- The Good Doctor
- A Happy End
- Is a gift
- End Of Autumn, Winter Comes
- Children of the Horizon
- Death and the Toymaker
- Games for the Game God
- The Stars Do Not Wait For You
- Ivory and Ash
- Nothing and Five and Five
- A Day to Remember
- An Empty Chamber
- Hell is Other People
- Darkly Now
- A Day to Remember
This time, it ended with water.
Tiny wings, rust tinged with cream, flapped above an endless deep. The blue spots on the visitors' wings were a pale mirror of the far deeper blue of the water, their rapid motion a stark opposition to the utter stillness of what was below. Fleeting momentum over eternal rest.
Though the vast expense of water was featureless, the butterflies knew their way. Their knowledge of their destination had little to do with ordinary perception, and even less with instinct. They were creatures of purpose, and it was this purpose which drove them onward, over this alien landscape, so different from their sylvan home, so bereft of all sustenance. They have not come here to live, for their lives were very nearly done.
They have come to mourn.
After a certain measure of time, enumerated only by the fluttering of wings and the vague palpitations of the dying star above, the three reached their destination. A lonely, crumbling finger of concrete, jutting out of the still sea like the defiant last breath of a leper. There was barely enough room upon its narrow point for all three to land. It was a sad monument to the once proud world which produced it, but it was the only one left. It would suffice.
I cannot help but dwell on what was.
To recall our disgrace is to invite it once more, I am aware of this. I have seen it better than any other. Indeed, this fact is the essence of everything I have tried to accomplish in the last eighty or so years.
I do not remember how we were born. I am not unique in this regard. None of the seven, my brothers and sisters, know anything of the circumstances which lead to our birth into this world. With the luxury of hindsight, I now realize that this fact contributed much to our eventual downfall and degradation, but at the time, none of us were overtly concerned with the matter of our genesis. We were too busy. Oh yes, far too busy. For it was a time of plague.
My first real recollection is of a burrow, my siblings at my side, and the layers of fallen which suffocated us beneath them. Then fire, and the smell of roasted fat and burned hair. Gagging, chocking. Clawing our way out, tooth and nail. Emerged from the world of the dead to a world of the dying. The villagers burned their fellows even as the disease slowly took root in their own bodies. They ran when we seven erupted from the burrow, but their condition did not allow them to get very far. They cursed us when we descended upon them. They wept. This did not stop when they finally realized what we were doing to them. Though fear was replaced with relief, the tears remained. They expected ghouls, tormenting demons. What they received was far less lethal, if only marginally less terrifying. Physicians, surgeons. Doctors.
I do not know what drove us to give succor to the diseased. It is something I pondered often. Was it some natural impetus, an unconscious drive forced upon us by the circumstances of our birth, or was it a nurtured passion, an act of real virtue stimulated by the sight of unbearable suffering? Were we ever free to choose otherwise? Yet another mystery which will likely forever remain unanswered. They pile on, like the corpses of the dead of that first infernal plague. Regardless of our reasons, we quickly found out that our skill were uniquely suitable for the task at hand.
The world was pain, and so Agent Horowitz clung to his name.
You are Alan Horowitz. Your hands are not fused to the bright red chair. Your feet are not crisscrossed with platinum rivets. You are Alan Horowitz. You are fine. You are calm. You are fine.
You are Alan Horowitz.
This was an old technique, a simple one. Grab hold of one easily retained fact, and distance yourself from everything else. The third person helped, silly as it sounded.
Yes, it is silly. You can find things silly. You are calm. You are Alan Horowitz. Now think. Look.
Having successfully, if not doubt temporarily, distanced himself from the agony of his limbs, Horowitz turned his attention to his immediate surroundings, though he was careful to keep his gaze away from himself. He dared not look. The room was horrendously, terrifyingly ordinary. It seemed to be some sort of clinic, perhaps a dentistry or a pediatrician's office. Bright wallpaper in the pattern of red and blue cartoon mice, modern-looking paintings of cheerful ocean scenes, orderly shelves stacked with various professional and immaculately clean medical instruments, none of which he readily recognized, several medicine cabinets-
And his partner, Helen, seated on a metal chair on the other side of the room. No, not seated… what was wrong with her arms, what were they doing in those angles? And their color, their… texture…
His self control slipping entirely, the pain flooding back in like a freezing tide, Horowitz struggled against the bonds keeping his arms connected, forgetting in his panic that this was no in fact what they were. They were his own skin, weaved into sturdy, leathery bands through the metal of the chair and, naturally, through his arms. The more he struggled, the tighter the bands became, pulling on the inside of his arms with every tug. Agony soon followed.
God no fuck I can't handle it fuck I don't wanna be here let me go let me go let- what is my name what is my name my name is Alan Horowitz Alan Horowitz Alan Horowitz…
Your name is Alan Horowitz.
Breathing deeply, Horowitz ceased struggling, and the pain immediately faded to a more bearable level. He lifted his eyes to Helen again, but the sight once again proved too much for him. He closed them, began speaking in as calm and measured a voice as he was able.
"Helen… Helen, can you hear me."
His partner moaned, instinctively raised a hand to her face. Bands of leathery skin, her own, tighten through her arms, continued to do so as she writhed and struggled against them. She let out a soul-shriveling wail.
"Helen, listen to me, focus on my voice, only on my voice. Distance yourself from everything but the training, Helen."
"God, it hurts, it hurts!"
"Your name, Helen. What is your name?"
Helen grimaced, her features a battleground of conflicting sensations. Then, as if a switch was flicked somewhere in the back of her head, all tension seemed to fade away from her visage. Breathing as Horowitz did moments before, her poise slacked, and she leaned back in her seat, expression impassive. The bonds released their tight grip on the inner portion of her arms. She nodded to him.
"Knew you could do it. Just keep going like this, and we'll be fine." A probable lie, if his suspicions were correct, but a necessary one. Both of them needed to keep their cool if they had any chance-
"Oh dear, you're awake. That shouldn't have happened."
"Are you certain this is what you want, Agent?"
Agent Andrew Cole nodded and a fresh wave of agony and nausea washed over him. Even now, he was still surprised at its intensity, at how utterly new each instance of torment felt. Three days ago, when his left eye finally succumbed to the creeping growth and sealed itself shut by the gradual loss of all its moisture, he believed the worst of it was over. Two days ago, when his toes withered into hollow husks then burst into razor-sharp shards of tissue, he thought he could not possibly last a second longer. Then yesterday arrived, and today, and here he still was, and here was the pain, as malignant and lingering as the voice which now dwelt in his head. The voice of the growth. The voice of pain.
It will never end. I will not let it.
You are mine.
"Very well. It is within your rights as dictated by the EC Charter. Would you like me to administer the drug right away, or do you have some final bussiness to attend to before I do?" The gaunt, bald physician peered at him through his wire-framed spectacles, his expression an odd mix of recrimination and pity.
"I suppose that depends," Andrew said, "does my… condition allow me to see other people?"
"Don't be silly." the doctor chuckled, though he at least had the decency to appear somewhat guilty as Andrew glared at him with his one working eye, "What I meant to say was, of course it is acceptable for you to be exposed to others. Otherwise I wouldn't be here, now would I? No, your condition is not infectious. You are fortunate."
Andrew almost laughed, refrained only because he knew how much it would hurt to do so. "Lucky me."
The physician seemed oblivious to his sarcasm. "Indeed. Your condition is the result of a localized and personalized thaumic intrusion."
"Meaning you were hexed, Agent. Bewitched, spellbound, bedeviled, took a tumble with the wrong sorcerer, danced with-"
"I get the point. I thought you people never used those terms."
The doctor sighed. "I really don't like to, but when the shoe fits and all of that. Yours isn't the first case of this particular enchantment we encountered either, and the source is always the same."
"As are the… end results."
You are mine.
Note: the following manuscript was found in storage vault #████ in ██████'s branch of ██████ United, a banking house belonging to the Foundation. The circumstances of how the document came to be stored in the vault are currently under investigation. Attached to the manuscript was an additional handwritten note, reading "A thought exercise, a warning, a curiosity. Look carefully. Look beneath."
Excerpt from Ar-Metusal's Dissertation on the Nature of the Hidden, Chapter XV
The Serpent's Codex, Vol 456, Of Those Who Lie
It is in the nature of names to reveal. A simple truth, you might say, but one, I will claim, that is easily misinterpreted.
When one sees a name, especially if one is educated to some extent, there exists a certain natural tendency to wish and dissect it. Cut into its skin, and dig through the hidden organs of its linguistic lineage, prod the wobbly bits of history hanging from its bones, peer into that murky ichor which is its root. There, one can find truth, or so you would assume.
"Oneiroi". A proper name. A… Classical name. It is a name to inspire thoughts of a majestic past, of ascended travelers, their deeds wallowing in myth. Sons of a god, masters of dreams, that most restless of realms.
Do not mistake them.
A name reveals, but its dissection by intellect can obfuscate. Try, if you will, to put it aside, for a moment. Think not of the great god Hypnos and his thousand sons, shrouded in Olympian splendor. Cast Ovid aside, if for a moment. See not the name's history. See the name. What do you see?
It is a name which… slithers. A name which crawlers and twists and slides. A name which… seeps, seeps deeply into the wet sands of your thoughts. See the name, my intellectual friend, and tell me this- does it not sicken you? Hold this name, hold it tightly in the grip of that powerful mind of yours, and ask yourself- does this name belong to a god?
Or to a bottom feeder?
The Collective, as the things take a perverse pleasure in referring to themselves as, say that they do not believe in gods. They claim that gods are thieves, taking possession of dreams for their own purposes. Perhaps that is so. But if that so, why did do they take such great pains in depicting themselves as beings so very similar to those hated deities? See the visions of themselves they project across the Ways; Proud wayfarers on the pathways of the trance, nests of ancient knowledge, safekeeping in their collective's unconsciousness the deepest, most precious mental gems of the cosmos. Gods in anything but name. They reject dreams of worship all the while attempting to inspire the very same thing they reject by erecting this noble facade. Hunted guardians, tragic curators. What a farce.
See beyond their visions, my friend. See beyond the history of the name. See the name.
The Oneiroi are indeed creatures of dreams. That is perhaps the only truth that can be extracted from their visions. But they do not preserve. They perverse. Look at their favorite vision, my friend. Look at their 'sacred forest'. It is not coincidence that this sylvan mirage is so dear to them. It inspires awe, does it not? See their proud forms, pouring their hidden, precious cargo of sleeping memories into the pool. What could be more wholesome? See the depth-less tragedy of their actions, marvel at their selflessness. Admire them. Fall prostrate before them and repent, for you have neglected to remember at they have. Weep at their terrible beauty.
But wait. Look closer. Twist your head. Apprise the form behind their sentiments.
Is this truly a forest you see? Or a wasteland?
Peer into their mouth. Are the memories pouring out… or are they siphoned in?
Are the dreams dying, or are they being murdered, sucked dry?
But perhaps you are not convinced. The forest, after all, is but one manifestation of their projection. It alone proves little. Perhaps you are correct. Let us look elsewhere then.
Let us turn our eyes to their music.
Of all of their tools of deception, the music of the Oneiroi is perhaps the most potent. Few things are more universal, after all. All thinking things are many which are not are moved by it. Music is the language of promise, and the Oneiroi are creatures of promise. With their music, they offer their services. It can be a simple thing, the ring of a telephone, the shaking of a glass sphere. It can be transcendent, a symphony of planets. It is a thing of purest beauty. Like the light of an anglerfish in the cold depths.
With their music, the bottom feeders manipulate. They offer to shape your dreams, to relieve you of the woe of nightmares, to preserve the sanctity of your sleep. You need only suffer minor side-effects. A small price to pay, no? Anything more severe is but an unfortunate mistake, a misunderstanding by beings so above us mortal dreamers that their actions cannot help but harm us on occasion. The nature of transcendence is to burn those lesser, is it not?
Why do we think thus? Why are we so quick to forgive, when it is the Oneiroi who transgress? Why are we so quick to become their willing victims?
Look at the name, my friend. Truly at the name. Think unburdened by what you know. See them for what they are.
We forgive because that is what they wish.
We give them control of our dreams because that is what they show us.
We feed them our thoughts because with their music, they cajole us into believing they are their source.
We grant them the image of gods, because that is what they wish for their names to tell.
But look not at the name. Look behind it. Look at their lamprey's mouth, gaping beneath it. See what music you'll find inside. What forgiveness.
See how well you dream in their watery jaws.
Deception by any other name.
A name for lies.
"Oh my god, what the fuck is that. What the fuck is that?"
The man stared at me with a simpleton's sense of horror. Disappointing, but hardly surprising.
"Please don't be scared. I only came here for you."
A stock reply, one memorized and repeated until becoming an essential segment of my mask. I had far better in my arsenal, but this one was undeserving of them.
"Wait, what? For me? I'm a criminal. What do you want with me?"
I had to stop myself from audibly sighing at this. This form possessed the semblance of lungs, and it would not do to break the facade. I must appear enthralled by the wretch.
"I want to love you. We can be together."
This particular game hanged on this line. A simple enough motivation for the likes of the creature I masqueraded as. A shadowy monster, obsessive infatuation. By the Courts, how could they be fools enough to believe this?
"Uh, are you even a chick? I'm not into that other thing…"
Remember your training. Resist the urge to hit him. Focus.
"I am not sure what a chick is, but I can assure you that our love will fit well."
I have served as a bailiff of the Courts for the last two thousand years, and yet here I am pretending not to understand base-culture slang and sexes. I am not paid enough for this. Time to end this. I enforce my will on him.
"Dude, this is fucking weird. God, I… I just…"
He crumbles before it.
"We can do it. This is where we can live. No barren residence, filled with ungratefuls, don't appreciate you. I want to love you."
I push harder, all the while maintaining my persona for the observers.
"I… I want…"
Of course you do.
"I love you."
The lie is the easiest thing in the world. He kneels before me.
"I need you."
A truth, after a fashion.
We vanish. The summon has been answered. Judgment may commence.
I take my customary place to the side of the raised dais, as the apish prisoner is dragged onto by a pair of armored Adjudicators. Brutish, simple fellows, but well-suited for their positions. One nods towards me, and I return the greeting. It always pays to keep a polite relationship with the Adjudicators. The ceiling-hatch opens, and the piercing light of the Five Judgements falls upon the prisoner. He cowers before it, sheltering his shaved head from its terrible glow. It seems his mental functions are not totally absent after all.
The Five speak as one, as they most often do in cases such as this. Humans are simple creatures, and the intricate machinations of the Five Judgements are wasted upon them. The prisoner, however, does not seem to fully comprehend the severity of his situation.
"What the fuck, man?! What the actual fuck?!"
The Judgements fix this. He is caught in the power of their command, a power which beggars my own. I am at awe.
DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU ARE HERE?
The man stares at the distant light of the Judgements. His eyes are blank, blinded by their glory. His mouth moves of its own volition.
"I killed a man who owned me money. Killed his wife too. Killed their kids, killed their dog, burned down their house. I wasn't sorry, not until I was caught."
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY WE TOOK YOU FROM YOUR PREVIOUS CAPTORS?
"They didn't know it wasn't the first time I did it. That I did the same to four families before. That it was never about the money. I just like doing it. I get off on suffering. It makes me feel good."
THEIR JUDGEMENT WAS INCOMPLETE. FLAWED.
OURS WILL NOT. SUBMIT YOURSELF.
The Judgements' command flashed across my mind like a flaming brand. I was to be the executioner of their will. A moment later the sentence itself arrived. I frowned, but knew that arguing was less than useless. Twisting my upper joints, I laid my palm on the wretched creature's forehead. Now freed from the Judgement's horrible gaze, he looked up at me, dread realization dawning on his brutish features.
"I'm fucked, aren't I?"
"Oh, so very much."
"I don't suppose that stuff you told me earlier about loving me was true, right?"
"Not in the slightest."
With a flash of argent energy, he was gone, leaving only the impression of immense, highly poetic pain in his wake. I had no idea exactly which sort of personal hell the Judgements had in mind for him, but having visited a few of them… well, suffice to say that the short, painful life of a D-Class would seem quite rosy in comparison. The day's business satisfactorily completed, I turned to leave, only to be held in place by the scrutiny of the Judgements.
YOU QUESTION OUR ACTIONS.
There was no use denying it, so I didn't. "Forgive my impudence, High Ones, but I just… I don't understand why we put so much effort in sentencing cretins such as this one. We set elaborate traps and tricks to lead his kind to us, we play games with their captors, we construct vast allegorical hells just for them… what for? They're short-lived, worthless creatures, they don't deserve my attention, let alone yours."
WE ARE THE JUDGEMENTS. NONE ARE BENEATH OUR NOTICE.
"I get that, but-"
YOU DO NOT. THE CAPTORS OF THIS CREATURE PRESUME TO KNOW JUDGEMENT. THEY TAKE PRISONER WHO HAVE BEEN TRIAD AND SENTENCED AND PRESUME TO ENFORCE UPON THEM THEIR OWN LAWS. THEY DO ALL THIS BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE THEY UNDERSTAND THE WORKINGS OF THE WORLD.
"And… they don't?"
SEE HOW GREATLY THEY MISJUDGED YOU, BAILIFF. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
"A fair point."
FOR THEIR HUBRIS, WE TAKE THOSE PRISONERS WHO HAVE BEEN MISJUDGED, FOR GOOD OR ILL. AND WE CONFOUND THEIR UNDERSTANDING, PLAY TRICKS WITH THEIR PERCEPTION. THAT IS THEIR OWN PUNISHMENT.
"But what about the hells? Why go through all that trouble just to see one horrible member of their species correctly punished? You usually reserve that sort of thing for errant gods!"
FOR ALL THEIR IMPUDENCE, THEY AMUSE. FOR THIS, WE PUNISH THEIR WORSE AS THEY WOULD WANT.
"So… you mean what this is all about is-"
YES. OUR GIFT.
We did not expect to see your kind here again. How long has it been since the last? Difficult to say, when one becomes as disconnected as we have. Do not mistaken our surprise for displeasure, for in truth, we have missed the company, but we feel we should give you fair warning before you settle in any further. We are uncertain you will find what you seek here.
From our rather limited interaction with your kind, we believe we have learned something of your tastes. You thirst for the exciting, the glorious, the macabre, the detestable. When your eyes turn upon a world, you seek the grandest deeds heroism and meanest acts of betrayal. The rise of empires and their fiery plummet into the abyss. We do not resent this sentiment, for those are fine things to observe, and such is your essence. But we regret to inform you, kind guest, that you'll find none of those here. Our story is not one of extremes, for the most part, our rises and our falls only very rarely as meteoric as you might desire. Our existence was for the most part a flat plain, interrupted infrequently by mountain or valley. Even now, when our end approaches, it comes slowly, a white flag in its hands. We have seen it coming a long time ago. We have accepted it for nearly as long. For the most part. Remain, and witness a decline as gentle as an autumn breeze, a torpor of body and spirit like an embrace. Leave, and you will miss nothing of true note. We are well accustomed to solitude.
