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Further to Library Duty - Sarge (Sargent James Maloney?) ventures through The Library, seeking an alternative egress. Pisses off the tiny dragons (book wyrms) decide to be careful as where there are small there is bound to be larger…
Must read other stories and see what else he could stumble upon. The eternal wanderings of an enlisted man with limited ammo and a vastly weird space to explore…
[[date %A %c]]
Journal Entry Number One (and possibly the only)
My name is Sergeant James Maloney. If you are reading this now, I need your help. I was working with a UN peacekeeping force when my squad was sent to guard a Library. They all died, and now I'm stuck here, I've been here so long; I think I might be going crazy. You need to get a message to Major Jacob Arnold from the UN Infantry Battalion. Just print this out and get it to him, please, my life and yours may depend on it.
Attn: Major Arnold:
Objective status: Unknown
Current locstat: In a Library / LOST
Personnel: Deceased / Unknown
I have found a computer; it looks like something from a steampunk gallery. It's all oak panels and brass fittings, but it connects to things, to places, god, I can't even begin to explain it. I stumbled on it by accident; I was looking for the 900's stack again. Got to find a fucking map so I can get the hell out of here, if there is an out of here, maybe I'm lost here forever.
Mike has been haunting me; he's some tall skinny inky bastard now. I think he wants to eat me. I don't blame him, I'd have to taste better than the shit they call food hereabouts. I really want a coffee, fuck I'd sell my very soul for a plate of my mother's home cooking right now. Don't know what the fuck Mike was doing with us in the first place, kid was a desk jockey. I don't even remember seeing him before he got landed in my squad come to think of it…
I think I'm rambling again; this place does that to you. Can't ever find the same fucking place twice, so I guess I'll never know if you get this Sir.
Don't send anyone in to find me. Sir. Don't do it. Don't even consider it. Just tell my family I'm dead. It's better they have closure. This place is nothing like what I was briefed about. There are aliens here, just walking about and reading books! And it connects to places. It's one hell of a security risk, if anyone can ever find a way to our world. I know I can't.
I hear whispers, the books talk to me sometimes. The shit they say would make your toes curl. I think there are secrets here that would make us a fortune, win wars, send us to other galaxies. If I could just figure out how to bring them back home.
Oh shit, he's found me abjhl.vfb vk/;bhajdf/a/df
Attn Sgt J Maloney.
Transmission received. Sit tight soldier, were coming in to get you.
Sergeant James Maloney trod as quietly as his boots would allow him down the fraying carpet runner. Tall bookshelves filled with ancient tomes stool sentinel to either side, stretching beyond sight. Six months he'd been here now, six long fucking scary months. Not that it was all bad, there had been moments. He shuddered slightly, there had been other moments too. At first he'd just been running. In retrospect he felt a bit bad abandoning Mike back there, but he had no way of knowing if that thing had been Mike, or just replaced him somehow. The poor kid had been oozing terror, and that inky fucker didn't seem scared of anything.
No point in worrying about it, he couldn't find his way back there anyway. He'd spent a good month trying. He shrugged it off, swinging his M249 across his back. Almost out of bullets now, not that they worked on the things he'd seen in here most of the time. Well not the really scary ones anyway. Thankfully he'd found a way out of the dammedable shelving long enough to get more food. If you could call the weird stuff he'd been chewing down the last few months food. It was sustaining, but the taste… he gagged slightly just thinking about it. There were doors, thousands of them, leading to other places; other times even it seemed like. The entire place gave him the major fucking creeps.
Some of the places he'd seen made him want to take his eyeballs out and scrub them clean. Others had made him want to do the same to his brain. The less scary ones had still left him feeling he was lucky to be upright and breathing. It was a fucking Library for gods sake, it was supposed to be a place of quiet contemplation and knowledge. But there were things collected here which made his hair curl. Self playing manuscripts were the least of his worries.
He'd seen people here, plenty of them, reading, talking, looking furtive. All kinds, not all of them human either. But they weren't the fucking problem. It was the shit you almost saw from the corner of your eye that was giving him the most trouble. He'd taken to sleeping in the Romance section; it seemed to be the safest. He'd made himself a defensible refuge halfway up the dusty stacks. Not only did the books seem inert; nobody used them. He was sure the Library itself must be sentient. He'd found a novel which had been a big seller a couple of years ago, and out of curiosity had a look. Inside was page after page of pantone swatches in varying tones of grey. He'd actually laughed out loud then, and been shushed by a couple of passing patrons.
Now he was heading towards the 900's, Geography and History, in the vain hope he might find a map of this infernal place. The biggest problem he was having was finding the right set of 900's. He'd been down aisle after fucking aisle, through thousands of books, but none of them seemed to relate to this specific library. In fact sometimes he seemed to be in entirely different libraries. All in all it was really starting to piss him off.
He reached an expanse of white veined marble flooring. Another atrium. There were, well he'd lost count awhile back, but a lot was being polite about it. It was almost like the library was deliberately fucking with him. Nothing he'd read or been told had prepared him for this. Not for the last time he cursed Major Fucking Arnold and his god forsaken orders. Protect the library he'd said. Fuck that. His whole squad bar him, and possibly Mike (if he could be included in his current inky transformation), were dead. And he was trapped. Not one single door he'd found led back to a world he recognised.
