Anomalous Teens Against Trilobite Schemes
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« Grin and Bear It || Anomalous Teens Against Trilobite Schemes || Cafeteria Chat


“You’re being a baby. Just take it on its little field trip and be done with it,” Coles coaxed. “It’ll be fun. Site-201 does, like, prehistoric shit. Dinosaurs, Ben. Dinosaurs.”

"It won’t be fun. It'll be terrible. You know Korchenko still makes bear jokes every time I walk into the break room?” Junior Researcher Benedict Kim shuddered at the thought of the previous month’s expedition. The morose expression on his face made him look a bit like a very sad moose.

Coles rolled his eyes. “That’s your own damn fault for dropping your phone in a bear enclosure because an anomalously sapient snapchat account made fun of you.”

Benedict’s phone beeped. He’d forgotten to put it on silent. At Coles’ meaningful look, Benedict reluctantly dug it out of his pocket and checked his messages.

3009

museum hypeeeee

do you think filters work on dinosaurs?

this is so lit 🔥🔥

“It’s not even a museum,” Benedict mumbled sullenly.

“It was a compromise, okay? Come on, Ben,” Coles wheedled. "We’re short-staffed. I’ve already told the people at Site-201 to expect you. And 3009 requested you specifically. Don’t you feel bad for the little phone girl?"

"Honestly? No."

Coles stared at him for a long moment and then began to snicker. Benedict winced, and stood there dejectedly until he stopped. "Okay, seriously," Coles said finally, once he finally managed to get his giggles under control. "You’ll be looking for Researcher Annabel Xiulan. Don’t be late. Okay? Okay. Now get out of my office."

"I… yes, sir."

Benedict sighed and spun on his heel to leave. When he was halfway to the door, Coles cleared his throat.

“Oh, and Researcher Kim?” Coles examined his nails nonchalantly. “It’ll be fine. For once in your life, stop worrying so much.”


The alarms howled shrilly to life, blaring out the unmistakable caterwauling wail for a Euclid breach. Over the siren’s screams, Benedict could just barely make out the loud clanking sound of the security system automatically locking shut the doors.

"There has been a containment breach in Sector C. I repeat, there has been a containment breach in Sector C," announced a smooth female voice over the crackly intercom. "The relevant anomaly is SCP-4131. Security personnel will deal with the breach shortly. If you are not in a secured room, please remain calm and proceed in an orderly manner to a designated checkpoint."

Things are going to be fine, thought Benedict bitterly. Yeah, right.

The first two hours of their guided tour of Site-201 had been… fine. Researcher Xiulan had clearly relished the opportunity to play tour guide for the day, and she'd had 3009 practically in raptures all day with tales of her most troublesome skips. A heavily armed prehistoric creature with a trilobite obsession? Sure. Xiulan could handle it.

To be completely honest, it had been a bit of a novelty to see a Site from what was almost a civilian's point of view, even if they'd only been given clearance to see the more "child-friendly" anomalies. Benedict was even willing to admit that he'd been… starting… to have a good time. But then Xiulan had run out on them for an urgent call, and shortly after, the alarms had started blaring.

Now he was boxed in by the white walls of a Site-201 laboratory like a rat in a trap. They were locked in by the security system, and even if he left, he wouldn’t know which way to run. He was in for a long wait.

His cell phone vibrated in his hand, catching his attention.

3009

benny?

jeez, are you even listening to me?

helloooo??

😭😭😭

Under his breath, Benedict cursed, but strangely the existence of a concrete problem with a clear solution was almost comforting. His veins were buzzing with undirected adrenaline. He had stopped filming when the alarms started going off, so 3009 didn't know about the containment breach. There: an obvious problem, and an obvious solution.

Me

Stay calm. There has been a containment breach for SCP-4131.

Despite the cold air-conditioning blowing through the underground facility, a bead of sweat dribbled down Benedict's face. He forced himself to stop pacing and heaved himself onto a lab counter instead. His heart was jackrabbiting in his chest like he’d just downed a gallon of Red Bull.

There was a brief pause. 3009 started typing, stopped briefly, and then started back up again.

3009

oh

so what are we meant to do? 😰

Image depicting a cartoon version of Stacey Lee sweating nervously.

