The Present, Eventually:
Site Director Neil Ghost was one of the longest-serving members of the Foundation, a feat made possible by the relative safety of his job. It was rare that one of those few remaining SCPs originally classified as “Safe” ever proved otherwise, and as one of the caretakers of the relatively less deadly artifacts and anomalies, he enjoyed a certain amount of relaxation occasionally.
A mostly competent staff, a relatively safe job, and a retirement age quickly approaching: Ghost had it all. He breathed a sigh and leaned back into his chair, pulling down his glasses long enough to rub his eyes. He might have drifted off for a moment, except that he heard… something.
His eyes shot open and turned toward the door, narrowing. Almost without breathing, he reached for the front of his desk and retrieved a heavy brass candlestick he’d kept there ever since The Serpent’s Hand had broken in and "borrowed" a few SCPs. He still had the note they'd left, polite and somewhat condescending, hidden away in a desk drawer, right next to the broken commendation plaque he'd cracked over one of their heads when they'd come back for more.
He felt comforted by the makeshift weapon’s presence as he stood and slowly made his way to the door. Age had not lessened the instincts his time as an Agent had given him. He pressed an ear against the wood finish, listening again for the noise. He was almost certain he’d heard someone walking past his office, which shouldn’t be possible. No one else at this site had his clearance, and as far as he knew, no one who did was supposed to be visiting anytime soon.
He clicked the door open, peering into the black hallway. He stepped out, bracing himself against the wall as he slowly sidled down the corridor, listening as he progressed. He was certain he heard it now, someone further down the hall, someone in one of the storage rooms.
He controlled his labored breathing as he crept closer, turning the cold brass in his hands, snaking a step at a time until he stood directly next to the door. It was a rustle of files, the paper kind that were just used for archival information now. With a hard twist, he turned himself into the door, tensed to leap at whoever he saw.
Instead, a small metal disk whirled by his head, causing him to turn sharply and stare as the wall behind him erupted with thumb tacks, nails, and burning thorns. He tried to turn back again, but instead felt a fist connect solidly with his jaw, sending him falling backwards onto the floor, the heavy candlestick spiraling out of reach.
He glanced up and saw a face he remembered: blond hair and blue eyes. Skin paler than he remembered, but ice had a tendency to do that to you.
“Hello, Imants. I heard you'd been… released.”
The younger man remained silent, but the knuckles of the hand clenching a couple of file folders whitened even further as he tightened his grip.
Ghost’s fingers were anxiously searching through the needles and points covering the floor, digging into his fingers and back.
“You know, if you turn yourself in, we would be lenient. The situation has changed in recent years. We know you were young. Impressionable. The people who came to you for help were legends. Kondraki. Clef. It's no wonder you were star struck. Dragged along.”
“And why wasn’t this brought up at my first hearing?” Imants replied, sneering with irritation.
“Like I said,” said Ghost, his fingers finally closing around the smooth, metal surface. “The situation has changed.”
He flung the disk hard, awkwardly pushing himself off the floor and desperately rushing Imants full on, burying a heavy shoulder into the ex-agent’s midsection as papers flew from the cabinets around them, edges sharpening and glistening as they shot out of their folders, cutting at both men.
Imants was shoved back hard, slamming into the wall. Ghost fell to one knee suddenly, age catching up to him. He pushed himself up as quickly as he could, painfully straining as he put the last of his strength into a final, desperate uppercut when he felt the knee collide with his chest, knocking the wind out of him. Two more sharp blows to the back of the head, and darkness claimed him.
Several Years Earlier:
Dr. Glass had spent the past several years working with the Foundation, during which time he'd both seen and been subjected to more than his fair share of trauma. As a psychologist, he was supposed to analyze, interpret, and recommend treatment for dozens of cases a week, most of them repeat patients unable to deal with the stress of the job. When he'd finally been promoted upward, he expected a much less traumatic job. The Senior Staff he was now in charge of interviewing were supposed to be trained, hardened, and experienced. And while they were, he found his work all the more distressing.
He would write a paper about each of them if he could. Over seventy separate bundles of neuroses, each on a case study in either sheer madness or inexplicably intricate coping mechanisms. Over half of them went around armed constantly against threats seen and unseen. Still others regressed into childlike states of coloring their reports, and still more simply died inside eventually.
