Start the Music
rating: +46+x

The remote goes click; beyond glass, click goes the machine. The "record" function turns on, and strangely, the anomaly starts producing sound — not through the wired speakers, but directly from the cassette itself. This should be impossible, as it's just a plastic box full of magnetic tape.

"Impossible" has been excised from Researcher Penelope Gore's dictionary, because she works with the Foundation. "Illogical" is still useful, because "logic" is a human invention, a scientific process for defining consensus reality. Most other definitions have gotten much, much… fuzzier over the years.

She still hates electropop, though. That much has not changed.

"…not sure what it means, but this photo of us, it don't have a price…"

She doesn't know what this anomaly is designed to accomplish, or even whether it "accomplishes" anything. That's why she's here. The cassette (Provisional Item #4581) could be an anomalous item or an SCP, but that must be decided soon, because it's part of a list that just keeps getting longer. When they divvied up the week's assignments at Site-76, Gore volunteered for this one, because it seemed pretty straightforward.

She will come to regret this decision.

"Paparazzi" finally draws to a close. There is no reprieve. It rolls right into the next song, which seems familiar but Gore can't recognize it offhand, so she looks it up. Turns out it's Dennis Edwards, "Don't Look Any Further". She jots down a few notes ("Camera > Don't Look > ???"), then taps her chin with the pencil. Not a lot of data points so far but Penelope has a hunch about this anomaly's "personality", for lack of a better word.

It knows I'm watching… but if it's trying to intimidate me, it's the sleaziest threat I've ever heard. Meaning…

It's not a threat. It's a joke. The next track is Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" and it starts playing so abruptly, it actually makes her laugh. Been a long time since I got rickrolled. Penelope starts writing this down, then reconsiders; her bosses would either consider it unprofessional, or not understand at all. Instead, she reports that it's "like a really tacky FM radio station", and moves on with the experiment.

In their long history, the SCP Foundation has studied a great many things and prepared an incredible range of people for extremely unique, often unprecedented work. As such, they have invested endless time and energy into developing effective curricula for all fields of professional education and cross-training (human and otherwise). They have, or are in immediate contact with, "top men" in every conceivable discipline… except one.

There is one skillset that they cannot train for, in part because they don't really understand what it is. It defies empirical and semantic analysis. To some, it is a "non-anomalous memetic subcultural complex", and to others, simply "a thing". Foundation staff (in lab coats, starched shirts, and some in very nice suits) have discussed it in passing; then in brief; then debated at length, only to discover that it makes no sense to them, at all. It is "a thing" that the "younger" staff seem to "get" occasionally, but not consistently enough for results, let alone return.

It is the skill, quality, subculture, discipline and/or trait of being "extremely online".

Like most of the world, the Foundation was unprepared for this. It's… weird and fluid and many people claim they hate it, except they're having fun, but not really? They sent a few AIs to plumb the depths of this digital ocean, and most have come back cranky and/or racist. (Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.) I/O-Series webcrawlers have had more success, but they're like whales feeding on krill. It's gradual. Actionable intel leaks out slowly and the world moves fast, extremely fast for the "extremely online", even the allegedly normal ones, because those weird abstract memes are here and gone in an instant, yet eternal, yet boring? It's… baffling.

This problem would be purely academic if not for one Group of Interest that has, thus far, remained one step ahead. Yes, they are small, and the Foundation has much bigger problems to deal with, but they are a known unknown and good golly they are annoying. They are absolutely "extremely online", whatever that is, and their leaders keep slipping the net. They leave messes in their wake, some of them very public, and cleanup efforts have been both costly and embarrassing. Despite their stated pacifism, this group's potential to disrupt the Veil and their resentment towards the social bedrock of normalcy makes them… well, still a relatively low priority, but a priority nonetheless.

GoI-5869. Known amongst themselves as "Gamers Against Weed".

They claim that "the name is ironic".

There have been many successful raids. Anomalous items have been confiscated and categorized. There have been apprehensions, interrogations and some long-term detentions. Ex-members and anomalous humanoids notwithstanding, the Foundation has completely failed to turn any major assets. All infiltration attempts have gone sour. Their social network is too dense. It's like trying to go undercover in a crime syndicate, except they're a bunch of incomprehensible young stoners with magic powers.

The Foundation has developed a new strategy. They're calling it Project CLOWNFISH. They will put together a small group of staff who score above a certain threshold on a custom test. This survey is weighted by three factors: case experience, age cohort, and a tricky little assessment of the subject's evasiveness when questioned about certain subjects.

