Factored Obsolescence
rating: +21+x

Dr. Sinclair opened her remaining good eye with some care, but ultimately the difference to her vision was negligible. The room in which she found herself was dark, and large enough to prevent her from seeing the walls. If she focused, she could just about see a pinprick of light off in the distance, but with no perspective clues it could have been anything from a doorway to a star.

She shifted her weight, and immediately regretted it — her flesh felt raw and tender, heavy and wet against the concrete. If she was wearing clothes they were ragged and blood-soaked, and clung too closely to her body to tell. She began to cough, and heard it echo through the warm, still air. Wrenching herself onto her side, she felt something hard slide up and out of her throat, bouncing a little way across the ground before coming to a rest.

She reached for the thing — square and plastic and familiar — and squinted to examine it. Whatever she'd crawled away from was providing just enough light to be slightly better than useless, and with a little bit of effort she could make out the lettering.

esc

She fell to the floor again, exhausted from the effort, and let her mind relax. Within minutes she was unconscious once more.


What had happened? Well, she'd been stupid, obviously, way too proud of her work, but besides that… who knows. Alarm malfunction, probably. Might not even have been anomalous. In any case, her supervising team had all followed the fire evacuation procedure, and she'd been left alone in th- the place, conducting the survey on her own. It had gone dark before she knew what had happened, and the next thing she saw was some kind of oversized study. All the shelves were empty, too. Why she remembered that over everything else she couldn't say, but she did. It was a study the size of a banquet hall, and all the shelves were empty.

She reached out her hand for a light switch, and some vaguely canine desk lamp had grasped her around the neck. All four legs had been bulbs — lit bulbs — and she'd almost screamed as it burned through her jacket. Instead she gritted her teeth, ripped it off, and dashed its carved wooden skull along the wall. Its mangled head started screaming, somehow, and didn't stop for… for…

Anyway, the rest of it was a blur. She'd faded in and out of consciousness, and her existence day by day had been a kind of prolonged, torpid nightmare. Individual memories had been suppressed and bottled, squished up in that dark space at the back of her mind.

She could remember the clock though.

It hung from the ceiling like a bat, faces angled towards her as she lay bleeding on the desk, funnel scraping down her oesophagus. It never touched her, thank God, but it was an ever-present feature of that place. She got into the habit of tracking the time, the phases of the moon, anything and everything it showed her.

It was a kind of game. She'd count under her breath, and the one with a toaster for a head would cut her until she was screaming the numbers like a war cry. The sun never moved, but the numbers did.

For six years.


"When does the world go beautiful?"

"No no, don't be stupid. Use an older one."

"Oh, right. Uh, does the black moon howl?"

She felt her mouth move wordlessly as the memetic identification phrase pushed its way past her lips, silent confirmation that she belonged to the Foundation.

"She's ours, yeah." A pause. "Better be quick with her, too. Doesn't look like she's got long left."

"I'll get her legs, you get her shoulders."

Katherine gurgled, and the people hauling her onto the stretcher paused. She tried again.

"I…"

"Please, don't try to talk. You've damaged your throat quite badly."

Nevertheless.

"I… I was…"

Again.

"I was… was in…"

Once more, you stubborn thing you.

"I was in Germany…"

The two men looked at one another, then at the Thaumaturgist's mangled frame. Silently, they laid her on the stretcher, and she suddenly felt very, very tired.


Item #: SCP-2856

Abridged Description: A large warehouse formerly located on the outskirts of Leipzig, Germany, formerly owned by █████ Industrial. When any human is alone within the structure, they will be transported to an extradimensional location resembling a farmhouse, inhabited by an indeterminate number of semi-mechanical entities. Occasionally, a subject will be returned, severely modified to resemble one or several common home appliances.

Status: In permanent storage.


"So, ToasterHead — can I call you ToasterHead?"

The master of the house remained facing away from her. Just outside her peripheral vision, Sinclair's personal tormentor (something wiry, headless, and bristling with static) gibbered and chittered away. She ploughed on.

"Anyway, ah, ToasterHead. Why do you do this? Enjoyment, obviously, I can tell that you enjoy it-" Her eyes darted momentarily to where the study's previous occupant lay, ribcage open and smouldering slightly. "-but is it really fulfilling?"

ToasterHead stopped, and turned slowly, metal face glinting in the permanent evening. It cocked its head to one side, and (despite not having the features to express with) gave off an impression of temporary curiosity. 'I am intrigued', its immutable visage said. 'Entertain me.'

Emboldened, she ploughed on. "Don't you ever think that there might be more to life? Or, um, existence? I'm still not sure how you work. But, uh, there might be more than just cutting people up and, ah, rearranging them, I mean. Not that that's a bad thing! You're very good at it! But I think there could be something you're… missing."

Katherine hadn't had cause to flutter her eyelashes before, and she gave off the overall impression of a camel in a sandstorm, but to her relief it seemed to work. ToasterHead cocked a metaphorical eyebrow and strode forward, knife swinging at its hips. The tap-tap-tap of its wooden feet on the tiled kitchen floor set her teeth on edge, and she took a deep breath. Just a couple steps more.

Three.

The creature crossed the threshold into the study.

Two.

It entered the thaumaturgic bubble she'd spent the past two months conjuring and reinforcing.

