Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir, the girl the Foundation called SCP-239, stirred in her coma-induced slumber.
Or rather, it would be more proper to say that she was fidgeting anxiously in the dreamscape constructed in her mind, and that this anxiety finally had leaked down through the layers of her mind to affect her physical form. Her physical form that was pretending to be asleep, and had been pretending to be asleep for quite a long time now. Especially for a kid. But, you know. It's what kept the rest of them happy. Well — most of the rest of them. But the ones who could see through it didn't need to be made happy. So far, at least. There was always a risk that she'd give away the fact that she wasn't quite so pacified as they thought she was, and that they'd find a way to kill her, even if they were nice people and they didn't want to. A whole lot of them were nice, actually. She liked way too many of them. They were lovely people, when she watched them in her projected astral form, and many of them had been even more lovely before when she was allowed to be awake, even Clef when she'd accidentally confused him into trying to kill her. (If that's what she'd actually done. It was a little hard to remember, and years ago by now. Almost another lifetime, for someone as young as her.) She could wipe them all out with a thought, but that would be… horrible. Unbearable.
Almost as unbearable as the thing that would happen in less than a day if she didn't… if she couldn't…
Sigurrós' physical form stirred again, and the old-fashioned telekill alloy lining her walls started getting eaten through just a little faster.
She needed to calm down, she knew. But it was hard. What was coming up was too big. She'd had two months to think about it, and she still technically had the option to say "No", but she wasn't gonna. Of course she wasn't gonna. The consequences were too big, too vast for her to even consider saying "No".
She could project herself in the future and see it. A vast black hole in the world — a hole in reality, with her at ground zero.
Everyone, everything she'd ever loved gone in an instant. Leaving her to float into the void. Truly alone.
Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir sat in the landscape of her mind and watched a conjured clock count down. Twenty hours.
Two Months Ago
Campbell sat down at the interview table for interview number thirty-seven, looked at Cross, opened her notebook, and held it up to show her.
"No script," Campbell said. "These are my notes. Just notes, for what I'm gonna ask you. No script."
Cross looked at the notebook for a moment, and nodded.
"Okay," Campbell said. "Okay. Between you and me and everyone monitoring us right now… I am shit at this. I get that you guys — you Hand people — you're, like, this anomalous rights organization or whatever. I don't know why they're so insistent, and I don't know why they're letting me ask my own questions, and I don't know why…" Campbell took a breath. "You said I should be asking you questions that aren't from my script. So. Okay. We've met thirty-seven times so far. In normal people terms, that would make us friends. If we'd ever had a real conversation, that is. But hey, maybe you can help me out a bit here anyway. What do you want me to ask you?"
Cross stared at her. "My gods, Doctor," she said. "They didn't tell you a single thing, did they?"
Campbell stared back.
"That's okay," Cross said. "You asked me a question that came from you, both sincerely and of your own volition. Technically, you're being coerced into sitting here across from me, but that's okay. You've fulfilled the terms of the geas."
Cross smiled. "It's a type of magical binding. No real need to get into it at the moment. If your Jailor bosses are letting you ask me your own questions, it means they've finally figured it out, or sucked it up hard enough to ask someone who can figure it out. Did you figure out why they made you read only from that list of questions?"
"Why? Are you going to explain it to me?"
"Don't mind if I do," Cross said. "They know I wanted to talk to one of you. They knew I could only give new information as a response to direct questions. They've interrogated Hand members under circumstances like this before, after all. They wanted to know how much I'd volunteer without you having to give anything. Plus some other concerns about memetics, all very silly. You all are trying to play a game where you don't understand half the rules. It's poetic, really. Too bad I'm not much of a poet."
"Man," Campbell said. "If we're gonna chitchat like this… Goddamn, I have to admit this is a bit weird."
"I didn't have much of a choice," Cross said. She sounded almost apologetic. "I mean, I wouldn't have answered a lot of those questions anyway. But I felt a bit like an ass, constantly answering with that exact same line. I was getting pretty close to just giving goofy answers in place of my name. Since that's the only part where I could say anything I wanted."
