Atzak II
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A man is cast into the encompassing dark-



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And the infinite coil draws tighter.





ATZAK

PART TWO


Dr. David Bell wrenched open the door to the observation theatre, cursing the rusted hinges. This close to the sea everything ended up coated with a thick crust of corrosion eventually, much to the chagrin of site staff. It wasn’t uncommon to pass someone straining against a jammed door in a hallway, muttering under their breath about lacking amenities. As he dusted flecks of red dust from his jacket, David did the same.

The interior of the theatre was dimly lit and damp, like everything else at Observational Site-305. It wasn’t a new structure, like Site-121, or a well maintained one like 17 or 25. No, INWBKL OBVS SITE-305 was something cobbled together out of an abandoned office building and a few adjacent parking garages. What it lacked in warmth it made up for in humidity, with even the usually cozy staff residences a breeding ground for unpleasant moisture.

He hustled down the hallway towards the viewing room door, briefly pausing at a hanging fan to escape the heat for a few brief, beautiful moments. He pulled at the neck of his shirt and wiped his brow, then slogged on until he reached the end of the room. On the other side of the door stood three men around a table, and another man under a sheet. David paused briefly, and one of the men turned to him.

“No, it’s alright,” Dr. Jans Ulrich said, motioning towards the man on the table. “He’s not dead; the sheet is just to keep the flies off.”

He nodded, and approached the table cautiously. This room was thick with body odor and sweat, and the faint sting of brushed formaldehyde burned the inside of his nose. The other men were as drenched with sweat as he, but none of them moved away from the table. None of them looked up. As David stepped up to the sheet, Dr. Ulrich ripped it off. The other men grimaced.

The man on the table wasn’t a man at all, and David would’ve been surprised if he had been any older than his mid-twenties. Strong, like most security personnel were, but young in the face and lacking the typical track marks of age. He bore a slight scar across his cheek, and his dark hair had been shaved back on one side to allow for the placement of electrodes, but otherwise he looked no worse for wear. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was steady. David looked up at the other men, his hand beginning to shake.

“Is this it?” Bell said, his voice echoing in the little room. “Have you tried waking him up?”

One of the men, a fat doctor who Bell didn’t know, spoke up. “Yes, we uh… tried waking him up. There’s nothing to wake up in there. We can keep him fed and watered, and his systems are otherwise normal, but there’s nothing going on in there.”

David shook his head. “I… I don’t understand how this could have happened. Was he screened before this assignment?”

The man to the left of Ulrich, one who David recognized as Dr. Isaac Kent, produced a sheaf of papers. “This is his file. Everything is there; memetic resistances, cognitive resistances, full psychological profile, everything. Nothing we have would’ve given us any indication that this was possible.”

Nothing?” David barked, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. “Nothing at all, huh? No reason in the world why a healthy, grown man would experience a sudden fucking mental break and then go comatose. No reason at all? You sure?”

Dr. Kent flinched. “We’re sure, we’ve looked at everything we—”

“Well you’d better be goddamn sure,” David said, his eyes sweeping over the room, “because I already had Cimmerian breathing down my neck before, and now I’ve got another goddamn vegetable to deal with? Christ!” He stepped away from the table, rubbing his temples slowly.

Ulrich looked up from staring at his feet. “David, it’s not that simple. You haven’t been down there, you haven’t… haven’t seen it. Those values are helpful with most things, but not with something like this. It’s different.”

David sighed. He walked back over towards the table and looked down at the man on it. “Tell me again what happened,” he said, his voice soft. “Start from the beginning.”

Dr. Kent pulled out a paper from the file. “At 0700 hours, during a routine sweep of SCP-3000’s primary area of activity, Security Officer Li began to experience intermittent headaches and was referred to the clinic. Dr. Khatri oversaw the care of Officer Li, who quickly deteriorated to the point of not being able to respond to simple questions. Over the next half hour, Officer Li experienced three moments of lucidity, during the first of which he expressed that he was a woman from Brussels, the second of which he expressed panic at his situation, and the third of which he got up from the observation table, walked across the room to a corner, pointed at the corner, and screamed. Twenty minutes later, Officer Li was comatose, and remanded to on-site care.”

