Lightning, Part 1
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Darkness.

Click.

Click. Click.

Jacqueline Johnson felt her systems coming online.

Touch came before seeing. Frost, forming on metal servos. The low hum of the automatic oxygenation systems, turning on in response to detecting a vacuum. A bubble of air forming around her mouth.

She opened her eyes.

She didn't see anything.

Strange. She could feel her backup visual systems automatically coming online, but she was only getting static on those channels so far.

"Base, do you read me?" Jackie asked.

Nothing.

"Base, do you read me?" The air bubble was cold around her mouth, the kind of reflected sensation she was used to from being in this transformed body. The air bubble was mostly there to let her talk verbally over the mic — in this form, she didn't need to breath.

A response came over her internal comm system. "Yes, SCP-1985. We read you." Agent Irons.

A second voice. Dr. Moose. "You can call her by her name."

Moose was the Site-19 Director. She was also a person not nearly as embarrassed by her cervine code-name as she probably should be.

"Ah, yes. My sincere apologies… Ms. Johnson. Or do you prefer Jacqueline?"

"Any of those are fine. I usually go by Jackie."

"Jackie it is, then."

Irons was sent down by Overwatch to watch her excursion. One of those types who wasn't used to being allowed to call an SCP anything besides "it", let alone using their real names. But he'd been polite and friendly. Far better than she'd grown to expect from Foundation strangers.

She'd been one of those Foundation scientists, monstrously removed, once. A long time ago, now.

"My sensory systems are having trouble," Jackie said. "Are you getting any signal from me?"

Static on the line. Then: "We're receiving your signals, but only your audio is readable. Can you tell us where you are?"

"I'm in space. I think. Total vacuum, at least. I don't see Earth. Or the sun, or any stars, for that matter. I'm running area scans."

"Thank you, Jackie." A pause. "Are you, uh, sure Earth is still there at all?"

"Earth is always here." That's how her trans-universal teleportation device worked. Thousands upon thousands of excursions and the tether had never broken. "Even if it's space dust, or a planet-shaped hole, it's here. In some form."

"Huh." She imagined Irons consulting files that Moose and her team had provided him. "So, I gotta ask. Do you think this was caused, directly or indirectly, by Mobile Task Force Alpha-9?"

"She doesn't know that." The voice of the director of Site-19, Tilda Moose. "Ms. Johnson knows only as much as we do when she first arrives in another timeline."

Irons sounded uncertain. "But she was primed with materials on Alpha-9."

"Maybe Alpha-9 caused this," Jackie said. "Or maybe Alpha-9 played a big role in trying to stop an apocalypse, but failed. Or maybe my priming failed."

"I don't know if I'm allowed to ask this, but… how do your systems know who caused the apocalypse? How does that work?"

"The only person who knew the answer to that question," Moose said, "is long dead, at best. Erased from existence, at worst."

"Right," Irons said. "Can you tell me if this is, uh, normal? Not to see Earth at all?"

"There's no normal." Jackie squinted, trying to make something out in the darkness. "This is strange, though. My perception systems don't usually take this long to come online."

"Some kind of interference?" Moose asked.

"I'll try shifting some modes." She closed her eyes, reached back into the mechanical version of her mind, and flipped half-metaphorical switches.

Click.

A message, cold, transmitted in her head, with thoughts instead of words. Still startling, however familiar. [SIGNAL FOUND. DECRYPTING.]

She suddenly sensed something —

A message echoed in her head — not radio waves, not anything she recognized — a message cast on an anomalous frequency, and decrypted by the special systems in her head —

[PLEASE LEAVE EARTH IMMEDIATELY, IF YOU ARE STILL CAPABLE OF DOING SO. THIS IS AN AUTOMATED EMERGENCY BROADCAST FROM THE SCP FOUNDATION.]

The message repeated. Jackie muted it. "Are you getting that?"

"Yeah," Irons said. "Wow. So something's there?"

"I've heard a lot of these emergency broadcasts," Jackie said. "Sometimes they're still going even when there's just space dust. I still don't know why I can't at least see stars… Hang on. Whoa."

Her geopositioning systems had just come back online as part of her cascading reboot.

"That can't be right," Irons said.

"You're getting my signals now?"

"Yeah. Some of them. Are we reading this? It says…"

"Earth is still here," Jackie said. "I'm in upstate New York."

"So why does it look like you're floating in space?"

"I'm not sure." Her other systems were frantically scanning. "Wait, I'm getting something else."

Her perception modes resolved again. She could see ground, outlined in false color a few feet below her.

"Strange," Jackie said. "I can sense I'm in an atmosphere. There's air here. But I can't… breathe it. There's gravity, and I'm not falling to the ground."

"How is that possible?" Irons asked.

She was detecting human life signs, too —

"There are people here," Jackie said. "Within a few miles of me, at least. I can't get a lock on them. Something about their readings are throwing up red flags in my sensors. I can't interpret them yet."

"Keep scanning," Moose said. "Can you land on the ground?"

"One second —" Another message pinged her brain. [EXTRA-UNIVERSAL AGENT RECOGNIZED. DEEPWELL TRANSMISSION UNDERWAY. SCENARIO ANALYSIS: CONTAINED ZK-CLASS. PERMANENT LK-CLASS.]

