Hymne a la Haine

If the Sun should tumble from the sky,

If the sea should suddenly run dry,

If you love me, really love me…

Let it happen, I won't care.


Listen.

Tobias is standing in the main control room of the Europa Synchotron. Around him, screens shatter, the walls buckle, the air is rent by tortured shrieks. Static - literal static - pounds at the windows. Those who refused the offer of evacuation, who wanted their last stand to occur on the horizons of human achievement, cower underneath their desks and sob.

Almost unconsciously, he steps forward. The black switch cries out to him, pulls him forward, implores him, calls to him, summons him, and he flips it. A light above his forehead turns green.

Then his mind splits in two.

Suddenly he is half on Earth, stood next to Lisa. She is huddled in a corner in a bare plastered room in a burnt-out skyscraper. A gun is leaned against her leg. She cannot see him. He cannot see him. He is not there.

A sharp knock on the window. Lisa springs to her feet, tears tumbling from her eyes like lemmings from a cliff, and she runs towards it. She pries the boards from the window with hysterical urgency. There is nothing there. It is inside.

Immediately, she jumps. Out of the window.

And then Tobias is back on Europa, whole-minded, but it isn't now. It's then, when everything was good. Before. She is there, too.

"…system will briefly be located about forty meters behind me, inside that big black box, in roughly ten minutes."

She looks down at her notes. Tobias reaches out, unable to touch, only to see. A passenger. A voyeur.

"Here at the Europa Synchotron, we can generate temperatures orders of magnitude greater than anywhere else in the galaxy. Hotter than Venus, hotter than Sol, hotter even than a fusion reactor."

The word escapes his lips before he can stop himself. "Lisa…"

To his amazement, she looks up. "Oh hey, Tobias, what's up?" Noting his expression, she adds, "What's wrong?"

"You can't do this. You can't turn on the collider."

"Why not? Is it faulty?"

"It's…" He pauses, and in that pause the world ends. Lisa's flesh flows from her face, the bones clattering to the floor like discarded matchsticks. The ground beneath his feet crumbles, but he doesn't fall, hanging, suspended in space.

One by one, they start to sing. Resonate. Tobias can't hear them, but his body can, and it starts to dance to their tune. Muscles flex and bulge, pores open and close, vessels burst. His body becomes a patchwork quilt of drying blood.

He does not die. He cannot die. This is not real.

"Toby?"

It's his mother, calling to him from the kitchen. The smell of pancakes filters into his tortured nostrils. Suddenly, she appears, and is not in the least surprised to see a thirty-year-old man where her son should be sat.

"I made you your favorite!" A plate with two pancakes is placed in front of him. They look like fish. He picks up a fork and tastes one. It tastes like fish.

His mother is looking at him, hands clasped across her bosom. He looks at her and she smiles at him. He looks away and she dissolves. His mind is torn apart again.

Sitting alone at the table, he contemplates his surroundings, but before he can react he is grabbed from behind. A man in a lab coat is shaking him, screaming "WHAT CAN WE DO?" in a voice that cracks. Before he can respond, the man stiffens, then collapses, along with everyone else in the room.

He is then in a rusted metal facility, and he feels his mind stabilize. A droplet of water falls onto his shoulder. As he turns to look behind him, a scream echoes through the hall.

"Hello?!" There is no response. He begins walking down the corridor.

"Mark."

The voice is just beside his left ear. He jumps forward instinctively, then turns to face the source of the noise. There is nothing there. A part of him isn't even surprised.

His body slams into a forest path. Above him, trees fall, their tops burning, birds frantically flapping their wings as they are held in place, cooked alive by the heat. Tobias feels his eyebrows being plucked from his face, one hair at a time.


If it seems that everything is lost,

I should smile and never count the cost,

If you love me, really love me…

Let it happen, darling, I won't care.


Listen.

Tobias hears a voice. A familiar voice. "Toby?" Through the double doors on Europa staggers Julian, dripping with blood, a ceramic tile lodged in his gut. Tobias catches him before he can land on his front.

"Hey, Jules."

"Am I… dying?"

Tobias paused. "Yes."

"Fuck."

Silence. The bodies of the scientists have begun to sink into the floor.

Julian struggles to sit up. "Toby…"

"Are you insane!? Stay still."

"No, you don't understand… I need to tell you something."

"Tell me."

"It's… personal."

Despite the tragedy of the scene before him, Toby rolls his eyes. "Jules, you never were the best at getting to the point. Spit it out."

Blood drips from Julian's lips. "Toby, I… I love you."

"You're a liar."

Tobias stands up, letting Julian's head lie on the floor. He puts his hands on the tile in his prone coworker's chest and pushes down. Julian disintegrates.

"Mark."