The 900's were across the expanse of marble ahead of him. Sighing he was about to traverse the boot squeaking shiny surface when he saw something. Just a flicker, a shadow, caught from the corner of his eye. Not a-fucking-gain! Stepping back into the protection of the shelves he scanned the spot he thought he'd seen movement. He didn't bother reaching for his gun. No point wasting more bullets on ghosts.
A soft rumbling purr made the hair on the back of his neck prickle. What kind of horror made that kind of noise? He contemplated back tracking and trying again later. The problem with that was he probably wouldn't be able to find this place later. While he could always eventually make it back to what seemed to be the main atrium and from there his temporary refuge. Finding other atriums and their catalogues of books was at best hit and miss. At worst it was a fucking nightmare in which he could never find the same damned place twice.
He resisted the urge to spit on the floor next to his boot. After that run in with the tiny dragon he was pretty damned respectful of library property. He was working on the basis where you got something a couple of inches long there was bound to be a twenty fucking foot monster somewhere around too. And it would be just his luck to piss it off.
He risked a look around the end of the shelf. The shadow had been in the 500's. He wished for a moment he wasn't aware of what classifications were down that aisle. Mathematics and Natural History didn't scare him as much Chronology and Fossils. And other things… He sucked in a deep breath and stepped softly onto the marble. In all the months he'd been here he'd figured out how to walk almost silently on the blasted alabaster.
He aimed his footsteps across the space, giving the 500's a wide berth. There was simply no way in all hell he was going to go look down there. He'd made that mistake exactly twice. Both times he'd been lucky enough to escape again, but you didn't push your luck. Well not if you enjoyed living anyway. And despite all this, he did. If he was being honest with himself, he was starting to almost enjoy the place. When it wasn't scaring the shit out of him. It was a challenge like he hadn't encountered in years, maybe ever.
He'd made it just over halfway across the slick polished surface when he saw it again. A shadowy flicker, caught in the corner of his vision. He spun, gun in his hands before he'd even thought about it, barrel aimed down the long shelving. Nothing, jumping at ghosts again Jim, need to keep it together. Shaking his head slightly he continued, one quiet step at a time.
His boots hit the frayed red carpet runner. Time to be disappointed again. Stalking down the long gloomy aisles had become second nature now, his eyes barely registering the numbers and shelves he had no interest in. A long glance at the shelving under 999 Extraterrestrial worlds came up empty as usual. And the numbers which should have held history and geography for his known world were all wrong. Sighing heavily he turned to trudge all the way back again. And stopped.
In front of him was a small totally incongruous object. One which hadn't been there when he come past just moments before. The Hell? He was torn between stooping for a closer look, and getting as far away from it as possible. In the end curiosity won. He slid the barrel of his gun inside the small tartan circle, lifting it closer. The delicate silver bell tinkled. All it's fucking missing is the name tag which says 'Tiddles'. He resisted the momentary urge to raise his eyes to the ceiling and yell "Really? A fucking cats' collar?"
The universe replied to his unvoiced sarcasm anyway, a small grey striped tabby appearing at his feet. It was wearing the collar, the silvery tinkle of the bell laughing mockingly at him. He double checked the barrel of his gun, but the collar wasn't extant in two places. It was without a doubt now firmly buckled around the small feline's neck. Well fuck. He stepped carefully around the cat and walked towards the marble floored atrium.
The chiming of the tiny bell assured him the bloody cat was following him. He didn't even like cats. Well, ok, he didn't dislike them as such; he just saw no use for them. And this particular cat had materialised out of thin air, which made it even less appealing. For all he knew it was going to transform into something huge and eat his face off. He stepped out onto the tiled floor and promptly fell flat on his face as the cat weaved between his legs tripping him.
"Fucking bastard animal!" He levered himself back to his feet, aiming a kick at the creature; which passed right through it with no apparent harm.
Crap! Backing away he watched the cat sit and wash a paw with supreme unconcern. He spun and took off, sprinting back the way he had come, heading for his refuge. Anything you could put your boot right through was something he wanted to be as far away from as possible.
The cat was waiting for him when he finally made his way back to the romance shelves. Should have seen that coming. It curled its tail up high in greeting, and rubbed around his ankles, solid enough now he wasn't aiming a boot at it. Stepping around it carefully he stopped short as a thin dark clad man stepped out of the shadows. He was dressed like the cliché of a Ninja, only his eyes visible.
"I see you've found my cat."
"Uh, it found me… actually." His fingers itched to pull his gun free and train it on the man.
"Never-the-less you are in possession of my feline."
"Not voluntarily I assure you!" He wished the bastard would get to the point.
"Kindly hand it back and we can forget any of this ever happened."
He blinked at the man, is he joking, on drugs, or just plain mad?
"The cat's all yours." He took a judicious step backwards away from the furry object of the strange mans attention.
