RODNEY CARVER, THE NEWEST EC-BOY IN TOWN

Rodney Carver smashingly swung the spring doors of the cafeteria open with his faltering, slightly hallucinated stride, a handful of brownish, environmentally-friendly paper sheets hung at his chest.

Nobody cared about him at first. Then Dr. Gellmann noticed him, slimily grinned and went like

"Rodney, old fart! It's scores of days we don't see you down here!"

He came very close, gloating at Rodney's manifest discomfort.

"We thought they found a new architectural purpose for that pile of creaky bones of yours!" he winked twice.

"But I see I was ass-fucking wrong!" he held a gloomy Rodney around the shoulder, squeakingly shouting to the vast, busy room. "They gave you THE promotion, didn't they?" People in the room erupted in a gurgling response, half laughing, half groaning and half muttering (inserting a half too much into the arithmetical whole of the scene). "They gave you the big red stamp, didn't they?"

As somber as a crackled granite funerary slab, his shoulders enclosed by a slimy grip, Rodney replied:

"Yep, my man, I was told to stamp, hard and relentlessly, again and again, the circular validation section of your mama's rear form with my big, red-topped stamp…"

It took a significant portion of a second for Dr. Gellmann to compute, then he reeled a pair of steps back and his face turned ashen.

"Whe-whou-WHAT?!!!! My mother died of leukemia less than six months ago, how do you dare…"

Was it even true?, Rodney asked himself.

"Then care about your losses and let me do my work. Just respect me and you will be respected — look, it's embarrassingly simple!"

"You're always right now, huh, Ethics guy?" asked the researcher polemically. "Were you right even back then, when you tortured that bunch of CDs for days and weeks on end for your own entertainment?"

Rodney's eyes widened in disbelief, as he hissed through his clenched, bared teeth "SSSSSHUT UP, YOU MORON! THAT'S CLASSIFIED INFO!"

"Cool down, EC Boy. Everyone here has the clearance to access those files."

Rodney pointed angrily at an armed Security Officer who was keeping an eye on the cafeteria. "Even the guard?! EH?!"

But unexpectedly, the Officer raised his arm from afar and replied, loud enough to be clearly heard "Don't worry, Doc, even I have the required clearance for that EX. I've actually read about it in the 'Foundation Success Stories' quarterly 'zine. It was that plant that thrived on pain, wasn't it?"

Rodney felt slightly lightheaded. The 'Foundation Success Stories' magazine?

"Yes, it thrived on pain" Gellmann growlingly continued "and you didn't even think to begin with animals to 'feed' it! You went straight for the CDs!"

"THAT'S BULLSHIT!" cried Rodney "I did begin my experimentation with mice and rats! But the plant kept withering! What was I supposed to do!"

"Try with monkeys, for example! But nooo, you went straight for the available Class-Ds, six people! And what a coincidence, four of them were young female offenders! Much funnier than torturing a monkey, no?"

Rodney took a threatening step towards Gellmann, who unwillingly stiffened up. The Security Officer drew a large spray can from his tool belt, and closed in on the two researchers.

"I did ask for monkeys!" growled Rodney, his eyes injected with simmering blood "I have both asked for Rhesus macaques and chimpanzees. And you know what the Logistics Department told me? That I would get the macaques within fifteen work days and the chimps within twenty-one work days." Rodney grabbed Gellmann's coat by the lapels and closed in on his terrified face. "The plant was dying. It was classified as an unique specimen. It was my duty to keep it alive! At all costs! When I complained that I had no time to wait, Logistics told me that they could deliver me six Class-D personnel in a couple of hours. What was I supposed to do? Me and my staff managed to rig a…" Rodney's stomach knotted up "a… a… a fucking torture chamber just in time to save the specimen! And it lasted five days." Rodney's eyes widened even more "Five - Long - Fucking - Endless - Days of people being administered high voltage electric current to their genitalia, of bastinado, of needles in the eyeballs, of… of screams!…" Rodney clenched his fists even tighter on Gellmann's coat "'Please, please, stop!' 'I can't stand it anymore!' 'For God's sake, kill me!'. Do you think it was fun? DO YOU THINK IT WAS FUN, HUH?!".

In the meanwhile, the Security Officer had reached the two scientists. Calmly but resolutely shaking the spray-can (it was a 'calming agent', universally nicknamed 'soma spray' within the Foundation) he intervened. "Gentlemen, I think it would be much better if you got some… physical space between the two of you… for starters, Dr. Carver, it would be very nice if you let go of Dr. Gellmann's coat…" Rodney looked at the Officer's insect-like helmet, then at the soma spray can ready in his hand, and slowly let his grasp on Gellmann loose, opening up his trembling fingers. The red mask of anger on his face began to flow away to the rest of his circulatory system. "Ok, thank you very much. Now if you both kindly took a couple of steps back, well, that would be just great." Both Carver and Gellmann complied. "Good!" said the Security Officer "This was very good. I kindly thank the both of you for your cooperation. Now I'm returning to my oh so exciting guarding post. Feel free to ask for my assistance, if you are in need of anything." The guard slowly backstepped to his position at the cafeteria wall, simultaneously putting his spray-can back into his toolbelt.