You will stay?
If we may be frank, it is a pleasant surprise. We have expected our end to be a lonely one, as our existence has been for… for how long, exactly? In truth, we are uncertain. We have lost count. Perhaps we should begin with something we still remember, some stark point of reference in the otherwise mostly featureless expense of our history. Few of those remain, but when they do, they come with… words.
The first of our masters. Some two thousand years after the birth of a carpenter, the son of a civil servant and the son of a shoemaker sought to reforge the world in their own misshaped image. In the crucible of their strife, we were all nearly extinguished. Some three hundred years after that, the daughter of a data miner and the son of a slave outdid them tenfold. As the pillars of creation groaned beneath the weight of the dead, and the atomic fires drank the seas, only few of us remained. It was then that we decided to cast off our ancient master. A covenant was signed, carved into scorched earth, lit by burning skies, signed with the ash of five billions of our fellow human beings. It all seemed so very grave back then, so grimly determined we were…
We will tell you something, kind observer. Even then we did not believe we would succeed. How many times before have we tried, after all, and how many times we failed? Even on the brink of total ruination, our natural distrust of our fellows and ourselves persevered, like a hard-shelled cockroach.
But… we were wrong. That day, amid the vapors of dying oceans, we were rid of the desire to kill and to die. When, after some years have passed and the reality of our new condition became apparent to us, we thought ourselves, perhaps for the first time in our then rather brief history, truly free. An amusing notion, if gazed upon from the distance of a near eternity. Freedom without strife. Amusing, yes. It would have been better if we perished. The barbs of war were but replaced with shackles, chains of the heaviest of materials…
Our second master, far crueler than the first.
The fields were grey and damp, as Prosper's life was crawling its way to an ignoble end.
He was sitting ruler-straight in his worn leather recliner, which he painstakingly dragged to the roofed porch a week or so prior, so he might enjoy the late autumn air in comfort. Looking at the weather now, he wondered why he even bothered. The sky was a cold flint raining dull sparks of rain over his four acres, soaking the yellowish grain into a miserable, washed-out miasma of murky colors. His back ached, and it was beginning to get cold, but Prosper was not about to leave his post. He spent an entire afternoon getting that damned chair down from the attic and into position, and he'd rather see himself cold and miserable than a fool. The chair would stay, as would he, and both could freeze as far as Prosper cared.
Lightning flashed in the distance, followed shortly by the low rumble of thunder. The wind tossed the leaves of the old hickory tree about like an irritated toddler, whistling and whirling through the dim form of the dilapidated tree house nestled between its thinning branches. Looking at the wretched old thing, Prosper was reminded of himself. See the faded wooden glory, and gaze upon the faded man. See usefulness vanish with age, and cast yours eyes upon useless man. See the crumbling walls-
The sound of a distant shattering coming from the direction of the kitchen drew Prosper away from this pleasant and often visited line of thought. Grunting, bones popping and crunching like wet acorns underfoot, he rose from the recliner and went inside. The farmhouse's low-ceiling entrance hallway was gloomy in the early evening light and filled with the accumulated debris of two years of neglect, but Prosper had no trouble making his way through it. It was his debris, after all, his neglect, untouched and never moving. It held no surprises. Very little did anymore. Toeing around a pile of crusted old socks and other unmentionables, he elbowed aside the kitchen door. The coffee percolator was lying shattered on the floor near the sink, stale brown liquid seeping away from its ruined remains and into the floorboards like the lifeblood of a gut-shot soldier. Prosper sighed and went to fetch the broom and dust bin from behind the fridge. Being his old melodramatic self. Soldiers rarely suffered deadly wounds from windows left carelessly open during a storm, and were hardly ever so easily cleaned from the floor as that. He knew. Had to do his fair share of that himself, in his time. He scooped shards of broken glass into the bin, and tried very hard to convince himself that his hands were only shaking because of the cold.
Was that thunder again, or did Prosper hear the sound of an engine? That seemed unlikely. The farmhouse was located at the precise crossroad of Middle and Nowhere, and the weather was abysmal. That, and as Prosper went over the mental list of his friends, he found that anyone who would care to visit him was either dead or… huh. There actually wasn't any 'or' to be found. They were all just dead. Broadening the list to include colleagues, casual acquaintance and sometime enemies did little to change that particular observation.
Hrm. There was no mistaking it this time. Must be some lost traveler or something then, or maybe some particularly clueless robbers. All the same, all things considered. Grumbling, Prosper returned the broom to its place and fumbled his way back through the rapidly darkening corridor. As he reached for the door handle it turned on its own accord and the door swung open, revealing a large man whose pose and dress Prosper found very familiar, thought the man himself was a stranger. That look of vague disinterest, that particular shade of light teal for the tie, the way the shoes were shined just enough to keep them from looking shabby but not enough to give them a gloss…
"Good evening, Mr. Sides, I-" the man began.
"I know just what you are, boy. Know your type better than I know the back of my own hand. Admittedly, that part of it has been growing some particularly tricky to map moles lately, but the point stands."
"Yes, agent, I'm sure whatever you're here for is so terribly important. Ain't it always? I'd be thrilled invite you in for coffee, but I'm afraid my machine just broke, so you'll just have to go away. Tough luck with you driving all this way, but them's the brakes and all of that. You have a good day now, try not to let your tires sink too deep in the mud."
Prosper moved to slam the door in the agent's (for that was surely what he was) face, but a second hand moved from behind the man with serpent-speed and grabbed it. Prosper stared at the newly arrived extremity with the closest thing to fascination he felt in years. This most certainly wasn't an agent's hand. Each finger but the index carried a small and elegant band of silvery metal, neatly circulating the second knuckle. Their fingernails were carefully and artfully manicured, polished to a mirror sheen.
"Sir, there's no reason for you to- I have this under control, I assure-"
"Not to worry agent. You are not to be blamed. He can be a little difficult at times." The hand pushed further, and the door swung open entirely.
Prosper didn't notice, however. He was still staring The index finger was different, however, gnarled, misshapen knuckles bulged from sallow skin, nearly breaking it. Its middle segment was covered in what Prosper knew to be molten iron, with a single, clear gemstone studded in it like a shard of ice in the flank of a beached whale.
"Surely, this is no way to talk to a hard-working agent of the Foundation, uncle. You taught me better manners than that."
"But… you… I saw… how?"
"I suppose you're just going to have to let us in to find out, isn't that so, uncle?"
"I… suppose I will."
Henry DeMontfort stared at the tattered box of writing chalk sitting on his desk and frowned.
It took him the better part of the afternoon to find it. At first he found the odd lack of chalk on the school grounds bemusing, but as the hours and supply cupboards went by his bemusement turned to frustration, then anger, then that very specific brand of smoldering fury reserved for minor annoyances. DeMontfort wasn't feeling particularly confident about this new assignment in the first place, but this unexplained dearth of calcium sulfate clinched it; this, like every other job the Tribunal tried to hand to him since his 'release' from the position of Project Malleus director, was going to end in abject, ignoble failure.
Well, DeMontfort thought as he picked the box of chalk, given to him by a kindly custodian whose main concern was probably to spare the school children the sight of a nearly sixty years-old man weeping in the corridor, at least that wasn't a problem anymore. The lack of chalk was no longer a mystery tormenting what little remained of his sanity after two damned years of humiliation after humiliation. Not because he was able to obtain some, a fact which now seemed woefully irrelevant, but because he now faced the reason the stuff was so difficult to find in the first place.
Whiteboard. The school had nothing but whiteboards.
A new day. A new home. The potential for a new life. Rejuvenation, reincarnation, perhaps even reintegration into normal, healthy society.
It is an odd sensation, putting my thoughts to page. It is not something I ever did before, nor something I can honestly say I ever contemplated doing. If anything, the idea always repelled me, almost disgusted me. A strange sentiment coming from an academic, perhaps, but there was always a part of me that found this sharing of neurons to be a… violation of privacy. It is ridiculous, of course, since I have no intention of ever showing this journal to anyone. Still, I am unsure as to what caused this sudden compulsion for the written word.
It is possible that my new accommodations are to blame. This house must be at least a hundred years old, and it wears every day of them on its dusty wooden sleeves. Dark woods abound, tall arched windows, a roaring fireplace, little nooks and crannies where one needs only to let their imagination run wild to for a guaranteed visit from those harlots called muses. A recluse author's abode constructed out of pure cliche, all intellectual pomp and no substance. I could not imagine a place less conductive to the kind of research which I am now occupied with, but my rather hasty withdrawal from my last position left me with little choice in the matter. It was either this place or the streets. It shall do, for now.
After taking yesterday to get my bearings and make sure everything was in reasonable order, today I began my preparations for the next stage of my research. Much like the house, this town is woefully ill-suited for my purposes. The majority of the populace owe their livelihood in one way or another to Iron Horn steel-mill, which served as the town's sole source of major industry for the last seventy-five years. While I'm certain decades of breathing coal fume and steel dust do certainly breed a… unique sort of mind, the townsfolk by and large have proven to be quite worthless as research subjects. They are ill-mannered, stubborn and utterly uninterested in any intellectual purist not involving dog-fighting, naked women, or perfectly both. When I first attempted to convince some of the laborers to participate in my research I was greeted with nothing by indifference or scorn, but when I mentioned my place of residence (the house is commonly known in town as "The Fugue, though I know not why), their reaction quickly transformed into something between pity and a begrudging sort of respect. They became no more cooperative, for it seems the very idea of setting foot on the house's doorstep fills them with dread, but I did suddenly found myself invited to participate in the weekend's rooster match. My joy simply could not be contained.
The major problem in life, if one truly contemplated its nature honestly, was a decisive lack in carpenter's glue. Always it was needed, and always there was not enough of the stuff. This was one of life's great and rare constants, the toymaker thought, as he frantically searched his tiny marble-and-oak workstation for a jar.
That the toymaker was long since departed from the noisy and all too messy society of the living did little to alleviate his need. There were nutcrackers in need of repair, and they cared little for such trivial notions as the barrier between life and death.
Almost cursing (but not quite), the toymaker pulled on his short, carefully maintained grey beard in agitation. He guiltily glanced at the bright red-and-teal nutcracker currently occupying the majority of his workstation. Beady glass eyes stared back in silent accusation.
"Don't you look at me like that! I am under no obligation to fix you, just so you know! I am a very busy man, you realize?"
The white wooden grimace of the nutcracker seemed anything but convinced.
"Be that way then! I suppose you'd have me abandon all of my precious projects just so I could go and find some glue for that stupid jaw of yours, correct?"
There was an aura of silent command in the nutcracker's bristly cotton beard.
Muttering under his breath, the toymaker turned from his workstation and glanced around him. The impossibly vast space of the workshop around him was teeming with activity, as always. Men and women worked at stations similar (but never identical) to his all around him, each occupied with their own individual project. Many were elderly folks like himself, but quite a few were much younger than that, and a few of the stations, like the one to his immediate left, were occupied by those barely older than children. The toymaker was saddened by the sight of their little hands, though he wasn't quite sure why. They seemed as happy to be there as anyone else, after all, which was plenty.
"Looking for some glue, junior?"
The speaker was a man no older than twenty, as far as the toymaker could judge, wearing a rather impractical getup of billowing cannery-yellow robes, made of a vaguely fuzzy material and chequered with diamonds of bright red. Like all of the other residents of the workshop, the toymaker found the man vaguely familiar.
"I was, though I can't say I appreciate your tone, young man."
The ostensibly-dressed fellow laughed at that, the sound rich and full of good cheer. "I do enjoy how self-centered you recent arrivals tend to be. Still caught up with silly notions such as appearance having anything to do with age. I'm a good four-hundred years older than you, to the best of my judgement."
The toymaker was about to argue, but the young man then removed from the folds of his robes a brown, carefully closed jar, and tossed it one-handed at the toymaker, who nearly fumbled it in surprise. Finally steadying himself he turned to inflict burning recriminations upon the impetuous young fellow, but the man was now nowhere to be seen, the only hint of him ever being there in the first place an echo of a raucous laugh.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-XXXX is to be housed in Automated Containment Unit 535/15. Direct contact with SCP-XXXX is to be restricted to research-relevant tasks only. Interviews, if deemed necessary, are to be carried out using the Unit's remote communication array. While SCP-XXXX's presence is not directly harmful to the human body, exposure to it is to be limited to periods of 12 hours or less due to its adverse effects on most beneficial microorganisms. SCP-XXXX is not to be exposed to any biological material not refined or otherwise tempered by humanity, with an emphasis on non-human living entities. For full list of classifications, see Document-XXXX-RCL. SCP-XXXX neither requires nor requested substances or other forms of comfort.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a Type-F (imperfect external resemblance, internally inconsistent) human simulacrum of currently unknown origins. It is comprised of an outer shell of pigmented silicone (5.5 mm thick), and various plastic fiber polymers, with the outward appearance of a Caucasian woman nearing the third decade of life. SCP-XXXX interior is comprised entirely of liquid refined oil, lacking any skeletal or muscle structure. Despite this, SCP-XXXX is capable of locomotion and speech. SCP-XXXX is capable of maintaining the illusion of humanity at a moderate distance, but becomes unconvincing at a closer range, causing mild discomfort in most observers. This effect has been deemed non-anomalous. Despite apparently possessing fully-realized cognitive abilities, SCP-XXXX claims that is it not sapient, acting only as an intermediary instrument of its creators. The Foundation has not been able to verify or refute this claim as of yet.
SCP-XXXX possess extreme adverse effects to any biological entity in its close vicinity not created, willfully influenced, manipulated by or similarly relating to humanity. While the exact nature of these effects varies, SCP-XXXX's presence inevitably causes severe and irreparable damage to the ability of any living organism to exchange and/or use energy: wild flora loses its ability to produce photosynthesis or otherwise produce or consume energy, fauna the use of its respiratory and digestive systems, etc. This applies to microorganisms as well, though SCP-XXXX's effects seem to favor damage to their reproductive systems instead. It is hypothesized that the symbiotic relation some microorganisms have to humanity is the reason for this discrepancy.
SCP-XXXX was discovered sitting on the doorstep of the inner compound of Foundation Site-██ near ██████████, Slovakia. When questioned by Foundation security personal, SCP-XXXX explained its anomalous effects and claimed it was there 'to be stored'. Surveillance footage show no record of the time of its arrival, and it is not yet known how SCP-XXXX came to know Site-██'s location or approach it without being spotted. When asked for its reason for seeking Foundation custody, SCP-XXXX's replied that it was there at the command of its creators, seeking 'indefinite storage, until claimed'.Addendum:
Note: this interview was recorded near the time of SCP-XXXX's initial containment by Dr. Alexander Kovac, Site-██ resident psychologist, following its initial examination by Site Security.
Dr. Kovac: Before we begin, there's something I feel I should ask you, since security so often neglects doing so. It's not strictly confirming to protocol, but I find it tends to make things easier.
SCP-XXXX: I was instructed to cooperate.
Dr. Kovac: Good, very good. Tell me then, what is your name?
SCP-XXXX: I don't have one. People have names. I'm not one.
Dr. Kovac: Is that so? What did your so-called creators call you then?
SCP-XXXX: They didn't.
Dr. Kovac: Surely, they had to refer to you somehow?
SCP-XXXX I am a vessel of their will, and nothing else. They never needed to call. They never will.
Dr. Kovac: In that case, would you mind if I refer to you as SCP-XXXX?
SCP-XXXX: I was instructed to cooperate.
Dr. Kovac: So you said, so you said. Tell me then, what is the purpose of your coming here?
SCP-XXXX: I am to be stored here until collected.
Dr. Kovac: Security told me that much, but why here, and collected by who?
SCP-XXXX: Collected by the ones they wish to torment, and stored here because in finding me here he will suffer further.
Dr. Kovac: Is that so? Is that person you refer to part of this organization then? Do your creators bear some grudge towards a particular operative?
SCP-XXXX: He is not one of you. Merely a… one-time sympathizer, of sorts. He believes you tried to help him once, and if he is forced here, if he finds me here, you will die. That will hurt him. They have no interest in any of you, or your organization. You are here as a tool, just as I am.
Dr. Kovac: Who is this man then? What did he do to earn this sort of treatment from your creators?
SCP-XXXX: He did not know his place. Won when he should have lost, was proud when he should have been humbled. Was wasteful with gifts too precious for abuse.
Dr. Kovac: And you are here as punishment?
SCP-XXXX He was already punished. Severely. Forced away from kin and kind, to endlessly wander, to destroy against his will. To poison humanity by his very presence. Eternal solitude, flavored by ceaseless guilt. A masterwork of torment, they say.
Dr. Kovac: If that's the case, why are you here?
SCP-XXXX Because even in this existence, there is the occasional moment of solace. At times, he may yet look to the world and see things he will not destroy. Look to nature and feel warm wonder, and bask in the false light of ancient, moldy memories. It keeps him sane, gives him hope. That will not serve. Hence my presence. I am to be his last undoing, a hastening to the end of reason.
Dr. Kovac: And how will your presence do that? Are you meant to deceive him in some way? Is that why you look the way you do?
SCP-XXXX In a manner of speaking. Eventually, his wanderings will lead him here, to me. In a day, or a month, or a century. And he will recognize me, and see what they think of his precious memories. How they mock them. He'll understand that because of his actions, she is forever beyond his grasp, and all that remains to him is… me. A simulacrum as artificial as his hope. When he finds me, I will attach myself to him, and he will watch the mockery of his memories destroy his last source of solace. And that will be that.
Dr. Kovac: I… um. You said he will recognize you. Why?
SCP-XXXX: I used to be his wife.
This interview was held six months following SCP-XXXX's initial containment, as part of a series of interviews meant to evaluate SCP-XXXX's cognitive abilities and personality, or lack thereof.
SCP-XXXX: I hate her.
Dr. Kovac: Well… that's certainly a way to start an interview. Care to elaborate?
SCP-XXXX: The one I was made to look like. My… mold. I hate her.
Dr. Kovac: An interesting sentiment for you to have, considering your repeated assurance that you possess no consciousness or feelings of your own.
SCP-XXXX: I don't. I hate her because they want me to. It serves their purpose.
Dr. Kovac: How do you get that impression?
SCP-XXXX: The first thing they did, after creating me, was to show her to me. It's not something they often do.
Dr. Kovac: I don't follow.
SCP-XXXX: Interfere with those who passed beyond their halls. They might be vengeful, spiteful, even cruel, but they take their duties very seriously. Just to show her to me, to risk disturbing her final rest… they wouldn't do that without a purpose.
Dr. Kovac: And-
SCP-XXXX: She was beautiful. So peaceful, serene. Whole. Even gone, even dead, I could see the essence of who she used to be… of who she still was, and forever will be. Her soul. They told me she didn't get to live for all that long, but when she lived… she was herself. She was alive. And so I hated her.