"I require you to pass it to me." The man was starting to sound impatient.
"Sure, fine, whatever."
He lent over and grabbed the cat by the scruff of its neck. Or attempted to anyway, instead his fingers passed through it, setting the bell on its collar chiming ethereally. Growling under his breath he grabbed at the blasted creature several more times with no better luck.
"Think you better get it yourself!" He glared sullenly at the man, feeling like he'd just been made a fool of.
"I don't think that shall be required."
The man's eyes bored into him for a moment. He reached into his dark clothing and pulled a rectangular pasteboard card out, handing it over with a small flourish. Mr. Johann Dark Mssrs. Marshall and Carter, Procurers…
"Procurers of what exactly?" He had that bad itchy feeling between his shoulder blades.
"Things found in the library… Knowledge, Information… Speculation. Contact me if you decide you want to get rid of the cat, I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement."
Right, because me franticly trying to pick the fucking thing up and hand it over is proof positive I want it around. He nodded and carefully kept his face in neutral as the man walked past him and disappeared into the gloom of shelving beyond. At his feet the cat sat on its haunches and appeared to scrutinise him.
~Thanks, I owe you one.~ The purring laughter echoed through his head.
The cat slowly disappeared from his stunned gaze. Its mouth with its needle sharp teeth, which he could have sworn were twisted into a smirk, fading away last.
The dull whine and thud of gunfire was constant now, puffs of concrete spraying his face as bullets impacted the wall beside him. He ducked back around the corner, eyeing up the building they were protecting. A fucking Library of all things. Someone up high must have a hell of a sense of humour. Tony was still sprawled where he had dumped him, moaning softly. Dark blood oozing out between the fingers clamped across his midriff. The blood was liverish, and he knew Tony wouldn't last much longer. The rest of the squad were dead, apart from Mike, who even now was trying to open the doors of the damned building they were supposed to protect. Shit had been pear shaped from the very beginning.
He'd been nonplussed when Major Arnold had called him aside to send his squad to this sector. It was supposed to be a neutral zone, full of non combatants, an easy job… He spat the dust from his mouth and grimaced, moving his arm carefully. He'd been nicked by shrapnel, nothing serious, but it still stung. His mental review of the men who had died under his command made him feel ill. He cursed the day Major Arnold had shown him that strange tattoo and sworn him to secrecy. Fucking blackmail is what it was. He'd been young and done something stupid, and now ten years later his men had paid the price with their lives.
"Sarge!" Mike's call broke his reverie and he doubled over to him. A quick glance at Tony's glassy eyes had convinced him there was no need to drag the poor fucking bastard any further.
Mike had the old building open, the gothic architecture looming like a mausoleum above them. Ironic as hell, it would probably be their tomb. The thick padlock that had held the chains around the door handles was discarded on the dusty carved stone steps, the heavy brass bound doors now slightly ajar. Mike pushed his wire rim glasses up his nose nervously. Poor kid was a communications specialist, more used to having his ass behind a computer than being out here in the field. Fuck knows why they had sent him along this time. Least he'd managed the padlock ok, must be something to be said for having a misspent youth.
He pushed the door open, the barrel of his M249 leading the way. He'd been given specific orders not to enter the building under any circumstances, but fuck that, they were being massacred. Mike pushed the doors closed behind them, there was nothing to bar them with, so he jammed his own gun between the handles.
The building was huge, the atrium where they had entered marble floored with high arched ceilings. He crossed the slick dustless white veined tiles, his boots squeaking as he walked. Beyond tall dark wood shelves disappeared into the gloom, stretching further than what he could see. The building hadn't looked so vast from the outside, but he hadn't been looking too hard. When you're being shot to hell you tend to focus on the obvious threat, not the architecture.
Mike jogged over to join him, the skinny red haired kid was sweating like he'd run a marathon. Nerves eh, when he got back he was gonna chew someone out about sending the desk jockey along for the ride. He hardly looked old enough to be enlisted, but then they all looked like babies to him now. Twenty years ago that had been him. Twenty long fucking years and he'd only made Sergeant. That was the price of being a mouthy bastard though. A low swell of music spun him on his heel, gun trained down one of the long shelf lined aisles. ~Bada bada bada boom boom boom, damn that's familiar~ beside him Mike mumbled something.
"Say again solider?"
Mike blushed to the roots of his hair and mumbled slightly louder "Tchaikovsky's overture 1812, opus. 49 Sarge."
The sign above the aisle was 700's, he stepped warily, finger pressed against the trigger. The music swelled, reaching a crescendo as he passed the numbered shelves, their depths disappearing into the eternal gloom. Mike coughed nervously and he shot him a shut the fuck up glance before treading further on. He reached the shelf he thought the music was coming from, 785 Chamber Music, some bastard has a sick sense of humour.
He signalled Mike to stay where he was, and carefully edged himself along the end shelf, peering around the corner. What. The. Fuck? The aisle was empty of life, the long narrow reading desk down the middle simply not big enough to hide anyone. But that wasn't what had stopped him in his tracks. On the table was a book, a manuscript to be exact, and it was glowing, eldritch light flowing out of the open pages. He rounded the corner, gun forgotten in his hands, walking towards the source of the music. The paper was old, a hand written score flowing across the page. The sight of the archaic crabbed scrawl left him shaking slightly.
