Fear Alone
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The two doctors stood side by side in the tiny room, facing the locked door on the other side of the one they had just entered through. The elder of the two quietly flipped through a number of pages in a leather-bound journal, while the younger anxiously adjusted and readjusted and made sure not to lock his knees. The light here seemed brighter, the younger might have noted, the air thick with something foreboding, had his mind not been racing through the millions of scenarios that might await him on the other side of the door. He had tried at conversation with the elder doctor earlier, but his nervousness had broken through and his voice had cracked, and the other man had raised an eyebrow and returned to his notes.

It was as if an eternity had passed before they finally heard a voice crackle over the speakers in the room. Dr. Vandivier, the elder, raised an eyebrow yet again as Dr. Montgomery, the younger, jumped at the sound.

"Please state your name as it appears in the Foundation personnel database, and submit your Level 4 Foundation identification number and passcode." The voice spoke clearly, its tone indicating a lifetime of repetition.

Dr. Vandivier coughed slightly, and spoke. "Dr. Gregory Arnold Vandivier. Identification number 4511-12894-19-055. Passcode, 18840-12884-19078-00004."

There was the slightest of hesitations before the voice cut through again, asking the same of Montgomery. The elder doctor looked over to him, something akin to sympathy momentarily crossing his eyes. "Relax," he spoke softly. "Just recite the number."

Montgomery swallowed, took a deep breath, and recited his own information. "Dr. Anderson Dean Montgomery. Identification number 9280-27112-17-054. Passcode-" A brief instance of doubt struck him, but passed when he saw Dr. Vandivier's reassuring nod. "16738-17489-13782-00004."

Both men stood silently again, the last of Montgomery's words hanging in the air. Another brief pause, another eternity, and then the door in front of them clicked.

"Enter, Dr. Vandivier and Dr. Montgomery."

The sliding panel moved quietly into the wall, and a dull wave of stale, recycled air passed over them. Montgomery was reminded of his time practicing within a prison, where every breath of the men in isolation hung around them like a shroud. The memory caused him to falter briefly, while Dr. Vandivier moved through the entrance.

"Come along, now," he said over his shoulder. "We've not much further to go."

The two walked in silence down the long, white hallway. There were cameras every 50 feet, or so Montgomery had been told. The floor below them was tile, and every step echoed off of the walls around them, announcing their arrival like an army of tiny drummers. As the temperature dropped slightly, Montgomery could feel beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck, persistent in nature despite the chill.

Ahead of them was a set of double doors. To the side of the doors was a brass information plaque, like the dozens of others across the site. As they approached it, the etching on the plaque became visible, causing Montgomery's throat to catch.

Item #: SCP-231-7

Object Class: Keter

Vandivier was unfazed, and quickly pushed through to the other side. Montgomery gave a moment of pause to take a deep breath, and then did the same. The scene on other side of the doors was fairly quiet, with a number of doctors standing around various displays looking at readouts and information that was being processed on the machines behind them. There was an air of solemnity about all of them, and the gravity of the room struck Montgomery like a ton of bricks. A clock on the wall read 19:45 in bright red numerals, and another to the side was counting down to zero.

A tall man in a white jacket noticed the two men, and strode quickly across to greet them. He shook Vandivier's hand first and exchanged some hushed words, then turned to Montgomery to do the same.

"Good evening, Dr. Montgomery," he said, his expression unwavering behind a bushy grey mustache. "Oliver Targus, a pleasure to meet you."

Montgomery met the handshake. "The same."

Dr. Targus walked him over to a series of consoles displaying medical information and vitals statistics. "Dr. Montgomery, this is your workstation here. I'll give you an opportunity to check out the sensors in a little bit, and see if you want to make any adjustments." He pointed over towards a side screen, which showed a video feed of an empty white room. "This is the video display for the procedure room. We don't keep staff members in the room during the procedure, so this will be your eyes and ears throughout. That look alright?"

Montgomery nodded. He peered at the screens, observed the information about heart rate and EEG readouts, and for a moment felt comfortable. This was his element, his wheelhouse.

But then his eyes flicked to a screen containing a live ultrasound feed, and his own heart rate began to accelerate. He turned quickly to avoid letting his nerves show. "This looks just fine. What else am I going to be required to do?"

Dr. Targus smiled briefly, and then led him over to a large observation window. The window sat above a white room, the same room from the video feed, he imagined. A single door was on the side of the room to his right. He looked across the way, and saw other doctors and researchers standing on the other side of the command room looking in through the observation window on their side. Montgomery wondered what they were all here to do. He decided it probably wasn't worth thinking about.

"Here in a few minutes, we're going to begin the procedure. Once it gets started, it progresses pretty quickly, so you'll have to keep your wits about you with those monitors. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it to Dr. Brunell, over there."

He pointed across the room to a female doctor with shoulder length blonde hair, who herself was going over a packet of notes with another short male doctor. "She's in charge of medical stability, and she'll be just outside of the observation room during the procedure. You'll be able to page her at your station, and she'll be your primary contact for other tasks on this assignment." Montgomery looked up after a moment, and noticed Dr. Targus staring at him.

