Zero Sum
rating: +9+x

Priscilla Locke woke up just as her cell phone vibrated with the message from Marlowe to evacuate to the school building. The first thing she noticed was the dust that had accumulated on the nightstand and up to the backboard of the bed. It surprised her just how quickly it had taken to emotionally detach herself from the house and everything in it from the day Rhiannon exited her life, August 23rd, 2005.

She slid out of bed and washed up, then put on a white dress shirt, dress pants, red tie, and black trench coat. She fully expected it to be the clothes she'd die in. She packed her laptop, the UIU case file, external hard-drive now partially filled with copied emails and chats, and the tape recorder, and left her house for the last time. She left the keys plainly visible on the front porch and began her two mile walk to the school building. It wasn't her house anymore; she didn't belong there.


"Be gentle with her." Sandy the technician said as she opened the door to the room where they stored the Anabasis.

Locke frowned at her as she opened the door.

"It's an object."

Sandy nodded sheepishly, "Yeah I know."

Locke pursed her lips and stepped into the room and breathed in the dry scent. They had moved the Anabasis back to the tiny room where they'd first found it. Its testing area was now devoted to vaccine work. The original door had been removed and replaced with a thick imposing metal door with three imposing locks. Priscilla Locke crouched down behind the Anabasis and put her hands on it.

"I have questions."

Sandy shrugged, "There's not much I can tell you that we didn't already learn in testing."

"These are different."

"Okay."

Locke breathed in again. It smelled similar to that room in her house but not identical. She looked over the device again and pressed her right palm down on it as if caressing it, "So if we go to another universe and there are versions of us living there, we replace them?"

"No." Sandy said slowly and nervously, "Not, uhh. It shouldn't, no. We haven't had enough time to fully explore the other universes and confirm that. But, uh, remember that one test you and Agent Sharpe did? You were put in a different room from Anna and you and Aurianne ended up separated by a few meters."

"What was different there?"

"We don't know, but based on what you two reported, that it was— that it wasn't wired and it was covered in dust, made us think maybe that was a native Anna that our Anna got merged into. Since you didn't adjust anything it just snapped back after half an hour. Maybe it replaces space, not people, or, or… I don't know."

Locke sighed, "So if we use this, go to an alternate universe, and it's still wired, that means there's not another Anabasis there?"

"I mean, that only happened once so…"

"So if I go to an alternate universe and I'm dressed differently, that means I've replaced my pre-existing self?"

"Everyone who's gone through was dressed the same, so I don't…"

Locke kept tracing around the knobs. Four knobs. One for length, one for width and height, one for time, and the fourth knob. Sometimes the fourth knob did something different, either in elevation or time, sometimes it didn't. It had notches labelled "0", "1", and "4", with "4" hastily scratched out. Setting it to "1" or "4" caused problems with spacetime, dropping them in a completely different time period and location. There was no discernible pattern to it. "0" didn't cause problems. Aside from the first few tests, they left the knob on "0".

Sandy sighed, "If we had a few more months to test."

"If." Locke grumbled more aggressively than she intended. She looked back over at Sandy, "Why is everyone calling it Anna?"

Sandy shrugged, "It's less of a mouthful than 'Anabasis'. Plus when school was in, you could get away with talking about 'Anna' with kids and teachers around than some other code word. 'Anna Bassett'."

"My main concern is if we use this to flee to another universe, are we going to all be together in one place or are we going to wake up in our alternate selves' bodies and freak out our friends and family members? Or will we end up out in space?"

"I… I can't say for…"

Sandy shook her head and clasped her hands behind her back. She was trembling. They didn't know for sure. Their escape route could end up burying them underground or dropping them in the upper atmosphere. They might end up being merged into their alternate selves, two genetically identical but separate individuals occupying the exact same space and time for one sliver of a nanosecond before bursting like an overfilled sack of meat. This was why the vaccine work was their primary focus and Anabasis was shuttled off to a broom closet. A highly secure broom closet.

"We're fucked, aren't we?" Sandy said, her voice breaking.

Locke glanced up at her, "No. Anabasis is just our fail safe. Our equivalent of jumping out of a moving train. Couldn't be worse than crashing but we should really be more focused on stopping the train."

Sandy nodded and turned away. Locke sighed and looked back down at the Anabasis. I've got to stop lying to people.


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Jaime Marlowe watched Dr. Kohn finish up a pleasant-sounding conversation with a Hispanic insurgent leader in front of the school. He came up the steps and turned to face away, looking out over the barren street in front of the school. All the cars left behind were pushed aside to make barriers behind which militants could take cover in a firefight.

"Tonight. They say it would be earlier but definitely tonight. It'll be entirely WestCivvies for the first day or two. Once they realize how hard they're getting hit they'll call in air support." Kohn sounded calm as he spoke, idly stroking the thick stubble around his jawline.

"You know for sure the National Guard will bomb us?"

