The Favor, Part 1
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Popiwka, Oblast Luhansk, Ukraine

Every military force with geopolitical influence has something like elite units. People who were so extensively trained that you could with a clear conscience send ten of them out to take on fifty opponents.

And then there's the Foundation. Their elite of the elite consists of just four people. And they alone can take apart an entire army.

These four people go by the names of Irantu, Onru, Nanku, and Munru, and anyone who saw them in full gear would have thought they were looking at black Power Rangers. Together they formed the MTF Tau-5, "Samsara".

They were superhuman cyborgs, born from the flesh of a dead god. Their powers and mental abilities were superhuman.

But this enemy here pushed them to their limits.

Deep beneath the unsuspicious village in the eastern farmlands of Ukraine, a battle raged whose tremors must have been felt on the surface.

It was taking place in a large cavern. In the center was a circle of eleven people kneeling, muttering incessantly in Hebrew, but their voices had little humanity left in them. In the center of their circle, a kind of tree of flesh and wood grew out of the ground. Instead of branches, it had tentacles and snake-like heads that swooped down on Tau-5 and tried to crush them. The unit, meanwhile, tried to shoot the people in the circle, but massive tentacles surrounded them, making it impossible to hit them. If their bullets hurt the creature at all, the wounds healed almost instantly.

"I'm running out of ammo," Munru remarked.

"I'm out already," Nanku reported.

Neither sounded agitated in any way. Emotions could be detected similar to when one realized they had to go for a car tank fill-up.

"Switch to bombs," Irantu ordered.

Shortly after, a grenade flew. One of the heads swooped down and swallowed it, only for it to explode in its throat. But like the mythical Hydra, two new heads grew from the burned stump.

"Irantu," Onru spoke up, "we must-"

Irantu could no longer understand her properly, for suddenly there were whispers around him.



The scenery in front of Irantu suddenly changed. Instead of the tree, he suddenly saw people and monsters in front of him that he knew could no longer exist. He had killed them himself. They came at him with angry faces, weapons, claws and teeth ready to bore into his flesh.

"Tau-5, look out, we're in some kind of illusion," he broadcast over the radio. "We have to-"

That's as far as he got, as he was crushed by a giant tentacle of the tree.

A few thousand kilometers away, a pink plastic birthing tank broke open and Nanku fell out. She had also died, vomiting synthetic amniotic fluid and coughing for a while.

"Well, shit," she then remarked.

The inhabitants of Popivka had been evacuated and gradually gigantic tendrils broke out of the ground and stretched towards the sky. Air strikes had been unsuccessful, as had attacks on the ground by the Foundation Branch of Ukraine. The stuff grew back immediately.

The O5 Council, along with two representatives from each of the subordinate bodies of all Foundation branches, had joined together to work out a solution. The anomalous was about to become the focus of public attention; there were already whispers about SCP classifications as Tiamat.

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, time is short," O5-1 opened bluntly. "We need proposals on how to get this thing under control. The GOC already has itchy fingers and it already takes all the persuasion of our liaison office to hold them back. They just want to drop a nuclear bomb on it."

"And why don't we just let them?" asked O5-9.

"A nuclear bomb. Almost on the border of Russia," the Russian representative pointed out to him his error in thinking. "It will cause more chaos than it will clean up, my word on it. In fact, it will probably hamper our work."

"Not to mention that it falls on the most densely populated continent in the world," the Ukraine representative agreed with him.

"So what do we do?" asked O5-1 "This question goes especially to the representatives from Europe. Tau-5 is not up to this thing by their own admission, do you have anything we could support them with.

"Well, we would have some robots," noted the Italian S5-1. "However, I have to say that otherwise we can only serve with heavy equipment, if it were on the water we would be more help."

"No big units," came the Ukrainian vice rep. "The thing is learning. It destroys tanks and other vehicles if they even get close to it since a while back."

"We could sic a disease on it," suggested the Russian representative. Areal-02 has a huge selection."

"And how would you know what to use to keep from making the thing even stronger?" asked O5-5.

"We could help out with servo combat armor," said the Portuguese CL5-1. "I think the Germans are even further ahead than we are on that."

The German O4-4 made a pained noise.

"Yeah, but I don't think that's going to help us if this thing is crushing tanks. We don't even know how to damage the thing, we don't know anything at all. Is it sarkic? If so, we could ask our informants."

"We've already determined that Annihilism from Ukraine is responsible for this," O5-2 explained. "Our contacts among the Sarkicists don't know of anything that fits the description of this creature. They don't use wood. Or Hebrew."

"So the very first thing we would need is someone who knows what's going on," concluded one of the French representatives. But do we know anyone who could tell us out of the blue what we're dealing with here?"

