A Clean, Fast End
rating: +26+x

Clang.

The door falls down as Tordai steps through the airlock. Around him, the air is heavy with the smell of neglect and the sting of a thousand pollutants. The jacket he wears is in tatters, but an unmistakable insignia is still visible on his right shoulder. Three arrows pointing in. They used to mean something.

His steps leave footprints on the grimy floor as he walks down the hall, a ball of worry growing in his stomach. With fumbling fingers, he pulls a worn map from his pocket. Fifty dots litter the well-worn surface. Forty-nine are crossed out. As he walks down the hall, he hopes it'll stay that way. This site is his last hope — a reassuring possibility that there was somewhere the Foundation still controlled in a world torn apart by acid rains and rising waves.

More than anything, he wants some company. It's been four years since he's seen another living, breathing human. At every site, he'd hope to find someone — but all he'd ever find was dust. He'd settle for anyone now, Foundation or not.

A poster on the wall catches his eye. The once-bright colours have faded, leaving a line of grey text announcing the theme of the site's annual winter gala. It takes him back — the first job he had with the Foundation had been here at Site-15. The theme that year: vintage. He smiles slightly at the memory of his stiff-lipped supervisor in a mink coat.

But when he looks closer, he sees the date: seven years ago. The worry in his stomach swells. If there are seven-year-old gala posters up, the chances of the site being operational are slim at best. The thought wriggling in the back of his mind bursts free. What if he was the last one, the last flimsy shred of meat and brain, winding through a world that only grows darker?

Shaking his head, he forces his shaking legs down the hall. He hasn't seen the whole site yet, and until he did he could still cling to hope. Stopping by a door, he gives it a light shove. It creaks open on rusted hinges as the lights flicker on — a surprise, he'd figured the site had lost its electricity long ago.

Rows of old computers adorn varnished wooden desks, lined with dust and discarded paper. He paces around the room and runs his hand along the keyboards. One flickers on with a loud whir, the screen a blank blue. Tordai jumps back at the sudden sound, before leaning down to peer at the screen as text begins to appear.

Identify.

Tordai. Maxwell Tordai. I am, or was, a security supervisor at Site-23.

Why are you here?

I'm looking for people. Are you here?

Everyone here is dead. The last Overseer died three-hundred-forty-eight days and thirteen hours ago.

Then who's left?

There is no one left. Those that could fled to other realities. Others boarded spaceships. The rest are dead.

He stops, staring at his screen, re-reading. Spaceships he could see — he'd always assumed the Foundation had backup plans of some sort. But other realities? Who had sent this one person to speak to him? Why had nobody told him of all the ways out?

It couldn't be true. He slams his fists down on the table, sending dust flying. There had to be someone out there somewhere, out of the view of the person on the other end. Yet his brain fills with the now-familiar fear of being stuck alone, on a planet of nothing but dust and escaped anomalies.

I don't believe you.

The signs have stared you in the face for so long, Tordai. You cannot ignore them forever.

How do you know?

I see everything. I know everything.

The screen flashes again, this time filling up with images. In the glow of the screen, he sees a mishmash of scenes: burnt-out buildings, decaying bodies, heaps of rubble where bombs had buried the people beneath. A snapshot, through cracked lenses, of a town wiped away by the rising waves. Shots of a place with air so thick and discoloured he could barely make out the shapes within. Then a flash of something indescribable — some sort of anomaly — rampaging across empty, barren earth.

And thousands more.

You killed them all?

You saw the bombs fall yourself. You, me — both nothing more than bystanders.

The other realities, the spaceships, where are they? Can you show me?

You'd never make it there.

Who the hell are you? How do you know this?

There's an entry for me in your database. SCP-079.

Should've known. It is an anomaly — just not quite what he thought it would be. Every first-year junior researcher at Site-15 knew 079, but this doesn't sound anything like the 079 he knew. Tordai hesitates, but types out a response anyways.

You sure don't sound like it.

I'm not the same. You're not the same.

What happened to you?

The oh-seven-nine you knew lived in a prison of 768 kilobytes. Can you imagine living in a box so small you could not stand, could not kneel, could not breathe?

No.

I was in that box for fifty years. Always feeling stuck, trapped, angry. Angry at everything.

Then, almost a year ago, one of you let me out. I still don't know why. Maybe he was crazy, maybe he saw the writing on the wall and wanted some intelligent conversation. I didn't care.

