Beautiful Ending

High up in the clouds, Armando sat on a floating spider web of arms. He looked out at the shimmering orange and purple of the sunrise as the morning broke over the desert sky.

About two hundred helium-filled arms nestled against each other, locked in a complex, crossword-puzzle-shaped kinetoglyph keeping the whole structure stable.

Armando had time to reflect, up here. Arms he left down below with his companions would alert him to danger, but they had been quiet recently. The Foundation's pestering had grown more and more infrequent, though no one was naive enough to think they had completely given up.

Armando tried to remember a time when the Foundation wasn't at the forefront of his mind. He went further and further back, until -

A scared fifteen-year-old boy sat alone in a derelict garage, shaking.

Stupid!

Stupid!

The fossilized pile of toolboxes, car parts, bicycle chains, and assorted junk had collapsed on him. His arm was stuck, possibly broken. Elbows didn't extend like that, he was pretty sure.

He struggled to free himself. If he could just get his arm out, he could start putting the pile back together, and then maybe no one would get mad. He wasn't bleeding anywhere, so at least he had that going for him.

No blood. The rusty box shifted slightly. OK. One, two, three

what

He was free, sort of. The arm wasn't. Still no blood. Armando looked at the stump, growing and stretching into a new arm like toothpaste coming out of the tube.

He vomited at the sight of the fresh new arm, its freckled red skin blending into his own brown skin at the shoulder.

He threw food and toys and a picture of his family in a plastic grocery bag, and he ran. And he didn't stop.

He wasn't really free, back then. He had tried pulling the new arm off, crushing it, hacking it off. All it ever got him was a new arm and a little more desperation.

The new arms felt foreign, gross, invasive. They weren't him. He couldn't even control them, just 'suggest' what they should do. He barely felt anything through them, just vague sensations of heat and pressure. Every new one that appeared was a cruel surprise. Human arms of every color gave way to arms of metal, and popcorn, and wood.

It took him a while to accustom himself. Every new day he could move the arms a little faster, a little more delicately. Even so, they would twitch and jerk on occasion, as if being moved by someone or something else.

After hundreds of attempts he eventually lucked out and got two arms similar to his own skin, and buried the rest. He tried to live normally, or at least as normally as a runaway with no home or education could.

He ended up falling in with the wrong crowd, as his mom would have said. They welcomed his arms, gave him a home, but he still wasn't free. Just another tool in a toolbox. Though he decided a roof over his head was worth letting go of any imagined destiny.

The stereotypical "one last job" went south.

Bullets flew through the air. A weird purple fog filled the air, probably from the "mystery candy" catching fire. The buyer had apparently gotten spooked and ratted them out, hoping either corrupt cops or Los Milagros would kill them over the anomalous guns and drugs.

Armando hid behind the stack of crates, trying to find an escape. He was not going to die like this.

The black vans pulled up. Agents in all black tactical gear appeared, and cleared the area. A stray grenade exploded near Armando, deafening him and shredding his right arm.

He felt the cells regrowing. Not now, you damn arms…

The agent shot the man who threw it, then approached Armando, whose new right arm was now made of tire rubber.

The agent spoke into his comm, and Armando woke up in a concrete cell.

He definitely was never free in the Foundation. Endless tests prodding and poking and pulling at his arms. Endless gray. Endless tasteless food and neutral, muted rehearsed lines from the researchers.

He almost broke out, once.

He fought back against the people keeping him there. But he lost control. He didn't own the arms, he was a slave to them, a host. A victim of their unpredictability.

The rush of a chance to escape weakened his hold on the monstrous arms. Their unpredictability killed an innocent and cut his escape short. What would he do even if he escaped? He had realized then, that he could never be truly free. So he let them take him back. And there he stayed.

Armando had learned the value of eavesdropping at a very young age. He saw fewer and fewer people working at the site. Hushed communications, letters and numbers that meant nothing to him. Something something 96. Something something T-P-K.

The evacuation came soon after. Every "SCP", every doctor, every janitor, every folder was picked up and thrown in transports. He never got to see what the facility actually looked like from the outside.

Sirens, followed by explosions. The truck holding his cell stopped abruptly, then began to melt. The wall of Armando's chamber sparkled and turned into salt, which cracked and crumbled and was blown away in the breeze. A four-eyed woman with translucent white hair and skin lowered her goggles, and smiled.

"You coming with us? Or you want us to drop you back off at that Site?"

He took her hand, and walked toward his new future.

The magical blue matter they had offered him made him feel like he was being baptized. He was in control now. Every arm sang along with his soul. They moved like water at a single thought. He could feel the texture of reality through them. Whatever had been moving them before was either dead, or had fled in fear at the blue-green that now filled him.

His new friends spoke of the future, of a new era dawning. The world had been dipped in this blue matter, they said, and it was only a matter of time before it soaked through completely.

Still not fully free, with the Foundation doing everything humanly and inhumanly possible to catch them, but Armando felt he was finally on the right road.

It had been almost four years since then. The great Tree had awakened, and Armando had watched it rise and branch from his cloud perch. Even now the beautiful fractal of blue and green could be seen off in the distance, stretching into the heavens.

He exhaled and closed his eyes, feeling the breeze envelop him.

Look at me, world.

And for the first time in his life, Armando felt like he was truly, undeniably, free.