Immemorial
rating: +69+x

"Ms. Wheeler! Ms. Wheeler!"

Marion Wheeler has just finished a scheduled inspection of SCP-8473 and is about to go for a cigarette. Someone is running up to meet her outside SCP-8473's containment unit. Wheeler recognises her as Dr. Eli Moreno, a trainee field researcher who joined the Antimemetics Division only six months ago.

"Dr. Moreno. Can I help you with something?"

"Uhm." Moreno interlocks her fingers nervously. She is a full head taller than Wheeler and half her age, with scraggly hair and exceedingly thick glasses. She lacks experience. But she is very smart, and she is learning very fast. In another year, she'll be among the best people the Division has, or has ever had, and Wheeler is looking forward to that. Wheeler loves nothing more than competent people.

Still, as the pause lengthens, that day of competence seems to be in the future. "Dr. Moreno, I normally expect my people to get to the point a little quicker than this."

"There's— a stone in the forest behind the Site," Moreno blurts. "It's monumental. It's like a skyscraper, it blots out the Sun. Do you know what I'm talking about?"

"Yes."

"But I've never seen it before. I don't understand how it's possible that I never saw it. It casts a shadow across the whole Site. I mean— Was it always there?"

"Yes."

"Is this because—"

"—you took your first routine dose of ops-grade mnestics this morning, yes."

Moreno seems alarmed. "That's how it works? Something that big can just be right there and we don't see it?"

"Yeah." Wheeler checks her watch, and mentally moves some scheduled commitments around. Extend this "smoke break" to the rest of the afternoon. Leave the scheduled inspection of SCP-3125 where it is. Review promotion cases after the gym instead of before. Evening meal… at this rate, never…

Moreno, suffocating under the weight of follow-up questions, finally asks, "What is it?"

Wheeler gestures to her left, down the corridor, indicating that she is about to walk, and that Moreno should follow her. "I will show you."

*

In the database it's SCP-9429. Moreno hasn't read the entry; she doesn't have access.

The stone is a single, unbroken, 91-by-91-by-147-metre vertical cuboid of ancient, weathered, dark basalt. It sits at a very slight angle, leaning fractionally to the north. Its regular angles clearly mark it as a carved object, a human-made artifact. It rises out of the forest to the east of Site 41 and dominates, not to say obliterates, the views in that direction from the windows of the Site's main block. It is, by volume, massively bigger than the Site itself, even including its underground extents. It looms. It is absolutely unmissable. The idea that anyone could fail to notice it for any period of time is, Wheeler has to admit, more than a little unnerving.

Wheeler leads Moreno up the short forest track to the stone's perimeter, and then right, following its perimeter, in its shadow. It's a wet day, and rain is dripping from the very top edge of the cube as well as from the conifers which grow right up beside it. The rain makes a constant white hiss, deadening other sounds.

"There's a weak antimemetic clouding effect surrounding it," Wheeler explains as she picks her way along the track ahead of Moreno. "To most people it's effectively invisible. You've been up to the top of some of these other hills, I'm sure. You should have seen it clearly from up there, as well, but you looked straight past it. That's normal. There's a related effect which removes people's memories after they've visited the stone. That effect is much stronger. It'll cut right through your mnestic drug regimen, and mine."

"So we'll forget all about this?" Moreno asks.

Wheeler holds up a battered little notebook and a cheap blue ballpoint. Moreno understands; she is carrying a notebook and pen as well. Information suppression is a complicated spectrum. Sometimes a written note is the only thing which will make it out of a zone which suppresses memories, electronic data, radio signals and even audible sound. Alongside the mandatory Foundation-issue "brickphone", many Antimemetics Division operatives habitually carry some combination of an instant camera, a mechanical tape-driven dictaphone, a notebook, a walkie-talkie…

Not that Moreno was expecting to need anything today.