"Because of the, er…"
"The geas. But that's over now, at least for this interview. Bit of a relief, actually. Makes me want to talk. Makes me wonder if this was all part of your plan. Your boss's plan, anyway. We've already established you don't know anything. But hey, I've always been a talker."
Cross paused for breath. Campbell watched her, a bit incredulously.
"So why not. Let's talk," Cross continued. "You can ask me questions, and I can answer them. If I want. I mean, you are still a Jailor."
Campbell winced. "Jailors. Right. That's your name for us."
"It's just slang," Cross said. "Don't take it personal. You tend to pick it up if you hang around with the Hand long enough. But you can't deny it's got a bit of… veracity to it, can you?"
"We secure, we contain, we protect," Campbell said. "If you want to call us Jailors for it, then I guess I can't stop you. Is this really what you wanted to chat about?"
Cross shrugged. "What questions did you want to ask me?"
Campbell pulled a paper-clipped photo from the notebook and slid it over to Cross. A photo of those damnable flower chains. "What are these?"
"Blue lily chains," Cross said. "Mine, in fact."
"Are they even anomalous?"
"What do you think?"
"Fuck if I know," Campbell said. "Field agents seem to think they are. But I've hit them with every test in the book, and…" Campbell waved her hand. "They seem pretty normal to me."
"Of course," Cross said. "The field agents are correct. These are blue lily chains. We Hand members use them for magical good luck, basically. Minor protective wards. You know. Or…well, no you don't. And that's the point, isn't it?"
"What's the point?"
Cross tossed the photo back onto the table. "This is a little something a precocious teenager could put together. Something a bunch of teenagers understand, and it's something one of the Foundation's best and brightest can't crack. Why?" She leaned forward a little. "Knowledge." She let that word hang in the air for a moment, and leaned back again.
"I could've cracked it if I had a higher clearance level," Campbell said, a little resentfully. "We do have people studying thaumotology. We're not stupid, you know."
"Really," Cross said. "Well, you could crack exactly what spells are imbued in those fairy chains in about thirty minutes if you know how. That's being generous."
"Sorry," Campbell said. "I'm flattered, but I'm not a reality bender. Pretty sure I can't, you know, do magic."
"How do you know?" Cross asked. "Why don't you try performing some magic and find out?"
"I'm pretty sure that's above my clearance level."
"That clearance level stuff you have sure is something," Cross said. "Pretty sure that 'something' isn't 'the scientific method'. Kind of ironic for a Foundation full of scientists, don't you think?"
"I gotta say I'm surprised," Campbell said. "The whole anyone can do magic thing? That's a new one. I thought you guys were all about the Harry Potter Muggles versus Wizards shit."
Cross laughed. "Maybe a few of our traditionalists, but they're full of shit. Anyone could make these fairy chains, in the same way that anyone can do multiplication. You need a pencil or computer to write out the equations, and to know, you know, numbers. That's just it, though, isn't it? You Foundation scientists… you barely know the difference between one and three and you classify the existence of two, and here you are trying to perform calculus. And you damn well aren't going to let the rest of the world count either."
"We're preserving normalcy," Campbell said. "We're guarding against panic in the streets."
"They still panic in the streets. You just wipe their memories of it." Cross paused. "And you're not very good at preserving normalcy, either, with how often you have to break out amnestics. Do you know how many tons of amnestics the Foundation goes through per year? No, you probably don't, do you. I wonder how many Foundation members are killed by anomalies compared to Hand members?" She paused again. "The difference between us and you is knowledge. Ironic, isn't it? A bunch of witches, punks, and bookworms know more about the world than a whole organization of scientists and their paramilitary muscle? It's no wonder you're not very good at the whole… secure, contain, protect, you said. Right?"
"You sure are full of cheap rhetoric points," Campbell said.
"Then have another. Do you support gay rights?"
Campbell was suddenly angry. "Where the hell is this going?"
"It's just a question. Just to see where we stand."
"Yeah, of course I fucking do. My sister is gay." Campbell paused, immediately feeling nebulously guilty. "And also, I'm not an asshole."