"Sarge?" Mikes voice was strained, tremulous.
"What is it solider?" Best to remind him they were still on duty here. Give him something to cling to. Give himself something to cling to too. Frankly this place was starting to weird him out badly.
"I can hear someone coming Sarge."
He double timed back to where he'd left the kid. They walked as silently as they could down the carpet runner that spanned the polished wood floors under the shelving. There shouldn't be anyone in here, the area had been evacuated for months, and the doors had been chained shut. His gut curled and his neck prickled, this place gave him the worst of bad feelings. The flooring switched back to the polished marble and he looked over at the main doors. They were still firmly wedged shut, Mike's gun jammed hard between the long U shaped brass handles. That was some consolation at least.
A furtive scuffling sound swung his gun in the opposite direction, back towards the towering shelves. It was coming from the 100's, on the other side of the atrium. Hitching the strap on his gun more comfortably he motioned Mike to follow him as rear guard. The squeak of his boots sounded horribly loud in the near silence, and the scuffling halted like someone had thrown a switch. Goddamn, I'm starting to think we should have taken our chances outside.
He jogged the rest of the way, halting as he hit the carpet. He stood listening for long moments. The scuffle resumed, though it sounded more like dragging footsteps now. Careful to stay silent he paced down the shelves, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Ontology… The sounds were coming from further down. A glance behind him revealed Mike was pale under his smattering of freckles. His hands shaking on the handgun he was holding. What's got the kid so spooked?
130 Paranormal phenomena, the sounds were coming from down that stack of shelving. Fuck, seriously? He gritted his teeth, swallowing down the fear clutching at him. No time for that, has to be some rational explanation, no such thing as fucking ghosts after all. Nothing a bullet couldn't fix. He turned to look at Mike and cursed, stepping backwards rapidly. Where the skinny assed kid had been standing moments before there was now a tall menacing figure made of darkness. It was like it had sucked all the gloom into itself. No features were visible, just long clawed arms, and an unnaturally long body. All made of inky blackness.
"Sorry Sarge." even its voice was inky, dark and powerful, "You should have listened to them, nobody who gets into The Library is allowed to leave again."
"Et tu Mike?" he muttered before he turned and took off between the shelving at a dead sprint. Fucked if he was going to get eaten by the ghost of books not yet written. He wasn't a member of the strangest cult in existence for nothing…
She watched the dust motes dance in the sunbeam. Tiny planetoids swirling in their own macrocosmic universe, entropic and strangely peaceful. A small bright tongue of flame licked through the centre, charring the silent whirl. She sighed and glanced sideways. He was red this time, his scales burnished like a teachers' apple, polished and shined. Snout twisted in a smug smile, full of himself, tail twitching in amusement. She hated it when he did that, hiding in L space and then interrupting her right when she was about to… To do what exactly? She brushed the thought aside, settling her wings more comfortably. Then she pointedly ignored him flicking her ears dismissively.
His chuckling purr rustled the pages under her and she huffed a smoke ring in his direction. Really, how childish! His long sinuous neck stretched out, and he caught her smoke ring on his snout like she'd sent him a kiss. Disturbed by the imagery she turned her head away, eyes whirling.
A movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention, and she turned to look. Frowning she watched as the corner of a page was turned down, dog eared, creased. Incensed she cast paper-cut at the thoughtless Borrower and was rewarded with a curse and frantic digit sucking.
He was right next to her now, sitting on her open page. She refused to move away, but he was too close so she tucked her wings in tighter. Her tail twitched with annoyance, tapping the page softly. More purring chuckles. He really was the limit! First open flame in a library, and now this! She closed her first eyelid and pretended to be resting. He nudged her side with his snout, hot breath on her soft scales. She let her colour drain away until she was a glassy greenish blue, deep ocean caught in doldrums.
~I swear I can see fish when you do that~
He'd snuggled right next to her, leaning his weight companionably against her side, his neck twining over hers. Resigned she tolerated it for a long moment before shifting uncomfortably. Pushing to her haunches she shook him off and launched herself off the edge of the book. Spiralling down she let her wings catch, then a swoop and flap she soared higher, seeking her refuge. Spying the spine she settled herself on the top, perched gargoyle wise.
~Why always this one?~ His voice was amused curiosity.
Predictably he'd followed her; sprawled nonchalantly across several tomes, tail hanging and wings carelessly splayed. She sniffed, and turned her neck down to read the words on the spine. Lovingly letting them flow across her tongue as she whispered them in her smoky sibilant voice.
"Anne McCaffery Dragon Singer" Her heart swelled every time.
He liked newer books, like Robin Hobb's City of Dragons, but she was a traditionalist, sticking with what she'd been hatched on. It was just one of the many things about him that irritated her right to the tip of her tail. He wriggled closer and looked at her imploringly, eyes a slow whirl.