One.

It got within striking range.

"Eat magic, you bread-burning toaster-ass sadistic motherfucker!"

For a moment, the world was filled with light and the scent of burnt hair. Katherine felt eight weeks of stored energy loose from her arm, burning as purple flames crackled across the sigils carved there. It was old magic, and definitely forbidden, but contained, in a beam the width of a dime, the stored energy of a runaway freight train.

As the smoke cleared she fell forward in her restraints, filling the silence with hacking coughs. After thirty seconds rest, she lifted her head up to survey the carnage.

Oh no.

Oh no no no.

She hadn't even seen it move. One moment it was curled up muttering in the corner, the next it was between her and her target, taking the full brunt of the blast to its chest. It bent down towards her, plastic bubbling and oozing down its front. She gagged on the fumes, and stared with watery eyes as it lifted its single wireframe arm towards her. Purple electricity flickered on its fingertips; as it raked its hand down her chest, it was all she could do not to scream.


Beep beep.

Beep beep.

Beep beep.

"Doctor?"

Beep beep.

"Doctor Sinclair, can you hear me?"

Beep beep.

"Katherine?"

A grunt. Not a word, or even the suggestion of one, but a grunt that said 'I hear you, and I was sleeping, so it better be worth my time'. The other doctor, the non-sorcerer one, smiled.

"Hello, Katherine. My boys tell me you were down in the hangar. They found you in quite a state, or so I hear."

"Grfgghdt."

"You've been out of it for a good few days. Take your time."

"Get fucked."

"Now, is that the thanks I get for saving your life?"

Katherine opened her eyes for the first time, and squinted in the light. Bent over her was a friendly old man in a white coat. He looked familiar.

"Where-"

"Hospital. Foundation-owned, so don't worry, you're among friends here. Our records are hazy, but according to our records you've been stuck inside twenty-eight fifty-six for a… long time."

"Yeah, I- oh fuck, I have, haven't I. I-" Tears began to fall from her eyes unbidden, hot and wet. "Oh fuck, sorry. I- sorry."

"No no, don't be. I can't even begin to imagine what you've been through. If you need a minute, a day, a week, whatever you want, it's yours. We're just happy to have you back."

The memories poured into her head like metal in a mould, searing through her mind. She shivered, although the ward was well-heated and her gown was comfortable, and she was astounded by how distant it all seemed. How unreal. Like a dream, or more accurately a nightmare. A long, long nightmare. She managed a grin.

"No, no, I should be happy, right? I'm out, aren't I? Still-" Shiver "-still alive? Even if it took me s- six years. I got out in the end."

She tracks the movement of the doctor's face. She was never good at reading people, but she knew embarrassment when she saw it.

"What's the matter?"

"I- I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. We knew the farmhouse could keep people alive, but we never considered…"

She sat up in her bed, despite the cacophony of protests from her spine. Absently, she rubbed the network of scars along her right arm where they must have dug out the USB ports. The world around her grew cold, and distant.

"When…"

The doctor answered by pulling the ward's curtains aside. In front of them — or rather, beneath them — was the surface of the Earth. More scarred and worn than she knew it, but infinitely recognisable. He turned back. She could place, now, where she knew him from.

"Yes, I'm- I'm Dr. Reynolds. Dr. Ewan Reynolds. I believe you knew my grandfather. I'm so sorry. I didn't think… none of us thought…"

But she wasn't listening any more. She was transfixed on the view from the window, on the rest of the ward's empty beds, on anything but the man in front of her. She falls back, and stares at the ceiling. Doctor Reynolds was babbling now.

"Time dilation, memory alteration, some kind of combination of the two… oh god, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, we didn't think… It's been so long, 2856 was just another architectural anomaly in the storage hangar, nobody expected anybody else to come out… we sent in a comatose patient every few years to check it was still functioning as normal, but…"

He catches the look in her eye. "Somewhere between one and three hundred years. Our records are fairly incomplete, what with everything that's happened, and we really can't be more precise than that."

She begins to shudder again, and feels the bile rise into her throat. The doctor places his hand on hers, but retreats when she attempts to pull it away. She doesn't do human contact, not really. She's not a 'hug and hold hands' kind of woman. But then again, of course, he couldn't be expected to know that. Nobody could be expected to know that. Her vision swims, decorating the room with blurry duplicates of the view from the window. A hundred Earths look back at her, stoic and unimpressed.

The Doctor edges towards the door. "I'm sorry, I'm being so insensitive, it's just, people from that far back, it's- it's unheard of, really. Oh god, I'm sorry. I- I thought you'd been told. I didn't think. I'll- I'll leave you to get some rest, yes? Yes, um. Let you get- get acclimatised."

He wipes his nose, apologises once more, and ducks out of the room, turning off the lights as he goes. The only sounds left are Katherine's own breathing, the whirr of the air conditioning (now, she knows, the air supply), and the soft beep-beep-beep of the machinery stacked beside her, pumping oxygen into her lungs and fresh blood through her veins.

After a while she falls asleep, dreaming of empty shelves and old friends.


This was written as part of the SCP Original Character Tournament, Round One, between my own ToasterHead and Ihp's Dr. Sinclair.

Read Ihp's competing tale here.


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