That Goddamn Thing
rating: +254+x

The seat that was provided was a harsh gunmetal black edifice, warped enough that it was effectively impossible to place all four legs on the floor at once. It made an obnoxious clacking sound when Dr. Johannes Sorts shifted his weight, the noise echoing through the unnecessarily large concrete room. Row upon row of harsh florescent lights buzzed overhead, the sound only momentarily drowned out when Dr. Sorts shifted his weight back again. Clack.

Agent Schaffer cast an irritated glance over the top of a manila folder. He closed it and clasped his hands atop the blank cover, leaning forward across the scarred and pitted old cafeteria table between himself and the doctor. Apart from the comfortable padded folding chair he occupied, the doctor and the table were the only other things in the stadium sized chamber.

"You do, of course, know where we are and why we are here?" Schaffer asked, the first he had spoken since security had escorted the twitchy little doctor into the room.

Dr. Sorts rolled his eyes in open contempt but cast his gaze towards the unfinished floor and mumbled, "I'm not stupid. I also know you stuck me in this chair to make me feel uncomfortable. I know what this room was used for before it was re-purposed to contain th—that… goddamn thing."

Schaffer watched the doctor very carefully, noting the difficulty with which the other man spoke. He opened the folder again, noting that the enclosed psychological profile had indicated a marked increase in the subject's paranoia in the past months. "Doctor, that was the only other chair in the room. We did not bring it in here to torment you. It's not like we entertain guests here."

"Yeah, t-two chairs in the room, and you got the good one. Call it what you will," Sorts grumbled, shifting his weight again to send a clacking sound to bounce about the distant walls. "The floors in here are rough and dirty, only worn smooth in tracks where the forklifts moved the pallets around. How much manpower did it take to yank up all the old shelves that used to be in this storage room just so it could be a glorified lobby for you… I mean that… that fu—goddamn thing…"

"Would you like to trade seats?" the agent offered calmly.

"I think I'm fine where I am, annoying you with this unbalanced chair." Sorts squirmed back and forth until his chair made a squealing noise on the concrete.

"Doctor Sorts, you are a level 2 researcher. Given that you lack the clearance, could you explain exactly how you learned about me?"

Sorts gripped the edge of the table with pudgy hands and finally met the Agent's eyes with a contemptuous glare. "Don't talk like that. You and I both know wh-what…" The doctor licked his dry lips and swallowed before continuing. "You and I both know what we're talking about. But I'm the only person who can speak honestly here. You lack the capability."

"You didn't answer my question. This is a grave security breach. Given your own specialized research into memetics, you understand the severity of this leak and how your very knowledge of me is a dangerous liability."

"So what, you're going to terminate me?" Sorts screeched. "The only person who can deal with… that goddamn thing?"

"Your open discussion of…" Agent Schaffer paused to consider his words carefully. "…this matter caused a memetic containment breach that infected the entire breakroom at site 19."

"Memetics is bullshit!" Sorts interjected. "A meme is when I say 'Knock, knock' and you say 'Who's there?' It's not a virus, it's not a weapon. It's not a compulsion. The other researchers in the breakroom are not sick—any more than they already were, anyway."


Sorts laughed. "Meme is a fucking stupid word to fancy up the concept of a running joke, one of the more irritating concepts that mouth-breathing crap-flinger Richard Dawkins has inflicted upon an undeserving world. I hate the very word. 'Mmmmeeeeeeem.' I pronounce it 'maim' every time I can because I hate it so much."

"I thought it was pronounced that way." Schaffer frowned.

"You thought, you thought, you thought eight things tonight!" Sorts laughed, then rubbed his forehead. "Oh god. There I go. That's an obscure one, I don't expect you'd know the reference. But see? A meme is only as good as the amount of people that understand its context. Context is the key to unlocking these things. I learned about that goddamn thing by paying attention to the context. I talked to the people who were rotated out of working containment in here. I noticed the peculiar pattern in their speech. I deduced the rest."

Schaffer raised his eyebrows. "You'd never seen me before now?"

Sorts just narrowed his eyes. "I know enough about that goddamn thing to know this is a ridiculous waste of resources. Where is it right now? That old supply closet over there? The one that has a fancy electric lock and the old faded 'fertilizer' sign that was obviously recently added? All the other doors in this room are either sealed off or specifically go somewhere. Seriously pathetic misdirection there."

Schaffer had heard enough, he stood up from his seat and gestured to the aforementioned door. "Yes, that's where they keep me. Would you like a look at the room? Perhaps, since you have learned so much about me, you can offer some insight into future containment procedures."

The two men strode towards the old closet, which Schaffer opened with a wave of his unique key card. Schaffer picked up a clipboard from the reverse side of the door and read the introductory language that had been carefully prepared to make otherwise straightforward containment procedures sensible.