"Of course," Wheeler continues, "one side-effect of the clouding is that I don't exactly remember the way. I guess we could set up sign posts, but somehow it never gets done… not because of antimemetic effects, you understand, just plain laziness… ah, this looks like the way up."

They come to a passage in the side of the stone. In fact it is not a passage but a tremendously deep groove, cut all the way from the top of the cube to its base, a slot with a thin line of overcast sky visible overhead and steps leading up. Wheeler begins to climb and Moreno follows. They climb in silence for some minutes. Moreno stops a few times to write down a note or two, hunching over to shield her notebook from the drizzle. Then she hurries to catch up with Wheeler, who maintains a steady, indifferent pace.

Some time after Moreno has lost count of the steps, the stepped groove makes a ninety-degree turn to the left and continues to ascend. Wheeler stops here, above Moreno, and turns to quiz her.

"What do you have so far?"

"What is this place?" Moreno asks.

"You tell me."

"Uhm." Moreno hesitates for a moment, uncertain where this is going. She checks her notes. "Uhm, well. Geologically speaking, this stone is an alien. At first I thought there had been a mountain on this spot which was excavated into this shape by human hands. But the rock itself is wrong. It's different from the mountains and hills near here. You'd have to travel at least five hundred kilometers to find basalt like this. Which means it must have been excavated elsewhere, maybe carved there, and moved here."

Wheeler says nothing, but her demeanour seems to indicate that Moreno is on the right track.

"Which isn't possible," Moreno continues. "This is a single stone. Judging from its dimensions and density, it must mass north of three million tonnes. That's now, after carving. And that can't be done. Human civilization cannot move objects of this size. Not in a single piece. The technology doesn't exist."

"Correct."

"So how did it get here?"

"Good question."

Moreno waits. She doesn't have the answer to the question, so she waits for Wheeler to supply it.

But Wheeler does not. "What else?"

"…It's been engraved," Moreno says, indicating the walls of the stepped passage. "Using tools. And I noticed the exterior walls are the same. There's a lot of weathering, but here and there between the biological crud there's this very clear, regular pattern. Right here, see? Tiny vertical rectangles. Like a… block cursor on an old computer terminal."

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"Or a tombstone in typography," Wheeler suggests.

Moreno blinks. "…Yes. It's a uniform pattern. Very detailed work, which would require quite good tools even by modern standards. I think this pattern is supposed to cover the entire exterior of the stone. And if that's the case, the blocks are so minuscule and the stone is so large that there must have originally been hundreds of millions of them."

"Correct," Wheeler says again. "Anything else?"

Moreno thinks for a minute. She stares up into the rain, reflecting on the atmosphere that the stone, or sculpture as she supposes it would be better described, projects. Loneliness, quiet, desolation, awe… intimidation. And some fear. Although, with that intimidating, fearful atmosphere, there's no sensation of danger. No threat.

"'We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture,'" she says aloud.

Wheeler hears this, but asks no follow-up question. Apparently satisfied, she turns and continues climbing the steps, and Moreno follows.

The passage makes several more turns, carving out an erratic, squared squiggle. Moreno takes no further notes. Her knees are about ready to explode by the time they reach the top.

They emerge, blinking at the light, on a wet, windswept, slightly slanted plateau. There are more of the tiny tombstone indentations underfoot. The edges of the cube are some distance away but they are not marked; the dark grey surface just ends at a straight line not far out, and the horizon itself is below it, not visible. This gives Moreno some vertigo, particularly since the surface tilts towards one corner, and the engraved basalt underfoot is slick, wet and getting wetter.

There is a small cluster of Foundation scientific equipment up here, chunky weatherproof units stacked up under a canopy. There's a table, with a rugged, beaten-up computer terminal, switched off. Further away is a diesel generator.

Wheeler ignores the equipment and paces away in a different direction, facing away from Moreno and out at the sky, playing with her cigarette lighter, although not actually lighting anything. The lighter is actually a tiny propane burner intended for lighting stoves, given to her by her mother before she died. Wheeler no longer remembers this.

