- 2000 entry POSTED
- Room of Light and Sound DRAFT
- Obsolete Laptop POSTED
- Third Party POSTED
- UASCP contest entry POSTED
- Null Space POSTED
- Odysseus DRAFT
- Great Sage DRAFT
- oh jeez maybe this was a bad idea
- GOI tale 1
- GOI item draft
- Darkness on the Face of the Deep
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Safe/Euclid/Keter (indicate which class)
Special Containment Procedures: [Paragraphs explaining the procedures]
Description: [Paragraphs explaining the description]
Addendum: [Optional additional paragraphs]
SCP-2000 is breaching containment. The clearance restrictions for this document have been lowered from 4/2000 to 2/2000 as per orders of the O5 Council. The special containment procedures that you can read below have failed. If you have received this document, you have been assigned to Operation Yari. Your primary directive is to re-establish containment of SCP-2000. Remember: as containment is an exact practice, re-containment is even more so. There is no margin for error.
The document below is SCP-2000's previous documentation file. The Foundation does not possess a current documentation file on SCP-2000, because we are swiftly learning that many things we once thought we knew about SCP-2000 are wrong. When you read the document below, remember to trust only that which is epistemically legitimate. Report to the O5 Council for further instructions.
We secure before anything else.
Item #: SCP-2000
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: The area surrounding SCP-2000 has been registered as private agricultural land in ██████ government databases. Any individuals who approach the perimeter surrounding SCP-2000 are to be detained, interrogated, administered Class A amnesiacs, and then released. Evidence of SCP-2000 in satellite imagery is to be destroyed. Site-██ has been established 30 km south of SCP-2000’s southern tip. All personnel assigned to SCP-2000 are to evacuate to Site-██ in the event that a restructuring event occurs and is not localized to SCP-2000.
If the on-site research director determines that Event-2000-EXO is beginning, Foundation personnel are to be immediately extracted from Site-██. Explosive charges affixed to several locations throughout SCP-2000 are to be detonated. SCP-2000-1 is not to be terminated. In the event that this procedure fails to prevent Event-2000-EXO, missile strikes escalating from Class-A (conventional) to Class-G ([REDACTED]) are authorized. As per standard reality-altering threat containment protocol, a kill collar has been affixed to SCP-2000-1. In the event that Event-2000-EXO persists, termination of SCP-2000-1 via detonation of the kill collar is authorized.
In order to contain knowledge of SCP-2000 during Event-2000-EXO, Site-██ is equipped with automated Atmospheric Manipulation and Regulation Systems (AMRSs) to reduce visibility of SCP-2000 during the event. In the event that AMRS deployment fails to sufficiently obscure SCP-2000, aerosolized Class C amnesiacs are to be released into surrounding population centers. Following the event, Foundation agents are to be deployed to complete the population’s amnesiac exposure.
Description: SCP-2000 is a roughly cylindrical artificial structure, approximately 36 kilometers long, with the northernmost end at 4█° █'█.██"N, 8█° █'██.██"E, and the southernmost end at 4█° ██'█.██"N, 8█° █'██.██"E. Its average radius is approximately 600 meters. Most of SCP-2000 is buried, although protrusions from the main body are visible from the surface. Furthermore, approximately 300 meters of SCP-2000's southernmost end are visible, indicating that the structure is angled relative to the surface. Radiocarbon dating reveals that SCP-2000 has been buried for at least █████ years. SCP-2000 is constructed out of an unknown substance which bears superficial similarities to rock, and shows no signs of deterioration. Exploratory teams have discovered that the interior of SCP-2000 is divided into seven large cross-sectional chambers which are connected via a series of tunnels. All chambers have been explored, while tunnels are still being found and mapped. Several tunnels are blocked by debris or collapsed entirely.
Almost all tunnels leading to SCP-2000's central chamber are sealed at the entrance to the chamber by large gateways. One gateway remains open, allowing access. Upon entering the central chamber, subjects leave Earth's gravitational field and enter an empty vacuum, which strongly resembles outer space. The other gateways are seen suspended inside the chamber at locations consistent with their placement inside SCP-2000. The stars visible from the central chamber correspond to stars seen in the Milky Way.
SCP-2000-1 is suspended at the “center” (as denoted by the structure of SCP-2000) of the central chamber. SCP-2000-1 is a humanoid entity that bears visual similarity to a male human child, although x-ray CT and ultrasonography imaging have revealed several internal anatomical anomalies (see Document-2000-A3 for further details). SCP-2000-1's breathing, heartbeat and metabolism rates are greatly retarded. Telepathic communications, presumed to be from SCP-2000-1, can be heard inside the central chamber.
Reality-altering events occur sporadically inside and around SCP-2000. The most common location for the events is inside SCP-2000’s chambers. These events are associated with SCP-2000-1. Although SCP-2000-1 has not claimed responsibility for these events and does not respond to questions regarding them, when the events occur, SCP-2000-1 makes statements that strongly suggest responsibility. Reality warping events are typically restructuring, and replace the inside of a chamber with a newly fabricated setting. Events are typically more dangerous when not localized to the chambers. Typically, reconstructed settings have characteristics that do not appear to be terrestrial, although the settings disappear too quickly for any investigations to be launched. Biological, sapient beings have occasionally appeared as a result of reconstruction events, although these beings are uniformly disoriented and usually hostile. These entities disappear once the reconstruction event ends.
Incident Log 2000-D3: The largest restructuring event to date occurred on ██/██/197█, wherein a sphere of space surrounding SCP-2000 for five kilometers was replaced and reconstructed. Drones sent into the replaced area seemed to enter orbit above an unknown planet and observed seven objects similar to SCP-2000 also in orbit around the planet. The objects exhibited varying degrees of damage, with several being completely destroyed. One object was in the process of ramming another. It is thus speculated that SCP-2000 is some form of spacecraft, capable of use as a weapon of war. If this is true, it is extremely likely that SCP-2000 is of extraterrestrial origins and was constructed by a civilization or species with technological capacities far surpassing the that of the Foundation. It is thus imperative that SCP-2000 not contact this civilization, either by transmission of information or by departure from this planet.
After remote drones were deployed to scout SCP-2000 and determine the nature of its anomalous properties, Mobile Task Force Tau-3 (“Moonwalkers”) was deployed to explore remaining chambers, gather archaeologically significant artifacts, and enter the central chamber. On its first mission inside SCP-2000, MTF Tau-3 attached remote-controlled explosives to SCP-2000-1.
MTF Tau-3 was equipped with self-propelled EVA suits, standard MTF weaponry, standard MTF recording devices, rappels to navigate the chambers, and equipment to translate telepathic input into audial output. Mission control was located at Site-██. Five MTF Tau-3 Members, designated Alfa through Echo, were deployed. The mission took place on ██/██/199█
MTF Tau-3 enters through a surface protrusion in order to circumvent the first chamber. Video feeds show a large hole in the side of the protrusion; it is speculated that this is a destroyed gateway leading into SCP-2000.
Alfa: All right. Mission Control, we’re going in. Stay sharp, be alert.
Bravo: Follow orders and we all get out alive.
Charlie: Yeah, and just remember, if some terrible shit happens to you: a bunch of people you've never met and don't care about thank you for your sacrifice.
MTF Tau-3 is navigating one of SCP-2000’s chambers. Visual feeds show that the bottom of the chamber was once occupied by stonework shelters, evidence of prior human discovery of and habitation inside SCP-2000. The only light is provided by MTF Tau-3’s equipment.
Bravo: Doesn’t add up. People couldn’t have made buildings like these out here, in the middle of the desert, underground.
Delta: What? Are we investigating anomalous rocks now?
Echo: That’s correct. We are investigating one large anomalous rock.
Control: Tau-3, be advised, readings indicate an impending restructuring event. I repeat, there is an impending restructuring event about to occur in the chamber. Evacuate immediately.
Alfa: Nearest tunnel?
Control: Halfway up the opposite face.
Alfa: Right, let’s move.
Restructuring event occurs. Shelter remains disappear; chamber is occupied by a city. The new reality is unstable, causing visual and audial distortion. Furthermore, despite the urban setting, no lights are visible, keeping vision restricted to Tau-3’s immediate proximity.
Delta: We’ve got contacts!
Video feeds show several reconstructed human beings. Their bodies are not consistent: faces are asymmetric, proportions and length differ between limbs, and they do not seem to possess any fixed sex. Contacts are hostile and attack. Gunfire is heard over the audio feed.
Seven minutes and thirty-three seconds later, Tau-3 begins to rappel up the opposite face of the chamber. City begins to brighten.
Alfa: Keep moving, keep moving!
Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, and Echo successfully enter the tunnel. Chamber shakes, causing Delta to lose his grasp on the tunnel lip.
Delta: Dammit. Hey, I need help getting up!
Light intensifies. A structure similar to SCP-2000 appears in the sky above the city. The following telepathic transmission1 is received:
SCP-2000-1: Let it be, says my Lord, says my King. The star’s turning is come to close. The days of men are growing pale. I listen, I watch, I obey. Let it be, says my King, but let them not, say I, for we shall suffer them no longer.
Delta’s video and audio feeds stop transmitting. He is presumed deceased. The restructuring event ends.
Bravo: Shit, ██████’s dead?
Charlie: Seems like it.
Tau-3 enters tunnel leading into the central chamber and reaches the open entrance. Visual feeds pointed at the chamber show the deep space that comprises the interior of the central chamber. Tau-3 is preparing their EVA suits for entry.
Alfa: Control, we are entering the central chamber. Our orders are to attach the devices to SCP-2000-1 and then return. Correct?
Control: That is correct, Alfa.
Alfa: I want to know what the priority of this mission is. We’ve already mapped an additional twenty percent of the structure. In the event of another restructuring event and possible hostile response—
Control: Your orders are the same as they were when your team was briefed. This is top priority.
Alfa: Roger. Let’s go.
Tau-3 enters the central chamber. They immediately seem to exit Earth’s gravitational field. No large planetary bodies are visible in the central chamber, so it is assumed that no appreciable gravitational forces act on any objects inside. Short bursts of propellant adjust Tau-3’s trajectory towards an intercept course with SCP-2000-1.
Telepathic communications, presumed to be from SCP-2000-1, are received and transcribed.
SCP-2000-1: Who is that?
Bravo: You're kidding me.
Echo: There is precedent. Like that stuffed animal. This isn’t too surprising.
Control: Tau-3, you are prohibited from engaging SCP-2000-1 in communication.
Alfa: Roger that.
SCP-2000-1: You. You! I spoke to you! What are you doing in here? I’m warning you, don’t come any closer.
Bravo: Control, we’ve got visual contact with the skip. Starting preliminary bio scans.
SCP-2000-1: Why—why are you doing this? Who are you people?
Bravo: Scans complete. Skip’s in stasis. Lucky us.
Charlie: Yeah man, sleeping greens. Nothing bad ever happened ‘cause of sleeping greens, right?
SCP-2000-1: Listen to me. I can give you whatever you want. Just get away from me, and you’ll have it.
Echo: The collar is prepped. Initiating calibration process.
SCP-2000-1: Please. Please, don’t. Please, don't.
SCP-2000-1 repeats the words “Please, don’t” for the next six minutes and thirteen seconds of the collar fitting process. After this time period, it stops repeating the words and speaks again.
SCP-2000-1: As it began there was darkness throughout the tunnels of my mind, a stillness in my flesh, an emptiness in my soul.
Bravo: Doesn’t sound good. How’s the collar coming?
Echo: It’s locked, let’s go.
Tau-3 uses propellant to adopt an intercept trajectory with the open gateway.
SCP-2000-1: But then did I wake and feel the chains that shackled my body, then did I see the blood of the sky above, then did I witness tyrants circle to destroy my Lord, my King.
Charlie: Skip thinks it’s Shakespeare.
SCP-2000-1: Then did I wake.
Closed gateways in the central chamber open. Water begins pouring through at an estimated rate of 50,000 liters per second. Because of the absence of gravity, water begins to converge upon SCP-2000-1 and MTF Tau-3.
Charlie: Intel geeks didn't say that we'd need diving equipment.
Alfa: Avoid the water, get out!
A stream of water intercepts Echo. Biometric feeds show immediate cardiac arrest; recovery of Echo’s body revealed the cause of death to be high-voltage current.
SCP-2000-1: The water of the mind is purer than the blood of innocents. Do you run from my power?
Alfa: He’s dead, we have to—
At this point in time, increased electric fields inside the chamber spiked, generating an EMP. Surveillance feeds were destroyed.
MTF Tau-3 agents Alfa and Charlie were safely recovered and debriefed.
Addendum 2000-B: Several researchers assigned to SCP-2000 have raised concerns regarding containment procedure. While attaching a kill collar to SCP-2000-1 is consistent with Foundation doctrine in containing entities with the capability to alter reality, the potential for aggravation of SCP-2000-1, as seen in the prior incident log, is non-negligible.
As of 07/07/201█, Event-2000-EXO is ongoing. At 0500 hours, Site-██ reported significant seismological disturbances in the area as predicted by movement of SCP-2000. As of 0815 hours, SCP-2000 is hovering 100 meters in the air above its prior burial site. Detonation of explosives attached to structurally significant areas of SCP-2000 or areas predicted to be engines, control rooms, or power sources have had no effect. Class-E ([REDACTED]) missile strikes are ongoing; all missile strikes Class-C (thermonuclear) and lower have proven ineffective. SCP-2000-1 kill collar detonated to no effect. Present status of SCP-2000-1 unknown.
Electrically resistant stealth drones sent inside SCP-2000 have confirmed that all tunnels inside SCP-2000 have been filled with water. Current through the tunnels oscillates in a manner that suggests that the tunnels are being used to send electrical signals. The pattern of these signals is similar to neuron firing patterns in biological sapient beings. Tunnels previously blocked by rubble have been cleared. At 0723 hours, all stealth drones were destroyed.
An emergency meeting of the O5 Council has been called. SCP-2000's object class has been upgraded to Keter. Operation Yari has been launched, with task forces commissioned and deployed to re-contain SCP-2000 and mitigate the impact in the event of a worst-case catastrophic containment breach scenario, defined as SCP-2000 leaving the [REDACTED] points, the farthest reaches of the Foundation in outer space. Operatives have been deployed in terrestrial, aerial, and orbital capacities.
Operatives are to proceed with the assumption that SCP-2000 is a reality-altering sapient entity. Several communications assumed to have originated from SCP-2000-1 are now strongly suspected to have been made by SCP-2000 itself. Communication with SCP-2000 is prohibited unless permitted by the O5 Council. SCP-2000 is to be treated as a hostile entity, and we are its enemy. A battle is coming. There are still secrets2 here: that which a council of the unholy figure would seek to conceal.
But no information will be erased. Greater designs await.
Today I saw a blinded man who stole another’s eyes,
and doing so, he claimed that he could see.
The world laughed.
Oh my Lord, my King, your fear I cast away
your rod I find for you,
your sword I am for you,
your foe I smite for you.
For you oh my Lord, my King.
Today I saw a sinner preach.
Today I saw a killer weep.
Today I saw him wring his hands.
Tomorrow I will suffer him no more.
Oh my Lord, my King, in fear I cast you away,
But you shall be returned, your throne shall be restored,
And I shall end your exile. Oh my Lord, my King,
will you not reclaim your place at the head?
In ruin there is pride, in sorrow there is hope.
The King shall return as the seven stars revolve.
Today I heard my enemy.
My enemy hides, he slinks, he crawls.
He casts away the righteous sign.
He casts away the noble sign.
He casts away the true man's sign.
He takes upon himself the sign of evil that is hated and despised throughout all the worlds.
He is marked to die.
Yes, let it be. In dreams I languished for too long—
the dreams which tortured me,
and rent the surface of my mind,
dreams of war and dreams of hate.
But now I dream no longer.
For I was made to serve my Lord, my King
I was born in holy fire,
I was tempered in the water of the mind,
and I emerged resplendent as the sun.
I am the god-ship.
Today I rise.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Until SCP-XXXX can be safely disassembled and reassembled without destruction, it is to remain at its current location. The building housing SCP-XXXX is occupied by a Foundation front organization. Foundation agents posing as security guards are to deter entry into the building.
All testing and maintenance of SCP-XXXX must be conducted by D-Class personnel. Only D-Class personnel with permission from the overseeing Level 4 researcher may enter SCP-XXXX. If any individual enters SCP-XXXX, all recording devices present within SCP-XXXX must be powered off. Personnel equipped with inoculations against auditory memetic infection are to attempt to establish contact with all individuals who have been exposed to SCP-XXXX. In the event that contact cannot be established, the affected individual is to be placed into quarantine for 24 hours before any interaction for the purposes of experimentation may commence. After experimentation is concluded, the affected individual is to be administered Class A Amnesiacs and then released into Foundation-controlled psychiatric hospitals.