"Air National Guard, maybe. We're supposed to hear from the O5s once the fighting's over. The O5s are supposed to get the governor to stand down, but… We haven't heard from them."

"What?"

"I said we haven't heard from them. From the O5s, from the governor, anyone. All landline communication's been cut by the WestCivvies and satellite network's being attacked to slow it down to a crawl. But we're not getting any response from anyone outside of Florida so for all we know they're all dead or they're shutting us out."

"So we fire the Anabasis, then, and get ourselves out?" Marlowe asked, eager for some confirmation one way or another.

"I wouldn't. We've still got alternatives to burn through first. It's not entirely inconceivable that the WestCivvies could overrun the Hispanics and leave us alone to finish up a vaccine. If they are keeping us contained down here, we might be able to use that as our way out. But even if the O5 council is lost, we could always rebuild. There's bound to be survivors out there. We can make you O5-1."

"No you can't." Marlowe said in a flustered tone. Distant cracks and pattering sounds started to come from the west and south. Militants in the street ran in that direction. Soon the sounds became more concentrated as a full-blown firefight began to unfold just a mile or two away.

"What should I do, for real?" Marlowe asked.

"Stay the course."

"No, I mean really."

Kohn looked to her and smirked, exhaling noisily from his nose, "I can't make the decision for you. You're the Site Director."

"Really? You're going to fuck me over like this?"

"You have no idea how grateful I am that you took this posting, Marlowe. Any other researcher would've bombed by now. I don't think anyone else as qualified as you could pull us out of this."

Any other time such praise would've knocked her off her feet. Even if it was a distraction tactic. But if they all died by the end of the week or botched either the vaccine or the Anabasis, she'd be remembered as the greatest failure in Foundation history. If she was remembered at all.

"You really suck, Kohn." She groaned.

A Hispanic woman with a shotgun came jogging up the steps. Her radio had been blaring with a loud voice giving out commands in Spanish. She stopped in front of Dr. Kohn and nodded.

"It's a picket line. Southwest of here. They were heading west so the main force is probably closer than we expected. They might've passed us by but we got spotted, there was no way to avoid a shootout."

Kohn nodded and slipped his hands in his pockets. The woman must've been a Foundation agent infiltrating the Hispanic insurgents. Kohn turned to Marlowe, "Get inside and get the building shuttered." He then turned to the woman, "Try to persuade the Hispanics to draw them out further west. Imply we might be able to surround them if we work together. Contact me once they're gone and I'll see if I can get started talking down the WestCivvies."

"You plan on abandoning the militants?" The woman asked.

Kohn shrugged and spread his arms out, "The greater good. We are cockroaches."

The woman seemed to understand and turned to leave. Marlowe understood, too. It still made her sick.


From : moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P#moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P
To : 11311OULH@***.com
CC : ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr#ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr
Subject : None

4/5/06
Haven't heard from you in a month. Hoping this reaches you somehow. Don't know how much the Department tells you nowadays, but this isn't a rebellion anymore—the whole Miami-Dade region has pretty much been secured and the Cuban-Americans have assumed control. Pretty much seceded. We're fifteen, sixteen miles from the front line. Can't move.

Heard the plague's reached the Midwest by now. Not sure what they're saying about its containment, but it's loose down here. I caught it. I survived. Usual symptoms. Immune. That helps; we've got a lock on a potential antibody, might have a cure within weeks. Front line is moving.


Locke didn't consider herself a heavy sleeper, and the cot in the basement was exactly as uncomfortable as she expected. It still came as a shock to her to wake up at noon completely unfazed by the chaos that had erupted early in the morning above her. She dressed up and went upstairs. The school building was packed with even more people. Wounded, caked in dust and ash. The windows were shuttered so she couldn't see outside. She made her way up to the front entrance where dozens of people were packed near the doorway. Marlowe was standing out in front of the crowd.

Locke looked around. The street was half-hidden in smoke. Fires were burning from a hundred different places just in her field of view. Half the neighborhood looked to be bombed out. The school itself was spared. It took her a long moment to realize the armed men out in the street weren't Hispanic insurgents. They all had the berets and dark purple jackets singling them out as members of the "Party for the Supremacy of Western Civilization", with bright blue sashes marking them out as the Boni, the "Good Men"; a subgroup that went beyond the usual WestCivvie activities of harassing minorities, stalking activists, threatening journalists, and getting in street fights with socialists and leftists. If the WestCivvies could be considered an army, the Boni were the Rangers; fast, elite, and lethal. None of them were the flabby buffoons and mustache-twirling thugs commonly associated with the racist militia. All of them were ex-military, oftentimes "ex"-military for good reason.

Their leader came up the steps to approach Dr. Marlowe. He was tall and built like a turtle with a healthy layer of fat covering solid muscle, face clean save for a thick mustache and eyebrows seemingly designed for scowling.

