Defence
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rating: +18+x

Defence


1994


3 August


The road ahead forked to either side. The black sedan which was pacing them turned right; Lyle turned right to follow it.

"What the fuck?" said Harry. "That was our exit, Lyle!"

"We didn't tell anyone we were driving out here," said Lyle. He was very, very calm. "And nobody was following us back in Grand Bend. These people were able to effortlessly pinpoint intruders from a distance, and they had two unmarked black cars on hand to meet them. You really think our day would improve if we tried to make a break for it?"

Harry didn't know what to say to that, so he sat in silence as the lead car led them down a neat sideroad — for an instant, in the distant trees, in the encroaching dark, he thought he saw a pale thin figure watching them — then turned left past a security checkpoint. The bar was up, and the booth was empty, so they proceeded into the centre of a vast rectangle of gravel immediately recognizable as a parade ground. Tidy white barracks stared them down from every angle as both cars and the hideous pink truck shuddered to a stop right in the middle.

Lyle switched off the engine. "End of the line," he remarked, shooting Harry a grin. "You leave too much hair in the shower."

Harry's frenzied mind interpreted this first as some kind of profound farewell, so it took him a moment to splutter a response. The response he eventually spluttered: "What?"

"We're about to die," said Lyle. He leaned against the driver's side door and kicked his feet up onto the toolbox on the bench seat. "I'm unburdening myself."

Harry nodded. It made as much sense as anything else. "I wish your girlfriend," he said carefully, deliberately, "was my girlfriend."

Lyle nodded back at him. "That might've been a good idea. I've been meaning to tell you, I'm—"

A rapping on the roof, tap tap tap, attracted Lyle's attention. He glanced over his shoulder at the black-suited goon standing beside the truck, wielding what looked like a billy club. "What seems to be the problem, officer?"

The goon opened the door, and Lyle tumbled out. Harry just had time to kick his laptop bag under his seat before the passenger door opened, too, and a pair of strong arms pulled him out as well.


Asterisk43.png

Harry noted that each black sedan had disgorged two black-suited men. He noted that the two who'd been following Lyle's truck took up positions behind them, while the two who'd been leading the pack were now leading their tiny procession to one of the many nondescript barracks buildings which lined the parade grounds. He found himself breathlessly noting a great many things.

That's what you do when you're about to die.

"If this is a press gang," Lyle remarked, "you should know that my diet is extremely poor, I'm too tall for trenches and I blow away in a light breeze."

Nobody acknowledged him.

The goons led them into the bunkhouse, which contained, to Harry's great surprise, bunks. And me without my toothbrush, he thought. Lyle would've said it out loud. Harry wasn't Lyle.

The bunks were all neatly made, the tables and shelves were all bare and spotless, and the entire place looked like it had just been mopped obsessively clean. There was a plain wooden door at one end of the room, and their escorts prodded them towards it without actually prodding by moving in formation around them. Harry had seen videos of angry truck drivers boxing in offensively poor drivers; this put him in mind of that.

Beyond the triple-locked door was an empty room. One of the goons turned the light switch cover sideways and pressed something embedded deep within the workings; there was a soft ping, and two formerly-flush wall panels slid aside to reveal…

"Huh," said Lyle. "I figured you'd just have a ladder under one of the bunks, like in Hogan's Heroes."

This isn't happening. The elevator doors yawned open invitingly, and the goons marched them inside. This is a one-storey building. Why would it have an elevator?

The ride down was interminable. The elevator shuddered as it crawled down, down, deep into the ground, far too deep for any of this to be real. I get it, Harry thought. I'm dreaming. That's why I told Lyle I have the hots for his girlfriend. Lyle getting him into mortal peril wasn't nearly so unlikely, but the elevator cinched the deal.

His suspicions were fully confirmed when the doors finally slid open again to reveal a tall, gaunt man, dapper and dashing in his dark grey suit, spectacles and tie, waiting patiently with his hands behind his back.

"Welcome to Site-43, gentlemen," said Dr. Scout.


Asterisk43.png

"This explains the internet connection," said Lyle.

The elevator had deposited them into the middle of a science fiction film. Machinery Harry didn't recognize studded the walls, carts full of nasty-looking implements or ominously secure-looking crates on palettes whizzed past them on electric dollies. White-coated scientists and blue-jacketed guards and orange-jacketed technicians strolled the wide, tiled, immaculate hallways of a space far too impossibly large to be contained by the footprint of the miniscule military camp above. How far down are we?

"How far down are we?" Harry stuttered.

