Scranton's Fate
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There was nothing else here.

Scranton didn't remember how long he had been in here. Once, he had a recorder with a time announcement, but it had been sucked back into his home universe through a reality portal. He had named it Red.

The Foundation had presumably learned a lot from Red's records, Anna had certainly learned a lot, but it no longer mattered to Scranton himself. He now spent his time here in this eternal blackness, alternating at irregular intervals between madness and sanity.

He knew he no longer had it all together, literally. This place was eating away at his reality, making him unreal and fading. Some body parts faster than others, they had phased out of him, like mirages.

He couldn't remember anymore what it had been like to be whole. He could only remember things sketchily at best. He didn't know what color his house was, whether he owned a dog or not, he couldn't even remember his own wife's face completely… Did she have red hair?

In that moment of clarity, Scranton realized once again what a torment this place was. He must have done something terrible to end up here. He was-

"Aw, shit!"

Scranton wasn't sure if he still had ears, however, at least he heard words. He was probably just going insane again. But delusions were distracting, so he went with the flow.

He turned to the right, from where the curse had sounded. According to the voice, it had been uttered by a woman Scranton didn't know.

"Hello?" he asked in a voice that sounded extremely distorted, a side effect of his long stay here.

"WAH!" came a startled sound from the darkness. "Who's there!"

"Um… I'm Robert… Robert Scranton… And you?"

"I am not," the voice replied pointedly. "Call me Elli. You don't sound too good. Something in your throat?"

Scranton heard a rubbing sound, like someone digging through a purse.

"I… Have been here a while… How did you get here in the first place?"

"Actually, I was in a space teleporter on my way to the beach planet, but the damn thing on my seat apparently had a malfunction. There's a strong letter following. Next time I'll walk …"

"Um, I don't know if you realize this, but you can't-"

He stopped when, with a click, a flashlight suddenly lit up in the darkness.

"Ah, there we go," commented the blonde whose face it illuminated. "And what do you look, Bob?"

The beam of light blinded Scranton for a moment before disappearing again. A retching sound rang out in the darkness.

"Oh my- How- How long have you been in here?!"

"At least five years …" replied Scranton, shrugging his shoulders. "How bad is it?"

"Your skull's gone, and about two-thirds of your brain. But you've got a fancy colon there …"

That info probably should have caused a little more shock, but this place had dulled Scranton.

Puzzled, he watched as the woman rummaged in her purse in the light of her flashlight and finally pulled out a large, inflatable floaty ring.

"What are you doing?" he asked as the woman began to inflate the buoyancy aid.

"It's not the first time I've been stuck in Null Space, you start learning at some point," Elli replied, while blowing up the floaty.

It took a moment for Scranton's cerebral remnants to filter and process the information.

"Wait … You can get out of here?"

"Yep," was all Elli replied, "I assume you want to go?"

The floaty ring was now fully inflated.

Scranton was about to launch into a panicked "Yes," but then he remembered that the woman had puked at the sight of him earlier.

He remained silent.

"Oh, you'll live," Elli assured him. "I'm aware that there are only a few milihumes left of your reality, I've got something for that."

"You can … Get me out of here? Alive?"

"Yup. Wait a minute …"

And with that, she slipped the ring over Scranton. And he entered a world that consisted only of hellish pain…

Scranton awoke with a scream and sat up in a flash. He had no idea how he had passed out, though he suspected his brain was withholding that information for good reason.

Wait a minute, he had sat up?

Startled, he stared down at himself. He was lying in a narrow, white-covered bed, dressed in some kind of white hospital gown. And his body was completely there! He held his hands in front of his face in complete disbelief, two things he hadn't seen in ages.

He began to cry with relief.

It took him a while to calm down, but then he finally took the time to look around. He was lying in a small room wallpapered with white woodchip wallpaper, and next to him was a table with a hand mirror with which he could look at his face. Everything there, at least as far as he could recall it from memory.

He felt heavy footsteps approaching. The door to his room opened and a huge fellow trotted in. He seemed to be in a bad mood.

"Ah, you're awake," he remarked. "You should be able to move around. Follow me, please."

Scranton stood up cautiously. How did you walk again? He had been in a place where there was no ground for a very long time. And weightlessness…

He balanced carefully as he gradually remembered how to put one foot in front of the other. Despite looking rather grumpy, the man had the patience of a saint, Scranton noted, as he waited until he was halfway mobile, and when they left the room, he matched his pace.

He led Scranton through the most impossible house he had ever seen. Not caring about such trivialities as gravity or laws of geometry, Scranton ran up and through walls, ran down a staircase he had previously climbed on the opposite site, and was sure that three hallways they passed through must actually overlap, but there were no branches.

Scranton was eventually led into a room that appeared to be a massive observatory. There was even a huge telescope, but there were so many highly scientific-looking apparatuses hanging from it that he couldn't imagine that it were stars you observed with that.

Elli stood at the eyepiece and elicited a series of clicking sounds from the device.

"The patient, Elli," the giant announced him.

Elli turned around with a serious face.

"Robert Scranton, correct?" she asked.

"Y-yes …" replied Scranton. "How-how did you manage to restore me? I mean, my reality alone would have made me-"

"Null Space Emergency Capsule," Elli explained, interrupting him with a hand gesture. "I hoisted you into it when I pulled you through the ring. It kept you stable long enough for me to complete my work on you. Something like that is pretty painful, I've been told."

"You have no idea …" retorted Scranton dryly. "Where am I, anyway?"

"You're in the Nexus," Elli replied simply.

"Which one?"

"THE Nexus, my private pocket dimension. Why you call any areas with a high volume of supernatural goings-on a nexus is beyond me."

"Now what?" asked Scranton, disregarding Ellis's nagging. "Can you take me home?"

