Welcome to the Machine
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The squad split to opposite sides of the street at the head of the block. Private Scott followed two others and the sergeant into a bombed out church. The four soldiers sifted between the pews, calmly but rapidly assuming position. They scrambled over chunks of concrete and stone littering the floor with early morning irritation. Scott turned his gaze up to the broken rafters of the roof and tripped clumsily over his own feet. It seemed funny to him that the cathedral in this little French town was larger than any back in Trenton. Clambering over a cracked slab of the wall, the four men set up at a pair of tall stained-glass windows. The intermittent missing diamond panes offered a fine view of the road below while providing a modest visual obstruction to anyone approaching. They had to take it in good faith, Scott supposed, that the other five men had found a position on the other side of the street.

The sergeant lay prone and silent, the barrel of his rifle poking slightly past the sill. Scott stood awkwardly by, looking over his shoulder at the beams of light coming down through the roof. It was almost angelic.

“Get the fuck down, jackass,” said Private McKenzie jovially, tugging on the edge of Scott’s coat. Scott scrambled down, weapon bouncing loudly off the stone. Then they waited, tensely. A full platoon of German soldiers was scheduled to come through sometime that morning, though they didn’t know when. They had three squads behind them, thankfully, but Private Scott’s squad would be at the front.

They fidgeted. McKenzie and Scott flicked pebbles at each other, and Jacobsen smoked. The sergeant just lay there. He could have been asleep.

After a long while they became aware of other sounds under the songbirds and the light creek of the broken ceiling slats. There was movement, and slight hints of “s” sounds drifting from voices at the far rear of the cathedral.

“You hear that, sarge?” asked Private Jacobsen, inching over on his elbows.

“Yup,” the NCO responded. “None of our boys are up this far.”

“Maybe two of us should go check it out-” Jacobsen added, eager to get up.

“Jerry ain’t up this far either,” the sergeant continued, not listening. He peered far off down the road. “We’re all going,” he decided. “Get up.”

The four stood and began moving to the back of the church, Private Scott in tow. The light disoriented them, shifting from bright to dark as they walked beneath the gashes in the great ceiling. The sergeant lifted a finger to his lips. A spent cartridge jangled underfoot, and Scott jumped a little. Behind the altar and to the left was a wooden door, slightly ajar. Voices echoed from within, up a long stone staircase. And there was another noise, something subtler, and higher pitched, barely audible.

Suddenly the sound of gunfire erupted up from below. The soldiers sprang from inaction and pressed themselves against the wall. There were shouts from the basement, and more shots. The sergeant motioned quickly with two fingers, looking markedly at Private Scott. Scott turned from the wall to the door, rifle outstretched, and felt aching pangs of adrenaline up the back of his neck. He pushed into the stairwell gingerly. The three other men followed him slowly down the moist, dark passage. The gunfire had stopped, but there were still loud cries emanating from below, and a strange, shrill chittering, as if from rats.

They came to the bottom of the steps, and Scott leaned quickly around the edge of the threshold. It was a long basement room with a low ceiling, poorly lit by flickering torches in wall brackets. At the end of the room was an altar, hung with a white cloth. Upon it sat an ornate golden goblet. It shone strangely in the relative darkness, giving off a bluish shimmer.

In the center of the basement was a wooden table, upon which stood two figures. They were a man and a woman, and they wore odd khaki jumpsuits. The man was frantically fiddling with a flamethrower, cursing loudly in an accent that sounded German. The woman stood at his back, brandishing an ugly machete. There was a third khaki figure below them on the floor, body partially obscured by a dark, flowing mass.

As Scott looked closer, he saw that the mass was in fact a swarm of thousands of vermin. They were nothing he had ever seen before – grapefruit sized, skittering with perverted rapidity on spindly legs, screeching incessantly. Most of them pressed at the table, crawling over each other in ravenous eagerness to get up to the two figures. The woman swept the machete low, angrily slicing back the creatures that managed to mount the table. The man was cursing in German, and whacking at the flamethrower with his fists. Private Scott stood agape at the base of the stair.

“What the hell is going on in there?” asked the sergeant impatiently, pushing Scott aside and stepping down to the basement floor. “Oh fuck-” he managed. The rushing mass of creatures on the floor turned simultaneously from the table to look at the four soldiers. The little nightmares grinned with hundreds of thousands of unnaturally needle-like teeth. After a moment’s hesitation, they sprinted for the men. The sergeant was paralyzed. Scott hysterically squeezed off a clip of shots while a screaming McKenzie attempted to pull himself back up the staircase. The four soldiers were quickly over-swept. A tide of tiny, searing pinpricks attacked their bodies, ripping little chunks out of their flesh. They were pulled down to the floor. Their ears were filled with the incessant screeching. Scott blacked out when they began tearing at his face.

Private Scott awoke on the stone floor, his sight blurry, spluttering blood. He turned his head, and the dead eyes of the sergeant stared back at him. Jacobsen was slumped in the corner, also dead. McKenzie was face down on the stairs. He didn’t know how much time had passed, but he was sticky all over with his own blood. An excruciating pain suddenly expressed itself throughout his body. He gurgled, arching his back. There was an acrid smell in the air, like burning, and the myriad little bodies of the needle-toothed creatures lay blackened and legs-up on the floor all around.

The man and the woman in the khaki suits were standing over their fallen comrade at the other end of the basement.

“I’m sorry, Marty,” said the German one, folding the man’s arms over his chest.

“We should have been more cautious,” said the woman, distraught.

“Look, we got the goblet,” the German replied, “and he died doing his duty, in the field. We couldn’t have foreseen the flamethrower malfunctioning.”

“I know…” said the woman, dejectedly. Scott coughed again, and she looked over to the staircase. “One of those bastards is alive!” she exclaimed. The woman ran over, feet crunching on the small bodies littering the floor. She bent down and put a finger to the side of Scott’s neck.

“Alexandra! We don’t have time for this!” chastised her companion.

“I know,” she replied, exasperated, “the Germans are going to be here soon.”

“The Nazis are going to be here soon,” the man said sharply.

“This kid is barely alive,” she said, ignoring him.

“Leave him. An unfortunate casualty.”

“We can save him,” she said, after a pause.

“How? He’s fatally wounded…what, do you mean to use…?” the German asked incredulously.

“Yes!” the woman exclaimed.

“No way,” her companion cried, waving his hands. “Leave him. Even if you did what you’re thinking, you’d be giving him no choice.”

“He has no choice. He’s dying.”

“How would we ever get away with it, Alexandra?” the man pleaded.

“We’ll take him with us,” she said firmly. There was a long silence between them. Private Scott spluttered weakly, blood soaking through his uniform. He felt his feet growing cold.

“He’ll be stuck, he’ll be imprisoned for the rest of his life,” said the German.

“I know – I know,” said the woman. “But at least we’ll have given him life. We owe him that.”

“He’s not our burden…,” the German said, but his tone revealed that he had given way. “If anyone ever finds out about this, it will be both of our heads,” he stressed, conceding.

Scott was aware of someone crouching down beside him. He sensed something cold and metal being pressed to his lips. And suddenly his body was filled with a warm, dense liquid. The pain was forgotten, like a dream slipping away, and he felt the ragged tears across in his flesh sealing and knitting together. And he was better.

SCP-1451 is a Caucasian male of indeterminate age…

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