The Question
rating: +22+x

"Well, unfortunately, that option is unavailable to you, SCP-4586."

The man's response came over the device on the wall faster than expected. Almost as if he hadn't spent a second considering the doctor's arguments. Infuriating it was, having been confined to that cubicle, only then to be extorted for his knowledge. It had been too long since he had continued his work, and even with the notebooks he'd received, much remained to be done. And now his escape had been foiled.

"I urge you gentlemen to reconsider my request!" The doctor exclaimed, frustrated. "The intent of my work is not detrimental to anyone whatsoever! It is not as if I am an uncontrollable maniac as-"

The doctor stopped. Was it necessary to inform his captors of his enemy? That would certainly raise questions, which could postpone the continuation of his work even further. Additionally, he ruled, there was the matter of what they aimed to gain with such questions. If they intended to use the Factory's devices for their own purposes, any help the doctor provided them could yield disastrous consequences and hamper his progress indefinitely. He could not risk that. At least, not for the moment.

"As…who?" The man's voice came over the device again.


March 7, 1865

As Dr. Murthwallen woke up, he could already hear the sound of the machinery outside his room on full activity. He opened his eyes slowly to face the rusty ceiling above him. He would have prefered sleeping a few hours more, though he knew that such thing would never occur, not until he was exhausted. Still, Dr. Murthwallen sprung out of bed quickly, invigorated with an energy he hadn't felt in a long time. After months of studying and researching, he had finally done it: he discovered a way to perfect the Factory.

The doctor made his way to the wardrobe on the other side of the room. From it, he proceeded to retrieve the cleanest pieces of clothing he could find there. If he was to deliver the news to Anderson that day, he would do it in the best suit he had there. A white shirt, dark trousers, vest and Oxford shoes, as well as a blue tie were the pieces of his chosing. As Dr. Murthwallen dressed up, he continued to marvel at the possibilities that could come from the newfound development. The machinery, he conjectured, could be easily replaced by more potent variants, which would invariably lead to an increase in the quality of the Factory's output. The machines then could be spatially rearranged into a better display, which would allow a greater production. And… with such upgrades, perhaps he could diminish the suffering of the personnel who worked there. After all, not many people would be necessary to ensure that the new machines operated optimally.

Fully dressed, Dr. Murthwallen retrieved a metal can from a box in the improvised pantry beside the wardrobe. Silver letters etched on the can comprised the same sentence he had associated with eating for the past two years: "NutriMaxTM — Food for all occasions! Product of the Factory". Inside the can, the doctor knew, lay that brown, semi-solid substance that had kept him alive for that long. However, it had not been without his own suspicion. Since he first arrived at the Factory, that thing marveled him. A few months later, though, when he had both the knowledge and devices to analyse it, Dr. Murthwallen discovered several toxic compounds within the substance, which led him to create a filtering device with his newly-learned runic knowledge. In spite of that, once the doctor began filtering the food, its taste went from delightful to absolutely disgusting.

Perhaps a dulled mind is easier to sway in a desired direction?

Dr. Murthwallen shrugged the thought out of his mind. Even if there were nefarious gains behind the food produced at the Factory, he would make sure that they were utterly destroyed once the machines were upgraded. James Anderson would never object to better products, to better profits, even if it came at the cost of altering his current goods.

Once the doctor finished eating the filtered substance, he proceeded to wash his face on the small sink in his room. He could faintly make out his face in the half-broken mirror. The two dark circles under his eyes attested to how long he had been working on his runic research. A good, long rest was all he wanted after presenting his finds.

Dr. Murthwallen walked to the desk beside his bed. He opened the small case on top of the desk to retrieve his monocle, which the doctor then placed on his right eye. On the left side of the case, his notebook, with the information regarding his latest discoveries was open on the last pages he'd written. The doctor then closed it, and placed the notebook in his vest's pocket.

Smirking, he made his way to the exit of his room, placing two plugs on his ears.


Once the doctor exited his room to the walkway, his smirk was gone. The heat that came from the machines underneath made the environment extremely unconfortable. Despite the deafening sounds, the ear plugs and the distance hampered their mechanical roars significantly. Nonetheless, as Dr. Murthwallen made his way through the metallic catwalk, he could hear the familiar sounds in between the machinery's blare.

The workers.

Screaming.

The brutality of that place disgusted the doctor immensely. The way the people were worked there, to be butchered by either the demonic security guards or the machines themselves disconcerted him beyond all else, especially when he recollected the times he'd gone down to the production lines to study the runes on the floors. He knew now that blood was what powered them, the "necessary sacrifice" as Anderson had put it then. Dr. Murthwallen had thought about questioning him about the heinous treatment of the Factory's employees, but never came through. After all, if he wanted to learn as much as he could from that arcane science, he'd have to stay on Anderson's good side. Besides, as a one-armed worker once told the doctor, no one asks questions at the Factory. Perhaps now, however, with some understanding of the technology used on the Factory, the doctor could see that the workers' condition would improve, once the new machines came to be.

A few meters away from his room, Dr. Murthwallen turned his head to look at the Runic Decoder on the right side of the room. The brass triangle in its center spun extremely fast, discharging several pulses. The lines that converged in the center of the Decoder, etched on the wall, were glowing with a bright, red light. That meant it had been a "good" day at the Factory. Repugnant would be a better adjective, the doctor exclaimed in his mind. If that Decoder were to become unstable and explode, he added, that would make it a good day.

The doctor made his way to the stairs at the end of the walkway, and proceeded down to the next level. Here, he could see the door to Anderson's office on the end of the catwalk, guarded by one of his disfigured guards. The noise coming from below, summed with the increased heat, made Dr. Murthwallen rush his pace to the door. A few seconds later, he stood right in front of it. The creature at the door turned to the doctor.

