The Moloch Mentality
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2021


January

Site-36: Banaskantha District, Gujarat, Republic of India


"Day Trippers requesting permission to land."

"Pad 4 is lit and ready, Epsilon-43."

Chief Delfina Ibanez watched the Indian landscape rise up to greet her. The doors of the heavily modified Sea King helicopter were open, and a warm breeze carried a hint of mint tinged with honey into the cabin.

"Myrtle," one of her agents remarked.

"Eucalyptus, specifically," another responded. Ibanez cocked an eyebrow at him, and he shrugged. "Botany hobby."

As the chopper touched down, a man in a labcoat marched towards it from a towering, nondescript white structure. Ibanez hopped onto the tarmac to greet him.

"Vending machine repairman makes good!" she yelled over the dying rotors, flashing a huge, bright grin.

Azad Banerjee, Director of Site-36, laughed. "You could've sent a card, instead of an MTF."


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"So, what's new at 36? Find any awful garbage best left forgotten lately?"

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Banerjee sighed as they entered the foyer. "People only think of us as the Site with the murder statue."

"Nobody thinks of you as the Site with the murder statue, Azad. They think of you as the Site with the baby murder statue, and honestly, that's fair."

"Well, the baby murder statue has been dead for years." They headed past the front desk, into the containment wing. "Maybe they'd have advertised that fact, if it hadn't involved a Horizon Initiative agent breaking in and decomming an anomaly under their stupid noses."

Ibanez knew where she was going, and Banerjee had to hurry to keep up with her. Most people did, and most people found this surprising, since she was barely five feet tall. Delfina Ibanez was the ur-model for moving like you had a purpose.

A black scrawl on the tiled wall, what looked like permanent marker, gave her temporary pause: "To sustain oneself at the expense of both divinity and humanity is to make oneself a feast of sin."

She pointed at it as they passed. "No budget for inspirational posters?"

He sighed. "Graffiti artist on the loose. My security chief's looking into it. Lots of heavy consciences around here; some people think 36 is a punishment detail." He shrugged. "They might even be right. Hey, speaking of punishment, how's Phil doing?"

"He's dating his boss."

Banerjee whistled. "Must be a different Phil." He shook his head. "Alright. What do you know about us, besides our taste in exotic statuary?"

"Assume nothing."

"If that's your motto, it's a good one." They started moving again. "Well, we're a dual-purpose facility like 43. This is the MTF deployment centre for South Asia, and a containment, monitoring and storage facility for anything with religious significance. We've got altars to Ba'al, Daevic obelisks, and pope-on-a-rope."

"Pope-on-a-rope?"

"Everybody else calls it Soap of a Pope, but I'm a poet at heart. It's a really good soap, that looks like a Pope."

She grimaced. "Dunno why I expected religious artifacts to be less on-the-nose. It tracks."

"They're not all that obtuse. We've got a lot of very esoteric subjects here, not to mention an extensive collection of anomalous literature."

"I thought Site-91 had the occult library."

"Did I say we have a library? We have a collection. And it isn't occult, it's anomalous. These books don't teach you how to make awful things happen, they cause awful things to happen. They need real containment; putting any of them in the library at 91 would be like bunking a fox in a henhouse."

Azad Banerjee was tall, dark and handsome, so they made a marked contrast as they strolled the halls together. Except for the 'handsome' part. We have that in common. When she'd last seen him, five years ago, he'd been a computer technician in an orange jumpsuit. The labcoat suited him much better.

Actually, wait a second. "Why are you wearing a labcoat? You're a tech guy."

Banerjee hooked his thumbs under the coat's lapels and tugged it outwards like a pair of suspenders. "Gotta look the part. Site Directors are usually hard science doctors or doctor-doctors, and the grunts don't really 'get' my doctorate in Computer Sciences."

Ibanez glared up at him in mock indignation. "Speaking as Queen of the Grunts, you're underestimating us."

He looked down at her. "Probably because you're so far beneath me."

She grinned. "You wish."

He grinned. "Maybe."

That exchange killed the briefing stone dead, and the intense awkwardness lingered as they exited the containment wing. An unholy caterwauling arose from the last chamber they passed; it began as a throaty male bellowing, and ended as a woman sobbing.

"Friend of yours?" she asked.

"Predecessor. Magical power corrupts, magically."


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Banerjee led her to the control room, which looked and sounded much how she imagined ETTRA central at Area-09 would: wall-to-wall terminals, dozens of techs, and a persistent susurrus of conversation both in-person and electronic.

"Want to hook your MTF up to the grid?" Banerjee asked.

She shook her head. "Keep it a wild card." She gestured at the impressive acreage of equipment. "Pretty high-tech for religious stuff. What gives?"

Banerjee stood a little taller. "We don't do mumbo-jumbo at 36. No thaumaturges. Our computer network can implement thaumic rituals to a far higher degree of precision and efficacy; the Automated Exorcism System keeps all the artifacts functionally inert, minute by minute, day by day. The people you see here are responsible for managing its redundant systems."

