SCP-7291
rating: +159+x
Swamps.jpg

Pinsk Marshes, Belarus.

Item #: SCP-7291

Object Class: Pending

Special Containment Procedures: SCP-7291 is sealed. It must not be unsealed. A security cordon has been established at a one kilometre radius from its entrance. Individuals found within the cordon without express written permission from the Department of Tactical Theology are to be executed on sight, regardless of credentials or security clearance level.

Description: SCP-7291 is a tomb in the Pinsk Marshes, Belarus, near the Pripyat River. The following rough map and architectural summary were recovered from the files of drone technician D. Da Costa subsequent to Incident 7291-1:

The tomb is constructed entirely below grade, accessed via a narrow aperture in an inconspicuous natural rock feature. The primary structure is a series of bedrock chambers, with obvious toolmarks indicating they were carved by human or human-adjacent hands. The descent to these chambers is composed of Makrana white marble, as the marsh soil cannot effectively be tunnelled; this material does not occur naturally in Belarus, and must have been imported from the Indian subcontinent. Though Makrana marble is non-porous, and the bedrock is solid, neither material should be impenetrable by the surrounding marsh. Nevertheless, the tomb contains no standing water and the walls do not leak.

Map.png

SCP-7291, initial surveyed layout.

The layout is as follows:

  • descending access passage with multiple switchbacks and blind corners;
  • wide forecourt with entrance to the tomb proper;
  • outer chamber;
  • outer burial chamber;
  • inner chamber;
  • inner burial chamber;
  • extensive series of interconnected tunnels.

Exploration of the final item has yet to be completed. Over twenty kilometres of tunnel have thus far been mapped.

The burial chambers are irregular, rough-hewn structures each containing a single undecorated sarcophagus and several niches obscured with rough plaster, which may or may not contain burial paraphernalia. The sarcophagus in the outer burial chamber was opened before Foundation discovery of SCP-7291. The sarcophagus in the inner burial chamber, the lid of which is flush with the stone floor, was opened subsequently.

NOTICE FROM THE FOUNDATION RECORDS AND INFORMATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION

Description of SCP-7291's anomalous effect has been deferred until the nomination of a new research team for this file, and completion of an Internal Affairs investigation into Incidents 7291-1 and -2.

— Maria Jones, Director, RAISA

Addendum 7291-1, Discovery, Exploration, and Incident: SCP-7291 came to Foundation attention in September of 2022 after a series of unorthodox actions on the part of professional archaeologist Dr. Barys Salavey. Salavey was on a Foundation watchlist after inadvertently uncovering an anomalous ruin beneath a building site in Minsk, Belarus, in 2010. Despite repeated amnesticization, Dr. Salavey continued to sporadically encounter esoteric materials unknown to the Foundation or mainstream archaeology over the succeeding eleven years. After discovering SCP-7291, however, his behaviour became erratic enough to justify his firing from the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, as he did not possess tenure. Said behaviour included:

  • frequent unannounced sabbaticals;
  • redacting citations from his academic work;
  • refusing to reveal sources for peer review;
  • accusing seventeen colleagues of attempted plagiarism;
  • theft of research materials from other academics;
  • theft of artifacts from the Belarusian State Museum, several subsequently identified as anomalous in origin.

Dr. Salavey was detained at Area-06 for interrogation. Due to a passing professional familiarity, Dr. Gerhard Kneller of the Foundation Department of Archaeology was selected to conduct Dr. Salavey's intake interview.

<Drs. Salavey and Kneller are seated at an interrogation table. The former seems agitated; he will not make eye contact, his eyes are constantly in motion, and he periodically smiles twitchily or nods to himself as if in sudden understanding.>

Dr. Kneller: It's good to see you again, Barys.

Dr. Salavey: I'll just bet it is.

Dr. Kneller: We met at the Polotsk conference in 2012, if you remember.

Dr. Salavey: Oh, I remember. Of course I remember you. It all makes sense now.

Dr. Kneller: Beg pardon?

Dr. Salavey: That's when it all started. The theft. It won't stop me, you know, and you can't stop them. They're crawling towards us from the past, inch by precious inch.

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. Kneller: You've gotten rather far ahead of my script, Barys, I don't mind telling you. For the record, of whom are you speaking? The ones who are… crawling towards us from the past, as you say?

Dr. Salavey: You known damn well, I'll wager. The Daevites.

APPENDED FILE:
Group of Interest Abridged Profile, "Daevite Empire" (GoI-140)

The Daevite Empire was a militaristic, imperialistic theocracy occupying a wide area of south-central Siberia and neighbouring territories until its destruction in the thirteenth century. The Daevites were known for their employment of thaumaturgy, ritualism, slavery, human sacrifice, cannibalism and ontokinetics. Daevite archaeological sites continue to be discovered well beyond the empire's original bounds, representing attempted conquests or the waxing and waning of political power; such sites are almost universally anomalous in nature and prejudicial to human life. The most problematic artifact of the Daevites is, however, a twentieth-century historical monograph describing their sociopolitical history: SCP-140, A Chronicle of the Daevas. When exposed to a sufficient quantity of ink (or any effective ink substitute), the monograph will amend itself to retroactively continue the story of the Empire beyond its supposed destruction. These changes will be written into baseline reality, and the Empire's timeline will expand closer to the present day. This existential threat makes prompt analysis of any and all Daevite sites and artifacts discovered by the Foundation a paramount priority.

Dr. Kneller: How is it that you know that word? Daevite?

<Dr. Salavey laughs.>

Dr. Salavey: You stole my memories, but I got them back. I found them in the dark, found myself, found my purpose. I should thank you for that much. The missing time, the missing files, the blank hole you carved out of my life? It gave me a drive I've never known before. A hunger. I remember you at the conference, Kneller. Lean and hungry fit to starve. You always had the drive, didn't you? And nothing to show for it.

<Dr. Kneller stiffens.>

Dr. Salavey: Well, I never had anything to show either, but it never mattered to me. I stumbled into archaeology like a drunk to an open bar. I wanted a job where I could spend time out of doors, and get other people to do my heavy lifting. It never mattered to me, before Minsk. Before you people made it matter. But that was nothing, compared to what I found deep down in the earth…

<Dr. Salavey shakes his head.>

Dr. Salavey: I keep wanting to tell you. It's a devilish secret to keep, you know, wriggling away against the back of my brain. But you don't get to hear it. It's mine, only mine, until… until it belongs to all of us.

Dr. Kneller: You're going in circles.

Dr. Salavey: I'm leading you in circles, and you're following. Like you always have, am I right?

<Dr. Kneller does not respond.>

Dr. Salavey: I'm right. And you're not going to get anywhere interesting by nipping at my boot heels, Kneller. You won't make your name by discrediting mine.

<Dr. Kneller stands.>

Dr. Kneller: We'll speak again after I've examined your work, Barys.

Dr. Salavey: You won't find it. And if you do, you won't understand it — it's in a code you'll never break, not in a Daeva's age. And trust me, trust me on this one thing, please.

Dr. Kneller: What?

Dr. Salavey: You wouldn't want to understand it.

MTF Rho-57 ("House Breakers") searched Salavey's last known residence in the city of Pinsk, and successfully located a cache of research materials after a brief search and several minor injuries sustained via interaction with crude household traps. The files were indeed encrypted; RAISA crytographers cracked each cipher in short order, revealing the location of Salavey's most recent and undeclared archaeological work site. A brief drone reconnaissance was performed, mapping the main tomb chambers but stopping short of the rear tunnel network, and the anomaly was classified SCP-7291.

Repeated requests to the Department of Containment by Dr. Kneller resulted in his nomination as project lead. He quickly assembled the following team, and arranged their transportation to the Pinsk Marshes.

SCP-7291 RESEARCH AND CONTAINMENT TEAM

DEPARTMENT OF ARCHAEOLOGY (ARC)

  • Dr. Gerhard Kneller — team lead

DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY (HIST)

  • Professor Augustus Booth — expert in eastern European society and culture
  • Professor Reginald Huff — expert in eastern European and Eurasian folkloric practice
  • Dr. Ines Pleško — expert in ancient Daevite society and culture

DEPARTMENT OF TACTICAL THEOLOGY (THEO)

  • Dr. Fidelia Quijano — expert in organized religious practice
  • Dr. Máximo Quijano — expert in fringe religious practice

ENGINEERING AND TECHNICAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT (ENG/COMM)

  • Chief Ingvar Strand — structural engineer, demolitions expert
  • Technician Christopher Gill — communications technician
  • Technician Joshi Rizwana — mechanical technician

LOGISTICS DEPARTMENT (LOG)

  • Hafiz El-Amin — quartermaster

DEPARTMENT OF GEOPHYSICS (GEOPHYS)

  • Technician Diogo Da Costa — drone technician

MEDICAL DEPARTMENT (MED)

  • Dr. Mariska Lauwers — medic

MOBILE TASK FORCES DEPARTMENT (MTF)

  • Captain Rebecca Cassidy — commander, MTF Delta-82 ("Grave Coppers")
  • Agent Miklós Dobos
  • Agent Eduard Panossian
  • Agent Louisette Roussel
  • Agent Isidoro Valenti

Dr. Kneller's application for a registered thaumaturge to join the team was rejected by Overwatch Command due to the potentially disastrous risk posed by spiritual possession. Dr. Kneller himself rejected the deployment of Scranton Reality Anchors, citing irreparable damage done to similiar archaeological sites by the use of such equipment.

A temporary base camp was established at the mouth of the cave leading to the tomb entrance, where the team were outfitted with lapel cameras and radio transmitters. A second drone survey was carried out, confirming the results of the first, before the entire group began their descent into SCP-7291.

All transcripts in the remainder of this file were synthesized from multiple-source camera footage recovered from the site post-incident.

<The tunnel slopes down steeply and turns at sharp angles very frequently, though there is sufficient headroom and space for three to walk abreast. The air is filled with particles of dust. Professor Booth places a handkerchief over his nose.>

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: We're sure this is completely safe?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: What? No. Of course not.

(ENG) Chief Strand: Did you not see your own drone feed? The tunnel structure is sound, we won't get any cave-ins.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: I'm not worried about cave-ins. I'm worried about—

(COMM) Technician Gill: Mummies.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: No, come on. I'm not an idiot. I just mean—

(COMM) Technician Gill: Draculas.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Shut up. I mean…

<Technician Da Costa nearly sneezes.>

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: I mean, look at all this dust! Shouldn't we be wearing masks?

(HIST) Professor Booth: And this is why I never leave home without a pocket handkerchief.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: There's no threat of contagion. I've reviewed the sample tray from the drone. This place is completely sterile… which is a problem of its own, of course, since it's in the middle of a marsh.

(COMM) Technician Gill: You certainly wouldn't know it.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Look, we've been over this already. We're the advance party, and we need to get this threat squared away.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: I dunno, it just doesn't seem prudent to risk this many experts in an advance party.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: When you don't send the experts, that's when it becomes dangerous. This site is too precious… too potentially sensitive… to risk anyone blundering around down there uninformed. Should anything happen, we need folks on-hand who know precisely how to deal with it.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Which is why you've assembled such a fine collection of experts in esoterica, and not one archaeologist besides your august self.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I seem to think your Augustus self has some archaeological training, do you not? In any event, Dr. Pleško will be taking the lead here. Daevite Empire researchers are almost always generalists.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Why?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Because there's no line between belief and practice, for the Daevites. Their architecture, their artifacts, their rituals, their politics, their magic… it's all connected. You can't understand any of it unless you think holistically. I've trained for decades for an opportunity like this.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: You and me both.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: We're pretty sure this place is Daevite, then?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Salavey seemed certain.

