Who Framed Ralph Roget?
rating: +28+x

2021


January

Site-77: Province of L'Aquila, Italy


"Bullshit."

Ralph Roget turned the page. "Bullshit!" He flipped through the dossier, astonishment and irritation fighting for control. Every page demanded a separate signature. Every page had a different date format. There were changes to initial. There were blank spaces to fill with detailed responses. There were even — he took a deep breath — fields for mathematical calculations.

The paperwork is an anomaly. It has to be.

Without so much as a knock beforehand, the door to his grandmother's office swung open. "Site Director," he whined, glancing up. He pointed at the shiny new nameplate on his grandmother's desk. "Site Director."

"Interim Site Director," snarled Theodore Anderson, security chief for Site-77. He strode into the room. "Interim's up." He stroked his heavy grey moustache.

Roget dropped the dossier. "Grandma's back? Thank god, this red tape's nearly hanged me."

Anderson crossed his arms. "You can stop pretending to work, now. The paperwork was just a distraction while I got things in order." Roget had never seen the old hound look so satisfied.

"I take it you're not talking about tea time," Roget ventured.

Anderson shook his head. "You and your Grandma have reached the end of tea times, Ralphie."

Two uniformed agents walked in behind Anderson. They were armed.

"Don't kick up a fuss. For her sake."


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Amelia Torosyan reached down and touched her workboot toes, stretching out the tension of the long plane ride, feeling her carmine jumpsuit tug against her skin. She also felt her boyfriend staring at her. He did that whenever he thought she wasn't looking; she knew this because his reactions were almost comically slow, the product of eighteen years of being screamed at by a mirror-mounted stalker. He never could look away quickly enough.

Boyfriend? We've been inseparable for months, we're practically…

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She straightened, and Philip Deering looked down at the PDA in his lap. Gotcha. He'd been sitting on the floor, looking over low-clearance SCP files, checking SCiPNET, and pseudo-covertly checking her out for the past half-hour. The security detail they'd met at the airstrip had dumped them in this unfurnished containment cell and told them to wait.

"What're you reading about now?" she asked. "Bug warriors? Cognitohazardous stop signs?" She walked behind him and looked down; she couldn't make out the text on the PDA, because most of the screen was occupied by a scowling grey figure with slits for eyes and a mouth. Its mouth was moving, but she couldn't hear it. Nobody but Phil ever could.

Phil sighed. "I'm not reading anything, because Doug." He shook out his wristwatch, as if silently suggesting it as a better manifestation point for the reflection monster. If Doug took the hint, he did nothing with it.

Amelia knelt down and reached over Phil's shoulders, pinching the screen to zoom in and out, trying to catch a few words over Doug's own shoulders. Phil nuzzled her with his stubble, and she barely suppressed a grin. She failed to suppress a gasp when she realized what she was looking at. "Alpha-9?! Since when do you have clearance to know about Alpha-9?! I'm your boss, and I've only heard rumours!"

"I don't know about Alpha-9. I just got this email from SCiPNET." He squinted, as though that would help him read the file past Doug's ephemeral bulk. "Is it that MTF full of anomalies everybody pretends is some big secret, but they're way too mad to shut up about it?"

"Don't keep reading!" She walked back in front of him and kicked the sole of his right boot. "Whatever that is, someone sent it to you by mistake."

The cell door swung open. "They sent you by mistake, too." A moustachioed man in a security uniform walked in. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time."

"You should be sorry for listening through the door," Phil muttered.

The other man ignored him. "Theodore Anderson." He stuck out a calloused hand, and Amelia took it. "Assistant Director of Security. You'll be surrendering 5109 to me, right now."

"On whose authority?" Amelia demanded. "My instructions are to meet with Director Roget."

"Interim Director Roget," Anderson snapped. "Who's under lock and key, suspicion of treason. Whatever he wanted you to do with that password is irrelevant, now. Hand it over, and we'll ship you back to your sewer."

She shook her head. "I'm here as an agent of ETTRA. You have no authority over objects in my custody."

He smiled grimly. "Objects in your custody?" He glanced down at Phil, still crosslegged on the floor. "Like those two? Site-77 has jurisdiction over everything anomalous in Italy. I could include your grandpa in that."

