D-193724 was told, one day, to sit in a folding metal chair and to stare at a wall until told to stop. He was not allowed any sort of reading materials or entertainment, or to look away. To enforce this, blinders were put up on either side of him, restricting his vision to that of just the wall.
The wall itself was an off-white (D-193724 could not identify the color, even if prompted, but it was eggshell, believe it or not), and was textured in a common Santa Fe-style pattern. D-193724 noticed these things, though he could not name them, or ascribe to them any special significance or meaning. Many times during the intervening twelve hours he attempted to guess at his purpose, to create some sort of meaning for it; but it was a rote exercise, a kind of forced act of normalcy (an attempt to, by the process of thinking of what should be thought, become what he is not). He couldn't think of anything; no reason or motivation or excuse or rhyme or reason.
Eventually he was told to stop, and was subjected to a multitude of tests (an hourlong interview of mirrored words and veiled lies, a double-blind probing in the dark; a hideous descent into the bowels of some imaging machine, hideous screeching metal and rattling organic clanks too infrequent to be intentional and too unnerving to be accidental; a short physical, the poking and prodding of the flesh) before being allowed to return to his room, following a complete disinfection. Still smelling of odorless soap, skin rapidly drying in the industrial air, he lay on his bed, stared up at the cheap ceiling tile and fell asleep.
They come in the dead of night, slipping in 'neath the slippery skein of neverending industrial lights; empty hallway after empty hallway; a long-abandoned set, the actors gone. Misters Rivers and Webb, titleless in an organization that fetishizes classification and decorum, with strata after strata of name and rank, most of it older than dirt, walk through the hallways carrying two backpacks and a stretcher, the tools of their trade. In this case, the lack of title is both prideful shame and shameful pride; a tacit acknowledgement of some ethical compass still present at higher levels of management, no matter the appearances to the contrary. All the doors leading down the hallway are shut and locked, guarding against the appearance of the night men. They have enough empathy to feel ashamed.
They both know the place like the back of their hand; they work here, after all, in Site-19, and there have been no major rearrangements to this one. Other sites are different, more complex, usually necessitating one or both of the men to carry a map; here, they're hunting closer to home, and the act of fouling a well in the area, no matter how theoretically disconnected, is always a rather nerve-wracking task. They didn't need to say anything as they walked down the halls; what was there to say?
They arrive at their target's door. There is some sort of symbol painted on it in (what else? The Foundation was full of intelligent people) red paint. Webb pulls a small laser cutter out of his backpack and nods at Rivers. Rivers pulls out a stun gun and nods back. In a blink Webb cuts open the door and Rivers steps through, eyes already perfectly adapted to the dark; sees the good Doctor in question blearily stumbling out of bed and running away, not that there's anywhere to run to, anywhere, nowhere, screaming all the time, screaming for help, for someone to please help oh god, they're taking me—but the hallways were silent, still, and Webb keeps an eye out for anyone coming, but nobody does, as Rivers steps up to the Doctor and—one two three—it's done, they load him onto a stretcher and start backtracking, quickly as possible, to the point where they began; a quick little jaunt through the aperture, the frission of the jump, and they were on the other side, facing the rest of their team, stony-faced and silent, taking it and the stretcher off their hands, giving it a shiny new number, already chosen—374913—and taking it away, into the depths of the facility, ready for whatever problems may arise.
D-193724 tried to think about sex, and failed. He'd had to prompt himself to do it; he hadn't actually thought about sex in years, not in the proper way. But he told himself to think about it every once in a while, though it was disconnected from feelings of arousal and pleasure (and, at this point, reality). It was something that he once did, or thought he once did, or imagined he thought he once did, and so he did it, uncritically and unquestioningly; why not? It was something that was done.
He enveloped himself in a fantasyland of whirling clothing and bizarre heaps and mounts of flesh, all-consuming, all-pervading. In the manner of children he covered everything up and jumbled the processes involved; figures formed morphed and shifted in an impossible non-Euclidian dance, in the manner of topology (forms going through themselves, parts and flesh inverting without violation…).
Smiling to himself, still gazing at the ceiling, he fell asleep, innocent little sheep still dancing in his thoughts.
Another night, another hallway. The lights remain the same; they always do. Industrial, but constructed and filtered in just the right way to avoid excess blue light and encourage a flowering of other wavelengths, like the sun; a cultivated light garden, branching out through the hallways of the Foundation, designed to keep the people within as happy as can be….
They pass shrines carved out of the walls; little nooks in between the doorways stuffed with candles, lit and unlit, statues carved out of wood and metal, formed of plastic; little prayers and invocations against the night men that will not save them tonight.
There is a map tonight, printed on hard laminated paper, impervious to little spills; they can easily pathfind without it, though, the little shrines providing a wonderful trail of breadcrumbs to follow on the way back home.
They stop in front of the door. Webb cuts into the door. Rivers steps through. There is no one inside.
D-193724 sat in the D-Class cafeteria, one of the small luxuries granted to them ("We have a spare cafeteria!" site director Zyzyunu argued to the O5 council. "Why not just use it? It's not like they're going to escape." The O5s agreed.). Communal eating only, herded to and from; but still, some free space, some place to roam free. It was even used as a kind of recreational center; they were let out of their cells for the whole day, able to eat and frolic at will. Supervising guards were still at hand, of course, to enforce order, but other than that….
Some D-Class used the time available to glutton themselves; some attempted suicide via food, cramming as much of it down their gullets for as long as possible. The guards put a stop to that, and the rest decided that having some minor freedoms was worth more than the slim possibility of escape. Some attempted the other route, with similar results.
For the most part, the cafeteria clumped apart into different activities; cards here, food table over here, some games and sport there. D-193724 had decided, at the moment, to get a tray of food and eat.