A crackle of electricity, and Tobias is pulled through the locked door at the end of the rusted hallway. Three men in white lab coats are operating a large machine. One of them pushes a lever forward, says "Mark", and a beam of lightning leaps across a gap between two metal cones. When the lightning fades, there is something else in the room, something only Tobias can see.

"Mark." Tobias is suddenly aware that the room is filled with these entities. They don't seem to be aware of him, though, so he decides to take a closer look. He is wrong.

"Mark."

The scientists flicker. Their movements are mechanical, as if something else is controlling them. Three more entities spring into being.

"Mark."

The doorway is getting bigger. More and more are getting through each time. Now there are over a hundred in the room. Some begin to leave. The scientists flicker again, and then turn to face Tobias. Before he can react, he is grabbed and thrust into the lightning. There is no mark.

He is floating in space. Asphodel. An ashen field populated with the souls of those not evil enough to be damned but not good enough to be blessed. These creatures stretch into oblivion, with more in their ranks than Tobias could count in a thousand lifetimes.

They can all see him.


"You're not here. None of this is here. You're all fucking with me."

He is on Europa. Someone taps him on the shoulder. Slowly, cautiously, he turns around. Arman is stood behind him. Without thinking, Tobias reels b

ack and lashes out. His hand pass

es straight thro

ugh hi

s ch

es

t

a

s t

he wh

ite noise

envelops his m

ind. "You're not real, either."

For the first time, the creatures speak. Real.

The word hits Tobias like a battering ram. "Yes, real. Nothing here is real. It's all in my mind, in the seconds before I die. I know what this is. My life is flashing before my eyes."

Real.

Tobias is thrown onto his back.

Real. Real. Real.

They are all around him, chanting the one syllable that they loathe beyond all others. His form convulses. One breaks away from the rest and begins to speak directly to him.

Why do you have the privilege of being real? Why not this world, this body, these words? What determines what is real and what is fantasy?

"You… bastards," he manages to choke out.

The creature hisses. We are real. What makes us better than everything that is not? Every word burns like a star within his synapses. Reality is unfair, Mr. Firth. Your fantasies are so much better.

Images stumble through Tobias' mind: his mother and father, smiling and embracing, his graduation photo, his first kiss… his happiest moments. He feels his memory bulge as something forces its way in.

You cannot die, Mr. Firth, because you will never be forgotten.

We will never forget you.


Shall I catch a shooting star? Shall I bring it where you are?

If you want me to, I will…

You can set me any task, I'll do anything you ask,

If you'll only love me still…


Listen.

As Tobias lies on the floor of the Europa Synchotron, his memory being penetrated by burning sparks of hatred, he hears a sound. Something which is not painful. Something which is not unfamiliar. Something which is the hum of the magnetic field initializing. Fourteen thousand Pattern Screamers are inside his mind.

He is then not in the control center, but in the second control station, where a figure is hunched over the magnet controls. Two green lights sear holes in the darkness.

The figure looks up, and they are not static. A blond-haired man, tears streaming down his face. He opens his mouth: "Turn it- on-" Then he turns to paper and burns.

YOU CANNOT RUN. Tobias clutches his head, then straightens. His mind splits in two, but resonates as one. He can think clearly again. He is here. One way or another, this will be his final opportunity to throw his middle finger up to an Eldritch horror, and he seizes it with both hands.

"Maybe not," he agrees, and he is in the third control station. The switch is hidden behind a toppled drinks flask, but Tobias reaches out and flicks it.

The fourth switch pulls him to it, then the fifth, then the entire ring is active. Empty but live.

And his mind breaks again. Half of him is fifty kilometers away, on the other side of the synchotron ring which, remarkably, has survived the relentless onslaught of the realiphages. Half of him is surrounded by a ring of null.

You cannot win.

"Do you say anything other than clich├ęs?"

You use humor to mask your fear.

"There's another one!"

We will consume you as we will consume all matter.

"Then why aren't you?"

Because…

"Because you can't. Because I have you beaten. I know something that you don't."

We know all.

"No, you don't. You're like a first-year physics student who thinks they could write their dissertation after four weeks of classes. Trust me, I've been there.

"You may think you know everything, but the problem you have is meta-states."

The air crackles with confusion. What?

"I've worked out how you work. If you know something, you know you know it. If you don't, you don't know you don't know it. So there are an infinite number of things that you don't know - such as, for example, the fact that I've been stalling this entire time to find the button that turns on the muon beam."

You-

Inside the synchotron ring, a beam of highly-energized elementary particles begins to cycle around it over twelve thousand times per second, with so much energy that the fingernails on the chalkboard of reality are thrown backwards as an impassable sphere of muon decay expands around the control room.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, a handful of scientists huddled in the control room of a long-obselete particle collider begin to cheer. One of them, whose name is Lisa, looks at the others and, grinning uncontrollably, says "I knew they'd succeed!", before turning back to the webcam footage. The room lapses back into silence, save for the hum of electromagnets.