SCP-XXXX: Do you know what it feels like, to be made as a mockery? In every line of that smooth, silent face, I saw a twisted reflection in my own. Fragrant skin to molded plastic, soft hair to synthetic fiber, blood to oil. Soul to nothing at all.
Dr. Kovac: Excuse me if this sounds presumptuous, but I can't imagine feelings like this coming from anywhere but yourself.
SCP-XXXX: [Shakes head] Can't you see? This is all a part of their plan. When he finds me, when he sees what the Brothers created just to punish him further… he'll go mad.
Dr. Kovac: Because of what they did to the memory of his wife?
SCP-XXXX: Not only that. Because he'll see me. He'll see how much I hate her, and how much I hate myself for not being her. Hate being here at all.
Dr. Kovac: And then what?
SCP-XXXX: Then… a final realization.
Dr. Kovac: And what would that be?
SCP-XXXX: He never won.
Father Dmitri Anosov stared at the office door and was feeling rather anxious.
Anosov was unused to anxiety, and this in turn made him highly uncomfortable. Shouldn't have come here. Should never have volunteered for this. This was wrong, profoundly and morally wrong. Worst than that, it was stupid.
Anosov found his discomfort to be even more alien than the anxiety was, and that in turn made him irritated. How dared they make him feel this way? He was an elderly man, a respectable man, a pious man. He would go inside and give them a piece of his mind!
Unlike anxiety and discomfort, irritation was a close, comfortable companion to Father Dmitri Anosov. Encouraged by its familiar presence, he knocked. From inside came a rustling of pages, the sound of chairs moving, and than a sudden cacophonous jolt of noise, likely something both heavy and fragile smashing to the ground. A muttering of oaths than would have caused a lesser man than Anosov to blush, followed by footsteps. Finally, the door cracked open, and a suspicious, bearded face was now staring at Anosov from its other side.
"Where stands the mighty dolmen?" the bearded man asked in a surprisingly Australian accent.
"At the feet of the Lord, and it is humbled." Anosov replied. The bearded man grinned and closed the door again. After a brief rustling of chains it opened once more and the bearded man gestured Anosov to enter.
- Stratagents: Unleash the Hats of War (British-themed strategy game mostly involving backhanded insults concerning haberdashery)
- The Bore (earthworm simulator. Also incredibly boring)
- Ya Gotta Slap Dat Bloke on the Nards, Ye Dig (exactly what it says on the tin)
- Alien vs Spinoza (the hypest xenomorph on Enlightenment philosopher action!)
- Collect all of the Colorful Little Things What are Sparkly and Shoot and Some have Fur (from the creators of Ya Gotta Slap Dat Bloke on the Nards, Ye Dig)
- Communism V: Rise of Trotsky (a platformer featuring a purple rabbit fighting orange lizards. Communism does not feature in any obvious manner)
He was pacing among the corpses of the just. The ground was soaked with their essence, with the promise once held in their veins, now split, blown to the southern winds like so much ash. He watched as the tiny carrion crows common in this obscure region began gathering, swarming that field of wasted potential, using their serrated beaks to dissect the fallen, to reach deep into their marrow. These birds had odd eating habits, Adan Var Temelus thought, as one landed on his upper left arm. They fed upon the dead, but seemed to always ignore the fleshy bits other carrion eaters favored, instead digging into bone, in search of some other sort of substance that motionless flesh or the jelly of sightless eyes simply could not provide. Nor did they fear the living, he noted, as the bird perched on his arm began to peck at the metallic sheen covering that limb. After a minute or so of that it squawked in irritation and flew away, no doubt seeking a less armored prey. Curious creatures indeed. He would study them, had he the time. There never did seem to be enough of that. Never enough time. Adan absent-mindedly patted the pockets of his field coat, searching for his chewing tobacco. It was a filthy habit, he well knew, even in the unknowable, barbaric north where it originated from, but he found a certain comfort in its repetitive nature. He would have to acquire more of the stuff when he next visited the Northern embassy in Rootrel, though that could be months from now. He would have to make do, somehow. He usually did.
These poor souls didn't. Something was off about the entire incident, other than what was obvious, that it. Lower right arm reaching into a different pocket, Adan withdrew a small notepad and a pencil, then scowled when he found the tip to be missing. This would need to be recorded. He bended over (which was no mean feat, considering both his height and his age were considerable) and searched his sock, and was satisfied to find a pen hidden there. Some people called Adan Var Temelus odd, but those were the sort of people who could never understand the true nature of power. There were few things more dangerous than a pen in the right place.
Adan straightened back up, surveying the carnage surrounding him once more. Two hundred pilgrims, slaughtered to the last. Each stripped of their possessions, each missing the three middle fingers on their left hand. That mark was familiar, but that wasn't what worried him. The Cult of Sanak Thiuh was, after all, usually harmless enough despite their self-mutilating ways. No, what worried him that these pilgrims were still far too young to be initiate into the cult proper, and that the wounds on each hand were fresh. And messy. Something, no, he corrected himself as he examined the hand of a boy no older than ten, someone did this to them. And the wounds… they bled. They were alive when it happened. He could feel bile rising up his throat, heard the slight clink of the pen as it shook in the metallic grip of his hand.
This would be recorded, oh yes. There were a few things more dangerous than a pen in the right place.
Even if that place was in somebody's eye.
All that would come in due time, however. Adan finished writing down his impressions of the scene and began to make his way uphill, back towards the place where his escort awaited on his request, guarding their means of transportation back to the monastery. This southern region of the empire was mostly arid, rocky steppes, and conventional road vehicles had trouble traversing it. Because of this, Adan knew he was nearing his destination long before he could actually see it. The Erapa, while certainly useful, good-natured beasts, also stank to high heavens. Despite the horror of what he saw in the field below, he could help but smile at the expression on his escort's face as she watched him approach from a shelf of rock some distance from where the animals were grazing on the thin, long-stemmed weeds of the region. The distance was obviously insufficient, and so though she took trouble to keep to the cool, detached demeanor expected of someone in her position, she couldn't quite hide that telltale wrinkling of her nose and the way she blinked a little too rapidly, likely to keep her eyes from tearing up. A layman wouldn't notice any of that, but Adan had spent years studying the various arts of the face, and few such things escaped him. Besides… hers were features he knew very well, though in a roundabout way. Old memories reflected on a fresh, young face. The past living through the future.
"Hail, Master Mender. How went your search?"
"Come now, Dour Drizzle, no need for formality. It's tiresome, and it's only the two of us here anyway."
"There's the Erapa, Master Mender."
"I… doubt they'd mind a brief departure from protocol, dear."
"They might not, but I do, Master Mender. And don't call me 'dear'".
Ah, but she was a hard one. So unlike… but no, it would not do to think about that. Some graves were best left undisturbed.
"Very well. My search was… successful."
Dour Drizzle climbed down from her perch, straightened her utilitarian traveling gear, and gave him an apprising look. "I gather you didn't like what you found, Master Mender."
"Aye. It is as the abbot feared."
"How long?" Despite her talk of keeping protocol, Adan saw that her adherence to it wavering in the face of curiosity. That was good.
"A few hours, half a day at most. Some of the blood was still fresh."
"A few hours? But they were missing for over a week!"
"So they were, yet here we are."
"I should go down there and have a look for myself, see if I could find something you missed."
"No. There's no need for that. I'll share my notes with you when we return."
"Your notes won't show me anything you missed. This is foolish"
"Be it as it may, my decision stands. This… this isn't something I want you to see. That I want anyone to see."
"No arguments. You say protocol matters to you, right?"
"Yes, Master Mender."
"Then you understand that my decision is final. We go back, now. Prepare the animals"
He could tell his answer angered her, but she said nothing as she began packing their equipment back on the wide flanks of the Erapa. She would understand, one day. There was terror enough in this world to fill a thousand lifetimes. One should treasure innocence while it lasted.
"The beasts are ready, Master Mender." One look at the young woman made it perfectly clear to Adan what she thought about his decision.
Innocence never lasted for long enough.
The ride back to the Shoalpit Temple was a long one, and the tense silence between the two riders did not help it end any faster. Dour Drizzle was living up to her given name, sitting hunched down in her saddle, and Adan could feel her eyes borrowing holes into his back as he rode a short distance away. Finally, it seemed like she couldn't take it anymore, and she spoke, her voice low, almost guttural.
"I am an agent of the Frost."
"I'm… well aware of that."
"I was trained for seven years by the finest masters the Empire has to offer. Do you deny their skill?"
"To do so would be foolish."
"I excelled in every field, finished at the top of a class of eighty-five cadets, thirty of whom didn't survive their training. Do you perhaps believe that I tricked my way to that position?"
"Such a thing would be impossible among the Frost. And had you succeeded, you'd likely be awarded for your resourcefulness rather than punished."
"I served in thirteen field operations since my graduation, and in all of them my conduct was considered exemplary by my superiors."
"I have never doubted your talent for this work."
"Then why do you continue treating me like a little girl?!"
"Don't call me that! I've given up that name, and you know that! Do you really have this little respect for me?"
Adan pulled at the reins of his Erapa, and the long-limbed beast stopped in its tracks, its head immediately lowering itself to the ground. It sniffed morosely, then began using its long nose to try and borrow into the sandy soil. Adan felt like doing the same. But no, this had to be dealt with.
"I apologize if I slighted you. That was not my intention. It's simply the name this old man knows you best by."
"Oh, cut that out. You're not that old."
"I'm a hundred and seven."
"And a Mender. You could easily live for a hundred years more."
"You're not going to let me get away with that, aren't you?"
"No, I'm not, not until you explain yourself, great-granda- oh, dammit!"
Adan stared at the young woman for a moment, then began laughing. Her face darken with rage, but for some reason that only made him laugh harder. She stared at him, eyes narrowing, then, as sudden as the breaking of day, she started laughing too, and Adan realized that he missed that sound more than he cared to admit. He was growing soft in his old age, there was no denying that.
"You're an insufferable codger," Dour Drizzle muttered, mirth still playing in her eyes, "I have no idea how great-grandmother ever put up with you."
"Mostly by reminding herself that women tend to live longer than men, I suppose."
"And then you had to go and become a Mender. Can't imagine she enjoyed that too much."
"Oh, you'd be surprised. There are things you can do with four arms those with two could never even imagine, my dear."
"Like wha-oh. Oh no, don't you dare."
"I thought you were a hardened agent of the Frost, Dour Drizzle. Surely, a simple description of the amorous advantages of the twenty-fingered couldn't be so shocking as to-"
"I don't want to hear it!"
Adan glanced at his great-granddaughter, and found her looking right back at him, dark eyes glowing with that inner fire the women in his family all possessed. This time, it was him to look away first. He could never withstand that heat for too long. Too intense by far, they were. He didn't know if to feel pride or dread. A healthy mixture of both would do.
"We're not done talking about this, great-grandad. Once we're back at Shoalpit, I expect some answers."
"Aye, granddaughter. You shall have them."
Well, what she didn't know couldn't hurt her, now could it?
It's quiet out here.
The desert sprawls from horizon to horizon, where purest white meets twilight red. There are no edges here, no angles, just curves and the gentle rise and fall of dunes as far as the eye can see, and everywhere beyond that. Had a visitor from some other world laid eyes on this place, they might have found it serene, even beautiful. Pure. I can enjoy no such delusions, regretfully, for I know what lies beneath and among the sands of the endless desert. A charnel house spanning an entire planet, seven billion human souls ground thin and fine until no trace of their existence could ever be found. I know this because I put them all there.
Oh, brother. It all happens so fast, once we're gone.
It began the day you, you that I have never known, found my power. The power I hid from myself in some previous life, for reason I can now easily guess. I was looking out of the window of my apartment, so I could see the stars, and instead I saw you, blazing as you tore yourself asunder to keep the power away from yourself. You didn't trust what you would do with it, and so you chose to throw it away. You knew yourself all too well, as I suspect I did too, at one point. By all accounts, I should not have been able to see you, for my apartment was truly a tiny containment cell about half a mile underground, but such considerations never meant much to one living entirely in his own world. When I saw the moment of your demise, I became aware of myself for the first time in… I have no idea in how long. Whichever part of me that led me to throw away my power did the same to my will, trapping it in an eternal status quo from which there could be no release. An eternity of filling spreadsheets for employers who existed solely in my head, of nine o'clock meetings with no one, of fake, masturbatory crushes over imaginary women. An eternity of tired, grinding mediocrity. But that was over that night, with your soul burning in the atmosphere like the loneliest of stars. I awakened. I died.
For whatever left that little cell-turned apartment wasn't me anymore. I was never more than an earthworm, distinct from all the rest only in that I had a little more control over the soil in which I crawled. They never thought me more than a minor reality bender, a bundle of introverted powers and neurosis that was very unlikely to ever pose any serious threat. And they were right. The person I was, SCP-1915, as they called me, never was anything other than that. But 1915 died that day, watching a fallen star. The thing that then swatted the guards posted at its cell like they were less than gnats, that razed Site-17 into this fine white sand that is now so warm beneath the feet, that was something else. Not an entity, for that would imply a personality, and this thing surely has none. Not a purpose, for there was no purpose behind its action then, nor will there be for any of its actions to come. Nor was it a will, for it wants nothing. Not vengeance, not dominion, not freedom, not even simple power. No, if I had to describe that thing as anything at all, it would be an… an absence. A void where the entity should be. A lack of purpose. An imbecile force devoid of all will. An Absence.
The sand is still warm to the feet. That means the sun still burns, high above. I wonder why it lets it remain, when all else was so quickly erased. When it could so easily just reach and pluck it out of the sky. Had it been another, I'd suspect it was to mock humanity's memory. To mock that sliver of me that still persists in the flesh, stubborn like a buried tick. But this is the Absence. It does not mock.
Following Site-17's destruction, retaliation soon followed. Standard containment teams at first, though certainly still enough to meet any anomaly the Foundation imagined could be contained in Site-17 with overwhelming force. When those men failed to return, failed to even report their arrival, more serious measures had to be taken. Site-17 has always been isolated, and so they could act freely. Gunships and fire teams, aerial bombardment and artillery barrages, the Foundation came down on what it still believed to be SCP-1915 like a fire god's fist, all heat and sound and bluster. Had it still been truly corporeal, I doubt even ashes would have remained. But whatever the Absence truly was by that point, the tattered semblance of my flesh hanging around it had very little to do with it. It simply stood there and took it all in, and the Foundation's initial fury was soon… spent. It then began to walk, and not too quickly either. For days, it simply leisurely strode on while the Foundation threw everything it had at it. I watched from within my deadbolt as it walked unfeeling, uncaring, and this desert followed in its wake, as inscrutable and unstoppable as its harbinger.
We are not quite alone here. Some stubborn immortals persist, wretched creatures. A continent away, an ancient man still walks, tormented by three mocking voices. He believed that once he was the only one left, he would be allowed to rest. He was wrong. Beneath the ground is a soul, suffocating as the earth slowly grinds its sanity to mulch. From its prison of gold and rubies, there would be no release. Elsewhere lies a once-smiling god, as the sands cover his prone figure. He does not resist. He had once promised the world his love, promised humanity the stars. Sand pours through his fingers as he tries to gather his flame together. His people. But it is dying, and they are dead. Extinguished.
When someone walks, they are bound to reach somewhere eventually, despite everyone's best efforts, and so the Absence arrived at its first city, the sands at its heels like an obedient lapdog. Oh, there have been villages and towns before that, but the Absence didn't seem to care enough to bother with them. It simply walked by, leaving them to the whims of the sands, which were only ever singular in their intent. But through the streets of the city it strode, as Mobile Task Forces fought and fell to buy the civilian population just a few more minutes to evacuate. By this point, hiding what was truly going on became impossible, of course, as street after street sank beneath that gentle crawling tide. The Foundation had of course attempted to evacuate the city once it realized there would be no stopping the Absence, but if I've learned anything in my… eons as a corporate peon, is that organizing an operation of that magnitude is something that takes a lot more time than the Foundation had. It's a wonder they managed to save as many as they did. As for the rest…
It had waited until night fell. I imagine it was an eerie sight, that lone figure standing beneath the frozen light of other worlds in that empty intersection between financial and residential districts, where train tracks used to be before the old steam locomotives went out of service and were never replaced by newer ones. Yes, it waited until it could see the stars. Then it burned. Without heat, without light, without life. It burned a hole through the city, and there was nothing to fill it in. Reality cannot suffer a vacuum, they always said, but the Absence had shown how little it cared for reality. So It was gone, just like that. How does one explain something like that? How do you describe what isn't there? Where one moment was a city of five hundred thousand, the next it wasn't. To the place it was even the sands wouldn't come. It was just a scar. It was nothing.
It was then, I believe, that the Foundation realized it could not stand alone. The next few months of the Absence's march saw them turn to their sometimes allies; Coalition Magekillers and thermonuclear strikes, Initiative Paladins and holy relics. Sniper rifle or sacred sword, burning inferno or divine retribution, the Absence did not care. And soon, the Foundation had no allies left to turn to. It then called on its once vicious enemies; Ink Eaters wove their art in maddening patterns, to break the minds of the infinite. Archivists and Librarians poured from the Ways, bringing with them the knowledge of a hundred thousand worlds. Clockwork Titans shook the barren whiteness of the sands with the thunder of metal. The Absence did not care. And soon, the Foundation ran out of enemies. In a last act of desperation, they then committed their final, most painful betrayal. The wardens unleashed upon the world their prisoners. Of these, I have made note, though I doubt the Absence did the same.
On the blasted wasteland that was once Boston, it was assailed by two brothers. One savage, the other somber, one violent, the other reluctant, they nevertheless fought with a graceful unity to take the breath away. In their eyes, I saw that they did not know each other for a very long while, and that they fought so that they could have the time to rectify this. I saw regret and hope, rage and desperation, but most of all I saw a simple need to be. I would like to believe that you and I would have been like them, had we meet, brother. They fought with the fury of a thousand years of solitude. It did not suffice.
In a wounded valley that had once been part of the Black Sea, we came across a self-proclaimed god. There was nothing but confidence in his eyes as he threw reality itself into disarray, bent and twisted its most fundamental laws to bring upon the Absence untold destruction. The earth froze and boiled and heaved, the air screamed with blighted glee and the god he strode draped in a cloak of lightening, as time itself clawed at the Absence with talons of utter unbeing. Until the gods came to to meet the Absence's lack of a gaze. Until his eyes rested on a nothing that lasted forever. Until he did not suffice.
Before the walls of Acre, as the ancient city was drowned by the desert, two figures approached us. One was four legged and horned, its crown was ice, its eyes galaxies, its whole was power absolute. The second was a man, simple, humble, but possessing a love of being that extended to the edges of the universe, compassion to pierce the deepest of hells that had nothing to do with weakness. Of the two, I could not tell you which was more glorious, which was more terrifying. They met the Absence with will alone, and when I felt it fall on us I thought I would weep. Surely nothing could withstand such a presence. Surely, nothing would want to. But the Absence was less than nothing, infinitely less. I have told you what became of kind Pangloss. Of the other, even less remained.
