You don't belong here. Priss winced.
Silently, the creature swum over the calm, peaceful surface of the reservoir. It had been filtering the contents of the reservoir for as long as Priscilla had been bringing them in, and it had feasted upon them. It had grown quite a bit, too, its form no longer resembling that of a certain mammal.
It would be slightly less accurate, yet fitting if one was to observe it from the side, to a slug that was over a meter and half tall and had eerily luminescent spikes protruding from its back. Its massive head had grown; the large, bone-like protrusion underneath it had grown and become a segmented structure made entirely of the white bark of a strange, deformed tree.
If seen from underneath, as Jacob wanted to see it and had not been allowed to by Opal, the sight would have probably killed the observer.
There were tendril-like organs, a net of extremely friable tissue that broke in finer threads and combined in tentacle-like structures then separating again to form large curtains of hair-like filters waving without the slightest disturbance in the water. They grew from its belly, from which they had emerged since the moment it became flesh and had spread greatly, greatly and without limitation within the reservoir where it was confined and the many draining systems surrounding it. And there were things in it, moving, jumping from tendril to tendril, like minuscule spiders jumping and swimming and becoming starfish, becoming jellyfish, becoming shoals of tiny fish-like silver darts, becoming shrill that became smaller and smaller and smaller and then became portions of a greater feeling ingrained in a strange thought that was cleanse, cleanse, cleanse, cleanse…
Concepts within the borders of the creature's mind and reality itself beyond them were fighting a gentle war underneath the surface of the water, trying to impose their rules to each other. And the creature was nothing if not a small swelling of matter and gravitation in a world that was comfortably familiar to it. A world bound by the rules of flesh, not unlike the one it had come into being.
A world in which it didn't have to think.
While it had existed, and from the moment it had shed from its physical body in a distant time — In a different world? A different universe? — like ripe fruit, it had wished, nay, strove towards a state of pure, constant non-conscience. Other souls achieved it just by shedding, their transcendence manifest but also calming, peaceful, happily eternal bliss. A void existence, only filled by the I.
But it had never that chance. It never could stop thinking. Other Soul-Seekers told it to try, and try, and try, but it could not. When you were soul un-carnate, you had to learn to let go of the memories, of the feelings, even the form you got used to during your life; and that creature in particular never could let go, not completely.
It never managed to… how did humans put it? Release its burden.
So it decided to turn the other way, dump all of himself that could be pushed from its I into the comfortable limitations of a brain and dedicate that brain's circuitry to one objective.
Cleanse. Cleanse, cleanse, cleanse, filter, purify, secrete pure water with pure salts in delicately balanced quantities, concentrations always at optimal levels. Maybe a few vitamins, just to complement it? No. No, it'd be better not to. Just water.
If one was to be forever obsessed and suffering because of thought, why not put obsess over something useful?
However, it could also feel curiosity. It expanded its tendrils once more along the collector tubes, greeting the hardworking Mason Mold over the way. It responded with its melodious symphony of unending work.
And, as it used the extensions of its body to listen to every vibration over the entire hospital, the town, and even further away, it became aware…
Dodger sat in the atrium of the hospital, staring out the window blankly. Not for the first time, she reflected on all the leeway she'd been given as an employee here. They smiled and accepted her and put up with her solely because of the money she'd donated. No one dared say it to her face, but she couldn't imagine any normal MCF agent still being kept on-site, much less employed, after that conference call incident. She had to change her behavior, but it was just so hard to do so. The longer she went without being the center of attention, the more her self control started to slip. She had no friends left to be a pressure valve for her. She'd somehow managed to burn nearly every bridge behind her. The hospital staff seemed to tolerate her presence so long as she stuck to one pre-set path— the front lobby, and the hall leading out the back. A foot out of line, and they were all over her case.
There were no further incidents since the near-riot several days ago. Her contacts hadn't found the instigators. Every lead twisted back to itself somehow. Either they had perfectly slipped in and out of the country without a single witness, or else they were being sheltered by some group or another.
But that didn't matter, because of the goddamn fucking animals. She still didn't see why they couldn't just let the people eat them, provided they cooked them thoroughly. She considered it hypocritical that people like Rhiannon espoused using unknown quantities like the Anabasis to help people, while everyone unanimously cracked down on self-replenishing animals for being unknown quantities. She couldn't help but wonder whether Priscilla Locke's presence and Rhiannon Locke's position swayed the decision to use the Anabasis.
Mirror Universe Locke. Dodger fumed. Fuck her.
She spotted Yasir approach through the window, and got up to meet him at the door.
"Problems," He said simply.
"Country's top export," She sneered, and shut the door behind her, "Where?"
He waved her to follow, then moved onto the road, where four armed men flanked him, outfitted in vests and helmets. Standard-issue AMISON supplies, so likely not brigands or bandit types. Probably stolen, given my luck. And me here without a gun. She was going to wind up a hostage or murdered at this rate.
The group piled in to a dusty white pick-up truck, and started off out of the village. They didn't go far before she saw the smoke, and smelled the fire. Burning meat—but also a smell like burning rubber and plastic.
It was indeed MCF agents; they were being harangued by a group of men. The carcass of some big animal was being incinerated nearby. Someone had thrown tires into it, along with some MCF supplies, including bags of wheat and flour.
"What now?" She whined to Yasir.
He started pointing as they rushed to the scene, "People think the food being distributed is contaminated. They think it responsible for the freak animals. Harti divisions; some in one clan want us to take the food, others in clan want to burn it, turn to other clans for support."
