David recognized the gun pointed at his face as a semiautomatic pistol of some sort. He didn’t recognize brand or caliber, but he knew it was the kind he had specifically requested from the armory chief. He had no idea why the armory chief had listened to him that when the other requisitions he has placed had been ignored. He picked it because it looked cool; he knew nothing about guns whatsoever, and it was unlikely it would ever be used, given Site 38’s low hazard rating. But of course it came back to bite him in the ass.
“I want your access codes, and the bottle of bourbon you keep in the bottom right drawer of your desk. You serve it.” Dr. Collins maintained a bead on David's upper chest.
“What the fffuck is this, J-John?” David said.
“This is you not getting me a goddamn drink, Eskobar,” Collins said. He fired a round in the air. David noticed the alarms not going off with a growing sense of panic. He retreated to his desk and got the Scotch and a glass.
“No, retard, two glasses,” Collins said. “We’re drinking to my success. That had better be good bourbon. Don’t worry, you’re not going to have any better reason to use it.”
David didn’t ask questions of the man with the gun; he got out another glass and poured one finger each of Maker’s Mark. Trembling, he slid one across the table to Collins, who gestured between Eskobar and the other drink. Eskobar sipped at the liquor; Collins downed all of it.
“Now, let’s get those access codes. I need to get into the Site 38 central mainframe.”
“W-w-w-what for?” David stuttered.
Collins glared. “Don’t fucking question me, goddammit. You don’t have the balls to stop me, even if you could at this point. I’m getting out of this hellhole tonight. I just need a little something more the Insurgency can use.”
Eskobar just stared. “You’re g-g-going—“
Collins fired over David's head; the director of Site 38 audibly squealed. “YES, you fucking idiot, the Chaos Insurgency. Me, Sariksen, and Dankman have been doing little…experiments in the labs with some D-class personnel. Not that you would have come looking. Sarikson got ahold of some SCP-877 samples and brought them over. We’ve been reprogramming them and installing them in D-class’s heads. We had a breakthrough yesterday; they’re now able to infect one another with copies that respond to our programming.”
David was living some surreal nightmare at that moment. He had no idea if anything Collins was saying was true, but he was still terrified of everything he knew was happening. And it was theoretically possible; the 877s were computer chips, maybe ones from another dimension, but still programmed by someone. And what can be written can just about always be overwritten. But how the hell had Collins done it?
Site 38 had a single Mobile Task Force assigned to it, largely just to go out and obtain University artifacts whenever they were detected, otherwise used for site security (which was roughly unnecessary). MTF Rho-1, “The Professors;” probably the only personnel on site with genuine pride in their work. Most of them were out on a simple retrieval assignment, scheduled to return in the morning. Four, maybe five members were on-site. If he could just contact the ones left…
“Access codes, Eskobar,” Collins said. “I don’t need you drifting off on me. And you’re going to give them to me whether I say I’m going to kill you or not. Just give them over.”
David was surprised to realize he wasn’t panicking anymore. “Not yyyyet,” he said.
Collins erupted in fury, trying to run around the table to get at David, who backed away around his desk, keeping it between him and Collins. “You fucking stupid prick,” Collins snarled, “you are not going to get in my way. I don’t really want to kill you; you’re not worth a bullet. But I will hurt you, Eskobar, in every way I can think of, as quickly as I can, to get what I want. I am not going to rot in this hole forever, the way you almost certainly will.”
David was now panicking, but his brain was still going. “Hhhhhow? How did you d-d-do it?”
“I’m not giving you details, idiot. The point is, I’m too smart for those Foundation assholes to have put me here, and the Insurgency respects talent. I’m not about to—“
Gunfire erupted from down the hall. Rapid fire, at least submachine gun. Too rapid to be a pistol. Yelling, screaming; the first from the shooter, the second from one of the victims. The yelling sounded strained, like it was coming from someone who had read about how to yell but had never actually done it before. And it didn’t sound like English. More like…Latin?
