RP Transportation Escort


Resident Witch
Staff member
DATE: 12/22/20
ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, ACF-122
EQUIPMENT: A lead box, a pair of thick gloves, and a blindfold
PURPOSE: Transportation of an anomaly to another facility.

Pepper had taken exactly one person unblindfolded through her dimension before. It had not gone over well. She had been pretty young when it happened, but she remembered shuffling around in the dark, her feet bumping into the various hard objects that resided in the Dark Dimension. The pathway had been glowing behind her as she searched for the woman, shuffling blind through the darkness with whispers all around her. Voices told her “leave her behind” or “let us keep this one”. It had taken two days, many frustrated tears, and the help of one particularly helpful shadow creature to finally find the researcher. She couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but she would never forget the expression she had when they finally made it back out.

That was why she was standing there, gloves in one hand, a blindfold in the other. A heavy box made of lead sat at her feet, bound shut with industrial zip ties. The gloves were for Pepper- that box had some sharp edges- but the blindfold was for her security detail. Although she had been a researcher for three years and was generally trusted with the anomalies, it was common procedure to have them be accompanied by a security detail, regardless of how or who was transporting them. She wasn’t sure if the blindfold made them less effective or not, but the Foundation insisted she still take at least one member of the security team.

It just so happened, on this trip she’d be accompanied by an intern.

Pepper was particularly excited about this. She didn’t know many of the people on the security team. Really, she only knew the ones who had accompanied them when she had gone on the few field trips she had been on. So getting to meet someone new on the team was exciting because there was always the possibility for it to be a new friend in the making. And Pepper oh so loved making new friends. If she could be friends with everyone at the Foundation, she would surely try. There was nothing quite like seeing happiness on someone else’s face and knowing you’re the cause of it.

All that to say, that was why Pepper was standing at their meeting point- under the fountain in the southwest corridor off the central room on the main floor- with a box, gloves, and a blindfold. She adjusted her pastel sweater and tucked her hair behind her ear while she waited for the potential new friend to arrive.

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Laine Cantrille was not certain whether she approved of this mission composition. She was an intern and not a full-fledged security agent, and had only been an intern for a short period of time, at that. Laine wasn't sure whether that qualified as adequate security for the transport of ACF-122, but she was also aware that the Foundation was very short staffed, after [REDACTED].

Also, Laine Cantrille was ACF-833, and was not supposed to be without supervision by another Foundation personnel. Dr. Krasniqi qualified, by the Foundation's currently somewhat desperate standards, but Dr. Krasniqi was a researcher and was herself an anomaly, and Laine would have felt far more comfortable with another security officer present. ACF-833 had no desire to cause problems for the Foundation, but security protocols should not take her word on that.

But ACF-122 needed to be moved to where it belonged, and the Foundation didn't have anyone else to spare for the moment, so the mission composition had been signed off on. Laine appreciated the power of a well-placed signature. It made things better, she had always felt. More tidy.

She approached the location where Dr. Krasniqi was waiting, dressed simply in a white blouse with a knee-length gray skirt and vest: the look of someone who had worn a school uniform for long enough that they didn't realize there were other clothing options available, or perhaps simply didn't care to explore them. It was what Laine always wore, and she didn't care to change it to any great degree. The woman awaiting her had a sweater in many colors. Laine didn't like it, but it wasn't her sweater.

"Dr. Krasniqi." Her pronunciation was impeccable - the name sounded exactly as it was supposed to. "I'm Agent Cantrille. I will be your escort while transporting ACF-122."
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“Oh, Agent Laine Cantrille! Can I call you Laine? Laine is such a pretty name! You can call me Pepper, or Elizabeth. Most people call me Pepper. I think only Dr. Kallie really calls me Elizabeth anymore.” She looked the girl up and down. Girl was a more accurate term than she had expected. Pepper had a few years on her judging by her face, but she had never let age differences stop her before. “I would shake your hand, but my hands are currently full!”

