Charon (Part 1: Nekyia)
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Yanma Mirski sat on the concrete floor staring at the small gem before him. For the past dozen months he had sat at the bottom of this gloomy hexagonal vault, as he was doing now. The wall opposite him was decorated with various folders and documents upon shelves, illuminated by the light from the single opening above. He examined the item in his hand. It was an onyx gemstone about the size of a softball, with a dazzling gold decoration. He turned it in his hand and studied the main feature of this treasure, the infernal enigma that was the focus of his work - a small lock-shaped hole in one end of the object.

Beyond the microwaves it emitted, its universal resistance to damage and the impossible detail in the gold filigree, the gemstone was mundane. It didn't turn air into seawater, it didn't make people forget about it, it didn't replace the consciousness of anyone that touched it. It just warmed surrounding surfaces and looked like a Fabergé egg.

The lock was similarly mundane with one exception. Its purpose had eluded the Foundation for several years, but probing the interior of the stone produced sounds and movements within, ensuring it wasn’t a five-thousand year old Sumerian prank to trick idiots into trying to unlock an inert stone. The lock had a working mechanism that would function with a respective key.

Placing the gem back onto its pedestal upon a shelf, Dr. Mirski retrieved a file from the shelf below that detailed all the attempts to open or unlock the item. Lockpicking; failed. No matter the skill of the user, the lock picks never worked. Brute force assault with various tools and implements; failed. Hammers bounced, chisels slipped, blades shattered, and not a single scratch or scuff was made. Heating to five thousand degrees Celsius; failed. The stone came out as cool as the moment it went in. Application of industrial cutting laser; failed. The beam reflected and the machine was sliced beyond recognition.

No matter how far down the list he went, the outcome was always the same. Some of Yanma’s subordinates had gone as far to throw a nuclear warhead at the lock, under the guise of testing a sample of the Foundation’s armaments. All that resulted was confirmation the Lock would survive a nuclear holocaust, and that Yanma would probably be better off conducting Project Pluto alone rather than having to retroactively approve pointless attempts from the lower-ranked researchers in the project.

Yanma returned the document to its spot, losing interest in the list of ten thousand ways to fail at his job. He decided to look through one of the other folders; he needn't go anywhere else as absolutely all the information on the Lock was stored within the vault. Suffice to say, there wasn't much.

Retrieving the folder marked ‘Notes’, Yanma looked through the contents written by his former colleague, Quinton Hack. They had been assigned together on Project Pluto and entrusted with the task of opening the Lock. The majority of staff aware of the Lock believed that it contained the entire universe and thus would cause an apocalypse when opened. Perhaps the universe would rapidly expand out of the Lock; perhaps the solar system would be crushed by a colossal atom as it rushed in. The only way to know what would happen was to start it.

Regardless of the madness it entailed, the task had been entrusted to Yanma and Quinton from the Overseer Council. “Open the Lock at all costs,” they had said. Utilise an infinite budget to open an indestructible object with. The Foundation had frequently come up against impossible tasks, but somehow managed to achieve them. Hopefully this would be no different.

Grabbing a second folder filled with dim photographs and transcripts of a four-hundred year old journal, Yanma read through the scribbled notes of his partner. Quinton had been onto something, but Yanma never found out what. Quinton had realized something one night and quickly rushed back to Site-10 to write down these strange notes. Before Yanma had awoken the next morning, Quinton had flown to Site-17 for reasons that were at the time above his clearance level. Nobody had even heard of him since, simply vanishing from existence or into an alternate reality.

Quinton’s epiphany had vanished with him. The night after his disappearance several files had vanished from the vault, prompting the addition of the time lock that Yanma alone could open. He was left alone to satiate the meagre curiosity of the Overseer Council. Working on one of the most secretive anomalies out there, he was bound to report to the council on his progress bi-monthly, though his lack of any actual progress neither surprised nor disappointed them. Project Pluto was little more than a black hole from which funding and resources never returned, and from which no information was retrieved. It should have been abandoned years ago, but the money kept coming and the Overseers kept waiting, so Yanma kept working.

Yanma returned his focus to the notes before him. A small number of runes circled, with a line connecting them to the word 'shame'. Several sections of underlined text detailing landmarks seen as the author aimlessly wandered the Mesopotamian desert, with the word 'Magnetite' added and underlined. A blank page with 'IMMORTAL SUMER FAMINE' scrawled in rushed handwriting across its entirety. There were other notes that Quinton had written, but these were the most intriguing of them.

