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A Study in [DATA EXPUNGED]

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AUTHOR’S NOTES:

1. This story is an AU that places John and Sherlock in the world of the SCP Foundation, a fictional collection of objects, humans, and extraterrestrial/extradimensional beings deemed a threat to global security or human normalcy. The Foundation originated on 4chan’s /x/ board, where people would dig up pictures of weird things and write stories explaining what they were. Eventually the concept got its own wiki. You need not possess any prior knowledge of the Foundation before reading this story, but it might be helpful to visit a few pages there, to become familiar with the format and themes. (Here are some of my favourite entries, none of which are mentioned in this fic. Some are spooky, some are funny, and some are both: 216, 381, 426, 1981, 294, 361, 583, 147, 586, 597, 1370, 1839, 1883, and 006-J.) Be warned that the SCP wiki has suction powers rivaled only by TV Tropes. Try to remember to actually come back and read this fic after browsing the wiki!

2. I tried to explain things that needed explaining, but also deliberately left things to the reader’s imagination. (Which is the way the SCP wiki itself is written.)  Some events/discoveries described  on the wiki have been dramatised in this fic. If you go to read the entire wiki entry for an SCP object as soon as it is mentioned, you might be spoiled for something that occurs in the story. So what I did was, I embedded “easter egg” links to objects mentioned in passing, so you can get more info about them if you wish. But if you see something mentioned for the first time and there is no embedded link, you can just continue to read the fic, and you’ll learn all you need to know about the object.

3. There are many canonical secure facilities run by the Foundation, and each one tends to specialise in particular types of objects, or is located in a specific area to house an immovable object. I didn’t want to limit the story based on which items are housed in which facilities, so I made up a facility of an ambiguous nature and location, U-62, and moved any objects there that I desired, for story purposes.

 

 

 

ONE

 

John did not like seeing the small Portable Containment Units. Not that he enjoyed seeing the big Portable Containment Units, being pushed down the tracks in the corridors whilst something unhappy banged around inside. But typically, when he saw a small PCU, it was being handed over to him and made his responsibility, and it was likely to contain a tiny, pitiful creature, sometimes resembling a human infant.                                                                

The staff member carrying the PCU wore a badge that said 1/019. That meant, presumably, that the creature inside was an SCP-019-2. “I thought Martinsson was assigned to Nineteen,” John said.

“He wanted your insight,” said 1/019, and sauntered backwards toward the exit, so that he could chuckle at John’s tired expression. “You always look bored to tears, Doctor Watson. Come on, chin up. It’s a Keter! It’s exciting!” He slipped through the exit, and the door clicked shut behind him.

“It’s a dead Keter,” John muttered.

The tag on the PCU instructed him to refer to addendum SCP-019-2-A. John pulled out his tablet, swiped the screen with one finger to unlock it, and accessed the file. The addendum read: Memo to Doctor Watson – Specimens appear to be growing resistant to incineration. First resistant specimen was destroyed with firearm. SCP-019 was tilted until second resistant specimen was produced; contained within.

John pressed his thumb to the security panel on the PCU, and when he heard the click, he unlatched the lid. He waved away the puff of dry ice and peered inside.

This particular specimen bore a cursory resemblance to the photograph in the file. It was about seventeen centimetres long, pink-fleshed, and humanoid, with spindly limbs, over-large copper eyes and leathery little wings. It had sustained a .22-caliber gunshot wound to the cranium. Presumably the first “resistant” specimen had been disintegrated by a shotgun blast. They’d been more careful with this deliberately-provoked creature.

Before proceeding with the necropsy, John palpated the little being, searched for a pulse, and placed a mirror beneath its nostrils, carefully checking for any remaining sign of life. When dealing with such bizarre lifeforms, John always wanted to be certain (to the best of his ability) that whatever he was about to cut up was really, actually, dead. Once he was satisfied, he made the standard Y-incision, examined the organs, collected tissue and fluid samples, and made notes. The samples and notes he sent off for further analysis, then replaced the specimen in the PCU and summoned 1/109 to store it. He compared his notes to the ones that others had made during the necropsies of previous comparable specimens, and found no significant differences. The results of the tissue analysis might turn something up, but for now, John could find no reason why the new specimens were not being properly taken care of by the incinerator installed in SCP-019’s chamber.

He hoped he would not be tasked with any deeper investigation; he loathed putting in the requests for old specimens to be taken out of storage. It was a reminder that while the Foundation was doing its very best, the best was not always good enough, and objects which everyone thought had been sufficiently contained often turned out to be more resilient, or intelligent, than originally thought.

John did not bring this subject up when he and Mike ate their lunch in the cafeteria, but Mike could read it on his face. “It’s not the Corrosive Snail again, is it? I know how upset you were about what it did to your shoes.”