"Hmm… I think I know someone," announced the German O4-1.

"What?" asked O4-4. "Who do you mean- Oooooh no! No way! Not that twerp! NO!"

"O4-1, please enlighten us," asked O5-1.

"Well, the Germananophone Foundation had a run-in with a time-traveler a few years ago.1. Caused a huge containment breach, apparently knew her way around a lot of anomalies. Well, anyway, the whole action turned out to be a misunderstanding and she has paid for the damage caused. And to express her regret for the incident, she granted us a favor."

"You didn't contain her?", O5-12 inquired.

"Was my plan," growled O4-4. "However, given her abilities and apparent peacefulness, most O4s felt that would be an extremely stupid idea and so we let her go."

"No more incidents have occurred, at least none that were her fault," O4-1 defended himself.
O5-1 rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"This obvious breach of protocol aside, are you sure she can help us?"

"She can travel through time and dimensions, so it's quite possible she at least picked something up," O4-1 opined.

"All right," sighed O5-1, "who's in favor of giving us this, what's her name?"

"Elli, sir."

"Ah, that this Elli should support us?"

The result was clearly in favor. O4-4 groaned.

"Why her of all people?"

"Because I'm trying to organize a birthday party right now, can't we do it later?"

O4-1 rolled his eyes. He had dialed that number through which he had once been promised that he would get to know Elli. And boy, had he gotten to know her…

"May I remind you of your promise? We think we're in a race against time here, and we wouldn't have called you if we could handle it ourselves."

A groan reached him over the phone.

"Alright. What is it anyway? When I've been on the phone with other versions of the Paragon, a remote diagnosis has usually sufficed."

O4-1 skipped over that remark. He needed answers.

"We don't know what it is. Some kind of tree made of wood and flesh, growing underground, and its tentacles have broken through the surface. Eleven people have apparently summoned it with some Hebrew spells."

"Oioioi, sounds like Kabbalah. You have to walk on eggshells for that one. Do you have some coordinates for me, I'll take a look."

O4-1 passed the data through. Mechanical clicking followed from the receiver.

"Ah, I see what you mean. Wait a minute, I'll take some measurements…"

More clicking and electronic beeping ensued.

"Uh oh…," Elli then spoke up again. "I think this requires my personal presence. Where do you want me?"

"Our current base is Site UA-14," O4-1 explained, "Do you need us to pick you up somewhere?"

"I'll get there myself. I just need you to tell the guards there to please not shoot me. You have two minutes."

"And you're sure you want us to go in there again? We weren't of much help last time," Irantu asked MTF leader Yushchenko as they walked the halls of Site UA-14.

MTF Tau-5 had been flown back to Ukraine after they had all received a new iteration. That was the great strength of their group. Even if they died, their spirit survived and was simply loaded into new bodies. These ones seem more appropriate to the situation, they were more resilient, albeit heavier, and they carried a whole arsenal of weapons. A normal soldier would have collapsed under their weight. Currently, their visors were up, largely because that looked more positive to interlocutors.

"Well, I can't go against command, neither can you," Yushchenko replied in accented English. "However, we've been faxed something, apparently you're getting reinforcements this time.

He handed Irantu a folded piece of paper. Irantu read through the contents and radioed it to the rest of his team. There were strange orders in it, but none of them questioned it. They were created to do, so they did.

"Who is Elli?" asked Onru.

"Apparently some kind of expert from the Germans," was all the MTFer said. "Knows her way around this part in Popiwka, apparently. Plus, the O5 council is sticking you guys with another ace. Ah, there he is, too."

Approaching them were guards. They escorted a towering man with an angular face and prominent chin. He wore standard battle armor.

"Tau-5, Dean. Dean, Tau-5," Yushchenko introduced them to each other.

"Ah, I've heard a lot about you guys," Dean rejoiced, extending his hand in greeting. "My real name, by the way, is Deimos, Greek god of terror."

Irantu chimed in after briefly trying to remember how to respond to the gesture.

"I am aware of that, I have heard a lot about you as well. Do you know yet that we are getting more reinforcements?"

"Oh yes," Dean replied as they all started moving again. "So if you're sending her out with calibers like us, she must be a real pro."

They reached the door to a waiting room. As the door opened, Tau-5 and Dean's gaze fell on a hulking fellow with black hair sitting morosely on a chair and a young blonde drinking copiously from a flask. Both wore everyday clothes, the woman even belly-baring.

"I wonder what she's a professional at," Nanku let out.

Yushchenko cleared his throat audibly. Elli set down her bottle and stowed it in her purse.

"Wow, Power Rangers," she commented as Tau-5, Dean, and Yushchenko entered. "Do you guys have Zords too?"

