Not with a Whimper but with a Bang
rating: +60+x

Emma should have put a bullet in his head when he initially displayed signs of infection. That was protocol. She didn’t. She couldn’t. The only thing for it was to quarantine him where he wouldn’t be able to infect anyone. A standard humanoid containment chamber didn’t seem big enough to lock up a tornado like Jeremy. He was always talking, always gesturing, his mouth working overtime. Seeing him pace around a cell in total silence made him a completely different person.

“Will you be able to handle this, Linderman?” Dr. Devane turned his swivel chair around so he faced her instead. Most of the monitors behind him were placid black screens, but a few of them were still flickering with life. Emma wasn’t sure why Dr. Devane bothered monitoring the rest of Site-17. There was never anything to see. “I need you at your best if we’re going to negotiate with terrorists.”

“I’m fine,” Emma lied. Dr. Devane wouldn’t notice. He was a brilliant man and an effective researcher, but his people skills left something to be desired.

“Good,” he said. “Because the GOC contact should be here any minute. I’m going down to the entrance to meet her. I need you to man the surveillance cameras. If I give the signal, hit the button to call the MTF.” Emma nodded, and did not remind Dr. Devane that the Foundation hadn’t had a complete MTF in weeks.

“I need you at the top of your game. You’re one of the only ones left.” Emma nodded and took his place in the chair as he left the surveillance room. The electronic lock no longer worked, so one of them always had to stay behind in the building at all times. The wall of monitors in front of her had mostly gone dark, with only a handful still displaying static-ridden images. The dining hall on the screen looked so cavernous without a single person in it. The break rooms had long ago been stripped of their usable resources like food and water. All that remained was a thin layer of dust covering that ugly plaid loveseat in the corner, a set of bare counters, and a broken microwave. She switched the display to the entrance of Site-17, one of the last bastions of the SCP Foundation.

The landscape outside was bleak and abandoned without a living soul in sight. Withered, desiccated bodies were scattered across the sidewalks like haphazardly sewn seeds, most of them simply lying face down or curled into the fetal position. Emma wasn’t sure when civilization had collapsed in on itself like a dying star, but Site-15 lasted almost a month. By the time it went dark and she left for the nearest working facility at Site-17, most of the skips there had either been transferred, breached containment, or been neutralized.

Apparently, 343 was the first to go. One day he was there and the next he wasn’t. No one had time to ask where he went. 166 perished shortly afterwards. Between re-establishing communication with the other Sites, keeping their own people safe, and maintaining containment with increasingly fewer resources, the task of feeding anomalies with esoteric diets fell by the wayside. Her last breaths were spent ranting about the End of Days and the Second Coming as she became increasingly less coherent, but that was to be expected. The minimal security wing became on-site housing for the few remaining staff members to reduce the need to leave. Contact with the outside was difficult at best, outright dangerous at worst.

She switched a second monitor to the cellblock where the standard humanoid containment areas were located. Emma recognized too many of the faces that stared blankly at the walls, faces of people she’d known and worked with. Some were from Site-15, some from Site-17, some probably civvies. Different individuals displayed different stages of affliction, but they all invariably ended up with that empty, wide-eyed stare.

Emma stared for a moment or two before she turned the second feed off. She twisted the ring on her finger to avoid switching to Jeremy’s containment. He was supposed to be here at her side for the end of the world, but he wasn’t. He was just down the hall but he might as well have been on the moon. The world was at stake, as usual, but this time she was alone. She took a deep breath and shook the memories from her mind. She couldn’t afford to dwell, not now. She was one of the only ones left.

Emma detested going to holiday parties. The main office area of Site-15 had been hastily decorated with tissue paper and a dollar store sign that proclaimed ‘HAPPY NEW YEAR 2015’, but Emma didn’t feel particularly happy. Everyone told her how much fun it would be to get drunk, lose her inhibitions, and dance topless on the counter in front of her coworkers, but she didn't see the point. She worked with these people, and didn't fancy any of them doing body shots out of her navel and getting a mouthful of lint. Maybe that was why people liked Researcher Torres better, even if they did look down on her project proposals most of the time.