"I would like to speak with Mr. Anderson, my good sir." Dr. Murthwallen said loudly, trying to rival the bellows coming from the ground level. "He will be most interested in hearing my latest discoveries!"

The deformed man stared at him for a few seconds. The doctor couldn't help but feel a mixture of pity and disgust for the guard, that appeared to have had half of his face shrunk, while the other half contained multiple stitches. The existence of a third arm sewn on the guards left shoulder added to the broken appearance of the being Dr. Murthwallen was speaking to. However, the guard smiled at him, and moved out of the way, leaving access to the door unobstructed. The doctor nodded to the creature and proceeded inside Anderson's office.


When Dr. Murthwallen entered the office, he saw Anderson working on his desk a few meters away from the door. The fact that the door had opened, and the sounds coming from outside had poured into the room didn't bother the proprietor of the Factory at all, as he remained with his head down on whatever he was doing. The doctor closed the door and began to slowly approach Anderson, expecting him to notice his presence. As he walked across the office, Dr. Murthwallen was instantly reminded why he disliked that room. The warped carvings on the floor. The patterns on the walls forming runic symbols. The gleaming bronze furniture that he couldn't stare at for long.

Right in front of the desk, but still without Anderson's attention, the doctor spoke:

"Excuse me, Mr. Anderson. May I have a moment of your time, sir?"

Anderson stopped writing almost immediately after Dr. Murthwallen finished the sentence. The proprietor of the Factory then raised his head and met the blue eyes of the doctor.

"Dr. Murthwallen." He responded in his bizarre voice. "What is it that you would like?"

"I would like to discuss my latest breakthrough concerning my studies on the runes present on the Factory, sir." The doctor said, scratching his mustache. "I'm certain that whatever benefit may arise from my investigations can be safely converted into a marvelous asset for this enterprise."

"Very well. Tell me." Anderson said.

"Well, sir, after extensive research into the functionality of the runes I was able to observe, I am certain that they can be replaced by ones that could ensure excellence in the production of all the articles that are crafted here." Dr. Murthwallen began. "The experiments I have done in the past weeks corroborate my theory that the current manner of harnessing power, which is then converted into the products, is not only comparably imperfect, but disperses much energy with no valuable output whatsoever."

Anderson stared at him with his two yellow eyes, silent. The doctor cleared his throat and continued:

"It would not be of my intention to bother you with the particularities of my research, Mr. Anderson, although it would be of my utmost joy to display them, if you so desire. If I were allowed to alter merely one of the devices that lie on the ground floor, I am sure that the efficiency of such transition will be evidenced beyond all questioning. Furthermore, sir, such direction would be equally beneficial to the staff who currently provide the labour required for the runes to function properly. If my calculations are correct, the upgraded machinery may require fewer, or even no personnel operating them. Think of all the scientific possiblities that may arise from such miraculous development, good sir! All I would require to alter the runic proprie-"

"No." Anderson responded.

Dr. Murthwallen stopped talking, shocked by Anderson's response. Had he really heard that? Had Anderson rejected an improvement that could only lead to further prosperity?

"Forgive me, sir." The doctor spoke after a while, in a much lower tone than before. "My enthusiasm might make my position appear much more subjective than it truly is. I would be glad to submit my findings for experts to analyse them on their own."

He then proceeded to reach into his vest to retrieve his notebook, but Anderson answered first.

"No."

The doctor sighed, but despite the dread Anderson's figure caused him, he defended his position sternly: "Sir, with all due respect, this method is far superior to the one we utilize today. The rearrangement of the current runes would not only be beneficial to the Factory as it would not demand the monumental amount of workers that there are here today, but would also ensure an incredible leap in the quality of the goods that are produced here. Is it not the objective of all this, ultimately, to ensure profit?"

Dr. Murthwallen locked eyes with James Anderson for a few seconds. The doctor expected an answer to his claims. The industrialist made no sense by purely dismissing the truth about the runes. He was turning down such an obvious opportunity to expand his profits that-

What if it was never about profit?

A dark hypothesis slowly revealed itself within Dr. Murthwallen's brain. He directed his sight away from Anderson's eyes, lost in the possibilities that now were appearing.

What if the purpose of the runes is not production?

The doctor began to walk back towards the door. It made no sense to consider such-

What if he wants the workers to suffer?

"The Factory, Dr. Murthwallen, will do as the Factory has always done" Anderson said, breaking the silence.

And in a second, it all made sense to the doctor.

The roaring.

The suffering.

The workers.

The creatures.

The blood.

It had never been about money.

Dr. Murthwallen nodded to the proprietor of the Factory, feigning defeat in an attempt to mask his dark realization. He proceeded to exit the room, hoping that he had convinced Anderson. He would need all the time he could get.

He'd asked a question about the Factory. THE question. And now he had the answer.

He knew he had to escape that place.


The doctor finished reminiscing about his past. He had to come up with an answer to his captors, one that would divert them from his mistake.

"-as the harmful artifacts I have mentioned to you, good sir!" He finally said. "All I ask is that my request is rationally analysed."

The response came not long after: "I'll, uh, be sure to forward your requests to the responsible personnel as soon as possible. Thank you for your cooperation, SCP-4586. That will be all for today."

After the device went silent, Dr. Murthwallen remained in front of it, gently tapping his cane on the floor. His recollection of past events reiterated the need to continue his work. Anderson's doings could not be allowed to corrupt the world any further. Impounded in that cubicle, restricted from his tools and experiments, the doctor could do little to stop it.

Such issue, however, was not one that would preoccupy his mind for long.

After all, he had fled from the Factory.

His current predicament would be overcome.

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