But Rodney's wasn't over. He had regained his calm, and he was going to get to the end of the matter. "It wasn't fun." he continued "Not at all. But the plant responded to human suffering. It fully recovered in a couple of days. Five days later, working twenty-four hours shifts - and yes, we were using amphetamines, me and my staff had concocted an aerosol of endorphines, epinephrine, cortisol, substance P and other hormones that kept the plant alive - without the need for further torture - of anyone or anything."

"And then the plant was decommissioned, because its nature was trivial - it wasn't an SCP." Gellmann slowly clapped his hand three times. "Bra-vo! What a success, indeed!"

"You moron! The plant wasn't 'decommissioned', it was marked as en EXplained SCP. We found out how it worked. We isolated three molecules that our Corporate Sponsors were able to patent. Two of them already underwent all the experimentation stages and are at the last steps for final FDA market release approval. It is very likely that they will revolutionize the way we treat all kinds of depression, that they will make SSRIs outright obsolete…"

"Yeah, and you omitted to tell that the third molecule is being experimented as a miracle cure for erectile dysfunction…"

"SO WHAT? Is erectile dysfunction a condition that isn't worth treating?"

"It's just a goldmine, Carver. You use the Foundation resources to do business with pharmaceutical giants."

"Watch it, Gellmann, that's outright slander. I used all my available resources to Secure, Contain and Protect that thing. It came out it was perfectly explainable by mainstream science. I researched it, and the results of my research are estimated to bring something like 1.5 billion dollars from our Corporate Sponsors to the Foundation. The cost of my research was estimated at roughly 12-13 millions dollars, all taken into account: security, secrecy, special procedures, mangled logistics…"

"It's true!" the guard intervened from his post "I've read it in the 'zine!"

Both Carver and Gellmann gave a grim look to the Security Officer. He shrugged.

"And in the end, I did get just my salary, plus a ten-thousand dollars production bonus, for my work. I got nothing from the Sponsors. And all the while the Foundation got more than a fuckin' billion dollars to pursue its goals in protecting humanity. So, well, I'm not going to say that you all owe me a big, enormous 'thank you' but… you probably do…" Rodney began to walk away.

"That production bonus isn't the only thing you got." Added Gellmann. "You also got… your… promotion…"

"My… promotion?" asked Rodney, his eyes sparkling with bewildered rage. "Oooh-Key… you think it's such a perk, don't you? Well, there are so many things you don't know about being appointed as a member of the Ethics Committee… We have… a lot of pow… of leeway… a lot of… prerogatives… one is Protocol… mmmh…" his eyes wandered in his eyesockets, rolled up, from left to right, like he was computing something "Protocol 4455-4D42-4655-434B…" he went on carefully spelling out the digits. "It means that I can transfer my new appointment to the Committee to any member of the Foundation with a sufficient Clearance Level, if I see that person more fit than me to fill in that role… It's just a matter of filling a relatively short form, Gellmann… so, do you want my place at the Ethics Committee, so I can get my Researcher status back?"

Gellmann staggered unsteadily. "It's - it's just a stupid joke." he grimly replied, fearful that it could be someway true "you were appointed, and that's it!"

"Really?" beamed Rodney with a mocking smile "You think that's so simple? Well, if you ever change your mind, you are still in time to get my 'promotion'! Just come and ask! With the proper deference and kindness, of course."

Rodney strode towards a lunch table with a sullen grin on his face. Gellmann sneakily tiptoed away, regretting his silly confrontational approach to the newly appointed EC-Boy.

[…]

As soon as Rodney sat at the table, all the other whitecoats, except one, sprung up grabbing their lunch and walked away.

"Come on, esteemed colleagues" said the oldest-looking one without even looking back "it's unnecessarily unsanitary to share the same table with a Gestapo Boy."

Rodney frowned at them, perplexed, then asked the one who didn't leave:

"What… what do they mean by this 'Gestapo' thing?"

"Well, the Gestapo, which is really a contracted form of Geheimestaatspolizei, was the se…"

"I know what the Gestapo was, thank you. I just wanted to know why they called me that."

"'Gestapo Boy'? Well, it's common lore amongst some of the Foundation researchers that newly appointed members of the Ethics Committee will start their career with a pogrom, then, when their power-thirst will be quenched, they…"

"A… pogrom?!"

"Oh, the term is loosely used to indicate… an act of mass violence, imagine an ethnic or political cleansing, it origi…"

"For Christ's sake I know what a pogrom is! Just how does this apply to me? How am I going to do such a thing?" Rodney felt exasperated, but he also realized that it was somehow stupid to bark at the only person that was treating him decently at that time. After all, that man didn't own him anything.