"So what would you do if the someone said that gays were a threat to normalcy and had to be locked up for the good of everyone?"
"Look, lady." Campbell set her notebook firmly on the table. "In the cellblock just down from here we have a guy who can laser your face off with his eyes. I'm pretty sure my gay sister can't laser your face off with her eyes."
"How would you know?"
"How would you know your gay sister can't laser your face off with her eyes?"
"I… don't think you're making a very strong argument here."
"No, seriously," Cross said. "Do you have any idea why the man in the cellblock just down from here can laser your face off with his eyes? Can you predict the typical occurrence of face-lasering in the general population?"
Campbell sighed. "Could you, in my position?"
"I don't know," Cross said. "But I sure would be better equipped to find out. You getting my point yet?"
There were some things amusingly mundane about how the Library worked, L.S. thought. The Library Cards were one of them. Yes, the Library Cards had your name on them, your True Name for any magical purposes. In days not so long gone by the Library Cards were one giant weakness just sitting there in your pocket, since anyone could steal them and use them against you. A True Name, after all, made you effectively 'willing' for the purposes of any spell cast upon you. A pretty awful situation to find yourself in, and not well balanced against the mere ability to take books outside of the Library. But whoever ran things behind the scenes at the Library had wised up when more and more people . They'd added new protections to Library Cards, and new privileges, too, for users with accounts in good standing. or who performed certain tasks or did certain factors for the Library.
Privileges such as direct access to the Archives.
The Archives was the informal term for the parts of the Library where humanoid sapients weren't allowed by default, at least not through the front doors. The Librarians had never minded those few who managed to find ways in or, well, Ways in, but those paths were always very dangerous. As well they should be. The Archives were part the underlying machinery of the Library, part networked prison-slash-zoo for various greater and lesser monstrosities that had invaded the Library over the centuries, part restricted text section, and part library for non-humanoid sapient entities to go read their equivalent of books. Some of it was filled with acid, a sizeable portion completely underwater. If Cthulhu wanted to to check out a book, the Archives were where he'd go.
So the Librarians classically hadn't been very enthusiastic about letting humanoid sapients in there, if only because they didn't like losing Patrons. That was, again, before the Library Card upgrades. Now, if your account was in good standing (which hers was), and if you'd performed certain tasks (which she had), and if you'd done certain favors for the Library (which she had), they would conjure a service entrance Way just for you. The new-issue Library Cards could literally let you breathe underwater, after all. Even in acid. They still didn't exactly make the Archives safe, but, you know, every little bit counted.
L.S. headed towards the local Library desk. She took off her cap for the Librarian waiting there, a Docent with a few more arms than the norm. Librarians could see through the Cap of Neglect, of course, but they seemed to find it a bit annoying to talk to her when she was under its effects.
"I'd like to enter the Archives," she said. "Please."
The Docent grunted in its own language, and held out its hand for her Library Card.
While waiting for the Way to open — these things took time, sometimes — L.S. went to find the couple companions waiting for her in another wing of the Library. She left her cap off. Now, she was just Alison Chao. Her small circle of friends did know her real name — and they even knew who her father was, big-name Foundation researcher Doctor Charles Anthony Gears. They did not know she was L.S. or the Black Queen, though. That would be going a touch far.
She found Iris Joseph, Septima Varan the High Enchantress, and Dega Tee in the West Liko Wing, arguing about SCP-239. One of Alison's several inner circles. Iris Joseph, rainbow-skinned color changer, black feminist human and part-time deity fragment, a hedge mage of fair usefulness. Septima Varan the High Enchantress, an ana-human of unknown origin and a high opinion of her reality-altering skills that was not entirely unwarranted, despite the entirely self-bestowed title inspired by her equally self-involved brother. Dega Tee, a nerdy lizardfolk woman who insisted on referring to herself as 'lizardfolk' after playing too much D&D, but still a competent fighter. Or, ugh. Capital F-Fighter, probably.