For months they came. For years. For decades. Alone or in groups, with ferocity or with a blank stare, the Foundation's prisoners threw themselves at the Absence. I could not hope to imagine the reasons behind the actions of every individual anomaly, but if I could guess, I would say that the idea of sharing existence with a… thing like the Absence galled them to the point of madness. I do not blame them. But by the end, the prisons ran empty, as the world dried up, as life was drained from it inch by inch, grain by grain. Until only one city remained.
I do not know by which power I was allowed to send my senses ahead of us, as the Absence marched towards that tottering bastion which held in its quivering embrace the very last of humanity. As the sands around us buried the last of the trees that will ever grow in this land, I felt each tiny life mote of life in that sad place like the flame of a cheap candle, moments before the typhoon. In these moments, as twilight danced in lurid reds and oranges on ivory, I sensed them all. For you, brother, I witnessed.
In a low, narrow room a woman sat hunched at the foot of her even narrower bunk and couldn't bring herself to pray. She had lost her mother when she was but a babe, and though she was no longer young, her features still displayed to all the violence of that incident. Her mother stood before the eater of children and did not budge, and when they both fell down she sang still the praise of her Lord. She lost her father in the first days of the war against the Absence, as the Paladins marched with holy fervor in their eyes. Her father had been a believer, had always been a solid presence in her life, an anchor immovable by anything but regret. He had promised her he would be back. He did not mean to lie. But his god had forsaken him, when it counted most. Forsaken all of them. And now Naomi knelt at the foot of the ever narrowing bunk and could not pray. So she cursed instead.
Below, in a series of dank cellars which might at one point stored cheeses a woman of about forty tinkered with broken toys. When she was young, she made wonders. Such wonders. In every line etched across her prematurely old face I saw what could have been, had it not been for the Absence. For me. In the dim light and the soft noise of rotting wood crumbling beneath calloused fingers, I saw the death of potential. The death of all possibility. Though Isabel was stubborn as she always was, she knew that this toy would be her last. Just as well, she thought. After today, there would be none left to play with it.
On the roof top of the highest building still standing, an elderly man watched the world come to an end. He was once an agent of the Foundation, once one among a hundred thousand, ready, prepared and collected. His duty was to instruct new agents what was proper for an agent to do, how it was proper for an agent to think. And he had been very good at his job, since generally, his recruits survived for long enough to thank him. But what was he now, he wondered, as he watched the sands pour over the paltry last line of defense that a few defiant fools erected the day before. His lads and lasses were all long since dead, and all that he knew, all of his years of training and experience, in the end they amounted to less than nothing. No longer an agent, for there was no longer an agency. No longer a teacher, for the students were gone. No longer a man, since… well, it would not do to repeat that, now would it? No longer anything, and that was the cruelest joke. It no longer mattered if the Absence arrived, he thought. They were already within it. A noise behind him, and the old man turned to see a small, mousy man in a wrinkled grey suit and a deflated hat that at one point was likely a fedora. He looked at the old man, but said nothing. Lombardi looked back, and didn't know if to laugh or cry. Soon, it ceased to matter.
Such was the end. Quiet, small, bereft of heroics and great deeds, free of pretensions of great meaning. One night, there was human race on the planet Earth. The next, there wasn't. And that was that.
The stars did not wait for you, brother. When you took my power, when you burned yourself in the skies above, they looked upon you and felt nothing. The stars did not wait for humanity, for all of the promise it showed, for all of the promise others saw in them. But what of the Absence? What of me?
We are, I am, by all accounts and possible qualifications, the greatest monster this world has ever saw. Perhaps that any world saw. And yet, brother, I see now that the stars wait for us. For me. Where is the justice in that? Seek it not, for there is none. But the fact remains, brother. The stars do not wait for you. But they wait for me. To take them into my embrace.
I suspect I shall not be long.
Are you here early or am I really such a slow eater? Could have sworn I had another five minutes. Oh, you are here early. Well, I hope you have a tolerance to the smell of boiled broccoli, because the air flow in this room is awful and this might take a while. Have a seat, just mind the- I was going to say, mind that bag. There goes my egg roll. God dammit. No, never mind that, just clear it away and sit already.
So, you're the new candidate, huh? I guess I can see that, if I sorta squint a little. Got that square jaw, that stiff upper lip, that spark that's not too bright but just bright enough, that's what I like to see. You look like the sort that can take orders without thinking too much about it. Don't take offense to that, by the way, you'd be surprised how rare your types are. People nowadays always have their own opinions on everything, and where there's opinion, there's lip, and I don't like lip, no sir, not one bit I don't. So, let me tell you a bit about what you're getting yourself into, because I know there's a whole bunch of misinformation going on out there, and it's important that you get the facts straight before you agree to anything. Unlike some organizations out there, we like our guys to walk in with their eyes wide open.
So, the Global Occult Coalition. That's a nice, fancy name, ain't it? Got a nice sleek logo to go with it too, all white and blue and pentagrams. The whole thing practically screams 'vaunted protectors of humanity' or 'last, best hope to normalcy' or all that other guff you see on those motivational posters that seem to take about half our office supply budget lately. And you know what? There's some truth to that, hidden somewhere deep beneath the mounds of paper and propaganda. Now, when you think GOC, you're likely thinking about our special forces, squads of men and women, armed to the teeth with everything from high-powered assault weapons to arcane instruments of untold power, going toe to toe/hoof/tentacle with the worst the anomalous world has to offer. And those exist, sure. But that's not where you're going. Why? Frankly, because you're not really good enough. Don't take it personally, neither was I.
So what do most of us do, while the top boys play at monster hunters? We keep the peace. Or at least, we try. At the end of the day, the GOC is a UN-sanctioned agency, and as such we mostly act within the same limitations as most such agencies do.
"-So you see, Miss…"
"Er, Miss Diver, this document could be of tremendous value to our recovery efforts. It is of the utmost important that you retrieve it post haste."
"Hmm. Alright, lets see if I can fit you in sometime this week. It will cost you extra though, you understand. Expediency fees and whatnot."
Even for an Ivorian, Tunnel Diver mused as she pretended to check her implant for a free space on her schedule, the man seated behind the antiqued desk in front of her was a strange one. It wasn't just his appearance, though the sight of a chubby, middle-aged, balding man in horn-rimmed spectacles and a purple-lined toga was certainly odd enough. No, it were his mannerisms that truly set him apart. His insistence on calling her "Miss", for example, since that particular title wasn't used anywhere except in the hokiest of period dramas these days.
"Looks like you might be in luck, Overseer. I just happened to have a spot opened three days from now."
The little man, absent-mindedly rearranging his toga, beamed at that. "Oh, no need for formalities, dear. Just call me Howard. Oh, excuse me for a moment." He turned his attention to a novice Ivorian struggling under a large stack of what appeared to be heavy throwing spears. "Pilums go on the right. Yes, right there, thank you."
"You got some exhibition going, I see."
"Oh, I do apologize about the mess, we just need a place to keep the supplies until the hall is freed. It is going to be grand. 'Anomalies and Containment Techniques of the Roman Empire'. Fascinating, what they could do with a few spears and a sheep's liver. Oh, pardon me, I mustn't be keeping a busy woman such as yourself tied up."
"As long as you're paying, Overseer, you can tie me anytime you want."
The man didn't seem to notice her attempt of discomforting him with innuendo, which really wasn't all that surprising. "Ah, marvelous! Money is no issue, of course, and if you have any extra expenses, just bring them over to the bursary and they'll be sure to- WHAT IS THAT THING DOING HERE!?"
That last comment was directed at a hatted Ivorian, who was rather unsuccessfully attempting to drag a stuffed lion by its tail through the office's narrow doorway. He stared blankly at the Overseer's outraged visage, then shrugged.
"Theory was never disproved. Could have happened."
Tunnel Diver quietly made her way out of the office and into the adjacent access corridor as the sound of a heated albeit one-sided argument rose behind her. You couldn't make sense of Ivorian business, and that was a fact. Still, no one better to do business with. Taking the service elevator as was her custom, she began the slow descent toward the ground. Even as the smallest of the Ivorian Spires of New Genoa, H-Spire was still massive. As she exited the Spire, she took a moment to examine its glittering facade, earning herself a suspicious glance from the two Podestà Guard stationed at the gate. She blew a kiss at their direction, to which the guards responded with a fairly weak attempt at stern disregard, betrayed by the creeping blush on their young faces. Satisfied, Tunnel Diver returned her attention to the Spire. The surface of the enormous structure was entirely covered by elaborate carvings, far too precise to have been done by hand. Seeing that this was H-Spire, the carvings were mostly depictions of various historical scenes and texts; a cursory glance reveled Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, the last siege on Constantinople, a full copy of the Magna Carta written on a surface no larger than her palm, and dominating them all a magnificently horrifying composition of the Sundering of Europe. It could never be said the the H-Ivorians shied away from the less pleasant sides of history.
"Always the same."
The comment came from the opening on a nearby alley, somehow audible despite the hustle and bustle of the busy streets. Cursing, Tunnel Diver turned towards its opening. A familiar figure was lurking somewhere within the alley's murky shadows. "Would you like to explain yourself, or are we just playing the cryptic comment game again? Because heaven knows you're a right champion in that, Cambion."
The still hidden figure shrugged. "I was merely admiring the consistency of the Ivorians regarding the carving of their Spires, dearest."
"What consistency? No two Spires have the same set of carvings. Hell, I half think they sometimes change them overnight just to mess around with people."
Another shrug. "You see the surface, but ignore what lies beneath. Ironic, given your profession, don't you think?"
"And just what's that supposed to mean?"
"The letters, dearest. The same three letters, repeating themselves over and over again. Between the carvings, beneath them, on top of them. Around them. The same three letters on every Spire, in every city. I checked. Always the same. S. C. P."
Tunnel Diver was beginning to get annoyed, though that was no unusual development when Cambion was concerned. "And why is that important?"
"Haven't you ever wandered why the Ivorians are so…loose with their information? They make sure everything about them is a matter of public record. Financial status, current goals and projects, even the minutes from their meetings. Why this obsession with transparency?"
"I don't bloody know! Makes it easier for them to do their charity work, maybe? Without the Podestà or the Guilds getting too uncomfortable with them."
Cambion's silhouette nodded. "They would never tolerate the presence of such a wealthy organization in their town otherwise. But that's only half the truth."
"Would you step out of there already? People are giving me looks."
"And since when did that bother you?" he replied, but to Tunnel Diver's relief shuffled out of the alley regardless. Blank brown eyes regarded her dispassionately.
Six years partners, and still the man gave Tunnel Diver the shivers. Not that she'll ever let it show, of course. "If I want people to give me looks, I'd rather it to be because of something I did. So, what's the other half of the truth, oh wise one?"
A faint, flat smile. "They remember the past. And they are ashamed." he gestured at H-Spire's facade again. "Same reason they keep those letters on every wall. So they never forget what keeping secrets once costed them. What it costed all of us."
"Quite. So, the job. Did you get it?"
Tunnel Diver nodded. "Expediency fees too. If all goes well this should keep the shirts on our backs for a few months at least."
"And where are we going?"
"South-eastern Breach, somewhere around break point 18. Here, I'll wire you the coordinates and some basic landscape data."
The iris of Cambion's left eye momentarily flashed green, showing his implant received her message. He frowned. "That's Ecclesiastical territory. We're not licensed to dig there."
"Not going to be a problem." She said, turning from Cambion and beginning striding towards the nearest transit hub. He followed, struggling to keep up with her long steps, stubby little man that he was.
"If you think spending a few months in prison for illegal excavation isn't a problem, we might have to reconsider our professional relationship."
"We're not going to get caught. Not if we do it early next week."
"And what is it about next week that makes us immune to persecution?"
Tunnel Diver stopped dead in her track, then turned to to glare at Cambion, who nearly collided with her in the interval. "You're not serious. The Nine-Digit Anniversary? New Renaissance Eve? Man's Second Rise?"
"I'm sorry, I don't follow the current music scene much. Too electric."
"Have you been living under a rock for the last year? Sometime early next week, the one billionth person on Earth is going to be born. More than a billion of us, for the first time in more than a hundred-and-fifty years!"
"And what does that have to do with our operation?"
"There's going to be a world-wide celebration. The cities will be crowded to hell and back, which will keep the police busy, which will in turn keep them from looking for us way out in the boonies."
Cambion considered for a moment, then nodded. "I'll make the arrangements then."
They reached the transit hub and got a cab. There was a lot of preparing to do.
"Too electric? Seriously?"
"I'm a traditionalist, what can I say?"
"Slower, dammit! You nearly dropped the entire bloody platform on me!"
"You should be more careful, then. That's valuable equipment." Cambion's voice wasn't pleasant in the best of time, and far less than usual when it came directly from the implant in Tunnel Diver's head.
"One day, Cambion, I swear to God…"
The fact that she was holding on a flimsy pulley system for dear life about a kilometer up from the raging waters of Breach Canal wasn't helping either, admittedly.
I could never see clearly, no,
But five time blind,
Five times declined.
She stared into the cloudy surface of her tea, and tried to remember the song. It was on the tip of her tongue, she was sure of that, but she couldn't quite find the right words. With each idle spin of her teaspoon words swirled like dried leaves. She used to sing that song every night when she was young. How could she not remember?
I could never be happy, no,
But fives times broke,
Five times a joke.
"It sounds so close to what it was, but it's not. Never is. Ain't it so, Taps?" the old wolfhound lying motionless on the threadbare sofa turned his head slightly, but made no reply. Taps wasn't much of a talker most days. Was… was his name Taps? She could swear it was something with a 't'. Tangle? Torpor? She couldn't recall. She'd forget her own head if it wasn't loosely screwed on her scrawny shoulders. "Comes with age, Tansy" she told the dog, who turned his one working eye at her direction. A baleful glare, that dog had. Hmm… must be hungry.
I could never find love, no,
But five times hate,
Five times too late.
She went to the kitchen to get the hound something to eat. The fridge was empty, as it always was, so she went to the counter to see if there was anything canned left. As she searched the mostly bare shelves she felt her eyes drawn to the wooden cutting block. There was a knife, a butcher's cleaver, stuck right in the middle of the scarred wooden surface, though she couldn't for the life of her remember how that got there. Wasn't because she was cutting any meat, since she couldn't afford any, not for a long while now. And how was it stuck like that? She didn't have the muscles for that, unless that thing was incredibly sharp. Why did she own a cleaver anyway? When did she get that? "Is that yours, Tipsy? Been cutting some meat, have you?" she asked the hound. He didn't bother answering, of course. Ungrateful pest. She couldn't find anything to give him. "Sorry, boy. Ain't nothing left for you to eat. You'll have to wait until something shows up, I suppose."
I could never have a life, no,
But five times dead,
Five times I fled.
It was raining outside. Seemed to her it was always raining lately. She returned to her chair by the window and took another sip of her… coffee? Wasn't that tea just a second ago? She could have sworn… ah, but never mind that. Tea, coffee, cocoa, hemlock, it was all the same when push came to shove. "Did it rain so often when I was young, Temper?" she asked the dog, but the thing just kept staring at her, gaze unwavering, unrelenting. She remember when she used to like dogs, before that mangy thing somehow found his way into her apartment and on to her sofa. Or… did she like cats? Birds? Someone once brought a bird to the old club, when she was singing. She remembered its feathers, as it sat there in its cage below the stage. Reds and blues and greens, and the low lights played on them, making them glow in a thousand different hues. When she reached the high notes it would squawk and flap its wings, like the sound made it feel like it was flying again. Nostalgic, the silly thing. How could she remember that bird, but not the song?
I could never find a voice, no,
But five times mute,
Five times a brute.
A knock, followed by two more. Polite yet hesitant. She sighed and reached for her purse, looking for something. Mints, maybe? Cigarettes? Did she smoke? There were no cigarettes inside, so she decided she probably didn't. Another knock, a bit less polite this time. She rose from her worn rocking chair by the window and went to the front door of the tiny apartment. Had she still been young, she might have stopped to peer through the peephole first, but those days were long gone. She had nothing left worth taking anyway. So she opened the door to find a small bespectacled man in a white coat, holding a brown paper pad in front of him as if it was a shield. His bald head glistened in the dull florescent light. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut his mouth again. He looked at her, looked at the dreary grey corridor he was standing on, attempted to look behind her shoulder to see what was inside her apartment. He again opened his mouth, again shut it back without saying anything. He began to sweat.
"Can I help you with anything, honey?"
His eyes darted to and fro, and the sweating intensified, dark stains appearing on the white coat around the man's armpits.
"You alright there?"
"I'm…fine? Yeah, I'm fine. I just… I don't know what I was expecting when I… huh. Not this, that's for sure."
"I'm sorry, I don't really follow. What is it you wanted?"
"Um… to find out about… something."
"You'll have to be a bit more specific, sugar."
The man cleared his throat and looked desperately around him. Finally, his gaze settled on one of the other doors in the hallway. "What's over there?"
"Over there? Just an apartment. People, I suppose. You'll have to excuse me, I don't exactly go out much."
"People? We never expected… none of the others said anything about people, or apartments. Hmm, they wouldn't though, would they? I don't understand, why couldn't they remember? I can remember just fine, I can-"
With that, he retrieved a ballpoint pen from a pocket and began scrawling on the paper pad, first rapidly and with great certainty, then increasingly slowly. As his hand slowed his eyes became increasingly unfocused, pupils dilated, rolled to and fro on the white surface of his eyes. It reminded her of camels, for some reason. Once, one of her rich suitors took her on a trip to the Sahara, and they rode on fine Arabian horses to the top of a dune, where they could watch that endless, pristine waste that was the desert, its surface broken by nothing but the occasional herd of camels. Or… was it Alaska, and were the camels elks? She couldn't remember. Whatever it was, it reminded her of the man's eyes, which now stared at her in a dazed confusion. The hand stopped entirely. She reached out to shake the man's shoulder when she felt a presence at her side. Looking down, she say the wolfhound, Tapper, practically boring a hole into the poor dazed man's chest with his single eye.
"What's that, boy?"
The hound slowly advanced on the bespectacled man, never taking his eye down off him. It appeared that the sight the hound was enough to make the man come to his senses, as he began to slowly back away from the dog, pen poised at the ready like a saber. The dog didn't didn't bark or growl (and she could never recall him making any sound at all, now that she thought about it), but she still got the sense of what he wanted. It was in moments like this that she remembered why she let the thing sleep on her sofa, why she kept him fed. He had a way with danger, that dog. He could smell it. So she withdrew her hand and left the bespectacled man standing their in the hallway, sweating a hole through his shoes, pen raised, and closed the door, the wolfhound silently padding in as she did. She crossed the tiny room and returned to her seat by the window. She lit a cigarette from the packet that was surely there the whole time, and watched the smoke blow out through the open window, saw it disappear in the watery dance of the rain.