“That little bastard is still safely contained, so far as I’m aware. No, this was the Monster Pot. It’s spitting out fire-resistant critters now.”

“Aw, that’s not cricket,” was Mike’s mild reply. He always maintained a gregarious demeanor, much to John’s bafflement. Nothing surprised or fazed him. Perhaps it was his shatterproof trust in the competency of the Foundation and its staff. But today his reaction was particularly soft, and it soon became apparent why. He had some juicy news that he couldn’t wait a moment longer to reveal. “You must have heard about that new bloke. What he does is right up your street. Have they introduced you yet?”

John made a noncommittal noise.

“Hired right into Oh Twenty-Three, he was, as an Advisor.”

That got John’s attention. “What does he do, that’s right up my street, as you say?”

“Well, he’s not specifically medical branch, but he’s already handled some of the most incorrigible Keters. He’s got some sort of weird insight thing. I don’t know how to explain it. But the first time we met, he told me everything there is to know about me, just by looking at me. The Administrators are hoping he can do the same with Keters, not only figure out what they are and what they do, but predict their behaviour, as well.  Anyway, I’m not cleared to know precisely where he’s located, but his name is Sherlock Holmes. You can look him up.”

Indeed John could. He was a member of the O-23 task force, himself; a motley crew of researchers and agents who somehow always managed to escape perilous situations unscathed. When all else fails, send in O-23, was the saying. Cutting open monsters whose existence threatened global security was his day job.

 

Later that afternoon, a pale, lanky man with a grim expression confronted John on his way to SCP-019’s containment chamber. Their paths converged at a T-junction, and when John turned the corner, the man said, “Doctor Watson.”

John’s pace faltered. “Er, yes. Have we met?” John held out his hand, but the man ignored it.

“No, but there’s only one object down this corridor that could possibly be of interest to an Oh Twenty-Three.” The man nodded to indicate John’s badge, upon which one could clearly read his clearances.

“You’re from London as well,” John said, thinking, Why didn’t Mike tell me about this bloke? He was always glad to have a fellow Englishman around.

“Yes, well-spotted,” the man said flatly. “Is the cafeteria’s pasta any good, Doctor Watson?”

“It’s better than a swift kick, I suppose. Had some today.”

“I know. And vinaigrette on your salad.”

John was non-plussed. “No, I didn’t have salad today at all.”

The man grabbed John by the wrist, examining the sleeve of his lab coat, which bore two subtle smudges. “Indeed not. But you did yesterday. Oh, and by the way: Afghanistan or Iraq?”

John pulled his arm from the man’s grasp. “I beg your pardon?”

“You’re obviously a military man who was invalided home after an injury sustained in a sunny climate. So which was it, Afghanistan or Iraq?” He was still standing close enough that John could feel his body heat.

“You ought to have seen that in my file, since you’ve obviously read it,” John said, and resumed his walk down the corridor.

“I haven’t,” the man said; there was just a dusting of smugness sprinkled on top of those two words.

“Then how did you…Ah. You must be Doctor Holmes. I’ve heard about you.”

Mister Holmes.”

John wanted to say, Well then, Mister Holmes, I don’t appreciate the way your eyes are boring into my soul. But he refrained, instead saying, “Your little party trick is very charming, but I really must move along.” He pointed at the door before which they stood. “I’m scheduled to observe Nineteen, here.”

“As am I.” Sherlock smiled a smile of indeterminate sincerity. He gestured to John to enter first.

“Age before beauty, eh,” John muttered as he pressed his thumb to the panel on the wall. Sherlock said nothing in reply, and followed John into the observation chamber as the door swung open.

The observation chamber was a four-metre square room adjacent to the containment chamber, a concrete cube of similar size. There was one opening between the rooms: a reinforced steel door through which maintenance workers or Class D personnel could pass in order to retrieve detritus or interact with the object inside. Toward the top of that door was an additional hatch which enabled the use of a ranged weapon against anything contained inside whilst providing the target minimal means of escape. The door and the hatch were both closed, at the moment. Once John and Sherlock were inside, and the exterior door safely closed behind them, they were greeted by a doctor and an armed guard. A young man in a bright orange jumpsuit also stood by, saying nothing. His badge read D-77789.

John knew the doctor well: Martinsson, a veteran of the Department of Humanoid Biology and Medicine who specialised in Keters. They saw a lot of each other, though John had no particular affinity for him, as a colleague or as a fellow human being. 

“Ah, thank you for joining us. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve decided to provoke a manifestation, so that you can see a live demonstration of the specimen’s resilience. Might give you some additional clues.”

