The Black Horse (The Crawling Sea)
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And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a day's wage, and three measures of barley for a day's wage; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.


“You know,” said Johanna, looking over Sophia's shoulder. They were in Containment's Command Central, monitoring a dozen feeds of 027's cell. Containment was currently being redoubled by agents and guards, with more watching nearby objects. 027 itself was currently curled up and motionless, and had been since last night. “This isn't how I expected you to react.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, this, fine. If the Big Lady told me to watch out, I get it, I'd watch out. But way back when I taught you, it was all 'calculated risks and rewards.' And a multiple-site break-out scenario isn't unprecedented. But now, you're acting more paranoid than Elliot.”

Sophia made a noncommittal noise, peering at a camera feed.

“Is this recent? I mean, I hadn't seen you for years, you come back and act like this- was it one of your assignments? Maybe that agent from 14 you had something with, what's his name, Lament?”

“No. No,” said Sophia, looking up. “I mean- no, not that. I… had a visitor last night.” She paused. “990.”

Shit, why didn't you say anything?”

“Because he told me to be suspicious of people here, and he's not known for giving bad advice.”

“You trust me, though?”

Sophia looked over. “Well, a swami and one of my exes told me I should 'trust my intuitions'. Shit, Johanna: yes, I trust you.” She almost cracked a smile.

Johanna fastened her hands around her hips. “Well, me too. I'm glad you came back.”

Sophia paused, looked up at her former mentor. “Thanks.” Then turned her eyes again to the camera feed, and stood up. “Sorry, I think I need to go look at this in person. The surrounding areas, anyways. I, just… Just in case.”

“I'll take a look. Don't worry.” Johanna brushed towards the door. “Besides, you're eyes-on-high.”

“Really? Thanks. Thank you.” Sophia glanced over, then back. “Don't get too close.”

Moments later, she was alone in the room.


At four in the afternoon, SCP-027's outline began to shift. This was immediately reported by the guards on duty, who relayed it to the higher-ups. It stayed like that, little tremors, for a minute longer.

Then its clothes burst, and out came the mice.

No one could possibly imagine where they came from. They formed waves and pools and little rivulets on the floor, climbed the walls, slid through the grated floors and clogged up the intake for the incinerator. Then they climbed one another, forming a fungus-like, agouti-and-black mass in the center of the cell. The guards watched, horrified, as the host of 027 was lifted. He faced the plate-glass wall, with his arms held out- beseeching, Christ-like. His mouth was ripped and spotted with with bloody, tiny mousetracks.

It occurred to Sophia that he must have died within minutes.

“Listen,” she pans in over the guard's earpieces, “I'm sorry, but 027 relies on carriers once its host dies, and any one of you could be it. You're going to need to separate yourselves and leave the room one at a time. Closest to the door, you first.”

Priority number one: Contain potential new carriers. Two: Destroy created vermin. Three: Watch for any further developments…

“Director?” A voice keyed in on the radio. “Just saw a rat run past my foot.” The one who had spoken, looked over. “Keiran?”

One of them was stamping, swatting at his vest. “I-” he crackled over the radio. “I-”

As the guards formed a perimeter, the rats dropped out of his clothing like a squirming, entwined wave. In an instant, they were on top of the guard crew, although the bulk of them were clumped over Kieran's screaming form. It appeared to be creating them- which was unusual-

“Oh fuck,” said someone, “I see scorpions.”

The rest of the guard team went down shortly.

“Kieran?” Sophia said calmly. “Just relax, and try to take control. They'll listen to you.”

“No,” said the man's voice, high-pitched- “I can't- they want-” There was a shriek, as a rat bit into his ear, and then tossed its head (and the dismembered communication unit) to the side. More and more of them filled the room to flooding.

Sophia reached over, and turned off the unit. Elliot appeared in the security room.

“We have firebreathers in the surrounding hallways.”

“Tell them to go when they see the horde.”


027 bore down, covered in a cloak of rats and insects and now flapping crows. But the fire melted them away, and his body blistered and burnt out of recognition milliseconds later.

When 027 woke again, it woke in the body of one of the flamethrower-carriers. The primary consciousness attempted to rebel, before a new mind- fractured into the bodies of a million tiny creatures- won over, and carried it to its goal.


“Wait,” said Sophia, “God, wait, stop. It's not the host- it's the effect. It's jumping bodies. Call them off now.”

Elliot hesitated for just a second. “All units retreat from Sub-Floor J. Do not engage.”