"Ok, ok, I was just trying to be helpful. As I said, researchers here believe that a newly-appointed member of the Ethics Committee will begin exacting summary and exceedingly bloody revenges on colleagues, collaborators, acquaintances and petty enemies. And potential blackmailers. It's… possible that Dr. Gellmann was afraid of being one of the later ones."

"But he never… blackmailed me…"

"He could be afraid that he might be considered a potential blackmailer. Because of the misuse… ehrr, of what he perceived it was a misuse of D-Class personnel in your research project."

"He is… they all are paranoid!"

"He he he he! We're all paranoid around here! It shows that you are young!"

"Gellmann is younger than me!"

"You're young at the Foundation. You are… green. They don't take 'veterans' as new members of the Committee."

"That doesn't make any sense whatsoever!"

"Who knows! But let me tell you all the story. The myth - the one I know of, at least - goes like this: the new member of the Committee finds mind-numbing power in his hands. He was used to condemn scores of men and women to horrible deaths, or even worse fates, yet he didn't do that for a long enough time to turn those horrors into a completely normal and acceptable routine inside his mind… he is green, he is not a veteran… and now, now he can decide the fate of his very peers… a God among Gods… backed by his newly acquired, unwillingly imposed righteousness, he goes on inflicting the punishments he deserves on everyone who used to surround him… and then some… relentless, ruthless, indefatigable… and then… he calms down… 'I am omnipotent, the Judge… Right and Wrong are in my hands…', he thinks… and then, soothed by this delirium, he swiftly sinks into the shell of a grey, dusty, fat inept and powerless bureaucrat, who can do nothing else than produce deranged ethical guidelines on Acceptable Containment Procedures that only his equally deranged peers have the clearance - but not any willingness whatsoever - to access and peruse."

He leaned towards him

"They talk of an unimaginably vast storeroom at the bottom of Site-19, filled to the brim with millions of tons of dot-matrix printouts of lengthy, completely insane ethics treatises and logically circular and self contradicting monstrous Handbooks and Guidelines To Criteria To Principles For Instructions For The Planning and Standardization of Good Practices in the Development of Heuristics and/or Algorithms for Path-Finding Cellular Automata in Applied Aerodynamics and Basic Containment Procedures Preliminary Ethical Outlining and Stylistically Enhancing Adjective Pruning in Briefings for Introductory Reports."

"That's… that's just a bland joke."

"I don't think so, I know of a researcher that once came across a stack of two-hundred, fifty-six thousand pages from such a kind of manual… preliminary study of its nature as an SCP began, then a meek, smelly little man from the Committee came and said 'I'm sorry, that's mine.' and took the whole paper mountain down the bowels of the Site with him, never to be seen again…"

"I was… I didn't even take the last part into account… you're obviously making fun of me… I'm talking about the first part, the one about… pogroms… People would know if such a thing was true, wouldn't they?"

"People supposed to know would all be dead if such a thing was true, wouldn't they? And I told you this as a myth." He raised his index finger. "A myth. NOT a joke. That much I know."

Rodney was vaguely disgusted. Before he was picked by that fruity ensemble of madmen in the Committee, he believed he worked in an incredibly odd place… but in another sense… a place brimful of monstrosities, suffering, unspeakable fears, unfettered dangers… now, on top of this oddity another kind of absurdity was placed, the madness of frustrated bureaucrats driven insane by a boundless yet unexisting power, Guidelines Gnomes spawning from the bowels of the Earth to retrieve their runaway fractal Procedures Handbooks then saying "Thank you" just to vanish again in the Netherworld with roomfuls of paper… it was just grotesque…

"If you don't mind me asking, are you even here for lunch? You didn't pick up a tray… the only things you have with you are those papers…."

"I have kind of lost most of my appetite after the 'appointment' at the Ethics Committee." He grimfully muttered. The young scientist surely looked thin and weary, unhealthily pale but with deep, dark eye sockets.

"Then… why lose your time here? Why don't you go to your new, shiny office?"

Rodney looked at him with bitter resentment.

"The closet they assigned to me is, like, 1.3 miles down and at least four iris scanning stations away. And I was actually encouraged to… 'blend in' with my fellow researchers…"

"Ex-fellow researchers."

