Where Have You Been All My Life
rating: +125+x

Who the fuck infiltrates a senior Foundation official's home, while they're home?

Marion Wheeler lives deep in coniferous forest, a long drive from the nearest major city and a long drive in the opposite direction from Site 41. It's late, last thing, and she's reading in bed when she hears the muffled, unmistakeable click of her front door being unlocked. She looks up, and stares blankly at the wall for a second while listening to soft footsteps moving into the hallway.

She marks her place and reaches for her Foundation-issued phone. She has no permanent security staff at home — the Division is understaffed and trained operatives are in much more serious need on Site — but the building and grounds have beefy electronic countermeasures. They, she discovers, have all been disabled, along with the sensors and cameras. She was not notified that this had happened. Whoever did it had a valid code.

Who, though?

The Foundation has enemies. True, the list of credible, motivated enemies is surprisingly short, and the list of groups stupid enough to try to kill or capture someone at her level is shorter. But it's far from empty, and it's not actually so hard a feat; not too many people below O5 level are privileged to travel in motorcades. The real trick, the impossible trick, is to avoid unholy retaliation. But what if you really think you can? What if you've decided it's worth it?

Wheeler triggers the silent alarm. She sets her phone back down on the nightstand and collects her gun. She rolls out of bed, tucks a few pillows in her place, moves silently to her bedroom door and stands beside it, listening and thinking.

This door, her bedroom door, can't be opened silently. It creaks like hell, so if she goes through it she'll have to be ready to draw attention. There's an attic, but access is out there on the landing and, again, can't be operated silently. There's no alternate route to ground level other than jumping from the window, and someone has to be covering it. Even if she landed in the bushes alive, she'd still have to break the perimeter with a sprained ankle.

A better question than "Who?" is "How many?" She may already be straight-up dead, simply due to numbers. If the attackers tread cautiously and try to flush her out, she figures she can Home Alone her way through perhaps eight of them before running out of luck. If they rush the second floor and have armor she might be overwhelmed by as few as two, even with the staircase acting as a choke point. All of this, naturally, assumes that the attackers aren't anomalous. If they are, and they're not in the, say, thirty percent of anomalies which can be neutralised simply by shooting them in the centre mass and head, she may be fundamentally helpless even after the response team shows up. Which will be, at best, ten minutes from now.

A creaking. This damned house. Someone is coming up the stairs, making no effort to be quiet about it. A soft tread, though. As if they removed their shoes. Just one of them? That barely makes sense.

With five seconds' grace, Wheeler casts around the dark room for a second weapon. She knows there are knitting needles downstairs in the lounge and knives, good ones, in the kitchen. But she can't get to them. It's too late. The door's opening. It seems like the man's trying to say something as he comes in, but he only gets as far as "I— whulp," and it's done. He's flat on his face, cheek pressed into deep cream carpet, with Wheeler on his back pinning both his wrists with her knees. She sights urgently back down the stairs for a second; there's no one there. She prods him in his other cheek with the muzzle of the gun. "You speak, you die," she hisses. "You try to move, you die." She glances at the windows, checks the stairs again, listens intently. There's no sound. There's nothing to be seen.

The man is fifty, and lanky. He wears an expensive dark suit, tailored to his build. He has angular features, thick, greying hair and rimless spectacles, now quite possibly bent out of shape by their sudden impact with the floor. He wears discreet platinum jewellery: a wristwatch, cufflinks and a ring.

The two of them halt like that, a tableau. He makes no attempt to move, although he does look askance at Wheeler, as best he can given his dislodged glasses.

Wheeler asks, "Where are the others?"

"It's just me, Marion," he answers.

"Who are you?"

He says nothing for a moment, but his expression slowly, subtly drops. "I, ah. Well. Well, it really happened, didn't it? I always wondered."

"Who are you?"

"There is a monster which follows you around and eats your memories," the man says. "SCP-4987. You drip-feed it inconsequential trivia so it doesn't go after anything important. You watch game shows. The book you were reading just now. On your nightstand. It's a trivia book. Right?"

Wheeler says nothing to confirm or deny this, although it is true. At feeding time the entity manifests like a bright gold-white spot in the corner of her eye. It's gone now.

She's already put the rest of it together. It is all mind-bogglingly, insultingly obvious.

