Stage Fright
rating: +33+x

If I do, and I'm wrong, humanity dies. For a year or two.

If I don't, and I'm right, humanity dies. Forever.

The figure stared at the stone wall for a moment, wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, as if waiting for the surroundings to acknowledge the gravity of the moment. Instead, the train tracks remained rusted and silent, and a plastic bottle continued rolling down a street in the wind.

The figure carefully unfolded a diagram, and began painting with the spray can in their other hand, pausing to re-check the plan every few seconds. The lines were precisely calculated, an intricate arrangement of concentric rings and right angles, standing out from the fluid and free-form graffiti that occupied the rest of the wall. Once finished, they dropped the can in the grass, and returned to a car parked in a nearby lot, where they waited and watched the tracks.

The next train to pass was filled with passengers occupied with reading, napping, or daydreaming, but enough of them caught a glimpse of the strange design as they passed under the bridge, on their way deep into the center of Manhattan. Satisfied that their work was done, the figure started the engine and began the drive home.


Claire stared at the shapes and colors before her, trying to resolve them into identifiable objects. She wished she weren't so familiar with this sensation, but it was an unfortunate necessity of working in the memetic research department.

Amnestics, she thought. Selective, judging from the nutty, metallic smell, assuming I'm not in an abandoned peanut butter factory. Class-B at the very least.

She ran through her most recent memories, trying to recall where she was and why. There was a summons to meet O5-8, face-to-face - the long drive to a covert bunker - verifying her identity via passcode, retinal scan, and a dozen machines outside of her clearance - and finally, a doctor with a syringe of clear fluid. There was apprehension, which was strange, considering how often she'd taken amnestics before - but no anger, so whatever she'd forgotten, she had done so voluntarily. That much, at least, was a relief.

The shapes before her gained definition; she was sitting across a desk from a squat, bald man, wearing a smile that suggested he was incapable of hate.

"Ah, looks like you've come to," said the bald man. "As you've probably guessed, I am O5-8, but you can call me Paul. Not my real name, of course." He chuckled, extending a hand over the desk.

She blinked off the last of the effects. "And I'm Claire. Claire Rudin." She grasped his hand, and received a hearty shake.

The desk was clear except for a handful of knicknacks, only slightly unlike those found on office desks everywhere. A row of metal ball bearings, with no visible strings to hang from, hovered in midair to her right. To her left, a gyroscope spun on a small pedestal, showing no signs of slowing down. On a shelf at the back, a Rubik's cube appeared to be scrambling itself.

The man noticed Claire's eyes wandering. "Yes, normally these wouldn't be allowed in here, but I managed to weasel out an exception. They're my way of staying sane - something we all need in this line of work." He pulled back one of the metal balls and released it. Rather than the expected clacking, the balls rang like bells as they knocked each other back and forth, playing the opening notes of "Ode To Joy".

"Don't worry, they're all the safest of safe-class. Barely anomalous objects, really."

"What was it you wanted to discuss, exactly? Your message said it had something to do with the Daevite meme."

"Yes, that's right. We finally got the results back from the field study." He pulled a thick folder from a drawer and handed it to her.

Claire skimmed the figures on the first page, skipping quickly to the final statistical analysis. At least ten million dormant carriers, it said. She checked the figures, hoping to find some mathematical error, but found nothing. Flipping to the recorded civilian conversations, her trained eye quickly picked out the obscure word choices and memetic triggers that were the hallmarks of a particularly subtle and virulent meme. Yes, these people were definitely infected. And if the field teams' sampling methods were reliable - which she knew they were - the conclusion was inevitable.

She put the folder down and looked him directly in the eye, wondering how he still had his cherubic smile.

"This is uncontainable."

"Uncontainable by conventional methods," he corrected. "But that's why I called you here. We need to discuss some unconventional methods."

The quiet whirring of the gyroscope filled the air for a moment. Claire maintained eye contact, waiting for the man calling himself "Paul" to clarify what he would consider "unconventional".

He leaned back and spoke in a near-monotone, as if he had rehearsed this beforehand. "At 8:00 this morning, the O5 council voted unanimously to engage a contingency plan codenamed 'Stage Fright'. Part of this plan is that, once enacted, all details of its methods would be completely classified. Even I'm not allowed to know how it operates. All personnel who had any knowledge of the project have been administered selective amnestics."

"I take it I was involved in this project?" Claire said, recalling her awakening minutes ago.

"That's right. In fact, you were the head researcher. Congratulations on whatever you did, because at 9:14 the project reported success. All anomalous memetic effects have ceased completely. Not just for our personnel - everyone in the world is now effectively immune to memetic hazards."

"Immune? That would require a fundamental breakthrough in memetic science. Why would we wipe our memories of a discovery like that?"