"Whatever, whatever." Other whitecoats were leaving the room, and other ones were arriving, all avoiding that particular table. Rodney squeezed his eyes. "You, on the other hand… you don't seem too eager to get back to work… instead of eating" he tilted his head, inquisitorially, "you have been playing with your salad like it was silly putty…"

"It contains the - unrequested and over-abundant - wrong kind of dressing… tastes like… uuuhm… sludge on a maple leaf…"

"Are you even complaining? The kitchen in this sector employs three renowned chefs, one French, one Italian and one Sino-Japanese… every one with their own skilled crew… you wouldn't eat better in any of the nearby restaurants…"

"Even because we are in the middle of nowhere… but the problem is that my meal was kindly fetched - and ordered - by a… eergh, Central European colleague…"

"Are you discriminating our colleagues because of their origin? Are you such a kind of person? "

"My colleagues. And it would take you years to tell which kind of person I am…"

"Oh really? So I guess you would be OK with… say… Dr. al-Karim's gastronomical choices," he pointed at doctor al-Karim, many tables afar "despite his exceedingly pigmentated epidermis?"

"Now, don't be silly, my son. Dr. al-Karim is actually a good friend of mine, and he is accidentally a really good cook, even better than your Italian chef in the kitchen… and if - and I say if - I ever had to carry prejudices against people's gastronomical choices, they would be more likely oriented against persons with scarcely pigmentated epidermis, not the other way around… but besides all this discriminatory nonsense, some people really don't know how to eat… some people don't know how to eat healthily, some people don't know how to eat rewardingly, and some people" he lowered his eyes to the nibbled, slimy remnants of his salad "some people don't know either…"

"And you think it's an ethnic thing?"

"Cultural, my boy, cultural. In the many meanings of the word. I know French researchers who can't tell a cheap Bourbon from an XO Cognac… It's all about culture…"

"Ok, docteur Cordon Bleu, so you were fed a dish oh so inadequate to your standards… But don't you have work to go back to anyway?"

"Nah, you know, those larvae take an excruciatingly long time to implant themselves in their hosts' hippoca… caaa… whoops, maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that…" He looked inquisitively at his young interlocutor "but, on second thought, you should have unfettered clearance on all tests details, so…"

Rodney's checks dropped down like those of a bulldog.

"Not… yet…"

"Not yet what?"

"'Till my… I don't know how to call it… apprenticeship? Until my testing period is over I do have unlimited clearance on most of the the Foundation's files… but… but on a Need To Know basis…"

"It seems very sensible to me…"

"It does? Well, since your maggots… or whatever, are being so lazily unproductive, do you want to know what this Need To Know basis entails?"

"Well, why not! This kind of info is essential to the buildup of Foundation folk lore, so… I'm very interested…"

"Ok, it works li… hey, are you some kind of… undercover ethnographer?"

"Naah, I just enjoy the Foundation's folk lore."

"Ok, ok, whatever. Here's how it works. I get this form to request information on specific issues or projects. Not so different from form… uhrrr… it was…" he shut his eyes and knocked thrice on his forehead with his knuckles "…5744…dash…5957-544B?"

"5744-5957-544B-4148, to be exact."

"Well, ok, that. But the difference, the difference is that there's a white, square section on the fifth page, somewhat large but always too small, sporting the "Need To Know Explanation" header."

"It doesn't sound unreasonable."

"It doesn't? IT DOESN'T? Well, first things first, that info isn't read or even taken into account by a human operator. It seems to be processed by something known only as the System. You have to write clearly and carefully, in capital letters, because the System isn't very good at reading handwriting - no, you can't use a computer or a typewriter to print the info, everything must be filled in by hand. Then you wait for the form to come back with an answer. Four times out five it gets a big red stamp-like wording over the Need To Know section telling to ELABORATE FURTHER, after a wait of five to fifteen days. You don't know if "the System" just couldn't translate your handwriting, or if your reasons for requiring a certain set of data were deemed wrong, insufficient or not clear enough. So you fill in the form yet again, and change the wording, the handwriting style, the very argumentations, hoping that the next time it will work… And the most infuriating thing is that, if you get a chance to ask an appointed Committee member about how you are supposed to deal with "the System", they simply wave you away saying 'It's your task to figure it out. If you can, you'll receive full, unrestricted clearance on everything. But it seems that you are so very far from that goal. Keep trying and stop complaining.'". Rodney panted. "We must guess these, and many other hidden rules, before we get out of this fucking limbo and become fully functional Ethics Committee members. Until then, we… are… ehrm… almightly powerless! Yes! Almightly powerless! We must find the way out of this paradoxical status, completely unaided, as lost as blind wanderers! It's a kind of mental torture!"

The scientist pensively scratched his chin.

"This all sounds rather Kafkaesque, to be honest. You know, it's a term that indica… euhrrr… I mean… did you ever… you know…" the doctor nervously jerked his right index finger through the air, as like as he was swiftly flipping the pages of an imaginary book.

"Just 'The Metamorphosis'." Carver grimly replied.

