Headache
rating: +18+x

It was the end of the fucking world and MTF-Sigma-66 were doing what they always did: getting themselves killed.

"So to be clear, this place is going to be toe to tits in guards, covered in goddamn traps, and might not actually have anything in it?" Dominic Alvares pulled on his tac suit gingerly, careful to avoid brushing against the stump of his right arm.

Under a chorus of groans from the two other veterans of the group, their newest member piped up with nervous optimism.

"Well, you know, this time we know there's a good reason for it, right?" said Charles Bouche, their own pet anartist. "The world is going to shit, and we might be helping out." Bouche shrugged as if to acknowledge the naivete of his words. This didn't save him from Aries' disdain, though, nor the boot she expertly pelted across the locker room to hit him in the ear.

"Shut the fuck up, Douche." she growled, stalking over to snatch the boot back up. "We don't help shit. Haven't you been listening to anything people have been saying the last few weeks? They're sending everyone everywhere. We're just following one more thread."

Bouche, for his part, didn't say a word, avoiding looking at any part of Aries. The blood witch always cut an imposing figure, of course, but Dominic reckoned the avoidance may have had more to do with the fact that Aries had abandoned changing midway through pulling on a sports bra to berate him. Ah, well, the kid would grow used to that in time, if he survived long enough.

Fenton, their fourth member, put a hand on Aries' shoulder, wordlessly nudging her away from the kid. She shrugged him off and returned to her pile of gear. Unlike the others, Aries worked light, foregoing the protective tac vests the other wore for basic underclothes and a large many-pocketed jacket, revealing cuts and bruises covering every part of her body, from her shaggy legs to her shaved scalp. Dominic's lip curled slightly as he took in her face.

Almost a year ago now, Dominic had been pulled out of a torturous limbo by Aries and Fenton, on orders from their new handler, Alesha Willow. Their old handler, well, that was the face he took in now. Aries had possessed the woman he'd once known as Via Davis at some point in the time he'd been stuck in his cold hell, and nobody would tell him anything more about it. Fenton claimed it was before his induction to the MTF, and all Aries would ever say was they'd had 'a disagreement at the movies'.

He didn't know why the face bothered him so much - it's not as if he'd liked Davis before, the woman was a power-abusing bitch with no regard for the safety of anyone on the team - but a year later he still couldn't look at her without feelings of disdain. Across the room, Fenton was staring at him quietly behind his ever-present shades, sensing his mood. He rubbed a knuckle against his cheekbone and brought himself out of it, grabbing some fresh pants.

Later, when they were all ready, Willow rapped on the door to the locker room, entering before any of them could respond. With her was a heavily-tattooed Asian woman in maybe her 30s or early 40s, her entire left side covered in ugly burn marks.

"T minus fifteen til you're heading out, guys." said Willow, not even looking at them as she scanned a large chipboard clipboard. "Make sure you've got all your shit, prepared magic or whatever. Uh, this is Dr Way, she'll be joining you for today."

"Emerald." said the woman, giving a small wave to nobody in particular. "Most people call me Emmy."

"She one of yours?" asked Fenton, eyeing Emmy suspiciously.

"Yes." said Willow, at the same time Emmy said "Fuck no." Willow frowned at Emmy slightly, then turned back to Fenton.

"She's a contractor of sorts, from Serpent's Hand. She'll be… helping you remember anything you forget, I guess." Willow glanced at Emmy, shrugging her shoulders subtly. "That about cover it?"

"I'm affiliated with them, not employed by them." Emmy said firmly. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here right now. but yeah, I guess it's fine as explanations go."

There was a short silence as everyone waited for someone else to jump in. When nobody did, Willow gestured for Dominic to follow her, and asked the remaining members to get Emmy geared up and head to the standard assembly point. As the doors closed behind Willow and Dominic, Emmy reached into her pocket with her good hand and pulled out a crumpled baggie

"Any of you smoke weed?" she said, flapping the baggie invitingly.

"Fuck yes" responded all three together.


"I still think this is bullshit." said Dominic, grimacing as he used his fresh new arm to switch gears. Why the hell had Willow neglected to mention he'd be getting a goddamn limb replacement in the ten minutes before having to drive a heavy vehicle, and how the hell had they just stuck it on like he was some broken action figure? He pulled slowly up the gravel path that led to their destination, what appeared outwardly to be an abandoned "tuna" cannery.

As Dominic wondered idly what tuna was, Aries groaned from her hiding spot at the back of the van. He was pelted in the back of the head with a stuffed lion, one of the many children's toys they were "delivering" to the covert Marshall Carter and Dark facility they were tasked with breaking into.

"Cut it with the grandma crawl, Alvares" Aries huffed. "Do you have any idea how cramped this is? Douche's boots are in my fucking face."

There was a tiny apology from Bouche, quickly followed by a yelp. Dominic could only imagine what she'd done to him, as before he could ask he saw a lone figure strolling toward the van from the factory. The first of the guards, a portly older man with a carefully calculated boredom baked into the lines of his face. The transparency of the ploy was enough to make Dominic smile with genuine enjoyment as he rolled down the window.

