Within the interior of SCP-2344 was a section unlike any other. Rather than a pitch black tunnel of packed dirt, the Gate Passage was fully lit by an unseen source. Thick ivy covered every surface. A peaceful, warm breeze blew past, carrying with it a faint scent of summer. Save for a herd of fourteen SCP Foundation agents running for their lives through the overgrown tunnel, the scene would have been quite tranquil.
At the back of the pack was Sgt. Darren Wells. Tall and stocky, his lumbering stride easily allowed him to keep a fair distance ahead of those pursuing him. As sweat poured from his bald head, he quickly gazed behind him. Several yards back was a horde of mechanical spiders made from polished brass. In place of an abdomen, each carried a large glass sphere.
Wells watched as one of the researchers suddenly tripped on a vine, the poor woman falling head over heels, and crumpling into the foliage. She only managed to raise a hand weakly before the spiders were upon her. There was a scream, followed by a cloud of red mist. With a delighted squeal, another spider jumped out of the horde, its sharp legs moving with gleeful anticipation as it sailed towards Wells.
The sound of construction filled what would have otherwise been the serene quiet of a forest clearing. Around the clearing’s perimeter, Foundation Site-93 was being put up at a slow but steady pace. A small army of construction workers rushed back and forth among the skeletons of several incomplete buildings, resembling ants at a picnic as they moved a plethora of supplies and equipment to and fro. The air was thick with a mixture of sweat and anticipation that seemed to stain every surface like an invisible paint. Indeed, once finished, Site-93 stood to be one of the greatest Foundation sites yet.
At the clearing’s center, however, stood an entirely different structure. Seemingly untouched by the changing landscape around it was a pile of branches of various lengths and tree types stacked in such a manner as to resemble a door frame. A group of twenty people stood in two lines in front of the structure. Each person was dressed in the uniforms of an exploratory Mobile Task Force. Eta-13 was embroidered on their vests. Sgt. Darren Wells stood at the front of the right pillar. Three chevrons on his vest indicated that he was the commanding officer of the task force’s security division.
“We’re ready when you are,” Wells said to the man in front of the left pillar. The short, bespectacled anthropologist gave a sharp nod in acknowledgement.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dr. Johna Baldric began after briefly clearing his throat. “Be sure that you each have your pair of chicken’s feet on you now. Additionally, try not to lose them along the way. They will be your only way in and out of the Gate for the duration of our mission. I can promise you that you’ll be long dead before we have a chance to get you a replacement.”
Mumbles of acknowledgement could be heard as the various members of the task force attempted to surreptitiously check to ensure they had their key. Wells rolled his eyes and smiled. “Losing your key” was a pretty shitty way to die. The crew now ready, all present faced the Gate.
“Ready to go again?” Baldric whispered, attempting to hide an enthusiastic grin.
“As I’ll ever be…” Wells shook his head.
Baldric removed a small container from a large pouch on his pack and zipped it open. He then slowly pulled out a set of dried chicken's feet as if he were handling an unstable explosive, and held it aloft. The space within the door frame began to shimmer and warp, eventually becoming opaque. Baldric gingerly returned the chicken’s feet to the pouch with a sharp nod. One by one, they passed through the Gate and onto the other side.
For Baldric, the crossing caused the conflicting sensations of slipping into a warm bath, while simultaneously replacing his blood with ice water. Wells, on the other hand, felt a short electric shock followed by the taste of bacon. Upon shaking away the unpleasantness, both men looked around. They found themselves within a large underground tunnel carved into packed soil. The tunnel extended beyond their limited line of sight.
“For those of you first timers,” Baldric raved as the task force regrouped, “Welcome. You’re in for a treat.”
From deep within the The Hydra's Spine, a door leading to the Wander's Library creaked open. Three individuals dressed in black emerged, carrying with them several large crates which they promptly placed on the ground. Their faces were obscured by red masks, the emblem of a serpent wrapping around a human hand engraved on the center.
Without a word, the trio proceeded to open the crates. Inside, neatly folded in upon themselves were hundreds of mechanical spiders. The shortest of the three masked figures waved her hand. The spiders' glass abdomens glowed briefly with a faint red light. One by one the mechanical arachnids came to life.
"Seek," said the first masked figure in a deep voice. The spiders gave a small squeal of acknowledgement and then scurried away.
"Where did you get those anyway?" the second figure asked as she watched the automatons disappear into the darkness.
"Vance knew a guy who tinkers in his spare time," the first replied.
"What makes you think they'll work?" the third figure asked in a guttural voice.