As if to demonstrate this fact, she lifted her hands up, waving the gloves and the blindfolds. She dropped her hands in front of her, shrugging her shoulders happily as she continued, barely breathing between sentences. “So there are a few things you’re going to need to know before we go. The first and most important thing is that you never take off the blindfold while we’re traveling between points. If you take it off, well, the shadows will attack you, and there’s more of them than you have bullets or whatever. Actually, what do you have?”

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"Engaging in physical contact with a known anomaly is not recommended by security protocol unless necessary. Dr. Krasniqi." Laine knew that rule very well. It was one of the ones she found particularly beneficial, having never particularly enjoyed handshakes or physical contact in the first place. As Laine was a known anomaly, it was therefore contrary to security protocols that people go around trying to shake her hand. This saved a great deal of stress on her part, and eliminated a tedious and untidy procedure.

Being briefed on Dr. Krasniqi's tendency towards familiarity, Laine was accepting of letting Laine slide. It was informal, but it was also her name. Dr. Krasniqi was alternatively Elizabeth, which barely fit her, and Pepper, which fit her quite well somehow. Laine probed at the term carefully in her mind, thinking it over. "Informal names have a tendency to anchor when I use them, Dr. Krasniqi, as I am sure you have been briefed. What would you prefer I call you?" Not everything that Laine verbalized ended up getting anchored, but there was definitely a tendency towards it, particularly in naming conventions. She tried to be polite about it and stay formal unless people were accidentally certain, because she didn't think it would be polite to end up sticking someone with a nickname they didn't prefer and having them find themselves unable to detach from it.

"I've familiarized myself with the files of ACF-7823 and the requisite security protocols. I have no intentions of acting in a manner contrary to the directives of the security analyses. As far as protection, I can hold my own." That was a metaphorical phrase, when most people used it. Laine used it in a far more literal sense. "And as acting security officer for the transportation of ACF-122, I should be able to hold that as well, leaving you available to sort out the situation with ACF-7823, should it become inhospitable."
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“Oh, I’ve been Pepper for years. It’s okay for you to call me that. I know what you do to names. That is, I know what you do, I just think it’s rude for me to tell people that I have access to their case files as a researcher. Some people tend to find it offputting when you start the conversation by rattling off their entire reason for being with the Foundation, you know?” Pepper extended her hand to Laine, the blindfold outstretched. ”Now, if you know about me, you know it’s really important that you wear this and not take it off. You can hold onto me anywhere you like, but most people opt for my sleeve.”

Once again, her mind was drawn back to the first time she had taken someone through her dimension. She was drawn back to that moment she had shuffled through the darkness and found them, and the way they had screamed and cried when she had put her hands on their arm. The haunted look on her face existed in the back of Pepper’s mind to that day, and would until the end of time. She swallowed back her concern and smiled brightly, pushing her hand a little closer to Laine, still offering up the blindfold.

”Of course, if you would rather carry the box, that’s fine too. I’ll just have to loop my arm through yours and lead you through. It doesn’t matter to me, but most people like having their arms free in case– well, just in case.”

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The files agreed that Dr. Krasniqi had, indeed, been Pepper for a significant amount of time. Laine assessed that it was not likely to cause any unacceptable consequences if the nickname ended up becoming something with more permanence. "Very well. Pepper, then." As expected, the name snapped into place, something that wasn't likely to be dislodged any time soon. Laine reached out, accepting the proffered blindfold.

"I've read everyone's files I have access to," Laine stated, conversationally. The statement was not an exaggeration. Pepper might have thought it was offputting, but Laine had found it to be the best approximation of understanding people. Peppers, according to her files, would probably have tried talking to them. Laine was not good with people. She wrapped the blindfold securely, tucking in the ends so that they wouldn't come loose.

