Wanderlust: Part 7

FEBRUARY 14, 1989

"Happy Valentine's Day!" came the perky female voice, cracking slightly in its earnest.

Kilroy's head snapped up from the racks of audio cassettes, meeting the eyes attached to the voice. He wasn't expecting to meet anyone he knew in this record store, hundreds of miles from where he ought to be in this time period, let alone the era he had just come from. He was still a little disoriented from the time-synch, in fact, the raging hormones of this younger version of himself at odds with the wisdom and rationale of his much older mind, which is why he was killing time in the record store in the first place…

Kilroy shook the stream-of-consciousness fog from his head, realizing he was still staring at the young girl, a vision of skinny nerdy-ness in her cardigan sweater and plaid skirt, with straight brown hair framing her bespectacled face — who was herself looking a bit awkward, smiling nervously in expectation of an answer. "Yeah, well," Kilroy finally stammered, "tell that to Salman Rushdie."

"Who?" asked the girl.

"Author of The Satanic Verses," replied Kilroy. "He just had a death threat put on his head by Ayatollah Khomeini. Not a very happy day for him."

"Oh," she said, fidgeting with the CD in her hands — a copy of The Serpent's Egg by Dead Can Dance. She looked past Kilroy at the racks in front of him. "Whatcha looking for?"

"Eh, just seeing if they had any techno," Kilroy said, affecting a tone of absence. He knew it wasn't likely he'd find any; it'd be another eight months before Nine Inch Nails dropped Pretty Hate Machine, and no one even knew who Aphex Twin was in England yet, let alone in the United States — Hell, he'd have to wait a year just for that awful Enigma crap. "Looks like I've basically got a choice between Brian Eno and KMFDM," he concluded.

She watched Kilroy for a moment. "You don't have any money," she blurted out suddenly.

Kilroy looked offended. "How would you know I don't have any?" he demanded.

The girl snickered nervously. "It's the way you hold yourself when you stand," she said. "You look pensive, like you're waiting for someone to throw you out for shoplifting."

"Well," said Kilroy, huffing, "I'll have you know that I do have money, not that it's any of your business — and anyway, exactly who are you and why are you bothering me?"

"Raina Preta," said the girl, "and I just thought you looked interesting. You're not from around Greenville, are you?"

"No," Kilroy answered. "I'm in town with one of the theater troupes, for the state finals at the university." It wasn't a lie; that was exactly where he was supposed to be in this time period, and an ideal opportunity for him to achieve his directive from the Libras Centrex.

"Oh!" exclaimed Raina. "I heard about that. I was thinking of checking it out, even though our high school isn't involved. Truth be told, out acting groups kind of suck." She giggled at her own statement. "So, you gonna tell me your name, mister famous actor?"

"I'm not an actor," defended Kilroy. "I do lights. And it's Kilroy — Kilroy Estaban Aquinas."

"Pleased to meet you, Kilroy," said Raina, offering her hand in greeting. Kilroy grasped it firmly, but not so firm as he would a man's; her skin was very soft, the kind of soft only a teenage girl can be.

"Likewise," he said, laughing a little nervously, his time-shifted hormones taking a little artistic liberty with his emotional state.

"So," asked Raina, smiling coyly, "how much time do you have to kill before your play?"


"It's weirdly quiet today," remarked Harvey Owen, sipping the last of his coffee as he sat at the diner counter, still dressed in his mailman uniform.

"Someone was telling me that there was a kind of a ruckus down by the old Shriner's lodge," said Fay Tate, pouring Harvey another fresh refill as his empty mug hit the saucer. "I think it was Olive Newman that told me, actually. She said she had to go down by that way anyway, because she had a package to send off to her aunt in Chestertown, and somebody had said to her that there was a fire, or maybe it was a gas explosion?"

"Didn't hear any gas explosions," mumbled Harvey. "You think everyone's down there, then?"

"Most likely," said Faye. "Little backwoods town like this, everyone jumps out of bed for a car backfiring."