With a well-suppressed but still detectable note of dismay, she asks, "What's your name?"

"Adam," he says. "Adam Wheeler."

*

Obviously, she has the man detained.

She instructs her people to interrogate him — lightly — and to run deep background research on every word he utters, while for her part she stands far back from the investigation to avoid contamination. She resists the urge to interfere, particularly to visit "Adam" and personally demand answers. She goes to her office, curls up on the couch there and tries to catch some sleep, but doesn't succeed in any real sense.

Seven hours later a Foundationer knocks on her office door, bringing an inch-thick block of printouts and a paralysingly strong cup of coffee. Wheeler takes the drink first, accepting it as a kind of authentication step before letting the man in. She moves back to the couch and sits hunched over the drink for warmth, inhaling its fumes.

The man settles heavily into a chair opposite. He is a misleadingly stocky, perpetually unshaven individual, somewhere just shy of forty, and inarguably the most dangerous person on the Site. He is the Division's physical fitness and combat instructor and the leader of their solitary Mobile Task Force. His name is Alex Gauss. "They, uh," he says, "figured I should be the one to present their results. Even though I didn't research one line of it. 'Cause we 'get along'. Their words. Personally, I don't see it."

Wheeler stays focused on the coffee. "Who is he?"

Gauss opens the first page of the report, more for show than anything, then closes it again. "He's your husband. Every word checks out. There is limitless physical evidence. Half of the Division knows him socially, including me. I credit your diligence and adherence to protocol, but the bottom line is that SCP-4987 got hungry."

Wheeler nods. This assessment matches her own, pieced together overnight from gut reactions and analysis of the plain facts. Where the hell else did her name come from? She wasn't born "Wheeler". But she had to get independent verification.

She asks, "Has this happened before?"

"No."

"Could it happen again?"

Gauss shrugs. "You would know better than anyone."

"I would. I do. And I can tell you this: I have SCP-4987 trained to follow me at my heel. I feed it according to a strict regimen, it eats only the memories I say it's okay to eat. A rapidly progressive, universally fatal memory parasite made chronic and then domesticated. And now, what, it suddenly breaks training? That adds up?"

"If you say it doesn't add up, it doesn't add up," Gauss says, cautiously. "But speaking from field experience, anything can happen twice."

Wheeler has waited long enough, and takes a long pull from the coffee. She stares into the coiling steam, as if trying to see the future. "But who is he?" she asks again. "At this point, you know him better than I do. What's he like? Do you like him?"

Gauss grimaces extravagantly. This is the great-great-grandmother of all loaded questions.

Wheeler looks him in the eye and says, "Tell me your personal impression of Adam Wheeler. Direct order."

"…He's a nice enough guy."

"'Nice enough'?"

Gauss clicks his tongue. "I don't like him," he admits. "Personally. All that much. We're civil. But he will always be a little bit too smug, and a little bit too clever. He just… grates. Would I throw someone in a cell for that? No."

"Do I like him?"

"You—" Gauss begins, then stops. He looks away. And over time, a soft smile develops on his face, one which Wheeler doesn't recall ever seeing before, not in a working relationship going back years. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah. He's the one."

*

Full name: Adam Bellamy Wheeler. Born February 27, 1962 in Henge, Derbyshire, United Kingdom to Rosemary Leah Wheeler née Wizst and Jonathan 'Jack' Philip Wheeler. No siblings. Early education: Henge Church of England Primary School, Matlock All Saints Secondary School. Demonstrated great musical acuity from an early age. By age sixteen had begun to be recognised as one of the more accomplished classical violinists of his generation. Attended the Royal College of—

Wheeler skips three pages.

—after sustaining a minor injury while on tour in ████████, he encountered SCP-4051, which had infested a wing of the hospital where he received treatment. SCP-4051 was protected by an unusual form of antimemetic camouflage to which Wheeler — like an estimated 1 in 145,000 individuals worldwide — was (and remains) immune. His attempt to alert authorities to the infestation's presence was intercepted by a Foundation listening station. Operative Marion A. Hutchinson (100A-1-9331), then a field agent based in—

Another page.

—resistant to conventional memory-erasure procedures. Hutchinson applied successfully for an exemption, reasoning that even with his memories left intact it would be impossible for Wheeler to share the details of SCP-4051. They subsequently became romantically involved.