"I understand your anxiety, Dean." He smiled slightly again. "We were all like you at one point. But understand the importance of our task, here, and perform your job with the excellence that brought you here. Everything will be fine."

Montgomery nodded, and swallowed. "Thank you, doctor. Just reassignment nerves, you know." He tried to get a weak smile out, but felt it falter on his lips.

Just then, a tone buzzed through the command room, followed by the same calm voice from the entrance hall. "Warning: Procedure 110-Montauk will begin in five minutes. All personnel, please report to your stations."

Targus patted Montgomery on the back. "Relax, doctor. I think you'll find this assignment isn't so bad." With that, the tanned doctor walked off to a station across the command room. Montgomery paused for a moment more to look down into the observation room, where a group of nurses in white scrubs were rolling a small bed through the now-open door.

After a few seconds, he moved quickly to his station. Taking his seat, his eyes moved immediately to the video screen, and he watched the nurses setting up the rest of the room. A rug had been moved into the room, as well as a small table next to the bed, a lamp, and some bedding. Montgomery felt his stomach drop slightly, and then looked again towards the clock above the observation window. It read 19:59, and the one next to it 00:24. It was almost time.

The screens in front of him hummed softly, and the information contained within pushed on tirelessly. He made a few notes and opened a booklet of information he had brought with him, and then heard the last tone.

"All staff personnel: Procedure 110-Montauk has begun."

He turned to look at the clock again, and noticed that large metal plates had slid down over the observation windows, obscuring the room from view. Looking back to his video feed, he saw that the lights within the room had dimmed, and the only illumination that remained was the lamp on the table. The door on the wall slid open again, and two more nurses walked out. A small girl was between them.

She was no older than 8, Montgomery thought, and did not look exactly like he had thought she might. Her hair was cut very short, barely a highlight against her olive skin. She moved awkwardly, and it was then he noticed her stomach. It bulged against the surgical gown she wore, and turned her steps into an awkward, plodding gait. The nurses guided her towards the bed, and helped her up into it. One of them adjusted her pillow, and the other tucked in the blankets. Finished, one of the nurses leaned down and said something to the little girl, and then joined the other before exiting the room. Montgomery thought this peculiar, and wondered if anybody else in the room had noticed it.

He looked up as another voice crackled across the intercom. He recognized it as Dr. Targus, and saw him standing towards the center of the room, watching a series of screens before him. "SCP-231-7 is in place. Is the D-Class personnel ready?" There was a silence, and then, "Ok. Open the door, release the subject."

Turning back to his feed, Montgomery watched as a dark-skinned man in a standard Foundation grey jumpsuit walked slowly through the open doorway. As the door slid shut behind him, the man turned slightly and Montgomery saw that he had something in his hand. He squinted, trying to get a better look at it, but it was obscured when the man turned back towards the little girl in the bed. With every step he took towards the center of the observation room, the hairs on the back of Montgomery's neck grew ever higher, and he could feel his blood pounding through his veins, screaming against them for release.

"D-55318," he heard Dr. Targus say, distantly. "You may begin."

Montgomery could not look away. His eyes would not allow it, although his mind clawed desperately towards something, anything else. The D-Class moved next to the bedside, and the small girl with the swollen belly looked up at him, naive to her impending fate, and smiled. Montgomery choked back a cry, but stopped suddenly when he saw the D-Class move a stool that had been hidden behind the little table up to the bedside. The man sat down, and through the mics within the observation room, he heard the man speak.

"Hello again, Katherine," he said, his voice soft. "I brought you a new one tonight, it's called Goodnight Moon. Is that ok?"

The little girl nodded vigorously, and clutched a stuffed rabbit up next to her. The D-Class opened the book he had been holding, and began to read.

Montgomery could not move. He could not breathe. His eyes darted wildly around the room, trying to find another person as incredulous as he. He found none, as no one else had turned from their monitors at all. Everybody else in the room was going about their business as usual, making notes, speaking softly into their headsets. Even Dr. Targus had not budged, and if anything Montgomery might have said he looked bored.

He turned back towards his displays, and tried to make notes about variations in her pulse, blood pressure, skin temperature, but couldn't pull his eyes away from the video feed. The D-Class continued to read through the book, bringing his voice up only slightly to emphasize certain passages.