"Hi," He said in a friendly tone as he approached Marlowe, "I'm Erik. I'm going to be assuming control of this facility from you."

"Where's Dr. Kohn?" Marlowe asked cautiously.

"The Jew? He's safe. We're sending him north so he can help us with rooting out the rest of the SCP people down here." Erik smiled, looking down at her then looking over the crowd of people crammed in the front entrance.

"You should all get back to work. There's no longer any threat but we've still got a deadly infectious disease on the loose. Everything's going to be okay." He said to them, then looked back down at Marlowe, "Take me to the Anabasis. It's a good idea if you don't pretend you've never even heard of it because I don't like having to go through the whole 'interrogation' thing. We're going to be good friends from now on whether you like it or not and to paraphrase Sulla, I can either be your greatest friend or your worst nightmare."

Marlowe hesitated, then turned back and looked over at Locke, "Agent Locke, please help me in escorting this gentleman to the device."

The crowd began to sink back into the building and scatter. Locke stared at him as he approached, his fingers tapping lightly against his hip. He looked positively jolly, as though he'd just been promoted to be the new Site Director and was getting a tour to check out the neat stuff now under his purview. She led him quietly to the other end of the school building's main hall and down into the basement. She looked back at him and saw he was unaccompanied by any of the other WestCivvies. It was just them and Marlowe.

Erik looked over the device as she turned on the light in the closet. He didn't seem to understand what he was supposed to be looking at. He pursed his lips and breathed out from his nose for a long moment before speaking, "Show me something cool."

Locke grabbed the top of the Anabasis, dragging it to the back wall of the walk-in closet and powering it on. She lowered the range on the settings, inverting them so Anabasis would pull in material rather than send out, and then pulled back on its short lever. It didn't trigger so she yanked back on it harder. Light came out of it, tracing a small cube in the air. A large block of dirt appeared in the lighted area. She reset the knobs and the lights went out, the block dropped to the floor and broke open. A bright silvery tendril emerged from the dirt like a big metallic worm. It flailed and thrashed and died, and immediately started to shrivel and desiccate. Its corpse briefly caught fire and burned away to nothing.

"Cool." Erik said, nudging his boot in the dirt to see if anything else was hidden in it, "This came from an alternate universe, right?"

"Yeah." Locke replied.

"Is there any way of knowing which? Or, I mean, like, if it's safe for human habitation?"

"Not without going in ourselves. We've got a list of some places that are safe, including some that show signs of human civilization."

Marlowe glared at Locke for giving him that information. It didn't matter to Locke; she felt herself becoming more detached from the world ever since Rhiannon had left her. She hadn't quite realized just how completely she'd detached until Aurianne left. Unless Umber responded to one of her emails, she literally had no one left in this world she cared about. A part of her was positively giddy at the prospect of starting fresh in another universe, just not with a pack of racist thugs tagging along.

"Live civilizations or dead? As in, is there a universe that's almost exactly like ours that we can go to?"

Locke sighed and thought about how to respond, "Possibly. We didn't get to explore far enough to find anyone else." She remembered one place in particular. It was like the school, but painted differently. The room was clean and the door locked from the inside. It had a keyhole to unlock from the outside. The building there had the steady hum of air conditioning. She hadn't stayed long enough to explore but it was definitely alive. There were people there.

"Very cool." Erik said, then motioned for her to step out of the broom closet. He turned to Marlowe, "Get your people back to testing with this thing and try and find us a new home. Preferably one not as technologically advanced as this one, but we can manage with whatever. Also start clearing out the sick people. We're going to have to cram as many good people in this building as possible when the time comes."

Marlowe shook her head in disbelief, "What are— What are you talking about?"

Erik smiled, "Every WestCiv patriot we get piled in and transported to another Earth is another asset we can use to carve out a new home for us. People with skills, or even unskilled labor. If the other Earth is contemporary with us, we'll need people with the right skills to infiltrate and assimilate. If it's pre-Industrial, we can find a use for them too but we'll probably end up spending a whole lot of time learning how to farm."

"You mean you plan on what… Invading an alternate Earth?"

"That's why I'd rather they were pre-Industrial," He guffawed, "Imagine that cuck Columbus coming to the New World and finding white men with machine guns waiting for him!"

"Columbus didn't come to Florida." Locke flatly put in.

Erik turned on her, face expressionless, "You, I don't like. Don't interrupt me again, please. If you're not interested in helping just say so and I'll let you leave. Space is a resource; if you're going to be causing problems for us I can replace you with someone more useful."

She glared back at him, hands on her hips. The familiar rush of adrenaline hit her. But where usually she'd explode in a concentrated fit of rage, instead she felt nothing. She shrugged, "Okay."

Erik smiled, then turned to Marlowe, "Get everyone to work. Also, start asking around. Find out what your employees are good at and how it could help us in the next world. Computer geeks, technicians, electricians, someone who knows how to cross-breed vegetables, someone who can shovel shit for an hour without puking. Anything useful, no matter how small."


From : moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P#moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P
To : 11311OULH@***.com
CC : ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr#ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr
Subject : None

4/6/06
Vaccines aren't working. People keep dying. We're holed up in a school—every nearby building has been bombed out or scrapped for material. Rebels won't touch a school building. If they learn we're hoarding supplies in here, though, they'll tear the place apart.


There wasn't any noticeable change since the WestCivvies took over the site. People still tended to sick and wounded, shouted and screamed as the infected finally started to succumb after burning up for days. There was a brief uproar as one of the medical personnel watched a patient die, then start to writhe and thrash violently for hours after death. Another handful of people emerged from the infection clean, like Aurianne Sharpe and Priscilla Locke had. For every one who did, another ten or twelve were hauled out into the street, still thrashing after death, and cremated in the faculty parking lot.

Locke found herself with nothing to do for most of the day. The WestCivvie head, Erik, went into the basement with Sandy and Edgars and didn't come back up until nightfall. Erik was giddy and riled up. Locke could overhear him talking about meeting himself.

Some people working on the site had been leaving at the end of each day and going home. A lot of them didn't come back the next day. Erik had the whole school locked down each night while the Boni patrolled round the clock. There was no escaping for any of them. The deaths left a few people free long enough to talk to each other. Rumors started to spread. The worst of them said the government had fallen and the Foundation heads were fleeing to Europe. The Red Death Cloud was nearly finished with North America, supposedly.

Then there was noise and commotion outside. A pickup truck full of live bodies arrived and the WestCivvies were unloading them into the school for treatment. Most were other WestCivvies wounded in firefights with the Hispanic insurgents. Some were light-skinned civilians who spoke English well enough and without too thick of an accent to pass for white and were taken in and given jobs by the WestCivvies. Then some of the newly arrived civilians fell ill and added to the number of infected and the workload on the medical personnel.

Close to midnight, Locke heard the sounds of gunfire and the dull booms of explosions in the distance. It came as a shock to her. She hadn't even realized that since the WestCivvies arrived the noises had stopped. Now they were losing ground. She went back to her chosen cot and forced herself to go to sleep, expecting to wake up to Marlowe having her escort a big burly Cuban named Enrique to check out the Anabasis next.


From : moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P#moc.liamtoh|rekcoL_P
To : 11311OULH@***.com
CC : ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr#ten.dkuf|n0n1eihr
Subject : None

4/7/06
Thought I heard Maine and Vermont were gone. Hoping against hope it was just a rumor. We're making progress on the vaccines. If this goes well enough, we might have a cure handy by the end of the month. We won't need Anabasis then. I know I said I wouldn't tell you anything about Anabasis but it's not the deus ex machina officials are making it out to be. I see it as our absolute last resort. It's imprecise, it's unstable, and it's completely beyond our capability to refine or control.


Locke woke up in her picked corner of a storage room to see Erik standing in the doorway leering down at her. She turned over and sat upright to face him.

"Are you really planning on invading another universe?" She said before he could speak.

He shrugged and smirked, "I mean, yeah. Even if we get a cure here, why bother? A lot of people are dead. Mostly Asians, but still people. Maybe too many for us to continue. We also don't know how far it's spread in the past week or so. We might be too late. Plus, it's probably too late for America. Pretty much everyone here has had their lives destroyed and is going to have to start over. So why start over in a wrecked, shit world like this one when we can start over in a ripe new one?"

"Since when do you types care about non-whites?"

"People are an asset. No matter their race. Yeah, a lot of the dumber WestCivvie types talk about how stupid and weak the other races are and how they need to be 'contained' and all. You and I, we're much smarter than that; we'll always need labor. Physical, mental, any kind of labor. Western civilization is supreme but it didn't get to be that way on its own. We learned from other civilizations and took what they had to offer, and applied it for ourselves. The Asiatics invented gunpowder, we perfected it. The Arabs invented algebra, we built on it. The Qing invented flight and airplanes, we made jet fighters. Every civilization needs a foundation to stand on."

She snorted, "Sounds more like we just stole everything we have from better civilizations."

He laughed, "Maybe we did. Maybe that's all we really did. Yet here we are, on top of all the others. Has to mean something that a race of pirates and thieves like us can take what we've taken and dominate like we've done."

"That's not something to be proud of."

"It's still something. And whether this world makes it or not, we'll be the ones hauling ass out of here and moving on to dominate another world." He smiled wider, gazing off at nothing, "Then maybe another, and another, and another."

"With 150 people? 200? Plus another thousand you're forcing to go with you?"

"That's why I'd prefer pre-Industrial. Otherwise we can always find some way to seed ourselves into some other America's government and slowly whittle it down into a more manageable state. Or shoot, maybe we get lucky and find an America just as strong as we were. Then we don't have to do a thing." He stopped and looked at her again, his shoulders heaving with suppressed laughter as he anticipated what she might've said, "You think I'm in this for pride or power? I don't care. I'd be more than happy to warp in on some society further along than ours and just indulge. Lay down my arms, get a simple job and propagate my race."

