qntm's drafts

Warning! These drafts contain potentially limitless spoilers.

Another warning! Although these drafts contain potentially limitless spoilers, nothing is real until it's published on the main wiki.


Ojai

Foundation Agent George Barsin is monolithic: nearly two metres tall and rectangular-shouldered, like a Bruce Timm cartoon. He wears a dark, tailored suit — there are few which will fit him off the rack — and sports an expansive, neatly-maintained beard. His beard is rather larger and more elaborate than the terms of his Foundation employment strictly allow. But there's a wiggle room, a narrow gap between the hard text of the rules and what is actually enforced, for Foundationers who exceed their performance targets on a regular basis. He's a fine agent. Overdue for promotion, many would say.

Barsin arrives at the Green house in a rental car, first thing after dawn, six o'clock. The house is off a spur of a spur of the main highway north out of Ojai. There's a half-acre of ill-maintained land, with scattered trees and bushes and dry grass. The house itself is not visible from the road. There's a long, curving driveway which leads up there.

Although there is no wall or front gate or fence to speak of, there clearly is something encircling the property, something which makes contemplating going "in" "there", turning off that minor road and going up that curving driveway toward that house, somehow intrinsically more intimidating a prospect than ignoring it and turning back toward Ojai. There is a field. Barsin senses it, but it was in the briefing, so it doesn't surprise him. He deflects the sensation as best he can and drives right up there.

Barsin is part of the Foundation's Anomalous Religious Expressions Division. They do cults.

"Green" is not the real name of the cult which Barsin is here to confront, but a codename. Barsin doesn't know the real name. At the briefing last night, it was explained that there are legitimate security reasons to use codenames instead of true names here, but those reasons were not explained. Barsin, no fool, took this to mean that there is some form of cognitohazard surrounding the true names. Or a memory-clouding phenomenon which makes them impossible to record. Or — and he's dealt with Foundation research staff for far too many years to not consider this — somebody just straight-up forgot to record the real names, and is trying to cover for themselves.

He parks a few car lengths away from the house, turning the vehicle around first, out of habit. He gets out and takes a long, appraising look at the house before approaching it.

The house is an ugly white sprawl. One storey, wood construction, no two windows alike in design… decaying. There are piles of junk, lumber, rusted vehicle components, drums of filthy green water. Willow and sycamore trees are encroaching from two-and-a-half sides, drizzling leaves and seeds and miscellaneous biological gunk all over the roof, clogging the gutters. Through the windows, only closed curtains and blinds are visible. The front door is standing ajar.

As Barsin gets closer he spots something mounted above the front door, a cluster of irregular grey lumps, about as big as fists. They are dark and smooth, with blotches of a fuzzy grey-white mould growing across them. Barsin stops moving as soon as he spots them, and watches them for a disquieted moment. They are clearly organic in nature. They put him in mind of spider eggs, or huge, decrepit, blinded eyeballs.

Cautiously, Barsin ducks and proceeds into the house.

The entrance opens almost directly onto a large lounge/diner/kitchen area. The room is darkened, light mostly spilling from the entrance door — Barsin leaves it open — and feeling its way around the edges of the window coverings. There are more of the grey lumps here and there, filling the sink, bubbling out of one corner of the sofa and spilling onto the ground, lined up along the skirting board. Barsin avoids treading on any of them. The still air is like an oven, and it's extremely quiet except for the faint, animated sound of someone talking, away down the hall, words not entirely clear.

"— driven and, yeah, it's going to be red inside. When you're made to move, that's the part of your kwrlu dlth you'll drill into —"

Barsin goes down the hall, passing a wall decoration which was once a mirror but has been completely, and scruffily, spray-painted over in black.

After a brief search he finds the room. This door is closed, but the focused rambling is coming from inside:

"— at home, it's hell of easy. An easy two-part project for you to take away, and make sure alth amnth below. Part one: find someone weaker than you —"

Barsin knocks, loudly, twice.

The patter stops. Nothing else is heard for a moment. Barsin opens the door.

