On 7 November 2016, 0430 Eastern Daylight Time, operatives with Local Mobile Task Force 352-Dalet received reports from Major League Baseball wire services that RHP Ellis Canastota had been assigned to the 40 man roster of the Cincinnati Reds franchise. This event triggered heightened alert notices to be sent to all staff assigned to SCP-2272. At 0445 Eastern Daylight Time, a second notice was sent through official MLB channels that Ellis Canastota had been called up to join the 25 man major league roster of the Cincinnati Reds. All available personnel, including the entirety of LMTF 352-Dalet, were then mobilized.
He lay on his side and continued staring at the bright green digits of the alarm clock on the side table. Every few seconds, at irregular intervals, his work phone would buzz, the flood of emails vibrating the half-empty water glass and moving the phone slightly closer to the edge of the table each time. They had sent him home to sleep, and that's what he was going to pretend to do for the next couple of hours, by God.
The clock blinked suddenly to 4:29 AM. Bzzt bzzt. The phone continued its shuffle to the edge of the table. They probably thought they were doing everyone a favor when they sent the declassified info around. Like they were letting everyone in on a big secret. Who wouldn't enjoy that? Bzzt bzzt bzzt. He certainly hadn't. No one had said anything about mass distribution of cyanide ampules that he had ever heard. There weren't any rumors. He had been blissfully unaware. Before last week, his biggest headache had been the nonstop political advertisements on the car radio. Those were the days.
The clock blinked to 4:30 AM. His phone started a lower, repeated, much more insistent buzzing now. The additional force of the vibrations carried the phone right off the edge, finally completing its journey to the floor with a thud. The buzzing of the waiting phone call persisted, muffled now by the carpet. He leaned down and groped for the phone, dreading what he knew he would see. He picked it up, the light from the screen hurting his eyes as he looked at it.
"Calling: Regional Director Kate McTiriss."
He shielded his eyes from the light of the phone, trying in vain to dull the throbbing in his head.
The Director's voice chirped in his ear. He sat all the way up on his bed. So much for pretending to sleep.
"They're going to call up Canastota? Huh. Well, figured we were due to catch a prime by this point. Okay, what're your orders?"
The voice on the other end of the line provided a laundry list of instructions and available personnel. If the Director was more worried than normal, she didn't show it. Some things were the same, he guessed.
"Got it. I'll go ping the clandestine IT guys to scrub all this. Is the office open yet?"
He tried smoothing a deep crease in his shirt with the palm of his hand. The crease paid him no mind. Nor did his hair as he tried to smooth it back down with his fingers. Whatever. Let someone complain about him looking like he'd slept on a park bench and come into work. He could use some comic relief.
"Because I need something out of there. Just in case."
He put on his shoes and straightened his tie. He grabbed a baseball cap from the dresser to cover his hair. He laughed despite himself.
"Hmm, no, nothing. Yeah, that's what I'm getting. You have a-"
The voice cut him off. He listened intently as he surveyed himself in the mirror. The cartoon fish on the front of his cap wrapping itself around a baseball bat looked like he meant business.
"Huh. Decommission? That's a new one. No, no. Don't worry boss, we won't hesitate if things get hairy."
The Director hung up. He looked for his car keys. This was probably going to involve more than the IT guys before this was done.
At 0521 hours, the MLB official scheduler posted a notice online for a game to be played at noon the same day, between the Cincinnati Reds and the Saint Louis Cardinals, at the Great American Ballpark in central Cincinnati. The starting pitchers were listed as Mike Leake for the Saint Louis Cardinals, and Ellis Canastota for the Cincinnati Reds.
"What do you mean they're playing a game today? They just finished the goddamn World Series!" Dr. Hanaka barked loud enough to be heard from the front of the bus-sized mobile command center as it sped north on Interstate 75. "It's probably snowing there or something by now."
"Actually, the weather is pretty nice today." Agent Allred-Smith gazed out the window as he balanced the long black case on his knees. "Which is far worse for keeping people out of the stadium."
"Fuck," sighed Dr. Hanaka. "How many tickets were sold before we took the notice down?"
A young woman sitting across from Allred-Smith at a mobile terminal quickly pecked at a keyboard. "17,397 tickets total, ma'am. It's a good thing we got the ESPN piece before they aired it. Pretty novel, an exhibition game right after the Series."
"Seventeen thousand. This is a goddamn disaster." Dr. Hanaka paced to the rear of the command center. "Enriquez, get into the ballpark contracting system. I want our security folks there, and if we can I want concessions done by us too. Everyone in that park who isn't on the field or in the stands should be one of us."
The young logistics officer looked up at Dr. Hanaka from his terminal. "You want us selling hot dogs?"