Then there were the special cases. A talking dog he had to interview, another man whose emotional nerves had been cauterized long, long ago, and a doctor who insisted on referring to himself as a chord rather than a name. And there was the butterfly man, who delighted in chaos, a woman who chased him with lamps, and a high-ranking agent who had threatened to kill him when he'd seen the Pondur he'd been given by an old patient.
But it was the man with all the faces that gave Glass the most trouble. At first, he'd simply thought the staff had been joking with him about Dr. Bright, a phantasm in the background who seemingly resisted all attempts at analysis by sending a different person to the interview each month. Then, he'd read the file on SCP-963 and found the truth even more disturbing.
At least he participated in the interviews somewhat, which was far more than could be said for the likes of Dr. Kondraki or Dr. Clef. They got a kick out of fucking with him; Jack Bright got a kick out of telling him the truth.
He was surprisingly talkative to someone with sufficient security clearance. Glass listened intently, hearing about Bright's early life— though he spoke little about his family— and the events leading up to his first death. He also told him about the deaths he had experienced first hand, the ones he had physically experienced. Most of them were gruesome, as so often death was in the Foundation, and Jack recounted each with the reverence of a soldier remembering fallen comrades. The cycle continued, and Glass became more and more in tune with the one overbearing wish Jack Bright had: release.
Glass remembered one point when Jack had been attempting to aggregate a body together with Professor Crow. The Frankensteining process had never worked, but he remembered the way Bright had looked at his hands, commented on them, admiring them for a moment or two. Weeks later, he'd asked him about his brother. Bright got quiet for a moment and tilted his head to the right, almost like he was listening for the answer.
"I did what was necessary," he said.
Dr. Glass continued to build the profiles, though after a while, he eventually stopped keeping anything but the most cursory notes on most of the staff. It was obvious that Dr. Gears would never change, though he still tried the occasional Rorschach test. Clef and Kondraki became a source of comedy at times, and he began to enjoy quiet coffees with Professor Crow in lieu of evaluation. But he kept keeping notes on Bright. For whatever reason, he was fascinated by the myriad of faces he'd seen over the years, the occasional animal, the regular shifts in gender.
He noted cycles, patterns. He attempted to make sense of Bright's personality, the ways it moved and shifted, the ways it stayed the same. It was almost a year before he asked Jack Bright about his brother again. He had to go back and check his notes twice before he was satisfied, but he was sure that the tilt of the head, the listening expression, was exactly the same.
"I did what was required," replied Jack.
It was a subtle shift, but one that Glass noted. Something that was necessary equated to a personal decision; something that was required pointed to one mandatory. Over the months, Glass continued asking different questions of Jack, different leads and answers. But he always returned, every so often, to his brother.
"I did what I was told."
"It's his own fault."
"I didn't choose for him to be that way."
"I did what I wanted."
Each time, the same motion, the same pattern; a shifting answer.
But the early files, the files from before he and 963 were linked, were consistent. And so was Jack Bright's loyalty to the Foundation. That, more so than anything, had led to the man's meteoric rise. It was a mere week after his promotion to Foundation Director that he stopped by Dr. Glass's office for the last time. He and Glass exchanged pleasantries and congratulations, shared a cup of coffee, and relaxed, talking about the time Kondraki had shot up a break room over a failure to brew proper coffee or the time a new recruit mistook Kain for an office pet and tried to rub his belly.
And for the last time, Dr. Glass looked at Jack, currently in the body of a green-eyed, red-haired child rapist, and asked him about his brother. This time, instead of looking off to the side, Jack looked right at Glass, his gaze intense and penetrating.
"I don't remember."
"According to my reports, there was a massive information dump around four months ago. A complete backup was made of all Foundation reports. At first I thought it was the standard backup before base evacuation, but…"
"What's the problem, Mr. Halifax?"
"The entry code was wrong. I did that backup myself, and these are not my access codes. Someone went into the system, erased the record of my backup, and made one of their own. No one would have even noticed it if they hadn't been looking at the specific date stamp."
"You're saying that someone has a copy of the Foundation's archive, Halifax? Are you quite sure about that?"
"Very sure, Dr. Bright. There's no one but me that accesses those terminals."
"Can you tell me the user that accessed it?"
"No, sir. They covered their tracks well. The only thing I know is that their password was last used over a decade ago."
