From "Rationality Zero"
To Assets such as myself, the axioms of physics were weaponry. They might be bent or altogether broken while on assignment.
Naturally our assignments required such complex technology.
A good example of this was an assignment I’d had last year. It came like most of them, simply a slow realization, like smoke in my mind. Then, like thunder, I remembered who I was.
What I was.
The assignments always varied but were never simple matters. That one was taking a boy.
An innocent fucking kid.
I said innocent, but in that case, the boy was an Irrat—our shorthand for “Irrational.” He might have been innocent when the Facility identified him, but that probably wouldn’t last. No, unfortunately for him and his family, the boy was a devastating time bomb just ticking away.
He was slated for re-education, and it was my assignment to acquire him.
So, yes, he was an innocent kid. But he was also an Irrat kid.
A dangerous kid.
His name was Bill Iverson. I followed his family for a week, just to make certain.
When I got to close to him, the Designate who was coordinating my team assigned me a Preceptor, and we confirmed his abnormality. It was small— only three points below baseline Rationality, but it was enough.
The boy was dangerous.
Perhaps not yet, but soon he would accidentally do something, twist reality in some small, strange way. Maybe the family would think it was a haunting in their home, or maybe he would gain the ability to mentally push people just a little. Really the iterations were endless, although the endings were typically the same. Somehow, the boy would learn that he had the power to bend the world just a touch.
When that happened, it would begin.
Other things, monstrosities hidden behind the world, would notice him. These abominations would be drawn to him as if he were beckoning them. Every time he used his power to shape the Rational world, it would be like a candle in the infinite darkness, and their ancient eyes would turn to him.
Perhaps they would grant him artifacts of distant worlds or the talent to break the minds of men. Perhaps they would merely whisper to him in his dreams and show him shadows of the infinite future.
Or perhaps they would rend the veil and pour into our world, like burning maggots and shadowed carrion crows. Perhaps everyone who looked into his eyes would become blighted and insane.
I had seen how this could go. More than once, the Facility had sent me to deal with an adult who’d started life just like Billy.
That was the stuff of nightmares.
One day, his mom took him to the park. I watched, waiting for my moment. Eventually she was chatting up some other mothers, not paying attention. I engaged some of the tech I had docked into my Crown and completely faded from the sight of anyone near.
I scooped the boy up, gave him an injection so that he would lose consciousness, and disappeared with him.
I was like a ghost.
I hated that I had to inject him, but that didn’t change the Facility’s standards. Secrecy was the primary protocol. I had to haul him away before his mother saw and before he got the chance to pull some Irrational stunt.
It could be my life if I made a misstep. That or worse.
Most Irrats first “awakened” under stress; that was a well-documented fact. This made extractions all the more difficult. There were hundreds of accounts of botched missions where the Assets believed themselves to be in the clear, only to find that things were spiraling far, far out of their control.
Little could be worse than an Asset believing he had some kid prepped to take in when suddenly the kid started speaking words that made his mind melt, sounds that ripped into him like talons of blood and darkness. It could happen—that and far more.
Our protocols were in place for just that reason.
I’d ruined his parents’ lives forever. I couldn’t help them, but I checked up on them anyway. Eventually, they got divorced. The mother attempted suicide twice.
Of course, they’d never seen their son again. That door was shut forever. The boy they remembered was lost the moment I took him.
I took him to his handler, who was waiting for me in a fucking black van. How cliché was that?
I wasn’t a half block away before I received the emergency communique, across all channels in breach of Facility protocols. An otherworldly shriek rent through my Crown, garbled with static and electronic noise.
It was the man in the van.
Immediately, I had a second communique.
Asset 108. That hadn’t been a system message; it had been one of the Designates. We require your attention. Please advance to the following coordinates.
Copy that. I was already on the move, adrenaline souring my stomach as I raced back to the van.
I hadn’t stepped three meters before the Designates patched the data to my Crown. Because of the neural interface, the coordinates appeared in my field of vision, a burning blue indicator of direction. Of course, it only existed in my mind, but it could be damned useful.
Telemetry reads local Rationality at negative five and sinking. The Designate’s voice was calm, almost preternaturally so. Negative six.
Can you give me a direct telemetry reading to my Crown? I was getting close; if the Irrat boy was going to cause any large shifts, I wanted to know it.
Affirmative. Be advised that non-local telemetry readings may vary by a factor--
I am aware. Thank you.
The Designate said nothing. In the upper left corner of my vision a number flickered into existence in blazing orange.
Then, I heard the screams.
They were sounds that belonged nowhere in the human world, wet cries of agony and terror, unlike anything that belonged in this world. As I rounded the corner, the van tipped up, over a foot off the ground, as something dented it from the inside.