The music was pounding in her ears as she checked her watch, again. It mixed in with the dull roar of the party's conversation - mostly work discussions or complaining about the weather - to create an almost wordless static buzz that didn't even sound like human language anymore. An aging frat boy she didn’t recognize staggered her way. His glass bottle jostled as he stumbled by, narrowly missing her new blouse when he began spilling his cheap beer. She stepped to the side and cursed herself for planting against the wall near the drinks table. She took several steps away from whoever that guy was, and as she backed away, Emma felt a strong hand on her shoulder. She turned in the direction of the hand and found herself face-to-face with a shit-eating grin the likes of which she’d never seen before. As she met the young man’s gaze, he dropped his hand from her shoulder.

“Careful,” he said, and tipped his head in the direction she was backing into. A free-flowing chocolate fountain was perched on a folding table, both of which stood a few feet from where she was now. “I don’t think this one will try to eat you, but it will ruin that nice outfit.”

“Thank you,” she said mechanically. She didn’t mention that she kind of hated him already.

“Don’t mention it,” he said with a wave of his free hand. “Saving damsels in distress is a big part of what I do.” Emma suppressed a scoff.

"I'm not a damsel."

"No, but I would hate to see your outfit ruined. It's a very pretty color, by the way. Complements your eyes."

"Thank you."

"So, Junior Researcher Lawson," he said, cocking his head awkwardly to the side for a bit to read her badge. "What has you over here in the corner looking like 682 just ate your puppy?"

'I'm lonely, bored, and don't appreciate getting hit on by jackasses.’

"I'm just a little tired," was what she said. “Thank you for keeping an eye out for me. I have to be going now.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you,” he said, flashing a smile of impossibly perfect teeth. He extended his hand to Emma, and she shook it politely. “Enjoy the party. Keep an eye out for those wandering chocolate fountains.” She smiled and turned her back on him for what she hoped would be the first and last time.

Dr. Clair Wythers tapped out a ‘shave-and-a-haircut’ pattern on the entrance to Site-17 using the head of her cane. She leaned against the doorframe while she waited. After a few moments of silence, someone on the other side tapped out ‘two bits’, and the door creaked open.

“Does the Black Moon howl?”

“Fuck off and let me in, Gerald. It’s cold out here.”

“Clair, give me the correct response or I’ll order the MTF to shoot you where you stand.”

“You’re bluffing. Even if you were still protected by a complete MTF, even if you could contact them remotely to issue the order, you still wouldn’t do it because we’re rapidly running out of people who can even understand the situation we’re in, much less do anything about it. Now open the fucking door.”

Nothing happened at first. Dr. Wythers tapped the butt of her iron cane impatiently on the ground. Then, the door swung inward the rest of the way, revealing a balding man with a frown on his face and red blotches forming behind his ears.

“Foundation protocol dictates-”

“There is no Foundation,” she cut him off. “No Council of 108, no United Nations, none of it. If there were, we wouldn’t be meeting like this.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but she elbowed past him without giving him the chance. “Now shut the damn door. You’re letting all the flies in.”

“Fine,” Dr. Devane relented. He let out an angry breath, but he pushed the door shut behind her. “You’re not the first to arrive. We’re up the stairs and down the hall to the right. Do you require assistance?” He offered his arm to her, and Dr. Wythers rolled her eyes. She gripped her cane in her opposite hand and ascended the staircase by herself, Dr. Devane trailing just behind her.

Dr. Wythers hobbled over to the first door on the right, eager to sit down for a change. When she pushed it open with the end of her cane, she was greeted with a most unusual and unwelcome sight: a bespectacled man with a gun pointed directly at her face. She used the word ‘man’ more loosely than she normally would; he was probably in his thirties but still sported a patchy, peach-fuzz mustache that would have made her thirteen-year-old grandson green with envy, rest his little soul.

“You know how to use that thing?” Dr. Wythers spread her hands wide to indicate she was unarmed, her cane gripped firmly in one hand. “Why don’t you put that thing down, son? I’m not gonna shoot you.”

“Maybe not,” the man with the peach-fuzz answered. His gun didn’t move. “Maybe I’m going to shoot you.”

“Kosta, please don’t make things worse.” Devane’s voice drifted from the doorway behind her. “We’re at a severe enough disadvantage as it is.” Kosta Peach-Fuzz responded by taking the safety off.

