The Worst That Could Happen

This is the lead-in to Ará Orún, without the redaction.

I wanted Wheeler's experience of being inside SCP-3125 to be a lengthy, mesmerising stream-of-consciousness nightmare of which he only recalled unpleasant fragments. But I didn't want to just jam arbitrary blocks of redaction together, I wanted to work from something real, so I put this together. This was written at very high speed with negligible editing for content, tone, wording or specific facts. There are bits and pieces here which I would definitely consider "wrong", and in need of a second pass of editing. There are large tracts here which are still one thousand percent ultracanon and actually in retrospect fairly plot-critical.

I strongly considered unredacting this passage for the ebook releases of There Is No Antimemetics Division but I decided that would be a slippery slope to a ground-up re-edit of the entire thing. I eventually decided to avoid diverging from what had been published on the SCP Foundation wiki.

This is probably the most violent scene in any Antimemetics Division story.

 

But it is.

They wrestle him to the ground and pin his arm out flat, forcing his fist open to give access to his left index finger. The dread idea is beating on the door of his mind, angrily, demanding to be let in. It's wrong, the shape of it is awful and it's too big and slick with poison and he knows if he lets it in it'll swamp everything he is, filling his home up with sludge and broken glass. It wants to drown him in it and he knows it'll replace everything he is with swarming wasps and ants and ill-fitting excess metaphor and he knows it's taken the rest of the world already and all of the people around him and he holds out, and he continues to hold out right up until one of the people pinning him produces a pair of wire cutters and begins to work on the metacarpal bone of his first finger, right where it meets his palm, and then he folds. He wants to think of himself as a trooper but the pain of the metal jaws biting away at his flesh, just that first bite, is so far beyond anything he's experienced that it demolishes any will he has. The pain overrides everything else in his existence, it obliterates his resistance. Knowing he's weak, ashamed, on his knees, Yes, he says, yes, he throws the door open, anything to stop it, just be me, take over from this, drive this shell for me so that I can go somewhere else, where this isn't happening to me.

And it stands there, in the night outside, and doesn't move. It watches him placidly while the cutting continues and somehow gets worse and worse. Somewhere in reality he's hollering in agony and there is blood gushing from the ragged, filthy incision, and the people holding him grip more firmly so that they can tear enough of the flesh away to reach the bone, and then they try to work on breaking the bone itself, but they don't have enough leverage, and the agony is immeasurable and it fills him up past the eyeballs and he can't breathe through the screaming and they fetch a chisel. Come in! he screams at వ, Please! I surrender. I lose. Kill me. And వ stands there and makes very clear to him: You're going to lose this finger, and after that, you're going to lose the next one too. Because you shouldn't have held out so long. You shouldn't have tried to fight.

And at this, he sits goggle-eyed in front of the only thing which can help him, as it refuses, and there's a vicious crack and a tension of tendons and he babbles and bleeds and suffers and it goes on for longer than he ever thought he would even live, he should be dead, and there's no plateau and no escape and he never ascends to a cooler plane where he's unconscious and can't feel it, and the miasma of agony builds and builds and then they separate that digit from his tortured palm, and start on the second, and it's another seeming year before the second cack-handed, imperfect splintering crack, and finally వ steps into him and replaces him and he dies, in incalculable, howling misery, having suffered all that for the same ultimate result.

Because the point isn't just to kill. It's to dominate. The point is to cause suffering. As much suffering as possible.

*

Before the following dawn, the world is ruined. It's a common misconception that the process of the world falling to వ would be chaotic and unfocused. It's not at all, because వ is not chaotic but vast and complex in its structure. Anybody can throw a brick through a window, random chance alone would ultimately break that window, but simple gradually increasing entropy and disorder is simple, and natural, and normal, and inexorable, and unavoidable, and not a vicious, active force with goals and the capability to plan. It requires forethought, and rotten intelligence, and tremendous planning, to detonate the equivalent of a dirty nuclear bomb inside the human memeplex and contaminate every last corner of it.