"Call it a hunch." The first figure shrugged. "Besides, they don't need to kill the Jailors. Just stall them until the Camdorians are ready."
For most of the trip, Eta-13 marched in silence, flashlights bobbing against the darkness like the lures of a school of anglerfish. The damp environment passed them by seamlessly. Only the occasional sign or a periodic fork in the path indicated that the group had made any progress.
In the middle of the herd, a tall lanky man with a medic’s patch turned to a short, young, engineer with a head of messy dark hair on his left. Even in the dark it could be seen that the young man was constantly looking around, the long threads of his hair whipping back and forth.
“You okay there, champ?” the medic asked. An amused smile spread across his lips as he watched his teammate’s head swivel.
“Huh?” the young man asked, the rapid fire of his wandering gaze coming to a halt. “Oh? Yeah, I’m fine. Just amazed.”
“The temperature here suggests that we’re actually a fair distance below ground, but this tunnel has no supports. That means something else needs to be keeping it open…”
“Ah,” the medic replied. “This your first time in here?” The young man turned a slight shade of red.
“Yeah… it’s that obvious?”
“I’m afraid so,” the medic chuckled, and extended a hand. “James Candle.”
“Joseph Bell.” The young man enthusiastically accepted Candle’s handshake.
The two fell quiet for a few more moments.
“So…” said Bell, “What do you experience when you go through the Gate?”
“An overwhelming smell of burnt toast,” Candle chuckled.
“How many times have you been down here?” Bell asked. Candle gave a sheepish smile in response.
“More than anyone else on this task force.”
Candle shook his head and pointed up.
“Warmer. I’ve had the good fortune to go Gate hopping thirty-three times.”
Bell didn’t respond, but rather stared at Candle, his mouth hanging slightly open.
“I guess you’d know if we’d be passing through Broadway on this excursion, wouldn’t you?”
Candle raised an eyebrow.
“You know about Broadway?”
“It’s the thing I’m looking forward to seeing the most. A lot of the other researches said it’s the most amazing thing.”
“It certainly is,” Candle agreed. “And yes, we’ll be passing through it.”
Candle’s lips curled into another grin, as he held up a finger for patience. It was then that the passage began to descend, diving down sharply and then suddenly opening. The dirt walls gave way to a polished obsidian passage, perfectly smooth and circular. A dim light was visible beneath the floor, pulsating every few minutes to change color, causing the entire passage to glow vibrantly. Red, blue, yellow, green, purple, white, orange, and all mixtures in between filled Bell’s eyes with wonder. The obsidian walled section of the passage continued onward in very much the same manner as the previous dirt section had, the shining tube stretching far off into the horizon. Candle laughed as he watched the young researcher’s mouth drop to the floor.
“Welcome to Broadway, champ,” Candle smiled, “Come on, let’s not fall behind.”
At the front of the herd of Eta-13 agents and researchers, Dr. Baldric and Sgt. Wells kept the rest of the team moving at a brisk pace through the strobing light of “Broadway.” After a while, Baldric turned his head slightly to Wells.
“I saw your proposal to Director Kauffman.” Baldric frowned.
“What of it?” Wells continued to look ahead.
“Why do we need two times the security we have now, Darren?” Baldric maintained his gaze on his colleague, and nervously chuckled. “We’re an expeditionary force, not an army.”
“As commanding officer of this task force I deemed such a request to be in the best interest of the people under my command, Johnna.” Wells shrugged. “It’s my job to ensure that these people make it home in one piece, and having more security makes that an easier task.”
“We’re supposed to be making contact with new civilizations.” Baldric smiled. “How do you think it’s going to look if we emerge from the Gate armed like Psi-7?”
“It’s going to look like we’re prepared for the worst.”
“To some, sure." Baldric grinned. "But to a lot more creatures it’s going to look like we’re the Spanish setting out to conquer the Aztecs.”
Wells sighed and rubbed his temples. He finally turned his head to Baldric with a furrowed brow.
“You want to have this debate now? Fine! Look around you! You may notice that we’re in a goddamn Way. At least 15% of these passages lead directly to the Wanderer’s library. How much longer do you think it’s going to be before we run into Hand agents or something worse? Not everything in in the multiverse can be killed with bullets, and I refuse to allow what happened to Blaire to happen…”
Wells froze and raised his hand for the party to stop. Baldric raised a finger to question the action, but bit his tongue when Wells put a finger to his lips.