"Elli, stop teasing the soldiers," the big man grumbled.

"Dean, I annoy military personnel as much as I want!"

"I didn't say anything," Deimos replied, confused.

"She means me," the man enlightened him. "Is your name Dean, too?"

"Uh, yeah?"

"Ough, I can see the chaos coming already…"

"And what exactly do you do here?" asked Nanku.

"I'm the babysitter," was the dry reply with a nod to Elli.

Irantu noticed that they were digressing.

"Um, if we could introduce ourselves, I'm Irantu. This here is Onru, Munru, and Nanku. And that one is Deimos."

"Ah, I know your father," Elli replied, addressing the god. "Very uncouth fellow. Very different from your mother. She knew how to have fun…"

Irantu suspected that a strange mood was rising.

"Uh, could you please let my parents out of this," Deimos asked. "If you did to them what I think they did, I don't want to hear about it anymore."

Elli just smiled suggestively and turned to Tau-5. She frowned.

"You were artificially created, weren't you? Your faces are too symmetrical."

"That's right," Irantu confirmed. "We were created to support the Foundation in emergency situations."

"As expendable fighters."

Elli almost spat out these words.

"Whatever, you didn't choose it."

"Ms. Elli? Could you please tell us now what we're up against?" asked Irantu.

"True, we are a little pressed for time," Elli agreed with him. "So, which of you is familiar with the concept of the Qliphoth?"

Onru was the only one to raise her hand.

"That's what I thought," the blonde remarked. "So, for everyone else, first of all, the Jewish Kabbalah knows the Tree of Sephiroth, the Tree of Life. In a sense, a system to reflect all aspects of divine creation. Opposite the Sephiroth is the Tree of Qlipoth, the Tree of Death. Better said, the Qlipoth form the shadow of the Sephiroth. The unholiness to the holiness, that what would enter if the tree of the life would not be there. And this entity is being recreated right now in Popivka."

"As far as we know, this thing was created by the followers of Anihilism," Onru came forward. "According to our information, you want to wipe out all life in the world so it can return to non-existence. How do the Qlipoth play into this?"

"An excellent question," Elli congratulated. "You see, even though the Qlipoth embodies the worst of all worlds, it still has an important function. It forms a shell around the framework of the Sephiroth, preventing the divine light from leaving our world. Now, however, a large part of it is gathering just in the east of Ukraine, which means it is missing somewhere else."

"A weak point is being created," Deimos concluded. "A point where the Qlipoth can break. But what happens when it does?"

Elli gave him an approving look.

"The Qlipoth keep the divine light from leaving our cosmos. It's a symbol of creation. If it did, it would keep expanding our universe, creation would expand uncontrollably. This may seem counterproductive to the goals of anihilism, but let us not forget that the Sephiroth remains the same size. Its burden will continue to grow until the scaffolding of our reality eventually collapses. I think the Foundation calls this a 'ZK-Class Reality Failure'."

"And something like that can really happen?", Yushchenko made sure. "I mean, it's religion."

"The pesky thing about religion is, it becomes true when it isn't yet, provided enough people believe in it," Elli pointed out to him. "Now remember, there are about fourteen million Jews in the world. It's completely irrelevant whether it was once a fantasy, the imagination has made it real, otherwise we wouldn't have this problem."

"And how do we stop it?" asked Munru.

"The same way you stop any tree, we have to pull it out of the ground at the root."

"I see," said Irantu. "And how do we do that?"

"I hacked into your database earlier and pulled out all the data on this case," Elli began, silencing Yushchenko with a gesture, who was about to rage over this affront. "Those incantations in the chamber you fought in are still being chanted to complete this representation of the Qlipoth. Once I get there, I can counter the incantations and dissolve the structure.

"You against eleven people?" assured Nanku.

Elli shrugged her shoulders.

"What's happening goes against God's order. It's troublesome to lay a tower of stones, but all the easier to knock it down again. This Qlipoth imitation is in a metastable state whose equilibrium I alone can destroy so that it crumbles. But I have to get down there first. I can get us to the entrance of the cave, but my power is not enough to penetrate further. A metaphysical plane is created down there that I can't reach with my abilities."

"How will you get us there?" inquired Munru.

"Like this."

Elli pointed to the door behind them, whose passageway had turned black.

"A portal," Onru realized. "Where does it lead?"

"Right outside the cave, but like I said, I can't open those things in there. I can't get us out again, not until the Qlipoth are history.

"Dear Miss, if I may," Yushchenko came forward. "According to my data, you are a time traveler. Couldn't you travel back in time and work with our people to prevent the disaster before it happens?"

Elli gave him a pitying look.

