Senior Agent Jehr stretched as the secretary paged his commanding officer, taking the time to enjoy his first real elbow room in six months. While the survey cutters used by the Foundation had markedly improved in the thirty years of his service and the current generation of field agents were practically coddled by comparison to when he was a fresh rookie, spending half a solar year in deep space in the cramped cabin with five other surveyors and specialists could make anyone appreciate the ability to walk around and stretch their limbs.
Of course, this particular tour hadn't lasted quite that long. Rather than mapping a distant, unexplored planet, Agent Jehr was now standing before the door of one of the most senior personnel in the entire organization, fidgeting in his dress uniform and not looking forward to having to explain why his last trip out had been cut short.
Staring out through the broad viewport at the vast, expansive orbital installation that was the primary service station for ships such as his, Jehr contemplated what it might have been to be a field agent in the earliest years of the Foundation. He remembered reading about those days, when the brave men and women of the Foundation fought a secret shadow war against encroaching anomalies and other organizations alike, when nothing was understood and every day the world didn't end was a victory in and of itself.
But then came the Beyril-Veren Unifying Standard Theory, the breakthrough in theoretical physics that peeled back the veil guarding the secrets of the universe. Almost overnight, anomalies turned from nightmares and things whispered about in hushed tones to curiosities that could be contained, disassembled, and discarded. The Foundation, its own veil of secrecy no longer necessary, became a public organization overseen by governments and politicians, one that would spearhead exploration into deep space and remove the cosmic errors it once zealously guarded in preparation for civilian colonization.
The secretary made an acknowledgement over her headset and nodded at him, signalling that his boss was ready to see him and bringing him out of his reverie. Composing himself, he walked up to the door, which slid open with a muted click.
"Jehr!" he called out from behind his desk, with a booming, boisterous voice that belied the cunning and cut-throat efficiency he was capable of. "How are you, you old fossil?"
"Fleet Director Lum," Jehr replied, saluting sharply.
"Always business, I see," the huge man smirked, returning the salute before chuckling out loud and gesturing towards one of the chairs in his office. "Come, sit. How's my best field agent doing?"
"Yes, sir." Jehr answered, taking his seat while turning down an offered drink. "I'm fine, sir; we've been training a fresh rookie right out of the academy but she's catching on quick. I think, with a couple more trips out, she'll make a great surveyor."
"I expect nothing but the best with you in charge," Lum continued, chuckling as he set down the glass, picked up a digital pad, and slid it across the desk towards him. "Now, then, what's this anomaly you have for me? I have your preliminary report here, but I'd like to hear it straight."
"Yes, sir. We were on our third stop; the first two had been simple mining surveys, which we didn't have any problems with. The third one, though, was a green-zone survey and we found a pre-existing civilization. Well, what was left of it, anyways."
Lum nodded. "That's nothing new, and certainly not something I'd expect you to cut your tour short for. Go on?"
Jehr took a deep breath as he went over the details in his head one more time. "Well, sir, we had jumped in under standard green-zone survey protocols, tagging but not performing detailed scans of the outer planets. Passive sensors were zero across the board on the entire way in, so we had assumed there wasn't any intelligent life in the system."
With a flick, Jehr copied a report addendum from the pad to the holo-projector and an orbital diagram liberally covered with annotations appeared in the air between them.
"When we short-hopped into orbit around the target, though," he continued. "We discovered we were wrong. The gravity well was almost completely filled with debris, mostly loose fragments but several still-intact satellites as well. It's a good thing that Gren always flies by the book, because we took a good dozen minor impacts to our shields before we could pull into a higher orbit. Something definitely used to live there, sir."
Lum nodded again, gesturing for him to continue. Another flick from Jehr, and the projected image changed to a montage of recovered images as well as a computer-aided physiological reconstruction.
"From what evidence we found, it appears that they were pretty typical: carbon-based, oxygen-breathing, gravity and atmospheric pressure only slightly higher than ours. They'd colonized their entire homeworld and obviously advanced to shooting stuff into space, sir, but we did not find evidence they ever achieved FTL."
"What killed them?" Lum asked, as the image panned across the ruins of a destroyed city, the last remnants of crumbling stone and rusted steel fighting a losing battle against the encroaching forest.