This continued on for ten minutes, though to Montgomery it might as well have been a lifetime. He listened to every word, his mind racing. This is not what it was supposed to be. What's happening? What is this? He called back to when he first heard that he was being assigned to SCP-231. He remembered how his coworkers at Site-81 had talked, and tried to console him, told him that it wouldn't be too bad after the post-assignment amnestic treatment. He had heard the things that they said about 231, about the convicted sex-offenders required for the containment protocols, about what they did to the little girl…

That was not happening. The man looked hard, yes, and Montgomery could believe he was a felon. But he spoke easily, and had not once touched 231-7. He simply continued to read, all the while looking up occasionally at the little girl. She was moments from sleep, and before the D-Class had finished the book, she had passed out completely. The man laid the book down, stood up, rubbed the sleeping child's head slightly, and then walked out of the room. The lamp within the observation chamber dimmed, and the lights in the command room came back up. There was a buzz of approval around him, and when Montgomery finally managed to pull his eyes away from the screen, he saw that the other staff members were finishing up procedure reports, signing the necessary documents, typing away at their computers, and otherwise not panicking. Montgomery spun quickly as he felt somebody come up behind him, and sighed when he realized it was just Dr. Targus.

The old man smiled again. "How are you, doctor? Did you notice any abnormalities with the subject?"

Montgomery grabbed his notebook and began flipping through it. "Uh, I- no. No abnormalities, nothing except, uh… except-" He trailed off.

"…Except that Procedure 110-Montauk was not what you were anticipating it to be."

The young doctor nodded. Targus pulled up a chair and sat down next to him. "Well, it's usually our policy to debrief new assignments, and if you hadn't been called down here on such short notice, we might have gotten a chance to. The secrecy of this project is paramount, however, so it really isn't that bad, I guess." He coughed. "I'm sure you have some questions."

Montgomery hesitated, and them stammered out a reply. "It, uh, why does- I've heard that it's, you know, that they-"

"Rape her?" Targus said, stone-faced. "Yes, that's certainly what we've designed the documentation to imply. That would be about as bad as it could get, wouldn't it? A brutal sex crime against a child?" Montgomery didn't move. "Yes, it would be terrible. Deplorable beyond forgiveness. But that is not what Procedure 110-Montauk is, doctor."

He leaned back. "Early on in containment of the 231 subjects we did terrible things to those poor girls. Not as terrible as that, but we were being advised only by a handful of occultists we had been able to capture and extract information from. That was what they had done to contain the demon, and because of that, it's what we had to do. I was not on the project then, and understandably many of those doctors- most of them, in fact, are no longer with us, as are 231-1 through -6. It was because of our failings that they perished, and it was because of their deaths that we realized that we had to do something different."

"Gods very rarely are bound by the laws of physics, you know. Reality benders can shape the world around us at will, turn existence into their plaything. But everything has rules, Dr. Montgomery." He leaned in close. "Even gods have rules. Old laws, yes. Arcane, but effective. We began to look more closely into information we had gathered about the Scarlet King, about the entity itself. Within all of those documents, all of the collected material we had at our disposal, and discovered something else."

He leaned back again. "The demon does not need to be contained by horrifying, disgusting acts, Montgomery. The demon only needs to believe that horrifying, disgusting acts are being done in its name. The documentation we created, the terrible rumors about Procedure 110-Montauk, the reports of suicide by the doctors working on this project, all of it. It's all a charade. All of it is to convince the demon that we are doing the worst thing possible to this girl. These procedures, this campaign of fear, has allowed us to sow dread into the hearts of Foundation personnel, and this dread satisfies the monster."

"As long as so many people believe we are doing terrible things, the monster will continue to believe we are doing terrible things. There is power in symbols, doctor. The old gods know this, and the old gods are bound by it. The Scarlet King does not have eyes to see brutality, does not have ears to hear screams, does not have a nose to smell blood. But the Scarlet King can sense fear, and we have given it fear. Fear alone is all that it ever required."

The old doctor stopped and closed his eyes. Both men sat in silence as a number of other researchers filed past them into the hallway outside of the command room. Once most of them had passed, Montgomery spoke up.

"And the reading? The bedtime stories?"

Targus nodded. "Katherine cannot sleep without a bedtime story. How she manages to sleep at all is a wonder to me, but an act of some kind was required to convince the demon. In the eyes of the Scarlet King, Dr. Montgomery," he said, "reading those bedtime stories is the worst possible thing we could be doing to her."

Montgomery nodded, understanding dawning on him. He glanced back towards the steel plated observation room windows. "The steel plates, though? Not keeping staff members in the room?"

Targus opened his eyes. "The danger is still real, doctor. Loss of containment of SCP-231-7 will likely result in an XK. We have precautions in place, woven into the theater of Procedure 110-Montauk. Do not think the way we contain this demon makes it any less dangerous. Indeed, it is likely the most dangerous entity we have managed to contain, but… there are things that we will not do, Montgomery. There are things too abhorrent, and even implying such makes me feel filthy. But if implying is all we have to do, well. I can sleep at night."

Another doctor came up to Targus, and with a brief farewell the doctor hurried off to attend to some other part of the room. Montgomery sat quietly for a time, thinking everything over. He turned to look at the video feed screen, where the little girl was sleeping soundly in her bed, stuffed rabbit tucked between her arms. The young doctor felt the anxiety there, but beneath it was something else. The dread had vanished, but the fear remained, quiet and looming.

He turned off the monitors, gathered his notes, and left the room.

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