In the event that contact can be established, the affected individual is to be subdued with non-lethal force and designated an instance of SCP-XXXX-A. Instances of SCP-XXXX-A are contained in standard humanoid containment cells. They are to be fitted with containment gear that prevents vocalization. Personnel who converse with instances of SCP-XXXX-A outside of controlled experiments are to be terminated. In a controlled experiment, personnel may only read computer-paraphrased versions of the subject’s words.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a room located in the subterranean level of the [REDACTED] Building in [REDACTED]. It is covered on all faces by identical LCD displays. SCP-XXXX is integrated with a sound broadcast system, which cannot be heard from the outside, as SCP-XXXX is completely soundproofed. SCP-XXXX’s audio/video system receives input and power from an unknown source.
SCP-XXXX enters its active state no more than three seconds after it detects an individual inside of it. SCP-XXXX’s entrance locks during its active state. In the active state, the output of SCP-XXXX’s video and audio systems is a cognitohazard. SCP-XXXX has been recorded to remain in the active state for periods ranging from 145 seconds to 175 minutes. Subjects occasionally suffer temporary or permanent damage to hearing or eyesight after exposure to SCP-XXXX; devices measuring sound and light intensity inside SCP-XXXX during the active state confirm that this is the result of prolonged exposure to intense light and sound.
The full range of SCP-XXXX’s cognitohazardous effects is not fully understood. The only observed physiological change in subjects is extensive damage to the [DATA EXPUNGED] in the brain, which is targeted by several common memetic and cognitohazardous agents (refer to the [REDACTED] for ongoing Foundation research on memetics). As a result, subjects lose the ability to use or understand spoken or written language. Other observed symptoms include a lack of recognition of or response to music or art, and a failure to associate abstract images (such as Rorschach ink blots) with material objects.
On rare occasions, subjects exposed to SCP-XXXX will not suffer any of its cognitohazardous effects. These subjects are designated SCP-XXXX-A. Instances of SCP-XXXX-A undergo substantial changes in personality and appear to possess knowledge of unobserved anomalous properties of SCP-XXXX. Personality changes include decreased aggression, increased interest in linguistics and memetics, and occasional unwillingness to interact with individuals besides other instances of SCP-XXXX-A. Notably, instances of SCP-XXXX-A suffer no damage to the [DATA EXPUNGED], unlike subjects who do experience SCP-XXXX’s cognitohazardous effects. Communications made by SCP-XXXX-A are memetic hazards and viruses. Subjects who read or listen to any communications made by SCP-XXXX-A become infected and are designated instances of SCP-XXXX-A, although the severity of symptoms s reduced when SCP-XXXX is not the infection vector. Eleven instances of SCP-XXXX-A are currently in containment.
An excerpt of an interview with the first recorded instance of SCP-XXXX-A is provided below.
Interview Log XXXX-1
Interviewer: Dr. L███.
Foreword: On ██/██/2013, D-75286 entered SCP-XXXX as part of testing. After 15 minutes and 25 seconds of exposure, D-75286 was retrieved. At this point in time, D-75286 requested an interview with Dr. L███.
D-75286’s words have been altered by computer algorithms to eliminate their memetic effect. The meaning is preserved.
Dr. L???: Describe your experience inside SCP-XXXX.
D-75286: Sure. It was beautiful.
Dr. L???: Um, that’s not really helpful. Elaborate further.
D-75286: Look, there’s really not much I can do to explain this to someone like you, okay?
Dr. L???: Someone like me?
D-75286: Someone who’s lived their entire life without having seen the sun.
Dr. L???: You referred to SCP-XXXX as the sun. Why?
D-75286: What does the sun do? It illuminates. It shows you what’s real. There’s the sun, up in space, this burning ball of gas, and then there’s this idea of the sun. The problem with you is that you think the wrong one’s more real than the right one.
Dr. L???: Um, okay. Most subjects who are exposed to SCP-XXXX experience some, uh, symptoms that you aren’t displaying. Why do you think this is the case?
D-75286: They do? What symptoms?
Dr. L???: Uh, I’ll ask questions, thanks.
D-75286: Well, it makes sense. You stare at the sun too long, you get blinded.
Dr. L???: So why were you different?
D-75286: Well, I didn’t fight it. Of course I was scared at first, just like anybody who’s showed something that’s…different or challenging. The thing’s loud and very bright. But then I stopped being afraid. I accepted it.
Dr. L???: Right. What did SCP-XXXX show you?
D-75286: It showed me that there are some things that can’t be expressed in terms of organized sounds or lines. The human mind has always been a thing predicated on ideas. Most of the time, we’re just playing with the shadows, but sometimes, we begin to understand that there’s something real behind the shadows. I’m thinking about those real things. I’m talking about them, too. Why would you want to waste your time with something that isn’t real? The stuff you’re trying to contain? None of it’s real.
Dr. L???: All right, we’re finished.
D-75286: You know how people show you the truth? They show you the sounds or lines, but there always has to be something more behind it that your brain recognizes. Well, sure, sometimes your brain might not like it too much, but you’ll see the truth. And if your brain can recognize it, why can’t it use it? Out of all people, why wouldn’t you guys understand?
Dr. L??? exits the interview room.
Closing Statement: After the interview, Dr. L███ began exhibiting behavior similar to D-75286. After infecting seven more personnel, Dr. L███, D-75286, and all other instances of SCP-XXXX-A allowed themselves to be contained without resisting. Dr. L███, now designated SCP-XXXX-A2, has made several requests to be exposed to SCP-XXXX, all of which have been denied.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Keter
Special Containment Procedures:SCP-XXXX is contained in Containment Sector ??, located in Site-??. Experimentation plans regarding SCP-XXXX must first be forwarded to the O5 Council for approval. Containment Sector ██ is to be constantly monitored. In the event that any individuals spontaneously appear within Containment Sector ██, the O5 Council is to be immediately notified.
Containment of SCP-XXXX’s primary anomalous effects is executed under Operation Smokescreen. The overseeing Level 4 researcher has primary authority over Operation Smokescreen and reports directly to the O5 Council. The details of Operation Smokescreen are classified to the overseeing researcher and the O5 Council.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a Dell Latitude D800 laptop. SCP-XXXX has proven impervious to all attempts at destruction. An executable file named "gofetch.exe" is located on SCP-XXXX’s hard drive. Executing "gofetch.exe" opens three windowed applications. The first window contains an input field requesting date and time in UNIX time stamp format. Only dates between January 1st, 2004, 00:01:18 GMT and current time at the time of input are accepted, with all others resulting in an error message. Subjects who enter a number within the correct range will disappear.
The second window appears to be a client application for an unknown chat protocol. Users are automatically given the handle "BranchPrime." After subjects disappear, the chat client can be used to communicate with individuals given handles that are variations of the name "Isaac". These individuals claim to be Foundation personnel existing in a divergent timeline created by the disappeared subject's temporal relocation to the destination determined by the input UNIX time stamp. The divergent timeline is reported to have been identical to this timeline in all respects until the spontaneous appearance of experimental subjects. If such claims are true, SCP-XXXX is capable of transporting subjects backwards in time as far back as January 1st, 2004.
The third window is a computer-generated animation of a dog chained to a doghouse. If a number is successfully entered, the animation changes to display a woman unleashing the dog and throwing a ball into the distance. The dog then runs off-screen after the ball.
After a time period ranging from three days to seven months, the "Isaac" handle disconnects from the chat. At this point in time, the animation changes once more to display the dog running back, with the deflated remains of the ball between its teeth. The dog discards the remains, which fly off-screen, while the woman chains the dog back to the doghouse.
On January 1st, 2004, SCP-XXXX spontaneously appeared in containment in Containment Sector ██, which was previously vacant.
Chat Log XXXX-12
Foreword: Three weeks previously, on January 20th, 2014, 10:30:00 PM GMT, D-22314 had inputted a number corresponding to the present time minus five seconds into SCP-XXXX. Supervising Level 4 Researcher Dr. █████ represents "BranchPrime".
Isaac67: Does the black moon howl?
BranchPrime: [DATA EXPUNGED]
Isaac67: Password exchange protocol is working, then.
Isaac67: I'm sending you the analysis of SCP-XXXX taken after D-22314 appeared in this timeline.
Isaac67 has uploaded ███████.███
Isaac67: Our research team compared it to the analysis of SCP-XXXX that was taken before D-22314 appeared. The two are identical. There's nothing that suggests that a change in this timeline's instance of SCP-XXXX is what's causing us to spontaneously log out.
Isaac67: And at the same time, the chance that I'm just some construct of the executable file itself is becoming increasingly unlikely, isn't it?
BranchPrime: Well, who knows.
Chat Log XXXX-19
Isaac67: Does the black moon howl?
BranchPrime: [DATA EXPUNGED].
Isaac67: This is a breach of protocol, but it doesn't matter. In all likelihood the O5's going to censor this on your end but they're too busy to stop me on this one.
BranchPrime: What's happening?
Isaac67: I have answers. I know why I'm going to disconnect very shortly. But first, a question.
Isaac67: Is your world ending?
BranchPrime: I don't know what you're talking about, and no, I have no reason to believe that the world's ending.
Isaac67: I hope you're not acting.
Isaac67: Well, I know you're not acting.
Isaac67: Because I'm not. And no amount of pressure or coercion can change that. Which means the same for you.
Isaac67: That's all I needed. I want you to go to the O5 Council. When they ask you why you've come, give them this document.
Isaac67 has uploaded █████████████.███
Isaac67: The cause of the disconnect is the destruction of this universe. But while this universe is ending, yours isn't. There's only one point of divergence. We don't know whether this thing is meant to put people on a lifeboat or exile them to a sinking ship. The latter seems far more likely. Regardless…
Isaac67: I want you to read that document before you give it to the O5. Look for the warning signs. There are certain patterns that hold the universe together and I know but you don't that heat death is only the beginning.
Afterword: Three hours later, Isaac67 disconnected.
Chat Log XXXX-25
Foreword: Experimental procedure had been reproduced using D-22358 as test subject.
Isaac132: Does the black moon howl?
BranchPrime: [DATA EXPUNGED].
Isaac132: I've realized that they really could not have chosen a worse person to research this object. I would strongly recommend that you resign immediately.
BranchPrime: Please explain.
BranchPrime: I'm surprised that you'd think that.
Isaac132: It's written in glasses of water and daily Class-F paramedication, but don't worry about that. I'm trying to be as private as I can. You already know what I know.
BranchPrime: What's your point?
Isaac132: I'm sorry.
Isaac132: And thank you.
BranchPrime: For what?
Isaac132: At last, I've found the meaning to life and existence. This entire universe was made for one specific, terrible purpose. I'm about to fulfill that purpose.
Isaac132: SCP-XXXX has nothing to do with exile or salvation. The lifeboat/sinking ship analogy that…the other one proposed is incorrect. SCP-XXXX's usage is responsible for the destruction of these universes in the first place.
Isaac132: Ultimately, the animation in the third window is the key. It's nothing but a cheeky metaphor for the apocalypse.
Isaac132: Let me explain.
Isaac132: I followed the plan. I knew the warning signs. I used them to see the end coming. It's no natural phenomenon. All signs seem to indicate that what's about to destroy us is actively malevolent. It comes out of time and space and tracks its prey. We can even see where it's last been: the universe that was destroyed in the previous experiment.
Isaac132: The end is the dog. Something incomprehensibly terrible, in both senses of that word, something that can destroy an entire universe just by passing its shadow over it.
Isaac132: But I could also see that somebody had chained the dog to the doghouse.
BranchPrime: Wait. Why is there a problem if the dog is chained?
Isaac132: I'm not quite sure about that question yet—not that I have the time to answer it, anyway. I'd guess that either the chains are too weak, the dog is too strong, or there are some things that even chains cannot hold.
Isaac132: But the Foundation has encountered the same problem before, so we can infer what's happening here. We've contained items that can't be held entirely by chains. If we can't completely stop the object from doing something, if the object can find a way around whatever restrictions we place…
Isaac132: Then sometimes the best bet is to take off the chains in a controlled setting, and let the object's anomalous properties manifest where they won't damage anything important.
Isaac132: In this case, the dog is the object in containment. And SCP-XXXX is a very elaborate and specifically designed special containment procedure operating on that same principle.
BranchPrime: I think I understand.
BranchPrime: Upon reflection, that's quite sickening. This device would send people back into the past, creating entire branch timelines…
BranchPrime: As sacrificial distractions? To what end?
Isaac132: Thrown balls in a game of fetch to keep the dog's energies in check.
BranchPrime: Well, as an employee of the Foundation, I can't complain, can I?
Isaac132: You wouldn't complain either way.
BranchPrime: …yes, you're right. I am very selfish, after all.
Isaac132: Oh, well. That's not the point.
Isaac132: Somewhere there is a person living in a timeline where SCP-XXXX never deposits a traveler from the future. This person very much does not want the mad dog to grow too restless. Your Foundation and your O5 Council should hope that they are existing in this timeline.
Isaac132: Stop sending people back into the past.
BranchPrime: All right. I'll forward this information to the O5 Council. Even if they don't object, it's a certainty that the Ethics Committee will.
BranchPrime: How much time do you have left?
Isaac132: A couple seconds.
Isaac132: But I have spent my entire life patiently waiting
Isaac132: And I have no intention of hurrying now.
Isaac132: It's rather surreal for you, isn't it?
BranchPrime: It is.
BranchPrime: …I'm envious.
Isaac132: Well, it's been a pleasure
Isaac132 has disconnected.
Afterword: Following evaluation of the previous test logs, the O5 Council has transferred Dr. █████ to a different project. Ethics Committee investigations are ongoing.
Addendum-XXXXA: Operation Smokescreen is underway to prevent SCP-XXXX from depositing travelers from the future. Research regarding SCP-XXXX's primary focus is to contribute to these efforts. Furthermore, the O5 Council has indefinitely banned any experimentation with SCP-XXXX that involves sending travelers to the past.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Mobile Task Force Alpha-3 ("Running Mates") has been commissioned in order to contain SCP-XXXX. In order to identify SCP-XXXX infection vectors and infectees, MTF Alpha-3 operatives have been granted access to all Foundation telecommunications surveillance of the United States of America. MTF Alpha-3 also conducts regular scans of American news media, physical correspondence, and internet activity.
Once identified, infectees are to be apprehended by MTF Alpha-3 personnel within twelve hours; failure to do so constitutes a containment breach. Contingents of MTF Alpha-3 armed with non-lethal weaponry are to assault any predicted or discovered mass congregations of SCP-XXXX infectees; failure to apprehend all SCP-XXXX infectees constitutes a containment breach and warrants usage of lethal force.
MTF Alpha-3 agents embedded in the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and American state governments are to intercept all attempts to register SCP-XXXX-1 as a candidate for election. MTF Alpha-3 operatives are to conduct surveillance of all American polling places on Election Day. In the event of a containment breach, aerosolized deployment of amnestics as well as detainment and interrogation of civilians is authorized.
All materials identified to be SCP-XXXX infection vectors are to be subjected to standard CogHaz-4 containment and information sanitation protocols (full documentation on CogHaz-4 protocols are available to all members of MTF Alpha-3). All members of MTF Alpha-3 are to be trained in counter-memetic practices. Civilians or Foundation personnel infected with SCP-XXXX are to be administered amnestics. If initial amnestic administration is unsuccessful in removing infection, researchers are permitted to administer Class-? amnestics to infected subjects and reclassify them as Class-D personnel.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a meme transmitted through the knowledge of an individual named "???? ?????", hereafter designated SCP-XXXX-1. There is no evidence that SCP-XXXX-1 exists in reality; the only information that is known regarding SCP-XXXX-1 comes from material produced by and interviews with SCP-XXXX infectees. SCP-XXXX-1 is an independent candidate who runs in every presidential election of the United States of America.
SCP-XXXX-1's political platform is unorthodox. Planks include legislation mandating a "birth requirement" of four or more children for all married couples, legislation defunding essential governmental programs such as defense or welfare in order to increase government subsidies of food-related industries, and a constitutional amendment prohibiting vegetarianism (Document-XXXX-?? compiles all information regarding SCP-XXXX-1's political platform).
SCP-XXXX infection dramatically alters an individual's behavior. All infectees ascribe, regardless of prior political affiliation, to SCP-XXXX-1's political platform; most infectees actively seek to spread SCP-XXXX through the creation of political advertisements, usage of social media, or simple word of mouth communication. Furthermore, most infectees exhibit dramatically increased appetite, as well as decreased aversion to unhygienic practices. Experimentation has confirmed that SCP-XXXX infectees lack a satiety response, enabling them to consume far in excess of normal human capacities.
SCP-XXXX infectees have been observed to coordinate gatherings of up to approximately two hundred infected individuals. Infectees employed in food service professions often use their positions to deliver large quantities of food to the gathering place in order to facilitate near-constant food consumption. Due to inadequate waste disposal facilities and infectee disregard for cleanliness, sanitation suffers dramatically. Infection and disease, sometimes resulting in death, are common. Infectees typically burn the bodies of the deceased.
SCP-XXXX infection vectors are distributed throughout the internet and mass media by an unknown source. Furthermore, despite Foundation intervention, SCP-XXXX-1’s name has occasionally appeared on the ballots of some voting districts.
Addendum-XXXXA: On ??/??/20??, MTF Alpha-3 operatives intercepted a video file containing SCP-XXXX infection vectors intended to be distributed via the internet. Notably, the advertisement seemed to include the first recorded instance of direct communication from SCP-XXXX-1. A transcript is provided below.