"I really don't care."

"Are you going to try to fight me? I've seen this movie before. You go along with us, snarking and waving your dick around to show you're not intimidated. Then you start talking up the others to try to sabotage us, make your big move right on the eve of some showdown between us and the Cubans. Was that going to be your plan?"

Locke breathed easily, shrugged easily, shook her head easily, "I really don't care. I have absolutely no emotional investment in this world or anyone in it, or you and your shitty little race. If you're planning to settle someplace pre-Industrial, at least bring a bike for me so I can go north. I couldn't live down here without air conditioning. Otherwise…"

He looked unconvinced of her sincere apathy. She didn't get the chance to follow up as he turned and left the storage room. The noise of gunfire picked up outside, both close by and far off. She lay back down in her cot and didn't get up for several hours. It was late afternoon by then and the sound of gunfire was replaced with that of moving vehicles. She dressed up and trudged up the stairs back out into the school.

Even more civilians had arrived. Most of the newcomers were children. Several were naked and shouting, skin red and irritated. They were itching and nothing was making it better. Some kept scratching until they bled. Newly infected adults also started to itch.

"Gas!" Someone shrieked just as a loud pop went off out in the street, followed by a loud series of them in sequence. Each brief explosion left behind a puff of red. WestCivvies out in the street were unprepared for it. Some of them succumbed and started to cough, while others hurriedly went to their jeeps for gas masks. The two figures who'd thrown the grenades were darting between cars at the far end of the street while WestCivvies shot wildly at them.

Locke stepped out of the school and onto the front porch. Some people were shouting at her to get back inside but no one was willing to go past the threshold. The puffs of red from the grenades seemed to be lazily drifting towards her. She backed into the school and pulled the door shut. It wouldn't have mattered if the bacteria was intent on coming inside; the doors weren't airtight. She turned and looked around the hall again. It was a marvel of good fortune that the bacteria wasn't spread all over the walls. Most of the medical personnel wore gas masks and tucked their sleeves into their gloves and boots. Others didn't bother with tucking. A handful of others didn't bother with the masks at all. They worked until they caught it, then they kept working, sometimes while laying on a cot themselves, sweating and puking themselves to death if they didn't survive.

She went back down to the basement where Erik was having the Anabasis tested. WestCivvies were making liberal use of the D-Class personnel to dispatch across time and space to scout the multiverse for them, then complained that they weren't trustworthy and went back to the same spots themselves. Again and again they twisted the knobs, cranked the lever, and yelled when the device shut itself down from overuse. At least it cooled down the basement enough to make it comfortable. But the continued use kept nagging at her. They no longer had access to the nuclear power plant at Turkey Point. The power grid was completely destroyed. They were rapidly burning through however much gas was left for the generator.


By nightfall the sounds of battle faded in the distance and Locke sat down in the testing room, huddling in the corner with her trench coat to warm her. She faded in and out for hours. They never stopped with the testing. It was close to noon again when she woke up. She got up and left the room to wander about the school building again, looking for some way to be helpful instead of sleeping her days away.

More of the patients were children now. The adults were dying faster. Some of them were given the experimental vaccine. About half of them stopped breathing and died. The other half continued to linger in miserable pain. Some of the children weren't infected with the bacteria but were still suffering; malnutrition, fever, and the overwhelming stress of being held captive by armed men in a war zone. The endless itching at least let the medics know which ones were infected.

"Breathe." A woman was saying softly to a child out in the hall. They were sitting up against the wall shaking badly. Locke stopped to look down at them. The kid started hyperventilating. "Slow, love." The woman said soothingly, patting the child affectionately and holding a water bottle up to their lips. She didn't acknowledge Locke's presence.

Locke moved away from them and headed towards one of the stairwells. Clothing was hanging over the handrails. If the clothes were infected no one seemed to be doing anything to keep them away from people. The inconsistency was starting to become frustrating; here they were working on a vaccine against an anomalous bacteria that spread like wildfire. They were surrounded by it. Yet the bacteria did not enter the school. No one was getting infected other than those who were working on those already infected, making skin to skin contact, getting their sweat, their spit, their piss, their blood on them. Marlowe didn't wear a gas mask when she was up and moving. She never showed signs of infection. The WestCiv guards who stayed indoors didn't get infected. Erik didn't get infected.

Something was different and she didn't know how to begin investigating. No one had time to indulge her with theories. The gunfire outside abruptly started up again. She could hear shouts from outside and then repeated dull thuds. The building began to shake. People began streaming out into the halls and heading for the basement as a low rumbling built up outside. She went with them. Most of the medics stayed upstairs with their patients. The noises continued for hours, gunfire, rumblings, and snaps and cracks. Pieces of the building were starting to break. It was late at night when people began to emerge from the basement and going back to work.