"Neat. But how can a computer do magic?"

"The Everhart Resonator on the bottom sublevel turns a portion of our geothermal energy into thaumic energy, enough to power all the exorcisms we'd ever want with enough left over to… bend the rules of information technology a little." He smirked. "You haven't written code until you've written very slightly, very subtly magical code."

"I haven't written code, full stop. So… I guess that's the tour?"

"Yeah-huh."

"Then I guess I'm ready. Where's the lucky winner?"

"In his quarters, waiting for the call. What do you need from me before we get started?"

Ibanez considered for a moment. She took out her pocket PDA, tapped a few buttons, and turned it to face him. "I need you to tell me how to pronounce this name."


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Roman Vasylyshyn paced back and forth, further wearing down a visible rut in the carpet of his dormitory. From time to time, when he couldn't help it, he flopped down on the bed and refreshed his SCiPNET inbox. Once or twice he rested his face on the flat keyboard, and sobbed. He thumped the sheets with both fists. He rolled onto the floor and lay there, trying not to hyperventilate.

It hadn't been a great year.

Ping. The sound he'd been anticipating, and dreading, for days. He sprang to his feet, pulled the laptop to the edge of the bed, and stared at his unread messages.

ten.pics.63|d432phte542#ten.pics.63|d432phte542 THEY KNOW 1:18 PM
moc.la.ytinirt|haimehen#moc.la.ytinirt|haimehen Are you ready? 9:29 AM
ten.34|artte#ten.34|artte SCP-5109 7:14 AM

His mouth went dry. He tried three times to click the new message; his hands were shaking. The loading seemed to go on for eternity.

He read the first line: "THIS IS WHAT YOU NEED TO DO."

He took a deep breath, and read on.


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"Alright, we're almost done here." Ibanez leaned back and smiled at the fidgeting man. "I just need one more piece of information from you before I pass on the good word."

Vasylyshyn crossed himself, and nodded.

She frowned. "Okay, maybe two more pieces of information. Why did you just cross yourself?"

He smiled apologetically. "It was a minor blasphemy, but it was still a blasphemy."

"What, the 'good word' bit? I wasn't even thinking about the Bible. Whole days go by when I don't think about the Bible." Vasylyshyn looked like he wanted to cross himself again, but he didn't, so she decided to move on. "Anyway, no, what I wanted to ask you was this: how's your emotional health right now? You seem awfully tense, and I don't want to surrender 5109 to you if you've already got something on your mind."

Vasylyshyn shook his head. "It's just… personal stuff. I'm new to this Site, and it's been a big transition. They do things…" He swallowed. "They do things differently here, and I'm just trying to find my place."

She narrowed her eyes and examined him for a moment, then smiled again. "Fair enough. Clear me a corner of headspace, and we'll begin."


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They watched Vasylyshyn round the corner. They looked at each other. They nodded.

"It's him," she said. "It's definitely him. His proposal wasn't even trying; dude seriously wants to see if the unbreakable password is actually the explicit name of god? How do you even test that."

"It's the wrong number of characters, too. Don't ask me how I know. So… Horizon Initiative, you think?"

"Oh, yeah, has to be. We've got an atoner here. Where does he work?"

"Guess."

"In the basement, with the Eveready Generator."

"Everhart Resonator. But yes."

"That'll be the target, then. Unlock all the tomes and give them to the thumpers, or maybe just burn them all. We'll catch his contact before they break anything, and be done by dinner."

An overhead speaker cut in. "Director Banerjee, please call security. Director Banerjee…"


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This scrawl looked new: "There is in truth no victory, but the victory of truth itself."

Banerjee frowned. "That's familiar." He gestured at the security agents who'd found the message. "Get it analyzed. Tactical Theology, priority one."

Ibanez hopped from foot to foot; her blood was pumping, now. I love a mystery. "You think it's Vasly… Vasyly… you think it's Vas?"

He pursed his lips, trying not to laugh. "You know damn well how to say his name. But no… he's got a bad case of conscience going on, but he never struck me as a poet."

"If you've got two moles on-Site, we're going to need to re-think things."

He scoffed. "Maybe we're blaming an innocent man."

"Maybe." She pulled out her hip radio. "43-Able to 43-Mobile, copy?"

"Copy."

"Find Vasylyshyn. Start in the dorms." She made sure the agents had left. "Don't tell Site security."

"Roger."

Banerjee raised an eyebrow, so she raised both. "In case there's a leak."


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They stared down at the corpse, speechless for a moment. She found her words first: "So, definitely a leak, then."

Banerjee looked angry. "Definitely two moles, more like. But only one payday."

Her radio crackled, and his PDA beeped; they walked away from Vasylyshyn's splayed form in opposite directions. "Ibanez, go ahead."

"Chief, we're picking up some odd power surges. Can't connect to Site comms."