David surveyed the young man again. “Is there nothing in there we can salvage? Is it bad all the way through?”

The fat doctor shrugged slowly. “He’s been observed by our on-site psychologist, and a neurologist flown in from Site-81. The trains are running, but there isn’t anybody on them. There’s just nothing— er, nobody in there right now. He’s empty.”

David motioned for the paper file, and Dr. Kent relinquished it. He flipped through the file quickly, his eyes darting around for something missed. Anything missed. The Eremita had been shuttling crew back and forth from Site-151 to the contact site for years. But while there were always incidents of crew members with notably low CRV’s becoming affected by the cognitive deconstruction SCP-3000 was capable of, more recent protocols limiting distance from the entity and the minimum CRV of staff onboard had reduced the number of casualties from a few each month to a few each year. Occasionally one would slip through, but it was almost always some sort of error, and not a mutation of the phenomenon.

But this was different. As David scanned through the documents, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. CRV’s were well within tolerance, no family history of psychological disorders. Good mental and physical health. Nothing weird, but even at a documented safe distance with all precautions taken, a healthy adult man had been pulled from his body and obliterated.

Fuck.” David said, casting the pages back down on the table. “We’re going to need to keep this shit quiet. The moment this gets out, we’re going to have the whole circus showing up here. Does anyone other than Kerry and you chucklefucks know about this?” They all shook their heads. “Well, at least there’s that. Goddammit. What were they even doing down there? The next Atzak rotation isn’t until the end of the week.”

“They were assessing some lifeforms that we’ve noticed living on the eel’s skin,” said the fat doctor. “Crabs and fish and what have you. Wanted to investigate the relationship they shared with it, see if we could gain anything from that. They did end up recovering some samples, but—” he hesitated, “they obviously had to cut the mission short.”

David nodded. “Cover him up. Move him to infirmary and keep him there for now. Put the crew he was with on a limited Class-C regimen, just the last day or so. We don’t want anyone knowing about this right now, not until I can figure out what the fuck happened here.”

He moved towards the doorway and paused.

“Get Kerry on the phone, and meet me upstairs.”


The office of Director Kerry Eckelkamp at Site-151, in contrast to the dim and muggy Observational Site-305, was well lit and temperature controlled. A number of plaques and commendations adorned his desk and the wall behind it, and a small fan sat in the corner of the room to make sure the space was well-circulated. He shuffled through some reports on his desk, doing his best to appear to be busy. His charade was interrupted when his secretary, a squat woman named Viola, rapped quickly on the door. She poked her head through.

“Boss,” she said, “phone for you.”

Kerry nodded, and the door slid closed. He looked at the number next to the illuminated button on his phone, and sighed. David Bell hadn’t been in India for more than a week and was already trying to raze the site. He ruminated for a moment on the necessity of Ethics Committee liaisons, long enough, he was sure, to piss off the already fuming Dr. Bell on the other end of the line. With deliberation, he slowly lifted the phone to his ear.

“David,” he said, smoothly. “Good to hear from you again.”

“You didn’t tell me we had a goddamn dead man down here, Kerry.” He could almost feel the spittle hitting him through the receiver. “And that, after the Atzak revisions. Are you fucking kidding me?”

Kerry took a deep breath. “David, listen, first of all he isn’t dead. For all we know, he could very well wake up tomorrow. He’s responded very well to his care thus far, and—”

“Horseshit,” David spat through the line.

“…and second of all, there’s no reason to get upset. Nothing we’ve got tells us anything other than that this was a freak incident, an unfortunate, stress induced episode. Officer Li was already experiencing a significant amount of stress due to his position, and couple that with the conditions within the Eremita and the, uh, the—”

“…the goddamn eel, you mean? Yeah, we’re all fucking familiar. Christ, Kerry, I don’t know how you’re so nonchalant about this.”

“I don’t know why you’re so worked up about this,” Kerry said. “Accidents happen. People die everyday, within this organization and without. Our asses are covered, what else do you want?”

