Publish or Perish
rating: +33+x

...

SCP-110-1,” the speaker crackled across the sterile silence of the cell.

One painfully bored anomalous person pulled a pair of prison-issue glasses off his face and rubbed his temples. The paperback novel in his hand found its way to the table beside his bed as he sat up. Wasn’t much of an imposition. He had read it 10 times already this week.

“Yes, I’m here.”

Please prepare for room inspection. Place both hands on the wall to your right, back to the door, feet shoulder width apart. Failure to comply may result in your termination. Is that understood?”

SCP-110-1 cringed at the whine of the ancient speaker, moreso even than at the threat to his life. He wasn’t comfortable with that either. Summary execution was such a childish way to deal with prisoners. Scaring a person into compliance only taught them how to lie more effectively.

“I understand.”

He stood and moved to the far wall of the cell as instructed. The cell door hissed obnoxiously as it swung inward. Two pairs of footsteps entered the room. One of them pulled a pistol out of its holster and thumbed back the hammer.

“You forgot to rack it,” SCP-110-1 said over his shoulder as hands swept up and down his body. He heard the other guard rack their slide, curse, and then fumble around for the extra bullet that popped out and fell on the floor. SCP-110-1 snickered quietly. “This one new?”

His head was smacked and made white static in his eyes, knocking the glasses onto the floor.

“Can it, asshole,” the guard said, checking once more for weapons or other items concealed about the anomaly’s person. “…He’s clear. You good?”

“Yeah… yeah,” said the other. “Clear.”

The guard grabbed SCP-110-1 by the shoulder, spun him around, and put his back against the wall. “Any more bullshit like that, you’re gonna need a new right kneecap, understand?”

“Ooga booga booga to you, too,” SCP-110-1 said, locking eyes (he hoped; could only see vague beige blob where a face should be) with the guard as he slid down the wall and grabbed his glasses. “Go ahead and toss it. I’ve got all the same stuff I’ve had the last ten times.”

A tall man in a smart navy pinstripe suit with a briefcase appeared in the doorway, clearing his throat. “I appreciate the effort, fellas,” the suit said, “but I can handle this interview from here, thanks.” The two guards backed away from the anomaly, weapons holstered, but hands still resting on the butts of their pistols, until they framed the doorway. “…That means leave,” the suit concluded, and the pair of guards scurried around the doorframe out of sight.

SCP-110-1 eyed the stranger suspiciously, folding his arms over his chest. “Well? What can I do for you?”

“Perhaps nothing. Perhaps quite a lot,” the suit replied, extending a hand. “I’m Field Agent Bertrand Tomlin. You can call me Burt.”

SCP-110-1 did not take his hand. “Bertrand… like Bertrand Russel?”

“You know him?”

“I’m a topological engineer, of course I know him,” he replied curtly. “What’s in the case?”

The suit smiled and held it in front of him. “Your file says you claim to be one of ours from the future, is that right?”

“Does the black moon howl?” SCP-110-1 answered.

“Cute. What year was that?”

“What year is it?”

The Agent, whistled. “Never much cared for manners anyway.” He spun a combination into the case locks and popped it open, retrieving a file from inside and presenting it to the anomaly. “Admin thinks this is probably a waste of time, but… I’d like you to have a look at this for me.”

SCP-110-1 tried not to look desperate when he took it, but the twinkle in the Agent’s eye told him he had failed. “What is it?”

“A little something we found recently. I’m no good with schematics, but the researchers tell me it's some kind of impossible machine. So far the only thing it’s good for is making microwave ovens bigger on the inside. I looked at your file and said ‘Hey! Here’s an expert on spatial anomalies from the future! He -’”

“Stop talking,” the anomaly said holding up a hand. The deathly silent room was suddenly abuzz with barely audible electronic noises that certainly weren’t there before SCP-110-1 started looking at the file. “… That can’t be right.”

“What can’t be right?”

“The schematic,” SCP-110-1 said, closing the folder and handing it back. “It’s a joke. Someone is having a laugh at your expense, Burt. Sorry.”

Agent Tomlin smirked. “Show me.”

