As Skies Frozen

There is a river through human history, an ever-wheeling flow of memes.

And then, one day, it shifted. Rivers in some places will naturally reverse direction—buck and break their banks in a titanic gallop, until what went one way now goes another.

I think that was what happened with the ideas, and what happened with humanity—one day it just changed course, to something new.

The stars stood still.

Initiative: Project Icarus

Side Effects: When looking into the night sky, most civilians in the western hemisphere are unable to observe extraterrestrial objects. Instead, they will see a city suspended in the sky. Its contradiction with the correct night view may trigger cascading errors in interpreting visual stimuli, inducing progressively severe hallucinations.

Containment Strategy: Memetic agent CELESTE LENS has been introduced to override the harmful sky view. Looking into the night sky, human recipients will see instead the sky view snapshot at 21:28:00 (GMT-05:00), Mar. 11th, 2021. Such an overlapping view will not induce any subsequent side effects.

At dawn, a grey sun hung before the skies.

Researcher Andy finally finished his report for another memetic agent distribution. As an officer in charge of SCP-3475, his jobs were no more than checking out incident reports of anomalies inside the veil. It was his subordinates' duty to build and spread memetic agents countering those anomalies. Most agents could delete memories, while a few could implant new thoughts and rewrite old ones. At this time, the human memetic flow was faster than ever, so Andy and his research group needed to always bring out quick and simple solutions to fight the abnormalities. Andy, as the leading memeticist, was tired of drugs and paperwork.

Now, he got permission to leave. He could get back to the family and see his daughter. Katie, a junior research fellow, planned to take over his position during his leave. She looked at him in admiration, bowed deeply, and then sat on the seat he had struggled on for a long time. Andy smiled and nodded contentedly and strode outside.

Inside the dense woods was Andy's workplace, a shabby cabin. To many Foundation employees, this tiny cabin was heaven - every day, they could absorb the scent of nature and listen to the ethereal voices of the God. However, after living there for a long time, researchers began to deem this tiny cabin as hell. Dirty mosquitoes buzzed annoyingly; perilous plants were everywhere, waiting for their sweet poison to seduce their prey; the road to the forest was muddy and winding, hypnotizing ignorant travelers who dared to step on.

What's more, as the fluid of human memes shifted quickly and drastically, the fruitful contents of the forest became an untold nightmare. Some memetic shifts injected horror into those who dared look at the tall trees. Some forced humans to drink the milky juice of oleander. Some made humans see bloody spots everywhere on grass and leaves. Some encouraged humans to dig open the nest of ants and lie down inside. A perfect tomb.

Andy couldn't promise to avoid any danger. Accumulating experience through luck was all he could do. It was the only way to outperform any other.

Outside, a shallow stream lay in front of Andy. He took out a syringe carefully from his medical box. Inside the syringe was a wide-range counter-meme agent. It was one of his most ingenious products. Foundation researchers injected it so they could travel inside civilian areas freely, regardless of side effects from the esoteric memetic flows. The huge memetic difference could paralyze those who traversed between areas without protection. The paralysis felt like a spiky sledgehammer punching into the skull. Andy knew all about that.

Andy plugged the syringe into his body and walked to the opposite riverbank. The drug began to take effect. The dark water faded, turning from murky to crystal clear; the greyish sun became ripe, refracting colorful spectra through dewdrops; the disturbing white noise vanished, giving place to songs of warblers and swallows. Ominous, sad scenes shattered in the chorus of the harmonious world.

Andy wanted to say, "hell beautiful."

However, he swallowed the words, as such harmony was merely a camouflage. It isolated the civilians from researchers who held on to the harsh reality. It created an eerie vault of heaven.

Andy headed to the airport nearby, and the river flowed as always.

On board, Andy read newspapers. He was searching for strange news, which could indicate failures of memetic cover-ups. But reassuringly, the newspapers showed merely anecdotes about stars and cliches propagating alleged human rights. Reading page by page, Andy finished all the newspapers in about an hour.

He then decided to play with his phone to kill time. He opened the voice memo, and one voice message from his daughter was at the top of the list.

He hit play, trying to recall the past.

[Start log]

Dad, the night sky that day was gorgeous.

I sat down by the balcony and looked outside, as always.

It was dusk. I closed my eyes and mumbled, wishing my dad would come back sooner.

When I opened my eyes again, it seemed much brighter. The whole sky was splayed with gold, like tumbling waves of ripe wheat.

After that, I witnessed the gentle flow of stars in the universe. The trails were bizarre. It was like some aliens hung lanterns high, leading the way to somewhere deep in the dark.

Many people ran down to the yard, the grassland, lying down and facing up. They put their hands together; were they making wishes?

More and more people came outside, and the light in the sky grew lighter.

A man suddenly shouted aloud. "They are not stars but CITIES!"

I gazed even more attentively. He was right. Humans were wandering around in the suspended city high up.

What's more, the city above was exactly the city where I live now. I lifted my head and could recognize the landmarks, the houses, the people, and myself.

On the other side of the scope, there was a little girl. She looked like me. She looked at me.

I smiled, and so did she.

And the night suddenly ended, with no reason.

From then on, the entire sky seemed deadly frozen. The stars no longer moved. The moon never became full once again.


But why?


[End log]

The voice ended. Andy put his face against the window, drowning in the deep dark blue infinity. Looking outside, the pitiful stars became still in this eternity.

Ironically, such a tragic scene was Andy's "masterpiece."

Human perception of the sky changed over time, and the shift of cognition dimmed the real starry sky in human eyes. As a replacement, a luminous city view started to emerge. However, this was not an optical illusion - the city was solely an integration of memes. Human brains generated them, and they formed something right up there as a whole, like finishing a jigsaw puzzle.