"I thought the Harti was all one clan!" She was getting frustrated with internal politics.
"No, no, Harti is group of clans—"
She stopped him as they reached the mob, forcing her way through to the MCF operatives at the center, "You're here!" It was Momio—Enrico, or Martino, as if there were any more of them. They didn't have guns either, and their armed escort was looking overly anxious to start using theirs.
"Thank God. These people— Some were helping us burn the animals, but then they started throwing the food bags in the fire, and everything else we gave them. Bastards threatened to shoot us if we stopped them. You believe the balls on these bastards?"
Dodger patted him on on the shoulder — Rico, she remembered, "Stay calm. Tell your men fingers away from the triggers." The escort was looking eager to fight, definitely not MCF. Where did they find these psychopaths? "Yasir!" She called out to the man as he made his way through the crowd. She needed someone to talk them down, and she didn't trust the mob to be receptive to an MCF interpreter.
Yasir came up to her, and then her world went red. She had thought Yasir was spitting on her. The crack of the gun that went into his brains almost didn't register as Yasir's lifeless body slammed into her, knocking her onto her back.
More gunshots followed, and screams. Dodger closed her eyes, and lay her head back. She was having trouble breathing again, as if her lungs had been half-sealed. Just enough air got through for her to keep conscious, and keep trying to breathe. Smart thing to do would be to stay here, with Yasir's body on top of her for protection. She wished that was why she stayed put. Every new gasping breath brought in more and more smoke, dirt, and the rising stench of blood and shit.
The beast quivered. Or rather, it would have, if not for the fact that a pure, immutable soul had been shed from its mortal carcass.
He slowly came to it, the creature a brilliant beacon of disembodied thought against the nothingness of matter. As he came closer, his anguished thought-voice becoming a shout, the creature protruded those parts of it able to think — it didn't even need to think to process most of the blemishes in the water, anyways —, and it reached out to the newcomer.
"Hello, Enrico. You are a pure, immutable soul. I bid you welcome to the thought-place," the creature greeted him.
Enrico looked at the creature, slowing down. "You are… a dot of light."
Suddenly, he jolted and fell to his knees, hands tightly clasped into a praying gesture. He was legitimately terrified. "Oh. Oh, no. Oh dear God forgive me. I know I-I haven't been to church much in my life but-"
"I'm not your sky-god, Enrico," the creature said. "I'm just the Hippo."
Rhiannon smiled wide and rushed her sister, scooping her up in a big hug, "You don't know how bad I've missed you."
"Apparently not," It had been barely a month. Priss squirmed in her sister's grasp, and pulled herself away in an awkward motion.
"Sorry. You have to understand, you— uhh… the other you… You were missing for twelve years."
Priss nodded, despite the clumsy phrasing. You don't belong here. She couldn't have meant it that way, "Come on, let's head inside."
Rhiannon must have been expecting a tour of the facility, by how eagerly she kept turning to Priss as she walked her through, down to the reservoir. Priss said nothing; why would she? It was a hospital. What was there to tour?
They arrived at the reservoir, where the Hippo — closer now to a manta ray — drifted about languidly. The water was crystal clear, a far cry from the muddy, silt-laden ground water she'd brought in. The Hippo's tendrils lazily drifted about, like veins extending from a gentle heart. Rhiannon's face lit up, and her eyes seemed to be brimming with tears.
"This is it. All the work and planning put into action. This hospital, this reservoir, this whole facility…"
She looked down, licking her lower lip and turning away, "You probably don't understand what it's like…"
You don't belong here. Priss winced.
Rhiannon seemed to sense the implication, and added on, "Being with the SCP Foundation… you've got all the money you ever want to do any experiment you want. All that power and influence and supplies… You want for nothing, you answer to no one but yourselves, you know nothing of scrounging for funding, or throwing a party whenever a single donation comes our way. We have to give it our all, to give, give, give… and so few people give us anything. This is… the best we've gotten in so long."
Priss pressed her lips firmly together, and moved closer to embrace her sister. Then Rhie turned to her with a smile, "Maybe not. I'm sorry, just assuming it was like that for you over there."
Again with the insistence, the constant reminders that she wasn't supposed to be here. That she didn't belong here. It was driving Priss mad. She shoved her sister away with a surprising forcefulness.
"Why, Rhie? Why, why, why? Why do you insist on doing that—"
Priss got closer, tears starting to well in her eyes, "Every time you talk to me, you have to remind me that I'm from somewhere else. That I don't belong here. That my very existence is an anomaly."
She nearly smacked her, but caught herself, and stepped back. For a long moment, she saw Rhiannon there… cracked teeth, long matted hair, tattoos on her shoulders. The Subhuman Mongrel was grinning at her. Priss turned away, heading towards the Anabasis.
You don't belong here.
"I'm sorry, Priss… I'm not trying to make you feel like an outcast. I just still can't get over the fact that you're here. Alive and well." She smiled, "You look nothing like the age-progressed picture from your missing person's banner."
Priss dropped her face into her hands, and let Rhiannon put her hands on her shoulders from behind, "Come on. Introduce me to some of your friends here."
"I don't have any friends."
"What about Frank? And Sarah?"
"Nnn… I guess Frank is fine…"
Rhie patted her head tenderly, "Let's go to your room. We can do some more catching up. Whether you like it or not, we're where we belong now."
Priss glanced up, at the Anabasis seated nearby. For once, it was silent. She could hardly recall a moment when it was completely silent.