"Hey there!" he called, leaning out to let the man see his face clearly. The guard's expression didn't shift an inch.

"Yer lost, fellas. Nothing here for ye unless you've got the pizza I ordered an hour and a goddamn half ago." The man, who's nametag read 'Rupert', shone his flashlight into the cab, and Dominic could swear he saw a tiny frown as he saw Fenton. Whether it was because the man was black or because he was wearing shades at 1 in the morning escaped Dominic's judgement. How much could you really trust someone called Rupert to not be racist?

"We're here with a delivery for the facility, actually. MC&D trans-dimensional whatever, right?" Dominic's vagueness wasn't just an affectation - this was practically all he knew about the place they were throwing themselves into blindly. "We've got a shipment from Wondertainment. Should be on your list?"

If he'd expected Rupert's expression to change at this, he'd have been disappointed. The man's gaze swept over the van, and paused as he took in the logo on the side.

"If yiz are Wondertainment, how come yer logo here says S & C Plastics?"

"Well, uh," Dominic faltered, grasping at straws. "We're manufacturers. Plastics. Plastic… toys. We make the plastic toys." He smiled wide, hoping to cover the lie with charm he severely lacked.

Rupert was scowling now, maybe, his eyes just a fraction narrower.

"A manufacturer wi' initials that just happen to spell out SCP?"

Shit.

"Yeeessss?" he ventured, but Rupert was already pulling out a walkie-talkie. Dominic and Fenton both scrambled to open their doors.

"Boys, we got janitors at the gate. Immediate backup requested, code-" The old man was cut off as a streak of red and black barreled into him, screeching.

Aries was atop his shoulders in a second, toppling out of the back of the van, Emmy and Bouche falling to the ground as she pounced. Her teeth clamped around his throat and she bit down hard, ripping a strip of flesh away with a jerk of her head. Dominic skidded to a halt three feet away from the two, keeping out of range of the man's flailing limbs. Behind him, Fenton lightly jogged up and started helping the other two off the ground.

Aries shoved her hand into the man's mouth to stop him yelling, and he bit down immediately. Dominic could hear the crunch of snapping bone. Rather than be pertubed by this, Aries seemed to take it as a cue, spitting the man's blood on his face and frantically smearing a sigil on his cheek and then her own.

Rupert bucked her off and stumbled back onto his ass as one of Aries' fingers fell out of his mouth. Aries rolled on the gravel and scampered up before the man could, then yelled some command words, in the kind of magic language Dominic forgot as soon as he heard it.

The effect was immediate. Rupert's eyes rolled back in their sockets and he fell onto his back, juddering. Before he could wonder whether the man was having some sort of fit in response to the copious blood loss, his eyes were drawn by a much more unusual sight. Aries' body was transforming, her face melting and pooling into a different structure, breasts receding and stomach pudging out. As greying hairs sprouted from her upper lip, he realised what was happening - Aries was becoming Rupert. God, as if wearing Via's face wasn't bad enough.

Rupert (Aries?) stood up and dusted himself (herself?) off.

"Fuuuuck me," said Aries, scratching at her new-formed facial hair. "Do you know how much that takes out of me?" She attempted to stretch, popping her joints loudly. "This will only last five or six minutes, so let's make the most of it."

She leaned down, groaning as her back clicked in complaint, and grabbed the walkie-talkie.

"False alarm, uh, me laddies." she said, her voice two octaves too high. "Sure don't mind what I say, me mind's going down the pisser. Uh, Copy."

There was a long silence, the walkie talkie faintly crackling as Aries waited for a response.

"Do you think we got away with it, or-"

The unmistakable sound of a bullet pinging off the side of the truck cut her off and all three of them threw themselves to the ground.

"Apparently not!" Dominic yelled, as more bullets pinged against the van and thumped into the ground around them, sending up little explosions of gravel. He glared at Aries. "How did they see through our foolproof ruse?!"

She flipped Dominic the bird. Behind her, Fenton stood, removing his glasses to reveal the sparkling voids where his eyes should be.

"Don't matter." he said, a slight grin on his face as bullets whizzed past him. "They have no idea what they're up against."


Dominic's vision swam as he pushed himself up onto his knees. A quick check to confirm he still had all his fingers and toes, and he allowed himself a moment to breathe a sigh of relief. They'd made it. What the fuck had Fenton done? Nothing had made sense for about five minutes, their bodies and minds separate, screaming through the security guards, and then they'd been at the door of the facility.

Dominic stood, looking around to check how the others were doing. Fenton was helping Emmy up, wrapping an arm around her waist to support her on a broken leg. Ok, not good. Aries was already up and exploring, staring up quizzically at the opposite wall. Bouche was gone.

Aries turned to look at him.

"Do you have any idea what it is?"

He looked up at where she'd been staring, at the huge sign on the wall. Above the words "WHITEBOX 5" was a logo - a circle with three arrows pointing inwards, surrounded by a bubble outline. Nothing he'd seen anywhere in their briefing document on Marshall, Carter and Dark.. It felt… wrong. A thing that didn't belong, that was at odds with reality. The longer he stared, the more wrong it felt, a buzzing emptiness just behind his eyes.

