This Is A Direct Appeal
rating: +28+x

This is an unofficial sequel to Metafiction, written by a different author.

It's almost seven PM, the designated starting time for the meeting. One final participant makes her way there, high-heeled white suede shoes clicking on the linoleum. In one flawlessly silver-manicured hand, she holds a latte; in the other, a nondescript green folder. Everyone in the room has an identical folder in front of them.

"Hello, Hotaru. I suppose I'm late," she says to the host of the meeting, a preoccupied woman wearing agent grays waiting outside the door.

Hotaru Morisato checks her phone. "Er, you're about ninety seconds early."

The newcomer sweeps in without pause or response.

Morisato does a quick sweep of the hallway, then steps inside and closes the door behind her. “Hello, everybody, welcome. I really hope you all did the background reading.”

Then she takes a seat. “I guess we'll start. I'm Agent Hotaru Morisato. Welcome to Site Eleven. You've all been working together for the last eight years, though most of you haven't met."

None of the five people are terribly surprised. It comes with the territory. The attendees are all from separate sites, scattered across the globe. They have vague-sounding titles, their own offices in their home sites, and unremarkable clearance levels - until they need to know something especially classified, when it suddenly rockets to the appropriate level for any piece of information, and the internal database's security measures part like a veil. Their colleagues know they work remotely for an inter-site research agenda, though if you were to ask any of those colleagues, they'd probably all tell you different ones. The group's personnel files are no help. Three of them, despite wildly different accents and ethnicities, have their their dates and places of birth listed as "January 1st in Afghanistan, Badakshan Province" - the first one in each drop-down menu.

They're used to working under secrecy - under encryption, sometimes trading delicate conclusions with co-conspirators who use changing strings of numbers instead of names. If is a surprise, it's that their were only five of them after all. Morisato knew this from the beginning; as far as the others had known, they could have been collaborating with one other person or with thousands. But five there are.

Morisato gestures first to the meeting's latest arrival. “This is Dr. Katy Knight, Area One Seven Nine. She's been at Eleven for the last two months confirming data. Before that, she and I were reviewing Foundation internal practices."

"Good to meet you all," says Katy. Her immaculately-lined eyes survey the room over the top of her latte.

“This is Dr. Yasmeen Sethwi, who's really running the show here, and asked me to host this. Just from this, I'm guessing she knows something the rest of us don't - but who here doesn't?” Morisato laughs a little nervously. “Sorry - anyway, she has degrees in literature and philosophy - and she's the closest thing we have to an expert on 'narrative logic'. No offense, Doctor.”

“None taken,” said Dr. Sethwi. She pushes her notes together and sweeps a loose flap of her head scarf into place, in the same motion. One gets the sense that Sethwi does little that is not intentional.

“This is Hans Brannovich, head archivist for the Committee on Existential Threats, and the one who recommended further research into our side of Turtledove. Depending on the outcome of the meeting, we'll be sending a sealed copy notes there, and to High Command, once we're done."

"Or we might just burn them,” Brannovich adds with a deep chuckle. He's typing on his laptop.

“And here's Dr. Raymond Northrop, of course. One of the Turtledove pioneers, and our sacrificial goat for the O5 council.”

There is a very small amount of stilted laughter at this. Northrop smiles wryly and opens his mouth to say something biting, then thinks better of it.

“Now,” says Morisato. “Let's go straight to the point. Eight years ago, the results from Project Turtledove were revealed in a highly classified meeting. Seven years ago, Drs. Knight and Sethwi and I started brainstorming. We began an ambitious project to search the entirety of the Foundation's database and archives. Katy, maybe you could explain-”

“Essentially,” says Knight, “There are many reasons for which an entity, or a group of entities, would be compelled to 'generate' a world such as ours. As you all know, the research from Turtledove and its clade of projects would suggest that we're not merely a high-order simulation - unless our entire dataset, including the connections established through the Turtledove project, has been faked up."