"Thank you, Mr. Halifax. See that the code is deactivated and put a trace on all public terminals to look for additional access attempts."
"Yes, Director Bright."
Jack Bright leaned back into her chair, fingering the outline of SCP-963-2 hidden underneath a loose-fitting shirt. Everything was beginning to fall into place. The sudden disappearance of Kondraki and Imants from incarceration; the damage to the Red Sea Object by the unseen gunshot; Clef's suicidal leap into a parallel world; and the string of attacks on Foundation archives. They were looking for something, whoever they were. And Bright knew she had to find out what it was before they laid their hands on it.
With a complete copy of the archive, though, the paper files should be unnecessary. Everything was contained within the archive; the only things that they might not have included were the older SCPs that were no longer…
The epiphany hit Dr. Bright like a ton of bricks. They weren't looking for something that was still active. They were looking for what was left of something.
Jack leaned back in the chair smiling. All remains were in Site-19 reliquaries, which meant that they were looking for something specific, too specific to just try a mad dash directly into the Foundation's heart shooting and looting. She traced the edges of the amulet under her shirt, slowly putting everything together. She had preparations to make.
Eleven Years Earlier:
Dr. Alto Clef carefully polished one of the several shotguns he kept around his office, running the oil soaked rag up and down the metal barrel before breaking the weapon down and carefully cleaning the ejecting mechanism. It was a ritual for him, one he executed weekly with an elegant precision, one he'd missed while paralyzed and was now eager to resume.
A knock on his door led to a shell being loaded into the weapon. The opening of the door lead to its cocking.
"Am I disturbing anything, Dr. Clef?" asked Glass.
"Yes," said Clef.
"We need to talk sometime soon."
"My psych evaluation was cleared weeks ago, Glass. Are you slipping?"
"It's not about that."
"Then what is it about?"
"Jack? He's a good guy. Now if you'll excuse me for a moment, Glass, I've got to go take care of a little problem the Foundation has been sitting on for a while now."
"You and Kondraki working together, huh?"
Clef smiled. "For now."
"Well, if you could look me up when you get back on site?"
"When I feel like it, Glass."
Clef pushed past the psychiatrist into the hall, carrying the gun with him. He knew he couldn't take it into the chamber with him, but he felt better having it with him, nonetheless.
Four security guards lay unconscious between the entrance to deep storage at Site-11 and the bank of filing cabinets lined the far wall. Imants moved from drawer to drawer, carefully flipping through the files and examining termination dates. He knew that despite its lack of presence in the database, there still had to be some record of the object. The Foundation didn't believe in destroying anything, at least on the paperwork side of things. It was a destroyed SCP he was looking for.
He switched drawers and redoubled his efforts. His recent altercation with Neil Ghost was still playing on his mind. It wasn't too late to turn back. It was true, what Ghost had said. The second Kondraki approached him, he'd agreed, almost blindly. Kondraki was a legend in the Foundation, at least as well-known as Clef, if not more. Imants had been more than willing to do what he asked, especially if the future of the Foundation was at stake.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw the number, pulled out the file, and looked over the paperwork. The Foundation was not inclined to let anything just drift about uncollected, even something that was no longer of use to them.
Imants shoved the folder into his jacket and prepared to report to Kondraki. One way or the other, the job was going to get done.
Jack Bright had to die.
Eleven Years Earlier:
"What are you saying, Glass? You want me to kill him a few times?"
"No," said Glass, rubbing his eyes in frustration. "We have to remove him from a position where anyone can be harmed, then we have to find a way to release Jack from the medallion. It's doing something to him."
"Yeah," said Kondraki. "It's making him less appreciative of the fragility of life." Kondraki laughed. "So, you want me to kill 963?"
"Effectively… yes, I suppose. You're one of the Foundation's problem solvers. The O5 have ignored my requests for a conference, and I've got nowhere else to turn to. I need you to help me stop whatever it is his mind is doing."
"What do you mean, Glass? His mind? The fuck are you talking about?"
"Aggregate Personalities? What do you mean, aggregate personalities?"
"Just what I said," said Glass, his forehead creased. "There seems to be a buildup, over time, of personalities… I don't know what to call them…chunks. They just stick around in there, somewhere."
"And we've been attaching him to murderers, rapists, and baboons?"
"Hence, my concern."
