In his hands, Dr. Thaddeus Xyank held the future. And that made him smile.
It was a lump of gray metal, cool to the touch, with a laser etched serial number, a portrait of George Washington, and a UPC code for Bush’s Baked Beans. It took a while to get all of that approved, but he needed to be sure. You couldn’t spit in the Multi-U division without it landing in some parallel world or a seamless wormhole that leads directly to a point exactly 2 cm inside your own rectum. Xyank wasn’t interested in the same-old present in some remote reality where people are giant lizards. He was interested in the future. And here it was.
“Yes sir!” she said, beaming like the fresh ones sometimes do when things are going according to plan.
“Was the device active when you found the brick?”
“Uhh… Mr. Kim?”
Assistant Researcher Leonard Kim raised his head from the wiring panel, blinking. “Hm?”
“Was the device left on overnight? Dr. Xyank wanted to know its status when the sample was retrieved.” Melissa Brooks was always doing that, in her own vainglorious attempt to curry favor with superiors. Thought there was a promotion in it for her, probably. Shame she was such a kiss-ass that no one else trusted her.
Xyank’s glasses started to fog. His finger tapped. His thumb traced Washington’s nose. Almost without thinking he grabbed a bit of tape from the desk, slapped it on the brick and wrote ‘Retrieved’ in black marker. Just in case.
Kim was quiet for a long time. “…Okay, first of all, I didn’t do anything with it.”
“I don’t actually care this time, Larry. Just tell me.”
“Alright, yes, I'm sorry. I left it on running a debug after hours. That reference loop just keeps popping up no matter what I do. I’m working on it now.”
Xyank nodded. On but not set to 'receive' was a good enough answer. “Melissa, scan the surveillance logs from last night through this morning. I want to know about every spark, bang, shimmy, and flash.”
On the other side of the floor, past ten dozen coolant pipes and thirty industrial strength cables, he placed the sample next to itself just as Gerald Kingston was putting the finishing touches on the UPC. “…Holy Shit! When did this come in?”
“Sometime before opening today; Brooks is checking the log.”
“Dear sweet Jesus,” Gerry said, picking up the small brick and turning it over in his hands. Checking the mill marks with pinpoint pupils as he strained to focus. “It looks like the real deal but I want to get this over to Microscopy and run the whole battery.”
“Get it done,” the Doctor said, checking his watch. “I want the original out of here by end of business today.”
“Sure sure sure!”
“And bring Foreman in here to make sure the calibration is spotless. Kim’s having feedback issues again.” Swear to god, Larry was going to be the death of this project, always trying to move out of his depth.
Then again, so was Thaddeus. That’s what got him out of bed in the morning.
Jets of hot gas sprayed him down from every angle and he spun in a circle. Six months of doing this, it was natural as breathing. The suit hung neatly in his locker and he stepped outside.
Plain sight. Where he was from this would never have been tolerated—would not be tolerated here for very much longer, probably. Sloppy work by the Foundation setting him up here. But there were bio-hazard signs and poison emblems, and all the flashing lights and smokestacks that belched black evil into the air, and that was enough. For anyone dumb enough to try and break into a chemical refinery, there were two golf carts on half-hourly rounds and the deceptively hard pudgy-looking Agents inside of them. Besides, there wasn’t a radio tower or satellite signal stronger than twenty watts for maybe fifty kilometers in any direction, and the Podunk town where they took R&R was maybe forty minutes down the road. It was far enough. It was isolated enough. The EM bands were clear enough.
Coughing, he scaled the stairs to the office and stepped inside. Lights flickering on in that annoying mercury fluorescent glow; practically stone-age. And the whiteboards. Three of the four, filled to bursting with diagrams and equations in his trademark red ink. Xyank grabbed a bagel and an OJ as he stared at them, trying to remember. Trying to fill in the gaps. Trying to find the way out of the rat maze of causality and float above it. He wasn’t a rat, he was a man. And if something like this could happen once—twice now, actually, at the very least—then he could make it happen again.
His calculator booted up and he thought with it for a while. The creepy blue sheen and white text a man never gets used to filled his vision, recorded his hand-written chaos, and began a search for errors. It was close now. Very close.
The phone rang and he picked it up.
“Hi Doc, it’s Gerry.”
“Paulson is losing his mind.” The good Doctor smiled and nodded to no one, privately celebrating. “It’s our brick alright, down to every last defect. When do you want to send it?”
“Hold on a minute.” Two buttons tapped, and he watched as Melissa picked up the phone. “It’s Xyank. Put Kim on the line,” and the researcher trotted across the floor, notes under his arm and grabbed the phone. “What’s the status of the device?”
