“Step forwards, D-0912.”
My name is Andrew Carter.
D-0912’s feet carried him on a path, straight and true, across the threshold of the door. The bright glare of lights shone into his face. Jagged shadows cut across the room’s surfaces, drawing the sharp angles of unidentifiable forms. The silhouette of a chair jutted out of the floor in the middle of the room.
Behind him, D-0912 heard the voice of the doctor who had followed him into the room. “You will be vaccinated against an anomalous pathogen. Later, we will conduct tests of the vaccine’s effectiveness. Sit in the chair.”
Two men with black combat gear hugging tight to their faces flanked the door. D-0912 did not turn to look at them. The men with guns were routine at this point. He wondered what sort of organization would steal its own workers’ faces like this, but it made sense. He and they were all brothers in sacrifice.
In the smoky recesses of his mind, D-0912 had a vision: some great god of the wild with the body of a man and the blood of a beast had shambled into the human world. On its skin the ways and boundaries of the world twisted and split into a sign, and the people beheld the sign, and by the sign they knew of the god’s power. The people of the world saw that the god at once knew and unmade the laws of nature, and they looked upon the god with terror and wonder. So when the time of the sacrifice came, necessary because the god demanded it, demanded by the god because it was necessary, the people became envious of those who would be brought into the presence of the god and killed as tribute. There was some gargantuan thing moving in the world, sifting through the body of humanity, taking what it took and leaving what remained in the wake of its passing. D-0912 was but plankton and krill, and the whales were descending.
D-0912 heard the sound of footsteps padding lightly against a forest floor as the god moved forth.
“Sit in the chair, D-0912.”
D-0912 lowered himself onto the high chair and felt the cold metal of its seat press against his flesh. The two guards at the door stepped forwards and strapped his limbs to the chair’s arms. D-0912 stared into the flat glossy blackness of their visors, placid like a lake’s surface, and felt only the lurking presence of some great and unknown Leviathan staring back.
Why was he here?
His brain dove into the lake, grasping for that Leviathan, until his lungs burned and he had to surface. Why was he here? Nothing added up. There was this faint memory of a crime that he had committed dangling off the end of his mind. Maybe it was murder. Who knew? Why did the people without faces even care if he had killed a man? The world was large, and the Foundation was larger, and a gunshot ringing out on a hot July afternoon was very small.
D-0912’s mind continued to wander. He had no idea who was in his family or what life he had once lived. He only knew that he had committed a crime. But there was still a nagging incoherency in that thought. If he was guilty of some terrible crime, how had the Foundation gotten its hands on him? Why him? Supposedly, there were very few people in the world with hands as dirty as his, and D-0912 was sure that, for some reason, a great many people were all very interested in the fates of him and his fellow condemned. So why would the Foundation take these conspicuous people for their sacrifices? It didn’t add up.
And why would the Foundation bestow the honor of sacrifice to the basest members of society? Surely these were experiments that warranted a great level of precision and finesse, and surely the question of menial labor could be answered with machines or simply ignored. What purpose did thugs and imbeciles have amongst the temple of the gods, where the Foundation tried to unravel the mysteries of the world?
D-0912’s mind wandered along the paths of heaven and hell. Who had put those thoughts there? Did he learn them in jail? It was absurdly impossible.
The world came back into the focus of D-0912’s consciousness. Slowly, he relaxed into the chair. “You’re giving me a vaccination?”
“That’s right,” the man in the lab coat said. He did not make eye contact with D-0912.
D-0912’s mouth curled. He spoke slowly, measuredly, as he stared at the doctor’s face. “Good day to give somebody a vaccination, isn’t it?”
The man checked something off his clipboard.
“Are you sure you can’t make more use of me? Why would you throw away a tool for the greater good so easily?”
D-0912 felt the bitter juice of his words drip down his lips. “Surely you will humor a man about to die.”
The man in the lab coat looked up. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Of course he was going to die. From the guards at the door, to the chair that restrained him in the center of the room, to the cold, impassive face of the doctor—only an idiot could possibly believe that death was not imminent.
“The straps are loose,” D-0912 said. He wiggled his arms in them to demonstrate. “Are you going to fix it?”
The doctor looked back down at his clipboard again.
There were bits and pieces of D-0912’s psyche that were missing. He couldn’t find the part of himself that was supposed to be afraid of death, but he also couldn’t find the part that was supposed to be tired of life. His past had been ripped from him, and his future turned in on itself in circles. Maybe he had never truly been alive. Every breath that he had taken in the hazy uncertainty of the past had been a lie. He could not remember any of it because he had not been truly alive then, and his future was ending because he wasn’t alive enough now for it to matter.