“Circumstances have changed,” Sophia enunciated. “I think it's running till it has to stop, killing its host, then picking up the next closest one and… gaining control, somehow. Maybe it's forcing a direction?”

“You don't know where?”

“No. But if it is going somewhere, it looks like upstairs. We need to nonlethally turn it back, or it'll ride Security up to ground level.”


The Svalbard site's location had certain advantages. Minutes later, two million gallons of electrified seawater flooded 027's level. A tide of rats and centipedes hit it and drowned, and then a redoubled number crawled out over the corpses of the others, and bound into a tight raft. But 027 sank when it stood on it, and its host, instinct momentarily dominating, paddled to the surface for air.


“That'll stop it for minutes.”
“Minutes, or maybe longer if its host keeps control, look-”
Over the camera, they saw a dozen rats chew a gaping hole in 027's neck. The body slumped face-down in the water.
“Oh.”


“Light,” said Barculo, “It's jumped to Keter and it's going to get out. We need to-”

“I know,” said Sophia. She pressed a button. “All personnel, we are beginning a Class 1 Evacuation. Evacuation units assemble. An area of five kilometers around the site will become impassible within twenty minutes.”

She turned to Elliot. “With all external doors sealed except the one to the airfield, even if 027 keeps producing rodents, it'll have to literally fill the place to bursting before it can get a host out. If we start shutting down level by level now, we can recover at least 50% of the objects…”

Barculo froze, then saw the look on her face. He nodded. “Keep monitoring- I'll delay a group and we'll get the second-to-last flight out.” He stood up.

“Elliot? Have you ever called an evac- of this magnitude- before?”

“No. I don't envy you. You know Garrison's still down there, right?”

Sophia stared at the screens. “I know.”


When the sirens started up, Johanna had found a group of agents escorting a transport unit with an enraged 1075, and an armload of other objects, out to evacuate. She took over operations, guiding the motorized unit down the hallway, as some stood guard and others kept an eye on containment. As they neared the elevator, the agent on point froze, and gestured to the others.

A long tentacle of black gas floated out of the adjacent corner. The sound of millions of tiny feet.

“Don't shoot it,” said Johanna, and then, as it rounded the corner, “Get back-” but that hadn't really been the right thing to say. How had it gotten up the stairs? What properties did it have?

Oh. Of course. Host bodies. What a fool she was.

In came a swarm of wriggling vermin that went up to her stomach, but they didn't make a move.

I HAVE OBSERVED YOU,” the gaping throat of the guard mouthed. “YOU SAW MY MANY EYES AND THOUGHT THEY WOULD NOT LOOK BACK. NOW I AM ASCENDED, AND THE EARTH IS MINE, AND THE LAST I REQUIRE OF YOU IS ONLY A FINAL BODY, MY STEED, AND ONE LAST PATH INTO THE DAY.”

The black horse- Suddenly, calmly, Johanna understood. It was obvious. She pressed her earpiece on.

“I know who you are,” said Johanna.

“Johanna?” Gabriel Bryant asked, over the radio.

A crow, which looked like it had been pilfering fields for decades, landed on its shoulder and inched closer to 027's face.

A second too late, she remembered that the lanyard on her neck had her security card, and its Level Four override privileges. Her own brain could supply the rest of the codes.

YOU KNOW. DO NOT FEAR.”

The crow tore out 027's throat.

The thing that had been waiting inside 027 for millennia, the thing wearing the body of Dr. Johanna Garrison, jerkily snapped the lanyard off her neck, and slid it down with a passcode to unlock the unit's door. A black horse, with an ancient leather saddle, trotted out and nuzzled it.

“I know you've been waiting for me,” 027 murmured. “Thank you.” Then it swung onto the horse's back with one hand. It breathed a darkly-colored sigh of relief as the leather fused into its hand, and the river of clicking and crawling and flapping beasts fell into marching order. All was well.

Outside of the Site, and its perimeter facilities and defenses, a long, sloping, desolately beautiful beach lead out to sea ice. 027 surveyed from its perch, and cocked its head. 1075 stepped across the ice and onto the surface of the water, radiating black miasma.

WE HEAR YOU, AND WE ANSWER YOUR CALL,” said 027, to the open air. It turned around. “MY MOST LOYAL FOLLOWERS, LET ME LEAD YOU FINALLY TO YOUR REWARD.”

The black horse, the rider, and their growing cohort and raft of vermin started out across the glass-smooth ocean, just as the first wave of light from the Svalbard Site hit them. The blinding, desperate blast behind them, they cantered calmly forward.


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