He pulled his gaze away from it.

"Careful, feels weird. Might be some visual cognitohazard, last line of defense." He pulled himself up, ignoring complaints from his joints.

Aries considered, then nodded, turning to face away from it and down the hallway, where the hum of giant computer banks could be heard. This place was for more than storage of items, then. What kind of information was valuable enough to store it outside of reality?

Dominic tapped his earpiece.

"Willow? We're in the facility now, advise on how to proceed."

There was no response. They were cut off, either outside the range or just entirely disconnected.

"W-we should investigate the o-object storage, I guess," Emmy said, "Follow the symbols?"

Dominic glanced at Fenton, but the man seemed as mystified as he was at this.

"What symbols?" said Dominic.

"The- the ones all over. Can't you see them? The walls are c-covered." Emmy coughed hard, and Fenton's grip at her waist tightened as he looked around. His expression remained confused, and as Dominic looked around, he could see why - the walls were spotless, nothing on them but the circle and arrows sign.

Seeing that none of them had any idea what she was talking about, Emmy slipped out of Fenton's grip and hobbled toward the wall. With a ripping sound, she pulled pieces of paper off the blank wall and stalked back over to the others with them. Dominic looked at the paper she'd seemed to conjure out of thin air, and squinted, struggling to read a perfectly legible handwritten journal entry, dated to 1999.

The thing isn't doing this by accident. There's reason and rhyme to it, just not any I understand. If we're to have any hope of stopping this virus, if the concept spear doesn't work, this might be our last hope.

I can feel its pull on me. It wants the part it recognises, the eye lobe.

Dominic dropped the paper as a spike of pain stabbed through his head. Something was very very wrong here.

"Get up, idiot." said Aries, lightly kicking him in the leg, and he realised he'd dropped to the floor too.

"How is this not affecting you?" he said, twisting to try to get up again.

"It is, I'm just not a baby about it." she said, pulling him up one-handed. She squinted at him, cocking her head. "Your right eye is bloodshot. Wasn't before."

He shrugged her off, following after Emmy and Fenton as they slowly followed the paper trail.

"Hey!" she barked, dashing to get in front of him again. "Look at me!"

He opened his mouth to retort and, before he could say anything, she spat in it. He recoiled, disgusted, and grabbed her by the collar, not sure what he was going to do. She kicked him in the shin, hard, and he dropped her, holding his arms out to stay upright as his leg buckled.

Then he felt it. The buzzing spike of pain receded - not quite gone, but numbed, enough that he could bear it. He looked up and saw Aries scowling at him, awaiting her apology. She swayed slightly, and Dominic realised she hadn't warded him to the effects - she was simply taking on the pain for him.

He walked around her and wordlessly started toward the object storage room.

—-

Object storage was huge - he was reminded of an IKEA storeroom, with shelves stretching all the way up to the ceiling dozens of metres up. The shelves were covered in numbers and codes, and again that symbol, the circle with the arrows. What had once been an insistent buzzing behind his eyes was now a dull hum as he frowned at the symbol. It was right at the tip of his…

The tip of his what?

He panicked as he felt an unfamiliar presence in his mouth, a slimy mass pushing softly against his teeth. A few feet down the stacks of shelves, Aries recoiled, a hand shooting to her face. He opened his mouth to shout something to the others and the mass moved, curling upward to rub against his upper teeth. He clamped down hard and felt an explosion of pain from somewhere inside his mouth. Was it biting him back?

Aries clattered into the shelves, toppling carefully arranged objects. Ahead of her, Emmy's head whipped around in Fenton's arms. Fenton seemed too preoccupied to pay attention, preusmably also affected. Dominic realised too late the thing's hot blood was flooding his mouth, and when he gasped for air it rushed down his windpipe, drowning him.

"Iss attassed hoo my mouh." said Aries, pulling a razor blade out of her pocket. Emmy stumbled out of Fenton's distracted grip, lunging wide-eyed for the witch.

Dominic's vision swam as Aries and Emmy grappled. His legs weakening, he fell to his knees and let a spasming cough rack his body. Something was lodged in his throat now, a chunk of the thing he'd bitten through, and his breathing was totally stopped now. He was face to face with one of the objects, a broken glass eye that stared quietly at him. Beside it, a folded cardboard sign designated it SCP-4113-2.

The blurry shape of Fenton was between Emmy and Aries, trying to push them apart, his eyes bright pinpricks in Dominic's ever-darkening vision. Emmy was yelling, something about tonnes? Tungs? His head was buzzing, trying to figure out what Emmy was talking about, why the letters and numbers on that sign seemed so familiar, how to fucking breathe.

The two women toppled into Dominic, and he passed out.


Dominic awoke face down on the ground, face pressed uncomfortably into the dirty tile floor. The first thing he became aware of as he surface was a roaring ache in his mouth, as if he'd bitten straight through his tongue.