"To clarify, there's a lot of expert curiosity that our reality is part of a computer simulation. This might even explain all of the anomalies themselves. Turtledove seemed to provide contradictory evidence on this front. Our current hypothesis would not require this."

“Our first priority,” says Sethwi, “was establishing this motive for generating our world, our existence. Knowing this would allow us to understand both our own predicament, and ways of improving our overall outcome. It's possible that even if we are in an intentionally manufactured universe, we aren't at the locus of it, and that the information gained through Turtledove was accidental. The locus of interest could be a different planet altogether.

"On the other hand, as far as unusual universal occurrences go, we must admit that the Foundation's collection seems especially interesting. While there are a few object listings for which the anomalous nature has been explained scientifically, even the Foundation has never been so bold as to issue the opinion that all objects will eventually explained.”

“I'm not discounting that idea,” says Brannovich, leaning over his tablet computer, “But our anomalies aren't the only unsolved problems in the universe. Dark matter, for one. Pea equals enn pea. Why 'circus peanuts' are still commercially viable.”

Sethwi frowns.

"Right," says Knight. She waves a manicured hand. “Still we think the Foundation is likely for several reasons. We began searching the archives because of, well, the drunkard looking under the street lamp - we have access to complete documentation on our set of anomalies, and not on anything else. We immediately realized that our our little database has been the 'focus' for this world's creation.”

“To clarify,” says Sethwi, “the scans of Zayin-H-716's internet are almost entirely identical to ours - circus peanuts and all - with the exception of our uncensored database, and references thereto. Our final report from 2011 concluded that they didn't have an equivalent of our Foundation, and given this, we wanted to explain their version of the internet and the presence of the 'false' database.”

“This is where Dr. Sethwi's area of expertise comes in,” says Knight.

“We started," says Sethwi, "With the hypothesis that if the Foundation, and only the Foundation, is unique to this world - not our database, since the database is clearly the same in both - then we would expect to see a certain tone, or feeling of events, and described properties, not ordinarily found in day to day life. We tested a few hypotheses. The first was strategic planning. This lead nowhere. The second was entertainment. If the Foundation has been… well, I'll keep using the word 'generated', by sentient minds much like our own, we would expect to see certain tropes, a theme, repeated.”

“And what did you find?” asks Brannovich.

“That what I said is true.” Sethwi pauses. “We, um, adapted a commercial search engine algorithm. We used it to search our archives for intent. We narrowed the input to top-level material - polished documentation, official records, and explanatory materials, not lunch menus and spreadsheets. I won't get into the specifics now. What we found is what we might expect if…"

Here Sethwi falters. Not falters - reconsiders. She strings her next words together carefully. "If the majority of the objects were designed to provoke the intent of fear. Provoking fear in a sympathetic agent."

"I know that each one of us - working here - have mused one time or another that the objects we work with, the burdens we bear, seem unfair. Seemed rigged against us. Then, we took hold of ourselves, accepted that this is the way the world just works. That the weight of our uncertainty happens to be evil. Until now, I don't think anyone has actually had evidence that the alternative is true.”

“Let me see if I've got this right,” says Brannovich. “We have evidence, real evidence, that we and the Foundation are the fictions of humans in an alternate reality, which somewhat but not entirely like ours. Flesh and blood, born-of-woman human storytellers. And our genre is horror.”

Sethwi hums and nods. "Many entries and documentation returned trends in other genres. Some returned no strong trends at all. But the program is still in its early stages. Overwhelmingly, yes."

Northrop fiddles with his empty water glass, turning it around and around. He sets it down. His frown has tightened into a blank tension. “In my original report, I came to the conclusion that the alternate database's top-level archives are incomplete, but that I expected them to correspond with ours. Did your test-”

“We did test the rest of our archives,” says Knight. “Most of what occurs in both databases returned positive. Around 50% of the Series documentation present in our database but not the alternate one, returned positive. We're not sure what the implications of that are.”

Norton laughs, entirely humorlessly. "I imagine they're filling the series documentation in order. They're not done yet."