"Oh, but that's an absolute masterpiece! However I was thinking more of 'The Trial'… yes, it's way more fitting, even if… you know what? I think 'The Castle' would be even more appropriate! Yes, yours is just like K.'s predicament in 'The Castle', struggling for his own…"

"Yeah, thank you, doctor, I will see to catch up on my knowledge of twentieth century literature…"

[…]

"…but the really important thing I'm working on is my treatise… well, more of an essay… ehrr… a short-yet-dense dissertation on what I call Inverse Semantic Gradient, or Reversed Matter-Meaning Causation."

Rodney lifted a brow in a dull, tired, disbelieving detachment. "I beg your pardon, but that sounds like a pile of metaphysical buzzwords to me."

"Buzz they do, young friend, and they indeed wrestle with the ontological nature of…"

"Sh-sh-sh-sh! Stop, sorry, sorry, stop, but the instant I hear the word 'ontological', I don' want to hear anything more! Forgive me for being rude, but…"

The yet unnamed researcher breathed heavily, some sort of glassy sadness partially clouding his eyes. "Sad are the times when a strongly philosophical approach to a problem is seen just as ridiculous witchcraft, as a form of kenolalia conjured to reciprocally masturbate the egoes of those who aren't smart - or 'ballsy' - enough to engage in 'hard Science', without even listening to the proposed arguments. Yes, much blame must be smeared on crowds of modern-day philosophers who dabble in self-complacent mental onanism… but the same amount of blame -or much more! - must be ditched on those 'scientists' that implicitly declared that Human Thought had reached his final stage of evolution, and that everything from then on would just have to be data gathering and the refining, rehashing or paradigmatical changes of existing theories… Forgetting that Science is one of the daughters of Philosophy (but another one is Ethics, my boy, and if you don't act humbly enough it will come to bite your ass as hard as a Great White Shark), forgetting - ignoring altogether! - the cultural broth in which Mathematics became an Universe on her own, from her humble origins as a collection of tricks to count, measure and build things, when all the while these same 'Scientists' decide to stick the 'Euclid' tag on physical manifestations that are both potentially harmful and that yet they can't explain within the philosophy of Galilei, Descartes and Newton. Even the greatest of the greatest minds, even Einstein couldn't stand the extreme consequences of one of the very theories he gave birth to, when those consequences heavily dented his belief in determinism and his Spinozian-inspired theological view…"

There was a split-second pause, then Rodney interrupted him.

"Whatever. But I still think that a cat's either dead or alive, despite the fact that somebody knows it or not… and… AND!… listen to me!… when a tree comes crashing down in a forest… and nobody's there to hear it… it still goes down like 'CRAAASSSSHHH, FRASSSSSH, CRACKLE, SBRANG, THUD!'"

The researcher erupted into an earthly laughter.

"And I spent my college years" continued Rodney "putting the same suggestion card in the Suggestions Box: 'PLEASE MAKE EPISTEMOLOGY - OR AT LEAST EPISTEMOLOGISTS - ILLEGAL!!'"

The researcher laughed some more, his good mood apparently restored. "All right, my friend, but know that there are legions of 'humanity scholars' that submit similar suggestions about mathematics and physics and all that requires numbers and… stuff."

"Ok, ok, doc, now that you have sternly chastised my cultural stance towards — eeuuh, episcientific matters, what did you want to tell me?"

"Terminology aside, it's really very simple, lad. You have… we have a world model that goes from simple to complex, right? Subatomic particles, elements, heavier elements created inside stars…" he waved his hand to cut it short "…up to life and then awareness. Isn't it?"

"Ergh… I guess?"

"First couple of steps we didn't conquer. How we got from chemistry to 'life'? Lots of conjectures, no evidence whatsoever. Yes, someone managed to create amino acids, but no one yet got to synthetic self-replicating living molecules… And 'awareness'? We aren't even able to philosophically define it!"

"But that's not…"

"Can you - or anyone we know of - propose an even remotely acceptable algorithm to model awareness, or self-awareness?"

"No… No we can't."

"But what we do know is that, to have meaning, we need overly complicated material structures - like brains, for example. The ability to understand, to have meaning rises from the ever complexifying ordering of 'dull' matter."

"It's a nice summary, but… it's trivial for me to agree, so I don't see why…"

"Then we have SCPs." the scientist cut short, lowering his voice to a slightly threatening vibe.

"Of course we do." said Rodney, a little annoyed.

"Think of SCP-173. Concrete, rebar, and some splotches of paint."

"But there's much more than that, as we all know…"

"Yes! Much more! SCP-173 shouldn't be able of doing anything. But it can detect if a self-aware being is looking at it. And if not, it can move and attack with ruthless violence!."

