Floating Point

Got to walk out of here
I can't take anymore
Gonna stand on that bridge
Keep my eyes down below
Whatever may come
And whatever may go
That river's flowin'

— Peter Gabriel, "Don't Give Up"

"Super Kawaii Minty Power Blast!" shouted the nineteen-year-old girl dressed in a half prom gown, half dumpster-salvaged computer parts costume. Legs spreadeagled, she thrust her hands forward as if to project a force from them, towards the brilliant flash of a digital camera. The photographer, a seventeen-year-old boy, grinned with an awkward sheepishness, while nearby, several more boys jockeyed for position with their own cameras.

"Terrible," mumbled Leroy, watching the scene unfold as his obese form lumbered past. "Worst Princess Timebot cosplayer ever. She didn't even bother to get the placement of the LCD display right, let alone the color." He loudly slurped another mouthful of soda from the sixty-four ounce container he was carrying.

"Does it ever bother you that you're anhedonic?" asked Edgar, Leroy's smaller, more wiry best friend. "Because I would think that the inability to derive joy from anything would be a real downer. Here we are at Robokonekon 2002, surrounded by teenage girls dressed in scant cartoon character outfits, and all you can do is nitpick sewing details."

"I'm a stickler for accuracy," protested Leroy. "Upsets the suspension of disbelief if it's a half-assed job." He idly peered into a theater room, where an episode of Ultra Dimensional Space Castle UFO was showing, all melodrama and loud, colorful explosions.

"Come on," said Edgar, "we're gonna miss the parade. I hear the guys from Catastrophe Box actually made a to-scale repro of Revotron this year."

"Believe that when I see it," groused Leroy, slurping again from his oversized soda container. The pair headed for a street exit, meandering through the Brownian motion of the crowd like carp in a pond.

Red and purple lights rained down from the sky in shaped charges; it was all that Leroy could do to throw himself under the burnt-out husk of the MTF heavy lurcher. Pyrotechnic death impacted the metal of the derelict vehicle, breaking away bits of the roof as the energy blasts defragmented the atomic bonds. Even in his current condition, far leaner and fitter than he'd been mere weeks ago, Leroy panted heavily; eight years ago, little more than a bloated sack of partially-digested hot dogs and carbonated sugar, he'd have never made that slide.

The metallic ringing above him ceased, and the sound of footsteps crunched in the dirt. "Adequate," said a voice from above the ground where Leroy's saving maneuver had left a man-wide groove in the earth.

"Fuck you, Able," spat Leroy angrily, emerging from under the lurcher. "You're a fucking psychopath, you know that right? What's the point of using lethal nucleogratic particulates in a training exercise? I won't learn anything when I'm dead!"

"The reminder of inevitable mortality has a great motivational capability," said Able, arms crossed as he watched the Agent extract himself from his impromptu cover, offering no help.

"Says the man who doesn't die," shot back Leroy, brushing off his trousers. "I hate this, and I hate you."

Able sniffed, the closest he'd allow himself to come to a laugh, and then he turned and walked back towards the entrance to the training dome. Leroy followed, slowly, limping on his left leg; he'd sprained something in the scramble for cover.

Leroy's cup slipped from his hand, exploding upon impact with the ground in a flurry of ice cubes. He shook himself, blinking repeatedly, as if his eyes were adjusting to intense light. Edgar looked back at the reactions of the crowd around Leroy, tsk-tsking the puddle of soda and ice. "Serves you right for carrying around that trough. Seriously, do you drink that much in one sitting at home? Because, me, I never have the urge to go to the fridge and pour myself a pot of soda."

Leroy kept blinking. "I was…" he began, but stopped short. A few moments later he shook himself again. "That was… I don't know what that was. I think I blacked out or something. I feel dizzy."

Edgar hummed and pondered. "Maybe you should sit down a while," he said. "We're almost to the parade, we'll find you a bench or something. Might be diabetes."

