Charon (Part 1: Nekyia)
The taste of the coffee was repulsively bitter. Yanma Mirski considered spitting the mouthful out to save the remaining taste buds that hadn't been obliterated by the drink, but he needed the caffeine more than he needed to enjoy it. Pausing to ready himself for the next onslaught, Yanma drank a second mouthful before putting the mostly full mug down on the desk beside him, where it would remain until a cleaner was forced to dispose of it. A third attempt would be too much for his body to handle.
Yanma had been catching up on the secret workings of Project Charon for several weeks now - many long days had been spent reading countless documents, some of which he recognized but sported new packets of information. Sometimes he'd be lucky enough to come upon a video or audio recording, which he would listen and watch in a manner similar to watching a movie at home. Regardless of how he went about it, Yanma spent every waking moment doing the same thing: absorbing information.
The constant mental drain was taking its toll, too. His usual sleeping routine had been utterly destroyed, his erratic rhythm making it difficult to maintain punctuality. Waking up on time had started becoming an issue, as was evident from the twenty odd alarms on his phone, all set to go off within a five-minute period. There were some nights where he would lay in bed for what felt like hours, (but would later turn out to be a couple of minutes, elongated by what surely was the anomalous powers of sheer boredom,) only to give up trying to go to sleep and resume his document binge.
But through it all, Yanma’s insatiable curiosity drove him to continue. Clicking on the next link in his list, he began reading the document that appeared on the screen before him.
Item #: SCP-184
Object Class: Thaumiel
Special Containment Procedures: Information regarding the Thaumiel classification of SCP-184 is restricted to personnel with Level 5/Charon clearance. SCP-184 is to be classified as Euclid in all documents below Level 5/Charon clearance, with references to information pertaining to the item’s Thaumiel classification removed.
SCP-184 is not to be contained in any structure. SCP-184 is to be attached to a high-power electromagnet at all times. Should the electromagnet fail, agents are to report to SCP-184's containment area and prevent access to all unauthorized personnel until the electromagnet is restored to
"You really need to get a proper night's sleep." Quinton had entered the room without making a sound, and had adopted an idle stance next to Yanma with his own mug in hand. The tall man loomed over his seated friend, equal parts humour and concern in his gaze.
"Uoh." Yanma used the short sleeve of his shirt to wipe the non-existent saliva from his mouth, his eyes never leaving the screen before him. No further response was made - running on fumes and crappy coffee, he could spare no more attention than was needed.
Quinton waited a moment before his concern got the better of him, quickly reaching across and turning the screen off. "You're taking a break, right now."
"Hey, I was reading th-"
"What was the object class."
"How should I fu-"
"Item number then. Or anything, even. Anything you saw on the page."
"It was the fucking ball thing, the thing that had the…" Yanma made various motions with his hands in an attempt to visualise a softball-sized sphere.
Quinton, unimpressed, kept waiting for a better response.
"You didn't even get the most obvious thing on the page right. You're having a rest."Yanma sighed loudly, knowing he couldn't argue with the sound logic. At some point he had stopped absorbing the information, but had kept reading; several thousand words worth had leaked from his mind like an antimeme.
“The coffee is fine - you’re the problem.” Quinton grinned sheepishly as he dipped a finger into the abandoned coffee, collecting enough of the liquid to get a taste. He retched the moment his brain registered the taste.
“Fuck, that’s godawful.”
“Told you it was shit.”
“I didn’t think you meant literally. Did you even put coffee in?”
"Oh shut up."
Quinton returned the mug to its original position. He paused for a moment after letting go, as if he was expecting something curious to occur.
"What?" Yanma had stopped in the doorway.
"I was expecting it to be stuck to my hand."
"Wh-" It took him a moment to catch on, but he caught the reference. "Oh fuck you."
Quinton couldn't hide his grin as he stepped past Yanma and out of the comfortably-furnished office, into the familiar whitewashed halls of a Foundation facility. The inhabitants of this place - the entirety of the staff assigned to Project Charon, of which there were quite a few - had only a vague idea of where this place actually was. Its style suggested an isolated wing or unit of a Site, but which Site in particular was impossible to tell. Without any signs or markings beyond obvious ones, and a complete absence of any windows or even doors leading to the exterior of the place, the only thing they knew about their new home was the vague definition that had whisked them to this place;
The staff of Project Charon were Inside the Project Charon offices.
The only noteworthy feature the hallway sported was the green line in the center of the floor, interrupted every five meters by a pair of coloured arrows that each pointed to a door on either side of the hall. Each arrow had a number followed by a letter, and this served as the main method of determining location in the offices; the number denoted the section of hallway, and the letter specified which door.
Remembering the rule that was critical to navigating the offices, Quinton set about navigating from Yanma's office, 49L, to the kitchen at 26R. His pace was quick, not because of a sense of urgency but because of how large his stride was. Within minutes they had arrived, passing through the single door leading directly into the small kitchen.
"Want a sandwich?" The bread and boiled eggs were already being removed from the fridge.