~Read me the story~
She looked away. Always with the story, once upon a time she'd believed he'd sought her out for her, but the truth was he just loved to hear her read.
She sighed and settled her wings more comfortably, wrapping her tail around her hind legs. Unconsciously she knew she had taken on the pose of the great story teller, just like the statue. He'd moved again, wrapping himself doglike around her feet, his chin resting on her foreleg, eyes whirling up at her.
~Start from where Bilbo first sees him~ His tone was imploring.
She closed both eyelids and brought the book into her minds eye, mentally flicking the pages until she reached the one she wanted. She cleared her throat and he quivered with pleasurable anticipation. She felt the tip of his tongue kiss her chin but did her best to ignore it. It was all just because of the story. She almost wished she'd never read it to him the first time, almost. Truthfully though, she was grateful he sought her out. Being the guardian of the Library was lonely at times, and he was amusing, if infuriatingly playful and childish.
A thought occurred to her and she opened both sets of eyelids and peered down at him.
~Who's guarding your library?~
He stretched his neck so his snout was closer to hers, his eyes whirling lazily.
~I don't have one~ he nudged her chin ~I like it here with you~
~Where do you go when you're not here then?~
~Nowhere~ he tightened his body possessively around hers, his eyes whirling faster ~I just hide and watch you, until you seem lonely again~
~You stay, for me… you don't have you own Library, because of me?~ She could feel the double beat of her twin hearts all the way to the ends of her ears.
He nuzzled her neck, his voice full of fond amusement ~Why would I need a Library, when I have you~
She stood on the pavement shivering. It wasn't so much that it was cold, than the fact she was afraid. Scared of what came next. Sometimes the imagining was worse than the reality, but she didn't think that this was one of them.
He came down the road, arms swinging. She could imagine those fists swinging, smashing into her, and she cringed deeper into her old frayed jacket. He'd wanted to meet here, out in the open, with witnesses. At least she had that. If he hit her she could run, there were plenty of places to go. She shivered again. It wasn't his fists that really worried her though, it was the words. The way he could make her feel two inches tall with one of his sneering diatribes. She hated him for that, a hate that started in the pit of her stomach and rose till it clogged her throat. She swallowed down tears. She wasn't going to admit to him how much it all hurt.
He'd seemed like such a nice guy. But then they all had. She was good at ignoring the warning bells. The looks, the small things that led to bigger things later. None of them had ever hit her, they didn't need to. And she stayed, and stayed, telling herself it wasn't so bad, he wasn't so bad, things would get better soon. They sometimes did, it would be better for a week, a month, but sooner or later it came back to this. The anger, the hate, the harsh words that made feel like she deserved every single bit of abuse. Because it was her fault, really, in the end.
He had told her so often enough. She didn't keep the house tidy enough. The kids were badly behaved because she let them be. It was her genetics if nothing else. She didn't even defend them when he called them stupid, lazy, selfish. They were just as bad as she was. But at least he loved them. To her, he said, "I love you, but" always a but, a criticism. Nothing was ever simple. She bit her lip watching him get closer. Her heart was beating like a caged bird, fluttery and afraid, wanting to escape.
Everyone thought he was such a nice guy. Even she did. That was always the biggest problem. They seemed so, normal, nice, and then the words would start, and she'd wonder what was so wrong with her that she made this happen every time. And she stayed. She was the fool, the joker of the world. Stay to take it because being alone was worse. Too afraid to leave, to face the world alone. Stay because leaving was so hard. Stay because there was nowhere else to go. Stay because he might get really nasty if she left. He was smart, smart enough they would never find the body if he wanted it to end that way. And she didn't know, she just didn't know if he was like that. Because, lets face it, she had terrible judgement.
And now here she was, waiting on a corner in the wind, because she needed to talk. She'd left, she'd taken the kids and gone. He'd crossed the line once too often. He'd pushed her too far and she'd broken. She was broken, forever broken. She could never trust again. Never love again. Never even pretend again. Because, lets face it, letting someone destroy you word by word was just a poor excuse for love. And she deserved better than that.
He reached her, his face sneering. "So you ready to come back yet, sick of him already?"
"There is no him, there never has been, I just wanted to say something to you."
"Well go ahead, you dragged me all the way out here you better finish what you started." His voice was full of angry contempt, and she had to brace herself and not cringe from the words she knew would follow.
She leaned in close, so there would be no mistake, no misunderstanding, so he would hear every single word clearly.
"If you hurt them, if you touch so much as one single hair on their heads, I will end you."
She turned on heel and used every last bit of will power to force herself to walk calmly away, every nerve screaming at her to run.
She could still hear his muttered words, and they still hurt, but it was worth it, to finally be brave enough to defend them. There was no such thing as knights in shining armour. There was just you. If you didn't save yourself, then nobody else would. And she had, finally.
She knew something was wrong the minute she woke up. It wasn't the cold itch of bandages, or the steady hum of machinery, or even the slick feeling of liquid coursing through her veins. It was something more subtle; something… off. She knew she would never be able to explain it to someone who wasn't a Breaker like her. It was fundamental; it was part of her essence. And it was. She groped for the right meaning. Silence, that was it. Her core was silent. Not even a vague fragment of the churning Otherworlds spoke to her, and she probed the hollowness like a lost tooth, painful and bloodied.