For the past three months since the disappearance of Dr. Quinton Hack, Dr. Yanma Mirski had entered this vault in Site-10 fortnightly. And each time, he left without learning anything new from the notes, nor their true importance. What was the relation between the expedition of Sir Edwin Young, Third Baron, and magnetite? What was - or is - the immortal Sumer famine? Yanma rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration, knowing he would probably never figure it out alone. He checked his watch - seven eighteen PM. He had entered the vault seven hours ago. Deciding against waiting inside the vault any longer, he returned the folders to their places and climbed the steel ladder to the surface. Completing the three steps needed to close the vault for the next three weeks, Yanma walked to the door of the room and exited. The hallway outside was whitewashed and connected to two others by T-junctions to either side. Remembering the layout of Sub-Level 1, he turned left and walked as the echoes of a conversation reached his ears.

"Did you hear about C-Area thirty-two?" said a male voice, its owner hidden from Yanma’s sight.

"No, what happened?" replied a second male voice, its speaker just as concealed.

"Completely annihilated. Worst breach seventy-six has had to date, so bad they had to nuke the place just to stop him. You'd think he'd get mellow with age or something, but nope. He’s like a one-man war…" Yanma never heard the remainder of the conversation; what he had heard was sufficient to stop his legs and hearing as his mind raced, his expression being comparable to fish out of water. Pulses raced through neurons within his brain as ideas and theories within his mind connected, catalysed by the vague but sufficient information he had overheard by pure chance.
His mind unlocking from the rush of information, Dr. Mirski turned and raced back to the room he had just come from in a mad dash, hoping that he would be able to get back into the vault before it completely closed. Pulling the door open as fast as he could, he raced to the sealed hatch in the middle of the room. The sound of working mechanics had subsided, and the steel bars hidden beneath the surface of the vault had already slid into place. Yanma slammed his fist down in frustration. He'd have to wait almost an entire month now, but he could still investigate from what he remembered. He still had his epiphany to follow – “Immortal Sumer Famine” wasn’t a thing or event, it was a person. An immortal Sumerian who was followed by endless famine wherever they went.

Once again leaving the room, Yanma set about planning his flight to Site-17.

From: Heracles
To: Hermes
Subject: Obol
Subject is on his way to Tartarus. Please confirm intentions and advise on action.

From: Hermes
To: Heracles
Subject: Re: Obol
Booking with Famine. Proceed with protocol.

Dr. Mirski was tired from the plane flight, and looked the part. He couldn't be bothered combing his hair nor smoothing the wrinkles in his clothes. He was here to get answers, and if he needed he would flaunt his Level 5 clearance to get them. He walked the short distance from his vehicle to the main entry of Site-17. He walked up to the front desk and spoke to the well-dressed receptionist sitting behind it.

"Yanma Mirski for his appointment." Knowing he would be asked for some form of verification, he removed the Foundation ID card he had from his pocket and placed it upon the reception desk. The receptionist looked at the card, then at Yanma before returning his gaze to the computer screen in front of him. The receptionist then waved over a nearby guard and informed them of where Dr. Mirski wanted to go. The trip to the room was short, ending with the guard adopting a position to one side of the doorway. Reminding himself of what he needed to ask, Yanma composed himself and entered.

The cell was a standard two-room concrete chamber for humanoid anomalies, decorated sparsely with furnishings. It took a lot of cooperation for an anomaly to earn furnishings, with such rooms normally being barren. Sitting on a plastic chair was the being he had come to speak to, reading something on a handheld tablet. Yanma cleared his throat, notifying the humanoid of his presence.

"Sorry." The man's word was rich with an arabic or middle eastern accent, his skin tanned appropriately. His arms and legs were mechanical, mimicking normal movement as he moved to a desk and put down the tablet while Yanma watched. The man turned to face his guest, the friendly smile he had showing yellowed teeth. He offered a mechanical hand for a handshake. "Dr. Mirski, I presume? I hear you have come quite a long way to see me, and on such short notice too. Do you want something to drink?" Accepting the handshake, Yanma couldn't help but grin at the friendliness of the immortal man. He looked no older than thirty-five, but was known to have been born at the dawn of the human race.