Schaffer cleared his throat and recited the lines he had spoken only a few times before, when he was first assigned to security for this containment chamber and during scheduled testing:

"Hello, I am SCP-426. I must be introduced this way in order to prevent ambiguity. I am an ordinary toaster, able to toast bread when supplied with electricity. However, when any human being mentions me, they inadvertently refer to me in the first person. Despite all attempts, there is yet to be a way to speak or write about me in the third person."

Sorts made a derisive sound and waved towards the object sitting on the middle of a shelf in the otherwise empty closet. "That goddamn thing. That goddamn thing is a goddamn toaster."

"No one else has ever been able to refer to me in that way before, Doctor Sorts. How did you do it? Your file said you had a talent for defusing memetic effects."

"That goddamn toaster is not a meme! It's a goddamn toaster!" Sorts snatched the containment papers from Schaffer's hands and read through them with a scowl. "We have no cultural references to that goddamn toaster. People who never heard about that goddamn toaster refer to… to it as if it was themselves. Memetics has absolutely no application here. Maybe I'm the normal one and you are all just goddamn idiots."

"I notice that you have great difficulty referring to me. When you do, you only do so to damn me… to speak of me derisively. Do you suppose that it is your intense dislike of me that allows you to avoid my effect?"

"I didn't say that goddamn toaster had no effect on me. Sure, it's hard for me - that's me, as in Johannes, I can use that word properly - to talk about that goddamn toaster any way I want. Clearly the mere concept of that goddamn toaster has the property of defining itself in the psyche of the individual who thinks of it. It's a glitch in logic. Where you can only refer to that goddamn toaster as yourself, I choose to refer to it as th—"

"Yes, I get the picture, Doctor Sorts. Are you aware of my secondary properties?"

"I don't care about your goddamn properties! Secondary, tertiary or otherwise!" Sorts flipped through the attached test logs. "You're doing a piss poor job of containing that goddamn toaster though, I tell you what. I could keep this goddamn thing in a box under my desk and do a better job. I sure wouldn't start thinking of myself as a goddamn toaster. I'm not replacing my concept of self with it."

Schaffer hadn't thought much of the pudgy doctor before he started ranting, and he had to fight to keep his voice level when he replied. "Doctor, please calm down, you're becoming very agitated. This presents a unique opportunity for us to work together, to do some tests regarding our interactions and your ability to avoid my effect."

"I don't want to work with a goddamn toaster!" Sorts hung the clipboard back up on the door and reached for the handle.

Schaffer put a hand on the Doctor's arm. "I meant me. I want you to work with me."

Sorts whirled upon the agent with a furious grunt, shoving the larger man square in the chest with all his might. "That goddamn toaster should just stay locked up! I'm clearly not immune to the influence of that goddamn toaster. I don't want to have anything to do with … with that goddamn…"

Schaffer stumbled backwards for a moment but regained control of the situation as his training took over. He redirected the smaller man's momentum and whirled the doctor face first into one of the closet's bare walls with a metallic clack. "That's quite enough, Doctor Sorts. You don't really have a choice in the matter." The agent leaned in and growled with a sharp twist of the doctor's arm, "Do you really want to do this?"

Sorts rolled his eyes back up at Schaffer over his shoulder. "Alright, alright." His words were slurred by the way his lips were rammed against the dirty wall. "I'm sorry. I get the picture."

"Okay. I'm going to let you go now and you're going to deal with me like a rational adult." Schaffer released the doctor and took a step back, running his hands down the front of his black uniform. Something tickled the back of his mind, perhaps it was the way Sorts' eyes cleared of panic too quickly, or perhaps it was the absence of a familiar weight at his hip.

Sorts whirled around, revealing the pistol he had yanked out of the agent's belt on his short trip to kiss the wall. Schaffer stepped forward and put out his hands but the doctor slid away, keeping himself out of reach. Sorts held the pistol low, aiming at the agent's unprotected groin and legs.

"Doctor Sorts, that is my sidearm."

"Listen to you! It can't have a sidearm. It's a goddamn toaster!" Beads of sweat were thick on the doctor's brow. "You're talking crazy because you can't tell the difference between you and a stupid inanimate object. That goddamn toaster needs to stay in here and it would be better if everyone forgot about it."

"If you do not stand down and return my sidearm immediately-"

The toaster hit the ground after two shots, and the doctor kicked it into the corner of the closet for good measure. After using Schaffer's key card to lock the door to the goddamn toaster's containment chamber behind him, Sorts dropped the pistol into the pocket of his coat and wiped his brow.

Taking a deep breath, he strode out of the empty storehouse, past the ever-present security cameras, and returned to his office to file a report on the incident.

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