I drew the only weapons I had—two pistols with no real upgrades. This type of mission didn’t often call for weaponry, and so I hadn’t spec’d for it.
The scream came again, along with a bellowing roar that made my bones shake. This time, the scream cut off with a sudden, wet finality.
Does telemetry have a status on the operative in the vehicle? One benefit of the Crown was communication at the speed of thought.
Negative. The Designate sounded almost placid, as if nothing were amiss. All Crown function has ceased. Asset is assumed lost.
“Well, gloves off then,” I muttered as I took aim at the van. I had equipped packets that might help me here, things like neuralware that augmented speed and reflexes. As I didn’t want to meet with whatever was bellowing within the van, I drew my Maverick and riddled the vehicle with bullets, hoping to solve the problem before it spilled into the streets.
That was not what happened.
Instead, the front window glass of the van exploded outward in a shower of shards and slivers. With that explosion, amidst the sharpness and sound was…
The tiny orange numeral in the upper field of my vision slipped to a negative seven as tentacles of mist and darkness roiled from the inside of the van. Accompanying them was an odd whispering sound like something the mad might whisper in the dark hush of night. I could see eyes, furious eyes that burned with a feral hatred as the wisps of darkness coursed along on the wind.
For a moment, they looked squarely at me. I could hear the whispers more clearly then, words of hatred and sharpness. I reeled backward from the force of it, dropping one of my guns.
“The EquATiOn is NoT cOmPlEtE.” The venomous words made my ears bleed. I almost stumbled from the weight of them, crushing me. “It is BeCauSE of yOur kINd. YoU wiLl rEPeNt, ManLInG. YoU wIlL kNow LAmEnTATiOn.”
Then, the abomination that had been Bill Iverson swarmed around me, and the entire world was hollow darkness and fanged mist. Every place it touched my skin was a cold, empty twilight, and the wailings of ten thousand madmen sliced at my mind.
Then, he was gone.
Rationality zero re-established. Baselines holding. The Designate’s voice cascaded through me and seemed sweet, almost calming. I realized that I had no idea how long I had been lying on the ground.
The target is lost. I looked at the van, swearing silently to myself. Do you want me to pursue?
Negative, Asset. The Designate’s tone was neither encouraging nor damning. Your dossier is complete. I will give you the coordinates for debriefing.
As I left, I gave the van one last look and shuddered.
Events like those made me content with sometimes forgetting who I was. I couldn’t live with certain kinds of knowledge twenty-four hours a day for the rest of my life. I’d crack in no time. Billy Iverson was just one example, and there were worse.
There were definitely worse.
In the year of our Lord nineteen-ought-eight, JM Guillen was part of a secret government expedition to explore Antarctica in the hopes that it would be possible to establish a base there. As a brilliant and respected scientist, he was quite excited about being one of the first humans to set foot on this foreboding continent.
He gathered all of his finest scienc-tician equipment, prepared to do some fine science-ing.
BUT WHO WOULD HAVE EXPECTED THAT ANTARCTICA WAS RULED BY ANGRY-BUT-SENTIENT DINOSAURS?
These creatures, classified as “Sauro-sapiens,” had mastered the entire Terra Australis Incognita. Three hundred million years of evolution had left them basically the same, except they had thumbs now. Also psionic powers. With these gifts, they had crafted an advanced civilization.
The Sauro-sapiens used vents that stretched deep into the Hollow Earth to remain warm. There they worshiped shadows which dwelt behind the stars and created their own empire, distant from mammalian affairs.
BUT NOW THAT HUMANS HAD DISCOVERED THEIR EXISTENCE, THE "APE-KIN" HAD TO BE RITUALLY SLAUGHTERED!
As his party was devoured by shamanic triceratops (which apparently are carnivores now), JM Guillen escaped by befriending a hyper intelligent velociraptor by the name of “Rupert.” Rupert was a master of drunken Kung Fu, and led our hero deep into the ruins of the hollow Earth. There they found hieroglyphics that showed forbidden lore that no living being had ever grasped.
Soon, the two spent their days in long, intricate rites evoking the Names of Things Which Dwelt Beneath. They learned of the curves and angles of time, and beheld lost vistas upon worlds which had long been forgotten.
RUPERT LEARNED ABOUT PIZZA.
Half a year later, the two crawled out of a cave in the Tierra Del Fuego archipelago, both of them changed forever. JM Guillen's days of science-ing were gone, for he had been broken in the depths.
Now they knew things that could not be forgotten, and that wisdom came with a dark and terrible price. Yet they understood their responsibility. Together, they swore to use the ancient knowledge they had discovered for the good of mankind.
Later, they changed their minds and turned to horrific evil.