"God damn it Glass. He's just been made the director! Why didn't you come to me earlier?"
"Apologies, Kondraki. I'm here now, though, and we don't really have another choice. Clef and I are on board. Will you help us?"
A smile was the only answer he received. It was also the only one he needed.
The Present, A Few Weeks Later:
Quikngruvn Halifax cursed his parents for not the first time as he re-affixed his name-badge and proceeded through the opening door. Over the past few years, he'd worked himself up to the position of chief archivist in the Foundation, a post he was immensely proud of. The offer for transfers to other, safe sites had come in over the years, but he'd remained at Site-19, comfortable in the hustle and bustle of the Foundation's largest site.
He looked around his perfectly arranged office, paying careful attention to everything and adjusting the few trays the cleaning staff had bumped when cleaning the previous night. He reached for the stereo remote on the corner of his desk and pressed play. He stopped, looked at the remote and back at the stereo, pressed the button again, and frowned. He walked over to cabinet, prepared to reach behind it to reconnect a cord he was sure the janitors had disconnected when he felt the circle of cool steel pressed into the back of his neck.
"I want you to understand, Halifax, that while I have nothing against you, I am fully prepared to plaster the contents of your skull all over that wall. I'm afraid you disabled my old access code, so I'll be needing yours. Now."
Quikngruvn's body tensed when he heard the voice, realizing immediately who was right behind him, who had used the antiquated access code, and what was pressed against his neck. A reputation came with the presence of the legendary Dr. Kondraki, one which he was in no way eager to discover the validity of. He eased his hand up to his collar, unclipped the name badge, and held it over his shoulder.
"That's a good boy, now."
Quikngruvn saw as a hand reached over his shoulder, turning on the stereo and cranking up the volume.
"Sorry about the knee."
The sound of the shot and the harsh drumming of the music meshed well, and the solid slap of the cold, metal butt of the gun against his head brought a welcomed repose from excruciating reality.
Eleven Years Earlier:
"We have to separate him from 963, then present our evidence. We'll never even make it to a formal hearing otherwise."
"Why don't we just chuck him through a Hell gate? Don't we have a few of those?"
"Because, he's our friend. We should help him as best we can."
"Speak for yourself. I've never liked Bright."
"You've never liked anyone."
"Nevertheless, the plan stands. We kill Bright's current body, contain 963, present our evidence, and then hope we don't get our wrists slapped."
"That's an awful plan."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"Poison him, then burn him. Then, we put 963 through 093 and pretend it never happened."
"Too complicated. It would never work."
"We could just use explosives. Explosives always work."
"963 is practically indestructible. An explosion big enough to take it out would be more than enough to burn off the atmosphere."
"No, just for killing him. Small explosion, then a series of them to bury the body in rubble. While they're sorting it out, we can convince them to do what we want with the medallion."
"You guys are forgetting one problem."
"And what's that, Glass?"
"He's the director, now. He's going to have guards. Good guards."
"Guards, Glass? Really? That's what you're worried about?"
"For God's sake, Glass, I'm a god damned legend. You think I can't handle a few trained monkeys?"
"It's not going to be that easy."
"The guards are him too."
"Jack's a scientist, not an army."
"Why don't we just wait for a more opportune moment? Why are we rushing this, anyhow?"
"Have you seen some of the reports coming out of Site-19? For god's sake, there have been more decommissions in the last month than there have been in the entire life of the Foundation."
"I heard about a few of them. I'm not sure why 914 was disassembled, but he had a good argument for 447. Too much of a hazard on site."
"It doesn't matter. The Foundation has a mission to carry out. We're the wall between humanity and all the shit that would break their minds. We hold it back; we don't blow it up."
"I've blown up plenty of shit for them."
"Not stuff that didn't need it! He's changing the mission!"
"He's claiming that everything destroyed was a threat to the survival of the Foundation."
"107 was a threat?"
"107 was decommed?"
"47 Safe SCPs, 28 Euclid. Gone."
"Then we're agreed, yes? We have to do this. He has to be stopped, our evidence has to be presented."
"Good. We strike tomorrow."