David shuddered. This was oddly familiar.
Collins looked down the hall. “What the fuck is th—“ before three bullets came down the hallway. Two smacked into the wall behind Collins; one lodged in his arm. Screaming, he raised his pistol with the other arm and fired back. The next round caught him in the head. The top of John Collins’s head spread itself across six feet of David Eskobar’s carpet; bone fragments landed on his desk. He fell, silent, to the ground.
The silence was not shared down the hall. Collins had apparently hit someone.
David peered down the hall and saw someone vaguely familiar, writhing on the ground. There was a big gun, maybe some kind of assault rifle, out of his reach. Not knowing what else to do, he walked down the hall in a half-crouch, in the hopes that would help if someone else with a gun showed up.
He could hear more gunfire elsewhere in the building, probably downstairs. What the fuck is going on? he thought to himself. He reached the man on the ground.
David didn’t know what to say. “Hey,” he said.
The man was bleeding a great deal. Collins seemed to have shot him in the stomach somewhere. He was still conscious, moaning a great deal. “Hey,” David said again.”
“Oh, God, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I’m fuckin’ dying, here. Please, please help me, I’m fuckin’ dying. Please, ohhhh…” He kept moaning.
David recognized the voice; it was one of the Site’s D-class, one who had been on-site for a while. “I’m g-g-going to call for hhhhelp, okay, you’re ffffine. Listen, what’s g-g-going on? What are you d-d-doing with that gun?”
“Jesus, I don’t fuckin’ know, okay? Oh, God, it hurts. I was asleep in the D-class quarters, and I was having this dream, right? And I was carrying this gun, and I was shooting up the place, that asshole Dankman who did those experiments with me, and a couple of other people, and I was biting people or somethinohhhhhh—“ He was moaning again.
“You were inf-f-f—“ David tried to get the words out, through sobs. This is too much, he thought, too much, too much… “You were infected with a microchip. It’s t-taken over your cccentral nervous system. The pain ffffrom the b-b-bullet is maybe…distracting it somehow? I think the Site 19 researchers ssssaid that was possible.” David thought of the implications of how Foundation researchers had come by that knowledge and blanched.
“Am—uh—am I gonna die, man?” the D-class asked. “I’m…I’m getting…I’m starting to get a little woozy, like everything has a natural explanation; the moon is not a god, but a great rock, and the sun is a hot rock.” His voice was getting more confident, even as it grew quieter from blood loss. “Appearances are a glimpse of the unseen.”
David knew what that change meant. “The host is dying, and you don’t have long. What are you doing here?”
“No evil is honorable, but death is honorable,” the microchip said through its dying flesh, “therefore death is not evil. It is time, hominid. The Box is open, and She is rising.”
The D-class’s eyes closed then, and David saw him die.
Eskobar wasn’t sure how long he just sat there, crying. But when it was over, he picked up the assault rifle off the ground. He knew enough to know how heavy it would be, so that didn’t surprise him. He knew how to eject the magazine, and it looked like at least…half of however many were supposed to be there, however many that was.
The options were limited. He could go back to his office and try calling for backup, but he was willing to bet the lines were cut. He could stay where he was and wait for the rest of The Professors to get back, but—
You’ve gotta go downstairs, David, he thought. It’s your site. It’s your responsibility. This is what you have. You have to try to protect whoever you can.
Eskobar was terrified as he forced his way down the stairs.
The knife came in directly beside Agent MacGilligan’s shoulder blade. She screamed; nobody who ever has been stabbed has responded to it very well, and this was a particularly surprising attack.
Agent Eastman had just enough time to see the attacker come up behind her. He recognized who it was, too; just one of the few D-class assigned to Site 38. None of them were particularly dangerous, not at this point; they all thought they were going home at the end of the month. He hadn’t thought anything about it until the knife was already in MacGilligan’s back. He withdrew his Foundation-issue sidearm, took aim, and blew off the D-class’s shoulder.