The man shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine. It was at your personal insistence. Whatever your reasons were, they were good enough to convince the O5 council. And in any case, the details will be available once Stage Fright is deactivated. It's only meant as a temporary measure, to buy time for your new assignment.

"Effective immediately, you are being transferred to Site-121. To maintain the secrecy of Stage Fright, all memetic SCP objects have been transferred there as well. The cover story is that it's our new headquarters for memetic research. In reality, you will only be researching two things.

"Firstly, you are to monitor the continued effectiveness of Stage Fright. Any signs of memetic effects returning are to be reported directly to me.

"Secondly, you are to continue developing a counter for the Daevite meme. Once the countermeme is ready, notify me and we can disable Stage Fright to deploy it.

"Do you have any questions?"


I know this test is unnecessary.

I cannot let myself know. For previous-Claire, the test was important. Necessary.

I know the eggplant cannot control me. I must block out what I know.

I must do what previous-Claire would do, and see the eggplant without thinking of it.

"How do you feel about vegetables?"

I must think what previous-Claire would think.

"They're good for your health."

Claire sat alone in a windowless room, taking what she felt to be the world's strangest inkblot test. A bundle of cables connected to a helmet monitored her brain activity and carried it to the next room, where a team of researchers verified that she had, in fact, seen the photo of an eggplant, and had not, in fact, declared a holy war on edible plantlife. The next image was an abstract pattern of parallel lines.

"Please state your name," asked the voice from the speakers.

I know my name. Easy. Previous-Claire would struggle to know it.

I must struggle to know it.

She paused, and focused her mind. "Claire Rudin." Not Philip Gatt, the man who had painted it.

She was one of the few people cleared to know that this test was now completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, the people administering it weren't, so she had to put on a show. It wasn't too hard; memetic resistance techniques were similar to acting. Both required replacing your thought processes with someone or something else; a sort of conscious delusion. Still, she was glad to have the easier test, particularly for the next image.

"Dr. Rudin, are you prepared for the last slide?"

She paused and inhaled for dramatic effect. "Yes, go ahead."

The projector switched to the final image. Under normal circumstances, this would be a particularly dangerous cognitohazard, capable of putting unguarded minds into a temporary coma. She would need to struggle to view the image in front of her face, and allow it to pass through her mind without processing it. Today, however, she let her guard down just long enough to admire the flower.

"All readings normal. Doctor Rudin, you are cleared to enter Site-121."

Good. If they had caught on, it would be a security breach; there would be inquiries, amnestics, and worst of all, delays. Despite her efforts, it had happened a few times before.

Claire put the helmet away and made her way to her office, eager to see if the counter-memetic search program running overnight had yielded results. To her surprise, she was not the first person to the lab today.

"Mark, you're here early."

The man looked up from his monitor, not having realized she was behind him. "Oh! Yes, I had a good feeling this time around. Thought we might have finally gotten the cognitive anchor points right." He had a manic grin, clearly waiting to be asked the obvious question.

"So, did we?"

He handed her a printout showing an abstract pattern of nested triangles. "It's the cleanest countermeme we've ever found. The software is predicting 100% effectiveness. If we got this thing into the mass media, the plague could be over in a matter of days."

Claire furrowed her brow in confusion, and turned the page over, checking if there was anything on the back.

"This is the countermeme? This exact pattern?"

"Well, yeah, of course." He laughed, increasingly concerned that she wasn't sharing his mirth. "I wouldn't joke about that, Claire. We've finally done it."

Claire stared at the pattern some more, wondering if she was imagining that she'd seen it before.

"So… you're going to bring this to the O5s, right? I mean, there isn't really much else for us to do here now. We've found the cure."

"Right, yes. I'll let the O5s know. I suppose you can take the rest of the day off."

Claire carefully slipped the paper into a manila folder, and started getting ready to leave. Before seeing O5-8, she decided to make one other stop.


Claire stared at the painting on her living room wall.

Then back at the paper in her hand. Then at the painting again.

Yes, they were definitely identical. She tried to remember where, exactly, she had bought it.

It was when some friends were coming over, I think… Who, exactly? Hmm, it doesn't matter, I guess I was embarassed about how minimalist my apartment is… So I found that art store on Google somewhere. Can't remember the name… it was a fairly nondescript place. And… if I remember correctly, it smelled distinctly of metal and peanuts.

She stopped breathing for a moment. I do not remember correctly.

Claire gripped the sides of the frame and carefully lifted the painting from the wall, placing it face-down on the dining table. On the back, a packet of papers had been stapled together and messily duct taped to the painting, along with a note unmistakeably in her own handwriting.


Hi Claire.

The amnestics they gave you for anything related to Stage Fright probably hit any memories of my test for the O5s as well.

