On the Run
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Previous: Breathe


Robert Malthus is a striking man. This is not on account of his build (which is notable), nor on account of his clothes (which are black). It's because of his scar.

The snarl of long-healed flesh begins at the ridge of his right brow and continues down through the eye, rendering it a functionless gray orb. It continues, penetrating his upper lip and splitting it, exposing a sliver of straight, white teeth. The old wound twists his mouth into a sneer — but it's a sneer that stands in contrast to his behavior. There is a serenity to his remaining blue eye. A gentle patience that carries through his gait, posture, and tone.

Despite this, Agent Angela O'Hara is aware that the man overseeing the examination of the containment chamber is not one to trifle with. Robert Malthus is many things; 'incapable of great violence' has never been among them.

"When did the incident occur?"

O'Hara examines the clipboard with a click of her pen. She jots down several quick notes. "Yesterday, sir. At approximately 1400 hours." She is relatively young. A recent transfer. Despite being initially intimidated by his reputation, she has found this to be a rewarding experience. The scarred Foundation veteran is refreshingly direct and professional. He has never once commented on her gender, nor glanced at her cleavage. However, she did once watch him talk another man into eviscerating himself and consuming his own intestines.

She is still not quite sure what to think of that.

They watch through closed-circuit cameras as the Foundation operators in their large, bulky hazmat suits shine lights down the chute leading into the primary containment cell. It is filled nearly to the top with a corrosive, tar-like sludge. The surface of this fluid has solidified into a greasy layer of congealed 'fat'. It requires several moments of prodding with stainless steel poles to break through.

A human femur bobs up.

O'Hara flinches. Malthus does not. "Are the lab results back, yet?"

The operators with the poles probe deeper into the gurgling, caustic soup. Meanwhile, Agent O'Hara flips through the pages on her clipboard. "They've determined that the slurry is mostly composed of severely corroded human remains. DNA analysis found the presence of multiple humans — several hundreds, possibly thousands. They've conclusively linked it to numerous victims in the database. Right now, they think that, uh, some sort of spatial event caused by the evaporation of a black hole in an adjacent exo-dimensional space might have resulted in — "

"It choked on its own vomit."

" — resulted in — uh, in — beg your pardon, sir?"

Malthus is watching the screen. The operators have something that they're struggling to fish up to the surface. "Are you familiar with foie gras, Agent O'Hara?"

"I, uh — yeah. That's the dish where you over-feed a goose, then eat it. Right?"

"More or less." The operators pull the object out of the sludge. It is humanoid, but exaggerated and obese. The 'skin' is a vile, translucent black-green membrane that has been stretched to its limit. The faint silhouette of a skeletal system floats inside it, suspended in a partially dissolved mass of organic matter. "A dish comprised of the liver from a water-fowl that has been prepared weeks, or even months, in advance. A tube is inserted into its throat to forcibly feed it. This renders the liver fatty and tender."

As they pull it out of the chamber, part of its hip catches on the edge of the chute. The human-shaped sack rips — and pops like a blister. A churning mass of decayed bones, liquefied cartilage, and partially digested tissue is instantly disgorged into the sludge below.

Agent O'Hara turns away. She's seen worse, but that doesn't mean she wants to see more.

Malthus keeps watching. "But caution must be taken during this process," he explains. "If not, it can expel the contents of its stomach into the tube, which results in pulmonary aspiration. It over-eats — purges — then chokes to death on its own vomit."

"I, uh, see."

At last, Malthus turns from the screen and faces her. "Who is aware?"

O'Hara checks her clipboard, again. "The Site-Director, Containment Director, several researchers assigned for observation, and — uh — a D-Class."

"Have they been debriefed?"

"Not yet, no."

"We'll need to arrange amnestic treatments, as well."

"We — I mean, uh, that probably won't… work?" O'Hara frowns, looking up from her notes. "Everyone assigned to containment for this anomaly has had repeated, prolonged exposure to amnestics of nearly every type, sir. At this point, some of them have developed resistances, immunity — or even worse, allergies."

Malthus rubs the bridge of his nose. "Ah. Of course."