Eastman had only seen the D-class’s reaction in movies. The man casually looked at where his arm had been, looked at Freeman, and began trying to climb over the table. He was stopped by the next shot, directly in the chest. He fell to the table emotionlessly, passing into death like a wind-up toy slowing to a stop.
MacGilligan groaned. She had never actually been stabbed before, and there isn’t training that prepares you for it. She stopped screaming once the initial shock wore off, but the pain was tremendous. She could feel a flap of her skin and muscle that was peeling off right over her scapula; the cold air inside her body deeply disturbed her. She knew you couldn’t feel temperature past a certain layer of skin, but…she knew what it felt like.
Eastman ran around the table to her. “It’s okay, Jaime, it’s okay. Keep breathing. You’re gonna be okay. It’s a flesh wound, and it’s gonna hurt, but nothing’s too fucked up, okay?”
Eastman was lying. He could clearly see bone through the wound, and she was bleeding plenty. She started screaming again when he began applying pressure to the wound, bandaging it as well as he could with T-shirt material, and helping her to her feet.
Neither of them had carried radios; after all, what could go wrong? Eastman called for help and heard nothing, so he started walking her to the infirmary.
“What was that?” MacGilligan asked, her voice becoming woozy.
“I don’t know,” Eastman responded. “I don’t know. But he’s not gonna pull that shit again, I can guarantee that. I’m gonna make sure Eskobar hears plenty of shit about this. Jesus, what kind of a psycho—“
“No, Jim, not that. I heard something. Sounded like—“
Gunfire echoed down the halls in front of and behind Eastman and MacGilligan. Sporadic, not constant. Like people gunning down unarmed people and moving on. Eastman tried to hurry MacGilligan along as much as possible.
The gunfire was getting closer, but they had reached the infirmary. Eastman opened the door and flipped on the lights, wondering if it was the last Site without standard motion-activated lighting.
The doctor wasn’t there. The gunfire was getting closer. Eastman barricaded the door with an examining table and helped MacGilligan lie down on another.
“We’re gonna be okay, MacGilligan,” Eastman kept saying. “Whatever the hell is going on, we’re gonna be okay.”
“Jim, it’s here,” MacGilligan said, her voice fading. “Why is it here?”
“What?” Eastman said, and turned to look where she was looking.
A box. A giant, black box was sitting on the floor. Eastman didn’t recognize it. “What is it?” Eastman asked.”
Silence. MacGilligan had passed out. Eastman walked over to make sure she had a pulse (she did) and looked at the box. Smooth metal, no controls. He assumed it was a device of some kind, but he wasn’t familiar with it. Pounding at the door, now, but Eastman knew there was no way they were getting throu—
Pounding. First pounding with fists, one, then multiple people. Then silence.
THUD. THUD. THUD. THUD. The door began to give way. Freeman glanced around, saw no exit. Of course there’s no exit. Of course this is the one building…
Maybe, if they were lucky, they’d be captured by someone who could help MacGilligan out. Captured wasn’t dead, after all. And this might be a “captured.” People get lucky sometimes.
The hospital bed gave way and the door flew open. Eastman had never seen this before. Two D-class personnel were in front, two MTF agents were in the back, and they had used a battering ram to take down the door. The battering ram was one of the researchers, head-first, one person each holding the arms and legs. The researcher’s head was a stain on the door, dripping onto the floor. Eastman wasn’t sure if the researcher’s blood was what the personnel’s footprints were tracking into the room or not, but it seemed likely.
They shuffled into the room, walking like they hadn’t done it very much before then, or like they were out of practice. They held their assault rifles by the grip, dragging the barrel along the ground. None of them made eye contact with Eastman, or looked at MacGilligan. They looked mostly at the floor, examined their surroundings. Finally, one of them spoke.
