a box of minmin

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Don't You Climb Back Down, Darling

an scp-2696 tale

My second breach comes at the end of September.

I watch the world stand still for an eternity, then drop the wires from my hand and dash for the armoury. Jo's already there throwing open the cabinets, setting straight piles of sigils on the armoury counter. Hands reach in from the sides of my peripheral vision, Jorge's and the new guy's, collecting bags of labeled-and-laminated tags. All the while, the alarm continues blaring, drowning out the sound of velcro and zippers, clips and buckles, fluttering loose sigil paper.

"Somebody wake Rao!" Charlie screams. "Too late, too late!" screams back Jo. She shoves a vest into my hands, the pockets already packed to the brim with twelve-packs of sink wards. "Plan B — you're on, you're on," she exclaims, "there's no more time, go!"

There really isn't. I bolt out, sigils spilling from my vest seams, left hand tightening the straps as I burst through the garage door. Behind me, I hear the sound of the new guy's loafers slap-slapping to the basement battlestation, the trapdoor slamming back so hard that I swear I can hear the concrete chip.

Charlie's shouting something across the room I can't hear. Jo just talks over him: "She's taking the backline, it's just the backline, she'll manage!" Charlie mutters something under his breath, but wastes no time getting on his gear — vest and sigils and all. Meanwhile, Jo throws keys into slots, slams the armoury's shutters, and barrels past me with the new device in her arms.

"Two minutes fifty seconds!" she calls out.

Jorge is starting the truck, his gear hanging off his shoulders. I hop in the back and tap the back of his seat. "Where's Rao?" he asks. Then, as realisation dawns: "Fuck, you're taking over?"

"It's too late," I call back, "Plan B, Plan B." I crawl into the back seat and shift in for Jo and her box. Double-check bearings, count the sigil tags in my seams. Four on each breast, six in each front pocket, three by six plus eight makes twenty-six. Suddenly, my head's wrenched back onto the railing by my hair.

Charlie's voice, stern. "Mol. Preliminary mantras. How many."

I swallow. "T-three. At least. Pattern Dalet. Two prayers and a Sinatra, for vision on the lines."

His grip holds fast. "Do it. Now. You're not going until I know you can keep yourself safe."

I nod. I trace the pattern with my tongue on the roof of my mouth, letting the mantras flow, one-two-three, words slipping free from conscious thought until they start swimming in my skull — halle - very - lu - shadows - mother of God — and whoosh, semantic satiation kicks the thought loop into action. My mind whirls. "Mm-mm." My neck muscles go limp.

"Alright." I feel the grip on my hair loosen. A slap on my back. Let it swim. "Not a word until we get there," he drawls.

Through the sides of my eyes, I see him jump into the front passenger seat. The truck's engine growls, overlaid with a fierce ringing. We start moving. The engine rattles the railing against the back of my head. Wind and gravity shifting. Floating moor grass and sky.

(From somewhere on my person, the new guy's voice, cloaked in static: " - local aetheric turbulence, but no sign of dash-one, proceed with caution - " And behind that, a multilayered hum, like the buzzing of power wires, another voice reciting words I can't discern, and in the sky strange lights - )

In the air, patterns swirl. The clouds draw streaks across the sky. The sun is a cellophane disc. In the distance, starlings. The clouds shift. Suddenly I'm a diver on the floor of a rainbow sea. Lines of gold and orange stretch across the moor in three-dimensional relief, peaking near the house's pitch black. I tilt my head and, seeing the house sideways, imagine angry spikes radiating from its core, jutting straight towards us. I flinch — but they crash into arms of technicolour coral exploding from our rear, splitting harmlessly into spiderweb cracks. The air grows a little warmer.

(KACHUNK — the distant sound of a falling weight.)

Jorge nearly swerves out of the way a couple of times: could it be that he sees them too? Jo and Charlie don't seem to, or at least don't seem to mind: they never miss a beat, staring straight into the eye of the storm, hands clutched tight around the first volley of prepared spells.