She tried moving, but her body was limp and dead, cold. The fuckers had suspended her! She willed a mental catalogue of the damage and slowly reached an understanding in her anger-seething mind. They had done what they had to do. She was, in all senses of the word, only just there. But suspended for how long? The whiteness of the room and the soft hands were her last memory; she still couldn't recall the time she'd spent as the Other. She wished now that she'd taken a look at his face, just so she could hit him if she ever saw him again.
She wondered if they had Reamed her before suspending her, or if they intended to do it after. She had no real idea if the damage to her body was consistent with her first waking or if they had added to it. She gave a mental sigh and catalogued what she did know. One: she'd obviously taken on something big and dangerous, something that had beaten her very badly. Two: she had woken gods knows where and been brought summerwise. Three: she was now suspended, caught between life and death, while the machines healed her body. None of it was good.
It hadn't always been like this; she hadn't always been like this. But the blackness had slowly stolen her, and the Other had seemed like a way out… a way free from all the pain in her heart. The loneliness sucked at her, and she probed the hollowness of her core, where they should have been. Nothing. Had they abandoned her, or had they been forced out? If she'd been able to control her body in the slightest she would have wept. They'd taken away the one part of her she relied on the most.
It was just a light mental touch but it made her curl up inside herself in terror. She was sure she recognised the voice, and she resisted the urge to rage at him. Now wasn't the time; she needed information, she needed herself back again. And she needed to escape before they found out the truth. Still, the terror that he could reach her like that stayed her answer for several long moments. Finally, when she wondered if he'd given up, she heard him again.
~Are you ok?~
The urge to laugh hysterically overwhelmed her for a moment. Okay? He was asking her if she was ok? She was, for all intents and purposes, dead. She'd lost her core, and he was asking her if she was okay? She wasn't about to admit the truth, though; he was the reason she was here. Who knew what kind of manipulation he'd used to get inside her barriers?
~Fine, why do you ask?~, she responded. She was lying, but she made it as convincing as possible.
~Oh you know, being dead and all. But I guess if you're fine I can turn off the machines and let you get on~
The dry wit of his answer left her speechless for another long moment.
~What do you want with me?~
~I don't want anything, why do you think I would?~
She turned this over in her mind, looking for the taste of deception. The statement stood, clean, truth. He didn't want anything from her, then he must be working for someone who did.
~Why am I here?~
~You were hurt, this was the nearest clinic~
There were many things crashing at the edges of her mind begging for answers and she pondered before picking the one which was bugging her the most.
~How was I hurt?~
~You don't remember?~
~So you don't remember me?~
The silence was sticky with something she couldn't quite place. It wasn't fear, that was a familiar taste, this was something else, different. Disconcertion maybe? She drifted for a moment plucking at the edges of the feeling, trying to unravel it.
~Please stop that!~
She gave it another hard yank before stopping, enjoying his discomfort. So he didn't like her twisting around in his frontmind space. That was leverage, something she needed badly if she was going to escape.
~Did they Ream me yet?~
~Ream?! Dear Hollows, where do you think you are?~
He reeked surprise and revulsion in equal parts. So he didn't know, wasn't party to the fact. It made little difference, he was still her only way out. No time for empathy when you're on the slab.
~Summerside, somewhere in a clinic, controlled by The Coalition~
His shock and denial was like a slap, backed by another feeling, he was. Hurt? Why would he be hurt by her thinking that?
~No, not Summerside, and certainly not near the coalition. This is Elsespace. Despite what you obviously think of me you are safe here.~
She felt him withdraw, anger and hurt boiling off him. She drifted mulling it all over. Elsespace. She'd only heard of it once or twice, and only in passing, to actually be here was. Surreal. A place between the places. She'd always dismissed it as impossible. Well obviously it wasn't, there had been no hint of deception in his mindspeak. How long had she been other?
She had no concept of time. No way to know how long she'd been drifting, anchorless. Her body was still on the slab. The coldness would have been unbearable if she'd been anymore connected with herself. That was the thing with being suspended though. It was like being a ghost trapped in your own body. She could feel that she was cold, and hurt. But the sensations of cold and pain didn't touch her as anything more than intellectual abstracts. She could hear the timbre of the machines shift. The cold liquid inside her veins started to warm. He was bringing her out. She hoped he hadn't left her half healed, his anger had been acidic.
She hated this part of suspension, and braced herself for the overrush of sensation. Nothing. Had her neck been broken? She wriggled her toes and felt them move. No, not that. Where was the pain of cramped muscle, the stab of abused skin and bone, the weight of pressure from being in the same space too long? Nobody was that skilled they could do a suspension without the after-effects, were they?
She forced her body to sit, hearing the machines whine as they adjusted the rate of bloodpush. She sat waiting for the last of the thick red liquid to enter through the shunt, then ripped it out. She held her hand over the hole, she didn't have any skinheal, but there was no time to worry about the loss of a little blood now. Hurry, her mind rushed her unresponsive body.