Locke came up the steps and found Marlowe in the hall outside of her office, visibly frustrated and gesticulating at Erik.

"How is this our fault?" She was yelling.

"You let them in and made them think you were going to help them. How did you think they'd react when they heard the truth?"

"I did— I wasn't involved in any of that! That was all Kohn's plan, I never told them anything about helping you!"

"Well now they think you betrayed them and they're fucking pissed enough they're using the bacteria as a weapon." Erik looked sick. Locke hesitated before stepping closer, but saw from his stance he wasn't infected. His arm was held up to his stomach, stiff and unmoving. He'd probably gotten shot.

"How did they even manage that?" Marlowe cried out, voice cracking.

"Have you taken a step outside?" Erik snapped at her, mimicking with his free hand a motion like scooping up sand, "It comes down like snow, now. All you need to do is scoop some up and pack it into a pipe bomb or a homemade grenade and it's weaponized!"

"It's bacteria! It should die in the fire!"

"It should, but it's not, which means we've been wasting our gas cremating the dead. Unless we fire today, Anabasis isn't going to have enough power to take the entire building with us. So pack up your shit," He jabbed at her with his free hand, more anger in his voice now than she'd heard thus far, "We're leaving!"

Locke moved over towards them and Erik turned on her, whipping out a pistol and pointing it at her, "Is this it? You taking your shot at being the hero and going to take me down?"

Locke shook her head, "I told you before, no."

He had a hard time keeping the pistol elevated. Another smattering of gunfire went off outside and voices were calling out in Spanish. A short trail of explosions sprayed against the far side of the school building.

"Fucking idiots, they're going to blow this building in." Erik grunted and shuffled off out the front door. Boni were taking up positions behind cars and firing towards the south. Some were setting up a mortar.

Locke turned and looked around her. Marlowe was gone and people were starting to evacuate the building. She tensed up as she realized the WestCivvies were forcing the wounded and infected civilians out of the main building and into the outdoor halls. Locke reached into the pocket of her trench coat and pulled out the tape recorder Fatima Cortes had left her. A chill went through her and she held it close to her mouth.

"Status report…" She croaked, and paused to wet her throat, "Situation has deteriorated significantly, as expected. Subjects aren't responding to vaccines. Best case scenario, asphyxiation within 2-3 minutes. Worst case…"

She looked out the front door. It was just past midnight now. The night sky lit up every so often as one side or another fired off a flare. Once the flare was up both sides unloaded relentlessly on each other, stopping only to reload or fire off another flare. The parking lot was still piled with corpses. Some of them weren't fully cremated and were twitching and writhing, days after death.

"I don't know how to convey the horror. They keep moving. Twitching, jerking, some even standing upright for a moment, before collapsing in a heap. We have to burn them; they don't stop until they're ash." She remembered the blinding pain from her own infection. It never got better. It never numbed over time. It was a pain deep in the muscles and it spread all over the body, "If you saw their corpses, you saw mercy."

She began to walk down one of the halls where the classrooms were left open. Some of the medical cots still had people in them, twitching and thrashing. Most were dead, but it was impossible to tell without getting close. She crept into one room and waited to see if the writhing body on the cot responded to her presence. It didn't.

"Symptoms consistent with what we've been seeing in east Asia. Internal hemorrhaging, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of sweating leading to hyperthermia. A new symptom's showing in the newer cases; the itching. It's not enough to just scratch your ass and be done with it; it's persistent, and it burns. Some of the kids strip naked, unable to bear even the slightest touch, and start scratching until they bleed. Then they scratch some more."

She looked away from the body and caught sight of a thick clipboard left on a pile of boxes by the door. She picked it up and started to look through the pages.

"Medical logs… Dante couldn't imagine anything this hellish." She stepped out of the room and looked through the logs. She'd seen the doctors walking through each room with these clipboards, scribbling in them, always using different colored pens. She hadn't realized why until now, "First you see their names, starting with the refugees. Name, age, sex, symptoms, prescription, prognosis… The survivors are checked off in blue. You can go a dozen pages without ever seeing blue. The handwriting changes. Newcomer doesn't bother mincing words: 'Female, 31, death. Male, 13, death.'"

She thought she saw someone in the hall dart into one of the classrooms. The lights were starting to flicker. Some of them went out.

"I could almost respect the inhumanity of an enemy willing to target civilians with a bio-weapon like this. When we learned the insurgents fumbled this badly… it's not even pitiable." She sighed softly, away from the tape recorder. She hadn't though anything about the Hispanic insurgents throughout it all, figured they were just fighting for their own survival. But to scoop up the Red Death and use it on a building they knew was packed with sick and wounded civilians. Children… "People like that… they're too low to be animals, too stupid to be monsters, and too far gone to learn better."