“You are the hominid Eastman comma Agent James Bartholomew this is correct,” one of the D-classes said. He was looking in the vague direction of Eastman.
“This is the hominid MacGilligan comma Agent Jaime Olivia this is correct,” one of the MTF agents said.
Eastman held his hands up slowly. “Look, you’ve got us. Nothing we can do. Just take us—“
“The hominid MacGilligan comma Agent Jaime Olivia is injured due to single edged weapon injury to costal surface of left scapula descending to ninth rib accompanied by lateral tearing,” the MTF agent said. “Weapon identified as a KA-BAR full-size seven-inch fighting knife with fixed plain edge. Hominid MacGilligan comma Agent Jaime Olivia is likely in bodily danger.”
Eastman was confused. “Wait, how did you know—“
“Hominid MacGilligan comma Agent Jaime Olivia is irrelevant to continued progress of Ascension. Eliminate hominid Eastman comma Agent James Bartholemew and proceed with…” The MTF agent paused, rolled his head upward, and looked at the ceiling. The others in the room did the same. Eastman watched carefully.
They rolled their heads down. “Command from Her Supremacy acknowledged. Hominid MacGilligan Agent Jaime Olivia to be reeducated. Hominid Eastman comma Agent James Bartholomew to be taken to Her Supremacy for Integration.”
Eastman was puzzled. “Reeducation? Integration? What the hell—“
The MTF agent’s Taser crackled. Eastman fell to the floor as one of the D-classes opened the black box beside him. He lost consciousness as one of the others picked MacGilligan up off of the bed.
David had never actually held an assault rifle before. He didn’t even know if he was doing it correctly. He was holding it the way guns were held in first-person shooters and hoped that he either didn’t look too stupid or that he just wouldn’t find any reason to have to use the gun downstairs. The second one especially.
The gunfire was still sporadic. David hoped that meant that the attackers, whoever they were, were going down quickly. He had a feeling that wasn’t the case.
And it was his fault. He didn’t have them trained to deal with this, because he didn’t think this would ever happen. He didn’t consider that anyone would want anything from his Site. That was how he thought about it.
But that wasn’t loyalty. He let his personal bullshit stop him from keeping his people safe, and now they were in danger. Maybe dead. Jesus.
The stairway ended and opened into a wide room. The cafeteria. Empty, but David could see blood on one of the tables, and two trails of blood leading out of the room. One trail was a series of drips, fairly close together but distinct from one another. The other trail was an enormous smear following the same path. David followed the blood.
The two trails diverged at the next junction, just outside the cafeteria. The spattering of blood grew further and further apart and led left, toward the infirmary. The smear led right, toward one of the exits. David liked the drops more than the trail and went left.
Sounds were echoing down the hallway now, mostly footsteps. David didn’t hear any talking. None whatsoever. That didn’t seem good. He turned another corner.
Three people walking towards him, carrying a fourth. A body (a headless body, David noticed) lying on the floor in front of a nearby door, which he guessed was the infirmary. David recognized them: Agent Kennison was the taller one carrying the fourth man over his shoulder; Agent Thurber was the one with the broken glasses on his face; and the other one was a D-class David had personally requested for Site 38. A Foundation researcher demoted for inappropriate use of an SCP. Nonviolent. He was covered in blood from his hands to his chin and across his chest.
David froze. The three men stopped, as though considering what to say.
“Status report, gentlemen,” David squeaked in his most authoritative voice.
“Hominid Eskobar comma Site Director David Carter you are to be Integrated you will accompany these Servus instances to the Palace. Please stand by…”
David was running down the hallway back towards the cafeteria. No, in the direction of the cafeteria; he wasn’t running to any particular place other than away. He had dropped the gun. He had forgotten everything except how to run away.
He knew what Integration was. Or enough about it to know to run from it.
He followed the smear of blood down the other way. It led to another turn, and another. When he had run out of breath enough to slow down, he began thinking about what he was seeing.