"No thanks Cain, I'd much rather just get this done quickly.” Yanma had slept poorly that night, not just from the turbulent flight but also from his thoughts. Had Quinton found what he sought? Had he vanished for looking? Most importantly, was Yanma going to meet the same fate? Yanma had always been dangerously curious; soon, he thought, he will find out if he can take it too far.

"I understand." Cain retrieved a second chair, offering it to Yanma before turning his own to face it. "What do you need of me?"

"I have some questions about my work that I believe you can help me with. But first, I must ask; has a man named Dr. Hack come and spoken to you before?" Yanma spoke while he shifted in his seat, trying to find a comfortable way to sit.

"Ah, Quinton Hack, yes. He came here some months ago - suddenly flew over from Site-10 to ask me to help him with his work. He mentioned you." Cain shifted to rest his head upon his hand, grinning at Yanma as though he was thinking of a joke. Yanma was relieved to know that his friend had at least gotten the answers he had sought.

"Nobody has seen or heard of him since your meeting. Do you know what happened to him?" Cain simply continued grinning, rather than respond. Yanma felt uneasy at the strange humour the immortal was finding in his plight. It was only then that he noticed the sound of breathing behind him.

"I've been busy," said the third person in the room as Dr. Mirski turned to see the familiar face of Dr. Hack.

The resulting uneasy silence remained undisturbed for several moments until Cain stood up. "I will fetch drinks." Cain left the room, leaving the two researchers alone. Quinton walked around Yanma and sat down in Cain's chair.

"I take it you've been keeping busy too?" He said, shifting to get more comfortable in his seat.

The first thing out of Yanma's mouth was "Where the fuck have you been!" He was astonished that Quinton was still alive, but just as enraged that he had feigned his death for so long. He almost had a fit, right then and there.

"Jeez, calm down would you? I've been busy, like I said. I'm sure you've got questions, but before we continue there's some paperwork to do. Bump you up to the right clearance to know I'm alive and what-not." Quinton spoke, grinning childishly as he saw the annoyance on his friend's face.

"Is this a fucking joke to you, Hack? A prank for some shits and giggles?" Clenching his fists in sheer anger, veins began emerging along his arms. "Well the fucking joke's on you. I'm level five now thanks to you, so your fucking 'info-sec' bullshit won't work. I have unlimited access."

"Calm down, you're going to pop an artery. Level five doesn't get you everything, not anymore - the Overseers have all kinds of extra stuff hidden all over the place, need-to-know and such. I've been given permission to… lets just keep it simple and say you're being 'promoted to Level 6'." Retrieving a handheld tape recorder from his pocket, Quinton began recording their conversation.

"This is Dr. Quinton Hack, speaking to Dr. Yanma Mirski. I am serving as a spokesperson to grant Dr. Mirski access to information for Project Charon. Dr. Mirski, there are two outcomes to this encounter and it is your choice which occurs."

Quinton extended his index finger, signifying the first option. "First: You can accept the induction and will be brought up-to-date on Project Charon, by extension learning of both its relation to Project Pluto and of my whereabouts for the past several months. However, as a consequence of this you will need to be declared missing or killed in action under similar circumstances to myself, in order to ensure informational security of Project Charon. This will be a permanent designation; your life outside the Foundation will end."

Keeping his index finger out, Quinton then extended his middle finger as well. "Second: You reject this induction, be administered with sufficient amnestics to prevent you from recalling both this conversation and the circumstances behind it. You will resume your work on Project Pluto as though this never occurred and as far as you will be aware, it never did." Quinton put his hand down. "Any questions?"
Looking at the stern expression of his superficially resurrected friend, Yanma's anger faltered and began to subside. Quinton had been a prankster at times, but he always took his work seriously and never before had he been so persistent in maintaining a joke's facade. Coupled with the curious inability for anyone within the Foundation to find anything about him during his disappearance, the question of whether this was a trick at all was rapidly becoming 'no.' Yanma instinctively rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling the onset of a headache.

"This must be what it's like for those nosey few who ask me if the Lock exists." he groaned.

"Yeah, probably. Pain in the ass, isn't it."

An idea appears in Yanma's mind. "What if I just… walk out?"

A look of sinister disappointment covers Quinton's face. "In order to ensure informational security, should you attempt to leave this room without choosing, you will be forcibly amnestised and reprimanded. Should you resist being apprehended, immediate termination has been authorised. I would strongly advise making a choice over that outcome."

