"Sergeant Thomas Allenby. Serial number nine four two—"
The butt of the revolver cracked against his jaw, hard. Sergeant Allenby laughed bitterly as he spat out a broken tooth onto the packed dirt floor. "If you break my jaw, I won't be able to tell you anything," he sneered.
The man cocked the hammer of the revolver and placed the cold steel muzzle against the Marine's forehead. "You will tell me everything!" the man growled. "Starting with how your little patrol managed to find this place!"
"Sergeant Thomas Allenby, serial number—"
The gun fired. Allenby screamed in pain, then laughed out loud, his voice shaky with pain and manic shock. "FUCK!" he screamed. "The fucking LEG!? Are you crazy? Hit the femoral artery and you'll kill me in seconds, then you'll never get anything out of me!"
"You will tell me what I want to know, or the next bullet goes in your brain!" screamed the man.
"FUCK you!" Allenby shouted. "You fucked up! You shouldn't a' shot me! Now I know you're fucking bluffing! You can't kill me, I'm the only one who knows what you want to know, you slopehead gook motherfuck—"
The revolver was cocked again. The muzzle was placed back against Allenby's forehead. The man took up the slack on the trigger. Allenby knew that he should be afraid, but pain, shock, and adrenaline were conspiring against him. All he could do was laugh.
"Dai Ta?!" someone shouted. A newcomer. He was jabbering something in Vietnamese, too fast for Allenby to understand. The colonel chuckled in response. Something exchanged hands.
"It seems," smirked the colonel, "That I have a reason to keep you alive a little longer." He thrust a manila envelope into Allenby's face. "What is this?"
"I… I don't know," Allenby said, staring past the envelope into the colonel's eyes. "I've never seen it before in my life."
"Lies!" growled the colonel. "It was in your backpack! And more…" He turned the envelope around. "Do you see this? This is the symbol of your Central Intelligence Agency!"
Oh shit. For the first time since the Viet Cong had captured him, Allenby was afraid.
"I have… I don't know what you mean," Allenby protested.
"More lies! You are no soldier, you are an American spy!" He struck Allenby across the face with the packet of papers in frustration. "I ask you again. How did you find these tunnels?"
"A map…" Allenby said, then immediately bit his tongue in frustration.
"A map… Ah… I see." The colonel laughed cruelly. "Very clever of you Americans." He shuffled the papers together. "Doubtless, if I line up this triangle with this…"
His voice stopped abruptly. Allenby smiled.
"Sir?" one of the guards asked.
"Tuan," the colonel said slowly, then something in Vietnamese. Probably, "Come take a look at this."
After that, things got a bit chaotic.
Allenby didn't see what happened next. He could barely even hear it through the heavy cell door. He didn't have to. He already knew.
He knew that the confused murmuring that turned into panicked shouts were the colonel and the guard forcing some poor sap to view The Image.
He knew that the scratching sounds were an infected individual scratching The Image into a wall, with a knife or a key.
He knew, when the screaming started, that the infection had gone terminal.
It was half an hour after the dying started when the colonel burst back into the room. He was waving the packet of papers in Allenby's face. "LOOK AT THIS!" he screamed. "LOOK AT THIS, PLEASE!"
Allenby just closed his eyes and smiled. "Sergeant Allenby, ser—"
"LOOK, DAMN YOU, LOOK!" The colonel forced Allenby's eye open with his fingers and pushed the image into his face. "LOOK, PLEASE, for the love of GOD!"
Allenby smirked. The smirk became a low giggle. "You never noticed," he said, shaking his head. "You never noticed…"
Then the colonel did notice. Both Allenby's eyes were glass.
Allenby heard the colonel go for his gun, heard him try to cock the revolver, but the man's palsied hands were shaking too hard for that. He heard the gun clatter to the floor.
It took the man a long time to die. Allenby enjoyed hearing every moment of it.
Some time had passed.