"Roughly one kilometre," said Scout. He reached out and held Harry's shoulder, steadying him; Harry suddenly realized that he'd been unsteady. "This is our largest facility in Canada, hundreds of thousands of square metres of laboratories and support structures. We have over three hundred staff members, and countless anomalous artifacts in our possession." He grinned. "Well, I say countless, but we count them. Regularly."

Lyle pointed at him. "Anomalous artifacts."

Scout nodded.

"What does that mean."

Scout shrugged. "I suppose you're about to find out. That's why you're here, isn't it? To see what I'm hiding in my little cottage by the lake?"

Lyle nodded. "Little," he agreed. "Cottage."

Harry found his voice again. "Who are you?"

Scout adjusted his spectacles. "You know who I am, Harry."

Harry shook his head. "Who are you really."

"I'm a tenured university professor," said Scout. "And an SCP Foundation Site Director."

Harry expected Lyle to ask the question first, but Lyle looked suddenly thoughtful. Harry took the shot himself: "What the hell is the SCP Foundation?"

Scout gestured down the hall; they could barely see the far wall, and countless corridors branched off from it in every direction. "Why don't I show you?"


Asterisk43.png

This corridor was lined with a series of heavy-looking airlock doors, each of them labelled and festooned with warning signs. Fowke-41. Fowke-619. SCP-PENDING. Harry had no clue what any of it meant.

"These came in last night," Scout remarked, spinning a well-oiled valve handle until the door made a loud electronic click. He pulled it open to reveal a small, sparsely-furnished observation room with two desks, two chairs, a filing cabinet, and a full-length glass window with a hatchet-faced older man in a labcoat standing in front of it.

"How are our new arrivals settling in, Edwin?" Scout asked.

The mean-looking gentleman glanced back at them and harrumphed. Harry had never heard anyone harrumph before. He'd thought it was a literary device. "Climate control's not quite right, so they're testy. Mauled agent so-and-so this morning."

Scout nodded. "I'll call J&M, see what they can do." He beckoned Harry and Lyle over. "Come take a look."

While Scout walked to a telephone receiver fitted into a niche in the wall, the two roommates approached the glass. Harry moved tentatively, not sure he wanted to see what a so-and-so mauler looked like. Lyle outpaced him immediately, and pressed his face up to the glass. "Holy shit, Blank, get a load of this!"

Harry reluctantly crept up beside him. The scientist, Edwin, tilted back his head to look disdainfully at them both.

Harry forgot about the scientist the moment he looked through the glass. He needed the space in his head.

A naked man and a naked woman were crouched in the other chamber. The man was wiping his forehead and gibbering soundlessly; the walls were apparently soundproof. The woman was scratching at her own back, and had already managed to draw blood. Her nails gleamed in the fluorescent light. They were each wearing what looked like a hairy pair of… no, it was a costume, they were dressed like…

…no, they definitely both had dog's legs.

Harry lost his mind, just a little bit.

"What am I looking at?" Lyle asked, his eyes shining, the muscles in his face tugging in directions entirely new to them.

"Nexus object class Fowke-137," Edwin announced.

"Nexus object?" Lyle repeated, not taking his eyes off the beast-couple.

"Nexuses are areas of unusually strong anomalous activity," Edwin explained. He nearly yawned it. "Our local neighbourhood is Nexus-94; I'm sure a few local cryptids watched you drive in. These things are from up farther north, though. The Eskimos call them 'adlets'."

Scout hung up the telephone. "Inuit," he said. "Not Eskimos. Inuit." He was pronouncing it strangely; Harry had the sudden sense, from deep within his bafflement, that he was hearing it pronounced correctly for the first time in his life.

Edwin shrugged. "It's all a matter of classification."

Scout sighed. "This is Dr. Edwin Falkirk. He's my second-in-command. He's always like this."

"Someone has to be," Falkirk muttered. He walked to the chamber door, opened it, and paused. "If you need these two exterminated, page me. I've been meaning to inspect the wetworks anyway."

He closed the door behind him.

Lyle didn't seem to have heard that comment. Harry tried desperately to pretend he hadn't either. He focused instead on something niggling at the back of his mind. "Are these…" It felt strange to even say it. "Are these people, Viv?"

Scout stepped between the two of them, crossed his arms, and shrugged. "Not precisely. I would say that they're beings. According to legend, there's supposed to be five of them up around Hudson Bay. We've only found three."

Harry tore his gaze away from the sweltering creatures to examine Scout's unexaminable face. "I only see two."

Scout nodded. "We can't let the world know they exist. We're preserving normalcy, you understand? This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Harry remembered Morgan Robertson's novel, Futility, and its perfect prediction of the Titanic sinking. He nodded dumbly.