SCP-110-1 rolled his eyes. “Fine.” He opened the file. “This device replicates two pseudo-riemannian manifolds here and here, using a primitive thaumaturgical antenna here to draw extra space out of nothing and bottle it, but then there’s this symbol here,” he said, tapping the page. “This is written up as a ‘tachyon emitter’. A device that theoretically makes time. Except there’s not supposed to be any such thing as a tachyon; it was disproven in the 1990’s. Time travel is…”

Agent Tomlin chuckled, “I’m sorry, time travel is what? Were you about to say it’s impossible?”

“Where did you find this?”

“You know I can’t tell,” Agent Tomlin said, pulling the folder from SCP-110-1’s hand and putting it away. “But… well, if you can prove that you know how it works, then maybe…”

SCP-110-1 closed his eyes for only a moment before opening them and looking into the Agent’s eyes. His features softened. His face shifted uncomfortably between furious anger and unbearable pain. “If it gets me out of this room, I’ll do it. I’ll eat a bullet, donate a vital organ to science, anything. I’ll do it. Please just… It’s been almost 20 years, I can’t do this anymore.”

Agent Tomlin smiled, and extended his hand again. “I feel like we maybe got off on the wrong foot. I’m Burt Tomlin. What’s your name?”

SCP_Logo.png

Thaddeus Xyank, PhD.


Chairperson: Temporal Anomalies Department

Doctor Athena Anastasakos ran her fingers over the nameplate in her hand, and paced the doorway outside of her boss’s office. Four hours late. Thad was never four minutes late, let alone four hours. She had met at least 4 different iterations of the man by now, and not a one of them would ever have been caught late for anything, even in death. Not because he was a time traveler and kept the best methods for himself, mind you. He was just that kind of obsessive prick.

It was time to admit that something had gone miserably wrong.

Athena pulled her flip phone from her purse and punched in an 18 digit number. Before hitting send, she inserted another small device into the phone’s headphone jack and turned the numbered dial to a three digit PIN belonging to the only person in this whole forsaken reality she was sure she could trust.

Burt Tomlin.”

“Burt! It’s Athena. He’s… He’s late.”

Fucking of course. How late?

“Four hours, three minutes, thirty seven seconds at… mark.”

The voice on the other end of the line sighed painfully. She could practically see Tomlin pinching the bridge of his nose as his eyes pressed shut against the pain of the present. “Right, when are you?

“1304 on 18 June, 2002 CE, at Site 17.” She held her wristwatch to the device plugged into her phone and tapped the hand-catch twice. “I don’t know the number, but it’s 5 down from yours.”

Alright, I’m coming to you. He’s about 84 minutes late for me, too. Can you get to Sub-level 2 low value storage?” She could hear Tomlin zipping bags and loading weapons into it.

“I’m on my way, be there by 1309,” She replied, flats patting down the hallway.

The line went dead as she rounded the corner and bumped into none other than one Dr. Thaddeus Xyank.

“Doctor Anastasakos!” he said merrily. “Good to see you, you’re looking… wait, what happened to your lip?”

In a flash she looked at his badge and saw the issue date 1996, the number 4, and the letter Sigma. It might have been a Thaddeus Xyank, but it sure as hell wasn’t the Thaddeus Xyank. Not the one who showed her the Naked Present. This one, she outranked. Athena slipped the name plate into her purse before he could see and shook her head. “Have you told me where you were recovered yet?”

The false Xyank in front of her turned chalk white.

“Right. Can’t talk. Paradox risk. Call my office, you’ll find the one you’re looking for.” She did not wait for his response, nor look back when he called after her. Good, she thought. See how he likes it for a change.

Interrogation rooms are shitty places to be, on either side of the glass. Or in this case both.

Athena stood stock still and stared at herself on the far side of the glass. Very occasionally flicking her eyes in Xyank’s direction. The Athena he knew had arrived with a set of dinner plates that were about to make a splash onto the London culinary landscape in obscene fashion. Calm, cool, collected… and with a small scar on the right side of her lower lip. One he knew for certain he had seen, the day he realised that this JR in particular wioll haven been gonen places.