Applying more pressure to the bridge of his nose to help ease the pain, Yanma strained his mind to choose between the two choices he had been presented with. He had next to no family to consider, having lost contact with his few living relatives. His friends all worked back at Site-10, and would be dearly missed - but Yanma had to know. His curiosity at what this Project Charon was, and what it had to do with the Lock, was overwhelming. With a feeling he would inevitably regret his decision regardless of his choice, he came to a conclusion. "I'll accept then."

Quinton's grin grew at Yanma's choice. "You are hereby inducted into Project Charon." Satisfied that the recording would appease the Overseers, Quinton stopped the handheld and returned it to its pocket.

"About damn time. Let's start with a crash course, shall we?" He briefly rubbed his hands together before continuing. "Project Charon originates from the final few years of General Bowe's command over the Foundation, when he collected up a group of researchers to open the Lock shortly after he got his hands on it. They set-"

"You're fucking terrible at lying. You know that right?" Interrupted Yanma. "The Bowe Commission was done and dusted before the end of the seventies, everyone knows that. The Lock was found almost thirty years after them, in a museum."

Quinton sighed in return. "Yes, it was found in a museum by an off-duty researcher, who noticed it had the Cosmic Microwave Background on it. Which was discovered in nineteen sixty-four, meaning the little gem had been sitting on display for thirty-nine years, magically unnoticed not only by the Foundation, but also by anyone who was aware of the CMB." He produced a manilla folder from his satchel, removed a single document from it, and passed it to Yanma. Yanma quickly recognised the document as an altered copy of the Lock's documentation, with details about it's discovery and certain dates changed to be far earlier than before.

"Don't act stupid, Yanma. This is the Foundation we're talking about - we're ahead of everything, and the CMB was no different. The Lock was found and recovered in nineteen sixty-eight, and was recently changed to twenty-oh-three. I'll come back to why in a moment."

Quinton took a breath as he recalled the information he was about to survey. "Anomaly production wasn't considered as taboo as the Foundation treats it today. Even if it was, I doubt Bowe would have cared - he probably would've just told the early Charon researchers to make whatever was needed anyway. They made quite a few little trinkets and what-not, but only got two things close to what they needed; one was a key that unlocked the concept of what we assume is ascension, which got shuffled off elsewhere to be weaponised and subsequently lost for a couple of years until it showed up again. The other was a key that could unlock any door within a certain area, which was closer but since the Lock isn't a door, not close enough."

"Then, out of the blue, the perfect key popped up here at Site-17 during an incident. A key which could unlock anything - the missing key to the Lock."

Yanma wasn’t surprised by the revelation. “SCP-005, I presume? It's pretty obviously the most likely item to open the Lock. I'd asked for it a few times, but the Overseers didn't want it leaving here for some inane reason."

Quinton's grin re-emerged. "No, Yanma. It isn't the most likely." He produced a small ornate key from a pocket, matching the photographed appearance of SCP-005, and held it in the air between them. "It is."

The connection hadn't quite clicked yet in Yanma's mind. "… I don't follow."

“This is the ‘why’. This is why the recovery date for the Lock was pushed forward forty years. This is why you’re allowed to do anything you want to the Lock, as long as you aim to open it.” Quinton produced a second, nearly identical key from his other pocket, showing the vivid orange bow it had. “This is why they won’t let you use the skeleton key to unlock the Lock.”

“Because you, and everyone else keeping track of Project Pluto, would realize the Lock is already unlocked.”

Yanma leaned back in his chair. The Lock was unlocked, and had been for at least forty years. “Apakht…?” Yanma mumbled, intrigued yet frightened to find out what had been sealed away within the Lock for so long.

Quinton returned the two keys to their pockets, then gestured to the manilla folder he had given to Yanma earlier. “Page two. You’ve got some reading to do.”

Flipping to the page in question, Dr. Yanma Mirski began reading and learning the secrets now being revealed to him by Dr. Quinton Hack.

Item #: SCP-005

Object Class: Safe/Keter

Special Containment Procedures: SCP-005-1 poses no immediate risk in any direct sense. Even so, the circumstances under which it was obtained and the subsequent discovery of SCP-005-2 necessitates special measures be taken to restrict access and manipulation of the objects. Under no circumstances is SCP-005-1 to be removed from Site-17…

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