"And if I may," she continues, suddenly emboldened. "I'm not sure I understand why we'd want to amnesticize anyone. We could never figure out how to contain it, before. It regularly escaped and killed personnel. We've been barely able to afford the last iteration of procedures as it was. And now? After decades of fighting it, tooth-and-nail? It just up and neutralized itself. How is this not a win?"

Malthus ceases rubbing the bridge of his nose. That lone, cold blue eye focuses on Angela O'Hara with a razor-sharp intensity. "Agent, do you know what this anomaly was?"

Agent O'Hara stiffens. "I, uh — with all due respect, sir, I don't think there's a single person on the Foundation payroll who hasn't heard of the Old Man."

"Precisely. It's an institution. It's history. It's the Foundation," Malthus tells her. "And now, it's a pile of greasy, half-eaten bones in the bottom of a vat filled with corrosive slime."

She can't think of any response to that. Malthus turns back to the screen, watching as the operators in hazmat suits extract the now-empty sack of translucent skin out from the sludge, then pack it into a bio-hazard container.

"We're running out of money. We're running out of personnel. We're even running out of D-Class. Sites are going defunct; some have outright disappeared. Resistance to amnestics is up, and the number of new hires are down. We're hemorrhaging veteran employees daily — losing them to organizations able to pay twice as much for a job that's three times less likely to kill them. All our documentation regarding anomalies is woefully out-of-date. And you know what the strangest part of it is?"

Agent O'Hara does not.

"It doesn't matter. Because another thing we're running out of are anomalies to contain. Once we have them, they either die, disappear, or become non-anomalous."

"It — I'm sure it's not that dire, sir." Still, she now finds herself watching them fold the remains of the anomaly alongside Malthus. A curious sense of confusion and dread fills her.

"We had a catastrophic security leak in 2008," he continues. "Several hundred gigabytes of data ripped from our IntSCPFN servers, published online. Do you know what happened?"

"I never heard of — "

"The worst mass information breach since 1938. Thousands of classified documents posted in plain sight — and what did we have to do? Did we have to reactivate Project Lethe? Begin mass-dispersal of memetic countermeasures? Re-establish the Veil?"

The operators complete their task. The box containing the remains is sealed shut. They lift it and carry it off to its final destination.

"Nothing," Malthus says. "Nothing happened. Nothing at all. No one cared. No one noticed. Life went on. The Foundation is in a race against its own irrelevance, Agent O'Hara. And we're losing."

The operators open the hatch, then slide the remains of SCP-106 down the disposal chute that leads to the Site's incinerator. Malthus and O'Hara watch, allowing the silence to speak for them.

When, at last, she grows tired of what that silence has to say, she turns to Malthus:

"If we become irrelevant, then what replaces us?"


Did you know…?

  • Virginia was named for Queen Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen").
  • Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement (just be cool) on the American Continent.
  • The Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia is (guys just chill he's not flashing) the largest office building in the world.
  • The first theater in America was built (yes i know we can't pull over) at Williamsburg, Virginia in 1716.
  • Virginia was the first state in the United States to (thank you sunny your input is very fucking appreciated) elect a black governor (Douglas Wilder, elected 1990).
  • Virginia was one of two states that donated land to (no it's just a coincidence) build Washington D.C. (the other state was Maryland).
  • Virginia is the only state (he is not flashing his lights or sirens) with an official State Bat (Virginia big-eared bat).
  • In Virginia, it is illegal (everything's fine will you both calm the fuck down) to hunt wild animals on Sundays with the exception of racoons (which may be hunted until 2:00 am).

Machine-Head looks up from the pamphlet.

Sunny hugs the back of the passenger seat. He's bitten down so hard on his bottom lip that the part bulging out from under his teeth has turned an anemic white-yellow. Alex is up-front, shouting at Seph. Seph has both of his webbed hands locked tight on the steering wheel, frantically waving his head-tentacles in an attempt to communicate.

Machine-Head frowns. It turns to the right, and sees rolling hills and trees. It turns to the left, and sees a Virginia State Trooper — lights flashing, siren howling. The latter occurrence is determined to be the most likely reason for this interruption.