(ENG) Chief Strand: Tunnel composition fits the profile, though… roughly.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Very roughly. This is certainly not the Empire's best work; I would say it was put together in great haste.

(ENG) Chief Strand: Stone imported from India, and bedrock tunnelling? Never heard anything like that described as 'hasty' before.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I'm speaking of the standards of a technologically-advanced people, for their ever-advancing day. They were experts at bedrock tunnelling. They were fond of deep places.

<The team has reached the end of the descent, and are standing in the forecourt. It is a large, roughly cubical cave room only decorated at the southern end, where an ornate entrance portal has been carved.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Still, this is all just conjecture. The tomb could easily have been constructed by locals, using practice learned from the Daevas.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Not very likely. The Daevas didn't teach their techniques, and they didn't encourage literacy amongst their slaves. They were not great disseminators of information, though they did… like to leave… messages…

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Dr. Pleško?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I would say the matter is closed now.

<Dr. Pleško indicates the lintel of the doorway. An inscription is visible in the rock face above.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: That wasn't on the original feed.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Then it wasn't there. I was thorough.

(ENG) Chief Strand: No-one's saying you weren't.

(HIST) Professor Booth: My skill stops far short of conjugation, but that looks like ancient Daevite lettering to my half-trained eye.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Lose the affect, Augustus, this isn't the BBC.

(HIST) Professor Booth: What would you know about the BBC, Reginald?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Shut up, both of you. Is it Daevite, Dr. Pleško?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Of course. Shall I translate?

(HIST) Professor Huff: No.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Absolutely not.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Hmm. Do you think it's safe? Ines?

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Why wouldn't it be safe?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: The Daevites weren't above encoding curses into their carvings.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: They weren't above much of anything. But yes, I would judge this safe; so far from the heart of the Empire, so long ago, exposed for at least a year if Salavey's notes are anything to go by… if a curse was laid, it will have long since lost its potency.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: The oriykalkos core on the drone didn't crack, correct?

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Right…

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Then I'd wager there's no strong thaumaturgy around the entrance.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Why are we wagering now?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: You may proceed, Dr. Pleško.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: It says, and I quote:

An omen of warning for those who would steal
The secrets sequestered behind the black seal
Naught here will you find but what others have lost
Your vessels be emptied, and sanguine the cost

(COMM) Technician Gill: Uplifting.

(HIST) Professor Booth: I am most disturbed.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Don't be dramatic. That's pretty standard spooky go-away tomb stuff, no?

(HIST) Professor Booth: I am disturbed by the fact that my esteemed colleague can idiomatically translate ancient Daevite on the fly, actually, and much more disturbed that her translation rhymes in our mother tongue.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Oh.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Rather than theirs.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Yes. Yes, that's—

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: It does rhyme in theirs, too, actually.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Ah! Indeed! That's much worse. I'm not at all happy about that.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: It's certainly an odd sign, but the exploration does need to progress. Captain Cassidy and her agents will remain on high alert, but I think we should proceed. Opinions? I am speaking primarily to the experts in the room, mind you.

<Technicians Da Costa and Gill mutter under their breath.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I would say the import of the engraving is clear. There are revelations to be found within the tomb, and we won't like them.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: The implication of mortal peril is also quite clear.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I heard that much from Salavey already.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I think there's also the suggestion that this was sealed up to protect thieves from what's inside, rather than deter them from stealing it.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Wow, what a likely story.

(HIST) Professor Huff: There's nothing in Belarusian folklore about a 'black seal', for what that's worth.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Precious little, but thank you nevertheless.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I can think of half a dozen black seals in Daevic culture, and that's just off the top of my head.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Notably absent in the present tableau: any actual black seal.

(HIST) Professor Huff: This is a point of concern, yes.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: But unsurprising. We know Salavey was obsessed, so of course he broke the seal and plunged forward.

(COMM) Technician Gill: You're just asking for a break-in when you name your seal.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Judging by his manner, I'd say Salavey was certainly affected by a curse of some variety. Possibly from breaking said seal.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: The key to that might be in the inscription as well. 'Your vessels' is presumably a metaphor for our bodies, which will be 'emptied'.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: So we're, what? Gonna puke our guts out?

(HIST) Professor Booth: You're not thinking Daevite enough. More likely someone else will pull your guts out.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Thank you for the clarification.

(HIST) Professor Booth: You're most welcome.

(HIST) Professor Huff: I'm starting to feel like the odd man out. I'm not sure I'll have anything to contribute to this investigation, as it's looking very Daevic ind—

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Hello there.

<A ginger tabby cat has appeared. It sits on its haunches beneath the doorframe, staring at the team. The MTF members raise their weapons.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Daevite cat monsters?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Tree monsters, yes. Dirt monsters, certainly. Cat monsters, definitely not; the Daevites considered cats anathema. They boiled them alive and disposed of their bodies in quarries by the hundreds. Killed every single cat in ancient Daevistan, so they say.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Right, so what's one more.

<Captain Cassidy takes aim.>

<The cat sneezes.>

<Captain Cassidy is surprised, and her shot goes wide. The cat disappears into the tomb again.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: Well, got the cat scare out of the way. And nobody's died.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I imagine that was Salavey's cat. He mentions it in his notes; he apparently chased it into the tunnels after he became convinced it was "spying on me, for them."

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Christ.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Hey, watch it.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Yeah, we're not trying to invite any deities to the party today.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: In any event, I think we can move on. We'll make camp in either the outer or inner chamber, depending on conditions. Keep an eye out for any more tomb monsters, if you please, people.

<Chief Strand sneezes.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Gesundheit.

SarcophagusOpen.jpg

Outer sarcophagus, exterior.

SarcophagusView.jpg

Outer sarcophagus, interior.

SarcophagusShut.jpg

Inner sarcophagus, exterior.

A secondary team from the Engineering and Technical Services Department transported the team's equipment and a series of modular partitions into the outer chamber; they were then recalled and extracted for quarantine offsite in order to limit the number of potential exposures to SCP-7291. The remainder of the first day was occupied by the construction of the new interior base camp, including:

  • a partitioned, hermetically-sealable clean room for sensitive communications and computing equipment, including remote monitors for each team member's lapel cameras;
  • a partitioned, hermetically-sealable medical chamber;
  • an open barracks and common room;
  • partitioned washroom facilities, with deep-drilled access to the water table.

While the technicians and Chief Strand installed and tested their equipment, the academics combed the five main chambers for artifacts. They produced, in short order: three sharp daggers, one large cleaver, two spears, and numerous sundry pieces of decorative art. Dr. Pleško identified each artifact as Daevite in origin. Dr. Kneller was dissatisfied, calling the agglomeration "nothing but bog-standard grave goods," occasioning a brief altercation with Technician Gill when the latter chose to make light of this word choice given the site's geographical surroundings.

The absence of any artifacts or remains in the open sarcophagus was confirmed — consensus was that Dr. Salavey had likely removed anything of value — and Dr. Kneller expressed the opinion that nothing of substance could be learned from the site without examining its closed counterpart. This occasioned several hours of fierce debate before lights-out was ordered just before midnight.

On the morning of the second day, Chief Strand performed an x-ray scan of the closed sarcophagus and determined that it was either empty, or impervious to x-rays. The Drs. Quijano performed a series of Akiva and EVE energy tests on both sarcophagi, and found their signatures identically consistent with unmodified baseline reality.

Dr. Kneller therefore instructed Technician Rizwana to begin installation and testing of his RAISR equipment — complex stress-equalization lifting devices — on both sarcophagi. The device on the open sarcophagus was used to generate training data for the device on the other, closing and re-opening the lid until a reliable weight and composition profile was generated. Once Rizwana was confident that the second lid could be raised without incident, Dr. Kneller gave the order to make an attempt.

<Rizwana is remotely operating his RAISR device from the clean room, and is in contact with the remainder of the team via intercom. The others are watching from the outer chamber camp, on wall-mounted monitors. The outer burial chamber is tightly sealed around the RAISR cable with alternating sheets of ablative absorbent and stiff impermeable antithaumic cellophane.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I still think we're moving too quickly. It's unseemly to rush headlong into blasphemy.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Nothing ventured, et cetera.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: The longer we stay in a Daevite site, the more likely we start feeling adverse effects. We need more data as quickly as possible, to form the basis of a situational assessment. This is the only way to accomplish that.

(HIST) Professor Booth: I would stress the value of humility whilst engaged in the act of grave-robbing. Would you like to say a few ritual words, Reginald?

(HIST) Professor Huff: Yes. Ahem.

<Professor Huff takes a deep breath.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: Don't break it.

<General laughter.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Thank for you that, Professor Huff. Technician?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: All systems read green, diagnostics check out, all sensors reporting, input lag negligible. Calm day at sea, sir.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Have at it.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Aye aye. Beginning… beg—

<Rizwana makes a loud exclamation.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: What was that?

Technician Rizwana, Eng.: Sorry, sir. I need to wash my hands.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: You can't wash your hands without cycling the airlock and coming outside, and we honestly do not have the time. Why do you—

(COMM) Technician Gill: Hey, Joshi, tell me you didn't just sneeze in the clean room.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Oh, fucking hell.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Gesundheit, God dammit.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Again, folks, please refrain from—

<Dr. M. Quijano places one arm on his wife's shoulder. She sighs, and shakes her head.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I really do need to wash my hands right now, sir.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Did you sneeze into your hands, technician?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: No, sir, but—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Did you get so much snot on your hands that they're slick with snot, and you can't get a grip on the controls? As though you were a small child, perhaps?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I sneezed into the crook of my elbow, sir, but that's not—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Did you sneeze all over your monitor, utterly coating it with an impermeable layer of mucous material so that you can't see your readouts? Did you sneeze directly onto an exposed length of electrical cable? Because technician, technician, unless you are materially inhibited from performing your duties as of this moment, I am asking you to confirm that your systems remain unaffected by this… nasal outburst, and lift that God-damn lid.

<Silence on recording.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: All systems go, sir. Will proceed.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Thank you.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Actually, hold up a mo. Why did you want to wash your hands?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Doesn't matter. Let's get this over with.

(HIST) Professor Huff: But—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Let the man do his job, like the trained professional he is.

<Rizwana inputs commands into his console. The floor surface around the sarcophagus is surrounded by eighteen complex rod-and-joint assemblies which begin to unfold and extend, forming a protective shell around the lid. Smaller rods emerge from secondary joints, probing pockmarks and scars, shoring up minor stress fractures and insinuating themselves through the tight seal. When the entire lid is supported and clamped, Rizwana sighs.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Problem?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: No, sir. On your go.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Let's make history.

<The RAISR device begins to lift the sarcophagus lid. There is no obvious exchange of gases in the newly-connected spaces. The rods flex according to automatic pressure sensors, following the training data and specific commands from Rizwana.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Lord, that's… sorry. Man, that's a lot of stress fracturing, if this load data is to be believed. The entire thing must be spiderwebbed with cracks and hollows inside, which really ought to have turned up on the x-ray.

(ENG) Chief Strand: I triple-checked that x-ray. Are you saying I didn't—

<Rizwana exclaims again, much more loudly, and jerks the controls hard to one side. The support rods on the device flex abruptly in obvious response to this input, and the lid shifts. One corner dips into the hollow; there is a series of loud cracking sounds, and the entire slab of stone breaks into multiple large fragments which tumble into the sarcophagus with a crash.>

<Silence on recording.>

<Professor Huff sneezes.>

<Dr. M. Quijano glances at Dr. Kneller, who is turning red and shaking.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Gesundheit, both of you.

Dr. Lauwers and the Drs. Quijano re-tested the antithaumic cellophane while Dr. Kneller called an emergency meeting in the wake of this incident.