Dr. Kondraki had spent the last few years haunting the halls of various sites, taking on the roles of people who did or didn't exist, acting in a million tiny ways, most of them either obnoxious or harmless. The occasional missing sample, the carefully made blueprints for the various sites, reports on newly recovered artifacts—all passed along to the Global Occult Coalition. The little group was a useful tool, for now, and he hoped to keep using them into the foreseeable future. He'd always been good at killing things, and it was one of the few activities that they appreciated. He could see why Clef had worked with them.
He was pressed hard against the hallway's curved walls, 408 carefully guarding him, as he waited for the approaching guard to get a little closer. It should be a fairly simple process. Enter the security point, open the proper containment units with Halifax's code, and clear a path straight to their insurance. He couldn't imagine finding the location of a bunch of failed experiments would be so damn hard, but Bright had covered the tracks of his weakness fairly well, if inadvertently. It would, of course, be here at Site-19, where Bright could keep an eye on it. But Site-19 was very, very big. And there were many, many places to hide something.
Imants had done his job well, and now it was up to Kondraki. One last run into the belly of the beast. One last mission before everything would be over, finally. The Foundation had taken several steps away from where it had been when he'd been an agent. There were fewer and fewer containments, more and more Neutralizations. He was even aware of a few cities that had been razed after experiments were conducted there and found to have less than optimal results. The O5 were further and further removed, the Director given more and more power. He might have liked the position fifteen years ago, but time had mellowed his ambitions. Slightly.
The guard rounded the last bend, slowly approaching the coded door. He placed his thumb over the checkpoint, causing the door to beep once, cheerily, and open. Kondraki stepped out, bringing a well timed chop down on his foe's neck, causing him to stumble, but not fall. Kondraki cursed as he pulled the sawed off shotgun out from under his coat as the guard looked up at him.
Kondraki's eye's widened. "Jack?"
The guard's hand flew to the alarm, slamming down on it as Kondraki's finger squeezed the trigger. The blast blew away much of the guard's face, though much too slowly to avoid the unfortunate consequences. The guard meant one thing: Jack had activated 963-2.
He stepped over the body, scanned Halifax's name badge, and started running.
Eleven Years Earlier:
In retrospect, Glass thought they should have gone with Clef's plan.
The charges were set in a fairly open area, with a remote detonator rigged to the wall. They waited as the first security crew passed, until they knew the Jack with 963 would be directly above the explosion and sprung the trap.
Clef spun around the forward corner, putting two shells each into the forward guards' backs as they turned to see the erupting flames around their charge. Kondraki emptied his sidearm into the rear guard from a safe, hidden corner as Imants dropped the remaining ceiling into the corridor with a well-timed grenade in the ventilation system.
The entire attack had been executed flawlessly.
"That was too easy," said Kondraki, eying the guard's bodies. "Jack's not a soldier, but he's also not an idiot."
Clef nodded. "He probably put 963 on one of the guards."
"Or he's not here at all." Everyone looked up at Glass, the young doctor nervously running his hand through his hair.
The four of them looked at each other as the alarms started blaring.
A brilliant flash of light blinded Kondraki as he rounded the corner, making the floating images around him shudder as 408 lost members of its hive. He fired the pistol over his shoulder twice, stopping after he heard a grunt and fall. The storage chamber he needed would be nearby, and if he was lucky—
A second blast of light flew ahead of Kondraki, cutting through the illusion and scattering the burned husks of butterflies through the air. He slid around a second corner, bringing the pistol up under the guard's chin and scattering his thoughts and memories over the ceiling without stopping. He leaped through the air as a second guard attempted to bull rush him from behind, firing downward into the man's lower back as he twisted sharply to avoid another blast of light.
It would have been impressive if he'd left anyone alive to witness it.
He found the door and scanned Halifax's card, entering the lab and sealing the door behind him. He walked across the room, putting a bullet into the forehead of a stunned researcher, and pulled several green vials out of a row of test tubes, placing them in his pocket. He smiled, running through the rest of the plan in his head.
Then, he shrugged, muttered "Fuck it" under his breath, and reloaded his gun. If he was doing this, he was going to do it his way. He was going to have fun.
Eleven Years Earlier:
Glass had been captured first. He'd not been trained for any sort of combat, so when the hoard of trained shock troops poured into the hallway following the explosion, he'd held his hands in the air and waited for them to quit beating him into the ground. He heard about Clef's capture, how it'd taken them four hours to get through the traps he set in his outer office and another two to actually lay hands on the man. Imants had managed to hole up in the ventilation system for almost two days before they found him. Kondraki had actually come quietly, having been found in his office apparently doing paperwork.