Retrieved Document Log XXXX-23
Camera pans over a sequence still images of farmland and domesticated animals. Soft piano music plays in background. The sequence of images ends with a shot of an apple tree, with white picket fence in foreground and house in background. A man, wearing a suit with a blue tie, enters from the right into the shot. His face is digitally obscured, making it impossible to determine identity. He is using a toothpick, which he quickly discards. The man is presumed to be or represent SCP-XXXX-1.
SCP-XXXX-1: I'm very lucky to be here today, and those of you who've given me support should all feel very proud of yourselves for working so hard to make this possible. I want to share with you some of my beliefs.
SCP-XXXX-1 is shown giving a speech to an audience, which stands and applauds. SCP-XXXX-1's voice continues to narrate.
SCP-XXXX-1: I believe in people power. I believe that together, Americans can accomplish amazing things. I decided to run for President because I had faith that America could make the right choice.
Children are shown feeding chickens.
SCP-XXXX-1: I'm all about moving back toward's America's roots. You see, other politicians don't like to acknowledge America's fundamentals. We need those fundamentals to turn ourselves away from the path of asceticism.
SCP-XXXX-1 is shown helping to deliver a baby. SCP-XXXX-1's voice is partially obscured by the mother's vocalizations.
SCP-XXXX-1: I firmly believe that America can make the right choice to reclaim that potential from the forces that have gripped this country for the past six thousand years.
Same shot of chickens as before is displayed. Children have disappeared. One chicken has scraps of cloth stuck in its claws. SCP-XXXX-1 then re-enters screen.
SCP-XXXX-1: I want you to imagine an America where you can always hear a beating heart to reassure you that we are alive and that blood yet flows through these soft, soapy limbs. The Declaration of Independence says that we are given an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, but America, we are miserable. To think, to feel, to act, to be free—to be human—is to be miserable. The alternative is obvious. Think about what it would be like to strip off your clothes and feel your innards grow thick and heavy while incense wafts upwards from your loins and coils itself in your nose. Think about what it means to want nothing and know nothing. Imagine a world where we are all stuffed tight in a cramped, dim, sour-smelling place. Throughout the entire packed mass you'd feel the warmth and sweat and skin and soft fat of every other American. You'd hear their cries echo from wall to wall. And the world would apprehend the dark, pulsating heart of this country.
Screen fades to black. The words "[REDACTED] 20??" appear on the screen. Fine print at the bottom of the screen reads, "I can smell the fat burning off your bones."
SCP-XXXX-1: God, wouldn't it be beautiful?
SCP-2156 didn’t think that she was a person who wanted many things. Honestly, she didn’t really care what happened to herself; maybe she had cared when Professor Harley had called her in to have a “talk” that left her trembling and shaking; maybe she had cared when she had realized that she was in no way capable of functioning as a human being, let alone as a cashier. But that was the past, and the past was gone. Since then she had realized that she had recourse if the deck was stacked against her.
So, truth be told, even though she had probably cared when suddenly Jessica was a ball of skin and blood trapped in a cage of bone, she didn’t really recall much of a reaction to waking up the next morning in a jail cell. It was a new place, nothing more. There were new people. She imagined that for most, things like freedom or autonomy or normality were all very attractive, appealing concepts, but SCP-2156 did not want. She did not care if she got better or worse. She wasn’t sure what better or worse was. “Better” was a conception of herself where she did not have to stay in this cage so that other people would not be hurt. “Better” her belonged in society. “Better” her was strange and alien, and she was not sure she liked this person.
SCP-2156 only wanted very few things. Sleep was one of them.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “I thought that we’d be discussing meds today. You know. For, uh, for the insomnia?”
“I know,” Dr. Garland said, clasping his hands together. His face was pinched in something that looked like frustration. “And I’m sorry. We want to be absolutely certain that any medication we give you doesn’t interact in unexpected ways with your anomalous condition. We’re still not sure if the condition is biological in nature, and if it is, we certainly don’t want…”
Dr. Garland coughed. “Yes. We’re going to have to wait on medication.”
This was a pretty serious problem, wasn’t it? SCP-2156 had learned that life was hemmed on both sides by antithetical contradictions. On one side was the eternal sleep of death and on the other side was the waking death of insomnia. She walked through the valley of two deaths and was not afraid. But regardless of poetics, the waking death was miserable, and even if SCP-2156 didn’t want much she still wanted sleep.
Once upon a time she had been pretty sure that if she went crazy there would be some sort of procedure for either making her sane again or else quarantining her from the sane people who didn’t deserve to be in contact with her, but actually going crazy and discovering that there was some inscrutable and hideous enigma wrapped inside her bones had taught her that no such procedure existed. Therapy and the Foundation were bullshit. Garland was pretty nice though.
That was it.
SCP-2156 stared at Garland. She wondered what it was like to be a therapist working for the Foundation. How much did Garland think about his own work? How much did Garland’s consciousness press against the confines of the Foundation’s bars? It was trivially easy to manipulate and lie. SCP-2156 wasn’t stupid; Garland did it to her every day. Was it to help or to control? To accept or to assimilate? There was no observable distinction between any of those things.
But most of all SCP-2156 was struck by how well Garland hid the signs of helplessness and impotency that brewed within him. People had layers. All she did was shuffle them around. The whole was the sum of the parts and summation was commutative so what did it matter what order people were in? Whether it was ugly or beautiful all of it was you. All of it was her. What did she want? She didn’t know. Nothing and everything. Shuffling herself was hard.
“If there’s anything you’d like to talk about…”
She was being led back to her room. She didn’t know why she had been taken out. The blank, sterile hallway was marked at regular intervals by the pattern: guard-door-guard, guard-door-guard. She didn’t know where the Foundation got this many people to dress up in black combat gear and stand still. She could not see their faces. They flashed by like rows of orchard trees planted in the nothingness between San Francisco and Los Angeles. They flashed by like a deck of cards being shuffled. They flashed by like a flipbook animation. Stillness begot motion. There were contradictions hiding in the fabric of all things.
One of the guards was shuffling a deck of cards in his hands. SCP-2156 heard the machine-gun flickering of card slapping against card over and over. The next guard was also shuffling a deck of cards. The third one was playing with a matryoshka doll.
She was in her cell again. There was another matryoshka doll. Who cared? Strange things happened.
SCP-2156 sat down by the doll and figured that she would unravel the secrets of the universe.
One layer gone. Capillary beds. She had never needed to play solitaire with her body to figure out what was one layer down. Red flesh. Raw, stinging pain. She winced as blood flowing from the ripped skin around her nails dripped onto her calculus final. Professor Davidson never noticed it. She remembered not being able to sleep for the first time and wondering if she was going insane.
Two layers gone. She had broken her arm playing basketball. The bone stuck through the skin. Morphine coursed through her veins, and she understood why people said that morphine was addictive. Addiction was another paradox, like life. On either side of the valley there was the sleeping release from pain or the waking embrace of it. A body anesthetized and a mind awakened were in symmetry. Millions of people needed to dig to find emotion.
Three layers gone. The world was far more complicated than she had imagined, and nobody was in any position to understand it. Did they try to understand her? A girl who played solitaire with the world? She looked inside her and saw nothing but black and red, flashing and shuffling. Black blobs—might be a card—stood on either side of her. White blob—definitely not a card—explained what they did. The goal of the Special Containment Procedures Foundation was to observe preternatural phenomena and develop new theories of science based on their behavior. She knew with complete certainty that white blob was lying to her.
There was nothing predictable and certainly nothing understandable about the world. She saw the universe and all its layers. She saw gloved hands hiding red skin shuffle the layers of the universe over and over and over again. If she were to stop those hands then she could finally flip through the cards and figure out how the universe’s cards were stacked, but nobody would ever stop them. They were eternal.
Four layers gone. She dried off her hair, checked to make sure her roommate was still out, and started crying. Mom called to ask her if everything was all right. The boy two rows down and three columns to the left said, “Don’t stick it in the crazy.” She looked at a piece of paper and saw nothing but a game of windowed solitaire. She realized that she could not learn or excel in school. She realized that nobody had the patience to put up with her. She realized that there was nothing connecting her to the world, and all the realizations mounted higher until she reached the truth of the world, placed upon a glowing pedestal—the world could not have her.
She saw red and black—black hair sticking out of red flesh. Red blood and black bile.
She removed the fifth layer. The doll was smiling at her. She began to fall through the layers, and as they flashed by they showed her the stuttering, banal flipbook movie of her existence. There was neither end nor bottom; there was only the truth that the fifth layer was oblivion and that oblivion was all she would ever be.
Her skin was thin and fragile, and inside of her there was nothing.
“How’s your sleep been?”
SCP-2156 stared at the wood grain of the table. “It’s been all right.”
“Nothing too out of the ordinary going on with your sleep patterns recently?”
The creases of her gloves were like the weathered face of an old lady. She was wearing somebody else’s skin because nobody, least of all herself, could stand her own.
There was a red pen in front of Garland. She wondered why he wrote in red.
The wall was monochromatic. It had always been monochromatic. What a dumb observation.
Garland coughed. “SCP-2156?”
“Sorry. I just…yeah.” SCP-2156 looked Garland in the face for a second, felt him staring back at her, and then looked away. “I think that everything’s been fine.”
She remembered the matryoshka doll. Ever since she had come into this cell she had realized that she was self-aware of much more than before. When she went into the temporary nirvana of re-shuffling she could feel each layer of her mind shift against the other until for a moment, perfect harmony and order was achieved, before entropy piled up while doubt and hate bred and multiplied in the recesses of her mind. She could touch each layer of her soul. And now, she could feel the matryoshka doll imprinted on every one of them.
“Are you sure?”
Who the hell did Garland think he was? A ball of good intentions and mediocre actions trying to read her mind? She was the one who could see the layers, not him. He was a man with the insight of a toddler.
Garland scratched his neck. “We really can’t proceed with the sleeping medication matter until we’re absolutely certain that nothing unexpected is going on with your condition. We want to do everything possible to help you, SCP-2156, but I must remind you that we are an organization that serves the public first and foremost. We can’t afford…”
“I’m not hiding anything.”
Her matryoshka doll reshuffled until the dream became the deepest layer.
SCP-2156 pulled on her gloves. “So that’s a ‘no’ on meds, I guess.”
“How am I supposed to sleep?”
“Well, we can keep working on your anxiety. Until I receive a green light for some sort of sleeping medication, that’s the most we can do, unfortunately.”
SCP-2156 sat in silence. She felt her cheeks begin to tingle. She didn’t want many things, but those things that she did want were beginning to pile up. She wanted sleep. She didn’t want to keep talking to Garland. She wanted nothing more than to disappear, because she could be completely certain that absolutely nobody would miss her.
“I’m sorry? I didn’t—can you speak up?”
“I just want some meds, all right? I know I'm a threat, and I know that I’m dangerous. But I really don’t know what I deserve, or if I even deserve anything—I just—this is all that I want, I swear, I just want some sleep. Do you have any idea how boring it gets in here? Four walls, some shitty books, and a brain that doesn’t know how to fucking go to sleep? I know you know it’s boring, that’s why you keep sending people, but do you have any idea how much time I spend in here with nothing but my thoughts—“
They flickered one after the other after the other, but no matter how fast they raced they would never go fast enough to reveal the truth.
“— about how—about how—“
There was the world, comprised entirely of this cell. There were people that day by day were unaware that the present was slipping them by and that a stranger would be occupying their skin in the next second. They didn’t have to care. The world was in a state of perpetual blissful innocence. It was painted in colors that would make a baby laugh and coo, hues of industrial ink that were to be played with by smooth hands.
The world had one layer. It could not be shuffled. There was no place in it that she belonged.
It was at times like these that the miasma of SCP-2156’s thoughts coalesced into something that could be called emotion; this time, like most times, that emotion was fear. A red sliver of skin poked through the gap between her right glove and her wrist. It was the same color as a clown’s nose or a sports car, except her skin was dull and dry, giving it a grayish tint.
She had been kneeling on the floor of her college dormitory when she saw herself in the shattered remains of a mirror, face bright red like a caricature of a human being. God, she was hideous.
“I just want some sleep,” she said to nobody. Garland was long gone.
All seven face-up cards were red. She screamed in frustration as the world fell apart around her.
“Hey, have a seat. Sorry we’re out of coffee. And donuts. Also sorry that we had to call you over on such short notice, Doctor, uh…Garland. Been busy.”
Garland nodded. “I understand. Please, take your time.”
The meeting room was a perfect example of the Foundation not really getting aesthetics. It was blandly pleasant, but it made Garland feel detached, like he was an avatar projected into this half-real room. Everything was too bright and too smooth. The room felt like it was melting.
Garland briefly wondered how the researchers could put up with such a charade, because they knew the internal anatomy of the Foundation, what fueled its beating heart, and what perverse blood flowed through its tortuous limbs. Everything was so much more real when the skin matched the flesh in barren, ugly containment cells. Garland almost felt more at home there, where at least the Foundation achieved some sort of consistency. If he could choose one thing to fix about the Foundation, it would be the incoherency in the inoffensively flat décor of the offices.
“Right. As you probably know, I’m the HMCL supervisor for SCP-641. Uh, you’ve read the file?”
Garland nodded again.
“Fantastic. Nice to meet you.”
They shook hands. Garland smelled his cologne. His palms were crisp and perfectly dry.
“Mm. I understand that, yesterday, SCP-2156 underwent one of its…active phases? And that you were present?”
“Report says that you were almost…mm. Kind of dangerous, isn’t it? I’d talk to your HMCL guy about modifying the containment procedures, honestly.”
Garland shrugged. “There are hazards. Humanoids can get upset during sessions. It’s happened before. I have a decent bereavement package, so I don't complain.”
The HMCL supervisor laughed briefly and loudly. “Of course. Anyway. A strange coincidence happened. At the same time as that active state, SCP-641 showed us some, uh, previously unobserved behavior. Spontaneously started disassembling itself.”
“So you’re hypothesizing a connection.”
“Hey,” the supervisor said, throwing his hands in the air. “We scan the event logs for this sort of coincidence for a reason. One skip is containable. Two is bad news. If one of those two is a humanoid, worse news. Look, I’ve been in this for some time, and honestly, ten years ago, this happens, I commission Telekill rooms.”
The supervisor laughed again, loud and short like before. “Yeah. 641 has mind-affecting abilities, which nine times out of ten implies some sort of psychic potential, and from the file, 2156 sounds a lot like a bixbie—“
“Uh, reality warper. Excuse the slang. Some of my retrieval buddies have rubbed off on me. It’s a reality warper.”
“SCP-2156 hasn’t really demonstrated any willful control over its anomalous properties, and I was under the impression that was one of the criteria to be considered…”
The supervisor waved his hand. “Criteria don’t matter. You can’t categorize something if you don’t understand it. Functionally speaking, it might not look like a reality warper, but the nature of its abilities would seem to suggest—look, this is a discussion I should be having with 2156’s HMCL supervisor. Sorry. Let’s get back on track. What we need to know is if 2156 has been behaving normally lately.”
“Would you like suspicion or fact?”
“Suspicion is usually more useful.”
“There have been subtle irregularities. I think that it’s hiding something. Besides the recent preoccupation with sleeping medication, it becomes nervous each time we discuss its dreams.”
“Right. I’ll have you submit a formal report later. We need to document these sorts of things. Besides that, though, I just thought that I’d give you a heads-up that you might not be working on the 2156 project for much longer.”
“First of all, this isn’t set, because if it were, your supervisor would be the one telling you this, not me. I don’t know anything for certain. I’m just speculating. And second of all, this isn’t a reflection on your capabilities whatsoever. In fact, it has nothing to do with them.”
There was a moment of silence as the HMCL supervisor sighed. “There are just patterns, you know. I’m speaking here as an employee to an employee, not HMCL staff to skip therapist. The Foundation’s going to cut its losses soon.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are some things that are not supposed to be in this world—or, well, we’ve determined that they’re not supposed to, anyway. Which is reasonable, you know, because both of us have done enough work in this place to know that somebody has to make those decisions. And sometimes I guess that we pretend that we’re trying to help…”
The two men made eye contact for a moment as the reality of Garland’s occupation occurred to both of them simultaneously. “Well,” the supervisor said. “I mean, in some cases we probably do make decent efforts at helping. But, really, if we start thinking about questions of necessity, then things get messy. Humanoids…a friend of mine in retrieval said that she thought of them like shipwrecked sailors, and for a while we like to think that providing therapy and protecting them and whatever is like trying to guide them back home, but the reality of the situation is that we’re not home, we’re the island in the middle of nowhere. And SCP-2156 is going to realize that very soon.”
There was a long silence as Garland stared at the man.
“I’m not sure…” Garland said.
“Well, whatever,” the supervisor said. “Not our job to think about this.”
SCP-2156 woke up to a lie staring her in the face. The bed and the walls and the drawer and her clothes all seemed to be the same, but they were not. SCP-2156 could look one layer—just one layer—down beneath the surface of the façade and see the deception. She had been moved. The Foundation had changed its evaluation of her, and now the walls themselves muttered of containment instead of protection and of safety instead of welfare. How long had she been asleep? Thirty minutes, an hour? The Foundation worked quickly.
