Foundation Research Site-29, Northwest Oman
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 0300 hours local time
The helicopter touched down at the edge of the base camp for Research Site-29. It wasn't much to look at, just a standard perimeter fence, a few large tents, and a prefabricated watchtower with a searchlight and heavy machine gun. Razor wire and a minefield fifty meters deep had been deployed around the perimeter. These security measures would be improved as the site was developed further. According to the file, the site had only been constructed a few months before, after SCP-557 had been discovered by an investigation into a missing geological survey team.
Harper stepped off the helicopter and was met by two men. One was a short man with glasses, dressed in khakis and clutching a Stetson to his head. The other was an enormous, barrel-chested Arab wearing an impressive black beard and desert camouflage.
"You must be the VIP I was told to expect," shouted the shorter man, an American, based on his accent. "Dr. Nick Ford, Site Director. This is Colonel Ali El-Hashem, Site Security Chief."
"Tim Harper, Foundation Counterintelligence," yelled Harper. He followed the two men into the nearby command tent as the helicopter shut down.
The tent was mostly empty (unsurprising, given the hour); a radio operator sat in the corner reading a book. "Lieutenant, go get a cup of coffee," boomed El-Hashem in a deep, resonant baritone. The tech jumped to his feet and scurried out. Rounding on Harper, the Colonel asked ominously, "Is there a problem with my security?"
"Now, Colonel," objected Dr. Ford, "that's no way to welcome our guest. I'm sure that's not why—"
"The Hell it's not!" bellowed El-Hashem. "Why else would a Level 5 counterintelligence officer arrive at my site at oh-dark-thirty?"
"It's quite alright," Harper said quietly. "I am not aware of any inadequacies in your security measures, nor am I aware of any problems with your staff." The giant Arab deflated, but looked slightly relieved.
Dr. Ford asked, "So, Agent Harper, what does bring you out to Research Site-29 in the middle of the night?"
"Just 'Mister'," Harper corrected gently. "I'm not an agent. I'm here because I have reason to believe a person-of-interest is intending to use SCP-557-1 in a plot against the Foundation."
Ford and El-Hashem shared a worried look. "Dash-one isn't contained," Ford said. "We aren't even sure what it is."
"Wasn't that in the file?" El-Hashem asked.
"I read both the files on SCP-557 and Research Site-29 on my flight," Harper explained, "but they both only had preliminary findings. I'm going to guess they haven't been updated yet, since the site's so new."
Ford nodded, "That makes sense. I suppose I should go ahead and give you the nickel tour." He and Harper left the command tent and strode across the compound. At the center, there was a stone structure maybe ten meters in height. They entered through a rough hole in the side, perhaps two meters tall.
The room was an ancient library. Dusty shelves lining the walls held rolls of papyrus. A table had been set up in the middle of the room, where researchers could examine and translate the scrolls and other artifacts. "This is Level 1," explained Ford. "There are five underground levels total, which is unusual for structures of this design. The structure itself is an Umm an-Nar era tomb, which we think was built somewhere in the twenty-fourth century BC. We've not had a chance to do a thorough sweep of the surrounding countryside yet, so there may be more ruins out there. Historically there was a trade route through this area and a (now lost) city named Ubar or Irem, depending on the language. The desert eventually swallowed both the city and the trade route. Now, the scrolls we've found here on Level 1 are written in a number of ancient languages. So far, we've identified Greek, Old Egyptian, Sumerian, and Akkadian. We've only begun translating."
"Anything about dash-one?" asked Harper.
"Maybe. We're still working on translating. We've pulled all the records we can identify that we think might refer to dash-one and are prioritizing those," Ford replied, gesturing to the several dozen scrolls littering the work table. He searched for a second, found a specific sheet of modern loose-leaf paper, and handed it over. "This is the translation of the only document in here written in Greek. Radiocarbon dating indicates it was the most recent addition to the library, from around 300 AD."
I will write in Greek, so that any learned man who finds this place will understand. I am the last of the Keepers, and I will be dead soon. The sands are taking this place, and perhaps it is for the best. The prisoner must not escape, and the gateway to the dark must never be opened. I do not think the gate can be moved, but who knows of the prisoner? Not even the Gods could kill it, and it was only with their help that he was secured. Without the rituals, I do not know. Secure the door the best you can, and never move the stone.
"That's charming," Harper remarked after finishing the note.
"Yep," Ford agreed. "We don't know if that's talking about dash-one, but it could be. Dash-one wasn't the only thing held here." He paused. "Anyway, in the several rooms on Level 1, there are living quarters and Bronze and Iron Age weaponry for a relatively large contingent of individuals, possibly the 'Keepers' mentioned in the note. We only found two skeletons on this Level, so we think the facility was abandoned over time."