Glass heard about the other trials through his guard. Clef had been sentenced quickly, Kondraki mere hours later. It was the next morning before Imants had been sentenced, as there was apparently a fair amount of dissent about the extent to which he'd been involved and how much he'd been influenced by his superiors. The sentence had been the same, nonetheless: indefinite stasis.
Glass sat in his cell, listening to the footsteps, trying not to think about the stories he'd heard from other people who'd experienced stasis. Cold dreams; frozen memories. They could never remember what they'd dreamed, only the cold.
It was the next morning when the guard approached his cell. Glass contemplated trying to hit the guard over the head and escape, but he knew that he wouldn't last more than two or three steps into the hall. He allowed them to cuff him, requested an opportunity to examine himself in the mirror, and after doing so, walked down the hallway, flanked by the guards.
A series of blurry and darkened screens greeted him in the courtroom; he steeled himself and listened to the charges.
Kondraki could hear the footsteps charging him, herding him. It was the problem with fighting with someone who could effectively create a hive mind with the right kind of telepathy. And the Foundation had the right kind, especially since they'd cut up 182's and 116's respective brains and played around with them.
He took a short cut he knew he shouldn't, but Jack could go fuck himself if he thought that Kondraki would do what he wanted him to. He slid into one of the maintenance closets, a place he'd gotten used to hiding in over the years, and looked for one of the access pipes. He found one marked "Pest Control" and opened the access nozzles, filling them with two of the vials he'd stolen earlier. He looked around him and the butterflies flitting through the air and frowned, muttering quietly under his breath. "I'm sorry."
He turned back to the door, kicking it open and having 408 project an illusion of himself in front of the opening, smirking as a hail of gunfire issued from the left. He swung low out of the opening, bringing the pistol level and putting a bullet into the neck of both men firing, noting as they fell the dangling Foundation symbols strung around their necks. 'Jack,' he thought.
Kondraki started running. He'd have to get to the climate control quickly, the one for this sector, or the plan would be pointless. It wouldn't take much longer, not now. Another turn and then a quick shot straight to—
The bullet tore through his thigh, hollow tip causing more damage than he might otherwise have preferred. He fell hard against the right wall, having 408 project him falling to the left, and fired a shot backwards wildly. He pulled himself further, ripping a sleeve off his shirt and tying it around his leg tightly. He could barely feel his leg, and he knew that there weren't enough members of 408 left alive to cover the blood. If this was going to happen, it would have to be soon.
He struggled forward, smiling as the two symbol wearing guards pursuing him put several rounds into the illusory corpse. He took the time to turn and aim carefully, putting a shot into both of their heads before bringing himself into the climate control center.
The room wasn't that much different than any one of a dozen across Site-19, but this one had the controls he needed. He found the Infestation Control Station that had been in place since 439 had been forcibly Neutralized. He looked at the handful of butterflies around him one last time and pressed the command sequence, releasing the anti-parasitics into the air.
Glass erupted from the screen as two loud blasts sounded behind him, forcing him to roll out of the chair as blood loss made his vision swim. He struggled away from the station as a hoard of footsteps approached him.
The pesticide had a faint hint of mint to it, Kondraki noticed, smiling. 408 died in the air around him, the multiple projections fading with them. His leg ached and bled in spite of the tourniquet.
"You shouldn't have come alone, Konny."
Kondraki looked up at the handful of men, all wearing the same expression, all wearing the same medallion.
"What makes you think I came alone, Jack?"
"Bluffing, at this point?" Three men with crests around their necks approached Kondraki and kicked him in the stomach. Kondraki heard several Brights laugh as the dying butterflies tried to project an illusion around the dying, middle-aged doctor. He brought a hand out to brush his hair back off his forehead as he looked up at his foe.
"When have I ever lied to you, Jack?"
Imants turned the corner, running as stealthily as possible up the corridor, ignoring the green, acidic mist the sprayed from the ceiling. If the last round of reports from their informant had been correct, the package he was looking for was in the second room on the left, Corridor 23-B. With everyone going after Kondraki, he shouldn't have any problems finding the package.
As the door slid open, he slowly walked into the room, looking quickly to either side for unexpected surprises. He was pleased to find none.