"It's not diabetes," said Leroy, insulted by the implication. "Believe it or not, I'm actually in very good health for my body type."

"You'd better be," said Agent Mellon, working the impacted muscle on Leroy's leg with a deep tissue massager, "people not in their prime tend not to last on Able's team."

"I never wanted to be on Able's team," replied Leroy, watching her relieve the tension in his leg. That was the truth. He didn't want to be here at all, actually, and if he could wake up tomorrow and forget the existence of the SCP Foundation, it would still be one day too late. He hated everything about being an Agent — the drilling, the missions, the secrecy, the inability to ever leave. Why had the Fishmonger suggested him? At times he wished he'd never been cured by that damned miracle pill, that they'd just left him to turn into gears and springs like Sabrina; at least then he'd be dead inside, a copper zombie animated by necrotic forces. Other times he wished they'd have just killed him outright, like Joel. Any end would be preferable to the continuation of this existence, beset by horrors on all sides.

Mellon smirked, kneading the flesh like pizza dough with her free hand. "So how did you end up on the team?"

"You collecting stories for your scrapbook?" muttered Leroy wryly.

Mellon laughed. "Everyone's got a story when Able's involved."

"It was a mistake," groaned Leroy. "I got into an argument with Donaldson in the cafeteria, about World of Warcraft. He said he'd love to see Able on a PvP server. I made the counterargument that real life experience doesn't directly translate to gaming experience."

"Let me guess," said Mellon, "word got back to Able, and he took it as a challenge."

"Bastard grinded a ret pally up to level 80 in two days," said Leroy. "They were placing bets in the senior staff breakroom."

"And you beat him?" asked Mellon, rhetorically.

"Demolished would be a better word," said Leroy, allowing himself a fleeting moment of pride. "He underestimated the shadow priest. Most everyone usually does."

"And that was that," concluded Mellon, "you were on the team. So who won the betting pool?"

Leroy snickered. "You have to ask? Bright, of course."

The comical monkey waved its raised papier-mache arms above the crowd, its face frozen in a huge maniacal grin as recordings of wild screeches played from the piezoelectric horns mounted at the base of its frame.

"Boo!" yelled Edgar. "No one gives a shit about Doki Doki Swing Chimp! Bring on Revotron, you sadists!"

"Fucking Bright," muttered Leroy, gazing morosely up at the simian sculpture.

"Bright?" exclaimed Edgar. "What, now you're going to complain about the sun? There's just no pleasing you."

Leroy blinked, then closed his eyes and shook his head. "I don't know why I said that," he admitted, embarrassed and confused. "I'm really feeling very disoriented."

Edgar peered at him. "You do look a little pale," he mused. "Maybe you should go back inside. The daylight may be playing tricks on your basement-dwelling metabolism."

"Go to Hell," said Leroy, standing and heading back to the convention center, "and say 'Hi' to Revotron for me."

The main lobby was mostly empty, excepting a few stragglers heading to and fro; most of the patrons were either watching the parade or in one of the viewing theaters. Leroy looked around for a place to sit, and settled on a spot under the fountain. The burbling sounds of the trickling water were very soothing, and he closed his eyes and listened, his nerves beginning to calm. As he sat in the peace of the fountain, he wondered what exactly was going on inside his mind. The memories that had come flashing back to him so strongly had never happened, and could not have. Perhaps they represented some Freudian version of himself, some projection of where he saw himself in years to come, but why would he place himself in such a hateful environment? Was he really that self-loathing?

A soft sobbing came from his left. Leroy opened his eyes again and looked to the sound. A girl was sitting some distance away from him under the fountain, crying alone. She was small and wore glasses, and was dressed as Shichi, the female lead from Leroy's favorite anime, Velvet Bane. Silently Leroy admired her; she was beautiful to him, and her tears seemed to reach out to him, begging for him to wipe them away, and he wished for the courage to speak with her, his heart fluttering with anticipation of what might come.