"Yes," Elli replied, but while he was already breathing a sigh of joy at the prospect of seeing Anna again against all odds, she kept talking. "But I'm not going to do that."

"Wha- " Scranton stammered, having a bad premonition. "Why? What do you want from me?"

"I'm not doing this out of malice, Mr. Scranton," Elli explained gravely. "Your misfortune is only that you were saved by me; I am a great unknown in the fabric of time. And you are thereby a grain of sand in the gears that I would like to avoid."

"What do you mean?" asked Scranton, confused.

"The typical temporal laws apply only in limited form to me, Scranton," Elli elaborated. "This is less beneficial than it sounds, because if I screw up and change the history of a world too much, the universal operating system reaches a Fatal Error and crashes. The universe and its continuum burst like a soap bubble."

She made a "pop" sound with her mouth.

"Hold on," Scranton asked. "You said if you change history too much. But what can a single person like me change? Surely I could-"

"During your recovery, I figured out exactly that," Elli replied, interrupting him. "I found out exactly who you are, Scranton. The pioneer of Ontotechnology, whose findings about the Null Space would one day enable travel between realities. I agree with you, the universe has a certain… Self-healing power that can straighten out minor historical deviations." She gradually talked herself into a frenzy. "Had you been a lesser man, I would have sent you back with a clear conscience, but this way it may be that you just keep your feet still and retire, but maybe the Foundation or whoever else will force you to keep researching and thus start a domino effect, or maybe I'm just paranoid about this, but we're talking about the existence of an entire cosmos here, and ON THAT MATTER I DO NOT GAMBLE WITH MAYBES!"

There was a brief silence as Elli breathed heavily.

"Then where do you want me to go?" asked Scranton, disappointed.

Anna moved into the infinite distance…

"I will allow you to spend your eventide here," Elli explained. "I can't let you out anywhere; with your status and knowledge, you're a risk factor everywhere you go."

With a flash of inspiration, a tiny spark of hope sprouted in Scranton.

"Can I … Can I at least visit Anna again? Tell her I'm fine and say goodbye."

He could see Elli wrestling with herself, but finally she sighed.

"All right, then. I'll grant you one last trip into your world. Is there a particular place and time you want to go? I am not bound by such things as space-time dimensions."

A plan sprouted in Scranton's mind.

"Yeah, I've got something …"

Anna Scranton sat in the Ontotechnology lab. The room was filled with prototypes of Scranton reality anchors. Sad, she stared at the workstation her husband used to work at. It had since been vacated.

A tear trickled down her cheek.

Scranton stepped behind her and wiped it away.

His wife turned, startled, and jabbed her elbow into the pit of his stomach.

"Sorry," he rasped.

"Robert!" it escaped Anna.

She put her hand over her mouth.

He just smiled. Slowly they stepped toward each other until they finally fell into each other's arms.

"I thought I had lost you," Anna cried.

Scranton just smiled before murmuring urgently in her ear "Start seven. Output parameters one to six. Say nothing."

She looked at him briefly in confusion; he just looked back promptly.

"Scranton," Ellis's voice sounded behind him. "Not to interrupt your little tête-à-tête, but your time is limited."

She had created her portal in a deactivated prototype reality anchor and was standing in front of it with her arms folded. Just as intended …

"Darling?" asked Anna, alarmed. "Who is that?"

"Turn it on!" hissed Scranton, turning to Elli in annoyance. "You'll excuse me, Elli, but this is the first time I've seen my wife in I have no idea how long of a time and it will probably be the last."

He stepped toward Elli.

"So would you mind leaving us alone for a moment?" he hissed.

"Not going to happen," Elli countered, leaning in toward his ear. "And I know you're trying to lock me in here right now. You think I don't realize that you were trying to lure me into a room crammed with reality anchors?"

Scranton backed away from her. Besides him, one of the prototypes started booting, but Ellis Portal appeared unfazed.

"I'm an anomaly to your parascience," Elli explained. "Unless I choose to close it, my portals will remain open, no matter how much reality you pump into the room. I'll give you a few minutes, but then I'm going to get Dean."

Anna joined them.

"Robert? Who's this?"

"Elli, nice to meet you," the blonde introduced herself with a slight bow. "We'll probably never see each other again."

Scranton put his hands on Elli's shoulders.

"Elli, I just arrived, please be patient, I have no intention of locking you up."

He saw that Elli didn't have a purse with her.

"But instead?" she asked.

Scranton's response consisted of heaving Elli to the left by the shoulders and directly toward the prototype that had been activated. She seemed to realize where this was going.

"DAMN, SCRANTO-," was all she managed to get out before she was propelled into the Null Space by the anchor prototype's faulty portal.

Her black portal closed.

"R-Robert?" asked Anna anxiously. "What was that just now? What did you do?!"

Scranton hugged his wife tightly.

"Making sure I can stay with you, Anna. I will never leave you again, I promise…"

In silence, Dean stared at the few human remains floating slowly around in a man-sized cylinder in a turquoise liquid.

"You're cruel, Elli," he finally proclaimed.

"Well, what can I say? You saw the video, he would have thrown me into the Null Space with no remorse. Without my purse."

Elli joined him at the glass.

"So you just put him in that capsule," Dean concluded. "And now what? Is he in a coma forever?"

"Not exactly," Elli specified. "What you saw is part of a simulation I built from his memories. He'll live his life until the simulation simulates his death, after which what's left of him will die, too."

"So you're keeping him in his greatest fantasy, forever?" asked Dean.

"Was the only happy ending I could give him," Elli defended herself. "There are times when we have to settle for what we attain in our dreams, Dean."

Dean thought about that for a moment before he felt compelled to remark, "Elli, I can't dream…"

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