Man on a Mission
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rating: +51+x

For the millionth time in a month, Rich House looked out the window.

The distant husk of Las Vegas loomed silently, a reminder of a world that would never be his. The once-familiar lights flickered in the distance as the suburbs lay silent, mere weeks after all the adults had vanished. In their place, the sky above Sin City was an unnatural magenta that faded into picturesque blue — a beautiful sight, yet horrifically bizarre.

The other houses in the neighborhood were abandoned. The other kids in the neighborhood had left once the water and power had started dying, hoping for better odds on the open road. Their homes didn't have the infrastructural reinforcements that the House home did.

He wondered, not for the first time, if staying had been a mistake, whether they would've had better odds out in the world. It was a stupid thought. He'd seen YouTube videos and TikToks before the networks went down.

The expected chaos at first. Planes falling out of the sky, fifty-car pileups on highways without any corpses. After the initial panic, elation. Kids his age modeling thousands of dollars in looted designer clothing. Younger kids gorging themselves on candy and ransacking toy stores.

And towards the end, the bizarre. Reaction videos to New York City having literal streets of gold. The Eiffel Tower and Big Ben turning into cartoon sketches. The moon looking like a parmesan cheese wheel.

While Rich found that concerning, it wasn't all that odd. There were certain benefits to being the children of high-ranking Foundation personnel. Peace of mind was not one of them. But at least he and Rhonda could see through the chaos and come to a silent agreement to hole up in their house until they knew more.

A few leaves blew past the window. Accepting that nothing was coming to get him, Rich swallowed and pulled out his phone again.

After the initial stream of social media posts and the frantic messages back and forth, his phone had gotten quieter and quieter. People had stopped responding to him as they lost power and the world's data centers had gone down.

He scrolled through the last messages he'd received from just under a week ago.

Vicky M.

How's your power?

P safe out here, still holding up. Ghost-generators are pretty reliable. [This message has been flagged by Foundation internal monitoring. Thank you for your service.]

Ikr, we get geothermal power from Undervegas here [Message flagged for sensitive information; not sent.]

Ikr? We have generators too. You figure out more about what's going on?

My whole family's still gone. Hard to research since all the servants vanished too… Still can't get Dark's personal line. Anything on your end?

Idk if the Foundation even exists anymore [Message flagged for sensitive information; not sent.]

His stomach turned as he saw the final messages Victoria Marshall had sent him.

Vicky M.

Nice drawing

dude this is a photograph

She'd included a picture of the landscape outside of her fifth summer home.

The driveway was perfectly uniform black asphalt. The trees looked like lollipops, pencil-thin trunks with perfectly circular leaves. The ripples in the pond were perfectly delineated 'w's.

That was the last he'd heard from her. It troubled him. The cartoonization event usually transformed major locations – national capitals or other famous cities – from what he'd seen online. So why was it affecting a small Nova Scotian town so strongly?

There was a knock on the door. His stomach dropped. He hadn't seen anything mere seconds before. Was this the end?

"Rhonda!" he shouted.

For three long seconds, there was no reply.

"What?"

"Get to the saferoom."

With a groan, Rhonda sat up from the couch and walked slowly towards the saferoom at the back of their kitchen, rolling her eyes. Rich's eyes followed her until he saw the baseball bat on the kitchen table.

"Oh, throw me the bat."

"A baseball bat? What are you going to do with that?"

"Still practicing your rhymes, huh?"

"I'm serious. Why not use a gun?"

"Guns haven't worked predictably since… mom and dad vanished," Rich said.

"I know that," Rhonda said. "But they're still probably better than a baseball bat."

"That's why I'm letting you keep them all."

She looked at him dubiously. "Good luck. Stay safe."

He nodded. "I'll let you know through the intercom. If you don't hear from me…"

"I mean it," she said. "You're all I have, now that mom and dad…"

He gave her a hug.


He made his way to the front door and opened it just a crack.

A man in a lab coat stood outside. He pushed up his glasses, and they glinted slickly.

"My name is Doctor Cole Thereven. I'm looking for Rhonda," the man said.

"Why," Rich asked, his hands tightening around the baseball bat. There was something disconcerting about this man, though he couldn't say what.

"Ah, to whom am I speaking?" the man said with a frown.

"I'm Rhonda's brother. Rich."

There was no response, so Rich pressed forward. He opened the door a bit more. "If you want something from her, you're going to have to get through me—"

Then he got a good look at Doctor Cole Thereven. The crow's feet at the corners of his eyes. The patchy goatee and mustache. The rough and mottled skin.

"Wait. You're old."

"No, I'm not!" Doctor Thereven said. "I'm not old."

He sounded childish as he said that, but his voice remained deep.

"You know what I mean," Rich said, with more confidence than he felt. "Now tell me what you want with my sister before… before I get rid of the last adult on Earth."

Doctor Thereven stood up straight and pushed his glasses up again. "I am the Administrator. I represent the SCP Foundation. While the rest of mankind dwells in the darkness, we—"

Rich restrained himself from rolling his eyes. "Secure, Contain, and Protect. I get it. Heard it all before. What do you want with my sister?"