Moreno waits for a while, arms folded for warmth, gradually getting wetter. She doesn't seek cover under the canopy, because Wheeler hasn't. She senses that something is about to happen. Wheeler is normally quite poised and difficult to read, but she looks apprehensive; upset, even. Focused intently on the lighter flame, Wheeler seems to be unable to look her in the eye, as if she doesn't want to push through with the next part of whatever this is actually supposed to be. Orientation? Initiation? Hazing?

What was that about getting to the point?

"It's a memorial," Moreno says.

"Hhn." Wheeler snaps the lighter shut and pockets it, moderately impressed. Only moderately, though. "That's right. Of course, I practically told you that, when I mentioned tombstones—"

"How many Antimemetics Wars have there been?"

That gets her. "Damn. So much for slow-burning theatrics. Someone told you? You read the entry?"

Moreno looks at her shoes. "Uhm. No. Really, I've never seen this place before. I was just guessing."

"You look embarrassed," Wheeler says. "You're embarrassed that you hit the right answer thirty minutes before I was expecting you to. You think you've shown me up. Right? Eli. Look at me."

She looks.

"Keep operating at that level. Don't slow up for my benefit, or anyone's. It's important."

"Will you tell me why we're here?" Moreno asks, for what she hopes will be the final time. And in another part of her mind, a fatal chain of calculations starts.

*

"The problem," Wheeler says, "is that every single person in the world with reliable access to high-grade mnestic medication works for me, here. And the Division is pitifully understaffed. There are forty of us, including you and me, and forty pairs of eyes is not enough. We cannot look at enough of the world at once. There is an appallingly large percentage of the world which no human has ever properly looked at. This is unbearably limiting to all forms of antimemetic research. Antimemetic biology, antimemetic paleontology, antimemetic cosmology, antimemetic archaeology… These disciplines, all of them, barely exist. They are nowhere.

"Nevertheless, we have seen this culture's cities. One or two still exist. Pure dumb luck is how we found them. A Division researcher takes a vacation, drives across Nevada while still on the dose… sees something on the horizon. That sort of thing. The cities are physically ruined, and there are heavy antimemetic effects shrouding them which make them nearly impossible to study, even for us. Large, simple things, like this stone, survived better, but even so… We think this stone was one of the last things they built before they died out.

"They were human. They were probably significantly more technologically advanced than we are. They existed tens of thousands of years ago; perhaps hundreds of thousands, we can't know for sure. It's difficult to determine what really happened to them because their entire cultural memeplex was lethally irradiated. Their core cultural concepts, the things they created, and stood for, and valued highly, can never be known or propagated again.

"We think an idea stole into their culture which they did not have adaptations to defend against. A complex of ideas. A Memeplectic/Keter-class end-of-world scenario."

Wheeler pauses, letting the rain patter for a significant moment.

"…And we just forgot?" Moreno asks. "The rest of us. Who survived the War, and became modern humanity. You and me and everybody. We, what, looked away? And walked away and 'moved on'?"

"Yes."

Moreno staggers, vertigo swelling up and briefly getting the better of her. "Hundreds of millions of people died and we just forgot? Is that what you wanted to show me? You want me to write that down?"

"Yes," Wheeler says. "Yes. Write this down. It's the first thing you're learning today. Humans can forget anything. It's okay to forget some things, because we are mortal and finite. But some things we have to remember. It's important that we remember. Write to yourself something which will make you remember."

Moreno nods. It's raining too heavily, so she retreats under the canopy and uses the table. Even so, a few rain drops spatter her notes. She writes intently and rapidly, for some time. What she writes is rushed and unrefined, with large parts crossed out. She wonders how she'll react when she reads it for the first time.

After a while, Wheeler joins her under the canopy.