Dr. Hanaka's eyes flashed behind her glasses. She loomed over the sitting Enriquez. "Hot dogs, beer, licorice, nachos and fucking churros if we can manage it!" She threw her clipboard to the floor. "We've got a breaching anomaly with a paying audience of seventeen thousand goddamn people. You shut the fuck up and do as you're goddamn told, understand?"
Agent Allred-Smith couldn't help but think back to the last time he heard Dr. Hanaka speak, at a seminar on academic peer review a few months ago. He recalled struggling to hear the soft-spoken doctor from the back of the room. He coughed into his fist a couple times to conceal his laughter as the unfortunate Enriquez scrambled to fulfill his orders.
LMTF 352-Dalet arrived at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati at 1147 hours local time. Given the number of civilians in the vicinity with the specific purpose of attending a baseball game, closing the ballpark was deemed to be unfeasible. By the time doors were opened to spectators, 78% of service personnel within the stadium were comprised of Foundation or Foundation-contracted personnel. Operatives at the scene elected to monitor the ongoing events and determine the next course of action.
Agent Dunbar stepped into the luxury suite, crammed with wires, monitoring equipment and computer terminals, befitting an improvised command center. He looked out the window. The field below was ready for play, the grass freshly mowed, the infield perfectly manicured, a fresh Reds logo outlined in chalk behind home plate.
"They just posted the lineups ma'am. You're not going to like it."
Dr. Hanaka sighed. "How can there even be lineups? We've checked locations on everyone, none of the players from either team are in the area, or aware of the game. What does it matter?"
Agent Dunbar fidgeted slightly. "Canastota is starting at every position."
"Great," said Dr. Hanaka. "More of him."
"For both teams, ma'am."
The room was silent for a moment, all of the members of LMTF 352-Dalet looking to Dr. Hanaka for the next set of orders. She looked down at the game. Cheers went up as what looked like the Cincinnati Reds took the field. She grabbed a set of field binoculars and looked again. Sure enough, every single player was the same smiling, dark-haired young man. Each one's uniform bearing the same number 72 on the back, the name "Canastota" embroidered above.
She looked to the signals technician of the group. "Readings?"
An older man at an especially equipment-laden terminal responded. "Aerial sonar readings are negative. There's no one on the field except the umpires."
"At least he's not officiating his own game. That would be unsporting." Dr. Hanaka put down the binoculars. "Narrative officers! I need disinfo and social media posts out and blanketing the internet within fifteen minutes. This is a publicity stunt. See that it's perceived that way. Be ready to pull it back if things don't go well."
A group of three researchers in the corner of the room immediately pulled out phones and laptops and got to work. Dr. Hanaka moved on.
"Crowd control! Ensure that all of our vendors are fully stocked with Class C's. Don't start distributing unless I give the order."
A man in a police officer's uniform stepped out of the room, already relaying instructions into the walkie-talkie in his hand.
"Memetics! I want every communication coming out of that stadium screened for anomalous influences! Use the new AI we've developed. We don't have time to round up human subjects for observation."
A frazzled-looking woman in the seats by the windows, concern in her eyes, opened her mouth. She looked up at Dr. Hanaka. She closed her mouth and began tapping at a tablet computer.
"And you, Agent Allred-Smith." Dr. Hanaka now loomed over the Agent, reclining in a chair next to the suite refrigerator. "I want you up in the cheap seats with your toy there."
She nodded to the long black case in Agent Allred-Smith's lap. He nodded back. "Your signal?"
"My signal, Agent."
Due to ongoing containment efforts coordinated at the scene by LMTF 352-Dalet, spectators at Great American Ballpark were documented to be under the impression that they were watching a non-anomalous game of baseball until approximately 1452 hours local time, coinciding with the middle of the game's seventh inning. At that time, an individual matching all known biometric data of the baseball player Pedro Borbón1 and identifying themselves as such took the field and was handed a microphone, presumably as part of the traditional singing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning of baseball games. Notable discomfort among assembled spectators was audible as the identity of the speaker became apparent.
Agent Allred-Smith surveyed the infield through his high-powered scope. Part of SCP-2272 duty was being familiar with baseball, and he knew a dead player when he saw one. He touched his earpiece.
"This is way beyond documented behavior, Doctor. Do I have authorization?"
Dr. Hanaka barked within his ear. "No, god damn it! You have authorization when I say you do!"
"You going to wait until a dead man starts doing…whatever the hell it is dead people do, here?"
"Your apparatus is set up?"
Agent Allred-Smith touched the tripod directly in front of him. "Affirmative, doctor."
"Then you'll be able to react in under five seconds when I give the word. I'd explain how we need to learn all we can, but then I don't need to explain jack shit to you, Agent. You wait for my signal."
"Roger that, Doctor." He leaned back in his seat. The dead man was speaking now, the crowd on their feet in anticipation.