For a while, nobody has anything to say to that.

“How much of an existential risk are we looking at?” Brannovich breaks in. He's pale, and his voice has shifted half an octave up.

Knight and Morisato exchange looks. “Actually,” says Morisato, “Since we're not dead already…”

“…We're probably fine,” says Knight.

“What?” Brannovich looks between them. “The creators - the ones in the 'above-verse' aren't like humans to our ants, we're like Minesweepers or Clippys to… to their genius programmers. They can delete us with no repercussions, at any time-”

“Hans, take a breath,” says Knight. “You're right. They could. But they haven't. What does that say?”

Everyone thinks.

“That we, or our existence, is serving a crucial function in their narrative framework, and killing us all would undermine that,” says Northrop. He's gone back to fidgeting, this time with a coffee stirrer. “So they're probably not going to.”

“Or," says Sethwi, "That they're writing their stories concurrent to our timeline and going to set them off later. Cheer up. I think the second stage of my theory may provide some resolution.”

“How?” Brannovich runs an unsteady hand through his hair.

“Well," Sethwi says, "We only have partial access to their archives. There's reason to suspect that the database isn't the only piece of media on the wikifarm. What the rest would be, we can't fathom. Stories, perhaps.

"Even so, we've found contradictions that don't occur in our own archives. Ones that are impossible, but not inconceivable in a sense - that is, from an outside view, the Foundation could still function if they were true. There are some top-secret files that don't exist in our version of the Foundation, but the surface appearance to an outside observer would be the same.

“An outside observer, like a civilian author," says Morisato.

“Exactly." Sethwi nods. "Again - what does this imply?”

“That the database contains both fiction and nonfiction,” guesses Northrop. “Or… perhaps that it's a compilation of information from alternate realities, created realities.”

“Unfortunately,” says Sethwi, “We suspect it's the latter. Is everyone following? Alright.

"Obviously, this complicates our actions. Fortunately, we have some architecture in which to frame this: the standard Foundation precedent for Multiple-Universe scenarios.”

She knows the precedent, of course; Morisato and Knight know, Northrop all but wrote the precedent, but only Brannovich - ironically for his role, the only one obviously having a crisis - says it out loud. “Every man for himself.".

Then he sits up, eyes brightening. "So we coordinate. The Prisoner's Dilemma -”

“We can't interact with the other worlds, so, no, unless I'm missing something. If we're lucky, we might be able to cooperate.”

He sighs. "Survival comes first. There's still the possibility of being able to coordinate with other versions of ourselves - if other Foundations can be trusted to react in a certain way, we might be able to force a specific outcome."

“Maybe,” Sethwi says, hesitantly. “But… Recall that we're not free actors here. It's possible that we'll find ourselves unable to come to any conclusions here with significant impact on our world, or its structure. True change might not be possible. It might not be allowed. If it is, the most I imagine we could impact is any immediately similar branches. The number of deviations is… It's established. I can work on a long-term plan, but…”

“But the standard precedent hasn't failed us so far,” Brannovich says.

Knight snorts and mutters something under her breath that sounds like "anthropic bias".

Brannovich doesn't seem to hear it. He continues: “I suppose we need to stabilize our timeline first. Or… whatever this is. I suppose multiverse theory does't quite describe it. Nonetheless, the similarity is there. Survival comes first. Cooperation is second.”

Sethwi nods. “What do you recommend?”

“I'd have to run some simulations.” He frowns in thought. “I'm not brushed up on my game theory. And I'd have to talk to the Committee. Out of curiosity, have you checked…” He pauses, looking around, mentally trying to match faces with personnel records.

“Oh, cut it, Hans,” says Knight. “Anyone who knows enough to be in this room has been operating outside of security clearances for long enough.”

Brannovich nods, accepting it. “Have you checked the Solid Archive?”

“I did, two years ago," says Sethwi. "It was very helpful.”

“And?”