Doctor Thereven's mouth dropped open. "How do you know about—"

"Half my family works for the Foundation."

He winced and caught himself. "Worked, that is."

"But how on earth—"

"Look, man, I'm sixteen," Rich said. "All my parents told me was that some Overseer pushed to let family members know about this sort of thing after his whole family ended up sucked into the anomalous anyways, and we've been taking advantage of it ever since."

He pushed the door ajar using his baseball bat and thumped his palm with it. "So, what do you want with my sister?"

Administrator Thereven seemed to be listening to something in his earpiece. "I'm putting together a team," he said. "And your sister might be one of the heaviest hitters, magically speaking, left on the planet."

Rich's first instinct was to bash Administrator Thereven's head in. His second was to refuse. "Hell no."

"I completely understand your concerns," the Administrator said. "But we're dealing with the end of the world here. You think I'm any happier with recruiting child soldiers?"

"You work for the Foundation."

"Okay, yes, point taken. Look, can I talk to Rhonda or not?"

Administrator Thereven deflated. He seemed tired, and Rich realized that he really wasn't that old. Rich did some math in his head. They had about a week's worth of food in the fridge left, and if worst came to worst, it was far better to have the Foundation's resources than not.

"If you're putting together a team, I want in. My sister's not going anywhere with you, unless I'm there."

"I completely understand your concerns," the Administrator said. "But we're dealing with the end of the world here. You might be safer here."

Rich snorted. "Fuck off, man. You really believe that?"

In the distance, a car alarm went off.

"It's your funeral," the Administrator said.

He pressed the house's intercom system. "Rhonda, it's someone from the Foundation."

She ran to join them, her feet pattering through the halls.

"He's old."

"I know," Rich said, cracking a smile.

"I'M NOT OLD!" Administrator Thereven said. "I'm not a boomer! I'm not a fucking boomer! If either of you say 'ok boomer' — "

"Wasn't going to," said Rich, though he was starting to have misgivings. This Administrator Thereven seemed somewhat erratic.

"Ah," said Administrator Thereven. "Well, I'm hardly an old man. Regardless, now that you're here… Rhonda House. Your mission, should you choose to accept it—"

"Are we going to fix things?" Rhonda said. "Do you know where our parents went?"

"Ah—uh—you, Rhonda House, are a witch!"

"I knew that," Rhonda said.

Rich was starting to feel bad for Administrator Cole Thereven, whose pronouncements were clearly not having the intended effect.

"Look. I need your help," Administrator Thereven said. "I need your firepower, Rhonda. I need your mind, Rich. I have food, clean water, and data feeds."

Administrator Thereven gestured at the deserted neighborhood around them. "Besides, do you really think you'll last all that long out here?"


Rich had to admit Administrator Cole Thereven had access to some pretty nice toys.

Once they'd accepted his offer, Administrator Thereven had snapped his fingers, and a hovering military jet landed silently in the street. It was far larger than mundane vehicles, but about par for the course for Foundation tech.

The interior was spacious, and Administrator Thereven had directed them to sit in a common area for a briefing. There was a round table with touchscreens at each seat, and the walls filled with bookshelves and cabinets.

"What's our plan, Doctor Thereven?" Rich said, as Rhonda went poking through the bookshelves and cabinets of the common area.

"Please, call me Cole," Thereven said, steepling his fingers and releasing a sigh. "It's… I just became the Administrator. I'm more comfortable using my own name."

That explained a lot. Rich had hoped, briefly, that Cole's appearance meant that other adults would be returning to the world, but it seemed that even Cole had no idea what had happened.

It raised other questions, though.

"You did have a plan, right?" Rich asked.

"Before I was thrust into the role of Administrator," Cole said, "I was merely Director Cole Thereven, of the Department of Anomalous Communications and Relations. So, for my job I went around talking to people. Communicating. Building relationships. And that's how I've continued thus far."

"For the love of — "

"I'm sorry," Cole said. "I had an increasingly specialized role in an increasingly specialized Foundation. Did you know we have at least two logistics departments — "

"You didn't do anything else?"

"This is what leadership is," Cole said. "Finding people who can do a job better than you and putting them in the right place to do it."

Rich wanted to strangle the man. It was entirely possible this was an elaborate psyop.

"Does the Black Moon Howl?" he asked.

Cole frowned. "I'm sorry?"

The lights flickered. A hole in the table slid open, and a holoprojector rose. A cartoonish hologram of blue Foundation logo with a face appeared above it.

"Indeed, to signify childhood's end," the hologram said, its image flickering. "Welcome to the SCP Foundation, Agent House. You have been granted emergency Level 5 access. I'm Skippy, your helpful digital assistant! I will now prepare relevant protocols for your review!"

Cole's mouth dropped open. "What? Skippy, why didn't you do any of that for me?"

Rich gave him a hard look. "Did you even try the code phrase?"

He stood up and leaned forward, scrolling through the files that Skippy provided him, looking specifically for information on visual distortions and mass vanishing events. SCP-8900-EX seemed too dissimilar and too far in the past. The aesthetics SCP-6080 and SCP-5045 seemed too visually distinct compared to what he'd seen.