Moreno, staring at her notes, asks Wheeler, as if she doesn't already know the answer: "And the second thing?"

Wheeler says:

"It is possible that their culture had an equivalent to the Foundation. It may even have had an Antimemetics Division. If they did, their Foundation, and their Antimemetics Division, failed them.

"It's a big reality. It's a big Foundation. There's a lot of Keters and a lot of Keter-class scenarios. So, maybe the end of the world will be some other Division's problem. And yes, a big part of the job we hired you for is basic research. Lab work, as safe as it gets. And yes, it's been thousands of years, and it may be thousands of years more.

"But maybe it won't. And maybe it will be our problem. To answer your original question, there has been one Antimemetics War that we know. Potentially others that we don't know of. And there is, undoubtedly, one to come."

Moreno says nothing. She looks dismayed, broken. She's right to be, and Wheeler is familiar with the reaction. This is, indeed, part of every new Antimemetics Division operative's orientation. The magnitude of responsibility can be hard to handle. It should be.

"Welcome to the Antimemetics Division," Wheeler says. "This is your first day."

*

Moreno writes for some time longer. Wheeler waits, silently. The rain doesn't let up.

"But what was it?" Moreno asks. "What was the idea?"

"SCP-9429-A," Wheeler says. "We isolated the memeplex itself in the Seventies. We have it on a slab in a Vegas room, basement level two. It's mostly harmless now. It's so culturally alien to modern humans as to be nearly incoherent. Think Egyptian heiroglyphs. I'll show you another day."

"I can read Egyptian heiroglyphs," Moreno says. "Are you saying it couldn't come back?"

"In that form, it's highly unlikely."

Moreno points at something, far away in the sky.

Wheeler looks. There's nothing out there. Just overcast sky and rain. "What do you see? Under heavy mnestic doses, some people say they see ghosts here. We even have some supposed interview logs. Personally, I think their veracity is dubious…"

"Um. It doesn't look like a ghost. It looks like a… an anorexic… kaiju. A monster. A pillar made of spiders. It's taller than this stone. At least twice as tall. It's coming here. Is this normal?"

"No." Wheeler is already racing through the checklist.

"What is it?"

"I don't know."

"This isn't part of the hazing?"

"No. I will never lie to you, Eli. I swear." An antimemetically cloaked entity which looks as monstrous as Moreno is describing has an approximately zero percent chance of being benign. They need support. Wheeler finds that her phone has no signal. Checking Moreno's is pointless, she already knows. The only way to get a message out of here is with a written note. A paper airplane, thrown off the top into the woods?

"It's bending down. I think it's looking at me," Moreno says, watching a space in the air descend. There isn't even a hole in the rain which Wheeler can perceive. "Its head is gigantic, it has to be ten meters wide. It has… graspers and arthropod legs all over it. Dozens of eyes. Some of them are blinded. There's someone riding it."

"What? Describe the rider."

"Caucasian male, twenties, skinny. Jeans, trainers, dirty brown hair, needs a haircut. He's been shot. He's bleeding out all over but he doesn't seem to notice. In the liver, and again in the throat, just above the clavicle. He's smiling. He… he says, 'No. That never happened.'"

Wheeler spends a split second wondering whether the gunshot wounds are intentionally creepy detailing, or whether the man is genuinely using some kind of advanced antimemetic power to ignore a mortal wound. And, if the latter, how, and how he originally sustained it. But more urgent questions are afoot. "He sees you?"

"Yes."

"Does he see me? Hear me?"

Moreno is transfixed and is starting to look genuinely frightened. "He wants to know who I'm talking to."

"Don't tell him. He doesn't get information about us, understand?" Wheeler pulls her walkie-talkie from her waist, sets it to broadcast an emergency beacon, turns and hurls it overarm as far as she possibly can, in the direction of the Site 41 main building. With luck, it'll land intact in the forest, outside the suppression zone cast by SCP-9429, summoning a Mobile Task Force. "Ask who he is."

