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Every newcomer has a theory about SCP-076.

'The brother of Cain' is the obvious angle, sure. Greenhorns love that one. They always throw it out there like it's just common knowledge. But when Agent Xiaoshan first arrived at Area 25B a decade ago, it took a surly Foundation vet just thirty seconds to fieldstrip it:

"What, Abel? The guy from the Bible? The one who gets fuckin' murdered?"

"Yeah. I mean, yes, sir. That's who he is, right? I read the documentation." Xiaoshan was already two years in Field Ops. By then, she had exchanged gunfire with a squad of Gocks. She'd seen a rogue reality bender cut down in a spray of .50 caliber beryllium bronze rounds. She knew the precise texture, color, and flavor of her own liver.

In other words: at this point, she figured she was pretty hot shit.

"So what, you think gettin' killed turned him into a fuckin' super-killer? Like some Lamarckian inheritance bullshit? If I break yer jaw, are you gonna turn into the Harry Houdini of breakin' people's jaws?"

She blustered: "Well, uh — he knows how to handle livestock, and then there's —"

"Does me knowin' how to build a fuckin' boat make me Noah? Maybe he just likes to fuck sheep." The bald, scarred vet clamped his massive hand down on Xiaoshan's shoulder. When he squeezed, she swore she felt something grinding inside the socket.

"Kid, lemme tell you a secret: Forget what the docs say. Forget what the egg-heads say. And sure as fuck forget whatever hog-shit the people upstairs say. When it comes to Oh-Fucking-Seventy-Six, there's only two things you gotta know — 'Open Fire' and 'Reload'."

Three years later, SCP-076 breached containment. Agent Xiaoshan watched as he stripped another man's flesh from his body like the skin of a red, juicy, overripe grape. It took five minutes of sustained gunfire to finally put him down.

Two minutes after that? Xiaoshan was still firing.

She paused twelve times to reload.

Every newcomer has a theory about SCP-076. And eventually, every newcomer realizes the same thing: When it comes to Oh-Fucking-Seventy-Six, theories don't matter.

Only firepower does.

Researcher Sebastian Hardin has a theory about SCP-076. And, much to his consternation, no one wants to hear it.

"So… you some sort of robot?"

Agent Angela O'Hara is a pretty, petite woman with thumb-thick curls of copper-red hair that reach her jaw-line. She's also the only person in Area 25B who's been willing to give Hardin anything more than the time-of-day. She sits across from him at one of the cafeteria's tables, stabbing peas with her fork.

"Just the head and neck. The rest of me is meat." He taps the side of his metal head with a fleshy finger to demonstrate, then resumes pretending to read his book.

"Just the — wait, what?" Agent O'Hara sets her fork down. "Come again?"

Hardin synthesizes a sigh. His head is an upside down egg plated in a carbon steel alloy. It has an external sensor mounted where the nose ought to be; a pinhole behind it permits data to trickle in. His digital brain is six pounds heavier than its biological counterpart, and includes an integrated heatsink with a one-way vent at the top. His core processor runs so fast that in the time it takes you to read this sentence, he'll have read sixty more.

However, he finds that this makes people uncomfortable. Hardin dislikes making people uncomfortable. So, he keeps a few books around to pretend reading while blazing through a catalog of novels and essays he keeps stored on his internal drive. Right now, he's holding a copy of Asimov's Foundation and Empire, but he's actually just finishing up Haraway's essay, A Cyborg Manifesto.

He sets the former down and internally closes the latter. Judging from O'Hara's tone, he can tell it's going to be one of those conversations: "Just the head and neck."

"They're… prosthetics?"


"You have a prosthetic head. A prosthetic brain."


"How does that even work?"

"Every part of the human body can be reduced to a mechanical function — which can, in turn, be modified, augmented, or even replicated by machines."

"But your brain is, what? A computer? Doesn't that make you, like, an AI?"

"Did Long John Silver's peg-leg make him a robot?"

Agent O'Hara scrunches her nose. "I think there's a pretty big difference between having a stick for a leg versus having a microchip for a brain, Hardin."