“What I want,” David said, his voice tense and his frustration growing, “is to know if anything was missed. If there’s something we should’ve seen that we didn’t. Because if we did, and if there’s some extenuating circumstances here that caused this man’s death, then the Committee is going to show up and park their asses on your front step and find someone to hang for this.” He paused for effect. “And it may very well be you.”

“I’m not worried,” Kerry said, laughing beside himself. “If Cimmerian wants to try and get my goat about an accidental death, I’ll refer him to any number of other sites where the same thing happens every day.”

“You know damn well it isn’t just about him being a dead man, Kerry,” David replied. “The Ethics Committee can get itself worked up about it, but for the people who are important that’s not what matters. What matter is where he died. And in the proximity of what. InfoSec is starting to get worried about the Atzak trials. Say that there’s no way we can know for sure what’s getting taken and where it goes. We send someone down there with Level 4 clearance and they lose that memory, and where does it end up? We’ve seen this kind of thing happen before, and they think it’s only a matter of time til we lose something important from someone. There’s even murmurs about the Overseers being involved. You want to be standing around with your dick in your hand if O5-3 strolls up one day?”

Kerry’s blood ran cold. “No,” he said, “I’d rather not. Did Officer Li have clearance on any other skips?”

“He didn’t, but that’s not the point. This was, for all intents and purposes, a random and unpredictable change in SCP-3000’s behaviour. If we aren’t able to figure out what the fuck happened to him, the EthCom is going to throw a fit. Then, once they’re done, we’re going to have InfoSec in here, and then we start to see missions getting pulled, or drastically reduced. If we start to drop production, we get Area-909 on our asses, too, and if we start to see shortages of Class-A and -B’s, then we’re super fucked and we’re definitely getting a visit by an Overseer.”

“Alright, Jesus,” Kerry said, running his hands through his hair. “I’ll have some guys go through his file again. What do you want us to do if they find anything?”

“Call me first, and then write up a report. Find a way to stick this on someone, but make it convincing. We need to make sure InfoSec doesn’t think this is going to be an ongoing issue, because the moment they do they’ll coldstop the program and we’ll both be out of a job. If we’re lucky, we won’t remember it, but I doubt we’d be given the kindness.”

“Sure. I’ll be in touch, then. What are you going to do?”

David sighed on the other end of the line. “Find a way to spin this, first. I’ll be at the Obs site until the end of the week, and after that I’ll have to present to EthCom. Get me something by Tuesday night, because I’m going to have to spend at least a day or two on-site to gather some more information.” He paused. “And don’t fuck this up, Kerry. Take it seriously, goddammit. I know you probably think after the promotion you’re damn near invincible, but trust me when I say the moment they think your team is letting things slip through the cracks, especially with something as massive as the eel, they’ll beat you to death with a sack of shit bricks.”

They exchanged a dismissive farewell, and Kerry hung up. He immediately dialed for his Head of Human Resources, who dialed the IT Administrator, who dialed up a server bot to dig through Officer Li’s file, and the files of his nearest coworkers, and the files on his family, and his family’s family, and so on. Kerry didn’t hang around to witness the end of the search; he had a meeting with Site Director Gore the next morning, and needed to sleep. He wished the best to his staff, thanked them for their efforts, and left his office.

On his way out of the site, he passed by the barracks and the docks, where the Eremita was pulled into port. The Eremita’s captain, Yoric Jon Hastings, stood with a handful of other officers near the ship, and flagged down Kerry as he passed by.

“Director,” Hastings said, somberly, “we haven’t heard anything about Officer Li. Is he well? Some of the other officers were asking about him.”

Kerry tried to smile despite himself, but ended up with only a twisted grimace. “He’s fine, Captain. Recovering well from his ordeal.” He thought about the man under the sheet he’d seen the day before. “He just needs some time to heal, is all.” He thought about the man’s eyes, hazy and crusting over, unseeing and empty. “In fact, you should all check in with the clinic. Get yourselves patched up, take a breather before the next shift.”

The captain nodded slowly, and a sound behind them made the man turn and look. A long line of crew members were slowly wheeling carts of unconscious D-Class out of the side of the Eremita. As they passed, Captain Hastings grimaced. Kerry stared at their eyes.

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