"This is going to kick the top off the anthill, you know that, right?" General Pendergast asked, looking up from the report.
Doctor Rex scoffed, "Yeah, well, I can't help it that Dr. Von Schmidt is an idiot, or that so many fools actually listened to his ridiculous ideas." Pendergast shook his head. "Besides, General, you wanted a realistic assessment. There you go."
Pendergast sighed. "Rex, the point of Project Heimdall is to assess our risks. The O5 Council takes the 'Destroyers' mentioned in SCP-1050 very seriously—"
"Ah, yes, 'Destroyers'. The mythical race of warped abominations, allegedly waiting in the 'Realm of Darkness.' We can dismiss that claim, General," spat Rex. "There is not one shred of evidence to support the theory that aliens drop by every fifty thousand to fifty million years and wipe out large percentages of life on this planet - not one! I mean, unless you count a single artifact which makes wild and unsupported claims. Every major extinction event in this planet's history caused by the same thing? Come on!"
"What about the transmission?" asked Pendergast.
"What about it? It's three words in a predecessor dialect to Latin, followed by one hundred numbers," Rex retorted.
"And some of those numbers are the base-eight equivalent of what's on the obelisk," Pendergast continued, exasperated.
"So what?" Rex asked. "More than half of them aren't."
Pendergast massaged his graying temples. "Doctor, don't you think it at least theoretically possible that—"
"No, General, I don't," Rex said. He sighed exasperatedly. "Let's just take a look at what we know for certain - not what Von Schmidt guessed, what we know."
"Obsidian obelisk of improbable size, covered in a bunch of different languages all saying the same thing, and inexplicably transmitting a signal which happens to match something occasionally picked up by radio telescopes," Rex began. "What does this text say?" He walked over to Pendergast's blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk. "'Beware the Destroyers.' Okay, now there's a helpful statement. 'They come by the millions from the Realm of Darkness which extends where no stars shine.' Millions. Right. Probably hyperbole. Also, where is this 'Realm of Darkness'?"
"Space," replied Pendergast.
Rex looked down his glasses at the General condescendingly. "Really? Remember, 'where no stars shine'. There's no where on this planet that if you look up at the clear night sky forty-eight thousand years ago that you wouldn't see stars. I mean, now we know about intergalactic space, but back then? No way. This isn't some space opera cosmic horror story, General. No, if you want someplace dark without stars, at least from the primitive worldview of Paleolithic man, you're talking a cave or underwater. Look at mythological descriptions of the underworld. Hades, Niflheim, those are the places to look. And the Foundation has spent decades digging around looking for subterranean and submarine monsters. You'd think we'd have noticed millions of something.
"Okay, moving on. 'For a thousand generations They slumber, lying in wait.' That's got to be hyperbole. No human society has ever kept records, even in oral tradition, that accurately keep track of things over twenty-five thousand years. Remember, writing only rolled around in the past ten thousand years," Rex said.
"But the writing on the obelisk—" objected Pendergast.
"What, the writing that magically appears over night? We made that?" Rex asked. "Okay. Brief description of peace, prosperity, blah, blah. 'Then They Return. They cull and burn. They are warped, and move beyond the pale, bigger than any man, unnatural births. Every nail, claw-scale and spur, every spike and welt on the hand of those heathen brutes is as barbed steel. It is said there is no honed iron hard enough to pierce Them through, no time proofed blade that can cut Their brutal blood caked claws.' This passage also appears in Beowulf, which, I might remind you, is fiction!"
"Then it seems likely the author of Beowulf was aware of either the obelisk, or a contemporary version of dash-two," Pendergast retorted. "It would make sense, actually. Remember that one of the messages on the obelisk was written in 985 in Early Medieval Swedish Runes."
"Right," Rex said. "Except Beowulf is about a legendary Geatish hero. Who was roughly contemporary with when the story was first told."
"We think," Pendergast countered.
"Even if Grendel or his mother - or both - are Destroyers, and I'm not saying I believe that, then that would actually support the subterranean or submarine origin of the Destroyers. Remember, Beowulf has to chase Grendel's mother to her lair, which was under a lake," Rex said. "Nothing extraterrestrial about that."
"Huh," Pendergast said. This was an aspect to the text he'd never considered.
"Yeah," Rex said. "I still don't think these Destroyers are real, or aliens, but that doesn't excuse lazy analysis. The least Von Schmidt could have done was done it right. Anyway, from the description, we can get that these alleged Destroyers are supposed to be big, ugly monsters. If I showed ancient man a tank, what do you think his response would be? You can kill a tank with a bazooka, General."
Pendergast stood and picked up a piece of chalk of his own, "But what about the next part, Rex? 'Armies are raised and cut down like grasses before a scythe - it is said the armies of Amorah and Suhdom, each ten thousand strong, were swept away between a single rising and setting sun. Heroes come forth and are slaughtered.'"
Rex was unimpressed. "If you have a hundred tanks and you go up against twenty thousand guys with spears and bows, what do you think the result is going to be? General, when was the last time you heard of a spearman beating a tank in combat?"
"Tanks? In ancient times?" the General asked incredulously.
"Alien invaders?" the Doctor countered. "I'm not saying these 'Destroyers' - if they existed - were tanks or anything like that. My point is that they could be something (apparently) completely unrelated to ten-fifty. They could even be something the Foundation has encountered and contained."