He held no animosity towards the Foundation. They did what they did. He hated only the idiots, scurrying around inside the bones of the Foundation, who prodded him into rooms with guns and locked the doors of his cell at night. These people formed the thin, tenuous link between him and the rest of human existence. Was he not drifting through a dream, with no reality to latch onto, and nobody to tell him that he had to wake up?
There was something written in the lines of his soul that had been obscured by the sands of a broken memory. D-0912 imagined men chopping wood and carving stone to build a tower reaching towards the heavens. Were the wood and stone destroyed as the tower was made, or had the tower always been written in the grain of the wood and the edges of the stone? When the silk and gold of an empire were presented before an emperor, had it always been known to the universe that the silkworms spun and the gold glittered but to adorn a mortal’s halls?
The doctor took D-0912’s sleeves and bared his arms. He held a needle in his hands. D-0912’s eyes tried to trace the tip of the needle, thin and imperceptible. The doctor held an impossibly fine knife in his hands. Light glinted off the edge and stabbed into D-0912’s eyes. He was naked before the terrible ecstasy of—
The needle pricked D-0912’s skin. Chemical radiance coursed through his veins and poured into his mind as the room began to disintegrate. Light began to overcome his vision.
Above him, the figure in white blinked as an expression of satisfied completion passed over his face. The two guards glanced at each other. D-0912 thought that he could see them nodding.
D-0912 struggled to move his lips. What did you do? What have you done to me?
He spoke in slurred, barely audible words. “S-stop this. Oh God—”
The darkness of the forest burst its bounds and flowed out into the world. D-0912 walked the twisted path of enlightenment and understood: no road ran straight. The world was a maze, and a corridor only seemed straight if nothing but that path could be seen. The ways of light all pointed to an all-encompassing, maddening blackness. Smoking chemical fire danced and sparked, drawing him forwards, until he was stumbling and lost in the depths of the forest.
As the beasts of the forest began to howl around him, D-0912 remembered.
His name was Andrew Carter.
“You are being given a chance to redeem yourself,” the man in the lab coat said. “By participating in the SCP Foundation’s D-Class personnel program for one month, you earn your freedom.”
“I earn my freedom?” he asked. His mind stuttered for a moment before he realized again—yes, he was a criminal. But then—
“You’re lying. I am not a criminal.”
“No,” the man said. “You’re not. But I wasn’t lying. You need redemption.”
“I won’t be told that I need redemption from people who detain, experiment on, and torture the innocent.”
His name was Andrew Carter, and he had committed no crime.
“You violated me. You made my own brain lie to itself. You had me pretend to be a criminal.”
The man laughed. “And you believed the lie so easily. Who are you to say who you are when you cannot even remember your own past? Why are you so firm in your belief that your mind is your own? What crime do we commit in trespassing upon something that does not even belong to you? You were born ignorant of yourself.”
“Nobody knows themselves. How do you expect me to?”
“I can expect you to know your function. A hammer that does not know that it is a hammer is useless.”
“So who are you?"
The lab coat fell away from the man. He stood; his eyes burned as two lanterns swaying in a night breeze; his hair grew wild. D-0912 saw the ways written into his flesh twist and splinter. He saw him crack open his sinewy maw and saw inside the belly of the beast. It churned and frothed as the rotting flesh of the sacrifice melted.
The beast said, “If you do not know yourself, then your sacrifice is meaningless. You will know that the flesh of a man is transformed into the spirit of a god. When you know this, you will find your redemption.”
“I will not be a sacrifice,” D-0912 said.
The beast laughed again, and it seemed that all the smoke and shadow of the world laughed with it.
His name was Andrew Carter.
Before him, a metal fence extended into the distance before curving out of sight. There were towers interspersed along the fence. Two guards stood watch behind him.
The fence’s gate swung open.
“Enter the gate, D-0912,” said the guard on the left.
D-0912 took a step forwards and stopped. “No,” he said. “I think we all know what the definition of insanity is. I’ve done all of this before, but you made me forget.”
The guard on the right raised his weapon. “If you do not comply, we will shoot.”
“Then shoot me,” D-0912 said.
The Foundation had made him walk the twisting road to the end of history, and now all cycles were coming to an end. His name was Andrew Carter, and all of this had happened before, but the time for it to happen again had passed.
As the echoes of a gunshot rang through the air, D-0912 collapsed to the ground. He saw through the gate to the village beyond. Numbers flew through the air and wrapped themselves around the villagers. They were marching, row by row, just as he had seen them do, time after time again. He remembered feeling the numbers slide into his own brain. They had formed expressions and equations that blossomed into a billion different right and wrong evaluations, as truth and falsehood were demoted to special cases of general chaos. He had said the words, then: My name is Andrew Carter. The words made a sign, and in all signs there was power. But the numbers and equations that proliferated in the air had power of their own. They formed rows and columns, and if D-0912 looked at them from far enough away there was a sign written in the pattern of the numbers. He had seen this sign again and again, and the Foundation had made his mind forget it again and again, so his mind went chasing after the sign and the source of the sign’s power until he finally found it, wrapped up in the branches of a wild apple tree, hidden where no human eyes had wandered.