"I will hold your sleeve for added security," she stated, "But I do not think you need to be concerned. We will stay together." Laine was very good at keeping things together. In this case, it was merely a matter of defining their group as something that was meant to be together, and it would stay that way. She stepped forward, her fingers taking hold of the loose fabric of Pepper's sweater. Laine didn't particularly care for sweaters, as she had always disliked the way they felt, but she had a strong appreciation for knit things when she was not the one wearing them. The patterns were very soothing, in their own way.

Organized Strings.

Perhaps that was why she did not care to wear them.

"I believe we're ready, unless there was anything else?"
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“Oh, just one more thing. You’re going to hear some stuff in there, just don’t let go. I promise they won’t hurt you.” Pepper donned the gloves and leaned down with her free arm and picked up the lead box. It was a hefty thing, and given it had no handle, it was difficult to hold as well. However, she was fine with this and simply grabbed the edges and held it tightly. She had already promised herself she wouldn’t drop it, but holding it made her regret that promise just a little.

“Okay, in we go! Watch your step, there’s going to be about a six inches drop from the floor to the ground.” Pepper blinked and the “doorway” appeared before her, pitch black save for a long winding road that glowed pale yellow. She stepped forward into it, stepping down to avoid tripping. She waited for Laine to join her completely, then watched as the doorway disappeared behind them.

It was the kind of inky black that you always thought you knew the depth of but were shocked when you actually saw it. It was the kind of black where your eyelids had more light than it. It was the kind of black that you imagined the empty void of death must look like. The only light in the entire place came from the bridge below their feet, and it was sucked up into the pitch-black nothingness around them. It was just enough to highlight some shapes, to make out Laine’s face, and to see where Pepper was walking. Not that she needed to see here– she’d walked this walk so many times that she knew it by heart. She could make it blindfolded and backward.

“Okay, remember, keep that blindfold on. They’ll leave you alone as long as you’re wearing it.”

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"Understood." Laine did not like noise. Anomalous noises were easier, though. Anomalous noises were part of the Foundation, and so managing her responses to them was part of Laine's job. That made it easier. Anomalous noises fit into a well-defined category. Laine liked it when things were well-defined.

There was a change. Laine was not particularly good with change. This change was also anomalous, a defined part of ACF-7823. It was a change in Laine's particular state, but not an unexpected one. A well-defined change. There was paperwork about it. Laine liked paperwork. She documented her steps in her mind, traversing the path as if she were an expert, easily navigating the six inch drop. It was just a path, after all. Paths went somewhere. Laine was good at seeing where things went. In this case, the sight was metaphorical. She did not like metaphors, but she also did not have any plans to remove the blindfold.

Proper security must be observed.

The voices were there as well, incoherent to her - noise, without purpose, or rather, noise without a purpose that she could understand. This, too, was familiar, though not in a particularly pleasant way. The sounds jangled, dissonant, wailing, too many voices. Quietly, Laine sighed.

"Hush." Sound was a wave. Laine dropped an anchor, stilling the ocean. It didn't always work on anomalies, and it didn't always work for a long time, but often it helped. It worked on interns, but Laine had been asked not to do that and to keep it to anomalies unless there was an emergency.
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Pepper began walking. The walk itself wasn’t very long– only two minutes and fifty-five seconds either way– but the length of time spent in the dimension wasn’t the problem. No, the problem was currently swooping in around them like vultures to a feast. The sound of rustling wings and scratching claws filled the quiet around them. It never stayed quiet for too long in the “Dark Dimension.”

She had been told what it sounded like to others. They had described it as layers of screeching, of an unholy cacophony of noise that was grating to the ears. Dr. Kallie had once accompanied her, and she had described it as “an overwhelming and oppressive shrieking, nearly unbearable”. She had been told that this was what it sounded like to others– to her, it wasn’t quite like that.

"A thousand greetings Heraldess of the Dead God, we are blessed by the presence of your steps. Tell us the shape of your walk."

“Hello, Mikulass! I’ve been well. How is your family?”

"We wither and fade in the throws of this hateful sphere, its scions raid our pantries and slaughter our beasts. May our suffering be praised in the eyes of She we dare not abscond from."