"I'm not her grandpa," Phil growled. "I'm her… boyfriend."

Her cheeks flushed. She felt the inexplicable urge to stand between Phil and Anderson. She huffed; she puffed; she caved. "Fine. Fine. Let's get this over with."


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Amelia pounded her seat as the VTOL jet took off. "Son of a bitch!"

"Short vacation." Phil yawned.

"Sokolsky's gonna have a fit. We didn't catch the mole, and we lost the password."

"That's my fault." An old woman walked out of the cockpit, leaning heavily on a cane. "But you might catch the mole, yet." She sat down beside Amelia. "First things first: radio 43, and get the second copy of the password." She smiled at Phil. "We'll stick it someplace safe, this time."


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Roget tried to rattle the bars of his cell, feeling ridiculous. He felt even more ridiculous when they failed to rattle. "Anderson! Anderson, I know you're out there!"

"Lucky guess," Anderson remarked, appearing from around a corner. "Of course, your luck's always been good. That, and favouritism, got you far. This far. But no farther."

Roget narrowed his eyes. "You're in a giving mood today. Take an emotional laxative, did we?"

Anderson smiled warmly. Teddy never smiles. Certainly not warmly. "I've locked up plenty of traitors in my time, kid, but it usually hurts to see them go. It's usually the bright, promising ones who fuck up. Not today. Today's more of a two birds, one stone kind of moment."

Roget shook his head. "You sundowning, Teddy?"

Anderson laughed; Roget hadn't heard that sound since he was a child. "Old age on your mind, Ralphie? Worried about Grandma Gilly? I guess that explains your deal with The Factory."

Roget blinked. "What factory? THE Factory?"

"Cut the act. The Director's getting on in years, and it's been hard on you. People have done worse things for their loved ones than selling anomalies. What did they promise you for the password? The fountain of youth? The cure to all diseases?" Anderson tutted. "Stupid kid. Should've let her live out her life on her own terms." The older man grasped the bars and rattled them, effortlessly. "Now her grandson's in the brig, and after the internal investigation she'll probably never get her precious Site back. Just wait'll they see what she's been up to in the basement!"

Roget's stomach was in free-fall. "Who's the Director right now, Teddy?"

Anderson's smile grew, but never reached his eyes. "I am. And it's time I moved into my office."


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Director Shirley Gillespie sipped from her cardboard cup of coffee and watched the young couple squirm. There were four of them in the golf cart, an MTF agent making up the difference. Two more carts followed, a convoy wending its way towards Mount Salviano.

"What do they think Dr. Roget did?" Amelia asked.

"Something stupid," Gillespie answered. "Which is on-brand, but he's innocent."

"So, we're here to clear his name?"

"No, not directly. We're here to unravel a conspiracy, and possibly kill an underground monster." Gillespie took another, more reluctant sip. "The conspiracy's a definite, the monster's only likely."

Amelia frowned. "You're bringing janitors to a monster fight?"

Gillespie grimaced at her coffee. "I make do with what I have. Alpha-9 is busy, but you two have your uses. I hear you're quite the problem solver, and you…" She nodded at the grey figure in the rear-view mirror, which was glowering at Phil as it always did.

"Of course," Amelia muttered.

Phil nodded weakly. "That's what the email was. I'm being drafted by Alpha-9. Oh, god, I'm gonna die." He said this very calmly.

Gillespie peered at the desaturated slit monster with an anatomist's interest. "Only you can hear it," she murmured. "And it follows you around, reflection to reflection, never looking at anyone else. That kind of loyalty is hard to find."

Amelia put an arm around Phil's shoulders as they approached a massive cleft in the mountain.

"I mean, Doug also curses me out twenty-four seven," said Phil. "But what're you gonna do."

"Exploit it," said Gillespie, and she didn't say anything further.


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"…what am I looking at?" Amelia half-whispered.

"A gateway to hell on Earth," Gillespie half-whispered back. She shuddered with pleasure. "Ooooh."

If ever a door had looked hellish, it was this one. It was vast, sleek, shiny, gold-trimmed and jet black, in an ornate frame of ebony wood set deep into the interior cave wall. MTF agents were tracing lines and symbols on the surrounding rock with white chalk.