<The team is arranged in a rough circle at the centre of the outer chamber base camp. All are seated save for Dr. Kneller, who is pacing back and forth and waving his arms in the air.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Are you allergic to swamps, Rizwana?

<Technician Rizwana is staring at the floor.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: No, sir.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Are you allergic to dust, Rizwana? Or the absence thereof, in that perfect little working environment we built at great expense for you?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: No, sir. Not that I—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Is it the spirit of scientific inquiry you're allergic to, then?

<Silence on recording.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Well? Are you allergic to the grand collaborative project of acquiring knowledge on the contours of our ever-advancing past? Is that why you sneezed, twice, in the middle of what should have been…

<Dr. Kneller appears incapable of further speech.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: You should have let me wash my hands.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Do tell.

(HIST) Professor Huff: I believe I might be of assistance, actually.

(HIST) Professor Booth: That would be a first.

(HIST) Professor Huff: I'm surprised you don't know this one, Augustus, blowhard that you are. Every culture has its own unique superstitions regarding the humble sneeze—

(HIST) Professor Booth: Oh, preserve us.

(HIST) Professor Huff: —and as I feel confident in presuming that Technician Rizwana is of Hindu extraction—

(HIST) Professor Booth: Listen to yourself, man.

(HIST) Professor Huff: —it seems reasonable to assume he was struck, in the heat of the moment, with a memory of the injunction against inaugurating any task of importance immediately subsequent to the act of sternutation.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Sternuwhat?

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Sneezing.

(HIST) Professor Huff: In India, the custom is to wash one's hands after sneezing. If one does not, ill fortune is sure to follow.

(HIST) Professor Booth: And you called me out for BBC-speak.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Are you FUCKING SERIOUS?

<Silence on recording.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Rizwana, I consulted each curriculum vitae very closely indeed before selecting the members of this team. If the word 'imbecile' had appeared anywhere on yours, I'm next to certain I would have noticed it.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I don't believe it, sir. But in tense moments, you like to be sure that—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: You let yourself get distracted by a… a fantasy, and you destroyed, utterly ruined a priceless piece of ancient archaeology.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Medieval, really.

<Dr. Kneller ignores him.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I'm sure your gods would be ever so pleased.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Respectfully, sir, I have no gods.

<Dr. Lauwers and the Drs. Quijano rejoin the group.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Sorry for the delay. You all still slagging off gods in blatant disregard of my repeated warnings? Yes? Awesome.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I've done with the faithless. Please tell me the faithful have good news.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: No Akiva or thaumic emissions from the coffin whatsoever. I don't think there was anything supernatural to disturb in there. Maybe nothing at all; it could've been empty, like the other. The sheets remain clean, so far as we can tell from this side; no ablation, no discolouration, readings still normal.

(COMM) Technician Gill: There's a bedsheets joke to be made there, but this probably isn't the time.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: I'm not seeing any new pathogens either. I'd expect to see something if there were ever a burial in the sarcophagus. We won't know for sure without shifting those rocks, of course, but…

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Not it.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: That's got 'D-class' written all over it.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Oh, for sure. You would want to introduce slaves into a Daevite environment, wouldn't you?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I'm sorry?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I… I'm sorry too. Sorry. Just ignore me for a second.

<Dr. F. Quijano rubs her temples. Her husband examines her with evident concern.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: I am also unenthused at the prospect of shifting cursed rocks.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Sounds like we're putting in an order, then,

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I… I'm just really, really concerned about the theological implications here.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: You would be.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Yes, fine, that's fair play but hear me out. We might not be in any physical danger, we might not be able to measure any new threat here, but this place was definitely sacred to someone at some point. It is a tomb. It's been consecrated. We don't know who it's consecrated to, unless someone's found, I don't know, more carvings or whatnot…

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: If they have, they've been hiding them from the resident Daevite Empire expert.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: …but I'd be very surprised if it's anything that likes having its sarcophagi smashed about.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: You're all acting like I did this on purpose.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: The evidence is strongly against you being able to do anything on purpose.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Alright, lay off.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: You lay off, god-botherer.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: "God-botherer"?

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: I'm already sick of this qualitative nonsense. You've done your measurements, you've checked the real metrics, and nothing's wrong. Moving on.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Well, I'm sorry that I can't yet provide a scientific measure for deific offense after accidental sacrilege. I promise to get back to you soon as I can with that.

<Dr. F. Quijano pats her husband's arm.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Some day they'll name the SI unit after you.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Look, the door is still open. We should just leave, and I don't know, dynamite the place.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: We do have lots of dynamite, and someone who knows how to use it.

(ENG) Chief Strand: I'm not keen on being the fulcrum of an act of historical vandalism. As the man with the fuses, I vote against using them.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: As the man with the letters patent from Overwatch fucking Command, I beg leave to remind you all that none of you have votes.

<Silence on recording.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Here's what's going to happen. Gill and I are going to radio Overwatch for instructions, and I will inquire about D-class requisition.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Seems like that's my bailiwick, sir.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I have no further interest in bailiwicks. I want something done here correctly, for a change. Go tend your stocks. I want those sheets triple-checked again, while the rest of you keep looking for finds or analyzing architecture, such as it is. Nobody is to return to the surface until I say so; I definitely don't want some civilian spotting us and scuppering the entire dig.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: The upstairs base camp is well-concealed, sir. I'd say the odds—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Shut up, and do as I say.

<Silence on recording.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: This is still the finest para-archaeological site in Belarus, ladies and gentlemen, and I will be thrice-God-damned if we leave it empty-handed.

Dr. Kneller subsequently reported to the team that Overwatch Command had instructed them to remain at the site for the time being, and to follow his orders to the letter, to wit: continue searching and monitoring the accessible portions of the tomb, and await the arrival of D-class personnel before attempting to breach the antithaumic cellophane. Three team members reported difficulty achieving rest that night, and Dr. Lauwers administered soporifics.

At 1:32 the following morning, while the majority of the team slept in the outer chamber, the entire tomb was rocked by a violent explosion which deposited dust and small stones on every exposed surface. The clean and medical rooms were unaffected, as their partition walls shored up the cave ceiling, but significant equipment damage was suffered across the remainder of the camp. No injuries were reported, though the dust content in the air increased significantly.

Captain Cassidy investigated the source of the explosion and found the forecourt now filled with an insurmountable wall of rubble, from which the communications cable to the surface camp emerged. The rubble was stained with blasting powder and residue. A team meeting immediately followed this discovery.

<All team members are present in the main camp. Technician Rizwana, Chief Strand and Professor Huff, having been administered soporifics earlier in the night, appear exhausted. Professor Booth is alternating between taking deep breaths and massaging his nose with his pocket handkerchief.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: First things first. Comms?

(COMM) Technician Gill: Well, there's a pile of scenic and historical Makrana marble on top of my cable, so that's definitely fucked. No signal.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Oh, god.

<Dr. F. Quijano visibly restrains herself from response.>

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Is there enough space between the stones for oxygen to keep filling the tomb?

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Oh, god, oh god…

(ENG) Chief Strand: Shut up. Yes, I think so, and there's more good news on that note. I spent yesterday evening examining every nook and cranny in the rooms we have access to, and I'm pretty sure I identified a few thin shafts cut diagonally into the walls here and there. I don't know how they're penetrating the marsh soil, but if they terminated with the bedrock the whole place would be leaking like a sieve, and it isn't, so they don't. Meaning these are air holes, in case I wasn't clear enough. Assuming some of them are still open, we're probably fine… so long as we don't stay down here indefinitely.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Staying indefinitely is off the table anyway. We've got lots of supplies still, but indefinitely is a lot longer than lots.

<The cat appears at the forecourt end of the base camp. It regards the team evenly.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Rematch.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Don't. Don't go burning off what air we do have with unnecessary gunplay. I see nothing to suggest that creature poses any greater menace to our safety than Rizwana's incompetence.

<Rizwana, sulking in a corner and ignoring the conversation, does not respond.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I suppose we do have more dangerous game to hunt.

(HIST) Professor Booth: To what, precisely, do you refer?

<Chief Strand walks up to the cat, which regards him cautiously. He kneels to stroke its flanks. It immediately begins to purr.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I mean, precisely, that someone used blasting powder to bring down the entranceway. Very likely someone in this camp right now.

(HIST) Professor Booth: But why? It's not that I'm not enjoying your diverse and colourful company, friends, but the cardinal virtue of friends as opposed to family is that one may take and leave them as one pleases. One may, so to speak, walk away.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Maybe someone here doesn't want to walk—

<The cat sneezes. Chief Strand recoils in surprise.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: SEIZE HIM!

<Silence on recording. Professor Huff is pointing at Chief Strand.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Sorry, what?

(HIST) Professor Huff: You idiot! He was distracted. Don't you see? It was him!

<Chief Strand stands up slowly.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: Pardon?

(HIST) Professor Huff: You set off the charges. You're the demolitions expert! The rest of us don't know the first thing about blasting. Most of us are paper-pushers! And you're the only one who could take a wall down without bringing the whole cave down on top of our heads. You want us trapped here, not dead.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Don't take this as encouragement to continue, Professor, but: Chief Strand, I don't precisely recall seeing you in your bunk last night.

(ENG) Chief Strand: Well, I was there. If you'd wanted a punch-clock system in place, Captain, you should have said so at the outset.

<Chief Strand points at Professor Huff.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: What reason would I have for blowing up our only way out of here, do you think?

(HIST) Professor Huff: I don't think it had anything at all to do with reason. I think you're beyond reason, now.

(HIST) Professor Booth: What on Earth are you driving at, Reginald?

(HIST) Professor Huff: The sneezing.

<Silence on recording.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: I don't think that had the revelatory impact you expected, sir.

(HIST) Professor Huff: The sneezing, the sneezing! Can't you see? First Rizwana sneezes, then immediately fouls up a foul-proof system and breaks that sarcophagus, releasing god knows what into the air—

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: No gods, no miasma, no nothing.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Nothing you can measure! I'd wager that second sneeze was a blind, a farce, all for show. He sneezed, then purposely broke the seal and put us all in immortal danger.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I manifestly do not follow.

(HIST) Professor Huff: And then Strand sneezed, after the first disaster, and a few hours later what happens? He causes a worse disaster of his very own, sealing us in here with whatever his friend over there let loose.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I'm sorry, have we escalated me to malicious actor based on two sneezes now? It's dusty as hell down here. Even the damn cat is sneezing. What's that supposed to signify?

(HIST) Professor Huff: There might not be any Belarusian folklore about black seals, but sneezes? As I stated earlier, every culture has their own unique take on the sneeze. The cult of the mystic Arciom of Sluck from the Principality of Polotsk tells us that a sneeze in a profane place signifies possession by the unhappy ancestral dead.

(HIST) Professor Booth: If memory serves, the cult of the mystic Arciom of Sluck from the Principality of Polotsk also tells us that cat urine is a potent sedative. Are you in desperate need of another tranquilizer, Reginald? We have a cat close to hand. If not, could you please reach deep down inside and catch hold of yourself?

(ENG) Chief Strand: Demons.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: What?

(ENG) Chief Strand: When you sneeze, demons can get inside. Inside of you. That's what my grandmother always told me.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Oh, for crying out—

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Ingvar, listen to me. That's just an old wives' tale. There's nothing in the canonical archives—

(COMM) Technician Gill: Are you trying to calm him down with old husbands' tales?

(ENG) Chief Strand: That's what it is, isn't it? Demons, just like she said. The Daevites were demon-worshippers.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: That is a gross mischaracterization.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Sure, take their side again.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: They don't have a side, pastor. They're extinct.