Right through his…

Oh, shit.

Dominic tried to push himself up and was almost immediately countered, a confident strength that was unmistakably Fenton's pushing down between his shoulder blades firmly.

"Hey, Alvares?" Emmy's voice said softly, somewhere above and behind him. "I need you to stay real still for like three more minutes, ok? There's a Mark 2 Schulman device embedded in your lower spine right now, and if you move too much you could paralyse yourself."

Things were shifting in his head, changing. His tongue, his fucking tongue, how had he forgotten that? Had there been a Lethe event here? Could there even be one, if this place was truly outside of reality?

Dominic wanted to ask why there was a fucking machine in his spine, but a more pressing question came to mind first.

"Why didn't it affect you?" he said, twisting his head to try to look at her. His tongue burned as he talked, and it was hard to form the words. "All of us, we were freaking out, or whatever Fenton's version of freaking out is. But you were fine. How can we trust you're not somehow involved in this?"

Emmy moved around him so he could just about see her face, staring seriously into his eyes as she hunkered down into his line of sight.

"Willow told you, back in that locker room." Emmy said "I'm here to help you remember the things you forget. It's my job to remember things." She lightly tapped the small weight on his lower back. "And to do what it takes to help trigger your memory too."

It wasn't an answer, not really, but he was physically unable to focus on that. His brain was still rearranging, reminding him of things he'd been physically unable to recall moments ago. Tuna! Delicious fucking awful fish! He could pinpoint when he'd lost the memory, too, taking a pee break during a long stakeout of some magic kids who were pissing the Foundation off with a giant sentient paperclip they'd set loose on the streets of Brooklyn, giving unsolicited advice on how to guard against various anomalies. That was months ago, when Nettle had defected, betraying the others when the kids had covertly disabled their explosive necklace.

"How long til I can get up?" he said, put out by the memory. He'd thought he'd got close to Nettle in the time they'd spent together as a team, and the betrayal had, well… it had stung.

"Just another minute, probably." said Emmy, biting her lip. "Depends on the person. Just let me know when you see the- when you see it."

"See what?" he said, but even as he asked he could feel the biggest roadblocks dissolving in his mind and he felt his brain working overtime as his vision changed without changing, suddenly seeing the thin grey-pink tendrils that covered every surface of the place, lightly pulsing and waving, the tips of the tendrils reaching away from the surface they ran along to feel at their surroundings. It wasn't just his vision that was changing but his sense of touch, feeling the tendrils exploring every inch of him lying on the ground, sneaking into his mouth and nostrils, wriggling beneath his torso. He yelled and wrenched his head away, and the tendrils slid out of his face easily, no fight whatsoever in them.

"See that" said Emmy, smiling, and she set about removing the device.

A series of bips told Dominic she was entering something into some sort of keypad, then he felt the very odd numbed sensation of a needle sliding out of his spine, the dull pressure turning into a pinprick of pain. With it removed, he rolled over gingerly to look up at Emmy and Fenton, standing over him with concern.

"Normally," said Emmy, "I'd tell you to stay still for a couple hours to heal after a spinal tap. Unfortunately, I don't think we have that."

Wordlessly, Fenton handed him a small notepad, open on a page with a list of words. Dominic read them out.

tongue
Oklahoma
tuna
the name 'Dick'
squash (sport)
4:4 rhythm
combustion engines
Korea
tendrils everywhere

"Tongue, Oklahoma, squash, 4:4, combustion engines, tendrils" Fenton repeated back briskly. The man seemed tense, his arms crossed tightly over his chest and his mouth a hard line.

"He wrote those down as he was surfacing," explained Emmy, "things he'd forgotten that he was starting to remember. But now…"

"Now you're forgetting again" said Dominic, gazing up at Fenton. "How long do we have?"

"Not sure." Emmy said, shrugging one shoulder. "Twenty, thirty minutes before you start losing thing again. I'd estimate maybe an hour and a half before you go back to biting chunks out of your tongue."

Dominic nodded and started pushing himself up slowly, taking Emmy's offered hand to get to his feet.

"One last question," he said, "where's Aries?"


They found Aries on their return trip to the atrium, sitting cross-legged by a pile of papers she'd ripped from the wall. Dominic had realised as they'd made their way out of object storage that he could see them now, the scribbled words and symbols that covered everything, obscured only by the creeping tendrils that covered every surface.

A few of the symbols he recognised, symbols meant for instant transfer of information into the brain, like magic QR codes. The majority, though, was just words and phrases - "Don't forget" and "Read the pages" mostly, though a handful of times he'd noticed the much more specific "Daisy Glover has been missing for two days", written in different materials and different handwriting. Weird.

Aries jumped a little as they turned the corner, then settled as she saw who they were. She had a long clean gash along the side of her mouth, slicing her cheek into a lopsided grin. Emmy evidently hand't been totally successful in stopping her from cutting her tongue out, then. The cut was held together with rough stitches, the kind he knew Aries had done herself without much care to how it would look when it healed.