This room is as dark as the others, if not darker, its window blocked with a thick curtain. There's a computer desk in the corner opposite the door, about as cluttered as a desk can realistically get: strewn with hardware, USB keys, random key caps, chocolate wrappers, scraps of paper, ballpoint pens. There's a gaming mouse, unable to move for junk. A good-quality video camera setup, some monitors, dust. More of the grey things. And much more of the grey-white mould. Thick layers of it, coating the desk and part of one of the monitors.

There's a cheap, skeletal swivel chair in front of the main monitor and a young man of about twenty slouched uncomfortably in the chair. He has discoloured skin which Barsin thinks could be caused by malnutrition, but otherwise he looks robust enough — fed. He has what was at one point a tidy, fashionable haircut but is now in some disrepair, and when he turns around Barsin sees that he has dark rings around his eyes. He reeks. The room is filled with that odour, almost thick enough to see.

In the same way that the anomalous viral/religious phenomenon, the cult gathering around and above this young man like an anvil cloud, is named "Green", he himself is named "Red".

"Good morning," Barsin says. "We saw your streams."

The youth pulls his headphones down. "The fuck are you?"

"My name's George Barsin. I'm part of an organisation which— ah—"

Red launches out of his chair like a rabid ferret from a cage. He comes fist-first, losing the headphones. Barsin shifts his weight slightly to his left, leaning away from the punch. He catches Red's arm and pulls it forward, violently, deflecting the attack's momentum and bringing the youth teeth-first into the door frame. Red stumbles back, crouching. He finds his footing swiftly. Froth is developing at the corners of his mouth, mixing with blood. Scrabbling around the junk on the floor, among the things, he puts his hand on a soldering iron.

As Red comes forward again, Barsin wastes a critical split-second trying to trace the iron's cable, trying to figure out whether it's plugged in and hot or not. It's not, but that's enough distraction that Red gets right up there, driving the iron up into Barsin's gut with both hands. There's an electronic screech and a spark of orange light; the iron holes Barsin's shirt but skitters off his abdomen, opening a long tear. There's bare skin underneath. His shield is invisible, partly mythical, and protects his seemingly exposed head just as well as the rest of him.

Barsin takes Red in a headlock. Some haphazard kicking ensues, less well-choreographed. Red has a demon's energy behind him but Barsin has, to be blunt, arrived prepared. In a few more moves, Red is disarmed, stunned, flat on his back and good for nothing.

Barsin takes stock. The number of genuine, fight-for-your-life fights he's been in is still in single digits. This one ranks about in the middle. Fifteen seconds of activity; both of them made mistakes. A learning experience.

"Then I suppose we can dispense with the introductions," he says to Red. "The live streaming vector was novel. We hadn't seen that before. Very effective compared to the generic self-help-book-and-walled-compound model. You get one point for originality, out of ten. But we predicted it decades back and we had the containment procedures ready to go. As I speak, we're locking you out of your account. We're using your own channels to distribute inoculation codes."

He tries to tidy his shirt up. It's not going to work. Never mind.

"But you're the source," he says. "A simple inoculation code would glance off. Physical intervention is required."

He reaches inside his jacket — where he has a gun and a very good combat knife, both of which he elected to leave where they are for this confrontation — and produces a device not unlike an ophthalmologist's scope. He kneels, lifts Red's right eyelid and aims the scope into it, projecting a brilliant white spot of light which bathes the entire eye and causes it to lock open. Almost all of Red's musculature locks up as well, effectively pinning him to the floor. His teeth clench.

Barsin says to Red, "This man is innocent. Nobody can deserve what you've done to him. Release him and leave this reality forever."

Through gritted teeth, Red says, "Who. The fuck. Are you?"

"Alright." Barsin pushes another button, changing the projected light pattern from a pure white disc into a complex spiral star design in red and blue. There's a crack like ribs being forced apart. And the youth screams. It doesn't sound like Red. It's a full-body scream, anguished and hopeless and as loud as he's physically able to make it. It comes up from his belly and goes on, flat out, until he runs out of breath and gasps and does it again, arching his back and clawing at the floor. After the second full breath he cools down to a sobbing wail.

"Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, don't send me back. Please."

"I won't. It's okay."

"Don't send me back. I can't see. Who's there?"

"It's okay. You'll get your sight back. My name's George. What's yours?"

"There's a pit," the youth says, choking, "and it always gets worse. It doesn't stop. There's no bottom." He babbles incoherently for a moment, and then trails off. His eyes dance, blindly.