“Will you cut out that Clint Eastwood bullshit? It’s not doing anyone any good.” A man with a greying mane of unkempt hair took a healthy swig of the beer he was nursing, and Dr. Wythers noticed how bare the room was. Aside from a folding table and some chairs - both of which, she noticed, were between her and the gun - it was mostly empty. Probably served as intake or an initial interview room when the Site was up and running. “Put your piece away and grab a drink from the fridge.” He gestured to a mini fridge in the corner.

“She’s a Bookburner,” Kosta said without looking at him. “And you’re a terrorist.”

“And you’re a pencil-pusher who’s in way over his head,” Wythers snapped. “You’re awful surly for a glorified library clerk. Why don’t you do like the nice man said and holster your toy before you hurt yourself with it.”

“I was talking to you too, Clair,” she heard the man with the greying hair say. “None of us are friends here, but there’s no reason to go around threatening each other. Why don’t you both chill the fuck out and wait until someone actually does something worth shooting them over?”

“Why are you even here?” The man named Kosta shifted his weight to address The Critic directly, and that was the opening Clair was waiting for. “If you hadn’t-”

With a speed her wizened body would not suggest, Dr. Wythers closed the last few feet between herself and the armed librarian. The iron handle of her cane slammed down hard on his wrist. He dropped the gun on the table between them. Dr. Wythers’ other hand shot out and snatched it up. She pointed it directly at him. He began rubbing his wrist.

“I told you, kid, you’re in over your head,” she repeated as she backed away from him, the gun trained at his chest. “This is why PHYSICS insisted we all get some amount of training, even if we’re not directly going into the field. In case something exactly like this happens. Don’t you get some kind of training at your outer space library?” Kosta said nothing.

“Please don’t shoot our guest with his own gun, Dr. Wythers,” said Gerald Devane.

"There is a certain poetic irony to it, shooting a man with his own gun," The Critic mused while taking another sip of his beer. "Anyone ever say you look like you walked straight out of Lovecraft? The glasses, the tweed vest, the complete ineptitude in combat… all you need now is for an unknowable terror from beyond the stars to drive you stark-raving mad, and you'll fit right in with the Waites and the Whateleys."

"What would you know, you old lush?" Kosta pushed against The Critic's shoulders, and the older man merely shuffled backwards in his folding chair.

"Kid, I've seen things that would literally make your insides explode," The Critic pointed out. "I had a friend once, thought he was cool. He exploded. Grew a pimple full of cesium on his face, and when it popped, it blew his head off like a damn firecracker. You think you're hot shit because you've been to another dimension? You're not. I see kids like you every day. Half of them end up inside out because they get cocky and don't listen to the advice of people who know better." Kosta pursed his lips as The Critic downed the rest of the alcohol before tossing the bottle into a corner.

"Mister The Critic came here of his own accord to help fix this problem, as did you," Dr. Devane added.

"Just 'The Critic' if you please. 'Mister The Critic' is my father."

"We can discuss titles later," Dr. Wythers said as she pointed a finger at Dr. Devane. "What I'd like to know is who called us here, and how? Half the world became a bunch of drooling idiots even less capable than usual of stringing a sentence together, global communication networks just switch off like a faulty streetlamp, and one of your overcautious poindexters managed to get a message out to three people who should have been next to impossible to find? Who the hell did that?"

"I did," called a voice from the entrance. Clair Wythers folded her arms across her chest and turned to the doorway. The figure wore the same Foundation-issue scrubs as Dr. Devane, but her lively, intelligent eyes were so unlike his. The nametag on her shirt read ‘Researcher Linderman’.

“I have something I’d like to show you. All of you.”

“So what do you do at Site-15, beautiful? You somebody’s secretary or something?” Emma rolled her eyes. She’d hinted that he should leave at least twice already and didn’t seem to be getting through to him. He was still leaning against the doorway to the office area and her best means of escape.

“I’m a theoretical cryptographist with a focus in quantum and post-quantum cryptography, especially its use in developing and combating AI.” The guy blinked once or twice as she let the convoluted title sink in.

“Oh,” was all he said. “Wazzat all mean?”