(ENG) Chief Strand: Possessed by demons. Possessed by demons?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I'm not a pastor. I have a doctorate.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: You have a doctorate in divinity. And so far you've done a marvellously poor job of healing anyone's soul, with your constant hectoring and language-policing.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Look, can we just stop—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Alright, which one should I shoot first?

(HIST) Professor Huff: Shoot Strand! He's lost, and so is Rizwana. Ines, Ines, how did that rhyme on the lintel go again?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: "Naught here will you find but what others have lost"?

(HIST) Professor Huff: "Your vessels be emptied, and sanguine the cost." Yes. That's it. That's all of it.

<Technician Rizwana backs up to the tomb wall, slowly.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: This place is chock-a-block with the souls of lost Daevic ancestors, all of them searching desperately for purchase. And we're all free real estate now, because we lost our souls when we broke that sarcophagus. The sneezes are the smoking gun.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: It takes an awful lot to offend my sense of blasphemy, Professor, but you've finally managed it. My soul is right where it's supposed to be, thank you very much, and so is yours.

(HIST) Professor Huff: No, no, it's all falling in place now. That's why I couldn't sleep. I'm lost. And you're lost, and you!

<Professor Huff points at Chief Strand and Technician Rizwana. The latter is edging along the wall towards the clean room.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Reginald, please. Your argument has no internal logic. Either you're tired because you've lost your soul, or we can pick up Daevite souls by sneezing. You can't have it both ways. You sneezed.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Well… fine. Maybe the sneezes have nothing to do with it. Rizwana spent a lot of time training his doohickey on the old sarcophagus, maybe it… maybe that took his soul, and then he broke the sarcophagus to take care of the rest of us, and—

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Captain!

<Technician Rizwana has sprung into motion, fleeing through the clean room door. He shuts and locks it as Captain Cassidy raises her weapon. While their attention is distracted, Chief Strand grabs Agent Dobos' sidearm from its holster and elbows him in the stomach.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: Stay away from me! Nobody m—

<Agent Dobos tackles Chief Strand, who stumbles back towards the inner burial chamber. Two gunshots occur in quick succession, and Chief Strand runs weeping from the room. Agent Dobos falls to the floor, and Dr. Lauwers rushes to her side. The agent is already bleeding profusely.>

<The sound of ripping plastic is audible in the far distance, as well as Chief Strand's panicked scream.>

(ENG) Chief Strand: DEMONS!

<Silence on recording.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: What?

Despite Dr. Lauwers' best efforts, Agent Dobos died within minutes of Chief Strand's escape. Dr. Lauwers and the Drs. Quijano assessed the ruined thaumic cellophane, and reaching no further conclusions, determined that there was no longer any reason to sequester the team in the outer chamber. Captain Cassidy established an emergency security cordon at the entrance to the rear tunnels with her remaining agents. Technician Rizwana refused to open the clean room door — he could be seen in the window emphatically shaking his head, and would not open the intercom despite explicit written instructions and particularly explicit visual threats from Captain Cassidy. Technician Da Costa resumed drone mapping the interior tunnels, attempting to locate both an alternate exit and Chief Strand.

At midnight, Professor Booth called another team meeting to discuss the probable cause of the day's events.

<The remaining team, minus Agent Panossian, Technician Da Costa and Technician Rizwana, are assembled in the base camp. Dr. Kneller is examining a university-bound manuscript, and facing away from the group.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Thank you all for coming.

(COMM) Technician Gill: We are trapped in a cave.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Be that as it may, I don't know how else to begin a lecture.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Why are you lecturing? What we need is an action plan. And why did you call the meeting? What's up with Kneller?

<Dr. Kneller does not respond.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Leave him be for the moment. Reginald, I could use your help with this presentation.

<Professor Huff's eyes are glazed over. He shrugs.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Well, chime in if you get the notion. I could use your help with some of the… frothier aspects of this narrative.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Why aren't we listening to Pleško instead? She's the Daevite expert.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I am still formulating hypotheses.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Oh, great. Formulating hypotheses. That's terrific.

(COMM) Technician Gill: You've slipped effortlessly into Da Costa's role as Team Eeyore, I see.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Shut the fuck up. You don't even have a job here anymore.

(HIST) Professor Booth: The point of this meeting, increasingly ungentlepeople, is to develop a working framework to explain what's happening to us.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Low oxygen.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: Not hardly. We're still breathing deep. CO2 levels haven't changed. Strand was probably on the money about those air vents, and we're damn lucky they weren't damaged by the explosion.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Lucky.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Yeah, exactly. More like he knew they wouldn't be damaged, when he caused the explosion.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: In fairness, we don't know it was him.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Do we not? He just shot a woman in cold blood—

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Rambling about demons and running in terror constitute hot blood, I would think.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: And you're the resident hot blood expert, right?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Guilty.

(HIST) Professor Booth: This provides a suitable segue to our first thorny dilemma: was Chief Strand possessed by a demon, via involuntary nasal spasm?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Ugh.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: My husband prefers to think of demons as metaphorical.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Metaphors don't pull triggers.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Quite. Whatever was wrong with Chief Strand, it had very tangible effects.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: I'm assuming there's an explanation buried somewhere behind all this… preface?

(HIST) Professor Booth: A candidate, at the least. Dr. Pleško, what is the relationship between the Daevite Empire and this region of Belarus?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: They were here for a period not exceeding one year, in the twelfth century. They withdrew their armies after significant civil unrest in the home provinces — one of the many events that killed them off entirely, before the communal drafting of SCP-140 pushed the timeline forward again. The prevailing theory for why they gave up Belarus is economic: too costly to remain for too little material gain. Well beyond the periphery of empire, no resources they didn't already have in abundance. Not even enough slaves or sacrificial subjects to whet their appetites.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Jesus.

<His wife swats the back of his head.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: So, they cut their losses and left without leaving much trace on the landscape. That's the present orthodoxy; all we've ever seen are scattered camps in major population centres, like Salavey's excavations in Minsk and Pinsk.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Wasting time.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I'm inclined to agree, but time is all we've got to waste. I take it the… present orthodoxy, doesn't convince you? Booth?

(HIST) Professor Booth: No, it does not. The Daevites did not retreat from anything. Ever. It was not a word in their vocabulary.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Daku.

(HIST) Professor Booth: It was a figure of speech, thank you. What I mean to say is that theirs was a history of advance. I do not believe they would have abandoned this place unless the very Earth were salted. Useless. Uninhabitable. Perhaps this was the epicentre of some disaster which forced their collective hand.

(COMM) Technician Gill: You think they tried to dig a tomb, and dug something up instead.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Could be, could be. Or maybe they tried to dig a tomb and dedicate it to some deity of their own design, and found it exceeding specifications? Or more frightful still, perhaps a local power interrupted their consecration and claimed the space for its own? No land on Earth is devoid entirely of gods, you know.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Dr. Pleško, does this hold water?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Perhaps. With modifications, perhaps. The inscription could have been added to the lintel after the disaster, as… set dressing. Trying to frame this place as a tomb with a protective curse on it, to… lure in tomb robbers? Force them to deal with whatever horrors the Daevites woke up. Or worse…

<Dr. Pleško laughs.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: 'Worse', she says, and then she laughs.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Call it a "Eureka!" moment. What if they cursed this place intentionally? Labelled it misleadingly, and left it as a landmine for their ungrateful un-subjects to tread on when they'd gone? They could have seeded dozens of these things throughout the marshes, and we've only found the first so far.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Which would mean…

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Right.

(HIST) Professor Booth: This isn't a tomb, it's—

(HIST) Professor Huff: A trap.

<Professor Booth pats Professor Huff on the back, lightly. The latter ignores the gesture.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: And we've got our foot stuck in it now, don't we?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Thanks to Strand.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Thanks to me.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: This wasn't your fault, Gerry. Nobody could have predicted—

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I dynamited the entrance.

<Silence on recording.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I beg your pardon.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I dynamited the entrance. You were right, Fidelia, when you suggested there was someone who didn't want to walk away. That was me. I didn't want… I couldn't walk away. Not with… not with nothing. Not again.

<Silence on recording.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I've been with the Department of Archaeology for thirty-four years. I've never so much as been shortlisted for a leadership position. I've written a dozen monographs that nobody reads, I've supervised two dozen doctors who went on to exceed me at half my age, I've managed countless digsites that never meant anything to anyone, and… and I've never seen anything as perfect as this place. It has all the signs. You say there was nothing in those sarcophagi? I beg to differ. Salavey found something in the first, and I was meant to find something in the other. There were secrets, and some of them, they're still there. Waiting for us. This poisoned soil is rich with promise. This was the site to make my career, do you see? This was going to be my legacy. If I could understand this—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Have you sneezed?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: What?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Have you sneezed? Since you've been down here?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I don't—

<Captain Cassidy draws her sidearm and points it at Dr. Kneller.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Have. You. Sneezed.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: No? I haven't sneezed. Not once. You can… you can check my camera feed, if you like.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Or, you know, we can't, since the feeds go to cleanroomistan and we don't go there anymore.

<The intercom activates.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I'm taking a look.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Have you been listening in this entire time?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Open that god-damn door!

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Sorry, no souls allowed in the clean room. Just us empty vessels.

(HIST) Professor Booth: I don't believe your jest coheres to any of the schema proposed thus far.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Okay, well, upsetting as this revelation is—

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: You killed us, do you realize that?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Hafiz, I'm—

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Twenty years on your projects, the best years of my life, and this is what it gets me? You think everyone here doesn't want to know what's going on with this place? You think we would have just turned and walked away? You didn't even… you didn't even ask if we wanted to stay!

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: You think I didn't hear you talking about dynamiting the place? You lost faith in the work, and I lost faith in you. I'm sorry, but it's not like this wasn't partially your f—

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Wow, your penitent streak doesn't run far, does it? Feeling sorry for us couldn't keep you from feeling sorry for yourself for more than five minutes.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I will be judged for what I've done, but history will judge—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Shut up. I'm clearing out one of Strand's closets, and I'm putting you in it.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: That seems a little… extreme?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Does it, though? He could've killed us all. He's no engineer!

(COMM) Technician Gill: And don't sell him short; he still could have killed us all. We haven't got an exit strategy yet.

(HIST) Professor Booth: As upsetting as this revelation is…

<Professor Booth nods at Dr. F. Quijano.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: …it does rather throw a spanner in the works as well. If Dr. Kneller performed his act of… method faith without the benefit of an ancient curse, we are faced with the possibility that Chief Strand's moment of weakness was an isolated outburst.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: "Moment of weakness"?!

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Look. Until Overwatch says otherwise, I—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: You don't get to talk. As of this moment, I'm in command of the digsite. We're going to sit tight, stay in the camp, and wait for HARMA to show up with those D-class. They'll see the entrance is compromised, and dig us out.

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: No, I'm afraid they rather won't.

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Further revelations, Dr. Kneller?

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Nobody's coming. I told Overwatch to quarantine the skip, and not to come down until either they receive an all-clear or thirty days have passed. The extent of our rations, you understand.

<Silence on recording.>

<Many voices speaking at once, all audio unclear.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: I am sorry. Truly very sorry.

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: YOU SON OF A BITCH!

<Quartermaster El-Amin shoves Dr. Kneller, who remains seated. He drops his monograph, and El-Amin looks down at it briefly: Yazidi Pilgrimage Sites, an Incremental Analysis by Gerhard F. Kneller.>

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: You stupid…

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Yes.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Everyone needs to calm down.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Yes, everyone except for me needs to calm down.

<Captain Cassidy moves to the weapons locker, and removes a pump-action shotgun.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I am trained in crowd control, you should know.