"You're in a really bad place right now," Barsin says.

The youth vehemently agrees.

"Something has gone wrong," Barsin explains. "And that thing, that horrific thing which went wrong, found you and took you away and replaced you. It's out here now, using your skin as a finger puppet, walking you around, making you talk. Replicating. That nightmare you're having is being had by a hundred thousand people right now. That's the bad news. The good news is that we caught you. And I can still see you in there. And there's good chance that we can get you out."

"A 'good chance'?" The youth breathes twice. "If you can't—" he begins urgently.

"Focus on the red and blue spiral," Barsin says. He still has the scope pointed into the youth's eye.

"I can't… I can't see anything."

"That's because you're not directly connected to this optic nerve anymore. But your mind is locked together with something which is. You can't see the spiral, but somehow you know what it looks like. You can sense its shape, like a pattern of heat on the back of your hand." Barsin's voice is becoming slower, taking on a hypnotic rhythm. "The spiral idea is going in. It's spreading and flourishing. Occupying more space. The more you think about it, the more you realise you can't think about anything else. You can't think about anything but the spiral."

The youth seems to have nothing to say to this. His breathing stabilises.

"Your thoughts are slowed. The spiral fills you up, recursively, like ice crystals, until you can't move. Your brain knows it's being poisoned. Even though you're blind, you feel a reflexive need to look away or block out what you're seeing. A long enough exposure is fatal."

There is a long, heavy pause, during which Barsin does nothing but shine poisonous light into the young man's eye, while studying that brightly illuminated eye himself, tracking the progress of the ocular response, waiting for a particular tell. It's not a clear-cut thing; there's a small amount of guesswork. He waits until he's sure. Finally, he releases the button on the scope, shutting it off.

The youth is now completely inert.

Barsin stands up, knees creaking. He picks up the tipped-over office chair and settles into it.

"You can think of this as memetic chemotherapy," Barsin says. He says it to himself, mostly, to fill dead air. The young man can only hear pink fuzz now. "The spiral symbol is an elementary cognitopoison. A long exposure is fatal. But a just barely non-fatal exposure is recoverable. You will recover from this poison, and Red cannot. You will survive and Red will die. Because you're an intelligent, creative human being, and Red is…"

He reflects on his briefing, and what he knows of the Green phenomenon, and the hundred thousand people suffering and raving inside it right now. He has seen some photographs of what takes place in households occupied by Green. He's heard a strictly limited amount of highly redacted audio.

Dispassionate people make better field decisions, that's the rule he was always taught. But remaining dispassionate is harder on some days than others.

"…a piece of shit."

Barsin relaxes into his monologue. It's not like anybody's listening. He pulls the curtains open. It's an obnoxiously sunny day, and the Sun is aimed right in through that window. The grey bulbs stir quietly in the light. He doesn't notice.

"Fact is, I didn't need to come here. There's more than one way to physically intervene when something like Red comes around. You know what the original plan was? Orbital laser cannon to the top of the head. We can do that, my man, from time to time. Your house would be a circle of scorched timber with you a burnt marshmallow at the middle of it. That's our latest methodology for dealing with virulent, singular-origin memetic anomalies. We do it at arm's length, at the longest possible distance, unblinkingly and unfeelingly, without getting even slightly personally involved in the details. It's brutal. Impersonal. Very expensive in orbital laser maintenance. We say to ourselves that it's effective. I can't say whether it is. I'm not at that level. I don't get to see the statistics.

"But what I do know is that we can always do better. And I looked at the notes and I looked at you, and… I took a long shot. Honestly, I'm a very small guy in the grand scheme, but I stood up in a pretty intense meeting with people who I don't really have the authority to say anything to and I said to them — this is a paraphrase — 'There's a completely innocent kid at the centre of this. He doesn't deserve this. We've got to at least make the gesture.' And then I also said, 'If it works, it'll save us a tonne of money.' I think that part was the part which got their attention.

"But I got the thumbs-up. So here I am. Trying to save your life the hard way instead of just atomizing it. It'll probably take all day. Three, six, eight hours. It's okay, I've got some podcasts."

"Your people must really hate you," someone says.