వ is a memeplex like an Independence Day city destroyer. It is an apex predator from a completely alien ideatic ecology, more toxic and hostile than anything humans can independently conceive of. Its arrival in human thought is like a wolf on the Galápagos. Humans simply have no protective evolutionary adaptations against it. It is systematic, disciplined, ordered, focused, brutal and efficient. It turns everything it touches into the worst version of itself. Find beautiful things, and smash them or cover them with filth. Find delightful people and break them and disfigure them. Burn anything which will burn. Smash precious things. Pour food into ditches. Waste everything. Make things unusable. Use knives. Blunt instruments. Poison. No guns. Cause pain. Maim. Try not to kill. It's too easy to kill.

వ does not arrive uniformly and does not take everybody, because that's not the most effective way to create a hell. Uniformity isn't what it wants, what it wants is enemies and something to exercise power over. How can you inflict pain without a victim? There have to be victims. And so the world quietly and without fuss divides into two groups of people. There are We, who are drowning in and driven by వ, who emit sparkling, livid viciousness in every direction, who radiate terror and exist solely to inflict everything possible on everybody possible who isn't one of Us, and We make up barely a fraction of the world. And there are They, who number in the billions, and are nothing but blunt, worthless gristle for the engine of pain. And they flee, minds perhaps even intact, still operating, breathing and awake enough to understand that they need to flee and they don't want what happens to them to happen, intelligent enough to suffer more than any animal, to understand what they're losing, what the world was like a scant five hours ago, what's come through the doors to greet them.

Better to be anything but one of Them. Better to be dead. The thing which drives Wheeler, a kind of contorted wreck of his original self with everything good about him stripped away and fed into the woodchipper, understands this. He was lucky, unbelievably lucky, to be drowned in వ and made into part of it. He was lucky to have the opportunity to pay a scant two of his fingers and a lifetime of pain for grudging late admission. So many people are so unlucky, people he watches through his former eyes, like a country on fire sliding past the window of a room on a luxury yacht, dispassionately and detached even while his are the hands doing the things to Them. It becomes an inferno. After everything has been smashed We begin to build, cement and wire fences and spikes. Someone is directing the effort. In the centre of the city We hack together a kind of series of funnels, where people can be fed in and the door closed behind them, and at the centre of the network of funnels is one of the rare spots in reality where creativity still holds sway, a sick, unprecedented, irreversible creativity. What's the worst thing you can imagine?

Wheeler stands atop piles of his work, naked to the waist, bloody up to the armpits, vision blurred from the loss of his glasses. Far behind him, as if being shown everything that he's doing on a tiny screen, a pitiful shred of him is intact, and watching, and is keeping a record of what he's become. Will there be accountability? Is any slice of him still responsible? That's a call which may never get to be made, and if it does, the decision will be impossibly difficult for the judge which makes it. This part of Wheeler is frightened and tiny and does not know what to do with the data it is gathering, but it knows that if it is going to do anything, it has to have the data. To work from.

The condition he has is incredibly rare, shared by perhaps six or seven people per million worldwide. It's not an anomalous condition, nor inherited; it's an unusual natural artifact of the way that his brain developed. Where are the others like him? How could he know or recognise one? It would be impossible. The majority of them are Them, helpless and understanding the horror of the reality better than anybody. There's just him.

It takes an incredible amount of time for this last splinter of Adam Wheeler to begin its work. It puts the clipboard away and adjusts to the new environment in which he's living, the unbearable pressure and heat of the environment వ generates. It's like tuning out the engine noise on an aeroplane. It's not a conscious process. It's natural. Hammered almost completely into oblivion, and suffering under the hammer in its own tiny way, the part of Adam Wheeler which is still Adam Wheeler rolls over in its sleep, and puts a hand out onto the ground and grips at the sheer concrete.

And it starts to work against that which it knows to be wrong.

It is a long route out of the muck to sunlight. A slow growth, a tiny idea growing from a nearly-killed seedling and finding its way upwards, spreading, taking hold of the filth in which it's growing and transmuting it into something better, hardier. The thing which was once Adam Wheeler regrows. It takes some influence back. It knows that this Wheeler is wrong and the other Wheeler is... is anything but this, which has to be better.