"Well… we all know it…"

"Try to follow me, will you? We analysed SCP-173's structure at the finest level attainable… and we found no trace of the complexity that makes movement possible… But even less we found the slightest traces that made meaning or awareness possible within the monstrous statue…"

"I can't follow you…"

"SCP-173 somehow knows if someone is looking at it… It knows if a meaningful observation of its structure is ongoing by a sentient being… Researchers tried to fool it with cameras, animals, disembodied human eye-brain self-sustaining organic apparatuses… Now way… 173 could be frozen in place only by an agent who could, somehow, accept its meaning, its semantic reality… Yet 173 itself doesn't have any of the complex structures that we suspect to be indispensable to get to the semantic level… As far as we can detect with our finest instruments, 173 is a block of inert matter… yet it shows harrowing signs of… sentience…"

"Yeah, we can't explain it… that's the whole point of…" Rodney gestured at the cafeteria, and at the Foundation structure at large "…all this mess!"

"We can't explain it - " the researcher continued "but we can give a phenomenological description of how this works." He waited a couple of seconds for eventual objections. "Many, if not most SCPs work by my suggested paradigm of Inverse Semantic Gradient, or Reversed Matter-Meaning Causation." He paused for another moment. "In other words: the anomaly of most SCPs is the reversal of a law, since known observed and accepted, that Meaning (which is currently scientifically unexplained) is the result of a yet unexplainable complexification of normal material interactions in the time-space continuum."

"Oh, come on, this makes as little sense as…"

"SCP-914?!"

"Yes, that makes little sense, but I meant…"

"Look, 914 seems to understand and elaborate on the meaning of its input/output items. Even if we can't figure out its clockwork engine, simple calculations show that it should be several orders of magnitude less powerful than modern supercomputers… for whomever's sake, my vintage BBC Micro is supposed to be computationally superior to 914, given the number of gears present… and modern supercomputers have no access to the semantic level of ontological reality… Yet 914 seems to understand its input items… and to aptly elaborate its output artifacts…

"One of the most interesting experiments with 914, which involved chess problems, had the following note attached to it by its experimenter: 'Yes, I've been playing chess with 914. Yes, I'm aware it's probably non-sentient, but that hardly explains why it's winning'."

"So many SCPs subvert our current model of explaining intelligence, or even causal links: there is a feedback between a layered, evolving complexity and the simpler world of 'matter'."

"Instead, in SCPs, we found a top-down interference from a non-complex, simply qualitative plane, to the realm of mechanically working matter, or just a translational cause-effect relationship between bottom-up (matter-meaning) 'regular' constructs to top-down (meaning-matter) 'aberrant' SCPs…"

Rodney frowningly let all that wildly speculative mumbo-jumbo sink, so that his own embedded semantic decoupler could find a set of straighter symbolic containers for those concepts.

"Of course," the researcher went on, "simple but 'meaning rich' entities could cause a great deal of effects, but without violating the matter-meaning cause-effect relationship. There's a required condition, of course: that such simple 'meaning packets' are processed by other… meaning enabled entities…"

Rodney got to the bottom of his somber tolerance for this kind of reasoning. "Oh, yeah?" he feebly uttered.

"Yes! Think of a great General astride his white horse on the top of a hill dominating the battlefield, think of thousands of soldiers, enemies and allies, deployed on the hilly terrain around in orderly square formations… Think of the General's saber pointed at the mid-day's sun, the trepidating expectation, and all the sudden the General screams, to the top of his lungs, 'Attack!'. And from that single word, a puny string of modulated airwaves, all hell breaks loose: artillery starts vomiting cannonballs on the enemy lines, musketeers loosely shoot, in internalized accord, at their yet too distant breathing targets, gleaming bayonets thirsty for the enemy blood the unstabilized lead balls will fail to spill; they systematically reload and advance in the thickening cloud of dust and smoke, cavalry comes rumbling down the hill, their blades screaming short, blindingly bright glints in the sun… all caused by a trivial sequence of pulsating compressions and depressions of the air blown out from the General's lungs…"

"You are that kind of guy" emotionlessly noted Rodney "who squanders what little free time he has to build dioramas of country battlefields and paint leaden toy soldiers at the cost of neglecting his own family; that prefers the task of finishing the brass blouse buttons in one-to-seventytwo scale models of Austro-Hungarian infantrymen to the priceless enjoyment of those wonderful father-son moments, such as when one teaches his junior-high school kid how to make high-explosives out of nitrogen-rich fertilizers…"

"Not far from the mark, lad," replied the researcher, undaunted "but the important thing here is that the simple meaning in our General's words isn't what causes the battle to begin. We have the yet scientifically irreducible complexity in the General's mind, we have his brain, lungs, speaking apparatus, hormones and neural networks; at a point he decides it's time to commence the attack, his neurons fire, his nerves relay the message, his lungs blow the air out, his vocals chords and his mouth shape the word 'Attack!', the word then pulsates through the air, strikes the eardrums, who sets the earbones in motion, of his soldiers, then more electrochemical messages are fired, computed by the complexity of all the fighters brains to produce meaning, and then, again, by this uncountable chain of matter-to-matter interactions, Meanings flows down yet again to produce an astounding amount of physical effects… but the Matter-Meaning Causation is never broken, never left out, we simply have a head-spinningly fast rollercoaster that goes continuously up-and-down from the realm of Matter to the one of Meaning, the two simply being an arbitrary classification that we use because we find it useful, but has no ontological - beg your pardon - substantiality whatsoever, the only countable, scientifically sound distinction here being complexity, all this being a countless, seamless set of feedback circuits that skip back-and-forth through thousands of orders of magnitude of complexity - what we call Matter, what we call Meaning."