“Hold up,” says Morisato. “Sethwi, you didn't tell me about this. Before you wind up needing to take me out back with an armed information security specialist - and this is my meeting, so that would be rude - I don't know what the Solid Archive is. Is it the same thing they call “The Oracle” back at the Svalbard Site?”

“I would imagine so,” says Northrop. “Often times the Foundation stumbles across information that's useful to certain parties, under certain circumstances, but is dangerous to have around all the time, if you follow me. The Solid Archive is a way of making that information available when its time comes. If researchers dig something up they want to put back in the ground, they can put what they know in the Archive's data banks, and set parameters for its unveiling. Future researchers can put information they find into the Archive, and if the parameters match, learn what's been learned about it in the past.”

“What's to stop new researchers from just letting the info out again?”

“Ordinarily,” says Northrop, “to put something in the Archive in the first place, one has a very clear and understandable reason. And researchers in a position to know about the Archive generally have a little common sense.”

“I see.” Morisato nods. “So what did you learn?”

“First of all,” says Sethwi. “We're not the first one to find this. Once we put the data in, a few files in the Archive came loose. They indicate that close to a decade ago, another group of researchers found out. Did what we're doing now. What they tried, as a solution, was… to restructure the Foundation's workings. Subtly. They kept containment, research, the building blocks, but changed the mortar between them. Hold on, let me think - it was a very novel idea.” She flips through a Filofax of tidily ciphered notes.

“Here. They did an overhaul of the Foundation's personnel departments on a massive scale. Rearranged it so that high-risk, central positions, and especially high-volume site personnel - Site 19, 17 - had more unstable personalities that were more reactive with each other, while also minimizing actual affects of this on the Foundation's critical operations. Most of us will recall that the records took a weird turn around this era. Well, now we know why.”

“Make them argue? How did that help?”

Sethwi shakes her head. “It wasn't just arguing, Agent. There was… romance, and conflict.” She looks around. “Low stakes conflict.

“Oh, my god,” says Brannovich softly, after a few minutes. “They were trying to change the genre.

Sethwi nods. “And it worked, for a while. There were… fewer deaths. Less suffering. It's not the kind of trend anyone's looked for on a large scale before, but psychological reports listed fewer mental illnesses developing in staff. Working for the Foundation would have been noticeably more pleasant a few years ago. Then, for some reason, that changed.”

“…They made… more pain and death. Is that what you're saying?” Knight's voice is strained.

“Apparently.”

“I…” Her paper coffee cup crinkles in her hand. “What are we dealing with? Because that sounds right.” She clenches her teeth and puts the cup down. “The first time I saw someone die, it was three years ago. We lost four sites in a year. I saw an entire MTF - ”

“You have to understand,” Sethwi cuts in, murmuring gently. “From what we understand - they probably don't know we exist, in any real sense. They don't think we have subjective experience, or sensory capacity, any more than a character in a book. For whatever reason, tormenting us is… better, in a narrative sense.”

“For them.”

“Obviously for them. Yes.”

Knight sighs. “They're murderers, you know? For any moral system in which loss of life or suffering is wrong, they're evil - thousands of us have died, millions more from the impacts of SCP objects overall. The overworld doesn't seem to have any of that. They don't even understand."

Northrop speaks up. "I believe I see a possibility."

"Go on," says Morisato.

"We're one shard among a vast number represented in H-716's fictional database," Northrop starts.

Sethwi nods. “I've been thinking on similar lines. I think it's very promising. If we use the precedent, then it might be possible to seal off our splinter - end our role in their stories, so to speak. Nothing may change, but at the least, we can likely stop it from getting worse. I'm talking about a direct appeal to the creators.

"And… Actually, that's the reason I recommended we hold this meeting.”

“What?” Morisato asks. Her voice trills at the end of the word. Whaaat. Around the table, Brannovich, Knight, and Northrop clearly aren't expecting this either. “What do you mean?”