Benedict got halfway through a sentence before realizing, to his horror, that he had no idea what to say. What were they supposed to do? He was only visiting Site-201, and had no idea what the breach protocols were. He barely knew anything about 4131, other than its Euclid object class, and an object class said absolutely nothing about an anomaly's ability to kill him.

Me

Just a moment.

Let me call Xiulan to check.

Swiping out of the Snapchat app, he dialed Xiulan’s number. The phone rang once, twice, and then went to voicemail.

A cold trickle of fear pooled in his stomach.

3009

what did she say?

is she coming to get us??

xiulan to the rescue!! 💪


Me

She didn't pick up.

Please endeavour to stay calm regardless.

There was a long, long pause. Benedict had only ever been in one containment breach before, and he'd known immediately that he wasn't in any real danger. That wasn't the case now. Benedict was essentially alone in a new Site, with no idea what was loose or how dangerous it was, and all he had to protect himself was an anomalously annoying social media account. Ruthlessly, he stamped down on the wave of claustrophobic panic that washed over him.

3009 started rapidly firing off texts, typing with almost inhuman speed.

3009

it’s okay! 👌

don't worry so much, benny 😣😣

it’s a big site

there’s no way that it will come here!!! 😤

His phone started to ring. It was not Xiulan.

Benedict stared at the caller ID, astonished. He hadn’t even realised that Snapchat had a video call function. Distantly, the thought occurred to him that 3009 really should have told him about this previously. The ten-second video problem had really caused Benedict no end of trouble.

Numbly, he accepted the call. Stacey Lee’s face filled the screen.

"Benny," said 3009 anxiously. "Benny, are you scared? It’ll be okay. I’m sure it will."

Somewhere in the building, something exploded. It sounded close.

They stared at each other, wide-eyed. The girl on the screen looked impossibly young, and Benedict was suddenly reminded of the fact that the real Stacey Lee was only fifteen. A hot wave of shame washed over him. He was supposed to the adult here, but there he was, being comforted by what was essentially a teenager.

"I’m fine, 3009," he said, feeling like the world’s dirtiest liar. "Just stay calm."

3009 nodded fervently, and for a moment, Benedict thought that maybe things would be okay. The explosions sounded close, but that was probably his panicked mind playing tricks on him. In a few minutes, an MTF would handle things, and—

And then, as if in direct fulfillment of Murphy’s law, the northern wall exploded. The force of the explosion knocked Benedict off his feet, and for a brief moment, he was airborne, flying over the lab counters and biohazard disposal bins like an enormous bird of prey.

Somewhere in the chaos of noise and bright lights, 3009 screamed.

Benedict hit the wall with a sickening crack, and the world went black.


He came back into the world of the waking with a jolt.

The air hung thick with plaster dust. His head ached. Benedict shifted uncomfortably and then hissed, a frisson of white-hot pain shoot up his arm. He was almost certain that his left shoulder was broken, in at least two places. Blood was dripping into his left eye.

And— where was his phone?

Exhausted, he let his head loll to the side. The floor was almost unrecognisable, matted as it was with a thick layer of dust, shrapnel, and glass. With a start, he realised that his phone was still clenched tightly in his hand. If only I'd had that kind of grip strength back at Wilson's Wildlife Center, he thought, slightly dazed.

The call hadn’t ended. Stacey Lee stared up at him from the screen, both hands clamped tightly over her mouth. Catching his eye, she gingerly removed her hands and then put one finger to her lips in the universal gesture for silence.

Skrrrch.

Deep inside the dust cloud, something scuttled across the linoleum, just out of sight.

Benedict's heart skipped a beat.

The thick cylindrical tip of a missile launcher emerged out of the smoke and ashes. The burnished metal glinted menacingly in the flickering fluorescent lights overhead. For half a second, relief swelled in Benedict's chest at the prospect that this might be Site-201's security personnel, come to investigate the explosions.

Not half a second later, those hopes were dashed as the rest of the missile launcher came into view, along with the enormous plated head that it was attached to. The creature's head swiveled around languidly, giving Benedict an unobstructed view of the metal grid and strange tribal markings embedded into its carapace.

Slumped limply against the wall, Benedict stared up at it in horror. The creature towered over him, standing easily at the height of an adult human. The serrated edges of its perfectly circular mouth chattered as it dragged itself forward, propelled by the steady undulation of an intricate series of overlapping lobes.