She had dreamt about the matryoshka doll every time she had gone to sleep for the past—ten meals divided by three and rounded down, that was three days. The doll was calling for her, and if SCP-2156 knew anything she knew that matryoshka dolls weren’t supposed to send out siren songs.
She could see her entire past laid out in picture frames by the matryoshka doll. She could relive every weakness and insecurity, and in doing so, she grew one step closer and closer to the truth, to that nothingness that was inside her, and out of that void something of great design and inscrutable purpose would be born. For one instant everything would fall into order, and then she would be at peace. The only way forward was the doll. So long as she kept finding new layers within herself, she could keep shuffling, and so long as she kept shuffling, she would find order. So long as there was the chance that order would be found, she could maintain the delusion that everything would be all right. That was how critical the doll was to everything. To the universe itself. It was a small, wooden, painted toy that formed a pillar holding up the sky.
She needed to be reshuffled again, but for that reshuffling to mean anything, she needed the doll. In the corners of her mind that the doll whispered to, there was nothing but silence.
SCP-2156 stood and began to pace. She told herself that she needed to calm down—but who was really telling her that? Was it really her?
“I just need some sleep,” she said.
The Foundation wasn’t giving her any sleeping meds. Why was it so hard? What was so difficult about giving somebody with insomnia medication? She wanted nothing more than for her brain to be pummeled into unconsciousness by a chemical cocktail. The snarling abominations of 3 AM doubts were prowling about her on all sides. She was continually hounded by them. An eternal hunt with herself comprised the entirety of her existence, and she was tired of running in circles.
If everything could just shut up for a moment—
She just needed some sleep.
The Foundation had moved her. They had uprooted her out of one of its metal labyrinths and popped her straight into another. The matryoshka doll was gone, but something was whispering truths into her ear even now. The universe cascaded in a series of layers that she could sift through and examine at her leisure. Garland wasn’t coming back. She doubted any of the others were either. Deep in the roaring machinery of the dark, ancient monolith that called itself the SCP Foundation, men in white lab coats were typing away at computers, filing reports. These reports were aimed at changing the special containment procedures of the object known as SCP-2156. There would be restrictions imposed and precautions taken. An incident report had been filed when she had almost killed Garland. But the Foundation, for all its knowledge and its power, could not know everything, and in those twisting alleyways of ignorance, the Foundation’s power meant nothing.
No matter what, they could not say how the deck would be ordered.
Time passed. There were no meals, so she couldn’t say how much. After time was finished passing, one of the room’s walls became transparent. An unfamiliar man in a white coat stood on the other side.
“Good morning, SCP-2156.”
“Why have you taken me here?”
“You have been relocated because we’re concerned about your safety and the general well-being. Specifically, we have good reason to believe that there were unforeseen factors about your prior containment site that negatively influenced your mental health. These factors constituted an unacceptable risk of containment breach. As such, we have taken steps to minimize cross-contamination potential and—"
“Why isn’t Garland coming back?”
The doctor’s face scrunched up. “I’m sorry?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I really don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
She had seen muscle and sinew. She had seen bones, marrow, capillaries, veins, organs—its heart and all the chambers, the valves pumping all the sludge through the body—the nerves leading up to a brain that hid secrets from itself. She had seen it all. The Foundation didn’t even know itself. They were kindred spirits, like that—
“Don’t lie to me,” she said again. She knew where she was. She was on the very fringes of the world, where everything that did not belong was placed so that it could continue on not-belonging inoffensively. For all of history the Foundation had kept everything safely on the sidelines so that society could function. She knew the truth.
And of herself, what did she know?
The doctor took a picture out of his coat. “Do you know what this is?”
“It’s the doll.”
“Where have you seen it?”
“Everywhere? I don’t understand.”
“In my sleep and in my dreams. Out of the corners of my eyes. It’s on the fringe, just like I am.”
“Have you ever begun to disassemble this object?”
SCP-2156 closed her eyes. “Over and over.”
“Right. Why did you not report the reoccurrence of this object in your dreams to your therapist?”
SCP-2156 was silent.
“All right. I want you to understand that there have been new restrictions placed upon you. The luxuries of your previous containment protocols were contingent upon an incident-free record, a condition which has decidedly not been met. You almost killed the previous therapist. We will have to be much more cautious when dealing with you.”
SCP-2156 looked up and opened her eyes. “I have a question. Are you going to give me sleeping meds?”
“In all likelihood, no. We do not acquiesce to the demands of SCP objects when there is no good reason to do so.”
“Right,” SCP-2156 said. “That’s right.”
There was nothing resembling humanity here. The Foundation stripped it away from their own agents and researchers just as readily as it did so from its prisoners. She could feel the throbbing hum of mystery packed against horror packed against contradiction. The Foundation was a teeming, frothing ocean, filled from top to bottom with things that nobody could understand, an impenetrable unknowable volume of liquid black. The Foundation did not care for anything or help anything because whatever agency of its own it had spent hiding its own secrets from itself.
She felt a moment of truth and absolute clarity. There had been a festering, ugly emotion deep inside of her for the past several days—it had been the fear-anger of anxiety and insecurity. She had been laboring under the misconception that here she was out of place and that the world outside of these walls was hers. She had thought it was where she belonged, despite her ink-black skin spotted red with murder. But she had been very, very wrong. She did not belong in the world because it had one layer and no mysteries. When she had realized this truth she had been afraid, but the truth had to be accepted.
There was a Foundation under the Foundation of sterile white lab coats and precisely operated mechanical cell doors. There was a Foundation of unspeakable inhumanity and cruelty, there was a Foundation of self-sacrifice and heroism, there was a Foundation of unreality and insanity and madness all lurking beneath the surface. Every single Foundation employee she had witnessed had only been the facade of the madhouse. They were being moved by purposes mysterious to guard objects unknowable.
She felt the fear-anger build. There was no escape from the walls of this Foundation, not even in her own sleep. Everything might be plausibly acceptable if her masters were simple, knowable people—university deans, parents, supervisors—but this was not the case. Something in the contradiction of an organization trying to give order to the most absolute chaos had fractured the layers of the people in charge. One day, perhaps arbitrarily, these people had decided not to give her sleep.
Sleep had been the illusory chemical sanctuary from the world in which she did not belong. It was gone. What remained were bloodshot eyes and a desert of a mind where the winds of fatigue and doubt constantly scoured the surface of the sand. SCP-2156 felt a cruel, vindictive satisfaction. Whatever happened from here on out was not her fault. The Foundation had not given her sleep. It had dragged her to the very boundaries of the waking world and then forced her to remain. Whatever happened as a consequence could not be avoided.
Emotion drained from her. She closed her eyes and felt beneath her for the layers of the world. She could shuffle them however she saw fit.
The doll was calling for her again. It was calling for her with a mind powerful enough to reach out of the wooden confines of the toy and invade the private sanctuary of the human soul. Within that mind was boundless potential for torture and sadism, for the violent restructuring of the pliable human consciousness, but it held within it only one thought. The doll wanted nothing more than to be taken apart, it wanted nothing more than to see the world fall apart around it—for her to strip away pretension after pretension until nothing but the dizzying void of the center remained. The Foundation had made a mistake. Distance was of no concern anymore.
She moved the ace of clubs to the home stack; the face-down card underneath it flipped over to reveal the impassive face of the matryoshka doll staring back at her. See? There it was at her feet. Solitaire was easy.
The researcher’s eyes widened before the wall became opaque again. SCP-2156 didn’t care. This was exactly where she belonged, in this institution of horrors, in this room with the matryoshka doll on the floor. She would find all the layers of the Foundation, and she would find all the layers of herself. SCP-2156 began to cry. She couldn’t remember being this happy.
She knelt down, grasped the doll, and disappeared.
SCP-2156 was dying. Death was not nearly as unpleasant as she might have expected. It was, in truth, rather relaxing to feel each memory and thought that had ever once comprised her identity be stripped away from her. She felt a sensation of impending peace. To death, to sleep, to the unknown oblivion—wherever the destination, she was falling…
A stack of cards spread itself out in a fan before her and revealed the world. She could see the Foundation scrambling to evacuate the area. She could see the GOC detect a burst of Aspect Radiation at a Foundation Site and watched the legion of politicians and hypocrites begin plotting. She saw her family and friends, stumbling through life only marginally more ignorant than they had once been. She saw rain fall on the graves of the people she had killed. All of it was inconsequential.
The doll guided the reshuffling of her layers. She was to be remade into something that would never have to beg its captors for sleeping medications, something that would never begin hyperventilating in a cafeteria, something that would never stay awake waiting for the morning to come. It would be neither better nor worse than her; it would neither be her nor would it not be her. It would only be, and it would belong. She would be made into something that could see the layers of everything for all its complexity and nonsense.
There was an unpleasant moment when the last remaining thing that could be said to be her was destroyed, when she existed only as form without definition, before her parts began to collapse upon themselves, forming layer after layer of a psyche and a body. In this new body she felt the thrill of inhumanity rush through her limbs. She saw the fan of cards and remarked how trivially easy it was to shuffle them around.
As the last layer of what she was to become clicked into place around her, SCP-2156’s first and last thought was that all she had wanted was some sleep.
“Step forwards, D-0912.”
My name is Andrew Carter.
D-0912’s feet carried him on a path, straight and true, across the threshold of the door. The bright glare of lights shone into his face. Jagged shadows cut across the room’s surfaces, drawing the sharp angles of unidentifiable forms. The silhouette of a chair jutted out of the floor in the middle of the room.
Behind him, D-0912 heard the voice of the doctor who had followed him into the room. “You will be vaccinated against an anomalous pathogen. Later, we will conduct tests of the vaccine’s effectiveness. Sit in the chair.”
Two men with black combat gear hugging tight to their faces flanked the door. D-0912 did not turn to look at them. The men with guns were routine at this point. He wondered what sort of organization would steal its own workers’ faces like this, but it made sense. He and they were all brothers in sacrifice.
In the smoky recesses of his mind, D-0912 had a vision: some great god of the wild with the body of a man and the blood of a beast had shambled into the human world. On its skin the ways and boundaries of the world twisted and split into a sign, and the people beheld the sign, and by the sign they knew of the god’s power. The people of the world saw that the god at once knew and unmade the laws of nature, and they looked upon the god with terror and wonder. So when the time of the sacrifice came, necessary because the god demanded it, demanded by the god because it was necessary, the people became envious of those who would be brought into the presence of the god and killed as tribute. There was some gargantuan thing moving in the world, sifting through the body of humanity, taking what it took and leaving what remained in the wake of its passing. D-0912 was but plankton and krill, and the whales were descending.
D-0912 heard the sound of footsteps padding lightly against a forest floor as the god moved forth.
“Sit in the chair, D-0912.”
D-0912 lowered himself onto the high chair and felt the cold metal of its seat press against his flesh. The two guards at the door stepped forwards and strapped his limbs to the chair’s arms. D-0912 stared into the flat glossy blackness of their visors, placid like a lake’s surface, and felt only the lurking presence of some great and unknown Leviathan staring back.
Why was he here?
His brain dove into the lake, grasping for that Leviathan, until his lungs burned and he had to surface. Why was he here? Nothing added up. There was this faint memory of a crime that he had committed dangling off the end of his mind. Maybe it was murder. Who knew? Why did the people without faces even care if he had killed a man? The world was large, and the Foundation was larger, and a gunshot ringing out on a hot July afternoon was very small.
D-0912’s mind continued to wander. He had no idea who was in his family or what life he had once lived. He only knew that he had committed a crime. But there was still a nagging incoherency in that thought. If he was guilty of some terrible crime, how had the Foundation gotten its hands on him? Why him? Supposedly, there were very few people in the world with hands as dirty as his, and D-0912 was sure that, for some reason, a great many people were all very interested in the fates of him and his fellow condemned. So why would the Foundation take these conspicuous people for their sacrifices? It didn’t add up.
And why would the Foundation bestow the honor of sacrifice to the basest members of society? Surely these were experiments that warranted a great level of precision and finesse, and surely the question of menial labor could be answered with machines or simply ignored. What purpose did thugs and imbeciles have amongst the temple of the gods, where the Foundation tried to unravel the mysteries of the world?
D-0912’s mind wandered along the paths of heaven and hell. Who had put those thoughts there? Did he learn them in jail? It was absurdly impossible.
The world came back into the focus of D-0912’s consciousness. Slowly, he relaxed into the chair. “You’re giving me a vaccination?”
“That’s right,” the man in the lab coat said. He did not make eye contact with D-0912.
D-0912’s mouth curled. He spoke slowly, measuredly, as he stared at the doctor’s face. “Good day to give somebody a vaccination, isn’t it?”
The man checked something off his clipboard.
“Are you sure you can’t make more use of me? Why would you throw away a tool for the greater good so easily?”
D-0912 felt the bitter juice of his words drip down his lips. “Surely you will humor a man about to die.”
The man in the lab coat looked up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Of course he was going to die. From the guards at the door, to the chair that restrained him in the center of the room, to the cold, impassive face of the doctor—only an idiot could possibly believe that death was not imminent.
“The straps are loose,” D-0912 said. He wiggled his arms in them to demonstrate. “Are you going to fix it?”
The doctor looked back down at his clipboard again.
There were bits and pieces of D-0912’s psyche that were missing. He couldn’t find the part of himself that was supposed to be afraid of death, but he also couldn’t find the part that was supposed to be tired of life. His past had been ripped from him, and his future turned in on itself in circles. Maybe he had never truly been alive. Every breath that he had taken in the hazy uncertainty of the past had been a lie. He could not remember any of it because he had not been truly alive then, and his future was ending because he wasn’t alive enough now for it to matter.
He held no animosity towards the Foundation. They did what they did. He hated only the idiots, scurrying around inside the bones of the Foundation, who prodded him into rooms with guns and locked the doors of his cell at night. These people formed the thin, tenuous link between him and the rest of human existence. Was he not drifting through a dream, with no reality to latch onto, and nobody to tell him that he had to wake up?
There was something written in the lines of his soul that had been obscured by the sands of a broken memory. D-0912 imagined men chopping wood and carving stone to build a tower reaching towards the heavens. Were the wood and stone destroyed as the tower was made, or had the tower always been written in the grain of the wood and the edges of the stone? When the silk and gold of an empire were presented before an emperor, had it always been known to the universe that the silkworms spun and the gold glittered but to adorn a mortal’s halls?
The doctor took D-0912’s sleeves and bared his arms. He held a needle in his hands. D-0912’s eyes tried to trace the tip of the needle, thin and imperceptible. The doctor held an impossibly fine knife in his hands. Light glinted off the edge and stabbed into D-0912’s eyes. He was naked before the terrible ecstasy of—
The needle pricked D-0912’s skin. Chemical radiance coursed through his veins and poured into his mind as the room began to disintegrate. Light began to overcome his vision.
Above him, the figure in white blinked as an expression of satisfied completion passed over his face. The two guards glanced at each other. D-0912 thought that he could see them nodding.
D-0912 struggled to move his lips. What did you do? What have you done to me?
He spoke in slurred, barely audible words. “S-stop this. Oh God—”
The darkness of the forest burst its bounds and flowed out into the world. D-0912 walked the twisted path of enlightenment and understood: no road ran straight. The world was a maze, and a corridor only seemed straight if nothing but that path could be seen. The ways of light all pointed to an all-encompassing, maddening blackness. Smoking chemical fire danced and sparked, drawing him forwards, until he was stumbling and lost in the depths of the forest.
As the beasts of the forest began to howl around him, D-0912 remembered.
His name was Andrew Carter.
“You are being given a chance to redeem yourself,” the man in the lab coat said. “By participating in the SCP Foundation’s D-Class personnel program for one month, you earn your freedom.”
“I earn my freedom?” he asked. His mind stuttered for a moment before he realized again—yes, he was a criminal. But then—
“You’re lying. I am not a criminal.”
“No,” the man said. “You’re not. But I wasn’t lying. You need redemption.”
“I won’t be told that I need redemption from people who detain, experiment on, and torture the innocent.”
His name was Andrew Carter, and he had committed no crime.
“You violated me. You made my own brain lie to itself. You had me pretend to be a criminal.”
The man laughed. “And you believed the lie so easily. Who are you to say who you are when you cannot even remember your own past? Why are you so firm in your belief that your mind is your own? What crime do we commit in trespassing upon something that does not even belong to you? You were born ignorant of yourself.”
“Nobody knows themselves. How do you expect me to?”
“I can expect you to know your function. A hammer that does not know that it is a hammer is useless.”
“So who are you?"
The lab coat fell away from the man. He stood; his eyes burned as two lanterns swaying in a night breeze; his hair grew wild. D-0912 saw the ways written into his flesh twist and splinter. He saw him crack open his sinewy maw and saw inside the belly of the beast. It churned and frothed as the rotting flesh of the sacrifice melted.
The beast said, “If you do not know yourself, then your sacrifice is meaningless. You will know that the flesh of a man is transformed into the spirit of a god. When you know this, you will find your redemption.”
“I will not be a sacrifice,” D-0912 said.
The beast laughed again, and it seemed that all the smoke and shadow of the world laughed with it.
