Like a Rock

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In May of 1998, I was 18 years old. I was smiling at the receptionist in the office of the Coast Guard recruiting center in Wilmington, North Carolina. I remember that it was a Monday and the weather was clear. I remember that she told me I looked ready to serve my country.

I was assigned to the LORAN station off of River Road near the Carolina Breach bridge; maybe you're familiar with it, or what's under it. In June of 2013, I was sitting in the mess hall with about 30 others when I first heard of what happened in Korea. When the broadcast was over, the room filled with hushed chatter about what our new reality could mean for us as servicemen, especially right by the sea where so many of the most threatening and monstrous anomalies supposedly lurked… at least according to the quickly-spreading rumors.

The next day, a middle-aged man dressed like he'd just left a quarterly profits meeting adjusted his cufflinks next to me while he addressed the mess hall. He told us he'd been working under us for 12 years, and made sure to clarify with plenty of forced humor that he meant literally under; we'd known the LORAN station had extensive lower levels, but we were always told the other vehicles that came and went out of a back entrance were Marine Corps.

He told us he was the Director of Site-42, and he made sure to nip any potential bad blood in the bud. He told us that now was a better time than ever for his employer to open up opportunities to people currently in the military, with full backing by and approval of the federal government. Opportunities abounded, he claimed. We all got pamphlets and business cards and gave him the laughs owed when he told us that all we have to do is knock.

I met him in the hallway as he was walking back down to his facility. I asked him a couple financial questions, healthcare questions, the usual; if the political landscape really was going to shit like it seemed, I needed to make sure this employer could actually look after me. Korea hadn't inspired me too much when it came to the question of the organization's stability, but I didn't dislike any of his answers and a few of them surprised me.

Of course I was nervous. I wasn't certain how I'd first react to being around things that I'd thought unreal for so many years of my life. But they were real, I knew that, and the more I accepted that fact, the more I realized the smart move was to be with the people who had the fullest grasp on our new reality — as full as the day and age would allow.

I remember that it was a Tuesday and thunder cracked outside. I remember that he told me I looked ready to protect humanity.

I walked into Site-42 48 hours later. I owe myself no less than to admit that I found my home that day; the pressing threat of — no, the constant mutual awareness of the threat of — annihilation or disastrous influence by anomalies induced a palpable atmosphere of camaraderie that never left me. That's not to say there weren't a few personnel who were around since long before publicity happened and didn't quite trust us newer, "outside" folks, but I had the privilege of a military background and never saw much of it.

And so for nine years, I loved the Foundation. I didn't have a reason not to, or I didn't want to see the reasons; I never enjoyed watching the news, because when the Foundation was as talked-about as it was, it became nigh-impossible to figure out what was true anymore. Horror stories from overseas or far-off Foundation facilities felt distant, manipulated, and unreal. Site-42 was my reality, and I had never seen anything unethical happen in Site-42; maybe the public's Foundation was evil, but my Foundation was good. I slept through every night.

In December of 2022, I realized I hadn't left the Site in a few weeks. I didn't give it much thought; my daily grind took place 25 meters below sea level in D-class Cell Block A. My position at the time consisted of managing existing subjects' assignments, as well as backchecking federal and state incarceration records and criminal evidence in order to ensure that no transferred inmates with wrongful convictions were getting assigned to… the more egregious applications for human subjects we had. There were some politicians on the outside that talked about my job, and I had my own opinions about the other option being proven murderers and rapists living on taxpayer dollars in prison. I just kept my mouth shut, though; no one on-site ever wanted to hear news and political stances about our work, much less that one of us played into said politics.

Working late on Christmas Eve, I decided I had to visit my mother. It was early summer when I had last seen her, and she lived 40 minutes away, near Ogden. On the way to the parking deck, one of our young Offsite Response officers coming back in from his shift looked me up and down, scrutinized my department uniform, and asked where I was going without a gun. I answered that I hadn't ever needed to put on plainclothes to go into public; he answered that things were changing, and told me to be careful.

I remember the news was on at the gas pump in Ogden, talking about our internal trial of the guard I'd incidentally assigned to six months of indiscriminate use by MTF Lambda-12 just 20 minutes prior to departing for the day. I remember three young men approaching my vehicle. I remember shouting and things said about my uniform and the Foundation. I remember the station attendant noticing immediately.

I remember the first blow landing on my cheek, shaking my vision. I remember the second, third, and fourth landing around my nose and mouth, blood dribbling down onto my white clothing. I remember my head on the asphalt, the scent of fumes, pain in my skull, and waking up in Site-42's medical wing 14 hours later. It was a Saturday. I felt like I hadn't seen the sun in a while. I remember the staff asking me how I felt, and how I answered that I never wanted to go into public again. It was the first time I'd cried in six years.