Imants stepped forward, ignoring the new set of erupting sirens. He looked down at the red disk and collected it into a cloth, slipping it into his pocket. Two sets of plastic explosives later, he left the room, running as fast as possible. Kondraki's plan gave him two minutes, but he wanted to be further away.
The mist was beginning to die down as dozens more Jack Brights surrounded Kondraki, watching him bleed. A bouncy, black-haired woman walked to the front of the crowd. She smiled, condescendingly, leaning over the injured man.
"You've gotten old and slow, Konny. No one would have caught you ten years ago."
He sneered. "No one did."
She smiled at him again. "I guess you're right. It's a shame really. The Foundation could have used you, Kondraki. Your talents. No one other than Clef had more confirmed decommissions than you. With our new programs, you might have had a place here again."
"I've not had a place here in a long time, Jack."
"No, I guess you haven't. Any last requests?"
"None. But I do have one question," said Kondraki, pushing himself up and leaning back against his legs.
"That's not a request," replied Jack.
"It's close enough. Humor me."
"Is this everyone?" asked Kondraki.
"Is this everyone?" repeated Kondraki. "Did you really bring every copy of yourself to fight me?"
Bright's eyes narrowed. All of them.
"Because, Jack, if you did, that was a god damned stupid thing to do."
Kondraki reached into both pockets. He pulled his gun out of the first. Out of the second, he pulled a green vial. Forty faces blanched in recognition, for the first time noticing the scent of the pesticide as the stopper on the vial flew through the air, and the substance contained within it splashed on Kondraki's face. Dozens of eyes turning to see the butterflies on the ground sparking and twitching as they died.
"A body is a body, Jack. See you in hell, you son of a bitch. All of you."
Kondraki raised the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. As the bullet passed through his skull, he felt an instant of 447's reaction taking place. But then, reality was gone, and all that was left was an aftermath.
Eleven Years Earlier:
"None of you are listening!" screamed Glass, his face shuddering. "That's not Jack Bright! Not anymore! It didn't happen all at once! It was putting a pebble on the beach. And then another and another. Eventually, the whole thing is hidden, and you never noticed!"
"Dr. Glass, please calm yourself. You've obviously experienced some kind of psychotic break—"
"I've experience nothing of the sort! You don't get it!" he shouted, his voice cracking. "It's not his whole personality, not even a big part of it. It's inches of the football field. But soon, it'll be worse."
"Nevertheless, Doctor, you've committed a serious crime, have no evidence, and rallied enough of our less… controllable members together to convince us you planned nothing less serious than another break like the Chaos Insurgency, as Dr. Bright concluded. Given your family history, it seems a logical—"
"I've got all the proof I need sitting right there," screeched Glass, pointing at Bright's current body. "One question. That's all I ask. Just one."
The face on the other side of the screen seemed to frown for a moment before visibly shrugging. "Fine. Ask away."
Glass looked at Jack Bright, narrowing his eyes as if to stare right through the visibly disturbed looking doctor.
"Jack. What do you want more than anything else in the world?"
Bright looked surprised. He smirked, the concern draining from his face. "To serve the Foundation."
Glass's face cracked as he smiled in triumph. "That's not true, Jack."
The voice from beyond the screen sounded again. "Enough. The trial is over. We have the utmost faith in Dr. Bright, and this line of questioning will change nothing. Dr. Glass, you are to be suspended in cryogenic stasis for no fewer than thirty years."
Glass turned to the screen, eyes widening in shock. "What? Don't you see? It's not right! He doesn't want to serve!"
Two men approached the dais and took either of Glass's arms, proceeding to pull him away from the court room. Glass's voice echoed over the cacophony of voices and static, screaming in rage.
"IT'S NOT RIGHT! HE WANTS TO DIE, YOU IDIOTS! HE JUST WANTS TO DIE!"
He was still screaming when they put him in the chamber. Directly across from him, he saw Kondraki's cryogenic chamber. For a moment, it shimmered, a wing flapping momentarily out of place. Glass had only a moment to register his surprise before the ice took him.
There was also a multitude of voices shouting now, though the shapely female form lay mostly still and silent, only occasionally coughing or hacking up blood. Murderers and thieves, rapists and pedophiles, and a handful of those who had just stumbled onto the wrong military base or into the wrong room. Most of them were angry, calling out with rage and anger at their denied immortality, while others were crying loudly in sadness. But somewhere, deep down at the bottom, there was one who was silent. Unspeakably and immeasurably relieved.