<Dr. Kneller stands. He pushes his monograph beneath the bench he was sitting on with one shoe.>

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: It doesn't matter who did what. It matters why. We all want the same thing right now: to find out what's going on in this tomb, how it works, and how we can protect ourselves from it. Learning the secrets and surviving the next four weeks, they're one and the same—

<Captain Cassidy pumps the shotgun, and Dr. Kneller falls silent.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: I've been quite upstaged, I admit, but the original purpose of this meeting remains sound. As my colleague says, we must understand wh—

<Dr. Kneller sneezes.>

(MTF) Agent Roussel: Captain! Shoot him!

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Nobody's shooting anyb—

<Dr. Kneller cries out in pain and shock, reaching up to clutch at his forehead before toppling backward, striking his head on the edge of the bench with a loud cracking sound. There is blood and hair left on the bench as he strikes the stone floor next; the second cracking sound is significantly softer, and wetter. Captain Cassidy looks down at the shotgun in shock. She has not fired it.>

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: GERHARD!

(ARC) Dr. Kneller: Somebody… say… gesund…

<Dr. Lauwers rushes to Kneller's side with her first aid kit, and examines him.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: …he's dead?

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: No! Why?!

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: You gave him a fucking heart attack!

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: I gave him…?! You're the one with the goddamn shotgun!

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: It wasn't a heart attack. He reached for his head, not his chest. I think he burst an aneurysm.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: After he sneezed.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: What?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I heard it too. He sneezed, before he screamed.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Further evidence, I'm afraid.

<Quartermaster El-Amin looks at Professor Booth with wide eyes.>

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Explain what that means.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Dr. Kneller was not a young man. If whatever malign influence pervades this place was trying to enter into him at his moment of weakness, it may have been too much for his system. Shocked the poor fellow to death.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Doctor?

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: You want me to perform a post-mortem demonic possession rejection test?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: We do actually have something like that, at Tactical Theology. Wish we'd brought one along.

<Agent Panossian and Technician Da Costa return to the camp.>

(MTF) Agent Panossian: What's going on? We heard shouting.

(GEOPHYS) Technician Da Costa: Is that Kneller?!

<Agent Panossian sneezes. He shakes his head, then sneezes again more forcefully, with intent.>

<Silence on recording.>

<Captain Cassidy strikes Agent Panossian with the butt of her weapon, and catches him as he falls unconscious.>

Agent Panossian was sequestered in the medical room for monitoring. Dr. Lauwers induced a medical coma via her supply of soporifics, which she then administered to the majority of the team to allow them to sleep through the night.

Technician Rizwana reported that Dr. Kneller's lapel camera footage showed no evidence of him having sneezed prior to that night's meeting; he further reported that he was now reviewing the footage for all other team members.

The corpses of Agent Dobos and Dr. Kneller were removed to one of the dead end tunnels beyond the inner burial chamber. During the latter procedure, Technician Da Costa disappeared along with the control mechanisms for his drone. Captain Cassidy ordered that all future ventures into the tunnels utilize the 'buddy system' to prevent further disappearances. Only Professor Huff disregarded this admonishment; he took to wandering the tunnels alone, returning as the mood took him, largely unresponsive to attempts to engage him in conversation.

<Professors Booth and Huff and Dr. Lauwers are sitting at the head of a folding table in the approximate centre of the camp. The remaining team members are arranged around the room, paying different degrees of attention to their speech.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: What we are saying is that this concept of the humble sneeze as a trigger for calamity is not so outrageous as it might at first blush appear. What we are saying is, it's possible that the superstitions appertaining thereto were derived from this place, or places like it. Outposts of Daevic nasal warfare.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: And what I am saying is that this isn't particularly useful information. It's much more valuable to know why we sneeze, and how to stop it, than it is to waste our precious air floating theories we can't prove.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Our medic doesn't seem to value your precious folklore very highly, does she, Reginald? I suspect you've something to say about that.

<Professor Huff shrugs, and looks away.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: Sneezing is a reflex action. A stimulus response. It's involuntary, but there are ways to both cause and prevent it, to a degree. You should avoid dramatic changes in both temperature and light level. Sudden flashes can be extremely dangerous, in terms of triggering a sneeze.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: I know this came up before, but should we not be wearing masks?

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: In any other context, I would say yes. But: the evidence suggests each sneeze represents a difficulty faced only by the sneezer, and airborne particulates do not come into it, and—

(HIST) Professor Booth: It's deuced difficult to breathe down here already.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: Yes.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: And masks might prevent us from noticing when someone does sneeze.

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: Also yes. Now, on to prevention: if you feel one coming on, use your tongue to tickle the roof of your mouth. Under normal circumstances I'd tell you not to suppress a sneeze, as that can cause serious damage, but if worse comes to worst it might be worthwhile to try simply plugging your nose.

(HIST) Professor Booth: If the operative effect is something emerging from, or entering, the nasal passages, that might be true. But what of the expulsion of breath? It has to come out eventually, one way or another, and medieval Europeans believed… well, what did they believe, Reginald?

<Professor Huff shrugs again.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: …no matter. Where the sneeze is an indicator that something awry has occurred, is it so very helpful to prevent the outward sign?

(HIST) Professor Huff: Is that why you keep putting your handkerchief over your face? So they can't tell if you've just sneezed, or not?

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: He's got a point. I have my eye on you, Professor Gin and Tonic.

(HIST) Professor Huff: If you're hoping to thin the competition in the arena of Daevite expertise, Inez dear, you should know that I thoroughly flunked Ontokinetic Civilizations on our Departmental Quals.

Exploration of the tunnels continued in earnest as the need to discover an exit became more urgent.

<Dr. F. Quijano and Captain Cassidy are moving along a dark stretch of tunnel. Captain Cassidy is placing small, round worklights on the wall as they progress.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: The idea that your heart stops when you sneeze dates back to the Renaissance. When we say "God bless you," we're actually speaking straight to the heart, as it were.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I did not request this information.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Some people say it really started during the Black Death, but I don't know if I buy that. I've seen equally-good arguments for people becoming less and more religious during that period, as a result of trauma, and the cited sources are spotty at best.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: If I'm doing something to give you the impression—

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: For a time, the standard protocol was to perform the sign of the cross whenever you sneezed. Edict of Pope Gregory.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Doctor Quijano.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Sorry, but Booth's last meeting really got me thinking and we need to work this through. I wonder at a man so steeped in academic rigour as Kneller succumbing so completely to superstition, you know? He used his last moments on Earth to complain that nobody wished him good health — that's what Gesundheit means, in German. It's not particularly religious, just magical thinking, and—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Religion is magical thinking.

<Silence on recording.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: When you come up with the retort, do us both a favour and simply imagine my reaction.

<Dr. M. Quijano and Agent Valenti are exploring an exceptionally dusty tunnel. Agent Valenti is forced to brush dust off the walls before affixing his worklights.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I still worry that there might be some sort of local trigger for these phenomena that we don't know about. I really wish I could pick Huff's brain.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: I saw him in one of these tunnels earlier today. He was staring at a blank wall. I asked him why he didn't at least go stare at something interesting, and he said "Nothing is interesting."

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: He's absolutely convinced that he has no soul, now.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: I mean, so am I, but for different reasons.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Don't believe in them?

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Yeah, not particularly.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Sensible.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Eh? Aren't you a pastor?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Who keeps telling people we're pastors? In any case, don't give up on Huff. Don't give up on anybody. We keep muddling around, in our own ways, we're bound to stumble over a solution before too long.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Oh, for sure. I still like to think we'll make it out of this alright.

<Agent Valenti smiles.>

(MTF) Agent Valenti: After all, the cat sneezed.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: What?

(MTF) Agent Valenti: It didn't come up at the meet, and I felt silly bringing it up, but.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Go on?

<Agent Valenti appears to be embarrassed.>

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Cats sneezing is good luck.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Absolutely… breathtaking.

<Dr. Pleško and Agent Roussel are standing at the end of a tunnel branch, facing a large dead-end cavern completely filled with fossilized plant matter. A massive tangle of roots and gnarled trunks stretches from the floor to the distant ceiling, all of it coated with a thick layer of dust.>

(MTF) Agent Roussel: What is it?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: It's…

<Dr. Pleško pinches her nose.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: …wow, it's dusty in here. It's the remains of a small army of tree golems, agent. These are the 'hands' that worked our tunnels. They weren't human at all. I hope we get out of this, so I can get specimens back to my Site and take a look in proper lighting.

<Agent Roussel removes a worklight from her pack.>

(MTF) Agent Roussel: We can probably improve the lighting here, a little bit.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: No, don't—

<Agent Roussel takes a few steps into the chamber, and places a worklight on the wall. It activates, illuminating the curtain of dust falling between them, disturbed by Agent Roussel's footsteps. The camera view is obscured.>

<A loud exclamation follows.>

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Wait—

<Sounds of struggle.>

<Muffled screams.>

<One gunshot.>

<Silence on recording.>

<Video feed ends.>

Dr. Pleško returned to camp with a dislocated arm and defensive wounds on her exposed skin. She stated that Agent Roussel had sneezed, then immediately attempted to strangle her. She had been forced to engage in violence to protect herself, eventually getting hold of the agent's firearm and discharging it. She was unsure whether her attacker had survived, having fled as soon as the shot was fired. Her lapel camera had been damaged during the altercation, and was now non-functional.

Technician Gill was sent to recover the cameras on Dr. Kneller and Agent Dobos' corpses. They were found to be missing; Dr. Lauwers subsequently reported that Agent Panossian's camera had apparently been stolen as well. Captain Cassidy requested that Technician Rizwana emerge from the clean room to hand over his own camera; he declined to respond. Captain Cassidy then demanded the entire team hand in their lapel cameras, to be dispensed only when parties engaged in tunnel exploration. A hurried vote rejected this measure, and despite threats from Captain Cassidy it became apparent that the present status quo would continue. Dr. Pleško was forbidden to enter the tunnels without accompaniment by at least one member of the team equipped with a functioning lapel camera. She eagerly agreed to this stipulation, stating her fear that both Chief Strand and Agent Roussel were still at large.

Captain Cassidy mandated that all cameras be kept in perfect working order and not tampered with in any way, insinuating that any mechanical failure would result in the immediate execution of its bearer.

On routine inventory of the finds cabinet, Quartermaster El-Amin discovered that the Daevite cleaver and one ritual dagger were missing.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, Dr. Lauwers called a team meeting.

<All surviving and uncompromised team members are present save for Dr. Pleško and Agent Valenti, standing guard at the tunnels entrance, Dr. M. Quijano, using the washroom facilities, and Dr. F. Quijano, walking the inner chambers.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: There are supplies missing from my kit, and from my stores.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: What kind of supplies?

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: My soporifics, and the excitants I keep around for reversing the effect in emergencies. All of them.

(COMM) Technician Gill: Great. Who needs sleep, right? Fantastic.

<Dr. Lauwers gestures at a bench in the corner, where Agent Panossian is sleeping prone.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: I won't be able to keep that one down for much longer, so I put him out in the open where we can all keep an eye. I'm worried, though. Why my syringes? What could someone be planning—

<Dr. F. Quijano enters the camp.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I can't find my husband.

<Captain Cassidy walks over to the clean room window, hammers on it with one fist, and points at Dr. F. Quijano while shouting.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Where's the other one of these?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: His camera's been pointed at the john door for the past ten minutes. He must be thinking real hard.

<Captain Cassidy walks to the washroom partition, and knocks. There is no response.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I hear that on the feed, Captain.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Fuck.

<Captain Cassidy removes a keycard from her belt, and swipes it in the partition's reader. The door opens, and she scans the interior.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Double fuck.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: He's not in there?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: He glued his camera to the wall. Must've done it while we were out exploring. How did you not see that, Rizwana?