The door slid open, and she stood, flatfooted and naked, caught. He didn't look at her, so she stared at him, assessing. Definitely nobody she knew. No hair trigger of recollection stirred in her mind, she had never seen him before. He was tall, lean, maybe handsome under the scowl. Dark eyebrows beetled together over pale eyes. His lips were pressed together and she had an impression of tight clenched jawline and straight nose before his back was towards her. His dark hair brushed the back of his hoodie, and his jeans were ripped and faded, like a well worn friend that couldn't be given up. She didn't try to cover herself, he must have had plenty of time to get an eyeful while she had been slabbound. Admitting her embarrassment was showing weakness. She couldn't afford that.
"There are clean clothes in the Cabinet." The anger echoed through his words.
She restrained the impulse to cringe. He was nobody to her, it didn't mater what he thought. So why did his anger unsettle her? She yanked the cabinet open and stuffed herself into the clothing. The jeans fit like a glove and she felt uncomfortably exposed. The teeshirt was no better, skinning against her so she could feel the fabric shift with each breath. Her jacket was at the bottom of the pile, and she slid into it gratefully. It had new scuffs, and had been patched in places. This time she did cringe. It had been very bad. Her shoes were there as well, ripped, with what looked suspiciously like bloodstains. She jammed her feet into them anyway, some protection for when she decided to run. Not every Sideways was safe, or easy.
She slid her hands in her pockets and came up empty. Bastard. He'd taken it, he'd taken everything. She ran her fingers over the leather. He'd even unpicked the hem and taken the wires and picks she'd stored there. It was a kind of treachery to take a Breakers' tools. They were part of her. Part of her identity. And without the medallion she couldn't get back in. For the first time since she'd woken up she felt truly afraid. Who the hell was he and why had he brought her here?
"You'll get them back when I get back what you took." He'd turned to pierce her with his pale eyes, sharp like shafts of ice peering into her soul.
"What I took. You know I have no idea who you are, or what happened. Or even what cycle it is now."
She stood defensively; her hands lose by her sides, her body tilted so she could feel the weight on the balls of her feet.
He didn't make any move towards her, his hand clenched by his side, still consumed with anger. She flipped a hand through her fringe, pushing it back.Trying to look unconcerned, but her heart was beating a tattoo behind her breastbone. Cold sweat prickled on the back of her neck. She needed her core, more than anything, she needed that back. And it was the one thing she couldn't ask for, the one thing she'd kept secret. She needed to know if he'd found out. Or if they had just left. Left her bereft. Empty. Alone. She could feel the loneliness eating at her, and it was an effort of will to push the feeling aside and concentrate on her escape.
"You really don't remember at all do you?" He didn't sound quite as angry, but his eyebrows were still pulled in an angry frown.
She spread her hands in front of her, and shrugged. She could feel her underskin aching, he'd brought her out just at the final edge of healing. Her mind itched to ask him. Who was he? Why did he seem to think she should know. What, oh dear Hollows. What had she done while she was Other? He stood glaring at her so she walked over and past him, heading for the door. His arm snaked out and stopped her before she'd managed to activate the open panel. His hand was a gentle vice, not hard enough to hurt, but she could feel the strength behind it. Augmented then. He pulled her shirt up with his other hand, frowning further, deep lines on his forehead.
"You shouldn't have done that."
He was staring at where she'd ripped the shunt from just above her hip, blood was oozing out. Slow dark wet, trailing down to the waistband of her jeans, staining the blue fabric. He pulled her back across the room, his strength undeniable. Her shoes slid on the slick vinyl, not that she was resisting, she just wasn't assisting either. His deepening frown told her what he thought of that. He had a patch of skin heal over the hole before she'd even stopped sliding. Her feet stumbled to a stop, and she felt the lack of core strongly as she swayed. She had no centre anymore. No anchor to set her equilibrium by.
"Wh, who are you?" She couldn't bluff it out anymore. She was disconnected, she had to be restored, and soon, or she would lose her mind. Maybe she already had.
"Darius. I still can't believe you don't remember!" His frown had solidified into a smouldering stare.
She shrugged again.
"I was other, I often don't remember."
"You said you might not, but… " He trailed off, rubbing his forehead. "This makes things,… difficult."
~You have no idea~ her thoughts dragged back to the Hollow and her lack of any kind of information.
"Before you collapsed you were on your way to get it back. I assumed if I restored you, you would finish what you started."
She gave another uncomfortable shrug.
"I don't remember a Hollow thing. I can't help you, not like this."
"Then change to Other, I need it back!"
He pushed the cabinet, sending it crashing across the room, the grey metal twisting into a crumpled heap. She held herself still as he turned on her, eyes blazing.
"Do it or I'll crush the medallion and you'll never get in."
"I can't. Not won't. Can't."
His fury was like standing to close to a fire, she felt her mind skin blistering under his assault. She sucked in a breath, willing her heart to stop trying to burst out of her chest. It hurt, it all hurt, and she wanted to curl up around her emptiness and cry. No time for weakness. She could still escape, even if she might get lost now.