An LK-Class restructuring scenario. "Total transformation." Rearranging of reality into something unrecognizable by a human mind.

A sudden memory, triggered, of a phrase: The darkness away from the firelight.

A data stream accompanied the message. Jackie felt her brain's systems analyzing it for anomalies, and copying it to a safe format to prevent her taking any anomalous information back home with her.

"Oh shit," Irons said. "Contact."

"Not live contact," Moose said. "Deepwell means it stays even given total reality shifts. Or even total extinction of human life. In theory."

"But we're getting life signs —"

"That could mean anything. They might not even be real."

"Why wouldn't they be real? …Some kind of trap?"

Jackie descended, cautiously, towards the ground, as she listened. She was still receiving the Deepwell data stream.

As she got closer to the Earth's apparent surface, her sensors lit up with activity.

"Jackie?" Moose again. "We're getting transmission errors from you again. What are you seeing?"

She realized, all at once. That strange, distinct sensation —

Something was watching her.

Something had been watching her ever since she'd arrived.

"There's… something here," Jackie said. She could feel it more, now that she was aware of it — something pressing on her mind, all around. "Psychic effects of some kind. Produced by something sentient. Maybe sapient."

Her sensors started whiting out — overwhelmed by input, like a camera flying into the sun — and her perceptual filters starting shutting off, leaving her in complete darkness —

"More than psychic effects," Jackie said. "It may be attacking me. I'm not sure if it's that or just a side effect of — "

Loud static, again. The impression of a looming mind, studying her more closely, a feeling of something closing in —

She wondered what it would try to do. Overwhelm her? Assimilate her? Kill her? Either way —

The static cut off. Moose's voice was back, terse. "You need to end this excursion right now."

"I'm still downloading the Deepwell transmission —"

"O5 order."

"Just now?" The looming mind seemed to be circling around her, watching —

"Yes," Moose said. "They didn't say why. But there's an unknown breach back here at Site-19."

"What?"

"Just get out of there," Moose said. "Now."

Jackie mentally activated the rigged device that fed a specially designed metallic poison into her altered body. She suppressed the internal defenses. Pain shot through her, like an intense full-body stomachache —

The looming mind seemed to sense she was about to go. But it did nothing.

Nothing at all but watch her die.


At Site-19, the observation chamber suddenly shook, hard, with the impact of a nearby — earthquake? explosion? meteor strike?

No one was expecting it — one person fell to the floor. Irons braced himself against one of the full-wall monitors. He looked up just in time to see the screens go dark as SCP-1985's signal disconnected.

For a frozen moment, everyone in the room stared at each other. Then, all eyes went to Director Moose. Her jaw was set.

Moose nodded to one of her Security personnel. The woman (Irons hadn't caught her name) sat down and got to work on the keyboard.

The blank monitors were replaced one by one with security feeds. Dozens. In many of them, containment facilities were burning. Foundation personnel scattered throughout, putting out fires, already rounding up escaped SCPs.

Then, about a third of the monitors were blotted out by lightning. Huge stabs of light coming from the sky, like lightning from a land of giants. The building shook again.

Irons found himself fascinated. He'd never seen a breach quite like this in person, let alone in Site-19. It seemed somehow ostentatious, surreal, like it wasn't really happening. Like an O5 order would descend from on high any moment to order it to a stop.

"What's happening?" a nervous scientist (Irons had been told his name, but forgotten it) — asked.

"There." Moose pointed to one of the burning images.

The security team member expanded the image to take up several screens. It showed one of the hulking metal containment buildings that made up some of Site-19's sectors, the ones that looked like a cross between a warehouse and a prison. Flames licked out of every window, and strangely moving orange fire boiled just inside massive open doors.

"What are you seeing, Director?" Irons asked.

As if to answer him, a dozen figures emerged from the flames. Walking, calmly, the flames wicking away from their bodies, leaving them unharmed.

The figures looked up at the camera, as if aware they were being watched.

Foundation agents, at first glance. At second glance…

Their apparently-Foundation-issue MTF armor had been modified. Strange steel cables feeding into packs Irons had never seen before. Their guns were… off. Modified, at the very least, with twisted grey attachments.

The symbols on their armor riot shields were not quite the Foundation logo — the one designed with a stew of memetic defenses that Irons didn't quite understand — the arrows were reversed. Pointing outward, instead of in.

"Insurgency," Moose said, her voice even, neutral.

Last time Irons had seen that symbol, he'd been handing an Insurgency agent files on Alpha-9, and in exchange, been told that the Insurgency was going to make a move on Site-19. Your family will receive one hour advance notice.

He'd been up here with Moose and 1985 and Site-19 personnel for the last hour. He must have missed the heads-up.

The Insurgency agents stood there, watching the camera. Irons' eyes kept being drawn to that reversed Foundation insignia. He wondered if anything happened if you looked at the symbols for too long.

The agents abruptly looked back at each other, and split up, half a dozen each heading in opposite directions.

Moose was no longer watching. She was reading her phone. Abruptly, she looked up.

"Security, meet me downstairs. Ross, Williams, Irons. Come with me."

Irons nodded. The other two agents she'd addressed grabbed their things.

"Do you know why they're here?" Williams (?) asked.

"They're heading for SCP-105's' temporary housing." Moose looked at the agent. "They've come for Alpha-9."


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