And eat he did, until the tray was gone. The only thing left on it was a toothpick wrapped in a little plastic; he took it and went over to the card table. He played til the day was finished out, eventually ending up with ten or so toothpicks more than he'd came with.
Night! Night! Fierce, blinding night! Tonight isn't routine, mundane; it's an escapade, complete with a last-minute emergency!
"Where is he?" Rivers hissed to Webb.
"He isn't in there?" Webb whispered back. "Is he hiding!"
"I don't think so!" Rivers said, looking underneath the bed and in the bathroom. "He's not here!"
"Oh dear," Webb says, to himself.
They cut into the next room, just to check that it is not an anomaly; no one in there, either. Nor in a third.
They're getting desperate.
"They've got to be hiding from us, right?" Webb says, running a hand through his thinning hair.
"It's got to be," Rivers agrees. They've returned to normal tones.
The alternative is drastic, hideous containment breach; one that can clear out a site full of people without making a sound. They both silently agree not to contemplate that.
"If…" Webb begins, looking at the map, "if you were to hide from someone, where would you hide?"
"What are the options?"
"We have five cafeterias and two recreation centers. On the map."
Rivers rubs at his forehead. "Let's start on the cafeterias," he says.
Webb nods and brings down the map. "Right," he says.
They hustle down the halls, faster this time. More and more shrines, more and more prayers. Rivers and Webb ignore it. They're walkin' on air now; the adrenaline's kicked in. It's an exciting night!
They round the corner and walk right into a squad of about five or ten men, armed similarly to them and carrying about three stretchers with bodies on them. Both groups are shocked; too shocked to pull out their weapons before diplomacy can begin.
"They're in cafeteria four," one of the team members says. "There were some guards in there. They gave us a bit of trouble, but you're lucky. We pretty much took care of them."
Rivers laughs. "Thanks for that!"
They walk into the cafeteria. Everyone is in a state of daze, trying to cover up the dead or help the wounded. Milling masses. Nobody is willing to put up a resistance, not anymore; more than that, nobody seems to expect to be hit twice in one night, to have the tremendous bad luck.
An infinite number of plunderers, an infinite amount to be plundered. Theoretically, infinite possibilities. But still, among an infinite number of universes, some possibility, no matter how small, is realized an infinite number of times….
Rivers and Webb walk through the crowd unmolested, people lapping up at their feet, up their pant legs. They walk up to their target, the man too shell-shocked to do much else. They load him up and put him into the stretcher as gingerly as they can; the only mercy they can give. As much as they can give.
Another portal, another frisson, another moment. The man is taken away. Another job well done.
Rivers and Webb are good people. Truly, they are.
There is a record playing. It was cut many many years ago, the first time records were produced (but before they came back). It's a famous song; you, too, will know it. Sparse, evangelical. From the golden days.
Saint Paul Peter
Heart of glass
They are drinking. Beers for the both of them. Empty cans litter the table. Both men are drifting squares of white.
Saint Paul Peter—
For you and me
Webb breaks down; starts crying. Rests his head in his arms. Sobbing. "What's wrong?" Rivers asks, genuinely concerned.
Saint Paul Peter
Saint Paul Peter
With his heart of stone
It was in the past. There had been a mass raid at one point; supplies of D-Class were dangerously low, and drastic measures needed to be taken. Webb was a normal doctor, then, when the raiders arrived. They stampeded through the offices, leaving nothing in their wake; all was vacuumed up, or destroyed, in the pursuit of….
Webb was cowering underneath his desk. He had never experienced anything like this before; he wanted it to end.
A shadow rose over him. He looked up, tears streaming down his face. It was himself, face aged almost beyond recognition, from recognition and strain and stress and fear and loathing and….
Webb did not know himself in that moment. It was the result of a lifetime of change; a lifetime apart.
He bent down and handed his gun and badge to himself. He had already had them ready; his mind had been made up, sometime in the past. The perfect moment.
"It's for you," he whispered, throat raw.
"I—I—" he stammered out.
"The clothes are close enough." He grabbed himself and thrust upwards, sending him staggering upright. He collapsed down onto the floor, job done. He would not respond to any shakes given. Someone who he didn't know screamed at him, pointed in a direction. He went there and helped, followed what was being done, and found himself….
Saint Paul Peter
Heart of stone
"I—I'm sorry," Rivers says, truly meaning it.
"They yelled at me later," Webb says, choking in between the tears. "For breaking protocol. For talking to myself."
Rivers reaches out a hesitant hand and pats Webb. "But—you sacrificed yourself to save yourself," he says, desperately.
"You—you're just doing what has to be done. I—" Rivers desperately searching, trying to think of some comforting words. "You're a good man," he says, lamely.
Saint Paul Peter
Will come to take
My sinnin' bones
"Then why am I still here?"
Saint Paul Peter
D-193724 sat in the cafeteria and ate. He didn't feel particularly good, nor particularly bad. But he was bored.
Cards didn't really appeal to him today, nor games, nor really food. Complete anhedonia; metastasized ennui.
A few fragments of memories came and went; images that he thought were his but weren't; images he thought he'd seen, but were his. Nothing sticking, nothing assembling. He took another bite.
In a flash, a thought came to him. He pictured the cafeteria, the site even, experiencing a massive containment breach. He saw the walls bursting in, the floor flying up, chunks of concrete almost levitating, a serene picture; he saw rays of light, beams of God, and a beautiful organization behind all things; an epiphany, a miracle, a release, a prayer, a wonderful world, a beautiful world, that would wash away all that was old and bring in all that was new, a nuke, a lizard, a germ, a man; instruments of change, agents of change, a hope, a hope, if nothing else, a hope…and he blinked, and the cafeteria was as it always was, and nothing happened, and nothing continued to happen, and he continued to eat.