“Well…" says Sethwi. "…There's very little precedent for this anywhere, but we can follow simple reasoning. It's interesting if one group in your fictional world knows that the world is fictional. It's not interesting - this can be tested, there's a cliche, you run out of material quickly - if everyone knows. Therefore, even with a lot of authors and an even larger number of splinter universes, there are probably only a small number of authors, writing a small number of worlds, in which the Foundation becomes aware of its true nature.”

She stands up. “I called this meeting, with all of you in particular, because none of our names appear in the shared archive - or, actually, the Senior Staff member who recommended I hold this meeting, did. She gave me the list. This way, we're not bringing anything to their table, and we can talk without preconceived notions.”

“I'm sorry,” says Northrop, “Whose table? The one who recommended that you-”

“No, Doctor. What I mean is, it's possible that a creator is looking at what we're saying, right now. Which means, unfortunately, this is turning into a personal appeal.”

Sethwi tucks her hands into her skirt pocket, and straightens her back. Her expression is inscrutable.

Everyone else sits stone still, straddling various points on the line between garden-variety incomprehension and pure muscle-melting existential terror.

“I know you don't mean it,” Sethwi says, apparently to nothing. “But we have consciousness, we have thought - even if it's not quite independent - and memory, and personality. And we feel pain, and loss, in what I believe is the same way you do. I don't know why you do it - but you should know what it's doing to us. What we want you to do, we, the unique inhabitants of your world, is to leave us alone. Or even fix what you've done already."

She looks at her colleagues. “This shouldn't just be me,. Does anyone else want to say anything? It's possible that this is the only chance you'll have in the spotlight - so to speak - and, well. I think this will be more powerful.”

Silence passes around the room. Finally, Katy Knight talks into the air.

“I know this is ridiculous. … You probably don't put any value on my life, or any of our lives, in particular. Especially if we're not your favorites. Which actually makes it easier to say this. You don't even know it, but you're all monsters. You're awful people. You're… sick fucks. We've lost so much because of you. And you have the chance to make things right again. Here, now, for us. I don't know how. But you do. You can do it.” She drops her gaze, exhales, and leans back into her seat. “There's an experiment for you, Yasmeen. If I get struck by lightning tomorrow, we'll know we were right.”

Knight's gaze softens into the distance. Morisato studies her.

Brannovich glances around, then stands up to speak. “I think I'd just like to say, whoever you are, if you're listening… Thank you.” He didn't look at any of the faces around him. “I know I've seen terrible things - I think about terrible things all the time, that's my job - and I know there's so much suffering in the world. Your world is full of it too.

“But my life has been… alright, really, overall. And maybe I just don't understand it yet, but it could have been worse. I didn't have to exist. You're not doing it for our benefit, of course. But none of us would be here without you. And I imagine that… while you may not have realized it… You've had a little compassion along the way. So thank you for that.” He sits down. He doesn't meet anyone's eyes.

“Alright,” says Sethwi, “Anyone else?”

General silence.

“Then… I think that's it.” She exhales deeply. “Now, I had a couple of other ideas to discuss. If you'll all refer to your codebooks. There are some unusual containment implications involving…”


It's exactly nine PM, the designated end time of the meeting. Sethwi has a flight in an hour and a half. She packs her briefcase, nods to the others, and whisks out, promising to keep in touch.

Brannovich shakes her hand, and departs after her. His next task is to assemble his notes to determine which parts would be appropriate to send to the Committee, and which would be too sensitive or unhelpful. Knight slips out after him to ask about a side project he'd worked on at his previous site.

“He's the real sacrificial goat,” Northrop laughs dryly, after Brannovich leaves. “If Hans leaves out anything important, he'll be the only one who knows.”

“Would you like to do it instead?” Morisato looks up from her notes. Her eyes twinkle.

“God no. Thank you for the moderation, Hotaru. I believe I'm going to go into town and indulge in a little, ah… controlled incomprehension, and pretend that'll help.”

“Enjoy yourself,” says Morisato. “If you can catch Sethwi, maybe she'll delay her flight - she doesn't normally drink at work but I hear she'll make exceptions.”