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: I've got all I can manage to monitor you lot for fucking sneezes when you're out strolling the sneeze factory floor, sir.

(HIST) Professor Booth: I hesitate to ask, but is it possible he performed a Captain Oates?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: No. No. Absolutely n—

<Dr. Lauwers sneezes. Everyone freezes.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: Get back.

<She dives for the medical partition.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: STAY BACK!

<She seals the door behind her. Captain Cassidy raises her keycard again, but Professor Booth places one hand on her sleeve.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: She's a medical professional.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: She must think there's a physiological explanation for all this.

(COMM) Technician Gill: She's quarantining herself.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: More like she's blockading herself in with all the medical supplies!

<Silence on recording.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: I've just opened and upturned everything we've stockpiled. I'm… I'm very sorry, but it was contaminated anyway and would only have lured you in.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Contaminated? With what?

<Silence on recording.>

(MED) Dr. Lauwers: When you're rescued, tell them… tell them to come with a full HAZMAT team.

<Another sneeze is heard, from the assembled crowd. The team turns away from the medical partition, exchanging glances.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Alright, fess up.

<Silence on recording.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Have it your way.

<Captain Cassidy pumps her shotgun.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: It was me.

<Silence on recording.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: I… am just going outside. Is that right?

<Professor Booth nods. Technician Gill walks to the rear of the chamber.>

(COMM) Technician Gill: I may be some time.

<He heads for the tunnels, and does not look back.>

The six team members remaining healthy and uncorrupted continued to explore the tunnels. Professor Huff now spent almost all of his time wandering, even failing to return to camp for lights-out on the fifth day. Captain Cassidy restrained Agent Panossian, and requested that Technician Rizwana inform her should the agent awaken while the camp was unattended. Rizwana agreed.

Though the tunnels continued to stretch out beneath the marsh with no sign of an exit, Professor Booth and Agent Valenti did make one discovery during an outing on the sixth day.

<Professor Booth is lecturing while Agent Valenti applies lights to the tunnel walls.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: And then there's the matter of cross purposes.

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Sure, go on.

(HIST) Professor Booth: I haven't been able to think of a single agenda, besides chaos, which could explain all the actions undertaken by those possessed of the idea that they have become… possessed. They aren't acting towards any concerted goal. They've all been affected differently by whatever this effect may be. Poor Reginald hardly seems plagued at all; he's only moderately more morose than he was back at Cambridge.

<Agent Valenti smiles sadly.>

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Maybe ancestral spirits are like academics.

(HIST) Professor Booth: How so?

(MTF) Agent Valenti: They don't get along.

<Professor Booth laughs.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: I hadn't considered the unfairness of stereotyping the ancestors. That's more of an archaeology thing, isn't it?

<Agent Valenti laughs, then stops abruptly.>

(MTF) Agent Valenti: Do you smell that?

<They turn the next bend in the tunnel cautiously, entering a small cavelet where they discover a vivisected corpse. It is naked, the clothing left in a ragged and bloody pile further down, and the skin is flayed from head to toe around a central cavity in the chest. Organs and veins are arranged on the stone floor in unfamiliar patterns suggestive of lettering, with the spaces between carefully linked by streaks of blackened blood.>

<Agent Valenti immediately vomits. Professor Booth presses his handkerchief into his face, and observes the tableau for some time.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: I suspect I am going to—

<The Daevite cleaver discovered on the first day appears on Professor Booth's camera feed, slicing out of the darkness. It passes over Agent Valenti's head, as he is doubled over, but strikes Professor Booth a glancing blow which cannot be seen properly on either feed. He grunts in pain and stumbles as the cleaver finishes arcing into a pre-existing crack in the wall, dislodging a chunk of stone and precipitating a low rumble in the cave roof. Professor Booth slips, presumably on the viscera, and falls as the ceiling collapses.>

All six team members were absent from the camp at this time, investigating the tunnels in pairs. Technician Rizwana reported the attack on Agent Valenti and Professor Booth via radio, though Captain Cassidy and Dr. F. Quijano had already heard the tremors and were on their way back to investigate. They found a solid rockfall, like the one blocking the entrance, where the missing pair had been exploring.

They returned to the camp to find that Agent Panossian was also missing.

<Captain Cassidy is hammering on the clean room window as Dr. F. Quijano double-checks the washroom partition.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: The fuck do you mean, you fell asleep?!

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Yeah, and it's not the first time. I've been staying awake as much as I can, in case you try something, and it's taking a god-damn toll. I get no peace except when I'm minding the store, alone. The way you're always waving that shotgun around—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Like this?

<Captain Cassidy presses the shotgun barrel against the glass. Technician Rizwana ducks.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: You had ONE FUCKING JOB!

<She bangs her fist on the window again.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: ONE FUCKING JOB!

<Dr. Pleško returns to the camp, out of breath.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Is the quartermaster back yet?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: He's not with you?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: We were separated. I think we were being chased.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Checking the feed.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I've had it about up to here with your fucking feed, Rizwana.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Yeah, I'll just bet you have.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: What's that supposed to mean?

<Quartermaster El-Amin appears in the doorway.>

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Where did you go? You just started running.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Did you seriously not hear…? Were you lagging behind for a reason?

(LOG) Quartermaster El-Amin: Now what's that supposed to—

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Guys.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Is there some reason you wouldn't be afraid of what's lurking in the tunnels, QM? Do you know some—

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: GUYS!

<Silence on recording.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You smell it, right?

<The team turn to face the medical partition.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Alright, new rule. I check the tunnels alone, and nobody else leaves this camp. Period. I come back, and you're not here, you graduate to my shoot-on-sight list.

Captain Cassidy continued to place lights in the farther reaches of the tunnels, relaying map information back to Rizwana who agreed to keep track of comings and goings in the outer chamber. None were reported. The following morning, Captain Cassidy returned from an outing and called her remaining three team members to meeting.

<Dr. F. Quijano is sitting calmly on a bench. Quartermaster El-Amin is standing at the doorway to the outer burial chamber, eyes fixed on Dr. Pleško, who is sitting on the floor and examining Dr. Kneller's copies of Dr. Salavey's notes. Captain Cassidy is standing in the centre of the room, bouncing on the balls of her feet.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: We're almost at the end.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Meaning you've found the way out?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: No, but at least one of you is on the way out.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Implying…?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I took a few images with my PDA last night, and today. Tell me if any of this looks familiar, friends.

<Captain Cassidy selects an image, and raises the PDA up so the group can see. It is the vivisected corpse discovered by Agent Valenti and Professor Booth, next to the fallen rocks.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: That would appear to be a dead person.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Eagle eyes. Anything else?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Nothing interesting. It's ritual, of course, but meaningless ritual so far as I can tell. Maybe Huff could've told us different, but who knows where he's gotten to.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Yeah, that's pretty much what he said you'd say.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: What? Who—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: This is Agent Roussel, doctor. I went back to check.

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: And? Presumably she either died of the injuries I gave her, and Chief Strand hacked her dead body to pieces, or I missed my mark, and he did the entire job himself.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Doesn't look much like cleaver work to me.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: No, it doesn't, does it? This is cleaver work.

<Captain Cassidy selects a second image, displaying a dismembered corpse. The limbs are hacked apart haphazardly and thrown about the tunnel floor, which is slick with blood and organ pulp and mulched entrails. Technician Da Costa's head is staring at the camera, upside-down between his left leg and right arm.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Oh, G—

<Dr. F. Quijano clears her throat, and looks away.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Presumably I don't have to point out the discrepancy for you.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: So there's two killers, you're saying. Well, there's plenty of candidates to choose from.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Huff thinks he's lost his soul, and comes and goes as he pleases. Valenti, Booth, Panossian and Gill are all missing.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: So is your husband.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Shut your mouth.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: It's not Panossian.

<She shows them a third image. This corpse is vivisected differently, the sigils in different shapes on the stone floor. It is barely recognizable as belonging to the missing agent.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: And it's not Gill, either.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: No.

The fourth image shows Technician Gill, his chest cavity completely emptied of viscera now arranged on the stone floor in three separate iterations of the same sigil.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Tell me one more time that you don't recognize the significance of this.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I don't, I do not recognize the significance of this.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Well that's a damn shame. I guess it must make you feel pretty important though, being the only person left alive in this Daevite tomb who knows anything about the god-damn Daevites, right?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: What?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: It would be great if I could get a second opinion.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Let me see the images again, I don't—

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: How about it, Professor Booth?

<Captain Cassidy presses a button on the PDA screen. A recording begins to play, tinnily, from its speaker.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: Nasty… nasty bits of work, aren't they. I almost thought I recognized the first one… when that cleaver came singing its song through the air, and through my arm…

<He sounds exhausted.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Keep going. This is important.

(HIST) Professor Booth: Yes, I daresay. The entrails in this first image are arranged in the form 'Botiáks'. Meaning 'a harvest'. Idiomatically in this context, we might infer a human sacrifice.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: And this one?

(HIST) Professor Booth: 'Ṭao.' It means… well.

<Professor Booth chuckles wetly.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: It means 'A human sacrifice'.

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Professor Booth: They had oh so many ways to talk about human sacrifices, oh yes they did indeed.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Alright, just one more.

(HIST) Professor Booth: 'Raex'. Venture a guess?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Some kind of human sacrifice?

(HIST) Professor Booth: Yes. A human sacrifice with specifically religious intent. Our artist was possessed with the urgent need to be sure their message had been understood, I think.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: By who?

(HIST) Professor Booth: By the Daevite pantheon, one imagines. As these are Daevite words.

<Captain Cassidy stops the recording, places her phone in her pocket, and raises the shotgun to point it at Dr. Pleško.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Lie to me.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: This is how you want to spend your time down here? Dividing us into camps? Victimizing each other? Lord, how many times must you have sneezed already?

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Lie more directly, please. I haven't got all day.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I haven't killed anyone. Come on, how clichéd can you get? You're trying to frame the Daevite expert. Original! Anyone who spends that much time studying the evil empire has just got to already be evil, right? Who could doubt it? And all you need to convince is a Christian dupe and some idiot pencil-pusher, how hard can that be. One more sane, normal human being sacrificed to your demented ritual.

<Dr. F. Quijano slips past Quartermaster El-Amin, still standing in the doorway, into the outer burial chamber.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Is this honestly all you've got? This is your entire defence? You failed three times in a row to recognize letters we know you know how to read.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I'm an academic, not a god-damn entrail scryer!

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: You murdered Roussel, and you cut her body up into pieces, and you painted the floor with her guts to send a message to gods who've probably been dead for centuries. I'll bet it was you who sneezed, and you turned on her so she wouldn't tell. Did she damage your camera in the scuffle, or did you do that too, so you could come and go as you please?

<The intercom activates.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: That's rich, coming from you.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: I'm just about done with your shit, Rizwana.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: Well, my shit is completely done with you. I've finished looking over all the camera feeds.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: So?

<Dr. F. Quijano quietly returns to the room, and walks towards her bunk. She retrieves her jacket, and puts it on.>

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: The good Captain here turned her camera off just a few hours after we lost Agent Dobos and Chief Strand. Just for a second, when she was alone, and she turned it back on after. I don't think anyone else here even knows how to do that, must be a special cop trick.

<Chief Cassidy pumps the shotgun.>

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: If you're going to pick a side, Rizwana, you might want to pick the side that has a fucking scattergun.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: They outnumber you, and I'm behind a locked door. I like those odds, and you definitely turned that camera off when you realized you were about to sneeze.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Shut up.

