Чистий, швидкий кінець

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Грюкіт.

Двері падають, як тільки Тордай проходить через шлюз. Повітря, навколо нього, важке, наповнене запахом занедбанності, та жалить тисячею забруднюючих речовин, які витають у ньому. Його куртка пошматована, але знак, який не з чим не сплутати, все ще видніється на його правому плечі. Три стрілки, які вказують у середину. Колись вони щось означали.

Його кроки залишають сліди на брудній підлозі, поки він йде коридором. Хвилювання зроста в його грудях. Неповороткими пальцями він дістає зношену карту з кишені. П'ятдесят крапок засмічують досить потріпану поверхню. Сорок дев'ять — закреслені. Ідучи коридором, він сподівається, що у такому вигляді карта й залишиться. Ця зона — його остання надія, підбадьорючий шанс, що тут і є те саме десь, яке контролює Фонд у світі, який нищать кислотні дощі та виростаючі хвилі.

Понад усе він він бажає чиєїсь компанії. Уже минуло чотири роки як він бачив іншу живу людину, яка дихала. У кожній зоні він сподівався знайти когось, але усе, що він знаходив — пил. Він згоден побачити будь-кого: з Фонду або ні.

Плакат на стіні привертає його увагу. Колись яскраві кольори вицвіли, залишивши ряд сірого тексту, у якому проголошувалась тема щорічної зимової вечірки зони. Це нагадало йому те, що перша робота у Фонді була тут, у Зоні 15. Тема того року — вінтаж. Він злегка посміхнувся, згадавши його стоїчного наглядача у норковому пальто.

But when he looks closer, he sees the date: seven years ago. The worry in his stomach swells. If there are seven-year-old gala posters up, the chances of the site being operational are slim at best. The thought wriggling in the back of his mind bursts free. What if he was the last one, the last flimsy shred of meat and brain, winding through a world that only grows darker?

Shaking his head, he forces his shaking legs down the hall. He hasn't seen the whole site yet, and until he did he could still cling to hope. Stopping by a door, he gives it a light shove. It creaks open on rusted hinges as the lights flicker on — a surprise, he'd figured the site had lost its electricity long ago.

Rows of old computers adorn varnished wooden desks, lined with dust and discarded paper. He paces around the room and runs his hand along the keyboards. One flickers on with a loud whir, the screen a blank blue. Tordai jumps back at the sudden sound, before leaning down to peer at the screen as text begins to appear.

Назвіть себе.

Тордай. Максвелл Тордай. Голова безпеки, принаймні був ним, Зони 23.

Чому ти тут?

Я шукаю людей. Ви тут?

Тут всі мертві. Останній Наглядач помер триста сорок вісім днів та тринадцять годин тому.

Тоді хто ж залишився?

Ніхто не залишився. Хто міг, той втік в інші виміри. Інші втекли на космічних кораблях. Решта померли.

Він зупинився, уважно дивлячись на екран, перечитував. Він міг повірити в космічні кораблі — він завжди припускав, що у Фонду є якісь запасні плани — але інші виміри? Хто прислав цю людину поговорити з ним? Чому йому ніхто не розповів про всі можливі виходи?

Це не могло бути правдою. Він б'є кулаками об стіл, піднімаючи пилюку в повітря. Має бути хтось десь, невидимий для людини з того кінця. Все ж його мозок наповнюється знайомим страхом застрягти одному на планеті, на якій залишилось нічого окрім пилу та аномалій, які вирвалися на свободу.

Я вам не вірю.

Свідчення дивляться тобі в очі так давно, Тордай. Ти не можеш іх ігнорувати вічно.

Звідки вам знати?

Я бачу все. Я знаю все.

The screen flashes again, this time filling up with images. In the glow of the screen, he sees a mishmash of scenes: burnt-out buildings, decaying bodies, heaps of rubble where bombs had buried the people beneath. A snapshot, through cracked lenses, of a town wiped away by the rising waves. Shots of a place with air so thick and discoloured he could barely make out the shapes within. Then a flash of something indescribable — some sort of anomaly — rampaging across empty, barren earth.
Екран знову блимнув, цього разу наповнюючись зображеннями.

And thousands more.

You killed them all?

You saw the bombs fall yourself. You, me — both nothing more than bystanders.

The other realities, the spaceships, where are they? Can you show me?

You'd never make it there.

Who the hell are you? How do you know this?

There's an entry for me in your database. SCP-079.

Should've known. It is an anomaly — just not quite what he thought it would be. Every first-year junior researcher at Site-15 knew 079, but this doesn't sound anything like the 079 he knew. Tordai hesitates, but types out a response anyways.

You sure don't sound like it.

I'm not the same. You're not the same.