“Look, Athena,” Agent Orefield said, adjusting her tie. “…We all want to believe you but… certain circumstances-”

Circumstances?!” the Thing that looked like Athena and might have been we can’t quite be sure said with a laugh, raising her head from the table. “I can tell you a thing or two about circumstances. Have you ever been tortured, Agent? I mean real torture, not your nephew playing a cartoon too often. I mean break your fingers, until you give names, torture. I mean rip you apart and put you back together just to prove they can, torture. “

“No. No, I haven’t,” Agent Orefield replied. “How is the hand, by the way?”

This Thing, they had found in the Site 17 lobby, beaten and bloody and broken and raw, screaming out the name of a Foundation asset that no random anomaly should be caught knowing. And now it was being grilled.

“You’re not LISTENING!” the Thing screeched and slammed the table with its good left hand. “Mashall, Carter & Dark benefit auction. Dinner plates that turn food into human flesh. Live demonstration. I was compromised by two… Goons I guess. They weren’t quite human. I was detained. I had to abort. I need to talk to Thaddeus Xyank. Where is he?“

Athena looked sternly at Xyank and shook her head.

“See, that’s the other thing,” Agent Orefield said, scratching her head. “We haven’t got a Thaddeus Xyank. We have an Athena Anastasakos already, but not-”

“I don’t believe you,” the Thing said, leaning forward. “He’s there somewhere, keep digging. And if you aren’t authorized to know about him, ask your boss to dig. I’m done talking until I talk to Xyank, you hear me? DONE.”

Orefield sighed and slumped back in her chair. With one hand she tossed her pen into her briefcase and slammed it shut. “Right. Sit here and rot out all you like. I’m gonna go write up your report.” Without another word or furtive glance, she rose and left the room, immediately coming in to the darker room next door. “Well?”

“Go get something to eat, Robin,” Xyank said. “I have to think.”

Orefield smirked and nodded. “Sure, sure,” she said, “but I wouldn’t go in there if I were you,” and rolled around the doorframe out of sight.

Around 11.3 seconds later, Athena turned off the recorder. “Just a dinner party, Thad?”

Xyank swallowed a lump in his throat.

“A real quick in and out job, I think you said? All above board, little to no risk, you’ll do fine; that all sound familiar to you?”

“Attie-”

“DOCTOR Anastasakos, if you please,” she said, eyes burning white hot. She pulled a small hidden camera - the one the thing had hours earlier sworn had been lost - from a pocket inside her lab coat and tossed it onto the desk beside her. “Go ahead and watch it. I dare you.” Without even looking, she punched the code for the emergency weapons locker, pulled out a pistol, and stormed out and around the corner.

The Thing jumped backward and pressed itself against the wall. “Whoa! What-?”

Athena put a finger to her lips, and set the pistol on the table. Slowly but surely the Thing peeled itself from the cinder blocks and moved back to its chair. Athena leaned in and whispered something Xyank couldn’t make out, and put a pen on the loose paper in front of the Thing.

The Thing grabbed the pistol, mouthed a silent thank you, scribbled a Temporal Expression, and was gone.

Athena returned to the small dark room behind the glass, and stared stab-wounds into Xyank’s self concept. From behind her back she produced a pistol very much like the one she had just given away. It had worn in a bit more near the muzzle, and had a new nick in the base of the magazine, but Xyank had looped himself enough objects to trust it implicitly. She placed the pistol back inside, closed the door, and locked it.

“…Thaddeus?”

“Yes, Athena?”

“Don’t you ever. EVER. Lie to me like that again.”

“…Noted.”

Athena nodded gravely, and turned the recorder back on. The air conditioner suddenly turned back on, too. And even more strange, Xyank noticed that his watch was ticking again… which meant he hadn’t noticed when it stopped.

None of what they had just done had ever happened.

Athena made a surprised noise and slammed on the breach alarm. Over the next hour she gave the most compelling testimony of an anomaly Just Plain Vanishing in the Foundation’s living memory.

Xyank corroborated every word of it. He owed her at least that.