“It means that she’s smarter than the about sixty percent of the people at this party,” said a voice. When Emma turned towards it, she saw the guy with perfect teeth again, looking like a regular Prince Fucking Charming. Each of his hands was wrapped around a drink and a napkin. “Hey babe.” He held one of the drinks out to her. “I got one for each of us.”

“Thanks,” she said, picking up on what he was doing. She took the plastic cup from him but didn’t drink from it. The napkin kept her hand from touching the cold plastic.

“No sweat,” he said, flashing the same obnoxious winning smile. “Who’s your friend?” He sauntered over next to her, just over half a foot away. They were just close enough to appear intimate.

“I was just leaving, actually,” the guy replied. “Nice meeting you, Irma.” Emma smiled politely and didn’t correct him. When he was out of sight she turned back to Fucking Charming and returned the beer. He took it back with a warm grin and a raised eyebrow.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” he answered. “I wanted to. It gave me an excuse to grab an extra beer. Besides, you looked like you’d had enough of him.”

“Right, your thing is rescuing damsels in distress.”

“Don’t know that many damsels with degrees in computer cryptography.”

“I guess that means I’m not a damsel then.”

“That’s alright,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I’m not that big a fan of damsels. I get sick of saving them after a while.” He extended his hand to Emma. “Name’s Jeremy. Jeremy Linderman.” She returned his handshake with a modicum of gratitude. At least this Jeremy was polite. That was something.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Irma Lawson,” he said, letting go of her hand.

“My name isn’t Irma,” she corrected. “That guy doesn’t pay attention.”

“Oh. Do you have a first name?”

“Does a bear shit on a town in Wisconsin?”


“I have a first name.”

“Is it classified?”

“You know what? It is.”

“Fair enough. Will I ever have clearance for it?”

Emma thought for a moment. She produced a pen from her pocket and scribbled out a quick series of numbers across the napkin:

5 | 13 | 13 | 1

“There.” She thrust the napkin at him with a triumphant smirk. He looked at it for a moment before furrowing his brow.

“This is your name?” Jeremy asked, and she nodded.

“It’s a name if you look at it the right way,” Emma said.

“You sure you’re a Researcher and not a D-class?”

“I’m sure. A smart guy like you should be able to figure it out quick enough.” He continued to stare at the napkin, puzzled, as she sauntered past him. A damsel would have left a glass slipper, but she wasn’t a damsel.

"My job at Site-15 was data security, something the SCP Foundation takes very seriously," Emma began. Behind her, the monitors in the old security room displayed the empty spaces that used to be full of Foundation employees. She briefly wondered how many nights Jeremy had sat at his station in Site-15, watching security footage of an Exidy Sorcerer home computer system plugged into a wall outlet, doing absolutely nothing. "When you contain ideas that can implode a human brain or anomalous self-help books, you'd better be damn sure that they're stuck there and totally unable to get out. You can bet that any given door in the building with a lock on it is protected by at least two different encryption keys. Most of them change weekly, some change daily, and some hourly. Some areas are contained with rotating encryption keys which exist nowhere in the world but in a handful of brains.

"The Foundation has communication arrays set up all over the globe," she went on. "And our Antimemetics Division has helped encrypt them so anomalous memes don't hijack their signals. I was able to find an emergency channel and contact Dr. Devane here, among others, and try to scramble some kind of intelligence together before we lost communication entirely. Normally I'd probably get shot for revealing this sort of information, or at least severely reprimanded, but since it's the end of human society as we know it, I think we have bigger fish to fry."

"Yes yes, it's all very fascinating and bleak," Dr. Wythers said with a dismissive wave of Kosta's gun. She had yet to put the safety back on. "But why don't you explain in twenty words or less what we're up against and what we can do about it."

"Three, fifteen, four, five, nineteen," she replied, and Dr. Wythers merely stared. "Codes. I'm no memetics expert, but I know how to send a message without it being intercepted or decoded. This anomaly may be a black hole of information that eats language, but it doesn't seem to understand codes or ciphers. With enough levels of encryption, I was able to get out messages to you all so we could put our heads together and figure out how to get the world back."

Everyone was quiet. Emma turned towards the monitors and sat down in front of them. The doctor, The Critic, the librarian, and the old woman gathered behind Emma as she pulled up footage of the containment cells on as many monitors as she was able to.