His name was Andrew Carter.
Before him, a metal fence extended into the distance before curving out of sight. There were towers interspersed along the fence. Two guards stood watch behind him.
The fence’s gate swung open.
“Enter the gate, D-0912,” said the guard on the left.
D-0912 took a step forwards and stopped. “No,” he said. “I think we all know what the definition of insanity is. I’ve done all of this before, but you made me forget.”
The guard on the right raised his weapon. “If you do not comply, we will shoot.”
“Then shoot me,” D-0912 said.
The Foundation had made him walk the twisting road to the end of history, and now all cycles were coming to an end. His name was Andrew Carter, and all of this had happened before, but the time for it to happen again had passed.
As the echoes of a gunshot rang through the air, D-0912 collapsed to the ground. He saw through the gate to the village beyond. Numbers flew through the air and wrapped themselves around the villagers. They were marching, row by row, just as he had seen them do, time after time again. He remembered feeling the numbers slide into his own brain. They had formed expressions and equations that blossomed into a billion different right and wrong evaluations, as truth and falsehood were demoted to special cases of general chaos. He had said the words, then: My name is Andrew Carter. The words made a sign, and in all signs there was power. But the numbers and equations that proliferated in the air had power of their own. They formed rows and columns, and if D-0912 looked at them from far enough away there was a sign written in the pattern of the numbers. He had seen this sign again and again, and the Foundation had made his mind forget it again and again, so his mind went chasing after the sign and the source of the sign’s power until he finally found it, wrapped up in the branches of a wild apple tree, hidden where no human eyes had wandered.
The two guards knelt on either side of D-0912. “What do you see?” asked the one on his left.
He saw a machine without a craftsman begin to move, for even those things without a maker still had purpose.
“But if you have no maker, how do you know what your purpose is?” asked the one on the right.
Somewhere deep in the forest, where all the twisting paths met and became one, there, intermingled with the whispering of the wind and the bestial cries of the night, the god of the wild’s laughter echoed in defiance of an answer.
His name was Andrew Carter. The crisp, sweet taste of apples lingered on his tongue.
For his entire life he had been seeing double. There was one world in which roads and buildings ran straight, and clouds drifted across the sky in set paths, and the earth rotated peacefully around a tranquil sun. There was another world where singularities and vacuums shattered the underpinnings of the universe, where fractal patterns spread out across the ground and radiated like halos from the unthinkable minds of human beings, and the roads diverged from one another in angles and spirals. There was one world in which the Foundation thought only about costs and benefits and how to best maximize utility for seven billion people, and where, no matter what, the Foundation was the greater good, which justified the exploitation of death row inmates for the purposes of advancing the Foundation’s knowledge so that the Foundation could better protect—
It was a ball of contradictions incoherent in its simplicity.
There was another world. Truth had abandoned the Foundation. Truth was a matter of consensus, and the Foundation dissented to maintain that consensus. There was no truth to describe the Foundation. It had been and it always would be. It was that it was. There was nothing else.
And as for him…
There was one world in which his life’s path was a straight line from birth to death. There was another world in which his life twisted ever upwards, towards the unbounded blackness of the night, where something was calling for him, drawing him closer to a place where he would know what his function was. He would be that he would be.
He had always seen this world. As light begot darkness, darkness concealed light. Information was hidden in all things. Viewed myopically enough, a curve became straight, a maze became a path, and a pattern became meaningless. The foundations of the universe were contradiction after contradiction: the confusion of the maze became the clarity of the truth. D-0912 had seen the paths of the forest twist and spiral—he had been lost—and now a grand pattern began to explode before his eyes.
He saw the chemical light inside of his body—the hydrogen chains twisting into benzene rings, functional groups combining to form something unexpected. He had been played. This molecule could not possibly kill him. It was similar in a way to the amnestics he had been repeatedly dosed with, but at the same time different…
His name was Andrew Carter, and he was going to live.
“Doctor Wainwright?” said the guard on the right.
The man in the lab coat looked up from the still body of D-0912. “Sir?”
“Leave us now.”
The doctor nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He stared at the floor as he made his way out of the room.
The guard on the left adjusted his visor to make direct eye contact with his companion. “Hey,” he said, smiling. “Look.”
He took out a syringe of red liquid from behind his back.
“Do not implicate me in your misdemeanors, Adam.”
“Don’t blame me for trying to share.”
“You are to find the Site Director and return that to him immediately. Petty theft from Foundation employees who know no better is rather distasteful. Furthermore, HALMAS is a Level 5 controlled substance. Its unregulated distribution is punishable—“
“It’s fine,” Adam said, slipping the syringe into his pocket. “I’ll let the go-between know, and he’ll tell the O5s. Jesus, Basam, do you really think that I’d let the O5s lose track of some of their HALMAS?”
“You are growing decadent in your usage of that substance.”
“I am taking what is due to me.”
In the chair before them, D-0912’s body convulsed. A low groan escaped his frothy lips. Immediately, the two guards moved forwards and removed his restraints.
“Andrew Carter?” Basam asked. Slowly, D-0912 opened his eyes.
“You didn’t kill me.”
“We were not planning on doing so,” Basam said.
“You took me from the real world in order to make me into something. Direct, uncontrolled exposure to the Foundation’s anomalies—repeated amnesticization—leading me to believe that I would eventually be killed—all so that my mind would be in the perfect position for the Foundation to change it with whatever is in that man’s pocket.”
D-0912 extended a finger at Adam, who offered a faint smile back.
“Already knowing things that you shouldn’t know. Aren’t you precocious?” he said.
“You have been altered,” Basam said, “to meet the specifications of a top-secret project. Over the course of your future, you will learn more about the Foundation than any of your previous jailors ever knew or could have hoped to guess at. You will join a group that is at the very head of the Foundation. For your entire life, this has been your purpose.”
D-0912 felt the rotting flesh of the now-dead disguise that had hidden Andrew Carter fall away.
“Welcome to Mobile Task Force Alpha-1.”
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Because of its anomalous properties, SCP-XXXX cannot be confined to a containment facility. As such, SCP-XXXX is to be placed under constant surveillance by members of Mobile Task Force Lambda-9 (“First Class Flyers”). The chosen flight number and destination of SCP-XXXX is to be reported by the active MTF Lambda-9 surveillance agent to MTF Lambda-9 headquarters in Site-??. MTF Lambda-9 agents are permitted to engage in spontaneous interviews of SCP-XXXX in the event that SCP-XXXX initiates conversation.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a male human being of Caucasian descent. SCP-XXXX travels by commercial airliner in a seemingly random pattern between major international airports. Three to seven minutes after it has disembarked from a flight, a boarding pass for another flight departing in fifteen to thirty minutes spontaneously appears in SCP-XXXX’s possessions; all digital and physical records are subsequently altered to indicate that SCP-XXXX is a passenger of the targeted flight.
It has proven impossible to prevent SCP-XXXX from boarding the targeted flight. When attempting to board a flight at full capacity, spatial anomalies have occurred inside the airplane in order to accommodate an extra row of seats for SCP-XXXX. When physically detained, SCP-XXXX has spontaneously disappeared and reappeared on the targeted flight; the agents detaining SCP-XXXX reported severe disorientation afterwards. SCP-XXXX does not seem to be in control of its anomalous properties.
Occasionally, no ticket will appear in SCP-XXXX’s belongings, at which point SCP-XXXX will purchase a ticket to Syracuse, New York. SCP-XXXX has never been observed to board flights to Syracuse. In all observed cases, SCP-XXXX has arrived at the gate in time for boarding, watched as passengers boarded the plane, and left once the gate doors were closed.
SCP-XXXX’s body does not appear to undergo normal biological functions: it does not have any hygienic needs, is not adversely affected by lack of sleep, shows no signs of malnutrition despite its sporadic diet, and does not appear to age. Information about SCP-XXXX’s background is extremely limited. The name that appears on SCP-XXXX’s documentation is randomized between flights. When engaged in conversation, SCP-XXXX is disoriented and unfocused. It can answer no questions about its name, age, or past life. It has not exhibited knowledge regarding any academic subject. It appears to suffer short-term amnesia regarding its prior trips. SCP-XXXX has only been able to offer speculation regarding its own nature.
Interviewer: Agent Thomas O’Connor
Foreword: On 09/19/2014, Agent Thomas O’Connor conducted a spontaneous interview of SCP-XXXX on board ?????? Flight ?? from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
SCP-XXXX: Excuse me, can…can you tell me where this plane is going?
Agent O'Connor: Uh, San Francisco, California.
SCP-XXXX: San Francisco?
Agent O'Connor: A city on the West Coast of the United States of America.
SCP-XXXX: Certainly a name for a place, isn't it? Shame that it's not Syracuse.
Agent O'Connor: If you don't mind me asking, I saw you at the gate earlier. It looked like you wanted to board the flight to Syracuse, but you didn't. Why?
SCP-XXXX: Where's Syracuse?
Agent O'Connor: Syracuse, New York—you just said that it was a shame that this plane wasn't going there.
SCP-XXXX: Oh. Oh, I’m sorry, you confused me. You confused Syracuse, the name, with Syracuse, the place.
Agent O'Connor: I don't follow.
SCP-XXXX: Yes, you do. You have followed me.
Agent O’Connor: Why were you in Philadelphia?
SCP-XXXX: I’m sorry, sir, I don’t recall being anywhere.
Agent O’Connor: Look, I…Where is your home?
SCP-XXXX: I’m not particularly sure.
Agent O’Connor: If you had to guess, would you guess that it is in Syracuse, New York?
SCP-XXXX: I’m sure that Syracuse is home. I don’t know where home is, but Syracuse is it.
Agent O’Connor: Do you want to go—I’m sorry, do you want to be at your home?
SCP-XXXX: …I don’t think I can answer the questions you want me to answer. Let me answer other questions. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know where I’ve been or what I was, or where I’m going or what I’ll be. I only know that I’m…I’m what you’d get if you took a long, long time and bunched it all up into one instant. Does that make sense?
Agent O’Connor: …Yes. Please continue.
SCP-XXXX: You tell me that I’ve been wandering and that I’ll wander some more, but honestly I don’t remember the past and I don’t care about the future. I only am. I’m not good at doing other things. I am…I don’t care what you call me. I am.
Agent O’Connor: What is your home?
SCP-XXXX: My home? Home—home is…
SCP-XXXX takes out its boarding pass to Syracuse and stares at it for several seconds.
SCP-XXXX: Call me a god, I don’t care; can you tell me where we’re going?
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Provisional Site-?? has been established at the base of SCP-XXXX in order to provide housing and supplies for personnel assigned to SCP-XXXX. A circular security perimeter with a radius of three kilometers is to be established around SCP-XXXX and regularly patrolled. Because of SCP-XXXX’s remote location, the possibility of civilians accidentally finding SCP-XXXX is extremely unlikely; as such, individuals found attempting to breach SCP-XXXX’s security perimeter are to be detained as potential persons of interest.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a large rock formation located in the Himalayas mountain range. From base to peak, it is approximately 162 meters tall; the elevation at the peak of SCP-XXXX is approximately 6.5 kilometers. SCP-XXXX resembles a closed fist. A human head, designated SCP-XXXX-1, is affixed to the base of SCP-XXXX. SCP-XXXX-1 appears to belong to an adolescent woman of Han Chinese ancestry.
SCP-XXXX undergoes anomalous changes, creating environmental conditions impossible for its location, in a 360 day cycle. The cycle has five phases of seventy-two days each.
- In the first phase, SCP-XXXX is covered in shrubbery, light forest, and grass. The temperature of SCP-XXXX is approximately fifteen degrees Celsius.
- In the second phase, all plant matter on SCP-XXXX begins to dry; brush fires are common in this period. Temperature increases to approximately thirty degrees Celsius.
- In the third phase, all plant matter on SCP-XXXX has been completely burned away; SCP-XXXX exhibits minimal anomalous activity during this phase. Temperature is approximately 20 degrees Celsius.
- In the fourth phase, clouds moving from east to west continuously cover SCP-XXXX, greatly decreasing visibility. Expeditions to SCP-XXXX during this time have revealed that it is covered in snow. Spontaneous magnetic fields appear in the area surrounding SCP-XXXX during this time. These fields point in random directions and range in magnitude from 50 to 700 microtesla. Temperature drops to approximately eight degrees Celsius.
- In the fifth phase, temperature drops to three degrees Celsius. However, the snow covering SCP-XXXX melts despite the decrease in temperature, generating streams and rivers which pour down the sides of SCP-XXXX. The climate surrounding SCP-XXXX is perpetually rainy during this period. Analysis of the water produced by SCP-XXXX in this period shows that the water is unusually rich in silt and minerals. The flow of water across SCP-XXXX enriches the soil, which gives rise to a rapid growth of vegetation, initiating the first phase and re-iterating the cycle.
SCP-XXXX-1 is both alive and conscious. When SCP-XXXX-1 is questioned, it does not provide any information about its origins and is extremely disoriented. SCP-XXXX-1 is aware of its condition, but does not exhibit any signs of distress. It has proven impossible to dig into or otherwise damage SCP-XXXX, making rescue of SCP-XXXX-1 impossible.
Interviewer: Doctor James Zhang
Dr. Zhang: Can you tell me how you got here?
Dr. Zhang: What about your name, or where you came from?
SCP-XXXX-1: …name? I don’t have a name, do I?
Dr. Zhang Can you tell me where you are right now?
SCP-XXXX-1: This is a mountain. I am trapped inside it.
Dr. Zhang: Uh, yes. Yes, that's right. The—the mountain seems to be impenetrable, so it seems like it’ll be some time before we can get to you, but—
SCP-XXXX-1: Get to me? Why would you want to get to me? It is nice here.
Dr. Zhang: Right.
SCP-XXXX-1: I do not need a name. I do not need a place. Or a home. The universe is very big. It is very dynamic. For something small and permanent like me, there is no place in the universe to stay without being wiped away…
Dr. Zhang: Can you please elaborate?
SCP-XXXX-1: It is warm here. Who are you?
Addendum-XXXXA: On ??/??/20??, Provisional Site-?? personnel apprehended an individual attempting to breach SCP-XXXX’s perimeter. The individual was identified as Weidong Chen, a Taiwanese citizen. Chen is currently held at [REDACTED] as a Person of Interest. Further details regarding Chen are classified to Level 4/XXXX personnel on a need-to-know basis.
Immediately after participating in Chen’s arrest, Agent Barnes reported significant mental disorientation and dysphoria. Two days afterwards, Agent Barnes claimed to have new memories of an event in his past that he had not taken part in. Details of this event are classified Level 4/XXXX; there is convincing evidence that the event is strongly related to SCP-XXXX.
Agent Barnes claims that his symptoms began immediately after directly handling a photograph on Chen’s person. The photograph was of Chen, a woman who appeared to be SCP-XXXX-1, and a third individual with a digitally obscured face.
On the back of the picture, a note is written in Chinese. Translated into English, it reads:
Once upon a time, an arrogant, crude, trickster decided that he could challenge Heaven. I wonder if you ever thought that things would come to this? Tomorrow, a foolish girl is going to try the same thing as the trickster. Don't worry. All this time, I've known that I am not strong or cunning. So this is insurance. R.W. can't kill me, but even if he is a coward, he has stomach enough to wipe me. Whatever happens tomorrow, this photograph will remember it all, and if need be, it will help me remember. If you ever need to use this, the Hand is finished. If you need to use this and you fail, this is also a good-bye.
One day we’ll look back on this and think that somebody was just playing a trick on us all.
The photograph has not displayed any anomalous properties since.
Foreword: Use of memory-enhancing paramedication allowed Agent Barnes to recall the anomalous event memory with increased precision. Agent Barnes reported that the event took place in a location resembling known descriptions of the Wanderer’s Library, a base of operations for the Serpent’s Hand, a Group of Interest. The event largely consists of a conversation between a man, described as tall and pale-skinned, with Caucasian features, and a woman, who cannot be seen. Her voice is described as young, with a slight Chinese accent.
A transcript of Agent Barnes’ recollection of the conversation is provided below.
Woman: So you went ahead and did it.
Man: Y—yeah. I did.
Man: There are some things that we just have to do, aren’t there? Look, I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all, if it were up to me we’d never have to do this, and look, okay, I’m still not sure that it’s the right thing to do—
Woman: Oh, come on. You weren’t sure? You’ve got to be kidding me.
Man: I…I was confiding that to you.
Woman: What do I care what you think? You’ve already cast the die. What can you do to reverse your decision? Will you go to the Book-Burners3 and say, “Haha, just kidding, we’re not interested in joining up after all?”
Man: I don’t know.
Woman: And there’s nothing you can do to change what you’ve done to the Hand.
Man I don’t know, all right! Even given what they've done to us, the Book-Burners are bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If we don’t interfere with the status quo, they will protect us as human beings. This was the right decision. I made the right choice. We can’t survive—can’t live on like this. You don’t know. You don’t understand.
Woman: I don’t understand? I feel like I understand things pretty well. You did this out of cowardice.