Moreno is standing very still, with her arms clamped rigidly at her side. "Who are you?… He says… he says he's nearly finished. He says he's going to kill me."

"Like hell. Eli, listen to me. We're running for it. Back down the steps. If we can get to the perimeter of the stone it'll flush our memories."

"I can't move."

Wheeler hauls on one of Moreno's arms. She can't be moved. "Put one foot in front of the other!"

"It's got a hold of me." Moreno is goggle-eyed and starting to hyperventilate.

Wheeler disengages and surveys the situation. She can't see or touch any grasping spider legs, or the monumental face which Moreno can't look away from, or the rider. But she believes Moreno that they're there, real for some value of "real". She claps one hand to her side; but of course she isn't carrying her sidearm, because this is a Safe SCP on a Safe Site, and why would she be? Not that it even makes a difference when this mythical rider is able to laugh off gunshot wounds. There aren't enough options in front of her. She very badly wants to swear, and bites down hard on her tongue.

Moreno screams.

"Eli!" Wheeler shouts. "Don't look at it. Look at me."

"I can't."

"You're stronger than this."

"I'm not," Moreno cries.

"You're the best we have," Wheeler says. "I'm not making that up. You're seeing this thing when nobody else could. That makes you smarter and stronger. You can fight it. Invasion drill!"

"It hates us so much," Moreno says. "I can't think through it. I can't see. Please. Please don't."

Wheeler knocks her out. She circles behind Moreno, plants one hand on her shoulder for stability and punches her behind the ear. Moreno sags in place, then falls forward to her knees. Wheeler is just about able to catch her before her skull connects with the ground.

But she didn't hit her hard enough. Moreno is unconscious only for a second. She struggles as she comes back. It's like she's waking from a nightmare into another nightmare. She clutches at Wheeler's hand. She can't scream. Her heart stops.

Wheeler rolls her over and administers CPR, but without equipment there's very little chance of her restarting Moreno's heart.

Nobody's coming. She didn't throw the walkie-talkie far enough.

It's almost fifteen minutes before she gives up.

*

And then Wheeler is collapsed against the wall of the passage, on the next-to-last step, about to leave SCP-9429's field of influence, trying to figure out what in the fuck she can possibly write to herself.

What the hell was that thing? All Moreno did was think of it and it killed her. She was as good as any of us. She was as capable as she was ever going to be and she wasn't good enough. How do you fight an antimemetic monster which only eats the best antimemeticists?

You… you could try to build some kind of countermeme. But you'd need to be shielded while you worked on it. You'd need a hermetically sealed, self-sustaining lab as big as an arcology. Like the ones Bart Hughes used to build. Like… the one under Site 41.

God. How long have we been fighting this thing?

There's a rustling behind her. She turns to look. Far away up the steps, there he is, the rider Moreno described. A scrawny young man with a hostile frown and, yes, two steadily oozing gunshot wounds. His shoes are soaked in blood.

He calls out, "Marion Wheeler! I owe you for the lake."

Wheeler stands up. She doesn't know what lake he's talking about. But she says nothing.

The rider gestures. Blue and brown and black spiders of all sizes cascade around the corner, flooding the passageway up to his knees, pouring over his shoulders, tumbling down towards Wheeler. They make a strange, organic rustling as they pour, like wet leaves. There must be millions of them. The spiders would probably be much more effective if she was at all afraid of them.

It's too bad. She's just learned a great deal about this entity; that they have history together, and that it personally dislikes her, and that it apparently has a humanoid mouthpiece… and a lousy imagination. But she has only a second before the cascade of arachnids overcomes her, and that's not enough time to even write a single word. Moreno's death, then, was for nothing.

She steps backwards, over the threshold.

*

The rain is finally easing off. Wheeler lights a cigarette and heads back to the main building. It's almost time for her scheduled inspection of SCP-3125.

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