Other smears of blood from other hallways had joined in this path. At least four or five different trails, left by four or five different bodies being dragged carelessly. The trail continued all the way to the exit. David followed.
He reached the door. The map beside it showed it was the door to the West Grounds, which just led to woods about a hundred yards away from the Site. He opened the door.
The individuals shuffling towards him out of the woodline scared the hell out of him. He had gotten enough of an understanding of the situation to know what was going on, and he recognized that shuffle from experiments he had seen at Site 19. The shuffle of a humanoid being driven by a microchip. Microchips don’t know how to walk innately; it takes a while for them to get the motion down fluently, to debug the motor cortex and the signals coming from the otolithic organs. These models were already doing better than the ones he saw a few minutes ago; a hive mind allows for rapid development. Very rapid.
The microchips apparently had also learned a great deal about hand-eye coordination. From the woodline, across the length of a football field, one of them raised a handgun and fired. The bullet pinged off of the wall not two feet above David's head. Two more of them began lurching forward towards the door at something between running and falling. David had just enough time to think What the hell is that concrete thing in the woods? before slamming the door shut. He didn’t even think to block the door with anything; he stumbled back and retreated down the hall.
He heard footsteps in front of him from where the MTF agents had been carrying the unconscious man. He knew more infected personnel would be coming through the door behind him. David wasn’t armed, and he wasn’t prepared to kill anyone he didn’t have to even if he were capable of it.
A containment room was nearby. David didn’t have time to read the sign above it; he opened the door, threw himself into it, and closed the door behind him as quietly as possible.
The room was dark. Of course the lights were off; it was David's own policy. O5 wanted to cut down on costs at smaller Sites and wouldn’t pay for motion-activated lights, so David just told everyone to make sure the lights were off when they left the room.
The only light in the room was from a small digital clock, counting down to zero. It was at seven seconds. Six. Five.
David reached the light switch (four, three), flipped on the lights (two) and turned around (one) to see a sundial.
Three Servus instances returned to Anesidora's palace, carrying a series of packages.
The first Servus came to Her throne and deposited a small box. The box was a safe with three separate locks on it; the combination lock was opened when one of the personnel in possession of it was Integrated; the voice lock was opened by another researcher, who screamed the authorization before her captors killed her; the thumbprint lock was opened by a third researcher's thumb, recently detached from its owner. The Servus opened the box.
Anesidora was pleased at what She saw. I give you permission to touch My Form, She said to the Servus. Place the Crown upon My body.
The Servus did so, awestruck by the great honor bestowed upon him by Her Light. As She began absorbing his body into Herself, digesting his body, sucking him in by his hands, he contemplated how satisfied he was to receive such a blessing. He died happily.
The second Servus came to Her throne and left a device. Anesidora had downloaded that individual's memories already and was aware of the object's significance. The Soldier lies within? She asked, knowing the answer already. The Servus nodded, taking advantage of one of so few opportunities to converse with the divine, then retreated. The sated Goddess would not require further feeding.
The third Servus came to Her throne and left a hominid. Anesidora was displeased. His role is not yet come, She said. He can wait elsewhere. Remove him from my presence.
The Servus was greatly mortified by his error and left swiftly, the hominid Eastman comma Agent James Bartholemew weighing him down as he did so.
Anesidora turned her attention to Her pet, or at least the small portion of its mass lying in a nearby wheelbarrow. She programmed it carefully, giving it very specific instructions. Its nature was different, very different from hers, or from the microchips that she controlled. Nevertheless, it was designed to accept instructions in the form she was providing. She spoke to one of the Servus, ordering him to carry the wheelbarrow back to where the rest of its mass was, quietly reproducing itself in a shed of its own construction. The Servus strained slightly at the weight of the concrete mixture on his nine-year-old frame, but was able to wrestle it outside.
Anesidora would have smiled, had She possessed a mouth. Her Minotaur was almost ready to hunt.