Ford led Harper down a flight of stone stairs. A long corridor with small stone cells stretched into the distance. "This is Level 2. According to the records, Levels 2 and 3 were a prison for 'heretics and sorcerers.' We didn't find any evidence of the cells being occupied. They seem to have not been used for perhaps a thousand years before the structure was abandoned."
"Any idea who these heretics and sorcerers were?" asked Harper.
"None whatsoever," Ford replied as the two men descended to Level 4. "We don't even know who the Keepers were."
Level 4 looked similar to Levels 2 and 3, except there was more evidence of the Foundation's archeological team. "This is Level 4, described by the records as 'a place for the abnormal.' This appears to have been used up though the facility's abandonment," Ford explained.
"What sort of abnormal?" Harper inquired.
"Well, we've found a variety of skeletons in the cells here, which match several known SCPs. Dr. Bhala has positively matched remains to what looks like SCP-439, SCP-610, and a couple of beasties that crawled out of SCP-354 - oh, don't worry, all the remains are completely inert," Ford said, seeing the mixture of concern and horror on Harper's face. "There are also a number of skeletons unlike anything my team has seen before. From what we can tell, each cell was custom-fortified for its occupant, unlike the cells in the upper levels."
"Sounds like someone doing our job," Harper remarked.
Ford nodded, "Well, in general societies have had ways of dealing with the supernatural. Today, we have the Foundation and the GOC, containing and destroying things, respectively. In the Middle Ages, the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox) worked pretty hard to either harness those objects that they could explain in ways to fit their theological beliefs or to destroy those which didn't. This structure is just an ancient site for some now long-forgotten analogue to the Foundation."
"You said there were five levels," Harper said.
"Yes," Ford confirmed. He handed Harper a flashlight and hardhat. "Be careful when we're down there. There are a lot of traps and deadfalls. We think we've located and sprung or cleared them all, but I've lost four D-class, two researchers, and a security guard all since we initially thought we'd cleared them."
"Like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark," Harper remarked dryly.
"Worse," Ford warned. "Not only are these real and not movie magic, many of them are far more sophisticated than I've seen in any other tombs. Do not touch anything. Spots which are confirmed as safe to step have been marked in white tape. Red tape indicates spots you should not step."
"White good, red bad," Harper repeated. "Understood."
The two men walked down the stairs. Level 5 appeared to be a single empty hallway, perhaps fifty meters long. At regular intervals, the researcher staff had positioned battery-powered lanterns. The floor and wall were dotted with red and white tape. Here and there, deep pits in the floor dropped out of sight, invisible to even the most attentive observer if not for the red warning tape. Slowly and cautiously, Ford and Harper crept forward.
After an eternity, they reached the end of the corridor. A giant door lay in pieces across the end of the hallway, apparently torn down and smashed from the inside. "This is the entrance to Room 501," Ford explained. "The door was like this when we arrived. It's constructed of a variety of metal alloys whose formula I won't bore you with, but the metallurgy necessary to make them is something that shouldn't have been possible until the middle twentieth century."
"BC?" Harper asked.
"No, the middle twentieth century AD," Ford said. "One of the key parts of the primary alloy was depleted uranium. And yet this door appears to be as old as the structure itself. We have no idea how it was made forty-four centuries before it ordinarily could have been. In any case, our best estimates suggest the door wasn't broken until sometime in the last ten years or so. Whatever was inside - what we've designated SCP-557-1 - got out."
"That can't be good," Harper said.
"It gets better," Ford said. "That door is, or was, three cubits thick. Sorry, about a meter and a half. Ancient Egyptian measurement. Anyway. Dr. Morales analyzed the fracture pattern. This thing was broken in just one physical blow. There aren't many things that can exert that sort of physical force, even today. Colonel El-Hashem has a demolition tech who estimates he'd have trouble rigging a charge to destroy the door that wouldn't rebound the shock-wave into the chamber and kill anything inside."
Ford ushered the counterintelligence officer inside. Room 501 was vast, easily twenty meters on a side and over five meters high. The center of the room's floor was covered by a large granite slab covered in runes Harper didn't recognize. A smaller stone block stood in the room. Metal chains hung broken from the smaller stone. "Dash-one was imprisoned here, chained to this stone. The chains are the same material as the door."
Harper let out a low whistle. Whatever SCP-557-1 was, it had been both big and incredibly powerful. "So, we have no idea what it was?"
"Most of the records haven't been translated yet," Ford replied. "What we've found so far, including on the walls of Room 501 itself, refer to dash-one as simply 'the prisoner.' There is one exception. A single reference in Egyptian refers to it as 'the bastard son of Apep.'"