In all, the lights in the sky were fake.

When truth and falsity coincided on the same canvas of night view, human cognition started to distort. The Project Icarus report demonstrated it pretty well. Andy was the executive of this project. To come up with a good containment strategy, he had to resolve two issues.

Firstly, to prevent any possible agitation, Andy needed to "convince" civilians that the sky was normal. That was an easy step. The "Ennui-series" chemical agents could help him out. With such kind of agent, humans could accept any inconsistency between naked-eye observation and astronomical data.

Then, Andy needed to find a way to offset the influence of "sky cities." The solution was tricky. Based on his experience over the years, making an agent that can precisely eliminate the negative effects was almost impossible. It required the researcher to master the mechanism of all side effects. In contrast, imposing a stronger meme on human brains was an acceptable fallback. Specifically, Andy could create a highly reactive meme that could override the harmful one when civilians looked up to the night sky.

That was exactly what he did. He gathered night sky data from all over the world. He then picked one specific night view and encoded the visual data into chemicals. After those chemicals were sprayed all over civilian areas, the population would absorb them into their neural systems. Those recipients would then see a beautiful sky view from the past, which had signal intensity high enough to override the conception of "sky city."

The sky view injected into the mind was fake as well. However, it was harmless - it could protect civilians' cognition systems in the long run.

Some of his colleagues thought that it would be easier to blind civilians when they look up at night: it was unnecessary to create a complicated night view. But Andy told them his own consideration.

"Although the starry night is contaminated, I still wish they would be able to appreciate it with their own eyes… even if the sky only existed for one moment in the past."

That was enough.

He got off the plane, hired a taxi, and headed to his home.

It was three years ago that he came home to see his daughter last time. The river flow of memes then was not as fast as it was now. To his daughter, dad was dad, not something unhuman.

"Betty babe, remember, text me something every day. Just… just keep something in the records, and… leave them in the world…"

"…Em, dad, you're saying strange words again."

Recalling the past, Andy arrived at last. Now he was in front of the gate.

The house was what it had always been. The tangerine indoor lighting; the happy smoke spewing from the chimney; and the clean SUV in the garage: all of them soothed Andy's soul…

until he took a glimpse of his reflection from the car window.

"No… no, no, no, this shouldn't happen…" he murmured anxiously. But the more nervous he became, the more distorted he started to look.

Andy's workplace had a different memetic atmosphere compared to outside the veil. As civilians contacted more and more memetic agents, their cognition of what was inside the veil should also be changing. As a precaution, Andy sprayed layers and layers of memetic coating around himself to minimize the cognitive discrepancy. The coating took effect time after time; however, its complexity grew, keeping pace with the shift of memetic flow. Upon his returning home, the coating's camouflage performance reached the upper limit.

The memetic disguise of Andy began to fall off, piece by piece. If anyone could witness his appearance, their mouth would definitely fall open. Andy's black hair faded and colored with exotic green; his ears - with a shaper rim - slid up his face eerily, like a goblin; his limbs thinned and stretched and sprouted like flippers.

Before his appearance became more dismantled, he knocked on the door, expecting to see his dear daughter.

"Babe, I'm back!"

"Who is it out there?"

"Betty babe, it's dad! I am finally back…"


Before Andy could finish his word, a piercing shriek resonated around the house.

Betty saw him through the peephole.

From her perspective, she just heard some unhuman creature growling. She could identify some vague words like "dad" and "babe," but the alien voice and appearance dragged her away from her beloved parent.

"LEAVE!" Betty shouted in fear and sprinted back to her bedroom. "Perhaps I'm in a nightmare… what the hell was that?" She would rather believe that her true father was still far away, struggling to make a living. But, strangely, she could feel a familiar atmosphere around that inhuman creature.

Now, Andy had to go. It was useless to linger around his home anymore. An unexpected failure of his memetic precautionary measures ruined all his plans, hopes, and expectations. Now that he was a total alien to other civilians, he was also unsure whether he could stay in the city. If the protective memes also wore out, his body would be exposed to thousands of different memes. The colossal information wave could crush his mind for good. In conclusion, he should return into the veil right away.

Searching on the map, he found that the nearest Foundation front was just a few miles away. He was lucky. Minutes later, a car labeled "Super Car Photography" picked him up and led him to the boundary of the veils.

"Andy, why not sleep in our store?" a Foundation colleague asked.

"The condition of my memetic coating was bad," Andy sighed, "if it breaks completely when I'm still inside the city, I'm afraid I'll die."

"Can we drop you off here?" the car stopped beside a river. "Simply go across the bridge, and the Site is about half a mile away. Oh my, I'm feeling bad right now. "

"Sure, just stop here, please. Thank you very much." Andy answered. Those colleagues resided in the city for a long time. As they traveled closer to the boundary, the abrupt change of memes could disrupt their cognition. Andy understood that very well.

After Andy waved goodbye to his colleagues, he stood on the bridge and took out three syringes. That was all he prepared to return back to abnormalcy.

The first shot was "liberation." The heavy skin woven by memetic agents was pelt off. The tranquil forest wind pulled it away.

The second shot was "oblivion." Memories rooted in fake normality shall be shackled and discarded.

The third shot was "interrogation." Various stimuli lashed Andy heavily, coercing him into SCP Foundation's eternal missions.

One body, three injections, thousand of memes, and millions of thoughts clashed loudly inside Andy, a helpless, tiny individual.

In an instant, the whole universe was filled with eyes. The lines of sight were a cruel test for every brave person who dared face reality.

I see you. Countless eyes shot out these words right to Andy's brain. He must suffer. "Welcome to the goddamn vacation leave!" He said to himself, reluctantly.

Under the gaze of billions of eyes, he crossed the river to the other side.

And the stars began to move again.

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