"Reality corruption, sir."
Lum paused to stare at him for a moment. "Corruption? Are you sure?"
"Yes, sir; the evidence was all over the place. Our analysis indicates that the process had started earlier in their development than it did for us; they ended up having to devote what technological resources they had just to keep it in check, and eventually they just got overwhelmed. That was, I'd say, probably around a thousand solar years ago. Everything in that gravity well is now either poisoned or dead."
Lum went silent again, mulling over the information. Something was still bothering him. "Ten is going to be pissed to hear that a perfect green candidate is going to be completely unusable. Still, this isn't the first time that that has happened either, so why come back to deliver the news yourself?"
"Well, sir," Jehr started, cringing inwardly as he prepared to drop the bombshell. "We retrieved some samples from the surface."
"You what?" he said, rising out of his chair.
"We followed the book, sir. All the standard quarantine procedures for objects retrieved from corrupted regions, isolated containment, everything. It's completely clean, I just… we saw something while we were mapping the surface, something we'd never seen before. I had to confirm it, sir, and I think you need to see this too."
Under Lum's suspicious gaze, Jehr pulled several sealed sample bags adorned with brightly colored hazard labels from his uniform jacket and set them on the Director's desk.
On top of the small pile was a white plastic identification card adorned with the all-too-familiar black shield emblem with its inset ring and three inward-pointing arrows, clearly visible despite the artifact's age. And yet, printed on its smooth surface in ancient ink, was an unmistakably alien portrait and accompanying script.
"They had their own Foundation, sir. I dug these out of an abandoned underground facility that had been peeled open by a thermonuclear detonation. We got samples of some documents for the cryptos too, but this… well, it would be a hell of a coincidence, sir. They even had the same logo and everything."
"You know what Ten is going to say, don't you?"
"The planet is hereby classified as a Veren-level object. Get Sira to give you a file number on the way out and get the write-up together, I've got to make an appointment with Ten. Dismissed."
Jehr saluted sharply once more and turned to leave, breathing a sigh of relief while simultaneously recognizing that his day was far from over.
Fleet Director Lum, alone with his thoughts, took a moment to collect himself before opening the channel back to High Command. Letting his attention wander to the neat pile of sample bags, he noticed that a second bag was attached to the one containing the ID card. Turning it over, he examined its contents: a piece of shaped metal adorned with several gemstones, hanging from a thin chain. Looking back at the card, he mused to himself as he discovered that if he turned it sideways, it resembled an old terrestrial script that he'd studied as a young history student.
"Dree-jahwk Breyht", he muttered to himself. "I wonder who you were."
Item #: SCP-42058
Object Class: Veren (C3/T5)
Stellar Colonization Profile: Unusable. SCP-42058 has been marked off-limits to all exploration and is to be observed via long-range telemetry only. Two armed Foundation patrol ships are to be stationed on the perimeter of the system's planetesimal threshold, and all unauthorized vessels attempting to approach the system are to be tracked, detained, and boarded.
Description: SCP-42058-1 is the third of eight planets orbiting the star G-44-9081, a yellow dwarf located at 78.3 radial loar along the third galactic arm. SCP-42058-1 is in a regular elliptical orbit with a mean distance of approximately 4.6 vyr at the center of G-44-9081's green zone. SCP-42058-1 is suffering from terminal-stage (S7) reality corruption; while its manifestations appear to be trapped within its gravity well, it is believed that the corruption is still highly virulent and that artifacts retrieved from the surface may pose an infection risk.
SCP-42058-2 is the extinct indigenous intelligent species that once inhabited SCP-42058-1. Archaeological evidence suggests that while capable of conventional rocket launches and on track to becoming an interplanetary civilization, SCP-42058-2 was overwhelmed by the high degree of reality corruption and was unable to maintain continuation of species before achieving faster-than-light capability. As of the time of this documentation, SCP-42058-2 appears to have been extinct for over twelve hundred (1200) standard solar years.
SCP-42058 has been designated for observation by Foundation patrol craft. Due to the extensive nature of its corruption, there are no current plans for planetary remediation unless the corruption begins to spread.