"Oh, they 'subsequently became romantically involved', did they? Tell me more, you featureless gray sphere of a biographer, I'm hooked now."

The biography is contentless beyond this point. Adam Wheeler's life spent touring, playing, lecturing and occasionally conducting, writing and composing is documented in exhaustive, pointless detail. He withstands background checks and surveillance, and consistently demonstrates himself to represent zero risk of leak. He eventually receives the extremely low clearance level normally granted to long-term Foundation-external partners of Foundationers. They get married. She takes his name, which she, reading, considers faintly unrealistic. Blah blah.

There is nothing about his personality. Nothing about their relationship. No content.

She remembers acquiring SCP-4051. There was no one there. She remembers nothing.

*

Up until the end of the third round of questioning, Adam Wheeler assumes good faith. He figures the repetition is a due diligence tic, a corporate procedural requirement. It's only when they start over from "What's your name?" with a brand new interviewer for the fourth time that he finally gets it: they don't like him, and they don't care what he thinks his name is. They're trying to grind him down, until he can't think, until he's just dust particles they can sift through for data.

He reacts badly to this realisation. He asks for his wife, and asks for his wife, and they ignore him, and they ignore him, and she persistently fails to appear, until it becomes a cold form of torture. The questions keep coming and nothing stops them, not answering truthfully, not not answering, not lying, not rambling off on tangents. They don't stop until he begins falling asleep in the middle of his own sentences.

He wakes up in a standard Humanoid Containment Unit, a stackable one-bedroom apartment with holographic fake windows, impregnable walls and extensive discreet modifications for the security and monitoring of anomalous entities. This one is on the first basement level, but he can't tell that. The bright quote-light-unquote pouring in through the main living area window is authentic enough to tan.

He wakes up on the couch, with a start, feeling creaky and dehydrated. He realises that he slept in his suit, and that his suit is creased. He hates that, that sensation of not looking his best, or at least presentable. That's going to gnaw away at him until he can find, at minimum, a razor and a change of shirt.

What woke him was the heavy metallic clack of the door unlocking. He looks up, rubbing his eyes. It's his wife. "Marion! Oh, my God." He leaps up and rushes over to meet her. She stops him a few paces short, with a gesture and a cold smile. And that hurts. It hurts more than anything.

So it really happened: SCP-4987 has bitten out the part of Marion Wheeler which cared about him. She wasn't absent because of some unrelated K-class outbreak. She just chose to be elsewhere, indifferent.

So he doesn't embrace her. He stands at a polite distance. "How are you feeling? Did you sleep?"

"I'm fine."

"I can tell you've had your coffee. Have you eaten? Come on, I'll make you something." The unit has a rudimentary kitchen area. He goes through and starts exploring the cupboards. "There must be something edible around here. Eggs and milk, at least. I'm ashamed to say I more or less fell asleep where I was standing when they put me in here, so I haven't had a chance to scout. Or do you keep the place empty, and the food arrives through a slot in the wall?"

Marion begins, "Mr. Wheeler—"

Adam shoots her a disappointed look.

"Okay," she says, "Adam. Please come and sit down. You're right, there's nothing in any of those cupboards."

He closes the cupboard and sits opposite her at the kitchen table. "Scrambled eggs on granary toast," he suggests. "With a lot of garlic in the eggs. That's what we both need right now. Particularly you, because if I don't make something substantial for you you end up drinking those wretched wallpaper paste milkshakes seven days a week. Or you skip the meal entirely."

"Adam. We've been married for seventeen years, is that correct?"

"Yes."

"I don't know you."

"That's fine," Adam says. "I doubt that that's going to be a serious problem. You've told me, many times, about your own people who've lost themselves in the work and had to bootstrap their own personalities a second time. You love watching it. It's like watching butterflies emerge from chrysalides. The best of your people can turn that around in ten weeks. Imagine how fast it's going to be for you."

"No," Wheeler replies. Her tone is clinical, matter-of-fact. "I'm afraid it's not possible."

"What's not possible?"

"I can't begin a new relationship right now. Certainly not something as serious as a marriage. You have nominal clearance; you know what we do. I have responsibilities. I do not have… 'time'."

"This isn't 'new'," Adam says, deadpan. "It's pre-existing."

"No," Wheeler explains. "That relationship is ended now, and we are somewhere else."