She was no match for augmentation, Otherness didn't mix with it. She set her foot, twisted and ran, pulling her arm from his grip. Her sneakers slid on the floor and she crashed shoulder first into the open panel. The doors hissed open. He stopped her with a grip on the back of her jacket, her feet dangling off the floor.
"Not like that. August."
Her heart stopped. He has my truename. How could he have that? She wasn't even sure her Other knew it. She felt a sickness rising from her stomach.
"How?" it was a pale gasp, her fingers digging into her stomach as she twisted in his grip.
He turned her so his face was inches from hers, his breath hot on her face.
"I have ways."
"Nobody,.. nobody has that."
"Are you denying it? August," he said her name like a dark caress and she shuddered.
She shook her head, tears prickling at the edges of her eyes.
"You… you took them…"
His eyes opened wide, his eyebrows lifting into his dark fringe.
"You. Really. Don't. Get. It."
"Get what?" She felt a tear breach the corner of her eye and slide cheek ward.
~I haven't gone anywhere~
He was staring in her eyes, dark cosmos swimming through icy pale iris seas, boring into her soul, the core, her Hollow.
Basic Article Template
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Safe/Euclid/Keter (indicate which class)
Special Containment Procedures: [Paragraphs explaining the procedures]
Description: Object appears as an 8cm round peephole in thin metal objects such as sheet steel gates. The object appears from the front to have someone looking through the peephole, but examination of the rear reveals no such person. Anyone then looking through the peephole reports terrifying visions of an evil looking man.
Addendum: [Optional additional paragraphs]
Interviewed: [The person, persons, or SCP being interviewed]
Interviewer: [Interviewer, can be blocked out using █]
Foreword: [Small passage describing the interview]
<Begin Log, [optional time info]>
[Repeat as necessary]
<End Log, [optional time info]>
Closing Statement: [Small summary and passage on what transpired afterward]
Note: When inserting block quotes with the > symbol, make sure you add a space after each > you use— otherwise your text won't show up.
I remember it like it was yesterday. The smell of fresh mown grass, the hum of late summer, a drowsy warm somnolent haze; and the screaming. It took me a long time to realise it was me who was screaming. To start with it was just a counterpoint to the other screams. The ones that followed the skid and squeal of tires. And that dreadful thud. Nothing can erase those sounds from my mind, no amount of time, or trying to pretend it didn't happen that way. I suppose it should be considered ironic. Most of my life is snatches of thousand times rewritten dialogue, nothing like the original circumstance from which it evolved. And long patches of formless mundania, not even worth logging in the faulty mechanism I call a memory.
But this was different. Life defining. World ending. Shattering.
It hurt so badly.
My heart still aches.
Why is it the things you wish you could forget haunt you. Wake you up choking on a scream that can't escape your mouth. Leave you huddled in a ball of misery at the stupidest of times? I don't understand it, personally, you would think the good things would hang closer, glow brighter, the laughter times, the joy times… Not the pain, the hurt, the suffering you wish you could forget.
I held him. For so long afterwards. Even after the light had faded from his eyes and he was nothing but a limp bloodied husk. Death comes to us all, but he was so young, it was so unfair. And I had lost my best friend. Being left behind must be worse than death a thousand times over, death is an ending. Losing someone is the beginning of something so horrible.
My heart still aches.
I don't like to go back to that spot, though I have to pass it a dozen times a day to get anywhere. I'd like to stay inside and never leave the safety of my bed. But the dreams haunt me worst there. It's so empty without his warmth and company, he was always there. And now he is gone. We did everything together. He went with me, by my side, my silent sentinel that made everything safe. How I miss his presence. He was brave, ever present, funny. He always knew when I was scared or low and did his best to bring cheer back to my heart. You couldn't have asked for a better friend. People said afterwards I should get a new friend. Like it was that easy, to just replace someone, have them fill that gap. Such callous words, such stupid callous words.
I wish the pain would end.
We'd met when we were both younger. It had been an instant bond, and we'd been inseparable. I couldn't stay mad at him, even when he made me so wild I wanted to scream and rant. We loved each other too much to stay mad. It's hard to continue day after day with the emptiness not having him around has left. Someone gave me a cat, told me it would keep me company, help ease the lonely ache. Cats are dreadful creatures. Selfish and aloof. This one had an evil streak too. Bare legs were scratching posts, doors a place to wait in ambush, and the kitchen was a free for all warzone. The cat lives outside now. I see it sometimes, stalking unwary victims like the serial murderer it is. He would never have put up with it, he wasn't a cat lover either.
How I miss him so much.
I had him cremated, I know he would have rather been buried under his favourite tree, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. Selfish of me, I hope wherever he's gone he forgives me. I have a lock of his hair, I keep it in my jewellery box, with the other precious things that remind me of him. His collar, his favourite ball, and that comb he hated, just because it makes me smile remembering how often he would steal it and hide it.
I miss you my friend. No other dog could ever replace you.
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