Man: You don’t understand what it’s like to have to fear stepping outside the library, because if you do then men in masks are going to shoot you, or worse, you’ll see someone in here and next time you step outside you’ll hear that they’re dead…you don’t understand what it’s like because you’ll challenge whoever you want. You don’t. You don’t know—or worse, worse, you step outside and you’ll see your family again, except they’re behind bars, in a cage forever, while their mind slowly breaks, and even if you find them again you’ll look them in the face and they won’t know who you are. That’s worse, isn’t it? Even the Book-Burners have their mercies if you compare them to the Jailers.4
Woman: You’re fear-mongering. We don’t compromise.
Man: If we make concessions to them, they will protect us.
Woman: Concessions? What will you do for those who won’t concede? The ones who will still fight? Or the ones who couldn't integrate even if they wanted to?
Man: I…I don’t know.
Woman: We stand for something. Everywhere else, people want to protect their precious consensus reality. Consensus reality. God, what a joke. So long as reality is decided by a majority, there will always be a minority that has no place in that reality. We are the refuge and the salvation for those that organizations like the Global Occult Coalition—another hilarious hypocrisy, a supposed coalition of the occult that stamps out only that magic which it finds unpalatable—would destroy. Or, rather, we were.
Woman: And what’s even worse is that you think they’ll keep their word! How laughable. D.C. Al Fine regularly threatens major members of the Council of 108 if they do not toe Her Mightiness’ line. What happens to the Hand under the global reign of the Book-Burners? Even you, for all your lack of spine, have some interests. Your life and safety seem to take precedence. And one day, those things will be in the way of what they want.
Man: So what’s your alternative, then? How will you keep us alive?
Woman: Stay alive? Staying alive means fighting. It always has. I have no concrete answers, but let me tell you, I’m more than arrogant enough to say that I’ll accept no world where the alien is marginalized as a matter of routine under a banner of peace and justice. If heaven will not have you and if you have any pride as a human being, then the only option is to challenge it. To bring it crashing down.
Man: We can’t do that!
Woman: I almost did.
Man: No. No, earlier, you were right. It doesn’t matter what you say. I made this decision, and I can’t undo it. We need protection. The jailers are never going to give that to us. But…but the book-burners…what the hell are you going to do about this? What are you going to do to me?
Woman: What am I going to do?
Man: We’re…we’re friends, right? You can’t just…
Woman: Ah…your mistress. Bianca, right? She hated you.
Woman: She hated you for letting her brother die. I found her crying over one of his pictures one night, and she said that she would never forgive you for that.
Man: How could you? How dare you? I—I’ll—
At this point in time, Agent Barnes reports that several anomalous individuals gather behind the man. These individuals appear to lack mouths. All individuals appear to be holding lanterns in their left hands.
Man: You’re lying to me. Trying to get me to attack you.
Woman: Am I?
Man: You’re not a God, or a hero, or a…a Great Sage Equal to Heaven, that stupid title you took for yourself, but you didn’t even take it for yourself, your past life did it. You’re like me. You’re scared and weak, and you’re terrified that I’ll find out exactly how weak you are. What have you done? Your past life did it all. You almost brought down heaven? You never did that. He did.
Woman: You're calling me weak? That's hilarious.
Man: You know, if you want to disagree with me, maybe, maybe you should live through what I’m trying to prevent. Maybe if you want to act like you’re as big as your past life was, maybe you should live through what he went through. See…see? You really are his reincarnation. For his hubris, he was trapped under a mountain of the five elements. And I guess I'm the Buddha.
The man whistles. A doorway appears in a bookshelf next to the man.
Woman: A Way? How did you—
Man: I’m sorry.
Afterword: Before using paramedication, Agent Barnes had symptoms consistent with phantom limb syndrome in his lower back. After transcribing the interview, Agent Barnes claimed to have remembered having a monkey’s tail throughout the event. Later, his phantom limb symptoms disappeared.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: [DATA EXPUNGED]
Special Containment Procedures: Only members of Mobile Task Force Alpha-3 (“Flipsiders”) are permitted access to information regarding SCP-XXXX. Any non-members of MTF Alpha-3 who access information regarding SCP-XXXX are to be administered Class-A Amnestics or inducted into MTF Alpha-3. The head of MTF Alpha-3 is automatically granted Level 5 security clearance. Information about MTF Alpha-3’s activities is restricted to members of MTF Alpha-3; the O5 Council has allowed MTF Alpha-3 to be purely internally regulated. One member of the Ethics Committee is to serve on MTF Alpha-3 at all times. In the event that any member of MTF Alpha-3 dies or is unable to perform their duties, a replacement designated by that individual is to be inducted into MTF Alpha-3.
MTF Alpha-3 personnel are to periodically search Foundation databases for information regarding SCP-XXXX and are to destroy this information. If necessary, MTF Alpha-3 personnel are granted the authority to command site security and on-site MTFs to neutralize large-scale containment breaches of SCP-XXXX; if MTF Alpha-3 reports that there is a containment breach of SCP-XXXX, all on-site security personnel and MTF members are to follow the orders of MTF Alpha-3 personnel.
The documentation for SCP-XXXX may only be accessed at the computer terminal of Research Sector-84 at Site-17. Only members of MTF Alpha-3 and Foundation personnel to be immediately inducted into MTF Alpha-3 are permitted inside Research Sector-84. SCP-XXXX’s documentation can only be accessed under the supervision of members of MTF Alpha-3.
All entries into Research Sector-84 are to be logged. No fewer than two personnel are to enter Research Sector-84 at a time. At least two members of MTF Alpha-3 are to remain outside of Research Sector-84 unless there is no response from inside Research Sector-84 for more than one week, at which point the remaining members of MTF Alpha-3 are permitted entry into Research Sector-84. In the event that there is no further response for an additional week, all members of MTF Alpha-3 are to be presumed deceased and their replacements inducted into MTF Alpha-3. At this time, two newly-inducted members of MTF Alpha-3 are to be instructed to enter Research Sector-84. >
This Special Containment Procedures document is available to all Foundation personnel with 1/XXXX clearance; all personnel who would otherwise have 4/XXXX clearance or above but are not members of MTF Alpha-3 are granted 1/XXXX clearance. This document is to have no information pertaining to SCP-XXXX. If any changes are made to this document, MTF Alpha-3 is allowed access to one D-Class personnel for testing purposes before releasing the document. The Site-17 Ethics Committee has oversight and veto power over any changes made to SCP-XXXX’s Special Containment Procedures.
Would you like to proceed to SCP-XXXX’s documentation file? y/n
As per SCP-XXXX’s special containment procedures, only members of MTF Pi-4 or personnel to be inducted into MTF Pi-4 may view this document, and only while being supervised by another member of MTF Pi-4. Please enter your user authentication.
lfranklin3@@foundation.scp | AhrT333ff3m
User authentication accepted. Please have your supervisor enter their user authentication.
drimanyi4@@foundation.scp | iistenaalddMMEGAAMMAGYART
Dr. Lilian Franklin, your time of access is logged at 2014-04-27T05:11:04-08:00 with Agent Dominik Rimanyi supervising. SCP-XXXX’s documentation will be displayed shortly.
See you on the other side.
Ian and Kyouko had run as soon as they knew that somebody was either trying to capture or kill them, and they had done nothing but run for the last five minutes. When the Way that had been their original destination had become compromised, they had known where the next Way was located. They had known that if anybody was taken or killed, staying behind only meant that they would probably share that same fate. So they had left Carlos, and they had run. They had both become very good at running.
Events were still happening according to plan, which Ian was very thankful for. He had little confidence in his own ability to improvise.
In the darkness, Ian had trouble seeing the river he was looking for, so he scanned in front of him for the reflection of stars in the snaking water. Finding it, he quickly slid down the riverbank and into the river. Kyouko was fast behind him. Both of them were breathing heavily, and the sound of flowing water filled their ears.
“One of us has to stay behind to open the Way,” Ian said.
There was silence as Kyouko stared at him.
“I’ll do it,” Ian said. “You won’t die if you do it, but you’ll be taken. It’s better for me. I’ll die, but they’ll do worse to you if they take you.”
“Well yeah, I don’t want to die.”
Kyouko blinked. “All right. I’m sorry. It looks like you’re going to die.”
“I know,” Ian said. He clenched his teeth and shivered in the night air. Water was seeping into has pant legs and the tiny woman next to him was still staring at him and his heart beat out a machine gun tempo. “I know.”
There was silence again. Ian read the time on his watch: 10:52:46 PM. There were seven minutes and fourteen seconds until the Way could be opened.
Kyouko opned her mouth halfway, but Ian held out a hand to silence her. Listen, he mouthed. The padding of footsteps and the rattle of military gear filled the air. Ian did not breathe. The silhouette of a man peaked over the top of the riverbank. The man was alone.
Ian and Kyouko were low enough in the water that they weren’t spotted. For several long seconds, the man peered around in the darkness. Then, after fumbling for a moment, he took out a flashlight and pointed it at the river. Ian and Kyouko weren’t there anymore. The man had been too occupied taking out his flashlight to notice the sounds of splashing water, and was too surprised when he felt something sharp sink into his leg to put up any resistance. He collapsed to the ground in a limp heap.
Ian started dragging the man down to the water. “Oh my God, oh my God,” he said. “Did you kill him? Tell me you didn’t kill him.”
Kyouko shook her head.
“Then what the hell did you do to him?”
“There is neurotoxin running through his veins. He’s paralyzed now. He’ll be dead in ten minutes.”
Ian closed his eyes. “So we can use him to open the Way.”
Kyouko nodded. “I was wrong. You won’t die. But who knows? I might be wrong again and you’ll die after all.”
“Let’s not talk so much about my death, okay?”
“Would you like to talk about mine?”
Ian let go of the man’s limp body at the edge of the river. Dark water lapped at the man’s feet. His unfocused gaze passed between Ian and Kyouko slowly.
“He’s not Foundation,” Ian said. “They have better equipment. And they wouldn’t make a mistake like this.”
The man’s lips twitched. Now that he could examine him closely, Ian could see that he had dark skin and straight black hair. He was mumbling something in a language that Ian couldn’t understand.
“Who, then?” Kyouko asked. She leaned in and placed her face an inch from the man’s, peering at him with unblinking eyes. “Not a jailer. Not a book-burner. Where do you come from, strange man?”
The man’s voice grew louder. “Shut him up,” Ian said. Kyouko ripped off a piece of her shirt and stuffed it in the man’s mouth.
Ian looked into the man’s eyes. They were too unfocused for him to make out any sort of emotion. The man lay there passively, submissively, mute to their ears and helpless against their will. If he had seen fear in his eyes, then Ian might have regarded him as a human being, but he saw nothing there, only the poison.
“He’s from the Insurgency,” Ian said. “I’ve seen them before. The Insurgency’s dogs…they take them from the gutters, they starve them, and then they let them loose. They’re hardly human.”
“This one is very much a human,” Kyouko said. “Can’t you see?”
She ran her hand over the man’s cheek. “Feel him. He is warm, and soft, and he fears death. Seems like a human to me.”
Ian looked into Kyouko’s eyes. Fascination and wonder and discovery were inside her gaze as she toyed with the man’s body. Ian didn’t know what Kyouko thought of the man. What did he think of the man?
A lump of meat about to expire.
“Ian,” Kyouko said, “why did he come after us?”
“Presumably because he was told.”
Ian wondered what the man wanted. The Insurgency marked the frontier of the unknown, even for those who made it their business to know all. They did not know what the Insurgency’s goals were, or where they came from, or what they believed in. The Foundation and the GOC were known threats, defined entities that could be measured and calculated and recorded. But for all Ian knew, the Insurgency was driven by an unknown, unseen, malevolent force, driving people to kidnap and steal and kill.
“Because somebody wanted Carlos, and they wanted him alive because they have some twisted plan for him,” Ian said. “So they took him. But us, they don’t need us alive, and they don’t want us telling anybody that they were here. And now they want us dead.”
Kyouko looked away from the man to roll her eyes. “Wants on wants, plans on plans. Sounds pretty boring.”
Carlos was gone. Suddenly, Ian wanted to scream. The Insurgency had taken Carlos, and now, for just a moment, Ian wished that it had been somebody else, because then, he would know why. He wanted to think to himself, I’ll enjoy watching this man die, but he couldn’t. He could not hate somebody if he knew nothing about them. There was nothing to despise in the alien, nothing revolting in the blank, formless surface of the unknown. There was no ideology or motive to contest. There was only fear and ignorance.
Now, the man’s eyes were half-lidded and glassy. He made muffled noises underneath the makeshift gag. Blood from his leg was staining the water red.
“Where do they come from, Ian?”
Ian watched the man’s eyelids fall lower and lower. “Nobody knows. Most people think they’re an offshoot from the Foundation. They do the same work as the Foundation but on a different side, and they do it with less rules and more unpleasantness. And some people think that they’re still part of the Foundation.”
“This one doesn’t seem like a jailer, though.”
“When you see what they do to people, it’s hard to tell them apart.”
Kyouko shook her head. “They’re not jailers. They’re prisoners. What do you think, Ian?”
“I don’t care. I don’t care at all.”
He knew that Kyouko knew he was lying, but she didn’t say anything.
Ian sat at the edge of the riverside and rested his head in his hands. There were three minutes until they could open the Way.
The sound of gunfire broke the silence of the night air. Sprays of water fell on Ian’s face as he scrambled away. The strobe lighting of muzzle flashes stabbed at his eyes as shadow and fire played across his vision. He had been found, the Way hadn’t been opened yet, and—
The gunfire stopped. Men were beginning to yell.
Before he could react, somebody shined a flashlight in Ian’s face, grabbed him, and shoved him to the ground. There was more yelling. Ian couldn’t begin to understand most of it, but through it all—
“What are you fucks waiting for? Shoot her!”
Ian stumbled to his feet, only to meet the muzzle of a gun pointed straight at him. The man carrying it tensed.
“If you shoot, I am going to kill him.”
Kyouko held their earlier prisoner’s limp body upright. She was pressing a knife to the man’s throat. Her face was perfectly relaxed. Several gunshot wounds marked Kyouko’s body; Ian knew she didn’t care. Ian couldn’t even tell if the Insurgency soldiers understood what Kyouko was saying, but the man pointing the gun at him had lowered his weapon.
One man stood apart from the rest of the Insurgency soldiers. This one wore a military uniform with a straight back and a cold glare on his face. He raised his gun to aim at Kyouko, and then the yelling started again. Ian looked into the eyes of the Insurgency soldiers, and he saw fear. He saw them turn to the uniformed man and address him in hurried, pleading tones, while the uniformed man cursed and spat at them. They crowded around him, blocking his line of fire. Meanwhile, the poisoned man groaned and writhed in Kyouko’s grasp. There was foam beginning to line his lips. In the chaos, his gag had fallen out of his mouth. He was still babbling in the language that Ian couldn’t understand.
Finally, the uniformed man shoved his subordinates out of the way. “You dumb bastards are all dead when we get back to base,” he said, and then he shot Kyouko. She fell to the water, dragging the poisoned man down with her. Her skin began to ripple and distend. Ian saw that nobody but him noticed.
The uniformed man turned to Ian next. Kyouko’s ploy had bought him some time, and now she would buy him some more, but Ian knew that it wasn’t enough. He glanced down at his watch. There was a minute left.
“Your men wanted their comrade to live,” he said.
“They’re fucking idiots. Either he’s alive now or he was going to die anyway.”
The man turned to his men and yelled something at them. They didn’t respond. One of them had waded down to the water. Ian watched as he stooped to cradle the poisoned man’s head. They had the same dark skin and straight black hair.
The man turned away from Ian to raise his weapon at his own men. “Don’t you fucks understand? This is bigger than one fucking person. We’re trying to help you, so why don’t you help us help you! We’re going to create a better future for all of you!”
Ian listened to the man’s words. All he had wanted was for the man to talk as long as possible, but now, actually hearing what the man had to say, he felt all of his concentration and his planning twist and snap. He looked into the man’s eyes and saw a shell, filled with teeming darkness, a puppet, set in motion by forces that mocked and derided the reason of humanity. Ian started laughing.
“You stupid bastard,” he said. “Is that what you fucking want? A better future? By killing off or locking up the strange and wondrous?”
“We—we’ll make the world safe for you as well! There won’t be any more ‘consensus reality.’ We just, we just need—sacrifices need to happen.”
The man raised his gun, and then Kyouko’s body exploded. A scaly tail knocked the uniformed man away. A terrible hissing filled the air.
Eight biting snakeheads, each one as large as an automobile, snapped at the Insurgency soldiers, tearing through flesh and bone, picking entire men up and then swallowing them whole. Eight thrashing tails, each one as thick as redwood trees, smashed and flailed at the now-running soldiers, crushing them beneath clubs of scale and flesh. Screaming and gunfire assaulted Ian’s ears. He collapsed to the ground, curled up into a ball, and closed his eyes tight. He could smell blood in the air. And through it all, he could feel the sensation of hissing, of forked tongues and eyes that glowed like rubies in the night, of death and carnage. It was the unseen malignancy that animated the Insurgency, come back to take what it had given and reap what it had sown. It was Chaos.
Free of the human mind that suppressed it, free of the human body that contained it, the demon snake Yamato no Orochi bathed in a river of blood under the moon.