Adam stares at her for a long moment, thin-lipped and far from happy. He asks her:

"What do you remember?"

The question is so open-ended that Wheeler doesn't manage to respond verbally. She spreads her hands slightly, the gesture saying, "What?"

"You don't remember me," Adam says. "SCP-4987 also clearly ate the part of you which would care if you forgot me. And, additionally, the part of you which cares about brunch. 'What else have you forgotten?' would be a stupid question to ask, so instead I'm asking you, what's left? I want you to tell me everything you can remember."

"Everything I can remember?"

"Yes. From 1995 to right now."

It's still a farcical question at face value, and Wheeler's first instinct is to dismiss it as such, but she thinks again. She thinks, intending to genuinely try to answer the question. And she finds gaps. There's a dearth of specifics. It's like being asked to "say something" and immediately forgetting all words.

She says, "I remember… working."

And driving home, and then sleep, and then driving back to work. Big, hostile buildings. Drug regimens, containment procedures, endless piles of opaque numbers, personal fitness drills. Running. Calculating. Never, ever stopping calculating. She remembers, with unfair clarity, a large variety of extremely bad dreams.

And other than that, nothing. A huge, deep, ragged-edged black pit.

Adam says, "You remember nothing good, do you? Nothing good at all.

"When you come home, on the nights you make it home, you are ready to fold up. It has never been an easy job, but these past few years have been the worst they've ever been, because you're coming to the conclusion of something gigantic. You have explained to me how it is that you can never tell me, really, what it is that you do, without the act of you telling me killing me. And I — I couldn't stand that at first, and I still hate your job and I think it's a monstrous farce — but I trusted you in that. And I stopped asking. But I can tell, from the… rattle in your hands and the things you don't say, and the way you sleep, that there is some kind of war going on back here. And you're losing people to it. And you're almost at the end. And you're going to win.

"So I scramble your eggs, and I play the violin for you, and between us we hack out about three-tenths of what I would consider to be normalcy. Not because you can't do this without me, you could take the whole universe by yourself if you really had to, but: to blazes with that, you don't have to.

"It didn't happen instantly. But it happened pretty damned fast. We had music in common at first, Bach and Mendelssohn. We had tobacco in common and a mutual hatred of The X-Files. Then it was coffee and wine. And then after some time it became hiking, and birdwatching, and Perseid meteors. We like Bruce Lee flicks. We watch Law & Order and Jeopardy! and we read stacks and stacks of books. No, in fairness, it's mainly me for the books. You don't have the long-term time to spare anymore."

He pinches the bridge of his nose for a second. Any two people can find that much common ground. Just being in the same place for years doesn't count for anything. What do they have?

"We communicate," he says. "Better than anybody I've seen. We can be apart for two months while I'm on tour or you're overseas and snap right back and pick up a conversation from the word we left off. We are connected. We are in the same headspace. You'll see it all. It'll happen again, just as fast. You've just got to give it a chance."

Wheeler is almost there. She sees the shape of what Adam is describing. It's distant and unclear, but if she concentrates she might be able to bring it into focus. It worries her, for nebulous reasons she can't completely articulate, but she can almost understand how there could be room for it. How it could lock into her life as it currently exists, and still make sense.

But Adam just said something crucial. He said a keyword which means the marriage counselling session is over and this is now a situation. Wheeler can't ignore it. She forces herself to drop the other thread and seize this one.

"What war?"

And now Adam really doesn't know what's happening. "Good God. The war, Marion. I don't know how else to describe it."

"What war? How many people?"

"I don't know," Adam says. "There are names. Names you stop mentioning, and then you ignore me when I bring them up again. I assume there are reasons. I don't know the specifics. How could I know? Why don't you know?"

Wheeler races through the reasoning. The existence of a war computes. It confirms long-term existing suspicions. It could have been going on for years without her realising it. It makes sense to her that she could be fighting it, winning, even, and not know; managing her own memories or losing them in skirmishes. This certainly won't be the first time she's uncovered it. It makes sense that Adam, naturally gifted with the mental equivalent of a thick layer of blubber, could stand on the edge of the conflict and dimly be able to perceive it. And the Division — so understaffed.

People are disappearing around her.

"And what if—" she begins, and stops dead in the middle of the thought, as if the thought itself was stolen out of her.