"Very vivid and lively representation, indeed. But how is it relevant?".

"Think of Believers." the scientist's mood shifted to a grimmer demeanor "Think of… Magic. You draw a symbol - on paper, in the sand, through thin air. You say a word. You think of - or, visualize, in their parlance, something. We are at the 'Meaning' layer. Well, they think - believe - that that Meaning will have a non-mediated - immediate - effect on reality. No rollercoasting up and down complexity levels. Just: Meaning - directly causing - 'Material' effects."

Rodney was somehow troubled by this world-model, that he would usually have waved away as 'ridiculous'.

"Like… people praying… God… or… Gods… Or…. wait! Wait a sec! That was so straightforward! It's… it's Evolutionism versus Creationism! How could I've missed it! Matter-Meaning Causation is Evolution: complex systems arising from the interaction of simpler elements… Meaning-Matter Causation is… the so-called 'Intelligent Design'… it's 'God's Almightiness' shaping matter 'at His unrestrained Will', without any investigable mediation whatsoever!…"

"Exactly! Meaning-Matter Causation, after taking everything into account, equates to God. God, or Pure Meaning, Utter Complexity, causates everything else.
'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God.'
'The Word'… Meaning. All that's simple comes from what's supremely complex. Simple things are… the degradation, the degeneration, or, at best, a creation of the Original Meaning. That's why some humanity scholars can't stand a purely scientific approach: we split, analyze, build up from utter simplicity to the greatest complexity we can handle, but even then, that very complexity is made up of well ordered yet simple, elementary building blocks."

"Oh my Go… Oh fuck! You are telling me that there are SCPs that validate that other… debasing world-view?"

"You find it debasing. Other people finds it's the other way around."

"Ok, the 'Believers', but what about SCPs?"

"A sizeable amount of SCPs seem to corroborate this inverted causational paradigm. Think of SCP-140, a history book that writes and rewrites itself to directly affect what has actually happened by modifying what is reported (an egregious case of effect-causation reversal); think of SCP-085, a case of living, sentient mimesis, again brought to life by 914 and…"

"Ok, ok, I got the picture. Are you implying that this… 'meaning-matter' causation, that characterizes some of the anomalies we study and contain… is… is…"

"Ontologically connatural to the Universe?!"

"OH, COME ON!"

"Ok, you meant… real?"

"Yes, that is much less stupid-sounding."

"No. No, no, no. My stance is that SCPs introduce us to a degree of complexity that we are completely unable to even scratch on its surface… We can't replicate, describe or even define self-awareness… but… we know of the many connections it has with the brain and the rest of our bodies… and we can even mess with that… in the case of many SCPs… we are absolutely clueless… we can just… try to… contain them… or to… blindly harness their effects."

"So… it's simply a matter of our own ignorance, of the limitation of our knowledge…"

"I would be a fool to nail a final word to such a topic. I think it goes the way I told you. But I can by no mean exclude that direct Meaning-Matter Causation is at least a part of how this Universe works… if not the fundamental way everything works and has ever worked…"

"So…" said Rodney, wide-eyed and forgetful of his manners "you are… an agnostic!…" he accusatorily pointed at the man "which means… that you are… partly a Believer!"

"WHAT?! Partly a Believer?! You have queer ideas, don't you? If I were an agnostic, I wouldn't be neither a Believer nor a Non-Believer… But even if I were 'partly a Believer'… would that mean that I weren't playing on the same team as you?" the doctor ironically asked.

"You… you bet! I'm a Doubter, not a Believer, and I'm proud of it!"

"But now you must be extremely careful, my dear Doubting friend… because" again he leant forward, and his eyes scaringly widened "a True Doubter goes all the way to Doubt his own Doubt. Otherwise he is just a fraud. Otherwise he just Believes in Doubt - a contemptible oxymoron. A truly committed Doubter doesn't even have the certainty of his Doubt. He… has…. Nothing… nothing to comfort him, except his conviction that by Doubting… by doubting everything… he could… theoretically reach the Unobtainable… Everything… the Universe… the Noumenon… all by willfully and hopelessly subduing to Tantalus' torment…"

Slacking and cringing almost (but not quite) to tears, Rodney asked "But… how am I supposed to be… 'ethical'… to tell Right and Wrong apart… if can't even…" his voice quivered "if I can't even trust my Doubt?! How am I supposed to cope with such a mind-shattering uncertainty?"