“I think we’ve learned everything we need to know from the necropsy,” John said. “The epithelial cells showed—”

Martinsson cleared his throat. “I was speaking more in regards to Sherlock’s skill set.” He pushed the intercom button. “Barton, can I have you increase the temperature to twenty-four degrees Celsius, as quickly as is possible, please.”

The four staff members turned to watch the monitor, which displayed the inside of the containment chamber: a Greek vase, about one metre in height, sat solitary on a metal grate. D-77789 stayed where he was and continued to look straight ahead at the wall.

Minutes went by with no change. “Odd,” said Martinsson. “The temperature change usually provokes it.” He turned to D-77789 and said, “You will need to shift the vase six inches.” Then he pushed the intercom and said, “Barton, unlock the door. We have a Class D entering the containment chamber.”

After hearing the massive deadbolt glide open and click, Martinsson nodded at the hesitant man to get a move on. With a shaking hand, D-77789 turned the door handle and stepped inside. As soon as he was in, the door swung shut and the deadbolt slid home automatically.

The Staff watched the monitor as D-77789 leaned over and grabbed the vase by the mouth to push it along the metal grate. Quick as a flash, a creature sprung forth from it, smacking the Class D in the face and knocking him over. Like its predecessor, whom John had examined, it had wings, and bounced round the chamber erratically, pausing only to use its teeth and claws to attack D-77789. The creature’s face looked less human than its predecessor, more bat-like, with a pug nose. Its limbs were also much longer, disproportionately so.

“Initiate incineration,” Martinsson said into the intercom.

The monitor went white as flames shot up through the grate and engulfed the chamber. When the blast was over, there was no trace of D-77789 – perhaps with some effort a bone fragment might be discerned – but the creature continued to fly round the chamber, far more irritated than injured.

Sherlock watched the monitor very carefully, while John watched Sherlock. This new advisor seemed entirely unfazed by either the offhanded incineration of a human or the sight of a non-human creature which apparently could not be destroyed by fire. John respected this, but he was also a bit frightened by it. He still flinched at the sight of certain specimens, even some of the human ones.

When Sherlock indicated that he had looked his fill, Martinsson turned to the armed guard and said, “You may fire when ready.” John rolled his eyes, knowing that Martinsson just loved saying that.

The guard opened the hatch and pointed his rifle inside. The silencer on the barrel protected their hearing. He spent three rounds before pulling back and closing the hatch.

On the monitor, the creature lay still on the grate.

“So as you can see, Sherlock,” Martinsson began, but then the creature twitched once, and they reverted to silence for several seconds.

“Autonomic?” John suggested.

Martinsson used the toggle next to the monitor to zoom in on the creature. The exit wound in its head was clearly visible; the observing staff all watched as the wound began to close.

“Mother of Jesus,” John muttered.

Martinsson smirked. “Can’t say she’s ever been much help to the Foundation.”

A bullet had passed through one of the creature’s wings, so when it righted itself and attempted to resume its flight, it merely sputtered and lurched about the chamber. If it was making any noise, they could not hear it.

“Now that’s interesting,” Sherlock said. “The change in the density of the stratum corneum to promote resistance to fire is one thing, but resistance to bullet wounds…!”

“Though it is a shame,” Martinsson said. “We can’t know whether the compromised movement is entirely due to the injured wing, or whether it might also at least partially be the result of the head trauma.”

“You could send for another Class D to provoke more creatures,” Sherlock said. He was not affected one whit when he met John’s withering glare. “They would only be terminated at the first of the month anyway. They might as well do some good.”

“Better not,” said Martinsson. “I think we should refrain from provoking any more creatures, to the extent that we are able.” He was looking expectantly at Sherlock now, awaiting a flawless, insightful conclusion about how to better contain this object.

When Sherlock said nothing, John interjected, “Can we not just fill the vase with concrete?”

“We tried. We poured sixty litres into that three-litre vase before we gave up.”

“What about just plugging the top?”

“A monster burst right through two days later. The shrapnel damaged the camera, and two Class Ds were mortally wounded repairing it. We’re developing an acid bath to replace the incinerator.”

“See that you do,” Sherlock said. “But straight afterward, be sure to develop another manner by which to exterminate these creatures, once the acid is no longer effective.”

Martinsson’s expression turned sour. “You know, we recruited you to advise us on how to contain these objects.” The tone in which he used the word recruited gave John pause.

“Yes, and I’m advising you now,” Sherlock spat back, “when I say: Know when you are beaten.”

And then John learned something that he was certain would prove important for future reference: Sherlock absolutely had to have the last word. This was evidenced by the speed with which he turned and exited the observation chamber.

“He does that,” Martinsson said, shaking his head.