"We're going to hell today?" Phil swallowed.

Gillespie glanced at the foreman, who nodded.

"He's nodding yes?" Phil asked. "Yes, we are going to hell today?"

"Open it up," Gillespie ordered.

The foreman knelt down and linked two lines together with a single piece of chalk, and the designs flashed bright red. Then green. Then black.

I've never seen black flash before, Amelia thought, and then the door slammed open.

Gillespie clapped. "Bonus points for that. Alright, back in the carts, and I'll explain."


2020


October


"This is a terrible idea," Theodore Anderson declared.

"That's only part of what I like about it," Gillespie retorted, hobbling through the cave system and pointing at the banks of monitors and lab equipment. "The unbridled potential is the main thing."

Anderson looked up at the inky blackness, where he knew the cavern ceiling and the foundations of Site-77 had to be. "How long have you known this place was here?"

"Not long." An anonymous technician handed Gillespie a clipboard, and she glanced over the contents. "A bit like finding a hundred dollar bill under the couch cushions, isn't it?"

"A bit like finding a dead rat." Anderson flicked on his flashlight and peered into the distance; the cave was seemingly endless, so vast that their voices didn't even echo. The air was still, as if anticipating something. "What've we found so far?"

"Oh, the usual." Gillespie handed the clipboard back to the technician. "Guns that fire human teeth. Flamethrowers that use your blood as napalm. We've only just begun to map the place, but we've already been set on by carnivorous bats and suicide bombers."

Anderson looked back at her, concerned. "Suicide bombers?"

"They look like little kids. Until you see their eyes."

He shuddered, shutting off the flashlight. "So, more Mussolini crap." The province of L'Aquila had been one big production plant for arms and materiel before the Second World War, when it became something much worse. The Germans and Italians had spent millions of marks and lira on occult experiments in remote villages, and caves just like this one.

"That's the working theory." Gillespie watched as the techs set up a series of fluorescent lamps, and the researchers began setting down rows of glassware on stainless steel tables. "I can't wait to see what other goodies are down here."

Hello, Theodore.

"What?" Anderson walked over to Gillespie. "What did you say?"

"I didn't say anything. Must have been an echo."

But there were still no echoes.


2021


January


"So, that's where the door was from?" Phil asked. "The fascists? Or the Nazis?" The carts sped along the winding tunnels, headlamps beaming into the black.

Gillespie nodded. "Good, call them what they were. Naming a thing gives you power over it."

Amelia shook her head. "That door was American. I've seen ones like it in old banks."

Gillespie clapped. "Even better! Yes, it's American. We even know what Factory it came from."

They both heard the pause which signified the capital letter, but only Amelia understood what it meant. She shivered.

"Italy surrendered to the Allies in '43," Gillespie continued. "A lot of people didn't want that to happen. And they had deep pockets."

The carts had passed into a massive cavern, the far walls and ceiling lost in the gloom. There were tool-marks on the floor, and an eerie stillness in the air.

"They enlisted the services an American robber baron and Satanist named James Anderson."

"Two Andersons," Phil remarked. "Weird coincidence."

"I could name you another," Gillespie shrugged. "And coincidences can be magical. Also magical, James Anderson. Whatever deals he made with the devil, they made him more than just a man. He could pluck the very worst ideas out of the minds of his men, and make them real. When he was alive, his Factory made impossible tools of oppression and violence; when he died, they went international."

"Big in Germany," Phil muttered.

"Exactly. By the fifties we knew that Anderson could never really die; he wasn't human anymore, he was essentially a demon. The Factory had scattered parts of his body around the world, suffusing places like this with his essence, a hundred evil branch plants and dark Satanic mills. We didn't realize that's what this place was when we discovered it; we knew when we found the second door."

Amelia narrowed her eyes. "The second door?"

Gillespie nodded. "The one we came in through just now. We're damn lucky it exists, because it's the only way we'll be able to sneak up on Anderson."

"Wait," said Phil. "Which Anderson?"

Gillespie ignored him. "The other door, the first door, is under Site-77; we discovered it a few months ago, when we were expanding the Director's Complex. We've been containing, decommissioning, and experimenting on the things Anderson left there ever since."