"You're done with your little nap, then." she said as they drew close, and pulled a paper out of the stack to her left, flapping it at them impatiently. "A lot of the rest is bullshit, whining about how he'll never see his family or whatever, but this one says a lot."

Dominic plucked the page from her hand, and was pleasantly surprised to find he could read it without issue, the handwriting perfectly neat despite how small it was, covering both sides of the page.

I wish I could say I regret what I did. I honestly don't remember enough to say either way. I know I was certain it was right when I did it, and the flashes of the war I do remember…

You can't be prepared for it. War is one thing, and it's hell, but when those things got into your head they became you, there was no escape. They tell you about idea creatures, cognitohazards, they never tell you those things can physically slither inside you and lay their eggs in your personality. A virus that you catch when you think you catch it is bad enough, but when that virus can alter you, make you want it for others, when you're not trapped, possessed, but actively enthusiastic about what you're doing, that sort of shit doesn't leave you.

The first person to try to kill me was my daughter, when she saw what I was becoming. Daisy, I think her name was. But she wasn't strong, not enough to take down a veteran in his prime. I want to be more horrified by that, but I honestly don't think I'm capable. I don't remember her in any way that matters now. Don't remember anything about how she looked but flashes of her face as I choked her.

In the end, I guess I was snapped out of it. The things weren't impossible to fight, they just made you not want to. Disgusting parasites. Of course, if anyone could torture you into crawling out of your own skin, it was the Foundation. They needed me, I think, to be the man who pulled the trigger. The concept spear was unfinished, imperfect, built to combat an enemy who was already overrunning us when development began.

We had no idea whether it could do what we hoped. Whitebox 5 was R&D on the bleeding edge of the foundation's tech, even before what I did. Stitching together eye-lobes, what Dr. Schulman insisted on referring to as augenlappen. Making a thing that could target thought, memory, desire. Yes, they explained what they believed it would do. What they knew the side-effects could be. Why do you think I stole it? They weren't going to use it, after everything. I guess I thought I knew better, that anything would be better than what was left of us.

I've left us crippled, vulnerable. Our science is backward, not just hindered but capped - I've made it impossible for us to learn things that were pillars of technology before the spear. Quantum physics, studying the eye-lobes, moving through second and third temporal dimensions. Stuff we used to be able to do with ease. Irreversibly retarded the whole damn endeavour. But we stopped it, the virus. It's still out there, but it's crippled. Not able to affect the mind, not able to spread in the way it wants to.

Whoever you are, reading these journals, I understand if you want me dead, want me brought to justice, court martialled. If you just want to rip me apart yourself. Understand that I want that just as much as you do. But I have to stay here, to keep watch, to try to stop it from doing what it wants to do. It's just running through the program endlessly, wiping memories from whole towns. I can't stop it, don't know how, but I can slow it down, keep it fed on the doctors who pass through here, fattened on their memories.

If you find a way to stop it, if I'm truly no longer necessary necessary then please, kill me on sight. My name is Roland Eckhart, Admiral of MTF-υ-4. I do not regret my actions.

A long silence passed.

"Bit melodramatic." said Emmy, scratching her chin.

"What does it, uh, what does it mean?" said Dominic, frowning "This place is Foundation?"

Aries groaned dramatically, snatching the paper back out of his hand.

"It means we're it. The team who found the source of all the thingy events, the memory loss." She gestured to the pile of pages she'd been reading. "There used to be a better world, this guy fucked everything up with some sort of organic weapon, they're still here somewhere. If we find them, maybe we can turn it all back, save the goddamn world."

Aries pushed herself to her knees, pulling loose of the tendrils that had gently surrounded her legs as she'd sat.

"Look, I know that note doesn't tell you everything - I've been reading this shit for like an hour while you and the big dude got your little back massages, there's so much fucking more to all this - but trust me, we gotta go find this thing."

"I believe you" said Emmy, without a trace of hesitance.

After a moment's surprise, Aries nodded curtly and turned on her heel, stalking toward the computer banks. Dominic looked at Emmy curiously, and she shrugged with her working shoulder.

"I have reason to believe her." she said, and hurried after Aries, who was mumbling to herself.

"I've been exploring - all this shit, the, the wavy little dudes, the…" Aries shook her head, hand over her eye, and it occurred to Dominic she'd been out longer than Fenton. "The tendrils. They get thicker as they lead this way, meeting up. It's branching out and out, like a nervous system or a, a-"

"A tree?" Fenton offered. Looking toward the other corridor, Dominic could see she was right - the tendrils were much thicker that way, moving from the hair-thin fingers they'd encountered in the object storage rooms up to throbbing pipes as thick as his arm. He imagined they'd only get bigger deeper in.

"A tree, yeah! With all the green, uh, green round things."

Dominic wondered - she'd been so sharp just a minute ago, talking about the pages. What was happening that everything else was so fuzzy?

"Aries," he said, trying to be gentle without her thinking he was being patronising. "Can you go over the plan again?"

She laughed harshly, a short bark.