Scout continued. "We keep them here, and at Sites like this one around the world, under wraps, content and comfortable if we can manage it. But we're not perfect, and things don't always go to plan. Sometimes we make mistakes."

Mistakes like… losing a dog-person? Or mistakes like… losing a dog-person? Once more, he couldn't make his mouth form the words.

Scout clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Let me give you a sense of the scope we're dealing with."

Harry had to physically pull Lyle away from the glass. His friend's face wore an expression of serene rapture it had never before worn.


Asterisk43.png

The rest of the tour went by in a blur. In one chamber, a pair of scientists in hazard suits were painstakingly removing a label from an acoustic guitar ("It's the guitar that killed Hitler," Scout explained unhelpfully.) In another, a filthy old man wearing at least three overcoats was playing chess with a researcher ("Bonhomme Sept Heurs," Scout said. "Perfectly pleasant fellow twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four.") One chamber was almost completely filled with soil and stunted vegetation, and the observation window was rimmed with frost. At least three different jaundiced, elongated corpses were wandering aimlessly through the foliage, gazing forlornly at each other ("Wendigo. They hang about in cold forests and try to turn people into cannibals. I really didn't expect this habitat to work out, but, well, you know. We learn by doing.")

Another, much briefer elevator ride brought them to a security checkpoint staffed entirely by black-jacketed, no-nonsense individuals with what looked like sophisticated tasers hanging on their belts. Scout led them past the check-in booth (and the woman behind the glass hardly batted an eye) and stopped in front of a set of portholed double-doors. "I think this will be of interest to Mr. Lillihammer," Scout remarked demurely.

The hall beyond was lined with windows, and the spaces behind the windows were lined with…

"Paradise," said Lyle. He said it very matter-of-factly.

Computer terminals. Microfilm machines. Massive, humming servers awash with blinkenlights. Even a few old reel-to-reel machines, as if someone had wanted to add a bit of old-timey style accenting.

"Please don't press up against these windows," Scout added. "I don't want to call Janitorial and Maintenance just to clean up your drool."

"I wish Eileen could see this," Lyle breathed. He was spinning in circles in the middle of the hall, his hands swinging free, clasping and unclasping. He looked like he wanted to sprint, but couldn't pick a direction. "What is this place?"

Dr. Scout opened one of the computer lab doors, and poked his head in. "Could you please let Mr. Lillihammer know what this place is?"

A short, rotund, labcoated woman with deep worry lines, honey-blonde hair and a thick black pair of glasses walked out of the lab, and grinned sheepishly at Harry. Lyle hadn't noticed her yet. "This is Identity and Technocryptography," she explained. "We do all the Site's technical work."

Lyle stopped spinning. He cocked his head to one side. He bit his cheek. He glanced sideways at the woman. "The lab at U of T not good enough for you anymore, Eileen?"


Asterisk43.png

Lyle's girlfriend, Eileen Veiksaar, apparently hadn't dropped out of university. Eileen Veiksaar was apparently completing her degree one kilometre underground, at Site-43.

"The Foundation offers a whole range of programs," she explained as they walked through the maze of technology that was her Section of the Site. "More than all the universities in the world combined. I'd say they only take the best of the best," and she glanced at the impassive Dr. Scout before continuing, "but that isn't strictly true."

Scout nodded in agreement. "Yes, academics of all stripes have their uses. Even if only as examples."

Harry remembered the wendigo, and the adlets, and the unpleasant Dr. Falkirk, and most of all the nameless agent who'd apparently been savaged while two PhD students slept soundly in their beds a few hours' drive away. He shuddered.

"No one Site handles everything," Veiksaar continued. She'd started out talking to Lyle, but Lyle was dreamy-eyed and not really listening, so now she was talking to Harry. "But there's plenty to choose from at 43, for anyone who's interested in… deeper study." She smiled a wide, close-mouthed smile at her own joke, blue eyes beaming at him. He was thinking several things at once.

By now they were moving through the dormitories, large enough to house the entire population of a small university. Cafeterias, locker rooms, lounges, each populated by a polyglot crowd of people whose diversity would have put thoroughly metropolitan Toronto to shame.

"Deeper study," Harry said suddenly. "Is that what you brought us down here for?" He scanned Scout's taut features. "Are you offering us jobs?"

"Not in the dormitory hallway, I'm not," Scout responded. "I have somewhere more dramatic in mind."


Asterisk43.png

Archives and Revision Section


Harry stared at the simple sign above the nondescript set of doors. "What's in there?"