The underground tunnel complex was now a charnel house. The dead and dying lay everywhere.
Allenby staggered through the tunnels, the manila envelope with the two halves of The Image (carefully realigned to the "safe" configuration) tucked into his belt. He was using a discarded enemy AK-47 as a makeshift walking stick. Every once in a while, he paused to listen and to feel for air currents.
It took him a long time to find the exit.
He emerged from the stuffy dankness of the tunnels into the oppressive humidity of the Vietnamese jungle. He sighed happily, feeling the sun on his face.
There was a rustling in the undergrowth. He turned. "Nolan?" he asked, expecting to hear the calm voice of his pick-up.
Instead, there were two sharp clicks, like a typewriter. Two silenced .22 caliber bullets ended his life.
"… what is this?"
"I believe you already know what this is."
"Looks like a bunch of lines."
"It does. But if you place this plastic overlay over—"
"… it's a fake. So you do know what this is."
"I do have to admit, your delivery method is diabolically clever. A blind operative, trained to compensate for his disability, used to handle a dangerous object that kills when seen. My higher-ups were fascinated by this. We may adapt this idea for our own purposes."
"… damn you…"
"Allow me to repeat the warning I gave you when you first assumed this position, Mister Schlesinger. Do not meddle with what you don't understand. Otherwise, there is a high probability you will find your tenure here short, and unpopular."
"… damn it, you people don't get it, do you? We're fighting for the sake of the free world here! If the damned Reds take over Indochina, that'll collapse the entire Pacific…"
"Ah, yes, your vaunted domino theory. I will be blunt, sir. An ideological conflict between two mere nations, even two as powerful as yours, is of no consequence to us. We have little interest in saving the ''free world'' at the cost of the actual world."
"Here is my ultimatum: cease and desist all of your efforts towards PROJECT OMEGA immediately. We want it all shut down and disavowed. MK Ultra. Groom Lake. Even that little project in Philadelphia. An auditor from our Foundation will come by in a few weeks to check on your progress. Good day."
"… holy shit. Miss Jones, could you please hop down to the corner store and buy me a carton of cigarettes and a fifth of bourbon, please… oh, and contact Building Security. I want a camera set up outside my office door… oh. To watch out for vandals…"
"What have you got there?" Crow asked. The young researcher looked up from his newspaper, where he was circling various stories with a red pen. So far, he seemed most interested in rumors of an artist's project gone bad. Apparently the statue had come to life and started killing people…
"Not much," Cog said. The young man hung up his trilby hat and jacket on the coat-tree. Unlike Crow, whose desk was a complete pigsty, his side of the small office they shared was clean and neat, almost mechanical in its precision. "I took a trip up to Langley to give the CIA Director a message from The Administrator. I believe it went well."
"Did you bring me back a souvenir?" Crow asked, grinning.
"My travel budget included no allowances for personal purchases," Cog pointed out.
"You've got no heart," Crow sighed. "Oh yeah. Xav called. He wants your complete report on The Pattern on his desk by tomorrow morning."
"Have you started a file for it yet?" Cog asked.
"Not yet. Was going to let you do it."
Cog walked to the large file cabinet that took up half the office, filling up the entire back wall. Each drawer contained file folders with the original reports and mimeograph masters for every anomalous object in containment by their Foundation: all but one, which was labeled "Unassigned Numbers." He reached into the drawer, pulled out a random manila envelope from the stack, and opened it up, looking at the number typed onto the file folder within.
"571," he read.
"Good number," Crow yawned.
Cog sat down at his desk and undid the brads on the file folder, releasing the Special Containment Procedures Form. He slid the triplicate form with its carbon-paper intermediate layers into his typewriter, carefully aligned the guides with the proper box, and began to type.
Item #: SCP-571
Object Class: Euclid
Special Containment Procedures:
A single piece of paper containing an instance of SCP-571 should be kept inside an opaque, sealed container of any kind, at the center of any high security containment room…