“Same problem, but at least we’ve isolated it in Unit Beta with some creative wiring. Alpha is green-lit across the board,” Kim said, looking up at the office window and giving a thumbs-up. “The brick?”
He smiled and returned the gesture. “Power up Alpha, it’s going out right now. I’m on my way.” Two buttons. “We’re doing it. Get up here and bring the original.” He’d never put on a clean suit so fast in his life, and the spray was just quieting down when Kingston came out of the south end of the building with the brick in his hand. Foreman opened the door to the active chamber and held his breath as the five of them gathered around it. Carefully it was placed inside the small, glowing white box, and closed. Xyank almost chuckled at how much it looked like the world’s most expensive and over-complicated microwave oven. As Unit Alpha powered up, the globe above it began to spin quietly, and capacitors all over it whined.
“Alright everyone look sharp, we are now starting the official experiment log.” A few taps on a keyboard and the microphones in their suits began recording. “This is Dr. Thaddeus Xyank, beginning experiment log 11924. It is July 9th 1992. Researcher Brooks, What’s the correct time?” Thaddeus asked, spinning to Melissa Brooks.
“1035 and 15 seconds on my mark.” Larry Kim jumped behind the other console and input the time. “Three… two… one… mark!” The whirring settled into a steady hum, and the first green light over the chamber lit.
“When did you recover the test object?”
“Approximately 0700, give or take a few minutes.”
“Alright; Mr. Foreman, please input destination for today’s date, at 0630. That should leave enough of a window for Ms. Brooks' discovery”
Beeping and keystrokes, and another light, this one lingering yellow a moment as the lock was established. Then green; blessed, blessed green.
“Mr. Kingston, how are those ion levels?”
“We have gamma and alpha rad at… 4 eV and holding. Ambient levels on the floor are… 13 mili-RAD. Everything’s green.”
The team leaned in to watch closely, fingers crossed, breath baited.
Dr. Xyank threw the switch, and after a bright flash of light within the chamber, it was gone. Localized tachyon field manipulation confirmed. Eat your heart out, Stephen Hawking.
They cheered. They clapped, they patted one another about the back. Mr. Kim declared tequila shots on him after work. But the good Doctor knew better. This one had been easy, they knew that some point in the future it would work, or else there was a paradox afoot, and paradoxes are for logic and not for nature. Nature had no such conventions. The device simply couldn't not work.
“Everyone quiet,” he said, after a long, relieved exhale. “Brooks, your job is to check, double-check, and triple-check all of the surveillance and monitoring equipment we have and report to me by the end of the day exactly what kind of conditions we can expect when something comes through. Foreman and Kim, you two are on Beta, get that bug fixed. Kingston, I need you to recalibrate Alpha to positive temporal displacement and prepare a new sample.”
“Paulson wanted a front-row seat on the next trial,” Gerry said, looking hopeful.
“He’s got it if he gets up here and helps you calibrate. And I mean oscilloscopes, voltmeters; I want everything explained before I file this. I’m going to go see if I can’t finish filling in the black box.”
The Black Box… Every engineer dreads the damn black box. That’s what all those equations were about. Thad mused for a moment about it, scratching the graying hair at his temples as the blue screen came up over his vision, trying desperately to make sense of the math that had seemed so clear when he held the tachyon emitter in his hands, turned it over a few times, felt the warm glow of backwards time. Or maybe it was all just desperation and the team had gotten lucky. Maybe all of these equations weren’t even necessary and it all came down to the number threeve or twour or whatever they were calling 033 these days. Theta Prime, right? Goddamn ridiculous.
What about all of the other ones? His clearance didn’t give him really juicy access to the hard temporal anomalies the Foundation was just starting to play with. Hell, he didn’t even know for sure if 711 had been built, disassembled, encased in concrete, or still sat on the drawing board of someone’s office as a kind of pet project. Or maybe he was conceiving of it now, down in that clean-room with a bunch of eager, talented researchers.
And when were they going to discover SCP-one-seven… Oh dear god. The view… how had he not noticed this before?
The door burst open below as Xyank jumped to his feet, just in time to watch it all happen for the first time. There was a lot of yelling. Lots of it, about getting on knees and stepping away from the machinery and putting down the clipboard and they were all too shocked to comply.
Gerry Kingston got it first, two in the head.
Melissa ducked behind the desk and covered her ears just in time for Paulson to catch a few rounds with his upper torso and fall out of sight half a second later.
Kim and Foreman fell like cans on a fence-post, lying in puddles of their own blood. He could still hear Kim gagging on his lasts moments of life.