It came from youth's mouth, but it's not immediately clear to Barsin which of Red or the original, still-unnamed youth said it. In either case, it isn't right. Neither of them should be able to talk now.

The content of the comment itself should just pass Barsin by, but it doesn't. There is a sharp, spiteful grain of truth to it. Truthfully, nobody was a fan of the idea. Barsin has been saying for a long time, with gradually increasing volume, to gradually increasingly senior Foundation overseers, that a chat beats a fight. He's been ignored over and over. Yesterday, when they finally said that he could try it, it was grudgingly.

Barsin says, "Which one of you said that?"

Nothing else for now. Barsin crouches over his patient, using his scope to inspect that particular eye a second time. "If that's you, my man, you've cut through that cognitopoison around a quarter of a day faster than it takes most people. Smarter than you look?"

"Smarter than you," the patient says.

Barsin sees it. He looks into the patient's eye at exactly the correct angle and the scope relays to him what is genuinely in there. Comprehension leaps out of the pit at him and grounds itself in the back of his skull.

Barsin recoils instinctively, breaking the connection after just a split second and scrabbling backwards into the far corner of the room. A kind of oily electrical numbness lingers in his cognitive centres. His face becomes a rictus of revulsion. His orange, crystalline shield fluctuates, panicking in its own way because of what just passed through it. Intermittently, it turns impermeable, cutting off Barsin's frantic breathing. Then it snaps off and dies.

He doesn't have the training to fully comprehend what he was just exposed to. He has a basic level of practical memetics training; he can administer the spiral treatment and a few others, and protect himself from certain attacks which would knock a generic human over like a domino. But he's an entry-level practitioner, not a specialist, not a scientist. He feels like one of the men Louis Slotin killed, a Demon Core criticality witness. He knows his fate is sealed. He knows the only question is how long it's going to be before his extremities start decaying into sludge. He finds he can't make himself move out of the corner.

"You—"

He means it in the singular. There's no distinction between Red and whoever that original human used to be. There's no one to rescue. It was a damn ruse.

It was voluntary.

"You let this happen?" he manages. "You invited this. Hacked your own soul in half and offered the pieces up, for no reason at all? You've latched yourself onto the front of something unimaginable. You… you can't comprehend how badly this is going to end."

Red sits up, grinning like a ventriloquist's puppet. The fact that Barsin knows, dimly, what he's looking at means that Red in turn knows, dimly, what Barsin in turn represents. Red perceives the power structures which dispatched Barsin into this hated burrow to follow up on a slim, maybe fifteen percent chance to slay a monster without spending a hundred million dollars. Red perceives the shadows of the "people at the streaming services", and the Mobile Task Force Barsin doesn't know about, skulking out at the property's perimeter waiting for a go order. Red perceives the four or five "brutal", "impersonal" suits seated at the top of the operation, webbing it together. One of them is toying absently with their laser strike keystick, twirling it around the back of their thumb over and over, dropping it.

That's as far through headspace as Red can search, because that's the limit of the people who know about him, it, Red.

That's the hit list. From the next room, some of the grey organs rotate speculatively, then shrink and wink out, withdrawn to be moved elsewhere.

Red stands up. "A spinny red and blue light? How backward are you? Your fucking space laser wouldn't even help. Burn my face off— do it! An idea doesn't need a face. See what there is when I take off my face." He seems to grow larger, and sink backwards into space.

Barsin draws. He discovers there's grey-white mould growing all over his firearm. The act of drawing quickly infects his hand, from the palm all the way back to the wrist, contaminating it with a creeping numbness which affects not just his hand but his ability to perceive his hand. He drops his gun. He can't see the gun anymore. He sees a stump at the end of his arm. He clutches desperately with his one remaining hand for his knife and it's the same story again. He shouts, miserably and helplessly.

"You are a piece of paper," Red says, his voice rising and becoming harsh and metallic. He laughs, not a villainous laugh but a derisive, condescending snort at Barsin's comical situation.

"Ae star. Ae star. Zaelochi anaeori," Barsin says. He feels like he won't have many more words than these.

The first grey lump sprouts suddenly, inside the middle of his chest, in the bottom of a lung. He doubles over and lands face-down. He can't feel anything below his shoulders now. The second lump is near the forehead, above an eye, inside the ocular bone, and forces the skin forward, blocking his eye, pressing on his brain, distorting his face. The last is in his throat and blocks it.