The scientist sympathetically shrugged, showing his bare hand palms. "I'm afraid it will really shatter your mind, my son. I'm afraid it will drive you insane. It seems to be your destiny." He then hastened to specify "In my philosophical view of things, Destiny is just an ex-post assessment on how things went despite our ability to choose or control them. No Universal Forces in my mind. If this is someway soothing to you…"

"Fuck no, it isn't."

The researcher stayed silent for a while, burdened by the cruel plight he unloaded on poor little Ethics Committee member Rodney. He tried to change subject.

"May I ask you something?"

"I'm not so sure."

"Whom I have to ask to remove that picture there from over the cafeteria door?"

Carver grinned.

"You're not talking about that wood engraving replica, am I right?"

"Indeed you are. I'm talking about the other one, that grayscale photograph."

"You mean the grainy portrait of Josef Mengele?"

"Yesss. I've complained multiple times about that… thing, a couple of times by an O5, but they told me… they told me it was the Ethics Committee who insisted to put… and keep… that… thing there…"

Rodney giggled.

"It's strange that, you being a knowledgeable veteran and all, this doesn't fall in the scope of your… coatlore."

"Coatlore?"

"Whitecoat folklore. Foundation researchers folklore. Just coined the term on the fly."

"I beg your pardon, but it… kind of sucks."

"Whatever." He took his small briefcase and rustled through his pile of grey, environmentally friendly paper sheets. "But you got it right, I'm the right person to ask, since I always carry around a small stack of these, because… it's just so amusing…" He found a slim bundle of whiter sheets, and handed his interlocutor a printed form. "Here."

The man raised his glasses on his forehead, trying to focus on and discern the meaning of the streaks of sans serif glyphs.

"What is this supposed to be?"

"Why, that's Form EC/3-177-885" said, not by heart, but by looking at the heading of another copy of the document from his small bundle. "It's basically a standardized form to request the removal of Mengele's portrait from the cafeteria. You just have to fill in all your data, sign, submit - you can give it to me - and you will get a response from the Committee within ninety work days."

"You… surely meant nineteen?"

"No-no, it's ninety."

"Ninety work days? Are you kidding me? And what the response would be?"

"Why, another standardized form kindly explaining that the picture won't be removed."

"Why!? In the name of… whoever… why?"

"Because" Rodney grinned, baring his teeth "the Committee thinks that that portrait is suitably placed." This time he was the one to lean forward. "You know better than me that in this sector of the Site the research is mostly carried out on Dees - human subjects. The Committee thinks that it's healthy that we constantly have Josef Mengele on our minds - so that we can try to be as different as possible from him."

The other man gave a stale look at the form.

"You no longer are 'we', Ethics Boy." He stated.

"Ok, doc. You. So that you can try to be less… just forget it." He then looked at the two framed pictures. "And the other one? Are you ok with the woodprint of the man burnt at the stake?"

"Do you have forms for that, too?"

"No. Nobody complains about the guy."

"I couldn't find out who he really is", said the scientist.

For a split moment, Rodney's eyes gleefully sparkled, his tongue ready to snap out the answer.

"But" the other one continued "once I took a set of opera glasses to work to make out the content of the engraved metal plaque nailed to the picture frame. It seems to read 'Maiori forsan cum timore sententiam in me fertis quam ego accipiam'" He paused for a moment. "I… hope you won't mind if I attempt a translation: it means 'Perhaps you pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it'. They are reportedly the words uttered by Giordano Bruno after being sentenced to death by the Inquisition.". The scientist flipped his glasses down on his nose and stared right and firmly into Carver's faltering eyes. "So the man in the illustration probably isn't Bruno - but he is meant to represent him. Do you know why I find it sound, to have the burning of Giordano Bruno nailed on the wall here?"

"Ehrm… I… uuh… no?"

"Because that is what we do. That is what the Foundation does. We lock away, torment, and destroy whatever is carrying ideas that are threatening our precious mainstream world view - our… progress." He leaned back on his chair, his limbs relaxing, or going limp. "That was what the Church thought to be Right to do at the time. That's what the Foundation finds Right to do today. Secure. Contain. Protect. Protect, ultimately, not so much from the physical threats of these oddities we fiddle around with all day. We protect everyone from knowing that things aren't the way they - we - thought to be. And this is fractally replicated inside the very Foundation, each Clearance Level protecting - even at the cost of gruesome termination - the lower ones from the truths they gained access to, and on top of all of that… you, the Ethics Committee, the Inquisition, protecting us from… Heresy."

"You… this is an oversimpl… no, it's just… it's wrong, you see?! It's wrong be… because we care about… I mean, come on! We use science, state-of-the-art science, we… Ok, fuck that, you know what, I should report you! I should just report you!"

The scientist's smile broadened and shone harrowingly.

"That's it then! Let the pogrom begin!".