Hardin synthesizes another sigh. "Look, can we get back to the matter at hand? I need to have this meeting with the Commanding Security Officer about Oh-Seventy-Six. Every time I try to arrange one, I get the run-around. I can't even get anyone to tell me who I'm trying to have a meeting with."

"If you're looking for the CSO, that's Gunny. She looks like that." O'Hara jerks her thumb behind her. Four tables down, a woman sits alone, eating in silence. She's tall and muscular, with shoulders as broad as a steel girder. Her dark hair has been buzzed down to a dense peach-fuzz. "Sergeant Xiaoshan."

Hardin stands. "That's her? That's the CSO for Oh-Seventy-Six? Why didn't you tell me? I've been trying to —"

O'Hara seizes him by the wrist. "Sit down. Are you crazy?" she whispers. "You do not bother Gunny. Not here, not now, and not about your cockamamie theory. She will tear your metal head off and squish it in her bare frigging hands."

Hardin's sensor array clicks down to focus on O'Hara. The fans inside his skull start humming. Reluctantly, he sinks back into his seat. "But I need to have this meeting. That's the whole reason I'm here. It's been two days, and I still haven't gotten past the secretary's secretary."

"Well, keep at it. Go through the proper channels or whatever. But unless you're either under her command or have an appointment? You do not just talk to Gunny. You especially do not just talk to Gunny about Oh-Seventy-Six."

"She's the on-site expert. My superiors specifically requested for me to speak with her."

Agent O'Hara shakes her head. "Hardin, do you know why she's the resident 'expert' on Oh-Seventy-Six? Because out of the platoon of forty-three crazy sons of bitches sent in to stop him, she's the only one who walked out alive."

Hardin slumps. "Does she always eat alone?"

"Yeah." Agent O'Hara grins. "It's funny, y'know? Everyone who comes here has a theory about Oh-Seventy-Six. But everyone who stays? Eventually, they come up with one about Sergeant Xiaoshan."

No sound evacuates the bowels as effectively as that of Area 25B's emergency klaxons.

Hardin's up and out of bed in an instant. The young Foundation researcher is already at his bunk room's door by the time distant pops of gunfire are rattling down the halls. SCP-076's containment procedures flash up out of his internal drive and through his mind. In particular, it's the bit about flooding the facility with seawater and sealing the entry shaft that sticks with him.

He steps out into the hall. Two or three researchers charge by, running from the gunshots. A few more security officers rush forward. Some give Hardin a passing glance, but they all keep going.

Hardin turns and runs toward the danger.

It takes him a full minute to reach the scene. Three agents are at a corner. One of them is on the floor, frothing and convulsing. The second is dragging her away, and the third is pressed flat to the wall. As Hardin approaches, the third agent gestures for him to hang back. More gunshots ring out — much closer, now.

"Some sort of reality bender," the third agent says. He's sweating. Hands are shaking. Hardin doubts it's inexperience; not in a place like this. It looks more like raw animal fear. "Insurgency, maybe. He's like some sort of colored shadow, he keeps unfolding and people keep dropping."

More gunshots. Hardin steps up behind him. "May I take a look?"

"You got a death-wish? Be my guest." The agent steps back.

Hardin peeks around the corner for half a second, then snaps his head back. He processes the data: Three agents down. Two are still twitching; the last is a corpse. A fourth agent is using a half-open door for cover, firing on the assailant at the end of the hall.

The assailant is a human-shaped tessellation; a kaleidoscope of sinew, blood, and bone that expands out like tree branches only to collapse back in with every step taken. They move like a 3-dimensional shadow, growing and shrinking at sharp angles while moving with impossible, unpredictable speed.

During that brief moment, Hardin saw their hand unfold into thousands of overlapping duplicates, each distorted by a very precise geometric function. Throbbing blood-vessels zig-zagged across several meters of space, reaching for the agent behind the door. The hand then clipped through the door.