That attack made as little of a dent on the news as any other story in which a Foundation employee was the victim. I continued to spend the majority of my years in various Security Department positions onsite. I didn't need or ask for much and yes, I stopped going out just as I'd declared I would, however unreasonable it seemed. I preferred staying away from anomalies and publicity alike, pushing paper or watching security feeds, but if needed I could be thrown temporarily into whatever blue-collar hell fit for a C-class employee was going on at the time. I had to know how to handle living anomalies, don't get me wrong — what else would I be good for in a breach? — but I always dreaded above all else the prospect of dealing with an uncooperative humanoid. A human, rather. Something that either was a someone, or looked and acted like a someone. I felt like none of us ever knew which was the case until it was too late.

Thus, like clockwork, it was the ten-year anniversary of my employment before I had to get my hands on one. It was a reality bender — weren't they all these days? — with supposedly uncontrollable minor effects who was hoping to be with us for a max of six months. At least, that's what she told us. It turned out that her effects were worse than minor and more controllable than not, and she only wanted to be inside the Site to carry out the local Chaos Insurgency splinter cell's wishes in a certain server room; she didn't get that far, of course, but she made a noble effort.

I remember it was a Wednesday and the air felt charged with static. I remember reality rocketing back into focus around me as I and two other men tackled her in the hallway, a portable SRA spinning and bubbling away at my hip as it strained to stabilize the ground on which I stood and the air in my lungs. She swung at me, I told her I didn't want to hurt her, and she told me with a smile to do my worst. I wasn't the one to knock her out.

It stuck with me for whatever reason, for a while. I knew that the CI treated anomalous people as tools and nothing else, and she was only a violent nutcase because it was the only way to survive her abusive environment. I knew that if we didn't detain her, her life would consist of the CI using her for their own good or a life on the run from them. I remember it was the first time I asked myself where and in what circumstances an anomalous person could genuinely feel safe, no strings attached, in America or anywhere.

The late 20s and early 30s brought pain and bureaucracy in waves greater than what I or my peers were used to, even as Foundation personnel. Pressure to develop the technology necessary to ensure the continued survival of our species in space was building and boiling over in financial and research branches alike, the stress spilling into other departments. It was made clear to me that my slow and steady attitude toward my work was the wrong one for the new age, and in turn I and many of the other older employees were pushed to the sidelines, not forgotten but far from prioritized. I still slept and ate well and did my job as the world outside forgot itself.

By 2042, I was one of 47 personnel still technically working in Site-42. Containment wasn't necessary anymore when the Foundation no longer considered Earth a part of "normality" and I hadn't seen D- or E-class personnel in months. All of the inanimate anomalies had been locked up and transported off-planet already, which I can only hope was also the case for the sentient ones. When the state of North Carolina required the Foundation to provide proof that all living things had been evacuated from 42, it was my job to force the remaining human skips to leave: people who had relied on us for everything for years, handed back a stack of their long-expired civilian paperwork and told to proceed to the Carolina Beach police station if they needed help piecing their lives back together.

They couldn't. They told me they couldn't. It had been more than two decades for some of them. They didn't have income. They didn't have homes. At this point, Wilmington didn't even have working cell phone towers, or a grocery store with food remaining on the shelves. Society's panic had already passed the town over, leaving no resources in its wake. I wasn't blind, nor was I surprised that the state apparently was. I got their signatures, folded up my documents, apologized for what was happening, and went back to the security office.

It was a Thursday when I was standing in the mobile office of the Extrasolar Activities Division Region I Transport Director. It was parked on the dead grass over 42's vehicle entrance. He asked me if I was ready to evacuate. He wanted to know if I was ready to make history on other planets. He told me that Earth has nothing left for me. He told me that this was my last chance to get out of Wilmington. He told me the Foundation was ensuring a bright future for humanity, far away from the influence of SCP-3848 and the other horrors now plaguing Earth and only Earth.

He told me that protecting humanity was our one and only purpose, and he asked me why I didn't look ready to do it.

I handed him my boarding papers and walked back inside.

Today is Sunday. Sunday, January 11th, 2043. There are 25 human souls still present in this facility; fewer than half are personnel, and the rest are people who need us. I've been inside for a few days ever since something larger than I can handle crawled out of the ocean and started demolishing what remained of the LORAN station. I don't think it can reach us down here. I'm 62 years old, and I think that's a fine number to finish on; the two ladies from Research & Development helping me jury-rig generators in Euclid Level Containment Wing B4 are 56 and 58 respectively. We're still kicking. We'll try to for as long as we can.

I spent 18 years serving my family, told to protect myself. I spent 15 years serving the United States government, told to protect my country. I spent 29 years serving the Foundation, told to protect humanity. I think Site-42 has a few weeks' worth of food left, and I think I have a little more time before I forget who I am or why I'm here; if I could get my years back, I would spend more of them protecting anomalies. And so I will, until I cannot anymore.

And if there's anything after this for us, I expect it's kinder than we think we deserve.

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