Interrograde
rating: +21+x

Interrogate /ɪnˈtɛrəɡeɪt/
verb
"Ask questions of (someone) closely, formally, or aggressively."

Anterograde /ˈantərəʊɡreɪd/
adjective
"Directed forwards in time."



"We're up out of the pit?

"Yes."

"Good. How are we gonna to be starting this?"

"Level One. As per protocol. There is no pressing need to leave anything out."

"It always ends up the same, though. We might as well jump to Three or hell, even Four, really get 'em motivated to help."

"No. We must give them a chance. And of course do our best to avoid… repercussions. We are not short on time, after all. Ha ha."

"Yes, yes, you're very funny. A little repetitive, but… well, you can't help it, right? No? Alright, fine, we'll stick to One for this now. Won't make a difference, but fine."

"I will prepare the equipment. The Containment staff will likely detect our presence shortly."

"Fine. We'll get 'em to send for the target as soon as they establish communications. Oh, and if this is how we're playing it, please note for the record that Level One Coercion's been started. We'll begin… ooh, fairly momentarily, by internal chronology."

"Noted."

*click*

"…Hello. It's so good to finally meet you. Would you mind asking your friends out there to give us a little more privacy?"



Researcher Gregor Siczybski placed a cup of hot coffee on his desk, sat down, and pressed the well-worn button that would dial up Site-54's management AIC. He'd never quite trusted it — her, rather — but as a data storage solution it was infinitely better than the dozens of stacks of sheaves of paper they had over at 38. Digital anomaly quarantine was all well and good, but the novelty wore thin after no time at all. No, for all the Site's faults and quirks, he'd much rather be here than there. Much rather. Definitely. No doubt about it.

Except…

Except, of course, things were off. He couldn't pretend they weren't, not any more. Things here were objectively, undeniably, weird. Not good, quirky, laugh-about-it-after-work weird. Scary weird. "Things that go bump in the night" weird. "Child found disassembled in crib" weird. And it wasn't even the obvious scary-weird you sometimes get at Sites like this; there was something very subtly awry about the place. Sometimes it would be as little as a creeping déjà vu, slight enough that he could put it out of his mind — other times it would be the noises keeping him up at night, or the endless reports of unrelated anomalies that danced and weaved their way around a few central themes that lurked just outside of his perception. He ran his fingers along the edge of his desk nervously, tracing out patterns in the wood that were still unfamiliar even now, months after his first assignment.

«Good morning, Researcher Sic-sy-be-ski. Today's date is the 22nd of December, and the time is 9:15 a.m. Would you like to view today's schedule?»

"I- Oh! Helen! Right, uh, yes, schedule. Yes please. What fun have I got in store for me today?"

«Your jobs for today start at 10:00 a.m., when you need to supervise the decontamination of Chamber 8; a job which should last up until 12:30 p.m. Following this, a-»

He cuts her off. "Disable conversation mode, please. If it's alright by you." Of course it's alright by her, he remembers. She's a computer. Still… "It's… off-putting when I can't see the person talking to me."

«Noted. Disabling conversational interface. Continue schedule reading?»

"Yes, please."

«12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Lunch break. 1:40 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.: Oversee D-Class transfers. Also to complete: Standardise documentation for SCP-7112 and AO-09356, submit resource request forms, submit personnel transfer form for Junior Researcher Randall, investigate auditory peculiarity in Chamber 4, archive documentation for AE-23400, submit approval form for-»

The voice cuts out mid sentence, pausing momentarily before being replaced by an altogether more human one.

«Greg?»

"Y- yes?"

«It's Julie, from Prelim. We've got some people in here demanding to see you.»

"Me? Why the hell do they want me?"

«If I knew, I'd tell you. Get down here as quick as you can. They don't seem to be hostile, or even anomalous beyond the basic weirdness, but I don't want to take chances. You understand, right?»

He understood. Mumbling something vaguely affirmative, Gregor gulped his coffee, spluttered as the far-too-hot far-too-sweet liquid seared the back of his throat, shrugged on his coat, dabbed futilely at his shirt with his sleeve, and sprinted through his office door.