"The Witch Child is not a child," Septima was saying, waving that oversized staff of hers around dangerously. "The Witch Child is the Woman with Stars in Her Eyes. She who made the People, She who made the Land and Corn and Squash."
"She's from freaking Iceland," Iris said irritably. "She's as white as white can get."
"Only the cultural imperialism of the Europeans could turn her white!" Septima nearly whacked Dega in the face with another wave of her staff. Dega jumped out of the way, flicking her tail for balance.
"I thought the Star-Eyed Child was the woman with stars in her eyes," Dega said. "The one they call Es Cee Pee One Three Four?"
"Don't be so literal!" Septima turned to face Dega, and noticed Alison watching. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Only a couple hours," Alison said. "I see you're all ready to go?"
"Damn right," Iris said.
They headed for the Way into the Archives. Sixteen hours left to go.
Two Months Ago
Campbell rubbed the sides of her temples. She could feel a headache coming on.
"Listen," Cross said. "Do you believe in God?"
"You know. God. Yahweh. Big Man in the Sky. Fate Personified. General ultimate distant father figure. Or, hey, any of the other variations, I'm not here to be picky."
"I think that's a bit too much of a personal question," Campbell said.
Cross shrugged. "Most of you don't," she said. "Scientists are mostly atheists. Just speaking statistically. I think the Foundation's a bit different, though. You still don't believe in, like, God God. But that's not the point. God has many different faces. Here's another personal question for you. Do you believe there is a Plan?"
"A Plan. A right and true way that things should be."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"It goes back to the Garden, Doctor," Cross said. "Adam and Eve, standing naked in the dark. Innocents. Knowing nothing. Until the Serpent came along."
"I was raised religious," Campbell said. "I know this story. I seem to recall the Serpent was the villain."
"Fruit of knowledge," Campbell said. "Going against what God said. All that crap."
"The fruit of the knowledge of good and evil," Cross said. "The power to know right from wrong. The power to understand how the world works. Which humans can't understand. Eating the fruit was sin because humans aren't meant to understand those things, because they aren't meant to change things. Only God is meant to do that. People trying to change things is just… sin. Deviating from the perfect Plan. Right?"
"Right. I guess." Campbell played with the edge of her notebook. "I wasn't the best student in Sunday School."
"You should know the story better," Cross said. "If only because you want to understand your enemy. Or yourselves."
"Fine. Why do you identify with the bad guy, then?"
"Because the Serpent's only a bad guy if there really is a Plan," Cross said. "If there really is a perfectly correct way things should be."
"The Foundation does believe in God," Cross said. "Your God is Normalcy. Normalcy, the perfect, arbitrary Plan from which there can be no deviation. Trying to change Normalcy is the worst sin of all. The cardinal sin against which your organization stands with all its might. A stalwart bulwark against change."
"I think it's plausible that you all may be overthinking this philosophy stuff," Campbell said. "Serpent's the good guy, right. Normal bad, eye lasers good. I'm almost wishing for that list of questions again."
"If you think we're off point, feel free to redirect us," Cross said. "I'm being pretty cooperative, aren't I?"
"That's one way of putting it." Campbell looked at her notebook. "Okay. Look, I do have a question. About your sister."
Cross froze for a moment. Just a split second, but it was there.
"Did you come here to recruit her? Kidnap her? Anything like that."
"Kidnap?" Cross asked slowly. "Gods, and you complained about personal questions."
"She's my friend," Campbell said. "You can't blame me for asking. I mean, bit of an odd coincidence, being that she's stationed here on MTF Tau-9 and all. I don't believe for a second that you didn't know."
"I did know," Cross said.
"So did you come here to recruit her?"
"I love my sister," Cross said evenly, "but I didn't come here to try to recruit her."
Campbell shrugged. "I just find it really hard to believe that this was a coincidence."
"It wasn't," Cross said. "This is how the Foundation works. They think you have a vulnerability, they try to scrape it raw to see if it'll scab. If it doesn't… they just write you off. They'd be willing to lose my sister. They'd be willing to lose her in a fucking heartbeat. That's why she was assigned to your "Bookworms", I guarantee you. A honeypot to attract flies. To attract me. I'm not here because of her, she's here because of me."
