” Five asked.
“At least twenty, probably more.” Dr. Xyank2 replied, arms crossed as he followed along. Six whistled and let his head bounce off of the cabinet. How much had he6 missed?
“One of these bubbles just so happened to land right here on this room. Something about how the other 281 bubbles are interacting with this one is causing us to, at regular intervalsslavretni raluger ta ,ot su gniing us to, at regular intervals…” Thaddeus Xyank1 braced his arms on the desk and bowed his head, two drops of red hitting the table and jumping back up his nose. That one hadn't been so bad. “…Every so often we run into the external world line and another one of me—or all of you, even—walks through the door.”
“Has anyone tried leaving?”6
The second most haggard looking member of the party shook his head. “That's how I got here.” Thaddeus1 and Xyank2 tightened their lips and nodded together. “Not going to work.”
“But!” four jumped up. “We might be able to keep it from getting any worse if we keep the next iteration from entering YES!” He4 clapped in excitement. “BRILLIANT! He can even go turn it off, and then it'll be over!”
“For whom?” Three asked solemnly.
And he was right. There were two possible outcomes to this scenario: Void and Eternity. There would be no ‘escape’, at least not for these assembled. 084 creates infinite space and infinite time within its boundary. Even if they turned the device off, and even if the anomaly subsided from an exterior perspective, and even if they could actually prevent Lucky Number Seven from passing over the threshold into this little pocket they had created for themselves, it would not be over.
Infinite loop… Thaddeus let it sink in for a moment, making sure he all understood.
“So… So we just die here? Is that it?” Six asked.
“If we’re lucky.” Thad2 said, pulling off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
The handle of the door began to rattle. All twelve eyes locked upon it as their owners froze in place.
“…Should we rehearse something?”5
“There isn't time,” Xyank1 answered. “Once that rattle starts we have thirty seconds to two minutes subjectively… It's hard to tell when you're just talking to yourself all the time.”
It felt good to chuckle, for all of them. The damned must also laugh. But the moment was not destined to linger. The latch began to slip and unslip and slip and unslip.
Sub-two, nodded and grabbed up the just-in-case shotgun from its place behind his filing cabinet. “Still. We have to try, don't we?” The others silently agreed.
“Pay close attention to what you say,” the Doctor1 warned as he picked up a marker and began to write. “I'm going to see if I can't figure a way out of this… shit-fest.”
He was so absorbed, that when he laid hands on his door and opened it, it took open barrel of a very familiar Remington 870 in his face, and what looked an awful lot like a rifled slug at the back of it to snap him out of his mathematical haze.
“Well, that’s one way to do it,” Thad heard his own voice say, but was sure he didn’t speak.
“Step back, Dr. Xyank. Step back across that threshold right now.”
Eyes never leaving the front-sight, he complied. Switching focus he beheld a visage not unlike his own. A little older. More worn. Blood was slowly trickling from all of their ears and noses, and their sleeves were all covered in smudges where they had wiped it away. Six of them. The whiteboard had been erased and rewritten, and erased again, and as he watched, the figure standing at it unwrote a line and re-wrote it, pausing only to press his temples and groan before moving on to the next. Before him, the stranger version of himself grew stubble and lost it, and a tiny red rivulet ran forwards and back, up and down his neck as desperate, pained eyes fixed on him.
“What you are experiencing,” The Xyank behind the shotgun said as four other injured selves looked on, “is some kind of temporal decohesion event. We haven’t figured out how to stop it yet, or even if it can be stopped from in here. But we can keep more of you from coming in here with a little timing.”
“Understand?” one over the gunman’s shoulder said sarcastically. “No shit. Neither do we, and who knows how long You Prime over there at the board has been in here.” Without turning, the man at the board grunted and continued writing. Dr. Xyank did his best to take a photo of his work, but the pain at the back of his neck said something had gone amiss inside.
“You are number 7. We are numbers 1 through 6. But you are also number 0. And that means you have to stay out there while we puzzle it out in here.”