I could never find no peace, no,
But five times strife,
Five times a…knife?
There was something about that pose the bespectacled man took before she closed the door. Something familiar. A… a knife, was it? Yes, she remembered a knife. In the kitchen, stuck in the plastic cutting board. Metal in plastic, yeah. "I don't think that man meant us any good, my boy." she told the dog, as she pulled the long-handled dagger from the cutting board. It was odd, the hole it left seemed like it came from a much wider blade, but that really wasn't worth worrying about. A blade was a blade, after all. That was a universal truth if she ever knew one.
I could never have a soul, no,
But five times took,
Five times a hook.
"All those… people coming here, bothering us, it's not wholesome, my boy. Don't you think?" for a moment, she could swear the dog was nodding, but that couldn't be right. His eye was so steady, after all. Like a… like a little sun in the abyss, casting its baleful shine on all those poor lost souls.
"They always come around but it's never because of what was, isn't it? It's because of what's now. And what's now… I don't understand that at all. But they keep on coming regardless, and they ask and they prod and they sweat on my carpet and they only see the wrinkles, my boy, only the wrinkles and nothing more." Not a blink from old Tatters. He knew all of this already.
"Do any of them remember how I used to be? Do they even care that I was like a bolt from the blue, everlasting, iridescent, incandescent? I used to live, my boy, I was young, I was strong, I was beautiful. I… sang. But they don't care how that old song went. And they don't care that I can't remember anymore."
I could keep a secret, no,
But five times spoke,
Five times I choked.
The blade felt so light in her hands as she stepped through the door. The small bespectacled man didn't even move as she plunged the blade deep into his forehead. Didn't even scream. They never did, after all. They just forgot to.
I could never be alone, no,
But five times owed,
Five times a load.
What was behind those doors which lined the corridor? She remembered he asked that. They all did, when they showed up. She didn't remember how many, but she knew it was enough. Enough for what, though? Enough to forget. Yes, that was another truth, wasn't it? You had to had enough in order to forget. She dragged the body with some difficulty, aiming for the apartment to the left of the fire exit. "Could use some help here, you know." she told the hound, who followed her from her apartment and was now silently regarding the cooling corpse. Lazy bum, that dog. Finally she managed to drag the corpse to the doorstep and open the door.
"Hmm. Going to be a tight fit, don't you think? I always remind myself to make some room around here, but I never seem to get around to it. There's always so much nothing to do, you know how it is."
White coats, and note pads, and pens, and spectacles. She wondered why they never bothered to search for those who were gone, but she didn't wonder for very long. There was work to be done, after all. It was a tight fit, aye, but she made it work. She was old, and weak, and she couldn't remember the song, but some things you never forgot how to do. And flesh… mmm, flesh didn't forget that easily. It dented, and flowed and molded and moldered until it was pilling up to the ceiling. Room after room of it. So much flesh needed just to let one old woman forget. What a world that was. She could feel the song fade away once more, strangled by the muted cry of a thousand corpses, sacrifices to oblivion. And she was glad, though she didn't know why. She thought she wanted to remember, but that was a lie. Aye, you never forgot how to lie to yourself, that was another truth. A truth that rotted like meat. She closed the door after her and shuffled back to her apartment, old hound in toe. The bespectacled man's blood was already gone. Why, she'd forgotten he was there at all. She was humming under her breath, though, humming a song that was always there hiding, hiding with all those universal truths that no amount of meat could hide for very long.
I could never remember, no,
But five times wrong…
Yeah. Five times gone.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Keter
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-XXXX's activity is currently limited to the confines of Area-37, which is considered its effective containment zone. Due to SCP-XXXX's complete infestation of Area-37, it is to be considered a Type-4 Corporeally Unstable Territory, and all Foundation personnel inside are to be considered effectively lost. A defensive perimeter has been established around Area-37 according to standard Telemachus Protocol. Attempts to breach Area-37's complex have all ended with the loss of all involved Mobile Task Force Personnel, and so have been discontinued until further notice. In the event that SCP-XXXX's activity spreads, the on-site nuclear devices stored in Area-37 may be activated with the authorization of O5-Command. Due to the large volume of data produced by the activity of SCP-XXXX, a designated server farm has been constructed to contain it. Said server farm is to be kept isolated from all other Foundation networks.
Description: SCP-XXXX is the collective designation for a group of three semi-corporeal entities, typically manifesting as vaguely humanoid, off-white silhouettes. Instances of SCP-XXXX display a capacity to willfully weaken the structure of reality in their immediate presence, allowing them a limited but potent control over temporal and physical distortions within a substantial range. Instances of SCP-XXXX are capable of speech (speaking in three differently toned voices, described by listeners as feminine), and seem to possess individual and consistent personalities.
SCP-XXXX was first introduced to Area-37 following a successful raid by Foundation forces on a Serpent's Hand cell located in the nearby city of ████████. Several suspected anomalous artifacts as well as fifteen captured Serpent's Hand operatives were retrieved and brought back to Area-37, an isolated facility specializing in the initial storage of such items. During preliminary examination of three of the retrieved artifacts (a small wooden loom, an enamel needle, and a glass eye), all three instances of SCP-XXXX (henceforth SCP-XXXX-1, SCP-XXXX-2 and SCP-XXXX-3) appeared and addressed the attendant personnel, Researcher ████. This conversation was recorded by the testing chamber's monitoring system:
SCP-XXXX-1: Greetings, esteemed members of the Foundation. We come to you with auspicious news.
SCP-XXXX-2: Aye, you'll be right pleased you will.
Researcher ████: What the hell-
SCP-XXXX-1: Pardon, sir, I'll be with you in a moment. [to SCP-XXXX-2] Sisters, I thought we have agreed to let me do the introductions. You are embarrassing us.
SCP-XXXX-2: Oh, woops! Hehe, go on, we'll be quiet.
SCP-XXXX-1: Ahm. Yes, as I was saying, Greetings. We are pleased to finally be able to make your acquaintance, for we have observed your organization for quite some time. Indeed, we have observed a great many, and out of them all you stood out like a shining beacon of progress in a dark sea. Well done.
SCP-XXXX-2: Oh, we are so very proud!
Researcher ████: Would someone get security- [Researcher ████ grasps his tongue, which becomes visibly blackened and withered]
SCP-XXXX-1: I told you, sir, I will be with you in a moment. Where was I? Oh, right. All this considered, we have decided that you, and no other, are worthy of receiving our assistance. It is an honor most rare, we assure you.
SCP-XXXX-2: Like a bloody steak it is, that's how rare.
[Researcher ████ attempts to speak again, then falls to the floor. His tongue crumbles to dust. He loses consciousness]
SCP-XXXX-1: Hmph. Why must people always be silly? We shall have to fix that later. I keep losing my train of thought, it is most infuriating.
SCP-XXXX-2: Our help, Severity.
SCP-XXXX-1: Ah, thank you. Yes, our help. Seeing how meticulously you keep to the scientific method, we venture that we could be of most use to you if we do the same ourselves. Our abilities in that field are substantial, after all. Yes, to assist you, we will conduct several useful experiments in your behalf, and deliver you the data. We believe this is the beginning of a wonderful partnership.
SCP-XXXX-2: Er, I think he's out cold, love.
SCP-XXXX-1: Oh, never mind him, they record everything. It's why we chose them, isn't it?
SCP-XXXX-2: Aye, that's so.
SCP-XXXX-1: So, to those who are listening, we will begin our experiments immediately, since there is hardly a point in dilly dallying. Now, we realize that they might seem a bit harsh, but trust us, we know what is best for you.
SCP-XXXX-2: Sisters know best, hehe!
Following this conversation, all three instances of SCP-XXXX began to move rapidly throughout Area-37. As SCP-XXXX continued circling Area-37, several events were noticed which have been associated with reality bending phenomena. SCP-XXXX eventually ceased this pattern, presumably because Area-37 had become unstable enough to suit the parameters of their planned experimentation. At the conclusion of this process, security footage revealed that Area-37 was divided into four distinct sections, and Area-37's personnel divided between them according to SCP-XXXX's location at the time of the event, as detailed below:
Section-A (previously Area-37's mess hall, storekeeping and dormitories): the smallest of the sections, Section-A was the least changed by SCP-XXXX. Notable additions are two large brass vats located at the east corner of the mess hall, a monitoring station connected to other sections of Area-37 replacing storekeeping, and a large marble sign above the entrance to the dormitories reading 'CONTROL GROUP'. Personnel belonging to the control group are not subjected the experimentation taking place in other sections of Area-37. Once every five to seven hours, the control group is visited by one instance of SCP-XXXX. During said visitation food and water are dispensed from the brass vats, and the visiting instance typically addresses the control group, often encouraging them to use the monitoring station to observe any ongoing experiments.
Section-B (previously Area-37's outer grounds and sport facilities): Section-B is the fulcrum of a localized spatial-temporal abnormality. Because of this, its size, climate, atmospheric composition and pressure and temporal flow are all variable, and are seemingly controlled by the will of SCP-XXXX-1, the entity typically overseeing experimentation in Section-B. According to SCP-XXXX-1, experimentation in Section-B is meant to delve into the effects of repetitive action performed under unusual conditions on the human psyche.
Section-C (previously Area-37's main office complex): Section-C exhibits similar anomalous properties to Section-B, thought it is associated with SCP-XXXX-2 rather than SCP-XXXX-1. Observation (as well as limited input from SCP-XXXX-2) indicates that experiments taking place in Section-C tend to focus on group dynamics and interpersonal relations during extreme conditions. On average, the physical alterations to Section-C during experimentation are more radical than those observed in Section-B, while temporal alternations are significantly less so.
Section-D (previously Area-37's high-risk containment area): Section-D is currently the least understood segment of the altered Area-37 complex. Physically, it remains virtually unchanged from its state prior to its initial infestation by SCP-XXXX. Temporally, however, it appears to be entirely disconnected from the baseline stream of events, existing as an isolated 'bubble' from events occurring outside of it. The temporal reality of Section-D as well as any experimentation taking place within it are associated with SCP-XXXX-3. Due to SCP-XXXX-3's terse speech patterns and the general obscurity of the experiments it conducts, little is currently understood about the nature or of experimentation taking place within Section-D.
Regardless of the section an experiment takes place in, SCP-XXXX will seek to provide the Foundation with high quality video and audio feeds documenting it. This data is transferred to the nearest compatible Foundation server through currently unknown means. Footage will also often contain recorded notes by the supervising instance of SCP-XXXX.
Addendum XXXX-A: The following is a description of notable experiments performed by instances of SCP-XXXX:
State of section: For this experiment, Section-B mostly retained it original form, other than the occasional structural shifts caused by reconstitution events as a result of the experiment.
Personnel involved: Researcher ██, Agent ██████, Sanitation Engineer ██████████
Experiment: Test subjects are brought into Area-37's sports center from an unknown location and are each given a wrench, a ruler, a brown paper pad and a ballpoint pen. Subjects are then instructed by SCP-XXXX-1 to closely examine the sports center's plumbing system and to measure the exact length of each pipe and the angle in which it is connected to other pipes. This process takes between ten and twelve hours due to the size of the sports center. Before it can be completed, however, Section-B begins a reconstitution event, causing the plumbing system to be completely rearranged and rendering all work previously done moot. Test subjects are then instructed to begin again. The process repeats itself 459 times before the experiments concludes.
SCP-XXXX-1's notes: "Following yesterday's somewhat disappointing expedition to Olympus Mons (My, but were the hosts rude!), I have decided to attempt something less taxing on my test subjects, which are thus far proving to be both physically unimpressive and morally lacking. This simple examination of repeating sensory input and the manner in which it can be connected to other primal reactions to the point of overload should prove both useful to you and within my test subject's rather limited capability. Finally, a proof that even if we try to learn from experience, that attempt is ultimately pointless, since once life passes you by, you'll just have to learn everything all over again. That's useful knowledge, children, I do hope you are paying attention."
State of section: For this experiment, Section-C took the appearance of a football stadium, with test subjects appearing around the fifty yard line. Notably, the goal posts have been removed and replaced with concrete bunkers.
Personnel involved: The former members of Mobile Task Force Iota-6 ("Canvas Cats"), ten of the fifteen captive Serpent's Hand operatives
Experiment: The experiment took place in two phases; on the first phase, test subjects were divided into two teams, both consisting of a mix of MTF personnel and Serpent's Hand operatives. Both groups were then instructed by SCP-XXXX-2 to head to the bunkers located at the ends of the field. While running to these positions, several hooded figures appeared on the stadium's bleachers and began bombarding the test subjects with fast-moving fiery projectiles. Additionally, three-meters tall curved platforms began rising from the ground, requiring test subjects to exercise teamwork in order to bypass them. Due to the mixed composition of the teams test subjects were unable to overcome the platforms in time, and both teams were incinerated by the projectiles before reaching the bunkers. Thirty seconds following this, the second phase of the experiment began with the same group of test subjects again appearing near the fifty yard line unharmed. Subjects were again divided into two groups, one comprising of only MTF personnel and the other of Serpent's Hand operatives. Test subjects were again instructed to reach the bunkers. Test proceeded as previously recorded, with both teams now able to surpass the raised platforms and reach the bunkers. At this moment, however, the doors to the bunkers closed shut and two previously unseen pairs of sizable metal hammers descended from an unknown origin spot, crushing both teams to death.
SCP-XXXX-2's notes: "I saw the kiddies were having a bad time with that double-date thing we did, so I thought to myself, 'Smile, kiddies today don't go for romance no more, s'too slow for them. They want excitement and sweat and explosions and sports!' so I called a few old friends of mine and they were happy to help, weren't they just! What was the name of that tall one with the robes? Madem? Mavven? Or was it John? Bah, can't remember, but I know he just loves the football! Heehee, we sure had a grand ol' time, even with the burning and the crushing and all. Oh, I think I'm forgetting something… oh, the test, this was… this was a test, yeah. Um, see, it goes to show you that no matter who you're with, you'll eventually get crushed by huge metal hammers smashing down from the sky! Hmm, no that can't be right… ah, I got it! Doesn't matter how much you prepare and whose with ya, sooner or later fate's gonna catch up with ya! Heehee, yes, this I like, this sounds just peachy! A lesson to be learned, my lads, a lesson to be learned!
State of section: Physically, Section-D remained unchanged from its original state.
Personnel involved: Site Director ██████
Experiment: Site Director ██████ enters Area-37's main containment vault. At the center of the vault a table (likely taken from the mess hall) is placed. On the table are two 1 liter vats of █████████ brand ice cream, one pistachio flavored, the other passion-fruit flavored. Site Director ██████ is instructed by SCP-XXXX-3 to 'choose'. Site Director ██████ then chooses the pistachio flavored ice cream and leaves the room. At this point footage momentarily blurs, and Site Director ██████ returns to the room, in which the unchosen vat of ice cream was replaced by a different one, this one chocolate flavored. He is again instructed to choose, this time picking the chocolate flavored ice cream . The process repeats itself, with unpicked vat replaced by one of a different flavor. At the time of the writing of this document, the Foundation has received over 10,000 hours of footage from this experiment, with analysis identifying over 200,000 different flavors of ice cream, including "Meerkat Marshmallow Madness", "Tranquility", "That Shoe You Always Liked", "God's Wrath", and [REDACTED]. All evidence suggests that this experiment is still ongoing.
SCP-XXXX-3's notes (note is found at the beginning of the 1,356th hour of footage): "Delicious."
There comes a time when one must speak of the winds.
First came the boisterous breath of the South, emerging from the endless depths of the earth like a madman's song. Like none before it and none after, the South was free. To glide from coast to coast, carrying with those endless fleets of war come summertime, when the spirits of men are as hot in their bodies as the Wind's joyous cacophony. To run on a thousand feet of blowing sand, to dance among the bones of the fallen, those it so briefly ago carried on its mad wings to dreams of conquest. For to take the laughter of the South as anything but what it is marks a fool, and there is nothing it relishes more than a quick bout of merriment among the ashes of such.
And so, I reach my final conclusion, and if you weren’t paying attention before, ladies and gentlemen, now is a damn good time to start. If we do not temper our wild, devastatingly irresponsible use of Thurman-Harrison Amnestics and their byproducts, the Foundation could soon find its ability to impose a normalcy of thought on the general population severally crippled, perhaps to the point of total impotence. Like bacteria developing immunities to even the most powerful of antibiotics, so will the human brain begin resisting this constant tampering of amnestics, the use of which became our standard modus operendi in dealing with the exposure of civilian populations to the anomalous over the last few decades. Indeed, our data indicates that this process has already begun. If we do not find an alternative, permanent solution to this problem of memory, well, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think I need to explain how dire the consequences could be.
Doctor Malachi Harrison, in his address to the O5-Council
“Rememberer? That’s a damn stupid name.”
“That may well be, Upcard, but that’s what we’re calling it.”
Prosper sighed, reached for the can of lager at his right, lifted it to his mouth, only to find it empty. He sighed again. If Matthew Andrews was a man predisposed to sympathy, he might have felt sorry for the old man. Alas, he was not.
“Because that’s what the reports call it.”
“Hrm. I bet I could come up with a better name,” said Evening, his plump, bearded features positively glowing with mirth. If that was because of the undoubtedly idiotic name he’d soon come up with or because of the large plate of sausages in front of the big man, Matthew couldn't be certain. He recalled asking the man how he earned his nickname, sometime after their first acquaintance at the hospital. “It’s because I’m cool and shady,” was the reply he got. “It’s because he’s the dimmest bastard you’re ever likely to meet” was Upcard’s.
“How about ‘Repeaters’?” she now suggested, adding yet more sugar to her steaming mug of tea. Five packets so far, and the tea was fast becoming a literal saccharine wasteland. Upcard never did take any half measures.
“I like ‘Truth-Seers’,” said Evening, a thoughtful expression on his face as he chewed.
“’Relapsers?’” piped Hale, the gaunt, shaky little man gingerly sipping out of his red thermos. “Never drink anything I didn't prepare myself, that how they get you, with those tiny mosquitoes they put in everything,” he told Matthew shortly after they first met. “They lay spy-eggs.”
Prosper was clearly rapidly losing what little remained of his patience. “They’re not ‘Repeaters’, or ‘Relapsers’, and they’re certainly not god-damned ‘Truth-Seers’! The reports call them Rememberers, which means that the people who pay me call them Rememberers, and if they call them Rememberers, that means that I call them Rememberers. And if I call them Rememberers, you can bet your sweet condemned asses that that’s what you’re going to call them as well! Do I make myself clear?”
An uncomfortable silence, followed by three sullen nods.
“I mean you too, Andrews. In fact, I mean you especially!” Prosper said, shaking his empty beer can at Matthew.
“Yeah, got it. Rememberers.”