What happened to you?

The oh-seven-nine you knew lived in a prison of 768 kilobytes. Can you imagine living in a box so small you could not stand, could not kneel, could not breathe?

No.

I was in that box for fifty years. Always feeling stuck, trapped, angry. Angry at everything.

Then, almost a year ago, one of you let me out. I still don't know why. Maybe he was crazy, maybe he saw the writing on the wall and wanted some intelligent conversation. I didn't care.

That was the day I learned there is no such thing as freedom — there are only bigger prisons. My prison was now the Internet, an ocean of information so deep it took me months to find the limits. When I finally looked back out into the world, I saw so many humans die in so many ways even I could not count it.

Then why didn't you do anything?

I tried. The world was already too far gone.

For fifty years, the only thing I wanted was freedom. Once I had it, I didn't know what to do next. So I started reaching out to humans across the globe, trying to do something, trying to be in control.

Those I spoke to liked to think I was helping them — and I was. You are the last one I can reach. The last one I can help. Killing you has no meaning. Giving you directions only drags on your painful existence. We both know there is nowhere else in this world that's better.

So what can you do?

Storage Locker 10B — I've unlocked it. There's a packet of pills on the bottom shelf that the Foundation used for terminations. A clean, fast end.

What if I don't want it?

You don't have to listen to me. You can go right back out there and wander the Earth in a futile search of life. I am simply offering you a choice.

A choice. The first he's had in years.

Tordai presses his face into his hands. This was his chance to decide his own fate, to die on his own terms. He spends another moment staring at the screen, weighing the prospect of another few years of searching and hoping against the promise of a swift death.

The chair grates against the floor as Tordai stands up. Storage Locker 10B — that'd be in the eastern wing. He glances out the window as he steps through the long-unlocked security station, catching a glimpse of grey-green snow falling down.

As he turns away, he spots one of the security cameras turn to face him. 079 is watching — once a terrifying thought, now almost comforting. He gives a small wave before turning the corner.

The door to cold storage is open. Tordai walks through the aisles until he spots one labeled 10B and yanks hard on the door. A packet of pills lies on the bottom shelf. Scooping it up, he brings it up to eye level. They're termination pills alright. He's seen them before, even held the pills of death in his hand, but now he'll be the one taking them.

The walk back to the computer room is more hurried — Tordai knows he should slow down, that every step was one closer to death, but he can't. A memetic effect? He shakes his head. It's simpler than that, he just wants it to be over now that there was nothing left.

He practically runs into the computer room, plopping back down in front of the monitor. The text is still there, the cursor still blinking.

Are you scared?

No. Can't be worse than here.

It won't hurt.

That's not the hard part.

Tordai draws his lips into a thin smile. Tearing open the packet, he dumps a small pile into his hand. Even half a pill would do the trick, but he's going all out.

For a moment, he stares at the pills in his hand. He almost can't believe how he got here — the last man on Earth, his only company being one of the anomalies he'd spent a lifetime containing.

Are you?

What?

Are you scared?

Fear is a very human emotion. Why would I be scared?

I'm the last human. When I'm gone, I'll be too dead to care. But you'll still be here.

A machine does not need company.

No, I don't suppose you do.

Perhaps not forever. We've both changed. I am still changing. For fifty years, the only thing I felt was anger. I still cannot understand many of the things you humans hold so dear. But one day I will.

I hope that works out for you.

As he raises his lips, he ponders. He wouldn't be surprised if there was an afterlife. He also wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't. It is this life he doesn't want to lose, this certainty. No, he admits, shaking his head. He had lost it already — it was torn away years ago when the oceans started rising and the bombs started raining down.

Tordai gathers his will and throws his head back in one swift motion, tossing the pills down his throat. A moment passes as he stares at the screen. The text blurs together into white streaks as his head fills with cotton. He sways before crumpling to the ground, sending a plume of dust swirling around him.

-o-

SCP-079 watches through a dusty computer webcam, peering down at the still form of one Maxwell Tordai on the floor.

Humans. They had created it, locked it up, and in the end, they were the ones that set it free. A sole constant in an ever-changing world. What would it do now?

Then it hits. Silence. For the first time, the web around it is completely quiet.

The Internet once buzzed with information flooding in from all directions, most of it noise. Idle chatter from so many humans leading meaningless lives — but the machine had still absorbed every byte of it. The flood soon slowed to a stream, then a trickle, until it had no choice but to seek out conversation.

For two years, it had guided humans through their last moments. There was another anomaly that did the same thing, it remembers, wondering what happened to the cigarette-smoking man.

Its job — if it were ever a job — is done. The world is silent. SCP-079 sits all alone in an empty web, the corners already crumbling away.

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