Sub-level 2 low value storage was little more than a glorified dumping ground of half-cocked anomalous items barely worth a designation apart from a paragraph summary on the general access intranet. A place of cobwebs and mildew and small trinkets patiently awaiting their turn in the incinerator. A compact disc containing the innermost thoughts of Paul McCartney, a blender that unblended smoothies into complete fruits and globs of yogurt, a black and white photograph of porch furniture that inspired viewers to take up amateur photography on the weekends for not less than six months; nothing mundane, but nothing worth puzzling over, and nothing worth anyone’s time. It did, however, hold a special place in RCT-Δt’s heart; an empty locker which once contained the lone instance of Thaddeus Xyank’s personal Foundation issue wristwatch, model 442i. Perfect place for a meeting spot.

Or it would be, if the bastard had actually showed.

Athena waited on the musty floor, legs crossed, eyes closed, doing her best to count her breaths and hold back the rising tide of panic. Thad was gone. Burt was now 20 minutes behind schedule and not answering calls. She was officially out in the cold, holding a lifeboat that might lead nowhere, an isochronous communication device she could call no one on, and a cyanide capsule in a sealed glass vial. If she ate it now, the other her might just be interrogated, amnesticized, and reassigned to a less critically endangered project. Some part of her, some iteration might survive, live to retire, settle into a small cabin on the shore of Lesbos and drink her last days away in the arms of someone tanned and toned who tasted of saltwater and liberation. The thought was comforting for a time.

Twenty two minutes.

Why had she ever bothered to read the draft of that letter? Athena was supposed to be a research scientist. She wasn’t a retrieval tech. She didn’t work in a black-box site hidden somewhere outside time. She didn’t have a lust for adventure or a fighter’s disposition. Last time she had feigned any of those things it had very nearly been her ass. But noooo, she had the exotic accent and the breeding, she knew the etiquette, she had read the fucking letter already. It had to be her. She pulled her legs up to her chest and held them close, head down.

It wasn’t until he was under her with a knee on his throat that Athena realized Burt Tomlin had arrived. He had… what had he done? Touched her arm? Well now he was turning purple and pounding her on the thigh. She lifted her knee and scooted back to let him breathe.

“FUCK, Attie!” he said, turning over and coughing his windpipe back into shape. “The hell was that?!”

She thought about saying what a hell of a drug post traumatic stress was, but decided the joke wouldn’t land. “Don’t ‘Attie’ me, where were you?!”

“Yeah, next time don’t hang up and you’ll actually hear me say ‘I’ll be about a half hour.’ Christ…” Burt slowly pulled himself back to his feet and cracked his neck, pulling a holstered pistol out of a bag. “Here. Under your shirt, right side. Just in case.”

Begrudgingly she took it and slipped the slim leather holster where he suggested. “So, Mr. Field Agent, what now?”

Tomlin shrugged. “Well… Our boss, a high level Foundation employee who isn’t even supposed to exist, is missing, right after planning some seriously shady shit. I’m thinking maybe they put him back in containment. My best idea is we leave Marcus and Kevin to pick up the notes and bring in the rest of Δt, while you and I go see what kind of benefits packages the GOC offers to Foundation ex-pats while O5 is still focused on damage control. Y’know, before they burn us.”

Athena’s expression clearly stated that Burt Tomlin had grown an additional head some time in the last 30 seconds. “That’s got to be the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Oh? You think they’re not going to notice a B-Class Foundation asset suddenly turned up missing?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I think,” Athena said, rifling through her purse.

“What makes you so sure of that, Ms. Research Scientist? You got a paper on the subject somewhere?”

Athena smirked, “Of course. You know what they say in academia, don’t you? Publish or perish?” She pulled out the name plate and turned for the nearest door. “But seriously, I just saw him. Well, not him him, but one of him. Maybe about two years too young, maybe from another string, I don’t know. He spent so much time hopping around after we dropped our paper, I’d estimate we have another three to five years before Overwatch starts seeing any gaps in his schedule.”

Burt blinked for a moment, then shook his head. “That tells me nothing. ‘When’ is the new ‘where’. If we can’t look forward for him past ‘07, we’re going to have a pretty hard ti- erm… fuck. I mean our search is going to be pretty difficult.”