"But that's not why you came here."
"No." Cross's lips formed a straight, tight line.
"Then why did you come here?"
"What do you think?"
"You're asking me?"
"I just did, didn't I?"
Campbell glanced down at her notes. "I gotta admit, this is one of the parts where I agree with that shitty list of questions. I think you came here for SCP-239." She stared Cross in the eyes. "But that's one of the things you're not going to tell me, isn't it?"
Cross smiled. "Sorry. Gotta preserve a little bit of that mystery, right?"
The little recorder beeped. Campbell was surprised to realize she'd forgotten that these interviews were on a timer. At least that was one plus about the sudden session of amateur philosophy hour.
"Guess that's it for now," she said.
"Still wishing for your list of questions, Doctor?" Cross asked.
"We'll pick this up again tomorrow," Campbell said. "I've got useless anomalous items to catalogue."
"Take all the time you need," Cross said. "I'm not going anywhere. At least, not right now I'm not."
Back at her lab station, Campbell examined the transcription of the interview log. Cross had actually given quite a bit of information, really. Well.. Maybe. Quite a bit of information for her, at least. For whatever reason, no one had objected to the content of the interview, or approached her with an amnestic pill. Or, at least not that she remembered. Ugh. Still, she now knew far more than she'd expected to know.
Why, though? What was in this for Cross? What was her game?
Either way, she was approved for another interview tomorrow morning, no problem at all. So—-
Campbell heard footsteps, and turned, suddenly afraid of once again seeing Doctor Bright. She was relieved for a moment to see Rita Butler. And then she stopped being relieved.
"Hi," Rita said, cautiously. "Kendra, I… I know I shouldn't be asking, but… I know you… you know."
"Interviewed your sister," Campbell said.
"Yeah." Rita fidgeted. "I know I technically have the clearance, but normally I wouldn't ask because, you know, conflict of interest, being that she's my sister and all, but…"
"It's cool," Campbell said. "It's alright. Don't worry. I don't mind."
Rita gave an awkward half-smile. "Did she say anything about me?"
For some reason, Campbell froze for a second in hesitation, remembering how Cross had gotten when that subject came up. "Yeah. She did."
Rita stood there, waiting, half-expectantly, with that concerned look on her face…
"Shit, sorry," Campbell said. "I've just been spacing all day. She said she loves you. And. You know. Other… stuff. She talked a lot about philosophy. Good and evil nonsense. She really likes to talk, did you know? I've never… never heard her talk so much, because, well, the other interviews, she just kept repeating that same damn line…" Campbell cleared her throat. "Sorry. Rita, I'm sorry. I can't imagine how this must feel for you."
"Is she…" Rita swallowed. Goddamn, that woman wore her emotions on her sleeve. "Did she say, I mean…" She paused a moment. "I guess I'm asking if the rumors are true? If she came here to… to recruit me."
"No," Campbell said. "Er, I don't think so." Shit, what was even a good answer in this situation? "She said she loves you, but she didn't come here to recruit you." Pause, with Rita saying nothing. "I think… I think she's telling the truth, like — I mean, about both things. Both the loves you part and the not here to recruit you part. She seems to think that you were…" Campbell wondered if she was going too far, sharing too much. "…that you were assigned to the, uh, Bookworms, to MTF Tau-9, because Site Command knew she was your, uh, your sister." Campbell hesitated. "Maybe Site Command wanted you to be able to deal with her if worst came to worst. Maybe they thought you would deserve to know if anything… had to happen."
Christ. That was definitely the wrong thing to say. It was unfair, it really was, that Rita had been assigned to this damn team. Campbell felt ashamed of the petty self-pity she'd felt yesterday. No amount of repetitive, awful interviews could measure up to your own sister being held in the prison you helped run. Not even close. Fucking Site Command. The hell were they thinking? Would it really have been so hard to transfer Rita into the goddamn Arctic Circle or something, a place where she'd never have to think about her wayward sister ever again?
But Rita didn't seem to be reacting badly. She was just nodding.