I'm hoping the information I've left here is enough to lead you to the same conclusion as me: The O5s aren't taking my cautions seriously enough. At least, not all of them. That's why I had to give them a test. Misuse of Stage Fright could lead to an EK-Class scenario - and we wouldn't be able to do a thing about it, because nobody would even realize it had occurred. So as horrible as the test may be, it's better than the alternative.

- Claire

P.S. Don't worry - the Daevite meme is actually completely harmless. Yes, the dormant stage is highly virulent, but the babbling about Daevite mythology during the active stage is just that: babbling. No actual connection. Just something to give the O5s a good scare. The infected won't even remember it.


MEMETICS DEPARTMENT
PROJECT SESHAT RESEARCH SUMMARY FOR O5 COUNCIL
MARCH 2011


The microwormholes discovered by Dr. Malcolm in January have been confirmed to be present in the brains of all available test subjects. Microwormholes appear to be present in all regions of the brain, and typically have a diameter under 50 nanometers.

Research into the destination of these wormholes remains at a standstill, due to their small size preventing access with measuring equipment.

Incoming signals have been determined to correspond to both sensory and memory information. These signals appear to be comprehensive; all information consciously processed by the subject passes into at least one wormhole.

Outgoing signals have thus far only been observed when the subject is exposed to anomalous memetic or cognitohazardous stimuli. Experiments run by Dr. Tarver have shown that these signals cause the anomalous effects of SCP-███, SCP-████, and SCP-████. Dr. Tarver hypothesizes that the microwormholes may be the cause of all anomalous memetic effects.

SHORT-TERM RESEARCH GOALS: (new items in bold)

  • Determine number and distribution of microwormholes (Completed)
  • Continued analysis of incoming and outgoing signals
  • Research origin, growth and development of microwormholes over time
  • Verify Dr. Tarver's hypothesis with other memetic SCP objects

LONG-TERM RESEARCH GOALS: (new items in bold)

  • Determine common cause of memetic anomalies (Provisionally marked as completed -Dr. Rudin)
  • Develop nanoscale equipment for analysis of microwormhole destination
  • Research methods of closing or blocking microwormholes to prevent cognitohazardous effects

RESEARCHER'S NOTE:

Clearly, this is an exciting time for everyone in the memetics department. These microwormholes are the most significant discovery in memetics in decades, and the research we're doing now will likely revolutionize how we deal with memetic threats.

That said, I must issue a word of caution. Until a few months ago, I would have dismissed any talk of the "mind" being separate from the brain as a violation of Occam's Razor at best, and superstition at worst. However, any good scientist is willing to change her beliefs in the face of new evidence - and we now have proof that the mind consists of two distinct parts: The brain in the physical universe we understand, and a second part, hovering out of sight, in a realm we know nothing about.

Given what is being sent in and out of the microwormholes, we cannot dismiss the possibility that their destination is what philosophers call the "Cartesian Theater". That is, the place where the brain puts on a show for the mind - the location where actual, conscious perception takes place.

If this hypothesis is correct, then any attempt to close the microwormholes would not only render the subject immune to cognitohazards, it would also render them effectively unconscious. Their physical brain would continue unaffected, causing them to appear normal to observers, but they would no longer experience their own life.

For this reason, I must insist on two features of any such project:

1. It must be an absolute last resort, reserved only for K-class scenarios;

2. Even then, it must only be a temporary measure.

I dearly hope that such a measure never becomes necessary; however, as research along these lines has already been proposed by several members of my team, I ask that everyone keep this possibility in mind, and proceed with the necessary caution.

- Dr. C. Rudin


O5 COUNCIL MEETING TRANSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 8, 2012


Present: O5-1 through O5-12, Dr. Julia Dean (Chairwoman, Ethics Committee), Dr. Claire Rudin (Project lead, Stage Fright)

<Begin Log>

O5-1: Dr. Rudin, could you begin by explaining the purpose of your proposed addition to the Stage Fright protocols?

Dr. Rudin: Yes. Because of the nature of the device, I believe that anyone who is aware of its methods would exhibit impaired judgement while it was active, regarding my "Cartesian Theater" hypothesis in particular. For that reason, I suggest that anyone involved in the project, including the O5 council, must be administered amnestics prior to its activation.

O5-5: This hypothesis you mention, it's the idea that the wormholes are responsible for consciousness, correct?

Dr. Rudin: Essentially, yes.

O5-8: Why, exactly, are we entertaining this notion? Frankly, I don't see why we don't turn the device on right now. It would make all our jobs a lot easier, save possibly millions of lives, and the only thing holding us back is this bit of speculative philosophy that -

Dr. Dean: If I may interject, the Ethics Committee discussed Dr. Rudin's hypothesis last night. While the scientific data is inconclusive, we decided unanimously to act on the assumption that the hypothesis is correct, until it is conclusively disproven. The risks of disregarding it override any potential benefits.

