Puppets And Their Masters
rating: +11+x

Dr. Madison Craggs' daily routine was interrupted by the signature kra-kow, kra-kow of a distant M4 carbine, immediately followed by screams.

Dr. Craggs ran as fast as she could. Her foot snagged something; she slammed against cold tile. When she looked back, her eyes locked with the lifeless gaze of a security guard draped across the floor. A metal card was embedded in his forehead.

"Fear me, mortal! Cower before the wrath of your god!"

A scream echoed down the hall, followed by two quick gunshots.

SCP-2801-KL wasn't the Chaos Insurgency's first attempt at a Neurocrack worm, but it was easily their best. In concept, it was similar to Craggs' own Mike units, but far more efficient. No neural implants, mind-altering drugs, or brainwashing necessary; all it took to become another puppet was for the wrong person to ask where the restroom was, and all the screenings the Foundation could muster couldn't keep it from spreading like wildfire. Dr. Craggs couldn't help but be a little envious of its effectiveness, and a little mystified that it had never been used in the field.

Until today, it would seem.

Regardless of the tools, this attack was unusual. The Chaos Insurgency rarely relied on brute-force, puppets or no puppets. They preferred infiltration, subterfuge, guerilla tactics. A direct assault on this scale indicated an impressive level of resolve, and Dr. Craggs did not want to be between them and whatever their target was.

She looked up and saw a figure of a head that looked like something out of an old adventure movie floating in front of her. She was surprised to see a loose SCP this far from the containment wing.

"I will destroy you and your puny Foundation!"

"Stop!" she said, desperately trying to think of how she could get away. "I can help you!"

"The great Anoati needs no help from a pathetic mortal!" Two more gunshots, closer this time.

"If you let me live, I can show you the way out!" It was the best she could think of. The Foundation would want the thing back in containment, but that wasn't a hill she was willing to die on. Besides, she could use a wingman, even if it was a floating head with a god complex.

Anoati paused, considering her offer.

"Very well then, human, I accept your show of faith. I will spare you from my rage, and you must help me return to my island!"

"Okay then," she said, "we'll go to your island." She had no intention of doing so, but the statue didn't need to know that.

Dr. Craggs stood up and unbuckled the gun holster from the corpse behind her and fastened it to herself. In honesty, she didn't really know the way out - the Foundation didn't trust her with that sort of detailed information - but she had a decent idea of where to look, as long as she could keep Anoati from getting impatient. Even then, she didn't know how to drive (there had always been more important things to occupy her time with), and it would be a five mile walk through thick forest to the nearest main road. Still, it was better than sitting around waiting for a CI bullet.


Nathan Snyder took a deep breath, braced himself, and pulled. He doubled over in the excruciating pain. When Nathan had composed himself, he found a bloody shard of glass the size of a credit card in his right hand. He carefully placed it onto the paper towel sitting next to him, wrapped it, and inserted it into his pocket. His right leg was bleeding profusely now. He feebly reached to his bag for something to cover the wound, sending a tremor of pain down his left arm.

Nathan hadn't stopped driving until the pain had become unbearable. Thankfully, there had been a rest area on the side of the highway; he had been driving for five hours with no food, no water, a broken arm, and a shard of glass shooting pain up his leg every time he pressed on the accelerator. He didn't know how much longer he would have lasted without passing out.

The rest area was mostly empty. It was little more than of a row of picnic benches on concrete flats under an overhang, but it was certainly an improvement compared to the prospect of collapsing behind the wheel. It was somewhere in Colorado, but Nathan didn't know exactly where - he had paid more attention to getting away quickly than going in any specific direction - but it was out of the way enough that traffic was more or less negligible. Despite being the peak of summer, it was a fairly agreeable temperature, and Nathan was grateful for a respite from the desert heat.

Nathan, still shaking from the pain, awkwardly wrapped an old t-shirt around his leg with one hand, instantly staining it crimson. Spots of blood dripped onto the bench. Normally, he would have been horrified at the thought of leaving such damning physical evidence, and would have attacked it with bleach; now, he was too light-headed to care.

And then there was his arm. Oh God, his arm. He had luckily been able to avoid hospital visits so far during his time in hiding, but he wasn't sure he could evade it now. He would almost certainly be ID'd, and in his situation that was almost as bad as death. And yet, the thought of walking around with an unset fracture made him queasy beyond description.