'It feels good to finally die,' thought Jack.
He watched from the bottom upward as the voices winked out, disappearing like vanishing stars. He heard them silenced, one by one, the din growing quieter and quieter as the others finally went away, finally vanished, blowing away like flakes of ash. He felt whole again for the first time in decades. It took an incredibly long time, though it seemed to happen all at once; then, Jack was alone.
It was dark, and cold, and wonderful. Dreadfully wonderful. Then he saw it, just barely out of the corner of his eyes, exploding with the intensity of its presence. A single dot of light, still shimmering.
'No,' thought Jack. 'God damn it. NO!'
He tried to speak and could not. The body he was occupying shuddered, racked out a final, desperate cough, and died.
Seven Weeks Later:
Interim Director Gears sat uncomfortably in the chair, but it didn't show. Kondraki's actions would leave Site-19 unusable for the foreseeable future, unless some antidote to 447-2's effect could be found. Since it didn't seem likely, Gears had been forced to relocate. On top of that, he was the chief surviving member of Site-19's command structure, leaving him with a very large mess to clean up. Anyone else would have broken under the stress of Gears' responsibilities. And Gears himself might be feeling a similar strain, but it didn't show.
He had shuffled through more paperwork in the last month than in his entire career. While he'd passed on some of it to Iceberg, he was still inundated daily with requests, notes on recovery, and personnel casualty reports. Today was no different.
He leafed through half a dozen SCP recoveries, making notes about the number of newly Neutralized objects that would have to be refiled. At the bottom of the stack, he found a file he thought he wouldn't see again anytime soon. It was a thick folder, full of notes on exploration and chromatically based locations. SCP-093. Status: Missing, Presumed Destroyed.
He looked over the several pages of examinations Bright had ordered on the object, noted how the prognosis for repair had looked quite promising, and quietly closed the folder, setting it aside and retrieving the logs from the last day of Site-19. It took him a few minutes to find the security access data, and less time to discover that one of the many alarms tripped that day was to 093's research lab. Furthermore, it was the only alarm set off in its sector. He slowly put the puzzle together, sighed, and looked at the next file: "Concerning the Locating and Elimination of the Rogue Agent Imants."
He read the report, signed at the bottom of the file to note he'd seen it, and then checked the box next to "Denied," citing a need for Foundation resources to be applied more scrupulously during such a difficult time. With luck, that would keep them from rediscovering the object before Imant's new employers could destroy it. He'd had a long day, and he was fairly glad when it was over, but it didn't show.
Gears placed the manila folder in his outbox, and a crease knitted his eyebrows briefly and was gone.
He turned off the lights and left the room.
The stems of wheat waved slowly, methodically, in the wind. The corpse would have been long desiccated, save for the fact that there weren't enough bacteria left alive to do much to it. All over the middle and lower torso, bulges of tumorous growths protruded under the skin, sometimes breaking through. The expression spoke of one who had died in agony. Even now, the eyes were painfully cramped shut, the teeth broken from gnashing and grinding, though the face still flickered and changed occasionally. Every so often, it flitted into a mocking smile, the last vestige of a man who, in his final moments, had passed on his death to his enemy. A final, spiteful act of a spiteful man. But not one that was undeserved.
How long the body lay there, no one could know, but eventually, coasting over the horizon, there came a form. A strange half body, dragging itself with its arms, incomprehensibly large and impossibly terrible. It came, smelling blood, something it hadn't sensed in many, many years. The face, if it could be called that, was leering down at the slowly rotting corpse, smelling it, possibly savoring it, although its intentions would be impossible to tell. There was no way to know the mind of such a creature, so far was it removed from its original, human roots.
The mouth slowly lowered down to the ground, surrounding the body and swallowing it whole. For a brief instant, it ceased moving. But in the next moment, it howled—though if in anguish or joy it could not be said. The form bent and twisted as the souls of a dead world became overwritten, leaving only a single, mingled consciousness. It doubled over as the eternal torment of billions became the burden of one. It shuddered as the knowledge of countless minds were added to its own.
And just on the other side of the mirror, just out of sight, remained Jack Bright, trapped eternally between realities.