"Apep?" Harper asked.
"Apep, or Apophis as he was referred to by the Greeks, was the Egyptian deification of darkness and chaos," Ford explained. "He was the personification of all that was evil, seen as a giant serpent or dragon. He wasn't so much worshiped as worshiped against; the ancient Egyptians believed that every night the sun god, Ra, would fight Apep, and if Ra ever lost, the sun would fail to rise again."
"So dash-one is the bastard son of this guy?" Harper asked.
"We don't know, but that's what the one record we've found with any sort elaboration suggests," Ford responded. "Colonel El-Hashem has standing orders to locate and secure dash-one, and to assume it to be Keter until proven otherwise. No luck so far. And you have information that someone has found dash-one? If that's correct, that's very troubling."
Harper nodded, thinking. "Very troubling indeed."
Foundation Command-02, Washington, D.C.
Saturday, 24 December 1988, 2200 hours local time
Muir and Monica huddled around the secure speaker phone. Harper was on the line from the middle of nowhere in Oman, just finishing up his findings.
"So, we're on the lookout for the bastard son of the ancient Egyptian god of chaos and darkness," Monica asked incredulously.
"Welcome to the Foundation," Muir sniped. The intern rolled her eyes at him.
Harper ignored him. "So, I presume Seven told you about 1440? Have you turned anything up?"
"Just to make sure we're on the same page, you have the file last updated 15 June 1987?" Muir asked. It never hurt to double check such things.
There was a pause on the line, the Harper said, "That is correct."
Monica read from some notes she had hastily scribbled on a legal pad earlier that evening. "Mr. Harper, Site-11 doesn't have an exact fix on fourteen-forty's position, but they believe it might be somewhere near Mt. Kazbek in the Caucasus Mountains in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic."
"Who — local contact — ground?" the transmission from Harper asked, fading in and out of static.
"Say again, Tim, we missed that," Muir instructed.
"-said, — is the — -tact on the grou-?" came the reply.
Monica looked at Muir, "He wants to know the contact on the ground."
Muir called into the telephone, "Your contact is Captain Ivan Petrovich Gagarin. He'll meet you in Vladikavkaz."
"Captain — Gagarin — in Vladikavkaz—" crackled the phone, dissolving into static.
"Tim? Harper?!" Muir called, but the connection was dead.
Foundation Research Site-29, Northwest Oman
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 0700 hours local time
"Troy? Monica?" yelled Harper into the secure radio set.
The operator looked up apologetically. "Sorry, sir, but we've lost the transmission."
"Looks like a sandstorm is on the way," said another technician on the other side of the command tent. "Coming in from the west, ETA five minutes."
Harper looked at El-Hashem and Ford, "How long do these things last?"
"Hard to tell. Could be hours," the Arab colonel replied.
Harper hoisted his bag. "Is the helo ready to go?"
"Yes, but it'd be better to ride the storm out here," Ford cautioned.
Harper started towards the tent's exit. "Can't waste the time," he said over his shoulder as he stepped outside.
To the east, a towering wall of sand rose kilometers high. Harper ran to the helicopter pad and gestured to the pilot to spin up the bird's engines. Within sixty seconds, they were airborne, racing back towards the city as the research site was engulfed by the sandstorm.
Foundation Observation Post 3-02, [LOCATION REDACTED]
Sunday, 25 December 1988, 0300 hours GMT
A red light blinked on and off, annoyingly insistent amongst a sea of green and blue denoting the status of the Foundation's worldwide assets. Probationary Agent Johnson sat up and called up the associated status indicator. He'd gotten a bottom of the barrel assignment, shipped off to the middle of nowhere straight out of training, only arriving the day before.
PRIORITY 2 ALERT
Automated Notification: Research Site-29 communications lost.
"Uh, Agent Marcus? We have a Priority 2. Research Site-29 just lost communications," Johnson said, worried.
"Calm down, Probie," his superior said. "Satellite IMINT shows a sandstorm in that part of Oman. We've had problems every time one of those has come through since we set up shop a few months ago. Landline's still a work in progress."
"So you think the storm is disrupting the radio signal?" Johnson asked.
"Third time this week," Marcus replied, sipping his coffee. "The system log any danger or distress codes before the signal went out?"
Johnson took a moment to call up the relevant data. "Uh, no," he said.
Marcus smiled, "Well, then, Probie, it's probably nothing. Fire off a sitrep and Form CL-287 to HQ and Site-11. As per protocol, if the signal doesn't return after the storm clears, they'll send in an MTF."
Johnson swallowed, and nodded. If Agent Marcus wasn't too worried, he decided he shouldn't be either.