"Forgetting already, are you? Guess that machine didn't do its job." She hopped over a larger tendril as they passed through the doors and into the computing banks proper. The room was massive, easily three stories tall. I occurred to dominic They were getting really big now, enough to make movement slower as they stepped over them. "It's simple - we find the bioweapon, maybe also this Eckhart asshole, figure out a way to turn it off, stab him a little, go tell them we saved the world, maybe get extra pudding cups with our prison food. Simple."

"Ok," said Dominic, "and what's my name?"

They all stopped as he said this, Aries turning in confusion.

"What? You're… you…" Her expression changed, from confusion to frustration to fear. "You're the guy. The annoying one who moans about everything. You, yhuu…" Her speech slurred and she clapped a hand over her eye as she swayed, her trembling legs threatening to buckle under her.

Alarmed, Emmy dashed over to catch her, and Aries fell into her arms, knocking them both to the ground. Dominic just stood in shock.

"Oh, fuck." said Emmy, quietly. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. she's going much faster than I'd thought." She glanced at Fenton for just a second, furtive, then turned her attention back to Aries, pulling out the device that had been in his spine fifteen minutes ago.

Aries slapped the device away, irritable.

"It's the… the words, the… fuck. I know what's… stuff. Just can't say."

She growled as Emmy again tried to apply the device, kicked out.

"No!" she barked, rolling away and standing up shakily. "Gotta get the… find the brain. The monster and the man." Dominic could see she was shaking, but she stood tall, sure. "The poky metal. We put it in him. Make him think different. It. Make it… Put the poky in the, the, ghhh…"

She was pushing her palm into her eye socket hard now, hard enough Dominic was worried she'd damage it. Quickly, he ripped a strip off his shirt and handed it to her. Taking his meaning wordlessly, she wrapped it over her eyes, blocking out the light.

"Still not good. It's… ow. Let's go." She spun and marched back in the direction they'd been headed, slipping on the larger tendrils but refusing to fall. With a worried exchange of glances, the others followed after her. Emmy kept the device in her hand, tapping keys as she lagged behind.

Deeper and deeper into the computer banks, where the air was hot and muggy, they found it. A mass of grey matter as tall as the room, engulfing a three by three block of the computer banks, tendrils as thick around as Dominic's torso sprouting from it at irregular intervals and planting into the computer banks, casting shadows like tree branches overhead. Sightless, Aries stopped a few feet in front of the monstrosity, seeming to know where she was. She slumped quietly to the floor and in seconds the tendrils were covering her, wrapping around her limbs with ease and pushing into her mouth.

"Aries!" yelled Dominic, running to free her, but his arm was caught by Emmy, who gestured wide-eyed to the ground around them. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he began to he'd stepped into a ring around the thing, a carpet of tendrils that covered the ground completely. Within this ring, he could see bumps in the ground, all of them the size and shape of the bump that now swarmed over Aries. Looking at his feet, he could see the tendrils were gently moving to cover his feet, slow and considered. Around Emmy's feet, though, at the perimeter of the ring, they were thrashing violently, soundless but angry, gripping at her boots with force. He let himself be pulled out by her, and they both stepped well clear.

Had Aries known? Was this a trap she'd led them to, implanted in her mind by the thing, or did she really think they could stop something here? The tendrils were still now, enclosing her body fully, wriggling only slightly in contentment.

"What the fuck is this thing? Dominic said, stepping back out of the field of wrapped bodies.

"It's… a brain. Or, a web of parts of them." Emmy said. She bit her lip, considering something. "They told me, uh, there's more to this than they briefed you. I don't know if I should - whether you're cleared. I mean, you're not, but under the circumstances it's-"

"Tell us." said Fenton, firmly. With a start, Dominic realised this was maybe the first thing he'd said in twenty minutes.

"There's… they captured a man from here. Schulman. He created the device that gave you back your memories. He wouldn't tell them about their construction, or maybe couldn't, but he was able to lead them to his emails. They got locked out really quickly, but they were able to skim some stuff before they were locked out and - this thing, it's some hybrid thing he was building, or maybe thought he was building. If what Aries said was true, it's been here far longer, decades."

The name Schulman was familiar, and Dominic realised it was what she'd called the machine in her hand, the one she'd been fiddling with since trying to use it on Aries for a second time. A Schulman device. She was still messing with it as she talked, typing on a miniature keypad with her thumb.

"I don't actually know for sure why you guys are affected and I'm not." Emmy admitted, glancing at them to see their reactions. "But I have some idea. Years ago, I saw something. Helped create it, in fact. It left me with these scars and, and holes in my memory. It took years of training with the Serpent's Hand to get those memories back. I used to think it was just, um, standard Foundation mindwipe. Amnestics. But what Aries was saying…"

Her fingers were shaking a little on the keyboard of the device, slowing her down.