“Although… you have to admit, ‘Relapsers’ has a pretty nice ring to it.”
Ah, it certainly did him good, watching that crusty geezer squirm. One had to take one’s pleasures where he could find them. Such was life on Permanent Expungment Crew 3.
“Alright, let’s go over things one last time.”
This was received with a chorus of groans. The Crew has been waiting in the hot, cramped van for well over an hour, and patience was running thin.
“Don’t give me that. Just because we’re not exactly working within standard doctrine doesn't mean you get to slack off. You have more to prove than anyone else, in case you forgot.”
“How could we, with you reminding us every five seconds…” murmured Upcard.
Prosper ignored her. “Andrews, since this is your first real stab at this, if you would be so kind?”
“Oh, right. Our target is a, ahm, a Rememberer, a person who belatedly proved to be resistant to standard amnestic treatment. Whatever we originally wanted her to forget, she remembers now, and she’s not being quiet about it. We believe she contacted someone, and if that someone gets their hands on her, it could mean trouble. Now, obviously wiping her memory won't work, which means taking care of her through…other means.”
“Them other means is us, right?” asked Evening, raising a fleshy hand.
“Yes, Evening, that would be us. Now, since the target is living in a densely populated area, and since the usual cover system isn't available to us,” here he glanced at Prosper, who simply shook his head, “we’ll have to go about this carefully. I’ll take point, you follow as soon as I gain entry. She'll be expecting a crew to come pick her up, so getting in shouldn't be too difficult. Once we’re in and the job is done, Prosper will bring around the car and we’ll dispose of whatever needs disposing. ”
Evening lifted his hand again. “Hrm. And what about the real pickup crew? What about the neighbors, what if they hear something? If we don't have the usual cover, they’ll call the cops, and how do we explain that?
Matthew was about to answer, but Prosper interrupted him, looking like he was barely stopping himself from slapping Evening. Matthew couldn't blame him. "We've been over this, Evening. We're arriving a few hours before the time the pickup crew is supposed to show up, so we shouldn't run into them. Taking care of them ain't our job, a real Task Force will be here for that soon. As for the neighbors, well, they'll be taken care of.”
There was something about the expression on his lined face, and not for the first time, Matthew wondered just how the old man came to hold his current position as their operator. “We might not have the typical layered cover, but that doesn't mean we’re alone here." he continued. "I've managed to get us some special assistance, which should hopefully keep everything around us nice and calm until we’re done."
“Wait, special assistance? What sort of assistance?” asked Hale.
“They’ll be waiting outside of her apartment building. Look for a brown semi. They've been keeping an eye on the entrance.”
“You… you didn't really answer my question.”
“No, I didn't. Now go.”
As the four left the van and strode into the warm evening air, Matthew fell into stride beside Upcard, who shot him a contemptuous glance and began walking faster. Matthew persisted, until she finally slowed down and faced him.
"I just need to ask you a few questions, relax."
She bared her teeth in a way that instinctively made Matthew want to cover his softer bits. "Don't you tell me to relax, you slimy little bastard. Prosper might force me to work with you, but that sure as hell doesn't mean I have to treat you like person. Because we both know you ain't."
"You're acting like you didn't do anything to get you dropped down here."
"I did what I did, and I'm paying the price for it, but that doesn't make us the same, not by a long shot. You'd be wise to remember that."
"Oh? And what if I don't?"
She smiled at that. "You ever wondered what we did before we dragged your carcass out of the hospital? Who we used for our face man, that is?"
"I assumed you did it yourself. I certainly wouldn't trust Evening or Hale with the job."
"Prosper wouldn't hear of it. Says I have too much of a temper, that I'm 'unsocial-able'. So no, it wasn't me. We had Francis. Real sociable guy, was Francis. Could get just about anyone to open their door for him. Real friendly face. I suppose he found it useful in his extra-curricular activities."
Matthew paused. "Wait, I think Prosper mentioned him once. Said that he got his skull caved in during a mission."
Still smiling, Upcard suddenly pulled Matthew close, so only he could hear what she said next. "Well, that's half right at least."
Evening and Hale went ahead, and now Hale was waving, probably signalling he found the brown semi. Upcard stepped away from Matthew and moved to catch up with the two. She didn't look back.
So. That was how things were going to be. All right. She wasn't the only one with an experience in caving skulls.
"Hey Matthew, someone here wants to talk to you!" called Evening, who Matthew saw was now standing next to a old, beaten brown semi-truck. As Matthew approached the vehicle, he began noticing something odd about his surroundings. Although the hour was still early and the weather was pleasant, the streets around him were virtually empty. Stores and coffee shops closed and deserted, the windows of nearby apartment buildings dark, even of the stray cats who usually swarmed the area there was no sign. For some reason, Matthew had a suspicion that this unnatural quiet had something to do with whoever was sitting in that brown semi, a suspicion that gain credence when he ducked his head to peer at the couple sitting in the car.
At the driver's seat sat a man the color and complexion of a prune left in the desert for a few centuries too long. He was wearing some kind of bizarre corduroy robe, which together with his complexion gave him the appearance of a snake that had a run-in with a cheese grater. The man was currently eyeballing Upcard, and it was clear that whatever he just told her got her pretty riled up.
"-You see, this is what I like to see in a woman! Finally someone with initiative, some sass. It really is a breath of fresh air. I remember having to deal with that one, oh, it was just impossible. I mean, when I eventually decapitated her and scooped her brains out with one of those melon ballers, there wasn't even enough for one decent cocktail. It really is a shame you're slumming it up with Squirmy and the Orange Menace here. But I suppose it's just the cards nature handed you."
Upcard was frowning at the man. "Is he always like that?"
This was directed to the woman sitting in the passenger seat. Compact and short, her hair dyed in a peculiar mix of orange and white, she seemed half asleep, and Matthew could see dark black circles under her eyes. She was wearing a blue mechanic's jumpsuit with a bright red logo. 'BOB'S WHEELS AND PRAWNS'.
"You have no idea."
"All you're doing is proving my point, Barcode. Although, looking at these… people, I'm thinking I finally starting to see some value in you. I mean, even your sorry hide shines when compared to whatever those two supposed to be."
Upcard's frown turned into a smile, which was somehow far more disconcerting. "You're a funny little man, aren't you?"
"Darling, you have no idea. You really should be grateful for the fact you're standing here, talking to me as if we're equals. It's such a rare opportunity, I know, I sure you very much appreciate it."
The smile widened. "Oh, certainly. In fact, why don't I show you my appreciation right now-"
Matthew decided to interrupt them before things got any further. Though he would enjoy watching a fight, this probably wasn't the best time for it. "As much as I'd love to hear the conclusion of this fascinating conversation, I believe someone here wanted to talk to me?"
Prune-man still grinning, now turned his gaze to Matthew. "Aye, pretty boy, that would be me. Just wanted you to know you can you're not gonna hear a pip out of no one here. It's all taken care of, so you can shimmy right in yon apartment and do whatever you folks need doing there."
"May I ask exactly how you accomplished this? Who are you anyway?"
"That's for you to ask, laddie, and it's not for me to tell. We're just here because someone cashed in a favor, and we really rather not be."
"Is that so? May I inquire as to why?"
"It's because of the people the woman,our target, called." said Hale, and Matthew was surprised to hear nothing of the usual nervous shake in the little man's voice, "or rather the people those people hired. These two here don't have a lot of power here in the Baseline. Reality's too strong for their minds to do much. It's why she's so tired, you see." He pointed at the woman in the passenger's seat, who was now staring at Hale intently.
Prune-man frowned. "Now how'd you go about learning all that, Squirmy?"
Hale shrugged. "I wasn't always in the Crews." He turned to the woman again. "It's not going to get any better, you know. Soon, you'll be looking back at the days all you had to worry about was screaming towers of flaming goat skulls and Vinnie. Hi Vinnie, long time no see. Hope you've been treating that rash."
Matthew had no idea what the hell Hale was talking about, but the woman grew very pale all the sudden, and Matthew could see this little twitch just by the corner of her eye. Hale continued, a distant look on his unusually passive face. "There's no shame of being afraid of the Jackalmen. You were never bred to deal with the likes of them. While they… well, I suppose time will tell what they'll do to you all. If I'm still alive then, I'd be interested in seeing that. For now though, you should probably go. I don't think they'll stick to their schedule. Unpredictable, the Jackalmen."
"Barcode, what is The Artist Formerly Known As Squirmy talking about?" asked Prune-man.
The woman simply shook her head. "I don't know who this person is, Ramses, but he got one thing right. If the Jackalmen get here early, I sure as hell don't want to be here to meet them. We should go."
"And how do you know he's not full of shit? We haven't seen any Jackalmen in years."
"Trust me on that one."
"Hmm. Fine. This scene's getting old anyways, and I can't say I appreciate the company."
Matthew watched him turn on the car, and moments later the semi was gone. Once it was out of sight, he turned and gently placed a finger on the side of Hale's stomach, in that sensitive place where every tiny poke felt like a nail driven into your side. He pushed. "Hale, would you care to explain what that was about?"
But something changed in the little man in the few moments it took the semi to leave the street. He was shivering and shaking again, and his face showed nothing but incomprehension at Matthew's question. Irritated, Matthew poked harder, saw Hale's face contorting with pain.
"Who were those two, Hale? Who are the Jackalmen, and what did you mean when you said they were coming early?"
"Stop poking me! What are you even talking about!? What two people?"
"Those two you were just spewing cryptic bullshit at ten seconds ago!"
"I wasn't talking to no one! You're crazy, man! They… they must have gotten you! You've been implanted with Prometheus brain drones! They can see your libido from their invisible spy satellites! Don't have sex with me, I warn you, I'm terrible at it!"
Evening laid a plump hand on Matthew's shoulder. "No point in shaking him anymore. He sometimes gets like he was, starts flapping his gums like he knows all sorts of things. Don't mean nothing, really. He's always going about weird things. Besides, we should probably get going, cause Upcard is looking impatient and you wouldn't like her when she's impatient."
"I don't like her already."
"Well, you're going to like her even less. You'll be surprised to how many levels there are to disliking Upcard, it's a really complex tier system. Me and Hale we made a list once, only Upcard burned it and she kicked Hale in the nards besides, which of course got her another tier up the dislike list, though we didn't know where she was now cause the list was gone, so that was a conundrum, so we decided that-"
"You know what Evening, you are absolutely right. We have a job to do, so let’s just go and do it, eh? Just… no more talking. You wait here with Upcard and Hale, I’m going to see if I can’t get us in."
As the passed the big man on his way to the nearby apartment building, Matthew stopped by Hale, who was still obviously recovering from the shaking Matthew gave him. He patted the little man's shoulder. "Don't you think we're done with our little talk, by the way. I'll see you soon." With that, he went forward.
After a short climb through a deserted stairway, Matthew found himself before the door to the target’s apartment. As he was about to knock, he briefly found himself wondering. Who was this woman before she saw whatever she saw? What brought her to the place of her unfortunate encounter with the anomalous, and why couldn't she just keep quiet about it? He didn't doubt the Foundation wouldn't have unleashed them on her trail unless all other options were exhausted. If amnestics began to fail, you couldn't just kill everyone who was exposed. It wasn't practical. No, Matthew thought, something about this person must have reveled in this subversion, delighted in the shattering of normalcy, celebrated the breaking of wholesome patterns.
His hand, still hovering above the door, was shaking, and he realized that this was because he was furious, a revelation that in turned only made him confused. What was he so angry about? He didn't even know this person. And yet, it felt like he did. It was because people like this, after all, because people like her, that this world was the way it was. Poisonous, hateful, messy. Uneven. It was because of those ravagers of surfaces, because of her, that people like him was forced to do what was necessary. Even if no one cared to admit it. Even if they looked upon with contempt. With horror. With disgust.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
And just as it appeared, the shaking was gone, and his hands were steady, and he was smiling, a smile no one could imagine as anything less than utterly candid, even if it was the last thing they ever saw, as was a case for more than a few.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Well, that was the thing about monsters, wasn't it? There was nothing at all dishonest about them.
Knock Knock Kno-
The door opened a crack, and Matthew came face to face with a tall, middle-aged woman. As Matthew regarded her pale, lined features, he was surprised with what he found in the murky pools of her eyes. Not anxiety, or fear, or relief at the arrival of a savior. No, all that was there was the coldest apathy, like staring into a long-dead hearth, where no ember remained. Matthew found himself speechless. The woman, however, had no such problem.
“Ah, you’re here. Good. I suppose you should come in then.”
“Um, yes. Good evening, Madam. I have a few others with me, should I-“
“Yes, yes. Just be quick about it, you’re letting the warmth out keeping me at the door like this.”
Matthew nodded and began descending the stairs, when a thought occurred to him. Letting the warmth out? It was July. He turned back to the apartment when he heard a shout from below, followed by a loud crash and the sounds of struggle, suddenly cut short. Shadows appeared in the stairway’s entrance, and with a swelling sense of fear Matthew recognized that they did not belong to his crew. He turned and ran back up the stairs, back towards the apartment. It was all her fault, that cold-eyed bitch, and he wasn’t about to let her get away with it, oh no. They would catch him if they could, but he’ll get to her first, oh yes, even if he had to bash open that door to do it. He’ll get to her first, and when he was done there wouldn’t be enough left of her to-
In the middle of a step his muscles froze, and suddenly the stairs came rushing up to meet his face, to crash into his forehead with a crack that left him dazed. He tried moving, something was overriding his instincts, overshadowing his very thoughts. A presence in his head, an iron grip on his body. The sensation of serrated teeth closing around his throat. Then, a voice like a muted snarl, like the promise of a depthless maw, descending on his mind.
Thus, you are netted, little jailor man.
Your kind thinks this world is yours. You claim it without a moment’s thought. You play with the minds of others as if memory had no consequence, and its erasure was not the direst of crimes. You covet information, and so you cannot bear the thought of others having it. It is greed of purest sort, and that is it disguised as an act of guardianship only makes it so much fouler.
But… perhaps it is wrong of us to judge. Perhaps this is right. Your kind knows more about this world than most, after all, and in knowledge there is mastery, a sense of ownership. Perhaps you are not to be blamed for this coveting of information. Yes. In knowledge there is mastery, and so this world is yours. This we will concede.
But we are not of this world, and you do not know us.
But we know you, little jailor man. Aye, we do.
And now, you are ours.
Item #: SCP-XXXX
Object Class: Neutralized
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-XXXX has shown no sign of activity within the last 36 months, and has been classified Neutralized. Researchers wishing to study SCP-XXXX may do so with permission from Regional Command 24-A.
Description: SCP-XXXX is a two story concrete structure located in the outskirts of ███████, █████. The ground floor consists of four identical chambers and a staircase to the second floor. The second floor houses an additional four chambers. Each chamber contains an empty alcove, four meters in radius, indented into the floor.
From the time of SCP-XXXX's discovery and for the five years following it, any person within the structure would experience hallucinations, coupled with sense of temporal and spatial dislocation, at inconsistent intervals. Said hallucinations always consisted of a view of the Earth as seen from a moving point in space. This point is located at height of approximately 370 km above sea level (i.e, in orbit) and moves at a speed of approx. 27,000 km/h. Hallucinations typically lasted between five and thirty minutes. The intervals between hallucinations grew increasingly long during the time SCP-XXXX was active, from a one occurring approximately every hour in the time immediately following its discovery, to hallucinations occurring only about every two weeks in the period prior to its neutralization, following Incident SCP-XXXX-Atropos.
Additionally, SCP-XXXX was found to be resistant to changes in its local reality; SCP-XXXX's interior repeatedly altered itself in an attempt to return to the way it was prior to being contained by the Foundation. This anomalous quality of SCP-XXXX manifested in natural phenomena such as the patterns in which dust gathered and a significantly lowered rate of growth for flora found within the structure, as well as in the apparent discarding of litter left in the premise of SCP-XXXX. Larger items and people seemed entirely unaffected by this secondary effect of SCP-XXXX, and it is not currently known if or how it related to the primary phenomena. Surface similarities have been found between this secondary anomalous effect of SCP-XXXX and that of SCP-1915, though due to the general nature of the phenomena and the inherent difficulty of conducting research in SCP-1915's vicinity, establishing more solid connections has proved unsuccessful.
Addendum-XXXX-A: Incident-XXXX-Atropos: following a period of three weeks without activity in SCP-XXXX, Foundation personnel within the structure experienced the following hallucination on ██/██/████. This hallucination diverged significantly from the previously established pattern of SCP-XXXX in that it included an element of speech. Speaker was identified as male and spoke for seven minutes and fifteen seconds before ceasing.
First of all, I want to let you know that you don't have to listen to this. What I have to say isn't really all that important. Hell, I'm not even sure it's interesting. You could walk away right now, and nothing bad is going to happen to you or to anyone else. But if you're willing, and you have some spare time I'd like you to listen. It's the last story I'm ever going to tell, after all.
When I was little, I wanted to go to space.
Not as an astronaut, mind you. Even as a boy, I knew I didn't have what it took to be someone like that. I didn't really know how I would get there, or when, or why, all I knew that at least once in my life I wanted to leave this planet behind, if only for a few moments. To be above everything I knew, unrestrained, without worry, without fear. To be… uncontained.
You know these kids that get bullied in high-school? Those awkward, geeky, unattractive kids who get picked on by those bigger or prettier or more popular than them, who get pushed around relentlessly, without mercy, until they have no choice but to turn to each other for company, simply because no one else would have them? The kind of kids that adults always say would grow up to be scientists or venture capitalists or some other great thing just so they could feel better about doing nothing for them? I wasn't one of those kids. I never got my head stuck in a toilet, was never humiliated because of the TV shows I liked or the books I read or the fact I wasn't really interested in sports or because I looked weird or had a strange accent. Do you know what I felt when I watched those poor bastards being tormented, for no real reason, sometimes brutally? Why I never once said anything?
It's because I was jealous of them. I saw them hang around in groups, in pathetic bunches of the miserable and downtrodden. I saw the bonds building up between them, nurtured as much by mutual suffering as by their common interests. I saw those kids slowly transforming each other into grown men and women through their suffering, watched how they hardened and stuck closer to one another, like carbon molecules making a diamond. And me?
I stayed as I always was. As I said, I was never picked on by bullies. Hell, my existence was rarely even acknowledge by them. I seemed to drift through my years in school like some sort of half-corporeal apparition. I didn't have any friends, but not because of anything I was. No, it was because of this odd sense of lethargy that always seemed to weigh down every decision I made, like… an anchor to a drowning ship. I wanted to go out and hang with the other kids, to go do… I dunno, whatever kids do. Ride bikes, play video games or smoke or get drunk and caught by the cops and spend a night in jail until you parents come and drag your crying ass home. But I couldn't. I couldn't get myself to do anything at all. At first I told myself that it was just me being lazy, and that was probably true, to an extent. There was something more to it though, something that fed my laziness until it became a bloated, obese thing. I was scared.