(ENG) Technician Rizwana: The blip was so miniscule, I wouldn't have even thought to check if I hadn't noticed your feed file was a few megabytes too light. And this was days ago, right? Almost a whole damn week. We've trusted you that entire time, and you've led us like sheep to the slaughter.

(MTF) Captain Cassidy: Shut UP!

<There is a sneeze from the door to the inner burial chamber. Captain Cassidy wheels on one heel, and fires the shotgun. Chief El-Amin's face absorbs most of the blast, and is shredded. He falls to the stone floor, the majority of his skull and brain matter remaining on the wall beside him in a dense splatter pattern.>

<The cat, which was standing behind him, rears back and hisses in surprise. It sneezes again, then bolts into the black.>

<Captain Cassidy stares into space for a moment, then pumps the shotgun again and turns to face the clean room door. She fires a blast into the locking mechanism, wincing at the sparks and backscatter which scores her body armour.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: We need to get out of here.

<They escape the chamber past Chief El-Amin's remains. Dr. Pleško runs past the sarcophagus in the outer burial chamber, while Dr. F. Quijano lags behind until she is gone. A second shotgun blast, metal on metal, is audible as a hand rises up out of the sarcophagus. She seizes it, and pulls her husband up to a sitting position.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: How do you feel?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Like somebody buried me alive. No… dead. Definitely dead.

<Dr. F. Quijano peeks into the outer chamber just in time to see a burst of blood and gore strike the inside of the clean room window as the shotgun discharges for a fourth time. She turns away again and helps her husband climb groggily out of the sarcophagus.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: What's all the excitement?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: No time. Up!

<She pulls his arm around her shoulders, and they hobble into the empty inner chamber, then the inner burial chamber with the collapsed second sarcophagus. The sound of Captain Cassidy re-pumping the shotgun is heard from behind them.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I feel like I missed something.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: A few days, and a half-dozen meals. You'll cope. I used the last of Lauwers' excitants waking you back up, and it's probably going to hit you like a freight train in a few hours.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Why was I down?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Because I drugged you.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Drugged me.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: And buried you, too, like the kings of old. Like a God-damn Daeva.

<Dr. F. Quijano laughs.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: …why?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Because I love you, Máx, and you can't sneeze in REM sleep. Medical fact.

As they round the first corner in the tunnels, the shotgun discharges from far behind. Flakes of stone are chipped away from the wall and scatter on the floor, though the range is insufficient to do much damage.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Can you run?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I can stumble.

<They hurry through the passages for approximately five minutes before footfalls become audible ahead. They stop, and listen.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Who's even left?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Pleško, Cassidy, Huff, maybe Booth. Everyone else, who knows.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Christ.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I hope he can hear you.

<The footfalls stop, then suddenly grow louder. Dr. Pleško rounds the nearest corner; she is holding a pistol, and pointing it in front of her. When she sees the Drs. Quijano, she visibly relaxes and lowers her weapon.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Cassidy still back there, somewhere?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: She is, but I think we lost her.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Probably gone to get something nastier than a shotgun out of that weapons cabinet.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Or the finds cabinet.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: That, too. Amazing how sharp those daggers still are after all these years.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Isn't it?

<Dr. Pleško sighs.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: There's almost nobody left, Fidelia. Don't you think it's about time we started to trust each other?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Actually, that sounds like the worst possible time. For that.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Where'd you have him sta… staaaa…

<Dr. Pleško sneezes.>

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I'm really sorry.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Are you?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Of course I am. You think I like doing this?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Doing what?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Killing and vivisecting people.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I have missed something.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I only killed two of them. Gill was already mostly dead when I found him, that's why I got creative with the number of sigils. Strand had opened him all the way up, and it seemed a shame to let all that material go to…

<Dr. Pleško suddenly turns her head and vomits, stepping back and raising the pistol higher as she does so.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Oh, god damn. I can't get used to this.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Then why are you doing it?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Because I have to. I'm not dying down here. You know who I've felt sorriest for, this whole time? Kneller. I can imagine being him. Being old, never having found anything nobody else has ever found, never knowing the secrets, never knowing what it all means. I could see myself in his shoes, twenty years from now, desperately clinging to every chance at a new dig like it's the last lifeline on Earth. But the only thing worse than living that long with nothing to show for it, is dying with nothing to show for it. The secrets are here, down here, just like he said. Like Salavey said. I'm going to find them, and I'm going to find the way out, and none of this horrorshow will have been pointless.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: None of that explains why you need to kill us.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: She explained her plans, and we know what she did.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: The others didn't, though. Right? So why? Why did you kill them, Pleško?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Because first of all, Cassidy was right. I've had myself a few solid sneezes so far. I have a wicked dust allergy, and this place is nothing but dust. I knew I'd sucked up too much running down this way, but I thought…

<Dr. Pleško sighs.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I honestly did think I might be able to help you get out of here, and then it would just be Cassidy's word against mine, and you saw her shoot El-Amin. And probably Rizwana, I'm guessing? Yes? We could have walked away from this, we three, and they would have dumped her in a deep hole at Site-06.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You could just… not do this. There's no reason to think it's accomplishing anything.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I disagree, and the risk is too great.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: What about the risk to your soul?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: If Huff was wrong, and I still had mine after we broke that damn sarcophagus, well, I sure as hell don't have it now.

<Dr. Pleško spits in the dust.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: And I can't say I miss it all that much, to be perfectly honest.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: I'm sorry if I'm lacking necessary exposition here, but please: why do you need to kill someone, just because you sneezed? You don't sound insane. You sound… sad.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: I lied.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: When?

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: When I said the ancient Daevites didn't have any superstitions about sneezing. I'm honestly surprised nobody, particularly Booth, called me on that. They had superstitions for everything, you know. Sneezing, to the ancient Daevites, meant that you were faced with a choice: sacrifice, or be sacrificed. Everyone else came down here with their extraneous cultural baggage, and I came down here with a crystal-clear set of instructions. I didn't want to believe it, I sure as hell didn't want to act on it, but when I saw the look on Roussel's face and knew she was about to pull the trigger on me… that one was easy.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You came back to camp early, while Rizwana was asleep, dragged Panossian out and tore him apart.

<Dr. Pleško reaches behind her back and produces one of the Daevite daggers. It gleams in the worklight glow.>

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: That one was hard. He woke up, when I started cutting. I won't ever forget the sounds he made.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You won't ever forget us, either.

(HIST) Dr. Pleško: Which is much, much better than Kneller got, so in a way, you owe—

<The tip of a ritual spear emerges from Dr. Pleško's left shoulder, covered in her blood. She stumbles forward, bringing the gun around clumsily as Professor Huff drives her back along the passage.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: Run!

<The Drs. Quijano run as Professor Huff shoves the spear away from him. Dr. Pleško falls to the ground, cursing. She brings the pistol up, and fires twice as her three opponents turn the next corner. One bullet embeds itself in the ceiling; it rumbles, and a cloud of dust falls down.>

<Dr. Pleško sneezes again, and screams as the cave collapses on top of her.>

<The survivors stare at the newest rockfall, thoroughly impassable. Professor Huff is hunched over, clutching his chest as though out of breath.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: No going back now.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: There's been no going back since Kneller blocked up the entrance, Máx.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Oh, buck up. You're in the final stretch, no reason to lose faith now.

<The Drs. Quijano stare at him.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You're awfully chipper for a man who lost his soul.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Yes, well, I got it back.

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: I remembered an old Belarusian saying about the meaning of sneezes, you see. Something very much pertinent to our present situation, another nugget of wisdom from Arciom of Sluck. He believed that outside of profane places, in a natural or sacred setting, sneezing is a way for one's soul, one's true soul to return to the body. Not to leave! Return.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: So you…

(HIST) Professor Huff: So I walked as far as I could walk, to where the dust ended and the stench of dead, rotting things began to fill the stone passages, to where I almost swore I could hear the cries of distant birds, walked to the very edge of my endurance, and then…

<Silence on recording.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: Achoo, as it were.

<He suddenly regards them suspiciously.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: You haven't been sneezing yourselves, have you?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Wouldn't dream of it.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: If I have, it's been in my dreams.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Good. Good. Well, I don't know how much farther you have to go, but I'm confident you'll make it.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Not you?

(HIST) Professor Huff: No, I don't think so. I'm seventy-four years old, and I rather think I've been shot.

<Professor Huff removes his hand from his chest to show what is clearly a gunshot wound in his stomach.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Oh, Professor, I am sorry.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Reginald, please. My friends call me Reginald. And on that note… I will come with you a ways, and then we must part.

<The three of them travel for just over half an hour before discovering Professor Booth, slumped against the cave wall. He is dead, apparently exsanguinated by a deep and ragged gash on his right arm and across his chest. He is smiling, his lapel camera caught between the fore and middle fingers of his right hand as though it were a carnation.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: Take that with you, if you please. If I recall correctly, we're well past the feed range now, but…

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: There's six hours' flash memory on these things, for when that happens.

(HIST) Professor Huff: Wonderful. I don't doubt he will have recorded something, at the end. He could hardly resist the temptation… Always a flair for the dramatic, no wonder the BBC lapped him up.

<Dr. F. Quijano carefully disconnects the lapel camera and places it in her jacket pocket, which she then zips tight. Professor Huff sits down beside his colleague, and closes his eyes.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: We could be almost there, you know. You could still make it out.

(HIST) Professor Huff: If we move at my pace, nobody makes it out. You two go, and I will stay for one final debate with Augustus. I daresay I will win, this time.

<Professor Huff laughs hoarsely.>

(HIST) Professor Huff: Head for the sun, and tell them what happened, would you? Or at least die trying. Publish or perish, as they say.

<He says nothing more. After a moment, they leave him.>

<They walk for over an hour in silence. The worklights on the wall appear brighter now, as though freshly-placed, but the tunnel air is becoming cleaner and the moisture level is increasing. The floor is gently sloping upwards.>

<The cat appears from behind them, rushing forward, then looking back.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Don't you fucking sneeze.

<Dr. F. Quijano laughs. As they pass the cat, it falls in step beside them.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: You think this little fellow is a problem?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Why would he be a problem?

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Well, he did sneeze. Three times?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: How would you even tell an evil cat, though? From a normal one?

<Dr. M Quijano laughs.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Oh, Christ, I just figured it out.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: How to blaspheme?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I already figured that out, you just missed it. No, I… damn. I know what happened. Of course it would only dawn on me once we were far enough away.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: What?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: It was Huff who set me thinking about it, and then the cat. Thought he lost his soul by sneezing, moped about, then thought he got it back the same way. Came running to save our lives, like he'd gotten a second wind. So absolutely sure that old Arciom of Sluck came through for him in a pinch.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Right.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Now go back to the beginning. Rizwana thought he had to—

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: FUCK.

<Dr. F. Quijano laughs.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: You get it.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: He thought he had to wash his hands after he sneezed, or something terrible would happen when he tried to lift the lid.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Poor Kneller thought you had to say gesundheit afterwards, or your health would fail.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Strand got demons in his head, and then…

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Got demons in his head. Precisely.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: It was a trap.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: A paranoia trap, and that's all it was. Opportunistic. Our shit luck that its first opportunity was something so utterly absurd.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: But what about Pleško? She was borderline sane. She was doing horrific things, but there was method in them, not madness. Why was she different?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Daevite expert. Anyone who spends that much time studying the evil empire has got to already be evil.

<Dr. F. Quijano laughs.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Oh, right. You missed that part, too.

The following excerpts depict salient detail from the final transmissions of Captain Cassidy's lapel camera.