"There used to be a better world, right? With better science, understanding of, of fundamental principles we can't grasp any more. This thing wiped them out. But I- I think the thing I made, the angel, I think it's something we weren't supposed to be able to make. We got around it by creating, not remembering. I remember all these nights of headaches, the pain behind my eyes - but we all thought it was just the grind, working nights through to the next days to get things done. It- it wasn't, was it? It was this, this feeling you've all been having. I've been actively fighting this thing for, for a decade without knowing it. I think I'm just, I'm harder to crack." She giggled, looking up from the device's screen. "You're all noobs."

To his left, Fenton wobbled slightly. Emmy's smile dropped instantly.

"Fenton, your list." she said, sounding almost like a mother reminding a child of their chores.

Fenton stared at her, frowning.

"List?"

"Fuck, fuck. Yes, Fenton, your list. Tongue, Oklahoma, tuna, Dick, squash, 4:4 rhythm, combustion engines, Korea, tendrils. Repeat that back."

"Tongue, uh…" Fenton pulled off his shades, rubbing his cheekbone with his knuckle. His eyes, usually a sparkling void, were dull and average, staring vaguely at Emmy as she put her hand on his shoulder. "Engines, tendrils. Why am I doing this?" He glared at her and Dominic. "Who are you?"

Emmy deflated. Whatever it was, when this thing struck, it struck hard. It had taken Aries' ability to communicate almost totally, and now Fenton was going too. It could be a matter of minutes or seconds before he was like Aries, wordlessly succumbing to the thing.

"We're friends, ok?" said Dominic "We're here to help you. Just, just sit down and we'll talk to you in a moment, ok?"

Fenton shook his head, frustrated.

"No," he said, "No, I don't trust this. There's memories going everywhere right now, left and right, all over. All over. You could just be capitalising on a vulnerable man. Trying to get my trust."

"Memories going is why you should trust us, ok? We're your friends, we work together, you just don't remember that. If you can't trust yourself, trust us." The man seemed dissatisfied, but after a second he nodded and leaned against a computer bank behind them, positioning himself in a corner where he could watch them both. Sighing, Emmy pulled the Schulman device from her pocket and began typing with her thumb again.

"You've been fiddling with that thing for the last fifteen minutes" said Dominic. "What are you doing? There's nobody else to help."

"I'm reprogramming it." Emmy said, not even looking up. In his corner, Fenton was listening in suspiciously. "This thing doesn't just bring back memories. The Foundation folks, they found out they could use it to… implant things. Ideas."

"Like Inception?"

"Sure, like that" she said, exhasperated. "That's what I'm a consultant on. I helped them build a language to program that stuff. It's tech magic, the sort of stuff I specialise in with the Hand."

"Did you do that to us, when you were, you know, stabbing us in the back?"

Emmy shot him a dirty glare at his phrasing.

"When I was stopping you from choking to death on your own tongue, no, I did not implant any concepts in your head. Not that I know of, at least. I'm working on a standard package someone else developed, so, I dunno, maybe some compliance shit. Nothing major. What I'm doing now, however…" She looked over to the lump where Aries lay, the tendrils around it flushing now from grey to pink. "This was Aries' idea. I have no idea how she knew. 'Make it think different'. She thought we could reprogram it, stop it eating memories."

"And you can do that?" Dominic said, raising an eyebrow skeptically.

"I don't know" Emmy admitted. "It's - I've never written one before, nothing that was intended for practical use. And I'm working with the worst possible tools and…" she sighed, defeated. "And I'm starting to get the headache."

The pink flush in the tendrils was starting to spread from where Aries lay. Where it touched the edge of the ring surrounding the brain thing, it began to spread, new branches sprouting from the existing tendrils to entirely cover the surface. Was it coincidence that the ring was moving toward them? Dominic put the thought out of his head.

"What are you trying to program? What thought?"

"Just… smaller. Less. I can't get it to stop entirely, not if that goes against its entire nature, but if I can just sway it to pray on individual people maybe I can slow it down. Give the Foundation time to, to figure something out." Emmy shrugged her shoulder, resuming typing.

The wait for Emmy to finish typing was long, unbearable. Dominic moved over to Fenton, trying to console him as his thoughts slowly went, trying to ignore the urgent worries in his own head, reminding him he would be like this sooner rather than later. Soon, Fenton was nonverbal, grunting and clutching his hand over his bloodshot eyes. He started trying to get up, leaning toward the still-growing ring of tendrils that surrounded the bioweapon.

Dominic tried to push Fenton down, but the man was strong, twisting his arm til something popped and tossing him aside. Shoulder probably dislocated, he tried to grab at the tails of the man's jacket, but missed. Resigned, Emmy just watched the man march into the ring.

The tendrils parted under his feet as he walked, wriggling happily, then clamped down when the man fell to his knees. Slowly, they tugged at his chest, pulling him down into a bow and then engulfing him completely. In seconds, Fenton was gone.

"Fuck!" Dominic yelled, pain and frustration bubbling up from his core."Fuck, fuck fuuuuuck. Emmy, please tell me you're done. I don't want to- Fuck, I'm not going into that shit, ok?"

Emmy looked up at him, her eyes apologetic.

"Soon." she said "Soon."