"Copy, and out." She turned around.

Banerjee had also finished his call; he slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand. "The graffiti. It's Vedic paraphrases."

"As in, paraphrases from the Vedas?"

"Yeah. Good paraphrase."

She frowned. "Why did you need someone to tell you that? Aren't you from India?"

"No, I'm from Brampton. Ontario! And do I ask you if you know football, or Nazis, just because you're from Argentina?"

"I'm not from Argentina, I'm from Barrie. Also Ontario."

"Well, our hockey team was better than yours." Banerjee sighed. "So, a Hindu extremist? That's a new one for us."

They headed back to the command centre.


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As they rushed into the room, the chattering techs lowered their voices and the duty operator piped up. "We're getting a message from an untraced communicator. You want to hear it, sir?"

Banerjee nodded. The operator passed the nod on to a tech seated at a computer console, who tapped out a few commands.

A female voice echoed through the room. "Now you will see me as I am. Are you there, Director Banerjee?"

Azad nodded, for no particular reason. "Yes, Nita, I'm here."

The woman laughed harshly. "Nita, is it? I had no idea we were still friends."

Banerjee made a throat-cutting motion, and the channel was muted. "Sunita Misra. My deputy security chief."

"Wow." Ibanez shook her head. "Good work with the background checks."

"That's the problem with security people. They know how to cover a paper trail." He gestured at the comms tech, and the line went green again. He hooked his thumbs under his lapels, and took a deep breath. "Why are you doing this?"

"As if you even know what I'm doing. But hell, some of you might survive, and maybe you're not unreachable, so here goes. What's the Hindi word for 'soul'?"

"Ᾱtman," Banerjee snapped.

"Cognate with the Greek atmos, from which we derive the word 'atmosphere'."

"Nobody ever told you not to lead your essays with a dictionary definition?" Ibanez growled.

Misra ignored her. "What is the atmosphere of this place, do you think? What does its soul look like? Your Molochian warehouse is beyond redemption. It's a blight on this country. It's a stain on the Indian soul, a concentration of everything disgusting and wrong with the Foundation. It's a fouling of the atmosphere."

"You internalized an anomaly and murdered a human being to redeem yourself?" Azad shook his head. "Please tell me you called to do more than just proselytize, because it's hard to take you seriously right now."

"I called to give you a chance to do the right thing." Misra sounded tired. "Pull up stakes. Evacuate the Site and go home. Set the nuke off when you leave. Blank the slate."

It was Banerjee's turn to laugh. "You've got to know we're never going to do that."

"Then it's lesson time, I'm afraid. A core tenet of Hinduism is the need to know, to really understand, your own soul. I'm going to give that gift to our people, now. I'm going to show them what's staining theirs."

The line went dead.

A moment passed, and Banerjee turned to Ibanez. "Okay, here's a question. Why's a Horizon Initiative agent quoting the Vedas at me? If Hinduism is Abrahamic, I've got my facts mixed up."

"She's not with the Initiative. Vasylyshyn probably was; I'll bet Misra goaded him into applying for 5109, promised him absolution, then tricked him into handing it over and murdered him. Used him as a patsy as she prepared to do… whatever it is she's doing." Ibanez frowned. "She's not targeting the religious artifacts, and if she was targeting the MTFs my team would have radioed in by now…" She snapped her fingers, and tapped a tech on one shoulder. "Can you cross-reference hiring records with GoI activity in the region? We might be able to figure out who dumped her on us, which might tell us what's she's planning."

The tech tapped out a few commands, then frowned. "Ah… actually, the database isn't responding. All our connections just timed out."

"What could cause that?"

"Someone changed the server password."

"We're seeing a new off-Site connection," another tech piped up. "Someone's setting up a secure link to the database from… looks like Gandhinagar."

"The state capital." Azad groaned. "Of course. Of course. The database was the target all along."

"They'll have to reboot the system to access it from off-Site," the tech remarked.

The lights went out.

"…it'll take about fifteen minutes," the same tech muttered.

Ibanez rubbed her temples. "Maybe they're going to tell the Indian government all the horrific shit we've done here, hoping the Indian military will come down on us like a sack of bricks."

"We have contacts in the Indian government, Delfina. They know who we are, and why we're here."

"Do they know about the baby murder statue?"

"…point, but I still don't buy it. Who would want open warfare on a Site filled with religious artifacts? Not the Initiative, not ORIA, literally nobody. We've got Sarkic stuff, Mekhanite stuff, Shinto stuff, Fifthist stuff… the main thing keeping us safe is that no one church could handle seeing our inventory destroyed!"

"Then she's not with a church. Maybe she's not with anybody but herself, now. She's trying to get us clobbered, or at the very least chased out of India. That much is clear."

"Oh, shit." His eyes widened. "A rogue agent, you said. A rogue, artifact-destroying agent."

Ibanez blew out her cheeks. "Right. She's ex-GOC, and she's trying to decom the entire Site."

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