She didn’t need to describe them. They were seated, each in their own containment, still as glass and just as lifeless. Their chests went up and down, their eyelids blinked, but they moved like cogs in a machine. Not a one of them looked for the barely visible camera, or fiddled with their door handle, or played with the hem of their shirt. The anomaly had robbed them of that.

“I think Agent Lynwood was the first to go,” she said, her voice flat. “Lynwood was a relatively new hire so we were still transferring her medical data. The Foundation was so busy putting out fires all over that we lost track of little things, like distributing insulin pumps. Her diabetic coma didn’t last long. She might have been one of the lucky ones. For all we know, you’re looking at the only two employees left in the entire SCP Foundation.” She cast a glance at Dr. Devane. His face was grave.

“We had a similar problem,” said Dr. Wythers. “We pulled an operative out of a town in Germany with the same symptoms. Suppression of the initial outbreak was successful, but then the damn anartists got a hold of it.”

“You took over all the TVs and beamed the infection into every home on the planet," The Critic retorted. “One of your agents announced it on international news. When the public watched that broadcast, when they heard him talk, they all got hit with the countermeme, every one of them.”

"Threat Level 6 is the most serious level we have," Dr. Wythers explained. "It's something from which there is no coming back, and we know this. That's why it's protocol to announce the existence of the anomalous to the world. Concealment is imperative, but it's only our second mission. The human race as we know it is on the verge of extinction. Hell, we may have already lost the war and just not know it yet. The least we can do is give the general public a fighting chance."

"And you get to decide when and where and how they know?" The Critic asked. "The easiest way to maintain a dictatorship is to control the flow of information."

“That’s rich coming from a terrorist,” Kosta said. “Why are you here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be off somewhere painting a portrait of a lion that eats your wife when you look at it or something?”

“Not all of us are terrorists,” The Critic said, his voice the tip of a rapier. “I’m here because the end of the fucking world is bigger than any one art student or bookworm or ornery cripple. I’m here because our choices at the moment boil down to ‘get in line and help fix the problem’ or ‘get the fuck out of the way’.”

Emma was not paying attention to any of their banter. She was monitoring the randomly switching feed of the containment cells when when one in particular caught her eye. Her husband’s cell was on-screen, every visible inch of the floor littered with pages torn from the SCP Foundation’s Training Manual. They were all scribbled on or defaced in some manner, straight lines and curves forming vague facsimiles of numbers drawn in a broad hand using something dark and red.

She zoomed in the footage and saw his fingers. Dozens of tiny coagulated slits were visible. What caught her eye was not the self-inflicted wounds that covered his fingers and hands, but the message he’d drawn on page 451, written in his own blood:

5 | 13 | 13 | 1

She became vaguely aware of someone asking “What the hell is that?”

“It’s a name if you look at it the right way,” Emma whispered to herself. She let her eyes roll over the sign again, and again, and again and again. Jeremy said nothing, didn’t even move. His body language was gone, his English, his Russian, the French they learned together. That didn’t matter. The memories were all still there, and the sign proved it. She cackled with glee and turned to the others.

“They haven’t lost everything,” she declared with jubilation. "The memories. The memory is still there. I told him my name and he just told me he remembers. Him told I the very first time we met, just like that, and he remembers.” She jabbed four of her fingers at the screen which still displayed Jeremy on it and didn’t notice the blood drain from Dr. Devane’s face.

"If that memory is there, maybe other there are memories are there," she went on, her speech quickening. "If the other memories are there, maybe we can fix this. Everything might not be lost after all. They’re still there. Everything is still there, locked away their in heads but we knew that already." She continued to pace, her words erupting from her like machine gun rounds.

“We can stop it,” she said as a smile suddenly exploded across her face. She burst into laughter without warning and continued. “We can fix things. This doesn’t be have apocalypse to the. All we need to do is completely reinvent language. We can things fix so everyone is jxrhs bohten and everything all be will alright. Again.” She stopped. Her head swept from person to person as she took in their expressions. Dr. Devane’s eyes were wide and his mouth hung open. Why was his face doing that? She couldn’t remember, and it didn’t matter. It was salvageable. She could save her husband.

The bullets from the gun in Dr. Wythers’ hand struck twice her in the heart, killing her instantly. She didn't have time to ask why even if she had been able to.

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