The two guards knelt on either side of D-0912. “What do you see?” asked the one on his left.
He saw a machine without a craftsman begin to move, for even those things without a maker still had purpose.
“But if you have no maker, how do you know what your purpose is?” asked the one on the right.
Somewhere deep in the forest, where all the twisting paths met and became one, there, intermingled with the whispering of the wind and the bestial cries of the night, the god of the wild’s laughter echoed in defiance of an answer.
His name was Andrew Carter. The crisp, sweet taste of apples lingered on his tongue.
For his entire life he had been seeing double. There was one world in which roads and buildings ran straight, and clouds drifted across the sky in set paths, and the earth rotated peacefully around a tranquil sun. There was another world where singularities and vacuums shattered the underpinnings of the universe, where fractal patterns spread out across the ground and radiated like halos from the unthinkable minds of human beings, and the roads diverged from one another in angles and spirals. There was one world in which the Foundation thought only about costs and benefits and how to best maximize utility for seven billion people, and where, no matter what, the Foundation was the greater good, which justified the exploitation of death row inmates for the purposes of advancing the Foundation’s knowledge so that the Foundation could better protect—
It was a ball of contradictions incoherent in its simplicity.
There was another world. Truth had abandoned the Foundation. Truth was a matter of consensus, and the Foundation dissented to maintain that consensus. There was no truth to describe the Foundation. It had been and it always would be. It was that it was. There was nothing else.
And as for him…
There was one world in which his life’s path was a straight line from birth to death. There was another world in which his life twisted ever upwards, towards the unbounded blackness of the night, where something was calling for him, drawing him closer to a place where he would know what his function was. He would be that he would be.
He had always seen this world. As light begot darkness, darkness concealed light. Information was hidden in all things. Viewed myopically enough, a curve became straight, a maze became a path, and a pattern became meaningless. The foundations of the universe were contradiction after contradiction: the confusion of the maze became the clarity of the truth. D-0912 had seen the paths of the forest twist and spiral—he had been lost—and now a grand pattern began to explode before his eyes.
He saw the chemical light inside of his body—the hydrogen chains twisting into benzene rings, functional groups combining to form something unexpected. He had been played. This molecule could not possibly kill him. It was similar in a way to the amnestics he had been repeatedly dosed with, but at the same time different…
His name was Andrew Carter, and he was going to live.
“Doctor Wainwright?” said the guard on the right.
The man in the lab coat looked up from the still body of D-0912. “Sir?”
“Leave us now.”
The doctor nodded. “Yes, sir.”
He stared at the floor as he made his way out of the room.
The guard on the left adjusted his visor to make direct eye contact with his companion. “Hey,” he said, smiling. “Look.”
He took out a syringe of red liquid from behind his back.
“Do not implicate me in your misdemeanors, Adam.”
“Don’t blame me for trying to share.”
“You are to find the Site Director and return that to him immediately. Petty theft from Foundation employees who know no better is rather distasteful. Furthermore, HALMAS is a Level 5 controlled substance. Its unregulated distribution is punishable—“
“It’s fine,” Adam said, slipping the syringe into his pocket. “I’ll let the go-between know, and he’ll tell the O5s. Jesus, Basam, do you really think that I’d let the O5s lose track of some of their HALMAS?”
“You are growing decadent in your usage of that substance.”
“I am taking what is due to me.”
In the chair before them, D-0912’s body convulsed. A low groan escaped his frothy lips. Immediately, the two guards moved forwards and removed his restraints.
“Andrew Carter?” Basam asked. Slowly, D-0912 opened his eyes.
“You didn’t kill me.”
“We were not planning on doing so,” Basam said.
“You took me from the real world in order to make me into something. Direct, uncontrolled exposure to the Foundation’s anomalies—repeated amnesticization—leading me to believe that I would eventually be killed—all so that my mind would be in the perfect position for the Foundation to change it with whatever is in that man’s pocket.”
D-0912 extended a finger at Adam, who offered a faint smile back.
“Already knowing things that you shouldn’t know. Aren’t you precocious?” he said.
“You have been altered,” Basam said, “to meet the specifications of a top-secret project. Over the course of your future, you will learn more about the Foundation than any of your previous jailors ever knew or could have hoped to guess at. You will join a group that is at the very head of the Foundation. For your entire life, this has been your purpose.”
D-0912 felt the rotting flesh of the now-dead disguise that had hidden Andrew Carter fall away.
“Welcome to Mobile Task Force Alpha-1.”