Thad slammed the alarm and let it blare as the four men moved into the room, scanning computer monitors and smashing equipment, heading further the basement and the other screaming technicians. You could see the surprise in the balls of Mr. M4A1 himself when he saw Unit Beta, heard the humming and whining and sparks. He screamed something about getting out and then
There was the white flash, right on schedule. And then it started again. All five of them milled about the floor, working their way through the recalibration without a care in the world. Each one of them dead certain that they’d get a huge raise, better clearance, and maybe even a Nobel Prize if it ever went public.
Thad grabbed the just-in-case 12 gauge from behind the filing cabinet and bolted out the door, down the stairs, and came to the clean room entrance. Maybe he was part of it. Maybe he was aware. Maybe there was time to save them all and stop the loop. But the knob was hot and he daren’t enter. Might have five kinds of cancer already now that the shielding was forfeit. He wasn't part of it, and there wasn't time. If he had been, then there would be a paradox afoot. Paradoxes don't exist in nature.
Smoke billowed out the windows in thick plumes. The white panel van was already speeding off, too far away to make the doctor out as he pressed his body against the building and waited. And waited. And waited.
Two hours later the MTF arrived and put out the fires and bagged up the charred remains and harvested the scrap for secure disposal. The whole installation was tagged, bagged, shipped off for review. A truck pumped the basement full of concrete, and just like that it was over.
For Thad, it was still happening. They found him in the office, watching his Research Assistants die over and over with a dead look in his eyes and a pint of whiskey in his hands.
“Are you alright?”
“…Nope. Not even a little.”
He didn't speak again until he was in the ambulance.
O5 didn’t like his write-up. Didn't like it one bit. “Explain this to me again,” 5 said as 3, 7, 12 and 9 sat with their arms folded and their brows furrowed on the various screens. “’Event boundary?’ What is that?”
“It’s a psychological phenomenon; how the brain categorizes events. Something as simple as changing the room you’re standing in begins a new 'event' to be logged in memory. That's why a person can head to the kitchen to get a sandwich and completely forget why they went there as soon as they walk through the door.” Dr. Xyank was nervous. His reputation, his clearance level, his future with the Foundation hanging in the… heh. ‘Future with the Foundation.’ That was good. He’d have to remember that.
O5-7 laughed, but not with him so much as at him. “You really expect us to believe that human psychology halted a tachyon cascade? That’s honestly what you’re saying?”
“Yes sir,” Thad replied, hanging his head and looking at the floor. “The machine had a maximum drain of five megawatts, but the actual tachyon field accounts for only 15 watts, which is significantly less than—”
“So if you witnessed this event first hand,” Three interrupted, “how comes it that you aren't stuck in that loop with them? Or is this thanks to your fanciful ‘event boundary’ hypothesis?”
“It is, sir.”
“And the assailants which caused this… debacle?”
Xyank sighed deeply. “My estimation is that the Global Occult Coalition detected the experiment via ground based tachyon detection equipment, and moved to intercept the emitter. How they detected it, I do not know.”
Twelve cleared his throat. The other O5’s went quiet and serious.
“Agent Tomlin,” Nine said, “secure Dr. Xyank. We will return with our decision after a brief recess.”
Five of the tensest minutes of his life, staring straight ahead at those shit LED screens as he wondered over and over and over again why he hadn't tried to move the whole operation underground. Thirty-seven researchers dead, millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and five years of research with a working tachyon emitter, gone. Poof. In another year they could have built a second, but there was no way, now. Someone had found out and broken it. The bill was on his tab. And the blood was on his hands.
When the lights came back on it was fast and to the point. “Given Dr. Xyank’s valuable research into tachyon field theory, we have determined that a certain amount of leniency is in order. Dr. Xyank, you are hereby demoted to Level 3 clearance, and are to report to our new containment site immediately. Your assignment will be documentation, experimentation, and implementation of containment procedures for the temporal anomaly designated SCP-176.”
“It’s your mess, Thaddeus,” 12 said, leaning forward. “Now go clean it up.”
It was eerie watching it. His ticket home was ticking in there, still. And he might yet get to it if he could find a way. He must have seen this site a dozen times in the time before… Before. But now he knew these people, knew the machine, knew the circumstance and what would have happened next if everything had just gone to plan.
After three more hours watching it, the effect wore off, and before him was just another anomaly to be cataloged. This is the way the world moves on. Erasing his beloved whiteboard, Thad cracked his knuckles and began.
Description: SCP-176 is an abandoned … chemical factory situated near … Nah, they’ll probably leave that out. [DATA EXPUNGED].
Start | Part Two: The Deep End