"Excuse me, but could-"

Nathan jumped, and turned around to see a middle-aged woman breathing heavily walk out from the treeline. He wasn't expecting company, and he wouldn't have stopped here if he did.

"Mortal! Your god demands your service!"

Nathan jumped again, sending another painful ripple down his arm. He definitely wasn't expecting a bellowing clay head. "What the-"

"You cannot feign ignorance, human!" the head shouted. Or did it? Its mouth wasn't moving. "Obey the commands of your lord!"

"Who the he-"

He stopped. It did seem…familiar, somehow. Come to think of it, he did vaguely remember sifting through the head of a scientist who had been working with some Polynesian head thing. But if this was the same one, then that meant that they were from…

Oh no.

The woman intervened. "Let me introduce myself," she said, brushing pine needles out of her hair. "I'm Dr. Madison Craggs, and this is-"

"I am the great Anoati!"

"…what he said. What's your name?"

"Daniel." It was the first name he could think of.

Nathan exhaled. Dr. Craggs' reputation preceded her. As a CI defector, she helped the Foundation with anti-Insurgency operations in exchange for not getting shot on sight. She was notorious for being something of a loose cannon, so the Foundation kept her on a tight leash. She clearly wasn't here for him, but Nathan found her mere presence unsettling.

"Okay Daniel, I know that meeting a strange woman and a talking sculpture in the middle of nowhere is unusual-"

"I am no sculpture! I am a god!"

Dr. Craggs ignored him. "…but we need to get out of here quickly. Can you drive?" she asked, looking towards the car parked behind Nathan, which looked as beaten up as he did.

This was bad news. Whatever had this Foundation operative and her floating head running scared was not going to be good for him either, but he had no intention of letting them stick around long enough to find out who he was.

"Look, I'm not really-"

"Do not test my patience, human! I command you to take us away from this wretched island, or I will rend your flesh to pieces and turn your entrails to Anoa-stone!"

Nathan looked towards Dr. Craggs, who smiled back. "We just need you to drive us somewhere," she said, slowly reaching towards her revolver, "unless, of course, you'd rather choose his way." She motioned to Anoati.

Nathan couldn't believe this. He was being held up by some woman and a clay head. Nathan felt like he was trapped in a bad joke, and he didn't think he wanted to know the punchline. A cyberterrorist, a war criminal, and a god walk into a bar…

His train of thought was interrupted by a shadow moving behind the treeline.

Two more quickly followed it.

They had found him.

Nathan ducked behind the picnic bench. Dr. Craggs saw them too, and crouched behind one of the supports.

"Anoati, hide! They're going to see you!" she whispered.

"Hide?! I will not hide! Let these cowards face me!" he bellowed.

Right on cue, a cloud of bullets erupted from the treeline. Anoati began throwing sticks towards the trees, shouting threats constantly. Dr. Craggs unholstered her revolver, and released two rounds in the direction of the shadows. She realized she didn't know how many bullets she had, and she kicked herself for not taking the time to grab more.

Nathan reached for his right pocket and pulled out his phone. If he was lucky, one of his attackers would be infected. A bullet ricocheted off the concrete next to him. He performed the handshake with someone he hoped was an enemy, and fruitlessly tried to type in a command. His head was throbbing, and the crack of every gunshot sent tremors through his skull; he couldn't focus. He looked back to the treeline. Three people were clearly visible now. One of them looked like an Insurgent operative like he had been expecting, but not the other two. One was wearing a lab coat, and the other an orange jumpsuit. He wasn't too surprised. The Insurgency was no stranger to mind-control research.

Screw it. He tapped a few random keys and hit the transmit button.

He heard a loud yelp behind him. He turned and looked back. The one in the jumpsuit was writhing on the ground; the other two had stopped firing in the confusion. Dr. Craggs aimed her revolver and fired a single shot into the trees. The one in armor dropped.

Now was his chance. Nathan made a break for the car and threw the driver door open. Dr. Craggs shouted something to Anoati and ran towards the car as the bullets began flying again. Nathan shoved the key into the ignition and turned it. Dr. Craggs threw the passenger door open and yelled to Anoati again, who quickly followed and landed on the backseat.

Nathan threw the car into drive, and turned sharply. The car bounced as the front wheel briefly bumped over the curb stop. Nathan slammed his foot down on the acceleratorthe car flew down the highway as the engine squealed in protest.