He didn't see what happened after that. But judging by the lack of an additional gunshot? He can wager a guess.

Hardin pores over the available data. After some rapid-fire math, he draws up a working hypothesis and develops an experiment. It'll take about forty five seconds to test this safely, but if he's correct? He can put a stop to it.

Just as he's double and triple-checking his work, a data-point his core processor dismissed as irrelevant bubbles up to the surface: The agent behind the door had short, curly red hair.

Agent O'Hara.

Hardin takes the agent's gun and steps forward.

"What are you —"

"I have a theory."

Since that brief moment when Hardin looked down the hall, he has spent minutes performing a pain-staking analysis of the data. But as far as the agent is concerned, this researcher just glanced at a monster and suddenly decided to play cops-and-anomalies. That's probably why the agent's first reaction is to scream bloody murder while trying to pull Hardin back.

But Hardin planned for that, too. As soon as the agent lunges, he slams his elbow into the man's gut. He then pivots to the left and lifts the pistol.

Researcher Sebastian Hardin proceeds to empty the pistol's remaining rounds into the ceiling.

Imagine, if you will, the puzzling perspective of a 3-dimensional being looking into a 2-dimensional space.

It's a lot like looking at a painting. A flat world at your feet, full of flat people living their flat lives, oblivious to their flatness. For them, the universe is a labyrinth filled with impenetrable walls, obscured corners, and closed rooms. But to you?

Nothing is hidden and everything is seen. You're above, looking in. You can walk around every wall, see past every corner, and step into every room. You can even peer into the people's skulls — watching their flat little brains thinking their flat little thoughts. It's so easy to reach in with a few fingers and squish those flat thoughts apart.

Sometimes they might catch a glimpse of you. Sometimes they might even try to stop you. But they never get anywhere, because they never know what they're looking at. They only attack all the places you aren't. They never just look up.

In short, it's like watching an army of ants wage war against your shadow, utterly oblivious to the man above who casts it.

Now: imagine, if you will, how fucking terrified you'd be if one of those ants suddenly looked up from your shadow and started firing a gun into the sky.

The tessellated man vanishes. Hardin drops the gun. The agent stumbles back, grunting: "What —"

Hardin runs to Agent O'Hara and crouches next to her. A quick assessment tells him she'll likely live, though there is a possibility of minor brain damage.

"— the hell —"

He checks the other two and makes a similar prognosis. The seizures have stopped; they're breathing. Pupils are responsive to light. All good signs.

"— just happened?"

"I scared him off." Hardin stands, then checks the remaining agent just to confirm. Dead. "Not certain he'll stay away, but I think we're safe for now."

The klaxons suddenly change pitch, then shut off. The agent, still struggling to understand what just happened, looks relieved.

"That good?" Hardin asks.

The agent nods. "That means Gunny killed Oh-Seventy-Six."

Two days later, and Hardin still hasn't gotten that appointment.

O'Hara is in medical. She'll need some physical therapy, but her doctors are optimistic. The other two agents are also slated to make a full recovery. As for SCP-076 — the remote-operated CIW system designed to cut him down failed to operate. Investigators are thinking Insurgency sabotage.

There's no official word on what happened next, but — according to an apocryphal account — Sergeant Xiaoshan charged into the kill-box, tore the remote-operated hundred-plus-pound KPV 14.5mm heavy machine gun out of its mooring, then proceeded to 'engage' SCP-076 in 'close-range combat' with an anti-aircraft cannon. One source went so far as to claim she even screamed "smile, sheepfucker" while firing.

Probably nonsense. Hardin focuses on pretending to read a book while organizing his internal list of MP3 files, sitting alone in the cafeteria. He's so engrossed in this that it takes him a full minute to realize that someone has sat down across from him.

"Alright, chrome-dome. You saved a lot of my people. So, I'm giving you a one-time free pass." Xiaoshan's voice has a quiet harshness to it. It's the sort of voice that's low, but still manages to be heard even in a room full of chatter. "Let's have it."