"What do you think is gonna happen to her?" Rita asked.
"She's got some sort of magical protection against harm," Campbell said. Probably too eagerly. "They'll probably just keep her in a humanoid containment cell. And, you know. Figure out what to do from there." She hesitated again. "Not too bad, right?"
"Yeah," Rita said. "I guess not."
Alone again, Campbell returned to taking down information. She wrote and deleted several purely speculative paragraphs on the 'blue lily chains'. Those fucking flowers, goddamn. She hoped the Foundation higher-ups weren't actually logging all her keystrokes, or at least not reading through those logs For all that she hadn't given much credence to Cross's overcooked points on science and research and clearance levels, it was true that she was kind of worried about how her superiors would react to too much interest in reality bending.
Or, hell, maybe she was overthinking this now too. She was a member of MTF Tau-9, after all. The Bookworms were supposed to be interested in magic, even if they weren't supposed to do magic.
Or, you know, know anything useful about it at all, just in case you might get corrupted…
Her computer screen seemed to flicker and swim for a moment. Just… dissolved into shapes and colors before resolving back into a computer screen like any other. A computer screen like it always had been.
Great, she thought. Gonna have to catalogue this too. Or maybe not, maybe it's nothing. She briefly envisioned being taken off all of her projects due to unacceptable anomaly exposure, and left doing terrible interviews with captured Hand members forever. Always either repeating the same line or babbling on about philosophy, forever.
She glanced down at the blue lily flower chains. "You better not be doing anything funny to me," she said.
Just in case, she packed them away, back in the secure ceramic-lined containment box they'd arrived at her desk in. She found herself wondering what was inside, underneath the ceramic lining.
Campbell's follow-up interview went in a fairly unproductive direction, for most of its length. Cross rephrased a few of her philosophical points and gave disappointingly little information. Campbell was, indeed, shit at interviews, she thought. Even though Cross was the one in handcuffs, she was railroading Campbell like a seasoned pro.
"Do you know why we're going through this little song and dance at all?" Cross asked.
"Surely you've wondered why the Foundation hasn't just sent in an interrogator to torture me."
Campbell did have to admit that she'd wondered the same thing on occasion, but she didn't say that out loud. "Because torture doesn't work. Subject just tells you whatever they think you want the torturer to think. You have no way of knowing if the information is true or not until it's too late. Sometimes you'll never know at all." You're not the only one who does her homework, she added silently.
"Oh, please," Cross said. "The Foundation isn't gonna give up a thing like torture just because it wouldn't work. They'd torture me anyway if they could, merely because it's tradition. It's how these things go, and that's reason enough. It's part of the Plan. No… the only reason I'm not being tortured right now is because I have protections. I don't mind telling you that they aren't protections that are difficult to unravel."
"Why would you tell me that? Seems pretty counter-productive."
"Because you'll never figure out how to unravel them," Cross said. "Your bosses are too scared to let you. To delve too deeply into anomalous methods. So here I sit. Forever safe. Only in the SCP Foundation."
"We use anomalous methods," Campbell said. "When we have to."
Cross smiled. "Yet here we are."
"Here we are," Campbell agreed. "You almost sound like you kinda want some good old-fashioned torture."
Cross smiled. "Jack Bright said something similar."
"Doctor Bright was in here to talk to me before you," Cross said. "He mentioned anomalous methods as well. Technically, he's best suited among you to back that up. Our conversation… did not go well."
"I can't even imagine," Campbell said.
"No physical violence," Cross said. "I'm restrained, and I have those protections I mentioned. Lucky me, right?"
Campbell remembered the faceless horror with 963 around its neck. Calm, waiting to be re-contained.
Cross looked up at the ceiling. "Man, Jack Bright, though… I knew about him before coming here, you know. One of the few exceptions to your No Anomalies No No Not Ever rule. An SCP item who gets to be considered a person? And a staff member? Heavens forfend! I've seen Bright's file, of course. Don't look so surprised. That file isn't even under strict security clearance protection. They used to keep Bright on a short leash, but it got longer and longer as time went by, right? Now he's… a personnel director, if I remember correctly, yes?"