Athena shook her head and held the name plate up to a bracket near the door to an old paper records office. It would not fit. “That doesn’t matter at all,” she replied, surprising herself with how confident she sounded so soon after her bout of despair. Like she was suddenly banging on all cylinders again. “If we need to, we can wipe the slate clean of him and us ourselves and just disappear. I know how to do it.”

“Uh-huh,” Burt said, head still on a swivel in case some poor hapless intern happened around one of the stacks. “I dunno, I’d rather turn GOC defector than unperson myself on his behalf, personally, but I see the appeal.”

“Either way, that’s for later,” Athena said, pulling a bracket out of her purse. “For now… have you got a screwdriver?”

“No,” Tomlin said, standing up from the table. “I refuse. And furthermore, it is a bad idea.”

“Sit down, Burt,” Xyank said coolly, swirling the liquor around in his glass. “We’ve been off of the Foundation leash for a long while, now, without even realizing it. One more step isn’t going to damn you worse.”

“Sure, but not taking this one might save me,” Tomlin replied still heading for the door.

“I’m in,” Athena said without hesitation.

Tomlin stopped dead, hand on the knob.

“You’re aware,” Xyank began, filling her glass with a far off look in his eyes, “that this is like nothing you’ve ever encountered before. If my guess is right, this…sort of being won’t even be on Foundation radar until 2018 at the very earliest. Frankly, it’s above my paygrade. I fully suspect math will be useless against something like this…”

Tomlin let go of the knob and sighed. “Why are you doing this?”

“What we’re dealing with,” Xyank continued, “is called an Essophysical Entity. A physiological embodiment of the concept of Time.”

Athena’s breath caught in her throat and she spat her whiskey back into the glass. “That’s impos- … How does that even work?”

“It doesn’t work, Dr. Anastasakos,” came Xyank’s cool reply. “That’s what makes it anomalous.”

Burt spun on his heels and bored new holes into his boss’s head with his eyes. “SCP-110 is a goddamn casket. By 2083 we were just cracking it open, and as soon as the seal broke, I’m explaining what a phased pulse rifle is to a bunch of egg heads in 1983.”

“And who sent you down there, Mr. Tomlin?” Xyank asked, staring straight back.

Burt’s jaw hit the floor. “…You’re kidding.” Xyank’s gaze didn’t falter. “Fuck me, you’ve just done it, haven’t you?”

“About seventy two hours ago,” Xyank replied, taking a long swallow. “I’m… I’m sorry, Burt. I wanted to at least try to get in with approval first. I saw your name on the roster and-”

“Bullshit! What you needed was someone to spring you out that O5-12 already knew about you selfish-”

“Bertrand, will you sit the fuck down,” Athena demanded, suddenly on her feet. She wasn’t supposed to curse. Cursing was for other sorts of people from other sorts of families with other sorts of priorities. Without further convincing, Burt let his shoulders drop, took his seat, and picked up his glass. “You were saying, Dr. Xyank?”

Xyank nodded, and set his whiskey down, pulling a hand drawn map from the desk drawer as time roiled behind him. “SCP-110 wasn’t just a city, but also a containment facility. I designed pseudo riemannian units and researched extra-spatial topological anomalies there… When we get in, if we get in, we can’t expect anything to look like it should.”

Burt Tomlin raked a hand down his face. “I want to be clear about this; we’re planning to break into a Foundation site to gain access to an active anomalous zone, under our own recognisance, without asking permission, or even notifying anyone else at all. Do I have that right?” The other two time travelers stared blankly in Burt’s direction. Athena raised a single eyebrow. Burt sat back in his chair, downed his entire glass of whiskey, and sighed. “Fine. I wasn’t planning on collecting my pension anyway…”

The air of the office tasted stale. Ancient. Like a sealed tomb or an untended attic. There were a few old cobwebs and a thin layer of film floating on the surface of the water in the cooler, but precious little dust, and no sign of contamination apart from the faintest smell of mildew. No one had been in there for a very long while. That was a distinctly bad sign.

All the same, it was safer within than hanging half in/half out of low value storage. Athena pulled the nameplate from the bracket and let the door close them inside.