Red looks up, contemplatively, waiting for a laser strike. It doesn't come.

[THIS IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION]


Immemorial

"Cyclomnemophage" is the word Dr. Alanna Stover invented to describe SCP-8473, and don't you wish she hadn't? Marion Wheeler feels this every time she re-reads SCP-8473's docket. Stover's still out there, circulating somewhere in the greater Foundation, one of the few people to exit the Antimemetics Division alive and secure further work. A fine researcher and an incisive, startlingly broadly knowledgeable anthropological mind, the lady simply could not write.

SCP-8473 is the ancient Johorean demigod of forgetting how to ride a bicycle. Interned for now in a metre-tall, heavily worn graven idol, SCP-8473 is talkative, laid-back, dirtily funny and strangely enjoyable company. The idol stands immobile on a short plinth, lit from above by subdued yellow-orange spotlights which throw its heavily-investigated engravings into sharper relief. Wheeler slouches in a chair on the far side of the room, staring at nothing, really. This was not part of any scheduled testing protocol. The recorders are off. They're shooting the breeze.

"You need to take a year off in Barbados starting today," SCP-8473 tells her, "or you're going to explode like a guitar string. Sapeh string," they clarify.

"No, I get it." SCP-8473's communication is approximately telepathic and vaguely dreamlike. Its intended meaning is always perfectly clear to all present, but because the rendered vocalisations only make up about half of the channel, written transcripts of its English (etc.) speech never come out quite right according to anybody who was there and heard what they were saying. It's something to do with godhood, but research into the fine details has proven unrewarding.

SCP-8473 asks, "Do you drink?"

Anybody else, Wheeler would punch for asking this question. Punch or fire, really. Well, being honest, most likely fire, because when was the last time she spoke to someone outside of work? A shop? She must visit a supermarket from time to time, right? She must get food somehow.

She axes this line of thought. It's unhappy and dangerously relevant. "I don't drink. Well— I don't remember the last time I drank."

"Would you, though?"

Wheeler furrows her brow. "Maybe. I've got a cellar. There's a refrigerator down there. And I know for a fact there's champagne in the refrigerator. Waiting for a special occasion."

"What special occasion?"

At length, Wheeler discovers that she can't answer this question. Instead she says, "I don't drink. I can't. I smoke."

"Anything good?"

"Nicotine. Tobacco," Wheeler says. She rummages in an inner pocket, and waves a cigarette.

SCP-8473 has no face. It's a block of rock. Still, it is plainly clear that it is revulsed. "Ah, you can do better than that, sayang."

"I need to keep my head clear. I'm on call every minute of the year. What if something breaks containment while I'm 'elsewhere'? What if a… zed zed double-asterisk kay class scenario breaks open?"

"I'll take care of it," SCP-8473 says.

Wheeler nearly laughs.

Based on radiometric dating of the rock and a humiliating amount of wild guesswork, SCP-8473 has existed since at least seventeen thousand years prior to the invention of the bicycle. What it did during the nearly seventeen millennia between its internment and the first actual bicycle being invented is a matter of hectic debate. The Foundation's collective opinion is that SCP-8473 did, was and achieved essentially nothing. SCP-8473's version of events has the bicycle being invented dozens of times over in all parts of the globe since prehistory, only for SCP-8473 to engulf, consume and negate all human knowledge not only of the riding of bicycles but of the mechanism itself. The Foundation's view goes on to note that there is literally zero archaeological evidence to support this version of events. SCP-8473's goes on much further still, but by this point the Foundation's view has become exasperated to the point of seeking transfer.

SCP-8473's only confirmed anomalous property is its capacity to — sometimes — eat the part of a person's memory where they remember how to ride a bike. It's painless and instantaneous. They have to go and learn again. Other than that (and the fact that it's a talking semi-telepathic talking rock, which is basically normal by Foundation standards), SCP-8473 can't do anything. It is not a powerful entity. It is, in fact, the least powerful god on the Foundation's books.

SCP-8473 has never committed to a gender, and the only time it was pushed for a name it gave "God".

