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"Sabes que va a morir, ¿verdad? ¿Que le estarás pidiendo a un dios probable que muera?"

"…"

"Bueno, al diablo". La mujer apagó su cigarrillo. "Mejor que un agujero en forma de tierra en el universo". Ella se levantó. "Hagámoslo."


Dia Presente


La mujer conocida como L.S., líder infame de la Mano de la Serpiente, conocida por la Fundación con el nombre de La Reina Negra, leia un libro a la luz de las velas en la Biblioteca Errante, y pensó en el fin del mundo.

Aquí, en el Ala Aera Este — la Biblioteca era lo suficientemente grande como para tener alas llamadas de esta manera, como países — era de noche.

Técnicamente, la Biblioteca Errante no tenía día ni noche. Pero los ciclos diurnos y nocturnos fueron clave para mantener la saludable función mágica y psicológica de todo tipo de seres. Como muchos libros dentro de la Biblioteca podrían decirte.

Entonces, muchas de las alas de la Biblioteca tenían ciclos diurnos y nocturnos. Luz brillante durante el "día", oscuridad y luces tenues en "noche". Variaciones sobre el tema en las extrañas, alas más alejadas. Ilusiones de lluvias de meteoritos. Planetas alienígenas que planean. Dioses oscuros mirando a través de los candelabros.

"Noche", aquí en el ala este de Aera, significaba remolinos de estrellas, negros y blancos en un cielo violeta y dorado sobre la niebla que enmascaraba la parte superior de los libreros. Una visión de otro mundo. El cielo nocturno de Sarra Mello.

L.S. había llevado una vez un camino a Sarra Mello. Un lugar horrible, con un aire que se sentia como respirar lava y hordas de insectos de Fae tratando de comer tus suculentos globos oculares. Pero ella siempre había amado ese cielo…ese cielo como una pintura de Van Gogh. Ella venia aquí, a veces, a pensar.

Esta noche, consideró cómo su viejo enemigo, la Fundación SCP, la organización en la sombra que le había robado a su padre, estaba a punto de acabar con el mundo.

Ella había tenido una advertencia previa. Suerte. Una de las aves le había susurrado al oído. Otra Hermanita, enviándole un mensaje de otro mundo.

L.S. Observo la hora de su reloj de bolsillo marcar exactamente las veinticuatro horas restantes antes del fin del mundo.

A las veintitrés horas y cincuenta y nueve segundos, cerró bruscamente el libro y se dirigió a los Archivos.


Hace Dos Meses


Kendra Campbell miró fijamente a la sujeto de la entrevista sentada, esposada, al otro lado de la mesa, y la odió.

No era solo la sujeto, una Joanna [Middle-Name-Redacted] Cross, lo que Campbell odiaba. Odiaba trabajar en el Destacamento Movil Tau-9. Odiaba que la llamaran "Ratón de Biblioteca". Odiaba investigar magia, odiaba investigar una jodida biblioteca mágica que nunca había visto, y odiaba investigar una organización mágica compuesta casi por completo de mágicos santurrones.

Pero solo por ahora probablemente odiaba más a Joanna Cross.

ENTREVISTA t356y-SH-CROSS-CAMPBELL, NÚMERO 35

Entrevistador: Dr. Kendra Campbell, DM Tau-9 Investigador, Liquidación Nivel 2, Gen. Programa de Acceso Especial Tau-9.
Sujeto: Joanna Cross, Operativo ██████ de la Mano de la Serpiente
Observadores: ███████, █████, █████████

[Nota: La Dr. Campbell muestra signos de frustración. Toma un tiempo innecesariamente largo para comenzar a leer la lista de preguntas asignadas.]

Dr. Campbell: ¿Es verdad que tu nombre y apellido es Joanna Cross?

Operativo Cross: Sí.

[Dr. Campbell se detiene nuevamente. Signos de frustración evidente.]

Dr. Campbell: ¿Es cierto que—

Operativo Cross: Este es su trigésimo quinto interrogatorio de mí, doctora. Ya sabes lo que voy a decir. ¿Qué te hace pensar que esta vez será diferente?

[Dr. Campbell hace una pausa por un largo período de tiempo.]

Dr. Campbell: La entrevista terminó.

[Operativo Cross no habla. El Dr. Campbell sale de la sala de interrogatorios.]