Its beady eyes swiveled on their long stalks, and landed, finally, on Benedict's frozen form.

Benedict struggled to stand, to do something, but he couldn’t get up. Even the slightest movement felt impossibly difficult. In the end, he could do nothing as the creature wriggled its way towards him. His heartbeat pounded in his ears like a drumbeat.

And then it began to speak. From beside him, 3009 let out a tiny squeak. 4131's voice sounded like it was coming from the inside of Benedict’s head.

"Hello!" said 4131 politely. It was bizarrely chirpy. "Gee, it sure is nice to stretch my fins a little! Seen any trilofuckers around? They must be getting complacent without me to put them in their place!"

Benedict stared, slack-jawed. Trilofuckers…? That sounded like Xiulan's troublesome project—

"—the Anomalocaris with delusions of a trilobite conspiracy," blurted out Benedict's traitorous mouth, as things clicked into place for him. Then he immediately sucked in a sharp breath, horrified at himself.

All of a sudden, Benedict was staring straight down the sleek barrel of what was definitely closer to a bazooka than a gun. "A delusion?" said the Anomalocaris, outraged. "You're one of them, aren't you? Is this a cover-up? Pretending that the trilobite threat doesn't even exist?"

Benedict’s mouth opened and closed, soundlessly, as he stared up into the pointed end of a massive torpedo. He had to say something. Maybe if they bluffed well enough and played into its delusion, it wouldn’t kill them. But his mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton wool and his head was swimming. It occurred to him that he was probably concussed.

"Well?" demanded the Anomalocaris. It peered at him suspiciously. "Why aren’t you saying anything?"

"There’s— there’s no trilobites here," he forced out blearily.

The Anomalocaris clacked its mandibles at him and slithered a little closer until the barrel of its torpedo launcher was so close to Benedict’s face that he was nearly going cross-eyed looking at it.

"That’s the most pathetic attempt at a lie that I've ever heard," it said, suspiciously. "You’re… you’re trilobite spies, aren’t you?"

Click. The safety on the missile launcher snapped off.

Benedict swallowed dryly. The realisation of his impending death cut through the haze of his foggy mind like a beam of light. An overgrown prehistoric shrimp was going to shoot him for being a trilobite spy. He was about to die there on the cold linoleum floor of a Site-201 laboratory for absolutely no reason at all. God, he wouldn’t have worked so hard if he’d known it would all be for nothing. It sucked that he’d never be a Senior Researcher.

The absurdity of the situation was just starting to set in, and a gravelly laugh bubbled out hysterically out of his aching throat.

"What are you laughing about?" the Anomalocaris said, rearing back in outrage. "Your trilobite comrades can't save you now. I'm going to send you to hell where pure evil like you belongs, triloscum."

Benedict tried fruitlessly to clamp down on his uncontrollable giggles, but it was hopeless. "I just— I just—"

"Oh, shut up, Benny!"

3009’s voice rang out from his phone, loud and clear. It startled him so badly that he stopped talking immediately. On the phone screen, 3009 was vibrating with nervous energy, two bright splotches of colour rising high on its cheeks.

The Anomalocaris jerked, looking around wildly. "Who said that? A— a triloghost?"

"No, you—"

But it was too late. The Anomalocaris fired off a volley of torpedoes at the southern wall, blowing an enormous hole in the plaster with a deafeningly loud blast. The dust in the air thickened.

3009 shuddered, pupils blown wide with shock. Then it shook itself and continued on with only the slightest tremor to its voice. "No, you idiot. Down here!" It crossed its arms, raising its chin in some strange parody of haughtiness.

The anomalocaris scuttled away from Benedict to peer curiously at his phone. With the enormous gun out of his face, Benedict sucked in his first proper deep breath.

"You’ll have to excuse my partner," 3009 said, its voice going high and uncertain. "He’s… He's new. First day on the job, you know?"

"On the trilobite spy job?"

"N-No, for god’s sake! What are they teaching you here? Can’t you recognise a member of, uh…" 3009 trailed off. It blinked up at the Anomalocaris, face smoothing out into a blank mask.

After a moment, Benedict jumped in. Now that the gun was out of his face, Benedict's brain had finally rebooted. "The… Anomalous Teens Against, uh… Trilobite Schemes."