"Oh, well that's good to hear. Anyway, I have a job to do today, so I'll be seeing you!"

"Inutterable delight seethes within us, we pray ever more for Her gaze to alight upon your eyes! Goddess be with you!"

There was, of course, the chance that Laine could hear them as well. She had yet to bring another anomalous person through the dimension, so she was unsure as to what they would hear. Pepper herself still had minimal understanding of what they meant by “heraldess”, even all these years later. The shadows had been calling her that ever since she could remember, since her first walk through the dark when she was five. She had never thought to question the title, or why she was the only one they allowed to view the world, or even why she could speak to them. She just knew, instinctually, that she had nothing to fear from being there.

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Pepper was talking to the anomaly, quite amicably it seemed. Laine did not think this actually had any significance, as according to her analysis of Pepper's files and her own interactions with the researcher, Pepper would talk quite amicably to just about anything. Laine did not necessarily mind this, but it did not provide any additional data points about ACF-7823.

Laine was not here to research that anomaly, though, only to utilize it as a transportation path for ACF-122. Still... Laine had thought about being a researcher once, and sometimes information about an anomaly was the best way to maintain proper containment procedures. "Do you consider ACF-7823 a singular entity, Pepper? Or would the outer anomaly be a form that holds a conglomerate?" Pepper had spoken to the shadows in an individual nature, after all - not simply a singular nature, of one thing here and now, but an individual nature, of one thing here that might not be here next time, or might again. Did aspects of the entity that maintained a cohesive presence separate from the anomaly itself, and if so, was it worth classifying the sub-entities?

Of course, it would be difficult for anyone besides Pepper to do that particular research, given the incoherent nature of ACF-7823 from anyone else's perspective. Given the nature of the Foundation, it was also entirely possible that researching such a thing was on a list of things that should be done some day, some time, when there were less pressing matters to attend to. The Foundation's first responsibility always had to be towards security, after all. Research served the purpose of simplifying security, but without security, there could be no research.

There were those who would have said the opposite, of whom she was familiar with several.[/COLOR]
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Pepper turned her attention back to Laine as the younger woman asked her a question. ”Oh. Well, that’s an interesting question. ACF-7823-B is kind of like... Well, it’s definitely got other beings that live inside of it. There are unique individuals who I speak to, but I can’t really see them all that well. It’s very dark. I think they’re kind of bird-like in shape?”

She marched them along as she spoke, leading Laine around the stones and the holes that fell along the road. It was a question that she hadn’t really been asked before. But then, she tended not to speak to her friends when she walked with other people. Alerting others to the fact that beings existed in the dimension usually led to them wanting to remove their blindfolds. Maybe it was because Laine had been so very direct and strict that Pepper felt comfortable letting her know about them.

“So there’s the dimension, right? And then there are beings who live inside of it. They also refer to other beings and some kind of animals. I think it’s kind of like its own little world. But I don’t know for sure. I’ve only left the path once, and it was really hard to find it again afterward” She shrugged, adjusting her hands on the box. The gloves were definitely coming in handy. She could feel that without them, the box would have cut into her skin already. And they were barely a minute into the nearly three-minute walk.

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Laine nodded acceptance. "That makes perfect sense, thank you." These were probably not words that Pepper had anticipated hearing in response to her explanation, but it was well established in Laine's files that her understanding of things tended to be different than standard. Anomalies were much easier to understand than people. Sometimes explaining anomalies to people did not work out very well. Laine felt that Pepper was very likely to understand that, given her requirements of explaining ACF-7823-B to Foundation personnel on a regular basis.

Unlike others that Pepper no doubt could have mentioned, Laine made no attempt to counteract the current security procedures. The blindfold was required for a reason, and taking it off without Foundation authorization was not something she was willing to do. Rules existed for security, and security was very important to the Foundation. Laine thought about Pepper's statement about exploration, considering the way things went. "I... believe I could find the path again, if necessary. Certainly the path to L-14." L-14 was where Laine belonged. She was fairly certain she could find her way to L-14 from anywhere.