"Go! Go! Just fucking go!" Alex is screaming. Approximately 50% of Machine-Head's occupants disapprove of Alex screaming.

"We can't — we won't get away from the cops —" Sunny stammers. His fingers are digging into the back of the seat. This implies he is afraid. Approximately 85% of Machine-Head's occupants disapprove of Sunny being afraid.

"We're fucking dead if he stops us!" Alex replies. Precisely 100% of Machine-Head's occupants disapprove of being dead.

Machine-Head turns to face the Virginia State Trooper. The driver is flagging them down. He looks angry. This displeases numerous occupants of Machine-Head. A brief, spirited debate occurs; options are discussed, and a resolution is proposed. It passes by a narrow margin.

Machine-Head flattens its palm to the window and makes a minor adjustment to the Trooper's current momentum.

His car is launched off the road.

The other three go silent. Approximately 35% of Machine-Head's occupants find this to be an unexpected but fortuitous consequence of its resolution.

"MH, did you just — did you — " Sunny is no longer hugging the back of Alex's seat. He is still stammering, and still biting his bottom lip. His attention is now focused squarely on Machine-Head. This implies anxiety rather than fear. " — did you just kill him?"

"Extremely unlikely." This is a lie. It is highly unlikely that this resolution has resulted in a fatality, but not extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, Machine-Head's occupants have previously voted to prioritize placating Sunny's anxiety over precision and accuracy.

"I didn't know you could — since when can you do shit like that?" Alex's voice is hushed. Her attention is also focused on Machine-Head.

"Just now." This is also a lie. Machine-Head's occupants have been internally developing and refining psychokinetic abilities since their escape from the Osworth Institute. Whether or not to reveal the full scope of these abilities remains a hotly debated topic among occupants. This is on account of their application carrying a high risk for the well-being of Machine-Head, its occupants, and its external allies.

WE SAFE? Seph's head-tentacles twist into the familiar patterns of American Sign Language. His body is partly turned, his attention having shifted from the road to focus his eyes temporarily on Machine-Head.

"No. We are about to hit a deer." This is not a lie. Machine-Head can see it just past the windshield, strolling out in front of the car.

Seph turns back. Alex shouts something; Sunny flings his arms around Machine-Head. Approximately 40% of its occupants disapprove.

Seph slams the brakes and turns. Machine-Head feels its stomach lurch up. The car's wheels are leaving the ground. Several occupants note this situation will likely escalate unless immediate action is taken. A brief, spirited debate occurs; options are discussed, and a resolution is proposed.

The risk associated with repeated psychokinetic action is deemed too high. The resolution fails by a narrow margin.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Each hit jerks them into new directions. The world is a blur of noise, heat, and violence. They are rolling off the road, spinning wildly as chunks of their vehicle twirl away.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Crrrnch. Machine-Head throws its arms above and pushes against the roof, which is now the floor, which is now the roof again. It is incurring significant levels of damage. Sunny squeezes tighter. Machine-Head begins to glow.

Crrrnch. Crrrnch. CRRRNCH. The world settles down and levels out. Machine-Head struggles through a haze of pain. It can feel the hard, savage pound of its heart. It can smell burnt rubber and leaking gas. It can hear the gentle pop, pop, ssss of the radiator's water supply as it sizzles away. Something stings its eyes. Blood, most likely. Machine-Head's blood.

By the time the wreck has settled, they are a quarter-mile off road. The vehicle is upside down. Smoke fills the enclosed space. Multiple occupants submit requests for the status of Machine-Head and its allies.

"Fuck." Alex appears dazed, but intact. A streak of crimson dribbles down from her forehead. She is unbuckling herself from her seat. Seph also appears dazed, but intact. His tentacles twitch. A few stalks are smeared with stripes of slick, dark blue fluid.

Sunny's grip on Machine-Head goes slack. Machine-Head ceases to glow. The blood stinging its eyes is determined to not be its own.

Approximately 85% of those who voted against the previous resolution now regret their decision.

Next: Time (Reprise)

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