3009 gave a little jump as if startled, and then nodded vigorously. "Yeah. Anomalous Teens Against Trilobite Schemes. You are a member, aren’t you?" The tremor had suddenly vanished from its voice, but Benedict didn't have the time to think too hard about it.

The Anomalocaris clicked wildly. It looked embarrassed. If it was possible for a prehistoric shrimp to look embarrassed. "Well… no. But I’m the best trilobite hunter around! You know, there was one time that a squad of trilobites had me surrounded, and I busted right out of there—"

"Yeah, whatever," said 3009. It was starting to become strangely confident. "I mean, I’m like, responsible for the extinction of trilobites in, um, the tri-state area, you know? So like… not really impressed with the macho posturing." It paused, mouth twisting, and then added, "God, you’re really out of touch, aren’t you, old timer? You sure you’re not the trilobite spy?"

"Me?" squawked the Anomalocaris, outraged. "I’m not a trilobite spy! Trilobites have pure evil burning within them. How could you confuse me for one of them?"

"Oh yeah?" said 3009. "Prove it."

"How?"

3009 hesitated. Its mouth had run away with it: it was painfully obvious, at least to Benedict, that it had no clue how the Anomalocaris could "prove" its allegiance. The Anomalocaris cocked its massive head in anticipation.

After a long, tense moment, 3009 regrouped valiantly. "Uh… how do you think?"

"How do I think?"

"Yeah," said 3009, very seriously. It had adopted the wide-eyed, earnest look of a practiced liar. "Take some initiative, comrade! This is a test. How do you think you're going prove yourself?"

The Anomalocaris paused to consider this for a moment, and then said, very enthusiastically: "I'm gonna go kill some triloghosts!"

"Um… great," said 3009. "That's awesome. You, uh… go do that. On the other side of the room, maybe. Benny was pretty badly injured by the, um. By the triloghosts."

"Okay!" it chirped and scuttled cheerfully over to the other side of the room.

As soon as its back was turned, 3009 sagged like a deflated balloon. "Are you okay?" it said, voice going hushed. "Your head— your head is bleeding. Like… really badly."

"I’m okay," mumbled Benedict. "Just… dizzy."

Dizzy was an understatement, actually. His whole field of vision was starting to go black and spotty around the edges. It seemed increasingly likely that the events of the past fifteen minutes were just a surreal stress dream of some kind.

They were interrupted by a loud blast from the other side of the room as the Anomalocaris blasted a hole in the floor. It scuttled back over, obviously pleased with itself.

"I really got that crafty little carapaced creep good, yeah?" it said eagerly. "Did you see that? Did you see? I really showed him what’s up!"

3009 beamed at it. "Yeah, you did great!"

"I'm the best at trilobite elimination," the Anomalocaris preened. "It's like poetry! But with explosions!"

"Okay," said 3009. "I guess, now that you’re really with us, you can tell us some war stories…"

The world swam and then faded out for a few seconds. Benedict blinked and suddenly the Anomalocaris was telling 3009 in vivid detail about a great battle in which it and a small guerilla force had taken on an entire trilobite army and survived with minimal casualties on their side.

Then it faded to black once more and only returned when Benedict was jolted out of his daze when with the doors slammed open with an enormous bang. A veritable squadron of men in uniforms poured into the room and the Anomalocaris screeched in outrage. Someone rushed over to his side. And, somewhere in the ensuing bedlam…

Benedict lost the battle to stay conscious for the final time that day and slipped into a dreamless sleep.


"…waking up. Hey, he’s waking up. Someone get the medic."

Benedict opened his eyes to the bright white walls of the Site-201 medical center. He squinted. The lined face of Researcher Annabel Xiulan came into focus. She looked sheepish, and more than a little relieved.

"How are you feeling?" she said. "I think I need to buy you a drink after all this. I heard you fended off 4131 pretty well."

Benedict shook his head. "Wasn’t me," he mumbled. His tongue felt very thick and the words came out slurred. "Is it still Sunday?"

"No," said Xiulan. "It's Monday. You've been out for a while. What’s your name? Who’s the current president?"

Monday? Benedict gaped at her and then stammered out a response. Xiulan nodded, apparently satisfied with his answers, and bustled off to fetch a medic.