Amelia and Phil stared at her. She looked sheepish. "Yes, in retrospect, oops. People in the lower levels started hearing voices, feeling compulsions. It's obvious now that Anderson was reaching out. Everyone working in the cave had a high mental resilience score, so I didn't think there'd be a problem. I underestimated his reach."

There was a light in the far, far distance.

"We didn't know what we were dealing with until we caught a Serpent's Hand thaumaturge skulking around Mount Salviano, making sure the protective wards on the door were solid; turns out they'd known about it for decades, and made sure to seal it off. By the time we realized this was no Italian knockoff, but the honest-to-goodness Factory, I had pressing business with Alpha-9 so I ordered the whole thing shuttered. Too late." She crumpled her empty coffee cup, and threw it under her seat. "The damage was already done. Lord, I hate coffee."

"You strike me as more of a tea drinker," said Amelia.

"I am. But the man who makes my tea has answered a different calling today, and I'm very particular."


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When the campfire came in view, they shut off the electric motors and debarked. The visible cavern floor was littered with arcane symbols and interconnected lines, all sketched out in white chalk, all glowing softly. The crazy lighting occasionally revealed shattered computer monitors, dim track lighting and overturned shipping containers scattered about. Theodore Anderson was hunched over beside the campfire, furiously scribbling on the stone. A rough circle of rotted viscera surrounded him.

The agents took positions around the circle, out of sight. Anderson suddenly straightened, and ten shots rang out in quick succession…

…only to impact on an invisible barrier around the magic circle. Anderson laughed; it sounded like a cat vomiting. "Shirley! You've brought friends!"

There were screams from the darkness, all around.

"What shall I make from them?" Anderson walked out of the firelight, and they saw that his eyes were matte black; Phil and Amelia jockeyed for position, each attempting to shield the other.

"Ande—" Gillespie began. She dropped her cane, and it clattered against the rock. She clutched at her throat.

"Please don't," said Anderson. "I would really, really hate to hear that name right now."

Phil caught Gillespie as she fell, lowering her gently to her knees. She was breathing; she was also laughing, hoarsely. "Of course. Of course."

"Of course," said Anderson, amiably. He walked back to the circle.

Amelia knelt beside her. "Of course what?"

Gillespie's eyes were full of tears. "Anderson. The first Anderson."

"The Satanist?"

Gillespie shook her head. "The demon."

"I can hear you back there," Anderson called.

"Okay," Amelia muttered. "Factory Anderson is possessing your Anderson? Why? How? Because they have the same name?"

Gillespie's eyes were wild; she was dissociating. "Names are a kind of magic. Why do we name things?"

Amelia shook her head. Because… "Because naming a thing gives you power over it."

"He's… a demon," Gillespie repeated.

"I heard that," Anderson growled, and Gillespie's eyes rolled back. Phil gently lowered her to the cave floor.

Amelia swallowed. Her head was swimming. She understood.

"Not a fan of last-minute reversals," Anderson muttered, standing up. "But! We've just passed the last minute. I'm about to get an upgrade, and you're about to get your jumped-up butler back. Briefly." He laughed again.

Amelia stood up and embraced Phil, feeling his warmth again in the clammy cave. She whispered in his ear: "It's a ritual to take the password as his name."

She let him go.


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"Hey, asshole," Amelia called.

The thing which was two Andersons looked up from the ritual circle. "I thought I sent you two packing."

"We stayed for the show." Phil's voice was shaking. His body was shaking.

Anderson traced one final line on the floor, and stood up. And up. And up. He seemed to fill the space between them. There was growling in the distance; it echoed through the chamber.

"You might as well. Theodore's been such wretched company, clawing back the whole time. You look… weaker." The demon walked across the circle and examined them both. Before Amelia could move, could speak, could even breathe, a hand shot out and clutched Phil by the throat. His boots left the ground.

In the instant before Amelia screamed, Anderson dropped him to the cave floor and shrugged. "He doesn't know it." As Phil spluttered on the ground, the demon grasped her head in both hands and squeezed. "Oh, you don't know it either. Good."

Amelia collapsed, head buzzing as though Anderson had filled her skull with flies. "What… the fuck…" she spat, then suddenly vomited.