"You're going to have to give a little, to get a little," said Scout. He stepped between Harry and the hallway beyond. "The book."

Harry blinked. "The book? What book?"

A black-jacketed agent appeared beside him, holding his black leather laptop bag. Harry winced. "I don't know why I even brought that."

Scout inclined his head, and the agent passed the bag to Harry. Harry took it. Harry considered it.

Harry considered it.

"The book… it's one of your anomalous objects?"

Scout shrugged.

"You think… the author… you think Morgan Robertson sank the Titanic?"

Scout laughed. "That's a little too dramatic. There's no evidence yet that Robertson was a reality bender. But he might have been precognitive, as you suggested in your dissertation chapters. Or he might have played a stranger part in the drama." He pointed at the bag. "We have a file on Futility, and a file on Robertson, but we've never heard anything about Hubris."

"Yeah," Lyle agreed. It was the first thing he'd said in half an hour. "You guys definitely need to learn about hubris."

Scout nodded at him politely. "Archives and Revision studies the past, to discover anomalous objects and events in the present. That book can help us to do our work, if you'll let us have it."

Harry clutched the bag close to his chest. "And what if I don't?"

"I already told you this part," Lyle snapped. He made a cutting motion across his throat.

Scout blinked. He repeated the motion with a questioning eyebrow-raise.

"Murder," Lyle explained.

Scout shook his head. "No, we'll just wipe your memories. Murder is so impractical."

Harry fought the urge to nudge Lyle in the gut, and tell him he'd told him so. "What's the difference?" he asked, instead. "I lose the book either way."

Scout grinned. It was the same mildly terrifying grin Harry had seen in the man's book-cluttered office, a whole other paradigm ago. "The difference is, if we take the cleaner course, you can come back in a few months and help us study it the right way."

Harry opened the bag's top flap, and drew out the book. He hefted it in his hand. It felt light as a feather, and heavy as a hard decision. "What about my dissertation?"

Scout extended both hands, palms up. "We'll talk it through with your committee."

As Harry placed the book in Scout's left hand, and his left hand in Scout's right, he heard footsteps approaching from behind the door. At the moment Scout took possession of the potentially-anomalous tome, and stepped out of the way, the other two members of Harry's dissertation committee pushed the doors open and brushed past him, laughing. One of them clapped him on the shoulder as he passed.

"We don't leave anything to chance," Scout remarked. "You'll learn that fast and early."


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1995


11 March


"…and that's the most important lesson we can learn from this material, I think. Modes of thought no longer in currency are often ineluctably alien to us, can infect us with their enthusiasm for an unseen world only dimly understood. The historian must never lose their sense of perspective, their eye for bias, their sense of historicism. We must think critically. We must follow the evidence to where it leads us, but we must not mistake rhetoric for evidence. While I, or my endlessly supportive doctoral committee, or my exterminal reviewer…"

Harry laughed out loud, and clapped one hand to his forehead. "God, my external reviewer. Not exterminal. I hope."

The defence commitee laughed, all except the external reviewer. Falkirk hadn't moved a facial muscle since Harry had begun his short speech.

He began his conclusion again. "…while you or I might only speak the truth, as we understand it, to advance the cause of knowledge, the past speaks to us in a different voice. It speaks strangely. As L.P. Hartley so memorably said, 'the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there'. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the so-called occult literature of the early twentieth century, which can teach us more about what people imagined the world could be than about how it really was." He exhaled, hard, and spread his hands wide. "That's me, gentlemen."

The defence chair, a placidly-polite professor from another department, smiled encouragingly at him. "Thank you, Harold." He looked down at the schedule on the desk in front of him. "According to my notes, Dr. Scout would like to ask the first question. Is that correct?"

Scout nodded. Harry squirmed in the warm light pouring onto his back from the tall open window behind him; Scout's spectacles were two shining stars in the gloom of the wood-panelled office. His first question was a simple one: "You've made quite the about-face over the course of writing this dissertation, Harry. To what extent is it now a cautionary tale about magical thinking?"

Harry pursed his lips. He thought about Morgan Robertson and his magical books. He thought about Lyle Lillihammer, thoroughly ensorcelled, who was even now starting the second of what would probably be an entire series of PhDs at the SCP Foundation. He thought about Eileen Veiksaar, who had promised with another bewitching closed-mouth smile to meet him for coffee on his first day at Site-43 a month from now. He didn't like coffee, but he did like the possibilities unfolding in front of him. He thought about those possibilities.

He thought about futility, and he thought about hubris.

He smiled. "There is a place for magical thinking," he began. "But that place isn't here."

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