"Being able to find the way back does not mean there would not be impediments to traveling it, so it remains inadvisable at this point for security reasons. However, in case of an emergency, it may be possible. I would prefer not to have an emergency. They are very untidy."
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“I think that at this point, I could find the path again without much worry. It kind of glows like the Aura Borealis. I think as a child it just never occurred to me to look at the sky to find my way back. I was also leading a very scared adult by the hand while trying to find my way.” Pepper abruptly slowed down and stopped, shuffling a few feet to the right. “There’s a massive rock here. We have to go around it. I didn’t want you to accidentally walk into it.”

Laine’s comments about an emergency prompted thinking in Pepper. She’d never tried to send someone down the path or back the path. It seemed like they couldn’t exactly see it the way she could. None of the cameras could capture the glowing, anyway. If there was an emergency, if something dreadful were to happen to them while inside the Dark Dimension, Pepper wasn’t entirely sure she would know what to do about it.

“I’ve never tried to send someone back or forward without me. I don’t know if the gates would be open for you if I did. I think I’d just be sending you to run out in the void. You might be able to find your way back, but the average person? I don’t think they could. I think they’d be stuck here.” Pepper shrugged her shoulders as she walked, lost in thought. She followed the glowing golden path absently.

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"You could be right." The possibility was certainly fitting. Laine didn't know enough about the inner workings of ACF-7823 to say for certain what would happen. The rock was indeed there, and Laine skirted the edge of it. The dimension was like enough to have things like rocks, which was interesting, because it was unlike enough to have things like wailing incoherent masses. These were probably research questions. Laine would have to see if there were additional reports that she could request, or ask someone to write them.

"Do you know what happens to people who do get stuck here?" she inquired, curiously. "Do they stop being, or do they become?"

This was a very Laine way of phrasing things, and had thrown off several people. She certainly wouldn't be offended if Pepper had no idea what she was going on about, or if she needed a moment to sort it all out. Proper classifications took time, after all, and Pepper was a researcher, so she was probably good at asking questions.
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Laine asked the most interesting questions. Strangely phrased, yes, but interesting. These weren’t questions that had been asked any time recently. Maybe they had been asked of her when she was younger, but many questions had been asked of her. She’d given many answers to those many questions. Was it simply the way Laine phrased things that made them so interesting?

“Huh! What an interesting question!” Pepper thought about this for a minute. Dr. Hillary had gotten lost, and nothing about her had changed. She hadn’t stopped existing- if anything, she had existed more, perhaps, with everything she had gone through. But how to properly explain that? “Uh, well. I think they continue to exist as they are, but as with every experience in life, they exist more because of what they have gone through? Does that answer your question?”

Pepper guided her over the stream that cross the path (she wasn’t sure what the stream was made of, but it burned through shoes). That meant they were just over halfway to the next doorway. She could see the faint glow of it approaching on the horizon. In the distance behind them, the doorway they had come through had already faded away, the light dim and almost imperceivable.

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"I think so," Laine answered. Perhaps it did. Perhaps it led to additional questions, but Laine was not a researcher or a philosopher, and so most of those questions were not her department, as Agent Hania would have instructed.

"So, the lost are not...adopted adapted?"

Perhaps she had said something different. There was more than one word that belonged in that sentence. Sometimes it was like that. There was not always just one answer, and there was not always just one question.

Laine thought for a while about what Pepper had said, about existing more because of experience. This was an interesting concept to her. It touched on the ideas of learning and development, but it was its own way of thinking about it. Laine liked different ways of thinking about things, because sometimes that made things fit better.

"Existence is... cumulative." Not so much a question as a statement. "Do the ones here exist more because you have gone through?"

“...Huh.” Pepper slowed down slightly as she tried to parse what she had just heard. Did she say adopted? Adapted? Maybe Dr. Kallie was right, and listening to her music so loud was blowing her ears out. She chose to hear ‘adapted.’ But before she could even think to respond to that, laine hit her with another question. This one was even more philosophical than the answer Pepper had previously supplied.