Harvey chuckled. "Ain't it the truth," he said.

"Oh!" exclaimed Faye, peering out of the diner window. "That looks like Olive now coming up the road. She'll have the gossip for us, surely."

The figure lurched towards the diner slowly, but determinedly, its skin softly glowing with a brassy sheen in the twilight sunset. As it approached the patio stairs, Olive's features could be made out on its face.

"Good Lord," said Faye, covering her mouth, "what happened to Olive?"

Harvey turned to look. "Sweet Jesus on high…" he whispered, his voice trailing off as his eyes widened.

Its lower half was that of a long snake tail, giving the being the appearance of a naga from mythology — but this was no beast of flesh. The entirety of its form was made of a copper-colored clockwork, the gears writhing and shifting in unnatural dimensions along its tegument as if constantly shedding. The upper torso of the strange and frightening atuomaton was that of a woman, and indeed it was the shape of Olive, her body changed to metal and rubber and glass.

A series of clicks came out of the ghastly abberation's mouth, and then, in a tinny version of Olive's voice, it spoke.

"Theli hungers."

"This is an absolute disaster," sighed Von Schnitt, holding his head in his hands. "Oversight is going to kill me."

"I agree that the situation appears quite bleak," said Gears, "but we must not be daunted by the negative outcomes of recent events."

"Cain is escaped," said Von Schnitt, "and off to God knows where. Iris reports that the 808 posse escaped Able, and that he's refused to come back through her photographic means, and is now determined to hunt them down to the ends of the Earth. We've got over thirty SCPs telling us that this Theli whatever-it-is is about to consume the world we know, and the likelihood is that it has something to do with our little experiment with the clock virus. Snorlison is probably jockeying to have my head on a platter by sunrise, if I know him. If you've got something resembling good news, Gears, I'd like to hear it now."

"I believe I have deduced why you cannot find the admission file on SCP-808," said Gears.

Von Schnitt blinked. "You've unraveled the riddle of the Fish, eh? Okay, I'm all ears."

"No SCP can exist in the database without an admission file," said Gears. "However, the file on 808 is in the database, but does not have an admission file."

"Which creates a paradox," said Von Schnitt. "How can a file be in a database if it was never uploaded?"

"In my experience," said Gears, "paradoxes are only unsolvable due to the limitations of the dimensions of the environment. Often by increasing the number of dimensions, the paradox becomes easily solvable."

Von Schnitt blinked. "That's it," he exclaimed, "oh, good grief, why didn't I see it before? The data doesn't have an admission stamp because it predates the database!"

"Precisely," said Gears. "The database was constructed around the file."

"Like a house being built around a man," said Von Schnitt. "He never went through the door, but there he is inside regardless. Brilliant as usual, Gears." Von Schnitt's fingers flew across the terminal's keyboard. "Right. now we include temporal anomalies in our search parameters. Maybe out little hipster girl is a stitch out of time."

"And if so," added Gears, "it would explain why her origins are shrouded in mystery. She may be from the distant future, or from a divergent version of our own timeline."

Von Schnitt peered over the results. "Still nothing," he mumbled. He sat for a moment, pondering. "You know, I think we're going about this all wrong."

"What do you mean?" asked Gears.

"I mean, Fish obviously knows something about all of this," said Von Schnitt. "He's hiding something. I think we should try to find out what that is. I think that's going to lead us to the truth." He flew over the keyboard again. "And I think the answer to that question lies in the information the Foundation possesses in regards to his history. Gears, we're going to figure out exactly who the Fishmonger is."

"We've got to find Cain," said Alice, nodding once in determination.

"Are you daft?" said Stanley. "What, you want us to just walk into Site-17 and ask them pretty please to let Cain come out and play with us? We'd be Lotto'd, Faraday'd and downright machine-gunned before we got within 4 miles of the place."