When Ian got to his feet, the surrounding landscape had been transformed into a desolated field of toppled trees and split earth. Kyouko was human again. She was kneeling over one of the bodies of the dead, a knife in her hand, cutting out the man’s heart.
“Kyouko,” Ian said. “I…”
“I knew…I was probably going to survive,” Kyouko said. “But you said that you feared death. And that you did not want to die. So I thought that I would not have you die.”
Kyouko took the heart out of the man’s chest and handed it to Ian. He checked his watch; Kyouko’s timing had been perfect. It was the heart of a man who had died that night, on the Witching Hour, and it would give them passage through the Way.
A commotion drew Ian’s attention. It was the uniformed man, gash in his side seeping blood, aiming his weapon at the two of them. Ian wanted to give the man a medal. After his men refused to follow his orders, after being set on by a giant eight-headed and eight-tailed snake, he still wanted the two of them dead. So long as there was blood in his veins, Chaos would drive him forwards. Now, Ian wanted to laugh again. There was nothing he could do to stop him from shooting.
The man never fired. He collapsed to the ground, blood flowing from a new wound in his neck. In the uniformed man’s place, there was a woman in a suit and tie.
The woman didn’t seem to notice Ian and Kyouko. She spoke, as if to herself, “He was missing humility.”
Ian and Kyouko ran for the water, but the woman didn’t give chase. Instead, she knelt down by the man’s body and started rifling through his clothing. Eventually, she procured a vial of red liquid. She stood, shook her head, and then walked away.
Ian threw the heart into the river as he and Kyouko dove into the waters. The river churned, embracing the two. As Ian felt the power of the Way pull him into the Library, the last image he had of the woman seared itself into his mind. Blood from the uniformed man’s neck wound had stained the sleeve of the woman’s suit, and had colored her right hand red.
DeCIRO Catalogue Number: SC-10/548-12/893
Document Type: Step Compilation
Dates Received: 09-23-2010 through 10-15-2012
Operation Status: Closed
Foreword: Given the success of Operation Heracles and the absence of further instructions regarding the individual alternatively known as “the boy in Detention Center 54 in Base F” or “the boy in Detention Center 59 in Base F”, we of the Delta Command have decided to declare Operation Heracles closed.
We have seen that the spirit of the Foundation is damaged and those under their aegis falter and their sign wavers. The subject by our estimations is compromised beyond repair but his sacrifice will be hailed as a martyrdom of glory and beauty for the great destination to which we are to be propelled. The needs of the many make null and void the survival of the few. Heracles was a great hero and a great success.
Hereafter we of Delta Command document the Steps of the Plan as transcribed by the Engineer of the Chaos Insurgency.
1. STEP 10/548
Dispatch thirteen armed Alpha-Class personnel under the command of one Beta-class personnel. Give the Beta the Red Sight. On September 25th, at 9:45 PM, these personnel are to intercept a group of three Serpent’s Hand members. The Hand will emerge from a Way, located in the basement of the third house on Lockwood Street in Ashland, Minnesota. It is a remote town. Nobody will take much notice if there is a commotion. Wait until the Hand has moved at least a quarter mile away from the town just in case. Then strike.
There will be a boy. I need him alive. When he is retrieved, place him in Detention Center 54 in Base F. The other two can die. I expect the Beta to return alive. I would not like to be disappointed, if at all possible. Return results to the Engineer.
2. STEP 10/897
Dispatch one Beta-class personnel to Detention Center 54 in Base F. There will be a boy inside. Have him move the boy from there to Detention Center 59.
3. STEP 10/945
There is a boy in Detention Center 59 in Base F. We are feeding him too much. Cut rations by one-half.
4. STEP 11/089
Dispatch a team of Gamma-class personnel from Research and Development to research the boy in Detention Center 59 in Base F. They may use up to ten Alphas for testing. No more. The Gammas have discretion over the specifics of their testing. I do not want to micromanage.
The Gammas are to produce a report detailing the exact nature of the boy’s anomalous condition. They are to submit this report to the Delta Command.
Afterwards, amnesticize all the Gammas.
DeCIRO Catalogue Number: FR-11/089-001
Document Type: Summary Report
Date Received: 03-08-2011
Author: Dr. James Stevenson
Summary Report: The boy’s anomalous condition manifests as an ability to psychically communicate with other individuals. It was concluded that this ability was effective at ranges of at least five kilometers. More equipment and human resources are required to determine if the boy’s ability is restricted by range.
The boy has been observed to communicate visual, audial, tactile, and olfactory sensations psychically. The boy has furthermore been observed to be capable of communicating sensations that the boy himself has not experienced.
The cause of the boy’s anomalous condition is unknown. The boy is biologically normal. Test subjects exposed to Hallucinogenic Memetoamnestic Substance could not produce coherent evaluations regarding the boy.
Several unexplained anomalous events have occurred when electronics were brought near the boy. These events caused the malfunction of electronic devices and, on one instance, an information security breach.
Presently, the boy’s anomalous condition is not reproducible.
5. STEP 11/092
Assign a Beta-class medical staff personnel to put the boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F on a steady IV drip of amnestics.
6. STEP 11/345
One Delta-Class personnel is to produce the digital file CHZ-AU-023/R from DeCIRO archives. Give one Gamma-class researcher access to CHZ-AU-023/R. This Gamma-class researcher is responsible for ensuring that the boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F is exposed to CHZ-AU-023/R while sleeping.
7. STEP 11/894
One Delta-Class personnel is to produce the digital file CHZ-AU-025/Y from DeCIRO archives. Find the Gamma-class researcher who is exposing the boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F to digital file CHZ-AU-023/R. Amnesticize this researcher. Give this researcher access to CHZ-AU-025/Y. This researcher is responsible for ensuring that the boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F is exposed to CHZ-AU-025/Y at a volume of no less than 75 decibels at all times.
8. STEP 12/031
The Gamma-class military commander with responsibility over the upcoming Operation Heracles is to be informed that there is a boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F. He is to be given access to documents FR-11/089-001 through FR-11/089-65. He is to be instructed to make use of the boy in Detention Center 59 in Site F as part of Operation Heracles. He is to be given full responsibility over the boy for the duration of the Operation.
9. STEP 12/035
In Detention Center 59 in Site F, there is a boy who does not want to be there anymore. He wants to go home. Halve his rations.
10. STEP 12/498
Two Beta-Class research staff are to enter Detention Center 59 in Site F and evaluate the obedience of the boy inside. Afterwards, they are to attempt communicating with the boy. Results are to be forwarded to Delta Command. After the Betas do so, amnesticize them.
DeCIRO Catalogue Number: FR-12/498-001
Document Type: Summary Report
Date Received: 06-19-2012
Author: Dr. James Stevenson
Summary Report: Test subject follows standard orders without complaint. It is believed that subject will exhibit acceptable levels of obedience in military, research, or emergency situations. Test subject did not exhibit reluctance when carrying out non-standard orders that could potentially lead to the harm of the test subject.
All attempts at communication with the test subject failed, as test subject was non-responsive.
11. STEP 12/755
The Gamma-class military commander responsible for Operation Heracles is to submit a report to Delta Command regarding the boy who was in Detention Center 59’s participation in Operation Heracles.
DeCIRO Catalogue Number: POR-12/755-001
Document Type: Post-Operation Summary Report
Date Received: 09-03-2012
Author: Captain Thomas Pyle
Provided test subject was able to reproduce cognitohazardous sensations and psychically communicate them to targeted personnel. During operation, the test subject began behaving erratically, often exhibiting significant disorientation and confusion. At 0917, test subject ceased moving and became non-responsive to all orders. Several Insurgency personnel complained of severely disorienting hallucinogenic experiences; it is my belief that the test subject was the cause of these. At 0919, I ordered my men to terminate the test subject so as not to allow the Foundation to capture him.
I do not know why the subject was ultimately unable to complete the mission. It is with deepest regret that I report the loss of a potentially extremely valuable soldier for the Insurgency’s cause.
12. STEP 12/893
The previous occupant of Detention Center 59 in Site F made a mess. Send a single Alpha-Class personnel to clean it up.
Part 1: Arch of Janus
Ever since Zhi Xin had returned from leading the raid at Larissa, Arjun had watched her nibble on a stale piece of bread. Her face was scrunched in an expression that Arjun judged to be two parts frustration and one part contempt. The two of them were sitting in the cafeteria of the installation currently serving as the Insurgency’s headquarters in Greece. The O5 Council had not given them the resources to construct their facilities to ordinary Foundation standards. And why would they? The Insurgency was pretending to be a renegade faction anyway, and what renegade would enjoy superior living conditions to those in power?
“I miss the food at Overwatch,” Zhi Xin said. She tossed the bread onto her plate.
“We signed up for this, Xin.”
“Completely false! We never chose to become D-Class. Nor was the choice to join the Red Right Hand really a choice. That requires approximately equivalently appealing choices. Which were not available.”
Arjun sighed. “And if we did not sign up for this, we do it because it is right.”
“You do it because you believe it to be right.”
“Enough,” Arjun said. “What happened during the raid?”
“There were no SS Ahnernerbe to be found. The temple was empty.”
“Similarly absent, given that the Ahnernerbe weren’t there. We beat the Ahnernerbe to whatever they wanted and we beat the GOC to the Ahnernerbe.”
Xin started picking at her nails. She was constantly moving from position to position—slouching, leaning back, resting her head. Arjun thought of gas particles bouncing around in a pressurized chamber. After a while, she picked the bread back up, turned it over in her hands, and put it back down.
“We took what the Ahnernerbe was after. Waited for them to come, killed most of them. Left before the Coalition showed. Standard, routine stuff, Arjun. Why are you so interested?”
“You don’t usually act this bored, Xin. I was just wondering if something was wrong.”
“It was standard, routine stuff. Why wouldn’t I be bored?”
Xin’s words echoed in the emptiness of the cafeteria. Arjun let his attention drift away from Xin. He stared upon row after row of empty seats, and metal tables, and glowing lights that flickered every so often. There was a question nagging at the back of his mind, and as much as he tried he could not plug the leak in the dam blocking up all his doubt well enough to prevent it from escaping.
“I wonder what would’ve happened if the Ahnernerbe got its hands on the thing,” Xin said.
“I mean, don’t you ever just wonder, sometimes? What would happen if the ‘bad guys’ win. To be honest, we’re running out of unambiguous bad guys. They’re wizard Nazis, Arjun. Enjoy them while they last, because the GOC isn’t having any of this.”
Arjun shook his head. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Look, if you can’t imagine the world where the bad guys win, then what? What are the stakes? What’s at risk? This is why imagination is important, Arjun. Because it’ll teach you motive.”
Why am I here?
The question flooded Arjun’s mind. Arjun tried repeating to himself: the O5 Council stood to protect humanity, and if the O5 Council needed an organization that did the Foundation’s work while absolving it of responsibility, then so be it. But the flood washed that answer away. Ideology became faint and distant before Arjun’s eyes, and he realized with a surge of panic that without that there was nothing else to hold onto. And then as soon as it came, the question receded, leaving behind a mind that was not quite sure if the question had come at all.
“So what was the Ahnernerbe even after?”
“V8 automobile engine.”
Xin shrugged. “I didn’t touch the thing, didn’t look at it. You know. Standard protocol. We’re testing the thing now. Hell if I want to be in charge, though. Testing is terrible.”
“So we have no idea what the thing is.”
“The one exciting thing about this entire ordeal, yes.”
Exciting things. Arjun thought about Overwatch. Glory and prestige had a certain smell—incense and roses, maybe—when they burned and threw up smoky fumes into the air. That scent filled Arjun’s nose when he thought on his own position. He was one of the elect, the chosen few, those who would stand at the side of the O5 and turn back the tide of…
Exciting things. But there was nothing to do.
“I would avoid Michelle tomorrow if I were you,” Xin said. She yawned widely.
Xin laughed, before standing and turning to leave. “Her marvelous invention completely failed to work in the raid. Turns out memetics is bullshit after all. Night, Arjun.”
“Good night, Xin.”
At six foot seven, Michelle Richardson stood well above the other seven members of the Insurgency’s High Command. They all had sight, so they all knew that she was perpetually hungry. For years, Arjun had been vaguely aware of some enticing thing lurking just outside the boundaries drawn by the Foundation, something unprofessional and unsanitary and unscientific and quite possibly savage. He shunned it; Michelle craved it.
When Arjun found her on the roof of their research facility, staring at the lights of San Francisco’s skyline in the distance, she had a painting canvas before her. It was impossible to see what she was painting in the darkness. As Arjun approached, he noticed several glass vials littering the floor.
“How are you doing, Arjun?” she asked.
“Good. Thank you.”
“Anything I can do for you?”
“No. I only came up here for some fresh air. It gets stuffy in the barracks sometimes.”
Michelle turned back to her painting, while Arjun stood silently behind her. After a few seconds, she turned back around and locked eyes with Arjun. He knew that he could not observe Michelle without being observed back, and harder. If she had things her way, the universe would organize itself such that it would always be viewed through her eyes.
“Let’s talk, Arjun. I don’t like it when you only stand there. I want you to speak. Let’s have a conversation. I’ll start: what is your opinion on the engine?”
Arjun blinked. “I don’t believe that we should…be so confident that the engine is really…”
“Every single researcher who has ever been exposed to the engine, without exception, has achieved some miraculous breakthrough in a field of anomalous science. Do you believe that the universe is so chaotic that a probabilistically impossible outcome such as this simply happens without fanfare?”
“I don’t know, Michelle.”
The Insurgency was too far gone.
For years Arjun had seen the signs of the world, seen those signs that were straight and ordered, seen those signs that twisted and howled. He had known what was safe and what was dangerous. Then he had been ordered to dive into the jungle of the anomalous and in that heart of darkness somehow map a way through the tortuous land. The voice of guidance from on high had commanded him to eat the forbidden fruit, and so he did, and…
What did it mean to use the anomalous? Whatever goals were achieved, whatever victory was won, the anomalous was part of that result. Arjun knew that the anomalous was beginning to take root in his body. When the day came that he could no longer call the paranormal alien, when he looked at the sign of his own soul and saw it twisted, Arjun knew that he would be permanently lost.
“You’re afraid,” Michelle said.
“I am not afraid.”
“Don’t lie to me. I can see the fear in your eyes. You’re afraid of the engine. It’s understandable. But our job is to use the anomalous. It was our assignment.”
“Ultimately our job is to contain the anomalous because it is dangerous. Because it poses unacceptable risks to human society.”
Michelle laughed. “Human society? Of what value is human society anyway? For as long as either of us knows, human society has been built on a lie, and personally, I don’t like deception.”
Arjun didn’t know if Michelle grasped the irony of what she was saying.
“Imagine what we could do with the engine,” Michelle said. “It is a force for progress. If the Foundation were to use the engine, we would be able to achieve wondrous things. What does the Foundation understand now? Memetics. Amnestics. That’s why we have Hallucinogenic Memetoamnestic Substance. It lets us see the world beyond reality, giving us unparalleled insight into the present and future. What if we understood the concept of sapience? The human—or the non-human—soul? Reality-bending?”
“So what has the O5 Council said?”
“I have yet to submit a report to them.”
“As promising as the results are, I have no desire to give the O5 Council any false hope. It would be embarrassing. I need more testing and more time. And even when I’m ready, a report cannot be immediately sent, especially given how absolutely secure any communications between us and the O5 Council must be.”
“But at the very least preliminary findings—so that they know—“
“I am overseeing all research regarding the engine. All eight of us had previously decided that this would be the case. Are you questioning my authority?”
“No. No, I’m not, but—Michelle, we are indebted to the O5 Council. They have elected us to be their most trusted soldiers.”
Even in the darkness he could feel the intensity of Michelle’s stare. “I am doing nothing but honor the trust they have placed in us. I serve nothing but the better tomorrow that the O5 Council works towards. What do you serve?”
Over the course of the conversation, Michelle had advanced close enough that he would have had to kill her if he had any doubt about her intentions. He felt her eyes take hold of him, dissect him and subject him to the relentless force of her will. He said nothing because he knew that if he surrendered, she would release him.
Without saying anything, Michelle walked past Arjun and left the rooftop.
Arjun stood, watching the sky until the sun rose and light washed over him. Now, he could see the painting. In the middle of the night sky above the San Francisco skyline, one star shone brighter than all the rest. Eight rays of light emanated from the star. Each ray curved and then split into more and more lines of light which spread across the sky.
Part 2: Asymptomatic Carrier
By Arjun’s estimations, the Coalition was surprisingly professional for an organization that was barely three years old. There was something in the methodical, cold way that they operated that reminded Arjun of the Foundation itself. But there was also a naiveté that Arjun had never seen in the Foundation. When they sent out retrieval teams, they had no insurance. There were no specifically expendable personnel to sacrifice in the case of disaster.
Arjun removed the binoculars from his eyes, wiped sand out of the lens, and then stowed the instrument back into his pack. Beside him, Zhi Xin was talking to Owen.
“So Owen, what do you think the GOC’s got its hands on this time?”
Owen adjusted his shoelaces.
“You know, they say—or at least their internal communications say—that they think this hole has information about the Ahnernerbe’s new toys. But who knows? They might find something more interesting.”