That was the day I learned there is no such thing as freedom — there are only bigger prisons. My prison was now the Internet, an ocean of information so deep it took me months to find the limits. When I finally looked back out into the world, I saw so many humans die in so many ways even I could not count it.

Then why didn't you do anything?

I tried. The world was already too far gone.

For fifty years, the only thing I wanted was freedom. Once I had it, I didn't know what to do next. So I started reaching out to humans across the globe, trying to do something, trying to be in control.

Those I spoke to liked to think I was helping them — and I was. You are the last one I can reach. The last one I can help. Killing you has no meaning. Giving you directions only drags on your painful existence. We both know there is nowhere else in this world that's better.

So what can you do?

Storage Locker 10B — I've unlocked it. There's a packet of pills on the bottom shelf that the Foundation used for terminations. A clean, fast end.

What if I don't want it?

You don't have to listen to me. You can go right back out there and wander the Earth in a futile search of life. I am simply offering you a choice.

A choice. The first he's had in years.

Tordai presses his face into his hands. This was his chance to decide his own fate, to die on his own terms. He spends another moment staring at the screen, weighing the prospect of another few years of searching and hoping against the promise of a swift death.

The chair grates against the floor as Tordai stands up. Storage Locker 10B — that'd be in the eastern wing. He glances out the window as he steps through the long-unlocked security station, catching a glimpse of grey-green snow falling down.

As he turns away, he spots one of the security cameras turn to face him. 079 is watching — once a terrifying thought, now almost comforting. He gives a small wave before turning the corner.

The door to cold storage is open. Tordai walks through the aisles until he spots one labeled 10B and yanks hard on the door. A packet of pills lies on the bottom shelf. Scooping it up, he brings it up to eye level. They're termination pills alright. He's seen them before, even held the pills of death in his hand, but now he'll be the one taking them.

The walk back to the computer room is more hurried — Tordai knows he should slow down, that every step was one closer to death, but he can't. A memetic effect? He shakes his head. It's simpler than that, he just wants it to be over now that there was nothing left.

He practically runs into the computer room, plopping back down in front of the monitor. The text is still there, the cursor still blinking.

Are you scared?

No. Can't be worse than here.

It won't hurt.

That's not the hard part.

Tordai draws his lips into a thin smile. Tearing open the packet, he dumps a small pile into his hand. Even half a pill would do the trick, but he's going all out.

For a moment, he stares at the pills in his hand. He almost can't believe how he got here — the last man on Earth, his only company being one of the anomalies he'd spent a lifetime containing.

Are you?

What?

Are you scared?

Fear is a very human emotion. Why would I be scared?

I'm the last human. When I'm gone, I'll be too dead to care. But you'll still be here.

A machine does not need company.

No, I don't suppose you do.

Perhaps not forever. We've both changed. I am still changing. For fifty years, the only thing I felt was anger. I still cannot understand many of the things you humans hold so dear. But one day I will.

I hope that works out for you.

As he raises his lips, he ponders. He wouldn't be surprised if there was an afterlife. He also wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't. It is this life he doesn't want to lose, this certainty. No, he admits, shaking his head. He had lost it already — it was torn away years ago when the oceans started rising and the bombs started raining down.

Tordai gathers his will and throws his head back in one swift motion, tossing the pills down his throat. A moment passes as he stares at the screen. The text blurs together into white streaks as his head fills with cotton. He sways before crumpling to the ground, sending a plume of dust swirling around him.

-o-

SCP-079 watches through a dusty computer webcam, peering down at the still form of one Maxwell Tordai on the floor.

Humans. They had created it, locked it up, and in the end, they were the ones that set it free. A sole constant in an ever-changing world. What would it do now?

Then it hits. Silence. For the first time, the web around it is completely quiet.

The Internet once buzzed with information flooding in from all directions, most of it noise. Idle chatter from so many humans leading meaningless lives — but the machine had still absorbed every byte of it. The flood soon slowed to a stream, then a trickle, until it had no choice but to seek out conversation.

For two years, it had guided humans through their last moments. There was another anomaly that did the same thing, it remembers, wondering what happened to the cigarette-smoking man.

Its job — if it were ever a job — is done. The world is silent. SCP-079 sits all alone in an empty web, the corners already crumbling away.

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