"No entiendo por qué todavía la estamos interrogando", dijo Campbell, reduciendo la velocidad para adaptarse a su ritmo con los pasos pausados del Dr. Gears. Estaba en problemas, sabía que estaba en problemas, pero descubrió que Gears ni siquiera se había dado cuenta de las bromas, y mucho menos de la petulancia que estaba sintiendo en ese momento. "Dijo exactamente lo mismo en las treinta y cuatro entrevistas previas. ¿Cuál era el punto del número treinta y cinco?"

Gears se tomó su tiempo para responder. Campbell resistió el impulso de tratar de descubrir qué estaba pensando. Gears tenía la misma expresión facial que siempre hacía, una mirada fría de cálculo suave. "Gears", en verdad. Ese nombre era demasiado perfecto. ¿Broma? ¿Código? ¿Coincidencia fortuita?

"Soy un investigador, no un agente", continuó. "Tengo exactamente cero entrenamiento en interrogatorio".

"El razonamiento está por encima de su nivel de autorización", dijo Gears. "El hecho de que seas un investigador y no un agente es una de las razones por las que te dieron un guión. Estás trabajando con elementos recuperados de la brecha en la que se capturó el sujeto de la entrevista. Por lo tanto, eres una elección apropiada para el entrevistador".

"Ni siquiera puedo preguntar nada útil".

"You have done admirably in following the letter of the rules," Gears said. "As instructed, you did not deviate from the script. It is, as you know, acceptable for an interviewer to end an interview early for reasons of an emotionally distraught state. However, others may not feel convinced that your emotional state merited ending the interview after hearing the answer to only one question."

"Is there really no one else who can do this?"

"There is only one deemed qualified to interview this subject who is not otherwise engaged," Gears said.

"Who? Can you get them on it?"

"Doctor Rita Butler is the only other available member on Mobile Task Force Tau-9 deemed appropriate by Site Command to interview this subject."

Campbell stopped short.

That was the other thing about Joanna Cross. Joanna Cross had a sister.

A half-sister, but they'd grown up together. A half-sister who was also assigned to Mobile Task Force Tau-9. A quiet, occasionally funny woman, also a doctor, a bit of a nebbish but in an endearing way.

A sister named Rita Butler.

"But… that's her sister, sir," Campbell said.

"Nevertheless, Doctor."

Campbell stared into Gears' passive, implacable face. This was manipulation, she knew. She didn't think it was coming from Gears — if Gears was even capable of being manipulative if not ordered to by his superiors — but it was still working.

"I… you're right," Campbell said. "I apologize."

Gears nodded, once. "I have scheduled your next interview for tomorrow morning."


EXCERPT FROM INTERVIEW t356y-SH-CROSS-CAMPBELL, NUMBER 36

Interviewer: Dr. Kendra Campbell, MTF Tau-9 Researcher, Clearance Level 2, Gen. Special Access Program Tau-9.
Subject: Joanna Cross, Serpent's Hand operative ██████
Observers: ███████, █████, █████████

Dr. Campbell: Is it true that you work for the organization calling themselves the Serpent's Hand?

Operative Cross: Yes.

Dr. Campbell: Did you help conduct a raid on Foundation Secure Facility Site-17?

Operative Cross: Yes.

Dr. Campbell: How did the rest of your group escape?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you.

Dr. Campbell: Why did your group breach Site-17? What was your goal?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you.

Dr. Campbell: Was your goal to remove SCP-239, referred to the Serpent's Hand as "The Witch Child", from its containment cell?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you.

Dr. Campbell: Were you involved with prior attempts by the Serpent's Hand to breach SCP-239's security?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you.

Dr. Campbell: Which SCP objects in Foundation custody are you aware of?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you.

[Truncated for length. Campbell finishes reading assigned list of questions; Cross responds as before.]

[Dr. Campbell begins to exit the room.]

Operative Cross: Doctor?

[Dr. Campbell stops in place. Note: This is the first instance of Operative Cross speaking a phrase that is not in response to a question.]

Operative Cross: I'll make you a deal. Come see me tomorrow without a script. Come with your own questions. Real questions. Not this half-assed memetic bullshit.

Dr. Campbell: [hesitates before answering] And if I can't?

Operative Cross: Then why bother coming back at all? You could interview me a hundred times. Or five hundred. You already know every single thing I'll say.