Pendergast raised his eyebrows, "Like what?"
Rex scoffed, "You want me to guess? I don't know, six-eighty-two, maybe? Or one-seven-three? Or maybe Able? Honestly, I have no idea. But we can't account for where any of these objects were fifty millennia ago. Maybe it was six-eighty-two's great-great-great-granddaddy!"
"You've made your point, Rex," Pendergast said quietly.
Ignoring him, Rex rambled on, "Just because we 'know', or I should say 'strongly believe', that there is a threat does not mean we actually have the foggiest idea what that threat actually is."
Rex showed no sign of stopping his rambling tirade, however. "We have a lot of information about this object - that we know, I mean, not just that we think we know - but we don't know that there is a threat, much less anything about what that threat might be!"
"Enough!" shouted Pendergast. Rex blinked - he'd been so absorbed in his thought that it took volume to shake him out of it. Resuming his usual quiet volume, Pendergast asked, "What about the connection to Sodom and Gomorrah?"
"Do you assume the Biblical accounts of those cities' destruction through fire and brimstone are literally true, General?" Rex asked. "That the Almighty decided to smite them? Besides, their historical existence is still in dispute by archaeologists. The Bible indicates they were located near the Dead Sea, but we've not found proof of their having been there." Pendergast nodded; petty, arrogant, and bad with people as Rex was, he had a point. "Beyond that, if Von Schmidt's analysis is correct (for a change), and the numbers are dates in Earth years since the Big Bang, then none of those dates are within human history."
"Even the most recent one?" Pendergast observed skeptically.
"No other written or oral history dates back that far, at least not that we know of," Rex said. "Sure, there were humans around, but fifty or so thousand years is a long time. Remember, this SCP notwithstanding, it's generally agreed that the first true writing of language was only invented in 3200 BCE in Mesopotamia - and then independently in Mesoamerica around 600 BC. Writing numbers came first, but even there we're only talking about 8000 BCE in Sumer."
Pendergast nodded. "So, 1050 indicates human writing is five times older than we thought."
"Except there's no clear evidence humans ever actually carved anything on the obelisk," Rex said. "Remember how the Nazi scientists went home for the night, only to come back and discover the Russian version of the message had appeared as if by magic."
Pendergast thought about that for a moment, and decided to push Rex back on track. After all, the doctor had failed to answer his question. "Could the Biblical accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah have come from this SCP?"
"If they did, then that would call into question centuries of scholarship on Biblical scholarship," answered Rex. "It is incredibly implausible for the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah to have been destroyed by 'Destroyers', unless, of course, our understanding of where the Bible comes from is completely wrong."
Pendergast raised an eyebrow. "Rex, you've worked here long enough to know that stranger things have happened."
"Is it possible? Sure. But not probable," the doctor replied, adjusting his glasses. "And, on top of that, this message is a warning from ancient aliens who happened to visit this planet to warn us about other ancient aliens who appear out of nowhere every few epochs to wipe out the majority of life on the planet? I know this Foundation handles some crazy stuff, but come on!"
Sighing, the General asked, "Okay, what about 'Lightning and fire rain from the sky and the whole earth trembles.'"
"Sounds like what I understand modern artillery bombardment and aerial bombing is like," Rex replied.
"And this stuff about the Destroyers being 'a powerful flood that washes away entire mighty nations and empires'?" Pendergast asked.
Rex shook his head. "General, you know that there are flood myths in just about every culture, but apart from this obelisk's message, we have no reason to think they refer to anything other than, well, water."
"'The people pray for deliverance from the gods. The gods fight the Destroyers, but their efforts are in vain'," quoted Pendergast.
"Three-forty-three notwithstanding, how many gods do you know? And, even if you include him, how many gods do you know that actually bother interfering?" Rex asked. Pendergast was not a religious man, but he had been brought up by church-going parents, and was therefore less than amused by Rex's comment. Before he could say anything though, Rex continued. "And this whole bit about the Destroyers being 'as the gods are to men and men are to insects'? Sounds a bit like something out of Lovecraft, doesn't it? Or perhaps Star Wars - 'there's always a bigger fish'? Really?"
"And this escape fleet of 'fifty score great vessels'?" asked Pendergast.
"It wasn't until relatively modern times that fleets could be expected to weather storms without losing a ship or two," Rex said, "Or for that matter, to be almost completely wiped out by storms."
Pendergast returned to his desk. "So you honestly think there's no threat here," he said.
"General, the chances of anything coming to wipe us out are a million to one," Rex replied smugly.
Thank you, Ogilvy, Pendergast thought, trying not to smile at the apparently unintentional irony of Rex's choice of phrase. "Alright, Doctor, SCP-1050 isn't what we've previously believed it to be, then what is it?"
"I don't know," Rex admitted, "but just because I can't provide an alternative doesn't mean the Foundation's current guess is anything other than speculative bullshit - imaginative speculative bullshit, to be sure, but bullshit nonetheless."
Pendergast shook his head and looked up. "I hope you're right," he replied. "I'll forward your report. Dismissed, Doctor." As Rex left, Pendergast muttered to himself, "I hope you're right."