Prepared spells — that's the plan: at the first red marker, they're going to be the first on the ground, punching through the house's mental fog with their respective prepared countersigils. That'll clear the air enough for Jorge to hold the front door open and me to catch my breath; everything else after that is improvised play. But this is Plan B, and Jo's box is new, and so's my vest full of sinks —

We stop. My arms fly forward, my head hits the railing. Jo, gripping tight, almost dragging me to the ground: "Eyes up! Head straight!"

I stagger behind her, retching, clutching the back of her vest like a child as she cuts a path to the house with her mind, my feet tripping in her wake. The new guy continues, unpreturbed: "Approach with caution, target is on east wing. Ell-one-five is still intact, but further components might be damaged… "

Jorge is somewhere ahead now, bracing open the heavy wooden door of the house with both hands. He moves as if caught in a gale, eyes half-shut, legs bending against resistance, though no wind blows from the open door — the air is completely still. Charlie's scrambling after him, left arm forward, blazing the way forth with his prepared wards burning bright.

"After me!" he screams, but the words don't sound as much as they simply feel, just ripples in the aether.

Jorge stumbles after him, and the great wide doors slam shut.

(Charlie's voice, sometime in the past: "Every working subsists on equivalent exchange, Every door when shut must open again.")

Now there's a pounding, pounding in my skull. The house has hit me hard and fast; Charlie called it the flow, the state of unintentional intention. But this is not the training sim and now the storm is in my head, my world is something like a thin fuzzy line between the mantras and utter insanity, and even the house itself is changing colour, brown to gray and angry black. Again, coral blossoms from behind to protect us — Jo's doing? Something in the wards? I'm too zoned out to reason about it — I just follow Jo.

Black lines deflect into rainbow. The air crackles. Jo's low form, hands busy with something on the ground. Feet in the mud, unmoving. I'm trapped, unable to think, so when Jo hands me the end something wrapped in black tape, I squeeze it in my left hand. Somewhere above the mantra, her voice is a noise: "Prepare for the backwash, okay? Hold fast, eyes up, head straight." And then, slightly lower: "We can get through this. Just hold tight, keep your head clear. Okay?"

Somewhere far away I'm aware of Charlie and Jorge in the house's corridors, inching towards the target. Somewhere to my left — or is it my right? — Jo is doing something, plugging and unplugging wires, unfolding something like a map. Her fingers trace arcs in front of her face. All the while, the energy is building, building, buiding

Somewhere in the past, I vaguely remember that the worst is yet to come.

"Aetheric Radiation rising to critical levels," speaks the new guy from my collar.

The door opens. Instead of Jorge and Charlie, there is a flash of white light.

Two eyes. An open mouth. Screaming.

(Jo behind, fingers twisting invisible dials, her contraption flaring to life.)

Energy flashes through the circuit's veins. Something pulses in my left hand. The air grows hot. My feet feel rooted, anchored in the mud through miles and miles of stone.

Somebody calls to me, and I black out.

Hannah awakes to the sound of rushing sand. A minute, or several minutes pass, and she opens her eyes.

You know you've never said a word to her since that day you left.

She meant something to us, at one point, or another. Differences were had. But they are that - only differences.

The world - a world - zooms past her in shadow, snatches of vision: misty mornings, the sound of pathways, under stairs and crowded basement - shrouded talk in coffee-shops with the smell of brewing in the air. Hands old and young and the whir of wheels, and the sound of surfaces: cloth, wood, oil, clay, glass. Churning and gyreing. Voices, now growing louder, hard sounds now, hands on tables, on stone walls, shouts, breaking up, shattering, amidst the weight of years, and -

Even differences which take our lives away from us?

Maybe even that. I do not know. I am not you.

She is keenly aware of how all this surrounds her, smothers her, and she decides that she is in a tomb. Yes, a tomb, made not of soil and dirt, but of confused iridescent patchwork walls. Not five walls and a floor, but the inside of a ring. And at its center, the heart of the ring, two points of flux pouring endlessly into each others' reflections, a shape, a pillar standing lone as the old house, rushing and tumbling into itself. A light.

In the haze of awakening, a voice chimes from beside her. "That is, if what you've said is true. Why should I believe your story any more than I've believed in my own?"

Another voice, clipped, more familiar. "I have no reasons left to lie. We are old women. We have no one left to answer to but each other."