"So did you talk to her?" asked Mellon.

"Of course not," said Leroy. "I was a terrified, pathetic, idiotic man-child." He paused briefly, then added, "yes, I do regret it."

Mellon blinked. "I didn't ask you that, but I was about to."

Leroy didn't explain, sitting again in silence as she worked his muscles, as he had sat in silence under the fountain eight years ago, watching his beautiful Shichi. Something was happening inside his mind. The memories were becoming sharper, as if he was experiencing them again for the first time, and more so they were feeding back into his present-day memories in a continuous loop. He remembered having the conversation with Mellon now because he'd remembered it back then, and he now remembered remembering it, and so on in an infinite progression. Where did this new connection to the past come from? It must have been the effect of some SCP item, but he wasn't aware of any that would create such an effect, nor had he interacted directly with any save for Able, who didn't exactly count.

Donaldson poked his head into the room. "Mellon, Fiedler, look alive. Briefing in three minutes." He disappeared again.

Mellon nodded, giving Leroy's leg a pat. "You should be good to go now, but do what you can to not tax that side." She stood up and left the room. Leroy put his trousers back on and followed shortly behind.

Able and Dr. Gerald were standing at the front of the briefing room, with the rest of MTF Omega-7 sitting facing them. Leroy arrived last, a detail that he could sharply see in the disapproving look on Able's face. Gerald nodded as Leroy took a seat. "We have located a new SCP-level object," he began, "but time is of the essence. A renegade faction may also be aware of the object and already be en route to retrieval themselves."

"Renegade faction?" asked Donaldson. "Are we talking about the Chaos Insurgency?"

"This is a new group," interjected Able. "We do not know their name, but they've beaten us to three targets already. I will not allow this to happen again."

"What sort of item are we dealing with?" asked Mellon.

Gerald activated the overhead projector, and the lights dimmed in synchronicity. On the screen behind him, an image appeared: a thick rod of iron-like metal, around which had been spiraled another, thinner rod, the color of bronze. The object was covered in an unfamiliar writing, parts of which were obscured by encrusted clumps of dirt. At various points on the outer spiral, small nubs extended with holes drilled through them.

"Cain has identified this writing as a proto-Sumerian language," said Gerald, laser-pointing at the graphic, "and his subsequent translation places this object's origin around the Ubaid period."

"Where exactly did this picture come from?" asked Donaldson.

"Flickr," said Gerald, without a hint of sarcasm. "It was acquired in a lot of Iraqi artifacts by a small dealer of ethnic art in Wilmington, Delaware. We have since been tracking its location via standard methods."

"Call me crazy," Leroy piped up, "but that looks like an iron-core inductor to me, the kind I used to get in crystal radio kits as a kid."

"Very good, Agent Fiedler," nodded Gerald. "You're not far off your guess. The object is indeed a component from a kind of radio, except this one transmits magnetic patterns through time."

"How do we know this?" pressed Donaldson.

"From the inscriptions on the object," answered Able. "My brother has determined that they constitute an ancient serial number, model name, and function."

"Unfortunately, without knowing the rest of the schematic," cut in Gerald, "we can't begin to guess what sort of use the completed device had. I think we'll all agree, however, that we mustn't allow even a partial time-transmitter into non-Foundation custody."

"Besides," said Edgar, "if we miss the big Domain of Disgust game-off, we won't get a chance to meet up with Bailey, and you know he'll have the scoop on which sellers have the real goods this year."

Leroy looked at his friend. He blinked, then looked to his left. The girl he'd wished he'd spoken to was gone, having slipped away while his memory was in the other world, the strange future-place. What cruel fate! He silently cursed himself for his procrastination and his stupid fear of rejection. He had never seen a better Shichi before her, and he knew what he ought to say to her: the famous Seven Becomes Eight speech, the climax of Velvet Bane, wherein the numerology of the series is explained eloquently by the cyberpunk neoshogun Hachi in a confession of purest love for the weeping Shichi. Damn him, he should have approached her!

