Numerus
rating: +38+x

You stagger around the giant, octagonal cell, holding the wall for support. You trip on a wire.

Picking yourself up, you follow the wire to its source: a hydraulic press, the cylinder warped and beaten up. Machinery clutters the room, illuminated by an overhead beacon at regular intervals. Handy tools, chemical compounds, laser cutters, worn out and strewn about like toys in a messy child’s room. In the middle is the onyx gemstone, spotless.

You slump on a chair and spin to the desk in front. Papers spill out of folders, filled with photo-copied journal entries, historical reports, and diagrams of the gemstone.

A letter sits on one of the folders.

You open it for the hundredth time.

Yvette,

I’ll be amnesticized and working in a restaurant with the initials “S.C.P.” by the time you read this. This doesn’t come as a surprise, I know, but realize that I care about you and your future immensely.

It’s a ruse. There’s nothing there. I spent my prime working on this; you’ve got some of yours left. Spend your time wisely.

Q.

"No," you mutter, "God damn it, no!"

You open a file labeled Project Pluto - Proposal Thaumiel, that rests where the letter laid, and shuffle through the papers. Schematics of progressively complex “keys” fill the file. All the designs were tested. All the designs were put in the “defective” drawer. You can see Q's signature on some of the papers: Q. Hack, Site-10.

You open the drawer and pull out a key, comparing it with the design on the paper. The next one has also been tried. And the next. You start scrambling to find a design that hadn’t been tested. You double-check, triple-check, and slam the drawer shut. You put your head in your hands. "There's gotta be something. Anything," you say. You peek through your fingers and spot a paper held under a lamp.

It's a photocopy of that final page, the passkey planted in the gemstone, drawn centuries ago in Edwin Young's journal. Edwin Young, who found the gem in a "blasted" temple. Edwin Young, who promised release in a simple key. Edwin Young, who never had to prove what he saw.

You snatch the paper, ball it up, and pitch it off the desk. You slam your head onto the metal, the bang echoing across the cell, and sob. A photograph of you and your past lab friends catches some of your tears, the hand-written "Mirski, Hack, and Stimson - 2007" smearing a bit.

"God damn it, Q," you say, "You were right. You were fucking right."

You turn and stand up, leaning on the pedestal where the gemstone sits. It's warm to the touch.

You hurl the gemstone at the opposite wall, and collapse, curling into a ball.

Q learned in his first week who the bad-faith debaters in the cafeteria were. He could see a storm from a kilometer away. Who's to say this would help him against entities with limitless range? Inversely, Stimson trusted most everyone he met. His fate was sealed. There couldn't be anyone else that knew of Site-10's existence; maybe the O5s. Who could say where the O5s-

Click.

You struggle to turn before you see the lock shatter, fine pieces falling and settling on the floor. A cloud of gas and light expands for a moment before dissipating into the air. On the remains of the jewel rests a golden, ornate passkey.

"Impossible" you say, picking up the key. It's hot to the touch.

Click. The sound reverberates from above. The ground starts to unravel.

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