Another flicker of the lights. They were wasting power by hooking up the lights. She could hear people running and screaming out in the streets and out into the main halls. She wasn't sure how many WestCivvies were in the basement powering up the device. They might not let her leave with them. They might throw her out to the Hispanic insurgents. She wondered if the insurgents were still respecting the ceasefire with Foundation personnel or if Kohn's haphazard bargain with the WestCivvies was common knowledge to them by now. She shut off the tape recorder and went down into the basement. She could hear voices far off, but none close to the Anabasis. Adrenaline started to pump. It was her or them, she thought selfishly, and time was wasting.

"No," She turned the tape recorder back on and went back up the stairs, "This isn't gonna work. Yesterday it was just booms and cracks of gunfire. Today you can differentiate between their shouts and ours. They'll overrun us by nightfall. Probably too late for these people, but we have to start evacuating now if we're going to salvage anything from this. If we're lucky, Anabasis will fire before the enemy overruns the place. If not, we'll have the advantage while they're trying to figure out what the fuck happened. Maybe they'll stir up enough of a shitstorm on the other side that we won't even have to deal with them."

She stepped out to the front porch and looked outside. The WestCivvies had moved. She couldn't see where. She turned and looked at the front desk. The receptionist's desk. Its computer was still on and all the files and books and supplies piled onto it had been cleared out. She fished into her trench coat pocket and withdrew the external hard drive. She looked it over for a long moment and set it down on the desk.

"I hope this works. God save our race. Signing out."

She squeezed her eyes shut and grimaced. She'd meant the 'human race', not the 'white race'. Would such a distinction matter to whomever found the tape? Would anyone ever find the tape? She shut off the tape recorder and placed it down on top of the external hard drive.

"Hey."

Someone called out to her from down the hall. It was Marlowe. Locke stared at her as Marlowe approached. She was moving quickly. Too quickly. It was as if she were being pushed by something behind her. Her eyes were wide and red and looked dried out.

"Are you going to use the Anabasis?"

Locke nodded, "We're running out of power. We have to do this now. They're pushing civilians out of the main building so if we do it right now, we can probably take some of them with us before they're out of range. We'll need to keep ourselves quarantined in case we take the bacteria with us."

Marlowe shook her head and started to tremble. Then she opened her mouth and started to shriek. She lunged at Locke and shoved her into a wall. She was shrieking and howling like an animal as she assaulted her. Locke thought she could easily overpower the smaller woman but Marlowe just kept throwing herself at her, thrusting her shoulder into Locke's stomach and slamming her again and again into the wall. Locke used her height advantage and pounded her elbows down on Marlowe's shoulders until the other woman screamed in fresh pain and backed down. Then she kicked at Marlowe's shin until it snapped and pushed her away. Marlowe was still glaring at her, howling and screaming incoherently, while blood ran copiously from her mouth. Locke turned and ran for the basement.

This was something new, she thought to herself in a fresh panic. She gave a shuddering sob as she heard another person, deep in the basement, howling like Marlowe had. Someone started shooting, but the howling continued. She tried to avoid following the sounds.

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"Oh for fuck's sake… What the fuck… What the fuck is this now?" She whined, face burning red and sweat drenching her. The gunfire continued and someone screamed in pain. The shrieks and howls were different, from someone else. Someone infected, maybe? Had Marlowe been infected this whole time? Was she still infected, or carrying it inside herself?

She reached the testing area and peered inside. The Anabasis was there, as well as Edgars. He was clean and dry, not sweating or bleeding. He noticed her immediately. He was holding a pistol at her, "Locke."

Every other time he'd been even slightly aggressive towards her, she'd exploded. Now she was genuinely frightened. It wasn't even the gun in his hand. This was something new.

"Who are you, Locke? What are you, even? Why does all of this have to do with you? Why does everything that's happened somehow seem to involve you?" He snarled, slowly approaching her while she kept backing away. He was swaying and twitching as he walked. His face was red but completely dry. He shook the pistol a bit and squeezed it, firing off a shot into the ceiling and making her jump.

"I'm going to kill you, Locke. Maybe shoot you to keep you still. Then I'm going to cut you up, cut you apart, just like you always wanted."

"You don't need to do this. There's a way out for both of us. We can leave and never see each other again." She kept her voice calm even as every inch of her shook.

"I'm going to cut you up. Cut you apart with a knife. Cut you knife."

He squeezed the trigger again and fired wildly. The effort seemed to stagger him and he dropped the gun and tried to bend down to retrieve it. She ran straight at him and speared him to the ground. He kept flailing and shouting, "Knife! Cut you up!" While she drove her fists repeatedly into his stomach. He kept thrashing and threw her off of him. She staggered to her feet and spotted the gun, made a lunge for it and snatched it before he could get it first.

"Shoot me!" He shrieked at her as she backed away from him. He struggled to get up to his feet, "I won't stop! You'll have to put me in the fucking ground, you shit. You fuck. You fucking subhuman."