Pedro Borbón, noted multi-inning relief pitcher and deceased member of the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s, looked skyward as he held the microphone.
"Sport is a wonderful symbol of the human condition. You will be relieved to hear that, much the same way it is in this place, in our perfect society, sport is a sacred pastime."
The crowd was silent.
"Sport is more than competition. Sport creates victors and vanquished. The feeling of triumph cannot exist without the sacrifice of the defeated. You will understand more after we have truly spoken." The dead pitcher, looking every bit the spry athlete of generations ago, spoke with an impassive face. "This place, this game, this creation. This is a fine place for us to speak plainly."
Agent Allred-Smith scanned the crowd for any unusual activity. All in the stadium were still, and perfectly silent. For the first time, the pitcher smiled.
"We have heard a story from your people, many times, I'm sure you're familiar. Of a man asking his friend, returned from the grave, if there is baseball in heaven. Let me tell you, my brothers and sisters, there is baseball in heaven."
The speaker laughed, a high-pitched, screeching thing, not at all matching the expression on his face. Allred-Smith trained the scope on the pitcher's face.
"And today, we can all see together, they have baseball in hell, too."
As he stopped speaking, the house organ came up, the familiar notes of the traditional song of seventh-inning stretches across the country ringing out. Pedro Borbón doffed his cap for the silent audience, and faded away into nothing. The organ continued. No one sang.
Communications via social media and personal messages from civilians in attendance of the game increased greatly following the remarks of the unknown entity during the seventh inning. The number of messages, combined with the content indicating what had occurred, necessitated elevated containment protocols. At 1459 hours local time, Doctor Akane Hanaka authorized decommissioning of SCP-2272' and mass deployment of amnestics.
The precursor agents had been authorized for distribution at the end of the third inning. Every refreshment item served in the ballpark had Part A of a Class C two-part amnestic. Based on field studies and their own observations of the game, the task force chemist assured Dr. Hanaka that the penetration rate was in excess of 90%. More than enough to ensure memory alteration and suggestibility among the "critical mass" threshold of the crowd. Dr. Hanaka nodded, and barked some words into a nearby handset.
A small prop plane, carrying a banner behind it reading "2016 Winter Exhibition" and previously circling the stadium throughout the day, now swooped low over the Great American Ballpark, looking to have just enough altitude to avoid hitting the lights. A great plume of scarlet smoke billowed from the rear of the plane. Part B was being released. The reaction would be powerful enough to allow the narrative team to construct a plausible mass delusion that would hopefully obscure all details of what the crowd had watched here today.
As the plane flew overhead, Agent Allred-Smith adjusted his gas mask and lined up his shot. The camera mounted on the tripod was a delicate, finicky instrument, and the satellite link was proving tricky. Three different observation modalities, including a converted form of the sonar feed, were needed to achieve the necessary viewpoint in which SCP-2272 would be obliterated. The research seemed to indicate that capturing the image of SCP-2272 in a format which would allow it to be both observed and unobserved would render it unstable as a coherent memeplex. Or something. The reasoning was above his paygrade.
The green indicator light flashed on. He trained the camera on the field, making sure to capture the players on the field, the man waiting on deck, and both dugouts, all the smiling likeness of Ellis Canastota, number 72, right hand pitcher. All visual feeds were in tandem and functioning. He took the shot.
At that moment, the billowing red cloud of smoke descended on him, obscuring the field, the seats, and all of his surroundings. He held the mask tight in place against his face, ensuring that none of the air around him leaked in. The amnestics officer would be pissed if they had to reconstruct his memory.
A wind kicked up from the north, blowing out over the Ohio River and carrying the smoke out over the right field bleachers, like so many fly balls hit before. The view began to return as the smoke dissipated and retreated. Agent Allred-Smith dared a glance down at the field.
Empty. Four dumbstruck umpires were congregated around the pitcher's mound, doubtless discussing whether to call the game before their minds were temporarily thrown into a suggestible torpor. No players on the field, in foul territory, or in the dugouts. Not an Ellis Canastota to be seen.
An image appeared on the camera's viewfinder. Allred-Smith looked closely. The image he had taken, the image that had apparently neutralized this long-running anomalous phenomenon, was not of the playing field of Great American Ball Park. In its place, a black and white team photo showed on the camera's screen, 25 men arranged neatly in rows, wearing uniforms that he recognized as those of the first Cincinnati Redlegs teams. All 25 men bore the exact same smile that he had come to recognize as that of Ellis Canastota.
Unlike a typical team photo, this photo was taken at night, under the stars. Nine moons could be seen in the sky. A sign propped in front of the smiling squadron read "The Past, the Future." All 25 men were holding their arms out in front of them. All 25 men were missing their hands.