Then it hit him. He pulled out his phone, opening his text history, pulling up the photo Vicky had sent him. "Skippy, can you run an automated cross reference on… this?"

"Will do, Agent House!" Skippy said.

"Just giving your girlfriend's texts to the talking robot, huh?" Rhonda said, skipping over and lunging onto the table.

"Foundation's monitoring us anyways," Rich said. "Gotta build those covert ties early. And she's not my girlfriend!"

"A girl and a friend but not a girlfriend," Rhonda said with a smirk. She sunk into a chair.

"Yeah, yeah, shut up," Rich said. "Hey, Doctor Thereven—"

"Please, call me Cole—"

"Why didn't you run any of these searches?"

Cole looked at them. His glasses glinted. "Rather… sussy amogus of me, wasn't it?"

A wide, toothy grin slowly stretched across Cole's face. He seemed to be pausing for applause, or at least trying to seem hip and relatable. Rhonda made a retching noise.

"Just answer the question," Rich said. He was tired. So very, very tired.

"Skippy, pull up DEROH-13," Cole said. "I was following this plan."

BY ORDER OF THE OVERSEER COUNCIL
The following file is Level 5/DEROH-13 Classified
Unauthorized access is forbidden.
DEROH-13

Contingency DEROH-13 is activated should:

  • Over 95% of all Foundation personnel cease to be active;
  • Less than 1,000 beings of genus Homo aged 25 or older remain within 1 lightyear of Sol;
  • At least 50,000 beings of genus Homo aged sixteen or older remain on Earth.

Under such conditions, the remainder of the Foundation's resources will be put under the provisional Department of Youth. The immediate directives of this department are:

  • To recruit suitable candidates to essential positions within the Foundation: Purview of the Team-Up Division;
  • To ameliorate panic in the wake of mass disappearances: Purview of the Playtime Division;
  • To ascertain immediate mass threats to continued life and restore containment: Purview of the Night Terror Division.

Secure. Contain. Protect.


"…Who named these divisions?" Rhonda asked.

"I think they're fun," Cole said.

Rich was starting to think the man was an utter buffoon. "Why didn't you run these searches before?"

"What was I supposed to search for?" Cole said.

"I dunno, stuff that could cause the Empire State Building to turn into a line drawing? Something that could cause birds to turn into drawn v-shapes?"

"And how, I ask, was I supposed to relate that to every adult on Earth vanishing?"

Cole was right, Rich realized. He was probably the only adult left on Earth, and the Foundation was likely running on a skeleton crew of AICs. It wasn't reasonable to expect one man to know everything… but he was still a buffoon.

"Skippy, enlarge that picture," Cole said. He examined it silently.

"Have you ever heard of pataphysics?" Cole said after a while. "Not 'pataphysics in the common sense, but how the Foundation defines the term. In simple terms, the world acts as if it's fictional sometimes. Behaves according to fictional rules. Follows tropes."

"How does that help us?"

"Because what we're looking at here… is a cartoon."

Rich couldn't hold his anger in any longer. "Is that all? Is that all you can fucking say? 'It's a cartoon?' We knew that already, from the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids turning into fucking animations! My friend is stuck in a living nightmare, and that's all you can say even though you're a fucking doctor? Jesus Christ!"

"Rich!"

"Rhonda, I – "

"It's okay to be angry," Cole said. "Being a teenager isn't easy but having all this thrust upon you can't be any easier. All I'm saying is that this change in the world isn't random. These transformations follow a set of rules, and this cartoonization is only the most obvious. The world is being forced to follow the rules of a cartoon, and the fact that it's so strong wherever this is suggests that the effect is flowing out from there."

Cole swallowed and sighed. "And that… that's why I'm not as useful as you need me to be," he said. "This is a cartoon, and in cartoons, adults are useless."

Rich felt hollow, an odd sense of guilt welling up in his soul. Administrator Cole Thereven seemed unsuited for his current role, but how much of that was his fault?

He cleared his throat. "So, we just have to go there and… take them out."

"And that's why you have me," Rhonda said. "Do you have a spell book or something? I was looking but I couldn't find anything."

Cole turned to her and bent down to look her in the eyes. "Rhonda… whoever you're facing, whoever you need to take out… chances are they're just a kid, too."

Her voice was small. "But we—we have to. For our parents."

Rich cleared his throat. "I… why us?"

"You were the best people on my list," Cole said. "Our best hope."

"How?" Rich said. "I don't even know where to begin."

Cole grasped him by the shoulders.

"In my time with Anomalous Communications and Relations, I developed a philosophy that sometimes the best way to deal with supposed threats is to meet them in the middle. Meet them on the playing field that they're familiar with. So, if the world has turned into a cartoon, you play by the rules of a cartoon. A band of plucky teenagers fighting the good fight, trying to save the world from a child's fantastical mistake."

Cole puffed himself up, and though he didn't look any more imposing than the previous times he'd tried to do so, Rich appreciated the gesture.

"Agent House. Agent House," Cole said solemnly. "By the authority vested in me as Administrator of the SCP Foundation, I appoint the two of you Directors of the Night Terror Division. The future belongs to the children."

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