"Jesus, it's dark in here. What do you mean 'out of sync?'"

"Spatially. We seem to be accurate temporally."

"How far?"

"Twelve metres. Perhaps fourteen. Decreased displacement in the vertical axis, terra relative."

"Vertical a- Oh! Ohohoho! Oh, that's nice; I daresay we can use this to our advantage. Can have been using. Will have been able to have used? I dunno. We'll get it out of him eventually?"

"Yes. It will not take long. Relatively speaking. And it would not perceptibly matter if it did. We are not short on time, after all. Ha ha."

"Hah! I didn't know you could tell jokes! This little job might even be bearable. Alright, kick us up and back a little. Up into the chamber, I mean. Back to the landing time."

"Huuuurgh. Hggghhnnnnn."

"Yeah yeah. Heard it a thousand times before. We'll be back soon for answers, don't you worry."



Ten minutes later, breathless and sweating in spite of the snowdrifts outside, Researcher Siczybski is standing stock-still on the wrong side of a containment chamber's airlock, staring at the wrong end of a short black tube.

There is a certain undefinable property of such tubes that has, throughout history, come to suggest that they are capable of taking a small and inoffensive object and burying it deep in the flesh of anyone unfortunate enough to be in front of it. The thing facing Gregor now was far too angular and thin to be recognisable as a normal firearm, but nevertheless, when the tall grey-faced stranger gestured nonchalantly towards the Researcher's forehead, the rest of the interview team had filed out. None of them had seen it during the initial checks, they swore. God only knows how he (they? It?) smuggled it in.

Regardless of how they (Gregor mentally settled for the neutral pronoun) did it, they had it now, which meant normal protocol was out of the window. He knew what to do; keep them talking until backup arrives, and — if possible — find out what they want. They always want something, even if it's just attention. If that failed, there was always the dropout system: eight heavy metal chains, ready to release at a moment's notice and send the chamber and its contents smashing down a thirty-foot-deep shaft, followed by several tonnes of fast-drying concrete. A crude, but altogether effective system.

Gregor makes the mistake of absentmindedly adjusting his spectacles, and feels the hair on his neck sizzle as a rosette of soot blossoms on the wall behind him. He looks up, and the grey-faced stranger's partner smiles.

"Hello. It's so good to finally meet you. Would you mind asking your friends out there to give us a little more privacy?"

He looks like a cross between a hobbit and Frankenstein's monster — a huge, livid scar ran down his neck, chasing his jugular, and his eyes are mismatched black and blue. Gregor blinks. "I- I don't-"

"Oh, please, don't be nervous. We're not going to hurt you. We just want to talk. Everybody's after something, and we're after- oh, come on. That's hardly the most surprising thing we've done, is it?"

"How did you know-"

"You say the strangest things when you're asleep, my friend. When you're unconscious, anyway. Totally 'out of it', as the kids say. And is sleep really anything more than voluntary unconsciousness? I'm sure I'd be able to cite that viewpoint, but Webster won't return my calls." He pauses. "Would you agree?"

"I… suppose."

"Wonderful! Then, if sleep's self-inflicted unconsciousness, you were asleep, and it is ever so slightly less intimidating that I know your private musings — although no less creepy, I must admit. Now. Privacy, please?"

Gregor looks up to the chamber's security camera, hesitates momentarily, and nods. Almost immediately he hears someone outside swear loudly, and watches as the flashing green light on the microphone blinks off.

"Thank you. Far too often people try to be clever and get their pals involved, and that's just more clean-up for us."

"What do you want."

"Ooh, straight to the point. I like that in a man." He grins lecherously, revealing a set of brass-plated teeth, the left half of which are filed to needle-sharp points. He runs his tongue over them, visibly drawing blood, and Gregor feels himself retch internally. "My name is Mr. Sharp. I work for people not too far removed from your employers. My partner, who I believe you have mentally catalogued as the grey-faced stranger, is… Blunt. In every sense. Especially in the sense of 'Blunt instrument', or 'Blunt force trauma', although I suppose 'gunshot wound' would be more accurate in the latter sense. You don't like to get your hands too dirty, do you my friend?"