When it reaches the surface it finds that there is no longer a Sun, figuratively or literally. The journey is torturous. Fighting back against the radiation which soaks the world is like pulling an iron spike out of his own skull. Find someone weaker than you and hurt them as much as you possibly can. It's good for Them. No. It's like cutting off another of his own fingers. Broken pieces of metaphor. There's a ray up there, a narrow yellow nourishing sunbeam. He follows it, out of the funnel, through a crack in its fence, over the top of the walls. And he wanders, malnourished, underwatered, down the empty, screaming streets, and out of the city, and far north, along a battered, trashed highway.

There are other people, They who recognise him as one of Us, who avoid him at every cost, and others of Us who pay him a passing glance of puzzlement at the fact that he seems to move in a different direction from the infestation, not pursuing Them whenever he sees them. He doesn't carry a knife or a pair of pliers. His shoes are undone. But We are driven more by the need to drain suffering from the ones who are bursting with it, and We go past him, after Them.

And he walks, tottering under a black Sun which to look at would resemble a black hole. He needs to get away from the core. The idea of వ pervades every cubic metre of existence now, and he walks through it, like lightly slashing weeds, head bobbing under the weight of the extra individual in him. He walks dumbly after the light source, drinking from it. A kind of thread unravels behind him, an infestation being slowly wound out of him, particle by particle.

A black slug drops from his tear duct, falls to the asphalt and shrivels. And another.

Discussion (13)

2020-10-15 03:53:52 by Mike W:

This is very raw, and like you say it is unpolished and barely edited and I honestly love it. It's a rough read, but it's a rough situation. I have enjoyed the Antimemetics Division stories immensely, and this is an interesting and important piece of them. Thank you for continuing to share these behind the scenes bits -- I don't comment a ton but I really enjoy getting a look at the process and background stuff.

2020-10-15 04:23:53 by Maria Szegedy:

> just be me, take over from this, drive this shell for me so that I can go somewhere else, where this isn't happening to me. Well, that's a vivid thing from my brain that I didn't expect to appear on a page. I thought I was done being surprised by this series. I suggest including a content warning for violence and mutilation at the top. I know that the existing blurb doesn't endorse the passage much for anybody who is sensitive to these kinds of things, but content warnings are standardized and explicit, which is sometimes what it takes to dissuade the curious individual who hopes in vain that "the most violent scene in any Antimemetics Division story" won't give them intrusive thoughts or flashbacks.

2020-10-15 08:40:13 by skztr:

This reminds me a lot of what "the Batman who laughs" (and surrounding stories) has been trying to do. It is my opinion that this does it better. By exploring it from the perspective of being "inside" the idea, rather than seeing it play out as a mere series of events.

2020-10-15 14:27:45 by Michael:

I really like these chunks that were left out of the end result. Even they are amazing, but given that even they didn't make the cut - it shows by itself the quality of the story. One thing I always wanted to ask - have you played Control? That game is heavely inspired by SCP and that is acknowledged by it's creators but I think at least partially it took huge inspiration in Antimemetics Division - a lot of parallels there in main conflict. Possible spoilers below Hiss is essentially 3125 that was temporarily contained within the Oldest House but will break free if the protagonist fails. The effect on people seems pretty similar. Polaris is the Foundation/Wheeler/protection abstract countermeme, just not strong enough to strike the source, but enough to hold the line and push back one instance at a time. Hedron is a living amplifier for the Polaris - just like Bart Hughes in the end.

2020-10-15 15:18:12 by MadcapPomposity:

Well it certainly lives up to the redaction. It's a tough call. The redaction shows that the original/reborn Wheeler has blocked out a great deal of the possessed Wheeler's actions, but the full text has an omniscient perspective that also seems necessary. Reminds me slightly of Neil Gaiman's "Other People." Any significant editing of this passage itself could end up slowing down the stream of consciousness effect, so it would be worth a look but might not result in especially extensive changes. I second the content warning suggestion; I know that anyone who knows the story can read your header and mentally assemble 'this unredacted account of a protagonist having two fingers chiseled off is the most violent material in the whole story' from it and their background knowledge. But content warnings cost nothing and I believe best-practice is usually to add them if requested.

