They ate in silence, politely ignoring each other. The Doctor was busy writing away at a pad, so engrossed in his work he was hardly noticing what he was actually eating. The Research Assistant was silently contemplating suicide for the third time that morning. The cafeteria around them was humming away in that persistently soft buzz from the industrial ovens, freezers and hot plates.
“It's interesting,” began the Doctor, crossing out a detailed equation and moving on to destroy the very basis of his entire theorem. As a silence lingered the Research Assistant felt his forehead crease in slight annoyance.
“What is?” he replied, attempting to keep his voice smooth and cool. He did not mind working on the SCP as it was relatively harmless. (It wouldn't stop him thinking about killing himself.) He did not mind the other Assistants, Doctors and the Agents that always made him feel a guilty squirming sensation in his stomach. (The thought wouldn't go away, it chained itself to him.) But he often found the company of Dr. Wakefield to be infuriating. He wasn’t sure why.
“Mmm?” the older man asked, glancing behind the spectacles perched on his nose.
The Assistant held in the sigh. “You said something was interesting?”
“Ah. I did, did I?” Wakefield quizzically inquired, placing his pen down. The fork was soon laid with it, so that both hands could create a flat plain for a chin to rest upon. “Oh I did. Yes.” Another pause. Being examined was much worse than sitting in studious silence, the Assistant realised. “I was just thinking about the Unified Anomaly Theory. You are familiar with it?”
The Assistant nodded his head, non-committally. “The idea that all Skips are related, no matter how differing their anomalous properties are.” Dr. Wakefield gave him a condescending smile like he was a tutor. The urge of self-annihilation in the Research Assistant shifted towards a rapid dislike of where this conversation was going.
“Correct, a text book answer, the one I was exactly expecting in fact. It would connect some of the more outlandish SCPs with the safer items. Like that hammer we worked on that refused to ever hit the nail it was aimed it. Some believe the U.A.T. might be a sort of calculable mistake in the laws of physics that spawns the occasional error and inconsistency. I find it interesting that no one has considered…” He pauses, his nasty habit, almost hesitant to continue.
“Go on,” the Research Assistant prompts, prodding at his salad with a fork. He didn’t feel very hungry, there was a vice like grip in his stomach and he could not yet identify the cause.
“Well, there has been some research into the idea of a collective subconscious. The collective subconscious I mean in this sense is the idea that humanity is somehow telepathically linked, like a network of wireless routers. These studies suggested this interconnectedness influences more of our behaviour then might necessarily be expected. For example, if you’ll excuse the paraphrasing, when a group of people were told to solve crossword puzzles for a month they scored on average with the population until a day old newspaper was supplied. After that, they scored considerably higher than average.”
The Research Assistant felt a pain behind his eyes. A migraine coming on? Possibly. But if he ever wanted a promotion it was good to keep soldiering on. Maybe he had a bit of a masochistic streak. “What does this have to do with the Unified Anomaly Theory, Dr. Wakefield?”
“I find the idea, pseudo-scientific as it is, to fit neatly into what our current understanding of SCPs. Imagine a billion minds all broadcasting together at once, all sharing dreams and hopes and love and anger. Imagine if those minds had the slightest effects on the reality around them.” He smiled wryly. “We already know of a select, special few that can personally do so, but perhaps they have more access to this power than the rest of us.” He picked up his pen once more and began to draw, a small circle that was quickly filled with familiar landmasses. Another habit, the doodling. “All of that thought, turning and turning, focused so ferociously on survival that we become scared of our own shadows. The bogeymen under our bed. The creaks as the house settles. It would be less that the SCPs are a cause (as many of them like to claim,) but rather an effect. This could unify the differing religious anomalies as desperate minds scrabbling to describe a metaphysical entity for comfort. It also throws up even more interesting questions about those far more disturbing monsters and oddities we continue to make.”
The Research Assistant closed his eyes and ground his palms against them, the façade dropping. Lights were blossoming in his optic nerves like a fireworks display. “So you’re- You’re saying its all self inflicted?” The pain behind his eyes was worse. Drops of something were running down his cheeks. Tears? No. Too thick. Too viscous.
Dr. Wakefield made a small note, watching the Research Assistant. “Your eyeballs are melting.” It was a strange sentence to hear. It must have been even stranger to say but there was no denying it. A sticky, tarry substance hit his own lip and the taste of it was comparable to a kick in the teeth.
“It was always puzzling to my colleagues and myself about where you actually came from. It was a small thing to notice at first because the team’s resources had been stretched so thin. Why would we not want, nay deserve an extra pair of hands? But you were too good at your job and not perfect enough, you have to understand.” Wakefield continued to talk. He hadn’t moved to alert medical staff yet, called for help. For this the Assistant hated him. “No? Am I being unclear? Well, we never even gave you a name. How can a team of scientists dream up a person and fail to name him, I ask you?”
“I. I don’t.” The fluid was getting into his nose. No, it was his nose, his nose was melting. His tongue felt swollen. The thick, black, foul tasting mess was dripping from the roof of his mouth and flooding his sinuses. It splattered on the table in front of them when he tried to talk. “I don’t know.”
“You have a mild memetic effect, I believe. Why should we question the helpful young man with an unassuming demeanour? The weight of evidence rests on us to make you seem strange and out of place, not the other way around, surely? I took an interest when your mood began to drop. I’ve often been told I get far too interested in the well being of my staff, but you were a promising young man that would have had quite the future in the Foundation. If you had ever existed, of course.”
His teeth were melting. They were running out onto his plate as the illusion of life was politely undone before his eyes. The fork in his hand clattered to the floor as the Research Assistant groaned through lungs rapidly turning into slush.
“I am very sorry. You mined us too well for an identity. We expected you to break under the pressure, to feel the toll an older man feels." There was the sound of actual regret in his voice. The Assistant without a name hated everything about that voice. "I suspected something like this would happen when it was brought to your attention. The more you come to understand your own condition the less you can maintain it, perhaps? However I have a feeling that unless someone actively holds belief in you, you'll cease to exist. The other members of the lab volunteered for Class-B Amnesiacs and well, I drew the short straw and had to disbelieve. It's much easier without your facial features."
The thing that had once been a human that had once been an Assistant in Research could no longer support its head very well. It could not see. Its skin was peeling away in great valleys and chasms. "I have to ask, before you cease to be… A simple nod or shake of the head will suffice. But when we blink, when we close our eyes, do you exist?"
The Assistant tried to stand so he could get help. The bones in his legs, his hips and his back were gone. His arms wetly snapped in half, his torso landing like a overturned oil barrel on the cafeteria table. He retched pathetically, choking in his own gore while begging for some sort of life. Before he returned back to being nothing (oh god the nothing oh god not the nothing again it was coming for him it was going to be him he was going to be it oh god oh god oh god) he only had one true regret.
He’d never get to be a part of the Peer Review for Dr. Wakefield’s paper.