Dr. Campbell: Why are you talking to me now?

Operative Cross: I feel sorry for you.

Dr. Campbell: [clears throat] I don't know if I can get approval for this.

Operative Cross: I wouldn't want you to break any rules. Tell you what. Tell your bosses to ask their friends in the GOC what a geas is.

Dr. Campbell: Why?

Operative Cross: I'm not going to tell you. [smiles] Say hello to my sister for me.


Rita Butler had been keeping to herself since the breach of Site-17 two months back. Understandable, since she'd just then learned that her sister was a Hand agent.

Rita had been as surprised as everyone else. She'd barely seen Joanna since the incident in which she'd been recruited by the Foundation.

That incident… Containment breach by SCP-682, of all things. Now that gave you special cachet in water-cooler conversation.

682 was one of the big-name SCPs, one of the ones that everyone knew about, including all the people who weren't supposed to. 'Her' breach had been an especially spectacular one, with 682 escaping from emergency Foundation transport and rampaging through New York City like a classic movie monster. He'd even smashed up a smaller skyscraper.

Rita and Joanna had gotten lucky — they ended up in the hospital with only minor injuries, even though they'd been right at ground zero when 682 came crashing out of the sky.

A night on the town with 682 was quite the introduction to the paranormal, and so when the Foundation came calling after her, she said yes, happily, and never looked back. Her husband was dead, her biologist colleagues distant. She joked that 682 was just too cool to not want to see more of the same.

That wasn't true. It had been the most terrifying experience of her entire life.

To think that the world was chock-full of things like this… to not know, to be clueless and vulnerable again, sounded like the scariest thing in the world.

At least the Foundation had a good handle on the situation. If you were gonna die, you'd be able to look death in the eyes. Civilians on the street wouldn't get that chance.

But Joanna hadn't been recruited. Maybe the Foundation didn't need more anthropologists-with-a-minor-in-religion. Or maybe she'd failed whatever behind the scenes personality test the Foundation had given her. Who knows.

Joanna was mindwiped, and Rita joined the Foundation.

She'd thought that was the end of it — it's not like she told Joanna much about her work as a regular biologist anyway; they mostly saw each other on Christmas and Easter. Then, this.

Joanna Cross, member of the Serpent's Hand. Joanna Cross, the terrorist.

It was enough to make you hole up in your room forever and never come out.

But she was just so tired of being alone. Not just this month, but always.

So tonight, when a few members of MTF Tau-9 went out for drinks, Rita went with them. "Out" was just to the Site-17 bar, which was mostly empty right now, but hey, at least they had a bar, unlike most Foundation sites.

She braced herself for all the questions that would come about Joanna. But before she got the courage to talk to anyone, Tau-9 local section leader John Peters was stumbling drunk and dominating all conversation.

"It's about courage," Peters proclaimed. "Anyone can get skill. Talent is bullshit. Courage is the most important thing."

"Man, you're just talking bullshit," the man next to him said. Who was that — Agent Ramesh Patel? God, that shouldn't have been hard to remember. She really needed to get out more.

"Courage!" Peters dramatically raised his fist into the air, ignoring Patel. "The courage to act! To act when no one else will."

"And America?" Patel asked. "The America to act, to America when no other America will."

"Fuck off, Ramesh," Peters said. "This is real talk time, goddammit. This isn't just… goddamn rhetoric."

"You need either many more drinks or far fewer." Patel tried to take away Peters' glass.

Peters pushed him off. "No, man. No. I'm not just talking bullshit. Like… let's get real world here. Let's use a real world example." Peters swayed back and forth, surveying the room, and his eyes settled on Rita. "You! Butler!"

Rita jumped a little on her stool and set down her vodka. "Sir?"

"We're off-duty, goddammit," Peters said. "Butler. Butler. My friend, my compadre. Let's say… let's say there was a bomb in Site-17. Across the site in Section 3. Someone just called and told us. We have no way of knowing when it's gonna go off. Definitely WILL go off. You with me so far?"

"Yeah," Rita said. "There's a bomb."

"You two got this," Patel said. "I'm getting another drink."

"Right," said Peters. "Alright, so let's say we got Section 3 evac'd, but some poor old lady grandmother scientist, maybe someone like Bart from accounting — okay some poor old dude grandmother scientist — look, he's stuck back there, because he broke his hip or some shit."