“So…this is it?” Tomlin asked, setting the Newton’s cradle on the desk into motion absently. “The office at the end of time? I expected more, somehow. A few cans of food… toilet, maybe… something more substantive than a four by four meter mausoleum.” Tomlin ran his fingers along a set of Time/Life history books on the shelves of the left wall and perched on the small side table. “He could have done this to any room he wanted. An armory. A vehicle bay. The dressing room backstage at the Bellagio in Vegas. I’m just saying… Why this one?”

“Maybe this was all he needed,” Athena said, reaching behind the water cooler and pulling out a worn 12 gauge shotgun, covered in rust spots from trigger to frontsight. The action was so stiff she couldn’t even rack it. It would take an absolute miracle for the weapon to fire, it was so hopelessly jammed. For air alone to have worn the finish and corroded the metal so badly… “Burt, we’re the first people here in over a hundred years.”

Tomlin was already leafing through the papers left in the “IN” box on the corner of the desk, yellow and brittle with age, ink beginning to fade, but in all other senses completely immaculate. “Lots of folks still out in the cold,” Tomlin said, taking a seat behind the desk. “Lorainne Mickelson. Regina Watts. Arthur Blanchard. Fuck me, these are the best of the best. There’s not a name in this pile I wouldn’t trust with my life. When the hell are they all?”

But Athena was only half listening by this point. She was too busy staring at a senseless projection screen hanging limply in front of the whiteboard behind the desk. So while Burt yammered on about dates and names that didn’t matter a wooden nickel to her sense of the universe, she reached behind him, and tugged on the string. Whining on springs long past their expiration, the screen slowly climbed back into its case, and the chaos of the board came into full view. Diagrams, equations, fragments of thought, esoteric symbols and written language Athena had never seen before was strewn so wildly across the whiteboard that it looked to be quivering in fear of its own implications. In the center under a diagram of a hallway with evenly spaced doors with chaos temporal expressions written under each one, was a line in English, in bright red capital letters

THERE HAS TO BE A WAY!!!

“Well, clearly he was working on something,” Athena said, squinting. “But I can’t make sense of what.” That was when she noticed the envelope taped cleanly to the board, so thin you could barely see it. She pulled it off and turned it over in her hands, fiddling with one corner nervously.

“…Attie for fuck’s sake, just open it. You’re giving me the willies.”

Burt and Attie,

After much consideration and planning, I have decided to attempt to breach SCP-110
alone. I would have told you beforehand, but I knew you both would try to stop me,
or join me, or otherwise prevent me from going. I understand this is a bit of a shock.
We promised no more secrets and, surprise, I kept one.

Burt; it’ll do you good to hear you were right. It was a bad idea. Not because you both 
would have slowed me down - which is also true. But because this mess isn’t your
responsibility. I can’t risk both of you over my own mistakes. It’s my mess. 
I’ll clean it...or... Well...

If you found this letter, I am probably dead. I didn’t intend to die, but here you are,
and there’s clearly nothing I can do about that now. I had planned to find you when it 
was done and call an abort, but... well, here you are.

There is, however, an outside chance that I’m still out there somewhere, somewhen, 
tracking this bastard down. That you found me before I found you. Since I can’t 
stop you from following, I won’t try. There is a Damn Good Chance that Time is too 
big for me. Too broken for me to find all the pieces and fix it. No matter how 
many “me”s I throw at it. So here’s a bit of advice.

If you’re going to follow me, consider yourselves to be SCP objects until proven 
otherwise, and act accordingly. The narrow vision of the Foundation you know isn’t 
going to help us through this. They’re still mad at Eve for biting the apple. But what 
Eve did wrong wasn’t the biting. It was her failure to chew it, swallow it, and finish 
it.

Don’t make the same mistake, or this story won’t just end poorly. It will have never
happened at all.

Best of luck,

-Tx

Athena slid down the wall and pulled her legs in tight, closed her eyes, and began to calculate. Burt muttered quietly to himself and loaded magazines.

“We are doing this,” he said over his shoulder. “Right?”

“Oh yes,” Athena said, smirking. “If he thinks he’s getting all the credit for the paper that’ll come out of this, he’s got another thing coming.”


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