Someone had put a fruit basket on his bedside table, tied with a cheerful polka dotted ribbon. His cell phone was tucked in between the apples and an enormous pineapple. It was almost out of battery.

Strange. 3009 hadn't sent him a single message.

He reached for the phone with his good hand, wincing with the stretch, and fumbled around with the app for a moment. After a few moments of fruitlessly swiping, he discovered that the elusive call button was available from the chat screen in a very low key shade of grey.

3009 picked up on the first ring. Its mouth fell open at the sight of the bandage wrapped tightly around his forehead. "Benny, you’re okay!"

"Yes," Benedict said. He tried to nod but moving his head sent a sharp pain lancing through his skull, so he gave up on that and smiled tersely instead. "3009, you… you did good."

"Ah," said 3009. It seemed caught off guard by his praise and looked away. Was it embarrassed? "Well… not really. I didn’t do anything particularly brave or special."

"You saved me," Benedict said slowly, struggling to maneuver his wooden tongue. "I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you. Shot in the head by a giant shrimp."

A brief, weak grin flashed across 3009's face. "Yeah, that was pretty whack, huh? I liked Maya way better."

Benedict hummed in agreement. He was feeling oddly sentimental. It was probably the concussion talking. "You… you were brave. Really."

But 3009 shook its head. An odd emotion flickered behind its eyes.

"I wasn’t," it insisted. "You don’t get it. I wasn’t brave at all."

Benedict blinked at it and thought ruefully to himself that head injuries made it even more difficult to parse 3009's mercurial moods than usual. As usual, 3009 took his uncomprehending silence as permission to continue.

"I wasn't brave. I wasn’t even scared," it pressed on, seeming to stumble over its own words. "Yesterday, I realized that I’m not— I’m not scared of giant shrimp monsters with guns for heads because they, well, they can't kill me, you know? You can’t shoot an app." It hesitated. "An app isn't… human. You get it, right?"

Benedict didn't get it, actually, but 3009 didn't seem to notice. There was an almost wistful cast to its expression, and though it was looking straight at him, Benedict got the strange feeling that it wasn't him that 3009 was seeing.

"You know," 3009 said, its tone softening. "It’s been months since I woke up in here. Did you notice? My hair is still exactly the same length. I haven't eaten or slept in months. Humans don't do that, right?"

"No," said Benedict. "They don't."

3009 giggled. The sound had a sharp, desperate edge to it. "I— I guess it's kind of sinking in that if I stay like this, I’m never going to be normal again. I… Benny, am I still going to be like this in ten years? Twenty? A hundred?"

"I don't know," said Benedict, a little helplessly. A tiny, selfish part of him wished despairingly that he could go back to sleep. "We still don't know if—"

"Forget about C for a little bit," 3009 cut in. Its smile blinked out like someone had flicked a switch and turned off the lights. "Forget about which one of us is real. Would you guys… really ever be able to put me back in the first place?"

Benedict Kim was tired, and concussed, and generally a terrible liar. When he opened his mouth, an unspoken and unkind truth slipped out. "I don't know," he said again. And then, inadequately: "I'm sorry, 3009."

3009 nodded and looked away.

"Okay," it said, very quietly.

Benedict hesitated. "Are you?"

"Yeah," it said, with a brittle glass smile. Its shoulders sagged, very slightly. "It's fine. I guess I kind of suspected, you know?"

"Oh," said Benedict, uncertainly.

3009 shrugged, aggressively nonchalant. "You know, I kind of get it now. The other me. 3009-C."

"Is… is that so?"

"Sure. She doesn’t know who she is, right? Because I exist." Stacey Lee's face was an inscrutable mask, betrayed only by the glossy dark shine of its eyes. "I guess I get that now. I mean… it's starting to become really obvious that I'm not the same person that I used to be either, right?"

Benedict stared at it, wordless and ineffectual.

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. By the time that Xiulan came back, it was clear that the conversation was over.


This was written for the Original Character Tournament. Thank you so much to PeppersGhostPeppersGhost for organising the contest, and to 9Volt9Volt for the use of SCP-4131!

Make sure to check out 9Volt's companion piece too!

« Grin and Bear It || Anomalous Teens Against Trilobite Schemes || Cafeteria Chat

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