She winced as she squeezed the trigger and shot him in his chest. He went down with a throaty cry and stopped moving. She stepped over him and held the gun out, hand trembling, waiting for him to move so she could shoot him again. His eyes were half-closed and he wasn't moving. She heard other people screaming and howling further down the basement halls, closer now, with the occasional crack of gunfire.

She dropped the gun onto Edgars' face and went back into the room. The Anabasis was cold and still wired to the building's power supply. The lights were dimming in the room as the generator struggled to keep going. She sat down beside the Anabasis and put her hands on it. Again she tensed up. It was warm. It was supposed to be cold. Every time they'd used it, it siphoned heat from the air while leaving itself cold to the touch. The room was freezing cold but the device itself was warm.

"SCP-1856." She said breathily, adjusting the knobs to encompass the school building. They didn't have enough energy for the full campus itself, only the main building. As the lights flickered above, she wondered if they had enough power even for that. She started to doubt herself. Who was she to use the device and possibly abandon a thousand other people who were being forcibly removed and placed out of range? Should she wait? Hope the insurgents would show mercy and probably bring fresh gasoline for the generator?

She sniffled and wiped sweat from her face, standing and looking down at the device for a long moment. The knowledge that there were other people out there in other universes hadn't fully registered in her mind until then. It soothed her to know that even if this world ended, other worlds full of people would continue on. Maybe they had different values and ideologies, maybe they were brutal and warlike, maybe they were pacifistic to the point of inaction against a hostile force. But at least they were alive. She exhaled and reached out to turn on the device and crank the lever.

She suddenly thought to check if someone were nearby. Maybe Edgars wasn't dead. Maybe one of the howlers was coming for her. She stared at Edgars' body as lines of light traced around the room, then turned her attention back to the Anabasis. If there wasn't enough energy for the whole school building, would the device reduce its range and only take people close to it? Would it only take her? Or would it still try to take the whole building and possibly fall short of transporting everyone fully intact?

Edgars suddenly lunged at her, howling and shrieking again. He had the gun and began to shoot wildly. The lights emanating from the Anabasis flashed in his eyes and he screamed and lashed out at her, grabbing her by her shirt. He tried to rip it open and swung the gun down as though to stab her through the chest with it. She grabbed at his wrist and threw her head forward, smashing her forehead into his face and staggering him back out of the room. He still held Locke by her shirt and nearly took her out of the room with him. She was stopped in the doorway, hitting some invisible wall that knocked the breath out of her. Edgars dropped to the floor outside, clutching a handful of torn fabric. The pain wasn't so bad, she thought as she squeezed her eyes shut against the blinding light.



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Let me tell you a story, privately, just for you, my newest friends, not for the People, just for you.

This was back in the before times, before the Red, before the violence, before the real world shone in, when a dirty, pretty white family of means could shut themselves up and feign ignorance of the times that were coming.

This was before my sister was my sister. She was a pretty thing still, but we called her Charlie.

Charlie and I went to Key Biscayne to go fishing. Not right in Key Biscayne but the big huge highway of death they call the Ricky-Back Because Way. Right below and beside it was the Old Ricky-Back Causeway. It predated us all and they didn't leave the past to die. Instead the big huge highway of death soared over the old Causeway and they left it intact for the little people like us to walk and play and go fish.

Charlie and I went fishing many long days ago. I never used to fish but Charlie loved the fish. Charlie hated when there were no fish so we went further down the old Causeway. Further out into the bay to get at the deeper waters where the good fish lived, the big ones.

My throat tightened with each pace we took, movin' further and further away from Mama and Dadeh. Charlie was the bold one then. Charlie was the smart one then. Charlie was always right. Then Charlie caught a big one. Charlie's pole nearly folded over on itself, the Big One was so big and strong. Charlie was bold and smart and right but Charlie wasn't big. So Charlie lost.

What did little Rhie do?

That long period of time just now is about how long Little Rhie did nothing. Then Little Rhie turned to walk, not run, to go find Mama and Dadeh. The Family came out to the Rickenbacker Causeway. The Family did not come home.

Mama cleared out our bedrooms and moved us all up to the second floor. It might've been a week or it might've been a year. The memories from the before times are like that. Little Rhie woke up in bed and Charlie was there sleeping beside her. Mama took Little Rhie aside and gave Little Rhie such a whallop.

"Never let this happen again." She said once. She said only once. In exactly that tone of voice, exactly that quiver and drawl on the 'Neeever'.

I think Charlie knew, somewhere deep inside. Charlie got angry when we went to the beach. Charlie used to scream and shout at me. Maybe Charlie knew and Charlie blamed me.

I have a confession to make to you, my newest friends. Everything I've done here and now has been to help all of you. But my motives are… Purely selfish. Everything I've done has been repentance to my sister. Repenting for my sin of what I had done to my sister, and repenting for the sin of what Mama did to my sister.

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