The survey designer's idea hinges on the nebulous, performative modern definition of "irony": the idea that you "could be into something, but you're not, because it's super duper weird/esoteric/embarrassing and you don't like to own up to it in public, except the Internet is itself public, so yes you are into that thing, maybe even a lot." By their reckoning, shame is a necessary part of the equation, even if it's fake. In other words, the Foundation probably already has people who are "extremely online"; they just don't want to be professionally associated with that kind of "thing", let alone this kind of assignment. Casework pertaining to GoI-5869 often ends with getting dunked on at the office, your computer being haunted, or your entire body of work being overwritten with punk music! Nobody wants to be associated with that! In point of fact, the survey designer consulting on Project CLOWNFISH is themselves "extremely online", but absolutely does not risk volunteering for the actual assignment. They know better.

Unlike some people.

On a scale of 1 (very unfamiliar) to 5 (very familiar), how would you rate your understanding of the following:

…social media platforms?

…communities, subcultures, and/or fandoms?

…comedy routines, jokes and non-anomalous memes?

…cultural references and allusions?

…the work of novelist Stephen King?

This time, Penelope Gore sees it coming, sort of. She realizes the significance of the questionnaire just one moment too late. Penelope has a moment of incredible crystalline clarity and before she clicks SUBMIT, she realizes that she's actually on the cusp of volunteering for a very special assignment that she does not want.


"Oh… shit," she whispers. "Please… don't pick me."

The "lucky winners" of the CLOWNFISH "sweepstakes" will be assigned a specialized clearance, then cross-trained for memetic resistance, digital security countermeasures and other relevant skillsets. They will be given additional dedicated terminals separate from SCiPNet, and they will dedicate a percentage of their working time to surfing the same begotten corners of the Web as GoI-5869, building a plausible profile (the spies call it a "legend"), and using the Foundation's captured intel to worm a way in.

It's not a full-time job. Quite the opposite. Nobody will relocate. No field work, unless absolutely necessary. In fact, most people saddled with CLOWNFISH clearance will end up fulfilling their responsibilities on coffee breaks. (These people will fail, as they are not sufficiently online.)

There is one interesting candidate, referred to in project documentation as Codename "NEMO". Their results were borderline, but again, the selection is weighted: this person is young, they've contained an SCP adjacent to GoI-5869, and they even interrogated its creator. The case in question… did not go smoothly, per RAISA, but it was ultimately a win.

"NEMO" is asked (i.e., told) to join the team.

Have you ever tried to apply basic childhood lessons to the problems of an adult? Seems simple, typically doesn't work out. The older you get, the less those so-called "universal constants" seem to apply. The black-and-white contrast you saw as a kid, that doesn't exist, never did; start moving through the world and you recognize its depth. Values get filled in with shades of grey, and the further you move, the more you see. "Do unto others" is a solid start, philosophically, but some "others" will never respect you no matter how well you treat them, and some "others" will always respect you even when you treat them like garbage. Some might call this inconsistent, except… it's consistently challenging. Nothing is clear-cut. Nothing is easy. When I look back at the lessons of my childhood, they almost make me laugh, because they were almost completely wrong.

Example: Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion. Straightforward, right? "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction." It's like the "do unto others" of elementary physics. When you push something, absolutely anything, it'll react proportionally. Right?

Well, no. Like many childhood lessons, this universal maxim works best on paper. It works in basic experiments and elementary textbooks and provides a building block for much larger conversations about more complicated topics, increasingly granular fields of physics, math and science. That initial nudge is affected by friction and drag and… many other factors. Regardless, after years of diligent study, you eventually look back at that first push, and you think… "well damn! That wasn't proportional at all, that was the first in a series of dominoes."

That's where I'm at right now. I'm at the end (?) of a long string(s?) of connected(?) variables. The dominoes are scattered around my feet. I see the result, and I see the initial push, but connecting beginning and end? Tracking the energy from Point A to Point B? From where I'm standing? Fat chance. In fact, there aren't enough dominoes! I feel like I've missed some really important steps but somehow ended up here anyway.

(I guess life really do be like that sometimes.)

My name is Penelope Gore. My friends call me "Pen". (Unfunny jerks call me "Tipper". Please don't.) One very special group knows me as "whistl_stahp".

I may not know how I got here, but I absolutely know how this whole mess kicked off, because I was there. In fact, I was the one who knocked over the first domino, not to mention the second and third.

This is the story of how I got to know steakshift.

I mean… PoI-6966. Wren Masterson.

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