2020-10-15 19:24:54 by thatoneguy:

holy crap. this... is probably my favourite of the bonus content. it's the most technically proficient thing i've read in a decent bit, so there's that going for it; i really liked the richness of the metaphors, and the words carefully chosen to have maximum impact the stream of consciousness is honestly incredibly immersive; much of the rest of the antimemetics episodes end in victory or at least escape, survival, whereas this one actually explores losing in *graphic* detail and that's what pulls you in, because of the hope of resolution; something something happiness is boring etc... and most importantly, it brings much-needed context to what 3125 actually meant. imo, Ara Orun was ever-so-slightly disappointing just because the peeks at what horrors were happening in the world were so cliche: the world is ruined, infected humans destroy the pretty things. the world of 3125 felt animal-dumb in a way that the unredacted version specifically dispels the notion of, and then all of that was stripped out. so yeah. tl;dr: really liked this.

2020-10-17 10:53:01 by Len White:

Definitely improved by redaction. As a depiction of mind-rape, I'm going to go against the grain and say it's quite tame. It could have been a lot more horrifying as far as depicting fates worse than death can go. Re: content warning, I'm generally in favor of content warnings where they make sense, except in the horror genre. Because a large part of horror is suspense and mystery and dread, and having content warning ruins that. And also because anyone with half a brain will know that horror will have visceral, bloody, terrifying — or y'know, horrifying stuff that's likely to trigger people, or in other mediums give anxiety attacks (or in a different medium, heart attacks). If you someone who can't take that kind of thing, why are you reading horror in the first place?

2020-10-17 16:51:23 by Maria Szegedy:

@Len White: Triggers for flashbacks, self-harm urges, intrusive thoughts, etc. are often very specific in nature, and it isn't fair to make people who have them avoid the entire genre of horror so that everyone else can have a little more "suspense". As someone with triggers like these, I decided to take a gamble on reading the passage, because I am as invested in the series as anyone else. My gamble paid off; there was no violence that coincided with my triggers, which are oriented more towards *self*-harm, sexual violence, and violence towards children. But the suspense of whether or not I'll spend the next half hour in a flashback, or sitting there with a knife in my hand doing my best not to self-harm, or something else, was not the kind of suspense that I should have to experience while reading horror. I made the gamble anyway because I knew Sam's writing well, and because I felt like I could cope with the failure scenario in the event that it did arise. The latter is not true for every day, and the former is not true for every work. One way in which you are right is that the scale of individual pages is usually too granular for a content warning, and destroys an unnecessary amount of "suspense" in horror. In serial horror works, content warnings are usually done by installment, by entire work, or both. In this case, however, the page was published on its own, so giving it its own warning is inevitable.

2020-10-17 18:52:41 by mk:

some of the imagery is incredibly close to what depression feels like to me. and that makes it painful to read but… familiar

2020-10-18 00:55:10 by callmesalticidae:

There are different kinds of horror, as well, so it can be worth broadcasting whether this is e.g. gory horror or psychological horror that centers on familial abuse.

2020-10-18 13:15:54 by mk:

actually rereading it feels more like an abusive relationship with a narcissistic partner

2020-10-19 17:20:25 by TK-421:

One suggestion: could you bold, or colorize, or otherwise highlight the bits in this that *aren't* blacked out in the wiki version? I think it would be interesting to be able to see in context what survives the redaction.

2020-10-20 12:12:29 by Baleen:

I think that if you're going to have content warnings, they should be as far out as possible, I.E. On the cover of the book, rather than the page or chapter. It isn't just a matter of suspense- it feels like they diminish the work as art, in some way that I can't express directly. I think it's like stalking through the rainforest with your tribesmen, hunting the beast, then bumping into a path and dustbin. It's an anachronism, it's 2020's internet-culture specifics in something that should be timeless. I'm not against trigger warnings existing for the people who want them; I can't help but think there must be a better solution than everyone fighting over exactly how much to put in the canonical work, by, say, offloading them onto e.g. a crowd-sourced system, or something. So you could have content warnings turned on for your web browsing, showing up on arbitrary pages/arbitrary pieces of text that have been user-flagged on the same browser plugin. Of course, in 10 years there'll be a plugin that reads every page you reach and redacts/rewrites it, GPT-style, to match your own personal tolerance for any given stimulus.

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