"I am willing to resort to other methods should the situation require it. Firearms are simply the quickest means to an end."

"See what I mean? Blunt as ever."

"You didn't answer my question, Mr. Sharp."

"Greg — can I call you Greg? I'd love to consider us friends — you are far too eager to cast suspicion. We simply wish to acquire information."

"About?"

Instead of answering, Sharp pulls a stuffed yellow bear from the bag on his shoulder. "Do you recognise this?"

Gregor stiffens. "It's a bear."

"Astute, my dear, but not entirely accurate. This is a probe, as you very well know. And I believe you know the whereabouts of many more like them. You are Level 4, correct? The only such staff member at this facility?"

"I… can't help you."

"Are you sure?"

He stiffens further, and finds his eyes wandering to the not-gun. He whispers something.

"I'm sorry, what was that?"

He gulps. "Y- yes. Yes, I'm sure. I can't help you."

"Oh." Sharp looks genuinely hurt, tears brimming in his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry for wasting your time. Come on, Blunt."

Their partner nods, pulls a square of twisted metal from their suit pocket, and presses a long finger deep into the centre: deeper than should be possible given that it was only a few centimetres thick. There's an awful surge of energy, Gregor feels his hair stand on end, a small fragment of the universe turns inside out, and suddenly

everything


is




not



"Level 2?"

"Indeed."

"Goody. Let him remember us partially. No names, no motives… just that we exist, and we have the capability to blow his brains out. Oh, and the hobbit comparison was good. Keep that. I've always fancied myself a bit of a Martin Freeman type."

"Micheal."

"What?"

"He was named Micheal Freeman."

"Since when?"

"Eleventh correction before we left, first divergence. Unintended collateral damage. Too minor to try to resolve."

"Hmph. Guess it doesn't matter. You could've told me though."

"We-"

"I said it doesn't matter! God, you're incessant sometimes. Anyway. Level 2 Coercion. Beginning… now."

*click*



Ten minutes later, breathless and sweating in spite of the snowdrifts outside, Researcher Siczybski is standing stock-still on the wrong side of a containment chamber's airlock, staring at the wrong end of a horribly familiar device.

He couldn't pinpoint where he knew it from, but his heart was weighed down by the sickening certainty that, if he made any sudden movements, he'd experience the rest of his life from the perspective of a thin black scorch-mark.

"Hello, Greg. It's so good to see you again. Would you mind asking your friends out there to give us a little more privacy?"

"Have- have we met before?"

"Not before, no. But it would be accurate, I suppose, to say we are… acquainted with each other's presence. Now, make them leave, otherwise my partner here will vaporise you from the waist down."

"Who are you?"

The man chuckles, revealing a mouth half-full of razor-sharp teeth. Blood trickles from the left-hand corner of his mouth, and Gregor retches internally.

"Don't be cocky, friend. I'd much rather we talk in private. Getting rid of witnesses is so tiresome."

Gregor nods hesitantly towards the security camera, and someone outside swears loudly. Not long after, the hum of the chamber's monitoring devices is replaced by a throttling silence.

"Good. Now, to answer your question, my name is Mr. Sharp. My partner is Flat, in the sense of being featureless, dull, and… absolute. Incredibly unimaginative, but very good at what they do. Realistically speaking they could get the information we want entirely on their own; I'm only here because of my sparkling personality."

"You want information then."

"Of course, my dear! We want to know the whereabouts of…" Sharp pulls a yellow stuffed bear from their satchel and tosses it through the air. Gregor catches it instinctively. "These. And don't lie to us. We already have firsthand verification that you know where they are."