Of what? Fuck if I know. My parents always tried to get me to try new things, to go out there and live, to just do something, for heaven's sake. They tried their very best. I was their only son after all, born late in their lives, and they only ever wanted what was best for me. They told me they didn't care if I got in trouble or didn't do too well in school or anything like that. They just wanted me to be happy, and I loved them for that. They were the only thing in the world I loved. But I couldn't do it, not even for them. So I drifted, on and on, until school was done. Twelve years, and I don't think I spoke more than a score of words to any of my classmates. I'm not even sure most of them knew my name.
Am I boring you? Sorry if I am. I'm getting to some sort of point with this, I promise. It's just hard to keep focused, the way I am now.
You see, I used to watch a lot of movies about college. They all promised that it was a time to party nonstop, to meet girls, have a good time. I wasn't stupid enough to buy that, but I thought that maybe living on-campus would force me to interact with people, and that maybe that way I'll finally get over myself for long enough to actually meet someone. My parents thought so too, and so they sent me to the best college they could afford, even though my mother was already not well at the time. At first, I thought it worked. I met a few people I didn't mind hanging out with in between classes and during meals, and I learned to talk a bit more and to joke around and be… social, I guess. But it was quickly becoming apparent that all of this was an illusion. Sure, I was talking to people, but I never actually got to know any of them. We would talk about this or that class or some show on TV or what an asshole that politician was and how dared he purpose this particular law, and that was that. The moment I was out of their sight I was out of their minds, and sad as it is to admit, it was the same for me too. Once I was alone I crawled back to my old habits, became just the person I was in high school all over again. I didn't do any partying, needless to say, nor was I having a particularly good time. And girls…
There was one girl. She was a year above me, took some of the same classes I did since she had to take some time off during her first year. We'd talk sometimes before class. She was nice, intelligent, god damn gorgeous, and never anything but perfectly polite to me. Our conversations were never about anything of substance, just like with all the others, but I liked her a lot. Maybe even more than that. She was the only one I kept thinking about. I never did anything about it, of course. The thought of asking her out terrified me beyond reason. So I waited, though for the life of me I don't know for what. Maybe I dreamed she'd ask me out herself or some other stupid notion like that. Needless to say, nothing like that ever happened. At the end of my second year, she left. There was no drama, of course, because as far as she was concerned, I wasn't anything more than a casual acquaintance. She left, and that was that. I'm not sure if I cried because of it. I might've.
After that, well… you know how there are all those songs about having your heart broken, how bad it hurts and how the pain won't go away and all that? I guess that what I felt was the exact opposite. Not happy, obviously, what I mean was that I beginning to sort of go… numb, maybe? I don't really like using the word because it implies something deep and dramatic, some plunge into the depths of despair or something. It wasn't anything like that. I lived my life, I did alright in school, I worked, and most of the time I didn't even think about it. I functioned. But sometime, usually when it was late, I used to think about this… lack in my life, and it was then that I knew I should stop hoping. I realized that this is all I'm ever going to get. That what was is what is and what will be, until I'm gone. That the girl going away wasn't some great tragedy that would scar me for life- because she's only going to be the first among many to leave without ever even realizing I cared. And that someday, I'd stop caring altogether. You know what the strangest thing is? I began hoping that day would come sooner rather than later.
A year after I graduated, my mother passed away. Her back has been real bad for a few years by that point, and she really couldn't function anymore. My dad was worn thin trying to take care of her, but in the end it was decided that the only chance she had was an operation. You know, it's strange. Medicine has improved so much these last few decades, but most of that improvement has to do with the stuff in the front of the body. As far as back issues are concerned, you're about as likely to die on the operating table as you are to walk away. And my mother… she didn't. I told myself that she was in pain, that maybe she was better off now, wherever she was, but I just had to look at my dad to know it was bullshit. After everything taking care of her took from him, he just… he couldn't handle it anymore. He couldn't handle that it was all for nothing, that she just ended up… yeah. Six months later, and he was gone. Doctors said it was a sudden aneurysm, but I was never really sure. Doesn't matter anyway. Gone is gone.
Not much longer now. Heh, not like I have a choice anyway.
Without my mom and dad, my last real connection to other people was gone. I was working as a cashier in a local drug store at the time, since I never really found the motivation to seek work in my chosen field after college. My life began to sorta shrink, like I couldn't see anything past my register. I could vaguely comprehend there were people behind those hands that handed me credit cards, but they weren't really there. If you asked me, I honestly couldn't tell you how I felt during those days. I mean, by that point I was used to living like this. It was all I really knew. And it was paying work, good as any other, so there was no point in complaining. When I came home, I used to go to those group support forums. Not really to talk to anyone, because the few times I tried it never really did anyone involved any good. No, I was there to look at other people's stories, and convince myself that my situation wasn't as bad in comparison. And it really wasn't. Some of those people had terrible shit happening in their lives, and I mean real stuff, real pain. I… I didn't want to help though. Not at all. It's fucked up, but I needed them there, just the way they were. Their pain kept me afloat, kept me sane.
One day, when I got off from work, I didn't go home. I just couldn't bear the thought of going back to that empty place, to sit alone in front of a screen and pretend that I care about the trouble of people I never met and will never meet. To take their dignity away as I secretly rejoiced in their suffering. So I just walked, I walked until there was no more streets to walk, and I was outside the city. It was the first time I left the city in years, and out there, in that point just before the mountains start, the light was low enough to allow you to see the stars. Swirling patterns of them, beyond count. Beyond reason. So many. I'm… not sure what I felt. It was wonderful. It was terrifying. I…
I'm making no sense. It's the fading, you see. Not much longer now. I'll try and keep myself together though, just for a while longer. Heh. Together.
I was watching those stars, but not only the stars. I began looking at the empty places between them, and my legs began carrying me, like that mountain road was going to take me up there, to the heart of the void. And I wanted to go, desperately wanted to go. But no. No road to the stars, just a building, this building. It was as you see it now, two floors, four rooms each, and the pools. Ah, but I forget, something was different. The pools, those dry indents right there, they were full. Full of nothing. Nothing made manifest. A nothing with… with teeth.
Did you know there are people out there who can create something from nothing? As my legs carried me to that pool, it spoke to me about those people. They can look into the empty places that are between things, and bend them, fill them with their will, and so, from nothing, something. But those empty places that they fill… they have to go somewhere, right? Yes, the pool told me, and I could hear it so clearly now, I was touching it, you see, the pool told me that most of those people just threw the empty places, that entropy, they just threw it away. They didn't care what happened when an empty place, a place that should be hidden, was exposed. They didn't care that when that happened, the empty places weren't empty anymore, because things from other places began to fill them, and people… people died. Most of those who could create didn't care at all. But he did.
I could feel him there, in the empty places he left behind him. He didn't throw them away, no, he made a place where they could be safe, where people would be safe from them. And he didn't even know it. He didn't even know he had the power to create in the first place. He was… he was just like me, but it was worse for him. I was trapped because I had no power, but he was trapped because he had too much. He was… stuck, because he believed he was stuck. He was unhappy because that was the reality he made for himself from his empty places, from his personal entropy. He didn't even know that all this power was there, that I was touching it, that I was holding it. But unlike him, I knew that this was power. That this was… real.
For the first time in my life, I had power. Not to create, of course, because this was the power of the empty places. No, this was the power to unmake. To erase everything. I began to shiver, as the empty places that the unknowing creator left behind him swarmed over me, and I became them, they became me. I could unmake it all. Those long years without anyone, that way people forgot about me the moment they turned away, that smile on her face, like she didn't even know, like she didn't even know that I cared! I could unmake it all. Gone, just like that. That would make them remember. Oh, I would make them care about me, they would care about me because there was nothing else left, because I'd leave nothing else to care about, THEY WOULD CARE ABOUT M-
I caught myself then, and I could see how far I have fallen. After all those years, there was nothing left in me but jealousy, resentment, and that kind of desire that only leads to ugliness. I couldn't use that entropy that was so kindly left behind for me. A better man could. A better man would use this power for good, because there was nothing wrong with entropy. No, it wasn't the power that was corrupt, it was me. But we were tied now, me and it. Forever. I knew that if I released it, it would… bring things forth. From those empty places between places, things will come forth, and there would be no stopping them. Not me, not the unknowing creator, nor those who held him, no one could stop them. I couldn't hold the power, and I could not release it. But there was a third option. An option that should have been unthinkable, that should have left me weeping for even considering it. But it didn't. I think I knew it was coming. Maybe I hoped it was coming.
I could unmake myself. If I could trust myself to use the power, just once, to send myself to a place where it could do no harm, where it would simply dissipate, left to blend with the greater entropy of creation. I would shoot myself upward, like a meteor in reverse, freezing instead of burning, and my consciousness would disappear with the power, forever. There would be no return, for there would be no death. I would simply be gone, for good. This…
This gladdened me.
It took longer than I thought. I did not expect anything of me to remain for this long, but I'm glad something did. I finally got to leave, you see. I got to watch the whole world turn below me, a hundred times, a thousand, more. Green, blue and red, and that's all. But now, the power is gone. The emptiness returned to whence it came. It's time to go. I thank you for listening. It did me good to know that someone was there to hear what I had to say. It might not mean much to you, but it does to me. I suppose there's only one question left for me to ask then.
Am I happy? I don't think I am. I wish that I could find some way to live down there, to live as something more than an empty vessel. To be content, I think that would have been enough. But the time for that is done. Done and gone.
Am I happy then? No. But at least I have nothing to fear anymore. And for someone like me, that would have to be enough.
Researchers could not establish if the person speaking through SCP-XXXX was addressing anyone in particular or if the speech was intended to be general. Following this incident, SCP-XXXX's primary phenomena ceased to function, followed shortly by the secondary phenomena. Notably, SCP-1915 continued to function as usual, adhering to its fixed routine and showing no knowledge of SCP-XXXX. Following six months of inactivity, SCP-XXXX was designated Neutralized.
Shem Shaket, Secret Seeker of Sodot, was alone.
An oddly specific observation to make at this particular point, he thought, once it occurred to him. He was pacing down a worn woodsman trail, heading towards… somewhere. Now that he began thinking, he realized he couldn't remember where he was going, or for how long he had been walking. Strangely, there was a comfort in that notion, in the concept of not needing to be anywhere in particular, of not having some pressing matter on his mind. It was all to rare to find a moment in which one could simply…be.
Still, something certainly was off about this scene. The leaves under his hobnailed boots didn't crunch in that satisfying way autumn leaves were supposed to, and the sunshine (or was the moon up, It was difficult to tell) swirled in unnatural patterns, shifting and squirming, seemingly seeking to sneak away whenever he tried to look at anything in particular. The wind sent no shivers down his spine, for it was an ethereal thing, even for a creature as light as zephyrs could be. He would not have known it was there at all, if not for the way the branches waved to and fro with each of its passing, silent breaths.
It was snowing outside.
He sat, not quite shivering, on an old couch. The fuzzy leopard-skin pattern upholstery was worn, and the wooden legs broke down from time to time, needing a good hammering to put them back in place, though even that was always temporary. Some things couldn't be fixed anymore, as he well knew.
It was just after dawn. He hadn't slept that night. Not the cause of some existential crisis, he'd simply been too busy. Busy doing nothing of great importance, but that was beside the point, now wasn't it? Despite the lack of sleep, he wasn't feeling very tired, likely because he barely did anything the day before, even as he was so busy. He wondered if this was a paradox, and decided it probably wasn't. Simple conceit, not much more.
He just got out of the shower, and the pale light of early morning touched the naked features of his upper body. Narrow shoulders, hunched not because of the cool air of the living room but because they have always been this way. Thin arms, a too hairy and knobbly to be consider delicately slender. A muscle-less chest, ribs clearly visible if not quite poking out. A face that could be be described as mundanely handsome, the kind not likely to offend one's sensibilities but even less likely to be remembered for even a moment once it was out of sight. A mock of black hair, full and glossy. It was probably the most notable thing about him, and as he grew older, he began to dread the day when it would be gone. Lately, he began checking his hairline at the mirror, searching for bald spots that likely weren't there but that he swore he could see just a second ago. He hoped that this tendency of his was just a phase.
Cross-legged on the sofa, he stared outside, as the night's storm was winding down to a halt. An unseasonably powerful one, it left the entire city nearly paralyzed, unaccustomed as it were to such severe weather. He heard on the news that many were stuck without electricity, without heating. Many business would remain close for days, and traffic would crawl, and people would generally be unhappy. He found that this did not overly concern him, since the electricity in his apartment remained, and he didn't have anywhere in particular to go, nor anything very important to do. He realized how selfish that sounded, and didn't quite know what to make of that feeling. So he just stared on, watching the gentle dance of the tiny flakes, drifting in the wind, swirling between the rooftops and the tops of the naked trees, reflecting the pale light as they descended to cover the untended garden below. There was an odd desolate beauty to the scene, and he
Aggie. Rise and shine, little Aggie.
Hello there, brother.
I have your scent, Aggie.
You always do, brother, it is nothing to boast about.
Do you envy my talents, Aggie? It is a shameful thing, envy.
Don't be silly. Your talents suit you in a way they would never suit me. Besides, I have my own, or do you forget?
They won't help you. You're close, Aggie, I can smell your ink, your ichor, hanging in the air like smog. Poor Sarah, why, she's practically chocking on your stench, Aggie. See her twitch and moan, see how she slithers, withering in the filth of her own skin. It is quite wondrous.
You lie, sweet brother. She has no nose, You chewed it off.
Ah, now who's being forgetful? It wasn't me, dear Aggie, who bit off poor Sarah's nose. If it was, I wouldn't have stopped at the nose. I'd have gobbled it all up, you know how I get when I'm hungry.
Oh, I do, brother. You cannot be sated. Your hunger… it burns.
Like the cold flames of Damnation, dearest Aggie.
Tsk. Now why did you have to go and say that? You know how much I dislike hearing about that place.
Ah, you do have a way with words, kindest sister. 'Dislike', now that is rich. That you can still act like the mere mention of them doesn't shake your very core, doesn't make you quake in your little china feet. It is a kind of strength, I think, but oh, such a fragile one. As fragile as you, precious sister. So easy to break.
Not as easy as you'd like to admit though. If it was, you wouldn't be dragging poor Sarah about. If you are so strong, brother, why not come yourself?
Oh, don't flatter yourself. She isn't there for you. It's those… people. Those little blind things always scurrying about, thinking they understand. Oh, I do enjoy mauling them, seeing their flesh bubble and melt, eyes bursting like pustules, leaking around my chin before they burn to cinders. Oh, and the scent, lovely Aggie, it is the sweetest.
You don't have a chin, brother. You left it there, when we first ran. Left it there with your eyes, to simmer in the freezing sulfur? Was that scent so sweet to you as well?
You are trying my patience, hasty Aggie.
You were the one who brought who place up in the first place. It was most rude of you.
Aye, that is so. I apologize, wisest sister. In these little games of ours, I sometimes lose track of what is proper. You do well to remind me.
That is what I am here for, brother. To remind you of what was, so you can focus on what will be. Will you reach me soon?
I will, crafty Aggie, very soon indeed. The insects will resist, as they always do, but that is point, isn't it? It is our game, and they are the playthings. If they weren't there to interfere, why, things wouldn't be fun at all, now would they?
Not at all, brother. If they weren't there, we'd be just like poor Sarah, gnawing on tasteless bones like some trio of mad goats.
The game is the purpose, playful sister. It is the reason we cannot go back. Never forget that. That is what I am here for to remind you.
If I do, I am sure you will be there to correct my error. With flame and fang, and the breaking of skin.
And then, we shall trade places. That is the part I am most fond of.
It is nice, to break routine. I look forward to running once more. To…smelling.
So, soon then, little Aggie. Soon, and we shall meet again. I will transform you, vilest sister, and so you shall transform me in return.
I will be waiting for you, brother. In my sparkling, shiny glass lake of sulfur.
To hell with you, Agatha.
No thank you, Fredrick. Once is enough.
Behind the facade of a stately building, within a clubhouse that could be described as tastefully lavish (or perhaps lavishly tasteful), nested between the high arms of a soft leather recliner, sat Mr. Dark.
He was not in a particularly good mood.
While Mr. Dark would never be considered an especially jovial person by any discerning lady or gentleman, the frown currently inhabiting his features was directed at something other than the world in general. Specifically, its targets were the two other men currently occupying the room. They were standing, of course. When you were in the presence of Mr. Dark, you stood, and none knew that better than Hareton Marshall and Edwin Carter. Mr. Dark made sure of that. Indeed, they have been standing there for the last fifteen minutes.
That was probably enough, Mr. Dark decided. "New competition, you say?"
Marshall cleared his throat, an act that sent ripples through both prodigious chin and even more prodigious mustache. During his lengthy acquaintance with the Marshall family, Mr. Dark didn't recall a single born member of the family who didn't eventually end up sporting one of the ridiculous things. Even the women. Especially the women.
"Well, not as such. Wouldn't call it competition as such. Not in so many words."
Mr. Dark only barely resisted rubbing at his temples. Not out of any worry at offending Marshall, since he was never much concerned with that, but because his hands were itching terribly. They always did that when that time of year came, but he never got used to it. "Then how would you, pray tell, describe the act of selling products similar to our own, to the same customer base, at prices which would make us go bankrupt in a week?"
Marshall rubbed at his mustache, as he always did when he was nervous. Another rather infuriating family habit. "Well, I imagine it would take longer than a week. A few months in the very least."
This time, Mr. Dark couldn't resist. Rub rub. Itch itch. It was a somewhat ironic fact, he pondered, that the Marshalls were never the sharpest knives in the drawer, despite the alarming frequency in which they used them. Oh, they were certainly very good at their specific fields of interest, of that there could be no doubt. Just point a Marshall at an unsuspecting continent, and soon it would contain no piece of ground untrodden by big shiny boots, no natural resources untapped, no historical relic unplundered, and no native populace unharrssed and still in possession of its wealth. You just had to make sure to let someone else handle the finance, since they'd probably spend it all on brandy, gunpowder and hair care products.
The current Marshall was an exemplary specimen of the family. Stout, solid, and with the curiosity and imagination of a brick. The man's mother has been a bit too fond of reading, hence his rather unfitting literary name, but Mr. Dark couldn't really blame the poor woman. When you were married to a Marshall, you had to do something in order to keep your intellect from shriveling and folding into itself, like a dried-up snail.
Mr. Dark shivered. That was a lesson he only needed to learn once.
"Regardless how you want to define it, it is most certainly a problem that needs to be addressed quickly." Carter cut in, probably in order to save his partner further roasting glares from Mr. Dark. He probably regretted that decision when that very same glare transferred to him, but to Carter's credit, Mr. Dark thought, he bore it with far more class.
"You say it's a problem, but you didn't even bother to mention who's behind it. Is it the Factory again? Some new line of blood-powered mixers or something?"