Wheeler is sure as Hell a theist, a polytheist at that; she believes in all the gods and all the devils and all the destinations and she has even seen a fraction of them, but she has no religion. Throwing her hat into that ring feels too much like taking sides in a conflict with more dimensions than she has cells. But sometimes, because she exists in a culture which is like this, she finds herself using turns of phrase like "God knows" and when she catches herself doing that she retcons her own meaning to be: this god. Is that enough for a faith? A squirrelly, pointless little faith in an immobile, incapable God she visits on smoke breaks? Who basically just listens, and gives bad advice?

"You need to relax. The inside of your skull is a black metal trap, and you need to get out of it," SCP-8473 says. It commands her: "You need to go home tonight and drink that champagne. All of it. Become incapable in my honor."

"What's the occasion? I give in, I can't think of one."

"The occasion is that the world hasn't fucking ended," SCP-8473 replies.

This… is actually almost good enough. "I'll think about it," Wheeler says. She gets up to leave. "I need an actual cigarette now."

"Stay! Smoke in here."

"I can't. Tedious geochemical contamination reasons and American workplace law," Wheeler says. "Take it easy."

It shouts after her, "And get laid!"


Five Five Five Five Five

rating: 0+x

What's the worst thing you can imagine?

SCP-3125 is a meme complex like an Independence Day city destroyer. It is an apex predator from a completely alien ideatic ecology, more toxic and hostile than anything humans can independently conceive of. Its arrival in human thought is like a wolf on the Galápagos. We simply have no protective evolutionary adaptations against it.

SCP-3125 is here. It has already found a foothold in Ojai, California, and once it catches on it's going to replace all human thought with itself, replace the Sun with a black hole, and replace civilisation with hell.

The best way to fight it would be with a big f***ing antimeme. But there is no Antimemetics Division. There is no Marion Wheeler.

There's no Foundation.

There's nobody.

Five Five Five Five Five

is the follow-up to my collection of Tales "There Is No Antimemetics Division", starting with "We Need To Talk About Fifty-Five". In essence this will deal with the arrival on Earth of SCP-3125 and the ensuing MK-class event - an end-of-world scenario whereby human civilisation is eradicated as an abstract concept and replaced with something unimaginably worse.

Here are some of the ideas which I'm hoping to assemble together for this:

  • _ is a youth preacher in Ojai, California. He is the prophet/slave/servant of SCP-3125; he is the rider/pilot of the spider-like creature which ate Marness in "Unforgettable, That's What You Are" and which brought down Site 41 in "CASE COLOURLESS GREEN", and he is the voice to whom Wheeler spoke in "Your Last First Day". This young man is soon to kick off an SCP-1425-like event which will herald the arrival of SCP-3125 and the disintegration of human civilisation into hell; however, he is tormented by visions of a figure who desperately wants him to stop.
  • The Foundation is gone. The idea of the Foundation has been eradicated from the world by some kind of antimemetic first strike; so have most of the anomalous objects which the Foundation was containing, and several other powerful GOIs. This has left a huge and unexplained power vacuum in the anomalous research space, and also left the Earth almost completely undefended against anomalous attack.
  • Bart Hughes, scientist, is trapped inside a bunker/vault of his own devising. The machine needed to destroy SCP-3125 has already been built, but Hughes is unable to escape. Every morning he wakes up to find the sign "YOU ARE STUCK IN A LOOP" scrawled across the wall. He spends the whole day trying to break the loop, and fails, and goes to sleep and forgets.
  • A very small number of people have an immunity to particularly powerful memes, either acquired naturally or from non-fatal exposure to such memes in the past. Others have successfully hidden from the initial attacks. One of these, an aged MC&D auctioneer, is able to perceive the sudden anomalous power vacuum, and remember the Foundation as was. But what can they do about it?
  • This does *not* (necessarily) tie in with the larger Foundation canon. This could very well all end in tears.

The basic premise of this story is that ideas can be killed; good ideas can supplant, and thereby kill, bad ideas. So, SCP-3125 can be killed by the idea of the Foundation and its heroic resistance.

In fact it might be good if this works as kind of a counterpart to "There Is No Antimemetics Division", showing an adversary brought down entirely by the concept of its enemy, not necessarily by the physical activity of the enemy itself.