One of the copies in the rear threw his arms in the air and suddenly stifled himself. “…Decimal error. You were off by a whole order of magnitude. Congratulations, you just ended time as we know it over a radius of twenty goddamn meters.”
The man behind the shotgun nodded, shoving the barrel into Thad’s chest and thrusting him back out into the hallway. “Now get back out there and turn it off before you break this whole site!”
“But what about—!”
The office door slammed closed and locked. No further answers would come, even when he beat against the door until his knuckles cracked open. Not a sound save the steady atonal rhythm of frustrated failure against the door of his own mausoleum. It did not echo down the hall.
“…Jesus Christ he's been gone a long time,” Marcus mumbled as he pressed the button and watched another ball fall directly into the center of the model. There was a pile forming now, building up slowly around their little transmitter. “How long has it been anyway?”
Attie didn’t look up, just stared intently at the screen in front of her. She was like that, though. The Foundation never hired stupid people, but Researcher Athena Anastasakos was so professional it made Kitterman's teeth hurt. Couple that with a sort of fanatical devotion to figuring this kind of shit out, and it was little wonder she was such an award winning conversationalist. It didn’t even occur to Marcus that anything was amiss until he picked up his paper cup and crossed to the water cooler. He felt a sort of a… is hiccup the right word? Ah, probably nothing.
“MARCUS!” she yelped, jumping backward from a screen steadily turning to static. “…Oh god, you scared me! How on earth did you get over there?”
“I… I walked. With my feet.” Kitterman rolled his eyes and pressed the watercoolerreloocretaw eht desserp dna seye sih dellor namerttiK “.teef ym htiWith my feet.” Kitterman rolled his eyes and pressed the watercooler’s valve.
Athena bit her tongue and watched.
A slow trickle of water overflowed his cup in a matter of a quarter second. He dropped it in surprise. Two faces turned white. “…How long has it been since he left?”
“Not more than three minutes.”
“So how did I drop all of those?” he asked, pointing to the pile of tiny foam balls.
They ran to their panels and typed in commands, slapped display screens, flicked at status lights as everything started slowly to go bananas. “Turn it off Turn it off Turn it off!” Athena yelled, fingers blurring takka-tak-tak just in time to watch Marcus pull open a panel and start pulling out wires. They sparked and smoked and fumed and slapped back into place.
“Oh really, should I?” Kitterman yelled back. He ran to the door and threw it open, and sprinted what must have been 30 meters down a two meter stretch of hallway to the chamber door. Secured with electronic locks and they would not budge. “FUCK!” The noise fell flat in the sterile hall as he threw himself through the air back to the observation room. “Where in hell did he go?”
“Probably the same place we’re going if you can’t shut that damn thing off!”
Panic comes in waves. At first you’re not even sure it’s happening. Everything goes red, and a tingling feeling grows out of your gut to the tips of your fingers and toes. It grabs your brain and won’t let go. Synapses fire faster than you’d believe as every possible solution cycles through your brain once, twice, three times a lady. All of them are shit. It was about at this level of disoriented stupidity that Kitterman first picked up the stool and slammed it against the glass. A crack ran up and then back down and then sealed itself again. So he tried another five or thirty times (who counts?) before he reckoned the sanest thing to do would be just to drop the stool and scream at the pane’s stupid face.
“That’s enough! You’re not helping anyone!” Attie yelled as she squinted at a screen of static, desperately hoping a distortion would come through to smooth the electronics out, if only for a minute. Just long enough to impart some sense about how the field looked and what the Snooze Alarm was doing and if it was ever going to stop.
A shoulder was thrown into the door and Xyank fell through it onto the floor. “We have a problem!”
“No! Really? I hadn’t noticed!” Marcus hollered as he ham-fisted a wad of wires from beneath the console and grabbed out his pocket knife.
The Doctor0 wiped blood from his ear and spat some to the floor which dried in an instant. “What have you tried so far?”
“Wiring panel, input commands, B and E, refreshing the transmission—” Ms. Anastasakos answered.
“Pretty much everything but whistling show-tunes at it!” Kitterman barked as he cut a cable and watched it stitch itself up again for the third time.