"That's… impossible. I'm the only one here who knows about them, besides Hogue and Randall. Pao took the easy way out two months ago and returned to civilian life. Hogue-"

"Is incredibly loyal, yes. And of course Randall thinks the world of you. He's looking after your darling baby boy as we speak." The colour drains from Gregor's face, and Sharp laughs brightly. "Oh, don't worry. They're safe. Unlike some people, we don't tamper with children unless absolutely necessary. Their brains are so malleable, and temporal rewriting can be so tricky, can't it?"

"You're… you're time-travellers, then. Fine. I- I should have expected this. Are you with Xyank?"

Sharp laughs. "That hack? No, we've got most of him locked up two millennia from now."

"They were very interested to learn of our existence. I imagine the novelty has worn off by now."

Both men turn in surprise to Flat, who smiles faintly, as if revisiting a pleasant memory. "Picking their brains has been quite educational."

"Yes. Yes, I can imagine. Anyway." Sharp gestures towards the bear in Gregor's arms. "Are you going to tell us?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"Yes! Yes, of course you have a damned choice! Jesus Christ! We'd hardly be going through this charade if you didn't!"

"Then… then no. No, of course I'm not going to tell you."

Sharp wrenches the not-gun from Flat's hands and lets loose a blast of energy in Gregor's direction. He feels a stinging sensation in his leg which quickly blossoms into a horrendous, roaring pain. He falls forwards as his vision blurs, and, as he turns, briefly sees fragments of what looks like bone embedded in the wall behind him. Above him, Sharp grins.

"What about now?"

"Ngggh."

"Can I take that as a no?"

"Hnnnghhhaaaaah."

"Moan once if it's a no."

"Aaaaahhhgggh."

"Good enough, Flat?"

"It will be satisfactory." They glance at a square of metal in their palm. "We can start Coercion Level 3 immediately, if you would prefer."

"That's the best thing I've heard all cycle." He clears his throat. "Noting for the record, Level 3, etcetera etcetera. Let 'er rip."

The last thing Gregor sees before the world turns inside out again is Sharp's boot pressing down on his head. His skull buckles, his vision turns dark, and suddenly

again


and for the first time



everything




is





not



"Take out that last bit. I don't want a disciplinary on my hands."

"…The last thirty seconds of his consciousness have been removed. We will overwrite the confrontation again shortly. His physical injuries will be reverted as per protocol."

"Excellent."

"Additionally, I think you will be pleased to know that the actor is Martin Freeman once more. The vote carried to undo the relevant change."

"They cared that much about an actor's name?"

"I am led to believe the deciding factor was the .79 probability of stratospheric combustion within three branches."

"Well, I'm not complaining. Send us back, if you would be so kind? I've been looking forward to this."

*click*



Ten minutes later, breathless and sweating in spite of the snowdrifts outside, Researcher Siczybski is standing stock-still on the wrong side of a containment chamber's airlock, feeling a coarse, unwashed hand press into his neck.

"Don't move, or I'll blow your brains out and keep what's left as a decorative vase. Comprende?"

Gregor shuts his eyes. It was a dream. A nightmare. A terrible nightmare brought on by too little sleep and too many reports on too many deaths. It had to be.

"My name's Sharp. This is my partner. We were going to go with Blurred as a continuation of the gimmick, but now I can't be bothered. You can know them as my partner, and that'll be good enough."

The hand releases Gregor and he sprawls on the floor, gasping.

"W-"

"Don't talk. Don't even think about talking unless I ask you a direct question." Sharp pulls out a yellow stuffed bear and tosses it on the floor in front of the terrified researcher. "You know what this is."

"…Yeah."

"That wasn't a question. This thing's a probe, a monitoring device. You know where the rest of them are located, and we would very much like to know too."

"I can't tell you."

"What part of 'do not talk' do you not understand!? You've had a chance to talk. You've had two chances, with a calculated and escalating risk-reward system each time. This is chance number three."

Silence.

"Good. You're learning." He turns to his partner, who is tapping away on a small square of metal. "If you please?"

The bear begins to vibrate, and a small metal filament extends from deep within its furry bulk. Gregor begins to crawl away as it edges towards him.