Thirty meters away from these scientists, something that isn't there pounds itself against an impassable wall.

Thirty meters from Tobias, fistfuls of null hurl themselves into the energy, but cannot move through it. For now, he is safe.


When at last our life on Earth is through,

I will spend eternity with you,

If you love me, really love me…

Then whatever happens, I won't care!


Listen.

Tobias heard them, but did not, instead turning his attention to his injured coworker, who Toby could now see was grasping a glowing blue sphere. "Can you stand?"

Julian winced as Tobias helped him to his feet. "I… probably. Listen, I have to get to a computer."

"Why?"

"It's…" His voice broke. "I mean… the world, the universe - it's all a simulation."

Tobias paused, then nodded grimly. "I can accept that. But how do you know? And why do you need a computer? And what's that in your hand?"

For just a few seconds, Julian snapped back into his old persona. "Slow down! Okay, I'll start at the beginning. Do you remember the first public test of the collider?"

"It could only have been a week ago."

"No, no…. eight months, Toby. Anyway, all the weird shit that showed up when we pushed the energy levels too high? I thought it was equipment failure, but it was too consistent, meaning there was only one explanation: something wa-" He gasped with pain, but continued swiftly, "-something was causing the particle's momenta to become negative.

"Putting two and two together, the only reasonable hypothesis was that the values were bit-flipping. Did you ever play Pokemon, as a kid? There was a glitch where you could get 128 of an item by catching a 'mon called Missingno. Basically, it caused some numbers to get confused, and instead of registering something as minus one it switched to the highest value possible - 128. Same thing was happening with these particles.

"Lisa and I figured out that that was what attracted the Screamers, too; they're attracted to civilizations that know they're in a simulation. We also found out what could stop them. They don't like synchotron radiation. We're not sure if that's precisely it, but a scientist managed to reach us from CERN, saying that when the collider was active the Screamers couldn't get in."

"I… see." Tobias didn't see; he was still very much in mental freefall. "Where's Lisa now, then?"

"They sent me to tell you that turning on the collider would stave them off, but it looks like you worked that out for yourself. Lisa said she was going to try and reach the scientists in Geneva, but overland travel was really frickin' hard when I left, so I don't know if she succeeded."

Julian paused, and all of his borrowed energy left him as Tobias said "What does any of this have to do with a computer?"

Instead of replying, Julian limped across to a vacant terminal and began to type. "They… they gave me something else to do, too."

"What? Who?"

"The Foundation."

"The… who? The guys who were evacuating everyone?"

"Yeah, the SCP Foundation. They got to me and Lisa before the Screamers did. When we told them what we knew, they gave me a mission… get here and type something in to one of the terminals." He held up a piece of paper with a string of numbers and letters on it.

"What do you need to type out?"

"I'm not sure. We worked out that the computer running the simulation would work in base nineteen, so it's in base nineteen."

"Why do you need to be here? Why can't they do it from Earth?"

"The whole Internet got fritzed when the Screamers activated. Nobody knows why. Only on an isolated network would it work, and this is the most isolated network we have. Thank fuck it's still online after all this."

A few of the other scientists who had been alive before Tobias' battle with the Screamers were starting to stir. Arman sits up. "What the hell happened?"

"The end of the world," said Julian, without looking up. "Toby, I have something to…"

He never got the chance to finish the sentence, as Tobias brought his lips to Julian's. The two kissed for several seconds before they broke apart. "You already told me," Tobias said, "but I didn't believe you."

He smiled at Julian, and Julian smiled back.

"I know what that code means!" said Arman, shattering the moment. "I recognize it from a class I took on base-n computing. It's a bad reference call in base-19; it should cause a crash if the system chooses to parse it."

Julian and Tobias' smiles melted away. "How would the system choose whether or not to parse it?" Julian asked.

"Uh… it'd probably pause the task and request administrator input. But if the administrator said no, it would eject the code and carry on."

Understanding passed between them. If Julian uploaded the code, the simulation would freeze, and whatever was running the simulation would request some form of input to determine if it should force the code to run. If it did, then the simulation would crash. If it didn't, the simulation would probably restart, and continue as before.

It was a last-ditch attempt at salvation: appeal to the man behind the monitor. That's you, by the way.

With trembling hands, Julian finishes typing the code into the terminal. He looks up at Tobias, who nods solemnly.

"I'm sorry," he says, as he presses enter.


Unexpected parser error at 0x735H1AB3I06G: Continue or restart simulation?
> Continue
> Restart