"Look, Stanley," said Alice, curtly, "if you've got a better idea, I'd love to hear it. I wish I knew what I was supposed to do to become this Chariot of Splendors, but I don't! I don't even know what I'm supposed to be fighting, or where, or how to get there. Neither do you, and neither does Dolly." Alice pointed a thumb at 228 at the end of the statement. "We've got exactly one option for figuring out how we fit into all of this," she concluded, "and that option is finding Cain."

"I personally would like to suggest the option of abstaining," said Stanley. "Let's just get on a boat to New Zealand or something, wait it all out under an umbrella with some cocktails…"

"808 is the enlightener," said Dolly. "She will bring about the insistance."

"That may be so," said Stanley, "but since we don't have an actual timeline for that, could she maybe bring it about in a few months?"

"This is pointless," said Alice. "I'm not going to debate this any further. Either you're going to help us, Stanley, or we're parting ways here. In either case, I'm going to find Cain."

Stanley grimaced at the girls, the corners of his mouth folding inward in dimensions that have no words in English. "No," he said finally, "this is all too much. I agreed to help Cain because I owed him a favor, but being snared in a dimensional trap and then barely escaping his psychopathic brother in a period of 24 hours is way more than I owed him. And not that I don't like you, kid, but I ain't riskin' my sweet pandimensional ass over you. I've made a career from inventive ways of getting out of the line of fire. I've got no desire to break such a fantastic streak."

"Fine," said Alice, frowning with visible disappointment. "Go then."

Stanley disappeared.

Alice breathed for a few moments. "Well, fine then," she said again, this time to Dolly. "We don't need him."

"Correct," said Dolly. "Pandimensional stepping technique has been acquired."

Alice blinked. "Huh? You mean you can move in four dimensions too?"

"Correct," said Dolly. "Observational analysis of pandirectional motion has been deconstructed and incorporated into motor matrix."

"No way," said Alice, grinning. "Show me!"

Dolly stepped forward, and in doing so stepped outside of space, disappearing from view. Alice clapped her hands, hopping up and down with glee. "Amazing!" she exclaimed. "You're so awesome, Dolly! Okay then, let's get a move on."

Dolly did not respond, nor did she reappear.

"Dolly?" said Alice again, more warily. "Are you there?"

There was no response.

"Am I alone?" she asked the empty desert field, her voice cracking.

"Nope," said Able.

Alice spun around. There, behind her, was the First Hunter, standing pensively at a distance of fifteen yards. He was unarmed, and didn't look particularly anxious to draw a sword.

"Hiya, mouse," he said, never cracking a smile.

Alice backed up reflexively. She knew fully well that there would be no escaping Able; he'd have a hand around her neck before she took three running steps. Then she remembered his collar. She peered at the shiny choker, flashing on its kill switch. She'd have only one chance to defeat him — but after that, he'd be back to life again soon enough, and he certainly wouldn't fall for the same trick twice…

"Just stay right there," said Alice, in a tone more resembling a polite request than an ultimatum. "Look, there's no reason to get nasty. We can talk this out like rational adults, right?"

"Wrong," said Able.

"Okay," said Alice, "how about talking it out like completely irrational adults, then? I'm totally okay with that, so long as the talking is the chief activity."

"You're a brave mouse when you've got a mischief to back you up," said Able.

"I'm nobody brave in any case," said Alice. "I just want to go home."

"Then allow me to send you there," said Able. He reached skywards, pulling from the nothingness a sword of impossible lethality, all spines and chainsaw blades in a whirling death wind of pain and mutilation.

Alice steeled herself. She had never killed anyone or anything before — Hell, she'd never even hurt anyone before today, when she made the Faraday weapons feedback on the SCP soldiers. She didn't want to kill Able, but she didn't want to die, either.

Fortunately, she didn't have to do either. Able stopped cold in his tracks, his eyes widening at something on the horizon. He took a step backwards, and for the first time since before anyone who was alive could remember, his face showed true fear.

Alice glanced back to see what Able was looking at. In the distance, a naked human figure was running through the desert, kicking up a sandstorm behind him, his face alight with fury and madness.

It was Cain.


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