Nathan kept his eyes glued to the road. His head was beating like a drum, and his arm was killing him. He heard Anoati asking questions to Dr. Craggs, but he wasn't clear headed enough to understand what they were saying.

He should have expected that the Insurgency would have followed him. Or maybe they didn't; maybe they had followed Craggs and Anoati. Not that it mattered. He was on their hit list either way. And then, of course, there were his passengers. He was hoping he would have been able to leave them at the rest area while he got away, but that had failed. He desperately tried to think of a way to get rid of them, not realizing that they had stopped talking.

"That was a Neurocrack worm, wasn't it?" Dr. Craggs asked, turning towards him.

Nathan was focused again. His hand was in a death grip on the wheel.

"You're that hacker we've been looking for, aren't you? Nathan Snyder?"

He didn't answer.

Dr. Craggs couldn't believe her luck. It wasn't every day that she shared a car with a cyberterrorist. She had spent much of her time with the Foundation researching the Insurgency's SCP-2801 variants, and here she was, running from one of them, and the very inventor of Neurocrack had been dropped right into her proverbial lap. She needed to get her and Nathan to the nearest site. The head wouldn't be happy, but it could be dealt with. Opportunities like this didn't come often.

Nathan heard Dr. Craggs start babbling on about something called KL, with the occasional interjection from Anoati. He wasn't listening. His cover had been blown, and Nathan had no intention of being captured by the Foundation. He needed to get her out of here quickly, but she was armed, he was not, and he didn't want to test Anoati's ability to carry out his threats. He was trapped.

"We need to head west from here."

Nathan snapped out of his daze. "What?"

"We're going to Site-22." It was close, and should have the research equipment she would need.

Nathan loosened his grip on the steering wheel. "There is no way I am doing that."

"Would you rather face the Insurgency again?"

"I don't know if you've noticed, but I did a pretty good job of hiding myself up until now," Nathan said, "and besides, why should I care if my enemies are fighting each other?"

Dr. Craggs smiled. "Funny thing," she said, placing her hand on her holster, "I don't remember giving you a choice."

Dr. Craggs suddenly felt cold glass pressed against her face as she vainly tried to draw her revolver. She felt the urge to scream, but her lungs held still in defiance. She felt the light fading.

She was gone.

Nathan dropped his phone and put his hand back on the steering wheel. What an idiot. A brain-fried cadaver in his passenger seat was the last thing he needed right now. He had enough on his plate already.

"You FOOL!"

Oh, and then there was the head. He had forgotten about the head.

"There is no greater crime than to murder a servant of the great Anoati!" His roars were even louder than usual.

Nathan slammed on the brakes and turned to face the statue, who was now hovering a foot above the seat.

"Anoati, stop!"

"For this sorcery, I will shatter this contraption of weak Anoa-stone and cast your broken remains into depths of the sea!" Several shards of broken glass began hovering above the floor of the car.

"You still need me!"

"I require nothing of you, murderer!"

Nathan was losing patience. "God or not, you can't get back to your island without me!"

Nathan paused, expecting Anoati to interrupt him. He did not.

"You have no idea where you are, no way to get where you want even if you did, and no one else willing to play chauffeur for a clay head, so unless you plan on floating your carcass around this forest until you rot, you still need me alive! So are you with me or not?!"

They gazed at each other for a few seconds before Anoati replied.

"Very well, murderer. I will tolerate your continued existence for now," he said, lowering his voice, "but pray to me that you do not falter again, or I will have the pleasure of delivering your eternal agony!"

Anoati lowered himself onto the seat as the glass around him slowly descended. Nathan turned back around and started breathing again. He was surprised that he had had that much energy left in him, and even more surprised that he was still alive. This had been his second scrape with death today; he made a silent prayer to whatever god was still willing to hear him that it would be the last. He put his hand back on the wheel. He had no idea where he was going, and Anoati was still breathing down his neck, but he had bought himself just a little more precious time.

He took his foot off the brake, and continued on his journey to God-knows-where.

He didn't know it, but around him, the world was burning.



Written for Bonus Round 2 of the Original Character Tournament.

Lazar LyusternikLazar Lyusternik's entry: Tying the Gordian Knot
DrDromeusDrDromeus' entry: Battle for the Minds

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