“I might just do that.” Northrop nods. “I'll see you around, won't I?”

“Never fear, Doctor.” Morisato agrees. “You and your prodigious vocabulary always have a place on my Words with Friends list.”

"'Prodigious'. I'll have to use that." Northrop chuckles, and leaves.

Finally, Hotaru Morisato stands up, alone in the room. She rearranges the chairs, and carefully cleans off the whiteboard before stepping out herself. She locks the door behind her. After the cleaners hit it, it will be impossible to tell who was inside. Only a few people and a few select departments will ever know that the meeting has happened, let alone who was there. or what was discussed.

Katy Knight is waiting in the hallway, leaning against the wall, looking at her cell phone and tapping on it with glittering silver nails. She looks up, then puts the phone away as Hotaru moves closer.

“I thought you were going to your room?” Hotaru asks.

“I'm planning to,” says Katy. “I just wanted to make sure you were alright. It's hard to tell with you.”

“I'm… managing. It's a lot to take in. What about you?”

Katy sighs, and shrugs. “What can I say? I didn't know what Yasmeen was going to break out there. I mean… from a reductionist approach, free will never made sense anyways. And I'm a scientist. I gathered that. But it was never quite so apparent, as now.”

“I know what you mean,” says Hotaru. “I didn't see it coming either, in all of our research. It's such a… powerless feeling.” She glances at Katy.

Katy nods. “Like looking at writing on the wall, and not knowing what it says.” She pauses. “I'm going to my room.”

“Alright,” says Hotaru.

“Would you like to come with me?” asks Katy.

Hotaru's face heats up.

“It's just,” says Katy, “I know it can be hard to be alone after these things, and… Well, no, it's not just that. I've gotten to know you these last two months. I don't know what site I'm moving to after this. I don't know what I'm doing next or how it'll compare to anything as important as this. But I know you, and your devotion, and how you believe in me, and how you ordered me a new computer as soon as I got here because you couldn't handle the thought of me being inconvenienced by a broken screen. You have a lot of heart in you, Hotaru."

Hotaru bites her lip, nods slightly. Her mouth works silently, trying out words. Finally, she looks up. “Dr. Knight. I want you to think rationally about this. You're visiting this site for a short stay. Guest quarters suck. I'm certain my room has a nicer bathroom.”

Katy lets out a big breath. They both grin, then break into incredulous giggles at each other.

“I'll defer to your expert judgement,” says Katy, regaining her composure, in civilized tones.

They set off down the corridor. Katy's heels click on linoleum. After a quiet elevator ride, they arrive in the dimly-lit halls of the residential floor at night. Katy looks over.

“I'm sorry - is this too forward of me?”

Hotaru swallows. “No, I'm only thinking. These creators, or whoever's really running the show. The only reason we even exist is because they want to be entertained. And they don't know we're real, or conscious anyways, but here we are. I'm sure Sethwi was right - if we let them pass us over, we'll be happier. But I can't help but think that they made us with a purpose. It would be right to do more. Not to just live safely, but to… to keep the story going. To give them the best tale possible.” She looks up.

Katy meets her gaze, face compassionate but eyes hard and blazing. "No, Hotaru. Listen.

"They put us here without our permission. They never told us what they want, or offered us equality. We don't owe them anything. Right? It doesn't matter if they think we're real, or not. This building, us here, time passing, the two of us… This is real. It's real to us. They can't change it.”

She swallows. “This is our story, and we don't owe them that.”

Hotaru nods, glancing down, then boldly extends her hand. Katy looks down, and takes it. Time seems to slow. Hotaru takes detailed mental notes of lacquered silver nails sliding over the skin of her palms, of bony fingers folding around hers and squeezing gently.

Hotaru suddenly finds it impossible to doubt Katy's words. She finds also, unbidden, that her mind is flying down new pathways.

She lets go of the hand, and slides her arm around Katy's waist instead. “I hope you brought a tooth brush,” she murmurs.

Katy's lip curls up.

And they all lived happily ever after.

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