"And what if we get back together, and—" she begins again, and this time hard instinct seizes her around the midsection and bodily hauls her back from thinking a thought which, it knows, would kill her. She's Wile E. Coyote, she's already run off the edge of a precipice into clear air, and thinking that thought would be like looking down.

She feels SCP-4987 moving around her, abstractly bound to her, a winking speck of glitter in her eye. "Something's wrong."

Adam scratches at his own eye. "Do you see that?"

"How can you see that?"

"I have a mild immunity to antimemetic influence," Adam says. He knows it's in his file and he knows Wheeler has read the file, but apparently it needs to be said again. "I can tell when something is fritzing with my memories. I can resist it. Up to a point. So, Marion, I was hoping to have a relaxed conversation over coffee and get around to this topic organically, but I'm going to have to skip to the end: I have the impression that SCP-4987 is trying to kill me."

"…No," Wheeler says. "That's not its behavior model. It doesn't sustain itself that way, by eating people. It eats memories. And it's never done this. Not to you, nor me, nor anybody. Not since the very early days. It's tame. It does exactly what I tell it to do. Even when I'm waiting, and I'm bored, and I let it eat my short-term, it sits and waits to be told to eat."

"Then what is it doing to us?" Adam is getting nervy, and won't let go of his eye. He stands up and backs away. "I would like it if we could figure this out quickly. We don't have a way to put SCP-4987 down."

There's a sound in Wheeler's mind, but not in her ear, like a distant chorus of baying dogs. She stands too, and moves after Adam into the middle of the containment unit.

She says, "It's trying to protect you."

"I— How does wiping your memory of me protect me?"

"I can't explain," Wheeler says. "And I can't explain why I can't explain. I don't fully know myself. There's an ███████████ ███████."

"A what?"

"You can't be here," she says. "You can't be in my life. You have to leave, or you're going to die."

"I'm not leaving you," Adam says. "Christ, that's why we did it in the end. Got married, I mean. It was scintillatingly obvious to both of us, very early on, that we were forever. But I wanted to get it on the public record. I stood up in front of everybody I respect and I swore to them that I would protect you. Forever!"

SCP-4987 is agitated. Wheeler feels it flitting around the room, incoherent, trying to tell her what it needs.

She says, with sudden actinic clarity, "I must have made an identical promise."

Adam doubles over, blinded in both eyes now. Closing his eyes does nothing, covering his eyes does nothing. The gold-white light is strobing for him, moving into violet. He panics. "Help. Help me. I can't see." He reaches out, unsteadily, for Wheeler's hand. She lets him take it and pull her close. The light doesn't fade. He clings to Wheeler for a few moments, and she holds on to him until he realises that SCP-4987 is completely within her control, and this is all intentional.

"You're going to do this?" Adam says. "This is the Foundation mandate, this is what your definition of 'protect' amounts to? You've got no idea what you're about to do to yourself. You don't even know me."

"I think I know," she replies.

"You will feel this for the rest of your life. Every day, you will wake up with a sick cold feeling in your stomach where there used to be a real life. And you'll wonder why."

"I'm going to win this war," Wheeler says to him. "I'll beat the universe. And then I will come and find out why."

Adam holds on to her for another long, long moment. He can hear the baying too, now, and he can even barely perceive what it is, far off behind the hill, that SCP-4987 is frantic about. That distant dot, that fleeting second-hand glimpse of the shape of it, far off, is enough to terrify him.

He has faith. He knows how fast Marion can put the jigsaw pieces back together, work against a universe which makes no sense to her, isolate the truth. He knows she can take the universe. But a sharp misgiving jabs him in the stomach and he can't stop himself saying: "And what if you lose?"

She kisses him. It's a stranger's kiss, there's nothing there Adam recognises. He breaks off, unsettled. It's a whisper now: "What if you lose?"

*

Wheeler exits the containment unit; she slams and deadlocks the door with a single movement. The heavy metallic crack makes the whole building shake.

There are people outside. Gauss, Julie Still and a few others, comparing notes. They look appalled.

"Fill in his backstory," she tells them. "He was never married. Relocate him to where I'll never find him, incinerate all the evidence, then report to me for surgical memory erasure. I'll do myself last."

Gauss looks as if he has an objection. She stares him down.

"My husband's dead," she says.

Next: Fresh Hell

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