"Let me tell you a secret about Jack Bright," Cross said. "Do you know why they keep him around? Why they trust him with so much?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to know that," Campbell said.
"They're probably not gonna let you remember much of this conversation anyway." Cross smiled. "Right?"
We'll just wipe your memory. Not a big deal.
"Do you know about Five-Ninety?" Cross asked.
Campbell searched her memories. SCP-590… "That healer kid," she said. "Touches you and you get healed, right?"
"Touches you and he receives all your ailments," Cross said. "Pain. Wounds. Broken Bones. Cancer. Mental illnesses." She paused. "Did the file you had clearance for happen to mention Bright's involvement with Five-Ninety?"
"Yeah," Campbell said. "He used 590 to heal several cases of mental retardation for … I don't know. People. Made 590 tractable. Easier to contain."
"Here's the secret," Cross said. "The reason they keep Bright around, Bright the anomaly, Bright who is SCP-963."
"Just spit it out already," Campbell said.
"Five-ninety is Bright's little brother," Cross said.
Campbell sat back in her chair.
"Oh," she said.
Cross said nothing, and waited.
"Bright isn't the whole Foundation," Campbell said. The back of her throat felt dry.
"Bright is the Foundation," Cross said. "He's been around longer than any of you, except the O5s and a few others. He doesn't age or die. When you're rotting in your grave, be it tomorrow or after dying at the ripe old age of a hundred, Bright will still be here. Quietly running things, having proved his loyalty on the skin and blood and bones of his own little brother."
Campbell remembered Rita Butler's face last night. What do you think is gonna happen to her? Rita Butler, her friend, sort of, definitely the sister of the woman sitting in front of her. I should ask about this, she thought. I should ask something. Something. But she couldn't bring herself to. She couldn't even bring herself to finish that train of thought. The questions themselves eluded her grasp.
"Why are you telling me all this?" Campbell asked. "Why all this philosophy crap? All these existential questions? You know I'm not gonna listen to much of it. At best. Are you trying to deflate me with word flood? Seduce me to the dark side, what?"
"I don't know." Cross raised her eyebrows. "Is it working?"
Campbell rubbed her temples and sighed.
"I'm just kidding," Cross said. "Look. I'm telling you all this not just because I'm trying to convince you. I am trying to convince you, yes, but you'll probably be mind-wiped after this anyway. I'm trying to convince all your colleagues and superiors who who will read this, the security personnel who will obsessively vet it before deciding which clearance level can read it and what needs to be redacted into oblivion. I'm trying to convince you because I think you're redeemable. Not just you. But my sister. This whole Site. Even Dr. Bright. The whole Foundation. I don't think you've gone far enough into the dark that you can't yet back out again. Am I wrong?"
It was that last exchange in particular, especially, irrationally, those last three words, that echoed in Campbell's mind long afterward.
As it turned out, Cross was wrong about at least one thing. For whatever reason, Campbell was not mind-wiped. Not to blank out Cross' last, desperate pitch. Not to remove the knowledge of Bright's little brother, that suffering little boy locked up in a cell somewhere in this very site. No one mentioned a thing.
There was, however, no follow-up interview. No thirty-ninth interview with Joanna Cross. They moved her cell, to … somewhere. She was still held in Site-17, but Site-17 was an enormously big place, a place that Campbell had only seen about 2 percent of in five years of living on location.
One month later, Campbell returned to her computer to see a message on it, typed in Notepad and left open for her to read. It read:
If you change your mind, don't forget about me.
The note was unsigned. Campbell did not report it.
The next month passed without incident.
Sigurrós Stefánsdóttir lay awake in bed with her eyes closed, listening.
She could hear it now, as the hours ticked down. That indefinable humming, that humming that sounded like it was coming from somewhere deep inside her soul, and all around at once. A wordless, tuneless, eternal song.
Twelve hours left to go. Twelve hours to the end.
As she listened, she found that she could make out one word. Just one single word in the endless song.
Never never never never
Never never never never
Never never never never…