Hardin stops, looks up from his book, and focuses his sensory array on Xiaoshan. She's staring right at him. "— ah. Oh. Hello, ma'am. Have it?"

"Your theory."

"My theory?" He's so thrown off by her sudden presence that, for a moment, he forgets the whole reason for being here. "My theory about wh — oh. Right, yeah. Oh-Seventy-Six."

"Get on with it."

"Well, uh, I was reviewing his psych profile, yeah? And I noticed something — nobody ever talks about what happens when he's inside his coffin."

Xiaoshan raises an eyebrow. Hardin continues:

"And that's the thing. I don't think anything happens when he's inside the coffin. He's effectively dead when he's in there, right? But that got me to thinking: How much time does he spend alive versus dead? So I did some rough calculations, and… he doesn't usually last long outside the coffin. In fact, Omega-7 constitutes the longest span of time he's ever been outside that coffin while in Foundation custody."


"From our perspective, we've had him for decades. But from his perspective? He's been with us for less than a month. And then that got me to thinking about something else: How old is he? Like, really?"

"Where you going with this?"

"To us, he seems ancient. Thousands of years old. But what if he's not? What if he's actually pretty young? His psych profile describes him as a 'perfect psychopath' — I won't get into the lack of professionalism with that term, but let's just say… there's another diagnosis here that I think fits much better: What if his behavior is a product of being a mentally underdeveloped adolescent?"

There is a long, palpable stretch of silence.

Then Xiaoshan starts giggling.

"Oh my god," she says. "Oh my fucking god. That's — okay. That's not bad, chrome-dome. That's actually pretty rich. I'm using that. I needed it, so thank you for that."

Hardin is confused. Of all the responses he prepared himself for, this was not among them. "Uh…"

"He's an angry little edgelord. That's what you're telling me — that he's an edgy teenage gamer, furious because nobody can beat him in a death-match. You're telling me that Oh-Fucking-Seventy-Six is a little boy who's mad about video-games."

Okay. He hadn't thought of that angle. "I guess, yeah. That's effectively what I'm saying."

"So, what's the punchline? How does that help us contain him?"

"Well, with your permission…" Hardin braces for impact. "— I've been sent to get your approval for psychotherapy sessions. Angled from the presumption that we're not dealing with an alien intellect so much as an emotionally stunted, undeveloped child."

Xiaoshan sinks back in her seat. The cushioning's plastic sleeve squeaks under her. "The Bixby — the one you scared away. How'd you pull that one off?"

"Well, I remembered studying 4-dimensional spaces when I was learning linear algebra, and I still had some of the matrices in my internal drive, so I —"

She rolls her eyes. "I'm not asking you to show your math, Hardin. I'm asking you how you knew it would work."

Hardin takes time to think about his answer before giving it:

"I didn't. I had a theory, I didn't have time to test it — so I took the shot."

She nods. "And it worked."


"One day, it won't. You know that, right?" Xiaoshan gestures. "One day, you're gonna make a call like that, and it's gonna be wrong. And people are gonna be dead because you were wrong. I'm not trying to bust your balls or play Obi Kenobi to your Skywalker here, kid. I'm just trying to figure out whether or not you understand this. Because if you don't, you're useless to me. You gotta know it. You gotta know it in your bones."

Again, Hardin takes time to think about his answer. He nods.

"Yes. I am aware."

"Alright. I think this'll work, then."

"Wait. What? You're agreeing to the psychotherapy?" Hardin isn't even sure what he thinks about it himself. He's certain about his theory, but he's not so sure about what the people upstairs are trying to do with it.

"Fuck no. Tell your superiors to go fuck themselves. As far as I'm concerned, the only therapy Oh-Seventy-Six needs is a depleted uranium slug straight through his skull. Fuck your theory. But you?" She leans forward. "You, Hardin?"

"You, I'll keep."

Every newcomer has a theory about SCP-076, and every vet has one about Sergeant Xiaoshan. But Researcher Sebastian Hardin is the first to come up with a theory that covers both:

They're both batshit crazy.

Next: Project Hellhound

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