“Well, I suppose by my own logic, they must exist more. They certainly seem to act like it. And the lost don’t stay lost, so I don’t see a reason why they would have to be adapted.” Adapted. What did that even mean? Was she speaking in an evolutionary way? As though they would be physically adapted to their surroundings? Or did she mean mentally? Would they mentally adapt to the situation and figure out how to persevere? Dr. Hillary had done neither of those things, but that didn’t mean that others wouldn’t.

“I’ve never really… thought about this kind of stuff before. Are you sure you wouldn’t do better in the research department?” By now, the portal on the other side was in view, maybe thirty seconds away. Pepper led her over the second stream. This one didn’t dissolve shoes, but boy did it turn them red and smell bad. Pepper had stepped in it once and it had smelled like copper. “Good news, we’re almost to the other doorway. The transfer shouldn’t take long, and then we can head back.”

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"There was a time when I thought I would go into research," Laine admitted. That wasn't something she really talked about, though. "Then things changed." There was a quietness to that sentence, the sort of quietness that invited additional quietness. It did not invite further questions.

It was fitting that they were nearly to their destination. That allowed for there to be things that needed to be done, rather than things that needed to be asked. Laine did not always mind questions, but there were some questions that were different. Different was hard.

"Will the path back be the same? Or will it change?"
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Pepper nodded her head thoughtfully. While she was curious as to what had happened to make her change her mind, she knew better than to ask when information wasn’t willingly offered. She had grown a lot emotionally in the last few years since joining the Foundation as a researcher. If she had been younger, she might have pushed, but not now. Instead, she freed a hand from the box and gave the younger woman a squeeze on her arm.

“I see. Well, the path will remain the same. It’s been the same ever since I can remember. I think, maybe, it used to change, but I don’t know why I think that.”

The doorway before them lit up in a brilliant circle. The yellow sparks illuminating the circle exactly where it should be. In the distance, she heard the sound of wings as they fluttered overhead. Mikulass leading his family away from the path, no doubt. She took Laine’s hand in hers and lifted it to help steady the woman. “The doorway is about six inches off the ground, so be careful here.”

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There was a hand. It was on her arm.

Or, rather, it was on her armor, which of course she was wearing. Laine was a security agent, and security agents were there to protect ACF staff members from anomalies if the anomalies suddenly became dangerous.

Like, for example, if someone was touching them even if they had been advised against it.

There was a saying: the tension was palpable. It was supposed to be idiomatic, but perhaps it was not. Perhaps the tension could be something that one could hold onto, if they were so inclined. It was very quiet and still here all of a sudden. The quiet did not leave room for arguments or explanations or even research. It did not leave room for much of anything. It was not a welcoming sort of quiet.

The stillness waited. It was waiting for the hand to go away, because it did not belong there. It did not belong there very strongly.

Once, when Laine had been very very small, some of the researchers had noticed this and tried to research how long one of them could put a hand on hers before something happened. Laine did not do anything about it because she went quiet and still when it happened, but it was reportedly very uncomfortable, the knowledge of not belonging, of touching something that you very much should not.

The record had been six point one three seconds, and that had been the last attempt. Laine had not seen Dr. Harmon for several years after that, and the next time she had, his arm had been prosthetic. No one had told her anything about that, but she was a Class-C now and had access to the files, so she had read it. It seemed that he had been so insistent that his hand didn't belong after the incident that he had been hospitalized, and medical had needed to amputate a few weeks later after gangrene set in because his body rejected the limb entirely.

The file suggested that perhaps this experiment should not be repeated any more.

Eventually, the hand went away, but Laine remained armored, because the situation was now dangerous. Armor provided security. Security was very important. The doorway was here, and Laine understood where it was: 6.03 inches above the ground.

She was very good with measurements, even if she was not good with people.
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