A Diminished Thing
rating: +55+x

Deep breaths.

Deeeeep breaths.

Focus. Gotta focus. Gotta stay calm.

You've been trained in memetics, Harry.

You can do this.

You can break through.

You just have to concentrate.

The cell is six feet tall with a square meter of floorspace and a tree in the middle. Barely enough room to stand, but not enough room to lie down comfortably. Especially with the tree. I do push-ups against the wall to get myself pumped up for the big moment. Today I'm getting out of here. I have to get out of here.

I hear a soft hydraulic hiss from the speakers—the telltale sound of someone entering the containment antechamber. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle. The mics are on. For the next few minutes, I'll be able to talk to them. I have to make it count.

A panel in the wall is pulled back and I see Valente smiling at me through reinforced glass. His beard is noticeably longer than before.

Deep breaths. Deep fucking breaths.

"Good morning," Valente says. "Good to see you up and active."

I don't reply. The opening formalities are almost never transcribed. Better to save myself for the real thing.

Valente's eyes shift downward and his arms shuffle slightly. I can only see him from the chest up, but I know he's looking at a prepared interview outline, if not an outright script. If I pull this off, he's going to need to improvise.

"Please state your name for the record."

Moment of truth.

"Hello," I begin. It's familiar. Universal. Makes it easier to hear through whatever preterlinguistic bullshit I'm dealing with. "My name is Doctor Heerad Sangha. I am designated SCP two-three-three-seven, as you told me previously."

I hold my breath.

Valente's expression hasn't changed. I feel my heart drop to the floor.

"Fuck!"

"Listen, SCP two-three-three-seven—"

"I'm Harry fucking Sangha, Val!"

"—you seem to have a pre-established relationship of sorts with several of the more dangerous creatures in our custody."

I pound my fists on the glass. Valente has no reaction. I scream.

"Fuck!"

"Yes. Please elaborate on the exact nature of this relationship."

"Oh, I'll fucking elaborate, Val! I played the game of cosmic fucking Russian roulette, just like you, except there was a bullet in my chamber. I poked at one too many soft points in reality and someday you will too, my friend. That's probably where it all fucking comes from, over and over, we all just keep ending up on the other side of the glass. Fuck!"

Valente looks confused and slightly annoyed. My hands are sore from pounding on the glass. I'm breathing heavily now. So much for calm. So much for focus.

I have to get out of here.

I have to get—

"Please repeat that statement in the dialect used by the Foundation."

"Go to hell, Val!"

The floor rushes up to meet me. I'm on my knees, sobbing, forehead pressing into the base of the tree. All the months I'd been here I'd kept it cool. And here I am, grown-ass man with a PhD, crying his fucking eyes out into the last stupid fucking tree he'll see until the day he dies.

"Please discontinue yodeling."

I wipe my eyes on my naked arms to clear off the tears and snot. The fluids mix with the bits of bark and grit on my face, and I begin to seriously regret my meltdown.

"I'm not making any sense to you, am I?"

"We need you to cooperate and explain your answer in a coherent way."

"What's the fucking point? I've tried everything I can and nothing gets through! You can ask anything you want, it's pointless!"

I turn to face him. He's got that look of a long-suffering scientist who spent decades of his life earning degrees. A man who left every relationship he had to join a shadow organization, only to end up bored, frustrated, and confused. I had that look once. I envy it.

"You're not hearing me, are you?" he asks me.

"No, you're not fucking hearing me, asshole. Fuck you!"

He stares at me blankly for a second, and I swear I see him roll his fucking eyes.

"… cack?" he says. He's looking at me the way a teenage babysitter looks at a toddler that just shat its pants.

I slam the glass again. In the distance, I hear laughter.

"Is that what I fucking sound like?! Motherfucking shit fuck fuck!"

Valente heaves a big, weary sigh. He tucks his hands in at his sides and makes this shiteating, condescending, motherfucking face. My hands shake. Everything disappears except his fucking face and that fucking, fucking laughter.

"Snackutations Doctor Spanko, cack!" he squeaks. "You am authoritater? Explainerate."

Time seems to stand still and move in fast forward all at once. I'm beating against the glass with a thick branch I don't remember breaking off. Valente is alarmed. He's reacting. I beat at the glass with everything I have, barely registering the spots of blood flying off my hands.

The glass cracks. It shouldn't be possible. None of this should be possible. None of this should be happening. The laughter is so loud I can hardly see.

The glass breaks.

Valente covers his eyes to shield them from errant shards. The branch in my hands is different. It is my hands. Glass is growing from the end of it. Why not? I smile my first genuine smile in months. None of this should be happening to me. None of it is going to happen to you, Val.

He's on the floor. I reach into the antechamber. There's a sting on my ass.

The laughter fades.

The world goes dark.

Dude, oh my god, oh my god. It's just the gift that keeps on giving. They shot him in the ass, dude!

Yeah, we're totally going to hell for this.

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