He paced restlessly, the bipping from the device burrowing into his head, engulfing his thoughts. Your name is Dominic Alvares, he thought to himself, You've survived two goddamn years doing this shit, and you'll survive longer. The woman with the machine is Emmy Way. She's Hand, you can trust her. Trust the Hand, trust Emmy. Your name is Dominic Alvares…

Ten minutes later, Dominic's legs were getting tired, and Emmy stood.

"Dominic. Dominic, hey!"

He turned. Your name is Dominic Alvares…

"What?" he said, frowning at the machine in Emmy's hand. What was-

"Dominic, tell me what tuna is. You don't need detail, just tell me anything about it." Her face was serious, worried. You will survive this.

Dominic shrugged.

"Never heard of it." He said, honestly. Probably some anomalous thing. "Two na?"

"Ok," said Emmy, nodding. "Ok, this will have to do." She pressed a few buttons on the device she held in her good hand, and it made a loud bip. Trust the Hand, trust Emmy. "It's compiling now. This should only take a minute, but I'm afraid you might - Dominic, I want you to listen really carefully, ok?

Your name is Dominic Alvares. She was talking to him. He nodded.

"Dominic, I don't know what's going to happen when I try to work this. If I - if something goes wrong, I need you to take the needle here - " Emmy turned the device around so he could see a sharp needle that protruded from its bottom. " - and push it into that thing there, ok?"

Looking up, Dominic could see a huge creature, grey and pink, with arms that stretched through the room. How could he not have noticed that before? You will survive this. He nodded vaguely, still gazing at the huge thing.

"Ok, ok, and then the only other thing you need to do is press this green button, ok?" She pointed with her thumb to a button marked EXECUTE. Trust Emmy. Dominic nodded again.

The woman smiled. The… Emmy. Emmy smiled. She smiled, and she turned and walked into the mass of pink. Instantly, the pink began to move. Writhing, angry, it grabbed at her, closing around her scarred hand, a hand she couldn't move. She yelled for him.

Your name is Dominic Alvares. Dominic rushed in after her, ignored by the pink. It was only after her, after Emmy. Seeing him, she yelped, and held out the machine. She'd been talking about it, hadn't she? It was important. Dominic took it.

"Stab it in the fucking back." she said, grinning, and the pink surrounded her.

You will survive this. He was alone now, in a room filled with the whirring of fans and, this close to the beast, the gentle sucking sounds of its movements. It was a soothing sound, it calmed the buzzing in his mind. Dominic looked down at the lump of metal he held, the sharp point angry in his hands. Why would he hurt this thing?

Trust… the woman. The woman was gone, but she had asked him to do this. He leaned forward, unable to move his feet, bound by the pink. With a grunt, he pushed the spike into the grey flesh of the thing. He expected it to cry out, but it made no soun. Instead, the pink below him writhed faster, climbing his legs.

Your name… The was one more thing he was supposed to do. He knew this, but he didn't know what it was. Like a million tiny tasks you forgot as you moved to do them. Like walking through a doorway he couldn't walk back through.

Your name is…. The pink was around his chest now, climbing his arms. His head screamed, the pain behind his eyes so blistering he could barely see. He stretched, reaching for the device. The pink was at his wrists, writhing urgently to wrap around his fingers. He was just in reach of the keypad, his fingers brushing against the buttons.

Dominic Alvares. He pushed the green one. Maybe it was right, maybe it wasn't. He couldn't see what the screen said as the pink spread over him, filling his mouth to stop him from screaming. The pain in his head was all he was, all he'd ever been.

You will survive this.

The pink pushed into his eyes, behind them, moving with a hungry precision. For a second, the pain was gone.

And then Dominic was gone too.


ACTION REPORT: FINAL MEASURES, JANUARY 2030

PRIORITY 1 (Upsilon-4): FAILURE - NO WIDELY-DISTRIBUTABLE CURE FOUND

PRIORITY 2 (Rho-1): FAILURE - ASSET DESTROYED IN HANDLING. ALEXYLVA UNCONTACTABLE.

PRIORITY 3 (Iota-0): FAILURE - APPEAL TO KNOWN ANOMALOUS INFLUENCERS NOT MANAGED

PRIORITY 4 (Alpha-1): FAILURE - BLANKET O5 PROTECTION NOT ACHIEVED. O5-6 COMPROMISED.

PRIORITY 5 (Sigma-66): FAILURE - MIA

PRIORITY 6 (Delta-3): FAILURE - QUARANTINE IN THREE PORTLANDS UNACHIEVABLE. LETHE EVENTS OCCURRING WITHIN CITY BOUNDS.


O5 COUNCIL MINUTES, FEBRUARY 5 2030

  • SCP-3848 status changed from Keter to Uncontained.
  • O5-6 replacement suggested: Dr Nuru Jua (Director, Site-91)
  • Vote held for change in status of Operation Oceanus from Rejected to Pending: Passed, 9-3
  • Vote held for change in status of Operation Oceanus from Pending to In Effect: Passed, 7-5
  • Vote to upgrade Operation Oceanus to Priority 1: Passed, 7-5

END OF MINUTES

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