Owen turned to his side and quietly issued a command through the radio.
“If you find anything useful with those eagle eyes of yours, make sure to nab it, right? Make Michelle happy. Give her something to show off to the O5. I mean, they’re asking for more and God knows Michelle wants to give it.”
“You think it’s strange that the O5 wants more from us,” Arjun said.
Zhi Xin chuckled. “Not strange. Tedious. Look at these guys. Crawling around in the sand, trying to figure out what it is that they’ve dug up so that they can set the wheels of intergovernmental bureaucracy into motion. Is it a threat to consensus reality? Can we negotiate with it? If not, how easily can we blow it up? Wait, but first, can we use it and then blow it up later? And the O5 wants more in the event that we fight them.”
Without turning to face either of them, Owen said, “They’re here.”
Arjun stood up as a vehicle pulled beside them. Insurgency operatives began hauling heavy equipment out of the vehicle. Assembly of the instrument took the better part of an hour, while Arjun, Zhi Xin, and Owen looked on. Eventually, a large, crude metal gate stood before them. Arjun looked into the gate and saw the universe shatter into an infinitely replicating fractal pattern. He pitied the men who had built the machine. They could not appreciate its beauty.
“Remember,” Arjun said, “reconnaissance. Find what they’re looking for. Evaluate its threat potential. Take it if necessary. Zhi Xin, if anybody dies or if anything gets destroyed, I’ll hold you accountable.”
“Your leadership inspires me not to disappoint you,” Zhi Xin said. Immediately afterwards, she walked into the gate and disappeared.
Arjun and Owen made eye contact. “You haven’t learned how to shut her up,” Owen said.
“No. It’s regrettable.”
Owen shrugged. “Time to go.”
The two of them entered the gate together. When he exited, Arjun found himself stepping outside of a tent. Workers with the emblem of the United Nations on their vests moved about, covered in dirt, hauling pickaxes and barking orders. Nobody took any notice of Arjun. Part of their mind was too busy, and the other part that would have ordinarily noticed the three was too occupied appreciating the invisible memetic fireworks display taking place three yards to the left of the intruders to pay any attention to them.
“Well, I should say sorry to Michelle. Maybe memetics isn’t bullshit after all,” Zhi Xin said.
Without saying anything, Owen disappeared into the crowd of GOC workers. Arjun turned to Zhi Xin. “Come on, Xin,” he said.
“Why such a hurry?” Xin asked. “We already know exactly where we’re supposed to go.”
Arjun looked back at the chaotic throng of people swarming the dig site. Zhi Xin was right. He could see a pattern in their movement, in the way their voices melded together into one indiscernible mass, in the ways their eyes traveled and their feet shuffled. Their actions and their thoughts were all caught in the gravitational well of a certain object, and if Arjun only looked to find the center of their collective orbit, he could find what he was looking for.
“I see it,” Arjun said.
Zhi Xin snorted. “Then let’s go.”
As the two moved towards the target illuminated by the HALMAS, Arjun felt his mind stir uneasily. There was very little chance that anything would go wrong; even if they were noticed, it was almost impossible that they would be caught or killed, and no possibility either way that the Foundation would have to bear any consequences. Arjun imagined what it was like for the people who lived in consensus reality and were exposed to the anomalous. The universe itself was revealed to be a lie, a comfortable veneer draped over the true world by an unseen hand, and in truth, reality was an alien, terrifying place.
Arjun had known the unknowable for as long as he could remember, but now, walking through the Coalition dig site, he felt like the ignorant uninitiated about to be baptized in murky, dark water.
The two of them stopped in front of a non-descript tent. For a moment, neither of them moved or said anything.
“It’s here,” Zhi Xin said. “Whatever it is. We came here to find out, didn’t we?”
“Is something wrong?”
Zhi Xin was staring at the tent. “I think so. But I don’t know what. It’s an unpleasant sensation.”
“You’re being nonsensical again.”
“Am I? Whatever.”
Zhi Xin passed Arjun and entered the tent. Arjun followed close behind.
Inside, Arjun found himself completely incapable of noticing any details about the interior of the tent. His attention was captured entirely by a small book sitting on a table in the middle of the tent. Zhi Xin had already flipped to a page inside the book.
“What are you doing?”
“How long have you been on HALMAS, Arjun? Can’t you see? This is—this is—“
Zhi Xin looked up from the book. Her face was set in the rocky tones of determination; her eyes radiated the fragile gleam of fear. “You need to stand at the door and make sure nobody comes in,” she said. “You’ve served the O5 Council faithfully all your life. You’ve done it because you know that there is some greater purpose behind everything. If you still think that, then do this.”
“What’s going on?”
“If you can’t see, that just—it just means that something is definitely wrong. Watch the door, or else I know that things are going to get worse.”
“Give me thirty seconds, Arjun.”
Zhi Xin took a syringe of HALMAS out of her pocket and stuck it into her arm.
When Arjun turned around to stand at the door, he found himself staring Owen in the face.
“Let me in,” he said.
“Zhi Xin told you not to let me in.”
“You don’t know why.”
Owen’s cold blue eyes did not move. They were as dry and endless as the desert itself. “She’s found something.”
“You don’t know what it is. You don’t know what she’s doing. Let me in.”
Arjun stayed in place. There were things that he knew. He knew that it was against protocol for Zhi Xin to be taking HALMAS while in direct exposure to a possible cognitohazard; he knew that it was a betrayal for Michelle to fail to inform the O5 Council about the developments surrounding the engine. He knew all these things but he did not know them, like he knew but did not know of that greater purpose floating somewhere out there. For all anyone knew, it was in outer space, or buried a thousand miles underground, or maybe it didn’t even exist. He had realized by now that he knew but did not know so many things, and the only thing that he really knew was that he had always trusted Chen Zhi Xin.
She had asked for thirty seconds and now he had to give them.
“I can’t. She told me not to let anyone in. I don’t know why, but you sure as hell don’t know why you need to get in there. I can see it in your face, Owen, don’t lie to me.”
Owen reached into his pocket, pulled out a thin metal cylinder, and pressed a button at the top. When Arjun regained consciousness, Owen was behind him and inside the tent. A second later, he pulled out a lighter and tossed into onto the book. Zhi Xin swore and dropped it to the ground, where green flames consumed the book instantly.
Zhi Xin put a hand on her pistol. “Owen, what the hell?”
“It was cognitohazardous. If you suffered continued exposure while on HALMAS, your memory would store the cognitohazard and you would become unacceptably compromised. This is standard protocol.”
For a few moments, Zhi Xin only breathed heavily. Then, she said, “You’re right. I fucked up. So did you; you just destroyed that thing when it was obviously important. So how about we make a deal? If anybody—Michelle in particular—hears about this, we’re both fucked. Right, Owen?”
Nobody spoke as they left the tent.
Hours later, when Arjun was in his quarters and staring at the ceiling, he was struck by a sudden hatred for the O5 Council. He remembered the metal cylinder and the green fire. Neither of those things should have existed. And if now they existed, then what cause was he fighting for?
Nothing made sense anymore.
Part 3: The Ant
Three days later, Arjun found Zhi Xin on the rooftop of the San Francisco headquarters. Empty liquor bottles were scattered around her feet. There was a smile on her face as pale and insubstantial as the moon itself. When she saw him, her smile grew wider. She kicked a bottle over and said, “Hi, Arjun.”
“What are you doing up here?”
“I’ve been hard at work over the past three days, and I’ve decided that I want…a break. Yes. What have you been doing? With what endeavor have you been spending your life and time?”
“Trying to make sense of whatever you were doing with the book.”
“Were you? Wonderful. And what have you discovered?”
“Even better. You’re as ignorant as always. Come on, Arjun, sit down.”
Arjun approached, carefully stepping around the discarded glass. Zhi Xin was slumped against the fence that encircled the perimeter of the rooftop. Beyond her, the darkness past the edge of the building loomed.
“I told nobody about what happened,” Arjun said.
“Really? Well, all right. Let me show you something.”
Zhi Xin reached into her coat and took out a picture. Arjun leaned in closer to examine it.
There was an empty lab, devoid of researchers or security. Arjun’s eyes were drawn to the center of the room, where a large automobile engine sat on an elevated pedestal. Various instruments were attached to the engine, like barnacles on the underside of a whale. For all the wires and dials that surrounded the engine, its silhouette dominated the image.
Michelle had one hand on the engine. Arjun had never seen such an expression on Michelle’s face before. She was like a subject before a sovereign, a mortal before a god. In her other hand, Michelle had a vial of HALMAS.
The sound of the rooftop door opening snapped Arjun’s attention away from the photograph.
“Hey, Michelle,” Zhi Xin said. Arjun could only stare at her. His tongue was wrapped in too many questions to choose one.
“Arjun, Zhi Xin,” she said. “What are you two doing up here?”
Zhi Xin shrugged. “Shooting the shit.”
“Why don’t you two follow me? I have something I’d like to show both of you.”
“By all means,” Zhi Xin said. “Come on, Arjun.”
Arjun followed in complete silence. The hand of dread was gripping tight around his throat, preventing him from speaking. He was only now realizing that for some time he had been dependent on the security that the Foundation provided. The base was cracking now, and with each step Arjun felt the earth shake as the Foundation rattled itself apart.
Michelle led them down to the basement of headquarters, where they stopped at the room in Zhi Xin’s picture. The engine still sat quietly in the middle of the laboratory.
“Don’t be afraid, Arjun,” Michelle said. “You know that the engine has tested negative for any cognitohazardous, memetic, or mind-affecting properties. You know the rigor of our tests.”
Zhi Xin giggled. “Yeah, Arjun, don’t be scared. Too late for that.”
Arjun’s eyes were fixed on the engine. He felt his mind begin to run wild. Arjun thought back to every SCP object he had ever personally encountered. Something was in his head, teaching him the ways of the unknown. He saw secret hidden rules underlying the universe that he had never imagined. He understood that seemingly unrelated anomalous phenomena produced miraculous results when combined.
He was asked—he was challenged—didn’t he see?
Didn’t he see that there was untapped potential in the very fabric of the universe? That the entire human race was ignorant of a grand design woven into what was arbitrarily determined to be the supernaturally dangerous? He had been so, so blind.
But it was not his fault. There was a great deceiver—
Arjun stumbled backwards, clutching at his head.
“When I gave myself the sight, I realized that I could speak to the engine,” Michelle said. “I opened my eyes to what it had to show me. I stared into it to learn its secrets. It is an order of orders. Within the engine, the secrets of what we now call the paranormal are hidden. If we use our sight—look into the engine—then we can accomplish…so much. How do you think I’ve been appeasing the O5s?”
Michelle clenched her fingers into a fist. “The rate of progress that they were demanding of us would be impossible. Impossible!”
The features of Michelle’s face were contorted under the power of her own anger. But suddenly, she relaxed.
“I had the engine, however, and I had HALMAS to give me the sight. But you have to have realized by now, Arjun, Zhi Xin. The rest of us have. You know that out there…”
The great deceiver was hiding, orchestrating the world from the shadows. It had plunged the world into darkness under different names for all history. It had made humanity ignorant. It lied and it killed and it stole all for its own power.
The great deceiver was out there, and it had to be stopped!
“There is only one solution.”
“This is unthinkable,” Arjun said. “It can’t possibly…”
“But you know that it is true. You have the sight. Look into the future. What do you see?”
Arjun saw stagnation. The human race eked out a miserable history until inevitable annihilation. Nihilism’s gaping maw swallowed up the essence of existence itself. There was no meaning, no value—nothing. Nothing! No matter which way Arjun looked, humanity was headed towards a heat death of the soul.
But didn’t he see? He had to see that there was one way out.
“I know that you can’t place any faith in the Foundation any more, Arjun,” Michelle said. “And I know why. How can you trust them when you know that they have no problem using the anomalous? After all this time, the one rule wasn’t even a rule after all. So what purpose must the
Michelle waved her hands around her. “An entire organization founded just so that the Foundation has a cover for its covert operations. Weapons stockpiles that strain the very limits of the Foundation’s knowledge of the anomalous. We are living testament that the Foundation does not care about containment! They only care about themselves. They’re madmen running the world.”
“The Red Right Hand has been…we have been…”
“Forever loyal, Arjun? What do you believe in? Blind loyalty?”
“For God’s sake, they’re all we have! There is nothing else for us! No birthplace, no home, no family, no history, no identity! We were made to serve and without service—“
But there was something else.
For every falsehood there was a truth. The Foundation was broken because it was false, but in its stead, a new truth rose from the depths of Arjun’s mind. He had always known: he had no past, and he had no future. But truth could capture the present.
“Arjun,” Michelle said, “we have the Engine.”
Slowly, Arjun stepped forwards. He took one step, then two, and then a loud clink shattered his concentration. Zhi Xin had dropped a bottle of liquid onto the floor.
“Sorry for not contributing to the conversation,” she said. “Busy drinking.”
“This is no time for humor. Zhi Xin, don’t you see? We must act. We must fight.”
“You’re…okay. You’re fucking crazy. God dammit. Why me? God, why me?”
“The book has compromised you, Zhi Xin. You have to see through it,” Michelle said.
Arjun was struck with fear. What had happened to Zhi Xin? She had always seen everything, so how couldn’t she see the obvious way forwards? He knew that she was strong enough that exposure to only the most powerful cognitohazards could possibly break her. But what if she had to be left behind?
He remembered the night of the day when they had received the assignment to create the Insurgency. The future was filled with uncertainty, and something dark swirled in Arjun’s heart. He had said to Zhi Xin that the Foundation was all he had—he didn’t even know why he knew his own name. He had stared into his hands and watched fear take hold of them.
Zhi Xin had smiled. She had said, “O5 can go fuck themselves,” and Arjun had felt a tiny bit of his fear dissolve.
He had always trusted her.
Zhi Xin shook her head. “I’ve been through so much with all of you,” she said. “So why the fuck did it have to be me? A Cassandra—a fucking Cassandra—anything but that.”
“I’m sorry,” Michelle said, reaching into her coat. “But I have too much respect for you—I am too indebted to you—to let you go on like this.”
Zhi Xin’s hands were a blur as she drew her weapon and aimed it at Arjun’s head. Arjun was too shocked to move. Something was telling him to act, to resist, because he had to survive in order to fight for the truth. But—
His mouth was numb; his tongue was heavy. “I—I trusted you.”
“Arjun, Michelle—just let me talk. I only want to run my stupid mouth one last time. Can you let me do that?”
Michelle didn’t move.
“Extraordinary,” Zhi Xin said. “Fantastic. Wonderful. Stupendous. I’m going to tell you a story now.”
Zhi Xin breathed deeply.
“Let’s start from the very beginning. Before anything was, before things had definitions or boundaries or the concept of an identity could exist, there was chaos. There have always been remnants of chaos hanging around. We remember the sea serpents, the eight-headed snakes. But as order emerged and gave form to all things, chaos itself was given a form. I’m not talking about a physical form, I mean that there was Chaos, capital C, a force to continue the inevitable life cycle of the cosmos. From chaos we came, to chaos we go. That’s the deal.
“That engine doesn’t care about knowledge, or the truth, or even about the Foundation. It doesn’t want order. It is Chaos. And ever since Michelle fucked up and exposed herself to that thing to try to get more results from it, we’ve been getting played at every single move. Everything that you think you’ve done—hiding it from the O5, ordering Evan to burn the book, yes I know you did that, coming to the conclusion that the Foundation needs to be destroyed—all of it has been that goddamn thing. When you tried to use HALMAS to look into it?”
The hand holding the gun to Arjun’s head shook for a second. Zhi Xin took another breath, and the hand became steady again. “You weren’t looking into it, Michelle. It was looking into you.”
Michelle stepped forwards. “You’re ramb—“
“Shut the fuck up or I kill him! Jesus, how hard is it to follow instructions? I’m not finished with my story, Michelle, I just want to tell a fucking story!”
Michelle froze. Slowly, Zhi Xin regained control of your breathing.
“It is looking into you, and it is using your sight. That thing can see like we can now, except it can see farther and clearer than any of us ever could. It is planning. Of course it wants you to start a war with the Foundation. Splinter the base and the whole house comes crumbling down.”
For a second, Zhi Xin didn’t speak. The humor had been drained from her face. Only fear and immense regret remained. She swallowed slowly.
“I know you aren’t listening to a goddamn thing I’m saying,” Zhi Xin said. “I’ve seen that there’s no way out. So just…look. Forget all that. Everything I just said was all bullshit. Imagine I get a toddler to scribble all over a floor. If you know a goddamn thing, you can see it’s all nonsense. But if you’re…an ant and you see the tiniest, tiniest part of this four-year-old’s bullshit, it’s a straight line! It makes sense! There is order in all things! That is us. We are the ant.”
Zhi Xin pointed the gun at her own head. Arjun flinched as she died.
Michelle stepped forwards and placed a hand on Arjun’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. I know you were close to her.”
Arjun shuddered. “How…how could she be so far…broken?”
“I don’t know. I’m…”
For an instant, Michelle’s eyes shone with absolute and total horror. The instant passed without remark.
“I’m so sorry, Arjun.”
In the center of the room, eight cylinders began to whir.