Why was he so taken by the visions from his memory? He pondered if these could be real memories, sent back to him from that future self. The doctor in his vision had said something about a time transmitter. Perhaps the magnetic patterns it was made to project were memory patterns? But that could easily be circular logic, an invention of his imagination.

"Hey," said Edgar, waving his hand in front of his friend. "Earth to Leroy, you receiving?"

"Quiet a minute," barked Leroy, swatting away Edgar's hand. "I'm thinking." He could test the hypothesis. If his memories were caught in a time loop of some sort, then his future self would already have memories of what's happening now, in the present; he could predict events that would be the future to him, but the past from the perspective of his future self.

"We're approaching the drop point," said Able. Omega-7 sprung into action, gearing up their equipment. Leroy checked his own sheaths and pouches, preparing for the engagement. They had tracked the item down to a public storage unit in Elkton, Maryland, but the scuttlebutt was that the renegades had time on them. Armed conflict was inevitable. Fleetingly Leroy considered abandoning them in the coming firefight, fleeing and hiding as a fugitive, but he knew that the Foundation could track him far easier than they'd tracked the time transmitter — and then, he'd have to deal with Able. Escape was never an option.

Escape! Yes, that was it! If he did have a connection to his past self, he could change his path, set him down a road that would never lead to here. Even as they came closer to their mission his visions became stronger, and he was convinced that he was fated to interact with the object; otherwise, he wouldn't have had these time-displaced memories. On the other hand, if he was fated to acquire the object, was he not also fated to end up here, as an Agent of the Foundation? It was a paradox; if he changed his history to avoid coming to the Foundation, he would never interact with the time transmitter in the first place.

Damn the paradox! He had to try; if he was fated to be here, fated to be thinking these thoughts, then he was also fated to try! He steeled himself, resolve finding him at last. But how would he change?

"You going to sit there all day looking like a retard?" demanded Edgar. "I swear, this is the last time I let you drink Robitussin."

Leroy ignored him. He pried through the folds of his future memory, searching for an opportunity, a place and time where he could prove or disprove these mad visions — the girl! Yes, now he remembered! He would see her again, in the commissary, still beset with depression, still unapproachable by his measly, timid, petty fears. He would see her, and he would again lament that he was not courageous enough to try, and then he would never see her again. He would come back year after year to the convention, hoping to see his Shichi again, and he would even spend this year crafting a full Hachi costume, tailored to his large girth, determined that he would be ready when he saw her, but he never did. He remembered it all!

Leroy stood up sharply. "You go on ahead," he said, putting a hand on Edgar's shoulder. "I've got a meeting with destiny."

"Go, go, go!" shouted Donaldson. Omega-7 poured out of the MTF support cruiser, surrounding the storage warehouse, covering the exits. Around the farthest side, two members of the opposing factions spotted them, garbed in unfamiliar grey uniforms accented by a single yellow stripe below the breastbone. Shouts and rifles erupted in unison, and within seconds the firefight had begun, filling the air with hot metal and smoke.

Able began slicing through the renegades with his usual abandon, but the faction was prepared for his arrival; phosphorus bombs exploded all around the Sumerian, engulfing him in inextinguishable flames, and napalm flamethrowers kept pouring on the fire. He kept fighting, his flesh charred nearly to the bones, a grim specter of hell incarnate: an armored skeleton engulfed in the pyre of its own body, screaming in agony.

"Watch your flank, Fiedler!" shouted Mellon, just before a shower of bullets reduced her to ground chuck. Leroy closely dodged the incoming hail; Mellon's death had not been in vain. He hunkered down in his position, trying to get his bearings. He spotted a member of the opposing faction running head-down for the exit, holding a cylinder hastily wrapped in a keffiyeh. Leroy aimed his gun and fired low, winging the enemy in the leg and causing him to go sprawling headfirst.