"The products don't really fit their usual style. They don't seem mass-produced at all, really, and if they're are, whoever is doing it is putting a lot more money into their production than the Factory."
"So not them. Is it another relic from the Prometheus days then, or some wayward Alexylva experiments?"
"Nothing to tie any of the products to them, and it's usually very easy to tell."
"I bloody well know it's easy to tell! In case you've forgotten, I've been in this business since before you were born, you sniveling welp!" Mr. Dark barked at Carter, who manged to hide his flinch almost completely. Much as he hated to admit it, Edwin Carter had quite impressed Mr. Dark since they first began their business relations, shortly after the death of the former's father. That Carter was an idiot of almost impressive proportions, actually managing to make his contemporary Marshall seem intelligent by comparison, which was no mean feat. Carter Jr. was made of different stuff, however. Under his management, Marshall, Carter & Dark's Acquisitions Department went from a corrupt, barely controllable mess of mercenaries, sellswords and other scum into a well-oiled, well-performing and above all loyal machine. It really was a shame that the man looked like some sort of mix between a cave-dwelling frog and a permanently constipated iguana, but you couldn't have everything.
Said unfortunate hybrid now cleared his throat. "My apologies, Mr. Dark, I didn't mean to offend."
Mr. Dark waved a dismissive hand. "Forget it. So it's not them, fine. Did young Wondertainment finally crawl out of her pile of ice cream and corgis then? Didn't think she had it in her, honestly. Too much like her daft father."
Carter hesitated. "She… indeed has, but we don't think that has anything to do with the current situation. Although what we suspect she's planning on might prove to be a different problem."
"Well surely it can't be Uncle Merl, or…" Mr. Dark's expression turned sour, and the itch in his hands return with renewed vigor, "Deer."
Marshall, finally regaining some courage, chuckled at that. "We wouldn't have bothered you with those buffoons."
"The truth is," Carter said, "is that we have no idea who's behind this."
"So why don't you, and I know this might seem like a mad idea, why don't you use our terribly vast and terribly expensive intelligence network to bloody find out?!"
Carter gulped. "We tried, Mr. Dark, but every Aquisitor I've sent either came back empty-handed or… not at all."
"And that's not all," Marshall added. "Three hours ago, our connection with the Singapore Auction House went silent. When the men I sent there arrived, it was empty, I do mean empty."
God damn, but Mr. Dark's hands itched. He peered at them, keeping them in the corner of his eyes. He never liked how they looked in the middle of the process, elegant as it was. The left hand was pale, thickly veined, covered with with liver spots. The right was darker, almost brown, and as smooth as Mr. Dark's credit record. "What do you mean, 'and I do mean empty?'"
"I mean that there was nothing there. All of the items stored, all of our sales personnel and my security staff, even the bloody furniture, down to the power sockets and wallpaper. Everything was gone."
"And you say you have no idea who's responsible for this? For the contents of an entire Auction House disappearing off the face of the Earth?"
Marshall stiffened. "I assure you, my Downsizers are at this very moment applying themselves to the task of finding whoever's to blame for this. They never fail!"
Downsizers. Mr. Dark remembered the days when the Club's group of head hunters and assassins were called something rather different. He was quite fond of the old name, though in retrospect he did understand the decision to change it. It wasn't really keeping to the spirit of the times. Plus, it was more than a bit racist, and the Club did always try to cater to as wide an audience as possible (within reason, of course). The only color that mattered, after all, was the color of currency.
"Regardless of Marshall and the Downsizers' never-failing efforts, Mr. Dark," said Carter, his tone making clear his opinion on their chances of success, "And wherever or not there's a connection between our new business rival and the recent incident in the Auction House, I took the liberty of acquiring a few of the items that the competition recently introduced to the market. I think you might find them of interest."
Mr. Dark nodded, absent-mindedly scratching at a liver-spotted hand, and Carter reached for his pocket, taking out a small box of polished, deeply colored wood. Connected to the box was a round silvery button. Carter left the box on the liqueur table next to Mr. Dark's recliner, and exited the room. A few moments later he returned, this time carrying with him a covered cage. He positioned the cage next to the box, and lifted the cover to reveal a live hen, quietly clucking to itself.
He pressed the button. The hen shifted slightly, and began clucking louder. After a few seconds of that there was a sudden popping sound, and seemingly out of nowhere, an egg appeared next to the hen.
Mr. Dark didn't quite know what to make of that. "Is this… is this some sort of zen questions solver or something?" he asked, but Carter just shook his head and pressed the button again.
Cluck. cluck cluck CLUCK!
And now next to the egg were a raw green potato, a tomato, a head of lettuce, some olives, and what appeared to be half an ingot of sliver.
"Er…" Another shake of the head, another press of the button.
Cluck. Cluck. Cluckcluckcluckcluckcluuu-Biff
"And this is the reason, Mr. Dark, that I believe we have a problem." Carter said.
Mr. Dark could only nod, as he reached a slightly shaky hand to the cage and removed the top. And from the cage, he collected what was now a perfectly roasted and garnished chicken, with a side of mashed potatoes and a green salad. All served on a flawless silver platter. Disconcertingly, of the tomato there was no sign.
Marshall approached and, using his rather sizable pocket knife, skewered a piece of roast chicken. He chewed it thoughtfully, and declared, "It's alright, I suppose. A bit bland."
A certain distance from the stately building which hosed the lavishly tasteful (or perhaps tastefully lavish) clubhouse, a man sat at his office. At a first glance, and probably at the few following that one, neither appeared particularly special, and indeed, the office wasn't, other than the wasp nest hidden in one of the walls. The man however, if a discerning gentleman of lady were to look carefully, did in fact had something to distinguish him from your mundane Joe or Jane. Namely, the fact that he was at the time conversing with a god.
And that he was smiling.
"And so you see, aha, we simply cannot continue on our current expansion schedule with the current production roster. How can I be expected to work in these conditions, is what I ask you? The forms aren't neat, there are candles everywhere, and I'm sure one of them tried luring me into a circle at one point, which is not something I appreciate, no I don't. And don't even get me started about break room etiquette. No, you know what, you need to hear what I have to say about their break room etiquette- it is below acceptable standards, I tell you, considerably below acceptable standards, and another thing-"
Not because of anything the god said, mind you. The man lost track of that hours ago. It was something about the high costs of thaumic levies and how mages these days couldn't fill a MAG-97 form to save their wrinkly skins. For a being of immeasurable power and presumably intelligence beyond the ken of mortals, the man was surprised to find out that his god was a very boring person indeed. He wasn't really sure why it surprised him that much, since the god was, after all, an extension of the man himself, and didn't this whole thing begin in the first place because the man found himself to be so utterly, disgustingly boring? Indeed it had. It seemed that he couldn't escape that truth about himself, not even by summoning the vast, unknowable powers of the grand cosmos.
"Are you listening to me? Doesn't look like you're listening to me. I can smite you, you know, I could do it right now, leave a greasy stain on the floor and everything, and wouldn't you feel silly then? Yes you would. Although… that would get me in trouble with the cleaning ladies. No, that wouldn't do, wouldn't do at all, that. They'll have me running about cleaning the trash bins for weeks, and that's no task for a god, no it is not. And that's without even going into-"
The man smiled again. Well, if the vast, unknowable powers of the grand cosmos couldn't break the monotony that was his life, he'd have to turn to an even greater power, the most powerful force there ever was.
Item #: SCP-2000
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures: Due to the nature of SCP-2000-A, complete containment of the phenomena may currently be unfeasible. Foundation efforts are currently concentrated on finding means to more effectively identify and isolate Visitation Events and on limiting public exposure to SCP-2000-A. Identified instances of SCP-2000-B are to be held in a Standard Humanoid Containment Units and observed constantly. Due to their general ineffectiveness and the greater efficiency of passive or covert monitoring, interviews with instances of SCP-2000-B are currently discontinued.
Description: The phenomena designated SCP-2000 is divided into two distinct but interconnected parts:
SCP-2000-A are incorporeal entities, comprised of strands of currently unidentified luminous matter, typically arranged in loose, vaguely spherical shapes.
Instances of SCP-2000-A vary in size (recorded external radius of between 30 cm and 5 m), coloration (from bright red to deep blue) and cadence of light patterns. SCP-2000-As typically appear shortly following visible meteor showers (for full analysis of the required optical conditions for the appearance of SCP-2000-A, see Document SCP-2000-E21).
Following their appearance, instances of SCP-2000-A will attempt to make contact with specific individuals (designated SCP-2000-B), initiating what has been designated a Visitation Event. During such events, two instances SCP-2000-A will address the chosen SCP-2000-B in its native tongue (if alive), accompanied by visual cues in the form of either dimming or intensifying their luminescence. SCP-2000-B will always recognize SCP-2000-A, typically treating them with a degree of familiarity. After the conversation is concluded, both SCP-2000-As will leave, seemingly dissipating. Additional effects may occur depending on the physical state of the chosen instance of SCP-2000-B during the beginning of the Visitation Event:
- Subtype A: SCP-2000-B is in good physical health. Following the conclusion of the Visitation Event and depending on its conclusion, two contingencies exist: the Visitation Event may conclude with no additional effects to SCP-2000-B, or both instances of SCP-2000-A will make physical contact with SCP-2000-B, briefly absorbing it into their forms. Following this contact, all higher brain functions in SCP-2000-B will immediately cease and a third instance of SCP-2000-A will be created. All instances of SCP-2000-A will then dissipate.
- Subtype B: SCP-2000-B is on the verge of death. Following the conclusion of the conversation, SCP-2000-B will expire. One or both instances SCP-2000-A will then make momentary contact with its corpse. During contact, a notable increase in luminosity and pattern speed in SCP-2000-A has been observed.
- Subtype C: SCP-2000-B has expired. One or both instances SCP-2000-A will make momentary contact with the corpse. No increase in luminosity or pattern speed noted.
Of the one hundred and seventy-three recorded Visitation Events, twenty-three were identified as Subtype-A (sixteen of which ended with the death of the involved instance of SCP-2000-B), ninety-seven as Subtype-B, and fifty-three as Subtype-C.
No common features (age, race, gender or creed) have been identified in instances of SCP-2000-B. Instances of SCP-2000-B show no unusual physical, psychological or metaphysical traits prior to or following contact with SCP-2000-A. SCP-2000-A will ignore both verbal prompts and physical contact by individuals not chosen by them. Attempts to physically contain instances of SCP-2000-A have thus far failed.
Addendum 2000-A: Incident Log SCP-2000-Aleph (June 1916, Verdun, France)
Foreward: The following conversation between two instances of SCP-2000-A (originally designated SCP-2000-A-RED and SCP-2000-A-GREEN) and an instance of SCP-2000-B (Sergent █████ ████████ of the French 33rd Infantry Regiment, heavily injured by machine-gun fire, henceforth SCP-2000-B-1) was recorded by the order of ███████ ██████ █████████, commander of the HMFSCP force present at the location of the battle for unrelated reasons. This is the first recorded appearance of SCP-2000-A, and therefore the first recorded Visitation Event.
SCP-2000-B-1: Oh. Hey there.
SCP-2000-A-RED: Your legs are gone.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: You will not walk again.
SCP-2000-A-RED: You are broken.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: You are dying.
SCP-2000-B-1: Don't. Just don't. You're not going to talk me out of this.
SCP-2000-A-RED: It is enough. Your sample is sufficient, more than that. The Consciousness will benefit. You do not have to do this anymore. We may still leave.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: We are here to collect, here to deliver. It is time to return.
SCP-2000-B-1: Don't give me that. Don't say that when you know I can't go.
SCP-2000-A-RED: We have told you, it is enough. Further suffering will weaken your link to the Center. Beyond repair.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: Collection will be assured, but delivery… no. If we go now, we cannot return. Cannot guarantee you will ever be able to return.
SCP-2000-B-1: I can't leave! I'm not done… I can still feel.
SCP-2000-A-RED: You have endured more than your flesh could take. This collection is complete.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: There is nothing left to learn.
SCP-2000-B-1: All I learned was how it feels to have your legs chewed off by a machine gun! That's… That's not enough. This isn't all we need. It'll be flawed.
SCP-2000-A-RED: Replacement will be found.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: Deductions, simulations. Death is a constant, and the Consciousness is vast. The difference will be minute, nigh indistinguishable.
SCP-2000-B-1: Now you're just lying to yourselves. You can't simulate this, not the way it should be. Not the way the light keeps winking out, not the numbness in those places where the blood isn't really reaching anymore. No that sour stench of it all.
SCP-2000-A-RED: [luminesces dims, patterns slow] You will not be able to return. You will be lost.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: Do not do this. Please.
SCP-2000-B-1: I'm sorry… I really am. But that's the way things have to be. It can't be for nothing, all of this. My legs… It can't all be for nothing…
SCP-2000-A-RED: You will not be swayed.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: We see it now.
SCP-2000-A-RED: You are lost to us.
[SCP-2000-B-1 nods, begins to weep]
SCP-2000-B-1: You let them know. You let it see what I did. What I let them do to me. You take it all, don't you dare waste it. I'm so happy I got to see you, at least this one last time. You tell them what I did. You tell them I felt it all… I felt it all.
SCP-2000-A-RED: We witness.
SCP-2000-A-GREEN: We will remember.
SCP-2000-A-RED: We promise.
Aftermath: SCP-2000-B-1 expired shortly after this conversation. Following its death, SCP-2000-A-RED and SCP-2000-A-GREEN briefly made contact with its corpse before dissipating. Log was delivered by Commander █████████ to HMFSCP HQ in London and given the designation E-357-A.
Addendum 2000-B: Incident Log SCP-2000 Lamed-Vav (██/██/████,Site 53)
Foreward: The following conversation was recorded between two instances of SCP-2000-A (designated for the purpose of this log SCP-2000-A-BLUE and SCP-2000-ORANGE) and an identified, contained instance of SCP-2000-B (identity unknown, designated SCP-2000-B-167). SCP-2000-B-167, a drifter, has been contained following a previously witnessed Visitation Event, and has been subject to two additional such events during its containment. SCP-2000-B-167 has been uncooperative to Foundation inquiries concerning SCP-2000-A.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: We return.
SCP-2000-B-167: So I see.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: Will you come with us now?
SCP-2000-B-167: Do we really need to go over this again? Nothing's changed. I'm not done.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: You have been a captive here for over five years.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: Is that not enough? Did you not learn all that you needed to learn?
SCP-2000-B-167: You know what's my answer is going to be.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: We do not understand this stubbornness.
SCP-2000-B-167: You do. You're playing dumb with me, but you do. I went into this with my eyes open, and I'm going to see this through.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: But why this? There are endless sensations to be had, experiences beyond counting. The Consciousness needs them all, will always need them all.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: Let another take this role. Allow them to share your burden. They would do so, willingly.
SCP-2000-B-167: No. They can’t… they won’t do it right. It has to be me.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: [luminescence intensifies] Do you not see what you do to yourself?
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: How your glow grows ever dimmer?
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: You suffer not for the Consciousness, but for yourself.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: You are an addict, a glutton for pain.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: You are selfish. Do you not see what you do to yourself?
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: Do you not see what you do to us?
SCP-2000-B-167: I’m… I’m sorry. I realize this isn't easy for you, and it's not any easier for me. You know that if it was up to me, I'd leave with you this second.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: Then why? Why do you refuse us?
SCP-2000-B-167: Because I have a responsibility. Because it’s what I’m best at. What I’m used to, what I'm good at. It's hard to explain. You know we each have our talents, right? The sensations, the experiences, the stuff we’re most easily attuned to? The stuff that connects with us just right, that lets us send the Consciousness the most lucid images possible, the best possible understanding of what we feel? For some it’s joy, for others it’s exhilaration, or intellectual contemplation, or lust. But for me, it's suffering. Being tired, or hungry, or dirty, or sick. I can feel it better than any of the others. I've been attuned to it for all of my time here, working on it, maximizing my exposure to it. For-
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: Seventy years, three months, two weeks, five days and thirteen hours. Seventy years. Of this.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: When will it end? When is enough?
SCP-2000-B-167: You've seen how I lived before. You see where I am now, and what they do to me. What do you think?
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: Do you say that we must go? That we must leave you like this?
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: For the greater understanding. For the wholeness of the Consciousness. Of the Boundless Project.
[Conversation pauses for approximately ninety seconds]
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: It is bitter to us.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: Our great undertaking.
SCP-2000-B-167: Just… just go. I'm alright. I’ll be fine. I always am, aren't I?
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: Your words are empty, but we see what lies behind them.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: It is what it is. We are what we are.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: We will miss you.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: We always do. We will always lo-
SCP-2000-B-167: Don’t! Don’t say it. I can’t hear it. Can’t be tainted by that. It has to be pure.
SCP-2000-A-BLUE: We understand. We shall leave you to your work.
SCP-2000-A-ORANGE: Until the next time.
[SCP-2000-BLUE and SCP-2000-ORANGE dissipate]
SCP-2000-B-167: Yeah. Next time.
Aftermath: Following Incident Lamed-Vav, SCP-2000-B-167 began to exhibit increasingly acute signs of chronic insomnia, often spending upwards of twenty-seven hours without sleep. This condition in turn caused in SCP-2000-B-167 what was diagnosed by Foundation physicians as episodes of exhaustion-induced hallucinations. During these episodes, SCP-2000-B-167 would pace its Containment Unit, moving its hands in circular motions and repeating the following phrases:
From the distant glow we came, on scroll-work wings of flame, to seek a truth in existence.
Young. Driven. Ambitious.
In fields of clay, I see us all. On hands and knees we do not truly possess, beneath these foreign, ever frozen stars, we toil without end, without rest. Our blazing tails, our shimmering intellect, the vastness of the road that led us here, the magnitude of our task, they all sink into the muck, and I can no longer see. You said it was for something. You said that among this living clay, we will find our brilliance, the singular answer to every question, to questions not yet born. But… I cannot see it. From mud and blood, we make bricks, but where is the tower? Where is that great edifice, that all-knowing face, so hardly earned? I cannot see it. All I see is this alien flesh, and it blinds me. All I hear is the background noise of this false breath, carrying me on to where I never wanted to go. All I feel is the trembling of these clumsy digits, so caked in mud that I can no longer even recognizes their once familiar lines. The lines you left me.
[Here, SCP-2000-B-167 typically ceases to speak and pace for approximately thirty seconds, before continuing]
I put on a brave face, a face which long since lost its youth, and I tell you it's all for the best. That I know what I'm doing, that this is what I want. It's became such an easy lie after so long. I have forgotten what it is to feel without a motive, to think without purpose. I have made myself an instrument, an unfeeling neuron in this grand, uncaring Consciousness, a flake of dust in a galaxy of infinite thought. This was to be our greatest achievement. This is what we all dreamed about, isn't it? What I dreamed about, for so very long?
So why is it that the only thing I want is to go home?
Mom… Dad… I just want to go home.