"We've read your files. You've noticed strange happenings. Some of them were us, some of them weren't. A lot of them were you. Screams in the night, right?"

The wire pierces Gregor's shoe, and he cries out as it slices into his foot.

"You brought this on yourself, my friend. You could've just told us, and… well, we'd probably have killed you, or at least wiped enough of your mind that you were basically vegetative. Standard procedure, not much we can do. Still, it would have been quick."

'Blurred' points the not-gun at the chamber wall. Behind it, Gregor knows, is a chain. If his assumptions are correct, it's one of only two holding the chamber in place. Sharp smiles his brass, toothy smile once more, and places a hand on the researcher's shoulder.

"We'll see you again in a couple of months, Greg. Hopefully you'll be more cooperative then."

One chain is not enough to hold even a small containment chamber in place, and so when the grey-faced stranger pulls the trigger the whole assembly falls thirty feet directly downwards. As the concrete cube hits the bottom there's a flash of purple light, and he feels the gut-wrenching sensation of being thrust back through time.

He lands with a sickening thud.

Nobody ever cleaned beneath the chambers, so he finds himself sprawled in a pile of silt, dust, and what could charitably be called mud. Paralysed from the waist down by the surgical tools inside him, he drags himself upright against a corner, and looks around.

Darkness. Complete and utter stifling darkness. The kind of darkness you get in places that light's forgotten even exist. Above him…

«Good evening, Researcher Sic-sy-be-ski.»

An AIC access point, lodged in the wall and long disused. Probably used during the Site's construction.

"Helen?"

«I can't hear you, Researcher Sic-sy-be-ski. Today's date is the 19th of January.»

"Helen, please… message Julie… Randall… fuck it, Pao, anyone."

«I can't hear you, Researcher Sic-sy-be-ski.»

"Did… did they do this to you? Is this a sick joke?"

«I can't hear you, Researcher Sic-sy-be-ski. The sharp man will return.»

"Oh…"

Another stab of pain as the wires surge upwards. They've reached his thigh now, worming through his veins like little metal parasites. Did he hear something before he was… sent back? Could have been his imagination. Probably was his imagination. He wasn't in a good position to be making cold, calculated observations.

Still, though. It had sounded an awful lot like a scream.



"So, what do we do now?"

"Leave. Return when necessary to retrieve the information. Recover the probes."

"Can't we stick around for a little bit? I'd like to see him squirm. Sadism's no fun if you can't stay and enjoy it."

"No. We will follow the mission brief."

"Fine, fine."

"…"

"I was right though, wasn't I? Level 3 worked best?"

"Although I find it difficult to believe you were operating under anything other than your own motivations, you were correct."

"What was that last bit?"

"…You were correct."

"Good. That's what I like to hear."



Gregor moans deeply as the wires shift and change within him, tearing and re-stitching his organs. Above him, Helen chirps away oblivious. He throws his head back and howls, preparing himself to once more face the-

Wait. He hears something. Something different, something new. With a lurch that tears his jaw in two and almost knocks him unconscious with the pain, he stares imploringly at…

Sharp, and his partner, appearing in a flicker of purple light. They're discussing something in a loud whisper. Gregor knows they can see him, but if they care, they don't show it. Below him, the bear continues to stare up at him, unnaturally grinning. It was almost definitely his imagination, but he could have sworn he'd heard it laughing to itself.

«Investigate auditory irregularity in chamber 4, Standardise documentation for SCP-7112 and AO-09356, submit resource request forms…»

"Huuuurgh. Hggghhnnnnn."

Sharp turns to him and makes deliberate eye contact.

"Yeah yeah. Heard it a thousand times before. We'll be back soon for answers, don't you worry."

As the wires fuse his skull back together, Gregor starts to scream. He focuses his mind on a singular hope, a lone thought floating calmly through an ocean of screaming, nerve-blazing pain.

He hopes against hope that, when the chamber comes crashing down again (for the first time), they'll take him out from under it first.

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