"Somebody cover me!" screamed Leroy, and he ran into the fray, guns blazing in both hands. Behind him, like the grim angel of Death, the barely-alive body of Able followed him, a morbid demon of flame and bone and blade no mortal should have ever had to set eyes on, and cut down all who approached.

Leroy ran for the commissary. She would be there now, alone and silent in her melancholy. He would open his heart to her, letting the passion he felt in the cockles of his breast flow out of him like a river of poetry, and the words would be his words, the words of Hachi the swordsman, the words that were meant for her and her alone, his beautiful and eternal Shichi.

Able shrieked his last, collapsing into a pile of ash and bone, his swords clattering on the linoleum floor. "Fall back!" shouted Donaldson. "They've taken down Able, for Christ's sake fall back!"

"Oh no," said Leroy quietly, and he kept running and shooting. "To Hell with that."

Leroy panted and wheezed. The commissary was farther than he'd thought. No! He would tax this bloated, feeble body to its limits if he must.

A bullet impacted Leroy's right lung. He fell forwards, coughing up blood before he hit the floor. He wheezed through his own sputtering; no, damn them, he would not yield. He would die trying, but he would try.

The commissary was half-full; it was lunchtime, and some industrious convention-goers decided to beat the parade rush by leaving early. Leroy saw her sitting in the corner, alone, as he had always remembered seeing her. Her face was still wet from the tears, the mascara from her cosplay makeup streaked like a gothic clown.

He could almost reach the item. He crawled, his organs spilling out of him as he dragged them along the floor.

He walked up to her table, nervous, giddy, mad with confusion and prophesy.

He put his hand on the cloth, yanking it away. There was the inductor coil, the ancient transmitter, crusted and alien.

He put his hand on her shoulder, and she looked up at him with a start.

He put his hand on the coil, and the past and future were one.

NOW! DO IT NOW! FOR GOD'S SAKE, DO IT NOW!

"Uh…" stammered Leroy, "I, um… well, I saw you, by the, you know, fountain… and, uh… you like Velvet Bane?" Smooth, Leroy. Real smooth.

She exhaled with visible relief, and her sadness turned to nervous laughter. "I thought you were my ex-boyfriend," she blurted out, looking at Leroy for an uncomfortably long moment. Finally she added, "I'm Shichi," and then after that, "I mean, that's not my name, I meant that's the character I am. From Velvet Bane. I like it a lot." She was positively gawky, and blushed at her own ineptitude.

"I knew that," said Leroy, and immediately wished he hadn't. Trying to recover, he hastily added, "So should I call you Shichi?"

The girl blushed even harder. "No!" she shouted, too-loud. "My name is Tabitha."

"I'm Leroy." said Leroy. "Are you… I mean…" He forced his stammering, amateur mouth to comply with his desires. "I just… never met someone who looks like such a great Shichi before."

Tabitha's eyes decided they couldn't have any part of this compliment, even if the rest of her strongly disagreed. "Stop," she said, bashfully, looking any direction away from Leroy.

"No, really, I mean it," he said. "Can I get a photo with you?"

"Oh my God, no way," Tabitha protested, "my makeup looks terrible! I've been crying all day."

"I don't care," said Leroy, "I think you're perfect."

She looked at him for a long time in difficult silence. "You're weird, Leroy," she said finally, smiling.

He laughed at the playful insult, giddy at her every awkward word. It was a fair assessment; he wouldn't even have been here talking with her if not for that mad dash from the lobby, fueled by some crazed fever-dream vision of future memories. Now, he could find no quarter for those visions. The SCP Foundation was nothing more than a strange figment in his mind, a fantasy concocted by the subconscious of a lovesick nerd to fire him to action. There would be no future filled with strange and varied wonders and terrors, no hellish cartoon-logic nightmare where reality itself was always suspect. There would be only what could be: the here and now, his life, his dreams, his determination.

"Yeah," said Leroy, "I guess I'm kinda weird."

THE END

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