O5-4: Setting that aside, I can't help but feel a bit insulted by your reasoning, Dr. Rudin. Are you suggesting that the judgement of the O5 council can't be trusted?

Dr. Rudin: I understand, but please keep in mind what we've found from our research. Everything indicates that, aside from immunity to cognitohazards, the device would have absolutely no effect on anyone's behavior.

I wager that everyone in this room is currently convinced of their own self-awareness. "I think, therefore I am." In fact, it would be damn near impossible to convince anyone otherwise. It's too immediately obvious.

But the device does not affect behavior. Once it is activated, everyone will continue to act as if they believe themselves to be conscious - even if they are not. They will still be just as hard to convince otherwise.

And that means we will act on the belief that the device does not negate consciousness - even if it does. We would likely decide never to turn it off.

If that happens, we will be robbing the world of life, forever. For that reas-

O5-8: Assuming your hypothesis is correct.

Dr. Dean: Which we are.

Dr Rudin: As I was saying, for that reason, we can only allow ourselves to know one thing: The device must be deactivated as soon as possible. We cannot allow ourselves to know why.

O5-1: Does anyone have anything else to add?

O5-4: I still say this is an insulting proposal. We can trust ourselves to remain objective in any circumstance. We wouldn't be here if we couldn't.

O5-1: Four, your objection is noted. Shall we put it to a vote?

[Proposal passes 9-3, with O5-4, O5-8, and O5-11 dissenting.]

<End Log>


Claire read the transcript a second and third time.

I know I am conscious. Of course I am. I know I am - and my knowing proves it.

But this previous Claire - she would say my mind has been impaired. I cannot trust what I know.

I know I am conscious. But I am affected by a worldwide memetic effect. No, not memetic - but close enough.

I must block what I know.

I must think what previous-Claire, the one not affected, would want me to think.

I am not conscious. Nobody has been conscious for two years.

I must test the O5s.

Claire flipped to the final pages of the packet, a description of the project's methods, most of it blacked out. At least three Keter-Class objects. Something level-5 classified. But the final steps, the ones previous-Claire had worked on, were visible, showing the final product of the process.

A gyroscope that never stops spinning.


Dr. Rudin had claimed she had good news. O5-8 wondered, then, why she looked like someone waiting for news on a dying loved one.

"So, how goes the countermeme project?"

"Very well, actually." Her speech was stilted, forced. Strange, he thought - but memetic researchers were always a bit odd. "We developed a countermeme this morning. It's projected to have 100% effectiveness."

O5-8 felt a lump in his throat. He had been dreading this moment, having to shoot down years of her work. Still, he thought, it was for the greater good. These past two years had seen countless lives saved by the gyroscope, and it would be a crime against humanity to give that up. Her hypothesis was an interesting bit of philosophy, to be sure, but his anti-amnestic had allowed him to remember it, and see its falseness.

"So as soon as you deactivate Stage Fright, we can begin distribution via mass media."

A few white lies, a few well-placed bluffs. It had been easy to get the program, and its crown jewel, into his sole hands, especially when nobody else knew anything about it.

I think, therefore I am. That much is ironclad. I have nothing to feel guilty about.

"I'm afraid, actually, that we're going to put that on hold. We've decided to continue Stage Fright indefinitely."

He had girded himself for a look of disappointment, or shock, but was surprised to see a calm take hold of Dr. Rudin. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She was taking this better than he expected.

"We'll archive the counter-meme, and you will, of course, be amnesticized. Standard protocol, for projects of this importance."

"I see. Could you do me a favor, though?" Claire asked, removing a pen from her coat pocket.

"Yes?"

Claire jammed the pen between the spokes of the gyroscope, stopping it dead. O5-8 recoiled, and scrambled for the gyroscope just as she said the words she had memorized; the words that would dig into his mind and gouge out what he should've gouged himself.

"Mr. Paul, I'd like you to exit, pursued by a bear."


O5-8 was embarrassed to have lost focus. In the middle of an important meeting, and he was daydreaming about bears that smelled of peanut butter and rust.

"Sir?" asked a heavily-armed man just inside the doorway.

"Yes?"

"You pressed your silent alarm?"

"Oh, false alarm. Must have bumped it."

The man glanced at Claire and, satisfied, left the room. O5-8 relaxed, relieved there was a distraction from his inattentiveness.

"You said you had good news?"

"Well, good and bad. We've developed a countermeme that should end the Daevite meme in days."

"Excellent! And the bad?"

"It seems Stage Fright has worn off. People develop an immunity; we won't be able to use it again."

He frowned. "Hmm. Well, at least you found the cure just in time. I guess we'll have to contain memetics the old-fashioned way. I'll send out the orders to deploy the countermeme." He leaned back, and noticed the metal object Claire was admiring in her hand.

"So what's with the gyroscope?"

Claire smiled, putting it in her pocket. "Just a present for my niece's birthday."

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