Things Foundationers Never Say Out Loud

This was the very, very first draft of the first half of what became We Need To Talk About Fifty-Five. This is from January 2015. So I guess technically this is the earliest legible Antimemetics Division content which exists.

When you read this you might notice that it's quite badly-written by my usual standards. The descriptive writing is bombastic and poorly-tuned, the names are extremely obvious temporary placeholders, all the characters are flatline non-entities, and the content is very didactic and mundane. You might be able to guess the reason for this: it's because it was written at extremely high speed, intentionally making as little use of the Backspace key as possible, just to get something out on the page to look at. I don't really know why I started out this way, because this is not, generally, how I write, either now or at the time. I knew before I began that a lot would need to be changed, and it did indeed need changing, and I did change it. So, I guess this is more of a historical curio than a valid piece of background Antimemetics material.

By the way, this title, "Things Foundationers Never Say Out Loud", is just something I came up with yesterday. At the time I wrote this, I doubt I had even a working title.

 

Terrifying, terrifying things happen every day at the Foundation - senior staff turnover is barely computable because of the bizarre extra factors introduced by shell-shock, reassignment, grisly death and voluntary and involuntary memory erasure. A fellow in Smith's job needs nerves of steel and the ability to take serious excursions from the normal rules of reality in his stride. Think paramedic squared. It's a difficult job, but some people have the gumption, Smith among them.

Today's a whole other day for Smith, though. There are spores which congeal under your eyelids and push roots into your nervous system, and Sumerian demigods which eat your spleen, and honking great steel boxes that nobody will be permitted to open until the Biblical Apocalypse is completed in every particular. This much is the horror movie of Smith's working life. But today he's up in O5 territory, the very, very top of the building. The penthouse, the only part of the structure which is above ground and which receives natural light.

Oh-fives exude and sometimes cultivate an atmosphere of untouchability. It's not about years of experience, or staring down (or talking down) ZZK-Alpha-Double-Star-class cosmic threat scenario enactors, although all of them have that and all of them have done that. Nobody gets to be an O5. Certainly not based on merit. There just are O5s, because there must be. If they didn't exist, the world wouldn't make sense, because the Foundation couldn't exist. When an O5 appears in your lab, it means something terrible is happening, or something wonderful. No middle ground.

This O5's called Jones, and waiting in his anteroom scares the Christ out of Smith. Waiting for a meeting. It's an hour meeting. What's the worst that could happen?

There are some things, Smith reflects, that Foundationers never, ever say out loud. "What's the worst that could happen" might as well be the organisation's anti-motto. The phrase is everything a motto isn't: words we never contemplate, or entertain, and certainly never write or speak. Words we avoid at all costs. Smith hopes he's only being fired. He's on time. He frets for a while. He has brought nothing to fiddle with.

"John?"

Smith jumps. A man has poked his head around Jones's office door, but it isn't Jones. It's Brown, a scientist ranked around halfway up the hierarchy between Smith and Jones. Brown is the one who invited him to the meeting.

"You're up," he says. "Come in."

*

"I'm in memetics," Smith explains. Brown is apparently well up to speed, but Jones is in the dark. "I'm the closest thing the Foundation has to a chief researcher in Applied and Theoretical Memetic Science. The whole field is full of paradoxes, it's a pain in the ass to work in, you have to think sideways. I measure and quantify the contagiousness and spread of ideas, both in the wild - outside, I mean - and those contained. So, religious movements, political movements, economic movements. Science, too. Scientific theories have memetic properties, as do all branches of science itself. Big-S science is itself a meme. Memetic science, you bet that's a meme. It all falls on the scale. As for on the 'inside' of the Foundation - SCP-045, SCP-987, SCP-991, a few in the low thousands. I have blanket responsibility for containment procedures for six SCPs and I've handled Basic Initial Memetic Evaluations for thirty more."

"You evaluated SCP-1345?" Brown asks.

"Yeah, I butted heads with Black over that one. He thinks it's a memetic threat, and it isn't. It's not anomalous. It's just catchy. We're reviewing it again in March, it'll probably get declassified then, but there it is. I also work on pharmaceutical amnesiacs although my specialism is more in the electrostimulated memory loss area."

"Tell us about the paper."

"...Which paper?"

"Tell us about antimemes."

Smith blinks, and casts his mind back to the paper's first paragraphs. "A meme is an idea or a collection of ideas with self-replicating properties. An antimeme is an idea or a collection of ideas with self-censoring properties. The simplest antimemes are things which nobody can remember or reproduce accurately: long streams of random data, fuzzy static on a screen. Then come the unmemorable trivia: difficult trigonometric identities, the history of the US federal income taxation rates. But after that it becomes more interesting. Think of things like... 'No one must ever know about this.' Or 'I don't want to know,' or 'Nobody would believe this if I told them,' or 'They'd kill me if I tell another soul.' We're in the area of dark secrets, information that nature and humanity abhor, like the vacuum. The Foundation? That's an antimeme. Dear God, yes.

"Where conventional dark secrets give up is where the anomalies pick up. Now we come to ideas which the human brain physically cannot retain, even if you try. Ideas which fight against being thought of. These are concepts and objects and experiences which just leak out like water through a sieve."

Brown asks Smith outright. "Is there an antimeme SCP?"

"Yes," Smith replies.

"Is there an antimeme on Site 19?"

"There's almost certainly an antimeme in this room with us right now," Smith says. "You're talking about SCP-055, right?"

"There is no SCP-055," Jones rumbles.

Smith grimaces. "Yeah. There is."

"Mr. Jones is right," Brown interjects. "That number hasn't been assigned. Same with SCP-001."

"Why not?" Smith asks.

"It just hasn't. It's not superstition. We have SCP-013, SCP-666. They're just numbers."

"Is there," Smith asks, "a good reason why SCP-055 hasn't been assigned?"

Discussion (1)

2020-09-24 07:13:59 by Gil:

"I don't really know why I started out this way, because this is not, generally, how I write, either now or at the time. " Sounds… memetic

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