"I suppose I can't object to that."

She opens her eyes.

Her chest aches, burning in a fuzzy sphere somewhere from her sternum, almost all the way through to her spine. Soft yellow light filters in through the edge of her vision. She props herself up.

Beside her, the two women sit, still as statues. Isa, and someone unfamiliar - old, but a different kind of old, the kind that sleekens the face and smoothens the edges, and her eyes are unnaturally blue.

"You're awake."

"What happened?"

"An accident and a misunderstanding. Maafkan saya - I apologise for that." The other woman's accent strikes Hannah as one carved from a very old throat, yet ringing with an unnecessary sophistication of someone far younger.

"Excuse me, but - who are you?"

"A friend of a friend. We've made peace," murmurs Isa. She dabs at her eyes with a piece of silk.

"In a sense," replies the other woman softly. "In a sense."

Hannah straightens herself up. The room - no, the house - more of a cottage than a house - is held together with wood-board sides. Attap hut with aluminum roof, just like in her mother's days. The solitary bulb in the room gives off a light that warms rather than chills in its dimness. The women are sitting on makeshift chairs, old wooden boxes draped with cloths of many colours and textures. A name comes to her lips. "Ari… Aberlin."

Ari smiles, a grin full and white. "As I live and breathe."

"I have told her everything. She is on our side, and she will help us in any way she can."

"How do you know this?"

On the rough low table between them, Ari Aberlin places a cigar-shaped item which Hannah recognises. "This. Part of our term within the Pengembalian. We did not know what would happen to us, going out to fight. But we were artists. What part of the work is not part of the artist?"

"- how much of the artist in the art?" Recognition dawns into a smile.

"So you know the words. Hannah Cho had one of those as well. She kept it from us, even until the day of the bombing and the raid. Then we were separated, and I never saw her again."

"Wait. The bombing?"

Isa's eyes narrow. "Should we tell her?"

Ari Aberlin closes her eyes. "She ought to know."

There is a silence, following which Isa sighs. "Very well. No more secrets."

"That wasn't the end of it. The brief, Jon. We ran over the facts, but there were still the files."

"Hm? What wasn't - ow. Screw you."

"Oh god, sorry. Red light."

"Rahman doesn't want the files anyway. All these stories, all these people - he tries to keep himself like he's this huge friendly guy to all of us, but he doesn't give a shit about the marks."

"They did nothing wrong. Or, well. They didn't hurt anyone but themselves. They were going to, but they didn't."

"Our predecessors must have been on the ball."

"That's the thing. They were guys just like you or me - only with even less gear in the back. No Hume detectors or flux alarms. How'd they stop them? I think Euclid's Daughters set themselves up."

"So someone in their group sold them out. What does this have to do with them being active again?"

"Rahman doesn't know shit. He thinks Beatrice Cho has went off the grid, and they're starting some kind of attack as revenge. But I'm not feeling it. Old and dangerous? Have you seen her interview tapes? She's mellow."

"We're not looking for her or some secret anart insurgent cell. We're looking for someone else."

"I don't know. I don't know. But I know we're off the mark."

"Ama, that's not the way to area N3."

"Screw area N3. We're going to do some research. Who wants to do sweeps anyway? Tonight, you and I are going to chez Warehouse Charlie."

"Ah. Charlie. Charlie. The galleries."

"Bingo. Tell me if you see any scary-looking red Protected Area signs. Preferably those with lots of bold text in standard government font."

"Ama, those are the best kinds."

"Get looking, then."

"Ow. Screw you."

Ari Aberlin begins. "It was a woman named Tan Bee Choo who brought us together. We called her Makcik Tan. We were a struggling batch of starving artists in the University of Malaya, dreaming of the Europes - to us she offered studio space and worldly connections. Then she showed us what we really had been dreaming of, on that night in the basement room, and we were convinced. We were to be the weavers and shapers of the future. Painters of visions. Seekers of paths. When revolution came, we were ready."

"Her husband was the chief of operations in Kedah, for the insurgency," interjects Isa. "She only told us this later."

You never let that go.


- some kinda "follow me" plot device

- conflict with foundation operatives

- the macguffin comes into play