"For the, same reason I don't just travel back to tell me about how it went," Elli explained. "It didn't happen, good Sir. The Qlipoth are there and they are our problem. If I traveled back, I would fail to stop him, or worse, I would succeed. And time can't be fooled. Worst case scenario, I destroy your timeline and your reality. So, does anyone else have ideas on how we can use time travel?"
General head shaking.

"Wonderful, so, any more questions? The world isn't going to save itself."

"Um, Elli," Irantu began. "I would like to inform you that I am in command of this mission. I am your commander until this mission is over. Do you understand that?"

"I do," Elli replied. "And if you actually think that you can give me orders, you've got another thing coming. On the way down there, we're going to have to deal with each and every Qlipa, however they manifest themselves. So, until you can prove to me that you have more of a clue about what we're doing than I do, you listen to what I say so you don't accidentally kill our little traveling party. All right?"

Without waiting for an answer, she stepped through the blackness. Dean followed her, sighing.
"I like her," Nanku commented.

"I don't," Deimos followed up.

Irantu gathered herself.

"We're going in. Justchenko?"

"I'm sorry, I a supposed to stay here. I'd probably just hinder you, and you seem to have enough headaches for the mission already. We'll try to maintain radio contact, but these tendrils are blocking all radio signals."

"I see."

Irantu and the rest of Tau-5 turned without another word and stepped through the portal.

"Pretty straightforward, these people," he heard Munru say behind him.

Irantu felt like he was walking through two portals, but he paid no attention. He found himself in a large house. In front of them, a trapdoor led down into the depths. This was where they had first entered.

Through the window, he saw the tendrils and tentacles outside gradually beginning to intertwine, forming a massive dome.

"Fascinating, isn't it?" remarked Elli. "Out there, the last and highest Qlipa, Thaumiel, the twin of God, is currently forming. Once it's completed, we'll have the shell of the world so weakened that it's only a matter of time before it cracks open."

"How long would we have then?" asked Nanku.

Elli chuckled humorlessly.

"The light of En Sof is infinite, missy. That means it spreads out at infinite speed. That, in turn, means that the Sephiroth's burden immediately becomes infinite."

"So we shouldn't let it get that far," Nanku concluded.

"Correct," Elli confirmed.

Deimos was the last to step through the portal, which closed behind them.

"So, uh, are we going down there or not? We got past the tentacles in no time, after all."

"The other Qlipoth won't be so easy," Elli predicted. "Irantu, you know what it's like down there, I suggest you and your unit go first."

"Was that an order?" asked Irantu.

It sounded more like a statement than a rebuke.

"It was a suggestion," Elli corrected. "But if you don't want to, please, Dean and I will go first and possibly get eaten by whatever is lurking down there. Good luck preventing the end of the world then."

Irantu turned to Tau-5.

"I think it's funny," Nanku remarked.

"No, you don't," Irantu simply retorted. "Let's move forward. Nanku, you first, then Munru, then Dean-"

"Which one?" the two Deans asked as if from the same mouth.

"Deimos-Dean," the Tau-5 troop leader specified, "then the other Dean, then Elli, and finally Onru and I."

"Sounds like a plan," Elli commented as the group began moving in the order indicated.

A retractable aluminum ladder led down five meters. Since it could only hold out one member of MTF Tau-5 with their equipment at a time, they had to climb down one at a time as well. The same procedure was taken with Dean as a precaution.

"Adjacent to the hole was a narrow tunnel. Dean and Deimos had to pull their heads in. Except for Elli, everyone had to move sideways.

"Wow, I feel so slim," she commented.

"I have no idea, where what you eat lands, Elli, but it's certainly not because of your healthy diet," Dean countered in front of her. "You're the least fit person in our group here."

Elli clicked her tongue.

"Shut up and let me have my body positivity!"

"Eat less chocolate and ice cream and I'll think about it."

Elli pulled out her flask in frustration and drank.

"Do you guys do this a lot?" asked Deimos.

"No," replied Elli.

"Yes," replied Dean.

"Dean, don't embarrass me in front of these people!"

"You don't even need me for that, Elli."

"All kidding aside, there's a cavern up ahead," Nanku reported from the front. "It wasn't here last time. And it's too high.

"The Qlipoth don't abide by God's laws;" Elli explained. "It's one of those 'bigger on the inside than the outside' things."

"I see."

The cavity was made of rough-hewn stone and was brightly lit, although there was no light source. And in the center of the room stood two men.

"Son? What are you doing here?" asked the taller of the two.

Irantu saw the faces of the two. They bore an amazing resemblance to-.

"Father?" asked Deimos. "Phobos?"

"Ares?" asked Elli. "What are you doing here?"

Next time on Nexus:
The Favor, Part 2

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