"Had to make sure this wasn't a trick." Anderson walked back into the circle. "If you somehow still knew the password, this would be a very bad idea. I've been wanting to get back to work for a long, long time, but the rules of demonology are so inconvenient." He placed the palm of his hand in the centre of the sigils. "Time to become un-nameable."

Anderson began a deep, rattling chant. Amelia couldn't make sense of the words, and she didn't want to. The fire went out. The groaning in the distance became a concentrated wall of bellowing, resolving into what sounded like a hundred roaring diesel engines. The cavern walls rumbled. A red mist drifted upward from the chalk designs.

Amelia clutched Phil's arm, wiping her mouth with her free hand. "Do it."

Phil coughed, and raised his wristwatch to his face.

The mist became a rippling skein of white, veined flesh. From out of the darkness, row after row of dome-topped Italian tanks squealed into view, bedrock pouring off of them in waves. The squeal wasn't mechanical, it was the squeal of…

Don't listen to it. She focused on Phil's breathing.

The grey face on the watch was moving its mouth-scar; Phil pressed his ear to it, nodding.

Ranks of men with bleeding eyes strode out of the gloom, carrying…

Don't look at it. She focused on Phil's deep brown eyes.

She saw a look of recognition dawn, and she saw that the face on the watch had finished speaking. Phil tried to take in a breath, and his throat whistled with the effort. It broke her heart. He shook his head. He shook his head.

She pulled him to a kneeling position, and held him. "Whisper it," she whispered, kissing him on the cheek. She pressed their foreheads together. "Whisper it to me."

Anderson crumpled to the ground, and the swirling mass of flesh around him congealed into a shimmering, translucent simulacrum of life.

THE BOSS IS BACK, it boomed in their skulls like a jackhammer on metal. BREAK TIME'S OVER.

Almost but not quite inaudibly, Phil whispered the password to her.

The demon raised one arm, and the turrets on the tanks raised in tune to point at the cavern ceiling.

WHO'S UP FOR A HOSTILE TAKEOVER? The tanks were glowing, red-hot.

Amelia took a deep breath.

She spoke the demon's name.

And then she said the first thing that came into her head.


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"'You're fired'? Seriously?" Phil croaked.

Amelia smiled, massaging his neck. "I associate it with fascism, now. Anyway, it worked."

"I'll bet…" Phil swallowed, hard. "I'll bet that's never been used as a banishing spell before." He flopped back on the hotel bed.

She flopped back with him. "It might catch on. Lots of people dream about firing their bosses."

He snuggled up against her. "Not me."

She held him tight. "Well, your boss is a special case."

"So special."

They lay like that for a while, squeezing and releasing until their muscles buzzed pleasantly. Then he pulled back and examined her; he delicately pushed her eyelids open, and she snorted. "What?"

"I didn't know that demon thing. That you can control them if you know their names."

She nodded; the tips of their noses brushed together, and she kissed him. "It's like Gillespie said."

She squirmed out of his grasp, and reached into her jumpsuit pocket.

"Naming a thing gives you power over it."

She took his hand and pressed something small, cool and sharp into the palm. He held it up to the light, watched it sparkle for a moment, then slipped it over his ring finger. Doug watched him patiently from a glass of water on the bedside table; he was speaking. Amelia doubted it was congratulating them, but she didn't really care. Judging by Phil's awed expression, he didn't either.


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Anderson rubbed the back of his head. "Someone caught you when you fell, but nobody caught me?"

Shirley Gillespie leaned back on her infirmary bed, eyes closed. "I'm old, and important. And anyway, James, sic semper proditores."

She could feel his eyes on her. "I'm not a traitor. And my name is Theodore."

"Well, Theodore, you've had quite a busy week. Sticking your moustache where it didn't belong, getting your weak old man brain possessed, faking credentials, deposing my nephew, stealing an anomaly and nearly blowing the bottom of my Site out with an army of underground demon tanks."

She heard his head hit the pillow of his own bed. "I don't remember any of that, but it doesn't matter. I'm chalking this whole episode up to your mad science — I still can't believe you drafted those janitors — and making a note to argue with you more often."

She chuckled. "I'm sure I'll forgive you eventually. After all, who else is going to make my—"

"Tea!" The door banged open, and Ralph Roget backed in. He was carrying a tray. "Who wants some?"

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