“Candle, Turner, get up here,” he whispered as he unslung the rifle from his shoulder. The lanky medic and a slender Asian woman came forward, both following Wells’s lead. The commanding officer whispered something inaudible and the two agents nodded and raised their rifles. Several moments passed in sheer silence before three triggers were pulled. Distant sparks lit up the far reaches of the tunnel as something let out a mechanical squeal.
“We were being watched,” Wells said. His head slowly turned to Baldric.
Within a few seconds, a scout team had returned with the kill.
“Well shoot…” Baldric mumbled.
The soccer ball sized objects appeared to have once been mechanical spiders made of polished brass. A large glass sphere had been used in place of an abdomen. The emblem of a serpent wrapping around a human hand was engraved on a camera-lens-covered head.
“I promise I won’t say ‘I told you so.” Wells snickered.
“Great. Now you have a sense of humor.” Baldric scanned the tunnel. “Do you think there are more?”
“If there were, they’ll certainly be gone by now. But hey, at least now they know that we know.”
“That’s the part that worries me.”
Several more mechanical squeals then rang out at once. Baldric froze and slowly turned his flashlight toward the ceiling.
The passage glowed with hundreds of faint blue lights as the ceiling began to morph. Rather than polished obsidian, it looked to be made of a chittering mesh of brass legs periodically dotted by wobbling glass orbs. Hundreds of camera lenses zoomed in and out before finally focusing on the task force below. The mechanical squeal turned to a roar. The glass orbs burned with a deep red.
One of the security personnel in the back let out a horrific yell as the swarm descended upon him, soon drowning out his cry with the sound of metal ripping flesh. Before the rest of the team could gather its senses, the cluster of spiders charged forward, engulfing three more task force members. Gunfire rang out. The wall of bullets caused a storm of sparks to fly from the oncoming mechanical wave.
Agent Turner pulled the pins on two fragmentation grenades, and rolled the explosives into the horde.
“Run!” She shouted. The rest of the MTF didn’t bother to argue, and lost no time as the grenades detonated, sending shards of glass and brass scattering through the tunnel. The horde of spiders scurried behind.
“Candle!” Wells shouted as Eta-13 sprinted onwards. “Is Cronos near here?”
“Wh-what?” the medic replied between sharp breaths. His voice was almost inaudible through the cacophony of footsteps and metal on glass.
“Is the back entrance to Cronos near here!”
“Yeah… Half a mile ahead… when Broadway turns to Summerland… left at the first fork”
“Fantastic…” Wells said with a nod. He then turned his attention back to the brass horde.
We should be able to make it…
His concentration was broken for a brief moment as another researcher let out a cry, the horde having caught him and pulled him into the oncoming metal wave.
There was a loud bang. Wells watched as the spider flying towards him exploded into a cloud of sparks. Out of the corner of his eye, Wells could see Baldric holding a pistol in his hand.
Wells felt his pace increasing as his eyes frantically scanned the path ahead. A small smile of relief came to his lips as he recognized a distinct three way fork.
Almost there… he thought. Sanctuary was at hand.
The remains of the task force sprinted down, the pathway turning upwards at a gentle slope. Visible at the end of the path was a moss covered trap door, a “Do Not Enter: Hostile Natives” sign marked with the SCP Foundation logo was firmly placed on its center.
“Now!” Wells shouted, as he, Turner, and Candle stopped dead in their tracks. The rest of the task force passed them by as they pulled the pins on as many grenades as they could grab and lobbed them down the hill at the oncoming squealing horde.
The explosives went off right as the trio made it to the trap door, Baldric having already led the rest of the team through. Wells waited for his fellow agents to climb through, before he vaulted himself upwards with a loud grunt. The trap door slammed shut behind him, leaving the brass spider cluster behind.
“God fucking damn it!” Wells shouted as he was launched from the trap door into a forest clearing with a dull crash. He rolled several times before coming to a stop. The sensation of having sprinted through a monstrous cube of jelly quickly vanished, allowing the sergeant to open his eyes to a canopy of tall evergreen trees and a violet sky.
He slowly raised himself up using his elbows and looked around. They were now at the top of a tall hill. At the center of the clearing was a woven circle of branches that had served as their escape route from the interior of the Gate Passage. Fourteen terrified faces returned his gaze as he scanned what was left of his task force.
“So… where are we?” Wells heard Bell ask Candle. The medic slowly looked around the clearing. His expression was solemn, as if the very earth beneath his feet had drained him of his good humor.
“SCP-2344-1-Zeta,” Candle replied. His eyes were open wide as he seemed to pour over every fallen pine needle on the ground. “Up until two years ago we had an outpost here. Cronos Outpost.”
“You’ve been here before?”
“Yeah, when Blaire was in charge…”