<Captain Cassidy reviews the camera feeds in the clean room. She occasionally turns to glance at the corpse of Technician Rizwana, revealing a gaping hole where his chest should be. She appears to briefly consider erasing her own camera feed history, aborting the ongoing recording, or reformatting the entire server, but she does not do any of these things. She maximizes the feeds from the Drs. Quijano, now only sporadically received and at a very low bitrate, and watches their escape from the tunnels until the signal is lost entirely.>


<Captain Cassidy opens the sealed medical partition, revealing the corpse of Dr. Lauwers. It is covered in burst boils and pustules. She re-seals the partition, and hangs a biohazard sign on the door before departing.>


<Captain Cassidy stands at the entrance to the tunnels, watching as the earliest worklights flicker into darkness one by one, truncating the illuminated portion of the passage ahead. A figure can be seen in the far-distant shadow, moving towards her at the edge of the dying light. The flickers reflect from something metallic held in the figure's hand.>

<Captain Cassidy raises the shotgun, and the figure halts its advance.>

<They remain in this position for just over twenty minutes before the figure departs. Captain Cassidy keeps the shotgun raised for a further four minutes before she begins to back away.>


<Captain Cassidy enters the outer burial chamber, noting the discarded syringes on the floor and the control mechanism for Technician Rizwana's data-training RAISR device. She picks up the mechanism, and climbs up into the open sarcophagus. She lies down, and raises the shotgun to point it at the ceiling.>

<Eleven minutes pass. Captain Cassidy lowers the shotgun, and raises the control device. She manipulates the controls, and the lid grinds slowly shut. When there is approximately sixty centimetres of open space at her feet, she lowers the controls and raises the shotgun toward the aperture again.>

<Thirty-seven minutes pass. Captain Cassidy again lowers the shotgun, examines the controls, and slides the lid shut completely.>

<The transmission signal is lost.>

The Drs. Quijano (and the cat) reached the terminus of the tunnels in the early dawn of the eighth day.

<There is lichen growing on the walls, which are again composed of the Makrana marble seen in the entrance descent. The switchbacks are becoming more regular as they ascend, and the distance between the worklights is farther apart.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: I think I can actually smell the swamp.

<The Drs. pass the final worklight without noticing.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: And I can hear it. Getting warmer, too. You'd almost think it was around the next—

<They turn the corner, and are suddenly confronted with unfiltered daylight as the sun dips below the upper edge of a stone cave mouth. They have emerged from the tunnels at sunset.>

<Dr. M. Quijano blinks rapidly in the light.>

<He sneezes.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: God bless you.

<Silence on recording.>

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: Please tell me that's going to be enough.

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: It'll be enough.

(THEO) Dr. M. Quijano: You're sure?

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: It will!

<She kisses him.>

(THEO) Dr. F. Quijano: Because we believe.

Exit.jpg

SCP-7291, tunnel exit.

The Drs. Quijano were extracted from the site just minutes after their emergence. Agent Valenti had escaped some twenty minutes prior via the same route, and hiked back toward the quarantine post at the main entrance until he was able to make radio contact. All three surviving team members were airlifted to hospital for emergency medical treatment, and quarantine.

The cat was released to Dr. F. Quijano's custody subsequent to her debriefing.

The reopening and recontainment of SCP-7291, primarily via remote manipulation, revealed the following additional items:

  • the corpse of Chief Strand, expired from dehydration;
  • the corpse of Professor Huff, expired from an infected gunshot wound;
  • the corpse of Captain Cassidy, expired from suffocation;
  • the corpse of Dr. Pleško, legs crushed by falling debris, expired from the apparently self-administered insertion of a Daevite ritual dagger into her thoracic cavity.

Dr. F. Quijano was summoned for debriefing by Tactical Theology Department Head Dr. Yossarian Leiner at Reliquary Area-27 once sufficiently convalesced for intercontinental air travel. An excerpt of their meeting is presented below.

<Dr. Leiner is seated behind his desk. Dr. F. Quijano is seated across from him.>

Dr. Leiner: I trust Máximo is healing up well.

Dr. F. Quijano: That chemical cocktail put one hell of a strain on his system, but it was certainly worth it.

Dr. Leiner: Your vocabulary seems to have become more colourful in the interim.

Dr. F. Quijano: I've seen the gradations of sacrilege up close and personal now, sir. The little things don't seem quite so terrible now.

Dr. Leiner: I'm sorry you had to learn that way.

Dr. F. Quijano: Me too, but I'm sorrier for the others.

Dr. Leiner: So. A paranoia tomb.

Dr. F. Quijano: That's right.

Dr. Leiner: Ontokinetic.

Dr. F. Quijano: Or imparting ontokinesis on those within, while within. One or the other. Affecting perceived reality, personality, and almost certainly probability as well. Drs. Kneller and Lauwers gave themselves medical conditions, and, well… Agent Valenti escaped those tunnels because he thought a sneezing cat was lucky.

Dr. Leiner: That's almost offensively unlikely.

Dr. F. Quijano: The entire thing is offensive. It's a direct assault on the concept of faith.

Dr. Leiner: And other things.

Dr. F. Quijano: And other things.

Dr. Leiner: Reading your report, it seems Agent Panossian had the worst of it. Armenian tradition holds that a second sneeze negates the bad luck of the first. He likely would have been fine, since he obviously believed that and forced himself to sneeze twice instead of only once.

Dr. F. Quijano: I think Dr. Lauwers takes the cake, sir, since she died of bubonic plague, probably just from remembering a schoolyard song.

Dr. Leiner: A tissue, a tissue.

Dr. F. Quijano: We all fall down.

<Silence on recording.>

Dr. F. Quijano: I am going to have a hard time living with this, sir. Fourteen people died because a few of them sneezed at inopportune moments, and we all just… generated sui generis a variegated mini-cult around the vague concept that sneezes were somehow obliterating our humanity. Sneezes. And it became true.

Dr. Leiner: And now you understand our blanket policy against releasing the cause of death to family members.

<Dr. F. Quijano shakes her head.>

Dr. Leiner: One more loose end to tie up, though, I'm afraid.

Dr. F. Quijano: Yes, sir?

Dr. Leiner: How is it that you were the only one, the only one out of seventeen team members never to sneeze over the course of one week in a dusty tomb?

<Dr. F. Quijano taps her nose.>

Dr. F. Quijano: Because I can't. Nerve injury.

<Dr. Leiner smiles.>

Dr. Leiner: We reviewed Dr. Booth's last message, by the way. Thank you for recovering that.

Dr. F. Quijano: It was the least we could do. For all of them.

Dr. Leiner: I would like you to hear it all, eventually, but for now just a snippet will do.

<Dr. Leiner presses a button on his workstation.>

Professor Booth: Here at the end… I find my historian's instincts, my desire for circuitous closure drawing me back inexorably to the beginning. Barys Salavey. He left this place a man transformed, and that transformation took. Something was taken from him, and he never was able to retrieve it… or perhaps he received a gift he'd never known how much he needed. A purpose, inscrutable, revolutionary, destructive. A fire in the pit where his soul used to be. A fascination with the meaning behind his experiences in this… this tomb. My tomb, now.

<Professor Booth laughs. His breathing becomes laboured.>

Professor Booth: Oh. I am left with one last question: this side effect, this razor focus on the machinations of the ancient Daevites. I've seen it in my colleagues, as Kneller saw it in Salavey, growing inside them like the apple in the worm. Intended, or unintended? Was this really just a caltrop to break the bodies and minds of provincial interlopers, once the imperials had absconded back home with whatever treasure they could carry — not that they'd long to enjoy it, of course — or was there a more sinister purpose still to the curse they levied upon this stone? Did they hope to burn all comers, or… did they hope that some would be tempered by the flame? Barys Salavey, and his ineradicable obsession with a people we tried, we tried, we tried to strike from his memory, burned indelibly into his very soul where even amnestics could not reach, and nothing but satiation could salve.

<He coughs for several seconds.>

Professor Booth: Was it truly a mere accident? Or the point of the exercise entire? I, of course, will never know. I do hope someone will, and that they do not learn the hard way.

<He sneezes.>

<He chuckles.>

Professor Booth: I think sometimes that it's really not so bad not to believe, not truly to believe, in anything much at all. Skepticism hath its reward.

<Silence on recording.>

Professor Booth: Though at the close of things, it would… be nice, I suppose, to… know…

<Recording continues until flash storage is full. No further audio recorded.>

Dr. Leiner: I hope he's at peace.

Dr. F. Quijano: I hope they all are.

Dr. Leiner: But do you think there's anything to it? Do you think he could be right?

Dr. F. Quijano: I don't know. It's almost impossible to really judge the hearts and minds of an extinct people. We can't ask them questions, and we can only approximate their languages anyway. We don't even known how Latin was originally pronounced, you know? The Daevites and their Daevas might as well be aliens; in their case, the past is a foreign planet. They certainly couldn't have imagined our little… farce of sternutation. It seems a lot more to ask that they might not only have predicted, but actually intended, Salavey's fascination.

Dr. Leiner: And Kneller's. And Pleško's.

Dr. F. Quijano: Hmm. But what did it get them, if they did want it? One disgraced archaeologist who's never going to see the outside of a cell again, a bunch of dead researchers, techs and agents, and three healthy people who don't want to hear the word 'Daeva' or its derivatives ever again.

Dr. Leiner: Plus a cat.

Dr. F. Quijano: Yes, can't forget the cat.

Dr. Leiner: Have you given it a name?

Dr. F. Quijano: Yes. Gosa..Ancient Daevite. Idio.: "to sneeze." Lit.: "to huff."

Addendum 7291-2, Further Incidents: On the day Dr. Leiner conducted his debriefing, Dr. Salavey escaped from Site-06 under suspicious circumstances. On the following day, before Dr. F. Quijano returned to Outpost-7291 to recover her husband, he vanished from medical care under equally suspicious circumstances. Two days after that, a fire at Site-76 destroyed multiple artifacts associated with the ancient Daevite Empire.

The following letter was received at the Quijano residence in Valencia, Spain on 9 October 2022.

Fidelia,

I'm sorry. You won't understand, of course, and you'll take it very hard, b

I am not sorry. I am aware, academically, that I should be; nevertheless, the capacity has quite gone out of me. Perhaps there's a part of me still capable of feeling regret, but I have left it far behind. Perhaps it's still screaming through those ever-darkening tunnels, waiting for the last of the worklights to flicker out, one soul among many in search of an empty vessel to fill. Or perhaps the man you married was simply obliterated in a burst of Belarusian sunlight.

All I can say by way of comfort — and cold comfort will it be indeed — is that we're finally going to have what we lost so much, so very, very much, in our pursuit of. We're going to find out why the Daevites dug that tomb, why and how they did that terrible thing they did to it, and what they hoped thereby to achieve.

We're going to find out in a way that does not require faith — which is good, because as you may only now be realizing, I have never had too very much of that. You wanted to believe that I did, and that was what I wanted as well; I knew how important your faith was to you, as important as you were to me, and if I could exaggerate my purely academic interest into a simulacrum of heartfelt belief, well then… where was the harm?

Of course, we found out, didn't we. For your sake, I wish that blessing had worked. For your sake, I wish the shadow hadn't stretched out past the mouth of that cave to snatch me away from you when it seemed like all was finally well, when you thought it had been enough to stay resolute in the face of evil.

When you were wrong.

But you will have cause to rejoice, this I can promise you. Because Salavey and I, and others of like mind, we're going to get the answers that our absent friends died grasping at in blind-panicked futility. We're going to learn the secrets of the Daevas, in full. No conjecture, no theories, no piecing together abstract snippets of trivia. No more puppeteering the past. This time we're going straight to the source.

We're going to ask them.

— Máximo

Addendum 7291-3, Update: Among the items previously thought destroyed, but now believed to have been stolen, is Site-76's copy of SCP-140.


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