"Lettuce, egg and mayo?"
"Yeah. Stops it from tasting too dry."
"Sure then, whatever you're having."
"Why do you do this to yourself, Yanma?"
"Look at yourself. One of the highest-ranking members of a global shadow organisation, entrusted with one of the most powerful and dangerous artifacts under its control…"
The two plates, carrying a pair of sandwiches, were gently placed on either end of one of the few tables in the room. Yanma and Quinton each sat down with their own meal before them.
"… being nursed back to health by a ghost making sandwiches."
"Cut me some slack, you don't usually have to look after yourself when you're dead."
Quinton chuckled - his humour was rubbing off on Yanma. "I am serious though, Yanma. I don't understand why you're doing this."
"I'm behind, aren't I? Going through everything is the fastest way to catch up."
"But it isn't the best way. You're missing details, forgetting things. You won't be able to find It if you keep doing that."
He was, of course, referring to the contents of the Lock. Apakht, whatever that actually was. With the key in one hand, the Lock in the other and the wrath of Bowe watching, there was nothing stopping the predecessors of Project Charon from unleashing whatever waited within.
What they weren't expecting was for the key to turn loosely in the lock, the mechanism having been released long ago. They weren't expecting to realise Apakht had escaped long ago, while they studied an empty container.
"Quinton, we have no idea where it is, what it’s doing… we don’t even know what the fucking thing is.”
“See, now that proves my point. You're rushing to read everything, but learning nothing; we know what Apakht is, and what it does. This is exactly why it took you so long to figure out my clues."
"… You're right." Yanma rubbed his face, trying to relax or freshen himself.
Quinton smiled. He was finally getting Yanma to calm down and think properly. "So. To find out where it is, we need to know where it has been. Where did it start?"
"Well, the earliest relation we know of is that Apakht was assumedly contained in the Lock at some point. The Lock was found in some Sumerian ruins, so the first thing to do would be… to ask a Sumerian about it."
"Alright, let's get into it." Quinton clicked on the program's play button, starting the audio file. Yanma, holding a cup of water and feeling significantly fresher than he did yesterday thanks to a proper night's sleep, leaned back in his seat and listened.
"Dianne Cray, speaking to SCP-073. May I call you Cain?"
"Yes, that is ok."
There was a soft thud, followed by the sound of shuffling papers.
"I have several documents here that I believe you will be able to translate. Could you do so for me?"
The quiet whisper of paper sliding across a surface, possibly wood, followed by silence.
"Pay heed and li-"
"Hold on, I'll skip to the good bit."
Taking control of the computer again, Quinton clicked on a fast-forward button several times, speeding up the decades old recording and blurring the speech into incomprehensible gibberish. An hour's worth of dialogue was passed within two minutes, slowing down to its usual pace once Quinton was satisfied.
"Thank you. This one may be a stretch; translate as much of it as you can, if you can.”
A single sheet of paper slides across a surface.
"With loss and re- oh."
Three seconds of silence.
"073, what's wrong?"
"A moment, please."
Several more seconds of silence pass.
“… So with loss and regret, I… I of the guardians abandon the prison of Apakht on this final hour of hope and endless protection, emptied of its contents by its jailors…”
Faint sobbing, audibly belonging to the rich Arabic voice of Cain.
Quinton paused the recording, turning his seat to face Yanma.
“He recognized it, didn’t he?”
Quinton nodded in response. “Dianna claimed he’d stopped looking once he’d realized what it was. The fact that Cain filled in several large portions of missing text confirmed he was familiar with it.”
Quinton closed the audio file, having shown what was needed to Yanma. He scrolled down a list of audio files, finding the next one he wanted to play.
“Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Cain. Is there anything you would like to say before we begin?”
“Do you still have it?”
“Could you clarify what you are referring to?”
“Onyx sphere with gold, this size. Indestructible, always warm, has a keyhole on the top.”
“Yes, we do still have it.”
“I thought as much. I would have been surprised if you had not seen it, where those inscriptions were.”
“Ah, yes. The inscription that you translated for us – you were familiar with it, correct?”
“Of course. I wrote it.”
“Well, that… that would explain it, wouldn’t it. Uhh…”
Papers are nervously shuffled by unsteady hands.
“In the translation, you said… well, you, had left it there because Apakht wasn’t inside it. What is Apakht?”
The sound of someone shifting in their seat, followed by a long silence.
“It is… difficult. There are words to describe it, but very few have analogues in English. It…”
“It is a… a concept, a force, of sorts. It is something that influences everything within its reach, and is omnipresent in scope. It is comparable to gravity; the effects it produces can be observed, but it itself cannot.”
“What are its effects?”
“I believe you have encountered its offspring first hand. Chaos, impossibility, chance… to it, everything is clay and malleable. It yields to no rules, no classification. I am an example; you cannot harm me, though such is unreasonable. I cannot die, nor can the other guardians, no matter our age.”
"… How old are you, exactly?"
"Older than time."