Shit. This was bad. Really bad. Everything already broken, everything already resetting. But causality was still flexible, and the fact that he had made it back into this room meant it wasn’t final yet. They were not completely isolated, and one last Hail-Mary was absolutely not out of the question. It’s not as though there was much to lose. “Ms. Anastasakos, what is the correct time?”
“I don’t see how—”
“Dammit, Attie, it’s a temporal anomaly! What bloody time is it?” Thaddeus demanded as he hopped to the breaker box on the wall and threw it wide.
“Its… it’s 0600? That doesn't—wait! 1023…1747?”
“Do either of you know what time we started transmitting?”
“0930! … I think,” Marcus offered, recoiling and sucking his fingers from a minor electric shock.
Marcus shrugged and raised his hands, looking equal parts horrified and apologetic. It would have to do.
“All right, this is a long shot, but it’s all we’ve got. Ms. Anastasakos, you need to tell me when—”
Everything went black. An emergency light came on. Their pulses hung in mid-air as they waited. And waited… and waited.
0945 came and went. The anomaly did not resume.
After a couple Mole-rats rooted around for a day or so and scanned his office with every instrument he had clearance to know about (and a few which he didn’t) and found no detectable temporal fluctuation; after a painful, exhausting ritualistic interrogation to ensure he wasn’t acting under anyone else’s influence and remained loyal to the Foundation’s objectives; after a psyche evaluation that revealed a little post-traumatic stress but otherwise a clean bill of psychiatric health and two weeks paid leave, Dr. Xyank sat in his office tapping his temple, staring at the last thing he had written on the whiteboard.
Red marks were everywhere, shooting this way and that, too and from impromptu diagrams and flow charts and equations that would make most J.R.s blush. All of it spiraling into, out of, around, and through one central feature: an enormous Black Box.
Yes, the experiment had been a ‘success’, in a manner of speaking. No, no one had died, at least not in a verifiable way. Yes, Thaddeus had confirmed that certain long-wavelength electromagnetic signals of sufficient power could alter the shape, rate of flow, direction, and endurance of any extant tachyon flux. But had he actually learned how to create a tachyon flux to manipulate?
No. The Black Box remained Black. And it was too costly to keep going. Dozens were dead. Six copies of himself were irretrievable. He had nearly turned Site-17’s anomalous experimentation wing into another SCP of who knows what designation. 084/281-A, maybe? His name very narrowly avoided censorship on every document he had ever touched as the Foundation disavowed all knowledge of his activities or that they had ever even deigned to hire him.
It was time to stop.
But as he stood to grab the eraser, silence took hold of him. He glanced upward and noticed the clock had stopped. He perked his ear and heard no movement outside in what should be a rush-hour end-of-day shit-show of a hallway. When he turned he saw a shadow at the door. Just one. It cleared its throat and passed a parcel through the slot in the door before leaving.
The clock resumed its forward march. The hall resumed its noisy bustle. On the floor, a manila envelope. Inside, a watch.
His very own Model 442i automatic winding perpetual perfect-time watch. It had probably been languishing in anomalous item storage these last…well, there was no telling how long, he supposed. Only that he hadn’t seen it since he was picked up after… After. But who else would have known that?
Bound up in the band, a note, hand written, in red fine-point felt-tipped marker. In reflex he crumpled it and tossed it into the wastepaper basket.
Before the second ticked over he was back in his seat, across the desk, hands folded, staring at it.
But then that got him thinking. He would write that message, some time in the future. Absolutely. It was the only way to avoid a break. He would know the time and date (it was 1946 on August the 18th, 1997. Thad logged it in his memory and stored it somewhere it wouldn't get lost.) and place to deliver it…
He now had to make sure he knew the message and its contents, so the loop could be completed. Or else… Or else, he was sure he didn't want to know what else.
Heh… funny how you remember things at the last minute.
Eve’s cardinal sin was NOT biting the apple. It was failing to chew, swallow, and finish it. Do not make the same mistake or so help us both… -Tx