"Okay," Rita said.

"Everyone except us is tied up. I dunno, containing skips or eaten by gremlins or something. And we gotta decide if one of us is gonna hop in a truck and go into Section 3 and get this old lady. No one's gonna get ordered to do it, so forget that bit." He took a drink, and looked at Rita again. "So?"

"I don't get what you mean," Rita said.

"I'm talking about courage," Peters said. "Which of us would have the balls to volunteer to jump in that truck and drive over to Section 3 and go save that old lady?"

Rita watched him blankly.

"Would you, Doctor Butler, have the balls to go rescue that old lady, even though you might get blown to kingdom come along with her? It's a key question. A question we all gotta ask ourselves."

"I don't know about that," Rita said. "I can't drive, so… I don't think I'd have to, uh, confront that question."

Peters stared at her. "You can't drive?"

"I grew up in New York," she said. "Not easy to own a car in a big city."

"And you never learned?"

"No…"

"Well, shit." Peters looked like his entire view of the world was shifting. Rita became conscious that everyone else in the bar had shut up and was listening to them. "Let's get you some driving lessons, stat! How about it?"

Rita looked down at her cup. "I've never needed to drive," she said. "It doesn't really agree with me. And I pretty much live onsite, now…" She felt strange, defending something completely different than she'd been expecting to defend.

"Oh, goddammit," Peters said. "Look, I…" He looked at his glass. "I need another fucking drink. Let's come back to this, Butler. Just one second—"

And then Peters and Patel got into a minor scuffle over Peters trying to get another drink, and by the time the others broke them up, Peters had forgotten the whole thing.

No one got around to asking Rita about Joanna, or about the status of her loyalties to the Foundation.

She finished her drink in silence.


Twelve hours after the interview, Campbell sat in her research lab, examining a pale blue origami flower chain found on Cross when she was captured.

"Blue lily chains/Faerie chains", the label said. Reports from Tau-9's field agents confirmed that the flower chains were popular amongst the younger Hand members, and that they had a number of anomalous effects. Precisely what anomalous effects the flower chains may have had were blacked out of the reports. That was for higher clearance levels.

But she wanted to know, and Gears didn't mind her testing. In the last few weeks she'd run every test she could think of on the flower chains, twice. They seemed about as anomalous as suspicious-looking dirt.

She began gathering up the papers strewn across her desk. "Enough for tonight," she said aloud.

"Enough of what?" a voice asked from behind.

Startled, Campbell glanced back to see a too-pale man in a labcoat approaching her desk.

"Hello, Doctor Campbell," the man said.

Campbell squinted in the fading light. She hadn't noticed that the lighting in her office had gotten so dim — or, hell, at least it was hopefully the lighting and not some horrible subtle anomalous side effect of these stupid flower chains. Either way, the man wasn't wearing a name tag.

"Sorry, do I know…"

Then she saw the thing around his neck. That necklace with that ornate amulet. The red jewel gleaming in the center of a starburst.

SCP-963-1. Doctor Bright. Director Bright.

Campbell felt the papers slip from her hand.

She'd seen Dr. Bright in person only once before, during the chaos of the Site-17 breach in which Joanna Cross was captured.

She'd seen a breaching SCP, a humanoid with a featureless face and scaled black skin, morph its hand into a long, sharp sword — a German Zweihander, actually, complete with the tiny spierhaken prongs emerging from the blade a short way up from the hilt — and shove that Zweihander directly through Bright's chest in one swift motion.

When it withdrew the blade, the prongs caught on the necklace around Bright's neck, and that amulet came away with it.

And then the faceless horror suddenly became docile. Because it had become Bright.

"Relax," Bright said. "I'm here to give you good news."

He held out a slim file folder. She took it.

"I didn't know Directors hand-delivered good news," Campbell said. The back of her throat was dry.

Bright chuckled. "We're changing your orders. Take a look."

Campbell flipped open the file folder and read the instructions. They were remarkably short.

She cleared her throat. "Sorry, did I read this right? I can ask Cross literally anything, so long as I am the only one who comes up with the questions?"

"Don't worry." Bright's tone was open, friendly. "If she ends up telling you anything you're not supposed to hear, we'll just wipe your memory. Not a big deal."

"Not a big deal?" The line slipped out before she could stop it.

Bright only smiled, and walked away.


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